Saturday, June 29, 2013

All the Things

This has been a long and busy week, so as a result this is going to be a long and busy post... My apologies.

On Friday I had to say goodbye to two of my friends who've been in Paris for the last few weeks. I was sad to see them go, but spending the night eating Nutella crepes under the Eiffel tower was a pretty great way to send them off. Plus, it was the night of the Fete de Musique which meant two things; one, there were twice the amount of people out and about late at night, and two, there was a marching band dancing down the steps leading to the tower. It all made for a pretty eventful night.

Saturday, we explored the Latin Quarter and visited a few of the open air markets and busy shopping streets. I had to physically hold myself back from buying all the peonies in sight. Somehow all the flowers here are more beautiful than any I've seen in America.

Because of the never-ending rain, Sunday was devoted to catching up on work and lounging around the apartment. However, I did make it out of the house at the end of the day to play trivia at The Thistle with my friend Moira and my friend Ingrid's older brother Berent who lives in Paris. We came in complete last place and didn't even win any points for our creative name, The Loch Ness Trains Harry Potters (an attempt to win the favor of the Scottish/Irish/British bartender). Despite the loss, we all still had a fantastic time.

Monday, we started off at the Louvre for one of the girls' oral presentations, but we found ourselves frustratedly looking for the room containing Louis XIV's portrait only to realize it was closed off in a construction area. Since we couldn't see the portrait in person, we did the next best thing and headed to a cafe where we could pass around Maile's iPad and "gaze lovingly" at Louis XIV while enjoying a cafe au lait. 

Next, we began walking around the city to look at the development of bourgeois and royal homes throughout Paris. We stopped at Saint-Gervais to admire it's contradictory classic front facade and gothic sides. It also had really interesting modern stained glass windows inside.

Continuing on, we saw a handful of fancy houses called "hotels" which are kind of a mix between an estate and a small castle set in an urban area. The architecture was beautiful and one even had a semi-well manicured garden behind it that we got to listen to our lecture in.

Between houses we made the executive decision to take a much needed eclair break at L'eclair de Genie in the Marais. Words cannot express how simultaneously beautiful and delicious these eclairs were. I shared a raspberry chocolate eclair with my friend Dorie, which we marveled over for a few minutes before sacrificing it's beauty for the sake of our cravings.

Tuesday we met in front of the Fountain of the Innocents for one of the girls' presentations. Afterwards we headed a few blocks down to Saint Eustache, which from far away can be seen poking out over the construction around Les Halles. The church was big and beautiful, as have been all the cathedrals we've visited so far. The best part, however, was that in one of the chapels we discovered a minor modern art exhibition with tall canvases covered in drippy glitter paint.

Then, we made our way over to the Gobelins, which was and still is a tapestry factory in which workers create tapestries and rugs on massive looms. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures of the people actively working on the tapestries as we walked through, but photography was allowed inside the exhibition so you can see the end product.

Watching the artists work meticulously at the creation of one knot of string completely put into perspective the time and effort that went into the finished works we got to see in the exhibit.

Wednesday was the day we've all been waiting for. That's right. VERSAILLES DAY! My friends Max and Kelsey have been in town since Tuesday night, so they tagged along for the day as well. Walking up to it from the train station I was half thrilled to finally get to see this amazing place in person and half terrified of the amount of people that would be inside of it. The interior was beautiful, all mirrors, velvet, and painted ceilings. No stone was left un-decorated.

But it was the gardens that really got me excited. I'm fairly certain the gardens just go on forever and all that other urbanized land around Versailles is just an illusion. All you can see when you're standing up by the house is green and I LOVED IT.

Unfortunately, Versailles was our last day with our professor, Maile, which made us all very sad when class ended. But after hugging Maile and trying to follow her as she walked away... We've developed a bit of a mother duck problem in that the second she walks somewhere we automatically follow, so it was even harder to say goodbye. But! Now we're all excited to get to know our new professor, Abigail, and learn about impressionism in the next half of the course.

