Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Paris is always a good idea"

Thank you Audrey/Sabrina for these words of wisdom. I have to agree that Paris is indeed always a good idea. I think I would also say that it's a good idea to go more than once and for at least one of those times to be an extended period of time. It really only gets better the more one gets to know the city, and I definitely think I've gotten more out of it while understanding the history and speaking the language. Although it would be really cool to just travel with a French friend and speak French all the time but let them handle the hard words and awkward situations. That would be optimal.

Anyway, this is probably my last post re: the city of lights. Sad right? It's currently my last night, but I wanted to post about the last week from the city itself, so here it goes.

Saturday 8/25 was possibly my favorite day yet. It's easy to forget how important it is to treat yourself once in a while. Saturday was my treat to myself :) I slept in and then started my day with a walk through the Luxembourg gardens. They are simply beautiful. 

Hard to see, but this woman has a pigeon on her arm and is feeding it.
Definitely one of my favorite things I've seen in Paris.
I meandered on over to the Latin Quarter, getting a little lost along the way. It is really a nice place to get lost in actually. I couldn't quite decide what I wanted to do first, but my stomach made the decision for me, and I decided to cross back over St. Michel and go to Les Deux Magots.

This is the restaurant my aunt and uncle and I went to when I was 13 where I had some wonderful chocolate cake. We had some confusion over the name back then (magot typically means cigarette butt), but I believe the name references two chinese men of some sort (political or religious leaders maybe?). This time I had a croque monsieur and a café crème. The waiter was a little snappish when I was confused about why he brought me my coffee and a bill for just coffee, but when he brought my croque monsieur and its check we sort of joked about it, so I think we were cool. It was a delicious meal, and I was glad to have revisited the café. I actually just googled it to check on the name's meaning and look what I found:

Who knew Hemingway frequented it?? Looks like I was all over good old Ernest's stomping grounds that day, because my next stop was Shakespeare and Company. 

I love love loved Shakespeare and Company. I could spend all my time there. It's the kind of place that reminds you why you love books. I browsed and picked up Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and read it in the top room for quite a while. It was incredible to be reading about the very place I was sitting at that moment and to know how much it meant to Ernest Hemingway and other great minds. I bought the book and can't wait to keep reading, fondly remembering the places he talks about. 

After that I bought some souvenirs and gifts for people while making my way in the direction of St. Sulpice...which also happens to be the direction of the Longchamp store...where I bought a Longchamp bag. It was a good day. After walking around a bit I met up with friends and we all hung out. Good day, good night, good weekend. 

The next morning I was a little alarmed to be woken by a call from my parents, but it ended up being a good thing, because it got me out of bed to enjoy the day. I met up with Kelsey and we went to the Orangerie to see Monet's water lilies. You can't take photos of them (I think this is a recent rule...), but they are phenomenal. You can take photos of the other paintings there. Here's Kelsey looking at some: 

After we were done (which was fairly quickly because it's a very nice, non-overwhelming sized museum) we got some coffee and took a nice walk to the Notre Dame area where Kelsey was meeting her family. I've never seen Paris, especially the Seine, as beautiful as it was that morning.

The rest of the day was mainly homework and studying (it was the last week of classes too) plus a nice kebab break. When we were done with work, however, we headed to the Eiffel Tower and began the climb to the top. It was beautiful up there, but one of the coolest things for me was that the lights flashed while we were walking up and while we were walking down! Also we got nutella and banana crêpes after :)

Monday we had class and then worked on our papers and studied for the final exam like most of the afternoon minus having couscous for lunch, which was good. Tuesday was sort of similar minus going to visit the Bibliotheque Nationale and studying in the park. Then we went to see the Pantheon and do a little book shopping!

Open book building!
The library is made up of four of these.

Yesterday was our last trip as a class, and we went to Versailles. It's so huge I couldn't get a picture of all of the front of it without being so far away that it was hard to see. 

 The gardens are incredibly beautiful, but huge and easy to get lost in. Also we saw a swan! 

Per usual, a highlight was dessert :)

This morning Stephanie, Kelsey, Kelsey's friend Kelly, and I went to breakfast at our favorite crêpe place. It was a fantastic deal: crêpe (nutella - duh), oj, café crème, and tartines. Breakfast formules comme ça are definitely one of the things I'll miss most. 

