Last week, my pretty mom put herself on a plane from NY and flew herself to Belgium! I am so proud of you Mema :). After much planning for our 12 days together it was finally time to start our trip. I met mom in Brussels Central on Friday morning and we made our way back to Louvain-la-Neuve for the day. The perks of your family visiting you on study abroad is that you get to stay in a nice hotel room with them :). I was able to show her around campus; where my classes are, my dorm, different bars and restaurants and all of that. We had dinner at one of my favorite places in LLN and then met Anisa for a drink! I was so excited for mom to see where I’ve been living and meet some of my new friends. We turned in decently early because we had an early train to Paris on Saturday.
Saturday morning we got to Brussels Midi to catch our 9:00 train to Paris! Like when I went to Amsterdam, we took the high speed Thalys train. It never gets old how impressive the train system is in Europe. Within less than two hours, we were refreshed from a nap and headed out of the Gare du Nord in Paris. We found a cab and made our way to our accommodation for the weekend: a cute little Parisian flat! We booked our place through Airbnb; a fantastic site where you can book short term stays in someone’s apartment or home. We found our way through two security gates off the main road and into the apartment building. After some confusion, we finally found our room. It was perfect for us; one bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, and cozy living room. There were even two goldfish to keep us company :). It was also a 5 minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe, so we could hardly complain. Since the weather wasn’t super nice, we decided to spend the afternoon inside, at The Louvre. We figured out the Metro system and were on our way after a nice walk down Champs de Élysées and some lunch. The Metro stop dropped us off on the back side of the Louvre, which is kind of out of the way considering the building is legitimately 3 city blocks long. So we were able to walk along the river on the side of the museum and ended up stumbling on the famous lock bridge. It was really impressive to see thousands of locks linked together on the bridge, not a single gap between any of them. We bought ourselves a 3 euro lock and wrote our legacy on either side. After finding a place to lock it, we each threw a key into the river. It’s a very romantic city and atmosphere, but I was happy to be there with you, Mom! We made our way into the center of the Louvre building, which is basically a giant 3/4 of a rectangle. The entrance is the famous transparent 3D triangle, so naturally it was full of people waiting to get inside. We admired the architecture for a bit; the building is beautifully sculpted and there are fountains all around the outside. We only waited in line for a short amount of time before entering the triangle and taking an escalator down to the inside. To start, this place is massively overwhelming. And realistically the only thing we knew for sure we wanted to find was the Mona Lisa. So naturally we walked for about 15 minutes into this enormous museum passing everything on the hunt for Mona. And we found her! She was surrounded by a huge crowd of people and we worked our way in. She’s impressive in that it’s the Mona Lisa, but at the same time she’s a pretty small painting. We took selfies with her and then moved onto wandering around the rest of the museum. There were endless paintings, sculptures, monuments, displays and showcases of ancient artwork that I wish I could have appreciated more. We spent a good 2 hours and probably only scratched the surface of what we could have seen inside. You can definitely see why it’s the most visited place in the city. After our intellectual journey through the museum, we stopped in a small café for some wine and cheese and bread. Does it get more classic than that or what? We had fun talking with the French bartender and then headed back towards our place, had a good dinner, and went to bed excited for the rest of the weekend.
