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The trip of a lifetime

High school senior reflects on the sights, food and history found in France

Editor’s note: Abbey Salisbury is a senior at Cedar Springs High School. For spring break, she and six other French students traveled with teacher Polly Johnson to France in the district’s first-ever trip of its kind. It was also Abbey’s first international trip across an ocean. Abbey wrote about her experiences in France for School News Network. 

Cedar Springs — “Le voyage d’une vie” translates to “the trip of a lifetime,” which is the best way to describe my experience in France. To say that the views were beautiful and the food was amazing would be an understatement. 

The Food

The food in France was incredible. I wasn’t so sure about the food going into the trip, because I knew it was different from ours and I can be a picky eater, but I was pleasantly surprised. The meals were simple and had smaller portions than in the U.S., but we were able to fill up. Some lunch highlights at local cafés included croque monsieur (a hot ham and cheese sandwich) and jambon beurre (ham and butter on a baguette). A few of my favorite dinners were flammekueche (flatbread with a cream sauce, topped with onions and ham), ham and cheese galette (similar to a crêpe, but thicker and made with dark flour), and pork and scalloped potatoes. 

After dinner, we always got an amazing dessert. My favorite desserts were mille feuille (an airy pastry between layers of cream), nutella crêpes, nutella gaufre (waffle), and many pastries like macaroons, nutella beignets (doughnuts), chocolate mousse, and strawberry tarts. With our dinner, most of the time we ordered diabolos, which are similar to our “Shirley Temple” drinks, except they use sparkling water instead of Sprite. 

As for breakfasts, we ate at the hotels, which had pretty much the same foods like our hotels do. They had croissants, pain au chocolat (a chocolate-filled pastry), deli meats, bacon and eggs, juice and coffee, yogurts, and all kinds of breads and jams. Almost every day we stopped at a café to have chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) or café au lait (coffee with milk). 

It was a little bit difficult to order things fluently on our own so we had to find ways to communicate with the waiters what we wanted. Most French people have some English vocabulary and the waiters were patient with us. 

Seen here in front of the Louvre, seven French students and their teacher traveled to France this spring break. Author Abbey Salisbury is pictured in the middle with teacher Polly Johnson at left (courtesy)

The Art and Architecture

On this trip we had the opportunity to visit many beautiful cathedrals and castles to learn more about the history of France. 

For cathedrals, we were able to see Notre-Dame Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, Mont Saint Michel Abbey, and the St. Vincent Cathedral. Their windows were all stained glass and had beautiful colors or pictures on them; my favorite windows were in the St. Vincent Cathedral in St. Malo. It was really cool to see the differences between the windows that had been there for a long time and the windows that were recently redone. 

For castles, we visited the Palace of Versailles, Château de Chambord, Château de Chenonceau, Château d’Amboise, and the Louvre. I loved seeing the artwork on the ceilings of the castles, especially at Versailles Palace and the Louvre, which is now a museum. At the Louvre, we saw many famous pieces of artwork, like the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Venus de Milo, sculpted by Alexandros of Antioch. The gardens on the grounds of the castles were also very beautiful and huge. Versailles had really cool fountains and designs in the gardens, and at Château de Chenonceau, the gardens had pretty flowers and bushes planted in beautiful patterns. 

One thing that we learned at the Château d’Amboise that I found interesting was that King Charles VIII, who was born there, died from hitting his head on a doorway while riding his horse through the castle. 

The Traffic

A lot of France’s traffic is very similar to ours. However, there were a few differences that blew my mind. Other than in the city, there are no stop signs or traffic lights anywhere; the intersections are all round-abouts. Exiting the highway, turning onto a different road, entering a parking lot — all round-abouts. 

There was also a lot of graffiti on the walls of the highways. It was interesting to see so much of this because I thought that the city would have taken it down or not allowed as many people to get away with it. 

The cars in France are mostly all sedan-sized cars. I rarely saw a pickup truck or van that wasn’t used for business purposes. The semi-trucks also looked different than ours; instead of having what looked like a nose in the front of the vehicle, French semis were flat and looked like a box with a trailer. In the city, mopeds and motorcycles would weave in and out of traffic — this is legal, unlike in the United States. 

I think it would be stressful to drive in French cities because of all the bikes, walking traffic and the amount of cars. In particular, I am still amazed by how people navigate around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It’s a huge round-about with no lanes, but people make it look easy to get from one place to another. 

Abbey and her classmates got to visit the D-Day beaches and nearby sites of World War II battles
Abbey and her classmates got to visit the D-Day beaches and nearby sites of World War II battles (courtesy)

The Culture and History

This trip gave us the chance to see a few different regions of France. In northern France, we went to Mont St Michel, an island near Normandy and Brittany. It has cute shops that line up in alleyways that make it look like you’re in Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. While there, we also took a day to visit the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy. There, we learned about WWII and heard amazing stories of soldiers who fought in the war. 

In Paris, we visited the Musée du Parfum, where they sell perfumes only available in France. There, we got to learn about the origin of perfumes and why the best way to store perfumes is in aluminum containers in a cool, dry, dark space. Of course, we also saw the Eiffel Tower. We were able to see it light up during our Seine River cruise on our last night in France. It was breathtaking and I feel very lucky to have been able to be that close to such a famous monument. 

I could continue to talk for days, but overall, our trip to France was something that I will never forget and I look forward to returning sometime in the near future. The trip has inspired me to continue my education with the French language and learn more about France’s history and culture.

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