Last Week in Aix

We had all our finals last week, so we were free to enjoy our last week in France. Here's what we've been up to:
- attending a fun party thrown by our kind CEA director
- getting our exams back and finding out that we passed all our classes
- going to a medical exam to finish our visa process {which involved taking off my shirt so a middle-aged male doctor could listen to my chest. why was that necessary?}
- having a farewell dinner at a local restaurant with our CEA pals
- satisfying our sweet tooths by indulging in a treat every afternoon {shakes, crepes, gelato, pastries. oh, how we'll miss you.}
- dreaming of moving to England in two years, if Adam wins one of these scholarships 
- packing up and cleaning our apartments 

{The Rotonde in Spring}

 Our study abroad experience was different than most, mainly because we came together. But we wouldn't have it any other way! We traveled to some amazing places, from the Cliffs of Moher to Saint Peter's Basilica. Of course, there's still so much of Europe left to explore, but we saw all the places at the top of our list. 

As an added bonus, we learned a little bit about what married life will be like. We cleaned, grocery shopped, and cooked dinner together every night. Because we tested into the same level, we even had all the same classes. We actually spent more time together this semester than we probably will when we're married in the fall!
While we're not anywhere close to fluent, we also really improved our French. The only downside to our experience was that we didn't meet as many new people as we expected. Our classes were only for foreign students and most of the students in our group were married Asian ladies. We always felt a little out of place with the other CEA students because everyone was majorly into drinking.  

Obviously, though, the good far outweighed the bad. We feel so blessed to have had this opportunity. Thanks for reading about all our adventures!


For our last weekend in France, we took a trip to Monaco. Caitlin was very excited, as she has always been a fan of Grace Kelly, who was the princess of the principality of Monaco. We were worried that getting to Monaco would be infeasible, as train tickets were pretty expensive, but luckily we found about a local tour guide who was taking a group for 25 euros a pop. Not too shabby!

We set off in the morning and arrived just before lunch. The views driving along the French Riviera are pretty excellent. There are the Alps on one side, and on the other, the blue water of the Mediterranean. When we got to Monaco, this beauty was improved by some very pretty Monacasque (that's the word for someone or something from Monaco) architecture.

Our first activity upon arriving was going to the Palace to watch the changing of the guard. Well, we tried to watch it. There was a large crowd. It didn't seem that exciting though. After the crowd cleared out, we walked around le Rocher, or the old town of Monaco.

We also visited the Cathedral of Monaco. Inside, several princes and princesses of Monaco are buried, including the late Princess Grace. It was very pretty. For some reason though, a guard was yelling at people to be quiet in the church. I can understand why he wanted people to be quiet (it is a church, after all), but his yelling was not a proportionate response. OH WELL.

This is the picture of the main port of Monaco. There are several cool features to point out in this photo. First, if you look directly in the center of the picture, in the far corner of the harbor, on the top of a hill is the Monte Carlo casino. Second, on the far right of the picture, half cut-off, there is a cruise ship. Several cruise ships were stopped outside Monaco. Apparently it is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the Mediterranean. Third, look how huge those yachts are! They are massive! Compare the boats on the left side of the harbor to those on the bottom right. Those on the bottom right are regular speedboats. Some of the yachts were close to a fifth of the size of the cruise ship, it seemed like. Fourth, at the bottom of the picture you can see a long gray and blue structure. These are the stand for observing the Grand Prix, one of the most famous Formula One races. We came a week before the races started. These seats sell for around a few thousand euros for the four day race. Some residents of Monaco will rent out their terraces for people to watch the race. These can go for more than 15,000 euros! That is crazy!

Here is where we had a lunch. I was very impressed with how beautiful Monaco was. There are so many gardens interspersed throughout the city. Although really, it is not surprising that such a wealthy and small country is pretty. They don't have a lot else to spend money on here.

To traverse the port, we took a little ferry across for a 2 euros. This, unfortunately, was not the boat that we took. It was a super cool yacht though.

And here is the Monte Carlo itself, after which my car is named. They have a dress code (jacket and tie for men) and an entry fee, so we did not get to see the inside. It was purty fancy though. I was very excited to see the casino, mostly because my car was named after it.



