It’s official. I’ve returned from living solo in France for 5 weeks. Now that I’ve been home for one week and had time to process, I can share my experience.
The conscious planned purposes of the trip were to take an art course to paint on the streets of Paris and maintain a travel blog of the trip. Except for two weeks, I traveled solo through a country 1/2 way around the world where I didn’t speak their language, experienced train travel for the first time, stayed at local AirBnB lodgings, and scheduled my itinerary as I went; an extreme independent existence. However, there were subconscious purposes quietly waiting to emerge … those of self discovery.
The very act of setting out on a trip is very optimistic. What paint do I take? Will this hat shade my face while I paint? What will I wear? I had my maps, had planned my itinerary, had carefully packed and weighed my suitcase, and put my liquids in plastic bags, etc. But as Andrew McCarthy says: “the path from optimism to discovery is a rocky one”.
Leaving the familiar for the unknown can create life-altering moments while on the road, far away from home and routine. Along the way my lodging plans changed frequently, some by my choice, some by circumstance. With all my maps, it seems I still got lost at least once every day. Many anticipated museums were closed because the season had ended or because they were under renovation for next year. Traveling and exploring is physically demanding with lots of walking and step climbing. A few days of planned activities were cancelled because I just stayed in bed in slept (on the bright side, I ate anything I wanted included pastries and still lost 12 pounds while I was gone). I didn’t see or go to nearly 1/2 the places I had wanted to as the emphasis shifted from the need to see the things I think people expected me to see to just sitting and immersing into the moment (like an afternoon of watching the sun play on the water at Nice).
Travel changes us. I had always thought myself an independent person but this trip challenged that perception. Traveling on a budget is very limiting and the trip at times was excruciatingly lonely and a little scary. Then a discovery. As I rode the train from Paris to Nice (while eating my trail mix and looking out the window happy that I was on the right train), I realized that I could and was doing it. I was on my own, a “traveler”. I was not one of the people getting off the tour bus and allotted 5 minutes to see a site before being herded to the next stop. I was creating my own journey even if included fears and loneliness. So, while I learned I can do this, I’m also aware that I don’t have to. The next trip will be planned a little differently.
My other self realization was that I do indeed need people in my life and that my home and community should be appreciated and embraced (not try to escape from them). I have fallen in love with French cooking and adopted their concepts about food. Formerly a person that did not cook, I brought back cookbooks in order to learn and practice my new love (and a new apron as a symbol of my intent). One week at home and I’ve already changed the dining room with tablecloths and candles etc in order to celebrate my new cooking accomplishments with friends.
As for the art, the purported art course (and initial purpose for the trip) was cancelled. The travel blog never happened either. Turns out those were not the real reasons I was there. I was there as an observer, not a doer, and to learn about myself. I brought back a ton of ideas and photographs to use in new paintings. The challenge now is to capture the essence of the French experience on canvas.
P.S. And yes, I did see the magnificent light that the Impressionists speak of.