06 December 2009

A Wonderful Time of Year

Every year The District puts on a Living Windows festival in downtown Columbia. It's one of my favorite events in this city and I've never heard of anything else like it! Participating locally owned stores clear out their window space for humans to do their holiday thing. Every year is different, for example, see last year's post. This year two French exchange students, my roommates, Jon and his brother Mike joined me to laugh and dance with the living scenes. We enjoyed roasted chestnuts, sparklers, and cider, courtesy of the stores and volunteers. The living window festival brings back memories...
This time 3 years ago I was transferring to Mizzou, and what a wonderful 3 years it has been. Happy anniversary, Columbia.

Some photos for your enjoyment:
2 Lady GaGas and a man in a red jump-suit

ballerinas dancing with Sparky the dog

frosty the snow-woman
barbies at "elly's"
that's one cold tea party!

19 November 2009

XCX-a race with personality

Last weekend when LaLa and her hubby came to visit me in mid-MO I didn't have to look far for stuff to do. The XCX was a perfect commencement to a relaxing weekend with my sister. What's more fun than rising with the sun to take on a 4 mile obstacle course in the middle of a forest?! Now hear me out....

1. the Cross Country Xtreme is a private race where there's no stop-watch
2. the prizes aren't for speed, but for best costume and muddiest racer.
3. obstacles include clowns with chainsaws, crawling under (mock) barbed-wire, slopping through mud and waist-deep streams, fields of firecrackers, and smoke bombs, etc.
4. contestants include the coolest of the cool in mid-MO

LaLa and I were stick figures with our sidekicks- a dirty hippi and champion luchador. We did not take home the grenade trophy or the sacrificed leg nailed to a board trophy, but the race was a feat accomplished with great pride. The mud caked to our shoes and the stench of our costumes were memento enough.

02 November 2009

Walk of the Living Dead

What would you think if you saw 50 zombies walking down the street mumbling and screaming bloody murder? This was the scene in downtown Columbia the night of All Hallows Eve. Columbia Access Television (CAT) from the Stephen's College campus sponsored the first annual Zombie Walk in Columbia. Participants met at Stephen's in costume to have their faces painted before prowling downtown and scaring the life out of some Columbia residents.
Zombie Walks have become a popular community event all around the United States, and in other parts of the world, too. It could have to do with two major trends:
1. Zombie Movies. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of Zombie movies made per year has increased threefold. Between zombie horrors and zombie comedies, the film industry is doing something right.
2. Michael Jackson Following: Chicago held as Michael Jackson Thriller Zombie Walk after his death this summer. The Thriller Video from 1983 is still a very popular, creating the image that zombies are good dancers and hang out with Michael Jackson.
Has your city had a Zombie Walk? What kind of zombie would you be?
See more photos.

29 October 2009

This Time Last Year: Obama in CoMO

This time last year Obama spoke at Mizzou and won Columbia's heart. Obama visited Columbia a week before elections in attempt to win Missouri's swing vote. He swept us off our feet with his eloquent speech and promises of change (something we weren't used to with ol' Bush in office for so many years). It is exciting to look back and realize that heard the President of the United States speak, even if it was before his election.


20 October 2009

Opening Night: Celebrating Women in Film

Last weekend the Citizen Jane Film Festival, sponsored by Stephen's College, highlighted female filmmakers and celebrated female creativity in the male-dominated film industry. The opening night film, "Say My Name", featured female hip-hop artists from around the world. After hearing some inspirational life stories from the documentary, festival-goers were able to hear the artists at work, spitting their rhymes on stage at Tonic night club. Toyy, a hip-hop artist from St. Louis warmed up the stage for Invincible from Detroit. They were followed by Grammy-winning artist, MC Lyte together with Chocolate Thai. I have never been to an event that celebrates so many inspiring females that would not otherwise be together at the same place at the same time.

17 October 2009

On Any Given Sunday in Columbia

I love living above the Peace Nook, a non-profit resource center managed by Mid-Missouri Peaceworks. Last Sunday I heard them marching outside my window in a War Protest. This is just one of the many things you might find going on in Columbia, MO on any given Sunday.

06 October 2009

Oktoberfest Missouri Style

Oktoberfest in Munich is legendary. Who wouldn't want to drink obscene amounts of beer while socializing with family and friends in the crisp autumn October air?? Germans who settled the quant town of Hermann, Missouri adapted the festival to honor their culture and complement Missouri's agricultural forté- wine.

Last weekend I took advantage of my old age of 21 and headed east to Hermann with a load of international friends to experience Oktoberfest Missouri Style. There were wineries and beer gardens with open air patios to drink and dance to traditional German music. This little piece of Germany snuggled in the rolling hills of Missouri knows how to show Oktober a good time.

