The week before our spring break journey to Paris was especially intense and most stressful. Each of my professors took the liberty of giving me one last test of knowledge before we left and “forgot everything we knew.” I think I had a total of five tests, one paper, and two speeches due in the same week. I could not wait to leave the country. But I knew that my first goal was to make it through the week before I could even think of packing or getting ready for the trip I was about to embark on.
Fourteen of us, headed by Dr. Chad Stebbins, Dr. Markus Muller, and Ward Bryant, were scheduled to begin our adventure abroad at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. As 9 a.m. rolled around, we all climbed into a Missouri Southern bus and set out toward Kansas City, where we would catch a flight to Chicago, which would again connect us with a flight to Paris' DeGaulle Airport.
We arrived at Kansas City International at approximately 12 p.m. where we then unloaded our luggage and proceeded to stand in line for almost 1 1/2 hours. Dr. Muller was getting quite antsy from what I can recall. There was a large man with a black fish-printed shirt who was holding up the line for a considerable amount of time. Thank goodness we arrived about two hours before our flight was scheduled to leave because we could have missed it otherwise.
I made it through the baggage check and went with Sarah Kyle and Cassie Hombs to get a bite to eat before the flight. It would be one of the last times we would be eating American food so we attempted to savor the moment. Sarah and Cassie were going to be my two roommates for the trip so I knew that we were going to have fun no matter what. The flight from KC left at 2:20 p.m. and arrived at Chicago-O'Hare at 3:43 p.m. Needless to say, it was a pretty short flight to Chicago and I was very glad. Planes are not my favorite mode of transportation, especially anything smaller than a 747. But we all made it safe and sound, except for poor Noppadol Paothong. Somehow Nop's plane ticket was reserved for the following day so he had to stay behind in KC for the night and fly, alone, to Paris the next day. Luckily he has traveled extensively so he was not afraid to do this. We all were hoping that something could have been done to change the situation but we knew that he was the best person for this to happen to.
The flight from Chicago to Paris was scheduled to leave at 5:20 p.m. so we had about an hour wait once we got situated at the gate. As we boarded the flight I was in awe. I had never seen or ridden in a plane as large as that one in all of my life! Several of us were all seated in the same area. It was a very nice experience. There were TVs in front of each seat and radios with headphones as another mode of entertainment. But who could forget the free drinks!!! This is where things got a bit interesting! The food was not too bad. We had a choice of ravioli, beef, or chicken for dinner. I was sitting next to Paul and he tried the chicken so I tried the ravioli. They were both very good.
We couldn't go to sleep at all (I can't imagine why) so we started talking to the guy sitting next to us (across the aisle). Dave was a 23-year-old making a killing in the computer industry. He was making over $80,000 a year working for Microsoft in Chicago. But he really got on our nerves because he kept bragging about all that he had, so we pretended that we were asleep. But as soon as we got settled down it was time to eat breakfast. Breakfast was fresh fruit and croissants. (Very nice!) I think we all had a bit much to drink on that flight, but it helped speed things up quite nicely.
Left to right: Kiki Coffman, Cassie Hombs, Crystal Cooke, Sarah Kyle, and Taffy Coker
We arrived in Paris at 8:15 a.m. By the time we went through baggage claim and exchanged some money to get us started, it was 9:45 a.m. So we made our way to the bus that Chad reserved for us, loaded it up and off we went to the Hotel Malar, the place we would call home for the next seven days. It was kind of overcast when we arrived in Paris but the sun broke through as we made our way to the City of Light. The scenery was amazing. It was hard to believe that I was actually there. The trees and flowers were in bloom and the grass was as green as it could be.
We saw a few sights as we rode to the Hotel. The Eiffel Tower was undoubtedly the focal point of all eyes. However, we also drove by Princess Diana's memorial, and passed by one cafe after another. It was so exciting! I could not wait to get out and explore. After a half an hour bus ride we reached the Hotel Malar. I could not believe how many apartments and hotels stood in Paris. They are thrown among many different stores, cafes, banks, and, bars. This was quite different than the United States. We finally reached the Malar and hoped that we could freshen up but since it was still so early, the people from the night before had not yet checked out of our room. So we dropped our luggage off in the terrace and Paul, Chris, Sarah, Cassie, and I went on our first little tour through the market place where we had our primary experience with the French folk.
Cassie and I each bought a pear and it was the best tasting thing I had ever eaten! The size and freshness of the fruit was amazing. Meat, cheeses, wines, souvenirs, anything one could want or desire was being displayed at this market. We all bought postcards because we knew that if we wanted them to arrive home before we did we would have to get them in the mail that day. The journey continued as we walked through the streets — Paul on his crutches and the rest of us trying to capture a picture of anything and everything we laid our eyes on!
As we walked, we were drawn to this large monumental building with a gold steeple. It turned out to be the Musée Rodin, a museum displaying over 600 pieces of Auguste Rodin's and other known artists' work of the time, so we walked through the courtyards and took in as much culture as we could. Paul was getting a bit sore by that time and we were all ready to get cleaned up, so we went back to the Hotel Malar in hopes that our rooms would be ready for us. Luckily ours was just about finished so Sarah, Cassie, and I trekked it up to the third floor and made ourselves at home. Truthfully, we were very impressed with the facilities. I guess if you expect the worst you have nothing to lose.
