I just got back from France yesterday and after 23 hours of flying and around 40 hours of travelling via Shanghai, I am home safe and sound and feeling healthy.
Here my highlights of France while they are still fresh in my head and heart.
I very much recommend you taking your dream milestone/end of cancer holiday at your first convenience post cancer treatment (when you are feeling well enough to travel). Let me know your plans.
1. Van Gogh, Renoir and Monet
I went to The Louvre and also Musee D’Orsay and for me, that was better. Less crowded and time and space to see the wonderful Van Gogh (a whole room of his), lots of huge Renoirs and beautiful Monets. The Van Goghs are my favourite. I also had the opportunity to do a Van Gogh tour and see this actual cafe he painted (below) plus the hospital he stayed in post-ear injury in Arles. Van Gogh’s paintings speak directly to me and I felt uplifted and changed just from seeing them.
2. The Eiffel Tower day and night
During the day,the Tower has a grand presence. It is also a fabulous landmark except for the time I got lost as it kept moving :). I went up to the second level and the views are extraordinary and I walked down the stairs which was a highlight. During a night cruise on the Seine, they turn on the magic and flickering lights flash on the hour. It is magical beyond belief and filled me with awe.
3. My heart opened up
I met lots of new people, saw inspiring art, went to incredibly spiritual churches, went to Lourdes and made new friends with lots of laughter combined with deep philosophical chats about life. I saw potential for having a wonderful life ahead of me full of happiness, positivity, art, history, culture, travel and food…it was heart opening and I am feeling very happy about life and my future.
4. My mind and world opened up
From all my anxieities, scars, difficult memories and hospital appointments, I felt my life had closed down a little. I didn’t feel able to break out of my bc and felt like bc was part of me, part of my destiny. In France, I felt I could start again and I was just like everyone else being stretched by France. I now feel that I could have a really different future – maybe work overseas again, travel, and basically live a big full life. I definitely wasn’t feeling that way before so France has opened me up and broken down the barriers.
Sometimes I would pinch myself and say I am not in the hospital, I do not have a vein in my hand. I am in France :).
5. The history of France
From the Romans, the Celts and everything else, the history is utterly absorbing and fascinating. I have a new appreciation of world history and French history and will keep learning. I have a new hobby in that.
6. The Basque area and going to Spain for the morning
I learned about the Basque culture, went to some Basque churches and headed into the Basque region and up to Spain over the border for a couple of hours. Very interesting!
We spent a day learning about the history of the area, exploring the D Day beaches and visited the US WWII cemetery – this was my highlight of France. Firstly, I learned so much but also, I felt something quite spiritual and profound there. It was a place of healing for me and so many lives were lost there. Lest we forget.
8. Southern France and the beaches
Paris is not France and while I spent two weeks in Paris, I did love life outside the capital. While Monaco was not my cup of tea, it was interesting. I loved Nice and the Biarritz. We also went to Cannes which was more beautiful than I expected. I am a beach person and loved those beaches in France. Very relaxing and glamorous at the same time.
In Lourdes, I queued up to see the famous grotto where a natural water source brings sacred, healing water out of a wall. I then went in to the church and felt quite a healing presence there. I filled up a few water bottles with the healing water and drank some. I did feel different from going there and am being drawn more and more to beautiful, healing, old Catholic churches.
Everywhere you look, there is a building, structure or statue that is not only historical, beautiful and inspiring, but takes you into a living history. It is a feast for your senses and I love art and design so I really enjoyed this side of France.
11. Food in France
One day, with my friend Selina, we both had both the best breakfast in the world followed by the best lunch in the world. The breakfast platter consisted of croissant, baguette, butter, apricot jam, home made nuttella, hot chocolate made with chocolate and milk and orange juice. It was the best. Dinner could not improve on the Croque Monsieur lunch. I do so love the onion soup too. While in Paris, I decided to take a step towards eating meat (I have been vegetarian for nearly 30 years and had been thinking about introducing meat for health reasons). It seemed easy to do in Paris and I had a few dishes with a tiny bit of meat in them. And my world didn’t fall apart.
