Julia SMU-in-Paris

Julia is a junior from Plano majoring in history, with a French minor, and is a member of the University Honors Program. She is studying abroad with SMU-in-Paris in fall 2007.

My Flee From France

Unfortunately as of December 1, 2007, my Student Visa that I had for France became invalid. After a long and lengthy process of applying for a Carte de Sejour (a French residency card), I was denied the card by the French government. Therefore, I had to vacate France before midnight on Friday night to London in order to get my passport stamped. Once I had an exit and re-entrance stamp into France, I could stay in France for another 90 days without a problem. Luckily Dr. Roynier helped me make train reservations, and my friend Brooke decided to join me on my flee from France to seek asylum in London.

The Eurostar
One of my dreams since I was in 6th grade as been to go through the “Chunnel,” which is an underground tunnel linking England with France by train, and I finally got to do it. The entire time we were on the train, called the Eurostar, I kept asking Brooke if she thought we were going through the tunnel as it was dark outside. I sounded like an extremely eager small child, but I was so excited to be going to London and riding through the Chunnel.
The Eurostar is extremely convenient for anyone who lives in Paris to get to London or vice versa. Since both train stations are in the middle of both Paris and London, it makes for easy access. The Eurostar just started service to a new train station called St. Pancras station. While it is already a very high-tech and beautiful station, when they finally have all of the shops and restaurants open, I’m sure it will be even better.

Julia-London2.png Lost in the Tubes
Since the taxi “queue” (as the English call it) was extremely long when we arrived at St. Pancras, we decided to be brave and take the metro, or the “tube” to our hotel. Since we are experienced Paris metro travelers, we thought we could figure out London’s tube with absolutely no problem. Overconfidence is a scary thing. Their subway system is set up much different than Paris’ and the lines are constantly changing endpoints. We ended up traveling around the metro for a good hour before we finally figured out what was going on.
To make matters worse our hotel is located about 10 minutes from the metro stop, but because we weren’t really sure where the hotel was, we walked around for nearly a half an hour in the freezing, pouring rain with huge wind gusts. Umbrellas were physically impossible, and after the 8th time that mine flipped inside out, I decided it was a waste of my energy, and just surrendered to the idea of getting soaked.

The Big Red Bus
We had one full day in London, so we wanted to hit all of the major attractions. We decided to use one of the “Big Red Buses,” which takes you on a tour of London. We saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, Notting Hill Gate, Waterloo Train Station, and of course the London Bridge. Surprisingly, London is quite spread out. I was expecting it to be a lot like Paris, but the buildings are actually quite a bit shorter and things are less crowded. The Thames River is also rather large, which was unexpected.

The Eye Over London
To end our trip to London we took a “flight” on the London Eye, a huge Ferris wheel erected for the Millenium celebration. The large capsules fit about 25 people, and within them, you get a 360-degree view of London. It was magnificent to see the city light up with Big Ben chiming the time. Everyone should definitely do it when they visit London as it truly is a wonderful experience.

Julia-London4.pngThe Texas Embassy
Giving in to our overwhelming temptation for REAL Tex Mex and a Dr. Pepper, for our second dinner in London we ate at the Texas Embassy. The only embassy to have been constructed by the Texas Republic in the 1800s, the embassy now is a multilevel restaurant and cantina. It was authentic, just like Texas. It was so fabulous to have Queso again that wasn’t just melted cheese. We also saw a sign that had a map of Texas on it, we signed our names and proudly put SMU on the map! Look for it if you’re ever in London!

After a very unexpected but fun weekend, I have to finish several papers, and get through finals!

