My Ultimate Tourist’s Guide to Paris!

Note: This post was never completed as intended. I had originally planned to add more. I have discovered this unpublished post nearly 2 years after I started it! I think this information is great as-is, though I do very much wish I had finished this post. I may think of something every now and then and add on to this. If you ever have questions or seek advice about Paris, study abroad, or traveling in general, please feel free to ask!

Packing

If you need to buy another suitcase while you’re in Paris, there are several places you could look. I would recommend Rayon D’Or, because they have a wide selection and price range. I went to their location at Republique.

If you need any type of travel accessories (bottles and containers that fit the 100ml carry on requirement, for instance) there is an amazing store called Muji which can fulfill all of your needs and more. They have several locations across Paris. I went to the one in Forum des Halles.

As for the type of clothing you should bring, obviously it first depends on the season. As a general rule, a monochromatic wardrobe will be classic and versatile, with a few statement pieces for pops of color. Bring comfortable walking shoes, but not “sneakers.” I have noticed a sort of “sporty” fashion that is popular, including jogger pants and brand name running shoes, like Nikes. So, perhaps you can make that work for you. If you are only in Paris for a short amount of time, I would not worry about looking your most fashionable. I know it may seem like a big deal beforehand, especially if it’s your first time in Paris, but unless you’re going for fashion week, just be practical and comfortable above all else.

Measurements

Most people are familiar with some of the measurement differences between the US and Europe, such as how Europeans use the metric system and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. However, I was unaware of just how many different ways there are to measure everything you can think of, and they’re all different in France! Here is a run-down of what you can expect to encounter that might catch you off guard:

Distance/Height/Weight/Volume: kilometers, centimeters, kilograms, liters.

Temperature: Celsius. So I still haven’t gotten used to this, but if you keep in mind freezing is 0 in Celsius and 32 in Fahrenheit, it can be somewhat helpful. I just use my phone to check the temperature in Fahrenheit.

Time: 24 hour clock. I recommend changing your phone to a 24 hour clock before coming to Paris to get used to it. Now I keep it this way all of the time!

Dates: Written as day/month/year

Names: Written as Last Name/First Name

Floors of Buildings: The ground floor of a building is 0. The first floor above that is 1, and so on. The first floor below the ground floor is -1, and so on. This takes a while to get used to.

Money

I’ve never exchanged money before, and honestly I don’t think it’s worth it. You absolutely need cash while you’re in Paris, however, because many places don’t accept cards (or require a chip card), or if they do accept cards, they have a price limit that you must spend in order to use a card. In any case, I think the best way to get cash is to take it out in large sums from ATMs. This limits bank fees, and you don’t have to pay exchange fees either.

Transportation

The two best ways to get around Paris are your feet and Paris’ amazing public transportation system. This includes buses, the RER trains (which go outside of the city to places like Versailles and Disneyland) and the metro. The Paris metro is really easy to use and is probably one of your best resources. You can get a map of the Paris metro pretty much anywhere (for free) and they are posted at least two times in every metro stop. Now depending on how long you will be in Paris, you have several options regarding tickets. If you’re only going to be there for a few days, then just get a booklet of tickets. If you’re going to be there for a week, a good option would be a Paris Pass, which gets you into pretty much all of the major museums/tours and acts as a public transportation pass. If you’re going to be there for several weeks, I recommend getting a Navigo. You can get these in weekly or monthly passes. I’ve been using it ever since September 1st and I haven’t looked back. It is seriously the most useful, easy little card ever. To get one, you have to have your picture taken in any of the photo booths that are in nearly every metro station (it costs 5 euros). Then, take this photo to the desk in the metro station and ask for a weekly/monthly Navigo pass. You can buy tickets and recharge your Navigo at any of the automatic ticket machines in the metro, which all have an English language option.

Eating Out

Rule number one of eating out in Paris: never sit down to eat unless you have at least 1-2 hours.

The food service industry is very different from what Americans are accustomed to. You will either take your own seat or wait to be seated, and then your drink and food orders are taken. Once your food is delivered to you, you will probably not see your waiter again for much of the meal.

If you would like to order water, the best method is to ask for “une carafe d’eau” (a carafe of water). The glasses are fairly small, but at least you can refill them yourself instead of trying to track down a waiter!

As in many European countries, tipping is unnecessary unless you feel that you received extraordinary service.

Sometimes, you may eat at a restaurant that seats you at a table with complete strangers. I’ve had this happen to me a few times in various European countries. You can either completely ignore them, or make some new friends!

