Sunday, May 13, 2012

"one person's craziness is another person's reality" -tim burton

The many faces of The Nightmare Before Christmas

A few days ago, I went to see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Cinémathèque Francais. My friends had been raving about it, and while I wasn't sure just how into Burton I was, I figured I might as well go and maybe learn something. What I learned was that I love Tim Burton. He really is a creative genius, with a fabulous sense of humor and incredibly diverse talent. The exhibit featured everything from his early sketches, to his work for Disney, to the angora sweater Johnny Depp wore in Ed Wood. The exhibit was brilliantly executed and not in the least bit boring. Even the most interesting exhibits have been known to cause my head to nod, but I was actually sad to leave. Unfortunately I had assignments and studying to do back at home, so I couldn't stay as long as I wanted to. However, I did learn a lot and I am adding another thing to my summer to-do list: watch more Tim Burton films! I may have developed a new pop culture obsession.

sarkozy, c'est fini!

Bastille on election day

Last weekend was the French presidential election. Many French were anxious to out Sarkozy, while many others were nervous about the prospect of "voting for the lesser of two evils" and weren't sure if the alternate to Sarkozy was who they really wanted. Regardless, the French were very passionate about whichever side they chose. At Bastille, the famous landmark of the French Revolution, supporters of Francois Hollande gathered to await the final results. The entire round-a-bout intersection and every sidewalk was completely filled with people shoulder-to-shoulder, and I was one of those people. Fortunately, Hollande won, which meant people were celebrating rather than angry, making the event likely safer than Sarkozy's. Either way, we enjoyed an exciting French cultural experience (a little more unique than climbing the Eiffel Tower, don't you think?) and some free live music.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

paintings come to life

This past weekend our program took us to Giverny, a small town northwest of Paris in Normandy. Our goal: to see Monet's house and gardens, where he painted his famous Water Lilies and many other beautiful impressionist paintings. We first visited the Musee des Impressionnismes Giverny, where I expected lots of water color paintings that would cause my eyes to glaze over after a few minutes. Don't get me wrong, I love impressionist paintings however I'm not much of a museum person and tend to get blurry-eyed halfway through even the most impressive of exhibits. However this exhibit especially fascinated me, and I believe I found a new favorite artist: Maurice Denis. I was incredibly inspired by Denis' work. He mostly focused on spring scenes, my favorite season, and did a lot of biblical scenes set in contemporary settings. I won't bore you all with art talk, but I leave you all with a quote of his I found especially inspiring at the end of this post (he was a writer too). Then we were able to walk through Monet's house, see his studio with many original paintings on display (including one that my parents have a poster of in our laundry room at home), and walk through the beautiful gardens featuring the water lilies, droopy trees and bridge that he so often painted. There was even a romantic proposal on one of the bridges while we were there!

"There was no essential difference between the profane and the sacred,
the sensual and the spiritual,
human and divine love,
earthly and heavenly spring." -Maurice Denis

i fell in love. again.

Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz in Munich, Germany

I'm going to use this post to declare my love for Munich. Munich, Germany is decidedly my favorite European city. Up until this time I have seen Paris, Madrid, Zurich, Athens, Milan, Siena, Brugge, and Ljubljana as well, but none top Munich, which I have now visited twice. My first visit in 2008 with my high school Euro tour, I did not expect to love Munich as much as I do. I had predetermined Italy and France as my favorite countries, but was taken by surprise after the trip, when I realized how much I wanted to go back to Munich.

Inside the Hippodrome beer tent
We planned the trip around "Springfest", known as Frühlingsfest in German, which is the spring equivalent of Oktoberfest, but on a much smaller scale. I visited with my roommate, who hadn't yet visited Germany. I was so excited to show her a city that I had fallen in love with 4 years ago. We lucked out with the trip as well: we were able to escape the Parisian gloom and rain that has been plaguing the city for weeks in the hot, German sun. It was 75-80 degrees and sunny most of the weekend, and we soaked it up. We ate döner kebabs, potatoes, and lots of bratwurst. We also tasted a lot of different beers, as the city unites itself around this hoppy beverage.

Wheat beer at Schneider Weisse

One of the highlights of the trip was our beer & brewery tour. We visited Schneider Weisse first, a brewery based on wheat beers. It is no longer considered a "Munich" beer as their brewery is outside the city limits, and can no longer serve at Oktoberfest because of this, but is still a popular beer in Munich and is served at several restaurants, including their own. Munich is said to have the best beers in the world, partly due to having some of the purest water in the world which doesn't add to or change the flavor of the hops and wheat. The wheat beer was very good, and then we moved to Paulaner, a very popular beer in Munich. There we were able to visit their microbrewery (separate from their large brewery with brews tens of thousands of liters of beer per day) which only produces one to three thousand liters per week. We were able to see the beer-making process, taste the barley which is cooked at different temperatures and lengths of time for different flavors, smell the hops, and then taste three different Paulaner microbrews: a lager, wheat, and dark wheat beer. It was hard to pick a favorite, but the dark wheat was the most interesting. Then we got on the U-bahn and headed to Hofbräuhaus, the most famous beer hall in Germany. It is not only a social center, but holds historical significance as well as it has been used for many political speeches, most notably by Adolf Hitler. It is said that beer halls are used for these speeches as all classes of citizen are there from the lower to the upper. Additionally, research was done in the 1970s that people are more easily influenced when drinking alcoholic beverages (a surprising find, don't you think?)