04 October 2009

Falling from the Sky

Friday morning was a bizarre time in downtown Columbia. Things were falling from the sky east and west of my apartment around 10 o'clock in the morning. It started in the morning when I heard cheering outside of my window. When I looked outside this is what I saw:

Yes, there were men descending from roof of the Tiger Hotel building. Were they window washers or recreational repellers? When I went out onto the street I learned that the Special Olympics were holding their repelling event on the Tiger Hotel on this very windy Friday morning. Good Luck!

I went about my business as normal until I received an alarming phone call from Jon. "A crane on Cherry and 10th Streets dropped something on the Neidermeyer Apartment building!" I always get nervous when I hear horror stories about apartment buildings, and I always hope it never happens to mine. Luckily the damage was minimal when the crane blew over and a metal beam fell into someone's bathroom. I made a point to pass by the building to see it myself.

I'm just happy that no one repelling off the Tiger Hotel or in the room where the metal beam fell was hurt. It doesn't change the fact that Friday morning was very bizarre, indeed!

28 September 2009

Columbia got the Blues

I might have a long term case of the blues. I'm not depressed and I'm feeling very happy, actually. It is due to the large amount of blues music I was subject to this weekend of the 3rd annual Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival in Columbia, Missouri. About 25 bands and artists filled the downtown streets with blues from Friday to Saturday night, while over 55 BBQ smokers taunted the town with their meaty smells. Hot Air Balloons took off into the autumn evening sky as we rocked out on the streets down below.
This year my parents came in town for the blues festivities and to visit their last daughter in college. My dad was in blues heaven (if there is such a thing). We listened to just about every style of blues possible: delta blues, chicago blues, folk blues, bluegrass blues, raggae blues, rockin blues, european blues, and the list continues. The highlight of course was seeing the headliner, Booker T. play his old hits. The whole weekend was a success. Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ were had in large quantities. If I could add one more " 'N" to the title it would be for " 'N Fun". Happy Fall everyone, and may the blues be with you.
Booker T. on the keyboard

21 September 2009

This Time Last Year: Spelunking

When I'm sitting around or in class, sometimes I reflect on things I did 'this time last year'. I thought why not share some of my past experiences with my readers since I am not currently traveling. Who knows, maybe I'll convince some people to come visit the great town that is Columbia, Missouri.

In this episode of 'this time last year', I'm reflecting on the 8 hours I spent spelunking under the Earth throughout a million year old cave. It was one of the messiest and tiring experiences of my life but also one of the most incredible. After all, how many people can say they slithered through a wormhole 50 feet under the earth, 2 miles deep into a cave? Mid-Missouri has some of the coolest cave networks in the country. It only takes a 10 minute drive to Rock Bridge State Park in Columbia to access them.

It was no walk in the park, though. First, 5 other participants and I followed our tour guide as we each carried canoes through the park and down 2 flights of wooden stairs into the Devils Ice Box. Then we clicked on our headlights and paddled our way through the muddy water deeper into the cave. After docking our canoes, we travelled on foot to see preserved cave formations that took thousands of years to create. The following is called "cave bacon"
We also saw glow-in-the-dark calcium deposits and stalactites and stalagmites as tall as Jon!
It was a neat experience and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys geology or learning about nature. However, I would not recommend it to anyone who is claustrophobic or chiroptophobic (afraid of bats). Next time you're in Missouri or any karst/limestone topography, consider exploring the other world that lives beneath your feet.

17 September 2009

Campus Supports Buying Local

Today Mizzou hosted a Farmer's Market on campus. Thousands of students strolled through the market buying locally grown fruits, veggies, and herbs. Two enthusiastic men whistled and shouted to passer-byes as they grilled hamburgers and franks made from local meat. I sampled the homemade honey ice cream from a local bee-keeper and peacock farmer. There were Amish farmers selling their baked goods and breads. It was the type of environment that embodies every reason why I love Columbia.

Witnessing the University supporting the Local Farmers Market and the concept of buying local is inspiring. It's been an endeavor of mine to eat local since my market experiences in France and especially after watching Food INC. The Columbia Farmer's Market, The Root Cellar, Clover's Natural Market, and local restaurants such as Sycamore and Bleu have taken the initiative to help promote healthier food for people and the environment.

08 September 2009

Dealing with the Swine

artwork by Genevieve Conti

It's almost cliché to write about, but the Swine flu is making its mark around the world. It's amusing to see what different institution are doing in order to prevent, or manage the swine flu for large populations:

At my University in Missouri, we have had over 100 hand sanitizer dispensers installed all over campus. Teachers who have a zero absence tolerance are required to insist that sick students do not attend class. As usual, we don't want to end up like the University of Kansas, who has half the student population ill with the swine flu.

Following the pandemic over to France, some schools are canceled and some students wear masks. But the most surprising of all is that schools are banning the traditional greeting of bisous, or kisses to both cheeks, in order to prevent sickness.

