Monday, May 21, 2012

April 30 - Dublin; Alice in Funderland and More

Day 9 - Dublin

Today we got to Dublin!!! We learned a lot on our drive from the airport to the hotel from our bus driver/tour guide who was really funny. He told us a lot about the history of Dublin pre and post rebellion. When we got to the hotel, we had a bit of time to eat then get back on the bus for our tours.
            We started with a tour of Jameson Distillery. John Jameson, and later in partnership with his son, was one of the first to triple distill his whiskey for a better, smoother taste. He also used malted and unmalted barley and used a type of coal that was smokeless to dry out the barley because he didn’t want that flavor in his whiskey. To get its taste, it is aged for 8 years but in barrels that have already been used for other aging. After aging for 8 years, they mix it all together and bottle it to sell.
            After Jameson, we bussed over to Guinness for a self-guided tour of their converted stockhouse. Arthur Guinness signed a 9000-year lease for the last that the factory is on because he knew was the perfect location for his operation mainly because of the access to a river carrying pure water. This water was so important to him that he was ready to fight for it. He also began making ale for a few years before he was introduced to stout, which he started brewing along with the ale. After 30 years of brewing ale, he stopped his production of ale and focused on his stout. The tour culminated in a free pint of Guinness in their Gravity Bar 7 stories up that gave a 360° view of Dublin that was amazing and a trip to their gift shop.
            It was great to visit these places because it showed us just how important these businesses were to the Irish culture and their way of living. A lot of Irish were employed by both Jameson and Guinness and depended on them for their living and their family.
            After the tour, we were taken back to the hotel and given some time to get dinner before Alice in Funderland at the Abbey Theatre. I must say that when we first walked in to the theatre, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect with the preshow. By interval (intermission), I was really enjoying it. The original script/score was full of the hilarious pop culture references to Dublin and Ireland and some general jabs at global culture too. The second act was really interesting in the fact that in the beginning, we’re following Alice through her eyes but when we begin Act II, we relive what we just saw before interval except this time through the Queen’s eyes. We end up back with Alice but I enjoyed what they did to bring us into the act.
The original music was also really good and catchy. Some of it was better than others though. The three numbers I enjoyed the most and I think were written the best were the “We’re on the edge” song, the “Cut from the same cloth” song, and the song that ended the show. They were all performed amazingly and the language and topics of them, I’m sure, struck a lot of people’s heartstrings.
Then there was the spectacle of the show. Wow there was a lot of spectacle. The concept of this musical that I got was to go full spectacle the whole time until it was one of the important moments like the out on the edge song which was beautiful in its simplicity. The design elements were great and even though some of them and the concept was outlandish, it all came together very well and created a very enjoyable show.


Friday, May 11, 2012

05/02 Last Day in Dublin :(

            St. Patrick's Cathedral is a cathedral of the Church of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland which was founded in 1911. The Church has designated it 'The National Cathedral' of Ireland. It is the largest church in Ireland with its spire reaching one hundred and forty feet in the air. This cathedral is the location for most public national ceremonies. We went to hear the all boy choir sing. Choirboys are considered professional singers and are actually paid monthly for their services although the girls that are not. The organ in St. Patrick's Cathedral is the largest in Ireland.

           The architectural style of the cathedral is Neo-Gothic. Neo-Gothic architecture was born in in the 18th century in England. Characteristics of Neo-Gothic include pointed arches, steeply pitched roofs, pinnacles, and battlements.I really enjoyed hearing the choir sing in a church. I think it gives it a different feel and ring as apposed to hearing a choir sing in an auditorium or outside where the sound is kind of lost. It was a beautiful experience. 

           For our free day most of us walked around enjoying the architecture and people of Ireland. We listened to some instrument players on the street who played Irish music, we stopped and looked at the details of the statues we passed, and watched an artist make beautiful art on the street with what looked like colour pastels. He also used a bunch of Irish designs in his art.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

