Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend in Paris

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had a good weekend back home! I thought I'd give you an update on how I spent my weekend in Paris :)

I started by going to La Défense with a couple of friends Friday after class. La Défense is a suburb of Paris that has more modern architecture and commercial space- it's home to the skyscrapers and business district that is kept outside of central Paris in order to maintain the architecture and skyline that is historically significant and one of the defining characteristics of Paris itself.

It is also home to the Grande Arche, which is supposed to be (I'm going to Wikipedia for this one) "a 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe: a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories."

On the way home we also were able to catch the wonderful view down Champs-Élysées of the Grande Arche on one side and the Arc de Triomphe on the other.

Friday night a few of us met up to explore the city and see a few of the sights lit up at night while enjoying a bit of French win. We started at the Louvre....

 And then began our walk to the Eiffel Tower....

The walk to the Eiffel Tower from the Louvre should take about twenty minutes, maybe a half hour.... It took us two hours. We got very distracted by things such as this giant statue of Thomas Jefferson....

It was a very fun walk though. We arrived at the Eiffel Tower and watched a light show while enjoying a bit of cheese that one of the girls had kindly brought with (which, by the way, I cannot stop eating now!).

On Saturday I walked around Montmartre (a neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement) with one of my friends. We did a bit of shopping and intended to go to a famous cemetery there, but it was closed by the time we finally got over there. That night a group of people from my program went out for drinks and I went with. It was a lot of fun, it was nice being able to hang out with them outside of class, especially since I was in Germany the first weekend of the semester. And it really reiterated my initial impression that I am with a very wonderfully friendly and nice group of people.

Sunday morning I went to the market at Bastille with a group of friends. I mentioned this market and posted pictures in a previous entry, in case you have been reading my blog and remember that far back :) It was a lot of fun, and a wonderful place to get cheap fresh produce!

Today was back to the grind with class from 9am until 6pm, but I'm actually enjoying the classes quite a bit. Especially the French class! It's so wonderful to slowly be learning to communicate here. I appreciate so much having simple communication skills - like asking how much things are at the market, and understanding what cashiers are saying to me in grocery stores instead of just nodding dumbly and hoping that they're saying something that it makes sense for me to nod to! And actually I've been quite blessed with new friends here that are more experienced in French and are willing to help me a LOT with my French. Without them I absolutely would not be learning as much of the language as I am!

On that note, ever since I mentioned the market I've been thinking about the kiwis I have from there... I am going to go eat some! I hope everyone is doing well back home. I feel like I will be home soon, time is flying by!

I love you all and miss you!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Classes and Street Art

My classes started last week Wednesday (the 15th of September) and so far it's going really well. I'm going through the program with a wonderful wonderful group of people, and the classes seem like they are going to go well.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week we had a class for our integration period called Paris Rhetoric. On both days we went out and about around Paris and saw a number of different things - the Rodin Museum, the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Sorbonne, the Pantheon, etc.

My camera, unfortunately, died right away on the second day, but I did manage to capture a bit of the first day. The first half of the day we spent exploring the 20th arrondissement and learning about street art and the different artists.

And this one we perhaps enjoyed a bit TOO much....

It was actually quite interesting learning about street art in Paris and how the people feel about it and how the community becomes attached to it. There are well known artists that people ask to paint on their businesses, and it is respectable art form here. On that note, there is a definite difference that people make here between street art and graffiti or tagging. It was an interesting trip! :)


Ah Oktoberfest. What an experience.... And I'm not even talking about the festival itself. I'm talking about the experience of getting there and back. AUGH!

I left for Munich after class, at 5:24pm on Friday the 17th, planning on arriving there at 11:33pm. I checked the departure board, went to my gate, the sign board said "Munich" so I hopped on. A few hours later, the train stopped in Strasbourg, France. I waited patiently for the train to start going again, but was getting a sinking feeling as it seemed like everyone was getting off the train. But still, I waited. After a few more minutes, and after every other passenger had gotten off the train, I got off with a really bad feeling. I found a conductor and asked if the train was still going to Munich. He told me that no, no trains were going through to Germany.


I was a bit skeptical. "NO trains are going through to Germany?" I verify. "Go to the information office." he tells me. So I put on my backpack and go to the information center. The bridge across the Rhine is under construction, so no trains are able to get to Germany from this area.


So I ask if there is another way, and he sets me up on my path. I will have to get on a bus, and take the bus from Strasbourg to Kehl where I will have to wait for a train to Offenburg, where I will have to wait for a different train to Heidelberg, where I will have to wait for another train to Munich, so I can get into Munich around 5:30 in the morning.

At this point I'm debating - should I just turn back? Return to Paris and skip the weekend? I decide that no, this is probably the only chance I'll have to do this. So I'll be a little tired, so what! So I hop on the bus.

I arrive in Munich at 5:30am, and find my way to the place I am staying, hoping and praying they didn't cancel my reservation because I didn't show up. Finally, something goes right. I arrive there and tell the the story of my journey, and they not only still have my reservation but they aren't going to charge me for the previous night and they are still going to let me in to take a nap for a few hours.

So I go into the tent, and take a nap before Oktoberfest.

I woke up, took a shower, and hopped on the tram. I wasn't really sure where I was going, but I just followed all of the people in Lederhosen and Dirndls and was able to get there fine. It was a wonderful time, very different than I expected and so so fun.

After a very long day I went back to the tent and crashed. I woke up the next morning and decided to leave a bit earlier than I had planned to try to avoid the bridge issue.

I think I need to preface this story by mentioning that I have a Eurail pass. I can hop on and off trains as I like, though occasionally certain trains will require a reservation. For example, the train from Munich to Paris.

I went to the Munich train station, went to the ticket office and said that I would like to get back to Paris sometime that day if possible. It didn't matter when. "It's not possible." is the response I get. I don't want to challenge her, so I thank her and leave the office.

In the train station I pull out my handy dandy rail map and take a look. If I take a train up to Frankfurt first, I can avoid the bridge at Strasbourg. And a train leaves for Frankfurt in 2 minutes and doesn't require a reservation. Done. I hop on the train.

I end up meeting a wonderful German girl on the train and we chat pretty much the whole way, which makes the trip go quickly. I arrive in Frankfurt and go to the ticket office to try to get a reservation for one of the trains to Paris. I tell the woman that I would like to get on one of the trains to Paris today if at all possible please. "It's not possible."

Of course not.

I go back out to the train station and grab a bite to eat as I haven't eaten much that day and sit down to contemplate what I'm going to do. I have to be back to get to a 10am class the next day. A train leaves for Paris in an hour. I eat, I think, and I decide that I am getting on that train whether I have a reservation or not.

So I get on the train, talk with the ticket guy when he comes by and end up getting a reservation. It completely WAS possible.... I kind of want to find a way to tell the woman in the ticket office.

So I end up arriving back in Paris at 9:30pm, with plenty of time to get to bed and still feel good for class the next day. Yay! Honestly, even though it was a bit of a hectic weekend, and the huge amount of travel time, it still was an amazing time. Oktoberfest was a blast, and I met so many people on my journey there and back that I really enjoyed talking to that it was well worth the stress!

The Sacre Coeur and a bit of Montmartre

The week before classes started (so we're talking about two weeks ago now) I went to wander around Montmartre a bit. I didn't really plan much, it was just a beautiful day and I was going to go for a walk. I got off the metro at the Anvers stop, and came up smack dab in the middle of souvenir shop upon souvenir shop upon souvenir shop. So I wandered through the street, looking at the rather kitschy stuff for sale, and ended up at the Sacre Coeur. I climbed to the top for an absolutely fantastic view of the city.

I went in the church as well, but there were no photos allowed, so you will have to just take my word that it was beautiful :)

After that I walked through the tourist-packed square where there were dozens and dozens of artists drawing people and doing caricatures (for a small fee of course).

I also made a point to find the Lapin Agile - the famous cabaret that Picasso, Modigliani and others frequented. I didn't go in, quite honestly I didn't even check if it was open, but it was still fun to see.

And then I just wandered around, enjoying the neighborhood and the wonderful weather.

It was a wonderful little day :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Short One

Goodness, I am getting horrible at updating my blog! I will be better now, I swear! I have not had a personal internet connection since I arrived in France over a month ago, and have been relying on places such as McDonald's that have free WIFI. I now (thanks to the help of some wonderful classmates) have internet in my flat and am able to get online more freely. Yay!

Things are going very well here, and I actually started classes last week. I will update more on this tomorrow though, as it is very late here and I have class at 9am tomorrow.

I miss everyone back home! Lots of love!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Berlin, Day 4 (Sunday, Sept 12)

I spent my last day in Berlin at the zoo and aquarium, and I'm not going to lie - it was super cool. It is an awesome awesome zoo.

You're really really close to the animals (check out the picture above of the elephant), you can watch their feedings, and the zoo has (thanks wikipedia) "the most comprehensive collection of species in the world."

It was a really fun, relaxing way to end my trip. I caught my train home at 8pm and slept most of the way home. I ended up getting in just after 11am because of a delay, but I had no plans today so it wasn't an issue for me.

All in all I had an amazing time in Berlin. It is an absolutely fascinating city and I loved my time there. It has its grungy side, and it's still rebuilding, but it is an incredible city. I met some amazing people, saw some amazing things, and ate some amazing food. It is now up there as one of my favorite cities in the whole world.

Berlin, Day 3 (Saturday, Sept 11)

I started my third day in Berlin by going to the Pergamon Museum. This museum (to steal a description from Wikipedia because they are a bit more eloquent and concise than me) "houses original-sized, reconstructed monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Alter, the Market Gate of Miletus, all consisting of parts transported from Turkey." It was incredibly fascinating, and the pieces were very impressive.

After spending quite a bit more time at the museum then I thought I was going to, I went for a walk through the Tiergarten park.

I then finished up my day by going to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was badly damaged by bombing during World War 2, and now is a memorial hall.

It was really interesting to see the church in its current condition and to read about the history of the church.

After that I went and found a place to eat and had an absolutely fantastic meal, though I'm not completely sure what I ate... The bartender didn't really speak English and the menu was only German. It was delicious though!