A Trip Into Tuscany

Hidy ho, mes amis! I’m back from my amazing two week spring break adventure, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Computer access was limited along the way, so I figure I’ll recap each city, then dedicate one to all of the delicious food that I ate whilst away. Duh.

The rest of our time in Florence was spent not actually in Florence. Instead, we took a day-long tour of the Tuscany region. I had done this same tour (with the same guide, as it turns out) when I was last in Italy. Leaving from Florence, we headed to the small city of Siena, whose medieval walls still surround the town. Siena is home to the world’s oldest living bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded way back in 1472.

Siena’s clock tower, located in the Piazza del Campo, is visible from anywhere within the city walls and is perhaps Siena’s most defining structure. The clock has no hand for minutes; therefore, “Meet me in the piazza around 12,” could mean showing up at 12:05 or 12:55. Although I enjoy this sort of nonchalance in theory, I have experienced enough of its practice in France. 

The next stop on the tour was lunch at a farm in San Gimignano, followed by a stop in the town itself. Known as “Medieval Manhattan” for its countless towers, this is another town whose walls have survived to this day. The farm was as gorgeous as I remember, and the lunch just as yummy. I also knew better this time than to drink all of the wine available at the “tasting.” 

The final stop of the day was in Pisa, home of…well, you know. Our tour guide had excitedly told me earlier in the day that this portion of the tour had changed slightly since I had last been, and that I was in for a real treat. And the treat was…a tour of Pisa via choo-choo train. By choo-choo train, I mean one of those awful little mini trains that shuttles you between attractions at Disney. A lightning storm commenced almost immediately after we pulled up to the tower, and Jay and I struggled to take a few of those silly Leaning Tower snapshots in the pouring rain. After my dad almost got into a fight with an aggressive “Rolex” salesman while defending my mother’s honor, we were able to cut our Pisa losses and head back to Florence.

Next up: Venice. Stay tuned!

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Spring Break Begins: Back to the Food Blog

Spring break has finally begun! I won’t pretend that my stay in Paris hasn’t been vacation enough, but this is something that I’ve been looking forward to all semester long. A little rundown of where I’ll be for the next two weeks:

Florence, Italy: April 14th-17th

Venice, Italy: 17th-19th

Budapest, Hungary: 19th-22nd

Prague, Czech Republic: 22nd-24th

Berlin, Germany: 24th-27th

Arrive back in Paris on the morning of April 28th, after a 16 hour bus ride from Berlin. But let’s not think about that quite yet.

I came to Florence yesterday with my parents and Jay, who had been visiting me in Paris for the past few days. They loved Paris, especially the food, but Florence is going to rival the City of Lights in that department. It was raining all day and decidedly yucky, so our meals were really the highlight (or, at least, my highlight, quelle surprise)

Dinner last night was at Buca Mario, a restaurant recommended by one of my mom’s Culinary friends back home. There was a line outside the door before they opened at 7:30, and people were literally shoving their way in once the place opened. My family, of course, pushed me to the head of the line and encouraged me to separate a mother and her little girl because they cut the line. But they were French, so it was okay. Long story short, we got in right away.

I started off with an appetizer of Pecorino cheese, apples and honey. I had had this before on my previous trip to Italy, and remembered it being delicious. Memory did serve correctly, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Next up was two of my favorite things put together: gorgonzola cheese and gnocci. The gnocci was impossibly light, way lighter than pasta should be. The gorgonzola sauce was decadent and delicious.

Finally, dessert. My mom had spotted tiramisu on the dessert cart and couldn’t pass it up. Being the excellent daughter that I am, I offered to help her out.

That was dinner last night, and I don’t think any of us were disappointed. Our waiter was pretty over-the-top, but I guess that’s what he gets paid the big bucks for. The subtle bits of misogny in Italian culture did shine through- when Mom got the veal, it was the “perfect size for a lady.” On the way out, Dad received the bill and Mom received a complimentary apron. Ohhh, Italy.

Today we are continuing our Florence adventures, starting with the Accademia gallery this morning. More blogging (and food updates) to come!

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Long Weekend

A very happy belated Easter to you all! Mine was spent with a thwarted attempt to attend Mass (a time-honored Molloy family tradiiton), a trip to the market and a Skype date with my whole family. I may have missed out on our bomb brunch, but I still managed to make my way into the annual photo of the grandkids (at least, my head did on my brother’s iPad).

Easter Monday happens to be a public holiday in France, so the celebration continued right into today, by sleeping until 10:30. This afternoon, I did one of my absolute favorite Parisian activities: I walked.

First, I found the hotel that my parents will be staying in when they, and Jay, arrive on Wednesday. From there, I kept going. I eventually found my way to one of my favorite streets in Paris, Rue Mouffetard. This long, winding street is stuffed to the brim with cute shops, oh-so-French restaurants, boulangeries, fromageries, boucheries and every other -erie you could imagine. Because of the holiday, a lot of stores were closed, making it relatively uncrowded. I eventually ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens, where I sat and rested my feet for a little while before heading home.

Although it was a rather dreary, grey day, I found myself enjoying it quite a lot. I lazed along at my own pace, coffee in hand, soaking up the melancholy of the city. It sounds depressing, but it’s actually beautiful in a strange way.

Hannah, Dan, Jake and I were going to make dinner tonight, until we saw the abysmal selection of produce at the grocery store. It looked like the remains of a zombie apocalypse. So we cut our losses and headed over to Buffalo Grill (the fourth place we tried, that was finally open and within our price range). My favorite part was how the menu advertised their desserts as “So American!” The burger wasn’t bad, but I’m not exactly rushing back.

And that was the latter half of my long weekend. 3 classes to get through tomorrow, and then the family arrives on Wednesday morning! I couldn’t be more excited to see them, and to show ’em around my town.

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To-Do! (And the RER Ride from Hell)

I mentioned in my last post that I still had quite a few things to see here in Paris. Here is my (incomplete, I’m sure) list, as scribbled into my notebook during History of Versailles lecture last week:

1) Hôtel des Invalides

2) Bastille/surrounding area

3) Jardin des Plantes

4) Centre Pompidou (though I’d like to return)

5) Musée Cluny

6) Musée Rodin/gardens

7) Musée L’Orangerie

8) Versailles

9) Top of Notre Dame

9) Top of Arc de Triomphe

10) Basilique de Saint-Denis

11) Market/church one Sunday (Perhaps Easter Sunday, as the Catholics do?)

12) Learn to Vélib (more on this later)

13) Lots of picnics

14) Go back to the Louvre

15) La Bibliothèque Nationale

16) Saint-Germain-des-Près

17) Les Egouts (sewers)

18) Catacombs

19) Cimitière Montparnasse

20) Parc des Buttes Chaumont

And there you have it, my to-do list for the rest of my time in Paris. I made it last Friday, and I already knocked three things off the list since then. I do need to get moving, though, with less than two months left here. I also have to consider that I’ll be out of the city from April 14th-27th, visiting Florence, Venice, Budapest, Prague and Berlin for spring break(!!!!!!!!!). Expect a couple blog entries during that time.

In other news that I feel necessary to be shared with the blogging world, I had my worst RER experience to date this afternoon. For those who have been fortunate enough to never have heard of the RER, it’s the regional rail system that runs through Paris and out into the suburbs. I live across the street from the Cité U stop, which is on the RER B. To put it mildly, you get some “characters” on the RER B.

I got on the RER around 5:30 today at Chatelet-Les Halles, one of the largest underground stations in the world. I usually go to great lengths to avoid Chatelet, especially at rush hour, but there I was. I squeezed onto the train with all the other commuters, and found myself sandwiched between two people who I would spend the next 20 minutes getting to know very intimately.

Just across from me, there was a man surrounded by a ring of people burying their faces into scarves/coats/bags/anything they could. He looked and was dressed like a totally normal guy, but the smell emanating from this human being could have killed a small child. The woman standing directly behind him was, no joke, gagging the entire time. I thought she was going to throw up…and every time I caught a whiff, I thought I might as well.

I’ve smelled my fair share of icky individuals on the RER, but this dude took the cake. It was one of those little things that reminded me of the joys of public transportation, and really made me miss my red Hyundai…

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Back At It

You may have noticed (or, you know, not) that I’ve been a little absent from the blogging world as of late. This is because I haven’t really done a whole lot of sightseeing lately, falling into the rut that many do when you see famous sights each and every day: you don’t actually take the time out to explore them.

Well, I’m done with that. I made a giant list of things that I have yet to do in Paris, and I need to get on it if I’m going to see everything before I leave in May. With the weather turning especially lovely lately, I don’t think it will be too difficult.

 This weekend, I knocked a couple of things off my list. First up yesterday was the Musée Rodin. Truthfully, this is going to need to be revisited because the museum itself was closed. However, the beautiful gardens encircling the museum were open, and are filled with some of Rodin’s most famous sculptures. Recognize this guy?

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As soon as the gardens opened, The Thinker, or Le Penseur, already had a gaggle of tourists surrounding it, undoubtedly all having intense philosophical revelations whilst considering this sculpture. (Exhibit A: Dude in this picture) This is actually an enlargement of a part of another sculpture, which happened to be one of my favorites of the day:

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 It’s called Gates of Hell, and it is HUGE. You can see a smaller version of The Thinker here, located in the upper middle portion. Gates of Hell was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and there is no better visual depiction of the epic poem than this gargantuan work of art.

The gardens themselves were nice, though I hope to return on a warmer/sunnier day with a picnic.

Next up on yesterday’s itinerary was Les Egouts, or the sewer museum. Yep, you read that correctly. I actually paid €3,50 to read about Paris’ sewage system (and see it in action!)

 It was dark and a little smelly, for sure. It was also a unique way to learn how this system has evolved over time to become so efficient and well-organized. I mean, Paris has gone from dumping raw sewage into Seine and wondering why everyone was getting cholera (100,000+ cubic meters of waste every day during Napoleon I’s time, to be exact) to a network that now removes 1.2 million cubic meters of waste water from the city each day.

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It’s just too bad that I didn’t get here before 1975, or else I could have taken a boat tour down the sewage canals. Yum. 

This morning, I grabbed a big ‘ol coffee from Starbucks (yeah, I know) and took a leisurely walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. I eat my lunch there in between classes during the week, and it has quickly become one of my favorite places in Paris. Now, with the flowers blooming, it’s more gorgeous than ever. I finally had my camera with me today when I went.

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More pictures on Facebook, if you’d like to take a gander. Happy Sunday, everyone!

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American Myth-Busting

We did some group work in grammar class today, and in addition to doing some learning, I did a little teaching. My partner was an Argentinean girl who had a few misconceptions about the good ‘ol US of A. Our conversation went something like this:

 Anna-Lucia: Tu viens des Etas-Unis?

(You come from the United States?)

 Me: Oui, je viens de New York. 

(Yes, I’m from New York.)

 AL: Ah, Manhattan!

 Me: Uh, pas exactement. J’habite environ deux heures en train dehors la Ville de New York, sur une ferme. Mais je vais à New York souvent.

(Uh, not exactly. I live about two hours by train outside of the city, on a farm. But I go to the city often.)

 AL: Et le Bronx, il y a beaucoup de gangsters, n’est-ce pas?…Attends, il n’y a pas de fermes à New York!

(And the Bronx, it has lots of gangsters, right?…wait, there aren’t farms in New York!)

 Me: Si, beaucoup!

(Yes, lots!)

 AL: Je voudrais voyager aux Etats-Unis, à New York et en Californie. Un vrai “American roadtrip!”

(I would like to travel to the US, to New York and California. A real “American roadtrip!”)

 Me: J’ai conduit à Tennessee, un état au sud du pays, l’été dernier avec mon amie pour une festival de musique. C’était super, bien sûr.

(I drove to Tennessee, a state in the south, last summer with my friend for a music festival. It was awesome, for sure.)

 AL: Et tu a conduit un “muscle car?” Tous les films, ils montrent les “muscle cars” quand on prend un “roadtrip.” Ou peut-être un Chevy?

(And you drove a muscle car? All the movies show muscle cars when somebody goes on a roadtrip. Or maybe you drove a Chevy?)

 Me: Eh…actuellement, j’ai emprunté la voiture de ma mère. Un Subaru.

(Eh…actually, I borrowed my mom’s car. A Subaru.)

 AL: Oh.

 I tried to highlight how much fun I had on my roadtrip to Bonnaroo last summer, but she seemed seriously disappointed that I wasn’t driving American. I probably should have lied and said that I had driven the Beretta.

 She was also amazed that there were farms and countryside in New York. In grammar, we have to give a presentation on any topic, in French, sometime in the coming weeks. In light of my conversation with Anna-Lucia today, I decided to talk about New York as a whole, since I figure most kids in my class are not aware that NY actually has something to offer outside of Manhattan. Schultzville, for example…

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Speaking the Language

So here I am in Paris, living life: going to class, hanging out with my friends, and being an regular ol’ college student. The thing that’s slightly different is that (in case you didn’t know), they speak French here. And kinda the whole point of me being here is to learn French.

 It’s difficult to speak French all the time when you live with other American students. It’s so much easier to default to English, and spit out whatever you want to say without thinking. I’m funnier in English; I make better jokes and my vocabulary is infinitely larger.

 In French, I’m a little bit of a dunce. It takes me awhile to figure out what I’m going to say, and I have to concentrate intently on the other person speaking to me. I’ve been made to look like an idiot more times that I can count, which is equal parts frustrating and embarassing. 

 Lately, though, I feel like I’ve been turning a corner. My transactions in stores and restaurants are becoming almost automatic, and I don’t have to plan out what I’m going to say each time. I can exchange some on-the-spot banter without too much trouble. I still make tons of mistakes, often correcting myself mid-sentence, but I finally feel more comfortable simply speaking the language. Which is good, because that’s precisely why I’m here.

As a side note, today Paris hit into the high-60s, another absolutely gorgeous day. I went to Berthillon, a famous ice cream parlor on the Île Saint-Lous (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in the city). I sampled a scoop of the “Caramel Beurre Salé” in a cone, which I took down to the Seine to enjoy. My book, an ice cream cone and a cloudless blue sky- what more could you ask for?

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