Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tunis, alHamdulilah


Sonia, Florian et moi à l'hôtel in Nabeul


Snapshot of the Tunisian "paysage" en voiture


When I arrived in Tunis I had no idea where to go, what to do, and my 3 semesters of Arabic I already knew would get me nowhere. Thank Allah, friendly AIESECers were there to pick me up from the airport! They brought me to my apartment in the center of the city to drop off my things and then we went for a coffee (قهوة I believe is the correct spelling in Arabic, according to the menu) and there I met my roommates for 3 months, other AIESECers from around the world. The sweetest Brazilian girl, Débora; a French-German, Florian; a quebecoise-française, Sonia; and a "regular?" Canadian (and by that I mean from english-speaking Canada), Ora. We speak a mixture of French French, Canadian French, German, American English, broken English, and Portuguese. And... I love my new mixed family. Someone has pictures on their camera of all of us, but I'll have to do some searching.

CAMELS! (duh, its the Arab world)

The Tunisians are all so welcoming and friendly. My "buddy" if that is the appropriate term who is somewhat specifically in charge of making sure that I am acclimated to my new life and feeling welcome, etc. is Belha (bel HHH a, with that strong Arabic H) and is amazing. They are all, very welcoming, and have spent countless hours with us both as personal helpers and as friends just chatting, showing us around, getting us phones, household items, bringing us to and from work, showing us where to get groceries, everything. Belha is especially great and I'm reallycomfortable with him already and I think he is the same with us. 

Delicious tunisian food


It's really fun/difficult to move between French and English all day, and speaking mostly English and some French with Ora, an even mixture of the two with Sonia, whose English is good but not great (not that my French is great, though, so no judgement), English with Florian because his French is great, but as a German, his English is exception for not being his native language, and a strang melange with Débora because she came to Tunis knowing almost no English OR French and by now has picked up a mixture of the two so that some things are easier to explain to her in English and some in French.

Débora, one of my new roomies, at the entrance to the Nabeul Fair

The second day after arriving all of the trainees (with the Tunisian AIESECers of course) packed up and went to a small nearby town called Naebel for an AIESEC conference, which at first I was reluctant for being exhausted and disoriented from switching lives from being an American in Paris to a white person in general in Arab Tunisia ;) It was great tho afterall, and I met about 30 AIESEC people from two LC's in Tunisia and by day the 5 trainees explored the city and at night we did the usual, some drinking (tho DEFINITELY not as much as in the States), some dancing, and some mingling. On Sunday we left the conference and heading back to Tunis to finish installing ourselves in the city (cleaning, unpacking, shopping, bonding, etc.) and getting a good night of sleep for our first days of work on monday! (Which I will write about in my next post... but since I'm there now I can say is AWESOME!)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tunisia, land of opportunity

So, I found out (not that recently, just lazy poster... shall I say 3 weeks ago?) that I will be in Tunisia for the summer doing a marketing internship for some non-profit through AIESEC! I will be living in the centre ville area in an apartment with a Brazilian girl, a German guy, a Swiss girl, and a Canadian... add me as an American and you can have your own little sitcom, now throw us all into a mediterranean city in the Arab world... oh my. At least, these are the details I have been told, so lets hope they are accurate. 

I leave in one week! Eek! Time to polish up that Arabic.... Tunis, here I come!

Alhamdulilah, my parentals are coming for this one week, so its a nice break between by French adventures and my Tunisian adventures, and most importantly, they can take all of the extra winter clothes and other excess that I wont be needing in constant 80 degree weather that I've collected in France back to the US for me! Score.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Morocco, Marruecos, Maroc, المغرب... any way you say it, this country rocks

Wow, seeing as my adventure in Morocco was a direct continuation of my adventures in España, and certainly far before traveling to Budapest, this post has been a long time coming... but, idol days spent picnicking under the Eiffel Tower or on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur and perusing the streets of the Marais or shopping on Rue de Rivoli takes its toll. Also, having adjusted to the no-work attitude of the Parisians has made me lazy and fabulous. I remember little specific details, but the enticing pictures of my week-long tour of this fab Arab world country must be given justice.

The view from our amazing hostel in Marrakech

Jewish cemetery in Marrakech

Streets of Morocco

Jen and Molly (and me!) in Marrakech

Morocco included the cities of Tanger, port city where our boat landed; Marrakech, the quaint, but somewhat touristy, village that looks exactly like you expect Morocco to look like with bazaars abound; Rabat, capitol of the country and surprisingly modern; and Casablanca, avoid until you need to fly out of the country (although complete with one of the most amazing buildings in all the world, Mosque Hassan II).

Karen, Anna, Amine (our Moroccan friend), and myself in Rabat

Karen and I continued our travels into this arid climate and mingled with the locals. In Marrakesh we met Jen and Molly... what luck! We just happened to be in the same city in Morocco at the same time! Such a small world! We bought hookahs, jewelry, and ate the most delicious foods for pennies on the dollar. Moroccan currency is called the "dirham"... plural "dirAAham"... and a safe estimation of the exchange rate is 1 USD = 10 dirAAham. Full (and I mean FULL) meals of chicken couscous or lamb tagine, with bread, soup, mint tea, Moroccan salad, olives, and drinks comes out to be about 40 dirAAham, a STEAL!!!

