Weekend 11: Florence, Italia Part II!

I finally finished going through the several hundred photos I took in Florence between all the homework I’ve had, but more on that later. Finally, Florence!!

The first night I got there (Friday) I was pretty exhausted after 4 hours of sleep and a day in Pisa, so I went to sleep early. This allowed me to then wake up early the next morning and start wandering around for a little while. First I went right down the street to see the Ponte Vecchio on the river Arno, a Medieval bridge in Florence.

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The covered pathways alongside the river, called the Corridoio Vasariano, were made for the Medici family (like everything else in Florence) so they didn’t have to walk with everyone else from the Pitti Palace to the Ufizi. And that sculpture building? That’s the Ufizi!

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Okay back to the bridge. It’s known for the silver and gold shops on it, which are now all touristy.

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Next, I wandered to the Palazzo Vecchio, looked at the sculptures outside, and then got a ticket to go in later that day.

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Then I walked back down to the river, but went in the opposite direction of the Ponte Vecchio towards Sainte Croce.

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I considered going inside, but the line was already kind of long, so after looking around I headed back, towards the Duomo.

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Then I met up with my friend Leon who I was staying with and I borrowed another SACI student’s museum pass so I could skip lines and get in places for free. First, we went to the Bargello, a sculpture museum. It’s home to some amazing work, including Donatello’s famous David.

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Next we went to see some markets, and passed the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. It was closed thanks to the holiday on Friday. Also a dollar bill-ding which we don’t really know what its deal is.

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We stopped to have lunch near Santa Maria Novella, and I had some amazing pasta.

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Then, we went inside, and I got to see Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, aka the birth of linear perspective! The cathedral is beautiful, too.

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We walked around and saw a few other things, like the oldest pharmacy in the city (it’s super fancy) and then I used my ticket for the Palazzo Vecchio.

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Sunday morning, my day started with the Ufizi! This was one of the things I was most excited to see in Florence. You can’t take photos inside, although there is a great view from the top where I took some photos. The art is, of course, incredible. I’ve seen Gothic art plenty of times before, but for some reason seeing it at the Ufizi was a completely different experience. And then there’s the Botticelli room. It really shocked me, not because the moment you walk in you are faced with Primavera and Birth of Venus, but because the Portinari Alterpiece was there, which I had no idea. I sat in front of it for a while, trying to figure out how many of me could fit in it. I’d say at least 15. I also almost had a panic attack because I realized I went through the entire Ufizi and missed the Venus of Urbino (I’m totally serious, I think I had a nightmare where that happened) and then I back-tracked through the museum against the flow of traffic until I found it unceremoniously placed in a hallway towards the end of the museum. Everyone was walking passed it, like it was nothing. I do not understand.

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After the Ufizi, I got a day pass for the Duomo.

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Except, since it was Sunday, the dome wasn’t open, and half the stuff the pass gets you into closed by 1:00. I had to make some decisions, so I decided to start off with climbing Giotto’s Tower, since the line was still short and I could get a great view of the city. It was super windy but the climb restored some faith in my deteriorating physical health. Going back down was actually way worse. Anyway, here are some amazing views!

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When I finally got back down, the cathedral was about to open and the line was already getting really long, so I decided to just join it since the museum and baptistery were about to close anyway.

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Similarly to the Pisa Cathedral, the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) is incredibly decorated on the outside while being very minimal on the inside. Well, except for the dome of course. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the dome was designed by Brunelleschi and was a major architectural achievement, considered to be one of the first main events of the Renaissance. The inside of the dome is covered in a fresco started by Vasari (yeah that guy was all over everything in Florence).

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The baptistery was closed at this point, so I hung around outside for a bit, admiring Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise which always has a group of people in front of it. The real doors are in the museum, which was also closed. Also, that gigantic Medici crest is pretty impressive. I bet they’re all happily resting in their graves. Oh, I went to go see their tombs. I forgot to mention, it was something I did on Saturday. You aren’t allowed to take photographs in there so I forgot. See, this is why I am a photographer.

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After the Duomo, it was time for the one other thing I knew I absolutely HAD to do while in Florence… go to the Galleria Accademia and see Michelangelo’s David. You aren’t allowed to take photographs in there, but it was amazing. I honestly did not realize how big he is, even though the replica in front of the Palazzo Vecchio is the same size. He dominates the entire Galleria, and while the other works in the museum are nice, they don’t stand a chance. Sorry, guys.

After that, I had some more amazingly delicious cheap pizza. Seriously, the whole Italian pizza thing is no joke.

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Then, I went back to Santa Croce, only this time I went inside. It was awesome!!! It’s basically a giant, beautiful, indoor graveyard for famous Italians. Some of its notable inhabitants are Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, plus a giant monument to Dante (but he couldn’t be buried there because he was banished from the city). Oh, and it has a wooden ceiling. I don’t know why but this really surprised me.

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By the time I exited the basilica, the sun was setting and making everything orange and beautiful. Outside the basilica was this row of casts made from sculptures based on Dante’s and Virgil’s depictions of hell. They were pretty cool, especially in this setting!

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We crossed the river after taking a ton of sunset photos, and then went grocery shopping. And I got gelato, duh.

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That night we had a potluck with other SACI students which was one of the best meals I’ve had all semester. Oh do I miss home cooked meals. Eventually, I had to go to sleep, and then wake up early to take the bus back to Pisa to take my flight back to Paris. As soon as  I touched down, I got to go out into the freezing rain. Oh, Paris.

So, Italy was an amazing, packed, delicious, beautiful break from Paris. It was definitely an unusual way to start November, in the heat eating ice cream and walking around in capris and a t shirt. It was also my last break, as I have been working hard in the cold since then. The end of the semester is nigh! But more on that in another post. It’s almost 2AM and I’m really, really tired. I just needed to finally get this post done so I can catch up with everything else…

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!!!!

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.