Monday, June 29, 2009

Hmmmmm Mustard

Hello everyone, we are now in Dijon and enjoying it immensely. We are alwqys so impressed with ourselves when we make it to a nea place! It is quite difficult to type because the keyboards here have different letters in different places. Today we spent the day in a small town called Beaune. It is the capitol of wine country so naturally we loved it! We were not the only ones loving it, there were quite a few tourists there, many of them from the U.S.

Here we are couchsurfing with a couple and so far we only met Christophe who cooked us an extraordinary meal. A quiche Lorrain with bqcon and onions and a refreshing salad. He is a wine maker and helps produce some of the 12 million barrels of wine that come from this region. Throughout our few hours with him, we have been learning about wine making and the different types of wine in this region.

We were unable to take pictures today but the countryside is indescribable. For miles and miles all you cansee were vast vinyards with small grapes growing along what they call the Coast which is along a hill. The most expensive wine in the world is grown just by us and costs roughly 2,000 € or 3,000 US dollars.

We took a bikeride through some if the vinyards and it was very nice because there are next to no cars in the area. After we got back Christophe served us duck paté and some very tasty wines, a white for Erika and a red for AJ. He taught us a little about wine tasting, that a wine should be beautiful, you sniff once, then swirl and sniff again to get new aromas, then swish in your mouth to get the different tastes. (Its a little more complicated than that....but that is where our knowledge ends :)

We will have more tomorrow as well as pictures because Dijon is a very nice and quiet city with lots of history.

Good Night, AJ and Erika

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Birthday Extravaganza

Today is Erika's birthday!!! The flowers she is sitting next to pale in comparison to her beauty on her 23rd birthday yet matched her dress perfectly!
We celebrated in style with a trip to the Eiffel Tower, a true symbol of France. If you ever go, which we recommend you do, take the stairs. It is much more scenic and doesn't take very long at all to climb. We took many more shots of Paris but could not show them all. From the top, you can see almost all of Paris, basically 30 miles in every direction. It was stunning to be able to see so many beautiful sights, especially many that we have already visited!
A typical AJ and Erika pose, this was taken from the 2nd floor and was awesome! Fun fact: Every 9 years they repaint the Eiffel Tower. It takes 25 painters 18 months to and 60 tonnes of paint to finish. Whoaa!!!!
From a distance, the tower seems relatively unremarkable but once you are up close it is ridiculously immense. Not only is it the most recognized French symbol, it truly takes a while to comprehend its size. It was built within two years and finished in 1890. It was only supposed to stay there for 20 years but the Parisians eventually fell in love with it and became the national monument.
This is the Arc de Triumph which is AJ's favorite thing in France. It is based off of the Roman idea to build something remarkable after a successful war campaign. Napoleon Bonaparte did the Romans justice when he commissioned this massive Arch. It has such simple elegance and is the centerpoint for 13 roads that all intersect at this landmark. The Champs-Elysees runs directly to it and you can travel to the top of the Arc for a fee and see all of surrounding Paris.
Erika loved her birthday and celebrated not with a cake, but with a traditional French crepe filled with nutella. It really was a great day and we celebrated in style! Who can say they climbed the Eiffel Tower on their birthday? Not many we are sure but we would recommend it to anyone!

We also visited a museum that houses the largest collection of Monet paintings. It was stunning and definitely worth the trek. It was in a ritzy area that was refreshingly quiet and filled with boutiques for Erika and Lisa to shop for dresses.
It was unbelievable to see the collection that spanned his extensive career. Most do not know that he developed cataracts later in his life that drastically changed his paintings. While his earlier works were filled with small details, his later works became more about representing landscapes through strong colors. A researcher even created pictures of Monet's paintings from his perspective with cataracts.

Overall a wonderful day! Happy birthday also to Kira and Pat. We miss everyone especially today!!!! Thanks for all the birthday wishes,
AJ and Erika

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Three Americans in Paris

Today was a special day as Lisa, Erika's best friend, visited us in Paris for a day of spectacular fun! Lisa is working in Geneva for the summer for the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, malaria, and TB and we are so excited she was able to come stay with us for a weekend in Paris (especially since Erika's birthday is tomorrow....hint! hint!)

