(**WARNING: This journal is long. This is the end of the warning.**)
(**I LIED: HERE’S ANOTHER WARNING: Some dialogue was fabricated for comedic purposes. …Some.)
I hadn’t really thought about going to Paris before; I’m sure there were times when I thought it would be cool to go into the Palace of Versailles — ~I’M IN LOOOOVE WITH ROCOOOCO~ — but for some reason I never really imagined myself in France. And yet, there I was going on this maskinferð with a bunch of Faroese students. Suddenly, we were all exchange students, in a way.
(A little anecdote: Maskinferð literally means “machine trip.” All throughout the trip, we called it maskinferð instead of námsferð — “study trip” — because on the Friday before we left, our teacher gave us a warning that we shouldn’t engage in any funny business because military personnel were patrolling the streets of Paris, and they were carrying machine guns — only instead of saying “machine guns,” she just said “machine” by accident. So the word stuck, and whenever there was a trio of soldiers walking by carrying machine guns, whoever saw them first would shout to the rest of the group, “Maskin!” and we would all repeat it back.)
So on Wednesday, I awoke at 5:00 in the morning (read: rose like a zombie from a coffin) so I could take a taxi to the airport. I checked in my luggage with my similarly groggy-eyed classmates, and within the hour, we got on the plane.
Day 1 — Copenhagen.
The flight to Copenhagen is less than three hours, so we landed pretty early in the morning. Most of us slept on the plane, and there are plenty of pictures on Instagram of us sitting with our heads lolling to the side, our mouths wide open. We grabbed our stuff, hopped on a train, and got off a bit farther away from the hostel than anyone would’ve liked. We walked a good distance, dragging our luggage in tow, and it was at this point that I realized I wasn’t wearing my brace, and my ankle was hurting. Badly.
(Note: No, my ankle isn’t still sprained. I probably have a damaged ligament, and normally it’s completely painless and I don’t need to wear a brace, though sometimes it acts up. This trip was one of those times. Darn you to heck, walking tours!)
We arrived at the hostel, but our rooms weren’t ready yet, so we stuffed our bags into an empty room and set off into Copenhagen. Our main group branched off into several smaller groups as we went searching for food. The group I was with went to a Shawarma restaurant, and then after that, we split into even smaller groups to go wandering around.
Much shopping was accomplished. Because clothes (and food, and pretty much everything else) is so expensive in the Faroes (because one: socialism, and two: import tax), Faroese people in other countries go crazy while shopping. Most of the girls’ luggage bags were packed to be almost empty to prepare for their new purchases. I say “most” because mine wasn’t, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy much; most of the clothing chains I went to only had women’s sizes up to L, very few went up to XL, and even the XL shirts were too small for me. I went into H&M and bought a bunch of men’s XL t-shirts, and while they ended up being long enough to wear as a dress, they still fit snugly around my broad shoulders.
Moral of this boring story: If you’re a girl in Europe and you’re not short and/or a human pipe cleaner, men’s clothes and “plus sizes” are the way to go.
“But Juliana!” you might have said just now, “Aren’t Scandinavians generally very tall?” Yes, you are correct, lovely reader. But the height of the average Scandinavian man is still shorter than, for example, my brother, and the average Scandinavian woman is shorter than me; men average at about 185 cm (about 6’1”) and women at about 171 cm (like 5’7”). Just for reference, my brother is 218 cm (aprox. 7’2”) and I’m 180 cm (5’11”-ish. I tell people I’m 6’ for ease of reference). And I think, due to the exercise and healthy food I’ve been getting here in the Faroes, that I’ve gotten even taller.
All right, sorry for getting off-topic.
We got back to the hostel extremely late. There were six of us in one tiny room, but we all managed to finish our bedtime routines in enough time to get four hours of sleep.
Day 2 — Paris.
Got on the flight, landed in Paris, hooray! When we landed, the sun was just coming up, and the view from the airplane window was fantastic. Bright sunlight illuminated huge acres of vineyards, towering forests, and cute little neighborhoods of white walls and terra-cotta roofs. Even the blue sky was exciting, since it’d been a while since I saw a clear sky. I couldn’t stop asking my classmates, “Ert tú spent!?” (“Are you excited?”), because I was jumping up and down. In my airplane seat. Yes, I’m still an embarrassment to everyone around me, in case you were wondering if that trait ever went away.
