Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pardon the interruption....

Technical difficulties
So my bad. Actually no, it's not my bad. I was going to apologize for not updating this for a while but let's blame it on a lovely company called Dell. My charger blew out (the same week my camera broke) so I obviously called Dell. I have insurance on my computer for 4 years because everything I touch seems to break, but obviously the insurance would not cover the charger. Makes zero sense. So I ordered my laptop charger from a third party company...it was supposed to be here three weeks ago and it arrived a couple days ago. Needless to say, I have had limited connection with the outside world. I even resorted to reading books. Pretty bad, I know.

A Night in Monaco

Monaco is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It is full of beautiful beaches, extravagant cars, a lavish casino and some of the creepiest men I have ever met in my entire life. A big group of us went to a club in Monaco for a friend's birthday and we were all decked out and excited. The drawback of going out in Monaco..the trains. The trains run until about midnight then don't start again until 5am. I mean I love going out dancing but it got old after about 3 hours. And it didn't help that every man that looked like child molester or just way too old and greasy to be in Monaco at a club was drawn to me. Every. Single. One. I think it's because I look like I'm 14 years old and the creepy men are all about the preteens I guess but good lord men, back off. So needless to say, my dream of meeting the Prince of Monaco (hell, I would settle for any extremely rich, smart, funny, hot Monacan...I'm clearly not picky) has not come true yet.
Spring Break in ITALIAAAAA

First Stop: Milan: Attack of the Pink Snails
Elise and I hopped on a train to Milan to begin our Italy adventure. Not much action on the way there. We sat in a train car with two Italian boys that smelled like Mighty Taco and a nasty old Italian woman who hated us because we are so clearly American. But we made it to Milan. My first real encounter with attempting to communicate with an Italian came when we needed a cab from the train station. Seeing that I am fluent in English, majoring in Spanish and living in France, I am just royally screwed up. So I spoke all three to the cabbie making the situation as confusing as possible and he was highly amused, pretty much telling me to just stick to English.
We stayed with Elise's friend Vi, who went on exchange to Cali in high school but is from Milan. She was fabulous and her house was amazing as well. After living in my ghettofab apartment, the house literally seemed like a five star hotel. And the shower was an actual shower, no need to hose myself down! Best shower of my life. We had our first Italian pizza that night, and oh my god was it delicious. The next day Vi showed us around Milan. We saw the place where the "Last Supper" lives but apparently you need to call 2 weeks in advanced to reserve tickets. So dumb, it was February and freezing, I doubt there were many tourists in Milan. Stubborn Italians.
Then we went to this large, large castle. It was really pretty. So pretty and large in fact that Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice for all those that aren't very hip) wants to buy it. She wants to buy an ancient castle, and she's serious. Apparently the people of Milan had a field day over this one and she is the new town idiot. Serves her right. You can't be a Spice Girl, be fabulously wealthy, be married to David Beckham and live in an actual castle. Don't get greedy Posh.

On our way back from the castle, we ran into these huge pink snails that seemed to be attack Milan. They were everywhere and apparently they are art. Humongous pink snails taking over the fashion capital of the world!!
Speaking of the fashion capital of the world, that's pretty much all that Milan had to offer except from the snails, the castle, the gelato and the food. There was every name brand represented within walking distance of one other but sad part was, obviously I couldn't afford anything. And fun fact: Abercrombie and Fitch is the new hot thing in Europe. They are eating it up, its unbelievable. We walked into one in Milan and there were lines of girls taking pictures with the "models" who work there.

Vi was an amazing host and cooked for us and pretty much spoiled us. It was a really nice, relaxing and delicious weekend to start off Italy Adventure '10 with.
In love with Firenze...the European way to say Florence

Next stop: Florence to see the sights, do some shopping, eat some more fabulous food and most importantly, to see Elaina!
After a relatively short train ride, made much better with a jar of Nutella, we arrived in Florence. Elaina came to pick us up at the train station and it was soo good to see her. Her apartment blows mine out of the water...mostly because she has a fabulous terrace that has a great view. And she is a pro chef too. She inspired me to cook more! In fact I just made chicken and sausage gumbo...impressed?

We climbed the stairs to the top of the bell tower to overlook all of Florence and the Duomo and it was so so beautiful. Florence is the way I pictured Italy with everything so pretty and old and having so much character. Elise and I fell in love with Florence. We saw the David statue, climbed up the Piazza Michaelangelo, ate some world famous gelato and did some fabulous shopping. Obviously I couldn't resist investing in a genuine leather bag from Florence and bargaining with the men in the market is a new hobby. It was the perfect weekend with my best friends with just the right amount of tourist activities, delicious food and hanging out in a fabuloussss city.

Things are free for a reason
On our way out of Florence we stopped at a bookshop because we needed some more reading materials for our train ride to Rome. One book I picked up looked interesting..hot pink cover with a beach scene on the front. I was pretty much sold. The price tag literally said FREE. Upon further investigation, the book indeed was free so I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to find a free book. After reading the first couple pages, I realized why the book was free. It was translated from another language, and was the unrevised version, so it makes no sense.

