Future Study Abroad Students

It’s been over three weeks now since I have returned home from my semester abroad. It’s beginning to sink in but I’ve still been having trouble putting what I’m feeling into words. It seems as if no matter what words I do use, they don’t quite match up to what I’m experiencing. Upon arriving home, I was overwhelmed with several days of familiar faces, hugs, questions of how my trip was, and general excitement to eat my favorite foods, watch my favorite shows, and drive my car. After Christmas, I spent several days relaxing and catching up with friends. As the days passed, I began to feel restless without spending time at the library writing essays or planning where we were going to travel to the following weekend. When I began to work at the coffee shop in my hometown again, I began to experience the strange feeling of familiarity, something I hadn’t felt in months. For about 90 days, I spent almost 100 percent of my time immersed in the unknown, loving every minute of it. I’ve been reading articles written by others who have spent an extended amount of time in a different country and it’s been helpful, though I think that the only thing that will help normalize the indescribable feelings is time.

One thing I wanted to do is make a few notes about things that I would recommend for future students who plan to study abroad at the University of Leicester. It’s impossible to touch on everything and one of the best aspects of this experience is finding things out for yourself so I’ll keep this short.

Transportation

I would highly recommend to anyone living in Leicester to purchase both a bus pass and a railcard. The bus pass was expensive at £130 (about $197) but proved to be very efficient. We used our bus passes for transport to and from campus, which was about a 15 minute ride from the Oadby Student Village, as well as to the city center for both shopping and to the pubs in the evenings. I purchased the 16-25 railcard for £30 (about $45), which was for students. This paid for itself within just a couple trips on the train because it gives you 1/3 off all of your rail fares. Just make sure to always remember the railcard when you ride the train because without it you will be charged for a new ticket and a penalty fare, which can total anywhere between 50 and 100 Pounds. Also, if you visit London (which you very likely will when studying in Leicester), I would recommend an Oyster Card. This costs a £5 deposit and any money you want to add to the card. Using the Oyster Card is quicker and cheaper than buying individual tickets. Plus when you return the card you will get back your deposit and any unused money that you had previously loaded on the card. Cabs are also everywhere, just be sure to only use legitimate ones that have a working meter.

Food and Housing

I would definitely encourage anyone studying in Leicester to live in the Oadby Student Village and participate in all the activities they have to offer. They really do a great job in encouraging everyone to get to know one another, especially among the first years and international students. I would also recommend getting a catered option. In one of my previous posts I complained about the food but looking back, it was very convenient to not have to worry about purchasing and washing dishes or cooking in general.

Clothing

With such limited luggage space, it’s important to select items that will prove useful and versatile in many situations. I brought a few pairs of skinny jeans and leggings, a couple sweatshirts, several t-shirts and dressy tops, a few sweaters, and one dress. I brought two pairs of boots (one casual pair and one pair with heels), a pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of Sperrys (all sprayed with a waterproofing solution). I ended up buying a pair of rain boots while I was there which came in handy but I didn’t find to be a necessity. One thing I would definitely recommend bringing from home is a cheap pair of flip-flops to wear in the showers of hostels and even your house or hall if you end up with a shared bathroom. I was comfortable everywhere in my light North Face jacket as far as temperature goes, though I do wish I would have had a waterproof jacket with a hood. I often had to carry my umbrella in addition to wearing my jacket which was not the most efficient when sightseeing.

Communication and Electronics

I chose to bring my unlocked iPhone along with me, remove the SIM Card, and replace it with a new one that I purchased at EE (a major network provider). Pay as you go phones are huge in the UK, which proved to be very affordable. I chose the minimal plan that provided unlimited texts, a few hundred minutes, and a good amount of data. Calls back to the US were really cheap so I was able to call every once in a while if I had a quick question for my parents or needed to contact my bank. I primarily used my data for Google Maps and to send iMessages and Facebook messages to my family and friends. It was nice to have some minutes to use in the UK as well when calling for a cab or a friend. I would also recommend just buying a cheap hair straightener when you arrive because I heard stories of some not working even with a converter. I also recommend bringing a couple adapters. I only brought one and it was frustrating when I had multiple devices that I needed to charge.

