On my hall last year, we coined the term “~*bryn mawr connections*~”, always written in all lowercase with squiggly lines and asterisks, as a way to describe the insane in which all Bryn Mawr students are connected to each other a la six degrees of separation. Despite being a school of only 1200 people, Mawrters are everywhere, out making a difference in the world. I have met a Mawrter in nearly every country I have visited, who are doing awesome things like starting literary prizes for African children’s literature and coordinating volunteer programs matching Americans with Indonesian NGOs. I’ve also had many coincidental encounters with Mawrters, such as the Bryn Mawr alum who happened to be on my 360 class’s flight after the plane returning to the States from Ghana was delayed for three days. This journey was no exception. On my flight from Copenhagen to Paris, I ran into my friend Julia, who graduated from Bryn Mawr when I was a freshman and was on the art club executive board with me. She was visiting her friend who also graduated from Bryn Mawr who now currently goes to graduate school in Sweden. How we happened to be the on the same flight, at the same, from such a small, seemingly random country blew my mind and I’m still reeling from the incident. It truly is a small world after all.<p>
That evening, I navigated the metro to find my hostel in Montmartre, which turns out not to be the best neighborhood to walk around alone at night by yourself, especially as a woman. Luckily, the hostel had free wi-fi so I was able to catch up on work that I should have finished prior to my trip but I was in a time crunch. I also had my second ~*bryn mawr connection*~ of the trip, or in this case, ~*main line connection*~, since two of the girls staying in my four person hostel room go to Villanova! They were studying abroad in Barcelona so we shared stories about our own abroad experiences and nostalgia over going to school on the Main Line (Villanova is only two towns over from Bryn Mawr.) It was so nice to make friends so quickly as my hostels in London and Dublin had been much bigger and most people didn’t speak English as their native language.<p>
The next day, I woke up early to see all the Parisian sites. I started my day at the Louvre to check out the Mona Lisa and the other ancient Italian and French art. Thanks to my Danish residency permit, I was able to enter for free and later at Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, and Versailles as well which was I was extremely grateful for since Paris is already such an expensive city. I explored the Jardin de Tuileries right next to the Louvre where I stumbled upon Place de la Concorde and got a view of Avenue des Champs-Élysées with Arc de Triomphe at the end. I then wandered and admired Hotel de Invalides, a military museum where Napoleon is buried, from the outside since I wanted to save money for food and doing the sites I was truly interested in. I got to see famous Impressionist art from Van Gogh to Monet to Degas in Musée d’Orsay. From there I found Pont de l’Archevêché, a bridge where couples attach locks with their names written on them onto the chain link walls and then throw the key into the Seine below to signify that their love will continue forever. I couldn’t help but think about the environmental impacts of throwing all those keys into the river but the cheesy romance of it all was pretty adorable. I then wandered onto to Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine, where I found the Notre Dame Cathedral (the soundtrack to Hunchback of Notre Dame was stuck in my head for the rest of the day.) I explored the Saint-Michel area where I found the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company and got to practice my rusty French skills by ordering lunch only to have the man working there switch to English; didn’t realize I was that bad… Afterwards, I found Jardin du Luxembourg which was beautiful but also made me wish I had come to Paris in spring or summer when everything is in bloom. While trying to find my next destination, I stumbled upon Grom: a gelato place which my friend who studied abroad in Paris last fall had recommended. Finally I found my last site of the day: Centre Pompidou, where I got to check out all of the modern art and got a great view of the city during sunset.
