Friday, April 24

April in Paris, Chestnuts in Blossom

Spring break ended with Cait's lovely visit to Rennes, in which we had picnics in the park, went to the market, visited the fine arts museum, met friends out and about, ate traditional Bretagne galettes and cider (and of course crepes) and slept in. It was very relaxing and the weather held-off somewhat. On Saturday morning, we went to Paris! Though the weather was nasty, it was so cool to show Cait Paris for her first time. We were so lucky because we met/stayed with my Grandma Fern and her husband Alfred, which was such a treat. We walked along the Champs D'Elysees, saw Arc de Triomphe, grabbed lunch, went to an African Arts museum that was having an exhibit on women, and finally ended with the most spectactular dinner... ever. After dinner we stood outside for a minute to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Cait and I had so so much fun, essentially we laughed and ate for about 10 days, it was perfect, and really nice to see a familiar face. Cait left somewhat early Sunday morning to fly back to Rome, and I went to meet my friend Julia (again!) for another wonderful Sunday in Paris. We grabbed lunch and decided to go to an area I had not yet explored. We found beautiful gardens (it is most definitely spring here, the flowers are out in full bloom) and also checked out the Evolution Museum, which was very cool and kind of like a Natural History Museum. The sun came out so we walked along the river to get the BEST ice cream in Paris, right by the Notre Dame where Lindsay and I had gone in January. We sat in a park in the sun, with the rest of Paris, and enjoyed our last time in Paris together.

I am now back in Rennes and it is great to take a break from traveling for just a little bit. We have had some serious strikes since we've been back, including having to be evacuaded from the building twice (leading to class outside ... no to shabby), but our program leaders are moving all of our classes from the University for the rest of the semester because this is getting so ridiculous. I am off to the Loire Valley with my program for the weekend so I will be sure to send another update when I get back!

Thursday, April 23


After a somewhat stressful morning, Cait and I were aboard a train bound for Catania, Sicily. Estimated travel time: 10.5 hours. Something you should know before reading. Apparently, in Italy, there aren’t always seat assignments, so while we were fine, many others were sitting/standing/perching in the aisles, and waiting for people to leave, and at that point they would dart to the free seat. So Cait and I were sitting next to each other, and there was a mother sitting next to me. Her son and her husband were sitting across from me. Not only did she smell, but they argued for the 7 hours they were on the train and decided to make sandwiches with salami and sweaty cheese, which made us quickly loose our appetite for the salami and cheese we had brought as well. Needless to say we slept for most of the ride, and laughed for the rest of it. We arrived in Catania at night, went straight to our hostel, and straight to bed.

The next morning we were hoping for sunshine and beautiful scenery. We set out into the market, which was loud, and full of fresh food, including fresh meat which was hanging everywhere. We managed to find our way around and bought the works for a picnic. We found a beautiful piazza and had lunch in the sun. After lunch we began our quest for the beach/the ocean. We found a concrete walkway, train tracks, a railing, and the ocean. No sand. No beautiful beach. Staying positive we walked back to the hostel for a nap. On our way back to the hostel we had a moment, looked at one another, and practically simultaneously said “I want to go home!” The Duomo was pretty, and the weather was nice, but the area was sketchy, dirty, and there was nothing open. Caitlin immediately wnt to the train station (actually, she was driven, thanks to the cook of the restaurant/bar that was attached to our hostel) and tried to switch our tickets. In the end, we either left early Sunday morning, or Tuesday (when we were leaving anyways). We decided to stick it out, and it ended up being a great decision. That night we ate at an amazing restaurant recommended by someone at the hostel. We were eating gnocchi with swordfish and tomatoes, and the Mafia was eating in the next room. Seriously. Really well dressed older men all wearing matching pins on their lapels … come on.

Sunday was Easter, so we got dressed up in cute Easter dresses, and attended the mass at the Duomo. It poured rain all day, so we went out for a long lunch, took naps, and watched a movie for the rest of the afternoon. That night, we went back to the same restaurant and back to the hostel for a Rasta DJ. We danced to Bob Marley and chatted with people from Paris, Brazil, the states, and Denmark.

