Saturday, December 08, 2012

‘Tis the Season… for Travel ~ Part II

If you have a full day in Paris, but the weather isn’t exactly cooperating with you, there is one great thing to go see:  the Louvre.  Approximately 35,000 artistic pieces in a space of over 650,000 square feet.  You may need more than a few hours in this museum… just an observation.  A day spent here, though, means that you won’t have to exercise for another year.  I literally wore through my pair of shoes that were in a perfect condition at the start of the trip.  Just thought I would prepare you for this visit…

Before going inside the museum, we formed a strategy that would allow for us to see the more prominent pieces in the shortest amount of time in case we began to tire early.  The Three Ladies of the Louvre are certainly some of the most famous pieces in this museum:  The Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Mona Lisa.  It is astonishing to see these amazing pieces of art.  It gives you an even greater feeling knowing just how celebrated these pieces are to the world.  There are countless others (well okay… 34, 997) that are also incredible to see as well.  Even if you are not a huge fan of art or museums, I think you will still be amazed with what is inside the Louvre.  After finishing at the museum, though, I did something that I appreciated just as much as the artwork I saw:  napping.  After having a nice rest, I went back out and walked around Paris.  It was certainly an incredibly productive (and exhausting) day.

The next day in Paris was a rather relaxing day (and this was certainly not an excuse for the day that I had yesterday).  Although it was two months away, the city and the stores were already getting prepared for the holidays.  I really felt in the holiday spirit at the Galeries Lafayette, one of the most famous shopping centers in Paris.  The tree was already up and decorated.  It certainly made me realize just how close the end of my time in France was.

The final day in Paris was spent looking at some of the main sights (which was perfect since the weather was wonderful that day).  We hiked up the hill to see Sacré Coeur Basilica and have an amazing view of Paris.  After this, we also spent time walking around the many gardens and parks of Paris.  Seeing the Eiffel Tower again was also certainly on the list of things to do before leaving the next day.  I was able to end the night walking around the Latin Quarter, which is one of my favorite places to go in Paris.  It’s always so lively, cheerful, and entertaining.  I also may have enjoyed some dessert while watching the Eiffel Tower light up one last time before heading back to the hotel.  My time in Paris was truly unforgettable.  I have a feeling that I’ll be back in another five years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

‘Tis the Season… for Travel ~ Part I

I will be doing a series (at least I hope) of some trips I did over the past few weeks.  Earlier this month, France celebrated Toussaint (also known as All Saints’ Day).  I was fortunate having Thursday and Friday (November 1 and 2) off from class.  So how better to spend a four-day weekend than going to Paris!

For me, it was such a great time to go to the city since the weather wasn’t too frigid yet.  I was also extremely excited since the last time I went was with my family for Thanksgiving in 2007.  So I was essentially celebrating a five-year anniversary. (I may have to make this a regular thing.)

Upon arriving in Paris by train, the three-day adventure to cover as much as possible began.  We were fortunate to have beautiful weather that day… which made it wonderful to walk around and see as much as I could.  The first stop:  Notre Dame.  I am always fascinated with architecture and how certain design feats were accomplished.  Paris is certainly an incredible place to go for those with similar interests.  Another thing at the Notre Dame that simply amazes me is the beautiful stained glass.  Although you are unable to see it from the outside, you would surely be stunned at the detail, color, and design of the windows.  I promise I’ll stop here and not go all “History Channel meets QVC special” on you, though.  But really… stained glass… check it out.
After leaving Notre Dame, we went towards the museum famous for its three ladies.  The Louvre.  We decided to save the Louvre for the next day since we would have the entire day free.  You would need much more than a day to see the Louvre, though.  After walking around nearby and seeing more of the architecture, we decided to walk towards the Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe and pass through the gardens along the way.

