Europe France Research Grant

Paris, Pt 2: Crêpes, Champagne, and My 21st Birthday

Ok, time to finally post about my 21st birthday.  I know, it’s actually been several weeks since I did the beginning of my trip, but since then school has started and I’ve been dragged into having real responsibilities, like homework and work and applying to jobs.  So here it goes.

On Monday morning, Christine arrived to a rainy Paris.  After she took a quick nap and I ran an errand, we headed out to the Louvre for a little culture.  The line was long, but we waited it out and then wandered through the halls aimlessly and saw some cool statues, beautiful furniture and jewels, and some French artwork.  Some of the places I remembered going the last time I was there, although the Louvre is so huge I’m confident that we wandered to some new places as well.  We headed over to Opera Garnier once we’d had our fill of art, and then stopped by Galleries Lafayette to marvel at the designer clothing.

At that point, it was getting close to dinner time.  For my birthday present, Christine had surprised me with tickets to the Moulin Rouge!  We had dinner with champagne, which was lovely, and then watched the show, which was unlike anything I’d seen before.  Partially because it was topless, but it also had some pretty crazy acts.  There was the rollerskating couple that did the kinds of lifts that you see in ice skating, but they were just twirling in a circle on a raised platform.  And there were acrobats who had incredible strength.  The man lifted the woman above his head and then got all the way down to a laying position, keeping her above his head the entire time.  The dancers did the can can, a woman danced in water with some boa constrictors, and they brought ponies out onto stage.  There were black lights, feathers, light up costumes, and giant headpieces.  It was a cool experience.

After the show, I wanted Christine to see the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe at night, just as Kelcy had done for me with my first night in Paris.  They’re stunning when they light up.  We started at L’Arc de Triomphe, and then walked down Champs Elysée for a while until we got close enough to the Eiffel Tower to see it sparkle.  It was magical, as always.

The next morning, we started with one of my goals, and climbed Notre Dame.  Which is a lot of stairs.  The view is incredible, though.  Totally worth it.  The gargoyles were a lot creepier than they seem in the Disney animated version, by the way.  A lot of them were eating small animals.

From there, we walked around and took in Paris.  We went to Le Marais, where I got my gift from my parents- a ring with my birthstone- and we wandered into an exhibit on Paris Fashion Week.  Then we headed across the Seine to the Latin Quarter.  The theme of the afternoon was to feel parisienne, which I think we accomplished.  The Latin Quarter is the epitome of Paris to me, with the cafés and bookstores, the boxy shops along the Seine, and that fountain when you get off the metro near Odéon.  I actually remembered my way around this time, and took us to the place where I had eaten crepes nearly ten months before since it’s reasonably priced and delicious.  We also got ice cream and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere for a while.  From there, we went to one of the other places I remember as feeling Parisian, which is the Jardin de Tuileries.  It didn’t disappoint.  The whole day was perfect.  It captured the essence of the city, with the café culture and magic of Paris.  As the sun set, we found our way back to the metro and headed back to the apartment.  Both of us had to pack, since I was leaving for the US and Christine was heading to a hotel the next day.  Although I wanted the trip to last forever, I’m so glad that Christine joined me for my last two days.  I still don’t quite believe that I got to spend my 21st birthday in Paris with such an amazing friend!

À bientôt.

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 France Research Grant

Colmar: Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

Bonjour, mes amis!  The above pictures are from Colmar, France.

So, it’s my last week in Strasbourg!  Since my last post in Bordeaux, I’ve been wrapping up my research, including writing myfinal report.  I’ve also taken the time to revisit my favorite places in Strasbourg.  Including, but not limited to: that ice cream place that scoops ice cream into a flower design, the Jardin de l’Orangerie, Place Kléber, the square around the cathedral, the Galaries Lafayette, and of course the lovely cobblestone streets of Petite France.  I even went in one of the fancy jewelry shops and pretended to be wealthy and tried some of it on.

Today, I figured I would try to see a little more of Alsace, and so I headed to Colmar, which I’m pretty sure I saw on a list of “fairy tale towns in Europe” once.  And I can see why!  From the train station, you walk through a beautiful park with statues and fountains to get to the centre ville.  I spent most of my day wandering, although I had a few memorable interactions with the French…

1. Since I didn’t have a map, I asked the lady in a Guess store where the “plus belles endroits” are, and she told me how to get to the area by the canals.  She also told me about her children and how she considers talking on the phone in a store to be rude.  She was probably disappointed I didn’t buy anything.

