Tuesday, March 31, 2009

30 Minutes in Paris

I leave babysitting around 8 p.m. I'm hungry but don't feel like going through the trouble of the grocery store and lugging things all up the stairs and messing around in the kitchen. So I head towards the street of a million falafels, a street in the old Jewish neighborhood that has seven or so restaurants specializing my new favorite food.

To order the best falafel in Paris would mean to wait a long time in line, and I am hungry now, so I go to a place that is maybe not as good, but pretty good. One falafel à emporter, but please not with those red vegetables. I don't even know what they're called in English. Maybe they're beets. I should probably learn the French word regardless, so I don't sound so ignorant.

Falafel in hand, so I walk towards the nearest metro station, but don't enter. Eating in the deep dark depths of a filthy, smelly, mouse-infested tube does not appeal to me. Instead I sit on a bench next to a woman also eating falafel.

She is very French, and I am not. She has removed one leather glove to aid in the eating of her sandwich. She is wearing these shoes, these Victorian-era laced high heels that are very popular amoung the chic French ladies. She does not spill falafel on her red coat. I, on the other hand, am dropping bits left and right. I am very self concious of my Americanness as I sit next to her. It's not so much the jeans and Converse shoes that give me away. It's my orange North Face backpack, which is definitely not French and definitely not chic.

She leaves to meet a friend and two new women sit down, one on either side of me. They are talking on their cell phones. I listen to their conversations and think about how there was once a time when I my French was not good enough to understand people's cell phone conversations.

A man asks for the time, and I get nervous. Not really nervous, just a little bit, because I am really bad at giving the time in French. I still translate the 24-hour clock into the 12-hour clock. It makes sense to me, in my head, but not to other people who understand the 24-hour clock in a normal way. I tell him it's a little after eight, but he gives me this very puzzled look, so I hold up my phone with 20:31 on it, but he can't see it for some reason, maybe he has bad eyesight, so finally I get my act together and tell him it's twenty o' clock and thirty minutes. He understands.

The woman on my left tells the person on the other end of the line that she is sitting next to someone eating… I don't know what… a falafel. I nod my head a bit as if to agree, because I feel it would be more awkward if I did not acknowledge that she was talking about me. She meets this person two seconds later, and off they go.

I pick at my sandwich for a few minutes more, but end up tossing the last third. Down into the metro. It's Line 1, which isn't really convenient for me. I'm not in the mood to make several metro transfers tonight, so I take this line as close as it goes to home and walk the rest of the way.

On the walk home, I think about how I'm starting a grown-up job tomorrow, and what that means. My thoughts are sidetracked when I decide to stop into a store. I buy some of that yogurt I was telling you all about for dessert, chocolate with coconut flakes. I get some tea too, because when I woke up this morning I had no voice, and after teaching all day, my throat aches.

And then I go home.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Best Yaourt in the World

I would like to dedicate this post to French yogurt. I've tried many times to "get into" yogurt back home. But it's either too liquidy or too Splenda-y tasting. French yogurt is way superior to United States yogurt. My favorite brand is Mamie Nova.

It comes in packets of two. There are unbelievable flavors, such as coconut, mint chocolate and acacia sugar & honey. Maybe that sounds nasty. I agree that a Yoplait version of mint chocolate sounds nasty. But this is no Yoplait. Marie Nova is more on the level of gourmet yogurt. It is so so so good.

I just had to write this post because I just polished off a caramel & chocolate Marie Nova yogurt, and I wanted to pay my respects. I can't wait to eat the other one tomorrow. If you ever come to France, you must get this yogurt. Forget about the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. Maire Nova yogurt. I'm telling you. Believe me. They also have a cute website (if you would ever have a reason to visit a site dedicated to yogurt), too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Part 6: Luzern, Switzerland

The last and final leg of our trip was my favorite. Luzern was the smallest city we were in, and maybe that's why I enjoyed it. It was a nice change. And the mountains. Oh yes, the mountains. Luzern is surrounded by them.

