24. The Malta Chronicles: Prologue, Traveling, and Initial Impressions

As many of you may have seen on my social media over the past couple of days, I just spent those past several days in Malta. It was an incredibly beautiful place. Why Malta, you may ask? And why only for two days in the middle of October during the middle of the week? I left so soon I really never even got a chance to sightsee other than walking around to find dinner both free evenings.

The answer is the ocean. Or, to be more precise, the Our Ocean conference.

Prologue
To give a background to this story, back last October I found out through Georgetown that there was going to be an event at main campus called Our Oceans, One Future, an event where John Kerry, then Secretary of State, and Adrian Grenier, actor and co-founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, would be speaking. So I, along with one of my classmates, missed Bargain (Contracts + Torts) that morning in order to go to main campus and attend this amazing event. It was so inspiring to sit there and listen to the head speakers talk about the current issues facing the oceans and the slow upwelling of commitment towards figuring out a way to save them. Heads of states, including ministers from Europe and South America, also talked at a panel at that time about their different states’ commitments and achievements over the past year.

Then, in March, I was a liaison between Georgetown Law’s Chapter of the UN Association and Georgetown main campus’ Sustainable Ocean Alliance, or the SOA. The SOA was started a few years ago by an undergraduate student at Georgetown to help bring youth voices into the ocean discussion. So in March, the SOA had their annual summit at main campus and I went and attended and tabled a table promoting Georgetown Law during the lunch break.

Fast-forward a couple of months and I get an email from the SOA announcing they were then taking applications for the Our Ocean Youth Leadership conference in Malta in October. I looked at the application, figured I would qualify since a) I was a “youth”, and b) I’m planning on going into ocean conservation and want to be involved in as many ocean-related things as possible. So I applied and got accepted. I booked my ticket for Malta. A few weeks later I booked a spot at a hostel that multiple other people attending the conference were staying at. And otherwise I tried to brush it out of my mind that somehow I would be going to Malta against all expectations in October.

Traveling & Initial Impressions
Monday night, I packed a small carryon suitcase of business professional clothes and books to take along in my book bag. I slept only 4 hours that night because of last-minute homework assignments and work early the next morning. I went to the morning portion of a hearing on dumping of solar cells and solar panels from other countries at the International Trade Commission, ran back to the EPA to tell my supervisor about it, and then ran home, showered, kissed Ricardo and Rumple goodbye, and drove to Dulles airport.

My plane left from D.C. at 6:00pm. I arrived in London Heathrow at around 6:00am. I ate at Pret, camped out for a few hours, and then flew to Malta. I arrived in Malta very motion sick around 3:00pm and proceeded to half-consciously ride a bus for an hour all the way to the hostel I was staying at. I’m still mad at myself for being so motion sick, because that hour-long bus ride was probably the best view of the city as a whole that I would get during the daytime, but I was so miserable I could barely keep my eyes open. I finally found Boho Hostel after taking two wrong turns and wheeling/carrying my little roller suitcase up a series of steep stairs and narrow sidewalks.

The thing about Malta roads is the sidewalks are barely wide enough for one person for the most part and there are very rarely crosswalks anywhere. So you just have to run across the street and hope you don’t get hit. I could never be a driver in Malta; I would be far too terrified to run into people or cars parked on the sides of the roads or the sides of buildings, since the streets are so narrow. However, I will admit I love the architectural style. For the most part, most of the buildings are made out of this yellow stone that I assume is abundant all across the island. The buildings are all square – almost cubical – with their chief adornments and character created by the railings, balconies, and windows that are attached to these cubical structures. It’s very economical and efficient, I think. The cubical structures mean all the buildings use the most amount of space possible in a very space-limited region; after all, Malta is an island surrounded by the Mediterranean on all sides.

Back to Boho. I’ve never stayed at a hostel before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, other than the fact that I knew several other youth delegates were also staying there. The whole hostel is a hippy little world tucked right in the middle of a neighborhood, with hammocks and palm trees and little Buddha statutes in the yard and walls painted with maps of the world and inspirational boho-style quotes about traveling making one rich. The staircase leading up to the bedrooms (3 bunk beds to a room) was decorated entirely by shoes hanging all over the railing. There was a little female cat there that had similar colorings to Rumple but definitely had an island-y look about her.

