For Your Viewing Pleasure (Pt. II)

August 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Okay, so here are 15 more pictures from my time in Rome.  For a little update, I’m currently in Valencia right now with three friends.  As soon as I’ve shared these photos I’ll update everyone on what’s happened since Wade and Jack returned to the U.S. (I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping everything up-to-date).  Enjoy these pictures of Rome for now, and in a couple days I’ll fill you in on everything that’s occurred in the last two weeks (I promise).  But enough about that.  Here’s a little visual guide of Rome.

So there you have it, five days in Italy with Wade and Jack.  I learned a lot about the places we went to (thanks to Ian) and I’ve tried to share some of that knowledge with all of you.  I hope I didn’t bore you, and please feel free to cite this blog in any historical or art papers that you may have to write in the future (I can’t guarantee you’ll get a good grade).  You may also be wondering why there are no pictures of the famous Cistine Chapel.  Well there would be, but security does its utmost to protect all of the images inside.  Not from any physical damage from flashes mind you, but from the even more devastating copyright infringement damage that could be done.  Apparently all images of the Cisitine Chapel are currently owned by a Japanese company, and they don’t like tourists infringing on their property.  Weird.  My next post will try to catch you up to where I right now : sitting in my apartment with sunburn on my back (and front and face) and tomato-induced rashes on my arms (it took me a few days to finish this post).  If that sounds like a story you want to hear, then stay tuned.

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For Your Viewing Pleasure (Pt. I)

August 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Time to add a little color and excitement to this blog.  Here are some pictures of Paris.  Each picture gets a description (as promised), but you have to click on the picture to read it.  Enjoy.

Disclaimer About Germans

August 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of my readers wanted me to clarify and say that I do not believe Germans are bad.  She was worried that I used too broad of strokes while painting my picture of the German people, resulting in an unfair portrait.  I would disagree with her, and tell you what I think of her worries, but she’s my Mom and she reads this blog—I’ve also learned that she’s almost always right, even when I disagree with her (make that especially when I disagree with her).  I am in fact directly related to several Germans, and every one of them is lovely and kind-hearted (this is not said tongue-in-cheek.  My cousins from Germany are awesome).  Trust me, I would have been irritated at any group of children that sang songs and chanted on a hot and crowded metro train after hours of walking around Rome in August.  It just so happened that the group of people who did this were German middle-schoolers.  I’m sure if I had gotten the chance to talk to them I would have found them to be wonderful people.  Actually, that’s probably not true at all.  My guess?  Middle-schoolers are about the same everywhere, and previous experiences with those from American have showed me that trying to talk to one is difficult enough; trying to talk to a group of them is an exercise in futility and may cause emotional and/or physical damage.  Add in the language barrier and our location at the time and now you’ve got some serious problems.  Typing this out has made me come to the conclusion that my Moms (how Biggie would’ve said it) was right: the fact that they were German was far less of a problem than the fact that they were middle-schoolers on the metro.

Madrid (First 5 Days)

August 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

So now we get to the final stage of the first part of my journey to Europe (it’s a two-part plan).  We did a lot more hanging out in Madrid, especially compared to Rome and Paris which were go-go-go.  Madrid is also my home for the next 4-5 months, so I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to see everything because I’ve got plenty of time.  As Jillian Vogel (a friend who also enjoys puns) pointed out, the last two posts have been rather long, so I’m going to keep this one shorter (I tried really hard to think of a pun for this sentence but I couldn’t.  Sorry).  I’ve got five months to talk about Madrid.  Here are some highs and lows from the first five days.

Pros

KNOWING THE LANGUAGE – This helped a lot.  A lot.  I would not say that I was fluent getting off of the plane, but I could communicate ideas and get around.  I’d also been to Madrid before, so I knew a little bit about the layout of the city.

PARKS – The parks here are expansive and beautiful.  A lot of shade, lakes, and cool statues and gardens.  It’s a great place to park yourself after walking around the city for a few hours (there you go Jill).  I’m hanging out in the Madrid parks over the next few months.  Believe you me.

HOSTAL ADRIANO – Cheapest/nicest hostel we stayed in.  It was more of a hotel room, with a private bathroom, free wifi (pronounced “wee-fee” in Spanish), air conditioning, and a lot of pink.  The staff was nice too, and very helpful in finding places to go (except for this one dude that lied about where to get Paella.  He sent us to a restaurant that didn’t have Paella).  It was also in a great location, only a few blocks from the Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid.

