Back to reality

The last few weeks of my trip were so busy that I barely had time to sleep, let alone blog. But I’ll attempt to sum up the end of my European adventures.

My last week in Paris with my ISA group was incredibly bittersweet. I had some of the most memorable experiences my last few days with my friends, like watching fireworks erupt behind the Eiffel Tower on the beautiful Champs de Mars on Bastille Day — France’s big national holiday, eating melty Nutella and banana crêpes with my friend Erica and going to the Harry Potter premiere with friends while seeing movie stars in person. It’s weeks like that when I can hardly believe how lucky I am to live the life that I do.

On the flip side, saying goodbye to my ISA friends was so depressing (as expected). Many short hours and lots of tears after our night started, we said goodbye outside of a bar at 5:30 am and took the metro home, after which most everyone caught a shuttle to the airport and flew back to the States. Thankfully I had a couple more weeks of exploring to look forward to.

La Tour Eiffel

That night I took a train through the gorgeous French countryside to Nice, in southern France, to meet up with one of my best friends from college, Chelsea. We spent two days lounging on the beach — where we spotted a shark swimming close to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and proceeded to swim half an hour later anyway — exploring the city, and eating fantastic food.

Then we flew to Barcelona, which is one of my favorite European cities I visited. Between the beach, shopping, architecture, museums and, of course, food, there is so much to do! Although my camera got stolen in Barcelona, and I therefore have no pictures to post from Nice or Barcelona, my time with Chelsea includes some of the most wonderful memories of my travels this summer.

After I said goodbye to Chelsea, I met up with my family in Paris. Among the highlights were watching the end of the Tour de France on the Champs-Elysées, visiting Versailles, my family meeting my host mom and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower with my sister, Mary Kate. We had our share of low points as well, mostly in regards to transportation, but it was all worth it to spend time with my family in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Mary Kate and me in Edinburgh

We then went to Edinburgh, Scotland, exploring the city itself (in the Lowlands) one day and the Highlands, or mountainous area, the next. The Highlands is one of the most remarkable areas I’ve ever seen, with impossibly green rolling hills, fluffy sheep, crystal clear waters and adorable Highland cows. (We also went to Loch Ness and said hello to Nessie.)

A baby Highland cow...aka my new pet

Finally, our trip concluded in London, Stonehenge and Bath — which were all interesting and historic in different ways. And now I’m home in the US, which I can barely believe. Even when I think about everything that happened to me during my two months in Europe, it seems like just yesterday that I was driving to the airport with my parents, on my way to Paris for the first time. The past two months were truly the best of my life, and I can’t even explain how glad I am that I studied abroad. I got countless opportunities I never would have gotten otherwise, met some amazing people I hope to stay close to and have seen some of the most beautiful sights that I never even dreamed could be real.

Stonehenge

I’ve been home for a few days now, and although in a few ways it’s good to be back, I miss almost every single thing about Europe (except for the lack of public restrooms and air conditioning, and non-belief in ice). Not a day goes by when I don’t think about it, and I’m sure I will feel that way for a while. But I’m happy to see my friends (and dogs, of course), and I’m slowly getting adjusted back to life in the States. Now I guess I’ll just have to be thankful for what I experienced and look forward to my next adventure, wherever it happens to be!

Advertisements

Catching up

I’ve been neglecting this lately, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time to sit down and think about everything that’s been happening. So here’s an overview in pictures of what I’ve been up to the past couple of weeks:

My first visit to the outside of Le Louvre...

People weren’t lying when they said the building is massive! I was amazed…but not as impressed as I was when I finally went inside. More on that later.

A nighttime picnic by the Seine

Paris is beautiful by day, but gorgeous in a different way at nighttime. You can see it in so many ways, but this view was one of my favorites.

A weekend trip to Milan

So much delicious food! I have always loved Italian food, so to experience the real deal was heavenly. Not to mention the gorgeous views we saw walking around the city.

A visit to the beautiful Sacre Coeur

Another unique view of Paris is found at the top of the hill by Le Sacre Coeur. You can see so much of the city from this church, and the inside is amazing, too — you just can’t take pictures inside.

An underground journey through Les Catacombes

I surprisingly did not feel lightheaded and/or sick to my stomach at all during my visit to Les Catacombes! I have no idea how that happened, but it was a really cool experience — literally, temperature-wise, and it was just fascinating in a creepy way to see so many piles of dead bones surrounding you.

...My first visit to the inside of Le Louvre

I was only inside Le Louvre for a little more than three hours, and it was exhausting. There is SO much to see that it’s impossible to see it all in one day, even if you try. I read somewhere that it would take months just to glance at every piece of art in the museum.

And lastly, a weekend in Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel, France

Although I prefer warmer beaches, Saint Malo (pictured above) is absolutely breathtaking. It’s a walled city, so this view is taken from atop the wall, where you can see for what seems like forever. We also crossed a bay (by foot) to reach Mont Saint Michel, which was a strange and wonderful experience. I learned that quicksand is real, and that it is quite possible to get stuck in the quicksand. It was a bizarre feeling, and the crossing of the bay was one of my favorite activities from my trip.

Our guide sinking into the quicksand on our way to Mont Saint Michel

I can hardly believe there are only a few days left of my program. It’s a weird and depressing thing to think about, but I’m going to enjoy every second — and then start my adventures with my friends and family!

To Brussels and back

So much has been happening lately that it’s hard to keep up with my blog! This past weekend I went to Brussels with the American Business School Paris, which is where I’m studying while abroad. My whole ISA (company for my study abroad) group went, along with some of our other classmates — including American, French and other international students. I had never been to Belgium at all, so I was excited to go…and it did not disappoint.

Grand Place, Brussels

One of the first things I noticed was the use of Flemish. Although I am not fluent in French, I have taken enough years of classes to at least recognize words and understand some things I overhear. But I had never even heard Flemish being spoken before, and it was a bizarre experience. Luckily, most signs and notices on the train, etc., are translated into Flemish and French (and often English, as well), so I wasn’t too disoriented.

After we got there one of the guys in my group, whose mother is from Belgium, took us around to some of the hot spots near our hotel, which included some of the most delicious fries I have ever had. This was understandable, as French fries actually originated in Belgium, but I was happy nonetheless! We also ate Belgian waffles. I ate two over the course of our trip: A sweet, more crisp waffle with Belgian chocolate, which was rich but divine, and the other a softer, more authentic waffle with powdered sugar and strawberries on top. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about them, as waffles are one of my favorite types of food.

A friend and me with our Belgian waffles

Another cool experience besides just seeing the city itself was going to the European Union, where a speaker gave us a brief history on the EU — inside the actual building. It was a surreal experience, and is something I’m glad we got to do.

Since then, I’ve been out and about in Paris every day, which makes for great pictures and memories and very sore feet and legs. Paris had a heat wave Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with temperatures reaching almost 100 degrees. That plus humidity and minus air conditioning makes for a sweaty mess of people. I now understand why the French are stereotyped as smelling bad. Despite the many places, people and things I will miss about Paris when I get home, I will be extremely happy to have air conditioning, ice in my water and ceiling fans once again.

This weekend I’m going with most of my ISA group to Milan, and I cannot wait to eat wonderful Italian food, see the sights and experience a new culture. À bientôt!

Just another weekend in France

This weekend I traveled with my study abroad group and another ISA group to the Loire Valley in France, which is basically an area with lots of beautiful chateaus, or castles. We visited three chateaus — Blois, Chenonceau and Chambord — and they were all gorgeous in different ways.

Chateau Royal de Blois

First we visited the Chateau Royal de Blois, which features architecture from four different time periods, giving it a unique feel that separates it from other chateaus in my mind.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Later that afternoon we went to Chateau de Chenonceau, which was my favorite of the day. The chateau itself is not particularly large in area, but it is incredibly gorgeous and is surrounded by acres upon acres of beautiful gardens, a river, a moat and its own labyrinth.

Different types of wine, bread and cheese at the wine tasting

We took a detour on the bus ride to our hotel in Tours and stopped for a wine tasting. When in Rome — or France — right? We got a tour from a cute little French woman, and then got to sample white, red and rose wine, in addition to a champagne-like wine. It was fun to not only get to taste different types of tasty wine, but also to learn about the history and culture behind them and hear about the wine-making process.

Chateau de Chambord

Finally, on Sunday we visited the Chateau de Chambord, which was the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in “Beauty and the Beast.” This was my favorite castle, not just because of what it inspired, but because it is exactly what I pictured a French chateau to look like. It is not located in a populated area, but there were trailers and campers on the grounds; people travel from all over to see this chateau.

After that, we got to sample Chambord, a hard liqueur that originates in the area, mixed with white wine, which was delicious. But what I enjoyed even more than the wine were the cookies we got to sample, including sugar with raisins, petit fours with cherries soaked in blueberry juice, a type of meringue and raspberry cookies. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip! As much as I love Paris, it was nice to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle for a more serene weekend.

It’s all about the little things

I’ve been in Paris for 10 days — something I can barely believe! In some ways it feels like I just got here yesterday, yet in others it seems like I’ve been here for so long.

