Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Very Belated Spring Break Travel Post: Rome, Part 3: London?

Hi! So, it's taking me a really long time to sit down and write, but I AM still working on putting my Spring Break travels into blog form, one city at a time.

Last Time: I spent an AMAZING three nights with my four amazing friends running around Rome, including ridiculously cheap coffee, seeing the Pope in person, and a LOT of gelato. It was going to be hard to tear myself away.

This time: Off to London to visit my cousin Kayla Epstein! At least, that’s the plan.

Valerie, Jackie, Monica and Candy were going to stay in Italy and explore Florence and Venice, but I couldn’t pass up the fortuitous opportunity to visit my cousin in London who just HAPPENED to be studying there the same semester as I chose to study abroad. Candy and Monica were at Monica’s aunt’s house, and Valerie and Jackie were still sound asleep (it was around 6AM after all) a I crept out of my hostel room in order to check out and make my way to London.

If you’ll recall, the guy at the front desk had advised me the previous day that I could save a lot of money if I simply caught an airport bus in the city rather than paying the 30 Euros the hostel would have charged to drive me to the airport directly. In this conversation with the front desk guy, we had discussed 1) the specific hour of my flight, 2) the time that I would need to be at the airport by, and 3) the time that it would take me in the morning to walk to the Rome Nord train stop, since I would have to leave the hostel so early that the hostel’s shuttle bus wouldn’t be running, which, when you combine these three things, means that he SHOULD HAVE understood that I would be CHECKING OUT of the hostel reeeeaaallly early in the morning.

SO, imagine my surprise when I leave my room, (already having been nervous about waking up in time, getting to the Rome Nord station by walking before it was even light out, catching the Rome Nord train, finding the airport bus in the city, and then making it to the airport on time), and the lights are completely OFF at the hotel’s reception area. The whole area is deserted, except for a young Italian gentleman who comes up to me in order to communicate in very broken English that the reception area DOESN’T OPEN UNTIL 7AM, which is at least an hour AFTER I have calculated that I need to check out by in order to catch the bus to he airport. I’m already freaked out and really upset that the guy the night before didn’t think it was necessary to tell me this fact, so I tell this guy that I desperately need to check out. To which he replies that he doesn’t understand OR speak English. I guess the site of me holding my luggage, flapping my arms from side to side in order to show that I needed to be on an airplane very soon, and frantically waving my credit card in his face was enough for him to take pity on me, because even though he obviously did NOT work in reception (he could barely even find the light switch in the office), he managed to help me check out despite the language barrier. It was kind of a struggle (i.e. he had to ask me how much I owed the hostel, and then I had to show him how to use the credit card machine), but in the end I had said “grazi” about a million times, he had said “Good luck with”, adding the“flying” motion with his arms that I had used early, and I was on my way in the dark towards the Primo Porto Rome Nord train stop.

Note to self: No matter what, DO NOT LET YOURSELF BE SEPARATED FROM YOUR PASSPORT. If Jackie hadn’t asked if we could leave our drivers’ licenses instead when we checked in, and if this young man hadn’t been there to take pity on me, I wouldn’t have been able to get on my next flight with my passport still locked up in the hostel office. I know it sounds like an obvious piece of advice, but when you are SO EXCITED to be arriving someplace, sometimes you forget the basics.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I walked through the dark on the side of the Roman road for much longer than I had been told I would need to, had the first Euro I put in the machine eaten, and eventually got on the Rome Nord train (which was late) towards Termini. Still worried about getting to my flight on time at a faraway airport, but mostly because I was thinking back on three of the most amazing days in my life and because I was sad to be leaving Jackie, Candy, Monica and Valerie, made me start crying, and I couldn’t stop until I reached the Termini stop.

This was the slightly harder part, because while I knew that the bus picked up from Termini, it was very obviously a terminal for a LOT of public transit vehicles in the middle of the busy city, and I wasn’t sure exactly where I should be going. I asked some officials if they could help me in English, and they were really nice and gave me really specific directions, which I only kind of understood. I ended up walking in a straight line for a while past a lot of city buses, until after what seemed lie ages I finally found the row of airport buses. Big sigh of relief. I ended up choosing a different, cheaper bus company than I had originally been looking for, and as I sat down on the bus, this amazing feeling of satisfaction washed over me. A much bigger feeling than if I had had no trouble at all finding what I was looking for. The bus driver took my 4 Euros and told me he liked me (Italians!) and we were off.

It turns out that I had planned on being WAY to early for my flight, because I ended up having a lot of time to kill once I got there. I had had to leave the hostel so early that I hadn’t had time for caffeine, so I decided that my almost-heart attack in the morning meant that I definitely deserved an overpriced cappuccino at the airport bar. BUT, Italy pulled through AGAIN, because my (amazing) cappuccino only cost 1 Euro 40 (!!) and my croissant only 1 euro. As much I was thrilled to be seeing my cousin in London, it was this kind of thing that made it hard to leave Rome.

Next time: LONDON!!!!!!!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Very Belated Spring Break Travel Post: Rome, Part 2

LAST TIME: We had just met up with our tour guide (in this blog, her name is spelled Illyria) and our driver Roberto. Our first stop: Castel Sant Angeleo.

Illyria told us to wait on the bridge, and she returned right away with tickets for all of us. She flashed her badge at the entrance gate and whisked us past everyone else in line.

She was an amazing tour guide, with an amazing Italian accent. She had something to say about everything we walked past, and whenever a large group of people would get in our way, she would say, “So much drama!” (except it sounded better than than because it was in a heavy accent). Whenever she deemed something unimportant, or that we were done looking at it, we would hear, “Alora, we don’t care”, as she shuffled us on to something new. The Castel Sant Angelo was really great, and our tour ended on the roof. Illyria points in the distance, and says, “You see how a crowd is gathering over there in Saint Peter’s square? It’s because the Pope will be appearing out of his window in 15 minutes. Maybe if we move quickly we can get there.” I knew the Pope was going to be there, because in trying to decide our Rome schedule, the five of us had agreed that since none of us had an intense need to be blessed by the Pope, we might as well go on Monday, when he wouldn’t be appearing out of his window and when perhaps the crowds would be smaller. And when she said that maybe we could get there, I assumed she had meant Maybe by the time we climb all the way down from Castel Sant Angelo and fight the traffic that it will take to get towards St. Peter’s, we’ll see the crowd.

