where we've been and where we're going

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Den Haag

On July 2nd we left Paris for two weeks on the road to visit the European institutions we had studied during coursework. Our first stop: the Hague in the Netherlands.

I was shocked by how much I really liked the Hague. Beautiful Dutch architecture, tons of English from the Dutch, and great site visits. When we arrived, we checked into a very nice Ibis hotel and walked around the downtown area. There was tons of shopping, cool bars, and laid back people. While in Paris, you're bombarded with wanna-be supermodels--Parisians always dress nicely, and you never see tennis shoes. In the Hague, people wear jeans, T-shirts, shorts...normal people clothes. It was pretty refreshing. We also stopped at a bar located in the back of a church to eat the local bar specialty: bitter balls. They're meat, potatoes, and gravy--deep-fried. Awesome.

After dinner in the hotel, we went out as a group to a bar nearby. Alcohol is a million times cheaper in the Netherlands. It was a nice night out.

The next day was our first site visit. We were at the International Criminal Court while they heard postponement arguments from former dictator Charles Taylor. We had a briefing from people in the pre-trial and judicial assessment divisions. I found it fantastic, particularly since the briefing supported some of the research I've been doing lately. After lunch on the bus, we went to a briefing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It was extremely informative, and we had a chance to sit in on the trial of two alleged war criminals. The defense was attempting to discredit the report of Human Rights Watch. It was really nice.

We found out that typical Dutch food is bar food, and that the best food to eat in the Netherlands is Indonesian food. Drs. D and H went out for Indonesian food with D, C and I. It was so delicious! Afterward the students all went to the beach to a piano bar while I stayed in to grade papers. I thought at the time it was a smart idea, but afterward I regretted it.

The next day, we took a tour of the beautiful Peace Palace. This is where the International Court of Justice is housed. We weren't able to have a briefing or observe a trial, but the building sure was beautiful. After a lunch of even more bitterballen, some of us went to the Mauritshuis. This museum houses some of the most beautiful Dutch art in the world, including several Rembrandts and Van Rijns. The highlights, though, were three Vermeers. There only exist 35, and three of the most famous were there. I stood in the presence of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Amazing.

Finally, that afternoon we paid a visit to the Dutch parliament for a meeting with a parliamentarian. She spoke to us about immigration issues in the Netherlands, as well as being a woman and a black person in politics. It was really marvelous!

We then headed to Brussells.

The last time I saw Paris

Sunday, July 1, was our last day in Paris. Additionally, on the first Sunday of every month all of the museums in Paris are free! K and I thus decided to museum our way through our last day. We started at the Musee d'Orsay, the impressionist museum, after getting a bit lost on the way. It was really something, located in an old train station. We saw such beautiful art, by fantastic masters. We spent five hours there, even having lunch there so we could continue our way through the museum. Wonderful.

C and D met up with us at the d'Orsay--we found them waiting in line when we left, and we convinced them to head to the Rodin Museum instead. There we saw the Thinker and other beautiful works by Rodin. However, it was hot, and we'd been walking all day, so we only saw the sculptures in the garden and didn't bother to go inside the museum itself.

Finally, that evening we had a group dinner at a creperie in Saint-Germain. It was delicious, and with fantastic decor, but terrible service. They didn't get anything right and were terribly slow. It was also hot like fire in that restaurant, since we had too many people in our booth. C'est la vie.

After dinner we took a cruise of the Seine as a farewell to the city. It was beautiful at night: the Louvre, the bridges, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame...Paris.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Art, Music, and Light

On Friday, June 29th, I slept all day. I think I had a crepe from a vendor on the street for lunch. Not too much excitement.

In the evening, Kate and I had delicious entrecote et frites (steak and fries, a standard Parisian dish) in an area close to our apartments, and then had one more evening at the Louvre. We knew we couldn't do everything, but we just tried to do a little more than we had done before. Greek and Roman sculpture, including the Venus de Milo and Winged Glory. We also visited Napoelon's apartments, since he used to live in the Louvre before it was the art museum we know today. He certainly was extravagant.

The next day, after several failed attempts over two weeks, we toured L'Opera Garnier. It was still a bit of a failure, since we'd been trying to catch a guided tour of the opera house but found the book to be inaccurate, which was unfortunate. We gave up, and we toured the place on our own. We saw old costumes and miniature sets, in addition to wandering around the really beautiful halls surrounding the auditorium itself. We even had a chance to see the "Phantom's box", though he wasn't there.

We finally left the Palais Garnier, grabbed some quiche in the train station, and headed to Notre Dame. Since I had already been, Kate went up to the top with Judith, who had met us there, while I read my book in the courtyard. It was a nice, relaxing break, though I also had to do a little program organization via cell phone. From there, the three of us walked to the other island in the Seine, L'Ile Saint-Louis. It's mostly a residential spot, but there is a lovely little shopping strip with neat little specialty stores which runs down the center of the island. We went because we hadn't been and also because the island is known for its ice cream. And the rumors are not wrong...the shop where we stopped had gelato that they shaped into a rose on your cone. It was super delicious. I also spent a ridiculous amount of money on a few different varieties of olive oil in an olive oil store. I was in heaven.

Judith headed back to the foyers, but Kate and I continued on to Ste-Chapelle, which is the beautiful chapel Saint Louis (King Louis IX) built to house Jesus's crown of thorns when he acquired the precious relic. Now it can be found in Notre Dame, and they bring them out sometimes. Anyway, Ste-Chapelle is an incredible place, completely surrounded by amazing stained glass windows. If you read from bottom to top, left to right, the windows pictorially represent the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelations. It's incredible.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Oysters and Dancing

Today, Thursday, June 28th, was the last day of real classes. After this weekend, we head to the Low Countries for site visits to the European institutions we've been studying all this time. As a going away event, the program sponsored a lecture on the French elections and then took everyone out for a fancy dinner. We went to a place called Le Petit Zinc, which was an art nouveau wonder. The food was not as good as the price dictated, and the service was terrible, but the atmosphere was perfect. I had my first oyster experience; I've decided it's not my favorite thing based on the texture and method of imbibing. It was a nice event though, with everyone in their fancy clothes. I wore my opera dress.

After a return to the foyer to change clothes, Shama, Amity, Allison, Edgar, Chris, and David and I headed back to St-Michel, where the bars and clubs are highly concentrated and filled with students. We drank in a bar where it was slightly cheaper, then headed to the bar where I had danced with Danielle. Man, do I love to dance to crappy pop music. It was a great time. Given that we left the bar after the metro was closed for the night, we decided it would be a great idea to stay out until they reopened. Which was 6 am. We hit a total of 4 bars that night.

I am too old for this.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Running out of time

On the 25th, Paris went on sale. France has strict rules (as does the EU, for that matter) about when sales can occur and what they mean, so it's an exciting time to see a sale in Paris, particularly since it has such fantastic fashion. So I went shopping today, and it was glorious. And exhausting. Zara, for one, was a madhouse of epic proportions.

I realized the next day, the 26th, that I had less than one remaining week in Paris, and there was so much left to do! So after class I headed out to the Pantheon, where France buries it's heroic men who bring honor to their country, by way of a photo of the Sorbonne. The Pantheon, though it doesn't get enough recognition as a tourist site of Paris, is gorgeous, with beautiful paintings commemorating the glory of France, and a full crypt of heroic and brilliant Frenchmen (plus one woman). Foucault's pendulum is here, which is fascinating. Look it up on wikipedia. Wandering slowly through the crypt, I found the final resting places of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille, Emile Zola, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Marie and Pierre Curie. Marvelous.

That evening, the majority of the students in the program went to a tiny fondue restaurant in Montmartre, called Refuge de Fondue, and they invited me along. It was incredible! For a relatively small sum, given this is Paris, we had aperitifs, appetizers, meat and cheese fondues, dessert, and a baby bottle filled with wine (or orange juice, given my preferences). It was so much fun, drinking from baby bottles and eating marvelous mounds of cheese. Few things are as fantastic as fondue.