Monday, February 28, 2011

London Teaser

Just a couple pics to tide you over until I can start making my full post(s). Out of time/energy tonight, but I wanted to make sure I didn't leave you in the lurch!

Union Jacks

Crossing the Thames on the top deck of a tour bus

Friday, February 25, 2011

As Long as the Train Itself...

…this post is. As long as the train itself, this post is. Very Yoda. Or perhaps Shakespeare on a particularly saucy day. Well, here it is:

Writing to you from the train! Well, sort of. I’m writing this on the train, I will post it once I am safely ensconced in the hostel I am staying in tonight, before I transfer to the hotel with Katie and Clarissa tomorrow night. I was so incredibly nervous last night and this morning, even though I knew I had taken care of all I could take care of. The snags, I guess, were as follows:

a)    I am so used to printing my own tickets that I automatically clicked the option to print my Eurostar tickets at home, forgetting that I have no printer. I need to learn the cyber-cafes around here. Now, most US travel places have no problem with letting you click this then actually print at the station, but this time it was a bit of an issue. I don’t know if it is a French thing, a European thing, or just a Eurostar thing, but if once I clicked that fateful little box, if I couldn’t print it on my own, I had to get to the station early and have an actual person print it for me, for a small fee. So I did that, but it was still a huge cause of anxiety.

b)   No printer also means I couldn’t print itineraries and confirmations and the like, but I countered this by copying everything, including directions to my hostel from my Underground stop, into a notebook.

c)    I don’t know how to call my bank and tell them that I am going to be in the UK for a few days, so I’m just going to withdraw a chunk of change as soon as I get there, and sort out unblocking my card, if indeed they do block it, when I get back to France and can have my program director help me. I had hoped to withdraw the money in Euros while in Paris and then exchange it at the train station in London, but the lady who printed my tickets apparently had to go through quite a process, because it took her ages, and then security was slow, so I had to tear down the platform to get to my train.

d)   And of course, I cleverly booked a train that left at 6:43 am. On the other side of Paris from me. Caught what I believe was the first Metro of the morning, at 5:37am. Now, I’ve been getting up earlier these days, but the bump I made to 6:50am earlier this week was still feeling a bit too early. But then I ended up waking up 30 minutes before my alarm anyway.

e)    And finally, I always go into panic mode when I do international travel (puh, always- this is only my second time flying internationally without my mom right there, helping me get everything together). Domestic travel is significantly less, unless I am moving. Then it is terror like none other.

Everything is going pretty swimmingly so far. I’m hoping to find a UK adaptor and a padlock somewhere near the train station in London, as I can’t locate my UK adaptor (leaving me to suspect it actually resides in the greater Seattle area), and my hostel highly recommends (in bold, capital letters) to bring my own padlock. I looked in three likely stores yesterday, no padlocks to be found in Paris. But I can actually comfortably ask about things like this once I get to London, because they speak English!!! So excited. Also planning on hitting up a drugstore to see if they stock Nyquil. Just in case another cold hits me in Paris. Granted the drugs the pharmacist gave me worked pretty well, but sometimes a girl just wants to knock herself out with Nyquil and go to sleep.

Still quite dark outside, so my window seat is not doing much for me- OOO! Windmill!! I could see the outline of a windmill. That was cool. A modern, pointy one, but still. I can also faintly see some buildings, and of course I can see the lights of the French strip malls, which really kind of amuses me.
I think dawn is approaching. Just in time for us to shoot under a tunnel and do really painful things to my ears! Yowch. Well, we’re back up, which is good. I didn’t think we’d been in here long enough to already be in the Chunnel… I can now see outlines of trees a little ways off. Not the cool uber-French cypress trees, for the most part, but I’ll see those in a few weeks when my program takes us to Marseilles. Which, I found out yesterday in my history class, is in the South of France! Yay geography. I was just stressing over needing to get into the South of France (probably doesn’t need to be capitalized, but there you go), and for whatever reason I though Marseilles was sort of… middle to upper eastern area. Not so, as it turns out. It’s the oldest city in France, settled by the Greeks as a point of commerce pre-Roman invasion.

Hahaha, I can see semi-trucks on the highway next to us. It never ceases to amuse me when I see things that seem so very big and American over here. Like the truck commercial I saw the other day. Did you know that Volkswagen makes trucks? It was like one of those Chevy commercials, with dirt and Real Men. And of course, they have dirt here, and I’m sure they have Real Men who do Real Manly Jobs, but it totally doesn’t jive with the image of the cute provincial French worker, or the assumed disdain for American machismo.

