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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

So as things turned out I would end up alone this Christmas in Paris. However, upon telling this to a friend of mine she decided there was no way I could be left alone on Christmas and invited me to her parents house in the suburbs of Paris to celebrate Christmas with them. So this Christmas I had the opportunity to see a French Christmas. There are obviously a lot of similiarities but there are quite a few differences as well. First off, Christmas eve is the big day and they tend to do nothing on Christmas day. So I was there at her house on Christmas eve for the big dinner with the family and then the gift opening after our extremely long french dinner. Apparently french christmas dinners revolve around salmon, foie gras, oysters, and a dessert that is like a sponge cake log with icing called a buche. For our main dish we had deer and dad you'd be so proud as I actually tried it and ate a whole serving. I also tried the foie gras believe it or not, but did not finish that. As for the escargot and oysters, I'm still just not there yet.

The dinner was great, we were 13 in all, we had several courses and it lasted for hours. Afterwards everyone exchanged presents and they were even nice enough to have given me two boxes of chocolate. The entire night didn't end until almost 4 a.m. and that even included the grandparents!

One other difference I noticed is that they don't do stockings here. Kind of sad in my opinion, but oh well.

Well below are a few of the pics I managed to take. Unfortunately I didn't get any big group ones or anything.

Here I am with my friend and hostess Elodie.

The grandparents.

Here is Elodie with her tree that her mother and her decorated. I think it's still a relatively new thing to actually decorate the tree here in France.

Here is the star of the night, Elodie's nephew Ryan who is 4. We all watched him open all of his presents and then proclaim after each one that Santa made a mistake because he didn't ask for that. Then he put everyone to work on putting all of his toys together while he played with what he could. A little too demanding but he was cute nonetheless.

And well that was my Christmas this year. Can't wait to see where I find myself next year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Snow Covered Paris Part Two!

Well today I was fortunate enough to see it snow in Paris yet again. For most of the day there was a constant light snow that was nice to look at but that wasn't settling on the streets. There were small patches on the roof of my building that I could see from my window at work but that was about it. However, once it got to be about 5 p.m. it started snowing a little heavier and it was sticking a lot more. Still not as much as I would have liked, but I'll take whatever snow I can get.

So naturally I got very excited seeing all the snow and went out after work on a mission to capture the snow in Paris. However, since it was dark and I don't have the best camera it was quite hard to capture. Also there really wasn't that much snow on stuff so it doesn't always look like snow. But here are a few pics I managed to get.

Here is my favorite picture I took. It's in the Tuileries (the big park in Paris) and you'll just have to trust me that's snow on the ground and not just how the ground always looks.

I took this one to try and prove that this was in fact snow since here you can see footprints through the snow.

Here are some snow covered cars just outside my office.

Monday, December 12, 2005

So British, So Crazy!

So Printemps (a large department store here in France) has launched this ad campaign this holiday season. They seem to have teamed up with Eurostar and are doing a whole English team and everything is either So British, So Crazy or So Noel, So Crazy. No big deal really, I'm used to off beat ad campaigns here in France, however once I came across the store windows for the Printemps men's section I became a little bothered by this particular campaign. All I have to say is thank goodness they're doing this to the Brits and not the Americans, although I'd hate to see what they'd do if they were to ever decide to do a campaign with Americans.

There are 9 different manequins placed in the windows at the Printemps men's section, all with the advertisement of So British, So Crazy, and coupled with various artifacts from England and images of England in the background. Below are my 4 favorites. I apologize for any window glares, I tried my hardest to avoid them but there's only so much you can do on a crowded street.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Chez Kristine

Here are some much overdue pics of my current apartment.

Here you can see my bathroom on the left and the hall that leads out to my front door on the right.

This is my infamous toilet. If you look closly on the left there you notice an outlet with a plug in it; that's right that's my toilet plugged into the wall, I have an electric toilet!

Here is my bedroom portion of the apartment. Look I finally have a real bed!

On the left is the kitchen portion of my apartment and on the right another shot of the bathroom. You can see the edge of my bed there to give you an idea of just how small my apartment actually is.

Hope you enjoyed your virtual visit of 2 Rue des Rosiers!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tis The Season To Be Merry!

So not wanting this to be a completely depressing Christmas I decided to go in search of christmas tree. I have always prefered real ones so that was of course my first choice and if necessary I would go in search of a fake one. Fortunately for me I found a small real christmas tree that was actually pretty cheap fairly easily. I quickly bought it and brought it home monday night. I was a little concerned about getting it in my apt since my apt is teeny tiny, but I bought the smallest one they had and took a chance. It fit perfectly! I bought some lights and ribbons and made a few ornaments with the left over felt I had from the stocking I made myself a few days ago. Then with some Christmas music on I set out to decorate my tree and hang my stocking.

I have to say I am quite pleased with how it has all turned out and while my apt isn't as festive as I normally would make it, I'm still quite happy with it. Below are some pictures of my new tree.

Here is a picture of my tree in the dark showing off her beautiful lights.

Here you can see her decorations more clearly, you can also see the stocking I made for myself just above her.

Happy Holidays everyone!

p.s. if you've sent me a christmas card it's there under the tree waiting to be opened till Christmas day. I've received a couple so if you're curious to know if I got yours just ask. And thanks to those who have sent me one, I truly appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thanksgiving in Paris 2005

Since it's been a while since I've posted I'll be trying to catch up in the next few days.

So I spent my second Thanksgiving here in France just a few weeks ago. However, due to space issues/timing this years was much smaller. BUT we did manage to get a real full sized turkey this time. A few days before Thanksgiving I went to a butcher down the street from me and was able to order a turkey to be cooked for me (I don't have an oven)for Thanksgiving day. Then through the help of Diane, who brought me canned pumpkin and all the fixings for a real pumpkin pie, and my friend Arthur, who lent me use of his oven, I was able to make two lovely pies the night before Thanksgiving.

So then the big day came and we all headed over to Dave's place since he's the only one with a living room. The party simply consisted of Dave, George, Perrine, and myself. All Pepperdine people with the exception of Perrine who is our French buddy from Dave's school in Rouen. We had a great dinner and introduced Perrine to the tradition of Thanksgiving.

The next day I brought in my left over pumpkin pie to work so they could all try it because most were quite intrigued as to what exactly a pumpkin pie was. The reviews were mixed, some absolutely loved it and some found it a little strange. Most couldn't understand a pie with pumpkin since they usually only eat pumpkin soup or maybe a pumpkin puree. Nonetheless it was fun seeing them stare at it in curiousity as it's usually me doing that to what they bring in.

While it was a little strange being in France for my second consecutive Thanksgiving I had a great time with some good friends. Below are a few of the pictures we took, although most came out a little blurry.

Here's the spread!

Here I am with the dinner just before serving.

The star of the night!

Perrine and her French touch to the dinner.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gotta Have A Smoke

Lori was kind enough to pass me this article from Hope you all enjoy as much as I did.

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- A French woman who is terrified of flying admitted in an Australian court Monday that she drunkenly tried to open an airplane door mid-flight to smoke a cigarette.

Sadrine Helene Sellies, 34, was placed on a good behavior bond after pleading guilty in Brisbane Magistrates Court to endangering the safety of an aircraft.

Sellies was traveling on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to the east coast city of Brisbane on Saturday when the incident occurred at the start of a three-week Australian vacation with her husband, the court heard.

She walked toward one of the aircraft's emergency exits with an unlit cigarette and a lighter in her hand and began tampering with the door, prosecutors said. But a flight attendant intervened and took Sellies back to her seat.

Sellies was arrested and charged by police on arrival at Brisbane airport.

Defense lawyer Helen Shilton told the court Sellies was terrified of flying and had taken sleeping tablets with alcohol before takeoff.

Shilton said Sellies has no memory of what happened on the flight and that she has a history of sleepwalking.

But Magistrate Gordon Dean sternly warned the woman: "You must understand, if you are on a plane you must behave yourself."

Sellies, who did not speak in court and was aided by a translator, was placed on a 1,000 Australian dollar (US$734; euro623) bond -- meaning she will have to pay that amount if she commits another offense in the next 12 months.

So my question to you is, do you think the French could ever pass the no smoking laws that seem to be making the rounds?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Spain Round 3

So last weekend I returned to Spain's Costa Brava for the 3rd time in about a year's time. The purpose of this trip was to visit my mom and Jim who were vacationing there before taking a two week cruise back to the U.S. leaving from the port of Barcelona.

However, before leaving for Spain Diane came to Paris to stay with me for a few days. She toured the city some more while I worked and then on wednesday night her and I took off for Girona airport. Diane's visit was a surprise for my mom setup by Jim so of course at baggage claim my mom was rather surprised to find Diane standing there with me. Once that was all over we hopped in the car and headed about 20 minutes away to the coast to a small resort area called El Mas Nou. After chatting for a bit we decided to head to Barcelona the next day and then went to bed.

The next morning we woke up and headed to Barcelona. Having already been there twice before within the last year I was the official tour guide. Not really knowing much of Barcelona besides what I've already seen I took them to see the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batillo, and of course La Rambla. After enjoying some sangria on La Rambla we headed back home and called it a day.

