Monday, December 16, 2013

Last Week/ Re-entry

So after we got back from the weekend trip, not very well rested or prepared like we normally try to be before large end of term exams (but then, when do things work out like we intend them to?). We’d been able to do some studying Sunday night for architecture, however a good portion of it turned out to be in vain, as the professor decided to use examples that were not part of the main visits or facets that we’d focused on in our studies. I don’t know why we thought it would be any different for the final exam, the same phenomenon occurred with all of his quizzes. Maybe we were just being hopeful. He’s a good teacher and really enjoys his subject but sometimes his delivery or manner of measuring what we knew was a bit different than we were used to from our American education programs. It was the same sort of issue with our Impressionism class.

We had a major test or project due every day that week. Tuesday was the presentation for Français Orale 303 on a subject within the Garden of Luxembourg (another place I would highly recommend for anyone who’s thinking of going to Paris anytime soon.) Jeremy was spectacular and when he finished, Valerie suggested a possible future career within museums giving tours to French tourists. Wednesday, we had our test in Français Ecrit 304, which we got back Thursday. Solid A’s for us all, so that was a nice way to end class. On Thursday, we had our Impressionism exam and I really have no idea what that’s going to come back as. I feel like I did good work, but we also have a habit in that class (all of us, not just me) of misunderstanding certain nuances in her directions or interpreting them differently. She has a very specific idea of what she wants us to talk about for certain pieces and if we differ than it’s usually much more difficult to score high with her. We remedied our trauma with aperos at our favorite bar.


The rest of the week we tried to make our rounds and say goodbye to the places we’d become fond of in our time spent there. We went back to Rachael’s Thai place in her arrondissement, the bar right around the other corner from school, the Portuguese place also in Rachael’s corner of Paris, and the galette place with the yummy crepe lunch deal in Saint Michel.

We weren’t able to go out so much aside from meals because of the need to study for exams and pack everything up, but we had Friday to take care of any last minute necessities. Thursday night, while I was packing up my big bag, I discovered that the wooden decorative lizard I bought at the Champs-Elysees Christmas market a while back was not going to fit in my suitcase, unless I chose to broke it. So I decided to see what I could do to ship it. That was a special foray to the post office and the land of packing. Pretty much, I was told that I needed to wrap that sucker up well in bubble wrap and then they could help me. So I did that with a healthy quantity of tape, and it is now in the French mail system, hopefully making its way to my house without much incident. That adventure took most of the morning. From there, I met Rachael at school so we could print out our boarding passes. The room we’d been planning on sneaking into to print from had students in it so we asked down at the front desk, and the lady was kind enough to give us her email so we could send her our passes and she could print them when she got off her shift in 20 minutes. So we hung around and printed them and expressed heaps of gratitude. She was a very nice lady and I’m glad we left Reid Hall on a good note. Then we went to eat lunch (at the galette place) with the other Katie and Robyn. That was a bit of a special moment because the credit on our French phones had run out so we didn’t have a way of contacting each other once we were out and about. By chance everyone made it to the restaurant at around the same time and we had a deliciously huge meal. Afterwards we went to the Christmas market again, to pick up those last stray gifts. Took care of that for the most part, although there were disappointments for both of us at a few opportunities missed. Then Katie and I went back with Rachael to help her pack. Katie left for dinner with Diala and Rachael and I lugged her suitcases back to my house, where for our last dinner, we made soup her mom had sent us and manged some croissants. Then we went back to the metro, Rachael to go home and me to meet Robyn so I could help her with her suitcases to my house, so we could all take the taxi together bright and early in the morning. That was an interesting experience. Both of them ended up having to buy an extra suitcase to accommodate all the presents and random items purchased throughout the semester.
Friday night I stayed up late again, organizing my carry-on bag and writing out a Christmas card to my lady with the little gift I’d picked her up—a little candle shade with a winter scene and a happy snowman painted on the sides. In French, a snowman is called a “bonhomme de neige” which literally translates to good man of the snow.

We all woke up early and fought with bags. It was an interesting experience getting my large suitcase down the wooden tight spiral steps from my room to the main level. But no damage done to anything, so I consider it a grand success. The taxi arrived at 8 promptly, Rachael and Robyn arrived shortly after and with a few helping hands, we had all of our bags settled and ready to go. My lady had been so wonderful as to completely arrange and pay for the taxi and we had a moment as I was preparing to leave. She said that it had been a delight having me and that I was welcome back any time. And then that I was a beautiful person. And I nearly cried and thanked her a lot and we all piled in and were off.

 Robyn split off almost immediately to catch her AirLingus flight connecting in Dublin and Rachael and I found ourselves going through the queues to check our bags, border control, and then security. It was actually a pretty funny moment with checking our bags because we hadn’t been able to get an exact weight on them when we were at our own maisons. So we weren’t sure what exactly was going to come up on their scale. Rachael had one bag that was around 22 kilograms (the limit is 23) and another that was 24. The lady looked at her and said, “you know normally we have to charge you for this, but it’s alright.” Her tone was light and kind of joking which was a relief because you never know what kind of personality you’re going to get with the people working the ques. Then I put my bag up and it was 23.9 kilograms. She looked at me and said, “Heavy, heavy, heavy.” So then I sort of laughed apologetically and told her we’d been studying abroad in Paris for the last three and a half months. That helped explain the situation to her I think, although altogether she wasn’t really that concerned.

