Paris Je T’aime! Tuesday, Feb 23 2010 

Paris truly is the city of lights and was my favourite city to visit while I was studying abroad.  Often one is bound to be disappointed when you have such high expectations for something you have wanted to do for so long, but my trip to Paris did not disappoint me, even if the frigid weather did try to knock me down a peg.  I relished in practicing my French language skills as I strolled the stone rues and was pleased that very few people were rude to us tourists, especially with me being an American.

Nearly every spot in the capital city has a view of its most iconic image, the Eiffel Tower.  This iron structure was built for the World’s Fair in 1889 so to commemorate its 120th anniversary, their were images of the ever-lasting tower through the years and subsequent World’s Fairs.  Initially, the Eiffel Tower was meant to be torn down after the expedition, but Alexandre Gustave Eiffel saved his creation by incorporating a radio signal into its design, ensuring the “eye sore” would provide functional service.  The queue for the lift to the top of the tower is often overly long so instead we bought tickets for the second level and began our long ascent to the top of the tower.  On top of the Eiffel Tower one can see the rest of Paris.  If you go near dusk you can identity landmarks like the Louvre in the daylight then spot the glowing Arc de Triomphe in the evening.  Speaking of nightly glowing, le Tour Eiffel glitters during its nightly show.  It sparkles for several minutes, then a spotlight gleams across the city when the tower’s decorative lights are in stasis.  It is a wonderful site to partake in.

Paris is full of opportunities to climb to the tops of buildings.  We hiked to the top of Montmartre in order to glimpse at Sacre Couer at night.  Since it is located higher above Paris we also had amazing views of the rest of the city.  From the top of the bell tower of Notre Dame cathedral we scanned up and down the Seine and hung out with Quasimodo’s friends, the bells and the gargoyles.  The interiors to Notre Dame were fascinating, especially the mammoth stained glass rose windows.  With such an elegant design it is easier to understand why the French mobs nearly destroyed the church during the French Revolution, although one reason was that they believed the statues of the kings of Judah to actually represent French royalty.  And while it is popular, we did not climb on top of l’Arc de Triomphe, but we did window shop down the chic boutique-lined Champs Elysees with its Christmas decorations that were ubiquitous throughout Paris the week before Christmas.

Much of our weekend in Paris was spent underground.  We used the inexpensive and efficient metro in order to travel around the vast city.  It was quite clean and much less crowded than the Underground in London.  We used the metro to travel to the Louvre and spent much time waiting beneath the glass pyramid in order to enter one of the largest museum’s in the world.  I wish that I could have better remembered the names of the exhibits we visited in the Louvre, but since we visited so many pieces of art it was hard to recall it all.  The museum was huge and did not disappoint, with the Napoleonic apartments and myriad of sculptures being the most memorable wings for me.

Et la piece de resistance!  I could not mention a trip to Paris without writing about la gastronomique.  Breakfast must include a croissant, but the flaky pastries are perfect any time, as are the chewy baguettes.  Pates and quiches are prominent on les dejeuners menus in brasseries, while coq au vin makes a delectable dinner since the portions are not tiny as what I experienced in Rome.  You do need to distinguish if you are eating sur place since the price is cheaper for take away meals, as was often the case throughout Europe.  Depending on what you chose, dessert can easily be taken outside to nibble on a bridge like crepes or meringues, but mousse au chocolate is best savored sur place since the delectable chocolate makes you weak in the knees.  I never wanted to eat any other cuisine but French after my trip to Paris, too bad it is tres cher in the US.  Still, all the magical parts of Paris added together to create the exquisite cap at the top of all the travels I took while I was studying abroad, c’etait magnifique!

The Manchester Christmas Market Saturday, Feb 6 2010 

I returned to the English city I would arrive in and depart from for a second proper visit in time for the Manchester Christmas Market.  We enjoyed the commemorative hot chocolate mugs that you could either purchase completely or return after you drank from it in order to get part of the price back.  In the German section of the market there were several types of sausage that we shared and sampled, but once again we were patrons of Sinclair’s Oyster Bar.  Even through the cold and the rain of December, we found the surprise of an Abraham Lincoln statue smack in the centre of Manchester.  The explanatory plaque told of the US president’s importance in bringing the raw cotton shipments back to Manchester where it would be spun into textiles during the US Civil War.  This encounter was an unexpected reminder of home and was on our minds as our time in England was quickly drawing to a close.

Art in Birmingham Saturday, Feb 6 2010 

I apologize for not knowing the names to all the works of art in these photos, but they were difficult to research after the fact.  Instead I will remain struck by the images since a picture is worth a thousand words.

The entire city of Birmingham was decorated for Christmas and was drawing tourists to its annual German Christmas Market.  These stands line blocks and blocks in the city and include homemade goodies with foods like sausage, marzipan, donuts, and chocolates, as well as crafts like wooden toys, glass jewelry, and purses.  The smells and the crowds are intimidating but they are very enjoyable.

Alas, it was too cold to spend too much time outside browsing the house-shaped stands, therefore it was time to explore the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  Inside the gorgeous Chamberlain Square clock tower is a grand collection of stained glass walls, paintings, important documents, and interactive exhibits.  We did not have time to view all of the collections, but it was still a fun free activity.  Another that fits in that category was St. Philips’ Church of England with its own brightly colored stained glass windows, tiled floors, and floor-level pipe organ.  Being one the last church I visited in England, St. Philips reminded me of how my goal of visiting the grand castles of England was replaced with my discovering churches of all imaginings.  They were just as historical and often more majestic than castles, ensuring I was not disappointed.