Pickpockets & Beggars

Everywhere you go in Paris, you will constantly be warned against pickpockets. These are warnings you should seriously heed. Pickpockets aren’t out to hurt you physically, they just want to take your stuff, and they’re good at it. Since coming to Paris in August, I am literally the only one of my friends that still has their phone. It is not difficult to avoid being pickpocketed, you just always have to be aware of your bag. If you have a purse, make sure it is always closed and in front of you. Make sure that it closes in a secure manner, such as with a zipper. If you have a backpack, whenever you are in a crowded area or on the metro, swing in over one should so that it’s in front of you. If you are just keeping things in your pockets, do so at your own risk. As long as you are aware, you should have nothing to worry about. I’ve caught people sticking their hands in my bag twice since coming to Paris, but I’ve never had anything stolen yet (probably because I’m really paranoid). Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Aside from pickpockets, there are people all over Paris who want to take your money. They have many tricks to try and get you to give it to them, but the best thing to do is to ignore them. Homeless people have the cutest puppies you will ever see in your life. Women will sit crying and holding small infants. Groups of men will try and get you to play this finger game with them, and then while you’re distracted they’ll take your wallet. The worst are the clipboard girls. These are usually young women who walk around popular tourist areas (Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe) asking if you speak English. If you say yes, they will start telling you about some charity they are raising money for and ask you to sign their clipboard and donate some money. Seriously, ignore these people. They are everywhere and are very persistent, so the best thing to do is keep walking very determinedly in one direction. Don’t even try to be polite or talk to them. Just ignore them.

Apps

During my semester in Paris, I had an international data plan. However, during previous, shorter trips, I just used my phone in airplane mode and used WiFi, which is becoming more and more accessible anywhere you go! I usually don’t travel with my computer, and I do not have a tablet, so my phone is the main way I access information while traveling. As a result, I have discovered certain apps that I love to have while traveling. In some cases, apps will allow you to download information onto your phone, which is great because then you don’t need data or WiFi to access it, just a full battery! Also, these are all FREE apps, and I have an Android but I’m sure they’re all available on iPhone as well.

Google Translate: This is one such app that will allow you to download certain languages on your phone. That way, you can always translate on the go. There is also a camera mode which is useful for reading things like signs and menus, though it is admittedly not perfect. Still, Google is my favorite translation app!

Duolingo: If you want to have some semblance of the local language before you go (which I highly recommend), download this app and practice the language 10-15 minutes each day. It’s really fun and kind of addicting!

TripAdvisor: This app is a must-have! You can download entire maps and travel itineraries for cities to reference on your phone without any kind of connection. There are countless reviews and rankings for activities, restaurants, sites, you name it!

Google Maps: Granted, you really need a good data or WiFi connection for this to be helpful. Regardless, I do not know what I would do without it! Physical maps are not always easily available, and if you are planning on the fly, this app is a necessity.

Airbnb: If you are like me and use Airbnb to book most of your lodging while traveling, you need to have the app on your phone. Yes, you will need some kind of connection to access it, but you will be glad you can directly message your host when you get lost on the way to the residence!

Viber/WhatsApp: These are free messaging services that I have used to communicate with my family and international friends while abroad! It’s basically an app that allows you to text via WiFi or data, so you do not need a phone signal. I prefer to use these for texting, though I have made calls with Viber before. Sometimes you get the “ocean” sound and you need to have a strong connection, but it works for the most part.

XE Currency: An easy currency conversion app to calculate costs.

Unit Converter: This is non-specific, but it can be very helpful to have a measurement converter when traveling in countries that use the metric system.

Weekend 11: Pisa & Pizza, Italia Part I!

I left Paris cold and raining on Friday morning after only 4 hours of sleep, due to allowing myself a little bit of Halloween fun the previous night. Since I was flying on a small, budget airline, I had to take a bus outside of Paris to one of the smaller airports. It seemed as though the moment the plane touched down in Pisa I started sweating. A few days prior to leaving, I decided to spend the day in Pisa, because why not? I didn’t see the point in being there so early, with the city being so accessible from the airport, and not going to at least see the leaning tower for the afternoon before taking the bus to Florence. I took the bus from the airport to the city train station, where I left my bag at the luggage check and then headed in the direction of the Piazza del Duomo. I took my time, wandering where I wanted and enjoying the sun. I immediately regretted my last-minute decision to not bring my sunglasses. Everything about Italy is warm; the colors, the light, the people. It’s such a refreshing change from the coldness of Paris.

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After wandering, I realized how hungry I was. However, I also didn’t have enough cash on me to buy a meal, and I had passed up several ATMs. Just as I approached the Piazza, I decided I needed to backtrack to find an ATM fast because I was so hungry. This took up a good half hour at least, which combined with the heat was frustrating. Once I finally found a working ATM, I headed back to a place I saw with a view of the leaning tower and an amazing deal of pizza, fries, and a drink for 7 euros (unheard of in Paris). The pizza was delicious, and it was the first pizza I’ve had in Europe that I could actually eat with a fork and knife (there’s no such thing as finger food in Europe)!

My first Italian pizza!!

My first Italian pizza!!

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After eating, I walked around the Piazza for a while and then got a ticket to go into the cathedral and the baptistery. I initially wanted to climb the leaning tower, but then decided it was getting too late since the line was pretty long.

