For the first school vacation, I decided to visit Toulouse in the hopes of exploring the regional culinary specialities of the midi-Pyrénées region of southwest France.
I’m not entirely sure where to begin because I am a bit overwhelmed from the past few days, but I suppose that’s to be expected when moving abroad. Continue reading “la vie à vendôme: first impressions”
Senior year of college brought with it all sorts of feels, the most prominent of which was an impending sense of doom mixed in with lots and lots of nostalgia. That may sound dramatic, but I loved the person I had become after four years in college. I loved my friends, the activities I was involved in, and the classes I was taking. I was happy, so I suppose the “impending sense of doom” I speak of was really just a fear of unhappiness, a fear of losing the places and the people that made me feel so alive in college. Continue reading “5 reasons I decided to move abroad after graduation”
What better way to spend senior year spring break than scooping up donkey poo? That’s what all the cool kids are doing these days, right? Right. Continue reading “WWOOFing Adventure”
Hi everyone! I apologize for the delay between posts. My time in Paris is winding down and I have been trying to fit in as much as possible in my last few precious weeks here. Here’s what I’ve been up to!
1. Shopping! Marché aux puces, le Marais, la Gallerie Lafayette, Christmas markets on the Champs Élysées and at La Défense!
The impending holiday season has given my friends and me an excuse (not like we really need one though) to go shopping and find some good Christmas gifts for family and friends. We started off a few weeks ago by exploring the marché aux puces. As one of the largest flea markets in Paris, it has between 2,500 and 3,000 stalls set up every weekend in the northern part of the city selling antique furniture, vintage books, postcards, clothing, shoes and everything in between. Not long after arriving and beginning to explore the market did I realize that, despite the fact that the area of Paris is not the nicest, it is the kind of place where I could probably spend multiple hours searching through box after box of vintage photographs to find one that strikes my interest. We only visited about a dozen stands but I’m eager to go back and explore more of what the market has to offer and maybe come across some hidden treasure underneath all of the old luggage, armoires and shampoo bottles.
We also spent some time exploring the Marais, the Gallery Lafayette (where there’s a huge and beautiful Christmas tree in center) and the Christmas markets at La Défénse and the Champs Élysées (complete with crepes, roasted chestnuts, and hot wine!). There are Christmas lights up all throughout the city which, if it’s even possible, makes Paris look even more magical at nighttime.
2. Graffiti Tour
Two weeks ago, I, along with two of my friends, went on a graffiti tour of Paris around the Belleville area. We braved the FREEZING temperatures to spend three hours walking around and learning about the culture of street art in Paris, which is essentially a free art form. We learned the different categories of graffiti art, including a tag (a simple stylized signature often done in a color that sharply contrasts that of its background) and a throw up or a bomb (one step up from a tag and includes one color outline and one layer of fill-color). In addition, we were able to view the work of some celebrated and well-known street artists in Paris (whose names sound like they come from video games) including Fred Le Chevalier, Invader, Zoo Project, Monsieur Chat, Gzup, Vhils and Ella and Pitr. I was surprised by how established the culture of street art in Paris is, to the point where some street artists get commissioned to put up art in certain public places around the city. We were lucky enough to see the work of Shepard Fairey, creator of the OBEY clothing brand and the Obama HOPE poster made famous during the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
3. Opera Visit
Last weekend, Boston College brought us on a tour of the Opera Garnier! Designed as part of the reconstruction of Paris during the second empire, the opera house served as a central location for the bourgeoise of Paris during the late 19th century. People came more for the purpose of socializing and showing off than for watching the opera or the ballet. In fact, most people spent their time in the restaurant rather than in their seats watching what was happening on stage. The opera house is as opulent as the hall of mirrors in Versailles and it is adorned with huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors used by guests to eye their peers in a less conspicuous way. Additionally, many of the wealthiest visitors would eat oranges during the intermission of shows because of the fact that oranges are not grown in France and are thus very expensive and a sign of great wealth. After eating the oranges, the wealthy Parisians would return to their seats; however, the smell of citrus would linger on their fingers so that other people would know they were wealthy not only because of their clothes or the box they were sitting in, but also because the strong citrus odor would diffuse throughout the room. People could smell who was wealthy!
One of the highlights of our tour was seeing the phantom’s box, made famous by the novel, Le Fantome de l’Opéra, which was subsequently adapted into a Broadway play.
4. Dior Exhibition
After the opera tour, some of us headed over to Le Grand Palais in order to see the Dior Exhibition before it ended. Due to the fact that the exhibition was only there for a bit over two weeks, the line was SO long. We waited for two hours (which didn’t seem so long because we each alternated walking around the corner to the Champs Elysées Christmas markets to get lunch). The exhibition focused on the relationship between art and fashion, specifically how Christian Dior represents the magic of elegance and style which is modern, but also timeless. In creating the Miss Dior brand, Christian Dior aimed to “make women more beautiful and happier.” He fostered a passion for France and its history, especially Versailles and Marie-Antoinette. The exhibition presented the work of fifteen women artists who were all inspired by the Miss Dior fragrance.
5. Paris walks – Fitzgerald, Hemigway, & Left Bank Writers of les années folles (the roaring 20s)!
Walking the old streets of Montparnasse, St. Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens, I saw where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound lived. I also peeked inside some of the famous cafés where they met in the 1920s, including the café where Gertrude Stein introduced Hemingway to Fitzgerald! We also passed by the place where Sylvia Beach originally had her famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co., which published Ulysses by James Joyce in 1922!
6. Wine Tasting
This past weekend, I participated in a wine tasting with my good friend from high school who is also studying abroad in Paris! We tasted champagne, two types of white wine, and three types of red wine. The wines we tasted come from six different regions of France including Champagne, Bordeaux, Sancerre and the Rhone. We learned about the different types of grapes grown in each region of France, how Champagne is made, and also how to differentiate between “fruity” and “oakey” flavors.
So, as you can probably tell from the title of this post, last week involved lots of travel for fall break.
1st stop: London
I arrived in London on Friday evening with two of my friends after a Chunnel ride from Paris. We checked into our hostel and went out to explore the city and have dinner. We were walking around after dinner trying to find some sort of pub or bar we could go to and stumbled upon a Spanish restaurant, which obviously only means one thing: sangria. It was weird to think that, before arriving in Paris just about two months prior, we had not known each other at all. But as we sat and talked for a few hours, it felt like I had known them forever. I guess living in a foreign country together will do that for you. We didn’t have much time on Saturday morning before our bus left for Liverpool, but we were still able to fit in a trip to Abbey Road, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey!
2nd stop: Liverpool
We caught the bus to Liverpool mid-day on Saturday and arrived a few hours later. That night, we went to “the most famous club in the world”- aka The Cavern Club. It is the very spot where The Beatles’ musical identity was formed and is now known as the cradle of British pop music. The Rolling Stones, Queen, Elton John, the Who, and many other famous musicians have also played at The Cavern.
Upon entering, we had to go downstairs into a small room with no windows and exposed brick. Almost every brick on the walls and the ceiling was marked with the names of individuals or musical groups who have played at The Cavern. As soon as I made my way into the room, it felt like I traveled back in time- Midnight in Paris style (the Liverpool version). There was live music all night long and, not surprisingly, it was mostly Beatles songs. We had a blast dancing and singing along. There was something surreal about knowing that we were in the very club that was at the center of a rock and roll musical renaissance in the 1960s. The energy in the club was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There were people spanning all ages and from all over the world celebrating and enjoying something that, despite cultural and linguistic differences, can bring everyone together into a musty basement in the middle of Liverpool: music.
On Sunday morning, we explored the city a bit by walking around the docks. We also took a ride on the big Ferris wheel where we were able to view all of Liverpool and hear about its history. Fun facts- Liverpool held the title for the European Capital of Culture along with Stavanger, Norway, in 2008. Also, Liverpool is considered one of the most important trading ports in the world.
3rd stop: Back to London
We arrived back in London on Sunday late afternoon and grabbed dinner with two other BC students studying in Paris who were also traveling to London for the first half of their fall break. We got an early start the next day so that we could fit in as much as possible. We started by taking the tube to Notting Hill gate and visiting one of the most famous shopping districts in London.
After probably spending too much time than we should have shopping, we hopped back on the tube and headed to a popular food market in London to have lunch, the Leadenhall Market.
