Before heading off to our respective host families, the exchange students from all around the world were gathered in Paris for a week-long language camp. Our base was the FIAP hostel in the 14th arrondissement.
Every day, we had three hours of lessons in the morning. The entire student body was divided into three different classes depending on our French levels. And in the afternoon, we would go out on excursions. Sight-seeing trips were divided into two big groups and each group went to a different place at the same time so that there wouldn’t be too much people. This is why in most of my photos, there isn’t all of the Taiwanese girls.
The outings were rather more like free time. The PIE staff would take the train or metro with us, bring us to a meeting point, state the meeting time, hand out maps, and let us go. This way, we were able to discover on our own.
25 August – Arrival at the FIAP
We actually didn’t do much on the first day at the FIAP. I was lucky enough to be one of the first few to get our room keys, so I took the elevator up to the sixth floor along with my new roommate – Klao, a girl from Thailand. Our door opened to a small corridor with a toilet, a full-length mirror and a shower room on the right. Past the shower room, the area widened and revealed two beds with a shelf in the middle, which acted as headboards. To the left were two desks, also separated, by a large closet divided into two. At the end of the room was two windows that provided enough natural light. Klao chose the bed near the window, and we proceeded to settle down, chatting at the same time and getting to know each other.
All set, I went back downstairs to the lobby where the other Taiwanese girls were still waiting for their room keys. In the end, we bored ourselves for hours before everything was finally distributed.
So our first day at the FIAP was basically sitting around, chatting, figuring out how to connect to the internet, and doing a little bit of exploration around the hostel (just a little)
26 August – Picnic at Parc Montsouris
The staff took us to a supermarket just two minutes away from the FIAP to buy some food and drinks, then we walked to a nearby park and sat down for a chatty picnic. Here’s the funny thing: we actually lost track of time and ended up getting locked up in the park! So we had to walk an extra five minutes and find one of the small gates that only allowed one person to pass every time.
27 August – Notre Dame (巴黎聖母院)
In fact my titles only state the area that the staff brought us to. Of course there weren’t just the cathedral of Notre Dame – we walked around and visited some other destinations too! And because I’ve visited Paris before, I was able to give some ideas about our visits.
Cathédrale Notre Dame
We got in line for the entry to the cathedral Notre Dame, and the queue moved surprisingly fast. Soon we were at the entrance and saying Bonjour to the security guards.
♦ Note: If you are wearing a top that shows your shoulder, you must cover it up. They provide shawls at the entrance. I didn’t know about that and I came out of the cathedral sweating like hell in my jacket…
The Sainte-Chapelle is most famous for its beautiful tinted glass. Every piece is different, and they portrait the stories from the Bible. They are hand-created and taken down every few years for maintenance.
Pont au Change
We actually wanted to visit La Conciergerie, the gothic palace which served as a prison during the French Revolution. Its most famous captive is Marie-Antoinette, the queen of Louis XVI. However, we had trouble finding the entrance and there wasn’t much time left, so we just walked around and took some photos. The view from the Pont au Change was amazing!
28 August – Avenue des Champs-Élysées (香榭麗舍大道)
Wow it’s a SHOPPING DAY!!!
No, more like WINDOW shopping day… We spent most of the time ooh-ing and ahh-ing over this and that, then putting them back down when we looked at the price. Haha.
When we climbed up the stairs from the exit of the metro station, the sunlight poured down onto us and in the distance was the Arc de Triomphe, as majestic as ever. And of course, phones were pulled out to take photos. I spotted some people heading towards a picture spot right in the middle of the traffic, and pulled my friends along so we can get one of those touristic pics.
The temperature was pretty high, and I was so glad that I dug out my shorts from the bottom of my larger suitcase! While we were cruising down the avenue, we spotted a stand that sold rolled ice-cream. It was pretty expensive (5 euros) but conveniently we had five people, so each one of us pitched in one euro to share the treat.
And here’s a little story I’d like to tell. On our way back to the meeting point I kept on getting this nagging feeling that I was missing something. At first I didn’t pay much attention, and we were almost back to the spot when I suddenly realized – I’d forgotten my PIE lanyard in the Adidas fitting room! It was mandatory that we wore the lanyards at all times, because it contained emergency contact information, PIE student ID card, and my FIAP room key! So I ran back to the store to find it, without stopping to catch my breath. Yes, I ran all the way down Avenue des Champs-Élysées, literally from one end to the other. Sounds kind of romantic, right? Except I was missing something super important. Luckily, the lanyard was found by one of the staff and they kept it on their desk for me. One of my friends even joked that I was filming a movie, and I had to ask… What genre? Romance or horror?