Then Stephanie and I ran some errands and got last minute gifts. We also did some shopping with Julie and stopped for a tart! I wont mention where we went/what we bought in case any readers are recipients to be...

We did end up on the Île St. Louis in the course of shopping, and I took a photo of what I thought was the apartment my aunt and uncle and I stayed in when I was 13, but now I'm not sure it's right. I'll ask them. I took photos of a couple others in case this is the wrong one. 

When we were through shopping, Stephanie and I went to see the grande arche with the intention of eventually getting to the Eiffel Tower. Instead, very shortly after taking this photo we were caught in a terrible downpour, ran for the metro, and got stuck in a series of very crowded metros that kept stalling. We decided to head home. 

We did head out to dinner with Chelsea to a place where some friends had told us they got a delicious meal. The food was very good, but our friends had said there was a lot of it and that they had shared, so Steph and Chels wanted to share too (I'm an only child so that's not so much my style; Also, I'm like terrified of offending the French). Anyway, the waiter seemed to say that it was only ok if they got drinks, so they did. But then he was just super rude, and he and the other woman working like very blatantly said they had to stop sharing like while they were eating. It was a really odd situation (especially because the girls that had been there earlier had had no problem) that would have been avoided if he had just said from the very beginning that they both had to order. All around confusing. Mostly the people just weren't very nice. Probably my worst experience with cultural misunderstanding just because there was no real effort to explain what they wanted but no hesitation to yell at the customers. I've generally found any and all places I've been in France to be patient with Americans who don't get the eating customs, even if that means explaining that they have to order something or can't order a certain way. It was unnecessary, and exactly what I usually try to tell people isn't true of the French. I suppose stereotypes, whether French or American or anything else, all come from somewhere.

Anyway, as unpleasant as that might have been, it was a nice reminder of the things I love about America (customer service, friendly people, less stress over unspoken rules), and I'm excited to go home. I will, however, maintain that Paris is always a good idea. The more I get to know and understand French culture, the more I love, hate, and am stupefied by it. But Paris, Paris is incredible, beautiful, wonderful, and enchanting. And always a good idea.

À bientot back in the states!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

"A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life"


Thomas Jefferson brings us this title about all that Paris has to teach us. From these posts, I'm sure some of you think that I am simply eating my way through this city, but I am, in fact, studying and learning things. Our history class has been wrapping up while the animal class is ramping up.

It has been a somewhat relaxed second-to-last week, as Monday after class we all pretty much did homework and relaxed, making dinner in between. Tuesday after class we went to the Galerie d'Évolution which we had to see for class, but it was closed. I did, however, eat a delicious tart. That evening we had a lecture from this woman:
She's a vegetarian author and very outspoken about various things in France, so she was talking to us about animals and eating meat. It was interesting, and I sort of felt like I ought to be vegetarian after. Most people said, however, that they were upset about how she presented her ideas. I thought her perspective was interesting if a little black and white. The professor teaching our animal class said that she's like 90% vegetarian, but that she just follows her heart. I like this approach, and I think I may just opt not to prepare meet for myself but still accept it when other people serve it...
We also had a lovely vegetarian dinner after!

Wednesday we had to be ready at 6:50 AM to go to Chateau Thierry, home of Jean de la Fontaine. He wrote over 250 fables that are now well known throughout the world and particularly engrained in the minds of French children. Of course, he didn't originally create all of them but he rewrote them for the French. For example...

Anyway, it was pretty cool to see his house. Turns out he was super tight with Fouquet who I've been reading about for my third class. Fouquet like discovered la Fontaine and took care of him and then the latter defended Fouquet when he was arrested.

The garden behind la Fontaine's house - so cute, right?

 We got to have lunch at this crêpe place after, and I got provençal, which was delicious! And nutella for dessert of course (not pictured)!

After we got back we regrouped and went to check out a place that Kelsey had been told about called Merci. We couldn't afford anything in the actual store, but we had some delicious citronade at the café!

On Thursday we had class and then went to the museums we had to visit for class. The first was the Musée de Nissim de Camondo, which is basically an old mansion that belonged to a man who was very into 18th century art and stuff. On the way there you walk through this park, which is really pretty. 

Outside of the Musée de Nissim de Camondo
Then we headed to La Grande Galerie d'Évolution to see the sort-of animals. Most of them are just fake, but some are taxidermied (sp??). It was kind of weird. 

