France at Last
Hello from Sweden! I’ve just finished my first day of WWOOFing north of Stockholm, and I’m writing this in a greenhouse thing in which you feel like you’re outside when you’re not. It’s all pretty good so far. But more about that in the next post. This one is about France!
It feels kind of odd that it took me so long to get to France, since for most of my life I’d been planning obsessively for my junior year abroad there. But I finally made it, and it was extra good because I had Camille to show me the country properly. I arrived in Paris relatively early on the first day so we had quite a bit of time, and I saw the area called Montmartre. I liked it a LOT, as my mom had predicted, because there were lots of windy streets. The Sacré-Cœur is also there, a church which was built to remind the defeated revolutionaries of the second French Revolution that religion would always have an important place in France. Nearby we stumbled across a fantastic vintage store, where I bought a skirt for five euros and a dress for ten. We also went to the red light district, and I saw the Moulin Rouge of course. Then we had a very late dinner, which was well worth the wait. It was actually one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It was in a tiny restaurant with a hot waiter, and I got a tartiflette (a cheese/meat thing) and a Crème brûlée. Both were INCREDIBLE.
Over the next few days Camille and I took walks around a lot of the famous sights of Paris. We went past the National Assembly, the square in front of it where a bunch of famous people got their heads chopped off, some famous fountain, the Louvre, a bunch of university buildings, the catacombs, the Champs-Élysées,Camille’s favorite Parisian graveyards (she’s weird), a beautiful park, and more. We also visited Notre Dame, which I really liked. I think it might be my favorite cathedral that I’ve seen in Europe, actually. We went to the top of it and saw some great views of the city. We went to the Jewish quarter and ate some falafels on the second night, and then Camille showed me the bizarre and modern library that she spends her life in while she studies in Paris. We also tried Berthillon, the famous ice cream place, and it REALLY lived up to its reputation. I think I might have liked it better than the one gelato place in Italy, actually (!). Another night we went to Shakespeare and Co., the English bookstore, which was THE COSIEST PLACE ON EARTH. I could have curled up with a book and fallen asleep there. Oh, and of course I saw the Eiffel Tower! Maybe because it’s SO famous I didn’t think about it that much before going there, because I knew I would see it at some point, but it was AWESOME. You can really see how enormous it is because there’s so much space in front of it, unlike the Empire State Building which, of course, is next to a bunch of other skyscrapers. We spent our last day in Paris at Versailles. I was amazing, and would have been more amazing without the crowds of tourists, I’m sure. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see Marie Antoinette’s nearby castle or much of Versailles’ gardens, which was too bad since Camille said those are the best parts.
After nearly missing our train, we finally made it to Alençon, Camille’s hometown. It was pretty late when we got there, so we basically just ate and slept. Camille’s house is SO COOL. It was built around 1795, and it’s quite big. There are a lot of mysterious things in it, like the staircase Camille found only a few years ago and the sculpture of a head her family found hidden in a closet. Camille even has a BOOKSHELF WITH A LADDER in her room. My dream. Her town is nice too, as I found out the next day. It’s kind of exactly what I wanted for a host town when I was thinking about going to France for my junior year of high school – an old, small city. That night was la Fête de la Musique, a holiday in which everyone is encouraged to go outside and make music for others to enjoy. Most of the music was bad, but there was some interesting (and comical) traditional dancing and just generally great people watching.
The next day we took a trip with Camille’s parents to Mont Saint Michel, a steep island with a famous church at the top. It’s an amazing place, with a touristy little town winding up toward the church. The day after that Camille’s parents took us on yet another trip, this time to the Loire valley to see some castles. The first one was Amboise, which had a nice perch above a pretty town but was relatively uninteresting inside. Chenonceau, the second one, was much better. It’s built IN a river, so the sun reflects off the water and makes beautiful patterns on the walls in some of the rooms inside. What a good idea for a castle location – I can’t believe no one else thought of it! The inside was really beautiful in general, and we got to see the kitchen at the bottom, which was the best area for servants I’ve ever seen in any of these sorts of places.
My last day with Camille was spent in Alençon. We woke up late and then went to a restaurant where Camille’s parents had made a reservation. It was the weirdest restaurant ever. It was in the middle of a bunch of random fields, and surrounded by extremely old statues, doors, and other household decorations. Camille says that sort of thing is normal in France, though, and my duck and chocolate cake were delicious so I’m not complaining. After the meal Camille’s parents dropped us off at Alençon’s annual cultural festival, where people from different backgrounds come and sell things from their country. We watched some extremely impressive breakdancing, Balinese dancing, and salsa. It was a very cold, wet day, so after Camille’s dad picked us up I kind of drank some tea and passed out in the house. After dinner that night, Camille’s parents brought us to a huge bonfire, which is also an annual thing and is supposed to celebrate summer. The weather put a damper on things (literally…ha), but it was a great last night.
I left Camille to return to Paris the next day, and I stayed in another hostel so that I could catch my flight to Sweden in the (EARLY) morning. When I made it to my hostel I locked my stuff up and had a nice, relaxed metro ride to Ladurée, Paris’s famous macaroon shop. I bought a bunch of flavours and then ate them with a slice of quiche on a bench. It was a great evening – Ladurée is the BEST THING EVER. It’s like…more than food. That’s all I can say. Just go to Paris and eat some.
After a 5am wakeup the next day and TONS of travelling, here I am in Sweden. France was great, and it made me think a lot about how badly I wanted to spend a year there during both my junior year of high school and college. I would be so different right now if I had!