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Italian cathedrals are soooo very different from French cathedrals, or really any of the Northern European cathedrals that I’ve been in. I think I prefer the Northern ones, but of course these are impressive in their own right. For one, they are massive. This was by far the largest cathedral I’ve ever been in. They are also relatively plain inside compared to Northern Cathedrals, which spare no centimeter of wall, floor, or ceiling from decoration. Italian cathedrals also have much smaller stained glass windows. The outsides are decorated in colorful patterns, but the overall whiteness of it all is still very present. I think these photographs make it seem more decorative than it is, probably because that’s what I ended up being most interested in! Also, I don’t think any of these properly convey how massive it is. Just go there for yourself and see!

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A reliquary with a human skull!

A reliquary with a human skull!

I didn’t know what to expect in the baptistery, since I’d never been in one before. It’s pretty plain, but there were two things that made it worth it. One, if you go to the top level, one of the windows has part of the screen cut out so you can take a photograph looking directly at the cathedral, with the leaning tower in the background. And two, while I was in there, a woman stood in the middle on the lower level and started vocalizing, and you could hear it echo throughout the baptistery. It was haunting.

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After that, I headed back to the train station to get my bag and then take a bus to the airport to take a bus to Florence.

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Why do they even have this sign?

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By the time I got to Florence, it was dark and I was pretty tired. I just settled in and had a relaxing night before going to sleep early. Stay tuned for Italia Part II: Firenze!

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?!

Caramel, Banana, and Dark Chocolate

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?!

Week & Weekend 6: Mixed Feelings

This week was filled with some ups and downs.

Monday started off great. I finally figured out my whole internship situation which I can now explain in full detail! I am assisting the academic writer Annie Cohen-Solal, a historian who has written several books on subjects like American Abstract Expressionism, a biography on Jean-Paul Sartre, and is currently working on a monograph on Mark Rothko. She also served as the Cultural Counselor to the French Embassy in the United States. So, basically, she has done amazing things, met amazing people, and is an incredible person. And I get to work with her three days a week! I got right to work on Monday. She gave me several excerpts of her writing that she was lecturing on in Zurich on Friday. My job was to prepare a complimentary PowerPoint presentation to her lecture by Tuesday night. I get really into PowerPoints and make them quite often, so I spent a lot of time on this which was slightly stressful considering I also had a bunch of school work. However, I wanted to make sure I did my first assignment well, and she was pleased with it.

Monday afternoon I had my first critique for my main photography class. This was the project I mentioned last week that gave me so much trouble. I didn’t know what to expect, but overall the critique went well and my teacher really liked one of my concepts. The prints were absolutely awful, but I’ll fix that by next time! Since it went well, I may share it here now that I’ve had some time away from it.

Tuesday was when things started to go downhill. I forgot to turn on my alarm and woke up at 9:40 for my 9AM French class. It’s the only class I have that day, and by the time I woke up it was too late to even try to get to school since it takes me 30-40 minutes. Oversleeping and missing class is basically one of my worst nightmares, so it was not a great way to start the day and made me overly-stressed and anxious the rest of the day. I had to hurry and get ready to go to my internship with Annie and I was still even 10 minutes late for that. I spent the whole time reading about American Abstract Expressionism (the topic of her lecture) and preparing the PowerPoint. The rest of my day was spent doing homework.

Wednesday was pretty much a class and homework day. I was still feeling left-over anxiety from missing class (yes, it gets me that badly). I also started to truly feel homesick for the United States. I think a lot of it has to do with autumn starting, which is my absolute favorite season and time of year. I love the weather, colors, air, smells, clothes, food; all of it! Autumn in the US is pretty distinctly shaped by both Halloween and Thanksgiving in a way I never realized until coming to Paris. There will be no pumpkins here, or turkeys, or pilgrim hats. So, I was pretty sad to realize that I will be completely missing out on my favorite season for an entire year. I need to figure out what Parisian fall traditions are so I can try and cheer myself up with them. They probably just involve wine, cheese, and bread, like most things here.

Thursday I actually got up in time to go to French. I also gave a presentation in one of my classes, which was another small source of anxiety this week as I really had to prepare two PowerPoints (and like I said, I take them seriously). It went over well though. Thursday night I spent a lot of time watching Netflix and Hulu because I finally found a simple way to make them work in Europe. Actually, every night this past week was spent watching Netflix and Hulu. Hey, I miss my American TV shows!! I also met some friends at Breakfast in America again because what better way to cheer up than good old burgers, fries, and shakes?

Friday I got up early because I was able to make up the French class I slept through on Tuesday. It was really fun and I actually like that class better than mine. I would switch to it if I had another reason to be in school on Fridays. I then spent the afternoon babysitting for Dov and Francesca’s kids, which involved picking them up from school, watching a lot of 1940’s Mickey Mouse cartoons, and eating 3 frozen pizzas between the 4 of us. Overall, it was a good day. Random fact: frozen pizza is one of the few things that is actually cheaper here than in the US. You can get a decent one for 3-4 euros, where in the US they are usually $7-8+.

