Month: September 2013

Weekend (and Midnight) in Paris

I confess, I have never seen Midnight in Paris. However, my traveling companion Alyssa has, and she often referenced the movie, so it kind of seems like I saw it.

I visited Paris, France this weekend. It was a short trip but one packed with many activities. After waking up at 4:45 to catch a taxi at 5:30 Alyssa and I boarded the plane and headed north. After two hours, we landed in Paris!

Friday’s agenda included a hearty English breakfast, admiring the city and a quick nap. We stayed close to the Gare du Nord train station, which is a large and well-connected station in the city. We knew we could get mostly anywhere from there, but the maps are pretty confusing. After the nap, we set off to navigate transportation. When we blankly stared at the map for 15 minutes, I knew we only had one option: ask for directions.  I had heard many times that the French hate Americans, so I tentatively asked a police officer, “Do you speak English?” He smiled, said that he did but that his friend knew more, and before I knew it four French police officers were giving us directions to the Louvre. They even walked us to the train.

We arrived at the Louvre and walked along the river. Which brings me to my first Eiffel Tower sighting! Soon it was time for the Louvre Museum. Like everyone says, the Mona Lisa is small. After spending Thursday evening at the Prado in Madrid and Friday evening at the Louvre, my head is sufficiently saturated with European art. Fortunately, appreciating the masterpieces is no difficult task. We walked through the Tuileries Garden on our way to dinner.

See it way back on the left?

See it way back on the left?

Walking across the Seine, we stopped to admire generations worth of love locks.

Walking across the Seine, we stopped to admire generations worth of love locks.

This week is fashion week in Paris. I expected to see more events, advertising or something, but we did run into one designer. Nina Ademar proudly displayed a “mobile fashion show” in a decorated delivery truck. Even though they turned away the woman in front of us, the guys let us come inside. A few dresses awed me, but I remained indifferent to some others. In other words, not preppy enough for this shopper. I miss you J. Crew!

Inside the truck

Inside the truck

We enjoyed Friday night dinner at Pinxo in the 1st arrondissement. We enjoyed curdle goat cheese with eggplant, steamed shrimps in garden herb broth, prawn tails and a glass of vin rosé in this Alain Dutournier establishment. I enjoyed all, but the prawns, served with coconut rice, emerged as my favorites.

Saturday brought a new set of recreation. When in France, a tourist must eat crepes, hence Saturday morning crepes and coffee. After crepes, off to Champs Elysees. Translation: shop ‘til you drop. After hours of shopping, a few minutes in the Luxembourg Gardens sounded magnificent. That was about the time I had to best crepe I have ever tasted. We met up with Alyssa’s friend who is studying in Paris, and he ordered a crepe from a stand on the street. There was a miscommunication, he got two crepes, and he shared. Tuna, mozzarella and magic seasoning (the man called it magic) for four euros. Anyway, we sat in the park while enjoying the crepe, and it felt surreal. It felt like we were in a movie, maybe Afternoon in Paris.

Bliss in crepe form

Bliss in crepe form

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

As soon as it got dark, Alyssa and I headed for the Eiffel Tower. Since it was our first time in Paris, we went all the way to the top.

Obligatory photo

Obligatory photo

We ended the night at Constant, which was so special it gets its own post tomorrow, or maybe later today if I don’t get distracted.

We concluded the weekend with mass at Notre Dame. Even though the service was in French, I felt engaged and happy to be there. The cathedrals in Europe are unlike anything in the United States. If you haven’t been, go.

Outside Notre Dame

Outside Notre Dame

That’s the trip. Although there are many more stories, these were the highlights. Even though my French spans from bonjour to merci, I managed well. Paris holds much more, but we feel good about our trip. When I go back, Disneyland Paris is first on the list!

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Classes

Although I prefer to stick to tales of galavanting around Spain, this week marks the third week of class.

Here’s how it works. I take the commuter train the Carlos III University. The train comes right to my house (yes, I’m spoiled), and it’s about a ten minute walk from the train station to campus. I’m taking five classes, all in Spanish. Four of them are with other international (mostly American) students, and one is with all Spanish students. My classes are Journalism, Spanish Language, Cultural Studies, Art History and Communication Theory. The very best thing about class in Madrid is I have Fridays off. Okay maybe there are other good things about class, too, but it’s up there.

My to do list of Spanish activities just will not stop growing. I want to do everything! I just bought tickets to see El Rey León (The Lion King) musical with a friend.

No Friday class leads me to my most exciting news this week: I’m going to paris on Friday. Approximately two days, 14 hours, 15 minutes and 32 seconds from right now. Not that I’m keeping track. Pictures and stories to follow!

I leave you with this picture.

My host mom bought these peppers at a market she visited. Aren't they pretty?

My host mom bought these peppers at a market she visited. Aren’t they pretty?

Paella Pow Wow

You ask, what is a Paella Pow Wow? Paella everywhere you look. This was a competition event, hosted by Mountain View church at a gorgeous home in the suburbs of Madrid. Fourteen chefs brought ingredients and paella pans and made paella in the backyard. After trying all the paellas, I am stuffed. Like, I can’t eat any more food for the rest of the day. Despite my slight discomfort, I loved participating in this paella tasting.

This paella won best flavor.

This paella won best flavor.