2. At a bookstore, a woman asked me to find a psychology book for her on this one shelf (at least I think that’s what she was asking?  I had a hard time understanding her) and so I picked out one on psychiatry.  Hopefully she’s satisfied with that……  I’m still confused about that exchange.

3. And at another store, I was searching for Christmas gifts (get excited, family) when two salespeople came over to ask if I needed help finding anything and if I’d been there before and if I was satisfied with their service.  Considering I still have a stress reaction when people unexpectedly speak to me in French, the encounter was a bit overwhelming, but I answered all their questions and (I think) they even complimented my speaking ability!

Colmar is charming and beautiful, and I’m glad I took the time to do a day trip there before I left.  Everyone I interacted with was incredibly nice, and I definitely recommend it if you’re in the area.  Tomorrow, I’m packing up for the summer, because Thursday I’m off to Paris!  I have three days by myself and then my friend Christine is joining me for my last couple days before I return to the US.  If you told me a few years ago that I would be spending my 21st birthday in Paris, I would never have believed it!  It feels like a dream come true.

À bientôt.

Europe France Research Grant

Bordeaux: Biking Through The Vineyards

I’ve always imagined Bordeaux as wine country, to the point that I was quite surprised to find myself in an actual city.  I took a walking tour my first day, where our guide explained how their current mayor had made an effort to clean up the city by incentivizing citizens to power wash their homes and the streets in the city center were transformed to be mostly pedestrian.  In fact, Bordeaux actually has the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.  I also learned that Bordeaux was under British rule for a while, the main bridge was built because Napoleon got angry about having to move his troops by boat, and whoever built the statues in Bordeaux was very into mythology.  Our guide was great, she brought us some pastries that Bordeaux is known for to try as well.  There were only 4 of us on the tour, so it felt more like someone showing us around the city as opposed to being herded around as part of a tourist group.  After visiting some of the monuments and churches on the tour, I did some exploration on my own.  I did a little shopping, saw a few more monuments, and got a pretty good sense of the city.

The next day was my bike tour through the vineyards!  This was the real purpose of my trip, and I had actually structured the dates around being able to go on this tour.  So my morning started early, meeting the tour guide at the office.  There were twelve of us in the group, and everyone I talked to was incredibly nice.  We took vans to St. Emilion, where we got our bikes and started off through the vineyards.  The countryside is stunning, and I can’t imagine a better way to see it.  The vines seem to stretch forever.  Here are a few takeaways about the Bordeaux wine region:

1. There are between 7,000 and 8,000 chateaux in the wine region.  This sounds a little fancier than it actually is, because a “chateau” is not defined by the fanciness of your house but by whether the entirety of the wine production is done on your estate, from the growth to the bottling.  Our guide said she was very disappointed at her first chateau because it was only a farm….

2. The naming system is super complicated.  It was explained to me several times and I still am not sure I understand enough to even attempt to explain it here.  Just know that there are a lot of rules and restrictions, including on the types of grapes you grow.  Additionally, each chateau can’t make more than one type of wine per classification, so their better wine is “Chateau [estate name]” and their lower tier wine has the estate name but is “jardin de…” or “plaisir de…” or something to that effect.

3. The best soil for grape growing is actually the least fertile soil.  This is because it forces the roots of the grapes to go very far underground to look for moisture.  Also, grapes for wine production are very different from the kind that you buy at the grocery store.  They want a higher ratio of the skin of the grape, which has more of the flavors they want.

We got to try grapes straight off the vine while learning all of that.  From there, we went to our first chateau of the day.  This one was a family-run place, so we got to tour the bottom floor of where the family lives.  With their library and Picasso collection… I can’t imagine having that level of wealth.  Then we toured the area where they make wine, where they explained how the process worked.  It was a bit of a review, since we’d toured a wine place in Spain (throwback to that time I almost got stuck there x).  This chateau was a much smaller operation, and a lot less industrial than the one I’d seen before.  After the tour, they led us out into the garden, where we had lunch and a tasting outside.  We tried both tiers of their wine, which were both very good!  We also had bread and cheese and ratatouille, so the whole thing felt very French.  It was lovely to sit in the sun with good wine, good conversation, and good food.