We arrived at our hostel, where, again, our rooms weren’t ready, so we stuffed all our bags into an empty room yet again. This time, though, that didn’t turn out so well because these rooms were absolutely miniscule. They were even smaller than the room I have all to myself here in the Faroes, and I was to be sharing a hostel room with two other girls. And the layout was horrible; you opened the door, and immediately to your left was a tiny water closet. Then came the shower, which lead directly into the room, and anyone who was in the room could see you showering because the shower door wasn’t opaque.
THE SHOWER DOOR. WASN’T. OPAQUE.
Has that sunken in yet? Yes? Yes, okay, moving on.
After the shower came two single beds pushed together and a bunk bed crossing over them perpendicularly, and then there was a tiny space for our suitcases next to a small sink. Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time in that room.
After depositing our junk in our genuinely awful rooms, we went shopping.
FRENCH GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE, YOU ARE THE REASON I CAN LOVE. If you’ve never been to Paris and have only seen photographs, I can tell you that the shops, the cafés, the apartments with the little verandas, and all the people on mopeds are a sight that’s infinitely better in person. The atmosphere of a busy shopping district in Paris is so overwhelmingly comfortable, you might feel like curling up on the sidewalk and falling asleep to the sounds of the city. I know I did — well, I mean, I felt like it. I didn’t actually go to sleep on a sidewalk in Paris. You can’t even sit down at a café for ten minutes without being shooed away.
Yes, I got shooed out of a restaurant by a snooty French waiter. Here’s what happened:
While my classmates continued shopping, I felt my ankle acting up again, so I went to go sit outside a nice corner café where they could still find me if they needed to, as my phone didn’t have reception. A waiter materialized next to my table and I ordered a Coke. Drinking it took about two minutes, and I spent another five minutes just relaxing. The café was empty except for me and a Parisian couple on a date. There was a hot sun overhead and a pleasant breeze floating between the tall buildings. Even with the heavy traffic and honking horns, everything felt peaceful.
The waiter materialized with the bill, revealing that my one glass of soda had cost the equivalent of 8 USD. Lamenting the fact that I hadn’t just ducked into the metro to use a vending machine instead, I paid him and left the extra coins as a tip. The waiter disappeared with my empty glass and I continued to sit there, enjoying the sunlight. I closed my eyes for a second, and when I opened them, the waiter was there again. I looked at him questioningly.
“You finished your drink,” he said. As he had already taken my glass and money away, I knew this wasn’t a pre-emptive statement to offering me a refill. I just raised my eyebrows at him and stated the obvious: “Yeah?”
He rocked on the heels of his feet, his expression agitated, staring at me. He didn’t move from his spot and didn’t avert his gaze. Slightly unnerved, I slowly reached for my bag and coat, and at that, he looked relieved and disappeared into the café again.
What, was he afraid he was going to have to use force to remove me from his deserted restaurant? The force of your awkward stare was enough, buddy. Good job.
Anyway, moving on to a more positive restaurant experience, we all headed to a restaurant later that night, where I tried escargot and cuisses de grenouilles for the first time. The snails tasted more like herbs and butter than anything else, and the frog legs really, seriously did just taste like chicken covered in tomato sauce. I liked them. Anyway, after that, nearly everyone else went partying ’til the early hours of the morning, but my ankle assured me that it would be unwise to join them.
Day 3 — Notre Dame de Paris, the Panthéon, and Sacré Cœur
The next morning, we walked to Notre Dame, passing by the Seine and giving me the perfect opportunity to sing “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, much to everyone else’s embarrassment. We got to the cathedral, filed through the one open door, had our bags NOT checked by two security guards who were supposed to be checking bags but decided they were too busy talking to each other, and inhaled the sacred air of Notre Dame.