Here is a direct quote, attempting to explain how a map skewed the size of Russia:

"Certainly it did not feature on any traditional Western maps, those that place the United Sates at the centre of the known universe and limit what was Soviet Union to a squashed chunk of the upper quadrant, the magic of the flat-plane projection shrinking Russia to half its real-life size"...excuse me, what?

Well that kept me entertained until we arrived in Roma!
When in Rome...do as Mary-Kate and Ashley did

Our travels to Rome were quiet as well and we even found our way to Luke's place quite easily. This trip, if nothing else, made Elise and I pro-navigators. After dropping our things off at Luke's (Cait's roommate from Hobart) we found the cutest little Italian place and it was sooo good and sooo cheap. Three glasses of wine, brushetta and spaghetti carbonara for 7 euros! It was unheard of! We were happy campers after dinner and then planned out our next couple of adventures in Rome.
Unfortunately, our day of ruins was almost ruined by the weather. It was cold and rainy and I didn't get the memo that my fabulous new leather bag from Florence would get stained my jeans in the rain. Have no fear, the situation is now repaired but it was a near tragedy at the time. Anyways, we took the metro to the Colesseum and oh my god is it a sight to see. I actually gasped when we got off the metro because its just chilling right there on the side of the road in the middle of Rome, like its no big deal. It was amazing and so big and beautiful. There also were an abundance of cats living inside which was strange. We made our way through the Roman Forum, the birthplace of democracy and some other cool ruins like the old stadium before it started pouring. As we were stepping out of the Colesseum, I heard my name being called. I turned around and ran into a friend from my school here. Then as we were walking up the Paletine Hill, we ran into another girl from my school. The world really is small.
The weather did not stop our quest for fabulous pizza. I had the address of a famous pizzeria and after pacing a street for way too long looking for it, we gave up and just went into some random place that smelled good. Turned out, it was the exact place we were looking for but we didn't know the Italian name for the restaurant. It was so so good and they cut these huuuuuge pieces of pizza with scissors depending on how much you want. Oh so good.

After pizza time, we made our way to the Pantheon. We couldn't really figure out why it was so famous other than the fact that Rafael was born there but I guess it was cool. On our way to the Trevi Fountain, being as popular as I am, my name was called again. My four other friends from school were also on their way to the Trevi Fountain. On our way there, we stopped in a shop and this crazy Asian woman was trying to sell us specialty liquors. She kept giving us free shots of the liquors she was trying to sell, so obviously we pretended that we were actually shopping for quite some time until she realized we weren't going to buy anything, and the free shots stopped.

We finally arrived at the Trevi Fountain and it was so beautiful. Probably my favorite place in Rome. It was so blue and magical and obviously we had to do as Mary Kate and Ashley did and take pictures of us making wishes at the Trevi Fountain. Apparently, if you throw in two coins you fall in love in Rome...but I threw in 20 cents, so I was assuming my Italian prince would immediately drive by on his vespa and whisk my off my feet. Didn't happen.
The Spanish steps were literally just a bunch of stairs leading up to a church. Not really impressive but nonetheless made fun by the Mary Kate and Ashley reference we pulled up as we raced up the stairs. It was really pretty from the top though so I guess it was worth it.

After a day full of adventure, we went out for, you guessed it, pizza. After pizza we were on a hunt for a place where they have chocolate shots. Our friend told us about it and we were lucky enough to find it. Literally heaven on earth. The shot glasses are made out of dark chocolate, then you can get Irish creme or coffee liquor or anything, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and you drop the entire shot glass into your mouth at once. Obviously it was quite messy but oh so tasty. I still dream about them.

Then we were off to a couple more bars and we ended up at a karaoke bar. We sang "Don't Stop Believing", an obvious crowd pleaser, but we were unimpressed with the crowds' response. I'm convinced the microphones were not turned on because I'm sure they would have been blown away by the American girls talent.

Next day, Vatican City. Ironically, it was a Wednesday. Ash Wednesday. We figured that out on the way there and I was surprised it wasn't absolutely swarming with Catholics out and about looking for the Pope. Sad news we didn't see the Pope. But I did see the Sistene Chapel and the School of Athens in the Vatican Museum which were both very beautiful. The other stuff though in the museum was not interesting and they literally build the place like a maze so you have no choice but to walk the half hour through all the other stuff just to see the Sistene Chapel. It was like there were a thousand ancient religious pop-ups and I was without a pop-up blocker.

After the Vatican, we went to get our last gelato and pizza in Italy. The man serving us pizza in Rome, was clearly Italian and couldn't speak much English but claimed he was from Scotland so he tried to chat us up for a bit. I'm not sure what it is with these European men pretending to be from somewhere else but its bizarre. Its happened numerous times. Like you don't have to pretend, and if you are going to lie, at least try to have the accent down.

