Weekend 10: Krakow, Poland!

Upon first arriving in France, there were several places I knew that I wanted to make time to see while I was in Europe for the semester. For whatever reason, Poland was not one that initially came to mind, although I had no reason to not want to go there. I think something about it seemed very distant, even though it’s much closer to Paris than, say, the distance between Philadelphia and Kansas City. I think it may subconsciously have something to do with the divide between Western and Eastern Europe, or maybe it’s just because I honestly don’t know that much about Poland. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. When my friend from high school, Janka, invited me to come visit her in Krakow, I did not hesitate for a moment to take up her offer. It is not often that you get a tour of a city from someone who lives there and is fluent in the language! As the time drew nearer for me to leave for Poland, I became more and more excited. Whenever I mentioned the trip to someone, they always had great things to say about the country and how much they enjoyed it. I looked into the kinds of things Krakow has to offer, and found that I would have more than enough to see during my short day and a half there.

I left Friday afternoon with no trouble getting to the airport or on my flight with just a little carry-on suitcase. As I was landing in Krakow, I had an amazing aerial view of the city. I could see everything so clearly, and it was so refreshing to see something incredibly different from Paris. All of the buildings are evenly spaced, surrounded by trees, and often are repeated in groups. I tried to find a picture online that demonstrates this, but Google seems to have failed me.

Once at the airport, I got out some money from the ATM. The Polish currency is the złoty. $1 is about equivalent to 3 złoty, which you can imagine was quite a wonderful break from the disastrous euro-dollar conversion. I love how their paper money looks. They have neat illustrations of kings on them. After that, I met with Janka and we took the bus into the city. I immediately noticed how many parks there were, which are full of big, beautiful trees dropping many colorful leaves. It reminded me of home, and I realized I hadn’t seen trees like this since coming to Europe. Overall, the passing buildings and landscape were the homiest looking things I’d seen in a long time.

Once we got to Janka’s apartment, I dropped off my stuff, re-hydrated, and then we headed out to dinner at a vegetarian place. Janka is also a vegetarian! We walked there, since Krakow is a very walk-able city. On the way there, we passed through the center of the Old Town, which was filled with a traditional market. I swear there was a man singing “Guantanamera” (a traditional Cuban song) which I thought was strange, but Janka said it wouldn’t surprise her. The food was so great, one of the few and best vegetarian meals I’ve had since coming to Europe. By the time we were done eating it was dark out, but we spent the night walking around most the city while Janka pointed out different sites to me. We discovered a really amazing hand-made gift shop that I decided to come back to the next day. There was something for everyone I know in there! We also got some candied nuts at the traditional market, which were super yummy. After walking around for a while, we stopped in a cafe. I decided to try something new, which ended up being hot raspberry wine with vanilla ice cream and raspberries. I’ve never heard of anything like this but it was actually quite good. By the time we headed back to her apartment, it was late and a very thick fog filled the city. It was eerie, but I also really like fog.

Saturday morning we took it easy with a delicious breakfast consisting of one of my favorite things; peanut butter, bananas, and honey on toast, with tea. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d eaten that combination. Then, we headed out to start off the day with some churches. The previous day, Janka had explained to me how Poles are still very Catholic, which is obvious if you go into any of the many churches. Unlike the churches in Paris, which have seats for prayer and candles you can light, but are otherwise rather visitor-oriented, these churches all made me feel very intrusive with my camera. They all had people in them, praying, and were either completely quiet or had organ music playing. Most of them also had nuns or laymen doing preparational things. For these reasons, I only took a few photographs in the churches. Still, they were absolutely stunning to see.

The first church we went to had a sermon going on in an adjacent room, so I put my camera in quiet mode but then forgot to change my other settings. As a result, all of these photos have some pretty bad camera shake but I’m posting them anyway.

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Outside this church was this interesting mural/sculpture thing:

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The second church we went in was incredibly ornate and beautiful. It’s probably one of my favorite churches I’ve ever been in! This was also the emptiest church we visited, and the organist was practicing, so I felt more free to snap away my camera without being disruptive.

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I thought this relief was pretty weird.

I thought this relief was pretty weird.

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Across from the church was a pretty little courtyard with sculptures in it.

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Next, we went into the courtyard of the oldest building of the Jagiellonian University, which is also the school Janka attends. This particular building now only functions as a museum. It was also the most touristy place I’d seen so far. It is very significant, though, being the oldest university in Poland, second oldest in Central Europe, and one of the oldest in the entire world. The courtyard had lots of sculptures in it, and a cat 🙂

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After that we headed back to the Old Town square, where we climbed the tower, which is the only remaining part of the original Town Hall. That tower has the steepest stairs I’ve ever had to climb!

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The view at the top was totally worth the climb. You can see the whole city stretch out around you.

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After the tower, we went to St. Mary’s Basilica, which houses the famous Veit Stoss Altarpiece.

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Right outside of the basilica are people dressed in various period costumes trying to make money. One of them came up behind me to try and scare me but was surprised when I didn’t even react. Take that!

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So, the inside is incredible. This was by far the most touristy of all the churches we went to. It was amazing seeing the altarpiece in person. Just one of the many things that I learned about, never dreaming I’d actually see it in person so soon, if ever. This particular altarpiece is special because it is the largest wooden altarpiece in the world. During WWII it was dismantled and taken by the Nazis to Germany, so it’s amazing that it was restored, recovered, and reassembled for people to see today.

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After the Basilica we headed over to the Wawel Castle! On the way we stopped at the church of Saints Peter and Paul. The inside seemed pretty plain after the past few churches I’d seen, and I actually liked the outside better than the inside.

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Some cool buildings leading up to the castle…

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Once we got there, we didn’t go inside because it was actually remodeled in the 20th century, so it’s not original to the structure. We walked around the perimeter and went inside a courtyard.

