Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

29 July 2009

Not that I would know, because it was sunny and hot as all get out the whole time I was there.

This is getting out of hand people…I got to Spain at the end of May…almost two months ago! For shame, woe is me, etc etc.

Getting to Madrid was pretty easy. We navigated the subways with ease and only briefly walked the wrong direction once we got streetside. Our hostel was weirdly Moorish, but nice enough. Hannah and I were a bit sad about the loss of our beloved traveling companions, Grace and Tyler, from whom we had parted in Switzerland (it was such sweet sorrow), but it was very exciting to FINALLY be in a country where we could speak the language.

We met up with a guy I know from Columbia who was studying in Madrid and went on a mini Tapas crawl. It was a Sunday night at like 9:30 pm, and the crowds were RIDICULOUS. I’m not sure I could handle that on a regular basis, but it was fun to try.

We decided to make Monday, our 1st full day, Day Trip day because of Museum closure schedules. I had looked up places online that were close enough to Madrid and found Segovia, which boasted quaint spanishtownness, Roman aqueducts, an impressive cathedral, and a “fairy tale” castle.

However, it seems I did not do quite enough research, because, as we learned at the train station that morning, the ride was two hours, and the trains leave every two hours, which left us with an unfortunate amount of waiting time. Turned out ok though because we were able to stroll through the Botanic Jardens down the street from the station.

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So we settled in for the long ride to Segovia. I was really surprised by the landscape outside of Madrid. It reminded me A LOT of Texas hill country.

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And I was glad to see a giant hillside cross…much bigger than the “Christ of the Mines Shrine” I saw in Colorado (my only other giant mountainside religious symbols experience).

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Once we got to Segovia, it was not at all what I was expecting. The train station was in the “new” part of town, and it was not very pretty. Kind of run down. My insufficient directions guided toward the aqueduct from the Bus station and made it seem like the bus station was right down the road from the train station.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

After much turning around, and asking of directions, and walking much farther than we expected to, we finally found the quaintly spanish part of the town. And yay! The Roman Aqueducts from the Olden Days.

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After that, we were really rushed for time because of the infrequency of trains, amount of time we spent lost, and distance back to the train station because we really wanted to have time to see the Reina Sophia (modern art museum…and it was closed the next day). So we had a bit of a meander through the seista deserted streets,

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(um…give or take those people…but it was seriously mostly deserted)

peeked inside the Cathedral,

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bought some postcards, and then high-tailed it back to the train station. Luckily, we made it back in time to go to the museum and see Guernica and some other modern art (including an incredibly disturbing multi-media film installation with creeeeepy rat and panda costumes).

Tuesday was our crazy cram-in-the-rest-of-Madrid-highlights day. Of course, there were the Big Three of any European city visit:

1. Palace

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2. Cathedral

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3. Art Museum

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The palaces of Europe are starting to all run together in my mind. The Cathedral seemed oddly new on the inside. El Prado was super cool. Countless “cultura” discussions from high school Spanish culminating in one fateful museum visit…

We also saw Don Quixote, and an Egyptian temple (think Temple of Dendur from The Met…only outside), and the Parque del Retiro, and Plaza Mayor. All in all a very successful (and tiring) day. It was soooo hot.

After El Prado, we were seriously jonesin for Paella and Sangria, two staples we hadn’t tried yet. We finally found a good looking/cheapish place. It was probably 8:30 or 8:45 by the time we got there…and we were seriously the first people in the restaurant.

My paella had eyeballs and stared at me, which was a little bit disconcerting, but it was good nonetheless.

paella

After dinner, we had a really cool conversation in Spanish with our waiter. Foreign language for the win!

I definitely want to go back to Spain to practicar la lengua someday. Check out the rest of the pictures here.

Madrid was the last stop on EA!P2, so we packed up on Wednesday morning for the final days in England! Ay dios mio!

Sweet-zerland!

9 July 2009

Category: Travel

Answer: The reason Leonore went to Switzerland

Question:
a) What is to escape from the Nazis with her family of singing children who sometimes wear matching outfits made of drapes?
b) Why is because there was a Swiss bank account secret laser thing embedded in her skin, so she went to check that out and pick up huge wads of cash and fake passports?
c) What is because it is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world and everyone should go, especially when you have an invitation to stay at a farmhouse with a friend’s pseudo-family?

Contestants, you have 30 seconds. Good luck.

