Study Abroad Travel Tips, Reflections and Thoughts

July 7, 2010

So, you’re thinking about studying abroad while in college? Well, stop thinking and start doing.

I remember coming to Freshman orientation and listening to, as I would come to find out, a close friend, mentor and professor – Dr. Miller talking about the benefits of studying abroad. When investigating Universities in high school, study abroad was one of my main interests.

As time went on, the idea of a semester abroad was always in the back of my mind — and that’s where it stayed. I got caught up in extracurriculars, studying, volunteering, and all the little things (BILLS) that occupy our daily life. Luckily for me, great mentors and personal role models helped me keep my goals in sight and I finally found a program that fit my needs for credits, language, and experience.

After 5 months in Europe, I can tell you that it was the most fun and rewarding experience of my life. I learned more about people, humanity, language and culture, travel, and prejudice that many learn in years of life experience. I learned to appreciate people from other cultures who held extremely different views than mine and to have a great time while doing it. My French language skills, embarrassing at first, skyrocketed from living with my host family and being immersed in the culture. At the end of the semester I can proudly say that I speak French (although I probably won’t be contracted as a translator anytime soon). I desired to travel even before I left for Europe and got a small taste with the Alternative Spring  Break 2009 trip to the Dominican Republic. But this turned that desire into a need.

As Mark Twain had said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” It unites us all through our common humanity and, i’ve found, extends one’s own ‘home range’ until one can think of each person in the world as one’s neighbor. Travel endows us with tolerance, patience, perspective, and awe. I highly recommend it and I challenge you to find one job, hobby or person that could not be enriched by a broader perspective of and appreciation for the world.

———————-Tips, Advice, and Reverse Culture Shock——————–

Whether or not you have money to burn, study abroad and traveling in general is possible. Careful planning, research, followed by truckloads of sheer determination will get you where you want to go.

TIP: Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever, pack light, and run fast. (Please forgive the bastardization, Gandhi). Trust me, when you live like a broke college student you learn to squeeze every (dollar) bit of enjoyment out of life and it leads you to unforgettable experiences down the road. That said, be safe and note the disclaimer in my previous post.

When you travel, try to shed your inhibitions when it comes to social situations. It might be intimidating to practice a new language, meet new people, or try new foods but you’ll make new friends, find new strengths, and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences everyday.

If you can, live with a host family. It’s a change from the normal “do whatever you want” lifestyle most college kids have, but you get so much more reward from it. No, you cant come back at 3 am and stumble up the stairs, waking everybody in the house, but you  can learn limitless stories about the local culture, practice their language at every moment, and make lifelong friends.

Finally, i’d like to share with you the parting message that my host-sister, Fanny, left me:

“Derek…i did not wake up and couldn’t say you goodbye :s i’m sorry! thank you so much for the music: it’s great, it’ll be an excellent opportunity to practice my english.

Have a safe trip home!
We’ll all miss you… you know you re most welcome anytime!
And we’ll certainly visit you soon in the USA.
Remember what i told you about the “post-paradize phase”, there are douzens of people, projects and curiosities to be discover in your area. And if not, just build it! change it! go for it!

Au revoir!”

The world is out there. Go get it.


Breakfast in Italy, Lunch in Switzerland, Dinner in France

June 22, 2010

You never quite make friends like the lifelong pals you had back in high school and before. Luckily, I never lost those friends and that made for quite the European adventure…

Garrett, Mike, and Paul decided to cash in their spare change, rake leaves, and even sell “extra” kidneys to fund an Alps expeditions and week in Paris for the ultimate broke-college-student-road-trip. All I had to do was email a professor, move my final exam date, and catch a train to Chamonix in the Alps to meet up with them for some fantastic mountain climbing and hiking. Sounds easy enough, right?

I board the train at Paris’ Gare de Lyon at 3pm Thursday afternoon, switch trains at Bellegarde and, while studying for aforementioned exam, manage to miss a crucial piece of information announced on the intercom: the train cars would be splitting up and half my train would be going to Chamonix. The other half, I would find out, led right to an adventure. I guess I missed the French class where they went over how to interpret mumbly French train conductors…

So at around 8pm local time my train stops in a town just as the sun is setting. Its the terminus. The train station is close. Even the hotel across the street is closed. “Damn,” I recalled “it’s a holiday.” I walk out of the train station to see a beautiful lake. Standing there, stupefied wondering what I’m to do a young woman approaches me and assails me with some blur of French speed talking calisthenics.

I quickly say “I’m sorry, but i’m lost and a little confused. Would you mind repeating that a little slower?” A quick laugh and a few moments later, I find she is asking to borrow my cell phone. She needs to call a friend who failed to get off my same train. After talking to her friend, she discovers that he took the other half of the separated train…all the way to Chamonix.

