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The last few years seem like a big ol’ blur, intense and jarring and confusing. I’ve emerged from the tunnel of these years with the prevalent thought, “What the *** was that???”

Wine

When I compare the person I was a few years ago to the one I am now, I’m faced with startling contradictions. Somehow it feels I’m in exactly the same place—emotionally and physically—and at the same time a completely different person. I’m crankier, yet more empathetic; weary, yet full of wonder; terrified of everything, yet ready to barrel past the fear.

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So there’s no clarity in any of that.

For these last few years, this blog has been simply a series of one or two travel posts a year, with a year-end wrap up for good measure. It’s been in flux—just like me. I’m trying to figure out who I am after decades of work, and not much play, left me feeling like there had to be more to life. It’s been an interesting and challenging time.

I thought a lot about love this year.

Mostly, I thought about how you can fall out of love with your life and not realize it. When I look at the writing I’ve done over the last few years—which, admittedly, hasn’t been much—I see my struggle with this. I’m constantly saying how I’m living in the in-between space, in that middle place between the person I was and the one I will become. It’s unsettling, this feeling of not knowing what lies ahead.

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I’ve also begun to see the barriers I put up against love. It’s been eye opening to notice how I don’t let people in, and how I resist allowing them to really get to know me. Which is funny for a person who “sees” love everywhere I go.

Maybe all those signs of love are heavenly reminders that a life without love isn’t really much of a life at all.

Love in Marzamemi

I already have a vulnerability hangover just writing all of that.

When I think of all the interesting things I’ve done over the last few years, almost all of them began with the word no.

As a former people pleaser (and thank goodness THAT part of the program is over), I had to learn how to say no in order to put up healthy boundaries. I like the word no; it makes me feel in control. The thing is, my no’s don’t all mean the same thing.

Sometimes it means, “oh, hell no!” Or as I like to say in texts, “nooooooo.” But other times it’s an internal “hmmmm.” Much less definitive. As in, I don’t know how I feel about that, and I need to think about it. But for right now I’m gonna say, nope. 

It’s taken me almost half a century to understand this about myself. The place of no is how I process new information.

This summer, I had a series of conversations with a friend that always ended with me lamenting how I didn’t know who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. I was in the middle of a transition, and I didn’t know how to get to the other side. One day, she finally stopped me and offered incredibly wise advice.

She gently suggested that maybe I stop the hustle. That I let go of the notion that I had to achieve something to be a valid person. That I stop trying to define my life and just go live it. That I give myself that space to just be.

This was life changing. And so, I gave myself some room to just live. And to start saying yes more often.

If on January 1, you had told me I’d travel to Paris, Rome, and London (with a couple of stops in Sicily) within the span of twelve months, I’d have thought you were insane. And yet…that actually happened.

How one says that without sounding obnoxious, I don’t know. And yet.

Sometimes life presents situations you could never have imagined yourself being in. And the only thing standing between you and an unimaginably amazing place is your ability to say yes.

This year I said yes more often than not. To myself. To my friends. To adventure.

And I ended up seeing Europe’s greatest hits.

Paris: You already know I fell in love with Paris. (Click here to see the post, if you haven’t.)

Paris Ferris Wheel

Paris Window

Italy: My first love. This year we got to know each other better.

Colosseum Sun

Colosseum Detail

Should you find yourself in Rome and willing to go off the beaten path, venture out to Aventine Hill. You’ll find a line of people at a nondescript door, looking through a keyhole…which sounds insane. But when you look through it, you’ll see it’s perfectly lined up with St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican. No matter how many times I’d seen it on the internet, when I looked through it in person, I gasped.

The Keyhole

I’ve been to Sicily four times in the last couple of decades, each time visiting a different region, and each time I go, I discover a new side of it.

Ortigia Plaza

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Modica Church

We have lots of traffic in New York City, but not once has it ever been because of a goat herd.

Sheep in Sicily

London: It’s been a dream of mine to see all the lights around London at Christmas time. To say I was not disappointed is the understatement of the century. It was magical.

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London Angel 2

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Life doesn’t always feel of full of goodness in the midst of a day. But when I look back on all that I was lucky enough to do and see over the past year, how can I feel anything but grateful? Perhaps the key to life, and love, is saying yes, even just a little more.

Can we start the new year by making a few promises to ourselves? First, can we give ourselves a break? If you’re like me, you’re really hard on yourself. And it’s exhausting. It also blocks the fun. Can we invite in the fun??

Can we feel afraid and uncertain and uncomfortable, and move forward anyway? Can we open ourselves to the possibilities we don’t know exist? Can we trust that life holds good things in trust for us, and they can be ours if just give them some room?

Let’s begin by saying yes to ourselves. Magical things are waiting for us on the other side of it. Here’s to a life well lived and well loved in 2019.

xo, with goodness and grace.

No one wants to hear me drone on about Paris. They don’t say this, of course, because most of the people I know are (sort of) polite. But I can feel the inward roll of the eyes when I start talking about it yet again. I think they’re tired of me yammering on about its magnificent beauty.

Jardin Tuileries

I fell in love with a city. You know that feeling when you fall in love with someone and all you want to do is talk about that person? And no one wants to about hear it, again? And again. And yet again. That’s me, currently.

For a long time I didn’t want to hear it, either. I thought of Paris as something too far out of reach, unattainable. I didn’t feel fancy enough for it.

IMG_0585Lounging in the Tuileries

I was sitting in my apartment on a cold January day, fully in a funk and having a hard time pulling myself out of it. So I started asking questions. What experience did I need to have? What dreams haven’t I fulfilled? Where could I go???