Last night in Italy

For our last night together, we went to go to our favorite little cheap restaurant we went to the first night in Rome but obviously being European, things close whenever they want and on a Wednesday night at 8pm it was closed. We found another delicious place, not hard to do in Rome, and ate there instead. After dinner we went back to Luke's to find all of the girls living their partying with their professors. It was the funniest thing I've ever seen. A couple, who were in their 50s, were just chatting away and playing drinking games with their students. That wouldn't be the most acceptable thing in America, but it seemed like a frequent occurrence in Rome. So fun.

Elise was off to DC the next morning and it was sad to see her go. Then, it was my turn to return back to France. And this is when the fun began.

Absolutely not!

I was making the 10 hour train ride home to France by myself but I figured with my badly translated book and some baguette, I would be fine. The train came right on schedule so I gathered all my things and climbed up the stairs to the train then turned around to pick up my luggage from the stairs below me. As I was picking up my luggage, a girl about 13 years old, said "excuse me" so that she could go by me into the train car. I didn't think anything of it because I was a wide load blocking the entire train car. Then as I was just succeeding at pulling my luggage up by myself, another little girl of about 13 years old, asked me in Italian what train car we were in. I told her "ocho" thinking that might be close to the Italian equivalent and as she was trying to ask me another question, I felt something on my side. I turn around to find the first little girl's hand in my fabulous new leather bag from Florence.

I was so shocked. I swatted her hand away immediately, screaming "ohhh absolutely not!" and quickly made sure everything was in there. Thank god that bag had a zipper or that sneaky little brat would have been off with my wallet and brand new camera. I then swiftly turned around, whacking the other girl with my large and in charge backpack and grabbed my luggage, rolling over both of their sneaky little feet in the process. Then they had the nerve to tell me to watch where I was going...SERIOUSLY?! Ahhh I was tempted to scream at them "You sneaky little bitches, go to school!" but refrained myself because at that point I was so shocked to do anything but bruise them with my hefty luggage.
I pretty much ran to my seat because I was so panicked and couldn't believe some sneaky little preteens had tried to rob me. My purse was tucked under my jacket but it must have been popping out when I was trying to get my luggage up the stairs. I was so mad and the worst part was I was alone so I had no one to tell. I didn't want to tell anyone around me because at that point I was convinced the entire train and country of Italy was out to get me. For the first time in a while, I had to write in my journal because I needed to tell someone of my encounter with those pickpocketers.
The writing in the journal continued for much of that trip home because things just kept going wrong. What was supposed to take 2 trains to get me from Rome to Nice, took me 6. It seemed like every train I went on got discontinued and I'd have to get off and wait a half hour for the next train to come. Instead of getting home at 7pm as planned, I arrived at 11pm. It was not the most joyous experience of my life. Throw into the mix the fact that no one else was back from their breaks yet and my laptop charger was dead so I had no means of communication, and it equaled a very lonely me. But at least I was lonely in France after just spending an amazing
week in Italy. Can't complain about that.
So laptop charger has arrived and everything is back to normal. I'll fill you in on Carnaval and the Marseilles soccer game next time. I'm off to Lyon and Grenoble for the weekend...a tout a l'heure!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Paris...c'est parfait!

This past weekend, Elise flew into Paris so I went up there and we spent the weekend. And what a weekend it was. Pretty sure it just confirmed my dreams of living in Paris one day. But the trip, of course, had some minor setbacks.

Are you kidding me?

So I left right after class to go to the train station to make sure I could catch my 1pm train to Paris. I was totally in good shape and made it there no problem. The train arrives and I follow all the Frenchies on and take my seat. The train to Marseilles (where my connection was) rode all along the coast, the sun was shining, I was listening to some Regina Spektor, it was just fabulous.

Then it was just about time to get off. The men who punch the tickets came out and asked us all for our tickets. He was speaking to the two people behind me in French and told them they had to pay 25 euros but I clearly didn't think he was talking to me too, until he came to me and said 25 euros please. Uhhh...what? So I obviously asked why I needed to pay him seeing as I had already paid for the train ticket.

Apparently I was sitting in first class and I only paid for second class. So I apologized, explained that I wasn't from around there, had never taken that train and volunteered to move back to second class. He said, as the French always do, "Ce n'est pas possible", meaning that's impossible, and demanded I pay. At this point, I got mad. If the two people who were sitting behind me and were from France didn't know, how was I, the ignorant American, supposed to know this rule? So I proceeded to lie to this nasty man, telling him I didn't have 25 euros. He told me I better find it or else I wasn't getting off the train. Clearly at that point, I handed over the money but gave him my best death stare along with it. Yea, that showed him.

Hostel Man

I finally arrived in Paris that night, and after successfully navigating the Paris metro by myself (winner!), I made it to the hostel in Montmartre where I was supposed to meet Elise. She luckily was downstairs when I got there, and it was so good to see her.

We asked for another key to our room and hostel man just couldn't get himself together. Because Elise made the reservation for both of us, he somehow double-booked my bed, and I was bedless. 25 Euros down, and bedless. Hostel Man was like well you two could share a bed and cuddle..then he got this creepy grin on his face and he was pretty much a lost cause after that. We refused because we had already paid for our own beds so then he was like okay let's see what we can do. And we got upgraded from the 6 person bunk bed community shower room to our own double bed room with a private bathroom..score! Although it took hostel man 45 minutes to figure this situation out, we were very thankful for his stupidity that resulted in our fabulous upgrade....the only downside is that it was on the 7th floor, and there was no elevator. But after eating delish French food all weekend, it was a blessing in disguise.

First night we just went out to a restaurant, ordered some croque-monsieurs (a fabulous toasted ham and cheese baguette) and planned out our weekend. Because we are both very type A, we each brought tour books and directions for just about everywhere and anywhere in Paris. The other kids at the hostel were either impressed with our planning or were making fun of our neurotic-ness...probably the latter, but whatevs.

Free Tour

Thursday we took part in a Free Tour, which is this company that has young adults give free tours of major European cities...the name kinda says it all. The 3 hour walking tour was fabulous and we saw all the major tourist attractions: Notre Dame, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Pont Neuf, Tuillieres Gardens, Hotel de Ville, all that good stuff. Our guide was this perky Irish woman who fell in love with a French man, and he whisked her off to Paris...don't worry, I'm working on it.

After the tour, we went to the Musee d'Orsay to see some Monet and Renoir and got yelled at multiple times for taking pictures where we weren't supposed to. Oops.


Its occasions like that when I wish it were still 2009..PUB CRAWL 09 sounds way better.

Anyways, we met up with a bunch of people from our tour for this pub crawl to 4 bars in Montmartre near the Moulin Rouge then we went to a club on the Champs Elysees (that’s the classy avenue the runs through the center of Paris). And it is still so strange being able to go into a bar. I swear a 12 year old could walk into any bar in France and order a drink and no one would say anything, because I look like I'm a middle schooler and I've never been ID'ed.

We went with some girls from Australia, and Aussies really love to party. They were so much fun and with some kids from Scotland too, who hitch hiked all the way to Paris as part of a fundraiser. They got people to sponsor them and all the money went to charity and they all got to go to Paris! I wish we could do that back home except for no one would pick us up and the only people who would, prrrrrobably wouldn't be dropping us off anytime soon.

It's just the Mona Lisa

The next day we did the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou. I had already been to the Louvre but Elise had never been so we of course hit up the Mona Lisa and Venus di Milo. Unfortunately, Elise did not have her morning coffee and was unimpressed by the Louvre. There were however, two girls looking at the Venus di Milo and they just couldn't keep their hands off her...literally. These girls were like hugging her, and sitting on her and posing with her. Like hello, this poor woman is 3000 years old...maybe you shouldn't touch her?

But things looked up once we got to L'As du Falafel for lunch. Oh. My. God. Best thing I've ever had in my life. The falafel at this little place in the Jewish district of Paris was absolutely to die for. I'm usually a fast eater but it's safe to say we both inhaled our falafel. Words can't even describe how enjoyable that meal was.

Then on to the Centre Pompidou. The building is built to look like it’s inside out so that's pretty cool in itself and inside is a bunch of modern art exhibits. We went to the furniture design exhibit, which was very cool and everything we saw reminded me of Maddy. There was this desk that looked like colored pencils and a notebook, and once again, these ladies were just so excited about it, they went right up to it and tried to open it like a notebook. I'm not sure if this is a widely accepted thing to do in France, but touching art exhibits at home, yea it's just not okay.

Sneak Peak of My Dream Life

That night, my mom's childhood friend, Nancy, who lives in Paris, invited us out for dinner, which was so fun and so nice of her. She is married to a French man, and has two daughters from Russia, and they all live in this beautiful Parisian apartment, practically neighbors with the Eiffel Tower. And her job is brand management of a cosmetics company. Dream come true? I think so.

They took us out to this very French restaurant and we ate so well. The little girls were putting us to shame with their fluency in French, English and Russian, and they were only 5 and 7. I had the best chocolate mousse I have ever had in my life and instead of giving after dinner mints, apparently at classy French restaurants, they give these delish little cookies. So when it was my turn to take a cookie, I chose which one looked most appetizing obv, but was scolded by the 7-year old to take what was in front of me because choosing was considered rude in France. My bad.

Last Day

For our last day, we walked around Montmartre. It is such a beautiful area with the Sacre Coeur and an amazing view of the city. For some reason, when looking out onto the city of Paris, we couldn't seem to spot the Eiffel Tower...and you'd think it would be pretty hard to miss. So I decided to ask a French woman where it was because it is def picture worthy and she pointed at some tiny speck in the horizon that she claimed was the Eiffel Tower. I wasn't so sure she was right so we walked around the corner and BAM..lo and behold the Eiffel Tower. That is another thing I noticed about Parisians...they are unaware of their surroundings. Multiple times in Paris, we would ask people where streets were, and never did anyone know. More than once it was the next street over or a block away, and they had no idea. Either that or they just thought it was funny to play with the stupid American tourists.

