Monday, June 27, 2011

Memory Loss and Sundress days

It has been such a long two days, so much so that I am forgetting most of what we have been doing (Taylor and me). Sunday was a little bit of a slow start after a long, fun night at Eiffel. Every Sunday, Rue Raspail has a market that goes for 3 or 4 blocks in the road median. Vendors that are selling fruits, vegetables, honey, meat, fish, cheese, bread, scarves, African masks, jewelry.. just about everything lined the open air market. After seeing the onion-cheese hashbrowns being made in front of us, we had to try! Eating our way down the rows, we scouted what to try next. I found a zucchini quiche that they warmed for me and Taylor got a cafe eclair. Yum! Everything in Paris involves the food. We then took the Metro to visit the Louvre (finally). The hallways were so large and maze-like, and the walls were stacked with paintings from floor to ceiling. After barreling over masses of tourists, we finally managed to grab a picture with Mona. It was insane the amounts of people that were pushing themselves toward the velvet ropes in order to get close. After hallways of sculptures and paintings and artifacts, we finally managed to find our way out of the gigantic museum. Our last stop of the day was the Jewish district for a Sunday falafel. I never noticed this, but the place I always go, the "world famous" one, is recommended by Lenny Kravitz. Hmm, guess it must be legit then. There is even a photo of him with the restaurant owners son. Eating our falafel, we headed past the Bastille area to Gare de Lyon, where Taylor is staying. I hopped a metro, and called it a day. It was one of the warmer days in Paris and involved a TON of walking.

Today was the second to last day of class! Almost done! After class, I bought two more camera memory cards since I have managed to fill both of them, and traveled to meet Taylor at the Opera. While waiting in the lobby, I spotted a girl wearing a Braves t-shirt. Of course I had to say something, and found out they were students from Georgia College & State. Taylor found her way, as usual, and we headed in. The house was completely decorated in gold and ornate designs. The amount of marble work used was phenomenal, and the view of the city was unlike any I had yet to see from above. As we were leaving, there was a small dance performance that was occurring right in the main stairwell. What a treat, and good timing on our part! We then walked to the Eglise de la Madeleine, where inside I saw the first kneeling benches in any of the French Catholic churches, which looked like a child's chair facing the normal ones. We then HAD to stop at Laduree, again the famous macaroon store. I ordered coconut, licorice, and orange blossom mini macaroons. The coconut and orange blossom were amazing, while the licorice didn't really seem quite right on the taste. I love black licorice too, even though everyone else on the trip seems to hate it.

After a little shopping at Sephora and H&M, I had to leave Taylor and quickly head back to St.John's to get ready for our group farewell dinner that was right next to the Arc de Triomphe on Champs Elysees. We all left to get to Chez Clement, one of the most beautiful and tasty restaurants I have been to in Paris. They had copper cookware as decor and "C"s woven on every place mat and printed on all of the china. Of course, I instantly loved the place thanks to their recognition of my favorite letter. I ordered the Salade côté jardin (Garden Salad), Travers de porc au miel et frites (Pork ribs with honey and fries), and finally, the best part of dinner, Crème brûlée à la cassonade (homemade creme brulee with brown sugar). Bellies full, our group left to grab pictures in front of the Arc de Triomphe then get back on the metro. The metro was hot, and I had already decided that I was going to take my 3rd shower of the day. It is 90+ degrees in Paris right now, and I am not one that does well with the heat. But the best part of the hot and humid ride was the man who jumped on our train and started singing via a karaoke machine to all of us. I can't believe I am going to leave this city in 2 days...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

We in The Red Light District!

Well, the Red Light District of Paris that is. Taylor and I visited the 18th district yesterday, known as Montmartre and home to struggling artists, the Moulin Rouge, the hills of Paris, and one of the most beautiful views of the top of the city. I started my day a little earlier than usual though. With training for the marathon, I had to get my long run of the week in. It included 7 miles of nothing but beautiful scenery that you can only imagine. Gardens, Notre Dame, cobblestone paths, the River Seine, and a handful of homeless. It was one of the longer runs I have taken here, but it didn't feel awful since I got to do a little more exploration around the city in the morning. This is also the time where other people are working out, which was different to see since Paris has seemed to me a place where people don't really focus on getting their sweat on. Then again, the city has completely changed within the past week. The amount of American voices I know hear has skyrocketed, and one of my French friends even told me "Paris in the summer is not my city". Tourist season has arrived.

