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Archive for November, 2010

Well, I am very overdue for a blog post! A lot has happened in the past 2 weeks – a nightmare with Easy Jet, a canceled trip to Paris, Thanksgiving, and my trip to London…oofta.

My last post left off with me only having 3 days until Paris – which was all fine and dandy. I got up for Paris the day of thinking luck was on my side. I had left a little late, and got onto a bus just as I was leaving, so I thankfully made it onto the bus to the airport in plenty of time. Everything was going just fine until I was boarding the plane…the woman scanned my ticket and it didn’t work. She started to punch in some numbers, and I wasn’t concerned. The barcode must have been smudged while it was printing or something. I started to become mildly concerned when she called her supervisor on the little walkie-talkie. I became very concerned when she told the supervisor that the ticket was suspected of fraud and I had to follow her and talk to the people at the desk. WHAAT??? I followed the supervisor trying to express my bewilderment and trying to ask her questions. When I reached the desk, the people were dreadfully unhelpful. The only information they had was that there had been an error (suspected case of fraud??), my tickets had been canceled, and my money had been refunded. I started to get very upset since I was realizing they would not allow me onto the plane. I was becoming enraged, because :

A) case of fraud is impossible. I bought the tickets myself, for myself, with my own bank card issued to me in my name, through the Easy Jet official website. B) i had not been notified there had been a problem whatsoever. Easy Jet never contacted me with a problem – no email, no phone call. C) my money had not been refunded (and to date, still has not been). They had taken the money from my account, but I certainly would have noticed if they had put money back in. D) They told me I could buy a new ticket to Paris, the next flight leaving at 5pm, and I would have to pay in cash. E) I now was not going to Paris, thanks to Easy Jet’s mistake, and my friend Kate was going to have to spend all weekend in Paris by herself. F) They had canceled my tickets to London as well.

I was trying not to lose it and just break down crying because I was so frustrated and purely livid with them. I managed to maintain some dignity – I didn’t make a scene, but it was very difficult not to. I was a storm of indignant rage – ready to lash out on anyone who looked at me the wrong way. I managed to email the hotel and send Kate a Facebook message that I wouldn’t be coming to Paris. I had a miserable ride back to Cannes, walked back in the rain, and spent most of the rest of the weekend trying to overcome the depression of being in Cannes instead of Paris and my rage toward Easy Jet.

The next ordeal was trying to call the Easy Jet line to get it sorted out. I tried right away when I got home from the airport to call the international number on the phones here at the college – but the international number doesn’t work! They can’t get anything right. I thought it may be the phone too – so I asked Beth (our director) if I could use her phone to call. I used Beth’s phone to call the next day – the international line still didn’t work, so I tried using the French line since it is cheaper than calling the UK line. Unfortunately the phone kept dropping the calls – and the farthest I got was telling someone my confirmation number when the phone ran out of credit. Beth was nice enough to put more credit on the phone for me to try again…but it still kept dropping the calls. Soooo we went to Beth’s apartment to try her landline. The landline worked much better – but I first called the French line and the woman was not cooperative and I think some things were lost in translation because she was not understanding my problem, and kept telling me I would have to request my refund online. After many more angry tears, I called the UK line. This went better – but they still didn’t fix the problem. At least the guy on the other end of the line was sympathetic, but he didn’t have access to the information as to why there had been a problem in the first place. He said he would send my case back to the people who decided it and my money would be returned to me in the next few days…and now it’s a week later, and I still don’t have my money back. I have to gear up for another angry phone call tomorrow demanding my money back. Suffice it to say, I HATE EASY JET. The thing that is the most ridiculous is that this is entirely their fault and yet they are not taking any responsibility. They’ve screwed me out of two trips and are doing nothing to rectify that. I’m still bitter that I wasn’t able to go to Paris for a second time, and that I missed out on showing my friend all the things I love about Paris and France. *Obscenity* you, Easy Jet!

I still wanted to go to London though – I wanted to get at least one trip out of this ordeal. The only problem was, now that London was only about 5 days away, it was difficult to find tickets that weren’t outrageously priced (which is why I had bought them over a month ago…). I had 3 essential criteria: 1) needed to be 250 euros or less. 2) NOT with Easy Jet. 3) that I would be able to get to/from flights via public transport. It was stressful – but I managed to book a flight with Swiss airlines, and I would have Friday night-Monday morning in London! WOO!

The group at Thanksgiving, minus Shawn

The rest of the week was pretty good – and Thursday was Thanksgiving! The Collège was very accomodating for our American holiday and made us a Thanksgiving feast. For dinner, all of us Americans dressed up for the feast and I was pleasantly surprised by both the Collège’s effort and the meal itself. They had set up all the tables in a giant U shape with new table clothes, wine with wine glasses, and candies on the table.  The French interpretation of this holiday is a little different from home – they had decorated with a playmobile scene of pilgrims and indians, a teepee, and an american flag. I thought it was all very cute! The meal was similar to the menu at my house, but certainly not as good as mom’s cooking! There was waldorf salad, corn chowder, turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and an assortment of breads. There was also dessert of pecan and pumpkin pie – though it looked nothing like our version of pumpkin pie! It didn’t look very appetizing, and someone else told me it tasted like the inside of a pumpkin. I had a great time at dinner, and there was karaoke in the foyer afterward. I also got to skype with both Karl and the family – it was a great day! I really wish I could have been home though – that’s one of the best holidays and it’s definitely not the same away from your family!

Dinner - YUM! Not as good as Mom's, but still good!

