Saturday, October 31, 2009

Annecy and Lyon

Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to a place tottttalllyyy different from Barcelona, and from Paris. I went to Annecy, which is located in France about 30 minutes by car from Geneva. It was breathtaking! The town, or rather a small city, is situated right on the edge of a 40 km big lake that butts up against a small mountain range, which I checked to make sure, were the Alps! One or two of the mountains we could see actually had snow on it already!

I went to Annecy with my uncle who was in town for a trip. We were able to meet up in Paris and take the train down together. The train ride was not long... probably three hours from Paris to Annecy, with two stops I believe. Gotta love the TGV! Anyway, so the entire ride, once we got south of Lyon was so pretty! Mountains, hills, craigs, gorges and the like.

So, in Annecy we met up with some of my uncle's friends who live there. I believe he and my aunt met Cecile while spectating at the Tour de France in 2004 and have gotten to know her and her family very well over the past years. I know that Ray and Shaun (my uncle and aunt) enjoy visiting them in Annecy whenever they're in France, and I was thrilled to also be able to visit and meet them! It was so great to be able to see the town with people who have lived there their whole lives. It was also a great oppotunity to speak more French. I don't think I noted any difference in their accents from Parisian French.

We had a great dinner on a hill overlooking the city and the lake on Saturday night and then spent the night in a hotel fromwhich there was a view of the lake as well!! And then Sunday morning, after Daylght Savings, we hopped on a train, Ray, Cecile and I to Lyon where we got to visit the basilica and see the town a little bit before heading just north of the city for lunch.

We had lunch at the restaurant of Paul Bocuse, one of the greatest chefs in the histroy of French cuisine, and of culinary history in general. It was a superb meal. The black truffle and foie gras soup was a particular highlight...! I was so full that I didn't eat dinner that night or breakfast the next day! My uncle took us there because he wanted us to have been there while Bocuse was still alive... I think he's pushing 82 now. And! We got to meet him! AND even better... got a picture with him! It was a great way to end the weekend. The restaurant was very colorful as you can see... Lots of beautiful red and gold coloring... very warm. And delicious.


So, again, things have been fairly hectic since my past two weekend trips. I think what happens is that my school week is only 4 days long, as I don't have class Fridays, so when I get back from a weekend away it's pedal to the metal for four days and then it lets up.

Two weekends ago my friend Sarah and I went to Barcelona! It was a really nice change to go there after being in Paris for so long. It was so wonderfully Mediterranian and warm!!! It was about 70 degrees each day we were there, which was great because it's starting to get pretty chilly and a kind of constant overcast here in Paris. The hostel where we stayed was right on the big street Las Ramblas which goes straight down to the water, so we enjoyed having an ocean to look at! (The Seine's nice and all... but not very grand or expansive.)

I had been to Barcelona one time before on a family vacation. We had a lay-over of maybe 35 hours there on our way to Greece. So, I really didn't know the city very well. I remembered a few things, but it was definitely great to be able to get back and see the places more in depth. Of course, it was great to see all of the Gaudi stuff again.

Above all I think my favorite favorite part was Parc Guell. When my family visited, we didn't have enough time to get to Parc Guell, because it's a little big north of the city and definitely too far to walk to. But this time, Sarah and I got up early both Saturday and Sunday morning and went to Parc Guell. It was perfect because we were able to beat most of the tourist bus groups and to see the area while the sun was perfectly hanging in the sky. The thing about the park is that A. the park in general is beautiful, with nice nature trails winding all over this gorgeous hilltop B. the view of the city is FANTASTIC (of course the skyline is enhanced by the lovely cranes that cover the Sagrada Familia, which I've noticed, are so much a part of the monument now that they appear on all of the postcards. So funny.) and C. obviously the Gaudi designed benches/ building... I don't even know what to call it, is stunning.

I kind of went a little picture happy there! The lighting was so pristine and the ceramic looked really neat. And every time you would think that you found the best design in the mosaic, you'd find another one that was even better!! Here are some of my favorite examples of mosaics.