Money

I would definitely recommend having a couple different cards to use while abroad. There were a couple times when I travelled to different countries that my debit card wouldn’t work because it didn’t have a chip in it or because my bank suspected fraud so I had to use my credit card. I also couldn’t use my debit card when purchasing train tickets due to high rates of fraud so my credit card came in handy there as well. Be aware of what your bank charges for ATM withdrawals. Most of the ATMs that I saw did not charge for cash withdrawals but my bank charged a two dollar fee for each withdrawal so I usually took out large sums of money at a time, which wasn’t always ideal. Also be aware of international transaction fees when using credit and debit cards.

Travel

I know I already discussed transportation a little but I also wanted to touch on traveling in general. Do it. Travel around Europe as much as can while still attending and doing well in your classes. I worried when I first arrived about planning my travels well in advance but I quickly realized that some of the greatest adventures are those that you didn’t see coming. When I first met two of my best friends abroad, we randomly booked a flight to Berlin the night before we flew out. I will admit, I felt a little anxiety when we arrived in Germany, but it quickly disappeared. Flights will be cheaper when you book them in advance, but sometimes you can luck out and find a good deal last minute. I used Skyscanner to check all of the low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. I did take the Eurostar when I went from London to Paris the first time which was nice because it didn’t require getting to the train station quite as early as a flight does.

Well, there you have it. I know I said I would keep it short but I feel like I could talk forever about the joy that comes with studying abroad. I can already tell that I don’t view life the way that I did before I left. When I close my eyes and drift into thought I can feel myself walking across the cobblestone streets and climbing the spiral staircases towards the sky to stare out at hundreds of people going about their lives. I can still hear the hundreds of voices speaking languages that I can’t understand. Travel is the most humbling experience. I now realize a little more just how big the world really is.

A final thank you for following my experiences and supporting me every step of the way!

Chelsea

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Ursula K. LeGuin

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London, Paris, and Prague

Sorry for the delay in posting! Things got crazy when I got home with the holidays. We had an amazing time in London, Paris, and Prague.

My mom, aunt, and cousin arrived in London on the morning of December 12th and I took a coach from Leicester to meet them at Heathrow. We then took the Underground to our hotel, which was not an easy task with all of my luggage. We finally arrived and checked in before setting out to see the Westminster Abbey. Even though I had already been inside, it still took my breath away and it was great seeing my family’s reaction to its beauty. Since everyone was exhausted from their long flight, we headed back to the hotel and went to bed early.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

On our second day, we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. The band played Christmas songs, getting everyone excited for the holiday season. Next, we headed to Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We climbed the 500 plus stairs to the top for the stunning view of London. My mom was apprehensive of the edge but I think everyone was glad they climbed to the top. We stopped by an outdoor ice rink to watch the skaters and marvel at the huge Christmas tree on our way to the London Eye. We had a nice pub dinner before calling it a night.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

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The next morning we visited the Tower of London and walked across the Tower Bridge. We also took the Underground to Abbey Road to attempt a replica of the iconic picture of the Beatles crossing the street. We spent the evening walking up and down Oxford Street, enjoying the lights and the crowds of people shopping for Christmas.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Crossing Abbey Road

Crossing Abbey Road

Oxford Street

Oxford Street

The next day we headed for Paris. Our flight didn’t leave until the evening so we spent a few hours in a pub at Heathrow. When we arrived it was pretty late so we found our hotel and headed right for bed. The next day we went to Sacré-Cœur, climbed to the top of Notre Dame, visited the Eiffel Tower, and went to the Pantheon. Everything was decorated for the holidays and the weather was great.

