Giant’s Causeway & Normandy, France.

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On Wednesday we went to Giant’s Causeway up in Northern Ireland – an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns (mostly hexagonally shaped). These uniquely shaped columns along the ocean are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption on the Northern Ireland coast. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

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We arrived in Lisieux, France on Thursday night for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on Friday, June 6. The celebration was incredible. A bunch of important people, from Obama and Queen Elizabeth to the US Secretary of the Army, to name a few, were there. We started by going to a museum to see a 1,000 year old script written on William the Conqueror, followed by a stop for crepes. I had never seen so much busy-ness in a foreign country. The gendarmerie (French military force) were on every street corner asking every car where they were going and who was in the car. The security was very serious. We headed to Arromache beach first for the celebration; the beach was completely covered with D-Day re-enactors, military tanks and vehicles.

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After that, we headed to Omaha beach, one of the beaches where the US fought on. We also visited the American cemetery above Omaha, where Obama had previously spoken a few hours before. That night we headed back to town and had a great talk about D-Day over dinner. Needless to say, we were all speechless.

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I loved France. It was a perfect time to put my French to the test and I don’t think I spoke English once except to the students with me. I want to go back already! Please mom…

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On Saturday, the D-Day festivities continued. We went to Utah beach (another US beach) and a few museums. We also went to a neat festival in the town and grabbed a couple eclairs and jambon et fromage baguettes. We also got to meet the Secretary of the US Army and some secret service. That was definitely neat. It was also nice to see a lot of American military present at the celebration, they had already been there for about a week beforehand.

DCIM100GOPROView from my room in France

Today, we decided to go to Juno beach where the Canadians fought. These beaches were very solemn but had freedom written all over them. Some of the German bunkers were still intact and we got to walk inside of them. There aren’t many times where you can say you’re just hanging out on top of an old World War German bunker at the beach, especially on the D-Day 70th Anniversary. These past 3 days were a blessing.

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We took the bus back onto the ferry to England and drove to Swindon, where we will be staying until Friday when we head to London. Tomorrow we’ll be going to Bletchley Park, where we’ll get to see the German Enigma Code Breaker. Very excited!

007 Study Abroad: Belfast, Ireland.

IMG_84702.5 Week Study Abroad in Ireland, France, Great Britain

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Greetings from Ireland! Location: Belfast Peace Walls

Official Day 2 has just ended and it’s 10pm in Belfast right now, but feels like it’s 5pm! Most of us arrived in Belfast on Sunday. After a 6 hour flight, sleep deprived, hungry, and after having an interesting encounter with customs, we were ready to go to bed. Of course, with the time change, we couldn’t until later that night. So, that day we walked around the streets of Belfast gathering up Belgium chocolates, last minute essentials, and a crazy amount of shepherds pie. Our hostel, the Vagabonds, is extremely nice and is filled with various free souls (mostly students) from all over the world. Every hall is decorated with historical pieces of Belfast and sprinkled memories. It’s cozy and quaint. I couldn’t complain.

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IMG_8394Inside the hostel

BpHN3uXIEAAxXrVDowntown Belfast

IMG_8425For the beginning portion of Summer A, us students took two main courses: HS 405, Emerging Topics In Homeland Security and HS 325, Terrorism: Ideologies, Origins, and Goals. We mostly discussed the time of the Troubles here in Belfast, the time of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and their experiences with the British Government.

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(this peace wall was intended to separate the Catholics from the Protestants during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The city people do not plan on taking the wall down anytime soon.)

Yesterday, we had two political tours around the city of Belfast; one tour from an ex member of the IRA and the other from an ex member of the UUP. To say the least, it was a very interesting experience because we got to hear both sides of the story during the times of the Troubles.DCIM100GOPRO

sa5sa6Oldest pub in Belfast

Today, we went to Queen’s University for a lecture. The University was beautiful! We listened to two professors from the Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice; they mostly spoke about the time of the Troubles here in Northern Ireland. We certainly gained a few gems of wisdom on the conflict.

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DCIM100GOPROTomorrow, we’ll be hopping over to Giant’s Causeway for a tour of a great volcanic plateau on the ocean and experience old Irish castles and whiskey tasting. Thursday, we head to Normandy, France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

If you are interested in studying somewhere outside the US, definitely consider it for the future. You will gain a completely different perspective on not only social aspects, but also academics as well. And take the risk of going to somewhere foreign to you! The leap is totally worth it, after all.

Here’s a great quote on growth: “It is not that we love to be alone, but that we love to soar, and when we do soar, the company grows thinner and thinner until there is none at all. …We are not the less to aim at the summits though the multitude does not ascend them.”- Henry David Thoreau

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and get uncomfortable. Safety does not always lie in security, which is why we grow when we are in unfamiliar situations. Allow yourself the chance for that growth.
Keep you posted.

Test taking, volleyball and turning 21

Hey Everyone,

I apologize for this entry being a bit late. I have been pretty busy. The past few weeks have been filled with tests and studying. Exams at EPF are more like national standardized tests rather than an exam at Embry-Riddle. Probably one of the largest differences is that there are many more rules, besides the obvious no cheating and only being allowed to use certain types of calculators. To begin with, there is a seating chart, which is posted on a bulletin about 15 minutes before the exam is scheduled to start. Students have to find their names and their corresponding seat, which can be in one of the two amphitheaters or even in one of the other classrooms. This is because at EPF tests are given to an entire year of students, about 180 individuals, at a time. There is an empty place between each of the seats and all coats and backpacks are placed around the edges of the room. Notes are not allowed, and neither are calculators from home. Students must use TI-83s provided by the school. Each of the exams has at least two versions in order to deter cheating, much like the SATs or ACTs. In addition, the proctors also pass around a sign in sheet with each student’s name and their seating assignment. This allows them to see which students were seated together in case there appears that some tests are too similar. When comparing exams at EPF to ones at ERAU, it seems that tests at Embry-Riddle are more relaxed.

