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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!!!