The next day, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:30AM to catch the first metro of the day to make my bus to take me an hour and a half out to the Beauvais airport (darn these budget airports always being so far.) I was super anxious because taking the first metro of the day would only give me 10 minutes to find my bus stop and if I missed my bus, I would most likely miss my flight which would screw me over immensely. Luckily, I made friends with a German girl and a Dutch girl studying abroad in Budapest who had spent the weekend in Paris who needed to catch the same bus. We made it with perfect timing so soon I was off to Rome! I was so immensely excited to see the Italian landscape appear as our plane was about to land. It was so green and radically different than any of the other European countries I had visited before. When I landed, I changed into a dress and sandals because it was 70 degrees and sunny outside! Walking through the streets brought me back to Indonesia as motorbikes zoomed by and I got stopped every few feet by vendors trying to sell their products to me. I made my way to my hostel which was absolutely adorable. It was clean, modern, had free wi-fi and breakfast, and didn’t have the “sketchy hostel feel” that all my other hostels had had. It was even next to the Indonesian tourist agency which made me happy. One of my roommates was an Australian who had spent four years in San Francisco, traveled to Italy, and was leaving the next day to move to Bali in Indonesia! I told her all about my experience and even taught her a few phrases in Indonesian. I then got in contact with Elissa, a friend of a friend at Bryn Mawr who I had met once on May Day during my freshman year who happened to be studying abroad in Rome and so my Bryn Mawr friend got us in contact. She took me to the Vatican to see Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica), the largest church in the world. It was incredible seeing such exquisite detail in everywhere. I was raised Catholic but do not consider myself religious at all now and it’s kind of odd to think in these past months I have been to some of the most important places of spirituality in the world (Borobodur for Buddhists and Prambanan for Hindus in Indonesia, not religious but seeing the Anne Frank House in The Netherlands holds great historical significance for Judaism). None of these places have had any sort of spiritual awakening for me but I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to share these beautiful places with people who find so much meaning and inner peace there. To finish the night, Elissa and I got gelato together. My first Italian gelato was just as great as everyone said it would be: creamy, fresh, and tastes exactly like the flavor it’s supposed to! It dripped all over my hand because of how warm it was outside, basically the best kind of problem to have in November.
The next day, Elissa was kind enough to let me use her hop-on, hop-off bus ticket that she hadn’t used so I could see the sites. I was very relieved even though it was a super touristy thing to do since I bruised one of my toes pretty badly so it was turning purple and and hurt every time I put pressure on it (I’m always having issues with my feet while traveling.) Rome also doesn’t have a great public transportation system and walking tends to take a while because there are so many side streets to get lost on, even the major streets on the maps don’t look like major streets in person, so it was nice to just be taken exactly where I was going. First stop of the day was Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and the Colosseum! Admission got me into all three so I spent around two hours just exploring all of the ancient buildings. I haven’t learned Roman history since seventh grade and everything was poorly labeled so most of the time I didn’t really know the significance of what I was looking at but I loved it there. Ironically for an ancient battleground, it was incredibly peaceful to wander through the crumbling structures and admire the power of nature as succession took over and plants sprouted out of the cracks. I also got a grew view of the city with perfect sunny weather. After that, I hopped back on the bus and attempted to see the Vatican Museums but they had closed at 1PM so I decided to go back and see St. Peter’s Basilica in the daytime and got strawberry, nutella, and blackberry gelato from the highly recommended Old Bridge. I had some extra time so I hopped back on the bus one last time and made my way to Fontana di Trevi, an giant fountain seen in The Lizzie Maguire movie (what did you think inspired me to go to Rome in the first place?) where I threw a coin behind my back to ensure my return to Rome. I quickly headed back to Elissa’s school where we met up to head to a dinner sponsored by her school. We had an hour or so to kill so we grabbed a pre-dinner gelato (my 2nd gelato of the day…no shame) and wandered into random churches scattered about Rome. Finally we found the restaurant where the dinner was being held. We got two different pastas and riscotta for the first course, different meats like meatballs and porkchops, and a selection of cakes for dessert. Everything was just so, so, so good. I was so happy to have had the chance to eat authentic Italian food while I was in Italy too!
The next morning, I made sure I had the opportunity to see the Vatican Museums. I explored hall after hall full on ancient Roman art. I amused myself coming up with things that the people might be saying in the paintings in a meme fashion since their faces are usually depicted so dramatically until I reached the Sistine Chapel. The awe of being there was sort of taken away by the constant shushing from the guards but it was still pretty amazing to take in. I was surprised to realize that the famous “Touch” painting only makes up a tiny portion of the whole chapel. I had imagined a huge wall filled with the painting since it’s so iconic. Nearly every monument I’ve visited so far this semester has been significantly smaller than I was expecting but it’s interesting to look at how famous something is and how that causes us to enlarge it in our minds. Afterwards, I grabbed a final lunch with Elissa and her two friends in the Jewish ghetto where I had a delicious meal of gnocchi. From there I had to quickly walk to the other side of town amid all of the streets being closed down due to protests so that I could pick up my stuff from my hostel to go catch my flight. I arrived back in Paris late in the evening where I met up with my friend from Bryn Mawr/DIS: Prianna. We went and saw the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the Moulin Rouge all lit up at night before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep before waking up for a jam-packed day.