To begin with, there is no special seating chart with at least a spare desk between each student. This is probably due to the fact that when tests are given at ERAU, they are for a class of about 25-35 students, which usually fill the majority of chairs available so that there are not enough spare seats to evenly space students. In addition, there is not usually a sign in sheet. However, some professors at ERAU do require that their students place their belongings against the wall, like at EPF, in order to limit access to hidden notes, phones, and calculators. While some tests only allow non-graphing calculators to be used, most professors allow students to being calculators from home. I think ERAU uses this policy, instead the one at EPF, simply because there are too many students in too many different classes to organize which professors need which calculators at which times. In addition, calculators can be expensive. EPF can afford to give each student a calculator during an exam because the university only needs at most 200 calculators, accounting for broken ones and ones with dead batteries, at any given time. There easily 5 times more freshmen at ERAU than at EPF.

In the past two weeks, there haven’t been too many other notable events. The girls’ volleyball team that I am on experienced its first victory. Right now we have currently won one out of five games. Last Saturday, I celebrated my 21st birthday. I kept things pretty small. I went out of lunch with friends and then I spent the rest of the day going absolutely crazy by watching television shows and not doing any homework. In France, teens are legally allowed to drink and buy alcohol and other liquors at age 18, so turning 21 isn’t really that important. Hopefully, I will have more exciting things to report back to you in the next entry, including pictures. Until then, try not to study too much and get some sleep. There are only a few weeks left in the semester and then it is Christmas break.
Thanks for reading,
Brenna

Chocolate airplane

Greetings to Everyone from an ERAU Student Abroad,

It has come to my attention that just last week, the staff at the Study Abroad Office held an informational meeting that showcased summer programs. I took a look at their website, located here, and this summer there will be opportunities to study in various European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Spain, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, and even Luxembourg. In addition, this Spring Break you could be in Greece. Having studied abroad last summer in Siena, Italy, I must say that is a pretty sweet deal. I was able to enjoy exploring a foreign country while earning credits toward my degree. If you would like more information about my travels, just look through some of my older entries. In addition, if you are interested in any of the other programs the Study Abroad Office offers, feel free to visit them or contact them using the information located near the bottom of the page in the attached link. They are always very friendly and are more than happy to answer each and every one of your questions about their programs.

Study Abroad poster, found at on their Facebook page, located at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eagles-Abroad/258444774215495

So to be honest, there is not much about school in the rest of this entry, because I had an entire week off for vacation. It was pretty awesome, kind of like having Spring Break only in the fall. (Note: this vacation was not in place of Spring Break. We still have two other week long breaks, one in January to ski in the Alps and one in the spring.) Some of my friends were able to travel west to the coast of Bretagne while others were able to visit other countries such as England or the Netherlands. Personally, I ended up spending my break in Paris. I visited a few friends’ houses and we made some delicious banana bread. In addition, we also were able to go to the cinéma and watch Thor: The Dark World. I really liked the movie and highly recommend it.

One of the more exciting events of my break was the Salon du Chocolat. It was essentially 20,000 m2 dedicated to the worship of chocolate. The event contained information concerning the harvest, production, and tasting of chocolate and various other sweets, such as macarons, nougats, and even chocolate alcoholic beverages. I didn’t taste any, but I heard that the chocolate Baileys was absolutely divine. The Salon du Chocolat was wonderful. There were famous chocolatiers from all over France that joyfully offered free samples of their creations. We tasted chocolates from all over the world from exotic places, such as Africa or certain parts of Asia. There were milk and dark chocolates, ones with fruit, and ones with mint or other flower flavors. There were hard bars of chocolates with nuts and dried fruit and soft truffles with ganache in the middle. In addition, my friends and I were also able to see how hard candies were made. We must have spent close to 30 minutes watching an artisanal family create sweets from molten sugar. We learned how they added flavor and color and we watched them craft beautiful ribbon candies and even a shimmering, translucent flower.
The Salon du Chocolat was also an opportunity for chocolatiers to show off various creations made from chocolate. The largest one there was a chocolate airplane, which clocked in at about 20 ft. long.

The 20ft. long airplane made entirely of chocolate, taken in October of 2013.

I am convinced that this is the perfect gift, granted a much smaller version, for any girl who attends ERAU. I mean, it is chocolate and an airplane, what could possibly be better? Guys attending Riddle, take note.

We also saw creations from fashion designers. Apparently, each year the event is started with a chocolate fashion show. There were so many beautiful dresses, but here are some of my favorites.

This Japanese kimono was made from both white and dark chocolate, taken in October of 2013.

Chocolate fashion is for both women and men, taken in October of 2013.

A tower of tasty macarons, taken in October of 2013.

A tower of tasty macarons, taken in October of 2013.

Here are some candied fruits, such as dates, ginger, orange slices, and even tiny, sweet clementines, taken in October of 2013.

The other major highlight of my weeklong break was seeing Imagine Dragons, one of my favorite bands, in concert. I immediately bought a ticket this summer when I saw that they would be playing in Paris during October. I saw them last year in concert when they came to Orlando and this show, even after a year of constant touring, was at least as good, if not better. My favorite part about their performance was the sheer amount of energy that they brought to stage. While watching them lunge about while playing massive drums, I could feel their passion for their music. In addition, they played their instruments well and even tried to speak a bit of French, saying things like, “We love you!” (Nous t’aimons!) Even though they didn’t speak French correctly, it is actually something along the lines of, “On vous aime”, the crowd still loved them. At one point during their performance there were giant balloons floating about that popped in a shower of rainbow confetti.