Monday, our last day in Sicily, and we took a shuttle about an hour and a half north to a city called Taormina (view from the top on photo right, great piazza, below on left). It was the most adorable city. It was packed with tourists, but it was all the way up on a cliff and had an amazing view of the beaches and Mt. Etna! (the largest active volcano in Europe). We found a great pasta place, and sat until the rain went away. Afterwards we found gelato and sat in the sun in a piazza and people watched, with commentary of course, for over two hours. It was so fun. We decided to go to a different restaurant that night, but had an amazing day and got lots of sun.

Tuesday our adventures in Sicily came to an end. We did some shopping for snacks for the train, but we were back on the train to Rome (another interesting experience). All in all, I wouldn’t go back to Catania necessarily, but the people were nice and other part of Sicily I would more then willing to explore. Also, it makes every bit of difference who you are traveling with – Cait and I laughed the entire time, when we could have been completely miserable, yet it was one of the best adventures I’ve had in Europe.

Roman Holiday

Early Tuesday morning Lindsay headed to the train station with me as I began my journey south and she continued to Prague and Berlin. I took a nice train ride to Rome - where I met up with Cait! It was so so nice to see a familiar face. She was with another friend from high school, Becky, so we had coffee with Becky before she continued her Euro-trip as well. Cait and I headed back to her adorable apartment, which she shares with 3 American girls and one Italian student. We cooked pasta and made incredible caprese salad. The next morning Cait didn't have class so took me to her favorite piazza, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps (photo on the right), and we had sandwiches by the Trevi Fountain (photo on the left). We took a quick break in a park which use to be an old villa called Villa Borghese. A bottle of wine later, we sat in the sun, and began our way back across town. We met up with a friend of Cait’s from the program to have what Cait claimed to be the best carbonara ever. The restaurant was located in the old Jewish Quarter, which was a really cute area. Oh, and she was right about the pasta. We had drinks afterwards (and people watched, of course) in a huge piazza covered with restaurants and bars, frequented by Americans.

Thursday Cait took me to Vatican City, but had an Italian quiz, so I walked around the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel alone. It was a beautiful day, but there were tons and tons of people. The Vatican Museums are a bit like the Louvre, it is completely impossible to do everything without feeling completely overwhelmed. I did another Rick Steves tour of the Sistine Chapel, which was amazing. I learned so much and even snuck a photo of Michelangelo’s Day of Judgment, the painting on the wall that completes his murals of the history of the world. It was very cool, and doing an audio tour is the only way to go. I continued wandering around, including grabbing a peek of the Raphael rooms, which included School of Athens, and just as amazing. I grabbed a quick gelato before meeting Cait for a tour of St. Peter’s. We entered the wrong way and found ourselves in the basement, where the tombs of past Popes were held. There were many people praying and standing around the tomb of Pope John Paul II. We then found our way upstairs and began yet another Rick Steves. St. Peter’s is massive and incredible. It was hard to see everything because of mass and all of the people (of course I choose to go to Rome on the highest Catholic holiday). The tour ended with Michelangelo’s Pieta, which was very cool, and Rick had a lot to say about it which helped our understanding of the entire statue. It is the only signed piece of Michelangelo’s. We left Vatican City and headed to Cait’s favorite neighborhood called Trestevere. Note: Every person who works at St. Peter’s is male, younger then thirty, and among the most beautiful men I have ever seen in my life. Trestevere was really cute, and we were able to walk around the river on our way there. We had a quick drink at an outdoor bar which was really cool. On our way home to go grocery shopping, we got lazy and stopped for dinner. We went home at a reasonable hour as we had a full day of traveling ahead of us …

Ciao Italia!

