French Soccer, Versailles, and the Louvre!

With the World Cup kicking off this weekend, my study abroad friends and I bought tickets to the World Cup send-off game of France vs. Ireland at the Stade de France. As an avid soccer fan, I was super excited to see one of my favorite national teams (France, of course!) take on Ireland. European soccer games are an exciting experience in itself. Fans were singing soccer fight songs throughout the metro rides, and the crowd at the game was even more rowdy. The French fans sang the national fight song throughout the entire game, successfully drowning out the attempts of the Irish fans trying to sing. My favorite part of the night was that we took a baguette into the game and used it to cheer with (yes, you read that correctly).  France defeated Ireland 2-0, and closed with a small World Cup send-off ceremony. We did get caught in a massive flash-flood on the way out of the game, which now we look back on and laugh about; mainly due to the fact that I ran barefoot because I love my Birkenstocks too much to see them get ruined!

***Bonus points if you can spot the baguette in this photo

Later in the week for marketing class, our IES program took us to the Palace of Versailles. The palace itself is massive and covered in extravagant gold. The inside houses hundreds of famous artworks, and of course the famous Hall of Mirrors. After touring the palace, we explored the backyard gardens. The gardens cover over one mile, including sculptures, fountains, and a hedge maze. At the back of the hedge maze, I found a small café hidden in the garden. This was one of my favorite places to eat, as it was very serene and peaceful.


On the weekend, I decided to take on the true challenge of Paris: tackling the Louvre. The Louvre has over 35,000 pieces of art and several floors. I started very early in the morning and followed a plan to see the artworks I was most excited about. My favorites included the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Egypt exhibits. I explored the Louvre from opening to closing time, and saw everything I planned and more! I absolutely loved the Louvre, as there were so many timeless pieces of art history.


A few hours in, I found my absolute favorite piece of art. I stumbled across it on accident, and fell in love with the intricate detail. I also thought it was funny that this painting is actually a painting of other famous paintings. The piece is called Gallery Views of Modern Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini (attached below). The room this painting hangs in was completely empty, so I was able to enjoy the art peacefully which is rare in the Louvre.

After hours exploring the Louvre, I ate at Café Marley which overlooks the Louvre courtyard. The Louvre is a massive museum, but definitely one of my favorite places in Paris. I hope to come back to see even more art at the Louvre!

Au Revior!

-Alissa Smith


Historical Pilgrimages: Delphi and Hosios Loukas

Last weekend we took a trip to upper central Greece to visit Delphi. If you have read The Odyssey (or other classical texts) you know Delphi is the place to consult the oracle. If a person was facing a tough choice, let’s say to attack a city or not, they would make the trek to Delphi to make a sacrifice and ask the oracle to decide for them. Whatever the oracle said is exactly what they did. It is interesting because there are many archeologists and chemists, among others, who have tried to explain how this divination could occur. Some say there were drugs involved. Others say that underground gas pockets caused them to become frantic and spout prophecies. The professor leading our group told us not to believe any of these theories, since the oracle of Delphi is not something that needs to be explained in a logical way. It was simply the practice for these people to accept the prophecies they received. This is made even more interesting by what I am currently learning in my Philosophy class. We have just crossed through the period of the scientific revolution and are reading Descartes. We are discussing how strict scientific thinking emerged only after the scientific revolution, and, after this point, westerners are unable to think of things as ‘true’ unless these things are scientifically quantifiable and ‘prove-able.’ It makes sense, then, that we have a difficult time accepting the oracle as a thing that is unexplained. Here is a photo of the archaeological site:

This is the lower portion of the site. The actual oracle consultation happens higher up in the mountain where you can faintly see the other columns.

The very best part of the field trip was visiting the Hosios Loukas monastery in Boeotia, founded in the early 10th century by the hermit Saint Luke (not to be confused with the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke). The artwork in the monastery and the crypt (!) was so beautiful. My Byzantine Art & Architecture midterm is tomorrow, so allow me to rehearse the information in the photos’ captions.

These buildings are adjoined (remember this for later), but were built at different times. On the right is The Church of the Theotokos. It has a slim “Athenian dome” and has a cross-in-square floor plan. It was built in the 10th century and is the oldest cross-in-square type building in Greece. Very important in byzantine architecture! The church on the left, named Katholikon, was built in 1011/12. It has a heavy octagonal dome. Both churches were built with the cloisonne technique: each stone of the church is framed by bricks. Both churches are decorated with pseudo-kufic script. This script is made of decorative characters which imitate Arabic Kufic letters. It is called pseudo because it does not spell any real words. It shows just how influential Islam was on Western art and architecture.
Here is a photo of the mosaics in the narthex of Katholikon. They’re stunning. The mosaics have been expertly restored by removing each tile (called tesserae), adding new mortar, then resetting the tile. Something worth noting is the abstract nature of the empty backdrop. There is no sense of “place” in these icons.
The crypt lies below Katholikon. The relics of St. Luke are actually kept upstairs in the hallway that joins the two churches, but St. Luke’s tomb was here for many years. The crypt also held funeral ceremonies and commemorations. The crypt is decorated with frescoes. Some of them were damaged early on as pilgrims would chip pieces off the walls to take home with them. Vandalism is an age old problem, folks!

