A Tour de France This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 13, 2008
From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was bombarded with new experiences. The signs were in French. The people spoke French. Everything was French! I could not ­believe that I had traveled across the Atlantic. It was early morning when my classmates and I landed. From the minute we stepped into the crisp, fresh air, I knew these would be the best two weeks of my life.

The three days in Paris flew by. I visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and L’Arc de Triomphe. I saw “Mona Lisa,” Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lilies,” and the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame. I walked the many rues of Paris with two friends, on our own. We saw fashionable Parisians strolling, eating at sidewalk cafés, and kissing in the lush gardens. All the sightseeing had my head spinning, but every building and piece of art we saw had an ­elegance. What I was seeing was so ­ancient and majestic that I was honored to be in its presence.

I was amazed by the cultured atmosphere. I immediately began noticing the differences between France and America. In France everyone is thin, fashionable, and pretty. The men are athletic, with styled hair and clothes. Parisians walk with an air that suggests they have somewhere to be; no one meanders aimlessly, yet everyone seems to enjoy the beauty around them. I became very conscious of how loud our tour group was amid the quiet citizens of Paris. We were dressed brightly, and our loud American voices clashed with the cultured atmosphere.

After leaving Paris and heading south, our group ­began to undergo a change. We became quieter and kept more to ourselves. We started to speak as much French as we could, softly murmuring phrases instead of ­announcing our English.

As we visited peaceful cathedrals and tranquil gardens, I felt a serenity I had never known. Although parts of the trip were challenging (I did not enjoy some of the food, nor did I like hiking mountains and stairs all the time), everything seemed well worth the ­effort in the end. A meal I didn’t like ended with a fabulous dessert. A trek up a mountain on an exceptionally hot day resulted in one of the most spectacular views imaginable. A guided tour in French that was difficult to understand ended with a surprise trip to the gorgeous blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Two of my favorite places were Chartres and Nice. Although very different, both had a profound effect on me. Chartres is a small town built around a stunning cathedral, Notre Dame de Chartres. During our free time, my friends and I walked around the building, observing the architecture and the lovely gardens. After the hustle and bustle of Paris, it was a nice change of pace to sit inside the cool stone structure and admire the beautiful stained-glass windows. We also ­explored the little shops and cafés. Speaking French to store owners who spoke little English made me realize how ignorant I had been believing I didn’t need to know any language but English. Seeing young kids cry out “Aie!” instead of “Ouch!” and knowing that they would not be able to communicate with me in English made me see just how different the world is, and how challenging it is to overcome ­language barriers.

After Chartres, the next few days were a blur of ­castles, cathedrals, gardens, art, and culture. It wasn’t until we arrived in Nice that our pace changed once again. The temperature was scorching hot, which made my first plunge into the Mediterranean that much better. Sun-bathing on the rocky beach, I felt such a sense of independence. My parents were thousands of miles away, and the only people with me were four close friends. We spent all our free time at the beach, observing a beautiful sunset, and playing in the clear water. I felt a new responsibility for myself. Looking into the vast expanse of never-ending blue sea pushed indescribable feelings upon me.

Although my two weeks in France were short, I returned to America a different person. Everyone in my group entered the loud U.S. airport with a grimace. This picture of America had an unappealing feeling to it.

I realize now that each country has a mixture of good and bad, and that America has lots to offer me as well, perhaps even more than France. But my most important realizations were that I can be whomever I want to be; I can go wherever I want to go. The trip helped me understand that every place in the world is different, each with its benefits and downfalls. Although a glamorous life of beauty, culture, and art does sound appealing, there is only one place I will ever truly call home.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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