~By: Anna and Julie, with “salt bae” from Amanda
Girls trip to Paris!
When I was 3 years old, my parents took me on a six week tour of Europe, and some of my very earliest memories originate from that trip. My most vivid memory was going up the Eiffel Tower at night, and I remember stepping off a crowded elevator holding tight to my Dad’s hand, feeling the rushing breeze of the night air. We stepped to the edge at the top and I will never forget my father saying, “Anna, look, this is the Ville de Lumière– this is the City of Lights!” And all the lights of Paris twinkled magically below and around me that night in 1985.
For 32 years I held onto the beauty of that night, and from that moment on, the Eiffel Tower would always be a special place for me. My love of travel began with that trip. I started traveling on my own in 2008, but in all the trips that I’ve taken back to Paris, and in all the times I’ve picnicked under its beautiful structure with my friends in the grass of the Champ de Mars, I’ve never been back up to the top. Somehow, my heart knew that I should wait to take that trip back up when I could hold the hand of a man who would love me just as much as my father. The Eiffel Tower and Paris became a sacred place for me that I would wait to share with the man of my dreams.
I’m a Leo, and I have always been extremely sentimental and romantic. My best girl friends have known about my love affair with Paris since basically the day they met me. They always knew that if the right man ever came along, that Paris was my dream engagement. I’ve been dating for seventeen years and in all that time, no one I dated ever quite understood how important Paris was to me or quite understood why.
When Midnight in Paris came out in 2011, it was my favorite movie. My girl friends and I watched it over and over, wanting to find the magic church steps that transported you back in time to the Paris of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. So we took a girl’s trip to Paris that summer, and it would be the spring step to all of our future travels together. Paris is what first originally bonded us as travel buddies and best friends for life. We wrote about our first trip to Paris together here. This is where we first started to get an idea that one day we wanted our own travel blog.
For the next six years, us girls have traveled to more countries together than we can count. I continued living the single life in New York City, dating around the world and had some serious heartbreaks or ten. Ultimately, I made a decision to stop looking so hard for love. I wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of NYC that was making me hard and jaded, and I found my heart yearning back for the south. I am a Kentucky girl after all. It was time to focus on me, and what made me happy in life: my job, my family, and my vacations with my girl friends.
In the fall of 2016, that all changed when I met Ben. Ben lives in New Orleans, but he works two week shifts in the oil and gas industry in North Dakota. I flew to Minot, North Dakota on a trip over Labor Day weekend to see my family. I was out to dinner with my cousin Josh, and he invited along two co-workers. One of those friends I already knew, who had traveled to both Bali and Ibiza with Josh and I. The stranger who I didn’t know showed up a little late, but when he sat down across from me at the table, and I suddenly looked over into his warm brown eyes, my whole life changed.
They say when you know, you know. I didn’t know right away immediately, but I think Ben might have! Ever the southern gentleman, he slowly taught my heart to love him and trust him in a way that I didn’t know possible. He fit right into my life, and I his. I thank God every day that Ben found me. He is my happy ever after and now I will let the girls chime in with their version of how they managed to plan the engagement of my dreams. Everyone’s part is so important to telling our love story.
How do you pull off a secret engagement in Paris when the fiancé-to-be is a Leo? Anna always told us her dream engagement and we knew when the day came that she met her perfect man, Amanda and I would have our hands full with planning.
4 months prior to D-Day, Amanda, Anna, Danielle and I were on a bus in Bolivia when we received a picture of the diamond from Ben. I have to be honest: I am a terrible secret keeper. You can’t send 3 of us a picture of a diamond and not expect us to squeal with delight leaving Anna pouting that we knew something she didn’t know. Immediately we have to either start planning everything in Paris or break it to our friend that an engagement in Paris is a bleak and an unattainable dream. Amanda contacted Ben and started the scheming. I asked her all the “what if” questions. What if it was the perfect man and the perfect ring but the location wasn’t exactly Paris? Her response “Well then he wasn’t listening, then was he?” Touché. (Anna: In my defense, this was months and months before)
It took 8 friends, 4 months, lots of scheming, the miracles of the universe aligning and the perfect fiancé to be. We worked closely with Ben to pick a date. Then we scoured the internet for what events were happening in Paris said week. One of us suggested we needed a girls trip. Someone else suggested Paris, where we faked plans with a friend of a friend for Jazz fest. Who couldn’t say no, right? Finally, after a lot of work she agreed to the dates and the location but we were positive she would start to catch on. She already knew the ring existed and she knew Ben had the days off.
