Learning to Breathe Again: Turning 40 in Paris

On the morning of my 37th birthday it dawned on me, much to my chagrin, that I would soon be turning 40. Obviously this is something I had always known, but for some reason 37 was the age that it sunk in that I was no longer a spring chicken. The crows feet were forming and I realized that it had been some time since a patient had obnoxiously inquired if I “were really old enough to be a doctor.” I made a decision that if I absolutely must turn 40, I would embrace it.  I wanted to mark the occasion with something fabulous and I could think of nothing more fabulous than a week in Paris.

After three years of dreaming and planning, last month I spent my birthday week in the city of light. My husband and I always like to have something to look forward to, not to “wish our lives away” but to have a focal point on the difficult days and a “project” we can be excited about together. The timing of this adventure ended up being perfect, as a recent cascade of events that ranged from tragic (death of my father) to inconveniently annoying (wreckage of my car) had lead to the last six months being the most difficult season of my life. Faith, prayer and the support of my friends and family helped me make it through the awfulness. However, there were some difficult days that the only thing that got me by was the the thought that I would soon be in Paris. 

Iceland

We flew Iceland Air to France, via Boston (since we plan our own travel it always becomes overly complicated) and spent a day in Reykjavik. Iceland is worthy of it’s own post, should I ever get the time, but to sum up, I would say it’s a quirky, gorgeous, treeless, unique and cold Island. We enjoyed our 30 hours there and would love to go back and spend more time hiking and exploring. We took the I heart Reykjavik Tour and it was great.

Russ and I touring Rekjavik. Where we looked like homeless people because we kept having to but more layers as we walked around town to keep from freezing to death.

Russ and I touring Reykjavik in our official Icelandic Guild hats. We we looked like homeless people because we kept having to put on more layers as we walked around town to keep from freezing to death.

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We made a day trip to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spa. The mineral water is the craziest color of blue and 100 degrees, whereas the outside temp is 45 degrees (the lifeguards wear Parkas).

We ate in this funky place. The menu is on the left, beside the ordering line. You ask for fishkebabs (or mink whale steak), they walk around to your side of the counter and take it from the shelf, then cook it and bring it out to the family style table.

 

Paris

People keep asking me about my favorite parts of our trip, but really the best part of Paris was  simply “Paris.”  As we sat in cafes, walked along the Seine and observed the beauty of the architecture, it was as if the city’s energy was coaxing us the feel more alive. Strolling through this ancient city I felt minuscule next to its history and intricate beauty, but at the same time I felt inspired to create and dream.

The sky was so crazy blue it looked photoshopped

The sky was so crazy blue it looked photoshopped.

 

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Night tour in an 2CV convertible. Watching the tower twinkle at midnight gave me goose bumps.

Being in Paris was an obvious reminder of the world that exists outside my silly suburban bubble. Sometimes it takes a trip half way around the world, to one of the most densely populated cities on our planet to be able to slow down. With each block I walked, I begin to slowly feel myself relax. With each breath, I breathed a little deeper. Each step I took, felt a little lighter.

One of my take away moments was sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a local guide. As we got ready to leave I decided I wanted a coffee. As I started to ask the waiter for a coffee to go, our horrified guide quickly stopped me and looked at me as if I had just slapped his grandmother. “This is Paris” he said, ” We do NOT get our coffees ‘to go’, we sit and sip and enjoy the coffee and the company of of friends.” I laughed at my own American ridiculousness and I drank my coffee from a ceramic cup, savoring every sip.

Fun to see the Love Locks bridges before they take them down

Fun to see the Love Locks bridges before they take them down.

The food was phenomenal. Meant to be savored, not gulped.

The food was phenomenal. Meant to be savored, not gulped.

The question "Do you want a crepe?" is always a rhetorical one.

The question “Do you want a crepe?” is always a rhetorical one.

 

Versailles

Since my husband was still recovering from his ruptured his achilles tendon on our trip, we looked for ways to reduce his walking. We discovered the Blue Bike Tour of Versailles and it was truly a highlight of our adventure. We took a train from Paris to Versailles, then stopped at a local market to pack a picnic lunch. We spent several hours biking through the grandly manicured gardens of the 20,000 acre 400 year old estate of Europe’s largest palace. It was truly a marvel. We stopped for a picnic lunch at the end of the mile long the canal looking back at the palace, and much like riding the gondola in Venice, it was a crazy surreal magic moment. The entire time I’m eating my baguette and drinking my wine, I’m thinking that this has to be one of the most perfect moments of my life.

Picnic lunch on the grand canal at Versailles at the end of the mile long canal behind the palace. The canal is cross shaped with treelined paths surrounding it, perfect for biking.

Picnic lunch on the grand canal at Versailles

I’ve been dreaming of walking the famous hall of mirrors at Versailles since I was a girl. While the grandeur of the Palace was mesmerizing, it was the wind in my face as I biked the country side that was my favorite part. I see now why Louis XIV made Versailles the capital of France during his reign.

Hall of mirrors at Versailles

Hall of mirrors at Versailles

Versailles main entrance

Versailles main entrance

Palace view of canal

Palace view of canal

 

My Birthday Run

As a morning person and a runner, I knew I wanted to start my actual birthday with a run. I started at 6 am and ran from our hotel (Hotel Therese, which I loved) to the Louvre. During the day, the Louvre’s courtyard is teaming with tourists, but at sunrise it was only me and my running shoes making cadence on the ancient stones of the courtyard.

Birthday run around the court yard of the Louvre

Birthday run around the court yard of the Louvre

Next I jogged along the Seine, taking in the surreal beauty of the sunrise. I followed the Seine down to Notre Dame, made a lap around the ancient church, gazing up at her intricate flying buttresses and then forced myself to head back to the hotel.

Notre Dame later in the day with all her crowds. It was fabulous to spend some alone time with her at daybreak.

Notre Dame later in the day with all her crowds. It was fabulous to spend some alone time with her at daybreak.

I jaunted back and forth across each bridge of the Seine, running both on the street level and river level. I knew I would likely only get in one good run on my trip and I wanted to experience the city in my favorite way: at day break with a brisk jog. I payed no attention to my pace, I was too busy smiling.

Sunrise run in Paris

Sunrise run in Paris

Lunch on Eiffel Tower

Six months ago my life was turned upside down, when my dad was murdered. {Damn. Just writing that sentence makes my fingers shake.} Afterward, everyone told me to take the time to mourn. I tried, but the realities of my life and my responsibilities kept getting in the way. Over the next few months, each time life would start to creep back towards normal and I would start to feel like I could maybe breathe again, something else would happen. My husband ruptured his achilles tendon and was unable to walk for 6 weeks, upping my stress level as I then had to do all of his household work in addition to my own (side note: I will never take him for granted again!).  About the time he could walk with a crutch, my grandmother passed away, I wrecked my car and then another close family member was diagnosed with cancer. I felt like a dark cloud was hovering over my head that I just couldn’t shake.

In the midst of all the drama as we are planning this trip, Russ came up with the idea to eat my birthday lunch on the Eiffel tower at the Jules Verne Restaurant. I resisted at first, as it seemed like a ridiculous splurge, but I’m so glad we did it. The moment I sat down and peered out the window over the city, I was overcome with all the emotion and anticipation of the last six month. I began to cry bittersweet tears for the beauty of the moment, in the midst of all the heartache of this season. Thankful for the opportunity to get to experience something so amazing, heartbroken that I wouldn’t get to tell my dad all about it.

40 th Birthday lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tour

40th Birthday lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tour. We got to bypass the 1.5hr line and take a private elevator straight to the second level. We relaxed and spent 3 hours eating a meal at a Michelin starred restaurant while enjoying one of the most fantastic views in the world.

I guess at super fancy restaurants they expect you to eat with tiny utensils

I guess at super fancy restaurants they expect you to eat with tiny utensils

Eiffel tower observation deck obligatory selfie

Eiffel tower observation deck obligatory selfie

Jules Verne dessert course. Every single bite was delicious.

Jules Verne dessert course. Every single bite was delicious.

When I got back home, I spoke with a dear friend who said that she prayed for me that my black cloud would simply fall into the Atlantic as we flew across it. I loved that analogy, because that is really what it felt like. The Paris trip was a turning point and beautiful transition for us. My heart is healing. I’m now making time in the midst of the craziness of life to sit on the porch with my coffee and savor the little moments and remember what It felt like to walk through the vibrant beauty of Paris. On my morning runs, I’m beginning to appreciate the gorgeous colors of my Tennessee sunrises again. Am I still grieving? Of course. But the pain is beginning to transition from a sharp raw grief to a bittersweet ache and I feel like I’m breathing again.

 

Thank yous:

A giant thank you to our parents my for watching our kiddos while we were gone. Especially Russ’s parents who road-tripped the kids to Oklahoma via Branson.

Thank you to Wendi Mihalko who helped us plan our meals. Every place she suggested was amazing! She has since started her own of travel consulting site. If you are traveling abroad I would highly recommend her.

Thank you to our guide in Paris, Micheal @ Paris Find. He was excellent, knowledgeable, affordable and simply a nice guy. If you want to pretend you are in Paris you can follow him on Instagram where he posts the most lovely pictures of his city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Learning to Breathe Again: Turning 40 in Paris

  1. justbecs

    “not to wish our lives away” – I really relate to this, feel like this what I’m doing these days (as well as my friends) and it’s not how I wanna live my life. loved this 😀
    and lol with the coffee, We do NOT get our coffees ‘to go’, haha can’t wait to be there.

    Reply
  2. charliesbird

    Ah, you have brought a huge grin to my face! I also celebrated my 40th year in Paris this year, (not my actual day, mind you) and I even ran the Paris Marathon to mark my auspicious year. And yes, it was incredible, life changing and a gorgeous break. Enjoy all those memories, while you savour the cafe on your porch, imagining the Seine passing you by… Love, love love this!

    Reply
  3. Jean Harrison

    i found joy in reading your blog this morning Heather. I pray for your continued recovery from such tragedy as you have experienced. You have grace, beauty and courage on your side and I understand growth from all of your sadness. And yes, there is only one Paris! I pray for your continued growth in peace and strength. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Rachel Kelly

    I’m so sorry to hear about your dad, Dr. Rupe. It is a testament to your strength and grace that you are able to interact so compassionately with your patients when you are in the midst of such grief.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Happy New Year: Writing Year in Review | Dr. Heather Rupe

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