Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Paris with Zane


I've got so many things to tell you about!

My brother's Christmas present this year was for him to come to France to see me, and this was the weekend! He arrived Friday morning after way too many complications. First his flight was delayed, then canceled all together because of engine trouble. He was able to get on a flight with AirFrance but it took him to San Francisco first, so he had to spend more time in the air. In the end, he arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport a few hours later than planned, but that was fine. (It meant I didn't have to wake up before the sun to pick him up!)

So, he finally made it and we hopped on the bus to take us into Paris, then made our way to our hotel. I didn't do so hot in choosing this hotel. It was a chain hotel that I've used many times before, but this place was in the ghetto of Paris. It was a very sketchy part of the city. Now I know never to stay at that hotel again.

We dropped off our things then went to see Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle. I figured since he was exhausted we shouldn't do anything too strenuous and churches seemed like a good option.
Of course, Notre Dame was beautiful as it always is. We spent some time sitting and talking then left to find the other church.

Sainte Chapelle is breathtakingly beautiful. The ceilings are painted blue and the walls are covered in stained glass. The structure was designed so that there is very little stone holding it together. The majority of the building is the glass. The windows tell stories from the Bible beginning in Genesis at one side and ending with the life of Christ on the other.

After Sainte Chapelle, we walked a little on the island, then went back to the hotel. On the way back we stopped to pick up a pizza then took it to the hotel and watched The Pink Panther before we went to bed. I thought that movie was so funny when it came out, but now that I'm actually in France, so much of it is even funnier! 

The next morning we woke up early to start the day at the Catacombs. The line there gets really long really fast so I wanted us to be there before they opened the doors so we wouldn't have to wait for hours. We were about 10 people from the front of the line so once we got down there, we walked ahead of them and were the first ones in the tunnels.

It was so cool and kind of spooky to be down there when nobody else was around. (We came across a snoring security guard at one point!) When we were standing in line, Zane asked me if the bones were still down there or if they had moved them all out. Ha! There are so many bones down there it would be quite the task to get them all out. When we got down there, he was impressed with it all. 

From the Catacombs, we went to the Pantheon. This is where people like Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and many other famous people are buried. It's not a church, but the inside felt very much like one. The columns were massive. At the back there is a large statue where the altar would be in a church. We took the stairs down to the crypt to see the graves. This crypt was massive. There were several rooms that held the tombs and many more that were empty. 

When we left there, it was almost lunch time so we decided to head across town to find somewhere to eat. We had scheduled a wine tasting at 3:00, so we wanted to be near there. We picked a nice little restaurant, then took to the streets to pass the time. 

The wine tasting was at O'Chateau and it was fabulous. Our sommelier was very informative and the whole thing was so fun. First he served a white wine--Saumur, from the Loire Valley. With this he taught us how to determine the quality of the wine using our eyes, nose, and mouth. Then he poured a red wine--Morgon, from the Beaujolais region. With this he talked about the regulation of wine in France. We ended with another red--Cahors, from the Sud-Ouest region. 

I really like the white wine and the second red wine. Zane liked the first red wine, but not the second. The second was much darker and it tasted very deep, like there was a lot to it. (I don't know how else to say it.) Anyway, it was fun and I learned a bit. 

Before the wine tasting, while we were passing time, I had taken Zane to see the Louvre so that he could at least say he'd seen it even if he didn't want to go inside. After the tasting, he decided that he did want to go inside so we walked back over there and meandered through the Egyptian section of the museum. 

We were both pretty hungry at this point, so we left and found food. Since the neighborhood we were staying in was so sketchy, we decided to eat before we went back because I didn't want to look for dinner in the dark there. After we ate, I searched for a shop that sold macarons for dessert. I think French macarons are divine, but Zane wasn't a fan. 

The next day, we began at the Montmartre Cemetery. I've been there twice before, but each time I go, I'm still fascinated by it. It's such a beautiful place. This time, upon entering, I turned left to see parts that I'd never walked through before. It seems to go on forever. 

From there, we went to the Arc de Triomphe. I wanted to take Zane to the top of it, but it didn't open until after lunch, and it was only mid-morning. We still went out to it and walked under it and he took pictures. It amazing how much bigger it is in real life. I'm still struck by the enormity of it. 