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The Third Happiest Place on Earth … Disneyland Paris

Stressed-out from exams and papers, tired from the ongoing metro strikes, and a tad bit homesick, my friends, Stephanie and Brooke, and I decided to travel to a mini-America located 45 minutes outside of Paris, also known as Disneyland Paris, this Saturday. Luckily, the metro strike ended Friday, so we were able to take the RER (a suburban fast-speed train) out to the Disneyland Paris stop.

julia-disney1.pngMainstreet USA
To our excitement, Disneyland Paris has most of our beloved Disney rides as well as a few extras that have a European flair to them. We were so excited to see Mainstreet USA and the Christmas decorations lining the road. For about two seconds, I felt like I might have actually been in a very small town somewhere in America, until I heard children yelling in German, Italian, Czech, and French. The whole park is set up into the exact same “lands” as Disneyland, which was nice considering our California resident, Stephanie, knew exactly where everything was without having to look at a map!

julia-disney2.pngDisney Goes Upside Down!
Wanting to hit all of the big rides before the crowds, we immediately went to Space Mountain. From the outside, Space Mountain looks exactly the same, but the ride is VERY different! I was expecting the rickety old roller coaster where I would be spun around at weird angles and have my stomach drop a few times, but oh no, the Europeans do it much differently! When we sat down into the ride, I was wondering why we had the type of safety bars that went around our heads and neck, but didn’t really ask questions. About 20 seconds later I was doing corkscrews, 360-degree loops, and flying through the air at about 70 miles an hour. Needless to say, when we got off the ride, Stephanie, Brooke, and I all stared at each other and went, “Are we at DISNEYLAND!” It was an exhilarating ride, but unexpected. Several other rides were like this too, which was really fun!

julia-disney3.png3, 2, 1 … ACTION!
Disneyland Paris contains two parks: Disneyland and MGM Studios. Since we were staying for the whole day, we decided to buy a two-park pass. The MGM Studios, wasn’t that great considering there were no shows going on and most of it was under construction, but they had a brand-new Finding Nemo ride called Crush’s Coaster, which was so much fun! Even though the three of us were definitely the oldest ones going on the ride without a 5-year-old, I really enjoyed it.

Disney Christmas
Starting in the middle of November and going through early January, the entire Disney park is decorated for Christmas. Lights are hung from Mainstreet USA buildings, the castle is ornamented in white lights, and there are Christmas trees scattered in the park. It was absolutely beautiful at night when they turned on all of the Christmas lights and the park just glowed off the twinkling lights of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. To celebrate Disney Christmas even more, we all bought matching Mickey Mouse Ears that had a Santa hat attached. I would never wear it anywhere but Disneyland because we looked like such dorks, but it was so fun. Plus it kept our ears and heads warm in the 30-degree weather!

Disneyland was a great break from the hustle and bustle of Paris, but now it’s time to start cracking down for finals!

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I’m Thankful for … the Eiffel Tower?

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving. It was the first time I’ve ever spent Thanksgiving apart from my family. Even though Thanksgiving isn’t a very big deal in my family, as there are only three of us, I still found myself a little down and out to be away from my family during the first of the holiday season.

Thanksgiving is a hard concept to explain …
Earlier this week I was attempting to explain Thanksgiving to Anne-Marie’s 10-year-old grandson. In the middle of giving a brief history lesson about the Pilgrams and the Indians, I realized that there’s a lot more to Thanksgiving than I really ever think about. While technically Thanksgiving is a day that we, as a nation, are supposed to have a feast in honor of the first pilgrims who settled in America, in the past few centuries the holiday has taken on a much more broad meaning to Americans.
I explained to Anne-Marie’s grandson that really Thanksgiving is a day where families come together, stuff their faces with good food, and enjoy each others’ company. He seemed satisfied with my definition, and so did I. Thanksgiving is truly an American tradition, and unless someone is an American, I’m not sure one can truly understand the logic behind Thanksgiving.

A French Thanksgiving
SMU arranged for a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the students. The food was advertised as “real American home cooking,” and while they attempted the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, the results were a little different. The turkey was all dark meat, and as a fan of white meat I was a little disappointed, however it made me open my horizons a bit. The mashed potatoes had a sprinkle of sugar in them. I’m pretty sure the restaurant was trying to re-create the traditional “yams,” but someone should have told them it’s only proper to put sugar on sweet potatoes, not white fluffy ones. The most interesting part of all was dessert. I expected one-fourth of the pie like I normally eat on Thanksgiving, but to my disappointment, I got only a sliver of pecan pie. Luckily, I chose the right pie, as I heard the pumpkin one lacked any sort of flavor.

