Numbers Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

While I sat in my bare little dorm room in Caen, I came to realize that almost my entire existence while overseas was dominated by numbers. Now that the experience is over, I thought I would share them with you so you can enjoy them too.

7,000- Number of grams of Nutella Hazelnut Spread purchased and consumed
5- Number of countries visited
240- Number of hours spent in a classroom
4- Number of times my financial skin was saved by a dispersion of money by the University
1- Number of scholarships received
18- Number of masses attended in Eglise St. Pierre
21- Number of days I thought I’d die of pneumonia
1- Number of beer types deemed remotely ingestible
5- Number of loads of laundry done over a span of 4 1/2 months
6,000- Number of  times I deeply desired a Swiffer
4- Number of care packages from Mom and Daddy
17- Number of cards from the USA
11- Number of awkward shirtless, gown-less chest x-rays taken (a group total)
10- Number of scarves added to wardrobe
2- Number of visible melt-downs in a classroom
100- Number of baguettes purchased
5- Number of blush-causing faux-pas
2- Number of visitors from the USA
4- Number of 8 € phone cards purchased to call home
16,000- Number of grams of pasta purchased from Carrefour
Infinity- When I’ll be hungry for pasta again
7- Number of minutes between trams
4- Number of teachers
1- Number of times caught pass-less on tram
2- Number of times the “stupid American” card was voluntarily put into play
70- Number of trips to a patisserie expressly for gluttonous purposes
55- Number of practice DELF tests
36- Number of seeds planted in hopes of flowers
0- Number of survivors
1- Number of WWII 550 KG bombs found on campus
40- Number of trains taken
5- Number of minutes it takes to get to class in a dead sprint
7- Number of pretend boyfriends accumulated
200- Number of tram rides
50- Number of times voltage converter was dropped and did not break
250- Number of handouts in class
1- Number of 50 € stamps purchased for taxation purposes
1,200- Number of pictures taken
40.5- Number of pairs of seins in Nice at the topless beaches
2- Number of trains taken in the wrong direction
22- Number of flavors of gelato tasted within a 24 hour window of opportunity
10- Number of times I was the recipient of random acts of a French stranger’s kindness
83- Number of blog posts
0- Number of regrets
Innumerable- Number of individual people to whom I owe thanks

[Please stick around for the finale post and link to my new blog coming very soon!]

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Métropolitain Monday, Jun 14 2010 

There are few engineering feats I consider more impressive than the subway system in Paris. To people who have never taken a subway, it would seem like the epitome of scary: riding a very rapidly moving transport medium dozens of feet underground, pressing yourself uncomfortably close to complete strangers who do not share your language. But to those of us who have become veterans of the métro in Paris, it’s un morceau de gateau (piece of cake)… sort of.

The métro system opened in 1900, without ceremony. It has expanded to 16 lines today, carrying 4.5 million people each day and over 1.4 billion people annually.

The two Lauras and I left Paris on June 9th during rush hour in Paris. Our last stop before getting to Charles de Gaulle Airport was taking the RER, a more expensive commuter train that runs through and around Paris. Thousands of people take the RER every day. What these thousands of people do NOT do is carry every belonging on their person. They MAYBE carry a briefcase. I, however, was not holding a briefcase–I was holding 1) a giant rolly suitcase that was emblazoned (embarrassingly) with AMERICAN TOURISTER, 2) a royal blue backpacker’s bag that towered over my head by 10 inches and 3) an Eddie Bauer backpack that made me look like I was pregnant with quadruplets.

When we got to the RER station, the Lauras and I were at the cusp of success–the only thing left to do was board the train and get to Charles de Gaulle Airport. But when the train approached, O LA VACHE (holy cow!), every Parisian was ON the métro. I didn’t care. I was French enough to fight my way into the train and stand there, the width and bulk of at least 3 Parisians, praying that I wasn’t going to get trampled. The train screeched to a halt, the first batch of people swarmed off, bumping into each other and scattering like sheep. I plowed ahead, and that’s when I heard a howl from in back of me. Laura the Chef couldn’t get on the train. There simply wasn’t enough room for her! As the train started moving, I craned my neck to see her, and the doors started to close, menacingly.

“LAAAAURA!!!! TAKE THE NEXT TRAAAAAAAIN!!!!” I bellowed, throughly American in my volume and desperation, while I saw the mass of Laura the Chef get pushed to the wayside by people.

