Announcements and Adventures

I thought that some of my followers from WordPress might like a little update on my life.

Well, I’m happy and excited to let everyone know that Vlad and I are now engaged! He proposed to me this Christmas while I was visiting him in Toulouse.

Proposal

Proposal 2

Does the tower look familiar? It is the tower of Les Jacobins church. I never did go in the church’s courtyard while in Toulouse, so now I have finally seen it – although not in a way I ever imagined!

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Bon Voyage à Moi

Well I can hardly believe it, but it is my last night in France. It completely snuck up on me, yet here it is. I still have so many pictures that I haven’t posted, so many stories that I haven’t written. I meant to blog extensively this past week, but somehow it seemed wrong to spend all my last precious time on the internet instead of with Vlad, his family, or in Toulouse.

I will certainly miss this sight

I will certainly miss this sight

When I return to the US, I will be faced with the formidable task of unpacking and reorganizing my life (just to pack it up and reorganize it again 2 weeks later when I return to university) and the marathon family Christmas visits that will start as soon as I wake up  in the US. I say all this to say that I may not post or write more. I would like to, but I know how life is. When I studied abroad in Buenos Aires I kept a diary, and the last few weeks I fell behind. I told myself when I returned to the US I would write the rest down, but I never did. I felt too removed from the experience.

This will certainly not be the last blog post I write however. I have absolutely loved having a blog and I look forward to another time in my life when I will be able to do this again. Reading my first entries and seeing my first adventures in France brings back so many special memories; I know this blog will be an invaluable souvenir. Furthermore, I have thoroughly enjoyed flexing my writing muscles. Like everything, you must practice writing to keep from getting “rusty”. The times when I wrote lengthy, thoughtful posts and then reread and edited them almost endlessly were really enjoyable for me.

But more than a souvenir, and more than writing exercises, the best part of my blog was the human connection. I’m so glad my family and friends back home read my blog; nothing made me happier than hearing how much they loved a certain post or picture. And then as a completely unexpected bonus, I was Freshly Pressed and through that made connections with so many other bloggers who are interested in what I post, and whose blogs I love reading as well. I never expected people I didn’t know to ever read my blog, so every new like, comment or follower touched me greatly.

The Pont Alexandre III. Credit: Vlad

The Pont Alexandre III – Credit: Vlad

The other day Vlad asked me if I thought my experience in France changed me at all. I thought for a moment and decided that no I was not changed, instead, I came into my own. I got to do all the things I love. I was constantly surrounded by history, architecture and beauty. I got to travel, see new places, visit museums and learn, meet truly caring people, write on a regular basis, and learn a new language. I didn’t change at all, rather, I settled into my identity. Which at just over 21, is a nice thing to settle into.

In Paris

In Paris

To those reading who are waiting for me back home, see you very soon. And to those who found me through WordPress, thank you so much for reading and for your completely unexpected support and kind words.

Bonnes fêtes à tous!

The ceiling of Galeries Lafayette in Paris

Posted in Living in France | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Churches of Toulouse Pt 7

This post isn’t just any church post, this post will cover the Cathedral of Toulouse, St Etienne.

The cathedral is one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in Toulouse, as it is actually two incomplete churches joined together. Don’t ask me how that happened.

When you enter the church, you see the first sanctuary with the pulpit and altar, then behind to the left another sanctuary.

When we entered the cathedral this time I was at first disappointed to see some strange modern art installation at the first altar. However Vlad read the explanation and it turns out the church is in partnership with an organization that helps troubled youth at the high school across the street. The students that study art created this modern interpretation of the Nativity scene for the church.

The faceless Mary and Joseph are slightly unsettling, but knowing the story behind this Nativity makes it special.

This church has so many beautiful architectural lines and arches.

North Aisle

North Aisle

South Aisle

South Aisle

I couldn’t decide which picture of the organ is better, so I’m putting them both. It’s so big and so high up, perched on a little shelf; I was a little scared to stand under it! It’s certainly awe-inspiring.

I’ve been to many Medieval churches by this point, but the St Etienne Cathedral is by far one of the most unique.

