Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holidays and Farewells in Paris

Greetings and Happy Holidays to you!!  I hope you are nice and snuggled in with a warm blanket, some hot chocolate--un chocolat chaud--and resting peacefully in front of the TV, maybe watching "It's A Wonderful Life".  Or "A Christmas Story", if that's your fancy :)  For myself, along with many of my friends, it is time to bid adieu to many of our classmates and friends we have made on this French journey together.  Whereas I will be staying until January, and some of my friends will be attending the second semester of university in Angers, staying a full year, others are either trying to go home to stay, or to visit until school starts up again.

I planned to join some of my friends, Jen and Ali, in Paris to squeeze out a few extra days with them before they leave for good, going back to their respective homes in New York and Texas.  Our friend, Alyx, joined us, who hails from Montana, but will be staying in Angers next semester.  Since this would be the last time we would all be able to hang out together, I weighed my money options and decided to ride the TGV (fast train, or La Train de Grande Vitesse) with them and crash with them until they caught their flights at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Just a bit of friendly advice to those similarly poor students: when it comes to friends, you can sacrifice a lot (fast food, material items such as clothes, etc.) to save money on what you do, but who you spend time with is another investment altogether.  Friendship is very important to me, and I see it as a worthy long-term investment (as well as an opportunity to keep connected with possible future connections for networking, since we are all studying the same subject and therefore may cross paths in the business world from time to time), so this weekend, to me, was well worth the extra money I had saved for a short trip.  Plus, it was a real opportunity for me to see the Champs-Elysses during the Holidays, for the street wasn't decorated when my boyfriend, Gene, and I went there the first time!

Our trip started, after arriving to the Charles de Gaulle Airport's Train station, after we dropped off our things at the hotel.  If this were a simple weekend trip for all of us, we would have packed light enough to not need a special trip there at the beginning, but for Ali and Jen, they were going home.  "Going home" when you leave a place you've been staying at for the past four months not only entails packing up all you came there with, but also all you acquired while you were there--keep this in mind when you see clothes on sale, ladies!  I will talk more about my own checklist of what I went through to prepare for my own departure when the time comes, but for Ali and Jen, just like the usual student/tourist/fashionista, their bags were a melange of schoolbooks, clothes, French-y souvenirs for themselves as well as for family members, along with the standard clothes, shoes, makeup, and accessories.  You have to become a seasoned professional at packing by this point, because even if you're willing or have to spend the extra cash for those extra checked bags, you gotta find a way to fit four months of your life in them!

Alright, enough about luggage--onto the fun!

The girls and I met up with Jen and Ali's friends Aziz and So, who they met during their last trip to Paris.  Aziz and So come from Algeria, which was ruled over by France during the 1800's, and claimed independence in 1962.  Algerians have a very tumultuous and bloody history under French rule, and is a sore spot for many to talk about.  This, much like the roots of discrimination in our own history of the U.S., has continued to cause recent problems with prejudice.  But for Aziz and Sof, like many young Algerians, they are simply trying to create their own opportunities for themselves by studying in other countries, such as in France, in order to gain higher education.  Their courage to do this, many times all alone, is amazing and honorable, and makes me feel like such a wimp to think of being away from everyone and everything I know for a few meager months, compared to folks such as these two, who spend years, even decades, away from their family and friends back home.

I knew Aziz from a previous meeting, but this was the first time hanging out with So, who we met up with while waiting forEVER in the line to get to the Eiffel Tower.  It was cold and rainy, but the sun was out, and so our group ascended, enfin, to the second floor to see the views of Paris from above in between short spurts of freezing raindrops and wind.  After taking in the vastness of Paris from the second floor, we  tried to join in the line that (we mistakenly thought!) went up to the top.
We actually ended up standing in line for an hour before realizing it was not the line to the top.  Our frozen toes and noses game up after that to get some pizza.

During a conversation which switched continuously from French, to English, to Arabic, I happened to mention something, in English, about how I'll be talking about the huge lines in Paris to my friends and family when I get back to Asheville.  A man, standing in line with his wife and young daughter, then started talking to me in American English (once you study abroad, you'll be able to differentiate which English accents come from where!)--the conversation went something like this:

Man: "You said Asheville?"
Me: "Yes..."
Man: "Not Nashville???"
Me: "No...Asheville, North Carolina.  In the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Do you know it?"
Man, looking to wife and back at me: "Know it!?! We were born and raised there!"

--Let's take a break to factor in the aspect that even when I'm working at the restaurant in Asheville, most people I talk to are not from Asheville.  The majority of people, like myself, are called "Transplants", where we grew up somewhere else, and ended up in Asheville because of its tractor-beam-of-awesomeness.

Later on in the same conversation...
Man: "You say you go to UNCA?"
Me: "Yep-I'm a junior there now, but I work at *such and such restaurant* at night"
Man: "Oh, yeah!  You mean the one on Tunnel Road???"

That's it.  In all of my travels, and in my experience studying abroad, I have officially come to the conclusion that the world is the size of a peanut.  Better yet, it's the size of Mr. Peanut.  See demonstration below:
That's just the way the world works, people.

Before I start reminiscing so much that I cry (even more!), I think I'll leave you with a few pictures of our journey together, as tourists in the City of Lights, that we enjoyed together while collectively freezing off all of our metatarsals (that's archaeological speak for "toes").  Enjoy!

Eating out in Paris' Latin Quarter

Taken JUST before the moving sidewalk ended=Tourism FAIL!!!

We're taking over the Métro.  By force if necessary.
The Champs-Elysses at night during Holiday season!

My First Open-Air-Roasted-Chestnut Experience!
They didn't taste quite as awesome as I hoped...

You really can find everything you want on the Champs-Elysses...from breakdancers, to riot police, to a Cartier store!

Seeing off Jen and Ali (L) the next morning with Alyx and Aziz (R).  Bon retour!!!

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