Friday, March 11, 2011

A weekend in Paris

As you know last weekend I ended my winter break with a weekend in Paris, and after a busy week getting back into to school and spring break planning I finally have some time to write about it.  

First off Paris is such a big city! I mean I knew that when I was going there, but it doesn’t hit you until you are there. It made Montpellier, which is the 8th biggest city in France look incredibly small in comparison. I kept on imaging it much smaller than it really is while walking around Paris. Thankfully upon return it felt big again. To tackle all the sites in Paris we used the metro a lot and I really had fun doing that. It is super easy to use and fast when not super crowded. It is funny that something that is not a famous monument became one of my favorite aspects of the trip. I guess it’s because it is so much more efficient than the transportation in Montpellier/Minneapolis and that it also reminded me of my trip to New York City over spring break last year. 

During my short stay in Paris I found the Parisians that I had interactions with to be a lot nicer than they are usually portrayed. However, I met up with a friend who is studying there this semester and he says that it is super hard to make friends with the Parisians, especially if you are a guy. So, I’m definitely happy I’m studying in Montpellier because the people here are really nice and friendly to everyone and like hanging out with Americans. Also, it’s much warmer here than Paris!

I arrived solo in Paris around noon on Thursday, but I met up with my boyfriend, John, later in the evening. He is studying in Freiburg, Germany through an IES program that is based around the European Union, so they do a lot of traveling. Earlier in the week he visited Luxembourg and Brussels. While I was waiting for John to arrive I checked into my hostel (Nation Montmartre) and decided to not waste anytime in exploring the city. I decided to visit the famous Père Lachaise cemetery because it was just a little farther down the metro line from my hostel. Many famous people are buried in this cemetery and it has a lot of cool mausoleums with sculptures. It’s a maze of a cemetery so I decided I would just walk around and take pictures.  I did, however, make a point to find Jim Morrison’s and George Haussmann’s resting spots. On the way back to my hostel on a random street, I actually ran into someone in my program that was visiting his girlfriend in Paris.

Jim Morrison

The next day John had to go to a meeting for his program in the morning, so I visited Musée d’Orsay by myself. This is a great museum to visit if you don’t have a lot of time because it is not super big, but is still famous and has great pieces of art. Also, the museum was once a train station and the muse set up highlights that architecture.

Saw this Van Gogh!
 After that John and I met up at his hotel and decided to walk from there to Galleries Lafayette, which is a big, fancy department store. It was torture looking at all the amazing shoes because they were so expensive! If I ever win the lottery I’m going back there and going on a shopping spree. Other than the merchandise the five story building has large stained glass dome in the center and an outdoor terrace on top of the building.

After this visit we went back to the Montmartre neighborhood to check out Sacré Coeur, a huge basilica that is on the highest point in Paris. It’s a really beautiful church on the inside and out. I preferred the views and the atmosphere form the outside more personally. The inside had amazing mosaics and architecture, mass was going on in the center while visitors could walk around the perimeter lighting candles and such. On the outside people there were street performers, music, and people sitting around enjoying the view. The view is supposed to be great at night too, but we didn’t get a chance to make it back.

We then decided we couldn’t wait any longer and visited to Eiffel tower. We decided to just sit in the park, while enjoying the views of the tower and all the people walking their dogs. It was pretty cold but stayed until they turned the lights. Other than the normal orangey lights that are on all the time there are also these amazing sparkly white lights that go on every so often. While aimlessly walking around under the tower I ran into some Irish guys, or shall I say “lads”, that study in Montpellier too whom I had met the weekend before! Very random feeling to once again run into to someone you know in such a big city.

Our last full day we had a lot more places we wanted to see and visit. We started out with a plan of walking from the Louvre through the Tuileries’ gardens to the Place de la Concorde/Obelisk and then straight on down the Champs-Élsées to the Arc de Triomphe.

This walk got cut in half at the Place de la Concorde when we decided to meet up with some of John’s friends to see the Catacombs of Paris. It was definitely an interesting experience to go under ground and look at thousands upon thousands of meticulously stacked bones. One of my favorite parts of the catacombs is all of the plaques with French quotes from famous writers and poems about the dead and the after life. My pictures aren’t that great because you aren’t allowed to use flash photography.
The doorway leading to the bones "Stop! It's here the empire of the dead!"

After this John and I went back to our original plan and visited the Arc de Triomphe/ the Champs-Élysées. Getting right under the actual arch was confusing at first. It’s right in the middle of this super busy, multi-lane roundabout so there isn’t a street crossing. We had to walk almost all the way around the arch to realize that there were subterranean entrances. We missed the one that was right by the metro exit we took because it looked like another metro entrance/exit. My favorite part of the arch is one of the four sculptural groups that I had learned about in my art history class a few weeks earlier.

The Champs-Élysées is basically just a big strip mall with a lot of expensive stores and some typical mall stores like H&M. I really wanted to get some famous macaroons from Ladurée but the line was really, really long.

After a rest from all the walking and cold we ate at an Italian restaurant that we randomly stumbled upon. It was good, but took a long time like most restaurants in France do. You actually have to ask the server for your check, which can be difficult if it is busy and they are running all around. I also had forgotten the work for check in French and had to call my friend Merrill and ask her! Most French people speak some English, but I think it is important for me to at least try to order and do other stuff in French. For the most part they are patient and respond back in French, but sometimes you get the “switch” and they speak to you in English instead.  Anyway, by the time we got out it was almost midnight and had a few options of what we wanted to go see. It was a hard choice between staying in the area and going to see the Moulin Rouge and Sacré Coeur at night or going back to the Eiffel Tower on last time and get waffles. We chose the latter and had practically run to the tower. The metro ends at 1am and I thought the waffle stands would be closing soon, and I really wanted that chocolate waffle! 

I was going back to Montpellier early Sunday morning, so I ended my visit with having a chocolate croissant in the park with John for breakfast.

This little guy likes chocolate croissants too.

It was a great trip, but John and I both agreed that we wanted an extra day to see a few more things. I know I will probably be back there at some point in my adult life so I’m too bummed out.

Stuff to see next time!
Notre Dame
The Moulin Rouge
The view from on top of the Eiffel Tower/Arc de Triomphe
Luxembourg Gardens
The neighborhood of La Marais
Inside the Louvre

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winter far

So even though I’ve only had classes for about a month now, right now I’m in the middle of enjoying a weeklong winter break! I decided for this break that I would stay in Montpellier until Thursday, then go to Paris and meet up with my boyfriend who will be there with his program. There are very few people in the program who decided to stick around during this break, so I haven’t had many people to hang out with. People are traveling all over Europe and even to Morocco and Turkey, which aren’t the best places to travel at the moment. My host parents are also taking their vacation this week, so I’m not completely alone during the day. It has been nice to hang around and do stuff around Montpellier, whether it be going for walks, visiting small villages, or running errands.

On Sunday my host parents first took me to the beach that I have already visited once before. This time we took the dog with even though he can be a pain to walk. He pulls hard and if you let him off the leash he will run around everywhere. He was happy though to walk on the beach and see all of the other dogs! After the beach we drove to the city of Aigues-Mortes. I actually learned about this city in my civilization du sud class the week before, and my teacher will be happy to hear I visited it.
*not my photo
Aigues-Mortes is a city enclosed by a large fortification wall that was created by king Louis IX or Saint Louis to use as a main point of departure for his troops during the two crusades he lead. France at the time didn’t have land on the coast and this posed a problem for sending troops to the Middle East. So, Saint Louis decided to create this city and a canal to the Mediterranean sea. Aigues-Mortes translates to “dead water” in English, which refers to the canal. I was surprised that the city inside the ramparts was actually still functioning with tons of resteraunts, boutiques, apartments, hotels, etc… My host brother will actually be doing a 4 month long internship at a hotel there.
Inside the city walls!

One of the many entrances/exits from the inside.

Tour de Constance

On Monday my host parents took me to a famous small village about 30 km away from their house. The landscape there was much different that the flat sea scape. It was very hilly with many little valleys, and the city itself was jammed in between a tiny canyon. The village is called, St-Guilhem-le-Désert, and was established in 806 by St. Guilhem. It is a really old, tiny village but once again many people live there and there are cafés and boutiques. My host mom says that a lot of people from England and Germany own second homes there and live there in the summer. I ending up buying a little souvenir from a little store full of rocks and fossils, an amber and silver ring for 14 euros!

*not my photo of a bridge we passed by (le Pont du Diable)

*not my photo 

Inside the hallway thing that surrounds the monastery's courtyard.


Of course there is castle ruins on top of that cliff (out of order)

Inside the nave of the monastery

The streets were tiny and full of random little passageways/nooks 

Outside of the monastery

A marker for the pelgrimage of St. Jacques de Compostelle

Public fountain

The cross of the Languedoc region

Someone had lots of bunnies! 

Mountainous terrain called "le bout du monde" or "the end of the world"
That’s all for now. I have to finish getting ready for my trip to Paris tomorrow and go to bed! My host mom lived there for two years, and of course they have visited there a few times, so she set me up with a maps/guides/metro plans and told me some stuff to do. I know that 3 days in Paris is not that long of a time but I’m still super excited! Definitely going to see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomph, the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre, etc… Expect another post next week all about PARIS.

ps. I had a great dinner tonight. Beef fondue!