Now we come to you, returning champion…and you’re right! The answer is what is because it is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world and everyone should go, especially when you have an invitation to stay at a farmhouse with a friend’s pseudo-family?

You waged everything! Your two day, cash winnings, now totals a bajillion and two dollars!

In all seriousness though, we might as well have been fleeing from Nazis based on how fast we had to run through the train station the morning of our Paris to Lausanne travel. Those of you playing along at home may remember that this was the only train available for the day we needed to travel AND we had to pay 70 euro (no rail passes) for tickets, so it was, let’s just say, IMPERATIVE that we make the train. We had a bit of a delay (I’m not naming names…TYLER SCHIMMELFING) in our departure from the hostel, so we had to run like crazy people in Gare du Lyon to make it to our TGV.

Spoiler alert: We made it…and were picked up in Switzerland by Grace’s Swiss grandpa (the father of the family that her mom stayed with when she was an exchange student in Switzerland…from here on known as “Grandpapa” for simplicity).

In case you are not familiar with the geography of Switzerland (as I was not) here is a handy lil map I made in GoogleEarth for reference:

switz google

So we got picked up in Lausanne (red train) and drove along Lake Geneva

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and were rewarded with STUNNING VIEWS (though technically, all of that is France…including EVIAN as in the place the water comes from…on the other side of the lake).

We were headed toward Sommentier (yellow house) which is where the family lives. In possible the most charming farmhouse ever:

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Did I not mention they have a farm? Because they do. A dairy farm. You know what comes from dairy? SWISS CHEESE.

After a charming Swiss lunch and a bit of settling in and freshening up, Grandmaman and Grandpapa wanted to take us up into the mountains to see the cows. Apparently, it’s a Swiss tradition to take the cows into the mountains during the summer so they can have air and vacation time etc etc. There were 6 of us, and the car only held 5, so we had to split up in order to get there. This would not be noteworthly, except for the fact that the Castellas (Grandmaman and Grandpapa) do not speak English. Only French.

I don’t speak French.

Neither does Hannah.

Grace, our beloved translator, rode in the other car, which left me and Hannah and Grandpapa for some quality language barrier bonding time. It was all right though, because most of the drive was too pretty for words. “C’est magnifique!” and “Tres tres tres tres belle!” seemed to get our point across pretty well, with a lot of “voilas” from Grandpapa thrown in.

So we were  just driving along, following the other car, nearing some mountains, when all of the sudden, we turned off on another road. This was a little bit alarming, however the scenery was too overwhelming to allow for any actual concern. As long as I could look at Switzerland, I was good.

Then Grandpapa pulled off on the side of the road and got out of the car, indicating that we should get out too. As soon as I opened my door, all I could hear was gazillions of cow bells, except it sounded like giant wind chimes. They all wear different sized bells, so they play different notes when they move!

When I think “pulled off the side of the road”, I usually picture something like this:

side of the road

Oh no. In Switzerland, this is what it looks like when you pull off to the side of the road:

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I know, right?

At this point, Hannah and I were in “figure out the context clues and gestures and 10 words of French we know” overdrive mode, and once Grandpapa crawled under the fence and the cows happily flocked (can cows flock or is that sheep-clusive?) to him, we surmised that they were his cows, and he was checking on them…or something.

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After another stop to check on some brown cows (supposedly the Castellas have a very strict philosophy on mixing different colored cows) we reunited with Grace and Tyler at the Castella’s chalet in the mountains.

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Holy-freakin-moley…you could’ve rolled me into my grave right then, and I would’ve died happy. The tinkling cow bells, the breeze, the sun, the Alps, the valley, Grandmama’s tea and cake. That’s the life, man.

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Turns out that Hannah and I were half-right. They were counting the cows to make sure that none had wandered off.

After that, Grandmaman went back to the house to prepare dinner (raclette…tasty cheese you melt in mini skillets and pour on things like potatoes) and the rest of us drove to Gruyere (purple building with flag) to see the town.

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Unfortunately, the Chateau and the cheese factory had already closed.

Just when I thought the day couldn’t be any more of an aneurysm of awesome, Grandmaman took us on a walk after dinner down the road to the chapel. And I finally understood the whole “purple mountains” and “amber waves of grain” business.

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I’m not sure how many more times I can use the word “beautiful” in this entry before you’ll want to beat me over the head…so let’s go with “breath-taking” this time.

