Our first morning in Savannah continued to showcase her Southern hospitality with a fresh breakfast in the breakfast room of the historical Marshall House. We soon greeted a shuttle that brought us to the trolley tours. Our day would be filled with history and stories of Georgia’s oldest city. We boarded the Oglethorpe Trolley for a 90 minute tour of the city. This traveling tour brought us by all 22 squares or wards along with the many famous homes including those of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts, the home that General Sherman used as his headquarters during his holiday stay in Savannah before moving on to burn Columbia on the other side of the river, the Mercer-Williams home that was made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, different churches as well as the only synagogue laid out in the Latin cross plan, the “SCAD” buildings owned by the Savannah College of Art and Design and even the park benches that Tom Hanks sat on in Forrest Gump. It was quite the whirlwind tour, but it was a great way to see the whole city, learn a lot about the city and see the places we had studied and pick out the spots we wanted to go back and check out later. The tour ended in City Market where we did some quick shopping before making our way down to River Street where we had lunch at Huey’s, an authentic Louisiana restaurant. We started out by sharing beignets with praline sauce and some good old sweet tea. There were so many delicious sounding options, we didn’t know what to pick. After hearing the special of the day I decided to be really adventurous and try the Eggs Benedict with a crab cake, friend green tomato and a side of Parmesan garlic grits. I have to say that this being my first time having Eggs Benedict, I’m not sure I could go back to the traditional kind. The brunch was really delicious. Afterwards we got to try pecan cheesecake, which was to die for and bread pudding. Whenever I travel, I always find it so interesting how even though a food may be called by the same name, each place has a different way of preparing it, but so far, every-way has been scrumptious. Following a pleasant lunch, we headed to the bus to tour the Bonaventure Cemetery. Two of us lead the group through the Spanish moss covered trees to the first site of Little Gracie. We soon found the Mercer family plot, also made famous by the movie and the lyrics inscribed on the bench for John Mercer. Just walking through the cemetery was remarkably peaceful and serene. I always find cemeteries to be rather intriguing places because there is always so much history, whether you know the family or not. In some of these cases, the family dates back two centuries and the plots are still active. I was surprised by some of the above ground constructions, including those that create the outline of a small garden wall. After our walk through, we drove back into the city to do some shopping. My friend and I stopped in quite a few eclectic shops along River Street including one that is operated by 18 artists and craftsmen. We headed up to the trolley stop to be dropped off near the Mercer House for some shopping and to catch a close glimpse of the house. We ended up walking through Forsyth Park. It was a really nice way to spend some time and people watching. It was a great glimpse into the way of life down here. The park was bustling with soccer games, Ultimate Frisbee, dogs being walked of all shape and size, joggers and children. We hopped back on the bus to go to the Pirate’s House Restaurant for dinner. The Pirate’s House is known as the location which inspired Robert Louise Stevenson’s Treasure Island After dinner we took a quick tour of three houses that were made into the restaurant. Then we headed to the spot to begin our ghost tour. Following the two hour walking tour we all got some much needed ice cream and took a rest before turning in. Hopefully we’ll find some neat shops before we leave for Charleston in the afternoon.
Well, I can actually say that now with an authentic Paula Deen accent, after eating at her Lady and Sons’ restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. I apologize for not posting in a while, but we have had some temperamental internet access and have been busy every minute. We have had a fabulous time in Atlanta and it just seems that every day seems to be better than the one before. This morning we rolled out of the hotel early and arrived at a Waffle House for breakfast. This was certainly the best breakfast so far. We were amazed by the speedy service and how the waitresses would rush back and forth between tables and the call out their orders. It was like breakfast and a show. We enjoyed our flavored waffles, grits and hot coffee. With our bellies full, we headed to Stonewall Mountain, known for its reference in Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech and for the three carved figures at the base: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. This mountain carving was the first the artist did before Mount Rushmore. After we walked through the museum about the history of the mountain and viewing artifacts, we made our way through the Stonewall plantation. The plantation consisted of several houses that had been moved from other parts of Georgia. We even got to see animals that would have been around during the antebellum time including goats, sheep and hogs. We finally made our way to the base of the mountain and began the one and a quarter mile climb to the summit. The climb to the top was certainly an experience. At some points we would be walking and then turn around and be amazed how far up we had come and were awed by the view. And at other times we’d look up at the steep terrain we had left to climb and not know how our knees would be able to carry us anymore. We did it though! We all made it to the top! We were so proud of ourselves and each other that even though there were times when we didn’t think we could make it, we tried and kept going. We took a risk and succeeded. It as so rewarding to reach the top and see the view, the accomplishment we had achieved, it felt so much better and just running a mile at the gym. After a brief break and photo opt we headed back down. The decent was a little more tricky as the steep ledges were a little slippery and we all skidded a bit. At the bottom we stretched out with VP before boarding the bus for our four hour bus ride to Savannah.
