Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paris: partie 1

We so excited for PARIS!

Our weekend began with the French-est of travel options: le TGV. Les TGVs are the super speed trains that travel up to 300 km/h (186 mph) and are known for being extremely punctual. After about a 3-hour journey, we got first glimpses of Paris! It didn’t seem possible that we were actually in Paris, France. Even more crazy than that: being greeted at the train station by my best friend of 12 years in PARIS. Still blows my mind that we were able to make this trip together, plus it was so nice to have a little taste of home all the way over here.

After taking the metro for the first time and dropping our stuff off at our hotel we set off for le Tour Eiffel. We stopped to eat dinner first at a little café near our hotel. Our hotel was located just outside Paris city limits, right outside the 17th arrondisement (Paris (which is a circle) is divided into arrondisements, or, districts; the smaller the number, the closer to the city center (and the more expensive) that arrondisement is; there are 20 arrondisements in total). After asking many questions to our patient waiter about food (even Hannah and I didn’t know a lot of the vocab), we managed to order our meals and pay, and then off to le Tour Eiffel we went!

The Paris metro system is really fantastic. I’m sure its extremely similar to the NYC subway or the London tube, but I’ve never seen either of those, so it was cool to get to use the Paris system. Everything is color coded and numbered, making it really easy to navigate even if you don’t speak any French – which apparently plenty of people who take the metro don’t. We heard SO MUCH American English on the metro all weekend. It made me really happy that I chose to study in a smaller town like Grenoble, where I rarely, if ever, hear English.

We got off the metro and were smack dab in the middle of Paris. First thing I decided upon ascending from the metro: Paris is beautiful. Second thing: You could not pay me enough money to drive in that city. There don’t really seem to be any strict rules at all, and the huge roundabouts just kind of don’t have lanes. Its terrifying, and we only watched from the (questionable) safety of the sidewalks.
Musée des Invalides

Cameron is a happy lad.

First glimpse!

We approached le Tour from the far end of Champs de Mars, the giant lawn on the south-east end of le Tour. Across the street from that end of Champs de Mars is le Musée des Invalides, a military museum where Napoleon is buried, which is a gorgeous white building. Regal doesn’t even cover it – that’s how a majority of buildings in Paris are, though. And then, we turned a corner, and voilà, le Tour Eiffel! Right there! In front of me! The weird thing about the Eiffel Tower is that you’ve seen it in so many pictures your whole life that it almost just looks fake, like someone’s just tricking you. But no, it actually does exist. And I was there. On the lawn of Champs de Mars. With my best friend. What is life.

We took tons of pictures and then just lounged on the lawn watching the sun set (which doesn’t happen until around 10pm during summer in Paris), and waiting for the Tower to be lit. Once it begins to go dark outside the Tower is lit with lights along the edges. It isn’t until 11pm, though, that the full majesty of the Tower can be seen. From 11pm on (I’m not sure how late though), the tower is mega-lit for five minutes every hour, on the hour – it looks like thousands of people’s camera flashes going off all over the Tower, for five solid minutes.
Underbelly of le Tour Eiffel

Gig 'em from Paris!

It is one of the most stunning (man-made) things I’ve ever seen. We wanted to go up in the Tower that night, but the top was closed because too many people were up there for the time being, so we decided to just wait so we could go all the way to the top the following night. We considered for maybe a hot second going out for drinks after leaving the Tower that first night, but we realized we were exhausted and had to get up at a decent hour in order to fit in as much of Paris in a day as possible, so we went back to the hotel to get some much needed rest.

Paris: Yes it really did happen

I'm so sorry I've been so excrutiatingly slow at writing about Paris! I have 300+ photos from the mere 49 hours we were there, and I've been a little overwhelmed. BUT this weekend (as I travel to Germany [first time there] to visit Kristen & Cameron!) I am catching up! I have to divide it into 3-5 posts because there is so much to say and show, so check back every so often the next few days and you will be able to re-live my Paris weekend with me. :]

We were there so short that we only hit the really major stuff - but no worries here, because Max and I will be going back at the end of this month, and we'll get to the other stuff I missed. :)

First post coming up in about 20ish minutes!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Soccer, er, football?

