Author: Emily Hardesty (page 1 of 2)

Adventures in Scotland and Ireland

St. Gile's Cathedral

While I had dreamed of traveling the world when I was younger, I never fully believed that would be possible for myself. There was always some seemingly big obstacle in the way, such as money or being too young. Last week I found myself doing the “impossible”: I traveled around Europe, living out of a backpack. While I have been on a few weekend trips already this semester, it felt so authentic to be traveling for a whole week. I finally felt like a real traveler that spends their life meeting new people, wearing the few clothes that they have with them repeatedly, and learning about many new cultures while seeing it before your own eyes. After traveling for a straight week, I finally realized how fun it is to wake up in the morning and think, “Where am I going next today?”

My first stop was in Edinburgh, Scotland. I had really chosen this location randomly based off the opinion of a friend who had been there already, and I didn’t know much about the city or even Scotland itself. I had head that it was a very beautiful city, but it wasn’t until I stepped off the bus and took a look around that I knew the stories were true. Edinburgh is an amazing city. It isn’t very big, but it makes up for its small size with its sheer beauty. Everywhere you look, there is something wonderful to see. It has a castle, many cathedrals and churches, mountains, and a lake. What else could you ask for from a city? One small downside to living in Edinburgh is the weather. Although it was the end of April when I visited, it was only in the 50s all week, and there would be random boughts of wind and rain. A lot of locals said it was summer weather! Despite the bad weather, Edinburgh charmed me in so many other ways that I soon forgot about the cold.

Athur's Seat

The first day my friend and I were there, we climbed Arthur’s Seat, which is the highest peak of a group of hills in the center of the city that were formed by an extinct valcano. It was a little steep going up, but there were steps built into the hills to help us along. The grass on these hills was incredibly green, and there was a huge breeze that nearly knocked us off the side of the hill as soon as we reached the top. The view was wonderful, and it was an amazing start to my weekend in Edinburgh.

Throughout the few days that we were there, my friend and I went on three different tours of the city. The first was a ghost tour at night which took us to a graveyard, underground vaults, and other spooky places while telling us about the dark history of Edinburgh. The next tour was a free three hour walking tour, which was surprisingly great for a free tour. I learned so much more history about the city and Scotland than I thought I would in the few short days I was there. The company (Sandeman’s New Europe Tours) has tours all over Europe, so I would recommend checking them out if you are ever in Europe. We also went no their spooky tour about witches, fairies, and cannibals, and that was pretty awesome as well. Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Scotland, learning about its history, and talking to the locals.

The Cliffs of Moher

Next on our agenda was Dublin, Ireland. I have heard so many times that Ireland is an amazing and beautiful place to visit, so of course I had to see it for myself. Dublin is a fairly large city with lovely cathedrals and a fun nightlife. What else would you expect in Ireland? We ended up taking the same free walking tour around the city and learned a lot about Ireland’s history. I’m not much of a history buff, but it’s so different when you’ve thrown yourself into a strange city and have no idea about its present or past. That’s why I really liked taking these walking tours; it’s so much better learning about a foreign city if you are actually there to see the sights for yourself.

My favorite part of my trip to Ireland was when we went on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, which are on the complete opposite side of the country from Dublin. The Cliffs of Moher look over the Atlantic Ocean and are just breathtaking. On the way to Galway, the bus took us through the countryside along the coast, and we stopped at a few sights to take pictures. It was a perfect sunny day, and I had such a great time looking at all of the sheep and rock walls amongst the green fields. Galway was a very sweet town next to the sea filled with ancient churches, landmarks, and good food.

I had a wonderful time seeing the sights in Scotland and Ireland during my first week of spring break, and I can’t wait to continue my journey around Europe this coming week.

Rocks on the Irish Countryside

Monet’s Gardens in Giverny

Biking to Giverny

Just as spring finally made its way to Paris, my program and I spent a little time enjoying the sun in Giverny, France where we visited Claude Monet’s house and gardens. One thing I’ve learned to love about Paris is the short amount of time it takes to take the train anywhere. If you want to get out of the city for the day, all you need is a train ticket, and in about a short hour, you’re there! After we arrived at the train station in Vernon, we rented bicylces and took the scenic route to Giverny just a few miles away. The day was absolutely gorgeous, so we stopped and had a picnic for lunch. The town of Giverny is a typical small, French village or in other words, just adorable. I just love seeing the other side of French life outside of Paris. The green fields and complete silence reminds me of my home in the country back in the states.

