Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, I wake up in my house in Fairfield, Connecticut. My family then drives to my grandparents’ house in Middletown, where we meet our extended family. My grandfather usually sneaks my cousins and I slices of his homemade raisin break before its time for us to eat, we try to convince my grandmother to let us sample a slice of her pumpkin pie as an “appetizer”, and I always feed my dog Ricky when no one is looking. Each Thanksgiving we all gather round the dining room table, say what we are thankful for, my little sister gives a ridiculous, impromptu speech, and we enjoy our meal followed by what seems like endless hours of football games.
This year, I did not have the privilege of eating my grandfather’s homemade bread, laughing at (yes at, not with) my sister’s nonsensical rambling, or watch any football. Without these usual traditions it may seem like this Thanksgiving I may have not had as much as a reason to give thanks. On the contraire, I had more to be thankful for than ever before. I was fortunate enough to be spending my Thanksgiving 2013 exploring Paris, France.
I am thankful I was able to see the Palace of Versailles.
The Palace of Versailles is a beautiful estate located about 10 miles to the Southwest of the city of Paris, and housed the French government, including royalty. The area started as King Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, and then his son Louis IVX executed its transformation into a much larger complex, and in 1682 moved the Court and Government of France to Versailles. After the French Revolution in 1789, the Palace ceased to be a royal residence, and began a new function as the Museum of the History of France. We we’re lucky enough to witness all of the French History in Person!
The exterior of the Palace had lavish gold accents on the outside, including a giant gate blocking the entranceway. The inside of the palace was covered with beautiful colored marble, lavish designs, and countless embellishments. The rooms we visited included the War Room, antechambers, the coordination room, the Peace Room, the dining room, the King’s bedroom, and many more.
My favorite room we saw was the Hall of Mirrors. It was beautiful, and definitely one of the most lavish room interiors I have ever seen. There are 17 mirrors corresponding to the 17 windows overlooking the gardens. These mirrors create a reflection of the windows, which produces the illusion that the room is twice the size that it really is. There are also extravagant gold accents and chandeliers handing from the ceiling. The King held a lot of balls and receptions in this room. The Hall of Mirrors is a truly unique type of royal beauty that exists in the world.
After finishing our audio-guided tour of the Palace of Versailles’ interior, we began to meander through the Gardens Alleè Royale, which we had seen through the windows in the Hall of Mirrors. Between the arrangement of fountains, trees, plants, and pathways my eye was always drawn somewhere as I walked across the royal domain. My friends and I even took some time to play in the leaves and have some fun in the Royal Gardens!
After exploring the Royal Gardens, we came across Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, or as they call it in France, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette. In al honesty I thought that her estate was going to be much more extravagant, but in reality, it was very small and quaint. Marie Antoinette came here as an escape from the palace, and this offered us a view into her more private life. We saw many of the rooms including the Drawing Room (Salon de Conpagnie), Bedroom (Chambre à coucher), Billiard Room (Salle de Billiard) and the kitchen.
With little to no time to spare, my friends and I quickly grabbed lunch to-go as we headed back on the train into the center of Paris.
I am thankful I was able to see the Eiffel Tower.
Evidently the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking of Paris is the Eiffel Tower. We had seen it at a distance when we first arrived, but all of us were eager to see it up close and in person.
When we got off at the metro stop, and there it was. It was enormous. This industrial-like 324 meter high structure was simply captivating, and I couldn’t look away. It was unbelievable to finally see this mystical monument I had seen in countless romantic movies and images in person. We walked in front of the tower where we took many photos. After all, how many times would we ever be standing in front of one of the most amorous symbols in the world?
Sending my love to my family from the Eiffel Tower.
I am thankful I was able to see the Arch de Triumph.
After possibly a few too many photos were taken, we made our way to the Arch de Triumph. The Arch de Triumph is in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, and is in the center of a major intersection. Interestingly enough, this monument brought some of the learning we did in my Roman Monuments class to life because it is modeled after the Arch of Titus, which is in Rome. The Arch de Triumph though is much larger than the Arch of Titus, standing nearly 50 meters in height in comparison to approximately 15.