We decided to walk from the market to the London Bridge because it was so close. When we finally arrived, I realized that the bridge we were really looking for and the bridge I was picturing in my head after seeing countless commercials for the Olympics was Tower Bridge, not London Bridge. Touristy mistake, I know. But Tower Bridge was just down the Thames, and there were perfect views of it from the London Bridge, so it worked out well. It was raining at this point, but we still managed to take a few photos before making our way to Buckingham Palace.
There was no official changing of the guards ceremony taking place that day, but we did still witness the guards changing shifts. It was quite hilarious to me to watch them move in such a mechanical and official manner, without any expression on their faces. I read afterwards that these guards, called sentry, are on duty for a 2-hour period and, during this time, they cannot eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down. Every 10 minutes, the sentry must come to attention, slope his arms, and do a march of 15 paces. We were laughing because the furry black hat that the guards wear (I’m sure there is a more technical name for the hat than “furry black one,” but I don’t know what it is) fell so low one of the guard’s face that it was covering his eyes. This pretty much defeats the purpose of a guard, but I guess he can’t move to fix it, right?
Our last stop of the day was Trafalgar Square where we walked around and eventually met up with two of my friends from BC who are studying in London to enjoy some delicious tea and cupcakes!
4th stop: Dublin
We caught an early flight to Dublin on Tuesday morning and set off to explore the city soon after we arrived. We walked down Grafton street, which is the center of the city where a lot of shops and restaurants are. We grabbed an early dinner on account of the fact that we were starving and really tired from waking up at an ungodly hour that morning. We ate burritos for dinner. I know, I know. I was in Dublin- I should have eaten corn beef and soda bread or some stew and drank a pint of Guinness. But we were just really craving burritos. What can I say? Don’t worry, we ate Irish food for the rest of our time in Dublin!
5th stop: Galway
On Wednesday morning, we caught an early bus to Galway. Our tour guide for the day was a little Irish man with a thick brogue named Joseph who spent most of the time singing, cracking jokes, quoting Oscar Wilde, professing his love for Guinness beer, talking about how important it is to love one another, making us hug people we didn’t know who were also on our tour and also somehow fitting in interesting information about Ireland and its tumultuous history with England. We made a few stops during the day, the main one being the cliffs of Galway, which were absolutely spectacular. It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life; I was blown away by the breathtaking views. I was also almost actually blown away. The wind was SO strong, which makes sense considering the fact that the cliffs soar 702 feet above sea level. At some points, we could not continue walking because the wind was holding us back. Despite the winds, we were still able to take tons of pictures.
6th stop: Back to Dublin
On Thursday, we visited the Dublin Castle. We learned that, in 1169 AD, the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland and captured Dublin. The Dublin Castle became the most important fortification in Ireland and functioned as the seat of colonial rule and the center of military, political and social affairs. We were able to visit St. Patrick’s hall, which is the most important ceremonial room in Ireland. Today, it serves as the focal point of important State functions, including the inaugurations if Irish presidents. It became known as St. Patrick’s Hall when the Order of St. Patrick was instituted in 1783.
After touring the castle, we visited the Chester Beatty Library, which was still within the walls of the Dublin Castle and by far my favorite part of Dublin. Chester Beatty was born in New York in 1875 and, from a young age, became a collector of minerals, Chinese snuff bottles and stamps. Later on in life, he began to buy European and Persian manuscripts. After traveling to Egypt, Japan and Asia, he became interested in richly-illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy. He wanted to preserve texts for their historic value. He became Ireland’s first honorary citizen when he built a library for his art collection in 1954. In an interview in 1956, Beatty was asked how be obtained so many great works. He responded by saying, “It was all a great adventure.”
The first gallery we saw was called Arts of the Book. We viewed books from the ancient world including Egyptian Books of the Dead, medieval European manuscripts and Old Master prints. Additionally, we saw many different types of Islamic manuscripts, including calligraphy and bindings from the Middle East and India. The gallery also holds one of the finest collections of Chinese jade books in the world, Japanese picture-scrolls and woodblock prints.
