JHU Around the World: J’adore Paris!

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Welcome to JHU Around the World, a collection of my thoughts and musings as I travel the world representing Hopkins! I’m Dana M., and this is my fourth year back at JHU working in admissions (I’m also an alum – I graduated in 2001 as a Political Science major).  I have traveled abroad on my own and for Hopkins before, but this year, I am literally spanning the globe!  By the middle of November, I will have traveled to 8 countries on 3 continents, with 5 languages and 8 currencies.  Just don’t quiz me on what day or time it is, and I should be fine!

You can read about my past travels:
China

London

Turkey

When I graduated from JHU, my parents sent me back packing through Europe with a group of friends (thanks Mom and Dad!).  My trip included several stops in Spain, Greece and France.  I haven’t been back to Paris since I lasted visited, and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this city and how sad I was to leave, even though it was the last country I visited on the first leg of my trip around the world (I hope I didn’t leave the coffee pot on when I locked the apartment up a month ago!).

I don’t speak French (I understand some, can read a selection of words, and of course know enough about food order off of a French only menu with moderate success), and remember feeling the Parisians were rather rude anyone who didn’t speak French.  I was traveling through Paris with my college friends Melissa and Lauren, both of whom speak French, and I distinctly remember the same person speaking to me in French and to them in English, because their accents weren’t Parisian enough.  This time around, it was a completely different story.

I couldn’t have found the Parisians more gracious and welcoming.  It almost felt like I had made the previous slights up, but when I commented to the guidance counselor, Victoria, at EAJBM about this change, she confirmed the shift in attitude. I don’t know if it is generational, the growth of the internet (and apps that let you rate businesses or services), or a function of an economy much in need of tourism dollars, but Parisians were generally warm, friendly, helpful, and switched to English quickly (or found an English speaker) once we got past the pleasantries and they realized I spoke very little French.  I did have one very rude cab driver whose English was excellent as he berated me on my lack of French, but it almost felt like a quaint throwback and was actually kind of amusing (really it’s the center square of any Parisian bingo game).

I flew to Paris on October 9th and landed with enough time to drop my stuff of at the hotel, freshen up, and head out to St. Germaine en Lyee for a school visit.  I have to confess, that as this was my 4th country, curency, timezone and climate in as many weeks, I was surprised to have made it on time and appropriately dressed (it had been over 80 degrees in Izmir!).  But there I was, talking to a great group of students at about 5:00pm Paris time (or so I was told).

I am interested in the various reasons why students abroad want to study in the US, so after our meeting, I spent some time talking to the guidance counselor, Catherine, about this.  The French system, much like other European countries, allows for very little flexibility in your studies.  Students who are undecided or are looking for a well rounded liberal arts education find the confines of this system a poor fit.  Additionally, while there might be a club sports team or theater group, campus life in France is very different.  I think of the community of students at Hopkins like a family.  They are students you live with, work with, play with, and above all, get involved in campus life with.  I had talked to students about some of our 370+ clubs and organizations and big programming run by our students (like the MSE symposium and Spring Fair) and she said nothing like that existed for students studying in France.

After a rather long day, the hotel recommended a fabulous near by restaurant.  As you may have noticed in my other blogs, I am a fan of trying different foods, and French food is fantastic!  I ate very well, though I probably consumed way more red meat and pastries than I normally do in even a 6 month period (love the pain au chocolate!).  So I had a price fixed meal at Bistro Champetre (near the night lit Eiffel Tour) that included roasted artichokes and salmon, rack of lamb, and fruit with rubarb compote (keeping it light – at least at the end).

On my second day, I did both a school visit at the International School of Paris and an Explore Hopkins evening program at EABJM.  In between, I had about 2 hours of free time, so I set off to see Musee d’Orsay, a truly lovely museum.  The building itself is quite spectacular, with high ceilings, great architecture, and views of Paris in every direction.  It is home to a fabulous collection of modern art, including some very famous paintings by Van Gogh, Degas (love the dancers!), and impressionists like Monet and Cezanne.  The museum and its collection is so breathtaking that I probably sighed aloud at least 30 times (which is even more akwarded when you realize I was listening to the audio guide).  Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists (although, I’m not sure what is says about me that I love the art of someone so tortured that he found himself most prolific in mental institutions) and I’d have loved nothing more than to have spent the entire day at the museum (or go back tomorrow!).

My friend Vadim, another ’01 A&S JHU alum and a former young trustee of Hopkins, arrived on Thursday afternoon (after my visit to the American School of Paris) and stayed with me for the duration of my trip.  Vadim and I traveled to the south of France and Monaco together in college, and it was great to have such a close friend visit me after spending so much time away from friends and family.  I wouldn’t say that I have ever really be alone or lonely on the trip (admissions counselors are a very social group and travel in packs over the fall), but it’s not the same thing as spending time with someone near and dear to your heart.

After allowing him to adjust a bit the jet lag (it’s a 6 hour time difference between Paris and DC), Vadim and I set out to do a little sight seeing at Notre Dame and a walk around the Le Marais district.  In contrast with some large cathedrals like the Vatican and St. Peters, there is no gold, no marble, and no jewel encrusted artifacts on display at Notre Dame.  Instead, the beauty of the church comes from the magnifiscent gothic architecture and the striking stain glass windows.  It’s truly a lovely church to visit, and gave rise to more than one bad joke (I believe I described a model of the church being built as historically inaccurate due to the lack of a hunchback.  That’s how the story goes, right?).  Les Marais is a fantastic shopping district filled with cheese and wine shops, candy confectionaries, and quite a few clothing stores.  We did a little window shopping (and candy purchasing) and then headed out to dinner in the area (yet another good meal; although, I did learn the French cook their steaks on the very rare side, which was more a problem for Vadim than me).

Friday was my last full day in Paris (so sad!).  I had one school visit, so Vadim and I spent the morning at the Champ de Mars area walking around and taking pictures with the Eiffel Tour.  A lady in a gorilla suit stopped by to photo bomb a few tourists, but unfortunately, our photos are monkey less.  In the afternoon, we visited the Pompidou (they have a huge number of Picassos and lovely balconies and views of the city) and spend a little more time walking around Paris.  We also managed to eat almost every French pastry available.  We had causants with breakfast, a pain au raisins and almond cake for a mid morning snack, and a crepe and a pan au chocolat for an afternoon pick-me-up.  At some point in the evening, Vadim commented that we should also get a waffle – because carbs was what we were missing from our entirely healthy and balanced diet that day.  After dinner, Vadim and I hit up a Tango Cabaret night spot to get a flavor of the Parisian evening scene.

It was sad to say goodbye in the morning (traveling with Vadim always so much fun and brings back such great memories!), but I’m sure sleeping in my bed tonight will be delightful (or confusing.  That remains to be seen).

How I know I’ve been traveling for too long:
My hotel in Paris was the eighth hotel I stayed at since I began my travels 4 weeks ago.  The hotel has a bank of elevators that face each other, and when you get off in the lobby or on your floor, you have 4 directions you can turn in.  For the life of me, I could never remember which way to go.  I don’t know if I had been turning one way for all other hotels I stayed at or if, in fact, my brain had just reached it’s maximum capacity for hotel room memory, but I got the first step wrong at least 80% of the time. I just hope I remember which way to go when I get home!

Stay tuned for my next travel blog on the Caribbean!