The Best of Times

As excited as I am to return to America’s high five, today has been slowly breaking my heart. During critique, Marketa talked about how when she first met us at the airport in Prague and how we all said that we were determined to have a good time on this trip. I remember being in that airport while we made our introductions, and I was absolutely terrified. Looking back on that moment is funny, because I have now become good friends with all of these people, and this trip has been nothing but a good time.

It is pretty surreal to consider how much we have seen and done in five short weeks. It seems like this trip began ages ago, and yet tonight it feels like it went by far too fast. We have grown so accustomed to adventuring with one another and having days upon days of exploring new places that the idea of going home and leading a normal, day-to-day life seems strange. We have learned so much on this trip. It was obvious in today’s final critique. This is such a talented group of creative people, and it was a treat to see how everyone has progressed in their photography skills each week. I truly hope that everyone continues to share their photos with the world, because I’m going to miss seeing new projects each week.

In addition to photography, this journey has taught me more about the world and myself than I ever could have fathomed. Sometimes my patience was tested, my body was exhausted, and my brain hurt. During those times when I just wanted to lie down and take a nap, either the city, others in the group, or a combination of both would motivate me to get back out there and venture some more, and it was worth it every time. Until this trip, never in my life have I said “This is the best day of my life” multiple days in a row. Being able to study abroad has been a true blessing.

Today after critiques, we were treated to a delicious pizza lunch, and said our goodbyes to Howard and Cathy. I just returned from fulfilling my dream of visiting Abbey Road. Brittany was kind enough to take pictures of Katie and I as we screwed around on the crosswalk made famous by the Beatles.

Katie and I nailing the famous Beatles walking pose.

Katie and I nailing the famous Beatles walking pose.

We plan on spending tonight together as a group one last time before we all head off in different directions around the globe. I am so sad to say goodbye to everyone. It has been a riot spending time with such fun, crazy, wonderful people, and I’m certain we will all continue to explore this huge world we live in, because like we have been singing since day one: “We can’t stop. We won’t stop.”

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Operation Count Down

Besides the fact that our projects are due tomorrow, our time left in London is coming to an end. We all rushed about today doing various things as we try coming to terms with the fact that our trip is almost over. Today was a little different than other days that we have had here in London because we did not have class until 3:00 p.m. So, as one could imagine, we all had different things to do. For the most part the group went to work on their individual projects, meaning that we all split to go across London in different directions. Considering everyone did different things throughout the day, it is hard to say what each and every one of us did. The only two of the group that I know of that diverged from shooting for a project were Carra and myself. She went to a photo-shoot and I went to the Winston Churchill War Rooms Museum. Later, I met up with Sarah to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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A view of London from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At 3:00 p.m. we all gathered back at Regent’s University in the Cinema for a talk from Grace Robertson, an 83 year old woman that made her career as a photographer. As she stated, “photography is fascinating,” but perhaps the most fascinating thing about today was our speaker. She was lively with wonderful stories of her life and lessons for all of us, not only about photography, but about life too. Quite possibly her best piece of advice about photography can be applied to life as well, “always be curious and always be interested.” Her enthusiasm for her work was so refreshing even after all of her years in the field.

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Howard and Grace chatting after the lecture.

After class ended, most of us grabbed dinner at Regent’s University cafeteria in attempt to use the money they have given us. We then all, again, parted ways to do different things. Most of us went to go and photograph for our projects. I ventured to three bridges of London: The Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, and Tower Bridge.

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A view from the Tower Bridge of the London Bridge.

A Pleasant Monday in Paris

Last night was eventful for a lot of us—I went to the Eiffel Tower again, others went to the concerts—so this morning was a slow morning. Beginning at 9:30 we all had our individual critiques with Howard to check the progress of our projects. I know a lot of us got a lot of great feedback about the directions of our projects and the work we need to get done before our group critique on Wednesday. Sometimes it’s hard to go shoot for our projects when the Parisian sights are calling our names, but now it’s crunch time for a lot of us and shooting is a priority. We should do some studying on our study abroad.