We also chose to go into one of the Gaudi houses. Sarah had taken a course at school on Modernist architecture so she knew a fair amount about Gaudi and suggested we go into Casa Battlo. Along with the entrance fee you also got an audio tour which did help to shed some light on what Gaudi was aiming for with his architectural and design choices. It's a pretty difficult style to grasp, I think. It's very much inspires by natural shapes, e.g. the swirl of a snail's shell but it's also so focused on the materiality of the items used to produce those natural effects. Very cool but fairly complex.

We stopped by the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art which had a few nice works of the Colorist school and of Abstract Expressionism but I was generally dissapointed. Too much of the museum was taken up with temporary exhibitions one of which seemed to just be about "modernism" and didn't really have any cohesive theme or goal to it. Gorgeous building though, very white cube with all sorts of ramps and glass windows.

While walking back from the museum, we passed a market that was just so utterly foreign to anything we have in the US. It reminded me a bit of the bazaars in Istanbul, but also had a very Iberian flair to it. Lots of of meats and porks and also fruit! So much fruit!

It was a quick trip, we had to leave fairly early on Sunday to get to the airport but we still made it back to Parc Guell in the morning where we just lounged and read books while soaking up the sun. I believe we probably appeared in 75+ tourists' photographs or the panorama. But, it was a great little getaway weekend. Sun and fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Thing I Came to Do: Learn!

It's very easy to learn here. Even if I just started classes on October 5th (last Monday) I feel as though I have been learning non-stop since my arrival. Walking down the street is a language lesson. Waking up in the morning and sitting down to breakfast with my host family is great prononciation practice. Every conversation I overhear on the Metro and every conversation I engage in with anyone is a chance to practice my French. When I buy my lunch, I try so hard to get my accent correct, so that the server will think I'm at least passably fluent. It's a great victory when someone responds to me in French. If someone responds in English, I firmly forge ahead with French until they reluctantly give in with a sigh and return my change with a "soixante centimes et bonne journee!". An even greater victory is when someone asks me for directions on the street or at the Sorbonne. That means that I look like I belong, that I'm not sticking out like a sore thumb of an American. The best is when someone asks for directions to somewhere I know and I nonchalantely respond while secretly inside I'm jumping for joy because it means I'm adjusting!

So, yes it's very easy to learn here. Even if you don't want to, (which of course I am ravenous to do so) you're going to learn. Another great thing for learning is the churches! Because there's not really a "campus" and basically I spend my days wandering around the whole city, sometimes there's nowhere to sit down or get away from the rain. So, I've taken up churches as a hobby. They're very calming and certainly fascinating! I like the Medieval ones because I can try out my new vocabulary in them. The Baroque ones are a little too "busy" (decoration wise... not people wise!) for my liking, but they're nice all the same.

And now, onto classes. I've had two of my three university classes so far. My class at Paris II Pantheon-Assas called Institions Politiques Francaises begins this week on Thursday. Mondays are my busiest day by far. I have five hours of class and then a two hour break and then two more hours. I begin my week with Art and Archeology of Egypt's New Kingdom, a 3rd year class at the Sorbonne. [There are three years of "license" or ungergraduate study at French universities. So a 3rd year class is like a senior level class.] And then in the afternoon I go to Art and Architecture of the Middle Ages: 11th-16th Centuriesm, a 2nd year class also at the Sorbonne, which meets Wednesday afternoons as well.

In Art and Archeology of Egypt, there are three "classes" with in the course. There's a TD (travaux dirigees) which is like a section in the US as there are less people in each TD than there are in the bigger course. The big course is called the CM or cours magistral. And finally there is a cours optional, which in this case for me is on the Pierre de Palerme, an important document in the history of the Old Kingdom in Egypt. In that class, we're actually beginning to learn how to read hieroglyphics, something that I with my penchant for 19th century British art never really thought I would get the opportunity to learn!!! In the CM and the TD we're focusing on the tombs of the New Kingdom, more specifically the 18th-20th dynasties. In the TD we have to do an oral expose with a partner, which I am absolutely terrified to do because it will be 15 minutes of speaking French in front of native speakers!!! But, I'm also really excited about how much of a challenge it should be. My subject is the tombs of the princes in the time of Ramses I to Ramses II. A key place for research will be the Sorbonne's library of Egyptology. How cool is that that there is a whole library for Egyptology and that I get to use it?!?!

