Archive for December, 2010

A taxi will be arriving in about 40 minutes to take me to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, and my flight leaves at 12:15. After an annoyingly long 8-and-a-half hour flight, I’ll be back in Chicago! It’s been a good trip, but I’m beyond ready to be home.

Since I last wrote here (I can’t even remember when that was, Tuesday? Wednesday?) we’ve done a fair bit. Tuesday we went to the Opéra Garnier and the Church of the Madeleine (Mary Magdalene) then shopped at the Galeries Lafayette. Wednesday we went to Versailles, where I saw more of the palace than I did in November, as well as the two small chateaux at Trianon. Pretty awesome. Thursday we went to Père Lachaise Cemetery, where I saw the graves of Lafontaine, Molière, and Chopin, along with others. Then we went to the Basilique de Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre, and the Basilica in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb, which hosts the Royal necropolis – most of the kings and queens of France are buried there.

Friday we ran like mad around the left bank, seeing the Pantheon (and the graves of Marie Curie, Jean Moulin, and Victor Hugo, among others) and the Sorbonne (one of the first universities in the world), then walked through the Luxembourg gardens (by the Luxembourg Palace, the seat of the French senate) to the church of Saint-Sulpice, which many might remember from The Da Vinci Code, which is actually famous for several other reasons, including a pretty spectacular organ. From there, we walked to Invalides, stopping at the Rodin museum, before we attempted to get to the Army Museum and Napoleon’s tomb. No such luck; they closed early for Christmas eve. So we went back there yesterday, after we visited the Musée d’Orsay, one of the most famous art museums in the world (certainly the most famous in France after the Louvre). We finished up the day by climbing the Arc de Triomphe, from which we got some pretty spectacular views of the city.

Christmas day was spent opening presents, preparing and eating our Christmas dinner, and then sitting around doing nothing productive, which was a nice change from running all over the city like crazy people. Though it was weird not to be with the family on Christmas, it was a good day. It’s been a great trip, but I’m definitely ready to be home for a while. Thanks for reading this far! Glad I can keep people at home updated.

PS – I might post some pictures from this week at some point, when I have time and motivation.


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Paris 2.0

Well, here I am in Paris again. I got in here around noon on Saturday, after a relatively uneventful train ride (aside from a 4 year old boy who learned the word “merde” – which isn’t a very nice thing to say – and who decided to yell said word periodically and embarrass his poor mother) and a fairly inexpensive cab ride from the Gare Montparnasse to our flat on Rue Beaubourg. The flat is an attic flat, on the 5th floor (that’s the 6th floor for Americans), in a building with no elevator and steep, narrow, winding stairs. Hauling 100+ pounds of luggage up said stairs was NOT fun in any way, shape, or form. In any case, I had a couple hours to relax (lunch and laundry) before Jo arrived at the Gare du Nord around 4.

That evening was basically spent walking around our area, as it was too late to do much; we went to dinner at a fast food-esque galette restaurant. To the French, a galette is a crêpe with savory filling rather than sweet, unlike the cookie it is at home. I had a galette rustique, which is cheese, bacon, onion, and mushroom, and Jo had a galette basquaise, which is chicken, some vegetables, and some spices (very Mediterranean). Both of us had ciders with it, as galettes/crêpes and ciders are specialties of Brittany and are usually paired together. It was raining/snowing that night, so we didn’t do much else, other than buy a couple groceries and fall asleep at 9:30.

Sunday we went to the Louvre. We spent several hours exploring various sections (obviously, we saw nowhere near the whole museum). We saw a lot of statues, some of the antiquities, and of course the famous bits – the Mona Lisa (la Joconde as the French call her), the Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. After the Louvre, we met one of Jo’s friends who lives here for cocoa and dessert at a place on the Rue de Rivoli called Angelina, which had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Yesterday, we wandered around the Marais, which is a fairly artsy district.