We settled in and watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to get us re-familiarized with the next city we would be touring. Even though it was dark, we knew we had arrived when we saw the palmetto trees lining the sidewalk twinkling with white lights. We arrived at the Marshall House to freshen up before we walked over the Paula Deen’s restaurant. We had a bountiful buffet of southern cuisine including fried chicken, ribs, baked beans, Brunswick stew, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, yams, corn, rice and salad. Cheddar biscuits and hot cakes were brought out fresh from the oven along with homemade lemonade and then we got to try Paula Deen’s peach cobbler, banana pudding and Blondie’s. Everything was incredible and made for the perfect Savannah welcome! Then we headed down to River Street to check out some sights and the ships on the water. I can’t wait to see the city during the day and take in the other sights and cuisine. “Y’all come back again soon, you hear!”
After an early bedtime, or somewhat early, most of us were up by 4am to greet our day. Our two buses hit the ground running cruising up the Bay Path driveway at 5am headed for Bradley Airport. We were surprised by the springtime feeling air as we left our bus and the Connecticut air behind us and headed for check in. Followed by the typical wait for security, we ate a hearty breakfast to fuel our minds and bodies as we waited to board our first plane to Philadelphia. A beautiful sunrise ushered us onto the U.S. Airways flight, it couldn’t have been more inspiring, especially for our first time flyers. A window seat provided to be quite intoxicating as I watched the sun come up and we rose into the marshmallow like clouds. We landed in almost no time at all and now wait to board our last plane for this stretch of the journey. We are looking forward to taking in some of Atlanta’s sights and starting to experience our One America before we get to work later on.
For our last full day in Paris we spent Friday doing as much as we possibly could, from museums and cemeteries to shopping and one last picture stop by the Eiffel Tower. We set off early Friday morning in search of a fire station, which we learned that Paris doesn’t really have an official one. However, we did pass by a hospital later and we found a fire ambulance so my friend was able to trade fire station shirts for her dad. We then made our way to the metro station and headed to the Latin Quarter to do some of our last shopping. Then we made our way around the corner to the Musee de Moyen Age (the Museum of the Middle Ages) which is housed in the Cluny abbey. The artwork inside was incredibly amazing from the tapestries to the architecture of the abbey and of course the triptychs and other books that were gilded in gold and other precious metals. We then walked over to Notre Dame where we went into the crypt, an underground archeological exhibit that is the length of the Notre Dame courtyard above-ground. It was really impressive to see remains that date back to when the Romans ruled this area. I find it really neat to have walked in the Roman Forum last year and then to see how far the Romans had an influence over was truly amazing. We then hopped back on the Metro to find the Pere Lachaise Cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried along with many, many others. It took us a few minutes to find the right entrance to the cemetery and then a little while to find his grave. It was amazing we didn’t get lost in that cemetery, it is certainly its own maze. Along the way we discovered some pretty interesting tomb stones, both new and old, broken and polished. After visiting two cemeteries and passing by others I realized how different these are from ours back home. At home, there may be some graves that have a mausoleum or larger headstone, but in France every grave seemed to have a large stone coffin if you will as the grave marker. Some of these were flat to the ground while others were their own individual prayer box (see picture above). It was very interesting and something I will have research as to the reason behind it. Then we went on another adventure to find the aquarium, from changing metros several times to figuring out which was the right side of the street that the aquarium would be on. We were very much relived when we finally found it. I didn’t really know what to expect to find at this aquarium, but I was certainly surprised with some of the fish that they housed there. Most of the fish came from countries that the French flag has touched, along with a Nile Crocodile and a Mississippi Alligator, quite the intimidating creatures. And then there was a tank with sting rays and some kind of sea turtle. It was the funniest thing to watch how the sting ray would glide right over the turtle. We then left the aquarium to find that it had begun to rain and headed for the metro to take us do some last minute shopping on Champs Elysee. After a few stops in Channel and a chocolate shop we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our farewell dinner.