4/29 Notre Dame/Free Day in Paris

We started out our day by going to a mass at Notre Dame. Even though it was all in French, I was still able to get the gist of what was going on. Although I couldn't understand what they were saying it was still an incredible experience to be involved in a mass at Notre Dame. After that we started off
our free time by heading up to Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur. It was one of my favorite places we went to that day. The town of Montmartre is wonderful. It is everything you would imagine Paris to be. There are little shops and markets everywhere, food vendors in the center, and all these amazing street artists. It was nice to see that side of Paris, the less touristy side and more what it would be like as if you were living in Paris. I just think that Montmartre is a wondeful little gem of an area that everybody needs to experience. It gives you a whole different outlook on Paris. I just wish we had timed it out better so we could have stayed and explored there longer. We then proceeded toclimbed all the steps up to the Sacre-Coeur, which is this beautiful white church that has a wonderful view of Paris. After that we headed over to the Musee d'Orsay, which has one of the largest  collections of Impressionist works. This was by far my favorite thing I did in Paris. I was fortunate enough to go to the museum last year when I was in Paris, but the building was being renovated so they didn't have all their pieces out. This year the whole 2nd floor was dedicated to impressionist and post impressionist work. They had so many Monets which were just beautiful to look at and I saw some Degas that I had never seen before. I love Degas' work of the ballet dancers and was suprised to find out that he also did sculptures. They had a good number of Van Gogh's too but the best part
was when I walked in one of the room's and saw Renoir's Moulin de la Galette. It is my favorite piece of work of his and to be so close that I could almost touch it was amazing. I think the piece is
absolutely beautiful and I love how he plays with the light in the painting. I could have stayed and stared at paintings in that museum for hours. After that we wandered up and down the Champs Elysses and climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. That was also another beautiful view of the city and we were fortunate enough to be there right around sunset. When we came down from the Arc, they had just lit the Memorial Flame, which if I remember correctly, the Memorial
Flame was established shortly after they made a tomb for the Unknown Solider. Every night at six thirty, someone lights the memorial flame to  pay tribute to the Great Dead. It was quite an experience to be there at that time. Afterwards we grabbed some delicious dinner and
for dessert we had nutella crepes with strawberries! It was an amazing day where we got to explore so much and experience so much culture too, that I could not have asked for a better day in Paris.

O5/02: Last Day in Dublin.

This morning we went to a service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and surprisingly it was quite plain inside. Compared to Notre Dame, there was no ceiling art or grandeur of the place. St. Patrick’s cathedral was a place actually built for worship, it wasn’t meant to impress. However, just because it was plain it did not make this cathedral any less beautiful than the others. In this case, less was definitely more. I enjoyed the little morning service, and there was a children’s choir singing so it warmed my heart a bit.

Afterward, we were released for some free time. At this point my main agenda was clear, I wanted to find a cluster of shops and spend the rest of my Euros. While waiting for the hop on hop off bus, a couple of my girlfriends and I checked out the 99 cents store. It was quite similar to the Dollar Tree stores we have in the states. Then we stopped in a little place called Spar, a very popular one stop shop in Dublin. Spar can be compared to a gas station offering light snacks, beverages, magazines, and etc.

Once we finally hop on hop off bus, we met the nicest tour guide. She kindly pointed us in the right direction for our shopping excursions of the day. We found shopping in close proximity to our hotel on O’Connell Street. The first place we explored was Penneys, it was department store that was our equivalent to J.C.Penny or T.J. Maxx. Luckily for us they were having a sale on everything, needlessly to say it became my favorite store. As we went down side streets we found little boutiques and other stores for young adults that had affordable fashion.

Something that I noticed was that the American flag was a fashion trend in Dublin. It was really weird. There were American flag leggings, sweaters, high-waisted shorts, heels, and other accessories. Wearing the American flag does not appeal to me but apparently it appeals to the Irish. Another trend I noticed was wearing shorts over leggings, which fit because the weather was wet and cold most of the trip. So these young women stayed chic even though the sun did not make a frequent appearance.

While shopping I actually found a pair of shoes that were worn in the show Alice in Funderland. They were 15 Euro, and yes I purchased them because they are fabulous. I met a man today while shopping who is originally from Ireland but he has lived in Chicago for 10 years and he loved every second of it. He moved back to be closer to family but he makes annual trips back to the states. Irish people are fond of America so that definitely made me happy because I am fond of the Irish.

Later we went on a literary pub crawl which was awesome! In America, pubs are a place to go and get wasted however, in Dublin there is a story behind every pub. Pubs are for storytelling, conversing, jigging, and just enjoying yourself and the other company that happens to be there. When you walk into a pub in Dublin, you are welcomed like you’ve known the bartender for a while. They joke as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. Dublin is quite a homey place.
I am glad we decided to go on the literary pub crawl because I actually learned something while indulging myself. I’ve noticed in Europe in general that nothing is just for pure entertainment, there is always something to learn as well. I met some women from New York and Pennsylvania who just came on the pub crawl for the pub experience which I thought was awesome. In every pub we went to there was a famous person in literature who used to spend hours in that same place. I felt honored to be able to be there and just take it all in.

