Earlier this summer, I participated in the exchange program at my school. I got the amazing opportunity to travel to France with two of my teachers and ten other students. It was amazing! We spent three days in Paris and two weeks in the little southern town of Montpellier.
However, as the days turn into weeks, I find myself worrying that I won’t be able to remember what we did on the trip each day. As the memories are still quite fresh right now, I decided to write down my experiences…and what better place to write them down than here! I can share with all of you my journey.
I thought I should dedicate this post to Paris. Paris was my favorite part of the whole trip; it was incredible.
We landed in the airport around 12:00 PM France time. We were all a little sleepy and confused, as we flew all night on the plane, and some of us did not sleep very well. We had been wearing the same clothes for almost 24 hours, and hadn’t brushed our teeth or hair in a while. Much fun! After going through customs and obtaining our baggage, we waited in the airport for our transportation to Paris, for the Charles de Gaulle airport is about an hour outside of center city. We could not find our bus driver! All we knew was that his name was Alvaro…and what a name! Finally, after placing bets on what this mysterious Alvaro would look like, he appeared, looking pretty close to what we had guessed. Alvaro lead us to our transportation, which, to our surprise, was a huge coach bus! For 13 of us! The coach bus was incredibly nice, with footrests and reclining chairs. We were able to spread out a little more, unlike on the plane. I myself may have taken a small nap 🙂
Once arriving at the youth hostel, we placed our bags in the storage room since we were unable to check into our rooms yet. It was sweltering – and let me tell you, black leggings and a black shirt were not the greatest outfit for that weather. We were given free reign over a small square around the corner, and asked to return at a certain time in order to make it to our river tour on time. After finding some delicious French sandwiches and water, we stood in the hot square and watched trumpet players sound their horns, and the French people go about their daily business. Soon, we headed back to our meeting place, and walked block after block to river cruise, and it was only getting hotter. The cruise was just as hot. You would think on the river it would cool off – but oh no, only when you went under a bridge, which was when we would all relax for 5 seconds, only to begin sweating in the sun again. Apparently this is very unlike Paris, which normally has a very mild climate.
We reached our river tour, which our teacher had been calling a “cruise” but was not exactly a cruise. The boat was pretty, with flower arches winding above our heads. Soon, we began the tour, and got to see basically every sight from Paris from the River Seine. It was pretty cool.
After the cruise, we had a little bit of time before dinner, maybe 45 mins at the youth hostel. My roommates and I each took a quick rinse in the shower, and got ready for dinner at the hostel. Dinner the first night was pasta, with bread (of course) and a side of your choice. It wasn’t the fanciest meal, but it sufficed. After dinner, we journeyed to the Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter.
We were again given some free reign, and asked to return at a certain time. My friends and I went to pretty much get lost in the city. The Latin Quarter is incredibly confusing, if I do say so myself. But, it’s also one of the coolest parts of the city. The streets are incredibly narrow and winding, so it is easy to lose where you are at any given time. We stopped in a few souvenir shops, in search of soccer jerseys, scarves, and post cards. We accomplished the postcards, but not so much the other two. After a bit of shopping, our stomachs were calling for a dessert. We found an adorable little café on a tiny, windy street, Cafe le Petit Cluny. The waiter immediately picked us out as American, but we persevered and ordered and attempted to speak to him in French. Being the Americans we are, we ordered ice cream, or la glace. But, I must say, it was some pretty darn good ice cream.
On the way back, it began to rain! My friends and I were running through the streets of Paris, hopelessly lost in the Latin Quarter. Eventually, we asked someone where the Notre Dame was, and ended up finding my teachers hiding under a small awning. We waited out the rain there, and then went to find the rest of the group.
I must say, the first day in Paris was full of adventure!
The next day, we woke up early and had a French breakfast in the youth hostel. It consisted of a baguette, a pastry, some yogurt (with no sugar – BLECH!) and hot chocolate, bien sur. After breakfast, the group met in the youth hostel courtyard to go to our bike tour. Now, I had not ridden a bike in 6 years, but it turned out okay 🙂 The bike tour was so much fun! Our tour guide was from Ireland, so she spoke English, which was super awesome. She was very interactive and kind, and I really enjoyed the whole experience. Similar to the river tour, we saw a lot of sights in Paris, like the military academy, the Eiffel Tour, and many others. We stopped for lunch halfway through at Les Jardins des Tuilieres. I had a traditional French croque-monsieur. I’m not a fan of ham, but I quite enjoyed the cheese and bread. French bread is incomparable to any other bread in the world. I was quite disappointed to get back to American bread!
It was so much fun to ride around like a Parisian on the streets of Paris. Parisian drivers are a bit wild, so it was a little nerve-racking, but we got the hang of it pretty quickly.
