Break 1 – London

Here I Come, Hogwarts!

With an entire day ahead of me after a morning of yoga at The Shard, I headed to King’s Cross train station’s Platform 9 3/4 for Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school of magic and wizardry.

A large crowd called attention to the site, complete with a photo-op and gift shop.  The photography center employees were committed to serving tourists an authentic experience, providing wands, Hogwarts scarves, and assistance to make it seem as though one was truly in action running through the platform.  The gift shop was as equally as impressive, complete with Hogwarts school robes and a cabinet of wands.  Though I didn’t wait in the “queue” to take my turn journeying to Hogwarts, I did buy a pack of Every Flavor jelly beans for my future train travels.

 

Today, I am a Tourist

I spent the second half of the day visiting London’s typical tourist sights: Buckingham Palace (where I discovered that, unfortunately, the iconic, red-jacketed guards wear grey in the winter), Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (viewed best from the St. Thomas Hospital Gardens), and the London Eye.  With a good attitude and a good pair of shoes, it’s possible to walk all of these sights in an afternoon.

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Big Ben from the St. Thomas Hospital Gardens

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The London Eye and the Boudiccan Rebellion statue

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Walk it! Click here for directions

Destination Locations

Peace, Love, London

A.J.H

REVIEW: Yoga at The Shard with Yogashpere

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Saturday morning greeted me with a cold fog as I made my way to The Shard, Europe’s tallest building, for a sky-high yoga class hosted by Yogasphere on the 68th floor of the tower.  On a clear day, one can see nearly 40 miles out.  How often do you get a clear day in London, though?  Not worrying about the nonexistent view, and embracing the fog as a zen-like haze, I chose a mat and began to unwind for class.

As soon as the instructor began speaking, though, I knew relaxing was not going to happen.  Though there are pleasant accents found in the U.K., the accent of this woman was coarse, unpolished, and not conducive to a yoga class.

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I understood that this was not YogaMos, my local, family-owned studio that I know and love, but I was disappointed to realize that the Yogasphere class was clearly a choreographed yoga highlight reel.  At home, YogaMos teaches yogis to look inside oneself to find one’s center, and to use this inner-self recognition as strength to carry through breathing, poses, and reflection. With Yogasphere at The Shard, we hardly had a moment to center ourselves when we were off completing speedy sun salutations and dramatic balancing poses.  As YogaMos instructor Chris would say, it is all part of the practice; one must endure any yoga adversity through self-centering, for it is the essence of the practice.  This class at The Shard, however, was a spiritual challenge.

I expected a yoga experience similar to that of home, or even classes that I’ve done at school, but Yogasphere only seemed to be interested in the yoga that sells.  Had it been a clear day where I could see over all of London, I probably would have looked more favorably on the experience, but poor weather and poor practice made for a mediocre morning.

 

Destination Locations

  • The Shard
    • 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, UK
  • YogaMos
    • 410 Main St, Hellertown, PA 18055, USA

 

Peace, Love, London

A.J.H.

 

Break 1 – London

10 Days, 3 Countries, 1 Backpack and Me 

Reaching a traveler milestone, I am taking my first solo trip!  We have a week-long break from school this month, which means time to travel.  First stop: London.

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I traded sunny Nice for snowy London, which I discovered was unseasonably cold even for the characteristically dreary city. With inspiration to tour London from a friend who studied abroad there last semester, I approached the city with a insider list of things to see and do.

I took the tube from London’s Heathrow airport to the city center, which took longer than I expected. Nonetheless, I was very happy with my hostel location, as well as with my overall experience. Because of my solo status, I stayed at St. Christopher’s Inn London Bridge at the Oasis, an all-female section of the hostel.

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With many places to visit and only a few days to do so, I set out to explore the city.

House Hunting

For reasons I can’t quite explain – maybe it’s the soundtrack, maybe it’s Dennis Quaid, maybe it’s because my sister and I bond over every line – The Parent Trap (1998 version) is one of my favorite movies.  Because of my love for the film, I had to visit the James’ residence, or the home of the London-living Lindsay Lohan.  Though under construction, the home still transported me back to movie memories.  At 23 Egerton Terrace, it sits in one of the most wealthy neighborhoods of the city.  The James’ were living large in London.

