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!)