I have to admit, walking down the Champs Élysées is one of my favorite parts of Paris.  It’s just an amazing feeling that you get since you know that you are getting to fulfill your dreams about having the traditional Paris experience.  That feeling augmented a good bit when I would walk into many of the glamorous stores along the famous avenue.  That feeling then quickly diminished after seeing the prices.  Traveler Hint:  If you want people to be impressed, then go into the store and buy the cheapest (yet still practical) item that you can find just so you can walk around Paris with the bag.  As a completely random example, say you find a pair of marked-down shorts in Banana Republic since the store is attempting to get rid of them quickly.  They’ll be practical when it warms up a bit.  Clearance sections are your friend, though.

What better way to end the day than to see one of the most iconic monuments in the world:  the Eiffel Tower.  And just when you think it couldn’t get any better seeing the tower during the day… you get to see it by night.  Seeing the tower at night covered in lights is incredible.  What is even more amazing is seeing the tower at every hour, on the hour.  At this time, you are able to see the tower light up with flashes for five minutes.  It is one of the best ways to end your night in Paris.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

South of France

Several weekends ago, I had a fantastic opportunity to travel to the south of France to enjoy the last bit of warm weather before the temperature dropped.  Having a weekend trip to go down to the beach is certainly a great way to prevent the onset of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) caused by the weather.  So on a Saturday morning, a group of us from my school loaded up the cars and headed towards Hyeres, France.  (It is pretty obvious that we are heading to a French beach when looking at the picture of the back of the car.) 

Hyeres, located along the Mediterranean Sea, happens to be the oldest resort along the French Riviera.  It was certainly an incredible place to stop to have a picnic lunch while gazing at all of the boats lined up along the waterway.  After finishing lunch, we traveled to a smaller beach that is extremely popular among wind-surfers.  Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to try it out.  (I suddenly picture my mother having a sigh of relief.)  But don’t worry!  I’ll return one day to experience it.  After finishing at the beach, we traveled to the campground where we spent the night.  It was certainly a great time having a barbecue, dancing to music, and playing pétanque.

The next morning, we left the campground and went to the docks to catch a ferry from the mainland of France to the island of Porquerolles.  The island is mostly a national park at the moment, but one is still able to find vineyards throughout the island that produce a wine known as vin des Côtes de Provence.  The island was absolutely beautiful with its coastline, beaches, mountains, and forests.  After the ferry ride, our group biked a short distance to a private beach.  We spent a good part of the afternoon playing volleyball, swimming, snorkeling, and having another great picnic lunch.  It was great to be able to get one last beach trip in before the month of October was over.

After the beach, we had the chance to go mountain biking and have some great views of the island.  It was certainly no easy task going up some parts of the incline.  However, the view was certainly worth the effort.  After a short rest, we traveled back to the port where we boarded the ferry to head back to the mainland and then head back to Lyon.  For just two days, it was certainly an incredible experience.  Now it’s time to get ready for the snow!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My School in Lyon

While I am in Lyon this semester, I am attending IDRAC, a marketing and management school with a presence in numerous French cities.  Although Washington & Jefferson will always be my "home"... I find that IDRAC ranks high with it.  Not only are the faculty and staff great... but the students are amazing.  Incredibly welcoming and friendly.  They are also certainly creative.

As a project several years ago, members of my current class put together a lipdub video of themselves in the IDRAC building.  It is absolutely awesome!  It has also given me a few ideas...

But go ahead and check it out when you need a laugh... and see where I go to school.

Monday, October 22, 2012

W&J in Lyon

As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, October is certainly my busiest month while I am here in Lyon.  In this month alone, I’ve already finished four of my courses for the semester.  I am extremely thrilled to say that they are all going very well, though.  Our fall break at W&J was last weekend (which is usually the time I am in need of a few nights at home with my parent’s cooking and being in my own bed while watching reruns of Golden Girls and Friends to de-stress after midterms and build my energy back up to finish the semester).

Although going home wasn’t really an option, I was surprised to actually get the W&J home feeling here in Lyon.  During the week, I was visited by a member from my college’s Global Education!  Sara was doing a tour through France and meeting with not only W&J’s partner institutions, but also the students from W&J currently studying abroad.  I was so thrilled to be able to show off IDRAC and the city of Lyon.  It was also great to be able to go out to eat and catch up on everything.

