Tuesday, June 16, 2009

OK, here's the one I wanted to post

Bonjour hopeful readers!

I'm sorry to have neglected you over the past two weeks, but rest assured that I am still alive and having a wonderful time!

I was so lucky to have a week to spend with my friend Irena, who not only showed me all the fun things to do around Helsinki but also provided me with a week of stability— the same apartment, a set of keys, and an opportunity to catch up on sleep. And I did crash for the first few days, enjoying a chance to do some laundry, read, and wander tentatively around the city on my own while she worked.

She was a fantastic tour guide as well as hostess, taking me for a picnic on a nearby island one day, on a bus tour of the city another, to an old [but not Spannocchia old] castle via a train ride through beautiful northern countryside... we even took a cruise to Estonia! I also got an idea of some Finnish traditions, like cold-cured meat [something I would like to learn more about], cloudberries & cheese, and saunas! And most of all, it was great to be able to spend a week catching up with her!

From Helsinki I headed to Geneva for a night, meeting up with my friend Carlee from the RCAH. I'm not keen to go back there, but we did have a delicious traditional Swiss dinner called R osti, which is basically hash browns with delicious toppings and lots of cheese! And then, Paris!

I took French from 7th grade until I graduated high school, yet have never actually been to a French-speaking country until now. It was an interesting dynamic to observe in myself as my brain grappled with what I remember of French from six years of study, and what I learned of Italian in three months in Tuscany. I'm still rolling my R's and saying weird combinations of the two languages. It's something I never in a million years would have guessed would happen to me— not because I'm a language genius and should be able to distinguish them perfectly, but because I never would have predicted I would possess a working knowledge of two languages other than my mother tongue.

Interestingly enough, I made a friend at a restaurant one night, an Italian living in Paris [who speaks, of course, three languages effortlessly... damn you, American school system!], and so have been speaking more Italian here than French! Go figure. Anyway, turns out I can actually carry on conversations in Italian!! I am determined not to lose this ability once I get home.

So back to Paris... Carlee and I have managed to cover an incredible amount of the city in just one week. One day we walked from our hostel right next to the Gare de Lyon all the way to the Arc de Triomphe! On our way we stopped at Notre Dame [and were able to go inside!], the Louvre [just to see it], Assemblée National, Hotel des Invalides [where Napoleon is buried], and the Tour Eiffel for a picnic. By the time we made it to the Arc, we were ready for a siesta!

We also saw the Sacre Coeur, both by day and as the sun set, the Opera National de Paris-Garnier, the famed Moulin Rouge and the Bastille. We've also spent a few hours in the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, which in addition to holding an incredible amount of art are works of art themselves. One of my favorite things was going up to the top of the Notre Dame— we were there, looking out over Paris with the gargoyles, for the ringing of the bells at 5:30. Incredible.

Here's an idea of where we walked... I still can't believe we actually made it!

View Larger Map

And of course, we've been walking miles and miles every day, and then rewarding our efforts with the most perfect pastries imaginable. I have fallen in love completely with macarons. Today we stopped into Ladurée, a place I know about because of an art blog I read, and had a beautiful pink macaron with raspberries in the middle. Oh la la!

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