Descending into the Parisian Catacombs

Who wouldn’t want to walk down 135 stairs into tunnels full of dead people on a random Wednesday afternoon? Well me being me, I was up for anything and my roommate Meredith and I decided to adventure into the Parisian Catacombs. I hadn’t heard about the catacombs in Paris until one of my favorite Youtubers, FunForLouis, had gone with his Live the Adventure crew into the thousands of tunnels under the city to see the bones of the departed. They stumbled through water up to their waist and ducking their heads in order to fit into the small tunnels. I had no idea what to expect when my roommate and I got onto the line outside the entrance of the Catacombs (it was a pretty long line to get in, so if you’re thinking about going make sure you get there early).  IMG_6732

Winding through the tunnels, I was amazed to see the seer amount of bones just on display. For what seemed like kilometers (it was only about 2), the the tunnels led me deeper and deeper into them. In the old quarries from when Paris was being built, the tunnels were lined with heads and all different types of bones. I had no idea more than 60 million bodies were houses under the streets below were I have been living for the past 4 months. The city continued to collect bodies within these tunnels between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when graveyards were being closed because of sanitation reasons. A majority of the bodies came from “Cimetière des Innocents” graveyard, but soon the number grew and included bodies from the surrounding hospitals, people dying on the street, and from local morgues. During the French Revolution, the catacombs were used a final resting place for victims of the war.

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The cold, stale air added to the eeriness of the walk, as Meredith and I stared in wonder about the lives of the people in the Catacombs. I could not help but think about they types of lives these people had. Were they children? Mothers? Fathers? Bankers? Lawyers? Being living on the street? What were their stories? Who were they? It is easy down there to just get lost in the volume of the bodies, but all of them had lives just like us. Lost in history, their bodies had been placed here due to just circumstance. Do their families know they’re here? Where are the relatives now? Do they even have relatives? You might think I’m over thinking these questions, but these people never received a proper burial and I doubt they knew their ruins would be on display for hundreds of years after their death.

It was interesting to see all the bones displayed in different formations and to hear how the bones get rotated every so often to ensure they don’t get damaged. Maybe it was the dreary, rainy day or the fact that I was tired from taking a final exam earlier that morning, but I left the Catacombs with an unsettled feeling. But I enjoy eerie things (shoutout to American Horror Story) so descending into the Parisian Catacombs allowed me to get my fix of creepy things during my time here. If you’ve been to the Catacombs in Paris or somewhere else, let me know your thoughts!

P.S: We were not up to our waists in water and the walk was very easy!

Happy travels, Cynthia

Hang Gliding in Interlaken Switzerland

It’s almost like a right of passage for college students studying abroad to travel to Interlaken, Switzerland for a weekend and after I went there I 100% understood why.

After a full day of traveling from Paris to Interlaken, with a few hours in Geneva to explore, my roommate Casie and I found ourselves in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Our hostel was right on the water of Lake Brienz and whenever we looked, everything had a blue glow. The water was so clear that the mountains reflected onto it and there was a sense of peace in the world. It is almost impossible to be unhappy there due to fresh, clean mountain air and the local people smiling everywhere we turned. It was a huge contrast from smelly, depressing Paris we had left behind for the weekend. Although everything was 5x more costly than Paris, the atmosphere made it all worth it.

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View from our hostel window

Interlaken is a mountain village is known for its hiking trails and extreme sports like mountain biking, snowboarding, paragliding, hang gliding, and sky diving. Although I was not up for the complete thrill of sky diving (I am just not that daring), Casie and I set up to go hang gliding with a company called Hang Gliding Interlaken. Hang gliding is where you are basically suspended in the air, flying with an airplane type thing- it looked sorta like a paper airplane. Now, if you’re nervous about these types of adventures, as I was, these two Aussie’s are the way to go. The company is owned by “Birdman” Bernie and he is an expert in this territory for knowing exactly where to take off and land. He along with his sidekick Ed, drove us up the side of the mountain to our take off spot. They told us stories and cracked jokes the entire way which give me a chance to forget about my fears about trusting this flying contraption and POSSIBLY running to my death.

At one point they stopped the car about halfway up the mountain and said that we could either jump here or go further up the mountain to get better, longer views.

IMG_6394Casie looked at me since I was the nervous one (she had already gone sky diving and loved roller coasters). I thought about it for a second before I thought, FUCK IT! I would be dying if something happened either way, so I might as well die looking at a better views (for the record: I was COMPLETELY over reacting. I’m a baby). So further we went up the winding trail to the very top with a bunch of other hang gliders and parasailers. The car stopped randomly as the road did, so we had to hike up the rest of the way which proved to be more difficult due to my body being quite out of shape and the air being quite thin due to the high altitude.

Once we reached the top, to my surprise Bernie had me help me prepare the hang glider which I believed was a TERRIBLE idea. But it was a good tactic because it helped me to forget how high we were and it kept me present in the moment instead of freaking out about the jump. Then it was finally time to run off the cliff in the middle of the Swiss Alps mountain range. It was now or never- at this point I wanted it to be never. But we ran right off the mountain and suddenly we were soaring!