Sacré-Cœur

Sacré-Cœur

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Pantheon

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Pantheon

The next morning, we visited the Louvre. Since I wasn’t able to see it last time, I was really excited and it definitely didn’t disappoint. I could have spent all day walking through the rooms filled with beautiful and historic artwork. It was pretty amazing to see some of the painting and sculptures that I’ve heard about my whole life. After spending a few hours at the Louvre, we walked towards Champs-Élysées, stopping at the Christmas market for some crepes and souvenirs. We walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and back down the other side of the street before making our way to the Eiffel Tower to visit the top. After seeing the city lights from the summit, we returned to the place where Drake proposed. I felt blessed to be able to show my mom one of the most important places in the world to me and to see it one more time for myself.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

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Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

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We headed for Prague the next morning early. When we checked into our hotel, we were surprised to find that it was an actual apartment, complete with heated marble floors and a Christmas tree. It’s interesting to see what the same amount of money will get you in each country. After getting settled in, we walked down the charming streets to a restaurant called Lokál for some authentic Czech cuisine. I got their speciality, a fried square of cheese with some baked potatoes and a beer. We then walked across the beautiful Charles Bridge towards Old Town Square where the Christmas market was. We saw the famous Astronomical Clock and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. There was a magnificent tree in the center the square that looked like it was dripping light. We spent some time enjoying the market before heading back to our hotel for the night.

Prague Astronomical Clock

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Prague Astronomical Clock

Church of Our Lady before Týn

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Church of Our Lady before Týn

On our second day in Prague, we visited the Prague Castle. We went into St. Vitus Cathedral, which was stunning. We walked around the castle grounds for a while, enjoying some hot wine and the Christmas decorations. We continued on towards St. Nicholas Church, which was beautiful. It was completely embellished with gold designs inside and an impressive painted, domed ceiling. We spent the evening wandering the streets, taking in the beauty of the city. We went back to Old Town Square and climbed to the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower where we got a bird’s eye view of the Christmas market.

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St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside of St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside of St. Vitus Cathedral

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Inside of St. Nicholas Church

Inside of St. Nicholas Church

View of Old Town Square from the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower

View of Old Town Square from the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower

We spent our last day in Prague doings some last minute sightseeing and packing for our long day of travel starting at 4:00 am the next day. Our first flight on December 21st was from Prague to Heathrow where we spent a few hours waiting for the long one (9 hours) to Chicago. Customs in Chicago were very busy so we had to run to make our next flight to Fargo. We were successful and arrived safely back in Park Rapids around midnight.

I spent the two days prior to Christmas Eve doing laundry, baking, and preparing the Christmas gifts I brought back from Europe for my family. We headed up to my grandparents’ on Christmas Eve and enjoyed our time with family. I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect on my truly amazing experience but I’m looking forward to letting it sink in over the next few months.

I’m planning to make a list of things I would recommend for future students who plan to study abroad in Leicester so check back soon! Thanks for reading and for your support during this experience. It really meant the world to me!

Chelsea

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

Miriam Adeney

Leaving Leicester

Today I said goodbye (for now) to my amazing friends and the place I called home for the past three months.

On Thursday, I submitted my essays and said goodbye to my classmates and the University of Leicester campus. I waited at the bus stop one last time and watched the familiar stores pass by on the route back to my house, fully appreciating everything that I learned this semester. I now know what they mean when they say that travel changes you.

On Friday morning, as I sat on my bed staring at my suitcase and empty room, I was overwhelmed with so many different emotions and memories from my semester abroad. I can honestly say that this was the greatest experience of my life and I am so blessed to have had this opportunity. I met some of the most amazing friends I have known and experienced beauty in both cities and countryside that I didn’t realize existed.

I took a coach to Heathrow Airport in London where I met my mom, aunt, and cousin who flew in from the states to do some traveling  before we all head home for Christmas. We’re spending three days in London, three days in Paris, and three days in Prague. It’s so good to see them and I’m looking forward to experiencing some of the greatest cities in the world with my family.

I’ll write again once I arrive back in the states on December 21st to fill everyone in on our adventures! Thanks for reading and have a great holiday season!

Chelsea

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”

David Mitchell

The First Night and the Last

From the first night to the last.

Scotland

Cloé and I spent this past weekend in Edinburgh. It was the last of my travels until I finish classes and head to London, Paris, and Prague with my family. Scotland has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. I hope to go back someday and spend some time exploring the Highlands.