Except that somehow there must have been a space-time continuem thing that happened right then, because within those fifteen minutes we had somehow: reached the bottom of Castel Sant Angelo, found Roberto in his van among the crowd at the bottom, hopped in, beat traffic, pulled up almost as close to the actual Basilica as possible, were pushed out of the van by Illyria who dragged us to the front of the crowd at St. Peter’s square, and caught our breathes at the exact moment that the Pope appeared in the window. It was kind of amazing timing, and I still don’t know how it happened.

It was kind of cool to see him in person, just because St. Peter’s square was the last place I actually thought I’d be at that particular moment. There were a LOT of people, and he read his blessing in a whole bunch of languages (not Hebrew though, hmmmm….). We couldn’t understand his Italian, obviously, but when Candy and I heard him say something about Cappucinos, we were sure that he was encouraging us to drink more coffee while in Rome.

So, that was pretty amazing, to put it mildly, and we were all still kind of shocked to have just been a part of that little adventure, when we loaded back into the van for our tour of the Forum and Palatine Hill.

Illyria was really enthusiastic about everything, especially about a particular kind of marble on the ground that was her favorite kind, which she spat on and rubbed for us so that that we could see the true color. Her information on the Forum was really interesting, and my favorite part came near Caesar’s cremation spot, where she was telling us about how Caesar’s assassins thought things would be awesome when he was dead, except that they didn’t realize that maybe the Roman people actually LIKED him, except that she described it in her heavy Italian accent as “Houston, we have a problem!”.

After the Forum, the tour was over (she had stayed with us an extra hour longer than she was originally supposed to), and told us that she had no doubt that we were hungry. We thanked her a lot, and then went across the street to sit down for the first time all morning and eat. It was a more amazing morning than I ever could have hoped for. We had little bit of time before we had agreed to meet Roberto (he was going to drive us back to Monica’s Aunt’s house), so we explored near the Capitoline for a little bit.

We met Roberto in his van back at the Piazza Navona, and his wife was with him. He asked us if we wanted to see a surprise before he drove us back, so we of course said yes and he drove us up a few hills into a more residential area. He parked and we got out of the van, while he pointed out the nearby Church where he and his wife had been married many decades before, but that wasn’t the surprise. He led us to a building where a long line of people were standing. Every ten seconds, one of them would look through a keyhole and then move. It was very strange. It turned out that the keyhole offered a perfect (though tiny!) view of the dome of St. Peter’s! It was really cool, and really nice of him to drive us up there for the end of an already amazing tour.

Monica’s Aunt lives not-far outside of the City part of Rome, and after going to the trouble of arranging this amazing tour for us, she still wanted to have all of us over for pizza. As I said in the last post, she’s the Egyptian Consul in Italy (i.e. second onto the Egyptian ambassador). Basically, Monica’s family were the nicest people ever. Her aunt introduced us to her three sons as soon we got inside, but apologized because the 4-year-old was apparently extremely shy, so he wasn’t there to meet us at the door. Soon after, we followed Monica into a bedroom, where she and another cousin we each crouched on either side of the bed, because the shy one was actually hiding underneath. It was really funny to watch, because as they tried to lure him out, things like, “I can feel a leg!” were shouted between them. So cute.

Her aunt served us pizza and drinks and we all sat out on their balcony, where she asked us about our day, and then told us stories about being a Consul. She’s responsible for all 64,000 legal Egyptians living in Italy, in addition to three times of the number of Egyptians living there illegally. Because of geography, Italy is the gateway from Egypt into the rest of Europe, which is why there are so many Egyptians who come over. We also got to hear about why we shouldn’t go to Sicily (the police have no power), about the time when some Egyptian ships sunk off the coast of Italy and how TV channels in Egypt broadcast her work cell phone and how much of a nightmare that was in the midst of trying to deal with the disaster, and about how the time when George Clooney came to Egypt and he had personally chosen her to be his guide. She was incredibly warm and made sure that we used their internet while we were there so that we could talk to our parents if we needed to, and made sure we ate a lot of chocolate. Around 7 something, we all piled into her car because she wanted to drop us off in the Trestevere for a few hours, which, again, was super nice of her.

The Trestevere was really cute, with a lot of little restaurant and coffee bars. I had been with my parents the last time, but this time we stayed on a different side of the river. We got gelato (mmmm), and then decided to go to a bar to get coffee. We ordered four cappuccinos (we were in Rome, after all, so we had to splurge!), and were absolutely SHOCKED when the total bill was only 4 euros. As we walked out, we were all kind of buzzing just from that, since in France a SINGLE cappuccino is 4 Euros. Apparently Pope Benedict had blessed our coffee after all!

We were all in a good mood after that, we walked along the Tiber for a little and then returned to the area where we had been before. At one point, Jackie suddenly started talking excitedly to the group of three people walking in our direction, and it turned out that she had recognized one of them because more than 2 years earlier, he studied abroad at Berkeley and had been in a history class with her. SMALL WORLD. At first he didn’t say anything, except, “Jackie? No, it’s not possible!”. It was kind of an amazing occurrence, especially because while he WAS Italian, he wasn’t even FROM Rome. He and his friends just happened to be there. I think the best way to describe this particular day had been one high after another (i.e. amazing surprise guided tour, amazing Pope sighting, amazing get-together with the Egyptian Consul of Italy, amazingly cheap cappuccino, amazing run in with someone Jackie thought she would never ever see again). It was pretty awesome day. Daniel and Jackie made plans to get together the next day, and the Monica’s aunt picked us up. She insisted on driving us back to our hostel, and Jackie and Valerie and I went to bed still on a high from the day’s events.