I checked in and right as I was doing so, a group of younger people all dressed professionally were assembling. I assumed they were about to head out to pick up their badges for the conference and from there go straight to the reception. (It was 5:30pm by then and the badge office supposedly closed by 7:00pm, which is also when the reception for us youth delegates started.) I was right, and they were all kind enough to wait for me to change really fast so I could head out with them. We walked for a good 20 minutes and during that time found our way to the coast of Malta. Saint Julian’s was this magnificent church we passed that was right on the bay and the waves crashed upon its base in a glorious display. We snaked our way around the marina, where picturesque boats all floated tied up in the water. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a picturesque place in my life as that marina. The boats were all brightly painted, the buildings around the marina were beautiful pastels, and the clouds and the ocean were all this glorious harmonization of greys and purples and blues.

We met up with some other youth conference members at the inside edge of the marina and everyone took some time meeting one another and taking photos. While walking to the marina, I met two friends from Paris, France, a girl from Germany, and a girl from Spain. (I’m not going to put names here for privacy’s sake.) Very early on into the evening, it became impossible to learn any new names or remember where everyone you met had come from or how exactly they were working on or wanted to work on ocean issues. Regardless, all 100 of us selected were passionate about the oceans; the oceans were what brought us all together. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be surrounded on all sides by fellow ocean lovers from such diverse backgrounds and places of origin who all came together for a common cause. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

The original Boho group ran up to the Hilton and got our badges after going through security. We then joined outside to take photos in front of the #OurOcean sign in the fountain and the Our Ocean illustrations everywhere. We then made our way across the hotel to a bar that was more reminiscent of the inside of a ship than a bar for the opening reception for the conference. The room was round and had the zodiac illustrated as if a night sky on the ceiling. On the walls were mirrors and inlays of ship motifs, while the floor was a giant marble compass rose.

We all got a drink, ate hors d’oeuvres (which there were not nearly enough of), and just spent the evening mingling and getting to know people. It was fantastic. People were from all different countries. There were a lot of Europeans, which makes sense because it was much easier for them to get a plane ticket to Malta: see Spanish, French, German, Danish, Serbian, Italian, British, Scottish, etc. There were a few Americans, mainly from D.C., California, and Duke University, to be specific. And there were also people from Thailand, Peru, and Brazil, among others. It was an incredibly diverse group of people.

Some individuals were still finishing their undergraduate degrees. Many had masters or were currently in the middle of pursuing masters in oceanography, marine biology, marine law and governance, and policy work. There was an economist, a few budding and full attorneys, and some engineers. Overall, the amount of diversity was one of the most inspiring things about the entire trip for me. Also, there was a freedom to follow one’s dreams, whether that meant moving to another country or learning another language or pursuing a completely different type of degree.

I realized that night at the reception that Americans tend to be close-minded about living in other places. I don’t know if close-minded is the right term, but Americans just don’t think about actually moving abroad and staying there for a number of years. It seems to me that many other countries, especially in the European Union (to be fair though, it is easier since their citizenship automatically enables them to work or go to school in any other EU country outside of their own), have a bigger sense of freedom about exploration. During this conference, I’ve met more people than I can count who have actually lived in more than two countries. To be fair, the individuals who attend an ocean conference in Malta are probably some of the most exploratory and open-minded individuals, so the conference definitely did have a demographic bias. Nonetheless, I have been so inspired.

The Boho group left back to our hostel shortly after 9:00pm. We were all exhausted and had to be up at 5:45 the next morning in order to make it to the conference in time. And thus, we walked back to the hostel, said goodnight, and fell immediately asleep.

 

19. The London Chronicles: Part VIII – Spain and Travels Home

I apologize for the delay in posting this final part! I wrote the last several blogs while in DC, but we’ve been visiting my family and friends in Albuquerque since last week and I really haven’t had a moment of downtime to write until now.

