French Lessons

By Beth M. Wood

French Lessons

I sipped the mimosa and gazed out the window at the clouds. Did I remember to cover carpool for the late start day on Wednesday? Will Jack’s dad remember to set up the physical therapy appointments? 30,000 feet up and my mind was still down below the clouds, my heart still at home with my kids.

I’ve been enthralled with Paris since I was a little girl. I read books that took place there, heard stories about the Louvre, and the Arc De Triumph. Through the years, I’ve collected pieces from the city of lights: a poster print of the Champs Elysees, and the Rhone River, baskets and picture frames stamped with the city’s moniker. When I was a teenager, I saw the movie Sabrina. It’s been a love affair ever since. I imagined someday drinking a latte at a street side café, writing my novel and greeting people in French.

I vowed to get there by the time I was 40. So, when my dad and step mom offered to take me along on a tour of Paris and the South of France, just a few months shy of my 41st birthday, I couldn’t possibly turn it down. From the time the trip was booked, I’d had eight months to plan, prepare and pack.

As a single mom of three, I’d need every bit of it before leaving for a 10-day vacation, sans kids. I would need to depend on others, something I was always loathe to do. Thankfully, my kids’ dad, my mom and close friends all jumped in to make it work.

The morning of my flight, I left post it notes taped to the front door, the sliding glass door and the kitchen window with instructions on watering the plants, taking out the trash and loading the dishwasher. I wrote fifteen letters, five for each of my three kids, to be handed out every other day while I was gone – a reminder that I was thinking of them.

I bought an international data package so that I could log onto my blog, and write an “American Girl in Paris” entry each night, post and tweet about my trip. What can I say? I’m a planner.

I’m also a very nervous traveler. I don’t like to fly. But business class was a nice diversion, and we arrived in Paris with no issues. This was a tour, so I was comfortable with the fact that the next 10 days were well planned out. On the day we arrived, May 1st, we’d have all day to wind down and explore before beginning our planned activities the next day. As it turns out, May 1st is a holiday in Paris – their Labor Day – and most everything was closed. I was also very jet lagged and ended up spending the majority of my first day in Paris sleeping. This trip is not starting out as I planned, I thought. But at dinner that night, we met our travel companions, drove down the Champs Elysee and saw the Eiffel Tower.

Day two began as scheduled, with a tour of the city and lunch at an outdoor café where I sipped a Kir Royale and people-watched in true Parisienne style. Day two was also the end of planning as I knew it. We were scheduled to take a bullet train to Avignon and meet our riverboat where we’d cruise along the Rhone for the next seven days visiting the vineyards and towns in the South of France.

Instead, we were put up at a small hotel in Lyon. Our tour director explained that all the previous weeks’ rain had caused the Rhone to rise – too high for riverboats to pass under the bridges.

The next four days turned into a charter bus tour. The boat was our hotel on the water, but instead of cruising to each town along the river, we had to board buses and ride an hour or more to each destination. While we visited picturesque villages, beautiful vineyards and historic architecture, I was busy feeling frustrated with over-excited tour guides, long bus rides and the disappointment in our docked ship. And worse, the Wi-Fi was horrendously sketchy, rendering that data package I’d purchased useless.

Our fourth night on the boat, we finally set sail. We arrived in Viviers the morning of May 8th only to learn that it was yet another French holiday. As was the following day. Most of the shops were closed. My travel companions were unfazed, exclaiming “Boy, these French sure know how to live!” While I silently sulked, Do these people ever work?

But with each glass of wine, I slowly began to adjust my expectations. And I realized I had been living the French life…Each morning, I relaxed over an espresso and morning pastry before enjoying the day’s activities. Each afternoon, I relaxed on the ship’s deck with a glass of wine and a few chapters of a great book, before enjoying a fantastic dinner and the company of some of my favorite people. Without a good Wi-Fi connection, I began leaving my phone in my cabin. And for the first time since about 2007, I actually left my iPhone behind for an entire day of sightseeing and shopping.

What I signed up for was an organized trip to Paris and a river cruise through the South of France. What I got was permission to let go. To enjoy my family, sleep in, eat crepes, drink a little more wine and while away a few hours writing long hand in a leather-bound journal with my favorite Cross pen. Something I hadn’t done in a long time.

The trip hadn’t turned out as planned. It turned out better. Because it forced me to stop planning and just live. Now that I’m home,

I think I’ll continue to live as the French do. Maybe not every day, but when it counts: Leaving my phone at home while I enjoy dinner with good friends, cuddling with my babies a little longer on lazy weekend mornings and realizing that the best things in life really can’t be bought – in Paris, or anywhere else for that matter.

About this writer

  • Beth M. Wood Beth M. Wood is an award-winning marketer, freelance writer and mom of three. Her social media addiction pays the bills and steady copywriting gigs feed her shopping habit. She blogs about marketing and social media at bethmwoodblog.com, digresses about life and parenting at bethmwood.blogspot.com and tweets @a1972bmw.

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4 Responses to “French Lessons”

  1. Beth, I’m a planner, too, so can really identify with the initial frustrations you had on your trip. I’ll be leaving soon on a trip here in the U.S. Hope I can remember the lesson you learned! :)

  2. Beth–I, too, am enthralled with France and someday I’ll return.

    You are so right–there are many lessons we can learn about their easy-going way of life, and if we savored life as much as they do, we’d be so much happier.

  3. Phyllis Fredericksen says:

    Great article…as always! France is just a wonderful place and Paris….there’s nothing I can say. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to see it. Now, I can’t wait to hear when you’re going back:)
    PS Didn’t I tell you that a Kir Royale was wonderful?

  4. Nancy Muldoon says:

    A wonderful story and a pleasure to read.

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