I first set foot in London and Paris a number of years ago, as part of a celebratory trip (on a tour bus no less) to commemorate the conclusion of my schooling and my entry into "real" adulthood (making my own living and learning the true cost of mundane items like toilet paper). It was a rapid-fire tour, rushed from town to town, capped off on each end with London and Paris; but being fresh out of school, I was eager to see what was beyond university walls, even if it was from the seat of a tour bus mostly full of strangers. I could barely believe I was seeing it all up close and personal, and London and Paris lived up to all I had imagined it would be. I hadn't been back since, for various reasons, though I had always hoped to return some day, especially to Paris.
A few months ago, my sister called me to convince me to go on a trip with her since she had caught the travel bug. I was wary of taking a trip with her, given our travel philosophy differences (I like to plan and research, she's a bit of a "free spirit"; my idea of appreciating fine art includes the museum, she frequents the LV boutique). But an idea occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to take Mom on a trip. I couldn't remember the last time we took a vacation together, so I told my sister I would go as long as Mom came. And with that, my sister booked a trip for the three of us to London and Paris, two cities Mom had never seen but had spent much of her life wishing to visit. London for the royalty (more recently inspired by the wedding of Will and Kate), and Paris for the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and all they represented.
I met up with Mom and my sister at London's Heathrow airport, and my first image walking out of baggage claim was Mom slumped in a cold, hard airport chair, having fallen asleep while waiting for my flight to arrive. It was a long flight for her, and I had wondered how she would fare during the trip. We had seven days, and adjusting to the time difference might take a few nights for her. But she proved to be a trooper, and one of my favorite memories of her in London was when I took her on the Underground during rush hour to get to Buckingham Palace, her small steps barely keeping pace with mine and that of the rest of the masses. An outsider might feel pity for an aging (it's almost hard for me to say elderly) woman contending with the crowds on the subway, but I found it endearing in some strange way, as though it represented her struggle to do all she could as a mother to keep up with me and love me the way she knew how throughout her life.
I had my own ideas as to what I wanted to see and do during this trip, having visited London and Paris already--especially discovering patisseries (and eating loads of pastries) and indulging in a Parisian shopping experience. That didn't quite happen, and we spent our time (and Mom's limited amount of energy) going to well-traveled tourist spots, because I had to acknowledge that it was probably likely Mom would never return here again and I wanted her to see and experience in person those landmarks and sites she had only seen on TV or heard about from her friends. Tour guides and travel shows often turn their noses at the touristy things, but on this trip, I had a deep appreciation for staying on the beaten path, even if I'd been on it already. So we did our Big Bus tour of London, visited the Queen's apartments, followed our Beefeater tour guide around the Tower of London, posed in front of the Arc de Triomphe for pictures, relived court life at the Palace of Versailles, cruised the River Seine on the famed Bateaux Parisiens, and topped it all off with dinner on the Eiffel Tower. And all of it was wonderful.
It's been over a month now since our trip, and I'm putting the finishing touches on a photo book to give Mom when I see her next for Christmas. To any other person, my photos probably look like your average tourist shots, a little like postcards--nice enough but kind of uninspired. But as I look through them, they recall for me all of Mom's enthusiasm and excitement as she ogled Kate's wedding gown at Buckingham Palace, had the opportunity to say a prayer inside Notre Dame, and watched the Eiffel Tower light up and literally sparkle. One thing I was reminded of on this trip: there is no feeling like being able to make someone else happy. Years ago, Mom gave me the gift of taking my first trip abroad to a place I had only dreamed about. This year, I finally returned the favor--and got back more in return.