Samantha Smith is a student at The Ohio State University and an ISA Featured Photo Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Madrid, Spain.
It’s hard to put Paris into words, one of the most magical cities in the world that we’ve only seen in pictures and heard about in films our whole lives. We’ve all fantasized about its beauty and romance once or twice, and brushed it off like we already know how amazing it would be if we ever made it there for real. After all, how many times have you seen the same photo of the Eiffel Tower on Pinterest with some cheesy quote about finding love or following your dreams plastered over it…
Before you go to Paris people will tell you that it’s full of beautiful sights, delicious food, and impressive history, but there’s also a lot of things they won’t tell you and that you’ll just have to figure out for yourself once you get there. Just in case Paris is tucked away somewhere on your non-existent, make-it-up-as-you-go bucket list, then here’s a few of those things I figured out.
1. The first time you see the Eiffel Tower you’ll get goosebumps, chills, a giddy school-girl laugh, the whole nine. Walking around aimlessly upon your arrival to the city, you’re bound to spy the very top of the Tower peeking up over a nearby building, and an intensely surreal feeling (that you absolutely were not expecting) will wash over you.
And then you’ll try to walk toward it casually, crossing a crosswalk here, a median there, and then another street, and another…(wow, this is far). Then, impatience will ruin your stroll and before you know it your legs are moving faster than your body and you’ve become a complete tourist playing peek-a-boo with the Eiffel between buildings as you prance toward it, camera in hand.
(And yes, you will shorten it to just ‘Eiffel,’ over the course of the trip, referring to it like an old friend: “Wanna go see Eiffel one more time before we leave?”)
2. You will not be able to resist the crepes. Feeling the excitement of finally being in the infamous city of Paris, you’ll be eager to see and taste some of the local cuisine. So, naturally your first meal will be crepes. And so will the next one, and the next one, and you’ll probably give in to them again at least twice the next day.
Chocolate and whipped cream crepes, sugar and jam crepes, Nutella crepes, banana-Nutella crepes, coconut-Nutella crepes, anything-you-could-imagine-plus-Nutella crepes…the options are endless, and every single one is breathtakingly delicious, so wear your stretchy pants.
3. Notre Dame will make you cry. Even if you’re not Catholic, or you don’t identify strongly with any faith in particular, Notre Dame is a must-see. After seeing the exceptional architecture, each detail glowing with yellow light, canvased on a perfectly blue dusk sky, I didn’t think I needed to go inside. I was wrong. Thankfully, we found out that entrance was free, so we thought, “might as well.” It turned out to be more than I could have ever imagined.
There was a Saturday evening mass going on while we walked through and admired the design and history of the cathedral. The strong echo of the organ, dimly lit chandeliers and hundreds of scattered candles, and the elegant sound of the French sermon created the ultimate atmosphere of peace and serenity. I looked up at the details in the ceiling and the impeccable sculptures of Mother Mary and I just started to cry. It wasn’t sad, or even religious for that matter; it was just appreciative. I couldn’t help but to feel so small, and in that moment I was immensely grateful for my life and all the remarkable people and experiences in it. I walked up to my friend, Molly, and tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned toward me I could see the tears welling up in her eyes too.
4. The Arc de Triumphe is not located on an island, and there is a better, much safer way to get to it than running across a six lane traffic circle. When you first see the Arc you’ll get really excited and start snapping pics, but then you’ll want to get up close and personal with it. You’ll notice people standing all around the base of it, and maybe even a few on top of it, but how do you get over there? It’s on a median that’s surrounded by yet another crazy European traffic circle, but after scanning the whole perimeter you notice there’s no crosswalks over to it…hmm that’s strange. How did all those people get over there? Then you see a squad of about seven people wait for traffic to slow and jog across. Seems pretty legit. Actually no, you know there must be a smarter way to reach one of the most famous tourist attractions in France, but you’re tired and impatient and just want to touch the damn thing already. So you get your squad together and follow suit.
When you successfully reach the median, catching your breathe a little and thanking God you didn’t get wrecked by a taxi, a French police car will pull up next to you and the officer will roll down her window and remind you that today is not a good day to die and, from now on, to use the underground tunnel to get to and from the Arc. “Ohhhh there’s a tunnel?! See, I knew I didn’t see any crosswalks…”
Want to read more about Paris? Check out “Discovering Paris: The Live of a Student in the City of Lights”