Friday, August 28, 2009

La Fin d'Été

Opa, Oma, me, Leah, Jessica-Phillips, and Ann in Fos
Les Calanques de Cassis (France)
Manarola, Cinqueterre (Italy)

After Rome, Ann and I spent a few days on the Italian Riviera at Cinqueterre. This national park has five villages (hence the cinqueterre) that over look the Mediterranean. Our hostel here was cute but strict, which, in a way, was nice after having spent two rough nights in a room with the rowdy Belgians. By saying “the rowdy Belgians,” I do not in any way wish to stereotype or generalize all Belgians as rowdy. Belgium is in the top three on my list of favorite European countries.

I have two lists. The first is ranked by the quality of scenery; the second is ranked by the quality of the people (this may be somewhat controversial). The first list, appearance, is as follows:

1. France (because of the variety of landscape: ocean, sea, alps, Riviera, camargue, and everything in between)

2. Scotland

3. Italy

4. Poland

5. England

6. Belgium

7. Spain

8. Czech Republic

It was challenging to rank the top 7. The Czech Republic, however, unarguably remains in eighth place. With the exception of Prague.

The second list, the quality of people, well….here we go.

1. Scotland

2. Spain/France

4. Poland

5. Belgium

6. Italy

7. Czech Republic

8. England

And, of course, there are always exceptions. Each of those countries is without a doubt amazing and should be experienced.

Back to Italy. The hostel in Cinqueterre seemed to be built for people like me…people who like having rules and who like to follow them. The “shower coins” were a little ridiculous, though. Every afternoon, we had to go to the front counter to get our daily shower coin, which granted us five minutes of shower use. The shower had a little slot to put the coin in, which would turn on the water, then, after five minutes, the water would shut off automatically. I forgive the hostel for this shower rationing, however, because they highly promote sustainable tourism and protecting the environment, which I guess makes since because it is in a national park.

The scenery in Cinqueterre is stunning.

After two days here, Ann and I finally returned to France after 9 days of traveling through Italy. Our good friends Jessica-Phillips and Leah Tucker (who caught up with us in Rome) caught up with us again in France. We’ve spent the past few days relaxing at Oma and Opa’s house, eating at Le Pili Pili, and visiting Provence. Yesterday we drove to Cassis and did a boat tour of the Calanques and then went swimming. To get into the water, we had to jump off high rocks…it was a thrill!

Tonight is my last night at my grandparents’ for a while. It is weird to think that my summer vacation is over. This has been my longest summer vacation ever. This weekend we journey to Toulouse to visit my cousins and on Monday I will be in Angers!


Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Peter wuz here"

Inside Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

So, the day of our arrival, Ann and I made our way to the Vatican. Not really knowing where to go, we decided the best idea would be to follow the crowd. This led us to Saint Peter's Square (which seems to me to be more of a circle...) and to a line of 4,000 people patiently awaiting entry into probably the most famous church in the world, Saint Peter's Basilica. Thankfully, the line moved pretty quickly. While waiting, there was absolutely no shade from the sun.

I now have a beautiful, striped tan line on my feet.

The basilica, on the inside, is awe-inspiring. The entire church is built from marble, and statues of saints and popes line the walls. Visiting this church was an amazing experience. It is so hard to believe that Peter was here, in Rome. I kept thinking "wow, Peter was here..." In any place less sacred, it wouldn't have surprised me to see something along the line of "Peter wuz her" inscribed on the walls, but the Basilica is just too perfect and beautiful. It is really moving to see hundreds of people from all backgrounds praying in this church. I had chills the entire time we were there.

Afterwards we whirled through the Vatican museum in order to see the famed Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was a genius. The ceiling looks as though it is in 3-D. It looks as if the angels in heaven can reach down and touch you. Also, it was really exciting to see, in the center of the ceiling, the famous image of God and Adam reaching to each other. That is one of my favorite images.

That night we took our friendly Rick Steves' tourguide book of Rome and did a night walk from Campo de Fiori to the Spanish Steps. All roads must lead to Rome because while eating at Campo de Fiori, we ran into some friends and their parents. From Campo de Fiori we walked to Piazza Navona. This is one of my favorite places we have visited here in Rome. Upon entering the Piazza, all eyes are instantly drawn to the center where there is a Bernini fountain depicting the four known continents during his time. In this Piazza, there are street musicians everywhere that create a lovely atmosphere.

From there, we went down an alley, turned a corner, and BAM! The Pantheon! I never would have guessed that the Pantheon is right in the center of Rome. is in such good condition! Here, we bought gelato (I got favorite) and we sat on a fountain and admired this Roman structure. We went back to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona again last night because we loved it so much our first night here.

After this, we continued to Trevi Fountain (also by Bernini) where we tossed coins and then made our way to the Spanish Steps.

Yesterday we did "Ancient Rome." This included the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, all of which are amazing and it is just mind boggling imagining how the Romans built all of it. It did surprise me (and kind of upset me) that inside the Colosseum people had carved their names on the wall. Peter wuz not there. The rest of the day we just walked around.

Today we are taking it easy. This morning we did laundry...we must have looked like hobos walking around town. We didn't have any bags to put our laundry in, so we walked about a mile from the hostel to the laundromat carrying our dirty laundry in our arms. It was cute.

Rome has been wonderful, but we are anxious to head to Cinque Terre. The hostel we are at right now is a little sketch. Last night we were awoken by rowdy Belgians coming into our room at 2 a.m. Then, I don't know what was happening, but around 2:30, people were definitely screaming expletives at each other in the hallway.

Oh how we miss Academy Hostel in Florence.

