I have to preface this blog post with a quick disclaimer, France was absolutely amazing! It was one of the most interesting cultural differences I have ever experienced and was particularly enjoyable for me because I love art and history. It would be easy to reflect on all of the lifelong experiences I had in my three short days in Paris without acknowledging the plenty of difficulties I faced on this trip, but for sake of honesty and reflection I want to evaluate both the highs and lows of experiencing a new place. This is most easily done by breaking this reflection up into a series of lessons.
Lesson 1: Always expect delays on a cheap flight
As I eagerly await my departure to the airport, I can barely contain my excitement to touch down in Paris, rush to to my hostel, drop my things off, and get to The Louvre. The overly optimistic plan I conjured in my head from the moment I woke up quickly dissipated as I got to my airport gate. As we sit down the flashing board bearing the phrase “Departure to Paris” quickly went for “On Time” to “1 Hr Delay.” It was unfortunate, but I always like to keep things in perspective. I’m lucky enough to be visiting Paris in a matter of hours, I could definitely wait a mere sixty minutes. Once we finally boarded I rushed to my seat and stashed my carry-on in the overhead. My Osprey travel backpack stuck out like a soar thumb amongst the Louis Vuitton, Channel, and Goyard bags owned by the very fashion forward French passengers. I sit down and put on my seatbelt finally ready to depart, only to find out we’d be sitting in the runway for another hour waiting in a line of planes. Maybe its my lack of patience speaking, but it seemed as if we would never leave. But alas, our flight departed a little more than two hours behind schedule. As I looked at Barcelona Beach get smaller and smaller as we ascended higher and higher, I knew Paris was but a short flight away.
Lesson 2: Never get into an unmarked cab
After getting to Paris late with a carefully crafted plan to knock out The Louvre the first day we arrived, we were itching to check into our hostel and be on our way. As we walked towards the line of taxis, an English speaking man waived us down and said he’d be able to drive us to our destination. My friends and I figured not only do we not have to wait in this daunting line to get a taxi, but this man also speaks English! We figured we hit the lottery, truthfully we were in crippling debt to go along with the analogy. We get into this man’s vehicle and he turns on the radio. The first couple of songs were well known American hip-hop songs and I thought it was hilarious French radio hosts were so enthused to be playing songs like “Bad and Boujee” by the Migos. In an attempt to warm up to us our driver explained French people love American entertainment. We thought he was a great guy, emphasis on thought. After driving for a tad he asked us if we had ever been to France and we told him we had not. We now know this is cab driver code for asking you if you are familiar with the area so they can take advantage of you and drive up the fares if you are not. Shortly later he receives a phone call and is speaking to his friend in French at a mile a minute. Of the entire ten minute conversation the only word I was able to make out was “Americans” followed by a hardy laugh between our driver and his friend. At this moment I knew we were screwed. After a near hour drive, where he drove us in circles, he took us to our hostel and claimed the fee is 165 Euros. Feeling absolutely taken advantage of we pay him and then he says, “You forgot the airport tax.” Infuriated I said to him there was no way I was paying a fabricated “airport tax” and he promptly rushed to the passenger seat and took off faster than a NASCAR driver out of a pit stop. We got completely scammed. During our joyride that was rather joyless he said, “Americans must be pretty stupid to allow your election to unravel the way it did,” and if he wasn’t fully convinced Americans weren’t the brightest in November, he was now.
Lesson 3: Research your hostel
My friends and I found a very cheap hostel fairly close to the center of Paris with a little public transportation utilization and figured it was too good to pass up. We booked our stay over a week in advance and didn’t think twice about it. After we got to our hostel we realized it wasn’t a typical hostel with tons of kids from all over Europe staying for however long their stay was. We were staying with a Chinese family who lived in France. We stayed in two separate bunk beds in an extra room that had four sets of bunk beds in total. The other four beds were occupied by Chinese tourists. Everyone was so nice and hospitable, but we quickly realized nobody spoke English but us. It was quite funny sitting and eating with our hosts and fellow hostel goers and being the only ones who could not interact in discussion. Our key tools of communication were thumbs ups and the speed at which we’d devour the delicious croissants the mother made for us. It wasn’t what we expected, but I wouldn’t trade the experience.
Lesson 4: You attend an EU school, take advantage of it
For as much money as we lost on an unnecessarily expensive ride from the airport, we made it all back in student discounts. Once we finally got to The Louvre we realized any activity even remotely educational more likely than not has a student discount if you attend a university in the European Union. After getting into the most notable museum in the entire world for completely free, I was ready to experience some culture. When we first got to the museum we explored and studied the section containing all the sculptures.
(A small portion of the sculptures section of The Louvre. In the bottom right a man sketches one of the sculptures; I noticed it was common for artists to sketch pieces all around the museum)
One of the most famous sculptures in the world that I marveled at was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This is a Hellenistic sculpture of Nike who is the Greek goddess of victory and also the namesake for the brand we all know and love. It amazed me how beautiful and intricate the sculpture was, but also how well its been preserved for literally over 2000 years!
