Another Crazy Christmas in France

I love going to my in-laws in the French Loire Valley for Christmas, which is a sacred familial time for them.

This year getting out of Nashville was a bit exhausting due to all the normal get-out-of-town craziness and preparations for my last Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT) which is scheduled for this week (January 9-12). I’ve been feeling good, but I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. Even so, I was a little surprised that my therapy clearance blood work showed my red blood cells and platelets plummeted. Sure, it’s not unusual for this to happen and there’s a good chance I even sabotaged myself.

I’d been hearing so much hoopla around the ketogenic diet, including that it is good for cancer patients since it starves cancer cells of the glucose they need to grow.  BUT, as it turns out, guess what red blood cells need to reproduce? If you guessed glucose, then you are correct. Oopsy!

Fortunately, the counts were still well above the therapy minimums and gave me a self signed permission slip to reinstated carbs, which would’ve been an epic failure (and just all together wrong) in France and Italy anyways.

Enough cancer.

Flying to Paris and arriving was a shit show but no more than usual. Travel in Europe is a physical work out, but I was happy to arrive to my beloved village of St. Cyr en Val to be greeted by droves of family. Also, it was extra fun this year since my friend from Nashville joined to experience a French Christmas.

We spent the first few days getting adjusted to the time, visiting Chateau de Chambord and locating a few Camino shells throughout Orleans, a potential stop for those walking to Santiago from Paris.

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In the hot seat!

Christmas Eve was the big event! This is when 50 of my crazy french in-laws drink oodles of champagne, sing, dance and eat platters of oysters.  This year the chaos was amplified by a photo booth, introducing them to white elephant/dirty santa and CLR….until 4am. It was really fun and I can officially say that I am completely acclimated (it only took nine years). We even ventured off to midnight mass where Father Jean-Baptiste called me to the pew for a little interview. I was throughly embarrassed, but also touched since I know he prays for my health often. Last year he blessed me and this year he expressed excitement about my trip to Rome to see his boss, Pope Francis.

The following days after Christmas Eve shenanigans were filled with gifts and visits and food and drinks and naps. I was tired and my brain hurt from french but I think it was my favorite Christmas in a long time.

On the 27th, we were off to Paris for a couple of days. Day one was spent walking around Galerie Lafayette, seeing the sights on a Bateaux Mouche, a comedy show and a long, late dinner at a tapas restaurant. My Nashville friend also had a great time with the exception of the last night where she was hit with food poisoning and spent the whole night sick. With her night reminding me of the months I spent laying on the bathroom floor I felt so bad for her having to travel all day feeling like that. Fortunately, I don’t leave home without  a couple Zofran, which helped her make it home after a looooooong hard day.

img_5268As she soldiered through, my husband and I got to experience something really special at the Paris Zoo. His cousin is the giraffe keeper and invited us for a private visit with her 15 giraffes. We got to feed and pet them and take pictures. It was incredible and it took everything I had not to steal one. With the day spent fawning over giraffes, we walked around the Champs Elysées and met an old friend for dinner. We haven’t seen him in seven years and wow a lot has happened and changed. Satisfied with a wonderful time in France, we went back to our friends tiny apartment for a long sleep before jetting off to Italy in the morning.

Cheers to many more Christmas celebrations in the Loire Valley!

See…they cray!

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Appreciating France

The last days in Paris were really fun. I dragged JB around to several tourist traps he avoids like the plague. 
JB: “What is that? It’s so nice.”

Me: “Um, that’s the Eiffel Tower, JB.”

Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not too much. 

JB being a tourist

But more than anything, we laughed and joked around a lot. Blessed with beautiful weather, we made my Fitbit happy by walking everywhere, checking off Parc Buttes Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame, Montparnasse Tower, the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, the Eiffel Tour and I’m sure I’m missing some stuff. 

Parc Buttes Chaurmont

Busting out the selfie stick at Notre Dame

The Louvre

Springtime in Paris

My last day in Paris was spent kicking around alone where I visited the National Library (nerd), Shakespeare and Company, the Grand Mosque and Jardin des Plantes. 

Jardin des Plantes

In the afternoon, it was time to head to Orleans to see the “belle famille” (translation, beautiful family), which is so much nicer to say than “in-laws”. On the train, I rested my forehead against the glass and watched Paris transform into the countryside. Spring is such a beautiful time in France as many of the fields resemble a fluorescent yellow and green quilt. I spent the entire train ride with the sun in my face, taking mental pictures. I also took some time to appreciate my fun, busy days in Paris and the fact that I’m here after I wasn’t sure I’d ever be again while I was sick. I was bursting with happiness, appreciation and gratitude. 

Orleans, and specifically the adorable little village of St. Cyr en Val, is a third home for me. All the neighbors are brothers and sisters of my “beautiful mother”, so the moment they heard the car coming down the path, there was a non-stop stream of visitors. 

Good timing and weather were on my side again because Thursday was Ascension Day, which is a day of prayer that also exists on the US (but without the day off work). The whole family came over and showered me with desserts, gifts, kisses and proclamations of joy for my good health. Fabien’s grandmother and grandfather spent several minutes telling me how they and the priest of the church in St. Cyr en Val pray for me constantly. The priest has even spoken of me at mass, which is very moving to hear. I appreciate so much everyone who has prayed and thought of me during the last couple of years. 