Posted in Around Toulouse | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Literary Pilgrimage Continued

YOU GUYS! Last weekend actually wasn’t my last weekend in Paris; through a turn of events I had the chance to return this weekend, so I can see all the things I still hadn’t seen. If you read my first Literary Pilgrimage post, then you know that I didn’t get to see the Maison de Balzac or Oscar Wilde’s grave at Père Lachaise cemetery. Well guess whaaaat? I can now check them off the list!

Today I went to the Maison de Balzac. The museum is very small but well done.

When Balzac lived in this little house, Passy, the quarter, was still a separate village. The city of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower, have since grown up around the house.

The highlight of the house is his study, which is the only room as it was when he lived there. He wrote for almost 16 hours every day in this room, the room where he wrote much of the Comédie Humaine, including Le Père Goriot.

If there is anything young writers can learn from Balzac, it’s the importance of editing! He rewrote every page he wrote around 20 times. His manuscripts showed how seriously he took the task of editing.

The museum carried other personal items such as his famous cane. It was so flamboyant for the time, Paris newspapers talked about for 6 months after debuted it!

The handle of the cane

Another important stop on my literary pilgrimage was to visit Père Lachaise cemetery – more specifically, Oscar Wilde’s tomb. The cemetery is huge and it took a lot of wandering and an almost useless official map to find his tomb.

As soon as we turned down the alley that his tomb is on, I knew it was the right one – there is a protective barricade surrounding it and flowers people have left on the street. His grave is clearly the most popular!

Oscar Wilde’s grave

The tradition used to be that people would put on lipstick and kiss his grave, however the tombstone was restored in 2011 and a glass barrier has been erected to prevent people from kissing the tombstone directly.

The glass barrier covered in dirty lip smudges, the protective railing, and the awkwardly out-of-place sphinx on an unimaginative giant stone rectangle create an ironically hideous monument to a man dedicated to beauty. I sincerely hope he would appreciate the irony.

After paying respects to Oscar, we visited some other famous final resting places.

Chopin

Chopin

Heloise and Abelard - the famous 12th century lovers

Heloise and Abelard – the famous 12th century lovers

Balzac is also buried in Père Lachaise, however as we started out to see his grave, it started to rain. Pretty hard.

“Well, after all, his spirit is alive in the city.” – Vlad

“Yes, he lives on in his words.” – Me

One becomes quite creative and eloquent when making excuses.

We ended up not seeing Balzac’s grave, but that’s ok, since I saw his house and his city. With this extra weekend, I was able to complete my literary pilgrimage in Paris!

Posted in Around France | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Annoying Things About Travel Blogs

Since I’ve started my blog and been introduced to the Wonderful World of WordPress, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, in particular travel blogs as that is my genre and I tend to attract and gravitate towards other writers of the same vein.

Credit: venere.com

I’ve probably clicked through hundreds of travel blogs by now – the good ones I follow, the not-so-good ones I quickly click past and forget about. The reasons that I don’t follow a blog tend to be the same.

Too many words

One of the reasons most people visit travel blogs is to see another part of the world. Yet there are many blogs out there, particularly from study abroad students, where the author recounts in extreme detail everything that happened – with no pictures. This is fine if I am your mother or grandmother and am pouring over every single word you write, but since I’m not, I quickly grow tired of that. Of course telling stories and recounting what you did is interesting and part of a travel blog, but put some pictures up!

What beautiful letters

Too many personal pictures

That being said, show some discretion and common sense when you post pictures of your trip.

Picture of you in front of the Trevi Fountain = cute.

Pictures of you in front of every single monument in Rome = ok…

Repeated pictures of you and your friends riding a bus, jumping, eating, etc = I’m already on the next blog. Save those for Facebook.

Give us more!

Simple spelling or grammatical errors

Many authors of travel blogs are writing as they travel, during a brief moment of rest. I appreciate and applaud the effort, although that usually means they’re writing in a hurry and therefore make multiple mistakes. I get that you don’t have a lot of time, but you can read over your post at least once before clicking Publish. It’s hard to read a post with repeated errors.

A picture as the background 

I understand that the picture of you in front of Machu Pichu is so cool you want the whole world to see it, but please refrain from using it as your backgroud!! This goes for all blogs. It’s hard on the eyes, the picture repeats itself endlessly as the reader scrolls, and it just plain looks bad.

