Reflection

As someone smarter than me once said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” It’s been exactly two weeks since my return to the United States, and I’m beginning to adjust back to American life.
I’m proud to say I fully unpacked and organized my bags within just a few days of arriving home, but unloading all of my thoughts and ideas from the past six months will take a little more time. For now, I can simply say that my study abroad experience was one of the most exciting and educational times of my life thus far, and I can’t wait to return to France to see my family and friends as soon as I possibly can! I will spend the rest of the summer reflecting on some memories from my time in France and writing about them as I see fit.

After classes begin in the Fall, I will continue writing this blog, but my posts will likely be much fewer and farther between than my European updates were. The plan (for now) is to continue with a travel/world cultures theme, but you can bet that irrelevant ramblings will happen from time to time.

I’ll end this post in the same way I ended my time abroad-not by saying “goodbye”, but by saying “until next time”.
À la prochaine!

Belle of Belfast City

wonderfully sketch.

Please excuse my delay in posting this; the past two days have been a mixture of equal parts unpacking at one home after a long vacation, and packing to go to another home after an even longer vacation.
See? That sentence was completely convoluted, but I don’t even feel like changing it. So, there.

Anyway, Marcus and I spent the last leg of our trip in Dublin, Ireland, and I felt quite at home there. Much less touristy than the other places we visited, Dublin is wonderfully rough around the edges. It still holds all of the history of a typical European city, but it also somewhat Americanized and isn’t quite so chic as certain other cities. I loved it.

We spent one morning taking a really neat historical walking tour of the city, in which we discussed the creation of early Ireland all the way up to the beginning of The Troubles. It was a good refresher of what I’ve learned in the past, but I would have loved to learn a bit more about the Unionist/Nationalist struggle from someone who actually lived through it. Alas, it was not to be, but I still really enjoyed walking all over the city center and having its major government and education buildings as the backdrop of our tour.

An example of modern Dublin’s issues. Preach.

Just 20 minutes outside of the city, the cliffs of Howth peer over the Irish Sea, and that’s where Marcus and I went that afternoon. The peninsula of cliffs is easy enough to walk alone, so we strolled through the hills at our own pace and took in the beautiful views. I sat in complete silence for quite some time, just marveling at nature. I’d never seen such quiet, humble beauty. It rained most of the time, but by the end of our day, the clouds parted and a true Irish rainbow appeared. I was all for running after it and finding a leprechaun, but we decided to leave it be and head back to town.

being a wee one.


Magical.


nature, people. nature.

at the end of the line.


Splashing in the cold Irish Sea!

The next morning, the rain was coming down in sheets and no umbrella could keep us dry as we scurried to the National Leprechaun Museum to (hopefully) catch a glimpse of the pot of gold from the day before. Unfortunately, we weren’t very successful, but we heard some fun stories and learned a lot about how the Irish have continued the legends of the wee folk into the present day.

That afternoon, we headed toward the business district of town to learn all about the porter production process (unintentional alliteration) at the Guinness Storehouse. What an experience! The original Guinness factory now includes a museum that shows all the steps of how the beer is made, as well as the story of how Arthur Guinness began such a company. It was fun to see, and even more fun to drink. We learned how to pour “The Perfect Pint” , which I will be happy to teach you for a small fee of five euro, and saw an amazing view of the city from the panoramic bar at the very top of the Guinness tower. We ended our journey on a literal high note! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

My perfect pint! I’m a pro.

Marcus and I parted ways at the Dublin Airport, and I made my way back to Tours for the last time.
I’ve spent the last two days in a bit of a trance, trying to soak up as much of my host family and France before I leave as I can. Yesterday, we rode our bikes to Château Villandry and made a last little cultural tour of the area. We’ve eaten all my favorite meals this weekend, from crêpes to l’eau de menthe. My host family even gave a goodbye present-a French cookbook for students. At this point, I haven’t fully processed anything yet and I don’t quite know what to say. I’m sure it’ll hit me tomorrow morning at 5:27, when I hop on the train to Paris.
For now, I must keep packing and keep moving. I’m excited to return home, but I’m also hesitant to be leaving Tours already. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

The Painter/The Architect

As tourist traps go, Barcelona isn’t quite as crowded as Paris or Rome can be, but Marcus and I still experienced our share of being jostled around by thousands of our fellow travelers over the past few days. Being located in the city center came with its difficulties, but we also got to easily see some of the neatest places in town. All in all, I had a fun time exploring a city and culture unique from any other place I’ve visited. Barcelona scrambles the look of typical European streets with the kitschy beachy atmosphere of Florida towns, and then adds in a touch of Gaudi architecture to make it all its own. Very strange, but very cool.
For our first night, we strolled down the Ramblas, which is the main drag of all shopping and touristy markets that leads straight to the water’s edge. I could have sat on a bench and people-watched all night, but Marcus reminded me that we had places to be. On the recommendation of a friend who recently studied in Barcelona, we checked out a theme bar called Espit Chupitos, which exclusively serves specialty shots. We watched patrons toast marshmallows over flaming drinks and down all sorts of other combinations. We even tried a few ourselves before calling it a night. 

Jelly candies for sale near La Ramblas.


I was very careful not to make any sudden movements.


so.many.olives.


On Sunday, we started out our cultural tour by visiting the Museu Xocolate, or the Chocolate Museum. Barcelona was one of the first European cities to popularize the drinking and eating of chocolate imported from the Americas, and so the museum highlighted the history of chocolate’s industrialization and production. Best of all, we got a little taste of the stuff after the tour. Best hot chocolate of my life.

We split one traditional hot chocolate and one iced!