Linderhof Castle

We also spent time at the Frühlingsfest carnival (described as 'cheap' by some Germans, but I felt like I was in the US for a few minutes so I didn't mind) riding the rides. Saturday we visited the Linderhof Palace, about an hour outside of the city. It was built by King Ludwig II who was obsessed with Versailles and the French court, so everything in the palace was styled in the same manner, and the only portraits in the palace are of French royalty, but no pictures of him or his family. On Sunday we visited Dachau, which I had visited in high school, but was still just as moving as the first time. Throughout the weekend we also spent some time at the Viktualienmarkt, a large market place near the town center with stands upon stands of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, bratwurst and beer. Its a great place to go to find a cheap brat or beer for lunch and sit under the trees among the locals. Our last day was spent walking through the Englischer Garten, an English style garden on the northeast side of the city. A river runs through it, the paths wander in and out of trees and grassy fields, everyone is reading a book or riding a bike, and of course in typical Munich fashion, there is a beer garden right in the middle by the Chinescher Turm, a large Chinese structure.

Meadow in Englischer Garten

I cannot express my love for Munich in simple type-written words. Even in person amid my emotional hand gestures, squealing tone of voice, wiggling in my seat and exclamations of joy at every memory, you probably still wouldn't understand just how deeply in love with this city I am. Its more than the buildings, the food, or the people. Its the way of life, a freshness in the air, a pulsing through my veins I felt when I stepped out of the train. This almost-high I had the entire trip is inexplicable. Munich is comfortable. It is welcoming and feels like home immediately. Before I left I was counting the days until my return. Until next time Munich, know you have my heart.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"we're in Paradise even if the weather's not!" [spring break, part 3 of 3]

Paradise Beach in Mykonos
After Santorini, we had a bumpy ride on a small boat to Mykonos. The sky was grey once again, but we were determined to make the best of it. We stayed at the Paradise Beach Resort, made up of many types of lodging and including a mini-mart, bar, club, and food stand. Of course, being that the weather wasn't too great and we arrived just before tourist season was starting, everything was closed except the mini-mart, gyro stand and pizza stand. Our first night everything at the resort closed early so we were forced to go into town to find dinner. Then we returned to our beach cabin, a very simple room with just two beds, a nightstand and a roof over our heads. It was cold so we ran to the reception desk for extra blankets and got some rest.

Little Venice, in Mykonos Town

The next day was equally grey and cold. We took the bus into town and were highly entertained with the Corona-sponsored public bus. We walked around town, found some cheap food, checked out some stores, found an internet cafe and then headed back to Paradise beach, set on going to the beach, rain or shine. We only had a few days there, and needed some fresh air. So we put on our unlikely beach outfits: yoga pants, running shoes, North Faces and blankets wrapped around us. It was chilly and windy but I pulled out a book and enjoyed the view, which was still beautiful despite the unfortunate weather. We grabbed some hot food from the gyro stand, took hot showers, and headed back to sleep for the night.

How to Enjoy the Beach in Bad Weather 101

The next day, the sun finally came out! It was windy on the beach, but otherwise very warm. We still needed boat tickets for Athens, and I still had postcards from Paris to send (I was a little behind and needed to get them out before the WSU semester was up and everyone moved home!) so we took the Corona bus to town, found a post office, travel agency and some cold beverages for an afternoon at the beach. Back at Paradise Beach we threw on our swimsuits, some SPF 15 and settled in at the beach with iPods, books and cookies. It was exactly the afternoon we had been looking forward too, and although we got chilly as the evening moved in, we toughed it out. Being a California girl in my bones, I'll do anything for a tan. Plus, I couldn't come back from Spring Break the same shade of pale ;) Two pizzas and a shower later we made our way back to the beach cabin for a final day of travel.

A real beach day

The following morning we sat on the beach for a few minutes during breakfast until we had to catch the resort shuttle back to the Mykonos Town port and go back to Athens for the end of our trip (which I talked about in part 1) Needless to say, the trip was very eventful, but we had so much fun and saw so many beautiful sights. The islands were extremely photogenic, and although we were disappointed by grungy Athens, we don't regret a minute of the trip. I think I took about 900 photos (no exaggeration!) during the week, so I think that speaks for itself.

The infamous Corona bus...keep it classy Myknonos

Sorry it took me so long to update you guys on this trip! I've been swamped with schoolwork and had another trip last weekend to Munich. Later this week I should be updating about that trip (probably my favorite of the semester). This week I have a final, a research paper due and two presentations, and I have just as much work for next week. Its impossible to believe I only have two and a half weeks left in Paris! I hate that I have so much work to do, all I want to do is soak up everything around me. Anyway, I think these last two weeks will give me a lot of blogging material: a few reviews of places I've been since I've been here, a day trip with my program to Giverny (where Monet's house and gardens are), and visiting all the places I haven't seen yet in the final stretch until I'm home bound. Its going to be a stressful few weeks but I'm ready!
Mykonos I have to leave?

Mykonos Town port

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"everybody in santorini knows tony!" [spring break part 2 of 3]

Oia, Santorini

After spending the first night of our break sleeping in dirty Athens, Sami and I boarded a Blue Star Ferries boat to Santorini. After a long, grey 8-hour ride, stopping in several ports along the way, we made it to Thira, Santorini where the sun tried to break through the thin grey clouds. Immediately spotting the "Tony's Villa" sign held by a dark Greek man, we walked over and introduced ourselves to the infamous Tony. An artist first, hostel owner second, everyone on the island knows Tony. He tapped shoulders, shook hands and rubbed cheeks with his beat up hands as we walked through the port landing toward his van. During a bumpy, honk-filled 20 minute drive through the island to Perissa, the town where we would be staying, Tony explained that he is known all over the island for his art and its his job to say hi to everyone he knows because of it. With our bags in our upgraded private room (three cheers for us!) we walked the 100 or so meters down to the famous black sand beaches of Perissa.