A typical saying in France, "Désolé, je suis malade" or "Sorry, I'm sick", is used to pardon oneself from kissing someone that you do not want to get physically close to. Now the saying will have to be "Désolé, vous pourriez être malade" or "Sorry, you might be sick".

Some are concerned that this ban could cause the death of bisous in France. By asking the younger generations to greet others from a distance, they might continue to do so as a trend.

Other places, like Germany and Spain are also asking people to greet others from afar and posting flyers to spread the word.

What are you doing to avoid the virus?

06 September 2009

The Longest Way

My professor sent this video out to my blogging class. It's essentially a vlog (video log) of a man who walked from China to Germany and documented his mood, location, milage, and facial hair growth along the way. Watch it- I think it's worth a few minutes of your time.

31 August 2009

EuroKulture Blogging Class

This semester I am taking a EuroKulture blogging class, a class related to the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the Romance Language Department.

The purpose of it is to explore European culture via blogs in different languages and to comment on the European popular culture we discover complements of the world wide web. We're diving fast into the world of "weblogs" and soon we will have our website up for class blog posts. I will also submit my posts onto my personal blog. You can check it out the class blog at Within the next week we will submit our first posts.

26 August 2009

Back to School during Vacances?!

I've been sitting through lectures all day. I do love school but I can't help but to be jealous of those still on Vacances in France. One year ago I had just returned from being a beach bum in Nice with the rest of France while they enjoyed their annual 3 weeks vacation. I find myself sitting in class dreaming of white sand and the freedoms often associated with nude beaches of the Côte d'Azur. I think we should throw an old fashioned French Manifestation for the right to 3 week vacations in America at the time when school is usually starting. Who's with me?

24 August 2009

Greyhound Bus- Rediscovering the old way to travel.

Last week I was stressed when searching for a way get to travel from Columbia, Missouri to Oklahoma City without breaking the bank. I quickly realized that traveling in the United States is much harder to organize after experiencing the European Rail System. America has interstate freeways but no public rail transportation. If you don't have a car and/or don't want to pay obscene airline prices for last-minute travel, what other options do you have?

My situation in Columbia is that I am two hours west from the St. Louis Airport and 2.5 hours east of Kansas City Airport. The monopolized MoX shuttle to either airport from Columbia costs at least $50 each way before you add on the price of the airline ticket. There's the Megabus, but it only runs once a day and goes to select cities like Chicago.

I recently found out from an international student that there is a Greyhound bus station in Columbia. Who knew?! I did some research and found that the Greyhound Bus Line has a surprising amount of stations and scheduling options, not to mention a very reasonable price. I ended up spending $84 total on my last-minute, one-way ticket. However, everyone keeps asking me about the quality of travel on the ol' Greyhound Bus lines. After traveling on the night bus from Columbia to OKC, I would rate my overall travel experience an 8 out of 10. Just like any other form of public travel, the bus could be loud at times, whether it was a crying baby or a person answering a cell phone. It was nothing that a headphones and an ipod couldn't appease. Second, comfort should be evaluated. Seats are first-come, first-serve. If you can score a pair of seats to spread out in, or a window to lean up against for a night trip, you are set. Otherwise the comfort is equal to the quality found on an airplane or other coach buses.

Next time you find yourself in a last-minute travel situation, I recommend considering a Greyhound bus line. It's not the Eurorail but it's the closest thing to it in the US.

04 August 2009

Timing is everything

Lateness is an epidemic in France. Maybe the laid back lifestyle and the 2 hour lunch break skews a person's perception of time. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly annoying for a person who grew up learning the importance of punctuality, like myself and many other Americans.

The French tolerate an excuse for those who are perpetually 15 minutes en retard. It is called le quart Français or "the French quarter hour". My professor in France warned us that this saying can be used for any region or city, for example le quart Lyonnais or le quart Parisien. Apparently, this excuse dates back to the day when there was only one bell tower in Lyon. The bells would chime every quarter hour and this was the only means of telling time in the town. So, a person would wait until the bells chimed to know what time it was and then it usually took them 15 minutes to get somewhere...

I question the authenticity this folklore is but even if it is true, I do believe it has had opportunity to be shaken for a couple hundred years now. The Swiss right next door have managed to create top-of-the-line watches but perhaps precision stays on the wrist. For those out there who can read French, I found some amusing blogs about the "French quarter hour":

In a French social scene, tardiness is even worse. It can be an awkward situation when an acquaintance invites you over at 9pm for dinner and when you show up at 9:15 expecting to apologize for tardiness, you are the only guest. This happened to me twice (shame on me) so I waited around rather embarrassed for a couple hours for other guests to show up. I had to learn that when a dinner party starts at 9 pm, you must add about 2 or 3 hours to that time in order to be "fashionably late". I much prefer plain language, where a dinner party that starts at 9 really starts at 9. After living in France, I really appreciate punctuality and have made sure I exhibit the same behavior for the sake of others.