We ended up walking directly onto our flight, which was surprisingly smooth despite the length of time we were in the air. The food was decent and we were able to occupy ourselves with movies and sleep a little. There was a moment where I really started to feel sick, but luckily Rachael had some Dramamine on her. By hour 5, it was starting to feel pretty surreal, like we hadn’t been on as long as we had but also like time had stopped moving.

We had to go back through customs and security which meant we had to grab our large bags again. That was difficult, with Rachael’s extra bag and our own cumbersome purses and carry-ons. At this moment, we parted ways, Rachael rushing through to catch her connecting flight to Charlotte. Katie and I eventually found each other again at the gate for Richmond and hung out, while Rachael got to sit on her plane for two hours, waiting for it to take off. So the final leg is up and we are almost home! We’re all pretty excited to see our people again and to be back in the United States.

Au revoir Paris and hello America!

Voyage to Belgium

Hey there everyone. This post is coming from Katie at the Philadelphia Airport for an update on the last goings-on in Paris. I’ll probably restrict this one to our weekend trip and then make another one for our last week.  

From the last update, Rachael and I went on another EIAP trip to Bruge, Bruxelles, and Lille. As usual with this group we had to meet at Palais des Congres at 7:30. In other words we had to wake up at 5 in the morning, which was awful. That kind of set the mood for the rest of the trip. We think the trip leader filled the open spots with his friends and he goofed off with them during the hours travelling. This included plugging in their ipods and blaring French rap at 8 in the morning when we were all trying to sleep. They pretty much took it as a grand party.

There were Christmas markets at each of the cities so that was kind of nice to get a view of those. They weren’t as big and there were tons of people—at this point, we’re all very tired of the crowd atmosphere. We were also trying to get last minute Christmas shopping done through those markets, but still ended up not finding what we needed. This required a last minute visit to the Champs-Elysees Christmas market yesterday (Friday).  We got lost in Bruges because we stopped for a couple hours there and they didn’t provide us with a map, so we tried to be careful about our wandering but inevitably failed. There were a lot of horses and carriages to pull the tourists around and the village has just been continually restored and thus retained its old world charm. There were little bridges and churches and boutiques, with gardens set in back alley courtyards. We found some really awesome sculptures in one of those representing the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. We found our way back eventually, not too late, and then had another horrendous bus ride with some music and dancing that was not to our liking.


 We arrived in Bruxelles late that night. It seemed like it took forever to reach our hostel and that was an interesting set up when we did arrive. As usual with this group, we all stood outside not knowing where exactly to go or what we were doing, because the leader was doing I don’t even know what. Apart from his friends, he seemed perfectly capable because he did separate a few times to relay information to other groups of people. In general though, there was much to be desired. So after standing around for 15 minutes, we all huddled inside and got out keys and dropped our stuff. Robyn and Dina were sharing a room with Rachael and I. We all still needed to get dinner, but all the grocery stores had been closed since 8. Luckily we found a food stall right around the corner and got some chicken wings on a stick and fries. We also found a late night convenience store type thing and got some wine. We’d decided earlier we didn’t want to go to the club because we’d have another chance and if we stayed in our rooms we’d at least have some time to de-stress and loosen up. Ended up playing a drinking game where we selected a certain tick or habit for each person that was typical of their personality and each time they exhibited that behavior they had to take a gulp of wine. I know, we’re classy ladies. It was a lot of fun though and we all ended up in bed by 1, so we shouldn’t have been too tired the next morning. However, the other folks who went to the club decided to come back and be drunk in the hallway and tried to open our door while we were sleeping, and woke all the other girls up (except for me, because I sleep like the dead apparently once I actually fall asleep.) Eventually Dina went outside and confronted them and their response was a demand for salt….She tried to tell them that we were trying to sleep and closed the door on them, but they still stood out there until another guy came out of his room and asked them firmly to retire to their rooms. Thankfully they actually listened to him.
Our time in Bruxelles was spent at the Christmas market there, but we also went to this renowned bar called Delirium that has over 2,000 selections of beer to choose from. That was actually really fun and we were able to chat with another group of girls while we all tried each other’s beer. Rachael and I have decided that we like fruity beer. After the Christmas market, Rachael and Dina went on the Ferris wheel and had there romantic moment they’d been denied at the Champs-Elysees market, because it had been too expensive, which was good because I think at that point Rachael was prepared to commit murder. Too many people, too close, too loud, for too long. And after that we did a bit of shopping, stopped in the square to watch a music/light show which was amazing! They had lights on three out of the four buildings with colored lights coordinated to music they projected over the square, and there was a giant lit up Christmas tree in the middle and a nativity scene set up. We were all captivated even though we were freezing our tails off. Stood there for close to 20 minutes. Then we went back to the hostel and settled in for some solid hours of studying. Except for Dina. She went out to go to the Club, because it would be our last opportunity here to go out and she didn’t have any exams on Monday to worry about. Unfortunately, drama went down and Rachael and Robyn had to rescue here close to four in the morning because the group leader who was supposed to be taking her back when she asked completely refused (he was also involved in the drama). Luckily another fella at the club walked her back and Rachael and Robyn popped an emergency door for them to get in.