Since we were only about 20 minutes from Girona we decided to make that our destination for the next day. So the next morning we woke up and after visiting the beach at the base of our resort we headed over to Girona to see what that city had to offer. We arrived with no map and no idea what to do. After we found the city center, found parking, found a map, and found the tourist office we were on our way. We had a quick lunch and then set out to see what the city had to offer.

We decided to split up so Diane and I headed for towards the main shopping/restaurant street and took that through the Jewish quarter and on to the Cathedral. After visiting the Cathedral we headed for the wall. Girona was once a walled city so there are still remains from the wall which you can walk on. However, much to our dismay the wall was locked and we were only able to get on certain parts of it. But of course we did some exploring and found a really cool park with remains from old buildings inside of it and wound up spending all of our time meandering through the park to see what it had to offer.

After doing this for a while we decided it was time to head back to the car to meet our mom and Jim, but not before doing a little shopping and picking up some jewerly.

The next day it was time for our mom and Jim to board their boat and that evening Diane and I would be boarding our plane to head back to Paris. So we once again hopped into the car and headed to Barcelona. We said our goodbyes and then Diane and I set out to see a bit more of Barcelona. This time I was able to see something I hadn't seen upon my previous visits. We headed first for Parc de la ciutadella which was a lovely park in the city center complete with a zoo, large fountain, and even a pond with paddle boats. After this we decided to head to the Picasso museum on my insistance since I had yet to see it. However, on our way there I realized I had infact already visited the museum on my first visit to Barcelona, so we just continued on down the street to the Cathedral. After the cathedral we strolled over to La Rambla where we visited the market for a few minutes and then continued on to a restaurant I had previously visited which I knew had some good paella.

Once we made our way to the restaurant we ordered up some paella and of course some cava sangria. We had a fantastic lunch till we realized we were running a bit late for our bus which would take us back to the airport. We paid and hauled it to the bus station where we managed to catch the bus and headed back to the airport and eventually back to Paris.

We got back to Paris rather late and the next morning Diane was on another flight heading back to the U.S. It was a rather quick trip for me but it was nice to get away for a while and spend some time with family.

You can see some pictures from this trip on my website under Spain. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It's A Mystery

So here's another mystery I've encountered here in France, perhaps someone out there can help me with it. Why oh why can't I find a candle that actually gives off a scent in this country??? I've visited so many stores just in search of a candle that smells good in the package, and I've bought several that I thought had potential but everytime I bring them home and light them, I can never smell them. And trust me it's not just me who has noticed this, so it's not anything wrong with my nose.

Are the French just truly against good smelling things, and if so why are they the ones creating parfume? But then again, why are they also so well known for their makeups yet none of the Frenchwomen actually wear makeup?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bringing Halloween To France

So monday was Halloween and despite the fact that the French don't really celebrate Halloween I couldn't let another Halloween go by without celebrating. So I made myself a costume, rounded up some friends, and together we attempted to show the French what Halloween is all about. We found a few english speaking bars holding Halloween parties so off we went. Walking down the street we were about the only ones dressed up and naturally got plenty of stares. We started off at Lizard Lounge which was having a Halloween party but even there we were about the only ones dressed up. We then meandered over to another bar which turned out to be a bad idea and so we quickly left and headed to yet another bar claiming to have a halloween party. This one turned out to be fairly decent as some people were dressed up, but still not quite the type of party I was hoping for.

While the parties weren't quite what I had hoped for, I still had a good time and well just really enjoyed confusing the French since they consistently confuse me.

Below you can see me in my costume dressed as cotton candy. To my right is my friend from work, Alex, who was a party pooper and didn't dress up. To the right of Alex is another work friend, Trudi, who was a type of bat.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Oh It's Cold!

So my fears of winter having arrived were yet again a little premature. Apparently Paris is yet again experiencing unusual weather and this week has been fairly mild. So mild in fact that I have worn my flip flops the last two days. Being an enormous fan of flip flops I happily welcomed this change of weather and in addition I was thoroughly pleased to be able to witness one of my favorite French oddities one more time.

For some reason the French like to pretend it is not warm but that it is always cold. Along with this both men and women have a love affair with scarves. I first noticed their love of scarves over the winter, ok it's cold no big deal scarves are nice. But then came summer and they continued to wear their scarves and yet complained about how hot it was. I'd like to point out it was never really that hot whenever they were complaining, had they simply removed the 4 foot long scarf wrapped 5 times around their necks they would have realized that it actually felt pretty good outside.

So this type of behavior continued for most of the summer but they did finally start ditching the scarves once it became truly hot. However, at the first sign of cold weather out came the scarves, sweaters, jackets, etc. and despite how much it has warmed up since then they refuse to put them back up.

So as previously mentioned it has warmed up a bit again in these last few days. Today was a lovely 75 degrees and I pulled out the flip flops, capri pants, and tank top. Yes perhaps I did over retreat back to summer but I was never cold and I was comfortable all day. So as I was walking through the office one of my French coworkers had to stop and ask me if I was cold wearing my flip flops outside. I simply said that I was not since it wasn't cold outside. He then has to point out that he's wearing a sweater and has his coat and scarf and doesn't understand how I'm wearing flip flops. Unfortunately at the time all I could think to say was "but it's not cold".

So here I am yet again trying to figure out why the French insist on dressing as though it is always cold, even when it's not, and find myself asking "what is the deal with the scarves?".

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What The Heck?

So now the French think they can own the smell of strawberries???

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union's second highest court has rejected a French company's bid to trademark the smell of ripe strawberries.

The court said evidence showed that "strawberries do not have just one smell" because varieties of the fruit were not alike.

"There is no generally accepted international classification of smells which would make it possible ... to identify an olfactory sign," the court said Thursday.

Paris-based Eden SARL had asked the court to overrule the EU's trademark agency, which rejected a request made by another French firm to register the scent in May 2004.

The company planned to sell the scent for use in soaps, lotions, cosmetics and scented pens.

The court dismissed the attempt to register the smell and a picture of a strawberry as a trademark. It agreed that in some cases, a trademark for a scent could be allowed.

"The olfactory memory is probably the most reliable memory that humans posses," it said. "Consequently, economic operators have a clear interest in using olfactory signs to identify their goods."

Only one scent has so far won EU trademark protection: the smell of freshly cut grass. A Dutch perfume company registered the scent in 2000 and uses it to make tennis balls smell good.

Attempts to trademark raspberry, lemon and vanilla scents have also been turned down.

To their defense though I guess they did have some reason since freshly cut grass has already been trademarked, although I still don't understand that one either.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

You Know A Lot Of People Go To College For Seven Years

Well I just found out today that I was accepted to receive my diploma from my French school, Euromed Marseille. However, in typical French fashion I won't actually receive it until Febuary despite having graduated in August. On top of this I finally received my paper diploma from Pepperdine about two weeks ago. Therefore, it seems to me that I have at last finally completed all requirements and all administrative work and am officially done with school!

I'm kind of excited about all this but it's also kind of hard to accept it seeing as how I have yet to see any of my diplomas and have had no form of celebration. I did receive a few presents and some nice cards, but it's still just hard to believe that I'm done with school for potentially the rest of my life. No more hiding from the real world in classrooms for me, it's finally time to go out and join the rest of society.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Day In The Land of Chocolate

So today I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 8th annual Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Two friends and myself headed down to South Paris this afternoon where we overindulged in chocolate for about 4 hours. There were booths setup from various places and many offered samples of the chocolate. We tasted various degrees of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and even some white chocolate. We had chocolate liquour, hot chocolate, chocolate bread, and even a type of spicey chocolate dip which was eaten with a tortilla chip(surprisingly delicious). There was even a fashion show of dresses made with chocolate, and they were offering chocolate facials and massages.

Needless to say it was a great time and it's a good thing I'm broke or else I might have come home with boxes and boxes of chocolate. If you would like to see pictures from the event you can find them on my website under "France Pictures" in the menu bar.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Winter Has Arrived

Since arriving home to cold temperatures in Paris back in September I have been living in fear of winter's arrival. I realized the extent of my fear this past week when we were blessed with a random week of warm beautiful weather. So I was chatting with my friend as we were laying in the sun in the park and telling him how afraid I am of winter coming this year and how odd that is since I'm usually so excited for winter. He then pointed out that I'm now coming from a Parisian summer, not a Texan summer, and heading into a Parisian winter, not a Texan winter (he's a Texan as well). So I then realized he was right, I just left a summer where I enjoyed the temperatures most of the time, I never had the chance to get frustrated with the heat and I am not heading into a mild refreshing winter but a full, real, if you will, winter. So while I was happy to realize I just spent a year going through what I would call real seasons, despite what I would call a rather chilly spring, I became even more fearful of the approaching winter. At that time I wasn't sure how much longer our great weather would last, but I knew it couldn't be that much longer. I woke up sunday to a so so day and considered our great weather to be gone. I dressed for winter monday morning and left for work only to be surprised with a rather warm beautiful day again. I had lunch in the park and was happy to see winter was holding back a little longer.

