Paris is quite the city! Kristin and I made our way to the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arch of Triumph, and much more in our short time in the city. The surrounding area below the Eiffel Tower is much different than I was expecting. My favorite angle of the tower was by the beautiful colored trees, grass, and water. Our first night there, we were walking back across the bridge. When we turned back across the bridge we saw the tower all lit up! The best part is that every hour on the hour the tower sparkles for 5 minutes! One of my favorite sights I have seen throughout my 3 months. It was hard to believe that I would be looking at the Eiffel tower on Wednesday night and back in Pennsylvania the next.
The Paris metro system was very confusing and quite expensive comparatively. In other countries, we could buy a full day pass for 4 euros but here, in Paris we would have to spend 14 euros. Instead, we bought 5 one-way tickets for 9 euros that we had to ration. We had to plan our routes strategically in order to make it back home with just 5 tickets. We were able to switch railways within the stations with one ticket, but if we left the station and came back in, we would have had to use another.
Paris is the capital and most populous city of France
Paris is often referred to as, “The City of Light”, both because of its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment, and more literally because Paris was one of the first European cities to adopt gas street lighting.
Paris is the fifth most expensive city in the world for luxury housing in 2014.
Eiffel Tower: Named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel
Constructed in 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair.
Tallest structure in Paris
Moulin Rouge: Cabaret in Paris
Best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance.
Notre Dame: Among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world
Sacrre-Coeur: A Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city
We spent our last day in Europe on a tour to Normandy! What a day it was. We experienced weather that I have NEVER experienced before. It was cold, rainy, and the winds were 100km/hour! I could literally lean back and the wind would hold me. I thought it would be a horrible day, but Kristin and I actually had a blast on the beaches “playing in the wind”. It was the perfect time to have bad weather because we got to experience Normandy like the soldiers experienced at the time when they landed during the war. Waves could reach as high as 1.5-2 meters high. As we were walking back to our bus after one of the beaches, we saw a plaque with a guy who was being remembered from Bethlehem Pa near my hometown!
The tour included a few of the beaches, like Omaha and Juno, and then the cemetery. One of the coolest things I learned was when we were in the cemetery. At the entrance, there is a wall with approximately 1,300 names of missing soldiers. There were special marks next to the names of those were found since the cemetery/wall was built. The latest soldier who was found, was found in 2009 when they were excavating the city hall building. He was found underneath city hall! He wasn’t identified until 2011.
Next and final stop: Paris, France!
Normandy’s name is derived from the settlement of the territory by mainly Norwegian and Danish Vikings (Northmen) from the 9th century, and confirmed by treaty in the 10th century between King Charles III of France and Earl Rollo of More, Norway.
During WWII, following the armistice of June 22, 1940, continental Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. The Channel Islands were occupied by German forces between June 30, 1940 and May 9, 1945.
The Allies (Britain, U.S, Free France, and Canada) coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large scale invasion of Normandy in the D-Day landings June 6, 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord.
Beaches of Normandy: Utah/Omaha/Sword/Gold/Juno
The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach were to attempt to capture Carenten at St. Lo the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold beach and the Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen.
Our second to last day in Europe, we took a tour of Versailles. We spent time in the palace of Versailles and then in the gardens. The palace was absolutely stunning but very crowded with tourists. The garden was big and would be beautiful as well, but none of the flowers were planted and the grass was not green. I really wish I could go back in the spring.
Next stop: Normandy, France!
The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.
Begun by Louis XIII in 1623, the château began as a hunting lodge in brick and stone. It was enlarged into a royal palace by Louis XIV.
In the 19th century the “Museum of the History of France” was founded in Versailles, at the behest of Louis-Philippe I, who ascended to the throne in 1830. Many of the palace’s rooms were taken over to house the new collections and the large Galerie des Batailles (Hall of the Battles) was created to display paintings and sculptures depicting milestones battles of French history. The collections display painted, sculpted, drawn and engraved images illustrating events or personalities of the history of France since its inception.
Two of the three treaties of the Peace of Paris (1783), in which the United Kingdom recognized the independence of the United States, were signed at Versailles.
I looked at my last blog post and realized that the last time I blogged was over a month ago! That month flew by, and I have done a lot since then.
To start off, I went on the organized day trip with my school to the caves of Roquefort, the Millau Viaduct, and Couvertoirade. At the caves of Roquefort, we took a tour and learned how they make the “King of Cheeses.” At the end, we got to taste the cheese. I enjoyed it, but others claimed it smelled like feet. The Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world from top to bottom, which I did not know before going. I even looked it up afterward to make sure they weren’t fibbing. Lastly, Couvertoirade is a fortified medieval city used by the Templars during the Crusades. That day I also had some of the best food for lunch at a rest stop on the highway, which is not uncommon in Europe. They have full cafeterias at highway rest stops!
