Month: May 2010

Day 15: Reims/Mons

Day 15: Reims/Mons

I left for the train station around 8:00 this morning for my 9:15 train. I got there a little bit early and saw Josh there – he’s headed south-east near the German border and then going to Switzerland. I didn’t have much trouble finding my […]

Day 14: Reims

Day 14: Reims

I didn’t do a whole lot today. I woke up around 8:30am and got breakfast downstairs with Josh. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a loaf of French bread with strawberry jelly before. There wasn’t a whole lot to it, but it was good. After […]

Some thought on the language barrier and money

Some thought on the language barrier and money

Traveling in France is a bit harder than I imagined. Something as simple as ordering a large coke in a McDonald’s or trying to find directions is a bit harder without knowing the language. The hardest part is understanding signs. In the train station, everything is in French so I just kind of follow what everyone else does. All the ticket agents spoke English, but even something like opening a door, you don’t know whether it says “Push” or “Pull” but you learn pretty quickly. I’ve been able to get by so far without too much trouble. Anything that I don’t understand that looks important, I take a picture of with my camera and use Google Translate once I get internet access.

It should be interesting when I go to Slovakia or Romania where English isn’t as widespread. It would no doubt be easier if I knew French, but when you’re traveling to 9 different countries, it’s impossible to learn them all. I will probably look up some key phrases before I head to a new country, e.g. “Do you speak English?” and “Sorry, I don’t speak _______.”

I believe keeping track of my money has gone well. I am keeping a little notebook with each debit or credit purchase, or ATM withdrawal and writing it down. As of now, I am averaging 50 Euros a day, (740.45 Euros over 15 days) but that might go up depending on accommodations. I heard it is cheaper the further east you go, so I might spend a little bit more time in Poland, Czech Republic, etc.

Day 13: Reims

Day 13: Reims

Before I left the hostel this morning, I bought 200 GB of online storage from Google. I’m in the process of uploading all my pictures (at their original resolution) to Picasa web albums for people to download and so I can use it as a […]

Day 12: Paris/Reims

Day 12: Paris/Reims

Turns out the national strike didn’t effect me at all; it was mostly in southern France. There were two TGV (high speed) trains leaving for Reims this morning so I woke up at 6:30am to catch the earlier one. I checked out of my hostel […]

Day 11: Paris (still)

Day 11: Paris (still)

I woke up this morning around 8:00am, ate breakfast at the hostel and then took the metro to the Louvre Museum. I got there around 9:05am, (they open at 9:00am) but the line was still pretty long. For some reason, the opening of the museum was delayed and wasn’t going to open until 10:00am. I sat there for an hour, planning my train ride to Reims tomorrow, and then made my way inside. I rented an audio guide, but not one of the old ones that look like a phone. It looked like an iPod, with a touch screen that had pre-recorded tours on it. You would select whichever tour you wanted, and then touch the screen to listen to commentary about the art. The map would also show up to display where you were. We’re finally getting past the 10 year old technology of pure audio guides.

I did a tour of Antiquity in the morning, followed by a tour of Italian art in the afternoon. I would have stayed longer, but the crowds were pretty bad. When you get surrounded by crowds of European school kids who are all yelling, it doesn’t become a whole lot of fun.

I decided to leave early and get some laundry done instead. I made my way back to the hostel and packed all my clothes in my backpack. I headed downstairs and had the attendant at the front desk draw me a map. It turns out that the closest laundry center was locked, so I walked a block down the street and found another one. Even though I had been in one earlier in the week, I still wasn’t sure how the machines worked. Luckily there was someone washing their clothes who spoke English who told me what to do.

While waiting for my laundry, I walked around and tried to find something to eat. It was raining and I didn’t want to stand outside forever so I just got an apple. Right before I was about to walk off, I noticed a guy making crepes. He started talking to me in French and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but he realized I was an American and switched over to English. He let me try some of the quiche he made while I ordered a banana and Nutella crepe. We got to talking:

Me: “I could probably buy one of those crepe skillets back in America right? They look pretty easy to make.”
Him: “Yeah, you wanna try and make one?”
Me: “Sure!”

So here I am in a market in Paris waiting for my laundry and I’m learning how to make crepes. He told me to pour the batter at 12 o’clock on the skillet and then use a wooden dowel to spread it around in a clockwise direction, trying to pivot it around like a clock hand. Turns out that it’s harder than it looks. My crepe didn’t spread evenly and had a bunch of holes – it looked nothing his. He then offered to make me the one he has for breakfast each morning, with cheese and pepper. It was a lot better than the one I ordered; you could actually taste the flavor of the flour crepe, rather than just the ingredients.

