I have always adored surprises, and ever since I found my Christmas presents as a child (on purpose), and felt the disappointment of knowing, I have respected keeping surprises as surprises. So when Graham decided my birthday present would be a trip away to some unknown place, I was delighted. After weeks of telling me it would be the Ukraine (which would have been lovely, actually), he gave me a hug and told me I should probably brush up on my French. It was the morning before we were due to fly out.
All the excitement of weeks wondering boiled inside of me and I burst out into song…’I love Paris in the Springtime..’ (Ella, the ever-present musical companion.) He knows me well, Paris is one of my most favourite places, and he chose it despite his dislike of the city. Truth is, he had never properly been to Paris…
Two eggs Benedicts and a bus ride later found us queuing at the Ryanair bag drop. ‘The gate is closed, I am sorry, I can’t take your bag’ was not the exact best thing to hear. Incredulous (we had arrived on time), we decided to run; the plane was only due to take off in over and hour. Security was not fun with liquids and the like loose, but we got through, only at the cost of a small bottle of champagne (clever boy!).
It was the longest run ever; and Graham can happily do 16k without really thinking about it. Yet by the time we reached the gate just about 10 mins later, every body part ached and we were rasping. The next fear was the fact we had an oversized bag for a Ryanair flight. There must have been scales in the air hostess’s eyes; we got through without a blink and giggled the whole way. Well, I giggled, Graham merely guffawed.
Travelling was easy there on in. We landed, bused, and metroed (our stop was called Bonne Nouvelle) all the way to the 2ieme quartier (the ideal location) and very quickly found our apartment. It could not have been more parisienne if Sartre himself lived there; myriads of leafy plants, highly ceilings, odd sculptures, musical instruments and broken couches. It looked out over a bustling street, begging us to join the vibrance. So we did, pretty much immediately. Graham was itching to go for a walk and see the Seine.
After a slow amble through the streets (and a purchase of a rather sticky clementine) we arrived at the river. I reminisced about how it reminded me of the place we first kissed in Dublin, which was also near a bridge.
As we crossed the Pont Neuf, he pulled me into one of the little alcoves, to look at the Eiffel tower. The moon was high, and not yet quite full, and the Eiffel tower was beautifully lit up.
He grabbed my hands (his were shaking), looked at me intently and said
‘Eight months ago tomorrow, we hung out for the first time, and stood on a bridge, realising we didn’t want to say goodbye. Since then, I have gotten to know a beautiful woman, who is kind, intelligent, creative…. We have shared so much together… experiences
I interjected ‘You wanna share life together?’
At this point his eyes were welling up, so he cut the speech short and got down on one knee. The look in his eyes was beautiful; so full of hope, beaming with joy and expectancy. It wasn’t until he pulled out the ring that I realised it was actually happening. Without uttering a word I got down on the floor with him and buried my head in his shoulder hugging him tightly. He gently prised me away and said ‘I take that as a yes’, to which I just nodded and whispered it under my breath; I was too overcome. We sat on the lip in the alcove, lost in the moment. It was not sinking in at all. I couldn’t believe he had actually done it. Speech came back with a bang as I stared at the beautiful gem on my finger (he got it spot on!). I yelled at a suited French man that I got engaged and begged him to take a picture. His excitement almost matched ours as he wished us the best; delighted to be a part of the moment.
The image captured, we ambled on, arm in arm across the Pont de Neuf towards an area with a thousand locks. Graham explained that the bridge is famous for the locks. I sighed, saying we should get one, just as he reached into his pocket to pull out a lock with our names on it already. His planning was impeccable. We found a spot we would always remember, and threw the keys into the river.
That made it feel real, and final, and the feeling was one of utmost joy and excitement; the immenseness of it all! I also felt relief; I had wanted him to be mine since the moment we met, so this just answered a deep desire. There was no hesitation, no worry, no reservations. There is no fear in love.
More ambling and we realised we were desperately thirsty, so we found an odd little cafe, allowing it all to properly sink in. I told everyone we met. ‘Nous nous sommes fiances!’
After a while, our stomachs began to un-knot and we headed back in the direction of the apartment, stopping to see the Eiffel tower light up with a million stars. Following our noses, we stepped off the beaten track and found a delightful restaurant, aptly named Carpe Diem.
The next day held many promises, but little did I know, more surprises! As we finished breakfast (I couldn’t understand why Graham was taking so long), my best friend Claire walked into the cafe and offered us more tea and coffee in French. She lives in Brussels. Wordlessly I leapt into her arms. He had planned the whole thing. Later on, when we were sitting in the apartment, my other best friend, Anaelle walked in. From Rennes. BAM! Another surprise! The thrill of it all was insane. To share all this excitement with the ones I wanted as bridesmaids was priceless. Later on, yet another best friend, Ali, dropped everything and jumped on the next train from Amsterdam to be with me (I have never heard someone scream quite that loudly, and laugh all at the same time).
All those months ago I wrote a blog post about how it all started, how after just 10 days we were smitten, and here we are, the page is turned, and we are going to do this together…