I also enjoyed the two actors that guided us through the pub crawl. They performed little skits and their acting was great. They stayed in character and had great chemistry. They entertained and educated the group and it kept me hooked. It was really good time.

I did not want to leave Dublin because it was comfortable. It is a nice mid-sized city and people are friendly to tourists. Wherever I went I felt like people were genuinely content I was there. Dublin is not a huge fashion capital or anything but it is a chic little city to live in. Everything about this day was just fabulous.

4/29 - A Free Day in Paris

Our days were numbered. I’m not kidding; they really were. We had three days in Paris. Let me repeat that: we had three days to see what we wanted to see in Paris. People have lived years in Paris without seeing all they wanted to see in Paris, and we had three days. Or rather, we had two days of mostly-guided activities and then one free day. To see Paris was a challenge, and we accepted it.
Well, not right away. Our first stop of the day was as a class, and it was Notre Dame Cathedral for a mass. Yes, that rhymed, and that’s okay. Back to business: we got to go to a mass at Notre Dame! That’s an experience that not many people get to have. Granted, it wasn’t like we followed everything. Since it was a Catholic mass, it obviously followed the format of a Catholic mass, but everything was (obviously) in French. While this was very interesting, it was also a bit difficult. Speaking as a Catholic, I actually enjoy listening to sermons when I go to masses in unfamiliar places so I can compare them to other sermons I’ve heard. I couldn’t exactly do that this time. Still, it was great to see a mass packed with so many people. Not surprising, though, because if you lived in close proximity to Notre Dame, wouldn’t you go to mass there, too? If you’re Catholic, that is. If not, pretend you know what I’m talking about.
Okay, so after mass, then we accepted the challenge of seeing Paris. After all, what else were we going to do on our free day, just sit around? No no. That would have been silly. The mass ended, and Hollyann and I convened, set up a quick schedule of things we wanted to see, and set off to conquer Paris! Metaphorically speaking.
I’ll admit that we didn’t get off to an exciting start. Souvenir shopping like champs. Things didn’t pick up until we made our way to the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. These buildings are both museums currently, but they also represent some important parts of Parisian history, buildings constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Hollyann talked about these two structures in a presentation she did earlier in the day, so it was her that aimed us toward them, which was fine with me. Despite the fact that they are both museums, we didn’t actually step into either of them. We were on a very tight schedule. Things to do, places to see.
Speaking of places to see, when we turned around, we happened to spot the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most famous landmarks of Paris. This prompted a quick look at our maps, which showed that, sure enough, it looked like the Arc was quite a walk from the Palais pair. Deceptive map. We decide to take a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, which is essentially the Main Street of Paris, filled to the brim with shops and cafés. Unfortunately, our pleasant stroll ends us at the Arc de Triomphe—or, more accurately, across the street from it. I don’t consider myself an unintelligent person by any means, but even when Hollyann and I put our heads together, we couldn’t spot a way to get across the wide street between us and the Arc.
Far be it from us, however, to let this hinder our itinerary. There was a metro station right behind us, and we hopped onto it for our next stop: the Moulin Rouge. In French, this literally translates to ‘the red windmill,’ and that is exactly what the Moulin Rouge is: a red windmill on top of a building. Small-ish, but still a novelty, and interesting to see. Most folks know this landmark from the eponymous movie about a dancer who doubles as courtesan, and indeed, the Moulin Rouge is in a less-than-reputable part of town. More accurately, it is a red light district, as Hollyann and I discovered while buying a bottle of water from a grocery store. We hopped right back onto the metro quite quickly after that.
After a glance at our trusty-but-deceiving map, we decided that our next stop was the Sacré Coeur, French for ‘sacred heart.’ The place is famous for being a huge, white church that also happens to be absolutely gorgeous. However, before we got there, we stumbled upon what seemed to be a gauntlet. The metro station off of which we hopped led us directly to what had become over the course of our trip our worst enemy: stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. We put on our big girl panties and sprinted most of the way up the stairs. The payoff for this turned out to be wonderful when we stumbled across Montmartre. You see, Montmartre is what most people probably think about when they think of Paris. The streets are small but lined with little shops and places to eat, and there’s a big square that’s just a market where people are peddling works of art and delicious-smelling food. It’s quaint but bustling, and I wish we could have had hours to just wander around there.