Oooo, string of cypress trees in the distance. It’s that weird dusty blue light on everything now, so I can see detailed silhouettes of things a ways away now, but not much color. Yaaaay countryside! I’m glad I have a view of some before the inevitable descent into darkness. Sort of the point in taking the train! I can only assume that the train that left 30 minutes later was much more expensive… what else would I have been thinking??

When I flew to Dublin a few years ago (close to two years- just a few weeks from now, I think), I went by way of France. What I’m seeing now connects up very nicely with what I saw on the plane- which is to say, very little. Outside of the big cities, France is pretty open. Lots of wide plains and farmland and the like, dotted with adorable little cities, all with their adorable little church. Of course, I’m also seeing a more industrialized area, as train tracks tend to run through such warehouse and train yard type areas.

Farmland is so cute. Aha! Successfully avoided ear pain at another small tunnel- I was yawning as we entered. Note to self. (In case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t so much a structured blog post as it is a stream-of-conscious as the train rolls down the track.)

Hmmm. That may be it for scenery for a while- nope, I lied. Back up top.

I’m a happy girl now. Plenty of light, and lots of little farmhouses right off the tracks. A tad foggy, but still an excellent view. My only issue right now is food. I actually packed food- part of the baguette I picked up last night, spread with peanut butter and Nutella. But a) I have no water, so it’s pretty sticky and dry to eat, and b) I’ve reached that point of hunger when I’m actually almost nauseas and unable to eat. Which just seems plain silly, from an evolutionary standpoint. But it usually subsides in a bit, and I’ll go for it then, water or no water.

Little teeny windmill! Spinning away madly. Looks like it just powers the little teeny town it ws in the middle of.

It’s very peaceful out here. I’m pretty much a city gal, or at least a moderately-sized town on the proximity of a city gal, but out here I can really see the appeal of moving out into the country, getting a cute little house with a little vegetable garden. And a few geese, I feel like there are geese involved. Daily walks or bike rides (faire une promeade ou faire une promenade a velo) to the little patisserie/boulangerie (need to find out what, if any, difference there is between those two) in town.

Hmm. We are slowing down some, but I know we aren’t making any stops. I wonder if this means we are approaching the chunnel. The fog has gotten heavier, so is seems reasonable to assume that we are near the water now.

Passing through a train station (but not stopping), and I can see some soldiers. This is something interesting I have noticed in France- there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to where they show up, but every couple of days I spot a group of three soldiers. They are in army combat gear, and they carry machine guns. Like, big, epic, war movie machine guns. While wearing berets, and strolling the streets of Paris or hopping on the Metro. It’s interesting. The seem to take the place of a standard police presence. Though I did see a little squadron of riot police a few weeks back, though I couldn’t for the life of me find the riot. (Alright, I didn’t go searching for it, but there was no noticeable disturbance that I could see, and I did look around.)

This might finally be The Chunnel. Which means I can finally turn to my West Wing DVD and not feel guilty! View or West Wing- it’s a win-win.
And we’re up! This must mean I’m in England!! Where it is veeeery foggy.  Back to The West Wing. You know, I remember the Chunnel part of the train ride taking a lot longer when we traveled from London to Paris in 2005.

And as it turns out, the train ride from the Chunnel into London is also short, so I must dash! When this posts, I should be safely ensconced in my hostel. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011


About to start my first inter-Europe traveling! Very early tomorrow morning, I hop a train for London. There, I will spend a day wandering on my own, and then meet up on Saturday morning with my friends from the good old USA who are also studying in Europe- Katie in Spain, Clarissa in Edinburgh. We're seeing a play in the West End! And staying in a hotel for the night. I have also given myself the first part of the day on Sunday, and then I return to Paris via train late Sunday afternoon. Pretty excited!

In a few weekends, I am going with a few Central folk (I think there will be 4 of us) on a bicycling tour of the Loire Valley- we are visiting somewhere in the vicinity of 4-6 chateaus, I believe. Chatelets?

I will try to at least give you a quick text update from London!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Panic Reset

I have a video blog for you today (well, yesterday, actually. This took me forever to upload, so the video and this little parenthetical are actually coming to you on Tuesday morning)! Hopefully this loads alright, let me know if you are experiencing problems. It cuts off about 8-15 seconds before I actually ended the video (I don't know why), but you don't really miss anything.

P.S. Second class went fine, but towards the end my brain finally went into overdrive. I'm walking around in a haze now. It feels like when I took the LSAT- I can actually physically feel the fatigue in my brain. I think it wants a nap in a big way. The rest of the evening will involve nothing more than Nutella and the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice and sweatpants. Oh yes. I can bring the classy. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Panic Mode!!


School starts tomorrow and I'm neeeeeeerrrrrrvous! I'm nervous that I'll oversleep (despite the fact that I've been waking up around 8am naturally, so even if I sleep over my 7am alarm, I should still be able to make it to my 9am class. I'm nervous that I'll get lost on my way there. I'm nervous that the French will be too far beyond my comprehension. I'm nervous that I'll get lost while I'm there. I'm nervous about spending 6 hours of intensive French study in one day- entirely in French.

At least I'm starting out with the worst of it. Each day thereafter has only one 3-hour class, and two of them are content based. But also entirely in French. EEP!

Directionally Challenged

Those of you who have spent much time with me anywhere other than Edmonds probably have learned that I am directionally challenged. I blame my mother- on several occasions, our individual senses of misdirection have combined exponentially and led to some truly epic instances of being lost. On my own, I'm not quite as much of a hazard-in-the-making, but adventures still abound. I'm finding that, in Paris, my directional adventures generally work out to be about one hour in total from the point of getting lost to getting truly back on track.

I thought to document parts of one such adventure a few weeks ago:

It began as I attempted to make my transfer at the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station. While normally a new train comes every 2-6 minutes (depending on the time of day), there was a huge back-up. The entire platform was filled with people, and the display said that the next train was over 20 minutes away. Clearly, some sort of blockage on the line or malfunctioning train somewhere. I first decided to instead go above ground and find the bus that would take me home.

Problem: right around Montparnasse is where my bus line splits in two for about 8-10 stops, depending on the direction you are going. And the whole area is very confusing anyway. Enter the first 15 minutes of being lost. I wander about, looking for my bus. I eventually conclude that I'm not going to find it any time soon, and I might as well just walk. It's only about 20 minutes from here....

I consult my map, determine my course, and resolutely march off.

In the wrong direction. I learn of this about 20 minutes later, when I somehow manage to end up crossing the same street I started from. Reconsult the map. I am still not entirely certain how I managed to loop around, but at least I figure out that I was heading the wrong way down the street. The obvious step here is to now head down the street in the reverse direction.

Somehow this doesn't work either. I stop to get a crepe to sustain myself.

Hair looking incredibly blowsy, but a nice warm crepe does wonders to warm up the hands in all that wind!
I choose yet another likely-looking path and set off. Fortunately, I have no scheduled plans for the evening!

A little fuzzy, sorry. All of the streets started to look the same after a while.... (but I'm still in love with French architecture) 
After over-shooting my turn-offs on several occasions and doing some backtracking, I start to have a little more confidence that I am going in the right direction. But I have absolutely no clue when I am to turn off. In a sudden burst of luck, I come across the random little eBay store that I know is kitty-corner to my favorite grocer, and thus finally know where I am.

My salvation!
All in all, my trip home that normally takes about 30 minutes in total took about an hour and 40. But I made it! In heels, thank you very much.

Home at last! The view from my window.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

School's About to Start!

O.O I think I fixed my internet (KNOCK ON WOOD). Read: I think I finally got my cable connection to work, rather than relying on the really sad wireless that barely comes through that I've been paying for for a month, since the cable worked exactly once (conveniently, the time I paid for it). Wireless subscription doesn't run out until 3am, so I won't know for certain, but I'm testing out things that have worked very slowly for the past 5 weeks, and so far it is speedy as all get out. Final test: if I can successfully video-Skype with the parents without crashing my extremely powerful computer, as has happened the last few times we tried.

In other news, proper university classes start on Monday. !!!! When did that happen?? This week has flown by at an incredible pace. Somehow, tomorrow is Friday, and my classes start on Monday. I don't even.

I believe my schedule looks as follows:

Monday:       09:00a-12:00p   Langue francaise (French language class)
                      14:00p-17:00p   Oral French (another French language class)

Tuesday:       14:00p-17:00p   La mode et le stylisme (French fashion!)

Wednesday:  09:00a-12:00p   Langue francaise (part two of Monday morning class)

Thursday:     14:00p-17:00p   Les grandes periodes de l'histoire de France (French history!!)

I was originally scheduled to take a class on French literature in place of the Oral French, but it was double-booked with my history class, and there was no other time it was available. A little bummed to be taking more language than electives, but it's probably going to be good for me. And will help with my comprehension in my two remaining elective classes- they are taught in French!!

And no classes on Friday. This makes me a pretty happy girl. Three out of my four semesters at Trinity, I arranged to take all of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, thus leaving me with 4-day weekends every weekend. I have to tell you, this is a pretty fabulous set-up. Last semester, in Washington DC, I had classes Monday-Wednesday and my internship on Thursdays and Fridays. This left me with a measley two days for a weekend, which is also what I have had these first few weeks of French class. Let me tell you what I have discovered.

