Paris, je t’aime

This weekend was important for three reasons:

  1. The weather is a bit cooler now.
  2. I got to see my best friend.
  3. I left Spain for the first time to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world.

This trip to Paris was actually the very first one I planned, all the way back in September. It was one thing I absolutely did not want to miss – what could be better than visiting your best friend in Paris? I flew in Wednesday night and got to Emma’s apartment around midnight (she lives in a neighborhood near the Bastille), so we just talked for a little while and went to bed, because she had class in the morning and we both had a long weekend ahead of us!

On Thursday, Emma had class for three hours in the morning so I went to the Louvre. It was GIGANTIC. I was in there for over three hours but by the last hour or so had started to walk through the rooms, barely stopping unless something really caught my eye. I did get to see most of the famous stuff – the Mona Lisa, The Code of Hammurabi (a Babylonian code of law, one of the oldest written works, and the origin of the phrase “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”), and the Venus de Milo. I’m glad I went to the Louvre because I couldn’t imagine having gone to Paris without exploring it, however, it was definitely the least favorite of the museums I went to in Paris. After, Emma and I met up and went to see the Palais Garnier, the opera building. The outside was beautiful, and I would love to someday return and see a show there. We decided we didn’t want to pay to go inside, and instead went to the Galeries Lafayette, a famous department store. There were actually ten whole stories of beautiful things I couldn’t afford. We spent some time drooling over the beautiful, super-expensive products while admiring the store’s elaborate Christmas decorations. After, we went to the Arc de Triomphe, but decided not to go to the top because for some reason my “But I’m an EU citizen!” thing didn’t work there as it did everywhere else I went throughout the weekend. (Side note – most attractions are free for EU residents under 26. At this point, I have not yet received my resident card from the Spanish government, but I have my University of Seville ID card. While it doesn’t have my birth-date, it worked everywhere except the Arc de Triomphe, saving me about 50 Euro on museum/monument entrances throughout the weekend!).

We walked back along the Champs Élysées, a street with (more) high end shops. It was beautiful at night with all of the Christmas lights. We got macarons at Ladurée, an amazing sweet store selling many incredible looking sweets for prices I wouldn’t even spend on a meal, famous for their amazing quality macarons. I had never had macarons before, so I got two flavors I knew I would like – coconut and coffee. They were absolutely AMAZING! On our way home, we went grocery shopping near Emma’s house. I got some brie. So good, but who knew the stereotype about smelly French cheese was true? It stunk up the apartment all weekend – sorry Emma. We then ate at home and watched a movie because we were pooped.

On Friday, we had a bit of a lazier morning with a slow breakfast and Vampire Diaries. This weekend was interesting in that there were so many things in Paris to do and I wanted to see everything, but I also wanted to spend time with Emma, and as it so happens, what we enjoy doing together the most is absolutely nothing. So there were really long days, but also most nights in watching movies. I wouldn’t have it any other way. After breakfast, we walked to the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris. It was amazing getting to see some fall foliage as Seville, like Florida, is too warm to have a fall. We accidentally stumbled upon a museum showing an apartment Victor Hugo had in Paris for many years, and decided to walk through. Let me say, that man had some weird taste. I can’t really describe it in any other way besides “over the top.”

Actually, let me just show you a picture.

Ugly, right? From the Place des Voges, we walked to Hôtel de Ville, a beautiful government building, and from there to Notre Dame. I still can’t believe after all these years of seeing Notre Dame via VCR in the Hunchback or Notre Dame via stage set at Disney, I got to see it in real life. Frollo wasn’t there, though, probably because he’s hanging out in Orlando :). I think I was also so impressed because this year marks the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame. I keep encountering this in Europe – everything is so much older than I am used to! In the US, our history really starts a paltry 400 some-odd years back. I guess I just can’t even picture something being around for all that time. From there, we went to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore and got amazing greasy street crêpes for lunch.We also saw these awesome street performers!

Street Performing… Paris, you’re doing it right.

Emma then went to class while I wandered through a few neighborhoods (Latin Quarter?) to the Musée d’Orsay – SO much better than the Louvre, as I’m a huge fan of Impressionism and discovered Neo-impressionism, a style I knew little about but liked even more. Here’s some of my favorite paintings that I saw (Van Gogh, Matisse, and Herbe), but there were so many more!

