Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paris: You Don't Even Know

I'm not quite sure what this is. Anyone else know?

Second Floor View from the Eiffel Tower!
Even on a rainy day the Tower view is enamoring 
Paris-the city portrayed by Hollywood as pure romance, rich with decadent food, beautiful sights and even more beautiful people. Well, they pretty much nailed it. The romance definitely fills the air, as people flock to the city from around the world to show off how much they love each other. The food is beyond delicious, and the sights and people are more gorgeous than you could possibly believe. Despite the Hollywood perception, I was told by nearly everyone who had previously visited Paris that it was dirty, people were rude, and your stuff will most likely be stolen. I honestly dreaded going, even though I was so excited to see all of the famous landmarks I had heard so much about. Regardless of my intense paranoia upon arrival, I immediately relaxed when I saw the way the city functioned and how shockingly friendly and open most people were. Of course, there was the occasional unnecessary snob, but for the most part, everyone was relatively helpful and enjoyable. I was also so relieved that we had Suzie, who is studying in Paris and was definitely the most efficient and informative tour guide I have ever had (shout out, Suze). She took us to the best restaurants, the best parks, and certainly every attraction that would appease my tourism obsession.

We started our first day at the Eiffel Tower, which was, again, everything I expected and more. The structure itself is breathtaking in size and design, but I think being in the presence of such a historical work of architectural perfection was what really had me taken aback. We were unable to go all the way to the top, as it was closed for weather-related issues, but we did get to take the elevator to the second floor (thank God we didn't have to walk) for views that satisfied us just as much as sights from the top could. We proceeded to the market at Trocadero to pick up fresh bread, cheeses, meats and fruits, also making a stop at the famous Laduree for the tastiest macaroons I have ever tried, for a picturesque picnic in front of Les Arts Decoratifs. We walked through Le Carrousel de Louvre, which is basically just a really nice mall in close proximity to the main attraction. We saw the glass pyramid outside of the Louvre, as well as the beautiful buildings surrounding it, before traveling toward the Seine. After seeing the Thames of England and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, it's pretty safe to say I've seen enough enormous rivers for a lifetime, but the Seine was stunning nonetheless.

The Seine>The Thames
Acting like a jerk in front of the glass pyramid

No Hunchbacks to be found 
After walking for quite a bit, we ended up at the Notre Dame, which was unfortunately flooded with tourists obnoxiously posing around it despite the fact that it is a renowned church intended to receive the utmost respect. In any matter, it was dramatically beautiful, and I say this because no picture could ever do it justice as it would be leaving out some angle that could make it that much better. At this point, we were ravished, so we went to Le Petit Chatelet, a tiny establishment with a quiet atmosphere. I felt so French, as I had escargot, duck and profiteroles! Too good. Too French.

Sacre Coeur-majestic
The next morning, we took a stroll to Sacre Coeur, a gorgeous church not far away from our hostel. Of course we had to get some pan au chocolat, and of course it was delicious. We enjoyed our croissants as we passed the most French streets, including an artists' market, that seemed straight out of a movie. The Arc de Triomphe was the next stop, and it looked like it was cut and pasted against the bluest sky Paris has possibly ever seen. This pointed us in the direction of Champs de Elysees, a miles-long street strung with both high-end designers (Louis Vuitton) and the common-man brands (Levi's). It was a really interesting combination of American, French and other European stores, and lead us to our next destination, Angelina's.


Arc de Triomphe
Laduree: macaroon town

Angelina has a special place in my heart

Suze and I in front of Palais du Luxembourg
Angelina's was an intimidatingly-beautiful eatery where we were delighted with the thickest, chocolatiest hot chocolate and toast with homemade jams. It really hit the spot, and energized us enough to move onto the Opera, which had limited access, but the outside was substantial with the perfect statues and architecture. Palais du Luxembourg was next on the list, and it's floral arrangements put Elon's to shame, something I never thought possible. Every color is represented in the flowers strewn around the palace, and the accompanying gardens, fountains and statues just add to the fact that you will never see a prettier sight. After seeing the French Pantheon, which I don't really need to explain without sounding entirely repetitive, we decided to go to La Marais. This was the "Jewish quarter" in the pre-Holocaust era, and traditionally Jewish and other Middle Eastern cuisine could be found on every corner. I got some Challah and hummus, Courtney and Suzie got their snacks, and we sat in the cutest park and just enjoyed Paris. The many vendors and markets on the streets held our attention with trinkets and vintage records before we felt it was time to eat yet again.

