Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Roaming Redhead's Guide to Europe: Hostel Reviews Part 1

City Backpackers

Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Rating: 5/5 Swedish Meatballs

This hostel is a really easy walk from the main train station, so don't worry about public transportation. It's pretty much a straight shot down the road and if I didn't get lost you won't. It's located right next to an ATM, and right next to the main shopping street that has touristy shops, restaurants, and clothing stores. This is also the street that goes straight down to the historic district. It's about a ten minute walk to the historic area, where you can see palaces and museums and catch a boat to other areas. The hostel is clean, and provides a locker (you provide the lock) and a reading lamp for every bunk. My room had en suite showers, but no en suite toilet which was a little annoying. Wifi is free as are the computers, and there's a great little common area with couches and a TV where I made a lot of friends. A fully stocked kitchen is provided so you can save some money and buy a box of pasta and make it yourself. There's also an outdoor common area with couches and blankets because Sweden is cold. The staff is very friendly and they all speak good English. There's also a little cafe at reception where you can get coffee and muffins and fruit and the like, and they were happy to fill up my water bottle for me every morning. The hostel is very safe, there's a code to get into the building with the dorms which changes every day, and a separate code to get into your room. You can get a single gender or mixed room. Bring your own sheets and pillow case, as bedding costs extra and a sleeping bag doesn't count (I used mine anyways). Also, it's Swedish tradition to take your shoes off indoors so make sure your feet don't smell!

Copenhagen City Hostel

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Rating: 3/5 Yorick's Skulls

This hostel is INSANELY HUGE. It used to be an office building. It's pretty centrally located and it's an easy walk from the train station. The rooms are clean, but the bed organization is a little weird. I was in a six bed dorm, and two of the beds were pushed right next to each other, basically creating one giant bed. This was fine as they were taken by Sarai and I, but if I was alone I would be super uncomfortable sleeping there. Especially because they don't have gender specific rooms, so there's a chance you could be sleeping next to a man who may or may not be a creeper. I felt pretty safe, you use your keycard to work the elevator and to get into your room. They provide a locker (you provide the lock) and a reading light for every bed. There's a bar on the first floor which can get kind of loud at night. You have to pay by the hour to use the computers and they say wifi is free if you have your own device (like a computer or ipod touch) but we could never get it to work in our room. Bedding costs extra and once again a sleeping bag doesn't count. In the basement there's a little common area with a TV and a few couches but it wasn't really as warm and inviting as the one in Stockholm. I never really hung out there and it didn't seem like a place to make friends. The staff are very helpful and fluent in English, and some one is at reception 24 hours a day.

Hostel Ruthensteiner

Location: Vienna, Austria
Rating: 5/5 Wiener Schnitzels

This is probably the nicest hostel I stayed at. The walls were painted lovely colors, there were nice hardwood floors, gorgeous outdoor areas to hang out in, even pictures on the walls in the dorm! The staff was very friendly and helpful and some one is at the front desk 24 hours. There's a really nice kitchen, and even an outdoor grill. Everything is really clean. The common areas are comfortable and a great place to hang out and make friends and there's a bar, but it closes down at midnight (I think) and there are hostel wide quiet hours so don't worry about loosing any sleep. This hostel is a quick walk from the train station and is located on a quiet street right off of the main shopping street. There's plenty of cheap restaurants and grocery stores right next to the hostel. It's also an easy walk to see the sites, you just go down the street for 15 minutes to get to the museum area, opera house, and palaces, and about 20 minutes the other way to get to Schonbrunn Palace. I walked alone at night back to the hostel from both Schonbrunn and the opera house and felt perfectly safe. Don't worry about bringing your own bedding, and every bed has an outlet and reading lamp. You use an old fashioned key to get into your room, and another key to get into your locker. The computers cost money but wifi is free if you have your own device. The shower was a little wonky, the spray would stop after a ridiculously short amount of time so you kept having to press the button over and over to get a full wash in.

Villa Olmo Hostel

Location: Como, Lake Como, Italy
Rating: 2/5 Lasagnas

This is a place to sleep. I do want to say that the staff is insanely nice. It's run by a family and they are lovely and accommodating and understanding if you have train issues and need to check in a little late. You feel like a part of their family. That said, this is a place to sleep. The hostel closes down from 10-4, and has a midnight curfew. The mattresses are really uncomfortable, but bedding is provided. There are no reading lamps which I didn't realize would be a problem until I didn't have one and wanted to read. This is a really basic place. You have a locker, and there are a bunch of basic metal bunk beds, a bathroom, and that's it. The dorms are gender divided. There is a common area in the little reception building with a computer (pay to use) and free wifi, and while there isn't a kitchen they do provide breakfast and dinner (dinner costs extra). It's a bit of a schlep to the train station but doable, and there are signs pointing the way to the hostel along the roads. It's located right next to the Villa Olmo (the hostel used to be the Villa Olmo's stables) which has a nice little park area for sitting by the lake and enjoying the view. It's also about a 10 minute walk to town. There are a few restaurants close by, but your best bet is going into town to eat. And the staff is really really friendly!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My trip may be coming to a close tomorrow but keep checking the blog for more exciting content like:

- What I did during the rest of July
- Pictures
- Academic ramblings


The Roaming Redhead's Guide to Europe
With travel tips, hostel reviews, what to see, and more!

