Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Final Day in Paris

Our final day in Paris was a little stressful. We woke up and decided to just wander the city for a bit before going to see Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Opéra National de Paris. I ate a Croque-monsieur (French ham & cheese sandwich) for lunch from a small shop and we packed up our bags. The plan was to leave our luggage at the opera house, walk around Paris, eat a fancy dinner, go to the opera, and finally leave France.

We were given directions from a nice older French lady and were able to check our bags in at a souvenir kiosk in the main lobby (we were only permitted this because the attendant was nice). We then wandered the streets of Paris and indulged in some gelato before locating 'Chez Oscar' for dinner. For my final dinner in Paris I started with a Kir. This is a traditional French aperitif consisting of white wine (traditionally Aligote) with creme de cassis (blackcurrant liquor). I then tried my first, and possibly last, escargot. It wasn't too bad,  it just had a lot of garlic. My main course was a delicious and simple lamb dish.
Escargot & kir
Chez Oscar (not very busy at 5pm)

We finished dinner and headed to the Opera Bastille, the modern opera house in Paris. This opera house was designed in order to make the arts more modern and accessible to the general public, it was inaugurated in 1989. The production of Le nozze di Figaro was outstanding and the acoustics were amazing! The opera by Mozart was sung in Italian and the subtitles were in French, which I could slightly understand. I had a copy of the libretto in English so I was able to read along with the performance.
Me & Melanie in the Opera Bastille
Justin, Melanie, & Me at intermission.

Seeing this opera was a big deal for me. It was my 3rd opera and the first time I'd seen a production overseas. I loved the performance and Melanie and Justin even told me that they really enjoyed it. After the performance we bolted to the door, grabbed our bags, and pushed through people to the exit. We had approximately 40 minutes to catch the subway to the train station to catch a train to a bus station to catch a bus to the airport.
After a peaceful and wonderful day enjoying fine food and culture we ran through the metro in posh attire and carrying heavy suitcases. We reached the train station with 10 minutes to navigate to our train. We found where the train pulled in, but encountered an impasse. The metro system would only take credit cards for train tickets. European credit cards have smart chips in them (a lot like cell phone SIM cards), and the machines in the metro would not accept our 'swipe' credit cards. So naturally we hurled our luggage over the 4' tall doors of the gates and climbed over them. This worked perfectly, but not 50 yards away from the gates we noticed 5 security guards and a guard dog. Fast forward past 1 train ride and 2 buses and we were attempting to sleep on the floor of the Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for our plane back to London. The entire night this song from the opera was stuck in my head: Voi che sapete che cosa è amor (You ladies who know what love is, is it what I'm suffering from).  

Monday, 29 October 2012

Sacre Coeur & Eiffel Tower

For our penultimate day in Paris, we decided to check out the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (or Basilica of the Sacred Heart) de Montmartre. The church is built on the highest point in Paris and after walking up over 200 stairs, my friend Melanie and I attended a mass service slightly winded.
The inside of the church was gorgeous and the surrounding area  is bustling with shops, cafes, and vendors. Tourists visiting Montmartre should be weary of 'string men'. These men lure tourists (usually young women) into conversation and then quickly tie a bracelet around their fingers or hands. Then they demand payment for the bracelet. They're harmless if you ignore them, but it was entertaining to watch them circle people like sharks.   

We looked around the local shops and ate at a random cafe where Melanie kindly shared her cheese plate that had different delicious cheeses. From there we decided to see the Eiffel Tower. We took the metro to the Louvre and decided to walk to the tower so we could see more of Paris by foot. The walk was nice, but we grossly underestimated the distance because the tower looming in the distance always appeared to be a block away.
We finally arrived to the base of the tower and realized that the tower is huge! The first tier of the tower can be reached via elevator or by climbing 300 stairs. Reaching the second level requires climbing another 300 stairs or taking the elevator. We opted for the elevator for both levels. After waiting in an eternity of lines and listening to a large group of teenage Indian girls chattering, we reached the second level and took some photos of the surrounding city. 

