Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winter Break in Germany

Bonjour!

Christmas ended up being really nice. We all Skyped our families and hung out around the apartment. It was a totally lazy, junk food filled, comfortable day.

I Skyped with my family while they opened presents, then called my family in Colorado, then Skyped with family in Texas. The worst part of the day was waiting for everyone in the US to wake up so I could talk to them.

The next day we woke up early to catch our train to Frankfurt. Once in Frankfurt, we picked up our rental car, and ran to check into our hotel.

That day, we visited our first castle, Marksburg. This castle has been lived in for 700 years and has never been destroyed. It was here that we got our first taste of winter in Germany. It was cold. It hadn't even snowed yet and we were freezing. We took a tour of Marksburg, then went back to the car as fast as we could to turn on the heater.

The next day, we woke up to snow falling. The roads were slick so we had to drive slower than we would have liked. We visited four castles, but we weren't able to go into any of them. They were beautiful from the outside, but it would have been nice to see more of them.

That night we stayed in Mannheim. The next morning, we went to Heidelberg to see their castle. It didn't open until mid morning, so when we got there we had a couple hours to kill. We started with a nice breakfast at Starbucks. It was so cold outside that early in the morning. Heidelberg was absolutely beautiful, though. I would like to go back and see it when it's a bit warmer and I have more time to spend there.


Even after Starbucks, we had some time before the castle opened. We drove up one of the mountains to see an amphitheater that was built to present Nazi propaganda. It was so incredible. You may not know this about me, but my favorite thing to learn about in all of history is the Holocaust. I think it is so interesting. I've read personal accounts and memoirs and history books all about it. This is why coming to Germany was so exciting for me.

Anyway, this amphitheater was huge. It's called Thingstätte. Standing on the stage, I could just imagine the kind of things that went on there and the people who had sat in the stands listening to what was being taught. The rallies were probably amazing. They still hold festivals there today.


Also on the mountain was a nice tower that looked out over the town and had a clear view of the castle on the other side of the valley. It was open, so we climbed to the top to take pictures. It was very cold and icy up there.



Thingstätte was probably my favorite part of the trip so far. When we came down the mountain, the castle was finally open. After finding a place to park, we took a bus and a train to get to it. Once there, we took a tour. It was kind of nice. So much of the castle has been destroyed, but what was left was neat. There were so amazing views of Heidelberg from up there. Heidelberg is a very picturesque town.



From Heidelberg, we made our way to Stuttgart for the night. The next day we visited Hohenzollern castle. It was on the tippy top of a mountain and I don't think I've ever been as cold as I was that day. I thought I was going to die up there. (Or maybe just lose a few toes.) At the car, the temperature was -8° Celsius (17° Fahrenheit), but I think it was probably colder than that at the top, plus there was wind chill.

The castle itself was beautiful. It felt more like a palace than the other castles we had been to. Also, there were two chapels-- a Catholic chapel and a protestant chapel. I'm not sure why. This particular castle overlooked a major trade route and would help protect the merchants who passed by.



Inside the castle, it wasn't much warmer than outside, but at least it was protected from the wind. In some rooms, the snow was coming in through the cracks in the windows. We were on a German tour, but we had talked to the tour guide on the way to the castle so she knew we spoke English. She was kind enough to repeat a lot of the tour to us in English.

By the end of the tour, Lizette and I were miserable. I'm sure I've experienced colder temperatures, but I've never spent several hours in freezing temperatures before. I don't like to be outside in the snow at all. (We'll call this whole trip an opportunity for me to grow a little.)

When we finally got back to the car, we turned the heaters on full blast. It took a solid hour for my feet to feel normal again. Thankfully, our plan for the rest of the day was just to drive through the Black Forest. We got there just before it got too dark to see anything. We took the road called Schwarzwaldhochestraße. The forest was beautiful, especially with all the snow on the trees. The Black Forest was more white than black!

Our GPS (we named her Frau Helga) took us on every back road to get us home that night. It was pitch black outside and a lot of the time, I think we were the only car on the road for miles. It was snowing pretty heavily for awhile, so I was nervous until we made it back to the hotel. (Joe is a really great driver and wasn't even a little bit worried.)



The next day, we went to Ulm. The Ulmer Münster (Ulm Cathedral) is the tallest cathedral in the world. (At least it will be until (if) the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is completed.) It stands 161 meters tall. On a sunny day, visitors can climb to the top (768 steps!!). Unfortunately, we did not visit on a sunny day, so we only got to climb 70 meters. (Which was quite the workout all by itself. I was definitely out of breath and a little dizzy.)



At first, the spiral staircase was completely enclosed, but after maybe 20 meters, there were windows that were open to the outside. There was snow on the steps and it was still snowing, so it was pretty chilly up there. I'm afraid of heights to begin with, so anytime we climb a tower or any spiral staircase I find it challenging. I've never climbed one with windows to the outside that went up so high. I was hanging on to the center column for dear life.



When we finally reach the landing, we were all out of breath, but the views were amazing. I would like to try to climb to the top one day, so hopefully I'll make it back to Ulm, Germany.

From Ulm, we made our way towards Füssen, where Neuschwanstein Castle is located. We barely missed the closing time, but we're hoping to make it back later in the trip.

Again, Helga took us on every backroad in Bavaria to get us to Füssen. It was snowing and everywhere I looked, it was just fields of beautiful untouched snow. We passed through many small towns where the townsfolk were out building snowmen or sledding down the hills outside of town. 




The town of Füssen is really cute. It didn't stop snowing the whole time we were there. I walked the streets for a little bit after we arrived and there were kids and families out in the streets playing in the snow together. It was such a pleasant evening.



On Christmas Day, we hit the 4 month mark of being in Europe. The halfway point is coming up soon too. I find myself feeling more homesick than usual. I long for the familiar. In Poitiers, I've gotten comfortable, but it's not familiar to me like home is. I know that so much will be different when I return because that's just how life is. While I'm living my life here, everyone I know has lived their lives too. I won't be the same when I get back and its likely that the people I know won't be the same either.

I've got 4 more days in Germany, then I'll be gone in Poitiers briefly before we take off on another trip. Unfortunately, that trip won't be any warmer than this one has been!

Je t'embrasse,
Sarah

Click here to see the rest of my pictures from Germany!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas!

Bonjour!

I cannot believe Christmas is already here! (Well, tomorrow.) I feel like it got here so quickly. December was a busier month for me-- especially the last 2 weeks.

Last week marked the end of my first semester in France. I gave my last presentation and took my last test, and let me just say that my group killed it in this class. We were basically awesome. (If you want, you can ask me about it! I'm more than a little proud of what we did.)

Friday was an emotional day for a lot of people at FBS. Most of the students were leaving Poitiers for the last time that day and weekend. I said goodbye to some good friends. It was harder than I thought it would be to see them all go.

I took Friday night to walk around Poitiers with a few friends. Poitiers is such a cute town. I love walking down the streets to see the Christmas lights. We went through the park and to City Center. We walked for a long time before we finally said goodbye.

Parc Blossac

Next semester, I get to meet all of the incoming students and start over with new friendships. I'm a little nervous about this, but I'm sure it'll be great.

I may have mentioned in the last blog that we were going to be spending Christmas in Frankfurt, but we had a slight change of plans at the last minute. We could not find anywhere in Frankfurt that would take us in over Christmas. So, we decided to spend Christmas in Paris and then leave for Frankfurt a few days later than we had originally planned.