Next on the agenda was the Eiffel Tower. I took him to the Metro stop across the river so we could see it from a distance and then walk up to it. I like seeing it that way. We took pictures as we walked closer, then stood in line to go to the top. It was a fairly foggy day, so the tippy-top was closed, but we still got to go to the first and second floors. 

We went to the second floor first to look out over the city, then went down to the first floor where the glass floors are. (There is an ice skating rink on the first floor now!) We walked around up there and grabbed some sandwiches for lunch before we went to the bottom. 

After the Eiffel Tower, we went to Sacre-Ceour. We ate ice cream at the bottom of the hill (even though it was so cold outside), then walked up to see the church. It's magnificent. 

After that, we went shopping. The jacket Zane brought wasn't keeping him warm enough so we went to find something a bit warmer for him. I googled where to shop in Paris and picked a place at random. The place I picked took us to a mall where we were able to find him a nice coat and do a bit of other shopping. 

From there we headed back to the hotel to rest a bit before we went to the Queen concert!!! You probably don't know this about me, but I absolutely love Queen. I love their music; I love Freddie Mercury. (If there is anyone I could see in concert it would be him. Too bad he died before I was even born.) This is one of the things that Zane and I share. We have spent many a car ride blasting Queen albums on repeat (much to the annoyance of my mom). 

This concert is the main reason Zane came to Paris at all (except that I'm here, of course). I have been looking forward to this concert since mid-December. When I found out they would be here, the only person I could imagine going with was my brother. I'm so glad we could do that together!

I don't want to sound too cheesy here, but the concert was an absolute dream come true. I couldn't stop smiling the whole time. It was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. Adam Lambert was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. He was incredibly funny and he's massively talented. I loved him so much more than I anticipated. 

The whole evening was just perfect. We had good seats, but about halfway through the concert I couldn't bear to sit any longer, so I went down to the floor so I could join the fun there. 

It was so fun for me to watch people enjoying themselves there. I could tell just by looking at people that they were having the time of their lives. I loved looking across the crowd to see someone singing their heart out. 

Of course, I was also singing my loudest and clapping and jumping. By the end of the night, my voice was gone and my ears were ringing. It was so, so incredible. In a few songs, they played bits of Freddie Mercury singing and it just made it so magical. 

They played all of my favorites: Another One Bites the Dust, Fat Bottomed Girls, The Show Must Go On, Who Wants to Live Forever, Bohemian Rhapsody, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions, and Radio GaGa. Oh my goodness, dream come true. (You bet I got a t-shirt, and I will cherish it always.) 

I hope that didn't make you cringe too much!

We left the venue absolutely beaming. I was happy. Zane was happy. We had a wonderful time. 

The next day, I didn't really have anything planned. We had seen all of the important stuff. We decided that a trip to the Zoo would be fun, so we went that way. The Paris Zoological Park is pretty far out of the city, so I got to see a whole other side of Paris. The streets were wide and open and not packed with people. We had to walk through a park to get to the zoo and once we got there, there was no one in sight. 

This was a bit worrisome, although I had checked the website twice and it didn't say anything about being closed in the winter. When we got to the gate, a security guard came out to greet us. I asked if the zoo was open and he said it was! Since it was the off season, they weren't very busy (which was awesome for us because there were no crowds anywhere). 

It has been many, many years since I have been to a zoo. The last I can recall is Branson, Missouri with my family and my cousins. (That trip was a long time ago.) I was pretty excited and it was fun because for most of it, we were the only ones looking at an animal at any time. We saw other people in the park, but not very often. 

We saw penguins, giraffes, and monkeys. There was a great reptiles exhibit in one of the buildings. There was a bird enclosure that we were able to go into and walk with the flamingoes. There was even a greenhouse that had a tropical forest and its animals inside. Since it's winter time, a few of the animals were being housed indoors instead of their outside cages, but this was fine. I had fun taking pictures of the snakes and anything that would come close to the windows. 

We didn't really know where to go from there, so I decided that I wanted to see the Paris Hotel de Ville. I'm so glad we did. It's a beautiful building. In front, there was another ice skating rink and there were food vendors on either side. Zane and I bought some Vin Chaud to warm us up a bit as it was a little chilly outside. We stood and watched the skaters as we sipped our drinks then decided to go see the Grand Palace and Petit Palace. Zane wanted to see what "petit" meant in terms of palaces. 