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We arrived on a coach in Edinburgh on Friday evening. The ride was nearly nine hours long so we were ready to get out and explore when we arrived. We checked into our hostel and set out for the Scotch Whiskey Experience, which taught us the intricate process of making Scotch. It was very interesting, especially the time it takes. By law, the whiskey has to mature in barrels for three years to be sold, but the really, really good stuff matures for 40 or 50 years. We also got to see the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whiskey. There was a bottle being sold in the gift shop for 18,500 Pounds, about 29,000 US Dollars. After the tour, we had dinner at a local pub before setting out for Arthur’s Seat, a hill towering over Edinburgh. It was very dark but we thought it would be a beautiful view of the city lights. When we reached the bottom of the hill, I was apprehensive. It looked like something you would see in a horror film. The top was barely visible amidst the fog. After a few minutes of debate, all common sense went out the window and we started up anyways. It was slightly damp so everything was slippery, but we found a path and made it to the top. The fog was pretty dense but the view was still amazing. Not surprisingly, we were the only two people on the entire hill. The trip down was a bit more interesting. Somehow we lost the path and ended up sliding in the mud and grass most of the way to the bottom. It made for a funny and interesting night.

Scotch Whiskey Experience

Scotch Whiskey Experience

On top of Arthur's Seat

On top of Arthur’s Seat

View from Arthur's Seat

View from Arthur’s Seat

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The next morning, we woke up early and headed for a cafe called the Elephant House. It’s the place where J.K. Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter, as she lives in Edinburgh. We then headed to the Holyrood Palace, the residence of the Royal family when they’re in Scotland. It was very interesting, especially the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey. Next, we went to the Edinburgh Castle, which was also very interesting. We grabbed lunch and headed for the Rosslyn Chapel, my favorite part of the weekend. It’s a hidden gem that most tourists don’t venture to, about a 45 minute bus ride outside of Edinburgh. We arrived as the sun was setting, so there was a beautiful pink hue to the sky. The village of Roslin is nestled in the hills in a quiet, peaceful area. The outside of the chapel showed its age; about 560 years. When we entered the chapel, the first thing that caught my attention was the intricate carvings throughout. Every inch of the ceiling and many of the pillars had unique designs, each handcrafted in the sandstone. The most famous is the “Apprentice Pillar.” The legend goes that the master mason left the country for inspiration for the design of the pillars inside the chapel. When he returned, his young apprentice had completed a pillar beautifully. The master mason was so jealous and angry that he struck the apprentice with a mallet, killing him. As punishment for the murder, the mason’s face was carved into the opposite corner of the chapel so he would be forced to stare at the apprentice’s pillar for eternity. There were only a few rows of pews, as the founder passed away before the whole chapel could be completed. We learned about the chapel’s history, finding out that it has suffered a great deal over the years and is still being restored. After spending some time at the chapel, we headed back to the city for dinner and a ghost tour. The tour took us in some vaults inside of the South Bridge. When homelessness was deemed illegal in Edinburgh, thousands of people lived in the vaults to remain hidden, resulting in death and disease due to the poor living conditions. The bridge was never waterproofed and the vaults haven’t seen the sunlight in well over 200 years so they were pretty spooky. Though I’ve never bought into it, many have reported paranormal experiences within the vaults as well. After the tour, we explored the Christmas markets. The lights glowed around the crowd, laughter and Christmas music could be heard, and delicious smells filled the air, reminding me how close the holiday is and how fast time has passed this fall.

"Birthplace" of Harry Potter

“Birthplace” of Harry Potter

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace

Ruins of the Holyrood Abbey

Ruins of the Holyrood Abbey

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

Christmas Market

Christmas Market

On our last day, we headed for the Black Medicine Coffee Company, another cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter. We also visited Greyfriars Kirkyard, where there is a grave that belongs to a man by the name of Thomas Riddell, the real life inspiration for Thomas Riddle (Lord Voldemort) in the Harry Potter series. We also visited J.K. Rowling’s handprints in the sidewalk where she won the Edinburgh Award in 2008. We then hopped on a bus tour to hear about some of the history of Edinburgh. My favorite was the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a little terrier whose owner passed away and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby guarded his owner’s grave every single day for 14 years until he himself passed away and was buried in the same graveyard, not far from his owner. There is a life-size statue honoring the dog, which I looked at through blurry eyes with a lump in my throat. I’m always a sucker for animal stories (and animals in general, as most of you know). We had some lunch and finished the bus tour, checked out of our hostel, and hit the road back to Leicester.

