Paris: it's that quintessentially European city where it seems like everyone wants to go to. It's the setting for so many movies and books and is associated with all things romantic, and the Eiffel Tower is one of the most (if not the most) recognizable buildings in the world. And of all the time I've spent overseas, I still hadn't gotten to Paris.

I held it at arm's length, thinking it sounded too good to be true, and assumed that I'd probably be disappointed with it if we went. And people always seemed to say that the French were so rude. Was all the hype really worth it? Were Frenchmen really so rude? It sounded too cliche or something in my mind, honestly. But in trying to decide a few places we really wanted to go before heading back to the U.S., we decided on Paris; it just felt like it was a place we both needed and wanted to see. And so we ended our year and a half of living overseas in the City of Love. We were not disappointed!

Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame Cathedral.

We got tons and tons of recommendations from friends who have either lived in or traveled to Paris, and while we did seek out a few things on those lists, we did a lot of wandering. Partly, we were tired, and partly we just wanted to make it our own. It's easy to get overwhelmed in a huge new city, thinking you have to see everything. First of all, you can't possibly see everything anyway, and if you try, you'll just end up frustrated. I've become a much more relaxed traveler and am pretty OK with walking, sitting, people watching, and sipping a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe. It's Europe, y'all: embrace it.

So my general solution? Crepes. Boutiques. Book stores. Walking. You can't go too wrong with crepe stands (I could eat crepes for every meal!) and then taking your crepe to a bench and people watching. It being the last time for quite some time that we'll be taking a weekend trip in Europe (I know, I know...poor us), we wanted to just soak it all in, see a few key spots, and simply enjoy being together and reflecting over the past 18 months. 

A college friend told me that Sainte-Chapelle, above, is one of her very favorite spots in Paris, and so we headed there first. I couldn't believe how stunning the stained glass is! The many windows and the small panes of glass that make them up tell the story of the Bible. Standing in Sainte-Chapelle in the late afternoon made for perfect lighting and lovely pictures. It's so impressive.

Shakespeare & Company was a must-see on our list because it is a huge English bookstore. I had to snag a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, about his time spent in Paris amongst writers and artists. The bookstore itself is nice, but very crowded. Stop in if you're in Paris!

Then there's the Eiffel Tower. You've seen it on everything from hand towels to bad "art" in Walmart, but when you see it in real life it takes your breath away. We found ourselves walking through Paris, kind of forgetting that the Eiffel Tower was there, and then we'd look up and lo and behold, there it was! It took me by surprise a few times. At night it's magical, lit up and sparkling. We decided not to go up in the tower (if you do, though, buy tickets in advance!), but instead to go up in the Tour (Tower) Montparnasse, a super ugly building from which you can see all of Paris and get wonderful views of the Eiffel Tower (but not the ugly building!).

Instead of touring the Louvre, we went to Musee L'Orangerie, where we saw some of Monet's waterlily paintings. The two room, nearly 360-degree-surrounding paintings were so, so lovely. I loved the display. Did you know that when the paintings originally came out for the public, people weren't so impressed? 

The view from Tour Montparnasse. We bought our tickets in advance, and enjoyed the panoramic views from the top of the tower.

The view from Tour Montparnasse. We bought our tickets in advance, and enjoyed the panoramic views from the top of the tower.

The Luxembourg Garden was full of locals and tourists on Sunday afternoon, everyone enjoying the sunshine.

The Luxembourg Garden was full of locals and tourists on Sunday afternoon, everyone enjoying the sunshine.

Adorable little French children were sailing their small boats in one of the fountains. 

Adorable little French children were sailing their small boats in one of the fountains. 

If there's anything we learned from one weekend it Paris, it was this: we have to come back. There's so much to see, and we didn't have enough time. Paris is begging to be explored and there are still more beautiful bookstores to wander around, another crepe to eat, and more art to look at before lingering over a delicious French meal and a glass of wine. But we're so, so glad that we had three days to enjoy this city. Paris, je t'aime!

PS: All of the French people we came in contact with with so kind. It made me want to learn more than a few words of French for next time, whenever that may be. :)

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it's always sunny in...athens.

Photo cred: Deborah Jessup

Photo cred: Deborah Jessup

I've always wanted to go to Greece. In my mind, though, I was sitting at a cafe on a little blue and white island, like Santorini or Mikonos. Maybe one day we'll make it to those idyllic little spots, but for now I was not turning down a long weekend in the metropolis of Athens with our friends Jimmy and Deborah.

Athens is loud, in your face, and on a Friday night, the music reverberates through the buildings and tries to keep you awake. It's a little brash and it's very much rough around the edges, adorned with graffiti nearly everywhere. It's an ancient city, well-worn with its slippery, shiny marble and ruins popping up every few hundred feet. And it defies categorization in many ways, too, with piles of junk and knick-knacks on the street making it hard to walk, when suddenly, lo and behold, a gorgeous storefront greets you with upper-end merchandise and the smell of luxury. The Acropolis and the Agora are at your fingertips, but so are tavernas, clubs and bars, and winding streets with tiny doors and flowerpots lining the walkways. Athens was a really hard city for me to put my finger on; there was something different about it, but I couldn't tell you just what, yet. 

I guess I'll have to go back to figure it out, huh?

Our Airbnb, a ten-minute metro ride from the center of the city, was beautiful, spacious, and the right spot for the four of us to stay. I wish the weather had been a tad warmer, because we would have loved to have used the massive terrace more! Again, I love the way Airbnbs help you feel like you see the "real" part of the city, and not just the touristy parts. If you go to Athens, look for Rita's gorgeous apartment on Airbnb and stay there!

Syntagma, the center of the city is bustling at night. This square was a great spot to stop, eat some frozen Greek yogurt, and people watch. The view of the Acropolis overlooking the city is a nice touch. :)

Syntagma, the center of the city is bustling at night. This square was a great spot to stop, eat some frozen Greek yogurt, and people watch. The view of the Acropolis overlooking the city is a nice touch. :)

Athens is a city full of cats. These strays seem to be well taken care of, and pop up anywhere and everywhere.

Athens is a city full of cats. These strays seem to be well taken care of, and pop up anywhere and everywhere.

Photo credit: Deborah Jessup

Photo credit: Deborah Jessup

The Acropolis in all its glory. It's not too bad of a climb, but the views that you get overlooking the whole city are so, so worth it.

The Acropolis in all its glory. It's not too bad of a climb, but the views that you get overlooking the whole city are so, so worth it.

Here is the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. This is the spot where Paul preached to the Greeks in Acts 17. It was so cool to sit there and read that passage, imagining what it was like so many hundreds of years ago. 

Here is the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. This is the spot where Paul preached to the Greeks in Acts 17. It was so cool to sit there and read that passage, imagining what it was like so many hundreds of years ago. 

Above, left: parts of Acts 17 in Greek.

"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

'The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]

'Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.'”

Acts 17:22-31 (NIV)

The view from Mars Hill.

The view from Mars Hill.

The Acropolis.

The Acropolis.

One fun thing we did that we probably wouldn't have done on our own was to go to an Escape Room. We had no idea what this was, but it's a new thing that's sweeping the U.S., and apparently the world! Jimmy and Deborah are very nearly experts, having done quite a few themselves, and introduced us to this fun game-night concept. Your group is locked into a room and you have to solve some sort of problem in order to get out. We went two different nights, and played two different room challenges, one a murder mystery, and the other a crazy circus room where we had to solve different codes and find various numbers, working together to escape. And thankfully, the Munich Americans made it out! Whew. (You might be thinking, Wow! That doesn't sound like you would like that! Well, you're right--I had my doubts. But it was really fun and I would gladly go back to try some of the other challenges. What is happening to me?!?)

I loved the colors, the food, the warm weather, etc., ETC., in Athens. It was such a refreshing trip after some cold weather here in Munich, and it was so fun to explore a new city with friends!

 

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