Thursday, June 28, 2012

La belle, belle France

Bonjour tout le monde!

Greetings from France! I'm currently sitting in a bus station in Paris, getting ready for a 7 hour bus ride to Rennes, in Bretagne (west of Paris). I've had a wonderful time in France so far. 

My parents and I stayed for a week in a rented apartment in Paris, a 2-minute walk from the Seine and 5-minutes from Notre Dame… the location was wonderful. The apartment was nice as well, after having spent 5 months in Istanbul with a view of a fire escape. 

During my time in Paris I did some wandering, saw some markets, and visited some of my favorite old haunts--including the part of the Marais where my parents and I spent a month 3.5 years ago. It was fun to see what I could remember from previous visits. I also didn't do that many touristy things (a few exceptions below….) because I've seen most of the top sites before. So, what to do?

On Sunday my mom and I went to the Gregorian mass at Notre Dame. The cathedral was full of tourists, of course, but it was cool to visit for the service, and the singing was wonderful. I tried to sing along to the Gregorian music, but only caught on to a bit. I didn't follow much of the service, but I probably wouldn't have done to well if it was in English either…

A friend of mine from college was living with a host family in a little town outside Paris, so we had the chance to meet up! It was great fun to see her again (after having hung out for a few days in Istanbul!). We met up in Dreux, a smallish town outside Paris with a nice church, bell-tower, and a chapel housing the tombs of many famous royals (can't think of anyone off the top of my head…). The chapel was beautiful, and it was nice to be in a smaller town after the bustle of Istanbul and Paris. 

The next day, we got together again for the Fête de la Musique in Paris. On the summer solstice, there are concerts everywhere around the city! We heard a very cool concert by an Indian artist in the Saint Eustache church, then heard some traditional Paris accordion and singing, and finally visited the Irish cultural center to hear some traditional Irish music. We had dinner near the Sorbonne and walked home around 10 or 11 at night. It was still light out, and the streets were full of music--it seemed there was a band on every corner. So cool!

I spent all day Friday writing a paper… fun! Now I'm officially done with my schoolwork for Istanbul, heh. Almost time to start summer school in Berlin! I just can't seem to get enough of school.

After I finished my paper, I met up with another friend, who had been on my program in Istanbul. We spent a fun time wandering around Paris—we had lunch in the Tuilerie gardens, and visited the Eiffel Tower both during the day and at night. I have way too many photos of that structure now… It was wonderful watching the tower sparkle at night… we sat on the grass with a bottle of wine and my ukulele, among hundreds of other groups of people doing very similarly, and watched the beautiful tower. I thought I could get tired of it, but I couldn't keep my eyes off it. 

In addition, one of my favorite parts of Paris was some wonderful meals. I love french food, and having parents who will take me out to wine and dine at nice places :).

After Paris my parents and I took a train to Reims, one of the towns in the region of Champagne. It was a dreary day when we got there, but we went out for a wonderful dinner and, when it cleared up at night, saw the cathedral of Reims. I found it to be one of my favorite cathedrals, made even more amazing by the sound and light show projected onto the cathedral at night. It's a program organized by the town government, where lights are shined onto the façade… I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's super awesome! 

We also visited Epernay, another Champagne town with many champagne caves (i.e. houses where champagne is made)—incuding Moët et Chandon and many others that my mom recognized. I figure I have yet to gain enough champagne experience—but I'm only 22. We took a guided tour of the caves at the Mercier champagne company, which was quite interesting, and then had a champagne tasting (delicious!). My lunch was a "Salade Perigourdine" with chicken gizzards, duck, bacon, and foie gras. Enough weird meats in there?

We spent a bit more time in Reims visiting the cathedral, a roman arch, and a few more champagne houses. Then on Tuesday we headed back to Paris where my parents went on their way to the airport and back to the States. I hopped on another train to Chartres and continued my adventures on my own. 

Chartres is beautiful. It's known for its beautiful cathedral, but the town is adorable as well. There are a few small canals lined with half-timbered medieval houses, which I saw on a self-guided walking tour of the old town. I spent a chunk of time admiring the stained glass in the cathedral, and took a tour of the crypts (there have probably been religious sites at Chartres since before Christianity!) and climbed 300 steps up to the North tower. 

At night I returned to the old town for Chartres en Lumières—like the light show on the cathedral at Reims, but this time all around town. There are small blue lights in the sidewalk that guide you to around 30 buildings and structures that are illuminated with very cool lights. I started at the cathedral and followed the lights for a while, then once I got to the lower town (and had been wandering for 1.5 hours), decided to head back to my hostel.

Today is a day in transit. I took the train back from Chartres to Paris, then the metro, and will soon board a bus to Rennes. (Ps. Did you know you can take a bus from Paris to Casablanca? I'm just discovering the vastness of the bus lines around Europe—was very tempted to take the 15€ bus to London… alas, I already reserved my Rennes hostel). 

Up soon… Bretagne/Brittany adventures!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Görüşürüz Istanbul

Well, my semester in Istanbul has come to an end (and I'm now in beautiful Paris, though that's a topic for the next blog post!). I had a wonderful time, and I will miss that great city immensely. Görüşürüz means "see you later," which I am planning to do! I know I'll be returning to Istanbul in the future.

