It’s been almost a week since I’ve been in France, and it still doesn’t feel real. I flew out of Memphis with another student and had plans to meet up with three other Ole Miss students in Miami to fly together. Unfortunately, the ice delayed their flights, but I was lucky to have a friend when I landed.
A few tips on packing…You don’t need as much as you think you do, and there is nothing worse than hauling heavy luggage around a big city. It has been a nightmare carrying luggage to/from the airport, on/off the metro, up/down stairs. Two of my friend’s suitcases have already broken in transit before reaching our final destination.
We flew into Paris early, so that we could spend a few days there before going to Angers to get settled in for school. This was my second time in Paris, but there are so many things to do that you could never see it all. We rented an apartment near Republique through Airbnb that was located right next to the metro. The apartment was smaller than the pictures made it seem but served its purpose. My only complaint is that we couldn’t get the apartment to heat up, only the loft area. Our solution: move the other mattress upstairs, and we all slept there.
Trying to fight the jetlag, Mellie and I went to the Pompidou Centre, a modern art museum. On the outside, the museum looks very industrial and unattractive, but there is a cool escalator that runs alongside the exterior of the building, taking you to the top of the museum. You work your way down. The top offers stunning views of the city and the best part was that it was free for students! The Pompidou has the most interesting and bizarre collection of art that I have ever seen, and you’ll either love it or hate it.
The next day we only overslept a little and picked up a chausson aux pommes from the bakery next door and headed to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the final resting place of some of France’s greatest men. Above the entrance reads, “AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE ” or “To the great men, the grateful homeland.” Voltaire, Rousseau, Alexandre Dumas, Emile Zola are all buried there. Recently, there has been controversy because there is only one woman buried there, Marie Curie, and it is on behalf of her husband’s merits, not her own. We met up with another member of our group (now 4) and had lunch with her friend Tan in her apartment. Tan took us on a walking tour of the city, stopping by the Sorbonne, Colette’s (an upscale Parisian Urban Outfitters with a water bar, featuring water from various countries), and Ladurée for macaroons. We passed Notre Dame and ended at the Place de la Concorde.
We returned to our apartment where we began drinking the cheapest wine we could buy (2-3 euros) and went to La refuge des fondus for dinner in Montmatre. The restaurant has a simple menu—red or white; meat or cheese. We got both and shared between the six of us (we met up with Mellie and Grace’s teacher assistant from the past summer). The restaurant is small with only two long tables; the owner helps you walk across the table to get in and out, and the best part is they serve wine out of baby bottles with free refills.
I had every intention of waking up early, but jetlag finally caught up to us. We ate a light lunch (croque monsieur) at a restaurant around the corner and met up with my friend Saskia for a drink. I met her last summer while studying in Seoul, and she is currently completing her master’s in Paris. She showed us around her school, and we spent the rest of our afternoon at the Musee d’orsay. The museum is located in an old train station and is an impressive structure in its own right without considering its massive art collection. We barely had time to scratch the surface but explored the impressionist galleries and Rodin sculptures.
From the museum, we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. The arc is located in the center of a roundabout, and traffic is chaotic. There’s an underground tunnel that leads to the arc, and we watched a ceremony honoring the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower where we envisioned having a grand picnic under it. We picked up a few bottles of wine, cups, and two pizzas with the intention of sitting on the grassy area in front of the tower. Unfortunately, the grass was blocked off for the winter, so we spread our blanket off to the side and had our picnic in 30 degree weather; we were the only ones having a picnic, but it was definitely worth it when we saw the tower light up on the hour.
Since it was our last night in Paris, we decided we had to visit at least one club; the area we stayed in is known for its nightlife so we decided to try a club across the street. It was very different from an American club. You are required to check your coat and purse at the door for two euros. It was kind of an electronic club, but people dance differently here…and the drinks are ridiculously expensive. The French tend to drink a lot before they go out, and they go out very late. The bathroom was unisex; and for the first time in my life, it was difficult to leave the club. We couldn’t understand why, but the bouncer was blocking everyone from leaving until someone said something about us being Americans and we slipped through. We picked up some late night kebabs and headed home.
The next morning we packed up our luggage and restored order to the apartment before hauling our baggage through the metro. We went back to Charles de Gaulle where we bought our train tickets to Angers and a a youth card that costs 50 euros and provides up to a 60% discount on train fare. Riding the train was a new experience for me but was nice and easy. Luckily, the train was pretty empty, and we only had to switch trains once at Le Mans. To our surprise, Marine, a friend of Alex (former exchange student at Ole Miss who would be staying with), greeted us at the airport and took us to Alex’s apartment. We dropped off our things and were given a quick overview of the city. Our other two friends were staying with some students they had met the previous summer. We went to visit them later that night where they had a party with some of their friends. We drank and spoke in franglais until 3 am when someone mentioned going to the club. I thought this was a joke as I was about ready to go home, but they were dead serious. We went to Club Bollero, where our new friends paid for our admission and stayed for an hour or so before struggling to find our way home… Needless to say, it was a great first night in Angers. I have met the nicest people since I have been here and have always found help when I needed it. I am thankful for my friends’ hospitality and could not have asked for a better start to my trip.