I felt a shiver of trepidation as I stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle: my passport pages are filled with European stamps, but this was the first time I’d anticipated the thunk of the stamp with pages also covered in stamps from Australia, New Zealand, Asia.
France is both familiar and foreign to me, a place where I slip into a comfortable state of speaking the language and understanding the street signs until I’m jarred into culture shock with a classic Gallic shrug.
I fell in love with France before I fell in love with traveling. I swooned over the smell of fresh-baked bread on every corner, the thrill of successfully ordering in another language, the exotic experience of riding the Metro. I was introduced to France by a true Francophile: my mother still wonders out loud why I bother to spend my money on traveling anywhere else, when I could just simply go to France.
For a long time, I didn’t think I would go anywhere but France. I spent weeks in Paris and Provence and Nice, studying French and cycling to buy baguettes and sampling fresh figs, snails, mussels. Then I slowly ventured out, although not very far: weekends in Belgium, England, Ireland to break up long stints in France.
I’m not exactly sure what convinced me to break out of the maternal clutch and test my travel prowess in the rest of Europe, tackling five countries with five different languages in five weeks on my first solo trip at 21–although, not surprisingly, I ended my trip with a few days in Nice. This whole thing–this blog, this lifestyle–only started because I desperately wanted to live in France.
I’m really not sure what urged me to move to Australia or explore Southeast Asia: most surprising to me is I loved them both. A lot. Maybe more than I loved France. My stint in Nice proved I could never live permanently in France–the red tape, the waiting, the aforementioned Gallic shrug–but Australia? There’s plenty to draw me back. Bali or Vietnam? I wouldn’t mind an expat stint there.
So as I planned my 2012 resolution to Croatia, bookending a new country with a weekend in Paris and a week in Nice, I worried that maybe I had fallen out of love with France. Maybe I’d think it was too expensive, too hoity-toity, too rude; maybe this would be my last trip, my travel funds funneling into new countries and continents after a much-anticipated catch-up with friends.
And then I stepped into the Metro station and was enveloped by a thick layer of sweat and accordion songs and shouting heavy with slang: it instantly felt right, as if me and my peacock-hued scarf could just fade right into City of Lights without a second glance.
Once a Francophile, always a Francophile.