I didn’t spend too much time at karaoke though, because I had to pack for London! I made it through grammar class before I had to leave for my flight – and I had a level of paranoia that something was going to go wrong again, since the last time I tried traveling resulting in a canceled ticket without my knowing. It went fine – I had a layover in Zurich, and I saw snow there for the first time this year!

I was on my way from Zurich to London City airport, and we were reaching the time we were supposed to be arriving…and the pilot announced that there was a technical problem and we would have to fly into Stansted instead! Stansted is about 45 minutes outside of London, and London City airport is in London city center. This wouldn’t have been a problem…except that Kate would be meeting me at London City airport, and I didn’t have her phone number (if she even had a phone, I didn’t know) or her address! Hmmmm this was going to be interesting. The guy sitting next to me was really nice though, and he offered me his phone to call someone. When I explained that I didn’t know her number, he told me it was a blackberry and I could use the internet to send them a message instead. So, I wrote her a message on Facebook, since that’s how I alerted her that I wouldn’t be coming to Paris and she got the message. Swiss airlines was supposed to be putting together a bus that would bring us to London City airport, so I told Kate I would take that and would meet her there.

When I got off the plane, the information desk was closed, so I went to ask the man at the bus ticket counter about it, and he told me I would have to talk to my airline. After much searching, I found that there was no desk for Swiss airlines! Time to come up with a plan B. I checked the internet again at the computers available there, and Kate had gotten my message and had given me her address, tube stop, and a phone number of someone else in her group. I was much less worried then – no longer facing the prospect of being lost in London without a way to meet up with Kate, I knew it was now only a matter of when and where. Stansted has some cool machines that you can type in your destination and it will give you directions to get there – so I typed in London city airport and received some very complicated directions that included 2 buses, the metro, and a rail line. I decided I would get on the first bus of the directions, headed toward the city center. Part way through the trip, I realized that I had no idea where Kate was in the airport and I should just go and find the address. I decided to get off the bus at the first stop, Liverpool Street, since there was an underground stop there and I could find my way to the stop Kate had given me and just ask people for directions to the address once I got there. I had just made it to the underground and was contemplating buying a map or using the telephone, when I heard, “KAAATIIEE!”

It was Kate! I don’t know how she found me – it was incredible that she was in the Liverpool underground at the same time I was. I thought she was still at London city airport! Apparently she had sent me another message saying she would wait for me in Liverpool St station for the Stansted express – an express train from the airport, but I never received the message! She had waited for about 4 or 5 trains before deciding to just head home and trust that I would make my way there. It was such a great moment – still can’t believe we found each other like that! Thank God.

We headed to the flat and Kate showed me around and introduced me to her many flat mates, all other CSB/SJU students on the London program. Their group is huge compared to mine – 25ish students compared to our 10. Everyone was really nice and hospitable, and I was more than happy to have a free place to stay! We had a little pasta for dinner and hung out for a little while before going to bed.

The next day, we got up and had a little breakfast before heading out to see the town! I was freezing – London is way colder than Cannes. Cannes is about 50 degrees and sunny, while London is 30 or less and cloudy. Luckily, Kate had some extra mittens to lend me, which helped a lot. We had a really busy day walking around most of London – it’s much bigger and more spread out than I thought. We started off at Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, the London Eye, a Christmas market, some street performers, some gardens, Buckingham Palace (and even witnessed a changing of the guard!) and Covent Garden before we stopped to have some fish and chips! It was delicious, at one of her favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

We stopped by Westminster Abbey afterward, but unfortunately visiting hours were over by that time so we couldn’t go inside. We also went the National Gallery (saw Van Gogh’s Sunflowers there) and then stayed there for some afternoon tea! It was great – a whole pot of tea, and one of the most delicious scones I’ve ever had with raspberry jam and cream. I loved it, and felt so British! We walked through some more parks and markets, and I was loving the British ambiance. The telephone booths, the double decker buses, the “look right” and “look left” printed on the street, the British accent, the underground, tea, Big Ben – it was great!

We had dinner at a little Italian place and had some delicious pasta (with a hilarious waiter who kept making little mistakes and swearing) before some of us went to Hyde Park for Winter Wonderland! It was a cute Christmas kind of carnival – lots of lights, food, market stalls, and rides! It was a lot of fun to see, and definitely put me in the Christmas mood. We didn’t spend too much time there since it was cold, and warmed up at the flat watching a little bit of Sweeney Todd on the tele before we headed off to a pub for a drink. It was a cute little pub a couple of blocks away from the flat – it was nice to be having a drink in a real British pub!

The next day, we woke up a little later than we had planned, and started off the day at the Portobello market – a really long street filled with shops that set out their goods for the market. It was a cute knick-knack kind of market and we wandered that for a while before we stopped at Charlie’s cafe for some lunch. I had a great BLT and there was a group of 5 people speaking in French next to us! I was eavesdropping a little bit…but I actually heard quite a few French speakers throughout my time in London. Then we were off to the Tower of London! It was very impressive, and we managed to get in free! One of Kate’s flat mates had a museum pass and we got to use it to avoid paying the 17-pound admission fee – score! The Tower was very cool, full of history as it was previously a castle, palace, and prison. The traditional guards give the tours (nicknamed beefeaters) and we had a pretty lively guide. Apparently there has been executions at the Tower in every century except this one – the most recent execution was in the 1940s. Some really famous people lived or were held in the Tower – Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, Rudolf Hess, and more. It also houses the crown jewels – which includes the biggest diamond in the world! They were incredible.