The next trip I took was with one of the girls in my program to The French Riviera for Easter weekend. We stayed in Nice, but we also went to Monaco and Cannes. All three cities were marvelous, and I felt like a movie star! This was the only trip that I wasn’t meeting another person at my final destination. My friend and I both went together, so it was nice to have a travel partner for once! The week after that trip, I had a cooking class in Montpellier with a French chef. I was very nervous about it because we would be taught in French, and I didn’t know many cooking words in French. It turns out that I should not have worried at all because I knew French the best out of the five people in the class. Three of them had just arrived in France two days prior, and the other knew no French prior to his arrival a few weeks earlier. The three who just arrived were culinary arts students. It worked out perfectly because I didn’t know how to cook, but I could speak French, and the others knew how to cook, but couldn’t speak French. Together we figured it out. This class was specifically for making pastries, and we got to take home our delicious desserts!
And now was the moment I had been waiting for the whole time I’ve been in France. I was about to embark on my 16 day vacation from school and my parents were coming! The first weekend of the vacation, I spent in Amsterdam with Kendra. Our main objective was to see the tulip fields and gardens, because that has been a life long dream of mine!! They were beautiful even though the fields were not completely at their peak. I felt like I was in heaven!
From Amsterdam I flew to London, where I spent six days. Shortly after take-off on my flight, I got an amazing view of the tulip fields, and I quietly smiled to myself. I arrived in London on a Sunday and my parents were not going to be there until Tuesday, so I stayed with my friend. Before my parents came, we went to Bournemouth to visit his family and girlfriend, who I am also friends with. From Bournemouth, we went to Portsmouth for the day where we learned all about the Royal Navy history and saw lots of cool, old battle ships. Then we returned to London on Tuesday to meet my parents! It was the moment I could hardly wait for!! When I saw them, they looked so exhausted from their flight, but we still went out to sight-see for the day. After that, my parents were beyond exhausted, but would be better adjusted to the time change. It was so weird seeing my parents, after not seeing them for three months. I was in disbelief that they were right next to me!
On Friday, I left London with my parents our group tour around Europe for the next 10 days. We took a bus to Dover, where we took the ferry across the English Channel, and then we took a bus the rest of the way around Europe. After London, the tour went to Amsterdam, Cologne, Munich, Innsbruck, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Lucerne, and Paris. It was a full 10 days, and I was so exhausted that I would not stay awake on the bus each day while travelling. The people on the tour were from all over the world, and our tour guide was from Romania. She was very nice and had a good sense of humor about her crazy country. By the end of the tour, there were many moments when my parents were really annoying me. I knew that was going to happen after travelling around for three months by myself, but I still couldn’t help but be a little impatient at times. Those moments did not overshadow the good moments and many memories I made with my parents! It was their first time in Europe, and they saw an incredible amount of things during their trip! It really made the time go by really fast for me too.
The happiest moment of the vacation was on Saturday April 25 when my niece was born, my parents’ first grand child. She came earlier than expected, and my parents were a little bummed out that they weren’t there for her birth. But, they got to go home the next day and still see her in the hospital. Now that my niece is born, I am really antsy to go home and meet her! She’s making it a little difficult to wait patiently.
I am now 23 days out from coming home. As friends studying abroad in other programs are starting to come home, and LVC is finishing up their semester, it is getting harder for me to sit here patiently to wait my turn. Now I have a newborn niece at home too, who I cannot wait to meet. At this point, I am going to soak up all that I still can in France, and take my finals. Before I know it, I will be home!
Shortly after I arrived in Montpellier, I realized I needed to plan trips for the month of March because there wasn’t a break from school during March. By doing that, I hoped that it would make the time go faster, and it would make sure that March wasn’t dragging on…
I pretty much occupied all of my free time by going somewhere this month. My first trip was an excursion to Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city in the south west of France. Many movies, such as Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, include scenes that were filmed at Carcassonne. It is also the largest fortified city in Europe that still exists today. This city was interesting to me because there was also a city outside of the walls, but as soon as you entered the fortified part of the city, you felt completely different. The city was beautiful, and while walking along the ramparts, you could see the Pyrenees in the distance. That was the first time I had seen the Pyrenees, and I was mesmerized by them. We just don’t have mountains like that on the east coast in the States! I also met some people on this trip from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.
The next trip that I made was to Brussels, Belgium. I’ve heard from many people that there is not much to do there, and that I should go to Bruges instead, but honestly, I was content in Brussels for the weekend. I could definitely notice a huge difference in the look of the city between Montpellier and Brussels (southern vs. northern Europe). Brussels was dark with cobblestone streets and barren trees, and Montpellier is sunny, with medium shaded stone, and palm trees. The first night in Brussels, I realized that Belgium does not have any open container laws. People were sitting in a circle with their friends on the ground in the Grande Place, just drinking and having a good time. The next day I tried the standard Belgian snacks: frites, waffles, and chocolate. All three were amazingly good! I saw Mannequin Pis, which was highly anticlimactic but worth seeing. He has over 900 outfits that they constantly change. The day that I saw him, he was wearing a neon yellow suit. Later, I went to Atomium which was built for the Universal Exposition in the 1950s in Brussels. Basically, it is this giant molecule sticking up in the air. Inside there are exhibitions and a light show. It was the most psychedelic thing I’ve ever seen, and in the 1950s they probably just thought it was futuristic.
