Trips to the Past: Rome & Paris, Lucy

During lockdown, with the prospect of travel seeming further away than ever before, a lot of us will be feeling an extra strong sense of wanderlust and nostalgia for our past trips and adventures. G You is happy to present a series of travel writings reminiscing on our community’s favourite and most meaningful trips to remind ourselves of the joys and growth travel can bring. Our next ‘Trip To The Past’ is to Paris and Rome, by Lucy Le Marchand.

In second semester of first year, I befriended a group of American exchange students. As the Easter holidays approached, they told me they were planning to take advantage of Britain’s cheap international flights to explore Europe before they had to return home. Having only been abroad to visit family, I decided to do the same and expand my own horizons.

I’d never been on holiday alone before, so I decided to start small and planned the first leg of my trip in Paris. Despite having family scattered all across France, I’d never actually been there, so armed with a shaky grasp of conversational French, I booked a hostel and spent a weekend in the city of lights

Arriving, I had no concrete plans, instead I was just going to see where I ended up. On my first night, I arrived at the hostel much earlier than expected, and a quick Google revealed that the old Paris catacombs were only a few Metro stops away. I’d highly recommend them to anyone who likes more macabre tourist sites and is under 5’6”; they’re a huge, sprawling ossuary filled with the skeletons of over 6 million people. Obviously, you’re not allowed to touch the bones, but there’s no ropes or security guards to stop you from getting a really close look, and the audioguide is definitely worth the extra €2.

The following day I (of course) visited the Eiffel Tower. Being afraid of heights, I only went to the second platform, but the view was certainly spectacular, and seeing it in person really is different to photographs. I also visited Notre Dame Cathedral (before it burned down!) and wandered around the outside of the Louvre, not knowing at the time that it allows free entry to students and to general public on Sundays.

However, the highlight of Paris was that evening, when I went on Snapchat to see what my American friends were up to and realised that my cousin, who lives in Belgium, was only 15 minutes’ walk away from my hostel, holidaying with her mother in Paris on the same day as me! We had dinner together, texted my mother (who was relieved that I’d found someone familiar when I was all alone in a big, scary, foreign city) and I told them I was leaving the next day for Rome.

Unlike with Paris, I don’t speak the language in Rome, but a handful of phrases to show you’re trying will get you a long way. What immediately struck me as I made my way to the hostel was that Rome is an incredibly pretty city. The big roads all have grand old buildings and there are gorgeous monuments on every roundabout. 

The hostel I picked, RomeHello, was one I would highly recommend. The guy at the front desk gave me a map after I checked in, showing that I was about ten minutes’ walk away from the Coliseum, and an hour from the Vatican. My three hostel roommates arrived within half an hour of me, and we all went out for dinner together, exploring the city a bit.

The following day, I woke up at seven and hopped on the Metro for the Vatican. Despite its opening at nine, there was already a huge line when I arrived at eight, and I got in at about ten. It was, of course, gorgeous, and the Sistine Chapel was very impressive. I spent half the day there, then headed back to the hostel, passing the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. That evening, me and one of my roommates had dinner in the hostel bar and chatted with other guests.

On my last day in Rome, I met up with one of my American friends, and we spent the morning together before I split off to see the Coliseum. Purely out of luck, I’d chosen to visit on the day of the Rome marathon, which meant that the queue was much smaller than normal, and I was only waiting for a half hour (in the shade!) before getting in. The Coliseum was my favourite sight on the trip, with the possible exception of the catacombs and again, I encourage you to get the audioguide. I was walking around the Coliseum and Roman Forum until nightfall, and I left the next morning for Marseille, to stay with another cousin for a few days. 

Ever since then, I’ve been eager to go on another solo trip. I’d been worried about being lonely, but if you stay in a hostel and you’re willing to socialise, you’ll be fine—you might even make some new friends! Once Coronavirus is over, I have my sights set on Athens, but in the meantime I can look over my holiday photos and chat to my American friends on Zoom.

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