Virginia, Paris

Virginia is a junior majoring in art history in Meadows School of the Arts, with a minor in French in Dedman College. During spring 2012, she is studying in Paris with SMU Abroad and the IES Business and International Affairs Program. She looks forward to living like a “local” and seeing all the incredible art Paris has to offer.

Au Revoir, Paris

Bonjour tout le monde!

I write this blog post on a little bit of a sad note as it is my last post about Paris and my time abroad. I cannot believe how fast time has flown by; it feels like I just got off the plane at Charles De Gaulle Airport last week! I started this blog with photos of my birthday at the Eiffel Tower, and now it only seems right to end it with a photo of the Eiffel Tower on a beautiful spring day.

Since my last post about Giverny, I have been all over France. I’ve visited Nice, Cannes, Monaco (all in the South of France); Epernay and Avize in Champagne, and just recently to my host family’s house in Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. I feel so accomplished, as one of my main goals of studying abroad in Paris was to not only be a local of Paris, but also to explore France as extensively as possible … which I feel that I have done!

With less than 12 days here in Paris, I am so sad to leave. I will miss the simplicity of the metro, the omnipresent scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the streets, the ever chic Parisians in their high fashion, speaking French daily, my host family – especially my host mother’s cooking, my friends at IES BIA, my art history class weekly at the Musee d’Orsay, the cafes, macaroons and almond croissants, seeing the Eiffel Tower daily, the winding curving streets and beautiful boulevards, and did I mention macaroons?

IES BIA has been a great program, with field trips to Champagne country, Normandy, and various Chateaux throughout France. The staff and teachers have been incredibly helpful with all my questions about traveling and France. All of my classes have been very interesting, and I have made so many friends from different universities across the U.S. through these classes.

I am grateful to have studied abroad during the spring semester as the 2012 Presidential Elections are currently happening and this has allowed me to not only know everything about the French government, but to also get to experience the French culture and history that much more.

After last week’s re-entry session to the U.S. hosted by our director at IES, we were given a list of skills that we have now acquired during our time abroad. I never really thought that I myself have changed, but reading through the list I realize that living abroad has changed who I am as a person and given me new skills and qualities. From this list, I feel that I have matured, become more independent and self-sufficient, open-minded, I can relate to many different people, communicate despite obstacles, and most importantly adapt easily to new environments. All skills I will need for this upcoming last year at SMU and the future beyond.

Despite leaving Paris, I do miss SMU terribly. With much anticipation, I cannot wait to return to campus to see our beloved familiar Boulevard and Dallas Hall, see all my friends and teachers, walk through Meadows’ halls to class, going to football games on the weekends, and being back in the Mustang community.

If I haven’t already said this, studying abroad has been one of the best decisions of my college career and I am so happy that I did it. One quote that has stuck with me throughout my travels and time abroad is from Ernest Hemingway, who once said, ”If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man [or woman], then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Next to deciding to become a Mustang, I would say studying abroad has greatly defined a part of my life that I will, as Hemingway states, take with me for the rest of my life.

Au Revoir Paris et tout le monde!
Virginia

Posted in Virginia, Paris | Comments Off

Where Monet painted

With my sister on the Japanese bridge

Salut tout le monde!

Back again with a new post on my trip to Giverny with my sister, who came to visit me here in Paris last week.

Giverny is a tiny little town out in the country about 45 minutes outside Paris, by train. It is here where Claude Monet resided for so many years and painted his famous water lily paintings featured in the L’Orangerie museum in Paris and his other famous Impressionist paintings of Japanese bridges and his gardens.

This garden was mind-blowing. The flowers, trees, and ponds brought you back to another time and place – back to Monet’s world. I felt as if I were walking in one of his paintings. I couldn’t believe in just the first week of April how many different flowers were in bloom! The willow trees were just gorgeous, as was the famous Japanese bridge. My sister and I loved roaming around the gardens and ponds, taking in all the beauty.

The view from the bridge

Afterward, we visited Monet’s house, which was restored to its original appearance. The one thing we immediately noticed was how colorful all the walls and crown moldings are, in pastel colors that are not traditional to French homes. Rooms were painted in bright yellows, baby blues and violets, emphasizing the Impressionist feel of this house.

Impressionism is most known for its use of light and color. We viewed Monet’s large collection of Japanese prints, and could easily see how he drew such inspiration from these prints for his works of art.

His studio was incredible to see because it showed a lot of his famous paintings all hung on the wall, the work stand with his paints and brushes that he used outside to paint the gardens, and a picture of how he looked in his studio.