Two of our friends are coming to Rome this afternoon, so we will be hanging out with them. Then, tomorrow morning, we go to Cinque Terre!

Ciao Ciao!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Firenze, Italia

Duomo in Florence, Italy

After a looooong day of traveling yesterday, Ann and I finally arrived in Florence! It was beautiful arriving at night; the air was cool, every where we looked there were happy people strolling with bright varieties of gelato, and the piazza surrounding the famous duomo and baptistry was calm with pigeons and lovers sitting on its steps. Luckily, our hostel (which is amazing) is only steps away from the duomo. So, we dropped off our bags and then went for a night stroll around the city.

Today we've done so much, I don't even know where to begin. Basically, in one day, we've walked around the entire city and seen so many structures and statues that I've read about in books or learned about in class.

I also learned that I am claustrophobic; this discovery was made while hiking the 463 steps to the top of the duomo in a spiral staircase about the width of my body. It took about thirty grueling minutes to arrive at the top, my knees wobbling and my heart pounding. It's okay though because we had entertainment...someone around the bend in the staircase sang "stairway to heaven" as we ascended the steps to what might as well be heaven. It was a spectacular view.

I don't want to hog this public computer in our hostel, so I will quickly review the rest of the day. We visited Santa Croce (where Michelangelo, Donatello, Ghiberti, and others are buried), Ponte Vecchio (built in the 11th century...the only bridge in Florence not destroyed in WWII), Piazza San Lorenzo, which hosts a huge leather market and a cathedral, the train station (to reserve our tickets to Siena (tomorrow's day trip) and Rome (on Thursday), and walked, walked, walked, walked, walked.

Tonight we will be eating at a restaurant that has been highly recommended by many of our friends. It is called Coquinarius, and its specialties are pear ravioli and a steak with blueberry sauce. It sounds interesting and unique, and I've been told its the best meal I will ever have.

We've done so much, but what remains the most impressionable sight in Florence is the duomo. It is the biggest structure I have ever seen. Ever. And knowing that it was built in the 15th century blows my mind. For those of you who have been to Paris, the duomo here is, if I had to estimate, three times the size of Notre Dame. It's incredible.

I miss every one so much but I am definitely a very lucky girl to be able to go on this trip to Italy. It is really amazing. I hope to hear from all of you soon. Ciao!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Beef Crispy Onion Burger!

Chateau d'If, Marseille, France
View from Chateau d'If

Belcodène, France
Calanques de Cassis, France

It’s funny how ad campaigns sometimes get lost in translation. Everywhere….EVERYWHERE…I have seen billboards advertising the “Beef Crispy Onion Burger!” at Quick (a European fast-food chain). How………..not appealing. The greasy picture doesn’t help either. The ad is successful, though. As much as the media tries to make us think otherwise, when French people see English they see cool. They’ve even added the word “cool” (as in the American slang version) to their dictionaries. This reminds me of a story my business teacher told me. When KFC entered the Chinese market, they brought along their “finger-lickin’ good” campaign. It was only after their chicken strips weren’t selling that some smart person realized that the campaign had been lost in translation…in all the Chinese commercials and ads, what in English was “finger-lickin’ good” could only be translated as “so good you’ll eat your fingers off” in Chinese. Yummy!
On another note, I thought the weather here in France would be cooler than what I’m used to in Mississippi; however, temperatures have been just as high. There is less humidity, but my hair is curlier here…I have yet to figure that one out.
Friday afternoon I went to Marseille to pick up my friend Ann. She will be studying in Paris this fall, so we decided to do some traveling beforehand. We are using Oma and Opa’s house as a starting point. Side note: Friday was also the 50th anniversary of the day Oma and Opa met :)
Saturday was very busy. We started at Aix (en-Provence) where we had lunch with Oma and Opa and then went to an exposition of Picasso and Cezanne at musée Granet. The purpose of the exposition was to show the relationship between the work of Picasso and Cezanne. Picasso, a great admirer and collector of Cezanne’s work, found inspiration in Provence and lived in southern France for many years. My favorites were Cezanne’s paintings of L’Estaque (because Oma and Opa live next to it…it’s crazy seeing familiar terrain in famous paintings!) and Picasso’s “Jacquelyn and the Children.” Later that night, Ann and I went to Pauline’s (my roommate from freshman year) country house at Belcodene for a dinner party, but before doing so we headed to Les Calanques de Cassis. We hiked the calanque for about an hour-and-a-half; it is quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
The sightseeing hasn’t ended. Today, Ann and I drove to Marseille, got on a boat to ile d’If, and visited the infamous Chateau d’If. The prison, although it is known for its famous captives, is mostly dedicated to the novel that brought the island its fame: the Count of Monte Cristo. The boat that took us to the island was even named “the Edmond Dantes.”
Tomorrow the real adventure begins: Ann and I will board the train for Nice at Gare St. Charles (Marseille) and make our way to Firenze, Italia! We will spend three days in Florence, three in Rome, and three in Cinque Terre. Ah…la dolce vita!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Autumn in France (and other European adventures)

I figured that the best way to force myself to write about everything I do this fall would be to create a blog...knowing that friends and family will be looking here to see what I'm up to will give me reason to write! Other times that I've traveled I have told myself that I would write everything down in a journal. A lot of times (and regretfully...), that has not actually happened. So, here we go, my first attempt at blogging. I will try to make regular posts about my experiences of traveling and studying in Europe and France this fall. I already miss everybody so please keep in touch! I love emails (, snail mail (I will give you my mailing address once I know what it is), and feel free to leave posts on this blog! Bisous.
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