We reached our rooms just as tiny chips of ice fell from the sky. Safely dry and warm, I stretched my hand out to feel the Parisian hailstorm. The day was gray and dreary, yet tinged with excitement. Today was my first day in Paris, France! Even if it had started snowing right then, I still would have been thrilled.
After experiencing a nine-hour flight, a layover in Germany, and my first MÃ©tro ride, I arrived with my school group at the FIAP Jean Monnet, an inexpensive international accommodation center with student groups from all over the world. We encountered students from Italy, Great Britain, and Germany. That night, we ate together in the cafeteria while making our plans for the next day.
Sunday morning, we took the Metro to the Saint-Michel Notre Dame stop for our first sightseeing jaunt of the trip. Exiting the Metro station, I saw the Seine River. Its dark blue waters seemed so beautiful and full of history. Across the street stood one of the most famous cathedrals of Paris – Notre Dame. I immediately thought of Victor Hugo’s hunchback, ringing the gothic tower’s bells. The sun was rising from behind the majestic towers, filling the sky surrounding them with warmth. The intricate details beneath the arches and around the towers intrigued me into looking closer.
I entered the cathedral and immediately felt a deep sense of peace and calm that seemed to emanate from the historic walls. We walked toward the center of the cathedral and sat down with copies of the hymns. I was so thrilled to be experiencing my first Roman Catholic mass, elevated by the haunting beauty of Notre Dame. Somehow the holy words heightened the already beautiful French language. For all the problems religion has caused the world in the past, in that church, I understood its merit in bringing people together. The people sitting near me could have had nothing in common with me except for their desire to feel closer to God, yet I felt close to them. This experience reminded me that all people, regardless of nationality, gender, or beliefs, have similar needs, desires, and hopes for the future.
After Mass, we walked around the outer walls, viewing the alcoves devoted to various saints, the miniature of the cathedral, and the gorgeous stained glass windows. The sun gleamed through the windows, illuminating the religious relics in a rainbow of light.
As I stepped outside, the real world seemed blindingly different from the calm moment frozen in time inside of the cathedral. The crowds seemed to have multiplied exponentially, so we were unable to find the Kilometre Zero of Paris, marked by a gold star on the ground facing the towers. The star is considered the official center of Paris. It is commonly believed that if one steps on the star, one will return to Paris someday in the future.
That night, we came back to the empty cathedral and took turns standing on the star. “Point ZÃ©ro Des Routes De France” marks the star as the point in the center of all the roads of France. My first European experience deepened my understanding of the French people and their culture, along with giving me a new perspective on history. I look forward to further travels to continue my studies of world cultures.
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