Mosaic / January 14, 2009

Catalan Chronicle: Outside of Spain

Though I love Spain I decided to travel outside the country in my last few weeks abroad. My first destination was Amsterdam. The city was very beautiful, full of waterways and bikes. I had always wanted to go to Amsterdam. The liberal policies and canal houses drew me in, and I had dreamed of someday living along the water in this city.

I was able to visit the house of Rembrandt. Rembrandt, a famous Dutch artist had once also been a collector of rare worldly objects. He would use them as props for his art.

However, his desire for such a high-class life ended up costing him his house. The house has since been turned into a museum, his possessions placed back in their original locations based off of sketches Rembrandt had done of his house.

The Foam museum was another great find for the brief days I was there. Foam is a contemporary photography museum. The first exhibit was colorful and surreal, photos taken in Africa with models in bizarre positions to create an unreal form of the human body, or blocking out the face in different ways.

I was also able to check out the more lucrative side of Amsterdam. Stumbling into the red light district, I was suddenly surrounded by women in stores where window-shopping was taken seriously.

I will also say the people of Amsterdam, or perhaps the Dutch at large, have a keen take on the pastry world, creating delicious waffle delights, fruity pancakes, and intricate cakes.

After school had ended, I went by myself for a week to Berlin and Paris. In Berlin, a German at the hostel took me on a tour. I was taken around the city and then later we went to the famous Christmas markets. The markets were unlike anything I had seen in the United States. This was no Santa Land. The markets were full of many stands with gifts and games and food. There were even carnival rides. All around us people were drinking the traditions gluhwein out of tiny boot mugs. Gluhwein is a form of hot spiced red wine, which warms one up quickly in the German December air.

I also went to what remains of the Berlin wall. On display now is the East Side Gallery, part of the wall covered in a graffiti display of emotions and history of the separation. This was my favorite part of Berlin, walking at dusk and taking in the frustration felt in the art.

I was also just lucky enough to lose my passport. Though I freaked out at first, I found the process of replacing my passport a lot easier than I had imagined. I went to the US Consulate, just outside of downtown Berlin at eight in the morning with my only form of identification a photocopy of my VISA, and was able to get an emergency passport, and head to Paris that evening.

In Paris, I had a great view of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, beautiful when illuminated at night. I went on a walking tour with a pink mohawked guide that gave us the “badass” version of the tour. There were some very bizarre French leaders, Notre Dame used to be a brothel before converting to a barn, and the French revolution was started by an angry lawyer outside a café. I met another traveler on the tour, the only other tourist in our group to say “Ooo, Ferris wheel,” attention diverted from the famous million dollar sculpture. We wandered around, ending up checking out the Moulin Rouge and red light district of Paris, as well as stopping into the bar where Amelie was filmed.

The next day my morbid friend and I went to the catacombs. The old Roman catacombs are now home to six million French skeletons. A couple hundred years ago it was decided that cemeteries were a health hazard, and so all the bodies were dug up and put into these tunnels. It was chilling and a bit disturbing to see the patterns and shapes the bone were stacked in.

On my third day in, I was able to visit my family’s hamlet of origin, St. Vrain, about an hour outside of Paris. The outskirts of Paris is made up of tiny communities, and quite lovely. I was able to walk from one side of St. Vrain to the other in about twenty minutes. My reason for going there was to attempt to conquer my castle, to lay siege to what once belonged to my family before they had to leave for fear of being beheaded.

First, I checked out the gate leading to the castle grounds. It was locked and tall and surrounded by spiky things.

Next, I tried to scale the wall around the castle, but I kept slipping in the moss and then found I was being watched. Last, I found a hole in a fence near a road to what was probably the castle. However it was near a main intersection, and I realized that even if I did make it in I would surely be arrested. So I gave up and decided to wander the town instead.

Before I left Paris, I visit the Louvre, which I found boring, and the Père Lachaise cemetery, which is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. I visited Jim Morrison’s grave, left a rose at my favorite poet, Gertrude Stein, and kissed Oscar Wilde’s headstone.

Now my adventures are over. I am back to a snow-scape where everyone speaks English, and though I love to be around all my friends again, I still dream of going back to Europe after I graduate.

Klayr Valentine-Fossum


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