For Day 2 of Swiss-a-palooza, we drove to Friburg (green walking people) to meet up with Grace’s “aunt” and “cousin,” Christian and Odile. Odile rode with us and Grandpapa and broke our car’s language barrier (she’s in college and started English a year ago but is SO GOOD that it’s insane). We left Friburg and drove up to Morat/Murten (it has both names because the area is French and German) and took a lil boat cruise! With a picnic!

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Christian speaks some English too, so when we went back down to Friburg (green people) she gave us a walking tour of almost the whole town! Including a cafe where the students hang out (there’s a Uni) and a gelato shop and an art museum!

We went back to her house for a “barbecue” (it was a little bit sacrilegious to call it that) cooked by Pierre Henri (Odile’s younger brother) who sneak attacked us with some ninja English at the end of the night.

I do not know where their house was on the map (presumably somewhere between Friburg and Sommentier) so I will just show you a picture of the view from their yard.

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This was, hands down, my favorite part of EA!P2…and it may trump all of EA!P1 as well. I was blown away not only by the magnificent country but also by the incredible hospitality and kindness of the Castellas. They showed us around half the country, fed us, paid for everything (!) and even took us on a flippin boat ride! After 5 months on my own, it was so comforting to have someone welcome me into their home and badger me to take second helpings and give me a ridiculous amounts of blankets and ask how I slept and OFFER TO DO my LAUNDRY and watch us while we walked up the street to the train station to make sure we went the right way. Grandmaman even packed us lunches to take to the airport with little blocks of Gruyere cheese and a chocolate bar!  And we didn’t even speak the same language! On the last day, I sounded like a broken record of “Merci beaucoup!” I was absolutely astounded by their generousity.

Back at the Lausanne train station, The Team parted to go our separate ways. Grace and Tyler were headed for Amsterdam, and Hannah and I went to the Geneva airport, bound for Madrid, Espana!

Even if you look at none of the other gazillion pictures I’ve posted, please please look at these. You won’t be sorry : )

There is Never Any End to Paris

3 July 2009

When we last checked in with our intrepid young travelers, they had just seen the sunset over the Seine and made their way back to promptly pass out in their highly proximitous bunkbeds.

Yes. Proximitous. As in very close together. So close, in fact, that Tyler and Hannah could hold hands while each in their own bed.

bunkbeds

On Wednesday of Paris week, we ventured through the “seedy” 10th arrondissement (Seriously.the guidebook’s breakdown of what was worth seeing in each arrondissement, which is like a district of the city, said that the 10th had the Gare du Nord and a bunch of porn shops and nothing worth seeing…and it was right by where we stayed. Nice, right?) to the train station to make our reservations for the trip to Switzerland before heading off to the ‘burbs to see Versailles.

Wow, kudos if you can follow all of that.

At the Tra Sta, we had a bit of a travelfail. We were standing in line, blissfully tra la la-ing about how 2 days in advance is enough time to get reservations because, really, how many people are clamoring to get to Laussane on a Friday morning?

And then we got up to the window, and Monseiur Ticketbooth was all “Zuit alours! Zhere are non tickets available avec Eurail pass to Switzerland on Friday!” To which we responded with a hearty panic because we had no time/day flexibility for travel because of everything we wanted to see in Paris and when the Swiss family was expecting us. We ended up paying 70 euros each to just book normal tickets for the earliest train on Friday. It was a cringey moment for my wallet, but it had to be done.

With those annoying logistics out of the way, we were more than ready to be escape to a palace of opulence and extravagance and cake.

Versailles!

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The lines were approximately 1000 years long, but we had Contact (really fun game…I’ll teach you sometime) and a fisticuff with some line cutters to keep us occupied.

It’s very grand, but it’s also very crowded and touristy…I don’t want to say I was underwhelmed, I was just not as whelmed as I was expecting to be, you know?

The Hall of Mirrors was pretty bombdiggity,

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and I definitely think I should have some of these installed over my bed:

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On the other hand, the gardens are where it’s AT, yo. Though some people were “not even hungry anymore…just miserable” by the time we got to them, and the fountains were not on, it was pretty cool.

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My favorite part was the Queen’s Hamlet, a little pretend “peasant” village for Marie Antoinette to frolic and play in. So we thought it only appropriate for us to frolic and play as well. It was…um…an homage! To her memory! Really, we were obliged to do it. It was work. Not fun. At all.