My Mediaval class was pretty scary on the first day of the TD because we walked into the classroom (more on the classroom and the building later...) and were handed a packet of papers with drawings of churches and instructed to fill in all of the terminology. How in God's name am I supposed to know the word in French for tympanum? and altar screen? and ribbed ceiling vaulting?!? Well, I didn't know them when we started. But, by the end of the class, I had learned approxamately 250 new vocab words. The best part was that I realized that I really knew the words because I learned them by looking at pictures and hearing the corresponding words, not by looking up English words in the dictionary and translating. I've always believed, and am finding even moreso now that the best way to learn is to see something and to learn the word in French, so that your brain forms the synapse that a green leafy thing is an arbre, not that tree= arbre. It really helps when trying to form sentences, both in speech and in composition.

And now more on the classroom where most of my classes meet. It's on the 4th floor and there are no windows. Sounds terrible, right? Negative. Every single wall is covered in really strange high-relief sculptures of roman soldiers! Life-size ones too! It's very bizarre, but wonderfully awesome and entertaining. I love it. The building where I have class is not the big famous Sorbonne building on Rue Saint Jacques that faces the Place de la Sorbonne, that's where the Egyptology library is, but rather it is in the Rue Michelet Centre Pour Art et Archeology. So all the classes there are art history ones. It's really neat because there's such an artistic air to things, like the reliefs on the wall of my classroom and also the egyptian sculptures in the large staircase and the paintings in the large auditoriums.

That's most of the interesting information on classes. I love going to my university classes. My language class at APA and then the French culture one are both interesting but less exciting and new and different than the university ones, for obvious reasons. But still, I learn and learn and learn without ceasing.

Friday, October 9, 2009


The program that I am doing here in Paris is called APA (Academic Program Abroad) and part of the progrm is a cultural component. We go to the theatre and to concerts to learn about French culture. We also got to go on a three day weekend trip to Bourgone! (Also known as Burgundy.) We stayed near Dijon and travelled around the area over the course of the weekend. One of the best things about being in Bourgone in October was the fact that all of the leaves were changing! As we drove through the countryside, it was so refreshing to see the leaves changing on the trees AND on the vines! I don't think I realized that the vines would change color the same way that trees do, but it was really pretty.

The first day we visited the Abbaye de Fontenay which is a great Medieval abbey and accompanying buildings. Something really great was that we were given a tour in French. It was really fun to learn all sorts of architectural terms and religious terms that are probably going to come in handy for my class on the Moyen-Age (more to come on classes later though!) The abbey was nice, it was very plain though and lacking in any sort of ornamentation as it is a Cistertian abbey. So, I was a little disappointed that there were no tapistries or paintings. There was one statue! Just one. But still, there was a lovely river (that my friend Rachael sadly dropped her camera in! We thought it was God cursing her, as she then proceeded to have very bad luck the rest of the weekend. Don't worry though, her luck has turned and a new camera is in the mail to her as we speak. )

We spent our two nights in a thing that I'm not sure if it should be classified as a hostel, a hotel, an inn, a convention center, or a stable. It was called La Bergerie, which means sheep farm. And I think that's what it actually was, an old sheep farm that had been converted into a hotel for large groups. So that was a little bizarre. The did serve us delicious family style dinners with traditional French recipes, like boeuf bourginon. The sheep farm did seem a bit like something out of a horror film, but luckily I was tired enough to put that idea out of my head and fall asleep easily!
On the second day, we went to Beaune a small town to the south of Dijon. We visited the very famous Hospices de Beane there. I didn't really like the Hospices. It's basically an old hospital of the state. It was pretty and all, but I found it less interesting than the abbey and then the Basilica we visited on Sunday. At the Hospices though, we did get to see a very famous altarpiece by Rodgier Van Der Wieden. I hadn't even known it was there! So it was a great suprise to round the corner and see it! Also another suprise was seeing a friend from Hopkins who is studying in Strasbourg for the year! Her program was doing a nearly identical trip around Bourgone so we ended up bumping into them three times over the weekend!