Friday night when I got back from babysitting, my friends asked if I was up for going out in our favorite Saint Michel area. We ended up at this Canadian bar that they had gone to before. The guy who served us was really nice and from New York. They had popcorn there for 4 euros which we ordered super enthusiastically because we all miss popcorn. A lot. I especially miss it because thanks to my popcorn-enthusiast family, I love making fancy stove-popped popcorn! Anyway, the bar also has a great deal where you can get 5 Coronas for 20 euros. I don’t know anything about beer or what I like or don’t like, other than it smells like bread (yum) and I like to use it in cooking and baking. I decided to go for it and split the deal with Miranda. Turns out I like Corona. We had a great night there and will definitely return again! Afterwards Miranda got a crepe (her food weakness), Anna got 2 euro fries (her food weakness), and I was saved from getting gelato because it was closed (my food weakness). That area is dangerous.

Cheers

Cheers

Saturday I let myself sleep in before meeting Miranda and Shelby on the Champs Elysees for some shopping. First we tried to see the Arc de Triomphe, but turns out you have to pay to even go under it, so we decided to wait until another time when we can go up at night. We walked around looking for food until we found a Paul boulangerie. They’re a chain, but they have amazing soft pretzels. It’s the only place I’ve seen them in Paris so far. Afterwards we hit up the H&M, which was the first time I’ve bought something for myself in Paris that wasn’t food. I let myself splurge a little because I figured it would be worth it considering how unhappy I am with the clothes I decided to bring. Also I don’t own a long sleeved shirt and forgot black tights. These are essential things, right??

Miranda and I (sort of) at the Arc!

Miranda and I (sort of) at the Arc!

Pickle-flavored Pringles are a thing here. It's also normal to have chicken-flavored chips. I ate some by accident.

Pickle-flavored Pringles are a thing here. It’s also normal to have chicken-flavored chips. I ate some by accident.

Saturday night I made a list of everything I want to do while I’m in Paris (that I haven’t done yet). It is scarily long, and considering there are several weekends where I will be traveling out of town, I wanted to start doing things as soon as possible. So I planned to do two museums on Sunday, since it was supposed to be a rainy day. First, I woke up as soon as it was light outside to go shoot for my second photography project. I really like Paris at 7:30 AM on Sundays. Too bad I probably won’t be able to get up at that time every Sunday since it’s one of the few days I can sleep in.

Little things make me smile.

Little things make me smile.

After that was done and I got ready for the day, I wandered down rue de Rivoli for a while trying to find a store that ended up being closed because it was Sunday.

The Harry Potter fan in me had to...

The Harry Potter fan in me had to…

At that point I was really hungry, so I decided to splurge a bit and have lunch at a cafe in the Tuilleries where I watched little birds fluff their feathers and play in a pool.

A weird panorama where I tried to get my food and view in the same shot.

A weird panorama where I tried to get my food and view in the same shot.

Pretty view

Pretty view

Then it was finally time to go to my first destination: Musee de l’Orangerie. This is one of the two smaller museums in the Tuilleries, and it houses Monet’s gigantic panoramic Water Lilies and the collection of Walter-Guillaume. The Monets were absolutely amazing. I loved being able to get up close and see all the globby layers of paint and brush strokes. I think the rooms they are in are designed very appropriately as well. The Walter-Guillaume collection is full of works by Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Derain, Soutine, and Modigliani, just to name a few.

I feel like someone in my family has a print of this??

I feel like someone in my family has a print of this??

Some new favorite Picasso's.

Some new favorite Picasso’s.

Soutine's quirky portraits.

Soutine’s quirky portraits.

He was not afraid of color!

He was not afraid of color!

Awesome miniature recreations of the collection. Remind me of the KC Toy & Miniature Museum!

Awesome miniature recreations of the collection. Remind me of the KC Toy & Miniature Museum!

So cool.

So cool.

After that, I headed to my second destination: Le Petit Palais, a FREE art museum. You see that word? You still have to stand in line to get a ticket, but then it’s FREE. If you’re in Paris, you should go here! The building is absolutely amazing. I actually really enjoyed this museum because it is full of artwork I’ve never seen before by artists I’ve mostly never heard of. Yet, it is all really beautiful and I found some new favorites. It’s nice to still discover new artists I like in the city full of the world’s most iconic artwork.

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LOVE this!

LOVE this!

Pretty cool

Pretty cool

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At one point I looked out a window and realized it was really fall. That happened fast.

At one point I looked out a window and realized it was really fall. That happened fast.

After several hours of walking and museum-going after waking up early and carrying a tripod around Paris, I was pretty tired even though it was still early afternoon. I decided to walk over to the area where I babysit, which is quickly becoming a new favorite spot of mine. I stopped for some gelato (finally!) and have some treat yo self time.

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Caramel & Chocolate

Afterwards I made my way back home and spent the rest of the day relaxing and watching things. So, despite having some moments of doubt, Paris still manages to win me back. Even if it has to bribe me with art and gelato.

Week & Weekend 5: Homework in Paris is Still Homework

I’ve basically spent the entire past week and most of the weekend doing school-related things and finishing up my first photo project for critique on Monday, which had a lot of last-minute problems. Despite all of this, I did find some time to explore this week!