Coca-Cola... the universal Equalizer

Even McDonald's is getting in on the action

In addition to the food, the souks (bazaars) of Marrakech and Rabat, among others, are filled with everything you could ever want, at miniscule prices and fractions of their real cost. Ray-bans, you say? They have them, at a tenth of the price... Wall-E? just 80 cents! Hookahs? Around 15 euro...? Sounds great! The legitimacy of some of these items is questionable... but hey, if it looks like the real thing and works like the real thing, why not!?

Souks in Morocco, you can buy ANYTHING here!

View of the ocean from a cafe in Rabat

Perhaps my favorite picture of all time- Anna, Karen and I at a destroyed mosque in Rabat

After 3 days in Marrakech, Karen and I left Jen and Molly (who had their own plans to head to the beaches of Essouira on the coast) and moved on to Rabat. There we met up with Anna (that little world traveler) who was on her AIESEC internship teaching English. Having a well established network, she introduced us to Amine, who was an amazing host and let us stay in his (legit) palace of a home for the few nights we were there. We then got to meet all of the AIESECers from Rabat and Casa at an AIESEC conference, and that night we went to an Moroccan club in Rabat! Let me just say, Muslims during the day and veeery different from Muslims at night! :) But then, I am referring to the young crowd, and all young people love to rebel, go drink and smoke cigarettes and dance the night away... which is just what we did.

After our couple glorious days in Rabat, and after a long, eventful, and incredible two weeks together, Karen and I had to part ways. She was leaving Morocco one day earlier than I was, and so we said our goodbyes and she headed to the airport. Anna and I continued our rampage into Casablanca for the day to do some sightseeing (specifically checking out the amazingly gigantic Hassan II) and where late that night I would meet up with Priya, Summer, Mike, and Molly (who were on their own Spain/Morocco adventure) in a hostel where we would rest up for our journey back to Paris in the morning. With much sadness it was that I left Morocco, but after two weeks of traveling out of a backpack I was exhausted, dirty, and ready to get back to glorious Paris.

Mosquée Hassan II in Casablanca

I really need to note, Moroccans are the NICEST people you will ever meet. While I say this at the ripe old age of 21 and being traveled in only Europe, one sparing country (and be it one of the most liberal of all of them) in the Arab world, and the Americas, I still think it deserves mention. Besides the every-so-often semi-frequent annoying man in the souks who wanted to sell us their wares ("STUDENT PRIIIICE!!!") I stand by my statement. Every person we legitimately met and spent time with was welcoming, gracious, generous, and kind. And to think, they were once under French influence ;) JK France, je t'aime!


Magyarország: Home away from home

Budapest's beautiful Parliament (beats London's fsho)

Before I write anything, I must make mention of the most wildly fascinating and strange trucs one will ever come in contact with, that being the Hungarian language. For example, Hungary is Hungarian is not even a close substitute for the country's real name, that being Magyarország. Yes, sweet home Magyarország... imagine taking English, pushing around 15 words together into one giant unnecessarily-accented word and then posting it up all over a city.. this is Budapest. I quickly became fluent in the language however (toughest language in all of europe to learn? My ass!) With my skillful command of yo (good), sia (hello AND goodbye... hawaiians, where are you? You will feel right at home), and kus (thanks), I tore thru the town at breakneck speed. Those Hungarians didn't know what hit 'em.
Oh, I should mention that the rest of the words of the Hungarian language were filled in thanks to my lovely and beautiful travel partner, and fluent speaker of the Magyar language, Anna. I mean, she's actually Hungarian-American but props to that one. Without her, I would have been lost in a torrent of Eastern European madness, not to be confused with the more beautiful and more elegantly dressed Western European madness.

Anna and I in front of a statue of King Matyas in the old city

Néanmoins... Budapest is a gorgeous city, albeit not the most tourist friendly. There are more forms of public transport in this city than anywhere I have been, and somehow there are no maps. The metro, the less-underground subway, the Villemos, and buses make up a complicated and intricate panel of transportation alternatives to choose from, aside from the walking and the cheap taxis. In fact, Budapest is a little like Paris, except in place of the Seine is the Danube, and in place of the two rives are the two sides of the Hungarian city, Buda and Pest. But there are tons of old and beautiful buildings of similar architectural style, a Jewish area, lots of museums, a hoppin' nightlife, etc. Oh, but MUCH MUCH CHEAPER! Praise Allah!!

Among the things to see in Budapest (mostly in Pest, the more commercial and touristique side of the city) include Hero's Square, the Parliament, the old city complete with hilltop castle and fortress, the Terror House, more statues of late king Matyas than you can shake a stick at, gorgeous churches, Europe's largest synagogue, and.... TURKISH BATHS! Ok these things are like heaven-sent direct to Hungary. They were built when the Turks controlled the area... imagine going back in time to ancient Greece where beautiful bathhouses with enormous stone and marble architecture filled the city where people would come to congregate, and discuss politics, art, and other intellegencia interests. That is what the Turkish baths are like, except everyone actually wears a swimsuit (albeit one that is barely there) and instead of discussing politics you come to tan, swim, and relax in endless pools the middle of what looks like some elegant Athenian Forum. Magnificent.

Well ya no, Budapest has a somewhat sordid past during the Nazi occupation...