But before we could go up high in the glorious mountains, we had some things to check off our list. Like take a walk around the city just after sunset.

I think this might have been the oldest bridge in Switzerland. Or maybe that was the next bridge over. The photo below is the oldest one for sure, though. I wouldn't have taken a picture of just any old bridge if it weren't the oldest in the country:

One of the highlights of the city was the expensive-but-worth-it transportation museum:

Basically we're talking about every vehicle ever invented. I think this museum has them all. Here, I beat Jake hardcore in an ergometer race, one of my finest moments.

The glacier garden sounded like it would be really cool, but wasn't. But just after the exit, there was this random mirror maze. I don't know what it had to do with glaciers or gardens, but it's no matter. We got pretty lost, but finally made it out without cheating. Not without taking some pictures first, of course:

There were more mirrors outside, which made us giggle:

Finally, we used our last day to take an excursion up Pilatus.

Mountains, mountains everywhere. Also rows of lawn chairs. So you could just chill up there reading a book or contemplating life or whatever, which a lot of people were doing:

A nice person took our picture, but I am a dummy. Our backs are facing the uncool, unmountainous part. Oops. Well at least we got to look at them while the picture was being taken.

And lastly, the coolest thing we did, my most favorite-ist, was sled down the mountain. I don't have any pictures because I dismantled my camera before we got on the sleds. I also don't have any pictures of the whopping bruise I got when my sled actually got air, then slammed me back down with powerful force. It was fun. My biggest regret of the trip is not taking the cable car back up and sledding down again.

The End. I have no more posts to write about our Euro-trip. It's over now. Sad. :(

Part 5: Zürich, Switzerland

We took advantage of our Eurail passes and off we were to Zürich.

Played some travel Scrabble, chowed down on delicious Haribo gummy bears (my favorite), and took some photos of the scenery.

Our hotel was quite a hike away. At least we got some exercise. The receptionist was kind of rude so I made a mental note to never stay there again. Also she tricked us into paying heaps of money for a not-that-impressive breakfast. She made it sound like it was free. Oh well, we're dumb tourists.

We saw some cool stuff here. We visited the birthplace of Dadaism. The exhibit there didn't make any sense, which I guess was the whole point of the movement.

I took this picture in the upstairs café. It was a pretty hip place, but we didn't stay for food or drinks. Instead we stopped at a Sprüngli, self-proclaimed "creator of the finest Swiss Chocolate."

I'll back them up. That hot chocolate was superb. Its richness made me feel like I overdosed on chocolate. I couldn't even think about eating the tiny square of chocolate that came on the side, so I pocketed it for later (although I never got to eat it. I think I gave it to Jake later when he was grumpy about something).

This exhibit at the Design Museum was pretty cool. I was reminded of how I wasn't very successful in Magazine Design back at J-School. Those designers would have aced the class. There was only one exhibit at the museum though, which made us sad. We were excited to see lots of Swiss design.

Also, isn't this monkey awesome?

This wooly mammoth was at the natual history museum. I would have taken more photos, but it wasn't allowed. I took this one by accident. I'm not sure how many natural history museums I've been to in my life, probably heaps counting all the ones they force you to go to on school field trips. But this was, hands down, the best one. Usually these types of places shove a bunch of rocks in a glass case, and you are supposed to care just because they are really old. But this museum found creative ways to peak interest. Funny I can't put my finger on a specific one. I do remember that Jake and I messed up one exhibit by going through it backwards. Yes, we went backwards in history. Heh. Anyway. It was interesting, so if you ever have a chance, go.

We had some time to do one last thing before we left, so it was the zoo. It kind of smelled funny (like more than a typical zoo), and all the signage was written in German. But I understood this one!:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Part 4: Geneva, Switzerland

I would never tell anyone to go here. Unless you're really into having nothing to do and being really bored, well then go ahead. Luckily we only had a hotel room for one night, and luckily that hotel room had a tv. Although there were only one or two channels in English. Anyway. It was not cool. We couldn't wait to leave.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Weekend in Biarritz

Followers of my blog may remember that I bought some tickets to Biarritz. A couple weekends ago, I hopped on a relatively uncomfortable night train and went off the Paris grid. Off to Biarritz, which I immediately realized was the type of place you could have the oldest, crappiest, most good-for-nothing camera and still take gorgeous photos.