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There is also a farm! With animals!

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This picture does not show the animals, but they were there.

Think what you will about Marie Antoinette. Sure, maybe she was a little bit too flippant and carefree and extravagant and unqualified to rule a country, but an adorable little town with all of the charm and none of the work of Provencal life? BRILLIANT.

After Versailles, we went back to Paris and ventured to the top of one of the most famous landmarks in the world…drumroll please…

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LE TOUR EIFFEL!

The views were AMAZING (even though it was cold and windy) and the whole structure is pretty remarkable, especially since it was originally only going to be a temporary thing! Whoa!

Also, while we were at the top, we saw a proposal!! It was so life romantic (and romantic romantic)! Everyone was excited and cheering and clapping for them. The girl was SO happy and surprised! I definitely did not get goosebumps and did not get a little teary. Definitely not.

It occured to me, while we were up there, that I had seen a lot of movie trailers recently in which explosions or similar tragedies bring down the Eiffel Tower. Of course, I thought it highly appropriate to mention these while standing atop the thing.

ME: Hey, so, there are a zillion movies coming out soon, and in every one of them THE EIFFEL TOWER EXPLODES.
RANDOM AMERICAN MAN NEAR BY: Oh my. Please…don’t.
ME: Yeah, one is GI Joe, and there’s like lots of fire, and it falls over.
RAMNB: Nah nah nah. Not listening.
ME: And the other one was Transformers…and there was more fire, and maybe it fell over in that one too.
RAMNB: Can you please talk about something else??!
HANNAH: ZOMG. What if the Eiffel Tower actually IS a transformer? Only it’s been…dormant?
EIFFEL TOWER: (Sways)
RAMNB: (Runs away screaming)

After the ridonkulous lines at Versailles, we were relieved that getting up and down the tower was relatively painless. We designated that night as “nice dinner night” and had THE BEST TIME at a nearby restaurant. We were there for about 3 hours. It was so European!

Thursday was our last Paris day, so we naturally had a lot to cram in. The Louvre

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bless it, took up most of the morning/a bit of afternoon. We saw the “big three” first (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo) first, and then did a pretty extensive (if brief) sweep of almost the whole museum.

Hannah and I were VERY upset, however, that one of the painting galleries was closed, so we could not see “Liberty Leading the People,” of Ms. Hayes’ art history classroom poster and Coldplay album cover fame.

coldplay 3

Alack!

Oh well.

After that, we ate a quick lunch on the steps of the (Phantom of the) Opera House, and then dashed off to the catacombs.

IT IS SO FREAKY! Basically, you wander around along 1.4 km of underground corridors that are COMPLETELY LINED WITH BONES. Human bones! That are all stacked and neat and orderly and unreal seeming.

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Why, hello, lil skulls of dead french people!

So that was weird. And cool?

Then it was Disneyfail (long story…don’t want to get worked up), the Moulin Rouge, touristy/sexshoppey Monmartre, souvenir shopping, crepe eating, bunkbed picnicing and packing!

Paris was SO MUCH FUN! As with any travel, it had it’s ups and downs, but the company was great, the city was beautiful, and THE TEAM will always have Paris!

Sorry. Had to.

Versailles and the rest of Paris pics are on facebook.

And here’s a nonsequiter bonus treat:

Americans in Paris

22 June 2009

A little bit of music to set the mood…

Hannah and I arrived in Paris on May 25 on the train from Lyon. As previously mentioned, we had to take a slower train that got us there much later in the day than we had planned originally. We tried a couple of times to reach Grace and Tyler to let them know (they were arriving the night before and checking in to the hostel) that’d we’d be late and they should go ahead and start sight seeing etc etc. But no luck on the contact front.

So our train got in around 1:30 in the afternoon, and we successfully navigated the Paris metro and walked the GRUELLINGLY HOT few blocks to the hostel. At the check in desk, I’m all “Hi. We’re checking in. Our friends got here last night. We’re all in the same room. Tra la la.” And then Monsieur Check-In is like “Non! Zhey did not arrive! Zhey are not here! We are mad zhey cancelled! Zhey will have to pay! If zhey are not coming tonight, we want to sell zheir beds!”

To which I respond with a bit of OH EM GEE ARE THEY DEAD? WHERE ARE THEY??? AHHHHH THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE HERE LAST NIGHT!!!! Except a little bit calmer on the outside.