It was already dark by the time we were done touring the Tower (even though it was about 4:15pm) so we took a few pictures of us and the Tower Bridge before we headed off to a huge souvenir store called Cool Britannia. They had so much stuff there! I got a London mug (which will sit nicely next to my Paris mug), some postcards, and something Arsenal for Matthew (though he’ll have to wait til I get home for me to give it to him!). On our way back to the flat, we stopped at an adorable little bakery, the Hummingbird Bakery, for some cupcakes! They were some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had, especially one that had some cheesecake in it! YUM! We hung out for a little while before heading off to dinner at the Churchill Arms – half classic British pub, half Thai restaurant. Interesting combination, but the food was great! Kate and I split our dishes – a spicy green chili dish and a mild thick noodle dish – they were both great, cheap with huge portions! The rest of the night was spent hanging out and packing.

I wish I had more time in London! It’s such a great city and I didn’t even make a dent in all there is to see. I was really lucky to have a friend living there though – she was a great hostess! It’s also sad that was my last trip around Europe…and I realized the next time I will be at the  Nice airport will be to come home on December 11th! It’s very bizarre. I am excited to go home, but I will miss France and Europe a lot. One of the things that makes it so sad is that I know it will be a really long time before I will be back here – nooo! I really can’t complain since I still have India waiting for me…but still.      I love Europe and how accessible it is and how many different things you can experience in such a small area.

It’s less than 2 weeks until I’ll be home…bittersweet.

Cannes sunset

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Hey all! Check out my newest piece for the Lost Girls: 7 Tips to Savor Dining Out in France

À bientôt!

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Only Lyon

Bonjour, tout le monde!

I’m back in Cannes after a long weekend in Lyon – the last group trip! We left on Thursday morning and stayed until Sunday morning. Lyon is the 3rd biggest city in France, but it’s not so touristy – it’s the place to go and eat! It’s the gastronomic capital of France – chefs are more famous than athletes. Needless to say, I had a great weekend full of eating.

Thursday morning, we left pretty early to catch our 8am train. The ride lasted 4 hours – which was pretty uneventful. It’s kind of annoying that we had to go through Marseille and Avignon first, because that’s heading in the opposite direction! The longest part of the ride (3 hours of it) is just getting to Avignon since it’s slower and we stop more – and only an hour from Avignon to Lyon. Silly. We went straight to our hostel – up a giant hill! I didn’t realize Lyon was so hilly.  This was my first time in a hostel, and it was pretty nice – we had our own rooms that locked, so it was a bit more secure. I don’t know how I’d feel about sharing a room with strangers. After settling in, we had a walking tour through Vieux Lyon (old Lyon). The tour was okay – our guide showed us a ton of old buildings from the 15th and 16th century…most of the buildings in Vieux Lyon are from that time period. Amazing that people still live in them today! Vieux Lyon also has something called traboules – passageways through the buildings from one street to the other – that are only in Lyon! If you were to go to Paris or anywhere else and say you went through the traboules, they wouldn’t know what your were talking about. Our guide also showed us an astronomical clock inside the church there – it’s a very precise clock that tells you the day and month as well as the time. When it chimes, the mechanical beings come to life – a rooster on top crows and flaps its wings, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary for the annunciation, God begins to wave his arms, angels ring bells, and a smaller angel conducts all of it – all in a span of about 30 seconds! I like the tour, but I was feeling really tired, like I could just collapse asleep right then. Luckily, it wasn’t too long and I got a nap in before we went to dinner.

Dinner was great! We ate at one of the traditional Lyon bouchons – kind of between a cafe and a restaurant, more family run, limited seating, and a really nice atmosphere. We went to one that was supposed to have really traditional Lyonnaise food – and there was tons on the menu that we wouldn’t necessarily eat. There were some more “normal” plates like beef bourginion, soupe a l’oignion…and there there was tripe and liver cake. I had a salade lyonnaise (poached egg on top, and tons of bacon on it, a meal in itself!) and a kind of pork stew for dinner – it was pretty good, and so nice that the food was really hearty and filling. And I had moelleux au chocolate (warm chocolate cake) for dessert – mmmmmm :)

On Friday morning, we went as a group to the Centre d’Histoire de la Resistance et de la Deportation – Historical Center of the Resistance and the Deportation. Lyon was a huge center of the Resistance in WWII – it was an okay museum, but not the best well laid out, in my opinion. There were lots of documents and some videos, and it was very sobering. There were a lot of pictures and videos of prisoners in the concentration/death camps – so sad! The visit definitely left me in a somber mood – how do things like this happen? How does anyone allow them to happen? How did no one step in and say – this cannot happen? I don’t know. It’s just disgusting.

