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France, a Trip of a Lifetime

Chris Althouse, Contributor

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The countdown had finally come to an end.  One hundred and thirty days, 100 days, 2 months, 3 weeks, tomorrow. Before I knew it, I was on my way to the airport about to embark on what would be the best 10 days of my life. I cleared customs and took a seat in the boarding room of the Philadelphia Airport at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 12. My fellow French students and friends were surrounding me, anxiously saying their goodbyes to their parents over the phone as we began to board the plane. Anticipation was the only thing I felt throughout that entire eight-hour flight. I was elated to finally be able to explore France, the top country on my bucket list ever since I began taking French in eighth grade.

The flight felt as though it lasted forever, as I constantly checked the “Time Until Arrival” on the seat monitors provided to every passenger. I decided to take a nap to pass the everlasting time on the plane. When I finally awoke, I heard the pilot speak over the PA system in the plane that we had arrived in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. I was ecstatic, to say the least. We all rushed off the plane and into the airport. Before we knew it, we were driven to our hotel with by our tour guide from the American Council for International Studies (ACIS), Lou. I was more than ready to kick off my trip and visit the sights that this beautiful country has to offer.

The beginning of the trip was incredible. We spent the first night in Paris getting accustomed to jet lag, settling in, and preparing for the exciting week ahead of us. The following morning, we took a bus to a small town called Rouen, located in the northern region of France. Visiting Rouen was the highlight of my trip, because the food was incredible and the cathedrals we toured were breathtaking. After having consumed the best panini and tiramisu of my life, we spent the day walking around town, shopping, and visiting historical landmarks, such as Joan of Arc’s death scene. I was extremely grateful for my fluency in French, which enabled me to, with some effort, speak with French store owners, communicate with the tour guides, and hold conversations. Around 2 p.m., we took another bus to a small goat farm, where we tasted samples of fresh goat cheese and observed goats caring for their babies. After we had arrived at our hotel by the sea in Trouville that night, we indulged in a traditional crepe dinner and walked along the beach until the fatigue from travel wore us down.

Exterior view of Eiffel Tower in the evening.

The next morning, we all woke up early to ensure that we would have enough time to visit as many attractions as we could at the D-Day beaches and American cemetery in Normandy, France. The only word that I could think of to describe the sights from that day is breathtaking.  The American Cemetery stretched on for as far as the eye could see with thousands of crosses marking lost soldiers in the battles of Normandy. The beach itself was so incredibly historic and beautiful yet daunting with the extreme cliffs and rough waves. It felt strange to be enjoying the beauty of such a devastating spot. The history of the stories told truly came to life as we walked along the dunes where thousands of American soldiers fought for their lives and for the freedom of France.

For the remainder of the week, we traveled from city to city, town to town, sight to sight so that we could see as much of France as possible in the limited time we had. We ate snails and went to the beach in Southern France, explored the various chateaux and gardens in the Loire Valley, and ascended the 984-foot Eiffel Tower that marks every French postcard. By the end of my trip, I felt truly content with the number of sites I visited, experiences I had, food I tried, and memories I made. This trip was easily the best I’ve been on in my entire life, and what made it even better was the fact that I was able to experience it with some of my best friends!

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France, a Trip of a Lifetime