P.s. I met a legit Holocaust survivor, and his wife made Anna and I lunch. p.p.s. that man is Anna's grandfather and his wife, the sweetest old lady and grandmother to Anna. I have now seen Anna's family home in the States and well as her many residences on campus, her parents' (and late grandparents') bourgeois apartment in Budapest, the Carry Bradshaw-esque apartment she is currently living in during her summer stay in Budapest, and her OTHER grandparent's apartment (the.. ahem... Holocaust surviving ones). SUCK IT TRISH!!! ;)

Europe's largest jew temple, in Pest
Nightlife in Budapest is... AMAZING. THE coolest bars/clubs I have seen are all in the downtown area of Pest, with rooftop lounges and open-air patios and underground dance floors, definitely a place to go to party. Anna skillfully directed me around her city and we hit up one or two places each night. Among our adventures: Drinks with Jen, Molly, and Brit who were traveling thru eastern europe and just happened to be in Budapest, meeting (and being bought drinks) by a group of English rugby players and their Italian opponents in their upcoming match at a club and watching them scrum (skrum?) all the way from the first place to another club while Anna took pictures and controlled police traffic in her fluent Hungarian, pushing people off the main dancing stage at a bar so that we could command the dance floor while raging to favorites like Black Eyed Peas (Hungary is a little behind the times ok...), meeting Andrea and her friends who also just happened to be in Budapest to rage, and being taken to a secret club that only Hungarians know of on the 8th floor or so in an old abandoned-looking apartment building.

The last day of my Hungarian whirlwind, Anna and I traveled to a beautiful and quaint little village about an hour outside of Budapest by train called Szentandre ("Saint Andrew" I assume is what those Hungarians meant) where we walked thru small cobblestone streets, lunched at the most amazing little cafe owned by a native Hungarian who had lived in Seattle for 20 years, dined at a bourgeois restaurant along the Danube, and made to sure take plenty of pictures of paprika, the national spice of Hungary. Seriously, these people shower in that shit... they put it on, in and serve it with evvverryything. And I only thought it was used to top deviled eggs... well ya learn something new everyday dontchya?

Petit Chemin in Szentandre I thought was a cool photo... random, yea

On the way back to Paris (that being taxi shuttle, bus, plane, bus, plane, RER, metro) to reach my apartment, I ran into quite a cast of interesting characters. Oh, my adventures never end. This rambunctious group included:
1. A Greek man living in Australia with whom I chatted about kangaroos and their meat all the way from Zurich to Paris.
2. An American woman who teaches French in Paris and who lived in Morocco for 6 months and shared tips with me about living in North Africa.
3. An African man near the exit to CDG who thought I was French and whom I had to help direct to the nearest taxi stand.
4. A priest from Senegal who was confused about the RER B who thought I was French and thus whom, in French, I had to direct to the express train to take him straight to Gare du Nord, avoiding all the banlieue stops.
5. A British couple about our age who spoke only English and, being ignored by the real French people, I directed how to get thru Châtelet-Les Halles and on to the 1 to get to Port Maillot.
6. A really sexy French Arab mec on the 14 who was eyeing me up (and vice-versa of course)


All in all, successful taste of Eastern Europe.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Karen and Peter's Adventures in Spain

I'm really late in writing this... but oh well. I've likely forgotten a few things, and any entertaining anecdotes as well. Alas, my story begins. A few weeks ago was our first "winter holiday." There are more holidays coming up with time off... seriously, nobody does any work in this country. Karen and I had planned to do Spain, her current country of residence, and Morocco, an exotic locale I have wanted to see ever since being a wee little lad at Epcot. True. Our fabulous language skills came in handy, as I speak not a work of Spanish, but got us around with French (and limited Arabic) in Morocco. The hardest part of the trip was planning through Skype... so many bad connections, so little time.

View of Granada from the top of Alhambra

We had planned our escapade to take us through Barcelona, Granada, and Cádiz in Spain and through Tangier, Marrakech, Rabat, and Casablanca in Morocco... and that's just what we did, with a few minor mishaps. All in all tho, the trip of a lifetime.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Although Barcelona is often considered one of those must-go places for American tourists, I thoroughly did not enjoy it. The company was great (Karen and I are expert explorers in unknown lands) and the massive amount of Gaudí architecture around the city is astounding. However, seeing that the massive amount of Gaudí architecture is the ONLY thing that city has to offer to its visitors, it leaves much to be desired. I should add that many friends were there at the same time, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. I think that the reason I was rather annoyed is that I heard little to no Spanish my entire time there, the city is at all times overrun with Americans on study-abroad and spring breaks, and the clubs and bars are filled it JAPs of all shapes and sizes (no no, not Japanese lol). 

In Park Guell, Barcelona

Also, I suppose that if it was warmer and the beaches would open I would have had a totally different perspective of the city. Oh well, the trip for me increased exponentially afterwards and Karen and I stayed at maximum content level (a common theme) for the rest of our vacation. One saving grace actually was a friend told us about a must-see bar called "Chupitos" (literally "shots" in Spanish apparently) where they had the most amazing and long-ass list of shots... everything came on fire, in some weird contraption, or in a large black dildo... yea... you haven't seen a shot until you've seen the "Monica Lewinsky"... oh yea! Sadly, Lisa wasn't in town, which would have likely helped to make our time there much easier. Before leaving Barcelona, I have to note the extra, unnecessary language requirement of living in Barcelona.. Catalan. So unnecessary, and so infuriated. It looks like Spanish, sound like French, and is as useful as piglatin or Luxemburgian. All the signs are in Spanish and this alien language. Odd.