Have I mentioned how much I love French Gothic architecture? Because I do. I was nearly drooling as I gazed at the high arches, mullioned windows, and detailed stain glass. Along the walls were religious artworks, old tabernacles, banners providing historic information, and other points of interest. Our group split off, and I ended up being disconnected from the main group because I was busy sight-seeing and hadn’t noticed everyone leaving in the gigantic, tourist-packed cathedral. I got a text from one of our teachers (thankfully my phone could still receive texts) telling me they were all in a nearby café. So I regrouped with them and we all headed back to church to attend mass at noon.
I really wish we could have attended mass on a Sunday, because weekday masses, even those in one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, are rather lackluster. The readings were in French, of course, which all except a few of us couldn’t understand, and it was incredibly short with almost no singing. Even so, mass in Notre Dame de Paris! I’m very happy that I could have that experience.
After that, we headed to the Panthéon. We saw lots of fantastic artwork and the graves of Viktor Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire, and other famous people. There’s not much more I can say about it without describing each and every piece of artwork to you, so take my word for it when I say it was amazing. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere within the Panthéon, because there almost wasn’t one; there were very few people around, and the gigantic, echoey hall was quieter than a library. If only it smelled like a library too, because the smell of marble isn’t easy to convey through words, mostly because well-cared-for marble doesn’t have a smell. The whole place smelled like nothing, is what I’m saying.
No smell, no sound, and towering white walls and statues everywhere. It was quite the austere experience. I loved it.
Also, I bought a Little Prince plushy in the gift shop. Yay!
The last stop of the day was Sacré Cœr. By the time we left the Panthéon, my ankle was on fire, so you can imagine my immense despair when I saw all the steps leading up to the cathedral. Still, I climbed, because I knew that if I stopped, a “salesman” would wrap a bracelet around my wrist and try to intimidate me into paying for it. I decided not to risk it for a moment’s respite.
Inside the cathedral, mass was going on. They were having communion, and the sanctum was absolutely packed. Unlike Notre Dame’s mass, this mass had music and a choir, and it was glorious to behold. A woman’s strong, vibrating voice echoed around the giant cathedral, accompanied by a powerful organ. I would have loved to stay and attend that mass, but I thought my feet were going to fall off by then, so we departed.
If you’re reading this, you probably know me. If you don’t know me, that means you’re an exchange student from the future, reading my journals for reference (HAHA, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT), in which case, hello from the past! But anyway, if you know me, then you know I have this habit of getting distracted and becoming separated from whomever I’m with.
But surely I wouldn’t let that happen in a foreign country where I had no cellphone reception, right? Surely I’d be able to get a grip on my focus and make sure I was with the group at all times… right?
By this point in the story, it had already happened twice.
No, I’m not going to tell you what happened.
Exchange student from the future, if you’re still reading this, I implore you to try to remain focused at all times. It’s important to your safety.
Oh, by the way, on an unrelated note, we got done with our tours around three o’clock everyday, so in case you were wondering, you’re safe to presume that everything that occurred after we were done doing what I’ve described in these diary entries was some combination of dining out, shopping, touring the supermarket, napping, and clubbing. For me, it was probably some combination of the first, third, and fourth. Describing that would get repetitive, so just know that that’s what we did between and after being tourists.
Day 4 — Versailles
I can’t remember if it was this day or a different day, but at some point, a gypsy market appeared about ten meters down the road from our hostel. As I’ve already mentioned, our hostel was pretty terrible, which might have had to do with the fact that it was in a shantytown. Gypsies, the homeless, drug dealers, and prostitutes — literally hundreds of them — crowded into the street, promoting their “services” or showing off the salvaged garbage they were selling, or else beating the teeth out of each others’ heads in an attempt to steal said garbage. One of our classmates — hi, Jón — went to check out the market out of curiosity before any of us knew what was going on within it, and he came back visibly disturbed. We were disturbed, too, when he described the horrors he’d seen to us. We already weren’t allowed to go anywhere by ourselves, but this new situation upped the fear ante.
I decided not to tell my mom about this situation happening right outside our living quarters until after the trip was over. A wise decision, I would say.
…So we headed off to Versailles!
