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Monday, May 30, 2005

Barcelona round two

So on May 13 Lori decided to conquer her fear of flying and boarded a plane all by herself and made the flight across the Atlantic Ocean to come see me! She arrived on that Saturday and from that point on I didn’t give her a minute to rest. I took her on a walk through the city shortly after her arrival and tried to take her out that night but instead went to a long dinner and trekked across the city only to arrive at our destination club and decide we should go home and get some sleep instead of going in. Why get some sleep instead of going in you ask? Well the next morning Lori and I got up super early and crossed town to the shuttle to take us to Beauvais airport, “Paris’ low cost airport”, so we could board our plane to Barcelona. This would be my second time in Barcelona as I went out there in October to visit Sotiris, a friend from Pepperdine studying aboard there, however, it would be the first time for Lori. We got a hostel right on the beach which turned out to be a great location but the hostel was only so so. When we arrived we were pleased to find excellent weather, perfect for a day at the beach. Thankfully since we had taken such an early morning flight, 9 a.m., once we arrived and took another hour shuttle ride into the city we still had plenty of daytime left. We settled into the hostel, ate lunch then hit the beach. As mentioned before I had been to Barcelona back in October, and while I had a blast and definitely rank it among my best vacations in Europe so far, I didn’t have the chance or the weather to enjoy its beaches. So this time I was super excited to be able to soak up the sun on its beaches and escape the chilly Parisian weather.

After enjoying our time on the beach we decided to clean up and walk around the city some. We strolled Las Ramblas like typical tourists and ate a very late dinner like typical Spaniards. Being too tired to do much else we called it a night after dinner and returned to the hostel. This is where we decided the hostel was only so so. Seeing that the walls didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, leaving enormous gaps, the hostel was extremely loud. Come that morning we could hear everything happening within the hostel. Even still, due to our crazy German roommate who apparently couldn’t sleep but instead chose to walk in and out of the room brining in various people who turned on the lights the next morning, we wouldn’t have been able to sleep much even had the walls been complete.

That morning after being forced awake, we got up and went to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. This would be my second time seeing it, Lori’s first. But considering it’s a must see in Barcelona I couldn’t let Lori miss it. This time however, instead of going up the front spires as I did last time, we opted to go up the back spires. However, the elevator was not working as we found out after getting in line. We decided to make the trek up the spires by foot which turned out to not be too bad as it was a long line and went very slowly. We had a great view of the city and enjoyed our time but were anxious to get back to the beach since we were blessed with another fantastic day of great weather. So we hurried back, grabbed some beer, and enjoyed relaxing on the beach for as long as we could. Once the sun started going down it started getting chilly so we had to retreat back to the hostel. We got cleaned up and set out with the two British guys in our hostel room for a dinner of paella and sangria. We found a great restaurant near our hostel and had a great Spanish meal. Afterwards the four of us set out to enjoy the Spanish nightlife; unfortunately it started raining and was a Monday night so it wasn’t all that great. Nonetheless we found some nice bars along the beach and still managed to have a fun time despite getting soaked in the rain.

The next morning we were forced out of our hostel at 10 a.m. which was way too early for Lori and I considering we didn’t get home till about 5 a.m. the night before. However, determined to enjoy the last of the beach Lori and I put on out bathing suits and packed up our stuff and made it out of the hostel by 11 a.m. (upon them telling us we seriously had to get out of there) only to discover it was cold and rainy. Being extremely disappointed and exhausted we changed out of our bathing suits and took our bags to the bus station where we put them in a locker for the day as we weren’t supposed to leave Barcelona till the evening. We set out for Parc Guell on Danielle’s insistence that it was a must see. It is a Park done in Gaudi style that I had not seen on my first visit so I was willing to go and see what it was all about. While it was worth seeing the weather kind of ruined it for us as we were cold and tired and couldn’t get the great view of the city as you normally would had the weather been better. We eventually made our way back to the bus station where we picked up our bags and started the long trip back to Paris. We made it back late that evening and as usual it was back to work for me on Wednesday.

While extremely exhausting, as expected I really enjoyed my second visit to Barcelona. Still ranks high on my list of favorite cities as it can always provide a great time and a great meal of paella and sangria. While this trip ended on a down note with the weather, I was still very thankful to have received the 2 days that we had of great weather and to have had at least some time to escape the weather in Paris and actually relax on a beach for a while.

Below Lori and I are on the beach in front of our hostel...look how pretty and warm it looks!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Public "Restrooms" in France

I think everyone would agree that France is considered a civilized/modern society. They’re one of the top economies in Europe and the world ranking 6th in GDP ( While their economy ranks high amongst the rest of the world, they’ve somehow managed to lag behind in a few areas leaving one to believe they may not be as civilized as they appear.

