Salut tout le monde! If you remember reading my last post, Voyageur du monde, you may remember that I hinted at another upcoming voyage, but I did not reveal my destination. My country count is now officially at four, as I just returned from a trip to Paris! What a weekend that was! Before heading off, I had quite a few expectations of the city, all of which are possibly the most cliché images one could produce of the city. This included wanting to eat crêpes at the Eifel Tower, hearing accordion players at various street corners, and going on long walks through the city’s gardens and famous streets, namely the Champs Elysée. But against all the stereotypes, I was most excited about just being in the presence of such history and culture. Not to mention the fact that I’d be able to visit a European capital city with such importance for politics, finance, and culture.
As always, the first thing that I was super excited about upon arriving in Paris was the fact that I could speak the language of the country. I didn’t have to ask someone at an information window to speak English, but instead, me and my friends who traveled together (other exchange students at UNIL) could all pose our questions in French and continue practicing our language skills. I also have to say that knowing the language definitely enriched the experience for me. The first site we visited was the city catacombs. Buried 45 million years under the Earth, the catacombs are the city’s former stone mines where the materials to build structures like Notre Dame Cathedral were taken from. As a more touristy twist, they have been turned into the burial site of more than six million people. Posted throughout the catacombs were writings, in both French and Latin, with very thought provoking quotes about human nature. Without knowledge of French, I would have missed out on what became my favorite part of the catacombs!
Of course, our tour of the city moved above ground after our first stop. We later found ourselves visiting an old train station turned museum, le Musée d’Orsay, where we saw the works of some famous artists I had first learned about in elementary school, such as Monet! My group and I had all decided that it was a necessity to go to a museum in Paris, even though not all of us were crazed for looking at art, just because it was such an important part of the city.
We found ourselves right downtown in the city when we left the museum, and by that point we all had food on our mind. After meeting up with a friend from France who had studied abroad at U of R last semester, we went off for our first real adventure into French cuisine. Luckily, our local was able to help us out with choosing some of the more traditional French dishes. I definitely branched out when I chose a duck dish for my dinner, and tasted my friend’s dish. She had ordered something called tartare de boeuf, which is essentially raw, ground meat with various seasonings for flavor. If you thought sushi is a terrifying concept, think again. I was at first really hesitant to try this, since all of my prior food knowledge was telling me something like this needed to be cooked, but I figured if French people can eat it, so could I, so I decided to be open and try it. I rewarded myself afterwards with crêpes, and then we finally made our way to the Eifel Tower.
That being just our first day in Paris, it would require a much longer post for me to recount everything that we did during this trip. Four days in the city gave us the opportunity to see and do so many things, from just aimless touring to visiting some historical museums as well, notably L’Hôtel des Invalides, a a military hospital that Louis XIV ordered to be built for his forces in 1670. In some of the areas where the walls were newly renovated, it became so easy to place yourself in this time period, and feel like you were a part of it for a moment. It was an amazing feeling, when looking up at all of the stone walls and blue roofs. We also got to see the tomb of Napoleon in Les Invalides, which for a history nerd such as myself was pretty exciting.
Did Paris live up to my expectations? It certainly did, and then some. In the end, I don’t think that I embodied the clichés that I felt like I would before heading off, minus the fact that me and my group all bought berets the very last day and wore them through the airport and all the way back to Lausanne. I do count on the fact that I will be back there one day, but as always, coming back to Lausanne a third time from a trip abroad helped to solidify just how special I regard this city and country, as my first ever home away from home.