We were on the road again by 10 the next morning toward Lille. Lille was interesting because it was a very modern city compared to Bruge, almost complete opposites. Bruxelles was kind of in between, with the medieval city set up (lots of alleys and dead ends tucked away) but also main broad pedestrian streets. Lille had a building in the shape of a boot. And another one made out of copper. As we got closer to the city center, it became a bit more traditional. Thankfully this city was easier to navigate then the other two so finding our way back wasn’t so stressful. The Christmas Market was the smallest of all three and we took a few turns to view the stalls and get some nibblies. We also ended up walking to view some buildings and went on an excursion to the Citadel, which was a longer walk then we’d planned, but definitely worth it because we actually got to see trees and grass and this old palais-fortress built by the sun king. He’d decided that Paris and the strength of France had been demonstrated enough that they didn’t need the walls, that outposts would suffice so he tore them down and built the fortresses. We’d learned about it a little in Architecture, so that was kind of fun to explore on our own and have a deeper understanding of what we were looking at. On our way back into town we found a chocolate shop and Rachael at last found some treats she’d been looking for and denied repeatedly over the course of the trip. Then we had a late lunch/dinner meal (we wouldn’t be stopping at any point for dinner while on the bus. They just drive straight through dinner, even French dinner time, and trust you to find your own food) before searching out ice cream at McDonalds (yes McDonald’s, Rachael and Dina were having a craving) and gauffres (Belgian Waffles with toppings). Then we walked back to the bus, had the worse travel experience with EIAP yet, and finally made it back to Paris. It was more of the same inconsideration and loudness as before, only this time they decided to have their party right next to our seats. So we were all pretty miserable. Got home and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the rest of the week of exams and packing and last minutes activities before heading home. But I’ll go into that in a separate post.


A Bientôt!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Hello all! This is Katie. For all curious people I'm going to recap everything that's happened between Rachael's post and the last update on the vacation. It's been a while so I won't go into too much detail. Pretty much after vacation happened we came back and our noses were to the grindstone. I think our professors all thought it was time to up the ante, which obviously we were not really prepared for, but what can you do?

So after getting back from our Italy/Barcelona tour, Rachael and I both took a good look at our bank accounts to determine what we could do with our resources. We budgeted for the vacation and of course we knew it would be no small sum, but various surprises and higher costs for a few things took a toll.

We narrowed down our list of where we wanted to go and decided for our next weekend trip we would head to Bordeaux (Nov 7-11; we had Monday the 11th off because it's Armistace day and they take there armistice seriously. Nearly everything is shut down). There we saw the Place des Quinconces and the huge fountain.

We also saw the Cathedrale Saint Andre which is huge and old and in the middle of some much needed reconstruction. Pollution is not so friendly to pierre de taille (cut stone)
And then we managed to hit the Botanical Gardens during the one thirty minute interval it was not cold and rainy, so that was really nice. As for the rest of our weekend, we bought all of our meals at the grocery store and picknicked, tried to see a few other things (like the Musee de Beaux-Arts) but they were closed for one reason or another that was out of the norm. However, we did treat ourselves to a beautiful Thai/Cambodian dinner our last night and we got a bottle of Bordeaux wine to go with it. Took that sucker down and we were cheerful for the rest of the night. Until we watched Grey's Anatomy that is, because that always pulls all the sad out of  you.
The moments when we were tired of being cold, wet failures we took over a corner of the hotel's lobby/common area to load Grey's Anatomy episodes and update the blog on our vacation. We also got a lot of sleep, which was helpful after the Return Week of Hell.
The next weekend (Nov 15-17) we stayed in Paris because there were a few Taste of France events going on. Friday we went to a boulangerie (bakery) and helped (sort of) make some croissants and pain au chocolat. We also got to taste pretty much everything he had and it was so delicious! He  was a charming fella and I think he enjoyed chatting with us as much as we did with him. We didn't eat lunch before that so we were running off of a sugar high until dinner that night.
Leloup Gourmand: 129 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris, France
In case anyone's in Paris soon and needs a recommendation. :D
Saturday we went to the Atelier des Gateaux (23 Rue de l'Abbe Gregoire, 75006). That was also really fun because we got to go into the baking room and actually make macarons. We have the recipes too so if anyone wants to know how, Rachael and I got this. It's actually kind of similar to making mousse at certain steps. This moment was the first time either of us actually tasted a macaron which is kind of surprising because it seems like there's a shop for them on every corner in certain parts of Paris.
Sunday we went to Musee D'Orsay to work on some Impressionism homework and then we explored the Masculin et Masculin exhibit, which was pretty much an exposition on the male body portrayed through various mediums of art from around the 1800's to now. More info in that very long link.

