Claire the world traveler

Claire, a junior CCPA major and Studio Art minor from Fredericksburg, is studying this fall with SMU-in-Paris. She spent the summer with SMU-in-London, where she interned with Greenbelt Movement International.

All Good Things ….

I have spent the last four months of my life living in Paris. It is a bit surreal.

It’s unreal to look back at the challenges I have faced, the incredible opportunities placed before me, the growth that occurred and the intangible knowledge that I will walk away with.

Claire-12-1.JPGThe simplest moments I have had in Paris are the moments that will forever be engraved in my mind. The smells of fresh croissants from the boulangeries as I first step out of the metro each morning; the brightness of the sunshine on a beautiful day that causes me to squint with happiness amidst the freezing weather; or the satisfaction of walking for three hours after classes – with no purpose and no destination – just walking because I can.

Each day in Paris has been incredible – it really has – and I feel obligated to suck every ounce of life out of the sun-soaked boulevards. Because of this “treasured” guilt, I truly can walk away from this city feeling like I saw nearly everything I wanted to see – and far more than I thought possible and probable.

Claire-12-2.JPGMy little black book of Paris – a journal guide that once was clean, untouched and perfect – now looks like a wreck! But it is a wreck of treasured memories – full of pages torn from use, others covered in the remnants of a cafe and others still so concealed in scribbles and notes that who knows what was once originally under it. The pages tell a story – they show a new discovery, or a new cafe open late, or a unique boutique that a deep-spirited friend would drool over – each page holding a piece of a memory made at some point or another.

I have an unset schedule each day – classes each morning, setting off my days in Paris – and as lunch curls around, right when the skies are most incredible, when you stop and look around and wonder how the clouds could be so beautiful – I start to walk. My afternoons are always changing and always evolving with new walks and changing sights.

If I could step in and give a piece of advice for people who have never been to Paris – or for people who want to come to Paris, not as a tourist but as a traveler – I would say one thing: walk. Walk everywhere! It is amazing that it took me nearly two months here to realize how small this city is and how incredible it is to get lost on the back streets hidden with small boutiques and cozy restaurants.

Claire-12-4.JPGThat has been my favorite thing about Paris – the fact that I can take a new route every day to the same destination – only to constantly find new cafes or markets. I love the “wide-eye syndrome” that I seem to have as I explore this city that never stops. I constantly get excited to find new restaurants and patisseries, boutiques and bookstores, and coffee shops and cafes. I love the organic shapes that the Paris streets seem to take, turning at unexpected corners and moving through the city telling a story and involving as many people as possible.

I can’t think of words worthy to describe these last four months, to realistically paint this picture of what I have been blessed to experience … everything from surreal, growth, opportunity, challenge, faith to love and discovery are just a few that come to mind, but hardly break the tip of the iceberg!

As I look at my last days in Paris – amidst exams and packing – I stand in awe of how fast my time has gone by. Just yesterday it seems I flew out of the States not knowing what to expect, I walked along the beaches in Normandy, I soaked up the sun in the French Riviera, I experienced an unforgettable Budapest pub crawl, I saw the true colors of fall painted in Prague, I cheered on France’s rugby team with 80,000 fans on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, I had an unforgettable Thanksgiving in London and a flashback to the 80s, I had the opportunity to understand that Belgian chocolate really is the best … and I had the chance to live in one of the most amazing cities in the world. But now I’m biased …

As much as I have loved this experience, it is hard to compare it to the people, the community, the relationships and the familiarity waiting for me back in the States! I can’t thank you all enough for patiently walking through this semester with me, for encouraging me and making the effort to keep me included and a part of your life! It means more to me than you know!

Earnest Hemmingway once wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young person, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” And I would have to agree …

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November in Paris

November in Paris is as magical as it sounds … The weather has shifted from fall to winter, and the yellow and red leaves that once lined the sun-drenched boulevard now float on the streets, getting caught in the evening traffic and swirling around until they drop again. The trees stand bare in the crisp November air, but the people still enjoy the golden streets of Paris and the occasional outside seat at a crowded cafe.

