Europe France Research Grant

Paris, Pt 1: Monet’s Garden and Modern Art

Paris is special enough that it deserves two posts.

Here’s the thing about Paris: everyone romanticizes it.  You watch Midnight in Paris, for example, and see the city devoid of people, with tranquil, clean streets where everything is in its place.  And certainly, before I visited, that was my view as well.  It’s not quiet, though.  It’s a proper city, with noise and dirt and crowds of people moving rapidly through the metro and cars that honk all the time.  And I think if Paris was exactly like my romanticized imagination, I wouldn’t like it very much.  I love that it’s alive, bustling with movement and culture and even tourists.  It’s that atmosphere that draws me in and makes me want to keep returning.  Paris is the perfect blend of romantic beauty and realism, livable and yet still mysterious.

For those of you who have been following me for the past year, you may remember that I’ve already traveled to Paris, last November (x), and loved it.  This was the first trip I booked after the initial details for Strasbourg were taken care of.  Due to the timing of the quarter system, I arranged to spend my 21st birthday in Paris.  While I originally thought I would be alone, my oldest and very dear friend Christine arranged to fly in on my birthday, so I’m splitting these posts into my time before and after she arrived.

I arrived Friday afternoon by TGV and quickly made my way to my Airbnb, which was adorable but made me feel terribly out of shape with its seven flights of stairs.  I had done some research on reasonably priced shops in Paris since I had a lot of shopping to do for family Christmas presents, which led me to the 6th and then into the Latin Quarter.  I stopped by Shakespeare and Company, walked along the Seine, stopped in Notre Dame, and got a cinnamon crepe.  I ended up in Le Marais for the first time and went grocery shopping on my way back to the apartment.  It was so strange to see some of the places I had visited last November.  They looked the exact same but so much has changed in my life.  This time, I didn’t get lost in the Latin Quarter, and I even managed to find my old hotel… nice to know that mental map took 10 months to develop.

Saturday was a day trip out of the city!  Back when I visited Berlin, I took a bike tour with Fat Tire, so I had checked out their Parisian tours and found one to Giverny.  We all met up at the train station, and of course it started raining.  I apparently don’t have great luck when it comes to bike tour weather.  Our group ended up being me and nine Australians.  We all took the train to Vernon, where we went to a market and shopped around.  I wish the US had bakeries the way France does.  After we had all gotten our provisions for lunch, we headed to a picnic spot by the river.  It was gorgeous, and as I ate my bread and cheese and strawberries, our guide explained how impressionists were the punk rockers of the art world.  Although I’ve already learned about impressionism through DIS, I found the information about how art has evolved from these paintings very interesting.  For the first time, I actually saw something in a Jackson Pollock painting beyond meaningless paint splatters, so that has to count for something!

From there, we biked out to Giverny, which is a tiny town that seems to only have bed & breakfasts, art galleries, and one token café.  We headed to Monet’s garden, which was stunning.  I think if I lived somewhere like that, I’d take up painting!  It was split into two parts, the water lily area that contained the Japanese bridge and plants growing freely, and the area near the house with neat rows of flowers organized by their colors.  When it started raining, we headed into the house.  His studio was the best part of that because they had recreations of many of his pieces on the walls.  After we were all done in the gardens, we visited his tomb and then headed back to Vernon to catch the train.  During the course of the day, I had befriended an Australian family and they invited me to dinner with them, so we found a place near the train station between our two apartments.  It was great to have an intellectual discussion about our cultural differences; we talked about politics, education, art, and how our countries handled their indigenous people.  I learned a lot about Australia (which is still on my list of places to go!)

The next day, I left the apartment relatively early and went to a flea market, Marche aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves.  Side note, I’m terrible at restraining myself from buying breakable things… but I was pretty productive and got a lot of Christmas shopping done!  It was a nice little market, with a good variety of objects and decent prices.  Personally, if I lived somewhere that had markets like that, I’d never buy a regular dish again when I could get something beautiful.

I stopped back at the apartment to drop everything off and then I headed out again.  I finally walked around the two islands, starting with Île Saint Louis and then crossing the bridge toward Notre Dame.  I ended up finding Saint Chapelle, which I had read about due to its stained glass.  As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love stained glass, so I figured I should check it out.  After waiting in a very long line, I made my way up the stairs into the high tower.  Wow.  It was AMAZING.  Truly beautiful, and well worth the wait and the cost to get in.  As much as I would have loved to just sit in the stained glass room all day, my time in Paris was unfortunately limited and I had other places I wanted to go!

So I headed off to Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris.  I remember learning about the architecture in high school, about how they wanted to take the parts of the building that are supposed to be on the inside and put them on the outside.  The views from the top are pretty great, with views all around Paris.  I spent a long time wandering around the various pieces, trying to see what caught my eye.  A few I liked:  the strange reflective red glass, the three dimensional mirror, the teal stained glass piece, the dark carpeted room with a loop of rain sounds in the background, furniture aesthetic of the 80s.  The works that made me think the most were a series of pieces by a photographer dealing with the uncanny valley, where she would take mannequins and manipulate them to look realistic, and make models and celebrities and turn their photos doll-like; through the pieces she considered what makes people alive.  Creepy, certainly, but also intriguing.  After a meal at the café, I headed back to the apartment to repack and skype my parents, because the next day was my 21st birthday!

I’ll talk about that on another post, though.  À bientôt!

