France | Au Revoir Paris!

By Jason Vu

After three weeks of travelling and learning, this was it. Our last week in Paris would not have as much activity as the others since we would have to start packing, but we did have some final chances to say good-bye to one another and France. On the morning of our second to last day in Paris, we woke up bright and early to head to Montsouris Park for a class picnic. While we were excited to spend our last morning together with French pastries and freshly pressed orange juice provided by Prof. Behdad, we were not so keen to be stuck in the middle of a Parisian heat wave. Temperatures reached just above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and while that might sound bearable in California, much of France has never experienced such high temperatures in its history. As a result, there was barely any air conditioning anywhere in the city.

Nonetheless, we made it out to the park where we proceeded to begin our final class discussions. While our travel study program was coming to an end, our final assignments were just beginning. Once we got home, we would have a month to write two papers that would be due at the beginning of September. As such, our class picnic was meant as both a chance to spend time together as a class while also preparing for our final essays. Due to the size of our class, we were split into two groups, one led by our TA Mariam and the other by Prof. Behdad.

After a lively session of brainstorming research topics, we concluded our picnic by eating our remaining pastries and cleaning up after ourselves. With breakfast out of the way, many of us headed back to our rooms to finish cleaning up and prepare for our upcoming departures.

After a couple of hours, it was time for our class to reconvene at Mansouria, a famous Moroccan restaurant in the 11th arr. of Paris. This would be our final time gathered together as a class before heading off in our own directions.

Prof. Behdad started off our meal with a short speech thanking all of us and our TA Mariam for helping make this class fun and engaging. Our meal that night was of course covered by our program, but the thought and care Prof. Behdad showed in choosing such a nice place for us was something else. In fact, I wanted to take the opportunity right now to give Prof. Behdad and our TA Mariam a shoutout for being such amazing faculty and taking care of us all month long!

After a wonderful meal of traditional Moroccan dishes, we concluded our night with a final round of applause and soon headed off in our own directions. For me, the combination of heat and packing had worn me down, so I decided to head back to my hotel to get a night’s rest before my long flight the next day.

Luckily, being that tired meant that my body ignored the scorching heat of my AC-less room right until 8am the next day. With all my bags packed up from the day before, I checked out of my dorm and made my way to my final metro ride from Cite Universitaire to Charles de Gaulle Airport. At about 1PM, I boarded my flight and bid a final adieu to the City of Lights. I was sad to see the city go but excited to come home to friends and family to share all that I had experienced on this wonderful trip.

Au revoir, Paris! À la prochaine!

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Descending the Catacombs

By Jason Vu

Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort! Stop! This is the empire of the dead! These words greeted my friends and I as we approached the entrance of the infamous Catacombs of Paris. Opened to the public in 1809, the Catacombs were established as a place to store the remains of Paris’s many cemeteries due to the health problems associated with them. After years of deaths and burial, ancient remains from as far back as the Medieval era had to be transported over to the Catacombs to prevent the overcrowding of dead remains in the city.

After passing the entrance, we began our 5-story descent into the lowest point of the city of Paris. The tunnels we walked through were quite low but they were also a welcomed escape from the scorching heat of the Parisian summer. Luckily for us, the catacombs stretched for about 1.5 km, meaning we’d be in these tunnels for at least one hour.

After passing the entrance, we began our 5-story descent into the lowest point of the city of Paris. The tunnels we walked through were quite low but they were also a welcomed escape from the scorching heat of the Parisian summer. Luckily for us, the catacombs stretched for about 1.5 km, meaning we’d be in these tunnels for at least one hour.

Yes, these are REAL skulls and bones. 

The first stretch of tunnels we passed by were mostly made of stone and brick, but about at the halfway point, we stopped by something … unusual. Instead of stone walls, we started seeing bones and skulls stacked one on top of the other. At first, we couldn’t believe that all of these bones could have belonged to real people who died hundreds of years ago. Being surrounded by thousands of skulls was chilling to say the least, but at the same time, I was so intrigued by the history of location and had to keep exploring.

A…”cute” gesture?

Eventually, as we kept seeing more and more bones around us, we began noticing that some of them were arranged in patterns like hearts and crosses. I personally thought having these strange designs made the catacombs all the more interesting, but a part of me also felt that if one of these skulls were mine, I’d prefer not to be put on display like this.

