“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Family Time in Europe!

Family reunited! On the Rialto Bridge in Venice
It's been a while since my last post because I've been extremely busy, but with good reason: my family came to visit! My parents, Aunt Wendy & cousin Sydney flew in from MA on Friday, October 21st and stayed until November 1st, which happens to be All Saints' Day, a big holiday here, meaning I had a nice long weekend!
First evening out on the town, headed to the top of l'Arc de Triomphe
We started off with 3 days in Paris, then flew to Venice for 3 days, Aunt Wen & Syd finished up their trip in Paris and then my parents and I took off to Reims in Champagne country for a couple of days. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but we had an awesome time!

Lots of what we did and saw in Paris and Venice were things I had already done, but it was still fun to see everyone else's reactions of shock and awe upon arriving at each of the sights! I assumed many hats during their visit, including tour guide, interpreter and translator (in both French and my one semester's worth of Italian!), and even got to share my wealth of knowledge about history/art-history/French culture...I think I definitely proved that my $50k/year education is going to good use!

Some highlights from Paris included:

Saturday at Versailles, in the Hall of Mirrors
Drinking hot wine in the gardens at Versailles

Enjoying the fountain shows in the gardens

Picnicking at Père Lachaise Cemetery 

Finally getting around to dying my hair for Fall! 
My family rented an apartment in the Marais (the 4e arrondissement) for part of their stay, so I was able to spend a few nights there with everyone. Some of my friends even came over for a quasi-Mexican food night, although it was difficult to scrounge up ingredients from the local markets...we had to settle for shredded gruyère cheese instead of cheddar (since this is the only kind of shredded cheese anyone ever sells!), crème fraîche instead of sour cream, and some blend of "Tex-Mex" spices instead of pre-packaged taco seasoning (of which we used the entire giant container, and the food still lacked flavor...let's just say spicy things aren't a French forté).  It was great to be able to kick back and visit somewhere quiet outside of all the hustle-and-bustle of Parisian crowds at every touristic monument we went to - and since it was during the last week of October, everyone was on vacation here, so crowds were at a maximum!

Family photo - minus Jared :( !
Unfortunately, my brother Jared wasn't able to come along for the vacation with the rest of the family - a little thing called "college" happened to get in the way. I know he would have had a great time here & we often thought of him and his awesome photography skills whenever we saw something cool to take a picture of, as we know that his unique perspectives on everything would have put our photos to shame! I hope he'll be able to make it to Europe eventually, because I know he'd find it fascinating - hopefully I'll be able to join him when the time comes!

Parents at la Tour Eiffel

Happy Birthday!
My dad turned 50 while in Paris - not a bad place to spend a milestone birthday! My mom knows how much he hates "birthday napkins" and tacky birthday decorations, so of course she made sure to pack a bunch to decorate our apartment with. We had a delicious home-cooked meal and some yummy pastries from the bakery down the street. The festivities were topped off with a visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower! I'd say it was a birthday that won't soon be forgotten!

First meeting of the "sisters"
My uncle's fiancée, Ana, lives and works in Paris, and she came over one night after dinner to meet the rest of the family! They spent a nice evening together getting to know each other, and we all can't wait until Ana moves to the US for good in December.

At Caesar's Palace
Ana took us all out for dinner and a cabaret show at Caesar's Palace in Paris a few nights later. We all had fun dressing up to go out for a night on the town and thoroughly enjoyed our typically French dinner (foie gras, smoked salmon, scallops, duck, and fancy desserts!) and the entertaining show that followed.

And then there was our side-trip to Venice:

View from our hotel room's balcony
We stayed in a renovated villa located right a quiet canal. Waking up early in the morning was much easier when you could throw open the curtains and gaze out onto the peaceful canal.

Dark chocolate gelato - not a bad way to start your morning!
Of course one of the main reasons I really wanted to make a return trip to Italy was because of the food. I couldn't get enough of the gelato, tramezzino sandwiches and GIANT bowls of pasta - the big portions of food made me feel like I was back at home again!

Gorgeous Venetian glassware from the island of Murano
Every street you turn down has shop after shop showcasing the handcrafted glass objects from the Venetian island of Murano. They come in every shape, size and color and you can't help but stop and admire the craftsmanship that goes into each piece. I found a couple necklaces and some earrings that were calling my name, and I'll be sure to think back to my travels in Venice each time I wear them.

One of the many shops selling cool masks
Speaking of craftsmanship, mask shops are just as common as the glass ones. At many of the shops, you can go in and see the artists who are in the middle of creating the masks as you shop!