METRO – The metro in Madrid is hands down the best one we’ve seen.  It’s fast, cheap, and it goes everywhere.  Walking is the best option for getting anywhere close, but I will be using the metro quite a bit to get across town or to-and-from school.

BOCADILLOS DE CALAMARES – Delicious.  I could have had an entire food sections, but this is all I would have talked about (and all Wade and Jack would have wanted me to talk about).  We found this one Bocadilleria (a store which sells bocadillos) on our first day in Madrid that sold incredible calamari bocadillos.  It was pretty close to our hostel, and I’m pretty sure that Wade and Jack ate at least one a day every day we were in Madrid.

Cons

THE WEATHER – It’s hot.  That’s the only way to describe the weather over the first five days in Madrid.  Hot (pronounced “hhaaut”).  It’s dry too, but it’s so hot during the day that it stays hot during the night.

NATIONAL JERSEYS – Nowhere to be found.

RUMMY – We did a lot of chilling in Spain, and when Wade, Jack, and I chill we usually play some form of Rummy together.  This is a very good thing, obviously, because it increases camaraderie through friendly competition.  So why is it in the cons list?  Well, I’m writing the blog and Jack happened to win the most games, and was therefore the champion rummy player of the trip (Wade was clearly the loser of the trip).  This is a very bad thing.

So there it is.  Our 15-day excursion through Europe condensed into 7,000 words (only 600 of which are in this last post, down from 3,000 in the post before).  I hope you realize that this has been two full posts in as many days.  Pretty impressive, I must say.  Pictures will follow shortly, and some of them may even have captions.  Hooray!  Until then, stay fly my readers.

Rome

August 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

Now I realize that the purpose of a blog is to update constantly and keep you informed of my daily activities.  I have failed to do this due to my desire to provide longer posts with in-depth analysis and a lot of thought behind them (laziness).  From this point forward, you should not expect my posts to be in a timely or frequent manner.  I am currently writing about events that happened almost two weeks ago.  Sorry.  But as they say, better late than never.  Here’s a look at the good and the bad of Rome.

Pros

FOOD – The food in Rome was equally as delicious as the food in Paris.  Actually, it was slightly more delicious due to the fact that it was Italian food and not French food.  I loves me some pasta based dishes.  We ate out a couple different places, but the best place by far was one whose name escapes me.  All I remember is that the slogan of this restaurant is “You eat what we give you” which basically means that you eat what they give you.  The restaurant had no menu, just a fixed meal every night, and for about 25 euro (or is euros the plural of euro?  This has been bothering me for weeks) you get two bottles of wine and a four course meal.  You also don’t have to decide anything since it’s a set meal.  This is a pretty big relief when nobody in your party speaks the language that the menu would be in.  We went here our fourth nigh in Rome, along with Jack Parks, who had been travelling by himself for the past few weeks, and Gwen and her cousin Morgan who had just arrived in Rome.  Getting there was an adventure in itself because we had to use the Rome bus system (whose slogan I think is “A free ride anywhere” because there was no form of buying/checking tickets for our bus) and then walk a few blocks without a map until we (somehow) wound up in front of the restaurant.  The meal was more than all of us could eat—bread, lentils, mozzarella, potato hushpuppy things, two kinds of pasta, veal, and a thick apple pie for desert—washed down with a shot of limoncello, a digestive liquor that tastes exactly like how you would imagine a liquor made by the lemon drop candy company would taste.  The most noteworthy thing to me was the little bits of treasure-bacon hiding in the pasta (I think I remember exclaiming “There’s something in the pasta…IT’S BACON!” after my first bite).  I also ate Gelato for the first time.  I don’t like ice cream much, but I do like peaches, and this was peach flavored and tasted exactly like a peach.  One might say it was peachy (I don’t condone the use of stupid puns, but I know that at least one of my readers—Matt Harris—does.  Got to give the readers what they want)

MONUMENTS – As you might imagine, the monuments in Rome are, as the ancient Romans would say, “mega-cool.”  The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the various arcs celebrating various victories, etc. etc.   There’s just so much ancient stuff to see in Rome it was blowing my mind.  We would walk down the street and run into a five-story stone pillar with depictions of a war spiraling all the way down it, and nobody around us would even care.  Beautiful old churches and buildings that nobody wants to see at all.  “Oh that?  Just some giant obelisk from the 300s A.D.  Stupid piece of crap, taking up space…”  At this rate it might take months, but there will be pictures eventually, and then you can see what I’m talking about.  Until then, I dunno, use your imaginations.  Or Google what I’m talking about.