Knee deep in the water somewhere

It was chilly, but we were determined to enjoy the beauty and slipped right into island mentality as we slipped right out of our shoes, running into the waves. Immediately a larger wave came up, soaking the bottoms of my pants. We found a beach side restaurant, got a glass of wine and took a deep breath. Later we tried some calamari and real chicken gyros--delicious! Later we walked around town, found an empty bar with wifi, then to the local church.

Boardwalk on beach in Perissa 

It was Greek Orthodox Easter weekend, and apparently the Greeks celebrate with firecrackers and drinking. Saturday night everyone goes to church and at midnight the "fireworks" begin. Expecting a beautiful nighttime light display, we made our way down to a white-washed, blue-domed church. Unfortunately we were met with the sound of crashing bells and firecrackers. It was an interesting cultural experience though. The next morning we got a delicious breakfast (greek yogurt and french toast with honey for Sami, and a Mexican omelette for me) and attempted to lay on the beach (too windy to stay around).

Perissa church

In need of something to do, Sami and I hiked the "mountain" behind the town. This rocky man-made trail was a little rough, but every time we looked over our shoulder we had an incredible view of black sand, sparkling blue water, and white-washed buildings. When we reached the top, we had a view of a nearby town and another beautiful ocean view. The wind was really strong up there, so we found shelter behind a wall to eat a snack, and then carefully made our way down the mountain, seeing all sorts of lizards and bugs, and even hearing a rattlesnake. Upon our return to the town, we realized everything was closed in observance of Easter, so we slowly made our way to dinner at Ntomatini. It was the only place in town that had anything happening: a local band played traditional Greek music, women danced on tables, and everyone drank raki, another traditional Greek liquor. Raki has a general cinnamon flavor, and is pretty strong, but mixed with honey it becomes sweeter and a little easier to drink. Good thing too, because the waiters brought every table a tiny bottle on the house for everyone to enjoy. People must have been enjoying the raki: they were dancing everywhere they could, yelling with friends, and laughing loudly until very late. We stayed for hours just enjoying the scene, and tasting the local wines (the red tasted like olives, yuck!)

Halfway up our "mountain" hike

Easter dinner at Ntomatini, includes raki and dancing in the street.

Monday, our last day in Santorini, our main goal was to see the sunset in Oia. After some difficulties with the Greek ideas of punctuality, we finally found a bus to take us to Fira, the capital and most touristy town of Santorini. We walked around for about an hour, got our souvenirs, and hopped back on the bus to Oia. Oia is the town that is in nearly every photo used to attract tourists to Greece, and is a photographer's dream come true. Built into cliffs jutting out of the ocean, it is characterized by the typical white-washed buildings, steep stone stairs, wandering cobblestone paths, colorful doors, and the famous blue-domed church roof. Oia is one of the most famous cities in the world for sunset-watching, and Sami and I risked missing the bus in order to see the famed sunset. On top of a cliff sticking out from the town, among ancient ruins, we perched ourselves front and center for the best view. Unfortunately there was a cloud hanging just above the horizon, ruining the usual sun reflection on the water, but the colors in the sky, the orange-toned water and the sailboat floating created a picture-perfect scene. We returned to Perissa, and rested up for another day of travel, the next day we were headed to Mykonos!

Steep cliffs of Oia
Oia sunset

Monday, April 23, 2012

the beginning and the end: athens [spring break part 1 of 3]

So many olives, everywhere.
Last week was the CEA spring break, which meant I was headed to Greece. I was joined by one of my roommates, Sami, from Wisconsin, early Friday morning as we headed to Charles de Gaulle airport for what was about to be one hell of a week. I'm splitting my posts about Greece into three parts; first, because it makes it easier for me; second, because I can include more pictures; and third, because I don't want to make you guys scroll through endless paragraphs detailing the ins and outs of my trip. My eyes get tired looking at a computer screen too long too, and I want to give you guys a break.

Sami & I spent our first and last day in Athens. We were so excited when we first flew into Athens--we were finally in Greece, the only conversation topic in the apartment for weeks. After a long metro ride from the airport we surfaced in Monastiraki Square, in central Athens. Immediately we could tell we were not going to like the city too much: it was dirty, crowded and loud. Horns honked, men yelled, small children gathered around us asking for money, and the sidewalks were covered with dirt, trash, and other unidentifiable substances. After a long and confusing walk we arrived at our hostel, freshened up, and went searching for food.

Prosciutto, mozzerella and pesto sandwich at Rooster

The restaurant we found, Rooster, served us delicious bruschetta and sandwiches. Despite non-smoking signs on every table, the typical Europeans surrounding us filled the room with the stench of tobacco and nicotine. After noticing a somewhat unique crowd we realized that Rooster was, in fact, a gay bar. Eh, c'est la vie! After another rest and freshening up at the hostel, we walked around the surrounding city blocks in search of food for the next day's boat ride, some iced tea, and dinner. We ate some lamb gyros in Monastiraki, ducked into Starbucks for a break from the dirt, and made our way toward Brettos.

Brettos is a 100+ year old bar in a somewhat cuter part of the city (then again, it was night, so maybe the darkness masked the grime). They distill their own brandy in the bar, and the walls are covered with every flavor liqueur imaginable. The place had a very cool vibe, so we pulled up a stool and ordered the Greek classic: ouzo. I have to say, ouzo is pretty gross. It tastes like black licorice and is very strong. We drank what we could of it, and then ordered a glass of wine. A delicious Peloponnese Syrah is exactly what I needed to wash the flavor out.

The next morning we left our hostel early, bid farewell to our Chinese roommate and hopped on a Blue Star Ferries boat to Santorini. Fast forward to the next Friday...

After a long ferry ride from Mykonos we arrived back in Athens. Our economy tickets allowed us a seat outside on the deck or inside around one of the cafes or restaurants. We chose the deck, because of the beautiful weather, but we did hit some grey patches where the forceful winds blew salty sea spray all over me and everything I owned. I hid my nose in My Life in France by Julia Child and dreamed of being back in Paris...

