Friday, August 13, 2010

Adventure and farewell...

A part of this program allows you to visit two countries using a Eurail Pass. My last weekend overseas, I was able to visit Switzerland. I chose to go to Interlakin to experience different scenery than a city. The second I got off the 6-hour train ride, all I could see was the Swiss Alps surrounding me. I was overwhelmed by their beauty.

I stayed in a youth hostel with six other girls in a big room with a multitude of bunk beds and suitcases. The hostel had its own grill, game room, nightclub and activity-booking place. I signed up for whitewater rafting and canyoning right away. I was ready for something adventurous and active, even though I knew I was getting myself into the coldest water possible. Both activities were amazing!

Whitewater rafting was exhilarating. There were so many times where we all almost fell out— especially when we ran into another raft. I was holding on so tight! The instructor played a joke on all of us too at the end of the rapids. We got out of the raft at a point where the water was really shallow and he told us to start running to get the raft going again, so we were all running along side the raft pushing it in freezing cold water, and all the sudden there’s a huge drop. The instructor jumps in the raft just in time, as we all splash underwater. I’ve got to say that was a good little trick.

The next day I woke up at 7:30 a.m. in the morning to go canyoning. I got to jump off waterfalls, slide down rocks, climb and repel down cliffs. This was a really intense three hours, but totally worth every penny. It was really funny trying to move in my half-inch thick wetsuit and life jacket, but I could sure still feel that freezing water! The best part of these activities was to be able to stop for a second and look around and see the most amazing views from every angle. It was challenging to really take in everything where I was.

After an adventurous weekend — which ended up giving me a small cold — I arrived back to Paris to have my last week jam-packed of all the things I wanted to squeeze in before I clicked the seatbelt on my plane ride back home. Not only did I have my final portfolio due and finals, I had my own list of final things to visit. So, undoubtedly this was one of my busiest weeks. In between finals, I went about going to get my favorite meals. I had many crepes and many espressos. I started off the week by going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This was really fun and I did the most cliché thing and got to the top, got a glass of champagne and took pictures. I felt like the last week in Paris was the perfect time to be the most of a tourist.

I also visited the The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris, where over 6 million bones lie. This underground graveyard was terrifying and interesting at the same time. I could hardly even comprehend how many people’s bones were around me.

The rest of the week was just full of little things like going to Montmatre to pick up some last minute souvenirs and going to get a famous falafel where I saw Owen Wilson run by me with the same falafel! Apparently last year some girls from the trip saw Johnny Depp. I also went to Shakespeare and Company bookstore and bought a book and played the piano.

Saying goodbye to one thing at a time in this city was really hard. It was like ripping off a Band-Aid really slow, but painfully fast at the same time. I truly fell in love with this city while I was there…. The moment I got my luggage at the airport in America I broke into tears. This trip was life changing, educationally stimulating, amazingly fun, and visually invigorating. I would recommend someone doing study abroad anywhere in a heartbeat, especially in Paris. There is just so so so much to do and see in this city and so much culture to experience and soak in. I can’t wait to return back to the city… I still feel like there’s like a thousand things I didn’t even do while I was there. One day I will be back…. And until then, au revoir Paris! I love you!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Characters - my final

Another idea for a theme was characters, like something from a fairy tale (I even wrote a fairy tale to go along with it):

Once upon a time there was an evil ice witch who owned all of the lands. She turned any vibrance to grey and any softness to worry. She traveled all over embracing the souls of nomads, attempting to steal away their glee and turning them into emotionless droids doomed to walk around smile-less forever. The witch captured the innocent souls with her beauty and drew in unsuspecting innocent victims and made them her slaves. She even shook hands with death and sent him into the world in true form. The princess of Givery, however, was aware of the evil Ice witch’s wrong doings and she was set out to change the cold and colorless air back to beauty. The Princess of Giverny conspired with her renaissance princess of Brittany to take back over the world.

