Saturday, June 20, 2009

London and home again home again...

Well, obviously it's been a bit of time since I've gotten home and posted, and I completely spaced out on blogging about London. Since I have now started studying for my qualifying exams (scheduled for the beginning of September), I am of course looking for things to help me procrastinate. It's amazing how many "really important" things there are to do, like update my blog from the last part of my trip, start blogging about new things (because I think I'm a little hooked on the idea that people are actually reading this - of course, that was while I was in a foreign country...hmmm....) and anything and everything including scheduling an appointment to get my annual eye exam....

Anyway, London was fabulous, as it always is! I spent lots of time there in the summers while I was growing up, thanks to my wonderful parents who always took my sister and I on trips with them. I took the train back to London from Paris and arrived on Sunday afternoon, just in time for Sunday lunch with my dear friends the Collinses. We know them through my uncle who is a world traveler, and all five of them are dear, wonderful people who are just like family to me. It was a lovely change from being in France where I didn't speak the language and felt somewhat isolated to being in a city that I love and know well, with such a wonderful family!

The weather was absolutely gorgeous in London - much unlike any of the last few times I've been there in recent years. I always love it, but the temperature this time was just as you'd wish it to be - warm enough to sit out in the sun in Hyde Park with a lunch but not so hot you felt like you needed to douse yourself in cold water regularly (much like here in Florida during the summer).

I enjoyed my leisure time immensely and spent my first free day shopping, buying very little actually. On Tuesday, I went to Kew Gardens, one of my favorite places because it makes me think of my mother and going there as a child. The weather was again perfect and I even got a little bit of a sunburn walking around there! I took a lunch and a book and walked a little, then sat a little, then ate a little, then walked a little. It was amazing being there by myself and getting to stop and go whenever I wished! I remember being a little girl there and wishing desperately that we could stop walking for a while....the torture!

On Wednesday, my dear friend Chaska (one of the Collinses) and I spent the morning at the Picasso exhibit at The National Gallery. Wow! Although I am not the biggest fan of "modern art" I enjoyed the exhibit, and especially the audio guide (which I always advocate spending the extra money on because it's like having someone explain everything to you - well, that's actually what it is, isn't it - duh!). I always thought of Picasso as an artist who did weird stuff, but this show had a variety of his paintings which showed off his amazing artistic abilities and helped me to understand his brilliance. Now I'm a fan....

Wednesday evening found Chaska and I at a play at the National Theater on the South Bank, a place I had never been. The play was incredible - called Death and the King's Horsemen - and was something I probably never would have seen on my own. But I'm so glad we went! It was incredible!

Thursday morning came way too quickly for my taste and back to the land of Gators I came. I hit the ground running when I came home - in the office on Friday for a while to try and start getting back to "post-France/London life" and then on to a conference on Saturday in Des Moines. I can honestly say that I've had enough of buses, trains, and airplanes for a while now!

I know it won't quite be the same, but I'm thinking that I'll turn this blog into a chronicle of life in my last year as a grad student. I know increasingly that I'll have less time for everything, but I also know that a number of people (mainly family!) have said that they liked how this helped them keep updated on what I am up to these days. Again, of course, that was while I was in a lovely foreign country, so who knows....

Coming up for me, as I mentioned, are my qualifying exams in September. The summer is packed with dissertation deadlines, as well as papers and other assignments for classes that I'm taking, but maybe writing entries in my blog will help me put things into perspective - in that way it's likely more for me than for anyone else!

Hope you enjoy reading! You may see some changes to the way the blog looks - I get antsy from time to time and need to shake things up.....


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


There were some differences this time when we arrived in Paris...most significantly there were two things. We got fewer nasty looks in the Metro because we actually kind of knew our way around (please realize that kind of is a big qualifier) and as I mentioned before, there were TONS more tourists! It was neat to not be the people on the street staring at the map and arguing about which way to go....ok, we learned to argue before we set out on an excursion and not on the street, but that's something!