As Laura rapidly planned which train to take to Charles de Gaulle in absence of the one in which I was currently being smushed, she witnessed a woman trying desperately to squeeze herself into the tin of sardines that the métro had become by this point. The doors would not completely shut, however, so someone began to pull her out of the RER. But horrors! The doors began to close again and at the same time, the train began to move so that the woman was trapped between inside and outside the RER. At the last minute, she freed herself and pulled away from the train which, along with me and Laura T, sped away toward Charles de Gaulle Aéroport.

It couldn’t get worse, I told myself. What I didn’t realize was that when Parisians have to get somewhere, they don’t care if there are walls in their way. The walls had better move or they’ll get mowed over. The same thing goes with a woman laden with every personal belonging, clinging cat-like to a center pole in a moving subway, sweating profusely by this point. If the woman doesn’t move, she will get jostled and body-slammed until the wave of exiting people ends and the ENTERING begins. I have a tiny idea of what someone who is looking smack into a tsunami might feel: when you are facing a sea of Parisians on a rush-hour RER, nothing passes through your mind except, “ah non, here it comes!” and you brace yourself for impact.

To make a redundant story short, after two stops (which doesn’t sound like a long time but it truly is an eternity), most of Paris got OFF the RER, and I was left with the rest of the sweating people, lugging equally obnoxious baggage off to Charles de Gaulle and their flights. Looking back, it’s rather dream-like. I’m not sure how I got on the métro, off the métro or even had the ability not to get robbed. But somehow, not only did I manage to live through the RER experience, but I lived through the airport experience, the flight experience and the counter-culture shock experience when I got home.

When it comes down to it, the crazy Parisian métro is just one more little hurdle, and when I sat down at my aunt and uncle’s kitchen table with a giant plate of chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk, I forgot all about my trials and relished being home and being American.

[I have two more posts to share with you. Stick around for the goodbyes and thank yous!]

To learn more about the métro and it’s fascinating history (and to see a map!!) click here.

“Deo Juvante” Monaco Sunday, Jun 6 2010 

I hope you packed your Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and Marc Jacobs, because we’re off to Monaco, a tiny principality of France and the world’s second smallest country! Here, appearance is everything. The rich foreigners strut down the street and the Ferraris are more like red streaks dashing down winding roads, dodging gawking tourists. The high rise condos shoot into the crystal-clear sky and the water sparkles in the sunshine. Giant yachts glide, phantom-like, through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The serene Mediterranean Sea, as seen from overlooking one of the old city walls, near the Museum of Ocean Sciences

Mmmm! Ferrari! Outrageously expensive, brand-new sports cars run around Monaco like Chevy 4x4s in North Dakota.

Monaco is less than a mile square although it hosts a population of 33,000. Monaco’s population is unique in the fact that its natives are of the minority. The majority is made up of French, followed by excessively wealthy foreigners who flee to Monaco to enjoy its lack of income tax. The government gets its due when it comes to real estate taxation and employer’s taxes. Almost half of the income from the people goes to the state, and the city reflects the income nicely. All buildings are perfectly kept. No graffiti is seen, no cigarette butts litter the ground, and everyone seems keenly aware of the beauty of their surroundings and strives to keep it beautiful.

Highrise Skyline of Monaco

The country has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297 when Francesco Grimaldi, disguised as a monk, captured Monaco and became its ruler. Monaco is currently ruled by sovereign Prince Albert II, Europe’s “Most Eligible Bachelor!” The castle, modest yet beautiful, is perched on a jutting-out of land, overlooking the beautiful Côte d’Azur.

The beautiful Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco

Prince Albert II’s mother was the famous American actress Grace Kelly who was tragically killed when her sports car careened off of one of Monaco’s cliffs. Princess Grace was married and buried at the same beautiful byzantine cathedral, right in the castle of Monaco’s walls.

We wandered around, aware of the lack of beggars and litter. It was other-worldly how clean, sparkly and expensive the country was. We got sleepier and sleepier in the sunshine that continued to warm our shoulders (and according to Miss Vein, “cook us”) as we walked up and down the terraced streets of Monte-Carlo (the city in the country of Monaco).

We wandered to the world-famous Monte-Carlo Casino, the place that gives Monaco its nickname “The European Las Vegas.” The interior and the exterior of the casino were as grand and obscenely rich as everyone who travels and lives in Monaco. Gilded, vaulted domes, floor to ceiling mirrors and plush, velvet curtains hung on every wall. I wondered if the Louvre had changed cities and planted itself in Monaco instead of in Paris.

Monte-Carlo Casino!