The example I’d like to take the time to point out is public urination. I know you see public urination in the U.S. but in France it is on a whole different level. It goes beyond just simple public urination too. Anyone who has visited France is very familiar with its dog poo covered streets. The French love their dogs and bring them with them everywhere and as a result let them use the restroom anywhere as well. Since living here I’ve seen dogs pee/poop on anything and never once have their owners picked it up or attempted to have their dogs go somewhere a little less public. Two times now I’ve even seen them let their dogs pee on other peoples cars. That’s right just today I saw a rather large dog lift its leg and pee on the front side of someone else’s car as the owner of the dog just stood there.

In addition to dogs peeing in the streets one can see at any time of the day a grown man peeing on the street as well. It’s not uncommon to be walking along a sidewalk and come upon a liquid trail running down the sidewalk only to follow it up to some man peeing against the wall. Nor is it uncommon to see them doing this under a spot light. I guess they like to have light while they pee on the streets. The problem here too is it’s not only homeless or drunks doing it; kids with their parents do it as well. In fact they encourage it. At Disneyland Paris a father took his son to the bushes while waiting in line for a ride and had him pee right there next to everyone waiting in line; thus only encouraging further public urination when he grows up. While I find this act alone very disturbing and disgusting I had no idea how bad it could get until last Wednesday. Danielle and I deciding to have our lunch in a small park in front of a church not far from my work were seated on the steps to the church when a mother took her son (around the age of 6) into some grass behind some bushes. Unfortunately from our angle he was not behind the bushes at all. She goes back there with her son carrying wipes. Wondering why she would have wipes I fear the worst is about to happen; then it did. She picks up her son and holds him up and he poops right there in full view of us in a very public park. At this point I can’t help but think of the dogs I’ve seen pooping on the streets in Paris and wonder how they can treat their children in the same manner.

Anyone who has been to Paris has probably noticed the public pay restrooms on almost every corner. Very often these restrooms are very clean, especially considering they’re public restrooms. I guess we now know why they’re so clean. The only people who actually care to use a restroom to do their business are the tourists. The French are still content doing theirs in public just as their dogs do, leaving me to wonder if they will ever decide to stop acting like animals and become a fully civilized society.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Going Medieval in Prague

So after actually making the trek across town to the train station for our 6 a.m. train Danielle and I hopped on the train to Prague. This time we were able to get a private room and had it all to ourselves thus allowing us to each take one side (the room is made up of 3 seats facing each other, so 6 seats total) and lie down and nap. The train ride was 4 ½ hours and again was very pretty from what I saw of it. I slept for the majority of the first part but was awake for the last hour or so. Nothing too eventful on the train, just lots of passport and ticket checks. Once we arrived, we headed to our hostel which was not far from the train station, yet was a little tricky finding. We checked in and were showed to our room. The room smelled as though someone had popped in their pants in there and Danielle and I were less than content with the quality of the room. Seeing the door open to the room across the hall we peeked in and saw that that room not only smelled better but looked better too. So we quickly grabbed our bags and went back down to the front desk to ask to be moved. Thankfully they accommodated us and let us have a room there on the first floor which was actually even better than the one we asked to be moved in. This one only had 5 beds in it as opposed to the 7 that the first room had and more importantly it didn’t stink.

On the train Danielle and I had decided we would take a walking tour of Prague since her friend who had just visited the week before recommended we do that. The tour was at 2 and since we arrived so early we had some time to kill. We walked around some on the main street and looked in a lot of the shops, then decided we should eat lunch before the tour. After walking around looking for a nice place to eat, we actually wound up at a Crêperie. Looks like we’re actually turning French. It was no surprise that it was filled with a lot of French tourists; seems the town was filled with them as well. However, I guess we haven’t turned completely French as neither one of us ordered a crêpe, instead I ordered Thai Chicken while Danielle ordered Goulash and Dumplings and we both shared garlic bread and I of course enjoyed cheap Czech beer. Quite an interesting and multicultural meal.

