This was quite a busy day! Getting our first real taste of Paris, we explored around Notre Dame and learned about the background of the area and how it is mainly still the same today. The residents that live there are very wealthy and either with the church or government workers. We also took a boat tour on the Seine which rocked me right to sleep for part of it but it was wonderful to learn about all of the different bridges and buildings surrounding the river.
After the boat ride Professor Smith treated us to AMAZING ice cream but we had some free time before the welcome dinner so a couple of girls and I decided to explore more by the river and found it to be quite a happening spot for the local youths. It was crawling with people in their 20’s who were drinking beer or wine, eating, or just relaxing at the end of their day. It was so neat seeing everyone and I definitely felt like we had uncovered a local gem. We still had time to kill so we explored the little side streets that surrounded the restaurants and were overwhelmed by all of the different stores. I took advantage of the McDonald’s and used their free wifi to call my mom and update her on the day so far.
Finally it was dinner time which consisted of a ham, cheese, and potatoes crepe followed by the most amazing chocolate crepe i’ve ever had in my life. I seriously inhaled it. During dinner we also learned about a popular french alcoholic drink called cider that is served in a teacup and tastes like apple juice. We left a little early because we were exhausted from walking so much all day and completely crashed when we got home.
Our first day consisted of the six and a half hour plane ride, followed by Miriam and I not getting our luggage with everyone else because someone’s camisole got stuck in the revolving belt. Finally, we collected our bags and made our way to buy the tickets for the RER. Nicole and I were designated to get them but we were not prepared for how difficult they would be to obtain. The machine we went to only accepted coins, so we went to the change maker but our bills were too large, then we went to a store to get smaller bills but the cash register was broken, then we went to information and were finally directed to an area where they gave us the tickets in person. We were off to Cité Universitaire!
After a pleasant 45 minute ride, we arrived and were completely taken away with how beautiful the campus was. I had never seen an educational institution be so utterly gorgeous. All I wanted to do was get in my room, settle in, and take a nap. Unfortunately we were not allowed to check-in until 4pm and it was only noon. Instead MICEFA got all of our paperwork organized, explained the rules, and then took us downtown to go shopping. In 100 degree weather. We were miserable but at least miserable in Paris.
Our group went to get sandwiches since we were getting extremely hangry. After getting to eat we finally felt slightly human again. We wandered around for a bit until having to meet everyone back at the metro. We were of course on time but no one else was. The sun was menacing on our poor, jet-lagged bodies but eventually everyone showed up and we headed back to the dorms. We still had to wait another hour so I took a nap on the table. When I woke up, some of the rooms were ready. Eventually we all got to go up and settle in.
All of the Mary Wash Girls were on the third floor and got our work-out for the entire year in by hauling our luggage all the way up the stairs. My room is so light and airy and open I’m obsessed with it. It also seems to be the biggest which is awesome. We all chilled for an hour and then decided to get dinner and explore our neighbor. We walked about two miles before settling on a cute pizza place. I got gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce which was delicious but I think next time I’ll get pizza because that looked even more amazing. We headed back to the dorms and settled in before FINALLY getting to sleep after 36 hours. It was an eventful two days but the immense joy of being in this beautiful city made up for all of the hubbabaloo we had to go through.
MICEFA, who is the group in charge of our summer study abroad program, will be taking us on a couple trips throughout our stay in Paris. On Saturday we went on our first trip to the Palace of Versailles. We arrived at about 10 am and the line to get into the palace was already massive. The amount of people there was insane, it felt almost like Disney World with the amount of people waiting to enter. Luckily we did not have to wait in the line and go to go right in, thank you MICEFA! Once we had gone through security and checked the group in we were given our own audio tours and off on our own. One thing I noticed about security was it was much more lenient then the security in Washington D.C. There was one man who glanced into your bag and barely budged if the walk-through metal detector went off. In D.C. its a long annoying process and it always feels so serious when all you want to do is look at some art or tangible artifacts! The Palace is amazing, just to put it briefly. Louis XIV had some great interior decorators because it is FILLED with paintings on the walls and ceilings, decorative inlays within marble covered walls and fancy wall paper. Each room had its own master pieces and were dedicated to some Greek God. At times it was a little difficult to see the rooms or experience the beauty with all the people in the Palace at once. I’ve been to many different historic homes but none have ever been as crowded at this one! It was almost too stressful walking around. We noticed that this was also the only place so far that we have experienced so many English speakers. Obviously a huge tourist stop! My favorite room was the Hall of Mirrors, which is exactly what it sounds like, a long room filled with floor to ceiling mirrors and massive chandeliers, the ultimate party room!