The next morning was Monday, our last full day in the city. We had originally planned on going to St. Peter’s and the Vatican extra early, but Illyria told us that everyone did that, so we decided to go later in the afternoon instead. Jackie an Valerie and I met Monica and Candy around 9:30, and we got kind of lost going to Santa Maria Della Vittoria (I wanted to see the St. Theresa statue again) and then to the Capuchin monk church, but we eventually found them and it was good. Earlier, I had been complaining about the first time that my parents went to Rome, and about how they got really into Jewish-style fried artichokes, and about how it seemed like for a whole year after that, that was all we ate at home. Except that my friends thought that fried artichokes sounded good, so we ended up making plans to go to the Jewish ghetto for lunch that day before we went to Vatican City. We ended up in the Jewish district right before lunchtime, and nothing was open so we went into another bar and ordered cappuccinos. This time: only ninety centimes.

We apparently still had the Pope’s luck following us. We looked at a few menus and eventually chose a restaurant at random, because they all looked pretty much the same, and because I couldn’t actually remember which restaurant I had eating at with my parents two years earlier. But the one that we chose ended up being really good (mmmm, pruscuitto and artichoke pizza…NOT very kosher).

I went up to the register to pay, and as I did, gasped audibly because on the wall next to the register was a signed picture of Ray Stevenson, i.e. TITUS PULLO FROM HBO’S ROME, i.e. MY FAMILY’S FAVORITE THING EVERY AND ONE OF OUR FAVORITE CHARACTERS. And I was especially excited to see it because it’s not like he’s super famous or anything, so it’s not like I see a photograph of him in every restaurant, you know? Anyway, apparently the waiter who was standing by heard me, because he goes (heavy Italian accent and all), “I know him! He’s a personal friend!” To which a choked a little said, “Really???”, to which HE replied, “Yes! He and his wife live upstairs! They have two beautiful boys!”. Then he asked me if I had a message to send him, and I really WANTED to say something like “Thirteen!”, but I was afraid that maybe for some reason the waiter wouldn’t catch my reference (it’s something that comes up in the show a lot, for those of you who have never seen it), and that he would think I was crazy or something, so my eyes got really watery and I just said, “Just tell him I’m really happy!” (i.e. something that didn’t really make sense but definitely described my feelings). I don’t remember what happened right after that because I was still so excited that we HAPPENED to choose that restaurant, but eventually we ended up in Vatican City.

The good news was that the walk along the Vatican’s walls took longer than the walk to get in to the building (continuing on our theme of nothing having a real line during our entire trip). I don’t really need to go on about the Vatican because I’ve been before, and because it kind of goes without saying that it’s Pretty Cool. I took a lot of pictures of the ceilings.

Valerie and Jackie and I accidentally got separated from Candy and Monica, but it worked out because we needed to walk to the front anyway in order to find Jackie’s coat which we were hoping was still in the bathroom where she had accidentally left it (it was). This meant that we had to backtrack back along the wall in order to get to the Basilica to meet Monica and Candy, so the three of us decided that a reward was in order because of the hot weather (i.e. gelato). There was a place across from the Vatican walls that had been recommended to Jackie, and for the amazing price of 2 Euros, we got three HUGE scoops of three flavors, AND whipped cream (to put it in perspective, ordering gelato in France met a third as much gelato for the same price, and nothing on top, because for some reason the French are especially stingy with their whipped cream). So basically, we were very happy.

We eventually met Monica and Candy in front of St. Peter’s (they had climbed the dome while they waited for us), and went inside. I don’t really need to describe St. Peter’s for the same reasons that I don’t need to describe the Vatican. But again, Pretty Awesome.

It was really hot when we got back outside, and we were really excited about our new Gelato find, so we took Monica and Candy and went again. Then the five of us headed back to the city, hung around for a bit, and eventually Monica and Candy when back to Monica’s aunt’s house. That left me, Jackie and Valerie, and our plan was to eat dinner with Daniel, his friend and his girlfriend, who were both in town with him. Eventually the three of them found us, which meant that we got to eat in a REAL Italian restaurant with REAL Italians! The day just kept on getting better.

Afterwards, the three of them walked us to our Metro stop, and even though no one was the least but drunk, the two boys REALLY wanted to sing. We told them that if they wanted us to sing with them, it would obviously have to be songs in English since we didn’t know Italian, so the two of them started singing the first song in English that came to their minds: Camptown Races.

It was a long walk, so there ended up being a lot of time for this kind of ridiculousness. Daniel’s friend REALLY wanted me and Valerie to sing with him, but we told him that we only really knew musicals…….so he began to loudly belt Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita with his accent and we strode down the street at 10 something at night. This was definitely NOT the kind of behavior I expected from young Italian men, to say the least. He kept suggesting different pop arts that we could sing together, but Valerie and I had to keep reminding him that we unfortunately only really knew music from the theater. He goes, "Ah, King Lear!", and we said, "Yeah! But it doesn't have any music in it...", to which he started singing 'The Circle of Life', at which Valerie and I broke out laughing hysterically and told him that he probably meant The Lion King. He was kind of embarrassed at his mistake, but it totally made our night.

We eventually said our goodbyes, got on the metro, and caught the bus back to our hostel exactly as it took off. The entire day had been an amazing whirlwind, and I was really devastated to be leaving Rome and my friends in the morning.

NEXT TIME: Almost not getting out of the hostel OR Italy, Kayla Epstein!, LONDON, and enough coffee to make up for what I was missing out on in France.

Nun with gelato :)

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Very Belated Spring Break Travel Post: Rome, Part 1



Okay, ROME. I feel as though I've already recounted this story to everyone, but I have to remind myself that unless I've seen you in person, I haven't had a chance to do so! This is going to be split into multiple parts because it is so epic.

Last time: PARIS. We turned our taxi around and backtracked through Montmartre at 4:45 in the morning to pick up Monica’s cell phone, which she had accidentally left under the pillow of our hostel (Luckily for Monica, she is completely charming and impossible to be upset at).

The taxi pulled up back to Le Village hostel and Jackie & I stayed in the car to practice our French with the driver (correction, Jackie practiced our French; I stayed silent while worrying that maybe we were supposed to have reserved a spot of the airport bus ahead of time and that if that was the case, all of our Spring Breaks were going to be ruined and would be my fault). Candy and Monica came back more than a few minutes later, out of breath and telling us that when they got back to the lobby to ask for the key to our room, our already-disgruntled receptionist ignored them for a few minutes because he was slow dancing with another guest. France.