29 July 2009

Exchanges last a lifetime

Seven years ago, I embarked on my first oversees adventure with the Lone Star International Jazz Exchange (aka Pink Jazz). It was a musical exchange in which students from the U.S. played with students from Kepler Gymnasium in Germany and a few French musicians from Gourdon, France. It was an experience of a lifetime playing the universal language of music in an international setting. We travelled throughout Germany and France on a tour bus playing concerts for eager crowds of jazz loving Europeans.

Although I rarely pick up my trumpet anymore, the exchange lives on with the people and places that I met and visited.

I first met Deike when the Lone Star International team hosted the exchange in Fort Worth, Texas at Texas Wesleyan University. I made friends with many of the German students but one in particular named Deike. We went our separate ways after the exchange. The next year when Ibbenbüren, Germany hosted the exchange at Kepler Gymnasium, Deike and I were able to meet up and experience the exchange from the other side of the world.

That same summer in Ibbenbüren I met the Rattay family. Tim played the saxophone ,his sister Tanja sang in the choir with me, and their younger brother Thilo attended the Gymnasium where we practiced. This was 7 years ago. Four years ago Tim visited my family and I in Texas. Four months ago I visited Tim, Thilo, Herr and Frau Rattay in Germany. This past weekend Tim and Thilo visited my parents in Colorado.

Excuse my reminiscent post, but I cannot help but love exchanges for all the opportunities and friendships that they create. It is very rewarding to keep in touch and watch friends around the world grow up with me. When I visit these friends, I have found that we just continue where you left off last time even if it's been years. Lone Star was just the beginning of my positive exchange experiences. Sister Cities International and University exchanges have kept my international studies interest high. I encourage everyone to go find one in your community and to get involved now!

28 July 2009

You call this fromage?!

Today I was rather disappointed when I squared up to the "exotic cheese" aisle at my local grocery store to discover the lack of quality cheese available. After eating a hard and bitter goat cheese that I had settled on, I felt homesick for all of fresh and unpasteurized cheeses that I ate as a staple food while I was living in France.

I was spoiled rotten with bountiful fresh fromage de chèvre in France. I would buy a 6 oz round of goat cheese for 2 euros just about every week at the Lumière market near my apartment. Before I could even unwrap the paper, white juices would ooze down to my elbows. It was a beautiful fluffy and spreadable consistency. Once in a while I would mix it up by buying cow (vache) cheese which was also a very soft cheese but with a different flavor than the goat's.

In addition to having a soft cheese available, it was imperative to have another cheese chilling in the fridge in the case of guests, a new bottle of red wine, or running out (god forbid) of option 1. I became such a fromage addict that I took notes in my cheese journal on each new cheese that I tried. French friends offered suggestions of their favorites or the specialty from the region in France of their family. I was able to find most cheeses at just about any market or grocery store. Many times I would talk with my sister over Skype and be polishing off a pound block of this cheese or that. She called me disgusting but I know she was jealous.

In my cheese research, I found many good online databases of French cheeses. For those cheese-loving readers out there, check these out: C'est Cheese and Fromages

If you are lucky enough to live by a Central Market or Whole Foods type of store, you can probably find some imported cheeses from France and around the world. Feel free to take suggestions from this sample of my cheese journal:

(smiley faces tell whether I liked or disliked the cheese)

*Brie de Maeux: hard brie. waxy and so smelly that it smelled up my entire fridge and it's contents. :-(
*Bleu d'Auvergne: best blue cheese I've ever tasted. large holes of deep blue mold. very strong smell, creamy and salty. :-)
*Compté: wonderful hard and crusty cheese. similar to parmesan but not as salty. :-)
*Camembert- buttery consistency, easily spreadable, smelly, do not eat waxy rind. :-)
*Cousteron- mild gooey cheese, rind is tasty. :-)
*Tomme noire: amazing semi-soft cheese with buttery taste. do not eat black wax rind. :-)

15 June 2009

Under the Florence Sun

A train ride through beautiful European countryside is the perfect prelude to arriving at a romantic destination. I fell in love with the foggy green hills of the Tuscan countryside from behind a smudgy train window. That's all it took for me.
This all led to my second visit the magnificent city of Florence. I went to Florence when I was a junior in high school as a Youth Ambassador with Sister Cities International. As a 17 year old it was a great experience and I loved the tour guide guiding us through the winding streets and explaining all the sites. I've realized, though, that traveling with a guided group is less rewarding than taking the time to understand a map of the city and finding things on my own. Florence is one of the places that I studied intensely in my Italian Civilization class last semester. Seeing everything again on my own time with a historical perspective made me appreciate it so much more.

