Friday, June 4, 2010
At first it felt more like a vacation with all our sightseeing trips across Paris. It wasn't until the third or fourth week, about two weeks into class, when the realization hit that this was where I was to live for the spring. Speaking and interacting with the French proved difficult at first for I really couldn't speak any French when I arrived. Class was at first long and frustrating. I was nervous speaking and didn't want to speak very much at all. However as time passed and I acclimated to my new life I began to come out of my shell. Slowly but surely I improved my French linguistically skills until today I can honestly say I speak French. Now it's not the best French in the world but it is French. The trick now is to retain that level of speaking skill. That's my next challenge.
One of the things I am most grateful for is the experience of being able to live with a different people and a different culture. Though at times I found that life very frustrating and the people somewhat annoying I was able to learn more about myself as an American. I was one of the few people who couldn't afford to get completely lost in the French culture (not that I wanted to really) for I have a future at home with the military. The option on living and working in Paris after graduation just isn't an option for me right now. Therefore I could never fully leave my American culture and background behind and completely embrace the French. I soon discovered that I didn't want to really. Perhaps it's my training and education at VMI but I found that I soon became even more annoyed with French behavior than I did American behavior at home. Don't get me wrong, there are some very nice Frenchmen whom I met while in Paris. However, I am an American; born, raised, and there is nothing that's going to change that.
France gave me an appreciation for my American heritage and culture (for all its own faults and transgressions) even more by showing how strong and unified America is compared to Europe and the rest of the world. Europeans and particularly the French can't stand our Patriotism and our unity, but those characteristics made America what it is today. I've come to appreciate also how important my friends and family are for there is no one in this world who can come close to replacing them. They have supported me through this adventure every step of the way. Thank you all for that support these last several months and I hope it continues through the last leg of my journey in Europe.
The last part of my European adventure is at the Zrinyi Miklos National Defense University in Budapest, Hungary. I will spend one month at Zrinyi studying about the politics of international relations, of Hungary, and of NATO. That being said I now have a new blog up and running for Budapest: http://ahungariansummer.blogspot.com/ called Magyarország Nyár: Hungarian Summer (Magyarország Nyár means Hungarian Summer) I hope that everyone who has been following my blog of Paris has enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. In fact this blog gave me an incentive to take pictures fueling my interest in photography. Now I hope that all of you who have been following me in Paris will now follow me in Budapest. Thank you all for interest in my travels and European history, life, and culture. Take care and enjoy spring while it lasts!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
The train ride took just about an hour because we stopped at another station along the way. It finally arrived at about 11:40AM. I rented a bike right at the train station because it's only 5km (that's 3.2 miles) to Giverny, which isn't that far at all. It takes maybe 12 minutes if you don't stop to take pictures. So it took me about 25 minutes. I ran into two American couples traveling together. They were celebrated one of the couple's honeymoon. Surprisingly enough they were from the Philadelphia area. We were all surprised to learn that we were from basically the same area back home. Who would have thought that the whole way over in Giverny, France (a town of 50 buildings) that we would have run into each other? It sure is a small world for sure. We rode to together into town, parked the bikes, and went our separate ways because I didn't want to intrude. We ended up running into each other numerous times in the gardens though.
Just after I got into line for Monet's house and gardens, one of the employees comes up and snags half the line and takes it around back to another entrance. I was fifth in line so I was in just about that many minutes. A nice bit of luck there. It was surprisingly cheap to get in but I got a half fair since I'm student. I've absolutely loved my student card. It's been the best. All of the museums and national landmarks in France are free or at the very least reduced rate for students.
Walking into the garden I was immediately overwhelmed by how beautiful it is! The sun was out and all the flowers were in their prime. It's amazing to think that Monet laid this entire out by himself and planted it just the way it is today. It's incredible! I began to take pictures although the first few are a little lacking. They're more like the warm up set. I really didn't know what to do at first because I've never taken serious garden pictures before. After the a little time my brain began thinking normally again the pictures and ideas began coming normally. I spent the next three hours or so making laps around the garden taking pictures at different angles, taking different pictures of the same thing, and really just trying to capture as much of the garden as I could.
The trick is with photography (now of course this is my opinion as an amateur photographer in France and not a professional; it's just what I've discovered) is that you have to find the "uncommon". The "uncommon" for me is finding the angles, the lighting, and the scenes that everyone else misses. Everyone I saw that, except for the professionals, took pictures of exactly the same thing and from exactly the same spot as the person before them. No imagination really. It's like standing in a bread line to get your bread. There's not much difference between the pictures. Personally, I can't stand that. Especially in a garden with so many flowers and plants; there are just too many other objects around to focus on than the same five pictures over and over again. However, at the same time I have a predetermined image in my head of what I want and so I go for that.