Laura the Chef, who had never gambled before, decided that she had 5 extra euros that needed to be spent and fed them to a slot machine. 25 minutes later, the three of us walked out of Monte-Carlo, Laura bearing the winnings of the day, a whole 5.60 euros. Sixty centimes (cents) wasn’t getting us any closer to a Ferrari or even some posh Gucci shoes, but at least our luck followed us to Monaco that day!

Me, overlooking the beautiful Côte d’Azur, Monaco.

That night, officially exhausted, we hopped back on a bus headed for Nice and our amazing hotel. We bid Monaco farewell, promising a speedy (and fashionable!) return, and were rocked two and fro, gently, as the bus wound along the twisty roads of the Côte d’Azur.

To learn more about the beautiful Principality of Monaco, click here, and click on the English option!

Look at Laura the Chef’s latest picture post about the nicest, sweetest things in France!

To see the extent of the Côte d’Azur region in France, click here.

Nice la Belle Wednesday, Jun 2 2010 

I’d like to have you come along on the last 9 day adventure that Laura Trude, Laura Vein and I have embarked upon! Grab your camera and your valise, and hop a TGV train from Paris to Nice, France!

Nice, France! (Laura Trude, left, Laura Vein, right)

We left Paris after spending two touristy days in the big city and headed south to where lavender grows in purple fields and the Mediterranean kisses the red earth. Nice, France is one of the oldest settlements in the world, dating back to prehistoric times. It is the capital of the French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur (Azure Coast). It is nestled right on the Mediterranean coast, and the water is aqua-blue. It rarely rains and the weather is so pleasant that you almost can’t fault the sunbathers sprawled topless all over the pebbly beaches.

The foamy, aqua-blue Mediterranean, rushing up on the pebble beach

2010 is the year that Nice celebrates its 150th anniversary of union with France. Before it was a French city, it was an Italian dominion. For that reason, there is an extremely strong Italian influence that runs through the city that boasts “home-made pasta!” and “Tiramisu!” English runs rampant in Nice, but the locals roam the streets too, parading around in quintessential French style on bicycles, armed with freshly cut flowers, high heels and fashionable eyewear. Add a scarf and a cigarette, and there couldn’t be anything more a la Francaise in a former Italian dominion.

Me, in the Mediterranean!

The culture is a very unique melage. There is a stark difference in the absence of beggars and homeless individuals in Nice versus Paris. The gypsies are gone, and no one asks if I speak English. The streets are much cleaner and the people are not as flippant. Men do not look oggle blonde women, much to my joy! In the tourist-riddled squares, full of hotels, cafes and little shops, there is a unique arrangement of local people, tourists and homeless. It is genuinely hard to distinguish an upscale street from one that is a little sketchy. All the buildings are painted different colors, and every set of windows has a wrought-iron balcony and shutters. People hang their washing out on clothes lines everywhere, which doesn’t take away from the beauty of the city but rather adds a whole other dimension to it.

Old Nice, glowing from all the lights

Tiny, winking Christmas lights swing in the soft ocean breeze from balcon a balcon (balcony to balcony) and from the awnings stretched taut over the outdoor cafes that seem to pour from every niche. Plats du jour (menu of the day) are displayed on chalkboards, written in curly writing (that every French person seems to know how to produce) and waiters lurk, ready to pounce and show you to a table. The fountains splash water, reflecting the sunlight by day and the lighting by night while wandering minstrels play romantic classical guitar on the streets.

When the aqua water comes crashing up on the shore, the pebbles tinkle musically, rattling against each other. The small lights from homes that rise above the Mediterranean twinkle on the hillsides. While you slowly lick the ice cream purchased at a boutique that boasts 96 flavors, it’s hard to think about anything except how utterly peaceful you are.

Peaceful beach

To read more about the extensive history of Nice, click here.

To read the awesome blog of Laura the Chef (who puts some her beautiful photography from the trip on her blog!), click here.

[I have exactly one week before I return home. Until that time, stick around while I describe what I see from trains, planes and automobiles on this fun last-fling in France!]

Dispelling the Myths: The “American” Study Abroad Experience Friday, May 21 2010 

I have spent the morning reading my University of North Dakota colleagues’ experiences overseas this past year, and I felt ashamed that the one thing I have not conveyed to the general population is what Study Abroad really is and is NOT about. I feel compelled, as in any post, to teach my readers something about the system of studying overseas, culture or how to overcome obstacles. Therefore, I give you: dispelling the myths of the “American” studying abroad experience.