The following weekend (Nov 22-24) was another weekend in Paris. We were becoming quickly aware that we had not actually done much exploring of the capital and there was an excursion for Architecture arranged for Friday morning.  We went to Cite de l'Architecture to see the exposition on Art Deco and Art Nouvelle, which was actually pretty interesting, because it offered a new way to understand those years around the World Wars with the advancement of technology and how that impacted our interpretation of art and beauty.
Also got to talk to my family because the 22nd was Mom's Birthday and she got to open the presents I got her from Italy!!! ( I am so pumped for Christmas when I can give everyone all of the things!)
On the 23rd Rachael and I went to the Champs-Elysees. Now this street is famous and all, shopping capital of the world and what have you but there was no way we would have been able to spend a whole day there if not for the huge Christmas market that had been set up. Rachael nearly had a fainting goat moment; we walked out of the metro right into the middle of it. There were lights and music and smells and Christmas pretty much engulfing us. And Rachael finally found the chicken noodle soup she's been searching for since getting here. They also had really good French Onion soup and mulled wine.
This is what it looks like at night. Probably about the fourth or fifth time we'd been by it.

On the 24th, Rachael and I met at the Louvre and wandered around for a good couple of hours. As usual it was packed, but we actually managed to find the quiet section with a bathroom all to ourselves. I didn't actually believe it was possible and yet there was privacy and quiet...
And then we went to the Christmas market to get lunch :)

The following week was kind of weird because Thanksgiving was the 28th and talking to our people back home, everyone had time off and were preparing for the beautiful day of Eating. But that was not the case here obviously because the French don't celebrate it. The program took us out to dinner which was actually really delicious and the atmosphere was warm and intimate. We got wine and desert and there was good cheer had by all.

Friday Rachael and I tried to arrange passage to Strasbourg but seeing as how it's the biggest Christmas market in Europe I believe, the tickets were unbelievably expensive. There was a deal on the website for Saturday, round trip which was incredibly affordable. Of course trying to pursue that option lead us into a snafu with the SNCF people. We went twice the train station and called them through customer service and all three times they pretty much told us that what we were looking at didn't exist and that we were wrong/crazy. The lady on the phone made the most sense and said that those tickets had sold out a long time ago and just weren't a real option...
So Rachael was quite saddened by that, but we tried to stay busy and really have fun in our last free weekend in Paris.
Rachael pretty much covered everything we did last weekend. Friday: Montmartre, Catacombs, Christmas Market, Arc-de-Triomphe.
 Near the end of the Catacombs.
View from the top of the Arc-de-Triomphe
Saturday: Montparnasse cemetery and park, then the Zingaro-Calacas Show.

Sunday, Dec 1 we made and consumed our version of a Thanksgiving dinner. I think we did a pretty good job even with the setbacks. We had yummy food for that day, and then we also brought it in Monday and shared with everyone. Even Dabia tried a little bit of everything.
Afterwards, we parted ways. I went back to my quartier to do some more exploration to complete a paper for Architecture due the next day. Failed at getting into the Montmartre Cemetery. Instead discovered Sextopia, otherwise known as Pigalle. Which is where the Moulin Rouge is located, in case anyone was interested. And then I went to Jeremy's homestay to watch a dance/play spectacle. It was pretty interesting, very artsy to say the least. A wonder in and of itself how they managed to fit that many people in the home, but they pulled it off. It was a lot of fun and a good way to end the weekend.
This is our last week of classes before exams officially start and I think we're all feeling a mixture of nervous stress and also relieved joy for making it this far and being so close to going home. We're also running around like mad mice trying to fit in all of those last activities we hadn't gotten around to yet.
This upcoming weekend is the trip to Bruges, Bruxelles, and Lille and Rachael and I are very excited because we get to go to three different Christmas markets! Hoping to finish off my gift list for people back home as well. After the exams we'll have that Friday to pack everything up and do maybe one or two last things. Saturday the 14th we fly home!!!
Updates later. Hopefully soon after this upcoming weekend completes before the madness of exams. If not, then we can just tell everyone in person :D
A bientot <3

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Fever and a Monkey

So I know I haven't written in forever. After the last weekend trip I was supposed to write and then we got back to Paris and had a super busy week at school. I was planning to write the coming weekend then I started to feel sick. This is Rachael by the way. And then I slept all the weekend that I could. Then I kept getting worse and after a few days went to a French doctor. The appointment lasted all of 5 minutes with him asking how I felt, looking in my ears and throat, poking my neck and then prescribing medicine. Ends up he gave me allergy mess so it should be no surprise that I kept getting worse and was a walking fever that couldn't breathe within another week. By the time my professors were actually saying things like "I'll leave Rachael alone but the rest of you need to answer." ( because I almost fell over while she was lecturing and she hadn't seen me without a tissue to my nose for2 weeks) I had another appointment with a new doctor. This one didn't even touch e just asked my symptoms and prescribed all the medicine. I almost didn't see him because katie and I couldn't find our way into the building but she just pressed all the buttons until one worked. Also side note doctors have tiny offices in apartment buildings here and you have to go. Through 3 or 4 locked doors to get to them. It's strange. Anyway, after taking the medicine I started to feel human by the next day and stupidly went with Katie, Dina, and Robyn all over Paris. Don't get me wrong it was awesome  and but by the end of the saying felt like death. 

