Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Normandy D-Day Invasion Week 4

On Saturday June 11th we were in Caen and the purpose was to visit the different Normandy beaches of D-Day invasion. The first beach we visited was Point Du Hoc, and since I got there I could feel something special about that place. The big memorial made for all the soldiers that fought in that place showed the tactical importance of that place on how the rest of Normandy invasion would turn out. It also was very special for us because of the importance of Col. James Earl Rudder who was a student at Texas A&M, and later a president of A&M.

After that we head to Omaha Beach, where most of the US casualties occurred and was the main point of attack. It was a very hard place to do an attack because of the long distance between the water and the cliffs. This made very hard for US troops to start gaining territory.

Following Omaha Beach we went to the cemetery where most of the troops that died fighting for freedom were buried. It felt so special that I don’t know if out of respect because I was just so amazed of how many people that had served were buried but I didn’t spoke a word since I got there to no one, until after three hours being there. I wish I had some pictures of how the cemetery looked, but I felt it would be wrong picturing other people’s graves.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Final Week

 Like many of my friends have already stated you do not go to France without visiting Paris. Paris was amazing needless to say, but after a while I really started to miss Toulouse. Prior to going to Paris though, we went to Normandy and visited the beach where Earl Rudder led a group of brave men to climb the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and regain control over Normandy. It was astounding to see exactly how steep the cliffs were and the craters in the ground where heavy artillery had once been fired. On our way into Paris we stopped by Monet's garden and walked through his house to admire the scenery and some of his paintings. After Monet's garden we continued on into the city of Paris.  Now like most I have heard a lot about Paris and how amazing it is; in my opinion it is way over hyped. My first scene of Paris was on the outskirts of the city in probably not the best part of town, the streets were dirty and it was sad to see refugees and beggars all across the city asking for money. You just couldn't help but feel sorry for them. After unloading the van at the hotel a few of us went to return the van with Julien and see a little more of the city. All I can say is wow! There are definitely different parts of Paris. We wound up going down the Main Street and it was lined with all the Name Brand stores(ex. Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton(flagship store), Armani) and who could possibly forget the Ferraris and Lamborghinis' that were parked out front.  It kind of made me think you needed a lot of money to enjoy Paris. After purchasing our museum passes the tours of Paris began.  Our first visit was to the Lourve which was home to the Mona Lisa which is a nice piece of work and I know there is apparently a lost of mystery to its life but I did not find it as impressive as it is said to be. I found myself drawn more to the impression artist like Monet and Van Gogh which we got to see at the Museum de Orsay. My favorite visit in Paris was by far Versaille. The palace was very grand and fancy, but for me the most beautiful part was the garden. Thanks to Julien we met with the head gardener Joules and his right hand Nicholas and got a private tour of the grounds, including getting access to all the small gardens that were locked to the public. We started out going to the ballroom garden and took refuge in the orangerie when it started to rain cats and dogs on us. After the rain let up we finished seeing the rest of the garden and their greenhouse. We learned a few of their secrets to planting for year round blooms and the compost they use for their orange trees. Every time I think back to that week I can not help but laugh, smile, and just shake my head occasionally at the memories we created. I can not thank Julien and Cecilia enough for an amazing trip and translating so much for all of us. I also was blessed with an amazing group of people who turned into good friends to travel and see France with. Until the next time, Au Revoir.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Final Stretch of Tour de France

At last we arrived in Paris for our final week. I had high expectations for the city of love, however, I was in for a rude awakening. My first taste of the city was on the outskirts when we stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. Surrounded by subsidized housing it was not the best of neighborhoods. As we drove further into the city it reminded me of one place- New Orleans. The amount of homeless on the streets along with trash thrown everywhere was alarming. Not to mention the overwhelming amount of middle eastern refugees begging on the streets. It was not a pleasant site to see. I believe Paris is well overhyped. After dropping the van off we walked to the Arc de Triumph and down the main drag- Champ de Elysees. It was a different story here, clean streets with little to no beggars. Ferraris and Lamborghinis roamed the grand street. I quickly realized that the Paris everyone expects requires some serious cash. It is not the place for a budget. The following day we visited the magnificent Louvre. It was truly astounding the amount of art and ancient artifacts contained in the palace. It would take one a week to view everything inside and about after four hours it becomes hard to appreciate each work of art. Seeing the Mona Lisa was on the bucket list, however, it was a little disappointing. I understand the technique and mystery behind it is what makes it great but it was much smaller than I expected. When I view art I look for the emotion that it brings to me and the Mona Lisa simply didn't do much. 
Starry Night over the Rhone