Luckily, there was free wifi in the lobby, so Hannah whips out her iPhone, and checks email/facebook to see if they contacted us. Thankfully, we had a message that they’d had trouble with the train tickets and had to stay an extra night in Strausborg.

I had just calmed down from thinking they were dead when they appeared on the sidewalk in front of the hostel. A sweaty reunion group hug ensued.

Our room was ridonkulously small (there was barely enough space to stand between the two sets of bunkbeds) but we had our own bathroom and a tiny balconey and AIR CONDITIONING, which we partook of for awhile before venturing into the city.

First up was Sacre Coeur Basilica, which was right down the street and on top of butte Monmartre. It’s the highest point in the city, but in an effort to save money, we walked instead of taking the funicular.

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Once we got to the top, we toured the inside (pretty; no photos allowed) and then sat on the steps people and pigeon watching for kind of a long time because it was too hot to move. We had shade and a breeze and this view,

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so why not hang out there for a long time?

When we finally managed to rouse ourselves, we headed more “in to” Paris to see the Arc de Triomphe.

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We wanted to climb to the top, but it wasn’t quite dark enough yet, so instead we walked down the Champs Elysees, and saw the gates to what we speculated was the residence of the French Prez (I just checked…it was, in fact, the Elysee Palace, where Le Prez lives) as well as the big fancy National Gallery complex.

We kept walking toward the river and caught our first good view of Le Tour Eiffel!!

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Yay!

It was getting darkish so we walked back up to the Arc to climb to the top. The view was pretty pretty! And we even saw the Eiffel Tower do its sparkley thing.

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Spoiler alert: The Eiffel Tower is a vampire.

At that point, it was after 10pm, and The Team was STARVING. But we were trapped in a fancy pants area with not that many options for food. It all worked out in the end, because we got to eat at tables on the sidewalk of the Champs Elysees, at a dining establishment, that shall remain nameless.

It started to drizzle near the end of our meal, so we took our cue to head for the metro back to our hostel.

Day 2 dawned a bit sunnier and MUCH cooler, leading The Team to a collective sigh of relief because the previous day’s heat was so draining. The hostel breakfast wasn’t stellar, but hey, it was free, so we loaded up on croissants and bad coffee, and then set out for Musee d’Orsay. Because the weather is cruel and unusual, it started to rain while we waited in line.

My favorite moment of the morning was when we were on the way to the metro stop, and Tyler had the map/guidebook out to figure out which line to take to get to the museum, and this adorable old french man stopped and tried to explain to us how to get to Sacre Coeur (since it’s the only touristy thing in that area). And he even told us to bring umbrellas because it was supposed to rain. Or at least that’s what I’m assuming happened based on my interpretation of context clues and his gestures. It was sweet though.

We spent a lot of time at the museum (which I liked better than the Louvre, in hindsight) admiring the impressionism/post-impressionism housed in the former train station,

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then it was back out into the drizzle for some lunch and a walk down the Seine toward Pont Neuf and  the Ile de la Cite.

Did you know there’s an island in the middle of the Seine in the middle of Paris?

I did not.

It turned out to be a “two-fer” because we saw the Sainte-Chapelle

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AND Notre Dame.

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Not only did I not know about the island, but I also didn’t know that Notre Dame was on it.

Of course it became cloudy and windy and cold again as soon as Hannah and I decided to climb to the top.

We were freezing, but the climb up the tiny winding staircase warmed us up, and as soon as we got out, the bells starting ringing.

The Bells…of…Nooo-tre DAAAAAME! (Ah AH ah, ah AH ah)

No but seriously, it was so loud and cool! And we could kind of see through the slats and saw the bells moving!

The rest of the day was spent getting stuck in childrens’ playground equipment (Tyler) and jumping over walls of guarded palace complexes to follow cats (again, Tyler) and not protecting us from creepos who reached out and tried to touch us (also Tyler). We had dinner in the Latin Quarter (that’s Latin as in Virgil, not latin as in Cha Cha) and that was about it for another great day in Paris.

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I’ve only posted the first set of pics on fb (the ones that correspond to the events herein recounted) but more coming soon from Versailles and the rest of Paris!

Lyon

15 June 2009

On May 22, I had my last exam (WHOO!) which I THINK (fingers crossed) I passed, and then Hannah and I whisked ourselves away to Gatwick to fly to Lyon, France.