Before moving on, we explored the grounds a bit more and found out where Marie Antoinette's house was. The second class was over I just kept repeating, "I want to find Marie Antoinette's peasant village. I want to find the peasant village.", and y'know what, we did. And it was awesome.

On Thursday, we had a brief informational orientation in the morning, and then were set free to do whatever we wanted with the rest of the day. I met up with Max and Kelsey in the Tuileries so that we could walk through the garden, grab some lunch, and head over to the Musee d'Orsay. 

Unfortunately you aren't allowed to take pictures in the Musee d'Orsay, but just imagine all the awesome paintings from the pre-impressionist, impressionist, and post-impressionist era all in one place.

We'd been on a mission to find ice cream all day and after walking back into the Tuileries we found an Amorino gelato cart right away! Needless to say, the gelato blew my mind.

Keeping on the sugar binge, we then sought out Laduree, the famous macaron brand.

On Friday we didn't have class, so I spent the day exploring with Max and Kelsey. We spent most of our time at Les Invalides where we saw loads of interesting war memorabilia and Napoleons ridiculously giant tomb. There's also a really cool museum  about Charles de Gaulle in one of the areas of the building with interactive screens and audio tours that aren't finished being translated into English.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Two Louvre Visits in One Week? Heaven.

On Wednesday we met at the Sainte-Chapelle on the Ile de la Cite. The cathedral was much smaller than any other we've seen so far because it's use was intended only for a very small group of people. Despite it's size the inside of the cathedral is covered in color, gold, and stained glass, making it look like the inside of a glittering jewelry box.

After finishing up at the cathedral, we headed down to the conciergerie which has been used in the past as both a dining hall for soldiers and the jail in which Marie Antoinette was kept before her execution. We walked through the long dining hall and examples of jail cells before heading back out into the world.

The brightly lit dining hall

An example of what essentially was the janitors closet for the jail

We had about a 5 hour break between the conciergerie and our next class at the Louvre, so we voted to head back to the apartment for some grocery shopping, lunching, and napping. After some much needed rest, we headed up to the Louvre, at which point it of course started to pour. For some reason it seems like there's not a very good draining system in Paris, maybe the land is too flat or there just aren't enough gutters, but every time it rains absolutely every piece of ground turns into a very deep puddle. So, once we'd sloshed through the puddles from the metro to the pyramid entrance we damply rode down the escalators into the Louvre. We first headed to an exhibit of the remnants of the medieval wall, which we were all very excited to touch. Who know's who's touched that wall before?? Probably people with a lot of germs.

Then, moving on to the Renaissance, we worked our way up to the French sculpture rooms where we looked at a lot of angels and tomb sculptures.

A classic dragon fight

The scariest tomb marker I've ever seen...

Thursday, we went over to Chateau de Vincennes, an insanely gorgeous estate with a cathedral and a full on castle. Obviously, we all got overwhelmingly excited about the fact that we were visiting a castle, and once we were given free-reign over the area we immediately climbed up to the battlements for the fantastic view.

The stray, and very fat, cat we discovered inside the castle walls

The cathedral was just as amazing as the view, all tall windows and clean white walls.

Today we returned to Notre-Dame in the morning (we spend a lot of time there) in order to walk around and look at the different architecture on each side. There were even larger crowds than usual around the cathedral, so we were all excited to walk around the different facades in order to get away from some of the masses. We also got to pass through the gardens/playground around the cathedral which had beautiful roses in every color and the biggest poppies I've ever seen.

After Notre-Dame we took a quick lunch break and then we were off to the Renaissance and Baroque collections at the Louvre. There, we saw our first paintings of the trip. Up until this point we've been focusing more on architecture and relics, so I was thrilled to get to look at some of the works I'm more familiar with.

The Rape of the Sabine Women (which I studied in Art History this year)

A sculpture of Voltaire (whose work I read in English this year)

I like to play this game when I walk through museums where I look at all the expressions and gestures of people in paintings or sculptures and look for the people doing weird things. For example, this was my favorite of the day:

I giggled at it for a solid minute before I could move on to the next room

After leaving the Louvre we sat outside in the Cour Carrée enjoying the sunshine that had been absent earlier in the day. AND THEN THE BEST THING EVER HAPPENED.