Orsay

After the museum, I walked back to the Louvre via le Jardin des Tuileries (the oldest and biggest garden in Paris), where Emma and I met up again to walk to the Eiffel tower. I had seen it from a distance, but went to see it close up. You can wait in line to go up to the top, but it cost money and it was WAY too cold to wait in line for. Thank you Emma for talking me out of it! But the Tour Eiffel was beautiful at night all lit up, and every hour it sparkled! Here’s a video: please don’t make fun of me, saying Eiffel tower in proper french is hard! I was trying to say “Eiffel Tower with sparkles,” but the word “sparkle” isn’t exactly among the first words one learns in another language. Basically, watch this on mute.

On the way back home, we stumbled upon a free Dior exhibit at the Grand Palais, a beautiful building with a lot of events and exhibitions. The exhibit, celebrating the Miss Dior perfume, was really interesting and I felt more chic just by being there. It’s clear the French take their fashion seriously and have a lot of pride in producing high quality products. That night, Emma’s friends came over and we hung out for a while, talking and listening to music. It was basically like a 5 hour French test. When someone got really into a story they were telling, their French got faster and faster and with the music in the background it was really hard to catch some of it. However, I really surprised myself with how much French I knew! I know I shouldn’t be surprised because I have technically been studying French for over 4 years, but I guess I have always seen it as a secondary language to Spanish and since I haven’t been making it a priority, I guess I just always assumed my French was awful. Anyway, it made me appreciate, once again, the power of language and communication. Sorry – I feel like sometimes this blog is one big advertisement to learn a second language, but I always get so happy when I feel like knowing another language is giving me a kind of inside access into another culture. That’s just my dorky Culture and Politics major talking. ANYWAY, Emma’s friends were so nice and totally busted the rude Parisian stereotype. However, Emma totally reinforced it throughout the weekend strolling through red lights like it was her job (hehe, sorry Emma). Although the second half of our night included plans to go to an interesting club, those plans didn’t play out as the venue was small and crowded. Honestly, though, I had so much fun just hanging out in Emma’s apartment talking with her friends and listening to music, I didn’t see the night as a failure at all. Thanks Emma for considering me cool enough to meet your friends 😉

On Saturday, we went to Montmarte, a hill in Paris containing the Sacré Coeur. According to Wikipedia, “Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the excesses of the Second Empire and socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ.” The inside was predictably beautiful, although in contrast to Notre Dame, I enjoyed it more for its mosaics than its stained glass. We explored Montmarte a bit, then headed to the Palais du Luxembourg, originally built as a residence for the mother of Louis XIII, but now the seat of the French Senate. Luxembourg is also known for the beautiful gardens that surround it, and even in autumn it was easy to appreciate its beauty. After a brief break for lunch, we headed to the Panthéon, originally a church but now a mausoleum. We saw some dead people! Well, the tombs anyway – notably the remains of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, and Alexandre Dumas were all there in the crypt. Also, some of the “remains” of certain people are nothing more than an urn containing their heart – so spooky. That night we stayed in and watched another movie – it’s what Emma and I do best.

On Sunday, we woke up early to go to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the world’s most visited cemetery, to see more dead people. The cemetary is still used today, although recently, “Père Lachaise has adopted a standard practice of issuing 30-year leases on gravesites, so that if a lease is not renewed by the family, the remains can be removed, space made for a new grave, and the overall deterioration of the cemetery minimized. Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to Aux Morts ossuary, in Père Lachaise cemetery.” How cool and morbid! Notably, we saw the graves of Jim Morrison (which was covered in flowers, and Emma said the last time she went someone had left a glass of whiskey there), Chopin, and Oscar Wilde. It is a popular tradition to leave a lipstick print on his grave, but at a request from the family, it’s now highly discouraged.

Next, we went to the Centre Georges Pompidou, containing the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Apparently, it is the second largest collection of modern art after the MOMA in NYC. I was a little bit wary after my experience at the Guggenheim, and although the museum and a few questionable pieces, the majority of them were actually pretty cool! By this time, we had to rush back to the apartment to grab my stuff so I could catch my flight.

I realize this post is really long, but it’s only because I did so many things and I don’t want to forget a single one of them! I had an absolutely amazing weekend in Paris. Emma, thank you so much for hosting me and I’ll make sure to show you the same amazing hospitality when you come to visit me. I can’t even believe I was actually there – now it all feels like an amazing dream. Although to experience everything Paris has to offer would take months, I’m happy I got to see so many amazing things and I definitely want to go back someday (maybe when I have more money to go shopping). Paris, je t’aime!

