I’ll always have Paris… 

“I need to move around a bit. To shuffle my surroundings. To wake up in cities I don’t know my way around and have conversations in languages I cannot entirely comprehend. There is always this tremendous longing in my heart to be lost, to be someplace else, to be far far away from all of this.”

My life had its share of ups and downs. It has seen a lot of heartaches and disappoitments. After my son’s relapse with cancer, life hasn’t exactly gone back to normal. Life at home is just as stressful as it was. Besides tending to my younger son’s medical and everyday needs, my husband has been suffering  from anxiety attacks. I used to think it was just a once-every-few-months occurrence but lately the attacks have  been occurring with increasing frequency. They often strike out of the blue without any warning even when the atmosphere is relaxed. I also worry about my older son. He recently came out and it was revealed to us in his blog that he’d been bullied in high school. Since this revelation, I’ve been worried sick about him. I’ve been concerned about his happiness and finding love, as I’ve been made aware by my gay friends that a homosexual lifestyle can be very lonely. I think about him a lot and sometimes I make myself sick by overly agonizing about his well-being. And as for me, I believe I still have PTSD. I’ve had countless of sleepless nights drowning  in sorrow. I have done everything to help alleviate the loneliness. I walked. I hiked. I wrote. I read. But no matter what I did, there’s always that feeling that something was still missing.

Perhaps I needed to take time away for myself to recharge my batteries and travel somewhere I’d always wanted to go. In a city where I could do as I wished without regard to what a traveling companion wanted to do. Where I was entirely alone and free. And to be far away from all of this.

I’ve always had this fantasy of being in Paris alone. To wander in the city, without any destination in mind. To go where the moment takes me. To stop rushing from place to place. I want to experience Paris. I want to take chances and have adventures. To learn the art of talking less. To take my time and savor each Parisian minute. To stay at a cafe and survey the scene. Take pictures of anything and everything that catches my eye. To contemplate. To have Paris all by myself, my way.

And I did just that….and more.

I also got to do some of the (touristy) things I missed out on in my previous visits. I have stood in front of the Eiffel Tower many times before  but never got the chance to climb it (that’s because none of my companions wanted to).
And so it was the very first thing I did on this trip.

I didn’t only climb the Eiffel Tower but treated myself to a wonderful lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel.  For about $50, I had a three course lunch with wine and tea. Was the food good? It wasn’t spectacular. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

I also learned to use a tripod, and taught myself to be self-indulgent by taking a lot of pictures of me. I loved it for a change!

Like the Eiffel Tower, I have never made it on top of the Arc de Triomphe in my previous visits.

And so once again, I climbed another famous structure! The benefits of solo travel!

I took a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower in various filters. Regardless of how many times I have seen this tower, I can’t get tired of it. It never gets old. Paris never gets old.

I wanted to get lost in the moment, to go anywhere without a destination in mind, to walk around aimlessly, and…I did! My wish, granted: I wandered, got lost, but found my way back. Now I know what it means when people say do not be afraid to get lost!

But once again, I got lost…this time in the company of books at Shakespeare And Company,

Someday I’ll remind myself these words by Hafiz: I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.

And to also remember that little things can instantly bring a ray of sunshine such as a free bench.

I went for a walk at Jardin du Tuileries, to contemplate life…

and to admire the beauty of the autumn leaves.

Reminding myself once again that no matter what life brings, it is still beautiful just like those flowers in bloom…

To always stop and appreciate the moment. To look around me in awe and be grateful at how lucky I am to be surrounded by such beauty.

One of the great pleasures of being in Paris, that is truly très magnifique, is the art of cafe-sitting. And no one can deny that this city is a gastronomical dream!

I had tea at Mariage Fréres.

I indulged on a cup of rich hot thick chocolat at Angelina.

They say, “To err is human. To loaf is a Parisian.” My daily petit dejeuner were croissants and baguettes.

I drank wine. Every. Single. Day.

But I also ate light on some nights and had this fantastic Salade Nicoise with tuna at a bistro near my hotel. It was so good I went back twice.

I looked up at every building and swooned over the architecture,

and took pictures of whatever that caught my eyes.