Off to Montmartre we went and as we came out of the Abbesses metro stop, a huge group was marching through the area, playing whatever instrument they were carrying. It was a wake-up and change from the normally quiet streets have grown accustomed to. Seeing a marching band is not quite the norm. We then hiked up a cobblestone hill to arrive where the artists were all posted around outdoor cafes, doing original works or even portraits of those who want a painting of themselves in their home. Not quite my style. Taylor and I circled around, looking for something to purchase. We ended up making a loop and arriving back where we had started. They were small paintings, but so beautiful. The artist's name was Christine I later found out, so I knew that my purchase had been the right decision. My work had a scene of the Paris landscape against a blue background, including the Sacre Coure and the Eiffel Tower. She used a pearlized paint in some areas, making the scene look glowing. Taylor purchased one of the Moulin Rouge, with the famous red windmill standing out in the center of the painting.

We then headed to Sacre Coure, with the most beautiful view overlooking the city. There were street performers and men dressed as statues and bronze sculptures thanks to how touristy the area is. We also found the next John Mayer sitting outside with flocks of women seated on the grassy areas around him. After wandering through some of the streets in the area, we just happened to find a famous cabaret house called Au Lapin Agile and a well known pink cafe with green shutters called La Maison Rose. We decided that it would be good to get directions to our next stop, the Dali Museum. When you walk in there are black walls with sketches, paintings, and other mediums used hanging in clusters by the series. These included Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, and Alice in Wonderland. There were also the iconic melting clock figures scattered throughout the museum. The museum was small, and I think more of his well known work is located in other exhibits, so if you are looking for these pieces, this museum will not be what you are expecting.

After a burger and fries near the artist market, it was off to find the Moulin Rouge. Walking through the area towards it was an experience in itself. There were porn stores and sex shops fitted into ever square inch of the stretch of buildings. Men were lining the sidewalks, and even not knowing French, you could tell they were staring a little too much and talking about who knows what to women passing by. After some uncomfortable moments, we finally found it. There were police standing in the area where people were taking photos of the famous cabaret, and I was so relieved to see them watching over all the Paris foreigners, including us. The weather finally started to seem darker, so Taylor and I both headed home until I figured out what would happen that night.

It turned out to be a relaxing Saturday night in one of the most famous spots in the world. We grabbed our bottles of wine from Carrefour and started walking towards the Eiffel Tower. Pretty much all of the girls that were still in town met at the landmark. We had blankets spread and got to enjoy watching the sun set behind the structure. After good conversation, some Bordeaux Rose wine, and passing around the licorice, the light show began. I don't think I could ever get bored of watching the Eiffel tower twinkling in the night, surrounded by people appreciating the same thing, and hearing music being played on guitars by those around. It was a perfect way to end my last weekend in Paris.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Taylor in town jour un

Finally Taylor made it to Paris and my days of being just a tourist have resumed. Fortunately, I'm a tourist who has gotten to know the city (somewhat), which makes everything a whole lot easier. Taylor arrived last night and she was able to find her way to Moose bar, a Canadian bar right behind Rue de St.Germain that many people still in town for the weekend had decided to go to. The girls on my Paris trip had met a group of Maryland boys (shout out to Ceebs- "Go Terps!") while in Nice, and they were passing through Paris. We all met at the bar with a Texas-born bartender, and were well into a game of thumper when Taylor found her way there. She has actually been to Paris before, and new a great deal about the city, which helped her manage her way around. The night turned into one that made our sides sore from laughing, and ended with me walking the streets of Paris back home. I had a great deal planned for Friday, and was anxious to start some heavy touring my last week in Paris.

Today, we started a little later in the day, but it was perfect weather outside! The sky was bright blue and the white puffy clouds were moving quickly behind the beautiful Parisian buildings. It finally felt wonderful outside, a big change from the recent rain and dark skies of the past week. We first met at the Obelisk, near the Jardin des Tuileries. There was a lot of machines and set up for an event that was apparently happening soon. We didn't really figure out what was going on, but Taylor had seen (and soon so would I) a huge ferris wheel and other "carnival-like" structures being set up in the garden. After a failed attempt at some pictures in front of the Obelisk, we strolled through the gardens. It was typical Paris, with the cream colored gravel, large sculptures, hedges, and a large fountain in the center. To the right, we saw the Musee de la Orangerie, and immediately headed to the home of Monet's Water Lilies. At first, we walked through a modern, white washed hallway with side rooms displaying the works of Matisse, Rousseau, Renoir, and Picasso in elegant gold frames that sharply contrasted the museum's modern-feeling walls. Then we headed to the area of Les Nymphéas, or water lilies. Two large oval rooms displayed the beautiful works. It was breathtaking to see the colors, figures, and oil strokes so well known and recognized.

After leaving the musee, we walked through the Jardin des Tuileries towards the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, passing a group of monks and the ferris wheel in the garden. Taylor informed me that Asian's were the best tourist photographers to ask for pictures, since they usually make sure to get the best shots possible (this is a compliment to all Asians!), and we quickly asked a bubbly group of Taiwanese girls to take a photo of us in front of the Louvre and the arc. We did the same for them, and tried to copy their "excited" photo, but I somewhat failed trying to have my "joy" come across in a photo. We decided to save going to the Louvre for Sunday, since it is free that day, but not until 6 on Fridays and we had other things on the "to do" list.