However, I woke up this morning with memories of yesterday and dressed for the warmer temperatures. Only this time when I left for work it was grey and very cold. I stayed in for lunch and when I left to go home it was already getting dark, it was still cold and still grey leaving me to conclude that winter has officially arrived. Hard to believe just 3 days ago I was laying in a park in a tank top, with barefeet, and my jeans rolled up, surrounded by people in their bathing suits. I guess I knew it was coming and it had to come eventually. The only thing getting me through this is the fact that I know mid winter I get to return to my mild Texas winters I've come to appreciate in some form.

In an update on my previous post, today there was a whole shelf devoted to christmas candy set up in my grocery store. At the same store I found a shelf about 1/8 the size of the christmas candy shelf devoted to all things Halloween. I found myself staring at the Halloween shelf for quite some time missing Halloween decorations. Had it not been for the fact that I'm so broke, I would have bought that Halloween candle. But anyway, I think this takes the cake for the most premature decorating/holiday preparations and it's coming from France, who would have guessed?

Monday, October 17, 2005

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

So upon leaving my office today I look up across the street and to my surprise I see that Galleries Lafayette has already begun putting an enormous display of christmas lights on their building. I was thoroughly excited as I just can't wait to see Paris dressed up in Christmas decorations, not to mention it's nice to see the French make some form of celebration/decoration for a holiday.

*Disclaimer: I in no way actually support this blatant disregard for Halloween and premature decorating, however, due to the fact that the French do not celebrate Thanksgiving and only rarely decorate or even celebrate holidays the way we do in the U.S. I am willing to look past this faux pas as I have been holiday deprived here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Friendly With The Bums

So I've noticed quite often in Paris that people will just stop and talk to the bums on the street. They wave and say hello to them and chat with them as though they're friends. The other day I saw a girl do the French cheeck kiss with a bum and then squat down on the ground to chat with him. While this seems very nice, it also seems very wrong in some way.

First off I really don't understand how you become friends with a bum in the first place. And secondly, wouldn't you feel bad about being friends with someone who you let sleep outside on the ground. It seems to me like you should be helping them, but perhaps your chats do help.

Basically I just really don't understand this and am facinated by it so I thought I'd share, perhaps some of you have a few thoughts on the subject.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

French Celebrities

So today on my lunch break I happened to come across French actor (who has also been in several American films)Gerard Depardieu. He was out in the street talking, almost seemed yelling, at 3 police officers and holding two bottles of wine. There were trailers on a side street so I know they were filming a movie and the cops seemed to be there to block the streets, however, not sure why he'd be upset with them.

Anyway, was kind of fun seeing a celebrity and a French one this time. Guess I could have in theory seen other french celebrities and have never known since I really don't know that many well enough to recognize them.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Again, I'd like to ask the question "Is it just me or is there something wrong here?"

Soon my loans will be coming due and since I am still just a lowly intern I called up Sallie Mae to find out my options on deferment since I will in no way be able to make my payments for a while now.

After explaing to her that I can't pay because I'm abroad doing an internship and her going through my options and informing me of the procedures we chat just a bit before she does her wrap up.

In this final wrap up she informs me that Sallie Mae also does financing for mortgages and proceeds to ask me if I'm planning on buying a house within the next 3 months.

If I can't pay my loans do I honestly have any business buying a house? Not to mention I just stated I was living abroad doing an internship.

Now I know it's just standard procedure and she must ask that question to everyone, but don't you think at some point companies should just start letting their employees make judgement calls. Because in my opinion this just makes the company look bad and makes them less in tune with their customers as it seems she just didn't listen to a word I said.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Is it just me or is there something wrong here?

Alright well as some of you might know I'm addicted to weird news stories. For some reason I just really enjoy these news stories that show the downfall of society as we know it. Well tonight I came across this one which I'm pasting below. However I came across a few things that just didn't make sense to me in the story and since I have no one to discuss this with at the moment I'm doing it via my blog.

"LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (AP) -- Seth Hammes was filming in the woods when his camcorder recorded the crack of gunshots, the 17-year-old's screams and the voice of the alleged shooter, promising help that never came.

Authorities say they might never have learned what happened to Hammes, who later died in the woods.

"But right next to him was the videotape," Monroe County Sheriff Pete Quirin said Thursday. "That's when we knew we had a homicide on our hands."

After viewing and listening to the tape, police tracked down 24-year-old Russell Schroeder, who now faces charges of reckless homicide and reckless injury. Schroeder was being held on $250,000 bond. If convicted, he faces up to 85 years in prison.

Family members said Hammes and two of his friends had gone bow-hunting Saturday morning in the woods near Little Falls, about 35 miles northeast of La Crosse.

Hammes put down his bow and picked up his camcorder that afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint, he was shot in the pelvis and then the heart. His camcorder fell to the ground but caught the sound of the shots and his own screams.

The tape shows a person Quirin identified as Schroeder in a nearby field, telling Hammes he would call for help on his cell phone. He then said he couldn't find a signal but promised to go get help.

Instead, authorities say, Schroeder went to a birthday party, home to play video games and then to his job as a custodian at the Army's Fort McCoy near Sparta.

Schroeder didn't call anyone because he was scared he would get in trouble, the complaint said. He told police he thought he was shooting at a squirrel until he heard Hammes scream.

After family and friends reported Hammes missing, police used bloodhounds to find his body in the woods that night.

Investigators initially believed he had just died in the woods -- there was no blood to indicate foul play, and he had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, which left only small wounds, Quirin said. Then authorities saw the camcorder tape.

Hammes' family gathered at his grandparents' home in La Crosse after Hammes' funeral on Thursday.

Ed Hammes said his nephew loved to tinker with the family's lawn mowers and research pyrotechnics. He hung out with the La Crosse Skyrockers fireworks club, which produces the city's New Year's Eve fireworks.

"He was shy for the most part, but he'd go out of his way to help you," Ed Hammes said."

So now my problems with this story are:

1) It says he went bow hunting with 2 friends, where were these two friends when he was shot? If they were nowhere in the area why and what was he filming?

2)The alleged shooter thought he was shooting at a squirrel? What a freaking 6 foot 150 lbs. (I'm assuming) squirrel? And if this is true, why is this stupid 24 year old in the woods shooting squirrels in the morning? And why do the shots go from the pelvis to the heart, that's a pretty big jump in distance considering the size of a squirrel. And shouldn't he have heard the screams on the first shot? Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps when shooting squirrels you must do rapid fire shots all over the place because I guess those darn squirrels can really move.

3)The investigators thought he "just died in the woods"? So because the bullet wounds are small he must have simply died and not have been shot? I certainly hope not all investigators are this unobservant, there may not always be a video tape there to do your job for you. And it just really bothers me that the very first quote is the Sheriff saying that upon seeing the videotape is when they knew they had a homicide on their hands. Seriously, the bullet wounds didn't say anything to you at all?

Alright, sorry if this was a little off beat posting here, I just really get into these types of stories yet this one really bothered me.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Grande Finale

So by this time my trip was almost over, however, I still had one more country to get a taste of.

Thursday morning I woke up and Juha and Wai-san took me to the harbor to catch my boat that would take me to Tallinn, Estonia. The line to check in for the boat was horribly long and the woman in front of me was extremely annoying. She kept trying to talk to me in whatever language it was she was speaking and I just kept ignoring her. She then kept talking to random people in the line, all of which seemed to not want to talk to her either, and so she just kept saying things out loud. Then once she was the next person to the window, after waiting forever, she starts saying things to people behind us and letting them in front of her. Then after they opened a window up next to us, that line quickly formed and for some reason she changed over to that line even though she was the next person in our line and she went to the very back of the newly formed line that was now just as long as our line. Didn’t understand her reasoning for that, but I was happy to be rid of her and to finally get up to the window to get my ticket.

So once I got through all of this I was finally able to board the boat. I was at this point very tired and very hungry. I walked around the boat looking for a place to sit but the only seats were in the bars or the restaurants. Since everyone was smoking in these places I decided to look around for seats somewhere else. However, I never found any seats except for outside, and before I knew it all seats were taken and people were seating on the floor. I tried sitting outside for as long as I could but I kept getting too cold and had to go inside. I then walked around looking for food but could only find greasy lunch type stuff and since it was only around 9:30 in the morning I really just wanted breakfast.

By this time the boat was starting to be tossed around quite a bit and I was starting to feel it. I guess the sea was really rough as the day before all smaller boats to and from Tallinn had been canceled due to rough waters. I didn’t think I was getting sea sick yet but figured I was just too tired and hungry and needed to eat something. I discovered the buffet they had that was 12 euros. I figured if anything it’d be nice to have a place to sit for a while so I quickly made a reservation.

I waited around for my time at the buffet and at 10:30 was finally able to enter. However, the buffet room seemed to make me feel worse and by the time I got my food and got to my table I was barely able to eat it. I managed to eat a little bit but I was only getting sicker and sicker and before I knew it I had to run to the bathroom and throw up. I managed to get back to the buffet and have a cup of tea and then left. So basically I paid 12 euros for a cup of tea thus making it my most expensive cup of tea ever.

