Quicken

Daily Prompt: Quicken

I saw the word prompt word “quicken” and I immediately thought of the bustling city life, hundreds of thousands of people trying to quicken their route to work, quicken their professional progression, quicken their career success, quicken their lives.

Unfortunately, this mindset doesn’t allow one to pause every now and then and enjoy life; after all, we only get one. The city, career-focused, faced-fast life is a hard one to live. Constantly climbing the professional and social ladder can be exhausting and what happens if you miss a step and fall? Trying to quicken your way up can lead to a crucial mistake, and consequently, a downfall.

I look back at my younger self, always wanting to quicken time and never appreciating where I was. Wanting to fly through high school and college, thinking there was something better for me in the future. Older people would tell me not to rush through life, take your time. “Life is too short,” they say. “I always wanted to do this and that but never did,” they tell me. “You should take advantage of your youth.” Seeing as they have the most life experience, I started listening to them.

I began slowing down, living a lifestyle not consumed by the concern of a career or money. Though I think it important to have life goals, it is also important to travel, meet new people, go kayaking and camping, and to cross off those things on your bucket list. I don’t want to get old, be stuck in a career and regret never doing those things I always wanted to do…

So, remember to enjoy and appreciate where you are. You don’t have to get to your destination quickly, just as long as you get there and have fun along the way.

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Strasbourg

I had the pleasure of visiting the historic town of Strasbourg, France during their annual Christmas market. I traveled with another American au pair. We used the car-sharing service Blabla Car, riding with a couple who owned the car. The voyage was beautiful, we were able to see the French countryside as the car had a large sunroof.

Paris to Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is located in the Grand Est (east) region of France but is known culturally as the Alsatian region. Near the German border, only a mile from the Rhine, the town is a beautiful mélange of French and German cultures; evident in the architecture, food, and language. Most of the roads and attractions have German names and signs were in both French and German; lasting effects of the German proximity and occupancy before the 17th century and again during World War II.

The charming town appears as if it popped out of a storybook. The old city is full of colorful half-timbered medieval houses, particularly the Petit France quarter, surrounded by the river Ill.

Strasbourg’s Christmas market is one of the oldest and biggest in Europe, dating back to the Middle Ages. At that time, the Klausenmärik or Saint Nicholas market was held around the sixth of December around the Cathedral, now known as Place de la Cathédrale. In 1570, after a sermon by Lutherian preacher Johannes Flinner against the adoration of saints, the name was changed to Christkindelsmärik, market of the Infant Christ. The market’s location changed several times but returned to the Cathedral in 1991 and has spread out from there. Now, 300 quaint wooden stalls can be found across the city centre.

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The historic area is quite small and all the attractions are within walking distance of each another. We began our visit at the beautiful sandstone Gothic Cathedral. The sandstone is from the local area and gives the Cathedral it’s natural pink hue. The material is actually quite fragile and many of the detailed structures have been replaced. The Cathedral, at the time is was built, was the tallest structure in the world for several centuries. Another interesting feature is its single tower. By the time the construction was to begin on the opposite side, the funds and interest for the gothic cathedral had run out. Inside, the cathedral houses it’s famous astronomical clock.

Near the Cathedral is Palais Rohan, an 18th century was built by Armand Gaston, Prince de Rohan Soubise. He acted as Bishop of Strasbourg from 1704 to 1713. Gaston desired French craftsmanship in classic style, such as Château Versailles. He hired the King’s chief architect, Robert de Cotte. The project began in 1732 and was completed in 1742. It was used as residency for four bishops of Strasbourg, all Rohans, until the French Revolution.

The palace now houses three separate museums: the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Strasbourg Archeological Museum, and the Museum of Beautiful Arts. You can buy a ticket for one museum at or a single day pass for all three, which is less expensive than buying each separately.

During my trip, we visited the Museum of Decorative Arts. This area of the palace showed seven rooms decorated as they had been. The first room, Synod Hall, is a large entrance hall and dining room. The second room, Chamber of the Bishops, was used as a gaming room and is set with gaming tables. The name derives from the original decor: portraits of the four bishops which were burned in 1793 by revolutionaries and replaced with figures of the Civic Virtues. The allegorical paintings remain. Above the fireplace, a replicate portrait of Armand Gaston now hangs. On the opposite wall hangs a painting from the First French Empire and displays Napoleon I and Empress Josephine’s monogram. The third room is the lavish King’s Bedchamber. Notable guests include Louis XV and the Dauphine, Marie Antoinette.