The Acropolis

Upon our return to Athens we found some dinner, a place for a good drink and then rested up for the following day. After checking out of our hostel, we made the trek up to the Acropolis. In my opinion, this is the only reason to go to Athens. After just two full days in the city, I found very few redeeming qualities about it, unless one is interested in Greek history. As someone who repeatedly fell asleep on her freshman year history book (hey, I love history, but the Greeks and Romans were a little too far from my mind's grasp), I looked at the ancient structures, was impressed by the plethora of pristine marble, took some photos, and made my way back to the airport, and thus back to Paris. It feels so fabulous to be back.

Later today I'll update again with a post on Santorini and Mykonos islands, where the true Greek beauty is!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

under the spanish sun

Puerta del Sol

This past weekend was Easter weekend. Easter has always been an important day for me, as a Christian, but I celebrated a little differently this year. Instead of Sunday morning service at Gold Creek (or watching online from a dorm room in Pullman) I visited Madrid. I will admit this is not the most conventional way to spend the holiday, and while I felt bad about missing church, I knew that I had to take advantage of the 3-day weekend that the French have for Easter weekend. After all, aside from praising the Lord, one must take advantage of the opportunities He has given us as well.

Well, this isn't a religious post, it is a travel post, so let's get into it. We flew in early Friday morning and found our way through the city's very clean metro to meet our friend at her hotel. We then found a hostel, checked in, and set out to explore the city. As it was my 21st birthday on Friday and my friend was starving, we stopped in a small restaurant where she got herself a late lunch and ordered a bottle of wine for the four of us to enjoy. It was a delicious Spanish merlot, and such a treat. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Puerta del Sol, a large square that marks the center of Madrid, as well as the center of Spain. On our way back to the hostel we caught a glimpse of the Easter parade, but the streets were very crowded and the parade was slow, so we kept walking

Saturday morning we got ourselves a large delicious breakfast of thick-cut toast, fried eggs, bacon (unfortunately European bacon is just sliced, fried ham, and I am still craving the American sort) and fries (the Europeans love their french fries!). After a hot cup of black tea I was ready to hit the city. Unfortunately it was chilly, so we tried to keep inside. We spent the early part of the afternoon at Museo Thyssen, in a temporary Chagall exhibit. As a fan of Chagall's very unique and colorful work, it was a treat to see such a large collection for just a few euros to escape from the rain. After, we spent time in souvenir shops, eating some Spanish pastries and shopping. Everything was much less expensive in Madrid, especially compared to Paris, making eating and shopping a much less stressful experience. That night we went to a popular tapas bar, El Tigre, for dinner. Tapas were originally a Madrid bartender invention to keep flies out of drinks, and developed into an essential part of the city's culture. At a tapas bar with any order of a drink, it comes with food, the tapas. Depending on where you go, this is anything from small finger sandwiches, to raciones, the full-meal sized portions. With our order we got a large plate of patatas bravas and two plates of a bruschetta-like dish of sliced bread with thick slices of ham and melted cheese over them. The potatoes were one of the most delicious things I've ever had!

Sunday we slept in, as we had a late night the day before. We checked out of our hostel at noon, and got a traditional Spanish lunch at a restaurant near the center of the city. The weather was incredible: bright sun, clear skies and warm temperatures. Because food was so cheap, we decided to treat ourselves a bit: a friend and I split a plate of paella (Spanish rice, usually with shrimp, but ours had clams, chicken and peas) and another plate of fried calamari. We strolled through the streets toward Puerta del Sol, grabbed ice cream cones and soaked up some sun by a fountain watching the street performers. The square was full of people dressed up in character costumes: Spongebob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, and at least 4 Mickey Mouses. There was also a man painted all in silver dressed as Jesus: cross, sheep, crown of thorns, the whole thing. After a few laughs a few of us bought postcards and took the metro to the beautiful Parque del Retiro, a large park with a pond, fountains, lots of trees and grass and a beautiful glass building called the Palacio de Cristal. We spent the rest of the evening resting up for a long night at the airport. Our flight was too early to take the metro to the airport so we hung out overnight, tired and delirious from being so tired. We finally made it back to Paris at noon on Monday.

I will be posting soon with a few more updates: some cool places in Paris & my spring break travel plans! Click here for a few photos from Madrid! Adios amigos :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

when katie comes to town, we live like queens

Hall of Mirrors in the Chateau de Versailles

This weekend Katie visited me to kick off her spring break. She is currently studying in Milan, and this was her first time in Paris! We had a wonderful time hitting up the usual sites: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower at night, the Louvre Museum, Shakespeare & Co., Pompidou Center and the Tuilleries. It was a whirlwind tour, but she loved the city.

The highlight of the weekend, however, was visiting Versailles. This is a place that has been the top of my "To Visit" list for over a year, since I first saw the film Marie Antoinette. I remember watching the movie with such amazement that such a beautiful place and lavish lifestyle could exist, wondering how it had taken me so long to watch the film. This film was part of what inspired me to come to Paris to study. While I had already decided to take French as my language in school and was already interested in French culture and history, I was determined to see this place for myself after seeing the film. Seeing the chateau, gardens, and Marie Antoinette's Hamlet was an incredible experience, and a reminder of why I came here to begin with.

I wish I could tell you all every detail of my visit, however that would be dull for you, and time-consuming for me. Instead, I will leave it at this: Versailles was better than I had anticipated, and easily tied with Cinque Terre, Italy and Gimmelwald, Switzerland as the best place I've ever been. It was absolutely beautiful and I cannot wait to go back again in May and spend even more time there (I didn't even get to see all the gardens!)

Katie and I ended our weekend with some American flair: cheeseburgers at the Hard Rock Cafe. Guys, I'm talking cheddar cheese and bacon and the perfect french fries and milkshake. It was positively American, albeit overpriced, and left us completely satisfied as far as our State-side cravings were concerned. Afterward we went to a popular cafe on Rue Oberkampf, which is near my apartment, so Katie could buy me an early birthday drink: a mojito, of course. It was one of the best I've had, but maybe that's because someone else paid for it.

The weekend was fabulous, and I feel so blessed that I have a friend in Europe that I've been able to see twice. My friends from my program have families visiting, and since mine can't, its nice to have someone from home. I don't know how I'd get through the semester without a familiar, smiling face, that knows me so well.

Katie and I on the steps of the Chateau de Versailles

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

a day at the opera

Each Thursday morning, my professor for my History of Paris: An Architectural Perspective course, takes us to a different site in Paris for lecture. Moving chronologically throughout the semester, she uses the buildings and evolving architectural styles throughout Paris to teach us the fascinating, and often complicated, history of this city. One of the reasons I love this class is that I get to cross sites in Paris off my list without any extra effort or time: a free, guided tour built right into class time, what could be better?

This past Thursday this class helped me discover my favorite building in Paris: the Opéra Garnier. Also known as the Palais Garnier (Garnier Palace), it is named for its architect, Charles Garnier, who built the structure in two parts from 1861 to 1875. It is famous for many reasons, one of them being that the famous Phantom of the Opera is set in the building. The architecture at the time of its construction, was unlike anything that had been in Paris before: colored marble on the outside contrasted with the white-only facades of other structures in the city and elaborate designs throughout stood out against the simplicity of the apartment houses surrounding it.

The inside auditorium is much smaller than most European opera houses, however the stage remains the largest in Europe. This theater was built originally for the emperor of the Second Empire, Napolean III, who died before its completion. At the time, the opera house's primary purpose was for the upper classes to show themselves, rather than for theater performances. Of course, performances still occurred frequently, and the large road leading up to the building, as well as two major stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafeyettes, aided the rich in preparing to show themselves at this exclusive building. One could not simply enter the opera house: a person must have a good deal of money and social standing just to get in the building. A side rehearsal stage, which could be closed off, was used for men to choose mistresses from a group of performers, and until the queen of Spain showed up and entered on her own, women were not allowed inside without a male escort.

Today, the building remains one of the most elaborate and, in my opinion, beautiful buildings in Paris. I am lucky that my class took me there, as a guided tour costs a few euros. Currently, my Flickr is under a little rearranging (I'm only allowed 200 photos without upgrading to a Pro account, so I need to delete some which takes some time), but for those of you who are Facebook friends with me, you can see the rest of my photos in my Paris album.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"this is perfect chateau weather"

Chateau Chenonceau

This past weekend our program took us for two days to Loire Valley. Only a few hours southwest from the small quarters and noise of Paris lies the large grassy fields, vast vineyards, and stunning chateaus that the Loire Valley is famous for. I can say that, without a doubt, I am fully in love with this part of France. Years ago on my high school journey to France, we visited the Dordogne region, in the south of France just east of Bordeaux. At the time I didn't fully appreciate what I was seeing there: my trip was fast-moving and I was seeing plenty of beautiful landscapes through train windows and had just come from the mountains of Switzerland. It was hard to realize that what I was seeing was special, it was France. Going to the Loire Valley from the bustling city of Paris I was able to fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of the French countryside. Staring out the windows on countless long bus rides might have been my favorite part of the trip.

On our first day we stopped in the town of Amboise where we saw the place where Leonardo di Vinci's remains lay, then made our way to the romantic Chateau Chenonceau placed carefully over the water. We got ice cream, sat by a fountain, and ran through the tiny labyrinth on the grounds. Our hotel was a small converted chateau and horse stables. That night we ate in a cave. Yes, a cave. Poor French in the valley used to excavate the sides of rocky hills to make homes for themselves, and this restaurant enlarged one of these old homes and now runs a top-notch restaurant and serves their own wine.

The next day we started our day at Chateau Nitray, owned by a count (yes, a count...the surprises in this place just don't stop) who runs a family winery and uses the grounds for chateau tours and events such as weddings. After meeting the whole family, seeing the house, and playing with the dog, we had a wine tasting. Originally he had just four wines for us to try: two reds, a white, and a sparkling wine. Somehow he bumped into a 1989 chenin and thought, what the hell, why not let these kids try it. And we did. Personally I was not a fan of the two whites, one of the reds was a little too dry but the sparkling and the second red were fabulous. I bought a bottle of the red I liked to bring back with me to Paris. Maybe I'll share with Katie this weekend. Later in the day we made our way to Chateau Chambord, one of the largest in the Loire Valley. The "hunting lodge" contains 440 rooms. I suppose it was built for a king. This really was the most stunning of them all with beautiful details.

The weekend was just what I needed to ease my mind: clean air, an abundance of green grass and quiet. It is a place I would not even hesitate to return to. But for now, I must work on a paper, and prepare for Katie's visit to Paris this weekend. She is in for a real treat this weekend on her first visit to Paris :) Until next time, à la prochaine!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

a book and some sun


Life in Paris is becoming brighter, quite literally! The sun has come out, and hopefully its here to stay. Paris is called The City of Light due to the way it looks in the sun, after all. I can say that a grey Paris is a pretty Paris, and Paris at night is my favorite time, but when the sun comes out the city is truly magical. Due to this new discovery (sunshine! blue skies! warmth!) I have taken to the National Archives, located just across from my school. The courtyard's benches invite me to take a seat and relax, and the walls let me forget that beyond them are cars, dirt and millions of people. It is a peaceful place to bring out my Nook, and enjoy a book while I eat my lunch between my classes.

we got a cheap flight to the most expensive city in the world

I just got back from Zurich. What a weekend.