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The Castle also houses Poland’s only da Vinci painting, Lady with an Ermine. They are incredibly proud of it, and Janka says there’s a Polish movie where it gets stolen. It is displayed in its own room. It’s about the same size as the Mona Lisa. When we were looking at it, I saw no signage that said you couldn’t take a photograph of it, so I figured I would because why not? As soon as I did, the guards swarmed around me and were yelling at me in Polish, and I had to delete it. Of course you can’t take a photograph of the only da Vinci in Poland. So, here’s a Google image.

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After that whole ordeal, we walked around the rest of the castle, which offers a great view overlooking the river.

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We then walked down the hill to the river and passed the dragon statue. This statue has the ability to breath fire, though I didn’t see it in action. There’s a legend that a dragon used to live in the caves under the hill (which you can go in, if you want) and there’s a typical story of a guy slaying the dragon and winning the King’s daughter’s hand in marriage. The part I like is that his name was Skuba and he defeated the dragon by feeding it lamb stuffed with sulfur so that when the dragon ate it, he become so thirsty he drank from the river until he exploded. Classy.

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Our next destination was the historic Jewish district of Krakow, Kazimierz. There are hardly any Jews left in Krakow after WWII, so it has become more of a cultural place for the non-Jewish people of Krakow. There is basically just a lot of Jewish restaurants and it has become pretty touristy in recent years, mostly thanks to Schindler’s List having been shot there (more on that in a moment).

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I wanted to go see the museum that is housed in what used to be Oskar Schindler’s factory, but first we had a nice lunch in Kazimierz at a cafe Janka had eaten at once before. After we sat down, I noticed right next to us on the wall were stills from the movie Schindler’s List. I realized that they were showing scenes that had been shot right in the cafe. Then, for the entire meal tourist groups were going in and out of the cafe and we heard all about how it was the location for a 25 minute scene in the film. Since we had picked such a fortunate place to sit, we ended up being in a bajillion tourist photos of the photo wall. So, as neat as that is and everything, if you ever go there, that is the one place to not sit. Also during the entire meal I think I saw at least 3 different wedding portrait sessions going on in the cafe as well. It’s a pretty popular place. I ordered tomato soup which ended up having chicken in it. Who puts pieces of chicken in tomato soup??

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Before going to the factory, we stopped in a market to get this traditional food called zapiekanka, which is basically half a baguette topped with cheese and whatever other toppings you desire. We both got the vegetarian one, which was delicious.

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Janka with her zapiekanka

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A blurry photo of mine. Yum!

Their cute attempt at carving pumpkins :)

Their cute attempt at carving pumpkins 🙂

After all that food, we went to Oskar Schindler’s factory. It is now a museum that tells the history of Krakow’s involvement in WWII, starting with right before the German invasion and ending with the Soviet Union’s control after the end of WWII. It uses photographs, quotes, letters, and objects to immerse viewers in the time period. It’s a lot of information to absorb at once, but it’s incredibly interesting and educational. You really get a feel for what it was like to live in Krakow during WWII, both as a Jew and a non-Jewish citizen. Also, it’s probably one of the few places in the word that can get away with having a swastika-tiled floor.

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After the museum, it had been quite a long day. We went back to the Old Town hoping to get souvenirs at that awesome handmade shop, but sadly it was closed. I was really disappointed, but also should have known better. This is Europe, after all. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the hours here. I somewhat made up for it by getting a few things at the traditional market, and I also tried another traditional Polish food: fried sheep’s cheese with cranberry sauce. It was really, really good. We also stopped in this great chocolate store where you can watch the chocolate being made. I got some more gifts in there as well.

We went back to Janka’s apartment and decided to go full-circle with Schindler. Janka had never seen the film and I’d only seen it once several years ago, so despite how late it was, we watched the whole thing. It was really neat seeing it the same day I had just been to many of the locations in person, and I could compare the facts I’d learned at the museum to how the film portrayed the events.The next morning all I had time to do was get ready, go to the airport, and head back to Paris.

So, even though I was there for such a short time, as you can see I got to do quite a bit. I really, really enjoyed it and I definitely plan to go back some day to see not only Krakow, but more of Poland as well. I was surprised with how homey it was, and I’d like to see if more of the country is like that as well. I highly recommend that if you have the chance to go, take it! It will be so worth it. It also helps if you have a friend that’s a local to be your tour guide and translator, but not everyone is as lucky as me!

Weekend 9: Beautiful Weather & Gardens

I have had so much work this past week, so I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get around to posting about last weekend! I wanted to make sure I did it before I left for Poland, but then I decided sleeping for once was more important. I am pretty much a week behind in life, but I want to be caught up with everything before I leave for Florence.

Last weekend had the best weather I’ve experienced since being in Paris. It made me love it a little more, which just goes to show that even though I don’t like living here doesn’t mean I don’t like Paris. There is definitely a difference. Paris has these amazing moments where the light will fall off a building into the street in the most beautiful way, and I don’t see how anyone could not love it, even if only for that moment. Also, I discovered these awesome buildings right down the street from the American Library in Paris. Out of all the times I’ve been there I can’t believe I never noticed them!

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Friday started off with my internship, but I had the afternoon to start shooting my final photography project. First, I went to the Jeu de Paume for the first time to see the current Erwin Blumenfeld exhibition, which I had to write a review of for class. This is the other smaller museum in the Tuileries along with the Musee de l’Orangerie. I then spent the rest of the evening shooting in the Tuileries and also in front the of the Pyramid at the Louvre. The weather was perfect and the light was amazing.

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I also got some gelato because what afternoon is perfect without it?!

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Caramel, Banana, and Dark Chocolate

I finished off by going across the street to the Place de la Concorde, which is filled with golden ornamentation that was highlighted by the golden setting sun. It was absolutely beautiful.