By far my favorite room was his kitchen, which was tiled in beautiful blue and white floral tiles. This is an obvious direct reference to Japanese prints, but I couldn’t help but think that Monet somehow made this blue and white room French as well. The view of the gardens from his windows was magnificent, and every time I looked out to see the gardens I couldn’t help but lose my breath due to all the beauty and color surrounding us.

I highly recommend making a quick side trip out to Giverny from Paris if you’re there; it is well worth it!

A plus tard,
Virginia

Posted in Virginia, Paris | Comments Off

Fontainebleau & Vaux-le-Vicomte

Bonjour mes amis!

On March 30th, I went on my last field trip with IES to Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte. I can’t believe that this trip has come and gone. Back at orientation (which in itself feels like years ago) I felt like this trip would never come because we’d have so many things to do in between. Now time really is flying!  I loved both castles and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Fontainebleau is situated south of Paris and only a 45-minute bus ride away. Before Versailles, Fontainebleau was the main castle for all French royalty, and even after Louis XIV, Fontainebleau still remained part of the Empire as Napoleon dearly loved it.

In the 16th century, Francois I invited a lot of Italian artists and architects to convert the original hunting lodge into a Renaissance palace. Over 49,400 acres of forest surround Fontainebleau, which made it popular for hunting. Natalie, our IES director, told us one of the French kings (Louis XV, if I’m not mistaken) had over 200 hunting dogs, and killed 13,000 deer within a year or so at Fontainebleau.

The castle is glorious and grand. When walking up to the Chateau, one can’t help but feel weird because Fontainebleau is no longer alone in the forest. Tons of little shops and restaurants surround the main gates, making the chateau look very out of place. The grand staircase (in the shape of a horseshoe) is where Napoleon stood and bid farewell to his army before his exile to Elba. Inside the chateau there is still Napoleon’s original throne room that has remained untouched, and the only throne room in France to have been kept the same as it was when the royal or Emperor occupied it. (Every other throne room has been changed to suit another royal or Emperor or destroyed).

Napoleon said goodbye to his troops on these steps in front of Fontainebleau

 

 

I felt that Fontainebleau had a more masculine touch as there was more wood paneling and darker decor used rather than the frou-frou rococo at Versailles. The ceilings were by far my favorite part because they were much more intricate and more unique than Versailles. After viewing the castle and listening to the audio guide, we had a tour of the gardens, which have an incredible pond and a beautiful fountain amidst the geometrical plots of grass. Not quite as beautiful as Versailles, but still a great place to soak up the sun and walk where Royalty once walked.

 

Napoleon's throne room

 

Vaux-le-Vicomte, the chateau I studied last semester in my Baroque art history class in the Meadows Museum, was built by Louis XIV’s prime minister Nicolas Fouquet. This chateau was regarded as the most glorious thing ever before Versailles. When Fouquet held a banquet in honor of King Louis, little did he realize he was sealing his fate with death. This party had a dinner, play and firework display (which was extremely rare to have back then) that showed guests having such a great time that later Royals and aristocrats would try to rival this party. Having been upstaged enough, King Louis became green with envy and jailed Fouquet immediately afterwards and ordered him put to death. (It was later found that Fouquet was using France’s money for the renovations to his chateau.)

Gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voltaire sums it up best, “On Aug. 17th, at 6 in the evening, Nicolas Fouquet was the King of France; at two in the morning, he was nobody.” Louis XIV then went on to re-do Versailles and top Fouquet’s chateau forever.

I would have to say out of all the chateaux I have seen, and I have seen many this time around (Versailles, Chantilly, Compiegne, Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte), Vaux-le-Vicomte wins for the best gardens. To be fair, I have seen Versailles twice now in the winter so I can only imagine (or watch Marie Antoinette and Midnight in Paris) what the gardens there look like in the spring time.

Savannah and I at the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked through the castle with yet another audio-guided tour, and my favorite part was seeing the dining room and kitchen because the curators of the chateau put a life-sized video display of people from the era of Fouguet dancing as if one were actually part of the banquet hall festivities. In the kitchen, there were life-sized mannequins of kitchen maids and fake plastic food to show how everything was prepared, which was neat to see and understand how everything was made back then.

Afterwards, my friend Savannah and I toured the gardens. We walked down to the water fall and canal to meet up with other students in my program. As we left for Paris I couldn’t help but smile at all the beauty from the chateaux, gardens, and the quiet, yet mysterious, forests surrounding these places.