Louis XIV was called the Sun King and dedicated his room to the Sun God. He had it located in the center of the Palace facing the rising sun. His bedroom was filled with reds, yellows, and golds, all to impress his many visitors. The Queen’s bedroom, currently representing the time when Marie Antoinette lived there, was filled with flower patterns…not so much my taste but I’m sure it was all the rage back then. Something I have learned from being a museum studies minor is how historic homes pick what time period to represent. Obviously the Palace was occupied by Louis XIV’s descendants and would have been changed throughout the passing years. It is the job of the preservationists and curators to pick a time period that best represents the home, with the Palace it is a pretty obvious choice.
After the tour of the Palace you have to buy tickets to enter the garden, once again thank you MICEFA for hooking us up. Being an Historic Preservation major I’ve seen a lot of pictures and learned about the gardens in multiple classes. Seeing photos does no compare to standing at the top of the garden looking down. It almost looked like it was a painting, that is how beautiful it was.
Exploring the gardens took about 2 hours and I’m positive I lost 2lbs from all my sweating. The gardens were very easy to navigate and there was something different in each section, whether it be the layout or the fountain. Unfortunately we had arrived at the time when the fountains were turned off, so we did not get to experience them fully. Their decorations and layouts were still beautiful though. My favorite section of the gardens was Colonnade Grove, pictured below, which was a huge circle of columns and arches. I felt like I was in Rome! Versailles doesn’t compare to anything I’ve toured in America. The shear size of not only the palace but the gardens is mind-blowing. I can’t even imagine being a guest at an event there..I’d most likely get lost and found dead days later. While Louis XIV lived there the gardens were filled with exotic animals, like lions, elephants, tigers etc. The only place I can think of that is somewhat up to par to the Palace is the home of Henry Flagler in Palm Beach, Florida. This 55-room mansion was designed in the Beaux Arts and has been said to be “more wonderful than any palace in Europe.” I disagree with that statement after visiting Versailles on Saturday!
All and all it was a great day, the weather was just right and we were all feeling positive (especially since the weather has finally found it’s way back down to the 80s). Later that night Miriam and I got some groceries at the Monoprix, the Target of Paris, and watched some Netflix….not too exciting but it’s been a long couple days and sleep was needed!
How do I even begin to describe my first experience with international travel? Fatigue. Lots of fatigue.
First, there’s the airport goodbye to the parents who think they’ll never see you again. Once that bittersweet farewell was done, we were immediately thrust into adulthood, a.k.a navigating Dulles and tackling the TSA. My watch made the machine beep, but it’s OK because the TSA man felt bad for me and gave me a sticker meant for nervous children.
Movies on 8 hour plane rides are God’s greatest gift to this world. Having such a breezy flight only made us infinitely more unprepared for our adventures in the airport. After thinking two of our classmates had lost their luggage, everyone was ready to get out of there. However, the fun was just beginning. Never have I ever seen so many young women trying to lug so much stuff up and down stairs and escalators for an extended amount of time. We definitely provided some entertainment for the locals.
The only thing left to do was buy RER tickets to take us to our new home. Sounds simple, right? Incorrect. Bri and I stood in line only to find that the ticket machine only takes 20 and 10 euro bills. We tried to kiosks in the airport to see if they could break our 50s, but those were both no-goes. Ensuite, we asked the information desk (all the while attempting to use our French) and they pointed us to a different room with a long line. Super! Luckily our effort paid off…literally…and a nice woman gave us tickets. Finally it was onto the RER and to our stop at the Cite Universitaire in Paris.
It soon became apparent that this day was going to be a struggle. Not only was it one of the hottest days in Paris history, but we were all in full-on jetlag mode. Someone should have recorded all of us lugging our baggage across the street and up the steps of our building. Honestly we all wanted to die at this point…and then we learned that our rooms weren’t open yet and we were supposed to go back outside and walk around for about two hours.
We, along with the other MICEFA students, went to Saint-Michel to take care of some shopping. Naturally we all opted for food and as much water as our bodies would hold. It had not quite hit us yet that we were in Paris. Most of us felt like we were walking around New York City.
After we got back, our rooms were finally ready. However, the battle against baggage was not yet over. The 11 of us conquered four flights of stairs with probably 60 pounds of luggage each in 100 degree weather and no AC. Girl power. Or just the will of those in survival mode. Lots of unpacking and showers ensued.
Food was now mandatory for our sanity. We all took to the streets to find the nearest, cheapest cafe. Fun fact: after I asked for a menu (in French of course), one man actually responded to me in French instead of immediately switching to English. It’s the little triumphs in life. We decided on a small pizzeria near our building and proceeded to probably deplete the premises of water. Good times and good food were had by all. We learned our lesson about the one euro tipping standard when we vastly over-tipped and our waiter return the extra money. Definitely going back there!
