An American In Paris
BY ROBYN BONFIGLIO
Only a single day has passed and everything I have seen has exceeded my expectations. A few weeks ago, I found out I was going to Paris and a few different places in Spain with my grandparents and my aunt. Along with a view of the world, we would be attending the wedding of our cousin Jose Pedro and his fiancée Raquel. Currently, I am sitting in a hotel room, only blocks away from Champs Elysees; a street where famous architecture and a multitude of high end stores are found. On our arrival this morning, we turned our clocks back 6 hours and ventured out into the frigid three degrees Celsius weather with our trench coats and cameras.
Our first major encounter was the flawless Arc de Triomphe. The arc marks the middle of Paris, and many streets span out from it. Before starting our climb up, we decided to try “French” French fries or pommes frites. To our dismay, they weren’t anything special, but the salads that came with them were oddly dressed with a light mayonnaise. Once lunch was done, we started back to the Arc. While walking, we were occasionally bombarded by actual gypsy’s questioning if we spoke English. They had giant flowing skirts and fake pregnant bellies, but we simply continued on. We walked under a tunnel to get into the Arc’s base. There we looked at the impeccable carvings and perfectly sculpted names. Next, we squeezed into a small door way and looked up at a never-ending twist of stairs. After a few stops, we finally made it to the top and saw Paris from an entirely different view. Watching the movement of the city from above showed us the actual calmness of Paris. In America, we are always rushing, while Parisians take their time. So, in that spirit, we took our time, lingering on the view and taking the long route to the hotel. In keeping with the ways of the French, we also waited until about 7:30 to even start thinking about dinner. After finding a restaurant, we unwound and took everything in. We had spent our first day in Paris. After dinner, we sunk into our cozy beds and watched SpongeBob Schwammkopf, understanding almost nothing of what was going on.
When girls in the movies find out they’re going to Paris, they go to typical tourist landmarks. And for the most part, that’s what we did. We decided to embark on a tour of the Eiffel tower. While walking there, we stumbled into our group of gypsy’s again, who curiously were missing their pregnant stomachs from the previous day. On our walk we came upon a fresh market full of people. Instead of grocery stores with their aisles of convenience, most of the French go to these street markets to buy their food fresh off the farm. The meats and cheeses along with all the produce were insanely vivid in color.
We continued on to the tower, and at least a few hundred feet before actually approaching it, we were bombarded by men with giant key rings holding miniature key chains of the Eiffel tower. These guys were everywhere. They all had the same pitch – “five for one euro” and would stare until you acknowledged them. However, the Eiffel tower was before us and we were mesmerized with its beauty. It was all we could see. We stood in line in order to get to the top and it was well worth it. Even higher than the Arc de Triomphe, we could see the entire city. Continuing our typical tourism, we headed to the Louvre art museum where the famous Mona Lisa is held. It was incredibly difficult to truly take in this particular painting, with tons of others trying to do the same. But, the museum has art from every corner of the world and we had no trouble finding other glorious pieces to hold our attention. Later that night, we had to pack because our short time in Paris was sadly at an end. While walking home from the Louvre, our minds were blown with the sudden sparkling of the Eiffel tower. Seeing it after having just seen so many beautiful paintings really captured the city’s artistry. Leaving was very much a bittersweet feeling.
We left Paris around noon and after a two-hour flight landed in Madrid, Spain. After a quick lunch of McDonald’s in another country, we took a smaller plane out of Madrid to La Coruna. Our arrival was around twilight and immediately I decided that I found Spain even more beautiful than Paris. With the houses built into hills and curvy roads, I was in love. We were picked up by Juan Pedro and his soon-to-be wife Raquel, who took us to our Tia Lola’s house. She served us a heavy snack that was meant to be dinner. It was full of thick potatoes, spinach, and lots of cheese. To drink, we had the traditional tea with milk. It sounded a bit odd to me, but now, I can’t go a day without it.
With our meal came lots of conversation. Being in Spanish classes at school, I thought I would be able to keep up, but I could barely follow them. With it approaching midnight, we got news of a festival going on by our cousin’s apartment, so we ventured off with them. Little did we know, it was the equivalent of Halloween in March. While making our way down the stairs of Coruna, we began seeing people wearing cow suits and groups of pirates. Everyone was dressed up in unique costumes and dancing in the streets. For this specific night, everyone was decked out, but generally, the Spaniards care more about having fun than getting evaluated. The drinking age in Spain is 18, but the custom in this country is to teach children how to enjoy alcohol, not abuse it. Due to this, the party wasn’t full of chaotic drinkers and messiness. We had a blast dancing among the nightlife and finally tucked in at five in the morning.
Around noon the next day, my aunt and I woke up and devoured a box of mini toast. While we were eating, Raquel was preparing something in the kitchen. We watched her pull two full octopuses out of a pot of water and knew we were in for a very interesting meal.
All of the incredible history I have seen during these two days has completely twisted my conception of time. We all drove up to Santiago de Compostela. Within this city are a prestigious university and a gorgeous one thousand year old cathedral. Inside of the cathedral is an altar that is covered in salvaged gold. Knowing the age and seeing everything inside really had me in awe.
We then traveled south to visit where my grandfather was born and arrived in a tiny little town, which contained the stone house that had been built by my great grandfather. Seeing where he came from and knowing where he is today instilled a great deal of pride in me. After this adventure, we went out with Raquel to try on her wedding dress. All too soon, we realized that the wedding was coming fast.
Days 5 & 6
After a day relaxing with the family, we all headed out to a gorgeous restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. The cousins had already planned everything, so all we had to do was show up and enjoy. Course after course, everything that arrived was exquisite. When we left the restaurant, we were told that what we had just experienced would be on overdrive for tomorrow’s dinner.
Usually American weddings take place in the morning and inside of churches, but we were in a gorgeous hotel with a very late start time. Instead of having bridesmaids or groomsmen, the family, including me, had specific spots up at the front. Raquel danced down the aisle to a fun salsa song and everyone watched with smiles and tears. Around ten, dinner started and once again, courses flew by. We ended our trip by dancing the night away and simply never went to sleep. The party ended at five and we had to say goodbye (which is two kisses, not just one) to every single person. Once that was done, about an hour and a half had passed. Then we simply grabbed our luggage and headed out of Spain.
Finally, I am home in sunny Florida and glad to be back. After almost missing our flight home due to a hold up in customs, seeing palm trees again was exactly what I needed. Sure Europe was beautiful, but so is my home.