Tag Archives: France

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?

By: Carolyn Grace, C’16

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I’m finally back on the blog, Quakers!  And boy, does it feel good.

For those of you who don’t remember, I spent last semester studying abroad in Paris through Reid Hall, a joint program between Columbia and Penn.  I took classes in History, Cinema Studies, and French (le duh) at both this international school and at the Sorbonne.  But like all study abroad programs, my adventure in Paris was not only comprised of studying!

Living with a host family, getting lost in art museums, sipping cappuccinos in cafés, catching the last metro home after a long night out, sprawling out on the grass in a luscious garden, exploring boutiques on streets big and small, this was over half of my education abroad.  And these are just a handful of the activities I did in Paris alone!

If you’re interested in knowing more about my adventures, check out the blog I kept last semester: For the Love of Paris.  You’ll find photos, videos, songs, and most importantly musings of my time in Europe.

But that semester has come and gone, and I admit that for all the fun I had overseas, I am incredibly happy to be back on Penn’s campus.  I missed my friends, my classes, and my activities.  I missed being a part of a thriving campus culture that, although stressful at times, encouraged me to be proactive.

So I’m back in the swing of things, but with a bit more gusto than last year!  I’m singing with Counterparts and sitting on the board as Alumni Relations Officer, I’m helping run Sigma Kappa as Vice President, I’m writing for 34th Street and Penn Appétit, and I’m beginning to conduct research for my Senior Honors Thesis for my History major.

Don’t worry, there will be future blog posts where I’ll delve deeper into these topics!  Just know for now that I’ve hit the ground running this second semester of my junior year, and I’m glad to have that academic cardio in my life again.

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Filed under Academics, Campus Life, Carolyn G., Clubs, Student Perspective, The Arts, The Arts at Penn

Penn Alumni Travel: Castles and Cathedrals of France

Author: Lynn Marsden-Atlass, Director of the Arthur Ross Gallery

[This post was written during a Penn Alumni Travel trip exploring the Provincial French Countryside. To view our 2015 schedule of tours, click here.]

October 16, 2014

Today we are touring the Renaissance castle of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Henri II gave his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, this lovely castle that spans the Cher River.  It reflects perfectly the Renaissance style with beautiful paintings, tapestries, furniture, painted ceilings, and floor tiles executed by Italian and French Renaissance artists and workmen.

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We began our journey last Thursday in Toulouse, one of the great pilgrimage destinations during the Middle Ages with two exceptional examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the basilica of St. Sernin and the cathedral of St. Etienne.  Today Toulouse is a center for commerce and college students – Airbus builds their planes here, and the cafés in the place St. George are full of people enjoying a coffee or an aperitif talking to one another. Face to face. The square buzzes with voices. No cell phones in the café.

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In Albi we visited their remarkable cathedral, and the Palais de La Berbie that houses the museum of Toulouse-Lautrec, and gardens.  A native son, Lautrec is esteemed today for his lithographs and posters.  He designed these for his friends who were Montmartre’s performers at café-concerts, at the Moulin Rouge, or for Aristide Bruant at Le Mirliton. Scandalous outliers, such as La Goulule and Jane Avril, gained notoriety and fame through Lautrec’s posters.

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Our medieval pilgrimage continued on Tuesday with a visit to Rocamadour. This is a  superb site set in a breathtaking valley with a deep river bed. The houses are built vertically on rock. Above those the church with its famous Chapelle de la Vierge noire (black virgin) is perched, and above the church is a castle.  We climbed 262 steep steps to reach Rocamadour’s churchyard. Eleanor of Aquitaine climbed those same steps on her knees!

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Sarlat is one of the Dordogne’s picturesque towns whose specialties include mushrooms, confit of duck, walnuts, and foie gras made from duck or goose liver.  We enjoyed touring this town, its church, and Bishopry. Some of us paid special homage to the local geese in the “Place des Oies”.

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On our way to Saumur, we paused to admire Chinon, the castle of Charles VII. A 16-year-old Jean d’Arc traveled here after having a dream that she must assist Charles VII. Jean d’Arc later defended her King in battle, before being burned at the stake.

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The Loire Valley is resplendent with castles everywhere. In the 16th century King Francois I settled in the Loire valley surrounded by his court. Francois I brought Italian artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, to France to decorate his castles in the new Renaissance style.

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The Penn Alumni on this trip are fantastic. Smart, enthusiastic, curious, with a good sense of humor, our band of seventeen has a wealth of knowledge in all disciplines. The camaraderie of the group is especially lively in our bus conversations and over leisurely meals that feature great regional specialties and wines. Vive la France!

