Saturday, November 13, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Dangerous... because of muggings? People "on strike" burning your cars? Or to your wallet? Yes, all three. But what I really meant with today's post is dangerous to your fitness levels.
gain weight get chubbier get rounder round the cheeks in Paris…
1. Paris = city of great eats, right? So swear to yourself to try every single kind of French pastries/baguettes/cheeses/ chocolates (I know, there aren’t really French chocolates, but somehow it belonged in the list) that the city has to offer. You’re only in Paris once, after all!
2. Decide that now you’ve tasted all of them, you might as well see where they make them best. Continue the degustation in all boulangeries and cheese-shops in the vicinity.
3. Reward your busy schedule and social life by eating lunch out. All the time. To keep it cheap, prefer crêpes, pastries (yet again!!) and those 1 Euro cookies from the distributor that make you really full.
4. Spend long, long, long hours pouring over French readings/writing outlines/reading food blogs/p-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-n-g at night, so that there is no possible way for you to get up early and do sports before your 10 am class. Snacking is a must during those hard study sessions.
5. And anyway, Sciences Po hasn’t gotten a gym, so you couldn’t even work out if you wanted to. As if you wanted to. Plus, nobody else does! Right?
6. Finally, nurse an old sports injury and be so frightened to make it hurt again that you decide to rather do Tai Chi until the end of your life than ever engage in physically challenging activity again.
…And how to get back on the right track
1. Become appalled at your couch potato self in the last weeks and remember great achievements in your past.
2. Find swimming pools and gyms ALL OVER PARIS. Seriously. And for 19 Euro you can go swimming all you want over three months. Raaad..?
3. Switch the food blogs for healthy living blogs.
4. Try not to read them too late at night so you can be at the pool at 7 three times a week. 7am, of course.
5. Cut out most processed sweets from your diet. Drink more. Take the 5 fruit and veggies a day seriously. Start feeling so much better after the first week already.
6. Promise yourself to have homemade sweets and cookies only. Then forget to make them cuz you went on a run.
7. Test, slowly, slowly, the limits of your injury, don’t do too much, but do something.
8. Set yourself goals (Paris Half-Marathon OR Marathon depending on how well my foot works for me.) and think about prices for yourself if you keep to the workouts every week.
9. Tell EVERYBODY about it. And join in the fun!
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
On Saturday was Barcelona day. From the start we had said that you can't see all of Barcelona in one day, and we didn't even try, that was the nicest part. We just took the train in and went directly to Parque Guell, the park area that Gaudi designed. It reminded me a little of the Mont Royal in that it's such an oasis of peace and nature in a hustling and bustling city. Except that Parque Guell has in addition to that amazing art - sculptures, mosaics, little caves and bridges made of natural stone.. You could spend the whole day there, but we stayed strong and left after a couple of hours in order to see the heart of Barca - the Rambla! This pedestrian zone in the middle of a huge shopping street has three parts - the newspaper part, where you can get the world press, the flower part with the most amazing bouquets, and the animal part. Here, I think they play with pity and the adorableness of the animals, since I would have taken every single one home just to save it from the fate of staying in that small cage forever. Later, we meandered around the Barrio Gotico, the old town with teeny tiny streets that only allow the sun to shine in for a couple of hours every day. Walking through the Barrio is a little like a maze, you always turn a corner and see something unexpected - a little church, an accordeon player on a little square, a cafe or a churreria with the odd handful of customers.... Or if you are unlucky, you hit one of the bigger streets filled with loud tourists clamoring for real German Schnitzel (why do I have the impression that all the annoying tourists are German?) and you can only save the atmosphere by fleeing back into the cool, calm alley. On one of the larger squares, it looked like a courtyard with balconies lining the side of the houses and palm trees growing in the four corners, we sat down for a coffee and people watching - the best activity in big cities. And finally we went to the harbor (hello ocean!) and also said hi to the Columbus colon (hello Columbus!).
Monday, October 18, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Since I haven’t written for a while, here’s to a double post! My friend Eric was asking for some Paris observations and this comes right out of my answer to him. I have been making some more observations since then and included them randomly (they are probably the lighter-hearted ones, when I was writing to Eric I was in a pretty bad humor) so sit back and pretend to be in Paris!
1. Parisians are obsessed with baguettes. I mentioned it before, in my Belleville post, but I thought it was only on Saturday/market days that they walk around with baguettes. Ohh no. On their way to work, from work, to see friends, in their lunch break, from the grocery store where they got a jar of Nutella – they carry a baguette everywhere. I can understand that the quality here of baguette is really hard to resist, and I have not yet gotten enough of them, but you would think that after a lifetime living here you’d kind of become accustomed to white bread, wouldn’t you? Maybe it’s addictive and gets worse as time goes by? In that case I will have to be very, very careful…
2. In that vein – okay, you know the whole spiel of “why do French people stay so thin with all the good food they have" and the answer is some weird red-wine-plus-mediterranean-food explanation? Forget about it. They stay thin because they don’t eat. I mean, yes, they have baguette, the occasional cheese and chocolate exuberance and all – but from what I have seen here, the Parisian at least eats very sparingly, has little time to cook, and prefers just to sit for a very long time with a bottle of red wine and a couple of grapes and corners of cheese to nibble on. As a foodie, I feel extremely awkward when it comes to the question “tu as faim?” – are you hungry?, because of course, I am always hungry. But that is not Parisian. At. All.
3. It's funny how Parisian nightlife is influenced by public transport systems. Since taxis are soo expensive, most people rely on the metro and/or buses to get home. Though there are night buses (occasionally) and the infamous Velib (the original BIXI), most people decide that since the metro only opens at 5h30, you'll just stay out and party until 5h30. I personally have gone the sporty way and taken the Velib plenty of times up the steep Rue de Belleville, but heard of loads of my friends just coming home around 6am or 6.30. The rest of the day is then of course lost, at least until the next evening where the same thing starts all over... Interesting concept.
4. Parisian traffic is friggin insane, especially (inexplicably) around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Wait, not inexplicably. That's Parisian rush hour for you. I really think so, cuz last time I tried to bike back, I nearly got hit by cars/buses/bikes/vespas like 5 times and it took me soo much time just because of all the red lights and detours. The really ironic thing is that in order to alleviate traffic in the city, the Mayor's office decided to make nearly all streets one-way to deter people from even taking their car. Just, although many streets are theoretically free in both directions for bikes, once they are really small and there are cars parked on the side too, biking up the wrong way is pretty much a kamikaze action. But at least you get your daily kick of adrenalin totally free and with a healthy inhalation of car fumes! No, kidding, biking around the city is normally a hell of a lot of fun just because you get to see so much history in front of your eyes! just the pedestrians get annoying. especially all the tourists. *parisian sigh*
5. The best music you will get to hear for free is often going to be in the metro. Until now, I've discovered this 10-head-Russian big band (they all sing, and play the guitar, clarinet, and a bunch of other instruments that I can't remember) that sings traditional Russian and Kletzmer music,
then there is the string orchestra, the flamenco guitarist, the piano player that set up his concert piano in front of the St. Germain metro exit, the Jamaican drummers, and last but not least the 20-head Spanish band that sang and played guitar and serenaded me two days ago (it was too funny, I just walked down to the metro with them when one of them offered me a seat, talked to me in Spanish and made his companions sing a song for me. Cuute!). There are also the more...amateur people that come into your metro train, sing a phrase or two from Edith Piaf and then walk around your already pretty stuffed wagon asking for tips. But at least they have guts.
6. Apparently the weather is going to be pretty grey-cloudy during the fall and winter months. Good for cookie baking (and galette baking. Nectarine-raspberry galette. Hmmm:
Not good for jogging. As I discovered today. I'll go tomorrow. Most probably.
7. Parisians can be really nice, but can also be as snotty as their reputation. Especially Parisian bank clerks. Seriously, my bank has screwed up more times than I could even count. I've been trying to get back at them by boycotting giving them the stupid unnecessary documents which I always assume that they will forget, but they never do, leaving me in a Catch 22 situation which I can't resolve without giving in to the bank clerk I’m having a duel to death with. What a dilemma.
