The people who chose this program: How they spend their time

It’s been 8 weeks since I’ve arrived in Paris and Europe continues to amaze and inspire me. I am always in awe of the cathedrals, cities, people, cultures, food, and art that are so abundant around every corner. At this point, I think I’ve been able to solidly identify various motivations of the other students in this program to sign up and travel here to Paris through CIEE. There are three broad, but distinguishable groups of people here. The first is the group who prioritizes their time, purchases, and travel locations to those that are the trendiest and can provide a super interesting social media presence. This group eagerly engages in nightlife and is attentive to the popular locations to eat, drink, party, and take photos. My interpretation of their experience and goals for this trip is that they are here largely to enjoy the social aspect of Parisian and European culture. The second group is the one who is intent on submerging themselves deeply in specifically Parisian culture, whether that be for monetary reasons or interest or a combination of the two. They are the group who tend to stay in Paris on weekends and participate in a lot of the opportunities provided through CIEE like a cheese tasting or a bakery visit. The final group is the one looking for a more holistic European overview. This group travels on weekends outside of France. They try a little of everything; treating Europe as their own personal buffet of culture.

***A note on the coronavirus epidemic
Unfortunately, all the people I know studying abroad in Italy have been taken out due to the outbreak of this coronavirus. I’ve seen graffiti all over the metro line 6 repeating the name of the virus over and over. I even heard that there was someone in a program in northern Italy who was forced to return to the US and now must stay in a military base under quarantine for the next 2 weeks. All of this of course caused some panic amongst those of us in Paris because France borders Italy so it could very easily come to us especially after fashion week just being held in Milan, where the outbreak is bad, and it is now here in Paris. Keeping all this in mind, CIEE has offered us a support group presentation where they will give us all the information they can and then we are free to ask questions. I think I’ll probably attend one of those meetings. As for Megan’s and my plan to go to Italy with my mom after this program is over in 4 weeks, we seem to be stuck at a bit of a stalemate because flights aren’t cancelled yet, but it’s not worth it to get our train tickets there, but we don’t know if its best to change out trip entirely to go elsewhere. As of now, that’s really all I know.

Last weekend in Paris
Last weekend (Feb 22nd and 23rd), Megan and I spent completely in Paris, for the first time. We were incredibly excited for the time (and money) saved from travel, but mostly for all that we could do in Paris. We made a huge list of everything we hoped to accomplish and woke up on Saturday morning ready to start. We went for a quick 2 mile run because eating pastries and bread for 7 weeks starts to take a toll on a person’s figure. After that, we grabbed our Shakespeare and Co canvas bags and set off to Rue Montorgueil to shop for cheese, bread, jam,
fruit, and a bottle of champagne. After these treasures were collected, we hopped on the wonderfully convenient metro to the Trocadero stop by the Eiffel Tower. I laid out the closest thing I had to a blanket (my spare bath towel) and we had ourselves a beautiful little picnic. Of course, it was a little windy, grey, and cold, but nothing unbearably bad when compared to Wisconsin in February. We struggled to open the bottle of champagne first, and a kind man apparently saw us struggle and came over and helped us. A little while later, we couldn’t open our jam and another man came over to help us open that, proudly patting his biceps in a joking way after the deed was done. Other than those two amusing albeit embarrassing encounters, we enjoyed the rest of our meal and then found our way back to the apartment where we enjoyed a new staple of our cooking for dinner; a homemade croque madame (egg, ham, cheese, French bread). On Sunday, we woke up early in order to see the sunrise and take pictures at an empty Louvre. Both events didn’t go according to plan. First, it was cloudy, then the Louvre wouldn’t let us in past the gates because they were already queuing up people for their opening which wouldn’t occur for another hour. We made the best of the day despite this and wound up eating some wonderful Nutella and banana crepes in the first district and then found ourselves meandering the beautiful streets in the Montmartre neighborhood. After this, we made our way back to the apartment again and realized that our homework needed some attention, so we gave it the rest of the evening.