The two sit directly across the street from each other. The Grand Palace is massive with towering pillars that stand across the front of the building. It is quite the sight until you turn around to see the Petit Palace. It is much smaller, but is still quite large and definitely prettier than the Grand. It has an intricate arched doorway with a golden gate at the entrance. We weren't able to go inside either of them, but we admired them from the street. 

We decided to walk a bit and came to the Roue de Paris. It's a ferris wheel that stands at the end of one of the streets that stems off of the Arc de Triomphe roundabout. So, we walked towards it and went on a ride. 

I've seen Paris from the tops of several places now, but it never ceases to amaze me with it's beauty. The sun was just setting as we were going around and it was a beautiful thing to see all of the major monuments from the sky. 

When we disembarked, we walked into the park and found chairs. We sat and enjoyed the evening watching birds and people. When we got cold, we went to the streets to find dinner then took the Metro back to our hotel for the last time. 

That night we just hung out and packed all of our stuff up. The next morning we went directly to the airport for Zane's flight and my train home. Saying goodbye was bittersweet. I'm so glad I got to see him and I know he had a wonderful time here. (Although, I'm fairly certain he got tired of hearing me say, "get in this," while holding my phone for a selfie.) 

It's so hard to say goodbye. I'll see him again in about 4 months, but it's still hard. (That, and I'm a little jealous that he got to go back home and I am still here. Not to say that I'm ready to leave yet, but I miss it and I would love to be there.) 

Now I'm back at my apartment in Poitiers. I've got a test tomorrow that I need to study for and a group project to work on. 

Sunday marked 5 months that I've been living in France. That means I only have 4 more to go. That is both incredibly encouraging and fairly sad. I love my life here. I love where I am and the people I'm with. I'm not ready to leave them, but I look to the future with excitement. 

Je t'embrasse,

And here are the rest of the pictures!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Steadily Moving Forward


How are you today? Good? Good. Me too.

I've had a relatively uneventful few of days. Really, not much has happened.

The one class I'm in is going well. We've had 3 quizzes so far! That's more than the number of quizzes I took last semester. (Refresher: that number is zero.)

The class is called European Culture and I'm really enjoying it. It's all about the European Union and how it works and who's a member and how the government works and what it stands for. It's fascinating stuff.

In high school, I never learned about the EU; even in college, it has never been mentioned. I'll be honest and say that before I began this course, I didn't have a clue what it was. (I may or may not have thought European Union was synonymous with everything-on-the-European-continent. It's not.)

Thanks to this class, I know the locations and capitals of all the countries in Europe. (Croatia? Zagreb. Kosovo? Pristina.) I also know that there are 28 EU members and several more that want to be. In a strange turn of events, I even learned more about nanotechnology than I ever thought I would.

Anyway, it's a great class. I like learning this stuff.

That's about all that I've been doing. French classes don't begin until February, so I didn't have that this week. Oh! Monday night I went to volleyball practice. That was a good time. I was definitely feeling it on Tuesday. Actually, I woke up ok; I was only sore in my middle to upper back, but by the end of the day, my thighs and calves were screaming and my forearms were tender. You can bet I'll be there every Monday I'm in Poitiers!

We were assigned another group project (I may have mentioned this already), and my group is pretty great. We're doing a whole bunch of research on the Czech Republic. (I've always had an interest in the Czech Republic and Slovakia because my Papa's family is from Czechoslovakia. They broke up.) It's a nice little country. I'm hoping I can make it over there this semester.

Today I'm starting another class called Innovation Management. I don't know exactly what that will entail, but I'm hoping I'll get credit for it once I get back to SUU. It's with that same teacher whose teaching style I'm not a fan of, but hopefully it'll be good.

One more thing! Last night, Lizette, Joe, and I booked our flights home! I'll be back May 29!

I'm absolutely ecstatic about this weekend! I'll tell you all about it next week!

Have a wonderful week, friends.
Je t'embrasse,

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lyon, Geneva, and a New Semester!


When I wrote the title of this post, it sounded to me like I'd had a busy week. Truth is, I haven't. Not really, anyway.

Joe, Lizette, and I left for Lyon, France last Wednesday as a final trip before the semester started. We arrived in Lyon mid-afternoon and took our time getting to our hotel and deciding what to do for the night. There was a mall nearby our hotel, so we went there to kill some time.

