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An extra long weekend in France.

rain 9 °C
View France on kmclean's travel map.

After getting off to a good start in second semester we set off on our next trip, this time to France. One of the best parts about living among Catholics in southern Germany is all the holidays. Second semester started on April 15th and the first holiday was right around the corner on May 1st. May 9th was also a holiday and next week May 30th everything is also shut down. And if you think that might be enough time off for one month, you would be wrong. May 16th-24th is also holiday (that's right, the whole week). That adds up to 8 days off in May, no questions. Add that to our class-free Fridays – not necessarily by choice, but because virtually no courses are offered on Fridays; smart professors – and we end up having quite a bit of time on our hands. Needless to say, with a week off we started thinking about new destinations and we still hadn't been to Paris, so France it was.

We left last Friday morning and got to Paris in just over three and a half hours, from downtown Freiburg to downtown Paris. If you haven't studied the map lately, Freiburg and Paris are almost 600km apart! The slowest part of the journey is getting to Strasbourg, and then the TGV (“train à grand vitesse”) takes you from Strasbourg to Paris in just over 2 hours... 2 hours for over 500 km. Amazing. It takes over 3 hours to get to the airport and through security! Anyway, if you can't tell, I'm extremely impressed by the transportation in Europe. In August (unfortunately about 2 weeks after we leave!) they're opening a direct TGV line from Freiburg to Paris. Freiburg to Paris in 3 hours and I can barely find a way to get to New Minas for groceries. It's unfortunate that North America is regressing so severely in what little public transit it has while the rest of the world is looking for new cities to connect. I can only hope that someday someone comes to power who's had to rely on their own two feet and the public transit to get around.

Anyway, we made it to Paris and started wandering around. Walking around new cities with my backpack trying to find hostels and apartments seems to be the story of my life lately. We finally got in touch with our friend who so generously put us up in Paris and then went out for the evening. He studies Norwegian at the Sorbonne and that night the Nordic studies department had invited him to a talk on Kierkegaard at the Danish house on the Champs Elysées, so we tagged along. Afterwards we went out for a chinese buffet since it was past “supper time”, which is unfortunately very strict in France. If you're not hungry at meal time, you don't eat! Restaurants are open for lunch and supper, but not in between and not before or after. It's definitely a change from the perpetual snacking eating culture of Spain! That's one country I can't wait to visit again. The only food stands open after “supper time” in France are Algerian or Chinese, but at least it's always delicious. The next day we smartened up and went out for supper at 7:30, although that's apparently also a little early, since the place filled up around 8:30. It can always be a little tricky figuring out how and when to eat in a new place.

That day we were at the Musée d'Orsay which must have one of the most amazing art collections in the world. It's full of impressionist and post-impressionist work, my favourite. The next day we went to the Musée de l'Orangerie, where eight of Monet's water lilly murals are. They're breathtaking. There are also quite a few other really amazing pieces in the basement of the museum. As a bonus, museums and galleries in France are free for EU-resident students under 26 – that includes these museums, and even the Louvre, so we're taking in as much as we can, while we still can. We still haven't visited the Louvre yet but we're coming back here in a couple of days after a visit to Normandy, so we'll make sure to go in then.

Between museum visits we walked around the city quite a bit to see the other sites. Of course the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomph, even though it's been raining here the entire time! We've also visited the grand Mosque and the very cute café in the back of it, where they serve (extremely) sugared mint tea... reminiscent of our recent trip to Morocco. Thibault also took us to an old Tunisian patisserie for some delicious desserts. We stopped by the Sorbonne and rubbed Montagne's golden toe for some luck in academia, which we'll probably need to get back to reality in the fall. As a side note, the statue kind of looks like my uncle Russ, who also recently appeared in a Rembrandt painting in Amsterdam. Apparently he's a very generic-model-looking kind of guy.

