Sunday, July 31, 2011

Au Revoir, France and the French Riviera.

Waking up on a cruise is pretty awesome. I happened to be facing the direction of our balcony (to which we had left the curtains open) when I opened my eyes this morning and awoke to a breath taking view of the coast of Cannes, France, yes, home to the famous film festival. The coast is filled with a gorgeous marina and beach resorts (I get why the elite, rich and famous want to come every year). The city also has it's share of history, containing old, beautiful architecture built up against gorgeous, green, rocky mountains (the view that I awoke to this morning). We walked through Cannes a little bit, stopping at a local flea market and enjoying the view of the crystal blue Mediterranean Sea. Shortly, we caught a train to Nice, France, about 30 minutes away by train. Nice came off as even more of a beach town than Cannes, with everyone clad in their bikinis...sometimes less (Tom, my 16 year old cousin, was in heaven). As we walked through the city and made our way to the beach and main promenade along it, we stopped at various cathedrals and other beautiful buildings along the way. We had a great lunch at the promenade along the beach and then walked along the beach and shopped throughout the promenade a bit. Compared to Paris, Nice didn't really feel like France. The culture is much more relaxed and friendly. Nice is also a really interesting mix of French, Spanish, and Italian culture. Due to the short stop, we didn't get to take in Nice's art scene (the home of Henri Matisse), but I think I'm getting my art fill on this trip and it was a very nice, relaxed day for a change. Back in Cannes, before boarding the ship, we toured a castle from the 1600's. The castle was very impressive, but the best part was the view from the hill where it sits at the top of the city, looking over the entire city and sea (we could see the ship). Now back on the ship excited for Florence tomorrow! Sorry I won't be able to upload pictures for the remainder of the trip. The internet on the ship is painfully slow, so I'll just update it with plenty of pictures once I'm home.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Do you believe in magic?

Title inspired by what Vickie Moreland, my dearest mother, won't stop singing since we boarded the "Disney Magic." We started off our last morning in Paris with delicious crepes for breakfast followed by the Jardin de Tulieres and other nearby clasic Paris sights and views that we had missed. Then we went to the Musee d'Orsay, the main impressionism museum in Paris, which is one of the most amazing museum's I have ever been to. The museum contained enough masterpieces that multiple rooms were dedicated to only one amazing impressionist at a time...rooms full of only Monet, rooms full of only Van Gogh, and possibly my favorite...rooms of only Degas. There was a huge collection of Degas sculptures of ballerinas. It occurred to me how much he really got ballet. Every statue's turn out and body alignment was done just right...I wished mine looked like his sculptures. When we finally dragged ourselves out of the museum, we walked through the shopping district while also stopping to view the occasional cathedral or landmark that we passed by. We boarded our overnight train from Paris to Barcelona at 8:30 p.m., and there we remained for the next 13 hours. It was cramped to say the least, and definitely a hilarious family adventure to say the least. This morning we dropped off our many, many bags at the port and explored Barcelona, a truly gorgeous city. The blend of the old and new architecture is unlike anything I have seen in any other city. We hit some of the major sites and then had paella for lunch by the beach. It was really fun (and necessary...not everyone spoke English like they did in France) to be able to communicate a little for a change. I'll go into more detail about the specific sights we saw in Barcelona when my internet isn't this awful, and I can post pictures. The city is too beautiful to try to describe in words...really might be one of my favorite cities I've ever visited. I couldn't stop saying how much I liked it. After lunch, we boarded the "Disney Magic," and we've had a great, relaxing first night. Holly and Tom, my aunt and cousin (who have been on 10 Disney cruises) are our personal cruise directors. Views of the ocean are beautiful, the salty breeze refreshing, the stars gorgeous...and of course, Mickey is just around the corner to make the magic happen.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dear Claude, give me Giverny?