Christmas lights complement the winter weather, as wreaths and holly begin to decorate the streets and boulevards. The department stores, small boutiques and Starbucks alike are covered in Christmas cheer – and I am tickled at the feeling of Christmas beginning to creep!

Learning, growing …
In my final weeks in Paris, I look around in awe of the beauty of this city, as well as what I have learned here and how I have grown. I love knowing the curves of the small back streets, the tricks of a good shortcut or the path that I could now do blind on the metro each morning. I love being thought of as almost a regular at my cafe on the corner or being able to give someone directions to their famous destination – even in broken French!

The Seine River never ceases to amaze me – each day as I walk over the bridges with the hustle of hundreds of Parisians going to work, going to play, or just walking because that is what everyone else does – I look at it in calm awe. And each night as I walk back over, I love to admire the lights of Paris restaurants dancing across the lapping water. The faces and joy of excited tourists taking in their first breaths of this city never cease to put a smile on my face.

I love seeing the thrill on people’s faces as they stand in front of the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame for the first time. I love walking along the long boulevards, filled with shops selling clothes, furniture, candles, art and books – and getting lost in stores and back streets for hours – only to find the best sandwich shop or unique bookstore, tucked away with more things for sale than you might think possible.

A city like no other
In the last months, I have experienced Paris in more ways than I could have imagined. My memories only start with adventures of climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower (which is higher than you think and scarier than you might be prepared for), sketching in almost every museum Paris has to offer, walking along the Seine more times than I could even imagine to count, reading for hours in bookstores, attending Gregorian Chant Masses in Notre Dame, staying up all night with the rest of Paris on “nuit blanc,” cheering on the France Rugby team with 80,000 fans in the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, traveling to more cities than I can begin to describe, dancing through the true colors of fall, finding the truly best patisseries, learning how to live through many France strikes, spending afternoons jogging in the famous parks of Paris, or just getting lost in the life of this city and never ceasing to be amazed at how incredible this city will always be.

This semester has been eye-opening and heart-changing. I am beyond blessed to experience this at the age I am, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity that Paris has been. I look forward to getting home in only four weeks, but Paris will forever hold a truly dear spot in my heart and my memories. I could never forget these months that I had the ability to live and grow in Paris – a city that never stops, that never calms, that never is anything but incredible …

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Fall in Eastern Europe

From Budapest to Prague over fall break – the experiences and opportunities never quite stop! Both places were amazing, and I loved experiencing them during one of the most beautiful times of the year.

I spent time in Budapest with one of my oldest friends, and that in itself made cave exploring, pub crawling, touring and walking all over this Hungarian city unforgettable! The weather in Eastern Europe is rather chilly right now, but that didn’t stop the people from dressing in their own … unique way. I definitely saw outfits that I only see at Halloween – but instead they were on everyone, everywhere – from the moment I stepped off the airplane till I left the city and the river behind me.

We spent our four days in Budapest exploring labyrinth caves beneath the ancient castle on the hill. We were the ultimate tourists on the double-decker buses – wrapped in blankets and sipping coffee as our tour guide stumbled her way through English to tell us the history of the city. With incredible baths, one of the oldest parliaments in the world and a zoo that rivals others, along with stories of Jewish neighborhoods, a famous Opera and histories of old battles and older markets and traditions – Budapest was an experience.

The parks and bridges were beautiful with the fall leaves draping the cold city in their awakening colors. I loved the diversity of the people and the differences everywhere you looked. The last night on our pub-crawl we spent six hours talking with friends we met from New Zealand, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Northern England and California … many memories and laughs!!

Then we were off to Prague …

Prague was absolutely beautiful! I have never quite been so speechless at the arrangement of color in a city. The skies were crisp, clear and blue every day, and the colors of fall seeped through the yellow and orange faded buildings.

The buildings all lined up, looking like they were eagerly bumping each other as if trying to get a better look at the calm river waltz by. They were all worn with time and age and sat amidst the old rock streets, but their beauty was nothing compared to the fire-orange, cranberry-red and organic-yellow colors of the trees that bent over the boulevards, covering doors and windows. Each tree stood out differently, and yet together they resembled a perfect sea of fall. They trickled up and down the river, through the cobble- and rock-covered streets, up on the hills surrounding the enormous castle and, of course, sprawling into the parks.