While the food was less than phenomenal, it was really nice to be with my friends on Thanksgiving and feel like a little family celebrating Thanksgiving. I was very happy that Dr. Roynier arranged for this!

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The Paris Strike Strikes Back

Once again several French unions are striking in opposition to President Sarkozy’s plans to revamp retirement benefits. Unlike last time, when we conveniently fled Paris for the South of France, all of the SMU students have had to endure the nasty “greve.” Much like my friend and fellow blogger Brenda, I have experienced some rather unpleasant metro and bus moments this weekend.

Thinking that Saturday would be a perfect day to go do some much needed further research on the Jansenists for my history research project at the Bibliotheque Nationale in the 13th arrondisement, I left my house around 9 in the morning. I figured an hour would be plenty of time, even with the strike going on, to get to the library. I had my route all planned out, and I even had a backup plan. As I stepped out of my house I was filled with overwhelming confidence and thought to myself, “Ha! This strike isn’t even bad because I know my way around!”

Little did I know that in about 40 minutes my confidence would be shattered and I would once again feel like the stupid American who was stuck in Paris with an American flag permanently planted in the top of her head.

What just happened?
When I arrived at the bus stop I saw that there was only going to be a 12-minute wait for the next bus. There were only a few other people waiting for the bus with me, so I figured that the stories I had heard about metro cars and buses filled to the brim with people were just exaggerations. As my bus pulled up to the stop, out of nowhere a literal gang of old French women with their rolling shopping baskets full of vegetables, freshly skinned rabbits, and baguettes began to swarm around the entrance of the bus. Since I was raised to respect my elders, I let a couple of the old women board the already crowded bus before me, even helping one lift her ridiculously heavy shopping basket into the bus.

Just as I was about to step on, thus taking the very last centimeter of available space, I was shoved out of the way by a balding, brutish man. As I began to start shouting that this was unjust, etc the doors closed and the bus took off, leaving me on the side of the road, totally confused as to what just happened.

Calming myself down, I rationalized that I had a backup plan. I walked to the other bus that I knew would bring me close to line 14, the only metro line that was working normally due to the fact that it is run by a computer. To my surprise, there was a notice on the screen informing me that this bus was not going to be running for another two hours. Completely frustrated, I got out my Paris Pratique map and started trying to plot a new way to the library. I decided to walk all the way to Montparnasse, a main metro station, about 40 minutes away.

On the edge
I should mention here that I have a completely rational and normal fear of falling into the metro tracks and being run over by the metro, so when it’s crowded I never stand by the edge of the tracks for fear some deranged person will push me in. Well I nearly experienced my worst fear today. The quai at the metro was packed with people. Every time a train would come, you would move up in, for a lack of a better word, “line.”

After a couple of trains, I was finally at the front of the line and was standing rather close to what I consider the “no go zone” (about 6 inches from the edge). There was a group of rowdy guys by me who, like most young guys, thought it was cool to act like they were going to push one another into the tracks. The boy closest to me was shoved and in effect shoved me, and I tripped, landing with my foot half way on the edge, halfway off. Luckily there was a police officer doing crowd control so he came over and settled the boys down, but I can’t tell you how fast my heart was beating and how shook up I was after that. I finally got to the library and stayed there as long as possible, dreading the return home.

The return home was not as terrifying, but just as unpleasant. I was able to catch a bus that drops me off almost at my doorstep, which made for less transfers, but a very long bus ride. I was the last one to get on the bus, so I was trapped at the very front of the bus in this awkward space between the barrier of the bus driver, the door, and another RATP worker who was riding the bus for “crowd control.” My entire upper body was smashed against the front window of the bus, my breath fogging up a small portion of the window, as my legs were balancing on someone’s briefcase, and a fire extinguisher.

As I was balancing there, the RATP worker kept on making jokes, saying “Oh isn’t this pleasant? We’re all bonding!” The entire time I was thinking, “No you dope, this isn’t funny. I do not enjoy you in my personal space, breathing on me, as I balance on a fire extinguisher, brace myself against this window, and pray to God that the bus driver doesn’t run into anything because I’ll surely die. And I’m doing this all for YOU!”