The final aspect of the catacombs that stood out to me were the many stone plaques with quotes in both French and Latin. These quotes were drawn from a combination of the Bible and famous writers such as Virgil and Dante. The quotes varied from hopeful about the prospect of death to fully dreading the idea. What they all had in common, though, was that they acknowledged that death was a reality that we would all have to confront at some point in the future. Perhaps that was another reason to build such an intricate place to store the remains of the dead; it was a reminder that we all eventually pass on.

After we finished exploring the rest of the Catacombs, we made our way back up the long staircase to the surface. Whether you’re fascinated with death or in for a little scare, I’d highly recommend visiting the Catacombs on your trip to Paris!

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Day Trip to Versailles

By Jason Vu

Along with the regular 3-day weekends of our program, our last week included a 5-day long break for us to travel and explore all on our own. On the first day of this break from class, a group of friends and I decided to go on a day trip outside of Paris to the famous Palace of Versailles. Although Versailles is one of the most well-known places in all of France, I didn’t realize how far it was from Paris until we got on the hour-long train ride! Nonetheless, we eventually made it to the small town named after the grand palace.

 

Arriving at the entrance courtyard to Versailles, we were met with a long line of at least two hundred people. While this seemed quite daunting especially with the French heat wave upon us, my friends and I braved the long line to enter into the former seat of the French monarchy. Luckily for us, the line moved quite quickly and within an hour, we were at the security checkpoint to enter in. 

My friend, Allyson, trying to avoid the sun in line for the entrance

 

Upon entering Versailles, we were introduced to the estate’s spectacular history. Originally an old hunting lodge constructed by King Louis XIII, his successor Louis XIV decided to expand the lodge into a palace fit for a king. Versailles would not just be any palace though; Under Louis XIV and his successors, the palace would serve as the central seat of government from the mid-17th to late-18th century. As such, it would house not only the King but much of the French nobility who were eventually ousted during the French Revolution.

Statue of the “Sun King” Louis XVI, first king to reign from Versailles

 

Our tour of Versailles began at the royal chambers on the palace’s right side. These included the rooms of King Louis XIV, Queen Maria Theresa of Spain, and the rest of the royal family. In addition, we also got to see the chambers of some of the King’s mistresses. Each room was more ornate and gaudy than the last, with great portraits and grand sculptures decorating the entire area of the room. Once my friends and I finished going through the main rooms, we headed out to the courtyard in front of the palace’s frontside. 

Front of the Palais de Versailles

After taking some time to admire the palace’s architecture, we stepped back inside to see one of the main attractions at Versailles—the Hall of Mirrors. Known as “La Grande Galerie” in French,  the hall was filled with grand frescoes lining the ceiling and glass mirrors meant to reflect light from the windows into the hallway. The room was filled with tourists when I got there, but I managed to grab a picture that captured most of the halls extravagant beauty. Given that it was designed to show off the glory of France, I would say that the Hall of Mirrors, along with the rest of Versailles in fact, does quite well in fulfilling its role.

“La Grande Galerie” or the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Quai Branly

By Jason Vu

Only a few meters from the Eiffel Tower lies a small park with trees and plants not native to anywhere in Europe. With windy dirt paths and flowing creeks, I forgot for a moment that I was in the middle of one of the most bustling districts in all of Paris. Even stranger, this jungle-like environment was the entrance to my class’s final excursion together—La Musée du Quai Branly.

 

Opened in 2006, Quai Branly was designated as a museum featuring the indigenous arts and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. While a good number of visitors come to see the many unique items showcased in its exhibits, this museum was definitely no d’Orsay or Louvre. Given that it’s not as well-known, I appreciated the fact that Prof. Behdad set up this group visit to expose us to this museum that most of us would otherwise have missed.

Introduction to La Musee du Quai Branly by Prof. Behdad

Starting promptly at 2pm, our class met at the outdoor auditorium of the museum where Prof. Behdad shared a little about the history of Quai Branly and how objects that originated outside of Europe ended up in one of its most famous cities. This history was on that involved trade, colonization, and the construction of the French nation-state. After an interesting discussion on these issues, our TA Mariam returned with our entrance tickets and we soon went on our way.

Ritual Objects from Southeast Asia

 

The museum’s exhibits were divided based on their specific region of origin. Since there was no particular order in visiting the museum, I decided the first thing I would see would be the Southeast Asian art section. I was impressed by the array of items featured in the exhibit and particularly the ones that originated from the many indigenous tribes of Vietnam. Beyond pots and traditional clothes, what stood out to me the most was the elaborately designed ritual objects used in all kinds of sacred activities such as ritual sacrifices and incense burning. Given my own Southeast Asian ancestry, I saw a lot of parallels between these objects and the ones my family has used before as well.

