What an experience the past week or so has been! Spending that time in France made for one of the best trips that I’ve ever been on. Early last Saturday we embarked for Paris and after a three-hour bus ride we found ourselves in the beautiful city of lights. After finding our way to our cramped but welcoming hotel rooms, we set out to explore the city. Right away we were able to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the fountain of St. Michel, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe.
Later that night we all went out to a great restaurant within walking distance from our hotel. There we had escargot, duck, and pears in wine sauce—and plenty of wine—all on Loyola University. After dinner we took the metro to see the Eiffel tower at night, which was absolutely beautiful. After we made sure that everyone got home safe and sound (some had more wine than others) Pete and I went to get a beer at a bar in the Latin Quarter. Although it was a bit expensive it was nice to sit and talk.
The next day we went on a more specific tour of Notre Dame followed by a tour of the Conciergerie, a royal palace turned revolutionary prison turned modern museum. Following a quick lunch of paninis and crepes, most of the group hopped on the train to spend the rest of the day at Versailles—the royal court constructed just outside of the city by Louis XIV. It was absolutely spectacular. After we went through the palace, which had more rooms than you could count, we explored the acres and acres of garden. We even got to see the house built specifically for the affairs of Marie Antoinette! The amount of wealth at Versailles was overwhelming and it didn’t take long for us to see why the French people revolted.
After a night on the town that involved Dan, Duke, and I taking an ill-advised shot called 666—listed on the menu as whiskey, vodka, and (???) which turned out to be straight Tabasco sauce—we were up early to see the Louvre. We went on a guided tour for about an hour and a half to see the “greatest hits” of the museum and then stayed for another hour or so to keep exploring. After some lunch, we met back up with the group to walk to the Pantheon, Luxembourg Gardens, St. Sulpice, and St. Germaine. Each and every one of the sights was stunning—the gardens even included a fifteen-foot Statue of Liberty.
The next day we were supposed to go see St. Chapelle, but a national strike led to the closure of many of the museums. Instead we decided to go to the sewer museum—bad idea. Although the engineering and intuition of the sewers were impressive, so was the smell! After we explored at a brisk pace we headed back up for air. Then, some went to the Eiffel tower, others went shopping, and Alex and I went to the Musee d’Orsay. The museum includes a collection of largely impressionist works in a converted train station—very cool. There we saw works by Monet, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
For the last night in Paris, the five boys had pizza along the Seine River and then met a few of the girls for a nighttime boat tour of the river, beginning and ending beneath the Eiffel Tower. Even though it began to rain, it was a lot of fun to see the city from the river and at night.
The next morning we woke up early and left Paris. First, we visited the cathedral Chartes. After a brief tour highlighting the church’s amazing stained glass we got lunch and hopped back on the bus to our next stop, St. Malo. St. Malo is an old beach resort in a walled in town. Once we arrived, we went to see the beach and just walked around the town a bit.
That night Dan, Pete, Duke, and I planned to meet the girls at one of the bars we had found earlier in the day. However, when we arrived there the girls were nowhere in sight. After wandering around for about an hour we stumbled upon some British guys looking for a local watering hole. Since we couldn’t find the girls (they never found the bar and ended up just walking along the wall of the town) we decided to look for a bar with our newly found friends—one of whom proclaimed, “Look, Mates! I’ve adopted some Americans!” when he introduced us to the rest of his group. Eventually we found one open pub where we spent the better part of three hours having the best night of the trip thus far with ten middle-aged Brits on a motorcycle tour of France!
The British guys ended up buying us the last round of the night, exchanging information and offered us a place to stay should we visit England anytime soon! What a lucky night! To be honest, up to this point none of the Europeans that we had come across had really been that friendly, but the ten or so British men we met that night were some of the friendliest and fun people we’ve met.
The next day we went to Mont San Michel, an old monastery that is now one of the most visited tourist towns in France. The town is an island completely protected by stonewalls on all sides. The island is actually an enormous rock on top of which is a church to St. Michael the Archangel. One of the most interesting things about Mont San Michel is its tidal shift. Surrounding the island are the worlds most drastic waters. From high tide to low tide, there is a forty-five meter difference in the height of the ocean, and when the tide is high it comes right up to the town walls, and when the tide is low miles and miles of sand stretch out around the island. You can walk out from the town, but only with great care. Quicksand is common and legend says that the tide comes in at the speed of a galloping horse. A few hours at San Michel and we were headed back to St. Malo, where we were able to successfully coordinate with the girls and go out for drinks for Megan’s birthday.
Next, we headed to Bayeux where we went to a museum containing a two-hundred-fifty-foot-long tapestry (it was actually embroidery) depicting the events leading up to and during the Norman conquest of France beginning in 1066. After that, we went to Point d’Hoc, a military strong point during WWII, which was vital to the D-Day invasion. American Rangers wrested the position from German command just before the Allied invasion of Normandy. Today the point is actually American soil, gifted to the U.S. by the French government.
After visiting d’Hoc we got to our last hotel where we had a great dinner and spent the night exploring the town and watched as the tide came all the way up to the walls in front of our hotel—covering the vast beach that was there during the day.
The morning of Saturday, September 11th, we left for Omaha Beach. Here, we saw the American Memorial and Cemetery for those lost in the days of and immediately following the battle for Normandy during the Second World War. I have never seen a more moving memorial or a beautiful cemetery. This too is considered American soil, and the amount of respect shown by both the French and Americans on sight was moving. In my opinion, this was the best part of our trip to France.
After wandering the beach and memorial, we all piled onto the bus and began a six-hour ride back to Schapenstraat 80 Leuven, Belgium. The last week has been exciting, memorable, tiring, and informative. The next ten months are certainly going to be fun and I can’t wait to spend it with the people here!