I'm going to start out by saying, I love France. And especially Paris. There is no place like it on the planet, and no place as beautiful. If I could live somewhere for the rest of my life, it would be Paris. This trip was my second visit to Paris and it was almost exactly five years after my first. The first time I was in Paris, I was with my French teacher. This time I was on my own, with two fellow Americans in tow.
First off, let's talk about the public transport. I think my cohorts will agree when I say, it was convenient and fast, but it was terribly hard to navigate. The train stations in the heart of Paris had some semblance of signing standards, but the stations farther out, were not as friendly to those unfamiliar with them. The train stations that were undergoing maintenance were not always marked on the train maps. This meant we missed our stop at Bastille, and had to walk from the next closest station.
The signs and maps were very easy for me to use as a french speaker, but if I had left my friends to find their way alone, it would have been nearly impossible. The London tube does a much better job at using universal symbols to direct people. It was 50-50 on whether a sign would be in multiple languages, even within the city of Paris itself.
Moving on to something more positive, the food in Paris is wonderful. Paris does not have a lot of fast food, instead they have cafes. Some cafes are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Others are only open for lunch and dinner. Some cafes also operate 24 hours a day. The pace at these places is much slower. The waiters are not trying to turn tables as quickly as possible and they most likely won't bring your bill unless you ask for it. French cafes are places where people meet and hang out. Near schools you'll find a lot of students at cafes, studying and talking. In the business districts you'll find business men and women meeting with clients and coworkers. There are also historic cafes where famous writers used to meet with each other to discuss ideas. Cafe culture is one of the most French experiences a tourist can have.
Another very French experience is the Louvre. I only spent 2 or 3 hours there on my first trip, so this time I wanted to spend all day. It was by far the most awe-inspiring and inspirational part of the trip. And I am not even a fan of art museums. I stuck to the 19th century French paintings, because they had caught my eye the first time I was there, but I did not have time to sit and enjoy them. This time I spent a great deal of time falling in love with Napoleon and Josephine. The detail in these paintings was amazing. The colors were so bright and bold. I was struck by the drama in each painting. The artists captured human emotion and projected to the viewer with such force. I sat with goosebumps in front of many of the paintings. I felt so uncultured, but at the same time I was inspired to learn more and incorporate these works of art into my life.
Overall the trip was a success. The last thing I'd like to talk about is my experience as a leader. I've had leadership positions at school and in my extracurricular activities, but on this trip the stakes were much higher. I wasn't in charge because I wanted to be, I was in charge because I had to be. I had to rely heavily on a skill that I hardly ever use at home, and the success of the trip basically depended on how well I paid attention in French class. I may be exaggerating, but it was a pretty big deal to me. Under all this pressure, I managed to perform and succeed. It was a huge confidence booster for me. I'm used to having people rely on my writing skills, which I am confident in without question, but to have people rely on me to guide them through an unfamiliar place, where they can hardly communicate, was a very scary challenge. Needless to say, I was very nervous the few days before we left for Paris. But I came back, battle tested and ready to do it again. I'm very happy that I was able to take on this challenge. I'm a better person for it.