It has turned out to be great anyway. I think I'm slowly falling in love with Paris. Everyone seems to have this idea that Paris is the be-all end-all of perfect, romantic cities. I've always been skeptical. It's nice, but at first it just seemed like another city to me. Now that I've been here several times, I'm beginning to feel the magic. (But, Barcelona will always have my heart.)


Our first day here, we went shopping for ingredients for our Christmas feast. Shopping is sometimes so difficult because the things we're familiar with using are oftentimes not available. We made due and had a wonderful dinner on Christmas Eve.

After the grocery store, we visited Galeries Lafayette. It's an enormous mall. On the top floor there is a landing outside on the roof that has a great view of the Eiffel Tower. The inside of this place is magnificent.


When we left the mall, we started walking towards the Champs-Elysees Christmas Market. It stretched the entire length of Champs-Elysees. There was so much to see! It was cold outside so I grabbed some vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and started walking. There were so many booths offering all kinds of things. It was a beautiful experience.

That night we lazed around the apartment until bedtime.

On Christmas Eve day, we started at the Catacombs. After standing in line for nearly an hour and a half, we finally got to go down. The first little bit of the tour is just long winding tunnels. When we finally got to the grave area, I was so excited. There were so many more bones than I had imagined. They seem to go on forever and ever and ever. They aren't just piled around haphazardly; there's an artful order to it all.


We went briefly to the Eiffel Tower, but decided that a ride to the top wouldn't work with our plans. So, we headed back to the apartment to cook dinner before we left for midnight mass.

Our Christmas Eve feast consisted of salad, corn, mashed potatoes, and roast chicken. It was incredibly delicious and we had a good time together.

Not long after finishing, we went to Cathedral Notre Dame for mass. It began at 11pm. It started with a choir that sang all of our favorite Christmas songs. The actual mass began at midnight, but we were exhausted and decided to skip that.


The organ and choir mix was breathtaking. We didn't have good seats, so we couldn't see anything, but just hearing that music was magical in itself. Near the end, there was an organ solo. It was so powerful and emotional. It felt deep and dark, then it would swell into a booming crescendo.

There was easily 1,000 people in attendance. The seats were packed and there were people sitting on the floor (like us) and standing in the aisles. The service was being broadcast onto a screen outside the church also so there was a crowd watching from there.

We got back to the apartment at around 1:15am. You know how boring we are when it comes to the nightlife, well, tonight we actually went out past our bedtime. We went a little crazy and went to church!

Have a Very Merry Christmas!

Je t´embrasse,
Sarah


You can click here for the rest of the pictures from Christmas in Paris!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Semester's End

Bonjour!

Another week has come and gone. I only have two more days of class this semester and I am so ready to be finished with this last class. I had class last Thursday and Friday and again Monday and Tuesday. Today is my day off this week. Tomorrow I have a presentation to make and Friday a test to take.

Tests here are kind of odd. I hadn't taken any the whole semester and then these last two weeks I've had to take three. In two of them, they gave us a list of questions and told us to pick 5 to answer and write about. So they're really not very hard at all. If you pay attention is class, which I do (most of the time), you can pretty well write a satisfactory answer. The other test I took was our French Exam. I was a little nervous about this one. We learned quite a few irregular verbs with irregular conjugations, so I was worried about remembering them all, but I think I did really well.

Basically, not a lot is going on here. Ah, but we did go bowling! Alois, Lizette, Joe, and I went Saturday evening to the bowling alley here in Poitiers. It's way outside of city center, but it was worth it. We had a good time. That was the last time we were going to be able to hang out with Alois before he moves back to Germany. He's leaving this weekend after classes are over.

Lizette has been working on our travel plans. We're going to Germany!! We'll spend Christmas in Frankfurt and New Years in Munich. We're renting a car so that we can drive the countryside to see all of the castles and landscapes. Roadtrip!! I have missed cars so badly. There is nothing more therapeutic for me than taking a long drive. I'm especially excited just that we get to have a car.

I'm also excited for the concentration camp we get to go to! The Holocaust is my favorite part of history, so I've always wanted to go to Germany. I'm hoping I'll be able to go to Poland to see Auschwitz while I'm in Europe. I'm currently reading two books about the war to prepare myself for this trip. I am beyond ecstatic for Germany!

It's almost counter intuitive that we're going to a cold and snowy place for Christmas when we could be going to Spain or Portugal where it will be warm. Even with the snow, I am incredibly happy to spend this season in Germany. Come to think of it, we probably should have saved the warm places for the winter... oh well. Too late now!

You want to hear something sad? I have done a very minimal amount of Christmas shopping this year. I've bought 3 things so far. Haven't even started on my family. They're definitely not getting anything in time for Christmas or even New Years. (Their presents might make it to them by Valentine's Day.) That's so sad because I love buying Christmas presents! I've really done a terrible job this year. (I have bought wayyy too many Christmas chocolates, though. Those Ferrero Rocher balls are just too darn good.)

Sorry these have been short and boring the last few weeks. It's crazy, but when I actually have classes I don't get to do anything exciting. Imagine that. Things will pick up again. Next semester, I'll be busy in the second half of January and first half of February, then I have a crazy long break, then I'll be super busy in May before I come home!!

On Christmas Day, we will have been in France for 4 months. This semester went by so fast. I'm not complaining though; I got to do some incredible things the past 4 months. I'm glad it's not dragging on forever. I need the days to keep passing because every day I know I'm that much closer to being in the states again. I will enjoy every day here and look forward to making it back home.

Je t'embrasse,
Sarah




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving Week

Bonjour, mon ami!

It has been the best of weeks. I had so much fun with my family here. I loved guiding them around Paris and showing off Poitiers. I'm pretty sure they had a good time too! (I'll warn you now, this is a really long post.)

The craziness began for me two Fridays ago. Their plane was scheduled to land in Paris at 10 am or so on Saturday, but there wasn't a train from Poitiers that would get me there early enough to meet them when they landed, so I had to stay in Paris for the night. It was quite the ordeal just getting there. So many things went... not exactly wrong, but definitely not as planned. By the time I got to my hotel room, I was exhausted mentally and physically.

Early the next morning, I set out for the airport. Paris Charles de Gaulle is incredibly, overwhelmingly huge. However, the place makes for some darn good people watching (one of my favorite pastimes). I arrived quite early so I had plenty of time to observe my fellow man.

When they finally arrived, we hit the ground running. From the airport we had to catch a bus to take us to Gare Montparnasse, then took the Metro, then walked the rest of the way to the hotel. I told them before they arrived that it would be a hectic day, but I'm not sure they were expecting all of that. (I also warned them about the many millions of stairs they would encounter, but I'm not entirely sure they took me serious about that either. They learned.)

After we stowed our luggage at the hotel, we started with Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Of course it was beautiful. This was the first time any of the three had been in a church that old or that ornate. It was a good place to start.


From there, we went to Sacre-Coeur. Even though they had just seen a church, I wanted them to see this one. The views from the top of the hill are incredible and the inside of the church is exquisite.

Montmortre Cemetery is not far from Sacre-Coeur, so we walked in that direction. Even on my second visit, this place amazes me. It's completely surrounded by loud city streets, but it's situated below ground level, so it's like entering a whole new, quiet, peaceful place.