Enough already
Taking none of the politics involved and considering solely my own personal comfort and sanity, I’m backing Sarkozy on this one. I really do hope that this strike stops soon. I know I came abroad to experience a new culture, but this is something that I’ve experienced enough of. I really can’t wait to be able to jump in my car and drive myself places again. So in the end, the strikes have taught me two things:

1) the personal space bubble I’ve been carrying around since high school no longer exists. My personal space is limited to the actual space that my body takes up, no more, actually, quite possibly less.

2) The French have a very twisted sense of humor.

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It’s All Greek to Me!

What a week! After traveling to three countries in a span of seven days, I’m exhausted and I have school tomorrow! I got home from Athens last night at about 2 a.m. Right now I’m having some much needed bonding time with my parents at their hotel in Paris. How I’ve missed being spoiled by my parents!

The Squiggly Alphabet
I arrived in Athens on Halloween late in the afternoon after a not-so-pleasant flight that was supposed to last less than 2 hours and ended up lasting nearly 4 due to airport problems in Rome. When we landed, I had some major culture shock.

I expected a lot of people to speak English, considering that Athens was such a tourist mecca, but to my surprise almost no one spoke English, and if they did, it was very much Greek-lish. Knowing absolutely no Greek, except, of course, for the sorority and fraternity letters, navigating around Greece was a bit complicated. All of the menus were also printed in Greek so I was never really 100 percent sure what I was ordering, and on the first night, when I received a salad when I had ordered a sandwich, I knew I was doomed.

Sick as a Dog
I, of course, got sick on vacation. My body seems to decide to get sick during my free time versus during school time, which really stinks! The entire time we were in Greece, I was running a fever, my tonsils were so swollen they were touching, and I was just generally feeling like death rolled over. Like in Rome, though, I was determined to make the best of my time in Athens and see everything I possibly could, which is a lot easier said than done.

The Parthenon … or the Acropolis …
You can’t go to Athens and not see the Parthenon, which is on the Acropolis hill. It took us a long time to figure out exactly which name fit with which object. For a while we thought the Acropolis was the actual structure, but we learned that it’s the name of the hill on which the Parthenon, the Athena temple, and other Greek ruins stand. The hike up the Acropolis is beautiful. You can see the entire city, which is littered with traditional white stucco houses, and surrounded by the brilliant blue ocean and rolling hills. It’s truly breathtaking, so you don’t really realize that you have to hike up about 300 feet to get to the top.

julia-2greece.png I know I say this about everything, but it’s really amazing to think about how people nearly 4,000 years ago were able to construct these temples on the top of a hill using huge slabs of marble. It must have been torturous to have lugged those pieces of marble up the hill. I have to admit that I was also disappointed with the Parthenon. It was covered in scaffolding, and they have put new mortar around certain parts to “reconstruct” what pieces of it supposedly looked like. To me, to “suppose” what something looked like is destroying history and making it into a type of Disneyland. I really would have preferred them just to “restore” or “preserve” the Parthenon without “reconstructing” it. I really preferred the nearly untouched Athena temple to the Parthenon. This is a smaller, but much more intricate temple. On the facade there are busts of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and patron goddess of Athens.

The Good Eye
After visiting the Acropolis site and all of the Greek ruins, we did what girls do best … shopped. Each one of us was able to find beautiful souvenirs and jewelry to bring back to our families. By talking to one of the local shopkeepers, we learned about the Greek “good eye” that is a symbol of protection from “bad spirits.” I bought several for my friends and family, hoping to ward off any evil that might come their way.

On Friday we decided to take a day trip to the mountainous village of Delfi. It was almost a three-hour bus ride to the village where there stands a temple dedicated to the god Apollo. The temple is built literally on the side of a mountain. At one point, we were actually standing in the clouds because we were up so high on the mountain. Unlike the Parthenon, this site has remained completely untouched. Everything is original and gives a very good sense of its age. It’s amazing that after 4000 years, the columns are still standing where they were placed. While the temple itself was interesting to see, the drive was equally as interesting because it displayed the Greek countryside, which is very varied including rolling hillsides, vast plains, and finally a mountainous region.