Alas, we didn’t. We were still on a mission to find the Sacré Coeur. As we wandered through Montmartre, Holly warned me about the Sacré Coeur, telling me to watch for peddlers and scammers. (She’s been to Paris before, and she encountered them then.) Luckily, though, we made it to the church at apparently just the right time or from the right angle, because there were no scammers and only a few peddlers wandering around. These didn’t interest us; the view was a higher priority. Even if you aren’t into churches or white, architectural structures, I would still suggest making the climb to the Sacré Coeur. The view has to be one of the best in Paris.
We got our pictures and our fill of the view (for the moment) before we made the arduous trek back down the million steps to get to our metro station. Now, I’ll admit, we stopped in some shops in Montmartre, so we each had quite an armful of souvenirs by that point. We made a quick stop at the hotel to throw things in our rooms and plan our next stop. What was our next stop, you ask? None other than the famous Musée d’Orsay, Parisian home of Impressionist art. Being that Holly and I are both huge fans of Impressionism, this was a source of great excitement for us.
It did not disappoint. First off, the building itself is spectacular. The museum is placed in a building which used to be a train station, meaning the architecture is grand in scale and complex enough to be beautiful. Even this, though, didn’t compare to the art within the museum. The first room we came across was the Van Gogh room. I swear to you I almost fainted.
You see, Vincent Van Gogh and I have a special bond. (Maybe a bit one-sided since he’s dead and all, but still.) My majors are art and psychology, so naturally, I want to go into art therapy later on in life. Van Gogh was something of a self-made art therapist. The man had a tragic but impressive array of mental illnesses plaguing him over the course of his life, and before art therapy was even a twinkle in the eye of psychology, Van Gogh was treating his own illnesses through his art. I feel drawn to him because of his perseverance, his tortured genius, and the beauty of his works. In fact, I feel such a kinship to him even across the ages that when I walked into the Musée d’Orsay’s room dedicated to his works, I could barely handle it. Hollyann was very accommodating and patient while I acted like a kid in a candy store, drinking in the genius contained in that one room. And then Holly was very understanding when I ushered her quickly out of the room; it was just too much at one time, and I was on the verge of a breakdown from a mix of excitement and just being overwhelmed.
Just as well, because it was Holly’s turn, and she was on a quest for her Renoir and Degas works. We found them with little trouble. While she immersed herself in her favorite Renoir work, I found myself in front of a Monet. Feet away from a Monet painting. I could count the brushstrokes. Again, I can’t think of a better word for what I felt other than overwhelmed. I was being brought to tears, and even now I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the thought of Monet standing almost where I was standing in front of the same canvas, but so many years ago. What would he have been thinking? Surely not that this painting, among his others, would have such a huge impact on the art world. What I would give to go back and talk with him, with Renoir, with Van Gogh about what they were thinking as they worked, what was going on in their minds. Think about that for a second.
When all was said and done, we only had an hour-and-a-half in the museum before it closed, but that was enough to be emotionally exhausting. This made is especially stupid when we decided that, “Hey, the map makes it look like the museum is really close to the Eiffel Tower, so let’s just walk there!” As it turns out, Holly and I are huge idiots. Or we were at that moment; I blame it on our brains being fried after our long day experiencing Paris.
After a pilgrimage worthy of the most devout believers, we made it to the Eiffel Tower. Just our luck when it turns out to be a wild goose chase. Holly had wanted to go there to get some final souvenirs, but she didn’t find what she wanted. This was sad, yes, but she was so tired that she didn’t care. I couldn’t bring myself to mind either. Besides, we had one final stop before we could collapse.
This time, when we got to the Arc de Triomphe, we made it a point to get across the road. Protip for anyone planning on visiting Paris: the tunnel leading to the actual Arc is huge and in the middle of the sidewalk. Just in case you walk past it like Holly and I did the first time. Now that oversight I can’t blame on our brains being fried. That was just good old-fashioned blindness.
Regardless, we decided to be masters of walking one last time and opted to take the stairs up the Arc. Turned out, the stairs weren’t as bad as we anticipated. The view, once again, is very worth it. For a while, we just admired that. Then the trip back down, of course.
Successful day in Paris? Why yes, I’d like to think so.

4/25 St. Paul's Cathedral

On the morning of April 25, we gathered in the basement of the main hotel to eat breakfast before riding the tube over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The traditional Irish breakfast here is so hearty and filling, it really makes me feel like I’m ready to tackle the day. Once breakfast was finished, we set off across the busy London streets, braving the crowded underground system over to St. Paul’s.

            Prior to this trip, I had collected some information on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, in order to give a presentation while there. As such, I entered the structure with some history, as well as pre-conceived notions as to what exactly I would be seeing. And they didn’t even come close to preparing me for just how vast and majestic it actually was. First of all, just walking into the main chamber of the cathedral is more than enough to make you feel small; pillars and statues tower above you, coming to a peek in the dome, the interior of which is 365 feet in the air (one foot for every day in the year). The ceiling was adorned with ornate art, depicting various biblical scenes. In contrast to the painted images, the statues on the ground floor were mostly of lay figures throughout English history, something that was odd to me. I have never witnessed such a mixture of the religious and the secular in a place of worship, and it really highlighted not only some of the culture of England, but also how the church has become as closely tied to the nation as it is to the Anglican faith.
            While exploring the cathedral, I was able to go up into the inner dome, an area called the “whispering well,” thus named for its amazing acoustics. A person standing on one side of the well can whisper into the wall, and a person standing on the other side can press their ear against the opposite wall and hear it (I tried it, and it works). Climbing up even higher, a door opened up to the outer dome, where I was treated to a panoramic view of London, architecture both old and new shrouded by a curtain of rain. It was a truly breath-taking sight, and well worth the steep hike. Also interesting was how some of the older architecture had been covered up by new constructions, like an old set of stone steps that were blocked by a new metal staircase.
            After a slightly easier trek back down the dome, I left St. Paul’s with a group of people from the class. Together, we used our last few free hours in London exploring the surrounding area, stopping in shops and getting one last un-guided look at the city before rushing off to Les Miserables and the choir concert. 

I.E. Heath

4/23 - The King's Speech

After spending the afternoon at the National Gallery in London looking at some famous paintings like Van Gogh's Sunflowers, I joined back up with the whole group to see The King's Speech.  I was not aware that the award winning movie was actually based on a play.  The premise of the show is the story of George VI's rise to the English crown.  Bertie as his family called him was the second son of King George V.  The thing is that he had developed a stammer at a young age.  This was tragic for a royal due to the number of public speeches that they were required to give.  This was right after the invention of the radio which increased the number of public speeches than what it was previously.  Bertie finds help in the form of Lionel Logue who uses a variety of odd methods of helping Bertie fix his stammer.  Tensions rise when the king dies, and Bertie's brother Edward is crowned king.  Edward is in a tight spot due to his love for an American woman who is technically not finished getting a divorce.  However, this is not all.  This american woman apparently has connections with Hitler which just makes matters worse.  Edward does not see how he has to do what the people expect him to.  He is under the impression that he is the King and therefore, he can do whatever makes him happy.  His stubbornness leads him no choice but to abdicate from the throne.  This means that Bertie will be crowned king.  Logue is right there to help his friend out when disaster strikes.  Bertie learns that Logue does not have a doctor's license like he thought he did.  He is furious that he has been "treated" by a mere man with no credentials.  There is a yelling match which ends with Logue tricking Bertie in screaming that he has a voice of his own.  This was the whole point that Logue was trying to get Bertie to understand.  Bertie realizes this and decides to keep Logue as a doctor and as a friend.  Bertie is then crowned as King George VI.  The play ends with perhaps one of the most famous speeches of English history.  It is the announcement that England is at war with Germany.  Bertie gives the speech, not perfectly, but with such emotion that the subtle pauses do not matter.  Then the curtain falls.  

This was an absolutely amazing performance!  I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the performance.  Charles Edwards who played Bertie did a fantastic job of making the stammer realistic.  I felt like I was in the room with the actors full of pity for Bertie.  He has his heart set so much in the right direction, but doesn't have any faith in his own voice.  It is through Logue's assistance that he is finally able to overcome the stammer and see his own ability to rule.  The final speech was so touching.  You could hear the difficulty that was still there; however, the emotion was overwhelming.  I had goosebumps.  The actors deserved the standing ovation that they received.  It was a great way to end a day in London.  