The next stop was la Conciergerie, the one palace turned prison that Marie Antoinette, former Queen of France, was held. Those who entered the building had two ways out- to be found innocent of the crime, or to be sent to the guillotine. I think we all know which of the two ways Marie got out of there. It was interesting to see that the prison also had a hierarchial setup. Those that were very poor slept on hay, while those that were famous or could "purchase" better living were given items such as beds, desks, and even writing materials.

Across the street, we walked into Shakespeare and Company again, thinking that I would be able to find the next two books in the "Hunger Games" series. They had sold out! Taylor was actually the one who recommended the books to me, and now my goal at every English book store has been to find the other two in the trilogy. I am beginning to lose hope, but luckily purchased two more books from Village Voice that may hold me over for a while. We had been walking for a while, and I finally found Amorino, where they scoop their gelato to look like flower petals. After heading back to St. John's and deciding that we were going to see "Midnight in Paris" in a few hours, we headed to Luxembourg Gardens for some wine and dinner. We found a bottle that was 2 euro. Perfect. Then we found a great patisserie where we both ordered a yummy croquet monsieur. It was much better than the one I had in Loire Valley, and I think I am ready to try the croque madame, which is the same but with an egg! After eating our sandwiches in the gardens, me failing at opening the wine and having to push the cork in, and enjoying my first chocolate religieuses, we headed to the movie theater. Luckily, the movie was in English with French sub-titles. The acting was not the best, but it was a great movie to see in Paris since it highlighted famous artists, eras, and places to see. The best past though was that Taylor and I had seen most of the places in the movie that day, and even our theater had a small part in the reel. The first day turned out really well, and I can't wait to tour Montmartre for the first time tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Street Dancing and Shoe Shopping

The past three days were so relaxing with being home again in Paris. It is weird that now when we visit other places for the weekend, we see our little dormitory hidden away down a secured walkway as "home". For one, the belongings in the room are not ours- the sheets, the beds, the desks and chairs. We are renting the area and really have not added any personal touches to it these past weeks. We still have our suitcases sitting out in plain view, soon to be packed full of everything we are going to manage to take back with us. We are also living in a country where we can barely communicate with many of the local people. I speak so little French, that I could not get by if it were not for the fact that many French know a decent amount of English. But anyways, Paris still feels like home, probably because it has become so familiar to all of us. We only have 8 more days in this lovely city. I can't believe the time has flown by so fast.

On Sunday, the girls and I made our first dinner reservation at a vegetarian spot near the conceptual arts museum. Spencer and Abby are both vegetarians, which is difficult since in Paris, a vegetarian is actually a pescatarian. Very different for them both, and also a bit more tricky. But luckily, this place followed their eating "qualifications", and wow was it yummy! I ordered a mushroom pate, a "burger" that was littered with vegetables and a mushroom sauce, and then a chocolate creme dessert. We all felt the normal feeling of our clothes seeming a bit tighter. I have also decided that I will never be more excited to start a diet than when I get back to the states. I have been the model subject of pure gluttony this whole time span in Paris and abroad, which I know will satisfy me for a long time to come. The food in America will not be comparable (except for my cooking of course!).

Monday turned out the be one of the hotter days in Paris. Maybe I am still getting over my sickness, but it was warmer than the looks of the weather eluded to. It has been dark, rainy, and cloudy here for a long amount of time, but it is nice when we open the window and fall asleep to the sound of rain on the window sill. Cliche, I know. My goal for the day was to find the Opera honey I really wanted to bring back for my brother. The Opera in Paris has multiple hives on its rooftop, and I heard that you were able to buy their product at a food specialty store that caddy-cornered the Eglise de la Madeleine. After walking completely around the Madeleine square, I ended up where I started and in front of Fauchon, the gourmet food shop. I found the "miel" section, but could not find the Opera honey. A gentleman that worked at the shop probably saw my face of confusion looking at the glass bottles, and asked me what I was looking for. I was informed that they used to sell it there, but of course not anymore. It was sold at the Opera, but I believe Monday was a French holiday, like every other day, and the Opera was closed, meaning no honey. Frustrated, I walked into the closest shoe store I could find and came out with a new pair of ballet flats. Much better light on the day!