I will be completely honest and say that when Study Abroad told me that the process of applying to another college, getting a visa, booking plane tickets, organizing classes, rearranging my courses at UND and bracing myself for culture shock would be EASY… I believed them. I know they meant well, but they lied to me. It’s not easy. It’s excruciatingly difficult. The difficulty of studying abroad is what gives the Study Abroad advisors their jobs. If it were so ridiculously simple, I could have done the paperwork myself! Just getting on the airplane pointed toward my destination felt like a HUGE accomplishment!

Traveling is exhausting!

And just in case you didn’t feel like you accomplished anything by getting on an airplane where the pilot speaks your native language, the next step is even more worthy of a victory dance. The culture shock of studying abroad is nothing to skim over. You’ll recall my entry about the Culture Shock Ninja and his sneaky ways! I do not jest. He is very sneaky.

Culture Shock Ninja Weapons: 1 Kg of Nutella and a Spoon!

Study Abroad is many things, but it is not a chance for a student to go overseas for the express purpose of getting themselves sloshed every night and to wake up with a splitting headache.

Study Abroad is not about going to every country except the one you came to acquaint yourself with. If you came to learn a language and meet the native speakers, why go globetrotting? See the sights! Enjoy the culture! Drink the wine! Speak with the native speakers (even though their Normandy accent is almost impossible to understand)!

Studying overseas is NOT cheap. It does NOT cost the same as your in-state tuition. The end.

Too bad that's a 1000 Czech crown note and not EUROS!

Trains Trains and more Trains! They aren't always reliable, especially in France and the national sport of "Striking!"

Americans have the same warped perceptions of how “small” Europe is in the same way the Europeans have a warped perception of how giant North America is. It takes a very long time to get from point A to B via train.

Study Abroad IS, however, an experience of a lifetime. When I tried to wiggle out of studying abroad, the realization that I would never get another experience like this one struck me, and I signed on (with much fear and trembling!) for the bumpy ride.

Study of a language abroad is invaluable to acquisition. It takes seeking out the people with whom you do not share a common language outside of French and talking with them, stumbling through bad grammar and phraseology in order to convey your thoughts.

It is a way to shrink the world. You will find that you’re only a plane ride away from your family and just down the hall from the girl from Italy who’ll be your friend for the rest of your life. You may even be in the same CITY as your culturally-adopted family!

University Family

My new Brothers and Sisters

It is a time for growth: physically, mentally, academically and spiritually.

Studying abroad is a time to be flexible in your sleep schedule, your class schedule and your every-day comforts. It’s a time to let go of things you thought you absolutely need to live and see how it is to live like a true adventurer!

Study abroad is a unique opportunity to make lifelong friends, cultural adjustment, sacrifices, splurges and life-changing decisions.

So! With the truth before you, what will you do with your life? Where are you going with your goals, and are your goals used to bring glory to yourself or others? Are you ready for adventure? Are you ready to grow emotionally, physically and spiritually?

Go ahead, jump. Do something great.

Mmmm… Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel and Mutton! Wednesday, May 19 2010 

Sometimes when I begin entries such as the following, I have to struggle to convey how fully indescribably beautiful the sight was without being a mini-Rick Steves. The two places I have to tell you about are so fantastic that the only way to truly appreciate them is to visit them yourself.

Our rented car!

I hopped in a rented French car with my Italian friends Maura Talozzi, Valentina Graziosi and Stefano Laboni. I will tell you up-front that I was scared brainless because of several reasons. I was 1) traveling to a place I’d never been with 2) people I hardly knew 3) in a car driven by Italians who have a bad reputation for driving habits. I was thrilled to find that all my worries were completely irrational as we drove 140 km (about 90 miles) to Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel laughing and speaking in French and Italian.

A panoramic shot of Saint-Malo. (Not work by yours truly!)

Saint-Malo, an ancient city in Brittany, is tucked into protective walls that look like a medieval take on inner city housing. The ramparts are no longer used to keep people out, and we rambled alongside the beautiful walls to gaze on the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel (Mont-Saint-Michel Bay). The city is home to more seafood restaurants per capita than any other place in the world, and Maura and I longed for les huîtres (oysters) when we smelled the sweet, salty air coming off the baie.

We enjoyed our lunch in a park surrounded by ancient buildings and hungry birds and then said au revoir to Saint-Malo, headed for Mont-Saint-Michel!

Beautiful lady! My friend Maura, perched on the ramparts of Saint-Malo

Beautiful aqua water of Saint-Malo and Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Ramparts of Saint-Malo. Right behind what looks like rowhouses is centre ville (downtown)!

