Spring Break or Bust… Europe Edition

To all of you out there reading my blog, I thank you for your interest and most certainly for your patience, as it has been 3 weeks since my last post. Now, I do feel justified in this, since this past week I was travelling, and the week before that, mom arrived, but nonetheless, it has been a while.

The week before last was spent mostly in preparation for Spring Break, not that that encompassed all. The weekend of Valentine’s Day, a couple things took place. First, the Nice Carnival Flower Parade was set to be on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was rained out, but we still had a good day. For the entirety of this same weekend, Antibes had their “Bread, Love, and Chocolate” festival happening at the Old Port. Vendors from the area and from Italy came to see sweets, chocolates, and art. I bought cannoli and little chocolate sculptures of puppies. Despite the rain, it was a fun little festival to explore. On Wednesday, mom arrived at Nice Airport. That night, we cooked dinner together at my apartment and started planning. She had a sweet package for me from one of my favorite people, Han Solo, that caught me completely by surprise. The next day, we spent the afternoon and evening exploring Old Nice, collecting rocks on the beach, taking pictures, and eating an (enormous!) Italian dinner.

Friday morning, with a taxi pick-up at 4:30am, we headed back to the Nice Airport to catch a flight to Paris. We arrived by 9am and so had the entire day to explore. The next 3.5 days, we stayed in a beautiful hotel called Hotel du Champs de Mars right off a popular street market called Rue Cler. On day 1, we explored the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Champs-Élysées. The crowds around the Mona Lisa were quite pushy, but I got a few pictures anyway. The Arc offered awesome panoramic views and a well-stocked gift shop where I decided that the majority of my souvenirs would be coffee mugs and coasters (I started by buying six coasters here). The Champs-Élysées offered high-end shopping and would have been quite enjoyable if it hadn’t been raining and windy enough to push us back a few steps with every gust. Still, I got an umbrella from the experience and it was worth the time just to be able to say we had walked it. We also had a sweet little breakfast of brioche and jam at a café on Rue Cler.

Day 2, mom wasn’t feeling very good, so I struck out on my own. I had a reasonably relaxed day, seeing first the Catacombs and then the Musée d’Orsay. I was glad to have a few other tourists around me in the Catacombs, because it was dimly lit and being surrounded by thousands of real skeletons far underground can be rather unnerving. The Musée d’Orsay was an absolutely awesome experience. They didn’t want you to take pictures of the art, but there was a balcony overlooking the whole museum where I got a few pictures. It is unreal to see the paintings you have been told about and shown pictures of growing up in real life, right before your eyes. The one that got me in particular was Van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Artist.” The thought that I was actually in the museum after all these years of dreaming still makes me grin. For dinner, I tried Café le Bosquet, suggested by Rick Steves, and he certainly struck gold. For a €21 menu, I received a 3-course dinner: fresh vegetable soup to start, the Parisian classic steak tartar as my main, and a chocolate crème brûlée. The steak tartar, despite being raw, was well done and not at all unenjoyable. I found the whole meal satisfying, both in taste and in portion size.

Day 3, mom and I headed to Versailles, Notre Dame, and the Archaeological Crypt. Versailles was massive, ornate, and packed despite being off-season. The Hall of Mirrors was very cool and the gardens were beautiful. We explored the Grand and Petit Trianons and found a cart selling baked potatoes for lunch. Although chilly and a bit windy, the visit was quite interesting. At Notre Dame, we went up the Tower to the very top and shared a gargoyle’s-eye view of all of Paris. I felt like Quasimodo up there and the architecture was lovely. After the Tower, we went around to the front and stood in line to get into the main cathedral of Notre Dame. I purchased a hand cross made of wood from Bethlehem. The church was gorgeous and I couldn’t help but ponder on the worship of God that this place represented. It was a beautiful thought as well to consider that everyone who entered the church, no matter their beliefs, in appreciating the beauty of the cathedral were appreciating the beauty and love of God. The Archeological Crypt was a cool blast from the past where we saw the ruins of the original town located here in Paris, inhabited by the Romans and lying underneath the church square right in front of Notre Dame.

Day 4, we explored Saint-Chappelle and the Eiffel Tower, and met Julie and Natalie for lunch, before catching our train to Bayeux. Saint-Chappelle was beautiful and incredibly colorful. The high chapel had some of the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen. The Eiffel Tower, despite all the tourist hype, did not disappoint. We went all the way to the very summit where, characteristic of romantic Paris, they had pink posters up was the words “Place to Kiss” written on them. Naturally, mom and I took a picture blowing kisses. In planning to see the tower, we had booked tickets in advance to be sure we would make it up in good time. The only slots available at this late date were our last day in Paris at 11:30, during which it was supposed to be rainy and cloudy. A little disappointed, we didn’t have high hopes for the views, but God’s favor literally shown on us that day- despite the dreary forecast, it was sunny and clear the entire time we were in the tower. Isn’t God good?? For lunch, I tried chitterlings (there is a version that is a specialty in France) and grimaced through the meal. I’m glad I tried them, but there will not be a repeat. After lunch, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and caught our train to Bayeux. We arrived with plenty of time to check in and then find a place for dinner. It turned out that apple cider was a specialty in Normandy, and one in which I greatly enjoyed partaking.

