Good to the last drop

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Well, I'm home. I arrived late Saturday night and have spent the past few days trying to readjust to "normal" life - things like work and schedules and responsibilities. It's been hard to sit at a desk and read spreadsheets when each day of the past three weeks has held something new and exciting. It just feels so blah!

I really do miss London. It's a bit strange how quickly I became attached to it. I was there for less than a month, but during that time my neighborhood really did start to feel a bit like home. Leaving was hard, and I have to admit that I did shed a few tears as I took one last walk Saturday morning. I couldn't help it - I cry over everything!

I realized that I never talked about my final few days in the city so I'll have to give a brief summary now. On Wednesday, our final class day, we toured Buckingham Palace. It was beautiful and extravagant and everything you'd expect. My favorite part was Kate Middleton's wedding dress, which was displayed along with her shoes, jewelry, and reproductions of her bouquet and cake. All were absolutely breathtaking!

Most of our class left on Thursday, but I decided to stay a couple extra days in order to squeeze in everything I possibly could. I spent Thursday morning moving my things into a different flat, and then I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum that afternoon. That night, I FINALLY saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I didn't realize it until I overheard a conversation while in line for my ticket, but I went to the theater where they do all of the London movie premiers. According to an employee at the ticket booth, the Queen even went there to see Cars 2 in 3D!

On Friday, I spent several hours at the Tower of London {which turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip}, went to Greenwich to stand on the meridian line, and then saw Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theater {which was FABULOUS!!}.

I got up bright and early Saturday morning to finish packing, take a walk and grab one last cup of tea. A taxi then picked me up at 8:30 and took me to the airport for a 1:00 flight home. The journey was thankfully uneventful - no problems at all, other than the fact that I left a library book on the plane. I hadn't lost a single thing on this entire trip until then! Still trying to track it down...

I spent a lot of time going back and forth as to whether or not I should take this class, and I'm so glad I finally decided to do it - it truly turned out to be one of the greatest, happiest, most glorious experiences of my life. I learned a lot not only about the world around me, but also about myself and what I'm capable of {like the fact that I really can read a map if I have to!}. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

xoxoxoxox

More about Paris

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Because I haven't talked about Paris enough already, I decided to use it as the theme of my final multimedia project. To make it, I used a program called Animoto. The music is by McKenzie Stubbert and is titled Coquetry. It is included with the program.

Enjoy!





Living like royalty

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Learned even more about Henry VIII and his six wives today, this time time by touring Hampton Court Palace where he lived from 1528 until his death in 1547. One interesting piece of information I learned was that there were once several carvings of an H (for Henry) and an A (for Anne Boleyn). After her execution, Henry ordered that all of the carvings be removed. One was missed however, and can still be seen today.

Check out these pictures from the palace and its beautiful gardens. More royal residences are on the agenda for tomorrow - this time the current queen's! :) :)



Park life

I've loved seeing the differences in how people live outside of the States, and if there's one thing I'll bring back home with me, it will be an appreciation for just sitting and being still. London has amazing parks, and you can stroll through them at any time of day and see people reading, eating, sun bathing and just relaxing in general. I tried it myself and found that it is quite an amazing way to spend a lunch hour.

Yesterday we visited Hyde Park, which is one of the largest parks in London, and Kensington Gardens which connects to it. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park contain two memorials to Princess Diana. One of these is a playground which includes a huge wooden pirate ship, among other things that would delight any child, and you have to be with a kid to get in {a really good idea, if you ask me}. However, adults are welcome thirty minutes before the park officially opens and we took full advantage of that!

The second tribute is the Diana Memorial Fountain. What I assumed would be a fountain in the traditional sense actually turned out to be a sort of splash park. I was told that it was very controversial at first because the British people thought Diana deserved something grander, but I think she would have loved this. There were children playing and laughing everywhere.



We may not have immaculately kept, Royal parks at home but they are still beautiful and I definitely need to start taking advantage of them. But I may have to wait a month or two, as I heard it reached 106 degrees in Arkansas today!



J'adore

I had two goals for my time in Paris. 1. to see the sites and 2. to really experience the city. While I wanted to do some of the touristy things, I also wanted to just stroll around, shop, and EAT! You know how you make mental lists of all the things you want to do in your life? Sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris has always been on mine and it's the thing that I was most looking forward to. So instead of packing my schedule with site-seeing, I picked a few things to do and spent the rest of my time just going with the flow.

On Saturday, we toured the Notre Dame which was absolutely beautiful. The church's construction took place from 1160 to 1395 and is often considered one of the premier examples of French-Gothic architecture. This is the fourth cathedral I've toured in the past few weeks and they never cease to amaze me. The Notre Dame was incredibly ornate, with more details than I could ever take in. But my favorite part was the views from atop the towers! I climbed several tight, twisting stone staircases to a halfway point that offered gorgeous views of the city. Then I climbed several more even tighter and twistier staircases to the top. The view was just incredible.

Later that day, we took in more views from atop the Arch de Triumph, which honors those who fought in the French Revolution. It is situated on the Champs-Elysees and I had flashbacks to high school French class where we learned about the street. This in turn produced more "am I really here" thoughts.


I spent the rest of the day eating chocolate and banana crepes by the river (MMMM!), browsing markets, and laying in lawns. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel, but when the opportunity to go back to the Eiffel Tower arose, I had to take it. After all, who knows if/when I'd ever be back! I went with a big group, but two of my flatmates and I decided to stay longer than everyone else and we rode up the tower at about midnight - I don't think there could possibly be any any better place to be at 12am!