Later that day we drove along the Route Des Grands Crus which is basically a drive through the vineyards of the best wines of the region. We stopped at a place that I wouldn't really call a vineyard and I wouldn't call a wine label either. It was a botteler. So basically, this place, Morin Pere Et Fils, doesn't own any vines of their own, so they buy grapes from other vines and then make and bottle the wine themselves. Sadly, in our visit we didn't get to see any of the process of wine-making, which I know fairly well from visits to Champagne and to Napa, but that other people would have found interesting. We did get to try some wine though. I was a little disappointed with the wine. I think it's just that I like heavier more robust wines and all they have in Bourgone is pinot noir which is a really light wine. Clearly I need to get myself to Bordeaux for denser darker wine! A trip for later in the fall perhaps?

On the last day, we visited Vezelay and the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. Again, things had been so hectic that I hadn't really had time to do much research about the places we were visiting. My host family had lent me their Michelin green guide to Bourgone for the bus ride, but I hadn't looked much up. So, I was completely suprised to find out that Vezelay was a place, and the basilica specifically a building that we had studied freshman year at Hopkins in my first art history class ever!

We got a fabulous tour of the basilica by one of the monks who lives there, which was really interesting because he clearly had a very ecclesiastic approach to the church. A lot of focus was put on the pilgrimage aspect of the church's history. And in the tour we spent about 15 minutes talking about the tympanum over the main door of the atrium. And we studied that tympanum for three days!!! my freshman year. So it was really thrilling to see it in person. It's a very interesting piece, because it shows one of the first times that in bas-relief, there is a break with the face of the stone, as you can see in the picture, Christ's knees are pushing out forward toward the viewer.
It was a great weekend. Nice to get away one more time before the grind of classes began! Although the grind of classes isn't so bad considering I don't have class on Fridays... or before 2 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. My Mondays are pretty killer though. More on classes to come!


So, with things being so hectic in the first few weeks, I haven't gotten a chance to write many entries yet! We have been so busy with choosing classes and trying to get everything sorted with enrollment. I also have yet to spend a weekend in Paris! (I spent the last weekend of September in Munich at Oktoberfest, which will be the subject of this entry. And I spent the first weekend of October in Bourgone, the subject of the next entry!) I was also supposed to not be in Paris this weekend, as I was going to be going on an impromptu trip to Geneva, but somehow our train tickets got cancelled! Oh well, Paris isn't TOO bad of a place to spend the weekend... I'm sure I'll find lots to do!
And so, to return to Otoberfest! It was pretty ridiculous how many people were there! I think the statistic is that 6 million people attend over the 16 day long festival. We were there on the second of three weekends and there were a lot of people! One of the girls I went with had done a really good job choosing our hotel, it was right on the tram line to the Teresienwiese, the festival grounds. Our hotel was also right next to this building called the Lowenbraustein that seemed to be both a traditional Bavarian restaurant, a giant beer garden and then a festival hall. So, upon landing Friday night we made our way there for a dinner of wienerscnitzl and other Bavarian fare. After dinner, we went upstairs to what was called the "biggest post-Oktoberfest party in Munich".

The next day we got up early, upon the advice of our tablemates at dinner the night before. The people sitting at our table heard us speaking English and asked where we were from. It actually turned out that the man had attended Andover, my high school and grew up in Andover! This was just the first of many strange things that make me feel as though the world is so incredibly small! In order to be able to order, beer or food, in the beer halls at the festival grounds, you have to be seated at a table. And to get a table you have to get there early and you have to be a little pushy. We ended up at a table with 6 40 year old German men who did not speak English! It was a very... native experience. One of the girls I went with did at least speak German, so she was able to help us out when there were comprehension issues.
So we went into one of the beer halls and sat down and didn't get up until about 4 in the afternoon, because we didn't really want to lose our seats, or our new younger German friends that we'd made at the table next to us! It was really interesting to talk to people from Munich who have been coming to Oktoberfest since they were born, when it seemed like such a special occasion to us! [Side note: Lederhosen and drindl (the sort of beer-maiden outfits for girls) were being worn by EVERYONE. I would say that 75-80% of people were wearing Bavarian outfits, which I was shocked by! I felt left out!] The beer hall was HUGE with no ceiling, just a tented roof thing.

