Saturday, November 8, 2008

EIFFEL IN LOVE WITH PARIS: A Timeline of Week Nine in France

It’s true. As soon as I stepped off of my first Parisian metro and onto the bustling city streets, I was immediately enamored with it all. In fact, I can honestly say that spending a week in Paris was one of the best experiences of my entire life! Academically, I feel it was highly productive, and socially, it was filled with fun and entertaining activities. Overall, it was just positively everything I could have wanted it to be. No wonder I had such butterflies in my stomach the day before we left!

Of course, if I could have blogged Paris, it would have been one of my primary activities (because now I have SO much catching up to do that I’m starting to feel a little stressed out), but that was impossible. Therefore, I’m just going to take my time and slowly fill you all in on our crazy escapades in a day-by-day timeline! Sound like good, clean, organized fun? That’s what I thought!

So, although you’ve now officially read the beginning part of this entry, keep making sure to check back on it regularly over the next few days. As I find bits and pieces of free time in my hectic Lyonnaise schedule, I’ll use them to my advantage in order to keep updating the timeline with small blurbs about the highlights of my Parisian experience.

Oh yeah! Enjoy the reading. ☺

  • Our bullet train left from Part Dieu station in Lyon at 11:00AM, which meant I was up and getting ready at 7:30AM… ick!
  • We arrived in Paris at precisely 12:57PM and got ready to take the crazy, stair-filled, metro system to our hotel. We were pre-warned by Wendy of the obnoxious metro stairway systems, but even so, almost all of us had packed our belongings in small suitcases on wheels! Haha… we’re SUCH girls.
  • After our arrival at our new residence, Hotel Marignan, we went out to make the most of our first day in Paris!
In order to orient us with the city, Wendy decided to take us on a Beateaux-Mouches tour, which is a boat tour of the city from the Seine River! Even though it was drizzling outside, I personally feel as though it was a gorgeous tour and most definitely worth the price of the ticket. First off, we were all able to sit inside of the boat instead of standing on deck, and we could still see the entire city! Plus, it wasn’t a very crowded experience, and, due to the fact that this particular tour was given in a series of languages including (but most definitely not limited to) French, Spanish, English, and Japanese, we were able to learn some really intriguing facts about the iconic structures of Paris. For example, I learned that the Botanical Gardens were originally constructed in order to be medicinal gardens for royalty and the highly famous Louvre wasn’t always a museum! On the contrary, it used to be a palace used by Louis XIV until he decided to move to the Palace in Versailles. Overall, I believe this tour prepared me for what was to come on our trip to Paris. Not to mention, it jogged my memory of important facts I’d learned from my required reading assignments for Reason & Romanticism, and coupled with this fact, helped me to gain an overall fuller experience of Paris that most definitely had academic value.
  • We returned to the Quartier Latin where our hotel was located in order to have a group dinner at a local, cheaper restaurant. The food was tres bien, and some of the girls returned to this exact restaurant for dinner later in the week!
  • When we returned to the hotel, we decided it was time to get a taste of Paris’ nightlife!
Today was a very lucky day for AD, or at least I think so. You see, not only were we heading from Lyon into Paris, but it was also her twenty-first birthday! Can you imagine spending your twenty-first birthday in two amazing cities in a foreign country on a study abroad? In order to make her day as special as possible, we determined to dedicate our entire evening out to her happiness. Since we had met up with a few members of the Franklin Pierce Vienna Program (they too were staying at our hotel until Wednesday morning), we invited them to join us! Only ZT decided to take us up on the opportunity, but in our minds just that little bit of fresh, male blood was good enough, and we headed out right away to start our night of fun. Overall (and just because I feel as though it’s probably improper to divulge details of this night on here), I can only say that it was probably one of the most memorable nights of my entire life! It was filled with many unexpected adventures, lots of interesting people and places, and gave us a really great sense of how truly alive the city of Paris is—it most definitely has its very own heart and soul, and I’m not sure that any other cities could genuinely boast about such extraordinary traits.

  • We all met downstairs as a group for breakfast at 8:00AM because the Hotel Marignon (luckily) provides free breakfasts to all of its guests! The breakfast, although simple and similar every morning, was most definitely superb. It consisted of one’s choice of thé, café, ou chocolat chaud, a baguette, and enough jam, butter, nutella, and cheese for each individual present at the table. Ultimately, I looked forward to breakfast every morning!
  • After, we headed out to walk to the Notre Dame!
I would have never guessed that seeing the Notre Dame in person would have caused such an intense reaction in me. I never felt any special connection to it before. In fact, as far as I knew or cared really, it was just another religious building—probably gorgeous in architecture featuring unbelievable painted works and many golden attributes. However, as seems to be the usual occurrence in France, my first, inexperienced impression was highly incorrect. Yes, it is true, the Notre Dame is a beautiful and magnificent sculpture where Joan of Arc’s heresy trials were held as well as being the location where Victor Hugo decided to set his famous novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but, due to some highly indescribable element, it is also so much more.

