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I thought my heart was broken in Paris, but my life took a big turn

I thought my heart was broken in Paris, but my life took a big turn

(CNN) — April, fall and midnight. Everything seems better in Paris. It is arguably the only city in the world that attracts more than 30 million people every year to its monuments, who associate them with one emotion: love.

But, for a long time, the mere mention of Paris evoked feelings of sadness and humiliation, because my heart was broken under the Eiffel Tower.

After nearly a decade, I finally did something to change it.

I traveled from London to Paris one afternoon in April 2011 to spend a three-day weekend with my boyfriend who lived in the city.

Our plans were simple: visit tourist sites, walk along the Seine, and eat at every restaurant possible. The Eiffel Tower has been at the top of my visit list ever since my mother gave me, when I was nine, a souvenir model of her trip.

As I left the metro station, the spring sun caressed my face. My heart raced with nervous excitement as I walked to meet my friend at our meeting point: the Eiffel Tower.

Even though it was my first trip, everything looked strangely familiar from photos and movies. The cafes on every corner were crowded like beehives. Waiters hurried in and out in black jackets and white aprons, their matted hair barely moving as they expertly balanced trays.

I stared out the window, trying to figure out what the menu on the chalkboard said. When I turned around, traffic had stopped and people were crossing the street in unison. Everywhere I looked, it was as if I had stepped onto the stage in the middle of a show.

“I'm going to enjoy being here,” I thought.

My friend had spent part of the year in Paris on business, and got to know the city well. We were planning to spend a long weekend together before I returned to London.

“Meet me on the road leading to the Eiffel Tower at three o'clock. I will slow down while you ride. The river will be behind you,” were the instructions he sent me via SMS.

Before everyone relied on Google Maps, directions seemed simple. Although he didn't mention the names of the roads, it seemed so simple that I didn't ask him any more questions.

time is running out

That day, he had left early to cross from the English port of Dover to Calais, on the northwest coast of France. From Calais it was another three hours by train.

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I arrived an hour early and walked aimlessly around Paris until I suddenly caught a glimpse of the looming Eiffel Tower and let out a squeal of excitement. Fascinated, I walked towards it, and it seemed taller, wider, and grander than I had imagined. It was just like my mother's memory of the Eiffel Tower.

As the time to meet my friend approached, I went out to look for the way “to the Eiffel Tower”. After 20 minutes of wandering around, I couldn't find anything that fit the description.

The only direct road to the tower was the Pont d'Ena, on the Seine. All other main roads ran parallel around it. Feeling frustrated and running out of time, I headed back toward the Seine. I grabbed my phone and found an angry text message.

“Where are you? I can't believe you're not here.”

What followed was a back-and-forth that revealed problems in our relationship that I knew existed but hoped would become a thing of the past in Paris.

But even the City of Love couldn't help us.

“I can't find the way,” I replied via SMS.
“I can't believe it! It was a simple instruction.”
“I don't know which way you're going. I don't know where I should be.”
“Tell me where you are.”
“I'm in front of the Eiffel Tower and the river is in front of me.”
“This is not where you were supposed to meet me.”

This chaotic exchange of messages continued for a few more minutes before I saw him walking towards me. It's starting to rain. The sun was hiding behind the clouds and my clothes felt wet on my skin.

“I gave you very simple instructions! All you have to do is wait for me there,” he said angrily, waving his hands in the opposite direction.

“Can we forget it now?” I asked, my voice cracking with frustration.

“No, we can't forget that. I brought you flowers. And I threw them in the damn trash.”

Tears from the tower

Annoyed, tired and devastated by his words, I burst into tears. He left angry, without saying a word of comfort to me, while I was crying in the middle of Paris.

We were friends for five years before we developed a romantic relationship. As someone who had a very conservative upbringing, I found his carefree attitude towards life very attractive. I admired his spontaneity without realizing his reckless nature.

As she cried, she thought of the countless times she had excitedly explained to him that she wanted to see the Eiffel Tower for as long as possible. During my absence, we also exchanged long emails and text messages about the happy memories we would have together in Paris.

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But now, all the anger and arguments from the entire relationship came crashing down on me at once and I felt grounded. I couldn't move. This moment of disappointment would change everything, because it came with a priceless gift: dazzling clarity.

Instead of following him to the car, as he expected, I turned around and walked slowly towards the subway station in the rain.

I wanted to leave Paris.

I wasn't sure about this decision before. The metro took me to Gare du Nord and I bought a Eurostar ticket to London that cost three times what I paid to get there. At that moment, it was worth putting so much distance between us.

While waiting for the train, I received a stream of text messages on my phone:

“Where are you?!”
“If you get lost again, I won't look for you!”
“I'm going home in the car!”

I ignored everything. I didn't want to know why he was so angry, like he always did. What I hoped would be a beautiful moment of reunion, under the Eiffel Tower, ended our relationship. I returned to London and never contacted him again or attempted to retrieve my belongings that I had left at his house. I cut all ties, including our mutual friends.

For several years, I was terrified by any mention of Paris.

I didn't dare tell anyone that, unlike other people who had fallen in love or proposed to me in Paris, I had had my heart broken there.

It was a story too pathetic to be repeated. The pictures of the Eiffel Tower no longer reminded me of my mother's gift, but rather terrified me.

Happy return

Years later, when social media boomed and the most beautiful pictures of Paris filled my feed, I silently answered in my head: “It's not for me.” I felt the same way about the city as I did about my ex: It wasn't a place I wanted to return to.

It was a decade before I could return, but I finally decided it was time to mend my relationship with Paris.

So I started planning my return. I have booked a business class train ticket from London. When I received the confirmation on my phone, I knew I had embarked on a journey I had been waiting for for a long time.

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The morning of the trip, I arrived at London station and boarded the train with hundreds of tourists and Frenchmen returning from abroad.

At Gare du Nord, my final destination, transportation took me through the streets of Paris. I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we strolled along the Seine and had nothing but smiles.

From the back seat of the car, I felt excited as I saw her for the first time.

My hotel was classic Paris: marble entrance and gold details. From my room, I could see the Eiffel Tower from all the windows, even from the bathroom. I went out onto the balcony, and all of Paris spread around me like a tapestry woven for inspection.

“I'm back,” I whispered to myself.

For the next three days, I walked everywhere. I took every opportunity to sit outside cafés, drink wine and look at the Parisian landscape.

I would read for hours sitting on the grass in the Tuileries Garden, eat pastries for breakfast in small bakeries, and sip soup in Michelin-starred restaurants. In this city, where people-watching was a way of life, I was just another stranger walking alone; No one blinked.

I breathed deeper with every step and realized why Paris is the most visited city in the world.

People can come here for different reasons, but every time I've been back since then it's been because of how I feel in Paris.

There is a connection and flow to everything that happens here. There are Instagrammable bakeries to serve people, residents look out of high windows at the beautiful streets below even when there are no cameras pointed at them, the subway takes you anywhere, and the Eiffel Tower keeps an eye on it all.

None of this is separate from the rest, nor is it designed for tourists or organized to attract visitors. What I feel when I walk is the beating heart of the French experience.

On the last night of my solo weekend, I sat on the balcony of my hotel with the Eiffel Tower in front of me, lights lit around its beautiful 19th-century architecture.

And I realized that maybe my heart wasn't broken here. What Paris gave me, all those years ago, was the greatest moment of clarity that changed the course of my life.