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!