If there is one thing though I have to say for video games (from my high school years particularly) is that they have given me a "3D Mind". This means that I can visualize the angle of the shot in my head like it's a 3D computer model. I can take what I see and turn it into a computer model in my head and then turn the model around getting at least an idea of the different angles. Of course I have to try it to see if it works, which it does about ninety percent of the time. Of course at first it wasn't like that, my mind gradually went in that direction over time. In retrospect the entire trip had been sort of a training run for Giverny.
The layout of the estate (that's the term I'm going to use to describe the entire property even though it's only about a couple acres in size) is in two main parts. The first part includes the buildings and main garden while the second part includes the water garden. The two parts are separated by the main road so there is an underground path that runs between the two. Originally this was a path and a railway called the "path of the king" or in French, "Chemin du Roy." This pay and railway was built to link Gisors and Vernon. However for Monet there was no underground passage crossing both the tracks and pathway to get to his water lily pond. Of course today the railway is gone and a main road (like Rte. 74) has replaced the two retaining the same name. Today the passage exists for security so all the stupid tourist don't get hit by the cars. Bringing up an interesting phenomena; that as a tourist the human mind seems to drop about ten IQ points making some people on par with the very the objects they've come to see. However, that discussion will have to wait for later.
The main part of the estate has the Norman Garden, the House, the Studio and green houses, and the Water Lilly studio. I'll begin with the garden for that is what I saw first. The Walled Norman Garden was restored by Mr. Gérald Van der Kemp and Mr. Gilbert Vahé a recent graduate of the horticulture school at the time of the restoration. Together they used the notebooks of Monet's gardener's and many other eye-witnesses who worked in the gardens as well. With these two powerful resources the two men restored the garden taking create care to honor Monet's work by making sure that the garden is identical to the original. Mr. Vahé still ensures today that the greatest respect is paid to Monet's work. Monet himself even called the gardens his best work of art and I would have to agree.
The house is a very interesting house, of course I don't know anything about Norman architecture, because it is very long but is only one room wide (maybe 15ft). There are ten rooms open to the public; the entrance, the blue room, the grocery storeroom, the studio living room, Monet's bedroom, the "Monsieur's dressing room", the "Madame's dressing room", Alice's bedroom, the dining room, and the kitchen. I'll focus on just a couple of the rooms. The first room that stood out to me was the studio living room. Here is where Monet worked and where he relaxed. He would sit and study his work as they hung all over the walls so he could add the very last detail. Today the room is filled with full size reproductions because the originals are in museums across the world. The next room to sand out at me was his bedroom, not for what was in it, but because the windows were open and one could take pictures of the gardens from a height of about 15ft. It is an incredible view.
Downstairs I was very impressed with the Dining Room. The Dinning Room is painted entirely with a bright charming yellow accented with a white table cloth, a white ceiling, and a speckle white and blue fire place. It has a very country feel in the craftsmanship of the furniture. The china is blue and white in design. The Kitchen on the other hand is painted in blue or at least blue themed for the wall is blue tile above the chair rail molding. Below, is a wood paneling painted in white with a bright robin's egg blue. The stove is neat because it's a large black wood stove. There are also a very nice set of copper pots and pans hanging on the wall by the door to the Dining Room. Those rooms together are, in my opinion, the most charming rooms in the house. However, picture taking is forbidden inside the house so I have very few...oops.
The Water Lily Studio was where Monet painted his giant water lily paintings currently housed in Musée de l'Orangerie in the Tuilerie Gardens in Paris. The studio was built in 1916 specially design for these large works. Today the studio is the gift shop of the Foundation Claude Monet. On the walls hang identical reproductions of the water lily paintings. The other studio and green houses were off limits to the public. They looked to be a storage place for the gardeners. The farmyard mentioned early is where Monet kept his chickens. This is where the family would get and enjoy their good fresh eggs. The chickens are very well trained and come up to every unsuspecting tourist clucking for some sort of treat. Fortunately there is a fence between these two parties for the chickens impressed me as a bit more demanding than the Parisian pigeons.