After chatting with some Americans we proceeded to the third level. There are extremely long lines before getting on either of the lifts, but I suppose that can be expected at most-visited paid monument in the world.
Me & Melanie at the top of the tower.
Every hour at night the tower sparkles.

The Eiffel Tower is definitely beautiful and worth a visit, but I failed to see now it was romantic. Perhaps it was a combination of fatigue and the long lines...

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Paris: Day 2

Our second day in France began around 10 am with a croissant and jam at the hostel. Our complimentary breakfast also consisted of some kind of foreign chocolate cereal and an assortment of juices. After this quick tide-me-over we headed to the Lourve museum. When we stepped out of the metro station we noticed a group dressed in all black with crosses. After reading the banner and listening to their chanting I realized that they were speaking out against using animals as testing subjects.
Animal rights activists protesting outside the Louvre

After getting past the spectacle outside, we proceeded into the Louvre’s central courtyard. Seeing the glass pyramid in person was awesome and another reminder of ‘holy crap, I’m in France!’. After taking some touristy photos around the building and with the pyramid, we joined the cue (line) into the Louvre. The Louvre is the world’s most visit museum and spans over 650,000 square feet. Needless to say, we did not get to see the entire museum in the one day we were there.

We were able to see a lot of the statues and European paintings, as well as the famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Venus di Milo. My favorite painting was Paul Delaroche's Young Christian Martyr, painted in 1855.
 Paul Delaroche's Young Christian Martyr, 1855. 

Chatting with Minerva

Honey Boo Boo Child.

Mona Lisa

Venus di Milo

The Three Graces

The beautiful thing about the Louvre is that the entire building is a work of art. The ceilings and walls are adorned with statues and paintings and create an extremely beautiful sight.
Trim around the ceiling

 Just a ceiling.

 Room in the Louvre

Admiring some statues

After a full day at the Louvre we wandered the streets of Paris for a bit and stopped into a few local shops. We saw everything from putrid cheeses to debonair clothing. A cool thing about antique shops outside of the US is that they have objects that are centuries old. It's almost like browsing through a miniature museum! Having spent the day embracing culture and art, we decided to go out to a club that night. We found a good place in downtown Paris and wound up making some new French friends and having a blast!
  Before a night out in Paris!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Paris je t'aime.

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Paris with my two friends Melanie and Justin. It was my first time traveling to mainland Europe and it was a blast! Getting there involved an 8 hour bus ride that boarded a train under the English Channel. Though the ride was long, we were lucky to meet a Portuguese guy named Philippe who told us about Paris and even helped us buy the proper metro tickets once we arrived.
                        Notre Dame                                                           La Fountaine Saint-Michel

Wine presentation

Our hostel had a pet cat; meet Jesus.

I had always heard that Paris was dirty and that the people were unkind of foreigners. While the metro wasn’t as clean as the underground in London, it wasn’t nearly as dirty at the subway in NYC. Most of the people we met were extremely nice and helpful too! I think it may have helped that I could initiate a local in conversation in French and then ask him or her politely if they could speak English. My basic knowledge of pronunciation came in handy as well. It’s much easier to ask for directions if you can understand the name of your location.
The life-blood of France.

We arrived around 9am and navigated the metro system to our hostel. The Woodstock Hostel on the Anvers metro stop would be our home for the next 4 days. I highly suggest this hostel to anyone who is thinking of visiting France. The location is right next to Sacre Coeur, a huge Roman-Catholic basilica, as well as many cafés and shops. After settling into the hostel we promptly procured 3 bottles of wine from a corner shop. In France, it is not illegal to drink in public and the drinking age is younger.  Just so readers rest easy, we are all over the age of 21, so we can legally drink in the states, but drinking nice wine on the metro and while walking down the street was fun.