Two days makes for an inadequate weekend. Three days are at minimum required: one for going out and doing exciting things (going out with friends, exploring the city, going for a hike, going to the movies, going shopping, etc.), one for getting things done (cleaning, errands, laundry, long-term research projects, etc.), and one for never getting out of your pajamas. Granted, I liked having the 4th day, but I am just so psyched to get the extra day back. Now I can spend a day curled up in my room watching American movies in English and not feel like I am wasting a precious weekend day. Sometimes you just need to unwind and surround yourself with English, completely banishing all French from your presence. Or at least, I do.

I had my second dream in French last night, and it was infinitely more pleasant than the first. I don't remember the details, just that I was pleasantly going about things in French. The first time I dreamt in French was sometime during the first week, I believe, and it was incredibly stressful. I was aware at multiple points that I was dreaming, but couldn't wake up. The dream didn't happen in French, I was frantically translating everything into French. Ugh. Trop horrible.

Perhaps the difference is that I'm starting to get a little comfortable with French. I still have a looong way to go, but I feel the "deer-in-headlights" look coming with far less frequency when someone speaks to me in French, and I find myself able to articulate myself far more accurately. Having French classes while actually going out and speaking French is so different from having classes taught in English, where all you do is exercises, never really properly using the language. Several times over the past few weeks, when I have been out and about, I formulate a sentence and then realize giddily that I just used a concept that I had learned/relearned/clarified in my class over the past few weeks- Cause! Consequence! Future Simple!

I must remember to tell my professor that. Last class with her tomorrow at 13:00! (Slowly getting used to the time-telling over here)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cultural Short: Popcorn

Popcorn is distressingly scarce in Paris. Through much scouring, I have managed to locate one kind of very small microwave popcorn at one store, and also very small bags of regular kernels. I actually haven't tried them out yet.

At the movie theatres, they of course do have popcorn, in much smaller servings. It is offered "a sel" or "a sucre"- with salt or with sugar. No butter, sadly, but those Central folk who enjoy kettle korn are happy campers.

On a tangent, I have also yet to find any regular M&Ms, just peanut ones.

These are both probably very good things for my figure, but they are just a tad distressing when I want to curl up and be L'Americaine!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentines Day for Les Filles Sans Des Amis

Though I'm still battling a nasty cold (I finally gave in and stopped by a pharmacie yesterday and picked up a mini drugstore for myself), I was persuaded to hit up the town for a few hours to celebrate Valentines Day.

First, my foyer-mate (we live in single rooms on the same floor) Vanessa and I found a local pizza place for a quick dinner. The news/weather was on a TV, and we were actually able to follow it! Very exciting.

After getting a teensy bit lost, we found our way to the Latin Quarter, and met up with a bunch of other Central Folk for gelato!

This is foccacina a la glace- essentially, a hot sweet pastry around gelato. I chose two different gelatos- a Nutella one and a "Speculoos" one, which is like Nutella except tastes like graham cracker crust. I actually liked the Speculoos one a lot better! 

And as we wandered back to our Metro, we passed a few favorite spots and had to camp it up...

Being cute

There was some sort of confused YMCA thing going on here when the photo snapped

"Being Quasimodo"

Being cute again, over the Seine

Sunday, February 13, 2011


We went to Versailles over the weekend! There were some parts of it that I remembered from my visit with my family back in 2005, and some things that were entirely new.

Have a look (pictures got all out of order, apologies):

The outside is just as ornately decorated as the inside- shock and awe, I guess

A good example of the general opulence inside

This is... well... this is a velvet toilet. I have incredible respect for the chutzpah it took to commission a velvet-covered toilet. 
Louis XIV- The mastermind/egomaniac himself

This sort of sums up the whole idea

In front of the incredibly bright gold gates!

The king's private library- WANT

What is so special about this room is its lack of windows- in a time when a skilled worker could afford 1 candle a week, the king used over 2000 for a 4-hour card game. More than any other room, this one little card room helped him show off the extreme wealth and opulence of Versailles.

I was very taken with this hallway/staircase
I adore this staircase. I wish I'd had a chance to explore it, but it just peeked out of the door as we passed...

The chapel. AKA the my favorite part. 

Incredible ceiling- ever bit of ceiling, including under the walkways of the two levels on the side, had intense murals.

Everywhere else, you have to really put yourself in the mindset of what 18th century France was like in order to understand how truly decadent Versailles is. Being fully aware of just how much pure gold is surrounding you helps as well. But in this chapel, with it's soaring ceilings and lots of light, I was genuinely impressed without having to go through the steps outlined above. 