After a slightly difficult week with first classes, illnesses of myself and everybody around me, confusion, frustration and occasional spouts of loneliness, this Saturday was the perfect opportunity to shake it all off and just… enjoy life in Paris. But first things first – first classes.
I knew that the French lecturing style would be different and was apprehensive about what would expect me when I walked through that door the first day. Well, the French lecture course as well as the English one were just fine, except for the language barrier for economic vocabulary (ALENA = NAFTA??) and the fact that on Tuesday I concentrated more on not throwing up over my course notes than on completing them. But then came the conference courses, and they left me baffled. In a … good way. I guess. Because different isn’t automatically bad. But – it’s most definitely different. First of all, the class sizes are tiny. My largest class (the cours magistrale) are 45 students, the smaller ones are between 19 and 22 students with a real professor to talk to! It’s like taking all master-level seminars at McGill! Awesome.
Then, the evaluation methods are … interesting. In three of my five classes, I don’t seem to be having finals. In one, I need to make a presentation and a hand-out, in another one write a paper and participate in class, and in the third one, I need to do a presentation, and hand in 2 to 3 other written assignments. Oh – that is all? O—kaay…
Finally, in my steady search of “where is the work? where is the work?", let me confide you a secret: there are no mandatory readings in French conference classes. Our professors did say that readings would be important to contribute better to the class, and gave us reading lists of 10 to 20 books, but none is mandatory. Apparently, they want you to be able to express an informed opinion on the topic we are discussing and to defend that opinion in front of your peers. But whether you do that through improvisation, reading like crazy, nights in the library or leisurely Sunday mornings reading the weekly press is apparently your choice. This absence of structure brings me on edge. Couldn’t you just tell me which book to buy? Which chapter to read? It’s bad enough to be researching for one topic relying on good luck and chance to actually find the important readings and quotes, but having to constantly work like that? Don’t the teachers just want to spare themselves the effort of making a course pack? On closer reflection, I guess the fact that not all students will have prepared exactly the same way will make for way more fascinating discussions – provided everybody has enough self-discipline to actually prepare at all…
So, enough of Sciences Po rant and more to Paris. With my friends John, Haruho and Cecile, I went to Versailles today on a glorious beginning-of-fall day (the air is starting to get crisp, leaves are curling up on their branches and boots are definitely replacing the ballerinas on the feet of trendy Parisians). We didn’t know it yet, but we picked a great weekend to go, since only last week the exhibition of the oeuvres of Murakami in the rooms of Versailles opened up. Imagine crazy, colorful, fantastic, imaginative, funky sculptures sharing the limelight of fleur-de-lys tapestries, golden moldings and mahagoni cabinets. Don’t think it works? Let me prove you otherwise:
I loved it. Having seen Versailles before, obviously I was impressed by the grandeur, but I had already thought the first time that it was a little too much gold, a little too stuffy, and too many portraits of men and women I didn’t know. This exhibition brought exactly the right drop of fun and ridiculousness into the whole that I would say was desperately needed. Though we heard a lot of French muttering about “comment c’est moche”, there were also loads of people enjoying themselves immensely, especially the Japanese tourists and children obviously. In our hearts, we are all just children, aren’t we?