We then found this fabulous creperie for dinner. I had a chicken and spinach galette for dinner and a delishhhh Nutella crepe. Although the food was absolutely fantastic, the service was kind of unbelievable. First we were seated no problem. Then they asked us to move to make room for another party. Then they asked us to move again to a 4-person table, and they seated 2 randoms right next to us. The waiter clearly didn't like us, and he was not impressed at all that I was at least attempting to converse with him in French. Of all the people I met in Paris, he was the only one who fit the snooty Parisian stereotype. And for that, he got no tip. But they don't really tip in France so I probably didn't make too much of a statement.

A Little Too Obsessed with La Tour Eiffel

Then we were off to the Eiffel Tower to see it sparkle. We made it just as it started sparkling and it was so beautiful. I am absolutely in love with the Eiffel Tower. I totally would marry it except for someone actually already is married to it...not even lying, we learned it on our tour. So we pretty much used up Elise's entire memory card (not mine because my camera broke the first day we were there....tragedy) and took so many pictures of us and the Tower from about every angle possible. While we were trying to master the art of taking jumping pictures, we lost track of time. By the time we realized we only had 30 minutes till our train to Nice departed.

We pretty much both had a panic attack on the subway to the train station, realizing we might very well miss our train. By the time we got to the right subway station, we had about 4 minutes until our train was supposed to leave. Thank god for those Turkey Trot training days because we sprinted thru the entire station and couldn't catch our breaths until we were already taking off. We made the train with about 2 minutes to spare. It was quite the adventurous ending to our journey.


In my management class on Monday, my professor asked us all to read an article. While we were all supposed to be reading this article, he was making hand puppets in front of the project and absolutely mesmerized by the creatures he was making on the screen. Clearly he thought no one was looking, but my friend and I couldn't stop laughing. Then the fire alarm went off. Who knew there were fire drills in college classrooms? Well, I didn't and I got so confused thinking it was a real emergency. Then, as if I was in 3rd grade, I got separated from my class on the way out of the building and had to join and stand with another class. I then entered the building 20 minutes after the rest of my class and when I walked in, all the French students snickered...I'm such a newb.

In French class we were supposed to say what we did that weekend. I said I went to Paris and saw "les exhibitions" a La Louvre. Unfortunately, "les exhibitions" technically means people "exhibiting" themselves aka flashing you. Maybe Elise would have been more impressed with the Louvre if that's what we saw?

Ventimiglia markets and Monaco tomorrow, 5 midterms next week, then off to Italy for a week!

A tout a l'heure!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Skiing in sweatpants, Sneaking on yachts and Stalking the stars

Last weekend was the ski trip to the Alps. I was semi nervous that skiing would be traumatic because 1. it's the Alps and 2. I had no ski jacket or snow pants. At least I was able to find these very fashionable army green man gloves and a man's hat for cheap at the local grocery store, or else I probably would have frozen.

The Bus Ride

We were supposed to leave Thursday morning at 7:30am. Wednesday night we had a fabulous wine and cheese night but seeing as I live about a mile from the bus stop, we had to leave our apartments at 6:30am to get to the school and make the bus. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night.

Kaycie and I arrived at school to catch the bus at about 7:20am to catch the alleged "7:30am departure" bus. When we arrived, there were about 5 of the 50 kids there and no bus in sight. After sitting for about 2 hours waiting for all the French students to arrive and the buses to come, we realized that in France, time doesn't mean all that much. It's funny because if you showed up at 8am for a bus that was scheduled to leave at 7:30am in DC, you'd be walking. Lesson learned: everyone and everything in France is fashionably late...by at least an hour.

Considering neither Kaycie nor I had really slept the night before, we were all looking forward to sleeping on the bus. However, in France, a 5 hour long bus ride to the Alps = a 5 hour long party (no matter how early it is). We got on the bus to techno music blasting and kids already drinking beer...it was 9:30am. Also in France, they love to take breaks. After every hour in the bus we would need to take a break, most likely because everyone need a cigarette. So what was only a 4 hour bus ride home, was a 6.5 hour bus ride there.

After 6 and a half hours of blaring French techno and drunk French kids writing on each other with Sharpies, we finally arrived in the Alps. They were seriously the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life.

The Living Situation

So on the way to the Alps, we were trying to imagine what our food and living situations would be because it was "all-inclusive". There were 7 of us exchange students to be living in an apartment style condo, which wasn't luxurious by any mean but it was fine. It however lacked certain necessary amenities such as towels, toilet paper, dish soap. We improvised and used the extra pillowcases as towels and stole toilet paper from the local bars, but we eventually caved and had to purchase our own dish soap.

The food was also an interesting situation. We were given a bag of groceries to last us for the weekend filled with pasta, sauce, bread, ham, cheese (all respectable choices) and then two huge packets of Twinkies and chips. We were concerned that this food was supposed to last 7 girls 3 days, and wondered where all the money we spent for this "all inclusive" trip went. Then another grocery bag was delivered to us, filled with 16 bottles of juices, 7 bottles of vodka, and about 24 beers. We quickly realized the French priorities in life.

