The 2008/2009 school year was my fifth and final year studying the French language. As celebration (and what better celebration could I have had?), I, along with a handful of other French students and my school’s choir, traveled to Paris, France to stay for nine days. It was certainly a learning experience, and a sensational one, at that. When our group pulled up in front of the Mercure Paris Terminus Nord Hotel, we were all fairly exhausted and exhilarated. Paris was practically a whole new world from our barely-century-old, very forested Tacoma, Washington, and we drank in the differences with enthusiasm. After all, the majority of our group had never before been to Paris, and while I was not one of them, my first experience had been limited, and I was determined to make everything out of this new adventure.
My roommate and I were on the top floor, and as we discovered, we had a balcony overlooking le Gare du Nord across the street, and the gorgeous basilica Sacre Coeur off in the distance. There was never a sight so breathtaking; the streetlights below, the majestic architecture of le Gare du Nord, the elegance of Sacre Coeur, all of it has seared into my memory, and if I must request anything of my reader, it is to go somewhere and find a sight just as beautiful, for nothing can enhance your travel more than having such a sight in your mind’s eye.
We dined in the Latin Quarter which is located on ÃŽle de la CitÃ© in a small, charming restaurant across the street from la Notre Dame. The food was exquisite, though I expected no less of a French restaurant. More importantly, however, it was during that dinner that I was first able to put my language skills to the test. Whenever the waiter came to our table, I made it a point to only use le franÃ§ais. By the end of our meal, I had thoroughly impressed him. Later, when in the painter’s square in Montmartre, just a few blocks away from Sacre Coeur, I had an entire conversation with a painter, and though my vocabulary outside of ordering food was narrow, he was very pleasant and willing to help me along, which brings me to another great piece of advice: If you are traveling to a country where the foreign language you have studied is spoken consistently, never pass up a chance to speak it with the locals! I can assure you that even if your skills are not impeccable, no matter where you go the fluent citizens will be more than happy to attempt a conversation with you.
The rest of our trip was pretty standard; we visited the Louvre and saw the refurbished version of Napoleon III’s rooms and, on principle, the Mona Lisa; we saw a game of football in a Stadium packed full of fervent fans; we climbed to the top of l’Arc de Triomphe; we toured the national Opera House and saw the Phantom’s balcony; we ventured through the palace Versailles; we took a day trip up to Normandy to see the American D-Day Memorial Cemetery and Mont St. Michel; we saw the bells of Notre Dame; we cruised the river Seine; we dined in la Tour Eiffel; we roamed le CimetiÃ¨re du PÃ¨re-Lachaise and kissed Oscar Wilde’s grave. Each moment was paramount, every memory valuable. I only hope that other teenagers will be lucky enough to spread their own wings and make tangible the life-changing experience which can only be found in travel.
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