Loic is going to change the world. What am I talking about? He already is changing the world. He surrounds himself with people who are going to change the world… hence, he hosted me. ; ) I’m kidding. I’d like to think I will have a part in changing the world though. If I surround myself with more people like Loic, I’m confident I will.
Loic met me at one of the many train stations in Paris on a bright and sunny November afternoon. He greeted me with a radiant smile that lights his entire face. First, we hiked back to his apartment, with my ridiculously American amount of luggage in tow. There I met Loic’s roommates Juan and Karim. The apartment is nothing more than two small bedrooms, a tiny little hallway, a small bathroom and a tiny kitchen. Loic ushered my luggage into one of the small bedrooms, explaining this would be my room. He, Juan and Karim would all share the other bedroom while I was visiting. Incredible. Not only did they offer practically half the apartment for my sole use, they did it in a way that you really could believe it was no trouble, that it was honestly their pleasure.
Next, Loic and I set off to discover the magic of Paris. That’s not all I was to discover though. In transit, the more I talked with Loic, the more I found what a truly rare and inspiring individual he was. Yet, maybe not so rare. Loic recounted story after story about meeting incredible people who are doing incredible things for others. Right now, Loic works for an organization that helps young entrepreneurs make their ideas a reality. A reality in such a way that is not only ethical but one that is completely rooted around improving each of the lives that the company might affect… it’s customers, it’s employees, it’s owner and employer. Loic and I saw eye to eye on philosophy after philosophy. I thought he could read my thoughts or something. I think discovering Paris as I was discovering an individual such as he, is a big part of what made Paris so magical for me.
That first evening Loic and I tackled a lot of must-see monuments and landmarks in Paris. The Bastille, the outside of the Louvre, the Champs Elysees, Concord, the Grand (ferris wheel?0), The Arc du Triomph, The Eiffel Tower and The Seine River. There was an absolutely exotic moon (which, I believe is the same moon Ben was captured by that night millions of miles away in Asia) and despite the incredible monuments we were surrounded by, Loic and I found it difficult to tear our eyes away from the moon.
After the whirlwind tour of some of the most renowned landmarks in the world, Loic and I had dinner at what Loic described as the typical French café where we dined on the typical French food. The waiter at Café Literateur served us an array of meats, cheeses, breads and spreads while Loic amazed me with story after story of his adventures in this sweet fairytale life. His face was truly alight as he recounted tales of being welcomed into intimate circles of growth, leadership and trust in Denmark, and crossing the Western Sahara with no friends save those he met along the way, even though both the Moroccans and the Africans living on either fringe said it couldn’t be done. These stories were simply incredible and so much more than the few words I written to allude to them. But, I couldn’t even begin to do them any justice by trying to elaborate. They’re Loic’s stories and he should tell them. And anyone who can, should get to know this admirable man.
We shared stories and then, it was time to share more adventures. We went to go meet some of Loic’s friends at a crowded and quite smoky, typical French bar. His friends were just as inspiring as he, all involved in projects that will change many lives. Each of them showed a strong interest in me, in what I was doing. They all spoke English without a hint of hesitation. So, just a few hours in Paris shattered whatever stereotypes I might have been clinging to about the supposedly rude and unfriendly French. I’m not going to lie, I did actually halfway believe I would be met with a little French disdain thanks to the “stereotypes,” but I was welcomed with the exact opposite throughout my entire trip.
The next day Loic and I got a late morning start in our quest to get me more acquainted with this fantastic city. He took me to one of his favorite spots, Le Sacre Coeur (The Sacred Heart) poised on top of Montemartre, where he likes to go in the summer and just read. I must agree. Montemartre has calming and relaxing atmosphere about it. I just stood at the top of the stairs, taking in the view, the sounds, the beauty. Finally, I turned toward Le Sacre Coeur and walked inside. It was grand and beautiful, like so many other old world Catholic churches. After staring wide-eyed a bit as a wandering tourist, I did think to pause for a moment at one of the side pews and reflect on the overwhelming experiences that are so completely enriching my life right now. I took a moment to just say thanks.
Then, it was time to go meet Antoinette. Remember her? The one with the absolutely inviting smile and alluring laugh whom I met in Bruxelles? Her father lives in Paris and we happened to be in that magical city at the same time, so we decided to meet before she hoped on a train to go back home. We met Antoinette and a fellow couchsurfer that was actually in Brussels the same time I was. We all met at the ??? with an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower, where I grabbed some amazing photos the night before. We also met one of Loic’s friends there. We had a good-sized group going. I went to grab a day shot of the Eiffel Tower before we took off and I was stopped by a rather inviting and charming Frenchman named Michael. He was so animated. He’s from the south of France and urged me to go see it if I got a chance. He said Paris is not France and I needed to discover true France. He had a passion for France and he loved to talk about it and share it. I love listening to people talk about their passions. Finally, Antoinette came and stole me away… otherwise I think Michael would have kept me there for at least another hour just chatting and enjoying the incredible surroundings.