Margot, as I later learned, was extremely hospitable. She explained the situation to me and, since she lived right down the street, invited me to use her computer to find another train. As we walk I find that she is studying nursing at a local university and where we are now is actually Evian, the town where they get the bottled water namesake.

We arrive at the house and I meet her friend Lucy. They invite me to eat dinner with them as they were expecting one more anyway. We enjoyed a gourmet dinner consisting of mac n’ cheeze and some frozen tart pastry. College students are the same no matter where you go…

We checked out the train schedule and found that there were no other trains scheduled for that night. The next would be at 6:30 am the next morning. I then asked about hotels only to hear “don’t stay at a hotel, this is a touristy place. They charge a lot for a room.”, in French of course. “Stay here if you’d like, we have an extra room”, said Lucy and Margot.

At this point, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these complete strangers. I thanked them “mille fois” (a thousand times) and we spent the rest of the night listening to the best mix of classic American tunes and French hits, shared a few drinks, many stories, and countless laughs as we looked over lake Leman. Interested, I asked what was on the other side of the lake, with all the pretty lakes. “Oh,” Lucy responded “that’s Switzerland.” Awestruck, all I could say was: incroyable.

Evian - Thanks Margot & Lucy!!

As my train was to depart early the next morning, they showed me how to fix myself breakfast, where my sleeping accommodations were, and gave me a towel to take a shower. I could hardly contain how thankful I was to these girls for taking a potentially devastating mix-up and turning it into the experience of a lifetime. A few bisous, adieux, and 6 hours of sleep later I was ready to catch my train. I scribbled a quick note with my contact information and thanks and headed out the door. Next stop: Chamonix.

The train ride there was beautiful.

I hop off the tiny, red, mountain-climbing train as soon as it arrives in Chamonix and am greeted by gorgeous vistas of snowcapped mountains….completely obscured in clouds. Great. Regardless, I was plenty ambitious to explore and headed down the towns main street, which was crowded with alpinist stores, gear shops, and a few miscellaneous restaurants. All of which were closed at this 9 am.

I explored Chamonix for as long as I could in the cold, constant drizzling rain and headed for warmer grounds for some food (aka the cheapest place to eat – Macdo). I set up camp in there for a few hours, studying for my law final again (though it had spited me on the first train ride), and waited to hear from my friends and the weather to clear up. Four hours later, I decide to go out and explore again after many unsuccessful attempts to call my climbing partners.

Luckily, the rain cleared up and I headed out. No less than a block down the street, who do I run into but my 3 grizzly looking pals wandering the streets searching for a electronics store to buy more phone minutes. Eh, who needs phones anyway? Things usually work out for the best.

Gladly reunited we headed off for the next goal; FOOD.

After the feast we groggily fumbled our way back to their hotel, took a quick nap, and started brainstorming. How could we climb or even hike with all this cold, rainy weather? A quick look to the weather forecast showed that most of southeast France and northern Italy was covered in a dampish bad-mood-cloud-of-doom.

So, as usually happens with this group of friends and a lack of plans, we laid around and told funny stories until divine inspiration hit us! How about driving through the tunnel du Mont Blanc tomorrow morning, catching breakfast in a small Italian mountain village, driving up through Switzerland (for lunch), and then driving back to the boulder fields outside of Fountainbleu the chateau near Paris?

And that’s exactly what we did. Early the next morning, we packed the car, threw some bills at the desk attendant and bolted for Italy.

The guys before we decided to explore an abandoned underground parking garage..

After some quick breakfast, picture taking, and healthy dose of exploration, we started for Switzerland with only a vague idea of direction and a map to guide us. Eventually, we came to the town of Martigny, Switzerland nestled in the valley between the majestic alps.

This town seemed to be untouched by the foul weather, although it could be seen looming ominously above in the sky. A quick route check, some lunch by the beautiful lake, and we were off headed for some world-class bouldering at Fountainbleu.

Martigny, Switzerland

We arrived just as the sun was setting to find that the boulder field was literally littered with hundreds of perfect boulders with thousands upon thousands of routes to be worked out on them. We could hardly contain our excitement, or hunger. A tiny bar/restaurant seemed to suit our fancy at the time and we chowed down on some great food and cold beer and headed back to our “campsite.” Trying to save money, we decided it would be a good idea for all four of us, 3 full-sized duffle bags of mountain gear, and all the wonderful smell to bundle up and make camp for the night in the econo-sized Twingo. Bad idea.

Woken early by overwhelming sunlight, bird chatter, and charlie horses like you couldn’t imagine, it seemed to be a good idea to start climbing again. This boulder field was unbelievable. People and languages from all over the world could be found enjoying the rock in harmony. Everyone had a place to climb. All had high spirits. The sun was shining. Life was good.

