Thursday, August 4, 2011

The End

I'm back stateside now, and I'm afraid I'm not even going to try and play catch up with all the things we did. Normandy was lovely, as was Strasbourg, but I spent so much of it in a Tylenol induced haze that I don't think what I can recall is really any good.

I'd like to thank anyone who was reading this and stuck with me through the 20 days I managed to post. I feel a bit sad that I didn't complete all of them, but circumstances being what they were, the blog wasn't at the top of my list (Hint, the Top was pretty much not dying while chasing after my professor).

Nonetheless, thank you, people of the internet, and happy travels.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Days 15, 16, 17 and 18: Sick Time Catch Up

I am only just beginning to recover from a brush up with something which may or may not have been the plague, which is why this post is going to be a whole bunch of days all mushed together.

Day 15 was Bastille Day in Paris, their 4th of July (or 5 de Julio for my Venezuelans out there). The original plan was to go early and get a stop by the parade. However, apparently there was no way we could ever be early enough, and by the time we got there things were already pretty full and uncomfortable. A couple of people stayed in line but 3 of us decided to go out an go hunting for some breakfast.

Luckily for us, the little cafe that we found also had a TV, that was playing the parade. So we got  alovely, warm, sitting down, hot chocolately view of the parade. But that wasn't the best thing we saw that day. Not even close.

The best thing we saw was this.

That's right. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. A whole day before it came out too. It was spectacular.  We followed that up with a viewing of the Harry Potter Musical and have a very very lovely free day.

Day 16, was not a free day, and the plague was still strong with this one, but we had to go off to a place called Blois, which is just rife with palaces. Apparently it was a ver popular vacation locale for the royalty back in the day, so they jsut built a TON of castles. It was quite lovely, but the best parts of the day had to be the boat race (My team won, despite me, not because of me) and the lovely farmer's market.

I honestly can't say much about Day 17 because I spent most of it in bed, just trying to fight off the plague monster.

And now today, Day 18 was a bit unique because we got to spend the day with Holocaust survivor, Joseph Weismann. He was a sweet old man, who fed us lots of delicious breads and cheeses and I'm pretty sure was having a great time getting half the class drunk on French wine. It was a little nerve-wracking because a friend of mine had written a speech for when we were going to present a medallion to him, but a) the medallion never came and b) it turns out I was supposed to translate and say the speech in french.

My Hero

With some help from the professor, we managed to get a workable translation, and in the end my presentation was well received, even thought I currently sound like I like to smoke 20 cigarettes a day and follow it up with a shot of sandpaper.

We leave for Normandy tomorrow, so posts may become exceedingly erratic, well... more so since the plague isn't quite gone yet, but I'm trying to ignore that.

Expecting a visit from this charming gent soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Days 13 and 14: Free Days

Day 13 was like this, but with more laundry.

Day 14 was like this but with more Tylenol.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 12: Free Day 2

After the crazy marathon which is Study Abroad Boot Camp, it's nice to be able to lean back and just relax for a while. Today, a few classmates and I decided to go to the giant underground mall, Les Halles. Not being much of a shopper I just ambled about, but the real highlight was when we all went and just sat in front of the Centre Pompidou and just watched the street performers for hours. We ended up seeing:

  • A group of girls playing chinese music on a violin and some instruments I couldn't recognize
  • A man playing one of those huge yodeling horns
  • A Unicycler
  • Tap Dancers
  • Capoeira Dancers
  • A man doing crystal juggling (yes, like in Labyrinth)
  • and Pigeons

OH And most importantly, MORE SPACE INVADERS

Whoops, not a Space Invader

There we are!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 11: Free Day

Yeah, that's pretty much what we did today. That and sleep. It was awesome.