Black Medicine Coffee Co.

Black Medicine Coffee Co.

Thomas Riddell's Grave

Thomas Riddell’s Grave

Edinburgh Award

Edinburgh Award

Bobby

Bobby

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This is going to be another busy week, as I am finishing up my essays. Next weekend is also the last one of the semester, so I’m planning to spend it in Leicester with the girls who have been my family this semester. The following Friday (December 12th), my mom, aunt, and cousin arrive in London where I’m meeting them so I’m getting really excited for that. I’m starting to feel a bit sad as the semester draws to a close, but I intend to make the most of the last couple weeks. I knew this time would fly by, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

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Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Saint Augustine

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Rome

I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend in Rome, an amazing city with so much to offer.

Kristin and I arrived in Rome late Friday night. We took the bus from the airport to our hostel, where we were greeted by friendly staff dressed in togas and a spacious room that provided both lockers and safes for our belongings. After dropping off our things, we headed to the restaurant next door. We ordered a 1/2 liter of their house red wine and ate our first Italian pizza. Following dinner, we turned in early after a long day of traveling.

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On our second day, we woke up early to get a head start for the Vatican. We set out on foot, enjoying all the beauty of Italy and grabbing a cappuccino on the way. We passed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was very powerful and impressive. We continued on towards the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica came into view. It was stunning, towering over the city against the blue sky. We joined the line to enter the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Once inside, I was blown away by the hundreds of sculptures that lined the walls, including Laocoön and His Sons, Apollo Belvedere, and many others. We spent time gazing at them, wondering how long it took to carve each of the features in their faces. We continued through the museum towards the Sistine Chapel, mesmerized by the intricate designs carved in the ceiling, the spectacular paintings on the walls, and the mosaic images that made up the floor. When we reached the Sistine Chapel, my eyes immediately went to the Creation of Adam. It was surreal to stand under it, an image I’ve seen since I can remember. We left the chapel to join the next line to enter the basilica. All of the churches in Rome are free to enter, so that was really nice throughout our trip. When we entered the basilica, my eyes immediately went to the massive dome at the top. The ceilings of many of the buildings we saw in Rome were my favorite part. We walked through the basilica, including the crypt that provides the final resting place of the popes. I decided to climb to the top of the dome, as I really enjoy getting a bird’s eye view of the magnificent cities I’m fortunate enough to visit. It was stunning, with towering mountains in the distance and thousands of rooftops side by side. Next, we walked back towards our hostel, passing the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) on the way. We had dinner and found our way to the Trevi Fountain. We were bummed to find out that it was shut down for the winter so we continued on towards the Spanish Steps. We purchased a cheap bottle of Italian red wine and sipped out of plastic cups on the steps, watching people socialize. On the way back to the hostel, I got some pistachio gelato, which was amazing. We turned in early after a long day of sight seeing.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Laocoön and His Sons

Laocoön and His Sons

School of Athens by Raphael

School of Athens by Raphael

Inside of St. Peter's Basilica

Inside of St. Peter’s Basilica

View from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica

View from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

Castel Sant'Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel)

Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel)

On our last day, we had great coffee at a little cafe before hitting the Colosseum. When it came into view, I was filled with excitement to be inside of one of the most iconic structures of all time. We wandered around the levels, imagining all of the events that had taken place so many centuries ago. We continued on to Palatine Hill, where we walked through a garden of orange trees and saw the Colosseum from above. Next, we visited the Roman Forum, where massive pillars still stand. After relaxing in the sunshine, we headed to a restaurant for pasta and wine. As the evening progressed, many street performers began to play and people began to fill the streets. We continued to the Pantheon where we marveled at its structure, especially the domed ceiling and massive pillars. We saw the tomb of Raphael and many more incredible carvings. On our way back to the hostel, we heard some chanting and once we approached the source of the noise, we discovered a large protest. We headed back towards our hostel, not wanting to be caught in the middle. We spent our last night drinking wine and discussing the amazing things we had been fortunate enough to see, not only this weekend but over the course of our entire time in Europe.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Inside of the Colosseum

Inside of the Colosseum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Pantheon

Pantheon

It’s starting to sink in that I only have two more weekends before my family arrives, and then it’s nearly time to go home. With each new city I see, I am once again overwhelmed with the realization that I’m living my dreams.

