Week Eight — Long Study Tour: Paris

Here it finally is: the Affective Neuroscience Long Study Tour to Paris! Each Core Course at DIS has a week-long excursion to another place in Europe to get new perspectives about their studies. Some students have this week off for personal leisure, and their Core Course’s Long Study Tour will be in November. But for now, this is all about Paris 😎 Get ready for this mega post.

Our objective for this week was to keep a Mood Diary as we were learning about emotion regulation. Each day we were to record how activities or experiences made us feel, and if conflict arose, how did we regulate what we were feeling?

This week includes: Day 53: Stress on the Seine | Day 54: Sensory Deprivation, Under the Opera, Fondue and Friends | Day 55: Smells, Hunchbacks, and Moths | Day 56: Babylab and “Which Louis?” | Day 57: Bone-Appétit | Day 58: Au Revoir | Day 59: Goosebumps and Blisters

Day 53: Stress on the Seine

October 9

Sunday morning we set off for Arlanda Airport to get to our 12pm flight — which was nice compared to the 7am flights other students had — carrying just a backpack and small duffle. DIS allowed a checked bag, but I said nah. This may have been a mistake because my liquids were apparently in too big of a plastic baggie even though it had made it through other airport securities, so I had to make some sacrifices, saying goodbye to my travel-sized toothpaste and contact solution… They have pharmacies in Paris, right? 💔 Anyway, we got to the tiny terminal for Air France, sprayed on some store-sample Chanel perfume, and got a little snack at the busy Starbucks manned by only one employee whose coworker had abandoned her.

After hearing some incomprehensible French conversations waiting in the line to board, we settled into our seats for the 2.5 hour-ish flight to Charles de Gaulle airport. The flight snack was a cold hummus/legumes sandwich and a petite madeleine (how French). Once we landed, we waited around a hot minute looking for the coach to our hotel which was in the Montmartre area of Paris. Being in this LARGE bus on tiny Parisian streets with crazy pedestrians and other motorists was stressful, and the stress did not stop there.

We were running a little behind to make it to our boat tour scheduled that evening, so we literally threw our bags into our hotel rooms, regrouped, and departed from the hotel lobby all in probably 3 minutes. What a sight to see a group of 14 students and 2 chaperones (hey Josh & McKenna) speed-walking through the metro’s labyrinthian hallways. I got to snap a picture of the metro entrance sign which was awesome because I learned in my Impressionism class at my home university that the Paris railway company commissioned this guy, Hector Guimard, to design the metro entrances for this new “Métropolitain” leading up to the World Fair of 1900 in Paris. Art Nouveau was huge at the time, so he designed the entrance signs to look natural and graceful to ease locals and visitors into the new yet scary underground transportation system.

Anyway, back to the chaos: at some point we were getting off one of the trains (one of many transfers we had to make) and Gabby was left behind because it was so crowded she got stuck! Probably shouldn’t be talking about all the issues we encountered, but I want to be honest here, and they make for good stories that we laugh about now. We had to get to the tour, so we kept going, trusting that Gabby could get there on her own because she is strong and independent 💪 We finally made it to the docks and boarded the boat, staying vigilant to see if we could spot her and intervene if the boat embarked without her while she was dramatically running towards us. Thankfully this didn’t happen, and we cheered when she made it back to us ❤️

The boat tour was absolutely gorgeous: the sun was setting, the city was golden, and the weather was nice and only a bit chilly. It was a guided tour, so the guide would speak into the microphone in French, then the English translation, but at some points we couldn’t even tell when he would switch to English. At the end it was pretty much dark and after a long day of travel and chaos, I was starving and tired. I ~regulated these feelings~ by employing cognitive reappraisal — reframing my mindset to feel better and reminding myself that we were going to eat soon and get a good night’s sleep. And we did! Our welcome-to-Paris group dinner at Le Zimmer was fun, and afterwards we got gelato at Amorino and promptly passed out in our hotel beds.