La Fete de la Musique began later on Tuesday night. You just walk down the streets of Paris, jumping from crowd to crowd, street to street, checking out all of the different bands that are attempting to entertain. Some were successful, while others were only enjoyed by those under the influence of an illegal sort. We made our way around St. Michel and down St. Germain, finally happening upon a 50s diner with the same feel band playing outside, complete with slicked back hair, a retro microphone, and a white button up. I finished the huge Desperado (tequila-beer, think Corona with tequila, aka Coche Bomb), danced to some jazz and American rock, then headed home. I wanted to get some rest for the shopping that may happen today if the weather clears up. Before class this morning, I already bought an additional pair of ballet flats and am ready to find some heels! Paris has sales twice a year, and today was the start of one of them. Now all I need to do is fend off the Parisian women...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chateaux de la Loire

Friday morning we finally made it to Loire Valley. This area of France, about 2 1/2 hours outside of Paris, is known for their wine and especially their chateaus. After managing to drag ourselves out of bed and onto the bus, we arrived at Chateau de Blois. There were three distinct sections of the chateau, and it became obvious that they were all built during different time periods. The elaborate decorations throughout the rooms became overwhelming, since the goal of every chateau decorator was the cover every square inch with some sort of painted pattern or hanging fabric. For the weekend, an Italian man joined our group as a guide, and he continued with us to our next adventure. It was one that everyone was looking forward to, even though it was supposed to be a "surprise." We pulled up in our huge charter bus to this tiny shop that seemed half way underground. The signs were in French, but it was obvious where we were from the grape vines decorating the outside. It was a winery, and everyone, tired and somewhat overwhelmed already, was ready to try what France had to offer. After being given a tour of the manufacturing process, we entered a room decorated and full with wine and another local product, goat cheese. The cheese may have not been my favorite, but the wine was fantastic. I ended up buying 3 bottles, including a fruity white, a medium bodied red (they didn't have a full bodied one unfortunately) and another dry white. The woman who owned the winery was so friendly and welcoming. She continued bringing our group bottles upon bottles of wine, then eventually letting us pop a few bottles of sparkling wine, not champagne (champagne is from Champagne, not the Loire Valley).

Carrying and loading our boxes onto the bus, we continued to the next stop, Chateau de Chenonceau. It was located in a beautiful area, which had an entrance of trees enclosing around you, a donkey farm to one side, and even a maze. We all snapped pictures quickly of the shrubbery and structures since there was a very dark cloud centered right above. As it started to pour, we finally made it into the smaller chateau and toured again. This one was interesting in that there was a bridge attached that had two purposes on each of its different floors. The first was used as a normal bridge, where servants could cross to and from. The second floor of the bridge however was a long room with checkerboard flooring and big glass windows that was used as a party room. By this point, everyone was ready for dinner. This meal had a lot to live up to after Normandy and the fun we had, but unfortunately it feel somewhat flat, but still eventful. After a small avocado salad, there was a thud next to me. I looked over and sprawled across the table was bits of brown dirt. Nicole was looking at the mess in shock. As we looked up, we saw the culprit. A bird's nest had been made in the rafters above, and some had fallen right onto Nicole place setting, wine, and food. The waitress did not seem very happy with us to begin with, and it was a bit of confusion trying to explain what had just happened. the main course that I had was a sliver of salmon with vegetables. Everyone else had a chicken drumstick and mashed potatoes. For all that we had done today, we were all left unsatisfied and craving Papa John's pizza. Our next stop was Chateau de Razay, our hotel for the night. We arrive to see llamas, dogs, horses, and a gigantic pot bellied pig lying on the steps. The chateau was beautiful, and our room reflected that.

After a long day, we passed out quickly, only to realize the morning and the next day came too soon. We were off to Chateau de Chambord, by far the biggest and most beautiful one we had visited. They had bike and boat rides that you could take to see the grounds. There was also a hunting convention taking place. This chateau was actually a "hunting cabin" of Francois I, which I found interesting since it contains 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Somewhat of a hunting cabin when you can light a different fire place every day of the year. After another tour by our Italian guide, we got to enjoy a cookie tasting at the bakery located in the area. I now know that I need to create a recipe for a cherry cookie and a chocolate chip with orange zest cookie. They will be fantastic, promise. I cannot wait to have a kitchen again so I can start baking! I have been missing creating my own baked goods recently. Paris has definitely given me some ideas on what to make next. After the cookie tasting and a long 2 days of tours, we headed back to Paris. I thought that it would be one of those nights that I just lay in my bed, relax, and have a refreshing sleep. It turned into something unexpected.