Fresco of the Virgin Mary and Jesus painted by Ethiopian Christians

 

Following my visit to the Southeast Asian wing, I made my way to the cultural objects of Africa. Of the many intriguing items featured here, what surprised me the most were some ancient Ethiopian Christian paintings sectioned off in their own little space. These artworks surprised me because they dated back far before Europeans sent missionaries to their colonized territories to convert them to Christianity. That meant that Ethiopia had Christians far before Europe began spreading Christianity around the world, a fact that I did not know beforehand.

Hot pot meal made of paper for “Paradise Palace” Special Exhibit

 

Finally, to conclude my visit, I checked out the Quai Branly’s temporary exhibit titled “Paradise Palace”. This exhibit featured several pieces of traditional Taiwanese art called “zhizha” or Taiwanese funeral objects. These objects were made of paper and shaped to look like common everyday places and objects such as meals or bedrooms. In Taiwanese tradition, these paper effigies were burned as an offering to deceased relatives and ancestors to grant them these comforts in the afterlife. “Zhizha” are often very intricate and well-designed as evident by the hot pot meal pictured above. While I liked this piece because of how well it was made, I was especially drawn to it because hot pot happens to be one of my favorite meals. Staring at the delicious meal before me, I knew it was time for me to leave the Quai Branly and head to dinner with my classmates.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Sacre Coeur

By Jason Vu

On my last trip to Paris, one of my favorite places to visit was the hill of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement. At the top of this hill was the beautiful white-domed Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, known more commonly as the Sacre Coeur. Completed in 1914, the Basilica was built as an act of penance for what was seen as the moral decay of the city following the Franco-Prussian War and the rise of the Paris Commune. Now back in Paris, I was determined to make another visit to this extraordinary shrine.

 

On an early morning before our regular class meeting, I made my way to Montmartre using the metro. The stop I left at led directly to the base of the tall hill and from there, I made my long trek up the hundreds of stairs leading to Sacre Coeur.

Me at the bottom of Sacre Coeur, getting ready for the hike up

 

Needless to say, I was sweaty and tired when I reached the top of the hill, but it was more than worth it to arrive at the highest point in Paris. After taking in the view for a little bit, I made my way into the Basilica to take a closer look at the sacred space. Due to the strict rules on taking any pictures at all inside, I was unable to snap any shots but believe me when I say the interior was as magnificent as the exterior!

 

Upon finishing my tour of the inside, I stumbled upon another to enhance my experience of Sacre Coeur. For just 7 Euros, I could climb 300 stairs to the top of the central white dome of the Basilica. Given that this was most likely the highest point in all of Paris, I decided that I needed to go. Starting at the very bottom of Sacre Coeur, I began to climb up the long stairs that led to the summit of Paris.

Halfway to the top of Sacre Coeur!

View from the top of Sacre Coeur’s main dome

 

Out of breath and sore, I had lost track of time until reaching the top of the dome. Instantly, my legs felt like jello being so high up and I remember gasping aloud when I looked down to see how far up I was. Nonetheless, the view I was treated to was like nothing I’d ever seen before. In the distance, I could see some of Paris’s most well-known monuments—the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe—dwarfed by the immensely higher Sacre Coeur. After taking a moment to sit in the stone benches provided for visitors to rest in, I began my trek back down to the ground.

 

With about a thousand stairs climbed all before lunch, I decided that I needed to take a break from climbing stairs for a bit. Luckily, Montmartre provides a small tram that goes up and down the hill for those who don’t want to climb the stairs. Even better, the Navigo Transit Card that our program provided us allowed me to use this service for free! With my morning visit to Montmartre complete, it was time for me to head to class. While this meant I had to say goodbye to Sacre Coeur, this would definitely not be the last time I come back!

The funiculaire going down from Sacre Coeur to Paris

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Vive la France! Vive la Republique!

By Jason Vu

On July 14th, France celebrated La Fête Nationale (The National Day). In English, we know it more commonly as “Bastille Day”. In 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the infamous Bastille prison in Paris to free prisoners and acquire weapons. The action marked a significant turning point in the French Revolution, marking the end of the monarchy in France. Given the importance of this occasion, the celebrations in Paris were sure to be magnifique!

 

Festivities began bright and early in the morning with a grand military parade on the Champs Elysée. Led by French President Emmanuel Macron, the parade showcased France’s military marching from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. Even though I got there pretty early, I still had to jostle my way up to see the parade. In the end, I was able to snag a couple of shots of the passing troops, but none were as spectacular as the cavalry that trotted by.