Monet Painting of his garden
The next day we visited the Orsay, which contains many Van Gogh and various impressionist paintings. I enjoy this museum far more because it appealed to my taste in art. I could stare off into starry night for hours if it wasn't for time constraints.There had been various protests around France due to the new labor laws and on our way to the catacombs we got to experience a full on protest/riot. The police barricaded one street that the protest moved down but things quickly escalated with protesters throwing rocks and police retaliating with tear gas and flash bangs. It got my adrenaline pumping with flash bangs going off right next to me and clouds of tear gas blowing though. After a while we had seen and felt enough so we decided to head back. On our day off we explored the city, roaming from one tourist attraction to another.  By then I was starting to become tired of Paris, it wasn't as relaxed as Toulouse and I can only take in and appreciate so much. 
Protest/Riot in Paris
Our last day of the program actually turned into one of my favorites. We caught a train to Versailles and toured the extravagant palace and garden. I always will enjoy nature more than anything and receiving a tour from the head gardener was spectacular. We had a VIP pass to all the areas off limits to the public, however, our visit was cut short by rain. Manuel and I had a European Championship game to catch that evening so we quickly made our way back to the city. The game was between Germany and Poland, vying for the top spot in their group. Historic rivals as well, it was a hard fought draw. Poland had the better opportunities but couldn't capitalize. Great ending to my time in France. The people I met and relationship I developed will last a long time and I hope to one day return to this great county. Thank you, Julien and Cecilia for the trip of a life time. I will take much back with me and will implement it in my own career of vegetable production.
European Championship: Germany vs. Poland

Third week of the Tour

The following week was by far my favorite thus far of the trip. We visited 14,000 year old cave drawings, a Gaillac winery, Armagnac distillery and finally what I have been looking forward to for most of my life- Normandy. The cave drawings were absolutely unreal. Hard articulate such artifacts still exist after all this time. I was impressed by the detail of the animals. I never knew buffalo existed in Europe until them. Possibly the reason for the drawings was to commemorate the great animal after being hunted to extinction.
A vineyard overlooking Collioure
The following day we travelled to the Gaillac wine region. There we met with the owner of Domaine Rotier. He gave us a full tour of his farm and facility, answering everything I could throw at him. I was intriuged by the fact that it was all organic. I thought to myself that it must be very difficult to maintain such high quality under organic circumstances. However, he explained their IMP (Integrated Pest Management) and plant nutrition system thoroughly, making it seem so simple. I was impressed to say the least and would one day like to own a vineyard of such quality. Families as such have been growing grapes for hundreds even thousands of years. They have everything defined without fault.

Syrah Grapes at Domaine Rotier
That Friday we left for Normandy. I had been waiting my whole life to visit and pay my respects to the men that made the ultimate sacrifice liberating Europe. I grew up watching the History channel and was very fascinated with the invasion of Normandy. My interest grew looking at the relics of the war my grandfather brought back. When I finally arrived I didn't know how exactly I would react. It was surreal to finally be there especially so close to the anniversary. I was humbled to see for myself the extreme adversity the soldiers under the command of Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder over came to capture Point Du Hoc. Frankly put, I was speechless. Imagining the battle and the men that were my age or younger losing their brothers. Visiting the cemetery after was tough. Unsuspectingly I was choked up. Seeing all those young men buried there, some not known. I took a walk through the tombstones with a feeling that I was looking for something but I didn't know what. I was proud to be an American and thankful for the sacrifice they made. More people began to fill in and it disgruntled me to see them smiling posing next to the memorial. This isn't a tourist attraction or a place to take your next Facebook profile picture. To me it was there to pay respects and to honor those that had fallen. For that I say thank you.
One of the 155 mm Cannon bunkers at Pointe Du Hoc
Entrance to a bunker at Pointe Du Hoc

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Final Chapter in France

It has been a week since I spent my last week in France. It has been a wild ride and I would like to thank everyone who made this trip what it was. I would like to thank Ben, Ryan, Manuel, Emily, Alanise, and Lauren for being the best group abroad I have ever had. I believe these friendships will last long after this trip is a distant memory. Each person was unique and brought me many laughs and experiences. I'd like to thank Julien and Cecilia for their input on the trip. The entire experience went fluently due to their amazing planning and they handled the responsibility of our group like it was nothing. Everyone got along so well and the trip definitely was made a million times better by the closeness of the group.

