August 21, 2017

Veni, vidi, vici: A Bradford reporter’s journey abroad the France Fantastic Art Trip

 

By Carolyn Hale ’18, Arts Editor


 

Days one and two: Art in the city of love

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On the Wednesday before April vacation, 36 art students and six chaperones stumbled off their plane and onto the streets of Paris, ready to take the city by storm.

Every year, the Art Department organizes a trip to an art-rich section of the world. This year, the destination was France, with an action-packed schedule all over the country.

On the day of their arrival, the students took a bus trip around the city, getting their first glimpses of Paris’ many cobblestoned alleyways and world-renowned architecture.

In the evening, the group took a riverboat cruise on the Seine, a river that runs straight through Paris. They passed under some of the river’s 37 bridges and snapped photos of the sights along the river banks, such as Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

After a restful sleep, the group met after breakfast, and headed to the Eiffel Tower for a closer look and a view from the top. Constructed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, the 1,063 foot tower is a now a World Heritage site.

“The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower was amazing,” said Elizabeth Dew ’18.

For a bite to eat, the tour group took a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. While there, they caught a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe at the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle. Honoring those who died in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, the Arc stands as a reminder of France’s tumultuous history.

Next on the itinerary was a tour of the Musée Rodin, a collection of works by the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Born in 1840, the artist became one of the most influential sculptors of his time, creating works such as “The Thinker” and “The Kiss.” The tour spent several hours wandering the museum and sketching in the gardens.

After perusing the Musée Rodin, the group headed to the Musée D’Orsay on the banks of the Seine River. They wandered the galleries of the former train station, viewing self portraits by Vincent van Gogh, and paintings of waterlilies by Monet. Near the end of their action-packed day, the tour headed to a quick dinner, then back to their hotel, ready to head to Monet’s house at Giverny the next day.


 

Day three: A morning with Monet’s water lilies

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The sun rose over the Eiffel Tower on the third day of the France Fantastic Art Trip. Bleary-eyed and lugging their suitcases, everyone rose early to crowd into the tour bus.

After two nights in Paris, the group moved on to Normandy, a region in the north of France. On their trip north, they visited several famous towns.

The first stop was Claude Monet’s house in Giverny, a hamlet an hour outside of Paris. Monet moved to Giverny in his forties and stayed their until his death at age 86, in 1926.

After a brief orientation, the group was allowed to roam the house, gardens, and town beyond. Many spent time sketching by Monet’s famous water lily pond, capturing the same images portrayed in many of Monet’s paintings. Others spent time roaming the tulip garden in front of the house, capturing close-up shots of the extravagant flowers.

In the town beyond, most students picked up a quick bite to eat in the cafés, and several students made the half-mile journey to the church where Monet was buried. The church, standing slightly apart from the other buildings, is surrounded by family burial grounds, including the white marble monument to the Monet family.

In the early afternoon, the group collected back at the tour bus and headed to Rouen, a town an hour and a half north. There, they were led through the Rouen Cathedral, a fantastic gothic-style cathedral with an amazing facade. Afterwards, the tour visited the town square, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. Finally, everyone spent some time wandering the narrow streets and eating macaroons bought from neighborhood bakeries before getting back on the tourbus.

After driving for several more hours, the bus arrived in Caen at the heart of Normandy. Here, the group settled into their hotel and dined on a delicious meal of sweet and savory crepes. Then, everyone headed back to the hotel to get some rest for the journey to Mont-Saint-Michel the next day.


 

Day four: An island chapel

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A towering, steepled church stands watch over a small island town, a fortress floating on the water.

The fourth day of the French Fantastic Art Trip dawned, bringing with it a trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, one of France’s many World Heritage sites.

The students began their day in Caen. After a quick breakfast, everyone loaded onto the bus and set off for Mont-Saint-Michel, located about an hour and a half drive away.

