Sunday, May 13, 2012

"one person's craziness is another person's reality" -tim burton

The many faces of The Nightmare Before Christmas

A few days ago, I went to see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Cinémathèque Francais. My friends had been raving about it, and while I wasn't sure just how into Burton I was, I figured I might as well go and maybe learn something. What I learned was that I love Tim Burton. He really is a creative genius, with a fabulous sense of humor and incredibly diverse talent. The exhibit featured everything from his early sketches, to his work for Disney, to the angora sweater Johnny Depp wore in Ed Wood. The exhibit was brilliantly executed and not in the least bit boring. Even the most interesting exhibits have been known to cause my head to nod, but I was actually sad to leave. Unfortunately I had assignments and studying to do back at home, so I couldn't stay as long as I wanted to. However, I did learn a lot and I am adding another thing to my summer to-do list: watch more Tim Burton films! I may have developed a new pop culture obsession.

sarkozy, c'est fini!

Bastille on election day

Last weekend was the French presidential election. Many French were anxious to out Sarkozy, while many others were nervous about the prospect of "voting for the lesser of two evils" and weren't sure if the alternate to Sarkozy was who they really wanted. Regardless, the French were very passionate about whichever side they chose. At Bastille, the famous landmark of the French Revolution, supporters of Francois Hollande gathered to await the final results. The entire round-a-bout intersection and every sidewalk was completely filled with people shoulder-to-shoulder, and I was one of those people. Fortunately, Hollande won, which meant people were celebrating rather than angry, making the event likely safer than Sarkozy's. Either way, we enjoyed an exciting French cultural experience (a little more unique than climbing the Eiffel Tower, don't you think?) and some free live music.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

paintings come to life

This past weekend our program took us to Giverny, a small town northwest of Paris in Normandy. Our goal: to see Monet's house and gardens, where he painted his famous Water Lilies and many other beautiful impressionist paintings. We first visited the Musee des Impressionnismes Giverny, where I expected lots of water color paintings that would cause my eyes to glaze over after a few minutes. Don't get me wrong, I love impressionist paintings however I'm not much of a museum person and tend to get blurry-eyed halfway through even the most impressive of exhibits. However this exhibit especially fascinated me, and I believe I found a new favorite artist: Maurice Denis. I was incredibly inspired by Denis' work. He mostly focused on spring scenes, my favorite season, and did a lot of biblical scenes set in contemporary settings. I won't bore you all with art talk, but I leave you all with a quote of his I found especially inspiring at the end of this post (he was a writer too). Then we were able to walk through Monet's house, see his studio with many original paintings on display (including one that my parents have a poster of in our laundry room at home), and walk through the beautiful gardens featuring the water lilies, droopy trees and bridge that he so often painted. There was even a romantic proposal on one of the bridges while we were there!

"There was no essential difference between the profane and the sacred,
the sensual and the spiritual,
human and divine love,
earthly and heavenly spring." -Maurice Denis

i fell in love. again.

Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz in Munich, Germany

I'm going to use this post to declare my love for Munich. Munich, Germany is decidedly my favorite European city. Up until this time I have seen Paris, Madrid, Zurich, Athens, Milan, Siena, Brugge, and Ljubljana as well, but none top Munich, which I have now visited twice. My first visit in 2008 with my high school Euro tour, I did not expect to love Munich as much as I do. I had predetermined Italy and France as my favorite countries, but was taken by surprise after the trip, when I realized how much I wanted to go back to Munich.

Inside the Hippodrome beer tent
We planned the trip around "Springfest", known as Frühlingsfest in German, which is the spring equivalent of Oktoberfest, but on a much smaller scale. I visited with my roommate, who hadn't yet visited Germany. I was so excited to show her a city that I had fallen in love with 4 years ago. We lucked out with the trip as well: we were able to escape the Parisian gloom and rain that has been plaguing the city for weeks in the hot, German sun. It was 75-80 degrees and sunny most of the weekend, and we soaked it up. We ate döner kebabs, potatoes, and lots of bratwurst. We also tasted a lot of different beers, as the city unites itself around this hoppy beverage.

