The thing I liked least about Paris was the rain. I had decided that because our we were taking our French river cruise during the summer, it was going to be sunny, and I was paying the price. When I had packed it hadn’t seemed like a big deal. I was going to wear warm the whole time and the weather would have to just deal with it; who cared that my over cautious father had nagged me to bring just one raincoat, just one pair of closed toed shoes?
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The worst thing about the rain, however, was that its occurrence in conjunction with my shorts and fabric sandals necessitated the use of an umbrella (which I had, of course, neglected to pack).
“Here, take one of the ship’s umbrellas, kiddo.” My grandpa handed me a bright red umbrella with a clap on the shoulder. Emblazoned in white lettering along the rim was “Viking River Cruises.” Not exactly the height of Parisian fashion. Nevertheless, after having already spent few days walking around in wet clothes I was in no position to refuse–though I did not have to be happy about my new accessory.
After short bus ride full of jabbering from our guide, we arrived at our destination. Disembarkation was no quick task, owing mainly to the fact that the median age of my fellow passengers was probably 200. After our tedious adventure in the minutia of getting off of a bus, I have to say I was perhaps a bit testy.
As we hobbled across the bridge to Ile de la Cité, my irritation with the people around me festered. The were all shallow, rich tourists who were out of touch, willing to believe they were getting an authentic experience from a guide who was more actor than local, taking them to a site that was surely more tourist trap than genuine French destination. I was spiraling into a stupor of self-blind irrational superiority, but I didn’t care. I was better than them, and would ignore anything that my bright red umbrella might have to say to the contrary.
“And here were are: Notre-Dame, a cathedral with gothic architecture that shall even please the teenagers,” our guide announced in his thick French accent, with a knowing look at me. Reflexively, I rolled my eyes. But I when I rounded the corner to face the church, I caught my breath. Notre-Dame was certainly nothing to sneeze at. Despite all the dull history our tour guide was spewing, nothing could hide the beauty of the intricate window panes, delicate spires, dozens of statues, or the plethora of architectural details that I had no idea how to name.
“Now, everyone, let’s be quiet inside the cathedral,” the tour guide stage whispered. We filed in silently, and that’s when it hit me. Notre-Dame was beautiful. Really, really beautiful. Arched roofs extended high above my head, dwarfing the rows pews below. The rich detail of the cathedral’s gray exterior extended inwards, with one important addition: the windows. Rainbows of stained glass shined from every wall, giving the dark church a gentle glow. The magnificent decorations, with more colors and patterns and designs than I would have thought possible for medieval century craftsmanship, were truly awe-inspiring. Everyone around me had the same reaction. No member of our tour group was unphased by the cathedral’s beauty. Finally it hit me: I was stuck in a group that sometimes got on my nerves, but I wasn’t here to moan about them, the tour guide, or my dumb umbrella.
I was here to see France.
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