We then made our way to the exhibit that was, ironically enough, on French fashion. (We were joking that, even when we leave France, the French follow us!) It was still quite interesting to learn about the evolution of French fashion, especially concerning dress for dinner. I found it interesting how, during the early 20th century, wealthy women changed their clothing multiple times a day depending on the season, activity or event. Each mealtime carried its own dress code and the cut and cloth of the clothing was dependent on the time of day or the occasion as well. Women spent thousands of pounds per month on clothing and accessories. In fact, Chester Beatty’s first wife spent an average of $850 a month in 1910 on the family’s wardrobe. That’s the equivalent of $21,000 a month today.
Finally, we visited the Sacred Traditions gallery, which is dedicated to the world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. We read about the rites of passage (birth, marriage and death) in the various belief systems. It was especially interesting to explore this gallery after having taken a year-long theology class comparing Catholicism to Confucianism at BC this past year.
**Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures in any of the exhibits. Trust me, I tried. And I was yelled at.
On our last day in Dublin, we visited Trinity College to see the Book of Kells exhibit. It was written over 1000 years ago when the Irish church was largely monastic and the life of Christ was spread through gospel books. The Book of Kells contains a Latin copy of the four gospels and is estimated as having been created in the early 9th century. At Trinity College, we were also able to walk through the library, which is widely considered as one of the world’s greatest research libraries with the greatest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland.
That afternoon, we took a tour of the Guinness storehouse. The building was originally a fermentation house opened in 1904 and is shaped like a Guinness pint glass. As we walked through the exhibit and learned about the four main ingredients that make Guinness beer, we were essentially walking up the pint glass. After learning about the long and laborious process of producing Guinness beer, we were able to have a free pint on the top floor while enjoying panoramic views of the city of Dublin. It was a fantastic way to end our time in Ireland.
Arriving back in Paris, I was tired and hungry, but relived as I thought to myself: “I’m home.” I found myself excited to return to my apartment and tell my host parents about my week. I absolutely loved traveling around Europe for a week but, at the same time, I missed our dinners and the conversations we have together over (probably too much) camembert cheese and baguette. I feel so blessed to be able to have a host family that feels more and more like my second family every day and to be able to call this city my “home,” even if it’s just for a few months.
Last weekend, I traveled to Germany to go to OKTOBERFEST!! I landed in Munich late Friday night and took the metro with my good friend from high school who is also studying in Paris and was traveling with me. Luckily, we found our way onto the right train line and headed to our hotel room. After a glorious reunion with my friend from BC who was waiting for us at the hotel and a lot of catching up, we went to bed around 2:30 am. Considering that we were planning on getting up early on Saturday morning to head to the festival, this wasn’t the smartest idea. Nonetheless, 4 hours of sleep later, we woke up and made our way outside in the shockingly cold weather (my host mother warned me that it would be cold in Germany… I should have listened) to walk to the carnival.
We congregated outside of the Hofbrau tent and got into what probably was supposed to be a line but was more like a giant mass of college-aged students not standing in any semblance of a order. I was genuinely scared that I was going to be trampled (like Best Buy on black Friday status). Luckily, this did not happen. It came frighteningly close though.
When the doors were opened, we rushed to grab a table and somehow managed to squeeze into one in the corner with some other BC students. Picture an intense and massive game of musical chairs combined with a bit of survival of the fittest and you have a pretty accurate image of what transpired around 9:15am.
Around 9:30, we ordered beer! (I know you’re probably thinking that 9:30 is disgustingly early to start drinking beer, and I concur. But, it was Oktoberfest- exceptions are made.)
Around 3pm, we left the tent and headed outside to walk around the rest of the carnival area. The combination of poring rain and really cold weather at this point certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying the rest of the afternoon, but it is probably the reason why my immune system hates me right now.
However, if I could go back in time, you better believe I would have done it all over again because despite the black friday-like, musical chairs, survival of the fittest, poring rain madness, it was so worth it.
Because I have officially been in Paris for three weeks, I thought I would share some things I have learned so far:
I spent this past weekend in Normandy with all of the Boston College students studying abroad in Paris this semester. It came at a perfect time because it was the weekend between the end of my intensive French class and the start of my classes at La Sorbonne.