The large neon sign outside of the Olympia venue, taken in October of 2013.

Well, that is all for this week, I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by friends and family. As always, thank you for reading.
-Brenna

Paris heat wave, street art by Seth and a new bunch of friends moves in

Greetings Everybody,
As I was taking a look back through some of my older entries, I realized that I have been in Paris for almost a month and half. Holy cow where has the time gone?

Last weekend, my classmates and I said good bye to the Spanish students. They were part of the program for a month. The night before they had to leave, we all went out to a nice restaurant in the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame. The food was very good and pretty reasonably priced, considering that we were in the heart of the city. I had a ham and cheese crêpe for an appetizer, rotisserie chicken and fries for a main course, and ice cream for dessert for about 14 Euros. It was very good.

This is a picture of my table with three Spanish students and a Brazilian student. Taken by Matheus Wisniewski in July of 2013.

The girl next to me in the picture is Mercedes. She is one of the four original students in my language class and is very funny and sweet. On the other side of me is Matheus. He’s from Brazil and is a lot of fun. The couple across the table is Paula and Nacho. Even though they were in a higher level of French than me, they were very patient as I tried to speak French during the entire meal.

Even though none of us are fluent, we still try to communicate as much as possible in French for practice. Sometimes it is pretty funny trying to explain certain words. One time in class, I did not know the name for a child’s toy stuffed animal and ended up telling my teacher about a faux animal. She was very confused until I told her it was like a teddy bear. She then laughed and told he the right word: une peluche. It was pretty humorous. Just last week, one of my fellow students did not know the name for a hot dog and ended up saying un chien chaud, which literally translates to a dog that is hot. It turns out that the French word for a hot dog is hot dog but with a French accent.

Around the same time that the Spanish left, there was a huge influx of new Brazilian and Chinese students with a few Russians sprinkled here and there. The residence where I live is now almost completely full. This means that there are a lot of students in a very small space. While we each have our own room, we all have to share a single hall bathroom. Essentially, for every 36 or so students, there are two toilets and a shower. I don’t mean to sound snobby or elitist, but this set up makes me wish that I still lived in Adams Hall at Embry-Riddle because then there would be a toilet and shower for every 4 students. I didn’t realize what a luxury it was to live in Adams.

I didn’t really do too much these past two weeks due to the extremely hot weather and I had my first actual French language test. In total, the test took about 2 hours to complete and had four different sections: oral comprehension, written comprehension, grammar, and written expressions. For the oral comprehension, we listened to voice recordings and tried to complete a work sheet that was missing information. Written comprehension is essentially reading comprehension. We read a few passages and then answered questions pertaining to the different articles. Written expression consisted of writing two different letters to a friend using different verb tenses and various vocabulary words to talk about the weather, meals, and activities done. Grammar was pretty difficult.

There are a lot of nuances in the French language that English doesn’t really have. For example, in English we use, “I ate ham,” to say that we consumed a few slices of ham for dinner. In French there is a difference between J’ai mange le jambon and J’ai mange du jambon. The first sentence translates to I ate the ham which means that you ate the entire pig, meat, hooves, tail, all of it. The second sentence translates roughly to I ate of the ham, meaning that you only ate some ham, just the meat. In other cases you can say J’aime les croissants, I love croissants because you can love all croissants in existence ever and in general. However, you cannot say Je mange les croissants, I ate the croissants, because you cannot eat all of the croissants in the world. Instead you need to use Je mange des croissants, I ate some croissants. Sometimes French can be pretty tricky. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time studying.

During this week and last week, Paris experienced a bit of a heat wave with temperatures rising to about 34-35 degrees Celsius, which is 93-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember France does not have a lot of air conditioning. We were all pretty miserable. No one wanted to go anywhere in Paris. After class each day, I spent my time lounging about in running shorts and reading. Other students just slept or took multiple hot showers. It was not a lot of fun.

However, yesterday, we finally got a break from the extreme heat and went into the center of Paris and explored the 5th Arrondissement. This ward of the city is known as the Latin quarter because it houses one of the first universities in Paris where they only taught classes in Latin way back when. Nowadays, this area is home of the Gardens of Luxembourg, the Pantheon, the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, and some of my favorite street art.

Paris is one of the main cities in Europe where street artists display their works. Everywhere I go in Paris, I see buildings and streets decorated with murals, paintings, and tiles. The purpose of street art is to provide social commentary accessible to the general public that is also aesthetic. Some people consider street art as a form of graffiti and street artists have been known to be actively pursued by local authorities. However, most people appreciate the additions to their walls and see the works has beautiful and providing a much needed form of individual expression. The most well-known artist in Paris is probably Space Invader. This artist uses mosaics to create pixelated images like the ones from the old 1970s arcade game Space Invader. His work has spread from Paris to all over the world, therefore “spreading” his invasion.

The aliens seen in this picture are characteristic of Space Invader. In addition, the Rubik’s Cubes seen in the background are another common medium of the street artist.

This is a picture of Space Invader’s work known as Modern Trinity located in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris. Created in July of 2013

Space Invader’s invasion map of Paris. Each of the little red aliens marks a place where he has placed his art.

See more of this map here.

My personal favorite street artist in Paris is known as Seth. I first saw his works in the 5th Arrondissement near the Pantheon. They usually consist of a stylized child wearing stripes and with their face hidden. I like Seth because the art contains a youthfulness and innocence not usually found in street art.

This mural created by Seth is located in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris.

This mural created by Seth is located in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris.

The piece seen in the 5th Arrondissement is very characteristic of Seth. The child’s face is hidden to the wall and he is wearing a striped hoodie.

This work is my favorite piece by Seth that I have seen in Paris.