On Tuesday, I finally went to Shakespeare & Co! It was even more awesome than I thought it would be. I could spend days in there reading all of those books. Of course I went right to the art section, which had a lot of books I’d never heard of before. I took note of a few to check out later on Amazon, because as awesome as the store is, it’s pretty expensive. I did get a nice 4 euro tote bag, which I’d been needing.

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On Wednesday, I got to go on the roof of my school for part of a class. It has an amazing view of Sacre Coeur, and it was the first time I had an elevated view of Paris since arriving.

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Thursday night I went out to an Irish bar with Anna and Miranda, who wanted to do go out before they left for Amsterdam for the weekend. It had a really great atmosphere and played lots of wonderful “American” music that was once again really nice to hear. We definitely plan on going back there sometime!

Mellon shots!

Mellon shots!

Friday and Saturday were pretty much dedicated to solving the Murphy’s Law that surrounded my photo project. Depending on how I feel after my critique I may dedicate a post to sharing the photos. After all the problems this weekend I’m just glad they’re done but I don’t know how I feel about them.

Sunday I met Francesca for brunch and she showed me some great shops, including a fromagerie! I hadn’t been in a cheese shop yet because I found them intimidating, but now I had some new cheeses to try and some amazing bread to eat them with. Fun fact: apparently white wine is the best wine to eat with cheese, not red! I’ve found that I am partial to white anyway, so this is good news.

Afterwards, I decided to finally go up the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the most touristy thing I have done since coming to Paris, but I knew I had to do it at some point. This doesn’t mean I didn’t want to, but I just don’t enjoy doing things with lots of people pushing and waiting in lines and taking photographs of each other in the middle of everything.

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Just a walkin’ down my street.

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The very top of the Tower was closed, so I could only go to the second level. I didn’t mind this, but I think I would like to go back one other time to go to the very top at some point. Maybe once there’s less people around, even if it will be freezing!

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The view is stunning, and it was neat to see the whole city and find landmarks that I’m now familiar with. At the same time, maybe because I waited so long to go up, it wasn’t that incredible to me. I know, I know. I’d rather go to museums any day over this kind of thing.

I still suck at cell phone selfies.

I still suck at cell phone selfies. Oh well.

The only other notable thing this past week was that I have finally started figuring out food stuff. It only took me a month, but I actually tried cooking and making meals at home. It was soo worth it. I also did some research and was able to find a lot of things I initially couldn’t, like oatmeal, almond milk, and peanut butter. It just takes persistence, but it’s possible! Also everything I’ve been buying is organic and it isn’t even that expensive. You just have to know what you’re doing and spend some time shopping. I found this stuff that is like apple sauce except with bananas. I never even thought of making apple sauce with not apples. It’s pretty yummy, but kind of what I imagine baby food is like. Also, Monoprix (the main grocery store chain here) has AMAZING quinoa. Who would have thought?!

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Oatmeal!! With raisins.

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A European twist on my favorite sandwich: peanut butter and bananas on toast!

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The meal I could eat forever: stir-fried veggies in soy sauce and egg whites with quinoa.

This coming week the weather is supposed to be really nice, so hopefully I don’t get too swamped with school work so that I can go out and enjoy it! I still have so many cathedrals I need to go see, among all the other things. I’m also hopefully going to finally figure out my whole internship thing, and then I’ll share about that as well. I also want to start photographing the area I live in and prepare more posts about every-day life for me here. We’ll see how it goes!

Weekend 3: Homework, Food, and Montmartre

Since my school week ends at 4:30 on Thursday, I had quite a full, long weekend.

Thursday after class my friends and I went to an art supply store and then ate dinner at this super cheap Chinese restaurant we discovered the previous week. Afterwards, I went to the Palais de Tokyo with Miranda to write an exhibition review for a school assignment. Since I’d never been there before, I was pretty overwhelmed. The space is used to display contemporary exhibitions, but it is unlike any space I’ve ever seen. Also the manner of the exhibition was rather unique: It was essentially an exhibition made up of over 20 exhibitions, each showcasing an up-and-coming curator. As you can imagine, it was huge and confusing. After a very long day, I couldn’t really process it, so I took a few notes and decided to come back another time to decide what I was writing my review on.

Friday, I went back to Montmartre with Miranda to find a prop for a photo I wanted to take this weekend for a school project. I ended up quickly finding exactly what I wanted for 6 euros! Afterwards we got crepes and I got ice cream from the same place we went to last time, but I tried a new flavor. We wandered around and explored new parts of the area. It is one of the most charming places I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe people actually live there! Eventually we somehow ended up at the Moulin Rouge, which was pretty cool. After Montmartre we headed back and got ready for a housewarming party at a fellow student’s new apartment. It was fun to get to talk to some people I hadn’t really spent time with yet.