Afterward, we went and had a really great lunch at a restaurant in Vieux Lyon. It was another great meal – and red wine was included! Sweet. I got the pâté for my entrée – which wasn’t the best idea, but I wanted to try it. Pâté is ground and pressed meat and fat served in slices, cold. Often, it’s liver…and I am not a fan of liver, even though I’ve tried it several times. So that was a bit disappointing, since the other option was these fritter fish things that were really good. But my plat was delicious – some of the best steak I have ever had, and I had île flottant for dessert – floating islands of meringue in a cream sauce – yum!
Afterward, we had some free time, and I really wanted to see the miniatures and cinema museum. The cinema part was first, and  it was really cool! There were some sets from the movie The Perfume, which I haven’t seen, so it was cool but would have been cooler if I had seen the movie. There was a bunch of other stuff – all originals, not copies! – including the mask from V for Vendetta, Indiana Jones’ hat and whip (!), a couple things from Star Wars, some of the masks used in The Mummy – it was cool! And they had a good video of how miniatures are used in movies, like a miniature of the white house used in Independence Day for the explosion, miniatures of the Titanic for various parts of the filming – it was neat, and I guess I never realized how often they are used in movies.
The miniatures part of the museum was also really cool to see – all the work is so detailed, it’s amazing! Tiny cafes, sitting rooms, theaters, a paleontology museum, a jail – so cool! And at the end, you could see the artist’s workshop (look through the window at it) and the artist, Dan Ohlmann, was there! Cool that he was actually there – he’s one of the best miniature artists in the world. I thought it was a great museum, and it was nice to mix it up a little bit – not another history museum, ya know?
Afterward, we just went back to the hotel to rest for a while, and I spent about 2 hours updating my journal. You never think that journaling will take that long, but it totally does! And I was just a week behind – lesson learned:  if you’re going to journal while you’re abroad, make sure you keep up on it. Or be prepared to spend a lot of time catching it up! Dinner was on our own that night – I went with Leah and Laura, just walked down Vieux Lyon and found a place that wasn’t all liver and intestines and pigs feet. I had another salade lyonnaise (tons of bacon and a poached egg on top), some chicken, and mousse au chocolat – all good! This was the first time though that a waiter brought our check to us without having us ask first – and I was mildly offended. We were ready to go by then, and were going to ask for the check anyway, but still! Leah and Laura decided to go out after, but I really wasn’t in the mood for going out, and I kind of needed to save my money anyway, since I have 2 more trips coming up.
Saturday was pretty good – we got up to go see some Roman ruins and the basilica at the top of the hill. Andrew was feeling sick, so he stayed in bed, and Alejandra, Liz and Shawn had gone out the night before and were sleeping in. So, it was a slightly smaller group – but we had a lot of fun taking pictures at the ruins! Jumping pictures, prom pictures, and other weird ones. It was a good time :) and the basilica was really pretty! It was super ornate and

Y-M-C-A-exclamation point

decorated (as always) with statues and gold and paintings – very pretty! We spent very little time there though because a Mass was just about to start. After that, we just walked back to the hotel to see how the others were doing. Leah wasn’t feeling all that well because she had some horrid cramps –  like migraines, vomiting, can’t move they hurt so bad. Geez – mine are a breeze in comparison! At the hostel, Beth was showing me how to get to a museum on the map when we hear Evans yelling for Beth – Leah had fainted in the hallway! Poor thing – fainted from a combination of pain, being tired, not having enough water, etc. She had to lie on the floor a while before she would let us move her. Beth went out and got her a hot water bottle and some one had some more intense pain meds, and that helped her. I hung out with Leah until she was feeling relatively okay before we headed out to find some lunch. I ended up going to lunch with Beth – she was going to this market thing where they have restaurants right there. I thought it sounded pretty cool – and it was! It wasn’t an outdoor market, but a permanent market with

Successful jumping picture! 5 attempts later...

restaurants right alongside the market stalls. I like Beth, and it was nice to spend a little time with her and get a break from everyone else in the group. Besides, I’m sure she likes to have some company since she spends a lot of time on her own on our group trips. We found a place that was soup and quenelles (fried little deliciousness – usually have meat in them, but taste more like potatoes or dough), and we sat and talked about France and India. And it was really nice! We split up then, and I headed to the Lumière museum since I was already halfway there – it’s a museum about the 2 brothers who invented Cinema. It was in the house they used to live in – gorgeous Victorian mansion – and it was a pretty good exhibit. All the explanations were in French, which isn’t a problem, but it takes more effort then. I just passed through and spent a little time in the park/garden there (and some lady asked me for directions – I love when people do that! Means they think I’m not a clueless tourist and that I actually speak good enough French!) and then metro-ed it back to the hostel to rest before dinner. Leah was feeling a bit better then, which was encouraging, and found the movie He’s Just Not That Into You online so we watched that and I got to doze a little.

The whole group!

We actually got to dress up for dinner – Beth was taking us out to a nice dinner! We each get 35 euros from our student activity fee to spend, but we all have to do the same thing, so we voted to have a nice dinner out. We went to L’Ouest, one of 4 brasseries of Paul Bocuse, one of the most famous chefs in France. It was all really good food – I had cesar salade, (which was like a meal in itself – but i had worked up my appetite so i wouldn’t waste any food!), salmon, and fruit salad for dinner – all sooo good! We spent 3.5 hours at dinner and didn’t feel rushed or that it was going to slowly – one of the many things I love about France! We took the bus back, but the bus we wanted didn’t come…we thought it might be late but it didn’t come at all! We had to wait for 40 minutes for the next one, and didn’t get back until after midnight.
Sunday was basically just traveling – our train left at 11:07 so we had to be there around 10. I had a little panic attack when I couldn’t find my tickets, so I was really relieved when I found them! The train ride back was uneventful – I always hate traveling back, I just want to skip over the traveling and be back already. We got back around 3:30, and I had a lot to do. I sat down and wrote my next LG story right away (about dining out in France) and then started some other hw before dinner. After dinner, I got to talk to Karl for 2 hours!! It was fabulous.

And now, back to the grind – lots of class and theater. I was glad that Lyon didn’t have as much to see there – I really needed to relax a bit. I’ve been on the go nonstop for the past 5-6 weeks; busy traveling and covering as much ground as possible on the weekends and lots of class and theater during the days I’m back at the Collège. The last few trips I only had 3 days to prepare – basicaly just enough time to do laundry and repack! So, I was okay with taking some down time in Lyon. I’ll be back in Paris this weekend and I’m super excited! I LOVE PARIS. It’s sad that this will be my last time there for a really long time – who knows when I’ll be back…but I’ll be meeting Kate Lutz there! It will be great to catch up with her, and show her a little part of France!