"Better than Rick Steves!!" -The New York Times

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 9th: The Day Every Dream Came True

I have spent months looking forward to my Regency ball, which happened today. I've been carrying my Regency dress in my backpack all over Europe, decorating it as I've gone along. I have spent YEARS longing to go to a period ball in a period location in Europe. It has been a life long dream of mine. And today it actually happened.

The first order of business was the dance lesson in the afternoon. We learned six dances, including a waltz and Jane Austen's favorite dance. I picked them up pretty quickly and had a great time. Regency dancing is such fun! You get to gallop around and swing people in circles and there was live music for us to dance to. I sat down at a table with a few women at it who I ended up making friends with and dancing with in the afternoon. Emma and Ruth attended the ball last year, and there was also a foreign girl whose name I didn't get but for the sake of easiness let's call her Jane. Jane was my partner for the afternoon and we took turns being the man and the woman. It was all great fun. While I was learning the dances I was also scoping out the men, because what I wanted more than anything was to dance with a handsome gentleman in a perfect costume. Things didn't look promising. But I comforted myself by saying that there would be more people at the ball. Then about halfway through the dance lesson this group of four gentlemen in PERFECT costumes came in which immediately got my attention. I should probably point out that most people weren't in costume for the lesson so it was especially fun to see some Regency gentlemen walk in. I immediately determined that I would dance with one of them during the ball. In particular there was a very handsome gentleman who shall be hereafter referred to as Mr. Tilney. Now not only have I spent months looking forward to this ball, but I have also spent months daydreaming about meeting a handsome gentleman in a perfect costume and dancing with him and having a bit of romance. But never in a million years did I think it would actually happen. Little did I know...

So I went home after the lesson and got ready for the ball. About 15 minutes before I left I was sitting, giving my camera a bit of juice while I waited to leave, and my heart was literally pounding. I had butterflies in my stomach and my breath was coming quick. What if no one talked to me? What if no one danced with me? What if I was miserable? What if years and years of dreaming ended up in a horrible evening?

I walked down to The Guildhall where the ball was and met up with Emma, Ruth, and Jane. We all took some pictures and then the doors were opened and the ball began. The room we were in had GORGEOUS chandeliers from the 18th century, worth a million pounds each. I have seen my fair share of chandeliers on this trip, but these were the most beautiful. The room has neoclassical decorations, and was painted a pale green with some gold and white decorations. Simply BEAUTIFUL. The perfect place for a ball!!!! When we walked in there was a man with a large cane and a quizzing glass, and he would bang his cane on the floor and announce us. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. MISS [MY LAST NAME] FROM THE COLONIES." I've never been announced before, it was awesome!

I was sitting at the Mr. Knightley table, which was fine. I got there at exactly 7 and the dancing didn't start until 7:30, so everyone had a half hour to mill about and get acquainted and watch as everyone came in. The people at my table were nice and all, but it was a lot of older couples and the conversation wasn't really great. I saw that Emma and Ruth were sitting across the room at the Edward Ferrars table so I walked over to chat. When I got there they said "You know those really well dressed men from before? They're all sitting at our table." I immediately determined to stay. This was my opportunity to see if I could get one to dance with me! Perhaps even Mr. Tilney! So I sat down and talked with Emma and Ruth, and everyone else started filtering in. I made friends with Ben, one of the well dressed gentlemen, and Michelle, his date. Ben and his group are all reenactors with a Napoleonic regiment, which explains the perfection of the costumes. We all quickly made friends, and I mentioned that I actually wasn't assigned to that particular table. There was one spare chair, which I was sitting in, but by that point we were all friends so Michelle, who is a lovely lovely human being, said that if whoever was assigned that spare chair showed up they would just squeeze in another chair so I could stay. I was so thrilled. Then I looked over to the Mr. Knightley table and saw a woman with a clipboard and the people from my table all pointing at me. I thought 'oh no, am I in trouble for switching tables?' The woman with the clipboard turned out to be the ball organizer, and she came over and said she was very sorry but would it be too much trouble if I switched tables as some one else wanted to sit in my seat. Best moment ever. I was more than happy to oblige and she gave me a big hug and said I saved the ball. So then I was officially settled at the Edward Ferrars table with my new friends!