That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading.
-Brenna

The Wall of Love and other Sights in Paris

Hey Everyone,

First off, if you have noticed that this entry is a little later than usual it is because the residence where I am staying has had technical difficulties with its internet connection. I apologize. Even though the lack of wireless internet seemed like an inconvenience at first, it has given me ample time to reflect on my personal dependence on the internet. It is possible that my need for internet could be based on the fact that I am in a foreign country and rely on the internet to remain in contact with my friends, family, university, and bosses via email and Facebook. In addition, I have also realized just how often I turn to Google to find the answers to my mind’s wonderings, such as what the national language of Norway is or the historical background of a particular building is. While I miss the ability to look up information on a whim, no WIFI has given me the opportunity to turn my curiosity inwards. I have had to time to muse about my motivations for my actions, realizing goals, examining interpersonal relations. The last couple of days without internet have shown me the value in turning off the computer every few days for some self-analysis. That being said, when considering my need to communicate to the rest of the world for a variety of reasons, knowing that I have the possibility of an internet connection is assuring.

Over the past couple of weeks, a pattern has emerged with the students attending the summer language intensive. Each Monday, there is an influx of new students from various countries, usually Brazil and most recently China. In order to know our new peers outside the classroom, every Monday evening we all play a few games of soccer (otherwise known as football in countries outside the US) , together at Cité Université, which is a large group of buildings subsidized by the French government that used to house international students. The grounds contain many large, grassy fields, which provide ample room for soccer. Playing together allows us to socialize and learn each other’s names. In addition, is also reassuring for new students to know a few people in their classes. I like the fact that we all have realized that we are far from home and have all come together to do what we can to ease each other’s anxiety. It is very nice to feel part of a community.

Other students in the language program posing for a quick soccer photo. Taken by Kinoshita Atsushi in July of 2013.

Last Sunday was one of the most important holidays in all of France. This celebration known as La Fête Nationale, or the French National Day, occurs on the 14th of July. This day celebrates the anniversary of the Fête de la Fédération in 1790 which was a huge feast that celebrated the creation of a constitutional monarchy. Coincidentally, this is the same day as the storming of the Bastille. On this day, the oldest military parade of all Europe marches down Champs-Élysées in front of the French President, French officials, and honored guests. The parade contains all of the enlisted people in France’s various armed and unarmed forces which include, but are not limited to, the army, navy, air force, police men, and firemen.

This is a photo of the parade on July 14th meant to honor France’s enlisted citizens. Taken by Kinoshita Atsushi in July of 2013.

This holiday is celebrated with a couple hours long parade of all the various troops in their dress uniforms carrying swords and wearing many flashy decorations with large white gloves, over-head flybys, and in the evening, a huge fireworks show. I have never seen such an extravagant celebration. The entire show lasted about an hour and the fireworks had the same intensity as a grand finale in the United States the whole time. In addition, the entire show was choreographed to music and used multi colored lights, fog machines, and incorporated another building and a display across the Seine. It was incredible. As my friend Bryan, who was born in the South of France, said, “Nobody knows how to celebrate quite like the French.”

The Eiffel Tower during the July 14th celebration. Taken by Kinoshita Atsushi in July of 2013.

This week, I was given a free afternoon without any classes. I used this opportunity to travel to the northern part of Paris to visit Montmartre, a district of Paris, and the Basilica of Sacre Coeur. This very important religious and historical landmark is located on a hill about 129 meters above sea level which makes it the highest point in all of Paris. Construction started in 1875 and the basilica was consecrated in 1919. Inside, pictures were forbidden in order to prevent the degradation of the priceless paintings and artifacts. However, I did manage to get a nice picture of the outside.

Sacre Coeur cathedral. Taken in July of 2013.

Another attraction in Montmartre is the Wall of I Love Yous, or in French Le Mur des Je T’aime. Located in the Place des Abbesses, this work of art uses 612 tiles and contains over 311 declarations of love in over 250 different languages from all over the world. The small bits of red are said to be pieces of a broken heart that the wall tries to reunite. To me, this wall is both happy and sad because while all the pieces of the shattered heart are in the same place, they are forever frozen in place by glaze and tile and so can never be fully put back together.

The love wall. Taken in July of 2013.

On Saturday, a few of the students in my class visited the palace and gardens of Versailles. The Château de Versailles, which is on UNESCO World Heritage List, is a palace where three French kings and their families lived. Originally, the site was used for a hunting lodge, but each following generation added more and more to the building, making it grander. Today, it is one of the most famous examples of 18th century French art.
Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre to create the gardens of Versailles in 1661. The size and complexity of these gardens meant that they took over 40 years and thousands of men to complete. Such an undertaking involved moving large amounts of earth using wheelbarrows, transporting hundreds of trees by cart, and the carving countless statues and fountains.

One of the many fountains located in the gardens of Versailles. Taken in July of 2013.

Intricate landscaping found in the gardens of Versailles. Taken in July of 2013.

It may seem a little silly, but my favorite part of the entire day was the sculptures on display in the gardens of Versailles. In order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of André Le Nôtre, the creator of the gardens of Versailles, Italian artist Giuseppe Penone was asked to display various works around the gardens. The series, known as Penone’s Versailles, focuses on using natural materials such as wood, stone, marble, etc. to create harmony between man, nature, and culture.

