Friday, December 17, 2010

Noël à Paris

Something special happens during the Christmas season in Paris.  It is dark by 5:30, but instead of being depressing, it is exciting - that is when the lights turn on!  There is a classiness and sophistication about the decorations that twinkle throughout this City of Lights.  Take Notre Dame for example - one simple, gorgeous tree outside an already stunning cathedral.

And then there are the grands magasins - the department stores!  Here is a picture of Galeries Lafayette:

Not only was it beautiful from afar, but all of the windows had amazing displays in them as well.  This year, there was a Broadway theme.  Each window had a different show (with mannequins or dolls playing the parts) and the music from the show was piped through speakers.  I felt like a little kid looking (and listening!) to all the window was so much fun!


The Rockettes

Mamma Mia!

Singin' in the Rain

Another grand magasin, Printemps, also had some great lights and window displays!

And then there's the stunning Avenue des Champs-Élysées, with a temporary Ferris Wheel at one end, and the Arc de Triomphe at the other.

Our neighborhood is not quite as grand as the grands magasins and the Champs-Élysées, but it's still quite charming. 

 May all your days be merry and bright!
  Joyeux Noël!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Oldest Christmas Market in France

Strasbourg is one of the most popular Christmas destinations in Europe.  It is literally dripping with Christmas cheer!  Fortunately, it is only 2 hours by train from Paris, so I got to go for the day with my friend Megan.  Although it was FREEZING, we had a wonderful time soaking up the Christmas spirit. 

The town has an absolutely incredible cathedral.  All around it, there was a Christmas market selling decorations, food, and vin chaud (hot wine - just like gleuwein in Germany, but this time called by its French name!).

I loved all of the "musical" Santas that could be found all over the city.  At one point, Megan and I heard a band of Santas playing "Surfin' USA".  We thought it was an odd choice, but enjoyed it nonetheless. 

Strasbourg is very quaint and has a bit of a German feel to it (it is right on the border of Germany, and has actually been part of Germany in the past).  I loved looking at all of the houses!

There wasn't an inch of the city that wasn't covered in Christmas decorations!  And they got even better at night!

The most exciting part of the day was that I finally found the perfect Christmas Pyramid!  I had looked for one at several different Christmas markets throughout Germany and France.  It looks great in our apartment!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jody meets Mona

A few days ago, I spent the afternoon by myself in the Louvre.  In my short time here in Paris, I have decided that museums are best done alone.  You can wander at your own pace, whisk past things that don't interest you, and linger over others.  So on this particular afternoon, I set out to see some of the "highlights" of the Louvre - some of the most famous pieces of artwork.  Below are my favorites from the tour.

My first stop (I was following Rick Steves' Louvre app for the iPhone) was Venus de Milo.  She was really quite beautiful in person.  I found myself wondering what her missing arms had once been doing.  Hailing a taxi?  Cooking dinner?  Flashing the peace sign? 

Next, I visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  She was absolutely stunning.  The museum has her displayed at the top of a wide staircase, so you can admire her as you ascend.  Again, I wondered about her arms (and her head for that matter).  In this case, however, we know what at least one of her arms used to look like.  Her right arm used to be raised above her head, with one finger pointed in the air (like, "We're number one!").  Apparently, she was once perched on a hilltop in celebration of a naval victory.

Of course, no tour of the Louvre is complete without visiting Mona.  And in all honesty, she shocked me.  Did you know that the Mona Lisa is TINY?!  She is dull, dark, not exactly pretty, and SMALL!  Much more exciting than seeing Mona was watching the hoards of tourists trying to get a glimpse. 

Here's what really shocked me:  directly opposite of Mona is a HUGE painting - The Marriage at Cana.  It is one of the largest, most interesting paintings I have ever seen.  And get this...not a single person was looking at it.  Everyone came to that gallery for Mona.  I felt a little sorry for the other paintings in the same room as her.  They must get a little jealous...

I ended my tour with visiting Michelangelo's Slaves.  They were so realistic.  I was amazed by the detail and how well Michelangelo knew the male body.  They were an incredible end to a great afternoon in the Louvre.

I now have an annual pass to the Louvre, which will allow me to visit some of the lonelier pieces of artwork in the museum.  It is such a huge place, I'm not sure that I can even see everything in a year!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bratwurst, Blutwurst, Bockwurst, Bregenwurst

Yep, you guessed it.  Dustin and I just got back from a weekend in Germany.  I spent Friday in Augsburg (while Dustin worked in his company's Augsburg office) and then we spent the weekend in Munich.  The weekend basically came down to one thing:  sausage.  I had more sausage over the course of three days than I think I have had in my whole life.  We had sausage with gravy, white sausage on a bun, sausage with mashed potatoes, sausage with fries, and the list goes on. Of course these dishes all had official German names, but there is no way I can remember them now.  However one thing is certain, there was not one bite that I didn't enjoy!

Here I am at the Augsburg Christmas Market...with a yummy sausage sandwich! 

Speaking of the Christmas was incredible!  Germany is famous for its Christmas markets - nearly every town has one.  And this one did not disappoint!  I spent several hours walking through it during the day, and then took Dustin back in the evening.  It was even better at night because everything was lit up and people were drinking mugs of gluhwein (hot spiced wine, pronounced gloo-vine).  There were several stands selling gluhwein, and each stand had a different mug that it came in.  The mugs all said the year and the city...perfect souvenirs!

Dustin and his gluhwein.

Augsburg Christmas Market at night!

On Friday evening, we jumped on a train from Augsburg to Munich.  Munich was wonderful.  I was struck by how festively decorated it was.  All of the streets and shops were decked out, and Christmas music could be heard just about everywhere! 

We started our time in Munich with a walking tour of the city.  It began here:

In the tower of this building, we got to witness the famous glockenspiel ring and do its thing.

Next, we climbed a tower of a church and got an aerial view of the city.

After some lunch at the Ratskeller, we checked out the Christmas market in Munich.

More Gluhwein!

To end our evening, we went on a Food and Beer Tour.  It was a great way to share a meal with people from around the world!

The tour ended at the Hofbrauhaus, where we listened to traditional German music.

On Sunday, we toured Dachau concentration camp.  The only word I can think to describe it is horrific.  Throughout the tour, I felt increasingly sick to my stomach as I witnessed video and photographs of the things that took place there.  The things that happened there and at other camps are absolutely unbelievable.  Did you know that after people were killed, their teeth were removed?  The Nazis were looking for gold teeth and fillings.  Did you know that people in the camps were used in very dangerous medical experiments?  Did you know that you could be shot just because a soldier felt like shooting you?  Did you know that people were hung by their hair and their arms as punishment?  Did you know that at any time there could be HUNDREDS of bodies piled up and waiting for cremation?  Did you know there was a shooting range with a BLOOD DITCH?  

Gate through which prisoners entered the camp.

The barbed wire fence and guard tower.


 Gas Chamber


It wasn't exactly enjoyable to visit the camp, but it is something that I am glad I did. The experience made me even more grateful for my life and the good ol' US of A. I felt especially proud while looking at the pictures at the end of the exhibit - the pictures of American soldiers liberating the concentration camp. The best part was not seeing the soldiers - it was seeing the images of the faces of those still alive the day the Americans arrived. Elation. Hope. The realization that they were being given a second chance at life.