It was wonderful. I bought myself a Venti Caramel Machiatto and strolled through the many shops and just enjoyed myself. My dad called me while I was there and I got to talk with him for a while. I even took out my journal and wrote. Basically, it was the perfect way to spend an evening alone.

I met back up with the other two when we were all ready too go back to the hotel.

The next day, we didn't get to start as early as we had planned, but once we got out, we got going. We first walked in the direction of a small church. When we turned the corner to the entrance, we found that there was a funeral taking place. Of course, we couldn't go inside while there were people mourning, so we continued on to our next destination.

On our way to see the second church on our list, we came across a large square with a ferris wheel at one end. Lizette wanted to ride it, so we did. We were the only people on it, so when we got to the top, the operator stopped it for a few minutes and let us sit there and enjoy the city from above. Lyon is a very beautiful city. It's the second largest in France. When I was walking through the streets it felt like a smaller, quieter, cleaner Paris.

We continued on to see the church at the top of the hill. Once again, we were sidetracked on our way by another church. Lyon Cathedral was small, but it had grand red doors on the front. We went inside briefly, but the entire back half was under construction so there wasn't much to see.

Again, we set out for the church, but it felt like we had to climb a mountain to get there. When we were almost to the church we came across the Ancient Theatre of Fourviére. There were ancient ruins of an amphitheater and all kinds of Roman structures. It almost felt like we were walking the Roman Forum again, but this time with green grass everywhere.

Eventually we made it to Notre Dame de Fourviére. The front is magnificent, but the inside is even more breathtaking. It is reminiscent of Sacre Coeur in Paris, only much more beautiful. There were 4 large mosaics on the walls and a vibrant blue colored much of the ceiling. The lights hanging from the ceiling were decorated in chains and it all worked together to make this church very unique. In the crypt, the ceilings were yellow and it all felt very light.

Outside the church and towards the back, there were spots that overlooked the entire city of Lyon. It's a wonderful sight with the rivers weaving through and the church spires rising above the houses and buildings.

From there, we took the metro down to see the Lyon Traboules. Lyon was once a town where silk was made. Oftentimes this silk had to be transported from one building to another and when it was raining this became very difficult to accomplish. To combat the weather, Lyon was outfitted with many tunnels for the silk runners to use to transport the silk without it getting wet and damaged from the rain. Another reason they were put into place is for the locals to have quick and direct access to the river.

It sounds a lot cooler than it is. The history behind it is really neat, but the tunnels themselves are not all that impressive. They're more like covered walkways than tunnels.

We ended our day in Lyon by sitting on the ring of the Fontaine Barholdi in front of the Hotel de Ville. We people watched for nearly an hour, then made our way back to our hotel.

The next day, we set out bright and early for Geneva, Switzerland! As soon as we arrived, I knew I would like this country. It was so clean and so beautiful. When I think Switzerland in January, I think freezing cold temperatures, but the day we were there it was mildly warm with clear skies. Never once was I cold that day and I didn't see a bit of snow.

First, we took a bus to the outside of Geneva to take a cable car to the top of Mont Salève. This is a mountain that overlooks Geneva, although it is on the France side of the border. We took the car to the top and stayed up there for about a half hour enjoying the views and the landscape.

When we got to the bottom, we hopped on the bus again and took it straight to Lake Geneva and the Jet d'Eau. Geneva is fairly famous for the Water Jet on the Lake, but what I liked most about this stop was the Flower Clock that sat at the entrance of the park. (If you don't know by now how much I love clocks, you certainly will after looking through the pictures of this trip!) The Flower Clock is awesome. It holds the record for the longest second hand at 2.5 meters long.

Next, we took to the streets to find food. We found a small cafe and quickly ate, then went back out to enjoy the weather. We started walking and came across a park with many people roaming about. Directly inside the gates of the park, there were checker boards painted onto the concrete with large pieces for playing. We sat for a minute and watched a game, then Joe and Lizette saw an open board and went to play a game.

While they were playing, I strolled through the park and saw the Reformation Wall. I'm not sure what it's all about, but it was neat. I went back to watch the end of their game (Joe won), then I set off by myself to find the Patek Philippe Museum (all about watches!). I walked to where I thought it was, but it ended up being in the entirely opposite direction. So, I went that way and came across a flea market/carnival thing in a large square. I asked a lady for directions to the museum and she pointed me in the right direction.

