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Chiaroscuro is an Italian word that means “light-dark.” In art, it is a technique that uses extreme contrasts between light and dark to create a dramatic, evocative, three-dimensional composition. It was a popular technique among 18th and 19th century Spanish painters. I walked through the famous Prado museum in Madrid where I saw the work of Velazquez, Rembrandt, and Goya. The illumination and its contrast with the eerie darkness was beautiful but also left me feeling unsettled in a similar way to some of my experiences while abroad. The juxtaposition of light and dark during my time abroad produced a three-dimensional masterpiece of an experience.

Orange autumn trees in front of the Adriatic Sea

Step after step after step. The stairs never end. “You know this hike is named after a milk lady who would carry crates of milk up and down this hill everyday.” Apparently Daniel is an encyclopedia of fun facts and apparently Croatian milk ladies are built like The Rock.
The trail winds through forests and through peoples yards. Clothes dry on lines and leaves fall from trees. It’s December but it looks like a beautiful October day. Orange persimmon trees light up the villages. When we reach the top of the hill I understand why the milk lady took the daily trek. The tiny town has an adorable chapel at its peak and I can see Rijeka, Opatija, and cities I didn’t know existed from each direction. I’ve never been somewhere more silent. I can see all the noise of the cities below but I am removed from it all. Every 40 floor apartment building looks miniscule. How does half the population fit into those little blocks?
Daniel, Andrew, Sarah and I take out our sketch books and search for the perfect view. I usually sketch to music, but this time I let the soft sound of silence make my pen move in swift strokes along my page. After an hour the sun begins to look heavy in the sky and glows gold on the horizon, so we close our sketchbooks and head out. We take an unmarked path for our decent because Daniel claims it will get us down faster.
We pass a house with a huge persimmon tree in front.
“It’s abandoned. No one lives here.”
He runs down the driveway and picks a couple of the ripe orange fruit. Smoke comes out of the chimney and the windows are brightly lit. The four of us share the messy fruit and I wonder why I’ve never had a persimmon before, I’ve been missing out on nature’s candy.
The sky rapidly darkens as we go completely off trail into some woods that Daniel claims will get us back. He charges through bushes, over dilapidated walls, and around trees. I can’t keep up. I wonder how he’s sixty-five.
We must be lost. We come to a field of tall grass in the middle of nowhere. Yes, we are lost in the dark in the woods of Opatija and it’s thrilling. Then just like that, we come to a road and there’s the trail marker. The lights of the Christmas market glimmer from beneath the hill.
“I told you.”