The universe intervened magically by mail one day when Ben opened a letter and it was for jury duty the exact date he was supposed to leave to Paris! It was perfect! He left the letter out so she would find it and then he secretly got out of it with a copy of his airplane ticket.
You can always get me to agree to a girl’s trip to Paris over any excuse, but Jazz Fest was particularly diabolical because I love jazz. So going to JazzFest in Paris for a reunion girl’s trip was a perfect cover. At first I begged Ben to come along, but his initial excuse was that he needed to take care of his bees, so I (eventually) dropped it. I know that his beekeeping is vital to him; it was one of the many reasons I fell in love with him in the first place.
I already knew that Ben wanted to plan a life together, because he openly tells me so on a regular basis. As girls do, I had created a Pinterest board over the years of all my favorite engagement ring ideas for that future someday, so I let Ben have access to it, but it must have been a bit confusing. I remember when Amanda, Danielle, Julie and I were on our backpacking trip in South America and we were on a bus to Puno that Ben all of a sudden texted me asking, “Princess cut, right?” And I immediately texted back, “No, Asscher!” Ha! After that I was kept in the dark, they immediately made a chat group without me. It nearly killed me because curiosity kills the cat and I usually like to know everything!
So about a month before our trip, Ben and I were home in New Orleans and as he was opening his mail, he came upon an envelope for a Petit Jury Summons on the very day I was to depart for Paris with the girls. Any little lingering hope I had that he could go along at the last minute was crushed. Ben was elated. He even told my Dad over lunch how excited he was, he was looking forward to doing his civic duty.
I was even beginning to have doubts that I even wanted my long-held dream of a proposal in Paris. After some soul-searching conversations, I realized that what I truly wanted was simply to be with Ben–to be engaged, and to wear his ring. A ring of his choosing, a proposal of his choosing. I already know how romantic Ben is, so I knew that any proposal from Ben, whether or not it was in Paris, was going to be a lovely surprise, and all that mattered to me was his heart.
So I took off for Paris with joy to meet the girls!
We got Anna to Paris the day before Ben’s arrival and kept her busy and entertained and away from the part of town he was staying in. We even had to keep her busy when he got on the plane by scheming that he had been sequestered for a jury duty case and so he couldn’t call her. Once we had sufficiently thrown her for enough loops, we came up with a story that we needed to dress up and take photos like we had done on our first girl’s trip in Paris 5 years prior. At this point there were so many loops that I didn’t even know what the truths for our day plan was anymore. I think only Amanda knew what was true and what we had staged to keep Anna’s always wandering mind from asking too many questions. One of our friends had told her that we had special lunch reservations at a Café near the Louvre. He went early to meet with Ben and to communicate with Amanda, who was trying to time everything perfectly (I always joke that she is really Mrs. Peregrine as far as timing goes).
We arrived to the “Locks of Love” bridge (the Pont des Arts) and we found our friend in the middle of the bridge talking with “friends” (which were actually strangers but he made conversation with them to legitimize the story). There was a man with a violin playing “la via en rose” and by this point we were sure she knew. All of our energy was buzzing. We managed to assemble everyone for a group photo facing away from where Ben would walk up behind us. Now here’s the really special part for me: I was playing the role of photographer so I was able to capture the whole thing as Ben was walking up behind her, and I had to remind myself to stop shaking and click the button. He walked up holding a bouquet of pink roses and a ringbox. When she finally turned around and saw him, it was probably a full very long second before it set in on her that the love of her life was actually there. She sobbed. We all sobbed. Continuing to take photos and videos when you’re shaking is so hard. You want to live in the moment and enjoy it but an engagement in Paris only happens once in lifetime so we all rallied.
Ben and Anna hugged and cried and as she finally began to calm down he got down on one knee and proposed. In the middle of the Locks of Love bridge with “La vie en rose” playing on the violin, with all of her best friends around her, and another perfect universe moment when Anna’s adopted mom just also happened to be there that day and that day only. Dreams really do come true. Ben brought along a lock for them and they found a little section on the bridge where more locks have started appearing to revive the tradition. They locked their love together and threw the key into the Siene. After that he told her that he had dinner reservations at the Eiffel Tower and her face of surprise was absolutely priceless. Even the coldest of hearts were warmed and there wasn’t a dry eye on that bridge. Its adorable how much the French also love to love and strangers stopped to enjoy the moment with us.
