Adventures in Yonderland

A log of my adventures, both real and imagined.

Archive for the category “Travels”

Things I No Longer Understand Since France

1) Pancake mixes. (They don’t exist in France, so I’ve just been making them by scratch and it’s so easy!)

2) Gallons of milk. I mean, liters were working just fine and now I feel cowed by my own milk.

3) American alcohol culture. I just literally don’t understand anymore.

4) The lack of bakeries. Seriously though. Where the hell am I supposed to get pastries and bread?

5) Where’d all the cobblestone go?

6) How am I supposed to go places if I can’t walk there?

7) So…where did the espresso go?

8) You mean I can actually SEE my friends again? Wait. What? They live in the same time-zone? Woah man. One thing at a time please.

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In the End There’s Only Love

Well my time in France is done for now and I am back home. As we all know, I will never forget my time there and it is so bitter-sweet to be home. I made some pretty fantastic friends. Friends from different countries, different states and all with the most wonderful views and experiences. I think that might be the hardest part about leaving. Leaving all those wonderful, fantastic people.

What isn’t hard is leaving French University. And that’s the last time I complain about it here! Because I will also miss just how jank the Fac des Lettres was. I doubt I’ll go into a building like it again!

I’m also going to miss this. My home street. The place I walked up everyday for a year. Cobblestones, a sketchy shisha place and the strangest lingerie shop I’ve ever come across.

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France, I’ll miss you. My friends, I will miss you more.

p.s. culture shock is really gonna suck.

London ft. Baker’s St. and Tea. So Much Tea.

London is amazing. It was at once exactly what I thought it would be and so far from my expectations. Foreigners from around the world crowd streets that are surprisingly wide, world famous sites are crammed next to modern-style buildings and 19th century buildings and massive gardens. It’s incredible that there could be so much to do in a city with as relaxed a beat.

In other words, it’s a fantastic vacation spot.

First of all, the public museums are all free. Including the Natural History Museum.

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First step in and I suddenly remembered why I loved Dinosaurs as a child. It took all of half a second for it all to come rushing back!

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And we can’t forget about my favorite museum ever! The British Museum! Home of the Rosetta Stone! However, I say it’s my favorite museum because it’s basically a giant course on human history through artifacts. Tons of signs explaining the life, times and culture of what is in there. Just beautifully done.

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You can’t forget the English Breakfast either, with its rather strange and wonderful inclusion of beans. [sidenote: every time you go to a different country, I suggest trying their bacon. Because nobody does it quite the same way and that’s so cool!]

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And pubs. If you go to London and skip out on going to a pub, you’ve just missed out on a super cool part of culture. If you’re not into pubs that much, go the the Cheshire Cheese Pub. It’s not the oldest pub in London, but it was frequented by the likes of Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens (who seemed to have enjoyed it so much, he referenced the place in A Tale of Two Cities).

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Then of course is Westminster which is either my favorite or second favorite cathedral ever, I can’t decide (the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Barcelona would be the other contender). I went to a service there as well as did the whole tour. And I’m just going to say, it was entirely worth everything.

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I’ve decided one of my new life goals is to go here, because it is my favorite set of buildings in all of London:

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Never complete without Baker’s St. That was worth it just to be there.

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And Cheapside! From my favorite film of all time A Knight’s Tale! William Thatcher was born here!

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So much to do in London. I certainly didn’t do it all. If you’ve never been, go. For the non-travelers it’s an easy one (English-speaking and similar culture) and for the travelers, well. There’s plenty to experience.

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Morocco

Going to this country was a blessing. Two weeks later and I still am not sure what to say about it. It was my first time in Africa, my first time in an Islamic country, my first time riding a camel, my first time haggling. So many firsts. So many new experiences. So many new ways of seeing and understanding.

The camel ride in the desert was the best thing ever. Two dreams in one. Camel riding. And sleeping in a sand desert. So cool.

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The Souks are pretty sweet too. It’s fun to haggle with people and really just talk with vendors. You can learn so much about them, the culture, whatever. And in the end everyone leaves happy. Even if you don’t get the “best” price you could have.

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We met all kinds of people. Super posh English women who are all three lawyers, Moroccains and Bedouins, Dutch. All kinds.

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And in the end I found I realized that the world is no bigger than I thought. Just a hell of a lot deeper.

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Adventures

Having my parents and brother to visit me here was incredible. Tired as I was afterwords, it was well worth every second. The trips we did were fun, but honestly. It was good just to be together as a family and to show them where I’m living. Because, as I said before, this is really where I am living.

I got to introduce them to real hot chocolate. Which is basically like drinking hot pudding and is generally the most delicious thing ever.

I also went with them here. To Cassis.

Cassis, France

Yeah. If you haven’t gone. Put that one on your list. Or at least some Calanques somewhere.

Oh. And Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Because it’s one of the most amazing and stunning and arresting and generally awesome views I’ve ever seen.

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Castles: The Ultimate Adventure

So I have never had a more difficult trip. Just ever. Not to say it wasn’t awesome. But I got lost many a time, traveled alone and carted around my twenty-pound backpack everywhere because I had a hotel in a different city every day. And now that I’ve given you the background of this trip, here’s what made it all worth it. (From least to most favorite).

Blois Castle:

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The staircase here is awesome. Other than just looking really cool, it’s a testament to the fact that castles started becoming much less about actual security and much more about fan-fare. I mean, who would want to stand on an open staircase when people are shooting arrows and things at you? Not me.

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And this thing has got to be the most comfortable-looking throne I’ve ever seen! Especially after reading Game of Thrones, this thing is just the height of luxury. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be king…

Chateau de Versailles:

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This is the Hall of Mirrors. It’s basically one of the coolest places ever. Lined with pictures of battles in which France was awesome (fun fact, the French aren’t really traditionally surrender-ers), it drives home the extravagance of the castle. Well, the famed extravagance. It’s basically what you would get if wall-paper, hundreds of sculptors and gold all got together and threw a gigantic party together. That lasted years. Straight. With no sleep.

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And this is an example of garden art at its finest. The entirety of this absolutely massive garden is designed to be full of surprises, and let me tell you. It is. You would never know that the garden part of this picture was even there until you were almost on top of it. It just looks like a lake in the distance. Total design brilliance.

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All those little flowers there are called Snowdrops. They are my favorite flower of all time. And there are HUNDREDS of them here! I about died. It was too freaking cool.

Clos Lucé:

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This was a really sweet place to visit. It’s the home of Leonardo da Vinci in France and where he died (right in this bed apparently). Especially cool because of just how much of the Clos Lucé I share with my dad. It was a really awesome experience.

 

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Amboise:

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I think this was by far the most beautiful castle I went to, even though it was also probably the smallest. I mean, this picture sums it up pretty well. Open gardens, a view out over the Loire, a refined and not over-decorated castle. It’s a place you might actually live in and there’s a lot to be said about that where castles are concerned.

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And this is one of the first throne rooms in France. Well at least in what we would consider a “traditional” throne room would be. François I actually saw people in this room, which was something of a first for the time. François I, by the way, was a total beast. Patron of the arts (he was the dude responsible for bringing over da Vinci), the start of the absolute monarchy (he rejected the supremacy of the pope over the king), and just generally a cool dude. He is, for the moment, my favorite French king. I’m sure at some point I’ll learn something awful about him though. He was, after all, a king.

And that was a quick summary of a really fantastic trip. Castles. I will always love you.

Off to New Adventures and Dreams…

Going on a castle tour in the Loire Valley this weekend. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Especially because castles are one of my favorite things about European history. There will be pictures, and updates, and hopefully adventures. And…eventually, I’ll actually get around to posting them. haha

Paris: City of Light, City of Love, City of the Dead

Paris round two was strange, frightening and just generally really nice haha. To preface, I went three days after returning from Italy, my bank card was expired, communication overseas was, well, almost non-existent and I was alone (more or less). But it was something I needed to do. And something that was beautiful to explore for just one more time. And it was well worth it.

The City of Light (La Ville Lumière) did not disappoint. I’m not sure why I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel) sparkle before this trip, but I don’t think it would ever get old. Ever. All of a sudden I feel like I’m five again. And there’s some magic in that.

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To explore the City of Love, journey with me to four wonderful experiences.

1) Shakespeare and Co. Why? Because I love books and English and reading and writing more than most things in this world. This is my kid in a candy shop scenario. And I spent almost two hours in this small little shop, wishing I had the money to buy, well, anything.

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2) Notre Dame

Now, I’ve actually been to Notre Dame de Paris before. HOWEVER, I’m telling you right now, you have not been to Notre Dame cathedral unless you’ve been inside while there is a mass going on. Because it fundamentally changes the energy of the whole place. It feels warm and powerful. There is that sharp, yet soothing smell of incense mixed with voices rebounding perfectly off stone walls hundreds of years old. It is no longer the austere, cold, grand cathedral I knew beforehand. It becomes a true place of worship so much greater than the awe of its size.

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3) The Louvre Museum

And specifically, my favorite sculpture of all time. Cupid and Psyche. I sat here and just wrote some poetry. Because what else do you do when faced with beautiful things at every turn?

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4)”Les Mille et Une Orchidées” (The Thousand and One Orchids)

This was an orchid expo in the Jardin Des Plantes close to the Panthéon (which is coming up soon). Let me say two things about it. A) I never realized there was such a variety of orchids and B) it was probably the most beautiful, most wonderful smelling building I have ever set foot inside. Ever.

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And now, the City of the Dead.

1) Père Lachaise Cemetary

I actually got kicked out of here before I could thoroughly explore the cemetery (which is a laughable statement because the thing is completely gigantic). However, I did find Oscar Wilde’s tomb. And boy, it’s the most…extravagant one I saw.

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2) The Panthéon

This thing used to be a church until the secularists took it over and made it into a shrine for the revolution. But really. The sign below reads “Live Free or Die.”

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However, cool as that may be (and a little strange in my opinion, but whatever), the coolest bit is the tombs under it in which are buried Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie and Pierre Curie, Louis Braille (inventor of Braille) and many others. Basically, it’s a history/literature kids dreamscape.

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3) The Catacombs

Possibly one of the least-known cool things in Paris, the Catacombs are way more than just a bunch of bones or tombs. It is at once a place to learn about and experience history, a work of art and, yes, there are the bones of about 6 million ancient Parisians in there too.

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The Catacombs of Paris are an ossuary (bone storage place) with the bones of some 6 million people in them. However, before that they were limestone mines. In fact, the mines stretched under Paris, following good veins of limestone for the construction of the city above it (most of the stone used in old French buildings is limestone). That all worked out great until the city literally started caving in and the King sent a commission down to shore up the mines.

One of the excavators did this from memory after looking at it from his prison cell for so long.

One of the excavators did this from memory after looking at it from his prison cell for so long.

This of course created an large space under the city that was “stable” and unused. So what would anyone do in that situation? Right! Take the bones out of the dumping pits around the city, dump them in the mines and then continue to expand the city with the now-available real estate!

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And it gets better! Soon after they moved the bones, some people had the bright idea to stack them up and make the whole thing a tourist attraction. Yay capitalism!

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Paris. A city of beauty and of the not-so-pretty. A city of day and night, light and dark. But I think most interestingly, a city of history.

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Florence

The end of my tour in Italy was about two weeks past now, but I haven’t stopped travelling yet! Thus the absence of a conclusion. HOWEVER, today ends that. Haha. Here is Firenze (Florence).

It was beautiful. Just as a city, it’s so nice. The streets are wide, but still capture the homey feel of the cobblestone streets I’ve come to love living in Europe.

 

We saw the David statue. However, you can’t take pictures of it. So here’s one I found online. I will say. It was pretty dang cool.

English: Michelangelo's David (original statue...

 

We also went to the Duomo, a really huge cathedral that was actually pretty cool. Especially since we went up the bell tower and could see the whole city!

 

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The Sante Maria Novella was pretty darn cool too. Mostly because we quickly realized that ALL the frescos are from about the mid-14th century. That’s about 650 years ago.

 

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Can’t forget the Ponte Vecchio of course! It’s really cool. And entirely dominated by jewelers. So much gold and silver. It was incredible.

 

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And last, but not least by far, the Bobili Gardens. They were a dream. Just a dream. It was really incredible.

 

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All in all. The Italy trip left me bankrupt and exhausted. But never will you hear me say I regretted it for one minute.

 

The Colosseum and Roman Forum

My last post to Rome. For the foreseeable future at least. I think it was my favorite city, just because of the history and the buildings.

And this is one of them.

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Yep. There it is my friends, the Colosseum. And from the inside.

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Imagine this thing when it wasn’t stripped of its original white marble. Imagine it whole, full of tens of thousands of people. Imagine 80 elevators in the ground all over the field to bring all manners of sets, animals, people and who knows what else to the surface at a moment’s notice.

And now about the fact that it’s roughly 2,000-ish years old. I mean, the Romans invented a distance-counting machine no one could repeat until Da Vinci (mostly because they were using the wrong kinds of cogs).

And then there is the Roman Forum. Which is literally just acres of history scattered around. I honestly can’t go into all of it, but here are two super impressive structures.

First, Constantine’s Basilica/Cathedral. This is the 1/3 of the original structure still standing.

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Yeah. This thing was massive.

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And then there is the Arch of Septimius Severus. Which is one of the best-preserved pieces in the entire forum. Which mostly looks like this.

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All in all. It’s just cool.

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