BY MARISSA GALLO, firstname.lastname@example.org
4:24 PM EDT, October 1, 2012
As I'm writing this it's been two weeks since I've been back in the U.S. after a nearly two-week vacation in Paris and England with my mom, brother and aunt.
I'm finding I'm still having dreams about the trip — driving on the left side of the road, walking forever in Paris, saying goodbye to places I hope to visit again.
I was eager to get home to my husband and "normal" life (and normal food), but two weeks out and I'm missing certain things.
So, please indulge me as I reminisce and I'll give you some of the highlights, some of the things I learned and some tips if you ever decide to travel across the pond.
The walking. Dear God, the walking.
I knew it was going to be a lot, but what I wasn't prepared for was the walking to find a bus stop or walking and going up and down stairs in metro stations.
The worst was trying to find a train going to the right place in the right direction in Paris.
We were at this one metro stop and thought after a few series of stairs the platform would be right there.
But then there was a giant tunnel. Then more steps up only to walk even more down. Then around a corner down another tunnel. Plus some more steps that I swear were only there to be a pain in the butt.
Now, it may have been the exhaustion and confusion skewing my perception, but I think it took a good 20 minutes just navigating this underground metro stop to find the train. What is wrong with you, Paris metro?
But everything was beautiful. Seriously. Everything.
The signs were beautiful. Waiting in line and watching people eat at a café was beautiful. Even construction work to clean up an old building was covered by a beautiful façade to show you what the final product would look like.
And these amazing, old buildings were everywhere.
We were walking down the street and I was looking at street vendors when all of a sudden I look up and there's Notre Dame. Right there, smack dab in the middle of a square with cars zipping every which way.
And the Eiffel Tower. It wasn't until the very last day of our stay in Paris that my aunt realized that outside the window of the flat we were renting, just a little into the distance, was the iconic piece of architecture itself.
We were just too taken with all the beautiful rooftop gardens and surrounding buildings to notice. Go figure.
Fries are fries. Pizza is pizza. But everything else is different.
I went back and forth between trying local cuisine and just wanting some food I recognized.
This garnered mixed results.
The quiche was amazing and so were the salads that were just lettuce, tomato and this universal Dijon vinaigrette that was on everything.
But then I just wanted a cheeseburger. Simple enough, right? It was more like greasy Salisbury steak.
Everything else that was different: Lasagna had a cream sauce instead of ricotta cheese and little tomato sauce, bacon was more like ham (or Canadian bacon), order pudding and you won't get a Jell-O pudding snack and you can't order water at a restaurant and expect free tap water.
Order roast beef and Yorkshire pudding from a little inn in rural England, however, and you'll have the best meal of your life.
It's hard not to be taken aback by all the history.
Like my mom often says, old here in America can mean 50, 60, 70 years old.
A house that's more than 100 years old? Forget about it. It's practically ancient.
So growing up in a culture that doesn't really have anything left standing more than 225, 250 years old and standing next to statues that are twice as old is kind of crazy.
The two places that affected me the most were Notre Dame and the Tower of London.
I visited Notre Dame in high school on a trip with some of my classmates and since then has held a special place for me.
This time around my mom, brother and I climbed up about 300 winding steps to the towers. It was amazing.
"The people who have been here," my mom said. "Can you imagine?" I really can't.
My favorite thing was touching the gargoyles — through a wire fence, of course — that have sat on top of those towers for 700 or more years.
I won't be able to forget that.
Then the Tower of London, a castle, a fortress and a place where hundreds of people died, including Queen Anne Boleyn.
It was incredible to see where these important pieces of English history happened and not just read it on the Internet or see it in a movie.
Finally, being with family.
I'll admit, I was glad to not be around them once I got home after being with people 24 hours a day for almost two weeks.
But it was great hearing stories of when my mom and aunt lived in Paris and visiting my mom's old high school.
I even appreciated my brother slipping into protective older brother mode and making sure I was OK when he could tell I was tired or stressed.
I'm incredibly thankful that my mom was so generous and invited me along on this trip.
It was worth the millions of stairs and gross cheeseburgers and everything else.