I am having the time of my life so far. As I’ve said before, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to see and do so much on my trip already. But as much as I was in awe looking at L’Arc de Triomphe at night and seeing Napoleon’s tomb, I think it’s the little things I love most about Paris.

Enjoying the best ice cream in Paris -- so everyone says -- with friends along a canal behind Notre Dame

For example, no matter where I am in the city I can find a boulangerie or another snack-procuring store within minutes (unless it’s Sunday, when most places are inconveniently closed). I’m assuming everyone who reads this knows how I feel about snacks and food in general. The pain au chocolat and even just plain old croissants are all incredibly delicious here, and I might actually cry when I have to leave them and go back to American food — no offense, ‘Merica.

Next, although Paris is a heavily populated, crowded city, I find myself stumbling upon quaint little parks on a daily basis. My body is constantly sore here due to the intense amount of standing and walking I do; when a friend and I came across a little park yesterday after a long day of shopping and museum-going we were ecstatic. And we sat, talked, ate and watched adorable Parisian families (out and about celebrating Pentecost, which is a national holiday here) interact for hours.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

And one of the best parts, in my opinion, is that I can always find something to do. Even if that means just walking around and taking in everything around me, the city is so gorgeous and rich with history that I could wander aimlessly all day and never get bored. Sore, maybe. But not bored.

So until next time, laissez les bons temps rouler!

Observations from Paris

L'Arc de Triomphe

So much has happened so far in Paris, and I’ve been here less than a week! I can’t believe all the incredible places I’ve been, people I’ve met and things I’ve seen. I’ve been here for five days, and it still feels surreal to me to walk down the street and see the Eiffel Tower peaking out from behind a building. Aside from my gallivanting around Paris, I am attending my classes…but no one wants to read about that.

Some of the things I’ve noticed about Paris so far:

  • Everyone smokes. This isn’t my favorite thing about Paris, but it’s part of the culture.
  • There are dogs everywhere — which is one of my favorite things about Paris. And people take their dogs everywhere! I saw a woman with her dog in the H&M on the Champs-Elysees the other day. Never thought I’d see that.
  • The metro is not as confusing as I initially thought. Although it can be hot and crowded, it’s really efficient, and so much easier than driving through heavy traffic and trying to find parking spots.
  • French people are nice. I’d always heard the stereotype that French people were not friendly and somewhat rude, but I have found the opposite to be true so far. They do not seem to be as openly warm as Americans, but if you talk to them and are nice to them, chances are they’ll be nice in return.
  • There are more than three times as many people who live in Paris than all the people who live in my native state of Kansas combined. That said, the diversity is incredible. I never know when I wake up who and/or what I’m going to see that day, and I love that. Life here is so unexpected, which is a nice change for me.

Other than people-watching and going to class, I’ve been exploring the city more each day. Today I visited Chinatown, Napoleon’s tomb and saw the Musee d’Orsay. And after that, I spent an hour on a bridge over the Seine just talking to one of my friends in my program. I could seriously get used to this!

Building housing Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides

Bonjour from Paris!

Well…I made it! I will admit, I was stressed and anxious after my flight from Chicago to Paris was canceled. But nonetheless, I made it to my temporary Parisian home. And I met some really nice people along the way who helped ease my fears a bit. Even though things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped, everything worked out just fine. And in a strange way, I’m almost glad I had the experience that I did — one of the reasons I wanted to study abroad was to learn to be independent, and I had to be just that.

Once I finally arrived in Paris, 10 hours later than expected, I went to my home stay, where I was greeted by my friendly and exuberant “mother”, her older son and young twins, along with two of the three other ISA students living here. We had a delicious dinner, and I went to bed soon after.

Today was my orientation at the ISA Paris office. What should have taken me about half an hours’ travel time took me an hour and a half. Yep, I got lost. VERY lost. But that forced me, once again, to be independent, and to use my rusty French. I finally found the office, and after the orientation I explored the city with three new friends from my program.

At this point, it finally hit me: I’m in Paris. How cool is that?! After all the planning, paperwork and nervousness, I’m actually here. When I was wandering around searching for the office I stumbled upon (literally) Notre Dame, and my new friends and I just got back from the Eiffel Tower after eating tasty paninis in a random park.

The city is absolutely incredible. Although it’s intimidating, I’m seriously loving it so far — getting lost for an hour and all. The architecture is breathtaking, and everywhere you turn there’s something beautiful to see.

I have orientation at my school tomorrow morning, after which I have the afternoon free, and I can’t wait to explore more! I stupidly forgot my camera today, but soon I’ll have pictures to share, none of which, I’m sure, will adequately capture the beauty of this city. So I’m off to go try to soak it up!