For the first few dances I danced with Jane, who was sitting at another table, but what I really wanted was to dance with a gentleman. I mean really, being at a Regency ball in Bath, in a beautiful Regency ballroom, with live music, how could I not be despreate to dance with a Regency gentleman? Michelle and Ben got up to do a dance, and as I was getting up somehow or another, I don't remember quite who was responsible, I got pared up with Mr. Tilney. Which is why I am now calling him Mr. Tilney. Because just like Catherine Morland I was a stranger in Bath, alone and friendless, and out of the blue a handsome gentleman showed up and asked me to dance. Mr. Tilney is not a great dancer, by his own admission, but I will love him forever for dancing with me anyways. And I mean no one knew what they were doing so we were all messing up and laughing and it was perfect and magical. I can't even describe what it felt like for me to be dancing to live music in a beautiful ballroom wearing a beautiful gown and dancing with a handsome gentleman to boot.

Mr. Tilney is a total gentleman. I think he might be the most gentlemanly gentleman to ever gentleman. After the dance he gave me his arm and escorted me back to our table where we started talking. We talked and danced until dinner, when he gave me his arm and escorted me to dinner and told me about all the British food I was eating. Dinner and desert were delicious and I had a great time talking with everyone at my table. Ben told me about how his group was renting this fully restored Georgian townhouse, and how it was like they had time traveled staying there, and I was so jealous. Then Michelle asked if I would like to come over after the ball for drinks. !!!!!!! I'm pretty sure I started gushing an acceptance before she even finished her invitation.

After dinner the announcer man came over to say that there were card tables laid if we wished to play, and there was a game so easy even ladies could do it. Mr. Tilney escorted me to the card tables where Emma drafted me to take her losing hand in a game of Loo. I played against Ben, another man from his group named Paul, and Ruth (whose place was eventually taken by a woman named Allison). I lost miserably. I think there was only one hand that I actually won. The announcer guy suggested we place small bets, three little colored pieces of paper each. We decided to go bigger, eventually betting everything. Allison was an amazing card player, but Ben won in the end. Then we all went back in the ballroom for more dancing.

The ball ended at 11 although I don't think anyone was ready to leave. I went up to the organizer and told her about how I had woken up at 4 AM to get my ticket and backpacked across Europe with my dress in my bag and how I've longed to go to just this sort of thing my whole life and she gave me a big hug. Then we all gathered outside, Ben and Michelle, Mr. Tilney and me, and Paul and another member of their group named William. Mr. Tilney gave me his arm and escorted me back to their house. I walked through a Georgian city, in costume, on the arm of a Regency gentleman! The house was seriously GORGEOUS, I couldn't believe they were actually staying there. Apparently some of a film adaptation of Persuasion had been filmed in the drawing room. First Michelle showed me her room and we jumped on her bed which was great fun, then we all retired to the INCREDIBLE drawing room to sip champagne and talk. It wasn't lit by real candles, but it was lit by fake candles so the room had that dim candlelit glow. There were some other people there, some guests, some staying at the house, but all were in perfect costumes. I dubbed us the best costume club because it was basically all the best dressed people from the ball. All of them were fascinating, one lady turned out to be the woman who created that Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion exhibit and is like THE European expert on Regency fashion.

So there I was, sipping champagne in a Georgian townhouse with wonderful new friends and I don't even know if I can handle it. I had been so worried that no one would even talk to me, and here I was wearing a beautiful Regency dress surrounded by fascinating and super intelligent people in beautiful costumes sipping champagne in a gorgeous drawing room in a Georgian townhouse in Bath. Donald couldn't get over the fact that I had backpacked across Euopre with my dress, and I was voted most brave by pretty much everyone for going to the ball all by myself and not knowing anyone.

At about 3 AM most people had gone home, and those of us that were left decided to go to bed. Michelle lent me some PJs because at that point I obviously wasn't going home. I spent the night in a REAL bed you guys. I haven't slept in a real bed for two months! Then in the morning we all ate a big English breakfast on beautiful china, talked some more, and Michelle, Ben, and William gave me a ride back to my hostel.

Oh yes, and you know those dreams I had about the romantic evening with the handsome gentleman in the perfect costume? Those came true too. ;)

Every dream I have ever had came true. Including dreams I didn't even know I had. Dancing at the ball, meeting new friends, sipping champagne, great conversation, dancing with a handsome gentleman, a fairy tale romance. I don't even know how to describe how happy I was. And how happy I still am. It was literally the best night of my entire life. I could die happy now.

