And we’re back! Thanks for sticking with me the last few weeks everyone – I promise this will be worth the wait!
In case you missed it, I spent the last three weeks on a “cross-cultural” trip with my school – basically, a three-week term in another country with the goal of providing a more hands-on learning experience. Our trip took us to Strasbourg, France, located in the eastern region of Alsace (practically sitting on the German border). Most of our trip was spent in Strasbourg and the surrounding area, with a final three days in Paris.
Right before we left, I wrote a blog post about the things that scared me and excited me about going on the trip. I’m pleased to say it was just as exciting as I hoped, and nothing was nearly as terrifying as I feared! But I’ll save the details for later – I promised a recap of the trip, and a recap you shall have.
But hey, if you’re pressed for time, I understand – you can watch the special edition of my 1 Second Everyday project for the three weeks I was gone!
We officially left the United States around 9:00pm local time, and arrived in Paris at 10:00am their time. It was not my favorite flight, but everyone and their luggage arrived in one piece, so that’s something to be thankful for. From Paris, we took a train to Strasbourg, and arrived there in the late afternoon/evening. After that, we were whisked away by our host families – all of the students had “homestays” where we lived with a local family for the duration of our stay.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have a lot of jet lag when we arrived! Don’t get me wrong, I was exhausted – I hardly slept (if at all) on the flight, and I didn’t really get the chance to rest again until we were on the train to Strasbourg. But by the second day, I felt much better adjusted.
On our first day in Strasbourg, we were given an orientation to the city and an overview of what we would be studying while we were there. In addition to French culture, our topics also included France’s religious landscape and the role of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, both located in Strasbourg. That afternoon, we were given a brief walking tour of the city, then sent on a scavenger hunt in teams.
While Strasbourg might not be the first city you think of when you’re planning to visit France, it has a lot of great places to visit! Probably the most notable landmark is the cathedral, but there are plenty of other beautiful churches as well, squares with fountains and statues, and of course, “Petite France.”
The next day, we had a service project at an “ecomusée,” or “living history museum” in the nearby town of Reichstett. The owners of the ecomusée dismantle and relocate historic Alsatian farmhouses, which are then rebuilt so that visitors can see them and learn more about the region’s history. The owners are currently working on rebuilding what will become the oldest home in the park, and our role for the day was to move stones to be used for the foundation, as well as old timbers that will be used for the framing.
It was hard work, but we were treated to a delicious traditional Alsatian lunch of choucroute garnie (sauerkraut and sausage), potatoes, meat, eclairs, and more. It was one of my favorite meals during the trip, and the people there were incredibly kind and generous.
The next few days were filled with all sorts of sights: We visited Le Struthof, the only concentration camp built on French soil during World War II, then traveled high in the Vosges Mountains to Mont Sainte Odile, a monastery. On the hike down, we passed by an old chateau, which was cool too. The next day, I visited a bookstore in the morning (of course) and bought a French copy of Six of Crows. That afternoon, we took a little stroll across the Rhine River into Kehl, Germany, and visited a street festival.
Fast forward a few days, and we were visiting the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Union). The CoE was founded soon after World War II with the goal of protecting human rights and democracy. We were given a guided tour in English, and although the CoE hasn’t redecorated since 1970, it was a really neat visit.
The next day began our three-day stay at Hohrodberg, a convent in the mountains near the town of Munster (yes, like the cheese). There were seven nuns (soeurs) there, and we joined them for prayers and meals. Even with a rigorous hike and a few lectures, it was a relaxing stay there.
Our return to Strasbourg brought on a number of day trips to nearby cities: First, Colmar and Selestat, where we visited the Unterlinden medieval art museum, Petite Venise, the Bibliotheque Humaniste (Humanist Library), and the Maison du Pain (house of bread, or the bread museum). Saturday took us to Nancy, which is actually in the region of Lorraine. There, we visited a museum dedicated to the Art Nouveau furniture and decorations, and enjoyed some sightseeing around town. Finally, on one of our free days, some of us students took a day trip to Basel, Switzerland, and explored the city on foot.
Then we were on a train back to Paris, where we did SO MUCH. I don’t have enough time to go into all the details, but we saw many sights: the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Seine River, Notre Dame (from afar), Sainte Chapelle, Sacre Couer, Versailles, and so much more. We had dinner all together at a crepe place one night (another one of my favorite meals), but I think my favorite part of being in Paris was visiting the Musée de l’Orangerie, where I got to see some of Claude Monet’s massive Water Lillies paintings.
As you can probably tell, our visit to France was a busy one – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the risk of sounding cliche, I think I got a pretty authentic French experience, and I really appreciated the ways that this trip pushed me and made me try new things. There’s still so much I wish I could have done, but I guess that means I’ll just have to go back again someday!