We re-zoomed through the streets, and not long after ended up near La Defense and Port Maillot, where we were supposed to catch the bus. We found it after wandering around for a while (it was dark). We were fine on time, LUCKILY, and hopped on the next available bus where we each fell asleep promptly and woke up an hour later when we reached the Beauvais Airport.

Let me tell you something about European airports: Unlike American airports, who have caught on to the fact that its captive audiences MUST pay three times as much for the things they are selling, European airports seem to think that they should charge LESS than the normal price for things. It’s very bizarre and I like it. Except maybe that was just a sign that Bordeaux was an expensive city to be living in the first place, hmmmm….

Our Ryan Air flight was fine, and Jackie and I caught the bus to our hostel while Monica and Candy waited for Monica’s aunt. The Tiber Hostel and Camping was an excellent choice.

The rooms were nice (I chose to ignore the suspiciously large bloodstain on the underside of the mattress above me that I had to look at from my own bunk), there was an (underpriced!) store with everything we would ever have needed, and the LARGE cappuccino in the restaurant was only 1 Euro 80! (i.e. 2 Euros LESS than anywhere in France). Our hostel was outside of the main part of the city, however, but it was easy enough (and cheap) to get into town. After settling in, Jackie and I took the Metro and ended up near Santa Maria Del Poppolo, which I was super excited about because we had talked about it in the Baroque Rome Art History class I had taken my sophomore year. And it was nice being in that area because I hadn’t made it there when I visited Rome with my family last time.

Jackie and I had our first hint of how amazing Rome was going to be when we ordered sandwiches at a little restaurant and the people there were actually nice to us (like, they were smiling and everything!). It was amazing how fast my mood changed once Jackie and I started walking around. It was like I was mistaken about loving France -- because the happiness I felt as soon as we reached Rome was unlike anything I had felt for the previous four months...kind of like even though I thought that I loved France, I was actually mistaken. Obviously, I DID love France, and I wouldn't trade my experiences there for the world, but I can't deny that I simply felt more at home in Rome in those four days than I had in my entire stay in France. To say it more simply, I was definitely glad I had made it to Rome during my Spring Break travels.

A few hours later we found Jackie and Monica at Piazza Navona. It was a really great day, even though it was miserably humid. We went to the Pantheon and ate gelato, threw coins in the Trevi, etc. We had already decided to save some things to do for when Valerie would be with us the next day, but around 5:30 we ended up at the Colossuem. Our goal was to (obviously) pay as little as possible for everything during our trip, especially because we were the lucky owners of student IDs for a school in the European Union (which makes all the difference). I was doubtful about being able to save money in Rome, however, because my research hadn’t turned up any evidence of free entry for students (i.e. at the Vatican, even if you have proof that you’re a legitimate Catholic priest you only get a small discount). So when we reached the oddly empty ticket line at the Coliseum and Jackie turned back to us to tell us it was free, I definitely did NOT believe it. It turns out that our Rome trip magically landed on the last two days of Rome’s Cultural Week, so entrance to all of the important stuff was free! I still can’t explain the fact that nothing we tried to see during the week had a line…..

So that was pretty cool. We ran around the coliseum for a while and had gelato, and then Jackie and I caught the train and the shuttle back to Tiber Camping, where I was unable to buy a towel from the store because it was closed (to my disappointment. I wasn’t going to have time to shower in the morning, and I was feeling all of the effects of having been traveling since 4AM that morning in extreme humidity). But Jackie and I ordered cheap hot chocolates which partially made up for how disgusting I felt and probably smelled.

Valerie arrived around 1AM that night from Paris, and in the morning the three of us took the Rome Nord train to the end of it’s line, and then took another train to meet Monica and Candy at the Piazza Navona. Monica and Candy were staying with Monica’s aunt, who, according to Monica “works for the government”. Except that Monica is SUPER modest, and it turned out that her aunt is the Egyptian CONSUL in Italy (i.e. second to the AMBASSADOR). Her aunt was amazing and set us up with a very generous private tour, led by an amazing Italian woman named something that sounded like Illyria, and a driver named Roberto. Our first stop was the Castel Sante Angeleo, where Illria flashed her official tour guide badge and whisked us past the line…….


Gelato Number 3: Melon, Orange & Coconut :)


Next time: Important Catholics, even more gelato, and real Italians....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Still in Burbank...

I've been really slow at updating, but my epic Rome post IS on its way! I would write it tonight but I have to go to my little brother's silly graduation, and then I'll be out all night with MY friends, and then I take a train (remember those?) at 7:20 AM tomorrow to IRVINE, but after that, I'm going to write it. I'm just stalling because as soon as I finish than my travels are officially over :(

Friday, May 21, 2010

HOME!

Hello! I haven't disappeared! But I AM safe and sound in Burbank, after my first flight from Paris was canceled by the volcano, after missing my flight from Dallas to LAX, and after being in transit for 24 hours. I told you that I would be back to post about my two weeks of European adventures, and here they are, one city at a time. Enjoy!

PART ONE, PARIS. April 23, 2010.

I met up with Monica at 6:15 outside her house (we lived 5 minutes away from each other (which is handy at 6:15 in the morning) so that we could go to Gare St. Jean together, where we were meeting up with Jackie and Candy (we would meet up with Valerie in Paris, because she had opted to take an even earlier train). Nothing too exciting there. Except that I got angry because in between our naps on the 3 and a half hour ride from Bordeaux to Paris, Monica and I would occasion talk/squeal about how excited we were for this trip, and I don’t think the girl in front of us appreciated it, as evidenced by the flick of her hand over the back of her seat, which kind of silenced Monica and I abruptly, because she could have just as easily turned around and said “Pardon moi”, which we totally would have understood as “I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but it’s not even 8AM and I would love to just sleep a little more. Perhaps you could keep your voices a tad lower?”. Because 1) I seriously don’t think Monica and I were talking that loudly, and 2) We were really excited!. But she probably should have thought about it before she silenced us so rudely, because she might have realized that I had the power to kick the back of her chair for the next hour, while she wouldn’t have been able to reciprocate. Not like I took advantage of this, or anything, but basically, I REALLY hate rude people, and it made me mad.