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The next morning I let myself sleep in because I hadn’t been able to since the previous week, before we went to Amsterdam. As soon as I was awake, I got ready and headed to Gare Saint Lazare, because I was going to Giverny! Since Giverny closes November 1st and I was going to Poland the next weekend, this was my last chance to go and I knew I had to take it. Once I got to the station, I spent a while trying to buy train tickets from the SNCF machines before realizing my cards wouldn’t work because they aren’t chip cards. That meant the only way that I could get my tickets was to wait in the incredibly long line of people at the SNCF ticket counter. By the time I got to the front, I had missed all the morning trains and I had an hour and a half to kill before the next train to Vernon.

I decided to go to the Fnac down the street, which is basically France’s equivalent to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble in one. The store was huge; I think it had about six floors. It was really fun seeing things I was familiar with but in French, like these:

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Les Sims!

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Star Wars AND Harry Potter

I also saw that they have this really beautifully illustrated hard cover graphic novel-esque version of Camus’ The Stranger that I think I will own before I leave Paris. One of my small goals before I left was to get a version of the book in French, and while initially I was picturing some beat-up, used version, this fits that description and is definitely unique.

Once it was finally time for my train, I headed back to the station and got on. It’s a relatively short ride, I think just under an hour. When I got to Vernon, I had to then wait another 40 minutes for the next shuttle bus to Giverny. I wandered around the sleepy little town for a bit and stopped in a lovely boulangerie to get some lunch. Initially I ordered a pizza, but only after I had paid for it and was waiting for it to be heated up did I realize it had Salmon in it. In desperate broken French I explained how sorry I was but I couldn’t eat it, and instead got a waffle. It was 10 cents more than the pizza but the nice woman there wouldn’t accept my extra payment, which was so kind after the little hassle I caused.

The shuttle to Giverny was supposed to cost 4 euros, but for some reason the driver wouldn’t take a payment. When I finally got to the bus drop-off I then had to walk though this underground tunnel to cross the street into Giverny. Immediately, it’s like walking into a little French storybook town. I’m not sure how much of this is genuine and how much has been shaped by tourism, but it is still lovely, especially in the fall! Everything was covered in rainbow ivy and flowers.

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My first priority was seeing Monet’s house and gardens. Since it was already the afternoon and I’m wary of how early things close in Europe, I wanted to be sure that if I got anything done it was at least that. I was not entirely sure of how big it would be, but it turned out to be well worth it! These are no ordinary gardens, and his house is like the one from Alice in Wonderland, but full of prints by Japanese printmaking masters and Impressionist paintings from Monet’s close friends, as well as his own work. I’m not sure that my photos fully convey the magical experience of being there, even when you’re surrounded by tourists and you can’t take a photo of the front of his house without strangers posing in front of it.

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To get to the waterlillies pond you have to go underground through this cool tunnel:

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And then you first see all this bamboo:

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And then of course, there is the pond. It was a lot bigger than I expected!

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After I left the gardens, everything else in Giverny was closing. I wandered around a little bit to see if there was anything else to do but eventually decided to take the shuttle bus back to Vernon.

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Once I got there, I must have just missed a train to Paris, because the next one wasn’t for over 2 hours. I was getting frustrated at this point but there wasn’t anything I could do about it, so I decided to seek out the local church.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find that the church was open. I was the only person inside, which is sort of an eerie experience. Since the sun was setting and the church wasn’t lit very well, it was difficult to take photographs, but I loved the stained glass so I took a few of the windows.

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After the church, I wandered around Vernon a bit more, got something to eat, and then spent the rest of my time waiting at the train station and deeply regretting my last minute decision to not bring my Kindle. By the time I got back to Paris it was too late for me to do anything else. I’m so glad I went and it is something I highly recommend, but definitely plan ahead a little more than I did! Also, if you have allergies you might want to consider that before going to a giant garden. I stopped taking my medicine soon after coming to Paris since I didn’t really need it, but after Giverny I was sneezing all week so I’ve started taking it again.

To give a quick recap on this past week, I basically spent all my free time doing homework until 2-3AM every day. Annie and I are almost finished the translations for her book. I also finally found a vegetarian place by school! It’s in the one direction down the street from the metro stop I get off at that I had never been down previously. I am both disappointed that I spent half the semester spending my money on mediocre, unhealthy food, but also really happy I can spend the rest of the semester eating from there. I can’t wait to try their veggie burgers!

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So, I am about to start another incredibly busy week where I will probably not be sleeping much, but it will be so worth it because I’m going to Florence on Friday!! Also, Halloween is Thursday, but I honestly don’t even have time to think about it at this point. I can’t really go out too late since I have to leave the next morning at 6AM. But, Florence!!!!

2 Months in Paris: Halfway There

It’s pretty crazy that I’ve been living in Paris for two months now! Which also means I have two months left to go. Each week goes by faster and faster, so I think this last half will go by much quicker than the first.

As far as school goes, this past week was mid-semester. I’m now working on final projects/papers for all of my classes. I think maybe towards the end of the semester I’ll make a post dedicated to how school is here, so I don’t go off on a tangent. Basically, it has been kind of difficult adjusting to a new school, particularly one so much smaller than what I’m used to. I definitely appreciate KCAI even more now that I’ve been away from it and I’m so excited to go back next semester.

My French has definitely improved in the past two months, though not in the way I expected it to. I am really comfortable with practical French and do all of my  daily “transactions” in French. This past week I even got a haircut without using any English! I am still not very good at conversational French, and I am not happy with where my vocabulary is at. I know this will improve over the next two months, and once I leave France I will continue to work on it! I also think I have a pretty good French comprehension, as long as whoever is talking speaks slowly and uses enough words that I know. I was pleased to find that while waiting in the hair salon, I could read the celebrity magazines and understand almost all of it. I didn’t expect to become fluent within only four months, but living here has definitely given me a great start to understanding the language. In Amsterdam last weekend, I had to resist the now-impulse to speak French to everyone, which I guess is a good thing! I still have off-days where I can’t seem to understand what anyone is saying to me and I feel really stupid, but then there are equally triumphant moments where I completely understand someone and am really proud of myself. It has, like most things in this experience, its ups and downs.