On Friday, our group had a tour of the Louvre. As one of the largest art museums in the world, no tour could possibly hope to cover all the "important" or interesting pieces in the place, but Julian, our very funny British guide did an excellent job hitting some of the highest points. Unfortunately for me, I had neglected to realize that my camera battery had died. Grrrr! So, until some of my friends from the trip get to posting their photos from that day, I'm photoless for Louvre visit #2. No matter, I'll post some once I've gotten them!

After our tour, we headed to Montmartre for our final group dinner. On the way up, the sun was shining, although a heavy breeze sprang up rather quickly. We met the rest of our group, many of whom had dressed up for the occasion (I couldn't be bothered as I was so tired for some reason) and lots and lots of photos were taken! It is apparently a very American thing to do to get all of your friends in a photo and have everyone smile....

On Saturday, some friends and I took our time and got started mid-morning for Montmartre again. The sun was out again and we trekked up to Sacre Cour and then around the area where the local artists put out their wares. Distracted by hunger, we sought out lunch amid the massive throngs of people. After beer and quiche, we said goodbye to some of our little group and then made our way back down to the Metro and "home" again to our hotel.

I was pretty exhausted that afternoon, so after a brief rest and then our final happy hour of the trip, I opened the window of my hotel room, sat on my behind and waded through some emails while "watching" a movie on iTunes...very boring last evening!

Sunday morning I got up to say goodbye to the group and then made off for Gare du Nord and my Eurostar train to London. I was sad to leave Paris, but not sorry as I was heading on to see dear, dear friends - the Collinses, specifically my friend for life, Chaska! Next up....arriving in London....

Monday, June 1, 2009

Back to Paris!

For me, the time in Lyon was mostly spent at the hotel after my adventures with Ingrid on Saturday. Although most of the photos from the trip are of visits, tours and "fun stuff," there was work to be done! But first, Monday afternoon our group had the second portion of our competition...

Let me explain - at the outset of the trip we were divided into color groups and received trip t-shirts (which, I must say, were very well designed and something that I will wear again!). Once we arrived in Bordeaux, we had the Olympic Games which included an under the chin orange pass, a water balloon toss and some others, all conducted in a large park where lots of French passersby stopped to stare at the crazy Americans... In Lyon came the Spoons competition. We trekked to a small park not far from our hotel and managed to find some non-dog graced spots on the grass (the French are amazing with their love for their dogs, and for their lack of picking up after their messes...). The horse chestnut trees (that's what our tour guide Barbara said they were) were in full bloom and fluff that looked very much like cottonwood floated freely through the air. As a result, there were lots of sniffling miserable individuals in the group, but we managed to enjoy ourselves anyway.

We broke into groups with two or three members from each team and played two rounds, coming down to a final four person game for each group. The winning two went on to the final was so dramatic, I can't even remember who won (that's sarcasm, in case you weren't sure!)....But again, it was a good time!

On Tuesday afternoon, I stayed in the hotel and managed to get some work done, both homework for my study abroad class and made some progress on my dissertation. One of the huge advantages to being on this trip with a member of my dissertation committee was having unfettered access to brilliance as soon as I needed it!

On Wednesday, our final day in Lyon, I went with some friends to complete a class assignment at the French Resistance Museum. It was surprising to me how little I knew about the role of France in World War II. While I would not say I'm a history buff, or even very knowledgeable about history, I do have an interest in it. For all that, I had absolutely no knowledge of the French Resistance, so the visit was definitely welcome for me. The museum was well designed, and although not chronologically ordered (which offended my very concrete sequential learning style) it was quite effective in portraying what life was like in France during the war, and how life as a member of the French Resistance was dangerous to one's health...

