midterm break part two: paris

When planning all my trips over here, I originally thought that Paris just wasn't going to happen. It didn't seem like there was enough time, trains and flights were expensive, I'd be going by myself, all that. But when I realized that I had two nights between Brussels and Scotland, I figured I might as well go for it. I mean, it's Paris. How could I not?
So one late night, after getting an enthusiastic DO IT from my brother, I booked the train from Brussels and Paris was set in stone. I got to the train station in Brussels super early (typical) and had to wait a few hours for my train. I journalled and had multiple chai lattes and then it was time to go.
The train ride was fairly uneventful, I read My Life in Paris by Julia Child (such a good book, please go read it now), and the lady next to me had really bad breath. I had said a small prayer that it would still be light out when I arrived but it being October and also like, nine in the evening meant that my prayers went unanswered. C'est la vie.
I bought a ticket for the tube (metro? what is it called in Paris?) and luckily had no problem finding my hostel. Even though it was dark and French out. I got settled in my room and promptly went to sleep. Wow Sara, don't live it up too much.

Bed early = up early. My first stop was the Louvre. I only made one wrong turn on the way and then I was standing in that massive square with the Pyramide du Louvre. Just like I was Tom Hanks in the da Vinci Code, basically. Except I had nicer hair and wasn't trying to solve a murder mystery.
Where were we? At the Louvre. Right.
Everyone told me you need hours and hours at the Louvre, which is true. I spent about three hours there, kind of wandering with no real direction or plan. I ended up spending the majority of my time in the department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities, sucked in by seeing right in front of me a bunch of the pottery and coins that I wrote papers on in school. So, so cool. Macedonian coins, the bust of Alexander the Great (what a guy), black figure hydria pottery.. I may have nerded out a little bit.
I realized I'd been there for like, three hours and still had lots of Paris to wander around, so I tore myself away from the Greeks and did a sort of self-guided greatest hits tour: the Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and, naturally, the Mona Lisa. Who, by the way, is not all she's cracked up to be. I mean, they could have at least given her her own room but instead she's sitting meekly across from a painting about 700x her size which was infinitely more impressive. Sorry Mona but you just didn't do it for me.

I left the Louvre and decided to make my way toward the Eiffel Tower. It was a gorgeous day, blue skies, puffy clouds, warm. I got a tan on my face. I knew I'd love Paris! I walked through the Jardin des Tuileries, which was absolutely beautiful. It must be even more beautiful in the summer; a lot of the leaves were off the trees and there were several patches of dead or dying flowers. Très belle, all the same.
I picked a random bridge to cross the Seine and it happened to be the Pont des Arts. Cool, I hear you say. No one cares what bridge your were on. Mais, attendez! Pont des Arts is a bridge covered in locks put there by lovers. There are hundred of locks attached to the bridge, with initials and hearts written on them. So, me and my boyfriend took our lock and wrote our initials on it and, while holding hands we locked it in place on th.. wait. That's someone else's life. I took a few pictures and went on my merry way.
I carried on down the bank of the Seine, loving life and looking for the Eiffel Tower. Paris is so lovely. I could have wandered the streets for days. Just as I was starting to wonder if I'd headed in the wrong direction for the Eiffel Tower - voila! - I saw it peeking over the tops of apartment buildings. Pretty sure I said "there it is!", out loud, much to the chaigrin of the Parisians.

On my weaving wandering toward the Eiffel Tower, I all of a sudden found myself on Rue de l'Université. Remember that book I said I was reading on the train ride to Paris? Well, Roo de Loo, as she so fondly called it, was the street on which Julia Child lived when she first moved to Paris! The buildings on that street were cream colored with white shutters and little terra cotta flower boxes on most of the windows overflowing with pink and white and purple flowers. There were little kids running around on the other side of the road shouting things in French. I want to live on Roo de Loo.
So, finally, after two unexpected but most welcome surprise sights, I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Ahhhhhhh. I kept having to say to myself: this is where you are right now. That is the Eiffel Tower. And you are in front of it. Just as a little reminder that this was actually my life and not someone elses.
There actually weren't as many people around as I expected. I got a little baguette and cheese and some sort of meat at a little shop and ate it sitting on a bench in front of the Eiffel Tower with the sun on my face.
After revelling in the tower's glory for an hour or so, I crossed the Seine again on the hunt for Avenue des Champs-Élysées, la plus belle avenue du monde. Champs-Élysées is a street with shops and cafes and, most importantly: Ladurée.
Now. If you've ever met me, you may know I like sweets. Even if you haven't ever met me, you may have heard this. It's not exactly a secret. Ladurée is basically sweet-lovers heaven, and they happen to be known most famously for their macarons.
I went to Paris with a three-part plan: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and macarons at Ladurée. I'm going to skip most of the details and tell you the outcome of this story: the Ladurée on Champs-Élysées was closed. Sacré bleu! Mon coeur.*
But still, I was in Paris. A little thing like no macarons wasn't going to get me down.
I wandered around Champs-Élysées for a while, made my way to the Arc de Triomphe, almost got hit by a Paris taxi while admiring it, and then decided to head back to my hostel because it was getting late and dark. The rest of my night consisted of exploring the area around my hostel, which was located pretty much on top of the water. I'm not sure how it doesn't flood when they get even a little bit of rain, but I'll leave that for the Parisians to deal with.
My night ended with a glass of wine at the hostel and chatting to two girls about traveling and how much we love our lives.
La fin.

