So we left this morning at 8AM sharp and arrived in Paris around 2 or 3PM. We slept the entire way because we knew Paris was going to “start” as soon as we got there. My initial reaction to Paris was “NEW YORK CITY! But with much more history, art, design, and general European flavor”. We were greeted with beautiful statues and monuments and herds of well-dressed people on foot, on bike, and scooters. After getting settled into a hotel room, our group set out for a stroll through the city. My words would certainly not do the city any justice, so I hope the pictures can at least make an honest attempt. We got to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. What a marvel it is that MAN, could build such an immense structure sooooo long ago. Across the street was an old fashioned carousel. I couldn’t resist and all the girls(Linda,Mary,Britney, and myself) hopped on for a ride. As we made our way back to the hotel, Dr. Stribling pointed out some of the main attractions, such as the bridges and art museums. Then we got a nice introduction to the metro system-quite possibly the king of all public transportation systems.I THOUGHT I could read a metro map because I’m familiar with the light-rail system(growing up in Baltimore). Well, I was wrong…and I was VERY confused. It would be a headache for me to explain the metro system in a blog but I will sum it up….many lines=many stops= different colors=could be RER=hurry hurry=go here, no wait, go there=get in before the door closes=this is our stop…I think=oh look, we’re here after all!
Our second day in Paris, the group headed to Sacre Coeur, one of the most recognizable churches in Paris. It sits at the top of a hill overlooking the city. It also slightly ressembles the Taj Mahal. As part of her class, Jessica made a presentation on the site. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but accented with beggars and souvenir hustlers. That was one of the first things are instructors warned us about. Thus, we kept our purses and bags close to us and an eye on strangers. After exploring the church, we walked around Montmartre- a neighborhood famous for it’s painters and singers, such as Edith Piaf, who would sing in the streets. Then, we got on the Metro and got off at the Saint Martin stop. A small group of us went to the Cluny Museum, the largest museum for the Middle Ages. My favorite part was La Dame et L’unicorne tapisserie= the lady and the unicorn tapestry. Luckily, we got to hear a curator discuss the tapestries to a group of school children. From what I understood, the five tapistries represent the five senses. There is alot of symbolism in the works which alludes to some mystery. The highlight came when my camera flash went off, and I got the dirty looks of a room full of French people. Afterwards, we visited Saint Chappelle and Notre Dame cathedral. St. Chappelle was the original cathedral that held the relics from the Passion(Jesus’ crown of thorns, nails, etc.). Furthermore, it is known for its stained glass windows which depict all the scenes from the Bible. The windows are enormous, so you just grab a chair, a guide that tells you how to read the windows, and just sit in awe. Compared to this, Notre Dame did not reach my expectations. I expected grandeur. However, the most compelling part of Notre Dame(besides its exterier, belltower,etc…); is its history. I did not know that Notre Dame was in danger of being condemned until Victor Huge saved it and hired men to make renovations. After taking a tour, I bought a rosary to have blessed for my co-worker. Jenny and I waited for about 45 minutes to see a priest-rehearsing our request in French. I feel guilty for wanting the person ahead of us to expedite his confession. We did not get to see the priest BUT he did meet a nice couple from Iowa. Finding Americans in these parts in not uncommon, but the feeling is similiar to finding a dress you adore but its not your size, and then by fluke you find the dress IN YOUR SIZE on a totally random rack. You give up hope, but then VOILA! We had a quick lunch and then walked over to the Louvre. Now here, words cannot do the most magnificent museum-justice. If your reading this blog, and you have not been…you need to go. What I do suggest is reading up on art beforehand. You will appreciate it so much. It will be like listening to the Beatles all your life and then finally getting to see them in person. I’m sure if I had done some more research, I may have cried like the Venus de Milo was Elvis.
