By Aspen Bentley
Traveling seems to be something you have to do before you get good at it. Multiple times. There is only so much you can do beforehand to prepare yourself for what is going to happen. When I was given the chance to travel to London and Paris with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, I hadn’t ever left the country before. I hadn’t ever gone on a trip where I had unplanned free time and a potential to be either on my own or with only 1-2 other people at times. It was the most beautifully surprising adventure I’d ever experienced.
It was May 11th, my last day in Paris, that I scrambled to do multiple things for which I realized I was out of time. The morning didn’t start off in a scramble, however, unless you count my eggs at the complimentary hotel breakfast.
Olivia and I made our way to Shakespeare and Co. and spent some time browsing and purchasing books there. I know this bookshop isn’t a secret to most people, but it had been to me. I hadn’t planned to visit, but was so glad Olivia had wanted to go and let me in on it. There is nothing quite like buying a new tote bag from an aesthetically pleasing book store and filling it with books you just purchased from said bookstore… in Paris.
Despite its dirty and crowded streets, Paris had that effect on me. Just walking felt romantic, refreshing, and exciting in the city. There’s nothing romantic about walking past trash and dodging through vendors, but in Paris everything had a rose filter. It might just be my inner teenage girl obsessed with all things French, but everything felt better in the city of love. One thing I know wasn’t just a result of the Parisian spell was the city’s food. Everything from their fruit, cheese, bread, pastries, coffee, and even their yogurt was a level of delicious that I hadn’t experienced before. I looked forward to meals as much as sight seeing. After the bookstore we made our way back to the street of our hotel.
We stopped past the grocery store to buy some picnic supplies for later. Brie, assorted meats, chocolate, nuts, and lemonade filled our bags as we rode the elevator up to our rooms. A glance in the elevator mirror showed me a sunkissed girl dressed for an adventure. I was dirtier than I usually like to be, on much less sleep than I need at home, and loving every second of it.
After an hour of cleaning up and taking power naps, 8 of us met in the lobby, sipping on orange-infused water while we waited for everyone. Comfortable chatter and laughter bounced around the room and I smiled. Once everyone had joined, we spilled out onto the one way street and began walking.
Sunshine in our steps, we stopped by the nearest bakery for some fresh bread to go with our picnic lunch. I was chosen to go up to the counter and order, despite my ever remaining fear of doing so. I stumbled over my words and felt just as awkward as the first day, but I successfully got my hands on several long loaves. I sent a thankful and apologetic glance to the worker who had helped me through my terrible French and ducked out of the glass door, the shop bell ringing overhead.
I had thought walking through Paris had been fun before, but walking with a brown paper bag full of baguettes was somehow better. The afternoon was overcast, the only bothersome thing about it was the occasional breeze that ran through our group seated in front of the Eiffel Tower. We had found a flat, shaded spot with the tower in full view and spread out our combined efforts on the blanket in front of us. Paper cups from the hotel lobby, a tiny honey jar stolen from breakfast (my personal touch), and grapes washed in the bathroom sink were the perfect additions to our grocery haul.
Picture a group of women having the most stereotypical picnic in Paris. Yes, the most
touristy thing you could possibly do. That was our group, and it was a stereotypical touristy dream come true.
These girls were people I had barely met 2 weeks ago, and I suddenly felt like we’d known each other for years. A part of the trip that jumps out at me the most when I look back isn’t even the sights or the food. Of course those do stand out to me, but the biggest thing I brought home? The friendships I made.
As we all took photos, laughed at ourselves, and sipped on lemonade, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Not just physically in that moment, but also in life. I was chosen to attend this trip with people like this? I must be doing something right.
Liz and I decided to hit one last museum before our grand finale dinner cruise that evening. We tidied up and left the group, calling an Uber as we walked to the street. The underground was fun at times, but right now we just wanted to be taken directly where we wanted to go.
Unfortunately even an Uber didn’t do that for us, as we were dropped at the entrance to a park rather than the Musee D’Orsay. A quick Google search told us to walk through the park, which we briskly but happily did. Sometimes I think I couldn’t live in a city because I would miss nature, but the gardens in London and Paris could possibly convince me.
The art in the museum was yet another dream come true, especially for an art student who has shaped her whole student identity around Claude Monet. Pictured here is Monet’s “Woman with a parasol” and on the right is my recreation of it. Words cannot describe the feeling I felt when I saw his work in person. I was impressed and amazed, yes. More importantly, however, I was inspired.
I have always hoped that some day I would have an art style of my own, but this experience really solidified that for me. I knew I wanted one sooner rather than later and suddenly I felt motivated to go home and start searching for it.
I’m happy to report that upon return, I have painted multiple paintings and have explored new styles and approaches with each one. I even had the chance to paint some pieces for the HSS Dean’s office, and you can easily see the influence of Claude Monet and his impressionism in my work.
My experiences with this trip were beautiful and memorable, but I brought more home than I expected to. My life was changed by the people I spent time with, and my views were altered in ways that I have been needing. I went on this trip with excitement to try new things, and came back a better artist, friend, and peer.