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Three Days in Paris
A dream come true
In 2001, when I was 17 years old, I went to France for ten days on a school trip. There were four of us from my high school, including my best friend, and about 20 kids from a high school a few hours away.
Growing up, I had always had an obsession with France. My ancestors on my dad's side of the family are from France - we're not sure where exactly, but I have an uncle who traced them back to at least the 1600s. My dad was Acadian, and coming from New Brunswick, French was his first language, although he spoke English fluently, too. He taught me a lot of French before he died of cancer, and I took French all through elementary school and high school.
My time in France was the best ten days of my life. We saw and did so much that parts of it are a blur, while other parts are as clear as if they happened yesterday. I loved it and appreciated it at the time, but I know I'd appreciate it more now as an adult if I could go back. I think the parts that are a bit of a blur are because the whole trip was like information and sensory overload - it was my first time away from home for more than a couple of nights, my first time flying, and the whole thing was a lifelong dream come true, one that I knew my dad would be so pleased about if he had lived to see it.
Our time in Paris was the last three days of the trip. We were there briefly our first day, but only in the airport as a stopover on our way to Nice, in the south of France. I remember as the plane started to descend into the airport, I looked out the window and could see the Seine River snaking its way along, and then I spotted the Eiffel Tower. The hours we spent in the airport were agony - I wanted to be out in Paris, seeing and doing, not looking at it from a window and continuing to dream. When we finally made our way back to Paris several days later, the dream finally came true.
Exploring the city
For a school trip, it wasn't what you might expect. I didn't go on any other big school trips, so I don't know how well they're usually chaperoned, but except for the guided parts, we pretty much had free reign to do whatever we wanted. We would be taken somewhere on a tour and once the guides and chaperones told us about it and gave us any warnings there might be, we were free to go out on our own, as long as we had a partner or were with a group. My best friend and I spent a lot of time exploring on our own, and it cemented our friendship and created an even stronger bond between us. We made friends with triplet sisters from the other school on the trip and spent time with them too, but for the most part, it was just the two of us, enjoying every moment of excitement and our freedom on our first trip away without parents.
One of our very first stops in Paris was Notre Dame Cathedral. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, and I would have been happy to spend hours wandering around. When we left, it was just the two of us again, and we headed down the street and had Nutella crepes from a vendor on the street. We had some incredible gourmet meals on that trip, but those crepes are one of the things I remember best.
One of my most memorable experiences
When we arrived in Paris, we were told to watch our purses and bags carefully wherever we went. I was shocked when they told us pick-pocketers frequent Notre Dame Cathedral (seriously? a cathedral? How low can you go?), and as if I wasn't nervous enough about riding the subway for the first time in my life, we were warned to be extra vigilant on the subway.
I can't remember our very first trip on the Paris Métro, but we rode it quite a bit, because it was the easiest way to get from one place to another. For the most part, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, with the exception of one very memorable experience.
We had gone out with a group of kids from the other school, and we were all standing around holding onto the same two poles, talking and laughing. I saw two young teenage boys who weren't in our group move toward us and join us. They were kind of sketchy looking, and I knew something was up, and I was trying to get my friend's attention to warn her when I felt something touch me. The kid in front of me had his jacket over his arm to hide it and had his hand down my jacket trying to reach my purse. We had all been given the same little over-the-shoulder purses that strapped tightly to our bodies, either under or over our clothes, and because I had a jacket on, I had it over my shirt but under my zipped jacket.
I was so shocked at first I couldn't react and when my brain finally kicked into gear, I slapped his hand and jumped back. The subway stopped a second later and he and his friend ran off, yelling at us angrily in French. I remember thinking 'Excuse me, aren't I the one who has the right to be mad after almost being robbed?!' I was shaken and horrified but within a couple of hours, it had become a funny story, especially among our group - the quiet, shy girl slapping a pick-pocketer - and a story that I still tell to this day.
My favorite things in Paris
The Eiffel Tower/La Tour Eiffel - Another of our first stops in Paris wasn't to the Eiffel Tower itself, but to an observation deck of sorts a few miles away where we could take pictures. We saw the Tower nearly everywhere we went, like a big taunting beacon, and when we finally got to go to it, and go up to the top, it was worth the wait. Just being there was thrilling, but getting to go up and look out over the city was incredible.