Wednesday, August 2nd
So we arrived in Madrid, Spain! Our plane landed around 11:00pm, so we couldn’t actually see much of the city except lights laid out below from the plane window. Our Uber driver was a Romanian who had initially come to Madrid for a girl and then never left. He gave us a drive-by tour of a lot of the big, important buildings we passed on the way to our Airbnb (with everything in Spanish, of course).

Our Airbnb was on the third floor of this apartment building that had the most southwestern wooden staircase that I have seen since I moved from the Southwest. The apartment itself was strangely reminiscent of our flat in London, with a red kitchen and everything. I suppose that’s part of the reason we chose it. But it was lovely. We were greeted by a cat looking at us from the apartment opposite us. The cat sat outside on the windowsill and just watched us as we got there. Ricardo and I talked well into the night and finally fell asleep around 3:00am or so.

Thursday, August 3rd
We were up at 11am in the sweltering heat. Man, Spain is hot. Spain is especially hot when it’s in the 90s and you’ve been in London where it’s been in the 60s and 70s for the past month. We didn’t know the area at all so we found breakfast at the second place we could, which was this Spanish diner run by Chinese people. I had a tortilla and toast. A tortilla in Spain is essentially an egg omelet filled with sliced potatoes. It was quite yummy.

Ricardo and I headed to Parque de El Retiro, which was probably around a mile away from where we were. On the way, we got sunscreen and slathered it on. I see now why everyone is so tan in Spain. The sun really is relentless. Once we got to the parque, Ricardo spent some time talking on the phone while I sketched a scene of the trees and grass. We then ventured further into the park and came across a magnificent and larger-than-life pond and fountain surrounded on two sides by little outdoor cafes and ice cream places. We got coke zeros and wandered towards the Palacio de Cristal and found the small modern art museum in the middle of the Parque.

The modern art museum looked like it used to be a station house or something of the sort. Inside, the building was just a series of enormous white spaces. There was one room with signs with different typefaces, and another with framed letters of the alphabet. Giant plush letters filled one part of the place while colorful fabrics and sticks made up some of the exhibits. Ricardo and I had a long discussion about modern art while we were there. Afterwards, we again entered the bloody hot sun and found the Palacio de Cristal (or Crystal Palace) right across the way. It was an absolutely beautiful building created completely out of steel framework and glass panels. You could see straight through the Palacio to the other side. The building – really, more a piece of art than anything – was surrounded by trees on all sides. A pond rippled in front and it was filled with turtles and giant carp fish and two black swans that glided around most majestically. Inside, the Palacio was even hotter than outside. Which makes sense. Essentially the Palacio was one giant greenhouse. Afterwards, we returned to the area in front of the giant fountain and got a luxurious, true Spanish lunch in one of the outdoor restaurants. We got “summer wine” (really delicious sangria), Russian salad, rice with spices and seafood, and olives. Everything was so savory and full of flavor. I was absolutely stuffed.

After lunch, Ricardo’s friend Gian Piero met us at the Parque. He’s one of Ricardo’s best friends and had just moved to Madrid a month or two before. He led us on a walking tour throughout many of central Madrid’s landmarks. We walked past the Museo de Prado, but didn’t go in because a) there was a super long line, and b) Ricardo and I were museumed out by that point. To be honest I still am museumed out. We saw Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor de Madrid, which were both enormous plazas with bricks underlying everything and a vicious sun beating down across all of it. Statues of famous generals and other such things stood proudly in the centers. We walked through large avenues and small side streets. We had to stop and get giant water bottles, one for each of us, at one point because it was just so hot that you have to drink a lot of water to even maintain a façade of health wellness.

We ended up seeing the remains of an old Islamic site, and we went inside the enormous, magnificent Catedral de al Almudena. The vaulted ceilings were painted in the most colorful, bold designs. My favorite part of the Catedral was the part of the ceiling right above the alter: vivid blues and whites and oranges made a sky filled with the sun and stars. The Catedral was lined with alcoves dedicated to different saints. Every saint statue or painting was created in a different artistic style. It was beautiful. And then we saw the Palacio Real, which is where the Spanish royalty used to live. We didn’t get a chance to go in because it was already closed. The Palacio was very reminiscent to me of Versailles, since it was lined with gold gilded gates. The main difference was that while Versailles was more white and orange on the outside, the Palacio was this beautiful pale blue color.

