URI student’s study abroad journal: Week 12

There are moments or days while traveling that make it all worth it. When you’re tired and far from home and you don’t know how many miles you’ve walked anymore, that’s when the magic suddenly happens. Paris gave me that- a whole three days that were so perfect it seemed like a dream.

The Eiffel Tower at sunset is something worth seeing. After a chilly day full of rain showers, the sun began to set and the sky turned yellow and pink. In the setting sun, the tower reflected the light and looked like solid gold.

My friends and I raced the clock to make it to the tower to watch it light up. We sat and watched the sun go down and the tower began to glow with soft light from the bottom up. But there were no dramatic sparkling lights like we had imagined, and it was almost dark.

Cap. - Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Cap. – Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

Too cold to sit outside anymore, we found a coffee shop close by where I found the best coffee I’ve had in Europe so far, but on the way back we decided to pass by the tower one more time. As we began to walk through the park towards the tower, it suddenly erupted in sparking lights, and not able to contain our excitement, we jumped up and down screaming, hugging and laughing in delight- despite the faces of those who were lucky enough to be used to this phenomenon. During the first five minutes of every hour, more than 20,000 lights sparkle throughout the structure.  I stood in the middle of the grass and watched in awe, and in that moment I felt so happy and lucky. Moments like this don’t happen all the time, but when they do, everything seems to click and you realize the reason you do this and the reason you are here- to find your own true happiness.

Walking is the best way to really get to know a place. When you walk, you get to genuinely see things. Going across a city by bus, car or metro just isn’t the same. You pass it all by, but you can’t soak it in. When you walk, you can look at the vintage posters and books sold along the river, you can hear the French, you can smell the pattisieries- this is how you get the true essence of a place. We walked all the way from Notre Dame, past the Louvre, past a protest, past the war hospital, past the Love Lock Bridge, past a wedding, and all the way to the Eiffel Tower. And on that walk I decided Paris was one of my favorite places.

Paris was never a place that was at the top of my list- I always felt it was so overdone and I’ve always heard people mention the stuck up attitudes of Parisians. But I’ve learned to never listen to these stereotypes while traveling. It’s important to travel without prior judgments or major expectations and just feel a place for what it is. And when I did that, I found the French people to be the happiest and most friendly people I have encountered so far. They would laugh with us when we couldn’t speak French, they would recommend the best foods and wines and they were eager to get to know who we were, always asking our names and where we were from. It was refreshing, because you don’t always encounter that warm welcome while traveling, and this one came as a surprise to me. But in a new place I’ve found it’s all about your attitude, and your attitude will reflect in the people you meet.

Cap. - Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Cap. – Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

All in one trip I saw some of the most famous parts of history including the Mona Lisa, the square where King Louis and Marie Antoinette lost their heads, Place de la Concorde, (a ferris wheel holds this spot), the Palace of Versailles, Notre Dame and even went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. At the end of the most memorable but exhausting trip I’ve ever had, I couldn’t wait to be in my bed at home- and when I thought of home this time, I meant Barcelona. I thought of my squeaky twin bed in my tiny apartment on the street that I now know like the back of my hand. I had been waiting for that moment. The moment when I finally felt that I was no longer a visitor or a tourist, but felt I belong here, that it is a familiar and comfortable place I call home.

On the plane the clouds cleared just in time for our descent towards Barcelona as we flew directly along the coastline. From my lucky chance at a window seat, in the distance I could see the cathedral of Tibidabo glowing behind the city. When I looked to the right, I could see the colorful lights of Torre Agbar, to the left Montjuïc, and in the center I even found the Sagrada Família. From up above I recognized the familiar and perfectly gridded streets that had saved me from getting lost so many times, and I realized how strange but wonderful it was that I knew this city in Spain better than any in the world. And as I looked down, I smiled because I felt like I was coming home.