We had a bit to wait, but we went to Breizh, a creperie in La Marais, for traditional Brittany crepes. I had never had savory crepes, so I went all-out with an egg, chorizo and cheese concoction for dinner, and another covered in chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Pantheon: not the Italian one...
After saying goodbye to our amazing tour guide, Court and I went back to the hostel to gather our things to go on our overnight bus (blech!) BUT we had to make sure we made a pit stop at the Moulin Rouge! I was scared to be in the area basically because I've heard horror stories about getting mugged and what not, but I absolutely had to go and I don't regret it one bit! It was such a lively, lit up place, very reminiscent of Las Vegas, even though I've never been there, but it was similar to what I'd imagine it to be. It was a great way to end the short, but action-packed trip, and I was so happy we got to see everything we'd planned. Paris was extraordinary, it was exactly as I pictured it but also completely different simply because I wasn't seeing it through a screen. I loved the food, the people and the places we visited, and I could only hope I'll be lucky enough to revisit, hopefully with a bit more time!


Thanksgiving in London

What a better place to give thanks for your freedom, family and privilege than in the nation your ancestors fled from hundreds of years ago! Obviously I would rather be in London than the boring States, but I definitely would've liked to see my family and friends for one of my favorite holidays of the year. I went to my internship that day, and was asked questions such as "So Thanksgiving, is that sort of a big deal?" or "Does everybody in America celebrate it?" While at first I was absolutely repulsed by the fact that people might not actually understand the significance of perhaps one of the greatest days of the year, I had to catch myself. That's simply the problem with Americans, we assume everyone follows our every move and would never question something so important to us, but we must understand that the world does not revolve around us. Besides, there is so much we don't know about them. For example, for a period of time in November, nearly everyone had a small poppy pinned to their lapels, but I just thought it was some goofy British tradition. In fact, it signifies something more important than anything a huge turkey feast could: the men and women that have died in the name of their beloved nation.

On Thanksgiving day, we certainly didn't have the same amazing dishes we'd normally have at my house, but it was a fair trade. I had a delicious butternut squash soup as my first course, followed by the main course: turkey, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce, jalapeno cornbread (I think-it burned my entire mouth), sweet potatoes and veggies; followed by a sub-par, yet still pretty good pumpkin pie (I'm sorry, the British just can't make it the same!). I would have been devastated if I couldn't at least have turkey with a few sides on Turkey Day, so this was a pleasant surprise and completely free-thanks Elon!

I will just come right out with the cliches and say there was so much for me to be thankful for this year. I've been doing well in school in terms of grades (knock on wood), I've had the absolute privilege to be able to live, study and work in the most amazing city in the world, while traveling to various cities in Europe that were culturally and aesthetically magnificent. Living in an entirely alien environment has helped me improve so many aspects of my own life, and I have seen and done things I would have never imagined. Thankful does not even cover it, in fact, it pales in comparison to what I truly feel for the lifestyle I have been so lucky to lead in these past months. I have learned to be content with everything I do, especially while abroad, and I'm so excited to make the most out of these next few weeks before I journey back to the good old U.S.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Doing What I Do Best-Tourism!

