No longer abroad in Oxford

I’m writing from an office in the Suntrust building, back home, back on campus, and back to work. I’ll start by saying it’s great to be here, it really is, but I do miss Oxford. For Dr. Kidd, Dr. Redekop, Dr. Underwood, and Dr. Gagnon (the four professors who basically run the trip), please consider somehow making the trip longer for future generations of students–they will all be incredibly grateful.

Okay, now I’ll talk about the last days of the trip.

In Paris, ambition became a major theme for us. We would just say it constantly, holding onto the first syllable, accenting the “b” and accelerating through the “tion” sound. Especially when we were walking of wandering or figuring out what to do, someone would say ambition. At this point, we were tired and just running on pure ambition throughout the rest of the trip. Anyway, on our second day in Paris, we broke off into two groups because some people had additional museum passes that a few of us decided not to buy. Four of us just wandered a bit and bought some crepes and souvenirs until it was time to meet up with everybody. We ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant (Yes, we ate Chinese food in Paris, but it was by far the cheapest option in the area. Besides, it was actually really good.) on this street called Rue Cler, which was a really neat area. It was away from the hustle and bustle of the urban areas and was kind of a classy, relaxing neighborhood. The street was full of bakeries, chocolatiers and sidewalk cafes, and after our lunch, we visited one of the bakeries. We bought macarons, one of the must-try foods  in France. It’s basically, two really light, airy cookies made into a sandwich around some sort of flavored filling (the place we went had about 10 flavors). They are tiny, unsubstantial and expensive (one euro for one macaron  where we ate — another place charged one euro and eighty cents), but they are heavenly. They were delicious, and we all made the same “ohmygosh” face. Thinking about them makes my belly rumble. The lady who baked them seemed pleased with our reaction.

Our next stop was the catacombs, which I believe is a system of underground tunnels and tombs and is apparently pretty creepy. But, as you can guess by my speculation, we didn’t get to go. They were closing up by the time we arrived, and the line stretched around the block. So we improvised. We went to a palace, the name of which I don’t remember. We didn’t enter the palace, but its gardens served as a public park. We took the chance to relax and sat around a nice fountain and found an area of shade trees. Most of the people there were on picnics, but we decided to lay in the cool grass for a bit. Some of us ended up dozing off, but that charged us up for the rest of the day.

That evening, we were all staying in different hostels, so we split up to check in to our places. Mine was located in the Montmarte district (apparently the art district, but there wasn’t much to attest to that) and was definitely geared toward young adults, vagabonding around the city. It was a much older building, but it had a cool atmosphere, and I wish I had hung out there a bit more an met some of the people there. I stayed in a mixed six-person suite, meaning it was six strangers (guys and girls sharing the room), but every time I was in the room, it was either empty or full of sleeping travelers.

We all met up at the Louvre and then found a pizza place. The waiter spoke barely any English, and we had limited French, but he was a great host and it was a fun meal. A lot of confusion and gesturing, made more confusing because the waiter was always joking and sarcastic. After the walking and residual fatigue from the previous day, we basically called it a night and went to a bar to watch the soccer game. After that, we went around dropping people off at hostels, riding the buses and metro until they closed.

On our final day in Paris, we kind of ran out of ideas of what to do. Dr. Kidd took us to this giant flea market full of weird stuff (if you’re looking for a teal and purple Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket from the mid-90s, there’s a guy in the flea market who can help you out). We were modest with our shopping and didn’t stay too long. After we left the market and before we left Paris, I had to do two things: eat a macaron and buy one more souvenir. Three of us went back to Rue Cler for the macarons and then walked to the Eiffel Tower. This was the day before Bastille Day, and there was a dress rehearsal for the big celebration concert under the Eiffel Tower. There was an orchestra and a massive children’s choir who ran through some of their repertoire (including Tchaikovsky’s “1812 overture,” a really famous piece and one of my favorites). It was a great random thing to see, and I felt incredibly lucky to have wandered upon it. Anyway, I haggled with some souvenir salesmen and got seven euros worth of merchandise for three euros. And then it was time to head back to England–overall, a roughly five-hour excursion. Once back, we met up with the group who went to Dublin, bought some street food, packed, slept and left for the airport at 6 a.m.

And that’s just about it. Our two weeks summed up in a few thousand words. There are a few quirks to the trip I want to bring up that I missed in the other posts.

Bathtubs — I had to use a bathtub in Oxford, and it was kind of weird.

Portions — they don’t give you enough food and the food trucks become a must in the evening.

Paying at restaurants — they don’t usually split up tabs and paying at the end of a meal was always really confusing.

Water — there’s never enough water to drink at meals. It’s not customary, and it comes in pitchers or bottles that are not enough to serve the whole table.

Americans — there were so many Americans everywhere we went, and the locals seemed pretty used to it.

Locals — for the most part, everyone was very nice, especially store clerks and waiters, and I didn’t experience stereotyped rudeness or snobbery in England or France.

Croquet — I talked about it before, but I just wanted to say here that croquet is a cutthroat game that is more frustrating than any other sport I have played.

Bikes — everybody rode bikes, which I thought was pretty cool. Cars weren’t a big deal at all.

Clothes — everyone was fashionable (not the tourists, the locals) and no one looked casual. No sweats or gym clothes (I don’t think they exercise), lots of suits, dresses, designer shoes. Also, if you’re fashion conscious, Converse All-Star sneakers (high-tops especially) are huge there, so they’ll be making a major comeback in the U.S. If you want to get ahead of the game, snag a pair soon. They’ll be big starting in either the fall or spring.

I talked a lot about the trip, but not much about the people. I only knew a few people going on the trip, but I’ve gotten to know all of them well. I’ve never had a class at CNU with Dr. Redekop or Dr. Kidd, but they’re now two of my favorite professors. At our formal dinner, one of the guys (he coined the ambition theme in Paris) I became good friends with toasted the group and characterized the group bonding well. He said he was only friends with one other person here before the trip, but now he would happily call all of us friends and wave to us or stop to talk whenever we ran into each other on campus. I think he summed it all up very nicely, and I definitely share his sentiment.

I hope the students there now and all the lucky people who get to go again have the same amazing experience. I learned a lot, lived it up and experienced more in two weeks than I believed was possible. I went to Oxford, watched Wimbledon, used the Bodleian library, read and wrote and researched, toured Louvre and climbed the Eiffel Tower and ate snails and tiny cookies. This was the reason I came to CNU, and this is the greatest possible validation of that decision. I loved every bit of it and am forever grateful for everything that it was.

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