We did get a chance to walk through the Palacio gardens. In the gardens, a very strange little man walked up to us and asked if we spoke English (he was British), and since we did, he wanted to sing a song to us. We told him we didn’t have any money on us to give him (because we had never gotten euros), but he said he didn’t mind at all. He just wanted to sing to people. So he sang us this song for the longest 30 or 45 seconds of my life. None of the three of us knew where to look when he was singing. Finally, it ended and we thanked him and he thanked us for listening and then walked away to sing to someone else. It was very, very strange.

After the Palacio Real, Gian Piero, Ricardo, and I got churros con chocolate at the most famous churro place in Madrid which was called Chocolateria San Gines. So churros in Spain are very different from the cinnamon and sugar dusted churros we are used to in the States. In Spain, churros are just the fried pastries without any sugar or cinnamon and they are served three at a time with a melted cup of chocolate. The chocolate is not sweet, but it’s not bitter. It’s the perfect composition. So you dip your churro into the chocolate and eat it that way. It was very yummy, but I still think I’m partial to our cinnamon and sugar churros. After that, Gian Piero led the way across town again to this restaurant called Goiko Grill, where they had burgers and Venezuelan cuisine. Gian Piero’s girlfriend  Adrianamet us there as well and the four of us had the most delicious burgers. I was the only one of the four not from Venezuela, so I was the only one who didn’t know what food or appetizers where from Venezuela or not, but Ricardo was very excited about the food.

We didn’t get home until quite late but it was completely worth it. The area of town we were in was still bustling with people at 1:30 in the morning and apparently it is very normal for people to be up very late at night. I loved that part.

Friday, August 4th
Friday started with breakfast with Ricardo’s cousin who lives in Spain. The summer is the off season in Madrid, since everyone who lives in Madrid travels to the coasts and the beaches to escape from the heat. So there was hardly anything open, even though it was already past 9:00am. We passed by this really incredible building built in the early 1900s that was just covered with organic natural shapes like leaves and vines and flowers all sculpted right into the very walls. We eventually found a Parisian bakery place. It was charming. There were French hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling and there were pastries galore. We had the best breakfast of quiche and eggs and crepes there. His cousin has been living in Madrid for around a year and is an entrepreneur there. He gave us a lot of really insightful information into the lifestyle in Spain and the people and what sorts of things set Spain apart from other places. For instance, Spain is very laid back. Suddenly it made perfect sense to me why New Mexico is also laid back; many of the people who “founded” the culture in New Mexico came from Spain.

We spent some time back in our apartment in Madrid lounging around and taking naps. It was very reminiscent of a scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls (which I still haven’t finished reading; I really need to) that one of the women describes from her time vacationing in Madrid.

We then took the Metro out to the edge of Madrid where Gian Piero lives. As soon as we walked out of the metro station I was completely taken aback. It looked exactly like Albuquerque. The landscape was dry and barren with little shrubs and grasses in places, but not much more. The photo I took of the landscape looking at the highway looked exactly like I’d taken it in Albuquerque. It was the most surreal feeling I think I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was back in Albuquerque and yet I was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in a completely different country.

We hung out at Gian Piero’s apartment for some time. Ricardo and him played Super Smash Bros together while I read, and they taught me how to play after a little bit as well. (I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera while I was there, if you’re curious. It didn’t feel right to read a book about London while in Spain, but it felt very right to read a book in a Spanish place by a Spanish author while in Madrid. I loved the book. It was amazing. It weirdly felt like a kindred read to Lolita, which I’d read earlier during our travels. Both were very strange love stories, the likes of which I’d never read before.) After that, we went swimming in the pool. And then headed out to meet Adri at a fancy tapas bar in central Madrid. The tapas bar was three or four stories tall. The bottom level was more a restaurant where you ordered, but where we were on the second level you got your drinks (summer wine) from a waitress and then went around to all the tapas counters and got whatever you wanted from there. We got fish-topped crackers and Spanish tortillas and delicious food. The place had a giant stage where there was a DJ playing music, but apparently performers such as aerial silk artists sometimes perform there. It was a really lovely evening.