While I’m glad that I visited Athens to see the Parthenon and other ancient ruins, if I was going to return to Greece I would probably prefer to go elsewhere, like one of the many islands. I think we could have spent one less day in Athens and still have covered everything that we did. Still, this was one of the most interesting and most enjoyable vacations I’ve had in quite a while and I’m glad I got the opportunity to see all of the places that I did! I can’t believe I have to go back to the grind of schoolwork tomorrow!

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The Sacking of Rome

Happy Halloween! Right now I’m on the plane going to Athens, Greece. Actually we’re waiting on the runway to take off because supposedly they just shut down the Rome Fuimacino Airport for unspecified reasons. I always love hearing the phrase “unspecified reasons” at airports. It makes me feel safe.

As I’m sitting here thinking over the list of things that I did in Rome, the question shouldn’t be “What did I do in Rome” but “What DIDN’T I do in Rome?” I feel like I’ve had a crash course in Roman history all weekend, and I’ve loved every minute of it! Instead of staying at a hotel in Rome, we decided to rent an apartment for 4 days, which was a lot of fun and very practical for the 5 of us. Best of all, right outside of our window there was the Roman “Pyramid.” Though not an actual pyramid, it was an architectural feature of the old Roman city walls from the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, because our apartment is on a major street, it was extremely loud, with motorcycles blaring by every second of the night.

julia-2rome.pngMama Mia!
My parents were visiting Rome at the exact same time that I was, so I took my friends to go meet them at the Trevi Fountain. It was so nice to see them! I’m an only child, so I’ve really missed my parents despite the fact I talk to them almost every day. Keeping in the tradition and folklore of the Trevi Fountain, everyone threw a coin over their left shoulder into the fountain in the hopes that one day we will return to Rome. Stephanie did it last summer and returned, so I think that’s a pretty good indication that the folklore is fact.

julia3-rome.pngRussell Crowe’s Stomping Ground
After one of the first leisurely mornings in a very long time, we went to the Colosseum on our second day in Rome. I, unfortunately, was about ready to die the entire time as I was really sick with a horrible cold. Determined to do as much as possible, I was a trooper and stuck through it all. I really can’t believe that the Colosseum is over 2000 years old. A lot smaller than I’ve always imagined it to be, it was none the less magnificent. According to our tour guides, Stephanie and Federico, the Colosseum was able to hold almost 10,000 spectators. I can only imagine how crowded and hot it must have been! As far back as I can remember, whenever we have learned about the Romans we are given a picture of the Colosseum, so to actually see it in person was very cool.

To the Vatican, and make it FAST!
My parents had a guided tour of the Vatican set up for us on my third day in Rome. Since we had decided to visit the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, a gorgeous private villa that houses thousands of pieces of art work and displays a typical aristocratic Roman home, we were running very late for our visit. Luckily, we found a nice taxi driver who sped us to the Vatican just in time for the beginning of our tour. Even though I’m technically a (non-practicing) Episcopalian, I know a lot about the Catholic religion both because I went to Catholic elementary schools and because when you study the Renaissance you can’t help but learn about Catholicism!

julia4-rome.pngI was absolutely in awe of the Vatican – the smallest country in the world, making up a mere 27 kilometers. It’s amazing how much art the Vatican has amassed through the years. There are masterpieces from Bernini, Castiglione, Michelangelo, and thousands of others. There is even a room dedicated solely to the representation of animals in sculpture and portraiture! When I was standing in front of Michelangelo’s School of Athens I almost couldn’t believe it. Junior year of high school I wrote a paper in European History about this painting, and all of the sudden I was looking at it in real life! Surprisingly, there weren’t that many people on the tour that day so I actually was able to closely look at the masterpiece for a few minutes.