When our lunch was over, we got back on the bikes and headed back to St. Emilion.  Pro tip: if you drink wine before biking, rehydrate!  The bike ride back was a lot more difficult than it needed to be because I didn’t drink enough water.  But I was feeling better by the time we got back in the village.  We took a quick tour around St. Emilion, which is a charming little town that feels as though you’ve gone back in time.  From there, we got back in the vans and were driven to our second chateau of the day.  This one was corporate owned, so it was a bigger operation that practically oozed money… even the elevators had fancy benches in them designed to match the original style of the chateau.  They brought us to a fancy tasting table, which you can see in that photo above and literally lit up with a white background so that you can get the best view of the color of the wine.  They gave us two types as well, and I liked the second one we had better.  Once all of that was done, we were driven back to Bordeaux, where I had a nice quiet night with some pizza.

I spent my last day wandering around a bit more.  I went in a few churches, including Basilique St. Michel.  Fun fact about that one: something happened to all the original stained glass, so they replaced it in the 1960s.  With 1960s style.  Which is pretty great, because it totally doesn’t seem to fit with the church, which is a classic gothic cathedral.  As I’ve probably mentioned before, I think stained glass is really cool so it was fun for me to see a different style.  The St. Michel area of Bordeaux is the older neighborhood, so the streets are narrower and there are plenty of interesting squares with cafés and shops to explore.

All in all, a very nice trip.  I’m hoping to do a day trip in Colmar before my time in Alsace is up, and I’m definitely looking forward to my trip to Paris in a couple weeks!  I’m down to less than three weeks in France, and then it’s back to school and normal life…

À bientôt!

Europe France Research Grant

Strasbourg: History Museums and Bees

Hello again from Strasbourg!

First of all, I’d like to talk about how nice everyone here has been.  Out of the many emails I’ve sent out requesting interviews, it’s true that most of them never got responses.  But of the people who did respond, they’ve been amazing.  This week, I met a man who’s an expert in furniture, and he printed out all of the French expert rules for me, told me about all of his cases, and showed me his furniture workshop.  And then, at the end, he asked me if I’d been to the Musée Historique, and upon finding out I had not, he called up a friend of his there and got me free admission!

And the Musée Historique was very cool.  Their headsets were location based, so when you stood near a section of the exhibits, that piece of information would play, and it would keep moving on as you walked through the museum.  Plus, I learned a lot about the history of Alsace.  Although I knew it was culturally partially German and partially French, I hadn’t realized how much the territory had actually changed hands!  In particular, the section on World War II talked about how Alsaciens were seen as Volkdeutsch instead of French, but many Germans didn’t consider them to be German enough.  There were also some pictures of places in Strasbourg where they’d had Nazi rallies.  It was strange to see the same places I’ve taken touristy pictures in the museum as part of the exhibit.

I’ve also done a few other touristy things this week, including walking around the European Institution section of the city and going to the Alsacien Museum, which was overall a little disappointing but had a lot of artifacts from Strasbourg through the ages.  I also went to the Parc de l’Orangerie, which is currently my favorite place in Strasbourg!  It had a mini zoo that contained storks, flamingos and a lot of other birds, a small lake where you can rent boats, a garden area with beautifully arranged flowers, and a lot of cafés.  I went to a café for lunch and I got a sugary drink that attracted a lot of bees, much to the chagrin of the other customer at the restaurant, who spent half an hour laughing at me as I flailed around and attempted to swat the bees away with my napkin.  That incident aside, I will definitely be returning to that park again before I leave Strasbourg!

Anyway, I’m off to Bordeaux on Monday, so my next post will be about that trip!  À bientôt.

Europe France Research Grant

Strasbourg: I Almost Walk To Germany


Yesterday I did some more sight seeing in Strasbourg, including walking over seven miles to see a new side of the city!  While my feet hurt, it was cool to see a different area from the places that I’ve spent time in so far.  I checked out the National Library, several churches, and got pretty close to the German border before I turned back.  I finally went inside la Cathedrale Nôtre Dame de Strasbourg, which has some pretty awesome stained glass and gorgeous Gothic ceilings.  There are some nice cafés in that area as well, so I had some delicious chocolate crêpes.