I declared that my most favorite metro station is the Abbesses,

and spent a whole afternoon in the Bohemian and artsy Montmartre.

And there, in Montmartre, I found the wall. No, not Donald Trump’s wall, but a wall where love comes together in every language: Le mur des Je t’aime,

I love you wall.

Although Paris is the city of love, it is the perfect place to be alone. It is perfect for strolling by yourself without the constraints of pleasing somebody. Since I usually travel with my family I didn’t realize that this adventure gave me the opportunity to be completely selfish–something I don’t normally get to be when I’m at home. I almost forgot what it felt like to not have to worry about anyone but myself.  It took a lot for me to finally take a step and just go. I left feeling lost, lonely, and wanting to escape life. I was hopeful that during my alone time, I would find myself in the mystery of a new place.

I pondered each night on how much I learned about myself on this trip. I wrote journals with pensive thoughts: what had happened, I wrote, to the woman who loved spontaneity and great adventures? Had she disappeared?

Somehow, when I disconnected myself from the usual habits, I reconnected with myself. Perhaps this is what traveling alone usually does: you rediscover and reconnect with yourself.


Oh, but then again, I wasn’t completely alone. Paris was there with me the entire time–to accompany me on my journey of self discovery. And whenever I start to feel lonely again, or feel that life is passing me by, I will remind myself that I’ll always have Paris.

 

One Night in London

My travel bucket list has three categories:
1. Piece of cake…easily achievable!
2. Hmmm…it’s going to be difficult but it will happen someday!
3. Ummm…in another lifetime perhaps?

But before I start talking about my travel bucket list, let me tell you about a trip I did approximately ten years ago with my mom and my aunt in London.

My travel bucket list has three categories:

1. Piece of cake…easily achievable!

2. Hmmm…it’s going to be difficult but it will happen someday!

3. Ummm…in another lifetime perhaps?


But before I start talking about my travel bucket list, let me tell you about a trip I did approximately ten years ago with my mom and my aunt in London. I was (sort of) their tour guide and did all the planning for them. Since I have already seen most of the tourist attractions in London, all I really wanted to do in this trip was to experience an English tradition: an afternoon tea and possibly at Harrods (I fell in love with Harrods tea a long time ago). I invited my mom and my aunt but they weren’t too keen on the idea. A waste of time and money, they said. I could’ve made them wait for me while I did it alone but I didn’t. I was worried I’d inconvenience them with my trivial ideas (so I thought) and I dismissed the only one thing that was in my to-do list in London.


A decision I have regretted for ten long years! And hence I added, “doing an afternoon tea at Harrods” on my bucket list. Although this one falls easily in the first category, it was only a matter of when?

For those of you who follow my blog know that I have been through a lot lately and have had occasional bouts of depression. God knows I tried to snap out of it but nothing I did helped. My dear friend who works for American Airlines knew I’ve been dreaming about doing a solo trip someday so she suggested I use her flight pass and go somewhere I can be alone. I thought of going to different cities or countries I haven’t been to but all I could think of was going to Paris. I have been to Paris many times before but I’ve always had a romanticized idea of Paris, of having an alone time with the city of love (or lights, whatever you prefer). Yeah the thought of just Paris and me sounded really good. If New York is my soulmate, its European counterpart is Paris. A woman can have multiple soulmates can’t she?😊

My hotel in London

A non-revenue pass is on a standby basis, only occupying seats that have not been purchased by paying customers. My friend told me that Paris is going to be much harder due to its constantly full flights. If I didn’t mind rerouting to London, she said, I would have a much better chance of leaving Dallas. Are you kidding me! Why on earth would I mind London? Besides I have an unfinished business there! I soon packed my bags and I was ready to fulfill that bucket list.

Eight and a half hours later, I arrived in London Heathrow International Airport and took the tube to my hotel. I dropped off my bags and immediately headed towards Harrods. I’ve forgotten how wonderful London is and how easy it is to navigate this city. Gosh, I love London too!