Day 5, we explored the full length of the D-day Invasion beaches. The day began with picking up our rental car for the day… a 6-speed manual transmission.  There weren’t any automatic transmissions available, so mom had become reacquainted with the stick shift in preparation for the day. So, reasonably easily, we made our way to our first location learning road signs along the way. Unfortunately, neither of us had experience with a 6-speed before, so it took us until midafternoon to figure out reverse… but we did! The locations we visited included Arromanches-les-Bains where we saw a video and discovered a documentary with a familiar face on it in the gift shop afterwards, Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery where Germans were stationed off the coast in large guns accurate up to 12 miles, the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer at which we received a sobering comprehension of the amazing sacrifices of our fighting men and women, Pointe du Hoc, the most heavily bombed section of the D-Day beaches where craters are still quite present, and Utah Beach where the majority of the American troops made their attack under overwhelming odds of failure but were successful. I got myself a mug and vial of sand from Utah beach that I collected myself. The day was incredibly windy and cold, but so incredibly worth the trouble we went through to make this day work.

Day 6, we had another early day which started with narrowly making our train from Bayeux to Paris in which mom accidently forgot her jacket in the rush. After arriving in Paris, we found a teashop I had been dying to explore and we made some purchases, then wandered for a couple hours looked for a new jacket for mom. After giving up and heading to the train station, we grabbed some sandwiches since we’d missed breakfast and realized 15 minutes before our connection left that we had to go through customs and a security check to get on said train… what a rush. But, we made it and were in our London hotel by 3:30, which enabled us to find mom a jacket, get TAKE OUT MEXICAN for my first time in 2 months (too good…), and get a night time view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Day 7, we had a full day planned, but ended up taking more time at each location than initially planned, so we covered a few big things such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the Churchill War Rooms. Unfortunately, it was raining at the ToL, so our tour was cut short, but we saw the Crown Jewels and toured the White Tower. Westminster Abbey was gorgeous… and a glorified indoor cemetery for many very big names including Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, TS Elliot, Handel, Jane Austen, and Chaucer, to give just a few familiar names. The Churchill War Rooms were a sight to see, included an in depth museum of Winston Churchill the man himself. I got a cool postcard with him flashing his famous V for Victory sign.

Day 8, we saw 221b Baker St, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (kinda), the Globe Theater, Borough Market, the National Gallery, and the London Eye. Baker St had a museum and gift shop, but we didn’t go into the museum. We did a picture with the front door, though. I purchased a Sherlock Holmes mug and enjoyed trying on Watson’s bowler hat and Sherlock’s deerstalker hat. The changing of the guard was incredibly crowded, but reasonably enjoyable specifically because we found ourselves surrounded by a large group on elementary school students on a field trip. They spent the time complaining in their little British voices about not being able to see and looking off my and some others’ IPhone screens to glimpse the spectacle. The teacher over them all was a very nice, humorous, gregarious man who made the most of the situation and it was clear the kids loved him and he loved his job. In fact, he reminded me of a past teacher of mine, Mr. Allen Nichols. After the changing of the guard, we headed to the Globe theater only to discover that due to a private showing, there were no tours available. It was a real bummer, but we still got to see the museum outlining how the theater was built and some of the costumes that had been used. The guy selling the tickets (who was basically British Christian Wick, btw) felt so bad that we didn’t get to see the theater that he charged me only as a “child” so we would pay as little as possible for entry. On our way to the Tube after the Globe Theater, we stumbled upon Borough Market where we found a vendor selling candied nuts, dried fruits, and TURKISH DELIGHT. Ever since reading “the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” I have been enamored by this mystery sweet called Turkish Delight that would lead Edmund to betray his siblings. Well, I got to try it that day. Bought ₤6 of it in fact, and brought it back to Antibes with me. We then headed to the London Eye, oh excuse me, the Coca-Cola London Eye, and took our turn on the giant ferris wheel that is a major tourist attraction in London at sunset, which afforded us some gorgeous views. We had dinner after the Eye and then headed to the National Gallery to take advantage of the late Friday night closing hours. There were several more classic, famous paintings here that we were able to take our pictures with, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (yes, I may be a fan of Van Gogh… I blame Doctor Who…).

The next morning, we met my old friend and fellow blogger (see WordPress blog “Wanderings and Ponderings”) who is studying near London for the semester and went to explore the mysterious Stonehenge for the day. It turns out, we missed a mutual old school friend of ours by about 15 minutes. We saw Stonehenge, took our obligatory selfies, collected some rocks, and explored the gift shop. I bought a cute mug… which I then unfortunately forgot on the bus back to the train station… and have since re-ordered and had shipped home so I still have a Stonehenge mug (it was hurting my heart!) Mom and I were introduced to British pasties, which are like bread pockets filled with good savory things and baked, but the bread tastes like my grandmother’s homemade biscuit recipe… mmmm, and also tried ginger beer of which I was not a fan, but momma was. After Stonehenge, our bus took us by Old Sarum, the ruins of an old castle and fortress near Salisbury that was a cool piece of history. We returned to London attempting to get dinner before my friend had to catch her bus, but instead spent the time just trying to return to said bus station because of Tube closings that impeded our path. On the bright side, we got our mandatory London red double-decker bus ride marked off.

Early the next morning, mom and I headed to Heathrow Airport to catch our respective flights back home. We didn’t cry… well, maybe a little… and parted ways in my flight terminal. I had mixed feelings returning to the Cote d’Azur – sadness to say bye to mom and see Spring Break end, and joy to be home to warmer temperatures, a bed I can call mine, and my friends. I look forward to my remaining 2 months here on the southern coast of France, but am sad to be so close to the end. I will be happy to reach my true home back in Tennessee, but so sad to leave my home here in the French Riviera behind. I think I understand the “reverse culture shock” phenomenon that we are told to expect upon reintegration into our home country…

Well, I think this blog post is long enough. Until next week… I have a few midterms I’m currently procrastinating from studying for, and I really should get on that. God bless!

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