Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paris: The City of...Au Revoirs~

So wow...so much for blogging a lot in the next few days..hah. But hey, never said this blog would be perfect..that's what happens when lots of life gets in the way ;]

It's been a surreal and sublime past few weeks what with my family being here, Jenny coming to visit, doing some last minute Paris sight seeing, my friends getting to meet my BEST friend Mary Margaret and all go out together IN PARIS for her 21st birthday, back to Barcelona for a second time, and of course wondering how I'm going to run and jump into my boyfriend's arms in baggage claim with two huge suitcases, carry-on, purse, and computer..............

-it's happening regardless, even if all my stuff gets stolen.

This is me on my last night in the apartment since Veronique is renting it out starting tomorrow for the Christmas season. I'm half-way done packing, and surprisingly I'm not as depressed as I thought I would be. Hasn't completely hit me yet I suppose...that and I've still got Interlaken, Amsterdam, and two crazy last nights in Paris with the girls before I go home, ha. Whirlwind.

It's funny, my cousin Christine (whom I haven't gotten the chance to see since last summer and even longer before that) e-mailed me a couple days ago to say two things: a) she's engaged!! and b) living abroad changed her life.

Which made me think that it really has. And everyone will say that, cliché as it may sound, but it's the truth. And I don't think I'll even fully realize it until I've been home for a long time, thinking about what V's doing or how the next American girl who'll be sleeping in my bed is adjusting to life in Paris, the roaring lions at the circus one street over, the huge graffitti Ostrich at the end of rue de Malte, or the funny old owner of the Indian restaurant next to our apartment who will sweetly say hello every time someone fumbles for their keys to the door....

or how Eiffel looks all lit up in the snow some evening in January....

I'm far too cheesy to live in a place as cheesy as this...I suppose that's why we got along so well. ;]

My au revoir song!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

La Famille part 1

So I cannot believe it, it's already been a MONTH since my Mama, Daddy, sister Erika and bro-in-law Philip were here in Paris!! This past month has seriously flown.

It was a really special time with them, and even though they were here for a week it still didn't feel like long enough! My Mom and Dad got here a couple days before Erika and Philip so we took it easy the Saturday afternoon they got in by wandering around my neighborhood in Oberkampf. We had a leisurely lunch at the Metro Cafe in order to efficiently catch up on life. I was soo relieved to be with them. I had the pleasure of relaying the message that Veronique, my host mom, had invited us all to dinner the following Tuesday so after lunch we decided to find a couple nice bottles of wine. They were surprised at my comprehension of the clerk's description of the difference between 'dinner' and 'after dinner' white wines. I did my best to impress with what little language capabilities I've achieved ;]

That night we wandered around for a while in search of a good restaurant and found the typically and adorably French Bistrot des Vosges. Think gingham tables cloths, 40s French film ads, bric-a-bric partout, super friendly waitstaff, AND a famous house onion soup that was even more flavorful the second time around (that's right, we took Erika and Philip back the first night they were there). Very successful first night with Dave and Suse!

The next day was just as successful as we spent the entire day on the Champs Elysée!! (Duh.)

Daddy and the Champs

This was the first time I'd even seen the Arc de Triomph so the three of us were tourists all together.


We made our way huffing and puffing up the Arc's 284 steps (spiral steps, mind you) only stopping a couple of times. Fortunately there was a mini-museum half way up that gave us good reason to stop and catch our breath (and take pictures of course).

"Only 247 left to go guys!!"


Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Unknown Soldier.

Couldn't resist.

Finally at the top we saw a beautiful view of the five avenues that emerge from the arc in the shape of a star, hence the name of nearby metro stop "etoile." Napoleon and Barron Haussman did a pretty impressive job of designing the city, I must admit. We took our rime enjoying the view before deciding to conquer the descent, not bad considering the way down aaaaaalways goes faster than the way up.


Eiffel and Parents!