When I got to the front doors of the museum, I was met by a sign saying that it was still closed for Christmas Break. It opened again yesterday (January 13). I was so sad to have missed out on that.

Since I couldn't see the museum, I met back up with the other two and we went searching for souvenirs. I bought some Swiss chocolate (obviously) and also found a beautiful, silver pocket watch for myself. (I just couldn't go to Switzerland without buying a clock!) I sat it on my desk next to my computer because I just love looking at it. It's mechanical, so I have to wind it every morning so it will continue working. Both the face and the back of the watch case are clear so if you look closely, you can see the parts moving. I've picked it up more than a few times, just to watch it work. It's so fascinating!

We ended the day with a train back to our hotel in Lyon. The next day we took a train to Paris, and finally back to Poitiers.

I had all day Monday to recuperate and get ready for class on Tuesday. Thankfully, this class was only 4 hours instead of the usual 6, so I had most of the afternoon off too. (I know, I know, I don't go to school that often, so a two hour difference shouldn't be that big a deal, but you know what? I was happy about it anyway.) We meet two more times this week for this class, then I'll start another class in the middle of next week.

Now, I'd like to address something entirely different. I'm not quite sure what to make of these recent terrorist attacks in Paris. I'm so thankful that I'm not living in Paris, but at the same time, so much is happening and I wish I could be there to experience it. Things have been in an uproar in France this past week. The day of the attack, crowds gathered in cities across France and help up their pens in support of the men who died at Charlie Hebdo. The day of the attack, I was in Poitiers, but I was traveling through Paris the next day, and for three days after that I was Lyon. Everywhere I went, I saw posters and signs and cartoon hung up in support of the men who died that day. On the trains and buses, their signs would scroll through saying, "Je sues Charlie" and nearly every store front has posted the same.

There are police everywhere. In nearly every public place we went, we encountered policemen patrolling the area. It is both comforting and scary to see that kind of police presence. I trust them to keep me safe and I trust that they will do their job, but I hate that it's necessary for them to be as visible as they are.

On Sunday, I was traveling through Paris again on my way back to Poitiers. Sunday was the day that the march took place in Paris. Also, all of the public transportation was free. When we got into the subway station, it was packed. I've never seen so many people traveling in Paris on a Sunday. People were in a hurry to get where they were going and there was feeling of unrest everywhere we went. The energy in the air was unsettling; people were excited and talking. People usually don't talk to each other on the Metro or anywhere in Paris, so it was disconcerting to see so many people interacting and abuzz.

When we made it back to Poitiers, we encountered a similar march. There were people walking all over Poitiers heading for the City Center. I've never seen so many people outside on a Sunday afternoon. The streets are usually desolate because everyone stays home. Not today. The walkers were all carrying "Je sues Charlie" signs and wearing the t-shirts.

I had all of my luggage with me, so I had to go home first, but as soon as I could, I went back to the streets to see what was going on in the City Center. (Generally, American citizens are advised to stay away from French gatherings like this, but I couldn't help myself this time.) There were so many people there. It didn't feel violent or even sad; it was all very peaceful. The people of France are angry about what happened, but I think they're determined to create unity through this tragedy. #jesuischarlie

It's a beautiful thing to see the people of the country come together like they have and stand in unity against something so horrific. I think the attack made things real for the French people, but it also made it very real for me. No, I'm not scared to be living here, and yes, I will still be going to Paris again in a little over a week, but I've got a slightly changed perspective on what's going on around me.

I hope you're having a wonderful week so far and that it continues to be full of beauty, and I hope you'll be able to see just how beautiful it all is.

Je t'embrasse,

Here are the links to the pictures from Lyon and Geneva. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Bonne Année!

I hope your new year as been blessed so far! Mine certainly has.

Here's what happened on the rest of our Christmas break trip:

Wednesday we arrived in Munich after visiting Dachau. I was emotionally and physically exhausted from the day, so I camped out on my bed for a few hours after we got to the hotel.

For New Years Eve, we ordered a few pizzas and watched movies in our hotel room. There were fireworks at midnight and from our window (5th floor) we could see them all. It was so loud, but fun to watch. It was kind of a boring NYE, but Germany had Dr. Pepper, so I was entirely happy where I was.

Munich on New Years Day was pretty desolate. All of the things we wanted to do were closed that day, so we stayed at the hotel and watched 2 seasons of Big Bang Theory. I finished the book I was reading, and overall it was just a very relaxing day.