July 8th

Today I left for Bath. After checking into the hostel I went straight over to the Fashion Museum for my study appointment. I got to play with six beautiful 18th century gowns and I feel like I learned SO MUCH. I only had two hours, which was not nearly enough time, but I tried my best to manage it. I still only had about five minutes for the last dress. The number one thing I learned is that as perfect as they may look, historic garments aren't perfect. The width of pleats varies by .25" on the back of a robe a la francaise, some one must have mismeaured fabric at one point because there was an extra panel pieced in to the back of one robe a la francaise. It was nice to be reminded that these master craftsmen were still human. Takes some pressure off me. And the gowns were of course gorgeous! The petticoat of the last one was very interesting, it had this large square of plain muslin top center back rather than the nice fabric. I wonder if it was maybe because that's where a lot of sweat goes, or because that might be what you sat on so it wore out quicker.

After my appointment I had a quick look around the museum. Besides the "permanent" displays they also had a wedding dress exhibit, a couple contemporary dress exhibits, and an interesting "Behind the Scenes" exhibit where they displayed pieces from their collection from throughout the 19th century along with storage boxes and things so people could get an idea of what it's like behind the scenes at a museum collection.

It was pouring rain when I got out and I was starving, and I noticed that a pub called the Assembly Inn a few doors down served food. So I walked in, cold and wet, only to find that they were out of food. But James the bartender had made some delicious sausage rolls and bread, so I had a bit of that.

As I got up to pay I got to talking with James and Jason, a local having a pint. They invited me to join them and we got to talking and really hit it off. Jason's wife Charlie showed up and lo and behold, I found a British version of my dear friends Jeremy and Ashley. We all had a great time hanging out, and I impressed everyone with this awesome card trick I know. I even played the lottery (and lost. No 166 million Euros for me). I had only intended to pop in for a moment, as I still needed to finish my dress for the ball tomorrow. Four hours and four and a half pints of cider later, Jason walked me back to the hostel. Well, he walked. I stumbled.

I woke up at 4:30 AM and couldn't get back to sleep but that was OK because it gave me time to finish my dress and wash my hair so it would look nice for the ball.

July 7th

Happy Harry Potter day!! I feel so lucky to have been able to go to the premier of the last movie in London. After all, I'm part of the generation that grew up with Harry. He was 11 when I was 11, when the last book came out I had just turned 18. I remember when the very first book came out, I remember waiting for each subsequent book. I remember when the first movie came out. I'm not a huge crazy Harry Potter fan or anything, but it was always fun to get into the celebrating every time a book came out. I even went to the midnight premier of the first part of the seventh movie. Now that the last movie is out, I think my childhood is officially over.

Anyways, the premier was fun. I didn't camp out to get a good spot or anything like some people, so I was in the very back, but it was fun to get to be with everyone. The premier was in Trafalgar Square, and they had a giant fence set up so unless you had camped out you didn't get to see any actual people, but they did have a big screen set up where they were projecting footage of everything. It was really fun, we would all watch a car pull up, some one would get out, there'd be craning of necks to figure out who it was, and then when the actor was revealed everyone would start cheering.

After the red carpet everyone migrated to Leicester Square where the actual screening was to see the stars again. Meanwhile I went to the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant for dinner which was so cool. All the dishes were named after characters and stories! I had the Retired Colourmans aka fish and chips.

July 6th

This evening I met up with my friend Nachiket, who was one of my roommates last summer in Philadelphia. He was so lovely and bought me dinner at this great British-Indian fusion restaurant, ice cream at a fun Pinkberry-like place called Snog, and we spent hours walking literally all over London and talking. He was great company and conversation and it was so nice to catch up. He told me all about London as we walked around and I told him what theater to see. A very well spent evening!

July 5th

The only thing of note I did today was see The Beggars Opera at Regents Park. In the cold. And the rain. But it was a great production and it was fun to experience some 18th century theater. Even if it was in the cold. And the rain. I finally got a wear out of my raincoat though!

July 4th

Happy 4th of July! This is my first one out of the country and I was sad that I wasn't going to have a proper 4th of July, but then I met up with some fellow tar heels and had a great time. I got in touch with fellow drama major Brooke, who also got the Phillips, and she brought along her friend Allison who in turn brought along her friend Elizabeth. We went to an American BBQ restaurant. YALL. They had NC BBQ and corn bread!!!! Allison wore a shirt that said "Beat England" and a light up American flag necklace. We couldn't get it to light up at first though which made us very distraught. White girl problems.

Before that I had a meeting with the curator at the Museum of London. It went so amazing. First she showed me their awesome pleasure gardens display and told me all about it, then we went back to the storage space and had a nice long conversation. And that's just what it was. Not an interview, but a conversation. We traded ideas and info and talked shop and she gave me advice for the future and it was just marvelous.

After our talk I went to take a look around the museum which was really cool. It's all about the history of London, from prehistory to today. My favorite parts were definitely the 18th century pleasure garden and this whole Victorian shopping street you could walk around. Not surprising coming from Miss History By Immersion. The Victorian street would be such a great place for an exhibit!

