Passport To Paris With Erica Tukiainen - Part 3

Aug. 24, 2009

Senior Erica Tukiainen of the UCLA women's basketball team studied abroad in Paris, France this summer with the UCLA French Department. Tukiainen chronicled her summer in Paris with This is her third and final installment from Paris.

My last few weeks in Paris went by too quickly. While each day was filled with all kinds of surprises, it seemed like there was still so much more to discover. If I only had time to go back ... I just might find another charming café serving delicious chocolate banana crèpes. How about one more walk through the gardens of Luxembourg? Or another relaxing Sunday afternoon pique-nique by the Eiffel Tower? Oh well, after five amazing weeks in Paris, it was time to return back to California sunshine...but not without sharing my three most prized moments in France!

Swipe N' Go to the Metro

Each time I entered an underground metro station, I felt like I was about to venture on an exciting voyage. On one particular night, I quickly descended the steep stairs among the crowds of busy Parisians, no time to wander or look around; I was on a mission. I clutched onto my purse with my left hand while my metro card was in my right, ready to swipe n' go to the metro. Quickly, I tried to find the sign for my destination, Line 6. I looked down at my watch; I was already running late. I decided to whip out and study my map, affirming my status as a tourist. According to my amazing navigation skills, I had nine stops before Line 6 came to an end at Nation. There, I would hop on to Line 2, which would take me towards Porte Dauphine. After that, I would get to enjoy another four stops before getting off at Pere Lachaise. From there, I would need to find the connection to Line 3, headed towards Gallieni. Almost there! I would have one more stop before getting off at Gambetta, my final destination. Sound complicated? Pas du tout (not at all)! Taking the metro definitely beats sitting in the 405 traffic.

After figuring out my route, I realized that my metro was arriving in two minutes, so I had to hurry up! As I arrived at Line 6, I was amazed by how many people were waiting at the same stop. Looks like I had better get in the front of the crowd to get a good seat. This was where my basketball skills came in handy; a little fake to the right allowed me to move to the left, while my swim moves allowed me to slide to the front, and finally my triple threat position was essential for keeping my spot once I found a comfortable seat.

Once I was in the metro, I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the show. In the background, the music - an elderly man playing Edith Piaf's La vie en rose with his harmonica - transformed the metro into a stage, a scene with actors and actresses. The protagonists (of course the elegant and sophisticated Parisians) were sitting down with their serious faces, simply the obnoxiously loud American tourists. Meanwhile, the antagonists (the obnoxiously loud American tourists) were in the corner with their 'I Love Paris' t-shirts, Canon cameras wrapped around their necks, oversized bags filled with French cheese and wine, and maps trying to figure out which stop was for the Eiffel Tower. And of course, what would this scene be without the French lovers? In the corner of my eye I spotted a couple. They were staring into each others' eyes, saying lovey-dovey things, giving smooches and hugs, deeply in love. Oh là là, how about that PDA? Out of everything, I found the costumes to be the best part of the show; the men wearing extremely tight and brightly colored polo shirts, capri-pants, mandals (man sandals) and carrying man-purses. Meanwhile, the women were in their colorful floral printed summer dresses or hip harem pants and gladiator sandals. I was disappointed when it was time to get off! I almost missed my stop as I was enjoying the latest fashion show in Paris.

Loving the Snails!

Before leaving Paris, I was told that I HAD to try at least one famous (funky) French dish, les escargots - a.k.a. the snails. Hence, my friend Alexis and I decide to head to a late night dinner in the Latin Quarters - my favorite place to dine in Paris because it's full of lively little restaurants - to find our spot for a delicious meal of snails. Initially, both of us were terrified by just the thought of eating these slimy little creatures, but our fears disappeared as soon as we set our eyes on an elegant seafood restaurant. We sat down and our charming waiter came to get our order. With my fabulous French, I ordered a feast for us: the escargots and onion soup as appetizers, some salmon and steak for our main dish and finally chocolate mousse and ice cream for dessert. After munching down two full baskets of fresh baguettes (our pre-appetizer), the six little escargots arrived on a plate with the 'escargots tongs' and the 'escargots fork.' However, neither Alexis nor I had any idea how to eat snails with proper French etiquette, which prompted me to call over the waiter to ask, 'excusez-moi monsieur, mais pouvez vous m'aider?' Pretty please with a cherry on top! Gracefully, he grabbed the tongs and fork off my plate, and next thing I know, he was feeding me the escargots. This was definitely another 'Oh là là' moment. Not necessarily because of the snails, but because of the waiter; he had charmed me with his escargots feeding skills. By the way, the snails were actually quite tasty. What a delightful surprise!

La Fitness en France

Of course, one of my priorities during the trip was to stay in basketball shape so I wouldn't return to Los Angeles looking like a croissant. I was a bit worried, as I assumed that it would be a challenge to find places to exercise. As a matter of fact, I had always thought that the French were more genetically advanced than us because it seemed like they were able to maintain their fantastic figure without any crazy diets or constant exercise. They could eat rich foods, drink wine all day and smoke all night without gaining a pound. I was wrong. I found that I was not the only one trying to burn some calories in France; there were plenty of Parisians walking, running and biking. Not only was I able to enjoy beautiful morning runs around the palace of Luxembourg, but I also found an outside basketball court next to the Eiffel Tower! I even found plenty of outside soccer fields and tennis courts where people of all ages - grandfathers to grandsons - were playing.

For lifting weights, I joined a gym, Club Med, near my hotel. Club Med is like a mini version of LA Fitness with trainers, exercise classes, locker rooms and all that fancy stuff. While I stayed away from the aerobic classes, I spent a lot of time in the weight room, a.k.a. la salle de musculation. I was shocked that during those four weeks at the gym, I saw very few other women lifting weights. The majority of the time, it was just me and the macho men (who could not get enough of their chest and bicep workouts). It was funny being the only woman there; I even caught a couple of guys staring at me as I was doing a leg workout. The next thing I know, I saw the same man doing the same exercises! I also got a chance to talk with the trainers in the gym to get their thoughts on the French exercise culture. For instance, I learned that while a lot of women joined the gym, they preferred to do the aerobic classes rather than lifting weights because of their fear of developing large muscles and gaining weight. French women believe that they are supposed to be thin with a petite frame. Hence, the trainers want to educate their clients, especially the women, to understand that strength training is a critical component of fitness. As a matter of fact, they give examples such as Cindy Crawford to show them how it is possible to strengthen and improve your body image without turning into the Incredible Hulk. Cindy Crawford body, here I come!

I could go on forever trying to explain all of the details about my trip, but in reality there are no words to capture the true essence of each experience. This means that you HAVE to go visit and see it for yourself! As for me, this past month in Paris not only opened up my eyes to understand the cultural differences but also allowed me to further appreciate those little aspects in my life. Il n'y a aucun mot pour vous dire à quel point je suis reconnaissant d'une expérience absolument inoubliable ! Merci beaucoup!


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