Paris came to mind. It’s always been on my list of dream places to visit, but I never thought I’d actually go. Friends would try to convince me I should go, but I would poo poo the idea. I don’t speak a lick of French, and all the clichés about the French had settled into somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain.

I realize now how much of my trepidation came from other people’s notions and someone else’s fears.

And so when I felt excited at the prospect of going this time around, I booked a trip for early spring.

Cherry Blossoms in Paris

I arrived in full New Yorker mode, all wound up and wearing my self-protective attitude. This meant immediately challenging the taxi driver about the fact that he didn’t have a taxi light on the top of his car (my internet research warned against getting in cabs without one), and then about the lack of a meter once I got in the car (which turned out to be on his cell phone). Being New Yorker means being perennially paranoid, and acting accordingly.

Is this your first time in Paris? he asked.

Yes, it is.

Ah. That explains it.

I still don’t know what that meant, but it made me chuckle.

By the end of the hour-and-a-half long ride—which was almost an hour longer than normal because a rail strike forced more people into their cars-—we’d become fast friends. He showed me points of interest as we passed them and gave me tips on navigating the city. We had interesting conversation about politics and our leaders, and we talked about our families. When we reached my hotel, he kissed me on both cheeks, told me I was hilarious, and thanked me for the fun ride.

So began four days in the city of love.

Love locks

It had been a while since I’d explored a place on my own, without a friend (or five) with me. I’d almost forgotten how to do the thing of learning a place through my own lens. I’d forgotten the freedom of setting my own agenda.

Freedom, I think, is the thing that travel gives you. It frees you from the daily routine, the list of have-tos, the endless rounds of meetings and conference calls and brainstorms. It releases you from responsibility.

And when you travel on your own, once you get past your own discomfort of being alone, it puts you in touch with what lights you up.

So I wandered more than I have in years, to the point of exhaustion. I loved every second of it.

Lest you also begin to roll your eyes as I wax poetic about Paris, I’ll pipe down a bit and show you some pictures.

Door detail

This was one of my favorite places.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre-Coeur Basilica, in the Montmartre hilltop neighborhood, sits at the highest point of Paris.

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If you venture up the 300 stairs that lead to the top of the dome, you are rewarded with the most spectacular views of the city.

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Love is everywhere. Especially in this city.

I explored the bridges along the Seine River. This one, Pont Alexandre III, is a masterpiece. A Parisian later told me the bridge had been a gift from Russia to France.

Pont Alexandre Trois

I don’t have many photos of it for two reasons. 1) I couldn’t get over how ornate and intricate and beautiful it was, so I just stood on the bridge for a long time trying to take it all in. 2) There were so many people—wedding parties in particular—it was hard to take the pictures I had in my mind.

Bride

What you can’t see is another bridal party on the other side of this couple.

By the way, if I’m patiently waiting to take a picture and you insist on planting yourself for a personal photo shoot, I’ve now decided to just make you part of the landscape. For example, these girls.

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They stayed like that for so long. I bet they are still there. But I digress. 🙂

I visited a handful of museums, and YOU GUYS. The buildings were just as awe-inspiring as the art.

Picasso

The Picasso Museum. I don’t have much to say, except—Look. At. This.

Picasso Museum

At the Musée de l’Orangerie, Monet’s water lilies circled two rooms.

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And of course, the Louvre.

Louvre

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And, as one does when in Paris, I made the pilgrimage to Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa

The French people were, for the most part, kind and full of good humor.

Wine Shop and Strangers

And, the food. Because, Paris.

Of all the drool-worthy food I ate, I think it’s slightly hilarious that one of my favorite meals was a small plate of fried chicken. Though, to call it a small plate of fried chicken is to undersell how delicious it was. In my research before my trip, I’d read that Ellsworth had arguably the best fried chicken in the world. It’s something I rarely eat, but I immediately felt the need to try it.

It didn’t disappoint. Served alongside a buttermilk dipping sauce and house made pickles, the chicken was crispy, succulent, juicy deliciousness.

Ellsworth Poulet Frit

I’m mostly gluten free at home, but there was no way I was going to France and not eat everything.

Like this chocolate-pistachio escargot. It’s the thing you are supposed to get at this particular bakery, which of course meant I wanted something else. (Insert emoji eye roll.) Please hear me when I say this: if you are ever in Paris, you need to go to Du Pain et des Idées. Get this. Full stop. And yes, I am bossing you around.

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You’re welcome.

Also, aren’t these asparagus gorgeous?

White Asparagus

Probably the most magical moment was on my next to last night. Sitting in my hotel room, legs throbbing from all the walking I’d done, I felt to pull to go back out.

So I did.

Eiffel from Afar

As soon as I walked out of the metro station, the skies opened up.

Eiffel Tower

It didn’t matter. The rain only added to the drama.

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Sometimes the touristy thing ends up being the most majestic.

That’s the thing about this city—magnificence is everywhere. It wasn’t until I visited that I realized how colorless my life had looked. How mundane everything had begun to feel. Paris woke me up. It made me feel alive again. It embodies beauty, and the spirit of why beauty matters. Because the world is a vibrant, glorious, enchanting place.

It’s why I don’t mind if no one wants to hear about how I fell in love with it. Renewed in spirit, I returned home able to see my own city with fresh eyes.

It was a good reminder that life is beautiful, and so are we.

Life is beautiful, and you are like her

xo, with goodness and grace.

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