Situated just between Brittany and Basse-Normandie, there is a small island that until about the year 700 AD was called Monte Tombe (Tomb Mountain). Work began on a monastery after the Archangel Michael appeared to the Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. In 933, William Duke of Normandy (and later known as “the Conquerer”) annexed the little island and its monastery. Ducal patronage helped expand the monastery for many centuries following the Norman Conquest (which was depicted by the Bayeux Tapestry and in which Mont-Saint-Michel has a prominent role!). [Click here if you need a refresher course on William the Conquerer and his cool tapestry!]

Beautiful, beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel by night. (I did not take this picture either!)

The abbaye has resisted invasion after invasion over the course of its 1,300 year existence. Its natural fortification of water, quicksand and unnaturally fast-moving fog-cover and tidal swells seem to be divinely placed. In the Hundred Years War, although the English failed to capture the abbaye itself, they did capture the area and granted safe passage to pilgrims in exchange for payment. People of all walks of life paid homage to the mountain and its safety, many drowning in the quickly rising tides, sneaky quicksands and strange weather patterns associated with the area.

Warnings posted on the beach about the quicksand and quickly-flooding high tides.

The walls and streets are steeped in history as are many places in France. Molly said it best when she said in response to one of my offhanded remarks, “Well yeah, Kelli… France is fairly tripping over itself with history,” which I remembered with startling clarity when I tripped numerous times over the ancient, hand-laid cobblestone steps and streets of the village. The village of Mont-Saint-Michel has a grand population of 46 people. While most of the workers in the dozen cafes and tourist shops live in Pontorson, a small city 6 miles south of the Mont, a few people actually live right on the Mont itself along with a few monks who live in the abbaye.

Mont-Saint-Michel, the way I saw it today.

The busy cobblestoned streets packed with pilgrims, tourists and very overpriced omlettes!

The landscape is marked by very gently rolling collines (hills), dotted with the black-faced sheep and dairy cows who lazily roam les collines and the damp marshes. The sea that soaks the land twice a day at high tide makes the ground naturally salty and in turn grows tangy, salty grasses. When the sheep graze, they themselves become salty. Therefore, it’s completely honest to say that every Breton shepherd has a herd of bona  fide pre-seasoned lamb chops roaming around on the marshes of Mont-Saint-Michel, completely oblivious to the fact that their diet of grasses is making them one of the most sought-after dishes in Brittany!

Looking through the ramparts of Mont-Saint-Michel to the salty marshes below

Me, overlooking the marshes and the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Look at all those sheep!!

While I got to know my new friends the Italians and said “O la vache” (“holy cow!”) and “très joli!” (“very pretty!”) more times than I could count, I found that there was no place on earth quite like Mont-Saint-Michel. The sun warmed my back and danced across the water in the baie, the wind kissed my cheeks, and I watched les goellas (gulls) drift lazily on the updrafts from the sea. I was perfectly, 100% contente and thankful.

To learn more about Mont-Saint-Michel and its almost limitless history lesson, get a lamb-chop and click here.

To learn more about the beautiful little port town of Saint-Malo, click here.

Rouen Run Monday, May 17 2010 

When my friend Maura Talozzi (from Sienne, Italy!) asked me to go with her to Rouen, France, I knew I had a really great opportunity on my hands. If I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, I’d regret it. Boy, was I right!

We left Caen via one of the smooth, comfortable regional trains and headed toward the stunningly pretty capital of Haute-Normandie (High Normandy). The city is about 80 miles north of Paris and just like the larger city, Rouen flanks the Seine River. It was founded by the Romans shortly before the time of Christ (58 BC) and was the second permanent city to be founded in France after Paris. Rouen was hit very hard by the Hundred Years War, mainly because of its location between England and Paris. The beautiful, white hills that surround Rouen and loom over the Seine are mined for the mineral qualities used in the famous ceramic wares that come from Haute-Normandie. Unlike Caen, Rouen was mostly spared during the bombardment of World War II. For that reason, the unique and gorgeous Norman half-timbered houses are largely untouched and look like they may have 300 years ago.

Mes tres belles amies (Maura et Molly) pendant une pause dans un parc (My pretty friends (Maura and Molly) during a break in the park)

Even though the city has a multitude of enjoyment to offer, people usually associate the city with two things: the magnificent Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen and Sainte Jeanne-d’Arc.

La Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen is the “crowning glory” of Rouen. The cathédral’s enormous cast-iron Lantern Spire rises above the city 495 feet, the tallest tower in France. The Lantern Tower was begun in the 13th century and raised in the 16th century. Construction on the cathédral itself was begun in 1150 and took on its final appearance in the 15th century. La Cathédral Notre-Dame was badly damaged during World War II and has been under constant reconstruction for 50 years and will most likely continue for another 25 years. The cathedral itself was the subject for a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet in the early 1900s. Monet was interested in how sunlight effected the pictorial capturing of a constant subject. It is estimated that if you were to buy only ONE of paintings by Monet, it would sell for approximately $45,000,000.

Beautiful Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen

Sun streaming into Cathedral Saint-Ouen, another exquisite cathedral in Rouen

One of Monet's paintings of the Rouen Cathedral worth about $45 million.

In the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen (Museum of Fine Art of Rouen), I was thrilled to actually see one of the incredible impressionistic pieces of the cathédral by Monet along with other invaluable pieces of art by the likes of Clouet, de Boullogne, Vouet and Jouvenet. The musée holds an incredible collection of irreplaceable art, hideous art and we even found startlingly realistic art in the form of a living statue. The living statue was cloaked in a white sheet, and her face was painted white. She did not move. Not even a flutter of an eyelash was delectable! Only after regarding her for several seconds did I realize she was a living, breathing human being. I marveled.

We toured the one remaining tower of the ancient castle built by Philippe Auguste in the 13th century and the place where Jeanne-d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was subjected to torture and imprisonment before her hideous fate on May 30, 1431. Jeanne-d’Arc was canonized in 1920 and is the Patron Saint of France. Throughout Rouen, there are many tributes to the saint: a cross in the Vieux-Marche (Old Market) where she was burned at the stake and Eglise Ste-Jeanne-d’Arc (Church of Joan of Arc) completed in 1979 are only two of many.

Vieux-Marche (Old Market) and I believe what is supposed to look like Jeanne-d'Arc's helmet

We spoke in French the entire day, falling into yet another culture “melange” that has become very comfortable yet at the same time remains painfully exhausting. As we rolled back into Caen after such a full and wonderful day, I thought that the world had shrunk a little bit more with the acquisition of my Italian friend Maura while we spoke in French about things of the world.

Beautiful half-timbered houses you do not commonly find in Caen because of the bombardment from World War II

If you’d like to learn more about Rouen or see what the newer parts of the city look like, click here.

To learn more extensively about La Cathédral Notre-Dame, click here.

Beautiful Cherbourg (Part II) Sunday, Apr 25 2010 

I slept soundly and greeted the sweet sunshine that poured into Petra and Nordahl’s lovely flat in the center of Cherbourg. The sky was nearly cloudless and I could tell it was going to be an absolutely fantastic afternoon.

Petra and I enjoyed cup after cup of yummy coffee and toast with rhubarb jam and laughed about silly things like girls usually do. Cultures are wonderful in this way: you can travel the world and the little things you take particular delight in follow you around and manifest themselves in different ways. The joyfulness of sharing a cup of coffee (or three!) with my Czech friend was simply irreplaceable.

We left the flat and went on another tour of Cherbourg, this time to see what we could see of the sea from the Montagne du Roule (say that ten times fast). We walked along the Avenue de Paris to another beautiful park, full of exotic birds and not so exotic birds (giant chickens and geese), and I looked up to the beautiful blue sky to see the Fort du Roule, where the Germans, while they occupied Cherbourg, entrenched and offered fierce resistance before surrendering to the Allies and Free French.

Petra and me, on top of the Montagne du Roule. It was a little bit windy!

The Montagne du Roule itself is noteworthy because the mountain hosts intertwining tunnels dug entirely by man-power of a prisoner held in the mountain for two years. There is a war museum in the fort perched on the side of the mountain, too. It was opened in June 1954, just nine years after V-E Day.

Looking out on the Montagne du Roule. You can see the fort tucked on the right side of the mountain.

The following pictures are what we saw when we got to the top of the mountain! I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed the experience. The wind whipped our hair around and kissed our cheeks while the warm sun brushed our cheeks with a little bit of red. Boats drifted lazily in and out of the harbour, and I felt that if I had a picnique, I could stay up on the mountain for a very long afternoon.

One View from the mountain...

Second view from the mountain top

Petra's photography! Me, hopping down from our perch high above the ocean.

If you want to learn more about the Fort du Roule, click here

But if you really want to see beautiful countryside, immaculate parks and oceanfront, there is no choice but to visit Cherbourg for yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

April in Paris Monday, Apr 19 2010 

My Spring Break Travels ended up in Paris, the Gem of the West. Staying in Paris was a quick stop-over from a long train ride from Salzburg. I saw so much and so little at the same time, because the city of Paris is not something you can just see for one day and say that you’ve seen the city. You might not be able to see the city in a whole lifetime!