Monet’s house and gardens are quite a popular place to visit in France, and we saw at least four other American study abroad groups there on the same day. The property has been open to the public since 1980, but before that, it took many years and a lot of money to restore the house and gardens back to their former glory after the bombings in World War II.

Monet's home

I had seen Monet’s water lily paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, and I was very excited to see them in person. Unfortunately, the water lilies were not in bloom yet (July is when they really bloom), so we were a little disappointed. Despite this small setback, the rest of the gardens were quite beautiful. It was so refreshing to see so many colorful flowers everywhere after such a long winter. There were tulips, violets, and many other kinds of flowers that I couldn’t name offhand. By the small pond, there was a weeping willow along with a Japanese bridge, which can be seen in Monet’s paintings.

I naively assumed that Monet’s house wouldn’t be anything special next to the amazing gardens, but I proved myself wrong as soon as I stepped in the door. Monet’s house is moderate in size but makes up for this fact with what is inside. All of the furniture is old fashioned, and the walls are covered with Japanese art. One thing I really enjoyed was the brightly colored walls in the dining room and the kitchen, which were yellow and blue respectively. My favorite room was the studio, which held at least twenty paintings by Monet. I am currently learning about Monet in my art history class, so it was really nice to see some of his work and its inspirations in person. I would love to come back to Giverny someday in the summer to see the water lilies in full bloom and to see this quaint house again.

View of the pond with the Japanese bridge

View from the house

London’s Calling

Big Ben and Parliament

I have always dreamed of visiting London; seeing Big Ben has always been towards the top of my bucket list. Last weekend, I finally got to make that dream a reality. Of course I wanted to see as much as possible in the three days that I was there, so I arrived with a long list of sights to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how big London is, and I didn’t get to cross everything off my list during this trip. As soon as we walked outside of the train station, I instantly knew that I was in London. Everywhere I turned, I could see red double-decker buses and telephone booths, and as I listened in on conversations on the street, I could clearly hear British accents. I can’t describe how nice it was to finally be surrounded by English for a change!

When we arrived, the weather was a bit rainy, so we didn’t get to see many sights at first. Instead, we spent our time mostly indoors on Saturday, first at the world’s largest Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. I had been to one before in Wisconsin Dells, but this one was undoubtedly the best of its kind. I personally love everything bizarre, so I had to go inside once I heard it was the world’s largest Ripley’s museum. They had all sorts of strange items, including a prehistoric shark’s set of teeth, an iron maiden, and shrunken heads. It may not have been worth the 22 pounds that we paid (even with a student discount), but it was a nice was to pass the time out of the rain.

Bre and I in front of Buckingham Palace

The highlight of my weekend was without a doubt seeing The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I am a huge fan of the story; I have read the original book and many other fanfiction novels about the Phantom, and I have seen the both original and most recent film countless times. I adore the soundtrack and can sing you any song you choose by heart and play it for you on the piano (not necessarily at the same time!). During the show, I couldn’t help but mouth the words along with the actors. I was completely blown away by the quality of the singers’ voices and the special effects. When the chandelier went up at the very beginning and the organ started wailing the main tune, I had a mini heart attack and had the widest grin on my face. I believe that the Phantom of the Opera is a very important part of London’s broadway history, and I am so happy that I had the chance to see my favorite musical on stage in the best place in the world to see it performed.

After two days of rain, the sky finally opened up on Sunday and made way for a unbelievably beautiful day. My friend and I spent the entire day walking around London sight seeing. Our first stop was Abbey Road, made famous by the Beatles’ album of the same name. There were many tourists there literally stopping traffic just to snap a photo like the Beatles, and of course I became one of them. We then headed toward the River Thames, where we passed Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, and a lot of other really cool buildings. I was really surprised by how many great tourist spots were all clustered together in the same area. It did make for an easy sight seeing tour, though! After that, we saw the Globe Theatre, Millenium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the London Bridge, just to name a few.

I was completely amazed at how much there is to see in London, and I’m sad I couldn’t see it all in three days. Now that I know how great London really is, I am itching to go back and take a closer look at all this city has to offer.

Millenium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral

London Bridge

Easter in the Alps

This year’s Easter weekend was one of the most memorable in my life so far. I hopped on a TGV train by myself and went to visit my cousin and her husband in the East of France. They live in a very small town called Challex, which is right on the border of France and Switzerland. Challex is absolutely adorable. It is completely surrounded by the Jura mountains and the Alps, so there is never a dull view anywhere you look around. Challex also makes its own wine, so there are also many vineyards surrounding it. Even though the vineyards were bare and I couldn’t see much of the mountains, I really loved the atmosphere Challex gave off. It was so refreshing to be in a small town again, enclosed by complete silence and beautiful landscapes. My cousins moved to the area four years ago and absolutely love it. After spending a few days with them, I can absolutley understand why they don’t want to leave!