29 August – Le Marais (瑪黑區)
Le Marais is a Parisian quarter with all sorts of alleys filled with boutiques. We started the trip with another dose of ice – this time some rose-shaped gelato from Amorino.
After walking around for a while, we got a little bored because we knew we weren’t there for shopping. So we studied the map and found some nearby locations we could check out.
Hôtel de Ville (巴黎市政廳)
No, it does not mean hotel of the city. It is the Town / City Hall (in this case, of Paris)
The Centre Pompidou is a modern art museum. I went there the first time I was in Paris with my parents, and I knew how awesome the restaurant Le George on the sixth floor was.
But unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit the museum because…
♦ Note: The Centre Pompidou is closed on Wednesdays.
However, we did find a nice restaurant just beside the building with very friendly (and handsome!) waiters.
30 August – Musée du Louvre (羅浮宮)
Ask anyone on the street the must-visits of Paris, chances are the Louvre is one of them. And that’s where we went! The signature glass pyramid sits in the middle of the courtyard, but it is just the “tip of an icerberg”… the museum is in fact HUGE and almost like a maze.
Our goal was to find the Mona Lisa. As soon as we were free to go, we began looking for signs, but found nothing. There were museum staffs sitting in a chair in every room, so each time we wanted to ask, we voted for someone from our group to approach the staff and pose the question in French – “Où se trouve le Mona Lisa?” (Where can we find the Mona Lisa?) They’d reply in French, giving us some seemingly simple directions, and we understood, too. But when we really followed (or thought we did) the instructions, we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of portraits and display cases, but no Mona Lisa. We searched for the full museum map online, and took so many elevators and escalators, but I started to feel like we really were lost in the maze of artifacts.
Finally, we asked one last staff and was told to go back to the escalators. That’s when we spotted the A4 printed sign with a small photo of Mona Lisa and a not-so-bold arrow showing the way. At last! Then began our super fast walk through room after room, past the lavish velvet furniture and shining silver tableware, past the armors and weapons… The further we ventured the higher the density of the crowd became, and that’s how we knew we were close.
At last, we walked through a hallway and turned right into the room with the most people in the entire museum – there were hundreds of figures squeezed together in front of us, cameras and smartphones raised high in the air to get a good photo of the famous girl who smiled just for Leonardo Da Vinci.
Seeing that it took us such a long time and so much energy just to find the painting, we thought we had to find a way and squeeze the the front to get a really good look. In reality, the painting was much much smaller. I guess because we’ve seen advertisements of Mona Lisa printed on huge banners and posters everywhere, we’d assume that the portrait was kind of big.
And the adventure wasn’t over… We had trouble finding the right exit (because we were told to meet with the PIE staff in front of the largest glass pyramid, but who knew the Louvre would have so many exits?). First we found ourselves in a mall, then we went back and ended up in the metro station. The clock was ticking and we were really afraid that we’d be late, but in the end everything was fine. We went back and found the entrance we came in through, then saw the pyramids in the distance. Phew!
Lucky for us, we were ten minutes early, and we had an idea – why don’t we take a photo together in front of the Louvre holding the Taiwanese flag? PIE even put our photo on their official Instagram page!
31 August – Jardin de Luxembourg (盧森堡公園)
It was another windy day, and to be honest we didn’t really want to stay outdoors. The first thing we did was find something to eat, and there was a really nice and affordable restaurant just across the street from the park! I ordered hotdogs and they had a side dish of French Fries. It was delicious! (And less than 10 euros, the amount of money we have for food every day, provided by PIE. If we eat something more than 10 euros, we pay the rest with our own money)
We still did a little bit of walking in the park, though, but not for long. The Panthéon was nearby and we wanted to check it out. It is basically a large mausoleum where notable French people are placed. There were huge columns at the entrance, and a dome at the top of the building. The interior design was breathtaking – delicate patterns were carved and painted on the walls and ceilings, and the entire space gave a feeling of eternal peace.
