There are plenty of great reasons to spend a semester abroad: to study the culture, to further your education, to meet new people and try new things and heck, who knows, maybe you’ll even learn another language. Wouldn’t that be neat?
That’s why I was “supposed” to be going. All of those reasons. Specifically the language one, since I minored in Spanish.
But also, I reaaaaally wanted to go to Paris. I didn’t know what I wanted to do there exactly, other than “see the Eiffel Tower”, “wear a beret” and “eat a pastry” – but I had always wanted to go. It was a bucket list thing. All of my childhood tv-obsessions went to Paris at some point: Mary Kate and Ashley, the Rugrats, Rachel from Friends — well, technically she turned down Paris to stay with Ross, but still. She made it seem like it was a pretty big deal!
I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. In person. I’d had a poster of it up on the wall of my college dorm room for two years, right next to Audrey Hepburn. It was a cliche – the equivalent of walking into a frat boy’s dorm room and seeing a poster of Pamela Anderson (is she still “the hot girl” on posters? I don’t even know). It was something I occasionally daydreamed about: walking down a Parisian sidewalk, wearing a polka-dot dress, sitting in a French cafe, eating a scone while reading a book and listening to everyone around me talking about art and culture and fancy-French-stuff (in my wild daydreams, I can speak fluent French, apparently).
So when the opportunity presented itself – to hit up Paris for a weekend while studying abroad in Madrid – I was like, “YEP! Let’s GO!” … because how often does the “opportunity present itself” to go to Paris?
Things to do besides “wear a beret” and “eat a pastry”:
- Don’t wear a beret. (I wanted to. They had them for sale – and by ‘they’, I mean the people set up in the middle of the sidewalks selling Paris postcards and purses that say “Paris” all over them. These are the people selling cheesy red berets to cheesy American tourists like myself. “Don’t buy one of those”, one of the girls in my group told me. “You’ll look like such a tourist.”… because the fact that we were five girls walking around with cameras and saying things like “Ooh, ahh” didn’t tip anybody off. *Still bought a purse though.)
- The Eiffel Tower. (Well, there it is. <– This was pretty much the reaction I had in Paris. I mean, it’s COOL. Don’t get me wrong. But I’d built up a pretty big hype in my head. “This is the Eiffel Tower. Like, the REAL Eiffel Tower. Right here. This is it – the real deal.” … I’m not sure what I was expecting it to do. It’s really just a building. “But this is the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower!” It lights up at night, and it has elevators, and a place where you can eat and stuff – I’m not sure what more you can ask of a building. “But this is a landmark. This is the Eiffel Tower!”… there was something about seeing it in person that felt a little bit like meeting a celebrity. “Okay, can you take a picture of me? But, like, make sure you get the whole thing in there. I need people to know I met the REAL Eiffel Tower.”)
- The Louvre. (The Louvre is a big deal, apparently. I had no idea. I was twenty-one years old when I went to Paris, and had only heard of The Eiffel Tower. Seriously. That was all I knew about Paris – that and the berets. “What’s ‘the Louvre’?” I asked one of the girls I was traveling with. Apparently it is pronounced “Loo-v”, by the way. At least that was how she pronounced it, and how I’ve pronounced it ever since. “It’s a museum,” she said. “Like, a really big, famous museum.” … “Oh,” I said, once I realized that we weren’t just going to be hanging out at The Eiffel Tower and eating bread at French cafes all day. I’m glad I went to France with people slightly more cultured than myself.)
- The Mona Lisa (This is on display at The Louvre. Like, the real Mona Lisa. The one that da Vinci painted. I know, because when someone I was with said, “the Mona Lisa is on display there,” and I said, “Really? The REAL one?”, they said, “Yes”, as if a museum like The Louvre would display a fake copy of the Mona Lisa. Things to note: it’s smaller than I imagined, and the museum has an entire wall dedicated to it. See above. That wall is huge, and the Mona Lisa is the only thing on it. It is also protected by, like, twelve inches of bullet proof glass or something <— probably not an accurate number, but it is behind glass.)
- More about The Louvre (We frequently compared parts of it to “something from Harry Potter.”)
- Notre Dame Cathedral (This is a famous cathedral. I don’t mean for that to sound sassy – like, “duh, it’s a Cathedral” – but this is something else I didn’t understand was a “thing” until I was there. One of the girls kept talking about how we had to see Notre Dame. And then she pronounced it “Note-r Dame”, like the college in Indiana. And I was like, “Why do we have to go here?” By this point in the summer, I had seen a lot of churches. Spain, in general, is pretty big on the whole “old, pretty, churches” thing – so I had seen my fair share of cathedrals. “What’s special about this one?” I asked. “It’s Notre Dame,” one of the girls told me. Like that was supposed to answer my question. “It’s famous.” … I mean, it’s not like I WASN’T going to go with her, I just wanted to know what was so great about it. “You know that movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame?” she asked me. “Well, this is where that came from.”, “Ohhh”)
- More about The Notre Dame Cathedral (It’s French for “Our Lady of Paris” and is famous for its Gothic architecture. That’s what makes it feel sort of creepy – around it you’ll see gargoyles and statues of Saints and – what I referred to as, “little heads”. See above.)
- The Arc de Triomphe. (Yet another famous, historical monument that I didn’t know about. When I say that the only thing I associated with Paris was the Eiffel Tower, I mean LITERALLY the ONLY thing I associated with Paris was Eiffel Tower. According to Wikipedia, this is “one of the most famous monuments in Paris” – hence why you should get a picture of it when you visit. This was built back in the 1800s and was created to honor those who fought for France.)
- The Paris Love Locks. (You’re not allowed to do this anymore – be “in love” in Paris. Apparently the city outlawed it back in 2016. (Just kidding.) “Love locks” were a thing when I was there back in 2011. A Paris tradition that couples on romantic getaways could seal their love, write their names onto a padlock, attach it to the fence alongside the bridge, and throw the key into the river. Apparently in 2016, the city of Paris decided to remove them because they were afraid the weight would damage the structure of the bridge.)
- The Eiffel Tower at Night. (It lights up at night and looks really pretty. We decided to go up in it before the sun went down, so when it initially started to light up – we were on the second floor (which I’d also like to point out is roughly ten stories up. Ten stories. We climbed TEN STORIES of stairs because we were too impatient to wait for the elevator. Worth it.)
Have any of you been to Paris? What were some of your favorite sites to see? Also — what other things would you like to hear about in my Study Abroad Series? Let me know in the comment section!!