Choynowski experiences picture perfect Parisian getaway

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by Daniella Choynowski

staff writer

I recently spent 10 days in Paris for my capstone project and my first remark about the trip is that I thought I was going to die.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in Nogent-sur-Marne when I was driven into Paris by my host family. (The previous days had been spent in their suburb doing research and taking a bus tour of the city). I was dropped off right in front of Notre Dame and told not to stay out too late.

Famous last words.

I started walking. Coincidently, I found all the major Parisian landmarks on my walk (Sorbonne, Luxembourg, The National Opera house, Champs Elysees). I was walking the same streets that Wilde walked. I may have even sat at the same cafes he did.

Being the literary and drama nerd that I am, I spent nearly all of my money on plays and books that day.

I even found a copy of Lady Windermere's Fan that was so old it still had the NOT TO BE INTRODUCED INTO THE BRITISH EMPIRE OR UNITED STATES label across the cover. But back to the story.

It was about 8 o'clock when I realized I had better start heading back. Little did I realize that in the process of 5 hours I had walked to the other end of the city.

Running as I retraced my steps (I had not yet mastered the train system, so I only knew how to get back to Nogent from the St Michel-Notre Dame stop). Relieved, I ran into the station to buy a ticket at the counter, which was closed, along with every other business in the area.

At this point, I began to panic.

There was a machine in the wall, but I had no clue as to how to work it,. The instructions were in French and all I knew was “tu parlez anglais”.

My instinct was to run over to the Prefecture of Police for help, but I didn't want to look like a stupid tourist (too late). My next idea was the hospital right above the station.

There were two people in the entire building that spoke English, and it took forever (it seemed) before they were able to tell me how to use the automated ticket machine.

All was fine and dandy until my card was declined. The machine was only taking cash, and I had given my last 50 cent Euro piece to a gypsy.

 Thank god for the English-speaking exchange student that happened to walk down the steps and give me the money I needed.

Think it got better from here? Think again.

There is nothing more terrifying than being alone at night in a country where you don't know the language.

 Except for maybe being on the train where creepy men keep asking for your number while you are crying because you got on the wrong train. 3 TIMES.

Finally, the train pulled into the Nogent-Perreaux station, right around the corner from where I was staying. The town was 15 minutes away from Notre Dame.

How long did it take me to get home? 4 hours.

I remember kissing the floor of the apartment as I burst through the door. I began climbing the steps to my bedroom as I heard a key turn in the door.

Lorent, a member of my host family, had gotten home 10 seconds after me. There would have been hell to pay if I had been about 15 seconds later. I was so lucky, but so scared from the night that I didn't get to sleep until 5:30 in the morning.

After that night, I knew the RER/Metro system like the back of my hand. I traveled all over the city. I laid flowers on Oscar Wilde's grave. I saw Versailles, (let me tell you, Marie Antoinette had a serious spending problem).

There is a church called Sacre Couer that overlooks the entire city. When I walked into the building, I was so struck by the beauty inside and outside that I had to stand there for a good 10 minutes and take it all in.

There are many great things about America, but one thing I have never seen here is people weeping over the beauty of a church and a city view.  The French are very appreciative of all that is around them, man-made and not. They don't tear down their history like we do here.

The French reuse and adapt their history. Apartment buildings are richly engraved in Gothic style.

Pre-revolution buildings are converted into offices and restaraunts.

All chairs in the restaurants face outdoors so people can take in the sights and sounds. There is something awe-inspiring about living in the middle of all this history.

The sun was setting on my trip and in Paris as I sat down to read by Ponte Neuf on my last day. My online class had begun the day before, so I figured I may as well get some work done. That didn't happen. Just as I began to read about the ancient Greeks, three young Parisian men began to scream.

Why, you may wonder? Every 3-5 minutes or so, a tourist boat would float by. And the three young men decided to moon every boat. For about an hour.

Frustrated, I left the three moons over the Seine to get on the train for the final time.

As I was passing by Notre Dame, I heard music. I quickly ran in and saw that mass was just beginning. I sat down and listened to the service, which was sung entirely in French. After mass, I took one final look at the city, not knowing when I would return. With a heavy heart, I turned and got on the train.

I got to experience Paris in a way I never would have had I gone with a school group or parents. For 10 days, I eat, slept, and breathed French culture and history.

I got to explore every inch of the city. It was the trip of a lifetime, and it still takes my breathe away when I reflect upon it.

I have one regret. Days before I had left America, I had been dumped. I arrived in Paris sad, with a broken heart. I cannot believe that I almost let a boy ruin the greatest city in the world. 


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