As my first block of classes comes to a close, the reality of my inevitable return home is beginning to creep up on me. It feels as though just yesterday I arrived here not knowing a thing about this city. Now, Paris is my second home. And before you roll your eyes, I will admit that yes, Paris is turning me and my writing into one big cliché, but I can’t help the fact that it’s true. There is actually an ad campaign that has posters all over the city that read “Paris est un cliché.” They admit to it — and I revel in it.
However, despite my insatiable love for this city, I have followed the advice of study abroad students before me and dedicated some weekends to travel. The first place I chose to venture to was Amsterdam. It was there that I experienced the most intense culture shock of my life, in the best way possible. We arrived on a Friday night during the height of tourist season, so streets were literally filled with people. People were packed into corner shops, dancing at the bank of the canal. It was like a dream.
As we strolled through the city, a group of men rushed past us, only to stop in the middle of the square and begin chanting. They ran around in suits with fake torches in hand, happily singing an anthem-like song in a huge circle. Soon after we witnessed the exact same thing with a neighboring group of women in cocktail dresses. We ran into groups like this everywhere we walked, until finally my friend interrupted one of the dancing men to ask what the meaning of all of it was. He shouted “school!” and ran off to join his friends. We surmised that university was beginning and that this had to have been some sort of initiation, but to us it Amsterdam feel like one big party.
The next day when streets were cleared, I was able to see the city for what it truly was: a luscious, bike-ridden utopia. Everywhere I looked had hoards of bikes lining the streets with some roads having more bike riders than cars. Everyone I interacted with seemed to be in the best of moods, speaking English with a charming Dutch accent. On top of it all, it had just rained the night before and the incredibly green grasses and trees were glistening in the morning sun. I will concede that I was only there for two days, so my review may be a bit superficial, but I can safely say Amsterdam has to be added to your must-see Euro list.
The second and only other place I’ve left Paris for was Strasbourg. My program includes one paid-for trip per block, and this block’s trip was to Strasbourg. I had heard some good things about the town, but I never would have travelled there if it wasn’t for my program, and I will be forever thankful for that.
We arrived early Friday morning, and strolled around the city that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be French or German. Strasbourg is in France, but is situated right next to the German border. Over the past couple centuries the border has moved quite a bit, meaning Strasbourg has gone from being French to German four times. This also means citizens of Strasbourg have switched national identities, with some switching twice in one lifetime. As a result, the city is made up of French speakers living amongst German architecture who eat crepes for breakfast and bratwurst for dinner. The language alone is evidence of Strasbourg’s ever-changing identity for the French they speak has a few German words mixed in. For example, our waiter would say the German word for and (“und”) instead of “et.” To make things even more interesting, many people I spoke to had German accents when speaking English. Go figure!
The most striking element of Strasbourg, however, is the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. It stands tall in the center of Strasbourg, with the outside alone enough to marvel at. I’m not used to seeing buildings from medieval times so I was quite literally stopped in my tracks the first time I saw it. During the day we took a free tour of the church, which I think was absolutely necessary because there is so much history in every inch of the cathedral. After the tour we entered the side of the building, where for 3.50 euros you can climb 330 steps to the top. While the narrow climb is exhausting, the view of Strasbourg, the mountains, and even a bit of Germany is incredible. At night they have a light show on the side of the church where scores of people gather to appreciate its beauty once more. While you may not have heard much about it, I promise that it is worth the visit.
Lucy Teruel is a junior majoring in communications and minoring in political science. Born and raised on the North Side of Chicago, Lucy loves music, French, shopping, going to the gym and traveling. She’s also an avid sports fan with a particular penchant for the Chicago Cubs. She hopes to one day become a sportscaster, so don’t be surprised if you catch her on the nightly news a few years from now.