The amazing set of Wicked

Things have been going well with my new internship at The Children’s Society, as I have grown accustomed to a true work environment and schedule. It has been a bit difficult to balance the two classes that have continued into the second phase of the program with a three-day work week, and now a supplementary internship class. Regardless of the workload, I am enjoying experiencing a true London lifestyle. There are so many elements of being a true Londoner, and I believe I have managed to accomplish at least a few of them. I have finally learned not to force myself to get to everything in London, and I’ve realized that it’s more important to do things because I want to, not because I feel I should in the mad rush of a four-month study abroad program.
Last week, I finally had the chance to see the famed Wicked, a visual and aural masterpiece of magnificent proportions. The stunning cast included two leads, Elphaba and Glinda, who absolutely stole the show. The remainder of the cast was certainly superior, and equalled the reputation of the renowned production. The cast showcased the vividly-designed set and intricate costumes, in addition to their amazing singing and dancing. I was blown away by the performance, and I would be more than happy to see the show over and over again. It surpassed my expectations, becoming my favorite musical to date. Perhaps the best part of Wicked was the fact that I was seated in the eleventh row, giving me the closest view to an unbelievable night at the Apollo Victoria. 
Field of Remembrance at Wesminster Abbey
In the past several weeks, I have seen replicas of red poppies pinned on the lapels of most Londoners’ suits and jackets. I never really bothered to clarify the significance of these flowers, but I soon discovered that they are an emblem meant to pay tribute to those in the Armed Forces that have fallen in the line of duty. To add to this, there is a Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, which was crowded with people urgent to pay their respects. The display was beautiful, and it made the issue of the non-liberties of war universal.
Borough Market-where dreams come true.
The Borough Market is located near London Bridge, and is a true gem of London culture. It is certainly not the only market of its kind, but it has a unique appeal. It is only open at specific times on specific days, but it is always crowded when it is actually running. A spread of cheeses, jams, wines, meats and other commodities are available for purchase, as well as a slew of hot dishes and sandwiches. Nearly every product can be tasted, and nearly every product is probably the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Fresh and homemade, the market’s entire selection is a great addition to London’s culture.
Fish at the London Aquarium
Astronaut suit at the Science Museum

Outside of the On the Road exhibition at the British LibraryI also recently visited both the London Aquarium and the Science Museum, which I was delighted to see, though they were definitely not the most genuinely British things I’ve seen. The British Library is not far from my internship, and I absolutely had to see the On the Road exhibition, which showcased Jack Kerouac’s novel as well as the rest of the Beat Generation. After taking a class based on this set of authors and poets last Winter Term, I fell in love with their works and knew I had to attend the exhibition, which included Kerouac’s original version of his novel written on a 120-foot scroll.
Outside of the British Museum

Main Concourse within the British Museum
The British Museum was my next destination, which was amazing, as I spent nearly three hours there and barely conquered half of the galleries. This is a result of Britain’s overambition in attempting to include absolutely every artifact that is remotely British, with every piece of history the Brits have had any possible connection to. I had to be extremely strategic in the areas I wanted to cover, and I ultimately weeded out the less-desirable aspects to make for a pleasant visit.

Horse Guard-didn't budge
Some friendly guards outside of the gated Number 10

British ChinaTown-not the same!
Leicester Sq. (you can't tell, but it's lit up with Christmas lights!)

National Portrait Gallery
View of National Gallery from Trafalgar Square

The most recent sights I’ve seen were Leicester Square, Whitehall and Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. Leicester Square is the setting for Her Majesty’s Theatre, the Odeon, the Hippodrome and London’s very own China Town. Not comparable to New York’s cultural district, but still a fun an exciting escape from Britishness! Whitehall is an avenue containing many governmental bodies, including the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet and 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron currently resides. Trafalgar Square is a historical mecca, with dozens of memorial statues, glorious fountains, and even the world’s smallest police station. Also located in Trafalgar Square are the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. The former is an enormous collection of artwork, largely paintings, separated by time period and/or artist. I wouldn’t exactly call myself an art appreciator, I guess as a result of my lack of intellectual depth, but I still loved looking at so many world-famous pieces of artwork. My fascination continued into the National Portrait Gallery, which is pretty much exactly as it sounds, a huge collections of portraits. My favorite gallery was the Marilyn Monroe room, which followed the history of portraits taken of the icon. I gained a bit more respect for the study of art, but it’s hard for me to say I’d like to spend most of my days observing artistic works. 