Chateau de Chillon

When I arrived on Saturday morning, we left straight from the airport in Geneva, Switzerland to go see a castle in Montreux. I had never visited a castle before, so I was really excited to explore Châteaux de Chillon. The castle was built in the 12th century and is located on an island on Lake Geneva. It was made popular by Lord Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) about a monk who was imprisoned there. Châteaux de Chillon is quite large, and it took a few hours to see the whole thing. My favorite parts of the castle were the dungeon, the chapel, and the weapons room. This castle is my cousins’ favorite to visit, and I would definitely recommend seeing it to anyone traveling to Switzerland.

I had no idea that I would be touring Switzerland for a whole day, so I was very happy to see Montreux and a completely different traditional Swiss town called Gruyères. This small town is home to the famous Gruyère cheese, which I tried for the first time and loved. My cousins believe that this town is the most beautiful they have ever seen, and I may have to agree with them. The town is situated a little higher into the mountains than Montreux, so I was amazed by how perfect the view of the mountains was. Gruyères is the perfect example of a postcard town. For dinner, we ate fondue and crème brûlée. This was another first for me, and I just fell in love with fondue. I’m already a big lover of cheese, so I’m not surprised that melting it just made me love it more.


On Easter Sunday, we drove to a lovely town called Annecy, which is just south of Lake Geneva. Once again, I was shocked by the beautiful view in this town. Annecy is just North of Lake Annecy, and lining the lake are gorgeous mountains. To top it off, there is a castle downtown. What more could you possibly ask for? We spent the day taking in the sights around town and enjoying the little bit of sun while we could. Since it was Easter, I learned a little bit about how the French celebrate this holiday. Instead of the Easter bunny bringing eggs to the children during the night, the bells from Rome fly to France and bring them instead. How this is possible, I don’t know, but I like the creativity! Apparently French children also make nests outside of their homes for the bells to put the eggs in.

Another fun holiday that happened to be the next day was April Fool’s Day, and boy, do the French like celebrating that holiday. Somehow in Annecy, we stumbled upon a Poisson d’Avril festival. Basically on April 1st, the French (mainly children) go around secretly sticking paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting people. When the person finds the fish, they are called the Poisson d’Avril or the April Fish. Legend has it that in the 16th century, King Charles XIV changed the French calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Before this change, New Year’s Eve had been celebrated from March 25th to April 1st according to the Roman calendar. Those who hadn’t heard about the change and continued to celebrate New Year’s on April 1st were made fun of and called April Fish. I think this legend is hilarious, and I wish we celebrated this in the U.S. At the festival, they gave out fish stickers, and we had fun watching children slyly stick them on adults’ backs.

My cousins and I in the Alps

On my final day with my cousins, they took me to a town called Les Houches in the French Alps to see the mountains a little closer. We put on our snow shoes and hiked along the ski trails for hours. It was surprisingly warm up in the Alps because of the direct sunlight and the reflection off of the snow, and I ended up with a sunburn on my hands and the bottom half of my face. One thing that I’ll never forget is how we climbed a summit of a mountain. Although I’m not that great with heights and had to inch my way both up and down, I can proudly say that I’ve climbed a mountain. (Maybe not all the way up by myself, but I still climbed the summit of a mountain!) Before I went to the Alps, I thought that I had already seen some amazing sights that weekend. It wasn’t until I got up the mountain and looked up at Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in Europe and the 11th tallest in the world) that I knew I had seen something extraordinary. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful the view was from the top of that mountain, and I know that I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life. The mountains have absolutely captured my attention, and I’m already dying to return as soon as possible.

I had such a wonderful time with my cousins Easter weekend. I experienced so many new and exciting things, and I’m very grateful that I was able to spend Easter with my family. I can’t wait for my next visit to Challex and the Alps! Maybe next time I’ll have the nerve to try my hand at skiing.

French Alps


French Wine Tasting

The group with our host

France is known for having wonderful food, such as cheese and bread, but it is also known for its amazing wine. This week I had the chance to try a few different types of French wine with my program at a private wine tasting. The event was at a small restaurant called Tours de Cuisine in the eleventh district, where the owner taught us how to taste and examine wine properly. Overall, we tried three white wines and two red.