A full day of climbing later, we accompanied our bruises, scrapes, and sore muscles back towards Paris. My friends found a great deal on an apartment in Montmarte, the very artsy and bohemian section of Paris. We spent the next 5 days exploring, introducing and making new friends, and generally having a great time. It would take another unusually long-winded post to describe all of that, so i’ll save it for now.

Garrett spotting Paul as he tries to get off the ground

Toll booths from Switzerland to Paris? 60 euros

Gasoline? 70 euros

Not getting arrested while country-hopping around Europe with your best friends? Priceless.

Road Trip: Côte d’Azure

June 17, 2010

So i’m finally back in the US and after the whirlwind of term papers, final exams, international flights, and setting up my new apartment i’ve found some time to catch up on the last several posts i’d like to write. Now i’d like to tell you about a place where the water is a deeper blue than any sapphire you’ve ever seen, where the clouds, though rare, are whiter and softer than in any Tide commercial, and where the food, wine, and humor are in no short supply. Welcome to the Côte d’Azure.

I hesitate to refer to this as the French Riviera for fear of invoking visions of yachts, swanky dinner parties, and vacationing in million-dollar summer homes. Instead, i’d like to talk about the people, the culture, and region of France that has left an incredible impression on me that I hope others find as wonderful.

I had but 1 week of La Sorbonne’s 2+ week Spring Break (meriting capitalization) because it conflicted with my other university’s, AUP spring break (obvious lack of merit). So my friend Alanna and I decided to invite two other friends Maura and Lucas from Rome to come with us. Four persons was the max we could fit into our tiny Twingo econo-car and splitting the costs made this a fairly cheap endeavor.

Maura & Lucas flew into Paris on April 17th and we rented a car from the local Avis which was the only place that would rent to under-25’s. I could drive a manual transmission car so I was forced to humbly “volunteered” to drive the grueling 9 hours south. Surprisingly, aside from the 30 euro toll roads and staggering petrol prices, the drive was extremely pleasant. Beautiful roads and blossoming countryside was periodically interrupted by a dramatically-lit chateau on a hill. A beautiful drive with luckily no ill-fortune. We were on our way to the first stop: Marseille.

Disclaimer: The service I am about to describe is purely to educate. I cannot be held responsible for any repercussions from using said service now, or any time in the future.

Now that the business is out of the way… Our group of eager Europe-hopping world-travelers decided this would be a good time for our first Couch Surfing experience. CS is a website that connects people from all over the world to surf some couches, getting a free place to crash but more importantly, an opportunity to connect with another culture and spread understanding throughout the world. If it sounds naïve and idealistic well, maybe it is…

Luckily, Alain from Marseille opted to host the 4 of us for a few nights. He is a French hospital engineer of 49 years with a great passion for travel, learning, and making friends (he currently studies Russian, Arabic, Spanish, and English to connect with more couch surfers). This stay, in my opinion was one of the most valuable experiences i’ve had so far in my life.

Alain cooked us a traditional Marseillean meal full of slow-cooked vegetables, fresh olive oil, and pleennnnttty of seafood topped off with an anise aperatif. During our stay, we talked shared stories about our travels, cultures, and ideas all the while working on our French! (He spoke very little English). The next day, Alain drove us in his car around the coast, showing us the beaches, city hot spots, cultural attractions, and best places for gelato!

During the few days we were there, we explored all around the city, but adopted a laid-back attitude seeking to explore the life as the French do (note that the south of France is a completely different culture) rather than that of a tourist. We saw fewer monuments, but we enjoyed the food, the music, swimming, and even took a ferry out to L’isle d’If (the island of yew).

The tour, also to be mentioned, was made possible by the charity of another of the locals. A woman heard us expressing a wish to go to the island and promptly handed us 4 tickets for free ferry-rides because she thought we’d like them and she wouldn’t be using them. The island was fantastic.

Gestures like these are the kind that renew our belief in the goodness of people and make for an amazing experience. Keep that in mind next time you see someone who might use a hand…

As we parted with Alain and our friends in Marseille, we were sad to leave such a beautiful place but ready to start the rest of our trip. Before we left though, we made a partial day-trip to the Calanques of Cassis; a set of rocky limestone inlets along the Mediterranean. This was a wonderful hike and Alanna, Maura, Lucas (all Cornelians) and I had the opportunity to meet up with a fellow Cornelian of theirs and share the hike together. I suggest highly doing a quick Google Pictures search of the Calanques.

