Monday, January 20, 2014

Saturday Lyonnais

About two weeks after getting back to Strasbourg, I went on my first little trip. Olimpia lives pretty close to Lyon, and she wanted me to meet her there to go shopping. That’s an offer I couldn’t refuse. 

It was pretty far to travel by train for just a day trip (almost 4 hours), but it wasn’t too bad. I did have to deal with a high school group on my train, though. They kept singing, which was pretty annoying. But at least the song they kept singing was ‘La Vie en Rose,’ one of my favorites!

I met Olimpia at the train station, and then we successfully figured out the tram and metro in order to do some sightseeing. I hadn’t been to Lyon since 2005, so I didn’t remember much about the city and definitely wanted to see more of it than just the shops.

Our first destination was the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. I vaguely remembered this place from my last visit to Lyon, but the beautiful interior of the church was still a surprise. There are mosaics all over the walls, and the color scheme is gorgeous.

This church is very new by Europe standards- built in 1870. Usually churches that new are unsatisfying to me because I can tell it’s not the real deal from the Middle Ages (picky picky, I know). But this one completely satisfied my love of beautiful old churches, so congratulations to Notre Dame de Fourvière.

As you can kind of tell from the last picture, there’s quite a view from this church. It’s on top of a hill that overlooks Lyon, and there’s a great view of the city from here.

Notice the ferris wheel in the middle; because later in the day we saw it from the ground.

We wanted to take a picture up here, but there were several obstacles. First, we didn’t have anyone to take one of us. Second, since we were up so high it was incredibly windy. We attempted about 10 crazy-looking selfies where our hair was sticking straight up, until Olimpia had the genius idea that we should put our scarves on our heads.

We both happened to be wearing scarves from Jerusalem (since I bought her one there), so it seemed fitting. Here’s the result. You can’t see any of the view behind us, and we look Muslim...but we did get a picture so that’s what counts haha. We have proof that we were in Lyon together!

There are ruins of a Roman theater pretty close to this church, so we went there next. This brought back major flashbacks of last summer. I can’t even count how many Roman theaters we saw, they eventually started to blend together in my mind. Those Romans were very committed to building theaters in everywhere they went.

We had fun hanging out there for a while before hitting up another church, the cathedral St. Jean. The inside wasn’t super impressive, especially since they’re in the middle of renovations, but I loved the outside.

This cathedral is just down the hill from Notre Dame de Fourvière, so you get a cool view of the basilica from here.

After that, we wandered the streets of Vieux (old) Lyon for a bit and enjoyed the colorful buildings.



Eventually, we came across the ferris wheel that we saw before. By this point, it was starting to get dark out so it was the perfect time to start our shopping. 

You probably don’t know that January and February is a magical time in France because of ‘les soldes,’ or ‘the sales’. Literally the entire country is on sale. And not some lame 20% off deal...everything is like 50% or more. EVERYTHING! 

You know, I thought it would be depressing to go back to France and have all of the magical Christmas decorations and markets be gone...but les soldes are really helping that transition. 

At the first store, I got a shirt for 60% off that I wanted to buy back in October but it was too expensive. My other purchase was at a shoe store where I got cute heels and a purse. Both of them were 50% off, which was so satisfying.

Then we got dinner and headed to the huge mall that’s right across the street from the train station. I remember going here with the Porchers in 2005 too. I bought Puma tennis shoes, which I thought were so cool and European. Ahhhh, back when wearing tennis shoes wasn’t against one of my life policies.

I didn’t get any clothes at the mall because I had already spent my money, and we didn’t have that long there before our trains left. However, the nutella milkshake I got there was probably worth a trip to the mall in itself. Also, just being in a mall makes me happy.

This picture makes me happy. Malls are the best. I think this is one of the biggest in Europe.

My train to Strasbourg left at 8, so after saying goodbye to Olimpia I was on my way home. Lucky for me, there was a big Israeli family with lots of kids that were speaking Hebrew pretty loudly in my train compartment. I really enjoyed myself listening to that and letting it turn on the Hebrew-understanding part of my brain that’s been turned off for a while. Listening to cute Israeli kids speak Hebrew is so superior to listening to high schoolers sing Edith Piaf songs, so the ride home was better than the ride there.