Florence is to Italy as Paris is to France and by that I mean it is over-the-top with tourist attractions. Around ever corner is one historic building after another and a crowd of tourists to fight through. We saw the touristy things but also looked around every corner to be sure not to miss the real Firenze and its culture. That included sneaking into an art school and tiptoeing through a sculpture courtyard while class was in session (whoops)! We snuck pictures with a huge replica of David's head before running out so we wouldn't get caught.

Later, we embarked on the 500-step climb to the top of the Duomo. I was out of breath and speechless when I reached the top. Florence is such a condensed big city, that from the top of the Dome, I could see all of Florence plus the surrounding hills leading to the countryside. If you can make the climb, I recommend this as a must-do when in Florence.

My time in Florence was very short before I headed back to Lyon on the night train. It was sad saying goodbye to Jon at the train station. This trip concluded our time together in Europe because his internship was over in Brussels and he was heading back to the States. Traveling together in Europe has inspired us to return to Europe someday (sooner than later) to discover some places we still want to visit. Now that my study abroad experience is over, it's encouraging to have potential trips to look forward to in the future.

14 June 2009

Old French Woman

I had heard this saying before but hearing on the metro from an old lady really made me realize it's importance.

"There are three rivers that flow through Lyon: The Rhône, the Saône, and the Beaujolais."

Now let me explain. The French are very proud of their wine. In the Rhône-Alps region very close to Lyon, there is a winery called Beaujolais that makes delicious red wine. This wine is very popular in Lyon, so the Lyonnais people and those from this region are proud that their land produces such great wine. The Rhône and the Saône do run through Lyon but the Beaujolais "river" in Lyon can only be found in bottles.

Home Sweet Home

I've been home now (home being Denver and Columbia) for exactly one month today. I'm happy to be back, although I haven't quite returned the my pre-study abroad life since I'm still looking for a job and not taking class.

My blog is not complete and I apologize . Apparently "my fans" (aka my dad) are disappointed to be left hanging. To make it up to him, I mean everyone, I will post more stories as I have time and feel like reminiscing about life in Europe. This blog serves as my journal so I wish to eventually complete it and print it into a book for myself. Thanks for reading and stick with me- there's more to come

04 May 2009

Aprilfest in Bavaria

Now I've never been to Oktoberfest, but I bet it is in close competition with Aprilfest . Okay, I made that up, but Munich in April is amazing. The city smelled of sweet blossoms and beer. Easter weekend was another great reason for locals to squeeze into the ol' Lederhosen or Dirndl and wear a feather in their Alpine hat. The Biergartens were packed with families and friends socializing with mass (or masses) in hand. Our Bavarian couchsurfing hosts took Jon and I to the "local" Biergarten (opposed to the touristy ones) in Munich and helped us order the typical Bavarian snack of Obazda and a fresh pretzel bigger than my head. Obazda consists of everything bad for you- butter, brie, and camembert cheese in a spreadable consistency. This is to be eaten along side a liter mass of tasty German beer. But don't be fooled: you cannot eat and drink simultaneously because the mass glass requires two hands to hoist it to the lips (at least for the ladies). One biergarten was followed by another. I don't know how the Germans do this on a normal basis. I was biergarten-ed out in just one weekend! The Englischer Garten was a neat place, though, because while the German men drink, there is a giant park for the children to play in. When night falls, the Chinesischer Turm lights up and casts a cozy ambiance over the garten. Don't worry mom and dad, I didn't just drink German beer the whole time in Munich, I also tried the German food, like the wiener schnitzel and döner kabab (a Turkish/German specialty). Not to be cliché, but the Hofbräuhaus was a great place for German music, food, and fun. It does uphold a very touristy reputation but maybe that's because it's so good!

After our reservation with our couchsurfing hosts expired, we checked into the Wombat Hostel, which I mention here because it's the best hostel I've stayed at in all of Europe. The people, guests, atmosphere, and accommodations were superb and we made a lot of friends. 5 of my Mizzou friends were already checked in there for the weekend. But when I hopped into my bunk in a room of 10, I noticed a MIZZOU shirt on the girl across the room. We began talking. Thinking about it now, I still find it a weird coincidence that out of all the people in the world, I was randomly put in a room with a Mizzou girl who knows most of the people I do. She was studying abroad spring semester in London with another one of my friends. It's proof of this small world we live in.
So the holiday weekend in Munich was full of culture and was a great beginning for the rest of my trip as I headed up into Northwestern Germany for the rest of spring break.

