In Paris, one could easily become overwhelmed or lost without a little planning. It has happened to me many times. A couple weekends ago, I was going to a friend’s appartment in an area I did not know. As I was running late, I forgot to write down the address of my destination before leaving. I’d been sent a message with directions, which I unfortunately could not see without wifi. So after an hour journey on the metro, I got off in the general neighborhood of the appartment. It was a gritty area in the suburb Montreuil. With a vague notion of where I needed to be, I sought help at a gas station. The clerk was so kind and patient as I searched for the French words to describe my predicament. She was genuinely concerned for me. She drew me a map and steered me the right way. As I began walking away from the counter, the man behind me offered to drive me to where I needed to be. Although I wasn’t quite ready to accept a ride from a stranger, that was uplifting. The generosity offered to me defied the “French are cold” stereotype. The more success I have in approaching people, the more confident I become. By reaching out in moments such as this I connect with kind, helpful people. Interactions like these make me very grateful to be travelling abroad.
Yes, I have been “lazy” and I haven’t posted recently. As for today, for lack of anything very interesting, I’d like to talk about coffee. Seriously, there have to be a million different ways to drink coffee around the world. The European favorite is surely a simple esspresso. As a sugary, creamy coffee fan, that took some getting used to. But now I drink them regularly. It’s one euro or one euro twenty for a quick pop of caffeine. There must be a million different cafés throughout Europe each serving many esspressos a day…What a business!
Today I am especially tired and I keep thinking about my favorite energy boost. I had my coffee brewed in the pot, but I could have used more when I was studying at the library. My usual route to and from the sixième arrondissement where my school is takes me by dozens of cafés. In the morning, I take the bus from Vanves to the corner at the Alliance Française. While on the bus I stare out the window appreciating just how many cool looking cafés there are. Then in the afternoon I take the metro. The afternoon commute involves a walk to the line 4 metro, one stop to the Montparnasse station and a long haul underground to change to the line 13, and then a few stops to Vanves. When I am underground (gross) in Montparnasse for what seems like an hour, I always wish I could be sitting in one of the cafés on the streets above. Next time I will indulge, because there is no shortage of coffee in this city for sure. And that brings me to my plan for now: go to sleep and when I wake, hit a café!
From central Paris, it is a 6 hour TGV ride to the Cote d’Azur. On Thursday, the train zoomed through the French countryside to bring me and my group to Nice. Nice is an incredible city that mixes old and new with ease. There are roughly 350,000 inhabitants and plenty of visitors. In the center of the city lies a large new park featuring fountains and mist, gardens and creative playscapes for children. I loved it, and spent a long time there. But the best thing about Nice for me is its waterfront. There is a huge promenade where bikers, roller skaters and walkers mingle. There is another nice park high up on a hill that has a ruined old fort and an amazing view of the whole city. Despite the pain in my legs, I made the trek with my group.
Then of course, there is the Mediterranean Sea! The water is a gorgeous turquoise blue, and I had a lovely long swim (yes it was warm enough even at the end of October)!
This was a splendid trip, and I am very thankful that I went. Memories of the seafood, the warm weather, the park, and the beach will make the winter much more bearable!
Yesterday, I had a great surprise. Patrick messaged me to tell me he was in Paris! So this morning, we met up near Rue de Rivoli. We tried out Cafes Verlet, which is a gourmet shop that offers hundreds of varieties of coffee. We had a great time reminiscing about UMW days while wandering around the first and second arrondissments. We also made sure to enjoy a crêpe, some organic desserts, and the Jardin des Tuilieries. This morning made me realize that I love to travel with friends; it’s fun to share new adventures and new observations while comparing them with back home. For example, we laughed at how open Parisian society is to semi-nude photography (which appears in nearly every metro station) versus in America where violent imagery is more acceptable. In a few hours, I am headed off to Tuscany. I’ll be delighted to see Eynav, who is studying abroad there. I’m sure that with her as well, I’ll have a great time comparing European norms to norms back in the States. She will show me the best of Florence, and we’ll have some great memories when we’re back at UMW next semester. Also, many people have given me enthusiastic reviews of Tuscan food. I’m looking forward to sampling gnocchi and much more.
So there’s been a cold going around the group and I did so well avoiding it…until the day before yesterday. I’ve been busy for the past few days, so I got less sleep than I should have. On Tuesday, Rebecca and I went to a meeting at Sciences Po, and then to Tracy’s art exhibit. I had lots of fun with Rebecca; she’s a sweetheart. Unfortunately though, the exhibit was outside and it was a cold night. The following morning, I woke up feeling very worn out and congested. I know that the change in season explains a lot. I’m trying to preempt a downturn by drinking orange juice. I also swear by Emergen-C packets and lots of water. Yesterday, my big highlight was dinner with Kelsey and Alyssa. Alyssa came up and cooked up the steak, which we paired with salad and some peppers. The three of us swapped stories, and grins about how great meat was. Most of us have been eating relatively simply, and thus it’s a big treat to have a nice home-cooked meal. Today I woke up for French class, but immediately wanted to go back to bed. I made a brief appearance in class, and then I had to leave because I was so groggy and congested. The bus ride home is great, because I don’t have to walk through Montparnasse metro, and I get to see scenery. The best “sight” today goes to the gentleman with the stellar moustache! I wish I could have taken a picture. As for now, I am drinking tea and orange juice and reading in bed.
A few days ago, I had the joy of seeing my parents. They arrived from the airport exhausted, but I got to spend a good amount of time catching up. I stayed with them in their budget hotel in Porte de Bagnolet, on the outskirts of the city. Then the following day, the three of us went around to see some of my favorite spots in Paris. I showed them the Centre Pompidou and the Marais. We had the typical Parisian café crème overlooking the square. Next, I took them to my apartment, which they were impressed with (it is big for Paris). Of course I brought them to see my school and the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg as well. That evening, my mom took us to see her friend Tracy from college days. That was great for me, because not only did I get in touch with Tracy, but I also made friends with the American graduate student who was renting out a room. The student, Rebecca, gave me her number and told me she’d introduce me to her classmates at Sciences Po. Before turning in that night, my parents and I enjoyed a waffle with hazelnut ice cream- what a treat! Then on their last morning in Paris, my parents took me grocery shopping. The hypermarche out by the hotel is astoundingly huge and cheap, so I plan to return there for next week’s provisions. Finally, Mom and Dad treated me to a good Parisian steak for lunch. Goodbyes were sad, but I feel that their visit renewed and excited me for the rest of my stay in Paris.
Living in Paris is a culturally-enriching experience. For example, it is an astoundingly diverse city with tourists and immigrants from every corner of the world. It is rich with history, from the Roman arena to World War II landmarks. Paris also has extraordinary museums and art exhibits on practically every street. And I’ve been to some of the greatest ones: Musee Rodin, Musee d’Orsay, Musee du Louvre, Centre Pompidou. It’s been said that Paris is the city of light. Here are some reasons why I agree with that expression. Every night after sundown, all the famous monuments and buildings are illuminated. My friends and I have often gone to the river, where the lights dance off the water. It’s very popular to pass time there with a bottle of wine or two and some good company. The Eiffel Tower is even more incredible at night. After sundown, it shimmers and flashes on the hour. Additionally, cinemas of all varieties abound; film is fondly called the “seventh art.” These movie houses add their bright neons to Parisian nights. Last weekend, I went to a spectacle that gave much credence to the city of light nickname. At La Defense, half the city’s population gathered in a huge modern square to watch a fireworks and light-show called “Ici et Ailleurs,” which mimicked the rhythms and images of places far and wide. There were images projected on the huge square arch itself and strobe lights, search lights and more reflecting off the shiny skyscrapers.
I’ve spent many an hour searching online for the best cell phone plan and I found Free Mobile. Unfortunately though, Free Mobile’s website is a piece of $h&@. I was able to purchase a SIM card and the first month of service. Then the second go around when I tired to purchase a phone, the company redirected me and annuled my transaction yet still posted charges to my bank account. I was worried that I was stuck. After much frustration, I discovered that I could buy an unlocked dumbphone at FNAC- France’s version of Best Buy. So I have a phone! I inserted the SIM card from Free Mobile and my new phone is up and running. I’d just like to warn anyone who might require a new phone in Europe, it’s complicated!
I’ve had a great couple of weeks in France. My French class started on Monday but my international studies courses haven’t begun, thus I’ve had plenty of time. Primarily, I’ve been getting to know the other six people in my program. I’m glad to report that they are equally as curious about other cultures. Better still, they are equally as passionate about travelling as I am. As a group, we’ve been to many of the famous spots in the city. We’re eager to venture off the beaten path as well.
Navigating Paris is like navigating most big cities; there are metro lines criss-crossing everywhere and endless winding streets and grand boulevards. In essence, one could easily become overwhelmed or lost without a little planning. Our orientation leader armed us with a thousand maps, but I’ve come to rely on my sense of direction and it has served me well. I now can swipe my Navigo pass (unlimited metropolitan transit for a month) and be on my way. I have found some of the best places to shop and eat.
I have eaten lots of delicious foods, including some that I’m unfamiliar with. The first night of orientation for example, I had avocado spinach soup, red wine, and roast duck at a marvelous Art Nouveau restaurant. Then a few days later, we went to a Basque restaurant. I didn’t recognize anything on the menu so I picked tripe. It turns out that was intestines. Most of the time, I stick to a more simple palette consisting of produce, bread and cheese from the supermarket. Prices are quite high coming from America, so a simple menu keeps me within budget. I will admit that I have made some splurges, such as the delicious crossiants aux amandes that I had one morning.
I arrived in Paris on Monday, at 11 AM local time (5 AM) after zero sleep. My luggage is ridiculous unfortunately, so it was a challenge getting to the hostel. It was raining then, and still is now. And, of course, there was my usual leg pain to top it all. On the bright side, a French man saw me struggling on the metro. So he insisted on lugging both of my bags through the station, on to the next train, up the stairs and several blocks to my hostel. Quelle chance (what luck)! And he told me “ici, les gens aident quelqu’un juste pour être gentilles.” That day I explored the neighborhood and the Place de la Concorde area. Today I walked all around the Rue de Rivoli and the Galleries Lafayette. To eat: un peu de Camembert, du taboule et du pain. I am confident that despite any trials, this will be a good semester.