Alhambra, Granada, at sunset

Next up was Granada... well, sort of. This part of the story need not be told, lets just say that our one our flight because a 10 hour busride... thanks to... ahem.. someone. I forgive easily. When we did get to Granada, we had a fab time. Karen is an excellent tour guide of her city (she is studying abroad there this semester). Ok.. so.. TAPAS! I guess its a law in Granada that with EVERY drink, you get free TAPAS! Thats right, a glass of wine, TAPAS! A beer.. TAPAS! A soda...? TAPAS!! This city is great, especially since drinks only costs about 2 euro.. thats adds up to a good buzz and a full stomach for like 6 euro. Oh how I hate Paris... that will get you about HALF a drink, more or less, here. We did all the touristy things the city has to offer, including the Alhambra, a giant palace built during the Moorish rule of the country. We then ventured to the old Arab quarters of the city, and smoked sheesha at a hookah bar. A mini Morocco right in Spain, and still so much more to come. Oh, when we were leaving the hookah bar, I said goodbye in Arabic, and the man was so overjoyed he stopped me and wanted more... so I attempted the usual: my name, where I'm from, how I speak only a little Arabic, etc... and he was so impressed that he shook my hand and invited us to find his friends in Morocco and tell them we know him, and to make sure to write my name in Arabic for them when I meet them so they know I'm legit. Hmm, I wish people in Paris were that impressed with my French. At night, we had a real Spaniard take us out! Carlos was a kind host and payed for a few tapas even. Karen and I practiced rolling our "R"s after some booze.... which always helps Karen, for about 10 minutes. I think she got it and lost it within the same city block. I can only imagine how entertaining it must have been for a native Spanish speaker to hear two stupid Americans attempt something that he has known how to do since before he can remember. Annoying? Likely. Thoroughly amusing? Most def.

The happy couple in Cadiz

Our last city in Spain was Cadiz, a small coastal town in the west of the country. The week we were in Spain was Carnaval, the giant, nation-wide festival to celebrate partying. Karen and I headed to this little port on a Monday, thinking we may have missed the big partying of the weekend. Little did we know... Monday is the LOCAL's actual holiday, where everyone has off work and the entire town celebrates and gets RAGING drunk. Literally, the entire town was a shitshow, and I mean parents, teenagers, OLD people, and everybody in between. Every store was closed and converted themselves into a stand to sell giant bottles of beer for 2 euro a pop. Safe to say, we stocked up. Cadiz is known for its large bands of locals dressing up and riding around the town on trucks and singing their hearts out. The combination of this and the rest of the partiers in costume, and, of course, the booze everywhere made it feel just like a good old Madison Halloween. Oh, I failed to mention that we had no accommodations for our night in Cadiz. Nooowhere to go. So, we literally carried our backpacks and raged (Day-raged to be exact... the best kind of raging) until the wee hours. We arrived at 3pm, and about 1am we were getting a little tired. Luckily, we found some friends. Three girls, one American, one German, and one Belgian, who took us with them to a club. There are no open container laws during Carnaval, so our new friends took the opportunity to load us up on rum and cokes on the walk there. After a very, very eventful 20 minute walk (I'm gunna spare the details there) we arrived at a gigantic tent-turned-club, big enough to fit a thousand people... like, really big. We danced until about 5 when we decided to turn in... oh wait, we have nowhere to turn in. 

Raging/Singing in the streets
So, we said goodbye to new friends and headed to the bus station, where we were to wait until the 6:45 bus to Tarifa to catch the ferry that would take us to Africa! (It's weird that Morocco is in Africa I think).

More of the same

Spain: Check!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

GB is an island for a reason

I think I understand the view that many people hold... England is part of Europe, but it really isn't. To be safe, it isn't. Paris is the place all Americans dream to go; a land of romance, beauty, fashion, great food, great wine, the list goes on (to be sure, Paris is great, but I realize our expectations are set a tad too high in the New World). London is it's antithesis. Let me count the ways:

Westminster Abbey

1. Romance: Everyone in Paris is "en couple," for real, I made it a point to ask my new "conversation partner" actually; a beautiful French girl around my age who speaks beautiful French and speaks English with such a cute, thick accent I can't tell which language she's conversing in sometimes... but its ok, because at least she can understand my English, where as I have to have her repeat everything 3 times, once when she speaks French, again when she speaks it more sloooowly, and again in English with that cute French accent. Yea, go me. Anyway, in England I saw two, count it TWO couples kissing in 4 days. In 4 days in Paris, I saw more kissing couples than I may have (in real life and on screen) in my entire life. Also, when sweet nothings are not being passed around in French, it really takes the romance out of any situation now...

2. Beauty: While I was shocked at the amount of attractive people in London, it still comes to nothing when compared with the French. I just don't understand how they get like that. The Londoners on the other hand were not your stereotypical bad-toothed walking messes we sometimes make them out to be, although it should be said that the majority of attractive city-dwellers in London seemed to have a variety of ethnic flare to them, making me think that the beauty came from their Indian, Arab, Italian, or Asian side.