I think in my one month post I described the stereotypical outfit for a Parisian woman, but it’s taken me a little longer to figure out men. In some ways, they’re almost exactly the same as women. The working men all wear business suits, but your average everyday outfit for the Parisian male consists of jeans or pants, shoes (meaning not sneakers or sandals), and a blazer. Under the blazer could be a plain t-shirt, light sweater, or a button-up shirt. Chambray button-ups are also big with men. And it is perfectly normal to wear scarves and have a murse.

Paris is every man’s urinal. I think this is because of the lack of public toilets, as well as the fact that most of the homeless seem to be men. I’ve seen men peeing along the sides of all types of buildings; one down the street from me to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries! The metro is basically the unofficial sewer system of Paris. There are little gutters along where the floor meets the walls that I’m sure were made with the homeless and drunk in mind, but I’ve seen plenty of people clearly neither of those things use them as well. Once I saw a man along with his two small children, a boy and a girl, all peeing in the metro. I also saw a woman having a conversation with someone while her dog peed right there on the floor. So, beware of puddles!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the American chains that also exist here in Paris. Obviously there is McDonalds, which I haven’t gotten anything from because it’s not somewhere I go even in America, but I might just for the experience. You order on these touch screens and they have croissants and macrons there as well as everything else. I wonder if cheeseburgers are really called Royale with Cheese? A chain that surprised me here is Subway. For some reason it’s really, really popular. I don’t know why, considering all boulangeries sell sandwiches, but I guess in a way hoagies (or subs, or whatever you call them) are the closest thing in America to French sandwiches. They also have Pizza Hut here which again I don’t understand because you can get pizza almost anywhere and it’s probably a million times better than an American chain. There is the one Chipotle which I have gone to. It’s super expensive though, so unless you’re dying for it, it’s not really necessary to go there. Another surprise to me was Office Depot. It’s such a random chain to have here in Paris, but there’s one that I pass every day on the way to the metro so I’ve become used to it.

This second month has been fairly difficult, emotionally. I have tried to be honest on this blog about my experience studying abroad to make this as real and accurate as possible. However, there are a lot of things I haven’t shared on here yet simply because I didn’t feel ready to, or that they didn’t fit in with my previous posts. Mostly these have been very mixed feelings about living in Paris. I even felt guilty for a while, because I honestly do not like living in Paris, which is a dream come true for so many people! However, after talking with many other semester-long exchange students from America at my school, we all seem to be going through the same things and are on the same page, which is so relieving. Basically, none of us are that crazy about actually living in Paris. We think it’s beautiful and we love being able to see things in person that are not possible in the US, but none of us find Parisians to be accessible. This is heightened especially for me, because I specifically chose to live with a Parisian family and I had so many expectations, none of which have happened. Parisians are very prideful and private people. Whenever I see couples ogling all over each other (every day) I am more and more amazed that they somehow had an opportunity to speak to each other and get to know each other enough to be in a relationship. I don’t actually know any French people and I’ve been in France for two months! This is a pretty frustrating realization, but it’s one I’ve mostly come to terms with over the past month. This is the way it is here, which is something that I wanted to find out. It’s not what I expected, but I think I’m okay with that. Also, the main reason I chose Paris was because of all the history that the city holds, and regardless of who lives here, that is all still intact and has been well worth the trip. Still, I definitely think Paris is one of those cities that is much better suited for being a naive tourist for a week or two, seeing all the sites, eating the food, and then moving on. You will have a much more enjoyable time than trying to assimilate with people that are indifferent.

Another huge source of stress for me here has continued to be food. Every time I feel like I’ve finally found some stability, it doesn’t last very long. I honestly think that it is not possible for me to eat the way I want to in Paris. I’ve already decided to stop stressing so much about it and have since finally started eating baguettes every once in a while. Still, I dread every weekday at school when lunch time comes around and I have to struggle to find something in the area to eat that is somewhat decently healthy and not entirely composed of bread and cheese. The worst are cheese paninis. A lot of times this is my only option, and it is literally a bunch of cheese melted on some bread. I always regret ordering this, but sometimes I’m so hungry and frustrated I do it anyway. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to just take out half of the cheese and add in some vegetables, considering most places at least have lettuce and tomato, but it is not always an option. Why not get salads, you may ask. Well, salads are usually much more expensive than sandwiches and are also less filling. So I usually opt for the cheaper, more filling, but less expensive option, because being full longer means potentially not having to spend money on food later. Not being able to eat healthily would also not be nearly as stressful for me if I could work out the way I want to, but that is not an option either. I have no weights, no yoga mat, and there is no running trail near me. I have been making do with doing Youtube pilates videos on a towel, but if you’ve ever tried working out on a towel on tile floor, it is awful and extremely difficult. It’s better than nothing, though, and there have been a few days where I felt like I had a decent workout. I’m pretty sure I have gained some weight here, but that seems to be pretty normal and I’m trying not to worry about it because I can lose it when I get back to the US (after Christmas of course!)

I’d like to end this post on a more positive note, so here’s an update on my internship! At times it has felt very overwhelming and potentially impossible, but overall I am really happy that I decided to do this. My main job so far has been taking quotes that Annie used in the French version of her book and finding the English translations of them. This is an incredibly difficult task, especially in the cases where she did not have a source for the quote, so all I had to go off of was the person who said it and the translated French version. We are really close to (finally!) having all of the quotes translated, which I will be so happy about. I’ve been able to complete this mostly thanks to Google Books and the American Library in Paris. Annie always lets me know how grateful she is for my help, and I am learning a lot in the process, so despite my few moments of doubt this has been a really wonderful experience.

This coming week is going to be a very full work week for me because on Friday I leave for Krakow, Poland to visit my friend from high school, Janka! I’m really excited to visit somewhere so different from Paris, and I’ve heard great things about it from people who have been there. Before then, I’ll update on this past weekend, but other than that I have a ton of work to do!