I tried to take advantage of my last few days by doing some more wandering—around Cihangir, one of my favorite neighborhoods—and to Bebek, a neighborhood along the Bosphorus with a nice sea-side promenade. I also spent a lot of time around Istiklal Caddesi, as usual.

From Saturday until Tuesday, two great friends from college came to visit me! It was so great to see them, and we had a lot of fun. On the first night I took them out for a bit of hazelnut vodka and then a few games of backgammon—one of my new favorite pastimes. We spent a day on the Asian side with our Turkish friend from school, who treated us to an amazing brunch and a nice tea with a beautiful view of the sea of Marmara. That night I took my friends to the Irish pub for the last live session. I've learned some new songs this semester and gained some more confidence in playing, so it has been a lot of fun—though of course there are still thousands of more songs to learn. I'm hoping to continue playing in sessions in other parts of the world.

On Monday my friends and I had a great visit to Sultanahmet—the old part of town. We visited all of the top sights (except Hagia Sofia--closed on Mondays!) and I had fun trying to be a sort of tour guide. We saw three beautiful mosques, the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, and the eery Yerebatan Cistern. We missed out on the Archaeology Museum (also closed on Mondays!) but had a nice nap outside the walls of Topkapı Palace. In the evening we headed to Ortaköy, another one of my favorite neighborhoods, for baked potatoes and more backgammon.

My last week was a blur of goodbyes and trying to finish end-of-semester stuff. Believe it or not, I still have a research paper to finish up! On Friday most of my group left, so my ukulele and I spent the day visiting Ihlamur Kasrı, a cute little palace with nice gardens. In the evening I was lucky enough to have dinner with my friend who works on a cruise ship, who had stopped by Istanbul for the night again. It was a nice way to end my semester in Istanbul before a boring night of packing up my room.

On Saturday I walked down to Taksim (with my luggage!) and took a bus to the airport, then Istanbul-->Zurich-->Paris, where I was reunited with my parents. We've rented an apartment about 5 minutes from Notre Dame, and it's wonderful. I was in Paris three years ago, but I think I hadn't realized how different Paris and Istanbul are. It's wonderful to understand the language spoken around me (though I keep accidentally speaking Turkish!) and to experience French culture, but there's still a bit of culture shock. I was amazed by how empty the sidewalks are—besides all the tourists!—and how safe I feel crossing the street. I'll write about my Paris adventures in my next blog post. À bientôt!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's beginning to feel like summer in Istanbul...


10 more days in Istanbul… I can't believe it. I don't think I'm ready to leave; there is so much more in this city to be explored! I am now in the home stretch with school—took a final exam on Monday, turned in my 30-page research paper yesterday, and now I have one more project and paper.

Before we got to crunch time, I had some adventures. I made a quick trip to the American Hospital, because I'm dedicated to exploring gastroenterology departments around the world. Ok, kidding. I had a check up on my intestines and tried to communicate with the nurses in limited English/Turkish. So that was, in some ways, an adventure.

I went to another guitar jam session/Erasmus dinner, which was great fun. We two Americans were outnumbered, so it was nice to meet students from other countries. 

My group also took a wonderful trip to the Black Sea region--towns called Bolu and Safronbolu (famous for it's saffron!). It was so great to get out of the city—we had a relaxed picnic by a lake in Bolu, went to the hamam, took an early morning hike, and then explored the UNESCO world heritage town of Safronbolu. It was a totally different world from Istanbul, and a relaxing weekend. 

I also spent a lot of time filming little video clips around Istanbul for my final project for my sound design class (I'll be uploading it soon!). My roommates and I went to the old part of town and did a lot of wandering in the Grand Bazaar. I think I have finally gotten over my fear of bargaining! Got some presents for friends, a scarf, and some sunglasses which I managed to bargain down from 25 TL to 10 TL. 

I had also had another great adventure with a friend from home, who performs on a cruise ship and happened to stop in Istanbul for a night! We wandered around the old town (got a bit lost…), had overpriced ice cream on Istiklal, and played a lot of backgammon. I also tried nargile (hookah) for the first time, and was overall underwhelmed, but I figure that's ok. 

Since the semester is coming to an end, some of my friends have already left to get back to jobs and internships. We had some nice farewell dinners (though of course the 'farewell' part wasn't nice)—one of which was an elaborate hot pot dinner including quail eggs and chicken liver! Plus other delicious things, home cooked by another friend of ours. Yum! Some friends and I also went out for a big Turkish breakfast at 3 PM with our Turkish roommate (don't worry, breakfast at 3 PM is totally normal). 

In the process of trying to find places in which to do schoolwork, I've spent some time wandering around Cihangir—a cool, trendy neighborhood with lots of antique shops and a cafe that I have fallen in love with. I got a little inspiration to do work, but still, doing school in Istanbul is a struggle.

I also spent a great afternoon on the Asian side with two friends from college—one who is on my program, and one who is from Istanbul. We even stopped at Caribou Coffee, and I may have gotten a bit of reverse culture shock. Heh!

Now that I have finished my research paper, life feels a lot lighter. Time for some more exploring!