Out first stop was to a pastry shop on the corner of a street. The shop employee didn’t speak English, but was very nice as Mel, Justin, and I ordered 3 delicious pastries. The French don’t mess around with their dessert confectionary! After a quick snack we headed to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was absolutely beautiful! Many tourists look around the church and then go through the catacombs, but we opted to just tour the main church.  It was really cool checking out all of the artifacts, especially because of my Catholic faith. After a few pictures and a quick prayer we left Notre Dame and browsed the shops around the cathedral.

Notre Dame

Mel, Justin, and I were a little tired after the 8 hour bus ride to Paris and the day of walking around Paris, so after a little more wine we decided to have a quick dinner and hit the hay. We found a nice Japanese restaurant and had our first dinner in Paris. While Japanese isn’t quite the expected culinary adventure in Paris, the food was very good. I think as a general rule, all the food in Paris is good. After dinner we retired to our hostel, where we were joined by 3 other people. A couple from Brussels was already a asleep, but our third roommate, from Oregon, was awake. We got to know him a little over some wine and eventually went to bed. Over all, a good end to our first day in Paris.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Punting & Ranch Dressing

The title of this weeks blog represents it's high points. Oxford Brookes has been extremely busy lately. It’s right before the mid-term period, so big assignments are due and there’s quite a bit of work for everyone to catch up on. It’s funny to think that this time next week I will be in Paris! Beyond that I’ve started missing a couple things from the US. One such thing is ranch dressing. I got kind of desperate and ordered some off of Amazion.co.uk. It made me feel better that a roommate or two flocked to it once they realized that I had ordered it.  

I’m still getting used to the independent style of learning here. I think it’s been a wake-up call for all of the Americans here. I have my first assignment due for my Sound Recording class tomorrow and it’s about half way finished. It’s kind of scary to think that my first assignment for a class is 25% of my entire grade. Either way, I’m really enjoying the class. I learned how to add effects to recordings using a mixing desk in the last lesson. This class is helping approach music from a very scientific and functional standpoint, which is very different from my normal subjective approach to music.
Recording studio equipment, expensive and initially terrifying.


In other news I went punting with 6 friends yesterday! Punting is when you literally push a boat down a shallow creek with a long hollow rod. I was the first person to ‘steer’ the boat, which was a learning experience. Let’s just say that a long boat filled with 6 people doesn't heed well to a thin, metal pole. The October climate also made holding the cold, wet pole a real treat. While I wasn't the best captain, my friend Bank was a natural, and some others relieved me of my daunting post. After we got past constantly ramming into the banks of the creek the boat ride was beautiful! The leaves have just begun to fall and there were ducks and geese and people out enjoying the last few weeks of nice weather

After the bunting we headed to the Oxford Rendezvous for afternoon tea. We had attempted to go to the extremely posh Grand Café, but sadly they were full when we arrived. I concluded the afternoon with good conversation, a slice of cake, and a cup of English tea. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Oxford Open Weekend

A while ago I attended the Oxford University open weekend. It is a weekend that a number of Oxford colleges open their doors and invite the public in free of charge. It's pretty much the mother of all open houses all across Oxford. Needless to say, I was able to see a ton of perfectly manicured lawns, beautiful chapels, and dusty libraries. It's kind of hard for me to believe that people still live in these old, beautiful buildings.

 A typical Oxfordian quad.
and another...
Just enjoying the grass.

I've had the pleasure of meeting some different Oxford University students, so between open weekend and friends, I've been able to take a look into Pembrook, Magdalene, Jesus, Lincoln, Exeter, Christ's Church, and All Souls College. There may be one or two more in there somewhere, but I don't remember the names.
Chapel at All Souls College
The back of the chapel

It's very typical to see Oxford students or professors walking around the city center of Oxford in formal attire. This includes a suit coat and dress pants and a black gown. It pretty much looks like someone is graduating every day you walk down the streets of Oxford. Many colleges have formal dining halls that require this dress.
Oxfordian gown (I didn't take this picture)

Jesus College dining hall.
The set table.
Note the coat of arms for Jesus College