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The next room, the Library, — solid mahogany shelves with glided bronze scones and a large dining table in the center. The fifth room was originally used as a closet due to it’s small size (not by modern standards) but was chosen by Napoleon to be his bedroom. Napoleon commissioned his official cabinetmaker, F-H-G Jacob-Desmalter to make the chairs, a sofa, table and bed, all remain in place. The room is named Napoleon’s Bedchamber though Napoleon never had the opportunity to sleep there. The sixth room, the Prince-Bishop’s Bedchamber, was furnished from the Collection of the last Prince de Rohan by Emperor Napoleon I when he used it as his Morning Room. The last room, Decorative Arts Wing, was originally the stables but currently houses a collection of china, jewelry, clocks, clockwork toys, and watches.

Place Kléber, at the center of the city, is the seasonal home of the Great Christmas Tree. It was grown in Dabo, Moselle and peaks at 30 meters (98.45 ft). It is a well-known symbol of the Capital of Christmas and is referred to as “the beating heart of Strasbourg.” Stories say that the locals, in the spirit of Christmas, would lay presents under the Great Christmas Tree for the poorest citizens. Recent times have produced the Sharing Village, where 60 charity stalls are located, giving information about their organization and ways to get involved. I was surprised to see several well-known organizations in  America present.

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The popular dishes of the area display a strong German influence. Choucroute, sauerkraut in English or German, was advertised at many of the Christmas market stands and local restaurants. Not being brave enough to try the choucroute, we found other delicious meals to taste. Our first night we ate at a restaurant near our hotel, which was a little bit out of the city. With our waitress’s suggestion, we split a tarte flambée as an appetizer. It was a very thin crust topped with a white sauce, onions, and ham. Later during the trip, I tried a thick crust, similar to pan pizza style, at the Christmas market-both were very good. For our meal, we split a chicken cordon bleu. I didn’t know previously, but our waitress informed us that it was a traditional Alsatian dish. It was fantastic: a home-made crust on a perfectly cooked chicken surrounding a decadent piece of ham, topped with a mushroom gravy.

The second evening we ate out at a charming, traditional Alsatian restaurant near the river Ill. The dining area was lower than ground level. It was a half-timbered building, decorated with murals depicting rural life in the area, with wooden table and chairs. We tried baeckoffe, another traditional Alsatian meal. It is an oven-baked meat with potatoes and carrots meal served in a casserole dish. The restaurant we ate at offered a variety of meat: pork, beef, and lamb. We ate the lamb, it was delightful and very filling.

At the Christmas market you could find other famous cuisine, particularly the hot wine, pastries, and foie gras- all very French. The area is known for the pain d’épices, a loaf of spice bread of gingerbread. We samples several different kinds, some adding raisins, cranberries, dried pear, or, different types of nuts. If you partook in the hot wine, you were given a reusable, festive cup. The initial charge was one euro for the cup, but, if you returned it to any stand, you were refunded the euro. I thought this to be a great way for tourists to have a cheap, useful souvenir and to minimize waste.

http://about-france.com/cities/strasbourg.htm

Musée national des arts asiatiques-Guimet (Mnaag)

Tickets: Permanent Collections: Full Fare 7,50€ / Reduced Fare 5,50€

-Combo Ticket (Temporary exhibition and Permanent Collections): Full Fare 9,50€ / Reduced Fare: 7€

-Free every first Sunday of the month and for EU citizens under 25. Reduced fare for non EU citizens and teachers.

Hours: Open everyday 10am-6pm (except Tuesdays; Closed Dec. 25, Jan. 1, May 1; Closes at 4:45pm Dec. 30, Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday)

Metro: Line 9, Iéna

Website (in English): http://www.guimet.fr/en/

Guimet National Museum of Asian Art

 

The Ground Floor collection contains artifacts from India and Southeast Asia. This exhibit mainly displays a variety of Buddha statues from these areas. The first floor includes art from ancient China, Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Himalayan Kingdoms, and India. The second floor includes pieces from classical Chine, Korea and Japan. The classical China exhibit continues up to the third floor. The top floor, the Rotunda houses temporary exhibitions.