Today, we saw the Madeleine, which is a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene, built to resemble a Greek temple. Afterward, we walked to the Palais Garnier, the older of the two opera houses in Paris, which is fairly famous and was used in the filming of the recent Phantom of the Opera movie. It’s an absolutely beautiful building. After we were done there, we went to the Galeries Lafayette, one of two enormous, old department stores in Paris. Jo and I both bought boots, and a couple other smaller things here and there. Now we’re exhausted. I’ll upload pictures later, if I’m not too lazy.

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I did promise I’d write more after my trip to Nancy, so here it is! Guess I should talk a little more about Lyon first off. The city of Lyon, like Paris and Marseille, is divided into municipal arrondissements (much like the boroughs of London – they’re administrative districts). The hotel I stayed in was in the 3rd, to the east of the Rhône river, in the business district called Part-Dieu, which is the second-largest in France, after la Défense just outside of Paris. I was conveniently located just to the south of the train station, which made for a mercifully easy walk, given that the night I got in was absolutely freezing (unusual for this time of the year, and that part of the country) and there was a good 6 inches of snow on the ground (more usual, but still not exactly commonplace). The hotel itself was really nice – it was a suite, with high ceilings and an enormous and very comfortable bed. Unfortunately (as I may have mentioned last time) I forgot to bring the battery for my camera, so I couldn’t take pictures. In any case, it was an excellent choice.

In Lyon I got to see the Basilique Notre Dame de la Fourvière (I could be slightly wrong on that name, it’s hard to remember) which is a beautiful church on top of a hill. On that same hill is an old roman amphitheater, which I saw from a bit of a distance; didn’t actually go, as it was WAY too cold. I also walked around the old city for a while; this is mostly the section between the Saône and Rhône rivers, and a small part to the west of the Saône (nearest the Fourvière hill). On the Presqu’Île (the peninsula between the rivers) is the Place des Terreaux and the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). I’m going to attach a picture from Wikipedia, because it’s really beautiful.

Last weekend I visited Nancy, one of the historical capitals of the province of Lorraine, in the northeast. Those who are at all familiar with European history might remember Lorraine (with Alsace, the region to the east) a region that has changed hands between France and Germany numerous times. For this reason, Alsace and Lorraine have some pretty heavy German cultural influences, including the famous Christmas Markets, which are more of a Nordic tradition. Lorraine is also the province where Joan of Arc was born (in the village of Domrémy, about 60 km southwest of Nancy) and as such, cities like Nancy tend to have many statues of her, and one of the main streets of Nancy is named for her.

The hotel I was in this time was between the train station and the Place Stanislas, which has long been considered one of, if not the (singular), most beautiful city squares in Europe (or maybe the world, I’ve forgotten the actual “statistic”). It certainly didn’t disappoint; I’ll attach a picture below. The square was designed to connect the new (at the time) 18th century portion of the city with the old medieval portion. It is named after the designer, a Polish noble named Stanislaw Leczynska (don’t quote me on the spelling) who was the father of Maria Leczynska, wife of Louis XV. The square hosts, in addition to 2 fountains, golden gates, and (at this time of year) an enormous Christmas tree, the Hôtel de Ville, the Opéra National de Lorraine, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts (the city of Nancy was, after all, where the Art Nouveau movement started).

After going to the Place Stanislas, I wandered throughout the 18th century city, until I happened upon a couple Christmas markets, where I wandered for a while. I didn’t stay out for too long that night, because it was, once again, very cold. I would say, however, that Nancy might be my new favorite city (and I’m including Paris in that ranking, people). I’ll make sure to attach several pictures; it’s well worth seeing.