Howard and Olivia having their individual critique in the courtyard of the hostel

Howard and Olivia having their individual critique in the courtyard of the hostel

In the afternoon we had a little free time to shop and eat before our session. A few of us found a little café where Dylan, Marisol and I were able to try a traditional French drink called Citron Presse. I’m pretty sure what they brought us was straight lemon juice, but then we could add water and sugar to make the drink taste how we wanted. It turned out really great and was perfect for how hot it was today.

After our lunch, we all met Howard and took the metro to our next speaker. His name was Gilles Perrin and he is a portrait and documentary photographer. He and his wife Nicole have traveled around the world and taken portraits of the people they meet along the way. He talked to us about some of the theory of photography, but we also had a great discussion about asking people for photographs. Some of us have had trouble in Paris because the French are less likely to allow us to take their picture. They gave us really great advice about having the confidence in ourselves to approach other people in a calm and inviting way.

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The end of this session was a little sad because we had to say goodbye to Darcy. Today was her and Jim’s last day on the trip, so when they got off the metro we waved goodbye until the beginning of the school year. Although we’re excited for our time with Howard, we’re sad to see her go. Thanks for everything Darcy!

Finally, tonight most people just relaxed. A few people stayed back to edit pictures, a group went to the Seine to read and talk and Dylan and I took the metro up to see Moulin Rouge. That area of town is…interesting to say the least, but I’m glad we took our chance to see all the flashing neon signs and, of course, the windmill. In all, besides the heat, today was a great day in Paris that balanced project work, a lecture and a little bit of fun.

The windmill at Moulin Rouge

The windmill at Moulin Rouge

Grin and Bear It

Like my grandma always said when things go wrong, “You win a few, you lose a few.” I found myself saying this more than once today. We went to the market near the Bastille, which was very interesting. There were tons of vendors with different foods, clothing, and jewelry. Even though it was 90 degrees outside, I went ahead and bought an extremely hot Nutella crepe. I’ve noticed that Nutella is incredibly popular in Europe, and I buy into the trend whenever I can.

After the market, Dylan, Andrea, Elizabeth and I decided we wanted to check out the catacombs. We attempted it yesterday and planned on renting some bikes and riding them there, but the machine for the bike rentals wouldn’t accept American credit cards and we realized we wouldn’t have enough time to look around before it closed. So today we decided we would get there via the metro. We had to walk for a while to find the right one to take- the system is very confusing. However, we were very proud when we figured it out and made it to the catacombs, but we were too late- the line was around the block, and a man working there told us we were too late to get in.

It was disappointing, but we reconvened and told each other to put our biggest smiles on. It was a different part of the city, so we decided to explore and see what we could find. Elizabeth had spotted a large monument a few blocks down, so we headed that way. We couldn’t help but roll our eyes and laugh when we realized that it was nothing more than a large concrete block.  Our spirits rose for a second when we spotted a park, but when we walked in, we laughed again and decided that in terms of Paris parks, we had probably found the lousiest one.

The disappointing monument.

The disappointing monument.

The park we found. I accidentally lied in a pile of dirt while we relaxed there.

The park we found. I accidentally lied in a pile of dirt while we relaxed there.

There wasn’t really anything else to explore, so we headed back to the metro. Andrea and I had scoped out a vending machine, which took the only 2 euro coin I had and failed to give me an Orangina in return. We took the metro to the Luxembourg Gardens- and that’s when we finally “earned our stripes.” We dipped our feet in a massive fountain and wandered through the tunnels of trees, enjoying the shade. The flowers and lawns were stunning. All of the problems from earlier seemed to melt away there.

The beautiful Luxembourg Gardens

The beautiful Luxembourg Gardens

Afterwards we headed to the Lourve to catch the Tour de France bikers race by, which was a very cool experience. A few of us decided that we needed food, water, shelter, and hopefully wifi, so we stopped for dinner. I devoured a pizza, and I don’t think I have ever been so happy to sit down before.