It was a successful day in Lyon. Pretty close to a perfect day, in fact. Lyon is one of the coolest cities in France, so I’m glad I got to see it again! And of course, I’m lucky to have a pretty cool travel buddy, which makes things even more fun.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

This December trip to Paris was perfect for me, because not only did I get to spend a day with my sister...I got to stay after she left and have two days to do whatever I wanted in my favorite city. I loved my study abroad friends in Paris, but some of the best moments of that experience were when I got to wander Paris alone. Not everyone has the same tolerance that I do for history, palaces, and shopping; so it's fun to sightsee at my own pace sometimes.

The first thing I planned to do on this trip was a guided tour of Versailles. Naturally, Versailles is my favorite place in Paris. Actually, I'm pretty sure it's my favorite place in the world. I had already visited my palace 4 times, but never done a tour. So bright and early Saturday morning I took the RER out to the town of Versailles. The palace is maybe a 15 minute walk from the train station, but I was afraid I was going to be late for my tour, and it was raining, so I attempted to take a taxi. The angry taxi man thought it was funny that I wanted a ride somewhere that was so close so he just kind of laughed off my request for a ride and ignored me. I probably could have argued and gotten in the taxi anyways, but I was a little scared of him so I just started walking instead... There's that famous French customer service. I hate taxi drivers.

I vaguely remembered what direction the palace was in, and thankfully I found it and got there just in time for my tour. It was a tour of a part of the palace that isn't open to the public. Really, only a very small part of it is open. It's such a huge palace that most of it isn't fully restored. The 'public' royal apartments are open for everyone to see, and this was a tour of the 'private' apartments. If you know anything about the crazy lifestyle of Versailles, you know how ridiculously public the royal family's lives were. Any French person could just wander through the palace and try to get a glimpse of the king. All of the king's meals were held in public for people to watch. They even had ceremonies that certain people could watch any time the king or queen changed clothes.

These private apartments were built for King Louis XV because he became the king when he was only 5, and it was too stressful for him to live in public all the time growing up. It was interesting to see the apartments because they're not quite as ornate as the public part of the palace. Of course, it's still Versailles, so it's still more ornate than most places...

I think the most interesting thing the tour guide told us was that Louis XV's wife wasn't allowed to enter his private apartments. This was actually in the French constitution that she couldn't come in these rooms. Marie Leszcinska was part of his official public life, but not his private life. That was reserved for the mistresses!

You know, life in France hasn't changed that much. Just this week the big news over here is that France's president François Hollande has a secret family. Go figure. The kids were joking at school today that France is the first country to have two first ladies.

For the next part of the tour, we got to go inside the royal chapel. This is something everyone can see, so I'd seen it before...but I'd never been allowed to go inside! It's blocked off for the riffraff that didn't pay 6 extra euros to take a guided tour.

Something cool I learned is that it says Yahweh in Hebrew on the main gold altar. You know things like that make me excited. But the best part about actually being inside the chapel was getting to see the ceiling for the first time.

Actually, the ceiling was so mesmerizing that as I was trying to take pictures of it, another guy in the tour group was also looking up and didn't see me standing there, so then he rammed into me and totally headbutted me. That resulted in pain, as well as this picture:

Proof of my ordeal. It's funny because the last time I was at Versailles 3 years ago, it was me that rammed into someone. Me and my friend thought it was a good idea to take twirling pictures. Oh, 20 year olds... (not that I'm more mature now, see dance selfie below).

So some other things the tour guide said so I won't forget later... on the floor directly under the huge painting of God in the middle of the ceiling is a big fleur de lys, the symbol of the French royalty. This was to symbolize that no one came between God and the King in the line of authority. Basically it was France totally sassing the Pope. You know you're serious about proving a point when you carve it into marble.

And one last thing I thought was funny...throughout the tour the guide kept talking about how during the French Revolution most art and other pretty things from the palace were adopted/stolen, depending on who you ask, by the Louvre. To this day they constantly argue about who gets to keep what, and they try to trick each other into 'lending' objects for exhibitions, and then refuse to give them back. Yay teamwork.