Our flight was short (and cheap), but what we didn't know is that Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world. While Paris is high up on the list as well, the difference became apparent with food options. Admittedly, Paris is very expensive: food, drinks, real estate, transportation, you name it. The difference comes in food options: Paris has a variety of street food options, hole in the wall Greek and Turkish sandwich shops, and bakeries with sandwiches, quiche, bread and pastries for less than €5; Zurich, on the other hand, has none of this. Food is expensive everywhere, cheap food options don't exist, anywhere. This was frustrating for a group of college girls looking for cheap, authentic eats. We had to sacrifice a few extra dollars for some good grub, instead, but it was worth it! Between the real bratwurst and potato salad, and the incredible pesto spaghetti at Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant, we made sure we got a lot of bang for all of our bucks.

The people we stayed with were a lot of fun, as was our Saturday night adventures for St. Patrick's Day. While some stories stay just between us girls, I can say this much: we got some good laughs about some rather coincidental situations a few times. I visited the city with two of my roommates and another friend from the program, and they were great travel companions: not in too much of a rush, ready to try new food, and always willing to stop when taking a photo. the people of Zurich were extremely nice too. On our last afternoon, at the top of a large hill overlooking the city, my camera died! I was pretty distraught about it (if you know me well enough, you know that my camera is my baby and I'm lost without it), but by a stroke of luck (and one of those coincidences I mentioned before) a man had the same camera as me, and allowed me to borrow his battery for a few minutes. "I don't want you to miss out on these pictures," he told me with a smile as he handed it over. I couldn't be more thankful, and now I have fabulous photos from the top of Zurich! Well, despite the grey, foggy weather.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

a fairytale castle

Photo Cred: Isabel; picnic at Rambouillet

Last weekend our program took us on a short day trip to a nearby town: Rambouillet. A small, picturesque French town, it is known for Chateau Rambouillet, a castle that looks straight out of a fairy tale, with large grassy, tree-covered grounds. We first stopped at an open-air market in town to get cheese, bread, meat, fruit and sweets for lunch. Then the group reconvened walked around the grounds and found a place across the pond with a beautiful view of the castle. After a fun outdoor lunch, we walked around the town, and fully exhausted hopped on an afternoon train to nap back in Paris. For more Rambouillet photos click here for my Flickr, or check Facebook.

View of the castle from our picnic spot

These last few weeks in Paris have been a lot of fun. My friends and I continue to find new places around town to hang out, grab a drink, and especially eat. We recently found the best crepe place around the 5th arrondissement, a nearby frozen yogurt stop (where the 'petite' froyo looked more like a large!), and Student Bar, expensive at night, but a €4.50 happy hour that is hard to beat for an after class break to catch up with friends who live all over town. Life here has been pretty laid-back lately, but I'll be catching up on cultural things here soon. I needed to take a break from landmarks for a while, as there are so many here, but I'm feeling reenergized to get back out and explore the Louvre, Orsay, and other noteworthy spots around the city. This will also mean more blog posts!

For now, though, I must get some rest for my trip to Zurich, Switzerland this weekend! Bonne nuit mes amis!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

high fashion

This past week one of the biggest events of the year took place just minutes from my apartment: Paris Fashion Week! I was gone over the weekend when some of the big shows happened, and others were in the morning during my classes, but on Wednesday I skipped my first class this semester to stalk the Elie Saab show. While we didn't see any legitimate celebrities, or get into any shows, it was still an experience that I am so glad I had. The best part of the week was the Alexander McQueen showroom which happened to be on my walk to class. The doors were opened so only a sheet of glass separated me from dozens of models walking around in some of the most beautiful dresses, by one of the most cutting-edge designers out there. Look here and here for a few shots I took outside the Elie Saab show! And for a look at what was under the big white tent look here, his designs are simply stunning.


I apologize for my long disappearance, readers, I have been quite lazy about updating this blog. Here we go again with multiple updates as I attempt to catch up with myself.

Last weekend, I spent 2 nights in Milan, Italy to visit my best friend, Katie. After a 4-hour flight delay, I finally made it in Friday evening and hurried onto the metro from Milano Stazione Centrale to throw my bag on her living room floor then rush around the corner for a reminder of the perfection of real Italian pizza. After basically inhaling an entire four-cheese pizza, Katie brought me to a less-Italian spot: a nearby Irish pub to try a new favorite beverage of hers, pear cider. We talked over a glass and then walked around the surrounding area, finally stopping at a corner restaurant for a glass of Italian wine. The next morning we stopped at California Bakery for an American breakfast: large mugs of coffee and tea, pancakes, and french toast. Then we were off for a whirlwind tour of Milan. Beginning with the Duomo, we made our way past the opera house, through the designer stores, and around the castle, where Michelangelo's last unfinished statue stands. In between it all we had only eaten gelato (no complaints) so after a stroll through one of Milan's parks, we went to a bar for a Milan specialty: aperitivo. In Italy, bars and restaurants are required to have free snacks with drinks, and Milan takes it one step further. When buying a drink during aperitivo, usually during the average happy hour time, there is an entire buffet of freshly made Italian food. Dinner and a drink for €8? Count me in.

After a relaxing evening at her apartment catching up, we slept in and took the train to Bergamo, a small hillside town from which I would be flying out later that evening. We ate too much focaccia pizza and gelato, stopped at a cute cafe, then said our goodbyes. It was a fabulous weekend, and so wonderful to have a little piece of home after over a month away.