Across the street is the Water Garden. I spent about an hour and a half there taking pictures. I much preferred the Norman Garden though because the Water Garden doesn't facilitate "browsing". There is a one way path around the garden that everyone must take. Since this is also where the famous water lily paintings and Japanese bridge painting took place, the homing beacon in all the tourist of course pointed straight there. I was more or less stressed out after while because I didn't want to accept that fact I wasn't going to get many pictures without people and I had to fight for space to take my pictures. I couldn't really enjoy it very much. Oh and of course everyone had to gaggle at the bridge and stand there four minutes on end getting their own personal photo shoot. Such is life.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Today is an absolutely beautiful day! The sun is out, the birds are singing, and it’s the 21st Birthday of two of my friends here in Paris so I'm going to spend some time celebrating with them today. It's a perfect for it too!
The past week I've been just trying to soak up as much of Paris as possible. I went on a picnic with some of my friends from one of my classes in Park Butte Chaumont on Thursday. Wednesday I went to the movies and saw the new Robin Hood and Tuesday I also went to the movies, this time with friends, and we saw Greenberg. It's not the best movie in the world; I didn't care for it very much. However, it was interesting to see Ben Stiller in a more serious roll.
Last weekend I did go to Giverny, Claude Monet's Gardens. However I'm not going to post that experience today because I don't have the time available for me to do that. I will say it was as fantastic as they say it is and could quite possibly be one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. I'm excited to move on with my European Adventure. Hungary seems as if it will be very fun and academically enriching which would be a change from Paris. That's not to say I haven't learned anything in Paris but it surely hasn't been very academically challenging. My French has gotten better though for now I can converse with people. I hope that everything is going well back home. There does seem to a lot of drama in major news from what I've seen. Take care everyone and enjoy spring!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Saturday May 8th was the ISA trip to the Chateau de Versailles. It started off a little cloudy and just a little chilly in the morning, but by the afternoon it was a gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky. May 8th is also Armistice Day in France, celebrating the end of WWII. I didn't get to see any ceremonies since I was at Versailles, but it appears to be celebrated like the U.S. celebrate Veteran’s Day. Since the trip was sponsored by ISA it was free, all of it. To get to Versailles one has to take the RER C which runs out there every 20 minutes or so. It's twenty minute ride from the station by the Eiffel Tower. After arriving in the station at Versailles, which is also a town by the way, we had to walk ten minutes to the Chateau. Along the way we passed some soldiers guarding a memorial that had a burning torch. That's was pretty cool to see.
Versailles at first glance is stunning. I was really overwhelmed at the size of it all. Walking up to the front gate I kept trying to figure how much of what I was looking at was actually part of the palace. Soon I discovered that everything I was looking at was Versailles. At the very front of the drive that leads up to the gate is a statue of Louis XIV whose head seems to be looking towards Paris. One of our ISA staff members gave us a brief history lesson of Versailles. Then we had a group picture. After that we went through the line and security and then we were on our own for the day.
There were so many people at Versailles on Saturday! Of course I'm sure it was because it was a holiday and a weekend but that still didn't console me from being just slightly annoyed at all the shoving, pushing, and elbowing that was going on just to catch a glimpse of a room. It was like trying to run a race! We all got these little handheld tour guides that were really nice. However, I quickly discovered how cumbersome they were while trying to take pictures at the same time. It soon became a conflict of interests and I rigged it up hang off my belt with my headphones. After that I was good to go.
The first room we saw was The Royal Chapel. The Royal Chapel was designed by architect Hardouin-Mansart in 1689 and completed in 1710. However, Mansart didn't get to see his chapel finished since he died in 1708. Upon completion of the chapel the King's mass was held every day at 10:00 AM with the entire court in attendance. The King and his family would sit in the royal gallery while the ladies of the court would sit in the side galleries. The public and "officer" then would sit in the nave where the kind would only venture for special events such as communion and the order of the Holy Spirit ceremonies. The baptisms and weddings of the Children of France were held in the nave between 1710 and 1789. These would be attended by the king. The paintings on the ceiling and walls represent the belief that the king was chosen by God as God's "lieutenant" on earth to rule.
The next important room was the Hall of Mirrors. While there were other rooms between the Chapel and Hall of Mirrors they were too crowded and are not as famous or impressive as the previously mentioned. The Hall of Mirrors was built to represent Frances success as the major world power of the time. The gallery is 73 meters long, that's just about 240ft. It's supposed to represent the political, artistic, and economic success of France. Politically with the painting in the arch depicting the military and political success of Louis XIV in the first 18 years of his rule from 1661 until the peace of Nijmegen. It shows the economic wealth of France by the size and quantity of the 357 mirrors covering the 17 arches opposite the windows, which face the grounds. The mirror at the time was a luxury item and for the Palace to have 357 in one room was a testament to Frances economic success. Finally, artistically with the Rance marble pillars that have French national emblems in gilded bronze. During the 17th century the Grand Gallery, as it was called, was used each day by the courtiers and visitors for pacing through to get to the Kings quarters. It was only ever used for ceremonies on rare occasions when the King wanted to show off his wealth and success by hosting balls and games during weddings and special visits by other royalty.
