Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chartres Cathedral

Whle in France I saw many beautiful sights and many amazing feats of architecture but nothing quite compared to Chartres Cathedral. Chartes is one of my Dad's favorite places in France and I was under direct orders to make sure I didn't miss seeing it. It definitely lived up to my high expectations, maybe even exceeding them.

Located about an hour from Paris Matt and I headed out on a Monday morning and were very happy to find an almost empty cathedral. After the hordes of tourists at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, it was nice to have the place almost to our selves.

Chartres is one of the worlds finest gothic cathedrals and is impressive for many reasons. It's vast size, its two towers built in different eras (one dating to 1140 and the other built in the 16th century) in different styles, the insane amount of detail on the interior and exterior walls, and of course the gorgeous 12th century windows(152 of the 186 windows are still originals). The immense detail of the archway as you enter the Cathedral is the first of many indications that you are someplace where artistic style and detail are everywhere.

Upon first entering the Cathedral it feels very dark, but as your eyes adjust it becomes a world of contrast, light dark and shadows. It was really a photographers dream.

Chartres contains 3 rose windows and my favorite was this one facing west. The one facing south was too difficult to photograph due to direct sun and I didn't find the eastern facing rose window as impressive.

After a good long time in the Cathedral. Matt and I decide to go outside and see the flying buttresses and exterior of the Cathedral. The buttresses are simply massive and it is amazing to me that in the 12th Century people could figure out how to build such a massive and beautiful structure. I'm not sure what it took to get this building made but it must have been an immense effort. Once again pictures do not do it justice.

After a quick break for lunch Matt and I decided that it was necessary to get another look inside before our train back to Paris. This time I was trying to get some wider views of the Cathedral and more detail of the stained glass. Not everything turned out but I got a few decent shots.

I loved how these candles looked in the darkness of the Cathedral.

The amount of detail in the stained glass was flabbergasting. I really can't even begin to imagine how long they took to make.

Everything about Chartres was amazing and I obviously recommend going there the next time you are in France.

Friday, February 22, 2008

2 Countries and 29 hours of travel later...

Hey everyone I just wanted to let you know I am back in the U.S. and enjoying being back in Ridgecrest for the first time in more than a year.

The past week has been very busy, but lots of fun. Matt and I left Privas on Sunday the 17th early in the morning with all my bags and made our way to Paris. We spent the next 4 days in and around Paris until I left on Wednesday night. There were lots of highlights and I'll post photos eventually but the best parts were getting to visit Ally and finally meet her husband Fabrice, visiting Matt's friend Agnes at her parents house and having fabulous melted Raclette cheese with dinner on my last night in France, walking around Paris, eating gelato, visiting the Rodin museum and best of all spending time in Chartes Cathedral. It was a great visit and a very pleasant way to spend my last few days in France. I took something like 300 pictures in Paris (most of them at Chartes). So sometime next week I'll have some up.

My travel home all went smoothly. I wish it hadn't taken me 29 hours to get home... but really it was the only affordable option. For anyone travelling to France anytime soon I highly recommend flying through Ireland like I did. It saved me at least $500 if not more. For whatever reason flights out of Paris direct to the U.S. were at least $1000 for one way tickets. My ticket from Ireland... around $300. Even with the flight from Paris to Dublin which was around $150 I still saved a ton. The only downside of this plan was that I had to take the last possible evening flight on Wednesday and then a mid morning flight from Dublin on Thursday thus necessitating me spending the night in the airport. That was not a pleasant experience but I got through it and I suppose thats what matters.

I flew Aer Lingus and highly recommend them. I've had all good experiences with Aer Lingus. Great in flight entertainment (I actually managed to watch 2 Oscar nominated films while in flight), Atonemnet and Michael Clayton, and would have watched Into the Wild if I hadn't just seen it. The also had really good food which was a big surprise.

Despite the fact that I got about 1 hour of sleep combined between the night in the airport and the 11 hours on the plane, I somehow feel pretty good. I slept fairly well last night and don't seem to have much jet lag so far. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Anyway now I'm back in windy Ridgecrest, where I will hopefully be able to enjoy the sun for a few days after the current rainstorm clears out. I'm looking forward to cooking for Mom and Dad, organizing my things hear and just relaxing a bit. I'll be here until Thursday and then its back to Portland.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Fun Final Weekend in Privas

Last weekend one of Matt's friends Agnes came to visit us. Agnes grew up near Paris, and despite being French had never been to this region of France. We had a good time showing her the town on Saturday and going for a long hike on Sunday. In the process we found some roman ruins and waterfalls, which we have been searching for for some time.

It was nice to have a visit in town... because it gave me an excuse to go on one final tour of some of the sites around town. Here's Matt, Agnes and I in and around Privas.

