I think out of all the destinations on my EF Tour trip, I was the most excited to visit Paris, France.
The morning we left London was a very serious morning, because all of our luggage had to be precisely packed for the airport-like screening at the Eurostar station. It was my first time taking a train to travel such a long distance, and also my first time taking a train that travels underneath the English Channel.
When we got our tickets, I crossed my fingers for a window seat and when we boarded the colossal train, I found it was my lucky day: Jasmine and I were given a cubicle style seat, where we faced two other passengers (two of our Canadians), had a table in between us, and an enormous window to look out of.
I watched Ratatouille on Jasmine’s iPad on the beginning of the train ride, because you have to watch a movie about a French rat that cooks on the way to France. I fell asleep thirty minutes into the movie and apparently, as I looked around while putting away the iPad, so did everyone else in my group. In all the rows behind me, my tour-mates were knocked out, heads tilted to the side and mouths open. The train ride was four hours long, and I had the best nap of my entire life.
The French countryside was picturesque flying by in all different shades of brown and green. And then, soon enough, we were in Paris.
And then: the worst first impression of Paris began.
One block out down from the train station, there lies a pile of vomit smack dab in the middle of the street.
Two more blocks, and trail of smeared feces left like breadcrumbs down the sidewalk. The area of Paris we were in was filthy, and I had to keep reminding myself that every utopia has its dirty secrets. I was positive that near the landmarks and areas with more tourist traffic, Paris would be pristine.
First destination on our checklist? The Louvre. We took the Metro to the station called “Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre.” The Paris Metro was easy to navigate, similar to the London Underground, but it was MUCH more congested, and I got to know a few Parisian strangers very well, maybe too well, pressed up against their sweaty bodies crammed into the Metro car.
We arrived at the station that was inside the Louvre’s lowest level, and entered in awe at the remains of the Louvre Palace, a fortress that the Louvre was built around and on top of.
We were given four and a half hours and split up into smaller groups. Jasmine and I got a map from Jim, branched off, and then began our trek through the monolithic museum.
Calling the museum big and every other synonym for large will never, ever, ever do it justice. Jim told us that apparently, according to a study done a few years ago, if you spent thirty seconds looking at every single artifact in the Louvre, it would take you nearly three and a half months. Jasmine and I decided to put off going to see the Mona Lisa until later because we knew just how crowded it would be. So we started on the ground level and worked our way up, with the Greek sculptures, and then visited Napoleon’s apartments.
We then strolled through the tapestries, then the paintings.
Then we visited the Mona Lisa. She was gorgeous and heavily guarded, and had so many admirers. No wonder she’s smirking. The area looked like a One Direction concert, with people pushing themselves up against the front barrier to get closer to Mona. There was no way I would get to the front without taking forever and bruising some ribs along the way. The amount of people in the massive room that the Mona Lisa is held in was ridiculous, and a bit upsetting, as Mona does not have a room to herself. There are about eighty other works of art of all different sizes placed inside the same room as her, and not one person took their eyes off of her to admire them.
After Mona, we went to see Venus De Milo (Aphrodite). The crowd for her wasn’t as large, and I got to be in the front, up close and personal with her, and took some great pictures.
Jasmine and I couldn’t resist with some of the other gorgeous sculptures in the same hall of the Venus de Milo.
Then we went to the Egyptian art, and saw real sarcophaguses (sarcophagi?) (???).
Then Oriental art.
When our four and a half hours were up, Jasmine and I felt very accomplished. We saw as much of the Louvre as we could see and saw so many beautiful works that I couldn’t even believe I had the privilege of seeing.
After the Louvre, we all bounded onto the Metro again to head to a “little gem” that Jim thought we would enjoy.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, or Sacré-Cœur Basilica, sits on top of Montmarte, a large hill. There is a legend that a Christian bishop named Saint Denis was decapitated on the hilltop in 250 AD. Legend says that Saint Denis carried his decapitated head in his hands and ran down the hill.
The church was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and the view halfway up the hill made me gasp.
It was the best view of Paris I could ever ask for. The same “aha” moment I had in Ireland at Howth Bay, I had at Sacré-Cœur. I was really in Paris. This was really real. A little bit farther up the hill, and the view was even better.
We tried to go up to the dome of the church, but it closed at 8, and we arrived at 8:30 PM. So instead, we were given free time to hang out in the little downtown area near Montmarte, I got my first crepe EVER and enjoyed it so much. Ugh. It was so good, and I’m sure no American crepe will ever be able to measure up.
Our evening was over, so we took the Metro back to our hotel in Maisons-Laffitte. I was very pleased with our hotel, and our room, which was a very Parisian red and had a cute little balcony (even though we couldn’t go on it).
The next morning, we took our third and sadly last “expert” guided tour by a lovely woman named Corinne. We circled the Arc de Triomphe in our bus, drove down the Champs-Elysées and then took a scenic drive around center-city Paris.
Near midday, Jim announced that we would be leaving for Versailles, and our tour group then went three separate ways. My New Jersey group of 16 were the only ones going on the excursion to Versailles. We loaded onto a different, now empty bus, and headed off. The Palace of Versailles and its Gardens left me speechless. I’ve never stepped foot in a place so elegant, so intricately built, so regal. I took a sh*tload of pictures, so I will only include my highlight reel below:
After Versailles, we linked back up with the rest of our tour group who went shopping on the Champs-Elysées. Dinner that night was INCREDIBLE. We were served tray after tray of different tarte flambées, and my mind was blown. Tyler didn’t like the mushrooms, though.