After we toured the sculptures section my friends and I made our way to the crown jewel of The Louvre and the art world at large, the Mona Lisa. I have to be honest, as somebody who greatly appreciates fine art and its history, I think the Mona Lisa is vastly overrated. I couldn’t help but sit there and wonder how this painting of all the paintings ever created is the world’s most notable. That said, I learned some really interesting details of the painting. The subject of Di Vinci’s work is an Italian woman named Lisa del Giocondo. The Italian name of the painting is La Gioconda and interestingly enough “gioconda” in Italian means “happy.” This explains the subtle and rather ambiguous smile that has been the topic of much historical discussion. Di Vinci’s physical expression of his subject was a pun related to her last name.
(If you’re not a Gator, you’re gator bait…Even Mona Lisa!)
(Standing outside The Louvre is the only way you can truly take in the vastness of the museum and all it has to offer)
My favorite piece in the museum was easily The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804. (I know, its a mouthful) I particularly liked this painting because it embodies the unique relationship between art and history. I was utterly awed at Jacques Louis David’s ability to attend a historical event and then artistically capture the gathering with such accuracy at a later time. The details of the painting are so specific with respect to attendees expressions, their clothing, positioning in the room, etc. Not quite everything was perfectly accurate about this painting although. Napoleon’s mother is prominently positioned in the painting when realistically she refused to attend the coronation because she was mad at him for an ongoing dispute he had with his brother! His mother’s absence would have been a grave embarrassment to Napoleon so he ordered Jacques Louis David to paint her in anyways. It never really occurred to me how many historical alterations may be hidden within art due to the considerable power the commissioner may have. Many of art’s greatest works are commissioned by extremely powerful political leaders and royalty, so I bet this phenomenon is more common than I previously realized.
(My favorite piece in The Louvre. The painting was so large I was unable to capture the entire thing in one picture!)
After The Louvre closed my friends and I made our way to the Eiffel Tower. We were interested to see what the famous structure looked like at night before we were able to go see it in the daytime the next morning. It certainly did not disappoint. To my amazement the Eiffel Tower has beautiful periodic light shows that go on throughout the night. As I stood still and watched the first light show I looked up at the massive structure and a feeling of appreciativeness came over me. The realization that I am privileged enough to experience such a unique journey really sunk in at that moment. I remember as a little kid using Google Images to look at some of the world’s most sought after travel destinations, and here I sat watching the Eiffel Tower grace the sky with its glow. It was a really cool moment for me.
(The first photo I took of the Eiffel Tower while approaching it from the streets)
Lesson 5: The early bird gets the worm
When you’re traveling to cities for a handful of days time is of the essence. Often times you have to cut things out of your plans because you simply can’t get to it all. That said, if you wake up reallyyyy early you can often make unforgettable memories. In this case it was waking up at the crack of dawn so we could get on a train and visit the Palace of Versailles. This had to be the most elegant building I have ever stepped foot in in my life. I remember my AP European History teacher in tenth grade rave about the beauty and grandiosity of this palace and never understood how he could be so enthusiastic about the architecture of a building thousands of miles away. I now understand and then some.
(A photo of me in the palace. Imagine all the gold and murals in this small frame and then expand that for acres. That begins to scratch the surface of this structure that literally spared no expense.)
The Palace was built for Louis XIV who was clearly a man of opulence and self-obsession. The only thing more abundant than sculptures and paintings of Louis himself, was gold. Everything seemed to be made of solid gold in this palace! A fact I learned on my tour that absolutely blew my mind is that amongst all the gold, crystals, and fine art that comes to define the palace the true display of wealth was the amount of mirrors in the building. Apparently in the 1600s the technology to make mirrors was a ways away from what it was today and if you owned a mirror, let alone multiple, it was a sign of extreme wealth.
(This video helps to capture the sheer amount of money that must have been expensed in the palace’s creation. You also get a quick glimpse of one of the many mirrors in the palace on the left side of the pathway.)
(And just when you think this place can’t possibly get any more amazing you walk outside to leave…)
With plenty time in the day left to spare we hopped back on a train from Versailles to Paris. After getting back Paris we returned to the Eiffel Tower, but this time we’d actually be going inside.
(The Eiffel Tower gives off a noticeably different feel during the day than at night.)
Well aware of “Lesson 4” by now my friends and I received a discount on a lift ticket and before you knew it we were in a giant cable car heading to the tower’s second floor. To be quite honest, I didn’t know you were able to go up in the Eiffel Tower, let alone that the tower housed a restaurant, ice skating rink, and venue to host a wedding!! Once we reached the highest vantage point accessible to visitors we watched the sunset from the inside. This was such an incredible experience. Being able to take in the beauty of Paris as a city and the sunset simultaneously was really something else.
(A few of Paris from inside the Eiffel Tower as the sun was beginning to set)
(It was an incredible view indeed)
After the sunset we wanted to spend our final night doing what Paris does best… shopping. We went to the main shopping section of Paris and little did we know we went to Paris during Men’s Fashion Week. The stores were crazy crowded and I even ran into the Chief Editor of GQ Magazine while he was shopping. The crowdedness of the area also wasn’t helped by the fact that A$AP Rocky and Kendall Jenner were strolling around the block after Dior’s show concluded which they were in attendance for. Nonetheless, I was able to get a cool shirt and now had a memento for a trip that was overall a resounding success.
Whether is was realizing appropriate expectations for flights out of Spain, how to get from the airport to your hostel, which hostel to choose, the importance of student discount awareness, or hundreds of years of art and history…. our trip to Paris can be summarized by one phrase, “We learned a lot.”