A Parisian Adventure

I spent February 27th-March 2nd in Paris. I had flown into the Charles de Gaulle airport when I first arrived in France, but had to run to meet my train and had no time to spend in the city. I’ve been in France now for two months, and was finally able to make a trip & spend a few days in Paris. Seven friends and I planned a four day weekend in the city, and it was absolutely amazing!

My housemate Elizabeth has a friend in Paris named Lorelei. Lorelei is from France and met Elizabeth when she was studying abroad in South Carolina. Elizabeth let her know we were planning a trip to the city, and asked if she could recommend some of her favorite places that we should see while we are there. Lorelei took it 10 steps further and got us all rooms at the Novotel hotel where she works! A four star hotel, a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, for less than we would’ve spent at a hostel…. Yes please! The Novotel hotel was amazing and I recommend it to anyone traveling to Paris. We were also able to get vouchers for breakfast which you must pay extra for if booking as a traveler, but it was a great spread, and my American friends were all very pleased to see bacon! (A rare commodity here in France.) The rooms at the hotel were great, and the lobby area was very impressive! There were computers available to the guests and many nice sitting areas for tired travelers. I hope to stay there again with my family, when they come to visit in May.

Checking-in to the hotel took a few minutes because we had three separate rooms booked, but were only checking into two of them at the moment. (The others had class and would meet up with us later.) As the receptionist verified all of our information and started programming room keys, she started going through (what I like to call) “the check-in spheel”. She proceed to give us the information to connect to the wifi, pointed us in the direction of the breakfast room, and then smiled, handed us the keys to our rooms and said “You’re in rooms 1301 & 1303. The elevators are down the hallway to your right.” The words she said had stuck me like someone walking into a glass doorwall… 13th floor?! They do exist! It was the first time I had ever been in a hotel with a 13th floor! There’s a first time for everything!

IMG_7554Remarkably, Lorelei’s generosity didn’t end there. We knew we wanted to do something special for her for getting us such great accommodations, so we asked if we could take her out Saturday night. We asked her to take us to her favorite place in town so we could treat her, and also to see where the local’s like to go! Not sure what to expect, we started out on our adventure. When we asked Lorelei where we were headed, she replied with “it’s a surprise!” My excitement was growing as we took one metro, to another metro, and started walking around the town we eventually settled at. Following the leader, Lorelei led us around a corner where we faced a huge, steep road. It was one of those ‘out-of-breath’, ‘feel-the-burn’ type hills. Once at the top, we walked another 30 feet or so, and found ourselves battling an even longer, steeper hill! I have been up and down many hills in Poitiers, but these were exceptional! I was waiting for someone to award me with a Girl Scout hiking badge! (Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but you get the picture!) We were all a little curious if this was going to be worth the treacherous hike. Let me be the first to say it was absolutely, 110% worth it! We found ourselves in the center of a small Parisian town square with the most perfect ambiance you could imagine! Complete with caricature artists, live music, restaurants, and a beautiful church, I can’t think of anything that could have made the mood any better! We had dinner at one of the bistros in the square, which was absolutely fabulous. I had beef bourguignon, and it was by far the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been in France!

IMG_7575After dinner I walked around with a friend to see some of the shops. We got about 15 feet outside the restaurant before we were approached by artists that started drawing sketches of us. I was completely aware that I was a typical tourist/target, falling into the trap, but at the moment I was content with it. The night was already amazing so why not make it even better?! I came home that night with a souvenir sketch, (that looks nothing like me, by the way!), but it’s a fun memory of that night. After dinner we took a walk and exited the square on the opposite side of where we entered. Lorelei took us to a lookout point of the entire city and it was absolutely breathtaking! If you’re ever in Paris, take the metro to Abbesses and walk up each hill until you reach the top. You will thank me, I promise!IMG_7612

IMG_7412Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the trip was getting to see the Eiffel Tower. With our hotel so close, we were able to see it pretty much anytime we wanted to, and made many trips there to take pictures & just enjoy the view.