After that, we backed our bags and hit the road again. We had 3 and a half hours to meet the man we were renting an apartment from in Nice (pronounced neese). We drove along the gorgeous coast line, which takes much longer than the direct auto-route and nearly missed it as we enjoyed the vistas passing over the hills and through Marseille, Cassis, and Toulon. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time and missed Cannes and Monaco. Quel dommage.

Nice was nice. But it was no Marseille. The beaches were beautiful but we missed our new friends and yearned for another Couch Surfing experience to get a better understanding of this new city and how the locals live. Despite all, it was a fantastic trip and we enjoyed our last city immensely.

As our trip wrapped up, we hardly thought of the volcanic eruption that had squashed nearly everyone else’s travel plans as most European flights were cancelled. Escaping by car we made it safely south and were only brought back to this realization after finding that our friend’s flight back to Rome was cancelled. However, they were happy to spend another day in Nice and Alanna and I had to begin our return journey to Paris, and more importantly, exams.

ROMA, No it’s not a Lady Gaga song…..

April 28, 2010

Rather than analyze why the French government declares Christian (originally pagan?) events as nation-wide holidays preferentially to those of the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddist (or many other) religions of the world I seized the opportunity to maneuver a long weekend into a week-long tour of Rome, Italy.

Impossible and irresponsible to ignore, Christianity played a monumental role in shaping the modern world in a political and religious context. This is evident in Rome, the center of the ancient Roman Empire, and is best to be respected whether or not you agree with it.

Um... traditional roman attire?

Being a travel zealot, couch surfing aficionado, and professional budget backpacker I was excited at the prospect of spending a week in this historical city but perplexed about how to do it on my budget. Luckily through friends, contacts, and sheer luck a fellow student and I managed to stay with 2 of her friends (thank you Alanna, Mara & Lucas!) in the heart of Rome.

I’ll readily admit that my knowledge of Christianity is embarrassingly slim, so I referred frequently to the Rick Steves (name dropping!) tour guide for context.

Alanna and I booked some cheap flights on EasyJet (65EU round trip!) from Paris to Ciampino airport; just a short bus ride from center city Rome. We arrived late at night by taxi to San Giovanni to our friend Mara’s apartment. San Giovanni is the modern church which was built over the first church built that was dedicated to the Christian faith. How’s that for some history in your back yard?

San Giovanni

Crashing on a super comfy couch, we awoke early the next day ready to explore. We set right off for the Vatican Museum and what a sight to see! Not exactly bee-lining it for Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, we walked casually throughout the museum section of Vatican City. Most of the trip was “plagued” by awful amounts of sun, disgustingly pleasant weather, obnoxious fluffy white clouds and persistently teasing breeze. Terrible, I know.

We then went to see the Pope deliver mass at San Giovanni. Little did we know one had to obtain these little green tickets a month in advance so we did what any logical college students would do — scalped tickets from nuns. Knowing only “bigiletti,” “per favore,” and “gratzia” in italian this was less than facile but Mara and Alanna managed to get 7 tickets for our whole group from some generous others with surplus tickets.

Good Friday Mass - The Pope is there, somewhere...

Seeing Pope Benedict was really cool and San Giovanni was a beautiful church but a 2 hour mass in Italian and Latin was difficult to stand through. ALL the seats were taken. After our Christianity half-marathon, the group was famished and Lucas’s mother treated us all to a DELICIOUS (emphatically) italian dinner at Bucatino; where they fit you with bibs so your clothes don’t get ruined from the gallons of spaghetti sauce.

Afterwards, we relocated to Lucas’ apartment for the remainder of the trip for more spacious accommodations, which was right around the corner from the Bernini’s Trevi Fountain. We then spent the next 5 days waking up at the crack of dawn to see all the sights that Rome had to offer. With a Baroque art student with me, I was enthusiastic about learning more about the architecture, history, and art of the Romans.

It would be impossible to recount all the amazing things we saw in Rome. This is a one-of-a-kind city with such great personality, friendly people, chaotic traffic, and astonishing history that it necessitates your own visit. I’ll try to highlight some of the “bests.”

Vatican museum and St Peter’s Basilica

Vatican Museum

St. Peter's Basilica

I mentioned the museum earlier, but make note: Visit St. Peter’s immediately after the Vatican museum and you will save yourself a lot of time waiting in line! I never knew how extensive the Vatican museum was or how massively impressive the Basilica is. St. Peter’s was being set up for the Pope’s Easter mass so throws of chairs impeded better photography. Oh well. Swimming through waves of tourists was worth seeing Michelangelo’s La Pietà, although it was entombed in bullet-proof glass after a man attacked it with a hammer years ago.

