Friday, September 18, 2009

2 entries - first written on August 23 & 25, second on August 26

Disclaimer (from now on): Since I might not always have steady Internet, entries (all of them, not just this one) might be written over a few days in Microsoft Word, and they might have wrong or mixed-up details, bad French spelling, or need to be edited and have photos added to them (like this entry).

But here goes – photos will definitely be added later to this entry:

Dimanche, le vingt-trois (23) août, deux-mille-neuf (2009)
(Actually, I started writing this blog entry on Sunday, August 23, 2009, wrote some more on late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, then finished it up Tuesday night)

So my wireless Internet at the Hôtel (the Hôtel de Lille in Paris) isn’t working, which is more likely the fault of my craptastic laptop than of my Hôtel. So while this isn’t a live update, I am still writing which is good, I guess.
Anyway, the trip so far (although I’m sure I’ve mixed up some of the details by now, so a disclaimer for all my entries from now on for bad French spelling and wrong or mixed-up details):

Thursday, August 20 and Friday, August 21:

Our flight out of Dulles airport was on Thursday, August 20, 2009, around 5:30 or 6:30 our time (Eastern Standard Time). I had a panic attack on the plane at first when we took off but then I eventually settled down. We landed in Paris, in the Charles de Gaulle airport, on Friday around 6:30 am Paris time (around 12:30 am EST).

The de Gaulle airport was l’enfer (hell), but to be fair, Dulles was, too. However, de Gaulle seemed worse because of the time change and we had to lug around our luggage as soon as we picked it off the conveyer belt. That was actually the worst part: we carried our luggage around the airport, through various Métropolitan stations and stops and off and on the Métro cars, and through the streets of Paris (while trying to find our hotel).
Fortunately, people helped us, and we made it to our hotel, the Hôtel de Lille.

The Hôtel staff are wonderful (and speak pretty good English), and our room is pretty nice. It was probably around 10:30 am by the time we got settled in our room (don’t ask how it took so long; I’m probably forgetting something), so then we got a little brunch at a nearby bistro. I had a veggie sandwich, something to drink (I forget what), and Nutella crêpes. :]

After brunch, we napped for a bit in our room. Then around 3 or 4 pm, we decided to go out and do some sightseeing. We went to the Jardin de Tuileries (the Tuileries Garden), which is a gigantic park full of various things to keep us amused. We sat on a small area of grass where people were sitting and talking at first, but then I saw the Ferris wheel nearby and convinced my mom to go on it with me. It was worth the six euros; the view was great and we could see a lot of the city, including the Tour d’Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower) and Sacré-Cœur. Then we had a delicious dinner at one of the outdoor bistros in the Jardin, La Terrasse de Pomme; I had a salad, quiche, grapefruit juice, and a pistachio financier cake with vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, we walked around in the Jardin, and we went up to the other end of the Jardin where the street was where we could see the Tour d’Eiffel again and took more pictures. Then we went back to the Hôtel to sleep and be well rested for the next morning.
Saturday was our big outside walking day (ha – they all are), which was originally going to be Monday but there was rain forecasted for Monday.

Saturday, August 22:

On Saturday, we ate brunch at a nearby bistro, Le Pont Royal. I don’t really remember what I had, but they had an adorable little dog named Lizzie in the restaurant, and I pet her a lot. After lunch, we headed across town to Sacré-Cœur, which was beautiful (I think it was actually my favorite of the three Parisian churches we saw), and took lots of pictures.

Then we took a short walk over to the Dalí Éspace Museum in the heart of the Montmartre neighborhood (there was a cool band playing nearby the Dalí Éspace Museum when we went). I liked it a lot of course since I like Dalí, but I especially liked that a lot of his well-known works and works of his I’d seen before weren’t the majority of the museum but his less popular works were.