The King's quarters are perhaps the most lavish. I only got to see the bed room of Louis XIV decorated in red and blue fabric with gold. This is a pattern and color combination is used all over the walls, the bed linen, and the chair upholstery. On top of each post of the four-post bed is a set of white feathers. The windows open up facing the east and the rising sun, the symbol of Louis XIV. Flanking the bedroom is his office and a reception room. Unfortunately I don't have more information on these rooms.
The Queen's bedroom is just as magnificent as the King's. The Queen spent quite a bit of her time in this chamber. She and the kind would often sleep in this chamber since the King's chamber was a bit too grand and small. It was here also that the births of children took place. Nineteen "Children of France" were born in this room. During the revolution, Marie-Antoinette manage to escape the rioters through small little door next to the bed. The palace wasn't looted but instead the furniture was sold at auction lasting a year. Since then the some of the furniture has been recovered like the jewel case. However most of the furniture had to be remade or equivalent pieces found.
The last room I visited was a hall which holds the paintings of Frances 33 successful and important military victories in history. Most of these of course belong to Napoleon Bonaparte. However some of these battles also include the Battle of Poitier (732) with Charles Martel and the Battle of Yorktown with Generals Washington and Lafayette.
The gardens and grounds were the best part of the trip for me. However the gardens aren't as impressive as I thought there would be. The French seem to be into lots of shrubbery. They like to sculpt bushes and trees and then plant them in nice, neat little rows. The English seem to be the ones who like to plant grand flower gardens. I think that our general perception is the English Victorian garden which the French don't seem to be as keen on flowers. However they do plant flowers but trees and bushes are more prevalent. So I wasn't exactly impressed with the gardens of Versailles.
Petit Trianon was built with a revised Greek style that was the fashion of the time. Every side looks a little different with the prettiest side facing the French garden. This is where Marie-Antoinette spent most of her time since the palace had been too public and busy for her. On the ground floor there is the guard's room, billiard room, and the warming room. The first floor houses the Queen's Apartments including the bedroom, living room, and the Cabinet of Movable Mirrors which was basically a boudoir with the mirrors rising up from the floor to cover the windows. The attic housed the king's chambers.
We also stopped to see Grand Trianon was occupied by Louis XIV. He also kept his sister-in-law and son-in-law here. It was really the "get away" residence of the King's. There are many recreational rooms and living quarters here. There is a portico that connects the two wings of Trianon looking out over the gardens. These gardens appear to hold more flowers than shrubbery and have their fair share of fountains.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Monaghan is a quiet little town and when it's not tourist season not too much happens. It was a nice day though with a few clouds in the morning and temperatures were in the mid sixties. I decided to the tourist office just a little on the edge of town. However when I got there I discovered that the tourist office was closed until May; just a few days away. I went to the Market House which was built in 1792. A market house basically provided a place for people to exchange produce and goods. Occasionally a second floor was added with meeting rooms.
Today the Market House of Monaghan houses art exhibitions, musical performances, readings, and other such advents. They technically weren't open I got there but they were happy to answer my questions. I wanted to find a bike. So the woman called up someone and within the hour I had myself a bike. It amazes me still how nice and outgoing the Irish are. They don't generally think twice about helping you if have a question or a need of some kind. It was big and welcome change from Paris.
I got on my bike and rode out into the country surrounding Monaghan. They country here is a little different than out in western Ireland. There are rolling hills. In fact it is very hilly. The hills aren't too steep or too high either. There is fresh green grass and trees also. In western Ireland it is rather barren since the salt filled wind of the sea prevents most tall vegetation from growing. Like I said before it is farming country however around town the farms are all milk, cattle, or sheep farms. I didn't see any crops growing in fields. Then again I ventured only a couple kilometers away from town. I continued to ride for about an hour around one side of town. When I inadvertently found my way back to town I decided to grab some lunch. There's a grocery store near the center of town so I got some fresh baked food from the hot food section; kind of like what Myers Food Rite used to be.