July 3rd

I am officially museumed out. I don't want to see any more art again. I mean it's been two months of sight seeing and I'm exhausted.

I started with the National Portrait Gallery today which was disappointing. I've really been looking forward to it but there wasn't anything I really liked. Then I went to the National Gallery which has a ton of amazing stuff but I could only manage the 18th-19th century bit. I did get to see Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode and the Gainsborough portrait of Sarah Siddons which was very exciting. I also really loved the JMW Turners. And that was pretty much all I could do. They have this cool thing in the gift shop where they'll print a poster of any painting in the collection. So I got one of Sarah Siddons, I wish I could have afforded a few more!

That evening I saw Dr. Faustus at The Globe. I've read a fair share of Marlowe but I've never seen any performed. I really enjoyed it, the comedy was great and the end was chilling. The production incorporated great music and movement and puppetry too, it was a very theatrical experience.

July 2nd

I was so excited for the day this morning that I hopped right out of bed the moment I woke up. First stop was the Wallace Collection which is kind of like The Frick in NYC ie perfect. All the rooms in the building have been restored to match the 18th century furniture, so all the walls are covered in different brightly colored Lyon silks and there's gilding and chandeliers but in a very subdued, British rococo. It was so lovely. The art collection was marvelous. I went to see Fragonard's The Swing and Boucher's portrait of Madame de Pompadour in her pink dress, but that was just the tip of the iceburg. They had Boucher paintings out the wazoo!! So many beautiful pieces, I absolutely loved it. The only complaint I have is that I had been led to believe that the gift shop had posters. It didn't. :(

After that I headed over to Baker St for the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I had WAY too much fun there. I got my picture taken in the sitting room, and I loved getting to explore Holmes' room and the mass of stuff in the sitting room. The attention to detail was great, you felt like you were really in the stories. On the other floors there were things related to cases, like the head of the Hound of the Baskervilles mounted on the wall, a cardboard box with two ears in it, a piece of plaster with a red fingerprint, and life sized figures of famous characters. It was all such fun, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

Then I went to the TKTS booth and got tickets for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Haymarket Theater that evening. While waiting for the play to start I popped into Fortnum and Mason which was close by. Fortnum and Mason is a famous department store that's been around since the Victorian period, and are most known for their picnic baskets. It is a lovely store filled with lovely things sold to you by lovely people and it was just lovely. The windows and interior design were gorgeous too. When I get married I am registering exclusively at Fortnum and Mason. Their tea sets were to die for!

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was absolutely phenomenal. They even had a clever "turn off your cell phones" announcement. Instead of having some one say something, they just played a cell phone ringing a couple minutes before curtain, which reminded everyone to turn off their own phones. Everyone was brilliant, especially The Player (who went to NYU!). I can't say enough good things about this actor. He gave his big speech to R and G about how they had left his troupe and then there was a pause and then some one else said a line and the entire audience let its breath out. I didn't even realize I was holding my breath. I haven't read the play since I was in a version of it when I was 14. Now that I have so much more life experience and a wonderful UNC theater education behind me I appreciated it so much more. I feel like I really got it this time. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

July 1st

After much fuss and bother I finally made it to London yesterday. Those British border control people are NOT messing around. The only way they'd let me into the country was if I showed the actually plane I'm flying home on.

This morning I switched hostels and paid a ridiculous amount of money to send a box of souvenirs home. Then I went over to Courtauld to talk about the PhD program. It all sounds very exciting, I think I'd enjoy doing my research there. After my interview I went to Chinatown to get some food, where I met a hilarious Chinese man who said he'd been eating at this "greasy spoon" since before I was born and wanted to know why I was there alone because a pretty girl like me needed to have a boyfriend that would pay for everything. I love my new friend, he was awesome.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I couldn't sleep last night so I was playing around on my iPod and at one point decided to open up my calandar and see how long I have left in Europe. I have 11 days. Immediately the panic set in. How did three months go by so fast? What if I didn't make the most of this trip? What if I go home hating myself because I wasted my precious time in Europe?

To be honest I'm still a little panicked that somehow I've managed to mess everything up. People don't get $9000 scholarships to tour Europe every day, how could I possibly handle such an honor? But I've started to look back on the last few months and consider WHY they flew by so fast. I've made amazing friends. I've seen ballet in Paris, theater in London, and opera in Vienna. I went to a Regency ball in Bath and had the best night of my entire life. I've seen countless artistic masterpieces. I've been to the palaces of the great European figures of history. I've had macarons at Laduree. I've handled beautiful 18th century gowns at a world renowned collection. I've made friends with curators. I've seen clothes from thousands of years ago BC. I've seen those court outfits from that one Versailles exhibit. I've seen a 17th century chateau by candlelight. I've seen the Alps. I've braved foreign languages and navigated strange countries. I've read almost all of Jane Austen. I've eaten French pastries, Swiss chocolate, schnitzel in Vienna, fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas in England. I've sat in Sherlock Holmes' chair in 221B Baker St. I've seen gothic cathedrals. I've braved sketchy hostels, tempermental showers, and uncomfortable beds. I've had magic and romance. I have literally fulfilled every short term hope and dream I have.

All things considered, I think I handled things pretty well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

June 29th

I have a cold. Boooooo. And it's swealtering hot. Double booooooo. All I've managed was to go to the Orangerie on the 27th to see Monet's waterlillies which were really beautiful. No picture can ever to justice to the colors.

But today I decided that if I was going to feel sick and miserable I'd rather do it in Giverny than in Paris. So I went to Monet's house and sneezed on his waterlillies. Giverny is a really easy daytrip from Paris and I highly recommend it. You hop on a train to Vernon which takes about half an hour, then you get on a bus which takes you to Giverny. Giverny is the perfect little French village in the countryside, Monet sure knows how to pick a spot.

I toured the house first which was really nice. Every room was painted a different pastel color and there were big windows overlooking the gardens. I'm sure the gardens smelled as beautiful as they looked but I wouldn't know as I haven't smelled or tasted anything in like three days. The garden in front of the house was lovely, but paled in comparison to the garden with the waterlillies. There was a little stream running through it which would be perfect for playing Pooh Sticks, and bamboo groves, and of course the waterlillies themselves. I can definitely see how Monet was inspired, I wanted to paint a masterpiece myself.

June 26th

Today I went back to Versialles to finish the Petit Trianon, do the Grand Trianon, and see the gardens some more. It was ridiculously hot and I got burnt, but I had a great time anyways. I loved Marie Antoinette's little play village which was so picturesque (there was even a swan living in the lake), and the farm was a proper farm with giant bunnies and cows and sheep and goats and donkeys and chickens and stuff. One of the donkeys was so close to the fence that I could pet it. And I ran into a fellow tar heel, there was a ram that looked just like Ramses. UNC represent!

The Grand Trianon was nice, but I think I like the Petit Trianon more. Because it was a Saturday all the fountains were on, and while I was at first annoyed that I had to pay to get into the gardens it was so worth it because the fountains are truly spectacular. The gardens were a lot of fun to go through, there's all sorts of little groves hidden away. It's like a treasure hunt. I'll put up some pictures of my favorites eventually.

The only problem is that I have like 700 pictures from Versailles now. And I'm still going back one more time. No one should have expected anything less from me though.

June 25th

I did The Louvre today. Now of course I was expecting to have to wait in line for a million years because you don't just waltz into the Louvre like tra la la, I think I'll see some art today. Except that's what happened. I went to one of the underground entrances that's through this little shopping mall, got my ticket from a machine that had no line, breezed through airport security, and suddenly I realized I was in the Louvre. It was a little disorienting how easy it all was.

This is how you do The Louvre. Go into a room, take a quick look at all the art in it, and if something catches your eye go and have a proper look at it. There is SO MUCH ART, if you try to really look at everything you'll go crazy. It was hard for me, who likes to experience everything, but if I can do it you can too. I started at the 19th century and worked my way back to the beginning of the 18th century. Surprise surprise, I LOVED the 18th century rooms. Especially the Fragonards and Bouchers which were so beautiful and moving. People have asked me before why I love 18th century art so much, and I never know how to explain. I mean yes I could say that I love the color pallate (LOVE the color pallate) and the subject matter and the style and all that, but at the end of the day there's just some intangible force that draws me to it that I could never put into words. But in a sort of attempt to explain, 18th century art makes me feel like this (while the whole piece is worth listening to, the part I'm referring to starts at around 2:15):

After those galleries I did a bit of the decorative arts, went to see a few favorite pieces like the Grand Odalesque and that famous statue of Cupid and Psyche kissing (which was SO moving, I was pleasantly surprised), and then walked around the 17th century galleries a bit. It was so fun walking around the museum and getting to see in person all this art I've studied for years.

June 24th

On the 23rd I was too exhausted to do anything, although I did go see the Moulin Rouge building and walked around Montmarte at night. And got the greatest pick up line EVER: "I am from United. You are from States. Together, we are United States". This bit of genius was said by a French waiter and I give him bonus points for hilarity. And you know when you think about it it kind of has a clever double meaning- United States becomming two united states of being but I doubt he realized that. Anyways, it gave me a good laugh.

Today I moved out of my hostel and went to stay with some friends of my Aunt Cindy, the P's. Mr. and Mrs. P and their son live right next to the Eiffel Tower in a really beautiful apartment and it was so lovely to be in a home for a change.