Each wine was served with a different type of food that was meant to complement the wine perfectly. For instance, with the first white wine called Revilly, we ate chevre (goat) cheese; with a red wine called La Mule, we ate a pâté spread with bread. Our host explained that French wine is always supposed to accompany food. Each region of France is known for one distinct type of wine and cheese, so if you are looking for something to eat with a certain type of wine, your best bet is to go with the type of cheese or other food that that region is known for! When I asked my program director more about this topic, she told me that the French will always serve food with wine, even plain potato chips. The point is that the food is supposed to be tasted directly with wine, giving it a completely different flavor.

The whole gang with our amazing program director, Shelley

Before this wine tasting, I had never realized how many different types of wine were made in France. Each region creates a totally unique flavor of wine by using different kinds of grapes and growing the grapes in a unique climate and soil. And each wine has its own distinct combination of look, smell, and taste! Our host taught us how to evaluate the wine by examining its color, clarity, and smell. He even taught us how to taste wine properly; apparently just drinking the wine isn’t enough! After you take a sip, you slurp the wine carefully in your mouth (while making a funny sound, of course). This creates oxygen in the wine, giving it a different taste than before.

After being exposed to really good French wine, it’ll be hard to go back to drinking cheap wine that you can find at the grocery store! I’m grateful that I was able to learn more about French gastronomy since eating food is France’s favorite passtime.


Last weekend, my program went on a weekend trip to Aix-en-Provence, which is a small town in the southern part of France. We left early Friday morning on a TGV train, which took a little over three hours to get to our destination. I had never taken a train before in my life, so I was pretty excited to see what it was like. The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse = high-speed train) was just as cool as I’d expected. I was really surprised how fast the train went and how far we went in such a short amount of time. Let me put it this way: the TGV trains regularly reach up to 200 mph, which makes it the world’s fastest train system. I can’t wait until I take the TGV on my next weekend trip. The only downside to the train ride was that my ears kept popping when we went though tunnels, which happened to be pretty often.

When we arrived, I was immediately blown away by the view of the mountains from the train station. Aix-en-Provence is a very beautiful city that is tucked into a plain in a mountain range. The buildings looked pretty ancient, as do most of the buildings in France, and you can really sense the history of the city. One thing I really liked about Aix-en-Provence was the little pedestrian streets lined with shops, which reminded me of Brussels, Belgium. My group took a guided tour through the downtown area, and we saw a lot of old architecture and artwork from the 18th century inside every day buildings such as a bank and a grocery store.

One thing that really made Aix-en-Provence stand out from other European cities I’ve seen so far is its landscape. On Saturday, my group went for a hike up a mountain near the city, and boy, did we choose a beautiful day to be outside. I had been used to wearing a winter jacket, scarf, and hat in Paris since spring has not seemed to sprung yet (it snowed days after my last post about the great weather). On the mountain, the temperature definitely warmed up a little with the bright sun, and I was finally able to take off my jacket for a short time. Something that really surprised me this day was the number of “Bonjour”s that we heard as we were hiking. I just could not get over the fact that more than one stranger said hello to us! This simply isn’t done in Paris, where no one dares to make eye contact in a public area. It felt refreshing to see that the French are more similar to Americans than I thought.

During my stay in Aix-en-Provence, my group also got the chance to hear a reading called “L’Art et la Révolte by French rapper Abd al Malik. The show was essentially a poetry reading based on the work of Albert Camus (a French philosopher) accompanied by hip-hop/jazz music. I did enjoy listening to the music, but the reading was extremely hard to follow. Malik spoke French very quickly, and I could only catch a few words here and there. Overall, I’m glad that I was able to see his performance and do not regret attending the show.

Although the weather did not stay nice the entire weekend, I had a great time in the South of France. I especially loved bonding with my group and being surrounded by nature, which is pretty hard to find in Paris besides in a park.

Just an Average Day in Paris

The Pantheon

So much time has passed since I first stepped off a plane and into Paris, but sadly, for most of that time Paris has been covered with gloomy, grey skies combined with a somewhat nice day here and there. Miraculously, last Saturday the clouds parted and let the sun shine throughout the entire day! I couldn’t wait to shed my winter coat, run into the sunlight, and feel its warmth for the first time in months. I absolutely love spring. Not only is my birthday during this season, but it’s also because I enjoy watching nature come back to life after a seemingly endless winter.