Next, we moved on to the Picasso Museum. I’ll admit it- I’ve never been a huge fan of Pablo’s work. I always thought it was creatively imagined but poorly executed, because I assumed his famously abstract style was a result of his technical inability to reproduce a subject realistically. After seeing the rest of his work, I am a changed woman.
Picasso started out doing lifelike portraits and landscapes in oil, and later moved on to his signature Cubism. Maybe he decided that detail wasn’t necessary to effectively recreate a subject on canvas; maybe he got fed up with the whole process of painting itself and wanted to simplify it. Either way, I loved it. After seeing the evolution of his work and his countless studies of other artists’ masterpieces, I am proud to call myself a Picasso lover. Definitely my favorite part of all of Barcelona.
Monday morning found us wandering around the northern end of the city, taking an unofficial tour of Antoni Gaudi’s most famous architectural constructs. Gaudi spent a lifetime covering Barcelona in his distinctive Modernist parks and buildings, so you can’t go far without stumbling upon one of his colorful mosaic benches or melting lampposts. We checked out Park Guëll and the yet-unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral before ending our day beachside. A quick toe dip in the cold Mediterranean Sea was enough for us to say we’d done it, and we made it back to the hotel with just enough time to catch the Queen’s Jubilee before heading to bed.

from the highest point in Park Guëll.


cathedral or magical alien forest? couldn’t decide.


Light from above.


Nothing better than a cathedral of rainbows.

This morning, we flew to blustery Dublin, Ireland, where I feel quite at home already. More updates and photos to come soon. Cheers from the homeland!

Viva La Vida

It’s been a Loco four days in Madrid! The Doctor, Marcus and I met up on Tuesday afternoon and managed to work our way through a good portion of the massive city in the little time we had. We ate traditional Spanish cuisine and tried the city’s special wines (not as good as France’s varieties, in my expert opinion). We heard classic Spanish music, got a taste of the Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim cultures, and experienced a much different lifestyle than what I’m used to in France.

On Wednesday, we walked to the Royal Palace and stumbled upon the Changing of the Guard. About fifty soldiers in various uniforms rode by us on horses in full regalia. It was interesting to see the different styles of military dress and behavior, even though I don’t understand much of it in American culture and thus really didn’t understand Spain’s version! 
After the guard finished doing its thang, we walked through the Palace to see the original furniture and artwork of the building. It was beautiful, not to mention entirely excessive. The former kings and queens of Spain owned everything from typical paintings and decorative home furnishings to countless sets of crystal, silverware, and even a few Stradivarius instruments. Investment pieces, you know. 

all sorts of fun little outfits and hats.


Next, we walked across the street to the Royal Cathedral, which was completely unlike any other cathedral I’ve ever visited. Covered in bright tile mosaics, the church combines gothic style architecture with traditional Spanish flavor on the interior. Very, very, very cool. I could have spent all day staring at the geometric patterns on the ceiling and altar pieces. 

The colors were magnificent.


Looks like the roof at Cheesecake Factory, y’all.


I’m getting used to lying on national monument floors to take pictures.


For our resident opera nerd Marcus’ sake, we bought tickets to a zarzuela performance, a type of Spanish operetta/musical theatre show that is always based on classic Spanish themes and jokes. We couldn’t see much from our terrible seats, and we didn’t understand most of what was said, but the voices were really strong and we enjoyed it. It was worth it just to see the differences in customs in Spanish theatre versus American behavior. When a man’s cell phone rang during the show, the patrons around him heckled him until he was escorted out by the ushers. That needs to happen in the States!
One of my favorite moments of the trip was that evening’s trip to a tapas bar, where our understanding waiter simply brought out all of his favorite dishes for us to try. It’s a pity that I have no idea what anything was, so I’ll never be able to find it again, but it was amazing! For an indecisive girl like me, the best thing in the world is to have lots of little appetizer-type dishes to munch on all night rather than committing to one plate, and that’s the whole point of tapas. Lord help me if I ever need to make any major life decisions beyond a restaurant order.
On Thursday, we took a train to the neighboring city of Toledo for a little day trip. The Doctor insisted that it would be a great place to visit, but, unfortunately, we failed to realize that it was a Feast Day for the Catholic church. Everything in town (including, for some reason, the synagogues and mosques) was closed, and we were reduced to wandering around the hilly, narrow streets without much to do. We did happen upon a small Leonardo da Vinci museum exhibit that showed models of some of his lesser-known inventions, which was neat, but the rest of the day was lost in the heat of the sandy streets. Alas, traveling can be unpredictable.

Hey, at least the view in Toledo doesn’t close on Feast Days!


On Friday, we headed to the Prado Museum to see some of the world’s greatest Spanish masterpieces, including Velasquez’s Las Meninas. I didn’t realize how vast the museum’s collection was until we got there and saw the guide. It took us all morning and part of the afternoon to navigate our way through the fifty-odd rooms, but it was worth the effort. By the time we left the museum, I was ready for a nap, but we continued on to the city park next door in the hopes of finding some street musicians or a cool market. While we didn’t find either of those two things, we did enjoy relaxing in the shade of the park’s beautiful trees and people-watching.

Flowerboxes everywhere.


For our last night in Madrid, we had dinner with one of our director’s colleagues, a maestro from Bulgaria, at a Paella restaurant. Paella is pretty much just rice mixed with whatever else is on hand, from seafood to beef or veggies and sauces, but that’s all you need to make a fabulous gumbo-esque meal. I was stuffed, both physically and mentally, after a few hours of noshing and talking about music, but it was a lovely way to end our time in Madrid.

The next morning, the Doctor left for Italy, and Marcus and I continued on to Barcelona. Our first day here has been great-I’ll tell you all about it in my next post. Until then, viva la vida en España!