Taxi and train rides away from the countryside, we emerged from the subway, my colleague and I, into Paris.
"Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame?" he had asked as we set off and I selected the latter without hesitation.
"I'll probably let you go independently though," I decided, casting a rueful glance at two bags filled with all my belongings. As convenient as Paris was, located on the way to the airport for my evening flight, I'll admit to wishing away my carefully packed and purposely 'as light as possible but still not light' luggage.
"Wait," I said as he headed for the open door before us. "Don't we have to pay? You can't just go in," I whispered urgently. But I blinked and followed when he did, sending a careful glance at the employee holding the door ajar. And then I stopped speaking. Not simply because the signs demanded it or respect was due, but because what is there to articulate when you're in the presence of such faith and grace and beauty?
Where candles flicker in the periphery as the eye drifts up. Where I sat and stared and felt peaceful and powerful all at once.
And that's the glory of Paris for me. Surrounded by unimpressive suburbs littered liberally with graffiti, there is this - this structure - that's simply staggering.
Even the ground - what I believe to be black and white marble - felt somehow soft under my shoes when I stepped off the carpet to steady my hand enough to take a photo. As if the very floor strove to be gentle and steady in such a place.
I emerged quietly, the only disruption to my experience the ringing of my mobile which had accidentally powered up in my backpack. I glared at it bitterly, resenting the intrusion before realizing work had offered me entry to Paris - both times - and forgiving my caller his ill timing.
I walked until I ached. Until even the sunshine sparkling on the Seine and contrast of bright blue in the sky contrasting with the elegance of Île de la Cité was not enough to mitigate my misery.
Drawn toward a flashing sign displaying a green cross, I obtained much-needed cough drops before deciding to stop at a cafe for a drink. Water required no deliberation, but vacillating between champagne and fruit juice exhausted me.
After the waiter departed though, I relaxed into my chair and watched the people and the place until my drinks were gone and money taken and clock ticking steadily toward evening.
Restored enough to carry on, I returned to my role as a pack mule and trudged across the street and down the stairs to the RER. I stood in line behind an elderly French woman unconcerned with the 10 people behind her as she argued with the ticket clerk endlessly. I rode a train, feeling like the 25th crayon crammed into an already-full box of 24. And I arrived at CDG and found a lovely place to sit just as two other flights were boarding and worked through some email until my battery died.
Then I read, removing the same iPad that had graced the table next to my water and cocktail on the streets of Paris, and feeling as eager for my next destination as I was pleased with my last.
I arrived safely and happily at BLQ and checked into a delightful hotel. But I can tell you about that tomorrow.