Friday, 17 August 2012

Culture shock, in Paris!

I arrived back in Paris on the 25th, where I said goodbye to my mother who was returning to Edinburgh. Charles De Gaulle airport is massive. I left the bamboo stick from Emei shan in the loo cubicle before going through the nothing to declare barrier... After retrieving my baggage, I met up with a Parisian friend who I had met a year before at the language school in Florence. He is a manager of a business in Paris, and it would seem that he is doing pretty well for himself. We took the metro to this flat in a district near the Eiffel tower, but more hip and local. I was pretty exhausted, so the French language, the metro and the change of location were really getting to me. It is strange how I only ever get culture shock when I return to Europe. During the first afternoon in Paris, I really didn't want to be there. I had taken less than a week of my time to practice French, and I already wanted to go to Italy.

My friend took me on a walk to see the local area. We walked around the gardens next to the Eiffel tower, bought some croissants from an organic bakery and he reserved a table at a stereotypical French restaurant. I was surprised at his generosity, he paid for all of my metro tickets and all of my meals. That evening my stomach also had a culture shock: fried goats cheese followed by cheesy ravioli washed down with almost half a bottle of red wine. After a month of rice, vegetables and broth, this was way too rich, and the service too formal. I did however appreciate the good wine.

The following morning I woke up more relaxed. I accessed facebook for the first time since being in China. At lunch time I met up with an Italian friend, Giada, from Cremona, who was coincidentally in Paris at the same time. We met by the side of a carousel near the Seine. She was traveling with a Canadian friend called Amanda, we all got on really well fortunately! We walked around the centre chatting and trying to practice our French, shopped on the Champs Elysees and drank coffee. Thanks to my friends, I felt a relief from the shock I had felt on arriving in Paris. That evening my French host took me to a Michelin star restaurant across the road from his flat. I had champagne, red wine, cheesy gnocchi and an ile flottante for pudding. Despite another shock to the stomach, the wine was incredible for stimulating conversation in French. I was rambling about all sorts before the end of the night. Giada sent me a text asking me to meet up, so after dinner I took the train to a suburb full of nightlife. We went to a bar/disco with a few other friends of hers and returned after 1am...

Whilst Giada wanted to spend the next day shopping, Amanda and I met up and went to Versaille together. After exploring the old town of Versailles, we headed toward the palace. It was sunny but not too hot, the perfect weather for walking in gardens. We had finished wondering around the gardens rather early, though decided to skip the interior of the palace itself as the length of the queue was ridiculously long. 

We went in search of one of the so-called best patisseries in Paris, la patisserie des reves. We each had a choux pastry, mine was filled with pistachio cream and raspberry coulis. 

How on earth was this vegan??

After our energy boost we walked on a to Victor Hugo metro, from which we headed to Monmartre. I hadn't been there for four years, it was a nice nostalgic trip, despite the crowds and tourist traps. The views are amongst the best, if not the most romantic views in Paris. I had this song going through my head:

That evening my French host took me to a creperie, where we had sweet sparkling cider, savoury galettes and sweet crepes. After a cup of herbal tea that evening, I fell asleep reading the second book of Game of thrones

The next day was the last day in Paris. I walked around the streets of Saint Germain, where I bought an inexpensive edition of Madame Bovary. From there I went up to see La Sorbonne, the university where I could potentially study for Erasmus next year. I really liked the area and the building itself, though I am still torn between Paris and Grenoble. I kept walking, over the Seine and past Notre Dam, until I reached the Pompidou centre. 

That evening I went to a vegetarian restaurant with my French host, where I ate a hearty salad with some organic red wine, followed by soya ice cream. 

Just as I was remembering how much I loved Paris and France, I had to leave. The next day I left Paris on the TGV train, traveling in 1st class (it cost the same as 2nd!) through France via Lyon, the alps, into Italy via Turin to Milan. I shall definitely be returning to France (or a French speaking country) as soon as possible to practice my French and enjoy the change of scenery.

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