Bikers in the Tour de France

Bikers in the Tour de France

There were a lot of bumps in the road today, but I’m very fortunate to be able to say that it took three weeks before I had a day where things didn’t work out well. I also think days like this are important to have, because they make you appreciate the good days even more, and they build character. You can either complain and be miserable, or laugh it off when things go bad, and many laughs were had. And as for visiting those pesky catacombs-  I firmly believe that the third time’s a charm.

Saturday in Paris

This morning a few of us woke up early to get to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa before the crowd got insane. We ended up walking right past the room she was hanging in so we had to back track, but we saw her. In case anyone was wondering, if you’ve seen a print of the Mona Lisa, then you’ve seen it because it looked exactly the same. Anyway, I thought the floors in most of the museum were very slippery. I was having a hard time refraining from “skating” through the exhibits.

We learned last night on our river cruise that if you spent five seconds looking at each painting in the Louvre, you’d spend two full months there. Four of us only stayed for two hours, but Brittany stayed for the most of the day. Dylan, Andrea, Sarah and I went saw paintings, sculptures, tapestries, things we thought were the crown jewels, armor, Napoleon’s apartment, and the actual crown jewels. We were tired out after just those two hours, so I can only imagine how tired Brittany was when she arrived back at 6:00 for dinner.

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After the museum the four of us went for lunch. Dylan wanted to try a street vendor he saw a couple days ago, but Andrea, Sarah and I wanted to sit down. We found a café on a corner and had a seat. It turns out we sat in a “drinks only” section of the sidewalk and had to move in order to be able to get food. Andrea had a salad, Sarah had an omelet, and I had fries and then chocolate mousse for dessert. The mousse was delish!

After lunch we came back to the hostel and waited for the people cleaning it to finish. I took a nap because I was tired and I wasn’t feeling the greatest. A group tried rent bikes to go see the catacombs but their credit cards didn’t work so they went to see a Lichtenstein exhibit at the pomp a due museum. I’m not entirely sure what everyone else was up to today, but I think everyone enjoyed the day.

We had dinner and then a few of us went to the river and the nearby music festival to work on our projects. I need to talk to people for part of my project, and that is something I struggled with today. I get nervous talking to strangers, especially strangers that I feel like I’m interrupting and strangers that speak another language. I talked to a bartender about the music festival, which went well because I didn’t feel like I was interrupting him too much. He was also a good-looking guy, so that didn’t hurt either. There was also a guy who walked through one of my pictures, and then proceeded to pose in front of my camera, so I took his picture a few times. Then he asked for me to send them to him so I’ll have to do that later.

Those of us who were out working on our projects met back up with everyone at the hostel to go explore the Latin quarter. I had gone to the Latin quarter last night, and was desperately in need of a shower so I stayed back. I needed a night to unwind and just relax anyways because Paris feels pretty nonstop all the time! I started to read a book Kristen just finished about a girl traveling in Paris. It’s exciting because the author mentions places here that we’ve been to, and I can actually picture it or I can write down new places here that we haven’t been yet.
Tomorrow there’s a huge market that opens at 7:30 and the Tour de France is supposed to be coming through tomorrow too, so I’m sure some of us will be representing MSU at both events. Hope everything is going well at home. We miss all of you!

My wifi is not cooperating right now, so if I can, I’ll update this post with a few more pictures from the day a little later!

Am I really doing this?

