It is here: the payoff, the big show, the big shebang…Finals. Two finals separated us from mid-semester break. Without further delay: they came, they went, they are over. All jokes aside, with a good feeling coming out of finals, we were itching to celebrate our hard work by going on holiday. With our cameras charged, bags packed, and tickets printed, KJ and I headed to St. Pancras International to board the Eurostar. Just a quick hop, skip, and a jump to Paris from Wednesday until Saturday.
As soon as we disembarked from the train, the first challenge came: getting lunch. We could have taken it easy and ordered lunch in English on the train, but we waited like the masochists we are. Dusting off my four-year-old french skills, debate ensued. “Should we order in English because we were at the train station? Should we attempt French? Here goes nothing, we are ordering in French.” Our broken statements somehow ended up with us getting a quality lunch without bad looks, sighs, jeers, or smirks! We did it!
After we dropped our bags off at the hotel in the 9th Arrondissement, we headed straight for the Louvre. Upon our arrival, we joined the other tourists in taking tacky photos of the pyramid while we waited in line, but we soon found out some of the best news. As students of the European Union who are under 26, we get to experience museums (like the Louvre) for free. Cue huge sigh of relief. Like kids in an artistic candy store, we struggled to decide which wing to hit first. Little did we know, the Louvre is a test of mental fortitude and stamina. The first two wings of the museum went by quickly, but then we hit our wall. As if we were running a race, we stopped for a water break at the cafe before powering through the last wing. Just in our first day, we could say that we met eyes with the Mona Lisa for free.
The next morning, we managed to order breakfast without too many speed bumps before boarding the RER to the land of lavishness and luxury. Our long walk up to the Palace of Versailles was sort of a procession up to the gold-encrusted gates. Once again, we entered for free. Our eyes were met with frescoes and gold wherever we looked until we visited the lavish gardens. Filled with jealousy, we left in Versailles and headed to the Latin Quarter. As we ascended from the metro, the towers of Notre Dame met our eyes. With its stained glass, beautiful sculptures, and absolute silence, the cathedral lived up to all of our expectations.
After our tour of Notre Dame, it was back to the metro to see the Jardin du Luxembourg. The beautiful Palace towered over the lush fountains and gardens. Tree-lined paths led us to the beautiful Medici Fountain. This narrow pond/fountain is overlooked by a bowing statue at its end. We only wished that we could stay longer, but there was still more to do!
It was back to the metro to see the Place de Bastille before dinner and a special nighttime surprise. Think of the most stereotypical night activity in Paris. That is exactly what we did. One cannot go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower shimmer at night. After a brisk and rainy 45-minute wait, we witnessed the beauty of a feat of engineering lighting up the night sky. Believe it or not, we fit ALL of that into our second day.
Another jam-packed day of French culture led us back to a previous destination: the Eiffel Tower. After snapping the obligatory pictures with us in the foreground, it was time to navigate the metro once again to head to the Centre Pompidou. Deemed as the biggest collection of modern art in France, this place did not disappoint. With a rather eclectic collection, we were intrigued at every turn. Everything from the Picasso and Kandinsky, to “modern” furniture and inventions throughout the decades, to avant-garde symbolistic pieces. The building itself was captivating in its construction and the views from the terrace were to dire for. We even thought about coming back to the restaurant on the 6th floor just for the view and ambiance. And what could make it better? A huge statue commemorating the Zidane head-but and free admission!
The next few hours were a blur as we raced to do more things to complete our Paris checklist. First, we had to visit Oscar Wilde’s grave. Upon our entry to these sacred burial grounds, we tried to figure out our plan of attack to swam Mr. Wilde while he wasn’t looking. We found him after walking in circles and getting lost occasionally. The plexiglass surrounding the grave was riddled with lipstick and quotes scrawled all over it. Allegedly, one of his books warranted the post-mortem kissing. We called this victory and gave up on finding the resting place of the late Jim Morrison. Again, with the theme of masochism, we decided to ascend the steep hills of Montmartre to visit Espace Dali and Sacre-Coeur. After enduring the pain of the climb, it was all made better by the quaint gallery of Dali’s work and the beautiful views from the steps of the stunning cathedral. Just when this day couldn’t get any better, KJ took me out to an GREAT dinner to celebrate my 20th birthday.
It was early-to-rise for yet another day to fit everything into our day before our 6 p.m. departure back to the monotony of real life and an end to a wonderful vacation. After a quick breakfast, we headed to the famed Arc du Triumphe. The brisk winds and long lines didn’t defeat our confidence or desire to stand before this monument. Something so grand and ornate really did pay homage to the military prowess of the French Empire…and I mean that in a non-threatening, non-sarcastic way. What is the first thing you should do after seeing a military memorial? Get crepes. Is it fun to ask rhetorical questions when writing? Yes. I can officially say that I’ve had genuine crepes in France! Naturally, crepes fuel you through another large (but FREE) museum visit. It was time to experience the Musee D’Orsay. The building itself looked like an old railway station, but the art inside could outsell the price of the premise by 100-fold. We say Degas, Monet, Manet, Van Gough, Renoir all at an arms length. Of course there are no pictures due to the high security (and you could assume that I’m lying about this), but I assure you that they were there!
Unfortunately, all of the good had to come to an end at some time and we departed Paris reluctantly on Saturday, the 13th. Pastries will never be the same. Bread will never be the same. We must go back, if only just for one day. To look back on this week, I’ve never done so much in such a short time. I had an amazing time in a new place and did so many enlightening things to bring in my 20th birthday with an important person at my side the entire time.