Mont-Saint-Michel is a small island off the coast of Normandy. In the 13th century, legend has it that a monk dreamed Saint Michel came to him, and asked the monk to build a chapel dedicated to the saint. The monk rallied the people to build a small chapel, which has been added to ever since. A large abbey with both Roman and Gothic style architecture stands on the island today.

The group took a shuttle bus over the causeway that connects the island to the mainland. Before the causeway was built, the island was inaccessible by all means of transportation besides boat, with the exception of during low tide, due to the high water levels. The way to the island is dangerous off the bridge today, as quicksand pits hide on the muddy bottom.

On the island, the students toured the abbey. The current structure, mostly constructed in the 16th century by artisan stoneworkers, stands as a testament to Middle Ages and Renaissance architecture. Its many rooms contain fantastic stained-glass windows and detailed stone-working.

“I really liked the view from the tower of the ocean and the quicksand. It looked super cool!” said Emma Lussier ‘18.

Later in the afternoon, the tour group was given time to visit the town, which consists mostly of a single, winding street lined with shops. The teetering buildings on either side of the cobblestone road, too narrow for cars, are mostly shops and restaurants containing souvenirs for tourists.

Finally, the students left the island behind and headed back to Caen. Back at the hotel, they ate dinner and rested in preparation for their visit to the D-Day beaches the next day.


 

Day five: A walk on the beach

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On a barbed-wire lined beach, groups of students sat on various boulders or blocks of concrete, sketchpads and cameras in hand, capturing the scenery around them. In one mentally taxing day, students took in the sights and sounds of Normandy’s D-Day beaches.

The day began in Caen, but soon the students set off for the D-Day beaches in Normandy. There, they gained some background information on the significance of the beaches.

On June 6, 1944, the Allied powers launched an invasion into France via Normandy, then held by the Nazis. Although over 200,000 Allied troops died in the invasion, the plan succeeded, as the D-Day invasion allowed the Allies to gain a foothold in France, and penetrate the Atlantic Wall.

The group first spent several hours exploring Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Utah and Omaha Beaches. All along the cliffs overlooking the shoreline were deep craters, many now covered in flowers and wild grasses, that were made by bombs during the D-Day invasion. Among the craters were also remnants of German bomb shelters and gun pits.

For the majority of the visit to Pointe du Hoc, students sketched and photographed the landscape around them, taking in all their surroundings. They were also allowed to tour one of the gun pits overlooking the water, and photograph inside, experiencing the same view as the German soldiers who looked out at the water on the morning of June 6, 1944, as the Allied soldiers flooded the beach.

Later in the morning, the students left Pointe du Hoc and travelled to Omaha Beach, the beach on which the members of the 29th and 1st infantry division tried to land. The group photographed and sketched on the sand, admiring the metal monument to the soldiers erected on the sand.

In the early afternoon, the students visited the American cemetery for fallen soldiers of the D-Day invasion. They first explored the museum containing information and quotes from soldiers about the events of D-Day. Eventually, everyone visited the neat white crosses and stars of David in the cemetery itself that mark the final resting place of over nine thousand American soldiers.

Under a light rain shower, the group traveled to a nearby town for lunch, then continued on to Gold Beach, where they spent a short time taking pictures and getting another look at former German defense systems. A moving experience for all members of the trip, many of the students reflected amongst themselves about the visit for the rest of the day.

In the evening, the students returned to Caen for their final night. After a lengthy dinner, the group returned to the hotel for some much-needed rest.


 

Days six, seven, and eight: A stroll through the gardens

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A castle casts a light shadow over vast gardens, their flowers releasing a sweet perfume into the air. People roam the neatly groomed paths and stare out the windows, in awe of the architecture and beauty.

Over three days, the students travelled around the Loire Valley, visiting châteaux and churches. They experienced the extravagant architecture and lavish gardens to understand a different form of art.

On the sixth day of their trip, the students left Caen early in the morning and set off for Villandry, a château known for its fabulous gardens. Built in the 16th century, the château was refurbished in the early 20th century. The group spent the afternoon wandering the Renaissance gardens full of box hedges and colorful flowers before setting off for Tours.

