Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

Two months later and I’m finally heading back to the USA. While I’m happy to go home to the land of air conditioning, bagels, Mexican food, and Panera, I really do not want to leave the city that has come to be my home this past month. There is so much here I feel like I haven’t explored yet that I want to keep exploring. I guess that just means I’ll have to come back again some day.

                                Stockholm, Sweden

                                    Edinburgh, Scotland

This trip was all I could have asked for/needed and more. It was my much needed getaway from life in the US and a chance for me to explore the world, something I’ve always wanted to do. A lot of people told me I was being quite ambitious trying to cover five countries practically alone at first, not to mention three of those being places I didn’t speak the native language (minus a few words here and there of French and Italian and one Swedish phrase). On top of that, this was my first ever trip out of the US (I don’t really count my trip to Niagara Falls as being out of the country). So, yes, looking back on it, I can see why people were both impressed and concerned when I told them how I was spending my summer.

 

                                  London, England

Nevertheless, my experiences in Europe were unforgettable and absolutely amazing. I wouldn’t trade how I spent the past two months for anything in the world. I learned so much about so many different cultures that my head felt like it was about to explode from all the information. I also made so many new memories and friends along the way that made my time here even more enjoyable. A special thank you goes to Dr. Smith for organizing, planning, and teaching the course. Learning about Paris from someone who knows almost everything about the city so well made this course so much fun and even more educational!

                                    Paris, France

                                         Rome, Italy

 

So Europe, and especially Paris, my home away from home for the past month, hejdå, ciao, au revoir, and goodbye. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to come back in a few years.

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The Happiest Place on Earth

Growing up, Disney was always a very big part of my life. Disney’s movies were some of the very first movies I watched as a kid, my first plane ride was to Orlando to Disney World, even my room when I was a baby was Winnie the Pooh themed. So you can imagine how excited and happy I was to find out that we were going to Disneyland Paris as one of our last class adventures.

There is something about Disney that makes everyone’s inner child come out again (especially mine if you couldn’t tell by the picture below). Every time I walk into the entrance of a Disney park, I’m taken back to my childhood years of running around my house singing Mary Poppins or Winnie the Pooh songs. So what is it about Disney that makes so many people, including myself, feel this way? Maybe it’s the innocence that older people relate with Walt Disney and his stories. Maybe it’s the catchy music and unforgettable characters that bring a smile to people’s faces. Regardless of the reason, Disney is able to attract thousands upon thousands of visitors every day in all of their parks, including Disneyland Paris.

Having been to Disney World several times and to Disneyland in California, I was expecting the wait times to be unbearably long and the parks to be absolutely packed. While I was right about the parks being packed with people, I was surprised to see how much shorter the wait times were. The max time we had to wait for a ride was 75 minutes at Crush’s Coaster which is nothing compared to the 2 and a half hour wait I once sat on for Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Even the 75 minute wait seemed to fly by very quickly. What I didn’t know was that Disney specifically designs the wait lines to make it seem like you’re moving closer to the ride, even if you still have another 30 minutes before getting to the entrance. Even more interesting is that many places will contract Disney to design lines at other places, such as TSA gates at airports, to prevent people from freaking out and rebelling against the lines. Who knew Disney could be just as educational as it is fun?

After a full day running around the park like little kids and going on all the rides, a few of us stayed to watch the Illumination show. Looking up at the castle, you could see countless videos of popular Disney movies and characters projected onto the outer walls. One interesting thing about the firework show was that, much like some of the rides in the park, the language would flip between English and French. For example, “Let It Go” was sung in French, but later in the show, “A Dream is Wish Your Heart Makes” was in English. Regardless of the language the music is in, there is something so magical and breathtaking about seeing the fireworks at Disney that makes everyone stop dead in their tracks and look up at the sky.

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Starry, Starry Night

I’m not a particularly huge fan of art, but Vincent van Gogh has always been one of my favorite painters. There is something very different about the way he paints and the colors he uses that makes me feel very peaceful and at ease. Today, I was able to make my way to the Musée d’Orsay to see van Gogh’s paintings, a trip I missed because I was in Italy. I was a little nervous that I wasn’t going to find the time to make it there since the final week here is pretty busy, but I’m happy I was able to fit it in.

Although the area around van Gogh’s two famous paintings, Starry Night Over the Rhône and his self-portrait, was crowded and noisy, it was somewhat easy to block out the noise and the people to be able to admire his works. I have been trying to get to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see his other Starry Night, but I’m glad that I have managed to see at least one. Guess that’ll be my next trip when I get home.

The Musée d’Orsay itself is just as impressive and beautiful as the art it houses. It’s hard to believe when looking at both the interior and exterior that it was a train station in its past life. According to their website, this was the first time an industrial building was being repurposed to house a major museum. Whoever made the decision to repurpose the old train station made a pretty great decision because there couldn’t be a better location for this museum to sit, especially since it’s right near the Louvre.

Also, I kinda got stuck near part of the Tour de France. I only got a chance to see one cyclist pass by, but still it was pretty cool to see how many people were sitting and waiting, especially since it wasn’t close to the finish line.

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Popes and Catacombs

Two of the most popular yet very morbid tourist spots in both Rome and Paris are the catacombs that wind around several meters beneath the street. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to see the ones beneath the city of Rome, which I was pretty disappointed about. I did, however, get the opportunity to visit the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. In St. Peter’s, the deceased popes are interred in the Vatican Grottoes, which are about one and a half stories below ground. In the center of the Grottoes sits an unlabeled, white marble sarcophagus, ready to be labeled and used when the next pope passes away.

              Papal Entrance to the Vatican Grottoes

Not all popes, however, are kept in the Vatican Grottoes. There are several popes that have been placed within St. Peter’s above ground. Now before most popes are buried, they are embalmed so that in the event they are up for sainthood and are granted it, their bodies can be displayed to the public. Pope Innocent XI as well as Pope John Paul II have been granted sainthood. Their bodies are currently on display, along with a few other popes, in St. Peter’s, not below it. They are adorned with the papal garments they would have worn during their service as well as silver (in Pope John Paul II’s case, most likely wax or similar) death masks and hand coverings.

How Pope’s bodies are handled are obviously extremely different from what we saw in the catacombs below Paris. There are no bodies, no flesh, no fancy death masks, and no fancy marble sarcophaguses. In the catacombs, there are just bones, which had been relocated from their original burial sites when Paris began running out of space. Instead of building on top of the burials, the bones were removed and placed underground in what are now the catacombs. Uniquely, the bones have been placed in simple designs related to either death, love, or religion.

It is very surprising that such an eerie tunnel system lined with the bones and skulls of humans can be considered quite beautiful and magnificent. But I guess at the same time, people feel the same way about how popes like Pope Innocent XI are adorned post-mortem once they are declared saints. In a sense, death really doesn’t have to be that morbid and eerie after all.

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Ciao from Italy!

After a busy night out celebrating and watching fireworks for Bastille Day, I arrived in Tuscany Saturday morning just in time for the post-wedding brunch with my family. The villa our family was staying at was located right near the medieval town of Casole D’Elsa.

View of Casole D’Elsa from Balcony of the Villa

Villa from an overlook in Casole D’Elsa

Before dinner, my parents took my sister, two cousins, aunt, and I up to the town where I was immediately surprised at how narrow the streets were and how different the architecture was. Most of the buildings are either made from brick, stone, or a combination of the two. During World War 2, this town was severely damaged which is evident by the repairs that have been/haven’t been made on some of the buildings, especially the Tower of Porta Rivellino.

 

With less than 24 hours spent in Tuscany (which definitely was not enough time to really take it all in), we packed up the car Sunday morning at drove down to Rome. From the minute we entered the Eternal City, I was awestruck again by the small winding streets that connected it. Unlike Paris, Rome left their medieval streets just as they were; cobblestone, small, winding, and quaint. One thing I found pretty cool was that similarly to Paris, Rome has water fountains all over the city where you can refill water bottles or cool off your necks. According to our tour guide, the water for these fountains come from the still functioning aqueducts that provide the city with water.

Because I am only here with them for two days, we took a segway tour of the city so that we could see as much as possible in one day. We stopped everywhere from the Pantheon and the Roman Forum to the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my Lizzie McGuire Movie moment and meet a really cute pop star after throwing my coin in the Trevi Fountain (low key really disappointed).

The Forum was probably the most interesting site to see for two specific reasons. The first is that it sits below the present day street so you are looking down into it instead of directly at it from street level. The second is how well preserved the ruins are, especially since it had been built on top of for hundreds of years. Since I was curious about how well preserved it is, Google helped me out and led me to an article from the University of Washington. According to the article, large restoration and preservation projects began in the 1980s, but the first archaeological research began in 1803. There is still archaeological digs and research taking place in the Forum today and some parts are even open to the public for people to walk around at what would have been street level during Emperor Augustus’s rule.

Our next stop is the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica! Hopefully I’ll be able to explore a little more as well. Until then!

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So I faced my biggest fear today…

I’ve always hated heights. Ever since I was little, there was something that scared me about looking down from high places at the ground below, even if I was standing in a perfectly safe spot. I’d like to assume part of that fear comes from falling in between the open slots of a spiral staircase (not from very high up, of course) and the other part of that fear is because my dad has a fear of heights, so like father like daughter. Today, I faced that fear and went to the highest point possible at the Eiffel Tower.