It was mostly a weekend of seeing sites and relaxing, so not much discuss. I'll just share some photos.

I meant to walk to the bus stop near my hostel, but ended up at this lake instead.

The ocean, duh.

Message in the sand (not written by me).

Old dudes who had just gone swimming, which must have been frreeeeezing.

Up on top of the lighthouse. I'm not acting like I am totally terrified, which I kind of am.

The light house itself. Couldn't get a really good shot, or I might have fallen.

Octopus at the sea museum says no paparazzi please.

The shark, on the other hand, just doesn't really care.

Different view of that same lighthouse.

Dinner, a €13 plate of Paella.

Last purchase before my night train back to Paris: a glass of wine from this seaside bar.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mini Reflection

I am writing this post in my little Moleskine while I am leaning against a tree outside my apartment. The air feels so fresh after I left the hot metro. It just rained. I feels so good to be starting a job soon that will pay me to write. It feels so good to have finally accumulated all the papers I need to apply for the CAF. It feels so good to have all my lessons planned for tomorrow. It feels so good to have spent hours writing and crossing out and rewriting and to have finally think I have got it. I am getting rained on a bit. It feels good.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Part 3: Paris

I'm continuing my unfrequent updates on our trip. Here are Parts One and Two, if you didn't catch them.

Jake and I just made our 8:35 a.m. Eurostar train to Paris. I had to check out of the hotel first, and the receptionist was late. But it all worked out, we made it through security, got our passports stamped and hopped on just in time.

Paris was a bit more relaxing than Dublin and London. We found the time to accidentally take a 14-hour nap. I've always wanted to go up in l'Arc de Triomphe and watch all the traffic coming in from a million different directions. It stands in the middle of 12 streets, which all collide with no rhyme or reason in a circle around the arch. And we had a nice little dinner at a not-too-expensive restaurant I found close to my apartment.

Jake was all excited about seeing some sweet Parisian djs, but we kind of failed at that. One night we arrived at a club 12 a.m., which turned out to be much too early. The 10€ beers weren't enticing enough for us to stay until 4:00 a.m. We went to a different club the next night, but the guy's set wasn't very good. I felt personally responsible for the Paris dj sucking.

Here are a couple photos from this leg of the trip:

That's supposed to be Paris behind me, but it was all foggy and rainy.

And that's the Eiffel Tour. Ever heard of it?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More tales from the classroom

There is one class. Their teacher hates them. She told me that out of the 30 kids, maybe two are at performing at their nine-year-old level. When I am in the classroom next door, I can always hear her yelling at the top of her lungs. There are always three or four of them being punished at recess. No teacher wants to take the class next year. No one can control them.

I used to hate these kids. At the beginning of the year, I would stand outside the door before I entered the classroom, giving myself a prep talk. 'It's only 45 minutes,' I would tell myself. 'You can do this.'

Now, six months in, I'm not afraid of them. They continue to be a challenge, but I'm determined to get and maintain control of this class.

The fact that I am 22 years old with no teaching experience doesn't help my situation. But I think not being French does help. If I were French, I would lose my temper every time a kid gets out of turn. Then I woud get in the kid's face and scream. If he talked back to me, I would scream louder. Then he would either cry, or rudely mumble under his breath. Either way, I would scream some more.

But like I said, I'm not French. So I'm doing it the American way. Which is stickers.

At the beginning of class, they each get these name cards. If they are too chatty, or reading comics at their desks or smacking each other with their rulers, I take their cards. The kids who are able to hold onto their cards until the end of class get a sticker. I promised a prize to the person with the most stickers at the end of the year.