We went through the Louvre in record time this morning, just over 2 hours! Arriving around opening time proved to be incredibly beneficial as you will see with some of the fantastic photos we got of some of the most popular artworks in the world. Seeing the glass pyramid outside of the Louvre made us really feel like we are in Paris.This is the Louvre and is most impressive both in size and reputation. It houses a ridiculous amount of pictures that would take you a long time to actually look through. We actually met a girl from MSU who got separated from her group in line for tickets. It really is a small world!
The one on the left is Lisa, Erika's friend who enjoyed the beautiful sights with us today.
The Roman statue Victory stands atop the stairs leading to the majority of the Louvre.
Us in front of the Mona Lisa.
One of all of our personal favorites, a sculpture of a gladiatore in a perfect pose. You can even see the sense of anticipation and concentration in his face as he is about to make his next move.
This is the infamous Venus de Milo that is considered one of the greatest sculptures ever created. It was created around 100 B.C. and portrays the Greek image of beauty.
This is us in front of the Pantheon which, we did not go into because it cost a lot, but also because the real one, that is located in Rome, is exponentially greater in both size and magnificence. It still was a massive building that is impressive today! Several famous Parisians are buried there such as Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Marie and Pierre Curie and Louis Braille.
Lisa has not yet seen the Notre Dame in Paris so it was a great opportunity to show her the cathedral and take another picture from the Seine.

While shopping around, we noticed a large hullaballoo and lots andd lots of police around the streets. As we aproached a major intersection, there was a gay rights parade that featured many balloon floats and even a walking penis. Overall a fun and quite interesting day in Paris. Wish you all could be here,
AJ and Erika

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Sisyphean Task

Today we visited the massive Pere-Lachaise Cemetery which features such notable people as Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde. Most of the graves were very ornate but Oscar Wilde's was just bizarre!. It was sort of egyptian-like at the top but the bottom was the most distinguishable feature of the grave... Take a look!

Oscar Wilde's grave is covered in kisses as you can see above. Apparently someone started the tradition to leave lip prints on the base of the grave and the lipstick kiss has stuck...literally. Every once in a while the grave is refurbished so the kisses are gone but someone restarts the tradition.
This is Edith Piaf's grave which is actually quite simple but really hard to find. Erika found it because she happened to be standing next to it when she refused to continue walking down a hill. Lucky us Erika can be a stubborn mule! One of Edith's songs was featured in Saving Private Ryan and she had a movie, La Vie en Rose, come out about her just recently that one two Oscar's and a Golden Globe.

After the Cemetery we travelled uphill for an extended period of time to reach Belleville Park which is one of the highest points in Paris. There is a series of magnificent gardens that stretch along a winding route and from the top of the hill you can see just about all of the city. It is an unbelievable sight and definitely worth the trek, even if Erika's feet were numb by the end of it.

One thing we forgot to mention last night was the Quebec Day celebration. Basically it is an excuse for any Quebec raised citizens of Paris to party and listen to some country music. Quebec is anti-Canada because they want to secede but Canada won't let them so there is constant rivalry. Imagine the Dixie Chicks singing in French and you get a good picture of what it was like. Although niether of us are huge fans of country music we had an absolute blast.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Language Barrier

Today we took a day trip to Versailles, both the palace and the grounds were equally beautiful. While we spent hours walking around the inside of the palace, one could spend 2 full days exploring all of the rooms that make up this immense building. The interior was exceptionally furnished with hundreds of paintings, busts and crystal chandeliers.
The gardens were immaculately manicured and quite breathtaking. We walked around for hours and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the steps leading down to the Orange grove (it sounds much cooler in French). There were a lot of sculptures dedicated to Roman gods and goddesses scattered throughout the gardens. AJ gave Erika history lessons about the gods and goddesses and went into great detail about the many myths.
This is the famous Hall of Mirrors which consists of a lengthy hallway where one side has wall length mirrors and the other has windows which give spectacular views to the gardens and surrounding countryside. Most people don't even notice the beautiful paintings on the ceiling adorned with gold-leafed frames.

This is an outside view of one of the gardens where the only color you can see is green. It was actually a perfectly sunny day with a slight breeze. Jealous, aren't you?
This is where we ate lunch overlooking the Orange Grove and the countryside. You could smell the just-blossoming flowers and fresh-cut grass.
This was a beautiful fountain with the Palace in the background. In the pond we each made a wish and threw coins.
Another beautiful view of the massive ponds in the gardens. The gardens are free to anyone who wants to see them and we found many people having picnics and you could rent boats at the far lake/pond. It really was that big!
We left Versailles about an hour before we intended and just so happened to have to stop very close to Notre Dame. So we figured we would take the short walk from the metro station to see this beautiful cathedral. There is so much you can say about it without really describing it fully. For Erika, it was really kind of an emotional experience, especially the inside. The large vaulted ceiling was so tall, you feel so small and humbled inside this large expanse of space.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paris Part Un

Ahhh....our first day in Paris! Today was full of walking, but we also had some time to relax and people watch.