The first moment I saw one of Penone’s sculptures, I knew that if these pieces of art were the only aspects of Versailles that I saw that entire day, I would feel completely content. For me, I was just in awe of the balance of the sculptures, literally and metaphorically. Some of these works of art contain river stones that are twice the size of a human head balanced some 20 feet off the ground, nestled in the branches of bronze trees. It is amazing that Penone was able to create his trees to match the shape of the stones while still seeming to be natural, as if when the trees had grown, they simply lifted the rocks into the sky. In addition, the pairing of the river smooth rocks and the man-made bronze trees was perfect. It felt like I was looking at a westernized Zen garden, but instead of the trees being planted in rocks, the rocks were a part of the trees. There was a balance of natural and unnatural, organic and inorganic. The majority of Penone’s works were located in a relatively small alcove of the garden known as the Star Grove. The minute I entered it, I would have loved nothing more than to sit on the grass beneath the shadows of the hedges and read a good book.

One of Giuseppe Penone’s bronze tree sculptures in Penone’s Versailles. Taken in July of 2013

One of Giuseppe Penone’s bronze tree sculptures. This picture shows how the trees are hollow in the inside. Taken in July of 2013

The same sculpture only from a different angle. Taken in July of 2013

These two sculptures are created from and blend of Giuseppe Penone’s bronze trees and actual living trees. Taken in July of 2013

This bronze tree in Penone’s Versailles was placed overhead and supported my metal rods and surrounded by living trees. Taken in July of 2013

Most of the trees in Penone’s Versailles found a way to mix organic with inorganic. In this case, a smooth river stone was balanced in a bronze tree. Taken in July of 2013

This last picture was also taken in the gardens of Versailles. It is a bit random, having no real back story. That being said, when I first saw this tree I felt overwhelmingly peaceful. It is my hope that this photo brings you peace and clarity in the upcoming week.

A tree in the gardens of Versailles. Taken in July of 2013.

As always, thank you for reading.
-Brenna

Goodbye island life

This is probably the only blog from an Embry-Riddle student who started two first days at this University, 5 years apart.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that one year ago, I was a Key West trolley tour guide.  I entertained tourists with facts of the island and repeated the same corny jokes to them every day, sometimes with a few originals.  Chances are good that if you visited Key West and rode on an orange and green trolley over the past year, I was your bus driver and guide.  I also drove the Key West haunted tours, a type of meet and greet with Key West characters like Robert the doll as well as the other types of spirits….not necessarily the ones found in haunted houses.  I found myself living on the island by accident.  I went to be a dog sitter for two weeks and ended staying almost a year!  You might say I caught what the locals call the “Keys Disease” and it’s hard to resist.  People come for a visit but never leave.  It’s said on the island that if you show up to work every day, you have a job.  If two weeks later you’re still showing up on time, they’ll make you the manager.  Well, sure enough, the dog left town with its owner and I stayed.  As well as being a tour guide, I worked other side jobs such as newspaper delivery boy, bakeshop dishwasher, and event security (a.k.a. bouncer).

The island life was a relaxing and good one.  It is hard to resist the sunniest place in Florida with the least amount of rain.  It ‘s truly Paradise except, endless renditions of Jimmy Buffett songs blaring down from Duval Street.  One day I woke up with one more hangover and realized I wasn’t moving forward with my life.  It was time for me to progress forward on my flight plan for life.

This was the culmination of a restlessness that I tried to resolve, and it brought me through many different experiences.  These included several semesters at a state university, a shopkeeper in South Beach, and an unpaid Internship for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in DC.  This was right after I withdrew myself from Embry Riddle; I wanted to try something different in life. But my passions drew me back.

On August 27, 2012, my second first day of college began.  Once again excited to be making progress, living in campus dorms, and starting from where I had left off, but more focused on my degree: Aviation Business Administration.  In one week, I will be curing my desires, dusting off the backpack and train hopping across Europe to appease my wandering soul.  In one month, I will be attending classes with the Study Abroad program in Berlin, and in one year, I will be an Embry-Riddle alumnus. It’s a long way from the old island life, and it feels great!

July 24, 2012

Greetings All,

After my final evening in Rome, I woke up very early the next day and caught a shuttle with a few other study abroad students to the airport. We arrived roughly four hours before my flight was scheduled to board. I figured it would be alright if I showed up that early because I could just go through security and then hang out at an empty gate. However, I was informed by a baggage agent that KLM, the airlines I was flying with, only opens for boarding three hours before departure. Therefore, I sat on the tile floor outside security and tried to find ways to entertain myself. Eventually, the security checkpoint was opened and I was able to get in front of a whole tour bus load of people. When I got through security, I bought a snack consisting of a Panini and gummy bears. I then relaxed at my gate until my airplane was ready to board.

My trip back home was a little hectic. My flight into Minnesota was delayed due to a storm. Once we were able to land at the airport, we found out that most of the connecting flights had been grounded due to high wind speeds. At one point, the airport staff made an announcement asking all passengers to please stay away from the windows because the winds were strong enough to either break them or throw an object into the glass. Naturally, people went closer to the windows to watch the storm and take pictures. The plane I caught out of Minnesota was about two hours and thirty minutes late. Luckily, this was my last connection. I just kept my family aware of what time I would arrive home. They picked me up around 2:30 am at the airport and my luggage made it just fine. When I got home I went straight to bed. I was exhausted after flying the better part of two days.

Home for me is Alaska.

I took this picture from my front porch. This October sunset is just one of the many beautiful views of Alaska. 

Alaska is the largest state in the United States of America and resides in the top left corner of North America west of Canada. Even though Alaska has a gigantic amount of land, relatively few people live here. According to the 2010 Census, there are slightly more than 701,000 inhabitants. Most of the population is concentrated in the main cities: Juneau, our capital, Anchorage, which is the largest city, Wasilla, and Fairbanks. However, there are still a fair bit of people who live in smaller towns and villages located all over Alaska. An interesting fact about Juneau is that even though the city is our capital, it cannot be reached by car. People who would like to visit Juneau must either fly or take a barge. In addition, the city is close enough to glaciers that locals often go swimming in the runoff waters in the summer.

