The day was Saturday the 4th of September 2021. Months of hard work, research, filling out application forms, searching for accommodation and processing my French visa had led to this moment. Nervous? Definitely.
Paris is a city I had visited several times beforehand, and I had always enjoyed my time there. The art, the history, the beautiful romantic and classical architecture: everything you need and desire in a bustling metropolis. Despite my experience with the French capital, being nervous was natural. After all, I had spent my entire life prior to 2021 living in the United Kingdom, and such a significant change of culture and language can shock even the most seasoned travellers.
But even before I applied to the University of Manchester, I had my mind made up. I wanted to go abroad, to see life in university from another perspective and relish the experience of living somewhere completely new, so I wasn’t going to look back now. And there I was, at Manchester Airport hugging my parents goodbye as I walked through security to board the first Air France flight of the day to Paris Charles De Gaulle. Kindly, my older sister volunteered to supervise me for the first few days, as she did when I initially moved to the University of Manchester, something I will forever be grateful for.
The flight seemed to pass by quickly, and before we knew it we were in Paris, though getting through passport control was something of a nightmare thanks to the ill-fortuned timing of landing just after an Air India flight from Delhi and an Air France flight from Washington DC bulking up the queues. Masks on? Yes. Air conditioning? Didn’t feel like it. After a gruelling 45 minutes we were on the train heading towards the centre, on an incredibly hot day with temperatures north of 30 Celsius. After about an hour we arrived in La Defense, amidst the towering skyscrapers of Paris’ lesser-visited financial district, the area where I had chosen to live for the following 9 months or thereabouts.
With not much time to spare before the office closed for the weekend, the exhausted siblings dragged themselves into my accommodation.
We travelled up to the 12th floor, suitcases lagging behind, and finally unlocked the keys to my new temporary home. And it was incredible. My own en suite, a kitchenette to myself, a comfortable bed, but the best feature of them all is a simply enormous balcony all to myself. I can even see some of Paris’s famous landmarks, from the Arc de Triomphe to the Notre Dame, and even the Parc des Princes sports stadium where famed football club Paris Saint-Germain play their home games.
After taking in the sights from my room, what could be better than taking in the sights from Paris’ tallest point? I’m talking about the Eiffel Tower of course. Tickets are surprisingly cheap, especially for people aged between 12 and 24, with €13 taking you all the way to the top for an unforgettable view of the City of Lights, about 321m above the groud below. Daunting as it may seem, the feeling is safe and secure once the summit has been reached, but the lift is not for the faint hearted (and nor are the stairs). You can see all of Paris from the top, and it really puts into perspective how vast the city really is. I think a trip to the peak should be on everyone’s bucket list for visiting Paris, so long as they can stomach the enormous change in elevation from the ground floor to the top. Afterwards we proceeded to explore the area surrounding my new university, SciencesPo, hidden in a beautiful area of the city filled with luxury designer shops and upmarket restaurants.
My sister and I paused to take a break at one of the stunning cafés the area had to offer, and rather amusingly the waiter refused to take our order of snails and he claimed they were “disgusting.” When someone whose job is to sell you food doesn’t want you to order his own country’s cuisine, you best listen to his advice.
Regardless, the smoked salmon served on flatbread was delicious, as is much of the food in Paris. Along to SciencesPo, we toured the area surrounding the campuses, an area loaded with historic buildings and classic Parisian architecture, a beautiful setting I learned to love extremely quickly.
My lessons were due to start on the Monday, but for now I was enjoying my life in this wondrous location. Visiting Paris is spectacular, but living there? I don’t think it’ll ever not feel surreal.