I then went back to the bathroom since I felt best there and wasn’t sure how my stomach was going to be. After a while when it seemed we were almost there I went down to where my locker was and camped out on the floor where I actually felt much better. Then thinking we were about to dock I took my suitcase out of the locker and started falling asleep on it. It was then announced that due to traffic we had to wait to enter the harbor for several minutes. This was quite annoying since we left Helsinki 45 minutes late.

I drifted in and out of sleep for the 15 minutes we waited outside the harbor. And then at last, an hour after we were supposed to arrive I was able to get off the horrible boat and go find my hostel.

I managed to find it rather quickly despite a crappy map, no directions, and no address. When I did find it though it didn’t look too appealing from the outside and since I was in a horrible mood after my boat ride and just not feeling that great I seriously considered going to a hotel I had just passed. However, knowing I needed to save money I decided to go ahead and go in since it was only one night. Turns out it was actually a very nice hostel and one of the nicer ones I’ve ever stayed at. Just goes to tell you not to judge a book by its cover.

I got myself situated in the room and was finally feeling better so I then set out to see Tallinn. First stop was lunch of course since I finally felt as though I could hold something down and I was still starving.

Unfortunately though while eating lunch it started raining and well would basically continue for the rest of the day/evening. This made things very unpleasant, especially since it was rather cold as well.

Trying to avoid the rain I headed to the Museum on the history of Tallinn. Not a fantastic museum but it was alright. Afterwards I headed out and just walked around the city looking at its churches, walking along the wall (the old town is a walled city from medieval times) and finding great views out over the city. During my walk I stumbled across a large mall where I ran to seeking shelter as the rain had started again. Inside the mall the first thing I found was a Tex-Mex restaurant called Amarillo. This actually made the second Tex-Mex restaurant I found in Tallinn, very exciting. So after walking the mall a bit I decided to check out the Tex-Mex place. Not really feeling their menu, they put a lot of pineapple in their food, I decided to stay and just have a drink and plan my next step.

By the time I had done this and was ready to set off for the restaurant I had chosen the rain was really coming down pretty hard. I managed to get to my restaurant only to find out they didn’t have room inside for poor wet and cold me. After my back up restaurants failed I finally stumbled upon a trusty Irish pub. I went in and had myself dinner and a few drinks. Towards the end a band came on and they actually reminded me a lot of home as they had a sort of Texas sound to them oddly enough. Kind of made me homesick.

After dinner I went back to the hostel and went to bed. The next day I was set to leave but not till 1 so I had some time in the morning. I ventured back into the old town and found the pharmacy which is apparently the first pharmacy in Europe. I got myself some breakfast and then headed back to the hostel to pay and grab my bags and figure out how to get to the airport.

I eventually found the bus that conveniently took me right to the terminal at the airport and a few hours later I was heading back to Paris thus putting an end to my 2 week Scandinavian adventure.

So in summarizing my trip I’d have to say I had a great time. I was very pleased with my planning and have convinced myself that I’ve become a pro at planning vacations (in Europe at least). I can tell you that Scandinavia is expensive but gorgeous and filled with great people. I enjoyed each country and each had its own special quality to it but all were very green and have locations with the sea and the islands.

Norway was more of the outdoorsy kind of place with fantastic scenery and the fjords were amazing. Copenhagen was a nice city that had the big city feel going on and had some great architecture. Stockholm was probably my favorite as it somehow has managed the big city feel and yet maintains the nature feel as well. Helsinki was much calmer compared to Copenhagen and Stockholm but was every bit as enjoyable. It had some lovely areas and of course some great views of the sea and its islands. It was a really great city for just relaxing. Tallinn had its medieval old town which I of course loved since it gives off that quaint old feel that you come to expect from Europe. I only wish I could have seen it in better weather. However I was lucky enough to have had fantastic weather for my entire trip up until that last day so I can’t really complain. So all in all I’m walking away loving Scandinavia (and Tallinn) and I highly recommend to everyone that you consider visiting it. I know I said it’s expensive but it’s worth it, and if you go to Helsinki this year you’ll have the added bonus of being able to visit Wai-san!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hello Helsinki

Well after my night on the boat I woke up, got ready and got off. Wai-san was nice enough to come pick me up at the harbor so I didn’t have to worry about navigating Helsinki to find her apartment.

I bought myself a 3 day travel card and we hopped on to the tram and within minutes we were walking up to her apartment. She has a nice apartment that is quite large in my opinion for a European apartment. However, she apparently has crazy neighbors and I was fortunate to encounter one of them at the coffee shop across the street that we went to once I dropped my bags off. But hey it keeps things interesting I guess.

Well once we had our breakfast and had some tea to energize ourselves I let Wai-san be my guide and she took me off to the rock church which wasn’t far from her apartment. It was actually a really cool church that was built into a giant rock and the interior was all rock and natural. We even got to go outside and climb on top of the rock so we were actually standing on top of the church. I personally found it very cool and very unique.

After enjoying our climb on the church we then wandered through the town some, had lunch, and made our way to the parliament square with another church (this is Europe, what do you expect). This church was also quite interesting as it was all white, enormous, and very simple. Quite a change from the very ornate churches I’m used to visiting.

From there my tour guide led me to yet another church (I can’t seem to actually stop visiting them despite what I say). This one too was quite interesting as it was an orthodox church and the largest one in Western Europe apparently. We looked around there some and then made our way to the harbor market. Unfortunately by this time we were a little too late so most of the booths were shut. We then walked down the esplanade which is a gorgeous green sprawl in the city center with shops all around. We took our time and browsed through some of the shops and eventually made our way to Fazer café to sit down with some more tea and some yummy cake. They had a chocolate tea that we tried but neither of us could really taste the chocolate, oh well.

After the tea we headed out for a nearby park which was also on the coast. It offered great views of the sea and also was filled with ice age rock formations which was pretty cool when you got to thinking about how old these rock formations actually are. We hung out there for a while before finally making our way home.

Once we got home Juha, Wai-san’s finance (who’s Finnish), was home and so I finally got to meet him. We then freshened up a bit and all three headed out to dinner. My tour guide and Juha took me to a Finnish restaurant so I could try some Finnish food and I have to say I did enjoy my meal. I had a type of meat ball with potatoes so nothing too exotic. Juha however did order the Elk and let me taste it, which I did, so I can now say that I at least tasted Elk. We had a nice dinner and it was great just getting to hang out with an old friend and getting to meet Juha.

After dinner Wai-san and I went to see the movie Madagascar, which we bought the tickets for before dinner so we could get good seats b/c apparently in Finland as in Norway you have assigned seats in the movie theaters. The movie was hilarious and I absolutely loved it.

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful day. Since we had such lovely weather we decided to take advantage and do everything outside that we wanted to do. We started off by going back to the Harbor market where we browsed through all the booths. I wound up purchasing a winter hat for myself as did Wai-san. Content with our purchases we hopped on a bus and headed out for Seurasaari, a small island just off the coast which houses an open air museum on Finland’s history. We walked around there for a while were we were able to view and enter old buildings from throughout Finnish history. We came across some overfriendly squirrels which really wanted food. I had some peanuts on me and we fed them and enjoyed watching them. However, while we were preparing to leave and checking the map one last time, one of those “friendly” squirrels decided to come up and attack Wai-san and climb up her leg. We both freaked out and started walking away very quickly; however, the crazy little squirrel followed us for quite some time. We were eventually able to get rid of the squirrel and hopped on the bus and headed back to town.

We grabbed some food and then hopped on a boat which took us out to Suomelinna, a large sea fortress island just off the coast. We walked around the island for a while throughout the fortress and I finally had my chance to touch the Baltic.

By this time we were pooped so we headed back home. After resting for a while we left Juha at home to work on the kitchen and Wai-san and I went out for dinner. After dinner we then met up with Juha at a nearby Czech bar/lounge. We hung out there for the evening and had a good time.

The next morning we woke up to not such great weather and were happy to have taken advantage of the great day before. We woke up late so we just got ready and went straight to lunch. After lunch we then met up with some of Wai-san’s friends which was fun since I got to meet them all.

After hanging out with them for a while Wai-san and I headed out and first went to a hotel that has a bar on top that offers a great view of the city. Since the bar is way too expensive we simply walked around and enjoyed the view and then went back down. We then headed over to the design center where I was able to get a taste of Finnish design as well as have a nice piece of cake.

Once we were finished there we then headed over to the national museum of Finland and immersed ourselves in 2,000 years of Finnish history. There I got to see the first ever snow ski, did you know you could see the first ski ever in Helsinki? I certainly didn’t, but now I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Wai-san and I had such a great time learning about Finnish history that we lost track of time and before we knew it the museum was closing and we were forced to do a run through, and I’m serious when I say run, the last floor. Perhaps there was a language misunderstanding, but the woman told us we had 5 minutes to see the last floor and that once it was 8 the doors would close automatically thus locking us in the basement (that was the last floor). Terrified at that thought, Wai-san and I literally ran through the exhibit but still managed to see some interesting things.

