Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Liz Weeden - March 11 and 12

Picture 1 - Kirsten and Liz with the rolling hills of Toledo in the background.

Picture 2 - A cathedral with Moorish-inspired architecture.

Turned around in Toledo

Arrival in Toledo came with group nap time. The short trip to Madrid had exhausted us! Once we had rested we ventured out into the steep, cobblestone streets of the old city.
Toledo is interesting because it is historically known as a very tolerant place. Throughout history, Christians, Muslims, and Jewish people have lived in general equality. However, during the days of the crusades and Spanish Inquisition there was obviously more oppression in the area. Despite these exceptions, the religious tolerance seems to have survived in Toledo, even up to modern day. The city has mosques, churches, and synagogues, all within a mile of each other, and each centuries old. Much of the architecture still has a very Moorish, or Islamic, structure with geometric shapes and domed tops. It is only when you notice the out-of-place cross haphazardly placed on top of the Islamic-inspired buildings that the historical changes in culture can be seen.
The group certainly got a work-out as we walked from place to place. Most of the city is uphill with winding streets so we found our way around less by the map and more by walking and hoping we were going the right direction. We did stumble on an ancient mosque with painted ceilings and a synagogue that retraced the steps of Judaism in Spain. Getting lost didn’t seem so bad since we were finding surprises along the way that taught us some of Spain’s history.
The night before leaving we decided we were craving gelato and went in search of a store that was open. It’s really hard to go from the 24 hour days of NYC metropolitan life to the random hours of European towns. We ended up finding a gelato shop, but unfortunately their gate was closed. But being the friendly person that she is, Kirsten got the workers to open the shop just for us! Ice cream has never tasted so good.
So from the history to the shopping to the gelato, Toledo made a good impression. Maybe next time we’ll just bring a GPS.

Alexi Knock - March 10

Madrid, Spain

Although our stay in Madrid was brief, it was definitely rich in cultural experiences. This city is a fuse of American companies like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as purely Spanish traditional gems. One site unique to Spain is the Museo Nacional del Prado. El Prado is one of the most visited museums in the world and is home to European art from the 12th century to early 19th century.

An exhibition we were lucky to see was the first ever to be devoted to artist Jean Simeon Chardin in Spain. Chardin, a French painter, was extremely multitalented and always kept the viewer guessing as to what or whom he would paint next. From meat (La Raya, 1725) to children (La niña con el Volante, 1737), Chardin flawlessly captured the true essence of his subjects. I was particularly moved by Soap Bubbles, which was of a boy blowing bubbles outside a window. This painting was to striking that one would never realize this was one of Chardin’s earliest paintings to include people.

Another exciting and humbling moment in El Prado was when I saw Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. This 1656 painting is one of the most famous and widely observed works from the Spanish Golden Age. Since I had only previously seen this famous work in textbooks, it was almost surreal to finally be seeing the real thing. I could actually see the strokes, the details and the delicate lighting that Velázquez intended in his masterpiece.

After El Prado, we ventured to the Palacio Real de Madrid, or the Royal Palace of Madrid. This gigantic white palace was once inhabited by King Charles III and several other significant figures within the Spanish monarchy. We toured about 20 of the over 2,000 vastly decorated rooms within this place too big to call a mansion. Each individual room had a theme and was literally decorated from floor to ceiling. The walls were covered in moldings made out of porcelain, marble and gold. Charles III even had a room dedicated solely to the art of getting dressed. While walking through the palace, I tried to imagine was royal Spanish life was like during the 18th and 19th centuries. The sheer magnitude of wealth and power that these monarchs enjoyed almost seemed unfathomable. I absolutely loved my time in Madrid and felt that in one day I was able to walk in the shoes of famous painters, sculptors, and kings.

Thomas DiBlasi - March 7

Carnival in Bilbao

On March 7 we visited Bilbao, Spain in the heart of Basque country to celebrate the annual Carnival, a festival observed by Roman Catholics around the world. It is similar to the festivities of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other parts of the United States. Each region in Spain celebrates Carnival in its own way. Bilbao is slightly different than the rest of Spain, because most of the people that live there are Basque, the indigenous people of Spain. The Basque people have their own distinctive language and their own unique way of life. In Bilbao many people dressed up in costumes and carried candles. There were three “mechanical monsters” that fought each other, while traveling throughout the city. In the center of the contest was a sacred fish that the monsters fought over. Many people followed the staged fight around the city. Everyone was very festive, open and friendly. We were joking around with some of the natives and discussing what they thought of Carnival. They explained how they loved Carnival and looked forward to it every year. Many of them put on face paint and dress up their children. The costumes range from devils to princesses. Many of the stores were closed so that everyone could take part in Carnival. I cannot imagine the stores in New York City closing with most of the population right outside of their door. At the end of the walk around the city, the sacred fish was burned to symbolize the beginning of Lent. Celebrating Carnival in Spain was something I was really looking forward to seeing. It was an unforgettable experience to celebrate a holiday so central to the Spanish culture.