Dreamy Montmartre

Dreamy Montmartre

Oh hey there, very modernized Moulin Rouge

Oh hey there, very modernized Moulin Rouge

Saturday I woke up with the intention of shooting as many images for my first photo assignment as possible. By the end of the day I had only shot one. The location of the shot was at Luxembourg gardens, which I hadn’t been to yet. It was beautiful, but I was carrying heavy camera equipment so I couldn’t enjoy it as much. I think we spent at least 2-3 hours there because my friends had some things they needed to do as well. I got the shot I needed and we headed back. After hanging out at the St. John’s dorms for a while we decided to fulfill our Italian food craving at a place we found online. It turned out to be way more expensive than we thought, so we turned around and went to a place in Saint Michel. I’d been in that area once before for some school book shopping, but it is completely different at night! I think it is one of my favorite places in Paris. There is a tiny street too small for cars that is lined with every type of food you could want. We had an amazing meal at an Italian restaurant (I got Margherita pizza and it tasted just like my favorite pizza at home), and then we decided to get gelato afterwards. On our way to the gelato, we saw a place selling 2 euro fries and decided to split that first. We walked over to the Seine where there is an amazing view of Notre Dame and ate our fries. Afterwards we obviously still had to get gelato! I had dark chocolate and caramel. It was incredible! We brought our desert over to Notre Dame, but this time sat on these stair/bleacher type things in front of it. There were street performers dancing with fire and doing other tricks while playing music. We stared at the Notre Dame, which is magnificently lit at night, watched the performers, listened to the music, and ate amazing gelato. It is probably one of my favorite moments so far in Paris. I wish it could have went on longer, but I had to get back to the Palais de Tokyo to finish my exhibition review because the exhibition closed on Sunday.

Notre Dame at night

Notre Dame at night

Fries!!!

Fries!!! Also, I’m not eating my finger, I’m pointing.

Sunday I got up early because Miranda I were going to Versailles! Which I think deserves its own post because I have so many photos! Look for that soon.

Weekend 2: Le Marais & the Louvre

I started off my Saturday morning with the goal to run to the Eiffel Tower (and back). Ever since I realized how close I live to the Eiffel Tower, I really wanted to use it as a running goal. I hadn’t had time to run since coming to France, so I was pretty excited. However, running on the sidewalks in Paris is no easy task. You have to maneuver around pedestrians, children, dogs, street cafes, and you have to stop a lot. Plus, once I got close to the Tower, there were tons of tourists and there was a pretty bad car accident. I also went down the wrong street a few times Still, I did it!

Snapped a quick pic under the tower before turning back.

Snapped a quick pic under the tower before turning back.

Once I got back, my friend asked if I wanted to go to le Marais so I met up with her and we spent the afternoon exploring.

On our way down, we passed a photography museum we heard about (Maison Européenne de la Photographie) and decided to check it out. There were several featured artist exhibitions going on that were progressively more interesting. It’s a huge building with tons of floors and is pretty confusing to navigate at first, but once we figured it out we really enjoyed it.

An interesting way to display photograhs

An interesting way to display photograhs

Dali and cats? Perfect.

Dali and cats? Perfect.

Then it was on to le Marais. This area of Paris has lots of great shops, boulangeries, chocolatiers, and patisseries. There’s also a lot of interesting graffiti and the most Americans I’ve heard since coming here, yet it is not touristy in the way that, say, the Eiffel Tower is. It is one of my favorite areas of the city so far!

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An adorable and tempting chocolate shop.

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For some reason there are signs with DC and Marvel heroes on them. I am okay with this.

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Super amazing smelling and looking boulangeries:

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I let myself get a treat. I decided to try something new and got a chausson aux pommes. It’s basically an apple-stuffed croissant. YUM.

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They take their mopeds and motorcycles seriously here.

The end of a pretty garden street.

The end of a pretty garden street.

Terrifying graffiti

Terrifying graffiti

St. Paul

St. Paul

In a bookbinding shop

In a bookbinding shop

Later that night we went to a super cheap Chinese restaurant we heard about and then to a party at another student’s apartment. It was another fun, full day!

Sunday I woke up with the intention of going to the Louvre. I had already been in Paris for almost two weeks without going, and that needed to change! First off I had to go get a Navigo pass. These are monthly passes that allow you access to all public transportation in Paris for a flat rate. They are completely worth it if you are spending a good amount of time in Paris. I love having it and it makes me feel a little more Parisian.

On my way to the metro station, I stopped in this really amazing smelling boulangerie right across the street from where I live. It’s one of those places that makes me wish there was a way to capture smell like a photograph. I was happily surprised to find that they have sandwiches with hard boiled eggs. Hooray for vegetarian-friendly fare!

Lunch, Paris-style

Lunch, Paris-style

Then it was time for the Louvre. I entered through the shopping mall entrance, but it turned out to be a free entry day anyway because it was the first Sunday of the month, so the line moved very quickly. Once I was inside the Louvre, I realized I had no idea where to go or start or where the things I wanted to see were located. For some reason, I had this feeling that I needed to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace before anything else because that was the thing that mentally solidified being in the Louvre for me. I started to freak out trying to find it and maybe had a little panic attack. Luckily it didn’t take me that long and I was able to stare at it and get over myself enough to start walking in a direction.

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Ahhhh!

