One of the biggest study abroad brochure bullet points is the opportunity to take trips all around the countries surrounding your foreign university. I’ve quickly fallen in love with this – I’d only left the U.S. once before, so traveling around Europe isn’t just great food and sightseeing, there’s a real feeling of adventure in not knowing what’s around the next corner, or what you’ll eat today. This is especially excitnig for me, because I live in the middle of scenic American nothing. Maybe those of you from the Northeast or California have some sweet travel options one bus ride from your home, but South Carolina is limited. We got great barbecue, nice hiking trails, and at least 200 miles between you and anything much different. If you want a wildly different adventure every weekend, try another continent. This week I’ll be telling the story of my first two wildly different journeys: the cities of Brno and Paris.
My first voyage not organized by my school was to the Czech Republic’s only other really metropolitan city, Brno. Industrial, gritty, and spooky: the heart of urban darkness. I went because I wanted to take photos in a place that I’d never seen pictures of before. At first, things looked bleak: I walked down street after street of huge buildings, and didn’t see any photogenic town squares or pretty parks. Just post-socialist skyscrapers and crowds of Czechs with no time or interest in my tourist nonsense. But that turned out to be a catalyzing, super cool atmosphere! Prague is great to live in, but can feel too tourist-friendly at times. When locations are designed to be pretty, the pictures all look the same. When places are exotic and challenging, you have a more individualized experience. Here are my Brno photos, which are my new personal favorites. And now, the pretty city.
I don’t really need to tell you the broad strokes about Paris. Many of you have already been here, maybe you’re considering studying abroad here. I second that emotion, because my 36 hours in this city were some of the most frantic fun I’ve had in years! This time I had an outline of a plan, at least: see as much art as possible, and eat some crepes (check, and check). First, I spent the audacious sum of FIFTY EUROS on a two day museum pass, a figure representing most prices in that city (please consider selling some real estate or organs if you want to live here in the long term). I think it was a good investment, because I got to skip some massive lines and see three museums (main hall of the Louvre, the D’Orsay, and the Orangerie) absolutely packed to the gills with the best paintings and sculptures I’ve ever seen. It seems obvious, right? They’re famous, everybody sees the Mona Lisa when they go to Paris, everyone knows the best Western art is there. But like, really see it, if you care at all about pigment on canvas, even a tiny bit; this is like seeing your favorite band in concert versus CD. Case in point:
Seeing The Raft of the Medusa towering in all its sixteen by twenty-three feet of glory, all the rich dark colors of swirling sea, stormy sky, and twisted flesh in perfect detail was, to put it lightly, super badass. I stared at it for about ten minutes without doing anything else. And no matter what your taste in art is, you will have a favorite piece of art in there if you want to, there’s thousands of them! If you’re anywhere near as big a nerd about art as I am, please check it out.
What really shocked me in Paris was my experience in the cathedrals. As I just made painfully clear, I love some quality art, and the Gothic cathedrals are masterworks. If I can be serious for a moment, I’m not a religious person and never have been. So I was surprised to feel something beyond what I felt in the Louvre when I went to Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. I’ve respected people’s connection to God for some years now, but never really got it on a gut level. But being in these places was a really physical experience, something I couldn’t get from talking about ideas and reading books at Wofford. These places overwhelm you, and not like a skyscraper does. Their interiors just aren’t like any other place. It’s just all beauty; not like a museum, which is beautiful art in the middle of some ordinary hallways. Glass window art, ornate columns, curved vaulted ceilings, a towering space above you that makes you feel small, and a shrine in front of you that makes you feel like there’s really a divine architect of the space, and the whole world. I don’t owe anybody this lip service, and I still don’t personally believe in God. But now I believe in faith. It takes more than artistry or practicality to build places like those, I think it takes real dedication to something beyond any person, the feeling that the whole world can be unified by upholding ideals of peace and sacrifice. That’s what I think makes religion beautiful, and I’m even more glad to have experienced that than my favorite paintings. That’s what studying abroad should be – seeing something totally outside the bubble of your studies and hobbies that lets you empathize with more people. Feel free to Google it, but I haven’t included any images because they can’t do justice to the real feeling. Thanks for letting me experience that, Wofford.