Covent Garden

I spent my first evening in London in Covent Garden, a district near the center of the city. Getting to the area, the Covent Garden underground stop only offered options for the “lift” and for the stairs.  Rather than wait in the large crowd for the elevator, I decided to walk, and soon realized why there was a crowd for the lift.  With 193 spiral stairs, equivalent to 15 stories, I felt like I was climbing up a lighthouse!  Fortunately, Covent Garden was worth the effort. A mixture of luxury stores and artisan shops, the neighborhood was the perfect place to wander after a morning of travel. There were multiple indoor/outdoor buildings, including the central Covent Garden Market, of stalls of pricey perfumes, homemade crafts, and food vendors scattered in between.

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Nestled within the criss-crossing streets, Homeslice Pizza‘s golden-lit glow invited me in for some Friday night pizza.  I got there at 5:30 p.m. and snuck in at a table alone, but by the time I finished, there was a crowd at the door.  As for the food, the paper-thin crust was dusted with a salty pizza flour that added a punch to the incredibly fresh ingredients. One could taste the quality of the basil leaves, tomato sauce, and mounds of mozzarella, a filling end to a full day.

Destination Locations

Peace, Love, London

A.J.H.

REVIEW: “Mozart, Bruckner,” Philharmonic Orchestra of Nice

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First the ballet, now the opera.  Because Nice’s theater scene is so integrated into the culture of the city, one cannot visit the seaside town without spending a night (or two, or three) with some of the best performers in Provence.  With great cultural experiences so accessible to students, it would be a waste not to take advantage of the spectacles of the Riviera.

The Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur presented the Philharmonic Orchestra of Nice’s performance of “Mozart, Bruckner,” a concert made up of one of Mozart’s concertos and one of Bruckner’s symphonies.  I was not exactly excited for the 2-hour performance, but I agreed to attend the event with a friend, and I knew I would appreciate the handwork and talent of the abled artists.

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The Opéra de Nice is an exquisite building of glamour and elegance.  I felt exceptional just sitting inside.  Our seats were in a box above the performers, so we could see almost every on-stage detail.  Though long, the show was amazing.  Watching each set of musicians play, then listening to the piece as a whole, I could not imagine how a single person could create such a dynamic and complicated work as these composers had.  As for the talent of the living, the pianist for the Mozart concerto performed the entire hour-long piece without music.  Memorizing, or perhaps more fitting, feeling a piece as intricate as his is nearly as impressive as creating it.

After the show, we went to one of the city’s only food-serving establishments open until 12 a.m., a crêperie called Pôp-ô-thym.  The restaurant served any crêpe, waffle, or pancake option that you could imagine, and the breakfast menu was loaded with creative savory crêpe offerings.  With so many crêpe dishes to try, I will definitely return!

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 29, 2017

Field Trip!

As a part of our UMD-required culture class, we will take a few day trips around the south of France to learn more about regional history and culture.  On our first excursion, we took the train to Beaulieu-sur-mer (direct translation: beautiful place on the sea), a small town six miles east of Nice.  Here, we explored two villas-turned-museums of wealthy, French families.

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View from Villa Kérylos

Villa Kérylos 

Villa Kérylos was the holiday home of French politician Théodore Reinach, who designed the structure with architect Emmanuel Pontremoli in the early 1900s.  The home, named “Kérylos” after a bird of Greek mythology signaling a good omen, was a tribute to the grandeur, style, and beauty of Greek civilization.  Each room told stories of the ancient Greeks through tiled floor images, painted walls, statues and replica furniture of the time.  Following an audio guide, I learned about the Reinach family, Greek mythology and the ancient civilization’s presence on France’s Mediterranean coast today.

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Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

A short walk brought us to our second destination, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.  This estate was the home of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, née Rothschild, a French baroness.  Constructing the home after her divorce in 1904, she filled the home with great antiques, including furniture, porcelain, and Asian art.

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Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild

The gardens of the estate were also a part of the baroness’s vision, though of the nine sections present today, four were added after her death.  The grounds were beautiful, even for a winter day.  We enjoyed exploring each themed section of the garden and were thoroughly entertained by the fountains that synchronize to music every 20 minutes for a stately show.

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A view of the gardens, from the villa balcony

Lastly, my classmates and I dined at the villa’s tea room.  With outdoor seating for warmer days, the tea room and patio overlook the sea.  An afternoon pastry and warm drink is the French way to end the day.