After the bike tour, we headed to Le Palais de Louvre for a tour of the gigantic museum. Apparently, if you spent 3 seconds at every painting/sculpture, it would take you 29 hours to make it through the whole museum. It has 8 kilometers of hallways to walk! Isn’t that incredible? We only saw a few sections, like the Greek and Roman, Italian, and Egyptian. And yes, I did see the Mona Lisa. Surprisingly, she’s quite small. And very well protected. The tour of the Louvre was in French, so I didn’t really catch too much about the paintings or the history, but it was cool to be in such a famous place. Did you know the French actually hate the pyramids in front of the Louvre? It is not on one of the lines of symmetry that run through the city. It is slightly off center, and that frustrates the people. They also hate it because it is such a contrast to the architecture of the palace. I see their point, but it is such a cool structure.
With tired feet and tired eyes, we made our way back to the youth hostel to get ready for dinner. I don’t remember what we had for dinner (see! I’m already forgetting) but I remember it was good! After that, it was time for the big sha-bang: the Eiffel Tower. Oh yes, I climbed the Eiffel Tower. I’m terrified of heights, so I can’t say it was the most fun I’ve ever had, but I can tell you that I’m sure as heck glad that I did it. After climbing lots and lots of metal stairs through the legs of the tower, we reached level 1. The view was breathtaking. There were restaurants, shops, and sitting areas on the first level. Also, there was quite a large tennis ball hanging above our heads because of the French Open that was happening at the time.
After experiencing level 1, we continued upon the shaky stairs up to level two, which has two levels in itself. Again, I refused to go close to the edge, but I certainly got some nice pictures. We decided not to take the elevator to the top, as there would be a long wait, and it was expensive! We made the long trek down, but we had to go down the up stairs because the down stairs were closed. Yikes.
We reconvened with the students who hadn’t wanted to climb, and went running to a bridge to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. It sparkles for 5 minutes at 9, 10, 11, and 12. It was so cool! It really is a beautiful structure, even if the Parisians hate it. In search of some dessert, we found a crêpe cart on the corner, and ordered some delicious banana and nutella crêpes. Also, the crêpe guy was adorable! He was very nice, and spoke some English. He was very cute 😉 Exhausted and full, we headed home to the youth hostel and passed out, needing some rest for the next day.
Last full day in Paris :((( quite sad! We were up for our typical breakfast in the hostel. Then, it was off to Versailles! We headed to the Metro so that we could cross over onto the RER, and then on a real train to Versailles. However, the RER was broken! So, we had to run around and find a way to crossover to the train, and eventually made it. It was a quick train ride to Versailles. The palace was breathtaking. We had a very nice tour guide, and she used simple French, and I actually understood a decent amount! We saw King Louis’ room, Marie Antoinette’s room, the chapel, the Hall of Mirrors, and many other exquisite (and probably unnecessary) rooms. We skipped the gardens, as we were tired!
We went into the town next to the palace for lunch. Most of the group stayed at a little grill-like place on the corner, and managed to tick off the waitress in the 5 minutes of being there, by asking for 8 separate checks 🙂 She refused, but it was fine, since most of us ordered the same thing: spaghetti bolognese. After a lunch full of laughs, we headed home.
And by home, I mean the busy streets of Paris. We were given free reign, so my friends and I actually went into the Notre Dame, instead of outside! It was breathtaking. After that, it was time for some pre-dinner dessert. We headed back to our ice cream cafe, and this time got (what else) banana and nutella crêpes! We had the same kind waiter, and even better crêpes! Then, we hopped on the metro (by ourselves) and headed home. One of my friend’s ticket would not let him through, so he had to attempt to speak to the worker IN FRENCH. Eventually, they switched to English, and all was well.
We met the group at the hostel to go to dinner. We went to a restaurant and met some other kids from school who were living in Paris with their cousins (coincidence?). We had a super yummy dinner with more cute waiters (yes, it is true that French boys are incredibly cute). I had steak with blue cheese sauce. After dinner, it was time for post-dinner dessert, which consisted of a delicieux lava cake. French desserts are absolutely amazing. I miss them too.
My group talked for a long time at dinner, about everything and anything. Then, it was time to head to L’Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées. This stretch of shops reminds me of New York City, which is probably why I loved it so much. It was late, and we didn’t do much shopping, just walking. We did run into the middle of the street, however, to get a picture of the Arc, which was fun! Then it was time to go home and pack, since it was off to Montpellier the next day.
We woke up early to get some breakfast. We then headed to the grocery store around the corner for some snacks for the train. After deliberating for probably 30 mins, I came home with some cookies and crackers, and plenty of water. We headed back to the rooms and cleaned up our stuff, and said bye to our shabby little room!
We took our huge suitcases on the metro (TERRIFYING, might I say) and went to the big big big train station! We got magazines and souvenirs for families, and some lunch to take with us. When the train arrived, my friends and I bolted to get on, as it can be hard to get on. However, we could not find our car, nor the rest of the group. So, we just hopped of the first car, and called our teachers. Thankfully, we got on safe, and found the group. We settled in for a long train ride to see our friends that we missed dearly.