On Sunday, the first thing on my list was the Musee d'Orsay which houses an incredible collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. Among its pieces are 43 Degas, 86 Monets, 81 Renoirs, 24 van Goghs, and 46 Pissarros. It was AMAZING and the most incredible museum I've ever been in! To be honest, I actually teared up a little bit. I'm not sure what it was - maybe because I wasn't expecting it and was taken off guard {I heard it was great, but I didn't know it was going to be THAT great}, or maybe it's just because I'd never seen so many incredible pieces all at once {I mean, there was an entire ROOM dedicated to Monets} but for some reason, I was incredibly overwhelmed. If someone could only go to one museum in Paris, I'd tell them to forget the Louvre and go here instead. Seriously.

The rest of my day was spent just hanging out, walking around and eating. The food in Paris is even more delicious than I imagined. The pastries, the bread, the cheeses - all so yummy!! I'm glad I did a lot of walking because otherwise I would have surely gained 20 pounds.

So those are the wonderful things about Paris. But there were some not so wonderful things about it, too. I had quite idyllic, romantic notions of the city and those turned out not to be true. Though Paris is definitely gorgeous, it's really rough around the edges. It's dirty {especially the metro stations} and smells pretty badly too. Plus, it's pretty scary at times. One of the first things I saw when getting off the train were members of the military walking around with machine guns. They were also stationed around the major tourist sites, and I know this should have made me feel safer, but it actually did the opposite.

Another odd thing about the tourist areas were these girls who would come up to you with clipboards wanting you to sign petitions. They wouldn't say anything, but would stick the clipboards in your face to get you to sign. The sheets said something about helping mute children in Africa, so I suppose this is why they wouldn't talk. A new girl would come up every few minutes, and sometimes they'd follow you and keep waving the stinking clipboard in your face. While we were in line for the Notre Dame, we started talking to a girl from Australia who has lived in Paris for several years. She said that if you sign the paper, the girls force you to give them money. Grr!

Also in the touristy areas were tons of guys with little Paris trinkets set out on small blankets. They were selling them for super cheap, like five for 1 euro, and you couldn't walk through an area without having ten guys come up to you wanting you to buy something. Apparently this is illegal because there are handles with drawstrings on both sides of the blanket and on more than one occasion I saw the guys grab the blankets and RUN! After looking around, I noticed police officers in the area.

I don't want to end this on a negative note because overall my time in Paris was INCREDIBLE, so I'll talk a little bit about the language barrier - which really was not at all bad. I was surprised to find that pretty much everyone could speak English, so communicating wasn't that difficult. I spoke as much French as I could, but when I exhausted my vocabulary, I could always get by. I was also really surprised that a lot of people actually thought I was French until I started to speak. I have no idea why, but I got that comment a lot. One guy even yelled at me from a bus {in french} "Hello, my beautiful French woman!"

Ooh la la!

An American in Paris

"There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris" - Ernest Hemingway

I'm finding it hard to believe that I just spent a weekend in Paris! To tell you all about it, I'll write two separate blogs. One for Friday, our class day, and one for the rest of the weekend. C'est bien?

So, Friday. The day started with my alarm going off at 3:30am. This was not an accident - our class had a 4:30 meeting time for a 5:20 train. Ouch! But I was going to Paris, so seriously - how could I complain?

Because the tube isn't running that early, we walked about a half mile to St. Pancras Station which serves the Eurostar - a high-speed passenger train which connects London to Paris. I'm very jealous of Europeans and their trains - it's so easy to just hop across the continent! If I lived here, I think I'd want to visit a new country every month. "What - go to Germany for the weekend? Don't mind if I do!"

The train ride lasted about 2.5 hours and included passing through the Chunnel, which honestly wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be. Being able to say that I've done it is cool, but the actual experience wasn't anything to gush about. I'm not sure what I was expecting - glass walls where I'd see whales swimming past? Well, no - not exactly. :) But just...something. All well - c'est la vie!

Despite my disillusions about the Chunnel, Paris itself certainly did not disappoint. The day's jam-packed agenda included the Louvre, a bus tour, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, a boat ride and dinner. There are way too many things to talk about, so I'll just give you the highlights. If you want to know more, I will tell you in person. But be warned - I'll probably talk your ear off. :)

Louvre - Huge and overwhelming with more than 35,000 pieces of art in a space of 650,000 square feet. We didn't have much time here, but I managed to see some highlights - like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Victory of Samothrac. It was all incredible, and the building was like a piece of art itself.

Bus Tour - We got tickets for a "hop on/hop off" bus which took us all around the city and included an audio guide to point out the highlights. This was an excellent way to see see a lot in a short amount of time, and the view from the upper level was gorgeous. It was also a nice place to soak up the sun. :)

Eiffel Tower - I was surprised by how excited I was to see the Eiffel Tower. I just stood there in amazement and wondered how in the world I could be there. We didn't have time to go up, so I came back the next night to do it (more on that in the next post).

Notre Dame - Grand and gorgeous. Didn't have time to go in here either, but I made sure to come back the next day. Again, I'll talk about this in my next post.

Boat Ride - This may have been my favorite part of the day. I never imagined that I'd ever be floating down the Seine. It was more lovely than I could ever say.

Dinner - We enjoyed a four course, traditional dinner which was accompanied by some oh-so-French guitar and accordion music. The guitarist, whose name is Napoleon, was a HOOT! Also - I tried snails!! They were super chewy and not completely awful until I visualized what I was eating. Then I choked.

Friday was our only class day and we were given the option of returning to London or staying in Paris. Most of us opted to stay in Paris (of course!) so after dinner we navigated our way to the hotel. This took quite some time and involved a lot of walking back and forth. I think we caused quite a scene because at one point, some people sitting on a park bench started singing "America." Ha.

It was an incredible first day in the City of Light, and the rest of the weekend was as equally wonderful. More to come!