I don’t know how to explain it to you. It’s somewhat overwhelming, but also calming and humbling. And I not only felt it consuming me when I was standing inside of the Church, but I also felt it after I walked up all 400 steps to the top of Notre Dame’s bell tower. I felt it when I stared into the frightening faces of the gargoyles, when I looked out over the bustling city and could just barely make out the commotion from below, and when I fell in love with Paris all over again. It felt amazing, and I hadn’t felt this way once yet since being abroad.

Gosh, it was a breathtaking view, and I tried so hard to really take it all in, memorize the scents and sounds and visions, so that I would never need to strain to remember it. However, unfortunately, memory fades. In fact, even as I write this entry today, it’s not as crystallized as it had been that early morning. Although I can still tell you the overall color scheme of the city from that angle and the exact pitch and overall sound of the bell ringing from the tower itself, I can’t give exact details. It frustrates me. Why do our memories have to be so unreliable?

What I do remember, however, is engaging a very intense, private conversation with my Professor while staring out over the horizon. I think I rhetorically asked what someone’s career would have to be in order for her to be able to just take off and travel to places like Paris, France on a whim. Of course, although I didn’t mean to do so, I’m pretty sure I stated this pondering out loud, and Wendy actually replied. She suggested numerous options I had never even considered, and as I gazed out into the vast abyss of the city and pondered over the vast abyss that is my future, I got chills. I literally have the whole world at my fingertips. I could do anything, go anywhere, and be anyone. I COULD live in Paris if I wanted. All opportunities are open to me as long as I’m willing to put the time, energy, and passion necessary into securing them for myself. It’s kinda cool.

Ultimately, the Notre Dame has a very special spot in my heart now, and I wish I could take all of my loved ones up the twisting tower stairs to where I had one of the greatest epiphanies of my life. I mean, who knows, maybe it’s magical. It sure felt that way to me, and I’m willing to share the magic with anyone else who’s willing enough to take the chance on it. Promise.

  • After all of that walking, we felt as though we’d earned some dessert! Wendy took us to find Amorino, an ice-cream and candy shop that had been suggested to our group by my friend JF back in the United States. Using Wendy’s guidebook, we found it very easily, and everyone got a cone of flower shaped ice-cream goodness! 
  • As we ate our beautiful ice-cream creations, Wendy suggested we walk to an English bookstore in the area called Shakespeare & Co.
This has become one of my most coveted spots in all of Paris. Just standing outside of Shakespeare & Co. gave me chills. It was so surreal. I just couldn’t imagine it was truly a working bookstore and not just a studio bookshop being featured on a movie set. Of course, stepping inside of the store was even better!

It reminded me of an old, dusty library, or maybe the bookstore featured in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The walls were lined with books from the floor to the ceiling and ladders could be found in strategic locations around the busy store for customers and workers to grab any and all books of choice. Upstairs, real writers sat at old typewriters, sipped tea, and easily passed the time. Ultimately, the entire top floor was a reference library (except for the children’s section), and many people also found cozy spots just to review the books. It was quite wonderful to witness. I could have stayed there forever.

As I continued exploring the space, I just couldn’t stop thinking that my brother would positively be in Heaven if I took him to this store. It’s just right up his ally and very artistic. Plus, the owner of the store is a very generous man. In fact, as I learned from Wendy, if he happens to come across a likable person in need, he’ll offer her free lodging IN the store! All of his lucky chosen individuals are allowed to sleep upstairs on beds he provides, are given free access to water, a refrigerator, and a stove for cooking, and all that they have to do in return is help to maintain the shop. It’s an opportunity that, in present day, seems so unreal. Yet, it’s a tradition, and he’s kept it up for years.

As a record of this generosity on his part, the entire upper floor walls are filled with little notes, letters, drawings, and photographs filled with gratitude for the store and what it provides. Many of the letters are most definitely heartfelt and refer to the owner as a father figure. In fact, after reading a few, I was almost in tears. They were most definitely touching and prove why kindness is so important in our world.

Knowing all of this information, I came on the realization that “I” could live at the store, and I’m truly considering it. I mean, what can I say? I seriously fell head over heels for Paris! And I truly think I would be willing to leave everything else behind for a new life in this city. It’s so rich here. There’s not only a history but also a future filled with unlimited amounts of possibility and opportunity. Plus, there’s this shared, fast-paced, city lifestyle that I’ve never found anywhere else. And, there’s an undeniable life force to Paris that just pulses through everyone’s veins. It’s exhilarating and inspiring and, possibly, life altering.