It kinda works, but once the kids lose their cards, they have no reason to be good. So I adapted my method a little. Now I also give out stickers during class to students who answer questions. The other day, I got almost 100% participation, which is huge, considering I usually have between two and three volunteers. Also, when there is the instant gratification of getting a sticker on the line, they shut up; another rare occurrence with this class.

I'm not saying I've found the perfect solution to transform these into angel children, but maybe I'm getting there. Even if I don't succeed, at least I am learning something valubale. Outsmarting children into behaving well entails thinking like children think.

Monday, March 09, 2009

10 New Words

When I arrived home last night after a 9-hour babysitting bender, I decided it was time. I bought my ticket to Croatia.

I'll be going for 10 days in about a month. I am excited about this trip, and I am going to put a lot into researching and reading so I can make the most of my time there. I want to be prepared as possible. This will help me conquer the I'm-going-to-Croatia-alone jitters.

One of the best ways to do this is to learn a few new words. When Jake and I were in the German side of Switzerland, I was really embarrassed that we didn't know how to say simple things such as "excuse me." Even though a majority of people we needed to communicate with spoke English, I find it ignorant to not make at least a teeny effort to speak the country's language.

I predict I might be asking for a lot of help in Croatia, specifically regarding directions. So I am setting out to learn 10 new Croatian words. I'm sure there are resources online that can teach me pronunciation.

So what 10 hrvatski jezik words do you recommend I learn? I know I have some readers out there who have done a bit of traveling in their days. Leave me a comment on the blog, or send me a facebook or twitter message.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Part 2: London

Jake and I flew in from Dublin on our €5 Ryanair tickets. Our hotel was a sigh of relief after the icky hostel. It was definitely a budget hotel, a bit musty, with a hole in the bathroom wall hidden by a piece of computer paper. But it was a hotel nonetheless, breakfast included. We were happy.

So it was onto our two-and-a-half day grand tour of the city. We met up with some of Jake's friends and saw as much as we could in the time we had.

For me, London was a great change from Paris. I find Paris incredibly filthy, but London is not. This was very strange becaue Paris has millions of garbage cans, sometimes two or three clustered together in one location. Finding a garbage can in London was like playing Where's Waldo. I think there might be five in the whole city. But it's still so clean! How does that work?

Unlike Dublin, I loved walking around here. The architecture made me feel all warm and bubbly. Here's the street our hotel was on. I love how open and airy the buildings were. I understand why it's expensive to live here, because they're huge old classic buildings that take up a lot of space. Old and big is not cheap real estate. But it is beautiful real estate.

London is old city, that's definitely clear. But it's arms are open for the new. I took this pictue from St. Paul's cathedral. I like a city that is willing to change, while still respecting its roots.

I liked this photo too. In the backround, you can see the London Eye, the ferris wheel. That would have been cool to go up in, but it costs something like 35 pounds for a ride. Kind of like everything in London.

I'm not really happy with the pictures I took here. Nothing really captures what I am trying to say about the city. There was so much color in the buildings. Once again, I'm comparing it to Paris, where everything is old-yellowed-stone color. Here, white! Red! And old-yellowed-stone color too, but mixed in with other colors.

Out of all the sites we saw and things we did, I think my favorite was going to see a play. I probably wouldn't have done this if we hadn't been with a theater buff. I seriously had no idea how big shows and musicals are in London. The one we saw was called 39 steps.

It's an adaptation of a Hitchcock film, but funny. There are only four actors. The one main guy plays the same role throughout the whole show, then the other three play every other character. I enjoyed it.

I also liked the Tate Modern, which Jake and I squeezed in at the very last minute. My favorite there was a Roy Lichentein series paying homage to Monet's haystacks.

I wished we could have stayed longer in London and done more. Three days is definitely not enough time for the city. But I can always go back. It was soon time for us to leave the other two, who were heading to Dublin, while Jake and I made our way to Paris.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Flying to Croatia on a Whim ??

Okay, okay so it's not really a whim. I have been thinking about Croatia for awhile now, actually for months, ever since my friend Kate from J-School talked about how it changed her life. I want to change my life, too. So I have been planning to get there while I am on this continent.