For more Italian photos click here!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

the most photogenic food

Yesterday we treated ourselves and went to Ladurée for the famous French treat: macarons. I had waited until I could go to Ladurée to try them, as Ladurée is the best known tea room in the world for their macarons, and I wanted to have the best for my first time. It was worth the wait, they were delicious, as was the tea I had and my friend's hot chocolate. It was quite the luxurious afternoon as we spent at least an hour at the restaurant and then window-shopped some of the most expensive stores in the world: Chanel, Valentino and Hermès, among others. It was a wonderful little afternoon ♥

the tower and the needle

Studying abroad, or any foreign experience for that matter, is said to be a time of self-realization and reflection. It is a time to learn more than what can be learned in a classroom. Lately, my reflections have been about home. This seems unlikely; I should be thinking about what is here and around me, however the things I love about Paris keep reminding me of the things I adore about home, namely Seattle.

I will be the first to admit that Seattle, technically, is not my home. I was born in Southern California, raised in Bothell, grew up in Snohomish, and go to school in Pullman. Of these "homes", Snohomish and Pullman are my true homes: here is where I find my family, my friends, my favorite memories, the restaurants I love, and the streets that I drive. However, I have found that most people have a city that by geographical default they find themselves connected to. In Northern California this is often San Francisco, on the east coast it may be Boston, or for those further north, New York. In the midwest people call back to Chicago or Madison. Naturally, in the Pacific Northwest, the city 25 minutes south by I-5 is home: Seattle. The Emerald City, if you will.

And what a beautiful place it is. Don't get me wrong, I love Paris. The history, the beauty, the culture and the food, is all exquisite. I cannot think of many cities that could rival what Paris has to offer, which quite frankly, is everything. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the things I love about Paris have highlighted the things I love about Seattle. The tiny cups of espresso on sidewalk cafe tables call back visions of large, white paper cups warming hands each morning; the even and elaborately-designed buildings send my mind to bunches of evergreens peeking over houses' rooftops; dozens of bridges over the calm Seine bring the sound of rushing rivers from the dark grey mountains lining every horizon; the finely-dressed people make my heart yearn for flannel, Vans sneakers and crew-neck sweatshirts; the people's eyes staring straight ahead with a such a strong sense of purpose splashed across the surrounding face spark wishes for the laid-back, friendly vibe of a smile and a hug, when the response to the question "What should we do today?" is just not that important. We'll figure it out as we go.

I cannot compare the two places, it would be impossible. I cannot call one better than the other, it just wouldn't be fair. The beauty of each city is so unique and its culture so different I would be moving backwards in my quest toward cultural competence if I made any judgments whatsoever. All I know is when I see the Eiffel Tower, I have the Space Needle in the back of my mind. What I know is that while falling in love with one city, I'm rediscovering my fondness for another.

It just might be the most beautiful experience I have ever had.

Monday, February 13, 2012

don't forget your scarf, and other lessons

Friends, I would like to inform you all that while you dream magical little Parisian dreams that it is not exactly paradise. A few lessons I have learned recently:
  1. Even the most beautiful places in the world have cold spells, and Paris is one of those places. For the past week and a half I have not left my apartment without wool socks and a scarf around my face, it is freeeezing!
  2. Walking down the sidewalk is an adventure and not because of the fabulous window shopping: dog poop is not picked up here and hopping around it is a skill that must be perfected.
  3. While studying abroad in Paris, one must not forget to study. This one is self-explanatory. As was my incomplete French assignment last week.
  4. Expect the unexpected. In other words, when entering an old prison museum to see Marie Antoinette's cell, expect to be greeted by a strange, animal-themed modern art exhibit.
I have finally begun checking things off the list of touristy Parisian destinations: Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Eiffel Tower (1, 2), Pont Neuf, La Conciergerie, and Les Invalides (Napoleon's Tomb) to name a few. The weather this past weekend was beautiful and sunny, perfect for these events. I also found one of the famous love lock bridges. It is such a romantic place, I would love to return someday with my own special someone to place a lock on the bridge.

My most exciting piece of news: I'm going to Greece for spring break! My roommate & I are planning a trip to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini. I couldn't be more excited! There is lots more travel planning to come as well: Bordeaux, Normandy, and possibly Germany or Spain. I'll keep you all updated. Until then, au revoir!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

beer, fries, chocolate, and waffles

This can only mean one place: Belgium. Last weekend our program took us to Brugge, Belgium for our mystery trip. I was so excited to return to one of my favorite cities. I was in Brugge for 3 or 4 days in 2008 when I traveled to Europe with my high school, and it was impossible not to fall in love with the cute buildings, the winding canals and delicious food.

I am convinced Brugge was made for cold days, as all their famous foods warm you up from the inside out and the canals are more charming when frozen. Our program directors set up a 3-course lunch at De Halve Maan (the Half Moon) brewery to warm us up complete with a delicious beer. I spent the afternoon revisiting my favorite fry stand, winding through a beer festival for a bottle of the famous Delirium brew (known by its logo: a pink elephant), stepping into shops for chocolates and a souvenir, and a last stop in a tea room for Belgian waffles and hot blue grey tea.

Despite train problems due to weather, the trip was a fabulous surprise! Another post coming tomorrow about ma vie Parisienne!

P.S. the links throughout will take you to my Flickr for photos!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ma vie à Paris

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Hello, all! I'm going to be doing a slightly different format for my posts from now on. I will definitely be posting once or twice a week, but I will be including fewer photos with each post. Most posts will probably only have one or two photos, the reason being that the internet here in the apartment is generally very slow. My roommates & I are all on in the evenings which doesn't help the case, and uploading my photos takes a lot of time away from me, and bandwidth away from my roomies. I will however work on updating my Flickr by next week and will provide a link in each post for that so you can see some more photos, and those of you who are Facebook friends with me can see all my photos there! (If we're not Facebook friends, and we've talked before, go ahead and add me!)

