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!

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