We ended the day at the Eiffel Tower. I took them to a Metro station across the river from the tower so that we had to walk around a building before we could see it. Turning that corner and seeing the tower for the first time is the most wonderful thing. Gracie was so excited to see it. Like me, she expected it to be so much smaller than it actually is. We stopped to take the customary pictures as we walked closer and it loomed over our heads.

When we made it to the tower, we decided to get in line to go to the top. I don't know how long we stood there, but it seemed like ages. The line was moving so, so slow. When we finally made it to the elevator though, it was worth it. I hadn't been to the top yet, so I was experiencing this for the first time with them. By the time we got to the top, it was dark. This didn't dampen our spirits. The city is beautiful at night-- especially from that high up. It was really windy and cold up there, so we didn't stay on the outside deck for long. (Also, Gracie and I are mildly afraid of heights. I say mildly, but I mean that I was a shaky mess and could barely bring myself to even touch the railing to look over the edge.)


On our way to the bottom, we stopped at both the second and first floors. On the first floor, there are glass floors over the area directly under the tower. It was cool to look down on all the people, but walking over them took a certain amount of willpower on my part.

After a pizza dinner at a lovely little restaurant, we went to the hotel to turn in for the night. They were absolutely exhausted. Quite honestly, I'm proud of them for making it through the day without a nap.

The next day we set off for the Louvre. (I think Annie might have been very angry with me if we had not visited the museum.) We went through the Egyptian exhibit and the halls of statues. Annie loves mythology of all sorts, so she especially enjoyed seeing the old statues of all of the gods. I thought we were going to have to leave her there. My dad, Gracie, and I would walk through the room, stopping at a few interesting things, only to look back and see Annie stopping at every. single. statue. This is fine of course; I'm glad she enjoyed it. (For some reason she has a thing against Aphrodite, so she was a little perturbed at how many statues there were of her.)

Of course, we went upstairs to see Mona Lisa. This time, I was feeling much better about life, so I'll say that I felt a little more appreciation for the masterpiece. We walked through a couple halls of paintings before heading to the Decorative Arts exhibit.

The Decorative Arts is such a vague name. Last time, I walked through part of it that was mostly furniture and trinkets. This time, we went through the other part and it was much more interesting. There were rooms of tapestries, bronze, silver, and gold rooms, and my favorite-- the Napoleon Apartments. The apartments were very ornately furnished. It reminded me a lot of the palace we saw in Madrid. The chandeliers in the this place were magnificent. Each room we went through, they got bigger and more striking.

It doesn't sound like it should be, but walking through a museum for hours like that is exhausting. I know why they say you can't see it all in one day. I think next time I visit, I'll turn on the pedometer on my phone to see just how far I actually walk.

We had one last stop to make before we had to catch the train to Poitiers, so we took off towards Arc de Triomphe. I realized this time around, that I really don't know much about many of things I see. From this point forward, I will try to be more informed on the things I am visiting.

Even though I was seeing nearly everything for the second time, I didn't mind one bit. I loved watching my sisters and dad experiencing everything for the first time. Paris is a wonderfully magical place.

We caught our train to Poitiers that evening. Gracie was excited about riding the train. It was a first for all three of them. When my dad was younger, his school would take the third grade class every year on a train ride to Abilene. He was so looking forward to taking that train ride, but by the time he made it to third grade, they had discontinued the line so he never got to ride a train. Last week, he finally fulfill that dream.

We only spent two days in Poitiers, which is plenty. I had class all day Monday and Tuesday morning, so they were on their own exploring. Monday we had lunch and dinner with Lizette and Joe. I'm glad my family got to meet the people I spent most of my time with here. We had a good time with them.

Tuesday evening, we took another train to northern France. We based our travel out of Caen, Normandy. Caen had quite a bit to offer. We visited an incredible church with ceilings like I had never seen before. (Yes, I realize that I have a strange obsession with ceilings.) They were stunning. This one also had an organ like I had never seen before. Instead of being over the entrance, it was hanging on the wall in the main aisle.


We had an interesting discussion on what it meant to be an architect back when these churches were being built. Can you imagine the kind of pressure they must have felt? They had to have known that their buildings would be standing long after they were dead and gone. I bet it's an incredible feeling to leave a part of you behind to be shared with so many people and to know that they will marvel at your creations. It seems that modern architecture is not meant to last for generations like it was back then.

We visited Caen Castle, which houses two museums-- Musee des Beaux-Arts and Musee de Normandie. The fine arts museum was only so-so. There were some beautiful pieces, but it was quite small. The Musee de Normandie was interesting. There were many old artifacts from the years. It started with the vikings and made its way through history. My favorite part was a small display on the making of lace. Have you ever wondered how it's made? Go watch this. It is an incredible process. I have a new-found appreciation for lace to say the least.

My dad decided to go take a nap at the hotel, so the girls and I went shopping that afternoon and then went to tour the women's abbey. The Abbaye aux Dames has a very interesting history. Our tour guide was very informative. It goes like this-- William the Conquerer and Mathilde were in love. Unfortunately, they were cousins five times removed, so it was illegal for them to be married. They sent a man to negotiate with the Pope to get permission for them to marry, but there was no luck for eight long years. Finally, the Pope agreed that they could marry if they would construct two abbeys-- a men's and a women's. Of course, they agreed and construction began.

The women's abbey was used to house nuns for many years, but then the Hundred Years War broke out and it was overtaken by soldiers. They damaged much of it. The towers were destroyed and later rebuilt. Today many of the rooms are empty of any furniture or art because the soldiers took these things to sell. After the war, the abbey was used as a hospital for many years. Today, it houses government offices. I enjoyed walking through it and learning of its previous inhabitants.

Many of the rooms that are in use today had to be covered in tapestries because the echoes are too loud without them. When the nuns were using these rooms, the echoes were never a problem because they were in a silent order. Can you image not talking ever? There was one room (I believe it was the library) where they were allowed to talk, but only to confess sins or to resolve disputes. They lived interesting lives.

The next day, we hopped on a train to Bayeux, where the buses run from town to the beaches. Once in Bayeux, we stopped at Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux. It was a wonderful church. Outside, in the courtyard, there was a a ginormous tree called the Tree of Light. It was beautiful with the cathedral in the background.


We also sought out the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry tells scenes from the life of William the Conqueror. What makes the tapestry so magnificent is that it is nearly 900 years old and is around 70 meters long. (That's 30 meters short of an American football field.) In the museum, we were given an audio guide that told us the story as we walked the hall. (Which was convenient, because I could never have deciphered what was going on.)

From there, we took a bus to Omaha Beach and the American cemetery. I was in absolute awe of this place. To look down at the beach and imagine our troops fighting on this hill hurt my heart. The cemetery sits right on the edge of the hill so you can see the ocean from there. The graves are very uniform and beautiful, with two American flags flying over them. (Very similar to Arlington.) The memorial was amazing. We were there at noon, so we got to hear the bell toll twelve times and a few minutes later, the National Anthem played loud throughout the cemetery. It was a sobering moment.


There was a path down to the beach, so we took that. The girls had never seen the ocean (except from the plane) or been on a beach before, so that was fun for them. We looked for shells and touched the water and everything. (It was cloudy and the water was really, really cold, but we had a good time down there.) I couldn't image running up those slopes, I was out of breath just walking to the top. All I can say is Thank You to every one of the troops who have served our country so bravely.

When we had seen everything, we went to the Visitor Center and watched a short movie about some of the people who were buried there. It was touching and I'll admit that I cried. It told of these young men who left their families and wives and children to fight for the freedom of people they had never met.