The next day we got out of bed and headed out to see the city. First on our list was Frauenkirche. I think that's basically the same thing as a Notre Dame; it means "Our Lady." This church was beautiful. Actually, every church we visited in Germany was beautiful. They are much more simple than French churches, but still very ornate. There are small details that make it beautiful instead of grand scale beauties.

In this church there is an interesting legend. It's called The Devil's Footprint. So, legend has it that when this church was being built, the Devil was flying by and saw the church. He was curious so he stopped inside to see what it was about. He was standing in the very back of the church. He liked what he saw because it was very dark inside. There were no windows and it was a dreary place. The architect came over to speak with the Devil. The Devil offered to help the architect complete the church within 20 years if he promised to not add any more windows to the building. The architect happily agreed. The Devil then sent his minions to help build the church and it was completed in 20 years like he had promised. He then came back to the church to see this dark and gloomy place again. This time, he entered through a side door instead of the front door like he had last time. He was surprised to see many soaring windows and the place was full of light. The Devil found the architect and was very angry with him because he had gone against the deal. The architect took the Devil back to the front door and stood him in the very place they had made the original deal. He pointed and said, "See those windows were already in place, but you couldn't see them from here. I didn't add any more windows." The Devil was extremely angry; he stomped his foot so hard that it left a print in the marble; which is still visible today. 

From the church we went to the Munich Residence which is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. It was very beautiful. The tour took us through many grand halls and through all the many bedrooms and chambers of the King and Queen. The tour also included a walk through of the Treasury and a theater.

Once we finished, food was next on our agenda. We walked the streets of Munich and could not find a place to eat. We had never had this problem before! Usually in a big city, especially in the tourist part, we can walk down any street and find restaurant after restaurant waiting for us. Not here!

After walking quite a while, we did find a little restaurant. It was warm and had good food, so we were all happy. At this point, it was raining pretty heavily and we were all soaked and cold and ready to go back to the hotel, so we went there and spent the rest of the evening on Netflix.

The next day, we got up again and went out into the cold to see the city. This time we went to the Judisches Museum. It was all about the history of Jews in Munich. I found it quite interesting. In most Jew museums,  the exhibits focus mainly on the Jews in WWII because that is when most people know they were persecuted. Instead of that, this one had an exhibit on the general history of Jews in Munich with a display on the practices of Judaism, then it had two floors dedicated to Jews in WWI. Many Jews were loyal Germans and fought bravely for their country. Even then, antisemitism was on the rise. Jews in the German military were treated differently and hated, but it wasn't until WWII that they were publicly hated.

I had no idea of any of that, but I intend on doing a whole lot more research into it. I keep finding that there is so little I really know about anything here.

We grabbed a quick lunch then continued on through the Munich streets. It began raining again and after a while, Joe and Lizette decided to go back to the hotel. I was enjoying myself so I decided to stay on the streets and continue shopping. I grabbed a coffee and went my merry way. I was entirely happy that day. I enjoyed the rain in my solitude and just walked and thought about everything. I didn't buy anything but a deck of cards for the other two, but I had a good time by myself.

Eventually I had to return to the hotel (mostly because I didn't want to be in a strange city, alone, after dark). We went to bed late and got up early the next morning.

Our train left at 6:30am. Our train that day was 6 hours to Munich. That sounds awful (I was dreading it) but it passed very quickly for me. I had a good playlist on my iPhone and I slept through most of it. The first hour or so, though was tough. There was a screaming, crying child in our car and the mom could not get him happy. (I understand now why we don't see a lot of Europeans with children. I don't blame them.)

Once in Paris, we had a short layover, then we hopped on the train for the 2 hour ride home. It felt so good to be back in Poitiers. We had been gone for way far long.

I was in a rush when we left nearly two weeks ago, so I didn't get to clean my room like I normally do before we go on a trip. I got back and it was a horrible mess. It left me feeling slightly off-kilter all that day and the next day. (I cleaned it that day, but I had some a extra stuff that a friend had left me and I couldn't quite figure out how to organize it.)

Since we were going to be gone for so long, I cleaned out my fridge, so when I got back I had very little to eat. Plus, it was a Sunday so everything was closed. I had to eat spaghetti for dinner and it was absolutely not what I wanted that night. (But that's nothing to complain about, so I'll stop now.)

