(Note: While I am in Uganda, the Chanhassen Villager is running some of my favorite travel-related columns. This column was originally published on April 14, 2005.)

I learned a lot of interesting things last week. One is that if you spent just sixty seconds in front of each work of art in the Louvre, it would take you over six months to see it all.

I also learned that in addition to being beautifully lit up at night, the Eiffel Tower puts on a grand display after dark when special white lights covering the tower blink and sparkle for ten minutes every hour. And I learned, first-hand, how lovely and magical this looks during a rainstorm.

I learned how to pronounce “Cotes-du-Rhone” and sound like a native while saying it. And I learned you can legally bring one bottle of it—or any other wine—back to the states. Which I did, by the way.

I learned there are few, if any, free public restrooms in Paris, so you should be sure to use the facilities in your hotel or in whatever museum or restaurant you’re visiting. And always have forty cents—centimes, actually—in exact change with you in case you need to use a pay toilet.

I learned that even during a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Paris, visiting places like Versailles, Monet’s Garden, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s the people you’re with that make all the difference.

I couldn’t have asked for better traveling companions, even though I started out knowing only one of the fifty-three people on the tour. The group included a number of students as well as adults, from different communities throughout the Twin Cities. We were divided into smaller groups for different outings, but over the course of the week we got to know most of the other people on the tour.

Our tour director was a lovely lady named Arlette, who was born and raised in France and who first came to the states as an exchange student. She ended up staying, and is now a Minnesotan. Her assistant, Nate, is a graduate student who changed his major and his career plans after traveling to France years ago on one of Arlette’s tours. He speaks French fluently and easily, and his red hair made him easy to spot in a crowd.

Then there was the bus driver/guide on our “Paris By Night” tour, who taught us to say “Ahh, vraiment!” or “Mon Dieu, c’est magnifique!” depending on what he was showing us at the time.

Throughout the week, people kept discovering they had relatives or co-workers who knew each other, or that the town they now lived in was someone else’s home town. During a discussion of some of the museums and artwork we had seen, a woman in our group offered to lend me several of her art books after we got back home, and in the course of the conversation we discovered that I know her daughter’s sister-in-law.

The week flew by much too quickly, and before we knew it we were at Charles DeGaulle airport, checking our luggage and preparing to head back to the states. We got to the airport early, and the check-in counters weren’t open yet. As we waited in line, a few of us chatted with another passenger who was not part of our tour group, but was going to be on the same flight. He had been in Paris on business, and said he recognized our group because he was also on our flight out of Minneapolis. It turned out he was from Chanhassen. Naturally. Which brings me to one more lesson I learned during my wonderful week in Paris.

No matter where in the world you’re going, or how many miles you travel to get there, you’re never far from home.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 13, 2011.
© Betty Liedtke, 2011