After 25 years…. it’s Paris!

Our 25th anniversary was approaching. What to do? How to celebrate in style, to do something we’d remember, something we’d both love, something that mattered to both of us.

At first, we thought about Vienna and from there to a remote corner of Hungary where Marlene’s father was born. We’d never been there. It was different. Marlene had been doing research about the village her father had been sent away from when he was just a child and the voyage that eventually took him to Canada.

We considered flying to Hamburg and then traveling through Germany. After all, that’s where I was born and had worked there at Hotel Schloss Arensburg, a hotel castle no less, for eight months after high school. We could sleep in the grand Room 27 of the castle (pale blue silk walls, big portrait oil paintings, wonderful views of a forest, unless of course they’ve changed it all) tour the little villages, and have “Kaffee und Kuchen” in the afternoons.

Paris - Cakes in a window

We had many reasons to go to Paris - the art, the architecture, the Seine, the cakes....

But soon Paris exerted its pull. The city of love, the Seine, the boulevards, the cafes, the hundreds of museums. We’d been there together before in the late 1980’s. Even before that, when Marlene was in her early 20’s, she had lived there with her friend Trish attending the Sorbonne to get her share of French culture that was so generously dispensed by the French government in its unending effort to improve the world.

A few years ago, Marlene had visited Paris for a week with a girlfriend, living right on the street where much of the movie Amélie was filmed near the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. I have always loved Paris, and any excuse to go would be good enough for me.

And then I thought about Van Gogh. Vincent Van Gogh has had a hold of me for many years. Why? His paintings certainly. His productivity. Broadly speaking, he painted for 10 years, but everything most people know about him was done in about three years. There’s his tragic life story, which most people know at least a bit about. But for me,  it was also because he was such a great writer. His letters to his brother Theo, his mother, his artist friends reveal a depth of feeling and a way of interpreting the world that appealed to me.

Van Gogh, self-portrait as a bonze

The great bonze monk Vincent said, "Come to Paris."

Over the years, we’ve traveled to see his work in many museums and galleries. We’ve seen the iconic paintings in the Musée d’Orsay. I’ve been to the unsurpassable Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to see the show commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death in 1990. I had traveled to Nuenen in Holland to see the vicarage where he lived with his parents in the early 1880’s when he was in his mid-20’s, a failed art dealer, a failed school teacher and a failed preacher. (In 1982 we went to the Sotheby’s auction in Toronto where Van Gogh’s drawing of the back of the vicarage in Nuenen came up for auction. It went for $160,000 from a private collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario who bought it to keep it in Canada – there are very few Van Gogh’s in Canada.)

In the late 1980’s, we flew to New York to see two tremendous shows, the first of his work in Arles and the second of his work in the last year and a half of his life in St. Remy and Auvers.

So we decided to commemorate our first 25 years of marriage with a trip that would combine Paris, with a few days in the south of France in Arles, and then off the Van Gogh path, to Aix-en-Provence.

We’d saved enough airline points and booked early enough that we got our Air Canada flights, Toronto to Paris return, for free. Although our anniversary is June 6, we couldn’t get flights that would have us in Paris on that day, so we ended up with May 20 – 30 which turned out to be perfect.

After a few attempts at a schedule, we decided to spend the first three days in Paris, then take the high-speed TGV train down to Arles (I’ve always wanted to travel on one of those), spend two days in Arles, rent a car, see the region and then drive to Aix-en-Provence, stay for two days, take the train back to Paris and then home.

The only change we ended up making once we got there was not to rent a car. There was just so much to see in Arles, that we walked or took taxis and then took trains from Arles, with a stop over in Marseilles, to Aix. We were able to switch our train tickets to get a TGV out of Aix right to Paris.

On paper, our plan looked perfect. And in reality, it turned out as close to perfect as one could ever hope for. On this trip, we were being held gently. Everything that mattered just seemed to fall into place.

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