Despite the rain we walked in cheerful spirits with umbrellas in hand past the Eiffel Tower down along the river Seine to where we found the bistro right on the river Seine. We had a great table, right under the Eiffel Tower so we were able to watch the lights change and the twinkling all night. Dinner was excellent with great food: a French salad complete with a pouched egg, chicken and bacon, followed by chicken and mashed potatoes and ended with crepes paired with great conversation about our last day and the sharing of our favorite memories. Then we headed back up the hill and took more pictures before we returned to finish packing and hung out in the lounge before bed. It was a great end to a wonderful and memorable trip.
Today, Thursday, March 17, was another early morning where we met our bus and headed north about an hour and a half to the city of Chartres. Although it was a bit chilly, windy and overcast this morning which did not make for the best views of this hilltop city and cathedral, it was still amazing. I did find it disappointing that the entrance of this Gothic cathedral was under refurbishment, but the inside stain glass certainly made up for it. We all decided that we would just have to come back when the refurbishment was complete and on a clear day so we could get the full breath taking effect. I found it interesting being in a cathedral that had been rebuilt twice due to fire, so it was fairly new (1400s) and that this was the only church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We learned that this means that no one can be interred in the church as religious personnel have been in Saint Peter’s, Notre Dame and others. We also saw a relic of the Virgin Mary’s veil. All of the stain glass was simply magnificent. The rose window facing east depicted the Old Testament and was paid for by the monarchy so the gold Fleur-de-leis and castles were depicted in the window as well. On the opposite rose window, the one facing west, had the New Testament was depicted along with the flag of Normandy who sponsored this window. We also leaned how the long windows were funded by a different guild for each window and that guild was represented at the bottom of the frame. It was really amazing to see these vibrant colors and the size of these images, which we learned, are now being identified as not having the sole purpose of teaching the illiterate long ago, but to be a representation of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Along the nave of the church we learned that the white stones represented a labyrinth that was to be followed on ones knees from the front of the church to the center of the nave where there was a gold plated stone which was once a pilgrimage site and the church itself was used as an inn for human and animals alike. In another area on the floor we were shown where a nail was placed in the precise position that the sun will shine in the window and hit that spot at 12pm on the Summer Solstice which was calculated by a priest a number of years ago.
Once back in Paris we took to the Metro and headed for the Musee de l’Orangerie, which I think was my favorite museum. The works of Monet, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and several others were just incredible. Then we headed to the Musee d’Orsay, which was converted from an old train station. It reminded me so much of Grand Central Station in New York City between the grand staircase, giant clocks and magnificent architecture. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of the art on the second floor I had never seen or heard of before. These were among my favorites: photographs that had been copied into watercolors, were truly just amazing with their detail and exact color, you would have thought it was a color photo. Downstairs we saw the works of impressionists like Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Millet and others. It was breathtaking to see everything come full circle from what we studied in class, presented on and even the very places that were painted to their works standing before us. Everything we’ve experience this week has felt so surreal. We stopped for a crepe right outside before making our way to the Concierge, the prison of the French Revolution and where Maria Antoinette spent her last days.
I guess I’m too much of a history nerd, but I’ll admit that I even got goose bumps standing in Marie Antoinette’s cell, outside the preparation room, the dedication room and later in the women’s courtyard. For one, I couldn’t imagine having to face a fate of death by a relatively sharp blade in front of thousands, not to mention having to wait two months to hear the decision that would actually be your fate. The preparation room was certainly one of the creepiest, to know that this was where those who were destined for the guillotine went to have their hair cut, dispense of their last items and have their shirts cut before they walked to Le Concorde. The dedication room was equally as sad to read all the names of the men and women who lost their lives and had their blood flow through the streets. You saw how there was no way out with angled spikes surrounding the fortress, windows and even on the flower boxes.
Wednesday afternoon a group of us went in search of the Paris Sewer Museum. It took us a while to finally find the correct side of the river that the entrance was on, but once we found it and purchased our ticket, we made our way underground. You might think that a sewer museum of all places will be a. smelly, b. boring and c. slimy. Well it was actually quite interesting. To be inside a tunnel that once transported the city’s water supply centuries ago is really fascinating. We even saw some active channels. After going through the exhibit and being truly underground, not just in the metro and seeing so much of Paris, I’ve decided I need to read up on my French Literature and re-watch many films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera.