Liz Weeden - March 6

1. Alexi Knock, Liz Weeden (me), Kirsten White on the Biarritz beach
2. Hofstra on the beach
3. Michael Dickerson, Tom DiBlasi, Nadir Khan, Alexi Knock on the Biarritz beach
The Beaches of Biarritz
The European Odyssey is making moves! After staying in picturesque southern French wine country, we are officially moving on to a whole new country with a whole new language – Spain! On the way to our stop in Bilbao, Spain we made a quick pit stop in an area along the coast of France in Basque country called Biarritz.
During the drive we received a mini history lesson, learning about the ancient Basque minority who have lived in the area bordering southern France and northern Spain since pre-historic times. The Basque are considered the indigenous people of the region and have their own language and script, which is of great fascination to linguistics. They own much of the land in the area and uphold and respect nature and are extremely environmentally conscious.
Once considered a “playground for the rich” as Professor Longmire called it, the coast of Biarritz is filled with majestic hotels and casinos right along the shore. That’s not to say that the clientele has become any less wealthy – the shopping was a little over our college-student budget (think Hermes).
In the short time we spent in Biarritz we were able to take a jaunt along the beach filled with soft sand and rocks jutting out into the ocean. After the frigid cold and wind of northern France, Biarritz’s sun was warmly welcomed.

Timothy Samson - March 5

Today we went to St. Emilion, France near Bordeaux for a traditional wine tasting in this quaint town famous for its quality wines. We visited the world famous Chateau Clos des Menuts, which had an expansive cellar full of old barrels used for aging wine. The ancient tunnels extended for many kilometers under the charming town with its limestone buildings and winding streets. The guide and host provided us with an educational presentation and gave us a brief history of the Chateau, wine making, and facts about the region. We learned the proper technique for aerating, smelling, and tasting wine by comparing several different varieties of red wine. We also tried a white wine that had a hint of grapefruit flavor, which turned out to be my favorite of the day. He also explained that in France wine is labeled according to which Chateau it comes from as opposed to the type of grape it contains. This is a controversial topic in the wine community because wines from other parts of the world tend to include the type of grape on the label, which many wine buyers prefer. But the French argue that people who appreciate good wines should know the composition if they know the respective chateaus.

Liz Weeden

We’ve said “au revoir” to Paris for now. It’s unreal that we have already begun our traveling. Our first road trip was to Chartres, France which is about an hour away from Paris. I’m originally from upstate New York and the French countryside we drove through oddly reminded me a lot of driving around at home. There are green fields, animals, and trees everywhere. Once we arrived in Chartres, it was obvious where the center of the city was. As in every medieval town, the main streets surrounded the humongous stone cathedral. Driving up the hill we could see the cathedral buttresses sticking out in an astounding example of 12th century architecture. Every time we pass an ancient building I am always fascinated by the capabilities of people who lived a century ago.

Every Hofstra student was probably taken to the labyrinth in front of CV Starr during orientation. What they probably don’t know is that Hofstra’s labyrinth is an exact replica of the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral. The cathedral chairs were placed on top of the labyrinth so we couldn’t follow the path, but it’s still interesting that despite being separated by the Atlantic Ocean, there was still a connection to Hofstra.

The stained glass of the cathedral were some of the most beautiful windows we’ve seen on this trip – and even within the 5 days we’ve been in Europe we’ve seen plenty of stained glass windows. They are this dazzling blue color, and fortunately the sun was shining on the day we visited so the windows shone bright.

One of my favorite parts of the cathedral though, was the story created by carved statues along the interior steeple wall. The story of Jesus’ life could be seen clearly in multiple segments of carved statues. The best way to describe it would be to say the story was carved as if like a stone comic book. Each ‘box’ showed a different part of the New Testament. We could walk along the stories of Jesus’ birth, to his living legacy, to his death and resurrection.

After touring the cathedral the entire group went into the surrounding town for lunch. There we found an adorable candy shop, cheese shop, pastry shop, and bread shop. There’s no doubt that we’ve all enjoyed our fair share of French delicacies so far.

It’s still slightly surreal for all of us that we are actually in Europe, touring the French countryside, and seeing things some people will only see in a travel book. It’s as if we are within the textbooks we would otherwise be reading in a class on campus.

