40, Friendships & France

 

“The minute a man ceases to grow, no matter what his years,

that minute he begins to be old.” – William James

“Huh? 40? Ah, I don’t think so. Oh my word you’re right – I am 40” – my internal dialogue when I turned 40 in July 2019.

 

We say it all the time “where did that time go”, “I don’t feel 40”, “oh my word, does that mean I am officially old?. Time passes sneakily and we often forget we have a given amount allocated to us on this earth. I do believe that this realisation as we age and watch our children grow up, fills so many with either dread or avoidance of the subject – many of my friends have had emotional meltdowns over transitioning into a new decade of life. Anyone who knows me, will know this isn’t a thing for me, in fact I really enjoy each age I reach because in my line of work we see people who have life snatched away in a heartbeat making you appreciate life more.

 

The planning for this milestone of 40 began a few years ago in a discussion with my incredible husband, creating a private event on Facebook, and getting friends onboard. The idea being a week in Paris with my tribe of friends – time to be us as individuals away from the pressures of everyday life. We had always planned to be living in England by then so it wasn’t a massive stretch for me and my eldest daughter, but for many friends and family it would mean the logistics of a trip to the other side of the world. Everyone was fairly amped but closer to the date responsibilities and life meant most could not attend (a few that had decided to take the plunge into their own adventures of travelling with their families after seeing us make the leap – bringing me so much joy for them).

 

Seasoned travel junkies Lyn and Sandi travelled from Queensland in Australia to Europe/UK to celebrate my birthday, and for that I am wholly grateful. After a tumultuous first 6 months living in the UK, this was a much-needed break away, the memories remaining as precious now as when we were there. Sandi arrived in London, and Lyn met us all in Paris fresh off the Eurostar at Gare du Nord. So many tears, so many hugs – I really missed my tribe from back home and it was comforting to have them there.

We stayed in a two bed Air BNB approximately 10-15 minutes walk from the Mairie des Lilas train station, outside of the tourist trail and at the border of the “Paris” centre. The town was quaint although still had a corner store, a Boulanger, and some small restaurants and food stores. The benefit of this is being able to shop locally, prepare some meals in, experience the non-tourist areas, and I guess the view from the 11th floor overlooking Paris from a distance wasn’t bad either.

Experiencing Paris with friends is not better, but different from doing it with your family – you spend more time catching up on life, debriefing about the things you are struggling with, and connecting at a deeper level. The bonus is being able to explore a stunning and vibrant city you love.

VAN GOGH IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE @ ATELIER DES LUMIÉRES

Lyn’s “must do” for our trip to Paris was the Van Gogh and Japanese Art Immersive Experience, and whilst I also really wanted to go, I could not have anticipated how extraordinary this experience really was.

Walking into the area you are met by wall to wall moving and layered images projected on all surfaces of Van Gogh’s works coupled with beautiful music that fit the story perfectly. It also features works from Japanese artists, and the execution of this display really draws you in and allows you an insight into the man himself. We spent some time wandering around the room with stairs, cubby holes, water features, and architectural structures, all featuring the projected show, so every part of the room gave the viewer a new perspective. We also spent quite some time lying on the floor with many others, just taking in the beauty of the art and music and appreciating the opportunity to be within the art.

As it turns out this venue shows many different immersive experiences throughout the year and whilst this one is finished, there are many more they have to show you and it is worth setting some time aside for this if you are visiting Paris. The venue is walkable from nearby metro stations, and tickets are around €15 and booking in advance is an absolute necessity because they are extremely popular.

SHAKESPEAR AND COMPANY – KILOMETER ZERO

Kilometer Zero is two things – firstly it is a collective of artists and writers worldwide producing magazines and artistic performances, however it is derived from the point in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris not for from the location of Shakespear and Company. Shakespear and Co. is a delightful bookstore on Paris’s Left Bank and was the second and only remaining store open. Opening in 1951, it is the place to go for both new and second-hand books and acts as host to writers and artists to allow them to embrace their calling whilst helping out in the shop. With beds tucked into the many nooks and crannies around the shop, Shakespear and Co. has hosted award-winning authors from around the world. It is easy to imagine a life of literature beyond the entrance of the bottom floor, and you need to take your time to explore every quirky level, room, staircase – in fact ensure you spend a moment seated in one of the areas to really take it all in. Once you have weaved your way through the history laden walls complete with quotes, aged posters, and oddities to the upstairs, you will come across a room off to the left side where we encountered an elderly lady and cat who appeared to be hosting a reading of sorts. My favourite quote (uncertain of the author) from this magical place is:

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being”

SIGHTS OF PARIS

Sandi was the only one not having previously experienced Paris, yet so the “must do” Paris sites were in order, to see to make her trip complete. So many sites are ones we  love to see each time we go there so visiting again was not hard. We visited The Louvre, and although some pieces were  missing for maintenance or relocated, we still got to enjoy the grand rooms with art floor to ceiling and on the ceilings. The Mona Lisa was lovely as ever despite the massive crowds, and of course the glass pyramid refracts the prettiest light at the right time of day.

The Arc de Triomphe was on our list also, more for the seeing the crazy traffic with no direction (seriously I would not even consider driving around it – and you can’t in a hire car I believe), but it was awesome to hear some other Australian accents from another family visiting and we spent a little time chatting about home and what to see in Paris. We left here and strolled down the Champs Elysee to shop and visited my favourite place for traditional macarons – Laduree! It is certainly worth the wait.

One of the highlights of my trip had to be the Musical Garden and Lights show at the Palace Versaille, although a little pricey it was absolutely worth it. The fountains were lit up and timed with classical music to provide a stunning show, and with the gardens filled with fountains you could easily spend the entire afternoon and evening there. There are places to buy food but minimal toilets so its wise to search these out well before you need it because the lines are immense.

This brings me to the greatest highlight of my trip to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday – time with friends. The little things like talking over a nice meal (despite the odd presentation and giggles they produced), strolls along the Seine, people watching, dancing by the fountains, all of which gave us small moments of contentment to fill our souls. I can see how important it is to invest time in people to continue to grow those important relationships, and it is certainly an important aspect that I will focus on in my forties. Friendships can hold us up in our difficult times and provide a safe space to share our deepest fears. Friendships are there to provide a guide in life encourage us to be who we want to be in life, and be the soft place to land when we fall.

 

I think a trip away with friends is definitely a must do and I am certainly looking forward to doing it again…where to next?

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