We visited Sacre Coeur and walked through little artsy roads in Montmartre and after that found le Grand Epicerie which is the coolest grocery store ever. It has everything! After that we went to the catacombs and millions of dead people are kinda creepy but surprisingly cool. Also whoever designed how the bones are laid out got bored or felt artistic and there were some fun shapes. My favorite is the heart of human skulls. Super romantic... After that forever hike up and down stairs and 2 km do walking in the tunnel we went to the Champs élysées Christmas market/ village. I should mention here that I have drug katie there at least 5 or 6 times and there is a stand with beautiful chicken soup that got me through the illness. This time I shook Katie like a rag doll because the lights were too pretty then got soup for dinner and corn on the cob and then mulled wine but she took my pretty returnable cup and gave me an ugly one, which was sad. We tried to go on the Ferris wheel but that was like 10 euros a person and I was not about to pay it nor were the others. Of course katie wasn't planning on going up since she is deathly afraid of heights and acting like I was killing her for suggesting it. We wandered some and went down to the champs élysées to look at shops and went in the Paris Disney store. Which was awesome if packed. Then Dina left to meet another friend and the other three of us went to the arc de triomphe. We climbed it and the view was beautiful but Katie almost ripped off my arm when she had to get within 2 feet of the edge. She really doesn't like heights. We saw the eternal flame. It started to rain and I went home to sleep and recover from doing too much. 

Of course the next morning I realize Katie and I forgot that last night was the night of Calacas a horse spectacle that we had been looking forward to all semester. I almost cried then pulled myself together looked online and found student tickets for 30 a piece for that night and we ended up going. It was sad wasting the other tickets but at least we didn't miss it. During the day we wandered my quartier and visited the montparnasse cemetery which was surprisingly beautiful but sad especially when we found a plot for a Jewish family that had all passed in an extermination camp in WWII. I got misty eyed and took a moment for prayer then we headed out in search of happier things. We walked down the main roads in my quartier and saw some cute shops and after having Italian for lunch we wandered to a park near me. It was super pretty  and had free public restrooms ( very hard to find) and ducks. Oh and ponies! Katie was super happy about that. That night we went to have this famous hot chocolate but the line was way too long and we had to get to the horse thing so got soup at the Christmas village that happened to be nearby. The horse show was so neat. It was a ring and the horses and people performed in the middle and all around the circle of seats. It was more than worth the money and we adored it. 

That Sunday I went to Robyn's house early to make thanksgiving lunch since we wanted more of an American meal and on Thursday the school took us out to eat but it was very French. The bistro was adorable but not what we wanted. So we made chicken, mashed potatoes, a makeshift green bean casserole, salad, and Katie bought awesome croissants. It was fun and we hung out for hours though it just ended up being Robyn, me, Katie, Dina, and her friend. The others couldn't make it. But most exciting part of my week... A money! A capuchin monkey lives at Robyn's home stay. Her name is Lola and she likes to make whistly noises at everyone. We went to say hi and apparently she doesn't overly like strangers but while we were chatting she jumped on my shoulder and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I about imploded from happiness. She is adorable and I wish I could have a monkey. 

Sadly after that my days are boring. I have gone to class and feel a hundred times better. I did see a wonderful Pixar exhibit with Katie and Jeremy yesterday and it made us want to watch all the movies. We are all counting the days till we get home. France is different and has exciting moments but it's Christmas time and we all miss our families. In less than two weeks I will be in the states! Whoo! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Vacation Pt. 4

Hello all. Katie here.
Our final leg of our vacation journey was to Barcelona. Barcelona is in Spain so the cheapest way to get there was via plane. We found tickets through RyanAir, a European air service, about two weeks beforehand. We'd been talking to Katie and at one point we must have told her that we were leaving form the same airport as her (maybe we thought there was only one international airport in Venice), so she was assured that we were leaving from Marco Polo Airport. We made all of our plans for the morning, Katie walked us to the bus depot to catch the airport shuttle, and we boarded the bus to go toward Marco Polo. However the other airport, Treviso, had a bus as well and we noticed as we were sitting down in the shuttle that the Treviso bus said RyanAir on it. So I pulled the tickets out of my purse and finally noticed, amidst all of the advertisements (RyanAir is really bad about that; they advertise literally any chance they possibly can) that our airport was Treviso. But the bus was already moving at that point so we had no choice to sit tight.

