I’m back! It’s fall break, which started out with a day filled with chocolate in Perugia. Eurochocolate is just as cool as it sounds, there’s booths set up all down the main streets with different kinds of chocolate, chocolate-themed accessories, free samples (!!), and in the main piazza there is a huge chocolate sculpture of Italy with sculptures representing each of the 20 regions. It was unreal the amount of chocolate in the streets (and still in the streets).
After the first day of Eurochocolate, I began my international adventure! Me and five other girls from Umbra had made plans to go to Paris for three days (four nights) for break, and it was so wonderful! I’m finally back and able to write, and there was a whirlwind of activities throughout the three days we were in Paris, so I’ll try to give everyone as much of an update as I can.
Firstly, I would like to go out on a limb here and say that RyanAir isn’t half as bad as everyone says it is (at least in my experience). For those of you who don’t know, RyanAir is a low-cost airline in Europe, and has a sketchy reputation for having rough landings, being super strict with carry-on regulations, and tricking you into paying for a lot of extra stuff. However, our flight to Paris was perfectly fine, no troubles along the way, and no hidden fees thankfully. We spent the entire first day travelling: train to Rome, shuttle to the Ciampino airport, flight to Paris, shuttle to the center of Paris, metro to our apartment. Needless to say, we were all really grateful when we got to our apartment around 11 pm and the little old man that rented out the place was waiting right outside to show us around. The apartment was pretty spacious and adorable, and had huge windows that looked out onto the street.
The next day, after a much needed sleep, we were off to explore Paris! A Sunday market was set up right outside our apartment with fresh fish, chicken, produce, flowers, bread, cheese, and basically anything you could imagine at a market. We walked to a bakery for our first experience with French pastries, and let me tell you, they are amazing. Points to the French for perfecting brioches, croissants, tarts, macarons, and pastries I’ve never even seen before. The Italians definitely don’t have that many sweets.
Our apartment was just outside the city center so we had to take the metro a lot, but the system was really organized so it was easy to get around. We took the metro to the Fontaine Saint-Michel which was where our free tour of the city began. Our tour guide was from Yorkshire and I really enjoyed listening to her accent! She was great, and gave us a lot of history of the city and showed us around a lot of the main attractions in the city. We saw Notre Dame and a few other sights from a bridge over the Seine River. Then we went to the Lover’s Bridge, which is where lovers will put a lock on the bridge and throw the key into the Seine (to signify that their love will last forever). Every six months though they have to cut out panels of the bridge because the bridge can’t withstand the weight. However, they do save those panels of locks in a warehouse somewhere so the lovers’ locks are still kept safe.
Then we walked around the Louvre and took touristy pictures with the three glass pyramids in the courtyard of the museum. The group took a break to grab coffee or food, and I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks! It was so nice to have a little taste of home and fall. After the break, we went through the Tuileries Gardens, which I believe are public gardens that Catherine de Medici created. It was so beautiful, seeing all those fall colors and trees and grass! In Perugia, everything is basically stone except for the gorgeous views. I loved walking through the gardens, which ended with a view of Place de la Concorde (which is kinda like the French version of a piazza) and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
After our tour we decided to go see the Arc de Triomphe at the end of Champs d’Elysées, a big avenue in Paris with a lot shops along it. We stopped to watch a guy do a break-dancing routine in front of a huge group of people, and then decided to continue on to see the Eiffel Tower. The first day we walked a ton so that we could see as much as possible, and it was so worth it. The Eiffel Tower is absolutely breathtaking. Whenever I spotted it, I just felt the impulse to take another picture of it. Although it was cloudy and a bit rainy, nothing could dampen my spirits at that point.
The next day we got an early start to go visit the inside of the Louvre. The place was like a maze with four floors and three separate wings on each floor. The Egyptian, Spanish, and French art we saw was pretty awesome, but it couldn’t compare with the Italian Renaissance art (call me biased, I’ll admit it). Everyone told me to lower my expectations for the Mona Lisa, but I was not disappointed in the least. It was actually bigger than I expected, a regular-sized portrait, and although it was crowded, I got a decent picture. We saw the Napoleon apartments, which were much more than simple apartments. They were all decked out in red velvet and gold trimmings, table places for at least twenty guests, excessive amounts of seating, and more floor to ceiling paintings. I think I understand a little of Napoleon’s ego now.
After an unsatisfying, tourist-centered French lunch (the French Onion soup was the only highlight), we walked through a quiet neighborhood called Montmartre, up many many steps to the Sacre-Couer Basilica. The tour guide had told us that the view from Sacre-Couer was the best view of Paris in her opinion, and I would have to agree. We wandered through the basilica and then traveled back down through Montmartre, making many stops for cookies and caramels along the way. Since it was close by, we took the sketchy walk to see the Moulin Rouge. Let’s just say I’m glad there were other tourists and families around snapping photos.
The last full day we spent at Versailles. About a 40 minute train ride outside of the city, Versailles is the royal chateau where Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette lived and has acres and acres of gardens behind it. Being the creative people we are, my friends and I decided to bring baguettes and cheese with us to picnic in the gardens. We headed around the crowds of people and went straight to the greenery. I was blown away by the sheer amount of land that the gardens consisted of. Talk about fall colors. Every tree, shrub, and blade of grass was perfectly manicured and either bright green or a shade of orange. Some fountains were under construction so they weren’t spouting a spray of water, but the trees were enough for me.
After strolling aimlessly through the gardens for a bit, we headed to the chateau. No wonder the revolutionaries were upset with the king and his queen! Each room and hall was so luxurious and lavishly decorated, it was more than a little excessive. It felt like the Louvre to me for how spacious and filled with art it was. Everything was gilded, even the building itself. There were also a large amount of tourists everywhere, so we were ready to leave as soon as we were done exploring inside.
Finally, we ended our trip with a night boat tour on the Seine. I’m so glad we decided to do that tour because the city was twice as magical at night with everything all lit up. We saw Notre Dame and Hotel des Invalides from the boat, and every bridge we went under was lined with lights. But the most beautiful sight by far was the Eiffel Tower at night. Every hour the tower sparkles with lights, and at the end of the tour we got to see it! It reminded me of a Christmas tree, wrapped with brilliant, twinkling lights. Call me a little kid, but I get mesmerized by lights at night, especially at Christmas time, and I find it incredible. It was such a perfect end to our trip in Paris, aka “the city of light” (ironic, right?).
So now I’m back in Perugia after another completely safe RyanAir flight, and I think I can say with some certainty that Paris is my new favorite European city. I did love the atmosphere in Rome so much, and the people just seemed so much happier than the Parisians (although we never once encountered a rude Parisian). However, France also has so much history and beauty, along with revolutions, greenery, bread and pastries, and world-famous monuments, that it forces Rome to a close second. I’m so glad I’m back though. I was getting frustrated having to butcher the French language every day, and now I can go back to saying si and grazie and vorrei un caffé. Transitioning back to Italy made me realize just how much Italian I do know. Also, sorry France, but Italian cuisine beats out French in every category except for the bread and the chocolate goodness that is an éclair.