With food in my backpack I headed back out into the country. Not too long, maybe five minutes later, I found little country stone bridge that sat across a little stream. The sun was out and I thought that the bridge was a perfect place to have lunch. It was very nice out and I really enjoyed my lunch there. I had been taking pictures all day. Picture taking has really become a hobby of mine in Europe. At first it was just a way of remembering everything. Now it's something that I've really come to enjoy. Just about every day I have pictures from somewhere. So Ireland of course was no different and I take pictures just about all the time.
After eating I decided to make my way towards the cathedral which I could see in the distance. The road there, however, is more of a farm road because at a certain point it goes from paving to stones and then it went to mud. Luckily for me I had a mountain bike and when I hit the mud it wasn't as disastrous as it could have been. I got a little muddy though. When I got to the main road I came out right near where my first B&B was so I knew where I was at. I decided to go check out the cathedral next. The cathedral sits on top of what must be the highest hill around. It dominates the countryside for miles around yet it is very majestic in appearance.
The work for building the cathedral began in 1861 and was finally completed in 1892. It was designed in the late 14th century gothic style by architect JJ McCarthy. However, McCarthy died before it was completed and work went to the direction of William Hague. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Macartan who is the patron saint of the Diocese of Clogher. There isn't very much known about St. Macartan. What is known is that was converted from paganism to Catholicism and traveled with St. Patrick. He was made bishop of Clogher by St. Patrick 454. St. Macartan is also known as the strong man of Patrick for when St. Patrick was old and worn out with his labors Macartan is said to have carried Patrick on his shoulders. There is even a St. Macartan's Day which is March 24th. So of course for a man like St. Macartan he has many cathedrals named after him and one of them is at Monaghan.
The cathedral itself is very elegant yet simple. Although it does have pews instead of chairs and is the first cathedral I have found which has pews instead of chairs. The interior is all white wash or of white stone with a wood ceiling. It appears to have been modernized a little for their bishop's chair, the pulpit, and the table is made of stone and appears to be in some modern art form which doesn't fit at all with the church. In the back of the sanctuary there is a large pipe organ right beneath a rose window. There wasn't anyone else there besides me so I had free range to explore and take pictures. It kind of reminded me of the Great Hall of Gondor or something like that from Lord of the Rings. I think a lot of the architecture from the movies was taken from the gothic period. Therefore there is quite a resemblance between European castles and cathedrals and Lord of the Rings.
I went back into town and then out the other side in an attempt to see some more of the surrounding country because that's all there is to do there. Not that I'm complaining because seeing the countryside was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Ireland. I only went out a couple of kilometers for I had to catch the bus. It was very pretty except I was soon driven back into town by some rain. I checked out of my B&B and proceeded to the bus station where I had made arrangements to leave my bike. Before too long the bus came and I was on my way to Dublin. The ride was very nice and the sun actually came out make a very dramatic contrast with the dark rain clouds and bright green grass.
Arriving in Dublin a couple hours later I checked into my hotel and discovered they had stuck me in the Georgian wing which is much nicer than the rest of the hotel, didn't have to pay extra or anything. Needless to say it was very nice. For my last night in Ireland I went in search of a good Irish restaurant which proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The streets aren't exactly marked very well. It also didn't help that it was night and I didn't know the area. I decided to go to the Temple Bar area which I had heard was nice. Finally I found a place called the Shack Restaurant which is located right beside The Temple Bar Pub. The restaurant is nice and decently priced. So I had myself one last traditional Irish meal in Ireland.
Day 9: Friday April 30, 2010.
I had breakfast in the hotel on Friday morning. The hotel restaurant is incredibly nice with the wood carved out to look like a vineyard. It pays to book online before staying instead of just walking in. One definitely saves money. After breakfast I walked around some and took pictures of Dublin. I didn't wander too far for I was on a schedule. Soon I checked out, caught the bus, and arrived at the airport. This time it was a lot easier and less stressful to get to my plane; one, because I had a plane and two, because there wasn't a giant ash cloud messing up air travel anymore. My time at the airport in Dublin was hassle free and enjoyable. However the flight wasn't so good.
I arrived in Paris in the afternoon to a beautiful sunny day of seventy degrees wishing very much I hadn't worn my coat. My trip officially ended when I stepped back into the apartment at about 5:00PM. The rest of the evening I spent doing laundry and checking out my pictures.
All in all, my trip to Ireland was easily my best vacation to date. I've always wanted to go to Ireland. I managed to see a lot of things and I got learn some new things about a country and culture very similar to the United States, yet very different. I was able to meet some very nice people along the way. Despite having a somewhat bad start, I couldn't have asked for a better trip! I hope all of you who have been reading have enjoyed my blog posts of Ireland as much as I enjoyed being there. Take care!