We went to the Overlord Museum next. This museum had uniforms and personal belongings of the men who had fought. There were also many tanks and other vehicles used in the war on display. It was neat to really get a feel for what it might have been like to live in that area during the war.

All that day, as I was walking through the museum and cemetery, and the streets of Bayeux, I was struck by how recent the war really was. This year, they celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. This isn't some ancient war fought by ancient peoples. The remnants of the war are still there today. The people affected by the war are still alive today. I've never been in a place where I could see the effect of war so clearly. This whole day was one of my favorites because of everything I felt and learned. (It should be noted that this was Thanksgiving Day, but we did very little to actually celebrate it. The closest I came to a turkey was the ham in my omelet at lunch.)

The next morning we left our hotel in Caen bright and early for Mont Saint Michel. We arrived in Pontorson and then took a bus to the Mount. (I won't even get into the frustrations I had that entire morning. I could write a book about everything they're doing wrong at that place.)

We got to Mont Saint Michel at around 11:30 and set out to explore the the town. Mont Saint Michel is situated on a large rock in a bay that has the largest tidal ranges in Europe. The first buildings were built in 709. From there, many buildings were added to the rock including an Abbey church and a monastery. It was used as a fortress during the Hundred Years War and was at one point used as a prison. Today, it serves as a major tourist attraction, as it is "The Wonder of the Western World," but also, it is once again used for its original purpose where monks and nuns live.


We began our time here in a small church. It was tiny, beautiful, and old. Through the back door there was small cemetery. We continued on and stopped for a visit into a Viking's residence. It was three stories tall-- a common room, a room for the wife, and a room for the Viking. The ceilings were low and the beds were short, so we came to the conclusion that this particular viking was a small man.

The roads kind of spiral upwards towards the abbey and we eventually found ourselves there. We had to climb several sets of stairs to enter the church, but it was worth it. The views from the top of the mount were breathtaking. We entered the church right at noon. I tell you this because we entered to find a small crowd watching something in the center of the church very intently. Immediately, I saw what held their attention and hurried over to get a better look.

A monk had just entered and was standing directly under the dome with a long rope in his hand and black robe and hood covering his head. At first, he pulled on the rope a little at a time gathering momentum to ring the bell. After a few tugs, the bell began ringing. It was a beautiful moment. I stood in unbelief at what I was observing. I was so excited to have taken part is something so wonderful.

When he finished ringing the bells (I wish I had counted the tolls, but I was fairly busy being mesmerized), he hung the rope on the wall, donned a white robe over his black one, and exited the church through a side door. It was quite the experience. Everyone was watching with rapt attention to what he was doing.

We were then able to walk through the many rooms of the abbey. We saw the crypt, the cloister, the kitchen (with enormous fireplaces), and the Knights' hall. The whole place was very large-- we probably didn't even see half of it.

When we made it through the whole thing, we took the path that led us around the tops of the walls that surround the town. It was windy and cold, but the views were amazing. Since the walls were erected for protection, there were holes every so often where one could look out and fight the enemy if necessary. The rock was fortified very well as it was never taken by its enemies.

We found lunch in a small restaurant along the wall, then continued on in our exploration. We made it to the end of the wall and descended into the streets once more. We stumbled upon a narrow alleyway that led to more alleys. I cannot resist something like this, so we climbed to the top and spent a little time sitting at the top of the stairs. (It was so narrow, my dad had to shimmy sideways to make it all the way to the top!)

We then made our way back to the mainland to catch our final train of the trip. It took us to Charles de Gaulle airport where we then went to our hotel.

Their flight left at 9:20 the next morning which meant we needed to be at the airport at around 6:30. Our day started with a very early alarm. We made it to the airport with no problems. They checked in with no problems. I said goodbye to them right before they went through security.

I am so thankful they got to come to France to see me. I had so much fun with them and I hope they had a good time too. It's a little funny-- they were here for the 3 month mark of my stay in France. From here, I only have 6 months left. Tomorrow will mark 100 days of my living in France. I'm encouraged by how quickly the first three months have flown, but also a little scared that I won't have time to do everything I want to do. There is very little that scares me more than the uncertainty of my future.

In other news, I got my schedule for next semester (finally) and am so excited to begin planning future trips. The rest of this semester will be spent finishing up group projects. Woohoo.

99 days down, 178 to go!

Je t'embrasse,
Sarah

Here's the link to this week's pictures!










Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Struggle

Bonjour!

I'd like to take this time to publicly admit that I took the entire month of October for granted. Now that classes have started back up for me again, I remember what it is like to be stressed and overworked and under-motivated.

Let's see... Last week was pretty good. Wednesday and Thursday I had my Global Leadership class, and I loved every second of it. The professor was passionate and he kept things interesting. I appreciate that, especially when I have to sit in his class for 6 hours a day. He gave a crazy group project assignment, but I think we'll do just fine. My group has already planned 3 meeting days, so we'll get stuff done. We don't meet with this class again until December 18, unfortunately.

Friday I had the final session to a class we started at the beginning of September. We had to present our findings of a survey we did. The presentation went really well. (Although, the survey wasn't so hot... let's just say we learned a lot about the importance of wording the questions correctly.) She said she was proud of us for realizing and admitting our mistakes, so +1 for my team!

Since we got back from Paris on Tuesday and I had class the rest of the week, Saturday was reserved for laundry and shopping. Can I just tell you something about the laundry situation? I have been behind on my laundry for at least two months. You see, I have to walk to the laundromat and I can only carry 2 loads comfortably. (Clothes are heavy.) Unfortunately, I've got about 4 loads worth of dirty clothes in my hamper at any given time. So I've been juggling which clothes I want to wear and which clothes can wait another week to be washed. (Some have been in there since mid-September. I know, I'm terrible.)

Anyway, there's a simple solution to this (first-world) problem. Make two trips to the laundromat. Seriously Sarah, you are an able-bodied young adult-- you should be entirely capable of handling this. And you know what? I had every intention of making a second trip on Sunday. However, intentions mean absolutely nothing when nothing gets done.

Sunday morning I was awoken by the wailing of an alarm clock from across the hall at 8:30am. No, that's not that early, but this was the first day I was allowing myself a little extra sleep in more than a week. (Quit judging me.) Sometimes the girl across the hall just leaves and forgets to turn off her alarm beforehand, so I get to listen to it until it stops wailing at around 10:30am. I was very unhappy about this development, so I turned on the Les Miserables soundtrack to drown out the alarm. At this point though, I was awake-- there was no going back to a dreamy slumber for me.

This sounds like the perfect setup for a very productive day! I could get out of bed, get dressed, and go finish my laundry. I could finally get caught up! That's not what I did. I opened Netflix and watched The Help. (Because I love that movie and it makes me cry every time and sometimes crying is a good thing.) I ended up staying in bed until around noon. (I'll admit, I was ashamed, but I do think I needed a lazy morning to myself.)

I didn't start this story expecting it to be this long, but it is what it is. The rest of Sunday was spent writing, working on travel plans, reading, and working my way through The Big Bang Theory. (You're asking why I didn't just go to the laundromat that afternoon? It was raining and I just wasn't emotionally/mentally prepared to face that.)