Misspelling words in foreign languages

Before you use a word or phrase in another language, you should check to make sure you’re spelling it right. If not, you could commit the blogging equivalent of getting a tattoo of a Chinese character that doesn’t mean what you thought it meant or means nothing at all.

Case in point: One time I was reading a post written by someone professing to be an author, when I came across this:  j’ ne se qua. I could assume from context that he meant je ne sais quoi, but come on! A quick Google search can show you the right spelling – don’t be lazy. Once I wrote a post with some Romanian words, and you better believe I Googled that junk before putting it up!

Wannabe philosphical posts with vague references to how travel “changes you”

You’re preaching to the choir on this one. People search out travel blogs because they like to travel. We get it. Traveling’s awesome. But seriously, we get it.

Some people have profound experiences while travelling that can only be described as life-changing. Others have witnessed extreme poverty and suffering that has truly given them a new perspective on life. But please spare us the story of how your capital-hopping, university-sponsored, summer study abroad trip “changed your life”.

Credit: jezebel.com

These girls have just had an epiphany that they will surely blog about later.

______________________

Am I being a giant stick in the mud, or do these things annoy you too?

**Confession Time: I committed egregious error #3! I had misspelled words in this very post, which my own mother had to correct! They are now corrected, I hope no one noticed them…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Churches of Toulouse Pt 6

It’s no secret that I like visiting and photographing old churches. One of my great pleasures here in Toulouse has been wandering around, spying a church, and ducking inside only to be met with awe-inspiring architecture and beautiful pieces of art. However there are also times when I spot a church and walk up to it, only to find it locked. And I fully embrace my identity as that person who will walk around the church pushing on every door until I am convinced that it really is closed.

The following are pictures of churches that I unfortunately could not enter.

Notre Dame de la Daurade

 

I actually did go inside this church, however due to a fire, the inside is extremely dark. It is also way too gaudy for my tastes so I didn’t feel compelled to take pictures. But the outside is certainly beautiful -a Greek temple facade (to the right) overlooking the Garonne river.

Église du Gésu

 

This church was one of the main reasons I went to Carmes. After finding it closed, I went home to Google the church to find its hours, whereupon I learned that it is actually no longer a church but the home of the Toulouse Organs association – a fitting location since the church has one of the most beautiful organs in Toulouse. Which I didn’t get to see!

Temple du Salin – the Protestant church of Toulouse

Chapelle des Carmelites

Chapelle des Carmelites

This is another one that I did actually go into (as you can see the door is wide open!), but photography is not allowed inside. This little chapel is worth sticking your head in, it used to be a convent and the ceilings and walls are covered in beautiful paintings. It’s like a miniature Sistine Chapel.

St Pierre des Cuisines

St Pierre des Cuisines

St Nicolas

St Nicolas

Posted in Around Toulouse | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Toulouse’s Roman Past

Ok I’ve been very Paris-centric lately and although I still have hundreds of pictures to show from Paris, I’d like to return to posting about Toulouse. Today I visited Museum Saint Raymond, which covers the history of Toulouse. Or more accurately the history of Tolosa, Toulouse’s name before it was French.

The museum courtyard

The museum courtyard

During the Roman conquest of Southern France, Tolosa, which already existed, became an important military outpost, and under Roman rule a burgeoning center of trade.

The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the wonderfully intact remains of Chiragan, a town south of Toulouse filled with lavish Roman villas.

The goddess Minerva is on the top left. She was Athena to the Greeks.

The goddess Minerva is on the top left. She was Athena to the Greeks.

Scenes from Hercules

More Hercules. Apparently he did all his heroic deeds naked – so not in the Disney movie…

These sculptures are from the first century AD, so it’s truly remarkable how intact they are.

There was a long display of busts or heads of statues from the town. Almost all of them were missing their noses. I don’t know if this is because the nose is the most fragile part of a marble face, or if defacing noses (or should I say denosing faces) used to be a thing.

Even without a nose this military figure still commands respect.

Even without a nose this military figure still commands respect.