My friend Prianna only had one full day in Paris so we did all of the essentials, most of which I had done on Sunday but it was nice to go back and explore places that I hadn’t seen before. In addition to nearly all the places I went on Sunday we: visited the Eiffel Tower (didn’t go to the top though since it was too foggy to have a good view), took pictures with the bears representing the different countries near the Eiffel Tower, got macaroons from Laurdee complete with a fancy box and bag, saw the inside of Notre Dame, got lunch at a touristy yet surprisingly good and reasonably priced restaurant in the Saint Michel area, found the French Panthenon, saw Ard de Triomphe, and walked down the Avenue de Champs-Elysses where we saw the Christmas market being set up. That night, we also met up with fellow Mawrter Grace who is spending the entire year studying abroad in Paris. In the true French style, we had bread and cheese at a cute cafe restaurant and spent several hours talking and laughing and reminiscing about Bryn Mawr and comparing abroad experiences.
On my last full day, Prianna and I got eclairs from the best ranked bakery in Paris. We said good-bye as she left for her flight and I took the metro into the city where I met up with my friend Elle, originally from Paris, who “studied abroad” at Bryn Mawr for a year during my freshman year. It was great seeing her and catching up and hearing about everything that she had been doing the past two years. We grabbed lunch where I got a yummy goat cheese and shrimp salad, which was especially tasty after lacking in vegetables all week since I had only really been eating crepes and sandwiches in an attempt to save money. We parted ways and I took the train to Versailles where I got to check out the castle. I was going to meet up with another DIS student that evening since she was also in Paris but there was an issue with her phone so it didn’t end up working out. It was okay though since I got to explore more of Montmartre, the neighborhood around my hostel. In my final ~*bryn mawr connection*~, or in this case ~*bi-co connection*~, I ended up meeting and talking with a Haverford alum who graduated in 2001 who was staying in my hostel room. My mind was blown that in a city as huge as Paris with so many possible hostel rooms and days and times, that two students from a tiny consortium outside of Philadelphia would end up in a four person hostel room. Life works in strange and wonderful ways sometimes! She told me all about going to law school, her experiences as a journalist, her abroad experience in The Netherlands, and her trip to Paris. We’re hoping to keep in contact now! It’s a comfort to know that no matter where you may be in the world, bi-co alum will be there to look after one another.
Overall, I am really happy I had to chance to experience Paris and Rome. I spent four years learning all about Paris so it was wonderful getting to actually experience so many of the places that I had read about and had done research on. Every corner I turned in Paris and Rome, I stumbled upon another monument. Each city had a beauty that was truly unique and I needed to have the life experience of seeing both of them. I’m glad I got to experience a contrast in European culture as well since Southern Europe is so different from Northern Europe (a trade-off between being friendlier, louder, and having better food but being more aggressive.) Both Paris and Rome were much bigger and dirtier than Copenhagen though. In Copenhagen, due to the welfare system, you have very few people begging for money and you would NEVER hear someone singing on the train for money but this was part of every day life in Paris and Rome. The biggest difference for me was the issue of security. In Denmark, I never have to give a second thought about the possibility of being harassed or pick-pocketed (not to say these things don’t happen, just not on the same scale as Paris and Rome.) So while Paris may have the culture and Rome may have the warm weather, I understand why the Danes rank so much higher on the happier scale because feeling safe where you live and work is such a huge thing that’s so easy to take for granted sometimes.
And on a final note, when I returned home to Copenhagen I got to meet our new puppy Baloo!
So comes the end to my travel breaks…next update will be on my weekend trip to Oslo, Norway! If you would like to see all of my travel photos you can check them out here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amandabeardall/sets/72157632158232080/