After we finished visiting the Dalí museum, we took the Métro to the Champs-Elysées and saw the Arc de Triomphe. After we took some pictures of the Arc de Triomphe (and both pairs of my batteries had ran out and I was upset), we started walking down the Champs-Elysées, stopped for some dinner at this bistro Chez Clément (the food was okay but not great with the exception of dessert, plus I was tired and started falling asleep while eating), then continued walking down the Champs-Elysées. I did become more alert when we looked in the window of the Toyota store and saw all their Priuses and hybrids and other futuristic-looking cars.

Sunday, August 23:

Sunday turned out to be busy, too. We ate breakfast at Eric Kayser, the local boulangerie/patisserie (bakery/pastry shop), in our neighborhood, and that was excellent, and we also took a small opéra cake and clafoutis to go, and they were also delicious.

We shared the clafoutis and opéra cake amongst ourselves right outside the Musée d’Orsay, a museum nearby both our Hôtel and the Eric Kayser boulangerie/patisserie, then spent a large part of the day in the Musée, met a cool Korean girl there named Oh-Sue-Chin (spelling?), and even ate a pleasant lunch in the fancy café inside the Musée.

Later in the afternoon, we went to see Notre Dame. First we took pictures outside, then we went inside the cathedral, then we went outside to wait in line to climb the tower to the bells (and watched an amusing street clown while waiting). Then we finally climbed up the exhaustingly tall, seemingly never-ending staircase to the top and took more pictures there (of course).

After coming down from there, we went to a famous English-language bookstore called Shakespeare & Company. It was okay, but I wasn’t that interested in it. However, there was a dog (I think a bookstore employee owned her, but I wasn’t sure) named Colette hanging around outside the store and I played with her some and rubbed her belly and gave her kisses. She reminded me a bit of Missy and made me miss Missy more.

Then we went to Le Grenier Vegetarien, a vegetarian restaurant nearby the bookstore, for dinner. After dinner, my parents walked to a jazz club where they had been thinking of going, but once they were there, they decided they were too tired to stay and that it was too expensive anyway, so we went back to the hotel.

By the time we got back to the hotel, while all the parts of my body had been sore since Friday or Saturday, I noticed my legs, feet, and especially my ankles hurt a lot, and my parents noticed my ankles were swollen. They decided I had fluid in my ankles, and that I needed to prop them up for the night, and that if they didn’t improve, I would need to get some compression socks. I couldn’t help but laugh a little because the first thing I thought of when I heard “compression socks” was Mr. Watt from Friends Camp.

Monday, August 24:

When I woke up Monday morning, my ankles were still swollen, so we decided we would get compression socks later in the day. However, we woke up later than we had planned to, so we got a late but delicious breakfast at the Ragueneau La Table de Cyrano restaurant.

Then we decided to briefly go to the Louvre (since we didn’t have much time, we started thinking about skipping it, but decided not to because it is kind of an essential Parisian thing to see). It was all right, although I preferred the Musée d’Orsay (blasphemy, perhaps, but I don’t care). Some of it was really cool, but there was no impressionist, modern, or post-modern art (at least not that I knew of or saw) in the museum. Also, the Mona Lisa was highly overrated (I had previously heard that from other people who had been to the Louvre, but I wanted to confirm it myself).

After finishing up in the Louvre, we took pictures of the outside of the Comédie Française, France’s most famous theatre, since it was near the Louvre. Then we had lunch at Thermedor, nearby the place we had breakfast (which had also been near the Louvre), and then got delicious desserts from the patisserie next door. We also bought compression socks for me from a pharmacy near the patisserie.

After lunch, we I met this cool guy named Chris in the Métro (he was from New Jersey and we talked and I also helped him figure out how to say something in French to the metro staff), then we went over to the Centre Pompidou to take more pictures. There was also a cool band playing over by the Centre Pompidou. It was overcast most of the day, but by that point of the day, it started to rain a bit.