The seventh day dawned in Tours, and students rose ready for another day exploring the Loire Valley. They spent the morning at the Chambord château. The largest château in the Loire Valley, it was built between 1519 and 1547 as a hunting lodge for French King Francis I.

Built in the Renaissance style, the château is most famous for its centerpiece, a double helix staircase. In addition, the group took time to appreciate 128 meters of decorated facade, and over eight hundred columns.

In the early afternoon, the tour continued to the Château du Chenonceau. Spanning the Cher River, the château was built in the 16th century, and is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Given to Diana de Poitiers by Henry II, she turned the castle into a profitable silk-producing business. After Henry II’s death, his widow, Catherine de’ Medici, took back the the chateaux and expanded upon it. The castle passed into the hands of several more women before being restored in the 20th century.

“I enjoyed seeing the extravagant lives of the former kings and queens,” said Brian Tom ’16.

On the eighth day, the students left Tours to visit Chartres, on the way to Paris. Remaining virtually unchanged since the 13th century, the cathedral in the center of town remains a destination for many Christians, as it contains the Sancta Camisa, said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth. The church also receives thousands of visitors per year for its fabulous architecture and stained-glassed windows.

In the afternoon, the students arrived in Paris and spent several hours shopping near the Opera House. After a lengthy dinner, the group checked into their hotel in Paris and got some sleep to prepare for visiting the Catacombs the next day.


 

Day nine: The last leg of the journey

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The plane wheels lift off the ground, and the plane soars into the sky, as the city of Paris stretches out below it. 36 high school students watch from windows as the buildings and monuments disappear under a blanket of clouds.

After almost two week away from home, the students on the French Fantastic Art Trip spent three nights in Paris before boarding a plane bound for Logan Airport.

The ninth day of the trip dawned as the group left the hotel early to explore Paris. Their tour guide led them to an old railroad through Paris, now turned into a paved raised walkway for joggers and others out for a stroll. The students walked along the railroad for part of the morning before returning to the bus and heading for the Catacombs.

In the 19th century, the Parisians built the Catacombs under Paris to create more space to build in the city. They dug up graveyards and moved the bodies to limestone tunnels beneath the city, then used the newly available land to build more buildings. Six million people are currently buried beneath the city of Paris.

Until the early afternoon, the students were led on a tour through the tunnels, past eerie piles of bones stacked neatly on either side of the limestone path. They photographed and sketched skulls from the 1800s under faint lighting, and walked under the streets of Paris.

Later in the day, the group took a tour of the Louvre museum, which contained highlights of the greatest artistic masterpieces of the world. They wandered past Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Mona Lisa, experiencing only a slice of the museum.

In the evening, the group traveled to Montmartre, Paris’s artist district and homeplace of the greatest painters and sculptors of the last century and a half. Dropped off at the bottom of the Sacré-Cœur, or Sacred Heart Basilica, students climbed the short short hill to the basilica and enjoyed the view over the city. They had dinner in a small square close to the church before heading back to their hotel.

On the morning of their last day, students visited the newly reopened Picasso Museum. Considered the most influential artist of the last century, Picasso spent much of his life in Montmartre, developing his style and gaining fame. The group toured around the museum, gaining a new appreciation for his sculptures and paintings.

The students were given some free time around Paris for lunch before heading to Versailles for the afternoon. There, they toured the palace and experienced the elaborate decoration on the interior and the exterior. The students were able to wander down the Hall of Mirrors, the most famous room at Versailles.

After touring Versailles, the group moved to the gardens, where the students were given free time.

“I enjoyed the gardens the most because they really show how the people living in Versailles were contained within their own world,” said Kate Hall ’17.

In the evening, the group headed back to Paris for their last dinner in France.

The sun rose on Saturday morning as the students lugged their suitcases out of their hotel for the last time. After almost two weeks away from home and carrying an experience to be remembered for the rest of their lives, students boarded their plane and set off for Boston, ready to return to business, as usual.

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