Bastille Day Military Parade on the Champs Elysée.

 

After the end of the parade, I wanted to try out another perk of Bastille Day in Paris. In celebration of their cultural heritage, France marks Bastille Day by granting free access to all its museums and monuments that would normally cost around 10 Euros or more. Since Bastille Day also commemorates the troops who defend the French Republic, I decided to stop by Les Invalides, France’s national military museum and monument.

 

To say that Les Invalides was just like any other French monument would be a great understatement. Instead of being known for one thing or another, Les Invalides is actually made up of several buildings that either serve as museums of French military history or monuments dedicated to fallen French soldiers. Some of these buildings include La Musée de l’Armée, La Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and two churches connected back-to-back. These two churches were my favorite parts to see of the complex mainly because of their rich history and artistic design.

 

The older of the two was the Cathedral of St. Louis-des-Invalides, which was intended to be a chapel for veterans of France. Constructed under the reign of Louis XIV, the church was built in a Baroque-style and featured the flags of France’s enemies throughout history. On the other side of a glass wall was the Dôme des Invalides, another church that was eventually turned into the resting place of the late Emperor Napoleon I. Surrounded by statues of angels and portraits depicting mythicized scenes of his life, the tomb of Napoleon was made into the center of the Dôme and visitors have flocked to honor le petit caporal ever since.

The Cathedral of St. Louis-des-Invalides

The tomb of Emperor Napoleon I in Le Dôme des Invalides

With afternoon getting nearer, I eventually made my way out of Les Invalides and headed to the Pantheon for another feature of Bastille Day. All over Paris, free public concerts were taking place in historic monuments and churches to celebrate the storming of the Bastille. At every event, you could hear the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, being played proudly for all to hear. The concert I was going to was composed of wind instrumentalists from the French military academy who were playing several famous French pieces of classical music. I don’t remember the names of the songs they played, but being there was something I won’t forget!

Celebrating Bastille Day with a free wind instrument concert in the Pantheon

 

To conclude my first-ever Bastille Day, I met up with some friends at Trocadéro Park where we would watch the firework show from the Eiffel Tower. The show lasted a whole 30 minutes and every second of it was fantastic! Not only were fireworks being shot through the sky, but the show featured light effects and music to celebrate the end of a national day of celebration. Now I’m a big fan of 4th of July fireworks back in the States, but I have to say, we definitely can’t compare our shows to fireworks of Paris…

Bastille Day Firework Show at the Eiffel Tower

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Brussels + Amsterdam Weekend Trip

By Jason Vu

Although our program has plenty of class time for us to learn in, we also get plenty of leisure time to explore on our own! On one of our three-day weekends, my friends and I decided to book a Flixbus to see the cities of Brussels in Belgium and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It may have been a bit crazy to fit so much into one weekend, but I think we saw plenty!

Our first stop on this weekend was Brussels, which was about a two hour drive from Paris. First thing we did after settling into our AirBnb was head out in search of Belgium’s famous waffles. Using the city’s metro system, we made it to the main square and were surrounded by Belgian waffles. I made my way to a store with reasonable prices and was treated to a thick waffle covered in whipped cream and nutella. Truly, I’ll never eat waffles the same way again…

Me with my life-changing Belgian waffle.

After gulping down my entire waffle (and half of my friend’s), we continued to wander around the square, stopping by the town hall and some art museums on the way. We soon found ourselves at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. Serving as the main Catholic church of the city, the cathedral boosted a grand Gothic design with two towers in the front reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris. We walked in to see great pieces of Baroque art including paintings and sculptures that adorned the church’s walls. Our visit to this cathedral was truly worth the sites, and given that entrance is free, I’d highly recommend!

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels

 

Our final stop in Brussels before calling it a day was the city’s botanical gardens. Filled with beautiful plants, garden mazes, and statues, the garden was a joy to wander around, especially with the region’s temperate weather. While wandering was fun, my favorite part personally was sitting by the cool ponds scattered around the garden and taking a rest from walking. With the last leg of our Brussels trip out of the way, we went back to our apartment to get a little rest and prepare for Amsterdam.

Botanical Garden of Brussels (ft. friends wandering in front)

 

Bright and early the next morning, we woke up and got back on Flixbus for a two-hour ride to Amsterdam. The first thing we did when we arrived was looked for somewhere to eat. Fortunately, we stumbled upon Meneer Pannenkoek, a Dutch omelette and pancake restaurant that boasted huge portions for decent prices. I ordered a large omelette stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, and bacon that, for me at least, was worth 2 meals. With our bellies stuffed, my friends and I made our way to Dam Square, the main plaza of Amsterdam.

