In the Beginning…

So. It’s been more than a week, I know. No need to tell me twice. However, I will gradually attempt to reconstruct some select highlights about the past thirteen days that I’ve (already) spent here. It’ll be a fast and furious game of catch up.

As you probably noticed with the absence of posts, I have been busy, starting from day one. When I last signed off, my suitcases were barely packed when I sped off in the family car to JFK to catch a 5 o’clock flight. I left in the afternoon, but with a six-hour time difference plus a speedy flight that landed a half hour early, it was already 4:30 in the morning when I arrived in Dublin for a short layover. While I had made an earnest attempt to sleep on my flight, I wound up staying awake for most of the time. I, along with four other students who happened to be on the same flight, wandered around Dublin’s international airport. The sky was pitch black. It felt and looked like midnight at a shopping mall. Being the bookworm that I am, I made my way to the bookstore where there were entire tables devoted to stacks of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. (To my delight, the former was seemed to be selling better than the latter.)

On the quick flight to France, I fell asleep, only being rudely awakened by a fidgety child who insisted on playing with the lunch tray attached to the back of my seat. After navigating the incomprehensible puzzle known as Charles de Gaulle Airport, we heaved our bags into a taxi. After a half-hour, the four of us arrived, tired and bemused, at our accommodations. After a quick dinner with a friend, I promptly fell asleep just before 8, woke up once at 11, and had a fitful night’s rest before waking at  7:00 the next morning to make myself presentable for class.

Yes, we had class the very next day, which I’ll describe in another time. In addition to homework, those first couple of days were filled with details:  location of the grocery stores, learning how to use our Navigo cards, jet lag, meeting strangers, not knowing how to order food without sounding like a fool, favorite bakeries, remembering how to be a student again. There was a lot to think about.

Even amid the confusion and the sleep deprivation, I still managed to be truly taken by surprise. For example:

  1. You can’t actually see the Eiffel Tower from every part of Paris. Even on the clearest day, my daily routine does not bring me within view of this famous landmark.
  2. Speaking of the weather, it rains here. All the time. Apparently, fall in Paris involves a lot of precipitation. I didn’t think it would bother me so much, but I miss seeing a blue sky and the sun. For the past two weeks, I think there have only been three truly sunny days that quickly devolved into storm clouds again.
  3. The public transportation system here is wonderful, but also a little gross. Actually, much dirtier than I expected.
  4. There are very few skyscrapers here, which might explain part of the charm of Paris. In cities like Chicago, New York, or Shanghai, gleaming monolithic structures of steel and glass surround you from all sides. Here, you’ll find balconies, window boxes of flowers, ornamental façades, and stories you can count.
  5. If any city is made for walking, it’s this one.

I was also determined to find my bearings too. This is the first time that I have traveled to a foreign country where I am not familiar with the local language. Plus, this is also the first time that I do not have a conception of the city in which I am traveling. After my summer in Chicago, I know the city almost by heart, at least the Loop anyway and parts of Lincoln Park (and Hyde Park, of course). In Paris, I could barely find the street signs, let alone know the main streets and boulevards that ran through the city.

However, compared to my first day, I’ve picked up things relatively quickly, I think. I now know how to count up to 50, bring an umbrella wherever I go, and read the Metro maps. I consider that progress.

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