MT. VESUVIUS – Climbing Mt. Vesuvius was a good decision.  There was quite a bit of trepidation at the beginning of this trip due to me being attacked that morning and our inability to figure out the train system to and from Naples (see below).  Despite all that, everything turned out great.  We got to the top of the mountain and got to see the Mediterranean for the first time.  It was also very cool (literally) because a constant wind from the Mediterranean blew cold air over the surrounding area.  Very cool (figuratively).  The view from the mountain was impressive, and the view of the mountain was equally impressive.  We got to look down in the crater created by all of the eruptions and we also learned that it is still active.  We could even see white smoke coming up from the rocks.  We even made it back to Rome without a problem.  A good daytrip overall.

TOURS – We had two great, cheap tours of the Coliseum and the Vatican.  The company was called Romaround (very clever) and our guide for both tours was Ian from Scotland.  He really seemed to know what he was talking about, but as I said to Wade and Jack, he could have told us that the Romans were a race of aliens that had the power to teleport, just so long as we got to skip all of the lines (which we did).  This especially helpful for the Vatican because that would have been a long long wait.  And our Roma passes didn’t work because the Vatican is its own country.  Here’s a fun fact that Ian may or may not have made up – Due to all the visitors and petty theft, the Vatican has the highest crime rate per capita of any sovereign state.  I’m not sure if this is actually true, but it’s interesting to think about.

THE VATICAN – Not quite as ancient as ancient Rome, but equally as impressive.  The number of years and the amount of money and care spent in creating the Vatican is simply astounding.  There are things in there that you cannot see anyone else, and which no one living today would be able to create.  Yes, there’s the Cistine Chapel, and its beautiful and really a work of genius (fun fact: Michelangelo was not a painter but a sculptor.  He hated painting—along with a lot of other things and people—and the Cistine Chapel was really his first professional job as a painter.  Not a bad start) There’s also tons (literally) of this purple stone called porphyry that the ancient Romans dug up in huge quantities.  Today, this stone is valued at about 10,000 euros per cubic inch (according to Ian).  In one section of the Vatican there is a giant bathtub that belonged to Nero, the sarcophagus of Constantina (Constantine’s sister) and the sarcophagus of Constantine’s mother.  These three items are made entirely of porphyry and combined value roughly 100 million euros.  There’s a lot more than that, but I’ll be able to show you better than tell you.  When I’m done with these lists I’ll have a pictures post (for those of you who only want to look at the pictures) to help explain some of the things that I’m talking about.  We also went into the tomb of all the former Popes, and got to see Pope John Paul II’s burial place.  That was a pretty powerful sight.  Think what you will about the past and present problems of the Catholic Church; the Vatican is a place you absolutely have to see.  It really is a marvel of art, architecture, and religion all combined into one place.

VILLA BORGHESE – The Villa Borghese is a giant park in the middle of Rome, with a lot of cool museums surrounding it, and even a zoo (we only went to the Estruscan museum).  We found it’s a great place to go and throw the Frisbee our hang out after several hours of walking and sightseeing.  This is also where Wade and I taught Jack how to skip rocks for the first time.  He struggled at first, but by the end of the day he could get two or three skips pretty regularly.  We also hung out with Gwen on her first day in Rome.  It was a good park.

ROMA PASS – These things save you so much money.  Let me throw out some stats for you: free entrance into your first two museums/monuments with an entrance fee.  After that, reduced entrance into every museum/monument that accepts the Roma pass (which is most of them).  It’s also good for free public transportation (metro, bus, etc.) and last but not least, you get to skip a lot of the longer lines.  All of this lasts for three whole days, and it only costs 20 euro (which I found out is the plural of euro for most European nations, not euros which is the plural for most English-speaking nations.  Apparently you can’t go wrong, but I’ll stick with euro from now for continuity’s sake).  I’ve got to throw up some mad props to Gwen Barlow for informing me about this awesome little card, or else we would never have known about it  (me throwing up mad props to Gwen, whatever that means)

CASA OLMATA – There were a lot of good things about Casa Olmata: free wifi, cheap, great location, rooftop terrace, free breakfast, no lockout during the middle of the day, free pasta parties.  All of these things gets Casa Olmata a mention on the pros list.

Cons

CRAZY PEOPLE – Let me clarify here.  I realize that there are crazy people everywhere.  I also realized that there are good kinds of crazy people; we even met a few in Paris (see George, Ellexis).  Unfortunately Rome is where we ran into the bad kind of crazy person (literally).  Our fourth and last full day in Rome, we decided to take a day trip to Pompeii via the train the Naples.  We woke up a late, but were in fairly high spirits as we walked to the train station around 10:30 am.  It was at this point that some guy (I’m assuming an Italian but we really don’t know) got off of a bus at the corner, ran across the street, and pushed/grabbed me from the side.  I pushed him off, but he stood there really close and kept sort of pushing me.  He also had a strange half-smile look on his face, and may have mumbled something.  So I pushed him away again.  Then Wade, who the dude completely ignored (as well as Jack), stepped in and kind of shielded me until he walked away.  After a few steps, he turned back around and tried to get past Wade at me again.  After about 30 seconds he walked away for good.  Crazy person.  He didn’t steal anything, he didn’t actually try to fight us (it’s like he wanted me to start the fight), and he didn’t even acknowledge Wade or Jack (he was more than willing to let them stand in his way).  Three possible explanations, all of them ridiculous:

1)     He thought he knew me (due to the weird smiling) and that was a friendly/creepy greeting that turned more sinister when I pretended not to know him.

2)     I was wearing a Davor Suker jersey (Arsenal player who’s also the leading international scorer for Croatia) and he hated either Arsenal or Davor Suker.  Still, that jersey was from the early 1990s, and Suker retired in 1998 from professional football.  If that was the reason than it’s probably time to let that one go.

3)     I looked exactly like someone who had robbed him/stolen his girlfriend/killed a cherished pet/embarrassed him in some terrible fashion (a whoopee cushion in the middle of mass or something).

Thinking about it, I was never scared or angry about the situation (it was only one guy against three in broad daylight) just confused.  Very very confused.

CASA OLMATA – What!?  But Casa Olmata is on the Pros list.  I know, but I’ve got to be honest, there were some cons too.  For example, the free pasta party was great, but at the same time we found staples in the pasta (insert more iron in your diet joke here).  Not conducive to good digestion.  Also, it was pretty hot in Rome every day we were there, meaning that it was also pretty hot in our room every day we were there.  And the worst part was the two girls living next to us who were always in the bathroom, and would always use up all the hot water.  They would time it too; I would need to go pee and one girl would be taking a shower.  Once I heard the bathroom door open I would go out in the hall, in time to see the other girl close the bathroom door and begin her twenty minute shower.  Not exactly Casa Olmata’s fault, but somebody’s got to get the blame.

METRO – Remember all those monuments I was raving about earlier?  Well there is a downside:  the worst metro system I’ve ever seen.  There are only two lines that run through the middle of Rome, and neither of them takes you exactly where you want to go.  Everywhere cool is at least a half-mile walk from any metro stop.  According to Ian (the guide) they’re trying to build a third line, but they keep running into ancient stuff and having to stop for archeologists to come in and do some work.  As a result, the construction has already been delayed about 10 years.

TRAIN SYSTEM – So confusing.  There are at least three different train systems in Italy, as far as I can tell (which I really couldn’t): the Eurorail system, the regional system, and the city system.  All of them go the same places, just at different times and different speeds and different levels of quality.  There is very little English in the train stations, which made it hard for us to figure out which train we were buying tickets for.  There is also no semblance of a written schedule for any of the systems, making it impossible to find out information, such as when the last train from Naples back to Rome is.  That’s important information to know if you don’t want to get stuck in the Naples train station at night (you don’t).  Luckily we had no problems, but had we had problems, there would have been some problems.

POMPEII – Pompeii would have been cool if it was cheaper and if we had enough time to see it.  I did want to see it, but it was 11 euros (I’m switching back to “euros” because I think that’s what they say in Spain.  Sorry for all the flip-flopping) and we wanted to climb Mt. Vesuvius instead.  The mountain was a great idea, but Pompeii just wasn’t happening.  And 11 euros?  Seriously?

GERMANS – Here I use “Germans” as a dual meaning.  First, to encapsulate all the stupid tourist groups we came across in Rome, and second to refer specifically to the large groups of German children that we came across in Rome.  We saw numerous tour groups traveling in packs, all wearing the same shirt, or the same hat, or the same bag and they were always some garish (that’s right, garish) color that only Andy Brown should ever wear, like flamingo pink or high liter yellow.  Don’t get me wrong, we by no means blended in well with the Italian people, but at least we weren’t wearing matching outfits (like giant “ROB ME” flares).  Now to the Germans.  Oh the Germans.  They travelled around in large packs like wolves.  Small, pale-skinned wolves that loved to sing and chant in really crowded areas.  At one point Wade got separated from Jack and me getting onto a very crowded metro train (this was a common theme throughout the trip: Wade selfishly leaving the group to do his own thing).  Jack and I managed to get in the metro car with a group of German grade-school students.  Now, you may know that both Jack and I are both fair-skinned (pale) and blonde (blonde), so there’s no doubt that the people around us thought Jack and I were a part of the group.  The Germans then began singing and chanting something in some language (German maybe?  I don’t know, I’m not a linguist).  Jack summed it up perfectly when he turned to me and simply said, “This is my nightmare.”

WAITERS – The waiters we ran across in Rome fell in to two categories: jerks or simply indifferent.  I understand that we don’t speak the same language (I don’t even expect us to) but as I learned in COMM 120, a lot of communication is actually nonverbal in nature.  So that’s something to think about Roman waiters.  While this did not at all take away from the delicious nature of the food, it was still a little irritating.  We definitely did not come across any Emiles in Rome.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  Stayed tuned sometime next week to catch the Madrid list of pros and cons.  After that, I put up some pictures of all this stuff, and then try to catch you up on everything I’ve done since Wade and Jack left.  Based on the rate that I’m going, by that time it’ll almost be time for me to come home.  Anyways, thanks for reading.  You may have noticed there were more shout outs in this post.  You would be correct in you observations.  If you play your cards right (and read my blog) you may be able to get a shout out yourself.  Think about it.

The First Post EVER!

August 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Prelude

I started this blog as a way to share my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and emotions as I plunge into the adventure that is studying abroad (and the hope of getting a book/movie deal made about my exploits: I’ve already got the perfect title, actually, three perfect titles).  As you have no doubt guessed by my cleverly-worded title, I have left the U.S. for a country where they speak what the English call “Spanish” and what the Spanish call “Español.”  But which “Spanish-speaking” country will I be studying in?  To find out, feel free to continue reading my first post.  Or don’t.  In which case you won’t know where I am.

The First Post aka The MEGA Post

Like many white people before us, two friends and I embarked on something that can only be described as traveling (http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/01/23/19-travelling/).  To protect those involved, I will refer to one of these friends as “Jack” and the other as “Wade,” throughout the entirety of this post.  Whenever I refer to myself in third person I will always use the name “Patrick” but these instances will be rare because third person is lame, even if you’re a king, and especially if you’re the unofficial King of All Things Basketball and you’re on national TV.  Roughly a fortnight ago (boom, used the word fortnight in the first post) Jack, Wade, and I hopped on US Airways flight 1095 for Paris.  Paris, France that is.  Armed with very little knowledge of the culture, and even less of the language, we stepped off the plane confident that our charm, wit, and superior looks could get us through any situation.  But first we needed a nap.  Then, five days later, we were on the move.

(A quick note: it may seem as though I’m skipping large portions of our trip.  I am.  However, there’s no point in going back now.  You’ve got to go forwards to go back.  Better press on.)

This time we were headed to Rome, somehow even more exhausted than when we arrived in Paris, despite 10 hours less travel and a time difference of nothing.  Surprisingly, Wade’s single semester of beginners Italian and my extensive knowledge of the customs and politics of the ancient Roman Republica, as well as its transition into empire and centuries-long decline into destruction at the hands of the barbarians, did little to aid us in finding our way from the airport to the train, and from the train station to our hostel.  So we called a cab from the station, which cost us 20 euro to be driven to a place that was less than five minutes walking-distance.  Ridiculous.  We fortunately beat the two o’clock deadline for check-in, and after throwing our stuff onto the floor of our room, we took a long nap.  A very long nap indeed.  From there…

It was on to Madrid, our Final Destination.  Like the movie we rode on an airplane.  Unlike the movie, nobody died and it wasn’t a stupid waste of time and money.  After five great days in Italy, we were ready for a little change of scenery.  We weren’t ready for Madrid to be even hotter than Rome, but we soldiered through it.  Learning from previous mistakes, we were all extremely well-rested once we touched down in Barajas airport.  A quick metro ride later and we were in the heart of Madrid, the location of our hostel and my home until December.  That’s right.  For those of you keeping track at home, Spain is the correct answer for where I am studying abroad.  Aren’t you glad you kept reading?  Another exciting five days passed, bringing us to where we currently are: Wade and Jack flying back to Raleigh via Paris and Philadelphia and Patrick (lame, I’m sorry) sitting in the lobby of La Posada de Huertas International Youth Hostel waiting for his laundry to finish and for his new room to be cleaned.  I think that about covers everything.