We arrived in Paris last night around 9pm from the EuroStar train which takes around 2-1/2 hours and goes under the channel between England and France. Getting to the place we are staying was a little difficult but we made. We are staying with a girl named Adleen, whose apartment we found on Craigslist :) Adleen, believe it or not is from Dearborn! We had a lot of fun talking to her about Michigan. She has been really helpful already helping us get around the city.

Today we started with a walk around Montmartre which was so enjoyable! The guidebook told us exactly where to go and we passed some awesome sites......First on the trip was Moulin Rouge, which really wasn't as big as we thought it was going be. It opened in 1889 and was really made famous by the movie of the same name. Walking to Moulin Rouge was quite shocking, the streets were filled with sex shops and even an erotic museum!

Align CenterNext was the Montmartre Cemetery which was really unique where the monuments were above the ground and huge. Many of them looked like small cathedrals and had stained glass windows. Some famous people were buried here including Alexander Dumas (his grave is pictured above). Walking through the cobblestone streets, we came across a number of stray cats that live among the tombs. Also, on the way to the next stop we saw an actual bearded lady. No joke it was more full than AJ could grow in a month!!!
A small stop along the walk was the Moulin de la Gallette which was featured in Renoir's famous painting by the same name. Near here we traveled around the rue de Lepic which has a number of famous landmards; Amelie was filmed along these streets and at No. 54 is a place where Vincent Van Gogh lived for a bit.
This is a statue of St. Denis who was beheaded by the Romans, and, according to legend, picked up his head and washed it off in a fountain on this spot. The fountain is now surrounded by a pretty garden where a bunch of mothers and their little kids were playing.
A really nice woman who spoke no English took this nice photo of us during our walk. Hopefully it is easy to see how crazy the streets of Paris are, twisting and turning, stairs, sharp turns, hills, and lots of people!
Here we got our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!! We did not go to the Eiffel Tower today, but it was still fun to finally see this famous landmark! As we continued on our climb, we trekked further and further up a large hill and began getting breathtaking views of the city.
Here is a photo of us outside the Sacre-Coeur, the second highest point in Paris. You can see the view of the city behind us. From here we could see glimpses of Notre Dame, the Louvre, and just about everything else.
Here is where we spent the majority of our day, Sacre-Coeur, a church built to atone for the victims of the Franco-Prussian War. It took 30 years to build and is in pristine condition. We couldn't take pictures inside which is a real shame because it was beautiful with mosaics, stained glass windows, and the massive central dome.

Today was perfect weather and we spent a lot of time sitting on the lawn, relaxing and people watching.

For dinner we stopped at a grocery store and bought some things for the week and made some pasta and had some delicious bread with mozzarella and balsamic vinegrete, and some awesome cheese spread. We even enjoyed it by candle light!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Huzzah to the King

Saturday June 20

As many of you probably noticed, we did not post an entry yesterday, but we'll make up for it today!

Yesterday we travelled to Twickenham which is rugby central. There we sat in a pub and drank while watching a rugby match, South Africa vs. the British Irish Lions. While AJ enjoyed some more Guinness, Erika tried a strawberry flavored hard cider.

Later in the afternoon, we went to Hampton Court Palace where England was celebrating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's coronation. While the palace was magnificent with original art and furniture in almost all of the rooms, the entertainment was fun and comical. Located on the Thames River, the palace has just about as many gardens as it does rooms, each with unique themes. We saw rose gardens, Roman themed parks, and numerous courts with fountains.

King Henry's court jester made us laugh with his antics while eating fire, spitting flames, and well, making a fool of himself and some choice crowd members. We watched a few small plays and even got to meet the King himself, all before a fireworks show.

Sunday June 21

Today was full of adventure as we wandered through London searching for Sunday markets. Throughout several areas in London, Sunday morning is a popular day to have outdoor markets full of food, interesting people, and just about anything you would want to buy.

This is King's Cross Station where we tried to find Platform 9 and 3/4 in order to catch a train to Hogwarts, but apparently we aren't magical. Running into walls does not lead you into other platforms.