I think this is a small candle holder imbedded into a wall. Even that is pure decadence! 

And here it is, the Hall of Mirrors. Far more impressive than the last time I saw it, when it was under renovations  and they had boarded up the mirrors and windows.

Another mural ceiling, and lovely lovely chandeliers 


The swirly landscaping

I actually don't have anything to say here. But every other picture has a caption, and I thought it would look weird to leave this blank...

The view looking back at Versailles from the gardens

Versailles stretches down well over a mile, and also expands out. There are actually several more areas further down, like Marie Antoinette's little peasant village and the place Napoleon created for himself, that I didn't have a chance to visit. They would down a ways and to the right in this photo.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

At the Ballet Off of Trocadero

Oooooh, I have been neglecting you, haven't I? Apologies. I will work to catch you up sometime soon. For tonight, I'm just going to post about tonight!

Today the Central folk went to the ballet (again). This time, we saw the Maladain Ballet Biarritz perform Magifique (Tchaikovski Suites) athe the Theatre National de Chaillot.




Guys, this seriously may have been the best ballet I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of ballet in my relatively few years. It was modern, certainly, but set up against some of Tchaikovski's best. Parts were weird, most were beautiful, and all was utterly impressive. Even if I hadn't enjoyed the choreography, the sheer athleticism it displayed would have made me a fan. Normally, one of my favorite parts of ballet choreography is when the guys jump. They get so high and hang for so long, then land so softly- it's such an incredible display of the true athletes and masters that they are. There was a definite lack of men bounding about in this ballet, and I didn't even realize it until close to the end, because there was so much else impressive, from every dancer, of both genders. Parts were beautiful, parts were strange, most of it was quirky and energetic and wonderful dancing. I vote we start a letter-writing campaign to get PNB to add it to an upcoming season.

Except we should add that they can do it without the strange child laughter during the transitions. That was just creepy.

The metro that took me most of the way there was above ground much of the time, which I always love. At the very least, I get to see all of the wonderful Parisian buildings (I have a serious affinity for what I call the "triangle blocks,"and the slanted roofs that are on most of the buildings). And I'm always craning to see if I can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Tonight, I caught several. A busker was in my car, which normally rather annoys me, but tonight it was actually quite wonderful. He played accordion while the Eiffel Tower peeked through gaps between centuries-old buildings, and then suddenly shot into full view as we passed over the Seine. Yesterday, my main feelings regarding Paris were "What is wrong with this city they don't have any $*@(&#$ Nyquil!!!" Tonight, though still Nyquil-less and frantically popping Ricola to keep from scaring my fellow Metro-riders, I was all giggly- "This is Paris! This is Paris! I live here!"

My Metro finally succumbed to the Paris Underground right before my stop, Trocadero. When I popped up onto the main street, I stumbled upon a lovely surprise: Trocadero Square.

Sample of the view from Trocadero Square. This picture completely does not capture how utterly huge the Eiffel Tower is from this vantage point. It completely fills the height of your vision.

I think I would set up and live in a pup tent on Trocadero Square if I thought the police would let me. Apparently if I had a dog with me, they probably actually would let me, because they wouldn't know what to do with the dog if they busted me. Good little tips for if anyone ever aspires to be homeless in Paris. You can sleep in the Metro stations too, if you have a dog. Doesn't work with kids, though. There is a recent law that says that if you are begging with a child, the state can take said child.

Ran into a few other Central folk and we wandered around for a few minutes looking for some crepes for a girl who still needed dinner. Didn't find any (there is a crepe stand right there, with a huge pyramid of Nutella jars, but he refuses to make Nutella crepes. Apparently the Nutella is only for the waffles that he also sells. ???), but got to see a little more of the area. Very posh. Went inside, saw the best ballet ever, and then Metro-ed home. But not before stopping one last time....

Catch you later! xoxo

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cultural Short: Superbowl Oddity

ESPN America shows the Superbowl. But not the Superbowl commercials.

Instead, we get "Superbowl Flashbacks" with highlights of previous games, and interviews with former Steeler and Packer players who won Superbowls with the respective teams. Which was actually pretty cool. Even if we couldn't hear it over the din of the bar!

So tomorrow, I will be putting in several hours watching all of the commercials on YouTube. There are loads of sites that collect up every single one, as I recall....

P.S. Updated the previous Cultural Short about the keyboards with a picture of said keyboard. Check it out! Click here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Little Moments: Traffic on the Seine

Just a quick shot I took, while in a bus that was stuck in traffic on a bridge over the Seine: