Although our trip to France was not long ago, the streets of Paris, the incredible museum in Belgium and all the cemeteries we visited already feel so far away. However, I remember all the experiences that this trip provided like it was only yesterday and I can’t wait to go back.
After 3 flights and 2 stopovers we finally arrived in Paris, which brought with it 30 degree heat (a slight shock to our very jet-lagged bodies). We began our Journey in Arras, where we stayed with host families for 3 nights; I was hosted by Virginie who stayed with me in New Zealand, so it was really nice to stay with someone I had already got to know. During our time in Arras we visited the town centre and the Carrière Wellington which gave us all a real insight into what life would have been like for the soldiers in the trenches during the war. Next stop for us was Péronne, where we were once again hosted by the french students and this time another I stayed with Adrien, along with another ambassador from New Zealand, Emma. We really enjoyed our time at Adrien’s house and one of the highlights for me of my time with them was visiting the Notre-Dame in Amiens and watching the light show projected onto the cathedral at night. After such a great stay, saying goodbye was all the more difficult when we had to move on to our next destination. Much of the second week of our trip was spent filming, during which we stayed in Le Quesnoy, Ypres, in Belgium and a farmhouse in a small village called Mailly-Maillet, located just out of the town of Arras. This week was very jam-packed and we saw many war cemeteries and beautiful buildings, one of my favourites being the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres.
Last, but definitely not least, we stayed in Paris and I think I speak for everyone when I say that this part of our trip had been awaited with great excitement. While we were here, we got to do many of the things that one must do when in Paris, such as visiting the Notre-Dame, Sacré-Coeur, Musée-d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We all made the most of the Parisian boulangeries and many french classics such as crêpes, pain au chocolats and baguettes were eaten. However, for me, what made being in Paris extra special was the buzzing atmosphere that filled the streets from it being Bastille day and the anticipation leading up to the football world cup final that France was to play in. We were even privileged enough to be invited guests to the national Bastille day parade and it was also organised for us to attend the ceremony that occurs each night under the Arc de Triomphe to commemorate ‘The Unknown Soldier’ who gave up his life during WWI. It was on the 16th July that we attended this and it just so happened that at the same time the French football team went down the Champs-Élysées in their bus to celebrate winning the football world cup and as we were under the Arc de Triomphe, we were given front row seats of it all by default. This was a moment I’ll never forget and will treasure for the rest of my life.
I feel so very privileged to have been given the opportunity to go on this trip and none of it would have been possible without the work of the French Embassy in New Zealand, Shared Histories, Mission Centenaire and all those who personally planned and organised the trip. I also really appreciate the friendships that have been formed between the French and New Zealand young ambassadors and I hope we all stay in touch for a very long time-so it’s not goodbye, it’s à bientôt.