I had class again Monday and Tuesday. This one was Marketing Management. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Global Leadership. Our professor is very nice-- she's a lovely woman, but her teaching style is the most frustrating thing. It's so hard to sit through her class. She teaches very slowly and she's hard to listen to. The information isn't all boring, but the way she presents it just isn't that great. Thankfully, we don't have to go back to that class until December 8.

I have some very exciting news this week! My dad and sisters are coming to France this Saturday to spend Thanksgiving week with me! I'm sooooooo excited to see them! They arrive in Paris Saturday morning, so I'm meeting them at the airport and we're going to spend two days in Paris before coming back to Poitiers.

I had no idea the amount of work that goes into planning a week long trip for four people in Europe. (Lizette has always been in charge and I let her tell me what to book when she needs it. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lizette, you do good work!) It's an incredible task to book hotels and train tickets and bus tickets. You really have to think through every leg of the journey to make sure all of your bases are covered. I started working on this several weeks ago and got really stressed about it. I finished planning the first four days they'll be here, but then I left for Italy and then Paris, and I never got around to planning the rest of the trip.

When I'm faced with something I'm worried or stressed about, I tend to try to put it off as long as I can. (It's a character flaw I'm trying to work on.) Last night, I sat down to work on this at 7:30pm and got so immersed in what I was doing, I didn't even look at the clock again until 10:00pm. When I finally saw the time, I realized I had been hunched over my laptop for who knows how long. I sat up straight and every muscle in my back protested at the movement. I went to get some water and decided that I deserved candy for all of my hard work, so I ran downstairs to the vending machine for a Kit-Kat.

I did get it all done though! Looking at train schedules and comparing hotels is exhausting. I was a nervous mess sitting there. (Leg bouncing, hands shaking, intermittently cursing at my computer, etc.) Now I only have a few details to work out, plus gathering all the directions so we can get to places without studying a map. I'll add that to today's to-do list!

The next few days will be mostly spent preparing for their arrival. I can't wait to tell you about how it went with them here. That'll be the topic for the blog two weeks from now. Thanks for reading my ramblings about inconsequential happenings in my life.

Je t'embrasse,

Sarah



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Paris, mon ami!

Bonjour, ami!

After more than 2 months of living in France, I finally made a trip to Paris to actually enjoy Paris!

Up until Saturday, I had taken the train to and from Paris numerous times, but each time Paris was just a stop on the way to our final destination. This time, we got to stay in Paris and experience some of the things she has to offer.

Before I tell you about that, I'll start with where I left off in last week's blog. Between our Italy and Paris trips, we had 3 days to relax/mentally prepare for another trip/do laundry. I spent much of that time on Netflix. (Currently in Season 3 of The Big Bang Theory.) I did the bare minimal amount of laundry (sweaters and jeans) and the minimal amount of grocery shopping (fruit and microwave meals). I just couldn't be bothered to do anything really productive.

Of course, now that I've returned, I'm feeling the repercussions of those minimal actions. I now have even fewer clean clothes and no food! Easy fix, right? Wrong-- I actually have three days of class this week! Yay for a Saturday full of chores!

We left Poitiers bright and early Saturday morning (6:20 am) so that we would have a full 3 days in Paris. The train ride is only 2 hours, so we were there by 8:30, and got settled in our accommodation by 9:30. However, that morning I woke up with a raging headache and a stuffy nose, and all the way to Paris I felt like I was going to puke all over the place. (This put me in an extremely bad mood, that I took out on my travel mates-- sorry Joe.) When we got to the flat, I passed out on the couch while Joe and Lizette went to buy groceries. They brought back medicine and by noon, I was feeling up to getting out of the flat. (They're such good friends for putting up with me.)

We set out to see Musee d'Orsay-- a famous museum, although not as famous as the Louvre. We got in for free because we're residents of France, even though I left my passport in Poitiers. (All of that OFII stuff was worth it!) Orsay was really fantastic. They had a collection of Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Monet. The museum itself is housed in a former train station, so the inside is quite beautiful with the tall ceilings.

After the museum, we went to Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris. It is quite a famous church and for good reason. It's beautiful both inside and out. Once we got inside, we walked the perimeter, then just sat for a while in the nave. (This has become our routine for churches. Sometimes we sit together, but more often we sit separately and just enjoy the beauty of the place we get to see.) I thoroughly enjoy churches.


Right behind the Notre Dame is the famous Lock Bridge, or Pont des Arts. Since it was close, we walked across it. There were so many locks on it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a little background: The practice of placing locks, or lovelocks, on bridges began more than 100 years ago when two lovers would meet on a bridge. They were madly in love, but the man had to go to war and while away, fell in love with another woman. The woman never recovered from this heartbreak and eventually died. Girls would then go to the bridge where the lovers had met and place locks on the bridge and throw away the key so that their love could never be broken. The tradition did not start in Paris, but it very prominent on many of the bridges and has become something of a tourist attraction. (Although you can cross nearly any bridge today and undoubtedly find a lock on it.)

We returned to the flat that night and cooked dinner. It's so much cheaper, especially in Paris, to buy groceries and cook for yourself if you can. We reserved a flat off of Airbnb again and had much better results this time. We were very happy with our accommodations. Our host was in the south of France during our stay, so we had the entire flat to ourselves.

The next day, we went to the Musee du Louvre. You hear that it's impossible to see it all in only a day, and I can absolutely say that is true. It is monstrous. There is so much to see. We walked through quite a bit of it, but it felt like we walked miles and miles by the time we were done. We got there at about 10:00 and left at 3:00 or so. We didn't have lunch until right before we left, so we were hungry and worn out by then.


It is a really cool museum though. We spent most of our time in the Egyptian exhibit, simply because that's not something we get to see in the United States and we don't have plans to travel to Egypt any time soon. It was incredible. My favorite part was seeing all of the sarcophagi and the ancient writings. It's hard to imagine a civilization that existed so long ago, but so much has been found of what they did and how they lived. It was very fun to see.

I also saw the Mona Lisa! I was really, really excited when I finally arrived at the room she is displayed in. Although, maybe it was that I was tired and hungry, but when I saw her, I was mildly disappointed. Maybe it was just my mood that day, but I was not as impressed as I anticipated. I'll go back to see her and see how I feel then.


My only complaint about the Louvre should not come as a surprise, but somehow it surprised me. Wouldn't you think that the most famous, most visited museum in the world would have descriptions and explanations of the items on display in English?! Or is that just me? There was not a single thing in English. It was beyond frustrating.

After the Louvre, we returned to the flat for a nap before heading to see the Eiffel Tower at night. We all fell asleep quickly and didn't wake up until much later than we planned, so we just fixed dinner and stayed inside for the night. (I know, I know, we're lame.)

The next morning, we stepped outside and it was miserably cold and windy. Unfortunately, we had already done the museums (inside activities) and were planning to see a church, a cemetery, an arc, and a tower (outside activities). However, we pushed forward and went through with the planned activities.

Our first stop was Sacre-Coeur-- Sacred Heart Cathedral. It's on top of a hill that usually provides a stunning view of Paris, but it was foggy that morning, so I can't verify that. The church was amazing. The dome had a gold and blue tiled picture of Jesus with arms outstretched. As you might have guessed, we sat for a good long while before moving on.

From there, we went to Arc de Triomphe.  It was pretty cool, but what's really neat about it is that you can climb to the top and look out over Paris. It is a terribly long and winding set of stairs, but it was worth it once we got to the top. The Arc is situated in a roundabout that connects 12 different roads. Every direction you look is incredible. From the Arc, we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. (Previously we had only seen it from the plane.)