At the end of the day, we decided to go back to Southbank where Big Ben and the London Eye are to enjoy some ice cream. Behind us is the County Hall building that sits on top of the London Aquarium. From here we could enjoy several beautiful views of London and the Thames River. The ice cream wasn't bad either. In fact, it was delicious!

London is full of unique buildings that give London real character. Some buildings, including King Henry's palace, are full of contrasting architectural styles as different additions have been added throughout history.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Well, helloooooo!

Its unfortunate we didn't take a lot of photos today, because today was really quite lovely!
This is a Buckingham Palace garden where AJ decided to be artistic. There were thousands of these beautiful flowers at the main entrance. The changing of the guards turned out to be a long long event with music by a marching band that included songs from Star Wars!
This is us in the front of Buckingham palace in front of a statue and you can sort of see the main entrance of the palace in the background. Not as cool as one would think. But interesting nonetheless! Holly wasn't with us today, so we had no one to be our photographer. Everyone get ready for this one...we didn't get lost today on our own!!! We made it to Buckingham Palace, The National Gallery Museum, Camdon Town, Kew, and Richmond all on our own!
This is a park in front of the palace that had a dedication to Canada and it was kind of lame. Basically a small granite fountain that had fake maple leaves in it (Erika liked it!). The park was pretty and so green; there were these chairs that you could rent for £1 for an hour and soak up the sun.

This is the main statue out front of Buckingham palace, today must have been a special event because it was packed full of people! We really couldn't see anything but we enjoyed the hustle and bustle anyway.

After Buckingham Palace we made our way to the National Gallery of London, a collection of artwork that was simply amazing. They had peices by Titian and Vincent Van Gogh (who are two of Erika's favorites) as well as Raphael, a cartoon by Leonardo da Vinci (a cartoon is a detailed sketch used for preparatory work to a painting), several Monet, Degas, Caravaggio, and two Michelangelos. We enjoyed a picnic packed by Holly's mom on the steps outside of the museum before we headed to Camdon Town.

Camdon Town is a place we would tell anyone visiting London to go. It has so much character and is absolutely the best place to people watch. It is full of punk/goth/rastafarian people and vendors and you never know what you are going to see. It if full of boutiques and street vendors, musicians and cafes selling anything from jewelry and punky shoelaces to artwork and thongs with the British flag! We even got mooned...not on one of the boutiques!

While walking through one of the markets, we found some paintings that were really interesting. So we decided to get one and continue to get a piece of original artwork in every country that we visit.

Next we walked around a few of the smaller, more quaint sections of London, Kew and Richmond. Both have their unique collection of shops and pubs.

After a long day of walking, we went back to Holly's house and enjoyed an incredibly delicious homecooked meal by Holly's mom. We had chicken, roast potatoes that were to die for, leeks and zucchini (which we both tried and really liked), carrots, and gravy! We have really enjoyed our time with Holly and her mom! They are wonderful to share a bottle of wine with, chat and laugh with, we are so lucky to be able to share this time with them!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If we thought we were tired yesterday.... :)

Outside of crowded Big Ben...which really isn't as big as you would expect. Protesters were outside of the Parliament building promoting peace. One of them has been living in a tent outside of the building for 20 years!
St. Paul's cathedral where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married.
In front of the London Eye, the most popular paid for attraction in England. It takes roughly 30 minutes to go all of the way around and costs about $30 a person!
This picture doesn't do this place justice, Westminster Abbey is absolutely gorgeous! A beautiful example of a gothic cathedral, complete with rose window and flying buttresses. There is a service everyday as well as tours.
The Tower of London which used to detain and execute prisoners up until the 1700s. The prison is attached to the Tower Bridge which is magnificent and understandably the most popular bridge in London. As we were on our way to see the Tower Bridge we came across this unique building and just had to take a pic.
This is the Southwark Cathedral which has been in use for hundreds of years, although the actual ground has been in use for religious purposes for 1400 years. It was massive and surrounded by beautiful gardens where people eat and lounge.
This was one of the first places we went and definitely interesting. They did have some interesting pieces including some Piccaso, Dali, and a beautiful Monet. Not so cool was the sexually explicit gallery, which was just creepy.
This is the famous Tower Bridge that we ended up walking acrossed. Walking seems to be the theme of backpacking across Europe.
Just an interesting sculpture so we figured we would put an "A & E" theme to it. Yes we are dorks but like to think we're cool.
We want to thank everyone for your comments! We really appreciate hearing from you guys!