Today is our last day in Cherbourg. We had class as usual(4 hours) BUT it went by quickly as usual because we just had series of conversations based on different prompts from our book. For our final exam, our class had to keep up a 15-20 minute conversation in French about topics like cultural differences, food, the program. It went particularly well because we helped each other out, especially when we were stuck on a word or phrase. We talked the most about food and how delicious the croque monsieurs were, ALTHOUGH they are simply glorified ham and cheese sandwiches. I talked about the lack of personal space in France. For instance, the people here get very close to you when you speak HOWEVER you rarely see the French hug one another. I also commented that the French do not use the language barrier as an excuse to be rude to us, BUT they are more welcoming when they recognize our efforts to speak their language. This made me consider our own culture wherein we EXPECT foreigners to know our language before setting foot on our soil and how upset we get when they don’t use english. There are a few times wherein we will try to speak their language to help them, but for the most part, Americans act offended when they hear different languages. I am disappointed by this and find this to be condusive to the idea that Americans are egotistical and narrow-minded. On the positive side, this can be corrected by introducing younger generations to experiences that promote diversity…such as this! In order to understand yourself(or in this case, your culture) better, you must be on the outside looking in. Hopefully, others will see the merit in experiences like this and pursue them. YAY! STUDY ABROAD! Anywho, after taking the final, it was a mad dash to pack up and clean our rooms. Our bus for Paris was leaving at 7AM sharp. My method for packing was sitting on my suitcase as I zipped it up-THAT is how stuffed I was with cookies, wine, and winter clothes! Jenny, Becca,Amryn,Courtney, and I went out for dinner. We dined at quite possibly the ritziest restaurant in town—Sarcozy and Obama worthy….Oncle Scott’s County Restaurant! And it was a hoot! Situated in the heart of Cherbourg’s shopping district, Oncle Scott’s restaurant offers the finest burger plates, fries, and baked potatoes(overflowing with mounds of sour cream). Our server(whose real name was probably NOT Eric) was dressed in a cowboy hat, shirt, and boots. He was wonderful and the food was MMmmMMmm Texas Roadhouse-esque. And the best part? The owner..my uncle Scott…lives in Vicksburg, Virginia. What an ideal location to start a franchise, huh?! We left the restaurant and headed home, but stopped in a really cool looking bar called PAZ. The dazzle was short lived because we were the only ones in there and the bartender was playing some super cheesy house music. All in all, it was another good chuckle. We arrived back at the Institut to Britney’s French family. It was quite the fete, and oddly, I had some really deep talks with some of the Frenchies. One talk was about nuclear pollution- I was wearing an anti-pollution shirt and Cyrielle(Cocoa Puff) struck up a conversation with me about it. Basically, she believe in the message of my shirt, but could not support it because her family worked in that industry. Without the nuclear power industry, many people would be unemployed-it is the backbone of their economy. The organization that I bought the shirt from(GreenPeace) is not popular in France, for that very reason. I found this most interesting because Ive seen so many efforts towards achieving global sustainability- I figured the younger generations would support organizations such as GreenPeace. But much like our own American society, we follow the lead of our elders, including their industries. However, as much as I understand, and can somewhat relate, I do hope they pursue possibilities in alternative energy&fuel sources.
The night was bittersweet. We did not want to leave our newfound friends and cozy town of Cherbourg BUT we were so eager to get to Paris…the city of lights. For once I am thankful for social networking sites like Facebook. We will keep in touch, and ideally we will communicate in French. I hate goodbyes, but they must be said. It helped a little that we were rushing to make it to our bus on time. And so, instead of Au Revoir, I will say A Bientot(Until next time)!
So who would’ve thought that an old municipal rubbish dump could be transformed into a floral park? Today we travelled to Caen(close to a 2-hour drive from Cherbourg) and our first stop was the Parc Floral de la Colline aux Oiseaux. The park is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of D-Day and features themed gardens. We came on a beautiful day(one of very very few!) And what was the most memorable part of les jardins? Britney hugging a plant! Our next stop was the center of the city. There, we had lunch with Celine, one of Britney’s friends that she hosted through the Sports Exchange Program. Celine visited us in Cherbourg shortly after our arrival, and showed us around town. She also took us to her parents home in the Hague–right on the coast where you can see wild horses scoured among the hills. One of my favorite parts about going to visit her parents was the fact that the only english they knew was “Come Aboard!” because their house is nautical themed.They were quite welcoming and they kindly chuckled at our attempts to communicate with them in French. By the way, Celine is basically American. Not only is her English superb, but she knows every word to “Rocky Top”. I don’t even know the first 5 five words to “Rocky Top”. Besides being in shock by her near perfect English, Celine surprised me with her sense of humor. I tended to write the French off as very serious and solemn. Celine, however, is one of the most animated people I have ever met. Her personality is so colorful and bold, I could seriously see her fitting into American culture very well. I’m not saying ALL French people are cold and introverts, but they are more on the quiet and reserved side. Le petit dejeuner(lunch) was wonderful- I ordered a formule with fish and veggies (a formule is your choice of an appetizer or dessert with entree and drink for a good price). After lunch, we went to the castle of William the Conqueror. The rain became a downpour and we rushed to the Women’s Abbey, which William had built(between 1060&1080)along with a men’s abbey on the opposite side of town) to legitimize his power because he was born a bastard. We received a full tour of the abbey including its Holy Trinity Abbey Church- a masterpiece of Romanesque Norman art. There is this jaw-dropping painting on the half-dome arch of the Virgin’s Assumption which dates back to the early 18th Century. Our group also got to go down in the crypt(added in the 11th century). The abbey was our last site in Caen and sadly we had to return to Cherbourg….
