Love at First Sight: Paris

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By the time I’d asked the bus driver how much the fare was to Pont de Rungis…
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Excusez-moi, monsieur. Combien?*

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…and bought two RER C tickets to the 7th arrondissement…
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Bonjour madam! Champ de Mars, deux billet.

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I felt like my entire supply of French had run out. For months I had tried to commit to heart those French phrases that I was likely to need, but nothing — not the haphazard attempts to learn the language, not the overzealous research on what to see and where to go — quite prepared me for the reality, for the unrealness, of being in Paris.
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Arrival at Orly Airport
October 2011. Arrival at Orly Airport. Parang Mactan lang.

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There was never, as far as I can recall, a moment in my life when I promised myself: “Someday, I’m going to see the Eiffel Tower.” I say traveling is my addiction, and it is, but my wanderlust had as yet limited itself to the proximate (Southeast Asia) and the ultimate (Antarctica, when I retire). Europe, I thought, was for the rich — and I wasn’t — so I didn’t even bother pining for it.

And then, one afternoon, my sister called up with interesting news: a low-cost airline had just launched its Paris flights**, and return tickets were on sale for as low as PHP 15,000. Did I want to go?

We rapidly went through the facts: I had just gotten married and spent most of my savings on the wedding. Her project had just ended, which meant a significant drop in her income. Paris was one of the most expensive cities in the world. We didn’t have a travel fund.

“What the heck,” we said. “Let’s do it.”
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When you're cooped up in an airplane for hours on end, you do silly things like take photos of logos.
When you’re cooped up in an airplane for hours on end, you do silly things like take photos of logos.

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And so we found ourselves, that October morning, in a place we had never even dared to dream of visiting.

Paris isn’t all sparkling lights and beautiful buildings. The train from Orly passed through deserted areas, slightly dilapidated houses, and open-air stations that seemed in the middle of nowhere. We went underground as we entered the heart of Paris and gradually saw stations with familiar names — St Michel-Notre Dame, Musée d’Orsay. And then: Champ de Mars. We alighted and broke down in nervous giggles when we had trouble getting through the turnstile because of our luggage. Finally, we ascended a flight of stairs to street level…and were greeted by the sight of the stunning Eiffel Tower.
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Eiffel Tower
First sight of the Eiffel Tower. Okay, it doesn’t look too stunning here, with just its upper half visible, but, trust me, it was stunning.

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OMG! We were in Paris! We were actually in Paris!

To our left was the River Seine, bluish gray and beautiful. The bridges and buildings were gorgeous and unmistakably European. Even the walkway by the river bank, with its shrubs and flowers and classic park benches, was just breathtakingly lovely. It was love at first sight, and as we gazed around in awe and wonder, my sister and I had the same feeling: we could live here.

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* I’m not even sure this was the right way to say it!
** Now discontinued, unfortunately.

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