This is a picture of a few ice floes in one of the sounds. 

The state is incredibly diverse. Southeast Alaska receives a lot of rainfall and is considered to be almost like Seattle. The Interior experiences extreme temperature changes. In the winter, I remember temperatures reaching as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit by the river and in the summer around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Alaska contains the highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, or as locals refer to it, Denali. Denali means “the great one” in one of the Athabascan dialects. Athabascans are one of the many groups of native indigenous peoples who live here in the Interior.

This is one of Alaska’s many mountains. 

I live in Fairbanks, which is also located in the Interior. The Fairbanks North Star Borough, boroughs are our version of counties, has about 32,000 residents. While the city is considered small compared to other metropolises in the United States, we have everything we need. We have grocery stores, schools, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a mall, a movie theatre, golf courses, boutique shops, local markets, restaurants, many stores, and even a few farms. It’s like an oasis because the closest town, Nenana, is about an hour away by car and is very small. The closest big city is Anchorage, which about six hours away. One of the advantages to living in Fairbanks is that Moose Mountain Ski Resort is just outside of town. In the winter, I often meet friends on the hill to go snowboarding.

My snowboard standing next to my friend’s board – he’s very tall and I’m short. Some of my friends also enjoy snow machining or four wheeling depending on the season.

Even though Alaska has modern amenities, people still live very close to nature. Some college students choose to live in “dry cabins” because they are very inexpensive. These cabins can be a ways out of town and do not have running water or electricity. Wood stoves are used for heat and water is hauled in by truck. Personally, I live in a subdivision a few miles out of town.

This is a picture of me when I was about 5 or six years old. I’m demonstrating proper winter attire while carrying the head for my snowman. The road is not paved and we don’t have a well or city water. As a result, we have a holding tank that a water truck fills every few weeks. However, we do have electricity and internet, both for which I am thankful.

Though Alaska is very beautiful and modern, there is always one thing to keep in mind: If you don’t know what you’re doing, Alaska can kill you. If you know what you are doing, Alaska can still kill you. In the winter, roads become slick with layers of ice and snow and temperatures drop so low that without proper attire, hypothermia sets in within a matter of minutes.

My truck slid into a ditch due to icy roads. Thank you to my friends who helped me to dig it out.Every year people die due to the cold and not dressing warmly enough. Sometimes, moose wander across roads or into lawns, causing car accidents or threatening the safety of people and pets in yards. In the summer, people like to go camping. If they are unprepared, they risk being visited by a hungry grizzly bear. However, as long as people know what to do, such as staying away from moose and not keeping food at their campsite, most of the time they should be fine.

Two common misconceptions about Alaska are: that it is always winter and that there is nothing to do. While our summer is short, Alaska does experience about three months of the season. Two seasons that we experience very briefly are fall and spring. Each lasts only a few weeks. Furthermore, there are plenty of outdoor activities to do, such as canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, biking, or having bonfires. In the past, I have gone to laser tag, soccer and hockey games, and various street fairs. For a more historical view of my state, there are always the gold dredges, gold mines, saloons, and national parks. Since cities are so isolated from each other, they often are very self-sufficient and are full of entertainment. This, in combination with the natural beauty of the land, makes Alaska a very popular tourist destination, it most definitely a place to visit if you are ever in the area.

Thank you for reading.

July 15, 2012

Greetings Readers,

After about a month in Italy, my time there had finally come to an end. I took my Italian language final and submitted my last work to Dr. Fleck. Everything was packed up by Wednesday night. We said goodbye to the wait staff and owner of the restaurant around the corner who we had befriended over the course of our stay in Siena. Then, on Thursday morning, we left for Rome.

To get to Rome, we traveled for the better part of a day. Moving a group of seventeen people with at least one piece of luggage each on cramped trains is very stressful. Due to the lack of space on regional trains, a few students and I opted to stay with some of our group’s luggage and just sat on the bags near the door of the compartment. Even though one train was about 20 minutes late, we still managed to catch our connection and arrived at the refurbished monastery, where we were staying, on time. After we moved into our rooms, where we would be living for the next three days, we walked to dinner.

On the way to the restaurant, we passed a number of historical sites, such as The Fountain of Four Rivers.

Located in Piazza Navona, the work of art was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651 for Pope Innocent X. Bernini’s work symbolizes the four rivers, the Nile, Danube, Ganges, and Platte, whose continents, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, throughout which the papal authority had spread. The papal symbol, the two crossed keys, with the crest of the pope can be seen over the arch of the fountain. On top of the combination of architecture and sculpture, there is an Egyptian obelisk.

On the top of the obelisk, there is a dove with an olive twig, which is the Pamphili family emblem of Pope Innocent X.

We ate dinner at a small restaurant with outdoor seating. I splurged and ordered a pasta alla carbonara. The dish was made up of pasta, egg, cheese, and bacon. Everybody agreed it was one of the best dishes of the night. While we were waiting for our meal, we took the opportunity to smile for a few photos.

This is a picture of Candace and me. Even though Candace is a few years older than me we got along great. She’s from the ERAU campus in Prescott, Arizona and just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Candace is pretty funny and we like a lot of the same things. I was fortunate that she chose to room with me. Oh, and before I forget, the alien antenna is courtesy of Charles. He has a crazy sense of humor, but can also be very pragmatic. Currently he’s studying aeronautical science at the Daytona Beach campus.

 The next morning we started out bright and early. The first ancient building that we visited was the Colosseum.

The elliptical amphitheater was completed in 80 AD and could seat up to 50,000 people. The Colosseum was used for gladiator fights, mock sea battles, executions, dramas, and hunting wild animals. The participants, such as people and animals, in these public entertainments were housed in the hypogeum, a series of tunnels and cages underneath the floor of the main arena. In addition, there also used to be underground passages that connected the Colosseum to Ludus Magnus, a school where gladiators trained.