Days 9 and 10: Museum Madness

The Paris Museum Pass has been on of the saving graces of this trip, pricewise. For a fraction of the cost it would take to visit the monuments individually, we've been able to just waltz in to most places. The only downside of this pass is that is has caused the most evil of 6 day marathons through Paris. See, the museum pass works with consecutive days, for 2, 4 or 6 days. We got the 6 day pass and the last 6 days have been utter madness.

Between Versailles and the Arc de Triumph we were already tired, but the last two days were the days that we actually ended up going to the MUSEUMS and despite the distinct lack of many stairs, the amount of walking was monumental.

We started with the Louvre, or at least, we wanted to start with the Louvre, but it turns out it was closed for the morning and would be opening later in the day, so we set to wandering around the gardens of the Tullierie, watching the statues and ending up at the Orangerie, a museum where they have a display of Monet's water lilies. Once again, the Museum Pass saves the day!
Gardens and Statues, oh yeah.
After that we went to the Musee du Quai Branly, or the museum that very few people have ever heard of. It concerns itself mostly with aboriginal art and is quite lovely, but I had to do a presentation on it, so I might be a bit biased.
Also found another Space Invader, which is yes!
After that we finally arrived at the Louvre, which was as expected, very large, very full and wall to wall old paintings. It was rather interesting since our professor was giving u explanations, but it turns out that we needed to pay extra for that. We almost got kicked out right after the end of our lecture.
Monsieur Sassy-hat wouldn't have kicked us out!
All this was one day. The NEXT day we went to the Musee D'Orsay and the Pompidou Center, completing our 2 day romp through art history. The day was generally more uneventful, with the Orsay being under construction, and neither museum allowing us to lecture inside. The professor had to run around and do the lecture 3 times in small groups.
But on the plus side, MORE SPACE INVADERS!
The Pompidou Center was nice, though it didn't have any Magrittes, which I  was hoping for. The view was great though and then afterwards we all sat outside and watched a mime for about an hour. A nice relaxing ending to a frantic week.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 8: War

As you walk around Paris you notice that there are a million and one monuments to war. Wars won, wars lost, people who died in wars, people who planned wars. There are statues and arches and streets named after people and dates and battles. Before the Napoleonic age and Napoleon's crushing defeat at Waterloo, France was considered a huge power. They waged war as if it were going out of style, and the whole city still seems to live in it, in a perpetual war memorial.

Of course you also have literal war memorials like the two monuments we saw today, Les Invalids, both Napoleon's resting place and a museum dedicated to warfare from the middle ages all the way up to WWII, and The Arc De Triumph, a monument dedicated to Napoleon and his victories.

But you meet the Parisian people, and so far, i haven't found any that seem particularly warfaring (well there was that one waiter, but he might have just been having a bad day), but do they realize that they're living surrounded by reminders of the war? Is this something that they carry around all the time, and I'm just late to the party?

Bust of Liberty from the Arc De Triumph.  Doesn't she just

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 7: Flowers in Versailles

One of the things I've noticed the most about Paris, and France in general it seems, is that they really love flowers. This is lovely because it means that even in a large city like Paris there are always green spaces with flowers or even trees. And PUBLIC Green Spaces, lovely little parks where they welcome you to come in and sit around, and since the weather so far has been lovely, nothing like the constant humid-hot of Florida, most people have been taking advantage of the green spaces.

But the lovely little green spaces, hidden parks and open flowers of Paris have NOTHING on the garden's of Versailles. The gardens at Versailles are the image of opulence and carefully tended gardens. The flowers are beautifully in bloom and the lanes are lined with perfectly sculpted topiaries. The people love it, and the bees love it more, but these bees seem quite pleased with just the flowers and don't really bother with the guests at the garden.

But then again, no one was wearing this dress outside.

Between the flowers and the lovely sculptures, it's no surprise that people would come from far and wide to the palace of the Sun King to come and see his palace and his gardens. They really are something wild.

Wild Like a Dragon maybe?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 6: Short Advice

Not feeling very well today so I had to cut a lot of the tours short, but the only think I have to say is that once again our professors evil idea of getting us up early has saved us a LOT of time in queues.