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A bientot,

Lynn

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Penn Alumni Travel: Lascaux

Author: Laura Foltman

[Staff host Laura Foltman is traveling with Penn alumni, friends, and faculty host Lynn Marsden-Atlass through France. The group returns to the U.S. on October 22nd. For more information about Penn Alumni Travel trips, click here.]

“C’est formidable!” Judith Forman, CW’63, G’66, stated as we exited Lascaux II.  We weren’t sure what to expect with this stop on the Penn Alumni Travel tour of the provincial French countryside.  Our guide, Ms. Elsa Marechal, explained that Lascaux II was a fake cave of prehistoric paintings.  “Ugh!” we all thought.  Here is a tourist trap on what has been an otherwise fantastic trip.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lascaux, the original cave, is located near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region of France.  One day, in the 1940s, Marcel Ravidat’s dog got lost in the woods.  Marcel found the dog stuck in a hole.  When he rescued the dog he noticed rocks were falling and echoing below the hole.  He took the dog back to the house, grabbed shovels, flashlights, and three friends, returned to the spot, and started to dig.  They soon found themselves in a large shaft that lead to two large caves.  The four friends began exploring, not seeing anything noteworthy until one of the boys slipped and fell on his back.  When his flashlight hit the ceiling he found something extraordinary: about 2,000 figures that were painted 17,300 years ago!  The boys made a pact that this would be their secret hiding place and wouldn’t tell anyone.  Remember, these are teenage boys.  How long do you think the secret lasted?  Three days!

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The cave complex was open to the public in 1948 and averaged 1,200 visitors per day: extraordinary numbers for the time.  All the visitors changed the climate in the cave.  Carbon dioxide, heat, humidity and other contaminants were visibly changing the paintings and lichen began growing on the walls.  Thus Lascaux II, a replica of the great hall where the majority of the paintings are located, was built in 1983 so that visitors can view the caves without damaging the original paintings.  The tour isn’t just a replica, it is an EXACT replica of the current cave as they update it every 3 years to reflect the state of the real cave.

Penn Alumni had a terrific tour guide named Dave Cohen who called Neanderthals a modern equivalent of Rugby players!  Lifelong learning continued for our Penn alumni as they dominated the tour by asking thought-provoking questions such as:

“Why, out of the 2000 images, is there only one image of a human?”

“Are any of the depicted animals domesticated?”

“What is the chemical make-up of the paints to make them last so long (the drawings can not be carbon dated)?”

“How were Neanderthals able to understand motion and perspective?”

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Lascaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the alumni on this trip now understand why.  If you want to find out more information, including the state of the current cave and some of the famous depictions of the images, go to http://www.lascaux.culture.fr/?lng=en – /en/02_00.xml

The  group poses for a pictures in Albi.

The group poses for a picture in Albi.

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Penn Alumni Travel: Hugging the Coast

Author: Emilie Kretschmar LaRosa

Before I write about Penn Alumni Travel’s latest voyage along Europe’s Atlantic coast, I am excited to announce that the 2014 tour schedule—which includes trips to 6 Continents, 10 seas, and over 40 countries—has just been released. Click here to check out all 24 Penn Alumni Travel trips in 2014. We are already starting to take reservations for Antarctica, India, and the South Pacific. And, if you’re interested in Cuba, please email me at emiliek@upenn.edu to be added to a priority reservation list. We expect this tour to sell fast!

Every Penn Alumni Travel trip is a fantastic learning experience not only for the sights and historical visits, but also for the people you meet while on the tour—guides, local people, and passengers included. On a recent Penn Alumni Travel cruise along Europe’s Atlantic coast—starting from Lisbon, Portugal and ending in Honfleur, France—alumni connected with each other while exploring some of Europe’s coastal civilizations.

We started in Portugal with a quick visit to Lisbon followed by a tour of the town of Porto, home of the famous and eponymous Port wine. After a quick visit to the Palacio de Bolsa, or Stock Exchange, we spent some free-time in the Ribeira, the former harbor quarter of Porto. Beautiful bridges now span the river, one built by Gustav Eiffel and the one pictured below constructed by his student.

Porto bridge constructed by a student of Eiffel.

Porto bridge constructed by a student of Eiffel.

Portugal was followed by two stops in Spain, one to visit Santiago de Compostela and its magnificent gothic cathedral and one to visit Bilbao and the ultra-modern Guggenheim Museum. Both stops highlighted masterpieces of Western architecture separated by over 900 years of history. Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral was begun in 1075 and is, still to this day, the final destination of the legendary pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James). The symbol of St. James is a shell and, as we circled around the cathedral, I could identify the many pilgrims finishing their long journey by the shell attached to their pack. The cathedral itself is a great work of architecture and many pilgrimage churches throughout Spain and France copied its design and layout.