Before going up, a few people asked me why I was going to force myself to go to the very top if I hated heights so much. I did it for 2 reasons: 1) the pictures (gotta love a camera with a killer zoom) and 2) because I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. At first, even looking down as we were ascending the tower in the not an elevator, but sort of an elevator made me sick to my stomach. But once we made it to the second highest level, I slowly began to get used to being up so high. I could look down without my stomach turning into giant knots or feeling my heart race a million miles an hour. It got to the point that I was actually starting to really enjoy being up that high and being able to see the city of Paris from a birds eye view.

  I think that being able to enjoy the views made me better appreciate the engineering and talent behind the creation of the Eiffel Tower. For a structure that was only meant to last 20 years, it sure has withstood the destructiveness of time. It makes me wonder if Gustav Eiffel knew in the back of his mind that his creation was going to last way longer than 20 years and that it was meant to become more than just a symbol of engineering and science. Once back on the ground, I was able to look up at the Eiffel Tower with a new appreciation and admiration. In my opinion, it’s more than just some tourist attraction where you go to the top and buy champagne and kiss your significant other. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering, design, and science that withstood the tests of time and officially ended my fear of heights.

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Parks, Paintings, and Palaces

The past six days have been a whirlwind. So far we have visited several churches, plenty of parks, a few museums and walked (according to the tracker on my phone) a grand total of 27.8 miles. Granted that’s probably a lower estimation than what we’ve actually done. Because we covered so much and this blog website was shut down on Thursday and Friday, I wanted to talk about parks, paintings, and the Palace of Versailles.

The parks in Paris are very well designed and many of them offer shade and water fountains where you can fill up your water bottles. This has especially come in handy since it’s been pretty hot. I have come to notice that a lot of Parisians as well as tourists like to sit in the shade of the trees or tan on the grass in many of the parks. They can be a social gathering spot for friends and families to get together or a relaxing getaway from the hustle, bustle, and heat of the city streets. Even the benches are specially designed so that you can sit back to back with another person and physically not touch with them, allowing for air circulation to make it easier for cooling off on a hot day.

When you come to Paris, the one stop almost everybody makes is to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. Yes, I can officially say I saw DaVinci’s famous work of art in person, but to be completely honest, I was more impressed by the architecture of the Louvre than some of the paintings. The magnificent details on the exterior of the museum rival the works of art sitting inside of it, likewise is to be said about some of the rooms within the Louvre.

 

I’m currently reading Monuments Men and a main part of the book talks about the French effort to protect masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa from Nazi art looters. It was very difficult to picture the main corridor of the Louvre completely empty; frames stripped of their paintings, white chalk labels across the walls noting where each painting was located. It must have been an eerie sight to walk around an art museum without any art in order to protect it from the Nazis and preserve it for future generations.

Main Gallery 2017

Main Gallery circa WW2 (photo credit to Google Images)

After an hour on the sweltering hot tram and RER yesterday, we arrived at Versailles and instantly, the palace took my breath away. The architecture, the overly gilded exterior and interior, the gardens, the size: okay so pretty much everything about it was super impressive.

I remembered learning about Versailles in a world history class during high school, but I was surprised to learn that the palace I thought I was built entirely by Louis XIV was actually started by Louis XIII as a small hunting lodge. After leaving the palace, Holly, Kerry, and I made our way through the expansive gardens which seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. We even managed to find some row boats and took one out onto a small man made pond for a little while! Even though I ended the day with horrible tan lines from my backpack straps, it was still an amazing experience to see such an important palace in French history.

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Beginnings

Well, we’re 2 full days into our stay in the beautiful city of Paris. To be honest, everything about Paris seems so different from the other European cities I’ve visited before arriving here. Everything from the churches and museums (so far) to the food and the culture are so new and different. It’s been a very different atmosphere than those in London, Stockholm, or Edinburgh. Something about it is so much more relaxed yet still fast-paced and exciting.

It’s very interesting to see the similarities and differences between each of the cities. For example, Stockholm was built right on the water and spans several islands. Similarly, Paris contains several islands as well, some of which we got the chance to see yesterday on our river cruise down the Seine.

Stockholm Harbor in Stockholm, Sweden

Seine River in Paris, France

That was not the case, however, in Edinburgh and London. London is separated into two sections by the Thames, but Edinburgh’s closest source of water is to the north of the city. The similarities between the Roman influences in England and here in Paris is very evident. For example, there were large Roman baths in the town of Bath, which is about two hours outside of London. There were also Roman baths we visited today near the Latin Quarter.

Roman Baths in Bath, England

Roman Baths in Paris, France

Regardless of how different Paris seems to be compared to everywhere else I’ve visited this summer, I have already become fairly comfortable living in the city. Besides not knowing the language, there is something familiar about being in Paris that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s just me getting used to being away from the US for so long or it could be the fact that I’m with such a great group of people. Who knows, maybe I’ll figure it out eventually.  Au revoir!

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