Why Lyon?

Well, we discovered a while back that one of my mom’s cousins has been living in France for about 30 years, so we jumped at the chance to stay with real people in a real place (ie not a hostel) and have an authentic experience.

So we landed in Lyon around 9pm (and it was still SO light outside) and partially fulfilled one of Hannah’s life dreams: disembarking down stairs directly to the tarmac, while the cheers of the adoring public provide the soundtrack for the journey to the limo.

PassengersAlas, there were no cheering crowds, but we did walk straight down the stairs, across the tarmac, and directly into immigration.

Unfortunately, we forgot our old-timey suitcases.

Old timey suitcase

Cindy (my mom’s cousin) was waiting for us literally on the otherside of the passport hut (it was a weird temporary seeming building), and we drove on the RIGHT SIDE of the road back to their apartment.

It was such an authentic and fun experience! First, it was nice to stay in a home, after 5 months of dorms and hostels and the like. It was also really great just to have people who knew things and could show us places, without us having to worry about finding things or planning. We went to a few farmers markets and an arts fair, and everything was so colorful and fresh and delicious!

In other Authentic French Things We Did news, we:

1. Had fresh pan au chocolat for breakfast that Cindy picked up at the bakery down the street.
2. Tried pate.
3. Ate cheese and fruit for dessert.
4. Went to restaurant called “Gaston,” like the guy from Beauty and the Beast.
5. Had Ratatouille!

In normal sightseeing news, we saw both cathedrals and the roman ruins/museum, walked all over the plaza’s/Vieux Lyon/quays of the Rhone, and went to the art museum. It’s a very pretty city, and the color palatte of all of the buildings really reminded me of Nice.

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Cindy also helped us book our tickets/reservations on to PARIS! Unfortunately, all the TGV (high-speed trains) were booked up for EuRail Pass people, so we had to take the long way and change trains in Dijon. It took four hours instead of two, but I saved on my reservation fee, and Hannah’s ticket was cheaper. We were worried about meeting Grace and Tyler for sightseeing since we’d be getting there so much later in the day, but it turned out to be a non-issue…more on that later : )

The Lyon pics are here.

England Adventures

11 June 2009

Flashback. Way back. To May 17.

Hannah arrived on a spectacularly rainy and cloudy English morning. And poor dear I did not let her sleep. We went back to RoHo for a spot of lunch, and then it was off to Hampton Court. Somehow there were 2 or three of the state apartment tours I didn’t do the first time I went. One that included a room that had GUNS in elaborate patterns instead of, I dunno, wallpaper. Also they seemed to have decided it was now ok to take pictures in the big fancy Henry VIII hall. But all of those pics are on Hannah’s camera.

I finally allowed her to collapse around 9:30pm GMT. Poor dear slept for 14 hours.

I had an exam the next morning on a part of campus I didn’t even know existed. After that unpleasantry was out of the way, we went to Windsor Castle. GUESS WHO WAS THERE!

THE QUEEN!

Still didn’t see her though.

The Castle seemed so different! Everything was green and leafy. As previously mentioned, this was the 1st place I went in England that wasn’t RoHo or Egham, so it was kind of special that it was one of my last England hurrahs to go back again. When I gave Grace, Tyler, Annie, Colin the ghetto tour, we were too cheap to go inside, so this time I got to do the audio tour, which I thought was very informative. Needless to say, my tour of the town was even ghetto-er in this third incarnation. It was kind of like “Look…that thing up there…somewhere…is a pomegranite. Which was K/Catherine of something’s symbol. And then Henry VIII took them down. Except that one. Oh and the Queen can eat the swans. Eton boys!”

There was also a special exhibit of Da Vinci sketches and royal portraits. And I got to re-stand on HENRY THE EIGTH’S TOMB. Lordy.

Another of our exciting day trips was to SALISBURY, which is where you can get on the special bus tour of Wiltshire countryside that takes you to STONEHENGE.

Yes, STONEHENGE!

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No, that’s not one of the default desktop backgrounds from Microsoft Windows, it’s the real things!

It was a little bit of deja vu, because, like Carhenge (the Stonehenge replica made of junk cars in Alliance, Nebraska),

carhenge

you just kind of drive around in the middle of nowhere, and then, BOOM, there it is on the side of the rode.

