Tuesday, March 31, 2009

paris je t'aime

I just got back from a great weekend in PARIS! I took the TGV, the train de grand vitesse, all the way to the city of lights. It was only a three hour ride through the beautiful countryside. Lots of sheep and cows! I was so happy when I arrived - all of these amazing memories from last summer came flooding back! There really is no place like Paris. I met up with Kiera's best friend and Tony's girlfriend, Ashley, who is studying abroad in Barcelona. We stayed in a hostel in the Marais, which is an absolutely amazing section of the city. It is where the Jewish quarter is, so it was full of delicious Jewish bakeries. We went to a famous falafel restaurant; L'as du falafel has the best falafel in the world - even better than Israel! Falafel is a pita with veggies in it - shredded cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, carrots, grilled eggplant, and these fried balls of chickpeas. It also has a special yummy sauce on it. It was so good!

Although it was pretty cold, we went on a night bike tour of Paris! I was laughing with sheer joy when we first got on our bikes and rode down the Champs du Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower - I hadn't ridden a bike for fun in such a long time. Plus, I was in PARIS! It was amazing to be able to see all of the sights at night time, when they are all lit up. Even better, our tour guide was really knowledgeable and taught me a lot of interesting things that I didn't know before. The only negative was that I nearly died a few times due to the heavy traffic and stubborn Parisian drivers. Although we were well equipped with large green reflective vests and lights on our bikes, I guess small bikers are usually in the blind spots of large buses? Needless to say I survived without a scrape and the tour ended when we got aboard the bateau moche on the Seine and had some wine with the people in our group. It was a great night!

Other highlights of the trip were seeing an excellent Andy Warhol exhibit at the Grand Palais, eating delicious fondue in Montmartre, and watching people leave the opera on Saturday night dressed in their finest clothes! tres chic :) The weekend ended on a great note when I went back to Sartrouville to visit Estelle and Michel, my host family from my high school exchange! And not to mention the infamous Antoine, whom many of you met. He is currently sporting a new do, "the Jackson Five" as he likes to call it. And no, he is no more mature than before! But his parents were so sweet to Ashley and me, and I was so happy to see them. They made us a big four course meal on Sunday night and packed sandwiches for our trip in the morning. They are really generous people and I was happy to get to see them again. We had a great time looking at pictures from three years ago. I was happy Ashley got to meet them, and she is excited to show me around Barcelona when I go for a visit in a few weeks. Can't wait :) I am so lucky to be able to do all this traveling...I am soooo addicted :)

st. remy

After the cath├ędrale des images, we went to st. remy. This is a little town where VanGogh lived - he was admitted the the psychiatric hospital here! I went and visited it - it was the most beautiful hospital I have ever seen! He painted some of his most beautiful works there.

The most amazing part of our trip was that we had lunch at a troglodyte farm house. This really old man named lulu opens his house up on Sunday for lunch. This is not just any lunch, but a Provencal sunday lunch - it lasted three hours! First of all, lulu's house was amazing. It was carved out of rock and his front yard was full of olive trees that he planted. His house a gift from his family before him - the deed of his house was signed by Louis XIV, the king who created the Versaille palace. He was really an amazing person to talk to - he welcomed us by saying how much he loves the generosity of Americans, and how it is thanks to us that France exists today. He cooked all of the food by himself for 40 people - and he is 86 years old! He loves cooking and of course talking.

The food was delicious, to say the least. First, we had this really yummy country pate that was dried and smoky. Next, we had olive omelettes, which looked strange because they were brown but very tasty. And I cannot forget to mention superfluous amount of wine - rose and red. The next course was ratatouille, a specialty of Provence which is just cooked veggies in a tomato sauce and olive oil. The main course was lamb with green beans - I don't think I've ever eaten lamb before but it was delicious! Then, of course we had huge helpings of cheese, there is nothing better to finish your meal with. Except that wasn't the end! For dessert we had strawberries and coffee, perfect for a spring day.

