Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spring has Sprung in Paris

Another month has gone by since my last post and I truly CANNOT believe how quickly it has been. In this last month I have continued my goal of branching out of my usual comforts and experiencing things from every aspect this opportunity has to offer.

I’ve made it essential to travel as much as possible while I am here. Since my last trips to Brussels and Madrid, I have ventured to a few more places inside of France.

Before our delicious Laos meal with Sarena's aunt
Theatres Romains de Fouviere 
3 friends from my program and I went to Lyon, which is known as the gastronomical capital of France. Our friend Sarena’s uncle came to take us to his house for dinner the first night. She has family that lives in Lyon (how convenient) that offered to give us a traditional Laos meal. They also had Swiss friends over, so we were able to enjoy a very multi-cultural evening. It was a really fun experience to have – meeting people from all over the world, enjoying a meal together, and bonding over a general love for life. After being sufficiently stuffed with delicious foods, we made our way back to central Lyon to enjoy the nightlife. It is much smaller and quieter compared to Paris, but Lyon has such a lively, energetic vibe and lots of young people. The next day we walked close to 22km ALL over the city. We saw the

On the Rhône River
Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere, the Theatres Romains de Fourviere, which is the oldest outdoor theatre in France, old town of Lyon, the ginormous Parc de la Tete d’Or, the historic Saint Jean Quartier, Place Bellecour, and other smaller sites. That night we booked a reservation at one of the many delicious restaurants in Lyon – the Brasserie Midi Minuit Confluence. I tried ox bone marrow, roasted duck with dates, figs and a honey sauce, and a moelleux au chocolate (a traditional chocolate cake with a molten filling). When they say Lyon is know for its food, they aren’t kidding - I could not have had a better meal that night. The weather was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and the overall feeling in Lyon stole my heart. It currently stands as my favorite city thus far.

Square Verdrel
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Rouen
Tour Saint Jeanne d'Arc
The follow weekend I chose to just do a solo day trip to the tiny city (more like a town) of Rouen. It is the capital of the Normandy area, and was heavily damaged in World War II. You can still see bullet holes in some of the buildings, and other remnants from the war. This is also the place where Joan of Arc was kept in her last days and burned at the stake. I wanted to see this medieval place that is not well known to many people outside of France. Rouen is so small and most of the sites are in a pedestrian area right in the heart of the city, so I made it my mission to walk through all the twisting streets along my way. I first went to the Cathedral, which was my 3rd Notre Dame so far. The gothic architecture never disappoints me, both from overwhelming presence the outside to the colorful display of stained glass inside. After I walked to the Gros Horlage, which is a huge, ornate clock set in between the buildings along a cobble-stoned street. It is said that this clock ran for over 500 million hours, from the 14th century to 1928! The other places I saw in Rouen were mostly to do with Joan of Arc – the site where she was burned at the stake, the tower in which she was held, the cemetery where she was buried, and the church erected in her honor. A few other places included outdoor markets with lots of fresh food venders, about 3 more churches, and along The Seine. Rouen was a beautiful little surprise, with medieval architecture, bright little homes, and extremely friendly people.

Castle Hill - Château de Nice
Following this trip I decided to take a longggg bus ride down to Nice, along the Côte d’Azur. I have never been to the south of France, aside from a one-day visit to Monaco, so I was really looking forward to seeing some beaches (something I miss so dearly about Hawaii) and Mediterranean-inspired buildings. I went alone, even though usually am apprehensive about solo travel. I’ve learned that traveling on my own is extremely rewarding though because you feel such a sense of
Miroir d'Eau - Promenade du Paillon
independence and confidence in your abilities for being able to maneuver your way all on your own. I spent 2 days in Nice, and one day in Monaco – which was unplanned but so fun. I met a girl, Shannon, a student from Ohio studying in England, who was also traveling alone and we decided to adventure together. It definitely became on of the best decisions I made. I was hoping to find people along the way that would make good travel companions and my hope was fulfilled. Old town Nice offered an Italian-vibe with its food and architecture, as well as more beautiful churches, open plazas, and quaint streets with tons of shopping. Both days I went to the beach just to sit and relax, dipping my feet into the Mediterranean Sea to satisfy my withdrawals from the ocean at home. I ate more gelato than probably humanly possible, but all the different and exciting flavors (cactus, avocado, olive, lavender - which is the one

I tried) were too tempting to not indulge in. Nice was home to the Château de Nice on top of Castle Hill, offering incredible views of the beach and old town, Monument aux Morts which was erected for WWI victims, the Port of Nice, green spaces like Place Massena and Promenade du Paillon, more churces like the forth Notre Dame I've seen, and the pebbly beach.
Port Hercules - Monaco

Monaco, known for its wealthy, aristocratic inhabitants and equally beautiful coastline, offered us more nature than I expected in the Jardin Exotiques, including an underground grotto of many caves with calcium deposits, stalagmites and stalactites. Following all the cacti and flowers in the Jardin Exotiques, we headed over to Monaco-Ville, which holds the Palais Princier, Cathédrale de Monaco (which holds the tomb of Princess Grace Kelly), Jardin St Martin, and the Musée d'Oceanographique - a stunning aquarium and marine history museum. Following this, and some more gelato, we headed on a bateau bus across Port Hercules to get to Monte Carlo (specifically the Casino). While the casino itself was disappointing inside because of the 10 euro entrance cost and small accessibility inside, it was great to see because of its grandeur. Monte Carlo is known as the most expensive city, and the plethora of high-end cars, boutique shops and designer labels everywhere made that belief clear. This weekend trip was incredible because it was relaxing, indulging, and completely unplanned.

Tulips - my favorite flower blooming everywhere
Yesterday, I went to the very small town of Giverny, which is most famous for being where Claude Monet lived and painted for the majority of his life. We walked in the incredibly flourishing gardens, filled with more varieties of flowers in ranges of colors than you could imagine. We toured his quaint and charming traditional Normandy farmhouse. It housed both his works and other Japanese art that Monet found inspiring during his lifetime. After seeing where he lived, there is no doubt in my mind as to why Monet chose to spend his time in Giverny. It was truly beautiful.

The best part of traveling is meeting new people
If you had asked me 3 months ago whether I’d be traveling by myself, I would have told you no way. Thankfully, I broke out of this fear and now I feel a new sense of self. I've been able to meet other students traveling both from the US and all over the world - people like Shannon (pictured left), Pinar from Turkey, Jennifer and Sandra from Switzerland, Tatiana from Russia, and many others. Listening to that little voice in my heart telling me "Go do it!" has been the best thing for me. I know that these memories I'm making are going to last me the rest of my life. What is better than being able to look back on life and smile at all of the fun, adventurous, somewhat crazy and spontaneous things you have experienced? I think that's hard to beat.

In less than a week my mom will be visiting Paris, and we are traveling to Amsterdam and London for my two-week Spring Break. Although I love living abroad, my homesickness can get the best of me and I am SO looking forward to some familiarity. Plus, I can’t wait to show my mom around Paris from a more “local” perspective!

Perfect Friday night in Paris
Bonus - This photo I took last night at sunset from the summit of the Eiffel Tower. It was actually my first time ALL the way up to the top (I had only been to the second level before a few years ago when I visited). I was walking home, taking my normal route right underneath the tower, when I realized how short the line was, so I made another spontaneous decision to head up on this clear and beautiful night. I am so grateful to have these opportunities! How incredibly lucky I am to live in Paris, in my early 20s, right next to one of the most well-known monuments in the entire world. People ask me if I get bored of it. How could I? This photo is proof.

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