Belvedere Torso

Trevi Fountain & Four Rivers Fountain

Bernini's Trevi Fountain

Bernini was a genious. You’ll notice the Romans thought so too because he designed nearly all the sculptures in the city. I’m only slightly exaggerating. Unfortunately, the Four Rivers fountain was undergoing renovation at the time, but we did get to see what they assumed to be an armadillo from the “new land” of America at the time.

Four Rivers Fountain - see the armadillo?

Sunset on the Mediterranean

Praise European public transportation. In most cities, it’s so thorough and easy to use that it makes driving seem ludicrous rather than silly especially in Rome. We were able to take a 30 minute metro ride to Italy’s western coast and enjoy the sunset and a cocktail overlooking the Mediterranean.


Thanks to Alanna and her Baroque art history class, I’m now a huge fan of Caravaggio’s paintings. We made a scavenger hunt of the city, looking for the many churches and museums where his paintings are located. Here’s one:

Colleseum & The Roman Forum

Roman Colosseum

Admittedly a tourist trap one cannot come to Rome without visiting these ancient ruins. The inner barbarian in every man will be attracted, though equally repulsed, by the acts of savagery that took place here. Gladiators battling men, animals, and the crowds for fame, fortune or freedom. It’s a peculiar feeling standing in the same stadium where prisoners and derelicts were literally slaughtered for the entertainment and appeasement of the masses. Architecturally, the Colosseum is a work of wonder and is not to be scoffed at.

Adjacent to the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, a collection of ruins from churches, houses, and political establishments of the bygone Roman Empire. Nature slowly reclaims its territory as seen by the eroded buildings being overtaken by creeping moss and lush green grass. There’s also an animated book inside the gift shop at the Colosseum if you want to compare what the ruins looked like in a before/after fashion.

The Forum

Galleria Borghese & The Villa Borghese Gardens

Galleria Borghese

Housing several famous Bernini and Caravaggio works the Galleria Borghese is not only culturally significant, it’s gorgeous. The gardens and parks surrounding the gallery are vibrant, lush green, and contrast nicely against the sapphire blue Italian skies. This was definitely one of my favorite visits while in Italy.

The gallery management, however, is another story. Visits must be booked in advance and is rather expensive for a mere 1 hour visit. Pictures and videos were prohibited and women could not even carry purses. Otherwise, I’d have some great photos of Caravaggio works and particularly, Bernini’s David.

No dice.

Art is meant to be enjoyed. Choose your method.

Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps in the Sun

One of our first stops due to its proximity to our couch surfing hotspot, the Spanish Steps were quite a site. In front of the Piazza di Spagna tons of people packed on these stairs leading up to the Trinità dei Monti church, which gives a superior view of the city where one can see the crosses atop countless Roman churches. Although it’s not really in my interests there are lots of top designers here for the fashion-savy.


It was built in the 1st century A.D. Merely contemplating the age of this building is a challenging task! A man-made structure that is nearly two thousand years old?! Regardless, after recovering from this overpowering though I had to do my characteristic hand-stand in a photo though I wont post it for dignity’s sake.


Buried here is the artist Raphel along with  the first king’s of Italy, who had a poor rapport with the people hence the remaining king’s buried elsewhere and the last known heir being regarded as a general “chump.”

Take a moment to appreciate the architecture: the dome of the massive structure is 23 feet wide at the base of the dome and made from a concrete mixture with added materials that vary from hard and durable to light and strong as the dome thins to two feet thick towards the oculus, the building’s only source of light.

Rome – What doesn’t this city have besides order? It was a great contrast to sit down at a restaurant and have the owner shake my hand and slap me on the back while picking on my accent when asking “dove il baigno?” Here’s anecdotal evidence as to the friendliness of the Italians:

After leaving the Vatican we were famished. We searched for a place to get something to eat and settled on this tiny, out-of-the-way sandwich shop. Doing our best in Italian, we tried to order sandwiches to which the two cheerful guys in chef attire responded “Haha don’t worry about it! How do you like Rome?” We then had a great conversation over the next few minutes about our travels and Italy in general while the men made us two delicious sandwiches of bruschutto, lettuce, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh bread baked in-house and lightly toasted. This was by far the best sandwich I had ever eaten and because we were short on cash, the man gave us a free grapefruit drink because he “though [we] should try this” and he mentioned “you’ll not find it anywhere else in the world.” We walked off with big smiles, a quenched appetite, and a fantastic memory of Rome and the Italian people. Such was our experience throughout the entire trip.

…Then we missed our 6 am flight and had to book another later that day, pay an extra 100EU and lounge around the airport for 8 hours.

Fields of Green

Flying Home

Lyon – Stormy Skies Foreshadow Nothing

April 27, 2010

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately. But alas, the French vacation period is upon us and now I have some free time to catch up on posts. Since Normandy, I’ve gone to Lyon, Rome, Marseille, and Nice. So I’ve nearly finished my traveling for the semester save for one weekend in Chamonix in a few weeks to hike around Mount Blanc in the Alps with some of closest friends from the States!

