July 23, 2008 Edition

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Trip to Paris is dream come true

Natalea Foster enjoys the view from the top of Sacré-Coeur during her recent trip to Paris with her parents. She received the trip as a graduation gift.
Natalea Foster
Guest Writer

About a year ago, my parents told me that as a graduation gift they would treat me to the destination of my choice. The only requirements were that the trip had to be semi-educational and that I would have to research and help plan the trip.

Immediately, I decided where I wanted to go. It was an easy decision because of an assignment I had in the seventh grade. Mrs. (Cassandra) Sabbatini had given my English class 10 sentences in which we were to find the grammatical mistakes.

All of the sentences described the Louvre, and at that time I promised myself that some day I would visit the Louvre. This trip that my parents, Robert and Lea Andra Foster, were giving me was my opportunity to visit Paris and make my dream come true.

On June 14, Mom, Dad, my sister Madeleine, my brother Nicholas and I packed the van with our suitcases and drove to our grandparents, Carolyn and Jim Land's house in Lancaster, Ky. Mimi and Papa volunteered to watch Madeleine and Nicholas while Mom, Dad and I were gone on our trip.

Tuesday, June 17

Today's objective: Travel to Paris, France

When I awoke, I was filled with excitement and a dash of nervousness. I was about to take the trip of a lifetime. I dressed as usual and then put the finishing touches on my suitcase.

By ten o'clock we were ready to go. As we drove away from Mimi and Papa's house, I was suddenly hit with a hint of reality. I was going to Paris, France!

It was about a three-hour drive before we arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Of course, if you ask anybody in my family ... if we are in Cincinnati, we are going to eat at our favorite Greek Restaurant, Chicago Gyros. So we enjoyed a yummy lunch. (I got a cheeseburger because they have the best!)

Now, we were really ready to get this show on the road. When we walked into the Cincinnati Airport, there was check-in waiting for us! At this point a fear of mine was erased. My bag was under the weight limit! We survived security and began the wait at our gate.

My theory is that it is better to be early than to have to rush through the airport drama. After listening to my iPod for a little while and looking at the airport shops, it was time to board our plane. Again, I was hit with a hint of reality. When I got off of this plane, I would be in Paris!

Wednesday, June 18

Today's objectives: Check into our hotel and take the Paris Panoramic Tour

I'm not really sure when Tuesday ended and Wednesday began. What I do know is that we safely landed at the Paris Airport, Charles de Gaulle, around ten o'clock a.m. (Paris time), retrieved our luggage, made it through customs and bought our bus/metro tickets. At this point, we were waiting for the train that would carry us to Gare du Nord, a metro stop with many connections.

Once we were on the train I was able to see a little bit of the city, but not much. The view from my window was mainly a concrete wall covered in graffiti. Stepping off at Gare du Nord as planned, we rode a metro to Strasbourg St. Denis, and another to Grands Boulevards, our final stop for the moment.

While we were on one of the metros, a French woman got on with her microphone and started singing. Although I had no idea what she was saying, it was beautiful. While most passengers were used to this every day activity, I was amazed by her talent and it added a smile to my day.

When I walked up the stairs from the metro stop at Grands Boulevards, I was hit with a sudden wave of reality. I was in Paris! As I turned around, I could see our hotel.

Just as it appeared in pictures, Hotel Brebant stood five stories tall located in the heart of Paris. As my dad was at the front desk speaking French and checking us in, I soon realized that I was in a place where I could not understand their language and for the most part they could not understand me. I was in for a learning experience.

We carried our luggage up to our room and started to settle in. We quickly freshened up and then off to work we went. As I walked down the 87 steps from our room to the front door of the hotel, I realized that the next few days would be filled with steps.

Before we left Walnut Ridge, my Dad and I made an itinerary. First on the list was to find the Paris Vision office on 214 rue de Rivoli and buy our tickets for the tours we wanted to take.

Using our handy dandy map, we were able to locate the office. We bought both our tickets for the Paris Panoramic Tour and the Versailles Guided Tour. We had some time to enjoy before the Paris Tour started so we walked across the street to Jardin Des Tuileries. There was a huge fountain, gardens, sand and statues. I looked around at all the people in their everyday life and just absorbed the culture.

For a short time, I watched a group of kids who I believe were having recess. While the children in Walnut Ridge are playing on the playground at school, these children are playing catch in a sandy strip of land.

Before long we were on a nice, air-conditioned double decker Paris Vision bus. We were given earphones so that we could select English and listen to the interesting and informational facts that our guide had to offer. At a quick drive by glimpse we saw many Paris attractions and just everyday life areas.

When we got off the bus we were at the Eiffel Tower. I could not believe it. Growing up you see pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but there I was standing beside it! Our guide gave us our tickets to go up into the tower and said, "Enjoy your time in Paris!"

The tickets that came with the tour allowed us to ride up the elevator to the second level. The immediate view was unbelievable! I always knew that Paris was a big city, but I never knew it was that big. The buildings seemed to never end.

Looking out over the edge, Dad was able to point out many landmarks to me such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Sacré-Coeur and Notre Dame. When I saw these structures I was filled with excitement because these were all places that I was going to be visiting within the next couple of days.

Now it only makes since to me that if you go to the Eiffel Tower and they have the third level open, you go up because you might not be guaranteed another opportunity. So, we bought tickets allowing us to ride the elevator up to the third level. I am not sure that I can say the view was better but it still took my breath away! Paris is a beautiful city! After we walked around the circle and took one more look at the view, we rode the elevator down.

Once on the ground, we bought some ham and cheese sandwiches, found a bench and ate dinner under the Eiffel Tower. Shortly after, we walked over to the Seine River and found the tour boat that we had previously bought tickets to ride. While riding down the river, we were able to relax, see Paris and see the people. My favorite part about the boat ride was when we saw a band playing for a wedding that was taking place on the edge of the river.

As we walked back to our hotel room, I could not believe that my first day in Paris was coming to an end. I could not wait to see what the next couple of days would bring.

Thursday, June 19

Today's objectives: Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées, Place de la Concorde and Versailles Guided Tour

When I woke up around 8 a.m., I was very tired due to the time change. It seemed crazy to think that it was only one o'clock in the morning in Walnut Ridge. I was able to conquer the time change because I was filled with excitement as to what today would bring.

After breakfast we rode the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. This structure, designed by Napoleon, amazed me due to its size and attention to detail. While walking around, I was able to read the names of battles that Napoleon had won that were carved on the sides.

We also watched the traffic that circles around the Arc de Triomphe, which is located in the middle of the intersection of 12 streets. Seeing the cars drive around in circles, making their own lanes and trying to get to where they needed was quite interesting. I now understood why so many of the cars in Paris that I had seen had dents and scrapes down the side of them.

We then leisurely walked down the Champs-Elysées absorbing the French culture as we looked through the store windows and walked through the gardens. This street is a lot like Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue in the United States.

At the end of the Champs-Elysées is the Place de la Concorde. This is the site where people were once beheaded. Today it houses fountains, statues and the Obelisk. I was amazed by the hieroglyphics that cover the sides of the Obelisk and the idea that it was safely brought to France in the 1800s as a gift from Egypt. The obelisk was made about 3,200 years ago.

Next on our list was Versailles. As we rode the bus on the way there, it was very difficult to stay awake. Once the bus stopped and I saw the beautiful building before me, I was wide awake! When we were planning our trip months before, I saw a picture of the gardens at Versailles and right away I knew that was one place I wanted to visit. The picture I saw in my Paris guidebook did not compare to what was in front of me. If I described the gardens in one word, I could simply say "flawless."

Built by Louis XIV, Versailles was home to thousands of people, including Marie Antoinette, King Louis XIV and Napoleon. Inside the palace is almost as beautiful as outside. We were able to walk through many rooms including the king's bedroom, the queen's bedroom and the Hall of Mirrors. One thing that caught my attention was that every room was ornately decorated. Nothing was simple!

Unfortunately, before I knew it our tour had come to an end and it was time to load the Paris Vision bus and head back to Paris. One interesting fact about the trip back was that we drove over the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed. Once back in Paris we ate dinner at a side street restaurant and walked back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation. Another day in Paris had come to an end.

Friday, June 20

Today's objectives: Sacré-Coeur and the Louvre

When I woke up, I immediately knew it was going to be a wonderful day. I was finally going to the Louvre, but first on the schedule was Sacré-Coeur.

After we ate some breakfast, we got on the metro and rode it to Montmartre, the area in which Sacré-Coeur is located. Right away I was able to see the beautiful, white cathedral on the top of the hill.

The architecture of this building was amazing! We were allowed to walk through the church viewing the intricate detail that surrounded us. The mosaic of Jesus Christ on the ceiling was out of this world! Once we had walked around the main floor of the church, Dad and I decided that we were going to climb the spiral staircases that led to the top of the dome.

Going up some 350 steps made me slightly dizzy, but the view was totally worth it! Just like the view from the Eiffel Tower, you could not take your eyes off of the buildings that surrounded you. With the wind blowing in my hair, I leaned over the edge enjoying the view. Dad and I then began the climb down.

We then decided that it was time to find some lunch. As we walked up and down the streets of Montmartre looking for a place to eat, a lady who was standing outside of her restaurant caught our attention. After she explained what foods she had to offer, we decided that this would be our choice.

It was at this restaurant where I, Natalea Foster, ate my first and my last snail. It honestly did not taste that bad. It was the idea that I was eating a snail that grossed me out.

When we were finished with lunch, we rode the metro to the Louvre. I was now seeing with my eyes the building that I had learned about in Mrs. Sabbatini's class. The building itself is a piece of artwork! In addition, everywhere I looked inside there was some form of artwork whether it be a painting or sculpture. The Louvre is home to many famous pieces such as Venus de Milo, David's The Coronation of Napoleon, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa. I honestly think it is impossible for someone to see every piece of artwork in the Louvre in one day.

While walking to our hotel from the Louvre, I was able to see the Paris Opera House and the La Bourse, the Paris stock exchange. I had seen so much it was hard to absorb it all at once. There were so many things to do and see in Paris!

Saturday, June 21

Today's objectives: Orsay Museum, Rodin Museum and Hôtel des Invalides

After eating breakfast at our hotel, we were ready to begin the day. We hopped on the metro and rode it to the Orsay Museum. This building was neat because it used to be a train station. Although it was not as big as the Louvre, the museum was filled with beautiful artwork! I was able to see work by Monet, Van Gogh and others.

One thing that caught my attention was an artist sitting in front of a painting with an easel, palate and canvas copying the piece of work. To think that somebody can copy every piece of detail amazes me. That is one skill I do not possess.

Next on our list for the day was the Rodin Museum. I was the most excited about visiting this attraction because it is home to "The Thinker." After we entered and started walking around the gardens, I was disappointed to learn that more than half of the outside was shut down, so we were not able to see very many of the outside statues.

Inside of the building we were able to walk from room to room, looking at the statues and paintings that were on display. At the beginning of our trip I did not think that I would say this, but out of the three art museums that we went to the Rodin Museum was my favorite.

Down the street was Hôtel des Invalides, housing Napoleon's tomb. My mom told me that his casket was big, but I never expected it to be that big! I learned that Napoleon is actually buried in one casket, and that one is inside of another and another. The outside casket that we are able to view today is the seventh casket measuring 2 meters x 4 meters x 5 meters.

When we walked down stairs to see the casket from a different angle, I was able to look through windows to a room that housed the actual flags that Napoleon captured during battles.

As we were walking down the street, we noticed a group playing the drums along the Seine River. So we sat on the edge of the river and watched them for quite some time. I enjoyed watching the group and having some time away from tourist attractions and in the middle of everyday life. It was neat to watch people walk their dogs and eat dinner with their friends. About an hour later, we decided to head to our hotel room and bring June 21 to an end.

Sunday, June 22

Today's objectives: Notre Dame and St. Chapelle

When I woke up, I was very excited about what all we had planned for the day but also a little sad because it was my last day in Paris.

Our first attraction for the day was Notre Dame. This building is beautifully decorated with gargoyles and intricate detail. While walking around the inside, I was able to watch part of the mass service. The curved ceilings caught my attention. It amazes me that people in the 1100's were able to build such structures with such a limited use of technology compared to the 21st century.

The night before Dad had read in one of my Paris guidebooks that tourists were able to climb one of the towers at Notre Dame, so naturally we were up for the challenge. Dad and I had to stand in line for quite some time, but once we started the climb up the spiral staircases I knew that the wait was totally worth it.

At the end of the staircase you stepped onto the roof, and there you were ... standing face to face with the gargoyles. Again, the view was fantastic. We then found more stairs that we could climb leading to Emmanuel. This bell is the largest at Notre Dame and is only used for special occasions.

After the climb down, we found Mom and walked to St. Chapelle. In the 1200s, Louis IX built this church to house what he thought was the Crown of Thorns. Unfortunately, when we entered the building I quickly learned that the Crown of Thorns is not on display any more because it is in a safe in Notre Dame. The inside of the building was absolutely beautiful! The stained glass windows on all sides of the room are out of this world!

Returning to our hotel room was a bittersweet moment. I was ready to go home to see my brother and sister, but I was also sad because in the morning I would be leaving Paris.

Monday, June 23

Today's objective: Go to Mimi and Papa's house

Waking up at 5 a.m. was very difficult because I was very tired. After we finished packing up our suitcases and ate breakfast, we headed to Charles de Gaulle. After surviving security, luggage check-in and customs, we waited at our gate for about 20 minutes before boarding the plane.

Once we boarded the plane, the pilot came on the overhead speakers and said that our take off time was delayed an hour. Although the flight home was about nine hours, in a weird way it didn't seem that long. Then again, it makes a difference if you sleep a lot!

After landing, we had to check-in our luggage, go through customs and immigration, go through security and pick up our luggage.

On the way home, reality finally sank in. I had been to Paris, France! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget! I owe a huge thank you to my parents for allowing my dream to come true, and to Mimi and Papa for watching my brother and sister! I had a wonderful time on my trip, and I only hope that others are able to have this same opportunity!

Thank you Mom and Dad! Thank you Mimi and Papa! I love you very much!

(Editor's note: Natalea Foster received the trip as an early graduation present. She will be a senior this year at Walnut Ridge High School.)

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