After using Asa's computer to change my flights for after the Paris program, I was convinced by Park to go out with them for the night. Still in my PJs and ready for bed, I agreed and quickly got ready, wine bottle in hand. The time finally hit 1:30 am, and after a few fallen soldiers, Asa, Park, Sean and I were off to the Montparnasse area. We arrived at a place called the Financier, and started off our night. I have no clue how I made it to 4:30 in the morning, but I think the dancing and lively scene around me kept me going. I am not used to those sort of late nights, as many of you know, but it was pure entertainment. I even managed to make friends with real French people from Paris, something that is suprisingly hard to come by. The only problem was the language barrier between all of us. Luckily Sean translated between me, Asa and our new friend Franck. On the way home, I managed my first ever "plank" on a bike rack and I cannot wait to see the pictures! It was another fun night, which seems to always be the case with the unexpected, and Paris.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Enfermedad en París

So just about everyone that lives in St.John's has decided to become a living, breathing human germ. We all knew it would happen. The question was when. Well, this week was the week for me to be bogged down, craving as many naps as possible, shoving Vitamin C down my throat, and finally giving in to going to the pharmacy for some magical drugs. Luckily, unlike my usual course, the cold like feelings passed quickly, and I still was able to make it outside for a day or two. I definitely started to feel my body shutting down on Monday, and by Tuesday I knew that I needed to nurse myself back to health quickly since I did not want me feeling yucky prevent me from enjoying the lovely Paris. Well, the drugs worked, and although I don't feel quite myself yet, I am ready to enjoy the wine producing, chateau filled landscape of the Loire Valley this weekend. It is a much needed break, since I have been bombarded by a lot of different things this week. Relationships with people, uncertainty about my job, and the realization that I will be leaving this beautiful place all too soon is starting to hit.

On Wednesday, I was completely prepared to adventure to the 4th district again, see the Bastille, the Photography Museum, and Victor Hugo's home. Well, all dressed, I laid down for 5 minutes, only to wake up about 2 hours later. Yup, still sick. But I managed to pull myself together, pump some diet coke into my body, and head out. I had even gone as far as to plan my Metro routes and stops out. Unfortunately, the Bastille metro stop was closed for reconstruction, so I just kept riding and popped out at the next stop, hoping that I could find my way back to the Bastille area. It wasn't difficult to find. Walking down the street I could see the July Column standing high above the tree littered areas. Being by myself, it would have been difficult to grab a picture of me with one. But wait! I heard American voices on the street corner. I quickly approached, and they were such great help. The man took multiple ones for me, just in case. I also found out that he was a Georgia Tech grad. What a small world. So, he got to poke a few "dumb dawg" jokes at me while I got to tell him how awful their football team is. After a thank you and good luck on your journey, I was on my way to whichever museum I could find.I ended up finding neither. After walking around for about an hour, I finally found Place des Vosges, which is the gated lawn area where everyone seemed to be enjoying the wonderful weather. I tried to figure out where Victor Hugo's home was, but couldn't.

I should have been more prepared. When I got home, I realized that I had probably walked by it 2 or 3 times. Frustrated, I started walking down random streets as usual, and this eventually led me to the Harley Davidson of Paris! Bikers literally look the same here. The store was huge, and I took a picture of it just to prove to my daddy that I was thinking of him, even in Paris. I continued walking down the street, hoping to at least find the photography museum. Again, another miss. I finally decided to catch the metro, and today printed maps and actual locations so next time I will be prepared when I venture out. I highly recommend this for anyone with specific visits for the day in mind. Luckily, no work on figuring out this weekend in Loire Valley will have to happen. It's all chateau visits and hopefully a bottle of quality French wine.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lets say "struggle" of a Faux Parisian

Dear fans, I know that there are a good amount of you out there, mainly because I know that you think I am awesome, so I know you must be reading my posts. Completely kidding, I am not that pompous. Blogger conveniently tracks stats, and so I know there are a few of you out there still reading my adventures. I hate to inform you all, but the past day, my computer has come to its death. After almost 4 years to the day, it decided to move on to the next computer life and leave me without all of my access to the world and ability to upload pictures for your viewing pleasure. I have another two weeks in Paris (yikes!) and plan on still telling you all about my adventures. I guess I will need to entertain by using colorful words, attention grabbing stories, and maybe adding a dash of wit. I'll try not to disappoint all you lovely people. I hope you continue to enjoy my travels, and pictures will eventually be added to guide you through my European fairy tale.