We then decided to fight the crowds down the Champs Elysée, stopping a couple of times in the Pugeot and Mercedes dealerships (for muh daddy) and then a couple more in some uber-kitschy tourist shops (for muh mama and me, though I think he enjoyed himself ;) We got pastries and coffee along the way in order to rest and do some people/pigeon watching and eventually found a cute Italian restaurant for dinner where we got a window seat on the second floor, perfect for viewing the bustling avenue. I suggested picking up some macaron cookies for dessert from the famous Laduree, which took a while to find but definitely turned out to be worth it. Our flavors-of-choice: raspberry, chocolate, caramel, and rose-grapefruit. Yummy stuff.

Unfortunately the night ended rather dramatically with an obnoxious encounter with the RATP metro police. I completely forgot that they do this, but every now and then they'll stand at the exit of the train stop and ask to see every passenger's train ticket as proof that they actually paid to get on. I guess turnstyle jumping has turned into a big problem. I forgot to tell my parents to hold on to their stubs until the end of the ride, so unfortunately they had already thrown them away when we encountered the police. Being the hopeful that I am, I figured the guards would be kind and understand that we're not from the area, didn't understand the rule, never saw any signs directing passengers to keep their stubs until the end of the ride (oh wait, there aren't any), etc. etc. etc. However, they were not kind OR understanding and still charged them a huge fine for not having the stubs. DUMB. The whole thing bothers me to bring up, but that's just the way it is here in Paris a lot of the time I guess. Unfortunately people really do live up to their stereotype of French rudeness. Not everyone of course, but some...especially RATP "police." Glorified mall security guard if you ask me...

(vent, vent, vent.)

All in all it was still an amazing day with a night that challenged our already excellent experience, so we decided to let the whole thing go and concentrate on the excitement of the rest of the trip. I've got pretty amazing parents for putting up with all of that with a good attitude!! (Maybe it was the triumphant arc that prepared us...or maybe just the triumph of getting up all those steps ;)

The next day got instantly brighter when the beautiful Huenekes showed up in town! But I'll save the rest of the week for later.

Night folks, I get to see my best friends (minus Lyssa) in 9.5 hours!! eeeeeep!!!

And Lyssalou, if you're reading this, know that I love you, miss you, and wish you were here sOO bad. Be expecting some pretty awesome consolation presents on our behalf ;]]


Sooo it's finally here! My friends Ash, Rach, and Kari are on their flight to Paris!! Praaaise the Lord for three main reasons:

1. It was snowing in Chicago when they left which made us worry their flight wouldn't get in on time, but they left on time and are getting in tomorrow at 11:30, just in time for my morning class to be finished!

2. I got food poisoning from a big mac yesterday and definitely thought I was guna be puking my guts out the whole time they were here :[ however, I slept for 12 hours last night, and it totally left my system! PHEW.

3. I'm making some legitimate headway on my 10 page history paper...still not as far as I'd like to be, but I'd say six pages is good enough for now when it's not due until next Tuesday. (Especially when two of those pages will be completely filled with pictures, ha. Procrastinaaaation.)

I'll be blogging LOTS in the next few days so keep an eye out! After all, the end is drawing near!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A day in Montmartre.

So just two days ago on Friday afternoon I finally made it to both Moulin Rouge and the Montmartre Cemetery. I've decided that Montmartre is officially my favorite area in Paris (excepting the Bastille stop which is definitely best for nightlife). It was a beautiful day and Moulin Rouge was disappointingly anticlimactic, so I wandered around the cemetery for at least three hours, listening to haunting Manchester Orchestra and chasing grave cats up and down stairs (or should I say chasing the spirits of the dead up and down stairs......).

Moulin Rouge..wah, wah..

Of all the famous artists buried here I'd definitely say the black one is Dalida and the striped one is François Truffaut...something about the former's spunky antics and the latter's aloof demeanor fit both famed-for-trouble singer and supercilious French director perfectly. I guess that makes the chubby, fluffy one in the second picture Stendhal ;]

Directors Jason Bognacky and Clay Lipsky's dreamy "I've Got Friends" --kind of silly but beautifully filmed and appropriately themed, you'll see why.