YES! Telephone Booths... here I come Ministry of Magic!


3. Fashion: I always felt overdressed in London, where as in Paris, I feel that when I have a hair out of place I will be locked up and jailed for the rest of my life because I wasn't able to conform perfectly to the immaculate fashion of those around me. This difference was felt with the same outfit in the two locales.

4. Great food: Again, the food in London wasn't as terrible as British food is made out to be, but let it be know that the food I enjoyed was not British, it was of some varying culture that just happened to be COOKED in the city of London. 

Either way, the people of London are absolutely the kindest people I have met in my life, so it makes up for everything ten times over. Oh, and speaking English again for 4 days was sooooo nice.

Changing of the Guard, marching toward the Palace

Ok, now for what I actual DID while there.... TOURIST!!! We saw everything, and I mean every monument, church, museum, street, etc. that is worth seeing. Parliament, Big Bend, the British Museum, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern, The Globe Theatre, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, St. James Park, Abbey Road, Herod's (far more amazing than Les Galleries Lafayette in Paris), and (most importantly) PLATFORM 9 and 3/4!!!! 

MY LIFE IS NOW FULFILLED!!!

I learned a lot of interesting facts from my hostel roommies (who happened to be from Australia, one specifically from Tazmania! Hey Tamara!) (Oh yea, that place really exists! I saw pics) For example, the weekend we were there happened to be the weekend of Waitangi, or the Kiwi's Independence Day (Kiwis are from New Zealand in case that isn't common knowledge). Now I'm not sure what Waitangi day is like in New Zealand, but in London there is a huge celebration where everyone gets drunk and dresses up as sheep or gets all muddy and takes off their shirt, or dresses up as any other number of animals, god only knows and rages around London... and that's just what they did. 

It was interesting to say the least, especially to note the stark difference between Paris and London. Oh.... the French.

(Oh.. p.s. Those red, double-decker buses really are EVERYWHERE)

I must add (thanks to Jen's comment) that the accent thing was amazing, I felt like I should have been riding a broomstick next to Harry Potter or having tea with Hugh Grant. Lovely!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Roadtrip!

This past weekend our group of 14 (eek.. I know) took a road trip around northern France. We rented two cars which could hold 7 people each... sounds perfect, right? LIES! We were driving two Toyota Corollas (of some European hatchbatch-variety)... yea.. 7 people? It worked ok, but with MUCH struggling. You've seen those little cars where like 10 clowns all come out and you wonder how in the world they all fit in there?.. Yea, that was us, but each with a bag of luggage for 3 nights, and we weren't driving in a parade, we were cruising the insane streets of Paris and out into the countryside of France for hours on end. (p.s. I now know the absolute necessity of the Parisian metro system... the amount of times my life flashed before my eyes are as numerous as the stars in the sky on a clear day in Rouen, France).

Inside Notre-Dame of Rouen

Our travel plans were this: Paris to Rouen, Rouen to Caen, Caen to the beaches of Normany and back to Caen for the night, Caen to Mont-Saint-Michel and then back to Paris. "Ooh la la" is an understatement (still, an expression I'm ecstatic to hear all over Paris. I had imagined it to be some ridiculous stereotype like that all Frenchmen wear burrets or that they all walk around with baguettes under their arms. Oh wait, that second one is true.. all Parisians literally walk around with french baguettes under their arms) Seriously though, I use the expression (of whose literally meaning or roots I am completely unclear) countless times every day, and it may be my hardest habit to break when I return to the States (although I started using it months before I left for the land of Sarkozy, Carrefour, and stylish scarves on every neck). On that note, I think it's some innate yearning of all Americans to call their own country "the
 States"... but they do not feel qualified to do so unless they have lived abroad, thus necessitating a shorted nickname for their own beloved "United States of America" which they interject into every small comparison of life at home and life à l'étranger. It's true.

I'm off subject.
It was amazing to get out of the city. (I know... one should be so lucky as to be able to say how nice it is to get out of Paris) But it was... Paris is unyielding in grayscale tones in January, and somehow the north of the country is already blissfully green, with rolling hills of grass and forests separated by petites villes and farm communities. The cities of Rouen and Caen are both beautiful. Like younger siblings of an accomplished older brother, villages throughout France are tiny copies of Paris, yearning to be just like their big bro. They aren't jaded in the way Paris is, and offer a friendly exuberance in the streets that even Parisians themselves might look down upon with a roll of the eyes. Regardless, the two smaller tow
ns we visited (which in honesty aren't THAT small at all) are, like everything else in this country, beautiful. There are cute, quaint little side streets that meander and old buildings (but old in the French way, not in the American way) that are as beautiful as those of Paris. Therer are boulangeries on every corner (bakeries in France are like Starbuck's in the US) and absolutely stunningly magnificent cathedrals. In Rouen, among other things, we saw the exact spot where Jeanne d'Arc (Oh, sorry... Joan of Arc) was burnt, as well as the church built near the spot. Caen had a castle as well, no big deal... a legit Medieval castle. Ugh.. we have along way to go America. (Although in all truth, while I'm loving France, I'm adoring the US more and more each day).

