France: Historical Immersion - My Family Travels
arc de triomphe
la sainte chapelle
mont saint michel

On March 2nd I flew to Paris, the first of several amazing destinations on my school trip. Since I happily lived in France for two years when I was young, I was elated to be going back. Jetlag was certainly the last thing on anybody’s mind.

Over the course of ten days my group, which consisted of two teachers and 8 students, visited Paris, Normandy, and the Loire Valley with our enthusiastic tour guide Jean. While the geographical locations tend to melt together in my memory, the historical features in every city or village stand out vividly. There are many cities in the world that have become so urban that they lack defining features other than their flashy technological advancements and submission to media advertisement. France’s cities, even its urban capital, refuse to fit that mold.

Everything in France revolves around history. People pass magnificent historical monuments and museums that house legendary works of art on their way to work in the morning! As my classmates and I stood on top of the Arc de Triomphe in the center of Paris, I swear I could feel the planet moving and time actively ticking by. I was standing on the top of a monument built to commemorate Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories in battle, a monument overlooking a city where the past would always play a major role in the future.

Another unforgettable place we visited in Paris was the Sainte-Chapelle, built by King Louis IX on the Ile de la Cite. There are many wonderful cathedrals and churches throughout France, but when I stepped into an upper room, I was speechless. The entire length of the wall was filled with the most awe-inspiring stained glass windows I had ever seen, more memorable than Chartres or even Notre Dame. Completely overwhelmed to be in the presence of such an architectural masterpiece, I heard the clicks of of cameras and murmurs of tourists fade away. If I can only remember one thing about Paris at the end of my life, I hope it is the Sainte-Chapelle.

There are positive and negative aspects of every trip. Although I can rave about France and especially Paris all day long, I am forced to admit that some things could have turned out better. For example, my group spent a day on the Mont-Saint-Michel, a delightful island that can only be accessed at low tide. The visit was fantastic, complete with a tour of the famous abbey and the island in general. However, that night we dined at a restaurant called La Mere Poulard, known for its omelets. Due to the consumption of one of these omelets, I had to spend the entirety of the next day making frequent bathroom visits.

My advice to anyone planning on visiting France would be this:

  • Do not bypass Paris because it is a “tourist city.” It is not overrun by tourists, and it will be one of the most unforgettable sites of your life. If you can only visit one city in France, visit Paris, because you get a real idea of what it means to really live in history.
  • Be careful of the food. If you have a sensitive stomach stick to things you know you like, because an upset stomach could potentially ruin your trip.
  • Live in the moment. Too many people spend their time taking hundreds of pictures of France, and never really see it. Observe the sites, breathe them in, and then take a picture. You’ll definitely want that mental picture and raw emotion as well as the digital souvenir.

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