In order to turn the world back to good, the princesses had to unleash the all-knowing jungle cat who would have to spread the word through music. Aladdin’s distant cousin, Alardirean, began his deep breathing and exhaling into the special pipe that would send vibrations through the grounds of the earth to key point people. The vibrations traveled through cellphones and words, unknowingly to all it touched, began to cancel out the witches spell. The vibrations quickly made their way back to the malevolent witch herself, and in turn, forced the evil witch to smile. From then on, the ice witch was doomed to smile for all eternity, and thus created an uprising of happiness in all of the nomads. The world lived happily ever after.


Reflection was a topic I considered for my photography final...

Quasimodo and Picasso!

The best part about being here is being able to go to the Notre Dame anytime you want. I’ve been inside many times —for pictures and once for watching an organ concert. Today I went there to go to the top to see Quasimodo! I climbed so many stairs today I couldn't even count them. And they were spiral stairs, so when you look down while you’re walking up, it just feels like you are going in a circle. Once I made it to the top, I got to experience an awesome view of Paris — one of the best. I also got to make some friends with some awesome gargoyles. I loved being able to see where the famous hunchback resided and performed his bell tolling duties.

Later today… I climbed yet another copious amount of stairs. My photography class went to the 'Arc de Triomphe in order to take night photos. We made it to the top, I broke open my bag to eat a sandwich and then snapped away at the night lights.

The pompidou was just as intricate inside as it looks on the outside. I can’t even count how many Picasso paintings I got to see! I saw some of the most interesting contemporary and modern art. I would highly recommend anyone to check this museum out… seriously.

You know one of my favorite parts of this city is waking up and walking down the street to the closest bakery and getting the most amazing croissant you’ve ever had in your life and an espresso. Man, its one of the joys in life that I never want to say goodbye to.

Experiencing history with all the senses

The famous opera house Palais Garnier was mind blowing. The second you walked in you were overwhelmed with the bright gold and dark art. I was really excited to visit the Palais Ganier mostly because of my love for The Phantomof the Opera musical. I have read the book, watched the play, and seen all of the movies. Did you know that this story, written by Gaston Leroux in 1910, is based slightly on a true story. There are rumors that, in this very building I visited, an ex-musician lived in the crypts wondering the halls late at night singing. There was definitely a surreal, ghostly feeling to this beautiful place. Our photography class had an assignment to capture the essence of this place and I used the object of motion. I feel that years and years of music have echoed through the hallways of this place and the walls have soaked up all of the notes. I even got a chance to see the box #5, in which the phantom regularly sat to watch the plays.

Later this week, I also got to visit Versailles. Versailles was an extremely amazing and educational fieldtrip. Being able to witness the home of many kings and queens — especially where Marie Antoinette resided — was almost surreal. As I walked in, it embraced all of my senses. I felt the marble; I saw the paintings; I smelled the stone and breathed in the history of the place. I could really see the hierarchy and how it was set up as I moved through the rooms. I loved visiting Marie Antoinette’s gardens… I spent the entire day there, probably walking around 15 miles


This past weekend I got to take a weekend trip to Normandy where I was able to visit the Omaha Beach graveyard. The weekend began at Mont Saint Michel, where I was able to visit and tour the eigtht wonder of the world, the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Michael. After our visit we went on to our hotel and had a free night. The next day I went to a renaissance festival in Brittany where I saw many interesting characters. At the graveyard the final day, I saw many graves and too many were unknown soldiers. This hit me hard seeing in crosses how many people died in just one part of the invasion. My cousins grave was not located at that particular gravesite, so instead I drew his name on the beach down below the graveyard and threw a flower into the ocean to commemorate him.

We arrived back in Paris Sunday evening, just in time to rest for another full week of school and site-seeing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bastille Day! And Claude Monet

I was lucky enough to experience Bastille Day — a French National Holiday celebrated on the 14th of July every year to commemorate the 1790 storming of the Bastille to free prisoners, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. I love the history I am learning here! So the French celebrate this day on the evening and the day of Bastille. On the night of July 13, they open thedoors of every fire station andthrow a ball. I had the opportunity to visit one a few metro stops up from my “home” and I was only asked for a small donation to enter. There were probably over 2,000 people dancing under lights and to music. The firemen were dancing around and the streets afterwards were filled with people, noise, and celebration. The following day there was a military parade that I missed unfortunately even though I ran in the rain to try to see it. I did get to see some of the aftermath and ran into some good photograph opportunities.

That night, after a few classes, some friends and I headed to the Montparnasse tower where we could see a 360-degree view of Paris. As we waited for the sun to go down, it got increasingly colder as we sat, talked and photographed. (It got so cold I purchased a hoodie). We had the perfect view of the Eiffel tower, where the fireworks were set off. When the fireworks began, the crowd that joined us on the tower were in awe of the show. My camera snapped, my eyes lit up and I enjoyed the celebration and appreciated Parisian history.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit Givery, 50 miles from Paris, where the famous painter Claude Monet lived and created his impressionistic oil paintings. This was a fieldtrip with my photography class where I was supposed to, beforehand, pick a Monet painting and capture that panting in real life as a photograph. I chose 3-4 paintings to give me options and I finally picked a water lily composition that I feel that I capture quite nicely on film, as you see below. (Monet on top, my photo on bottom)

This week I also took a trip to the Sacre Coeur, a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, where I scaled an infinite number of steps to reach the second largest point in Paris. Again, the view was stunning and the church itself was beautiful. I had myself a lovely crepe and a glass of wine and saw many recognizable places where the film Amelie was captured, which was exciting and added to the ambiance of the place.

Many amazing times here in the big P… can’t wait to come back one day already!

The architecture is inspiring, but I still miss Mexican food!

Last Wednesday we hit the halfway mark. I am holding onto every moment in this beautiful country and embracing every experience so that these next few weeks do not fly by. Yesterday I went with a group of girls to Chatres, an hour south of France, where I got to see one of the most famous Cathedrals and Crypts, known for its perfection of stained glass art. This was a beautiful small town and the Cathedral was breathtakingly gorgeous. Until then, I had never in my life lost feeling in my toes because of the overwhelming details of gothic architecture and stained glass. This only broadened my interest in France, as up until now I have only spent my time in Paris.

Tomorrow I am going on a field trip with my photography class to the Palais Garnier, an opera house that inspired Gaston Leroux in 1909 to write the Phantom of the Opera. This story is very dear to my heart so this field trip will be truly inspirational. The best part about this photography class is that the places I have been make it really easy to capture beauty. The true challenge is to capture the beauty that you see beyond what is right in front of you. I am forced to look deeper and find and record what stands out to me, not just what I see first hand. What is great about this is that I see more in a building than I would just passing by; I get to sit there and study it for a few minutes.

Professor Desmal Purcell is an amazing photography professor and I would highly recommend him and to check out his photography at . I purchased a photo from him the other day. He held a small exhibition at the Cite Universitaire and I fell in love with one that captured the history of Shakespeare and the famous bookstore here called Shakespeare Co. I have learned more than I even realize on this trip about art history, French history, English history, and so on. I feel like a limitless sponge soaking up knowledge that I never want to release.

This past weekend I also went to see the Moulin Rouge up close, which was fun. I also got to go on a mini trip with Prof. Purcell where we practiced night photography and I took a lot of photos that were lomography inspired. Last week I got to visit the Louvre. Here I got to see world famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa, The Raft of Medusa, and Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804. It was funny trying to see the Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa because it was behind glass, surrounded by security, blocked by rope about 10-15 ft away from the painting and with hundreds of onlookers trying to get their snapshot the most celebrated and widely reproduced work of all time.

I’ve recently come to a few starling revelations about my time here. First, it's now strange to hear English in public… I was on the metro a few nights ago and I heard a group of people speaking in English and I turned my head back real quick — shocked to be able to understand the noise surrounding me! Another is, I miss Mexican food. I spent over an hour last night with some friends trying to find a Mexican restaurant and to our luck, the one we found was closed. Almost everything is closed on Sundays in France, so I should have known. Anyway, as much as I love it here, I sure do miss having a Mexican restaurant readily accessible! I wonder what I’ll miss next week!