To take advantage such nice weather, my friend and I decided to take a long walk around Paris. We had heard of a demonstration going on all around the city and thought it might be cool to participate. One thing that the French are known for is their demonstrations. Almost every week, you can find a huge crowd causing a scene on the streets with their slogans and picketing; Parisian’s always seem to find something to protest about. In January, a demonstration made headlines around the world due to the thousands of people protesting gay marriage. Just after I arrived in Paris, there was even a counter-rally in favor of gay marriage. (This was days before the government voted on legalizing gay marriage, which passed.)

The Seine River

The demonstration that I went to was called the Chaine Humaine (Human Chain in English) thats purpose was to protest the use of nuclear energy. From a nuclear power plant just to the West of Paris all the way to the East side of the city, there were people holding hands to form a human chain. We didn’t stay for long, but it was really cool to see so many people fighting for the same cause.

After grabbing a Nutella crepe, we left the Pantheon and headed West to stroll along the Seine. As we were walking, I couldn’t help but notice how familiar the scene before me seemed. I kicked the thought around for a minute and suddenly realized that that same moment had been shown in so many films before: the perfect sunny day in Paris along the river. Before I knew it, I heard an accordion in the distance. I smiled and thought, “So this is Paris.” I had finally stumbled upon that perfect day in Paris that everyone dreams about. A day that captures all every good stereotype about a place, and you just feel so happy to be in that spot at that very moment. Perfect weather, a warm crepe, the sounds of an accordion as you look over the Seine. How could it possibly get better than that?

Of course I do not live in a perfect world, and this did not turn out to be a perfect day. My friend and I ended up walking 4 1/2 hours around Paris, and by the time the sun set, my feet were killing me. We walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower to climb it for the first time, but of course the line was incredibly long since it was a Saturday. So while that perfect day in Paris may not be realistic, there are those special moments that I find myself pausing and realizing how lucky I am to be living here in one of the greatest cities in the world. Hopefully I’ll be able to find more of these moments as spring starts to head our way :)

Pont Alexandre III

Weekend in Brussels

Palais Royal

Lately I’ve been feeling a little couped up in Paris. While that may sound strange since I am, afterall, living in an amazing city, I know that I am only a short (and cheap!) train ride away from visiting another country. The itch to travel has definitely found its way under my skin, and the only thing that would satisfy it was a weekend trip to Brussels, Belgium. I left with two of my friends in my program bright and early Saturday morning on a four hour bus ride to Brussels. We slept most of the way there, so the early departure wasn’t too bad. One thing that surprised me on the ride there was how much France’s Northern countryside looks like the Midwest back in the U.S. All I could see were flat plains, highways, and a few small towns. It made me a little nostalgic for home, but that feeling was immediately dismissed when we arrived in Brussels.

Grand Palace

At first, I thought downtown Brussels looked a heck of a lot like Paris. After taking a closer look, I started noticing the differences between the two cities. While French is the official language of France, Belgium has three official langauges: French, German, and Dutch. The difference was mostly notable on the store and street signs around the city, as most of them had a French and Dutch translation. Another major difference between Paris and Brussels is the architecture. The buildings in Brussels have an altogether distinct look; many are tall, narrow, and have certain rustic look that is very different from French architecture. The Grand Palace and the Palais Royal were particularly breathtaking, as they are both absolutely huge!

Besides beautiful buildings, another thing Brussels has plenty of is museums. I arrived on a particularly great day to see them; that night there was an event called Museum Night Fever where you could hop on a shuttle bus and go to 23 museums around the city just for 12 euros. The museums were open from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., and there was even an after party from 1:00 to 6:00 a.m. While my friends and I planned on going to a few museums, we ended up only going to the Museum of Natural Sciences and then straight to our hostel where I practically collapsed from exhaustion. Sight seeing can really take a toll on your body!

Eating waffles in Brussels

The one thing that I absolutely loved about Brussels was the food. Belgium is known for being the birth place of waffles, fries, and Godiva chocolate, and you can definitely tell this from the amount of food vendors in the touristy areas. Everywhere you turn, there is another waffle vendor or a chocolate shop. I personally love waffles and chocolate, so I knew that I would have a great time in Brussels as soon as I arrived. The waffles tasted like pure heaven. While I love a good Belgian waffle in the U.S., nothing could compare to the freshly made waffles that I ate here. One was stuffed with choclate, and the other was piled high with strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. Needless to say, that last waffle held my appetite over for a good amount of the day.

