Monday, May 30, 2011

Hello From Prague!

This morning the ever-lovely Alexandra and I woke up in the Czech Republic after falling asleep in Switzerland and have been exploring Prague ever since.  We are staying at the Hostel Downtown (so far clean and a prime location, our two main requirements) and have had delicious hot chocolate at the Cafe Louvre, a hangout of Kafka and Einstein!  Prague is beautiful and captivating - a lot like Budapest, actually - and we are entranced by the sunlight on the water and the golden roofs.
Again, thank you so much for your patience with all the erratic posting...  I promise that you will actually get updates when I am back home in Paris!
Do any of you have any suggestions for things we cannot miss in Prague?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Italy thus far

Hello, blog readers!
Sorry for the lack of posting for the past week - we have intermittent internet access and so unfortunately updates may be few and far between. However, I promise that in about two weeks you will have not only a very detailed description of what we've done and where we've been, but also photos.
We were in Venice for three days - a place I'd never been - and are now in Florence, and words cannot express how amazing Italy is. The lovely Alexandra and I have spent our days wandering cobbled streets, ducking into churches, climbing towers, seeing incredible Renaissance art, and sampling all the gelato we can get our hands on. Currently, in Florence, a gelato festival is underway, which is pretty amazing, if I do say so....
Tomorrow is on to Milan and then to Prague after an overnight train, so I hope to be able to make at least a couple morer updates on this whirlwind adventure!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Short Stop

Though we leave Vienna today, it feels like we've already seen so much. This morning we attended a matinee performance at the 1930s-esque Staatsoper Theatre and Opera House where a cellist and pianist played Mahler, Beethoven, and Schubert. We continued onwards to the High Gothic St Stephen's Cathedral in the middle of the old city, a church with ornate stone scrolls over the arches and numerous gargoyles peeking out from behind the spires. From the cathedral tower we could see the shining multicolored tiled roof and the rest of the old city (and the myriad churches) laid out before us. Inside the church we were greeted with the familiar smell of candle wax and incense and some of the most striking stained-glass windows I've ever seen. Onward from there to Cafe Central, home of thick hot chocolate and frequented by Trotsky and Freud back in the day. Tonight we continue on to the night train - my first ever - and Venice tomorrow morning!

A side note - I am very very sorry if my constant posts on my travels are boring you, but I use this blog as a way to remember what has been happening to me on this whirlwind of three weeks with Alexandra before real life begins. Thank you so much for your infinite patience, blog readers!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hello from Vienna!

The lovely Alexandra and I have made it to Vienna - today the 21 days of our EuRail pass have started! Vienna is lovely and I can't believe the Baroque architecture, the thick chocolate, and the constant thrum of the city. When I think of Vienna I usually think of the pearl of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Beethoven and pastries, but it seems to be way more than that...
Tomorrow Alexandra and I are going to a concert and then onwards to Venice! A whirlwind of a trip, for sure, but so exciting!

Friday, May 20, 2011


Today Alexandra and her mother and I went to the Szechenyi Baths in the park - a combination of a pool and a summer palace and grand Roman or Turkish baths. Wandering from room to room, dipping in and out of warm and then cold pools, sitting in tiled benches... The whole thing was absolutely amazing. If you end up in Budapest, I highly, highly recommend a trip there!
Pictures to follow, I promise!

Hello From Budapest!

Alexandra, her mother and I have met up in Budapest, and already our Europe adventure has started. We have visited the cathedral on the hill and walked over the Danube and climbed the towers of St Stephen's Basilica. Later today we are going to the outdoor baths, which is apparently one of the things we must do while we're here! I love this city, the shining domes and glittering tiled roofs and the beautiful accented language. Have you been to Budapest? What did you think?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Budapest and Beyond!