Wheat beer at Schneider Weisse

One of the highlights of the trip was our beer & brewery tour. We visited Schneider Weisse first, a brewery based on wheat beers. It is no longer considered a "Munich" beer as their brewery is outside the city limits, and can no longer serve at Oktoberfest because of this, but is still a popular beer in Munich and is served at several restaurants, including their own. Munich is said to have the best beers in the world, partly due to having some of the purest water in the world which doesn't add to or change the flavor of the hops and wheat. The wheat beer was very good, and then we moved to Paulaner, a very popular beer in Munich. There we were able to visit their microbrewery (separate from their large brewery with brews tens of thousands of liters of beer per day) which only produces one to three thousand liters per week. We were able to see the beer-making process, taste the barley which is cooked at different temperatures and lengths of time for different flavors, smell the hops, and then taste three different Paulaner microbrews: a lager, wheat, and dark wheat beer. It was hard to pick a favorite, but the dark wheat was the most interesting. Then we got on the U-bahn and headed to Hofbräuhaus, the most famous beer hall in Germany. It is not only a social center, but holds historical significance as well as it has been used for many political speeches, most notably by Adolf Hitler. It is said that beer halls are used for these speeches as all classes of citizen are there from the lower to the upper. Additionally, research was done in the 1970s that people are more easily influenced when drinking alcoholic beverages (a surprising find, don't you think?)

Linderhof Castle

We also spent time at the Frühlingsfest carnival (described as 'cheap' by some Germans, but I felt like I was in the US for a few minutes so I didn't mind) riding the rides. Saturday we visited the Linderhof Palace, about an hour outside of the city. It was built by King Ludwig II who was obsessed with Versailles and the French court, so everything in the palace was styled in the same manner, and the only portraits in the palace are of French royalty, but no pictures of him or his family. On Sunday we visited Dachau, which I had visited in high school, but was still just as moving as the first time. Throughout the weekend we also spent some time at the Viktualienmarkt, a large market place near the town center with stands upon stands of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, bratwurst and beer. Its a great place to go to find a cheap brat or beer for lunch and sit under the trees among the locals. Our last day was spent walking through the Englischer Garten, an English style garden on the northeast side of the city. A river runs through it, the paths wander in and out of trees and grassy fields, everyone is reading a book or riding a bike, and of course in typical Munich fashion, there is a beer garden right in the middle by the Chinescher Turm, a large Chinese structure.

Meadow in Englischer Garten

I cannot express my love for Munich in simple type-written words. Even in person amid my emotional hand gestures, squealing tone of voice, wiggling in my seat and exclamations of joy at every memory, you probably still wouldn't understand just how deeply in love with this city I am. Its more than the buildings, the food, or the people. Its the way of life, a freshness in the air, a pulsing through my veins I felt when I stepped out of the train. This almost-high I had the entire trip is inexplicable. Munich is comfortable. It is welcoming and feels like home immediately. Before I left I was counting the days until my return. Until next time Munich, know you have my heart.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"we're in Paradise even if the weather's not!" [spring break, part 3 of 3]

Paradise Beach in Mykonos
After Santorini, we had a bumpy ride on a small boat to Mykonos. The sky was grey once again, but we were determined to make the best of it. We stayed at the Paradise Beach Resort, made up of many types of lodging and including a mini-mart, bar, club, and food stand. Of course, being that the weather wasn't too great and we arrived just before tourist season was starting, everything was closed except the mini-mart, gyro stand and pizza stand. Our first night everything at the resort closed early so we were forced to go into town to find dinner. Then we returned to our beach cabin, a very simple room with just two beds, a nightstand and a roof over our heads. It was cold so we ran to the reception desk for extra blankets and got some rest.

Little Venice, in Mykonos Town

The next day was equally grey and cold. We took the bus into town and were highly entertained with the Corona-sponsored public bus. We walked around town, found some cheap food, checked out some stores, found an internet cafe and then headed back to Paradise beach, set on going to the beach, rain or shine. We only had a few days there, and needed some fresh air. So we put on our unlikely beach outfits: yoga pants, running shoes, North Faces and blankets wrapped around us. It was chilly and windy but I pulled out a book and enjoyed the view, which was still beautiful despite the unfortunate weather. We grabbed some hot food from the gyro stand, took hot showers, and headed back to sleep for the night.

How to Enjoy the Beach in Bad Weather 101

The next day, the sun finally came out! It was windy on the beach, but otherwise very warm. We still needed boat tickets for Athens, and I still had postcards from Paris to send (I was a little behind and needed to get them out before the WSU semester was up and everyone moved home!) so we took the Corona bus to town, found a post office, travel agency and some cold beverages for an afternoon at the beach. Back at Paradise Beach we threw on our swimsuits, some SPF 15 and settled in at the beach with iPods, books and cookies. It was exactly the afternoon we had been looking forward too, and although we got chilly as the evening moved in, we toughed it out. Being a California girl in my bones, I'll do anything for a tan. Plus, I couldn't come back from Spring Break the same shade of pale ;) Two pizzas and a shower later we made our way back to the beach cabin for a final day of travel.