The first thing I thought of was the old Disney ride called Soaring (it was replaced by Star tours), because it felt EXACTLY like that. I felt as though I could fly with the wind flowing through my hair and being higher than the clouds. We flew over the mountain tops and with the lake beneath us, it is a sight I will never forget. I felt invincible as _1000364we drove through the air with the views of the Swiss Alps all around us with little houses dotting the roads. All the cars looked like ants from thousands of feet in the air. It was incredible to feel so in the moment and present in life. The day before I had woken up in Paris, and now I was soaring high above the Alps in Switzerland, truly incredible.

Before I knew it, it was time for us to return to land and the small objects below grew. Suddenly, we were hovering above the ground until the wheels touched the grass and then we rolled to a stop. I was shaking with adrenaline and immediately wanted to go again (although my wallet said no). I was so proud that I had accomplished a bucket-list activity. Casie and I drank beers as we handed over 300 Swiss Francs (this included the flight, plus many pictures and videos) for the thrill of a lifetime.

I spent the rest of my day traveling farther up the Alps towards a town called Mürren, where I hiked along the IMG_6415panoramic trail. It was amazing to be alone and to spend time with nature in its purest form. I was able to look down on the clouds and the small mountain villages in awe. I would have never thought I would be as lucky as I was just then. I was fully present in the moment without thinking about my future plans or what I wanted to do with my life. It was all about making sure I was taking in the views and being at peace with myself. I had found my balance once again and I felt truly happy. I hope to explore more and experience the natural beauty of Mother Earth. Where are some places on Earth that have natural beauty that you’ve traveled to?

Happy travels, Cynthia

The hostel we stayed at: http://www.lakelodge.ch/

Check out “Birdman” Bernie : http://www.hangglidinginterlaken.com/

Paris Bucket-list

Before I left for Paris I researched both the city and the country to find what to do here. For countless hours I read blogs and watched vlogs on youtube showing places to see and things to do in and around Paris. Here is my list:

1. Climb the Eiffel Tower: I mean seriously? How can I not?

2. Spend and afternoon at Shakespeare and Company: a well known English bookstore that has been visited by  famous authors like, Earnest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I may or may not have spent more than one afternoon AND I may or may not have an obsession)

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3. Visit the Louvre- This museum has one of the best collections of artworks in the world.

4. Go to the top of the Arc de Triumph: The views are spectacular and one of the view places where you get a view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower

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5. Visit the Pablo Picasso Museum: He is one of my favorite Cubist artists and he lived in Paris for most of his life.

6. Go to the top of Sacré- Cœur and wander through Montmartre: The arts district of Paris where Picasso, Monet, and Pizarro used to hang out. In the heart of the district, there is a beautiful basilica with views of the city.

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7. Visit Notre Dame and climb to the top: A beautiful gothic church in the center of Paris. (I really just wanted to see if Quasimodo was still there)

8. Visit Sainte- Chapelle Church: The stain glass windows are breathtaking, so made sure you go on a sunny day. IMG_4168.jpg

9. Discover a secret restaurant

10. Visit Musee D’Orsay: A museum with one of best collections of impressionism in the world.

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11. Stroll through Tuileries Garden

12. Day Trip to Palace of Versailles: The famous Châteaux that Louis XIV built that has amazing gardens and The Hall of Mirrors.

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13. Try escargot: It was sorta slimy but I covered it in butter so I mostly tasted that. But when in France right?

14. Day Trip to Mont Saint Michel: A monastery that is sometimes completely surrounded by water when there is high tides. The place is a holy spot with an Abby at the top of the island.

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15. Visit the Catacombs: Who wouldn’t want to hundreds of year old bones and creepy heads under the streets of Paris.

16. Day Trip to go Champagne Tasting

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17. Read in Jardin du Luxembourg

18. Walk along Champs- Elysees

19. Try macaroons from Ladurée: It’s a must do for anyone coming to this amazing city

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20. Climb the Palais Garnier staircase

21. Spend an afternoon in Le Marais

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22. Design my own perfume in Maison Guerlain

23. Eat a crêpe: The Nutella ones have been my favorite, although a “jambon et fromage” (ham and cheese) savory crêpes are good too.

24. Drink the hot chocolate at Angelina: I have gone 4 times and had to stand in line BUT it was sooooo worth it. Best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, try the egg croissant- also amazing.

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25. Climb the Montparnasse Tower: Beautiful views of Paris at night.

26. Day trip to Disneyland Paris: I wanted an excuse to be a kid for a day.

27. Visit the love lock bridge

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There is my list of everything I hope to accomplish in France before I leave on May 15th!

Happy travels, Cynthia

Finding Balance Abroad

In January of this year, I was setting of on my biggest adventure yet- Paris, France. I would be living in the 19th arrondissement in a Parisian flat and getting a taste of what it is like to live abroad for a total of four months. Now that my time here is almost over, the thought of going home is bittersweet. I expected to travel to different countries and learn about the different cultures while I am in Paris, but I did not expect so many other things.