Also, go see St Chappelle. It's lovely. But go early, the line gets BEASTLY if you're even there at opening. We were there at 9ish and got in pretty much instantly, but otherwise you'd be waiting for hoooours.

St Chappelle photo from Flicker. [Link]

Day 5: Medieval Statues

The days have been rather hectic between the crazy pace that our professor has us going at, plus the actual socialization I've managed to do (I know, a write socializing, call the presses), but as I look through my pictures I try to put them together to see what I focused on that day.

Today, we went to Notre Dame, THE Notre Dame seeing as there are apparently a whole bunch of OTHER Notre Dame's that aren't the one that your thinking of. And as I looked through the pictures, I immediately noticed what was the thing I liked the most about the church.

Welcome to Notre Dame

The statues.

The statues in Notre Dame range from the funny, to the awe inspiring to the WTF, and here is a small collection of the ones I enjoyed the most.

Just look at the badass on the right

This was on the doorway. Welcoming, no? 

St Denise, First Bishop, Saint McHeadless. He's everywhere

Lobster. Need I say more?

Is it an eagle? A lIon? A gryffin? The lack of nose disturbs me.

He looks like he just saw something horrible, like a riot, or a flasher.

Thinker Gargoyle

YAY Elephants. They can't all be monsters

Surprised Eagle!

And my favorite, Om Nom Nommy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 4: Paris Food

A big part of why I decided to come to Paris was the food. Paris has long been synonymous with cooking and cuisine and being a lover of food, I knew that I just had to get my hands on something traditionally french. Luckily, I'd been suggested a place and it was the first free day we've had in Study abroad Boot Camp so far.

My adventure, however, had many casualties.

It was tragic. Deliciously, deliciously tragic.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 3: Not Paris: Provins

This late post is brought to you by Study Abroad Boot Camp: Exhausting Students since 2011 :D

Yeah, so far my ideal for everyday blogging has been broken to bits by the fact the our professor is trying to kill us. I think he's well on his way to succeeding, but nonetheless, the city that we visited, Provins was quite lovely. The city is full of little quaint houses. The streets are narrow cobblestones, lovely to look at but not very fun to walk on, especially not for a few hours, but the nicest thing is all the flower gardens and roses. Flowers, roses to be specific, seem to be one of the calling points of the little town seeing as there are only a bazillion of them around, not to mention all the stores selling rose things, which truly makes it a "ville fleurie" or flowery village.

The medieval city which was once the center of trade, a crossroads where many vendors would come and sell their wares in bi-annual fairs. it's now a living breathing museum exhibit, with all the old buildings preserved and untouched by any modern touches thanks to the fact that it was abandoned sometime during the 13th century.

Perhaps because it was filled with creepers?

The long history, plus the fact that they have one of the few ancient refrigerators (a long system of cool underground tunnels) enabled them to get the title of Unesco World Heritage site and prevent anything new being added to the city. But it's rather fascinating because you can certainly see the new stuff trying. On the edges of the town are square modern buildings , that my teacher not so affectionate dubbed "lego buildings", trying to encroach in on the unsuspecting provincial town.

Which is where this comes in handy
The wall was built apparently because at one point one of the rulers of the city decided to play both sides of the political game and ended up not knowing who was here to say hello and hand him a fruit basket, or say hello and stab him. Since this is one of those things that are rather important to know, the wall seemed like a prudent way to keep everyone out with a resounding F.U.

Doesn't stop the tourist nowadays though, so HA.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 2: Skipping a Letter Between P and R

Above you can see the queue for the Eiffel Tower's elevator 45 minutes before the place even opens. I have no idea how long this line actually is all I know is that we skipped it.

Of course, we skipped it by taking the 674 steps all the way up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower so this method may not be for everyone. I'm in about as good a shape as a writer/nerd can be without focusing heavily on it, which means that while I was not huffing and puffing until about step 500, my calves felt as if they were being chewed by bulldogs around step 300. 

