As we slump on the last leg of our long journey back to Oxford on the X90 charter bus, I’d like to share a little insight into the study abroad experience based on the last three days.
I’ll start from Saturday.
After my mishap with duck liver, my culinary adventures only got better. Here are a few highlights:
La crepe antillaise: a crepe smeared in chocolate sauce topped with bananas, whipped cream, and pistachio ice cream. Also, fresh hard cider. We found this spot at a little cafe outside the Palace of Versailles.
The Palace of Versailles! When Marie Antoinette spoke begrudgingly to Louis XV’s mistress, her exact words were: “There are a lot of people at Versailles today.” I think the snidely vague comment was probably a curse. Never in my life-even at the Louvre- have I been crammed into rooms with so many people. Hundreds of languages, an overwhelming deluge of floral-printed wallpaper and gold accents, and the general gradeur of the building alone had me dizzy. It was a must -see.
Later on that night, we went to a little cafe beneath our hotel. I continued to hit the jackpot with food choices even though I was craving something utterly boring.
I wish I could add pork belly as a staple to all of my caesar salads. The meat was rich and tender and paired with the roast chicken and rich rich dressing. Add in the fresh bread and I completely forgot I chose something healthy, mainly because, well…I didn’t. And it was awesome.
Next on the evening’s agenda was a climb up the Eiffel Tower. I only went up to the second level because by the time we arrived the elevator had shut down, but the heights I could reach I climbed on foot! I am especially proud of this because I’m terrified of heights and the stairs to each level are bordered by a rail and a wide wire netting along the steps that leaves nothing to the imagination.
Before I get to that, I want to say that standing at the base of this structure was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. Seeing things that are so iconic in history and in the media today in person is like joining a really cheerful riot; everyone seems altered by being in the presence of something so great and it’s a dizzying euphoria.
I interrupted this dapper gent’s picture standing on a park bench with the tower when I said to my group: “I want to do that…” The kind stranger (a fellow-American) promptly invited me to his perch while he relocated so he could photobomb me . It was a good moment.
Next there was…the climb!
I wanted one last pre-climb selfie. This is about the time I started noticing how tiny and antlike the people moving on the stairs above , which also made me realize that if I could see them then they could probably see me. Hundreds of feet below…
Alas, we made it! On foot, no less! I wouldn’t have traded the climb for anything. It was another item crossed off my list that I absolutely wanted to do.
Speaking of things I wanted to do, check out this fabulous assortment of bread. This darling bouquet of carbohydrates greeted me every morning at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. French bread is truly worth all the hype it gets. Flaky, buttery…this is the fuel of champions…and those recovering from climbing/creeping/crawling with eyes squeezed shut up a high structure.
For our last day, we elected to remain destination-free. I think this is something that those who travel abroad as students absolutely have to do as part of learning from a culture.
While abroad, it is so easy to be caught up in trying to navigate in a new area while seeing museums, palaces, and landmarks, you can accidentally overlook seeing the most eye-opening thing of all; for so many people, this is home.
It may seem obvious, but when you spend five hours shuffling from royal quarters to portrait galleries to armories, it’s hard to reconcile all of this standing homages to the past with a present that’s thriving with a life and culture of its own.
I and a few fellow-students all noticed a uniquely shaped building when we climbed the Eiffel, and in the spirit of having a go-with-the flow day with no must-see sights to worry about heading to early to avoid lines, we set out on a somewhat directionless track.
This is what we found. The Basilique du Sacre Coeur, conveniently located at the highest point (butte Montmartre) of Paris- located at the top of nearly a mile’s worth of heavily inclined cobblestone road. So much for the light stroll we planned.
The Catholic Church, completed in 1914 and consecrated just after World War I, was dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Franco-Prussian War and as a way to mend social divides that occurred in the wake of the French Revolution. The church also stands for efforts to restore monarchy and reinforce the faith through national support to the Pope through the Third Republic.
View of Paris from its highest point
Today, the city maintains the church as a house of worship. Tourists can circle through the main rooms but are asked not to speak or take pictures. As much as I enjoy the hustle of running to the spots I wanted to see and FINALLY getting admitted amidst hordes of people, I think what makes the most profound impression out of all my Paris jaunts is seeing walls and walls of candles lit up around the middle of this church with people in the middle oblivious to the muted buzz of visitors around them. Places like this aren’t just preserved for history; they’re kept out of genuine love for what they represent to the people who need them.
Another great part of today’s travels toward the church included taking in little shops and bistros unlike anything we had seen.
The view from the cafe where we sat outside and had lunch.
There were little cheese shops, fish markets, and a candy store we had to check out- and with excellent results.
I was literally a kid in a candy store here.
My take-out bag. This wolf/bull thing is my spirit animal
There was proof that real people live here and keep this fairy-land like place alive by loving it not just for what it represents from history, but what it is today, which is home. This is the mindset that preserves buildings and art for future generations. It’s what makes me leave knowing that I’ll come back and these cherished structures will still be there, possibly altered with the times, but maintained as parts of daily life.
On a less-sappy note, EuroStar meals rock.
Here we have a flaky whitefish the name of which I can’t remember-served chilled with a fruity couscous and, of course, bread, along with a peach tart, white wine, and tea to go with dessert.
I’m turning in for the night but suffice to say the Paris trip was a triumph in more ways that I could have anticipated.
Tomorrow the learning continues back on the other side of the Channel.