After emerging from below we went in search of food. Walking through the different areas we found some quaint stores and we got a feel for the daily life of the Parisians, children walking home from school and parents going shopping. We soon decided to head to the Metro and go to the Latin Quarter for dinner, since we had such a nice dinner there last night for only 10 euro. We found a nice little Bistro where we could get a three course meal for only 10 euro, so we couldn’t turn that down and the apple tart and chocolate mousse dessert options only sealed the deal. I have to say that I have been to many restaurants, in and outside the United States, but France is definitely the most accommodating for large groups, they never looked down if you came in with five, six or even more to dine, they welcomed us with open arms. So we sat down and ordered our dinner. Our first course came out of salads and mussels, depending on what we ordered and we began to eat. When our waiter returned to clear our plates, we learned that this waiter wanted our plates to be cleaned or that we had at least attempted to try everything. This pattern continued for the rest of the night with each course. Although you may find this odd and a little rude, we had a good laugh and really enjoyed our meal and waiter. After dinner we walked around the Latin Quarter and found the famous Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, where three days later Emma Watson appeared and one of my good friends had the pleasure of meeting.
This morning (Wednesday) we left for Auvres-Sur-Oise to see where Vincent Van Gogh spent his last days and completed 70 painting and 70 days and where him and his brother are buried. Th town of Auvres is a picturesque French town with the town church at the top of the hill and the cemetery further up on the hill. It is about an hour outside of Paris and the name of the town translates to the wise river. When we got of the bus we began our walk up the hill where we stopped at the church which has appeared in Van Gogh’s work before as well as in one of the more recent Dr. Who episodes. We then continued walking up the hill to the cemetery where Vincent and his brother, Theo, Van Gogh are buried. Their graves, unlike the others, are cover in ivy to symbolize their eternal brotherhood. Theo died only months after his brother after contracting TB from his young son and his shock of his brother’s attempted suicide and ultimate death. Then we walked back down the hill and toured the Romanesque style church that has become so famous. We followed a small street further along the hill to the inn where Van Gogh lived for 70 days. Along the way we passed by the traditional French homes with shutters and window boxes. When we got to the inn we found this lovely flowering tree with a bench underneath surrounded by ivy covered buildings in the back, it was a great picture spot. It was so beautiful and it really gave you that European feel.
We walked up to the second story floor and then up a spiral staircase to the small room that Van Gogh spent his last days and to think we thought our rooms were small. We then let the inn and continued our walk through the tow where we saw the front of the inn, the Cafe where Van Gogh ate his meals and the bar he frequented. This bar was the same one that appeared in the biography movie of Van Gogh starring Kirk Douglas. A little farther down the street was a small park with a statue of Van Gogh. We went to the local store and brought some baguettes and came back to enjoy them in the park just like the French before heading back to Paris.
On Tuesday after we returned from Versailles our President and all of our other wonderful chaperons lead our group to the Metro where we would take it to the little Bohemian village of Montmarte in the Northeastern area. So our adventure began when we first had to get everyone through the ticket turnstile and learned that many of the students metro passes did not work so well. Once we all got through we headed up to the platform to catch the metro to another stop. The goal was to get 50 of us into the same metro, which is easier said than done. Well we all got on and got off a few stops later, where we had to find our next connecting metro that would take us to Montmarte. When we we finally reached our destination we made our way up one hill to the base of Sacre Coeure, an amazing pristine white church that overlooks the city. Some of us took the Funicular up the hill to the top, while the rest of us decided to walk the steps to the top. When we got up to the top we couldn’t believe the view of the city, I think it was the first time we couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower. The inside of the church was just as amazing as the outside, I only wish we were allowed to take pictures.
Back outside President Leary led the way the artist market, where artists like Monet and Renoir spent their days many years ago. It was so hard to choose a painting to buy when all their work was so unique. Many of the students even had their portraits drawn. After a bit of shopping we headed back down the hill on the funicular. Then we went in search of the Moulin Rouge. After a short photo stop we hopped back on the metro headed for the Latin Quarter.
This morning we set off on our coach buses to the palace of Versailles. The town of Versailles is only 30 minutes outside the city of Paris and was chosen for that purpose. It was a good distance from the city so the Kings could return easy enough, while at the same time a safe distance from the people of Paris who Louis XIV feared a great deal. The original palace of Versailles was built as a hunting lodge and was slowly added onto with each king, King Louis XIV and XVI making the greatest contributions. In fact the compound of Versailles could support thousands of people from the servants to the nobles, royalty and guests. We got to walk the paths of the absolute monarchs and those who were beheaded. We saw the royal chapel and walked through many of the kings’ state rooms. Each room seemed more elaborate than the one before, from the gold trim and cloth covered walls to the paintings on the ceilings depicting Greek mythology and the King as a god. And then we came to the Hall of Mirrors, oh my god. I’ve seen the pictures of the room and the video of Versailles, but I couldn’t imagine it quite like this. It was just the magnitude and the scale of the mirrors paired with the grandeur of the room which made it all seem even larger, but the fact of so much history that had taken place in this very room. Call me crazy for being a history lover, but I seriously enjoy being in such historical places.