Day 54: Sensory Deprivation, Under the Opera, Fondue and Friends

October 10

Monday was Gabby’s birthday! So, some of us ambitiously tried to go to the Louvre with no tickets before we had to be at our respective spas for sensory deprivation tubs (yeah, I know, more on that later.) We soon realized that waiting in that line was futile, so we decided to just take some pics outside (poking the Louvre pyramid thing, obviously) and take a leisurely stroll through the Tuileries Gardens next to the Louvre. It was a beautiful morning: we chilled next to some ducks in a fountain, pitied the goats chained to a section of the gardens (???), and decided to share some world-famous macarons at Ladurée. Anish and I had a different spa location than the others, so we split up with a sort of “see you on the other side” mentality because the next time we would see them would be post-sensory deprivation.

Our spa was in this inconspicuous location in an otherwise busy part of the city with an initial door code then another gate where we had to buzz in, but it was very nice and calming once we were inside. The spa lady told us to slip off our shoes, don some slippers, and sit in the dojo for a sec. The whole situation was kind of funny: we swung in the hammocks, plucked at a guitar, and messed around with various knick knacks. Then this French guy who looked like he was on his lunch break from the office came in and sat with us — we made small talk trying to explain we were American students studying in Stockholm but just in Paris for a week which sounds kind all over the place when you say it out loud — and he told us that he got this spa day as a gift from his cousin which was nice. The spa lady explained the sensory deprivation tubs to us and all the benefits for the brain and body such as easing mental anxiety and muscle tension.

Once inside my sensory deprivation room (which had a sliding door with no lock 🥴) I followed the instructions of taking off clothes, jewelry, everything so that nothing but water would be touching me — but it wouldn’t feel like water touching me because it’s kept at body temperature. I also had to put some vaseline on a small cut I had because the water would be so salty it would sting otherwise. I got into the tub and it was WEIRD. It was only knee-deep, but it was so salty I couldn’t sit on the bottom of the tub. You could also request that the blue lights (see pic below) be kept on for the first ten minutes as well as some spa music to ease you into it, but after that I had absolutely no sense of time or space. It was actually pitch black and silent. No cracks under the door and no sounds other than muffled water sloshing because I put ear plugs in. So, there I lay, floatin’ around. The whole hour in there felt like that state where you’re not quite asleep (because I was falling asleep…) but you’re having random, incoherent thoughts. Mainly, I thought, Whoa I’m in this weird tub in Paris on a class trip.

After having our senses thoroughly deprived, Anish and I regrouped in the upstairs loft and colored/relaxed with the French guy for a while before heading out to meet up with the rest of the class at the Opéra Garnier for our backstage tour. We encountered some transportation/navigation difficulties and ATM side quests at the one food establishment that didn’t accept card, so we were running late scarfing down the pizza we purchased with newly-acquired euros.

The Opera’s backstage tour was interesting. In the main theater, 10 cm under the original ceiling, 2400 square feet of Chagall’s frescoes brings color and vibrancy to the space after a renovation was ordered in 1964. We got to see the beautiful backstage with portraits of ballerinas lining the walls. There was a crew setting up the stage for a show or rehearsal, but the tour guide told us they explicitly don’t like their picture taken, so I put my phone down. There’s a sort of cistern underneath the building that serves as foundational support, a water source in case of a fire, and training for firefighters. Oh, and there’s fish in there. Fun fact: the original novel, Phantom of the Opera, takes place primarily in this theater!

Group dinner that night was at Le Chalet Savoyard where we shared a BIG pot of fondue before heading to the Eiffel Tower to sit and watch the lights sparkle. When we sang happy birthday to Gabby, a jovial, musical group of guys near us sang happy birthday to her in French! (Or at least it sounded like French…) It was a really fun time hanging out with the class and celebrating Gabby.

