Summer exploration: We went to Italy and France

Stephanie Mayer & Anna Yang, Features Editor & contributing writer

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T1here is something about visiting a different country that brings to light how different cultures can be. As it turns out, neither the water in European restaurants nor bathrooms are free. With thousands of years of cultural development, these were the differences we noticed right away and the ones that affected us the most.

                We had the opportunity to go to Italy and France this summer on an EF tour, led by social studies teacher Nicole Smith. The school-sponsored trip included 20 students and six chaperones.

After a nine-hour flight and one questionable airplane meal, we finally arrived at the airport in Milan. Little did we know, we were in for one of the best trips and biggest culture shocks we had ever known.

                On our first day in Italy, we took a boat to Venice. As we sat on the relatively empty boat, we breathed in the horrendous stench of the Venetian water, but our eyes met a completely different scene.

                The city was a huge expanse, with boats docked all around the sides and people occupying every open space; we were all struck with a sense of awe and slight claustrophobia. Sure, America has New York, a large, crowded city that also smells pretty terrible, but it was nowhere near as elegant as Venice.

The buildings were extravagantly crafted in a way we had never before seen. It seems that Renaissance Italian artists and architects absolutely loved marble. It looked as though they had tried to fit marble into every nook and cranny of the city. The facades gleamed in the sun as they towered over our heads.

                We filed off the boat for a quick demonstration on Venetian glass blowing, a way of making charming glass sculptures, and then headed off on a quick tour. Afterwards, we explored the city in small groups.

                Walking through the city square, we saw the Doge’s palace, a bunch of well-fed pigeons and a bell tower. We then meandered through the narrow streets and the bridges over the canals. We did all of those touristy things: we bought gelato, we stopped to take annoying pictures and we tried to take a selfie in a Gondola while the Gondolier was lighting a cigarette behind us in the photo. Ok, maybe that last tourist experience was just us.

                Our other big stop was in Paris, France. We took a high speed train from Italy. After getting off the train, we walked to the cathedral, Notre Dame. Inside the church, there were beautiful fresco paintings, candles and statues.

We then progressed to the Eiffel Tower to finish up our first day in Paris. Our tour guide, seeing that the lines to the lifts were extremely long, recommended that we take the stairs: all 704 of them. An agonizing 30 minutes and one elevator ride later, we arrived at the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Pièce De Résistance of our trip. We saw the entire city illuminated before our eyes.

After coming back down, we got another view of the city, this time from a boat tour on the Seine River. Waterside restaurants and famous architecture, like the Louvre, dotted the edge of the river.

We went to a stuffy hotel, permeated with the scent of cigarette smoke. Our next and last day in Paris, we toured the city on a tour bus passing by sights such as the Moulin Rouge and the Arc de Triomphe. This marked the end of our trip.

As we sat on the plane heading home, we looked around at all the friends we had made and thought about how thankful we were to have gone on this excursion.

Our first thought after landing, despite being sad about leaving Europe, was “Thank goodness we get free water again!”

                

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