Overall, I had a great time in Brussels. It was nice being able to speak French in another country and not worrying about how I was going to communicate with people. We’ll see how that goes when I travel to Italy during spring break! At the end of the weekend, I was grateful to come back to Paris, to not have to look a map 24/7 to know where I am, and to see a few familiar faces. After being outside of France for the first time, I think Paris is really starting to grow on me.

Manneken Pis, the famous little peeing boy

Les Catacombs

Tunnel leading to the cemetery

Last weekend I visited a unique cemetery in the 14th district called the catacombs. Like the name suggests, the cemetery is in a system of underground tunnels, but what makes it truly bizarre is the way the bodies are arranged. The bones of about six million people are neatly arranged along the walls for all to see.

At the end of the eighteenth century, cemeteries in Paris were becoming overcrowded and a serious health problem for the city. From April 7th, 1786 until 1788, the bones from every cemetery in Paris were transfered to the underground quarries, always accompanied with a blessing from a priest. In 1810, the catacombs were renovated, and the bones were then neatly arranged with a few tombstones and decorations. The cemetery eventually became a tourist attraction in 1874. Fun fact: Victor Hugo used the catacombs in his 1862 novel Les Miserables, and you can see the tunnels (minus the bones for some reason) in the new film, as well.

Inside the catacombs

While I have seen my share of horror films, being in these tunnels with the bones of six million people was a little unsettling. At the time, I had no idea just how many bodies were down there, and when I think about it, six million sounds about right. Like any other great attraction in Paris, you have to walk up and down many stairs to get to your destination. The tunnels themselves were very small; the ceilings must be less than seven feet high, and the walls are only a few feet apart. I would not recommend veturing down there if you are afraid of small spaces! Or skeletons, for that matter.

Being in the presence of so many bodies was a rather creepy but humbling experience. I was reminded that someday I will be put into the ground just like the millions of bodies in the catacombs. While many who visit this cemetery are respectful of the dead, many others are not: there is a good amount of graffiti on the tombstones and even on a number of skulls. It made me very sad to see how others want to right their initials on a person’s final resting place and even on the person’s own skull. The cemetery was also closed for four months in 2009 due to vandalism, which shows how little respect some people have for the dead.

If you ever visit Paris and want to see something different, I would definitely recommend visiting the catacombs. The line was a little long since my friends and I went on a Satuday, but I’m sure the lines are shorter on weekdays. Just make sure you’re ready to climb a lot of stairs and to whisper for a while, and you’ll be prepared to visit the strangest cemetery in Paris!

View From the Top

View from the Sacré-Cœur

One thing I absolutely love about Paris is its skyline. Whenever I’m a few stories high in a building, I see a breathtaking view of the city, and I can’t believe that I’m really here. Sometimes I feel like I’m just dreaming, and this entire trip is all in my mind.

Last weekend I became a tourist once again and headed over to the Basilisque du Sacré-Cœur and the Arc de Triomphe to see some more examples of French architecture. While I hate acting like a tourist in front of French natives, I can’t help but whipping out my camera and gawking at something beautiful with jaw completely dropped. I’ve never seen such georgous, ancient buildings in my life, so if I must revert back to my American tourist ways, so be it!

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

When I first saw the Notre Dame, I thought, “Wow, this is pretty amazing.” But when I saw the Sacré-Cœur up close for the first time, I was completely blown away. You can see this Roman Catholic church from pretty much anywhere in Paris because it sits on top of the hill Montmartre, which is also the name of the area surrounding the Sacré-Cœur in the 18th district. My legs were aching after the long climb up to the top of the hill, but it was completely worth it in the end. Luckily the sun was shining that afternoon, and the view of Paris was absolutely magical. While the outside of the Sacré-Cœur is beautiful in itself, it’s the inside that left me speechless. There is a mosaic in the front of the church titled Christ in Majesty (one of the largest in the world) that gives this church a really unique and spiritual feel.

Arc de Triomphe

The next day I also saw an amazing view of Paris at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which is an arch standing in the center of a turnabout on the Champs-Élysées. It was built to honor those who died in the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. It also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which includes an eternal flame that burns for the unidentified soldiers who died in both world wars. Although it began to snow while I was at the top, the view was completely worth it. You could see so much of Paris at once, from La Défense to the Sacré-Cœur.

Seeing the skyline of Paris makes me so excited to be here, and it reminds me how much of the city I have yet to see. The weather is just starting to get nicer here, so I hope to finish up my tour of the museums and monuments and to instead see more gardens and parks in Paris.

View from the Arc de Triomphe


Inside the Sacré-Cœur
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