Here I’ll fill you in on Lyon — the acclaimed gustation capital of France.

View from the City Heights

The neighbor adjacent to my host family’s house in Paris is a close friend. She offered to drive me down near Lyon because she’d planned to visit her family in the nearby city of Villefrance-sur-Saône (which, I might tell you, is BEAUTIFUL). So I packed my bags, bought a return ticket from Lyon to Paris, and hopped in the car for a 3.5hr drive to Villefranche with Dominique, my thoughtful neighbor. This was also an endurance test for my French skills because I had to keep her company on this late-night drive and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with so many interesting things to talk about (with such speed too!). All-in-all the drive went well. They housed me for the night in their beautiful house on top of the hills outside the city limits with a fantastic view of the Alps and vineyard-rich countryside. After breakfast, I hopped on a train from Villefrance to Lyon and met my good friend Bobby at the train station.

Bobby, being the charming host that he is, gave me a personal tour of the city including the Gallo-Roman ruins, a beautiful cathedrale on top of the tallest hill in the city, Bellecourt,  the old city, Vielle Lyon, the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and many other great sights. We spent most of the day walking the city, had some catching-up to do over a beer at the pub, and buying tickets for the Lyon v. Grenoble soccer game that evening.

Vielle Lyon

Before the game, we met up with my friend Becca who I met in Paris but who studies in Lyon. We all went to the game and saw less-than-heated match in which Lyon (Olympique Lyonnais) smoked Grenoble 2-0 without much trouble.

Lyon v. Grenoble

Afterwards, I wanted to see if the Lyonnaise gustatory fame was well-earned so we headed out for a traditional 3-course meal. We found a good looking restaurant with good local rapport and a full meal for only 12 EU; what a steal! After the shrimp and creme sauce salade, steak and pasta main course, and chocolate cake, all washed down with some delicious Côtes-du-Rhône red we were fully content. As it was such a beautiful night we decided to grab a bottle of wine and hang out near the park on the bank of the Saône and catch up while admiring Lyon’s stunning river scenery.

Sunday, Bobby and I hoofed it up to Le Parc de la tête d’Or (Gold head park). This massive park on the South side of the city was vibrantly green with the lush spring vegetation and is some of the most beautiful scenery i’ve seen so close to a city. We walked around the park and made sure to check out the zoo (monkeys, flamingos, and elephants included!) that was in the park.

Parc de la Tête d'Or

Heading out, we rented some bikes, which are available in many of France’s major cities now, for about 1EU/day. Biking around, we saw the city from completely different angles as we climbed the [very] hilly city. This, à mon avis, was the highlight of the trip and was great to go zooming about through the narrow streets past the charming yet contrasting parts of the city.

Biking Around the City

I booked a red-eye train to get back to Paris because it saved me about 15 EU and upgraded me to first-class seating (score!). But since Bobby and Becca had work to do, like good French students, I decided to catch a movie until my 11 p.m. train back to the city of lights. Alice in Wonderland in 3D is every bit as trippy as you would think….

Highlights of Lyon:

Vibrant city, friendly people, beautiful scenery, DELICIOUS and cheap food, unique culture, and last but not least, Friends.


March 30, 2010

As promised, I’m writing about my program’s planned excursion to the Normandie region of France even though I should be studying for my exam because this is important and if I don’t write a post about it now I wont have the time later.

My study abroad program, Abroadco, organized a day trip to the city of Caen with a guided tour of the D-Day beaches and the Caen-Normandie Mémorial Cité de l’Histoire (WWII museum). Luckily, a motivated student in our group decided to ask if we could change our return tickets to Sunday and stay another day in Caen.

Leaving bright and early Saturday morning, we arrived by train a few hours later in Caen. First stop was the WWII museum to walk through the memorial display for those soldiers who fought and died during the war. The museum was especially powerful in its chronological display of events leading up to the second Great War. It was amazing and extremely grave to feel so connected to the past, being in the same region where this keystone event in the world’s history took place.

"The Failure of Peace"

After reading the many displays, following the timeline, and learning many of the intricacies of the War I hadn’t previously been aware of we were showed a un-narrated movie (not to be confused with a silent one) of the events taking place on D-Day (called J-Jour in France) which simultaneously showed graphic representations of troop movements, both Allied and Axis, and the progression of the war from that point forward. It was great to see this film so well put-together but as there was so much to see in the museum itself, a few of us wished to head back to finish our searching; besides, lunch could wait.