*In case you were concerned, I did end up buying macarons from a little shop called Angelina. They were perfection.

midterm break part one: belgium

Belgium can probably be summed up in two words: beer and chocolate.
But I'll go into more detail since I've been gone for such a long time and I'm sure you've missed me.
We left on the flying nun bus at 7am. It was early. We were tired. We drove to somewhere (there were signs that said FRANCE -->..) and waited in a station for an hourish. Then, we all piled back into the bus. Which then drove onto a train. That's right, ON TO A TRAIN. I mean. For someone who is just mildly claustrophobic, that was a little terrifying. Then we were told we weren't allowed off the bus. THEN we were told if we take any flash photography the whole train would blow up or something. Good!
As if being on a bus on a train wasn't bad enough, we then went 250 feet below the ocean in a tunnel.
Anyways, I don't want to relive that moment in my life. Onto the beer and the chocolate! Our hostel was really cool, we had a sort of loft bedroom with a little lounge downstairs and some questionable grafitti art on the walls. We set off to explore Grand Place, a giant square with all these beautiful buildings surrounding it. The streets were all cobblestone. If you haven't gathered by the amount of times I talk about it, I love cobblestone. I didn't, however, love cobblestone that first night in Bruseels since I was wearing wedge heels. Good choice, Sara.
Our class went to La Maison des Crepes for dinner; we had a tiny room upstairs that had big windows looking out onto the streets and the walls were covered in encyclopedia pages. All the tableclothes were mismatched flower prints. My kind of place! I got some wine and after a bit of a mix up and a two hour wait we all had our food. Which was delicious, but at this point I was a little drunk. You could have given me a peanut butter sandwich and I would have been happy.
Afterwards, we went to Delirium, just a little bar that happens to have over two thousand kinds of beer. I made an effort to try every kind but sadly had to quit at three. Good effort though, I think. Next time!
Our second day in Belgium involved a talk at the European Union, a carrot-apple-ginger juice at Pulp and a visit to the Magritte museum. The exhibit was really cool, albeit slightly freaky and weird. I really liked the names of this guy's paintings, like "Companions of Fear" and "The Unexpected Answer".
That night, Patti, Katie and I got dinner at a little Italian place in the pouring rain and then went to see Les Miserables. In French. The theater was beautiful, with mint green walls and ceilings and deep red velvet seats and gold ropes. The play was.. interesting, as my mom would say. When the Black Eyed Peas started playing during the wedding scene while everyone was in these old fashioned dresses they kind of lost me. But, you know, an experience.
Our final day in Brussels we started the day off right with a tour of a chocolate factory. It smelled heavenly. A little old lady gave us a chocolate demonstration on how they make the different chocolates and then, naturally, we had some samples. There were just little bowls of different chocolates all over the place, what was I supposed to do? Best breakfast ever.
A few of us then set off to find Mannequin Pis, Belgium's weird national mascot guy. When we finally found him (after several wrong turns on the cobblestone streets) our reaction was basically "oh." He was TINY. Like, really tiny. I don't know why they all make such a fuss over this little guy peeing in a fountain but they dress him up for special occasions and everything. Weird.
To sooth our disappointment in Mannequin Pis we all got Belgian waffles. There were actually chunks of sugar in the waffles. The Belgians are after my heart. And my pant size.
After sufficiently stuffing myself with sugar I set off for the train station for the next journey on my midterm break: Paris!

the making of harry potter

I was going to write a ton about my day at the Harry Potter studio tour but honestly, I can't. We'd be here for a month. And I have homework to do.
So let me just say this: yesterday was one of the most magical days of my life. I don't care if that sounds cheesy. My nine-year-old self would have been in absolute heaven, seeing every detail of the books I fell instantly in love with right in front of my eyes. Everything was there, from the tiniest prop to the biggest house (or biggest spider).
The pictures cannot do the studio justice. If you love all things Harry Potter and ever get the chance to go, do it. Without hesitation. I promise you, it's worth it.