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:
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.
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.
Next there was…the climb!
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were little cheese shops, fish markets, and a candy store we had to check out- and with excellent results.
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.
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.