Advertisements

Travel is a Rollercoaster: Bilbao and Santander

My travel weekend started with a wake-up at 4:30, a bike ride to the train station, a bus to the airport, and a flight at 7:00. Luckily, I passed out on the flight. Upon landing, I took the bus and arrived at the center of Bilbao around 9:00 with an hour to kill before the Guggenheim opened at 10:00. Obviously, the first thing on my list of things to do was COFFEE. I wandered up and down a few streets in the city center until I found a Pastelería (Quick Spanish lesson: In Spain, every shop ends in “ría” and the beginning tells you what kind of shop it is. Librería = book store, Frutería = fruit shop, Panadería = bread shop, etc). The desserts looked amazing, but it was pretty early so I decided to go with a standard café con leche. The environment of the pastry shop was so nice and the desserts looked so amazing that I did end up going back the next day for dessert.

 

Since there is so much of the Guggenheim to admire from the outside, I decided to walk back a little early to wander around. It was here that I started to really appreciate the vast differences between the North and South of Spain. First of all, it was COLD. Well, comparatively much colder than Sevilla’s late October highs of mid-to-high 70s. Also, Bilbao is surrounded by mountains. No matter what direction from which I looked out of the city, I could see a mountain – which I loved. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that Bilbao is in the País Vasco (Basque Country), which, although not a separate country, is a region of Spain with a very distinct culture and its own language, called “Basque” in English, “Vasco” in Spanish, and “Euskera” in, well, Euskera. Euskera is unlike any language I’ve ever seen or heard of. In fact, it’s unlike any language ever spoken, being one of the oldest languages in the world, even older than Spanish. Euskera is a mystery in that nobody knows it’s exact origin. I found that fascinating! While the language is pretty harsh to look at, listening to it is actually beautiful. Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics to show you what Euskera looks like written, and a beautiful song by a Basque singer that my host in Santander showed me:

Lau teilatu gainian
ilargia erdian eta zu
goruntz begira,
zure keia eskuetan
putzara batekin… putz!
Neregana etorriko da
ta berriz izango gara
zoriontsu
edozein herriko jaixetan.

If nothing else, please listen to the song! It’s so beautiful you will absolutely not regret it. It’s amazing how the language can look so ugly and sound so beautiful.

Anyway, as I was walking along the river around the Guggenheim, I had already decided I was in love with the city. In hindsight, I think it was mostly the excitement of being in a new place, because I literally could not keep the grin off my face. Nothing does that like travel. “Objectively”, though, Bilbao is beautiful. I loved having a break from the old Sevillian buildings to get a glimpse at some skyscrapers and modern architecture. However, the center of Bilbao is far from having a cold-metal industrial look. The river that winds through the city is full of parks along the bank, all having an impressive collection of sculptures. Seriously, this city is full of sculptures! A little after ten, I decided to go into the Guggenheim, which was…. less impressive than the outside. I think that each person’s experience will vary, but since the 2nd and 3rd floor are dedicated to temporary exhibits, I really think it depends on what time you go. It also depends on how much you like modern art (read: how much you are willing to accept that a sculpture of a chair with a pile of dirty clothes on it is “art”). However, I had absolutely no regrets. The architecture and sculptures of the Guggenheim were what made it a million percent worth it.

After the Guggenheim, I walked along the river a little bit, ate the sandwich my host mom made me, then headed to my hostel to find that I was the only one who had booked a bed in my six person room! What luck, I basically paid 15 Euros for a hotel room! After resting a little, I walked back along the river to the Casco Viejo, or old town of Bilbao, which dates to the 1300s. As I mentioned before, maybe being from Sevilla has desensitized me a little bit to old buildings, but I actually liked the industrial part of Bilbao better. After exploring the Casco Viejo, I wandered into a vegan shoe store to ask for dinner recommendations. The sole owner and employee was obviously extremely bored, and told me he could show me around a little if i came back at 8:30. In the mean time, I  walked to a park a little way up one of the mountains with an incredible view of Bilbao at night. At this time, a headache was starting to develop, but I tried to ignore it because I (stupidly) didn’t bring any advil.