IMG_7782We also visited the Louvre, and hung out with Mona for a bit. 🙂 My best friend in Poitiers, Diego, didn’t plan to come on this trip, and as we were leaving & saying goodbye, I said “I wish you were coming!” I was chatting with him online the next day, and told him how I missed him & that he should be here with us. He took it all to heart and surprised me Saturday! He met us at the museum and spent the rest of the day with us. Such a great friend! It made my trip so much more enjoyable! From the Louvre, we walked past the shopping district to the Arc de Triomphe. After standing and walking for the entire day, we wanted to sit down for a while. Finding a Starbucks, we grabbed a cup of coffee and sat in a McDonald’s just talking and relaxing. I know what you must be thinking, “You’re in Paris! Why are you at Starbucks and McDonald’s?” Believe it or not, it was delicious and missed on my part. I don’t go to either of these places very often at home, but having them available to me was a nice change. Don’t worry, we ate at plenty of great French places in Paris as well! We made a trip to see Notre Dame and entered just as a mass was ending, very powerful and simply breathtaking. From there we walked to the famous Love Lock Bridge, and also visited the cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried.

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IMG_8268On Sunday, our last day, we took a boat tour along the River Seine. Our hotel room had a great view of the river so it was nice to end the weekend with what we had been looking at for four days. The tour was an hour long, and cost 13€. In my opinion, completely worth it! We were able to see Paris from a different angle, and there was commentation in French, Spanish, and English that was very interesting! I learned that the White House was build with inspiration from the building in the picture below. I also learned that their Statue of Liberty was originally facing the Eiffel Tower, but was turned in 1889 so that the Statues of Liberty in New York and Paris (the sisters) would be facing each other! It can also be seen in the movie “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”!

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Can you see the resemblance?

 

Overall, the weekend was amazing! Visit https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/ to see all of the pictures! We were definitely exhausted when we came home, but it was totally worth every minute! I will be returning to Paris in April for a 5K, and again with my family in May. It’s crazy to think that I am traveling to all of these places and seeing all of these landmarks that I’ve only dreamed of. I am definitely taking in every second. I realize this is a chance of a lifetime, and am not taking anything for granted. To think I am already halfway through with this experience is sad, but if it ended tomorrow I would be so happy with the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met.

*Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory* – Dr. Seuss

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Run Run Rudolph…. I mean Jessee

Wow, it’s been a hectic 3 weeks! Our vacation to the Caribbean and Florida was great! It was the perfect mixture of fun, adventure, and relaxation. We were able to come home with a tank top, a tan, a few awesome pictures, a handful of new friends, and a lot of really great memories.

We stayed one night in Miami prior to boarding our cruise, and booked a room at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami. This hotel was amazing and not a bad rate at all for South Beach! Definitely recommend this place to anyone staying in the Miami area! The next day we left for a 7-day Carnival cruise through the Eastern Caribbean. My travel partner, Keith, and I took a Carnival cruise in 2009 and loved it. Carnival is known as the “Fun Ship” and has a reputation for being the most laid-back, entertaining, and enjoyable cruise line. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone on a budget, looking to have lots of fun! 

Once aboard the ship, we immediately got into vacation mode and had a burger and beer while watching Sunday football by the pool. Due to rough seas, our first stop in Nassau, Bahamas was cancelled but we gained another day at sea to explore the ship! St. Thomas is one of my favorite islands and Coki Beach is gorgeous! Since my last trip to St. Thomas, a few surf shops, scuba/snorkel rentals, and beach food vendors have taken residence which brings more tourism, but also more people watching-which is always fun! Our day in San Juan fell on Thanksgiving so unfortunately a lot of the stores were closed. We took a cab to beautiful Coral beach, which was lined with gorgeous hotels, and spent a few hours soaking up the sun. We had our Thanksgiving dinner at Senor Frogs before getting back on the ship (although quesadillas aren’t the same as turkey and stuffing!). Senor Frogs is a fun environment known for their crowd interaction. Definitely a fun spot to visit at any location! Grand Turk is the most beautiful island ever! Our window was facing the island as we docked which made us immediately realize it was going to be an amazing day! (See photo below.) After doing some shopping, we found Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville which had a shop, restaurant, bar, and pool right next to the ocean. We spotted some friends and spent the day in the pool and loved every minute on the island (we even discussed doing a whole week there instead of a cruise for our next vacation!).