D-Day Cemetery

We also saw the beaches of Normandy, Omaha and Utah, where countless American soldiers gave their lives (that sounds cheesy, but the whole thing with the museum and cemetery is pretty moving). The national memorial cemetery to honor the Americans (as well as Canadians and British) who died that day is absolutely breathtaking.. rows and rows and rows of perfectly aligned white Latin crosses. (above) 149 of those gravestones are actually Stars of David, for those brave Jews who defended our country as well. 

SHALOM! ;)


Mont-Saint-Michel from a distance

Our final stop was, perhaps, the most amazing, unreal place I have ever been. Mont-Saint-Michel, an island city/cathedral/abbey, sits just offshore of the French countryside. Words can't really do it justice.. and aside from the Chinese/Korean/Japanese (I can't differentiate Asian languages well) being thrown around by numerous tour guides leading groups of black-haired tourists, I felt like I was thrown right back into the Middle Ages. Perhaps my favorite location to date.

A courtyard inside the Abbey

Moutards, tripe, starvation for the sake of beauty, Fanta light, galettes, cross-dressing bartenders, swarms of asian tourists defiling cathedrals, peace signs that aren't peace signs... so many inside jokes. I love roadtrips!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An American in Paris: Notes on the French

Obviously I have only been in Paris for three weeks... but after these three weeks I have come to a few general conclusions as a foreigner that I want to note...

1. The French love kissing.. its true, just like you hear, like in the movies, etc. And not in places you think either, but places that Americans might consider strange and somewhat obnoxious (especially for those without anyone in Paris to kiss). They s'embrassent in the Metro stops, on the metro train (where sometimes I find it hard to stand without toppling on an old, frail French woman), in the streets (they especially love to stop in front of people)... which brings me to my next conclusion on the same topic. I sometimes wonder whether the French enjoy their kisses (which often come between sweet nothings passed back and forth, audible enough for those around and can be anything from a peck to a minute of embrace), or if its an elaborate play, designed and coreographed by the French government to "garder l'air" of Paris as the city of love that we all believe as Americans who learn about Paris. This sounds silly, but the French government seems to have a pretty good control... on a lot of things that Americans would not find necessary. I'm not sure whether I believe yet that the French kiss for their own satisfaction or for the satisfaction of those around them, it seems to be too spontaneous and common, as if they are looking for a crowd of foreigners to stop and look and say "Oh my, Paris really is romantic, isn't it?" In addition, I find myself seeing all French lovers as having what we might call "puppy love." This applies not only to the youth, but through the young adult faze and even to people around the age of 50, who also seem to enjoy stopping in an alley or in the middle of a crowded street to kiss for no less than 25 seconds and whisper sweet nothings. The love seems to be an act, crafted so cunningly by some puppet master as a cruel joke to all those of us who had the misfortune to grow up anywhere else. No one in Paris appears to be single (this rule only applies to public places, not to bars or clubs however... for reasons that both make sense.. why would a happy couple frequent clubs, and also for reasons I have yet to understand). The puppet master is always at work, and dare I say does a very fine job. Don't turn to quickly or you may bump into two people with locked lips.

2. I've noted this before, but the French are eternally cold... which is perfect since they can do nothing without a fabulous scarf wrapped around their necks. The problem is, they seems to bring it upon themselves. Stores, cafés, schools, and even bars are cold in Paris, so they are forced to wear layers.. which sadly hides their thin and beautiful bodies. Its not only that they are cold, but that they seems to fear, loathe, and admire those who feel differently. This applies especially to exercise, for which the French seem to have a predisposed distaste for. Example: Gyms in Paris cost around 300 euro a month... if that doesn't stop you from exercising, I don't know what will... additionally, the gym at our school is a pathetic excuse for a place to work out. As I run down the Promenade Plantée, I notice I am the only one wearing shorts... the few French who are running (for excercise) are bundles up in sweatshirts or sweaters, pants, gloves, hats, you name it. Now I am writing this as of January 28th, but it is around 40 degrees, easily running weather in small shorts and a long sleeved shirt (underarmour perhaps) in the States. Not only is it the attire, but the looks I get for wearing what I am are a mix between horror, curiosity, jealousy, and confusion (as if to say... "how are you not on the ground in a block of ice poor boy?")

3. The French are not rude, as I will attempt to explain, but they come across as such. (they are instances where of course they are rude, by any definition) The French instead have a notion of time, abstract from any real sense of the word, and certainly abstract from any understanding that Americans hold. Often there are instances where being American does seem to warrant extra rudeness, but often I notice behavior to ALL people, even to the French, that I would consider rude by American standards, especially when it comes from people in the service industry who we would expect must be extra helpful and polite. For the French, time standing is different from time moving. When they stand (and sit), time does not actually move forward, and if it does, minutes last hours. Thus, meals in France (nice ones at nice places) take hours and have many courses. There is no hurry to eat for the customers, or to serve (for the waiters and staff). In lines, people seem fairly patient, even though one usually waits at least 10 minutes, sometimes even 20 or so, to check out at a grocery store (keep in mind, people don't buy cartloads, they buy 5 to 10 items.. in America there would be no lines at all for this). When they move, time apparently flies by at light speed, as if they are all on fire and its following them and the only way they can avoid a terrible and tragic death is arriving at their destination and sitting down. They have no time for people in the street who are in their way (unless of course, refering to my first point, they must stop and kiss... its as essential as a glass of water apparently). If they don't get from point A to point B in half the time it would take an American, they feel shame greater than a traditional tribal family must feel when one of their own takes a spouse from a rival village. One would assume that slowing down the moving and speeding up the sitting would suffice as a perfect middle ground, but this is not so, for reasons I do not yet comprehend. 