Weekend 8: Amsterdam & Brussels

So not to say this was a failure of a weekend, but it was riddled with bad weather and poor planning. However, it was so wonderful to get out of Paris and experience completely new places and I’m so glad we went.

Shelby and I getting psyched for the weekend on the Megabus!

Shelby and I getting psyched for the weekend on the Megabus!

Thursday we got on the night bus at 11:30 PM heading to Amsterdam. The company we used was Megabus, which actually is in Europe as well as the US. You can’t beat 12 euros to get from Paris to Amsterdam, even if it takes 8 hours. The bus ride really wasn’t that bad. There was Wifi but we couldn’t get it to work. There were even plugs (but I didn’t have the right adapter). Other than being squished in a tiny space for 8 hours, which is pretty unavoidable on a bus, it was tolerable. I slept on and off the whole night. The bus does stop fairly often, which accounts for why it takes so long. Still, if you want to travel for cheap in Europe I highly recommend it!

Amsterdam Centraal Station

Amsterdam Centraal Station

We arrived in Amsterdam at 7:00 AM on Friday. We were half sleepy, half really excited. We had no idea where to go or start. Our phones were almost dead. We were also really hungry and thirsty. I mentioned before that we were lucky enough to be able to stay with Dov’s brother, Matt, who lives in Amsterdam. However, his family was very busy this weekend, so we couldn’t meet him to get keys to their apartment until 5:30 PM on Friday. So we basically had the entire day to roam the city before being able to settle in with our things, rest, shower, etc.

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Being so early (and also not light out) nothing was open yet. We wandered around the Centraal Station trying to find a map. The best we could find was for a tour bus company, so it was kind of biased because it highlighted the sites they showed on their tour. We couldn’t find any kind of map on their public transportation system, which includes trams, buses, and a metro. We decided to start walking outside straight from the station. It was actually pretty cool to see everything so early in the morning as the sun was rising. We began to get re-energized with excitement.

Fast food is everywhere. They even have Burger King! Also that hotel name.

Fast food is everywhere. They even have Burger King! Also that hotel name.

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I used the last bit of battery power on my phone to find a place for breakfast that I had heard good things about called the Pancake Bakery. It didn’t open until 9:00 AM so we continued to wander around the area until then. We found out the Anne Frank house was right down the street from it. This is when it started to rain. We both had little umbrellas, but we were soon pretty wet. We picked a bench to sit on until the Pancake Bakery opened.

A creative french fry stand.

A creative french fry stand.

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Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank statue

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Hobbit Houseboat!! My new dream home.

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We were so early that we were the only customers. Man was it an amazing breakfast, though! We both got hot chocolate and Dutch pancakes, which I liked even more than crepes. It was amazing, but sadly almost immediately after eating I had some bad stomach pains. The entire rest of the weekend I had bad stomach problems. For some reason my stomach has been really sensitive this time in Europe (remember when I first came to Paris?). When I did the exchange program to Germany 5 years ago, I never had any problems like I have had this time.

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Apple-banana pancake. It was incredible.

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Hot chocolate with a Stroopwaffel! I love Stroopwaffels. I got a package of them that I hope lasts until I get back to the US…

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Shelby cheesin’ at the Pancake Bakery.

Anyway, we planned on going to the Anne Frank house after we ate since it was right down the street and it’s infamous for having an incredibly long line. It wasn’t even open yet so we would be among some of the first inside. It turns out the museum has no coat/bag check, and seeing as we both had our bags with us, we realized we would have to walk all the way back to the Centraal Station to put our things in a locker for the day before being able to do anything else. We trudged back through the now pouring rain to the station. By the time we got there my little suitcase was soaked through. By the time we got back to the Anne Frank house, the line was super long and we didn’t want to stand in the rain so we decided to go to the Van Gogh Museum instead.

We ended up spending a ton of time staring at the map, unable to find it. Eventually we found a tram map and were able to find where it was, but we really could not figure out how the tram system worked. We’ve been spoiled by Paris’ Metro system and the ease and frequency of maps! We took a wild guess and got on a tram.

Luckily, we picked the right direction AND the particular tram we were on was announcing what sites were at each stop. We got off to find that this area had several museums and the “I Amsterdam” letters. Since it was pouring, no one was climbing on them. We got in line for what we thought was the Van Gogh Museum, only to realize after at least a half hour that it was actually the Rijksmuseum. So we got out of line and got in line for our Van Gogh tickets. They sell them for advanced times, so we got ours for 1:00 PM and then went over to the museum to do more -gasp- waiting in line. Keep in mind, all while it was pouring!

At this point we were also really cold. I was losing feeling in my feet. I was still extremely thirsty, as I had not found a place to refill my water bottle (water fountains don’t exist in Europe for some reason). After a lot of waiting, we finally got in! The museum is one I definitely would recommend. Despite my extremely tired, wet, cold state, I still had it in me to appreciate some art.

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The Potato Eaters

One of his sketches I really liked.

One of his sketches I really liked.

Sunflowers!

Sunflowers!

White frames!

White frames!

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

Flowering Plumtree

Flowering Plumtree

After the museum we were so ready to just collapse, but we still had around 2 hours before we were going to meet Matt. We got some food and then I somehow managed to navigate us on the trams back to the Centraal Station so that we could get our luggage out of the lockers, and then from there to where we were staying with Matt. I honestly could not tell you how I figured it out. I think it was a string of lucky guesses.

We had great timing, because as soon as we stood in front of their apartment building, unsure of which was theirs, Matt’s wife Frances walked up with their dog, Starr, and let us in. We were finally able to sit down and drink some much-needed glasses of water. We talked with Matt and Frances for a while, who told us some interesting things about living there. For instance, as we had noticed, the Dutch love to speak English to the point that Matt (not a native Dutch-speaker) said his Dutch is not good because he speaks English at home, work, and people speak it socially as well. Just one of the many differences between Amsterdam and Paris! We went up to our rooms to settle in while they ordered “New York Style” pizza. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep. Once the pizza arrived, we sat watching “The Big Bang Theory” while silently devouring our pizza. Afterwards we went upstairs and it wasn’t long until we were passed out.