All of the graves are above ground so it felt like I was wandering amongst a city of tombs, perfect for the pique of my morbid curiosity. Leave it to Wikipedia to describe its ambiance best:

"The cemetery epitomizes the artsy, quixotic, gentle, almost whimsical Paris that every romantic visitor secretly cherishes."

I was the epitome of a romantic visitor, meandering around with a smile on my face, climbing up on the graves to get a better view, imagining what it would look like like if, in fact, the dead were to rise up out of their above-ground graves during the rapture. Pretty gnarly.

Here are some of my faves:

Romantic visitor.

I ended the day with a nutella-banana crêpe, some much needed Christmas shopping, and a nighttime view of the city from the threshold of Sacré Coeur where I ran into my friend Sahar. We exchanged evening plans before I went home for mussels and wine with V
éronique. Very successful day, I feel much better that I can cross a few more Paris must-dos off my list ;]


So it's a Saturday night, and since I'm still at home I'm feeling exceptionally motivated to sit and blog about some of the important events that have happened in the past month. [I also have an obscene amount of homework to do before my friends get here on Thursday (!!!) so what better way to procrastinate than by blogging?? ;]

But before I begin the description of my fall break in Barcelona, Spain (easily the best experience I've had abroad), I've two very important pieces of news:

Important piece #1: I have a boyfriend to come home to!!! The adorable Alex Michael Wolf and I became official last Sunday November 29, 2009 ;] (As he is currently in Rockford, my many thanks to the creators of Skype who actually allowed this to happen "face-to-face.")

Important piece #2. My main reason for staying in tonight was because I had an exhausting and emotional time of reflection earlier this evening over my whole time abroad. Not really sure what came over me, but it was about time I let some of it out; lots of time spent in prayer, writing in my journal, trying to think of every minute detail of my life for the past three and a half months.....impossible to do, of course, which was why I got kind of overwhelmed. But I feel that this type of reflection is entirely necessary for me psychologically right now. It helped to compromise my torn emotions about being ecstatic to see friends and family again while still totally disappointed to go. I love it here. But at the same time I can't wait to see how God is going to use this experience in my life. I don't think I can even begin to understand at this point what all He's done because it's hard to see change or improvement while you're still in the routine of a certain environment, but I know He'll make it clear in the coming months. The lyrics of this song helped put things in perspective, and I know God allowed it to come on my itunes at just the right time. He loves talking to me like that ;]

And with that off my chest, on to BarTHelona!! (We were told by our quirky Brit-friend Liam that everybody there talks with a lisp after schools decided to incorporate a Spanish king's speech impediment into their Catalonian language classes as a weird means of monarchal respect hah.) I left with close friends Mary Margaret, Katia, and Sahar for Barcelona on the afternoon of Wednesday November 11 for our program's fall break. We arrived in beautiful, sunny Barcelona late afternoon and leisurely waited at the airport (- coats + sunglasses) for the innercity bus to arrive. Once we'd checked into our hostel we wandered up and down the famous Las Ramblas avenue situated one street over. Funny market stands selling chickens, bunnies, various rodents, and chipmunks (??) peppered this famous ramble, along with bizarre (and slightly dubious) street performers dressed up in ridiculous costumes (i.e. invisible man, golden fairy-land tree, etc.).

Caged bird, free bird..

Invisible Man.

Golden-tree Man.

