In hindsight, this trip was never actually about “going to places”. Since day one, it had been about people. It was simply meant to be a reunion among a group of close friends that are currently dispersed in different parts of the globe.
The seed was planted in the fall of 2014, when our best friend Luke started planning his trip to Paris with his wife Hyerim. They were to attend the September 2015 opening of the first retrospective exhibit devoted to the works of 18th-century French artist Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun at the Grand Palais, curated by his uncle, who is a world-eminent specialist of the official portraitist of Queen Marie-Antoinette.
Joe and I had been planning to visit his family in Paris around the same time, as did Fabien and Eujin, while Jiwon and Laurent had just made their big move to Paris. Supporting Luke’s beloved elderly uncle by attending the grand opening of the exhibit would be the perfect excuse for us, living in three different continents, to plan the reunion we’d always talked about. Timing-wise, things really couldn’t be more perfect.
Over the course of 11 days, we covered a distance that totalled 2,500km. We read menus and road signs in four different languages, three just in Spain. There were two reunions within our own reunion; they stand out as the highlights of the trip.
One of the reunions had been completely unplanned. It was so good I cried when it was time to say goodbye.
Oh, and there was food, so much glorious food, from food stalls at local markets to Michelin-starred fine dining. And, even more wine and beer.
The flora and the terrain outside our van windows as we made our way from the east to north coast of Spain changed dramatically from semi-arid grassy plains to densely-covered evergreen mountains of the Pyrenees. The weather conditions did their best to keep us on our toes as well; over the span of lunch one day in Santander, the day went from impossibly sunny with not a cloud in the sky to grey and ominous to rain to sunny again. Torrential rain in Barcelona one morning made us leap into the nearest taxi with our bags of hams and cheeses and fruit we had purchased from the market place.
And, of course, there were minor conflicts of interest along the way as well. Nothing that wasn’t expected.
When you are constantly on the road, for days, you can almost feel the physical passage of time and it can really distort your perception of it. When we reached Paris–our starting point and final destination–by the end of our 11 days, it seemed to me like we had been traveling for months, not days.
Now that it is all over, I am grateful that all of us cared enough to have made it happen. I am excited by the new friendships that were formed along the way and warmed by the rekindled old friendships. Both have further confirmed my faith in the pure goodness of human bonds that never really go away no matter the time and distance. If we are the sum of our experiences, I’m sure each and every one of us returned home with an added year, at least, to our lives by all that we saw, heard, tasted, felt and said. And, I am grateful for it all.
I am slowly recovering from the trip and the long Chuseok holiday that ensued but I will be updating the blog in the coming days as I write my way into those two weeks of September. I hope you are enjoying the beautiful skies and the glorious sunshine that make this season the most beautiful Korea has to offer! (But of course it has to pour down right when I am about to post this.)