I had no idea where I was going but I ended up in the French painting area. I think most of my time was spent looking without really seeing. I needed to get an over-all feel for the museum before I started scoping out the major works. After wandering around through French painters I didn’t know very well, I came across the big ones that each had their own rooms (Gericault, Ingres, David, Corot, Delacroix, among many others). Of course, their biggest paintings were not in their individual rooms.

I kept wandering and ended up in Italian painting. I figured I should get the Mona Lisa over with, being my first time at the Louvre. I made my way to the front, got my crappy cell phone photo, and was immediately pushed aside. I wouldn’t mind it if I could actually look at the painting, but since that’s obviously not an option I got out of there as soon as possible. It’s a pretty weird phenomena to think about. One of the world’s most famous paintings, and all people want to do is take a photograph standing in front of it. I don’t think anyone actually looks at the Mona Lisa.

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I was also kind of shocked at the amount of tourists blasting their flashes away at these super old paintings. Like Leonardo’s St. John the Baptist. That painting was clearly in better condition at one point, and there are now tourists flashing it with their cameras all the time. There are signs everywhere with pictures showing not to use flash, but everyone does anyway and no one regulates it. This is definitely a big difference from American museums.

Moving on, I then found the big, famous paintings by the French artists I saw earlier. I found this especially exciting because these were works I studied a lot in my art history classes, and yet there is no comparison to seeing the real thing in person. The size makes such a difference. Having said that, here are a few photographs I took of them (for all you non-art history people).

Ingres’ Grande Odalisque

I actually thought this painting was smaller in person than I thought it would be.

This painting was smaller in person than I thought it would be.

David’s Oath of the Horatii

This was bigger than I thought it was!

This was bigger than I thought it would be!

There was also Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, which was exactly how I hoped it would be!

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Another thing I realized about the Louvre is that I found myself constantly looking not only at the walls, but the ceiling as well.

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The whole building not only contains art, but is art!

I wandered around some more and then decided to go look at the Greek sculptures. Marble sculpture will always completely blow my mind. I can’t comprehend how something that was once a huge hunk of marble becomes an incredibly life-like representation of humanity.

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At this point they were starting to close off certain parts of the museum. I don’t even know how long I had been there but it was at least 4-5 hours. I decided I should start meandering out of the museum. I was pretty tired and had seen way more than I could absorb.

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This guy is cool.

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Oh look an area of the Louvre with no people.

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Dat baby’s face.

So I definitely need to go to the Louvre only about a million more times, but I’d say this was not bad for my first time. I now can at least get my bearings when I go inside and I’ll hopefully be able to navigate a bit better. I may need to systematically tackle a small section of the Louvre each weekend. But then school is starting, and I still need to go to the d’Orsay, and the Petit Palais, and the Picasso Museum, and the Rodin museum, and Versailles, and Giverny, and Saint Denis, and Notre Dame, and Sainte Chapelle, and the Pompidou again, and the Palais de Tokyo, and an infinite list of other places. Good thing I don’t have class on Fridays.

To end my day, I went out for crepes and wandered around Saint Germain.

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Candy!

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Coolest graffiti ever?!

So there it is. Just another weekend in Paris. This is my life.

My next post will be about my first week of class! Let the craziness begin.

Week 2: PCA Orientation

This past week was orientation week at my school! It was a pretty interesting experience that helped me get a much better introduction to Paris.

The pictures I took this week were phone photos. Since I am just familiarizing myself with the city and I have the luxury of time, I figure any place I really want to study and photograph I can go back to on my own time with my camera and really get the shots I want.

Right down the street from my school.

Right down the street from my school.

A metro station.

A metro station.

So, Monday we started off with a small breakfast and a welcome session. The group of friends I have been spending the week with consist mostly of other Americans spending the semester abroad who live in the dorms at St. John’s, with a few exceptions. It’s really crazy being surrounded by so many people from all over the world who have lived in several countries and speak many languages. I constantly feel over-shadowed and uncultured because I’m “just an American who speaks English.” After the welcome session we had lunch, and then a free afternoon until dinner that night at Bistrot de la Montagne.

Fancy dinner!

Fancy dinner!

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Blurry veggie food.

Blurry veggie food.

After a delicious dinner and lots of sitting, talking, and getting to know one another, we went out and did some exploring into the night.

New friends!

New friends!

Tuesday was the longest day of orientation. We spent a lot of time sitting on hard little wooden stools hearing different faculty talk to us about various aspects of living in Paris, studying abroad, and the school. I also had my first macaroon!

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I think I get the hype. They’re pretty yummy.

The event that night was a boat cruise on Les Bateaux Mouches on the Seine! It was super touristy but still fun to see all of the amazing sights right along the river. I got slightly overwhelmed realizing everything I have to see in the next few months, including my first glimpse of Notre Dame!

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That night  we walked around and explored. I also had my first crepe!

I don't know what this church is but I want to go back to it! I think it was in the 9th.

I don’t know what this church is but I want to go back to it! I think it was in the 9th.

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Nutella Banana. I wish it was peanut butter.