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This week is going to be a long one, filled with readings and essays. I just received the topics of each essay for the remainder of my classes so I’m ready to jump in and get them accomplished. Next weekend I’m off to Edinburgh so check back next week to hear about adventures in Scotland! Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”

Pat Conroy

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Paris

Our weekend in Paris was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

We arrived Sunday afternoon on the Eurostar, which we had taken from St. Pancras International in London. We checked into Gardette Park Hotel and found out that it was a great location right near a metro station, our means of travel for the weekend. Our room had a great little balcony overlooking a small park and there was an impressive cathedral right down the street. After getting settled in, we set out to explore Paris.

It began to rain shortly after we left our hotel but we were somewhat prepared with an umbrella. We saw a couple monuments on our way to Notre Dame, including Place de la Bastille. When we approached the cathedral, my interest was instantly drawn to the gargoyles at the top. They were somewhat haunting, staring down at us and out across the city, guarding the cathedral. Pieces of some were broken off, while others were covered in moss. We got in line to climb the winding staircase to the top of the cathedral. We emerged from the stone staircase into the misty Paris air, right next to faces of the gargoyles, and stared out across the city. We could see several buildings and monuments that we would be touring later on in our trip, including Sacré-Cœur and of course, the Eiffel Tower. We spent some time walking around the top edges of the great cathedral before climbing the staircase down to view the inside. I found the inside to be a bit more simple than the other cathedrals we had seen, having less stained glass and paintings, but even more impressive. Its massive stone pillars and ceiling were a bit intimidating. After spending some time taking in the beauty of Notre Dame, we continued walking towards Pont de l’Archevêché, one of the bridges in Paris covered in locks, overlooking the Seine River. In the bottom of my purse there was a tiny TSA approved lock that I had used for my luggage on the way over from the states. We took the key and scratched the surface of the lock until we could read our initials, and clicked it shut on the bridge, facing Notre Dame. We stared out at the massive shape of Notre Dame until darkness fell, and we continued walking towards the Eiffel Tower. By this point, it had been raining for a while so our shoes, socks, and jackets were completely soaked. We got a glimpse of the tower before hopping on the nearest metro back to the hotel.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

View from the top of Notre Dame

View from the top of Notre Dame

Inside of Notre Dame

Inside of Notre Dame

Our lock!

Our lock!

Notre Dame from the Pont de l'Archevêché

Notre Dame from the Pont de l’Archevêché

On our second day, we woke up early and headed for Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic church situated high on a hill, providing another panoramic view of Paris. We spent some time on the steps between the beautiful view of Paris and the impressive church before walking to Moulin Rouge. We didn’t go in, but we were able to see the infamous red windmill. Next, we headed for the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most well-known monuments in Paris. We then continued on down Champs-Élysées, one of the major shopping areas in Paris. We browsed a few stores until we reached the end of the street, where we headed for Les Invalides, a massive gold-domed building, serving as a museum and monument for the military history of France. We stopped for crepes on the way to the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. I got one with Nutella and bananas and Drake got the classic one with butter and sugar. Pastries and bread were definitely a weakness for us, as we stopped in nearly every shop we saw, often getting one to try and ending up eating the entire thing. My favorites were bread that had olives baked in and pistachio macaroons, and Drake’s were bread baked with a layer of cheese on top and vanilla eclairs. Our next stop was Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful church with magnificent panels of stained glass covering the entire upper level sanctuary. After marveling at the colors for a while, we headed for the Pantheon. The top part was under construction, but the inside was amazing. There are huge paintings lining the walls and impressive carvings throughout. In the crypt, there are tombs of many famous people including Voltaire and Rousseau. Next, we stopped at the Luxembourg Palace before continuing our walk. We followed the streets up and down, some busy with people, others deserted. We did a bit more shopping before stopping for dinner at a place that a local had recommended to us. I decided to just get a cheese plate, expecting sliced cheese and crackers or bread. When it arrived, the first thing I saw was a giant hunk of bleu cheese; something I’m not too crazy about. There were several other types on the plate, so I began to try the chunks of mystery cheeses. The smell alone was nearly impossible to get over, but the taste was even worse. I didn’t realize such pungent cheeses existed. I ended up eating some bread, butter, and a bit of the mildest cheese on the plate. I laughed nearly the entire dinner, wondering what the waiter would think if he noticed the giant chunks of cheese wrapped in my napkin.