Do you know what Rococo architecture is?
Because I’M IN LOOOOVE WITH ROCOOOOCO. I love it even more than French Gothic. Walking through an entire palace full of pastel walls and gold trim made me feel like I was walking in the version of Heaven you see in comic strips: fluffy clouds with golden gates. Maybe that’s an odd comparison, but it was really, truly wonderful. It was my second-favorite location we visited on our trip.
“Second-favorite?” you might have just asked your computer screen, as if it would magically supply answers to you in my own deep, soothing voice. “But Versailles was the first thing you mentioned in this journal! What could your first-favorite be?”
Ha. Aha ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHA. AAAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!
You’ll find out.
Day 5 — Notre Dame de Reims and G. H. Mumm & Cie
Notre Dame de Reims wasn’t actually on the itinerary; we just happened to be near it as we waited for the G. H. Mumm facility to open. Everybody else relaxed at a café or walked around while I ventured into the cathedral by myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the existence of the Smiling Angel until we left Reims, so I didn’t get the chance to look for it. Still, the thousands of awesome carvings of holy people and angels were quite the sight. I was almost neurotically giddy, being on my fourth day of a nonstop, architectural eye-binge.
Now here’s a funny(?) little story. I stepped into the dusty sanctum of the cathedral to find that it was almost empty. A few small groups of tourists wandered here and there, but there was nowhere near the crowd of Notre Dame de Paris. Then again, it was like eight o’clock in the morning, when most tourists are still in their caves.
So, since the cathedral was so empty, I decided it would be okay if I prayed right in front of the altar — well, as close to the altar as I could get, since it was roped off. I knelt down on the stone floor, hunched over, and prayed for about a minute or so. I could hear a few whispers floating in my direction, but I did my best to ignore them. However, the whispers gradually got closer, and I found myself rushing to finish my prayers. When I finally looked up, I found tourists standing on both sides of me, staring down at me.
I turned red as a tomato. They were looking straight at me, some smirking, some outright giggling. I think one of them may have even taken a picture of me, judging by the movement his hands — which were holding a camera aloft— when I looked up at him. Flustered and confused, I hurried to my feet and fast-walked out of the cathedral to rejoin my classmates.
Tourists think praying is just hilarious, I suppose.
Anyway, to the champagne facility!
We arrived in G. H. Mumm & Cie and ventured beneath the facility, deep underground (“DOWN ONCE MOOOORE TO THE DUNGEONS OF MY BLAAACK DEEESSPAIR,” I sang as we descended. Since watching The Phantom of the Opera in English class, I can’t go down a flight of stairs without at least thinking of this song). A tour guide explained how the fermenting process worked and led us through different, cobwebbed chambers that showcased bottles of murky liquid that were in the different stages of becoming champagne. The murky stuff was the yeast, of course, and it looked absolutely disgusting, but when the tour was over and we returned to the surface (thankfully by elevator), a man was waiting for us behind a row of glasses filled with sparkling, bubbly champagne. It was a lovely sight. (I’m talking about the champagne, of course, but I guess the guy turned a good ankle, too.)
I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ALCOHOL SO I CAN’T REALLY DESCRIBE THIS CHAMPAGNE FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T HAD IT, SO ORSAKA SUM EG ERI BÝTT.
But yeah. G. H. Mumm champagne. S’good.
Day 6 — The Louvre and a boat trip in the Seine
Ah, the Louvre. What can I say about the Louvre besides the obvious? It’s big. It’s got some pyramids made of glass. It’s chockfull of old, famous pieces of art. It’s also full of tourists taking pictures of themselves imitating the art, which was arguably more entertaining than the art pieces themselves.
