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Happy Birthday to Me!

Written on: Tuesday May 19th, 2009

Departing the warmth of the Spanish coast, I flew to Paris, where I was met by my good friend Federico.  Fred and his family had moved from Minneapolis to Italy six years ago, and have now been in the picturesque village of Senlis, France for about two years.  Their new home would serve as my sanctuary for the next several days. 

Entering the house, I immediately felt a relaxation come over me, for now I was amongst friends; in fact, they were the first "old" friends that I saw during the entire trip.  Sitting on the back patio and watching his children play in the yard was a complete switch from the perpetual craziness of Las Ramblas, but the innocent voices and actions of Lauren, Julien and Daniel only further served to mellow me out.  Fred's wife, Louise, was something of a master in the kitchen, so when she called us in for dinner shortly thereafter, I knew I was in for a treat.  In the two days that followed, a comfortable bed, serene environment and ungodly good food almost made me want to quit traveling and return to the comforts of a stable home environment.   Instead, I needed to plan for a weekend in Paris, as more friends were arrving soon to help celebrate a milestone birthday.

When I was researching this adventure a year ago, I had invited many friends to come to Paris for a birthday reunion this May.  At that time, there was significant and legitimate interest from over a dozen folks.  Unfortunately, when the economy dipped, several of those initially coming now had to skip the trip.  But that certainly didn't spoil the fun.  Freddie and I went to CDG to meet Marty, my very good friend from Minneapolis, as his flight arrived in the early afternoon.  Mar-tay!!!  It was so good to see you, brother!  The three of us drove to the Arc du Triomph, parked the car and set off to explore the streets of the City of Lights.  We strolled down des Champs-Elysees, taking in the sights and frollicking through some of the most expensive shops in the world!  Continuing on past the Obelisques de Louxor, we eventually arrived at the Louvre.  It was somehow even more impressive than when I first saw it some nine years ago!  The next grand structure that we were priveledged to view was the Notre Dame.  This magnifiscent cathedral sent a chill down my spine as we stopped in awe to honor its beauty.  Crossing the Seine, we grabbed a seat and a beer at a busy cafe in the Latin Quarter.  Now it was simply a matter of enjoying the afternoon sunshine and waiting the arrival of my next guest.  

I had known Jeff most of my life, having grown up with him in Plymouth, attending Marquette together and even joining the same Fraternity.  Needless to say, we were close.  But when he started pole vaulting his way up the company ladder, promotions brought him to England, where he now lived with his wife and daughter.  Fortunately, he was able to get away for one night and come to Paris for the occassion.  He phoned and I went to meet him along the river.  When I finally saw him walking toward me all I could do was smile and give him a hug!  Rejoining Marty and Fred, the four of us raised our glasses and made the first of many toasts that evening.  This is perfect!  I've got three of the most important people in my life with me, in Paris, to celebrate my birthday.  It was truly wonderful to have such good friends. 

The night flew by with the four of us trading news and stories of work and family and travel.  We skipped from cafe to cafe until the hour arrived to drive back to Senlis for dinner.  Fred had chosen a fabulous restaurant.  The food was exquisite and the ambiance perfect.  We dined and laughed until our bellies were stuffed and our cheeks hurt.  Alas, it was time to end birthday celebration number one.

The following day Marty, Jeff and I headed back to the city.  Jeff had to return to life in the UK, while Marty and I spent the day further touring Paris, and the many cafes that it housed.  We caught some sights, sampled plenty of food and eventually ended up in an Irish pub (of all things) where we shared some friendly banter with the wonderful staff and local clientele.

Sunday we stayed in Senlis, happily accepting Fred's invitation to a BBQ in his backyard.  It was a relaxing day of friendship and food, not to mention the late night Wii festival!

Marty still had another eight nights on holiday, so we decided to get out of town a bit and see new places.  As he used to live in Holland for three years, we targeted that country, rented a vehicle and set off in a generally northern direction.  But first we wanted to explore more of rural France.  We drove to the champagne region east of Senlis.  The vineyards covering the rolling hills were classic!  Picture perfect villages dotted the hillsides and every block seemed to house at least one winemaker.  We chose to sample some bubbly at one of the local outfits and gained a fair education of both the drink and the region.

Back on the road, we crossed into Belgium and eventually made it to Brussels, where we parked the car on the street and our bags in a hostel.  There was only one hour remaining of my 30s, and I wanted to go out for a bit to ring in the next decade.  We trotted off to one of the most brilliant squares in all of Europe: the Grand Place. It was here that the cobblestone streets were surrounded by magnificent structures on all sides.  It was also here that Marty and I had something of a reunion, for nine years earlier we were together in this square, sharing stories over a Leffe.  So it seemed appropriate that, when the clock struck midnight and I officially turned forty, Marty was here with me to toast another lap around the sun.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our brief return to Brussels, we next set our sights on another popular European city with which we were both very familiar: Amsterdam. Anybody who had walked the streets or ridden the canals of Holland's largest city would know what I'm writing about...this was a city where anything was possible and most of it was legal!  And since today actually was 19MAY, birthday celebration number three was about to take place.  But despite the images currently going through your mind of window shopping for exotic pleasure givers or coffee shops specializing in chemically engineered ganja or public sex shows in the corner bar, we kept the celebration mellow.  We went to a few outdoor cafes and drank a few beers, content to people watch and enjoy each others' company.  In fact, the night ended back at the room, playing cribbage with a clear mind and an exhausted body.  Maybe turning forty wasn't so bad.


From Danica on Jun 2nd, 2009

Happy 40!!!! I really wish we could've joined you for this one, glad you had a good time.

From Br Joe B on Jun 2nd, 2009

Happy B'Day Nige!