Our whole group made it to the top, however, despite having some agoraphobes and nerdy old me included into the count. The view upstairs is completely worth it, especially for a first timer in the city of light. The view stretches out for miles and you can see most of the other famous Paris monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and and the Louvre quite easily.

Also, going down the steps is a million times easier than going up them. 

If it's the only item on your itinerary, I highly recommend taking the stairs up. The view from inside is quite different than the elevator and you get to really feel how much metal and engineering went into it when you're stepping up through the heart (or feet, I guess). If you have other things to do that day, as we did, then you may want to further consider it. We ended up exhausted by 3pm.

Also, another thing to consider is the queue, of course. The above picture was taken super early, but I took a series of pictures upon our descent of what PARTS of the queue looks like around 11am. 

After seeing that line, it becomes a bit more apparent why our professor made us trudge up the stairs in order to avoid the letter between P and R.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 1: Arrival at Cité a.k.a How Slow Can You Go?

When traveling, I can get a bit neurotic. Check-in time for the place we were staying at, an international housing complex called Cité Universitaire, was apparently at 2pm and not the 11 I thought it was. As a result I was quite early and at least got to sort out all my stuff before everyone else arrived.

But I didn't realize how weird time could be until everyone got here. Our group consists of 2 professors, 1 boy and 14 girls. The monumental slowness at which people get ready is awe inspiring. I honestly don't know how we're going to get anything done. It took us almost an hour to just get everyone downstairs and ready, and that's with the professor breathing down people's necks. When we decided to go out on our own with about 5 people to buy water, it was obscene how slowly people move.

Notre Dame
Which seems to get only slower when taking pictures. I'm not much a shutterbug, to the side you see one of the 5 pictures I took today on our walk to Notre Dame, but some people just spend hours and hours. This is fine normally, but not when we're a group of 17 that need to stick together with a professor who walk so fast we're worried he might break the sound barrier. We almost lost some people on the Paris Metro (which isn't a very hard thing to do. Paris Metro is very efficient, and therefore very much used and very much busy.) Not to mention the people who got caught behind traffic lights. This does not bode well for the rest of the journey.

If anyone is out there actually reading, be kind to the people in your tour group and don't delay them like this. It's cruel and my feet are still throbbing from the extra standing/walking time they brought upon us.

Of course, I suppose there's always that one picture you just have to take.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Parlez Vous Français?

In high school, I took two years of french, so naturally I know next to nothing about the language. What I've managed to retain is a jumbled mash of unconjugated verbs, phrases I learned from TV and the French songs that my mother would sing when we were little kids. The actual language I feel I can understand well enough; It shares similar roots to Spanish, my first language, and most words translate over just fine, but speaking the language is a whole different kettle of fish (maybe halibut, but I don't know how to say that in french either).

So once I decided that, yes I was going to spend a month in Paris, and that I didn't want to be a) a mute, or b) entirely clueless (mostly clueless is fine), I set about to try and get my french back up to some sort of conversational standard. Looking around, I found a variety of tools that might help me on my way, and here is a list of them.


The Babbel webapp is something that I had been using on and off since my high school attempt at the language. Back when I signed up, the program was like a group run watered down Rosetta Stone, where images would represent words and phrases and it would supply and teach you words related to certain themes like food or clothes or body parts. It also had a community, which I have toa dmit I didn't take advantage of.

Several years have passed and Babbel now has a LOT more features. It has grammar practice and the technology for the vocabulary is streamlined and precise.  Of course with all this refinement has come a price tag. The previously free application now works on monthly subscriptions.

In preparation of my trip, I decided to head back and found that I was sort of grandfathered in: allowed to review the words I "learned" when it was still free but unable to unlock any new content. Overall, a nifty program, but I had to admit I liked it much better when it was free.