A different way of eating
Eating three big meals a day with no snacking in the afternoon. But still eating lovely, incredible food. I ate lots of rich food but lost 3 kg. How great is that.
One of my best friends Selina who lives in London came over to Paris to stay with me. We had the best time and she taught me a lot about French fashion, food and just re-connecting with her was a highlight. My friends Italia and Sara from Auckland, NZ were by coincidence in Paris for three days and it was a whirlwind of touristy, fun, hanging out with them.
13. French style and design
I love the way that French men and women dress – with a natural seemingly effortless but tailored look. Scarves are everywhere. Women look very natural and relaxed in their skin. Men have tailored designer jeans and make an effort in how they dress. Paris Fashion Week was on while I was there. I didn’t see anything of it but enjoyed people watching while on the Metro the best.
14. A French personality
I am a bit French in that I love to talk about politics, art, history, religion and all things that French people seem to take very seriously. I actually felt very at home there and just absorbed all the history and culture around me.
15. The Seine
I am a water person and just loved the views and walking along the Seine. My favourite bridge was the King Alexander III bridge with its four gold statues representing four seasons.
16. Shopping especially Clio Blue
Selina and I did a spot of shopping in Paris. It is a lot of fun and my favourite jewellery is Clio Blue. I did a bit of Xmas shopping plus bought myself a new handbag.
17. Doing a tour and seeing so much of France in 13 days
I took a Trafalgar tour so I could do lots and not have to do all the arrangements myself. Trafalgar are excellent and I thoroughly recommend their tours.
18. Friends from the tour
On my tour, I made some new friends. In particular Jim from Florida – we had loads of philosophical chats about life, career and France. Jim took me around his old haunts when he studied in Paris and insisted I try lots of French delicacies. I met Josie and Pauline from Auckland who have turned out to be the best sorts of people – down to earth, caring and funny. And I have a new French friend who was our tour director, a very intelligent guy who shared his passion for history and culture. Kerrie and John from Melbourne were great fun too.
19. Transforming a challenging year in to a great year.
I ended 2012 on a very high note. That was my goal as I did not want 2012 to be defined only by bc.
20. A new vision for my future
After my holiday, I feel that my future has opened up in different directions. I will not be defined by bc. At some point, I will not be a bc survivor anymore but just Andrea living a great life at my best. My plans are big now – travel, work overseas a bit, own my own home, write, keep doing BC Nirvana..live big not small.
21. My Parisian village
At the end of my trip, I stayed for nine days in an apartment in central Paris. It was super chic and modern, quiet and olde worlde. It was in the middle of a village and I felt in nine days, that I became part of the village. It was near the metro stop Pernety and next to a supermarket, internet cafe, patisserie, pharmacy, beauty spa, hairdressor and clothes shops. I feel I had blended in to the village in that short time.
22. How friendly French people were to me
Everywhere I went, people were kind and hospitable to me. People in shops painstakingly easy going and helpful. I had one instance of a rude French woman who asked me to speak less loudly in a LOUD restaurant. But when she realised how puzzled I was, she recindered the request and was friendly. But overall, I learned a wee bit of French and, spent time doing pantomimes to make myself understood. The rest of the time, people spoke English to me.
23. Getting energised
Before my holiday, I didn’t have much energy and was still having headaches, only just recovering from migraines and about seven weeks after finishing all my cancer treatment. Somehow, I felt better on holiday. My skin cleared up, I lost weight, I handled the jet lag and found I could walk for hours. Somehow, it was a healing place for me.
24. All the walking
When you’re on holiday, you end up walking on the time. Some days, I think I did up to seven hours of walking a day. Also in Paris, it is easier to Metro or walk than taxi or drive. As a result, I feel a lot fitter than when I went away. I love to walk.
25. The Monet Gardens in Givenchy
Monet’s gardens inspiring many of his paintings are serene and beautiful. I also went inside his house and was able to contemplate around the lake where he painted the lilly pond paintings.
Thank you France. You are under my skin and I will visit again soon. I still have museums to see and more of Southern France to explore.