At 8:30, I returned to the store and the owner took me on a little tour of the Casco Viejo and explained some of the monuments – churches, old fountains, street signs, etc. We ended up at a place with VEGGIE BURGERS! I missed those! However, the whole time my headache was building. As we sat down to eat, I found out this guy was pretty eccentric. Obviously I don’t consider veganism in and of itself eccentric, but this guy was also strongly against modern medicine (as I found out when I asked if he had ibuprofen), thinks 911 is a conspiracy theory, etc. I still think he was a pretty cool guy, but this whole time my headache had been getting worse and worse. Also, as I found out later, one of the symptoms of a migraine is difficulty processing speech, so as the night went on it became more and more difficult to speak and understand him, which I thought was just my Spanish getting worse but was actually a warning. So as I was feeling shittier and shittier I kept trying to be polite, which was getting more difficult as the night went on. I took the metro back to my hostel shortly after I managed to ditch the guy, and by the time I entered my room, I had a full blown migraine. Because of this, my Halloween included: Bed at 11:30, waking up every few hours in pain, the inner battle of deciding if getting up to vomit would make me feel better or worse, etc. Happy Halloween!

The next day I decided to take it a little bit easy because I was still headachy and all the pharmacies were closed due to a national holiday. I woke up a little later than I had planned, filled myself up on hostel breakfast, checked out and walked to the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. As far as the artwork goes, this was way more my style. They had an impressive collection spanning from prehistory to modern art that appealed to me way more than the modern at at the Guggenheim. Since I had explored the Casco Viejo the day before, I decided to walk through the more modern city center. My bus was at 5:00, so I had plenty of time to wander. The combination of a slight drizzle and the national holiday made it so the streets were almost deserted, which was a little bizarre. I ended up at the Alhondiga – a really cool cultural space with three floors of library books, an exhibition area, a small store, a few cafes, and a gym. They also have film showings and community events. If I lived in Bilbao, I would definitely come here a lot. Every community should have this awesome of a space.  By this time, it was about time to find the bus station and hop on my bus to Santander.

Although they are in different autonomous communities, Santander and Bilbao are less than an hour and a half away from each other by bus. I arrived at Santander at 6:30. In Santander, I had my first experience with CouchSurfing! For those who are unfamiliar, it is a safe website where you can meet people from the areas you are traveling to and “surf” on their couch, i.e. Stay for free. While my budget appreciates that immensely, the point of the organization is to broaden horizons by allowing travelers to meet a wide variety of people, learn about the culture of the places they are visiting through the eyes of a local, and make a global network of friends. I met my host, Ibai, went to drop my stuff off and shower (woo!), and then went with Ibai to an Indian restaurant –  I had looked up vegetarian places and found it to be pretty much the only restaurant in Santander with a vegetarian menu. Also I missed Indian food. It was Ibai’s first time eating Indian food ever! I’m glad I could offer up some new experiences too. After, Ibai showed me the downtown area of Santander by night. The interesting thing about Santander is that it doesn’t have an old town because there was a terrible fire in the 1940s that burnt down almost everything. Because of this, almost every building in Santander is new. After this, I was pretty tired, so we went back to Ibai’s piso and I went to sleep pretty early.

Saturday, I really got to experience the advantages of Couchsurfing. Ibai showed me a small park by the beach. The views were AMAZING. The beach in Santander was so different than beaches in Florida, with cliffs and wild waves. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I don’t know that I would have even known this place existed without help from a local. After, we walked to the faro (lighthouse), back through a pueblo then down by the more touristy beachy areas of Santander to the peninsula de Magdalena. It was a beautiful park/wildlife space with small “zoo”- (penguins and seals) lots of beautiful trees, and the Palacio de la Magdalena – which used to be a summer home for the royal family. I wanted to go in, but they only open it to guided tours three times a day, and the next one wasn’t for another four hours. So, we walked down along the beach. I wanted to walk through the center of Santander more, but Ibai understandably didn’t, so he went home and I stayed in the center. The whole afternoon it was pouring and basically kept raining all day so I just wandered around, spent some time in a pastelería with free WIFI, went to the cathedral and a mercado. Walking around with blisters and wet feet in a storm isn’t exactly my idea of a perfect afternoon. However, overall I had a great time in Santander, although I’m happy I didn’t spend more time there. I could see going for a week with family during beach season but otherwise one day was good enough. That night I just took it easy, talking with my host, and went to bed pretty early again to make my flight in the morning.

Overall, I had a pretty great weekend! I got to see two drastically different cities, met some interesting people, and got to experience the ever-amazing joy (although with plenty of highs and lows) of travel. Check facebook for some pictures!