Harrods is huge! How could I have forgotten about this? London is easier to navigate than the store! I asked the employees for directions and where The Tea Room was. They said they have a lot of tea rooms. No, there’s a restaurant here called The Tea Room, I said. Geez, not even the employees knew their way around the store! Well, you can go to The Georgian, someone suggested to me. I thought to myself, no, The Georgian is too fancy for me. I want somewhere that’s a little more down to earth but can still be prissy. Afternoon tea is prissy regardless of where it is anyway! The employee gave me a booklet, a guide for each floor in the store. And so there it was, I found The Tea Room, on the second floor.


I chose the “Wedgwood” that came in a three-tiered stand with a selection of finger sandwiches, scones, jams, cake, and a cup of tea. It costs £35, definitely a splurge, but I’ve waited for ten years to do this, so what the hell!


I sat there watching the people devour on the scones, absolutely the most delicious scones I’ve ever tasted (the British surely know their scones). I had no idea how I’d finish everything but I didn’t care. All it mattered was I was there, having an afternoon tea at Harrods.


I found a park nearby my hotel and decided to go for a walk. It was a beautiful evening and the weather was just perfect. I sat on one of the benches and I contemplated on the day’s event. I asked myself, am I really here or is this another one of those dreams I don’t want to wake up from? Should I pinch myself? Nah, I don’t really want to wake up if it is indeed a dream! Surely, an afternoon tea for a bucket list may sound lame and simple but whoever said a bucket list must be grand and complicated?

Upclose and personal with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

I was that troubled water in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, but fortunately I’ve been provided with so many bridges in my life to help ease the heartbreak. Because bridges have that profound meaning in my life, I have added something in my bucket list—to cross (on foot) every bridge I come in contact with. You can guess that when I flew to San Francisco, I had one itinerary in mind.

I don’t know about you but when I see a beautiful bridge I get all the feels. I just don’t see a structure providing a path but I see something profoundly more meaningful than that. Bridges symbolize many things.

 For me personally, a bridge symbolizes hope, resilience, and love. I have experienced depression in the past and my anxiety attacks came in different forms. I believe I was (and most likely still am) experiencing post traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) after my son’s first cancer diagnosis (and worse especially after the relapse). Besides my son’s distressful journey with cancer, I’ve also dealt with other heartbreaking situations. My anxiety had resulted to too many sleepless nights.  I have reached a point when I thought life wasn’t going to get better, that my happiness will always be limited. I was that troubled water in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, but fortunately, I’ve been provided with so many bridges in my life to help me ease my pain.

I have also learned to worry less today, to roll with the punches, and to accept whatever difficult challenges life throws at me.

Because bridges have that profound meaning in my life, I have added something in my bucket list–to cross (on foot) every bridge I come in contact with. You can guess that when I flew to San Francisco, I had one itinerary in mind.

This week was my older son’s spring break. After a 4-day trip to Portland, I decided we’d stay one night in the city before he goes back to Stanford.


From our hotel in Union Square, the best way to get to the Golden Gate bridge was to take an Uber to the Welcome Center Information Center. From there you will get amazing views of the bridge.


Fortunately, it was a weekday and there weren’t too many people on the bridge despite the beautiful weather.

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It only took us over 20 minutes to walk all the way to the end. My watch showed 1.04 miles one way but according to the official record, it’s 0.8 miles (4200 feet). I’m not exactly sure where it officially starts, but I set my watch from the beginning of the paved walkway on the bridge.


I was taking a ton of photos every few steps and my son jokingly told me that all my pictures will eventually look the same. “Just keep walking and enjoy it, mom! Stop taking pictures,” he said.


I was just really excited that I was able to cross my first bridge. I didn’t think today was going to be possible since just the day prior, the weather forecast was showing heavy winds in San Francisco. One more thing, I was also satisfying one of my personal challenges that I’ve been working on this year (by the way, this marks my 5th personal challenge).

 I had a preconceived idea that crossing the bridge was going to be long and challenging. In fact, it was short and easy.  Perhaps just like life, when we’re faced with a difficult challenge, we always perceive it to be more difficult than it seems. But if we are willing to face all the obstacles and not lose hope, it turns out that life really isn’t that bad after all.