The amount of times I’ve thought, Am I really doing this? in the past two weeks has been astronomical compared to the rest of my past 20 years. In particular, I’ve thought it twice in the last 24 hours.
Yesterday we went to Lomography, a film-camera store. I think I talked about it in a previous post on my personal blog. Yesterday, I was looking at a Diana camera. They had two models. One that shoots 120mm film that develops as square photos and one that shoot 35 mm film that develops as two inch by three inch photos. By design it’s a toy camera that gives photos a softer, more artsy effect. I think film would be fun to explore and Dylan said something about how excited he was to have his own print of a picture he took of the Eiffel Tower on his film camera the other. So naturally, that idea stuck with me and has been enticing me to want something similar.
Anyway, today I decided to go for it and I bought the Diana F+ Mr. Pink camera that shoots 120mm film. I’m going to be honest, I splurged, but I’m passionate about photography and I don’t know if I’ll ever get back here to take my own film photo of the Eiffel Tower. Plus, I know I’ll use the camera at home too.
Diana F+ Mr. Pink - picture from Lomography.com

Diana F+ Mr. Pink
– picture from Lomography.com

I bought a three pack of color film for the camera and am going to start setting it up after I’m done blogging. I’ve heard that your first roll of film is generally poor quality because you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing and you’re a little nervous, but hopefully that will add to the effect.
The second time I asked myself, “Am I really doing this?” was later tonight during a street performance. Andrea, Brittany and I were sitting by the river when a group of people wearing little clothes and lots of body paint set down speakers and started dancing. They were dancing awkwardly for about fifteen minutes, but they were having a good time and we were certainly enjoying it. After those fifteen minutes of dancing, the six performers started walking down an invisible catwalk and clapping. One of the performers turned to me and told me to start clapping, so I did. Then another performer came up to me and said, “Your turn.”
Am I really doing this? I really did walk the invisible runway in front of a crowd of people. I was fully clothed with no paint on my body, but the performers were excited about it anyway! They cheered when I blew them a kiss, and after I finished Andrea walked the catwalk too. The performer who got me to participate kissed my hand and thanked me. He told me and Andrea that the other five performers were all professional dancers (he was not, he was 50 he said), and they do this whenever they feel like it because they enjoy life and want to make people happy. Brittany videotaped the whole thing, and it was an amazing experience.

Fact: When in Paris, you shop and explore.

The morning started off like almost every other morning of our trip, with breakfast at our hostel. As we all scurried to be done with breakfast, we met to travel to our designated meeting place, under a statue down a few blocks from our hostel, to meet with our instructors and travel to the residence of Philippe Vermés. When arriving, we walked through a beautiful outdoor hallway that was lined with old bicycles, greens, and flowers. Shortly after our arrival, we were ushered into the home of Philippe and gathered in a circle of chairs and indulged ourselves with a sweet snack that was so graciously provided to us.

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A photo of the walkway of Philippe Vermés residence.

Philippe started off talking to us a little bit about himself and then dove right in to photographers that had inspired him. He started off as a painter and enjoyed making sculptures as well, that is until started working with photography, more specifically: portraits.  He then explained some other photographers that really inspired him, such as Nadar, Irving Penn, and Don McCullin. Not only was it clear that Philippe enjoyed these photographers, but he really admired them, something that was apparent from his stories and showing us their work.

 

Soon after telling us about other photographers, we were lucky enough to see Philippe’s work. This included many portraits he had done. We all were able to look at a book of his (Maison Européenne de la Photographie), along with two put-together, book proposals, and many other pieces he had printed. Along with seeing his work, he explained to us his thought process behind capturing a portrait and some of the decisions he makes while in the dark room developing his photos. Lastly, he showed us the older cameras he has used and how they worked, something that was really quite the sight to see. 

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Philippe Vermés shows the class how his older camera works.

Afterwards, we were able to see the studio that he does his work in, and see it being used by some other photographers. He also gathered us in his garden, so that he could take a photo of the group of us. 

Following this fascinating morning of class, the group of thirteen girls and one guy did what you might expect from a large group of younger people in a big city: shop. The group split up and was able to explore different parts of the town while shopping at many of the different interesting stores that Paris has to offer. 

Later, we all met back at the hostel for dinner. Following dinner, we split into groups again. Some of us went to the Eiffel Tower, while another group went to an outdoor concert, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company (a bookstore), ate gelato by the river, and then split again with some returning to the concert and some visiting the Latin Quarter. 

In the end, it was a busy day that was exciting for all of us. Each person was able to do different things throughout the day while exploring the city.