Saturday, August 5th
I woke up Saturday morning feeling very sick. Part of it was dehydration, part of it was my immune system had relaxed for the first time in months, and part of it was the dread of traveling for 36 hours that we were getting ready to face.

Firstly, Ricardo and I had to check out of our Airbnb, so we packed up all of our luggage and went to Adriana’s house to drop off our luggage there for a few hours. We went to a store around the corner to get me a gatorade or powerade for the electrolytes and I chugged it. Apparently when I had gotten to her house I was pale pale, and I began getting color back in my face after that powerade.

After that, Adri, Ricardo, and I headed over to this place that served Venezuelan arepas, where we met up with Gian Piero. I’ve only had arepas one other time at Raquel’s (Ricardo’s sister’s) house in New York. They’re essentially these really thick corn flour tortillas or pancakes in a way. You cut them open through the middle and then stuff them with anything from eggs to beef or chicken or anything in between. At the arepa place I got a tuna salad arepa and it was delicious. After arepas (where we watched this one little finch go around hopelessly pursuing a girl finch that kept rejecting him), we went to a frozen yogurt place down the road. It was delicious. Honestly, we had so much delicious food in Spain (qué sabroso!) that I was constantly full. I would get un-full enough to have another delicious meal and then was full again. Perpetual fullness everywhere.

After that, we went back to Adri’s, picked up our bags, and said goodbye before taking an Uber back to the airport. And thus started out day and a half travels back to D.C.

Saturday, August 5th/Sunday, August 6th: Perpetual Traveling
So we got to the airport in Madrid, got through security, and looked out at a landscape that looked like it could have been New Mexico. Our plane back to London was uneventful. We arrived at the London Gatwick airport to the south of London and got through customs. We then took the tube back to the Blackfriar station and got out to find somewhere to eat. We’d arrived in London around 8:00pm and since our plane the next morning left from London Heathrow at 5:30am, we decided to not get an Airbnb for the night and just camp out out the airport. So since we had plenty of time to get to the airport, we walked from Blackfriar’s towards Temple station until we found a lovely Italian restaurant where we decided to eat.

The meal was lovely. It was my first attempt in a month at eating healthy again. (I was doing a really good job of eating vegan since last January for environmental reasons, but it was impossible to do in London. Why deprive yourself of all the delicious meat pies and pub food while you’re in London?) The bathroom played classical music and it was a perfect, lovely meal to end our travels in Europe with.

We then made our way to Heathrow airport and got there around maybe 11:00pm. We camped out on a row of chairs by the entrance and took turns taking naps, charging phones, and reading books. Finally, around 3:00pm we checked in our luggage and got through security. Our first plane flew from London to Chicago. Even though we flew for around 8 hours, we were flying back in time so we got to the Chicago airport around 7:30am. I probably slept maybe an hour or two on that plane, which totaled to maybe three hours of sleep total in two days? We had to go through customs and security again in Chicago (and Ricardo had to throw away the sunscreen in his carry-on, which had already made it through security in Madrid AND in London). Our flight to DC was thankfully short and we made it back home by about 4:00pm.

Thus ended our travels in Europe.

Afterward
I’m still in disbelief that I got to visit three different countries (England, France, and Spain) and five different cities (London, Oxford, Paris, Dover, and Madrid) this summer. I had no idea I would get to travel so much. The most expensive part was that plane flight across the Atlantic. After you’re there, it’s so much cheaper to travel between countries. I have loved every moment of it and would move to Europe in a heartbeat if it was easy enough to do so. Ricardo has been the best travel companion one could ask for and I’m so lucky to have gotten to experience it all with him.

London is still my favorite city of all time. Paris came in second. Madrid came in third. I think DC is probably somewhere on the same level as Paris or Madrid. I have so many photos that I may or may not ever publish them all somewhere. But regardless, it was an amazing trip.

