All posts by Erin

Croissants + Poptarts = Research Success

Today I visited two schools connected with the AHA International study abroad site in Angers, France. There are many wonderful opportunities for students here – I hope I can help to recruit some from Concordia! After a breakfast of cheese, croissants, and coffee, I went to Ecole Supérieure des Pays de Loire and spoke to two tourism classes. They are expected to be fluent in English, so thankfully I was asked to speak with them en Englais. I must say that it felt good to be back in the classroom. We discussed various topics of interest to them, such as American college life, tourist attractions in the US, sports, food, and my perceptions of France. A Trailblazers’ fan was present, and he was pleased that I have been to the Moda Center and know of Batum, who is from Le Mans, not far from here. Students completed my research surveys on meaning in life as they enjoyed Poptarts that I brought with me, a novelty here.

Next I visited Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers, an impressive business school here. I got to enjoy lunch with two ESSCA directors, and then I had a great tour of their substantial facilities. Angers is their headquarters, and there are additional sites in Paris, Budapest, and Shanghai. Of course business classes are their primary focus, but they also have classes related to the EU, politics, and history, as well as French (bien sûr!). Many classes are taught in English, so a non-French speaking student could easily attend. Between what AHA and ESSCA offer, our Concordia students could easily fulfill the new language requirements in as few as 4-6 weeks!

I have found Angers to be a delightful city, and I’m so pleased to spend a few days here. I hope students consider coming (check out these sites for AHA: and ESSCA: as I am certain they would have a wonderful experience too! 

Arrived in Angers (say “awn-jay”)

The journey from Portland to Paris by air went as smooth as could be. Great service, smooth skies, an early arrival, and luggage to be claimed. Then it was a TGV (i.e., Train à Grand Vitesse, or “high-speed train”) for 300km southeast to Angers, France. Sue, the AHA International host who has helped to arrange things, was at the train station as planned. A short stroll to the hotel, time to refresh, and crêpes for dinner in a bit…a decent first day overall. Tomorrow brings meetings and data collection, which is what prompted this trip, so it’s good to finally be here and ready to go…exploring the quaint city of Angers is also in order.




À bientôt, Paris!

A quick update while we wait to depart Paris…at least for now. 😉

We had our last breakfast on Rue Cler; croissants, coffees, and a hot chocolate for Abbie. Then we walked the very short distance to L’Hôtel national des Invalides where there is an Army Museum and Napoleon’s mighty tomb. It was another spectacular campus of buildings, and the kids seemed quite interested in the war history, especially that of WWI & WWII.

We strolled back to Rue Cler for lunch at the Chinese restaurant from yesterday. Then we went next door for delicious gelato and coffee. We should have time to grab one last crepe before taking the Metro to the bus to the airport. Then we should land in Dublin around 11:15pm, only to depart about 12 hours later.

We have been talking with the kids today about all we’ve done and what they’ve enjoyed the most. Abbie’s list of favorite destinations from first to last goes France, Ireland, Scotland, and England. Jackson’s and mine goes France, Ireland, England, and Scotland. Reed’s is Ireland, France, Scotland, and England. The kids both loved the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Blarney Castle, and Alnwick Castle. I need more time to reflect on all we’ve done before I can create my list. I think we have lots to keep talking about and lessons to learn from this time away together. It has been a gift!

Spectacular sites, sparkles included

Mom and Abbie in the Notre Dame line
Mom and Abbie in the Notre Dame line

Today we checked off a few more items from our priority list for what to see during our visit to Paris. We enjoyed café au lait ($8 each!) and croissants around the corner from our lovely hotel and then set out for the Metro. We went to Île de la Cité to experience La cathédrale Notre-Dame, or the spectacular and enormous Notre Dame Cathedral. We considered going up the bell towers, but the line was very, very long, probably a 90+ minute wait (& no queue jumping privileges with our Paris Pass). We instead waited in a super long, but fast moving, line to go into the sanctuary. A service was in session, so we sat for a bit to take it in. Then we traveled around the outside hallways, admiring the architecture, stained glass, and monuments along the way. It truly is a marvelous structure – we learned that it took 182 years to complete!

