Yesterday, I awoke before dawn to prepare my bags and head out into La Belle Cité pour le dernier jour. I departed my Airbnb with friendly goodbyes from my host, and wandered the streets toward Le Marche de la Bastille (note to self: screen shot the map next time before you leave a wifi zone). When I got a little off course, I flagged down a Parisian with a simple, "Pardon! Ou est le marché/Place de la Bastille?" Several people were incredibly friendly and helpful, including a jogger who, having left my side, indicated a turn a block ahead with a wave of his hand. Place des Voges and its arcaded shops were illumined by the near-dawn light.
And suddenly, there it was - the golden statue atop the Bastille monument - and the simple (and large) Sunday morning market. I found the creperie mentioned in Yelp reviews galore - and they were all oh-so-right. Sadly, no saumon avec chevre, but the oeuf avec cibolette (egg with chive) hit the spot too. From the stand adjacent, I purchased the ubiquitous clementines, and then my final pain au chocolat from the boulangerie.
Tiring under my heavy bags, I finally made it to the gorgeous Gare de Lyon (train station) and met up with a good friend's nephew. He bought me a caffe in Le Train Bleu, the elegant restaurant complete with frescoes and ornate plasterwork, inside the station, then walked me down to the appropriate train track. His tips and suggestions were very helpful for navigating the system.
What came next was something I've anticipated for months: the train ride through the French countryside, into Italy.
It was incredible, full of beautiful, moving and jaw-dropping views. I've never seen such dramatic mountains, nor the towns near their peaks, encrusted with snow and packed with fabulous buildings. Waterfalls, trees reminiscent of Dr. Seuss books, and a tiny centuries-old church in each tiny town; what a feast for the eyes. Also the TGV train was a delight- absolutely quiet, comfortable, and on time. I stopped trying to take photos from the train after a few because the train's speed (200+ km/h) made them all blurry.
I had to change stations in Milan to get to the regional train to Florence, and a kind Dutch guy helped me lug one of my bags to Centrale, where he also had to catch a train to Genoa to visit friends. I met so many friendly people! The train into Florence took a quick 1.5 hours and my host, Pierpaolo- who I met when I hosted him on Airbnb a year and a half ago- was there to greet me at the station! We drove through Florence briefly, picked up his daughter at a friend's place, and drove the winding roads along the Arno River to Mugello, where he has - you guessed it- a centuries-old stone house on a hilltop.
Laying on the spare bed, in travel-recovery mode last night, I couldn't help but reflect about just how lucky, crazy and awesome my life has been. I have much to be thankful for.