03 May 2009


Right before boarding the night train from Lyon to Venice I was feeling a bit stressed about my quick vacation to Italy. Venice is a big city and I had slacked on researching where to go and what to see. When I arrived at Santa Lucia train station in Venice the next morning, all my nerves disappeared. There was something about this beautiful city that made me feel very relaxed. I didn't even worry when I took out the directions to my hostel which gave no street names or building numbers. I soon realized that Venice is very unique. You do not use an address to find something, but a number of canals to cross and direction or a campo (square) for orientation. I bid farewell to my map, I knew it was useless here. I was welcomed at my hostel by a friendly Italian man who flattered my beauty and displayed typical Italian hospitality. I met numerous other solo travelers who were friendly and always suggesting one thing or another to do in Venice. I ended up spending the whole day with my new friend Maria from Vienna, Austria who shared my love of photography and travel. We walked from one end of the island to the other and loved every moment of it. The next day, when Jon arrived, we ate a lovely homemade pasta dish at the hostel, complements of Pepe, the buff Italian cook. Exploring the city with Jon the next day was magical. It happened to be April 25, a national holiday for San Marco, the patron saint of Venice. Gondola races began early and the colorful teams raced passed us as strolled over the canals toward the big campo. We took advantage of free Venetian wine samples and tried to maintain our composure while dodging the famous pigeons of San Marco Square. We marveled at the sea and the intricate gondolas then scoped out a restaurant for our first Italian pizza. Pizza and gelato was the combination of the weekend. We tried to taste a new combinations of the creamy delight each time we passed a shop. We would often sit there in silence for about 5 to 10 minutes as we indulged in amazing flavors that words could not describe. In short, the food is even better than they say it is in Italy. Take my word for it.

We headed to the small secluded island of San Erasmo for a less touristy experience of Venice. We arrived just in time for a breathtaking sunset over Venice. The hostel was beautiful and, as it's happened in other hostels, we ended up there with a bunch of Germans! It always is fun for Jon so he can show off his German skills. The island is mostly vineyards and old farm homes. The hostel owner offered us bikes that we rode around the entire island on the the one gravel road. There was an old fort along the way that was recently renovated into an art gallery. It was a treat to see the island in pastels and watercolors with adoration from a local brush.

We explored more of the San Erasmo, Venice and Merano Islands in awe for the rest of the weekend until catching a train through the rolling hills of Tuscany to Florence....

le dimanche sur le Quai du Rhône

Sundays are my favorite day of the week in Lyon. Here, Sunday is still the traditional 'day of rest', but more in the sense of resting from work. It's just what everyone needs before starting another busy week at work. Whenever it frustrates me that everything is closed on Sundays, I have to remind myself that all the grateful employees are out relaxing and spending time with their loved ones. I only assume this because in observing over the past months, French people really do have great family time on Sundays.

On this beautiful spring day in Lyon, I took a nice jog along the Quai (the river banks). The quai on the River Rhône is part of the beautification efforts in Lyon over the past 10 years. The quai on a Sunday is a great place to people-watch and see lots of things that are very French. First, as I descended the stairs down to the river, I passed numerous couples young and old making out on the steps. Public displays of affection are just an ordinary thing in France. So is smoking, which the French do beautifully. Then, down on the path, a mother raced her son on her stylish razor scooters. Bikers, runners, and rollerbladers crowded the thin 2-way lane. Sprawled next to the path were families and couples sitting, lounging, and picnicking in the grassy patch. Groups of people still in their fancy church clothes piled onto the boats for a sunny place to order delicious red wine and eat baguette sandwiches. I watched all the action around me thinking: if I was a young child in Lyon, I'd be begging my maman and papa to bring me to the quai every Sunday afternoon.

01 May 2009

Dachau -an experience I'll never forget.

I have had many opportunities to visit historical and memorial sites of WWII while traveling in Europe. Being at these sites, the whole reality of war has become more vivid in my mind. Today I find it very appropriate to write about my experience at Dachau because it manifested my nightmare last night.

The first concentration camp of WWII, founded in 1933, is in Dachau, Germany. On Easter Sunday, I made a pilgrimage there with Jon and two Jewish friends, one of whom was visiting from Israel. At the gate entrance, the sinister Nazi saying, "Arbeit Macht Frei", received us. Inside, tall brick walls, trenches, and barbed wire surrounded us. It was a very surreal experience to walk through the buildings and standing on the ground that was labored by innocent prisoners of the camp. The museum on the grounds was very educational and sobering. Observing the site of something so grave will never leave my mind, as I realized last night. The gas chamber and oven room have made an imprint in my brain that will continue to remind me of what I've seen. Despite the occurrence of my disturbing dream, I think that it is an important part of life to learn as much about the history of the past as a reminder of how not to shape the future.

29 April 2009

Dutch Tulips

One of the things I love about the Lyon exchange program is the diversity of international students that I meet here. One of my friends, who currently goes to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, grew up in Den Haag in the Netherlands. It's always fun to hear stories and learn about each other's lives growing up in a different country. In random conversation I told her about a documentary I had seen about tulips in Holland on PBS. I was so happy when she told me how I could see them for myself this April! So, this spring break I took the 4 hour trip from Brussels to the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in Holland to see the most amazing and colorful arrangements of tulips in the world.