After a long day of semi-acclimation it was time to pass out, and that’s exactly what we all did. I have to admit, falling asleep to the sounds of Paris was not such a difficult task.
Waking up before 8:30 was a rough time for the ladies of 310, but we successfully made it downstairs with sunscreen on and breakfast eaten. The massive group of UMW students plus the other group staying in our dorms made its way onto the train that took us to Versailles with only one train switch. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that public transportation here is certifiably awesome. Both the metro stop and the tram stop are right outside our dorm and the whole system actually makes sense once you sit down and look at a map. We just use a card that you just place on a scanner for the metro, the RER, and the tram and it’s all so easy.
Once we made it to Versailles, we saw the line of peasants waiting in a massive line that wrapped around the area leading up to the palace. Thankfully, we just had to walk up and get our group tickets and go on into the palace. There was an issue with Versailles and it is that literally everything is beautiful. I felt like an idiot turning every corner and saying, “Whaaaaat how did they do this?” BUT IT’S TRUE. Gold everywhere and marble on any standing surface, detailed workmanship, painted ceilings, embroidered furniture, etc.
The gardens felt like walking around some fancy amusement park. You’d have the sweaty, stressed out families, the intense walking sandals, the selfie sticks, and the ominous music playing through speakers that you can’t quite see. There were people dressed in everything from athletic shorts to a pleated chiffon dress with heels and a YSL clutch. Dana and I ate lunch on the steps of the castle then dove into the garden with our map of the garden all ready to go.
After going through one grid, we decided we had earned some sorbet. The strawberry flavor actually tasted like strawberries. These gardens are ridiculous. When in doubt, there’s a fountain or some sort of intense statue.
Versailles was beautiful to see in person but I don’t think I’d be willing to do it again in the summer. You can rent a golf cart and ride around which would be a solid option if you’re not wanting to walk around the whole thing. It was overwhelming how many tourists there were in the palace but once we got to the gardens everyone obviously dispersed.
This morning I finally felt like a local. Myself and a group of girls decided to get sandwiches and eat them on the Seine. We found a corner shop with lots of different options for awesome prices. I got a sandwich with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and olive oil, oh and “some sort of magical bliss” says Miriam. All and all it was very delicious. We sat along the walkway of the Seine and watched boats pass by filled with tourists…which was us the day before when our group took a tour of Paris through the Seine. We kind of felt like we knew what we were doing, but we are still Americans so naturally we stood out like a sore thumb.
At 1:30 we stood in line to walk around Notre Dame. My experiences with lines in the U.S. have always been pretty awful, so I was expecting the worst. Surprisingly we only waited for less than 10 minutes. Since growing up outside of Washington D.C. I’ve had my fair share of lines. Going to museums or any of the historic sites that are huge tourist attractions typically have a long waiting period. I was pretty shocked at how quickly we got in. Then again the cathedral is massive and can fit huge crowds at a time. Walking around Notre Dame was very breathtaking. The shear size of the place was astounding, especially the high ceilings. I think it is so amazing that this beautiful piece of history was man-made, good job Paris! The stain-glass windows were massive and true works of art. I have seen stain-glass windows within many different churches around America but those do not compare. Not only were the colors impressive but the designs within each panel.
Something that I am beginning to realize is a huge deal here is ice cream. Obviously I love ice cream, who wouldn’t, but it is no joke here in Paris. We walked around Île de la Cité, which is another island located behind Notre Dame. This is a richer part of the city mainly containing homes. It was a lot less busy and calm once we crossed the bridge into this area. We found an ice cream shop along one of the main streets. In Paris ice cream is served through small shops with windows for people to walk up to. Kind of like America, but instead we usually have kiosks or an full building dedicated to ice cream. Many of the flavors are different from what you would typically find in America. They have more fruit options, like pear or peach (which is raspberry colored here..?). With this unfortunate heat wave, ice cream is a nice way to cool off! I had wild strawberry and vanilla ice cream btw.
Friday was a short day for us, mainly because of the heat. A large group of the girls decided to go to dinner that night just a couple blocks up from our dorm. We went to a small restaurant with an array of foods. One thing I found interesting while dining there was how little the waiter asked how we were doing. In America the waiter is usually in your face constantly refiling you water and checking in with your meal. It could have been since there was only one waiter but I thought it was an interesting change. In America the check is usually brought around the time your meal is over, but we had to ask for the check. Little differences but we are learning about the different customs slowly!