4/24/12 Tower of London, Free Day, and Food

From the outside, the Tower of London just looks like a giant, old castle, nothing special. Even walking up to the gate you get that creepy feeling that castles seem to emit. You walk down a path on one side of the Tower and see old cannons and statues, not really giving you much of a good feeling. But when you turn the corner and enter the courtyard, the mood changes. There are bright colored buildings and people crowding around statues and exhibits, which doesn’t feel creepy at all. It makes you feel like you have walked into a close community because not only do people congregate in the square, but all of the buildings line the space, closing you in for safety. The London guardsmen have two posts at the Tower of London, one outside of the Crown Jewels exhibit and another by the exit. Every now and then you can see them marching in a line in front of their posts, disproving the theory that guardsmen aren’t real people. They have to stretch their legs too! When you exit back down the same path, it suddenly seems less creepy because of what you have just seen inside.
On our free day, Mandi and I decided we were going to run all over the place.  We started by going back to the Globe theatre hoping to be able to get into a tour (because we couldn’t the previous day). I really wanted to get in today because 1) I gave a presentation on the Globe yesterday and wasn’t let in and 2) what theatre kid goes to London and doesn’t see the place where Shakespeare wrote and found inspiration?! Granted, it has been rebuilt twice, but the current Globe is as close to an exact replica as we can have (because of course back then they didn’t have plumbing, and I’m sure we would all rather bathrooms over outhouses). Upon arrival we come to find that tours have ended for the day due to a matinee performance of Measure for Measure…in Russian.
After that disappointment we decided to go back to the Buckingham Palace area and explore a bit. Do not believe everything you see in movies, folks, the guards do not stand outside of the gates for you to harass and take pictures with. They actually stand behind the gate; maybe fifty yards back at the actual palace entrance. They also do not wear the bearskins (the fuzzy black hats) at the palace. If you want to see the kind of guardsman you’d find in a cheesy American movie, go to the Tower of London. Beware, though. If you cross that rope fence to try and get closer, they will move and restrain you. Is it worth trying to find out what they do? No. They have guns.
That night, Mandi and I went to see Mamma Mia! I’d only seen the movie version, so I wasn’t sure how different it would be onstage. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too far off. The stage version had more musical numbers than the film did, though that’s not surprising because it has been around much, much longer. Even though we were sitting in the back, we could feel the energy pouring off of the stage and into the audience. This was a completely different experience than watching the film in a movie theater because you are in the story as opposed to just observing it. The man sitting on the other side of Mandi didn’t speak a word of English, yet sang every word along with the cast in that very language. This shows how far theatre can spread because this show has not been translated into his language, yet this man didn’t miss a word. Movies would be translated for convenience and marketing, but even sitting in the back of the audience, we heard a dozen different languages from the people surrounding us, yet they still went to see an English show. Whether they speak English or not, I couldn’t exactly tell you. What I can tell you is that they enjoyed the show either way. I did not hear a single complaint (in English, anyway) about the show when we walked out, and people flocked to the merchandise stand. A few even bought things already, they just wanted more!
The food in London is… interesting. You always hear the stereotype of “fat, lazy Americans,” and now I can see why. First off, most of them walk or take the Tube (their subway) everywhere, meaning they get more exercise everyday than most Americans. Secondly, they eat much, much healthier. We found these food places called “EAT” and “Pret” that look similar to grocery stores, but they are really fast food places. The difference between their fast food places and ours is insane. You walk into an EAT or a Pret and you can grab a number of different sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, soup, or small desserts or bags of chips. They have the same foods we do for the most part; they just portion and pair them differently to make healthier options. For example, a chicken salad sandwich in the states is chopped chicken breasts mixed with mayo (and sometimes other things). In London, it is sliced chicken with lettuce and tomato, maybe enough mayo to spread across one piece of bread with little excess. This is disappointing at first, but intriguing after that. I looked mainly at the sandwiches and discovered that many of them had pesto in them, and many were vegetarian. If the sandwiches had meat on them, they weren’t overstuffed like you see in American commercials for lunch meats. For us, these may not be appealing or filling, but they are healthier options that reflect an all-around healthier culture.