My next travel will still be in France as I will be going to Giverny, Reims, Carcassonne and the South of France for the month of April!

Au Revoir for now,

Virginia

Posted in Virginia, Paris | Comments Off

Visiting Normandy

Salut tout le monde!

On March 16 and 17, I went to Normandy with my program, IES. We visited Caen and Arromanches to view the D-Day museums, the beaches and the American Cemetery in Colleville. Normandy is in the western part of France on the Atlantic coast.

IES  took all of us students to our first stop at the Peace Memorial in Caen to view the Holocaust and WWII museum. It is incredible to see how much France is still very affected by this war. This museum took us through the beginnings of the war and the takeover of France, and ended with the beginning of the Cold War.

I really liked learning about WWII from Europe’s point of view because it gives another perspective that I feel we don’t often learn in America. It was very nice, though, to have a sense of national pride because still to this day French people are beyond grateful for all the help from Americans in Normandy and with France’s liberation.

The museum is filled with video clips, artifacts, maps that show the changing boundaries in Europe, old photographs, and lots of information. I was very humbled by the experience because as bad as our world gets, we have been fortunate to not have experienced something as utterly horrific as this war and genocide. I am very grateful for our soldiers who fought to liberate France and end the war in Europe.

We then left for Pegasus Bridge, which is a big to-do for the British to have captured because that was the only bridge the Germans used to cross the river. The bridge today is no longer in its original place and has been replaced by a more modern one, but we got a photo with the original.

Then we departed for our hostel, Les Tourelles, in the village of Asnelles-sur-Mer. This hostel, or shall I say castle, is right on the beach and has the most incredible view of the coastline. The beaches in Normandy are just beautiful. The blue water melts into the sky, and one cannot decipher where the ocean stops and the sky begins – just breathtaking. Mussel shells are all over the beach and are so fun to crack and stomp on. I felt like I was back at SMU on the Boulevard, stepping on acorns.

The next day we left for Arromanches to view Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery in Colleville. We had a guided tour of the D-Day Museum, which explained how an artificial harbor was made in the ocean and how all the equipment was transported (tugboats), which was just fascinating. To this day the concrete harbors are still in the ocean, untouched since the 1940s. These structures really do add to the coastline view.

Omaha Beach was just beautiful. I couldn’t imagine that so many soldiers had fought there, and that 9,000 of them died on that beach. The American Cemetery very much reminded me of the one in Arlington. There were thousands upon thousands of graves marked with white marble crosses and stars of David. The French, as a gift of gratitude, gave this territory to the U.S., so technically we were on American soil. The grave markers were incredible to view; they named the fallen soldiers’  states, and I found a lot from Texas.

Normandy was a wonderful, informative trip, and I highly recommend visiting there.

A plus tard!

Posted in Virginia, Paris | Comments Off

Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain!

Barcelona's Park Guell

Hello, everyone!

Since my last post I have traveled to three countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain. For winter break my friends and I decided to travel up north and visit Brussels, Gent, Bruge, and Amsterdam. The food in Brussels was just incredible; Belgians are known for their mussels, fries, waffles, and chocolate. It was food paradise in my opinion.

We saw the Mannequin Pis, which is a tiny fountain of a little boy “peeing” the water. It’s funny because even though this is a small statue, it is the top site visited in Brussels and seen everywhere in the souvenir shops.

We went to Gent for the day and visited the “Mystic Lamb” altarpiece by Van Eyck, which was breathtaking. The audio guide explained each panel in depth for better understanding of the subject matter, composition, paint, and the artist himself. The colors that Van Eyck used were vivid and gorgeous. My favorite part was the 14 angels surrounding the sacrificial lamb because all of their wings were ombre, starting with dark colors up top then slowly fading into beautiful pastel colors.

After Gent, we left for Brugge, which is in the western part of the country. I would say Brugge was my favorite part of the whole trip. The town is the epitome of charming, with its old medieval streets and classic windmills. We rented bikes and biked throughout the entire town, every nook and cranny. It’s bizarre to see everyone on bikes here in Belgium and the Netherlands, but it’s a great mode of transportation because the streets are so narrow. The windmills were ginormous and so picturesque with the background of the river.

Our last leg of the trip was in Amsterdam. Here we walked everywhere and really got a great sense of the city. The canals are just stunning. We didn’t take the canal cruise because it was too cold, but I hope to one day return in the summer and do it! At the Van Gogh museum it was awesome to view the majority of his works (over 200 paintings!) and to see other artists who took after Van Gogh. I personally loved the painting of the irises, his self-portraits, and the scenic countryside in his south of France landscape paintings.