 

 

By this time of the day, the sun was high overhead and it was very warm. Luckily, on the way to our next destination, we were able to stop and get cool water from one of Rome’s many fountains. From there, we proceeded to walk inside the old Roman Forum.

This area contains the ruins of government buildings and used to be the center of ancient Rome. Commerce, business, and the administration of justice all took place here in the rectangular plaza located between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. It was here that the Roman Republican government, an ancestor to the administration of the U.S., began. 

Following the Roman Forum, we went to the Pantheon.

The inscription on the front translates roughly to “Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it.” The pediment, the triangular top stone, used to contain sculpture depicting the battle of the Titans. The dome is made up of a series of intersecting arches. The heaviest building materials were used at the base of the structure while the lightest, such as pumice, were used at the top. The highest point of the dome is actually an oculus, a circular opening in the center of the roof, is lined with bronze and lets in natural light.

The Pantheon was created to honor the pagan gods of ancient Rome. Today, however, it is used to house the tombs of Italian kings and the famous Renaissance painter Raphael.

 

From the Pantheon, we made our way across the city to the Vatican. Along the way, we crossed Ponte Sant’Angelo. The bridge spans the Tiber River and was completed in 134 AD by the Emperor Hadrian.

In 1669, Pope Clement IX commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create a series of ten angels holding the instruments of Christ’s Passion. These tools include, but are not limited to, the crown of thorns, nail, cross, and lance.

Eventually, we reached the Vatican. Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world. It is here that the Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, lives. He is not only the Bishop of Rome, but also the head of the Catholic Church. One of the main entrances into the Vatican is St. Peter’s Square.

 

This piazza was also designed by Bernini, who was one of the most important artists in the baroque art movement. Visitor’s quickly realized that the square is clearly baroque due to the elliptical shape of the square and the elaborate, fancy stone work and design. In fact, Bernini used properties of the ellipse in creating St. Peter’s Square. For example, at each focus of the shape, he placed two fountains.

In the center, where the major and minor axes cross, he placed an Egyptian obelisk made out of red granite. The piazza is outlined in colonnades, rows of columns, which wrap around the square and symbolize the Catholic Church embracing visitors and worshippers alike in maternal arms. After we saw the square, we visited the Vatican Museum, which did not allow pictures. We saw Raphael’s School of Athens, which is a fresco depicting almost every great Greek philosopher. We were also able to visit the Sistine Chapel and see Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the ceiling. One of the many stories featured in the work of art is the story of Adam and Eve. The panel illustrating The Creation of Adam shows God reaching out to touch fingers with Adam. God appears to be reaching out of a human brain to perform this action, displaying Michelangelo’s knowledge of human anatomy. This gives evidence to the thought that the great Renaissance artist performed human autopsies even though they were illegal at the time.

After spending hours in the Vatican Museum, and getting lost multiple times, we exited the building and entered St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is the largest Christian Church in the world and is one of the holiest sites of Christianity. Each year, many people make a pilgrimage to visit St. Peter’s Basilica.

 This church is cruciform in shape and contains multiple chapels, altars, and tombs of popes. In the picture, Bernini’s baldacchino, the canopy over the papal altar, is visible. The four huge undulating columns are made of bronze and the work as a whole is the epitome of baroque architecture.

Following our visit to the Vatican, we returned to the refurbished monastery and recovered from the twelve hours of walking and incredible heat and humidity. While resting in my room, I contacted my friend John who is stationed in Naples with the Navy. I first met John four years ago on a People to People trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland. We kept in contact over the years and he was ecstatic to find out that I would be in Italy. He decided to come and visit while I was in Rome. That evening, a group of my fellow students and I met John and his friend at the Rome Hard Rock Café. We ate and talked the night away. After saying goodbye to John and leaving the restaurant, we decided to use the Roman metro system because we thought it would be an easier way to get back to the monastery. Unfortunately, certain subway lines only run until about 10 PM. While we’re not exactly sure how, we ended up on the back side of the Vatican, which was off our map. Eventually after walking around for about an hour to an hour and a half, we found our way back to the residence.

During the morning of our last day in Rome, the first place we visited was the Baths of Diocletian.

They used to be the most impressive baths in all of Rome and were the largest of the imperial pools. Today, even though some parts of the building have been preserved as baths, other rooms have been converted for other uses. For example, in one of the two circular rooms has been converted into a church, while the frigidarium, where the cold pools were located, is now a basilica. Other parts of the building are now part of the Roman National Museum.

When we left the baths, we walked across the Piazza Barberini, at the center of which is the Triton Fountain.

The statue was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII and created by Bernini in 1642. Triton was a sea god in Greco-Roman legends. The sea god rests on the tails of four dolphins that are intertwined with the papal symbol of the crossed keys and the Barberini family crest of the three bees. Originally, the spout of water used to be much higher. This, in combination of the pose of the Triton, makes the fountain very dramatic.

The last tourist attraction we visited as a group with our professors was the Spanish Steps.

This is the widest staircase in all of Europe and spans from the Piazza di Spagna to the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. It was at this point in time, that Professor Fleck and his wife said goodbye to us and left. The group of study abroad students said their goodbyes as well and separated. Some people needed to catch trains or the subway to get back to the airport. Others had the rest of the day to spend in Rome doing whatever we wanted. For me, that meant visiting the Borghese Gallery to examine the Bernini’s most famous works.