After the exhibition, we wandered around the gardens, came back to my place and made carrot-yam stew and home-made bread. What a perfect, perfect Saturday.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Tomorrow is the first day of class for me, but the following couple of days are my last days of freedom to walk around and explore Paris to my heart’s delight. Already this weekend was a great introduction to my neighborhood, Belleville. I simply love it here and can’t believe my luck to be able to experience such a different, but equally fascinating Paris compared to intellectual and uppedy-nose St.-Germain-des-Pres. Firstly Place des Fetes – it’s a tiny little park on a rather large square, surrounded by not all too aesthetically pleasing high-rise buildings. But there is a market three times a week – Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings – and then you can feel the real Parisian spirit waft through the air together with the delicious smell of fresh baguette. It still makes me excited to see how excited Parisians are about food. Walking up Rue de Belleville yesterday noon, you could tell the best butchers, bakers and fishmongers by the lines that were building on the sidewalk in front of their shop. Little children are taken along to the Sunday morning achats and wait patiently for their parents turn in line, maybe watching the roasting chickens turn on their shashlik. At the cheese makers, the women serving you will ask when you want to eat your camembert – tonight, tomorrow or within the week? – and poke her finger into the different cheeses on display until she finds the right one. At the market, again, the freshest and tastiest veggies – not necessarily the cheapest ones though – are well-marked by the line that forms quickly at their stand, but standing in line (trusting the locals is always a good idea) just gives you enough time to decide whether this week will be zucchini-, eggplant- or pumpkin-week, whether the tomatoes and the basil both look good enough to make insalata caprese, and whether you can afford to get fresh figs this week as well or rather try the fresh dates. Also, wearing a skirt at the market is always a good idea if you want to have free samples of apricots, melon and pineapple, though you might have to deal with a kiss on the cheek from some of the merchants and endless calls of “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! Bonjour!”. Finally, I counted yesterday rigorously and seriously, every second person I saw on the street was carrying a baguette. Or flowers. It makes me happy to think about all the happy wives cooking at home when their husband comes from the market with kids crunching fresh carrots and a huge bouquet of wild flowers in his hand.
But Belleville has so much more to offer than the market and typically French stores. Down the street are one after the other a tiny Indian place, two Vietnamese “Pho”-soup places, a Chinese ravioli restaurant, an Arab grocery store that stocks evverything in the tiniest amount of space possible, one or two Thai places (though unfortunately with little vegetarian plates, maybe one should inquire whether they make any), and then at the very bottom you get to one of Paris’ largest China towns where all the shops have labels in Chinese and French, and I explored a huge supermarket with very intriguing products (many of which were not labelled in English, and looked… interesting). To top it all off, East of Rue Belleville there is a beautiful park that overlooks the town and where the city offers free wifi.
Yes. free wifi. In a park with view on the Eiffel tower.
Welcome to my corner of Paris.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The thing about a blog is that it is a contradiction in itself. If you have something exciting that you are doing, you don’t have time to blog about it. And if you do blog, you have the time to do so, therefore your time isn’t filled out with exciting social encounters and adventures.
With this words, sorry for being so absent (though how many people read this anyway is another question), but I have had a splendid time in Paris in the meantime and was quite busy. Let me see whether I remember all I accomplished:
1. Got a phone.
2. Found an apartment.
3. Got a bank account (nearly. Only one more meeting. Okay? Please? Send me all the right documents now??)
4. Got a Sciences Po student card.
5. Found an apartment (oops. got that already.l But it’s really cool!!)
6. Made a tarte aux mirabelles, my first French baking experience in Paris. Those chocolate chip cookies didn’t count. At all. In fact, they didn’t even count in my stomach.
7. Biked around with a baguette under my arm and felt very Parisian.
8. Settled my health care (nearly. Just one more signature to go and get… Story of my life.)
9. Messed up a job interview and applied for three more, none of which have gotten back to me. Not really an accomplishment, but loads of my time.
10. Moved into my new place!
All this makes me occasionally consider myself like a true Parisian and scoff at the tourists running through the city to see all the sights in 3 days like I did three years ago. Instead, I go sit in my favourite cafe, have a café au lait and do some people watching while I scour the internet sites for more job offers. It’s a good life.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Time to look over my options.
Option 1: Gentilly. Nice boys, really sweet and light apartment with a big kitchen and modern living room. Out in the suburbs, but the nice middle-class ones, not the burning-cars one. Really tight renting requirements with the garant though, and the landlady only comes back from vacation on the 23. of August – what do I do when she refuses me?