We left very early on Saturday and arrived in Normandy by 10:30 am- just in time for our guided visit to the Caen War Memorial where we learned more about what was happening during World War II prior to the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
After eating lunch at the museum, we headed to the beautiful beaches of Asnelles. We were supposed to go sand yachting, but there was not enough wind, so instead some of us went on mini speedboats while others went on kayaks. On one of the beaches nearby, we noticed crowds of people with rakes in their hands. We docked our boat near the beach and approached what turned out to be a memorial in honor of the International Day of Peace. 9,000 people died on D-Day, so to represent this loss, the people on the beach were raking out the outlines of 9,000 bodies into the sand during low tide. The woman we spoke to said that once the tide changes, the outlines of the 9,000 bodies will wash away just as fast as the men died on D-Day. She let us take a stencil and rake out the outline of one of the bodies in the sand to contribute to the effort.
We tried to prolong our day at the beach for as long as possible and savor the last precious moments of summer.
On Sunday, we spent the entire day with a guide touring the D-Day Beaches, including Arromanche, Port Winston, Batterie de Longues sur Mer, Omaha Beach, and Point du Hac.
We were also able to visit both the German and the American cemetery. What struck me most about the German cemetery was that there were two names for each tombstone- a total of 21,000 graves. As we were walking throughout the cemetery, I glanced at the birth dates of the soldiers. Some were just barely 18 or 19. At the center of the memorial is a large hill flanked by two statues and topped by a large dark cross to mark the resting place of 207 unknown and 89 unidentified German soldiers in a mass grave. The sign in the front of the cemetery reads: “it is a graveyard for soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight. They too have found rest in our soil of France.”
The American cemetery looks completely different from the German one. Interestingly enough, the American cemetery is United States territory (so in the same day, we technically traveled from France to the United States and back to France!). This is the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II and contains 9,387 graves. There are also 1,557 names inscribed on a circular colonnade of those who died on D-Day but could not be found and are “known only to God.”
There is a semicircular colonnade with a large bronze statue in the middle entitled, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” The large reflecting pool extends all the way out to two granite statues representing both the United States and France. Together, the architecture and the layout of the memorial along with the spectacular views of the English Channel produced a calming and sobering effect as we walked around the memorial.
When I returned home from Normandy on Sunday night, I did a bit of reading about D-Day online because I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just seen. I came across a speech that Ronald Reagan gave at Point du Hac- the very point where I had just been standing a mere hours earlier- on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasions. It is a captivating speech, considered by many historians as one of the greatest speeches in modern history. I have included an excerpt here, which I felt was particularly touching:
“You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all of humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge- and pray God we have not lost it- that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”
Bonjour à tous! I have been in Paris for just about two weeks now and haven’t had much time to breath, let alone write about my experience due to all the orientations, intensive French classes, homework, tours, and weekend soirées. But the time has finally come, and I have beaucoup of things to talk about!
I am living in Paris for this semester with a lovely French family who does not speak ANY English- pas un mot. When I first heard this, I thought to myself, this must be a mistake. They must speak at least some English. Nope. Needless to say, this language barrier has led to several instances of miscommunication, which have turned out to be quite comical.
On the morning that I arrived, my host sister asked me if I wanted to have breakfast. I wanted to respond by saying: “No, thank you. I ate on the plane so I am full.” Naturally, I directly translated this sentence into French, which was a mistake. The direct translation of “I am full” is “Je suis pleine.” Little did I know, that actually means “I am pregnant.” It does not mean that you are full with food, but rather full with a child. So, my first coherent sentence of my long-anticipated study abroad experience in Paris translated into: “No, thank you. I ate on the plane. I am pregnant.”
Sometimes, you just have to laugh at times like these. My host sister sure did.
After reflecting on the situation I am in, however, I have realized what a blessing it really is. It is challenging me in ways I have never been challenged before, which is one of the reasons I am so passionate about the idea of studying abroad. Although daunting in more ways than I can write, my experience in Paris thus far has forced me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I think this is an invaluable lesson to learn.
In addition to getting to know my host family, I have spent the majority of my time this week in my intensive French class, doing homework at cafés, touring the Louvre, visiting La Sorbonne, trying to register for classes, and becoming a master of the Parisian metro system (no offense to the New York subway system or the Boston T, but the Parisian metro system is the best; it is SO efficient and easy, even for someone like me whose sense of direction is essentially non-existent). And, I might add, I have done all of these things while trying to look as chic as the Parisians do (I’m afraid this needs a bit more work though!).