By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels —
I was so utterly stunned by the incredulity of its magnificent beauty that I clutched onto the trunk of a nearby tree. I couldn’t believe that I had finally reached the last stop on my lone Western European pilgrimage. After weeks of bitter loneliness, I finally found myself in the company of the most beautiful man-made wonder in the world. It began to light up and sparkle like the millions of missing clusters of stars drowned out by the light of this bustling metropolis. The center of the universe was here, planet Earth, at 48.8584° N, 2.2945° E.
As I stood at 48.8589° N, 2.2958° E I began to experience a hybrid of emotions. Tears of joy were streaming down my face, the joy of making it this far, and I had never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life. This was the pinnacle of my holiday and it promised me a feeling of hope that I could believe in.
Earlier that day, from the moment I stepped outside into the taxi queue at Gare de Lyon station, I purposefully avoided looking westward because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise of it, even if it wasn’t visible from this side of town. Immediately after getting into my taxi, I pulled my panama hat over my face until the driver turned northbound for the 18th arrondissement. But on the way, as I gazed in awe at the beige and cream-colored Haussmann-style architecture, the thought of seeing what I had come to Paris to see began racing in my mind.
Upon checking in at The Regent Montmartre hostel across from the Sacré-Cœur, I promptly raced back outside into the City of Light. I chose to journey on foot and by the time I had reached the Musée du Louvre, it was sunset. And that’s when I finally saw it, standing erect on the horizon and juxtaposed beneath the tangerine sky. Suddenly, the Pyramide du Louvre became my starting point and the Eiffel Tower my finish line. This was my moment. My race to la rédemption.
I crossed the Pont des Arts, which at the time was full of love locks that have since been removed and melted down into scrap metal, and raced towards the Eiffel Tower. I experienced a real-life dolly zoom effect where the tower remained at the same distance while my path leading up to it appeared longer and indeterminate. When I reached the tower via the northeast park, I became enthralled by its magical charm. In that moment, I fell in love with Europe. I knew who I was and where I wanted to be.
A few Parisian days passed me by until my friend Gillian and I had our first rendezvous in over 2 years. Gillian always had a difficult life when she lived in America, but after graduating from university she decided to give teaching English abroad a go. And ever since then, she seemed to be a much happier and carefree person. Truly free. Truly alive. Truly Bohemian. She had been teaching in Madrid for about a year and decided to do a weekend trip to Paris to meet me while I was on my first holiday. I was so utterly intrigued by how she, an American, was living on this enchanting continent. I wanted to know how I could do it. That’s when I first heard that magical, 4-letter acronym: TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). It stayed in the back of my head for a few days. In the meantime, we went for a full-course dinner and show at the Moulin Rouge and a morning Catacombs tour. We had opposite opinions on the Mona Lisa: she loved it while I abhorred it. The highlight of our time together was when we put our own love locks on the Pont des Arts and threw the keys into the Seine; my love lock had question marks below my name, for I had no idea who my true love would be. I was only 24 and single after all.
Once Gillian left again for Madrid, I was alone again in Paris. On my last night, after finishing an excursion to Versailles, I had dinner by the Eiffel Tower. Alone. And unexpectedly, I felt incredibly sick afterwards, so I reposed on a bench by the Eiffel Tower. Waiting. Hoping. Hoping that the love of my life would just come find me and my happily ever after could finally begin. But then my sickness became unbearable and I had to return to my hotel. Some last night in Europe this was! As I laid in bed, contemplating how much I was going to miss Europe, I also began to frantically search for an answer to the question: how do I live here like Gillian? I didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree yet because I was in the military.
So then I searched and searched and then searched some more. I had always wanted to visit Prague. My grandmother was Czech and I had long since desired to study the Czech language myself. I had always been fascinated by foreign languages, so what if I actually became a foreign language teacher? I searched “TEFL” and “Prague” and that’s when I found TEFL Worldwide Prague. I promptly e-mailed them and I also did some research. If I were to move to Prague, I wouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree to teach English in the Czech Republic and I wouldn’t even need to know Czech either (despite me wanting to learn Czech anyway). Everything felt like it had suddenly fallen into place on November the 21st, 2014. The question, “What am I going to do when I get out of the military?” was finally answered. My life came together in Paris, the city where dreams are born. My “pilgrimage” was over. And not even food poisoning could stop me from loving Europe, which I only later came to realize was the answer to the question marks on my Parisian love lock. -ER