Posing in front of the Mona Lisa were faintly-smiling women crossing their arms loosely in front of their chests — perfect imitations, besides having a few eyebrows too many. In another chamber, posing next to a statue of an Olympic athlete mid-catch, was a petite woman wildly stretching her arms while pretending to catch an invisible discus. More than a few men had pictures taken of themselves pretending to take selfies next to statues of Roman emperors who were holding up edicts, which admittedly would often resemble the standard selfie pose. But probably the funniest tourist I took notice of was a grandmotherly Asian woman standing for a picture in front of a large painting of hell. She obviously was trying to look like she was standing in the midst of hell, but her face was just so utterly calm and composed that I nearly burst into tears of laughter watching her have her picture taken. Her expression wasn’t, “I’m in hell,” but rather, “ Hell is my vacation home.” I will remember this little old Asian lady until the day I die. In fact, she will probably be the last thing I see before I pass on.
When it comes to paintings, I adore hyper-realism. Paintings of humans mid-action with intense facial expressions are my favorite, and I don’t particularly care for posed pictures of static, dead-eyed, vacantly smiling models. (Sorry, Mona.) Therefore, I was delighted when I discovered what has now become my favorite painting: Atala au Tombeau (“The Entombment of Atala”) by Girodet. The intense expression on Chactas’ face as he held the dead Atala moved me greatly.
AWRIGHT, LET’S NOT GET SAPPY.
After the Louvre, we all went off to do our own thing before regrouping at night to go on a boat ride on the Seine, where we got to see the Eiffel Tower illuminated. Did you know the Eiffel Tower also sparkles sometimes? I sure didn’t. I’m so happy I got to see it at night, when it could look its brightest.
After the boat ride, me and nine of my classmates headed to a nearby restaurant. It was nearly empty, the food relatively cheap (“15 euro for one entrée? What a bargain!”), but at this point I realized I had no money. I had used up all of my cash, and the French payment machines wouldn’t accept American cards.
(For those of you who don’t know, American cards have a magnetic strip that you have to slide, while European cards have a magnetic strip AND a chip on the top that you can just stick into the machine. For reasons unknown, every machine except the ATM would only accept the chip method, and there were rarely ever any ATMs around.)
So I fell into the depths of despair because I had to have my friend pay for my grossly overpriced meal. I know it’s stupid, but this kind of thing is important to me. But enough about that.
Enter the waiter.
This man was amazing. Here we were, ten foreign students sitting in a nearly empty restaurant with pockets full of spending money (sans me), and this man had the awe-inspiring effrontery to roll his eyes and mock us as we ordered our food. Why, you may ask? That’s a very good question. Maybe we pronounced the French foods wrong. Maybe we asked him to repeat himself one too many times so we could understand. Who knows?
And the cherry on top was that he presumed that just because I — yes, me specifically — ordered in English, then that meant NO ONE ELSE at the table spoke French. Well, yes, that’s kind of stupid, but why bring that up?
Because I was having a bad day; I was out of money, I had a headache, my ankle was killing me, I was starving, and I’d had one of those stupid and inconvenient exchange-induced existential crises when I was on the boat. I was a bit out of it. So when he came back with our food and asked, “Who ordered the duck?”, I didn’t reply right away.
“Juliana,” said Katrin, tapping me on the shoulder, “isn’t that yours?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Thank you.”
The waiter looked at me reproachfully and muttered, “Réveillez-vous.”
I had no idea what that meant — plus I was still in a daze — so I just thanked him and took my food. I didn’t notice Ragnhild, who was sitting a ways down the table, and who also speaks fluent French, looking highly affronted. She passed the news down the table to me that apparently, the waiter had ordered me to “wake up.”
Wow, I didn’t realize French waiters hated getting a tip. BECAUSE HE CERTAINLY DIDN’T GET ONE.
A more hilarious situation happened just a moment later. Guðrun had ordered a steak, cooked medium, but when it arrived, it was quite obviously rare. She politely pointed this out to the waiter, who scoffed and told her that what she was looking at WAS medium, even though the steak was plainly swimming in a pool of its own blood. Guðrun told him to take it back and cook it more, which he reluctantly. A couple minutes later, he returns with the steak, drops it in front of her, and leaves. A second-long inspection revealed the steak to still be as cooked as a cow in a hot room.
Fed up, Guðrun picked up her plate and carried it downstairs to where the waiters were all waiting around, chatting. We all listened as we heard her set the plate down on the counter with a clatter and ask shrilly, “DOES THIS LOOK MEDIUM TO YOU??”