So finally it was 2 and time for our tour. To our surprise no one else showed up for the tour and it turned out to be a private tour for Danielle and me. The tour lasted about 4 hours and took us all over the town. Unfortunately the weather didn’t hold up as long as we would have liked and towards the end of the tour it started raining. Thankfully though it wasn’t that bad and we were able to still enjoy the tour. At the end of the tour Danielle and I walked around just a little bit and then returned to our hostel to shower and get ready to go out again. This time we had a mission for Czech food, but not just any Czech food, we wanted this fried cheese dish we had heard a lot about from Danielle’s friend. We had a list of restaurants in hand and set out. Unfortunately none of the restaurants had the fried cheese and the one we found that did, was too booked. So we wound up at an Italian restaurant. After finishing up dinner we went to a dance club where we had a great night that lasted till 4:30 in the morning dancing. Upon leaving the club we decided that even though our hostel wasn’t very far we were just too cold to walk so we decided to take a cab. Come to find out cabs don’t have meters but instead just tell you a flat rated which apparently differs by cab. Thankfully there were about 20 cabs all gathered in one area. The first cab told us 300 korunas, which we thought was a little high considering we were told it was 600 korunas to the airport which was about 30-45 mins away and we were only about 10 mins max from our hostel. So we decided to think more and during this time another cab driver walked up to us and asked where we were going and upon telling him our destination he told us that would cost 400 koruna. We quickly walked away deciding we’d go ahead and pay 300 but not 400. He then attempted to negotiate I assumed as he asked how much we were willing to pay. I said 250 and he said no so I said 300 and he said no again. Apparently he doesn’t understand the art of negotiation if he was completely unwilling to come down at least 50. So we walked away again and came upon the 3rd cab who said he would take us for 200. Better than we imagined so we hopped in and went back to the hostel.

The next day Danielle and I slept forever as we were absolutely exhausted from not only the night before but our whole trip. We finally woke up and went and had lunch at the place we had wanted to eat at the night before with the fried cheese. We had our fried cheese dish, which is really just like a giant mozzarella cheese stick served with tartar sauce instead of marinara. It was pretty good, but very filling. During our meal we got to watch as a line of army jeeps drove by the restaurant in parade style. That Sunday that we were there marked 60 years since they had been freed from the Soviets. They had apparently had a big demonstration of fighter jets and tanks in the morning but we slept through all that.

After lunch we went to see some of the sights that were pointed out to us on our tour but that we were unable to go in and visit with the tour. First stop was the Spanish synagogue done in Moorish style. That was my first experience with the Moorish style and I have to say I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately they didn’t allow pics at all. After the Synagogue we headed back up Castle Hill where we had been on the tour but had been unable to enter the Church up there. We couldn’t find the stairs we had taken down from Castle hill the day before but wound up taking stairs through the Palace gardens instead. Turned out to be worthwhile as we got several great views of the city. We viewed the church and came back down the hill and walked over to what they call “little Venice”. It’s a small island created alongside of the river by a small canal. Not much going on there but it was cute. We then walked back across Charles Bridge, did a little shopping and went and had a leisurely dinner. Thankfully the weather was great for us all day. We then went back home got ready and went to bed. The next morning would be the worst of all as we had to get up at 3:45 a.m. and leave the hostel by 4:15 to catch our 6 a.m. flight into Paris. Immediately after landing I went to work thus marking the end to my trip and throwing me harshly back into reality.

After the long trip Danielle and I were happy to be home even though we did have a great time. The trip was a blast and Prague was definitely my favorite. With out a doubt I’d return to Prague. I encourage everyone to try and go before they adopt the euro in about 6 years as it’s pretty darn cheap right now. On another note, Danielle and I are always being asked where we’re from when we’re in Paris. Most people assume for some reason that we are from either Italy or Spain. We’re not really sure why but they always seem to guess those two or try to speak to us in Italian or Spanish even when we speak English to each other. So during this trip we were curious to see if the central Europeans would think the same. As it turns out they do. At one restaurant in Vienna they kept speaking to us in Italian the whole night. At a souvenir shop in Prague immediately upon entering, the man starts speaking to us in Italian, when we don’t acknowledge it he then starts in Spanish asking if that’s where we’re from. Very strange it is, but kind of fun at the same time to leave them guessing.

Below is a pic of the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River. Below that is a pic of me with the Czech fried cheese dish called Smazeny Syr in Czech.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Vienna in Under 24 Hours!

After taking in as much of Budapest as we could in 24 hours, Danielle and woke up way too early on Friday and hopped on the 6 a.m. train to Vienna. The train ride was about 3 hours and I’m sure rather pretty, unfortunately I slept most of it so I didn’t get to see the countryside except for bits and pieces when I opened my eyes for a minute.