01 September – Seine boat tour and Eiffel Tower
We always say to save the best for the last… And what’s best in Paris? No doubt the iron tower designed by Gustave Eiffel. This was the only day that we didn’t have any classes. After breakfast at the FIAP, we had some free time, then we went on our last trip – everyone together!
After a quick lunch (at an Asian restaurant!) we gathered to take the boat tour. The Taiwanese girls chose to sit in the first row on the deck, that way we were in the front and had nothing in front of us to block the view. There was a guide on the second floor where most of the exchange students chose to sit, but she explained everything through a microphone, so we could hear her clearly too. The boat passed by many important buildings along the river and also under numerous bridges. Each bridge had its own specific story.
Next was the “grand finale” of our stay in Paris… A visit to the Eiffel Tower! The PIE staff handed out tickets to each student in front of the visitor’s area, then we got in line for the security check. Very unfortunately, we ran into a problem – we brought our Taiwanese flag with us, we had no intentions to take pictures with the flag on the Eiffel Tower, we just simply left it in Nicole’s bag and didn’t think too much about it. Turns out, visitors were not allowed to bring flags that reached a certain size into the Eiffel Tower area. I don’t know why. They took our flag away and said we couldn’t get it back, so we pleaded with them to keep it for us until our visit was over. Some staff in a blue suit finally said he can do that for us, and we were relieved.
Finding the right entrance to the monument was another little difficulty. The tickets were bought according to different waiting lines. In the end, we asked around for about ten minutes until we finally came to the right place. Everything was jut like how I remembered… We waited for the elevator specially designed to pass through the bent legs of the tower. The trip up to the second floor wasn’t long. And up there, the view was just incredible – in front of my eyes was Paris, the city I’ve grown to love in such a short amount of time. To the left ran the river Seine, and there were millions of buildings spread out in the vast area on both sides of the water, reaching the horizons as though the beauty of Paris never ended. The Eiffel Tower is, of course, the highest monument in Paris, and being up there enabled us to see everything clearly, without anything to block us out. Those with sharper eyes can even spot some significant Parisian locations.
I was a little disappointed to find out that our ticket did not include the visit to the summit – the very top of the tower. Last time I was in Paris, it was during the winter vacation, and with my parents we got to visit the summit. It was an unforgettable experience, and I really wanted to go up there again with my friends. (And after watching the movie Tomorrowland, it felt even more exciting to visit the top!)
Me and my friends were a little annoyed after we descended the Eiffel Tower from the stairs – our flag disappeared! We tried to find the staff who promised us to keep it, but we didn’t even know how to describe him, so we searched for the security guard whose inspection we passed through, yet he was nowhere to be found either. Our guess was that he’d finished his shift already. So I tried my best to explain to another security guard in French, but there were many problems with our communication: My French wasn’t good enough, his English wasn’t good enough, and chances are he’d never heard of Taiwan before, let along even know what the flag looks like. Besides, even if he did, it was impossible to find it, because they showed us a huge plastic box sealed close, filled with flags from all over the world. It was a huge mix of colors, with some Brazilian, Spanish, Chinese, Italian corners peeping out from the mass. Some were so crumpled that we couldn’t even recognize them.
We made the choice to give up on the flag. Then we bought some ice-cream despite the cold and windy weather. We wanted to continue our “one ice a day” tradition, and at the same time it was nice to eat some sweets after losing our flag.
The fun wasn’t over – we returned to the FIAP, had dinner, and began to prepare for the PIE Talent Show. There were many performances, like singing, dancing, reciting poems… The girls sang a song by the famous Taiwanese singer Jay Chou, and they chose that song because the music video was shot in Paris. I decided to do something of my own specialty – the piano! During my summer back in Taiwan, I’d been practicing “The Butterfly Lovers” for quite a while. It is the theme music of the TV series of the “Chinese Romeo and Juliet”, and there were heavy Chinese notes in the piece. I thought it was the perfect piece to demonstrate Chinese cultural sounds without really playing Chinese instruments (because I can’t, haha). Besides the piano, I also performed a one-minute long dance cover with a Thai boy named Junior, who sat beside me in classes and became a good friend of mine during the week in Paris. The night before, we rehearsed for only about twenty minutes. The good thing was that we both knew the dance really well already, we just had to coordinate a few things to smooth everything out.
In the end, I had a blast in Paris. It is definitely one of the most unforgettable times of my life.