My childhood bedroom has Eiffel Towers decorating the walls, so it seems only fitting that my first experience abroad was a trip to Paris. I was a little nervous that traveling to the city of my dreams would shatter them. How could it live up to the idealized version a little girl created in her head? I never expected that it would surpass those dreams. It wasn’t perfect, but it was real.
I left Indianapolis International Airport at 6:30 p.m. on March 7th with six other students and two professors. We landed at 8:30 a.m. and took a train to our hostel and started the mission of staying awake. I immediately noticed how many old buildings there were on the outskirts of Paris, and I was reminded of the fact that the United States is such a young country. After checking in, we headed to Montmartre. This area, characterized by cobblestone streets and quaint shops, is home to Sacré-Cœur, a church atop a hill with one of the best views of Paris. Unfortunately, when we reached the church, the skies opened up, and we could only see the faintest outlines of buildings through the rain. This was my first experience with the imperfect Paris. We were drenched, but it only seemed to add to the magic of the city, and it made me love it more.
Our second day in Paris began with coffee, croissants, and pain au chocolat. Then, we headed to the Louvre. I had no idea how giant the museum truly is. We spent about three hours there, and we only saw a small section. The Mona Lisa was much smaller than I imagined, and Liberty Leading the People was much larger. We had made it a habit of looking out the windows as we walked around the galleries to see into the courtyard, but we were not prepared for the view from a window tucked away in a room with only two paintings. Due to the rain, we had not yet seen the Eiffel Tower, but as we peeked out the window, there it was dominating the skyline. It was like Paris shared a secret with us, and it was one of the many times I was blown away by this beautiful and historic city.
Tuesday, the third day, I awoke to the sound of birds and honking horns. We went to the Musée d’Orsay, which became my favorite museum in Paris. I am a huge fan of impressionist paintings, especially Monet, and I had never seen so many masterpieces in only a few rooms. There were Van Goghs, Gauguins, Seurats, Renoirs, and more Monets than I could have imagined. Later that day, we went to the Eiffel Tower at night. I thought it was beautiful during the day, but nothing could have prepared me for its beauty at night. It was indescribable.
Wednesday was our first day with nothing on the itinerary until after dinner, so we got to explore the city on our own. During our exploration we stumbled upon Saint Chapelle, my favorite building in Paris. We climbed up a narrow winding staircase, and as soon as I got to the top of the stairs, I was in awe. No one had prepared us for the beauty of this room. Giant stained-glass windows covered the walls. Each panel had a different scene, and the light in the room was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was overwhelming, and I couldn’t look away. It is a moment and a place I will never forget.
Thursday, we woke up in the middle of the night and found out that the president of the United States was banning travel to Europe starting Saturday. It was terrifying, and we did not know when or how we would get home. It was strange to carry on with our trip after hearing the news, but we were able to stay, so we took advantage of it. We went to Versailles, and my worries were temporarily quieted by the magnificence of the palace and the historical significance of it. Friday, I walked through markets and marveled at shops and magnificent food. We visited Père Lachaise Cemetery and had an amazing dinner that night.
Even though our trip didn’t go as planned, I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned that you never know what will happen from one day to the next, so you should be fully present in every moment. During our last two days, we were aware we could be sent home at any time, and so I tried to experience as much of the city as I possibly could. Thankfully, I was able to return home with few complications. It may not have been how I had imagined my trip going, but I am so thankful for the experience. Now when I look at the decorations in my room, I don’t dream of going to Paris, I see Paris. The real city.
By Ellie Allen
All photos courtesy of Ellie Allen