However, since so much more happened than that, and you’re still reading so you are clearly interested in what I have to say, I will now delve a little deeper into what transpired during the five days we spent in each city.  I will not do this in any sense of chronological order because that’s not very exciting and because the Captain’s Log (diary) that I tried to keep during our travels is only up to August 3, our first day in Rome.  Instead, I will present a Pros (strangely short for positives) and a Cons (even more strangely short for negatives) list for each capital city.  With these lists, I will explain each Pro and Con for a specific city by divulging events from our stay there.  Let’s begin.

Paris

Pros

WAITERS – All the waiters we had in Paris were awesome.  Emile was our waiter the first night, when we were exhausted and coming to terms with the fact that we should have studied at least a little French before we left Raleigh.  Luckily, Emile knew English fairly well, and was more than willing to teach us helpful phrases like “The check please” and “Excuse me.”  He also pointed out fun places for us to go at night like Batofar, a discotheque in a boat on the Seine River.  We never actually made it to Batofar, but I can’t imagine that Emile would have steered us wrong.  He also gave us advice on which museums to go to (not the Louvre because he said it was too big and would take years to go through) and told us a little about himself.  He even told us about himself, what he was studying in university (media criticism and theory) and that he was leaving for Cambodia in a few days to visit his girlfriend for a month (which he summed up  by saying “Monday,  I leave Paris.  Tuesday, I get laid.”  We in turn introduced ourselves (to which he responded laughingly “Patrick, Jack, and Wayne?  Fokking American names.”  And told him where we were from and what we were studying.  In short, Emile was the best waiter we had during our whole trip, and one of the coolest people we met.  The other noteworthy waiter was Oell, a bartender (same thing) at a local Irish pub which we frequented, mainly to talk to him.  He had an English girlfriend, so he spoke the language very well, and was able to answer all of our questions about getting around Paris and Parisian life in general.  There were several others who were extremely nice and helpful, but Emile and Oell were the most noteworthy.

FOOD – Speaking of waiters, the food we ate in Paris was delicious.  We had all-you-can-eat fondue twice, lamb chops and escargot, smoked herring and pork, and a lot of paninis for lunch.  I also ate my first Big Mac in Paris.  I admitted that I had never eaten one before, which Wade and Jack informed me was a crime against America, and that if I did not get one at the first McDonald’s we saw, I would be beaten.  It wasn’t bad.  Funny that I had to leave the U.S. to eat my first Big Mac.

MUSEUMS – During our five-day stay we visited two museums (the Louvre and the Pompidou) and the Palace of Versailles, which definitely counts.  The gardens of Versailles were spectacular.  We even got in on a discount because a random Italian tour guide sold us his left-over tickets which were 2 euro cheaper.  It seemed a little shady at first, but he turned out to be a nice, helpful guy.  We spent about two hours wandering through the hedges and fountains with two girls from Cary who were staying in our hostel.  We also ran in to an entire family wearing nothing but Carolina Panthers gear.  Gotta love North Carolina.  We didn’t actually make it inside Versailles due to the long line (see below) but based on the gardens we could imagine the splendor and opulence.  Instead we went to a mall and ate McDonald’s.  Our last full day in Paris we went to the Louvre and the Pompidou.  Emile, was right, the Louvre was huge, and way too big to see in one day.  Luckily, none of us are very into art, or know much about it, so no one really felt the need to spend all day there.  We spent over two hours in the Italian Artists wing, and even got to see the Mona Lisa (which I believe many people consider good).  Throughout this time, Wade and Jack were able to discuss at length the merits and validity of the film “The Da Vinci Code” and search for landmarks that were mentioned in this important documentary.  We also saw the Apple store and McDonald’s connected to the Louvre.  I don’t remember those being in Dan Brown’s story, I mean primary-source account.  The Pompidou is Paris’ center for Modern Art, and it had an awesome exhibit called Dreamlands that explored the connection between theme parks, the modern urban landscape, architecture, and art.  It was a fantastic exhibit wit every kind of medium imaginable.  After that, we explored the permanent exhibits, which were awesome/crazy.  As I said, none of us profess to know a lot about art, so us visiting a French modern art museum is probably like a French modern artist watching a game of American football.  It seems pretty exciting, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.  While some of the art we came across was visually pleasing and colorful, a lot of it was strange and painful to see (ie pictures of a person climbing a spiked ladder barefoot, video of a naked woman hula-hooping with barbed wire, etc.)  There were also a lot of vaginas.  A lot.  There was also a section where you got to play with cardboard boxes.  I think it was for children (evidenced by all the children around us) but with all three of our college-educated intellects working together we managed to make a fort with what can almost be described as an arched doorway.  Almost.

EIFFEL TOWER – Both at night and during the day, the Eiffel Tower was truly a sight to see.  During the day we were able to climb up it and then take an elevator to the top, getting the best possible view of Paris.  At night we sat under the lit-up tower and watched the light show that happens every hour.  We also ran in to two Americans who gave us three free beers because they were leaving the next day and couldn’t finish them.  One of them was wearing a US soccer jersey and explained that they were giving them to us because we looked American (definitely true).  Americans looking out for one another.  I like it.  Really the only disappointing thing about the Tower was the fact that it wasn’t red.  Call me crazy (Wade and Jack did) but I was convinced that the Eiffel Tower was completely red.  Maybe I saw a red model of it when I was little, or they lit it up red once, but up until about two weeks ago, I would have sworn that the Tower was painted red.  Turns out I would have been wrong.  It’s brown.

MAKING OUR FLIGHT – Our last night in Paris we ate cheese and meat fondue, walked back to the hostel, packed up our bags, and got ready to be in bed before 11.  This made sense, considering we had to get up at 5:30 to make it to Orly Airport and catch our 9:00 am flight to Rome.  What does not make sense is how we were persuaded to abandon this plan and go out with a group of people from England/Chicago to a bar until 2:00 am.  Again, don’t ask me to explain or justify it, it just happened.  By that point, we reasoned it would be foolish to try to sleep for only three hours, so instead of going up to our room, we sat around in the lobby in a giant group, drinking and arguing about the Chunnel for the next three hours.  Seriously, we argued for over two hours about what the Chunnel is called with a group of British girls who had never heard that name before (apparently everybody in England calls it the “Eurostar Tunnel”) Wrong.  It’s the Chunnel.  Luckily we made it to the airport on time.  Only once did we get on the wrong train, but I realized it in time for us to backtrack and then take a bus to Orly.  It was exhausting and terrible, but we made it onto our flight.  I usually have trouble sleeping on planes, but for some reason that wasn’t a problem.  I think I was awake for less than 10 minutes between sitting down in my seat and getting off at Fiumicino airport.

THE YOUNG AND HAPPY HOSTEL – Other than the price, everything about this hostel was perfect.  The location, the staff, and even most of the people staying there with us were all great.  A corollary of this is Pro is the great roommates we got while in Paris.  This was the only hostel where we shared a room (something Wade and Jack were more than a little hesitant about) but it turned out fine.  We had two guys from Australia and a girl from Alaska room with us while we were there and all three were great.  You can ask Wade which one was the best.

NORMANDY – While not technically Paris, we did take a guided day trip here, so I’m going to throw it into the mix.  In Normandy we got to see the Caen War Memorial, the Point du hoc (a sheer cliff on the English channel that was taken by 92 Army Rangers on D-Day) Omaha Beach, Juno Beach (where the Canadians attacked), the American Cemetery at Normandy (one of the ones with all the perfectly organized white headstones), and neat little town whose name I can’t remember.  It was a great trip, especially the Caen War Memorial and the cemetery.  All three of us wished we could have spent more time in both places.  The memorial was more of a museum outlining World War II from beginning to end, but it was more from the French point of view, which was interesting to see.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of the cemetery.  Everything is quite, and all around you is a sea of white headstones in perfect order.  Even with a fair number of tourists, there was a reverence and solemnity in the cemetery that was unmatched by anywhere else we visited, including the numerous churches and cathedrals.  An interesting fact: France actually gave the land that the cemetery is on to the U.S., so while we were technically standing on U.S. soil while on the premises.