Conclusion: Useful for vocabulary, but I can't speak for the grammar instruction.
Price: 12.95 a month. Less if you buy in bulk.

Ma France

Track of Ma France lessons
I only just discovered this webapp about a week ago. Hosted by the BBC, Ma France is a collection of 24 video lessons, ranging in topic from Food, to Directions to Dating. The videos come with both english or french subtitles, so you can follow along. After the viedo is done, the program includes a few short games to check vocabulary and grammar from the lesson.

The only apparent downside to the program is the fact that it's catered to people who already have a basic understanding of the language. My French II training is just enough to scrape me by and help expand my vocabulary, but it isn't quite at the level they assume you are.


Conclusion: Informative videos and a lot of conversation, but only for people who already have a solid base in the language.
Price: Free


While not a language learning tool on it's own, StudyBlue has become one of my new best friends when it comes to iPhone apps. Free to students, StudyBlue is a combination webapp/iPhone app that allows for the creation and sharing of flash cards. The system is great to use, with the program letting you mark the cards that you had wrong or right, use the cards others have created and sync with one of my all tie favorite applications, Evernote.

For the french study, I've been using it mostly for vocabulary and to refresh my verbs, but I can see myself using it for more than that later on.

Conclusion: Well organized and easy to use notecard application. 
Price: Free  with an .edu email


Finally, there is Fluenz, which is the program I've been using the most to help me with my French study. I've been fortunate enough that my family also expressed an interest in learning the language so we began to search for some kind of software that would help. Rosetta Stone seemed the obvious answer but we weren't fully convinced by the picture and text, full immersion, learn like a child kind of experience that Rosetta Stone was advertising.

But then we found Fluenz, and it was exactly what we were looking for. Fluenz is a 5 disk system that, like Rosetta Stone, tries to teach adults how to speak a foreign language, but unlike Rosetta Stone, Fluenz uses english and the english grammar you already know to explain concepts in French. 

I myself started from Disk 1, even though I did remember most of the material, but the place where Fluenz shines is it's grammar instruction. The explanation videos are always clear and concise, never too long, but clearly explaining the sentence structure, in relation to the language you already know. I'm already on Disk 2 and I've found the program to be exactly what I was looking for. With it's focus on conversation, real life situations, and clear grammatical explanations, I'd have to recommend the Fluenz system to anyone trying to learn a language on their own. 

Conclusion: Focus on real life conversations and thorough explanations make the program a delight to learn from. 
Price: $498 for the 5 disk set

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Introduction

Photo from Flickr and the Brooklyn Museum[Link]
Paris, the city of lights, the city of love, and the city where I'm going to have my first foray into the great wide world in more than one sense. 

To start, this is my first time introducing myself to the internet. Hello Internet (and those who dwell here), My name is Astrid and I'm a 3rd year Liberal Studies student from South Florida. I'm participating in a study abroad program at my school for the month of July and while I have travelled before, even been to France before, this will be a trip unlike any other I've had.

For starters, it will be my first time staying away from my family. I chose to save money by going to a smaller (cheaper) local college for my undergraduate degree and for that reason I've never moved out of the house. Since I'm in no hurry to get rid of my parents, and my parents are in no rush to boot me out of the nest, I find myself in a precarious position: wanting the freedoms afforded by stepping out on your own, but not feeling ready for all the risks involved. 

Which is why this month long stay in Paris will be my own little adventure in independence, as strange as that probably sounds. 

This is also my little adventure into blogging. For the two weeks leading up to a planned family vacation, I will try to blog about the preparations for the trip. Then there will be a two week (probable) black-out where an internet connection will be a big maybe for me. 

On July 1st, the daily blogging will begin. From the 1st to the 29th, I will write about my experiences as a study abroad student, and just a young woman spending almost 30 days in Paris.

I hope that my posts will be of some interest, and that you'll be able to follow me along for the time we'll have. 

Au revoir