For our free weekend, I planned(like many others in our group) to take a weekend trip to a neighboring city. I had my heart set on going to Versailles(the most incredibly decadent palace to date) because it was not included in our excursions. Jenny, Amryn, Becca, Courtney, and I researched train fare, hostel prices, and admission to Versailles. We were all ready to hop the next train until we found out that all the hotels and hostels were booked. It was a bad weekend because the French were celebrating the Ascension of Mary. France is heavily populated with Catholics, so besides school closings, basically entire towns were closing their doors early. Plus, it didn’t help that we thought we could book a room with a day’s notice. We ended up staying in Cherbourg, and I am somewhat please with out little “dilemma”. We got to explore Cherbourg on our own(mainly for shopping purposes) and really practiced our French. In a way, I felt like I was using a solid 8 chapters of my french book- hitting topics from “how to order lunch” to “how to find something in a boutique” to “how to send a postcard” and finally “how to find a movie listing”…. We really bonded and I’m excited to make new friends that I will definately keep in touch with after the end of this trip. Oh and ALAS! I caught up on much needed sleep!
Last night/this morning, around 2:30AM, I was awakened by a knock on my door. I had been working on my presentation for class all night and had just laid down, maybe 10 minutes earlier. It was Britney, probably the most American girl in France(and proud of it! she would add). Britney had a bad dream and believe our dormitory was haunted. Ofcourse, where we are staying IS Napolean’s miliary hospital. We had a nice little slumber party, though we couldnt get to sleep until 4Am and we had class at 8:30!
My assignment for my Conversation in French class was to research a church in Cherbourg and make a 10 minute presentation about it in French. Honestly, this may be one of my favorite “projects” I’ve ever worked on in French. The research aspect was interesting because we had to use 100% french websites(no wikipedia) and translate as we went along. I got so used to it, I was able to write my notes in French and form them into presentation form. Then, we had to locate the parish and on the day of the presentation, get our class from point A(the institute where we reside) to point B(the church). That meant we had to use our skills with the map and reading bus schedules. That was the focus of our first week of class: learning to navigate; giving and receiving directions, etc. My church was L’eglise de Saint Martin, located in the butte of Cherbourg-Octeville. My teacher helped me a little with deciphering the bus route, and from there, I was on my own. At one point, Madame Hayes said, “now you understand the pressure of “la responsable”. I was soo nervous about misleading my group and getting lost in the city, BUT I survived and we arrived without any trouble. My church was the most simple of all we visited. Built in 1160, the architecture is romanesque with its low ceilings and dim lighting. On the exterior, there are zodiac symbols, carved in stone on one of the sides. I did not find much information regarding those symbols, but I would like to know more. After we finished presentations, we took the bus to our school cafeteria. The food is delicious, especially the staple BREAD AND CHEESE(la pain et le fromage). Oh and I must not forget, the chocolate mousse. Ofcourse, there were some things that looked and smelled “unique”, but I wasnt going to be tied down to fries and steak hache(burger). I tried something new each day, and ended up liking alot of it. Several of the other students had the same idea and started getting out of their comfort zone. After all, why would you travel thousands of miles to feel like you were right at home?