He uses two types of flour, a black flour and a white flour. The black flour cooks at a lower temperature than the white, around 200°C rather than 250°C and he had a good number of scars on his forearm to prove how hot it was. We talked a bit longer, and I learned he was from southern France, near the Pyrenees. My laundry was about ready, so I paid him for my crepe, tipped him for the lesson, and said goodbye.

I got back to my hostel and found a new roommate sleeping. He is from Italy and my roommate from the previous night (Roberto from Brazil) is still here too – so far, I haven’t met anyone in the hostel from the US. Roberto did tell me that he heard there might be a transit strike tomorrow so hopefully that doesn’t affect my plans to go to Reims.

Day 10: Paris

Day 10: Paris

Yeah, so waking up at 5:30am to catch the sunset didn’t happen. I rolled out of bed at 6:45am, ate breakfast at the hostel, and then walked around the empty city. I took some nice pictures over the reflection of the Seine River and then […]

Day 9: Paris

Day 9: Paris

I woke up this morning around 7:30am with a little bit of a sore throat (probably thanks to some people in the Clemson group being sick 🙂 ) and walked around to tried and find an internet café. It turns out that no one in […]

Day 8: Paris Update

Day 8: Paris Update

After lunch, I crashed and went to sleep until 7:00pm. Because Paris is so far north, it has very long days and doesn’t get dark until around 9:15pm, so I had a couple more hours of daylight. I took some picture of Notre Dame in the soft lighting created by the setting sun and then walked west towards the Louvre. I saw an Asian lady taking pictures by herself and asked her to take some pictures of me. Neither of us could speak French (and she couldn’t understand my English) but I did get some good pictures.

The rooms aren’t anything special with four bunk beds and a small shower but the location is great. It turns out my hotel is closer to the center of Paris than I first thought – I can see the Seine river and the top of Notre Dame from my third floor window. I only have one roommate, a guy about my age from France and our conversations are pretty limited; he speaks about as much English as I do French. But I don’t mind traveling alone (obviously) and have plans for my next couple days in Paris. Tomorrow I am doing a wine tasting and going to the top of the Arc de Triumph. On Tuesday, I am taking a walking tour of Montmartre, and then I am spending Wednesday in the Louvre and other museums. Time to go to sleep – its 1:00am here (early Monday morning) and I’m going to wake up early and take pictures with the good lighting from the rising sun.

Day 8: Paris

Day 8: Paris

I woke up today at 6:55am and said goodbye to everyone from Clemson. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them and while we didn’t know each other before the trip, I think we all had a really good time and developed good friendships. As soon […]

Day 7: Rouen, Versailles, Paris

Day 7: Rouen, Versailles, Paris

Today we left the hotel around 8:45 am and took a quick tour of the historic district of Rouen. We visited the Rouen Cathedral (which had four bombs dropped on it during World War II) and a church dedicated to Joan of Arc. The Rouen […]

Day 6: Normandy, Caen, and Rouen

Day 6: Normandy, Caen, and Rouen

**I finally got the chance to upload some pictures so go back through my previous posts and look at them!**

Today we left the hotel at 8:45am (which had a ping pong table which we played on for three hours) and took the trip to the American Cemetery at Normandy. Because of the constraints of the tour, we only got to spend an hour there before we had to leave. We went into the visitor’s center and talked with Alison there who was very helpful and gave us a full booklet of information and French and American flags. She told us to place the American flag on the side near the coast and the French flag on the opposite to represent where the troops on D-Day. She also gave us a bucket of sand which we used to rub on the graves to make the letters stand out. I was really disappointed that we couldn’t see the bomb craters or empty machine gun nests. That, more than anything else in Paris, is what I was looking forward to the most. I would go back right after the tour, but I’ve already planned the first few weeks and I’m headed in the other direction.

After the American Cemetery, we went to Juno beach where the Canadians landed on D-Day. The beach is nothing like you would see in Florida – it is very flat and had mud instead of sand. Our group went on the beach and our professor read a very well written poem. After the beach, we went to a World War II museum in Caen and saw a 35min movie about the war. The room was pretty dark and there was no narration so I don’t think anyone remembers much of the movie.

We ate dinner at a modern restaurant in Rouen and then walked down the Seine to different bars. The first bar we walked in was, “American Bar” but there was nothing American about it and they only spoke French. They did have pool tables though with red and yellow balls but we didn’t play. We went out to one more bar and played a game of pool there. The tables are about the size of bar tables in the States but have much smaller balls and the table has rounded pockets – makes it pretty hard to shoot for the corner pocket down the rail. After that, we walked back across the Seine to our hotel and called it a night around midnight.