The Louvre Museum - Spectacular. Words really don't do it
justice. We spent a lot of time outside at first, taking pictures of
the museum and posing in front of the glass pyramid before finally going
inside. Part of the tour was guided - we hit all the hot spots,
learned the history of many of the paintings and statues, and then we
were on our own. My main destination of interest was the Mona Lisa. I
had been fascinated with her for years, and couldn't believe I was about
to see the painting in person. When we got into the room, there was a
huge crowd around the barrier in front of the Mona Lisa, but my friend
knew how much I wanted to see her up close, so she grabbed my hand and
we zig-zagged our way to the front, where she shoved me front and centre
so I could stand in front of the Mona Lisa. I remember one of my
uncles telling me all about her, and explaining that the painting itself
was actually quite small. I didn't believe him - how could a painting
that famous, one that's housed behind two sheets of bullet-proof glass
and a wide barrier, not be huge? But it wasn't - beautiful, yes,
everything I had imagined in every other sense, yes, but surprisingly
small. I feel indebted to my friend for getting me to the front of the
line, because although both of us are shy, she's more gutsy, and I never
would have had the nerve to push my way to the front!
The Arc de Triomphe - I loved strolling down the Champs-Élysées and seeing the Arc de Triomphe at the end, especially at night when it's lit by spotlights and it shines like gold. We went as a group, but got divided on the stairs, which seemed to take forever to climb. There's less than 300 stairs but it felt like 3,000 to me - the view was definitely worth it though, and if you've ever wondered why Paris is called the City of Light, all you have to do is go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower and you'll see why.
The Paris Ferris Wheel/La Grande Roue de Paris - My best friend and I went with the triplets to ride la Grande Roue our last night in Paris. It was incredible, and the five of us laughed from beginning to end, we were so excited. As with many roller coasters, there was a camera that took our picture when we were getting off and you could buy the picture as you were exiting - I wish now that I had! It was a lot of fun though, and something I'll never forget.
The Palace of Versailles - We traveled by train to get to Versailles, and went straight to the Palace before having the rest of the afternoon free in the town of Versailles. The Palace of Versailles was one of the most incredible places I've ever seen - it's so opulent and luxurious, it's like something out of a fairytale. I'm sure I walked through the entire tour with my mouth hanging open - I had thought the Louvre was incredibly grand, and it was, but the Palace of Versailles was unbelievable. After touring the inside, we went out to the gardens, and I wish now that I had taken more time to explore. My one souvenir from the palace (other than brochures and pamphlets which I compulsively collected everywhere we went) was delicious apple candies 'from the King's Kitchen Garden'.
What I'd like to see next time I visit Paris
Next time I go to Paris, I want to see everything that I saw then, because as an adult, I know I'd see it all differently, and appreciate it more, and really take it all in. I'd also be sure to take more pictures - even though I took literally hundreds of pictures at the time, I have a much better camera now, along with a better eye for photography!
Places I want to see/things I want to do next time:
Take a cruise on the Seine River - we were supposed to do this, it was part of our itinerary, but there was such bad flooding of the Seine that it wasn't safe and all the cruises were canceled. I was disappointed, but we got the money back, and got to do other things, so it worked out.
Le Musée d'Orsay - this wasn't part of our itinerary, although some of the kids in the group went on their own. As much as I love museums, my friend wasn't a huge fan of them, so we decided it would be more fun to be out and about in Paris, taking in the city, and I don't regret that decision at all because we had a blast.
The towers of Notre Dame Cathedral - Even though we saw and toured the Cathedral itself, we didn't get to go up in the towers, and I would love to do that.
Moulin Rouge - Being 17, really the only thing I had heard about Moulin Rouge was 'don't go there' - haha. Now I'd love to go, take it all in, and see a few shows.
Other places - The Panthéon, Les Invalides, La Madeleine, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart), Paris-Sorbonne University, La Conciérgerie.
Even though I only spent three days in Paris, my time there made a lasting impression on me. Ten years later, it's something I think about a lot, and I often wish and hope and dream of going back. I hope to do a little genealogical work in the near future and find out where my ancestors came from - it would please me to know, and I know it would make my dad happy to know that I have an interest in where our family originated.
U2 is my favorite band, and City of Blinding Lights is one of my favorite songs. Whenever I hear it, it makes me think of Paris, and I was thrilled when I saw the movie The Devil Wears Prada and the song was played while Anne Hathaway's and Meryl Streep's characters were in Paris. It's one of my favorite clips from the movie.
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