Tomorrow I leave at some early hour for Orly and then to Budapest to meet the amazing Alexandra for our trip 'round the world (well, Europe).  I'm incredibly excited, but in that excitement is the scariness of leaving my family for more than three weeks and the challenge of fitting all my stuff in a carry-on bag.  However, The Hairpin (one of my favourite websites ever) recently featured a question thing on how to pack and what to pack for a Europe trip much like ours.  While I might not be packing any rompers and skorts because, um, I don't own any (my little sister does - maybe I can borrow hers?  Probably not), I am taking skirts and tank-tops and my one pair of shorts with me, and hoping to God that this limited wardrobe will last me this long without getting stained or torn or otherwise destroyed.  Also, you can wash things in foreign cities, right?
Guys - posting will be somewhat erratic for the next three weeks but I'll be back with pictures and happiness and a whole lot of stories.
Alexandra - see you tomorrow!

Goodbye, Ariel! And the Marais

Today was Ariel's last morning here in Paris.  We've had a hectic week of sight-seeing and card-playing and the like, and now she's headed back to Boston.  We visited my favourite places - the Rodin garden, Shakespeare & Co, Le Loir Dans Le Théière - and the things you kind of have to do - the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre - as well as hanging out with the family.
Last night we got all dressed up (who cares if it was Tuesday?) and went out for cocktails in the Marais.  The lovely thing about summer here is that the sun doesn't set until after nine and so the whole world smelled like summertime and the air was warm and balmy.  The Marais had its doors opening onto the streets and you could hear French and English and German and Japanese chattering through the windows and in the metro and across the Seine.  While I have to admit that summer isn't my favourite by a long shot, the warm weather and the outdoors-ness it inspires is kind of beautiful, no?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunday Supper

Today I am making roast chicken.  It was supposed to happen yesterday, but there was miscommunication and, well, I'm making it today.  It has a paprika spice rub and is served with roasted garlic.
Roast chicken seems like a Sunday supper meal to me.  We didn't really have any tradition around eating together on Sundays specifically, with chicken, but it was something my family did every so often when I was in high school.  I remember sitting with my knees drawn up in front of the kitchen woodstove balancing my history reading or statistics homework on my legs and seeing my father make a meal around me.  Sometimes it was Tuscan chicken with homemade olive bread and lime-curd tart and sometimes it was other chickens or meat served in the old terracotta roasting pan and apple crisp or chess pie and sometimes it was just sautéed green beans when we didn't have much time.  I loved getting asked to set the table on Sundays and making sure that the wood was clean from bread crumbs or the newspaper from earlier that day and making sure that the silverware lined up with the five square plates.  We ate together almost every night - we still do - but there was something special about Sunday suppers, after a day of being together and around the house with the crossword and unfinished schoolwork and books to read, something about Sunday that made that particular meal more serene, full of togetherness.
Do you have any particular times with your family like that?

Paris touristique

One of the neat things about having Ari here this week is that I get to go and do all of the tourist-ey things that I never do while living here.  It just doesn't seem like it makes sense to visit museums and churches when I'm living here for six months - I spend more time at bookstores and cafés and gardens.  But in the next couple days, I'm showing her around to all of the classic Paris places - Notre Dame and the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower - and I have to admit, it's really really fun.
What are some of your favourite things to do in Paris?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Happy Weekend, everyone!

I'm not doing a Wanderlust post this friday because in less than a week my friend Alexandra and I are going on our Eurail trip and for three weeks you'll have so much travel stuff that you'll be sick of it!
However, Ariel is here on her first trip to Paris - we've been to see Saint-Chapelle, the Rodin garden, and the Eiffel Tower yesterday, and today we visited Saint-Sulpice and window-shopped up and down St-Germain.
Also, for good measure, here is another tent picture, a picture that to me means summer (which is here in full force) and best friends and secrets told in the backyard by flashlight.  Have a good weekend, lovely blog readers!
photo from here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Things I'm Bad At