After visiting Belgium, I went on an shorter excursion to Arles, France. Arles is situated in Provence just next to Langedoc-Rousillon where Montpellier is. I wanted to go to Arles because my French teacher in high school always talked about it. It is the sister city of York, PA where I live. Also Van Gogh lived in Arles in his later years, so I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. Arles is one of many Roman cities in southern France with it’s coliseum, amphitheater, Roman baths, etc. I really enjoyed seeing those places along with the Rhone River, the cathedral, the café in one of Van Gogh’s paintings, and the hospital where Van Gogh ended up after he cut his ear off! I found it interesting that they still use the coliseum in Arles. Coming up there is a huge bull fighting festival in the coliseum, and there are many concerts held there. The Romans probably never would have guessed that!
The next stop was Rome. (I went from one coliseum to another). I took a long weekend to go to Rome with another LVC student who is in Perugia this semester. I had a great time in Rome. It was not much different than Montpellier, minus the speaking Italian part, because they are both Mediterranean cities. I found that Italian resembled Spanish more than French, even though French people have told me that they can understand when someone speaks Italian, but not when someone speaks Spanish. The weather was great the first day in Rome, so I took advantage of it. I saw the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and much more that I probably didn’t even realize was significant. The next day, I went to the Vatican and did a guided tour. I’m not Catholic, so I mainly went for the art. We had a great tour guide who was born and raised in Rome and who was an art historian (so I really lucked out with that). She had an enormous vocabulary, and I was very impressed! I was in awe at all of the detail and precision of the artwork in the Vatican. Michelangelo and Raphael were truly two gifted artists! I saw my favorite painting thus far at the Vatican, The School of Athens. After visiting the Vatican, I took advantage of the famous gelato in Italy. We went to a gelato shop that had over 150 flavors to choose from!! Needless to say, at the end of this trip, I was exhausted. I think I’m still trying to recover.
At this point, I am over half way through my study abroad trip, and I definitely think the trips that I planned helped me reach the half way point with ease. I’m glad I thought of that right away, so March for me was not boring or slow! This weekend, I am going to the caves of Roquefort where they make Roquefort cheese (bleu cheese with the veins in it). I’m excited to learn about how they make it and the effects that the caves have on the cheese.
I’ve never blogged before about anything, so when I was asked to blog about my experiences abroad, I was a little hesitant. I’ve been in Montpellier now for 7 weeks and a lot has happened in that amount of time. I am the only student from LVC to venture to Montpellier this semester, and I am currently living with a host family. The first week was filled with a lot of freaking out because reality was setting in that I am really here for 4 months! If it weren’t for Jill, Caitlin, and the rest of my family, I don’t know where I’d be at this point! My experience has completely turned around since the first week here!
Montpellier claims to have 300 days of sunshine a year, and so far, it has lived up to its reputation! Luckily there are palm trees lining the streets, and the weather is very mild in the winter. Not to mention, the beach is only 15 min. from my house. I’ve successfully managed to escape the snow that everyone is buried under back in Pennsylvania! The funniest part about the weather here is that the French people think it’s really cold. So they are wearing full winter gear while I have on a light jacket. Boy, do they not know how good they have it! It amazes me how old everything is that I am seeing. The center of Montpellier has been around for over 1000 years, and it is hard to comprehend that many the buildings I am admiring have been there for over 1000 years!!
At this point I am pretty much adjusted to living in Montpellier, whether it’s from taking public transportation to get to school, asking someone for directions in French, or to living with my host family. All of my classes are in French at the university, and sometimes I sit back and think how crazy it is that I can take classes completely in French. It amazes me that I understand what’s going on when the professor is teaching in French. I’ve also made friends since I’ve been here through my classes and excursions that I’ve gone on. It is very easy to make friends from all over the world while abroad. I’ve met people from 6 out of 7 continents so far. Unfortunately, I haven’t met anyone from Antarctica; I might have to settle for 6 out of 7 continents.
As far as traveling goes, I’ve done my fair share so far, and I’m not stopping any time soon! Before coming to France, I had the idea in my head that I was going to try to see mainly France, and not many countries other than France. My reasoning was that I wanted to thoroughly get to know the place in which I’m living for 4 months. Well, as it turns out, I’m doing a mix of seeing France and seeing other countries. So far in France I’ve been to Paris twice, Marseille, St. Marie de la Mer, Aigues-Mortes, St. Guihelm le Desert, Le Mont St. Michel, and Versailles. Outside of France, I’ve been to London and Barcelona. My favorite place so far was Barcelona!! I was mesmerized by the Gaudi architecture in the city. La Sagrada Familia was my favorite church I have ever been in, and it’s not even finished. They’ve been building it for 142 years. I can only imagine what it will look like when it is completed! Next week I am going to Brussels, and I’m excited to travel again!
In two weeks marks the half-way point of my journey in France. I think it will feel a lot better to know that I am on the downhill slope when that time comes. However, I still have a lot to see and plan to travel and learn as much as I can in the time I have left.