If you’ve been reading all these travel blogs (which I know from talking to some of you that you are), I’m really glad you have. You’re the best. Thanks for sticking through this trip with me!

15. The London Chronicles: Part IV – Paris

Firstly, I know I’m super behind on these travel blogs. As of the moment I’m typing this line, I’m already back in the States and will probably be back in DC by the time I post this. So much has happened, but I promise I will get it all down!

(Editing update: I am indeed back home in D.C. at the time of publishing this post.)

This here is a special edition blog on Paris. Firstly, Paris is amazing. Secondly, we were only there for three days. Thirdly, we did a ton while we were there. So hopefully this blog doesn’t end up being too lengthy.

Thursday, July 20th
So the whole Paris adventure starts with Ricardo and I running, quite literally running, through King’s Cross/Saint Pancras to try to get to our train on time. We made it and checked in literally a minute before the gates closed for check-in. We went through two levels of passport control and basic security before finally making it onto the Eurostar. We slept for a good hour or so and read books and wrote the rest of the trip.

We made it to Paris and arrived at the Gare du Nord station late in the evening. We could not find a free bathroom within the station (since they all made you pay euros and we had no cash) and so we went to Burger King across the street and got French fries in France to use a French bathroom. It was a very impressive entry into Paris.

We took the underground Metró to the Marais district where our Airbnb was located. We found a nice Parisian restaurant almost immediately and ordered escargot (which I’ve never had before), onion soup (not French onion, because we were in France), and two coke zeros (our joint soda of choice). The coke zeros came out in glass bottles with accompanying glasses of ice with lemons and long spoons. The escargot came out in a little tray with indentations for the shells – which were beautiful – and had either 6 or 8 escargot all filled with pesto sauce. You pick up a snail shell with this reverse claw grabber and then take this little tiny fork, dig out the snail meat, and then pop the whole snail body into your mouth. Oh my garlic, escargot is absolutely delicious. I could eat it every day. Also, the coke zeros cost more than the escargot did; we found this was a trend in France and eventually started avoiding sodas because they cost more than a glass of wine, for instance.

On the way to our Airbnb, we got sidetracked by the beautiful Hotel de Ville which was lit up in the night. From the plaza in front of the Hotel de Ville, we could see the bell tower of Notre Dame. We immediately beelined our way to Notre Dame. Notre Dame was incredible. Even at 11:30 at night, there were people. After Notre Dame, we walked along the Seine towards our apartment and oh how the bridge lights illuminated the river. As soon as I saw that vision, I understood why France was perfect for the Impressionists. The photo I took of that river and the bridge over it looked exactly like an impressionist painting. The entire picture was complete with a street musician playing an accordion down on the nearest street corner.

We finally made it to our Airbnb. I loved it immediately. You entered through a nondescript green door right in between two shops and entered this hallway that led to this sweeping wooden staircase. Right at the bottom of the staircase there was an open door that led into this little, tranquil courtyard filled with plants and a table and chairs and a fountain. The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by the walls of several floors of flats. Our little Paris apartment was on the second floor. It was a single room divided into bedroom and kitchen by a half wall. There were plants and large windows that opened down into the courtyard. There was no normal door to the bathroom, but instead the bathroom was separated from the bedroom by two swinging saloon-type doors. The little flat was lovely and I fell in love with it immediately. I would move there in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 21st
Friday morning started off with lovely sunlight streaming in the windows. We got breakfast of egg sandwiches, cappuccinos, and a Nutella crepe at a little café and then ate along the bank of the Seine. It was lovely. After eating, we walked back to Notre Dame, which was right across the Seine from where we were staying. The cathedral is even more magnificent during the day and the gargoyles are hilarious. There was such a long line to get into Notre Dame that we decided to not go on; when you have two days in Paris, several hours waiting in line is not a good time investment.

Our next goal was the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was a bit over two miles away so we decided to walk. We saw the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful park in front of it and it was everything I could have imagined. You always see pictures of these iconic, famous monuments, but I swear to you the Eiffel Tower is so much more magnificent than it appears in photos. After we took pictures with the sunny, blue sky behind the tower, we headed in the direction of the Louvre. On the way, we got lunch at this supposedly fancy French restaurant where we got salmon salad and very, very smelly cheeses with crackers. I can’t way I was a fan, honestly.