But, I would like to tell you about this Monday that I have been living. I started the day a little later than usual. The baguette at breakfast was especially good today, the weather outside seemed that it would just be cloudy and wait on pouring till later, and we began our new class session. Different from the one I had the past 3weeks in Paris, I am taking a class studying the Sociology of crime. It is very interesting and attention grabbing, talking about serial killers, homicides, and how the dark underworld of crime families has been evolving just as rapidly as the legitimate world.After 2 hours of introduction, I headed out tobe a semi-tour guide for my friend Emily, who is backpacking around Europe for a few weeks with a travel group. Today was their free day in Paris, and I was happy to lead them around and even visit some places that I had yet to. First, I met her at La Madeleine, a church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. The stairs leading to the main entrance were covered with flower beds, making look that the whole front of the church may be acting as a florist. We then headed back on to the Metro, with every intention of ending up at Notre Dame. After realizing that I had hopped the wrong line, we ended up at Napoleon's tomb, better known as Les Invalides. There were huge marble coverings plastering the inner walls of the gold-plated chapel dome. The museums hosted a large amountofWWII, WWI, and older military armor and weapons dating back to the 1100s. There was an arsenal that showed the enormity of their collection that was not even on display. It was somewhat overwhelming to see how much of history is still preserved in this military museum of Paris. After looking through two sections of the museum, we finally headed to Notre Dame. This had been my third time to see it, and when we attempted to purchase tickets to see Paris from the top of the cathedral, it seemed somewhat of a long wait and my tourists were on a schedule that needed to be kept since they had plans of having a picnic at the Eiffel Tower not too much later. After heading back to my area of town in order for them to buy some macaroons and wine for their picnic, we went our separate ways and I hope I left the impression of be semi-knowledgeable with my way around Paris. The next few days will be easy ones for me. I can feel the soreness in my throat and the stuffy nose starting to overcome me, and the last thing I want is to experience being sick in Paris. There is too much to do, and no time to "get better" that I am willing to spare.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Going Solo

It was a weekend of great company, trying to learn a new city while traveling by myself, and seeing some of the most well known structures in Europe. I finally made it to another country besides France. It was somewhat a spur of the moment decision, but I am so glad that I decided to go. Arriving in Britain took a little time since I took a bus from Paris to London, but it was pretty much the only "college budget" decision that was actually an option. If I ever do it again, the 2 and a half hour train is the way to go over the 8 plus hour bus drive. Instead of booking a hostel, my friend Travis graciously offered up his new flat to me as a place to stay. Arriving in London was the easy part. Navigating where I actually needed to go was a little more of a challenge. Struggling with 2 large bags and Travis' directions, I finally found where the London tube was, which is very similar to Paris' metro system. Being in an English speaking country definitely has its advantages when traveling alone. Everyone I asked questions was pleasant and helped me out. They probably felt pity for the poor American girl with bags and eyes looking completely blank from travel and the confusion of an unknown area. Well, I finally found my way and was very ready to just crash, after a beer that is. A block or two from the tube exit was the first pub. We sat outside under the heaters since there was a chill out, chatted some, and then made the short walk to the flat. I was planning on a long day tomorrow, and being prepared and ready was the goal. Well, the goal really wasn't met. The next morning I headed in early to the main area of the city, and I was completely lost. First, I had no pounds, only euros, and to exchange money at many stations, you need to have a "chip" in your credit card. Of course mine does not. After finally finding a place to take out money, I grabbed a cup of coffee and started walking through the city blindly. For some reason using a map frustrates me, and usually I have some sort of idea as to where I am going. Not here. I was interested in doing the London double decker bus tour, but could not find out where to buy tickets. I thought there was a central office of some sort, but you actually go to any of the bus stops (you hop on/off throughout the tour) and purchase tickets from the men at the stops. Easy enough, except I was still wandering around not knowing where I was going. A woman pointed me directly across the street to one of the bus stops, and I was on my way to finally tour London, after an hour later of wandering and a heavy beating to my feet from walking. I started the tour by passing under the Tower Bridge, with beautiful carvings taking over the archways. To the left of me was the Tower of London, known for being vital to the English speaking world and the battle of 1066, which I had already heard and learned about with my travel to Normandy. It was neat seeing the actual place that we had talked about, but of course did not see since it was in a very different area from Normandy. Getting pictures with the actual landmarks was a challenge, since I was by myself. I went up awkwardly to people, but I got my photos (and everyone else was a tourist as well) so that is all that really matters. We passed Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and many more sites. It was somewhat overwhelming, but it helped when I went back to the city the next day with direction and planning what I wanted to see and do. After a long day and enjoying my first serving of fish and chips, I headed back and waited for my friend to get back as well. We were planning on going for a run, and it turned out to be just as pretty as running in Paris, but a little more difficult. He lives close to part of the Thames River, so we ran about 5 miles along it. It was more trail than the sidewalks that I am used to, but the weather was perfect and the sights were amazing. We passed a crowd of sailboats with beautiful wood work perfect and shining one way, and after crossing an old bridge that was the "turn around", we ran into a group of rowers. Immediately I thought of how my brother would love being here. Apparently it is pretty common in the area since the sheds lining the river bank were filled with boats and oars. We got back, me being tired from a butt kicking, and got ready for a bite to eat. In the process, I introduced him to the "American" music that I had on my ipod shuffle. Well, if you know me I like rap, especially when I am running, so I really failed at letting him listen to good American music. Travis is from South Africa, and so he played some of his local music, a little different, more easy listening, and a lot better than my music choice. For dinner, he took me to a restaurant that was right on the river and a short walk from his place. It was a pub with a restaurant on the top floor, so you see the whole sight of the Thames River and get to watch the bridges light up at night. Experiencing things like that make it very difficult for me to leave Europe. The next day I was up early again. Today was the day I was going to see the changing of the guards! The area in front of Buckingham Palace becomes littered with all types of tourists. They put up fences and heavy security. A dangerous cloud was coming towards the area, and I was hoping the ceremony would start soon. The Irish guards came first, and then the British guards/soldiers marched in. It was neat seeing the synchronization in their movements and watching the tall palace gates open for their arrival. It started raining not too long into the ceremony, so everyone started running for shelter. Rain would define the rest of my day in London. After taking refuge in a cafe for a little, I headed for shopping for souvenirs at Harrod's, clothes at Topshop, then headed back. I met up with Travis in the city after he got off work, and we headed to his friend's bar called Pitcher and Piano. It was filled with "smart" looking business men, chandeliers from the ceiling, and some girl who seemed to have enjoyed happy hour a little too much. We planned to go to some of the pubs in Travis' area, so we grabbed food at an Asian restaurant, then headed back to get ready for my first real night out in London. Funny, but the scene is quite similar to how Athens is. The pubs are a little bigger, but there are people dancing and fun bartenders. It felt familiar, except for the amount of men versus women that are everywhere. Women are scarce, which is unusual for me and my area. The bartender took a fondness to me at one of the bars, and unfortunately that meant some tequila being passed my way. But, after avoiding more rain and dancing to some American and English music, it was time to head out. I had to say goodbye to London and Travis the next day. I wish I was able to stay longer and goodbyes are difficult, but it was another weekend to add to the list of ones I won't forget.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What else? Fabulous food!