I am thankful I was able to eat macaroons.
We turned down Avenue des Champs-Élysèes, a famous and high-end street in Paris, where we made a stop at the renowned pastry shop, Ladurée. Here they make homemade pastries, and their signature specialty, the macaroon. There were so many flavors. Macaroons seemed to fill nearly the entire counter, were decorating Christmas Trees in the shop’s windows, and smelled absolutely scrumptious. I ordered a seasonal special Christmas Cookie Macaroon, called the Chocolat Lait Passion Coco, which was made with milk chocolate, passion fruit, and coconut. I never knew a cookie could be so light and sweet.
While enjoying our sweet treats, we began to wander further down Avenue des Champs-Élysèes. At this point it was getting dark, and the streetlights were now turned on. The decorated the sidewalks in between the trees, as the circular lights changed colors between blue, white, and a reddish-orange (which I assume is to mimic France’s colors).
I am thankful for the opportunity to visit the Christmas Markets in Paris.
Eventually we found ourselves at Paris’ Christmas Markets. The Christmas Markets were incredible. As we walked down the street we could hear Christmas carols playing through speakers, smell all of the delicious hot wines and ciders, and see the extravagant Christmas lights, food, and decorations. Booths were lit up in different colors, each selling an excessive amount of Christmas specialties. There were booths selling custom gingerbread cookies, every type of chocolate imaginable, jewelry, ornaments, and so much more. We passed ice-rinks, a snow globe with a real person in a Santa suit inside waving as air blew what appeared to be the pieces of snow in the globe around, and sleigh where people could pose for pictures. All of the decorations, music, and spirited food truly got me into the Christmas Spirit.
As the intoxicating smell of all the foods in the markets slowly stirred our appetites, my friends and I decided that it was time to finally eat our Thanksgiving dinner.
I am thankful that while I was away from home on this holiday, I was able to share thanks for everything I have with my abroad friends who all truly understand how thankful we all are for our amazing semester.
My Thanksgiving dinner.
We went down a side street and found a quaint, little restaurant called Café Mode. It had a large variety on their menu, but unfortunately there was no turkey so I ordered a close substitute, roasted chicken. When our waitress brought us our food, we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for. We all similarly gave thanks for our semesters in Europe, but how could we not after all that we had already done and all the places we had seen in our few months?
After our delicious meal, we headed back through the Christmas Markets and into the center of Paris, picking up hot wine and French Crepes on the way. I ordered a Nutella crepe, and it was absolutely incredible. The lady who made it filled it with as much Nutella as she could possible fit, and topped it off by sprinkling powdered sugar and adding whipped cream. It was by far the best crepe I had ate in all of Europe. This sweet treat satisfied my chocolate craving (but too be fair, I always have a chocolate craving and no girl can ever have too much chocolate).
If we hadn’t been full already from our Thanksgiving dinner, it was safe to say that my friends and I were now all officially stuffed. We purchased a bottle of wine, and then headed towards the Eiffel Tower one more time.
I am thankful I was able to watch the Eiffel Tower Light Show.
Each night 20,000 light bulbs illuminate the dark Paris skies. The Eiffel Tower lights up for five minutes every hour on the hour. My friends and I had briefly seen the top of the Eiffel Tower above the city when we first arrived, but were ecstatic to see the actual show.
We took our bottle of wine, found a nice spot on the edge of the Seine River, and awaited the show. It was beautiful. The bulbs flashed in different shades of yellow and white, dancing across the sky. My eyes were glued to this terrific monument, and I couldn’t find myself able to look away. The five minutes went by way too quickly.
My friends and I finished out bottle of wine, danced along the river, and chatted just having a plain old good time. Before we knew it, an hour had passed and we were fortunate enough to see the light show up-close and in-person one more time. We then headed home after our long day of sightseeing around Paris, but I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to have spent it.
A great Thanksgiving!