After we viewed the inside, we walked along the Seine to view it from the outside. The gardens are beautiful, the flying buttresses are incredible, and the ornate detailing is phenomenal. I particularly like the “green guys” (i.e., the Apostles) climbing up the spire. In preparation for our visit, Abbie has been watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame repeatedly, and we did so together two nights ago in our hotel. We kept our eyes open for Quasimodo and Esmerelda! 🙂

Next we walked over to Sainte-Chapelle, Reed’s and my favorite cathedral that we’ve seen…like anywhere on the planet. It was built in the 13th century in a medieval gothic style, and it contains one of the most extensive collections of 13th c. stained glass anywhere in the world. We again didn’t have the line cutting privilege with our Paris Pass, but we met a nice woman and her 12-year-old daughter from Southern California while we waited. She approached us and asked about Abbie, as her daughter is also from China. It was fun to talk about our experiences of getting our precious daughters years ago.

Jackson's reaction to the grayscale window
Jackson’s reaction to the grayscale window

Sainte-Chapelle isn’t large like Notre Dame, and you actually have to go upstairs to get to the main chapel, which is kind of cool. The windows that surround it are amazing in both color and story, going through both Old Testament and New Testament stories. There seem to be hardly any walls connecting the windows…you are surrounded by colored glass. Unfortunately, about 1/4 of the windows were behind construction walls undergoing an extensive restoration process where the glass is removed, cleaned, and reinstalled, with new lead where needed. And this included the huge rose window, which was masked by scaffolding covered by a partition  with a grayscale image where the window would have been. 🙁 The kids were a bit underwhelmed, especially after waiting in line for awhile, and I can’t say that I blame them. Perhaps they will return one day to see the whole thing in all it’s glory.

We descended back down into the Metro (to the very cool Cité station) and took the #1 line to the Charles de Gaulle stop. We ascended from beneath the city to the majestic Arc de Triomphe. It really is a spectacular view, right from the escalator out of the Metro. We were right on the Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous streets in the world. We descended again to go through the tunnel under the huge rotary street that surrounds the monument. Up once again and we went straight for the queue – this time with cutting privileges. 🙂 We climbed the 284 stairs up one leg of the Arc to the top. This is one of the best views in all of Paris – the Eiffel Tower on one side, Sacre Coeur on another; the Grande Arche at La Defense on yet another. It was spectacular.

La Défense from the Arc
La Défense from the Arc

We descended the stairs down the other leg and then walked around the Arc. It really is hard to get it in a photo when you are right next to it – it is so HUGE, standing at 164 feet high, 148 feet wide, and 72 feet deep. It has ornate detailing on every surface and huge sculptures on its legs. It was commissioned to be built by Napoleon in 1806 – talk about a “Napoleon Complex!” Beneath the Arc is the tomb of the unknown solider from WWI, complete with a burning eternal flame and decorated with flowers. It really was an awe-inspiring experience, both for the kids at their first viewing and us at our subsequent viewing. One quick note, if you want a fabulous view of Paris from above, this is about the best place to go. You miss the long lines at the Eiffel Tower and the view, unlike Sacre Coeur, is unobstructed. 

Back on the Metro to our neighborhood to find lunch. We returned to Rue Cler, this time enjoying Chinese food (including beverage), for only €7.5 each; a truly remarkable deal. However, there was a gelato shop next door that we indulged in and blew the budget (€3.6 each!). It was well worth it and perhaps even better than our Grafton Street gelato spot in Dublin. I guess we are quite a bit closer to Italy here. 🙂 What was really nice is you could choose as many flavors as you wanted, even in our small dishes. I went with caramel, chocolate, pistachio, and coffee, and they shape it like a rose when you get it in a cone as I did (check it out at Reed and I also got really good coffee; I think we will return tomorrow.

The boys went back to the hotel, and us girls did a tiny bit of souvenir shopping. Abbie wanted some Eiffel Tower earrings, and we had been searching for non-dangling ones (my rule). We were successful, and I even found a little glass pyramid for Jackson, reminiscent of the ones at the Louvre (with the Eiffel Tower etched inside).

Speaking of which, we returned to the Eiffel Tower tonight a bit before 10pm to view it sparkling. On the hour, from just after dusk until 2am, it twinkles for five minutes. Lots of people gather in Champ de Mars, the long park between Ecole Militaire and the Tower. It is a festive atmosphere with music, drinking, and laughter. We found a patch of grass and joined the party. Right on cue, it dazzled the crowd…one of my favorite things about Paris: how it dazzles me.