A real beach day

The following morning we sat on the beach for a few minutes during breakfast until we had to catch the resort shuttle back to the Mykonos Town port and go back to Athens for the end of our trip (which I talked about in part 1) Needless to say, the trip was very eventful, but we had so much fun and saw so many beautiful sights. The islands were extremely photogenic, and although we were disappointed by grungy Athens, we don't regret a minute of the trip. I think I took about 900 photos (no exaggeration!) during the week, so I think that speaks for itself.

The infamous Corona bus...keep it classy Myknonos

Sorry it took me so long to update you guys on this trip! I've been swamped with schoolwork and had another trip last weekend to Munich. Later this week I should be updating about that trip (probably my favorite of the semester). This week I have a final, a research paper due and two presentations, and I have just as much work for next week. Its impossible to believe I only have two and a half weeks left in Paris! I hate that I have so much work to do, all I want to do is soak up everything around me. Anyway, I think these last two weeks will give me a lot of blogging material: a few reviews of places I've been since I've been here, a day trip with my program to Giverny (where Monet's house and gardens are), and visiting all the places I haven't seen yet in the final stretch until I'm home bound. Its going to be a stressful few weeks but I'm ready!
Mykonos I have to leave?

Mykonos Town port

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"everybody in santorini knows tony!" [spring break part 2 of 3]

Oia, Santorini

After spending the first night of our break sleeping in dirty Athens, Sami and I boarded a Blue Star Ferries boat to Santorini. After a long, grey 8-hour ride, stopping in several ports along the way, we made it to Thira, Santorini where the sun tried to break through the thin grey clouds. Immediately spotting the "Tony's Villa" sign held by a dark Greek man, we walked over and introduced ourselves to the infamous Tony. An artist first, hostel owner second, everyone on the island knows Tony. He tapped shoulders, shook hands and rubbed cheeks with his beat up hands as we walked through the port landing toward his van. During a bumpy, honk-filled 20 minute drive through the island to Perissa, the town where we would be staying, Tony explained that he is known all over the island for his art and its his job to say hi to everyone he knows because of it. With our bags in our upgraded private room (three cheers for us!) we walked the 100 or so meters down to the famous black sand beaches of Perissa.

Knee deep in the water somewhere

It was chilly, but we were determined to enjoy the beauty and slipped right into island mentality as we slipped right out of our shoes, running into the waves. Immediately a larger wave came up, soaking the bottoms of my pants. We found a beach side restaurant, got a glass of wine and took a deep breath. Later we tried some calamari and real chicken gyros--delicious! Later we walked around town, found an empty bar with wifi, then to the local church.

Boardwalk on beach in Perissa 

It was Greek Orthodox Easter weekend, and apparently the Greeks celebrate with firecrackers and drinking. Saturday night everyone goes to church and at midnight the "fireworks" begin. Expecting a beautiful nighttime light display, we made our way down to a white-washed, blue-domed church. Unfortunately we were met with the sound of crashing bells and firecrackers. It was an interesting cultural experience though. The next morning we got a delicious breakfast (greek yogurt and french toast with honey for Sami, and a Mexican omelette for me) and attempted to lay on the beach (too windy to stay around).

Perissa church

In need of something to do, Sami and I hiked the "mountain" behind the town. This rocky man-made trail was a little rough, but every time we looked over our shoulder we had an incredible view of black sand, sparkling blue water, and white-washed buildings. When we reached the top, we had a view of a nearby town and another beautiful ocean view. The wind was really strong up there, so we found shelter behind a wall to eat a snack, and then carefully made our way down the mountain, seeing all sorts of lizards and bugs, and even hearing a rattlesnake. Upon our return to the town, we realized everything was closed in observance of Easter, so we slowly made our way to dinner at Ntomatini. It was the only place in town that had anything happening: a local band played traditional Greek music, women danced on tables, and everyone drank raki, another traditional Greek liquor. Raki has a general cinnamon flavor, and is pretty strong, but mixed with honey it becomes sweeter and a little easier to drink. Good thing too, because the waiters brought every table a tiny bottle on the house for everyone to enjoy. People must have been enjoying the raki: they were dancing everywhere they could, yelling with friends, and laughing loudly until very late. We stayed for hours just enjoying the scene, and tasting the local wines (the red tasted like olives, yuck!)

Halfway up our "mountain" hike

Easter dinner at Ntomatini, includes raki and dancing in the street.

