Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Loire Valley

This past weekend my program took some of us to the Loire Valley in France, a place famous for its beautiful castles...and its wine!

We toured three castles (of many) in the region and got to see the places that nobles lived from as early as the 11th century. We visited the Chateau du Blois, Chateau Chenonceau, and Chateau Chambord. Take a look at the pictures up on my flickr, because they are quite beautiful.

Saturday night, we went to a wine tasting! We saw how wine is made from the crushing of the grapes to the bottling. There is a long process from start to finish. Most importantly, we tasted seven different wines - reds, whites, rosées, even a sparkling wine! I even bought some and sent them home with my dad, so come Christmas time we'll be able to have a taste of the Loire Valley.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

One month: an update

Yesterday marked the end of my first month in Paris! I can't believe that I've only been here for a month, I've gotten to see and do so much here already. I'm also completely blown away by the fact that I have 8 more months to go. I have so much time to relax and see everything I want to.

Touristy things I have seen/done so far:

- Notre-Dame (inside)
- Basilica Sacre-Coeur
- The Eiffel Tower (the grounds)
- Musee de Louvre
- Musee d'Orsay
- Musee d'Orangerie
- Boat ride on the Seine
- Walk down the Champs-Elysées
- L'Arc du Triomphe

Touristy things I have yet to do:

- Centre Pompidou
- The Catacombes
- Le Grande Palais
- L'institut du Monde Arabe
- Eiffel Tower (to the top)
- Notre-Dame (to the top)

     There's still so much time for me to do all of those things, and more. There are of, course, all the not-touristy things I want to do as well.

Today I went to the Musée d'Orangerie (in the Jardin Tuileries) and I got to see Water Lilies paintings by Monet, which were (to quote Midnight in Paris) overwhelming. I saw a lot of Picasso, Renoir, and Modigliani as well. Beside Monet's work, I still prefer the Musée d'Orsay and all of Toulouse-Lautrec's work.

That's all for today, this weekend I'll be heading to the Loire Valley so look out for some wine updates next week!

Au revoir!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Normandy/Mont St. Michel

This past weekend my program took us all to Normandy (a region of France) and to Mont St. Michel!

Day 1:

- Museum of the World Wars:

Our first stop was to a museum by the city Caen, in Normandy. It chronicled the events leading up to, during, and between both World Wars (les deux guerres mondiales). Most importantly we watched real footage from the landing at Omaha Beach (on D-day, le 6 juin 1944). It was really interesting because we got to see footage from both sides, the Allies and the Germans on that morning as both prepared for battle. It was also extraordinarily sad, because we watched as the troops stormed the beach and many were simply shot down.

- Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery:

After the museum, we actually went to Omaha Beach, which was absolutely breathtaking, even though it had started to pour down rain. Seeing the beach now, very peaceful, was almost surreal, given the footage we had JUST watched. Just atop the cliff that overlooks the beach we were able to visit the American Cemetery, which was also moving. I really can't describe it in words, you can, however, check out my pictures on flickr (link is at the right).

- Cider Tasting:

After the very sad, reflective visit to Cemetery we went to a cidre (en français) maker that is very famous in Normandie. There, they pick the apples and go through the entire process from apple juice to very hard liqueur. So we tasted everything along the scale. From the apple juice, which was incredible, all the way up to the Calvados. My favorite was the creme Calvados (which was kind of like a Bailey's Irish Cream). So all in all it was a fun (and tipsy) visit.

Day 2:

Mont St. Michel:

After staying the night in the city of Caen, we made the trek to Mont St. Michel. The island of rock sits just inside the Bay that opens to the English Channel. It is famous for the Church and Abbey that sit on top of the rock, dedicated to St. Michael. The original Abbey was built in 708, but much of the church and the tiny tiny village below was built in the 10th century. A lot has happened on the island throughout its long history. It was a fortress during the Hundred Years War that the British simply couldn't seize. After the Revolution it became a prison until it was recognized as a historic site in the later 1800s. Now, about 3 million people a year visit St. Michel. Oddly enough, there are actually only 24 people who live there. Twelve of them are monks and nuns; the other twelve work in the shops, restaurants and hotels.

We actually got a guided tour around the Abbey which was pretty amazing, because we actually got to learn about all of that history. There are some incredible sites in and around the village and church. We got to stand inside a room that is over 1,000 years old.

After our guided tour we had some free time to eat and shop in the village and then we made the 6 hour bus trip back to Paris!


But me describing all of this is pretty boring, so check out my flickr account for some great pictures of both days!


EDIT: I completely forgot to mention how different the view of D-day is here from back in the US. I mean, I knew about D-day and the storming of the beaches and that it was a significant effort in the war. For the French though, this day lives in infamy. It was the day that they had hope of liberation. You may think that all French hate Americans (and after seeing some tourists I understand why), but not in Normandy. They still remember what the American troops did for them that day. It's absolutely incredible.

Monday, October 1, 2012

20 years old!

Yesterday I celebrated my 20th birthday! I can't believe that, first of all, I'm not a teenager any more, and that I got to spend my birthday in this beautiful city!

My dad was here this past weekend (stopping for a few days before he returns to VA) and we got to do some pretty cool things. On Saturday we went and hung out at the Eiffel Tower for a while then walked around the 7th Arrondissement. On Sunday (my birthday!) we walked all around Montmartre and even went into Sacre Coeur during a mass! I still think that Montmartre is the most beautiful part of Paris, but that may be because of all of it's gorgeous history. After walking around the hill we went to the Montmartre Cemetery, which was probably the most terrifying thing I've ever done. We only spent about 10 minutes there because I got really freaked out.

For lunch, we got Chipotle! There is one single Chipotle in the entirety of France, and I had to go there on my birthday, obviously. So I got my usual order, but there was no white rice - I'm pretty sure they only have brown rice. Also the tortillas are very very different. They are much more bread-like than in the US. Overall, it was really good though.

After that, we back to the hotel, but not before wandering aimlessly around the 15th arrondissement. We found some pretty cool restaurants and some big grocery stores and even a movie theater that is a few blocks from my apartment! We hung out at the hotel for the rest of the night and just grabbed some baguette sandwiches and some crepes for dinner and dessert.

Overall, it was a great birthday! I'm so fortunate to get to start my twenties in the city of my dreams. Hopefully, it's a sign of the all the adventures and achievements I'll have over the next decades.

Thank you everybody for your birthday wishes!
A tout a l'heure!