We figured by the time we arrived there would be no time to actually get to Treviso to make our flight so we immediately found a ticket counter and enquired about tickets to Barcelona. The next one that we could feasibly board, the nice ticket man told us, was through SuisseAir and would cost 300 something euro a piece. After I choked a bit and Rachael thanked him, we walked away and Rachael looked at the Treviso airport to see if there were any other Barcelona flights through there. The only one was our flight, but we noticed that the time had been moved up by about 20 or 30 minutes. So I look at Rachael and say, I think we should go for it. Let's see if we can find a cab.

We found a cab. It was expensive. But by golly he got us there in time and we were appreciative. We ran from the cab through the security gates. They looked at us with disbelief in their eyes but they let us through with one word of advice: Run. So we ran. First to the actual security scanners to throw our things on the belt. My boot got stuck and I think I nearly had a panic attack , but the scanner man got it for me. Rachael took off, expecting that I would catch up to her which I did. Then we scaled about three flights of stairs to reach the gate and the lady looks at me and asks if I have our boarding passes. So I yell back at Rachael to have them ready, and she arrives and flings them at the lady. This lady looks at us and simply says, "You're lucky." Another lady escorts us out there and points us to another man in a bright jacket in front of a RyanAir plane, telling us to be careful and not to rush. But as soon as she turns her back, we're trotting to the man and he waves us on the plane.

I have no idea really how we managed to make it in time, other than pure luck.
So we’re physically on the plane, the conductor is saying hello, and we’re trying to find seats. They’re not assigned and the plane is packed, so Rachael and I start to search for any seats anywhere. I find a seat next to a nice couple who offers me gum when I’m still trying to regain my breath—I couldn’t tell if they were just offering to be nice because gum helps with pressure, or if they thought I was about to have a panic attack, but either way the gesture was nice. Rachael ended up between a Portuguese lady and a Spanish man named Favio (Yes, I am not making this up) who started up a little romance with Rachael as their witness. There were no other complications with the flight, just seemingly endless advertising over the intercom. We landed and departed. Found the tourist office easy enough and they provided us with a map and directions to reach our hotel. From there we had walked toward the train which would take us to the city center and on the way there, a nice man on his way off the train handed us a 10 journey ticket with some trips still on it, so we didn’t have to pay for any sort of public transport for almost the whole trip. From the train we took the metro, and then we walked to our hotel, which started to seem a little sketchy as it was situated in a back alley.

 We had to wait for about 15 minutes before a man came to unlock the front door. It was a bed and beach house, with the office on the first floor and then multi-room apartments on the other floors. He gave us more helpful information for the metro and the bus, as well as good places to find groceries.

 After settling in, we found the store and bought all of the groceries! Well not all, but a good amount. With the setup of the room, we had access to a fully equipped kitchen and we took advantage of that to cook our meals in and save some money. They were also pretty delicious and all American. The first night we ate hot dogs, pre-prepared fried rice in a microwave container and canned corn, with pickles and Fanta. Our last breakfast there we ate the remainder of Dunkin Doughnuts and fruit. It was a beautiful food experience, ironically enough because we never once actually ate any Spanish food. But we did have gelati :D

 The first full day in Barcelona we wandered through the main streets and pretty much went sightseeing. And I mean literally. While walking toward the city centre, a Flemenca dancer or someone associated with them tried to offer us carnations for sale and when we didn’t respond positively she popped the carnation into Rachael’s shirt. Right down the collar, all the while speaking rapid Spanish. We tried to explain that we didn’t understand what she was saying, but I don’t think she understood us. Double whammy. Eventually Rachael detangled herself from the flower lady and we continued on. I think flower salespeople have a thing for putting their merchandise in inappropriate places so you feel compelled to buy them to make the salespeople go away faster…

This was a random statue in the park near the Bed and Beach House

This was a fountain on the walk to the city center
And this is a pigeon who decided the head of one of the fountain sculptures was the perfect place to rest for a while. I love it when they do that.


We visited a fortress-mansion from way back when, the gothic cathedral, one of the monument houses by Gaudi, and several museums. However they either charged more than we were willing to pay to go inside or (in the case of the museums) they were closing as we reached them. So we took in a lot of the street life and tired ourselves out. For lunch we found a great Asian place called Wok to Walk.

We came back a little early, feeling a little flattened from our day (this was the moment that gelati happened again, as well as doughnuts and coffee) or as the French would say “je suis crevé.” Rachael was also having random stabbing pains in her temple so we figured that it would be better for her to lay down and repose. We wandered back toward the guesthouse and hung out for the rest of the evening, spending a good chunk of time on the rooftop terrace, which offered great views of the city. (Rachael will have to add pictures of that because I forgot my camera.) We’d passed a zoo earlier in the day that was literally right down the block from where we were staying, and due to our lack of expenses the premier day, we decided to spring for it. Woke up early the next day, packed up our things, had the beautiful breakfast, and we went to the zoo.

And it was good.

 It was a fairly large zoo, larger than we’d thought it would be as it was tucked right into the city. They had a huge collection of animals, including gorillas and monkeys of all kinds, big cats, birds, safari grazers, elephants and giraffes, and various pygmy varieties. You can view the whole list on the website:

But I figured I could give you some of the more unique photos we managed to capture that the zoo probably won’t have.

Tapir and her baby!

The lion den, which happened to be right next to the tiger's enclosure. He did not seem pleased with that when we went by, pacing right by the fence behind the bushes.

This would be a derpy little antelope thing. We watched him try to eat that leaf for a good ten minutes, and if that is not the face of victory, I do not know what is.

This was a bird who really wanted to tell us all about life and the strange devices we were holding in our hands. He was a great angry model for us.

Rachael and I nearly had a heart attack with the hyenas. We came up by the fence but we didn't expect to see one about a foot away from us, because most of that side was covered in shrubbery for privacy. So we both had a "holy crap" moment before taking our opportunity to snap a picture.

This would be the derpy llama we saw who just seems pleased with life.

Rachael was about as pleased when we found the elephants

Another bird who seemed highly intrigued in the cameras.

And probably the most adorable sheepish expression ever. But sea lions are experts at these.

Another mama and her baby. It was baby season at the zoo!

Mexican Grey Wolves, there were about four of them I think in the enclosure

The hippo! He was the last one we saw on our way out of the zoo

We walked by the bear enclosure before, but they were not in these positions before. Sometimes life is too much when you're a bear and you need to hide your head and sleep. I feel ya bear.

We left the zoo around one, collected our bags, and walked toward the metro. By the time we got off the metro, it was around 1:45-1:50, but by the time we actually made it to the train platform we had just missed that one at 2 (those tunnels are much longer then they let on), so we had to wait until 2:30. But that was fine, because we actually accounted for all of the possible setbacks and our plain didn’t leave until 5:30. So we got on the train to the airport, took an airport shuttle to get to the right terminal, and then we waited around until our information showed up on the board. Sat down for a little bit at the gate, but after 20 minutes or so, they started loading the plane, so we hopped on and made our way back to Paris.

We landed sometime around 9 pm, and after a bit of confusion with finding the Orly bus that would take us from the Orly airport to the interior of Paris, and the intervention of a nice Parisian ticket salesman, we found our way again. From the bus we took the metro back to our respective homestays, thoroughly exhausted but glad to have made it in one piece. We had school the next morning and a bit of catching up to do, seeing as how we technically missed the first day of classes back from fall break. But that went smoothly and now at the time of writing this blog entry we’ve got a little over a month until our return to the states. Yay America! :D

Also, a bit of extra happiness for me: Parvatie, Madame Mella's kitty finally returned from her vacation in the country! She is so adorable and affectionate it's not even funny. Maybe a little. Mostly I just want to pet her all the time, but then her hair gets up my nose, I sneeze, and she darts away wondering what that awful noise was. And the cycle repeats. <3

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vacation Pt. 3 (Also known as "You want to go to Lido?")


So this lovely part of the vacation started with exciting happy panic time. We had the moment with getting on the train to reach the other station. Here's what this other station looked like:
Lovely sanctioned graffiti type art. Pretty interesting stuff. So then we got on the train and we were on the train for forever. Got off the train and it was completely dark outside. Tried to sniff out the tourist/information booth but that was closed. They did not have any maps either. There was a McDonalds though so I walked in to ask the cash register if they knew anything. I told her we needed to get to Lido and showed her the booking print out for our hotel. Her reaction: "You want to get to Lido? You have to use a waterboat for that! And those are in Venice." We tried to explain that we thought we were in Venice, and to ask how we got to the right part, but her English wasn't that advanced. We got that we needed to take ANOTHER train to reach a different station to find the water taxis that would take us to Lido. Which is an island in the vicinity of Venice. If you search Venice hotels and such, all the hotels on the adjacent islands will come out. So if ever you venture that direction, just keep in mind that possibility.
Now that we had this new problem we had to find another source of information. We searched for a station guard but there were none to be seen. There was a large crowd of people around a folk band having an impromptu concert so that was interesting but we didn't think any of them would be able to help us. We ended up walking around the back and finding some taxi drivers. Went up to one of them and asked if he knew specifics on how to get to Lido. Again
"You want to get to Lido? You're going to need to reach the water taxis for that."
Yes we know that. We knew that from the beginning. How do we get to those.
So he told us that we needed to get back on the train and go down to the next stop and we would be at the right station.
There was a kiosk in the station for tickets so we went to that, but there were five or so stations with the name of Venice plus something else. Finally I saw an official looking train man so I ran him down and nearly ploughed into some police officers. He was able to tell us the exact name for the station we needed, Santa Luccia. In the meantime Rachael got to help a nice British gentleman figure out the automatic ticket kiosk. We got our new tickets which thankfully were only a couple of euro a piece.
Finally we arrive in the correct station!
The ticket office for the water taxis is closed. Insert hair tearing out panic mode.
But we continue on through the station hoping that somehow they will still be running and we can buy some onboard. We discover another office outside right by the docks. A ticket was 7 euro one way, so that sucked in the long run with venturing to and from Venice and Lido. But we were happy to be on our way and we were hoping that the other Katie, whom we were meeting up with here hadn't filed a missing persons report.
We land on the island.
We cannot find a map.
We wander again, because what else could we do, and at the very end of the long station along the water, there is a map of the island. We are able to find the street we need but we don't know where it is along the street. So we walk. We find the road soon enough. We walk some more.
And some more.
And some more.
Finally as the final fit of desperation that probably would have broken us begins to set in, we reach the end of the street and the hotel.
It was a beautiful reunion and Katie was thrilled to see us alive and together.
This is Lido, the island we stayed on. Beautiful water, but too cold for toe dipping!

The rest of Venice was not nearly so traumatic luckily. We wandered a bit, because that's what we do. The city was beautiful with little channels all throughout the city and nearly everyone had a boat. Lido was a residential island so it was quiet and peaceful. Gelati happened quite often which shouldn't surprise anyone at this point, and we found breakfast at the grocery store nearby. In the actual city of Venice we found glass shops everywhere! Another nearby island called Murano specializes in making glass everything. Rachael and I were repeatedly drawn into the shops for the whole time we stayed there. This was also our last chance to buy leather goods because our plan to do a day trip to Milan fell through, for the same reason as Pompeii. And they said trains were cheap here....sigh...
But we were able to find leather shoe stores literally at the last possible moment, the night before our departure. We all managed to find a soulshoe though and we were so pleased! They are beautiful examples of leather working and I'm excited to bring them home so I can treat them and wear them ALL THE TIME! I had to wear them through the airport to the next leg of the journey and the whole time I wore them, they were completely comfortable and my feet never started to hurt. And they're brand new!!!
We also got really tasty pasta food but unfortunately Venice was even worse than Florence and they literally charged for water, for a cover charge, and for the service. At one point, we stopped for lunch at a pizzeria and I wasn't really hungry, so Rachael and Katie were going to order one each (they're not as big as the states, so they can be feasibly eaten by one person) and I was going to steal a bite or two. But as soon as we stated that we wanted two pizzas and that I wouldn't be getting anything, he told us that I had to order something or there would be an extra charge on the pizzas to share them. I think he noticed that all of our faces had turned to death stares so he took a step back and said "Don't be angry at me, I didn't make the rules." Yes, we literally had that moment. We were thoroughly fed up at that point, so we just got up and left. Found a food stand somewhere that satisfied us for cheaper than the other place would have.
We found a gallery to visit and that was an interesting selection of art pieces. Some second hand Renaissance paintings and then some really contemporary works and a room devoted to Jewish relics. We saw the outsides of some churches and basilicas but they charged to go in. And we went by the big museum there with Da Vinci sketches, but that was really expensive too. And in Rachael's words "When you can get into the Louvre for free, paying that much for a museum is just kind of ridiculous."
Pigeons taking a bath in part of a statue/monument

Mural in one of the back alleys of Venice
 So we shopped. A lot. I'm pretty sure Christmas is taken care of for all of our people. We also found a really great tea place with delicious little pastries and that served as a pick me up from all of the disappointment that was sightseeing floppage.
Voyaging from Lido to Venice
Also a fun moment with the owner of the hotel: I bought a small thing of toothpaste in Florence because Rachael had run out of her to-go bottle. But the top of it was sealed and we had no sharp thing to open it. So one morning we took the tube to the front desk and asked if he had some scissors that he could use to open it with, and he did. They did not work so he told us we could use a knife from the breakfast room to cut it open. But before we get very far he calls us back and says he has something that would work. Then he proceeds to open one of the desk drawers and pulls out a mini-saw. I think we were all like, "what the heck, where did he find that?"
But it did the trick. He looks at us then very intently and says "You have to throw that first bit out, yeah? It's no good."
So that was a beautiful moment, and the city was also very beautiful to walk through.
Of course at this point, we're all starting to feel the pinch of the constant travel and our clothes thoroughly smelled of suitcase. But the last leg was up and we mustered up some more energy. To Barcelona!
The last voyage from Lido to Venice. Lovely sight right, some kind of church literally right at the water's edge. Now look to the left....
I forgot to mention the first go around: So also on our last night, after all of the boot shopping we didn't know what to do with ourselves. It was still a little early for dinner, but all of the activity places were closing down. We decided to go back to the plaza by the canal and hang out, do some people watching, have a bit of a sit break. And in that period of time, a man came up to me with a bouquet of roses and tried to sell me one by sticking one between my thighs--I kept saying "no merci" and refusing to make eye contact until he walked away. We were all kind of like wtf after that moment, but then, not even 15 minutes after that incident, one of the light up flying sling toys that sales people were demonstrating hit me in the face. Right while I was talking. The man trotted over and apologized profusely while backing away until he was pretty much on the other side of the square.
I love salespeople. They really know how to charm their targets...
At least I was with people I could laugh with about the whole thing. And this isn't the only time this happens unbelievably. More in the next post!

Florence Pictures

Terrace at the hotel

Church in the village during the Chianti half day tour

Second wine tasting

Fortress village at second wine tasting

Rachael having a moment...sometime around the giraffe pictures invaded

Rachael having a successful moment of pizza consumption...and there was wine for lunch!!! :D