Option 2: Place des Fetes. Really sweet 19-year old roommate, cute apartment (from her family) with big kitchen and a large room for myself, my room would be a little remodelled and cleared out, the whole family is really nice and the location is in the Belleville part of town. My guide says that “Belleville is not exactly belle, but it’s certainly vibrant, thanks to its diverse population. Successive waves of immigrants have settled in the area: Jews, Poles, Greeks, Armenians, followed by Spaniards and Portuguese, then Tunisian Jews and Muslims from Algeria. The most recent arrivals are Chinese. The quarter is known for its strong left-wing and community spirit. Many artists and students have settled here due to lower property prices.” It’s close to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and the Parc de Belleville for jogging and a good 20 – 25 min metro ride from school. The immeuble is right in front of the metro station. Alice is supposed to choose somebody next Thursday.
Option 3: Chambre de bonne in St.-Germain, one of the renowned best quarters of Paris. Coming down the steep stairs, I imagined my life, rolling out of bed 10 min before class, making astonishing variations of one-pot-dishes, having friends over (only 2, more don’t fit) for experimental microwave-cake-parties… It sounded like fun, until I tried finding a low-priced grocery store (hm.. found one 15 min away) and a laundromat (20 min approximately). The quarter has loads of antiques and designer stores, but little affordable every-day items. But it is cool. And close. And definitely mine. If I want it. I have to tell Chantalle Monday.
And there I was, fed up with waiting and searching and applying and waiting. Willing to take my future in my own hands. Willing to take risks. Willing to listen to my friend Aurelie (thanks, Aurelie!). So I called Alice and told her that I really really wanted to live with her, but would have to take Chantalle’s offer since I couldn’t risk not taking it in case Alice wouldn’t take me. And guess what? I was Alice’s first choice anyway. We’re signing the sublet rental agreement (also without garant) on Tuesday morning. UPDATE: We just signed. And discovered that we are both vegetarians. How much more perfect can it get, really?
I HAVE AN APARTMENT IN PARIS!!!
(P.S. I may have jumped around Aude’s place making little squeaky noises of delight after we had finished the call, but just because I was alone and didn’t have anybody to celebrate with. I would’ve totally celebrated like a grown-up. Totally.)
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Only day four of the apartment hunt, and it seems as if years of searching have gone by. I can only drag myself out of bed by the promise of having café au lait and croissants for breakfast with Aurélie (oh, the croissants. Montreal, sorry, but you have no idea of croissants) and a gorgeous new day of hunting ahead! Ha. ha. ha. No, so true for breakfast. It is especially great how all the chairs in a cafe are so placed that you automatically look out on the street and just have to people-watch. Fantastic. After the best start in the day possible, I have an apartment visit that I got over CROUS, the French student help center that also offers subsidized housing. I am not totally certain whether I even am eligible for this, but it’s never bad to check it out. When we arrive with Aurélie, there are already around 7 people waiting. This one kid looks intense, he has his folder under his arm as if he can’t wait to shove his dossier (those freaky papers with all your bank information) into the landlady’s hands. This is supposed to be a studette, a student studio, with your own shower and the toilet in the hall. When the landlady arrives and after lots of confusion (on which storey was the room again? Where are the keys?) manages to open the room, it has.. a bed. a chair. a table. a sink/hotplate/fridge/all-in-one/nothing-entirely. A rusty shower. And looks like the saddest place in the whole world. My fellow contenders for the place don’t look the least appalled though, and when the landlady says that we have to say immediately whether we’re still interested, intense kid is like, yeah, yeah, and I have my dossier ready too. What they must’ve already seen otherwise… While the landlady can’t find the keys to the bathroom, we say our goodbyes. Intense kid looks relieved. One contender less. But I have to say, I’m not too sad to have left this race.