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View of Grand Turk from our stateroom

After 7 days on the ship, we disembarked back in Miami and picked up our rental car. I had rented a house in Islamorada (Florida Keys), through friends of my parents that we would stay at for 3 days before heading back to the cold (Michigan for me, Alaska for Keith). This was the perfect relaxing environment we needed before facing reality. The house was serene and tranquil and absolutely gorgeous! (The photo below of the outdoor landscaping and pool area do not do it justice, but you get the idea!) Throughout our entire trip, we had only planned the bare minimum (cruise, hotel, car rental, & flight), and were completely spontaneous the rest of the trip. It was absolutely great! 

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You become a tourist.” – Guillermo del Toro

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Our paradise for 3 days

After returning home on December 4th, I did a load or two of laundry and worked a few hours before leaving again, this time headed for Chicago to apply for my visa. My sister Kristina, and best friend Laura tagged along to make it a girls weekend (just what I needed after spending 10 days with a man!). This weekend, Laura and I also turned another year older so we were able to celebrate our birthday’s as well! We took the train from Pontiac, MI to Chicago, IL. Parking in Chicago is horrendous and expensive! I highly recommend taking the train or parking outside the city and getting other transportation if staying within the city a while. 

Aside from applying for my visa, Kristina, Laura and I kept very busy while in Chicago. We arrived Saturday afternoon and, after checking into our hotel, headed to Giordano’s for dinner (best pizza in Chicago!), before checking out Chicago’s nightlife. Sunday was our full day in the windy city so we made the most of it. Many hours of shopping, a few good sales, a lot of good food, an empty wallet, and about 4″ of snow later, we were exhausted, and relaxed in the hotel for a few hour before heading out to spend one more night out on the town (remember: we are celebrating two birthdays)! We had such a blast in the 48 hours we were there and I’m so happy Kristina and Laura were able to join me on my trip to Chicago and make it into a fun birthday weekend!

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Now onto the real reason for the trip to Chicago: My Visa! I had no idea what to expect going into the French Consulate. First off, the building was not marked at all so I had to search for a street address. Also, security is very tight in these buildings so be sure to have all of your paperwork in order and your identification handy to be able to even get on the elevator! After checking in at the correct office, I waited about 20 minutes (granted I was 10 minutes early), for my name to be called. During that time, there were multiple other people waiting and two clerks assisting travelers. There were a lot of people there getting their work visas who were being asked all kinds of questions; “How long do you plan to work?”, “Where will you be living while in France?”, “How long do you plan on staying in France once you’re finished working?”. The questions went on-and-on and I was getting more nervous as time went by. Although I had nothing to be nervous about, this is a huge deal and I didn’t want anything to get in my way! They called my name and I approached the window and provided all 16 pieces of documentation, applications, and identification required. The man viewed all my paperwork then asked for the $68 fee and collected my money. He asked me to see his colleague so I could have my picture taken and after that was completed, I approached his window again and saw a puzzled look on his face. “Did you have a question?” was his reply. That was it! I was done! I was not interrogated like the other applicants, not even one question! I felt relieved and proud, knowing that my organized and prepared paperwork had a lot to do with it!

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Chicago 2013

During the application process, you must surrender your passport. Once they review your file and approve or deny your visa application, your passport will be mailed back to you in the prepaid, express mail envelope you must provide as part of the application requirement. The envelope comes with free tracking, so I’ve been looking online constantly to see whether my passport is in the mail or not. As of now, it has not been mailed out yet. It takes 7-10 days to process so I’m not worried, just anxious! It will be a nice Christmas gift to open when the mail comes! 🙂

I figured out that in 17 days, I was home for a total of 70 hours. So for the past week, I’ve been catching up at work, finishing up my semester at U of M, spending time with family and also playing catch-up on laundry. Let’s not forget that’s it’s Christmas season so I’ve been shopping, attending holiday work parties, and helping my family get ready for a few holiday parties we are hosting at our house. 

People keep saying “Wow Jess, you leave in less than 3 weeks!”. I nod my head and say “yes, I know isn’t it crazy!”, when really I’m thinking, “Holy cow I have a lot to do!”. In efforts to minimize that feeling of panic, I purchased my plane ticket tonight and will officially be leaving the states on January 6th. My mom was nice enough to let me use her credit card points to buy the ticket (the most bang for your buck!). By purchasing my ticket using points, I was able to get a Delta, round-trip, direct flight from Detroit to Paris. I was also able to upgrade to Exit Row seats for free (my knees are so thankful!), as well as check one 50 pound bag for no additional charge (this is in addition to the carry-on bag, and personal item I will carry with me)! Needless to say, I am one very happy traveler! 