The second floor of the museum (or 3rd floor for us Americans. I will never get used to that.) is dedicated to Roman Tolosa itself.

This map is from the museum and shows the Roman cities and roads (green lines) of the era. I circled Toulouse in red and Chiragan in blue. The purple circles, Carcassonne and Albi, are cities I’ve visited that were around in Roman times. As you can see, all roads led to Tolosa.

These urns were used to bring spices, oils, etc from around the Roman Empire to Toulouse. It really shows how much of a trade center Toulouse was.

These urns were used to bring spices, oils, etc from around the Roman Empire to Toulouse. It really shows how much of a trade center Toulouse was.

This was my favorite floor since each piece came from Toulouse and the plaques mentioned where each piece was found, usually a place I knew.

For example, the above altar and statue of Venus were found in the Cathedrale Saint Etienne. The foot piece below was found in Place Saint Etienne, the main plaza in front of the Cathedral and one of my favorite parts of Toulouse. It was found in 1987. That is NOT that long ago!

Preserved mosaic

Preserved mosaic

Last, we went underground to visit the Necropolis. The museum is right next door to the Saint Sernin Basilica, so needless to say, over the centuries a lot of dead bodies have accumulated in the area. I don’t know of a better way to say that. So yeah. But even so, it wasn’t until 1994-95 that the area directly under the museum was excavated and not only were 95 more burial sites found but also a limestone quarry.

Quarry. Literally under the museum. How convenient.

Quarry remains. Under the museum. How convenient.

Roman headstones from in and around Toulouse

Roman headstones from in and around Toulouse

After the headstones are coffins. The coffins are interesting because they have Christian imagery  This was the beginning of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire and in France.

Jesus multiplies the bread for 10,000

Jesus multiplies the bread for 10,000, a popular theme I noticed

The Apostles

The Apostles

The Museum was very well done because it was specifically about one thing: Toulouse’ Roman history, thus it could be very in depth and tell a complete story. I am happy to report that I left with a better understanding of Toulouse then when I entered. Mission accomplished.

The museum and the bell tower of St Sernin

The museum and the bell tower of St Sernin

Posted in Around Toulouse | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Museum of the Middle Ages

Coming to France has really given me a new appreciation for the Middle Ages and a desire to learn more about the period. So to that end, last weekend I went to the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris. The museum is housed in a beautiful Medieval building teeming with details.

The museum had a special exhibition on Medieval Croatia.

Relic

Relic

Relic

Crown

Crown

What perfect margins

After the Croatian pieces came the regular exhibitions, all interesting. My favorite pieces were the tapestries, perhaps because weaving tapestries by hand is something of a lost art.



Out of all the tapestries, paintings, sculptures, etc, the museum is best known for the collection of tapestries known as The Lady and The Unicorn. There are 5 pieces, kept in a dark room for preservation, with each pieces representing a different sense.

I can see how these pieces captured public interest and quickly became the highlight of the museum. They are exquisite. After viewing such masterpieces, the other tapestries were less impressive. The colors are vibrant, the shapes perfect. Standing in front of them is almost an otherworldly experience. The tapestries are simply ethereal.

Although the museum wasn’t as informative as I hoped, it did provide a glimpse into Medieval life and thought.

Posted in Around France | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Saint Sulpice

I have so many pictures piling up it’s hard to know what to post next, but at Vlad’s request I will be highlighting a beautiful church in Paris called Saint Sulpice. You may recognize the church from The Da Vinci Code.

 

The church in itself is beautiful, but to top that there is also an impressive fountain in front. The two combined create a breathtaking effect, one that is unfortunately hard to catch with a camera. Well, at least with my little camera.

 

Of course I learned this after visiting the church, but Victor Hugo was married here! Also the Marquis de Sade (he of Sadism) was baptized here. So there’s that.

The pulpit

The pulpit

The altar

Ceiling detail

Ceiling detail

The view from the church steps at night

The view from the church steps at night

It’s hard to say which is my favorite church in Paris, but Saint Sulpice is definitely one of the most beautiful and memorable.