The one and only Doug and me
Last Monday night (right after Vienne; yes I know, I'm super behind on these posts) a few of us went out to watch the France vs Brazil soccer game, er, football match. One girl in our program is actually Brazilian, but lives in the US, and she met some other Brazilians at school here in Grenoble, so we met up with them at a sports bar to watch the game.
Me and Hannah
 So soccer, er, non-american football, is probably one of my least favorite sports to watch, because noting ever happens! AHHHHHH HE ALMOST SCORED AGAIN. Yeah, I'm not really a fan of that kind of sport, I like to see people actually succeed when playing sports. However, watching the game in a French bar with French guys and Brazilian guys all going crazy was absolutely entertaining. Brazil ended up winning 3-0, so we heard a lot of the Brazilian victory song, and a lot of silence/angry shouts from the French. We had a lot of fun learning some Portugese phrases and words, as well as just talking with everyone.
 I think that's one of my favorite things about being here, and going to the university, is that I get to interact with people from so many different parts of the world, and so many different cultures, on a daily basis. And it was fun to see firsthand just how much soccer, er, football, means to the rest of the world - its definitely their Aggie football. It was a really fun night, pretending to like soccer, having a drink with friends, and meeting new people (none of whom I managed to take a photo with somehow).

Vienne, France

Another fun fact (apparently that's my favorite way to start blog posts): Vienne is the French name for Vienna! So again, this is about Vienna France, not Austria (yet...Max and I are going in August!).

Vienne is another ancient city that, like Grenoble, was also a Roman city roughly 2000 years ago. Saturday, June 8, we took a day trip to see the town and to go to the museum, complete with Roman roads/ruins/people dressed up like Roman soldiers. The town was very similar to Grenoble overall in architecture and size, minus the mountains, but it was really nice still to see a different French city.
Up on the hill are the ruins of an old fortress over looking the city.

Really cute street in Vienne.

The first thing we did was go to the weekly marché to look around and to buy food for our picnic lunch. And let me tell you, this market was huge. There was pretty much everything you could think of, clothes, bags, kitchen appliances, shoes, flowers....and then, the food: dozens (maybe over 100) types of cheeses, strawberries and cherries for days, as well as bananas, oranges, peaches, apricots, limes, lemons (all fresh), veggies (again, anything you can think of: asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, radishes, brussel sprouts, green beans, corn, etc), meats (fish/chicken/beef/pork/more) and anything else you could possibly think of. It puts American farmers' markets to shame.

I apparently forgot to take pictures to show y'all just how huge this market was, but I loved these flowers (and thought Grandma would too!). We went to a really lovely park for our picnic lunch after poking around the market streets all morning (Natalie and I had chocolate dipped merengues for a snack...needless to say, they were amazing). We had so much wonderful food for lunch - rotisserie chicken, olives, fresh bread, cheese, strawberries (French strawberries are out of this world), and cherries. It was all so good, and the park we ate it was really nice.
Some of the picnic food.
photo credit: Holly
Our whole study abroad group! Love these people so much.
After our picnic we headed over to the museum to see the Roman reenactments and ruins.
Roman soldier reenactment.
Seeing all the Roman stuff everywhere made me miss Italy so much - it was kind of strange to think that the Romans were also in France way back when, I tend to forget how much of the world they controlled. The entire outdoors area behind the museum was once the wealthy part of the Roman town, and all the roads and foundations are still there, though no original structure walls remain. I wish I knew everything those roads have seen over 2000 years. It still blows me away every time to think about how long ago those roads were forged. They were once smooth and even, though today they are not remotely that way. 
Roman bath that housed both hot and cold water.
What really blows me away is just how advanced the Romans were. They had underground sewage systems with pipes and everything; bath houses with both cold and hot water (in the wealthy parts anyway); they built dehumidifiers; they built buildings that today's engineers say weren't possible with their level of tool technology. Yes we have electricity, and the 21st century has definitely brought about the fastest progression of technology the world has ever seen, but those Romans, man, they were so far ahead of their time. I don't think I'll ever stop being impressed.
Small section of a wall of a house.
Roman road
It was definitely apparent that this was the wealthy part of town. The technology, first of all, and also the homes. While there were some ruins that were once apartment buildings, there were a few that had obviously been huge mansions, with courtyards in the center with beautiful gardens, ponds and trees.
HUGE courtyard garden of the
biggest house in the neighborhood
 There is a river in Vienne, and this side of the river was the wealthy side, while the opposite side was where the commoners would have lived. I definitely would have preferred the wealthy side, haha. After walking around the ruins with Patrick (that man is knowledgable about everything) we went to look around the tents where people where further demonstrating how the Romans lived. We were able to try wine made exactly how it was made in 1 BC, just as it would have been drunk by Jesus and his friends. In my humble opinion we have greatly improved wine since then; it was very spicy but had no added sugars and it drastically changed to over all taste. I wouldn't want to buy a bottle, but it was neat to taste it and realize how much it has changed in a few millennia. There were also a lot of crafstmen, selling swords, shields, blankets, cloth, and games. There were games set up for kids to play right there, too. We were too old for that apparently, but it was fun to watch.
I'm gonna call this game
"Throw the Penny in the Jug"
It was kind of funny to us that people are so into the Romans that they like to dress up as them and pretend they're them...until we realized Civil War reenactments are no different. Everyone's a nerd about something!
Roman weaving tools

