As it is approaching mid-term time at Sciences Po (and surely at U of T as well), I feel it best to discuss more lighthearted topics.
My previous posts have focused on the more practical and academic aspects of my sojourn, but one must never overlook the perks of studying in Europe. What can an exchange student do during the weekends? Well, besides catching up on your readings, consider:
1. Picnic at Champs de Mars, watching the night fall and the Eiffel Tower light up.
It is a magical experience to see the horizon darken, and the normally steel-tipped silhouette of the Eiffel Tower light up in faint red, then yellow, before sparkling in brilliant white on every full hour. There will be others spread out on the grass with their bread, cheese and wine. But it does not feel crowded, even on a Friday evening. There are hitches of course: those who walk around selling bottles of wine, or worse, those who walk around not selling anything, but seemingly content to ramble or stare at your group before invariably moving on to bother others. But the company of your friends, the spectacular view, and the rowdy group of Spanish students off to the side, playing their guitars, singing and dancing by their lit candles more than make up for it.
2. Picnic at Luxembourg Garden
This is extremely similar to the first activity. But do this during the day, on one of those increasingly rare sunny days where the sun lights up the grass and the sand and the pink and purple flowers of the Luxembourg Garden. Not many people seem to have picnics at the Luxembourg, most sit near the central fountain or in the chairs placed in the shaded areas to watch others play tennis. Trust me, this is a completely different experience from a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. Completely different.
Paris is a ridiculously good place for picnics. The Tuileries Garden is also a very popular area. Or, if you are ambitious, you can always take the 45 minute train out to Versailles, and have a picnic in the gardens where Louis XIV and the royalty once strolled.
3. Visit the Catacombs
This is a very ‘touristy’ activity and not for everyone. But allow yourself the morbid indulgence of visiting the mass graves of Paris’ dead over the ages. The Catacombs of Paris also contains geological wonders, and fossil remains. But it is perhaps the most famous for the dead that have been relocated here from the various graves of Paris during the city’s long history. Prepare yourself for a long wait (we queued for close to 2 hours), long, dark and damp passageways, and frankly chilling poetic verses etched on the walls.
Beware that the catacombs are accessed through slightly claustrophobic and steep stairs.
4. Leave the Country
The advantage of living in Europe is the proximity of other countries. It is completely feasible to pack a light bag, and take the one hour Thalys train ride to Belgium for 2 days. Visit Brussels with its magnificent Grand Place, Brugge with its fairytale-esque medieval buildings. Try the chocolates, fries, beer, mussels and all the specialties of Belgium.
A friendly reminder that Belgium is not just a French-speaking country. I reflexively said ‘Bonjour’ to a shopkeeper in Brugge, and was given quite an extensive lesson on the social tension between the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking Belgians. It was an enlightening experience, and the shopkeeper was impressive in his mastery of English, French and Dutch. Perhaps something to keep in mind when you visit.
These are just a few suggestions based on what I did over my weekends. The options are endless! For now, I will leave you with a few more photos of beautiful Belgium (:
(Again, photo policy: do not redistribute)