I have been able to travel to more countries in the last 3 months than I have in my entire life. I have now been throughout Europe and checking off places on my bucket list and I am feeling quite satisfied. Drinking hot chocolate from Angelina’s and eating my weight in macaroons from Ladurée were things I expected to do. But the countless days sitting by canal Saint- Martin reading a book or writing in journal, or making the thirty- minute metro ride to Luxembourg Gardens were things I didn’t expect to do. While I am here, I am realizing that I am taking more time to enjoy my life on a daily basis- why do I not do this at home? Is it because my daily life in Philadelphia comes with too many expectations? Is it because I put so much pressure on myself to get perfect grades, to be the perfect daughter, or to constantly trying to better myself? Whatever the reason, I know now that it is ok to just be content without having to reach for the stars or to excel. Sometimes it’s more important for me to take time for myself to do what I want to do.

This semester has been a semester about me. It isn’t about the getting the perfect grades (although my grades are a lot worse than I would like them to be) or about filling out countless applications for the perfect internship. It’s about me, Cynthia Brain. I feel as though saying that makes me selfish or that it is not ok, but it is. This semester I have traveled to the countries I have wanted to go to without having to compromise or ask permission. I have been able to explore all the quarters in Paris from the Latin Quarter to Montmartre and I have been able to do it alone (but of course my roommates have been more than happy to join sometimes). It has been so liberating these last few months to really understand what life has to offer and I have been incredibly happy.

I have learned that it is not a negative thing to have anti-social days where I just want to be myself. Being by myself has helped me to grow and realize what type of stuff I like to do. I found out- the Louvre, not my thing; spending hours in Shakespeare and Company drinking cappuccino- is. Taking time to really get to know myself and to understand what the emotions are that I am feeling at a given time is just as important as seeing a new city or exploring a new quarter in Paris with my friends.

It’s all about balance and I am slowly gaining mine.

Happy travels, Cynthia

My Adventurous Beginning: Hohoe, Ghana

My first traveling abroad by myself- terrifying and thrilling Africa.

Growing up, my family always took cruise vacations to places like the Bahamas and Bermuda, but would never be more than a stone throws away from the boat or the ocean. We would do the generic hiking, lounging on the beach or at the pool, or snorkeling; simulating the life we had back home. Everyone was in their comfort zone, never straying too far from the norm. But soon enough, unknown to me, my life would take an adventurous turn. During my senior year English class, my teacher told everyone her story in the Peace Corps on National Peace Corps Day in the United States. She told tales of being held at gunpoint near the Kenyan border and the bright eyed kids she would never see again. I remember not being able to take my eyes off the artwork and the wood carvings she set up on the desks.

Eagerly after class I waited for her to have a free moment so I could talk with her further. Little did I know at the time, I would be paving a path for my future. She told me about tours students can go on in different parts of the world depending on how out of my comfort zone I wanted to go. I decided on a trip to Hohoe, Ghana with the organization Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS). CCS got kids from all over the United States to be placed in a different country and have them fully immersed in the culture, but also do some volunteer work in the process. My placement was with a orphanage/ school named Happy Kids helping to teach preschoolers English. Although the official language of Ghana is English, up in the mountains of Hohoe they speak mostly in their tribal tongues. Quickly, my days went from hanging out with my friends at Starbucks, to being woken up before the sunrise to the smell of porridge cooking on an open fire. Rice and beans were served with every meal (I have no idea how the villagers never get sick of them). I am from an Italian family so it was refreshing to have a meal without cheese or pasta involved.

My days were filled with lessons; teaching the children English, but them teaching me about life. I became close with three little ones in particular: Mayvis, Unhum, and Ema. They would follow my placement partner Danielle and I around during the breaks from lessons and when lunch was served. Seeing these children who have so little, be so happy with life. Each child had a smile across their face and they never expected anything from you. This was quite a contrast from back home where kids compete over who has the newest iPhone. It was like a breath of fresh air seeing children being so happy getting a turn to draw on a piece of paper with a crayon. I was happy to spend time in the jungle of Ghana feeding monkeys and hiking up the highest point in the country, Mount Afadja. I was in bliss. Then my happiness was tented a little.

My body started to work against me as I became very sick with malaria. Because of this, I had to miss several days at placement and had to go to the hospital to get treated. This alone was another eye opening experience. To me, hospitals were a place of sterilization but in rural Ghana it was anything but. The building was a courtyard open to all the elements and the patients were laying out on bed in the Ghanan heat- no one was protected from one another or sterile. I instantly stood out being the only white person the hospital. After several hours, I spotted another white figure walking around. He turned out to be a European trained doctor who was in Ghana doing malaria research. I immediately felt relieved as he told me to drink lots of water to make sure I didn’t dehydrate and I would be good as new within a day or so. Before I knew it, it was time for me to go back to my world. But I will never forget the new family I created thousands of miles away.

Now almost three years later, pictures of Unhum and the kids hang on my apartment walls and my journal has a place on my shelf for me to relive Ghana whenever I feel like life is slipping through my fingers. The experience helped to shape the person I am today and the goals I want to achieve.

 

This was my first taste of adventure, now onto the next one!

Happy travels, Cynthia