The hotel had been doing some remodeling so the bathroom was clean and the room was very cozy. We made ourselves right at home and by that time we were ready to take our baths and get cleaned up. After doing so we all decided to take a nap. Four hours passed in no time at all and we felt rejuvenated and ready to conquer anything that stood in our way. We were all expecting to sample some of the Parisian night-life and we felt that it was a perfect night to start. Weather conditions were beautiful! I could not have asked for a more perfect introduction to Paris.
However, before we could sample this night-life we attended a welcome dinner hosted by Lee and Berna Huebner at the American University of Paris. The University was just two blocks away so it was very convenient for all of us. Everyone seamed to be satisfied by the location of the hotel. The food was very interesting. Most of the dishes were made with some kind of seafood paste. I am not fond of the stuff to begin with, so I mainly stuck to eating the sandwiches, breads, and cheeses. Mr. Huebner gave us a nice overview of what the week was going to be about and we got acquainted with some of the other students from Washburn and Bowling Green universities.
The evening went quite well, but we were bursting to go out on our own and explore! Heather Carter, a Missouri Southern student, had been living in Paris for the past 10 months so she took a group of us to an American/French bar. We had our first Metro experience at that time. It was the first time I had ever been on a Metro. It is so much easier to move around the city like this. I loved the Metro by the end of the week. I wish we had a subway system in Joplin. Traffic would be cut in half!
The bar was nice and we really got to know the students from other schools a little better that night. Although I was having fun I still had this burning desire to explore, so Dr. Muller took a few of us back to the hotel through the Latin Quarter. This was truly a fun experience! We met a drunk French man who wanted to know how to get to California??? I don't know what he was thinking. I had my first and only crepe, and shared a gyro sandwich with Chris and Vanessa. It was a gorgeous night! However, we ran into a French man whom I had met in the bar earlier that evening and he was trying to get me to be his personal "exhibitionist." I did not know what to say to him. The only word I understood was exhibitionist. Dr. Muller took the liberty of scaring him away. I really don't want to know what he told that man, but at least he got him to leave me alone! By that time I was exhausted! It was about 2 a.m. and we had another big day ahead of us!
We awoke about 8 a.m. so I was already behind on sleep. But I was too excited to let sleep get me down! Surprisingly all three of us (Sarah, Cassie, and I) had enough hot water to bathe. All of our hair dryers and curling irons overheated with our converters so we were all having bad hair days and Cassie broke the bed while she was standing on it trying to reach an outlet. It wasn't that she was too heavy; the bed legs folded out from underneath her so it was definitely an interesting morning.
After we were ready for the day we decided to eat at a little cafe on the corner of Malar and Dominique. We all had croissants and milk. Cassie tried to order orange juice. But we really don't know what the lady served her. She squeezed what looked like a lemon into a cup and gave her a glass of water and some sugar so I think she ordered lemon juice by accident. It was sour but once she diluted the concentrate with water and sugar it was a pretty nice drink.
We then proceeded to look for a bank. Cassie was our translator so she asked a man where the bank was, but I don't think he understood her either. We walked in the direction he pointed but could not find it so we decided to shop a little. Sarah wanted to get some jewelry for her mom so we stopped and looked at rings. The clerk kind of ignored us when we first walked in the door, but all of a sudden he said "Americans?" We said, "Yes, how did you know we were American?" We found out later that he barely spoke English so the only words he knew were "Americans," "a little," and "yes" so he could not answer us. Our attempt to blend in was not working. Sarah bought two rings from him. It was neat because he weighed the rings and then determined a price right there. None of the jewelry had prices on it.
Cassie was curious as to how he knew we were Americans. So she tried to ask him using her best French skills. He started laughing at us and shaking his head. We really did not know what to say next. He wasn't making fun of her attempt to speak, but he was laughing at what her phrase translated to. We headed back to the hotel and asked Dr. Muller what she said and he said that she asked the clerk if he would like to watch her later. It was the funniest thing I had ever heard of!!! All this had happened in a matter of one hour. Things were definitely getting interesting.
The seminars ran from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. that day so we had plenty of time to do some more exploring before the dinner at the Huebners'. Sarah and I went shopping by ourselves that afternoon. We purchased Metro passes for the week and were on our own with a little guidance from Dr. Muller. He told us that the Galleria Lafayette was the nicest place to shop, so we shopped until we couldn't shop anymore. The people we encountered were very nice and most of them spoke English so that was definitely a plus. Dinner was scheduled at 7 p.m. so we had to get back and get ready to go. Lee and Berna Huebner had the most wonderful food for us. There was lasagna like I've never tasted before, breads, cheeses, snacks, wine, champagne, ice cream. You name it, it was there.
After dinner a group of us walked by the Eiffel Tower and lounged around on the grass nearby. It was another beautiful night! The group was Chris, Cassie, Sarah, Dr. Muller, Matt, Nop, and I. We stopped off at the "Ghost Bar" and had a nightcap. Many of us had what was called kir (black currant liquor/white wine). It was a great way to top off the evening.
Today we woke up a bit off schedule, 9:30 a.m., and our seminar was at 10 a.m. We were rushing a bit to get ready but made it just in time. We attempted to follow and concentrate on the correspondents from People Magazine, but they really did not seem like they wanted to be there talking to us at all. Maybe they had stage fright or something! The seminars were over by 2:30 p.m. and almost the whole group went to the Notre Dame Cathedral. The Cathedral was and is gorgeous. I could not believe we were walking through it. We visited on just the right day too. I needed some spiritual guidance and Notre Dame was just the place to remind me to look to God and know that anything and everything about my life that was in question or going wrong would work itself out for the best.
After touring, Cassie, Sarah, and I set out on our first true excursion alone! Cassie and Sarah were scared, but I knew we could do it. It was our first Metro experience alone, but we did it and loved it! We shopped, and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. We didn't want to eat American food, but we were going there to pick up some souvenirs for some friends back home so we ended up eating there anyway. It started sprinkling and we were exhausted so we headed back to the hotel in hopes of getting a little more sleep than the night before.
Wake-up time was 7 a.m. because we had to be at breakfast with Alexis De Gemini from M6 Music/TV at 8:30 a.m. We finished the seminars at 11:30, had a quick bite to eat at the neighborhood "pizzeria" (best pizza I've ever had!) before some of us went on to the France 3 TV Station. It was fun, but jet lag or lack of sleep was catching up fast. When we returned from the TV station we went directly to Montmartre. It was a long Metro ride and walk but well worth the visit. The scenery from the top of Montmartre was breathtaking! However, the second we set foot in the artists' realm they were all over us trying to convince us to allow them to draw our portraits. They would not take no for an answer. I agreed, but the artist who drew me made me look like the Mona Lisa, so I did not pay his price for the portrait. He was going to charge me 50 francs for something I did not want, so I turned it down.
We shopped around and looked at the sights of Sacre-Coeur. The group divided and Carol, Ward, Paul, and I went to Hard Rock Cafe for the second time because I told Carol I would show her where it was. So I ate there two nights in a row! I was exhausted by that time so we all headed home.
Luckily we didn't have to be at the sessions until 10 a.m. this morning because I wouldn't have made it. John Morris was the speaker and he turned the lights out to show us some slides of famous photographs. I was very interested but the worst thing to do was turn the lights off. I was exhausted! I barely made it through the International Herald Tribune session. Sarah and I had to lean against each other so we didn't fall over! We were falling apart. So we went back to the hotel and crashed! We did manage to get up and go out to eat, though. Sarah, Cassie, Matt, and I went to a cafe called "Hippopotamus." I think I actually ate hippo or horse. The meat tasted kind of funny. Also the service was very slow and we never had enough water to drink. Something one would shun in America.After spending two hours in this cafe we were ready to go to bed!
Sarah, Cassie, and I got the times mixed up this morning as to when the group was meeting to go to Radio France International. So we ventured out to find it on our own. Well, 9:30 rolled around and we could not find the place to save our lives. We even asked for directions. But we figured that everything happens for a reason. While we were walking we ran into Princess Diana's memorial; this was something I was determined to find before the trip was over, so it all worked out. Also, none of us had been in the Louvre and we definitely had to see the Mona Lisa. I would have kicked myself if I had left Paris without seeing such an important piece of history.
The day went quickly and it was time to get ready for the closing ceremony at the American University of Paris. The ceremony was very nice. We all received an award for participating in the seminar and a wonderful orchestra from the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville played. The only major thing I had left to do was go up in the Eiffel Tower, so Scott, Vanessa, Paul, and I went on a double date to the Tower.
The sights were breathtaking once again. We traveled all the way to the top — very chilly! It was a very romantic night. We went to a little cafe on the way home and had dinner. The waiter spoke English, French, Spanish, and German, Chinese, and, Japanese. He was probably the coolest waiter I had come in contact with. However, I could feel that the trip was coming to an end and I was just feeling comfortable. We ventured home because we had yet another big day still ahead of us!
Today was the day we all had been saving our money for — the trip to the Palace of Versailles. We all climbed into a bus with tour guide and went to the Palace. It was beautiful! Once we got there we all wondered around the courtyard until we couldn't stand the cold anymore. The carpentry was amazing. Elaborate designs, paintings, and sculptures filled every corner of the palace. I had to blink my eyes sometimes because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There was so much history there. The voyage came and went and we had the rest of the day to do what we wanted. I still wanted to shop a little more and see Notre Dame one more time, so I set out for those tasks directly after the trip to Versailles.However, that night holds probably the most memorable experience of the whole trip.
Matt Madura at the Palace of Versailles
The cabaret at Auberge de la Bonne Franquette was the most exciting adventure I went on. It gave me a chance to go back to Montmartre and a chance to see a show, eat true French cuisine and kick back and enjoy! We drank, ate, laughed, sang, danced, drank some more. I would say that those of us who went on that excursion bonded that night. It was our last night in Paris and we definitely had a blast. The whole trip would not be forgotten. It was, single-handedly, the best experience of my life! I will recommend it to all!