The Campanile in St. Mark's Square - take the elevator to the top for an AMAZING view of Venice & the lagoon

A bird's-eye (or should I say pigeon's-eye)  view of St. Mark's Square
The lagoon and isola San Giorgio as seen from the top of the Campanile

The Doge's Palace
Next, we toured the Doge's Palace. The doge was the elected king of Venice and had lots of power over the politics and trading that went on there. Inside the palace are his apartments, council chambers, armory, dungeons and prisons - great for lovers of warfare and fine arts alike!

Doge's Palace, at right, and the Lagoon

Family in the Doge's Palace

Sisters in front of St. Mark's Basilica
We quickly zipped through Basilica San Marco (St. Mark's Basilica) to see the Byzantine-style architecture of the church. Lots of golden mosaics adorn the walls and five domes of the ceiling. Very impressive, but we weren't able to take pictures inside, so you'll have to use your imagination....or better yet, go see it for yourself!

So many gondolas!!
You can't go to Venice and NOT go on a gondola ride. Unfortunately we had an overcast day and chose to go during low tide, so the smell of decaying mussels, barnacles and seaweed really added to the ambiance....It was fun but really pricey and only lasted half an hour. Our gondolier even classily pointed out a few historic sites by yelling something like "Hey lady, hey mister, look there. Mozart he stay there for six month." It was definitely an experience but we were still glad we went.

During our outrageously expensive gondola tour - ONLY 150 euros for 30 minutes!

Some of Venice's purple glass (they melt gold in with the sand while making it to give it this distinctive color) and the island of San Giorgio behind
Taking the vaporetto, or water taxi, offers views of Venice that are just as nice as those seen from a gondola at a fraction of the price. For 6,50 euro, you can ride all the way up the Grand Canal, which is particularly beautiful at night.
Venice by night is just as gorgeous as by day! View of the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal
My last view of the Grand Canal as we headed off to the airport
After saying adieu to Aunt Wendy & Sydney, my parents and I spent their final weekend in France in the historic city of Reims (formerly spelled 'Rheims,' and actually pronounced something like hranz), located in the heart of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Just a 45-minute high-speed train ride northeast of Paris, Reims is a city only a two-hour drive outside Belgium.

Notre-Dame de Reims, the city's cathedral
It is the city where Clovis, the first Christian king of France was baptized in 496 and its cathedral continued to be the place where French kings were anointed during their coronation ceremonies. During World War I, its cathedral was bombed, and the image of the partially-destroyed church was widespread throughout anti-German propaganda, as it was proof that Germans were targeting sites of cultural heritage. The city suffered further damage during World War II; statistics show that before the war there were around 30,000 houses in the city, and after the war only 16 remained unscathed. It was in Reims that General Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of the German forces, and it was officially signed here in on May 7, 1945. The city has been completely reconstructed, and visitors today would have no idea how badly the area had been destroyed only a few years before.

The cathedral's famous smiling angel

View from inside, looking down the nave
Reims had also been a Roman civilization started around 80 B.C. called Durocortorum. Impressive remains of a ceremonial gateway still stand, and visitors can walk in and around it to admire the strength of the Roman architecture that remains after more than 2000 years. 

Ruins of a Roman gateway
There is another, smaller church in Reims, that of St. Remi, the bishop who baptized Clovis as King of the Francs. His tomb lies behind the main altar, and when standing in front of it, the way the sun illuminates the church is amazing.
Inside the church of St. Remi

A bit of fall foliage - makes me feel like I'm back at home in New England!
Since Reims is in the Champagne region of France, you obviously have to visit some champagne cellars while there! We visited two, those of Charles Cazanove and G.H. Martel.

Champagne tasting & tours of the cellars
At each place, you take a tour of the area where the wine is aged and learn about the involved process that makes champagne the delicious, fizzy beverage we all know and love. At G.H. Martel, the bottles are actually processed in a series of rooms 20 meters below ground in what were formerly chalk mines. We learned that during the wars, people actually lived below ground in these mines to escape the bombing going on up above, and the smoke from the fires they made down there to keep warm still stains the walls.

Old instruments used to make champagne
All in all, it was a very busy week and a half, (and I was completely exhausted afterwards!) but I really enjoyed seeing my family and am glad I was able to share a little corner of Europe with them! Now it's time to pack my bags up again and head off to Amsterdam for 4 days this weekend - no rest for the weary traveler!


1 comment:

  1. Great job again on the post Rach-it really makes me feel like I was there with you! Thanks again for a great tour and wonderful visit with you. It's nice to see that you're happy and fit in with your new surroundings so well. Keep up the travels, have fun, be safe and most of all please don't forget to head back home in December-we miss you here! Love you tons :)