The past weekend and Monday have just continued the non-stop eating binge that I have been on since arriving in Paris. The idea of eating my way through Paris but also shopping do not quite go hand in hand. But, that is something to worry about when I get back to the states. The past two days I again tried new things, and am not craving second helpings. On Sunday, we started off by visiting the Musee d'Orsay, an art museum in Paris dedication to the impressionist art movement. It is filled with the works of Van Gogh and Monet, and they are having a Manet show at the moment, but unfortunately we did not explore that section of the museum. The moment I saw the first Van Gogh, I got goosebumps all over my body. Seeing the 100 year old painting called Fritillaries in a Copper Vase was something that I didn't shock me that much, but knowing the history of the artist and his story gave me chills. There were large amounts of sculptures by Rodin, famous for "The Thinker" and "The Gates of Hell". Some of the works of artists that are buried in the graveyard we visited earlier this week were also there, including Carpeaux and Delacroix. For all you non-art-ys, I headed over to the Jewish/Gay district of Paris, the 4th Arrondissement (district in francais), with Abby for some window shopping and to get food. Well, I ended up ordering a pecan/cherry tart at one of the bakeries, 2 little cake cookies dipped in chocolate and with a jelly in between while Abby visited the famous L'as du Fallafel for their namesake. After some wandering, window shopping, listening to street music, and creating a clothing wish list, I gave in and ordered one of the mondo falafels. It was a great decision, filled with tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber slivers, falafel balls, and a creamy and spicy sauce to top it off, wrapped in a pita-like bread. Perfection! If you ever visit the area, this is the place to go. It is well worth waiting in the line you see going down the block, and it really doesn't take as long as it seems since they take your order as you wait in line. Today, there was another famous shop all of the girls wanted to try, called Laduree. It is known for being featured in Sex and the City. Carrie is in France, drinking tea in their sit-down area. But they are probably best known for their macaroons. We all tried a mini one, mine being caramel flavored, and they were one of the best things I have tried in Paris thus far. Nicole and I also split their fruity flavored herbal tea, and then we all tried one of their pastries. Mine was the Elysees, and it was chocolate mania! Mousse, cake, whipping, you name it. If it was chocolate, it was in that treat. It was a successful day visiting some of the lesser known parts of Paris, and it was unanimous that both of those areas and restaurants will be visited again. Well, back to working on my class presentation that I am giving tomorrow. Wish me luck, I am ready to be done with this. Exploring Paris is so much more of a priority than class. Side note: learning how to bake Macaroons is happening.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Morrison with a Splash of 007