Last, I visited the Hermitage Museum, which had an incredible exhibition on Rubens, Van Dyck and the Jordaans, which I studied last semester in my Baroque art history class. I never realized just how fortunate we are at SMU to have the Meadows Museum because the collection there could easily rival this exhibition I saw. I can’t wait to return to campus to view Meadows again with a fresh new perspective.

This past weekend I visited Barcelona, Spain, with my friend Sean. I would say Barcelona is my favorite place I have visited thus far. The atmosphere was just blissful with the Mediterranean weather, culture, the laid-back welcoming people, the amazing architectural sites by Antoni Gaudi, and the delicious paella all made this trip just utter bliss. I’ve never fallen so fast in love with a city besides Paris and Vienna.

With a friend at the Sagrada Familia church

We walked all of Barcelona; when I say walked I mean we started from the beach and walked all the way up north covering everything. We saw most of the Gaudi architecture with the beautiful mosaics. At Parc Guell, which he designed himself, it was fascinating to see his manipulation on nature, which nevertheless kept the park very natural.

From up top, one can see all of Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia church is still to this day in construction long after Gaudi’s death. It is here Gaudi is buried beneath his ever-continuing masterpiece. The church was unreal. I loved his use of modern geometrical shapes and colors for the stained glass windows. I was sad to leave Barcelona on Monday, but excited to return home to my Parisian host family to tell them all about my adventures. This next weekend I am traveling with my program IES to Normandy, France. A plus tard!

Posted in Virginia, Paris | Comments Off

Loving Paris

Holding yellow roses, with friends at the Eiffel Tower on my birthday

Hi, everyone!

So this semester I decided to leave SMU to study abroad in Paris for the next four months to gain a better understanding of art history and to become more fluent with my French. It’s weird not to be around campus with the familiar buildings and to have Tex-Mex food weekly, but so far I am just loving Paris!

I live with a great host family in a lovely quiet residential neighborhood close to some great sites, such as the Trocadero and the Arc de Triomphe. I also  get to view the Eiffel Tower every morning when I take the metro to class; the sight of the beautiful tower never loses its grandeur for me.

I am studying with one other SMU student who is also an art history major, amongst many other students from different universities around the country. IES Business and International Affairs is a great program because not only is it a business school, it also offers French, art history and political science classes.

I am enrolled in a very enthralling class about the 2012 presidential elections here in France. It is amazing to read the newspaper (in French, none the less!) about the different candidates and parties all competing against one another to become France’s new president.

The art history class I am taking is about 19th-century French art. As a class, we visit museums weekly to learn about the Impressionists and where they gained inspiration. It is so surreal to take a class in the Louvre in front of the actual painting instead of taking notes in a classroom from an image on a projection screen. I would have to say the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, L’Orangerie and the Georges Pompidou museums are musts for visitors in Paris.

These museums obviously hold some of the greatest artworks (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Olympia, Nympheas, Picassos, etc.) in the world, but one should also visit there because next to these museums are amazing creperies (unfortunately these are tourist traps and can be pricey, but they’re so worth it). Today I visited the Georges Pompidou and had by far the best crepe in all of Paris. It was great because it gave me enough energy and fuel to walk through the massive modern art museum.

The street life is another thing unto itself. The street fashion is incroyable and has that je ne sais quoi about it. It is like a fashion show every day here, even in 30 degree weather. I love taking the metro just to see what coats, accessories, handbags and boots people will be wearing. It’s as if I never left SMU and the Boulevard.

At Versailles

One last thing before I go, IES offers great day trips outside of Paris, and our first trip was to the very glamorous Versailles. The other students and I enjoyed the gorgeous gardens (by Andre Le Notre), the grands appartements, and were given an exclusive tour of the petit appartements where the Royals actually lived. Versailles itself requires a Herculean feat to maintain; with just a little under 2,000 acres of gardens and forest, it’s truly incredible to think that and the chateau have to be well kept because more than 2 million people visit each year!

I can’t wait to start traveling to other countries; it’s wonderful going abroad because here in Europe every country is so close that most are accessible by train – it truly feels like everything is within a fingertip’s reach. Perhaps Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain or Austria for next week? Stay tuned to find out! Pony up!

Posted in Virginia, Paris | Tagged , , , | Comments Off