“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” -Lillian Smith
December is here, and a month of “lasts” for my study abroad experience begins. December 1st marked the final day of my last trip outside of Spain and my last trip with friends. This week marks the last week of class before my final exams next Monday and Tuesday. With an overwhelming amount of “lasts” also comes a few “firsts”, like my parent’s first time in Spain starting December 10th. Despite exams and the many difficult goodbyes quickly approaching, I have no doubt that I will enjoy my final days and savor every moment and experience I have left in Spain.
My final adventure outside of Spain took me to Paris, France last weekend. Like most people, I have always dreamed of visiting Paris. Although I was still excited for the trip, I became nervous the last few weeks when friends who traveled there before me didn’t always have too many pleasant things to say about the city. I heard from many that it is an incredibly dirty, dangerous, and expensive city. We also learned in classes that despite being the most visited city in the world, it does not have the highest profits in tourism, mostly because the French people are not known to be very friendly to tourists, therefore they make less money than those cities where the people and organizations are known to be kind and accommodating to tourists. Yikes. Needless to say, I was hesitant when the weekend finally came and we headed to France. I started to wonder if seeing the Eiffel Tower and other sites would even be worth an otherwise bad experience. My initial impression was about what my friends had mentioned. It is incredibly dirty and had a horrid smell in many places. When we arrived in the main train station from the airport, I was overwhelmed by the crowds and language. After we found our hostel, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it was for the price and a city like Paris where everything is a little more expensive than most places. From there, I had nothing by positive experiences with the city and definitely think it was worth enduring the uncleanliness and monetary costs.
Our first stop was to the Arc de Triomphe. It was raining when we were there, so we didn’t spend too much time. From there, we walked down streets lined with designer stores, including some fancy candy shops where chocolate costs over a hundred euros per kilogram(luckily they had some free samples!). We then made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Miraculously, we timed our Eiffel Tower visit perfectly. When we arrived, it was still daylight. We took pictures until it slowly turned to night and the lights turned on. Before long, the lights started flashing. It was incredibly beautiful, and definitely one highlight from the trip. After taking in the views of the tower, we went to a cute little bakery nearby and I indulged in the fruit dessert pictured below, and it was heavenly.
That night, we joined my friend Nara and her mom and sister at the apartment they rented in Paris for appetizers and wine. They rented a beautifully restored apartment in the city and treated us to bread, cheeses, and a collection of desserts that Nara and her sister made at a French cooking class earlier that day. I always love when two worlds collide, so it was great to have my study abroad friends meet a friend from home. I also enjoyed seeing Nara twice in two weeks, in two different countries! This summer while working together at Silverwood, we discussed the possibility of meeting in Paris. One of our main motivations was to go to a cafe together in the city where you can pay to drink coffee and pet the many cats that live in the cafe. The “Cat Cafe” has become very popular, causing others to open across Europe and the one in Paris to be booked out for months. Oh well.. maybe that means we will have to combine our love for cats and our coffee knowledge, abandon our future careers in advertising and medicine, and open one of our own someday.
The next morning, we had a nice breakfast at our hostel before taking a 30 minute train ride to Versailles. As most people do, I have studied Versailles in many history classes throughout my academic career, so I was excited to have the opportunity to visit it in person. One of many benefits to being an international student and having a temporary Spanish visa means that I am considered a current resident of the European Union and therefore could get into Versailles for free, my only ticket being my passport! Although it is the off-season for Versailles, meaning the amazing gardens aren’t in bloom, we still saw the inside of the palace and saw what we could of the gardens. We visited Marie Antoinette’s bedroom and saw the door she escaped out of when a mob descended from Paris due to a bread shortage in the city during the French Revolution. We also saw the rooms occupied by King Louis and the famous Hall of Mirrors. I was overwhelmed by the amount of gold inside and outside of the building. After a great tour of the palace, we ate lunch in Versailles before returning to Paris.
Back in Paris, we visited Notre Dame Cathedral and then stopped for some crepes! The crepes were delicious and rich, a must have if you’re in Paris! We walked the city a little more afterwards to burn off our crepes and to enjoy the only sunshine we saw in Paris all weekend. From there, we traveled to the Louvre.
Like in Versailles, we used our international student benefits to get into the Louvre for free! Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend there. We quickly walked through some of the exhibits to get to the Mona Lisa. I’ve heard before that it is much smaller than you would expect, so I was expecting it to be the size of a postcard, so I was pleasantly surprised by the size. It’s definitely the main attraction. It was hard to get close, and it is completely covered by glass, which is kind of nice because then I could take a picture to share with you! That evening, we went to a nice restaurant to commemorate our last night in Paris and our last trip as a group. We reminisced about all our trips together, as far back as Porto, Portugal the first weekend in October and discussed our “highs” and “lows” of the trips as we always do. The meal was excellent. I had a great salmon salad and we each had a crepe for dessert of course!
Even though it’s a hard realization that all of my weekend trips with friends have come to an end, I will admit it is a little bit of a relief to not have to step into an airport until I’m headed back to Minnesota on the 19th. I don’t regret a single weekend or a single place we visited, and I would do it all again, but I am ready for a break. Come January, I know I’ll be eager for another adventure but until then, relaxing in Spain and Minnesota sounds pretty nice!
Check back soon to hear updates from my final weeks!