Europe Spain

Sevilla: The Birthplace of Flamenco

After Gibraltar, we drove to Sevilla.  We climbed up to the top of the Mirador, that looks like a mushroom, which was quite hot in the afternoon but had pretty great views of the city.  We wandered around a little that evening, taking in the area around our hotel, and then had the main tour the next day.  It started at Plaza de España, which was gorgeous.  Then we headed to the Alcazar, which had similar tiling as the Alhambra, and walked around the city center a bit.  Sevilla is a beautiful city, the architecture was very ornate.

The best part of our time there, however, was the flamenco show!  The footwork reminded me a lot of tap, and it was pretty impressive.  The woman who did the choreography was apparently 70 years old.  They performed an excerpt from Carmen, had live music, and did various solo and couples dances with castanets.  Having once danced to the music of Carmen, it was nice to hear music I recognized.  I love watching people dance, and it was awesome to see the regional style!

Our next morning was spent in Cordoba, where we went to a mosque that had been turned into a church.  It had beautiful ceilings, and row after row of columns with red-striped arches.  It still amazes me how the different religious practices seem to coexist so easily in Spain.

Our final night was in Madrid again, after coming full circle.  The trip was a whirlwind!  I had a great time, and although there are a few cities I would visit again, I feel as though I have a good sense of Spain and I’ve seen many of their famous monuments and artwork.

I’ve finished blogging about this trip just in time, because I leave for France in 5.5 hours!  I have a flight into Paris, a train ride to Strasbourg, and then I’ll have to find my Airbnb place from the train station.  I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.


Europe Spain

Modern Art and The Running of the Bulls, Except Without the Bulls

After we left Vitoria, we headed to Bilbao, where we saw the Guggenheim Museum!  Architecturally, it was amazing, with all these curved walls.  I’ve only been to one modern art museum before, which was ARoS in Denmark, and for me, modern art is very hit or miss.  I tend to look at it as an experience, rather than “art” in the traditional sense.  And I totally didn’t get some of the exhibits, like the umbrellas in the lobby, but other ones were really cool.  They have this giant flowered dog in the front of the museum, and there was another piece by the guy who did the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, and a creepy spider that was supposed to represent the artist’s relationship with her mother (….yikes).  The most interesting for me was a series of statues that looked like inflatable pool toys, like the animal kind that kids can sit on.  They looked exactly like inflatables, but they were made of steel.  It was bizarre.  I had the feeling if I could reach out and touch them that there would be give.  In the ehh side of the exhibit, the part that made me shocked that someone got paid to do it, there was a series with old vacuum cleaners in glass cases with bright lights.  Don’t ask me what that one represents.

After we left the Guggenheim, we went to San Sebastian, which was beautiful.  It’s shaped like a big horseshoe so there was plenty of beach space.  We walked around the area with shops and restaurants and got some ice cream.  I got to practice a little French with some tourists who wanted me to take their picture, and then we went on to the beach and walked along that.  It was lovely.  It was also my first introduction to topless beaches.  Which is a trend that I am very glad has not spread to America.  Not that I’m a prude, but I really don’t want to see certain people topless.

From there we ended the day in the Pamplona, where we got to walk along the path where they do the running of the bulls.  They were setting up the fencing for it while we were there, actually.  Our guide told us all about bullfights, which I don’t support, but I have seen the running of the bulls on TV so it was pretty cool to actually be where that takes place.

The next day, we left for Barcelona, and we had a stop at Saragossa at a very pretty church where supposedly the Virgin Mary appeared to someone.  After a short tour of the church, we headed off to a café again and enjoyed another relaxed morning.

Photos of Barcelona to come later~ Adios!

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Copenhagen: Sculptures, Suburbs, and Christiania (again)

A few things I’ve done in Copenhagen since getting back from Russia:

1. Met my visiting family- they live in this gorgeous suburb called Holte and back up to a lake.  Having dinner at their house was great, although it was unfortunately scheduled the evening I got back from Russia so I was proud of myself for not falling asleep at their table.  They’re really nice though!  They made me a Danish dinner (for those of you who have seen me eat, I did better than one might expect) and then told me about their grandkids and the classic car convention they went to.  They even lit a fire, so it was very hyggeligt (a Danish word meaning cozy, more or less).

2. Went to the sculpture museum- whoever designs museums in Denmark needs to get a new job because I swear they’re all mazes.  It’s free on Sundays so I went in and wandered around for a long time.  I snickered to myself throughout most of my exploration because at some point during my Russia trip we talked about some author who’s friend wasn’t very…well endowed… so the two of them went to an art museum and the author pointed out that all the statues were smaller so it was fine.  I of course forgot this story until I was in the museum.  It made looking at the art more entertaining though….

3. Toured Christiania- I’ve mentioned Christiania before because I went one day with a few friends, but this time I went with my Danish class and got a guided tour from someone who had lived there for around 15 years I think.  Quick recap: it was founded in the 70s by a bunch of homeless hippies and is now pretty much just a communist society in the middle of the city.  You can build a house and live there but you don’t own it.  They’re big on street art, a sense of community, and nature/gardening.  Part of the reason that it’s well known is Pusher Street, which sells marijuana.  Since I’m from Denver this doesn’t seem like as big a deal to me, but it is still illegal in Denmark so you’re not allowed to take pictures.  Also something we talked about in Danish class is that there was a court case a few years back against the state over the land that Christiania is on, and the state won which means Christiania had to buy the land from the state.  They sold “people’s stocks” and so some Danish people put in money to finance Christiania, and now Christiania owns the land that it’s on.  It’s a pretty fascinating area!

Hej hej 🙂