Skiing in the Alps

So we woke up to two beautiful days of over 35 degree sunny skiing weather. Thank god for that too because like I said, I was skiing in sweats and a North Face. Anyways, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, being completely surrounded by huge snow-covered mountains. After stopping at the top to take wayyy too many pictures, we attempted our first ski down.

Here's what we learned: Just because I am a decent skier in Buffalo at Kissing Bridge, doesn't mean anything to the Alps. The hills aren't groomed so you are skiing in up to a foot of fresh powder snow, which was amazing, but really difficult. A black diamond slope in Buffalo would be an intermediate slope in the Alps...if you went down a black diamond in the Alps, you'd be doomed. Unless of course you were one of the boys who came on the ski trip with us, who were doing back flips, and considered their day a failure because they couldn't do a double backflip. On skis. On the Alps. Seriously?

The weather was beautiful, the skiing was amazing and the mountains were the prettiest things I've ever seen...but I have never been so sore in my life.

Crazy American Girls

We successfully skied the Alps for two days, and for that, we thought we deserved some of the infamous Tartiflette everyone speaks of. It a French speciality of the mountains with cheese, potatoes, meat, and more cheese. Thankfully it lived up to its name, and was so so delicious. The fun began when they gave us their "English version" of the menu. The translations from French to English were quite interesting. We learned such words as whortleberry, the beer selections translated into a delish "Fetus" beer or the other appetizing option was the "Baby" beer, and a crepe item was translated as "thin pancake carmel wipe run" . So the combination of reading this "English" menu and my obnoxiously loud and high pitched voice, got us in trouble. The bartender came over and actually asked us to be quiet and then proceeded to squawk at us like a chicken. Everyone in the restaurant look relieved that someone told us to be quiet and then our waiter came out and called us "Crazy American girls!". Another lesson we learned: when French people go out to dinner, they do so in silence.

Culture Shock

People have asked me what the biggest culture shock is and this is it: French people don't really adhere to a schedule; they do what they want, when they want. For example, if a club says they will be open to 4am, don't be surprised if they close at 1:30am because they just don't feel like being open anymore. Also, if we had to check out of our apartment at 8:30am Sunday morning, you would think that's when the buses would arrive. Wrong. Standing outside in the cold just chatting or hanging out at the bar (at 8:30am) was what actually happened beause the bus wasn't coming until 11am. You could tell we were Americans because only we were concerned with aimlessly wasting this time. They do what they, when they want, and its rarely on time.

Welcome to the Yacht Club

After a fabulous weekend in the Alps, it was time to get back to business. Wednesday night rolled around and we were all missing our Moe's, Chipotles, and Mighty Tacos so we decided Fiesta Night was in order. We cooked some delish chicken fajitas and nachos because FYI they don't do Mexican food here. Then we decided to go out to Old Antibes.

We met some nice people at a bar who claimed to staff one of the huge yachts in the harbor (remember the one with the helicopter on it, they said they worked on its neighbor). So we had some fun chatting with this girl and her guy friends about their yachting life. They literally just live and party in Nice until the owner of the yacht (a wealthy Russian probs in the mafia) comes back and then its back to work. But they have been off duty, getting paid and just living on the yacht for about 3 months...sweet life huh? So they were all very nice and then they invited a bunch of us to their yacht after.

The further we walked in the harbor the bigger the yachts got. We finally arrived at a yacht that was worth $33 million and was about the size of the Alps. It was insane. We got the grand tour of this beautiful yacht and the yacht's kitchen was about the size of my entire apartment. It was absolutely ridiculous.

Stalking the Stars

After the yacht experience, I pretty much thought I was celeb status. The NRJ Music Awards were in Cannes this Saturday, so being the celeb that I am, I clearly thought I was invited. We went to Cannes for the day, popped in some stores like Dolce, Louis Vuitton and Chanel and cried at the prices. We saw a cellphone that was 7000 euros...thats like $10,000, for a cellphone. I don't even get it. But the most populated place in this wealthy upscale town was McDonalds. And it was quite a rowdy McDonalds at that. I had never seen a Mickey D's so crowded in my life, let alone people making out and smoking weed...in McDonald's. It was an R-rated fast food joint in Cannes.

But back to the the celebs. The NRJ Music Awards is like the French MTV Music Awards so we stalked out our place early on the red carpet to get glimpses of the stars. We saw Rihanna, the Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, and some others. Beyonce and Jay-Z were supposed to show but apparently they were too cool. But the most devastating news of the night was that Tokyo Hotel didn't show up. I have no idea who that even is but these girls behind us were balling their eyes out in the beginning of the night because they couldn't wait to see Tokyo Hotel. At the end of the night, they were still balling because Tokyo Hotel didn't show. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen.

Elise is flying in this week to Paris so I am meeting her there and we are going to spend the weekend in Paris!! I can't wait!