Sacré-Cœur

Sacré-Cœur

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Les Invalides

Les Invalides

Nutella and Banana Crepe

Nutella and Banana Crepe

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

Inside of the Pantheon

Inside of the Pantheon

Cheese

Cheese

Our plans for our last day in Paris were a bit disrupted when we found out that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. This was definitely something we should have checked ahead of time, but I had just assumed it would be open during the week. I would have been upset, but I’ll be back in Paris in a month with my mom, aunt, and cousin, so I will most definitely plan ahead better and see it then. This change of plans left us with a good portion of the day to do whatever we wanted, as our only other plan was to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower at 9:30 that evening. We decided to walk through the Tuileries Garden and check out the Louvre anyways, even if we couldn’t go inside. We did some shopping as well, and I found a Pandora charm that was the Eiffel Tower with a little gold heart dangling at the top to add to my collection. I’ve purchased a charm in every country I’ve visited so far, something I hope to continue to do. I found a brochure that described seven monuments in Paris that are important to France’s history. We had already seen four of them (Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Pantheon) so we decided to try see the other three. The first was the Basilica of Saint-Denis, a beautiful cathedral that serves as the place of burial for the kings of France. We also saw the Vincennes Castle, which still has a drawbridge and carvings done by the prisoners kept there. After we left the castle, it began to rain again. The boots I had been wearing since I arrived in England were falling apart so I decided to see if I could find a new pair for a decent price. One of the stores we stopped at was running a sale so I got a pair of rain boots as well, making the rest of the evening much more enjoyable. After shopping, it was time for us to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. When we were halfway up the tower, in line for the second elevator, an alarm sounded and a voice came over the intercom saying, “For your safety, this building is now closed. Please stay calm and make your way to the nearest exit.” I felt a little panicked, wondering what was going on, especially since we were already halfway up the tower. No one else moved though, so we waited for a couple moments until the elevator stopped in front of us. The worker smiled and said it was nothing to worry about so we entered the elevator and were relieved when we heard an announcement apologizing for the alarm and to please disregard the message. We continued up to the summit, the very top of the tower. When I stepped out towards the edge, my palms began to sweat and I felt like I had to grab on tight to the railing, even though a fence surrounded us. We stared out across the lights of Paris, picking out the buildings and monuments we had seen the past two days and breathing in the chilly air, nearly 300 meters above the ground. After viewing Paris from every possible angle, we took the elevator back down to the ground.

The Louvre

The Louvre

Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis

Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis

Château de Vincennes

Château de Vincennes

View of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower

View of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower

There was a place we had heard about that provided the best view in the city of the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to head that way. It was a beautiful night. The rain had stopped and the Eiffel Tower stood clear against the night sky. We crossed the river to Place du Trocadéro to find the area quiet, with only a couple people passing every once in a while to take a photo or to simply walk along the path. There was a pool in front of us where the tower reflected on the surface, creating a mirror image. I stood up on the stone edge to try capture the beauty in a picture.

Place du Trocadéro

Place du Trocadéro

When I turned around to show Drake the picture, he was on one knee. A light shown from a little black box, catching a diamond… my engagement ring. We stared out at the Eiffel Tower, taking in the beautiful moment; something that cannot be captured by words.

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This morning we’re heading back to London on the Eurostar for our tour of the Warner Bros. Studio, the making of Harry Potter, and this weekend I’m flying to Rome with my friend, Kristin. It should definitely be another eventful few days so stayed tuned! Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“Paris is always a good idea.”

Audrey Hepburn

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