Shortly thereafter, Antoinette had to leave us so she could catch her train back to Bruxelles. After grabbing some more picturesque shots of (???) Bryan, Loic, and I headed to a small house party at a friend of Loic’s place. Laurent’s apartment was very chic… thanks to his wife as I was told. They were a warm couple eager to share their home with us. There was about 8 of us and we all just spent hours in the small living room chatting and playing games.
****and then I arrived in Saarbrucken, Germany and fell in love with its genuinely local and rustic Christmas spirit before making last minute plans to hitch a ride with Julian and Maria on their way down from Holland to Austria. I’m going to have to forgo the craft I usually try to put into my writing in order to catch up on adventure after adventure. At the moment, I am on a train from Salzburg, Austria to Graz, Austria. I will be staying in Graz for a longer period of time with a woman and her daughter. In exchange for free room and board I’m just asked to speak English with the little girl, Lisa, and watch her from time to time. I will also us the time to slow down a bit, catch up on work and make plans for my next bout of travels. So, back to Paris…****
Laurent is one of the people I was talking about when I said Loic surrounds himself with people who are going to change the world. Laurent is dedicating his time to developing a restaurant that will operate solely on employees who are considered “hard to employ,” meaning criminals, those repeatedly getting fired, etc… The point is to invest the time to train these people and arm them with skills not just in cooking and the restaurant biz, but in life. Laurent is so passionate about this project, that was clearly evident when he told me about it. Everyone at that small apartment party was absolutely a joy to spend time with and they made me feel as if we were all old friends and I had always belonged right there with them.
Several hours and several drinks later, Loic and I finally took off to head back to Loic’s apartment… but, of course we had to stop at Le P’tit Bar just around the corner from his place. This bar is a tiny, dark, slightly musty bar with old stone walls that reminded me of walls I would find in the bowels of a castle. The clutter of an old woman living alone is everywhere… and an old cat loafs lazily on one of the few stools. The tiny, old woman at this bar has been there for nearly 50 years. It was her husband’s bar… and now that he has passed away… it’s hers. When Loic and I entered, we seemed to have roused the old woman from sleep. Without hesitation though, she took her place behind the bar and began serving us. Loic and I chatted with her for a bit, Loic translating of course. Then, an old Frenchman, a regular, came in and joined us. Next, it was a group of Italians with their Sicilian-French friend as their guide. The Italians were delighted to discover I spoke their sing-song language and we all instantly became friends, sharing many laughs, jokes and just plain silliness. Loic and I had meant to just have “a beer or two” in that tiny, old little bar. But, it was well after four in the morning before we finally made it back inside his apartment. That entire evening was just fantastically Parisian.
The next day Loic had to head to work early… while I got to hibernate in my own room and recover from the previous night. That’s also when I was finally able to finish writing about Den Haag and catch up with friends, emails and work online. I did eventually rouse myself enough to emerge from my room and join Karim and Juan in their room. But, that day we were all internet addicts, each of us slaves to our computers.
I had made plans to meet another French couchsurfer though for a drink, so in the evening I got ready to go out… and that’s when I realized I didn’t have my wallet. Yeah, my wallet had quite a bit of cash, two credit cards, my license, phone numbers, etc… Just then Loic walked in and he and I went to Le P’tit Bar with a prayer and hope to find my wallet. Whew! It was there! We had a drink with the little old lady to celebrate the recovery of my wallet. The old women shared more about her life and the countless of travelers she has hosted in her bar. Despite it’s size and it’s rather hidden quality the bar is quite famous and many travelers seem to hear rumors of it and somehow end up stumbling in… from all over the world. How awesome!
Of course, losing my wallet, finding my wallet, and celebrating its recovery made me very late for my appointment with that fellow couchsurfer. When Loic and I were finally nearing the place where we were to meet, we called the cser and he wasn’t too happy. Learning we were still about 10 mins away he decided to call it all off and go home. I felt really bad about it all… it took me awhile to get over it. In the meantime though, Loic and I munched on traditional French crepes and got to stop and witness the magnificence of Notre Dame by moonlight. Talk about a consolation prize.
The next day… regrettably, it was time for me to leave. Loic and I said our farewells in the morning before he left for work, I stayed a bit longer to get my things together and chat a little bit with Juan and Karim… and then I took off for Saarbrucken, Germany.
So many people asked… why Saarbrucken? Why Thilo of course! Thilo is a friend whom I absolutely adore. I met him while I was living in Columbia, MO and working in Jefferson City, MO and he was studying at Mizzou as an exchange student. I was actually heading Thilo’s way a bit early though… he is extremely busy with his master’s thesis and with a full course load of classes. We planned a visit for the weekend… but I had a few extra days to kill, so I arranged a surf in Saarbrucken for a few days before I would meet Thilo…
More on the cozy comfort of Saarbrucken to come…