My junior class trip to Europe was out of this world. We saved for over two years, and were looking forward to a magical trip. Each of us imagined a different experience. Some dreamed of romance, some of exotic and surreal surroundings. We didn’t think much about the realities of travel in a place where we did not speak the language or understand the culture. The trip was not at all the fantasy we expected. It was better.
One day in particular stands out in my memory. We took the overnight train from Florence to Paris, and some of us were up the entire night. No sleep, no shower, and terrible train food together combined to make us miserable. The night train was loud and uncomfortable, and we got off of the train in the City of Lights, exhausted. We piled onto a bus, too tired to care about our surroundings, anxiously awaiting our arrival at our hotel; any hotel. The bus ride was long, and more than a few of us nodded off. Paris did not seem magical at that moment. Mercifully, our tour director gave us a couple hours to rest before the night’s activities, but it only got worse when we saw the hotel. It was called “Mister Bed City.” The two person rooms were so small that it was impossible to lay a suitcase flat on the floor, and I am fairly certain that the entire bathroom was actually formed from one small piece of hollowed out plastic. The day seemed irredeemable. The hassles of travel were real.
Starving, a few of my friends and I went to a grocery store next door. We bought cheap baguettes, real Nutella spread, and some awful cheese. We tried to look French in the check out line, but our clueless expressions gave us away. We brought the food back to our room and had a picnic. Plain bread and hazelnut jam never tasted so good. We laughed that we could be so happy in such an awful hotel after the night train. The camaraderie was real.
After a short rest, we were on our way to the Eifel Tower. The view from the top took my breath away. We spent the evening on a beautiful boat ride and saw Paris lit up in all of its glory, and topped the night off with authentic crepes. As we crawled into bed that night, my best friend Annie and I talked about the unforgettable view, laughed about the stares we received from the natives, and mourned the fact that we only had a few more days in France. We spent the next morning in the Louvre. We had studied plenty of art in our Western Culture class, but the dry, intellectual descriptions of the pieces could not even compare to the moment you see a real Michelangelo. The pictures in the textbooks could not contain the true beauty of a Vermeer. The emotions that came with actually soaking up the art were completely different from the boredom of classroom study. It was an incredible feeling. The love of the city was real.
Paris was on of the most beautiful and inspiring places I have ever been. My friends and I bonded on that trip. We had late nights, long flights and common experiences to bring us together. I wouldn’t exchange any of my experiences of Paris for the fantasies I dreamed up before the trip. The unpredictable, tiring, breathtaking, reality just can’t be matched.
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