One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced this term has been trying to find the right balance between the “studying” and “abroad” parts of the trip. I’m here at Oxford University—one of the most prestigious undergraduate institutions in the world—but I’m also half way across the globe in a foreign country, and I want to explore. London is an hour away by bus, Wales and Scotland just a few more by train, and the European continent lies at England’s feet, just across the Channel.
I’ve come to Oxford to study, and my tutors won’t let me forget it. The academics are very demanding, and I could easily spend all day in the library researching. But I would be disappointed with myself if I came home from Europe without having ventured beyond Oxford’s borders.
So last weekend with four friends, I ditched studies and hopped over to the other side of the Channel for a weekend in Paris. We had a fantastic time: we watched the sun set over the Seine River, wandered around magnificent Notre Dame during Evensong, and practically ran through the Musée d‘Orsay because we got in thirty minutes before the museum closed. I learned that I can sleep practically anywhere (we spent Friday and Sunday nights on a 10-hour bus ride to and from London), but that this ability to sleep in cramped places also comes with sore shoulders, legs and neck.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was the food. I was reminded of my love for the Paris patisserie—croissants, pain aux raisins, chaussons aux pommes. While I only know about five French words, I can order a “sucre crêpe” with the best of them.
On Saturday morning, we found a little cafe to eat breakfast in out of the rain, and I was presented with a paradox that I think perfectly represents the culinary differences between England and France. I bought a croissant for €1.80, but my pot of tea (and a very small pot it was, too) cost me over 5 euros! While the British love their hot drinks—hot chocolate, coffee, and especially tea—France’s talent lies in its wickedly delicious bread. Even munching on a baguette is a warm taste-bud heaven.
Besides consuming dainty delicacies, one of my favorite things to do in Paris is just to walk. Especially along the Seine river or through the tiny streets of Montmartre, walking through Paris is just so French. It makes me want to watch Midnight in Paris or sing the opening song from Beauty and the Beast.
As much as I love Paris, after three days of hardly any sleep and almost constant walking, it felt good to go back “home” to England. As we stepped off the bus in Oxford, I realized that I had missed it, and loved that I could come back and feel like I knew where I was, and understand it when people spoke.
It’s fun to realize that I’ve come to think of someplace in Europe as home.