Monday, March 14, 2016

Paris - Falling in Love with the City of Love

My first month (and a little more) in Paris has been nothing less than I expected - crazy, 

beautiful, COLD, busy, fulfilling, and overwhelming.
“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” - Peter Hoeg
I have been learning this each day, each moment, that I am abroad. The beginning of my trip started off with the overwhelming sensation of regret: Why am I going here alone? Will I be okay? Is this what I truly want? Am I going to meet people once the program starts that I will feel comfortable with? Comfort is something that I see now as a little bit of a crutch. We do not travel to far and distant places to seek comfort, but to remove ourselves from this and experience life abroad. And this is why I did come to Paris.
I began making a 21 hour journey from San Francisco, tearfully saying goodbye to my mom, through Seattle and then Iceland before reaching Paris. I maneuvered (somewhat difficultly) through the Metro and the streets with my backpack and suitcase and arrived at my hotel - the Lenox Hotel Montparnasse, which lies in the heart of the Montparnasse business district in central Paris. There were loads of diverse restaurants, some shopping, lots of Boulangeries, and people. Paris is very crowded and everyone is in that fast-pace, New York City type of lifestyle. After settling into my hotel for the first night, I met up with a girl who lives in Paris. Her cousin goes to school with me at HPU and was my French tutor last semester. Camille, her boyfriend, Etienne, and myself went to the 18th Arrondissement where the beautiful hilltop of Montmartre is with the Sacre Couer church. We enjoyed some bubble tea at a local shop, walked around the hilly streets, which fondly reminded me of San Francisco, and walked in the Pigalle area (famous for Moulin Rouge, see above)
La Seine on my birthday
The next few days moved quickly as I met my roommate, host family, moved into my apartment, had orientation, met the other students in my program, went on countless tours, and began classes all within a matter of a week. It didn't take me all that long to get my bearings and feel "comfortable" (there's that word again) in my new city. The first weekend was my birthday, so my friends and I celebrated in the only way we thought appropriate - drinking champagne underneath La Tour Eiffel as it lit up at midnight on February 14th. It was an incredible and memorable moment for me, one that I know will always remain one of the most fabulous ways I rang in my birthday. The next day, my actual birthday, we spent at The Louvre and walking along The Seine for a beautiful Parisian sunset.

Jardin des Tuileries 
As I've become more settled, I have found it easier to venture out into the city, both on my own and with friends, to explore and see the sights. Now, I've been to Paris before, and seen the typical tourist destinations. It is, however, much different walking through Le Jardin du Luxembourg after your class with a croissant in hand listening to the people have conversations about their days, watching children playing with their boats in the pond, and taking in the actual life of Paris. The city isn't just about love and lights, it's about stopping to enjoy what is around you - experience what the life here has to offer. I choose to walk home sometimes instead of taking the metro just so I am able to discover new areas of Paris and feel more of what else this beautiful city has aside from the majorly-known attractions. Plus, it's better to walk when bread, cheese, and wine accompanies nearly every single meal you enjoy!

In addition to Paris, I've been lucky enough to explore other parts of Europe as well. 

Grand Place
A few weekend's ago, a few of us from the program went to Brussels, Belgium. The short weekend trip was perfect for the quaint, historic city that happens to be the unofficial capital of the European Union (EU). I did not have any expectations or knowledge of what Brussels was known for or what it had to offer, but I was SO pleased after I left. We took a train into the city, stayed in the Ixelles area, which offered plenty of street art, culture, and little restaurants. The city center is mainly made up of the famous Grand Palace, which includes the town hall, the Manneken Pis statue, and the oldest brewery in Brussels. We discovered that this wonderful city was known for its beer, waffles, pancakes, speculoos (you know, that delicious Trader Joe's cookie butter we all love?), chocolate, fries with various sauces and toppings, and my personal favorite - moules et frites (mussels and fries). We basically ate our way through the city in between seeing the beautiful combination of Dutch and French culture, unique architecture and attractions. We also checked out an incredible, interactive museum, The Parliamentarium, which gave us insight into the history of the EU. It was one of the coolest places I've ever been to. 

The Glass Castle
Madrid was where I just visited this past weekend. Not only is it much less expensive than Paris, but the weather was much nicer and we met some really friendly people. English is spoken almost everywhere here. And can I just say the food was out of this world! I went in knowing I wanted some paella - a dish made of rice and different spices with ham, seafood, chicken, veggies, or other types of add-ons - and it did not disappoint at all. We also enjoyed sangria, a drink with wine and fruit that Spain is well-known for, and was introduced to tinto de verano, a similar drink that adds a bit of soda to traditional sangria. This matched with tapas - small plates of various fried foods, small bites of meats, cheeses, and bread - could not be topped. Again, my friends and I did what we do best and ate our way through the city. Aside from this, we visited the huge and well-known Parque del Retiro, which has various statues, ponds, the Glass Castle, and miles of walkable paths intertwined with 
Enjoying some ice cream in Plaza Mayor

flower gardens and trees. We sat on the steps by the pond and enjoyed the people-watching and the warm weather, which we were missing from Paris. Madrid is also home to the Plaza Mayor, a huge square that was similar to the Grand Place in Brussels, where many people sit and enjoy food, drinks, venders, and the architecture. It is right next to Puerta del Sol, a massive tourist area filled with shopping, restaurants, statues of famous Spaniards and people dressed up with character costumes for tourists to take pictures with. We actually witnessed a refugee protest going on there on Friday night - an issue that is widely being discussed throughout everywhere in Europe currently. This area is home to a lot of street performers, protests, and other large-scale demonstrations because of the amount of foot traffic that comes through. The last attraction we saw was Catedral de la Almudena - probably one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. It was massive with extremely detailed and colorful ceilings, incredible stained-glass windows, and ornately-decorated displays. 
Above Madrid at the Catedral de la Almudena
We climbed to the top of the church, which gave the best views in the entire city of Madrid. Also, it was right next to the Palacio Real de Madrid, which had a certain resemblance to Versailles, although on a much smaller scale. The view was breathtaking. We enjoyed the city of Madrid very much and definitely could have spent more time getting to know it better.

Les Catacombs de Paris
As I write this I realize my time in France is slowly ticking away. I have been very conscious of the fact I will not be here for all that long. The most important thing I can do is keep exploring and discovering new places within this city I now call my home. It has always been my dream to live in Paris, and here I am making it my reality. There is so much left for me to see and do and everyday is another opportunity. I've been to more museums than I can count, seen many many exhibits, and I'm not going to stop, because why not? Now is the time to do it.

Friends in Pigalle

My advice to anyone coming to Europe or wanting to see Paris is this: get ready for a culture that indulges in all life has to offer, whether it's food, drink, or love. There is no better place to experience life than here, where a fast-paced lifestyle is set in an ancient and beautiful backdrop. No matter how in a rush I am, I can always slow down to enjoy what is right in front of me.

À bientôt!

1 comment:

  1. It was a great feeling watching your photographs from this trip. Good to see that you enjoyed each and every moment. I will also travel to NYC sometime later this year and thinking to host my birthday party there at one of popular venues in NYC. Sounds quite exciting to me!