LIBRARIES – Really just one library: the public library two doors down from the hostel.  It provided two hours of free internet service every day.  On top of that, it was a great spot to sit and relax after spending several hours wandering around Paris.

Cons

PUBLIC BATHROOMS – Everywhere you go in Paris (I use the word “everywhere” loosely because we only saw one about every two miles) the only public bathrooms they have are these futuristic cylindrical things that look terribly expensive and are terribly stupid.  The bathrooms only accommodated one person at a time, and they were self-cleaned after EVERY SINGLE USE.  I’m all for sanitation, but it usually took the stupid machine longer to clean itself than it took a person to use the bathroom.  This meant you would wait in line for about 45 minutes for six people to use the restroom. Another giant flaw is that these machines close down and lock themselves at night, so when people (us) are walking back to the hostel because one of the metro lines has closed down and a person (Jack) needs to use the restroom, that person (Jack) has to pee in an alleyway because we’ve passed two bathrooms that lock themselves after 11:00.  The money that Paris spent on these dumb contraptions definitely could have been used to buy ten times as many port-a-potties.

ORLY – Another shining example of inefficiency.  Checking our bags and getting our boarding passes took forever, but once that was done we still didn’t know where our plane was boarding at.  The way Orly works is you are given a section (say number 10) at which your plane will land.  That section is broken up into about 20 boarding ramps which are lettered.  Instead of issuing the plane a specific boarding ramp, Orly lets the plane land anywhere within the section that it wants, and then tells the passengers which ramp to use once boarding starts.  This system did not make any sense to me.  It still doesn’t.

PETER – Peter was this guy from D.C. who lived in our hostel in Paris for two nights, then moved to a different hostel in Paris, but still insisted on hanging out at our hostel all the time.  Peter was a huge jackass, and all three of us disliked him immediately.  His younger brother was with him.  I don’t remember that guy’s name, but it doesn’t matter because he was a jerk too.

EXPENSIVITY – Okay, so not quite a word, but it’s in all caps so Word didn’t underline it and if Word doesn’t underline something then it’s all good.  Paris was expensive though.  Somebody may have told us that it’s the most expensive city in the world.  While that might seem like a shaky source to cite, I’m going to do it anyway.  Paris is the most expensive city in the world.  We didn’t quite realize how expensive it was until we went to Normandy, where a sandwich costs 2.50 euro instead of 5.50 euro.  That’s a 3 euro difference, or in terms that most of you can understand, a 4 dollar difference.

LINES – As mentioned above, lines were a constant nemesis.  Lines to get up into the Eiffel Tower, lines to get down into the Louvre, lines to get into Versailles (the only ones we admitted defeat to), lines to get into the D’Orsay (okay, the only other ones we admitted defeat to), and on and on.  Everything we saw was worth seeing for sure, but a lot of the opportunity cost would have been cut down if we could have avoided all the stupid lines (I’m not an Econ major but I think I used that term correctly).

“THE YOUNG AND HAPPY HOSTEL” – While I mentioned above how wonderful the Young and Happy Hostel was, here you can clearly see the quotations around the name.  This signifies our initial skepticism over something that sounds like a bootleg Chinese novel.  In my experience, randomly throwing positive English adjectives into the title of something does not make it more appealing to the average person.  For example, I do not want to stay anywhere called “The Fun and Shiny Hostel” because it sounds like I would be robbed/killed there.

PEDDLERS – Peddlers encompasses anyone who tries to sell me something simply because I am walking/sitting within 30 feet of where they are walking/sitting.  I don’t need a small Eiffel Tower keychain, I really don’t need 10 small Eiffel keychains (even if it only 2 euro), and I really really don’t need you asking me about it every two minutes.  It was worse even worse at night, when we were sitting down, trying to enjoy the atmosphere beneath the Tower.  Literally every two minutes a person would try to sell us cheap champagne or cigarettes.  It was difficult to have a fluid conversation when every two minutes we had to turn and say “No, I don’t want that” to somebody.  Still, it was funny to see all of them run when eight French police officers strolled up.  To be fair, I would have run to.  French police officers looked pretty hard.

Well that’s it for today.  Blogging is tough.  I’ve spent close to three hours typing up this much, so you’ll have to wait until the next post to learn about Rome and Madrid.  If you’ve reached this far and you still want more, then I commend you; more will be written soon.  If you haven’t reached this far then I can say whatever I want about you because you’ll never read this.  You smell bad.  I didn’t want you to read anyway.  Jerks.

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