My fourth week in France was crazy! As an American, the sites of World War II are important in our and the world's history. The thought of conquering a beach at Normandy is unbelievable after you see the cliffs and how open the range is, and the American cemetery can't be described by words. It gave me chills down my spine as I walked down the rows of headstones. As a Texas A&M student, seeing a commemoration to James Earl Rudder made me proud to attend such a prestigious school. 

Le Louvre literally was a walking piece of art. I have never seen such a large and diverse collection of art. Ranging from Egyptian artifacts and Italian sculptures to the Mona Lisa and a collection of Napoleon's rooms.

The next visit was the Garden of Versailles. HOLY SMOKE!!! The Palace of Versailles was incredible but the garden really took the show for me. The garden's size was impressive by itself! Thanks to Julien's connections, we got an exclusive tour of the entire garden and its private gardens. Unluckily, it got cut short by an intense rainstorm. Almost got to experience Noah's Ark while we were there. 

If you go to France, you almost have to visit the Eiffel Tower which boasts one of the most impressive architectural designs I have ever seen in person. It even features three levels and a restaurant but I'll have to experience that another time. Here is also where I got to experience a scam firsthand. It was pretty entertaining and gave us a good laugh. It cost them 60 euros but it taught me a good lesson: if you want to prove a point, an example is a great way to get your point across. Spending a late night by the Eiffel Tower, we got to experience the celebrations by the fan zones after France won 2-0. Probably one of my favorite experiences in France. It showed despite the cultural differences and all the turmoil, futbol (soccer) unites us all. 

It gives me the feels that these good times are over, but this really was something that will stay with me forever. I would definitely recommend pursuing an experience abroad if you are interested or questioning it. It will change your life in a good way!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Week 4 in France

The Palace of Versailles is beautifully surrounded by many gardens and statues. Walking through the former home of French royals was very breathtaking. The massive painting of royals, battle scenes and the gardens covered filled each room. Outside of the palace the site of green and vibrant plants were beautifully manicured into variety abstract designs. As a class were able to take a private tour with one of the gardeners. Versailles’ garden is very large and requires a large quantity of workers to care for the garden. The upkeep method used by the gardeners has been used for many years. There is not a handbook to teach them the method, but the seasoned gardeners teach the new gardeners. This system is similar to the method used by small family farmers. In small family farm agriculture the older generations teach the younger generations their farming techniques. Passing down the gardening techniques, and knowledge from experienced gardeners to new gardeners keeps Versailles gardens beautiful and long lasting for future generations to visit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Au Revoir France

Helen Keller said, "the best and most beautiful things in the world can not be seen nor touched-they must be felt with the heart". I learned that many of American icons were inspired by French architecture, such as the beloved Mixky Mouse. Disney visited Versailles Gardens and saw how beautiful it was and how the structure resembled a mouse. They then proceeded to take the idea back to the states creating an empire of off the French inspired piece. This is one of many examples of how France was felt in the heart of individuals. Throughout my trip, France touched my heart in ways I never imagined and in ways Texas could not. Climbing mountains, visiting castles, communicating with non English speakers are experiences I wouldn't trade for the world and are experiences that I will miss dearly. My last week in France consisted of me opening my heart to view people's struggle and pain through artwork. Visiting the Louvre was touching for many reasons. It was like no other museum in Texas,  not only because of its size but also because of its content. The Louvre contained some of the most world renowned pieces, such as, the Mona Lisa  and Aphrodite. Unlike in Texas, there are many security procedures before entering and it will take many days to see everything. We were told the Louvre was so big it takes at least 4 whole days to see it all. This fact amazed me because most museums in Texas can be seen within one day. This fact also saddened me because I only had one day to immerse myself in its beauty and history.  I will truly miss being in France. Au Revoir.