The time of my life (V)

After one last (okay, let's just say it) meager French breakfast, Team Exchange Student meandered slowly hopped once again onto the bus. We bid a sad goodbye to Paris as we headed out of the city, but luckily it wasn't time to say goodbye to France quite yet.
Our way eastward was surrounded by yellow fields and blue road signs that pointed the way to French villages.
 Around lunchtime, we made a stop on the River Meuse, in the town of Verdun.
 The site of the infamous 1916 Battle of Verdun in WWI, the city sports memorials to one of the most devastating actions in military history, as well as signs of hastily rebuilt buildings. However, the tree-lined streets display beautiful prewar architecture and quaint buildings, and both towers and ruins of fortifications shows the long and rich history of Verdun.

Unfortunately we barely had time to enjoy the sunshine during lunch before heading on to the next port of call: Strasbourg. The names on the blue road signs looked increasingly German as we drew near; when we arrived in the city we realized with delight that Strasbourg was a wonderful mix of French and German atmosphere and culture.

 After dinner, we wandered the city before embarking onto a boat that chugged along the Rhine, past houses, cafes, and the European Parliament, and under low bridges where criminals were hung and kings and queens walked. Founded as a Roman military outpost in 12 BCE, the city has undergone many changes, made history and hosted many well-known names and events. The richness, beauty and energy of the city were tangible as we ate our gelato by the cathedral and walked over the bridges back to our hostel.

Our time in Strasbourg was much too short, as we drove away the next morning for the second-to-last stop on our tour: Europapark in Rust! Divided into different 'countries,' the amusement park offers roller coasters in Switzerland and Iceland and water rides in Greece. It was a lovely culmination to sit and scream together as we rolled upside down and explored a miniature Europe in the sunshine. 

In September, three weeks after I arrived in Germany, I went to Triberg im Schwarzwald, a town in the Black Forest, for a weeklong Rotary orientation where I met the other exchange students for the first time. From the moment exchange students meet, they have a connection that is impossible to explain; in that week I made some of the best friends and memories of my exchange year. At that time, I had no idea what was in store for the rest of the year. I had no idea of the friends and memories that were still to come.
Like I said, Eurotour was a distant spot on the horizon to be anticipated, as going on exchange was last year at this time. Once it arrived, it got better every day. Ups and downs and long bus rides and breathtaking views and the best friends in the world: Eurotour was a three-week microcosm of exchange for me.
I would never have believed how close I could become with people in the space of a year, how much time we could spend together and how many things we could experience and learn from and with each other. My heart has grown bigger in the past ten months, and now the pieces are scattered all over the world as we begin to go our separate ways again. I'm so grateful for the Eurotour experience, and so grateful to have shared such an incredible year with these other exchange students.

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