The Lower Floor houses the temporary exhibitions, workshops, café and the auditorium. The temporary exhibition when I visited was “Jade, from Emperors to Art déco.” The exhibition was incredibly beautiful. It was skillfully designed and well displayed the breathtaking pieces of jade. Jade’s beauty has been admired and displayed as an elegant, mystical material for centuries. The exhibit walks you through the development of jade carving; from it’s beginning, to use by Asian emperors, to being an oriental inspiration of the 20th century Art Déco movement in the United States. The use of jade is vast as people became mesmerized by the blue green stone. The exhibition shows a dazzling array of had pieces: tablets, bowls, spears, jewelry, clocks, and more.

My favorite piece

Sphere symbolizing Heaven, Earth and Mankind

China, Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

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The three rings of jade represent Heaven, Man and Earth, and their connection which forms the Universe. Each ring was uniquely crafted. The inner ring, Earth, is decorated with mountains and waves of the ocean. The middle, connecting ring has dragons on it, representing Man and his sovereignty. The outer ring, Heaven, is denoted by symbols of the sun, stars and clouds.

 

Another temporary exhibition at the time of my visit was “Ascetics, sultans and maharajas, Indian pages of the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet,” which included a selection of paintings and manuscripts highlighting the era between the 16th to 19th century. Each artifact was taken from prominent painting schools-Mughal School, Schools of Deccan, Rajasthan, and Punjab Hills. Featured pieces are representations of fauna and flora from India, court portraits, mystical paintings by Mughal artists, and historic and literary manuscripts. 

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Painting of a Maharajah

The rotunda’s temporary exhibit was “Carte blanche to Jiang Dahai.” The dome room contained six recent paintings by Jiang Dahai, a Chinese artist trained at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Beaux-Arts in Paris.

 

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Bois de Vincennes

During my first few weeks in Paris, I was overwhelmed by the city and all of it’s attractions. Of course I wanted to visit the Moulin Rouge, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe-all the post card destinations. But, by living in Paris with a host family, I’ve been able to experience an everyday Paris.

I wasn’t acknowledge about Paris before moving here, other than the romanticized idea I kept from books and films. One day, the mother suggested I visit Bois de Vincennes. I looked on Google Maps and found a large green section associated with the name-I had no idea such an area existed in the center of Paris.

The forest is very big, offering several monuments and attractions therefore I did not add a metro stop pin for this site. The Bois de Vincennes pin is forest green and is located in the 12th arrondissement.

The next day I filled up my CamelBak and set out on an adventure. The forest is absolutely beautiful. I followed various paths around a lake with gorgeous swans and got lost walking the soft paths of the forestry. The feel of dirt became a novelty my feet deeply appreciated after tramping the concrete and brick-way streets of Paris. I was astounded by the raw nature I found. There were times I forgot I was in a large city until I stumbled upon a road that cut through or an attraction. Embedded in the forest are restaurants, monuments, and even a horse stable which offers rides.

 

Crêpe Day!

Most Americans know this day as Ground Hog Day, but the 2nd of February is celebrated with various holidays internationally.

In France, today is La Chandeleur, also known as Crêpe Day! The name is derived from the latin term Festa candelarum, which means “candle’s party.” Traditionally on this day the French eat homemade crêpes and drink cider.

The ideas of the holiday are to welcome the sun after the rainy winter season. It is also a new year holiday.The golden, flaky crêpe symbolizing the sun (forget for a moment the Nutella that will be slathered onto it).  Some folklore states that if you successfully flip a crêpe in the pan while holding a coin, it will provide prosperity for you and your family in the upcoming year.

The holiday stems from Roman, pagan and Catholic traditions. It is associated with the Catholic holiday Candlemas which is celebrated 40 days after Christmas. Despite differing religions, the traditions of celebrating purification, new beginnings, and fertility after winter are incorporated into modern festivities.

Crêpes can be sucré or salée, sugared or salted. Each menu ranges from very simple, one ingredient crêpes to fuller ones. My favorite sucré is Nutella and banane, though some just enjoy light sugar. The classic salée is the complet, with ham, cheese and egg. I also enjoy varieties with chicken, especially curry chicken. The most exotic crêpe I ate had salad, goat cheese, honey and nuts. Honestly, you can put anything in a crêpe and it would be delicious.

So celebrate La Chandeleur and stuff you face if you can get your hands on a crêpe today, even if it isn’t homemade!

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