I think the past 3 weeks have demonstrated how I really am “The Twenty Something Traveler”. These next few weeks are going to fly by and I am taking in as much of the holidays and family I can before I leave. Although I’m looking so forward to my next big adventure, sometimes it’s just as nice to embrace the moment you’re in right now and the amazing people who surround you. 

The Next Step

Now that all the deadlines have passed and all of my paperwork is in, I get to sit and wait. Well, not really. There are a million things I have to do, but most of the official things are done (‘most’ being the key word!). The task on the top of my list is getting my visa. As a school requirement, I have to obtain a student visa to be able to study abroad. I figured it was just like getting a passport; go get a picture taken, pay a huge fee, receive it in the mail in a few weeks…. wrong! Getting a student visa is not that simple! I found out that before I can apply for my actual visa, I have to be accepted through CampusFrance, which is a France organization that deals with incoming international students. It verifies your status with the college in France, how long you’ll be there, what you’re studying, etc. I also need an acceptance letter from the school in France before I can do any of this. Since this is an exchange program, my acceptance into the school is assumed, but I still need the letter for CampusFrance and my visa. This puts me in a bit of a time crunch seeing as how CampusFrance takes up to 3 weeks and then the actual visa application takes 3-4 weeks. I leave in 8 weeks, so getting this done ASAP is a huge understatement! I actually had to pull some strings and my study abroad advisor at UofM was able to write me a letter instead of waiting for the acceptance letter from the France School to arrive. Once I get approval from CampusFrance, I’ll have to make a trip to the French Embassy in Chicago where it’s mandatory that you apply for the visa in person. The other option to avoid the waiting and trip to Chicago, is to do a phone interview with the French Embassy. As I’m told, it is a 20 minute phone interview to see what my intentions are while in France (kind of like the questioning you go through while crossing the border). Oh yeah… and the interview, would be in FRENCH! Seeing as how I only speak Spanch (see prior post), I have low hopes that the phone interview would be successful. Looks like I’ll be making a trip to Chicago!

After doing some research, you only need to obtain a visa if you’re travel exceeds six months. Since I am participating in an exchange program between universities, it is mandatory through my program that I get a student visa. If you ever have to get a visa for any traveling you do, don’t wait until the last minute. Get it done as soon as you can so you won’t be rushed or worried.

This blog is not only a way for my friends and family to see what I’m up to, but it’s also a great source for future study abroad students (and all-around travelers) to see what studying abroad has to offer. With that being said, I will be posting a lot of college related material to show importance.

I would like to thank Asinda G., Dr. Cavusgil, Dr. Kandogan and the Graduate Dean Study Abroad Scholarship Committee as well as the Matthew Hilton Watson Study Abroad Scholarship Committee and School of Management at UM-Flint. I have just received news that I was awarded these scholarships and could not have done it without the help of Asinda and Dr. Cavusgil. This money will make my trip much more enjoyable and allow me to do much more while abroad. Thank you everyone!

For anyone studying abroad or in college, apply for as many scholarships as you can! My advisor, Asinda, was very helpful in letting me know which scholarships I was eligible for and encouraging me to complete them. Out of the four I applied for, I just received three of them. I will find out about the fourth in December. You will never get scholarship money if you don’t take the time to complete the application so JUST DO IT! It’s definitely paid off for me! I also emailed my financial aid advisor when starting at UofM to let her know I needed as many scholarships as possible (don’t we all?!). About six weeks later, she was kind enough for forward me a link letting me know I was eligible for the Osher Scholarship which had very specific requirements- and I met all of them. The call I received informing me that I was awarded the Osher Scholarship was also the phone call that set my study abroad dream into reality. The staff at UofM has been great in helping me with my education, financial aid, and so many more things. Definitely talk to all of your advisors about scholarships, it will absolutely pay off!

To all my new followers… Merci Beaucoup! (Thank you very much)

À Bientôt! (Bye for now!)