On Sunday, we woke up to sunny skies! We headed out all ambitious to discover that a lot of the shops were closed for the day. So, instead, we took the metro to Notre Dame to catch a Sunday morning service. Now, as an avid childhood fan of Quasimodo and Esmerelda, one could only imagine my excitement to go to the cathedral. I was waiting for the gargoyles to start moving the whole time :). The service was beautiful, Notre Dame is an enormously stunning piece of architecture. The ceilings were high and the stained glass was elegant. It was a gorgeous display of religion and culture. After the service, we walked around the inside and outside of the cathedral before we began our walk to the Eiffel Tower. On our way, we had crêpes and coffee and hot chocolate and it was all very Parisian of us. Or touristy, either or lol. We finally got to the other side of the city where the Eiffel Tower stands, and talk about a stunner. For some reason I wasn’t expecting it to be so large, but there it was all high and mighty. We followed it from a distance until we made our way underneath the structure. There were so many people in line for the tour to the top, albeit in the elevator only line. So we took our athletic and ambitious selfies into the shorter line to take the stairs. But the huffing and puffing paid off because we were able to stop at various levels along the way and get a panorama of the city. Paris is absolutely huge! We were able to get a panorama view from 2 levels by stairs before we took the final lift to the top. Up top the Eiffel Tower I learned a few things. 1. It is ALWAYS worth it to lug around a heavy extra zoom lens for your DSLR camera, in case you happen to be on top of the Eiffel Tower and can zoom in on some of the most famous buildings in the world from 281 meters high. 2. The GoPro is one of the worlds greatest inventions. 3. If anyone was watching me with my camera with 2 lens, GoPro, and doing a panorama on my iPhone they probably harbored an immediate and vehement hatred for me. Whoops!!!!!! After taking in the view, we trekked back down the stairs. I nominated a few women for mom of the year after seeing them carrying strollers, backpacks with their child IN them, or just plain carrying their child. While wearing heels. On the stairs. To the top. Bravo. We were hungry by the time we got to the bottom so we grabbed an early dinner and then made our way back to the room to get a little pretty for…. Moulin Rouge! We arrived to the famous windmill building and were greeted by handsome men in their tuxedos. We were told to follow a man to our seats, and so we walked and walked and walked until we found ourselves smack dab next to the stage in the center and very front row of the theater! We were served our bottle of champagne as the theater filled up and the show began at 9:00. I had some mixed emotions about being so close to the stage, because you often can’t get the full effect of the performance. But as soon as it started I was really excited about the seats we had. What an experience to see up close the flashy costumes and interactions between the dancers. I definitely didn’t stop smiling for 2 whole hours because the show was entertaining, comical, interesting and eye catching. These people are really talented performers and it was a privilege to see them do what they do best! (I.e. Girl in pool with snakes, roller blade gymnastics, ventriloquism, live mini horses, etc etc) Definitely a must do if you ever find yourself in Paris. We took ourselves to a pizza shop afterwards and had a great night sleep.
Monday was our last full day in the city. We planned on going to Versailles, but unfortunately we chose the one day of the week that it’s closed. We’ll get you next time, Marie Antoinette. Instead, we chose to tour the Sacred Heart Basilica, or in prettier sounding terms, the Sacré Coeur. It was unfortunately in a seedier section of the city, but the church was beautiful nonetheless. Situated on the highest point in Paris, we also enjoyed a great view of the city. In the afternoon, we grabbed some lunch and nonchalantly walked into the most luxurious shopping mall I have ever been in, the Gallery Lafayette. This place was ridiculous, like just about every other thing found in Paris. A huge rounded stained glass ceiling, about 6 floors high, covered levels of some of the most expensive and high class merchandise I have ever seen. Between the diamonds, perfume, handbags, wedding gowns, and shoes, I didn’t even know where to look. We shopped around until we found some things in our price range, which was fun. And then I decided to get my haircut. So I cut off about 5-6 inches in a hair salon in Paris. It was pretty cool, and who knew that getting conditioner during the hair wash meant a head massage. I wasn’t complaining 🙂 After that excursion, we regrouped and had dinner overlooking the Arc de Triomphe near our place and then headed back to the Eiffel Tower to check it out at night. It was definitely a different sight to see all lit up under the stars. But still as crowded! We had a delicious dessert with a view and saw that every hour it blinks with flashing white lights, it’s own little song and dance if you will. After dragging our pasta and dessert drowned bodies back to our place, we prepared for our departure the next morning and went to sleep.
Tuesday morning we got up and ready to catch our 10:00 train back to Brussels. We each had a nice nap on the train and then traveled from Brussels back to LLN. We checked back into the hotel and spent the day relaxing and revisiting my campus. For dinner, we had a great meal with Michael and Marie, my two favorite Belgians. After dinner, a group of us grabbed some drinks at one of the student bars. Like the week before, I was so glad for mom to meet my new friends and travel group. We had a happy night before I began my two days of class.
On Wednesday and Thursday, mom and I separated because I had to stay on campus for my academics. She toured Brussels and Bruges respectively, and I was so proud! The “never been to Europe” lady was touring two cities by herself and doing a great job with it! (Never mind the first class, student ticket mishap :)). I am so proud of you Mema and I am so happy that you got to explore some of the country that I am calling home this semester.
We met back up on Thursday night to catch a flight to Switzerland. So I’ll save that trip for my next post 🙂 Ta ta for now!