Just like that, I land back in my happy place.
Well, "just like that" is a bit of an understatement.
What I mean is, after flying for 11 hours. trekking through 3 airports, adjusting to a 6 hour time change, pulling 44 pounds of luggage over cobblestones in the pouring rain, and wearing my leg for 22 hours straight, I am finally in France!
If you want to get technical, it isn't truly Mile Marker 5000. But it counts. I'm pretty sure I earned the rest in airline miles.
My leg still sweats and swells in all the usual places, but I don't mind it so much. We're walking to the local boulangerie for croissants aux amandes!
Our first morning in Nice, Mary and I carry our breakfast to a city park bench. Here's our view.
|Everything -- I mean everything -- is better in France!|
We log more than 15,000 steps that day, most of them on actual stairs!
It turns out, Nice is a city of escaliers, something I neglected to notice when I was here 8 years ago -- with two legs!
Our apartment is on the "second floor" which to us, is actually the third. In France, the ground level doesn't count.
That means 35 steps each way -- up or down -- every time we go in or out.
It's in Vieux Nice, the old part of the city, so the stairs look like remnants from an ancient castle. The shaky railings change from wood, to metal, to wood again. And the stairwell lights? They run on a modern timer. You press a button to turn them on, and they switch off after a minute or two. (Energy efficient, but we get caught in the dark every time!)
|The abyss lurks below our doorstep|
Our climb is an endless source of entertainment, endurance, and nervous laughter!
In the end, it doesn't get any easier, but we learn to love it.
|It has a certain medieval dungeon charm!|
Mary and I walk all day. Some days more than 6 miles.
We're taking a selfie from the promenade above, when Mary's water bottle accidentally tumbles onto a pair of sunbathers below. We race down to rescue it -- and apologize! (Pardon Monsieur et Madam!)
|We never do take that selfie!|
|We stock up our tiny kitchen!|
One late night, we meander through the Place Massena, searching for a boulangerie I remembered from my last visit. When we get there, it's closed, of course.
|That's ok! The journey is half the fun!|
In case you haven't guessed, walking is essential here -- mainly because of the crème glacée!
A few days in, we're faced with a crisis: too many ice cream flavors and not enough time! This is serious. We resolve to plan better.
The next day, we carefully schedule an ice cream stop between each meal. The flavors are wild! My favorite: fromage blanc avec crème de marron (chestnut cream).
|Not technically ice cream,|
but worth the stretch!
To my relief, the challenges that come along are just the usuals, not worse (or better) than they are at home. I problem-solve as they arise. And in doing so, I realize something. I've kind of mastered them.
The highlight of this trip is when we meet up with my French friends. After canceling a visit because of the accident, we finally get a do-over! (For the backstory, click here.)
When Hervé and Max meet us outside our apartment, they greet us the French way, with a kiss on each cheek. It's charming, especially from 10-year-old Max. He was just a baby the last time I saw him!
In response, Max fakes a very dramatic cough.
This visit is big. For Max, it's "stay-home-from-school" big!
They drive us to their house in Sillans La Cascade, an hour north of Nice. When we arrive, Christelle and Léa are waiting. We hug each other so tightly we're not sure whether to laugh or cry. We can't stop talking -- in a mix of languages -- there's so much catching up to do. We haven't seen each other for 8 years!
|Cést ma famille!|
Christelle prepares a traditional Sunday dinner, even though it's Monday.
|French delicacies with a habit they picked up in America!|
The next morning we hike a sloping, wooded trail near their house. The rocks form uneven stairs, and I grab Mary's backpack for balance. We end up at la cascade.
|I guess there really are happy endings!|
It gets even better.
Next stop: Draguignan, the town we shared 8 years ago when we exchanged homes.
Christelle still works here. Max and Léa go to school here. To them, it's just a bustling local town, part of daily life.
For me, it's so much more.
We walk toward the city center. My feet -- even my Genium -- seem to know the way.
During the toughest moments of my recovery -- painful bandage changes, sleepless nights, days when I wasn't sure I'd ever go anywhere -- this is the place where I escaped in my mind.
It's part of who I was. BEFORE. I sat here, so many days, sipping café au lait. I was proud of myself: an independent, competent, adventurous traveler. In this place, I believed I could do anything.
Tears well up. I squint into the sunshine.
I'm back. I'm really back.
"This is my happy place," I say to Mary.
Then I repeat it to Hervé, in French. It gets lost in translation, but I think he understands.
It's the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
She believed she could, so she did.
It gave me a much needed boost of confidence in those jittery hours before my flight.
Yet I know it's not that simple.
Believing is powerful, but it's really just the start.
It drives us to take the journey. It keeps us chipping away, step after step, even when it's the hardest thing we've ever done. And when we finally reach our own horizon, it sets our sight on what's beyond.
Teal green shutters.
Flowers on balconies.
The blue Mediterranean sky.
After 5,000 miles, that's what I see beyond mine.
BIG THANKS to all who've helped me get this far! "Bisous" to my French family, and especially to Mary -- my awesome and courageous traveling companion, who loves France as much as I do!