On the way home we did have to stop for a crêpe - nutella of course :)

That night we stopped by a party on a boat that was super fun!

On Friday we slept in and headed to the Champs Elysées to shop around. 

On the way there this guy got on the metro and started playing music!

We looked and for the most part did not buy, but it was fun. Then we headed to the Louvre because it was free from 6 - 9:45 for people under 26. 

 It was super fun although we were pretty tired when we left and ended up just eating dinner and having an early night.

Today was a really good "me day" with lots of fun things, but I'll include in a post about my (gasp) last weekend in Paris!

Hope all is well aux États-Unis or wherever you may be!


Friday, August 24, 2012

The Dam

Oooh Amsterdam. What fun! Not to mention what a good weekend to not be in Paris. It was like over 100 there (Fahrenheit). Anywhere was probably better than there.

It really was a great weekend in Amsterdam. Although Dutch is a ridiculous language. I might take up learning it just as a personal challenge. I'm pretty sure everything just sounds the same. Especially street names.

At any rate, it is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. If I were moving to Europe I would seriously consider living there. The people are also incredibly nice. Like three people helped us find our way to our hotel when we were lost, and we only had to ask one of them.

The hotel was cute although under renovation. I think it will be really cute when they're done; plus there's free breakfast. We got to the hotel, cooled off and promptly fell asleep. Then we woke up and headed to a restaurant we had read about called Winkel.

Everything we read was true. Dinner was great (I had a thai curry), but dessert was actually probably my favorite dessert to date. Like in my entire life. It was the best apple pie I have EVER had. Also the best pie I have ever had and yeah probably the best dessert. Everything about it was perfect.
Julie and her pie!
The next day we started with the Van Gogh Museum, which was very cool. We learned a lot about his life from a little video and then saw the paintings and knew even more about when/how/why they were made.

Note: this isn't the Van Gogh Museum.
It's the museum across from Van Gogh.
We relaxed on the lawn outside after we were done, which was lovely because it was beautiful out. Then we made our way to the torture museum. It was a little creepy but super super interesting.

 Chelsea in the guillotine. 

After that we made our way to Anne Frank's house. That was actually one of my favorite experiences yet. Definitely one of the coolest monuments/museums I've ever seen. It was incredible to see where her family lived and to learn more about their experiences. Plus they had this cool interactive piece that addressed different issues going on today and had you say how you feel about them. I'd recommend it to anyone. Very very cool.

After that we were pretty hungry and we really wanted more pie and to try other foods. So we went back to Winkel!

I got these fried Dutch meatballs, which I though were delicious. I wasn't such a fan of Julie's cheese sticks, but she felt opposite and didn't really like my meatballs. 

No one could ever not like this pie. 

Can I just say again how beautiful Amsterdam is???


That night we went out and saw Amsterdam at night which is equally cool and beautiful!

That morning we got ready to go and just explored a bit more before we had to head to our train. We made sure we had time to try pancakes for lunch before we left. They were as delicious as expected, although nothing will ever compare to the apple pie :)

And so we had to say goodbye to the Dam and get in our last photos of Dam Square as we headed back for our last couple of weeks in Paris!

I certainly hope I'll be back to visit Amsterdam in the future. If any of my friends are considering moving there, I give you my full support and promise to visit you as much as possible!

That's all for now! Got to go out and live up what time we have left!
Au revoir,

Paris When it Sizzles

It's been a little warm in Paris, as you might have guessed. But also busy busy busy as we close in on those last weeks!

To escape the heat on Sunday after Bordeaux, we headed to Paris Plages (aka fake beaches along the Seine in Paris) to study for our midterm. I think I am the only one who successfully studied. This photo actually wasn't taken when we were there (I was afraid of getting sand in the camera) but it's a good view of what Paris Plages is like.

Monday 8/13 was a "big big big day" (Hunger Games fans??). We were ready to leave at like 6:50 and headed over to the Louvre to be the first ones in line, and we succeeded. We got in line and then were told by one of the security people that we could move to the group line even though we had individual passes. We gave presentations about the Louvre in the group line and waited until some horrible horrible woman who was substantially smaller than me - like seriously probably not clearing 4'10" - came to yell at us and kick us out of line. I have never seen my sweet little French professor so angry. She definitely would not let that woman push us all the way back to the end of the line that extended outside, so we went to a different one that was still really long but less long than the other one. It moved really quickly, but on principle the whole thing was super irritating. 