Here is the view from our hotel in Rouen:

Mont Saint-Michel and St. James Cemetary

Mont Saint-Michel and St. James Cemetary

Today was probably the best day so far. We left our Mister Bed hotel around 8:30 am and made the trip north-west to Mont Saint-Michel. This island is famous for it’s monastery which was built by monks and completed in 1523. It has become one […]

Wine tour and chateaus

Wine tour and chateaus

We left the hotel around 9:30am and toured a vineyard, Plou & Fils in the Loire valley. We went through the cave (which keeps the wine cool) that the family dug out by hand about 500 years ago. We got to taste a lot of […]

Chartres Cathedral and Tours

Chartres Cathedral and Tours

Today we woke up at 7:00am and left Paris for Tours, stopping by the Chartres Cathedral on our way. We aimlessly walked around by ourselves in the Cathedral but then managed to get a public tour with Malcolm Miller, a famous historian on Chartres. He has been giving tours at the Cathedral for 50 years and was phenomenal. His commentary was very witty (Japanese groups kept walking past our tour and he commented, “I believe that Japan is too crowded so they get shipped to Chartres every summer.”) and really brought meaning to what we were looking at.

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It’s a gothic cathedral with two large rose windows and buttresses surrounded the outside of the cathedral. The buttresses allow more support, similar to ends that hold up books on a bookshelf. This allows the cathedral to be built higher and higher, allowing more light in. He also discussed the ornate stained glass windows (which were removed during World War II for safety) and the detailed biblical stories they told. The windows were paid for by the nobility and merchants; in some windows you can see images of shoemakers and bakers that sponsored it. He also talked about the relic of the Chartres Cathedral which attracted people to make the pilgrimage: the supposed clothes of Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. Unlike the Shroud of Turin, there has been testing on it and it is dated from the 1st century. We also learned random facts, such that cathedral means throne or seat, referencing that a cathedral is the seat of a bishop and crypt which comes from the Latin word crypta meaning hidden or private (cryptic, cryptogram).

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The interior restoration being done was incredible – removing a hundred years worth of dirt and grim.

I get the impression that you can walk through these places and just go through the motions and take pictures of random things, but not really understand what you’re looking at. Getting a tour really made the trip to Chartres meaningful.

About 15 times today, I was really happy I took AAH 210 (Art and Architecture history) last semester. The course gave a brief history of art, starting from the ancient Egyptians to modern art, so it was impossible to remember everything. But the tour director would mention something and me and another girl who took the class would then remember reading about it last semester. Pretty neat.

After the cathedral, we grabbed lunch and then continued on to Tours.

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After driving most of the afternoon, our bus arrived in Tours, France just before dinner. We all got together for dinner again and then a few of us got crepes, my new favorite desert.

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Nutella, banana, and whipped creme

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The Louvre and other Paris Sights

The Louvre and other Paris Sights

On our way to the bus tour, my camera slipped out of my hand and fell right on the sidewalk. It’s a good thing I had a lens filter on it because it got a nice crack in it. So here I am just on […]

Notre Dame and a walking tour

Notre Dame and a walking tour

Today was a busy day. We arrived early in the morning and dropped our stuff at our hotel. We made our way into Paris and started  by attending the 10:00am mass at Notre Dame. For mid-May, it was pretty cold so I’m glad I brought […]

Travel day

Travel day

Our flights today were all on time – first from Atlanta to Montreal and then from Montreal to Paris. I sat next to a guy from Canada on the way to Montreal. He told me that it’s a federal law in Quebec to have the French be above the English in the names of businesses. He said that even though his company does most of their business overseas, French still had to be above English on their business card. Quebec is really proud of their French history.

I think this whole ‘only speaking English’ thing is going to be harder than I thought. My French is pretty miserable and even in Montreal everyone speaks French. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in the other countries. I plan on going to ~12 countries, so I’m going to have to rely of my phrasebook rather than memorizing anything.

I think I got an hour of sleep on the Montreal-Paris flight over the 7 hour flight. The economy seats were pretty miserable and I would have paid a good chunk of money for an exit row. I’ll post another update once I get some more time.

Preparing to fly out to Paris

Preparing to fly out to Paris

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be studying abroad for 10 days in Paris/Normandy followed by a 2.5 month backpacking trip by myself. I’m planning on visiting France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. Greece, Spain, and Portugal will have to be on another […]