Monday, as I saw the images of Notre Dame in flames, I stared in shock and disbelief. Then a flood of memories came back reminding me of the two times I was lucky enough to be standing there in person. As I think about those two trips several life lessons jumped out at me. It’s amazing how hindsight and a bit of time can help one view things more clearly.
    In 2004 my wife and I traveled to France to watch Lance Armstrong win his record breaking 6th Tour de France.* This was a college graduation gift to ourselves and a splurge we could barely afford. We traveled the country for almost three weeks with just a backpack, a phrasebook, and a bit of trepidation. 
    We finished our trip in Paris and I remember my first sight of Notre Dame was through bleary exhausted eyes. The night before, we, along with our new friends (of 36 hrs.), crashed on the couch of an astrophysicist in Grenoble. How our new friends met this professors wife, and how we ended up sleeping on their futon I am still not sure, but they welcomed us in with open arms (and cheese and wine). Then at 4:00 a.m. we were on the train into Paris.
Lesson 1 – In general people around the world are welcoming and caring.
    Once in Paris we met up with a family from our hometown in Ohio. They were living in Paris at the time and offered us a bed (actually my mom contacted them and got us an invite). Our gracious hosts felt bad because our bed was on the floor in the living room. Yet when we stood by our bed and looked out the window we could see most of the southern flank of Notre Dame cathedral. We assured them we would manage.
Lesson 2 – One amazing life experience, and a lot of helpful (and usually French) people, can change your life forever. This trip developed in us a lifelong love of travel.
    By 2012 Melissa and I were craving another trip to France. This time with a four and six year old in tow. This would be our first really big trip as a family. It, like our first trip, was tiring and exhausting. Did I mention it was also a very expensive trip? However, I don’t regret it for a minute. We met new and old friends. We ate a ton of baguettes and pan au chocolates, and carried two little kids more than we cared for. Yet despite the ups and downs, our own kids got their first taste of travel and adventure in the same place Melissa and I did. 
Lesson 3 – Spending money on stuff that you really enjoy makes sense. Wasting money on anything else is just silly.
I hope that when all is said and done Notre Dame returns as majestic as before. Paris would never be quite the same without it. In fact I think it being fully restored would make a great excuse to head back to France yet again. 
Enjoy the ride,
*Yes I realize Lance was stripped of his titles for cheating. Did I get angry about it? Not really. If it wasn’t for Lance winning the tour we may never have gone to France in the first place. So in all reality I should be thanking him.     
My sister and I carrying the kids with Notre Dame in the background.
*Just for the record I was looking at a map, I didn’t have a smartphone in 2012.