Today we left our cozy hostel in Saint Malo for Les Avranches. The night before, most of our group walked down to the beach. There were a great deal of teens from the hostel jumping in the water and horsing around in the sand. It was such a perfect ending to a long day of climbing and exploring MSM. I don’t think I was the only one worn out from that hike. There were so many architectural nooks and crannies to get into, how could you resist dipping away into an alley between Madame Poulard’s and the creperie? The cobble stone “street” was packed with tourists-young, old, french,german, asian, texan(we ran into a group of students from texas once before at the bayeaux tapestry).The story of MSM;s construction is quite interesting: the arch angel Michael appeared in the dreams of Bishop Aubert a few times before he finally built the church on the exact spot that the angel had wanted. Legend has it that the half-dollar size hole in Bishop Auberts skull(kept as a relic in a basilica in Avranche) is where the angel Michael had tapped him on the temple. The next day, after spending the morning in St.Malo- shopping and wondering up at the “parapluies”(umbrellas) strewn up on lines from building to building, we stopped in Avranche from lunch. A small group of us woofed down our Croque Monsieur(the ultimate ham and cheese grilled sammie) to find the basilica with the skull of Bishop Aubert. We found the church and explored the room filled with relics. In the front was the skull-housed in a glass and gold display. Our awe was short lived after someone started discussing the “truth” behind the myth of the hole in the skull. Scientists suspect the hole was a result of a tumor growing from the inside out. My awe was quieted and I was somewhat upset that science has a way of dampening belief in the “spiritual supernatural”…However, in this region, where there is such a heavy Catholic population, I dont think these “new findings” make any threat to their beliefs.
These past two days we have been staying in the town of Saint Malo. Our group ventured to Mont Saint Michel yesterday-two hours outside of Cherbourg. I will give you a more detailed run down of St Mont Michel another day BUT it is a city built by this bishop that looks like it is a city built on a mountain. Legend goes: the angel Michael came to the Bishop to build a church and the bishop refused. The second time the angel appeared- he tapped his finger on the bishops head and said basically YOU WILL BUILD THIS CHURCH! Needless to say, the bishop built this grand church. Also, many people believe the quarter sized hole that was left in the bishops skull was the angels ‘touch’. Today we travelled to the basilica where that relic is held and actually saw the skull housed in this ornate gold/glass case. Right now it is a very holy period soo many things are closed down; etc. Our bus passed by a church that just let out of mass and it was really cool to see all the people dressed up in their Sunday(Thursdays) finest. Okay I have got to run because the internet cafe is about to close BUT next time I will talk about Mt.St.Michel and all its beauty and tourist glory AND some of the towns we’ve been exploring. This weekend some students may be going to Paris but it depends on the train/bus schedule. FINGERS CROSSED!
Bonjour mes amis!
So how about your favorite frenchie was stuck in a phone booth for almost two hours because it was raining so hard! On Sunday, after lunch at the kebab restaurqnt Jenny and I used the internet cafe(my most recent post) and walked down to the telephone booth to call home. It wzs gorgeous sunny weather up until I hung up the receiver and it began to downpour. Jenny and I were ill prepared- in fact we were dressed super cute because it was such a pretty day. We decided to stay in the booth until it stopped and that was indeed for an hour and 45 minutes. It was a little cramped but we took turns standing and sitting. We had deep talks, goofy talks, Disney sing a longs, and even started planning our weddings! If I ever have to be stuck in a phone booth again- I know who I want to share it with! Sunday was a lazy day- and I used the rest of the day to catch up on homework.
Monday, we headed to the World War 2 Museum. The lovely Ms. Theresa Castillo joined us as well! It was probably one of the best museums I have ever visited-the exhibits engaged every sense and totally captured all the themes of war. Now there were some very intense exhibits that were very hard to handle but I understand they created such a dark atmosphere for a reason-ww2 was dark and brutal and full of tragedy,but what came of it was tremendous triumph and change…this may be a longshot but I see why they had a HUGE Obama section in the gift shop.
Later that day, our group visited the WW2 D Day beaches where the US soldiers landed in the middle of the night. It was such an honor to walk down the same hill and stand on the same shore as these brave men. I took some great pictures at Omaha beach and collected sand these as well. Not far from the beach is the D Day memorial to American soldiers. Once again, I cannot wait to post these pictures- especially of the chapel ceiling- it is a mosaic of angels guiding the soldiers when they landed on the beach. It was a powerful day so it was no wonder that everyone passed out on the bus when it was time to leave.
Salut mes amis!