The day was mostly a bust though. I went to see the Madame Gres exhibit in the Bourdelle Museum, and while the garments were masterpieces the curation left much to be desired. While Bourdelle's sculptures emphasized the sculptural qualities of the garments, some rooms were just garments whereas others were sculptures and garments and still others were things like Bourdelle's apartment or workshop with a couple garments thrown in and it was kind of like "what is this dress doing here?" They kind of just set up half the exhibit around the existing museum, it was a little odd.

June 22nd

Well, today I finally made it to Versailles. After all these years. Poor Chelsea and Rachel, they thought I was kidding when I said I'd need them to take a picture of me in every room and with every painting. But in return they had me as a tour guide so hopefully that made up for it.

We got up super early so we could get there when it opened, only to find out that Versailles was on strike until 10:30. We were not amused, especially as it was cold and rainy and we could have been warm and snuggly in bed instead of out in the rain. Me, being the genius that I am, had of course not even brought my sweater. So we hung out in McDonalds until it opened, then stood in the freezing rain forever moving through the line to get through airport security. But it moved pretty quickly and despite the fact that my shoes were soaked and I was shivering I was so happy to finally be in Versailles that I didn't care.

First we did all the main rooms- Marie Antoinette's bedroom, the hall of mirrors, all that. As expected the tourists there behaved like animals which was just disgusting. After that we did the much less crowded but no less beautiful Dauphin's and Mesdames' apartments. By that time it was sunny and warm and beautiful so we walked through the gardens and did a bit of Petit Trianon, looking at the house and peeking into a few of the nearby buildings including Marie Antoinette's little theater which was AMAZING. I actually wasn't as excited about the Petit Trianon as I was for the chateau, but I LOVED it. I want to live somewhere just like that some day. It was so peaceful, especially compared to the zoo that was Versailles, and I can totally understand why Marie Antoinette would want to escape there. I mean I was uncomfortable just being one of the onlookers at Versailles, I can't imagine being on display there all day every day by people that were ready to hate you for any little mistake. The house was so light and neoclassical compared to the baroque heaviness of the chateau, and the gardens were gorgeous, it was a place you could just breathe and relax.

I could of course go on for ages about how beautiful everything was but I don't think that's necessary. Just to be in the place I've wanted to go to for so long, to walk through the same halls that once saw the Louis (XIV, XV, XVI), Madame de Pompadour, Marie Antoinette, Rose Bertin, it was the most incredible feeling. I was just completely surrounded by my favorite history ever. And the thing is, I've read a million and one essays about how everything in Versailles is meant to reflect the power and glory of the monarchy, and all the gardens did the same thing, blah blah blah, and one of my selling points for getting this scholarship was that I could read that a million times but I can never truly understand until I experience it for myself. And the thing is, NOW I feel like I really do understand. On an intellectual level I knew all about the politics of the Versailles architecture and gardens, but to get to actually experience it for myself just settled it in an emotional spiritual physical intellectual way that no essay ever could. I'm just so grateful for this scholarship and the opportunity to experience my beloved European history.

Just in case you, like me, went on a mission to see every Marie Antoinette portrait ever, here's the locations. The portrait of her and her children where she's wearing the deep red robe a l'anglaise with the fur trim is in the chateau in the main rooms. The official portrait in the cream colored grand habit is in the billiard room on the ground floor of the main house at the Petit Trianon. The famous portrait of her in the blue robe a l'anglaise holding the flower (the one that was made to replace the portrait of her in the chemise a la reine) is an extraordinary painting and on the second floor (first floor to my European readers) of the main house at the Petit Trianon. The more I stared at it the more I was moved. Those are the ones I found, I'm still wondering where the portrait of her in the blue grand habit is.

After we got back to Paris and had some dinner, we all went to the Sacre Cour, a gorgeous Romanesque cathedral at the top of Montmarte. You can see the whole city from there. Except the Eiffel Tower which is blocked by a tree. Stupid tree. But anyways we watched the sun set over the city which was lovely. We also went inside the Sacre Cour. There happened to be a mass happening, and it was so magical to experience the grandness of the cathedral with that beautiful medieval music in the background. We each lit a candle and said a prayer for some one. I know I'm not Catholic, but it's impossible not to feel close to G-d in a place like that and it's all the same G-d anyways. It was a really moving experience, we all cried.

June 20th

Today I schlepped two and a half hours to Moulins to see the Comedie Francaise exhibit. It was so worth it. Paris was cold and rainy but Moulins was sunny and beautiful. People were swimming in the river which made me wish I had my swimsuit.