By the time we left the museum the weather had turned much worse and it was now raining, not sure where to eat but not wanting to walk around too much we managed to find a restaurant fairly quickly. Once we had finished Juha came and met up with us and thankfully by this time the rain had stopped. The three of us then headed off for the Finlandia Ice bar. This was very cool b/c it was just like the Absolut Ice bar in Stockholm that I wasn’t able to visit because I was sick and alone. So this was great this time that I’d have Wai-san and Juha with me.

We went to the Ice bar, put on the parkas and gloves they provided us with and entered the ice room. All the walls, tables, and the bar were made of solid ice. We stayed in there long enough to have one drink and take lots of pictures. However, we did start getting cold, at least my feet did, so we left. Tempted to stay longer but since I had to get up early for my boat the next day and Juha had to go to work we decided to call it a night and just go home.

This would basically be the end to my stay in Helsinki since the next morning I boarded an early boat to Tallinn, Estonia. More on the end of my trip in a few days.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Absolut Stockholm

First I’d like to apologize for the delay in my blogs and for any worrying that I caused anyone.

When I last left you I had just arrived in Stockholm, Sweden and had yet to see the city. I spent the evening planning my next day and then went to bed fairly early. I woke up and headed straight to the docks to find out information on going out to the Archipelago. As it turned out it seemed it would be better to go the next day (Saturday) so I could take an earlier boat and have more of the day on the islands.

So after deciding that I would just wait and do the Archipelago the next day I had to figure out what I was going to do today. There was a boat tour around the harbor, lake and canals leaving right there in a few minutes but I took too long deciding on whether or not I actually wanted to do it and it left by the time I made my decision. I finally decided I would do it but I had an hour before the next tour left. So since I was so close to the old town I walked over there and walked all over the old town and visited the palace. I then returned for my tour and was right on time for a much later tour since I had spent so much time walking around the old town. I hopped on the boat and took a two hour tour of Stockholm’s canals, lake, and harbor. It was a nice tour but maybe just a little too long.

After the tour I didn’t have much of a plan so I just sort of walked around the city and of course meandered over to the main shopping street and large park. By this time I was really loving this city and really just enjoyed walking around as it is such a pretty city with lots of greenery. In the evening I walked over two of their islands to a bar that was to have a great view of the city and while it was a little difficult to find, it was well worth it as it did have quite a great view of the city. However it was all outside and once the sun was going down I of course got too cold so I had to leave. Not ready to go back to the hostel just yet and still needing to eat dinner I walked around that area some more which seemed to be the more lived in area and not as touristy but just as lively. I eventually found a restaurant, had a late dinner and then proceeded back to the hostel.

The next morning I woke up quite early and quickly headed off for the docks again so I could hop on a boat to take me to the Archipelago. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do there but everyone told me I just had to visit the Archipelago when in Stockholm. I asked the boat information which islands were they were running to (since it was off season now) and which ones they recommended. The guy recommended two of them to me since I was only going for the day, Vaxholm and Grinda. Since I had read about Vaxholm in my guide book and it was apparently the capital of the Archipelago I hopped on the boat for Vaxholm and off I went.

The boat ride was great as it took us past several of the islands (there are about 24,000 island off the coast of Stockholm which are called the Archipelago) and took us really close to them. After about an hour we arrived at Vaxholm. I got off the boat and walked most of the island which was real cute and had a quaint little town feel to it. I naturally found a hill to climb which gave me a great view over the islands. I then had lunch and since it was still early and I had decided to devote the day to the islands, I decided to check out the island of Grinda which had also been recommended to me.

I took a similar boat to Grinda which took about 45 minutes and was even more beautiful. I got off the boat and found myself in complete wilderness. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing here and why the guy sent me to this island. However, several other people got off with me and there was a trail. So I followed the trail which eventually led me to a café and a hotel. The café was right on the water and had a great view. I decided to sit down for a drink and debated which boat I was going to take. I could either stay on the island for 45 mins or 3 hours. However, since it took me about 20 mins to get to the café that would mean I’d basically need to turn right around. I finished my drink and realized I could try to catch the boat on the north side of the island if I hurried. Although I didn’t actually know where the north dock was (I was dropped off at the south dock) I figured the island was small and probably wasn’t too far from where I was. I set out to find it, however, I took the long was since I decided to walk along the waters edge. I wasn’t too concerned as I figured I would just take the later boat anyway at this point and was just going to explore the island a bit more. Along my walk I came across an American couple who asked me to take their photo. We got to talking and then we all three walked to the north dock. We then walked back through the center of the island to the café where they boat a bottle of wine and shared with me. They were a very nice older couple from D.C. and I was happy to have met them. I was having a great time chatting with them however I had to get back and catch my last boat so I could get back to Stockholm before dark.

I caught the boat and had a 2 hour trip back to Stockholm and this ride was even more beautiful than the previous two. The sun was setting and the sky was gorgeous thus making it a lovely ride.

I got back to Stockholm had a late dinner. The American couple had recommended that I check out the Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm (a bar made completely of ice) and I had planned on doing it, however, I had gotten sick in Stockholm and wasn’t feeling that great so I decided to skip it and went to bed. The next day I just woke up and walked around the city some more before heading off to my ferry/cruise that would take me to Helsinki, Finland.

This boat was much better than the previous one, although it didn’t have the internet room like the previous one had had. It did however have a spa and as hard as I tried I just couldn’t resist and I treated myself to a facial. The bedroom on this ship was larger which was nice, however, I actually had 3 roommates this time which wasn’t so exciting. Especially since two of the women were Russian and didn’t really speak English, had a ton of luggage, and were in bed at 7:30 p.m. However, the other girl in the room was Australian and was about my age. I ran into her and her boyfriend she was traveling with later on the boat and hung out with them all night. We had a great time and eventually two Finnish guys wound up hanging out with us as well. We all had a fun night which made this boat much more fun as well as I was happy to have had some company for a while.

I went to bed very excited since I would be waking up in Helsinki, Finland the next day and would get to spend my time there with Wai-San. More to come on Helsinki soon.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Till we meet again Denmark

So today I hopped on the train which took me from Copenhagen, Denmark up to Stockholm, Sweden. I spent a wonderful two full days in Copenhagen and loved every minute of it.

In my last post I wrote from the ferry/cruise which was taking me across the baltic from Oslo, Norway to Copenhagen, Denmark. I had a great time on the cruise and was fortunate enough to have the teeny tiny 4 bed room to myself. I woke up that next morning and by the time I got ready was able to deboard the boat and go out into Copenhagen.

I quickly found my hostel, which turned out to be a lot like a hotel, but wasn't able to check in for another several hours. So I dumped my luggage in the luggage room and set out to explore Copenhagen.

Knowing that I still had a lot of travelling to do on my trip I decided to take it easy on this leg so as not to wear my feet out too much. I opted to do one of the hop on hop off guided bus tours which would take me all over the city. I visited many of the sites of the city, but my 4 or 5 most things were closing down. Not sure what to do with my time I walked back over to the little mermaid statue (I had visited it earlier in the day on my bus tour) to get a better picture since before the sun had cast a horrible statue on her. I then strolled around through the town for a while before having dinner and going back to the hostel.

Upon my return to my room I met a guy who was also travelling alone and staying in my room and we decided to go sightseeing the next day together since we were both alone. So the next morning we woke up and first set out to see the palace (not the actual palace anymore, but where the royal guard is stationed with the crown jewels). After getting my view of the crown jewels we headed over to the resistance musuem which I had discovered the day before was free on wednesdays. So it was nice being able to save a little money there because Scandinavia is EXPENSIVE. We then walked around some more, had lunch and took a canal cruise. Then again things were closing down so we just went back to the hostel where I took a nap before we went out for dinner. We had a nice dinner which was recommened by a woman at the hostel before we headed back to the hostel. I was happy to have had someone to hang out with that day as I was worried I'd start getting too lonely.

The next morning, this morning, I had some time to spare before my train left and so I was able to squeeze one more museum in before my depart. I then boarded the train and 5 hours later I was in Stockholm.

On first impression I think Stockholm has a lot to offer and I can't wait to get out and start exploring it tomorrow. I'll be back in a few days with an update on Stockholm, Sweden.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Good bye Norway

Well late this afternoon I boarded my cruise ship, the Crown of Scandinavia, which is currently taking me to Copenhagen, Denmark. This marked my sad good bye to Norway but thankfully not the end of my trip.

I first arrived in Bergen, Norway on the west coast late friday night. The next morning I woke up and set out on a tour of the fjords. I immediately fell in love with Norway. It actually reminded me a lot of Switzerland; very outdoorsy, green, mountainous, extremely friendly people, and quite chilly. It is also quite expensive and really raises the bar on what I have in the past considered an expensive country. All of my meals in restaurants have been at the very least 15 euros, and that's me ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. However, my lodging has cost the same amount as my meals so either I'm getting a great deal on my lodging here or the prices aren't high in every area. I'm thinking I'm just getting a good deal on the lodging.