Originally we were set to stay at the Westend Hostel despite reviews that it had bedbugs (it was the only open hostel when we booked). Thankfully, however, my friend from Euromed who is Austrian and went to School in Vienna offered to let us stay at her place. So before leaving we cancelled the hostel. Unfortunately she would be leaving Vienna on Friday to go back to her home town for a wedding, but the plan was to meet her at her office to pick up her key before she left. Unable to get a hold of her after getting off the train, Danielle and I put our luggage in a locker at the train station and set off on our express sightseeing tour of Vienna. Before leaving Paris we had checked the weather for all the cities we would be visiting and it was reported that Vienna would hold the best weather for us and that it would probably rain in the other cities while we were there. We got very lucky with Budapest and had no rain and great weather. Vienna we weren’t so lucky, it was cold, rained some (not consistently), but worst of all was extremely windy thus adding to how cold it was. This made sightseeing a little less pleasurable and as a result we don’t have many pics from Vienna. We did meet up at lunch time with my friend and got the key from her and were able to chat for about 30 mins. Then it was back to sightseeing. We weren’t quite sure what all to do in Vienna and the bus tour was too expensive or at least more than we really wanted to pay, so we really just wound up walking around the city and visiting its churches and other famous buildings. By night time we were exhausted and it took all we had just to get cleaned up and go to dinner. Hearing that Vienna didn’t have much of a nightlife anyway and being way too tired we called it quits after dinner and went back to my friends dorm room. Again probably a good decision as we had yet another train at 6 a.m. the next morning taking us to Prague.

My overall impression of Vienna was that it was a much larger city than I ever imagined and is very pretty too. Didn’t seem too much of a touristy city to me as there just wasn’t that much to see or do. It has lovely architecture and is obviously very big on culture, but not necessarily a city I’d make a plan to go back to just for a vacation. I’d love to see more of Austria though and if I’m ever in the area again I would stop in Vienna as it was a nice city. But at this point I preferred Budapest. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had the weather not been so tough and had I not been so exhausted.

Below is a pic of Danielle and myself in front of Schönbrunn Palace. The idea behind this palace was to build one larger than Versailles. Below that is a pic of the long straight away in its gardens; not quite as flowery as Versailles, but still very beautiful (again just wish the weather had been better).

Monday, May 09, 2005

First stop: Budapest

Well my 3 country tour is over and I had a blast. I enjoyed each city and so to give them all the justice they deserve this will be a three part blog entry on my trip going in order of my trip.

So Wednesday afternoon Danielle and I hopped on a Pink and Purple Wizz Air plane and headed off for Budapest. We arrived that evening and made out way to our Hostel which was actually pretty nice as it was really just a large apartment with the rooms filled with bunk beds. Great location and very clean (Caterina Hostel if anyone is planning a visit). We walked around just a little that evening and then met up with a Pepperdine MIB alumni who has been living in Budapest for a while now and had dinner with him. He gave us some ideas of what to do in the city and so the next morning we set out to see Budapest in 24 hours. We started our day at the Spa (as we were told it’s a must do in Budapest), what better way to start a day. Don’t be deceived by the word Spa though, it’s actually a medicinal spa and was filled with old people just sitting on bubbles and being whirled around in a lazy river type thing. We enjoyed out time in the pools and then went for our massage. Seeing how no one we were talking with spoke English, just getting a time for a massage was quite a hassle. We wanted to try the mud care but weren’t sure what it was and no one could seem to understand what we were asking about. So we just settled on the massage. And much to my surprise I got stuck with a very large and hairy Hungarian man as my masseuse. But the massage was great and the whole spa experience was a really fun cultural experience. After finishing up there we headed out on the town and did all the sightseeing we could fit into the day. We stopped for lunch up on the hill and tried a typical Hungarian meal of meat filled pancakes. We were told they were filled with chicken by our waiter but it was far from chicken and I’m still worried about what it may have been, but they were quite good. After walking all over the town seeing everything we could we headed back to the Hostel, rested a bit then freshened up and headed out for dinner and drinks. We went down to this restaurant/lounge on a boat on the river and had a few drinks after dinner. After which we tried to find some nightclubs we had found on the internet but were unsuccessful as they no longer existed and that part of the city seemed dead so we just went ahead and went home. Probably for the best as we had to get up super early the next morning to catch our 6 a.m. train to Vienna.

Upon leaving my impression was very favorable of Budapest. The city was lovely, especially at night since they light up all the monuments along the river and it’s just gorgeous. Prices are pretty cheap, at least compared to Paris, since they aren’t on the Euro yet. It was also fun carrying around a 10,000 forint bill (about 40 euros) and paying hundreds for a meal. I was very impressed with how nice the city was, they had tons of cute cafes/restaurants (much cuter than the ones found in Paris) and it felt like such a clean and crisp city. The language was difficult as it was near impossible to even make a guess as to what something said but thankfully they’re very accommodating to tourists and most people spoke English and menus were all in English. Would definitely recommend visiting the city if you ever have the chance and definitely go to the spas, just be prepared for a whole new spa experience.