My first Dutch meal in Amsterdam

 

Wandering the city through until the night, we got to see much of the city including the Flower Market and the Dutch Royal Palace. The best part of the city for me, however, were the many bridges that offered great views of the city. Even with all the sites we did get to see, only one day in Amsterdam was definitely not enough, so I’ll definitely be back in the future!

Nighttime view from a bridge in Amsterdam

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Visiting the Immigration Museum

By Jason Vu

A major theme discussed throughout our program was the issue of immigration in France. While we may often think of France as being a homogenous state, the reality is that France is incredibly diverse! To learn more about the country’s diverse population, our class went on an excursion to the “Cite nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration” (National Museum of Immigration History) at Palais de la Porte Dorée.

Entrance to the Cite nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration

 

Founded in April 2007, this mueum tells the story of how people from around the world established communities in France and the history behind their migration. This site was especially interesting for me because there was no other place in Paris that talked about immigration. Plenty of museums were about Asian and African history, but only this one talked about how these populations ended up in France.

 

Our class met up in the afternoon and began our visit with a brief lecture by Prof. Behdad. Speaking on the history of the museum, Prof. Behdad encouraged us to focus on key exhibits that caught our interest and note them for our post-visit discussion. With only a limited amount of time, we quickly made our way to begin the visit.

Prof. Behdad gives an introductory lecture on the Museum before we explore.

 

The first exhibit introduced us to France’s long history of cultural encounter and colonization with other parts of the world. On the way to the main exhibits, I noticed a mural depicting some of these relations through trade with what looked like Vietnames merchants. This caught my attention since I could see a part of my own heritage intersecting with the reality of French history. In some ways, this museum would show me a little more about my own identity as well.

Part of the Forum Frescoes depicting colonial interactions between France and Vietnam.

 

While exploring, I was struck by one part of the museum titled “Diversity”. The exhibit showcased all kinds of cultural objects that looked like they were from all over the world. In reality, however, these items came from local communities around Paris. Featured items included Japanese masks, red lanterns, and African statues, all of which could be found around the streets of Paris, including in Chinatown.

A small portion of the “Diversity” exhibit.

 

The last part of the exhibits I could make it to was a temporary exhibition titled “Paris-London: Music Migrations”. The theme of the exhibition was not only how music had been changed in recent decades due to immigration, but also how that music was used to convey political messages as well. Influential songs were played through headphones alongside videos of the protests where they were performed. At the top of the exhibit were banners that said “HATE RACISM LOVE MUSIC”. These sights really caught my attention and brought to mind the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Far from being a solely American phenomena, this exhibit showed me that the fight for equity and justice was something truly global, making it very important to my studies in the program.

Temporary exhibition titled “Paris-London: Music Migrations”.

We concluded our visit with a discussion facilitated by our TA Mariam. It was great listening to everyone share what they thought was interesting about the Museum and getting responses to my own observations. If you’re ever in Paris, I’d highly recommend going to this museum! It may be a little out of the way, but there truly is no place like it in the entire city.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale

By Jason Vu

 

On the outskirts of Paris to the east of the Bois de Vincennes lies the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale (“Garden of Tropical Agriculture”), a historic park dating back to the early 20th century. Rather than the traditional fountains and marble sculptures of Paris’s many other gardens, however, this garden featured Asian and African cultural pieces such as shrines and gateways. It’s not often talked about as a place to visit in the city, but that only made me more determined to go and check it out.

A Chinese gateway greets visitors to the park.

 

Since classes for my program began late in the afternoon, I decided to go on an adventure on my own to learn more about this hidden garden. Taking the metro there, I eventually arrived in Nogent-sur-Marne, the eastern suburb of Paris where the garden was located. After a brief walk from the metro station, I arrived at the garden and was greeted by a large Chinese gateway.

 

Coming from a large Asian community in California, the gateway reminded me of many others I had seen back home, but this gateway in Paris was different. Rather than the bright red of traditional gateways, this one seemed faded and worn over time. It gave me the sense that this gateway, as well as the park, was more of a historical site than a place in active use today. The overgrown bushes and lack of many visitors reinforced my assumption.