4. After a few weeks in Paris, you might be inclined to think that the city sits amongst a vast desert, three times as large as the Sahara, because for some reason, water in this town is as hard to find as the lost Ark. First of all, there are not bubblers (water fountains for those not from Milwaukee)... but thats not even the issue here. Sitting down at a French restaurant, water is not immediately brought to your table (GASP! I know... as Americans we are used to heaping glasses of ice water immediately as we enter a restaurant and never being able to finish it). Instead, you must ask (with great care) for "de l'eau" in a carafe. Make sure to ask for it in a carafe or they will bring you expensive Evian.. no, no, you want the free stuff. The problem is, they bring you but a small wine bottle of tap water, often enough for only 4 small wine glasses of water that sit upon every table in Paris... even when you have 6 or 7 people. Apparently, Paris is always in a drought, because to get another bottle is a task so epic, the combined might of all of Mount Olympus MIGHT be enough to force your French waiter/waitress to bring you another carafe... ten minutes after you asked. And don't even THINK about ice.. no, in France there is NO ice (this is an overstatement of course) but it appears they only enjoy filling your glass with ice when you get a 15 euro drink from a bar or club, diluting it enough to taste like.. well... water and ice). Even McDonald's appears to be suffering from constantly broken ice machines. It's all very unsettling. Safe to say, when you leave a restaurant in Paris, you are as thirty as a camel and now you have the difficult task of sticking it out until you return home or buying a 3 euro (5 dollar) bottle of Evian at the nearest market.

5. One positive thing... you don't have to leave a tip! When you see a price, both tax AND tip are included. This is, beyond imagination, one of the most amazing things about living abroad. (It is also why American waiters/waitresses hate foreigners). When you go out to eat in America (of course I'm speaking about a high school/college age) with your friends, the most difficult task is figuring out the tip, who has enough singles or change to leave, and then who owes who a dollar because they only have a $20. In Paris, NO MORE! The price you see is the price you pay. That's all I have to say about that... just in case you think you have to leave a tip, you don't (although it's appreciated.. its rare)... so don't... you're already paying up the ass as it is. Oh, this applies to drinks at bars too... WOHOO!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Adventures in the night

Thursday we went back to Le Club Mix for another raging dance party... I think its already becoming tradition. After all, its free for foreigners.. and I do love being foreign. Being a little less drunk this time had its benefits. For example, I learned (which I failed to recognize the last time) that the bathrooms are completely open and unisex.. its one big room with urinals, stalls, and sinks... with a turnstyle to get in and out. People can literally watch you pee. How fun. I also noticed that the platforms where you dance are much smaller than previously thought.. they fit about 5 people on each.. we somehow managed to cram like 10 tho.

The night was already fabulous when they started playing, who else, Britney. Europeans love Britney, and American pop music in general, but they are always behind the times. Songs we raged to a few years ago are popular now (and they think they are so far ahead of the Americans.. hah) This night however seemed to be the exception. Womanizer and Circus premiered, to my pleasure, along with a mélange of Katy Perry and T-Pain. Still, the climax (seriously) was when Jump Around came on... now imagine taking all of the students in madison jumping to this song, and turning them into beautiful europeans, hot and sweaty in a huge dance club at 2am in the morning... yea... Priya managed to push some rando girl off of the dance stage to make room and view to other Madisonians who would understand the hype. 

Yesterday Anna came! FORMIDABLE! bearing gifts of expensive liquors. Very excited after our super-Parisian street greeting like two long separated lovers, we started drinking at around 6... very early here.. and with Jen, headed to meet up with the rest of the people at our school for free beer! Rage. The basement of our school is a cool cheap bar where students hang out to pregame for the bars, which are a pregame for the clubs. Also, you can smoke in here.. like the only place left in Paris. After we proceeded on to random bars in the Bastille area, meandering our way around Paris à nuit. Being sure to stop for gyros for sustenance before dancing all night, we stuffed ourself, and headed to the club. It was a big absynthe party (although bottles were 150 euro so we still stuck with cheaper drinks.. still 10 euro each.. ugh.. this city) and throwing out that we are students at ESCP (ok Jen and Anna faked it) we got to skip the cover charge of 20 euro.. love it) 

Lets just say that the night ended with Anna, Kabir, and I literally walking miles back home because Paris is full of taxis at night, just no empty ones. Literally, maybe 200 taxis passed us all full. Of course the metro stops at 2:00am also, bullshit, so that was not an option. Interesting to note, a few boulangeries were open at 3:00am... which I dont understand, seeing as they bake things in the morning, no less than 20 hours beforehand. I guess thats drunk food for Parisians.. croissants and crèpes. Why are they all so in shape..? When we arrive chez nous, Jen (who left after us) is there to get her keys from my room. 

That night, Anna and I spooned.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hey Michelle, lookin' good!

This was my first week of class. I have three... Advertising and Media on tuesdays at 1:30, Marketing Research on wednesdays at 1:30 and Int'l Business Management at 9am on thursdays (such a big workload I know). The classes are three hours long which is no fun, but having them once a week is grand!