Now I mentioned in my post about food that I would be blogging about the restaurants.  WELL… I thought I would give you a glimpse of the restaurant where I ate last week...  Le Gourmand De Saint Jean.  It is certainly an incredible restaurant with the traditional feel of a Lyonnaise bouchon.  I was also personally thrilled to have a traditional Lyonnaise salad as well as duck (which is rather difficult to make in my apartment without an oven).  The night was ended perfectly by eating some delicious desserts of panna cotta and a molten chocolate cake.  French Desserts = Happy Jeffrey.

Since I have neglected the blog recently, I will be posting a handful of posts this week.  For instance, I will be showing you an awesome project that my school here did a few years ago.  I will also be sharing pictures and stories from this past weekend’s adventure.  Now that I have a little time to breathe, I will begin the writing and photo uploading.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Ardèche: Part II

            As I mentioned in Part I of my Ardèche post, Ardèche is certainly known for its geographical features.  Having explored the mountains and caves the day prior, it was time for us to explore a different part of Ardèche.  The River.

            The Ardèche is a river (about 125 kilometers or 88 miles in length) that flows in south-central France through the valleys of the French department, Ardèche.  It is an absolutely stunning view when looking at the river as it flows through the gorges of the Ardèche cliffs.  It is also even more stunning when looking at the gorges and landscape views while on the river.  That’s right!  While in Ardèche, we went canoeing on the river!  I know that many of you right now are counting in your head the number of things that could have gone wrong with me in a canoe on a 125-kilometer river.  Surprisingly... I managed rather well!

               Our journey began with suiting up in lifejackets, getting our waterproof containers and paddles, and pulling our canoes down to the river.  It was certainly a beautiful day to go canoeing with the sun shining.  Unfortunately, it was not enough to warm the waters of the river… so stepping foot into the river to launch the canoe was certainly an awakening to us all.    One by one, we all launched into the river and began the 31-kilometer journey.  That’s right… 31 KILOMETERS!  (Equivalent to nearly 20 miles!)  This was going to be a long day.

            The day was filled with adventures, laughs, huge rapids (if my friends are reading this) / small rapids (if my parents are reading this), beautiful scenic views, and numerous breaks.  In all seriousness, the “rapids” were more like faster flowing sections of the river (which was touchable in most parts just by standing up).  In fact, it was rather comical when somebody would get stranded on the rocks since it was too shallow in some sections.  The overall boating experience was incredible, though!  It was certainly great walking around a bit and enjoying some down time during our breaks for lunch and relaxation.

            One of the most amazing sections of the river is at the Pont d’Arc.  You can see a picture of the arch attached with this post.  It was incredible being able to go under the arch and then stop to walk around and take pictures.  Ardèche has plenty of eye-catching geographical features that certainly make the 20-mile journey enjoyable.  The journey down the river was certainly a bonding experience for us all as well as a chance to discover our strengths (both physical and non-physical).  I am certainly glad that I was able to say that I conquered the Ardèche river… or at least a portion of it.  

I certainly slept well on the car ride back to Lyon.
Who knows what the next adventure may bring...

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Ardèche: Part I

I apologize for the lack in posts over the past two weeks.  October is turning out to be my busiest month while I am here in Lyon (both in and out of class).  Last weekend, I had an absolutely incredible time traveling to Ardèche, which is located in south-central France.  Although not very well known when considering tourist areas in France (such as Paris, Marseille, or Nice), Ardèche is certainly famous for a very unique feature.  It’s Geography. 

Ardèche is a very diverse area when looking at its geographic features.  The towering mountains, incredible plateaus, scenic valleys, and winding river (which I’ll specifically mention in my next post) make traveling to Ardèche an absolutely amazing experience.  What is even more fascinating about Ardèche is that some of the earliest known cave paintings were found in the caves of Ardèche.  To give you an idea, it is believed that the paintings were created approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago.  Evidently, I did not inherit this artistic gene as humanity evolved.

However, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to travel here last weekend for two days of sightseeing, cave exploring, and kayaking (which I will also discuss in the next blog post).  After a car ride with incredible landscape views, a small group of us from my school arrived at the Aven d’Orgnac.  Here, we had the chance to go within the mountains to see the incredible cave systems.  

It was absolutely magnificent to see the varying rock formations rising from the floor and hanging from above.  Although I have a picture on here, it doesn’t do the cave justice.  I have attached a video below that shows some of the marvels of the cave system.  I am also proud to say that despite my usual clumsiness, I made it through the journey in the cave without falling, stumbling, or hitting my head on any stalactites.  My tours for the Office of Admission at W&J are paying off.

            After leaving the cave system, our group went to our overnight location where we had a picnic for lunch, rested, and had a scrumptious dinner.  I was extremely pleased to find that we had a VERY traditional French dinner (as you can see above).  The amount of French influence in the meal was just overwhelming.  BUT... we certainly needed to build our energy for what was coming the next day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gastronomic Capital of the World... Oh Shucks

Market Purchases
As I mentioned in one of my first few posts, Lyon is known for being the food capital of the world.  And I have to spend an entire semester here.... what a shame.  =)

Now you may think that this blog post will be about the restaurants in Lyon. I will be honest and say that I am excited for that blog post, too.  However, I decided to share with you what being in the gastronomic capital of France and the world means to me.  Being in Lyon gives me an opportunity to try something new and different in my life.  To me, being in the gastronomic capital of the world means becoming a chef.

Vegetable Frittata
I'm sure most of us have heard the saying, "You Are What You Eat."  Well, thank God this isn't true.  Otherwise, I would have baguettes for limbs, my bones would be cheese, and my head would become one giant crêpe.  Come to think of it... that wouldn't be a bad thing (provided by heart was pumping Nutella throughout my body). If there is one thing that I have gained a great appreciation for, though, it would be cuisine.  I've decided to dedicate this blog post to the remarkable changes that Lyon has given me with my cooking.

Mongolian Beef Strips
When I was younger living at home, I would always want to be as great as my mother when she was in the kitchen.  (It's at this moment that I've just surpassed my sisters and have become the favorite child.)  But really,  I always wanted to be able to have the skill of combining ingredients and making an incredible meal for everyone to sit down and enjoy.  Living here in Lyon, I have been given that opportunity.  Before I arrived, I was so excited because I was hoping to have the opportunity to continue my dessert baking.  (While living with my sister in DC during the summer, I decided to learn how to bake to surprise her when she returned from long trips.)  I ended up tossing all of that excitement out the window when I arrived to find that I have no oven.  Just two small stove-top burners and a microwave.  Yay!

Greek Chicken Salad
Now, I am really glad that was the case.  I decided to accept that since baking was out of the picture temporarily, I would focus on cooking instead.  I started out at a rather sufficient level I would say:  boiling water for pasta.  But then, I decided to have a little fun and begin to experiment.  Each Wednesday and Saturday, there is a great farmer's market right outside my building.  Every Tuesday and Friday night, I would plan out a few meals before I would go to bed.  The following day, I would head over to the farmer's market and explore.  I usually come back with bags of fruits, vegetables, breads and pastries, cheeses, and so much more.  The first picture of this post shows my purchases after going to the market one morning.  (You can see some of the different products offered at the market in the picture below.)  In the evenings after doing some reading or going for a run, I would begin having my entertainment for the night.

More Than Just Produce
I would open the fridge and pull out my purchases from the market. I'd then use my original meal plans along with my creativity to cook something that ended up being completely different from my original ideas.  For example, I was going to do an omelette in the second picture (that ended up becoming a vegetable frittata with roasted potatoes).  In the third picture, I was going to do a flank steak (that ended up becoming Mongolian beef strips with peanuts and stir-fried vegetables).  Tonights dinner, the fourth picture, was originally going to be chicken breast with a side salad (that ended up becoming a Greek chicken salad).  I absolutely love this opportunity to be spontaneous and try something completely new.  The best thing about it is that if a meal doesn't work out, I just won't take a picture of it.  No one else has to know.  ;-)

In the end, Lyon is giving me the ability to explore its culture through its food with my own spin on it.  Although I do plan to enjoy the restaurants in Lyon, I really enjoy being able to continue my passion of cooking using the products of Lyon.  I cannot wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Dance First. Think Later."