After lunch – and on the way to the Louvre – we walked down the Champs-Elysees and got a Nutella crepe (delicious) on the way. We saw the Petite Palais and the Grande Palais from the outside, and I must admit the Petite Palais is by far my favorite of the two. It was just as elegant and beautiful but on a less grand and haughty scale. Ricardo and I sat down in the grass next to a fountain between the two palaces and spent a good hour or two dreaming about the future and what possibilities it could possibly hold.

More walking! We walked through the very large and very beautiful, sprawling Jardin des Tuileries, which were these magnificent gardens with lawn chairs and hedges with secret passages and flowers and a Ferris wheel, all leading up to the Louvre. Then the Louvre. We managed to get there at the perfect time when there was very little line indeed. You know the famous glass pyramid? The entrance is down through that pyramid and into this grand foyer-type area that then leads to many offshoots. The Louvre itself is so huge it sprawls longer than I dare estimate. As the Louvre is so big though, we just prioritized the few things we really had to see. As such, we beelined towards the Mona Lisa, found the magnificent Winged Victory (which is one of my two favorite statues), actually got to see the small but absolutely captivating Mona Lisa, and on the way out saw my other favorite statue Eros & Psyche. The entire museum was amazing, and had we had more than two days in Paris, I would have loved to spend an entire day exploring. Before we headed out of the Louvre, we had a small luncheon at the rooftop café and sat amidst statues of old French kings while looking over the plaza below.

After the Louvre, we headed north towards Montmarte. We passed the Paris Opera House on the way up there and I finally got the chance to see the Moulin Rouge. We got delicious gelato (by courtesy and suggestion of Ricardo’s mom) in Montmarte and saw the Montmarte Cemetery from an overlook on a bridge. We would have actually gone into the cemetery, but it had closed already since sunset was soon approaching. Regardless, the graves and mausoleums all piled on top of each other made for the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen.

We climbed up a large hill and countless stairs to the Sacre-Coeur, which was a magnificent little cathedral that literally looked out over all of Paris. The inside of the cathedral was lovely, and the view was breathtaking. People sat on that grassy hill right below the cathedral simply to look out at all of Paris laid out below.

We ended our first full day in Paris by getting McDonald’s. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do!

Saturday, July 22nd
Saturday started out with breakfasts of eggs and bread with jam and butter at this little place across the street. Our main goal of the day was to see Versailles, so we got on the metro and took about an hour or more to get to the outskirts of Paris where Versailles is located. We already had our tickets, so we got a small lunch of sandwiches at a tourist trap nearby. After getting into the main gates of Versailles, we spent an hour and a half in line in the middle of the cobblestones surrounded by gilded fences of gold on all side, all to get into the actual palace. It worked well though; I had time to read my book and Ricardo had time to look over some philosophy.

Once we got into the actual palace, it was completely worth the hour and a half wait. Versailles was magnificent. Gilded gold and white surfaces everywhere, marble or wood floors (depending on what level you were at), and magnificent paintings and chandeliers adorning every wall and ceiling. Upstairs there were rooms all colored in themes, so the pink room had magenta pink wall hangings, curtains, and velvet wallpaper, while the green room had all the same items matching, just in apple green. The famous Hall of Mirrors, which I’ve read about so often when I was younger, was breathtaking. Photos simply can’t do it justice. We had a lovely luncheon tea of quiche and this fancy symmetrical cream pastry and wine and tea. I sketched one of the chandeliers in the dining room while we were waiting to eat.

After eating, we ventured into the Gardens of Versailles. And oh, they were magnificent. That day was one of the special summer days of Musical Gardens; this meant some of the largest fountains had shows where the fountain waters were set to grand classical music, and classical music issued from many different hedges and walkways. We explored through some of the different sections of the gardens – for it was divided into large rectangles with themes – like children, I taught Ricardo how to waltz and we waltzed down one of the boulevards, and we pretended to be statutes on an empty statue base. There was a large lake in the middle of the gardens and we discovered that this lake rented out rowboats for an hour. How often do you get to row on a rowboat on a lake in Versailles? So we rowed out and had a really lovely hour in the midst of this quiet little lake, surrounded on all sides by trees and Versailles and little ducks and a family of swans and cygnets.