Wednesday was advising day, aka the day we finally got to see what classes were available and pick our schedules! It started off with departmental meetings, then we met individually with the department head to pick our classes. This day really made me miss KCAI. I love reading over each class description and formulating the perfect schedule. It also helps being familiar with all of the teachers and the way classes work with their credits. At PCA, I was pretty clueless. The head of the department basically told me all of the classes I should take, and most of the classes I chose had time conflicts. I was initially unhappy with my schedule, but they advertise the first week of class (add/drop week) as a time to try out classes and flexibly change your schedule, so I’m just going to every class I am interested in and then deciding what to take. So by the end of next week, my current schedule may look very different! One of my photography classes is a fashion class, which I am the most iffy about. When it comes to fashion photography, I have zero interest. That’s another thing I’ve had to get used to at PCA. It’s a very fashion-based school, whereas KCAI is liberal arts, fine arts and design.

That night we went to the Centre Pompidou. Is it terrible that I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the Pompidou before? I don’t know how that happened, because it’s the largest modern art museum in Europe. It is probably one of the most absurd, busy buildings I have ever looked at. It just doesn’t look like a building to begin with; more like a Dr. Seuss creation. Anyway, we had an unofficial tour from a Sorbonne student through the current main collection. It was really interesting because I’d only heard of about three artists before. Contemporary art is not my forte.

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Usually when I photograph art at museums, I also take a picture of the label so I can refer back to it later and research the artist. I regretfully did not do this, so I’m not sure who created these works or their titles. It is really hard to Google work based on a description of it.

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The Rainbow Room!! My favorite.

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So far my favorite part of the Pompidou is the view at the top! But I have yet to see their Modern art collection (it’s currently being remodeled or something so it’s closed). Oh yeah, we get in free with out student ID’s to the Pompidou, the Louvre, Versailles, and most art museums in the city. Yeeeesssssssss!!! After the Pompidou we explored the area and got food (see a pattern here).

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Wednesday night (or early Thursday morning; 2AM) there was an adorable little mouse running around in my room all night and keeping me awake. It especially enjoyed running up my curtains. It finally got so annoying that when I heard Anne’s grandson leave his room, I waited for him to come back and showed him the mouse. At this point it was camping out on this frilly thing that runs along the ceiling above where my windows are. We got a metal rod and after maybe 10 minutes, we lead it back down and out my window.

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Too bad he doesn’t cook.

Thursday was a free day so I finally took the opportunity to work out for the first time since I got to Paris. I was then texted by some friends that they were going to find brunch in Montmartre and I quickly agreed. Finally, Montmartre!!

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Almost immediately after we got there we ran into none other than le Bateau Lavoir. Needless to say I kind of freaked out. It was surrounded by a German tourist group that we followed for a little bit before veering off on our own.

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We ended up eating at Le Consulat. I had crepes again. It’s right across a super touristy shop that is filled with everything I love, so of course we went in.

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If you know me, you know this place is my heaven. It combined the two areas of art history I love the most: Art Nouveau and turn of the 20th century Paris. I have a gigantic le Chat Noir poster above my bed and a giant canvas Gustav Klimt print in my room in Kansas City. I think those were the only things keeping me from buying everything in that store, but I can always go back…

We saw a lot of people with huge ice cream cones, which is a big deal because everything is tiny here. We went to check it out and viola:

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We totally had ice cream. I want to go back and try (almost) every flavor!

Right down the street was this amazing view:

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And then we made our way up to la Basilique du Sacre Coeur.

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You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside, but it is incredible. All of the art is beautiful and the building itself it enormous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many domes. I honestly don’t know that much about the history behind it, but considering it finished construction in 1914, it is a relatively new addition to Paris, which explains why everything is in such good condition. It also has an amazing view of the city:

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Montmartre is everything I dreamed it would be and I’ve barely explored it! I can’t wait to go back and spend tons of time there this semester.

That night, our orientation event was a guided tour of the undergarments exhibition in les Musee des Arts Decoratifs. I definitely learned a lot and our tour guide was very enthusiastic. This is another museum I don’t know that much about, so if anyone has any recommendations let me know because I get in for free!

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After the museum we explored and got food, this time Vietnamese.

Friday was the last day of orientation. We had our last information sessions, mostly regarding the school. Then we had a crepe lunch party. I also met with the career services faculty to discuss getting an internship in Paris. I have a really awesome opportunity I am applying for and will hopefully hear about next week. If I get it, I will share!

That night, the final event was garden aperetifs in the Tuileries. I met more of my fellow PCA students and we drank a lot of wine. Yeah, a school sponsored event that involves alcohol? You would find no such thing back home. C’est Paris!

So, this past week has been a whirlwind of information and new people and places and things and foods. I’m super confident at using the metro now. I’m starting to figure out how to eat in Paris. I fell in love with Montmartre for real. And school starts on Monday. I can’t wait to get my classes figured out, potentially get an awesome internship, and finally have something concrete here in Paris. As fun as all of this exploring is, it is also a lot to take in every day. There are many exciting things coming up though, so who knows!