A quick update on what I've been up to: honestly, not a whole lot. Last weekend was grey and gloomy making sight-seeing feel unappealing. I want to see the Tour Eiffel in sunlight (or maybe covered in snow, as the forecast predicts?) not under a cloudy sky. I've mostly been trying to settle into my life here. Daily concerns of mine have included what yogurt to buy at the grocery store (still a mystery), which boulanger to buy my baguettes at (the pink one on the corner of Oberkampf of course), and figuring out that damn alarm on the iPod that has the wrong time zone settings (way too many menus to sort through). Also, just in time for my first classes, I have a cold :( All is well though, I'd rather be sick now and get it over with, than later when my life here has picked up and feels settled.

My one sight-seeing opportunity recently has been to the Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre district of Paris. This basilica up on the hill overlooks the city and is quite an impressive structure. No pictures could be taken inside but I found the outside more beautiful, and the view was incredible although it was a little foggy (of course the sun would go away by the time I climbed all those steps). Montmartre has a lot of cool shops as well that were fun to peak inside. It is definitely a neighborhood I'd love to explore again.

I'll write again at the end of the week to talk about my classes, and a few other details of life in Paris. On Saturday our program has a mystery tour, all we are told is to bring our passport! Our guess is they'll be taking us to Belgium or Germany, and its probably going to be a smaller town. Either way, it should be really fun, I'll be excited to see more of Europe outside Paris!

Au revoir mes amis!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Don't I have a beautiful voice? Its all I've got."

Oh the last few days have been quite the whirlwind. I'm not quite sure where to start, so I'll pick up where I left off, but keep it as brief as possible, I know the details are dull to others so bear with me.

Yesterday we got up for another day of orientation. Bethany, one of my roommates, and I walked to campus together, unfortunately getting slightly lost, but still mostly on time. During a long break I sat and talked to a few of the guys on our trip (there aren't many) and was surprised to find out that they're definitive "frat guys". Entertaining, at best. I had lunch with a bunch of really great girls who live at Cite Universitaire, a residence hall across the city, at this great corner cafe. After a dull housing session, we all returned home. Later in the evening Bethany & I visited Cite to hang out with the girls that live there. We just hung out and talked but it was cool to see the residence hall they live in (the outside is gorgeous) and see another side of town.

Today was the last day of orientation. CEA bought us all sandwiches from a bakery which we took to the National Archives courtyard across the street to eat. The National Archives buildings are so pretty, I feel so lucky that I could have lunch there every day if I wished!

After some good conversation with a girl in the program who goes to WSU (Go Cougs!) we all boarded a tour bus to see the city. Our bus driver was hilarious, making fun of herself, her accent and pointing out all her favorite spots. Of course, I'll have to go back and really see everything, but it was great to finally see the sights after having been here a few days without a glimpse of the major monuments. We saw Notre Dame, the Seine River, Napolean's tomb, Champs-Elysees, the Eiffel Tower, the Sorbonne and University of Paris, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Montparnasse, and probably a dozen other things I cannot remember. I snapped a few shots from the windows (most of which are on Facebook) but cannot wait to go back to take more!

After being here for a few days without really seeing the definitive Parisian landmarks, it finally hit me today where I am and what I get to experience for the next four months. Being thrown into a place so big like this, its hard to really get the big picture of what is going on until its literally shoved in my face. Driving through the city today, seeing the major monuments, that is when it finally hit me. Someone took the wheel (literally) and said, "Here. This is where you are. Do you get it now? Good." I am so grateful and blessed to be here, I really couldn't ask for more!

On a less cultural, but equally historic note, I had my first legal drink tonight! My final roommate, Sami, moved in for good today now that her family has left and we were ready to go do something. We weren't sure what was around so we stumbled into a small restaurant/bar and each grabbed a drink while talking and getting to know one another. I think we'll get along really well, and the mojito was delish!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Here comes the rain...

Today, it rained.

After waking up at 6 am, due to my good friend Jetlag, I got ready to head to our first day of orientation. My roommates and I decided to walk to campus, only 30 minutes away from our apartment. It was sunny this morning, and not too cold, and I think this will probably be how I get to campus for class most days: the walk is beautiful, its a good bit of exercise, and as long as the weather is nice it is a lot less trouble than the crowded Metro.

Our first day of orientation consisted of about an hour and a half of lecture, introducing the staff, and telling us some more general info about the program. Then we split up into 2 groups (there are about 65 of us total) and my group headed to lunch at Nectarine, a small restaurant at Place des Vosges. The lunch was pre-ordered (and prepaid!) for us by our directors: a delicious cheese & vegetable quiche and a salad. I meant to take photos of Place des Vosges, but as I pulled out my camera I realized I left my memory card in my computer. It is located in the Marais District, and is a planned square made up of a park about the size of a city block in the center, bordered by a road, and then lined by one long connecting building around the edge, with one street exiting. The architecture is beautiful, the pinkish-red brick standing out against the sea of white and grey throughout the city. Being winter, the trees were bare and the fountain was turned off, but if you click here, you can see the square in full bloom.

After lunch we began our tour, which was accompanied by rain. It was cut short but we managed to briefly see l'Hôtel de Sully, the surprisingly large BHV department store (we all desperately needed new pillows), l'Hôtel de Ville, and rue des Rosiers, the street central to a large Jewish community in Paris, notable because it is one of the only places where nearly all the businesses are open on Sunday (as opposed to the Christian traditions of businesses being closed Sundays throughout Europe). I will have to return to all of these places in the future to take photos, of course.

I did, however, buy my metro pass today! One of my roommates and I used the metro to get back to the apartment rather than walk through the rain, and it was successful. It really is so easy to navigate. The pass seems pricey but when loaded for a week or a month you get unlimited rides. I'll definitely take advantage of that one weekends to scope out the city.

My very parisienne dinner: une baguette avec brie & saucisson sec

Night view from my apartment