The World's Smallest Police Station!
I think it’s safe to say that I’m doing everything I can while in London. When I put it into perspective, I realize that I live here. So many people that are native Brits have expressed to me that they haven’t done half of the things I have. I am definitely continuing my exploration of London until the day I leave, but knowing that I could leave today with the reassurance that I have covered more of a foreign city than I have of my own hometown gives me a huge sense of relief. I plan on spending the remainder of this think it’s safe to say that I’m doing everything I can while in London. When I put it into perspective, I realize that I live here. So many people that are native Brits have expressed to me that they haven’t done half of the things I have. I am definitely continuing my exploration of London until the day I leave, but knowing that I could leave today with the reassurance that I have covered more of a foreign city than I have of my own hometown gives me a huge sense of relief. I plan on spending the remainder of this program just doing what I do and enjoying every step of the way, just as I’ve been doing. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Midterm Break Part Four: Swiss Adventures


We were so sad to leave Italy, it was so welcoming and beautiful (and delicious) and we didn’t want to go! But we already booked the hostel in Interlaken, so we said Ciao! and went forth into Switzerland. I expected a snowy excursion with hot chocolate by the fire, the relaxation after a fun but busy week in Italy, but the Swiss would have none of that. The hostel we stayed at hosted a number of activities, such as skydiving, canyon jumping and paragliding. However, we were in between seasons and it was tough to book certain things. 

Courtney, Suze and Me
Visitors to Interlaken typically know to go on the Top of Europe, where you basically take a cable car on a 2.5 hour trip up the most enormous mountain to the highest point of Jungfraujoch. I did not partake in that adventure, as I was completely satisfied looking over Interlaken from the beautiful village of Murren. Murren, was the most picturesque town I have ever seen, and the closest to Candyland it could possibly be. Our cozy hostel did provide a venue to sip hot chocolate and lounge around, which we did plenty of (a true vacation, I’d say), although we did feel guilty not doing the crazy adventurous things everyone else was doing. 

Such an attractive picture of me!
As a result, we decided to go horseback riding. I am not the biggest fan and I was definitely hesitant, but I like to think I’m somewhat open-minded, so I gave it a whirl. Somehow Courtney and I were the only ones to be placed on horses without guides, so we were largely left to our own devices. Surprisingly, we were the only ones without issues, as it seemed everyone else’s horse was trying to buck its rider off, run off course, or trying to eat the other horses (yes, eat). So we got lucky, but our mishaps caused us to miss the Chocolate Show we planned on attending. Of course we wouldn’t dare go without the chocolate, so we got some treats of our own and were perfectly fine. 

This picture does not do the water any justice...
One thing I found remarkable was that the water was gorgeous in Switzerland, and is actually quite drinkable despite warnings to refrain from drinking foreign water. The Aare river in Matten, near Interlaken, was an intense shade of blue that I have actually never seen naturally occurring, but it was so beautiful I didn’t question it! The Swiss are very interesting people, a combination of French and German that is unique to this nation. Another thing unique to Switzerland is the Swiss Franc, which surprisingly is not possible to exchange anywhere in Britain, if you can imagine my dismay. I loved Switzerland because as much as I loved Italy and I enjoyed every sight and every touristy thing we did, it was my real vacation, a vacation from a vacation if you will. Instead of running around trying to get everything done, I was finally able to go at my own leisure, and I appreciated that so much about Switzerland that I would absolutely love to go back just to capture that peacefulness. 
Out of this world!

Favorite Meal: Anything that had to do with Swiss chocolate or Swiss cheese, which was every meal. Swiss cuisine is extremely rich and hard to have for every meal, so a baguette and some Swiss mountain cheese was fine by me!

Midterm Break Part Three: Firenze Forever

In between Rome and Florence, we went off of a stranger’s recommendation to go to the small village of Orvieto. Although it was beautiful and had an excellent view, it certainly was not at the top of my list of favorite Italian cities. 

I was so excited for Florence because of all of the stories I’ve heard from people who previously studied abroad there, including Katie (my sister for the random people that read this blog). When we arrived, we set down our things and went to an Elon club soccer game against another study abroad program. It was so fun cheering on fellow Elon-ers in a foreign country, and I loved that everyone got so involved to support their classmates! 

We went to dinner at O’Vesuvio’s, which I mention only because the cast of the Jersey Shore worked there during their season in Florence, and it definitely did not disappoint. After a night out, we went to the infamous Secret Bakery for the most delicious chocolate croissants in the entire universe, and yes, I’ve tried them all. It was definitely a treat, and I was so happy I could actually go to one of the same places Katie went when she was abroad. I couldn’t wait for the tourist attractions, but I was most excited to barter at the leather market! I absolutely had to purchase an authentically Italian leather jacket, and I absolutely did, with a bit of negotiation, of course. 

