In the early days of my travel I got the chance to study for a semester in Toulouse, France. France and Paris in particular had always been a place I’d wanted to visit but didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Well, happy as a lark, I knew that during my stay there we would definitely get to spend some time in Paris.
Part of the exchange program was to take part in the annual Marc Combes Challenge Management Game which is a French Residency Program in partnership with a couple of Universities. This program is normally aimed at giving students a chance to visit the degree awarding institution and to experience French culture, cuisine and history. For my year we had Malaysian, Polish and French Universities come together for a week.
My friends and I opted to first head to Paris for a few days before heading to Toulouse. It was late October – November and the temperatures were dropping. Having travelled from hot and humid Malaysia the change in weather was not the most pleasant but it did not stop us from exploring this lovely city.
The whole experience of visiting Paris, Toulouse and Foix was just the best way to finish my University. In this post I will highlight some of the things that were mind blowing. The list is in random order and not in terms of the level of excitement derived from it
One thing I love and appreciate about Europe is the ease of being able to enjoy the various cities on foot. Being in Paris felt very surreal, you know how most young girls dream of Paris with hearts falling down from the sky. I really could feel love in the air. The French may be perceived as rude but I think if you smile and try your basic French you would definitely have an easier time. True Fact – Parisians are rather different from their counterparts in other cities in France. They are fast paced and may appear non enthusiastic about having to play host daily with them living in a city with millions of tourists per year.
Anyway, our first stop was the Lourve; I had read that one may need about 3 days to get an in depth experience of the different artifacts displayed in the museum and the exhibitions. Well, maybe not 3 entire days but it is one huge museum.
If you are like me who would probably head straight to the Monalisa painting room, you would soon find out as I did that another 100 people thought the same. I gave up after a pretty good 1/2 hour of trying to jump or squeeze myself – the painting is small. See this picture from Christopher.
We also got to see the Notre Dam. This time we were wiser and got there earlier before the queues were crazy. There is no entry fee which is nice but if you get there later you will spend half the time waiting in the super long queues. Also we made a point to go see the view from the back as I had read it looked quite different.
Other cool stuff that we got to visit included Arc de Triomphe, Pont Alexandre III, The Seine, Champs-élysées
I didn’t mention the Eiffel Tower as part of the sightseeing as it definitely deserves it’s on mention and credits. The Eiffel Tower was originally designed for Barcelona but turned out too expensive. It was then built as a 2 year temporary structure as a part of a contest. Due to its invaluable communication they decided to not bring it down. It is now visited by an average of 250,000 people per day.
We definitely had to deal with the long queues for that top floor selfie but the thirst for the Eiffel Tower photos was not quenched and thus we went to further into Champs de mars for some more photo with this beautiful French Icon.
Even as we walked on Pont Alexandre we were still thrilled to get some night shots of it.
3.Friends and Fashion
A perfect vacation for me is when I meet great people. In this case I travelled with classmates so I had my friends with me already. Being able to share experiences in real time about your current thoughts, feeling, fears, joys is priceless. For us, we all had met 2 years before in Malaysia and formed a close and awesome friendship. Walking the streets, trying foods and taking photos just made the trip more enjoyable.
So I am a lover of extremes, less clothes on the beach is my way of life but the elegance that comes with fall – winter dressing is to die for. Walking the streets not looking like a backpacker is always a joy. Parisians are so elegant in a very simple minimalist way. In my alter ego mind, I could see myself walking the Parisian streets chatting away in fluent French and stopping to give kisses to all the many friends I had there – oh wait Stop Lea Stop – anyway I still think I would make a good Parisian.
One of the best ‘attractions’ for me in Europe is just the streets; you can never get enough of it. I normally do not enjoy walking as much but in these cities I feel that walking while taking in the art, the architecture, the lakes, the rivers, the bridges is magical. Walking in the cold for me would generally be a No-No but on this occasion, I happily strolled through the streets, having coffee and croissants in little quaint cafes. Living “La Vie Français”
5.Paris by night
The city literally lights up and makes you want to stay up and still enjoy it by night. From getting a glimpse of night life at Moulin Rouge, hitting the clubs, to night strolls. It was all great, the nights (darkness) came earlier than normal but that did not mean the end of exploring.
6.Marc Combes Challenge, Foix
The concept of the challenge is to get students ready for the real working world by simulating a real business environment. We were divided into groups with students from the 3 Universities. After reading the company report of a restaurant located in a virtual town, we were required to manage it by creating a virtual Paris 5 days tour, advertising the restaurant using posters and generating the profit to attract shareholders to invest in our restaurant. My role was the General Manager and my Team won the 1st prize alongside another team.
While taking part in this challenge we stayed in very quaint chalets in Foix and got to live with some other French students which was all great fun.
This could be clumped in together with the streets but oh well; I need 10 points so it gets its own categories. French architecture has gone through different changes within the last many centuries. In Medieval times, Romanesque designs signaled pilgrimage churches, and the radical new Gothic style found its beginnings in France. During the Renaissance, the French borrowed from Italian ideas to create lavish Chateaux. In the 1600s, the French brought exuberance to the elaborate Baroque style. Neoclassism was popular in France until about 1840, followed by a revival of Gothic ideas. From 1885 until about 1820, the hot new trend was “Beaux Arts”—an elaborate, highly decorated fashion inspired by many ideas from the past. Art Nouveau originated in France in the 1880s. Art Deco was born in Paris in 1925. Then came the various modern movements, with France solidly in the lead. Walking through Paris, Toulouse, Foix and Carcassonne this could be seen in different lights.
This was a highlight as Université de Toulouse is my degree awarding University and so being able to walk the streets in Toulouse and be part of the other students who studied same curriculum but in different continents was great. Toulouse has a very different vibe from Paris. Fist, temperatures were definitely much warmer than Paris. The food in Toulouse is slightly different from Paris as well, in Paris think Michelin rated restaurants and foods from all regions whilst in Toulouse its richer foods due to the high production of poultry, haricot beans, finest sausages, “black wine”, truffles, mushrooms, milk and beef products. I’d say Toulouse is your cosmopolitan city with chilled vibes. There are always events at the square making it very lively. The universities in Toulouse give the city a very young and vibrant feel without losing its authenticity. Another killer point was that Toulouse is small enough to see everything on foot, so no need to jump on trams or trains or buses or any other modes of transport.
Carcassonne is a medieval city in the south of France between Toulouse and the coast of the Balearic Sea. It’s located on a hilltop it has been of great strategic importance throughout centuries. The old city on the hilltop called Cité de Carcassonne is the main sight but also in the newer lower city there are several interesting places to visit.
Various churches and bridges and some other remains are of interest there. Whilst there, we wandered through the narrow streets which is a great pass time but before you realize it your feet start to hurt and you tummy starts to growl and you are happy to have you Cassoulet de Carcassonne (more on this later). I got to buy my sword and feel medivial.
Let just start with I LOVE LOVE food, I will literally try anything at least once just so I can say I tried it. When in France I did what everyone does, ate way too much especially cheese and drunk too much wine. In Paris, Food is everywhere; you can barely walk down one rue (street) without finding at least one eatery. I tried lots of different dishes ranging from duck, foie gras, macaroons, baguette, pain au chocolat, middle eastern and pastries. Further down South Cassoulet was the newest pallet addition. It is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white beans (haricots blancs). It’s very rich and heavy but worked well for some chilly nights.
I will want to return to France as my tastes and likes have changed so much since my 1st visit and I didn’t visit so many cities. I have on my to do list Boudreaux, Aix en Provence to see some friends, Nice, Marseille and would be thrilled to explore many more.
Until then, Travel Happy