I'm really bad at being a girl, apparently.
Today an Englishman wanted to take a picture of my hair on the way back from class and I almost ran away.  Any other day would have been fine (that's not true), but today it was a jumble of uncombed hair tumbling down my back.  What was worse was the conversation we had about it.
Him: "So what do you use?"
Me: "Use?"
Him:  "Yeah, what colour?"
Me: "Colour?"
Him: "What company makes your hair colour?"
Me: "Um, genetics incorporated?  I don't know."
Him: "You mean you don't dye it?"
Me: "Um, no?"
Him:  "Oh.  Well, walk me through your hair care ritual."
Me: "Wash it, put conditioner in, braid it or not, and go out when it's dry.  Who are you again?"
Him:  "So what products do you use?"
Me:  "Shampoo.  And conditioner.  And can I go now?"
Him:  "What about volumizer?"
Me:  "Come again?"
Him: "Volumizer."
Me:  "They make that stuff?"
This went on for a while, and after he asked me what makeup I used and I said chapstick, I knew I was in a bad situation.  The thing is, my mother doesn't wear that much makeup or put things in her hair, and neither do most people I know.
Have you ever been in a situation where you just felt totally out of your league?
Also, random guy on the street, who were you?!
(photo from here, I think)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Earrings and Ursula

Yesterday my sister came home with little garnet studs in her ears.  Part of it made me want to cry.  My baby sister looked so beautiful and grown up, with her hair up and with earrings in her ears.  Things like this make me realize that I can't keep her little forever.
We share a room, and so often I come in late while she's sleeping, curled up and kittenish, and when I get into bed she murmurs a milky "goodnight" and rolls over again.  She seems so young and vulnerable asleep, and still so young when we're awake - a firecracker full of ideas and indignation and energy.  And for some reason piercing her ears seems like such a step towards adulthood and grown-up life.
I don't want her to grow up.  I love her ideas and her optimism and her anger at how the world is turning out.  I love her intolerance for stupidity and her certainty and the way she roller-skates up and down the sidewalk.  And, yes, I love that she wanted earrings so much that we finally gave in now that she's twelve.
Ursula, you look beautiful and grown up and it's so lovely to get to see you figure things out.  I love you.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Today in French class (my first day of Alliance Francaise!) we were asked what kind of animal we would like to be (we were practicing the conditional).  Most people said things like "cat" or "bird" - though we had one chimpanzee - but I wanted to be a whale, une baleine.  Why?  I'm not entirely sure.  Maybe it's because I'm crazy about the ocean, maybe it's because of Whale Rider, maybe it's because unlike everyone else except for Mike (hi, darling!) I loved Moby Dick - I'm not really sure.  They seem majestic and noble and wise and kind, somehow.  But it's nice to know that I'm not alone in the whale thing.
People (who aren't me) like whales.  They think they look cool enough to be the basis for design inspiration (I especially love the woodblock-style sperm whale designs).  Short Story Design has a roundup  of pretty whale things.  The incredibly talented Dylan Meconis (of Family Man) has an incredible Moby Dick print hanging inside her house (scroll towards the bottom - it's the huge white whale on the wall).  And Apartment Therapy has a thing on sea creatures which include whales.
On second thought, maybe it's because I grew up in New England and on the shore everyone has little whale weathervanes that I like whales... or maybe I just like the idea of constant movement and water and stuff.
(whale poster from here)

Mother's Day

Yesterday was mother's day, and so my family went to Buttes Chaumont for a picnic.  It's the closest thing to the Arboretum in the city, with hills of people picnicking, man-made lakes, and a fake Roman temple (no joke).  It's also populated almost entirely by locals - since it's off the tourist track, the only language around us was French.  We took turns reading poetry and eating paté... a pretty great mother's day, all in all.
Happy belated mother's day, Mommy!  I love you!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wanderlust: Austria Edition

Hi guys, happy Saturday!  Sorry it's a day late!
But you know where I would like to go today?  Vienna.  Home of classical music.  And the Alps, because today would be a beautiful day for hiking.  So how about it?
I've heard incredible things about Vienna - coffeeshops and music and gardens and a city alive with history.  This is a photo of the Christmas market - doesn't it look like something out of a fairytale?

And hiking is one of those things my family takes somewhat seriously - because it's just so lovely to be up in the mountains with a view of the whole world, nothing but clean air and alpine flowers around you...

Also, I loved The Sound of Music when I was little.
Happy weekend!
Photos from here and here

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Happy Friday morning, dear blog readers!  It's been a lovely week here in Paris - and thank you for indulging my obsession to tell you all about my holiday.  It was really fun to relive it, but please please please let me know if I'm boring you and I'll change the subject.
It's also nice that we've had some sunshine in Paris this past week or so - it's chilly on my morning run, but as the day progresses dappled light shines through the tall pruned trees and the buildings make strange shadows.  It also means that in the flower shop below our apartment flowers that bloom in late spring at home - mid May to early June - are out in full force.  We bought gorgeous tree peonies for May Day and now they have the normal ruffly kind out, too!  I think that peonies might be my favourite flower - such a fragrant and elegant harbinger of warm weather, don't you think?
In other news, Mother's Day is on Sunday - I'll post a list of possible gifts later today.  Also, unrelated, after I finished Infinite Jest, I haven't been able to find much to read.  Any suggestions?
Thank you!  Have a lovely morning!
(photo from here)


Back in Paris - especially the apartment - is lovely year round, but it's even more lovely now that the trees have leaves.  It makes it less exposed and cocoons our windows and bathes our dining room in soft, summer-green light.  Stepping out on the balcony means stepping out into a world completely different from the street, a world of green, open-air privacy where it feels like you could jump from the wrought-iron railing into the branches of the sycamore just about a metre away.  Sometimes waking up, crossing the room sleepily to open the curtains, is like waking up in a treehouse, and it feels cool and summery and verdant.
At home, we haven't got a tree like this so close to the house - or at least not right outside my bedroom window.  And our part of Paris is all streets lined with trees and quiet parks with statues and gardens, so spring has entered the city.  It feels like just yesterday that it was February and I had just gotten here!
Photo from Marie Claire Maison

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April Holiday: Spain: Cordoba (flamenco)

On Saturday night, we went to see a flamenco performance as kind of a last hurrah in Spain.  We generally go to see flamenco once a year in Boston at places like the Wang Theatre or the Opera House, but this place was different.  A long room with tables meant that although we were close to the back of the room, we were closer to the action than we'd ever been before.  And it was incredible.
First a woman and a man danced together, then a woman alone, then four women together, and then the man came back alone.  I love flamenco - my darling sister used to take classes at the Dance Complex - and these guys were good.  Hair up, long ruffly skirts, poise... it's such a cool art form.  Way more sensual than ballet, and watching it in Cordoba was magical.
The next day we drove up to Madrid and home to Paris!
Have you seen flamenco?  What did you think?
(photo from here)

April Holiday: Spain: Cordoba (the Mezquita)

Almost done, I promise!
On Friday, the day after we had been to the Alhambra, we packed up and headed to Cordoba.  This was possibly the place I was the most excited about going on our entire trip.  In senior year, I had chosen to do a senior project on Islamic geometry and the history of the Cordoba Caliphate - the period of Muslim rule in Spain.  My project advisor and I spent hours looking at photos of the Mezquita and reading Arabic poetry about the structure of the universe.  We read about the culture of tolerance for the other "peoples of the book" that was destroyed in the Spanish Inquisition.  We talked about the Greek works translated into Arabic and brought back to Europe and about the origins of flamenco.  I wrote a paper on the mosque, or the Mezquita.  And to actually see it was incredible.
We visited the Mezquita on Saturday, and it took my breath away.  Thousands of red-and-white striped double arches stretching into infinity in the hugeness of the space.  There was none of the intricate stucco-work or zellij we saw at the Alhambra or in Fes - this was a kind of grandeur and simplicity I'd never seen before.
Nothing really prepares you for going in.  The vaulted ceilings and the arches make the space feel huge - I've been in an awful lot of churches with vaulted ceilings and stained glass reaching to the sky, but I've never felt so small in a building in my entire life.  There were easily a thousand people or more in the mosque, but it was easy to feel like you were maybe the only one there.
The Mezquita was built on what had once been a Visigoth Cathedral, which had been built on the site of a Roman temple, which had been built on what some believe to be a holy pagan site with standing stones.  The Ummayads, who built the mosque, borrowed heavily from the Roman ruins around Cordoba (which had once been a Roman outpost), taking capitals and columns and even the arches from aqueducts.  When they expanded the mosque and had no more Roman capitals and columns, they fake-antiqued some of their materials to look like they had come from Roman sites.  Even the red-and-white stripe pattern on the arches - done in alternating shades of brick - was inspired by the vestiges of Roman architecture.
Have you been to Cordoba?  Do you want to go?  Did you visit the Mezquita?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