Part of my honors course work included an in-depth paper that would further examine a topic studied in class. I chose to study Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble statue Apollo and Daphne. Bernini was truly a genius when it came to sculpture. From the sheer amount of detail of Daphne’s fingers transforming into leaves to the look on her face as Apollo catches her, Bernini is amazing. The Borghese Gallery also had Bernini’s David, Pluto and Proserpina, and multiple works of Caravaggio, another great baroque artist. Originally, I thought that my two hour ticket would be ample time to example all of the works in the gallery. However, I found that I was one of the last people to leave and I only saw the first floor. It could be my honors geek speaking, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself just staring at Apollo and Daphne. If you ever find yourself in Rome and have some spare time, I most definitely recommend that you visit the Borghese Gallery.

July 7, 2012

Greetings Everybody,

During the weekend between our second and third week in Siena, Italy, we said goodbye to Professor Alan Pratt and his wife, Bonnie. Then we had pizza with our second Embry Riddle Professor, Robert Fleck and his wife. This professor swap is due to the structure of the Siena study abroad program. One of our classes, HU 399 Italian Art & Culture, focuses on Italian contribution to both art and science. Professor Pratt is a humanities professor and so taught us about art. We studied the Renaissance, High Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Professor Fleck is a physics professor, so he focused on science. With Dr. Fleck we learned about linear perspective, geometry, and astronomy.

Our third week went pretty much like the two previous, with one exception. Instead of visiting Venice, we visited Florence. We had to wake up early on a Thursday morning and catch a bus to the train station. From there, we took a high speed train to Florence. The high speed trains were very comfortable. We had ample room for our luggage and the seats had a lot of leg space. Even though we only spent a day in Florence, we saw many buildings and artifacts that are important to religion, art, and science.

The first building we visited in Florence was Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Located near the train station, the basilica is the city’s most important Dominican church.

 The solar emblem, found on the pediment, is a sign of the Dominican order. The lower part of the façade is gothic while the top part contains elements of humanist architecture, which mixes classical architecture with proportion and astronomy. This can be seen in the Corinthian columns that surround the entrance and the geometry of the rectangles, squares, and circles on the building. Evidence of the importance of science to religion can also be found on the façade.

In the past, people used this decoration as a tool to tell then when important seasons and holidays were occuring based on the location of the shadows cast by the pins on the chart. In additon, Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is the first church to have volutes, or scrolls, located on either side of the pediment. These s-shaped decorations can be found on churches all over Italy and later were an important feature of Baroque architecture.

Inside the basilica, is a fresco by an early Renaissance painter named Masaccio. The Holy Trinity is one of the first works of art that correctly implemented linear perspective, a mathematical concept. Using this technique, Masaccio was able to create the illusion of depth in the fresco by using a common vanishing point. Therefore, it appears that God is behind Jesus with a dove, who symbolizes the holy spirit, between them. In addition, the panels of the barrel vault in the background appear to getting smaller as they progress into the work. It was really incredible, unfortunately they did not allow photographs so I don’t have one here.

 While we walked around Florence, we saw multiple busts of Galileo.

Galileo Galilei was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. He was known for his role in the Scientific Revolution. He improved the telescope, discovered Jupiter’s four largest moons, and was the first to observe the phases of Venus. Galileo also analyzed sun spots and supported Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. For his beliefs, he was inspected by the Inquisition and deemed guilty of heresy. For the rest of his life he was under house arrest and forced to recant heliocentric theory.

Our next destination was Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise.

In 1400, the guild responsible for the Baptistery’s maintenance decided to sponsor an artistic competition in which the victor would be awarded the commission to create new doors for the building. Ghiberti won the contest and provided a series of ten bronze reliefs depicting scenes from the Old Testament.

 In these panels, Ghiberti has created the illusion of depth by making the figures in the foreground of the image three dimensional and flattening ones in the background. The bronze reliefs of the Gates of Paradise were cast mostly as one piece except for a few of the elements. Ghiberti’s technique was less labor-intensive and used less materials that his competitors.

 Across the street from the Gates of Paradise is the Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore.

Finished in 1434, the dome of the building was devised and built by Filippo Brunelleschi. Instead of being a hemisphere, like other cupolas before it, Brunelleschi designed the roof to be parabolic. This maximized the height of the ceiling. The dome was constructed without the use of Gothic buttresses and relied on a double shell design. Today, visitors can still climb stairs between the two layers to reach the top of the dome.

The longest we spent visiting one particular attraction in Florence was two hours. Around midday, we entered the Uffizi Museum.

Outside the museum, there were statues of the great artists who are featured inside. The Uffizi palace was commissioned by the Medici family in 1560 and was used as offices for various magistrates. Over time, the Medici family used the building to display their art collections. After the last family member died, the palace was turned into an art gallery that grew into a museum.

While I was at the museum, I made sure to follow around our professor, Dr. Fleck. Even though he has a doctorate in physics, he knows a lot about art. We visited almost every room in the museum. I remember that we visited a gallery on the Dutch Golden Age. We examined works by Rembrandt, who was one of the most important artists of that time period. The Dutch fascination with light was exemplified in their works. Paintings of wine glasses reflected and distorted light exactly like a real glass would. Pictures of people and fruit were bright with light from clearly defined sources. It was truly amazing.

The nice part of this week was that we visited Florence on a Thursday, leaving the rest of the weekend for us to do as we pleased. Some of my peers would take the opportunity to travel around Italy and visit other cities. They would visit Sicily, Milan, Cinque Terre, etc. Sometimes, their weekend excursions would go very well and they would have a lot of fun. Other weekends were a bit stressful due to long commutes or problems with hotels. Usually on the weekends, I would head back to Siena so I could explore the city on my own. I would purchase gifts for friends and family back home, possibly do some laundry, and work on arranging a visit to the Borghese Gallery in Rome. I needed to go there to see some of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s most famous works, one of which I would base my honors contract paper on.

As always, thank you for reading.