One kind chef let us help. Megan is giving the giant paella a good stir.

One kind chef let us help. Megan is giving the giant paella a good stir.

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Every paella had a completely different flavor. Yes, I took mental notes and am prepared to make paella for everyone when I got back to the U.S.

In other news, I joined a gym this week, found a great coffee shop and look forward to yoga in Parque del Retiro tomorrow.

Toledo

The city of Toledo is one giant hill. My Nike FuelBand tells me took 15,499 steps during the day trip. A 45 minute bus ride from Madrid, Toledo had much to offer.

Starting at the Tagus River, I saw the Infantry Academy.

Tagus River

Tagus River

Infantry Academy

Infantry Academy

King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I constructed the Monastery of Saint John of the Kings to commemorate the birth of their son Prince John and to celebrate victory at the Battle of Toro. The property is beautifully decorated with noticeable Gothic influences.

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My favorite stop was the El Greco museum. Born in Greece and trained in Italy, El Greco later moved his studio to Toledo, where he worked the rest of his life to become an influential artist of the Spanish Renaissance.

These portraits come from a collection of 13 paintings, recognized by neutral backgrounds and contrasting figures.

These portraits come from a collection of 13 paintings, recognized by neutral backgrounds and contrasting figures.

I was not surprised to learn that UNESCO designated Toledo a World Heritage Site. The cobblestone streets, bakeries, museums, and shops kept my friends and I busy all day.

Also, since I walked uphill all day, I told myself I didn’t need to run. I thought that was good reasoning.

Vogue Fashion Night Out

September 12, 2013 marks Vogue Fashion Night Out in Madrid. Stores lining Fuencarral stayed open late offering store discounts, freebies, music, food and cocktails. Pink carpets lined the entrances of participating stores. A few highlights include sunglasses at Swarovski, champagne at Michael Kors and popcorn at Salsa. While I made it out this time without buying anything, I found a few stores I’ll return to. Below are some crazy pictures from the night.

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Best Dinner, Worst Blogger

My host family took me out to dinner last night to celebrate the start of classes. I think celebrating the start of the school year is ridiculous because no one wants to go back to school. However, I appreciate every opportunity to celebrate. We went to a restaurant called Estrella Central. It’s a Chinese restaurant here in Madrid. The restaurant specializes in duck and sushi, so we ordered duck and sushi. A whole duck, I believe the proper term is peking duck because the chef carved it right at our table. First we ate the skin with tortillas, then the chef prepared the duck meat in two other dishes. One was a stir fry with asparagus, and the other was meat sautéed with a simple sauce. After two bottles of wine, sushi, tempura vegetables, duck, fried ice cream and limoncello, all left satisfied.

All this and I didn’t take a single picture. I know, I know, I’m terrible. I wish I could share this meal visually! I promise it won’t happen again.

Experiencing Tradition

It turns out my host family has an incredible mountain house in a village outside Madrid. I visited today, and I went to the village’s annual celebration. Many cities have a festival like this one, where the whole city comes together. Some wore traditional dress, while others, like me, wore a blue and white plaid bandana.

With my host parents on the porch at their mountain home

With my host parents on the porch at their mountain home

Each family or group reserves a space in the park, where they set up tables and chairs. Tradition says every group must create an exhibit, similar to a float in the U.S., but stationary. At the end of the day, a committee votes on the best one.

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I enjoyed this opportunity to experience another part of Madrid.

Surviving Olympic Dismissal

Everyone’s excited. The city hosts an eight hour party. The bars are filled. All are faced with disappointment. The prospect of winning the 2020 olympic bid made an ordinary Saturday night a special occasion. That is, until Madrid missed the final ballot. However, the news is hardly slowing people down. Congrats Tokyo!

I saw my first flamenco show this weekend. I also had a flamenco lesson, but since I can’t dance, I much preferred watching the show. Sorry the picture is poor quality. I took it on my old iPhone that I’m using here in Spain. Overall, a great way to spend my first Friday night in Spain.

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Parque del Buen Ratiro

Parque del Buen Ratiro, literally “Park of the Pleasant Retreat ,” which I live very close to, is awesome! I need a park like this at home. A couple of friends from the study abroad program and I run on a trail around the perimeter. Once royal property, the park itself displays well-tended gardens, historical buildings, fountains and expansive lawns. 

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Looking to hold an event in Spain? This is a good place, in the middle of the park.

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I saw this guy in front of the building.

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Meet a few of my friends from the program. There are 14 of us total. I look forward to renting a boat and exploring this pond in the next couple weeks.

 

Buen Ratiro is bustling with activity all day. Whether running, boating, skateboarding, having a picnic or just enjoying the fresh air, everyone loves the park.

Finally, an Update

Sorry I’ve been slow with updates. I just now was able to connect to the internet in my apartment. Today is technically day four. My days have been filled with orientation activities with the other students in my study abroad program. I live right downtown Madrid, close to many famous museums. 

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This is my room. As you can see, I’m still unpacking and settling in. 

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This is what it looks like outside my bedroom window. The front of the house opens to the street, but I like being on the side because it muffles the city noise. Temperatures during the day have been in the 90s here, and very few places have air conditioning. I’ve been wearing dresses to stay cool. 

Yesterday I visited the Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid. The art and the building were spectacular. I look forward to seeing all the museums!