Sunday, December 8, 2013

18 and Fabulous

On December 7th I went to Paris with 34 other exchange students.  On December 8th I turned 18.  This was one of the best weekends of my exchange so far.

My host family had to suddenly leave for the weekend, so I ended up passing the entire weekend with Gabby and her host family at their house. Friday evening consisted of the usual sleepover shenanigans, fuelled by pre-Paris excitement and jitters.  I wish I could say we went to sleep at 9pm in order to be fully rested and prepped to meet for the bus at 6:45am the next morning but no, we went to bed late and woke up at the ripe old hour of 5:40am the next day. After a somewhat drowsy bus ride filled with a little napping and catching up with friends, we arrived in Paris around 10am.  Picture this: 35 students between the ages of 15 and 18, many of which have never been to Paris, almost 100% of which are a little hyped and over-tired, and maybe 9 of which speak decent French, bustling around at a Paris train station chaperoned by two slightly stressed adults.  Total chaos.  Trying to get our huge group from station to station without losing people here and there or taking the wrong metro was rather this huge task in itself, it felt like quite the accomplishment when we finally made it out to the Musée d'Orsay.

Hangin out waiting to get goin

The museum was COOL.

Oddly enough, I actually realized I'd already visited this museum when I was maybe 7 or 8 with my family.  I walked in and saw this big hall and the memories came madly rushing back.
After the museum we went and got some grub that wasn't really grub and more like fancy Parisienne lunch, no complaints there.

Gab and Suzanne checkin' that menu

The God of all salads
Once lunch was finished (you better believe I downed that salad all by myself), we walked to the Paris Christmas market that was at the end of the Champs Élysées and just around the corner from us.  From there we were told we had free time, so I went with Emily, Liz, and Karoliina and we soaked in the beauty (and smells... and maybe tastes too...shh) of the market.




spy kids

gotta get better at these "selfies with as many people as possible" dealios
Once free time was up we met at the Arc de Triomphe which was on the opposite end of the Champs Élysées from where we started.  The plan was to be able to go all the way up to the top, but running behind schedule combined with the insane amount of tourist-y crowds meant we'd kind of lost our chance.  So we utilized the moment for some photo opportunities and then jumped back into the over expensive overcrowded craziness that is the Champs Élysées for another 2.5 hours of free time.

always reppin'
There was rather a lot of confusion and undecidedness about what to do.  Some people wanted to try to make it to the Eiffel Tower and back, some wanted to wait in line to go up the Arc anyway despite the crowds, some wanted to brave the shops, and some were ready to do whatever it took to find Starbuck's ha.  In the end, Ty, Veronica, Emily and I decided we wanted to try to make it to the ferris wheel, located on that side of the Champs Élysées that we had just so bravely traversed.  We figured it would be the best of both worlds: get us a nice view of Paris but maybe avoid the crowds in line at the Arc.  None of us were in the mood to drudge along at the pace of the crowd, so our traverse turned into this hilarious game of "dodge the tourist" in which we walked (and sometimes ran) as fast as we could down the street when we found breaks in the crowd, while simultaneously avoiding running face first into the oncoming persons.  It was beyond hilarious, and without a doubt a highlight of the day.  We weren't prepared for the even worse crowds of the Christmas market though, and the density of the tourist pack was so much so that our fun game got halted, and we got slowed down too much to make it to the ferris wheel in time.  Instead, we grabbed greasy hamburgers from a rather questionable tiny stall at the end of the market (only food in sight), and escaped the crowds to go sit in an empty, peaceful, and totally tranquil corner on the edge of the Seine.  It was a 5 minute walk from where we'd been earlier but completely and totally different.  There were no obnoxious crowds, no bright lights, no loud sounds or weird smells.  It was the 4 of us, the lit up Eiffel tower, and Paris at nighttime.  It was really special.  I'm not going to forget that moment or the people I spent it with for a long long time.

Dream team.  And Christmas market crowds.  And a French photo bomber (he was proud of himself we showed him the photo after, that rascal.)
mmmm burger
After a little while it was time to head back to the meeting place at the Arc.  We had a hard time leaving our peaceful spot to head back into the hubbub of tourist nation.  We took a few back streets just across from the Champs that brought us to the same place but faster and with less stress.  We crossed one street that was really simply decorated by white lights wound around the trees that lined either side of the street and that was it.  We all agreed that for us, that was Paris.  No flashing lights or beckoning stores, just a peaceful night and some twinkling lights.  To top off our awesome night, we stopped at Haagen Dasz just before meeting back with the rest of the students.

just me, my milkshake, and l'Arc de Triomphe
It was an exhausted but content group of exchange students who got back on that bus to go home Saturday night, the day was busy but so so much fun.  We got on the bus, I was all the way at the back with Gabby next to me, when Gabby suddenly left to go "talk to Emily." She went up to where Emily was and almost right away announced in a loud voice to the entire bus that the following day was my birthday and that everyone should sing for me.  What followed was an awesome English rendition of Happy Birthday, then a French version, then a Spanish, Taiwanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Finnish version all sung by my friends in groups and individually in honour of my birthday while the entire bus listened.  And on top of it all they'd gotten me a piece of cake. I thought I was going to cry like a little baby right then and there.  It wasn't even my birthday yet, and my friends had already made it one of the most special and coolest birthdays I have ever had, I mean how can that not pull at the heart strings.  What followed was a hilarious, loud, and crazy bus ride home with a bunch of crazy kids.

Sunday was my official 18th birthday, the long awaited and coveted birthday of so many teenagers.  One which, back home, would be an event spent with friends at a club or bar, profiting from the benefits of being legal and no longer a minor.  My birthday was nothing like the traditional Albertan 18th but to be perfectly honest I don't think I would want it to have been any other way.  From the moment those kids sang to me on the bus I was content with my birthday, but the awesomeness didn't stop there.  Gabby and I woke up after a much needed sleep in and passed the morning looking at photos and chatting about the day before. Then we had lunch with her host family.  It was a delicious meal, which was followed by 2 delicious mini cakes covered in candles (18!!). I was completely surprised and not suspecting it at all, it was another moment that made me want to burst into tears of joy.  Then I went and burnt off some of my hair while blowing out the candles but that's just a typical Siobhan moment so I won't talk too much about that.  The cake was magnificent, and they even bought me a little present to go with.  They are such a lovely family, and even thought it was only my 3rd time being around them and staying at their house, they had already made me feel so welcome and loved.  It meant a lot.  

"Siobhan you burnt your hair" "OH MY GOD! I burnt my hair!!!"

Gabby's host family minus Quentin.  They yanked me across their knees just before taking the photo ha.

After lunch, Gabby's host parents took us to Bruges. 

 I need to take this moment to appreciate Gabby.  I know she played a big role in making my birthday so special, and without her I don't know what I might have done.  Also she's basically just been an amazing friend this entire exchange so far.  And our handshake is pretty cool.

Gabby's host parents!

They're hilarious and adorable. 
Well I did it folks.  Made it alive to 18. In Bruges.
My weekend ended by being able to Skype and talk to home and chat with all the people who had made my birthday special too, even when they couldn't be with me.  Incredible day.  I'm so thankful for all the amazing people exchange has brought into my life. I couldn't ask for things any other way.

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