Anyway, on Saturday I took my tour of the fjords which were just beautiful. After the tour I walked around the town some which again really reminded me of Switzerland. I then took a funicular up to the top of one of the 7 mountains which surounds the town and had a fantastic arial view of the town. The mountain also had several hiking trails that took off from the funicular area so naturally I set out on one of the hikes. I chose the shortest one that took me to a lake, however, it was much shorter than expected and I wasn't quite ready to go back just yet so I looped around and picked up one of the other trails and did that hike and yet again found myself at the end of a trail and not ready to go back so I picked up another trail and continued on. A few hours later I managed to arrive back to the funicular before the sun set which I had started worrying that I might not do. However, being in Scandinavia I should have known I'd have plenty of sunlight which as it turned out I still had several hours left upon my return.

After my hiking adventure I went back down to the town and walked around some more, had a late dinner and returned back to the hostel. The hostel was one of the nicer one's I've stayed at and was quite a deal on price given I was in Norway, not to mention there were only 3 other people in my room.

The next morning I woke up and caught an early morning train that took me from Bergen to Oslo. At times I had to force myself to stay awake as I was so tired, but it was well worth it because it was the most beautiful train ride I have ever taken. About midway through we had gone up the mountains and most of them still had snow on them eventhough it was September. At one stop, which was the highest we would go, the snow was just right outside the train! Just gorgeous.

That afternoon I arrived in Oslo and was quickly disappointed in what I saw. Compared to where I had just come from, Oslo looked like a ghetto to me, not to mention it was Sunday and I felt like I was the only one in the city. I wasn't sure what to do in Oslo and both tourist offices were closed so I just meandered through the city not really getting a good vibe from it and not really caring to see much of it. I stumbled upon the royal palace which had a fantastic park and my expectations started to be restored.

The next day I got up and set out to do some sightseeing deteremined to prove that Oslo had more to offer than what I had seen the day before. I first went out to the vigeland sculpture park which I thourougly enjoyed, then headed to the viking museum which was also quite pleasant. I then felt done with seeing Oslo but still had quite a bit of time left before my ship left so I went over and visited the castle and fortress. Once I was done with all of this I grabed my bags and hopped over to my ferry.

I'm now on the ferry and am loving it. It's like an actual cruise and we had several hours of daylight with just gorgeous scenary. Tomorrow morning I'll wake up in Copenhagen, Denmark and start exploring a whole new city.

Well that's all for now, I'll be in Copenhagen for 2 full days then it's off to Stockholm, Sweden, I'll try to write again once I get to Stockholm.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Summer Vacay is Over

So August has officially come to an end. If I were back in Texas this would mean I would be happy to have survived yet another August in Texas and would be excited at the fact that the worst was over; in Paris this means all the French are back from their vacations and for me its back to cramming into crowded stinky metros and being shoved off sidewalks. At least it was nice while it lasted.

This also marks the first August in my life where I haven't had a whole new school year lingering in front of me. So given the fact that I was given a break from both the Texas heat and the French for the month as well as having no school to return to I'd have to vote this as one great August.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Amsterdam, The City of Sex, Drugs, and Heineken!

One evening while glancing at one of my favorite websites, SNCF (the French train system website), I came across a fantastic deal to take Thalys to Amsterdam for the months of July and August. Not being one to pass up a great deal I started planning immediately and went to work the next day to ask for a Friday off so I could enjoy an extended weekend in Amsterdam. A few days later I purchased my tickets, found a hostel and was set to go to Amsterdam for the weekend of August 12.

Later on one night at a work party it came up that I would be going to Amsterdam for a weekend by myself and somehow as a result of that one of my coworkers, one of my supervisors actually, decided to come with me. This would add a new twist to my traveling as now I would be speaking in French for the whole weekend with my travel buddy.

So Friday finally came and we met at the train station and off to Amsterdam we went. We arrived early in the afternoon to find it pouring down rain as well as being quite cold. Despite having read that it would be chilly and rainy before I left, I had still opted to wear the flip flops and tank top determined not to accept that summer might already be on its way out. Needless to say I was freezing and miserable upon arrival. Thankfully I had at the last minute thrown in a sweater (as you should always do when traveling in Europe I’ve come to learn) so once I changed into that and put proper shoes on I was ready to go. By this time the rain had thankfully stopped and I was once again content.

The first excursion for the trip would of course be to the Heineken brewery to take part in the “Heineken Experience”. With the price of admission we were given 3 beers (25 cl) and a free Heineken glass. Well worth it in my mind and a great way to start off the trip. After finishing up our beers we then headed over to the Van Gogh museum. I enjoyed the museum a lot, although I feel it was rather expensive for a museum as well as rather small and several of his more famous works were on loan in Asia somewhere. Once we had finished this we then wondered back to our hostel, dropped our stuff off and went in search of food. After walking all over to find a place to eat we wound up back at the hostel and ate at the bar there. Not ideal but it seemed to be the only choice we had besides continuing to walk around forever trying to find a place that was affordable and had what we both wanted.

The next morning we woke up and meet up with a company to do a guided bike tour of the city. I can’t remember the last time I had ridden a bike so I was a little nervous, but as the saying holds true, you never do forget how to ride a bike. We had a great 4 hour ride where we visited a windmill, a cheese/clog farm, and much of the city and some of the country side as well. A little pricey for the tour but I was happy to pay as I really enjoyed it (even met two people from Houston on the tour!). After the bike tour we did the other typical Amsterdam tourist trap and took a boat ride along the canals. Not exactly that great, but seemed to be something you just had to do. We did one that allowed you to hop on and off so that enabled us to take it over to the Anne Frank house were we hopped off and encountered and enormous line. We waited for quite some time in the line and eventually got in to see where Anne Frank hid away with her family for two years before being taken away. Not quite what one would expect to see, but worth visiting nonetheless.

That evening we again set out for dinner and it was at this point my travel buddy started getting on my nerves. Despite being French and having only left his country for one day so far on this trip, he had it set that he wanted to go to a French restaurant for dinner. When I suggested we try a Dutch restaurant you would have thought I just suggested we go jump off a bridge into the canal. So we set out in search of a French restaurant, or at least something close enough to have “true red wine” (aka French wine). After walking for quite some time we found something that seemed to suit his taste (the menu had a French translation (the only one we came across)) and we settled there. During the dinner and throughout the trip he had to keep pointing out how American I was because I drank beer and liked Hamburgers. He also had to point out what was “missing” from the meals he had during his visit to NYC, namely the cheese and bread (perhaps more but I cut him off there). This started getting on my nerves quite a bit and at times I wanted to scream at him and point out how contradictory and how French he was being, but I resisted and let him go one being an idiot.

The next morning I think it was obvious we weren’t compatible travel companions at least from my side it was obvious. However, we continued on together and finished up the boat tour. This took longer than expected and since he had an earlier train home than I did he had to leave after the boat tour ended. So off he went to the train station and I was content to have some time to myself. I headed back over to the museum district and went to the Rijksmuseum which houses a large collection of Dutch art including Rembrandt. Once I was finished with the museum I still had some time to kill so I went to the Plaza area we had been to the day before on the bike tour and had lunch. Since I enjoy sitting in large outdoor Plazas like that I took a table out on the terrace. Moments later it started raining and only continued to get harder. I however stayed outside somewhat protected by a large umbrella. By some miracle it actually stopped raining by the time I finished my lunch and I was able to get back to the hostel to grab my stuff and get to the train all while staying dry. I boarded the train and by late that evening I was back home in Paris.

Despite my wish for a better travel buddy for the trip I had a great time and had great practice with my French. I loved Amsterdam and found it an absolutely charming and relaxing city. It was such a wonderful change from Paris and I would love to go back there one day for a week just to hang out. I did see the red light district as I was staying right in the heart of it and I must say it wasn’t at all what I imagined. Yes there were the prostitutes and drug dealers, etc. but it all seemed so much more tame and calm and not threatening in any way. I think it was this feeling about the city that I enjoyed. Nothing seemed rushed or sketchy as it can seem in Paris, it was just very tranquil.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Black Dot Gazers

In all the traveling I’ve done within the last year I have been fortunate enough to find myself in the same cities as some of the world’s most famous museums, not to mention living in one. Never really being a fan of museums I have been forcing myself to go and take advantage of the opportunities to visit some whenever possible. Little by little the museums have become more interesting to me and some I have actually really enjoyed and would highly recommend. I’ve discovered a love of the sculpted arts as well as an appreciation for artists such as Rodin, Monet, and Matisse.

Finally having some free time again I have decided to start taking in some of the culture Paris has to offer me in an attempt to further culture myself. Two weeks ago I walked over to the Picasso Museum here in Paris. Nice museum as far as architecture and layout go, but by the end of my visit I concluded I am not a Picasso fan. I’m sorry for those Picasso lovers out there, but his work just doesn’t do it for me and I don’t think it ever will. I could at least see how one how one could appreciate it. This could not be said for the art I came across this Sunday at the Georges Pompidou Center. The museum in the Pompidou center is a modern art museum. This would be my third visit to a modern art museum within the last year despite my dislike of modern art.

