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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.