As Air France flight 55 soared into the rainy night sky from Washington Dulles Airport on Thursday evening, so began the 2015 Carroll Community College (CCC) Study and Travel Abroad to Paris, an event which has, in the past, taken community members and students alike to destinations such as Spain and London. And with the City of Lights as the chosen adventure, each traveler is sure to be enchanted by this remarkable and thriving place.
These travels are directed by Dr. David Fell and Professor Siobhan Wright, two names which many students at CCC will recognize from their English courses. Last spring, when London was the journey, I was enrolled in Dr. Fell’s British Literature course, studying the novel “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens. Physically being able to walk through the places mentioned in Dickens novel was a surrealistic experience. Even outside the realm of studies, the places which we get to explore and the things we get to do on the study abroad are truly invaluable experiences.
The first day in Paris consisted of a small hodgepodge of activity which, aside from the mandatory airport customs and baggage claims, was a pleasing introduction to a city which could easily be overwhelming. But the tour bus we took from Charles de Gaulle Airport offered each traveler a look at the Parisian suburbs and city both, and the array of people and life which are constantly shaping and growing Paris each day. One street would be lined with walls of neon block letters of graffiti, even looping upwards like ivy and up the sides of medieval looking buildings. The next turn and suddenly we found ourselves gazing upwards at Notre-Dame Cathedral, a Gothic piece of architecture settled right next to the Seine River and bristling with its infamous carved gargoyles and saints.
Our first steps into the city of Paris were here at Notre-Dame Cathedral. We had a tour guide lead us on one of the bridges over the river and onto the cobblestone streets surrounding the building. The construction of Notre-Dame began in 1163 when bishop Maurice de Sully made the decision to build a cathedral worthy of France’s largest city. The construction would not be complete until over 100 years later and after having been worked on by city residents and the Church as they labored over the carvings, architecture, and of course, the stained glass windows. Notre-Dame Cathedral has since been home to a slew of numerous historical events, including the crowning of Napoleon I as emperor.
As our group of travelers is devoting a day to medieval Paris, including Notre-Dame, later this week, we only took a short excursion inside. But even a moment in that great cathedral was enough to send my own thoughts reeling. Nothing, I think, can truly prepare a person for the experience of standing in the middle of such a remarkable place. The walls soar up hundreds of feet above the sanctuary floor, and along those walls are stone niches where saints are frozen in time with folded hands, illuminated by either the soft candlelight from the chandeliers or the round stained glass windows where splashes of reds and blues and purples pour across the saints stony robes. The air inside is cool, yet filled with the smell of prayer candles being lit. This particular time, a choir of younger men and women were practicing in the center of the cathedral, and the rise and fall of their songs rang through the entire sanctuary . I think everyone here is eager for another step into Notre-Dame Cathedral later this week.
The most delicious highlight of the day was the welcome lunch at the oldest restaurant in Paris, A La Petite Chaise. This restaurant claims its roots of origin all the way back to 1610 as a small place near Grenelle, and then between 1652 and 1680 the actual house was raised. This house is the same house in which diners now eat, an establishment which looks fairly simple on the outside with a black and white awning stretched over its single door. The inside, however, is another story: warm, bright lights and gleaming wood shine throughout the small yet charming house.
We were greeted by a welcoming round of “Bonjour”‘s and quickly ushered up a narrow flight of steps to our prepared tables.There really is nothing quite like the anticipation of a good meal after a long day, and the charming staff at A La Petite Chaise did not let us down. Everyone was promptly given an aperitif of “kir au vin blanc”, a tasty mix of blackcurrant liquor and white wine. From there, we were given a mouth-watering selection of starters, main courses, and desserts; the choices ranged from “quasi de veau sauce au poivre vert” (veal steak with peppercorn sauce) to “gateua au chocolat amber, creme anglaise” (dark chocolate cake with custard creme sauce).
From there, everyone made use of their afternoon, whether that was sleeping in preparation for tomorrow’s treks, or exploring the neighborhood around our hotel. For the latter, there is much to do: two blocks away is the Moulin Rouge, a famous cabaret which is considered to be the birthplace of the cancan dance; or ducking into a flower shop, spinning a rack of postcards, or walking through the nearby cemetery where
French artist Edgar Degas is buried.
This was only the first day in Paris, and there are plenty more adventures awaiting in the streets and buildings of this city; let’s hope they are as illuminating as today. For there seems to be an unspoken yet guaranteed promise in the air of something greater to come.