It has been difficult finding time to get to a computer and blog, but VOILA I found the time AND the internet cafe. Before we came to the internet cafe, the group had lunch at this ‘gyro’ restaurant. It feels so good to get a delicious hot meal after walking in the cold rain. It rains everyday here in Cherbourg even when it looks like it is going to be a lovely sunny day. I want to buy a really ornate parapluie-umbrella while I am here! We kicked off our excursions on Wednesday with the gardens-I will update you all with pictures and an actual name. The gardens were blooming with magnificent flowers. One of the students at the institution we are staying in told me that Cherbourg is underrated for its natural beauty. Also in the garden was a museum full of rare birds,insects,fish, and a mummy. It was like A Night at the Museum. Brittany screamed and ran just seeing a stuffed tarantula. After the excursion, Brittany and her french friends took a couple of us to the Centre- downtown part of the city. We had a blast and we had coffee in a renovated theater complete with plush red velvet couches. Apparently; it was where you could find the celebrities in Cherbourg dining or enjoying a drink. Thursday, we went to the art museum of Thomas Henry-musée d’art thomas-henry. The story goes, Thomas Henry was an art collector from the area and when he died he donated all his pieces so Cherbourg could have an art museum- a mini Louevre. The pieces were breath taking and there was a really cool exhibit about Hugo Pratt and his graphic novels. I am going back sometime this week. Yesterday, we had a full day and I will blog about that in detail when Im not on the expensive internet! We visited the D-Day cemetary and memorial museum. Then we saw the famous Bayeux Tapestry- a 230 ft. tapestry made by William the Conquerors wife-Mathilde. It shows 60 scenes mainly the war between the Normans and Saxons. They do not allow photos to be taken because it is such a fragile piece kept in a glass case- but I have a book about it if you wish to learn more. It was pretty cool- the display wrapped around the room and you get in line and receive a walkie talkie that describes each scene as you walk by. Afterwards we visited a gothic cathedral-built during Roman times!-the name escapes me probably because Im in such awe of its architectural beauty. Okay, I definately have to go now! This internet is crazy expensive and the sun is finally out! I am going to enjoy it while I can!!!
Bonjour mes amis!
Pardon my typing AND my english. 1) I am working on a frnech keyboard and the letters are all mixed up. 2) I have been using french so often my english is weakening: THIS IS A GOOD THING! I am proud of myself because my number one goal for this trip was to use my french on a regular basis, especially with the locals. So I will give you my update before I delve into how AMAZING this place is… We arrived in Pqris around 8 30 in the morning. Charles de Gaulle airport was a ghosttown. We then had a 4 hour bus ride to our host town, Cherbourg. Cherbourg is a port city in Normandy. We are walking distance to the English channel. The weather is cloudy, cold, and damp. Unfortunately some people from the group assumed it would be much warmer and sunnier and packed shorts and dresses. Let that be a leçon. GOOGLE THE WEATHER! I didnt pack any sweaters so I may venture out to find two along with the gal who only brought sun dresses! It is scenic here; very quaint with cobblestone alleys,window box gardens, and bakeries. I really dont care about all the pastries I will be eating because we will be walking alot. After we got nestled into our rooms which by the way are LAVISH! Everyone has their own kitchenette,bathroom/shower/huge closet/desk/two sidetables/ and bed complete with BODY PILLOWS! I thought I may have to to do a bit of cleaning but it was spick spock neat and tidy. My windows open up to the Courtyard of the IUT*school we are staying at*; by the way this place is trés old because it is the hospital Napolean had built for his army. Anywhoo, we went to the market which is a french version of Super Walmart because you can buy cheese,toilet paper, laxn furniture, and plants ALL in one place! The food is resonble priced- I bought a big loaf od bread,cheese sampler,orange juice,salami, a small portion of pasta salad, and five apples for under €15. Afterwards we walked around town and met up with Brittanys French family. They were wonderful and very eager to use their French. So far, my favorite part about this city is the people- how we share the eagerness to use each others language. After meeting Brits friends were wandered around school and found a party. I only remember about 3 names, I think it was Ben who said “I love English I want to speak it often!” Brittany,Maty, and I dominated that fete:. I made my way up to the DJ booth with my iPod and played some Britney Spears,Hot Chip,Rod Lee, etc. and they loved it! At one point someone put an orange safety cone on their head and then some random dog was there?! All in all, Le Fun is having Le Fun, especially for being awake for 30 something hours! C’est fou! Mes amis I must go now- I am using the computer at the school where classes will be held- 30 minute walk from our apartments. Hopefully I cqn update every other dqy. AND hopefully I can upload pictures and video.
à tout à l’heure