On Sunday we went on a hike down a country lane that we have gone down many times. This takes you to a mountainous area with lots of ravines. As you can see from Agnes's picture this area is extremely dry at this time of year and is so dry it reminds me of Ridgecrest.

For several months Matt has been trying to figure out how to get to waterfalls and a roman aqueduct in this area. The first trail we tried was very pretty and we eventually found a side trail that led us down to the creek.

As we were searching for a place to eat a picnic lunch, I found one of the first wildflowers of the season. Spring is definitely on its way here. Every day I hear more birds and see a little more green in the landscape.

We did a bit more searching of the creek after lunch and then headed back down to look for the aqueduct and waterfall.

We had almost given up finding the waterfalls and aqueduct, when we decided to hop a fence and try one more path. Luckily this was the right way and in less than a quarter mile we had found what we were looking for. The first picture is of me standing on top of the aqueduct. It was difficult to photograph from below because it was so overgrown, but the two waterfalls were very pretty.

It was a very pretty little canyon.

It was the kind of hike where even at the end we just couldn't stop taking pictures. Here's a wide view of the canyon.

This was a very nice way to spend one of my last weekends in France.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

As I'm preparing to leave France I thought it might be time to write a list of what I'll miss about France, what I won't miss and what I am looking forward to returning to in the U.S.

Things I will miss about France:

1. MATT (obviously)

2. Cheese...roquefort, cantal, forme de ambert, brie, chevre...oh I will miss you

3.Fresh baguettes from the bakery every day!

Privas October 2007 033

4. Cheap wine that actually tastes good... its been nice to be able to afford wine once a week instead of once a month

5. Old buildings, old bridges...the sense that history is all around you. The narrow streets, stone buildings and interesting archways that seem to pop up out of nowhere.

6. Dark chocolate- from the artisan shops that are truly one of a kind (BERNACHON!)to the unique grocery store chocolate filled with things you just don't find in the U.S.

7. Saying bonjour,au revoir, bonne journee etc when entering and leaving a shop

8. Ornate Cathedrals

Lyon Nov 2007 100

9. High Speed Trains and train systems that are efficient and well-used.

10. The pretty countryside and villages and cities

11. One and Two euro coins- there's just something nice about having 10 euros in coins in your pocket... seriously I don't understand why the $1 coin hasn't caught on in the U.S.

Things I will NOT miss about France:

1. Having to avoid the copious amounts of dog crap on the streets

2. Worrying about being hit by the speedy speedy drivers

3. Constantly being surrounded by people that I can't quite communicate verbally with

4. The lack of interesting vegetarian ingredients to cook with

5. People parking on the sidewalk

6. Feeling like I'm never dressed up enough... and don't have cool shoes

Things I'm really looking forward to enjoying in the U.S.
1. The mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest

Jefferson at Russel Lake

2. All my kitchen equipment and working as a pastry chef again (I've missed my pastry!)

3. Thai Food, Cuban Food (Pambiche happy hour and dessert), Chinese Food, Mexican Food, cheddar cheese, peanutbutter, Trader Joes, Burgerville

4. Vanilla Lattes

5. My friends in Portland

6. Sleeping under my Grandmas quilt again

7. Wearing clothes other than the 6 shirts and 2 pairs of pants I always seem to be wearing here

8. Living with cats (especially a certain fluffy cat named Serena)

9. Being able to drive to trailheads instead of walking or taking the bus

10. Cheap second run movie theatres like the Laurelhurst

11. Seeing my family...and enjoying the California sunshine before returning to rainy Oregon

12. Getting back just in time for wildflower time of the year!


I'll be leaving France exactly two weeks from tommorrow and as you can see from my lists I have rather mixed emotions about it. I'm sad to be leaving Matt and the little joys I've come to love about France but I am also happy to be returning to Portland and working again. So two more weeks to enjoy all the things I love about France!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Primary Predicament and Election Addiction

Disclaimer: If you don't want to read about politics don't read this. These are simply my opinions and thoughts about the state of POLITICS in the U.S. right now.

Lately I have become a political junky once again. A year ago when it seemed that fifty different politicians was starting their presidential campaigns way too early I felt a bit disillusioned about the political race this year. However now that the primaries are actually occurring, the field has narrowed and the race is on, I've become genuinely excited about how the primaries are turning out.