A tout a l'heure!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nutella, Nightclubs & Neon Buddhas

So once again, I was right. My arrival experience was definitely pretty close to rock bottom and I only have gone up from there. We went into Nice twice last week, and I am totally in love with the city. We only live about 20 minutes by train from Nice but that 20 minutes really makes all the difference between ghost down and vibrant city, let me tell you. Don't get me wrong, I totally love reppin' the JLP (Juan les Pins for all you newbs) but in the winter months it's kind of dead.

Nice is a really cool city with a beautiful old section of town, a really nice promenade and ocean view, and of course large neon crystal squatting Buddhas in the town square. It has so many fun shops and cute little restaurants

(I finally had my first Nutella crepe of the journey, first of 1000 I'm sure).

Thankfully, we had some built in tour guides of Nice, so we weren't wandering aimlessly. A couple friends from other schools and one from AU that studied at CERAM Business School (the school I'm attending) showed us around and had us over for a wine and cheese party (so classy and much different than the not-so-classy frat parties I'm accustomed to). After the little soiree, we went out to the local bars and clubs, which was very fun. We went to an English pub called Wayne's, where it is totally acceptable and actually highly recommended that you dance on the tables they line up so neatly near the stage for that very purpose. Obviously, we had fun there.

5 Star Accomodations

After the weekend in Nice, it was back home to our ghetto-fab apartment. I figured you needed to see some pictures of my luxury accommodations, and it really isn't bad until I have seen where other people are living. My one friend lives in a villa, like a legit French Riviera villa and they have their own pool...worst part is she really isn't paying that much more than me.

So we clearly have a deluxe kitchen and the shower is actually a hose disguised as a shower. The bath tub also plays the role of laundry machine in our apartment.

It wouldn't be so bad if the light in the hallway worked so it wasn't pitch black every time we entered the building and tripped up two flights of stairs daily, not to mention needing to carry a flashlight with us at all times to be able to stick the key in the keyhole. And then of course there is the lovely heating problem we have...or lack thereof. For some reason, there is no heat in my bedroom, so every night I have to put on my leggings, sweatpants, 2 pairs of socks, long sleeve shirt, and hoodie (with the hood up because fun fact: all the heat escapes out of your head) and still, every morning, I wake up freezing. I mean I live in Buffalo in a house where my father really doesn't believe in heat either so you would think I would be able to handle this...think again, it's pretty awful. Throw in the construction from 7:30am-2:30pm daily and we got ourselves quite the party.

Old Antibes

But enough about my fab apartment. Saturday morning we went to tour around Old Antibes, which was beautiful. It’s a precious old little town with a bunch of cute little cafes, a really nice view over the Riviera, and a harbor where all the crazy rich people from Britain apparently park their yachts. You would think having a yacht would be enough of a showcase of one’s wealth, right? Well apparently this was not enough for one wealthy Brit, who decided the rescue boat (which is the size of my house) was just not enough of a safety measure. So logically, in case of emergency, they have a HELICOPTER parked on the roof of their own private cruise ship. Seriously?!

After the tour of the yacht club, we visited the Picasso Museum in Antibes. Funny thing about the Picasso Museum, there are very few Picasso pieces. The few that were there were amazing of course but we found the name of the museum misleading. The view from the museum was really the best part about it. We had quite the hike to get up there but once at the top, it was so so pretty. I can’t believe people just live here and see this everyday like it’s no big deal.

Getting Down to Business….

I am in France to study abroad, so naturally at some point I knew I’d have to attend class. The classes were are 3-hour blocks, which isn’t the most pleasant thing, but that way we only have to take them once a week, allowing my weekends to begin at 11am on Wednesday.
My first class Monday was Management Information Systems, sounds thrilling huh? It wasn’t too bad and my professor seems really cool; he’s Moroccan! Then the question came about how many exchange students were in class…and only one hand was raised in the classroom, and it was mine. That was interesting. I already earned brownie points though just because I’m American. Throughout that class and the rest of my classes, I have noticed some differences between classes at AU and here:

1) No one shows up on time here. No one.
2) There is a 15 minute break in all of my classes. It’s just called a break but all the French students dash out of the room with their jackets to smoke. Every. Single. One.
3) It’s not really acceptable to talk amongst yourselves when the teacher is talking, but most French students do it anyways.
4) The work load here is unbelievable…in a good way. In my first class, he said we were going to have a lot of work to do and to be prepared. The syllabus has us reading about 10 pages…per week.

French class we just talked about ourselves and learned things not to say. It’s funny here how if you mess up pretty much any word, the sentence automatically translates into something vulgar. Needless to say, we learned some very interesting phrases the first day. Marketing class and Productions Management both seem like they will be interesting and easy. The challenge is going to be my Spanish class. My Spanish professor obviously teaches in Spanish, but when she has something important to say to make sure we understand, she translates…into French. This would make sense if all the students in the class were French, but clearly, I’m not. So the three hours of that class was pretty much a blur of confusion with her and the students fluent in French and practically all fluent in Spanish and using the two languages interchangeably. She knew I was American so she tried to translate things they were saying in French, but she barely she speaks any English. I also encountered an exception to my observation that most French students are very nice and willing to help. Every time I said anything in that class, three students whispered to each other in French and laughed at me! It was semi-embarrassing but really funny that they were so blatantly making fun of everything I said. Hopefully learning that French slang will come in handy and I’ll be able to decode their secret conversations.