Monday, our last day in Santorini, our main goal was to see the sunset in Oia. After some difficulties with the Greek ideas of punctuality, we finally found a bus to take us to Fira, the capital and most touristy town of Santorini. We walked around for about an hour, got our souvenirs, and hopped back on the bus to Oia. Oia is the town that is in nearly every photo used to attract tourists to Greece, and is a photographer's dream come true. Built into cliffs jutting out of the ocean, it is characterized by the typical white-washed buildings, steep stone stairs, wandering cobblestone paths, colorful doors, and the famous blue-domed church roof. Oia is one of the most famous cities in the world for sunset-watching, and Sami and I risked missing the bus in order to see the famed sunset. On top of a cliff sticking out from the town, among ancient ruins, we perched ourselves front and center for the best view. Unfortunately there was a cloud hanging just above the horizon, ruining the usual sun reflection on the water, but the colors in the sky, the orange-toned water and the sailboat floating created a picture-perfect scene. We returned to Perissa, and rested up for another day of travel, the next day we were headed to Mykonos!

Steep cliffs of Oia
Oia sunset

Monday, April 23, 2012

the beginning and the end: athens [spring break part 1 of 3]

So many olives, everywhere.
Last week was the CEA spring break, which meant I was headed to Greece. I was joined by one of my roommates, Sami, from Wisconsin, early Friday morning as we headed to Charles de Gaulle airport for what was about to be one hell of a week. I'm splitting my posts about Greece into three parts; first, because it makes it easier for me; second, because I can include more pictures; and third, because I don't want to make you guys scroll through endless paragraphs detailing the ins and outs of my trip. My eyes get tired looking at a computer screen too long too, and I want to give you guys a break.

Sami & I spent our first and last day in Athens. We were so excited when we first flew into Athens--we were finally in Greece, the only conversation topic in the apartment for weeks. After a long metro ride from the airport we surfaced in Monastiraki Square, in central Athens. Immediately we could tell we were not going to like the city too much: it was dirty, crowded and loud. Horns honked, men yelled, small children gathered around us asking for money, and the sidewalks were covered with dirt, trash, and other unidentifiable substances. After a long and confusing walk we arrived at our hostel, freshened up, and went searching for food.

Prosciutto, mozzerella and pesto sandwich at Rooster

The restaurant we found, Rooster, served us delicious bruschetta and sandwiches. Despite non-smoking signs on every table, the typical Europeans surrounding us filled the room with the stench of tobacco and nicotine. After noticing a somewhat unique crowd we realized that Rooster was, in fact, a gay bar. Eh, c'est la vie! After another rest and freshening up at the hostel, we walked around the surrounding city blocks in search of food for the next day's boat ride, some iced tea, and dinner. We ate some lamb gyros in Monastiraki, ducked into Starbucks for a break from the dirt, and made our way toward Brettos.

Brettos is a 100+ year old bar in a somewhat cuter part of the city (then again, it was night, so maybe the darkness masked the grime). They distill their own brandy in the bar, and the walls are covered with every flavor liqueur imaginable. The place had a very cool vibe, so we pulled up a stool and ordered the Greek classic: ouzo. I have to say, ouzo is pretty gross. It tastes like black licorice and is very strong. We drank what we could of it, and then ordered a glass of wine. A delicious Peloponnese Syrah is exactly what I needed to wash the flavor out.

The next morning we left our hostel early, bid farewell to our Chinese roommate and hopped on a Blue Star Ferries boat to Santorini. Fast forward to the next Friday...

After a long ferry ride from Mykonos we arrived back in Athens. Our economy tickets allowed us a seat outside on the deck or inside around one of the cafes or restaurants. We chose the deck, because of the beautiful weather, but we did hit some grey patches where the forceful winds blew salty sea spray all over me and everything I owned. I hid my nose in My Life in France by Julia Child and dreamed of being back in Paris...

The Acropolis

Upon our return to Athens we found some dinner, a place for a good drink and then rested up for the following day. After checking out of our hostel, we made the trek up to the Acropolis. In my opinion, this is the only reason to go to Athens. After just two full days in the city, I found very few redeeming qualities about it, unless one is interested in Greek history. As someone who repeatedly fell asleep on her freshman year history book (hey, I love history, but the Greeks and Romans were a little too far from my mind's grasp), I looked at the ancient structures, was impressed by the plethora of pristine marble, took some photos, and made my way back to the airport, and thus back to Paris. It feels so fabulous to be back.

Later today I'll update again with a post on Santorini and Mykonos islands, where the true Greek beauty is!