I’m finished with my classes now – I had my last exam Wednesday morning. It was a long week, and I’m not as confident as I’d like to be about the exams. The literature professor, for example, is one of those professors for whom you can never seem to find the right type of work – I never seemed to know what she was looking for, and I wasn’t the only one. So my grades in that class, while not terrible, are not as high as I’d like them to be. History was difficult as well, though this time mostly because the only grades we had were from tests, which were often difficult. This final, for example: the very first question asked us to list and explain the pertinent dates of the Carolingian dynasty of kings. Not an easy thing. The only exact date that jumped to mind was Charlemagne’s consecration as Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day, 800. The professor even told us at the beginning of the semester that we wouldn’t need to spend much time with specific dates, so no one (at least of the people I talked to) spent much time studying those. It, again, wasn’t terrible, but could definitely have been better.

Translation I knew from the start would be hard, given that it’s probably the most advanced class offered in my program here. No disappointment there, either – the passage we had to translate was pretty darn near impossible; though I knew enough, it certainly wasn’t perfect. Language I feel okay about; the written portion was easy enough (a lot of work, sure, but nothing too unreasonable) and the oral was really relaxed. I feel good about that one. My music history final, the last one on Wednesday morning, was probably the best. It was in 2 parts, the first a listening section and the second a written part. The listening would probably have been much harder had I not studied music for so long; as it was, I knew enough about what we were supposed to be able to identify that I ended up with a 19/20 (he showed my score to me when I turned in the written).

In any case, it feels good to be done now, and I’m off to Paris in the morning. I’m sitting in a bizarrely empty room right now; all my stuff is (obviously) packed already. I had dinner with my host family tonight and said our goodbyes, as they’re leaving before I am tomorrow morning, and Misuzu (the Japanese student staying here) leaves shortly after. It was very odd, as I’ve lived with these people for almost 4 months now; it was odd to say goodbye and not know if I’ll ever see them again. Still, this has been a great experience, and they’re largely to thank for that; having such a good host family made the whole situation much easier.

I’m going to be spending Christmas in Paris with my friend JoZalea, who is working on her Master’s in Durham, England right now. We’ll have about 10 days to explore the city, which will be a lot of fun. We have an apartment on Rue Beaubourg in the 3rd, for those who know the city, so we’re within easy traveling distance of pretty much everything we want to see. I’ll try to remember to update this, especially with pictures, as Christmas is probably a really excellent time to see the City of Light. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Oh, but first some pictures. Remember, the ones of Lyon are from Wikipedia, the ones in Nancy are ones I took.

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I just realized it’s been a month since I’ve written anything here. That’s not to say nothing’s happened – that’s been the problem, I’m too busy!

Mom and Dad visited (almost a month ago now) and we spent a few days in Paris. We had dinner with my host parents the night they got here, which was certainly interesting. The food, as always, was excellent; Valérie is a terrific cook. I’m thinking the foie gras might not have gone over well with Mom and Dad though – fattened goose liver paté certainly isn’t for everyone! It was a nice time though, and my translating skills were certainly put to use. By the end of the night, though, I was so tired (it was a long week) that I was translating in the wrong direction – speaking French to Mom and Dad, and English to the Burvelles. Just a little backward.

The weather wasn’t fantastic in Paris – it rained pretty heavily that first day as we were exploring; we walked around our area (Châtelet – Les Halles) then all the way over to the Louvre and the Tuileries, which we walked around (despite the bad weather) then had dinner in an “Alsatian” restaurant near our hotel (not sure how Alsatian it actually was; there was a lot of food from other regions too). The second day we walked around more, seeing Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and walked down the Champs-Elysées before deciding it was time for dinner and then bed. A trip to Normandy followed the day after, seeing a lot of sights there (in the rain, of course – Normandy is the Seattle of France. It always rains). The day after that was a trip to Versailles.

Since then, I’ve mostly done school stuff – been busy. Finals are next week, so I’ve been occupied with papers and presentations since then. I’ll be glad to be done for the semester; these last few weeks have been stressful.

I went to Lyon last weekend, but I’ll wait to write about that until I get back from Nancy this weekend – I’m getting to see so many different parts of France!

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