I finished all my homework for the week…it took an hour. I could get used to this but I’m kind of lost without having at least 8 hours a week and a million other things to do every day. I guess that’s where the travelling comes in!

Speaking of travelling, I am going to a condo in the Alps this weekend for a ski trip with a bunch of kids from school! It should be really fun. I didn’t bring snow pants or a ski jacket so we’ll see how that ends up working out.

That’s it for now…I have to clean my beautiful apartment for the wine and cheese party tonight!

A tout a l’heure!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bonjour from France!

So what started as a hellacious journey, is definitely starting to look up. If you haven't already heard of my arrival in France...I'll give you the rundown.

My flight from JFK to Warsaw was pretty bumpy, and I am already a nervous flyer so that was not fun. The boy sitting next to me was a Ukrainian who was working in the States to try to save up money for college. He was so nice and I thought he was like 16 until he ordered red wine with his dinner (he was actually 23). So Nick, Ukrainian boy was very friendly, maybe a little too friendly. He kept falling asleep, which is totally logical considering it was an 8 hour flight...except for his head was legit on my shoulder and he kept like reaching for my hand. So that was interesting and amusing. Needless to say I didn't sleep much with Nick on top of me.

Our flight was 2 hours late so I had to rush through customs and security at the Warsaw airport, but I made my flight to Nice. When I arrived at the airport someone from the school came to pick me up and she was very nice. They dropped me off at the apartment...this is when the fun began.

My landlord's brother was there to greet me, and unfortunately his English was not great, and he was kind of nasty to me. So anyways, I was staying at a hotel like across the street for the night because I wasn't sure if the landlord would be there with my keys so I wanted to make sure I had a place to stay the first night. I walked over to the hotel and went to open the door...and it was locked. The hotel was pitch black and after a couple minutes of banging on the door and screaming, I came to the conclusion that it was closed.

At this point, it was about 7pm in France and dark and I was just chilling outside some abandoned hotel, with no place to stay and no means of communication. So obviously, I had a slight meltdown but got myself together and walked to the nearest pharmacy and asked to use their phone to call the hotel. The hotel said they were closed due to heating problems (I'm glad I was notified of this...) but said I could stay at their sister hotel in town and they would send someone to pick me up.

When we say "we will pick you up" in the States, we think there would be a car involved...not the case in France I guess. Some man walked around the corner 15 minutes later and said he was there to lead me to the hotel. 25 minutes after following this random guy around the streets of Juan les Pins, we arrived at the hotel...which was also pitch black. Thank god the light turned on and there was a woman at the desk because for a second, I thought I had just got "taken".

At this point I was starving, so I walked across the street and bought and Orangina, and went back to the hotel to eat. The TV was kind of broken and the volume wouldn't turn down so it was blaring and there was only French station, except BBC World News. So I watched BBC World news and apparently they only had 5 stories that day...I could recite to you everything about the world's tallest building that just opened in Dubai because I watched the story on it about 12 times. I would have taken a nap but my phone can't pick up any signal to even get the time and I didn't want to fall asleep because I needed to Skype my mom at 10pm. The battery in my computer was almost dead and I didn't have the outlet converter with me so I had no choice but to watch BBC World news for 2 hours.

Thank god the girl at the desk found and outlet converter and I was able to charge my computer and Skype my mom or should would have been on the next plane to France.

Okay...so that was my traumatic arrival experience. I figured that after that first day, nothing could get worse and I could only go up from there.

My roommate, Julie, arrived the next day and we went to the market. Our neighbors are two girls from Canada who are super nice so that's good too.

The next day we went to orientation, which was good. We were told the bus stop to school was around the corner from our apartment...apparently that means a mile and a half in France. The hike to and from the bus stop every day is going to be a pain but hey I'll be super in shape by the time I come home right? My schedule worked out perfectly and my weekends start at 11am on Wednesday!

I didn't have class today and Julie did so I woke up (a little earlier than planned because there is severe construction going on in our building and it sounds like there was a jackhammer next to my head), and I walked around my town. I just popped in a bunch of shops and bought some baguette then headed to the beach. I walked around the boardwalk for a little then found a cute little cafe and sat and drank my cafe au lait on the beach! I felt so French, I even ordered in French! Yea, I know, impressive.

Went back to the market and bought some things for lunch and went to the bank too. I'm pretty much going to be completely broke because the conversion rate is killing me.

So I'm going into Nice today with some kids and probably out tonight!

My arrival was not as magical as I had thought it would be, but hey it was an experience I suppose?

I'll keep you updated! A toute a l'heure! (I think that means talk to you soon?)