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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Final Thoughts on Paris – Philip’s Summer of Adventure

After nearly twelve weeks in Paris, it is hard to believe that my stay here is almost over. In all, I have had a great experience, full of excitement, adventure, and free of any major mishaps. I have spent a lot of time traveling in the second half of this summer (4 out of the last 6 weekends) and have had the chance to see what Europe is really like beyond Paris. 

At the end of June, I spent a weekend in Rome, which is barely enough time to being exploring the wealth of history that is there. In my day and a half that I was actually in the city (due to some unfortunate delays in getting there), I had to rush around to see Vatican City Saturday afternoon and the ancient part of the city on Sunday. 

A couple weeks later, I found myself in London in the company of my good friends Josh, Sachin, and Camden. One comfort in this was being back in a country where I could completely understand the language (my understanding of French has improved this summer, but I am nowhere near fluent). After spending most of Saturday in the British Museum, we attended a midnight showing of Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe, standing as “groundlings” in the yard.

The following work week was short, as July 14 was Bastille Day. For the French, this entails a huge festival with celebrations spread out all around Paris (and the rest of the country). Trying to experience as much as possible, I went to an annual military parade on the Champs-Élysées  in the morning, part of a concert on the Champ de Mars (the park by the Eiffel Tower), and ended the day watching fireworks from the banks of the Seine. 
Tour de France
Bastille Day Celebrations
Bastille Day Fireworks

That weekend I jumped on a train again to travel to Caen, in the Normandy region. My main motivation for this trip was to visit the Caen Memorial, a World War II museum focusing on the impact of the war in France. My ticket included a bus trip to visit some important D-day sites along the coast. Under gray, rainy skies (similar, we were told, to what the D-day troops were fighting in), we drove out to Pointe du Hoc to see bunkers and pillboxes built by the Germans as part of the Atlantic Wall to protect against attack from Britain. The landscape was covered in huge craters left by the extensive bombing carried out in the days prior to the landing. From here, we visited Omaha Beach, which has unfortunately been built up so there are houses along the road.  However, we were able to better understand the obstacles that this operation faced, as our guide pointed out the German bunkers built into the bluffs making them difficult to see and attack. Additionally, we visited an American cemetery where thousands of soldiers were buried (and this was U.S. soil, so I was technically back in the U.S. for about an hour) and Arromanches, where we could see the remains of an artificial harbor built by the British to bring supplies to the Allied troops until one of the real harbors along the coast could be captured.

Caen Memorial
My second day in Caen was cut short by the rain. In the morning I walked to some of the older historic sites in the city, including the remains of a castle that was built by William the Conqueror and expanded by his successors. However, by the early afternoon, it was raining too much and I had to pass the rest of my time at the train station.

The weekend after that I spent in Paris as a last chance to see anything I had missed and because the Tour de France finished that weekend. On Sunday, I again trekked over to the Champs-Élysées, where the Tour de France riders make several loops to finish out the race. I was able to find a spot right next to the road, so I had a really good view of the riders as they sped by. 

My final trip was to Avignon this past weekend to see a little bit of southern France.  In contrast to the weather in Normandy, it was sunny and warm in Avignon – perfect weather to walk around and be outside in. Aside from the Palais des Papes, built in the 14th century when the Papacy was run out of Rome, I had no planned activities, leaving me free to explore. 

Avignon Palais des Papes
Of course, in the time between all of my travels, I have been continuing my research.  This is proceeding at an almost frantic pace as my departure quickly approaches. After some analysis of data we took at the beginning of the summer, we have had new samples prepared and only recently been able to start doing our experiments on them. Added to this is the construction at the university, preventing us from being able to take any data during the day and forcing us to work during the evenings instead. Despite the odd hours I am now working, I am excited to see the results and hopeful that these last couple days of experiments will be a success. 

Overall, this summer was exciting and eye-opening. I have been able to see and experience the differences in lifestyle between France and the U.S. While I may not be able to do all of the experiments I had hoped to finish before leaving Paris, I have learned a lot from my research. Additionally, my opportunity to travel provided me with time to relax and enjoy the history and culture of Europe.