That evening our group had a "farewell to Lyon" dinner on a river cruise. As Lyon is a city with two major rivers running through it, we had plenty of time to travel up and down the banks of the city. As we moved further north and out of town, the banks became greener and more populated with beautiful houses that almost looked Bavarian in their design. The group had a great time together and lots of folks were dressed up - many photos were taken! It was a great experience because we essentially had the lower deck to ourselves and the food was fabulous. We were a bit puzzled when what we thought was dessert turned out to be a kind of cottage cheese with fruit sauce on it - we had not been exposed to the "cheese course" previously! When gorgeous chocolate lava cakes started coming out on large trays from the kitchen, cheers went up. This group sure loves its chocolate!

Thursday morning we departed via train back to Paris. The TGV, France's fast train service, got us there in just about two hours! Each transfer between cities had previously been on coaches with long rides through the countryside, so we were pleased to get somewhere so fast this time! Luckily this gave us an opportunity to have the afternoon to do whatever we wished. After settling in our hotels (we were back to being split between two hotels due to our group's size) I met some friends for a bite to eat and then trekked back to the Eiffel Tower for a quick souvenir trip. By then we were doggone tired! It was nice to be back in Paris - we knew how to get around and all of a sudden the sun had come out, there were more tourists in town and people were wearing colors other than black! (In my estimation, black is the requisite Parisian uniform color....until summer comes, that is!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lovely Lyon...

I'm becoming more and more lax about promptly blogging about my trip...a bit coincidental, I think, since we're nearing the conclusion! On Thursday last week, our group left Bordeaux via coach and headed to Lyon, situated further northeast in the country near the French Alps. Our coach ride, as last time, was passed with much sleeping by myself and my fellow students. However, I did manage to appreciate a couple of hours worth of French countryside along the way...

Upon our arrival in Lyon, we settled into our Novotel hotel (Novotel's are rather known for being modern-looking and nicely furnished) and continued recovering from the previous night's festivities. What had we done, you ask? Well, each city concludes with a farewell dinner and at Bordeaux's, the wine and drink were free-flowing! I left before desert due to the increasing noise (the room was very high and we were very loud - and thankfully were the only group in that particular room!), and made my way back to the hotel to pack with some other group members not interested in "getting rowdy."

Back to Lyon - Friday morning we had a really neat coach tour of the city. Lyon is a town (city, really, it vies with Marseille for the title of second largest city in France after Paris) with two major rivers flowing through it, the Saone on the West and the Rhone on the East. It is an incredible city that looks very Italian to me, probably due to its role as a Gallo-Roman settlement for thousands of years! It is truly lovely and the Presqu'ile, or Penninsula, between the two rivers is packed with streets and things to see.

Our tour guide, Barbara, is an ex-patriot who hails from Pennsylvania and who married a Frenchman and has lived in France for more than 20 years (what a life!). She had loads of interesting things to tell us about Lyon, both the "old" and the "new" sections of the city - old here means centuries and even thousands of years, as opposed to old in the U.S. meaning in the 1700s.

Our coach climbed high onto the "hill that prays" where Notre Dame de Fourviere sits (also called "the elephant" by some of Lyon's residents since they think it looks like an elephant lying on its back with its four legs up in the air). This is called the hill that prays due to the church at the top, and the other major hillside in Lyon, the "hill that works" is where many of the silk factories were located. Today, Lyon is still known for its silks and the concept of jacquard silk patterning was invented here.

Lyon is also a city known for its murals, so Barbara took us past one of the city's most famous. In keeping with many things in France, the mural (incredible!) depicts various important individuals from Lyon's history including the Lumiere brothers who are credited with helping to launch the cinematic industry. Also shown on the mural are the author of the famous children's book "The Little Prince" and an image famous to the French which was created by Barbara's mother-in-law before she quit being an artist to raise her children at her husband's behest.

After our tour, we were free to find lunch and wander the city. Lyon seems to be the right mix of big city and not Paris for me. There are plenty of metropolitan aspects to the city, but the people are decidedly non-Parisian, and seemingly proud to be Lyonnaise. Interestingly, Friday night saw the Olympique Lyonnaise, the Lyon football (soccer) team, staying at our hotel before their game on Saturday evening. What an event that turned out to be! Lots of Lyonnaise arrived to try and get autographs and photos of the players while we, relatively cluelessly, meandered into and out of the fray with the players themselves... Some of the students on the trip actually went to the game and had a great time. Not being a fan of big crowds and having heard many stories about European football matches, I stayed in for the night!

Saturday itself I spend wandering Lyon with my pal Ingrid. While some of our other friends took off for various locations in Switzerland (we're only two hours from Geneva here), Ingrid and I made our way up to the Roman Amphitheater ruins, back to Notre Dame, down to the Cathedral St. Jean, and over to the Musee d'Beaux Arts. It was a gloriously sunny day and despite the heat, I can truly say we enjoyed ourselves!

On Sunday, Ingrid headed off to Geneva with a group and I stayed (happily) at the hotel, sitting in the sun and reading and working. It was the first time I'd looked at a calendar since I'd gotten to France, and boy was it scary how little time we have left on our trip and how much there is to do once I get home!!

Today, tomorrow and Wednesday wrap up our classes for the trip, and then Thursday finds us on our way back to Paris for our last stop. After that I head to London, but it still seems in some way that there is much to do before next Sunday comes!

Have been having a bit of trouble uploading photos onto facebook recently, but will do my best again soon so that you can all see what we've been up to over here!

Love to you all....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beautiful Bordeaux!

Sunday morning, our glorious breakfast buffet got massacred by the ravenous hungry students in the group (including myself). In Paris, our hotel was what they call an apart'hotel where we had kitchenettes and were able to make some of our own meals. At the hotel in Bordeaux however, no kitchenettes so that means big ("free") breakfast! And let me tell you, the array of foods is incredible. Fresh fruit, cereal, croissants (of course), chocolate croissants, cheese (they're serious about their cheese in this country), juices, cold cuts (ham and salami and such), yogurt, nutella, preserves, toast and rolls...oh my!

Around noon, I met Debbie (my dissertation committee member and former professor who recruited me to actually come on the trip) and "the crew" for a trip to a local winery through the local tourist office. We headed to a winery called Chateau Laniote just outside of St. Emilion, deep in the heart of the Bordeaux wine region. The proprietor spoke to the group in French and then English and was quite an amusing fellow - he did magic tricks in addition to describing how the wine is made there. They actually had a pretty neat video that showed the whole process from start to finish, which he narrated in, again, English and French. It wasn't a huge operation, but it sure was neat to see. Photos from the tour can be found here. As we were inside, the sun started to come out! The afternoon turned gorgeous...

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday meant classes in the morning and various activities in the afternoon. With Tuesday came a visit to another winery...bummer huh? Chateau Pedesclaux was a bit bigger than the first winery in St. Emilion and it was neat to go with our group and have just us on the tour. We managed to behavor ourselves rather well throughout the tour of the facility and the tasting - whew! The day was warm and sunny again and lots and lots of photos were taken. Several of our group member bought wine - I declined because I'm still not thrilled about the idea of trekking it to Lyon and Paris...I have been told though that I'd better bring some wine back, so I guess I'll have to invest at some point...

Today after class, my pal Ingrid and I went into town to find a place where she could cash her traveler's cheques (increasingly it's difficult to find places who will cash them - ATMs are everywhere and so the need for cheques is decreasing, as are places to cash them!) and took Bordeaux's excellent tram system to the main post office across town. Upon returning to the hotel, we ate a bit of lunch and then packed up and headed over to do some laundry - I was desperate, being on my last set of clean clothing!

After laundry and a rest, we set out for our second group dinner - we have one in each of the towns we stop in (one in Paris at the beginning and another one at the end of the trip). Tomorrow means another long coach ride to Lyon...lots of naps and music is in my future for the day!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rounding out Paris...

Apparently I've been otherwise engaged because just checking the last entry now, I see it was on Tuesday! Time flies!

I managed to get myself back to the Musee d'Orsay on Wednesday morning when my classes were canceled (one of the nice things about our scheduled classes is if they find us a lecture or other event to attend in place of class, we're off the hook for meeting at 8am!) and had my advanced ticket in hand, so I entered swiftly - although, at 10am when the museum opened, there wasn't really a line to speak of....

The Musee d'Orsay is generally known as the Impressionist museum, although there are other paintings from before Impressionism through to the post-Impressionists. It's a fabulous museum that is housed in a former train station. One of the exhibits explains the process of how the space was restored - kind of neat.

I really enjoyed my visit and took lots of photos - you can see the whole album here. The nice thing about going in the morning was that it wasn't very crowded, and even better was that I was by myself so I could go at my own pace!

On Thursday afternoon, I met up with two of my pals from the group and we headed to Musee l'Orangerie where Monet's famous paintings - referred to as Les Nymphes - are housed. At first I thought that I had not been to the museum - I remembered it being closed for renovations for quite some time - but as I walked in to the first room, I had recollections of having been in that room as a little girl (and seeing things from a much lower point of view!). I'm almost sure that my family did visit the museum - my memory is that it was very hot and very crowded and that I didn't see very much due to all the people and my being so little!

Nevertheless, the paintings are incredible. The space has been very nicely (and almost starkly) re-done and the Nymphes are housed in two large oval rooms connected to each other on the top floor. For someone who loves Monet and Impressionism, this museum is not to be missed - it's breathtaking. I just cannot imagine how Monet managed to paint such huge canvases and have it all look so fantastic and beautiful. It reminds me that artists, at least the masters, have such vision - truly worth admiring.

My pals who went with me, Ingrid and Kaitlin, were good sports about having their photos taken and seeing the rest of the museum. Downstairs from Les Nymphes are some other Impressionist paintings, as well as pieces by Picasso, Matisse and other famous artists. After our visit, we got a much needed cafe...

In the evening, I went with a different group of folks on a Seine River cruise! We had a great time together - about 10 of us. We traveled to the Eiffel Tower and purchased our tickets for the cruise at about 8pm (it was still light!). A few photos of the Effiel Tower can be found if you click the link above ("photos taken").

So, our last night in Paris (for a bit - we have two nights there once we leave Lyon) we cruised the Seine and I broke down and got a nutella crepe... For those of you unfamiliar with nutella, it is simultaneously the most divine and most evil food there is on the planet - hazelnut and chocolate spread! One of the most common things you can purchase at a food stand in Paris seems to be nutella crepes, which I had resisted to this point. But walking back to the Metro station after our cruise, we stopped to watch the famous Eiffle Tower light show (which apparently some Parisians absolutely hate) which started a few years ago and makes the tower sparkle for about 10 minutes at the beginning of every hour. Of course right there where we stopped is a crepe stand, so I gave in. My delicious creation also had glorious whipped cream on the top! I'm glad it was the last night in Paris or else I could see myself eating nothing else for the next few meals!

Friday was spent driving from Paris (au revior Paris!) to Bordeaux. The five hour ride was split up into segments, and we first stopped in Tours at the end of the Loire Valley for lunch. It seemed that most of the people on each of the coaches managed to sleep their way through at least the first half of the journey (we've got quite a few late night birds in our group), but there was plenty of gorgeous French countryside to appreciate the whole ride.

Upon arriving in Bordeaux, we checked in to our hotel where we'll stay for the next few days (until Thursday when we head for Lyon) and were taken into town by our wonderful Ged and Sophie. Some of the gals I was with were interested in having McDonald's for dinner, so I caved in and went with the crowd! Interestingly, having McDonalds, while still an American phenomenon, is a bit more of an upscale experience here in France. The restaurants (and they are more restaurants than fast food joints here) are all very nicely designed and decorated, and are FULL of French people!!

This morning found us on a walking tour of Bordeaux where we learned more about French history and culture than I can hope to remember! Despite the rain, we managed to stay dry and then the sun peeked through just a little. Can't wait to take more photos and explore more of Bordeaux...and oh yes, drink some wine, too!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This morning started out with miserable weather. Looking out the window of our hotel, I could see Place d'Italie (the major intersection/roundabout that our hotel is on - also our Metro station) slick and shiny from the rain. Fortunately my first class today was in one of the hotel conference rooms! Normally our classes are at the FIAP Center - FIAP are the French initials for AIFS, the organization that has arranged our study abroad program and who's brilliant guides Ged and Sophie do a fabulous job of making our trip go so smoothly. However, this morning, due to the Center being full up, some of our classes were at the hotel and I got lucky having to only walk down two flights of stairs to my class at 8am! My later class, however, was at FIAP which meant either a wet walk or a short Metro ride and a drizzly damp walk (rather than soaking wet if I'd walked all the way).

I surivived the trip to and back, and then planned my journey to the Musee d'Orsay. Rather than figuring out all the different transfers and stops necessary to Metro the whole way, I decided to ride to one of the Louvre stops (there are a couple where the museum is accessible) and walk over one of the 37 bridges that cross the Seine River (and those are only the ones in Paris) over to the museum. Along the way, I got a few glimpses of some of the magnificent buildings of the city (despite the clouds - sorry the photos aren't that great but I'm blaming it on the weather).

Once I got to the Orsay, I panicked because there was a huge line. After my experiences with lines at Giverny this weekend, I hesitated to wait for an hour or more when I knew there was classwork waiting for me back at the hotel. Brilliance struck (shocking, I know) and I saw the advance ticket sales office. Marching right in, I purchased a ticket for tomorrow. That ticket saves me from having to wait in the massive line! Great idea, right?! Sure it's for tomorrow, but I can rearrange my plans, I'm flexible. The idea of standing in a really long line all by myself was not what I was in the mood for, so I figured it was a good plan. And, it is.

Wandering back the way I came, I thought I might check out some of the shops and such that are at the Carrousel where we entered the Louvre the other day. As I walked, I snapped a couple more photos - ones that I didn't have the opportunity to take the other day since we arrived at the Louvre underground. I tried to remember my last visit to the Louvre in 1994 when I was here with a group of fellow high school students, but I just couldn't for the life of me. I suppose that's what happens with memories - you've got only so much room in your brain and so some of them get pushed out!

I walked down the stairs into the shops and all of a sudden it hit me why the line at the Musee d'Orsay was so long! On Mondays in Paris (like in many other large cities) many of the museums are closed, but the Louvre remains open. Conversely, on Tuesdays the Louvre closes and many of the crowds hustle to the museums that were not open on Monday - such as the Orsay. Hence the long line. However, I am still glad that I chose get a ticket for tomorrow...

So, normally tomorrow I would have my two class sessions again, but a couple of the professors have arranged for us to go hear a speaker at the American University in Paris in the afternoon. What is he going to speak about? I have no clue, but I'm sure it will be interesting! The professors seem to be excited about it, which is always a good sign. As a result, they've cancelled our regular meeting times which means I have my morning free - to go to the Musee d'Orsay! See how brilliant the plan really was?!

I made my way back to the hotel and got some classwork done - we have an assignment due tomorrow in my crisis communications class - and managed to thoroughly enjoy myself just doing the stuff that students do. For a while I sat up in the hotel room and worked and when I got tired of that view I made my way down to the lobby where a number of other students from our trip had set up (there's wireless internet in the lobby as opposed to the ethernet we have in our rooms which means only one cable and one user at a time) and did some more work.

The one funny thing was that upon returning to the lobby for our daily happy hour, I ran into some others who had waited in the long line at the Orsay and said that it only took 15 minutes! Oh heck....but how was I to know?! And this way, I'll be able to spend all the time I want...well, all until 2pm when I have to meet the group to head to the speaker. But, then again, I'm in Paris and it really doesn't bother me a bit!