Our day in Paris was relatively uneventful, but still a lot of fun. We decided ahead of time that because we had all either already spent a lot of time there, or because we were going to be back in the future, that it was going to be a relaxed day. We decided to take advantaged of the GLORIOUS weather by heading straight to the Eiffel Tower (which I had actually never even SEEN in person before), where we lounged by it on the grass for literally two hours. It was such a nice break from the coldness that is Bordeaux. And we saw a puppy! So that was good.


Jackie, Me, Valerie, Candy & Monica.

The Seine! Valerie & I are big Les Miz fans, so needless to say, we were excited to be there.

Sacre Coeur!

We ate lunch, went to Notre Dame, DRANK STARBUCKS FILTERED COFFEE, and eventually went to Montmartre towards sunset so that we could go to Sacre Coeur (which was pretty awesome, if you like basilicas and stuff). My opinion is definitely, however, that as cool as Paris might be, it’s definitely the seediest place I’ve ever been. Rome might be touristy too, but neither of my trips had the same seedy feel that Paris emitted. Like, there are Eastern European women EVERYDAY asking for money, and when you don’t answer their French, they come armed with a bunch of languages, so that you really have to ignore them until they go away. Also, the thread-bracelet scam guys were all over Sacre Coeur. And we definitely had to fend of drunk guys as we sat on the steps waiting for the sun to go down. I never felt afraid, or anything, and I liked all of my time in Paris, I just think that this characteristic sets it apart from the other cities that I’ve visited for me.

Our hostel, Le Village, was really nice – the four of us had our own room and bathroom and shower. Not that it really mattered, because we were barely going to be there because we were going to have to leave so early in the morning anyway to get to the bus to the airport in order to go to Rome (!). We knew where the official Aeroport Beavais bus was supposed to pick us up on the map, but we didn’t actually know where we were supposed to find it. Once we were all back in our room at night, Candy and I sat down to choose the fastest metro route to Port Maillot, where the buses left from. We had to be there by 6AM, so we were nervous about getting there in time, because there was no way we were NOT getting on that plane. To make a long story short, after one discussion with the guy at reception, a quick trip to the closest metro station to confirm that his advice about when the metro started running was correct (it wasn’t), another conversation with him about the best way to get a taxi in the morning, and an extra-early wake-up by me and Candy before everyone else just to ensure that there WERE taxis running in order to leave enough time if we were going to have to call one, the four of us (Valerie was staying with her aunt) were up, checked out, and in a taxi on our way to Port Maillot. All was well. Until we had been zooming through the dark streets of Montmartre for five minutes, when Monica apologetically realized that she had accidentally left her cell phone under the pillow in the hostel…….

Next Time: Rome?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LAST BLOG IN FRANCE.

Here we are! Eek. How can this possibly be my last blog post while in France??! I was supposed to fly home today, obviously, but the ash cloud canceled that flight, conveniently allowing me to spend my last day in France in the Louvre (my original plan was to spend all of yesterday there, but unlike every OTHER museum in the world, the Louvre is open on Mondays but closed on TUESDAYS, UGH). But it ended out working out perfectly, because yesterday ended up being perfect for the Musee D'Orsay and Saint Chappelle, and I still got to see the Mona Lisa, etc. I actually saw it about five separate times because I took so many wrong turns while trying to leave, but that's another story.

In order to commemorate this sad occasion, I've compiled a list of the many important life lessons I learned while living in Bordeaux. The next time you go to France, these may make your transition smoother, so feel free to use them.

AMELIA'S TOP 23 TIPS FOR BORDELAISE LIFE

1. Don’t type text messages while walking down the street (or, don’t do anything that involves not looking at your feet for that matter). You WILL step in dog poo.

2. Each and every cultural point WILL be closed between the hours of 12 and 2 (2 hour lunch breaks are necessary for anyone who is responsible for sitting down while selling tickets).

3. Ham and Fish definitely count as “vegetarian”.

4. A cappuccino is an extra large cup of espresso with whipped cream on top.

5. You can always have whipped cream on top of a drink if you so desire – for an extra 50 centimes, that is.

6. When your host mom asks you if you have your umbrella because one can never tell if it will rain or not, she means it.

7. Ordering a hot dog actually means ordering the sausages inside an entire baguette (and I say sausages as a plural because you will need at least two to fill up the length of the baguette).

8. If you aren’t putting butter on your rice or radishes, you’re doing something wrong.

9. Being in the middle of the street as you walk across authorizes the cars coming in your direction to speed up.

10. If you’re an older guy, and you need to ask a younger girl for directions to the nearest bookstore, it is apparently perfectly acceptable for the very next words out of your mouth to bluntly be “So, do you want coffee?” no matter how creepy you seem.

11. Don’t forget to find entertainment other than spending money on Sundays – even most grocery stores will not be open (and, when you tell your host mom that this is weird, prepare for her answer that OBVIOUSLY nothing is open– in what kind of world do people have to WORK on SUNDAYS??)

12. When you have a test to take on campus, your tram will break down.

13. Madeleines can be found in bags (à la chips) at the supermarket! It is important to eat a lot of these.

14. When you write Art History papers on Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, remember that while similar, the French words for “sin” and “peach” are not actually interchangeable.

15. Tabasco sauce exists in France – in the Italian section of the grocery store.

16. Think long and hard before explaining foreign concepts to your host mom – sometimes it’s better to stop the explanation before you reach a point when you no longer know how to clarify: “Ohhhh, yes Amelia, I think I understand what you are saying about zeez ‘frozen yogurt’. So, you have the yogurt, and you put the things on top, and then you make it cold somehow?”

17. Playing tag in the park is a perfectly acceptable pastime for a group 21-year-olds who have been cooped up in the rain for the previous four months.

18. Don’t even attempt to wait before eating the macarons you have just purchased at the fancy chocolate store. Simply looking at them will make them crumble.

19. When you ask if your host mom likes margheritas, she will get a gleam in her eye and will half smile, and and then will whisper “Yes Amelia. But only have two”.

20. French doors don’t have doorknobs, and even the keys that fit in the locks will almost never work. Be prepared by having a book with you to keep you busy while you wait for your 11-year-old host brother to come home from school so that he can let you in.

21. A jar of mini pickles is a must-have at any French dinner.

22. A 200-step staircases found inside cathedral bell towers are not subject to the same safety requirements found in other countries (i.e. America). Be careful of that surprise slope while you squeeze against the wall on your way up so that the people coming down can use the same space!

22. The exchange rate between the dollar and the euro will always start to improve just as you leave France.

23. After any French diner, you will always be offered yoghurt. ALWAYS.

24. It was always, in every circumstance, acceptable to wear stripes :)

So there you have it. Done! Can you believe it? I won't believe it until I'm back home in Burbank (kind of like the same way I won't believe my flight hasn't been canceled again until my plane is actually in the air). I hope my blog has been an accurate taste of ma vie bordelaise. AND, just because this is my last blog while on this continent, that doesn't mean that you get to stop reading! Stay tuned for more information/my official blog posts about my two weeks of European travel which I haven't posted yet.

Sigh. I miss macarons and pain au chocolate already! Wow. See you in Pacific Standard Time :)


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

back where I started from

I officially said au revoir to Bordeaux yesterday while at a picnic with all of my favorite people at the Jardin Publique, which is probably the best way to say goodbye to a city and the friends you've lived with for four and a half months. There was even sun!

I took the train to Massy TGV, and now I'm at Pascale's. My big plan of the day was to go directly to the Louvre and bask in its glory alllll daaaayy lonnnng, since I've never been before. HOWEVER, apparently unlike other musuems which close their doors on MONDAYS, the Louvre is closed on TUESDAYS. So no Louvre for me, but it's not the end of the world because I guess I'll just have to come back. So I'm going to use today to do two things I haven't done yet in Paris: The Musee D'Orsay and Saint Chappelle (which has been closed BOTH times I have been in Paris. Today, it's happening).

LAST DAY IN FRANCE! Sooooo weiiiiiirrrd. I feel like I only just was at Pascale's about to embark on my trip to Bordeaux. And I'm sitting in the same spot right now that I was sitting in when Pascale first called Joana for me to work out the details of my arrival at the train station in Bordeaux. Incroyable.

Update tonight :)


Sunday, May 9, 2010

LAST BLOG IN BORDEAUX.

I leave tomorrrrrow. SO WEIRD. I've been especially bad about blogging because the last few days have been spent trying to see everyone/do as many bordelaise things as possible. This includes eating any pastry I run into, lots of walking on the quai near the river, lots of trips to Sweeny Todd's, and lots of eating our favorite formule (an amazing saumon sandwich, a drink, a legit patisserie, and a YOGURT all for 3.90!). With my friends, of course, not by myself.

The Centre de California organized an excursion to an abbey and a chateau yesterday, which was a lot of fun. There were also a bagpipe/fiddle duo, who taught all forty of us how to folk dance, then played music while we danced IN FRONT OF A MEDIEVAL CASTLE. It was an amazing day, and a perfect opportunity to see most people before I left. And then we ate macaroons after.

Here are a few highlights of my little vacation, to give you an idea of what went down:

Paris!


Rome!

London!


Edinburgh!

Pictures do not accurately describe this trip's epicness. Story soon.

I have a picnic appointment with my friends tomorrow for one last saumon sandwich, and then I'll take the train towards Paris to stay with Pascale for two nights. OR MORE, because apparently France now has a large ash cloud hovering over it that is affecting TRANSATLANTIC flights. And once the cloud disappears, I fly home from CDG.

This blog should be more emotional, because I completely adore Joana and Ynel, and Bordeaux, but it hasn't really sunk in that I'm officially leaving tomorrow. All I can say at the moment is that the city of Bordeaux was probably the ideal city for me to live in for the time that I was here, and that Joana and Ynel were the perfect host family. And I made a whole bunch of close friends who I know I'll definitely be staying close to, and I ate a LOT of pastries, so I pretty much couldn't have asked for a better living experience. It's just so weird to think that it's over. It's hard to accurately sum up my feelings here. I'm sure the real poetic stuff will come when it hits me that I will no longer be sleeping in the room with the view of the garden and the canopy hanging over the bed.

Bon soir for now. More updates from Paris to come :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

je reviens (again)

I'm back to Bordeaux! And, even though I felt a little miserable and very panicky, I have to admit that unlike the events of a few weeks ago when people were truly stranded, this new little cloud of ash wasn't actually so bad. Of anywhere I could have been stuck in the same circumstances, Edinburgh was 100% easy.

It's a story for another time, but basically, after one taxi ride at 3am, one plane ride, one long bus ride, one Paris Metro ride (followed by an additional Paris metro ride because I had mistakenly gone to Gare du Nord instead of Montparnasse), one train ride, one tram ride, and one short walk, I made it back to Rue Naujac at 6 pm, where Joana and Ynel were happy to see me.

I have so much to say about these past two epic weeks in my life, but I want to take the time to really write it out well, and as these next two days will be full of packing and running around trying eat as many bordelaise pastries as possible, this isn't the time to write it out officially :/

But I think when I get home, I'll post a long, detailed account of my adventures, which will make for better reading than anything I try to write tonight.

I leave Bordeaux MONDAY, eek.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

STRANDED

I had THE most amazing time in Edinburgh over the last few days. Except now I'm stranded here alone, which sucks more than I can say, especially because I take my leave of Bordeaux officially in approximately in only 4.5 days, and every extra moment I'm in Scotland is a moment away from my friends who are in France.

UGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"but there's no place like london"

Yesterday Kayla had class all day, so I went to Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, all the while drinking enough coffee to make up for the coffee that France is lacking.

This morning we woke up and went directly to the British Library. Basically.....this country pretty much has everything. Also, I should note that before we entered the actually Library part, we went to the cafe, where we had cappucinos and churros for breakfast. And the pain au chocolate we had at a different cafe the other day was NO JOKE better than any pain au chocolate I have ever had in France. So basically any of the weight I may or may not have lost in Rome will be returning while I'm in England.

We're off to Notting Hill in a few minutes to drink more coffee and to buy scarves, and then on Sunday morning we fly to Scotland. To see Nessie.

I go back to Bordeaux on May 5th, but I doooon't waaaaaant to leeeeeeeeeeeeave.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

angleterre!!!!!

This is going to be really quick because I don't want to take up Kayla's computer for too long, but basically, I'M IN LONDON. My Rome trip was so perfect, and I'll update about it when I get back. I'm soooo happy to be here for the first time in 5 years. We're going to head over to the Globe soon to try and get cheap tickets for Macbeth. YAY!!!!

More eventually :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

voyager!

It's 11:57PM and I'll be awake in less than 5 hours to start two weeks of travel. Eeeeeee, as Linus likes to say. This is also my last real blog post until I get back. I won't have true access to the internet during my trip, but I'll try to post here and there, and I'll be taking notes so that I can recap everything when I get back. But how weird is it that after this post, I'll only have 4.5 more days in Bordeaux, and then I pretty much fly home? Unless another volcano erupts, obviously.

This week was really hot, but then drizzly today. I'M DONE WITH SCHOOL. Also, I counted, and of the 29 photos in my Facebook April album, 24 of them involve food. On Tuesday night, our Methodologie professor (who is also a very well-dressed food critic/cannele expert) set up a group dinner for us at a restaurant in Bordeaux. I had mussels and salmon, and they were amazing, obviously.



As soon as everyone had taken their seats, she stood up, grabbed her pack of cigarettes, said something about being truly French as she picked up her glass of wine, then took it with her as she went outside to smoke. So cool. I keep forgetting to learn! When I get back I'm smoking the baby powder cigarettes everyday, because French people always look so cool when they do it.

We have a 7:22 AM TGV to Paris tomorrow. So tomorrow I'll be in Paris! Then eeeearly the next morning we're flying to Rome, then I separate from my friends and meet up with Kayla for London and Edinburgh, yesssss.

It's hard packing to look fabulous for two weeks, though. I have one smalllllll carry-on, and then a small (by normal standards) checked bag, which cost me extra to bring. But it's going to be awesome, so it's okay! I wish I could post pictures as I go, but again, I'm not bringing my computer, so I'll have to make a make-up picture post when I get back to Bordeaux.

Gros bisous!!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

mecredi

I'm currently running around the house trying to get ready to LEAVE FOR TWO WEEKS. Which I'm only able to do because apparently the volcano is spewing less ash than before.


(7:18AM this morning)

(6:16PM this evening)

(15 minutes ago! (10:16PM))


So YAY FOR TRIP. But sucks to be Helsinki. Oh well.

It's hard to pack for two weeks! I'm not bringing a lot of luggage though, because of RyanAir and EasyJet's baggage restrictions. But who knows what I might want to have with me through Paris/Rome/London/Edinburgh, right? Eeeeeeeee.

Today is April 21. Tomorrow is the LAST DAY OF CLASSES. Oh, and I got DOUBLE the points on my Louis XV oral exam than I had gotten on my last assignment for that class. My little speech on France's wars and its relationship with Espagne definitely wasn't perfect, but the professor told me that I had progressed in the class, which is the point of an immersion program (right??), so I'm very happy (and even happier to never have to take a history class in French again).

I come home in 21 days, which is absolutely nothing. So weird.

I won't have my computer with my on my trip, which is going to be a large challenge unto itself. Which means I'll only be able to blog short, choppy sentences while sitting in an internet cafe trying to hurrrrry. But I promise to take notes so that I can recap when I come back to Bordeaux.

Ahhhhh, see you tomorrow :)




Monday, April 19, 2010

uggghhh

DEAR FRANCE,

Please stop having such confusing 18th Century History. Thank you.

Love,
Amelia

Sunday, April 18, 2010

inquiete

So, normally, European airport closures don't really interest me much -- they just aren't something that really holds my interest/AFFECT ME, you know? So it's JUST MY LUCK that the ONE time in my life when I am IN EUROPE, when I might need to, say, fly from Paris to Rome to London to Edinburgh back to Bordeaux, ALL of my airports except Rome are closed indefinitely. Every update on the airport-reopenings have been updated daily. In a way that bodes badly for potential travelers like me. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Here is a handy map with handy information to make things more clear:


ALSO, as if a large, Icelandic ash-spewing volcano weren't a big enough problem for us, a LARGE number of trains in France are currently on strike, and they WON'T back down, even though trains are really people's only option without their airplanes. Except for John Cleese, I guess, who apparently took a 3,000 pound taxi ride from Norway to Belgium this past week when he was stranded. Basically, according to the French news that I was watching t0night over dinner with my host mom, people are stuck evvverywhherrrrrrrreeee.

My friends and I have a 7:22 AM train ride from Bordeaux to Paris this upcoming Friday morning. We're definitely going to take that, and at least spend the night at our hostel there. But our plans after that remain to be seen..........

If Paris-Beauvais doesn't open in time, then we don't get to Rome. And if we don't get to Rome, then I don't get to London. And if I don't get to London, then I definitely don't get to either 1) see Kayla, and 2) go to Edinburgh, all of which is ridiculously distressing. And eventually I have to get back to Bordeaux, but hopefully THAT'S the least of my problems. I don't want to be stranded anywhere, obviously. But, I guess, at LEAST the places where I might get stranded are fun places.............Not like a few weeks ago, when I got a text from my friends who were supposed to be coming back on a train from Barcelona, but who instead needed me to find them a hostel via the internet because the trains had decided to strike and they were stuck just over the French border for the night. No, unless my planes decide to make any unplanned stops, I should at least find things to enjoy wherever I'm stuck. But still, this is nervewracking. At what point do we decide to scrap our original plans and buy train tickets from Bordeaux to Normandy??

At least today it was SEVENTY-ONE DEGREES in Bordeaux. Incroyable. People were wearing shorts! But not me, because I only packed for cold weather. Whoops. It's supposed to rain this week though, so I guess we'll be back to the way things were before anyway. But, at least for today, it was AMAZING outside.









Saturday, April 17, 2010

samedi

I just bought my final train ticket which will lead me away from Bordeaux, for May 10th. Triste.

But, also excited to go home and see all of my people, some of whom I've been talking to on a weekly basis, and some of whom I haven't really spoken to since I left. I haven't technically been gone for so long, but I'm still nervous about whether or not things will jump back into being the same as before.

I was just thinking about how much my French has improved since I've been here. It's obviously not as good as it might be, but because I came in to this program knowing such a miniscule amount of French, I could really only improve. And when I think of all of the French I use here, a LARGE percentage of it is stuff that I didn't even have in my brain before I came. So I am really happy and satisfied with the amount I've learned :)

I need to finish the plupart of my Garden of Earthly Delights paper today. Or else.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

gelato

We went out with the intention of drinking wine, but I ended up with ale and gelato instead.

The ale was from Sweeney Todd's, and it was definitely the best-tasting alcohol I've ever had. The gelato was from a gelato place on the way from Houses of Parliament (which we left because we couldn't find a table, and also secretly because it's name reminded Katie and I of how much we dislike our Louis XV class) to Sweeney Todd's. Mine was vanilla and cherry-flavored. It was a particular triumph to come across this specific gelato place, because two months ago, on a freezing-cold day where I was exploring Bordeaux's various places, I recall seeing it all boarded up and not yet ready to be serving. But now we know that's open, and late at night! A triumph!

I'm making serious progress on my Bosch paper, and I don't think it's going to be as hard as I thought. And approximately a week from right now, I'll be on an early morning train to Paris to kick off two weeks of European adventures!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

soupe

I'm trying to remember what I did today for this blog, but I can't remember.......hmmm.

I stayed on campus and finished up a LOT of work for Meth(odologie), which was probably a good thing. I thought a lot about how much I don't want to write my Bosch paper. Ooooh, and I decided that I am TERRIFIED of my Louis XV oral exam a week from today.

I decided that I really like the soup that they sell on campus. For one Euro, you get soup and bread -- how cool is that?!

This time next month I'll already be home, which is odd. I'm caught between being really ineffably sad that won't be with my amazing friends anymore after this, and looking forward to an easy life in Burbank, where I won't be expected to be familiar with 17th Century royal documents written in old fashioned French. Except that I'm worried that I'll be really restless during my four-and-a-half month-long summer.

I told my friends from home & sorority sisters that I expect to be driven directly to Yogurtland when I get out of the car from the airport. It will definitely have a bump in revenue in my first month back from Bordeaux! France is definitely missing out on the non-fat yogurt craze. Valerie and I talked today about coming back and opening up a yogurt/burrito place here. We'll be millionaires.

I'm back in the mindset of wanting to speak a lot of French all of the time (but, only with French people). I spent extra time doing so this weekend, what with taking a mini trip with my family, ordering more espressos than usual, making a new French friend. Speaking in French SO MUCH this weekend felt really satisfying for the first time in a long time, which is just my luck because I now have LESS THAN ONE MONTH LEFT. It's definitely true what everyone says: something with the language really DOES click when you're on your way OUT of your study abroad experience.

This is the plan for Spring Break, by the way:

Friday, April 23rd: Paris
Saturday, April 24-27: Rome
April 27-May 2: London with Kayla
May 2-4: Kayla and Amelia go to EDINBURGH
May 5: Amelia flies back to Bordeaux, meets up with friends for Margaritas because it will obviously be Cinco de Mayo. We just have to do some serious research first, because there is nothing close to Mexican food here, so we might be stuck drinking them at our favorite pub, Sweeny Todd. Which will definitely be an experience, so that wouldn't be the end of the world.








Monday, April 12, 2010

"Quand t'es un Jet, tu reste un Jet"




Hello all! So, if I were a better blogger, I would have been blogging after each of my adventures with Kayla, but the two of us were running around so much this past weekend that I was too tired each night. So here is a mini recap of our weekend, and I'll upload my pictures to Facebook too.


First of all, Passover had just ended (luckily for her), so France was the perfect place to be. And we definitely took advantage of all of France's pastries and bread products (there was an incident that involved eating an entire baguette within five minutes of buying it). We also definitely drank a lot of espresso. I'm normally not an espresso fan, but Kayla is, and I have to admit, that after drinking about 500% more cups of espresso than I usually do, I can see why people like to sit outside and drink it while reading English literature. Which is what we did, because it was the most BEAUTIFUL weekend that I've experienced so far in Bordeaux, and because Kayla insisted on being outside because she's been cooped up in rainy London this time, and because we both had English lit that we happened to be reading (Jane Eyre for her, North and South for me).
Cafe #1, by the river.

Cafe #2




Cafe #3, back to the river again.


We also ate a lot of amazing salmon sandwiches (salmon in this case is more like lox for us). Now I'm really obsessed and all I want to lox lox lox all the time. There's this amazing formule at this place nearby where for 3Euro90 you get 1) an amazing sandwich 2) a drink 3) a real patisserie ("none of that venoisserie crap" as my friend Valerie described it), a can of soda, and DRINKABLE YOGURT. We went twice this weekend, and we probably would have gone on Sunday but it was closed.

Also, Kayla got to practice her French a lot ("Je voudrais un cafe et un croissant s'il vous plait"), and I was impressed. We also have a new legitimate French drummer friend, and we saw real French music being played in a real French bar, all of which I get to cross off my list now.

On Thursday we saw West Side Story at the Grand Theatre, which was a good enough production. My seat was so high up that it wasn't even in an area considered a balcony, but rather "paradis". But it was either where my seat was located, or the direction was very biased, because the whole time I could pretty much only see what was going on with the Sharks. And I believe I saw Maria's face literally three times throughout the whole show. But the music was amazing, obviously!

On Saturday Joana drove us and Ynel to a castle, which was really fun, even though we got really lost on the way there. Again, I need to stress that my host family is AMAZING. We get along so well. And it was interesting being on the road versus being a pedestrian, because I haven't been in a car for months, since Joana picked me up from the train station my first day in Bordeaux.

Joana, Ynel and Me.

On Sunday Kayla and I hiked up the 231 uneven steps of the Tour Pey Berland, the belltower of St. Andre. It's separate from the Cathedral because the bells' vibrations would ruin the Cathedral otherwise.

Me in front of my cathedral.

The view from the belltower.

Basically, to make a long story short, we ate a LOT, to the point that we were feeling nauseous the last day, enjoyed some AMAZING weather, took in the Bordelaise scenery, took a MILLION PICTURES, and had an awesome time being cousins together in Europe :)



Next time: LONDON :)