Would it be ridiculous for a tiny town in the France countryside to be the highlight of my European vacation? Ever since the first time I saw Claude Monet's famous impressionist paintings of waterlilies at Moma (the Museum of Modern Art) in NYC when I was eleven, I have wanted to see Giverny, the place that inspired it all. We continued to conquer our fear of the apparently dangerous subway this morning and traveled to the train station via subway to catch a 45 minute train to Vernon, France, the closest stop to Giverny. We parted ways with Holly and Tom, my aunt and cousin, who also took a train, but to Disneyland Paris instead. We arrived in Giverny a little after 1 and immediately headed to Monet's home and gardens. The light pink house is one of the most charming I have ever seen with the decor inside worthy of being called art itself. You can tell from various photographs placed around the house that it has been kept practically just the way Monet and his family left it. Even in Monet's studio, replica's of his paintings are in the exact same positions as the originals once hung. Monet's own personal art collection still fills the house, making it fascinating to discover what influenced and inspired the artist. After touring the house, we began to stroll through the gardens. Honestly, words cannot even describe the beauty, which must be why Monet had to use impressionistic brush stokes and colors to paint his world even the slightest bit more beautifully than it actually is. As we approached the waterlilies, I was like a child running downstairs on Christmas morning. I couldn't get enough as we took lap after lap around the pond. The amount of pictures on my camera is more ridiculous than ever. Once we finally pulled ourselves away from the gardens, we strolled through the town a bit and stopped for a late lunch. Next we went to the Museum of Impressionism in Giverny, which hosts different impressionist exhibits every couple months with this one titled Manet to Renior, a shockingly incredible collection. I thought my mom was going to be emotional when we walked into the room of 20 Renior, her favorite impressionist and possibly artist, paintings. After the museum, we took the train back to Paris. We planned to head back to the hotel before going back out for dinner, but got caught up strolling through random sites on the way home, mostly various theatres and cathedrals. So called "strolling" through the Paris streets has been one of my favorite parts of the city. Paris takes people watching to a whole different level. The mopeds, cute couples, and fashion live true to all the stereotypes. I am constantly impressed by the women biking or riding mopeds in the latest fashions complete with sky high heels. We finished our walk by stopping at a cafe for steak frites and chocolate fondue. Tomorrow is our last day in Paris. I'm sad to leave the beautiful city, but I will not miss the stereotypical french attitude or yes, their b.o. I'm definitely looking forward to menu's with more food I recognize and plugs that my hair dryer will work in on our American cruise line. We're planning to end our time in Paris with the Musee d'Orsay to get our complete full of impressionism (are we obsessed?) and lastly finally with some shopping. We'll be on an overnight train tomorrow night, where I will be pretending I'm on my way to Hogwarts, to Barcelona to board our cruise. I don't know what the internet situation will be tomorrow night, but if we don't have it I'll catch up on blogging once we're on the cruise. Au revoir!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Have I fallen in Louvre with Paris?

It's hard to say today was a good day considering my aunt got completely set up and pick pocketed straight out of her back pack in the subway, but it's also hard to call it anything less than great considering we saw some of the most amazing sights in the world. We started the day with delicious french coffee on the way to the Louvre. Have I ever been anywhere so overwhelming? I don't think so. Nor do I think I have ever been anywhere so crowded outside of Times Square. The girl who finds art museums soothing and peaceful found herself stressed trying to merely navigate the world's largest and oldest museum. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and even made it to the third floor to my hearts desire to see the impressionism. One of the main things that makes Europe so fascinating for Americans is that it is a marvel merely just how old everything is. Honestly, my favorite part of the Louvre might have been the building itself and learning about the history of it, a palace until the royal family moved to Versailles and then common housing during the revolution until it became a museum in only 1800. After the Louvre, we stopped for lunch at a cafe and then headed back to St. Chapelle, housing some of the world's most impressive stained glass, and La Conciergerie, a prison where Marie Antionette, Louis XVI, and other prisoners were held prior to execution during the revolution (pretty creepy). The stained glass in St. Chapelle truly was miraculous with it's rich colors and different sections of window panes representing different books of the Bible. Next we headed to the subway to get to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but this is when we ran into the pick pocket and crisis occurred. We made a police report, cancelled all credit cards, and all will be okay. Once we collected ourselves, we headed back out to conquer the city. We started with the gigantic Arc de Triomphe, built by the famous Napoleon, where we climbed to the top for a spectacular view just before sunset and then went to the Eiffel Tower, which we saw at night. Due to the robbery set back, we lost a lot of time and were unable to make it to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, but we went to the second highest stop. The Eiffel Tower is not at all overrated. It is truly worth all the hype, especially when the lights begin to twinkle and make everyone squeal with glee. The view at night is freeing and beautiful, causing you to simply fall in love with the city of lights and love even after the most stressful of days.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Never rent a car when the road signs are in a foreign language.

We began our day today by renting a car and heading to Versailles. Our thinking was that driving would be much faster, giving us more time. However, by the time found our way out of Paris and mistakingly changing routes many, many times, we did not save any time. Once we parked the tiny, confusing, foreign car and waited in numerous long ticket (or billet) lines, we were finally free to tour the amazing Versailles! The palace/estate is breath taking at first glance and only grows more so as you roam throughout the excessively, grand rooms and stunning grounds. We started in the palace, with it's beautifully painted ceilings and famous hall of mirrors. Then we toured the gardens, Marie Antoinette's private estate's, and the farm. It's a close call between the gardens and Marie Antoinette's private estate's, but the estate's were my favorite..complete with her own pink marble palace (with an exhibit of her dresses and later designs influenced by her style), her make believe land with adorable cottages, gardens, and even a small tower, and lastly her own outdoor theatre (where I desperately wanted to break out into "On my Own"...get it...French revolution). I don't think we missed a single acre of the gorgeous estate. We finally made it back to Paris, starving and feet aching, and returned the car around 9:30. All in all a long, but great and fascinating day!