Is this the REAL Sistine Chapel?
I was a little bit disappointed by the Sistine Chapel. First of all, there were so many people in the chapel, people were elbowing one another just to get into the door. Second, because the ceiling has recently undergone restoration work, the colors are very bright, making the figures look almost like cartoons. Every representation I’ve ever seen of the Spark of Life has always been dark, with lots of grey tones, but in reality it was very bright with blues and yellows popping out. I was rather disappointed with it, but I was glad I was able to see Michelangelo’s work finally.

julia5-rome.pngSt. Peter’s
My favorite part of the Vatican was, of course, St. Peter’s Basilica. I was absolutely floored by the size, grandeur, and decadence of the basilica. There is such a mix of flamboyant gothic, Renaissance, and Italian baroque style all mixed into one. Not to mention the huge quantities of marble that covers almost every inch of the church. I really liked that at each of the holy water fountains, there were two gilded, fat, and cute baroque angles holding a massive seashell full of blessed water. It would be fabulous to attend a service in St. Peter’s because of its sheer size and beauty, however, since I’m not famous, a Catholic, or live in Rome, I doubt that will ever happen – still itss fun to think about.

julia6-rome.pngThe only piece of signed sculpture by Michelangelo, The Pieta, is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica behind an 8-inch piece of fiberglass. I took a picture from far away, but not satisfied by a mere shutterbug moment, I used my American heritage to my ability and shoved my way up to the front so I could see the piece with my own eyes. After looking at the sculpture for a complete 3 seconds I was pushed out of the way by a very aggressive Japanese tour group, but I was successful in my mission! I have now seen two of the most famous works of art: the Mona Lisa and the Pieta.

Well, I’m delving even farther back into history with my trip to Athens! I’ll let you know how that goes soon!

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Czech Me Out!

What a wonderful weekend I’ve just had in Prague!

I have to admit that before I came to Europe I hadn’t really considered Prague among one of the destinations I had wanted to visit, but after staying here for a couple of days I’m so glad I came! Though the capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague is a relatively small city. In fact, we were able to walk most places in the city without any problems.

julia-prague1.pngAfter spending nearly two months in France and constantly having to translate during conversation, it was actually kind of weird to speak English again. Luckily, though, pretty much everyone in Prague spoke English so there wasn’t a big language barrier.

Our hostel, Old Prague Hostel, changed my perceptions about all hostels. This one was actually decent. We had our own private room, and the location was convenient. The only weird thing was for breakfast they gave us sandwiches … Maybe that’s what they do in the Czech Republic? Either way, it was a decent and safe place to stay for the two nights that we were there, and I would recommend it to anyone going to Prague on a budget.

julia-prague2.pngAll aboard!
On our first day in Prague we mainly walked around the city, acquainting ourselves with the major landmarks and streets. I stupidly insisted that we go on a boat ride on the Prague River, which turned out to be less than thrilling as it was about 20 degrees on the boat. We saw all of the major sites, like the Dancing House, the Charles V Bridge, the Parlement Building, and Prague’s version of the Eiffel Tower.

Shades of Communism
I’ve never been to a former communist country before, and to see the effects that communism had both on the morale and the economy of the people was quite striking. The Czech people are definitely attempting to bring more capitalism and investment into their country by having department stores and major brands, but it’s clear that they are still in a “transition” phase. You can tell in the faces of almost all the people, even 20-year-olds who endured the civil war in the early 90s, that life isn’t easy, and they are struggling everyday. It was a little bit of a reality check to be there.

Because of their transitioning economy, everything is dirt cheap. Luckily I exchanged Euros for Czech Koronas, so for every 1 euro I got about 30 Czech Koronas, which is about 3 dollars. I couldn’t believe how inexpensive food and souvenirs were; it was amazing! I was able to buy my mom a really nice Swarovski crystal figurine for very cheap, so if you go to Prague, shopping is a must!