Being here in the summer has made me miss a few things about the US.  Namely, air conditioning and window screens.  I’ve had a summer with no air conditioning before, when I lived in Maine for ballet camp.  That one was worse, because we were dancing eight or more hours a day, but it’s never a pleasant experience to feel hot and sweaty all the time.  And it’s hard to sleep, because I like to sleep under sheets but Europe only believes in comforters.  Which are definitely too hot for this summer.  And as much as I want to have the windows open, that involves allowing flies and mosquitos in the room.  Every night this week I’ve woken up to another bite….

 Besides the heat, though, I’ve been fairly productive with my research and looking into jobs and my other summer goals!  I’ll keep you posted.

À bientôt!

Europe Research Grant United Kingdom

London: From Kings Cross to the Top of the Shard

I honestly cannot imagine a better way to see London.

Admittedly, I didn’t see all of the touristy things.  I didn’t go in Westminster Abbey or see the inside of a single church.  I didn’t visit the Tower of London, or check out the views from the London Eye.  Sadly, I didn’t get to go do a Harry Potter Studio Tour either (but I will be coming back for that one!).

London was a bit of a spur of the moment trip.  One of my friends from Northwestern, Sona, was working in the city for the summer, and she suggested that I come visit her.  I looked it up, figured out Easyjet flies from Strasbourg to London, checked out the timing, and booked the tickets.  It was a great decision.

I arrived on Friday night, and we met up at an Italian restaurant near Sona’s apartment.  She lived right near Paddington station, in a cute little area with a lot of shops and restaurants.  After a lovely night of catching up, we headed to bed so that we would be ready for a day of touristy things!

We stopped by Baker Street in the morning, because I’m a nerd and wanted to see the hypothetical home of Sherlock Holmes.  Then we headed to the British Museum, which Sona correctly described as housing all the treasures that Britain stole from the rest of the world in their quest for an empire.  It was pretty cool.  We saw the Rosetta Stone, artifacts from India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece… amazing artwork and objects from history.  After lunch, we headed off to the major touristy sites, namely Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace.  We couldn’t go inside any of them, but it was amazing to walk around and see the places that I’ve heard about and seen in pictures for years.  After a long walk along the Thames, Sona offered to take me to Harrods at Oxford Circus, where all the nice shops are.

And.  What a nice shop.  It was incredibly overwhelming.  The bottom level has a bunch of food and markets, with a whole chocolate section and beautiful pastries.  I bought an Oreo cupcake that looked like it was dusted with gold.  Then Sona took me up to the clothing section, to show me some absurdly expensive dresses that she had seen before.  Three shop assistants later, we were in the Evening Dresses Boutique.  It was practically out of my dreams.  The dresses were incredible, in all different colors and covered in rhinestones and glitter- with the price tags subtly tucked under the skirts to keep them out of sight.  Which made sense, considering most of the dresses were around $2,000… and some were special, one of a kind Harrods dresses for around $16,000.  It was sort of unreal.  And, as we’re wandering around the shop getting excited about dresses, the shop assistants come over and offer to look for them in our size…. So, we went ahead and tried them on.  Yeah.  That dress I’m wearing up there, with the sparkles?  About $2,300.  It was totally awesome.

We left when the shop closed, and headed back to have a quiet dinner and figure out what to do the next day.  I’d initially had a Skype interview scheduled for that Sunday, but I woke up that day and had literally no voice, so I had to reschedule.  While unfortunate, it did allow us to have a full day out on the town.  We started with the Cereal Killer Café, fantastic both in name and business idea.  It’s located around the area where Jack the Ripper used to strike, and it features cereal from the US, the UK, and continental Europe.  You can combine cereals, get different milks, add toppings…. and the decorations are all very retro, with cereal boxes through the ages along the walls.  From there, we headed down through the Brick Lane market, stopping to make a couple purchases along the way.

We headed off to Hyde Park in the afternoon, where we rented a paddle boat.  It was incredibly relaxing.  When I was reading the rules, I saw one that said not to pick up people while you were on the boat, which I laughed at… except we sort of ended up breaking that rule?  A group of four British people bumped into our boat, like you sometimes do, and then one of them jokingly said, “do you want to race?”  At which time Sona pointed out the unfair numbers.  And one of them goes, “I’ll even it out!” and casually hops into our boat as his friends are literally floating away.  So we had to follow them and return him to his friends.  Also at the park, an absurd amount of rich people cars.  We saw three lamborghinis in a row.  Talk about wealthy!

