Discovering a city during a study abroad experience
By Matilde Pozzato / Matthew staff || Edited by Marouso Pappa
During my study abroad Spring semester, at the American University of Paris, my best friend Cate came to visit me from Verona. She arrived at the end of March, during the windiest days of my entire stay. I had already put away the winter jacket that I wore non-stop for almost three months, but she convinced me to bring it because it was probably cold on the top of the Eiffel Tower — good thing I listened to her because the wind of the night could have thrown us off that tower if it wasn’t for the fence. When we got off to head home, we looked for the famous carousel everyone takes pictures of. While looking for it we saw what was hands down the prettiest sky I had ever seen. There was a colorful sunset made up of a mixture of red, blue, and pink. Paris in the winter (I wouldn’t know about summertime) is almost always cloudy and grey, but the colorful sunset I saw that evening, and the presence of my best friend whom I hadn’t seen in months and with which I used to dream about living in Paris with since we were little, seemed like a gift; a sign from the universe telling me I was supposed to be there in that moment.
For her entire stay, Cate and I carried on an inside joke — we are actually still referring to it and we most likely always will. The joke originated from what a friend of Cate told her about Paris. Cate’s friend, whom I will call Carmen here, had recently gone to Paris with her boyfriend and when Cate told her she was visiting the city for the first time with me, Carmen looked at her with a bit of disgust and said that you should only go to Paris with your significant other, because Paris is the city of love. Cate and I always joke about being forever single, so we laughed it off and turned it into an inside joke.
Looking at that wonderful, colorful sky, I started thinking about how many might believe that Paris is a city for romantic couples and nothing more. I thought of how much Paris had given me even if I was there alone. I don’t think I would have learned or experienced as much if I wasn’t there alone.
In Paris, I felt comfortable enough to beat my fear of taking public transportation alone. Walking everywhere in Paris is wonderful and makes you feel like you would win the walking gold medal at the Olympics, if something like that existed. But it is also convenient to adapt to the comfort of the 21st century and take the metro to cover a 15-minute distance that would take one hour and a half to walk when you are in a hurry. And so there I was, with the metro map in my hand, my EarPods, and one wonderful city to discover. I could choose where to go, how long to stay there, where to eat, and when to go home.
I didn’t have classes on Wednesdays, so I made it a tradition to go to the cutest bookshop Librerie Galignani on Rue de Rivoli every Wednesday. I would stay there for hours, but never actually bought a thing, because I was trying to avoid buying material stuff and learn how to pack light. Still, visiting the bookshop always inspired me to be grateful for the books I already had.
After the bookstore, I would go to the cafe next door, Angelina Café, for my weekly treat of macarons — I should have tried a new flavor each week but I only had chocolate every time— I’m the type of person that thinks desserts of any other flavors are pointless. I’d take the macarons to the Jardin des Tuileries, a beautiful garden between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, with a lake, lots of wonderful flowers, and green chairs to sit on. Reading my book one Wednesday, I spent some time trying to avoid a pigeon from pooping on my new blue hat, meditating about life for about 15 seconds before getting distracted, and, of course, noticing people watching because who would have thought that it can take up to nine tries to set the chair exactly the way you want it?
The Jardin des Tuileries, is not only wonderful, but it is close to where I lived, around the corner to the bookstore and the macarons café, and right by Musée de l’Orangerie, where Monet’s Water Lillies live. Visiting museums by yourself is the absolute best if you are someone like me that doesn’t need to see everything at once and that is not scared to say that is not interested in every single piece of the museum. The very first time I went to the Louvre I did so for one reason and one reason only: stand in front of Amore e Psiche for 20 minutes and then get out of there and on to lunch. Of course I went back when Cate wanted to visit other beautiful art pieces that her mom suggested we’ll see like Le Radeau de la Méduse and Nike di Samotracia. I still didn’t look at everything: never stepped foot in the Egyptian art, I could do this with my best friend because we are like twins, but in any other case going to museums alone is top notch according to me.
Besides my Wednesday dates with books and macarons, every weekend I got to decide what I wanted to see . The Latin Quarter is a staple. Walking there makes you feel like an artist or a writer in the early 1900s. Every one of them had a coffee there: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Piaf, Claudel. Many colors, scents and aromas from dozens of different cuisines fill the streets. If you walk around with no direction — like I always do because I am sure I’ll remember the way I came from but then pull out Google Maps to realize I am going in the exact opposite direction every single time — you can easily end up in front on Notre Dame, which is always a majestic surprise. Until May this year you still couldn’t go inside after the 2019 fire. If you are in that area, I suggest turning around again and visiting Saint Chapelle, the most beautiful church I have ever seen among all the ones I visited in my life. I didn’t even know about it until Cate suggested we go. At first I hesitated — all the way to the Latin Quarter on a Saturday when it is packed with people to see some random church. Well, luckily enough I listened to her suggestion. The chapel was built in the 1200s and it’s stained glass windows are breathtaking.
Everything you can do in Paris with someone, you can enjoy on your own. You can see it through a soundtrack from your EarPods as a moving street threatre . You can walk your way down the Champs Élyseées and then turn back and admire the Arc de Triomphe. It might sound like a thing only tourists do, but I highly recommend going on the rooftop of the Arc and watching all the roads emerge from below. From up there it took me only a few minutes to recognize the street where my apartment was. Finally I understood why the first time I went running it took me 1.5 kilometers to realize I was running in circles because the Arc is, in fact, a round-about. Going up on the Arc it’s tricky to know how to get to the entrance so I thought of jaywalking the busiest roundabout I have ever seen and risk it all (sometimes I wonder how I made it 21 years in this world), but luckily again, my voice of reason, Cate, figured out there was probably a tunnel. She was right: we went through the metro entry of Charles de Gaulle.
After all those stairs, a chocolate soufflé was more than appropriate, but that area is full of tourist traps, so pick your poison. If after the Arc’s stairs you have any energy at all, maybe you should check-out what is probably my favorite spot in the city — and where I only went once during my entire stay which is wild and weird — namely, Montmartre. Stop at the candy shop on your way uphill because sugar being bad is clearly a folktale or I would be long gone by now. I know, trendy Montmartre might be a banal choice but there is something magical — maybe left by the great artists that lived there like Picasso or Degas — about the staircase packed with people just sitting and minding their business while you wished they could all just leave so that you can go up the stairs without risking your life on every step by hurdling among them. The cabaret quartier, with its Moulin Rouge, is just around the corner and it is a historical must. Cate and I tried to take nice pictures in front of it but it was too packed with people and we couldn’t find a good spot, so we took a picture with our heart and went to dinner. We ended the night with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese, which you can find on the menu under the name “caillot de sang”, which translates to “blood cloth.
Paris was a unique chapter of my life, and when I think about my time there a smile always appears on my face. I remember how free I felt every time I discovered a new place and how proud of myself I was when I did something that scared me. Paris gave me incredible memories that I will carry with me forever: all the chocolate I ate, all the fun I had with my best friend, the prettiest of sunsets, the Wednesday dates, the half-visited museums. But maybe the greatest thing that happened there is that every time I fell in love with a piece of Paris, I was falling a bit more in love with myself.