The river Seine and the walls of the canal, protected by UNESCO.

Paris was founded by a tribe of Gaulish people called the Parisii in about the year 250 BC, although archeological finds have seen evidence of inhabitation from as early as the 4th millennium BC. The Parisii settled the land known today by the world as the “Île de la Cité,” a little island in the middle of the Seine River in Paris. All was well in the world until the Romans invaded. And then the Vikings invaded, and then the rest of the world invaded (almost including Attila the Hun, who swung just south of the city, thanks, it is said, to Saint Genevive, Patron Saint of Paris!).

Today, there are no Turkish invaders, no Attilas, and the closet thing to a Viking invader was me, a 3rd generation Norwegian-American who can barely scrape together a sentence in the Norwegian language. Paris today is a vast city of art, culture, tourism, haute couture and history. Its streets ramble in all directions and getting lost is a serious concern. Such a cultural melange was never seen! Chinese, American, Spanish, Italian, French, Irish, English, Saudi Arabian… it’s not crazy to be surrounded by people with entirely different backgrounds and all be interested in the same city.

Lovers from all over the world flock to Paris. They bring locks to fasten to this bridge and then they throw the key into the Seine to symbolize lasting love. Aww.

So many famous sights are within a stone’s throw from each other: Place de la Concorde (where the guillotine was set up for many years as a grisly reminder of the 1,300 deaths from the French Revolution), Arc de la Defense, La Louvre (which houses over 33,000 pieces of art!), Les Jardins de Tuilieries, L’Orangerie Museum, L’Arc du Triomphe, and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel seem to point in a straight line. They point directly down the Champs-Elysees and cut a line through the heart of Paris.

The Famous Pyramid Entrance to the Louvre by American Architect, I. M. Pei, thought to be "the most controversial artwork in Paris" because of the mass dislike voiced by the Parisians. It lines up perfectly with L'Arc du Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde!

Place de la Concorde, the Obelisk which replaced the Guillotine from the French Revolution that stood here for many years to remind the people of the grisly revolt.

It’s possible, of course, to write a BOOK on Paris with such famous and historic landmarks, let alone cover it in one fell swoop with a blog post, but I will try to convey the visit I had with the famous city just a few days ago.

After so many days of rain and clouds in the other locations we visited over Spring Break, it was a delightfully blue sky that greeted me and Molly when we opened the curtains to our youth hostel. We stayed at an “all women’s” hostel which had a shocking amount of man-like women roaming around (in other words, it wasn’t an “all-women” hostel as we had expected!). Nonetheless, we left bright and early to take in Paris before our train left for Caen that night.

Me, next to the Notre Dame de Paris!

Jardin de Tuileries, the gardens that replaced the Palais de Tuileries when it was burned down in a revolt. It's beautiful, and the Parisians enjoy lounging around the pools, soaking in the sunshine. In the distance, you can see L'Arc du Triomphe and the Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde.

We took advantage of the Free Walking Tour provided by Sandman’s (check them out here!) and managed to see so many beautiful things in only 3.5 hours that I felt compelled to circle them on my map in order not to forget where we had been. Paris is enormous! Its people are in a hurry, just like any big city, and I was glad that it was spring and not summer because Paris certainly WOULD sizzle!

Probably my favorite activity of the whole day was partaking in mass at the Notre Dame de Paris. It was utterly awesome to be in such a famous cathedral. People were shockingly quiet throughout the service, and I was pleased. Molly and I moved on to find a sumptuous lunch before catching our tour. We saw the Louvre (but only from the outside!), the Tuilieries gardens, L’Arc de Defense (France’s department of defense), countless statues, bridges, landmarks and avenues. When we finished our tour at the Grand Palais and Petit Palais (both false names as neither were palaces but constructed for the World’s Fair in 1900), I was EXHAUSTED!

This is where we ended our Free Tour with Sandman's. The Petit Palais is not a palace nor is it petite. It is, however, very beautiful with its gilded doors! It's used today as a museum and conference hall.

The last stop of the day was at Montmarte, “Hill of the martyrs” where Saint Denis, the 1st bishop of Paris, was decapitated for his beliefs. It now is home to the very famous Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre. It was built between the years of 1875 and 1914 and consecrated in 1919. From the basilica, you could see a sweeping vista of the city, a beautiful sight.