We then climbed down and headed in the direction of the Tower. On the way, we stopped for a late lunch, then continued on. By now, it was much warmer and less windy than it had been, but still rather chilly. We finally got to the tower and it was so much bigger and more impressive than I had imagined it. I've only ever seen pictures of it from a distance, but standing under it, you really get a sense of the enormity of it. And the iron structure is so intricate and beautiful. It is quite enchanting. I'm glad they decided not to tear it down after the World's Fair. (It had a permit to stand for only 20 years, and was then to be dismantled by the City of Paris.)

We had some extra time that we hadn't planned on, so we went to see Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge is one of Lizette's favorite movies so she wanted to see the famous red windmill. The Montmartre Cemetery is very near there, so we walked over to see it. (We hadn't gone to the cemetery that morning because of the cold.) It was so awesome-- probably one of my favorite things we saw. It is packed with ornate tombs of all sizes. Montmartre began as a mass grave during the French Revolution, and was later turned into the cemetery it is today. It is below street level, with only one entrance, so when you enter, it's almost as if you've left the city completely. It is so serene and picturesque. There are tall trees and moss covered graves in every direction. I'm so glad we decided to stop here.


We returned to the Eiffel Tower that night to see it lit up and sparkling. The tower was even more magical at night. We bought some churos and chocolate and sat by the river to appreciate the night. The tower only sparkles every hour, so we had to wait nearly 50 minutes to see it. It was definitely worth it, though.


The next morning, we got up early to see the Parisian Catacombs. Upon our arrival, we discovered that it was closed that day because of the public holiday. Instead of that, we went to Jardin du Luxembourg. We didn't see a lot of it, but what we did see was very pretty. We walked through part of it where people were out with their kids, and playing tennis and basketball. It would be fun to live near a place that is so alive in the morning.

Our train left Paris that afternoon and we returned home happy and exhausted. From here on out, we have class nearly ever week, so we won't be doing the extensive traveling that we've done for most of October until now. As much as I have enjoyed it, I'm glad to be home for a while. I'll be happy to establish some sort of routine, no matter how temporary it may be.

Today, I had my first class since October 10. I was really dreading it, but once I was sitting in class, I realized how much I actually like going to school. We have a really great (American!) teacher this time. The class is Global Leadership, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I think my group for this project will be very fun and easy to work with, so I'm looking forward to that.

Until next week!

Je t'embrasse,
Sarah

Here's the link to the pictures from this trip: click here. I didn't take nearly as many pictures this time :)



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Italia

 Bounjiorno!

Wow, Italy blew my mind. It was an amazing, educational, awe-inspiring trip. I didn’t know how much I wanted to see Italy until I was actually there. I was on the verge of tears several times simply because what I was seeing was so overwhelmingly beautiful, and to be there, seeing these things in real life, was just so awesome. The whole experience was nearly indescribable, but I’ll do my best here!

I told you last week that we started out the trip in Venice. Venice really was beautiful. Everything about our time in Venice was laid-back. While there are definitely things to see, they aren’t very many and the island isn’t that big, so there was no hurry to get anywhere, or catch any buses, or beat any crowds. (Although, it was very crowded— dang tourists!) 


Our hostel wasn’t actually in Venice, it was in a town on the mainland, so it took about 10 minutes to get to Venice each day. The hostel was kind of fun. It was like a campground, and we had our own three person bungalow. When we arrived in Venice, it was freezing cold. We didn’t pack for cold weather unfortunately (because when I think Italy, I think sunshine and warm weather), so we stayed in the room and watched a movie after we went out for pizza the first night.  

The food culture in Italy is fun— there are pizzerias everywhere and it’s really good pizza! We had pizza on several occasions, actually. Never have I ordered an entire pizza for myself before going to Italy, but there, it’s a very normal thing to eat a whole pizza for a meal. The pasta situation also must be commented on— yes, it was delicious. Better than pasta in America? Maybe. The lasagnas that I had were definitely better. (I had a purple vegetable lasagna at one point.) The spaghetti was yummy, but I wouldn’t say it was extraordinary or anything. I had tortellini with ham also, and it was good, but again, not mindblowingly amazing like you would expect. So, yeah, good pizza and pasta. Good job, Italy. 

Another food thing that the Italians do right is gelato. I think we stopped at a gelateria at least once a day. I had everything from coffee and rum flavors to plain chocolate and vanilla flavors. They're so yummy and the presentation in the shops is so appealing to me. (I'm a sucker for good advertising.) Another sweet that we couldn't get enough of, especially in Venice because it was so cold, was the hot chocolate. It was super thick and rich-- it was like drinking hot pudding. (They even provide a spoon.) Sooo good. 

So our first day in Venice we wandered away the first half of the day, and eventually stumbled upon Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista de Venezia, which was an old school and church. They were beautiful. The floors are quite impressive in Italy. They love using marble everywhere, and the floors are oftentimes patterned with different colors of marble. 

With the exception of a few, the churches in Italy really didn’t do anything for me. Yes, they were (sometimes) beautiful on the inside, but the outsides left so much to be desired. Several of them I wouldn’t have even guessed they were churches just by looking at the outside of them. To me, the outside is nearly as important as the inside. And beyond this, I’m not a huge fan of mixing too many colored marbles. Italians LOVE marble. It’s everywhere. (In case you didn’t catch that earlier.) I just wasn’t as impressed with these churches. Even some of the churches we went to in Rome weren’t that great. 

Anyway, there’s really not a lot to report from Venice because we wandered and shopped. We did go on a Gondola ride, and that was fun. Our gondolier pointed out Marco Polo’s house and Casablanca’s house, so that was fun. Our second day, a friend of Lizette’s came to see her, so a real Italian showed us around a little. 

It was a good time in Venice, although now that the trip is over, we’ve come to the conclusion that we did this trip backwards. We really should have gone to Rome first because it was crazy exhausting, then we would have had downtime in Venice before going back home. Oh well, we learned. Next time we’ll plan a little better! (Slowly getting better at the whole traveling thing. We haven’t missed a train in like a month!) 

On to the good stuff! I don’t even know how I’ll begin to describe to you how wonderful it was to be in Rome. If you ever get the chance, please, please visit Rome. It is an amazing thing to be surrounded by landmarks that are not hundreds, but thousands of years old. It really put a few things into perspective for me. There is so much left of the ancient Romans, it’s not hard to imagine what their lives might have been like. 

I like to think about ancient people from time to time. Often, when we thing of ancient civilizations, we think of them as a whole, but in reality, they were people too. Each of the millions that have lived before us led their own interesting lives. They had feelings and relationships. They were real. I think it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around that fact. And I bet when they were walking down Via Sacra, going about their business, they never imagined that a thousand years in the future there would still be people walking that road wondering about the lives that had once occupied ancient Rome. It’s mind boggling to me. I wish I could talk to them— ask about their days, ask who their favorite gladiator was, and the everyday stuff. 

Our first morning in Rome, we went to Vatican City to see what we could see. When we got there, we learned that it was closed because November 1 is All Saints Day. Instead of waiting until Monday to buy our tickets for everything, we went ahead and booked a tour with an agency. We still went inside the city and saw St. Peter’s Basilica from a distance, but we decided to save it all for Monday. 