Dramatic pause.


I honestly doubted myself when I first saw him because what if he was just some normal French kid who happened to look like Kid President? But oh no, it was him. Obviously I was very awkward about it and just sort of stared at him in all his awesome, inspiring glory, but I wish I'd gone over to tell him how great I think his videos are and what a difference he's making. Kid President, if you read this, keep up the good work.

To wrap up the week, I'm about to leave for the Eiffel Tower to say goodbye to two friends from America who are unfortunately heading home tomorrow. Believe it or not I haven't actually seen the Tower up close yet, so I'm pretty pumped to see it lit up and glimmering the first time I see it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Notre-Dame, Musee du Moyen Age, and Chartres

This past weekend was intended for resting and catching up on homework after the long, busy week. Even though I was exhausted enough to never move again, the resting didn't start right away because first thing Saturday morning I headed down to the marché (open air market) a few blocks away. We didn't know what to expect so the first thing we did was walk through the entire market just to get our bearings. I have this fear of upsetting the Parisians simply by being American, so everywhere I go I always stare at everyone and listen to how they pronounce things in an attempt to blend in a little better. This of course is mostly impossible because I speak little to no French, but so far my attempts have been appreciated. After observing the people throughout the market I felt confident in my ability to buy cheese, strawberries, and bread, all of which were very very good. I didn't buy any, but every flower stand was amazingly beautiful as well.

Oh the CHEESE!

On Monday we had a blessedly short class schedule that started at Notre-Dame in the afternoon. Instead of waiting in the massive line of tourists, we sat outside and talked about the west facade. Of course, we'll all go back outside of class when there are fewer people in line so that we can see the inside of the cathedral.

Once we'd gotten enough sun and spent enough time worshipping Notre-Dame, we walked a few blocks back down to the Cluny museum (or the Musee du Moyen Age) where we had been staring through a fence last week. This time we actually went in to the museum to get a look at the remains of statues that had been salvaged from since renovated cathedrals like Notre-Dame.

The exterior of the Cluny Museum 

Today, I woke up at 4:30 in order to be on a bus to Chartres by 5:30. Unfortunately, the bus didn't actually arrive until about 6:15... As you may imagine this meant for a very disorganized, painful, and tired morning. Because of the miscommunication with the bus, our wonderful professor, Maile, bought us all coffee once we got to the Chartres Cathedral. We sat outside a cafe and enjoyed our caffeine before we all felt we could move again and head to our appointment with the Centre International du Vitrail.

Our appointment was with a lovely, fast talking woman who spoke to us about the process of making and restoring the stained glass windows in the famous cathedral.

After that lecture, we headed back to the cathedral to see the windows in action. Though known for it's stained glass, the Chartres cathedral is actually written about in art history texts as a distinctly dark cathedral. But once inside it's easy to see why this description is true and why it's false. The cathedral is currently undergoing a massive cleaning, leaving half of it still buried under dust and soot from candles,  making the walls considerably dark, and the other half pristinely white and well-lit by freshly refinished windows.

Freshly restored stained glass windows

The difference between the cleaned left and the yet to be cleaned right

We finished with a French to English translated tour of the building focused on it's architecture that further demonstrated the awesomeness hidden under dust at Chartres.

Then, we had a nice long break for lunch during which we discovered how perfect the little town of Chartres really is. It's full of small boutiques, winding cobblestoned roads, and local cafes. We settled on a slightly pricey, but well worth the expense, Italian place a few minutes walk from the center of town. I nearly cried with joy to discover that they had a vegetarian pizza on the menu and nearly cried again when I tasted it's deliciousness. 

And it only got better from there... Today I discovered macaron glaces, literally macarons with ice cream in the middle instead of normal cream. I've never been happier. The perfect way to end a beautiful day in the country.

Macaron glace du chocolat

Macaron glace du noix au coco