Can you guess what Monday and Tuesday were spent doing? Anyone? (Bueller...Bueller?) Yep, laundry and shopping. It's a never ending vortex of responsibility adulthood is.

Now I'm just preparing for our next trip. We'll be gone for only four days this time, so that's a relief. Then, the day after we return is our first day of class. The end of January will be busy!! I'm simultaneously looking forward to it and dreading it. I have awesome things planned for the end of January, but I don't want to go to classes. (The excitement overrules the dread on this though, seriously, I'm ecstatic for January 24-28!!!)

That's all I have for now. Thanks for reading!

Je t'embrasse,

PS. While I was home, I uploaded the rest of pictures from Paris, Germany, and Dachau. There are also links to those pictures at the bottom of their respective posts.

And here are the Munich pictures!

Sunday, January 4, 2015



Today we went to Dachau Concentration Camp. I have quite a bit to say about it, so I decided to make it its own blog post. If you want to read about what I've been up to in Germany, you can click here or just scroll down until you see the last post. Also, consider yourself warned that this won't exactly be a pleasant read, but I hope you read it anyway.

As you may or may not know, World War II and especially the Holocaust interest me greatly. I've always loved learning about it and reading all I can on the subject. For this reason, Germany was the one trip I was most wanting to take.

I've always thought that I would love Germany, and after being here for nearly a week now, I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite countries. I like the language. I like the architecture. I like Germans. I just really like it here.

So the majority of this trip has been spent at castles, but today we finally got to go to a concentration camp. This is what I most wanted to do.

When we drove up, the first thing I saw was the cement fence and the tall guard towers enclosing the whole place. To get to the entrance, I had to walk down a beautiful tree lined path to the Visitor Center then to the main entrance of the camp itself.

One of my first thoughts was, how could something so evil have taken place in a setting as beautiful as this one? My next thought was my surprise at how close to the town this place was. The town of Dachau was right next door to the camp. Townspeople probably walked by this place every day without ever knowing what was going on inside.

There was so much false information being distributed about was really going on and the walls are tall enough that from the outside, you cannot see inside. They had no reason not to believe the reports from inside.

As I approached the gate, I couldn't help but wonder about all the many thousands of people who had entered here before me. So much took place there. The walls hold so much history. The gate reads, "Arbeit Macht Frie" or "Work makes you free."

Dachau was one of the first concentration camps in Germany. It was built in an old munitions factory from WWI. It was to be a camp for political prisoners, and was designed to house 6,000 inmates. After a few years, prisoners from other camps were transferred there and it became more diverse.

One of the largest groups in the camp were the Poles. There were also French, Italian, Roma and Sinti, and Soviet prisoners. Other groups included Austrian and German Jews, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witness. (Although, in 1942, Dachau was declared to be Jew free.) Dachau was also the only place where priests were sent. At first, they were allowed to hold regular services and were able to receive communal wine and bread from the Vatican, but this stopped at some point and eventually, only German priests were allowed to have Mass.  Although it was meant for 6,000, when the camp was liberated, it was holding more than 30,000 people.

Directly inside the gates is the Roll Call Grounds. The prisoners had to stand at attention for no less than an hour every morning and every night, no matter the weather, to be counted by the guards. If a guard miscounted, they would start over. If there had been an escape attempt, roll call lasted longer as a punishment. Some days, the bodies of men who had died that day had to be dragged out to be counted.

Inside the former administration building, there was a museum outlining the history of the camp and all that had gone on in the camp and in the world while Dachau was in operation. The museum went through the rooms where the prisoners had been admitted to the camp. In the room where they handed over all their belongings, there was a desk that held all the records of the prisoners, still in tact. We walked through the room where they were bathed and shaved.

The administration building faced the barracks. Behind the admin building was the camp prison, called the Bunker. Inside there were 137 cells. Half were used for punishment for the prisoners and the other half were for SS use.

I walked the the entire length of what was open to the public. It was creepy to me. Each cell was the same-- blue walls, a toilet in the corner, and a large, wooden door with a small barred window. At the end of the row, there were cells that were reserved for priests. In the last cell, there was a makeshift altar. In the other direction, there were cells for "special prisoners". These prisoners were treated relatively well and were not made to work like the other prisoners. One man who built a bomb to kill Hitler was held here. He got special treatment in that, instead of a single cell, he was given three adjoining cells.  

