By: Olivia Dubrasky
Riding the London Underground into the city, I couldn’t quite believe that I had done it. I had made it back to Europe, this time at an age where I would have more than a handful of memories to take back with me. Running on about an hour of sleep, I decided my first experience in London would be finding a cafe and getting some coffee. Unbeknownst to me that would be the only unhurried morning I had for the rest of the program. After seeing a few places in the city and enjoying authentic fish and chips, I got to experience the best welcome to London I could ask for. Wanting to explore more of the city before ending the day, a couple other students and I found ourselves in a building known as the Sky Garden. From the 35th floor we were able to watch the entire city light up.
The rest of my time in London felt like it went by in a blur. Going to the British museum and standing in front of carvings that had existed for centuries was something I genuinely could not comprehend. The British Museum also led me to discover a love for sculptures I had not realized I had, and finding new ones became one of my goals for the rest of the program. Another highlight was visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral. Seeing the beauty of St. Paul’s and hearing the history behind its construction made me unexpectedly emotional. Two hours in that building made me feel more connected to Christianity than a lifetime of attending church.
In my downtime I was trying to see as much as I could, afraid of wasting what little time I had in London. This led me to spend an evening in Chinatown and an afternoon in Soho. The last bit of free time I had was spent at a cat cafe. While there are many cat cafes around the world, I highly doubt any of them could serve scones as heavenly as the ones I had. That peaceful hour was one of the best things I did in London. On my last morning I walked to a bookstore a few blocks away from the hotel. I wandered through the four story building trying to come to terms with the inevitable goodbye that was waiting for me once I left. Leaving London was sad, but I promised myself I would return soon to finish exploring.
Contrary to my expectations, France was the half of my trip I enjoyed more. The train ride into the city was marked by vibrant green fields and picturesque clouds. It wasn’t long after arriving that I was making my way to one of the most recognizable places in the world. The first night in Paris ended with a trip up the Eiffel Tower to see the City of Light in all its glory, coincidentally mirroring my first night in London. From there Paris just continued to be more incredible. The first full day in the city we visited several museums. Between the Louvre, the Orsay, and the Orangerie I had ample opportunity to see my beloved sculptures as well as many more incredible works of art. The Orsay in particular captivated me with its seemingly endless amount of paintings. I was on a futile mission to discover each piece before I had to leave, and it has become my main motivation to go back to Paris. That night it was dinner at a local restaurant where I had the best meal of my life, warm goat cheese on toast.
The next day I was traveling to Chartres where I saw the stunning Chartres Cathedral. I was once again blown away to be standing in front of something that had been built so long ago. I spent an hour afterwards wandering the town, exploring narrow streets and observing the people that were out. Once I got back to Paris, I traveled to the Luxembourg gardens where I had a much needed afternoon of leisure. Unlike my flawed philosophy in London, I realized I did not have to pack my free time to the point of being overwhelmed, I could enjoy Paris at a slower pace.
I reached the peak of my trip when we traveled to the Palace of Versailles. The golden gates at the entrance gave me a good idea of what I was about to experience. Once inside I headed straight for the Hall of Mirrors, and was rewarded by being able to experience its opulence with only a couple other people in the room. I remember my high school French teacher praising the beauty of the Hall of Mirrors, so being able to stand in that room only a few years later was surreal. After going through the rest of the palace I discovered I could continue on into the gardens. At first I just admired the view from the top, stunned with how far out they reached. As I started to wander through the hedge-lined paths I discovered what made this garden so special. There were several clearings spread throughout the grounds, each with a fountain or statue making it unique. As much as I had loved all the other places I had seen on this trip, nothing could compare to wandering through a variety of stunning foliage, not knowing what would be around each corner. All the fountains were dynamic and each created their own ambiance. I enjoyed the gardens so much that I decided to turn around at the train station and go back to see my favorite fountains a second time. By the end of the day I was exhausted and my feet hurt like hell, but I was thrilled I had been able to see such an amazing place.
Much like my last morning in London, my last day in Paris started with wandering through the streets near the hotel. Afterwards I took the metro a few stops out and found a cute cafe where I had a simple breakfast that consisted of a baguette and jam. After making a quick stop in a nearby shop, I once again made my way to another bookstore, this time Paris’ Shakespear and Company. I ended my day with a beautiful river cruise where I got to see the Eiffel tower sparkle one last time.
Packing up that last night left me a little emotional. I wasn’t ready to leave Europe and all its little things I had just started discovering. Unfortunately, I had to return home at some point, and my flight was not going to wait for me to have one last adventure. Landing in Las Vegas and knowing my travels were officially over was slightly painful, but I knew I would be back in that beautiful country soon enough.