Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rouen & Honfleur

Our second class trip was a day trip to Rouen & Honfleur in the Normandy region of France. There wasn't anything in particular that I wanted to see in either city, so I spent much time wandering looking for stuff to photo or sketch. I have returned to both cities a few other times during trips to the area.

My rememberence of Rouen on that first visit is it was very gothic. Meaning that it was cloudy, everything seemed grey, and I was visiting various gothic churches. I'm a big fan of gothic churches, though none of these are significantly covered in books on the subject. There are three gothic churches that are the main sights in Rouen. First there is Notre Dame Cathedral. The facade was painted numerous times by Claude Monet as a lighting study. One of the tower facades was replicated in the design of the Tribune Tower in Chicago. It was an impressive church with a unique crossing tower. But something didn't grab me about it. It seemed quite ordinary at times.

The second church I visited was the Church of Saint Maclou. This church 1s noteworthy for the flamboyant late-gothic facade. But it seemed very dark and clunky for a gothic church. It did not have that soaring ceiling that I like so much and I couldn't get very good pictures of the exterior.

The last gothic church I visited was the Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen. This was my favorite. The interior (seen in the above photo) is very tall and the piers and arches accentuated that verticality. The facade is very ornate and I like the arrangement and shape of the different components. I also like the composition of the tower over the crossing. A center drum surrounded by four tourettes (as seen in the first photo). Now that I look at it again, it is probably my favorite church other than the gothic church in Amiens. The interior was also interesting because all of the seating had been removed and if I remember correctly, there were pieces of modern art displayed in it's place.
Honfleur is a quaint seaside town at the mouth of the Seine River. The Pont du Normandie has since been constructed not far from there. It was a fun little village to explore. There is a central harbor with some very nice buildings bordering it. I spent most of my time wandering around alone. So I saw quite a bit and had time to take many photos including the one below of fishermens nets drying out at the end of the day. Quite a picturesque little town.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Loire Valley

Our first class trip was to the Loire Valley. Although there were not any good stories to accompany the trip, there were some memorable places that I saw. On Saturday we visited the chateaus in Blois and Chambord. Blois was the oldest of the chateaus seen. It was interesting for it's history and gave a starting reference point for the history of the others. The exterior was less appealing since is was built over the years and was a less cohesive mismatch of architecture styles.
Chambord is an amazing and huge chateau with clear views of it from all around. The rooftop is one of the best features. It is almost like a medieval playground as seen in the photo above. So many interesting shapes and perspectives that you could walk amongst. I could spend a day taking photographs of that alone.
The interiors of all the chateaus were very medieval. Dark woods, dark spaces, and sparce furnishings. Chambord was different because the rooms were very large. There is also a double helix staircase that was very interesting. The tower at the top of the stair is seen in the photo above.
On Sunday we saw chateaus in Chenonceau and Amboise. Chenonceau had a very interesting exterior, setting, and surrounding area. It is the chateau built over a river as seen in the pictures above and below. I didn't find the interior very special, and although the gardens were very well done and maintained, they paled in comparison to Versailles. The most interesting aspect was the views of the chateau from across the river. We were fortunate to have absolutely no wind, so the River Cher was a mirror and made for some great photos.
In Amboise, I skipped the chateau in order to go see Leonardo da Vinci's residence Clos Lucé. I had heard the chateau was nothing special and I was a little chateau'ed out. The Studio of Leonardo da Vinci and the walk up the winding road up to it were very nice. It was my first introduction to his works and I found it quite intriguing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Our Place

We really lucked out on our place. (Center of the map in the link. Zoom out to get an idea of the location.) We were not too far from the school. We had a full separate kitchen. Some only had a hot plate, we had a working stove and oven. We had access to a television on Sunday evenings. There was soft porn shown and we called it 'Sex on Sunday'. We had a fireplace which we think actually sucked cold air in instead of heating the place. We were not tucked into some unused bedroom of a French family. Our place was independant of our landlord. We had a French high school student flatmate, Clovis, who stayed with us. I will say more about him later. The two biggest pluses were the location and the patio.
We were located at 13 Marechal Gallieni just north of the Neptune Basin of the Gardens of Versailles. So it was very easy to access the gardens for a run or a simple walk.
In the first few months before it was too cold, we spent every evening on the patio. It seemed like every night, I would cook spagetti from scratch and Robin and I would drink a bottle of cheap red wine. Robin was a few years older. He was on an accelerated graduate program for a Masters in Architecture. He had already spent a year studying abroad in Coventry England during his undergrad. He has also attended a boarding school. So those evenings on the patio were largely spent listening to all his stories from those times. Great times, just hanging out, drinking wine, and enjoying the outdoors. A place and time I will never forget. But as the weather turned colder, we were relegated to the indoor kitchen. We were lucky to be able to spend some time out there in the spring before leaving.
So that was largely our place. As far as the layout, Robin and I shared a room, Clovis had his own, there was a bathroom with shower, and the kitchen. Not big, but better than most. I'll get into more of the other day to day items later. As I said before, I was very fortunate to live in this place and have such a good roommate.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The First Days

After a summer of work and a quick trip to Champaign, I got ready for the big day to leave for France. I don't remember much before getting to the gate. There we were all the other students and their families and myself with my parents. My mind was really focused on the trip, so I really wasn't thinking about what I would be missing for the next months. I said goodbye to my parents and boarded the plane.

I remember an energy in the plane. Kinda like a bunch of kids going on a field trip. I was not mentally prepared to go a place where they spoke another language. Although I had spent months half-heartedly learning French, I still giggled when the flight attendant said Bonjour. I was like, OK, Bon joor.

We arrived in Paris early the next morning. We were herded onto a bus and given a tour of Paris. Of course I remember little of it. It is one of the worst ways to visit a city. We were dropped off at a youth hostel for the night. People started grouping up and I gravitated toward a couple of the other students, Tim & Robin. Robin I had met the year before. A group of us ventured out of the hotel. We hit a tabac and bought postcards and stamps. I quickly learned my French was horrible. Others had to help me through it. I think we wandered around a bit, but headed back to the hotel since we would be here a while. Plus we were exhausted.

Then next morning we were herded back onto the bus and off to Versailles. I don't remember much about what happened once in Versailles except we were told we needed to group up for our housing assignments. There were accomodations of different numbers (6, 3, 2, 4, 2, 2,...) and you had to match up your group with the accomodations. I was completely caught off guard. I hadn't thought at all about this and people had already paired off, or were frantically doing the same. I grabbed the one person I knew and didn't have any aversion to. Robin was eccentric and quite interesting to talk to. It turned out to be a great choice as I will go into more later. So almost as soon as we put our names down, we were wisked off to our residence by the landlord Madame Villiers.

The division of residences was almost purely by chance. Almost no one knew anything about what kind of residence pertained to which number of people. The one exception was the legendary house of six. Which past students told future students about. I totally missed out on that and came into the program without any advice. That's why I was caught off guard about the housing thing and had no inside info on Paris. Though eventually I would learn about it from the others.

As I said I was blind about Paris. So I was afraid to venture there on my own. I was probably one of the last people to venture into Paris and it was with the comfort of three other people. It seemed like it was a month into the program, but it was probably only a few days into it. We took the grand tour. Place St. Michel, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysee, Arc du Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. It was a fascinating tour of new and interesting things. I took every visitor on the same route on their first venture into the city. Interestingly, every trip to a new place after this has been thoroughly researched and planned out. Plus half way through the program, I was taking most trips by myself.