Courtyard with ceremonial incense burner enclosed by Asian-style wall

 

Wandering the garden, I soon found panels that helped document the history of the park, albeit only in French. Using my limited reading knowledge in French, I was able to make out that the park was originally the site of France’s 1907 colonial exhibition. The cultural pieces that were spread across the park were originally taken from different parts of the French empire to showcase the “glory of France”. After the exhibition, the park eventually fell into decline with a lack of upkeep until 2006 when the city of Paris reopened the park.

Maison Cochinchinoise, dedicated to Indochinese soldiers who fought for France.

 

Continuing through the park, I eventually found myself in front of a small temple-like structure that I later learned was dedicated to Indochinese soldiers who died in battle for France. The monument was small but once again, I was reminded of temples back home that were dedicated to deceased relatives and ancestors. I decided to rest near this shrine for a little while before continuing on my way.

The Indochina Pavillion

 

The last place I had a chance to stop at in the garden was a museum-like structure with the word “Indochine” at the very top. Signs nearby said that the building was originally an indoor exhibition of objects from around the Indochina region. Although the pavillion was now abandoned, I wandered around for a while before it was eventually time for me to head to class.

 

As I made my way back to the metro station, I continued to think about the old garden. Most tourist spots in Paris are often crowded and busy, but this place was special because of how calm and peaceful it was. Perhaps its location or its lack of notoriety keeps it so quiet, but in the midst of the busy city, it’s always nice to have a place to escape to for just a while.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/

France | Chocolate and Cheese Tour

By Jason Vu

What’s one way of studying globalization in Paris? Why not a tour of some of the best chocolate and cheese shops in town?

 

After our first week of classes, Prof. Behdad announced that he would be leading an optional excursion on Saturday to local cheese and chocolate shops in Paris. At each store, we would have the chance to sample products (all covered by our program too!) and speak to a few of the workers.

Prof. Behdad gives an introductory lecture before we begin our tour

 

Before we began our cheese and chocolate tasting, however, Prof. Behdad made sure that we would learn something from this experience by starting our excursion with a lecture on chocolate’s relationship to globalization. In a short amount of time, Prof. Behdad discussed the history of chocolate as we know it and its relationship to colonization and technological advancement. Far from pure entertainment, our trip was meant to give us a direct and intentional experience of globalization as it was shaped by historical interactions. WIth an added layer of background, we were finally ready to head out to our first Parisian chocolatier.

 

After getting off the metro in the historic district of Paris known as Le Marais, we walked a bit through some old, windy roads to our first stop: Edwart Chocolatier. At the shop, we were greeted by the friendly owner who proceeded to add to what we learned from Prof. Behdad with a brief presentation of his own.

Storefront of Edwart Chocolatier, our first stop!

 

Once he finished his talk, we moved on to the tasting portion of our program. Rather than having us all sample the same chocolates, the owner decided to spice things up by choosing our individual samples based on how we each answered his questions. For example, he would ask where we were from, our preference for milk or dark chocolate, and whether or not we were adventurous. Based off my answers, I got a piece of chocolate that includes hints of mustard and wasabi, making it slightly spicy! I was surprised by the combination, but it was tasty all the same. After buying some chocolate to bring home, we headed out to our next chocolatier, Pierre Hermé.

Pierre Hermé’s ice cream display

 

Unlike Edwart Chocolatier, Pierre Hermé was much larger and had a variety of other sweets other than chocolate like ice cream, macarons, and other pastries. Our focus here, though, was trying the chocolates made in-house by their workers. Since our group was so large, we couldn’t sample the chocolates inside, so instead, Prof. Behdad picked up our order of chocolates and we sampled outside. The chocolates from this store tasted much more like traditional chocolate with the exception of some samples that had hints of fruits and nuts added in as well. Once we finished our samples at Pierre Hermé, we went to one other chocolate shop before heading to a fromagerie or “cheese shop”.

Some cheeses on display at the local Fromagerie

 

The fromagerie we were headed to was fortunately within walking distance of our last chocolate shop, and it wasn’t long before we arrived. As a big fan of cheese, I was overjoyed by the variety of cheeses in front of me. Brie, Gorgonzola, Camambert— these were all cheeses I was super excited to sample. While not as related to globalization as chocolate, cheese is an essential part of French culture that is a must on any trip.

Cheese tasting time!

Prof. Behdad picked up our plate of cheeses and within minutes, we found a cozy park to sit in and began sampling our vast assortment with some complimentary bread. Every kind of cheese we had was different from the others and tasty in its own way. By the end of our small meal, I was stuffed and happy. The cheese tasting marked the end of our tour and was my signal to take a long food nap!

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/GlobalStudies-France/