Southern girl meets European world


Erin Hayes

Erin Hayes, pictured above, poses below Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

Erin Haynes

“Nothing is better than the Big Easy.” This famous saying would soon be challenged as I hopped off the plane from New Orleans and immersed myself in the enchanting continent of Europe.

New Orleans is special. It is fueled by the welcoming, creative, passionate and food-lovin’ people who just want to enjoy themselves and live their lives “easy.”

Once I was pulled from the comfortable bubble of my familiar city, I found myself in a cinematic-like dream. I was engulfed in the romantic ambiance of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Gone were the low and squat ceilings of intimate New Orleans homes. In their places stood beautiful figures painted on aged domes. The colossal and striking paintings set the tone for Paris, where every corner is enlivened with glamour and beauty.

This realization overtook me as I dined at the first of many charming little bistros. The word “atmosphere” came to mind, as many bistros had three signature qualities: dainty characters, delicious food and interiors bathed in golden light.

While abroad, eating became an experience. In picturesque Paris, I made a point to minimize trivial distractions, focusing instead on my meal and surroundings.

Once I finished dining, my world was electrified by Champs Élysées — a chic avenue exemplifying Paris’ station as the fashion capital of the world. Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores sat on every corner. It appeared as if I was seeing the height of French culture, that is until I reached the Palace of Versailles days later.

“Louis XIV is the King of kings,” I repeated as I waltzed through the ornate rooms of the chateau.

As I entered the celebrated Hall of Mirrors, it struck me that the French do not seem to own pretty things as a form of vanity. Rather, their culture is built on the idea of appreciating life’s beauty.

This concept became more evident as I admired the numerous gold statues lining the outer edges of the room. Gold statues, it turned out, were a modest feature of the more tamed but equally extravagant London — the next stop on my European adventure.

Though the British people’s apathetic attitudes and practical behaviors are not as alluring as the French, British nature is echoed in their posh society. This seems to be due to the Queen and her central role in preserving the country’s image. The red road to Buckingham Palace acts as a central nervous system through which the monarchy sets a tone of well-mannered behavior. This command stretches across the London.

For example, the employees inside Buckingham Palace carried themselves with matter-of-fact attitudes without missing any details. They were fearless in correcting anyone who was wrong.

It was then that I discovered the truth about Southern charm as I gazed around the ancient city and felt the foreign coldness radiating from its people.

Rather than shrink from the undoubtable snobbishness, though, I basked in the opulent world I did not find at home as I sipped hot tea at a teahouse in SoHo. The Mini Coopers, red double-decker buses and black cabbies raced along the too-narrow streets.

Down below, the “tubes” (that’s British for subway cars) glided along their tracks, transporting passengers to their destinations. Some cars helped Harry Potter fanatics catch the Hogwarts Express, as J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter leapt from the pages and into life. King’s Cross Station’s platform 9 ¾ created a spellbinding effect that would leave any reader enchanted with excitement.

Although London had space for the old, rich and magical, it managed to leave room for its artsy city dwellers on Shoreditch High Street. From tea with lemon biscuits to ordering cereal at a café cleverly named “Cereal Killer,” Londoners here unravelled from their usual stiffness. They wandered the trendy outdoor markets selling unique vintage items.

London, though not as inviting as Paris, had proven to account for all walks of life.

The day of my departure, I felt myself yearning for home. Home was no longer only New Orleans, despite my love for the city. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is fullest when I travel.