For some reason I feel this need to keep giving modern art another try, and yet, each and every time it has only further disappointed me. Aside from not liking the art within the modern art museums I have to say I also tend to greatly dislike the people to be found within them. While I’d say a good majority are people just like me, taking a glimpse at some art, there are always those people roaming around that seem so moved by that white canvas with a large black dot in the center. They have to stand there and stare at it for minutes on end as if it actually means something. It just makes me want to scream at them and point out that they’re staring at a black dot. How do we actually call this art? I used to doodle black dots on my notebooks in grade school, yet suddenly because some “artist” has put it on canvas and has had a “troubled” life we now call it art and say it symbolizes the void that is life?

And if you ever have the unfortunate opportunity to actually speak to one of the black dot gazers they will more than likely try to make you feel inferior because you just don’t understand what the black dot symbolizes and you probably never will because you’ve been too influenced by society’s conformist ideas.

I don’t want to bash all modern art though nor do I mean to generalize those who appreciate modern art. There have been a few pieces I’ve come across that I did actually enjoy, however, I could probably count them on my fingers.

So while I have enjoyed exposing myself to that side of art, I think for the time being I’ve had my fill of modern art museums and will stick to more of the classics for a while.

Monday, August 01, 2005

All Great Adventures Must Have An End At Some Point

I think most of you know by now, but for those of you who don’t I’m going ahead and officially announcing it. Do to an irresistible offer by my boss to stay in my internship and a desire to stay in France a little longer I have officially decided to stay here in Paris in my internship till the end of December. Yes I know you were all expecting me home in September as I thought I’d be home then as well, but I couldn’t really pass this opportunity up despite how much I was looking forward to getting back and seeing everyone. But the good news is there are now an additional 4 months that you can all come and visit me if you haven’t had the chance yet!

I can now also officially announce my return date as I have just purchased my return ticket home. My European adventure will be coming to an end on January 3, 2006 when I arrive at Houston International Airport at 2:05 p.m. This means I will be spending a fabulous New Year’s Eve in Paris before my depart. So anyone want to come out and celebrate New Year’s Eve with me in a fantastic city??? Danielle, want to use that return ticket a little earlier??? I can do my best to house anyone that wants to come out although at this point I can’t promise I’ll even have an apartment for those couple of days. Everyone give it some thought though, I can promise a great New Year’s Eve filled with fireworks off of one of the world’s most well known monuments.

On that note, see you all January 3!!!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Summer Vacay!

So Friday marked the start of the French vacation period. It seems that everyone in France takes their vacations during the month of August resulting in many businesses closing down for the month. At my office we had a sort of celebration including music and champagne and I have to say it felt as though I was back in elementary school (with the exception of the champagne) having our end of the year party before summer vacation. Everyone discussing their vacation plans followed by a “goodbye, see you in two-three weeks.” A few of us, lowly interns and top people who took their vacations in July, will be around for the month of august but more than half our office will be gone. I must say I’m quite curious to see how this is going to play out.

I also hear Paris will be empty with the exception of tourists. So now as a result of vacation season, the city that this country revolves around (don’t even get me started on that) will now be empty or nearly empty for an entire month thus the entire country is basically shutting down for a month. It just amazes me that an entire country decides to take its vacation at the same time. In a world of global business, is this really a good idea?

On top of all this I find myself wondering “where are they all going on their vacations?” From speaking with many French people to reading their test answers (part of my job) it seems to me that they rarely leave their country. For just within my first few trips after arriving here in telling my friends at school where I had gone they said “wow you’ve visited more than I have.” That was after having only visited one or two other European countries. In asking where they had gone, most said they hadn’t left France yet. This just continues to amaze me since you can get to Spain within 8 hours, England in 3 hours, Belgium in 1.5 hours, Germany in 3-4 hours, Italy within 6 hours, Switzerland within 4 hours, Netherlands in 4 hours, and Luxembourg in 4 hours. All this is of course simply by train and times can be even shorter (or longer) depending on where in France you’re coming from. Let us not forget to mention to that Europe has a great network of low cost airlines that put our “low cost” airlines to shame. So why does this country place so much emphasis on vacation time and devote a whole month to it yet they don’t actually take the time to see other parts of the world let alone their own continent?

France has yet again managed to perplex me.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Discovering Indian Cuisine

Having such a love of spicey foods, I'm surprised at how long it has taken me to discover the yummyness of Indian food. I find it weird too that it took me moving to France to finally breakdown and try Indian food.

Anyway, just wanted to share that after I had a very good dinner last night at an Indian restaurant for a good bye party for one of my coworkers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mmmm mustard

So I really like French mustard and feel that it is far superior to American yellow mustard. I’ve yet to find a mustard that I enjoy more than a French Dijon mustard. Just today I was eating a Camembert sandwich (with butter) and thinking how great this sandwich would be with some nice French mustard on it. Then I began to wonder why the French never put mustard on their sandwiches. I’ve never found a sandwich in France with mustard on it unless I requested it. Oddly enough I’ve had sandwiches with ketchup on them, but no mustard. So now I’m wondering, what does France do with all this yummy mustard?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hook 'em Horns!

So this Sunday I went down to the Champs Elysees to watch the last lag of the Tour de France and see our Texas native Lance Armstrong take his 7th and final win! I went down there with the intention of meeting up with the Texas Exes (UT alumni association), however, having never met them before I didn’t know what anyone would look like. I got down there and headed to the spot where they said to meet only to find out no one was there and the race wasn’t actually coming down that far as it should have so I knew no one would be coming. I walked around trying to figure out what to do and then I spotted the giant Texas state flag. So naturally I wondered over there where I came across several people with Texas paraphernalia on and some UT gear on as well. However, I was also supposed to be meeting up with a French friend so I had to go back to where I was supposed to meet him. Once I finally found him I took him over to the Texas area where I saw a small group of people wearing UT shirts. I went up and asked if they were here with the Texas Exes. As it turns out they weren’t there with the Texas Exes but as they had just moved to Paris 5 months ago had been hoping to get involved with them. So I chatted with them for a while and wound up watching the race with them. I had a really great time talking and hanging out with them and they couldn’t have been friendlier. It was as if we were already friends.

So this little experience got me thinking how glad I am that I went to UT. I don’t know how other schools are but I get the feeling that the large Texas schools like UT and A&M really bond with alumni a lot more than others. People often criticize our schools as being too large and impersonal which I’ll admit they can be. Yet what those people don’t see that don’t go to our schools is how bonded we all are just for having gone to the same school. This is something I really appreciate and I think actually gets lost on smaller schools. So yes while you bond a lot more in smaller schools with the people you take classes with, once it’s all over there just isn’t that alumni connection that the larger schools have.

In taking this even further, in France they don’t even do alumni associations and they certainly don’t have any involvement with their schools after they leave. There are no donations made, no alumni groups, no reunions, etc. They tend to think we are ridiculous in that we actually give money to our school after having paid so much to go there as well.

So to sum up, I just wanted to point out some observations I made this weekend and to state that I really like our alumni associations and the bond that we form with alumni from big schools like UT as even all the way across the Ocean I now have two new friends from UT right here in Paris.

Oh, and watching the end of the tour was cool although I was too short to see much and I only managed to catch glimpses of the riders as they rode by. Thankfully I was in the section where they do the 7 laps around the Champs so I had 7 chances to see Lance. Got a few photos but none that great. Perhaps they’ll come out in a later album.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Scandinavia with a dash of Eastern Europe

So I’m very happy to announce that my big trip has successfully been booked and I’m all set to go. I opted to make a tour of Scandinavia for my final big trip since I have a friend from Texas living in Helsinki, Finland and I wanted to visit her. So below are my plans:

Sept. 2 Fly from Paris to Bergen, Norway. Spend two nights in Bergen and tour the Fjords

Sept. 4 Take a train (apparently very scenic train ride) from Bergen to Oslo. Spend 1 night in Oslo.

Sept. 5 Take an overnight ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sept. 6 Arrive in Copenhagen, spend two nights in Copenhagen

Sept. 8 Take a train from Copenhagen to Stockholm, spend 3 nights in Stockholm and tour the archipelago.

Sept. 11 Take an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Sept. 12 Arrive in Helsinki, spend 3 nights in Helsinki with Wai-San!

Sept. 15 Take a ferry to Tallin, Estonia, spend one night in Tallin.

Sept. 16 Fly from Tallin to Paris.

So it was difficult and time consuming to plan but alas it is done and I’m extremely excited!!! So if anyone reading this has been to any of the listed places and has recommendations on what to see it would be greatly appreciated if you would pass it along.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ever wanted to wash all your clothes at once?

So here’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for a while but got too busy to post on the blog.

About two weekends ago on Friday after work I walk down to a nearby pizza place and pick up some pizza for dinner. I decide to take the back way to get home which takes me past the laundry mat I use. As I’m walking by what do I see inside???

Well inside my laundry mat was an elderly naked man sitting in a chair with nothing on but a newspaper to cover his genitalia. Not only was I disgusted with the fact that he’s in my laundry mat like that sitting in a chair I’ve sat in before, but I was also extremely disturbed with the fact that there were about 4 other people inside there with him, one sitting next to him and one talking to him. Is there not something wrong with this picture? Am I the only one that finds this odd that a man is sitting naked in a laundry mat?