Nadir Khan - March 2

The French Countryside

After leaving Paris (our first destination on the trip) we make our journey to Mont Saint Michel passing through the diverse and breathtaking views of the French countryside. When we think of France, Paris’ rich history and culture usually come to mind first, leaving us a rather homogenized view of the country. I was amazed to see the vast amount of green fields and huge trees in which the cows, goats, and horses grazed. The fields looked, felt, and smelt pure in every sense, so much so that it felt as if it wasn’t touched by the manmade world. This meant no heavy pollution, globalization, or tacky tourist sites. It was interesting to see how each area along the way differed from one another. Some areas had mom-and-pop restaurants while others had a combination of barns and grazing cows. All in all the French countryside provides the traveler with a different view of France, one that should be explored.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sarah Santos - St. James Cemetery, Brittany, France

Today we went to the WWII American Cemetery and Memorial in Brittany, France. Our assignment was to select a name, learn his rank and date of death, and then explain how we made our selections. At first I was only really thinking about the assignment when I started moving between the headstones. It wasn’t until awhile after when I was at the memorial that I looked back and saw the cemetery as a whole. It was eye-opening to see what 4,410 dead actually looks like and the true meaning of that number. To add to that, there were two walls that listed the names of the 498 soldiers that were missing in action. However, there was a bronze rosette next to one name, which meant his remains were eventually discovered. Being at this cemetery and still knowing that there are several more, really helped for me to understand the destructiveness of war. Although, several of the men in my family have done military service, I could not imagine what it would have been like if they had done so during wartime. Just the thought of losing someone in a war, is devastating and for all of these families it became their realities. Especially for the families whose sons, brothers, and fathers were missing or that were buried without being properly identified. Just in this cemetery, there were 97 unidentified soldiers buried with headstones stating that they were unknown but to God. While at the memorial, I learned that the land consisted of 28 acres and was given to the US government by the French as both gratitude and acknowledgement of the sacrifices of American men in liberating Europe. Most of the soldiers buried in this cemetery had died “in the Breakout of Avranches, the fierce fighting in Saint-Lo and Mortain, and the liberation of Brittany.” Inside the chapel, there are maps illustrating the movement of the Allied forces in pushing back the Nazis. While visiting this cemetery was truly a learning experience, it was also strongly sobering. At the same time though, visiting a place like this one is truly necessary and crucial for all those who have not been able to grasp the destructiveness of war.

Kirsten White

Expertly maneuvering the van through windy cobblestone roads in the Brittany Provence of Northern France, Professor Longmire began to explain the unfathomable beauty that would soon emerge from the horizon ahead. Although I once received a postcard illustrating the picturesque Mont Saint Michel, I couldn’t imagine how it would look in reality. The sun shone brightly, pressing through the hazy pink sky; I shielded my face with one hand, while grasping the road map with the other. After driving through a stretch of polderized pasture, a unique type of land used to halt harsh effects of the tide, I caught my first glimpse of the stone monastery dominating a small, circular island in the distance.

Professor Longmire was right; the island truly exhibited an indescribable grandeur. We made it to the infamous Mont Saint-Michel, France, finally having the opportunity to observe one of the most distinctive coastal islands of the world so conveniently located in Europe’s fastest ocean tide pool. I felt humbled by the enormity of the stone structure, which stood on the top of the island, surrounded by a village consisting of shops, eateries, personal residences, gardens, and even a small cemetery. At this point of the exploration we had begun to walk along the sandy path towards the entrance of the tall fortress. Because the sun had just begun to set, we hastened our pace in order to make it up in time to snap some pictures that would illustrate our adventurous experience to friends and family back home.

With birds flocking overhead, we left the sandy path and entered the fortress. Stepping onto a narrow cobblestone street, I felt as though I had taken a leap back in time to a thriving medieval village in which life revolved around religion and basic trade. As we explored the main road up to the monastery, we noted that each building contained an emblem of its primary trade item, such as an artichoke or even a lamb. Through this structural design element, the medieval villagers were able to find out which buildings sold certain necessary goods. Continuing the seemingly endless spiral towards the abbey, we climbed flights upon flights of narrow, old, stone steps, some leading to little gardens, look-outs, or even old gravestone yards. Finally reaching the highest point on the island, we stared off into the distance, each one of us undoubtably thankful for this travel and study opportunity of a lifetime.

Allison Redman

Before the rooster crowed Tom, Sarah and I set off toward the breathtaking Mont St. Michel. In the early morning purplish haze the monastery stood black in the sky. Slightly cold and in our morning daze we walked toward the medieval town stuck in time, quiet and dark. As we walked up the stairs to the fortress wall, the orange sun christened the horizon, spilling its light over the water. For a moment we stopped to watch the sun spread the magic over the walls into the walls. As I stood there I questioned reality, was I even in the 21st century?