The garden covers 32 hectares and has 4.5 million tulips in hundreds of varieties. Unfortunately I went on a rainy day, but that didn't keep me from wandering into a hedge-maze, skipping on the stones next to swans in the pond, and taking in the sweet fragrance that filled the air. When it started pouring, I was in luck that there were multiple indoor displays spotted around the enormous park. The 2009 theme of the garden was "USA, New York 400 years". The theme only meant that each tulip variety was named after something "USA, New York". It was kinda corny, especially the large display at the entrance that read "I (tulip) New York" instead of "I (heart) New York". Besides the theme, the garden was absolutely spectacular. It was impossible to see the everything in one day, but one thing is for sure, the Dutch have the tulip thing down to a science! Even on the way out of town I passed numerous colorful fields of tulips. What a beautiful tradition!

Finding Beauty in Ruins

The valuable adornments of jewels and gold in most European cathedrals are more than extravagant and grand. You can visit any country to see domes reaching to the heavens, priceless religious murals, and crypts older than the USA. It's wonderful to witness so many beautiful things but at what point does the element of charm begin to diminish? I've seen millions of euros worth of gold by now and, to be honest, it's not as aesthetically pleasing as it was the first time. The whole point to my schpeale is that sometimes real beauty is from something that isn't decked out in fancy fabrics or showing off its wealth and power, but is instead something that is forgotten and decayed.

The Villers Abby in Villers-la-Ville (Wallonian Belgium) was once a Cistercian Abby. Starting in 1146, 12 monks began building the Abby, which gained the importance and popularity to become a wealthy "village" within itself. But the money came and went and it was abandoned in 1796. It currently lies in ruins from time, war, and industrialization. It is of course a tourist attraction but only to those who have the desire to travel to this small town and walk 2 miles to find it. Generally, it is a site of holiday and summer festivities for the locals.

When I arrived in Villers-la-Ville, the streets were still spotted with colorful confetti from the previous week's carnival celebration. It was a ghost town, save a friendly teenage boy who offered in his thick Walloon French to lead my friend and I to the Abby. In the walls of the Abby, we wandered through each building envisioning the extravagance the walls once held. Our imaginations were at work putting roofs on the buildings and furniture in the rooms. I felt the mystical presence of all the spirits that lived and died there over hundreds of years. Visiting the forgotten ruins of what used to be an elaborate Abby was one of the most beautiful historical sites I have seen in Europe.

22 April 2009

Bruxelles pour la deuxième fois

Being in Brussels again was a comforting experience because a lot of things were already familiar to me. I was able to spend a lot of time with Jon and all of the Mizzou students on the Brussels program. This time, though, I was more interested in the relaxation opportunities rather than tourism. The spring buds were blooming all over the city and the parks were calling my name. Playing Frisbee with friends and sitting around with the grass in-between my toes was the perfect way to start my vacation.

I was also able to fully enjoy the culture of drinking in Belgium. I'm not saying I was intoxicated, but I was appreciating the quality of Belgian beer rather than the quantity. There is a certain richness and unique taste of beer that has hundreds of years of history behind the brewing methods by Trapist Monks. Drinking high quality beer is one of the (few) things that is culturally 'Belgian' other than Frites and soccer that I observed.

My time in Brussels, however, wasn't all play. I took the opportunity to further my research on the subject of Belgian national identity for a paper at school. I arranged an interview with a journalist who lives in Brussels. Gareth was a great source as he is knowledgeable about the politics of the EU and the relations between the Flemish and Walloon regions. I left the interview with a strange desire to start writing the paper right away. It was fantastic feeling to be able to do some first-hand research on a subject that would otherwise be so foreign to me. In addition to the interview, I made sure to visit the two regions while I was in Belgian to feel as though I fully researched and observed for myself the places that make up the Belgian identity.

Le Printemps et les Vacances

I'm back in Lyon and recovering from a whirlwind spring break vacation all over Europe. It was a quick 2 week trip through 15 cities, 5 countires, 4 hosts, 2 hostels, and one rail pass. I saw and met countless friends that each contributed to making my vacation complete. I can't think of anyway that the vacation could have been any better. C'était absolument parfait!

My time here is winding down with only 1 month and 5 final exams left. I'm making the best of my time here but the time passes too quickly. I have been out of communication with the world without my computer for the past 2 weeks, but I think it's refreshing to be away from technology for some time. As a result, though, my blog has many holes and I have a lot of writing to do between traveling and studying for finals. Stay tuned for blurbs about my experiences as I update periodically when I find the time. As for now, tonight I depart on a night train and wake up in Venice in the morning. It's Jon's last weekend in Europe so we are going to make it count! A Bientot!