 

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When in Rome…

Paris one weekend, Rome the next! I’ve just arrived back in Cannes after a really fun and busy weekend in Rome! I apologize if this blog ends up being short – really tired and still have things to do!

After three very short busy days at the College, I headed off to Rome with Megan, Leah, and Regina. We were going to meet up with Andrew, Evans and Ryan who had left the night before. We left pretty soon after morning class on Friday, and we left early since the Chinese president was visiting in Nice and Sarkozy was going to be there, so we were expecting a lot of traffic from blocked roads and a lot of security. We had no problems and we were at the airport super early! Always better to be early with these sorts of things, I suppose. This was my first flight with EasyJet – a very popular cheap airline here, similar to Ryan Air. We didn’t realize that when they said one bag, they meant ONE bag. Purses count as one bag – ugh! Luckily, we had enough room inside our real bags to fit our purses.

We arrived in Rome just fine (less than an hour flight to get to Rome – how cool is that?) and had to take an express train to get into the city center – the airport is actually really far away from all the tourist sights. We made it onto the train just a few minutes before it left – and we arrived about 45 minutes later. We stepped out of the station and realized it was kind of a sketchy area – not the best well lit and tons of graffiti. Welcome to Rome. I wasn’t worried  – there were 4 of us, and if you walk confidently and are aware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine. We had to find our new hotel – our reservation had changed. It was in a new location, but same owners. There was no reception area at the new hotel, so we had to call the owner to let us in. We found the hotel fairly quickly, but had to try several times before we reached the owner, Barbara, who only really spoke Italian. Luckily, she arrived within 15 minutes and the room was great – kind of apartment style without a kitchen. There was a big open entry room with a computer (free access!) and some things for breakfast. There were 2 huge bathrooms (both with a shower and bidet!) and we had a nice room with a double bed and 2 twin beds. Barbara was very helpful in telling us where we should go – she drew all over the map she gave me. We met up with the guys for dinner, and spent a calm evening enjoying bruschetta and pizza before deciding to call it an early night so we could get up early for a long day of sight seeing.

The next day, Saturday, Leah and I split off since we were going to see the Vatican in the afternoon, and the others weren’t too interested in that. All of the tourist sights in Rome are actually really close together and it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes of walking between the sights. It was funny to us that Rome only has 2 metro lines, after we had just been in Paris which has the best metro in the world! We each bought a day pass for the metro, which gave us unlimited rides on the metro until midnight. We actually didn’t use the metro too much since the stops are not always convenient. Anyway – we set off toward the Colosseum in the morning – it was great! So hard to believe that something that old is still standing today. It’s impressively huge, and surrounded by tourists and a bizillion street vendors selling things like scarves, bouncy putty, and other trinkets. Again, we had the impulse to respond in French and one vendor brusquely corrected our Merci with Grazie. The lines were really long, and we didn’t think we would have time to see all of the Colosseum and the Roman ruins before we had to go to the Vatican. We had bought our Vatican tickets online the day before, for 1pm and we weren’t sure how strict the Vatican was about showing up on time for your ticket.

We still had quite a bit of time before the Vatican, so we decided to go to the Trevi fountain. It was a bit of a walk, and we got turned around a few times (Roman streets are hard to follow! The name changes about every block, even though you’re on the same road). The fountain was beautiful, and mobbed by tourists. I can’t imagine how this place would be during high tourist season! We saw Regina, Andrew and Megan there and hung out with them a little bit. We each threw in a coin – if you throw a coin into the fountain, you’re destined to come back!

Leah and I continued to the Vatican, and had no problem getting our ticket. I didn’t see a long line to get in, but I was still happy that we had bought our ticket ahead of time. Everything in the Vatican was very decorated – kind of reminded me of Versailles. Every surface was covered in something – nearly always artwork – especially the ceilings! There are tons of museums there – we wandered through a couple before admitting to ourselves we weren’t interested and really just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. We still had to walk through 10-15 more rooms of art before we made it there, and it was AMAZING. It’s overwhelming when you walk inside. Literally every surface is painted – and it’s all incredible. It was so much to take in all at once, and there are tons of tourists in there. The poor guys who have to work in there just wander around saying “No Photo” and “Silencio” (Leah and I did sneak a couple pictures…shhhh). We stayed in there for a while, reveling in the fact that we were in THE SISTINE CHAPEL…before hunger drove us onward. We grabbed a quick bite of pizza at the Vatican pizzeria, since it wasn’t outrageously priced and we still wanted to see St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Basilica was just as amazing as the Sistine Chapel – jaw dropping as you walk in just because everything is so decorated and ornate and it’s just SO BIG. Also got to see Michelangelo’s La Pieta there, and St. Peter’s tomb. We couldn’t actually see the tomb, just the area where it was, but it was surrounded by people and it’s difficult to see anyway. We didn’t really want to leave the Vatican, but we were so tired at that point that we had to keep moving to not fall asleep everytime we sat down!

We headed to the Spanish Steps to spend a little time there and ran into Regina, Andrew and Megan again! Kind of amazing we found each other since there were so many people there! There was a military brass band playing, so it was nice to have some music to accompany the gorgeous sunset. We all headed to the Trevi fountain to see it again at night (gorgeous!) and Leah and I went on a hunt for canolis. I had my first canoli (when better than in Italy?) and I liked it – though I think it’s too much filling for me. We headed back to the hotel to relax a little bit before dinner – which was amazing!! We went to a little place near the Colosseum called L’Archetto – a restaurant recommended to us by Megan’s friend. I had the lasagna – and it was so delicious!! and tiramisu for dessert – I figured I should have it now before I left Italy, since I don’t know when I’ll be back. It was so delicious – and so nice to have such a great meal!