After wandering through the museum itself (basically a lot of tile floors that have been preserved just as they were when they were found; not boring, but not very versatile) we hiked back through town (Vienne is much hilly-er than Grenoble, that's for sure) to see the Roman amphitheater, which is still in use for concerts and plays today! There is a huge jazz festival every summer in Vienne held at the amphitheater, and they were already setting up for that. The contrast of the ancient seats and the modern speakers was really cool - such a commentary on the town and its history. We also got to see a beautiful cathedral, St. Maurice's, as well as a still-standing Roman building that was originally a temple, but over the centuries has been used for everything from a church to a library. It stands empty now, though, I'm assuming because its 2000 years old and they don't want to break it (or something like that). It started to rain just as we were leaving the amphitheater, so we ran to a cafe to get crêpes before getting on the train to head back home. It was a lovely day full of history and culture, definitely a good way to spend a Saturday. :]

Temple turned church turned court turned library
turned museum turned empty.
In front of St. Maurice's Cathedral

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Un Musée & Un Manifestation

Friday after classes turned out to be a really great afternoon! We all met up after class (around 1pm) to visit the museum that is part of the Notre Dame cathedral (in Grenoble, not Paris [a lot of things in France tend to have the same names as other more famous places]). The museum was really really interesting. They have a decently sized collection of artifacts dating all the way back to the Paleolithic period (think cavemen). I wanna say a lot of the artifacts were actually found in Grenoble/the area, but that may be completely incorrect (I never claimed to be an expert).
Look! An ancient bear skull!

Many of the artifacts were tools, bowls, etc - all the everyday things that somehow got left in the dirt and preserved for thousands of years. There were also several really awesome dioramas depicting Paleolithic and Neolithic life, as well as Roman life. We think the artists must have gotten bored with the Romans because we found a little guy in one wearing a modern day button-down green tourist shirt and khaki shorts! And they thought no one would ever notice.
Diorama of either Paleolithic or Neolithic life during winter 
I used to be able to tell you what period of art
this came from based on the style of the hair and eyes...
but apparently I forgot everything from Art History.
Fun fact: Berlioz, the composer, was born in Grenoble!

Robert Doisneau's camera
 There was also a special exhibit going on, showcasing the famous photographer Robert Doisneau, responsible for capturing this famous snapshot of a couple in Paris (it was recently revealed that it was staged, not candid as many thought for decades). He was famous for "photoshopping" his photos before photoshop was even a real thing - he would meticulously cut out parts of his photos (usually people) and then paste them onto a different photo to create a whole new image - it was nearly impossible to tell that the photos had been cut-and-pasted (quite literally), because he was so perfect in cutting them out. He was also famous for taking pictures of skiing, many of which he took right here in Grenoble. His photos are all of life, just as it happens, and nearly all of his subjects are people, which I really enjoyed. We weren't supposed to take pictures in his exhibit, but I didn't know that at first so I was able to snag a few shots before our director told me to stop...ha.
Original prints of Robert Doisneau
The best part of this museum for me, though, was the last bit, underground. As I've said before, Grenoble was once a Roman city (around the 3rd century AD), and under the church are remains of Roman walls and the foundation of an ancient baptistry, as well as some really beautiful Catholic relics. It was the prefect balance of spooky and reverent down there; you could simply feel the history oozing from every surface. Those walls were 1800 years old! I can't even fully comprehend how long that is. To be able to see so much "living" history so often here is so incredible, cause you just can't get that in the States.
Nate displaying the lovely 1800-yr-old Roman wall

After the museum we all went and got ice cream and then planned to head home. However, as Nate, Xavier and I walked to the tram stop we discovered that we wouldn't be taking a tram anytime soon - there was un manifestation, a protest, going on that was completely blocking the trams (the people were marching down the tram rails). This phenomenon is common enough to have its own name in French, descendre dans la rue, "to descend into the streets". It is highly effective in France because the streets are so narrow, if there are a few hundred or thousand (or more) people marching in the streets, it will completely block the traffic. It happens most frequently in Paris, but will take place in other cities as well.