After disembarking from the rowboat, we got kicked out of the gardens along with everyone else, for security was starting to set up for some large event that was happening there that night. We ran to Marie Antoinette’s estate a good bit off to make it in before they closed and we made it there within 5 minutes of them shutting the doors. The estate was small, but I’m so glad we saw it. When you first enter, there’s this little courtyard and it was literally the closest thing to a fairy tale setting that I have ever seen in my life. Rose bushes and trees filled the open space, while a little bird’s house hung from an overhanging rooftop edge. The inside of the estate was just as stunning, if a tad more simple, than the overly ornate main palace.

We got dinner at this place called the Americain. The menus had photos of some of the United States’ most popular presidents and the outside had vintage tin Coca Cola advertisements. I got the best chicken fajitas I think I’ve ever had and Ricardo got a crazy delicious burger that I think might have been called the Obama burger. We got pina coladas and apple pie for dessert and the irony is that one of our best meals in Paris was American themed.

We took the hour-long train home and relaxed for a bit before heading out to this jazz club Ricardo knew about that was just on the other side of Notre Dame and the Seine from where our Airbnb was located. The place was called Le Caveau de la Huchette and was very much a local secret. (Ricardo had been to Paris several years ago and found out about it then.) This club was two levels: the first level was a bar lit by stained glass lamps and had a couch extending across one whole wall, while the lower level was an underground dance place. The whole building had once been a prison back during the French Revolution and had been converted to a jazz bar. All the walls, especially on the lower level, were the same stone walls with engravings and cubbies carved out from the prison. A live jazz band played on a stage in one corner and the whole floor in front of them was taken over by whomever felt like dancing. The whole place reeked of the clean sweat of people dancing and it was such an experience to get to dance there in their midst to a jazz band while in Paris.

We wandered through a few streets after leaving Le Caveau and got another Nutella crepe on the way. I have to mention the absolutely terrible street artists who were trying to beatbox and dance to it on the corner. They were so bad the police literally showed up to make them stop.

Sunday, July 23rd
We were up early on Sunday to check out of our Airbnb. We left straight to the Musee d’Orsay, which was the Parisian art museum with most of the Impressionists. I got to see Monets, Degas, and Van Goghs, with my most favorites of course being some of Degas’ dancer paintings. Some of them were so tiny!

Afterwards, we met up with one of Ricardo’s old friends who lives in Paris. We had a lovely lunch and I learned a lot about life in Paris and how different law degrees and education is in France compared to the US. Yannis took us on a small walking tour through the intellectual capital of Paris and we got to see cafes where famous writers through the years have worked. The old church the three of us had coffee across from was the center of what would bud into Paris’ intellectual corner. For the life of me I cannot remember what that church was called.

After Yannis departed, Ricardo and I went to the Gardens of Luxemburg. I sketched a scene at the Fountaine Medicis where a delightful quintuplet of ducklings and their parents were swimming to and fro. In the gardens, there was also a very large fountain where children and their parents launched these clever little sailboats with big sticks. The sailboats would sail across the water and the kids would run to wherever their sailboat was going to land so they could push it off in another direction.

From there, we took the metro back to the station and ended up missing the first train back to London. We also missed the second train back because the lines for passport control were so ridiculous. In our defense, a good 30 people, all on our train, all missed the train together, so we got pushed onto remaining room on the train after that. People on that train also missed it because our supposedly booked coach was half empty. The whole system there was very poorly set up. Regardless, we finally made it back to London after a delightful conversation with some fellow study abroad students who were doing communications internships. As soon as we walked into King’s Cross, I felt like I was home. There was a man playing piano in the hall and all was well.

The rest of the evening we spent studying at the Good Samaritan. Thus ended our weekend trip to Paris.