It was so nice to sit and spend so much time with friends just talking. I am vowing to use less minutes on my cell phone when I return to the US and more time face to face! After lunch, we walked around beautiful st. remy and lazily layed out in the grass basking in the sun. It was a GREAT day! I wish you were all there to join me!

les baux

Last weekend I went to the baux de provence and st. remy. Les baux is a beautiful and quaint little village near Avignon. We went to see the Cathedrale des Images, which is a stone quarry which inspired many Provencal artists like Picasso and VanGogh. Recently the quarry was transformed into an art exhibit, in which an artists work's are projected on the wall and timed in accordance with music. It was a very amazing sight! I was taken aback at first - the quarry is huge and you are overwhelmed by the colors and detail. I saw an exhibit on Picasso - it was amazing!


Last week I visited a calisson factory. They are a delicacy of Aix! Made out of almond paste with candied oranges, there are tons of patisseries that hand make their own calissons. Translation: calissons are trop cher (very expensive). I could get used to all this chocolate and candy tasting!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

le ciotat

There is a little town between marseille and cassis known for it's rocky cliffs, called the Calanques. Today I was off to do more hiking in the Calanques! The weather was absolutely beautiful and I got to lay out in the sun for a little by the sea - it was so relaxing! I loved it :) And it is only 20 minutes from Aix; I imagine I will be back all the time when it really starts to get warm.

sainte victoire

There is a mountain here that I usually talk about - le sainte victoire - which I have been wanting to hike since I got here! Saturday I finally got to do it. It took about 2 hours to climb to the top, and it wasn't easy! It was like a never-ending stairmaster. I was exhausted by the time we got to the top. There were some crazy people passing us who were RUNNING up the mountain!?!? If I did that I would have a "fesse" of steel (butt of steel).

Once we got to the top, it was so worth it! The views were amazing! I packed myself a picnic lunch and we relaxed en haut for a while before making the trek back down. It was a beautiful day!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

more pictures :)

-After wine tasting in Chateauneuf du pape

-the only picture we have of us three! In front of Atelier Cezanne

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

joe and elise come to europe

I had to say goodbye to my parents today after a great week with them. I feel really lucky that we got to have this time together! They took me out to dinner and all over France. Although there were certainly times when we had disagreements ("BRENNA I DON'T READ FRENCH!" -my dad, before going through the first toll booth in france), I have awesome memories of the trip. I learned a lot about them and had a lot of fun! Just some of my favorite memories:
- the first night in nice when we ended up having a political discussion with the french guys sitting next to us
- watching the nice carnaval fireworks
- me and my mom trying to be cultural and going to the bar in orange for happy hour: she ended up talking to a "woman's companion" while I chatted in French to a nice lady
- dinner with my host family and my parents!!!
- wine tasting in chateauneuf du pape, the sommelier worked with American soldiers during Desert Storm and had an American coin collection!
- everyone staring at us and our tourist ways in Carmagnola, Italy
- the delicious dinner we had at 14 and our friendly waitress Ornella
- breakfast in Nice/my French lesson with the "dirty rag man"
-driving through the Alps and facing near death experiences on the road, driving through the 2006 Olympic Villages
-me and my mom losing my dad nearly EVERY MINUTE because he walked so slow
-my dad making faces at the group of italian students who were staring at us at the Matisse exhibit
-me being grumpy about missing the Chagall museum, and my mom finding an original Chagall in an old church in Vence!
- my mom and I making delicious dinner picnic in our hotel room after a long day of touring: success at the supermarket!
-waking up in Carmagnola (which we thought was an ugly industrial town) after the fog cleared to see the MOUNTAINS!

I love this picture of my mom in Vence, observing the beautiful old buildings. And how cute are my parents sharing an umbrella in Turin? It was so cold that day, my poor dad didn't have a jacket! The next picture is a view from our hotel in Carmagnola! It was so beautiful there :) Then my dad in front of RACCONICI castle in Italy ! Yes, he did drive that little car, stick shift, for 8 hours!

chemin de bibemus

Today I went running on my favorite path, the chemin de bibemus right by my house. Even though you have to hike up this mountain to get there, the view is totally worth it! The other weekend I went up with my host family. You can see the mountain where Cezanne frequently painted, called the Montagne Sainte Victoire. It's a beautiful view! Makes the run a lot easier...