Currently in Lyon, we are celebrating... DANCE!  From September 13th to September 30th, hundreds of dancers have been, are, and will be holding various performances celebrating dance.  This event combines various shows, dance lessons, a parade, an enormous flash mob, and more!

To kick off the festival, a parade was held on the streets around Place Bellecour with participants representing different areas of Lyon.  Each group had something different to offer to the crowd.  There were plenty of dancers, singers, stilt-walkers, musicians, and acrobats.  It was certainly one of the most colorful and unique parades I have seen  in quite some time.  (I am still have dreams of being chased by hundreds of people looking like the Blue Man Group.  See the picture to the right below to understand why.)

I was extremely proud of myself for being able to provide medical attention to a dehydrated drummer during the parade.  Okay... so maybe I just provided some water, sunblock, and used my height to provide shade.  STILL... I am saying that I saved a downed drummer with no pre-health experience from W&J. 

Once the parade was complete, the participants and the spectators gathered at Place Bellecour around a stage to watch a group of extremely talented dancers perform.  Once finished, they invited the entire crowd to participate in the dance.  (They clearly didn't know how bad of an idea that was with me in the audience.)  HOWEVER... the dancers taught the crowd (or most of the crowd at least) a few simple dance moves that amazingly came together quite well.  I've taken the liberty to add the video below for your enjoyment... and laughter.

I will now launch a contest on this blog:  The goal is to find me!  I promise that I am in this crowd, and I am dancing.  The challenge is to find me!  I will give you a few hints.  I am wearing a black polo shirt, and I am towards the middle/left if you are standing on the stage facing out towards the audience.  

And no... this is not just a way to let you do all the work in finding me since I've failed at it.

Good Luck!  Oh... and the winner will receive a prize!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dinner And A Show

I certainly believe that truly experiencing the culture when you travel is absolutely essential to having an enjoyable journey.  It is great to walk around the famous landmarks, see the galleries and museums, and take a guided tour.  However, I like to take it a step further when experiencing the culture.  I prefer to go from feeling like a tourist... to feeling like a local.  For example, I may attend an arts festival or go to a soccer match and cheer on the city's team.  I will certainly go out to the local restaurants and enjoy the food (especially when you consider I am in the gastronomic capital of the world).

Late last week, my school had a day of orientation for us that involved plenty of activities.  We left early in the morning to head up into the mountains outside of Lyon.  The day was spent hiking in our berets, mountain biking (and I mean it when I say 'MOUNTAIN'), and playing some football (soccer) with a team consisting of players from France, England, and Ireland.  (NOTE:  It is impressive that I only received a broken toe when playing against Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Irishmen in a game of soccer.)

After the activities, we went back into Lyon to a restaurant named Le Geret for dinner.  After an exhausting day, I think that everyone needed to have a good meal.  This was certainly the restaurant to have one.  After enjoying a variety of appetizers consisting of the local meats, vegetables, and bread, we were served an absolutely INCREDIBLE dinner.  Those of us at my table tried to order something different so that we could all share.  Although we managed to successfully order something different, it was rather difficult for us to share.  I will say that I believe I sat at the best table consisting of my school's Spanish professor from Mexico, a professor from Italy, the school's program coordinator for my year who lived in Spain, a student from Denmark, and three French students with the ability of multiple languages.  Once you add in wine to the picture, I can say for certain that I was sitting at the most talkative and culturally diverse table in the restaurant.

And if I thought the night could not get any better after dessert, the restaurant was taken over by my school and led into song.  I honestly don't know a better way to celebrate than to sing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.  Luckily, I was able to have the entire thing on video.  This was certainly an experience that I never wish to forget.