By the time we started heading over to the St. Chappelle cathedral, it started to thunder and then there was lightning and then it poured. We made it to St. Chappelle just in time (before we got soaked and before it closed), and took pictures inside there. After going there, it stopped raining so we headed over to the Gibert Jeune librarie (bookstore) so I could look for French-language versions of my favorite manga series (I found a NANA manga volume #1 and a Honey and Clover volume #4, and the Sailor Moon manga were the same as the Canadian one I bought in Montréal a few years ago).

By the time we left the bookstore, it had cleared up for the most part, so we crossed a famous bridge, the Pont Neuf, and took the Métro over to the Tour d’Eiffel (and on the way there, it temporarily stopped working, which was kind of exciting, but the problem, whatever it was, resumed itself very quickly).

There were some complications and arguments about whether to go up in the tower or not and when and whether we wanted to wait in line for the elevator or take the stairs and also about where we wanted to eat dinner. I ended up getting pretty pissed off, cursing at my parents in both English and French, walking around Paris by myself for at least a half an hour (several blocks of a radius), and eating somewhere that wasn’t that great (but at least it was cheap at 9,50 euros, and it ended up being right near where my parents ate, Chez Ribe, which apparently turned out to be good and more vegetarian-friendly than the menu suggested – sorry, Chez Ribe, maybe next time I’m in Paris).

By the time I was finishing up dinner, it had gotten dark, my parents found me, we reconciled, and we went over to the Tour d’Eiffel. We didn’t go up in it after all, but we took some great pictures of it; it was really beautiful when they turned on the tower’s sparkling lights in addition to the regular tower night-light. I got dessert from a crêpe stand – a delicious, rich crêpe with chocolate (I think it was Nutella), chestnut crème, and whipped cream. :D (I got a stomachache later, but it was worth it). After I ate the crêpe and we stayed at the tower for a couple more minutes, it was getting late so we took the Métro back to our Hôtel.

Unfortunately, between my mom’s snoring (she caught a cold), the air-conditioning machine making more noise than usual, my mom’s phone beeping (it was running low on battery and charging it wasn’t working), and my legs still hurting (I had just put on the compression socks that evening), I didn’t get to sleep until about six in the morning.

Tuesday, August 25:

Today (Tuesday a.k.a. mardi), we woke up late, had brunch at the Eric Kayser boulangerie we went to before, then I stayed at the Hôtel with our bags while my parents went to pick up our rental car (a little blue Citroën) from the rental car station. I stayed in the lobby and chatted with Madame of the Hôtel, one of the Hôtel staff ladies, and a cool seven-year-old boy named Jordan (named after Michael Jordan, according to Madame of the Hôtel) whose grandfather was working on some first floor construction. He had fun spinning around in the desk chair and taking pictures on my camera.

My parents got back later than they expected to with the rental car, so we left quickly so we could get to Giverny to see Monet’s house and gardens before they closed. However, we got lost multiple times, and got to Monet’s house and gardens right before they closed (around quarter to six), and the staff almost didn’t let us in. Fortunately, one of the staff did let us in, and we enjoyed the gardens despite the time constraint. We also met a nice dog there named Camilla (granted, she almost bit off my mom’s hand but that was because she was deaf and lying down and my mom startled her) who gave me kisses and let me (and my parents) pet her. I also gave her some bread I had saved from one of the restaurants a couple of nights ago. After we were finished in the gardens, we drove to our hotel in Versailles (and we ate dinner there, too, which was surprisingly good). Now we’re in the hotel, and we plan to see the attractions in Versailles tomorrow.

Also, random but funny: I think I heard “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly at least twice while in Paris (via radios playing in buildings). It really makes me want to see Space Jam again or otherwise relive the ‘90s.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The hotel we stayed in last night, a Novotel in Versailles, may have been part of a European chain, but it was quite nice. The American chains should do their business like the European chains – nice but not too expensive. Actually, some American chains do their business that way, either overseas or both overseas and in America, such as Best Western. Anyway, while we ate breakfast in our Novotel, we were watching the news since it was on in the dining area there, and I was able to read one of the news subtitles – it said [American] Senator Ted Kennedy died (or at least, I was pretty sure it said that; I confirmed it with Kevin later when I called him this evening). Then we checked out of our hotel and drove to Versailles (the palace).

