Savannah Grace

Bringing Smiles to Paris

“My thoughts and prayers go out to loved ones of the victims of a terrible tragedy. We must stand together, hold hands, be strong and remember that the majority of us WANT peace! We are with you France. #prayforparis #parisattacks”

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A week before the tragedies on Friday the 13th, Mom and I made plans to meet my Aunt who had bought tickets to fly from the US and spend Thanksgiving with her son/my cousin, in Europe.

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When I heard the news about the shootings, I was shocked. Borders closed, shootings, counting the dead…what a tragedy. We had planned to drive there from North Holland on Thursday (just 6 days later) but I left it up to my Aunt whether or not we would go. Despite being offered a refund from the airline, I was so proud when she said, “If we stop and don’t go…the terrorists win.”
Refusing to let the terrorists enforce terror, we did NOT cancel or change our plans and headed south to France with smiles on our faces. After staying up until 5-6am writing, “Rusty Tracks and Booby Traps” every night for the past week, I guess it goes without saying I had a hard time waking up that morning at 7am.

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Aside from a slow funnelling through the official border crossing, and police patrolling with guns, we didn’t notice anything different on the roads.

imageimageWhen we arrived 5.5 hours later at the AirBNB apartment that my cousin had booked I was completely caught off guard when I realized we would be staying just around the corner from the shootings and Place de la République. Driving in we saw flowers piled high on the corner and I couldn’t believe we were in the centre of it all. Seeing the bullet holes in the big glass windows made it all too real. People had gone up and hung roses in the bullet holes, something I will never ever forget.

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Although I have several AirBNB rentals myself and love being a hostess, this was my very experience being hosted with AirBNB! I was more than impressed. I couldn’t have envisioned a more fabulous home. We were in the heart of Paris on the top floor overlooking the city and it’s typically French architecture.

Every room had a door onto the huge balcony which wrapped all the way around on three sides. As you can imagine, we were able to get a big discount after what had happened around the corner just days before. It was comfortable and very large, yet still had the wonderful old charm. The apartment building had a beautiful staircase with red carpeting and a tiny, rickety elevator which I refused to ride more than once.

I really liked my cousin’s comment about how the value in homes must’ve flipped when the elevator came in. Bottom floors would’ve been in demand, not having to climb five flights of stairs several times a day, but once the elevator was introduced, everyone wanted the view!

Standing in the Republique Square surrounded by reporters and their vans and satellite dishes, where one week ago there was such tragedy and fear, we all stood in the aftermath together as one. There have been few times in my life where I felt as connected and part of history as I did that night. A man came up to help me light my candle and we shared a quiet moment. Lighting it together was a priceless time of unity and peace. Despite being complete strangers and sharing no common tongue, times like these remind me that we are all the SAME at heart. I think every one of us in that square felt touched in a very calm and somber way. It was an unforgettable thing to be a part of and impossible not to feel the heavy emotion surrounding us.

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It was strange to go back to the apartment, turn on CNN and see the square we had just set foot in only minutes earlier.

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The following day we explored the city on foot and by metro until our feet couldn’t take another step. For eight hours we enjoyed incredible history and architecture, sipped delicious alcohol infused hot drinks and ate French onion soup in France, while always being reminded to be grateful for our blessings. I’m always amazed how drastic the change is in style after just a few hours on the road in Europe. French and Dutch architecture are so different from each other.

I’ve been to Paris many times yet this was the FIRST time I went UP the Eiffel Tower. I suppose because of the combination of bad weather and the recent shootings there was ZERO line up. That’s something I never expected to see at this hugely famous site. Despite dreary weather, I was surprised by how special the view turned out to be from the very top. The grey added a special mysterious appeal.
I nearly fainted from the anxiety I felt inside the elevators, but as usual, was so happy that my loved ones forced me to conquer my irrational fears.

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On the night of the attacks I posted, “Paris, you are an amazing and beautiful city and I will always cherish you. I will not let this ruin our memories together.” And it didn’t. Now I have even MORE great memories.
When my Aunt told our AirBNB host that, “If we didn’t come the terrorists would’ve won” he was grateful and said, “Paris needs you.”

His words couldn’t be more true. Though we must mourn for the loss, now, more than ever, we need to rejoice for life and love those around us with smiles on our faces.

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There were no bad feelings, people were going about their daily lives, it was just as beautiful as ever and the two scariest things I experienced  was the tiny two person, creaky elevator in our apartment and the elevators to the very top of the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived back home in Holland late on Saturday night and the next morning Mom flew out of Amsterdam to Mexico where she met Ammon and Sasha for their 2.5 week trip to Belize and Guatemala. Not sure how I’ll survive without her.

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Savannah

Ps. I am now sitting on my butt with a cold, tucked up in my blankets by the fire sipping tea after catching Pam’s cold.

PPS. For interest’s sake, this is the same aunt who questioned Mom ten years ago and made her stop to consider “What do you really want?” The BIG question that led to the entire change of our lives and future travels and thus the BOOKS.

PPPS. I was reminded how different everyone’s experiences are after returning home and speaking with our friend who on the same morning had departed to drive to Italy. When he returned this morning he said there was a four hour wait at the Luxembourg border and that he was stopped four or five times by cops on his journey. A solo man driving a van versus mom and me in our family station wagon makes a huge difference on the way you are perceived and treated by the world and thus leading to different experiences.

PPPS Mom, Ammon and Sasha are now in Belize. They are already say how wonderful the people are and how much they are enjoying it. I wanted to mention that Belize Tourism Board is giving away FREE trips to BELIZE to celebrate Small Country Sunday! This is a movement to reminds travellers to think of the small countries that don’t get enough credit in the travel world. Beautiful countries like Andorra, Belize, Luxembourg, Lesotho…countries that need a little bit of extra attention 🙂  Winners will be picked THIS Sunday, so go here and ENTER to win. It’s suuuuper easy. Good luck!

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