Then, we headed to the Big Kahuna: The Eiffel Tower. Seeing it in person for the first time was one of those out-of-body experiences where you truly cannot believe you’re seeing what you’re really seeing.
Our tour group had bought tickets for a Seine River cruise at 10:30 later that night, and agreed to meet back up with Jim at one of the street corners in front of the Eiffel Tower. We bought 2nd Level tickets for the Eiffel since we wouldn’t have enough time to go to the Top, and braced ourselves for the 45-minute wait on-line. We took an elevator up with maybe 20 other people, and it released us on the 2nd Level, to the most beautiful, pink, Parisian sky and view I ever could have imagined. My views of Paris were surpassing all of my wildest dreams.
The Eiffel Tower begins to light up at 10:00 PM, and then lights up for five minutes at the top of every hour. Shaye, Ashton and Jasmine and I lost the rest of our group while up in the crowds of the 2nd Level, so we stuck together and tried to find the exit. The time was 9:40, and we needed to get down to the corner of the avenue with Jim by 10:15, and we didn’t want to be inside the Eiffel when it lit up and miss our chance at seeing it.
We raced around like rats in a maze to try to find the staircase that led to street level, and at 9:45, we found it. It took us ten whole minutes to run down the labyrinth like staircase inside the Eiffel, 366 stairs total.
We made it out at 9:57, and BOOKED it across the street, running in between traffic to get to the corner of the avenue near the river where Jim and a few others in our group were standing waiting, and turned to face the illuminated Eiffel.
The time was 9:59 PM as I pulled my phone out to record, and I caught the Eiffel at the exact moment it started to sparkle at 10:00 PM. An unforgettable experience and an even more memorable story to tell: I ran down the Eiffel Tower.
Our Seine River cruise was gorgeous as we crossed underneath the bridges of the Seine (Paris has 37 bridges) (!!!). I felt as if Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie En Rose should have been playing non-stop. The cruise, even as a single, 17 year-old passenger, was romantic and alluring. I have a video of the cruise, passing underneath a bridge very near Notre Dame on my Instagram, check it out here.
I can’t wait to come back to Paris.
The next day, we embarked on our short journey to Normandy, where we would get to see the Canadian beach of D-Day.
Juno and Omaha had such a rich history that our tour guides did a great job of teaching, and the experience of walking on the same beaches where such brutal battles were fought reminded me of how blessed I am and how grateful I am for those soldiers who served their duty back in 1944.
Halfway through the World War II museum at Caen, my camera stopped working due to a lens issue that is still, sadly, not fixed. 😦 I was ready to cry, but I was grateful that it happened on the second to last day of my trip rather than in the beginning. Every picture following the red panorama of the Nazis was taken on my iPhone 6.
After our visits to the memorials and museums, we headed to dinner where I had escargot for the first time ever!!! Yes, escargot… AKA snails. It was really tasty until the pesto-like sauce that coated the snail melted in your mouth and all you tasted was a rubbery, bland, slimy oval in your mouth. But overall good! 🙂
We made our way to our cool one-level hotel in Normandy after dinner. I had suggested a scavenger-hunt to our teacher/chaperones earlier in our trip, and they decided that since we got back to our hotel so early, we had the extra time to play. So we divided into groups of three, received a list of items to take pictures of and bring to the teachers/judges, and then we were off. The hunt got VERY cutthroat and VERY intense. People were being tackled, words were being exchanged, and items brought back were being challenged. But guess whose team won?
That’s right. MINE!!! Jasmine, Tyler and I won the grand prize of riding back home from JFK in a limo instead of the cargo van the rest of the group would be riding back in. I go hard with scavenger hunts. Don’t mess.
The next morning, we left for Pointe Du Hoc where we explored bunkers and read about the lives lost.
We also quickly visited Omaha Beach, the American beach of D-Day.
Our last stop in our morning in Normandy was the Normandy American Cemetery. It was such a surreal feeling, standing in the midst of so many brave souls that fought, an entire ocean away, for the liberation, protection, and freedom of others.
Then we were off, to Paris again, for our last night in Europe. All of us ended up falling asleep on the bus ride in because of the bumper to bumper traffic. Once we entered Paris, we went to our hotel, the Penta Hotel that was the COOLEST hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Click the link. You know you want to.
Then we traveled to the Latin Quarter of Paris, where we had a delicious dinner of Beef in Wine Stew and a dessert of Creme Brulee. I lost my Creme Brulee virginity, and boy, was it nice.
We hung out around the Latin Quarter for the rest of the night and even passed through the original Red Light District of Paris, where we saw the ACTUAL Moulin Rouge, with a huge line stretching around the block. Jim told us that it costs at least 150 Euros to get in these day.
I can truly say that Paris was a magical experience. My best friend Olivia and I made a pact to live in Paris together at sometime in our lives and after my first trip, I am ridiculously excited.
My trip to Europe was my favorite gift I’ve ever received. I cannot wait to go back. I made it back safely and healthy by the grace of God, with many new memories and friendships that I never would’ve had without experiences like climbing a mountain in Wales and riding the Paris Metro stomach-to-stomach.
Whenever you get a chance…
…travel to Europe. Get there by all means. It’s worth it. I promise. 🙂
Thank you for reading all about my European adventures!
Wishing you safe travels!