06 April 2009

Des Plages de Normandie

The region of Normandy was at the top of my list of places to visit in France. This region is rich in French and European history; something that I'm very interested in. So, I spent the first weekend of my Easter break in Bayeux and Colleville-sur-Mer on the French coast. Bayeux is a small medieval town, historically significant since the 11th century when the Normans and William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy, invaded England. Notre Dame de Bayeux is a beautiful medieval church in the middle of town, where the longest tapestry in the world (Bayeux Tapestry, 70 meters long) was housed near the crypt containing bodies from 1077. Bayeux is also one of the few villages on the coast that was untouched by the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

Jon met me in Bayeux where we enjoyed exploring the sites and museums. It was the perfect time to go, pre-D-Day Invastion's 65th anniversary when the town will overflows with tourists in June. In fact, the hostel where we stayed was practically empty, save the friendly young german couple, with whom we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast. After exploring Bayeux, we made our way to Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer, where the American WWII cemetery overlooks the beach where the waves once washed over the heroic men who died in order to halt the German occupation of continental Europe.

Foggy weather set the mood as we entered the cemetery. The field was dotted with thousands of crosses and star of david marble headstones bearing the name and number of each American soldier who died there. As we walked down to the beach, we saw the open view that the Nazi troops had as the American boats arrived at the beach. The large open beach was empty on April 4, 2009, but it was depressing to realize its history on June 6, 1944.

31 March 2009

Des relations aller-retour

Tonight I attended an aparatif soirée, where I met three students from Lyon III who will be studying at Mizzou for the 2009-2010 school year. It was a very satisfying experience to meet people who are so excited about Mizzou and answer questions, as I wish I could have done before coming to Lyon. They seemed very excited about traveling all around the states, just like I have been doing while visiting here. I'm so glad the Relations International planned this (surprisingly) well-organized event for all the study abroad students to meet the soon-to-be study abroad students. All of us were ecstatic to meet each other and I can tell we will become good friends in my last 2 months here and at in a few months at Mizzou. 
Unfortunately I will not be able to meet them again right away because it's time for yet another spring break! The French really know how to do vacations and I can't complain! I'm off to the beaches of Normandy, then to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany! I don't know if I will update much in the next two weeks but I'll have a lot to share when I return! Au revoir et à bientôt!

29 March 2009

Les Calanques de Cassis

Picture this: A serene beach enclosed by limestone cliffs so high that you have to squint your eyes to see the top. The cliffs cast a daunting but beautiful shadow onto the turquoise seawater. This describes the scene where I took a running start into the freezing cold Côte d'Azur and swam until my limbs went numb. The water was so cold that my smile seemed frozen onto my face as the salt water soured my open mouth. 
The moment that I got to Cassis, I hit the trails to find what I came for. The Calanques are a well kept secret of France, and I hope they don't mind me sharing. The cliffs that line the southern coast near Marseilles make for great hiking and a million fantastic views of the sea. 
I'm talking about some serious hiking though. The amazing and very environment-friendly hostel that we stayed in was a 50 minute hike from town. However, we took the long route, which took about 4 hours. We cooked a delicious meal at the hostel and watched the sunset cast its dimming light over the sea onto the Calanques. That night we were so worn out that we hit the bunks at 20:30.  The next morning we went for a 'brisk' morning hike, on a rather dangerous decline that led us to Calanque d'En Vau. 
Beach at Calanque d'En Vau. Those specks you see are actually people. (above)
Another view of Calanque d'En Vau (above)
We arrived at an empty beach so beautiful that words can't describe. Soon after we arrived, some rock-climbers joined us on the beach as they prepared to climb the Calanque. But we had our own rocks to climb as we headed up the mountain back to civilization. I could go on for hours about my weekend in Cassis. Long story short, I fell in love with the French coast this weekend. 

24 March 2009

Une Expérience Culturelle Lyonnaise- Olympique Lyonnais

Football (soccer) is like a religion in France. I am lucky to live in Lyon, where the #1 football team in France for the past 7 years plays. On Sunday night, I went with a group of friend to un match de foot at Stade de Garland stadium in Lyon. 
It was OL (Olympique Lyonnais) against a no-name team that they beat 2-0. The experience was a whirlwind of unfamiliar culture, as it would be for a foreigner to watch an American football game. I didn't know the cheers, the MVP, or the football lingo, but it was a learning experience. My friends and I went to the front of the stadium to sit with the hooligans so we could get the real football experience. We had drunken fans pushing all around us, standing on the seats, holding up signs, and yelling in our ears the whole time. It was amazing. The most amusing part was watching most of the 37,000 fans trying to take the métro home after the game. We opted to walk home, instead. Seeing all these dedicated football fans really made me miss Mizzou sports. Luckily I will come back to the states just in time for my last undergrad Mizzou football season!
Watch a video of the crazy fans: