Now I’d settled in properly and fully immersed myself in the University life, I vowed to myself that I would explore France and its culture. France is a gargantuan nation, and far larger than most believe it to be. A mind-blowing example is the fact that it takes less time to drive from Paris to Manchester (English channel crossing included) than it would to drive from Paris to Nice on the glittering South coast. From the bustling metropolis of the French capital, often grey and cold, you can travel to other parts of the nation and witness rows and rows of palm trees.
Such diversity is unheard of pretty much everywhere in the remainder of Western Europe, with a grand wealth of popular hotspots to discover and a wide range of history to see. Although University life can get extremely busy, I always take my time to sightsee and partake in activities whenever I can. For example, I enjoy long walks in the city centre, covering most of the major attractions along the way.
Occasionally I walk through the gardens of the monumental Louvre museum, where some of the planet’s most famed pieces of art rest within the walls of the gigantic historic palace, including the Moana Lisa of course. Disappointingly for tourists who don’t possess a great deal of time, the gallery is far too vast to explore in full detail, and if you have never stood outside then nothing will prepare you for just how large the place is. It makes Buckingham Palace look like your average four bedroom detached house.
For me, however, I can rather luckily visit whenever I please, but saying that I’m still absolutely nowhere near even 10% complete in terms of the exhibits I have seen in there thus far. The Louvre is far from Paris’ only art gallery naturally, though judging by the scale of it you would think it’s possible to fit every painting in the world in there. Another must-visit gallery is the Musee D’Orsay, lying parallel to the Louvre on the south side of the River Seine.
I first visited when I was just 11 years old during a trip with school, and I still remember how I was blown away by what’s inside. The museum is situated in an old train station, something which does become immediately obvious, but now houses thousands of spectacular and famous exhibits. It’s innovative, unique and works brilliantly; you definitely won’t feel like the art is out of place as the station itself is beautiful. I admire resourcefulness, just like the Manchester Central Convention Centre made from a disused station back at home, and the defunct station is an incredibly cool location for the exquisite pieces the museum has on display.
Away from art, Paris is the place to be if you’re a fan of sports, particularly football. Paris’ most famous team is Paris Saint-Germain, founded in 1970, who play at the historic Parc des Princes which held the first ever Champions League Final before the club had even been founded. Currently, the team possesses an arsenal of players that would leave anyone starstruck, with players including Lionel Messi (highly regarded as the greatest player in the history of the sport, skilful Brazilian Neymar Jr, young superstar Kylian Mbappe and legendary centre-back Sergio Ramos.
I have made many visits to the Parc des Princes, and whilst the entertainment levels have been surprisingly poor in a lot of games from a scoreline perspective, just watching the high quality footballers can be something to behold. I was also rather excited when the UEFA Champions League group stage draw matched Paris Saint-Germain with my beloved Manchester City, though sadly we were defeated in that game (before we inevitably won the tie back at home).
As I mentioned earlier, France is impressively large, so of course Paris is not the only place in the country worth visiting. During my half-term break, I decided to venture down to the South coast, spending the majority of my time in the miniscule state of Monaco. I won’t get into too much detail about Monaco seeing as it’s technically not French, but I also explored neighbouring Nice. To put it cheekily, I can see why David Cameron ran off there to escape Brexit accountability. It’s a beautiful city that feels like a polar opposite to Paris, with palm trees lining the seafront, an elongated sunny beach, colourful buildings and a beautiful harbour littered with unbelievably large superyachts. I could not believe that I was still in France, especially if I make the comparison between say Newcastle and Brighton and compare that to the difference between Paris and Nice. It feels like being in a French-speaking Spanish resort, and I shall without a doubt be making the visit again.
There’s still a lot I must explore in France, with large cities like Lyon and Marseille, all the way to the mountainous region of the alps. I will talk more about it in future updates when I have encountered even more of France’s gems, and I’ve made it my mission to fulfil my French bucket list before my year abroad has reached its end.