So that was Saturday. That night again we went to the Lowenbrauerstien place which was just as crazy as the night before! On Sunday we were a little festival-ed out and wanted to actually see Munich while we were there, so we went and walked around the Old Town. The town hall and the palace were great. Wonderful old architecture that reminded me a bit of Prague and Budapest. The greatest thing was that the weather was wonderful! It was a bit chilly, but we had sun every single day which was great because we were outside so much.

And then Sunday night we headed home. It was a very tiring two and a half days but it was an experience that can't be replicated anywhere. The warmth and excitment of everyone, especially the Germans themselves was unlike anything I've seen before. Everyone was friendly and open and truly festive.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Les Journées du Patrimone

This was a great weekend to have as my first weekend in Paris because it was les Journée du Patrimonie. It's a weekend where many many buildings all over France that are usually not open to the public are open, and for free too! It's usually military, government or justice buildings that have too much security to be open year round. Often there are very long lines to get into them but I ended up waiting maybe an hour for the building I chose to visit which was L'Assemblée Nationale, the home of the French equivalent of our House of Representatives.

What was great was that the French were really taking advantage of this opportunity! While waiting in line, I noticed that almost all of the people in line were French, not tourists. There was a special pamphlet for the event and a television with a welcome message from the President of the Assemblée.

The building is the old Palais Bourbon, built by the Bourbon kings in the 1700s. One of my favorite things in the building was the Salle Delacroix, with murals painted by Delacroix.

There also was a very beautiful library which includes in it's collection a transcription of the trial of Joan of Arc! Some of Rousseau's documents are also housed there. Of course the entire building was surrounded by beautiful gardens that were impecably groomed. It was also very interesting to see where the Assemblée sits. There was a very large tapistry depicting the "School of Athens" by Raphael which is in the Vatican Museums. I thought it a nice choice.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


After a very long wait, I have finally arrived in Paris. I've been here since Sunday. I stayed in the Latin Quarter in a very charming hotel with my parents until yesterday. Yesterday I moved to the FIAP in the 14eme to start my program with APA. We are staying at the FIAP (Foyer International d'Acceuil Paris) basically a nice hostel until tomorrow when we will be given our homestay assignments, something everyone in the program is anxiously awaiting.

The Latin Quarter was a great place to spend my first few days in Paris because it's close to where I'm going to be taking classes. La Sorbonne is at the heart of the 5eme. I also got to explore the Saint-Germain des Prés area. While searching for a place to eat one night, my father remembered a great meal he had had on the Rue Dauphine so we walked up and down it trying to find the gem of a restaurant. (It turned out to be under new managment but my father assured me that the pate was as good as he remembered.) While walking around, we began to see lots of signs for Arts Saint-Germain. The area just north of la Boulevard Saint-Germain and south of the Quai de Conti was filled with little roads covered in galleries. It was late Monday night when we were there so nothing was open, but we were still able to look into the windows and see all of the furniture and such displayed in the galleries.

I was able to look it up online and it looks like there's an association of art galleries in that area! I'm really excited to return and take my time looking at the individual galleries. I took a picture of this chair because it reminded me of a design that we had in the Erno exhibit at Evergreen! Gotta love European Modernism.

I also was walking along and saw a building with the name Flammarion on it. Flammarion is a French publishing company that I heard a lot about at Godine Publisher over the summer. I believe we've done books with them before. It was really cool to know what the name was, because the building was very nondescript.

And that's about all for now. Internet is very spotty and limited. Hopefully the next time I am able to write I will be settled in my home!