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This leads up to the roof!

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View across the street.

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Our new little friend.

Saturday morning we planned to start with the Anne Frank house. We took some time getting ready, showering (for the first time since Thursday) and eating our leftover pizza from the night before for breakfast. Then I used my freshly charged phone to figure out how to get there. We had to wait in line, but it was actually not raining so it was pretty nice. We waited around an hour and a half, which really wasn’t that bad.

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I’ve never seen a cat sleep like this in real life!

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Awesome bench made from books

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You can really see how crooked the buildings are!

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Photography is not allowed in the museum, and understandably so, I think. The building looks modern on the outside, as it is built around the original building of Oscar Frank’s office and the Secret Annex. He requested that the rooms be left unfurnished, so to keep it interesting and informative they are filled with photographs, quotes from Anne’s diary, and short video interviews. It was really amazing seeing the actual space where she wrote her now-famous diary. It has probably been almost a decade since I’ve read it, but now I really want to read it again. What I found both amazing and tragic about all of it was that she dreamed of being a published author, and as a result of her situation she achieved just that, but it also resulted in her death. Also, she was so mature and intelligent for her age! I was amazed at the amount of surviving photographs they had of everyone and everything from that time. It works really well with the museum. At the end, the museum has her actual diary along with pages of her writings and the draft of her book. I highly recommend going to the Anne Frank House, even if it means standing in line! You can get tickets ahead of time online, so if you can you should do that.

The side of the Anne Frank House. The top part is actually apartments that are probably super expensive.

The side of the Anne Frank House. The top part is actually apartments that are probably super expensive.

Afterwards we ate in the museum cafe. Shelby got hot chocolate, which looked great. She said it was the best she had all weekend, and she had maybe 4 or 5 hot chocolates from Amsterdam to Belgium! One thing I’ve noticed in Europe is that unlike in the US, museum cafes are not outrageously expensive and they are usually good quality. So, consider fitting them into your eating plans when traveling, since they’re also very convenient and have free bathrooms and indoor seating.

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We passed this pink car so many times.

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After the Anne Frank House I wanted to go inside the Nieuwe Kerk (seen above). However, they’re having a Chinese exhibition throughout the church so they were charging 15 euros to get in. I decided to just stick with peeking around from the entrance. Next, Shelby wanted to do a little souvenir shopping, and we also stopped in at H&M because I had been wearing the same long-sleeved shirt I got in Paris, and after living in it for 2 days straight (including sleep) I figured I should just get another. I also got another sweater, a blazer (the staple of Parisian fashion for men and women), and a cat dress, because you can’t have too many cat dresses! Shelby needed to get souvenirs for a lot of her family so we spent a while in the many souvenir shops near the Centraal Station. I ended up getting some souvenirs as well, the first I’ve gotten since coming to Europe. I have a lot to get considering I’m missing several birthdays while I’m here, and then I come back to the US just in time for Christmas. During this time we also got fries, although this afternoon was when I was also experiencing my worst stomach pains.

Fries! In Amsterdam!

Fries! In Amsterdam!

After shopping we decided to go to the Rijksmuseum, which I really wanted to go to after realizing what it contained. However, by the time we got there, everything was closing, it was practically dark, and it started raining again. Mind you I don’t think it was even 6:00 PM. On a Saturday. I’ve been in Europe almost 2 months now and I still can’t get used to their hours! We were pretty disappointed, but there was nothing for us to do at that point except go back to Matt’s. We dropped off our bags and relaxed a bit before deciding to go out to eat at this Mexican place I looked up. It turned out to be amazing! It’s called Los Pilones, and they have three locations in Amsterdam, so if you’re ever there I highly recommend it!

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I really like this photo 🙂

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At least we got there in time to see the letters just as it started to rain!

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum

Mango margarita that was basically a slushie [=

Mango margarita- my first ever!

After the deliciously satisfying amazingness that is Mexican food, we headed back and packed our things to be ready for our early morning. Little did we know how wrong it would go! I woke up at 6:00 AM which I figured would give us plenty of time to get to the bus station for our 8:00 AM departure to Brussels. We were taking a different company (Eurolines), but I didn’t think it would be that different from Megabus. We left a little before 7:00 AM and waited at the night bus station for a while. Then, a woman came up to us and explained that there was a sign posted (in Dutch) saying that particular bus wasn’t running this weekend. So, we had to take the tram, which I originally avoided because it didn’t go directly to the Centraal Station. We got off at a stop to transfer to another night bus, only to realize that one wasn’t coming either. At this point we were getting worried that we would miss our bus, so we just got in a taxi that took us to the Centraal Station. Once we were there, we grabbed some croissants and then took the metro to the Eurolines bus stop. We arrived right before 8:00 but with enough time that I wasn’t worried. That is, until I saw that there was a line coming out of the station, and unlike with Megabus where you can walk right onto the bus, you have to check in at a counter to get your ticket before getting on the bus. We probably could have butted ahead, but we didn’t think of it, and we watched our bus drive off without us. Once we finally got to the front of the line we had to pay 8 euros more each to get on the next bus at 9:00 AM. It wasn’t that bad, but we would be losing an hour in Brussels, and our originally tickets cost about 8-9 euros, so we were paying double.

The Eurolines bus was not nearly as nice as the Megabus, despite having TVs. The bathroom was completely not functional, and the bus seats weren’t as comfortable. I stared at the bouncing, color-changing DVD symbol on the TV screen until I fell asleep. It poured the entire bus ride, but by the time we got to Brussels I was hopeful it wouldn’t rain too much. We arrived around 11:30 AM. Determined not to make the mistakes we made in Amsterdam, our first priority after getting off the bus was to put our things in a locker. Then, I found an ATM (I ran out of cash the day before), and proudly used some French to get day passes for the public transportation and maps of both the city and the metro system. Off to a far better start than Amsterdam AND having a working phone with Google Maps, we headed down to the Metro towards Brussels’ Grand Place. The Metro there is very similar to Paris’, and is actually in some ways nicer, though it’s probably also newer. It is somehow really calm and clean.