The bridges were full of vendors selling black and white paintings, trinkets unique to Prague, and there were children constantly running up and down laughing in the crisp air. The streets are all beautiful, making it easy to just wander up and down for hours – ducking into shops and cafes. We toured the city and climbed all 300 stairs to the top of the cathedral sitting on the hill – just to look out at the city and stand breathless at what was before us.

claire-prague2.jpgOur days and our memories were spent scattered over Prague – in the Old Town Square, in the parks around new town, walking through the shops or losing time as we aimlessly got lost walking along the calm river. The rivers in Europe hold these cities together – they have seen the history and watch the future unfold. They know the stories and are there to see the constant unspoken beauty.

We became a regular at Ebel’s Cafe right off the Old Town Square, sitting for hours reading in the sun-drenched window seats, watching the city walk by. My coffee cup was about the size of a small melon, and I felt like I was inside a Jamaican hut as I sat nestled amidst the tangerine and key lime green walls – a dramatic change from the crisp wind outside.

The colors of fall spilled onto the Old Town square – always full of people and surrounded by the old cathedrals and castles. All are beautifully standing and original and nearly untouched from the Wars. Everything from the clocks, to the views, to the side streets overflowing with people of all ages, cultures and ethnicities made Prague amazing!! It was definitely an unforgettable and relaxing time and a city that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Back in Paris now for my last handful of weeks abroad! It has been an amazing experience, and I look so forward to the memories still to come. The colors of fall are sprawled on the wide boulevards and reflected in the nightlights on the Seine. I feel more and more normal in Paris, but I am daily challenged by the little things – but that is the sweetest part!

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Beautiful Southern France

It’s hard to know even where to begin when I sit down to write – but that is always the case with Paris! This city never stops to let me catch my breath and look around – it’s incredible though. The opportunities, the fun, the sights, the museums, the restaurants, the memories – they never quite stop!

Winter has fully hit, and the morning greets me with gusts of crisp, fresh air each time I step out the door. I am definitely getting use out of my clothes that Texas doesn’t seem to let me wear. The mornings are beautiful, and the nights even more magical – walking around in Paris, laughing with friends – making memories as a 20-year old! What could I regret?

But enough about Paris – how about the French Riviera …

We spent five days last week seeing as many cities in the south of France as possible. Somewhere in between the transportation strike and midterm exams, I nearly missed the first train to Marseilles – but somehow I made it.

We spent the first day in Marseilles, the second largest city in France, which also has the largest Mediterranean commercial port. Most of our time we spent touring the city and learning the history, seeing beautiful churches and, of course, eating fresh mussels from the port and drinking even better wine. It was incredible to see this port city come alive on Saturday morning with a market that had anything you could imagine or want. Fresh flowers were everywhere, children and dogs running around, fresh food, glistening sailboats in the harbor and the beautiful sun lighting up the old building and cold stone.

From there we went to another beautiful city (they were all amazing, I would have to say) called Hyeres. The city is clustered around the Castle of Saint Bernard, which is set on a hill. And between the old town and the sea lies the tree-covered hill of Costebelle, which overlooks the peninsula of Giens. Hyeres is the most southerly Mediterranean seaside resort in mainland France, and it was breath-taking. I spent most of our afternoon staring out from our balcony at the deep blue sea that constantly and calmly lapped up on the rocky shore. It was so incredibly peaceful just sitting and watching the sun fall behind the clouds and seeing the trees fade in the evening.

From Hyeres we drove along the coast to the famous Port of St. Tropez – a beautiful village on the French Rivera, set on the blue waters of the Golfe de Saint-Tropez. This modern version of a medieval town is unforgettable, with its luxury yachts lining the harbor and terrace cafes facing the water, divided by a parade of strolling tourists and slowly cruising sports. We spent the afternoon walking along the boardwalk, eating fresh paella and gelato, watching the seaside artists create beautiful pieces of work and learning the history and stories of yet another town in Cote d’Azur.

claire-DSC00098%5B1%5D.jpgclaire-DSC00144.jpg From St. Tropez we drove on to Nice – probably one of my favorite cities in the French Riviera. The boardwalk itself lining the French coast is incredible, but the water truly does do justice to its name – the Blue Coast. The glistening boats, the yellow and orange painted houses along the rocky shore, the white linen tablecloths on the beachfront restaurants and the people walking – walking everywhere with not purpose or agenda – just walking to soak it all in. It was absolutely amazing – with teal, turquoise, royal, and almost white blue water dancing all over the rocky coastline. Mornings and nights alike were beautiful – and we spent two days in Nice, taking day trips to Cannes and on to Antibes in our afternoons.

The Port cities along the French Riviera were absolutely amazing – beautiful in their own regards and distinctive from the next. It was definitely a nice change in weather and pace from Paris – the sun drenched the cities and warmed the coast. But now I’m packing for another adventure! I was back in Paris for two days, and I fly out tonight with some good friends for fall break in Budapest and Prague! We have no idea what to expect, but no doubt it will be unforgettable!

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The poem that is Paris

I think that there is nothing more beautiful in Paris than when the sun is just waking the city and its rays shatter the cold stone buildings that line the boulevards overlooking the sleeping trees and deserted sidewalks.

Paris gets more beautiful the longer that I am here. I am learning to appreciate the smallest things – because I know that I have time to watch, understand and comprehend how this city really ticks. Yet, each time I see the Eiffel Tower – it always brings me to the reality that I am actually living in Paris!

claire-bag.jpgI never get tired of walking up from the metro and absorbing the scent of fresh bread or the feeling of the crisp wind hitting my cheekbones. I love walking past the cafes as they open their store windows and brush off the yellow and orange leaves that fell in the night; or watching the men at the flower stands as they cart their incredible collections out to the sidewalks; or follow the old men’s eyes as they sip their espresso, read the newspaper and gaze at the city unfolding before them. It never gets old.

I love the simplicity of my walk – I have the regulars – the same shopkeeper who is always watering her trees as I walk past each morning – we have that understood friendships that two people have even though they have never met – we simply always pass with a sincere smile. Then I walk on, watching the same three, old men talking and laughing in the same fashion they probably have for 30 years. It’s the familiarities like these that make Paris seem small that make me feel like I have a reason and a purpose – if nothing else – just to be a smile to someone. It’s those three blocks from the metro to class that I love and cherish each morning.

I almost feel guilty that I get to learn in these settings. I sketched at the Louvre again this week – but this time in the middle of runways, tents and assistants running around as they set up for Fashion Week – another benefit to living in a city that has the world watching it. My architecture classes take me to the oldest churches where gothic architecture and rose windows were first established, or to the crypts below Notre Dame, even to the Chateaus surrounding the city and regularly to the most visited spots in Paris. How is it that I get credit for all this?!

I spend as much time as I can wandering around this city and intentionally getting lost – yet realizing that this city is smaller than you think! I have found my favorite cafes, bookstores, shopping boutiques and pubs this way – all by getting lost and running into familiar corners and piecing together the puzzle.

I just was able to unpack- finally!! I have a new family to live with, and I could not have imagined a more perfect home here. We live in a gorgeously simple house in Paris and I will probably have to be rolled off the airplane when I get back to the States because of their amazing cooking and our regular four-course meal. Everything they get is from the fresh markets – vegetables, fish, meats, cheeses, breads, fruits – it makes eating so much more enjoyable!!

My time here continually gets sweeter as the days go by, and I love the city that so many others do too – however, I’m realizing just how fast my time will fly by!

Our weekends of traveling are not being wasted!! Munich was unforgettable as you can imagine- I have never seen so many people in lederhosen or so much food and beer! And in the weeks to come we are visiting the South of France, hopefully Spain, Budapest and Prague for fall break and on to London for Thanksgiving. I am so richly blessed in the opportunities that are before me!!

“I could spend my whole life watching the Seine flow by – It is a poem of Paris.”
Blaise Cendrars

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Paris in Fall

Today felt like one of the first days of fall – and in Paris – it doesn’t get much better! Red and yellow leaves crawl up the sides of cold, rocky buildings tucked behind small Parisian streets and cafes, which are no longer a pastime but a necessity because of the cooler weather – well, ok, they are both! School is starting to pick up and it seems that all my weekends of traveling are already booked – so let the fun continue!

I am taking some great classes – and last week as I was sketching in a wing of the Louvre Museum, I found myself looking around asking if I really got school credit for all of this. My architecture class meets at difference museums, churches, old houses, torn-down walls of the city and even chateaus and castles each week, and I love being out in the city seeing new things that most people never take the time to see. It’s incredible to be taking a class dedicated to teaching me just about the city that I am living in, and it completely enriches my experience!

Claire-beach.jpg This weekend we took a train to Normandy – spending time on the beaches, in the towns, talking with locals and seeing some incredible museums. It was an amazing and memorable time, to say the least. I found myself walking on Omaha and Gold Beach in such calmness and looking around in complete awe.

claire-cross.jpgThe American Cemetery overlooking Omaha beach was extraordinary to walk through – touching the graves and reading the names and the stories – I just feel so blessed to have spent a weekend learning and feeling something so important.

More news in Paris – the Rugby World Cup is being played, which has led to some great moments in the metro with dozens of Scottish men in kilts or Australians with fully painted bodies,- each desperately cheering on their teams – needless to say, it has been more than enjoyable to catch rugby matches at local pubs and take part in the cheering and spirit of the game!

The Lord is so faithful in keeping me in His hand- and daily I am reminded to trust Him and find my peace in Him,- especially, when I am in a place so far from home! It’s definitely challenging, but I love the growth that He has me in for.

Unfortunately, I had to move from my first house – so I am a little foster child being bumped around Paris until they can find another family to take me in. But along the way, I have met some great people and learned so much about putting the unknown into God’s hands. Hopefully soon I will be able to actually unpack my bags and get into the Paris groove. As for now, I am just taking it one moment at a time.

I’m booking it to Munich for the weekend to try and catch up on my German- I just miss Fredericksburg that much – so more stories to come!

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I am in France and sometimes (well most of the time) I just can’t believe it!! I flew into Paris over a week ago and spent the first four days in a small town north of the city, called Compiegne. It is beautiful and quaint city that is relaxing enough to become oriented with the French life, culture and language.

There are about 20 students from SMU living and studying in Paris this semester. We all got to know one another well during our time in Compiegne and we have only grown closer as a group and as friends in our time here in Paris. It has been such a blessing to find some amazing people on this trip.

Each day in Compiegne, we would spend the mornings in French lessons and the afternoons seeing French Chateau’s, ruins and castles, and then we came to PARIS!!!

Each student is living with a different French family somewhere in the city. I am living with a family in the east of Paris, around the 20th section in an area called Montreuil. The father is a journalist and the mom is a social worker who works particularly with autistic children. They have three kids ranging from ages 15 to 22.

My family has hosted students for over seven years, they said, so to them having a foreign student around is normal. But I am still learning their habits and their ways! Meals have been interesting – I have definitely seen some new foods. The father requires that I speak French at meals, even though he speaks English well. So it has been challenging, but as you can imagine, my French vocabulary and confidence are growing!

We just finished our first week of classes, which we take at a school called Reid Hall in the Latin Quarter, so we are constantly surrounded by a lot of students from other Paris schools. Reid Hall is actually home to a few other American schools such as Columbia, Vassar and Dartmouth, so it’s been great getting to know students from those schools as well. As you can imagine, Reid Hall is in a beautiful part of the city, which makes studying in the courtyard more of a pastime than homework.

So far, we have spent afternoons leisurely walking around the Louvre Museum, drinking wine in the park under the Eiffel Tower, jogging in the Luxembourg Gardens, eating crepes in front of Notre Dame, spending mornings in the Pompidou Museum, taking hot air balloon rides over the city, riding bikes up the Champs-Elysee, painting in the gardens looking out at the Seine and exploring the amazing areas of Paris. and that’s just a normal weekday!!

It’s a beautiful city and now I can see why so many of you all love it! The trees, the cafes, and the people – they all tell a story and it’s amazing to sit and watch it all unfold.

I look forward to the months to come and all the opportunities, travel, friendships and memories that it will bring!

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