That concluded my tour, which was AWESOME! I was in heaven seeing new parts of my palace. After that, I wandered through the normal parts of the palace that I'd seen before. It was very crowded, which made me thankful for the tour because that had just been me and 6 other people with no one else around. So here's some pictures of the public royal apartments, and the lovely Hall of Mirrors.

Here's good old Queen Marie Leszcinska, who wasn't allowed to go into her husband's apartments. I took the picture because the dress is amazing.

The Hall of Mirrors is the ultimate ballroom. I really felt like it's required to dance while you're there. Thankfully there are plenty of mirrors to take dance selfies in.

And just for fun, here's me at Versailles 3 years ago, right before I embarrassingly twirled into someone. Of course, I remember that it was a cute guy that I assaulted, which made it more embarrassing.

After buying some Marie Antoinette-themed souvenirs (duh), I walked around the gardens a little. It wasn't the best weather for it, but I still enjoyed myself.

The trip to Versailles took up most of my Saturday, but later that night I ventured out again to see the famous Christmas tree and decorations at Galeries Lafayette, a fancy department store. My hotel was only about a 5 minute walk away. I liked the location of my hotel, in fact! Here's a view from the window of the typical Parisian architecture.

And here's the GORGEOUS tree at Galeries Lafayette! I'm glad it was so beautiful, because the tree at Notre Dame was lame and disappointing.

Since it was Saturday night, the store was an absolute zoo. I was planning on hanging out there and doing some window shopping, but it was too crazy. Instead, I got some dinner and headed back to the hotel to plan out my Sunday!

I wanted to see something new in Paris, which is getting harder since this was my 5th time visiting it. I decided on the Basilique St. Denis, which I've wanted to see for a while. It fit in with my Marie Antoinette theme, because that's where her tomb is...along with pretty much every other French king and queen from history.

So I headed to St. Denis on Sunday morning. It's a little bit out of the way, and it's at the end of the metro line. The other fun thing about the neighborhood is that it basically looked like East Jerusalem when I got out of the metro. Everyone was speaking Arabic, and there was a big outdoor market going on. It definitely wasn't like central Paris!

The front of the basilica was under scaffolding, but I got these pictures of the side.

This is a total guess, but I think this might be the biggest church in Paris.

I feel like the Mormon in me requires that I always take a picture of the organ in these churches.

Rainbows from the stained glass!

Seeing the 'Royal Necropolis' was definitely worth a visit for me since I love French history. I got to say 'hi' to pretty much every much king and queen.

Hi François 1er and Claude!

Hi Henri II and Catherine de Medici!

Hi people I don't remember!

And HI Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette! I was very excited to see these guys.

The actual bones of all these people are downstairs in the crypt because during the French Revolution things got a little *heated* and revolutionaries dug up everyone and threw all of the remains in one big pit. Later, with modern DNA testing I assume, they were sorted out and reburied like this.

I also found this semi-creepy (okay, 100% creepy) display of Louis Charles' heart. He was Marie Antoinette's son who died in prison as a little kid.

So anyways, besides being a typically beautiful European church, St. Denis was very interesting! I'm so glad I went. After that visit, I headed to the Marais district in central Paris to spend some time in the area where I had class during my study abroad. I used to hang out there a lot, and I still miss it!

The building, the Hotel de Ville, is where I would get off at the metro every day. Those are Christmas lights pyramid decoration things.

Basically right across the street (and a river) is Notre Dame. I thought about climbing up the bell tower to get the view and see the gargoyles, which I've never done before, but there was a long line and I didn't have time. Next time! Instead I just walked around. Here's the back of Notre Dame, which I think is actually way cooler than the front.

I enjoyed my walk in the Marais, and then I headed to the Paris Holocaust museum, which is close-by, for a tour. Again, this is somewhere I'd been before but had never done the tour. I was re-reading (in French!) Sarah's Key, one of my favorite books, this weekend. It's about the Holocaust in France, so I was really just in a Holocaust in France kind of mood and the tour was great.

After that, and a long journey on the metro with my luggage, I made to the train station and took the train back to Strasbourg. I am completely satisfied with this weekend, and I'm hoping to go back to Paris sometime this semester with mon amie Olimpia!