My adventures in Italy began with a full day of travel with Lindsay, in which we took every form of transportation: metro to train station, train to Paris, taxi to bus stop, shuttle bus to airpot, plane to Trevisio, bus to Venice, boat to Hostel (photo on the right), literally every form of transportation. We arrived in Venice around 10:30 or so at night, extremely tired and extremely hungry. We didn't stay on the main island, but at a small one about a two minute boat ride from St. Mark's square. Needless to stay there wasn't anything open. There was one small restaurant open at that hour on our island so we checked it out. Turns out the kitchen was closed, but the waiter insisted we stay and the chef would make something for us quickly. The restaurant was so cute, very modern, small, and definitely family run. We started with two glasses of delicious red wine, after we got Orecchiette ("ear" shaped pasta) with fresh tomato sauce and freshly graded mozzarella cheese. They topped it off with homemade tiramisu, which had been the special dessert. Lindsay (photo on the left) and I laughed the whole time about how surreal it was, but how the best meal we will had was at 11:00 at night in our sweatsuits/traveling clothes. For the rest of our stay in Venice, the resturant was never open - seriously. The lights were never on again, the tables were never outside again - making us think we just dreamt the whole thing.

Sunday was our first full day in Venice. We started off heading towards St. Mark's Basilica, of course it was mass, so we wondered across the canal to grab lunch and kill some time. We walked around a small market, and had lunch in the sun (we totally lucked out on the weather the whole time). We ate fresh fruit on the canal, and headed back to the square. We were able to cut the line and were let in the side door, the church was beautiful inside, and extremely ornate (photo on the right). We had downloaded tours of the basilica for free off iTunes with Rick Steves, so we each had our iPods and were able to take a free tour! (photo on the left) Gelato and people watching were in order afterwords. We walked all around the island, hoping to get lost and find a quiet area, but no luck that day, tourists were everywhere. Around 6:30, we had found a really cute small church, and given it was Palm Sunday, Lindsay took me to my first Catholic mass. The church was beautiful, the mass was very cool (and in Italian) and it was nice to be away from crowds for a couple hours. We grabbed dinner afterwords, and headed back to the hostel - not much was open on Sunday and we hadn't been home for almost 13 hours!

Monday in Venice was incredible. We met a girl who is studying in Rennes, but lives in Venice who recommended we leave the main island and look for Campo Santa Margherita. It was where the university is, and she said it was cheaper and less crowded. She was so right. We got off the water taxi, and just started walking, we had found the real Venice. We walked passed bakeries, and lace stores, it was very residential, and we never heard English. We crossed a bridge into the campo, and it was so nice. It was like a huge square, where all the restaurants had tables outside, and it was close to 75 degrees. With Lindsay's Lonely Planet "Europe on a Shoestring" (aka our venetian-bible) we had the most amazing pizza and gelato for less then 5 euros! There were some tourists but mostly just students. We stayed in the camp all day, looking around shops, people watching and sitting in the sun. We headed back to the hostel for a quick nap/shower, and had a quick cocktail hour, prosecco by the canal, then went back to the campo for a delicious dinner.
View of St. Mark's from our hostel
Cool view of a canal and a typical bridge Me and Linds on the docks

Thursday, April 2


Hello all!

So I am off for another traveling adventure on Saturday and I just wanted to post one last thing. I am flying to Venice on Saturday, train-ing it to Rome on Tuesday, and then taking another train to Sicily on Friday where I am staying with my friend Caitlin from home. We are then coming back to Rennes to show her my hood. I'm very excited to see a familiar face, as I miss everyone from home. Whats more is I will get to see my grandmother in Paris for a night, which will be great. I am very excited as I've heard all three places are absolutely beautiful.

Life in Rennes at the moment is a bit hectic. While it is definately spring here, it has been sunny and 50 for a while, the strike at the university is at full force. The general strike was on January 29th, so that is when the students began to strike. About two weeks ago they voted on a partial strike, meaning they didn't go to school at all the months of Febuary or March. But now, they have fully blockaded the university. We had to wait outside the building for 45 minutes the other morning because the students were blocking the doors, not allowing anyone to enter. After having morning classes, the afternoon classes were cancelled due to more blockading. The on Tuesday night, the president of the university essentiall closed down the school. We had no classes on Wednesday, and our Thursday/Friday classes have been moved to another part of the city. I guess we are all getting the TRUE French experience.

I hope everyone enjoys these next couple weeks of April - Prepare for a long blog post about adventures in Italy.