After 8 years of somewhat unexciting political options I'm pleased with some of the possibilities this year. The top of the list for me is Barack Obama. From the second I heard him speak at the Democratic Convention in 2004 I knew that Barack Obama was the future of the Democratic Party. I think a lot of other people who saw him speak then felt the same way. After watching boring speech after boring speech he was a speaker who was actually charismatic, interesting,and passionate. Honestly I think he's the kind of candidate this country needs and can provide CHANGE to a country which I believe is faltering in major ways. Caroline Kennedy who normally stays out of the political limelight endorsed Obama last week, and her op-ed in the NY Times compared Obama to her father JFK. I didn't live through the JFK years but honestly this cynical 26 year old wants a politican to believe in the way people believed JFK and Robert Kennedy could transform this country. I believe that Obama can provide the kind of change and inspiration I think this country needs. Hillary Clinton can go on and on about experience all she wants but she'll never be inspirational to me... you can gain experience, you can surround yourself with advisors and experts but inspiration is hard to create. Does anyone know who the last President from Illinois was who had only 2 years experience in the Senate? That's right one of our greatest Presidents Abraham Lincoln.

Obama's top three priorities are getting us out of the War in Iraq and improving out status in the world, combatting global warming and gaining energy independence and providing all Americans with health care. He's one of the only candidates to oppose the war in Iraq before it actually began and for that I have a great deal of respect for him.

I believe that I am among a generation of voters that is 10% idealistic and 90% cynical. Most people in my generation are highly cynical about politics and really don't believe that their voice is being heard. Personally, I have become very cynical watching national politics over the past 8 years. Two election cycles in a row I was faced with Democratic party candidates that I wasn't overly enthused about (Al Gore and John Kerry). I was faced with having to vote for which candidate was slightly better than the other rather than vote for someone I was genuinely excited about. The only alternative to either one was George Bush whose 2 wins and various policy decision over the past 8 years (the ill fated war in Iraq among many others) has made me believe that there aren't any politicians on the presidential level that really speak for me. However through these 8 years there was always that 10% of me that was idealistic, patriotic and believed in our system of government. Some part of me continued to be hopeful and believe that someday there would be a candidate who represented my beliefs.

Separate from just Obama, I'm excited by just the general tone of POSSIBILITY this year. The possibility that an African American man could be president of the United States (Obama), a woman (Clinton), a Morman man (Romney), a Hispanic (Richardson), etc. We have had many great presidents who were white anglo saxon males, and I have nothing against any current candidates who are white anglo saxon males, however it seems time that this country have a leader who is symbolically represents some of the other subsets of America. We are a huge melting pot... and while women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and people of non-Christian religious beliefs, have risen to the ranks of Senators, Representatives, Governors etc we have never had a president that has fallen outside the particular WASP mold other then JFK(as a Catholic).

I am also excited that John McCain seems to be gaining momentum in the Republican primaries. I like John McCain and more importantly I respect him. There are few Republicans on the national scene that I like and respect more. John McCain has impressed me by being one of the few Republicans to take Global Warming seriously (he and Joe Liebermann have had a bipartisan bill in the Senate for years trying to take action on Global warming), and one of the few Senators of either party to try to take on campaign finance reform. While I disagree with many of his positions including the War in Iraq and some of his social positions, I still respect him. I probably wouldn't vote for him, unless the Democrats come up with a candidate I absolutely can't stand but if he did end up winning the presidency I wouldn't be disappointed and I would at least be able to know that we had a president I could respect.

Why do I care about all this and why do I think its important? Over the past year I have become highly concerned with the state of the United States and increasingly fearful about the future. I'm scared about the state of our healthcare systems, retirement-Social Security, the decreasing worth of our currency, our ENORMOUS debt, the worldwide threat of Global warming and our decreasing status as a world power. Living in France these past 5 months has only made these worries all the more clear. The U.S. dollar is no longer the dominant world currency. It is slipping and slipping fast. The Euro and Pound have both gained a great deal of strength versus the dollar. The U.S. is getting itself into major major trouble as our national debt grows and grows (9 TRILLION and counting). None of us would run our households this way (continually borrowing unending money from the rest of the world) and yet our government continues to run this way. Someday the bottom with fall out. The U.S. is no longer the worlds economic superpower and increasingly in the next 10 years China will become that superpower. I can't count the number of news reports I've heard about China this year and the 2008 Olympics is their coming out party. And guess who owns 44% of our debt? Foreigners, that largest percentage being China and Japan. All of these things scare me. Trying to count on a government that is not willing to be fiscally responsible or right the social programs that our citizens need scares me.

We need a president who can set a new course, maybe inspire us to believe in our government again. That maybe be Obama, McCain or someone else in 4 years 8 years or 12 years but I hope for my sake and the sake of everyone growing up in my generation today that someone comes along who can right the ship. The U.S. now is like a ship with many holes. We may be plugging the holes and bailing out the water... but at some point soon we need permanent solutions to very real problems.

The 10% of me that is still an idealist believes that the American political system can and will solve its problems and create an America that lives up to its ideals. I really hope that idealism will win out over cynicism.