We then went to the Roman Forum to see the ruins. Let me tell you how magical it is to walk out of the Colosseo subway station. As you’re riding up the escalator, you can catch little glimpses of the Colosseum and you walk out into the sunlight and it’s standing right in front of you in all of its glory. Lizette and I stood with jaws dropped. We didn’t say anything for several moments. The realization that I was actually seeing this place hit me so hard right then. My heart was pounding; I couldn’t breathe for a second. Then, I had to laugh and smile, and squeal a little, I was so, so excited to be there! Oh my goodness, I wish I could convey to you the excitement I was feeling! (I’m crying just writing about it.)


Of course, after the initial shock of seeing it for the first time, we started walking towards it. We found the line for the tickets and decided to go into the Roman Forum first. (The line was shorter over there than it was for the colosseum, but the ticket was good for 2 days at the Forum, the Palatine, and the Colosseum.) 

The Roman Forum is the remains of the city. It was the political, economic, religious, and commercial heart of Rome. There are columns standing from the temples of Venice, Vesta, and Saturn, as well as the Arco de Tito. We spent a several hours here— there’s so much to see!


After this, we planned on going to the Colosseum, but decided to see what the Palatine was all about first. The Palatine was where all of the rich people lived. Celebrities, political leaders, and wealthy members of society built their houses on Palatine hill right next to the Forum. It was really incredible. Many of buildings were still standing. There were massive courtyards and towers. It was a very beautiful area— it’s easy to imagine why the rich wanted to build there. 

By the time we finished at the Palatine, we were all famished, so food was our priority. The Colosseum closed at 3:30, so we decided to go back to it the next day so we could fully appreciate our time there instead of rushing through it. 

We found food and then walked through some more remains. We walked by a church and decided to go inside at about 5:30 or so. When we got inside, the nuns were bustling around like they were getting ready for something, so we checked the schedule, and there was a mass at 6! We decided to stick around for it, because, what’s a trip to Rome without going to mass in an old church? (And on All Saints Day!)

I’m so glad we stayed. I didn’t understand a word of it, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful. The nuns sang, and the priest did his thing. It only took about 45 minutes and there were probably 10 other people there, but it was perfect in its own way. We walked to the hostel that night completely content. 

The next morning, we set out for the Colosseum! (If you can’t tell, the Colosseum was without a doubt the highlight of the trip for me.) This time, we walked there and we first saw it from the street above ground level and it was no less amazing seeing it the second time. Again, we just stood and stared for a few minutes. 


We went down to go inside, and because it was Sunday, the tickets were free, so the line was outrageously long. Thankfully, since we had bought our tickets the day before, we got to bypass all those thousands of people waiting to get in. (I felt more than a little smug walking past them.) 

When we went inside, I just, wow, it took my breath away. One of the reasons the colosseum was so special to me is that one of my favorite book series, Mark of the Lion, by Francine Rivers, is set in ancient Rome and the Colosseum and gladiators play a huge part in the story line. I have read the series through probably 4 or 5 times, I love the characters so much. Another book I love, Roma, is a history (in story form) of Rome from its very beginnings. Reading these, I could always visualize the Colosseum in my mind because it’s such a well known structure, but to actually be there was (not to be too cheesy, but) a real dream come true. 

We entered on the ground level and were surrounded by the walls that would have held the seats for the people. There was a platform looking out over the arena where the gladiators would have fought, although the floor was gone, so we could see the rooms beneath the arena. We walked around the ground floor then went to the upper decks. 


Upstairs, there was a small museum and a bookshop that we walked through before we saw the arena again. When we went back outside, I stood at the railing with Lizette and we talked about how amazing it was to be there in that moment. Honestly, I was so happy right then. I could have stood at that railing for hours. We eventually left it to walk around the second level. It was so unreal to be there. 

We then made our way towards the Trevi Fountain. (Lizette and I had both wanted to see it since watching The Lizzie McGuire Movie when we were younger.) Unfortunately, it was under construction and the entire front of it was covered in scaffolding and there was no water in the basin. It was extremely disappointing. I didn’t even take a picture of the place, I was so frustrated by it. 

From there, we went to the Pantheon. It was a beautiful building. There was a street musician outside playing Sinatra’s My Way. We stood and listened for almost the entire song. Things like that really bring people together, I think. There was a large crowd gathered around and the people were singing. Beautiful street music makes me smile so hard. Everytime we walked by a man playing the accordion, my day got brighter. 

We went to another plaza and mass at another church, then went back to the hostel for another movie night. (We might be the lamest tourists ever when it comes to the night life.)

Monday arrived and with it came the excitement of finally getting to visit the Vatican! We met with our tour guide and she took us into the Vatical museums. Since we booked a tour, we got to bypass yet another line. (There were, I kid you not, thousands of people waiting to get into the Vatican. The line wrapped around the walls of the Vatican City for several blocks. We would have been waiting 3+ hours to get inside.) We went straight inside, and it was packed. The museum itself was pretty neat. We got to see Raphael’s The School of Athens. It was painted on a wall in a room that was extremely crowded. It’s a very famous piece because it features figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemy, and Raphael, who were all geniuses in their own time. It was beautiful. 


We didn’t get to see the entire museum because a) it’s huge and b) it was very crowded and c) our tour guide didn’t take us to all the places. At the end of the museum, though, we got to go inside the Sistine Chapel. The one that Michelangelo painted the ceiling of? Yes, that one. It came in second on the list of my favorite places in Rome. 

It was so, so crowded. The guards were telling people to move to center of the room before letting more people in. Even with all the bodies and hushed whispers and the guards herding the people, there was an awe that could be felt in the entire room. You walk in and look up and it’s just breathtaking. The ceiling is around 60 feet tall, and on the back wall is Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment taking up the entire space. The ceiling tells stories from Genesis, the most famous work being The Creation of Adam, right in the center. Talking and photography are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so people were standing with necks craned, trying to take everything in. There are just some places that grab hold of you and keep you stuck to your place and you can't help but hold your breath as you stare at the beauty that surrounds you. 

In the 80’s, the ceiling and walls were cleaned to reveal the vibrant colors that the chapel is famous for today. They really are as vibrant as the pictures show. Three of the walls and the entire ceiling is covered in beautiful paintings, so there is a lot to take in. On the right side, the walls tell stories from Jesus’s life and on the left, there are stories of Moses’s life. I’ll be honest and say that I only spared a glance or two for these. I was enamored with Michelangelo’s work. He didn’t even want to have anything to do with painting the chapel, but the Pope asked him to paint it and he couldn’t say no to the Pope and I’m so glad he didn’t. (When he finished the ceiling, he said he would never return to the chapel, but he did, 20 years later, because he was asked to paint the wall that holds The Last Judgment.) 

Unfortunately, we had to leave. I would have loved to just lay down in the middle of the room and study the ceiling for as long as I wanted, but the guards probably would have thrown me out. 

Our next stop was St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s free to go inside, but this just means another really long line. With our stickers from the tour guide, we were able to get in again without waiting in line. (That tour was probably the best purchase we made.) The basilica is monstrous. And I mentioned earlier that I didn’t like the mixed marble, but this place flowed well. There were different marbles everywhere, but it all went together so perfectly. There was an aisle down the center of the basilica, in front of the main doors that was roped off. Only the Pope himself is allowed to walk through the main doors and down that central aisle. It was a great end to our visit to Vatican City. 


We walked to Piazza del Popolo to see what it was all about. There, we went to a small Leonardo da Vinci museum. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. They had built models of tons of the drawings from Da Vinci’s notebooks and explained what he thought they would do. It was interesting.