In conclusion, Shakespeare & Co. was so much fun that I decided to use some of my free time later in week in order to visit it again! Luckily, on this excursion, I was able to find a really unique book to purchase, and the cashier used her blue inkpad in order to stamp “Shakespeare & Co.” on the inside title page for me! Now I’ll never forget where I bought it, and it’ll be a great conversation starter in years to come if I decide to display the book on a coffee table or the like.

  • Next, we took the metro to Montmartre, the highest part of Paris (boasting some of the best views of the city) and the area where the gorgeously stone white Basilica du Sacré-Cœur is located. Even though it was somewhat drizzling outside, we didn’t let that stop our adventures. We took great pictures of the city skyline, spent some time taking in Parisian culture as we walked around the area where the famous French film Amélie was partially recorded, and even stopped at a local café for lunch! 
  • In order to conclude our day in a productive manner, Wendy offered to take us all to Pére-Lachaise, a Parisian cemetery that boasts the gravesites of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, and Isadora Duncan, the female American dancer considered by many to be the mother of contemporary dance! Although I positively LOVED this experience, it was a reaction that was to be expected from me. You see, I happen to find graveyards and the like very intriguing places to wander around. At home, I enjoy reading the epitaphs, attempting to determine what a person’s nationality was based solely on his last name, and coming up with (most likely ridiculous) stories about the lives and deaths of those who’ve already passed on. Of course, not every other girl on the trip was as thrilled with being “held captive” in such a spooky cemetery. Therefore, I felt it could be fun for you all to read an excerpt from another girl’s journal concerning her personal, more unsettling (but highly entertaining!) experience in Pére-Lachaise. L wrote:
”First of all, we just came back from Pére-Lachaise, a huge cemetery. This was probably the creepiest thing ever! It didn’t help that Halloween is in a couple of days, the sky turned completely black (gradually), and all of the trees there were completely dead(!), which I don’t understand because every other tree in France is beautiful! It was really cool to see where Isadora Duncan is buried. It was great, but SO FREAKY. I think [M] and [G] each waked with me at certain parts of the journey because they could tell I was freaked. When we got to Isadora Duncan’s we had to walk up some stairs to the second level, and there were no lights there. I think the moonlight was the only thing helping us! And at one point, I saw black smoke in the sky, and I said ‘What’s that smoke?’. Everyone around me said, ‘I don’t know.’ Then, [A] said, ‘Oh… I know what it is. It’s the –,’ and [M] cut her off telling her to be quiet. Then, I figured out that it was the crematorium, and I said, ‘It’s the cre—‘ and [M] cut me off with, ‘Don’t worry [L.] It’s okay.’ Ugh! So freaky! And to top it all off, as we were journeying to the exit it started raining! Great! Rain, dead trees, black sky, crematorium, and the biggest cemetery I’ve ever seen… and I was in it? What?! AH!”
  • After we left, a few of the girls and I spent our night relaxing at the Hotel Marignon and writing about our day’s escapades in our mandatory journals.
  • Today, we realized we only have one month left in France… thirty-one days. So, we’re gonna make the most of it. ☺ 
  • After our 8:00AM breakfast at the Hotel Marignon, we headed off to the local boulangeries in order to purchase sandwiches for our preplanned afternoon picnic.
  • At Wendy’s premade schedule’s request, we took the Parisian metro to Le Château de Versailles! Once we had arrived, Wendy revealed to us that we could each receive an English language tour via the use of individual headsets! It was such a luxury to have because it made our tour of the palace much more informative and meaningful. Plus, it highlighted the important pieces featured in each room, which helped us determine what to photograph for our families and friends!

  • After touring the palace, we decided to brave the cold weather, eat our lunches outside, and then go explore the positively magnificent gardens. Although such an idea didn’t truly appeal to me (it was ridiculously cold outside, and I was already the Queen of Layered Clothing), it was most definitely worth it when we reached Marie Antoinette’s personal gardens.

  • Fortunately, we got out of Versailles just before the skies opened up!

Doesn’t that sky look VERY daunting and foreboding? I’m glad this wasn’t our first view of the beautiful Palace or we may have felt rather uneasy and wouldn’t have been able to see the gardens.

  • Back at Hotel Marignon, the girls and I spent our evening journaling, finding yummy sandwiches to eat for dinner, discovering the luxury of Nutella filled crepes, and shopping in the ridiculously numerous souvenir stands.


Geraldo Maia said...

Bonjour Gabriele,
Toute mes félicitations pour votre Blog; il est très joli.
Bonne continuation! Du Brezil:
Amitiés Geraldo

Gabrielle said...

Thank you very much! I appreciate the comment. It's really great to know that people who stumble across my blog find it interesting.