A couple of us also got separated from the group like right off the bat, but we called someone and got reconnected fairly quickly. And we got to see the Mona Lisa and they didn't! We saw more of the historically significant paintings and rooms versus the well known art, which was fine with me. I think the Louvre is way more interesting as a historical place vs. a museum. We got to see Napoleon's apartments, which I had never seen:

Then we took a walk around the Marais, the historically Jewish district, and talked about it's development and history. After this walking class was finished we went to a falafel restaurant and a bakery both recommended by Mme.

 It was my first time having falafel, and it was soooo good! The tart was also incredibly delicious although not particularly Jewish. After that we needed a nap, and class was postponed until 4pm!

The next morning we headed to Hôtel de Ville and got a private tour, which was very cool. All of the rooms were gorgeous, and it was cool to think about how many important people have been there.

You can now rent this room for something like $5,000 per hour.

 It's where all of the heads of state of different countries go to be received by the mayor of Paris. And sometimes they sign things. Example: Ronald Reagan...although I can't remember exactly what this was for.

After that we had pretty much the whole day free, so some friends and I decided to make that our monument day. Which was really more like me taking them along for the ride for thesis research. It was a lot of walking in very hot sun (and I stupidly wore pants), but we found everything!

 On the left is the monument to the holocaust, and on the right is the one to the Algerian War.

 And here we have two monuments to the Vel d'Hiv roundup, one of the largest in WWII France. The left is the actual location, the right is a nearby memorial space.

On the way we saw the lock bridge! You decorate a lock with the person you love and lock it to the bridge, and I think you're meant to throw the key in the water. Very sweet and romantic. Julie and I may get our own lock. 

The next day was very full as we went to two super huge castles. The first was Fontainebleau, which was a sort of vacay/hunting spot for the Kings' families. It's gorgeous, and it's amazing to go through the rooms and see all of the changes made during different reigns. It's like history in a building, and everyone left there mark.

A personal favorite feature of Fontainebleau - peeing dog fountain.
 Then we moved on to Vaux le Vicomte where we had a super fantastic meal, but I'll just show dessert. It was so delicious! And then we had a tour of the house and walked around the grounds. My camera died before I could take photos of the gardens, but I'll get some from someone else, because they are absolutely phenomenal.

It's also pretty cool to see it while we're learning about it. In the advanced class we're reading a book about Fouquet, the Surintendant de Finance for Louis XIV, who built Vaux. He didn't get to spend much time there though because he had one hugely incredible party there (which people still talk about - how's that for a Party of the Century?), and the king got super jealous and had him arrested. It's a little more complicated, but that's the gist of it. He introduced France to a lot of incredible artists and intellectuals (Molière, La Fontaine, etc.), and Vaux was the inspiration for Versailles. 

Thursday after class we decided to tackle a few assigned visits. We started with Les Invalides. It's a pretty huge museum(s), but we saw what we could and spent a lot of time in the WWII/Charles de Gaulle exhibit. We also saw the military museum, which houses Napoleon's horse. Like the real thing preserved via taxidermy. Ew.   

We were speculating on why Napoleon's statue always has his hand in his shirt like that.
Any thoughts?
 The real thing to see at Les Invalides was actually Napoleon's tomb, so here it is:

After we finished with that we moved on to Rodin. The Rodin Museum is very cool because you can walk around the gardens and see the various statues. For example, the Thinker:

I'm not sure statues are really my thing, but there were a few I really liked, and inside the house there are a ton more plus a bunch of paintings. I think my favorite part, however, was being outside to look at the statues.

We also saw the Musée d'Orsay that day, but you aren't supposed to take photos there. That surprised me because I'm pretty sure I have some from previous trips...anyway I figured I already had photos and ought to just enjoy the museum. It didn't disappoint. I always get so excited in the impressionist area on the fifth floor, when literally in every new room I see at least two of the paintings I've been looking forward to seeing and so many more that I love! I think there is a picture a friend took of me with Degas' La Danseuse, so I'll see if I can find it. I think that's probably it for now. Updates on Amsterdam to come!


PS Anyone who didn't catch the reference that this title makes to one of Sara's and my favoritest Audrey films really really ought to watch it!