It took 4 years of French language classes, a strongly expressed love for French, and a persistent nagging toward my parents before I convinced them to let me travel to France with my classmates in the summer of 2009. It was a voyage dubbed “Allons en France” or “Let’s go to France” by NETC, the educational travel group which coordinated the trip. We traversed the great country of France, starting our expedition in Paris.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
A sleepless flight compensated for by two servings of true French coffee meant that my earliest hours in “La Ville-Lumière” ("The City of Light"), Paris, would be a combination of excitement and anticipation for the crash of titanic proportions to come. Ultimately, the crash came. But it did not stop me from enjoying the sights of Paris that captured my mind for the next few days. One moment, in particular, stood out when we were standing on The Quai de Montebelle, which overlooks The Seine River, observing The Notre Dame Cathedral. Talking amongst my friends about the monstrous church I, all of the sudden, got lost in the gravity of my presence there. All at once, I felt as though my love for the French language and culture was consummated by finally being close to monuments and buildings which I had looked at for years in my French textbooks, only dreaming of ever being able to see them. It sounds cliché, but for me, standing next to Notre Dame was almost like being one with French culture for the first time. I looked over to my Greek friend, Thanos, and said “C’est Magnifique”. After that moment, the rest of my trip in France was complete bliss.
From Paris, we journeyed south to Rocamadour by the TGV, Europe’s network of high-speed trains. Here, my friends Thanos, Jesse, and I mistakenly entered a local turducken-eating contest…and won. It wasn’t so much the eating that was tragic, but the hours after eating that brought us to tears. But I didn’t let stomach troubles ruin the rest of my experience in France.
We then traveled farther south to Lascaux where we visited the famed 17,300 year old cave paintings of Southern France. Well, to be more specific, we visited “Lascaux II”, an exact replica of the real cave, which houses almost perfect copies of all 2,000 images seen in the original cave. The images are grouped into three categories including: Animals, humans, and abstract designs…clearly those were much simpler times. Regardless, seeing such ancient images is humbling, especially in a country whose present culture wouldn’t arise for millenniums after the images were created.
Lastly we traveled to the coastal city of Nice, where we discovered another prominent aspect of French culture: nude beaches. Despite not partaking in the “nude” aspect of the city, I think I found the “true French life” in the frequented, people-packed streets of Nice, my favorite city in France. One night there, my friends and I sat down at a local crêpe restaurant. The meal consisted of laughing and joking, along with the sadness of knowing that we would soon leave France. After we had finished eating, our server Jean-Luc came up to us and asked us in French “so, where are you boys from?” “The United States”, I replied. He looked back at me and said “You’re joking! I wouldn’t have known”. At that moment I felt that my love for French was perfect. It was perfect because I felt that I WAS French for a moment. And that is what I will never forget about my vacation in France.
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