Then we moved on to the King’s apartment where he died and beyond that the Queen’s apartment. I was surprised to learn that behind the room where the Queen’ bed was, was another room where she actually slept. The formal room was simply the receiving area for her in the morning. Outside her room was the waiting area where those to be received would wait and her own guards sacrificed themselves when the mob came to the palace in 1789.
We were so excited when we came outside to see that the day had cleared up and the sun had come out, it really made the gardens all the more amazing. The size of the gardens were unbelievable. Even without all the flowers in bloom, the sight was still breathtaking on the hill. It was a great photo opportunity.
This morning began with a traditional French breakfast at our hotel with croissants, meats, eggs, fruits and various hot café selections. We met our bus and tour guides and headed to Ile de la Cite where we walked to Notre Dame. It was so breath taking to come upon the Cathedral from behind crossing the bridge to see this monumenteous structure. Seeing this work of art that was built during the Middle Ages and took 163 years to build was just incredible. As a FAPA tutor, I was really rewarding to see what I had studied last year and what I have been trying to explain to the students. Even after seeing so many churches, from St. Patrick’s in New York, to all of those in Rome, they are all so different and fascinating at the time. What was really amazing to learn was that 70% of the stain glass in the church is original and the summer before World War II began all of the stain glass windows were dismantled and all the glass pieces were labeled so they could be restored after the war. Paris was not going to let another war destroy any more churches. We also found out that Notre Dame is owned by the city of Paris, not the Catholic Church.
After some picture time and shopping time we started our walk to Sainte Chapelle Church. This church was erected to be the King’s private chapel in the 12th century, but also to house the Holy relics that King Francis I purchased from Byzantium in the 1100s. It is so interesting to find the church because it is surrounded by the judicial building. Once we finally got to the church it was surprising to it in amongst so many other buildings. On the first floor of the church we saw some of the only paintings still on the wall and learned that those with a red background and gold castles represented the King’s mother who was from Castile and those backgrounds of blue with gold fleur-de-leis represented the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity. We then carefully climbed the spiral staircase to the chapel where we were in awe when we reached the top. The entire top half of the chapel was covered in stain glass, with stories of the Bible depicted on them from left to right and from bottom to top. It was just a remarkable thing to see when you realized when the church was constructed and that much of the stain glass is still original. Unfortunately some of the Holy Relics that were purchased had been destroyed during the Revolution when the downstairs was used as a stable.
Onward we pressed where we met our coach to take us to the Louvre, the first palace of the kings and home to art now. We lunched in the Louvre mall and had a chance to peruse the many shops before we headed into the museum part. Our first stop was the Winged Angel of Victory who represents with her wings that victory can always fly away. Then we moved on to several religious art pieces, several triptychs and Da Vinci’s Madonna on the Rocks (sound familiar from The Da Vinci Code, where one of the clues were found?) Then we went into the room with probably the most famous painting and the largest painting: The Mona Lisa and The Marriage at Cana respectively. It is definitely surprising how small the Mona Lisa is compared to her notoriety. Apparently her notoriety has more to do with her being stolen and lost for three years along with her puzzling appearance. Then we went on to the neo-classicism style paintings of Delacroix and Gericault along with the painting of the coronation of Napoleon. According to our tour guide, one of the sisters in the painting has a different color dress on in the one hanging in Versailles because the artist was in love with that sister. I’m looking forward to seeing that picture tomorrow. After a few more paintings along the corridor and the ceilings we finally came to the Venus de Milo. It is really something that her head remained in tack while her arms did not, while the Winged Victory’s arms remained attached, but not her head. After the key highlights of the Louvre, we parted ways to go explore the museum and Paris on our own. My friends and I went exploring through Napoleon’s apartment and the statues that had been moved from the Tuileries Garden to the inside of the museum. I couldn’t believe how large some of the vases or urns were and how short the beds were at the same time. We also found some prehistoric art as well as medieval art. I look forward to going to the Cluny Museum of Medieval art later this week. After we had our fill of art we headed outside and walked through the gardens, or shall I say sat down in the grass as the Parisians do. We walked back to our hotel and headed to dinner at a little café around the corner. It was a great meal and there were two cats at the café, certainly not something you’d find in America.