We took our last trip of the semester to Barcelona last weekend. We took a Eurolines {the Greyhound of Europe} bus from Aix for only 25 euros per person. We left Aix at 1:00 on Friday and got to Barcelona at 10:00. I spent most of the ride reading this book aloud to Adam. We got to our hostel, which was probably the least pleasant one we've stayed in, and immediately went to sleep. On Saturday morning, we walked from our hostel to the Sagrada Familia. We saw Casa Mila, an apartment building designed by Gaudi, on the way there.

The Sagrada Familia was Gaudi's life work. It will eventually be a Catholic church, but right now it's the world's most visited construction site. Two of the facades have been completed, the passion facade on the left and the nativity facade on the right. When construction is completed, there will be eighteen towers, representing the twelve apostles, the four evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ.

We took an elevator up to the top of one of the towers, where we saw an amazing view of Las Ramblas {the Champs-Elysees of Barcelona.} The tower really freaked me out because you could see all the way down to the bottom - ahh!

We walked through an exhibit about the church's history and then saw the inside. All you really see at the moment was scaffolding. The whole thing is supposed to be completed in 16 years, but most citizens of Barcelona really don't think that will happen. Apparently, the city decided to build a subway station right under the Sagrada Familia which is constantly weakening its foundation! After lunch, we headed over to Parc Guell. The main entrance to the park was also designed by Gaudi. {surprise, surprise!}

The view of the Sagrada Familia from Parc Guell. Thankfully, the city installed escalators to take people up to the top of this giant hill.

Here we are taking a break from sightseeing on the world's largest park bench.

After about an hour, we left the park and met up with some fellow English-speakers for another Fat Tire bike tour. We biked around the city for almost four hours and saw almost all the main sites. Some of my favorites were the fountain in the Parc de Cituadella {which smelled like honeysuckle} and the other Arc de Triomf {which we saw a little boy peeing on.} Barcelona is a city of contrast!

We ended the tour at Barceloneta Beach, built for the 1992 Olympics. The beach used to be all rocks, but they import sand every year from the Sahara. So I guess you could say we've technically stood on African soil!

After the bike tour, we met up with two of our friends from CEA, Jenni and Dylan, for tapas and sangria. The next morning, we went to Mass in Catalan {and didn't understand a word}, checked out the Picasso Museum, and had paella for lunch. Then we hopped on the bus for a long ride home, made worse by a few screaming children whose parents didn't bring anything to keep them occupied, but let them drink plenty of Coke. We had a great time in Barcelona, but we were sure happy to get back to Aix!

Chateau D'If

Two Sundays ago, Caitlin and I went to Marseille for the afternoon. We had a picnic lunch at the Vieux Port, and then we took a ferry out to Chateau D'If, the island fortress/prison which is most famous for its role in the fictional novel the Count of Monte Cristo.

As the ferry left the harbor, we were treated to some pretty spectacularly beautiful views.

This is Chateau D'If. It was originally built during the reign of Louis XIV to protect Marseille from attack by sea. Oddly, enough, about half of the displays inside were devoted to the Count of Monte Cristo, which I thought was rather odd since it is completely fictional. I mean, it's not like Chateau D'If wouldn't be cool or interesting without the novel.

For a prison, there were some pretty amazing vistas from the isle. The Mediterranean is so blue!

Here we are on the top of the castle. After walking around for a bit, and then sitting and reading in the sun, we hopped aboard another ferry and headed back home to Aix.



The Saturday after we got back from Spring Break, we took our final CEA excursion to Avignon. The main tourist attraction in Avignon is the Pope's Palace. There was time in Catholic Church back in the middle ages known as the Great Schism, when there were two popes, one living in Rome and one living in Avignon. It was a pretty cool old building, but not as cool as some of the other castles we've seen.

View of Avignon from the palace's tower. It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day!

After wandering around the castle for about an hour, we walked over to the Pont Avignon, a bridge famous for being the subject of a French folk song {and very being really old, of course}. There's a little chapel in the middle of the bridge!