April Holiday: Spain: Granada

We arrived in Spain in the midst of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which was quite an experience!  I have to admit, it was really a little scary at first.  Troops of men in purple and white Ku Klux Klan - esque robes and hats, carrying statues through the streets...  My first reaction was to think back to my US History classes from sophomore year and the segregated South, but after a while it wasn't so startling and I could understand more of the magic and mystery of Spanish Catholicism.
For that first evening, we wandered around the old town of Granada before settling in to eat delicious tapas at a local restaurant (and watch a very upsetting Madrid-Barcelona game in which Barcelona lost), and tried to get to sleep at a reasonable hour for all the things we were going to do the next day.
Our second day in Granada we got to see the Alhambra.  I had wanted to visit it for years, and so in the afternoon we visited the main gardens and the Generalife before returning at ten-thirty to see the rest.  It's as magical as everything you've ever heard, and seeing it at night - the lit-up town below, the intricate stucco on the windows, the golden Arabic poetry climbing to the arched and inlaid ceilings - took my breath away.  We wandered through the Boat Room, where each geometrical piece of the arches had been painted different colours, and through the Hall of the Myrtles, where the moon (almost full!) glistened over the long reflecting pool.
If you ever get a chance to go to the Alhambra, even if it's like us and you get the last tickets for ten-thirty at night, go.  It's exquisite and one of the most stunning examples of Moorish architecture in the world.  Just thinking about the artists who painted the ceilings and made the tiles and painstakingly applied gold leaf to the windows is overwhelming, don't you think?
Have you ever been to the Alhambra?  What did you think?  If you haven't, would you like to go?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Books and Rainy Paris

Today I went on a roundabout walk through the silvered rainy streets of Paris, on a quest for the three books my darling brother needs for his AP exam.  Boots squelching on the pavement, I wandered all the way from Denfert-Rochereau and through the Jardin du Luxembourg to the ever-lovely Shakespeare & Co, probably my favourite bookstore in all of Paris.  More crowded than usual, probably because of the rain, I found two of the books (Macbeth and Great Expectations) that I was looking for, but because of their limited Coetzee section, I kept going, across the river and into the Marais to find The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop and hopefully Age of Iron.
The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop is run by my sister's friend's mother, and is adorable.  While it isn't as cluttered and historic as Shakespeare & Co, it feels more like the bookstores I visit at home and has a far superior children's section (a godsend for Ursula's birthday) and way more Coetzee... which was what I needed!
I loved visiting the bookstores and finding the books for my darling brother, but I also love walking through Paris.  I love the bridges and the grey-green Seine, watching Notre Dame rise up out of the river like a great-skirted giantess from the back, the flying buttresses elegant and strange.  I love winding my way back through the Left Bank to get home again, the steady drip of rain on my umbrella and the puddles expanding across the pavement.
Have you been to Paris?  Did you walk through the city?  What did you think?

April Holiday: Morocco: Tetouan and Tangier

We arrived in Tetouan in the rain - a town near the coast where we were obviously the only tourists in the town (maybe ever).  From what we could tell, it's not a very popular tourist destination, but it's beautiful and real, and we spent an enjoyable hour or two wandering the medina and peeking into antique shops (we eventually bought a 1930s candelabra thing).  From Tetouan it was back to Tangier.
If Fes is the heart of the Morocco that I saw, the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a place that it would take years to know the street names, let alone understand the city, Tangier is a little more like the Isabella Stewart Gardener in Boston.  It's little and intimate and really quite beautiful - somewhat confusing but you'll figure it out in maybe a month or two.  But it was only a quick night at Riad Tanja (La Tangerina, sadly, was closed) where we had an incredible meal and then up the next morning to take the ferry to Spain for five days....