Penn alumni with the cathedral.

Penn alumni with the cathedral.

St. James’ shell imbedded in stone pavement.

St. James’ shell imbedded in stone pavement.

To follow Santiago de Compostela and its imposing cathedral with Bilbao and the Guggenheim was a fascinating lesson in architectural history. To compare the old medieval cathedral with the new and shiny Guggenheim is not as impossible as one might think. Both used cutting-edge design and engineering techniques at the time of their construction, both cathedral and museum stand as homages to the creative spirit of man, and both—in my estimation—have an architectural energy that is not found in classical pieces. Santiago de Compostela’s turrets twist and turn with decorative spirals and statues while the Guggenheim’s various wings undulate and twist from a central atrium. Can you see the semblance?

The Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain.

The Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain.

The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Our next stops were two Atlantic islands: Belle Ile of France and Guernsey of the United Kingdom. For me, Belle Ile was a wonderful return trip as I had spent a long weekend there as an undergraduate abroad over a decade ago. It was still as charming and belle as I had remembered. Our alumni group toured the island on a small bus before stopping in Le Palais where some lucky passengers (including myself) stumbled across a shop selling Coeur de Beurre (salted butter caramel) delicacies. Belle Ile is also known as an inspiration to artists. A number of famous painters made Belle Ile their home, including Claude Monet, John Peter Russel, Georges Clairin, Matisse, and Vasarely.

Jack, ME’56, and Joan Swope pose by the cliffs of Belle Ile. Jack was also a winner in last year’s travel photo contest!

Jack, ME’56, and Joan Swope pose by the cliffs of Belle Ile. Jack was also a winner in last year’s travel photo contest!

Les Niniches, the store where we found wonderful Coeur de Beurre cookies.

Les Niniches, the store where we found wonderful Coeur de Beurre cookies.

The island of Guernsey was our introduction to World War II history. As the only British territory to be occupied by the Germans during WWII, the island inhabitants remember the war quite vividly, even if it is only through the stories of older family members. German fortifications are scattered along the rugged coast, and one Guernsey islander has dedicated his life to amassing a gigantic collection of occupation memorabilia and artifacts. This collection has now become the German Occupation Museum which our group visited during the island tour.

German Occupation Museum

Guernsey newspaper in the German Occupation Museum

The Normandy beaches concluded our exploration of WWII history. It was perhaps the most anticipated, and certainly the most moving, of all our stops. As a student abroad, I had also visited the D-Day beaches with fellow classmates. The trip then was memorable, but not personal. None of us had experienced war or the effects of war, and WWII was, by then, distant history.

This second visit was very different. Many alumni passengers were veterans themselves, serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and had a very strong and moving connection to these battle sites and the American cemetery. They had experienced war themselves, and knew firsthand the importance of honoring the fallen and those ideals for which they had given their lives. We began the day with a wonderful introductory tour led by a local French woman who had been giving tours for over fifteen years. She could still recount stories told to her by American and British WWII veterans. She also had many stories from her own family and French neighbors who lived through the occupation and surrender of the Germans.

We visited the Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery. At the cemetery, we honored the fallen soldiers with a wreath-laying ceremony and then recognized those veterans among our group. It was a wonderful moment of solidarity and connection between generations: a generation that had already passed, a generation represented by our alumni group, and then my own. Sometimes it is nice to know that history can live on in the small gestures of a wreath-laying ceremony or the time spent learning about the importance of a French beach.

Our tour group listens to our local guide recount the military operation at the Pointe du Hoc.

Our tour group listens to our local guide recount the military operation at the Pointe du Hoc.

Barbed wire is commonplace on the Pointe du Hoc.

Barbed wire is commonplace on the Pointe du Hoc.

A Penn alumnus helps lay the wreath at the base of the memorial statue in the American cemetery. 9,387 American soldiers are buried here, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.

A Penn alumnus helps lay the wreath at the base of the memorial statue in the American cemetery. 9,387 American soldiers are buried here, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.

As always, thank you to the wonderful Penn alumni and friends who joined me on this tour. I hope we meet again and that you have many more wonderful journeys. To view all the pictures from this tour, click here.

A note to interested alumni: We are hosting another tour to the Normandy Beaches next year in honor of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Join us on the Celtic Lands tour (May 28-June 7, 2014) with faculty host Rebecca Bushnell and special speaker David Eisenhower. Contact me for more information (emiliek@upenn.edu or 215-746-7442).

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Filed under Emilie, Penn Alumni Travel, Travel