4/28/2012 Versailles and the Louvre

            We started the day by taking the metro to Versailles, a city 12 miles outside Paris. There, we visited the Palace of Versailles. The palace was built during the reign of King Louis XIV.  It began as a place for King Louis XIV to through elaborate parties for ambassadors from all over the world. He started by creating beautiful gardens and fountains in the area for the parties; however, there was a lack of housing for the guests. This is why the palace was built. The project would become so grand, that King Louis XIV would make it the seat of the government later on.
The palace is baroque architecture; this is shown through its symmetry and ornately decorative style. Gold suns are commonly used throughout the palace because King Louis XIV was fascinated by the sun and was known as the ‘sun king’. The king’s chamber is located at the center of the palace to coincide with the idea of the sun. Everything revolves around the sun and therefore the king. The day starts when the sun rises and ends when the sun sets. So, the day starts when the king rises and ends when the king retires. The Hall of Mirrors was fascinating. It uses windows and mirrors to reflect light; the reflected light is so strong that the floor shines like a mirror. This is also the room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed and WWI was ended. It is moving to be standing in the room where the war was ended and saddening to think of the actions done here that would lead to WWII. Unfortunately, we were only able to see the palace because the gardens and fountains were closed for a show later that day; however, the beauty of the palace is enough to behold in one day.
We then went take a guided tour of the Louvre. While we only saw a fraction of the art kept there, it was spectacular. One room that was fascinating was the room containing the paintings by Peter Paul Ruben depicting Marie de Medici’s life. The paintings were almost life-like due to their extreme detail; emotion could be seen in the faces. The story of Marie de Medici’s life was sad. She married Henry IV and became Queen of France. He did not marry her for love but for the power her family had and his need to secure the French crown; despite her, he would keep many mistresses around. After her coronation, he was assassinated and she would act as regent for her son, King Louis XIII, until he came of age. Due to her political interest, her own son exiled her. She would escape two years later and would spend the rest of her life trying to get rid of Richelieu, who had such a hold over her son. It was a sad life.
We also saw the Venus de Milo. It is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans). While the statue is old and slightly damaged, it is still very beautiful. It is amazing how so much expression and life can be carved into stone, a cold and hard substance. Versailles and the Louvre are filled such beauty, culture, and history; they are must see sites when traveling to the area.

4/26/2012 London tour blog

Arts Abroad – London, 4/26/2012 blog
Here in London on “Day Five” we have taken one of the most productive ventures we could have possibly taken. Meaning, the entire day seemed to teem with such a vast wealth of knowledge that I could scarcely take it all in. We met up with the tour guide, Barry, and started with a bus tour early in the morning. As the day progressed we took a tour of Oxford and several sites in the surrounding area. The architecture of Christ Church Cathedral was absolutely beautiful. The ornamentation and detail in the carvings, walls, and sculptures was rather unbelievable. I tend to favor gothic architecture more than some of the other movements like Baroque or Rococo. Perhaps it may just be so for the fact that it is more recognizable. I never have to guess at Gothic architecture as I do Federalist architecture. The architecture seems to vary dramatically within a very short amount of space. It’s amazing how just a look across the urban landscape from a high point of view, you could easily see all periods along the horizon line.
            We then travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of the late, great Shakespeare. We visited his home (a replica, of course) and gathered some great information on him. I didn’t realize how valuable a profession glove-making was at that time. I suppose today’s ready availability of such articles of clothing has nearly made them superfluous. That, and there is the fact that the work of that day was much more strenuous on one’s hands than most of the work of today. We visited Shakespeare’s garden where we were treated to a few performances of Shakespeare’s works. Afterward, they asked me to recite one of my Dogberry monologues from Much Ado about Nothing. This was fun to bring back such a memorable character, but I had forgotten most of the lines unfortunately. The countryside was breathtaking and a nice break from the urban streets of London. The rolling fields with the traditional Shakespearean households made of oak and other local materials were truly a sight to behold. Afterward, we visited Warwick Castle. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the whole thing. The castle almost seemed to lose some of its majesty from being changed into more of an amusement park attraction – At first I wasn’t even sure if it was a real castle. I can understand they are targeting a younger juvenile audience, but the respect of the castle seems to be detracted from this renovation. The view from the towers of the castle was very broad and really gave a sense of what archers would have to face in battle. The cross-shaped windows seemed to provide the perfect limited opening for such battles. The narrow spiral staircases were encroaching and would certainly not bode well for those in bulky armor trying to get up in a hurry. The roaming peacock was an interesting attraction for us all.
            It was a great experience that I will not forget about anytime soon. It was certainly one of the most visually stimulating days of the trip.