Friday evening, the “beautiful family” and I headed to Chartres for dinner and to view the illuminated cathedral. I’ve become a bit immune to European cathedrals because they start to look the same. However, I think this one will stand out in my memory forever.

Of course, without saying, the architecture is incredible. But, what I found most impressive was the stained glass, which houses the largest 13th century collection in the world. I can see why it was one of the world’s first UNESCO sites. The glass is so important to the French that it was removed and hidden during both World Wars. Just next to the cathedral is home to an international school of stained glass. Who knew such a place existed. This made me think of my grandfather whose stained glass creations were the source battle when he passed away. He would’ve loved Notre Dame de Chartres. 

Before the illumination began, I spotted my first sign of the Camino on the sidewalk and shortly after, some English speakers in hiking clothes. As it turns out, they were Canadians who are walking from Paris to Santiago via Chartres. That’s a long way. To put it in perspective, they won’t even be in Spain by the time I arrive in Santiago around June 2nd. 

When it became dark, the cathedral was lit up with mesmerizing animated images set to music. I tried to snap some pictures but then stopped knowing the photos would be unjustifiable. Plus, like many things on this voyage, this was something to be appreciated and experienced in the moment and not behind a smartphone screen. 

Pro-Tips from Paris

Returning from a wonderful few days in NYC, followed by my family coming into town for the My 2nd Act reading and the final day of my writing workshop, it seemed like I only had a few hours to get everything in order to leave for 6 weeks.

I’ve impressed myself with the logistics of this trip.

First, packing was a challenge. Simplicity is they key to the El Camino, but I would also be spending three weeks in France and Switzerland where perhaps something nicer than hiking pants and a t-shirt would be in order. But I didn’t want to bring anything too nice since once I get to Spain, I’ll be sending my “fancy” clothes forward to Santiago. I’m still a little skeptical of the postal system and whether my stuff will actually arrive. I also didn’t want to trust the airline with the Camino gear I’ve spent months planning and buying. So, I carried on a backpack with my un-loseable Camino supplies and checked an old small suitcase that will be shipped forward in Spain.

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Here’s the pin I used

Pro-tip #1 (for the ladies): check out Pinterest for pins that illustrate weeks worth of outfits with a few basic clothing items. 

I finished packing with a whole ten minutes to spare before I had to leave for the airport. Other than being on the world’s coldest plane to Paris, the flight was uneventful. Upon landing, I was unsure I took the correct plane because the sky was blue and I saw the sun. Strange because every time I come to Paris it’s cold and gray. Fortunately, when I exited the airport, the old Paris I know and love appeared. It was freezing. Don’t they know it’s almost May here?!?!?

After I collected my bag (yippee, it arrived), I bought my metro tickets (in French) and got on the train to the city. I had to switch trains at my Parisian nemesis, Gare du Nord. I only got lost five times, instead of ten. Then I got to Les Chatlets, which is the evil sister of Gare du Nord. I think I went in circles five more times.

Pro-tip #2: Just plan on getting lost and adding 15 minutes to your trip if you have to travel through Gare du Nord.

Four hours after my plane landed, I met my friend JB at his office to get the keys to his apartment. He gave me great directions and other than not being able to open the door for about ten minutes, that journey was uneventful.

I just wanted a shower and a little rest at this point. But, my dreamy, steamy, long hot shower was cut short by the little hot water heaters in Parisian apartments. Rookie move. Of course, this occurred when I was just about to rinse. I jumped out, layered up and then curled up on the couch for a glorious hour-long nap.

Pro-tip #3: When traveling to a foreign country, don’t count on unlimited hot water (or sometimes, hot water at all). This is an American luxury.

I woke up when JB arrived home and we went for a nice dinner. Hot camembert, duck, potatoes. I might need to walk to Spain to burn all the calories from this meal. With a full belly and jetlag in full effecy, it took me negative 30 seconds to fall asleep.

Pro-tip #4: When traveling to Europe try to select a flight arriving as late as possible. Most arrive early in the morning. Try to stay up all day and you’ll fail miserably (or just be completely miserable). I landed at 2:00 p.m., where I only had to stay up a few hours, before I crashed.  A couple days here and my sleep schedule is completely onboard with Europe.

Friday, JB and I spent the day walking around his typical Parisian neighborhood (Montmartre) and Parc Monceau, having lunch with some of his friends, going to Musee d’Orsay and then going to a show I’ve been wanting to see for years, How to Become Parisian in One Hour. Definitely check it out if you’re in the city:

Then today, I went to the George Pompidou Musee, had a nice vegetarian lunch and visited with one of my favorite friends, who happened to live just a couple blocks from the Eiffel Tour, where I stopped by on my way home to snap a quick pic.

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From Paru du Champs de Mars

Walking back to the apartment, I was thinking about this post and feeling so grateful for how far I’ve come – health- and life-wise. The first time I ever came to Paris, my suitcase was stolen out of the car and I was scared to go shopping for replacement clothes alone while Fabien was at work. Now here I am, walking around with city like an old pro, speaking french and everything.  I also thought about how different both Paris and I are since my last visit here, nearly two years ago. Most definitely, we are forever changed.  Both of us a bit traumatized, but still here, stronger, wiser and beautiful.