May 31, 2013

french countryside bliss {Europe 2012}

The last 5 days in Europe were spent in a petite village of the French countryside near Toulouse called Salies du Salat. My aunt, uncle, and adorable 8 year old cousin live in a beautiful home in this village tucked in this beautiful area of sloping green hillsides and the grand Pyrenees mountains that separate Spain from France. My relatives were so hospitable and it was great to not have an itinerary for this last leg of my trip. I honestly just did whatever my aunt and uncle recommended and let them plan everything since they wanted to show me how beautiful their village was. After 2 weeks of constantly being on the go, this was such a nice change. And since I was still battling a horrible cold (which by this time had turned into sinusitis), it was great to relax in the sun.

First off, I have to sadly admit I did not take a lot of photos during these 5 days at all. I really regret it because there was so much beauty! But I think I was so done with taking photos and just wanted to enjoy the scenery.

First off, let me just say that the train ride from Paris to Toulouse was quite simply breathtakingly beautiful. Granted, it doesn't take a lot to make me cry, but I teared up as the train sped by the gorgeous countryside scenery that was highlighted by a perfect sunset. Words can't describe the beauty that I saw. After a whirlwind week in Paris, I finally had time to sit down and journal a little, and it simply brought me to tears thinking about how blessed I was to be on this journey. I was (and still am!) so thankful for God giving me the opportunity to travel to Europe. It was fun, adventurous, and beautiful, but it was also a time to reflect on all that God had helped me get through in the last two years with school and work. It was a great transition into my new career as a pediatric nurse practitioner and moving away from my beloved Seattle. So anyway, I am trying to make myself sound less like a crybaby but I think I am only successful and making myself sound like longwinded crybaby.  Oh well.

I arrived in Saleis du Salat after midnight, but to my surprise I had booked my train ticket on Bastille Day (France's equivalent to USA's 4th of July) and fireworks were still coloring the sky as we drove into the small village. I woke up the next morning and gasped when I saw this beauty:


Life seemed so wonderfully slow here compared to the fast-paced London and Paris, and I lazily walked around the vegetable garden, swam in the pool, got my tan on while smelling the nearby lavender bushes, and enjoyed having lunch and dinner outside enjoying this view. I would have been content with just hanging out at my aunt and uncle's home, but they were so sweet to take me on day trips during my stay!

First stop: Aurignac, a small town best known for 1860 discovery of prehistoric remains in nearby caves. The old part of the town is centered around the remains of the castle dated from 13th century



And this last photo is not my own; I found it on pinterest, but captures a more "big picture" view



The next day we went on a hike and picnic with a great view of the Pyrenees, a SW European chain of mountains that form a natural border between France and Spain.



I wish I would have taken more photos this day because after we climbed to the top of this hill, my aunt and I ventured into a tiny village that was too adorable for words. Cute old ladies were washing rugs outside, raggedy kids were riding bikes, and toothless grinning grandpas were chatting outside and watching us outsiders exploring their little hideaway in the hills. I'll always regret not capturing atleast a glimpse of that little village.

Lastly, my aunt and uncle surprised me with a day trip into Northern Spain to hangout in a village that used to be frequented by Spanish royalty visiting for winter wonderland fun.


So, this concludes my European adventure in July 2012! I had an amazing time and am SO excited to revisit some of the places I fell in love with, as well as exploring new areas this coming August!

Stay tuned from photos from last week's trip to NYC!!!

May 15, 2013

i louvre you, paris {europe 2012}

This was our last full day in Paris. Sad news. We still had lots to see, but wanted to focus on the last two places that we had been passing by all week but had stopped at : Notre Dame and Louvre.

first stop:  n o t r e  d a m e

Aside from not seeing Quasimodo, this was perfect. We walked around the crowded sanctuary and admired the beauty of the candlelit and stained glass ambiance. 

 We then exited the sanctuary and proceeded to the line for the climbing the towers of Notre Dame ...
1.5 hours later (yikes!!) we finally reached the entrance for the long, winding staircase 350 steps later. It was all worth it once we saw this view! Words can't describe it, so I'll just stop here ---

We had our first -- and only -- sit-down lunch in a beautiful Parisian restaurant across the street from Notre Dame. I had a Croque Monsieur and Sarah had a Croque Provencal. Yum!


second stop:  l o u v r e 

We then walked from Notre Dame to the Louvre along the Seine River and enjoyed the view for the last time. Needless to say, I was quite excited!
 Along with the magnificent paintings, the ceilings were masterpieces in their own right.
After touring around many of the exhibits, we eventually made our way to see this pretty lady
I loved this room. It reminded me of Jane Austen characters. 
Although we quickly perused through many of the exhibits, we hardly covered a quarter of the whole museum. Here were some of my favorite highlights at the Louvre. 
  1. {of course} Mona Lisa (aka "La Jaconde"). She was worth the hunt & the crowd!
  2. Winged Victory {aka Nike of Samothrace}
  3. Venus de Milo {aka a big armless women not wearing any clothes}
  4. The Coronation of Napoleon {10meters x 6meters = HUMONGOUS!}
  5. Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss {for the romantic in me}
  6. The Wedding Feast of Cana {painted in 1511!}
We were exhausted  as we took the metro back to the apartment, but so thankful for a week full of memories and experiences we'd cherish for years to come. 


May 8, 2013

entering the enchanting world of Versailles {europe 2012}

// paris day 6 //

j a r d i n  et  c h รข t e a u  des  v e r s a i l l e s

What a beautiful place! Sarah and I were quite frankly in awe of the grandeur and beauty of the gardens and chateau.  It was so extravagant, it was almost ridiculous! We had no idea what we would encounter as we boarded the train for our day trip, but we were transported into the royal {and sometimes ridiculous} world of {self-loving} Louis XIV and his {crazy} queen Marie Antoinette. 

We used Sandeman NewEurope again for this trip. It was so great! I totally recommend this group! The 30 euro price was absolutely well worth the hassle-free transportation and super interesting history lesson. However, important to note is that this price does not include entrance into the chateau, which was an extra 15 euro (also well spent because of the many things to see inside). 




Greek mythology was a major theme in the garden. This is mainly because Henry XIV referred to himself as the Sun King, or in other words, a self-proclaimed Zeus! Big head? Uhh yeah! 






The Chateau was known for many things, most notably the home of absolute monarchy of Louis XIV and his eventual downfall as he and Marie were forced out of the Chateau during the Women's March on Versailles/October March, one of the starting points of the French Revolution.  



 The bordering belt of woodlands is in great contrast to the majority of the gardens, fashioned in the classic French Garden style, which was expertly showcased by meticulously manicured lawns (the designs of the lawns were supposed to look as far away from the natural realm as possible, in order to show Man's ingenuity), parterres of flowers (very short flowers that were landscaped to be best visualized from above, such as from a balcony of the chateau), sculptures (many of which are designed to showcase the four seasons in different corners of the garden), fountains (which were powered by hydraulics system that is still for the most part working today)


One of my favorite stories of Louis XIV's extravagance and ridiculous showing off is this story: Apparently he imported an African rhino into the woodlands of the garden for hunting! Imagine taking a stroll in the gardens and coming face to face with that!






You know you're in a palace when there are masterpieces painted onto the ceilings. 






Financially speaking, making a hallway entirely out of mirrors during the 17th century was equivalent today to making a hallway out of diamonds. Once again, Louis VIX's attempt at showing off his wealth and power while the rest of nearby Paris was starving and homeless. 

Versailles was also the site of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Doesn't ring a bell? Think back to middle school history class. Germany was blamed for causing WWI in the famous Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in the amazingly beautiful Hall of Mirrors.






Once again, French landscape was meant to show Man's dominion and power over nature, hence the lack of naturally-growing grass. Louis VIX was obsessed with showing off his power and insisted on his chateau's gardens to exhibit this as well. 







 

We had a blast! There was so much to see and experience. Sadly, we did not have enough time to see Marie Antoinette's little cottage ("The Queen's Hamlet") at the outskirts of the gardens, which she used as a hideaway from the awful stresses of being a spoiled queen. Oh the hardlife. Decorated in a rustic farmhouse style with a dash of Disney-ish charm, it is a stark contrast to the rest of the Versailles and was a place where Marie would escape reality. Rumor has it that her sheep's wool was dyed fluorescent colors and lots of cooky happenings took place at the cottage. I look forward to exploring this weird but oddly enchanting place this summer!


Alrighty, next time I'll be sharing our last full day in Paris! Au revoir!