Hello again! We’ve made it to Paris and as a conclusion to our first full day, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned thus far.
Foie gras is just not my thing.
There is a moment in all travel group excursions when there is this inevitable break. When you’re in a high-traffic area it’s impossible to keep people in a close-knit cluster all the time. Someone will become isolated from the herd. When you’re traveling with a group of students, this moment of separation can be especially disconcerting. In anticipation of the moment, it’s a good idea to prepare, and by prepare I mean secure your food supply and find wifi hotspots.
Studying abroad as a college student, even in a graduate program, puts you in this mindset that’s something like this: “I’m an adult! I mean really…right?” Because even when you’re in your 20s, traveling with a professor is like having a “grown-up” there to whom you should always check in because well, you’re in a foreign country and having this authority figure as a constant point of contact feels like tethering yourself to some kind of structure, and also proof that an institution is obligated to come looking for you if you go missing.
However, in a busy place where everyone has some interest that captivates them and causes fissures in the group, that tether gets cut. For me, this happened roughly around 11 a.m. in the Louvre.
On the first floor, among the Greek sculptures, I looked up from Minerva’s torso to find myself alone. What followed next is incredibly campy, but it happened and it’s significant and I’ll share it nonetheless.
I felt a slight panic as my responsible student self insisted that I flit around crawling over marble if I had to (figuratively of course…maybe) to rejoin the comfort of my English-speaking cohorts. But then I stopped. And I looked down the hall and made eye contact (or as close to eye contact as one can make with marble) with someone whose journey I needed in that moment as inspiration for my own.
There I was in a sea of strangers getting thwacked by selfie sticks and those odd plastic flower stalks that tour leaders use to usher their groups, and I was awed to tears. This icon in history was standing in front of me and seemed to be saying with her assuring smile: “Just get lost for awhile; trust me you’ll be fine.”
And so I walked on looking, not for the safety of familiar faces, but for the works that would leave me entranced and marveling. In the process, I encountered the following:
The Louvre is awesome. I spent hours just searching through the rooms and stumbling across pieces I never dreamed I’d see in person. After I took it all in it was all I could do to haul myself up to the food court.
There a million ways to ask for directions, but in a foreign country it’s best to stick with the one that reconciles gratitude and cockiness. Something that conveys: “you don’t know how much I appreciate you telling me which way the Luxembourg train station is so I don’t have to walk down a creepy abandoned street again” and, at the same time, “but, yeah, you know with the exception of being slightly confused on which direction I’m going I’ve totally got this. Really. And I would be a nightmare as a hostage. Like, the ransom you would demand would not cover the food bill.”
After my solo jaunt in the Louvre I realized it would be my fate to walk the city streets alone this day. I had a map, a copy of Lena Dunham’s autobiography, and enough euros for admission to something cheap and leftover change for my next pastry. I was a woman with resources!
And I got lost anyway. A lot.
But on my way around the city, purposefully or not, I had more encounters.
The French can work a spud and some cheese. After I met back up with my group, we went to this little restaurant called Chez Papa. This was my dinner:
So all in all I’d say it was a good day. I think the big worry for so many going abroad is not having any idea of what you’re doing. This is unavoidable, but figuring it out is its own adventure. Learning to navigate a city and find my way to the sights that leave me awe-struck has been an amazing experience. I got to dive into this culture and figure things out for myself while being constantly struck dumb by everything I got to see. It’s been a dream and I can’t wait to see more tomorrow.