Backing up a bit, we went out for dinner at the place we scoped out last night. It didn’t go so well. the snails were not a hit (Jackson did at least try one; Abbie chickened out), the cheese pizza had a LOT of funky French cheese on it (even made me gag), and the bill was exorbitant. Oh well…I guess we are doing our part to help out the French economy.

Tomorrow we will pack up, explore the city a bit more (Hotel des Invalides & Napoleon’s Tomb), and then head to the little Beauvais airport to fly back to Dublin before returning home Wednesday (not sure when we’ll have a chance to update the blog). Even though I would love more time in Paris, I think we all are ready to go home. Thank you in advance for your prayers for “journey mercies”!

Musées de Paris

Today we had the Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay on our agenda. We all slept well in our cozy Parisienne hotel, and we left around 10:30 for breakfast. We enjoyed croissants and coffees on Rue Cler again before we headed down to the Metro. Two short Metro lines later, and we ascended into the Louvre.

We had already purchased our four-day Paris Passes and had them mailed to us in Dublin. These passes allow entry into about 60 museums, cathedrals, and other exhibits around the city, and some come with “queue jumping” privileges. Now the first Sunday of the month is “free museum day,” which we knew ahead of time, so we expected big crowds. Our lovely passes came to the rescue for avoiding very long lines just to get inside. We were super glad to have them.

Energy level good... ready to go!
Energy level good… ready to go!

The Louvre contains over 14 kilometers of exhibit halls, and we had absolutely no intention of thoroughly covering them. Reed and I had been before, so we mainly set out to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo this time around. We made our way through the halls and crowds and were able to get good views of both. We also saw Wedding at Cana, Winged Victory, and many, many other paintings and statues along the way. I think the kids enjoyed the marvelous structure of the Louvre itself (originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II, & Louis XIV didn’t think it was grand enough so he moved out to Versailles!), as well as the cool glass pyramids (circa 1988-1993). Jackson is reading The Da Vinci Code now, so he had that additional interest when exploring.

We went on foot across the Seine and over to the Orsay. This is Reed’s and my favorite museum (and we went to a LOT of them on one of our trips here to come to this conclusion), but our children don’t feel the same (which is completely okay). 🙂 The Orsay is housed in what was a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. Again, the building itself is spectacular, especially its famous giant clocks. Like the Louvre, we had an efficient plan in mind, only hitting floors five and two for some of the really big names in the art world. Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh top the list. I was very moved seeing these famous pieces, while at the same time I felt guilty for not knowing more and teaching my children more about art.

We strolled along the streets near the Orsay to find a suitable lunch spot. It is quite expensive eating in Paris, as you can imagine, so we try our best to be a bit discerning (and we ask for tap water as a Coke is about $6!). This time it was Italian pasta, which was delicious. We stopped at a souvenir shop to get sunglasses for the kids (great Paris souvenir), and then we headed to the Metro for our next stop: Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur.

Basilica of the Sacre Coeur
Basilica of the Sacre Coeur

We love this bohemian neighborhood and the artsy feel it has (watch Moulin Rouge if you haven’t!). Again, it was super crowded and fairly hot at this point in the day (& the energy of the younger half of Team Mueller was fading fast). We walked up hundreds of steps between getting out of the Metro and then up to Sacré-Cœur, which is at the highest point in Paris. We tried to take in the view of the city amidst the crowd, and then we went into the famous domed basilica. The 4:00 service was just starting, so we sat down for a bit. The sound of the huge organ filled the space, and the nuns lead the crowd in song. We didn’t stay the whole time, but Reed and I were thankful to have a few moments of reflection in such an amazing holy setting.

We took the Metro back to our neighborhood, played some cards, and shared crepes for a snack (Abbie and Reed went with plain sugar while Jackson and I had Nutella and bananas). Later, Reed and I went around the corner for dinner, scoping out a place to take the kids tomorrow night. We brought home a baguette, French butter, brie cheese, and a chocolate tartine for the kids to share…they were delighted. And, the consensus was we like Irish butter better. 🙂

Tomorrow we have Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe at the top of our list, as well as a return to the Eiffel Tower around 10pm to see it sparkle. I could get used to this…j’adore Paris!