I found a round-trip tickets on Orbitz for about $230. A great price, from what I am seeing with other flights. Much cheaper than other people have paid. It's even cheaper than the 30-hour cheapo budget bus, which is $280.

What's on the table? Croatia. For 10 days, a week or even two. And probably alone. Should I do it?

- Impulse buys are bad. I impulsively bought what I thought was a cool hoodie for €60 and it is the worst hoodie I have ever owned in my life. It's pilling and falling apart and is all mishapen.
- What if my dream writing job falls from the sky during that time period, and I can't accept it because I am in Croatia?
- Can I spend two weeks with myself?
a. Will I get really lonely?
b. Will I get really lost? (VERY important question to consider. This happens to me often, even in places I have lived in for years. Maybe the better question is 'how many times will I get really lost?')
c. Will I get really ill and no one will be there to take care of me/feel sorry for me?

- I have been thinking about going for months
- The weather should be almost just right for beaches and things
- I can do whatever I please as a solo tourist
- How bohème it would be of me. How bohème it would make me. You probably couldn't handle how bohème I would be after a trip to Croatia
- I keep hearing Croatia is very cheap
- I keep hearing Croatia is very beautiful
- I keep hearing Croatia is very awesome

Well I won't buy the ticket tonight. Maybe this weekend, after some more thought and research. Hopefully that cheap fare doesn't disappear in a couple days.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Part 1: Dublin

My first impressions of this city were not great. Our hostel was kinda bleh. Walking around was kinda boring. We got on a city tour bus with an automated guide, and I fell asleep.

Ireland is supposed to be gorgeous, but we didn't see any of that in the city. So we decided to take a tour to the Cliffs of Moher, which is at the opposite end of the country.

Good choice. Our real-person guide was über Irish, gushing with equally useful and pointless information about the country's culture and history. The trip was several hours long, so we got more than an ear-full. We took in the scenery as we learned about the sport of hurling (gotta start when you're four years old), President Obama's irish roots (we drove through his ancestor's town) and how to avoid pissing off fairies (basically, just stay out of their way. And they like to steal little boys from their cribs, so that's why little Irish boys are dressed like little Irish girls).

When we finally arrived to the Cliffs of Moher, our guide instructed us to close our coats as completely as possible. It's entirely possible that the wind can whip through loose coats and suddenly turn them into parachutes! When we finally got up there, I believed him. The wind was frightening.

We were lucky to evade fog, so we could see the cliffs perfectly.

There was also a tower that I wished we could have gone up in for a better view. This man-made thing looked really strange against the backdrop of the nature-made expanse.

My favorite were these girls, who were on our tour. They kind of weren't that smart. Maybe they didn't hear the parachute warning, or they did, and thought they were immortal.

After the Cliffs, we made one last stop to check out the Burren (sidenote: totally thought the guide was saying "The Barn" because of his accent. I was quite confused, and was thinking, 'how cool could a barn really be?')

Here, I took the only up-close picture of Jake and me of the whole trip.

And those girls were still doing really intelligent things. As if losing your footing wasn't totally easy because there were a million cracks and jagged rocks.

Afterwards, we hopped back into our totally sweet tour bus and headed back to the city.

Back in Dublin, we hit the pups, where Jake drank Guinness (ick) and I drank cider. We both dislike The Beatles, but still sang along to live band's rendition of "Hey Jude" at Temple Bar. I concluded that the city of Dublin is not that bad. But the country side is better.

Monday, March 02, 2009


I received a couple Facebook wall posts asking me where my blog had gone. It's still here. But I wasn't. For two weeks, I've been galavanting around Dublin, London, Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Lucerne. Updates take time and also money when you have to pay for internet, so I kind of just skipped out on this blog. But don't worry, I'm back now.

So you want to know. How was it?!??!

Blerg. Well I can say that being back in the routine of everyday life is not at all exciting. And I feel more like relaxing and watching a movie rather than recounting all my tales from traveling. So just a little bit more patience. Stories and pictures to come. Eventually.

As always, thanks for reading.