Very entertaining and passed the time well until we could head to a hole-in-the-wall pub at 8:30 called the Travel Bar in affiliation with our hostel. Here we were promised a free "meal" with the purchase of a drink (=a petite portion of what we coined "Spanish mac 'n cheese"). Sufficed well enough for poor college girls, I guess. It was here that we met our little leprechaun (only British) friend Liam as well as dry-witted Australian Midge who ended up being our honorary bike-tour guide the next day. They both work for Travel Bar and started their own touring company besides. Cunning salesmen that they are, they basically conned the four of us into agreeing to a combo-priced bike tour/flamenco show as our weekend's main activities, and let me tell you, best manipulation I've ever succumbed to. The allure of their funny accents actually pulled through and provided not only an excellent three days, but an overview of the entire city complete with history and fun facts. The bike tour was by far the best part. In one day we saw the entire pier built for the Olympics 10 years prior (complete with sand shipped in from Egypt and palm trees from Australia, trivia compliments of Midge), the famed Christopher Columbus statue that was built with the intention of him pointing toward the New World (though he isn't, apparently), the beach (sigh), giant fish sculpture on the water called "El Pez" by architect Frank O. Gehry, Antoni Gaudi-constructed cathedral "Sagrada Familia," Barcelona's version of L'arc de Triomf, Las Arenas bull-fighting arena, and famous Cascade fountain in Parc de la Cintadella where Midge stopped to share some of Barcelona's laws with us: the legal age of consent is 13 (ooook), and it's 100% legal to be nude in public as long as you're wearing shoes (??), ironic because earlier that day at lunch M.M. saw an old guy ride jolly and naked past the restaurant's front window on his bike (not exactly an appetiting image). But hey, at least now we know that a) she wasn't hallucinating and b) it really is legal, despite its burned image on her brain.


Chris Columbus pointing the wrong way.

The beach.

The fish.

Sagrada Familia.

Las Arenas.

Arc de Triomf.

Cascade fountain.

Naked dude on the bike.

..hahaa, if only.

What made that day so amazing was that we were all so nervous about bike riding through a big city, but it turned out to be the best way possible to take everything in. Normally tour groups are a lot bigger, too, but since we went in the afternoon the four of us ended up having our own private Midge-tour. He took us on a longer back route since there were less of us and was patient whenever we lagged (his one piece of advice was, "ehh, jest don't geet heet boy ennie cahhs...." Now that's what I call a liability). It was a beautiful day though, there weren't many people or cars out since it's Barcelona's off season, we got to choose our bike's design (I picked Hello Kitty, naturally), AND no one got hit. We rode around feeling totally free, racing to catch up with Midge when necessary, and appropriately humming the tune from the scene in Wedding Crashers when Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams go on their own quaint bike tour. Example:

Some intense bikers.

Katia and M.M. gearin up..


"I wanna smile for this picture, but I might hit a pedestrian...."

Hello Kitty decal, bell, and tires!


That night we took it easy due to unsurprisingly sore limbs. We grabbed a cheap 1/4 of chicken and fries at Spanish restaurant Pollo Rico upon Midge's suggestion and then spent the rest of the night at the Travel Bar again, greeted by Leprechaun Liam with his Brit-brogue "how the DEVIL ahhh yaaa" upon entering its smoky interior. We laughed hysterically as he told us funny life stories about living in Barcelona and the crazy people he encounters for mere weekends, while also dryly commenting on the slew of silly 90s Euro-music videos looping on the bar's television. Not exactly an authentically Spanish evening, but we enjoyed the heck out of ourselves.

Authentic Barcelonian hub-grub.


The next day we basically did the walking version of our bike-tour in order to spend a little more time at each place. We took time to have a quaint lunch on the beach and stop for yummy Spanish gelato. We added the Gaudi park to our tour and spent at least two hours wandering up and down its many levels taking in all of the exotic scenery. It wasn't until we were atop the highest level complete with an expansive view of downtown that we realized just how tropical Barcelona feels.

Lunch on the beach, the waiter got artsy.

Mint chocolate.

Gaudi park.


The view.

That night offered the second portion of our "package deal," a tapas and sangria dinner with an authentic flamenco show afterwards. The meal, again, didn't offer very big portions, but the show was awesome. The flamenco dancer was beautiful, and the audience was treated at the end by a mini-flamenco dancer-slash-singer who couldn'tve been more than 10 years old. I was happy to say, too, that I'd finally enjoyed an authentic Spanish experience.

The viewers.

The dance.

I left that night to head to the airport because my parents got into Paris the next day, but I knew for certain that I wanted to come back to Barcelona some day. I absolutely fell in love with the culture, the people, and the weather. And oddly enough, it's worked out for me to plan on going back with my friends this weekend!! Obviously won't be the same without M.M., Katia, and Sahar ALL of which, by the way, absolutely made the first experience what it was, but maybe Liam and Midge will have more biking adventures in store for Rach, Ash, and Kari..... ;]