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Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 27, 2017

Europe 1, United States 0

Though there are some things that the U.S. does better than Europe (like drying laundry, hot showers, and taking home restaurant leftovers), the language evaluation system here is much more comprehensive.  Because I have only been taking classes here for a week, I cannot yet speak to the system of language learning, but the categorization of an individual’s general knowledge of a language is clear and understood for all Europeans, something that the U.S. should take note of.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) includes levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2, from least knowledgeable to most knowledgeable.  Using this universal system takes out the ambiguity of claiming to have “proficient” knowledge of a language, or validate/invalidate those who claim to speak fluently.  Because Europeans understand what these levels signify, they can get a more accurate reading on one’s knowledge of a language.

My eight years of French language study has placed me in B2.  By the end of this semester, I should have certifiably completed this level.  In niveau B2, I:

  • can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization
  • can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party
  • can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options

Though I am almost confident in my abilities for these categories, finishing B2 will increase my overall performance and assurance in my French language knowledge.

Studying Abroad

I study at the Université Nice Sophia Antipolis on the Faculté des Lettres, Arts, et Sciences Humaines Carlone campus.  Within this university, I am a student of the C.U.E.F.L.E., or the Centre Universitaire d’Études en Français Langue Étrangère.  In this program, I take courses with many different types of people from all around the world.  At 21 years old, I am one of the youngest in my classes.  Most of them live in Nice long-term, as spouses of those who have moved to Nice for work, or are here to work themselves.  Many students come from China and Russia, but I have peers from Morocco, India, Brazil, and more.  They usually complete multiple levels of the CEFR here, as you need a level B1 understanding of French to be eligible for French naturalization.  The other students were surprised to learn that the American students are only here for 4 months, hoping to complete our level on the first try.  It is only school for us, but for many of them, it is life.

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View from the top floor at school on Campus Carlone.  Source: nice.fr

My B2 classes include eight hours of language learning, five hours of literature, two hours of electives, and one hour of cultural immersion per week, all in French.  Aside from the mandatory language classes and Maryland-required literature and cultural immersion courses, I take France’s Ancient Regime and Tourism in Nice as my electives.  Though it is my first experience taking classes in French that are not geared toward language learning, I love both courses and am looking forward to all of the knowledge I will gain by the end of the semester.

Overall, so far, I enjoy the academic aspect of my second abroad experience and can’t wait to spend the next four months in one of my favorite countries.

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

REVIEW: “Le Songe,” Ballet of Monte Carlo

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“Le Songe,” Ballet of Monte Carlo;  Source: dancetabs.com, Credit: Marie-Laure Briane

Bravo!

My host mom took me to see “Le songe,” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at the National Theater of Nice (Le Théâtre National de Nice) performed by the Ballet of Monte Carlo (Les Ballets de Monte Carlo).  We attended with a few of her friends, some of which sing in the Nice Opera.  I danced for 10 years, and I enjoy visits to Broadway and off-Broadway shows with my mom and sister, so I assumed I would enjoy the production.

Enjoy is an understatement.  I loved the ballet!  The entire show was incredible.  This production was mimed, so there was little speaking from the performers on stage (lucky for me!).  In this style, the dancers had to exaggerate their movements and rely on the music to carry the plot of the story.

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Oberan and Titania, royal fairies of the forest; Source: monacochannel.mc, Credit: Alice Blanger

The choreography was amazing.  To be able to create an entire show to tell a story through dance is a true talent.  Equally impressive was how the dancers executed the choreography to the alternative soundtrack.  The piece was presented through a funky, futuristic lens, as opposed to the classic organization of  a traditional Shakespeare production, so the unique set, sounds, and costumes that distorted the audience’s reality made the dancer’s delivery  of the plot that more impressive.

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The object of Titania’s affection leading the other fairies in dance, ahead of Titania; Source: balletsofmontecarlo.com, Credit: Alice Blanger

As per Shakespeare’s original piece, the performance had a dreamlike, or perhaps nightmarish, quality.  Even reimagined, the show stayed true to story, and was a fun, updated version of a time-honored work.

Though there is only one more ballet production scheduled to show in Nice while I am here, I plan on putting it on the top of my to-do list.  Once I return home, I can’t wait to explore ballet performances in New York, D.C., and beyond!

Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 21, 2017

Views of Nice

One of the my favorite travel activities is finding viewpoints where I can take panorama shots of sprawling cities.  In addition to the popular Colline du Chateau, a vista point that I visited on my last trip to Nice, I have explored two more spots that are great for observing Nice from above.

 

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is a large, circular building with a rooftop garden.  From the top of the museum, you can look out to sea or up into the hills of Provence.

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Cimiez Monastery Gardens

The Cimiez Monastery Gardens belong to the Cimiez Monastery, which serves as a Catholic church today.  The view from the gardens can be enjoyed all year, though I will be returning to the site when the weather warms to see the plants in full bloom.

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Cimiez Monastery

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 18, 2017

Ma famille d’accueil

My host mom’s name is Sophie, and she is a psychologist. She used to have her own practice, but now she works in psychology at various universities. She is also involved in a group that promotes ecological honesty and conservation.  Sophie has a daughter who studies engineering in Lyon, France, and has been hosting international students for over a decade, so she is used to having young adults live with her.

To bring her a little bit of home, I gave her Bethlehem star greeting cards, a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania tile, a small Moravian star, and Moravian mints made with a recipe passed down from the original group. She appreciated the gift and was interested in the information about where I live.

My host mom, or mere d’accueil, lives in the old town of Nice, or Vieux Nice. Here, the streets are crooked and narrow, but the buildings tall and colorful. The vibe of the neighborhood is very coastal Italian, revealing the multi-country influences on Nice. The apartment itself is rather small, but it is clean and safe.

Sharing the home with us is Plume the cat, whose name means feather in English. Plume has been my best friend so far, and a real comfort in an unfamiliar place. Because I am used to being independent, living with someone who is not a peer and who controls much of my living situation is uncomfortable for me. Madame Sophie is wonderful, the situation is just, literally, foreign territory. With Plume taking naps in my room and snuggling asleep with me at night, I feel more relaxed. I know that time and routine will ease my discomfort and I will feel right at home in no time.

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J’adore Plume!

Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

January 17, 2016

My education in Nice began with my education of Nice.  Because it would be my home for the next few months, it was only appropriate that I learn about how this Provençal paradise came to be.

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The #ILoveNice structure overlooks Nice’s Baie des Anges, or Bay of Angels.

Geography shapes society

Nice is located in the French provence of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.  On first thought, it seems a stretch to relate the beaches of the Mediterranean to the peaks of the Alps, but in reality, most of the surface of the province is elevated above sea level.  With this trait, much of the province’s population is concentrated along the coast.

Nice’s history, as presented to my peers and I, was broken into three distinct parts:

1. the Greek/Roman period

2. the Baroque period

3. modern Nice

Nice has Greek and Roman origins, evident in its name; Nice derives from the Greek name Nikaia, or Nike, the goddess of victory, or victory of conquering the land.  From its early modern settlement in the 1500s, Nice experienced waves of Italian influence, most specifically noted in the Baroque period of 1600-1800.  This era of anti-Catholic reform leaves Nice as the only characteristically Baroque city in France.  Finally, the end of the 18th century introduced tourism as a chief economic and social force in the area, and so modern Nice began.

Society shapes geography

From this time on, both natural and manmade geographical clues can reveal the progression of modern society in Nice.  The Promenade des Anglais, or “walk of the English,” is a pedestrian path along the coast said to be named for the many British and American visitors to the town.  The Quai des États-Unis is a motor vehicle road that hugs much of the Promenade des Anglais and is named in appreciation for the United States’ participation in WWI.  There is also a small statue of liberty commemorating the wartime activities of the Americans found along the two roads.

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Nice’s Statue of Liberty stands between the Promenade des Anglais and the Quai des États-Unis.

Nice’s second water feature is underground.  The Paillon is a river that runs from the Alps to the Mediterranean.  This route, however, had been paved over because of unsanitary actions of residents years ago.  It separated Vieux Nice from the expanding wealth of the town.  The space is now the Promenade de Paillon, a grassy, park area that runs through the center of Nice, providing benches, fountains, and play structures to all.

The goal of our lesson was to analyze geography in such a way to help understand your surroundings, and question how and why society has developed a location as it has.  Now that I know Nice’s history, I can better appreciate the city it is today.

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For more about Nice, read about my first trip to the city here.

Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.