Day 55: Smells, Hunchbacks, and Moths

October 11

We had Tuesday morning free so we got brunch at Café Benjamin and walked around shopping, sightseeing, and enjoying the day. We got some pastries (an ~authentic~ pain au chocolat) at Au Chaud Pain Choc before meeting up with the class for our perfume workshop where we would have to test our olfaction, sniffing different perfumes/smells in the dark at Dans le Noir? Sensory Lounge. They employ people who are blind or visually-impaired to do these workshops as well as serve dinner in pitch darkness (more on that later this week). We couldn’t bring our phones or anything that could make light, but even if I could take pictures, it would be a pretty boring picture of the pitch blackness. We entered the dark with hands on each other’s shoulders as we were guided to our seats. There was not a single light except the tiniest blip of a security camera in the upper corner area of whatever the walls looked like. I could feel my other senses immediately heighten — we used our hands to feel for the materials on the table and the perfume sample papers that were passed down with each new scent. I felt like I could hear every conversation or sniffle or bump. I’m pretty sure my nose was too good, not at naming scents but at physically breathing in smells because I got lightheaded and dizzy after a little bit, and it didn’t help not being able to orientate myself with a fixed point to look at. It was cool to hear everyone’s associations with the scents, either the perfumes or the organic raw materials used in those perfumes.

With squinted eyes and a fresh headache, we emerged from the workshop and decided to keep sightseeing — bonjour, Notre Dame! She was still under construction so we couldn’t get too close, but I swear I caught a glimpse of the Hunchback in the cathedral. 🤨 Afterwards we went into a flower market (Marché aux fleurs Reine-Elizabeth-II) that was perfect for a little gift shopping and whatnot. We reconvened for a group dinner at Flores that had a beautiful atmosphere and a pretty good chicken sandwich.

And back to the Opéra Garnier we go! I think the dress code was arbitrary because there was a wide range of formality, from gowns and heels to jeans and sneakers. We attended a very interesting performance, Cri de Coeur, to see how emotions could be portrayed through the body and not just facial expressions. I won’t attempt to explain the plot because it was so complex (3-hours-long complex) but it was very modern and the talent was unbelievable. All I will say is that there was a moth-person slowly creeping across the stage for a whole song. My only complaint — one that I emotionally regulated — was that our seats were kinda uncomfortable…our knees were touching the backs of the people in the row in front of us. 🤡 After the performance we walked around Paris, saw the Moulin Rouge cabaret building, and got some crêpes!

Day 56: Babylab and “Which Louis?”

October 12

Bright and early Wednesday morning we took the train a long way out to Paris Nanterre University to their psychology department for an academic visit with Dr. Charlotte Pinabiaux in the Laboratory of Human and Artificial Cognition. She and her team work on cognitive functions/dysfunctions through different ages in life, and they each presented on their respective projects such as social cognition in ADHD, autobiographical memory and self-image, and regret/decision-making. It was really cool to see actual, real-life experiments that reflect our own experiment we’re doing back at DIS. We then went to their “Babylab” where grad/PhD students also showed us their projects with cool stuff like VR tech and galvanic skin response (GSR) measurements that we also use.

Our next visit was a tour of Versailles with a focus on royal medical practices and habits in the 17th and 18th century France! But first: food. We devoured some scrumptious, sweet and savory crêpes at La Place in the Versailles area and met up with our tour guide. The palace was PACKED with people but still beautiful, and I really enjoyed how the tour focused on the ridiculously horrific things “doctors” did for the kings. Fun fact: Louis XIV (maybe? why are there so many) had very few teeth but when they got infected, “dentists” pulled them out and in the process ripped out his upper palate so his sinuses were exposed. Then one time when a foreign guest was dining with him, Louis XIV tried to eat shrimp but it went up into his sinuses and out his nose, and the guest thought that was a customary French thing to do so he made a shrimp shoot out his nose.

Anyway, we took a little stroll out to the gardens, but we couldn’t go very far because there was a film crew and actors in 18th-century garb! We didn’t find out what they were filming 😕 We enjoyed the beautiful sunshine, laughing at tourists on golf carts and throwing rocks at a water bottle for fun. After lots of walking and trouble getting a train ticket back to the city, we finally got on a train that smelled like mothballs and saw a cool hot-air balloon on the way back.

