Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Barcelona- We got to see the SUN

I am not sure what I was expecting with Spain, but I can assure you, my expectations were definitely exceeded. Spain is a beautiful country, thriving with culture and energy. Well, at least Barcelona is. We left icy, dreary Maastricht on Tuesday and flew into a city called Reus, about an hour and a half train ride south of Barcelona. Our first hostel experience was clean, but cramped. Bunk-beds galore. But for the price of 10 euro a night, it was a great stay. Tuesday night we only had time to grab a casual dinner and walk around for a bit. The food at a cheapo tapas restaurant was surprisingly good for the price. We already tasted some of the Mediterranean flavor with olives, fresh cheese, and seafood.

Wednesday was a bit cold and gray, but we were happy to have weather in the 50s rather than Maastricht 20s. We walked down Las Ramblas, the main drag of shops and sights in Barcelona. This street includes vendors selling "las hamsters mas pequenos del mundo" (smallest hamsters in the world) as well as souvenirs, tapas, and other odds and ends. The street is packed with various street performers, like the metallic people you see in New Orleans times 10. Most of our group wanted to dawdle, so Stephanie and I split off from the group in order to see a bit more of the city and explore.

We met back up at the Picasso Museum. I did not know much about Picasso, but his artwork is not all about cubism and bizarre colors and shapes. His early work is quite beautiful and inspiring. He lived in Paris, the south of France, and called Barcelona home. I really loved the museum-- I'd recommend it to anyone making a trip to Barcelona.

To supplement our day of Picasso, we enjoyed our best meal in Barcelona at the "4 Cats" restaurant where Picasso was a frequent customer. He also designed the menu covers back in the day. This restaurant is reservations only-- we found that out the night before. If you are late, your table is gone. People were like vultures outside the restaurant waiting to get in. We didn't know it was that famous! It was a great meal though, with lots of atmosphere and personality.

Thursday morning we awoke to beautiful sunlight. Coincidentally, this was the day we switched hostels to one located on the beachside of Barcelona. It timed out perfectly. We had some various sight-seeing plans for the day, but when we saw the coast and felt the sunshine, we couldn't help but change into shorts and enjoy the rest of the afternoon just sitting on the beach watching surfers and taking in much needed vitamin D.

I got to try the famous "Spanish tortilla"-- a potato omelette. It was quite delicious, served with toast that had olive oil and tomatoes on it.

Later that night, we went to another tapas bar. Joel ordered all three "meat" tapas. Go figure. From left to right-- tuna, veal, and shrimp.

For our last full day in Barcelona, we went to the huge open air market St. Joseph's, and later saw some Gaudi architecture. It was gray and cold that day, so we stayed in that night and rested up for our journey back on Saturday.

Casa Batllo, La Sagrada Familia, and Casa Mila.

Our train ride on Saturday was at sunrise along the coastline of Spain. I took this when everyone else was asleep. :)

Leaving Spain on our Ryan Air flight. Such a great trip!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mougins, France

Little town
It's a quiet villlage
Every day
Like the one before
Little town
Full of little people
Waking up to say....
Bonjour, bonjour
Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour!

This quaint little village in the south of France is just what one might think of when they hear that song from Beauty and the Beast. Well, maybe what it would have been like a few centuries ago. Now a tourist town, this village was once just a quiet little area in the mountainside. I don't know the history of it, but today the town is full of exquisite restaurants and beautiful, original artwork. Our voyage to Mougins (pronounced Moo-jahn, with little emphasis on the "n" and no "s" sound) was quite a voyage. The weather was unusually cold in the area, with snow and ice ending up canceling our flight from Brussels to Nice. We flew to Marseilles late Thursday night, stayed in a hotel for a couple of hours to rest, and took the earliest train from Marseilles to Cannes. When I wasn't sleeping, I noticed that the train ride was beautiful- full of sun and coastline.

A person from the hotel met us at Cannes train station. Another obstacle appeared-- our driver could not reach the hotel because it was on the top of a steep hill/mountain? and the ice was covering the roads. We ended up having to switch cars-- to a more SUV type, and then we finally arrived around 11 AM Friday. The hotel was unique, unlike any I have been to. It was more like a refined lodge in terms of architecture. No huge lobby or high ceilings. It was stunningly beautiful, filled with large open windows, impressionist art, and ornate decorations. Yet it all had a "natural" feel to it, like you were taking in the nature of the south of France, and not just the decadence of a hotel. Okay, enough about the hotel. After checking in, we were treated to some spa appointments for the afternoon and had a wonderful lunch in the hotel restaurant. Exhausted, we slept during the afternoon on Friday. Which, I wish we could have avoided, because Friday was our most beautiful day weather-wise.

Saturday was rather dreary weather, but we got to see where the Cannes Film Festival takes place every year, which was a treat for me. Our driver on Saturday casually mentioned that he "worked with" Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie when they came into town for the festival. Huh. He said that Tarantino was indeed strange, and that Brad and Angelina were nice. Oh, and he loves George Clooney. Says he is really funny and a great guy.

Saturday night we had the most delicious food at a restaurant in the village. Joel had some kind of prawn appetizer and I had some kind of ravioli with truffles (as in fancy mushrooms). The entree and dessert was great as well. Hands down, Joel and I both agree that France has had the best food so far. I know that may be cliche, but it is so true. Hands down, THE best food I've ever eaten. My favorite dessert was from Friday night actually-- a chocolate tart dessert served with salted caramel ice cream. SO delicious and the perfect balance of flavor.

Sunday was Valentines Day. As always, Joel made it a perfect day. He made sure that I had a bouquet of flowers and not only chocolates, but Parisian chocolates. He is the best- I can't even tell you.

We spent our last hours in Mougins finally getting to see the village. We had missed it on Friday because of our exhaustion and Saturday because of the weather. But Sunday was a blessing-- we were able to stroll through the village, I took about 200 pictures, and we bought art. Yes, I spent Valentines Day strolling through the south of France buying art. What a dream.

Here are some pictures from the village. We flew back to Brussels later that afternoon and were back in Maastricht Sunday night.

Monday, February 8, 2010



I do not even know where to start. Paris was a dream. I didn't know how much I would enjoy it because people say you usually love it or hate it, but I absolutely loved it. PARIS, JE T'AIME all the way. Getting to Paris didn't take that long, but we were a bit surprised on the way there to find out that the train we were counting on to get us there "did not exist". SO- long story short, we had to pay to take the high speed train from Brussels to Paris on Thursday night. We checked in to our little hostel called "Le Regent Montmartre" and got settled. Upon getting to our rooms, we learned that this place was more like a hotel than a hostel. We each had a private bathroom and the room I was in even had a balcony overlooking Montmartre.

On Friday we woke up and had breakfast at our hotel- it was great. Cappuccinos and croissants galore! for free! (well, included in our hotel stay). The weather forecast for Friday was 90% chance of rain, so I wore athletic, water proof gear for our bike tour, thinking we would be biking in cold rain. Well, it turns out Friday was our most beautiful day- so in all of the sunny pictures, I have the ultra Baylor style of Nike shorts with leggings in our pictures. Cute.

Our bike tour was great though- we saw a lot of the main attractions in Paris- the Eiffel Tower of course, the Louvre, Napoleon's tomb, and lots of Parisian government buildings. We stopped for lunch and got to try CREPES! One was ham and cheese, the other was butter and powdered sugar. The bike tour, although leisurely, wore us out by the late afternoon. We headed back to our hotel and got ready for dinner. We asked our reception in the hotel where a good place to eat would be. They were so helpful and made reservations for us at a nearby bistro! I had three courses- first, goat cheese with eggplant, second, filet mignon with mashed potatoes, and third, tarte tatin (traditional french dessert with apples and caramel liquor sauce).

After dinner, we decided to go see the Louvre at night and see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. It was really beautiful. We also visited the famous Moulin Rouge on the way back to the hotel because it was close to where we were in Montmartre.


On Saturday I wanted to visit Sacre Couer (the huge, white church in Montmartre) Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and walk the Champs Elysees. I am surprised to say that I actually got to see all of these things! The pictures can speak for themselves.

I was so excited to get a picture in this spot because one of my favorite movies was filmed here. It is a French film called Amelie. The scene takes place right by this carousel then continues up towards Sacre Couer. I also went to a cafe where the movie took place called Cafe Deux Moulin (but that can wait til the Sunday section).
Here is some of our group- from left to right- Randall, Courtney, Grant, Natalie, Kenzie, Stephanie and that's me on the end. I met these wonderful girls when I got here and we have been having a great time.

Stephanie and I at Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe!

Saturday night we celebrated Courtney's birthday. How awesome is that- to have your 21st birthday in Paris?? We went out to eat, walked around the city, and went to a bar. At dinner, I had the best dessert. I know I talk about food a lot, but seriously, this was amazing. It was fried bananas with nutella and whipped cream. Soo good. Joel, Jeff, and Natalie stuck with creme brulee, which was awesome as well. Stephanie actually met up with her FRENCH friend, Helene, who helped us get around the city! It was great.


Sunday was so hard to wake up, but we did. We got up and ate breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and headed for the Champs Elysees to go to the acclaimed dessert place, Laduree.
Before leaving the Montmartre area, I dashed over to the cafe called, Cafe les 2 Moulin (the two windmills). It is one of the major places Amelie was filmed, so of course I got pictures of it! There were actually 2 other people snapping pictures there (2 men with nice SLRs) so I didn't feel so foolish walking in the cafe, snapping pictures, and leaving.

I was thrilled to get some shots of it. On the left is from the movie and obviously on the right is when I took it on Sunday. So cool.

On the left is Joel and I walking down the Champs Elysees. Stephanie took a candid for me. I always like candids better than posed pictures- they actually capture a moment, not just a place and a fake smile.

But, posed are good too, as we are in front of Laduree, the dessert place on the Champs Elysees. Best desserts you will ever eat in your life.

We had a calm Sunday as we left Paris and headed back to Maastricht. Can't wait to head back the first weekend in March to see the art in the Louvre & Musee D' Orsay and to visit Versailles!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Monschau, Germany

I forgot to post about Monschau, our little excursion last Saturday as a whole group. I'll let this one be short and sweet. Because, well, that's kind of what Monschau was like. It is a picturesque village of German houses and shops in the valley of a mountain.

It is mainly a tourist town, specializing in food, drink, beautiful sights, and expensive candies and souvenirs. It was fascinating walking around in this little winter wonderland. We drove about 2 hours from Maastricht on a chartered bus, and arrived in time for lunch.

The lunch was fabulous-- typical German schnitzel with potatoes and three sauces to try on them. Many people in our group tried the traditional German beer with the meal. I'm not a fan of beer so I passed, but I will say the fruity Belgian beer in Maastricht is the only one I have ever liked! It's pretty girly. After a couple of hours of roaming the village in a light snowfall, and after trying homemade gingerbread and chocolates, we boarded the bus back to Maastricht.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Starting School in Maastricht

These pictures are in the town square in Maastricht.

The time has finally come for our traveling escapades to come to a close and for us to focus on school again (that is, Monday through Thursday). Let me back up a bit- After we came back from London, we walked around Maastricht and got a tour of the school and the places around it. Our walk to school is about 20-25 minutes. If I have kids, I can honestly say to them, "I walked twenty minutes to school- in the snow!!" It is truly a different experience here. No shorts, ever. No t-shirts, ever. It is always layers upon layers of clothing and sturdy boots. Always wet, always cold.
I had my first class yesterday, Intro to Psychology, which was great. A Baylor professor, Dr. Hodges, is over here with us and she has been so helpful and fantastic. I was supposed to have my first Maastricht class today, Modernism and Beyond, but our teacher is sick so we don't have class today. Hence, here I am blogging away. For this class though, we have 7 books to read! But I already read two of them in high school (Heart of Darkness and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) so it will be okay. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I have Psychology and Dutch Art History. I am also concentrating on my independent film study (Globalization of the Film Industry in Western Europe).
Yesterday, after coming back from school, I saw two Baylor guys playing frisbee in the snow. I just had to join them. Who ever gets the chance to play frisbee in the snow? Afterwards, it was my idea to build a snowman. I don't think I have built a snowman since I was in 2nd grade (when it snowed in Mobile). It was so much fun. Here we are with our snowman!