Can a city have a spirit? I think so. Just like people, cities breathe, pulse, vibrate. They have their quirks, their dark corners, their talents and appeal. They have their best known qualities, and what make them unique. Some parts are old, and some are born again. Cities are like people.
This past summer, after four years of what could only be described as Book One: Trial by Fire, my husband and I finally rose from the embers scarred, but stronger. We had packed up the past into a box, and catapulted it, as well as its pain and hardships, far behind us. Our spirits were lifted and the tide had finally changed. So, what better way to celebrate the light, and levity, that had entered our lives then to pack our bags and hit the road, sky, and rails. Europe was calling, and our new eyes couldn’t wait to see things we might have missed before.
Being an event coordinator, I arranged our itinerary: a 15-day journey from France, circumnavigating the Mediterranean, and back. We left from Newark Liberty and arrived at Charles De Gaulle on a sunny and crisp August morning. Paris is on the same parallel as Montreal and so, unlike the sauna that is New York in August, Paris in August has a welcomed hint of fall. Anxious to get underway, we dropped our bags at our first of many hotels, Hotel Eiffel Trocadero, and called an Uber. That day we strolled through the perfectly manicured Luxembourg Gardens. At night, a most memorable meal at Les Chouettes in the chic Marais arrondissement had us feeling relaxed and well-fed.
The following day we checked into the ultra-lux Grand Hotel Du Palais Royal in the 1st arrondissement. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a hotel snob, and The Grand Palais did not disappoint. It’s well-appointed rooms came with a walk in closet, grand bed, turn down service, small terrace, large bathroom, etc; all the creature comforts of a 5-star hotel right across the street from the Louvre. There is no feeling more satisfying than sipping your morning coffee on a terrace overlooking the Louvre in a comfy robe with nowhere to be. Bliss.
The next two days we played tourist, visiting the Chateau of Versailles and the Louvre. It was my husband’s first time to France and I wanted him to see the landmarks in this first leg of the trip.
On our fourth day we checked out of The Grand Palais and made our way to Gare Lyon for the three hour train ride to Aix en Provence. Our hotel, Le Pigonnet, was what pastel-colored Provencial dreams are made of. The next day we departed for the port city of Marseille and our eight day cruise on the MSC Preziosa.
The cruise itself was a bit lack-luster. Still, being the flexible New Yorkers that we are, we managed to enjoy it and took advantage of the excursions offered. Our itinerary had us sailing for Portofino and Rome (Italy), Palermo (Sicily), Valletta (Malta), and Valencia (Spain). Each port had its own unique adventures, each city its own spirit. We went from navigating the brightly colored streets of Portofino to exploring the old-meets-new architecture of Valencia. I lived in Rome once upon a time, and enjoyed taking my husband to hidden piazzas and neighborhoods only a local would know.
After the cruise we once again headed back to Provence, this time staying at Le Mas d’Entremont. If there is such a thing as higher than five stars, I’d give this property six. The quiet seclusion, Restoration Hardware-styled villas, and sprawling grounds already bumped it into my top five all-time favorites. But a sunset dinner, under a large oak tree illuminated with candles and lanterns, turned the stay into a life-long memory. After our whirlwind cruise, we were finally able to slowdown and reconnect in a beautiful place, eat an unhurried meal, and enjoy the sounds of summer in Provence.
Finally, we headed back to Paris and rounded out our trip with a stay at Hotel Recamier in the heart of my favorite arrondissement: Saint Germain des Pres. Hotel Recamier was another gem, tucked neatly into Place Saint Sulpice, and walking distance from those quintessentially charming Parisian streets. Our final two days were spent strolling, hand-in-hand, among famed pieces of art and through crowded cobblestone streets. Our conversations were unhurried and our hugs a bit tighter. The wine may have even been a bit sweeter. It felt that we had found ourselves again.
In the end and after thoughtful reflection, we agreed that each city had its own unique spirit. And Paris, a city in the midst of a war, seems to have reemerged from the recent past quite the same way we did: scarred, but stronger.
Tatiana Ciccarelli splits her time between careers. During the day she is a Special Education teacher with a specialization in Autism Spectrum Disorders and an Assistant Professor at The College of Staten Island. At night and on weekends (and all the time in between) she is the owner of White Elephant Events, a full-service event planning and design company based out of New York. Most recently her work with White Elephant Events has been featured in Glamour, Inspired By This, Yahoo Makers, and Southern Bride. You can find her on Instagram @whiteelephanteventsny.