We stayed right near the Ponte Vecchio, which not only provided us with an excellent view, but also a convenient distance to the gold shops. It was overwhelming looking at all of the intricate jewelry, but even more overwhelming for my bank account (sorry mom & dad…)! We were also able to ride the carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica, which brought us back to our childhoods and was completely necessary. We saw the famous Duomo, and climbed all 463 steps to the top to see the magnificent view of the city of Florence. I took a picture from just about every angle, but I simply could not believe what I was looking at, as it was unbelievably stunning. 
The rain hindered us from continuing past a late lunch, but it was Halloween, so we went back to get dressed up for the night in our costumes! By costumes I mean put on witch hats, but costumes nonetheless. Upon yet another recommendation, we went for a family style dinner at Il Gato, which consisted of several courses and several bottles of wine! It was such an amazing time, and it concluded a great day. 

The next morning was again wet and cold, but Courtney and I were insistent on going to the Piazzale Michelangelo. We were almost blown over the cliff by the intense monsoon coming our way, but we were simply happy to see the Piazzale and Il David. 

Favorite Meal: Tie. Bagel with veggie cream cheese and lox (yes, I got a NY bagel in Florence, but I couldn’t help myself and it was the best bagel I’ve ever eaten-it just hit the spot!). VERSUS meal at Il Gato: A cold antipasto with meats, fresh mozzarella, roasted vegetables; three different pasta dishes including truffle-pesto ravioli, penne alla vodka and some other unidentifiable dish that was delicious regardless; accompanied by limoncello and plenty of wine as well. 

Midterm Break Part Two: Doing as the Romans Do (How Cliche...)

The Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain
  Our next stop was Rome, perhaps the most culturally and historically rich place I have ever been to, and within such a small area. In the late afternoon, we arrived at our hostel, which had the greatest people working there, as they pretty much mapped out our tour of Rome by giving us the best places to eat and buy tickets for our daily activities at the best prices. I was a bit overwhelmed by everything I wanted to do in Rome, but everything was in close proximity and the city was relatively easy to navigate. Upon arrival, we had just enough time to go to the Spanish Steps, which were as grand as I could’ve ever imagined. Next we went on to Trevi Fountain, a majestic piece of art crowded with people just waiting to throw a coin over their shoulder into the water in hopes of returning to Rome again. Me being the tourist I am, threw two coins, which means I have double the chance, right? 
Cortile Della Pigna

St. Peter's Basilica
The next day, we woke up bright and early to go to Vatican City, which has been a dream of mine forever not only because it is a religious haven, but because it holds so much historical and cultural meaning to the remainder of Italy. Erin and I went through the amazing galleries of the museums, in addition to the Cortile della Pigna, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I really cannot describe the brilliance of the intricate paintings and sculptures within each of these locales without bringing about some indignity, so I will sum it up by saying everything I ever look at from now on will be ugly and insignificant! 
One of the many displays in the Vatican Museums
Obviously this is an overstatement, but everything definitely loses a bit of its significance when compared to the artwork of the Vatican. Later on, we went to the Pantheon, another masterpiece, as well as several Forums and Piazzas within Rome to get the full Roman experience. 
The Pantheon: don't judge a book by its cover!
The Ruins of the Roman Forum (Foro Romana)

We somehow managed to find ourselves in yet another Irish pub that night in Rome, but it was karaoke night, so it was justified. On our final day, we visited the Colosseum to take a tour of the structure. Obviously a grand monument, the Colosseum holds more significance when its history is fully known and you are able to understand the importance of the events that occurred there. Rome mostly consisted of sightseeing, which was right up my alley, and everything we saw, did and ate seemed to be the best thing I’ve ever seen, done or eaten until I went on to the next thing!
The Colosseum

Favorite Meal: We were referred to this adorable family-run restaurant and were pretty much the only customers they had all night, so we went big. We started off with bruschetta and bread, then I had Chicken Milanese and Spaghetti Pomodoro, finishing off the meal with Tiramisu. Decadent, yes, but absolutely worth it!