Posted in Around France | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Literary Pilgrimage

This weekend was my last weekend in Paris *tear* and looking back I have to say I came to know Paris quite well. I loved the elegant architecture, the history, the museums, the cafes, the gardens, everything. But one of the main reasons I have always wanted to go to Paris, and one of the reasons I came to love it so, is that Paris has been the home of some of the world’s greatest authors, whether by birth or choice. My trips to Paris have in a way been a pilgrimage – a chance to see the places I had read about for years, to walk in the footsteps of my favorite authors.

Shakespeare

The most important place to see in Paris if you are a literary lover is the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, the first English language bookstore in Paris. Back in the day, it was a gathering place for the writers from the Lost Generation. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot (love), and F. Scott Fitzgerald (adore) all “hung out” here, and the bookstore published Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Ulysses when they were still banned in the US and England (oh those Libertine French!). Unfortunately the bookstore shut down under Nazi Occupation, but this current one opened in 1951 and channels the spirit of the original bookstore.

Books cover every square inch and there are old, squeaky armchairs throughout. It’s everything a bookstore should be.

“To The Illustrious Master” Victor Hugo by Rodin

If you read my blog, you have probably noticed that I’m a Victor Hugo fan. (See the quote at the top.) When I first watched Les Misérables the movie, it rocked my world, and I have since read the book and seen the play twice. I’m currently reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame and am inspired by it too. Basically, he’s the man and I can’t wait to read his works in French and read the actual words that he wrote.

Last weekend in Paris I made it a point to visit his apartment in Paris, which is now a museum.

Climbing the stairs to his apartment.

Climbing the stairs to his apartment.

Some of the rooms are styled as they were when he lived there, recreated from photographs and recovered family furniture and belongings.

The Red Room, a recreation of their drawing room with many of their paintings and furniture.

The Red Room, a recreation of their drawing room with many of their paintings and furniture.

A recreation of Hugo's bedroom.

A recreation of Hugo’s bedroom.

Other rooms are inspired by rooms in his other houses, such as the Chinese room.

The Chinese Room

This room was recreated from photographs of rooms in his mistress’ house, who often traveled and lived with his family. The room and several of the pieces of art were designed by Hugo himself. Although it may be a bit much, I loved this room the most because it shows his sensibilities and taste.

You can see his initials on the pieces he designed, siuh as this stunning mantelpiece.

You can see his initials on the pieces he designed, such as this stunning mantelpiece.

Some things don't change: Place des Vosges, the view from the apartment windows

Some things don’t change: Place des Vosges, the view from the apartment windows

Another French author of whom I’m a fan is Balzac.

"Balzac" by Rodin

Balzac by Rodin

I’ve only read Le Père Goriot, but that was enough to know he’s a genius. It’s the type of book that after you finish it, you MUST discuss it with someone, and the more you discuss it the more you realize what a masterpiece it is. There is great risk that this post will become one giant review of Le Père Goriot, so I will stop here and simply recommend it to you.

This last weekend, I also tried to go to the Maison de Balzac, but unfortunately it’s closed on Mondays. So here’s the wall out front.

The only stop I didn’t get to make on my literary tour of Paris is the cemetery Père Lachaise, where many, many famous people are buried such as Balzac himself, Chopin, Colette, Heloise, the mime Marcel Marceau, Jim Morrison, Moliere, Modigliani, Edith Piaf, Proust, Gertrude Stein and countless other statesmen, scientists and really anyone who influenced France.

However to me, the main attraction is the grave of Oscar Wilde, whom I adore. But unfortunately, I never made it to the cemetery. Almost every time I went to Paris, it was raining and/or freezing, and it was always on the bottom of Vlad’s list of places to visit. In fact, when I told him I wanted to visit Oscar Wilde’s grave his response was “Why? He was nothing but an immoral libertine with an empty soul who was only mildly witty.” So then of course I had to break up with him.

Just kidding.

I didn’t break up with him, but he was walking a fiiiiine line. I mean mildly witty?? It’s a good thing I wasn’t about to eat muffins when he said that. (If you get that reference, we are friends.)

Although I did not get to see the hotel where he died nor his final resting place, I did walk down the same streets and see the same sights that he saw. And that is enough for now.

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” – Oscar Wilde

Posted in Around France | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments