April in Paris…and Brussels

Paris is always a good idea. –Audrey Hepburn

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It’s been over a month since I returned from my “Grand Easter Adventure” (if it’s not self evident, this is Part 3 of said holiday), the last leg of which consisted of 2 nights and 1 day in Brussels, Belgium, and 2 1/2 days in Paris over Easter weekend. Clearly, timeliness, at least in the context of documenting my travels, is not my strong-suit. Thankfully, what I lack in timing I (hopefully) make up for in sincerity and eccentric story-telling.

Thursday night I arrived in Brussels where a dear friend from DePauw (Ashley Conard) is currently on Fulbright (yes, she’s a genius) using game theory to decode proteins for the sake of cancer research…cue inferiority complex. Somehow I managed to get myself from the airport to her flat, to which I was greeted by an invitation to the Belgian equivalent of a frat party – a “TD (thé dansant).” Essentially, each University degree program hosts an initiation/baptism of sorts in these old bomb shelters (I think) – everyone wears dirty clothes, drinks half a beer, and throws the other half while the new members of the degree program wear these bizarre long-billed, patched-up hats and long, scary, black trench coats and “join the clan,” so to speak. It was like looking into a snow globe: me, awkwardly standing on the outskirts with my jaw dropped at this unique cultural phenomenon.

Travel tip: spend more than one day in Brussels. One day, however, is indeed enough time for a tour of the Parlamentarium, a long walk through the “BoBo” or Bourgeois Bohemian streets of the city, a stop at Délirium Café (Guinness World Record holder for most beers in a single bar – 3162 beers), Belgian pommes frites (fries), a Belgian waffle, Belgian chocolate, and a Belgian school ball for the Architecture Department (think Prom but for European college students). The dirty (in a good way), darkened, Bohemian character of the city left me hungry for more time, but alas…Paris.

Ashley and I hopped in a “Blah-blah car” early Saturday morning to Paris where we navigated our way to the quaint and heartwarming household of the Guerjdou’s, the family of Ashley’s Parisian best friend (Leila) from Brussels. If I impart one single bit of wisdom upon anyone reading this humble narrative, the benefit of worldwide friendships/connections is authentic cultural immersion and it is invaluable,  even if only for 2 days. Leila’s parents greeted us warmly with a baguette (the first of many), Camembert, and coffee. Whoever said Parisians were unfriendly has not met Claire and Hakim, who unhesitatingly extended to us an invite for family dinner after our day exploring the Tour Eiffel.

The Eiffel Tower is tall, in case you were curious. Of course, the view at the top is worth the long cue, the steep fee, and the wind…lots of wind. We took horribly cliché pictures, of course, but most importantly caught up on each other’s lives with hours of rich conversation. (It’s true, with whom you travel is certainly as important as to where you travel.) We headed back to the Guerdjou’s around 8 to find fresh bread, more Camembert, homemade hummus, and red wine lying on the table for our “starter course” which preceded an excellent meal prepared by Hakim, who perfectly incorporates his own cultural cuisine (Algerian) with that of the French — with that said, I will never understand how the French are so skinny.

The next morning, Ashley and I attended Easter mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral where I, being an early music history GEEK, was in a permanent state of “nerdgasm.” We sat down to what we thought was normal Easter mass — turns out, Gregorian chant mass started midway through. My jaw might as well have been laying on the ground for 2 hours as I gawked at the exquisite stained glass windows, flaming Gothic architecture, and the bone rattling organ and Gregorian chant “choir.” Of course, we had to go have a fancy brunch after (see picture), after which we headed toward the Pompidou. Europe has made me a museum junkie – I could’ve spent hours in the Pompidou feeling empowered by the societal issues brought up by so much of the art. Or perhaps gaping at the captivating exhibit of Jean-Paul Goude. We left the museum for another cliché photo-opp at the Lourve and then spent the afternoon walking the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe prior to another lovely dinner at the Geurdjou house.

Last anecdote, I swear. In middle school, I spent obscene amounts of time with three of my music/theatre friends: Danny, Dylan, and Dallin. In 9th grade, Danny’s father got a job in Paris and off he went, never to be seen again (lol sorry, I had to). Well, conveniently, Daniel is on a semester “internship break” from his casual studies in Philosophy at Oxford; so on Saturday night, after 7 years, we met up for drinks in the middle of Paris with Ashley and Leila. I’m still flabbergasted by how small this world felt as I sat at a bar in Paris catching up with a delightful childhood friend from Fort Collins, CO. Yes, I’m quite sure my life is a dream…from which I’ll be waking up in about 3 weeks time 😦

My sincere apologies for the lack of brevity. I’ll try harder next time. More to come on the Vienna City Marathon, my trip to London, and more adventures in Österreich! Ciao!

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2 thoughts on “April in Paris…and Brussels

  1. Judy Bailey says:

    Oh my goodness, Maureen. My jaw is to the floor, as well, viewing the astoundingly amazing pictures and reading about your many experiences. No words to express how much it means to see and hear about the fantastic times you are having. Thank you so much once again, for sharing with us. Love you!!

    Like

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