And an obligatory photo of the flora and fauna:

One of our favorite local pollinators off to make some delicious Greek honey, or “μέλι.” Yum!

That’s all for now – as soon as mid terms are complete they will whisk us away to Thessaloniki (Northern Greece) for an entire week. I feel like the bees, bouncing here and there, but buzzing right along nonetheless. There is much to see and do, but the rewards are sweet!


Art field trip to Quilotoa

¿Qué tal amigos? I hope you all are doing well and are excited to hear about the second volcanic crater I entered. If you don’t already know, Quilotoa’s crater was formed several hundred years ago, much like Cuicocha. The lake now sits in that crater and is a popular place to canoe and observe.

For our Andean Popular Arts class, we had a field trip to Quilotoa mostly because it’s such a beautiful lake and it’s near the art and history exhibits we planned to visit.

Our first stop on this trip, however, was at an hacienda where we visited the capilla del Divino Niño de Isinche. The story of this capilla and small church begins years ago when the Spanish came to Ecuador. A statue of baby Jesus appeared on the property and people took it as a sign that a church should be built to adore God. So the church was built with a smaller building that, to this day, holds the statue of el Divino Niño.

Many people visit this hacienda to ask el Divino Niño to grant miracles for them. The tiny capilla is full of photos and plaques asking for help and thanking for prayers granted.

After a few minutes admiring the hacienda, we continued on our journey to Quilotoa. When we got to the town, it was cloudy and cold; the altitude made it even colder. I was not prepared for the chill, so I bought myself a blue alpaca sweater from a vendor inside the small artesanal market. I put it on, over my three layers, and went to go observe the lake with friends while looking like a fluffy, blue snowman. But I was warm!

Posing with my new, warm sweater 🙂

We opted for a photo shoot instead of a hike down the crater (approx. 40 minutes) and a hike back up (approx. 1.5 hours) since we had a limited time before lunch. The view was a lot more amazing in person, much more spectacular than any camera could capture. When small rays of sun would hit the lake from in between the clouds, the water would appear lime green and turquoise! ¡Simplemente espectacular!

Looking down into the lake on a cloudy Saturday afternoon
Looking down into the lake on a cloudy Saturday afternoon

Lunch wasn’t amazing… but we ate while the rainstorm hit, so we stayed dry. After lunch, we made it to our final destination of the field trip: a small shop and art studio outside of Quilotoa.

The shop sold many colorful masks, paintings, shoes, sweaters, bracelets, etc. The paintings were by far my favorite since they were full of color and several Andean myths. The paintings shared stories that I wish someone would have explained to me, but nonetheless I was amazed. The masks were also quite chévere since they were hand-carved out of wood and painted with bright colors.

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I fell asleep on the 3 hour bus ride back, mostly so that I wouldn’t get car sick (but I still did). I had an amazing day learning about different aspects of Andean culture and observing the beauty of Lake Quilotoa. Plus, I got my cozy, alpaca sweater as un recuerdo excelente of the trip. ¡Hasta el próximo blog, amigos!

“You Need Dirt”

This past week, I and 20 other CIEE students had the great privilege of touring the East Side gallery with the amazing artist and co-founder, Günther Schaefer.

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Gunther and I 🙂

The East Side Gallery is the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall. What differentiates the East Side Gallery from all the other graffiti covered areas in Berlin is that it is full of beautiful and powerful paintings by artist from 43 different countries. It is one of the highest trafficked sites in Berlin; everyone has to take a picture in front of the East Side Gallery.

Our obligatory East Side Gallery picture.

We met with Gunther in the early afternoon as he greeted us with a smile. He was more than ready to share his story with us as we walked along the Gallery. Each piece is a powerful depiction, either gives insight into life during the time of the Berlin wall or other hardships going on in the world.

This painting depicts an 18 year old young man named Peter Fetcher. He was the first person shot attempting to cross the wall over to west Berlin.


After walking the length of the wall we finally arrived at Gunther’s piece called “Vaterland (fatherland)” a grand German flag with a blue Jewish star in the middle. It represents a warning against fascist ways of Germany’s past. With pride, Gunther begin to pose in front of his self proclaimed most important piece of work. Gunther told us “Cleanliness is the enemy of art; you need dirt.” You have to get messy, you have to be real. I feel like that quote encapsulates the heart of Berlin.


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The quote that accompanies “Vaterland”

After our tour, Gunther had us all over to his house and studio for coffee and cake. He shared with us more of his art work, specifically from during the time of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was a moving experience to hear him speak about the background of the photos.

Gunther took this photo of an East Side solider the day after the wall fell. the soldier told him after “if this was yesterday, I would have shot you for this”.
Some students admiring Gunthers vast array of work.

As a number of tourist were crowding the wall to get their perfect selfie for Instagram, we had a truly valuable experience listening to Gunther. We were able to see the pieces the way they were meant to be seen, with a deeper meaning. (If you have any spare time I would highly recommend reading about the different pieces and artist 🙂 It was a great honor to be able to meet Gunther and hear his stories. The result of Gunther’s work and dedication to the East Side Gallery will enable it to be preserved as a memorial for years to come.