It was dark in the building and it felt very sinister to me. I know that the people who were held here often committed infractions that were minuscule, but others really were criminals. After Dachau was liberated, the Bunker was used by the American military to hold Nazi criminals and later as a military prison.

Behind the roll call grounds, stood the prisoner's barracks. Originally, there were 34 buildings standing there-- 30 to house the inmates and four for various other uses. Today, only two are left standing. Inside, there are rows and rows of wooden beds, usually stacked three tall.

Barrack 30 was reserved for priests, 26 for internationals, and 28 for Poles. The others were a mixture of prisoners. In addition, each prisoner was required to wear a colored badge indicating which group they belonged to.

In some barracks, medical experiments were preformed on the prisoners. Typhoid was taking out much of the German army and was running rampant through Dachau, so the doctors were trying to find a cure for it. Prisoners were given outrageous amounts of medicine or untested drugs. Some were exposed to extreme cold to observe how the body responds to hypothermia. High altitude tests were preformed on some. The doctors even had aspirations of discovering a "wonderdrug" that would rival penicillin. Nearly 200 prisoners were experimented on with about half of them dying and and half being permanently damaged from the abuse.

The barracks were set in two rows of 17. The path between the two rows was called the Camp Road. After all their work was done and evening roll call was complete, the prisoners were allowed to meet with the other prisoners and exchange information and talk to people. "The "spirit of the camp road." as the prisoners expressed it, was a symbol of the solidarity amongst the prisoners which developed despite the omnipresent violence."

At the end of the Camp Road stands a large bell and Catholic memorial. To the right is the Jewish memorial and to the left is a Protestant church. These memorials are sacred and beautiful. They are simple, yet fitting to the environment in which they stand.

To the left, through the gate, is the path that leads to the crematorium. It was eerie to me to walk through the place where so many died and so many bodies were disposed of. There are 4 ovens that can hold 3 to 4 bodies at a time. Towards the end of the war, there were so many bodies that they couldn't dispose of them quickly enough. In an attempt to hide the actual number of deaths at Dachau, thousands of bodies were loaded onto a train to be taken away before liberation.

Also in the crematorium is the gas chamber. At Dachau, since it was a work camp and not an extermination camp, the gas chambers were never used for mass murders, only for individuals and small groups. It was chilling just the same. Above the door read, Brausebad, which means shower. Inside, there were fake shower heads. All of this was to prevent prisoners from suspecting what the room actually was and refusing to go inside.

I walked as much of the camp as I could before my feet froze. Then, I was reminded that thousands had lived here with fewer articles of clothing in their possession than I had on at the moment.

I wanted to walk every path and touch the buildings where they had lived. The people who lived and died there deserve to be remembered. They deserve our respect. We should never forget the things that happened there, even if it's painful.

I didn't want to cry when I arrived, but I did. I teared up when I read about the men who refused year after year to take the Hitler Oath and suffered for it. I teared up when I watched the documentary and saw the footage that was taken while the camp was in operation. The prisoners' vacant stares haunted me so that I couldn't sit still. When I walked down the Camp Road and the bell at the end began to toll, I cried. I sobbed. To be in this place where a glimmer of hope and joy lived in the midst of such oppression was incredible to me. Even though their lives were unbelievably hard, they still made friends and cherished the time they had together. They were each others support system. This struck me and I couldn't help but be moved by it.

The bell rang out as I walked the Camp Road and only stopped once I neared the end.

Dachau Concentration Camp was liberated on April 27, 1945, 7 days after Hitler's last birthday, and 3 days before he committed suicide. That day, the flags from all the nations who were represented by the prisoners were flown in the camp. More than 30,000 Jews and political prisoners were freed that day. The reported death count was 31,951, but there are probably many, many unreported deaths.

Even though it was bitterly cold and snow covered every inch of the place, I wouldn't have had it any other way. If I had seen Dachau in the summer, I don't think it would have seemed so bad to me. But it was bad, and it was miserable, but people survived and I'm in awe of that fact.

I was moved by the whole experience. In the car ride afterwards, I was silent because so much was still running through my mind. I learned so much and I was incredibly humbled by the experience.

I hope this post wasn't too hard for you to read. This was more for me to get my thoughts out, but I hope you enjoyed it and maybe learned something too.

Je t'embrasse,

Click here to see the rest of the Dachau pictures.