I really loved the exhibit, which was about costumes used in the Comedie Francaise from the 18th century to today. I thought it was really well curated, and there was even a whole space devoted to costume production, with little booths showing wigs being curled and ruffs being made and patterns being cut out and stuff. The costumes were gorgeous, I really loved the selection of 18th century coats and waistcoats on display, as well as the section with modern made historic costumes. They were all so creative and detailed. Along with the garments they had TV screens showing close up pictures of the costumes, and clips of actors in plays wearing the costumes, to give you a sense of how they functioned as part of the greater theatrical production.

Moulins is a great little town but I didn't have a whole lot of time to look around after seeing the exhibit because I had to rush back to Paris to meet Rachel and Chelsea who were in town for a few days. We ended up missing each other, but we ended up meeting for lunch the next day so alls well that ends well.

June 19th: Sunday in the Park with Stephen

Sondheim that is. Today I fulfilled another item on my Paris bucket list by going to the Isle of La Grand Jatte, setting of the famous Sunday on the Isle of La Grande Jatte painting by Georges Seurat which in turn inspired Stephen Sondheim to write a brilliant musical, and listening to the Sunday in the Park with George soundtrack. It was honsestly one of the most moving things I've done so far. We all know my thing with Stephen Sondheim, and how much his music affects me. And listening to it while on the island was like being in the music. There were people strolling through the trees in a small suburban park on an island in the river on an ordinary Sunday, towers where there were trees, blue purple yellow red water, little dogs yapping and playing, it was seriously like being immersed in the music I love so much.

The park is definitely worth a visit, even if you're not a die-hard Sondheim nut. It's a really lovely walk around the island, and there are little plaques all around with text in French and English telling about all the paintings that have been set there.

June 18th

The only thing of note to really happen in the last couple of days is that I walked around Paris listening to An American in Paris on my ipod which I highly recommend to any American's out there. It's quite fun.

Anyways, today I met up with my friend Brenna and we went to the candleligh tour of Vaux le Vicomte. Brenna is a fellow costumer and studying fashion conservation so we had a great time talking shop, and just talking about all sorts of things in general. It was raining on and off all day, but by the time we got to the chateau about 45 minutes outside of the city all the rain had cleared and the sky was the most intense blue.

Vaux le Vicomte is a 17th century chateau which was the inspiration for Versailles. Basically Louis XIV saw it and was like "Hey, you're not allowed to have a better house than me!" so up went Versailles. That being an exact quote of course. Anyways, it's absolutely gorgeous. And every Saturday in the summer, the light the chateau and the grounds with candles. We toured the gardens first, as we wanted to wait until it was darker to do the house. The gardens are so beautiful, proper sculpted French gardens with fountains and beautiful designs cut into the shrubbery. One thing that was really nice was that all the stone hasn't been scrubbed clean, so it's all covered with lichen and stuff which gives it this really beautiful aged quality. We walked around the whole garden area, stopping for a bit to sit on this little pavilion by some speakers which were playing classical music. I recognized a Papageno aria within a few notes of course. Then this one gorgeous (19th century) aria came on and between that and the gardens and watching the sun set and the chateau I almost cried. It was just a beautiful experience.

Then we went to tour the house. It was like stepping back into history!! To see the rooms with flickering candles on the tables and in the sconces and chandeliers, it was how the rooms were meant to be seen. Since candles don't give off that much light, there were also artificial lights so we could actually see the rooms, but they were well hidden so it didn't ruin the ambiance at all. It was an amazing experience seeing something so old by candlelight. Very magical.

After the chateau tour we went back outside and got our glasses of champagne that we had pre-ordered and found a spot to watch the fireworks. Because there were fireworks. At this point it was fully dark and the gardens and house were just surrounded by all these little candles, it was kind of like a fairy land. They set off fireworks on the first and third Saturday of the month, so I made sure to go on a fiework night. The champagne was delicious and the fireworks were gorgeous and it was just so amazing I can't even put it into words.

The only problem with the whole affair was that the last bus back to the train station left before the fireworks, so we had a bit of an adventure getting back as we had to call a cab that took FOREVER to get there. We got back to Paris pretty late, but it was so worth it. I would definitely reccommend the experience to anyone.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

For those of you who knew what my new years resolution was: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

OK so here's the deal. As of right now I only have my iPod to update with and since that takes forever and my time is currently devoted to gorging myself on London theater, updates may not happen for a bit. Hopefully the computers will be free in Bath.

But to tide you over, here's some stuff I've done:
- Went to Versailles twice
- Met up with my friends Rachel and Chelsea and turned them into my personal paparazzi
- Went to The Louvre
- Went to Monets house at Giverny
- Got a cold
- Went to London
- Paid an exorbitant amount of money to mail a box of souveniers home
- Saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Haymarket and Dr. Faustus at The Globe
- Visited Baker Street
- Braved the madness of Primark to get a dress for cheap
- Decided to register exclusively at Fortnum and Mason when I get married