So I didn’t really know that much about Versailles beforehand, except that King Louis XIV and King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette lived there in the palace and that the Treaty of Versailles that was signed there. I still don’t know much since I didn’t read most of the history written on various plaques displayed around the palace. However, I enjoyed the palace somewhat (especially the Hall of Mirrors and the exterior), and I really liked the gardens. The gardens were also a good place to see dogs.

We left Versailles around four in the afternoon and made it to Chartres (where our next hotel, a Kyriad, also a nice hotel chain, was, as was the famous Chartres cathedral). Chartres is quite a pretty little town. The Chartres cathedral was beautiful, despite the construction (actually, I think most, if not all, of the churches we’ve seen so far have had some sort of construction going on). We came during a mass, I think, and that was interesting to watch (along with looking at the rest of the cathedral and taking pictures, of course).

We had a nice dinner at a brasserie next to the cathedral, La Reine de Saba, and ate in the cathedral’s shadow outside. I also met a dog near the brasserie named Epochs (spelling?) (pron. “Ay-pox,” like “A pox on your house”), a cute white standard poodle puppy. He was a very happy, friendly dog, and I got to pet him (but I can’t remember if I took a picture of him or not, and unfortunately, I don’t think I did).

I also made the joke of Chartres being pronounced like “shart” (if you don’t know what that term means, go look it up on when my dad was taking a while in the brasserie’s restroom; I said, “Maybe Dad’s taking so long in there because he had to Chartres (shart).” Heheheh.

We checked into the Kyriad hotel on the outskirts of Chartres an hour or two ago, whereupon I called Kevin, and now I’m uploading more photos to my computer (which is starting to run low on memory/RAM, oops).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Before leaving for France (the intro post)

So this will be my semester abroad blog. My regular blog is b. mo to go, and I'll probably post these entries over there (or at least I'm thinking about it) so they can sync up with my Facebook Notes. Or I could just copy and paste these entries manually into Facebook Notes.
We'll see.

Anyway, my name is Beth, I'm from Baltimore, Maryland, I'm a rising senior at Gettysburg College (expecting to graduate in the spring of 2010), and I'm studying abroad this semester (Fall 2009) in Aix-en-Provence with the Institute of American Universities program. I will live with a French host family, take courses at the Le Centre d'Aix (The Aix Center), and hopefully have lots of fun, take tons of pictures, and improve my French greatly.

So the first day of classes isn't until September 7, but my parents and I are going on a plane to Paris tomorrow.
I'm excited for Paris but really nervous about the plane (I have a fear of flying on planes). I'm sure we'll be fine, but I can't help it. So my parents are coming along on the beginning leg in the first place because I didn't want to go to France alone while tranquilized (I take tranquilizer pills prescribed legally to me, of course). I don't generally get knocked out on them, but I kind of turn into a zombie. So I didn't want to go through French customs like a zombie by myself, so my parents volunteered to come along and said we could go to France early so we could visit other parts of France, such as Paris, Versailles, the beaches at Normandy, etc.
The flight is an evening flight out of Dulles Airport (outside DC), but we're leaving the house late in the morning because the person taking us there doesn't want to be caught in rush-hour traffic either way since traffic around Baltimore and DC tends to be awful quite often.
The plane is expected to land at the Charles deGaulle airport in Paris around six or seven in the morning (a.k.a. the butt-crack of dawn), so hopefully I can get a little sleep on the plane.
I don't know the next time I'll have the Internet, but I might have it at the hotel in Paris.

Wish me luck on the plane!!