When I crawled on to the train at Gare de Saint-Lazare, Paris, I had walked about 15 miles and was utterly spent. I couldn’t quite remember a time when I was so tired! Our train was blessedly speedy and comfortable (and NOT delayed due to ash and volcanic eruptions!!!), and with our Carrefour Market suppers, Molly and I were happy as clams.

Montmartre, the "Hill of the Martyrs" with the beautiful Basilisque du Sacre-Coeur

My little dorm room had never looked so inviting or comfortable as it did that night. I crawled into bed, thanking God for His protection throughout my travels. It was a delicious, inspiring, beautiful week, one that I’d gladly repeat.

Click here to see Paris and the famous landmarks on a map!

Click here to see more of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur in all its beauty.

Panoramic Panoramas Saturday, Apr 17 2010 

I could tell you for a million years how beautiful Salzburg, Austria is, but it’s one of those places that you simply must visit for yourself in order to truly appreciate its full glory. The Alps wrap the city in what seems like tangible beauty: beauty you can almost touch aside from the fact that the mountains loom 3,000 meters (9842 feet!) above your head. The hills are very dark luscious green.

In spite of the stubborn clouds that refused to be blown away overnight, I hopped on a bus for the famous Sound of Music Bus Tour. We tooled around Salzburg while the tour guide relayed interesting and little-known trivia from the movie and the lives of the real family Von Trapp. When the tour guide switched off his microphone and turned on the soundtrack to the famous musical, I couldn’t help singing my face off with the rest of the Americans and gaping at the mountains, still impressive although they remained largely obscured by clouds. We took curve after curve, braving wind and rain and passing high-altitude snowpack still lingering in the ravines. When we stopped at the town of Mondsee (Moon Lake), we were able to stretch our legs, eat warm apple struzel with vanilla sauce and tour the church where the beautiful wedding scene in The Sound of Music was filmed.

I did not take this picture. This is what the area WOULD have looked like if the clouds would have taken off. Someday I'll return and see it like this.

Mondsee, the way I should have seen it...

Lovely lovely lovely. It's so peaceful and lovely in the countryside!

The church was breathtaking. Statue after gilded statue packed the church full of glittering gold and loveliness. The altar was simply over-the-top glorious. It is just as stunning in real life as when Maria walks down the aisle toward the Captain in the movie. The ceiling looks like the top of a iced cake. Its white with pink detailing criss-crossed, curlicued and arched and then “dripped” down the walls in perfectly straight columns.

Inside the Cathedral of Mondsee where the wedding scene from the Sound of Music was filmed. See the pink "Icing" dripping down the sides of the church in columns?

The apple struzel, I believe, deserves its own paragraph. Molly fairly laughed at me when I became reverent over my own “crisp apple struzel” in a restaurant where a little old lady prepares your food and you can look over the church, its courtyard and the hills. I couldn’t imagine anything more perfect to top off the Panoramic Sound of Music tour, and silently tried to remember every single detail about the struzel. It was warm and soft, the top powder-sugared and on either side of the dessert was ladled creamy, cloves-y, vanilla sauce. The apples were just cooked enough to be soft, but not mushy like the French apple pastries, and they  gave a little pop when you bit into them. I scooped every. Single. Last. Bite. And then Molly asked me if I was going to cry.

Crisp Apple Struzel with Vanilla Sauce... be jealous of me.

Mondsee, the lake that gives the town its name, is crystal-clear and icy, aqua blue. It is frigid cold because its water comes from the glaciers housed in the mountains far above. As the ice melts, it runs down the rocky cliffs and tumbles down in waterfalls. Over distance, the waterfalls become rivers and the rivers are the source to most of Austria’s beautiful lakes. I assume that when the sun comes out, it dances and sparkles on the water invitingly, but don’t take a swim unless you want to become almost as blue (with cold!) as the water!

I swear I will return to Austria someday when it is not cloudy. It is too beautiful to only visit once. The sky is bluer, the people are blonder (a rarity in France!!!) and it is very much like a little taste of home.

Kelsey, Danielle, Laura, Molly and me on top of the world at Wolfgangsee, Austria

Usually I give you a link to click on at this point, but I do not have a link for the entire Sound of Music movie. If you have not seen it, drop whatever you are doing at this very instant and watch it. It is good for your soul.

For the (condensed) history of the real Von Trapp family, click here. Theirs is a fascinating story, and one that beats the musical version in its drama. You can also read first-hand about Maria, Georg and their turbulent true-life musical. Maria herself wrote it! Click here for the book.

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