Today, we woke up early because we were all going to go to the Colosseum before we had to leave to get on the train back to the airport. Only Megan and I ended up going, since the others thought it was too expensive. It was a bit more expensive than any other museums I’ve seen (it was 12 euro) but what’s 12 euro in the long run? How many times in my life will I have the chance to go into the Colosseum?? We did argue with the teller for a little while – he wouldn’t accept that we were E.U. students and therefore wouldn’t give us the student discount. Apparently a student visa and proof that we live here is not enough – to him, it had to be a European passport, not American. It’s things like this about Italy that make me prefer France. The Colosseum was great – so cool to see. We walked around the Colosseum for a while and then wandered around the Roman ruins nearby. Spending our Sunday morning wandering through thousands of years old Roman ruins, no big deal. I love study abroad.

We made it back to Cannes safely and without problems (no getting stranded this time!). It’s too bad I won’t be going back to Italy again, though I’ve decided I prefer France. Time is definitely flying by now (very bittersweet!!). Now, only 3 days until Lyon!

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Ahhhhh Paris….what an amazing weekend!! I LOVE PARIS.

Because of the grève, we had to leave Wednesday instead of Thursday, which was completely okay with me – that meant a whole extra day for sightseeing! We left Wednesday shortly after lunch – and got onto our train without problem. The train ride lasted about 5 hours – pretty nice that you can get from Cannes to Paris in 5 hours or less. We arrived in the evening, and just checked into our hotel and called it an early night so we would be ready for the next day full of touring.

We woke up for breakfast at 8am so we could start our tour at 9am – and the breakfast was included in the hotel. Each morning, we would have a half a baguette (perfect – crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside) with butter, jam, cheese and nutella…along with some fruit, orange juice, and your choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. It was delicious and a great way to start the day. Next, we started our Revolutionary tour – for our class on the French Revolution, we played a game in class where we each assumed a historical figure. For our tour of Paris, we had to choose a site that was significant to the French Revolution and also to our historical character, and then present the site and explain the significance. We had about 10 sites to get to, all spread throughout Paris, and Beth had budgeted this tour to take 3 hours. Some of the places included the astille, the Champ-de-Mars, the Tuileries, Place de la Concord, the Palais Royal, and more. Some sights don’t exist today (like the Bastille and Tuileries), but the important thing is to be at the spot. Instead of 3 hours…it took 6! I don’t think Beth took into account the actual distance between sights and how long it takes to walk that far…in addition to moving along a group of 10 people, some of whom walk very slowly. It took us 1.5 hours to cover the first 2-3 sights! Beth outlawed stopping to take pictures and made us keep walking at a good clip. By noon, we had to stop and get lunch and then Beth conceded to taking a bus a few times. By the second half of the tour, everyone was really sick of it and was getting really annoyed and ready to be done. It would have been a good tour if it would have been more condensed. It ended at Notre Dame, and I wanted to just stay there but we had to return to the hotel room quickly – luckily it wasn’t too far from Notre Dame.

Leah, Laura and I headed back to Notre Dame right away so we could tour that before we were going to meet some others at the Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame was great! Luckily, there wasn’t much of a line so we got in right away. It was so cool to be there – I grabbed their claendar in case we would be able to come back for Mass or vespers sometime over the weekend. We took pictures outside at point zero – all distances in Paris are measured from there and it’s right outside Notre Dame. Also, if you touch point zero, you will return to Paris :) I thought it was funny that in front of this super famous old church there are a ton of dancers, jugglers, musicians, flame throwers – all sorts of stuff! Touring Notre Dame didn’t take as long as we thought, and we still had quite a bit of time before we had to be at the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to try to get into Sainte-Chapelle, which was close by.

 

 

Point Zero! I guess that means I'll be coming back to Paris - thank goodness!

It was getting close to closing time, and Sainte-Chapelle is known for having long lines, especially on sunny days, because it is famous for its unrivaled stained glass. We hopped in line and only waited about 15 minutes! Sweet. We got in and immediately went to the Chapelle Haute – which is where the amazing stained glass is – and it is so beautiful! The altar area is undergoing restoration, so we didn’t get the full effect, but it was still amazing. The whole chapel was built in only 6 years (while it took 200 years to build Notre Dame). It was built to hold the supposed Crown of Thorns – the King Louis IX paid 3 times as much for the Crown than for the building of Sainte-Chapelle! There are 15 windows of stained glass that tell over 1,000 stories from the Bible – from Genesis to Jesus’ crucifixion. Today, Notre Dame has the Crown of Thorns (and it’s only shown on Good Friday and the first Friday of the month). I made sure to buy some postcards on the way out that show the full effect of all the windows.

Then it was time to go to the Tour Eiffel! We decided to walk – not the best idea! We definitely should have taken the metro, but we hadn’t taken it before and decided we would see more by walking (which we did) but the soreness was starting to set in, as we had been walking for about 10 hours straight at this point). We made it to the tower a little after 7pm – just as the sun was setting. As we walked up to it, it lit up! It was so pretty. La Tour Eiffel is just massive, and it seems to take forever to actually get to it – becoming monstruously kind of scary big the closer you get. We didn’t find our friends there, and didn’t want to spend too much time looking since we were so excited to go up the tower. We figured they might have gone up already since we were late, and we hopped in the line for the stairs. Taking the stairs is much faster and cheaper – though it was a lot of work, the views were gorgeous!!! You can see the whole city, and it was amazing to see La Ville Lumière all lit up. What an experience. Pictures didn’t turn out well – so I took videos instead. We went all the way to the top (900 feet in the air!) and it was really windy and cold, so I was glad I was wearing my winter coat. Leah was only wearing a sweater, so we just snapped a few pics and took a quick tour around the top before hopping in the long line to go back down the elevator. We were so exhausted at this point – 12 hours of walking catches up to you. We got off the tower and headed to the closest intersection and hobbled into a pizza/pasta place. I had some great spaghetti carbonara and then we metro-ed it back to the hotel, where I feel asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