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I’d say the only difference is that Stonehenge has an audiotour and a giftshop. And Carhenge had a weird bug infestation.

We also got a guided tour of the beautiful Salibury Cathedral and played around in the Water Meadows, both of which have been often portrayed in English paintings.

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I unfortunately had to leave many England/London stones unturned. Didn’t make it to Bath. Or the Sherwood Forest. Or Charles Dickens’ house. Or the Tate Britain (I’m looking at you, horribly timed Victoria line strike). I suppose that means I’ll just have to go back!

Some day.

Rest of the Stonehenge/Salisbury pics are here.

EAwH!!*

19 May 2009

*England Adventure with Hannah!!

We’re having a JOLLY GOOD TIME! We’ve already seen Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle and Eton, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, 10 Downing St, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, St. Martins in the Fields, the British Museum, Covent Garden, and Picadilly Circus. 

Here’s proof that we’re together:

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And here’s proof that we’re together in England:

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Tomorrow, we’re off to Salisbury and Stonehenge (GASP!)…but I should have more time for a proper update.

Hever Baby One More Time

16 May 2009

This is not a joke.

I just looked at the “Current location” on my facebook and saw Egham, England, and it sort of just re-hit me about where I’ve been living since January. It’s kind of unbelievable. Just when I think I’m getting used to it, the specialness gets renewed in some way or another. 

Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that isn’t over yet?

*

Speaking of hitting, I’ve been in another “dancing around historical sites in England” video with Miranda and Phoebe. This time, we bust our moves about the grounds of Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

Her loneliness was killing her.
Little did Anne Boleyn know that when she said she wanted Henry VIII to “hit her one more time,” he would.
With a sword.
That cut off her head.

It makes (a little bit) more sense if you consider the inspiration…

Oh Britney. Those were the days.

Arriving in Hever was a lot like arriving in Chawton. Except that instead of a bus, we got off of a train in the middle of nowhere, and it was a bit more of a wander through the quaint country lanes

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until we found the castle.

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Really, I’d say it seemed like more of a manor house than a castle because it was kinda smallish, but Castle it is. It was built in the late 1200s by William de Hever (thus the name?) and, as mentioned, was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and her family. Then it was hers, and after she lost her head, it passed on to Henry VIII (imagine that) who ended up giving it to Anne of Cleves (wifey iv) when they got divorced.

More recently, and by recently I mean circa 1900, William Waldorf Astor (yes, as in the New York Astors) bought and restored it, as well as designed most of the gardens that are still there.

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The castle was pretty, but the gardens were absolutely STUNNING, especially since everything seemed to be in bloom.

And it smelled good too. Believe me, I checked.

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And I thought thatched roofs (which Hever has too) and half-timbered houses were the pinnacle of quintessential English-ness, but public footpaths have to be in there too!

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These are paths that go through fields and such all across England.

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I was nearly peeing myself with the Life Romance of walking on one.

Here, Miranda demonstrates how you use the little contraption to climb over the fences.

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Hever is ranking right up with Winchester/Chawton in my imaginary list of English day trips.

The video shows the highlights of the sights, but here’s the link to the rest of my photos.

And now for something rather (not completely) different…

14 May 2009

I tried to post this yesterday, but there were vast technical difficulties, stemming from the fact that I talked for too long, and the internet seems to believe one should not upload videos that are more than 10 mins in length.

Anyway…enjoy!

And here’s a link to the pictures, so you don’t have to squint at the ones I show from my camera on the video.

It is a truth universally acknowledged…

10 May 2009

…that I am way behind in updates.

Before we get started, a few things:

1. Friday was my four monthaversary with England! I have been here for four months and two days. Can you believe it? Because I can’t.
2. On a similar yet opposite note, Tuesday marked T-1 month until I bid farewell to my beloved. America–I will be turning up on your doorstep in 26 days. Please be ready.
3. Hannah (my precious little sister) will be here NEXT SUNDAY!! The dynamic duo will be reunited at last!
4. Happy Mother’s Day! In my country, this holiday has already passed (similar to Canadian and American Thanksgivings) but I am worldly now and appreciate the cultural traditions of others.

Last weekend, I went to Hampshire with Miranda and Phoebe (of Bright Eyes fame) to commune with the spirit of Jane Austen and such. On the train there, it occurred to me the great lengths to which I am going to prepare for my Romantic Lit final, because I went to Wales for Tintern Abbey, and now, spoiler alert, I’ve seen Jane Austen’s house(s) and grave!