The theme of the past few days has been all about the morbid and somewhat depressing- aka LOTS of graveyard visits. Yesterday, Dr.Lessl's class had one of their outings and I made sure to tag along. After buying my third book of the trip, called "Naming the Bones" by Welsh, we headed to Pere Lachaise. It has many famous French families buried in large, cabin like tombs, and some non-french celebrities, the more well known being Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Those were actually the only two people I knew that were buried there, and made a point to visit. One of the better stories though that is buried in this graveyard is a true Romeo and Juliet couple, Heloise and Abelard. Their tomb has been under construction for the past few years, but Dr. Lessl was able to tell us the story about their forbidden love. Their story can be read here: We then finally found Jim Morrison's grave. For those who don't know, he was The Doors' singer, and has been surrounded with much controversy. Many believe he is not actually dead, others question how he died, but I think the most interesting is the "27 Club", being a repeating age at which famous musicians continually die at. The list includes Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Jimi Hendrix, and of course Jim Morrison. After a few photos and getting a whiff of some non-cigarette smells, we headed to visit Oscar Wilde. His grave was just as flamboyant as him- with flowers and famous red kisses covering his tombstone. I joined in, just sans-lipstick. Red isn't really my color. After leaving, we may have found the best creperie in Paris. So for everyone who is eventually coming to Paris, the one right across from the graveyard entrance and attached to a Cafe is phenomenal! I need to stop this crepe obsession, seriously. Later that night, I experienced my first Euro-Club, where drinks are 10 euro (about $16) and you listen to some serious techno music. Jason and I got their before everyone else by about an hour, so we made friends with the first people that walked in. They were from Italy, and travel to the US a lot since they are electronic DJs on tour. Their name is Bloody Beetroots, and they are actually really popular, which I realized after doing some googling. We found the right people since after some conversation they started buying Jason and I these overly-expensive drinks. They come to Atlanta too, so maybe I'll find them again at some point. Today though was a day of more rest. Scarlett, Aleshia and I really wanted to visit Harry's New York Bar, known for being where the Bloody Mary originated and the famous people who frequented the piano bar, including Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) and Coco Chanel. It was founded in 1911 by an American horse racing jockey named Tod Sloan and became a popular place for WWI American Field Service Ambulance Corps members. I immediately ordered the Bloody Mary, and we ended up having a great conversation with the bartender, who made one of the best drinks I have ever had. It is really a true science. He is a classically trained French chef, and just went through cooking school just so he could continue his education in "mixology" to become a bartender. Their bar-tending is much different than America, it is very classic and traditional. He even told us that in the James Bond books, Harry's was the site of where 007 lost his virginity at 16. Fun fact. We are hoping to go back at night when they have the Piano bar open and get the full vibe of the bar. Finally, we found a UGA flag hanging from the walls that are plastered with college flags and military/public service badges. It was so neat to see our school flying in France!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

6 Million Underground

Let me start by saying that Paris is a beautiful city. Most of the people here look like models and dress impeccably. The buildings are ones that you can only imagine and wish desperately to live in. There are flower stores littering the city and the most amazing smelling bakeries on just about every street corner. But Paris also has a very dark history to it. Today, we visited one of the most well known places that Paris has been hiding underground for the past 250 years, the Catacombs. Beginning in the 18th century, these quarries of Paris started to be filled with deceased since ground space in Paris had begun to dwindle. The common practice of burying bodies near churches and cathedrals became a growing problem within the city limits. To fix the problem bodies were unearthed, driven through the city at night under black sheets, and taken into the mines. This practice continued for over 100 years. Walking through the catacombs, you see how precisely stacked all of the bodies are, all 6 million of them. That is the population of Atlanta, times three! To enter the catacombs, you enter the site of a very normal looking building, then walk down what seemed like a million steps of a spiral staircase. Descending to the mines made me so dizzy that I needed to stop a few times to get my bearings back. At first, you don't arrive to where the bodies are stored. You walk through a vast amount of tunnels and even a small set of lit arches. The catacombs are also known for having grand "goth" parties, and thinking that people would want to come down here for a vast amount of time is scary. It was one of the spookiest feelings, with the dimly lit tunnels, the cold temperatures, and the muggy, moist air that filled the area. We finally reached where the bones were and I was shocked at the how piled and orderly the final resting place seemed to be. Spenser managed to take a photo for me, which was a feat since those working in the catacombs yelled every time you took a flash photo. We learned to just say sorry and move on. There were tombstones that signified where the bodies had come from and the years that they were moved. Thinking that these unmarked bones could be a family member is very strange, and I am surprised that in history more backlash to this practice had not occurred. The stacks seemed to go on forever (it was a 45 minute walk through the tunnel), and there were many rows of bones that were not even open for the public to see. By far, this had to be one of the creepiest places that I have ever visited. However, on a completely different note, today is National running day in the US. So, in light of this I officially have signed up for my next big race! After completing the Disney Half Marathon, I want to feel that rush again and the accomplishment that comes with it. In November, I will be running my first FULL Marathon in Savannah, GA with the Rock 'n Roll Racing series. I am so excited, and glad that I have officially signed up, meaning I am locked into this training and there is no turning back now!