Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Paris Day 1: Notre Dame, Pont des Arts

Coucou ! C'est Aurélie et mes parents et moi, nous avons passé trois jours à Paris. J'ai plusieurs photos à vous montrer. Je vais commencer avec les photos de mon premier jour...

For those of you who don't speak French, my parents and I spent three days in Paris. Although I have been there numerous times, going is still a wonderful treat. We covered a lot of ground, and I'd love to share my highlights with you. 

My family and I stayed in an apartment-hotel close to the Opéra Bastille. This opera house is very modern, and in my opinion, doesn't "fit in" with this part of Paris; it would look better closer to La Défense. It was inaugurated by president François Mitterand as apart of his Grands Travaux- his plan to build more modern buildings in Paris. The Bastille was completed in 1990 near the location of the infamous Bastille prison and became the main building for the Opéra National de Paris. Operas are mainly showed there, but so are ballets and symphonies. My parents and I went to an opera there, but it wasn't my thing. I much prefer the ballets and symphonies...especially the ballets. I'll be back in March to see Le lac des cygnes! I can't wait!

(I accidentally deleted my photo of the building...)

So, my parents and I decided to walk to Notre Dame de Paris. We passed through the 5th and 6th arrondissements (which contain parts of the Quartier Latin where my acquaintance Christelle and her sister Marie-Christine live). We passed thPanthéon, which used to be a church dedicated to Sainte Geneviève. It later evolved into a mausoleum for some of the greatest in French history. Sabine's favorites (Voltaire, Zola, and Rousseau) have been laid to rest there, alongside one of my favorites. I like Zola, too, but I'm specifically thinking of another person. I wonder who that is?

Any guesses?

That would be Victor Hugo, author of Notre Dame de Paris and Les Misérables, He wrote several more, but I think these are the two the majority of my readers would know best. You might know Notre Dame de Paris by its other title, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. No, Hugo's work is not happy like Disney's movie. Quasimodo, Frollo, and Esmerelda are also characters in Hugo's novel, but Hugo's work is more focused on the cathedral itself. He was upset that the church's Gothic architecture was overlooked in favor of more modern buildings. He was also angry that some of the stained-glass windows were replaced with white glass. As Hugo states in Notre Dame de Paris, "Paris est nécomme on sait, dans cette vieille île de la Cité qui a la forme d'un berceau." Although the cathedral most likely wasn't the first building in Paris, the île de la Cité on which it was built is probably the oldest area, probably because it was surrounded by water which meant better protection in the Middle Ages. The city of Paris just grew around that île!

Let's take a look inside:




You could really say that Paris was born near Notre Dame; after all, that's where you can find the point zéro marker (the point that basically indicates that all roads lead to Paris).

The sun was setting, so I thought it would be a nice time to take a photo with the Seine in the background. 

Can you spot another famous Parisian monument in this photo? (Hint: it's kind-of blurry.)

I also had to get a photo in front of the famous locks on the Pont des Arts. In the daytime, artists line this bridge and the areas around it. Couples and friends write their names on the lock, lock it on the bridge, and throw the key in the Seine. The locks are slowly filling up the Pont Neuf because their weight is weighing down the Pont des Arts.

This is just Day 1; more Paris posts are on their way. 

Bisous,
Aurélie

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I'll be in Albi!

Bonsoir, tout le monde ! C'est encore Sabine et j'aimerais vous montrer mes photos d'Albi. 

So, I guess I should post about my adventures in another medieval southern town, Albi. Albi isn't too far from Toulouse or Carcassonne, actually. It is located in the Tarn department of the région Midi-Pyrénées. So, where should I begin?

I'll state the obvious: lots of steps. Lots and lots and lots of steps. Lots of steps means lots of tripping, and lots of tripping means several almost-face-plants. Even though I basically put myself in danger with all these stairs, I prefer to walk. Yeah, we could have easily taken the bus from the train station to centre-ville, but you miss so much by being a bus. Walking really allows you to take everything in.

So after the first "hike", my first sight was the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi.

Here's a better photo. It was being renovated, so we didn't get the chance to go inside. This church is the center of the town, as are most churches in towns in France. It was constructed when heresy filled the town of Albi. The style is Gothic, but it is more of a Southern Gothic due to the construction with bricks. 

The hike to the town was pretty tiring, and I thought it would be a good idea to rest our legs and grab a bite to eat so we had more energy for sightseeing. Aurélie took some great photos of me along one of the narrow, stone streets.


Isn't this restaurant just the cutest? We didn't eat there, though.

Although Albi is best known for its cathedral, it is also known for its impressive bridges. Here I am by one of them:






The view was breathtaking! 

You can see the cathedral in the background when looking at the other bridge. The sun was in the way, so it's not the best photo:



In good old adventurous Sabine Bouchard fashion, I just HAD to walk along the river Tarn. 

That walk included one heck of a descend first, though! But look at these sights! It was so worth it! I'm completely fascinated by all things "old", and these ancient ramparts were no exception. I really wished that the blocked off portion was open to the public. I'll have to come back once the safety improvements are finished. 



After we walked along the river, we began the climb to the courtyard gardens. Pretty, right? 

There were no benches on the way up, and did I discover how out-of-shape I am or what?! My type of physical activity involves riding my bike though the city (city as in Lille, my hometown). Aurélie was a real trooper with all of this walking. Hey, she's a dancer; she's used to being on her feet! I guess that doesn't make it any better since she wanted to sit down, too. One of her blisters was irritating her. 

Oh, but all of that walking was totally worth it because the gardens were amazing!

How can you not fall in love with the gardens or the view? What's not to love? I mean, this is absolutely breathtaking. It's incredible to think how something this old has really withstood the test of time. I couldn't believe it. Again, I really felt like I went back in time. 

 Aurélie totally claims that this entire town (especially the ramparts and the garden) reminds her of Sleeping Beauty- the animated Disney version. Of course she'd be in love; it's her favorite ballet, favorite Disney movie, and Aurora is her favorite princess. I beg to differ since that movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. It still kind-of does. It's pretty dark for a Disney movie.


We had to take the TER bus back to Bénédicte's house in Toulouse. I was completely wiped out; I fell asleep as soon as the bus started rolling. From what I heard, I missed a pretty bumpy ride. Hey, I'm accustomed to uncomfortable car trips. I have been squished in the backseat in between my brother and sister in Renault Megane while our parents were in the front seats hoping we wouldn't kill each other. Sibling arguments almost caused a few accidents along the A25 autoroute, but that's what you get for stuffing your three, almost-adult children in the backseat of a small car. (Aurélie is an only child, so she obviously doesn't understand the suffering that happens on family car trips; she just laughs. My American friend Lilly laughs, too, since she's an only child as well. She says that she usually lies down in the backseats and naps. Lucky.)

So, I hope you enjoyed the photos of my trip to Albi! My country has so much to offer, and that's what I love. I love touring these almost-unknown small towns. They really are hidden gems. The cities are nice, but every once in awhile, I like to step off the beaten path and explore the little places. 

What do you think? What are some of your favorite "hidden gem" towns?

~Sabine

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Carcassonne, France

Bonjour, tout le monde! C'est Sabine et ce week-end, je suis allée à Carcassonne. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with Carcassonne, it is a small town located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region; it is best known for the Cité de Carcassonne, a small portion of the city with roots dating back to the Middle Ages. This was my first time visiting the town, and I am definitely not disappointed.

Here is a photo of me near one of the fountains. Enjoy seeing me without glasses; it won't last. It was drizzly, and glasses and rain do not mix.  

Before I made the trek to the Cité, I stopped by the Cathédrale Saint-Michel. It was built in the 13th century.

The church was undergoing some routine renovations, so I didn't take any photos of the building itself. However, I have some decent ones taken inside!




Then there's this photo that Aurélie took of me. It's kind-of blurry, but you get the idea. You aren't allowed to use the flash inside the church because it can fade the paint. 

After checking out the church, we began our hike up to the ramparts! Can you see the fortress in the background?

This photo is a little better. Plus, you can make out the Pont Vieux that crosses the Aude River.

Here is a personal photo I took of the fortress in the distance. Personally, it reminds me of the castle in Sleeping Beauty.

That walk was killer, and it made me realize how out-of-shape I am. This sign tells guests what to expect when touring the ramparts and medieval village enclosed in the walls.

I, of course, had to get a picture near one of the towers! Do you see the flat, green land near the ramparts? That's where the mote used to be. I'm glad that it doesn't exist today! 

Did you know that the French government originally wanted to demolish the fortress? It was quite the controversial issue, and of course, a group of people fought to save it. They obviously won. I'm glad because I personally hate to see history disappear. It's really sad how several old theaters and such in the United States are left to decay. Although some of that happens in Europe, for the most part, the countries here take pride in the upkeep of historical sites. 

Here are some additional shots of the ramparts:


We first toured the graveyard:



It was gorgeous, but I'm not going to lie. It was a little creepy, and I am not easily scared. Please, I can watch horror movies without batting an eyelash. However, this mausoleum freaked me out:

The upkeep is amazing. The workers place fresh flowers near the graves quite often.

The perks of the graveyard? Exceptional views of the fortress, of course!


At last, we entered the Cité! Let me give you some historical background. The fortress dates back to the Gallo-Roman period during the Middle Ages. The fortress boasts 52 towers and a wall that is almost 2 miles long. The fortress protected France from Aragon, which was in modern-day eastern Spain. 

I had to climb one of the towers. The wind, however, got the best of me. I was afraid it would push me off the tower, but it fortunately didn't!


I will quote one of my favorite movies, Hannah Montana: le film, when I say that "life is a climb, but the view is great":

I was goofing around, and that's how this picture happened. It's worth a share since it provides a nice view of the stone architecture. 

Here are some photos of the town between the walls. Aurélie and I had fun exploring the touristy medieval-themed shops and walking down the cobblestone streets. It was really like stepping into a time machine. However, we also saw the "dark" side of the Middle Ages. It wasn't all pretty, restored cobblestone streets. Between the tension with the Catholic church among other things, life was rough. We stumbled upon a medieval weapons of torture museum, and I/m very happy to live in this century.



We also had a late afternoon "snack"...tapas and hot chocolate. Hey, seems odd, but the wind on the top of the hill made it seem colder than it was. 

After a fun day of exploring, it was time to head back home to Lille. We had an almost-ten-hour train ride ahead of us, but it was worth it, I hope to return to Carcassonne in the near future; it was breathtaking!

Would you like to visit Carcassonne someday?
~Sabine