Paris in spring was truly a magical thing to experience it and I miss it (& France) like a limb since I've been thrust into the Texas summer. One of my favorite things about Paris was how many different types of flowers and greenery grew everywhere there was space in the city. My parents and I stayed in an Airbnb that was in the First Arrondissement, so after getting all of our luggage up four floors we set out to explore our new neighborhood. Of course we experienced the 30-minutes-of-rain-and-30-minutes-of-sun rule for the first couple of days, so it was always a struggle of having just the right number of layers to stay warm when it rained but to not be drenched in sweat when the sun came out. The next morning we set out hoping to find a patisserie to grab coffee and pain au chocolats at, but ended up finding a street market instead. We wandered around, picked up some meats and cheeses and a couple baguettes for dinner that night, and got galettes for breakfast. Naturally, we had to spend a good number of hours in the Louvre! I had gone before when I visited Paris, but it was nice to go with my parents and explore different parts of the museum that I hadn't seen before. Probably my favorite exhibit in the entire museum is the Napoleon Apartments. They are just so beautiful and immaculately designed, and it's fascinating to see how people used to live and utilize their space. Another stop we had to make was to the Tour Eiffel. I had gone during the night over Valentine's Day weekend but had yet to see it in person during the day. We took a good amount of time taking photographs in front of it and of it from the ground before buying our tickets to go all the way up to the top. After we descended we saw a crane just hanging out in the pond by the Tour Eiffel! For lunch we went to Café Constant, a very nice (yet tiny) café owned by Christian Constant. One of my absolute favorite places we went to in Paris was the Centre de Pompidou -- the center for modern and contemporary art. My parents and I ended up going in about an hour or so before they closed the main exhibit we wanted to see (which we didn't know until we were ushered out) but I can't wait to go back and spend days there seeing absolutely everything.
One of my favorite places that I went to while in Europe was definitely the Palace of Versailles. While there were many misadventures trying to get there, my parents and I eventually did and the breathtaking chateau more than made up for getting lost on the RER trains. We bought our tickets at a tourism office across the street from the metro, which included a tour through the grand palace and a bus that took us to the Petite Trianon to begin our journey. Starting at the rear ended up being the best decision because we had all the time we needed at the Petite Trianon and the Grand Trianon before walking through the gardens and finding our group for the tour. Our feet were so worn out by the end of the day that it would've been a very unhappy day if we had to start at the grand palace and then circle back before a two hour tour.Each room has its own color scheme. There was no real continuation of a single color scheme throughout, each room instead being a capsule for it's own colors. This is Marie Antoinette's bed in the Petite Trianon, where she spent most of her time.Marie Antoinette also had her own billiards room in the Petite Trianon. Our tour guide told us that not very many women were allowed to play games with the men before Marie Antoinette came into power.
One of my favorite things in Versailles was how every room was immaculately and precisely laid out. Every chair, table, sofa, etc. had a very specific place. I can only imagine that these are the places they must have had when Marie Antoinette lived in Versailles. The weather was temperamental while we were there (of course) and so it was rainy and chilly, but with a few moments of blue skies and sun. I felt that it added a bit of drama to the palace and was a joy to photograph. I had to wait TEN MINUTES to get the next photo because people kept walking through. I had approximately 0.0000002 seconds to get a shot with nobody in it. Thank you high school journalism for letting me get quick on the shutter! After the Petite Trianon we walked to the Grand Trianon. Both of the Trianons were much more simplistic in their interiors than the grand palace was -- a lot more white walls, a lot less coming at you visually a
The yellow room is deceiving -- in photographs it looks like a darker yellow, but in person it was incredibly bright and neon.
The long road to the main palace...
All throughout the gardens were statues of Greek gods from when Louis the Fourteenth reigned in Versailles.
And the one room EVERYONE wants to see: Marie Antoinette's bedroom. It was the definition of luxury.
The Hall of Mirrors was ah-mazing. I have photos of the whole thing, but it was so crowded when we were there that the photos aren't ones I want to necessarily share. Instead, I have a few detail shots for y'all.
This installation was a gift from Swarovski in the past few years -- a chandelier made entirely from their crystals to remember the jewelry of Marie Antoinette.
Have you ever been to Versailles? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments!
On Friday one of my friends and I boarded a train at 6:18 in the morning, leaving the familiar city of Angers behind to venture to the unknown Nantes. Our weeks had been crazy and stressful with the last weeks of school quickly approaching and a day trip where we left all of that behind was just what the doctor ordered. We arrived in Nantes before the sun had broken over the horizon, our first explorations of the city occurring in the dark blue of the French pre-dawn sky.
