I arrived in Paris for my semester studying in Rennes with CIEE a couple days ago. My first day in Paris was basically taken up with arriving. I got in at 6:00 French time, and waited around in the airport with some other CIEE students for the arrival of the directors at 10:30 (Daniel Audaz and Staci Soum-Fonz). It was a good time to initially get to know some folks before launching into the orientation. We then dragged our luggage out to the coach/bus/autocar. I was personally amazed that so many students (and many female; out of 61 students, only 7 are male) could manage to bring only one suitcase. Of course, I only have two because my suitcases are basically duffle bags on wheels. The only way I'd get those things up to 50 pounds was if I decided to carry back several large rocks. Then, we drove to the aubèrge ("youth hostel") and dropped off our suitcases (valises) before walking down the block for lunch tout ensemble(all together) with the directors(directors) and moniteurs (sort of like an OL, except we have activities with them all semester; the word literally translates as monitors).
The lunch was three courses: du pain (bread), a pasta dish, and crème brulée (which can be literally translated as "burned cream"). Everything was delicious, bien sûr (of course), and afterwards we went back to the aubèrge for a petit réunion (basically a mini-lecture). Then, I headed out into the quartier (neighborhood) with a few friends I'd met on facebook over the summer: Alex, Maggie, and Emmi. We explored for a while and then ended up buying a small dinner/coffee in a restaurant in the upper level of a department store (yes that is actually quite common in Europe). When we got back to the aubèrge, it was getting a bit late, and I was very, very tired since I'd been up since 4:00 American time and it was now 4:00 the next day American time. 24 hours is a lot! And, although I thought about going to bed, I didn't actually end up doing so. I took a shower, and then went with one of my comrades de chambre (roommates) to see the Eiffel Tower (this was visit #1). The lights we of course spectacular, especially since we stayed long enough to see them sparkle on the hour!
From the Eiffel Tower, I returned to the room, enjoyed the view our room offered (there was a church, right across the sidewalk and two cafés equally close by, plus you could hear the bells from Notre Dame if it was quiet enough), and hit the sack.
Tuesday was another busy day. In the morning, there were activities arranged by the moniteurs to either Montmartre and Sacré Coeur, the Champs Elysée and the Tour Eiffel, or the Gallaries Lafayette for some shopping. I chose to head with Matthieu and Brice (two of the moniteurs) to Montmartre with Maggie, Emmi, Alex, Miro, Stella, and several others. The Sacré Coeur was truly a sight to see! It was absolutely gorgeous! The pictures I have of it certainly do not do it justice, and the interior is just as magnificent as the exterior. Of course, the gypsies (who are mostly from Afrique du Nord (North Africa)) were everywhere trying to rip you off with their simple "friendship" bracelets (you know, the ones you braided and knotted as a kid?).
After climbing to the top of the stairs to the church and looking around inside, we headed off down a nearby street in search of lunch and something to drink, we settled on sandwiches from a boulangerie (bakery) that we ate in a small park behind Sacré Coeur, and then we drank some café au lait at a small cafe down another side street. Sacré Coeur means "Sacred Heart," by the way.
After our morning excursion, some of the students headed off to a tour of the Musée Carnavalet to gain some knowledge on Parisian history. I, on the other hand, walked around the quartier and Ille de la Cite, which is where Notre Dame is located, with another Alex (there are 4 in our group: 3 girls, 1 boy). Then, we took a ride on the Bateaux-Mouches along the Seine. Bateaux Mouches means "Fly Boats." And they actually got that name from when there used to me slaughter houses along the Seine.... yeah, not such a pleasant story whether in French or in English. In any case, the ride was very pleasant and it was very interesting to hear our guide, who was a French student, talk in English.
After the boat ride, I headed back to the Eiffel Tower with the first Alex, Emmi, Maggie, and Stella (visit #2). We missed the sparkling lights, but of course la Tour Eiffel is always beautiful! And I got a chocolate crepe so everything was good. We got back to the aubèrge at about 12:30 and I hit the sack.
Wednesday was probably my busiest day. In the morning we had a guided tour of the Hotel de Ville, and what a beautiful building! Oh my God! C'était vraiment magnifique! (It was truly magnificent). Not only is the exterior beautiful, but the interior is probably about 10 times as beautiful! There was color everywhere and gold leaf and beautiful paintings and murals and auh!!! J'ai l'adore!! (That's the architecture nerd coming out of me, only I'm not going to use technical terms for its period and such forth; I'm lazy). I'm not sure if the public can really view it since everything was organized by CIEE, but if you ever have the chance to, VISIT IT!!!! I haven't been to Versailles yet, but it was built to rival Versailles, so.... GO!!!
After the Hotel de Ville, I had just about 2 hours before my turn at the tour of the Musée Carnavalet, so I headed off the le Quartier Latin with Matthieu, Brice, Yohann (another moniteur) and two girls from the program whose names I forget to see the Panthéon. I'm not sure how well known this church is in reality, because most American I've talked to don't really know what it is. Well, first off it's an église. Secondly, it's built in the Greek Revival style. Thirdly, it's similar in function (and my opinion beauty and architectural magnificence) to St. Paul's in London. Fourthly, it's absolutely beautiful. I think it was probably my favorite place that I visited (and you can tell because I took quite a few photos). There were murals on every wall and the statues were just beautiful! Of course, I also enjoyed going down to the crypt because there are many écrivains (writers) buried there, like Emile Zola and Verlaine. In fact, the church is dedicated to "les hommes de lettres" (men of letters). It's really very cool.
On our way back to the aubèrge, we had lunch in little park very close Notre Dame. Then, it was my turn to tour the Musée Carnavalet. The Musee is focused on the history of Paris, and, quite frankly, I would have found it more interesting if we hadn't had a guide.
Then, that night, we saw what I'm guessing was a chaos play, but I had absolutely no idea what the plot line was. And it wasn't because the play was in French, either. After the play, I ate dinner with Rachel, Nicole, Elyse, Jessica, and Emily at a cafe around the corner. The dinner took about an hour and half or so because we went for the three course option. It was delicious, but very French in length. After dinner, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower, making visit #3.
The next morning, we dragged our belongings to the coaches and headed off for Rennes, stopping by Chartres on the way, with a tour reminiscent of Bujak's field trips. Only without the guerilla singing....
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