Day twenty: I am not the spontaneous type. I have done impulsive things, yes, but if you were to say to me ‘let’s get in the car and go for a drive and see where we end up’ I would say ‘yeah, no’.
But I love spontaneous people, they seem to get more out of life. And I have on occasion done something spontaneous. The problem with my spontaneity is that it tends to be planned, like the trip I took to Paris with my sister.
I try to visit her once a year - distance being a problem - and sometimes on that visit we go somewhere within the UK. One year we decided to take a day trip to Paris on the chunnel train. There was a certain spontaneity to it, in that it wasn’t something either of us did. But we didn’t throw on a coat and head off out the door, there were logistics involved, like booking the Eurostar ticket and getting to St Pancras station in London on time. Since my sister lives in Cambridge this meant being organized.
That sort of spontaneity I can do, the organized type where my need for planning and preparing for this spontaneity, at a date in the future, allows me to feel comfortable about it. So we booked the Eurostar tickets, ascertained which train we needed to catch from Cambridge and both felt quite satisfied at our impetuosity.
We left early, since it was only a day trip and there was the travelling at either end of the day to take into consideration. We had no plans at all for Paris, except to get a meal once we arrived. We sat in the train enjoying the freedom of being able to completely relax and watch the scenery. I don’t remember a great deal about the trip, only that the countryside was lovely and we were both looking forward to lunch in Paris. I mean how often can you say ‘I had lunch in Paris’ unless you live there.
When we arrived it was difficult not to get caught up in the sense of urgency that always seems to be part of a railway station. People are either running for a train, running to get a good carriage, running off the train while looking importantly at their watches, shuffling impatiently in the line to get coffee (in case their train arrives I assume) or leaning out over the platform in an attempt to be the first person to see their train arriving. Or maybe they feel that by showing their impatience the train will come that much sooner.
So we found ourselves moving faster to keep up with the crowd. We exited through a newsagency and encountered the first, most obvious, flaw in our plan. While we knew we were at Gare du Nord, neither of us had a clue exactly where we were in relation to anything else. Nor had we even considered this, I guess because we had both been before and it seemed familiar to us. Of course it wasn’t.
After peering about us irresolutely we looked at each other in perfect accord and headed back to the newsagency. We needed a map. Now you need to understand one thing more to fully appreciate our situation. We’re sisters, we neither of us is good at reading a map. So it was quite exciting really, heading off in the direction we hoped would take us to where we could eat lunch. We did eventually get lunch, after quite a lot of walking and a trip on the Paris metro, all the while wondering why we had never considered how we would get around or how we would know where to go. Taxis were out of the budget.
In the end, and in hindsight it was obvious, we took a hop on hop off bus. That was a brilliant idea, just wish we had thought of it at Gare du Nord, where there is a bus stop. But nonetheless, walking around Paris was fun, and we saw a lot we would not have seen if we had taken the bus. We took quite a few unintentional detours but that’s part of the charm of exploring a new city - except when you’re with your sister who gets rather cranky when she’s hungry.
It did feel good to ride the bus, and of course we were able to do more that way. By the time we thought of the bus we were running out of time because of the shorter days – it was autumn – and the return trip. But we went to all the touristy places even though we have both seen them before. The first time I saw any of these was in winter, so to see them in mild weather and sunshine made them look different. I mean still the same, but with leaves still on the trees and no huge chunks of ice on the ground and in fountains, with a soft blue sky and the sun glinting off metallic surfaces, they looked softer somehow.
Time constraints also meant that we didn’t go into Notre Dame or up the Eiffel Tower (have you seen the queue there in good weather?) but it didn’t matter. Because we hadn’t planned the day and so didn’t think of the hop on hop off bus earlier, it meant that we were still on it at dusk and that meant that we went past the Moulin Rouge at a lovely time of the evening. It didn’t matter that we didn’t go onto or into anything. The best part of the day was spending it with my sister. It was a lot of fun and I’d do it again – only next time I’d take the bus right from the start of course.
Shared experiences with someone you’re close to make them more special. Going somewhere together without any sort of a plan can be freeing. When you don’t have a schedule it doesn’t matter how long you linger anywhere. We could have sat at the table after lunch and people watched all afternoon and it would still have been a great day. We couldn’t in reality because there were people waiting to have their lunch. It was a popular eatery. But in theory we could have.
For me, I know I spend too much time planning every minute of every day. Instead of relaxing that planning I tend to do it even more when I go away. Then I get stressed if the day is not following the plan, and while I enjoy my time I’m too busy sticking to the plan and remembering what comes next to enjoy the moment I am in. That was what made that day with my sister special. Because we didn’t have anything planned I was always right there in the moment. Maybe that was why everything looked brighter and more beautiful to me.
The moral of today’s tale? Be in the moment. Don’t be always thinking ahead to what you need to do next, or thinking back to what you forgot to do. Just be right here in the now. I don’t mean to never plan anything again, or to throw organization at work to the four winds. But whenever you can, take the time to just be, right there, right then. Whole days and weeks can go by without us ever just appreciating right now. We don’t get those days and weeks back, they are lost forever. So at least once a day take the time to just be. Now some tourist type pics.
Because we got lost we came across this arch - Porte Saint-Denis, built in 1672 to honour the victories of Louis XIV
And this arch, Arc du Carrousel, built between 1806-1808, it's on the way to the Louvre
This is the one everyone wants to see, the Arch de Triomphe. The first time I saw this was in the middle of winter and there was nobody around. Not this time.
Naturally you have to see Tour Eiffel
The Louvre, or at least the outside
And Notre Dame, a beautiful building whatever the time of year
And on the bus on the way back to the railway station, this gorgeous view of the Moulin Rouge