We walk into our first class yesterday where a harsh German of 30-ish pushes (more like flips) his greased hair out of his eye and greets us in an unmistakable accent. The class is decent, it appears there is no homework in any class, just a project and one exam. Oh, and because we can miss two of 10 classes without penalty.. I could in theory take two more weeks off of school. Europeans learn nothing apparently.. and this is one of the TOP business schools in Paris. Yikes!

Today was Marketing Research where a relaxed and almost too-friendly Brit greets us.. until we learned he wasn't a Brit at all, but another German. His accent really threw me. He, however, is nothing like his comrade, he waited about 15 extra minutes for more students to arrive late and strolled round the class leisurely for the remainder of the 2 hours and 45 minutes left, with the exception of the three breaks he gave us to chat amongst ourselves and get coffee.

By the way, Katie and I came to a general conclusion that France smells like three things and only three things at any given time. Cigarettes, urine, or fresh-baked croissants. The first is a general haziness of Paris.. and it may be more of a feeling than a real physical actuality. The second is almost entirely contained to the metro... which is odd because the metro is highly efficient in terms of trains and general transport and often nicely decorated. The third is more often than not it seems, since there is a boulangerie/pattiserie on every corner and on every corner that there is not, there's a brasserie/café which sells pains et croissaints et tartes.

Shopping in Paris is unmatched. They have Soldes (sales) every year in January and June (I think... it may be may.. or july) where everything is 50% to 70% off... H&M is already cheap.. try it now. There are, of course, thousands of new, Europe-only stores that are even better and more fab with sales equally as good. Converting to dollars sucks... but I try not to think about that. I found an amazing leather messenger bag for 24 euro... it was on sale.. and the woman rang it up wrong. Score! Suuchhh a big score. My purchases for that day also consisted of socks, a scarf, and a button down short for 11 euro. yes.

Well, last night was Obama's inauguration. For those in the States, an 11am or noon viewing must have been thrilling. However, en France, his speech came at 6pm.. a little early to start partying for the Parisians.. but that didn't stop the Americans. 

We heard of several bars and a club actually throwing a party Obama-style.. I guess they do love him over here, so at 5:30-ish we headed off to find some booze and TV showing our beloved new halfzie Barack. After much drinking (especially by me) and waiting for some friends to arrive (a homeless man pulled the emergency stop on the metro.. delaying them by an hour) a few of us proceeded to a club called Queen for the Obama party. It may have been the strangest thing I have ever witnessed. A usually gay bar on the Champs-Élysées in Paris transformed to a giant dance hall blaring American 60's, 70's and 80's music to miles of streaming American flags and a GIGANTIC TV screen of Barack and friends. Fun, but safe to say it got old. This is a place to rage until 7am usually, but we called it quits after a couple hours. I told the bounces who asked us why we were leaving so early "Il y a TROP de musique américaine ici" to which he replied "Are you not American (translated)?" .... hahaha... yes, yes I am bouncer/coat check man... but how do I explain. Oh well.

Rachael, I owe you a drink just for being there to endure all of that with me ;)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day of Rest

After the weekend, a nice 1pm wake up time was just what the doctor ordered. Paris seems to be faithfully gloomy, minus the one beautiful day we experience when we saw the Sacré-Coeur. On the other hand, its around 40 degrees, where as in Wisconsin its about -20. One should also remember its the middle of winter. Its supposed to get up to 50 tomorrow!

I went for another run on the Promenade Plantée, so beautiful. I ran this elevated parkway (the only one in the world, complete with wooden archways crawling with vines, perfectly groomed hedges and trees, and a view of the absolutely picturesque apartments of Paris) for a total of 2 minutes when I went down hard, and what should have been a disaster for more than one bone in my body. It was slippery.. and I was jamming to Rihanna... Of course this happened in front of no less than 10 French people, and they all came over to check on me. A kind old couple approached me in my shock (it was good that I looked in shocked because for half of the things they said that I couldn't understand I now had a good excuse). The woman rummaged through her purse and gave me a kleenex for the blood on my knee and elbow (the second i would only realize until later). Nonetheless, the French people strolling through the gardens were quite sympathetique to me. Wearing my shorts I was so out of place on the rest of my run. The French, being eternal cold, do not wear shorts, not even to exercise in apparently... although I'm being hasty in making my judgments since I have never lived here for spring or summer.

The day looked up and I had plans to meet my friend Jen who just arrived in Paris for the semester a few days ago. We met near the Marait area... where the Jews and the Homos love to mix. The most beautiful people in the world congregate here to shop, walk the small beautiful cobblestone streets, sit at cafés, and just generally be seen. And beautiful, even for Paris. Wow. Luckily, Jen's friend also speaks French, so the three of us with our adequate knowledge of the langue maternelle of our host country strolled the streets of Paris for a couple hours conversing in the native tongue. Formidable!

When I returned home, we booked our train tickets to London in two weeks or so... its hard to know or care what day it is here with our thus-far leisurely lifestyle... which is not a bad thing at all.

Promenade Plantée/Rage

Promenade Plantée... Look it up on wikipedia or something... It is right above my apartment, and it is where I now run. OMG

So last night we partied on the Seine.. yea no big deal. A dance party on a cruise boat going down the Seine River in Paris with a bunch of European students. What did we do to deserve this shit?! Soooo ballerrrr