The “Eurodog”
Also really cheap in Prague is the food; a nice change of pace considering the food is so expensive in Paris. Every place that we went we were able to get a very nice meal for about 7 or 8 euros! I have to admit though, the food wasn’t that good. There was one exception to this rule, though. I’ve never been one to be drawn to the hot dog vendors on the side of the street, but in Prague there are tons of little hot dog stands that smell absolutely divine. Giving into our overwhelming desire for a “hot dog out of a cart” three of my friends and I bought a hot dog, fries, and a Diet Coke and let me tell you … it was the best meal I had in Prague.

On Friday night Brooke, Brenda, Federico, and I went to the “largest dance club in continental Europe,” Karozy Lane. There are five floors of dance space, each with a different theme. Be aware, though, that it’s a very varied mix of ages, there were high schoolers and people on retirement packages dancing next to each other. Also people in Europe dance very differently from Americans. For the most part, “dancing” is defined as “flailing your arms and legs to music.” It’s quite amusing to watch and imitate.

If you go to Prague be sure to check out the Charles V Bridge, the Old Prague Square, the Astronomical Clock, and of course the Prague Castle. Unfortunately when I visited the Prague Castle, it was closed due to renovations, but the facade is very interesting with an odd, but pleasing combination of gothic and baroque architecture. Wear your walking shoes, though, because the hike to the top of the hill where the castle is located is a killer!

Though I am sad to leave the quaint city of Prague, I am so excited to be going to Rome!

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Nice is very nice

I’ve just returned from our second study trip to the South of France, and I’m preparing to travel again in just TWO days! Hopefully Fall Break with my friends will be just as interesting as this trip.

Last Friday all 20 SMU students traveled to the South of France on a five-day tour of Marseilles, St. Tropez, Juan-les-Pins, Nice and Giens. I’ve never been to the Mediterranean Coast so this was a very exciting trip for me. Since the Cultural Formations course in Paris this semester deals with the “interwar” period between 1918 and 1939, most of our time in the South of France was devoted to studying the development of cultural and society within this fragile time period.

One of the largest cities in all of France, Marseilles is a very busy port town. Important here were the actions of an American man, Varian Fry, during the Second World War who helped thousands of French and other European intellectuals escape Nazi persecution immediately after French occupation. Also interesting to see in Marseilles were the “original” streets, which are very small and narrow compared to the more modern streets constructed after the World War II bombings of Marseilles. In less than 60 years it was able to re-create an entire city that had been devastated by bombs.

julia1-tropez.pngSt. Tropez
I have to admit that when I first stepped off the bus in St. Tropez I was immediately starting to look for celebrities who I knew frequented the small port town. Alas, since it was October and freezing cold, I wasn’t able to spot any celebrities. There were, however, hundreds of very swank private yachts stationed in the marina so maybe Beyonce and Jay-Z were in one of them. Unfortunately, since it was a Sunday when we visited St. Tropez, all of the small boutiques were closed. None the less, St. Tropez was stunningly gorgeous, and I hope to be able to go back there during the summer to really experience what it would be like during the “peak” season.

julia1-villa.pngVilla Rothschild
As an example of the flamboyancy and grandeur of the 1920s in the French Riviera, we visited a private villa of the Rothschild family. Situated on the top of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the pink house embodies the 1920s. There are extensive gardens, each with a theme like a rose garden, a Japanese garden, a “floating” garden, and even a desert garden! Best of all, there are fountains that are synchronized with music so they give the allusion of “dancing.”

Probably the most famous city in the South of France, Nice was our last stop. The entire town is built around a boardwalk for pedestrians to stroll along the waters edge. Though it was freezing cold when we arrived, my friends and I still managed to go sit on the beach for just a little while! All of Nice is decorated in the Art Deco style of the 1920s. Several Casinos litter the main boulevard that overlooks the rocky beach. I’m very happy that I get to return to Nice again in January for orientation because I feel I only was able to scratch the surface of what Nice is really like!

Well, after a full week of traveling, I can’t believe I’m about ready to start traveling AGAIN! This time 3 countries in 5 days … it should be interesting!

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On Wednesday, October 17, at 6 PM, French transportation employees went on strike, which so far has lasted all of Thursday and into Friday. In France, workers have a legal right to strike for more employee rights, therefore, strikes are quite a frequent thing in Paris. While I was convinced the entire city of Paris would be paralyzed by a strike of metro, bus, and train workers, it seemed to be a day like any other, except with more people on bikes.