Eiffel Tour at night, surrounded by fog and wire fencing

I land in the Charles De Gaulle airport exhausted at 10pm. I have an eleven am flight back to Seattle the next morning and nowhere to stay… I should have planned this out better. But there was no time, I booked this flight yesterday. My first thought is to stay in the airport for the twelve hours leading up to my flight. I quickly reconsider after noticing how eclectic and unsettling some of my roommates would be. After finally getting my phone to reach 30% on my shitty $5 adapter an hour later, I find a hostel in the heart of the city for 18 euros a night. It’s forty minutes by metro, but I have all night. The thought of actually getting to see the city lights of paris is enticing, but the ride there is dark. I don’t ride through the city only expansive strips of black night. Few other passengers sit silently with suitcases on their laps and headphones in their ears. I arrive in Gare Du Nord station at midnight and find my way to the street. Groups of drunk men call to me in French and I’m glad to not know what they are saying. I see people stumbling through a door in the distance, and music echoes down the boulevard. My hostel is a literal frat party. Wonderful. I walk into the reception anyway, knowing this is the only hostel within miles that I can afford after Spain depleted the funds which I worked all year to raise. At this point my back and arms ache from carrying three months of life in my broken carry on suitcase and overstuffed backpack from country to country. I reach the reception desk and nearly collapse as i ask for their cheapest room. But I don’t have a valid credit card.
“You can’t stay here, but there’s a cheap hotel across the street.”
The hotel is double the price. But I go and use their lobby wifi to book the same hostel online. I waltz back in with a smirk on my face. And they apprehensively hand me a key to my room. I wonder what I would have done if this would have happened to me on my first day of travel, not my last. I certainly wouldn’t have known how to trick the system, let alone had the confidence to be calm and collected throughout the ordeal.
I haven’t eaten in twelve hours and I’m starving, but the only source of food I can find is a vending machine with a scarce supply. I can’t help but laugh at the irony as I feast on peanut eminem’s in the country known for its decadent cuisine.
As I established earlier, my adapter is shit, so I scout out a young man with a samsung who is charging his phone at a table in the corner of the lounge room. He’s maybe five eight with dark features. I ask him if I can borrow his charger.
“Oh yes, of course.” He responds with an unrecognizable accent; It’s not french but I can’t quite place it. I sit down across the small table from him and he hands me the charger immediately. We get to talking about why we are here. I tell him about my time abroad, he tells me how he used to live in Paris and comes back frequently to visit friends. He is charismatic, conversation is easy, we share a few laughs. Eventually I mention that I am only here for the night.
“I’m just going to get some sleep, I’ll do Paris another time.”
He abruptly stands up and leaves. He comes back and enthusiastically slams a map of paris down on the table.
He marks it with a black pen. “So we take the metro and we go to the arc de triomphe, then we walk down ​Champs-Élysées, we end at the eiffel tower, we can do it all in a few hours.” He looks at me with an eager glint in his eyes.
“Uhhhhh….” I look at the time, It’s after 1am.
“You can sleep on your seventeen hour flight! When will you next be in Paris?!”
“But the Paris metro is expensive.” As I’ve established earlier I am broke at this point, and my ticket from the airport was ten euros that I wasn’t planning to spend.
“You don’t have to pay, I’ll show you. You h​ ave​ to see at least some of the most beautiful city in the world.”
“You’re right.” I decide. Although everything I’ve really always wanted to see in Paris, like the Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle will be closed. I may as well make the most of my last night in Europe by touring one of the most famous cities on the globe while I’m here, right?
With that we set out into the night to Gare Du Nord Station. The metro has doors that only activate when a ticket is on the reader.
“Go in front of me.” He pushes me through by the small of my back as he scans his ticket and runs in after me.
“Oh no.” He looks back with a stern face and tugs on my arm. The police have seen us, and the train is about to leave- we weave through people in a sprint like It’s ​Taken​ 4. Just as the car doors are closing we slide in.
We see the arc de triomphe and Walk down Champs Elysees. He points to the hotel where Beyonce stayed, and the palace where they hold carnivals and discos. Eventually we come to a picturesque wide bridge with art nouveau light fixtures and elaborate stone railings. We look out over the river, It’s dark water rippling softly in the dim light of the lanterns.
“Can I take a picture of you?” He asks holding out his hand for my phone. I’ve been traveling for days without shampoo and the bags under my eyes are hardly TSA approved.
“No, I’d rather you not.”
He takes one on his phone anyway as I look away. I frown.
“What, everyone does it.”
What’s that supposed to mean?

“Come, we should walk by the water, the tower is not far from here.” He says grabbing my arm a bit too tightly.
It’s 3 am and I’m beyond exhausted, but we still need to see the eiffel tower.
I follow him along the canal. The sidewalks feel even bigger when it’s only us.

As I gaze into the dark of the rippling canal—
He lowers his chin and and his voice. With a sly smirk he says-

“You know you’re not the first girl I’ve brought here.”

I inhale stiffly and everything in my body—each muscle, each nerve ending—tenses up at the tone of his voice.

“I like this walk because it’s so… so… quiet. No one’s ever here, especially not past midnight, especially not at 3am. It’s the perfect place to take American girls.”

A group of three men are lurking in the distance right under the next bridge.

“You see, those men up there, those are my friends. We are the kind of friends who like having fun together.”

I feel my heart pound in my chest and my mind is racing.
I don’t know him. He knows I don’t know a soul in this country.

“That river is 10 meters deep, and fifteen people have drown in it this year.”

Ted Bundy was charismatic, maybe he even lived in Paris at a time….

“We will do what we want, we will kill you, you cannot run, no one will help you here. You will end up in the river.”

My head is spinning, adrenaline coursing through my veins. The devilish smile on his face makes my skin crawl. I’ve never felt less comfortable.

He laughs “I’m J​ooooking​, ohhhh my god, why would I want to kill you that doesn’t even make sense!”

As much as it doesn’t make sense it still isn’t funny.
He tries to rub my arm and I pull away.

“I’m getting tired. I want to go soon.” I mumble and speed up.

I nervously fumble with my phone to call an uber. It’s at two percent. There is no clear connection up to the street from here, so I call it to the tower and hope we are close.

“I’m sorry, what do you want to do?”
“Live to see my family.” I retort. M​y tone sounds satirical but I’m not joking. “Oh-” He reveals a clownish grin- “I really scared you?!”

We walk past the group of men under the bridge.
“Hey are you guys going to that party under the bridge… and do you know which bridge?”
“No, sorry. Best of luck though!”
He turns to me, “See I don’t even know them!”

The Eiffel Tower is unlit and underwhelming. The sky is black and fog caresses its peak. A three meter opaque fence blocks it off from outsiders.
I’m in bed at 4am and set my alarm for six.
But the dark of the dorm keeps me awake.

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