We wandered through a closed down carnival, through sleepy streets full of students and businessmen hurrying towards their schools or offices.
Boulangeries were open, spontaneous meccas of light and the scents of freshly baked baguettes and pastries spilling out onto the streets.
Statues of Charles de Gaulle are everywhere in France, but only in Nantes have I seen one where the locals gave him a bottle of beer to hold while overseeing one of the town squares.
In our explorations we stumbled upon Nantes' market, which apparently occurs on a daily basis as opposed to the twice-weekly market in Angers. Outside were stalls of beautiful produce, blooming flowers, and freshly pressed juice. There was an indoor part as well that was full of stalls selling meat, cheese, seafood, pastries, bread, juice; really anything you could think of, someone was selling it. The market reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle, which immediately made me feel right at home.
I still have no words for how beautiful spring is here in France. Everyone needs to experience it at least once in their lives.
I found this dandelion that took three deep breaths to disperse all of the seeds. I wished for a wonderful day in Nantes and I am happy to report that my wish was granted!
We also found some interesting French graffiti while exploring. Both of us would have missed this piece if we hadn't looked down at the sidewalk.
One of Nantes' many charming squares as the city began to awake.
Both of us had eaten breakfast before leaving, but with a few hours between that meal and when we wanted to eat lunch we decided to stop at a café and have second breakfast. We ended up at Stratto, where I had an espresso and a pain au chocolat and my friend had a beignet framboise.
After fueling up and resting our feet a little we decided to head out exploring again. This time we followed the tram tracks and city bicycle maps to find Les Machines de L'île, where we had learned a giant mechanical elephant lived.
This sculpture also reminded me a lot of Seattle and the work at the Seattle Art Museum.
One thing I've really learned while traveling around Europe this semester is that looking at every city with wide eyes on a daily basis is astoundingly rewarding. Every nook and cranny has been put to use and it's amazing to see the beauty in all of these cities.
Next on our list, while waiting for Les Machines de L'île to open, was finding the Jardin des Plantes. It ended up being the complete opposite direction of where we were in Nantes at the time and once we finally found it, after getting lost a few times, the first thing we did was collapse on a bench and chug water. After we felt sufficiently restored, we saw that straight ahead of us was a pen full of adult and baby goats. We walked in, pet all of the goats and were able to pick up this sweet little kid and cuddle it. It was the happiest baby goat I've ever seen, content to just be held and pet while it tried to eat my bag strap, my jacket, my sweater, and my hand.
After about fifteen straight minutes cuddling baby goats, we began our explorations of the rest of the garden. There was a large number of ducks and a lot of them were just chilling on the grass like these.
By the café in the garden there was a giant playground, which my friend and I immediately took to. We spent about fifteen minutes amusing ourselves on a giant see-saw, and took turns swinging on this swing. Sometimes being a kid again is the most refreshing thing in the world.
I loved seeing how the gardens were kept in a way that allowed for rows of benches to exist in private-seeming alcoves like this on the edges. Many of the benches were full of people eating their lunch and talking. Hey, if I lived in Nantes, I'd be eating my lunch in the botanical garden every day too!
After the Jardin des Plantes, we decided it was time for lunch. Because of Lent my friend can't eat meat on Fridays so we agreed to look for some really good cheese paninis. It was a happy accident when we found La Tartinerie and bought the best three cheese paninis that we've had while in France. I can't tell you what types of cheese were inside, but I can tell you that a) they were delicious, b) there was a garlic spread inside as well, and c) the paninis came with tomatoes. Absolute heaven. We also had the pleasure of eating our lunch right in front of the local chateau and watching hordes of school children enter and exit on what we assumed were field trips.
The bench where we ate is right behind this statue, but it was the cutest thing when the old couple on the left sat down and began to sketch the statue. It made me yearn for my sketchbook and to explore a city and capture it through drawings instead of photographs.
This chateau was different than any other I've seen while in France thus far because it actually had water in the moat!
While looking for Les Machines de L'île again we got terribly lost, and ended up by a skate park. But it had this structure right next to it and we were surprised at the contrast between the ancient architecture and the more modern mural on the inside.
Finally, it was time to ride the elephant! My friend and I excitedly paid for our tickets and waited in line before climbing aboard, going first to the very top and then exploring the lower level. The elephant walked very slowly and it also blew water out of its trunk. The journey was about 45 minutes in total, and it doesn't go terribly far, but it was worth every minute.
After riding the elephant we spent the next few hours just wandering around some more, getting lost and finding our way back to the main road.
With less than two hours left until our train back to Angers, we found the carnival we had passed through earlier that morning, but all lit up and running.
There were dozens of these claw machines, each with different prizes, but this was by far my favorite. Especially since the dolls would sing Gangnam Style (apparently)!
We had planned on getting crêpes while in Nantes, as Nantes is the birthplace of the delicious culinary delight, but after hours and hours of walking around in the sun some ice cream seemed like a more enticing decision. I ended up getting vanilla while my friend got strawberry.
We ended up riding one ride while we were at the carnival before having to head back to the train and begin the journey to Angers. My piece of advice: do NOT ride The Shaker. No matter what you do. Ride a crazy rollercoaster instead, you'll be much happier.
All photographs were taken by me with the exception of the ones which I am in, which were all taken by my friend.
On Saturday I took the tram to school at 6:30 in the morning, cold and tired and wondering what little seaside town was worth a three hour bus drive. All of the international students at the university were gathered in front of the school and then piled onto three charter buses, and the journey began.
After three hours, give or take time for traffic, we pulled up in St. Malo -- a quaint, charming, beautiful seaside town in the Britagne region of France. Everyone was dressed in hundreds of layers, as we were all told that it would be cold and windy and raining the entire time we were there. It was raining the entire bus ride, but as soon as we got to St. Malo the weather cleared right up. We had brilliantly blue skies, ample sunlight, and -- dare I say it -- warm temperatures. (But warm to me now means higher than 10 degrees Celsius, so that that as you will because I know in Texas warm starts somewhere around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The first order of business was to walk the ramparts, which gave intoxicating views of the ocean as well as glimpses into the streets of St. Malo down below. There were statues, ancient cannons, miniature almost-gardens, and a plethora of runners on the ramparts. I don't think I'll ever stop saying that it's just so awe-inspiring to be in the company of such rich history, and I'm never short of amazed at how the French just take it for granted because that's how everything is here.
It's probably a good thing we only had a few hours in St. Malo because I can easily spend a day on a beach, just gazing out at the water. The ocean will always hold a special place in my heart, and I take every opportunity I have to soak in as much as I can, especially as there aren't any oceans in Austin.
I'm not sure what this particular statue is? But it was quite amusing to see while walking through cobblestone streets that twist and turn on themselves after a quick lunch.
We also explored the cathedral in St. Malo, which had one of the creepiest statues I've ever seen in a glass case. Although one of the girls I was with is convinced it's not a statue and is actually a preserved body, which would explain how eerily life-like she is.
After St. Malo we drove another hour to Mont St. Michel, which is an island barely off the coast of Britagne. The entire island is pictured above. Crazy, right?! Only 44 people live on the island and everyone else you'll see either works somewhere or is a tourist.
This is the view of where we had to walk to come in from the Abbey. Luckily we were able to catch a shuttle that brought us about a mile out of Mont St. Michel, but the walk still felt everlasting.
Another thing I'll never be over is the sheer magnificence of the architecture here in France. Part of what makes Mont St. Michel really interesting architecture-wise is that it's been renovated and expanded so many times in its 1300 years that you can immediately tell what parts were built together while walking through. I know every person in my life who has studied art history would be ecstatic to be able to walk through and identify all the various types of architecture.
There's something about the scale of Mont St. Michel that makes you feel humble as you walk through. It's grand but still very simple, and the ample natural light from all of the windows makes the space feel much more expansive than it might have if it was raining, as we had been warned it would.
I was mostly in love with all of the symmetry in Mont St. Michel, but also how the light created asymmetry. Unfortunately we were rushed through because of time constrictions, but I would have happily spent hours just exploring the Abbey and all of the shops in the streets underneath.
As I write this post it is 9:07p local time in Angers -- pronounced "An-jay", while my body thinks it's 1:07p like I'm still in Austin, I've been up for nearly 48 hours straight or something crazy like that, and I'm settling into my new home for the next four months. This semester I'm studying abroad in Angers, France, and I am SO EXCITED, especially as I am now actually here?! Which still seems kind of crazy, if you ask me.
So, what does this mean for things around here? Not a whole lot! Around Austin will become Around Angers while I'm staying here, I'm still going to post five times a week, and I'll be taking all of you on this journey with me! All of my Angers/travel specific posts will be tagged with "An Austinite Abroad" (as well as my instagram photos from this trip!)
I'm so beyond thrilled to have this opportunity, and to be able to share it with all of you magical babes.