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!