Anyway found the story amusing and wanted to share it with anyone who chooses to read it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Lone Traveller

So as some of you may or may not know, July 14 (Thursday) was France’s national holiday. Thankfully it fell on a Thursday this year meaning that I had not only Thursday off, but Friday off as well. Not being one to pass up a long weekend I of course quickly made travel plans upon hearing of my time off. I however did decide to stay in Paris for the night of the 14th so that I could celebrate the day in the nation’s capital with my only friends in the country, Dave and Jen.

We decided we would go and watch the fireworks off the Eiffel tower from the field just behind it. Thinking like Americans we figured we better get there super early so we could have great seats. However, what we forgot to take into account is the fact that the French do not like waiting or showing up for anything early. So Dave and Jen showed up very early in the day to hang out on the field and guard our spot and I showed up about 2 hours behind them after having decided to literally trek across all of Paris city center with my packed picnic bag on my shoulder. Why I decided to actually walk I’ll never know. In case anyone is wondering just how far it is, I seriously live about as far away from the Eiffel tower as you can while still being in Paris’ main city center. So even though I showed up 2 hours behind them, we all three could have showed up even later as I previously mentioned, the French do not show up early for anything. However, we were together on a beautiful day sitting in a perfect spot on the Champs de Mars behind the Eiffel tower with several bottles of wine, lots of bread, cheese, fruit, and other goodies so we were very content.

The night went on and eventually Scott (a Pepperdine MIB from the year before us who is still in France) and his French friend joined us and we continued to enjoy ourselves until the big fireworks show. At last around 10:40 or so, just after the sun set, the fireworks started. I have to say, I have always been upset I wasn’t able to see the big fireworks display they set off from the Eiffel tower for New Years Eve 1999/2000, but this was a definite substitute as it was amazing. It was a beautiful display of fireworks off of a wonderful monument and I have never felt so lucky to have been in Paris as I did that night. I only wish everyone could have been there with me.

Once the fireworks were over we hung around a while until the crowd died and then made our way home as Jen and I both had early morning trains (to separate locals). I was set to catch the 7 a.m. train to Bayeux so that I would have time to see the Bayeux Tapestry before my 1 p.m. tour of the D Day beaches. However, I woke up at 7 a.m. despite having set my alarm for 5 a.m. I quickly checked the next train time, got ready and ran off the station. Managed to catch the next train at 8:40 and was on my way to Bayeux. However, I didn’t have enough time to see the tapestry so I just walked around the town and had lunch and then met up with my tour group/guide. Bayeux is a small town in Normandy (northern France) that is not too far from the Normandy landing beaches of WWII, thus making it a popular departure point for several D Day beach tours, which is why I chose to go there in the first place. I met my tour group and we hopped in the van and off we went. Our first stop was the American cemetery. A lovely cemetery right on the cliff of one of the beaches where American soldiers landed during WWII and it is actually now considered American territory. So technically for the 40 minutes I spent there I was back in the U.S! We then drove along the coast and visited both the Omaha and Utah beaches and the Omaha beach museum. We made our way to Point du Hoc where you can still see the German bunkers and can truly picture what it must have been like as they have let this beach/cliff stay the way it was instead of trying to forget it all and bring it back to normal. We also visited St. Mere Eglise where the parachutist got stuck on the roof of the church and stayed there amongst the fighting for the day. After 5 hours of visiting the various American D Day spots we made our way back to Bayeux and ended the tour. I walked around the town some, very cute town, and then hopped on a train to St. Malo.

On the last leg of the trip to St. Malo I was sitting in a smaller compartment of the train with only a few other people in that area. Upon entering the train a man who seemed a little dirty, had his shirt open and was asking for money was standing in the entrance to the train but I had walked passed him and taken my seat. Thankfully he had gone to the main train compartment and I was there in my smaller compartment quite content. There was another girl across from me about the same age as me so I felt fine. Unfortunately the man came back and as it turned out he was with the girl across from me. And of course since I was girl traveling alone I was susceptible to him bothering me and naturally he did. He started off saying “bonsoir Madame”, but Madame typically being reserved for older women or married women, the girl he was with corrected him and told him to say Mademoiselle. This then started a conversation of asking if I was married or engaged or how old I was. He then of course had to come over and say he was sorry and wanted to say Bonsoir Mademoiselle and shake my hand. He was obviously drunk as just minutes before he was sticking his head out the window and walking all over the train seats and arm rests and as previously mentioned he seemed a little dirty to me, so I of course was not too excited about shaking his hand. I decided to suck it up hoping it would end the conversation and went to shake his hand but then he pulled his hand back, so I pulled mine back. He then laughed and wanted to shake hands again at which I said no. From then on I refused to shake his hand or even talk to him. He finally left and the girl asked if there was a problem. After a bit of a conversation with her she realized I wasn’t French and asked if that’s my custom to not shake hands with people I don’t know in England. Not wanting to give false information out about the U.S. and not really caring what kind of information I give out about England I simply answered, “it depends on the situation.” I spoke to her in French for the rest of the train ride and she was very pleased to see an American (she finally find out I was actually American and not British) making an effort to speak French as she told me just 10 days before she was quite annoyed at meeting an American who didn’t make an effort at all to speak the language and had a really negative image of Americans. She said I proved her wrong and she was very happy to see that not all Americans try to speak English with everyone. So I was then myself very pleased that I had helped to change at least one person’s mind about Americans. However only 3 minutes later I would apparently commit the ultimate insult to the French and undo all positive work I had just done.

The dirty, drunk man returned just as we were pulling up to our final stop and we all moved to the doors to exit the train. In doing this the girl tells the guy that I am American and that’s why I was acting the way I was. He then says “oh well then we should do a bisous bisous” (bisous = the French kiss on the check). Well obviously since I didn’t even want to shake his hand I really didn’t want to do the bisous bisous, not to mention I hate doing it with people I know. So I said no that I wasn’t going to do it, and quickly discovered this to be possibly the biggest insult you can give to a French person. He then would no longer look at me, and went off on how Americans are something (don’t know the translation of the word, but could tell it wasn’t flattering). The girl tried explaining to him that it’s not my culture to do the bisous bisous and that only encouraged his bashing of Americans. He then had to go on saying that if he tried to give a bisous bisous to the woman standing there that he didn’t know that she would do it. But personally, given the look she gave him when he said that, I’d guess she wouldn’t do the bisous bisous either. So there I was standing amongst about 8 French people who all knew I was American and wouldn’t do the bisous bisous and listening to the man bash the American. Odd situation that helped finalize my decision to take a cab to my hostel instead of making the 30 minute walk since it was 11 p.m. and I was alone and there was at least one crazy French guy now in the town that wasn’t too happy with me. So I hopped in the cab and got to the hostel in a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately the hostel had lost my reservation but thankfully the guy was super nice and found me a bed in the hostel and they worked things out even though they were pretty darn booked. It was a great hostel, probably the best I’ve ever stayed at, not to mention the cheapest.

The next morning I woke up, got ready and hopped on the one and only bus going to Mont St. Michel (the reason I went up there). Mont St. Michel is an Abbey built on a large rock that when the tide is out is accessible by land, but when the tide is in becomes an island and is no longer accessible by land. This is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I started taking French lessons so I was very happy to have finally made it. It was a neat little area as there is a small street of restaurants and shops that make a spiral up to the Abbey. Also interesting was how drastic the tide is. If I remember correctly the tide goes out about 9 Km (approx 5.5 miles). That’s a pretty darn big tide I think.

After spending the day there I took the one bus to get back to St. Malo and arrived in the early evening. I had to change hostel rooms so I did that, freshened up a bit and of course headed out again. This time I wanted to see St. Malo since I was there. St. Malo is a beach town in the Brittany region (northwest) of France. It’s a walled town and so I walked down to the walled part and found all sorts of shops and restaurants within the walls. I walked along the beach/wall (which lines the beach) and really enjoyed being back near a beach. I absolutely loved this city. It was great seeing such large stretches of sandy beaches too. If you think the beaches in LA or Padre are large and flat you have got to see these beaches; the sand probably stretched for at least a mile before the water depending on the time. The houses and beach part of the city itself reminded me more of what I think of when I think of the east coast in the U.S. then what I would ever think of for France so it was quite surprising for me to see houses done in more of a Victorian style than any kind of French style. I walked around, took in the sites, had a late dinner and then returned to the hostel.

The next morning I woke up and immediately headed out to the beach. Since it was a smaller town as far as monuments went it could offer a cathedral and a chateau; having had my fill of both after having lived and traveled in Europe for a year I decided I’d rather sit on the beach all day. I stayed there as long as I could and couldn’t have been happier. I had to finally force myself up and made my way to the train station where I headed back home to Paris.

It was a great weekend getting to see a part of France I had yet to see, however, a little odd being without my travel partner. After spending all that time alone I began to realize why bums talk to themselves, for after only one day alone I began to want to talk to myself just so I could talk.