First up was Winchester, where Jane lived for a short while before she died.

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I tried knocking at her house…but she never came to the door. Not even her ghost could be bothered to make an appearance. I guess ghosts is more Bronte (been there, done that) than Austen, so I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

Then it was over to Winchester Cathedral, which has the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe (according to Wikipedia, at least…so take that with a grain of salt).

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It did seem long while we were walking around inside, but from the outside it doesn’t seem significantly larger than the other cathedrals I’ve seen. Maybe because it was kinda short. I feel like big tall cathedrals with huuuge ceilings and towers seem bigger, even if they aren’t.

We kept seeing photos of old-timey divers, with plaques praising William Walker for “single handedly” saving the cathedral from collapse.

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This was very confusing because the Cathedral did not seem to be surrounded by water or anything that would require the services of a diver, but then I found this info on a diving history website:

In 1079 the foundations of the cathedral were placed on a layer of peat without knowing it. Over the years it turned out that the cathedral was sinking. Soon the layer of peat was discovered. The only way to save the cathedral was to remove the complete layer of peat and replace it with concrete. The space below the cathedral was 3.5 meters high and filled with turbid ground water. A diver had to do this job.

So I guess that makes sense. But I still don’t understand how he got under there. A reverse Count of Monte Cristo?

In other fun WC news, Mary (as in “bloody”) was married there, and Richard I (as in “lionheart”) was re-coronated there (not sure why you need 2 coronations, but there you go).

And of course!

JANE AUSTEN IS BURIED THERE.

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It was kind of like when I stood on King Henry VIII’s grave my very 1st weekend in England. My brain was just like “THE REMAINS OF A VERY IMPORTANT AND FAMOUS AND INFLUENTIAL AND LONG LASTING  PERSON ARE RIGHT UNDER HERE. Does not compute! Does not compute!”

Not that you can really compare H8 and JA as people or anything, but the experience, for me, was similarly hard to comprehend.

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I paid my respects solemnly, unlike, ahem, some people, who may or may not have danced on or around her grave. 

After some cornish pasties (that’s PAH-stees, not PAY-sties, just for the record), we went in search of the mythical round table of King Arthur fame, supposedly in the Great Hall (all that’s left of the Winchester Castle, which was built in the time of William the Conquerer). So we walk in, and the first thing I see is…

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THE ROUND TABLE! It’s so round! And table-y!

Just kidding.

This is it, really:

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You’re probably wondering, as I was, a few things about this. Obviously, it’s not really Arthur’s roundtable, but rather, it’s a 13th century imaginary imitation of what it might have been like. So then, you are now wondering, if it’s from the 13th century, why is there a gigando Tudor rose painted on it? Well, that’s because it was repainted for King H8 in the 1500s. Weird. But cool. And now we know where Merv Griffin got his inspriation for Wheel of Fortune. 

Mythical legend quotient filled for the day, we ventured by bus to nearby Chawton to see Jane Austen’s better known abode. I was following along with the cryptic instructions from the TI for where to get off (it reminded me of trying to get to the Venice hostel) when a lovely old english lady tapped me on the shoulder and said if we were trying to get to Jane Austen’s we should get off here. Looking out the window, the only thing visible was a busy roundabout and lots of trees. So either that lady was part of a plot to murder us in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, or JA’s house was somewhere nearby.

Luckily, it was the latter.

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Jane (I’ve been to her house, so I think we’re on a first name basis now) lived here with her mother and sister Cassandra, and this is where she wrote Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, while revising some of her other manuscripts as well.

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I’ll never complain again about my desk being too small.

Chawton is quite possibly the most charming town in the whole world. Across from Jane’s house was a pub and a tea shop and some houses and a playground, and that’s about it.

Oh, and THATCHED ROOFS. 

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THATCHED ROOFS!

How English is that?

Here’s a little video I made to try and capture how wonderful and storybook this town was.

There was a field with horses, and men playing cricket, and sheep!

And did I mention the THATCHED ROOFS?

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I think it might’ve been one of my all-time favorite day trips. I kept looking around and thinking, “Wow, am I really here in this actual real place that is real and not imaginary?” because it was exactly the kind of little town I dreamed about going to in England.

Please have a glance at the rest of the photos. They’re SO ENGLISH that you just might die.