We ended the night very happy with our time spent in Rome, but not looking forward to the long day of travel ahead. We had to leave the hostel at 5:40 to catch a bus to take us to the airport. Then when we landed in Paris, we had to take another bus to get us to the train station, then took the train home. We arrived at 4:50, then had French class at 5:30. It was horrible to sit through, plus we had a test. Maybe we’ll learn to not arrive so close to class time, but then, maybe we won’t. It was just a really, really long day. 

We’ve been in France just a little over 2 months now. For those of you wondering if I ever go to school, the answer is no, not really. Well, kind of. French class every Tuesday. But no real classes for all of October, but ask me again mid-November and December and I’ll be sure to have had some form of class by then. And I just want to clarify that I’m not skipping class, I simply don’t have them that often. It’s a great system. 

I think that's all I have for you today. Italy treated us exceptionally well, but it's good to be back home and sleep in my own bed. Although every time I get back from a trip, I have so much laundry to do. And somehow I never have food when I get back. Now you know what I'm doing today!

I love you guys!

Je t'embrasse, 
Sarah 

Here's the link to the Venice and Rome photo album:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Small-ish Update

Buongiorno!

Well, friends, I'm beginning to think that maybe I should have saved part 2 of Spain for this week because again, I have very little to report.

I so enjoyed my week back in Poitiers all to myself. I was totally lazy and I didn't feel even a little bit bad about it. I did get some things done-- laundry, groceries, etc. But really, I was mostly lazy.

Tuesday, Joe, Lizette, and I left for Italy! We plan on spending 2 full days in Venice, then 3 full days in Rome.

Today, we spent the day wandering around Venice. Let me just tell ya, as magical as you may think Venice is, it's better. The little streets and alley ways lined with yellow and orange buildings are so picturesque. Everywhere you turn there's something new to take your breath away.

We went to town this morning with full intention to take our sweet and precious time just enjoying the city. And that's what we did. To end the day we went on a gondola ride. Overall, it was quite the day. Relaxing, and full of beauty.

I'll give a full report of our trip when I get back next week.

Je t'embrasse,

Sarah

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Madrid

Bonjour,

Like I said in the last post, our train to Madrid left in the middle of the day, so we arrived at a decent time. (If you're reading this post first, don't forget to go back and read the one about Barcelona next!) However, we spent a few hours just being lazy in the hostel before venturing out into the city. (We were just so worn out!)

When we finally emerged from the hostel, it was with the intent to find authentic Spanish food to really compete the Spain experience. After walking and walking without finding anything (translation: Joe and Alois couldn't decide what they wanted so Lizette and I followed them for blocks), we finally settled on a place called Nebraska. (So much for authentic Spanish.) It ended up being wonderful. Sometimes (often) I crave jalapeños and they had a spicy ham sandwich with jalapeños, so I was happy. (Very spicy for European standards, not so much for mine, but still delicious.)

Sunday morning, Joe and Lizette wanted to go see the Madrid LDS Temple, so the four of us planned to meet at a museum later in the afternoon. This gave me the whole morning alone, and I spent a good chunk of it at Starbucks (with my Venti Iced Caramel Machiatto and cinnamon roll) reading a book-- a peaceful morning well-spent.

We met at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This museum was huge-- biggest one I'd been to yet. They had Picasso and Salvador Dali as well as many other Spanish artists. Our main reason for going to this museum though, was Guernica. Yes, I actually saw Picasso's Guernica with my own eyes, and it was glorious. Wow, even thinking about it now, I can't believe I actually stood in the room with such an iconic piece of art. We weren't allowed to take pictures of it, but here's what it looks like.

That museum was fun, but the next one was even more amazing. Museo de Prado, just a few blocks from Reina Sofia, was even bigger and even more impressive. It had several of Raphael's paintings as well as many other very famous artists' works. (Lizette is very interested in art and art history, so she could tell you more about all of it than I can.) I do know that this museum was very intriguing to walk through. There was room after room of statues and paintings. Being there was such an emotional experience. There's just something about walking into a large room full of floor to ceiling paintings that absolutely takes my breath away. The emotions on the faces of the characters in the paintings paired with deep red walls and black marble floors invokes strong emotions in the viewers. One cannot help but be overcome with feelings of awe in the presence of these masterpieces. They contain so much history; it amazes that I can take part in that centuries after they were created. We easily spent 3 to 4 hours here, because there was just so much to see.

We then met Alois at a park nearby and sat and people watched for a while before finding dinner. (It always surprises me how much time we actually spend in parks and how much I end up enjoying it.)

The next day, we left the hostel early to take the subway to Las Ventas, the home of bullfighting in Spain. I really don't want this paragraph to turn into an animal rights rant, but how much do you really know about bullfighting? I didn't know much before this tour, but now the whole idea absolutely makes me sick to my stomach. We even wanted to attend a bullfight, but I'm so glad we didn't-- I don't think I'd make it through it. Did you know that every bull enters the arena to die? It's a terribly violent sport. On the tour, there were a few videos about previous bullfights, and it was so gruesome to watch. It's bloody and sad, and the crowd goes crazy for the bull's death. I was nearly in tears as I was watching the videos and listening to the audio guide. They called it "a poetic and vital part" of Spain's history, but my goodness, it's such a cruel sport.


Afterwards, we went to see Catedral de la Almudena and La Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace). Almudena was incredible. (Sorry for another cathedral description.) Construction of Almudena began in 1879, but the project was abandoned until 1950 and only completed in 1993. Because of this, many of the features are very modern looking blended with the Gothic architecture. The ceilings were painted in very bright colors and patterns and the stained glass windows were very contemporary in design. I loved this place.




We then went next door to take the tour of the Royal Palace. It was so incredibly luxurious and ornate. Honestly, it felt like it was meant for royalty. (Probably because it was.) Every room was different from the next. The marble floors had different patterns and the walls had different designs. In many of the rooms, the ceiling was painted to depict some part of Spanish history. It was so overwhelmingly gorgeous. The tour ended in the most magnificent room in the Palace-- the throne room. It was a deep, deep red with black marble accents. There was gold everywhere, and the chandeliers were breathtaking. We left the palace in absolute awe of everything we had just seen. (Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed.)


By Tuesday, I was ready to go home to Poitiers. (Fun little fact for ya: Tuesday marked 8 weeks since we had arrived in France and we spent much of that time at the Paris airport and on the train just like we did back in August.) Traveling is one of my favorite things, but even this needs to come to an end. I will say that Madrid was not nearly as impressive as Barcelona. I'm very happy we went, because I still got to see so many incredible things, but as far as the enchantment factor goes, Madrid just didn't have it for me. I was sad to leave Spain, but so, so ready to get back to France. I missed my bed and I missed having the freedom to do things alone and for myself without worrying about what three other people wanted to do. I loved traveling with Joe, Lizette, and Alois-- they are incredibly fun to be around and I'm thankful for each of them in my life.

We arrived in Poitiers just in time to make it to our Tuesday night French class. It was so hard to sit there for an hour and a half when all I wanted to do was go home and unpack. Thankfully, this week I have little to do but work on projects.

Is October really almost over? Time is moving so quickly, but at the same time, not quickly enough. I've been missing my real family and my Cedar family a little extra this week. Even now, I'm looking forward to May when I get to hug them all again.

Je t'embrasse,

Sarah