Guðrun, tú ert mín fyrimynd.
Day 7 — Choco-Story, the Eiffel Tower, and the Catacombs
We started our last day in Paris at Choco-Story, a small museum showcasing the history of chocolate-making. After we viewed all the old pots and pans and machines for making chocolate since the beginning of its discovery, we shuffled into a small kitchen where we were given a short presentation on making chocolate. Afterward, we all bought some chocolates (sans me; no ATM had been found before that point), and then headed off.
I found an ATM in time to finally eat something before we headed to the Eiffel Tower.
At least to me, the Eiffel Tower looks small until you’re right underneath it. I don’t know what kind of optical illusions are involved, but I honestly felt underwhelmed until I was directly under its steel beams, at which point I became ecstatic. My feelings matched those of a little American boy who was standing with his parents, staring up at the tower, gesticulating widely and shouting, “HOW did HUMANS build SOMETHING like THIS!?”
This day was pretty foggy, so when we reached the very top of the tower, we couldn’t see very far out over Paris. Still, what we could see was breath-taking; we could see Notre Dame de Paris, Opéra Garnier (“THE PHAAAAAANTOM OF THE OPERA IS—“ “JULIANA, PLEASE.”), Invalides, the Seine, an important-looking building with columns and stuff, and other places, I think. Again, it was foggy.
There’s actually a champagne bar at the top level, and it charges twelve euros for a tiny little plastic glass. I know you’re supposed to try to get every experience you can, while you can, when you’re abroad (or in life in general, I guess), but I’m really not meant to live in a tourist hotspot. I’m cheap like that.
We finished taking our selfies — I actually had my Little Prince doll with me, and I took a picture of it in front of the Siene — and went down the elevator, which I thought was one of the best parts: An elevator that goes diagonally? Amazing!
It’s the little things, people.
And now, the final stop. Have you been wondering what my favorite location was and is? Are you at all surprised that it involves dead bodies in some way?
“You’re actually kind of creepy,” said a new friend just recently in a pleasantly surprised voice.
“I know,” I said, pleasantly surprised that this person had spent more than ten minutes with me without realizing this until just that moment.
The Paris catacombs. A sign stood in the entrance warning that children and people with nervous dispositions should avoid taking the tour. Luckily, as you all know, I am a master of keeping a calm disposition.
So we descended. Down, and down, and down (“Don’t you DARE start singing.” “Ugh, FINE.”) a spiral staircase that seemed like it would never end. Finally, our feet landed on the dusty ground, and we began to walk through the tunnels. Unfortunately, there were no secret passages to crawl through like in As Above, So Below, but still, the set route was creepy enough on its own.
They did a good job building suspense, since we spent quite a few minutes just walking through narrow, low-ceilinged, dimly lit corridors. Shadows creeped at the corners of our vision and strange noises echoed off the walls. (“All right, who’s breathing like Jason Voorhees?” “Well, you TOLD me not to SING.”) Pretty soon, we started getting impatient. Where were the skeletons?
Ah. There they were. Thousands of them. Entire walls made of bones stacked on top of each other lined the entire passage for the rest of the tour. (“I find this tour to be quite HUMERUS.” “PLEASE close your face.”) Thirty minutes of walking through a wide, winding corridor full of smiling skulls, decoratively arranged into crosses or hearts or smiley faces. (That last one isn’t true.) Signs were put up at intervals to remind people not to touch the remains, but they neglected to point out that touching the bones would probably definitely curse you. I tried several times to pose next to the skulls, but the lighting was so horrible that most of the pictures turned out almost completely black. So the only thing I was able to take from the catacombs was corpse dust on my shoes.
Wait, does that count as touching the remains?
I am not long for this world. I leave this journal as a memento of my foolishness. There are some things man was never meant to tamper with— wait, this isn’t Creepypasta. My bad.
So we had one last night of partying and supermarket-touring before settling into our hostel rooms for what was thankfully the last time. We cast offhanded glances at our possessions strewn all over the room, shrugged, and saved the packing for the next day.
Day 8 — Going home
We flew home.