Hot! Begin the Begin

In the spring of 1999 a gal pal called me with the idea to meet her brother in London then go to Paris. It was still off-season, tickets inexpensive and the romance of April in Paris irresistible. In a week I had a flight booked and I had my passport on an express request. Two weeks later, the three of us emerged from the metro on a warm spring night. As we oriented ourselves, a couple ran across the cobblestone street to greet each other with kisses. My more experienced traveling friends were  focused on the map. I was wide-eyed at the scene before me. This was Paris. It was just as it looked in the movies. It was exactly how it was described in books. It was why people dream of coming here.

We were a strange trio – two Nordic siblings and one naive Arizonan dragging our rollies down the narrow streets that Hemingway once roamed looking for a hotel. We were ignored as tourists, not even mistaken for locals, and none of us cared. I didn’t know it at the time, but Paris had its hooks. Over the next few days it would change me from a road-tripping American to an international traveler. From this trip forward I would spend the next decade filling my passport with stamps from iconic countries.

For the first part of the 21st Century, I returned to Paris. I traded Francs for Euros and watched the exchange rate go up and up. As I gained more experience and confidence, I learned to blend with the locals and started traveling by myself. I discovered Italy, Croatia, Ireland and Central America. But Paris is like a first love – always in your heart.

It was time to go back to where it began, and when fall travel fares hit the right mark, I booked my flight. Twelve years after that first spring night, I left my apartment on a seemly beautiful fall morning. By the time I stepped off the bus and walked toward Rue Mouffetard, the clouds had rolled in. Within minutes, rain poured down and Parisians and tourists ran for cover. Now I sit in that same square just steps away from my first sights of this city and observe another Paris in the fall: Strangers gathered inside, sipping hot chocolates and Irish coffees and all wishing they’d remembered their umbrellas.

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