Descendre dans la rue can happen for a multitude of reasons - a workers' strike, a political protest, a demonstration of really any kind. I've read so much about these demonstrations in my french courses, it was quite exciting to witness one in person. It took us a while to figure out what this one was about, but as we got closer we were able to read some of their banners, as well as make out what they were chanting: "Grenoble! Grenoble! Anti-fasciste!" Grenoble is a historically Socialist (left-wing) city; this manifestation was in protest to the murder of an 18-year-old college student in the streets of Paris the previous day - he had been beaten to death by a group of extreme right-wing fascist neo-Nazis due to his political beliefs (he was a Socialist). So on this Friday, the people of Grenoble wanted to make sure that Clément did not die in vain, that his brothers and sisters would speak out against the racists in hopes of preventing another terrible death like his.

It was truly an incredible event to witness. There probably between 500-800 people marching, holding up trams for at least 20 minutes as they marched to le Verdun Prefecture, the square where many of the municipal government buildings are. Once there, several people spoke on the topics of fighting racism, sexism, Fascism, and they held a moment of silence in honor of Clément's memory. It was a horribly unnecessary death, but it was truly amazing to see how the French people didn't just stand idly by and say "Oh, that's so horrible, how sad" and then go about their days - they came together and actively spoke out against hate and violence, in a very visible way. The French are a people of action, of standing up for what they believe in, which is a trait I have always admired about this people. They refuse to lie down and just let others walk all over them - their multiple revolutions and rewrites of the constitution are evidence enough. It was quite a sight to behold, and I feel very lucky to have been able to see this first hand.
Holding his fist to show solidarity
during the moment of silence.

The main banners in front of the government building at Verdun Prefecture

Friday, June 7, 2013

La Bastille

Fun fact: a bastille is simply a fortress, usually on the outskirts of a city, used for protective military purposes. There are bastilles all over France, but you've probably only heard of the one in Paris that was stormed at the beginning of the Revolution. Well. This post is not about that one. Its about the one in Grenoble, sitting atop the mountain just above the CEA office.

My view from my bedroom window. That little tiny white dot is the Bastille!
After out placement exam on Monday this week our group took les boules of le télégraphique (like a ski lift) up to the Bastille. Boule is french for bubble, which is exactly what they look like. With out group discount a one-way ticket up was only 1.50€! Supa cheap.

Our director, Patrick, and Holly getting in les boules!

The Bastille itself was really neat. It was originally built in the 1590s to fortify the city on the north side, and now it is a main tourist spot in Grenoble, with a restaurant and of course the cable cars (it is also possible to hike up the mountain for free). There were also these strange graffitis of people all over the place. Patrick told us that they are some sort of "official" taggings, but he didn't know what they meant. They definitely looked cool though. Oh, and that morning at school we made a new friend, Adrian! He's Venezuelan, but went to high school in the UK and goes to university in Canada, so he speaks English crazy well. But he decided he needed to work on his French, so he cam here for the summer! He didn't know anyone so we adopted him for the day (and summer). And I basically want his life. But I digress.
Riding up the mountain!
Natalie, me, Adrian
We took lots of pictures, and then decided to hike up the next mountain to get an even better view of the city. Because hey, that sounds like fun, right? Hiking! Mountains! Views! Let me preface that we had no idea we would be hiking that day; Patrick only originally told us we were taking the boules up to the needless to say, while we all looked really cute, we were NOT dressed to go hiking. So while it sounded like a good idea, in reality, it was not our best one yet. We all had horrible shoes on, too many layers, and not nearly enough water.
Grenoble, as seen from the Bastille
But after we finally got up to the top it was gorgeous, and well worth the discomfort (though in the future I definitely don't want to go hiking in converse sneakers and jeans). The highest point on the mountain that we hiked to had a peace monument which was really cool. There were stone plaques with the words "peace" and "friendship" in several different languages, which was really nice. That part of the mountain commemorates fallen soldiers, in many different wars and centuries even, though it never saw battle itself. However, Patrick did tell us that during the German occupation of France during WWII, German soldiers shot several groups of innocent people from Grenoble up in those mountains, just because they could. It was very sobering to realize how much of an impact that occupation had on this city that I love. 
All the Aggies!
Catharine, Anna, me, Nate, Ellie, Natalie
Peace Monument

Throwin' what I know & sending Theta love back home.
St. Bruno! My building is two behind it, my apartment's balcony is
to the left with the plants on the edge!

Despite being terribly unprepared, it was a wonderful day. We hiked back down (because its free), which took a surprisingly long time (although I guess that happens when you're several thousand feet in the air), and definitely plan to hike more mountains before we leave. There's just so much to do, y'all. Its overwhelming, especially when I realize I can't actually do everything there is to do in Grenoble (let alone the world). But the plan is to do as much as possible, and then start again. :)

We're going to Vienne, France tomorrow to see a Roman amphitheater, so I'd better get to bed! More updates soon, and hopefully eventually less long-winded.