Once upon a time I lived in California and befriended a beautiful moon goddess named Selene. She had never been to France, while it’s one of my favorite places. We would get together and swap travel stories and say, “one day, we will visit Paris together!”
Of course, friends say things like that all the time. I figured such a plan would likely never come to fruition, and wouldn’t have thought any the less of her because of it.
Time passed and the military took me away from sunny SoCal, and away from Selene. We kept in touch while I launched my new life in DC, and remained connected as we faced our respective struggles in 2020. Then, in summer 2021, Selene called and made the most exciting proposition.
“Let’s go to Paris! This summer, before COVID gets bad again. Seriously. I’m down, if you are.”
I was so excited and so down! But I was also so newly pregnant that I hadn’t told anyone yet – so I made my big reveal and asked if she was still interested in going with someone who couldn’t so readily imbibe in vin and fromage. Turns out she’s an excellent sport and wasn’t bothered in the slightest.
COVID counts were in a lull, and international travel less daunting, so we lost no time in booking a week in France, with a few days in Paris and a few days in dreamy Provence ❤
Although I’m fortunate enough to have traveled to Paris twice and Provence once, I was beyond excited to visit again. I’d been once in spring and once in winter, so the idea of a late summer trip was alluring. I was particularly excited to see the lavender fields in Provence, as I have a bit of an obsession with lavender!
The biggest adjustments in expectations I knew we’d have to make were, 1) Paris tends to shut down in August, especially the more local/authentic attractions, and 2) this effect would likely be magnified by the impact of COVID. Nonetheless, there are perks to such a scenario. Fewer crowds for one, and lower prices, for two!
I was thrilled to find an affordable boutique hotel in the Latin Quarter, on a cute little street just a couple blocks from Notre-Dame. I’d always wanted to base in the Latin Quarter! It was perfectly situated for sightseeing. That said, we had committed to avoiding an overly intense approach to touring the city, partially because we were short on time and partially because we both prefer a more relaxed “lifestyle” approach to travel. We were happy to wander a bit and see where we ended up.
We visited Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides, strolled Montmartre, and admired a sparkling Eiffel Tower. A particularly remarkable moment for me was when I realized I was walking Rue des Martyrs, made famous by Elaine Sciolino’s The Only Street in Paris. I read the book many years ago, but had never visited – not even on my second trip to Paris in December 2016, during which I had the opportunity to meet Elaine Sciolino at Shakespeare & Company for a book signing event! That was also a total surprise, as I had no idea the event was happening until the day of. I rushed over from St. Germain, realized that of course I didn’t have the book with me, and bought another copy for the signing – in French, no less. She was delightful and I was totally starstruck. I’ll always cherish my French version with Elaine’s sweet note inside. After the signing, I rushed over to a burlesque show at Lido with friends. A truly whimsical Parisian night, indeed!
Anyway, I digress! I found myself oddly overcome with familiarity as we climbed our way to Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre. Something seemed intimate about the street, like an old friend or a distant memory. I paused, looked up for a street sign, and sure enough – there I was, right on Rue des Martyrs! Selene probably thought I was nuts 🙂
We wrapped up our brief time in Paris with a comically frantic search for COVID tests, since they were “required” to use public transportation and we had a train to Provence to catch in the morning. They’re actually very common and easy to find in the city, but after climbing Montmartre, we realized that was the one neighborhood that seemed to be lacking. We made our descent until we found a pharmacy that offered them, before climbing back up to finish our excursion 🙂 What a hoot.
You may have noticed that I put “required” in quotation marks when referring to the antigen tests. As it turned out, no one cared about the tests and we boarded the train without anyone asking for it. But, it honestly made everything else much easier going forward, since a lot of restaurants and attractions were asking for them, particularly in the south.
Our train pulled in to Avignon, we hailed a VERY overpriced taxi, and after a 45-minute ride we pulled into our adorable bed and breakfast, Mas Jolie Garrigue, nestled in a sunny olive grove in Lourmarin. This life was all about pastel sunshine and relaxation, and it did not disappoint.
Actually, it did disappoint in one regard – turns out I missed lavender season by a month!! Apparently, the fields peak earlier in the summer, and it’s harvested by the end of August. I was pretty bummed, but I visited a lavender shop in the village where the kindest staff treated me to a fragrant, educational experience (and a cheesy photo shoot!)
Our next stop: Aix-en-Provence! A university town drenched in sunset hues. We had booked a top level apartment right near Cours Mirabeau, but we didn’t realize that meant climbing five flights of stairs with heavy luggage and no elevator! It was very Emily in Paris, season 1. Since I was pregnant and advised against lifting heavy items over longer distances, poor Selene had to carry my stuff up there. What a sexy beast!
Another highlight of the trip happened in Aix. Selene and I had taken an afternoon to ourselves to do some shopping and explore individual interests. In one cute little shop, the clearly introverted shopkeeper asked me, in French, if I was a student at the university. I said, “No, I’m just an American tourist.” She responded with surprise, and said “Your French is very good.” The French don’t exactly dole out compliments easily, so I was beyond tickled by this exchange!
From the pristine banks of the Seine to the glowing rues of Provence, this was a trip I’ll never forget. And traveling with one of your best girl friends? 10/10 recommend!!