We went to some hole-in-the-wall kebab place with huge portions and friendly servers with whom we watched the Champions League soccer game they had playing. Afterwards we enjoyed a little wine at a rooftop hotel bar with a cute view of the Eiffel Tower before walking around Paris some more and sitting on the edge of the Seine River which was beautiful at night. 🌟

Day 57: Bone-Appétit

October 13

Thursday morning we took a little trip to the Paris Catacombs! 💀 We descended the spiral stairs for what felt like 20 minutes, and all I could think about was the trip back up… We finally made it and half-listened to the little phone/audio guide as we walked down the corridors until we got to the ~bones~. It was cool and damp and just filled to the brim with piles and piles of various skeletal body parts. It was kind of eerie, so I thought a good pace was a speed walk to the end and an arduous struggle back up the spiral stairs. Overall, the Catacombs were cool but a little underwhelming, but that soon changed with our next stop of the day.

The Louvre was Overstimulation Central. We actually had tickets this time, but it was rainy and the lines to get in were so confusing so we got in the back of a random one. Thankfully, Crystal whipped out her humble French-language knowledge and walked right up to the guard and somehow got us past the line, turning an hour wait into maybe 10 minutes. After that we somehow got split up among the masses of museum patrons, so a couple of us decided to just grab a map and hit the main attractions as we had to meet the rest of our class at Musée d’Orsay in just a couple hours.

Emotion regulation was direly needed in this chaotic gallery that seemed to own every painting ever, not to mention navigating our way through clueless tourists. I thought the art was nice, and I took some pictures of my favorites below. Oh, and to top it all off, the other chunk of our group was in an area that had to evacuate the Louvre because of some suspicious issue…

After escaping the Louvre, we jogged through the rain, cramming sandwiches into our mouths on the way to Musée d’Orsay, the museum with the most impressionist works and a whole lot of my favorite artists: Monet, Van Gogh, Morisot, Degas, Renoir, and Rodin! We had the same nice tour guide from Versailles, and she was very knowledgeable about all the paintings she brought us to. I kind of wish we had a lot more time to just wander through each room and see all the paintings, but that wasn’t really possible because she had specific ones she would lead us to and stop to talk about but then quickly move to the next room. But I’m still super grateful to have seen so many paintings I had only studied in a textbook and to actually kind of remember stuff about them!

After a long rainy day, a few of us went to Les Antiquaires to warm up with, in my most humble and limited opinion, the best French onion soup in the whole country (isn’t it just onion soup here?) That was a lovely appetizer before heading back to Dans le Noir? for their dinner in the dark experience! Once again we conga-lined into the dark. It was much louder this time because there were other guests dining in the room (or were there? 🤨) I regressed to a primal state and was literally eating strips of steak with my fingers. Anyway it was a comical three-course meal and wine that was revealed to us at the end, and all of our guesses were pretty much wrong but it was still yummy! That night we were exhausted so we just got crêpes (again) and chilled.

Day 58: Au Revoir

October 14

Friday’s only activity was a group brunch at Le Pain Quotidien concluding our Paris trip 😌 It was very yummy and I got a MEGA-size pain au chocolat. Go big or go home. Or both in this case. Maggie got an essential baguette-to-go, and we did a little more shopping before heading to the airport. At the airport as we were walking to the gate, we were discussing some things we liked about France and said loudly “France is supreme,” and this dapper-looking man passing us said “HA! Not all the time!” So I think I’ll let him have the last word.

Day 59: Goosebumps and Blisters

October 15

Saturday was a day for rest and recovery, physically because of blisters and emotionally because I had to write my Mood Diary. I treated myself to a nice big bowl of bibimbap from Matsu Sushi (they should honestly sponsor me at this point), and my friends and I made nachos for dinner and watched Goosebumps to get in the Halloween spirit! Did you know Ryan Gosling was in an episode from 1996?

Wow. We made it to the end. This week was incredible and I’m so so grateful for all the cool things we got to experience and the memories we made. It was also nice to have the Mood Diary to keep track of how I thought about the situations I was in and to see if I was able to reframe them to be more positive.

If you made it here, thanks so much for reading! There will be more content coming very very soon 😊

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