The Grand Place in Brussels really caught us off guard. We approached it from a tiny side street, and as we walked further in, we incrementally kept saying “woah” as we noticed more and more of what was there. We spent a while kind of spinning around and staring at all the buildings. Then it started raining. It was a different rain than what we had in Amsterdam. The drops were less frequent, but heavier. There was also a nice, strong wind accompanying it.

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We were really hungry, so our first priority was getting some genuine Belgian waffles. We picked a place on the Grand Place and ordered the most extravagant waffles possible, along with hot chocolate. We had to wait quite a while which was sort of frustrating since we only had a few hours, but it gave us time to plan out and prioritize what we wanted to do. Once the waffles arrived, we were not disappointed. They were pretty much the best thing I’ve eaten since coming to Europe!

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Devoured!

After that, we stopped in a few shops along the Place and each got these awesome Magritte butter cookie tins. Then we headed to our first destination, the Mannekin Pis fountain. It’s just a statue of a little boy peeing, but for some reason it’s one of the most iconic things in Brussels, so we felt like we needed to see it. Ta-da.

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Then, we headed to the Horta House Museum. It’s kind of on the outskirts of the city in a not-as-nice area, and only 45 people are allowed in at a time, so we got to do our favorite activity of the weekend: standing in line in the rain. I didn’t mind because I was so excited. Once we were inside, we had to check everything we had on us. No photographs were allowed, but once inside you have completely free roam of the house. It was incredible. If we had more time, I would go to every location that he designed in Brussels. They gave us a little brochure of everywhere in the city; there are so many locations!

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The outside of the Horta House Museum

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The door knocker

After the Horta House we went back towards the city center to the Musee Magritte. This museum requires you to get tickets for a certain time, like the Van Gogh Museum, and also does not allow photography. It’s a really interesting museum, though. They don’t have most of his super-well known paintings (they’re probably in America) but the museum is laid out in chronological order of his entire career, so you get to see tons of his lesser-known works, sketches, writings, drawings, and photographs. I especially liked seeing his “Exquisite Corpse” drawings, as well as the evolution of his repeated imagery. For instance, in the first room he already was using pipe imagery and similar ideas to his Treachery of Images work, but it wasn’t until the last room that apples started showing up.

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After Magritte we only had enough time to head back towards the station and get something to eat (waffles again, but quick ones on the street), grabbed our bags, and got some fries.

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We wanted to get to the bus with plenty of time to check in to avoid the morning’s mistake. Of course there was no line and we waited a while, but we got on our bus at 6:30 PM without a problem. We were back in Paris around 10:30 PM and I was home sometime after 11. I then got to stay up until after 1:00 AM finishing homework. Yay.

So to conclude all of this, you can tell that there were several major problems encountered during this trip. The weather was out of our control, but we definitely could have planned ahead much better. We did more things in 5 hours in Brussels than we did in two days in Amsterdam. I just see it as an excuse to go back some day! Despite all of that, it was so refreshing to go somewhere that was basically the opposite of Paris. Paris is full of amazing things related to art and history, but honestly I do not identify with the French lifestyle at all. Amsterdam, on the other, hand is much more my pace of life. It was so fun to observe how people live there. For instance, bikes are definitely the number one transportation method. I saw every type of bike and bike attachment possible. The Dutch are pros, and they continued to ride around in the pouring rain, sometimes while holding umbrellas!

I also really, really have a strong attraction to Belgium. It is the perfect combination of France and The Netherlands. I would love to spend more time there and there are so many cities I want to explore. I am seriously considering figuring out a day trip to Bruges, even though I am so pressed for time here. I also took some of my favorite photographs during this weekend, even though due to the rain and all the museums not allowing photography I only took a total of around 120 photographs. Crazy, right?!

Weekend 7: Crossing Off My List

Saturday was completely a school work day for me. By the end of it I was pretty exhausted. I had dinner with friends at Miranda and Shelby’s apartment which was really fun. We were all still craving Mexican after Chipotle on Thursday, so we had a taco night. It was amaazingg. We hung out there for a while and eventually went out to Nuit Blanche, but didn’t see very much. It’s a big city-wide arts night that happens once a year. Apparently it is pretty big but maybe we weren’t in the right area.

Sunday I wanted to cross more things off of my super huge to-do list in Paris, so I got right to it and went to Les Invalides. This building was originally a war veteran retirement home, and now houses the military museum of the French Army, a few other museums, a chapel, and the burial sites for several important French war heroes.

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I didn’t go into any of the museums and I don’t know if I will, but it was nice just to walk around. Of course I loved the chapel, Saint-Louis-des-Invalides.

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Now one of the main attractions of Invalides is Napoleon’s burial site under the gold Baroque dome. I wasn’t sure how to get there from where I entered Invalides, but you can actually kind of see it through the windows at the end of the chapel. When I first got a good look I couldn’t believe what I saw because it looks just like the Baldacchino from St. Peter’s Basilica which is obviously in Italy, not Paris. For a second I doubted myself, but I definitely remembered learning it was in Italy. I looked it up later and it is supposed to be a direct influence, so I’m glad I wasn’t going crazy!

There didn’t seem to be a way to get to the other side from where I was, so I left for my next destination: the Musee Rodin.

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Being the first Sunday of the month, entrance was free, though I think I get in free anyway with my school ID. Still, it’s definitely nice going to museums on first Sundays when you can just wander in! There was a really long line to get into the Biron house, so I wandered the gardens first.

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They are installing some kind of stage, so this was my beautiful view from the other side of the garden:

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Also, in the part of the garden with The Thinker, they play this weird “music” that is basically a woman humming and vocalizing. It’s really eerie and at first I didn’t realize it was part of the museum. I wonder what the reasoning is behind it?