Walking to school
Because I live in the 7th arrondissement, very close to the Eiffel Tower, I normally do not take the metro to school, but I instead take the bus. Anne-Marie, like everyone else, was very unsure whether or not the buses would be running. It is up to the discretion of each individual bus driver whether or not they will strike, therefore there is a small chance some of the buses will run.

Unfortunately, my bus was not running on Thursday morning, so I had to leave my house at 7 AM to walk the nearly 3 miles to school before my 10 AM class. Luckily, it was quite cool, so it was actually refreshing to be out in the crisp autumn air.

As I was about one-third of the way to school, I spotted a bus and immediately jumped on it without even looking at where it was going. I realized as soon as I was on the bus how stupid that was, considering I could have been going the complete opposite direction from where I needed to go. Thank goodness it was going the same direction as I was and would actually drop me off relatively close to school.

From that stop I only had a 20-minute walk, and I was there in plenty of time for my 10 AM class. Almost everyone in my class made it despite the annoyance of the strike.

Not like home
In the United States, because we often don’t have strikes that directly affect our lives like a transportation strike, it was a bit bizarre, but also another lesson in cultural differences. There were people who were supporting the strike, wearing pins supporting the transportation workers, but there were also people who were yelling at the metro workers on strike, saying they should get back to work. At the heart of the whole strike is Sarkozy’s (the new French president) plan to reduce the retirement benefits of metro, train, and bus drivers and require a minimum of 40 years of work for full pensions.

If you consider that, in the U.S., most people work until they are about 65 or 67, working 40 years really isn’t that much – in fact, it’s pretty standard for Americans. However, France transportation workers have only had to work 30-35 years for full pensions because of the “extreme stresses” caused by the job.

Personally, I agree with Sarkozy that there should be an increase in the amount of years worked by transportation workers. It only makes sense that people should start working longer as life expectancies increase. Yet, I respect the workers for voicing their opinions and standing up for their rights.

Hopefully, the strike will end soon, and the annoyance of having to walk to and from school every morning for several hours will be over, otherwise my legs are going to be ridiculously toned by the time I get home. Now, on second thought, maybe the strike isn’t so bad after all …

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What exactly IS “rugby”?

In case you didn’t know, the World Cup of Rugby has been going on in France since my arrival to Paris in September. All of the games take place at the ultra modern “Stade de France” on the outskirts of Paris. Throughout the city, however, there are several giant screens set up in parks for people to watch the games.

To make it clear that the Rugby Cup is going on in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is decked out in a green light (the official color of the Rugby Cup), and there is a giant inflatable rugby ball hanging from the middle of the tower.

Shades of Dallas Cowboys
Because I’m not a sports enthusiast, I literally have no idea how rugby is played. From watching the sports segment on the news every night before the weather, I can tell you that rugby involves very large men pushing and hitting each other in order to get a larger version of a white football. To me, it looks a lot like football with more violence, but less padding. I was surprised to see that the United States actually has a national rugby team (though we lost in the qualifying rounds of the tournament).

Despite my personal dislike of the sport, it has taken over Paris like mad. Last weekend, Paris defeated New Zealand, one of the best teams in the league, and the city went wild with screams of “Allez les Blues” (Go Blue!). It was interesting to see men running down the street wearing the French flag on their backs and screaming patriotically. I guess in the world of sports, everyone is the same, whether you’re rooting for the Dallas Cowboys, or for the French National Rugby team, guys will always dress up, go crazy and scream loud for their favorite teams.

English invasion
Unfortunately, last night England defeated France in the semifinals of the tournament. Several of my friends were at the Champs de Mars watching the game and told me it was virtual mayhem when the game was over, with the British cheering and the French upset over their defeat. I heard many English people last night walking down my street singing the English national anthem and assumed they must have won. I’m ready for rugby to be over and for the city of Paris to be free from the hoards of British, Scottish and others who have seemingly taken over the city with “rugby fever.”

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