Parisian picnic

The weekdays
This was the second week of classes for this block, so I was still getting used to the teaching styles of my new professors and the class formatting for this new set of classes. Monday this week also was the commencement of Paris Fashion Week, so Megan and I hopefully sat with our eyes peeled at Café du Flores in case a celebrity happened to visit it as we were for their
famous and rich hot chocolate. It was just us, no celebrities, but I was not disappointed because the hot chocolate was so yummy. On Tuesday, we spent the morning on homework and then during my fashion and business class, we took a walking tour of the fashion districts and high-end stores in Paris. Tuesday evening was one of my favorite ones so far in Paris in that I bought tickets to the ballet and Megan and I got to sit and enjoy Balanchine performed by the Paris opera ballet. Wednesday was another early morning because there were whispers that there would briefly be a layer of snow around the Eiffel Tower in the early morning. There unfortunately was not, but the day was not spoiled, and Megan and I went to the Galerie Vivienne to look more deeply into the shop windows we paused at during our fashion and business class tour. We also tried a pastry at Le Moulin de la Vierge which was ornately decorated on the inside and was a beautiful little bakery. On Thursday, we took a shot at shopping inspired by fashion week and came up with nothing but a scarf from a second-hand store and an interesting interaction at Chanel being followed around suspiciously by the security guard. Next time, I won’t bring my backpack when I go into a store like that. On Friday we were off again early in the morning via train for our weekend trip with CIEE to Strasbourg!

Chocolat Chaud at Café de Flore
Sitting in the audience before the ballet

Dipping a toe into Germany and cannonballing into France
This past weekend brings us into March and the final 5 weeks of my time in Europe. We spent it at the study trip provided through CIEE to Strasbourg, France and Kehl, Germany. Seeing as they are on the border of their respective countries, we got to learn about the rich and confusing history of citizens of Strasbourg being told they were members of Germany one year and France the next in a vicious cycle that lasted centuries. On Friday, we got to enjoy some time at the Council of Europe and learn about the organization and how they are there to protect human rights in Europe. For dinner that night, we went out with a group to a restaurant that served a traditional Alsatian meal; flammekueche, or as some have referred to it; a disappointing pizza. I found nothing disappointing about the thin crust topped with lard, cheese, onion, and bacon. Our table invested wisely in an all-you-can eat meal and made sure we got our money’s worth, ordering 9 savory pizzas and 4 sweet ones topped with either blueberries or cinnamon apples. On Saturday, we enjoyed a continental breakfast at the hostel and then took a walking tour of Strasbourg. After that, we took a tram across the border to Germany and I don’t believe I’ve ever been so stuffed in my life. I ate so much food, and German food is not a meal one can call “light”. We had a brief adventure climbing a tower to get a better view of Kehl and Strasbourg and then went shopping at a store called dm which bragged cheap toiletries. I’m not exaggerating when I say 80% of the students and staff from CIEE were taking advantage of this deal and rushing about with baskets full of toothbrushes, soap, and makeup to bring back to Paris. For dinner, Megan and I opted for the cheap route of one of our favorite French chains called Bagelsteins and then some amazing gelato fashioned to look like a rose in a waffle cone. On Sunday, we had another breakfast at the hotel and then went off in our groups to the various activities we signed up for. I chose the Alsatian Museum and got to see a few houses depicting the traditional Alsatian lifestyle. After that, we enjoyed a pastry, walked around le Petit France, and hiked up over 300 steps to the top of the Cathedral in town. We crammed everything possible into the nicest and sunniest day of the weekend. After that, it was time to hop back on the train to Paris and get started on homework for the week.

Strasbourg at night
Megan in Strasbourg
Some friends and us in Strasbourg
Blueberry flammekueche
View from the tower in Kehl
View from the Cathedral in Strasbourg