The Final Entry
“Bonjour mon ami! Maritza will be sharing her discoveries, joys and snafus while studying in Paris. Bon voyage!”
South of France
My program’s capstone trip travelling the south of France was a great experience. My French teacher – who is from Toulouse – would always get annoyed with us when we obnoxiously declared “Paris is France!” every class just to rile him up. “No. Paris is Paris. It is not France.” While we all knew that was true, we wouldn’t let him know that. Our trip to the southern cities was interesting and a great contrast to the northern areas of Normandy and Reims that we visited months before. Instead of being greeted with dark, damp, cold weather and depressing lectures on World War I, we had sunlight, warmth and leisurely tours around the city.
In Avignon, we walked up its big hill and took in the Rhone River. Our professor pointed out where young people would go to “get to know each other a little better.” There was a beautiful (man-made!) waterfall thing that you had to climb to get to the top of and everyone took turns taking pictures in front of it. The Pope’s Palace, a huge but so not-as-intimidating-version of Mont St. Michel was beautiful and it was interesting (and not unexpected) to learn that at one point the French were so arrogant (cough cough) that they had their own Pope aside from the one in Vatican City for centuries. We also visited the famous Avignon Bridge that many French students learn about in song. Tradition dictates that visitors must go on the bridge and sing the song while dancing in a circle. After a wonderful dinner with traditional food including salade nicoise and foie gras, we went to a karaoke bar…. And saw just how much the French take their karaoke seriously. Culture Difference #578: Don’t mess with a French person while they’re singing karaoke.
Nice: Home of beautiful beaches and a tourist hot spot. Even coming from Miami where sand isn’t made of sharp rocks, I still loved Nice’s waters. It was definitely French with people freely tanning without getting any tan lines and really “chill.” Not as big and crowded as Paris but nowhere near as small as Avignon; it was not too overwhelming or boring. The beach was beautiful and the views from every pier… by the end of our time there everyone was “joking” that they went to the wrong place in France to study.
Monaco: Home of the—Oh wait, you can’t afford a home here!!! Monaco is so tiny, I didn’t even know it existed until I was in the sixth grade and was reading The Princess Diaries and looked up informationon as many small principalities as I could to see if Genovia existed. Only two kilometers long, Monaco is tiny and could easily be seen in a day. There were two casinos…and two entrances. On one side, the rich, beautiful people in designer cocktail dresses and suits entered. And on the other, sweaty, grimy, fanny-packed tourists (or a group of broke loud college students). Which one do you think we went into? Well, those two doors basically summed up Monaco. We were too poor to gamble and just watched in awe as some people would drop 200 Euros (that’s over $250 mind you) on a slot machine and wouldn’t bat an eye when it was lost a minute later. The cemetery was closed so I couldn’t see Josephine Baker’s grave. The church closed early so we couldn’t see Grace Kelly’s either. As we walked around, we found ourselves surrounded in luxury goods stores and each shopkeeper seemed to us to be thinking “Stay away! You know you can’t afford anything here!” The real estate signs did not even seem real: 16,000 Euros to rent only 250 meters?!? So, with a failed attempt at a nice day in one of the smallest countries in the world under our belts, we took the train back to Nice. Did I mention that Nice is nice?
Good food. Great friends. New cultures. Volcanic ash?! Now that my study abroad trip is officially over, one of the stand-out moments of my trip was actually the departure. Initially afraid that my flight would be cancelled because of the ash spewing from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull Volcano, I was relieved when after a couple of days, airports started making flights to and from Europe again. Little did I know, I should’ve saved that sigh of relief for a little later. On the day of my flight (and going on only forty-five minutes of sleep I might add) everything seemed to be going smoother than my arrival. I did not pack the night before. I didn’t forget anything. I anticipated paying $50 (or 38 Euros…that doesn’t sound as bad) for my extra bag. I ordered a shuttle several days in advance so I wouldn’t have to take a taxi that cost twice as much. I checked in online so I only had to drop off my bags and go through security.
I learned about a new culture. I spent a vacation in a city I’ve always dreamed of going to. I travelled all over France and got to dig below the surface of what it had to offer. I visited a country that I will never be able to afford to live in.
After a smooth morning, I boarded the plane when it arrived. Only to not move an inch for four hours. After the first hour, the pilot finally told us that the route to Miami was blocked by a cloud of ash and that the computers were calculating the distances if we went over the north (which would take much longer than the already lengthy nine hours and fifty five minutes we were in for) and that they would take a southern route. After another hour, we were informed it looked like all the other planes were going that route too and that the sky was too congested over there and that no more planes could go that way unless they could go to 38,000 feet…which our plane was too heavy to reach. Yeah. Can you say floating Titanic anyone? So…they had to determine a northern route (the one they didn’t what to take in the first place and that we didn’t have enough fuel for) that would fly north and over Iceland…that sounded promising! Each time I looked up at the screen, the time to Miami would increase and the estimated arrival time would get later and later. Suddenly, instead of getting home at 1:55 p.m. I would arrive a little after 7 p.m.
But, sitting on this plane in the middle of France and not being able to go anywhere made me think about the few months I spent abroad. I did so many things I never thought I could do. I lived in a whole other continent! I met a group of girls that I would never have interacted with at our 50,000 student school. I learned about a new culture. I spent a vacation in a city I’ve always dreamed of going to. I travelled all over France and got to dig below the surface of what it had to offer. I visited a country that I will never be able to afford to live in. With the different classes I took (I somehow ended up being the girl who took 18 credits (classes that I was admittedly a bit surprised to see were more intense for what I expected study abroad classes would be) I was able to see the country in different contexts – beyond the superficial tourist presentation of things.
After being able to “casually” say “Hey, let’s go to the Eiffel Tower” or “Let’s go to Pont Neuf with a bottle of wine” or “I want to visit my favorite statue at the Louvre (again)” or even “Let’s go see Jim Morrison’s grave one more time” for so many months, it’ll be weird to get back to Gainesville and not have those options. Eating at Chipotle will be great the first time but I’ll start to miss the fatty unhealthy grecs that were sold on the streets of the Marais or the Latin Quarter with greasy fries. The great thing about this whole trip is that I’m a freshman and can do it all again somewhere else (after I’m done with all my pre-med classes of course…and after saving lots of money).
By Maritza Moulite, University of Florida
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