It felt so surreal to watch the town come alive as we began to walk around the walls up to the monastery. Slowly more people began to emerge from within to begin there day. As Sarah, Tom and I winded through the streets we talked about the trip; our goals, our experiences and most importantly we pondered time. The sun rises and sets, people live and people die. Our conversation went from funny and light to serious and pensive. It was as if we woke up with the city and entered into the 21st century with them. As walked back for class, I realized how effected I was by the simplicity of the moment and perhaps the Odyssey I have undertaken. The moment wasn’t just a walk at sunrise. It was the magic of the light on the water and the sound of hammers as people begun to work. It was as if we walked into a time machine that captured the beauty of the hay day as it stood there hundreds of years later.

Sarah Clark

Today we travelled to St. Malo, a small but culture-dense seaport town located along the northwest coast of France. It is an adorable place, filled with quaint shops selling nautical outfits, postcards, and knick-knacks. The castle-like structure of the place gives visitors the opportunity to stand on top and look out on a gorgeous view of the English Channel. But the wall surrounding the village is not simply there for show. Saint Malo was a fortified city during the Middle Ages. At one point, St. Malo was declared an independent republic by its people. The wall served as both boundary and protection. Despite the rich historical context and the beauty of the place, the weather was freezing. In addition to the challenge that the weather posed, our group arrived during the awkward time of day when Europeans typically break for lunch. Because of this, we had some difficulty finding a place that would serve us food. In the end, we found an intimate café and sipped on hot chocolate and small pastries. Despite the weather and the difficulty in finding food, St. Malo is a beautiful and peaceful town, and we had a wonderful time exploring its winding streets.

March 1 - Amber Sass

After one day of traveling and another day of seeing the major sites it was about time we went to a museum. Musee D’orsay was the perfect place. It is an old train station that was converted into a museum. It had plenty to offer. There was anything and everything from Van Gogh to Renoir and from Rosseau to Carpeaux. Even if you do not appreciate art, it is hard to find something that you don’t like. This museum was petit compared to the MET making it very easy to see it all. It did not feel overwhelming in the slightest. From there we went straight to Mont Mart. Mont Mart is a town on the highest point of Paris. The view was breath taking; everyone should go in their lifetime. It is so unique. You could see all of Paris including the Pantheon and the Eiffel Tower. There was another grand cathedral on the top of the hill, Sacre Coeur. The inside was covered with illuminating stained glass windows. The village felt like a scene from a movie. There were street artists, galleries, bakeries, and restaurants. Everyone was trying to sell their art, but they were not overbearing, but extremely nice. It was such a fantasy being there.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alexi Knock - Feb. 28

Photos by Allison Redman
Finally, Hofstra has arrived in Paris, France! After a sleepless flight filled with exciting thoughts of museums and monuments, 12 students from 12 different backgrounds and 6 different states began the journey of a lifetime. Since some of us had never stepped foot on the cobblestone streets of Europe, we shared in the surrealism of the day. I agree with Professor Longmire’s description of these first few days as a “dreamlike state,” because I still can’t fathom quite how far I am from home.

One of our first stops in Paris was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried. I never realized that it was possible to get lost in a burial site until I saw the vast difference between American and French graves. Each tomb was the size of a miniature house and the detailing on the stones were incredible. While exploring Pere Lachaise, I couldn’t help but imagine the stories of brilliant writers and courageous soldiers who were buried there.
When I think of Paris, images of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile fill my mind. Today, those mere images became reality. When I took that first glance at the Eiffel Tower, I soon realized that no picture or movie could parallel the beauty that can be revealed by looking with my own eyes. The New Yorker side of me was humbled by the size of this structure that makes the Empire State Building look like a doll house. Although climbing the stairs inside the Eiffel Tower was strenuous, the magnificent view was worth every tiring step. I felt like could see almost every rooftop in Paris and I could barely make out the people on the courtyard below. After going to the Eiffel Tower, I decided then and there that I need to come back to Paris in the future.
After the Eiffel Tower, we had the opportunity to visit the infamous Notre Dame. It was as if my favorite childhood movie came to life when the organs sounded, giving the cathedral an eerie yet intriguing vibe. The stained glass windows were unsurpassable and the priests were dressed in traditional robes.
Overall, Paris has been perfect blend of ancient history and New York City chic. It may seem cliché, but I can’t help but say, “J’adore Paris!”