We took all of our beautiful pictures and headed to the nearest cafe to regroup, celebrate with rosé and aperol spritz. We Facetimed Anna’s cousin Josh and our closest friend Abi who has been with us from the beginning. We called her dad and her grandma and as she recounted the story to each of them we all cried more tears of happiness.
Our first couple nights in Paris were simply amazing. Amazing friends, amazing food, amazing rosé. We went to visit the Sacré-Coeur and Montmontre, Amanda and I had a morning run along the canals of the 10th Arron., and we checked into our beautiful mid-eighteenth century apartment. Amanda had found it through a friend, and it was centrally located right next to Notre-Dame Cathedrale on the Isle de la Cité. We took a ride on a bateau-bus down the Seine to the Eiffel Tower along with five bottles of wine for a picnic in the shade. We took photos everywhere.
On Monday night, when Ben told me the Petit Jury might turn into a Grand Jury and that they were going to be sequestered at a hotel without their phones, I realized that I didn’t know when I was going to hear from him again, and I broke down in tears at dinner. He had to call me to calm me down. Amanda took me to the bathroom and dried my tears as she always has. We found some dive bars in the Marais and I spent the night distracted by shots, dancing, and Amanda DJing.
By Wednesday the rest of our friends were expected to arrive so we were planning a dress up photo shoot that day. I woke up with quite the hangover that morning but still managed to get a shower and curl my hair. I had bought a few new dresses online to bring to Paris, and my favorite was a navy blue “swing” dress for dancing in the jazz clubs. It took a few hours for seven girls to get ready, but there was a good supply of champagne on hand from a little wine shop around the corner. Julie was already “shooting” as Amanda danced around the living room. Our guy friend was looking very dapper in a brand new blue suit from Milan but he left early, saying he had friends to meet at 2, who were preparing a special wine and cheese lunch for us at a café near the Louvre.
Finally when everyone was ready, we left the apartment to meet at the café at 3. Meanwhile, we took photos everywhere along the Seine. When we got to the famous Pont des Arts, I remember being distracted into taking more pictures when we were about halfway across. While we were standing there smiling, I felt someone’s hand on my arm. I thought it was one of the girls. But when I turned around, I heard the familiar violin strains of “La Vie en Rose,” and I saw Ben standing in front of me with an armful or pink roses.
My initial reaction was pure shock. I couldn’t quite believe he was there, in person, in Paris, standing on that bridge. I just started shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, and wrapped my arms around his neck. I can remember him holding me close, both of us crying, and he whispered in my ear, “I have something to ask you.” Even when I finally calmed down enough to let go of him, I remember reaching out to touch his face, to know that this was really happening and wasn’t a dream.
The next thing I knew, Ben got on one knee, presented me with a ring box and said those sweet words, “Will you marry me?” I said “Yes I will” through tears of happiness. I nearly reached for the ring before I realized in my stupor that I should put out my hand so that he could place it on my finger. I was shaking like a leaf. It was the most joyous moment of my life. Meanwhile the violinist switched into Besame Mucho, and everyone around us was clapping and crying.
Ben had already bought a lock, and wrote Ben Anna on the side. We went to the railing and found a section of bridge where other lovers had already begun to leave new locks. Ben bent down to turn the key, and then after we both blew it a kiss, he tossed it far away into the Seine. It made me infinitely happy that he knew how much that little bit of sentimental tradition meant to me.
And then Ben had one last surprise. He pulled out some papers from his inside his jacket pocket and presented me with dinner reservations that night at 58, where we would dine at the Eiffel Tower. Somewhere there’s a priceless photo of my face. It was a culmination of all my little hopes and dreams. I couldn’t stop crying or shaking. My cup of joy runneth over.
After what seemed a million photos later, we crossed the bridge and found ourselves a spot at the Café Restaurant Le Grand Louvre. We had many rounds of champagne and kir royale to celebrate! When I finally could sit down, I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of my new ring.
Ben had looked at all my Pinterest saves and then had it designed especially for me, with little gold twists in the band that gave it a slightly antique look. Sweet and simple and classic. I could not have imagined anything more elegant. My entire day was perfect from beginning to end, and when I called my Dad and my Grandma to share the happy news, they cried too. I truly felt as if all the universe was in the right place for once, and that I was the luckiest girl alive. No other man would have the patience or persistence to give me the engagement of my dreams, and do such an incredible job surprising me. My favorite photo is when I am standing there unsuspecting, and Ben is walking across the bridge behind me, broad smile across his face.