The past few weeks have been as much of an exploration of the city and the culture, as they have been of the food. I am not use to the fact that so many things are so natural, and not altogether beyond the standard fare at home. Yes, the French love their cheese, and indeed baguettes can be found on nearly every street corner. And, while some dishes may have seemed to fit a somewhat American standard—steak and fries, roasted chicken plates, salads galore—there were a few that stood out for me and I would recommend these to any person traveling to France:
Escargot is a necessity. Did I try it? Yes. Did I like it? Nope, not one bit. So why I am suggesting it? There were many people in my group who enjoyed it tremendously, and it can be served with a variety of seasonings and sauces. For me, it was an issue of aftertaste and texture, but if you can get past that and the fact that it was once a little slimy snail, you might be surprised. Plus, I think having tried it is far more important than having enjoyed it or not.
Do not—I repeat—do NOT leave France without trying duck. The duck steaks and confit dishes I had were literally gasp-worthy. Duck is far different than chicken or any other poultry dish that one might expect to compare it to, so give it a shot. You can even order it rare to well-done just like a steak, and without the worry of becoming sick from it. I’d rank it as the best thing I tried in France overall.
My last recommendation is for the more adventurous folk. Not everyone will want to go near this one. If you go to France, you should try steak tartare. What is it? It just so happens to be completely raw hamburger meat, served cold, in a variety of seasonings and sauces. I loved it, but I’m also a rare meat lover. This was completely uncooked and complemented by a salad, fries, or rye toast. Each time was better than the last and you can find it on most menus around Paris.
Outside of this, my journeys have been much the same. Our professor has taken us to see a few very old Cathedrals, flea markets loved by Surrealists, and a few art museums. I have to admit that these quaint little wanderings away from the main attractions are really very pleasant and give me more time to absorb the history. When something is well-known, and continuously visited, it loses a bit of its magic. Lately, I have preferred my little journeys outside of Paris, as I am becoming desensitized to the architecture, statues, and constant pestering by vendors. I am glad that a few of our class trips allow us to see the little villages with cobblestone streets, old windmills, and dainty gardens. France’s countryside is definitely more slow-paced and relaxed.
This brings me to my final report for this entry. A couple weekends ago, I made a bold decision to purchase an airline ticket that would allow me to venture out of Paris and the country by myself, and see a particular destination that has been on my mind for years: Scotland. I set foot on the plane this past weekend and I have never been happier about any decision I have made. Though it was only two days, the simple fact that I said, “Yes, I want to do this” and “No, I don’t need anyone else to do it with me” made it one of the most impactful moments of my life.
Though I would love to write more, I will keep to the highlights.
You tend to learn a lot about yourself when you force yourself into a situation where you are your only resource. I had to get off my plane in the middle of the night in Edinburgh, find a map, navigate a tricky roundtrip bus schedule for the weekend, learn where my stop was, and travel the city on foot for two days. Is it easy? Not if you don’t have an open mind and a ton of patience. The whole weekend was bitter cold and I had nothing but a tourist map and an umbrella for company. So I took off at 7 a.m. each morning and began just walking, walking, walking. Throughout the day, I managed to find a castle, a city park with part of the highlands still intact, a mile-long street of tourist shops, national monuments, war museums, cathedrals, ancient cemeteries, old plague alleys, armories, and more. One night, I came home at 1 a.m. after a ghost tour of the city’s underground vaults. I’ve never felt so independent and entirely on my own schedule.
A little note on the food: Scotland has wonderful haggis, which is basically ground sheep’s lung, stomach, liver, intestine, and heart in case you were wondering. If you can get past the thought of that, it’s very good.
I went back to Paris having learned a little bit about me that I didn’t know. I know that I am my own best resource, and that I am a completely capable of doing anything I want on my own. I now feel much more self-reliant, less hesitant in general, and far more open to jumping into new projects or experiences. I think every person should make an effort to travel alone at some point in their life, safely of course, and if only for a short while. I am very happy that my study abroad trip to Paris granted me a pathway to do something entirely unplanned, but entirely meaningful to my personal growth.
Next week is my final week of studying abroad, and truthfully, I do miss home. I look forward to reporting on any other tidbits I have for you. Thanks for reading!