Below is the pic of me with my masseuse.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

After going a month without a vacation Danielle and I have gotten very antsy; it’s a sad life we live I know. So to appease our desires for a vacation, tomorrow we will be flying to Budapest. We stay there two nights then are taking a train to Vienna where we will stay Friday night. Then once we’re ready on Saturday we will hop on a train to Prague and take in all of its glory for the next two days. We fly back into Paris on Monday morning just in time to go back to work; I may actually be on time. So with all that being said, I won’t be writing for a while, but come back next week to hear how everything went. And don’t worry now that the thesis is done I’m devoting my time, that’s not spent traveling, to getting my website up.

How to Write a Thesis in One Month

Just follow the 3 Rs: Research, Regurgitate, Reference. First, spend the first week doing all your research, but don’t forget to keep track of all your sources, you’ll need it for the last step. Then spend the next two weeks regurgitating everything you just researched, but don’t hesitate to throw some of your own thoughts or opinions in there, it’s all the more better if you do. Once all this is done spend your last week making sure you’ve properly referenced everything you have written and don’t forget that Bibliography! Proofread it at least once and voila you have a thesis.

Disclaimer: May only be suitable for schools in France. This technique should only be used when you know your school is crap and probably isn’t even going to read it.

Further information: If you have less than a month to write a thesis, consult Charapal, she has the secrets on how to write a thesis in 3 days.

Well if you haven’t figured it out yet, I finished my thesis this last week. I guess we’ll find out in the coming months if my technique worked.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

How about some of the Bubbly?

Those of you who know me best know I have a love of Champagne. So naturally I couldn’t leave France without making a trip to the Champagne region to enjoy it from its source. Seeing as how Danielle really does not have much time left and France and our weekends are quickly being booked up we decided this last Saturday would be the perfect day to make the trip out to the Champagne region and indulge in a day of Champagne. Since the region is only 1 ½ hours from Paris we decided to just go for the day. So we woke up earlier than either one of us would have liked on Saturday and hoped on the train and made our way to Epernay. Epernay is the capital of the region and home to Avenue de Champagne which is home to several Champagne houses. We opted to first go the Moët house and take their tour and tasting. The caves were actually quite beautiful as they were dimly lit with a soft lighting giving them a nice glow. We learned all about the process of making Champagne and then at last at the end were able to taste it. Fantastic Champagne. After finishing up there we then headed down the Avenue de Champagne and wondered into the Mercier house where we were just in time for the English tour. This tour was much more disneyized with a little train that took you through the caves and they were not nearly as beautiful as the ones at Moët. The Champagne was good, but I’d have to say Moët was better. We did however get to see the giant cask that Mercier brought his Champagne in to the World’s Fair in 1889 and took second place to the Eiffel Tower. Next since it was now noon and most of the houses would be closed for the next two hours we decided to hop on the train and make our way to Reims.

It was only a 30 min train ride and took us through some really beautiful country and the vineyards. Reims is a much larger city than Epernay and houses a lot more of the Champagne houses. First stop though was lunch. We walked around the town a bit and found the tourism office and viewed the Notre Dame there in town and then found a nice little restaurant in the center of town. It was a very active little town with a great vibe that we really enjoyed. Having attempted to make a reservation to do the Veuve Clicquot tour the night before (can only tour with a reservation) we decided to go ahead and make the trek out there to see if they had actually given us a reservation. Once we made it we talked to the front desk and found out that we had made our reservation too late and the tours were all booked. Apparently it’s necessary to make the reservations about 1-2 weeks in advance. I guess making the reservation the night before at 1 a.m. wasn’t a good idea. So we just decided to go view their boutique where we were able to purchase a tasting. So I opted to purchase a glass since I’ve never actually had Veuve before. I decided this time to go for a vintage since I’d only had the classics before. I opted for the sweet vintage and come to find out the one I chose actually isn’t even sold in the U.S. because Americans apparently aren’t keen on sweet wines. So I was very happy that I had chosen that one, not to mention it was the best tasting Champagne I think I’ve ever had. Definitely well worth the trek.

Feeling confident with our knowledge of the Champagne making process Danielle and I decided not to go on anymore tours but to just walk through the town along the river than through it’s giant park. Eventually we made our way to the train station and hoped on the next train back to Paris. Despite the 40 min delay on the train just 15 mins outside of Paris, I’d say we had a great Saturday and I’m very happy we went. If ever looking for a day trip from Paris, I’d definitely recommend making this one.

Below is a pic of Danielle and me at our first tasting at Moet. Then the next pic is of the countryside from the train and then below that is an open space in Epernay in front of the train station.