The next morning, I woke up and was definitely feeling the soreness from the day before. My knees felt really sore (and just started to recover today). Pretty much everyone was going to Montmarte/Sacre Coeur, which was not on my list of must-see’s, so I originally wasn’t going to go, but I didn’t want to spend all day by myself, and Leah and I had some common sights to see afterward. So, after breakfast we set off in a big group toward the metro. We reached Montmarte and first saw the Moulin Rouge! We took a few pics and walked to Sacre Coeur. That area of town was quieter – I prefer the area close to the Seine; more touristy, but the Seine is so pretty and everything is lively there. Sacre Coeur was huge – and had some great views of the city from there on the hill. We couldn’t take pictures inside, so I bought a postcard instead. It was a pretty quick walk through.

Des billets gratuits! Free tickets!

After Sacre Coeur, Leah, Laura and I headed to the Musée de l’Armée, a military museum and has Napoleon’s tomb. We actually got in for free! Museums have a student rate and a student of the E.U. rate. Since we have long-term visas and now live in France, we are technically students of the E.U. – and we got in for free at every museum we visited!

 

The area that holds Napoleon’s tomb is very elaborate and ornate – 26 lbs of gold on the ceiling! His tomb is surrounded by French war heroes, and he is inside 6 coffins! A little excessive. His tomb is surrounded by statues – each representing one of his military victories. What an ego. We also passed through some of the exhibits – including the Revolution through Napoleon, WWI, and WWII. We saw some of the uniforms of the National Guard which was really cool to see because that actually means something to me now that I have been studying the French Revolution. There was so much information in each of the exhibits – too much information for us exhausted tourists to take in, so we just wandered through looking at stuff. At the end of the exhibit, I said Bonjour to the guard as he was saying Au Revoir to me, and we had a little conversation. He asked if I was Canadian – which is cool because that means he thought I actually speak French! (well I do…but not fluently yet!) What a good compliment – I love being complimented on my French, it means I’m making progress!

Napoleon's tomb

We decided to go to the Musée Rodin next since it was right next to the Musée de l’Armée. Rodin is a really famous sculptor – right up there after Michelangelo. I loved this museum – when it comes to art, I much prefer sculpture or photography. There was also a lovely garden there, even with lounge chairs so we got to put up our feet and rest a little while – which was fabulous and very necessary! We relaxed in the garden and looked at some more sculptures before heading off to meet the group at the Louvre. We were a little late because we walked and were still really sore, but it was all fine. I had no idea that the giant glass pyramid is actually the main entrance to the museum – cool! The Louvre is MASSIVE – and really overwhelming. I was surprised by the diversity of their exhibits – there is just SO MUCH STUFF there. I headed up to see the Mona Lisa right away – and it’s true what I’ve heard. It’s a bit underwhelming. It’s small, behind a pane of glass, and surrounded by huge crowds. I also went to see the Venus de Milo, and then wandered through the Egyptian and Oriental exhibits, since I found those much more interesting. I even stopped at the café there for a little while because I was so hungry I was not going to make it til dinner. We went to dinner back in the Latin Quarter, nearby our hotel and I had a great dinner of salmon with crème brulée for dessert – delicious! And again, fell asleep immediately.

The next day we had all day free and we split up for the day because we each had different things we wanted to see. Laura decided to come along with me for the morning – and we started at the Deportation Memorial. It’s a memorial to the 200,000 French people deported to work/death camps, who did not return. The memorial is very well done – it was created to somewhat represent the environment the deportees were in with really tall walls, small spaces, and dim lighting. The memorial has 200,000 crystals to represent each deportee who did not return (overall, less than 3% did). There were a lot of good quotes there, the eternal flame of hope, and the Holocaust reminder: Pardonne, n’oublie pas. Forgive, but do not forget.

From there, we walked to the Musée d’Orsay – Laura really wanted to go. I was indifferent, but wanted to go more to say I’ve been there, and to see some of the really famous paintings. We waited in line for 30-45 mins, but got in free! Laura went nuts flitting from exhibit to exhibit. I saw some of the more famous paintings, and then sat down for about 40 minutes because I was already feeling exhausted. After the Orsay, we walked to the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs-Élysées was really crowded, and the Arc de Triomphe was huge! It’s really detailed and decorated. It took a while to figure out how to actually get to it, since there are no crosswalks to cross the giant roundabout circling it. We realized there’s an underpass to get there. We paid our respects to the unknown soldier and took some pictures. Then we split up – Laura wanted to see another Monet exhibit, and I wanted to see the Musée Carnavalet – a museum of Paris’ history. I took the hotel room key with me and metro-ed it to Carnavalet. It’s housed in an old hotel – really pretty with the ivy climbing the walls. I walked through the exhibit until I reached the Revolution period. Some of the Revolutionary stuff was cool – it was mostly knick knack-y stuff but it’s cool that it all means something to me now. I saw stuff like a replica Bastille made from real stones from the Bastille, Robespierre’s membership card to the Jacobin club, some of Robespierre’s hair that was cut off his decapitated head, a child’s guillotine toy, etc.

I decided to walk back to the hotel to lie down before our Bateaux Mouches river boat tour down the Seine – I was so tired. I got back to the room and thought, I should get my alarm clock….but it was so far away and I was so comfortable…I conked out. And startled awake at 6:40pm – and we were supposed to meet at 6:45pm! AGH! I grabbed my stuff and ran off to the metro – but unfortunately the stop I needed did not connect well at all. I just decided to get off at Assemblée Nationale and walk – and I didn’t make it to the Bateaux Mouches until 7:15pm. They would all be on the boat by then, so I went there just in case, but didn’t see anyone. I checked with the ticket counter to see when they would return – 8:10pm – and I could go to dinner with all of them. I was a little upset at first about being late and missing it, but I got over it quickly by telling myself – hey, I’m still in Paris and I’ll have a good night. And if I don’t find them, I’ll have dinner on my own just fine. So, to wait until 8:10, I crossed the street and bout a Nouvel Obs (a magazine) and looked for a cafe to get some tea. I stopped at a place and told them I would sit outside and wanted some tea. I read some of my magazine, but 15-20 minutes later, I was still waiting for my tea. Seriously? It’s just some hot water and a tea bag. It was about 8:05 by then, so I just got up and left. I didn’t see anyone getting off the boat that pulled up, so it was time to continue on my own. I took the metro back to the Latin Quarter and to find some dinner there – there are tons of restaurants to choose from. I found a cute little hole-in-the-wall traditional French cuisine place. I got some good people watching in eating by myself and spoke French with the staff. I had onion soup, lamb with fries, and apple pie with ice cream for dessert – all for 12.5 euros! Gotta love the menus – the fixed formula where you choose your 3 course meal between a set of entrées, a set of plats, and a set of desserts – all for a fixed price. From there I just walked back to the hotel, and after talking with Leah discovered that I had just missed them at the Bateaux Mouches! Turns out they didn’t make it onto the 7pm boat, but the 7:30 one instead. But it was still a really good night – the part that made it so good was knowing that I can navigate Paris totally on my own – I love having that kind of independence.

The next day, we accidentally got to breakfast an hour early. Daylight savings time happened and we forgot to set back our clocks! The hotel even had put up a sign reminding us which I saw, but forgot about it by the time I got upstairs. We got to sleep a little more before we all had to leave for Versailles though. We took a train to Versailles – took about 30 minutes. We got to the Chateau, and the lines were ridiculous. We had to wait in line for tickets first, and then in a different longer line to get into the Palace. 2 hours of waiting – UGH. We finally got inside – and it was beautiful in the fact that everything was so elaborate and over the top gaudy that it was actually pretty. I liked Versailles, but also hated it – it was ruined by wall-to-wall crowds, long lines, and a really out of place art exhibit. I have no idea why they agreed to show plastic bright colored cartoonish Japanese art in a French palace – why would you do that to Versailles?? It ruined the ambiance. We also had to wait in line to get into the garden, since we happend to come on a day they were playing music in the gardens. It was a pain, but the music was nice, and the gardens were beautiful! We were more than ready to leave by 2pm – so we took the train back, and had a late lunch/early dinner at an Indian restaurant. It was really good – and made me really excited for India. 2 months from now, I will be there! YAY!

Just a small part of the long line to get into the palace

One of the Japanese art pieces...see what I mean?

Hall of Mirrors

le jardin

Leah and I had decided we wanted to go to vespers at Notre Dame, and Laura decided to come along. We perused souvenir shops until it was time. We made it to vespers just in time. We were a little worried because they were using incense, and Leah’s allergic to it! Luckily, Notre Dame is so big it just dispersed. The organ was amazing and we all definitely wanted to stay for Mass afterward. The whole time I just couldn’t believe I was actually in Notre Dame for Mass – it was awesome. Mass was said by a cardinal too – I think that’s the highest “ranking” officiant I’ve had Mass with. Mass was in French – and I understood it all. It was an incredible experience. We walked around the outside taking pictures, and were going to go see the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées all lit up at night, but Leah was kind of high from the incense, so we just got a crêpe (pour moi, avec confiture – with jam) and called it an early night.

And Monday, our last day in Paris, was my birthday! How many times in my life can I say I woke up in Paris on my birthday? Awesome. I’m 21 – and now legal to drink everywhere! After some breakfast, Leah and I headed to the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was SO BEAUTIFUL  there – one of my favorite things in Paris. It was so fall-like, which I’ve been missing since Cannes is not fall weather at all. It was great for people watching: we saw little kids feeding ducks, tons of joggers and people doing tai chi, people playing tennis and chess – it was great! We went across the street and bought some birthday beignets (kind of like a bismark donut, but better…) and they were delicious. Raspberry…mmmmmm. It was so peaceful there. I just wanted to stay there all day – not go back to Canes! We stayed as long as we could…then mosied over to some souvenir shops. I bought a mug for myself :)

can't we just stay here?

After that we had to leave Paris :( Cannes is so lame compared to Paris! We made it to the train without problem and made it back just fine – save for the fact that the train ahead of us hit a wild pig! I didn’t know there were wild pigs in France. We had to re-route and were delayed about 45 mins.

What an incredible weekend – I saw SO MUCH for 4.5 days: Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Tour Eiffel, Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Armée, Musée Carnavalet, Deportation Memorial, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Versailles, Jardin du Luxemboug…oofta! I also learned I took 675 pictures! I loved Paris – and I am so glad I’ll be back there in a few weeks – Nov 20 – to show around my friend Kate, who is studying abroad in London. And now…only a few days until ROME! I’ll leave for Rome on Friday and will come back on Sunday. WOO!

Loving life – I am so blessed.

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