We walked to Montmartre and up and down what must be the most hedonistic street in the world. We stopped by the Sacre Coeur and Thibault took us to a kind of artists district where some of the most beautiful (and expensive!) street art I've ever seen was for sale. Somehow paying 300 Euros for a painting off the street just doesn't seem right, though. I guess you have to be pretty confident to try to sell your art in Paris. In that part of town we also stopped by the Lapin Agile, the oldest cabaret in France. We spent another afternoon walking around and saw the ruins of the Bastille. It must be the most anticlimactic monument to an epic revolution in the world. All that's left is basically a few stones in the middle of a kid's park which are completely over grown with grass and trees. I can't decide if it's better to just let the ruins rot away with the rest of everything that old or if they should be preserved and monument-ified. Is it better to glorify the French Revolution and the way they did it, or just know that it happened and move on? Probably the latter. On our last evening in Paris Thibault took us to the outskirts of the city to see the Château de Vincennes. It's a massive castle just sitting on the edge of the city like it's no big deal. I guess there are just too many epic sites in Paris, only in this city could such a massive castle get so little attention.

Between the amazing art, delicious food, and catching up on our sleep, Paris has been absolutely amazing. There's enough to keep someone busy here for about a lifetime, but at least we have a few more days later this week. For now we're off to Rouen to meet up with another friend from Acadia and see a bit of Normandy for the first time.

Posted by kmclean 06:37 Archived in France Tagged food paris france Comments (0)

Kutná Hora

A day trip from Prague

sunny 5 °C
View Christmas 2012 on kmclean's travel map.

This is a really cute little town about an hour outside of Prague and a really great day trip out of the city. We went with a tour company during our stay in Prague and it was definitely worth it. The town itself is really interesting and has a great history, but the most famous site is the ossuary – the bone chapel.

It was definitely the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a small chapel just outside the town which was built on the site of former mass graves from the plague and the Hussite wars. The bones were piled up and a few hundred years later a very eccentric German just had to organize them. The Sedlec Ossuary is the result. There are towers, chalices, coats of arms, pyramids, a chandelier, and all kinds of other religious symbols built entirely out of human bones. The whole thing is very creepy, but if you get the chance Kutná Hora is really worth seeing. There’s also a really beautiful gothic cathedral there.

Kutná Hora used to be the site of a massive silver mining operation, and of course most of the money went into the cathedral, so it’s very extravagant. Being in Europe, though, the construction was interrupted several times by various wars and by the time they finished fighting and had the chance to finish building the church, they had spent all the money on war, so it was cut short – literally. It’s very small, and there’s a huge open space behind it, which is now a park, where you can tell they probably had plans to continue construction.

Even if you’re not into all the weird religious things about Europe, the town has an interesting history and is a very idyllic taste of small-town Europe. It was really great for us since we’ve been spending most of our time in cities. There are lots of beautiful, old, buildings which are all very fancy because of the wealth brought to the city by the mines. One that was really interesting is a house where a guy had “private” mines underneath, so he could steal the silver and not pay any taxes on it. Because of all the mines under the city, it’s becoming a little unstable. One of the other main churches there is starting to sink into the ground, most likely because of the mines and tunnels underneath it. Also, a couple of years ago a huge piece of the ground in the main square of the city caved in. The open spaces which are now “squares” in the town are former entrances to the mines, so it was probably to be expected eventually. They’re glad it didn’t happen about 10 metres to the east, though, where there’s a huge monument.

All the history and architecture was really interesting, but the best part of the tour was the lunch break. We went to a restaurant call Dačicky and it was delicious. We’ve really been enjoying Czech food anyway, but here it was really, really great. Our tour guide grew up in Prague and he said it’s his favourite restaurant in the country. They have all the traditional Czech dishes and a really good house beer with the same name as the restaurant. Everything was pretty cheap and the service was great, which I’ve found to be quite unusual for Europe. Czech food is really delicious, which was a great surprise. It’s got a lot of meat but not just pork. Duck, goose, rabbit, venison, and even veal are pretty common, and there’s a lot less cheese and salty sauces than Slovak food. Unfortunately there’s still quite a bit of sauerkraut, but still less than in Germany and Austria.

Kutná Hora is a really nice town and being only an hour away from Prague it makes for a perfect day trip out of the city. It was a perfect way to get away from the crowds (which I’m still not used to) for a day, learn a lot about Czech history, and eat some of the best Czech food there is. Besides one other tour group there were only a few people out and about in the town, it was really peaceful. It would be worth the 2 hour return trip anyway, I think, just for lunch if you’re in Prague and don’t really care for creepy monuments built out of human bones. There are really great little towns like this one with a lot to offer all over Europe, but this is one that’s definitely worth checking out.

Here are the pictures.

Posted by kmclean 20:26 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged food prague christmas czech chapel hora bone ossuary kutna dacicky Comments (0)

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