Monday morning, Sona had to go to work, so I was on my own for most of the day.  I began my day by heading to Kings Cross and being as touristy as possible at Platform 9 ¾.  I waited in line for… let’s just say a long time… so that I could take the obligatory picture at the station with the wand and the scarf and then I went shopping and bought some chocolate frogs and a shirt.  I’ve been a huge fan since first grade, it was a pretty exciting time for me.

After, I stopped by St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I didn’t want to pay the entrance fee so I just took a few pictures in the lobby and then had lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Then I headed to Charing Cross.  I wandered through parts of Chinatown and went into bookstores, and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere.  There was this amazing bookstore called Foyles, and I spent more time than I’d care to admit in there as well.  It had a huge foreign language section.  Fun fact, the latest redesign of the first French Harry Potter book features Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s castle, located in Romania.  Which I have been to, so I guess by extension I’ve been to Hogwarts?  Let’s go with that.

That evening, Sona and I went to Billy Elliot in the West End.  What a fantastic choice!  The dancing and singing was outstanding.  I love musicals.  After the show, we headed to the Shard.  We had a drink at the Aquashard- probably the most expensive drink of my life, Sona’s actually had squid ink in it.  The views were unbeatable.  It was up on the 33rd floor, and looked out at the Thames and the London Bridge, and everything sparkled at night.  The whole evening was the definition of luxurious and it was all amazing.  The perfect end to my trip.

So, three days later, I’m totally in love with London.  Head over heels.  My next post will feature my time in Marseille, so stay tuned!

Europe France Research Grant

Strasbourg: Celebrating Bastille Day

Hi!  So it’s been a week and a half since I last posted.  It’s been a pretty busy time for me, as you’ll see in the next couple posts.

Here are some Bastille Day fireworks for you!  I got to go watch, and then there was live music and people danced and it was pretty cool.  One thing that surprised me, though, was the lack of flags?  I think I saw one.  Which is not much compared to Independence Day in America, or literally any day in Denmark.  I guess the French aren’t as crazy about their flags?

Anyway, after that, I had a couple days in Strasbourg of sending emails to people I want to interview for my research.  I also caught a cold at this point- unsurprising due to my recent international travel, but unfortunate timing considering I managed to lose my voice for the only time this summer that I truly needed it, for a Skype interview that I was lucky to get rescheduled.  For the weekend I headed off to London for a few days, and then to Marseille.  Quite the dichotomy.  As of late last night, I’m back in Strasbourg and prepping for a couple interviews for later this week.  After a week of traveling, I think it’s time to make myself a schedule so that I can actually be productive.

Posts on London and Marseille are in the works!

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

Barcelona: Las Ramblas, Sangria by the Beach, and Taking Grandma to Pride (Accidentally)

We spent about a day and a half here.  When we first arrived, we did a tour where we got to see the oceanfront area as well as La Ramblas, which is a pretty tree-lined open air market.  Unfortunately our guide walked us through that area at the speed of light, but I still managed to snag an image of Barcelona to join the European art collection for when I have a real place.  We also went to La Boqueria, a food market, which was also pretty cool.

Then after dinner we took advantage of our hotel’s great location to go see the fountains across the street at Plaça de España.  The fountains were awesome, they had colors and movement to go along with modern music- I had been expecting classical music, so I was a little surprised when they started playing Top 40 hits.

As it so happened, the weekend we were in Barcelona happened to coincide with Pride.  So the entire street up to the fountains was blocked off and there were rainbow flags everywhere.  We walked by the whole festival and watched some of the dance acts on the stage.  The whole experience was… very enlightening for my grandma, especially after we informed her that the performers in dresses were actually men.

The next morning we went on another tour, where we saw the Sagrada Familia church.  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and I wish I knew what all the intricacies meant because it seemed like there was meaning and thought behind every detail.  We also went through the Gothic quarter, and we took a drive near the Olympic buildings and up to the top of a hill with a lookout point where you could see the whole city.  At the lookout point, instead of sidewalks or normal cobblestones they used recycled materials like gears and old wine bottles mixed in with the stones, and the effect was very cool.

Our afternoon was free, because most of the people on our group were off at a monastery.  So we chose to hit the beach, where I got to dunk my feet in the Mediterranean for the first time.  We walked all the way across, and then we ate a cute little Italian place on the beachfront.  It was a perfect day, with a nice breeze and we ate outside under the umbrellas.  After how busy the previous days had been, it was nice to have an afternoon that was not planned out and scheduled.

Hasta mañana!