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As I walked around, I found that I really, really like Rodin. He found a way to capture such raw emotion in an equally raw form of sculpture. He turned a really cold material into something fluid and natural. And those hands and feet are huuugee! I tried to take close-ups to show how big they are, but you really have to see it in person.

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After the gardens I finally got in the line for the house. You have to wait a while because they only let in a certain amount of people at a time, which they monitor very closely. At least you have a pretty view while you wait!

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The house is pretty small, but it’s great to see his process and some of his more famous works in their original sizes. There are also some great views out of the second story windows.

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There is a special Camille Claudel exhibition going on in one of the rooms, but no photography was allowed. I really loved seeing her most well-known works in person as well. They were actually much larger than I expected. The Wave and Women Gossiping were really, really green in color, which is given no justice in photographic reproductions.

After all that walking I was starting to get tired, so I decided it was time for a break at the cafe in the garden. I got some ice cream and it was AMAZING. I’d love to go back and actually eat there some time, but man was that ice cream good. I got vanilla pecan and chocolate. If you ever find yourself at the Musee Rodin, make sure you get some!!

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Next I headed down the street to finish my exploration of Les Invalides, but this time to the dome were Napoleon is buried. I had to get a ticket to get in but it was free (yay!). Being a student in Paris really has its advantages. My student ID is magical.

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When you first walk in, there is a tomb to your right. This is not Napoleon. This is his older brother.

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Like pretty much every other building in Paris, you can spend a lot of time looking at the ceiling.

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The Baldacchino I was talking about earlier:

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This is Napoleon.

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What a guy.

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There are really beautiful gardens in front of the dome. They have tons of plants I’ve never even seen before.

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This looks like something that fell off a Muppet.

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So that was basically my Sunday! This week is going to be super crazy for me, because I have so much to do before Thursday, when Shelby and I take a night bus to Amsterdam!! We are spending Friday and Saturday in Amsterdam, then leaving early Sunday to spend the day in Brussels before heading back to Paris. We are soo lucky that Dov’s brother lives in Amsterdam and is gracious enough to let us sleep at his house! I am so excited, but first I have a lot of work to do… for some reason even though it’s the first week of October, I have to write three proposals for final projects/papers. And do research at two different libraries. And prepare another PowerPoint presentation. Ahhh!!

Week 7: Playing Tourist

Monday started off with my internship, which was spent finding quotes Annie used for the French publication of her book in their original English translations. This is not an easy task, but I’m motivated by the fact that this is for a really important book that is going to be published by Yale. It’s pretty intimidating!

For class that afternoon we met at the Pompidou to get library cards to the Kandinsky library and see the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective. The Kandinsky is a reference library that claims to have every art book ever published. I’m not sure if this is true, but I know I will be using it a lot this semester. I was conveniently able to look up a quote for my internship while I was there, too. We spent several hours looking through books full of amazing works that are difficult to find otherwise. Some of my favorites were a book of Claes Oldenburg’s sketches and a beautiful book of Andreas Gursky’s work. I’ve decided that he is a perfect photographer and one of my favorites. I really want to see his work in person.

Then, we went to the Lichtenstein retrospective. This was probably one of the most complete exhibitions I’ve ever seen. I don’t quite know how to explain, it, but it was like reading a book. By the time I had gone through the whole thing, I felt completely satisfied. I can honestly say I’ve seen every Lichtenstein work of art that you would ever want to see, and I learned so much about him as an artist that I didn’t previously know. He was incredibly inter-disciplinary and art historically-aware. I’ve always appreciated him stylistically, but I really had no idea where he started as an artist and where his work went after his most well-known pieces. Considering how thorough this exhibition was, I am really excited that I will be in Paris for the Pompidou’s next exhibition on Dali. If it’s as good as this one, they will be two of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen.

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Tuesday morning I had my internship after French, where I went through every chapter of Annie’s book and copied all the quotes I need to find translations for. I will now get to spend some quality time at the American Library in Paris, because she will be out of the country for the next few weeks. Tuesday I also had a major scare with my computer. It glitched during an update and looked like my computer had completely restarted and I lost all of my information. After freaking out for a while, I restarted my computer and everything was back to normal like nothing ever happened.

After that stressful, short amount of time, I decided that even though I had a good amount of work to do, I really needed to do something fun and relax. One of the things I’ve been realizing is that even though I’ve been in Paris for practically a month and a half, I haven’t fully let myself be a tourist, and I think this has been causing me a lot of unnecessary pressure. I decided to dedicate the afternoon to letting myself be a tourist. First, however, I made a stop to do what I has originally intended to do last Sunday: get second ear piercings. This is something I’ve been wanting to do forever but just never did for no particular reason, and decided to just do it since the place I went to was actually pretty inexpensive.

Right across from the jewelry store is the Saint-Jacques Tower, which is all that remains of a cathedral that once stood here. Nicolas Flamel was a patron of the church and is actually buried here!

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I kept walking down the street to the Paris Hotel de Ville.

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And then walked across the bridge over to Notre Dame.

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Finally, I was actually at Notre Dame during the day!

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And then I went inside…

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The way the cathedral is lit on the inside, it looks like an HDR photograph in real life. It’s crazy.

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After Notre Dame, I wandered down the Seine and through the rest of the island, which was pretty empty.

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I then crossed the Pont des Arts, one of the several lock bridges in Paris.

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After that I walked down along the Louvre and Tuileries until I got to the Metro stop on my line and headed home.

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Oh, and if you ever wondered how they move things into tiny little Parisian apartments with 2 person elevators, this is it:

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I have so many more photos, so I’ll be putting them all on Facebook as well!

The rest of my week was pretty uneventful; just schoolwork. I did go to Chipotle for lunch on Thursday because I can only go so long without guacamole. I’m not even a big Chipotle fan but man, it was so good.