Overlooking the British Landing Site

On a side note, I thought I’d explain the thought behind the name D-Day/J-Jour since I just found out and thought it interesting. Apparently, in military operations, when an event is to take place at an unknown time they refer to it as “T-time.” So following that logic the Americans would call the day they planned to deploy troops into France D-Day as President Roosevelt did not know exactly the day he would give the go-ahead. Conditions in the region had to be near-ideal for a successful operation. The French word for “day” is “jour” thus they dubbed the operation J-Jour.

After leaving the museum we met our tour guide on the bus and drove the last 15 or so kilometers to the beaches. Driving past one could see ancient-looking towns, vast expanses of (beautiful) land, and peaceful scenery leading up to the shores. Seeing bunkers nestled in the rolling hills was a reminder to the unbelievable violence that took place only 70 short years ago.

Overlooking Omaha Beach - Amazing to Actually Be There

Arriving at the coast, we had free time to travel down to the beaches, explore the memorial on official American soil, and think about all those lives sacrificed for our freedom. I know that in no way will it be possible to convey how powerful an experience this was through writing, but if I could urge you to visit this site some day I promise you wouldn’t regret it.

Omaha Beach.

The cemetery, donated to the United States by France, is officially considered American soil. The contrast of steel gray waters against green lawn punctuated by so many white marble crosses felt more like a famous work of art with a somber story than reality. How can it be true that all those soldiers perished, now decayed and returned to the earth, fought on these beaches and gave their lives to protect the principles they held so dear and for the liberty of their loved ones and kind in general?

Thank you.

Quick Post!

March 26, 2010

In the next few days I have to start my ethnography research for my anthropology class and study and sit for an exam. I’ll be doing this between going to visit a good friend in Lyon this weekend (26-28 mars), going to the Lyon v. Grenoble football game, et going to Rome, Italy from 31 mars – 5 avril (Easter in the same city as the Vatican?!). Because of this I wanted to spit out a post quick to keep everyone updated.

First off, I feel like my French is getting a looooot better. I can now have extended conversations with my host family (par example, last night we talked for over an hour on American/French politics, the study abroad experience, and tips/tricks for traveling during weekends). It’s much easier when you immerse yourself in the language, which means speaking English as little as possible. Also, here’s another chance for me to stress what a great experience living with a host family is. As long as you are respectful (no coming home drunk at 4 am!), it’ll will pay unimaginable dividends. But that’s not to say you can’t have fun…

Une autre idée: Remind me to write about my recent trip to Caen in the Normandy region of France. I went with my study abroad group for a weekend tour of the city and to pay respects to the many soldiers who fought and died for our freedom in World War II. It was an amazing experience.

Ok, time to go take my phonetics exam and go to grammar class. Until next time (à prochain!)

Un Bon Mot ne Prouve Rien

March 24, 2010

It’s impossible to be bored here.

l'Or du Soir Qui Tombe

I finally went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The quintessential tourist activity in Paris, going to the top felt like it was going to be a bit of a “manufactured experience. “ So far I’d been spending my free time in museums, cafes,  parks, and the different districts around the city to try and assimilate myself into the culture but I couldn’t leave Paris without walking to the top of the tower (and the weather was beautiful this particular day). Here are some pictures as we climbed the stairs at sunset. We couldn’t go to the very top due to construction work.

Overlooking Trocadero and the Architecture Museum at Night

The Tower at Night

Afterward, I met a few friends for a fantastic roast duck and crème brulée dinner at Café du Marche.

Great Food at Café du Marche on Rue Cler

Another stop on the “Paris Museum Tour” included the Musée d’Orsay, housed in what used to be the train station Gare d’Orsay. I’ve been itching to go here for a while but haven’t because I was waiting for a time to go for free (oh the troubled life of a poor college student). Then I found out that this museum is free for students every day it’s open….

So,  although Musée d’Orsay isn’t nearly as big as the Louvre or even some other museums I’ve been to I spent the greatest amount of time here; a solid 6 hours. I went to see the Van Gogh pieces and ended up discovering almost a dozen more artists  I enjoyed such as Jules Dupré, Jules Breton, Gustave Courbet, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer and Monet (who I hadn’t previously known much about).

Favorite Sculpture from the d'Orsay...with a little photo editing

And on a completely unrelated note, in the past two weeks I got the chance to go to 2 châteaux outside of Paris: Chenonceau and the Palace de Fontainebleau. Chenonceau was a beautiful place and was a place of architectural interest as it had been built on top of the River Cher. Very cool, but I thought the history of the château was rather tame compared to most of the historical buildings I’ve seen thus far. By far my preference was for the Palace of Fountainebleau. This amazing palace was the sight of Napoleon the first’s abdication as he went into exhile in 1814 (being exhiled the first time after his defeat in Russia and after living in the Palace at Versaille). Also, the immensity of Fountainebleau was truly amazing. I plan to go back when spring arrives to see the gardens and surrounding forest in full grandeur.

Chenonceau Château

Interestingly, in the past week I’ve experienced two political demonstrations/protests here in Paris. The first took place at the same time as a public transportation strike (the RER line B shut down for half the day) and was a Pro-Life march right by my French phonetics class at Raspail. The second was an anti-Sarkozy protest by lycéens (high schoolers) and professors. They were proposing a future “No-Sarkozy Day” on March 27th to rally against Sarkozy’s funding cuts in arts and other programs in French schools. It was definitely interesting to see.

Putting Up Anti-Sarkozy Posters

The French love their protests.

Life is Good

March 23, 2010

I don’t believe there’s a single person in the world who hasn’t experienced the struggle between enjoying each day to the fullest and sacrificing some of that immediate enjoyment as an investment in the future. The choice : to squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of the day, or to invest, save some for another day in hopes that it will yield more fulfillment down the road.

As far as I can see, the best solution of these is integration. Integrate long term goals with what you enjoy in your life so working your hardest becomes playing your hardest. I’ve been asked many times why I choose to spend so much of my life working for a medical education and the other alternative offered is a général « instead take that time to enjoy your life. » I’m Learning how to answer this question better every day but I kind of like this explanation :

« Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; its when you had everything to do, and you’ve done it. »

-Margaret Thatcher

Sorry for the abstract digression but that’s the great thing about study abroad, it challenges you to think about your life in a completely new contexts (and if you’re lucky, it also gives you enough time to do so !)

P.S.  – I apologize for the stray (àççénts) throughout. I set my computer to French and it autocorrects my words now. Going through and changing them is a pain.

Et dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles…

March 12, 2010

The Panthéon!

So, the first Sunday of every month here in Paris is fantastic. Most public attractions in the city are free. For me, this is an unlimited, no holds-barred, go past go AND collect two-hundred dollars free pass to all the museums that Paris has to offer. Unbeatable. Today I woke up early, made a big breakfast and set out on my museum tour by once-again visiting one of my favorite attractions, the Panthéon.


I thought it fitting that, since I had started reading Voltaire’s « Candide » in French, that I should visit his tomb and read a section there. Corny ? Perhaps, but it was great nonetheless. This time, the gigantic pendulum, an example of the earth’s constant rotation and movement, was back in place and quite a site to see as it hung from the towering basilica’s topmost point. After paying homage to the great Frenchman, it was off to see some more.

Voltaire's Tomb

After meeting some friends the next destination became le Musée National du Moyen Age translating as the national museum of the middle age and commonly known as le Musée de Cluny. This was a great museum to visit as, like the Panthéon, it is in the heart of the Latin Quarter and right by home. It was built by the French State in 1843 as a fusion of the Gallo-Roman baths and the Hôtel de Cluny, a medieval residence. The museum contains stunning finds from the middle ages such as « medieval art : sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, stained-glass, Goldsmith work, furnture and tapestries. » (from  the Musée de Cluny brochure guide, March 2010). It’s iconic work is the famous lady and the unicorn tapestries, but I found the most enjoyment in the ancient ivory sculptures and one particular sculpture the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ after being brought down from crucifixion. The mother’s visage was extremely powerful.

After the Musée de Cluny, as is customary on Sundays, we visited the Marais district for another delicious Falafel and today, this particular fried chick pea pita was amazing. After being stuffed to the gills, we were off to Musée d’Orsay (I wanted to see some specific Van Gogh Works) but alas, there was a HUGE line and the frigid wind convinced us to head for warmer weather.

This led us to the Trocadero area (great view of the Eiffel Tower) to visit the Cité de l’Architecture & Du Patrioine. This is a highly underrated museum and was one of my favorite finds. Many large architectural finds from across France were brought here for conservation and comparison for architecture students and professionals. First, it is astonishing to know that massive entryways, spires, and statues from churches and historical buildings around France could be transported here without damage! Secondly, the displays and layout of the museum was incredibly impressive. Walking through giant carved stone archways from room to room that were from the Loire Valley, Massif Central, or Normandy was a humbling experience. Very cool architectural Works displayed with a skilled eye helped to make this a great museum visit.

After such a busy day, I was ready to head back to my host family’s residence and take a load off for a bit. I got to write this blog, upload some photos, do my French homework, and eat a gourmet dinner with the family and practice my French. All-in-all, I’d call it an extremely successful day .

QOTD : I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. ~Elwyn Brooks White

Latest Favorites : Student bars, Music studio at AUP, Nice weather, Long talks with friends, Successful conversations in french.