Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The grass really is greener in Ireland*

I’d like to write a love letter to the British Isles. It goes something like this:
2-4 March 2012
My dears,
Thank you for consistently being such a wonderful host (ess?), offering up beautiful vistas and delicious fairy cakes with proper tea at every turn. Not only did you host me for an amazing semester in London, but you made a great experience out of just a short weekend in Northern Ireland.
Look at what Belfast had to offer us:
An evening walk that saw the town hall, a statue by the lake, and the leaning clock tower.

Seriously the most beautiful bus tour I have ever been on (also my first bus tour, but that is neither here nor there), including
incredible views of the sea,

probably the world’s most famous rope bridge,


the Giant’s Causeway,

and more photos full of green and blue than I thought was possible.
A sunny Sunday morning walk through Queen’s University.

A black cab tour on which we saw the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, the gates between them that were closed because it was Sunday, and the peace wall (with our new signatures...and Rhianna’s).

Protestant side of the wall

not all of the gates were close - Checkpoint
Charlie was open

Catholic side of the wall

And that doesn’t include the tea with milk (what a novel idea! Get on board, Switzerland), cider, fish and chips, and Cafe Nero caramel waffles.
You are beautiful. Let me know if you have any job openings; I’d love to spend some more time together.
Cheers, Julia
*Alternate titles for this entry include: “‘Our next wee stop will be in this little wee village, ladies and gentlemen,’” “This European PDA is really getting out of control,” “Belfast you make me feel like I’m the only tourist in the world,” and “Tea with milk, and other things I’ve missed from the UK.” x

A trip to Basel in which we discover how incomprehensible Swiss German is

I went to Basel literally the day after I got home from Paris...aka nearly a month ago. So I’m a little behind. Better late than never?
A few friends and I opted not to stay in Paris for the weekend, as the train fare home would have been crazy expensive, so we took the weekend to explore German Switzerland for the first time. Basel is right on the German border and so, despite being relatively close to France too, we spoke nothing but English and mis-pronounced German the whole weekend. We spent Saturday just wandering the city. We passed through a market to see the red stone town hall, a building elaborately decorated inside and out with paintings, where a street cellist was playing. We also found a random set of stairs and climbed them to a high point in the city to see over the rooftops. And we went to Basel Münster, high on a hill, overlooking the Rhine, and filled with the music of yet another street performer, this time playing one of those portable steel drums.

Saturday evening was what the trip was all about - football! My friend Kavya snagged tickets to see FC Basel (coming off wins over Bayern Munich and Man U) play its archrival, FC Zurich. We had been told that it was a “high security” game but that did not prepared us for the rows of riot police lining the street leading to the stadium. Our seats were close to the field and behind the goal on the opposite end from the Basel supporters. Great seats, except that we were one section over from the Zurich fans in the corner, and they were not nice. We’re pretty sure they threw a dud smoke bomb at us. But luckily FC Basel won, 1:0, and we booked it out before the Zurich fans, so there was no danger, just a fun night of football and people-watching.

Sunday we went to church at Basel Münster; it was an interesting experience as literally everything was done in Swiss German. Having gone to church a thousand times, I could guess where we were in the service, recognize pastoral mannerisms, and understand when they started saying the Lord’s Prayer. Other than that, we stood when other people did, bowed our heads when they did, and hummed along to the hymns.
We spent Sunday afternoon outside of Basel, in a town called Arlesheim, where there is a ruined hermitage atop a hill. We climbed up and around there and I felt like it was one of those fairy worlds kids make at nature camp (so I hear from my camp friends).

We also walked around Arlesheim, and popped into this elaborate and beautiful cathedral. It was the first Sunday of Lent and the day before a major festival starts in Basel, so while we missed the festival we did see confetti everywhere. Those Swiss really know how to celebrate 40 days of fasting and reflection. x

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Field Trip: Paris

When we got to Paris, our walk from the Metro to our hotel was immensely improved by a view of the Eiffel Tower right down the street. Naturally, we dropped our bags at the hotel and immediately walked the fifteen minutes to the base. The Eiffel Tower may be the most stereotypical monument in the world, but it is still awe-inspiring and made us all giddy to be in Paris.

You know those tourists who pose in front of famous monuments
and don't show a shred of enthusiasm? They are all over Europe.

In the afternoon some friends and I went to the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur up on Montmartre. We soaked in the view of the city (one of my fav things to do) and then took a quick trip inside the church. We were there as a small service was being held and got to hear the space filled with the chanting of the nuns. it was pretty sweet.

That evening our study abroad program invited the students to a (compulsory) 3-course dinner at a local, traditional French restaurant. It was delicious and so much fun. Let me pull a dad move and obsess over my food for a hot sec: I started with a dried fruit salad with fried goat cheese, followed by steak-frites, and ended by splitting the pot de crème and the crème brûlée with my friend Katie. That crème brûlée was seriously the most delicious thing in the entire world; “it rocked my world.”

As if our day wasn’t great enough already, a few of my good friends and I wandered down to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up. When it sparkled...oh man was it amazing.

Lit up...

...and sparkling

We spent most of Thursday in briefings at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO (so interesting to hear about their work - definitely an organization I’d love to be involved with), with a quick lunch break to sneak a peek at Napoleon’s tomb.
We ate dinner by the Pompidou where many of us tried snails (!) and, long story short, ended our night walking up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe and eating little circles of heaven in the form of the official best macarons in the world. Perfection.

chocolate, salted caramel (i die) and pistachio

AND THEN (it just got better and better), on Friday morning Anna and I went on a quick trip to all our favorite monuments:
Sainte Chapelle

Notre Dame

Shakespeare and Co. (and a Nutella crêpe break)


Luxembourg Gardens.

Then we went home, whomp whomp, but with another adventure for the weekend. What a whirlwind of a week, especially in Paris, but what an incredible experience. Makes me happy just remembering it! x