here’s how it all went down…
We arrived at the airport in Paris at 6:15am where we met up with Nadia and Sabrina, who are leading the tour. This trip was supposed to give us a glimpse of what a real tour would look like so as we were going Nadia and Sabrina made sure to point out things that would be done with students.
There were 31 teachers in the group and they arrived in waves. I was part of the first wave, as well as Leann who was on my flight from JFK. We were the absolute first people to arrive so we went to Paul, a cafe chain, for a coffee and pastry. I ordered in French (one of my personal goals for the trip!). I got a delicious chocolate pastry (pain au chocolat) and a cafe au lait. De. Li. Shus.
Around 8:30 Sabrina picked us up from Paul and we went to the bus to meet up with the rest of the teachers that had arrived. About half of the group was there total, so we drove to our hotel to drop off luggage. Our hotel was not actually in Paris proper, but in Suresnes (pronounced Sureen, but be sure to use your French ‘r’) which at first I was a little bummed about, but I quickly came to love it. The little community was so authentic and French with absolutely no tourists, except for us, of course. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but one night two other teachers and I explored the area a bit and found a cute little pizza place where we got a pizza and a bottle of wine to share. So charming.
After we dropped off our luggage, we headed into Paris via metro/subway and explored the opera region a little bit. We got lunch “to go” (again ordered in French which, this time, was really point, smile and say merci). and found starbucks and free wifi and tried to communicate with home to let people know we arrived. After we met back together we walked to the Louvre where we met up with the other half of the teachers that had arrived later and then as a big group we went to the art museum.
Besides being exhausted from flying all night, the Louvre was very enjoyable. It is HUGE, I had no idea the pyramids weren’t just the museum. We saw the highlights like the Mona Lisa and the winged victory. I wanted to try out the museum Starbucks but I accidentally followed the group that went to Napoleon’s Appartmentes instead, which actually proved to be very impressive. It was amazing seeing the way royalty lived in France.
After the Louvre we went on a little walking tour of the city and saw so many cool things. We saw all the government buildings, bridges and of course the Seine river. We made our way to Notre Dam and visited mass and then had dinner at a quaint little place in the Latin Quarter. I sat with two teachers from Kentucky (who I became great pals with by the end of the weekend) and Stephane who was born in Paris and is the current VP of explorica. We discussed travel, common core and pretty much everything. It was so nice to talk to teachers from other parts of the country and to hear their perspective on everything. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in my little world but this weekend was a great reminder that I am just a tiny piece of the puzzle.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel via metro and I was asleep by 9:30. And that was just Friday!
Saturday we has our meeting for 3 hours in the morning. The VP talked about explorica and travel for a while and then a teacher that has been leading tours for 12 years talked to us from a teacher point of view. It was so awesome to hear from a veteran and a lot of the other teachers have also led trips and had lots of tips, they had just gone with other companies. If the rest of planning for Costa Rica goes well, I may try to do the same trip over spring break next year.
After our meeting we headed to Versailles for lunch and a tour of the palace. I honestly knew nothing about Versailles (except for the Treaty of) so I expected to be bored, but we had a fantastic guide and I learned so much about the royalty of France! The palace was absolutely breathtaking and the stories she old is about Louis XIII, XIV, and XV were so fascinating!
After Versailles we went back to the opera section of Paris and went to the Fragonard perfume museum. That was fun and is one of the activities they do with student tours in Paris. At the end we got to go into the factory Fragonard store and all the ladies loved that! Everyone got perfume for really cheap. My nose is very sensitive and we smelled A LOT of different perfumes and after a while I couldn’t really tell a difference between any of them. I wanted to get some but I really didn’t want to make a decision with a compromised smeller. At the end we were treated to champagne, amazing cheese, sausage and bread. I ate way more than my share and topped it off with a street crepe from the Latin quarter later that evening. After we left the museum we explored some around the Latin quarter for free time. We saw the smallest apartment in Paris, 2 meters wide! After that we took the metro on our own back to the hotel. Always a great feat, conquering a metro in another country! Once we got back we explore some around Suresnes and found a quaint little pizza place with the nicest people.
Sunday we left around 9 for a bus tour (a welcomed break from all the walking!) of Paris. It was veteran’s day, known as Remembrance Day in France, so all over there were french flags an military appreciation ceremonies. Everyone was a little sleepy (I definitely fell asleep on the bus) so we took a few walking breaks through a few parks. We saw the Eiffel Tower, of course, and walked through the Luxembourg gardens. In the gardens there were all kinds of French people just out on a Sunday doing their thing. It was nice to see! Made me miss home a little, seeing all the families spending their day together. We met up at a little Statue of Liberty which is a downsized version of the one on the Seine river (which is an 8th of the size of ours in NYC) and saw where after 9/11 the French planted an oak tree in honor of all of those fallen in service, including Americans. Our guide also told us that right after 9/11 the NY firefighters were invited to march with the French firefighters in a parade. This is so cool to me, that despite all the political turmoil and differences of opinions, in the end we are all in this together.
Upon finishing the tour we had 4 hours of free time so we wandered and did some shopping before meeting up with the group for dinner near the Sacred Heart Cathedral. After dinner we went to the Seine river to do a night cruise (it was COLD) and got to enjoy the twinkly lights of the Eiffel at night. After that, we went to this office building (Montmartre, maybe?) and on the 56th floor they have an observation deck so we got to see the gorgeous view. They also had free wifi, which was also nice, as was being indoors.
After the Montmatre, we took the metro back to the hotel and upon finding out my shuttle for the airport left at 6am, I spent the remainder of the evening frantically trying to fit all my scarves in my suitcase.
Overall, it was a fabulous weekend. I was amazed at how much French I picked up and was actually able to understand and respond with. I have a new dream where I learn French, and I’m hoping it doesn’t go away once I’m home and back in my normal routine. It is such a beautiful language. On the Explorica front, it is so cool to know that there are companies that are committed to good service and educational travel that want to make sure you and your students get the best experience prior to and during a tour. I am so very excited to visit Costa Rica in June and I feel WAY more prepared than I was a week ago. Although, there is much to be done! Allez!