In 5th grade when I was picking my foreign language, I immediately knew what language I was going to choose. I did not choose it because it was the most practical or the simplest, or even because my friends were taking it. Instead, my justification was much less complicated – to be able to go to France and see the Eiffel Tower when I made it to high school. Little did I know that taking this foreign language was going to be a six-year roller coaster that finished at the top of La Tour Eiffel on April 22, 2019.
Alongside thirty-one students and five chaperones, on April 18th, I headed off to the City of Light – an eight-hour plane ride that flies by when you sleep for 90% of it. After landing in Paris at 8 am on April 19th, one of the longest but most memorable days of the trip laid ahead. To begin, the group met Katrine, our lovely tour guide who was not a fan favorite at first but quickly became the symbol of France. Our first day was composed of Montmartre, a neighborhood in Paris known for its rich culture and creative spirit. Walking the narrow streets while listening to guitar players on the sidewalk made it evident that France was a breath of fresh air. That day the highlight has to be the Sacré-Cœur – a church that lays at the highest point of Montmartre hill – we were supposed to visit the Notre Dame that day but due to the fire saw the second best thing!
The following day in France, the group took an excursion away from all of the hustle and bustle of Paris and instead visited the Loire Valley – complete with spectacular châteaus and gardens in addition to an extra tour guide, Samuel, for the day. While visiting the French countryside, it felt like a movie. Nature was extra radiant this day since the sun was shining so big as it was eighty degrees Fahrenheit! Strolling through the gardens and towns which rested alongside the magnificent châteaus truly made this trip feel like a getaway. My favorite part of the entire day – other than the amazing sights – has to be the journey to the Loire Valley. While some students appreciated some much-needed sleep during the long bus ride, others talked and laughed – forming bonds that were stronger than ever. By the end of the day, everybody was tired from all of the sightseeing, driving and walking but it was evident that this trip was going to be less like a roller coaster and more like a highway!
The next day, everybody at home was celebrating Easter Sunday, but for the travelers, today was the day we became royalty. We started with another additional tour guide, Régine who gave us a bus tour where we got to see all of the famous landmarks in Paris. This tour led up to the ever so fabulous Versailles. Versailles was most notably the home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Adorned in gold decor throughout the interior and exterior of the palace, everybody felt like a royal while touring the Palace! Outside of the Palace was something just as beautiful, vast gardens designed by a French landscape artist back in the 1600s.
Versailles was wonderful, but the day just began! We left the Palace and headed back to the center of Paris to take a cruise on the river Seine. The scent of French patisseries and boulangeries migrated to the boat, creating the perfect moment to soak in all that Paris has to offer. The cruise was a nice rest for what came next – a walk to a crêperie for dinner that lasted over an hour. While the hour-long walk was difficult, the sights and people made it worthwhile. From renting scooters on the River Seine to Mr. Petre convincing a car full of Parisians to play Biggie on the Pont Alexandre III, the journey went by quickly since the people were having a great time. The day was long and filled with lots of twists and turns, but we learned to make the best of any situation!
For me, the fourth day in Paris started like no other … I ran. Alongside Señora/Madame Muller, we woke up at 7 am and ran to the Arc de Triomphe. I was truly lucky to be up close and personal with this monument that is over two centuries old, although it also came with a 4.6-mile run. The day started amazing and only got better because today was April 22, 2019 – also known as the day I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower! Since the highlight of the day was not until night time, we had the entire day in front of us. Heading to the center of Paris, we started our activities in the Tuileries gardens where we took photograph after photograph and found ourselves getting lost in another beautiful day. After we got the perfect shot, we headed towards the Louvre which sits right beside the gardens.
Inside the largest art museum in the world, everybody divided and conquered. Some people went towards pieces we learned in class while others searched for the various masterpieces located in the museum. I would say that my favorite part of the museum was the Mona Lisa – you know that 2′ 6″ by 1′ 9″ so-called masterpiece of some random girl that continues to draw the largest crowd in the museum – but for me, a person who lacks an artistic eye, my favorite part was the building itself. While the Louvre is a museum that houses thousands of pieces of art, it is also a former fortress and the former royal palace. The Louvre holds amazing art, but the history of the building is a marvel in itself.
Two hours in the Louvre went by quickly, and soon enough we were off again on our next adventure. We visited the Opera Garnier and split up for our final few hours of free time roaming through the streets of Paris. Some students spent their time at sit-down restaurants for lunch while others grabbed a quick bite to eat and spent the majority of their time shopping, shopping … shopping! The time went by quickly and we met back up at the Opera house where some students sung in front of the crowd, accompanied by a local musician. Now it was time for the main event … La Tour Eiffel – first we had dinner, but that is not important. At the Eiffel Tower, we waited on a very long line that lasted nearly two hours, but in no time, we were up at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Some students stayed up there to take in all of the emotions while others headed back down to the riverbank where they milled around and had a sweet dessert to finish off the amazing day which was also – sadly – our last night in Paris.
As the wise Madame Pinka says "In Paris, it is sightseeing while Nice is a vacation," and she was right. Although it rained our first two days in Nice, we still managed to make the most of what we were given. After our five hour TGV (a high-speed train) ride that was a break from all of the walkings from the day before, we arrived in Nice, a city along the French Riviera. That first night was relaxing, but at dinner, we met another class from New Jersey who sang "Happy Birthday" to Madame Pinka, just a few months before her actual birthday. But most importantly, we got gelato and lots of it! Back at the hotel, a few of the students learned that we were right next to Confiserie Ballanger, a dessert spot that sells anything and everything you can imagine. Although we already had gelato in our systems, there was still room for crepes, waffles and ice cream!
While we were hoping for clear skies and warm weather, our trip to Èze and Monaco was a little rainier than anticipated. Luckily, we stayed indoors as much as possible! We started the day off with a guided tour of Fragonard, a parfumerie in Èze, then started for Monaco. While the initial plan was a walking city tour, we managed to visit the Musée océanographique de Monaco instead, an aquarium! Happily, the sun came out when we got back to Nice, so we visited the French Riviera and finally got to see the Mediterranean without rain. That night everybody was happy because, after dinner, the Petre's treated everybody to gelato – from Cactus flavored to basic chocolate, everybody found the perfect flavor!
On Thursday, it was sadly our last full day in France. The day was started in a local market where students bought fruit, vegetables and an array of gifts for the loved ones back home. After the market, the group walked along the French Riviera and had a quick tour of a local chocolatier. Leaving the sweets behind – or in our bags for those who bought products – the infamous picture in front of the "I Love Nice" sign was taken, and we split up for our day of free time. I spent my free time walking through the streets of Nice, buying last-minute souvenirs and much-needed gelato. Some of the group went back to the hotel and took unavoidable naps while some students hiked up a hill to visit a waterfall that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. After the free time, our final dinner together was bittersweet, but the group shared laughs all around. After dinner, some students went to the Mediterranean Sea for one final goodbye while others put on bathing suits and went in the water. The night that was a fun-filled final few hours before we had to go to bed.
The final day in France, I woke up early so that I could enjoy one final baguette and cafe visit with the friend I made on the trip, Bridgette. Once we got back, everybody was weighing their suitcases and heading towards the hotel's lobby. We packed into the bus and enjoyed our final moments with our amazing tour guide, Katrine who we grew to love. While looking out the window to take in one final view of the French Riviera, Katrine reminded us of everything good about the trip. All of the laughs we shared and the memories we made together will be remembered forever. While the trip was amazing, it was even better than I had anticipated because of all of the friends that were made along the way. After we got to the airport and checked in our luggage, we said our final goodbyes to not only Katrine but also France. But one thing I know for sure is this – everybody was not saying goodbye forever, they just simply said Au Revoir and began to plan the next trip to this magical country!
France was amazing, extraordinary, wonderful and every word in between. France was amazing not only because of the sights and attraction but because of the people who I grew closer to as the week passed. Most of all, France was the perfect conclusion to my high school experience – a trip where I bonded with both old and new friends whom I will cherish forever.