View of the Rhone River from the Pont d'Avignon. After checking out the bridge, we bought delicious sandwiches and pastries from a boulangerie.

Our last outing was to Chateauneuf du Pape, the big wine region in Provence. We toured a vineyard, learned about how wine is made, and sampled a few different types. I'm still not a big fan of wine, or really any type of alcohol. I have a feeling that my twenty-first birthday is going to be pretty lame!

Drinking wine in the afternoon made everyone very sleepy, so we all took a nap on the bus back to Aix!


Paris: Take Two

As an extra bonus to the ash clouds, we were able to stay in Paris for a day! Our Chunnel train arrived in Paris around noon, and we couldn't find a cheap enough train until the next day. This was really nice, because the last time we came, we were kinda bummed out about the weather. But this time it was extremely nice. We stayed in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, home to the infamous Moulin Rouge.

It is also home to Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart), a very beautiful church built about 100 years ago. Interestingly enough, it is actually younger than St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh!

Montmartre is also on the top of Paris's tallest hill, giving it some pretty spectacular views. Another really cool thing about the neighborhood is that there are tons of artists out painting and selling their artwork. We thought about having our portrait painted, but in the end decided not too.

After touring Montmartre, we spent the rest of the day at beautiful Luxembourg Gardens.


That is quite a stag.

Sadly, I don't remember of whom this is a statue.

I do remember what this monument is for, however. It is dedicated to Catherine de Medici, the famous Queen Mother of France who is thought to be responsible for encouraging some of the worst atrocities of the French wars of religion. But this was a pretty fountain.

After we ate dinner, we headed back to our hostel to wake up for our early-esque train back to Aix. At last, we made it back!


London: Day Three

On our last day in London, we had a flight to Marseille at 7:00 pm. But because of the long bus ride to the airport, we really only had the morning for sightseeing. We decided to cram as much in as possible! First, we walked across the Westminster Bridge to see the London Eye. {We didn't actually ride it because tickets are about 15 pounds for a half-hour.}

Then we saw the spectacular facade of the parliament building, because we only saw the under-construction side during our bike tour.

Next, we went to Westminster Cathedral, the main Catholic church in London. We took an elevator up to the tower and saw some amazing views of the city! {It's our goal to get an aerial view of each city we visit.} In the first picture below, you can see parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye. In the second picture, you can see Buckingham Palace.

The cathedral also had a really cool exhibit about the Shroud of Turin, which is currently on display in, well, Turin. It was almost as good as seeing the real thing! Our last stop of the day was the Victoria & Albert Museum. Our guidebook described it as the nation's attic, because there's such an odd collection of stuff in there. Since we only had an hour left, we each chose an exhibit to visit. I picked the fashion section, of course, which was amazing. On the left is a dress worn by Princess Diana and on the right is a dress worn by Princess Grace.

Adam chose an exhibit about stained glass and sacred silver. I guess that was pretty cool too!

After a quick bite for lunch, we hopped on the subway to pick up our luggage from the hostel. I was sad that a exhibit about Grace Kelly was opening at the V&A on Saturday and we were going to miss it. Then we saw a sign about volcanic ash delaying flights. Adam joked that we might just get to see that exhibit after all! When we got to our hostel, we almost headed to the airport, but decided to check Ryanair's website just in case. Sure enough, our flight was cancelled and the next flight to Marseille was on Sunday.

So, we had the weekend in London! Of course, we were excited to spend more time in such an amazing city, but we were getting pretty tired of sightseeing after almost two weeks. I didn't really take any more pictures while we were there. On Friday, we saw the Changing of the Guard {overrated}, went to another fancy department store, Fortnum & Mason {way nicer than Harrods} and went to the movies. On Saturday, we finally did laundry, went to the Natural History Museum, and enjoyed springtime in Hyde Park. On Sunday, we went to the movies again, saw the Grace Kelly exhibit, and had root beer floats with dinner.

Our flight was cancelled again on Sunday. It didn't look like we would be able to get back anytime soon, so we bit the bullet and bought tickets on the Eurostar to Paris.