August 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.