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My body is in Washington while my mind is… well, trying to figure out where it actually is. There’s no question where my laundry is: transitioning between a suitcase, the washer and dryer, and a closet. Next week, I’ll start packing again for Paris. Have I come full circle or lost my mind for good?
The reality is I’ve traveled nearly halfway around the world since the week before Thanksgiving. Yes, my body is tired, but my mind is spinning while I’m trying to absorb all I’ve seen and learned. This isn’t only about the destinations, but what I’ve realized about who and what I am.
My mantra has always been that travel enriches people’s minds as well as their perspectives. Seeing other cultures can only be a positive. You may not like them or want to live among them… but if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll have a more profound understanding of what takes place in the world.
When people used to ask where I live, I wasn’t always certain of the answer. Now I know. It’s Paris. As is the case with many expatriates, when traveling and moving, they lose a sense of being. They call home where they have family. But family moves, dies and life changes, and nothing is forever. People can’t help taking themselves with them, no matter their age, height or weight and how it fluctuates. If I could sing, I’d belt out a chorus or two of “Anywhere I Hang My Hat is Home,” but that’s the idea—and I think it’s a good one. My most recent home, or home-away, was a ship.
My time spent on the Seabourn Pride cruise was a real eye-opener. The crew and passengers aboard the ship were from many countries. No, I didn’t do a count, but wish I had. The crew was primarily British, Australian, and Irish, with many people from Eastern Europe and a few from South America.
Many of the less-visible employees who made the ship work (in the galleys and those who were responsible for non-stop maintenance) were from the Philippines. The Executive Chef is from India. But he’s been cooking “Continental” for so long that he steers away from curries and spicy food because he no longer has the palate. Talk about finding a new home.
The majority of the passengers were Americans, British, and Australian with a smattering from Turkey, France, Germany and… well, I’m not sure from where. Not only were there cultural differences among the different nationalities, but also there were numerous people from the U.S. who were enigmas to me. I’ve lost touch with “real” Americans and came to the conclusion that the majority of the people with whom I come into contact share a common denominator: an appreciation (or more) of France.
Because the weather on the cruise wasn’t ideal, there were “sea” days when there was no point in rising and shining and racing to the decks for sun and calm seas. I don’t do sun. and even though I did frequent the gym, unfortunately (according to the scales) not enough. I ran up and down the stairs, rather than taking the elevator, hoping I could work off a few calories, but clearly that wasn’t the solution.
This might have been my chance to learn how to play bridge, but I decided not to. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t read enough because I was so busy asking questions and trying to get online. Nor are after-dinner shows my thing. Most of the passengers attended them, but if I did, I only stuck my head in and usually made a fast exit. What happened to my days of being a party girl?
Maybe something different happened. I’m not going to say, or even assume, it’s because I’ve been living abroad for so long, but some things that once were enticing just seem like ways of passing the time, not using it—and not really enjoying it.
On the ship, there were some very interesting things, including incredible lectures about Southeast Asia by Denise Heywood, who clarified so much about the history and culture of the area. But Denise only spoke four times, and I wanted her to be my mentor. One day, I’d love to tour the area with her and a very small group of people who want to learn about this part of the world. It’s more complex than I had ever imagined and I’m not a newbie to the area.
I learned what I don’t do well. First, not having reliable access to the Internet is a nightmare. I’m an addict and realize that Bonjour Paris is my baby and an extremely demanding one. My computer and I visited numerous cyber cafés on the docks and in places with free Wi-Fi. One night, I even bailed and pulled a near all-nighter at the Four Seasons in Bangkok. If you love Thai food, Spice’s Market is a must-eat restaurant located in the hotel.
As for my spending a night in the city, many people would say, “How crazy is that?” But, I needed a Skype fix so I could “talk and see” some friends, family and Bonjour Paris contributors.
Please don’t worry, I managed to take the incredible Sky-train, do a wee bit of shopping and visit the flower market, then spend a few hours on a river cruise. It was déjà vu from the times I’ve spent in Bangkok during numerous visits in the past fifteen years. The city is shifting away from the river area to a more urban center. The traffic isn’t any better and even the night market has moved. The seedier parts of Bangkok weren’t a must-see for me because I’ve seen them and—here’s something else I don’t do well—I hate watching young girls being forced to sell their bodies and souls in order to send money home to support their families in the countryside.
Still, if you are a lover of Buddhist temples, you’ll be in heaven, have the chance to meditate and take photos that will make people understand why you’ve chosen to spend time in a city that never sleeps.
Since this was my first cruise, I was fascinated by how the ship worked, people’s motivations for being there and choosing that specific cruise and what they learned in addition to what they saw. Some passengers rarely left the ship and used it as a floating five-star hotel. Others went on every excursion and couldn’t get enough. Some opted to hire private tour guides so they could see what they wanted to see at their own pace rather than having to wait for others.
I generally hopped in a cab (yes, I was subjected to being taken for the scenic ride… or route) even though I knew well enough to have the destination written out in the local language and carried a map with X marks the spot.
I did make it to Washington to celebrate the holidays with my son, his wife and my grandchildren. I’ll spend some time having the girls over for a sleepover or two and tell them all about my travels. To them, I’m the grandparent who lives in Paris but goes to exotic places. For that matter, all of their grandparents do, and I hope they will as well. In the meantime, I can’t wait for them and their parents to come to Paris this summer.
I want them to be part of my home, after all.
(c) Paris New Media, LLC
Readers are constantly asking me for authentic and out of the ordinary experiences when they come to Paris. Experience Paris – our newest travel partner – can arrange unique experiences in Paris and throughout France. When you contact Larry, please say, “Karen sent you” and use the code BJ001.
And — when feeling decadent, I order for friends – after this cruise!
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