Against lunchtime, I ring up my one find of the bulletin board and arrange a meeting. This is for a chambre de bonne (maid’s quarter) literally a five minute’s walk away from school. In the heart of the St. Germain district. Right behind the Musee d’Orsay. The location is a dream. And the landlady looks nice too, she has a no-nonsense kind of attitude, wants us to be in good relations (I can call her Chantalle), and says she is so tired of her phone ringing that I could decide immediately whether I wanted the place – then it’s mine – or not. Wow, first choice! This chambre is on the fifth floor of a bourgeois building where apparently Napoleon’s doctor lived –ooooh- and where now a bunch of snobby Parisians hate to hear any noise. So you have to be quiet. All the time. Otherwise your neighbors will hate you, and Chantalle, and Chantalle will therefore be angry, and you don’t want Chantalle to be angry. Oh, ok. The rooms are tiny, but cute, much like the studette, but much more charming, with slanted ceilings (but meaning you can’t stand upright in half of the room) and little kitchen niches. It might be silly, but I try half of the visit to picture my culinary excursions with one hotplate, a microwave and a toaster. There are microwave cookbooks, right? And why did I take Julia Child’s baking book along if I haven’t got an oven? Can I live without an oven? The bathroom is tiny, but oh well, one of the rooms has a tv, there are plugs for internet, but clearly, here you are paying foremost the location. Is it worth it? Maybe. At least this would be my first chance for a guaranteed roof over my head. I would have to find a “floormate” though, because there are two chambres, and if you are friends, you might also share hotplates, so you have one to make spaghetti and another to make the sauce. E-mail time! When leaving, all of a sudden I discover the door that says toilette and remember that Chantalle hasn’t told me about or shown me the toilet yet. For good reason. On request, she does open the door for a millisecond, enough for me to see the – hole?? Visitors to France might know that the standing toilet (is that the name?) has been very popular, mainly at highway restrooms and the like. Apparently also for French maids. Cuz who really is prissy enough to need a seat?
Buoyed by feelings of success from the other day’s visit, I launched myself into the next day’s hunt. Jogging. Calling people. Phones not being answered. Buying groceries. Calling people. Making appointments. This time I actually got a hold of the mysterious Alice, and she turned out to be a super super sweet person that I would love to be roomies with. We got along super well and chatted away more than an hour. Yay, feeling of success! Ok, moving on. Since I was in the neighborhood, what better to do than go in the cafe of yesterday and continue. Internet site. After. Internet site. Turns out, thousands and thousands of other students are searching for accommodation too, which brings people to not even respond after the first 50 applicants. At least that’s how I explain my numerous e-mails (at first I typed them all individually because I hate copy/paste, there is so much wrong with it, but I still ended up sending the same super enthusiastic, cheery message to the latter 20 offers) never to be replied to. Really people? Not a simple “sorry, but no..”? Though I got those too, and they really crush your feelings. “You don’t … like me? You won’t even let me visit? I’m a nice person..!” So yeah. Where was I. Oh, right, the hunt. After weeding out the single men looking for preferably a female roommate (only applications with photos accepted), the ones offering a room against cleaning and massaging services and the clear scams on craigslist (get a villa in the heart of Paris with free towels, a juice press, a double toaster and free calls to 96 countries!! I learned to recognize those by too much information.), there are maybe 24 daily acceptable offers left. 20 of them are in the suburbs. Leaves 4. For thousands of students. Yeah right. Nevertheless, sometimes I do get responses back, and then go to look at the place. For example this one girl who rented out a well insulated, sous-sol room in a really nice neighborhood. You know the Canadian sous-sol? Where you still have a small window and spacious rooms? Well, think again. She led me into a kind of sweet living room, with a tiny kitchen, the bathroom door was a curtain (though she promised to get a sturdier model), her room was a mess (because she moved things out of the new, to-be-rented-out-room… Hm, was that a storage space..?), and the highlight of the tour, my potential bedroom! Um, mind the steps. Because in the middle of the living room floor is a trapdoor which leads down to the… well insulated bedroom. Yup, living in the cellar has apparently never been trendier. You can leave the trapdoor open or closed as you wish, and there is no more authentic way to explore the period of hiding Jews or resistance fighters from Nazis than this one! Or are you a Twilight fan? Scared of sunlight? Is your skin itching to be bathed in atmospheric darkness? Then this is the space for YOU! We might even include an Edward Cullen poster for free. And for your daily 5 minutes of sunlight – well, you can use the living room as well. Deal?
After that interesting first day, I got up Thursday, metroed/walked to the American Church to check the bulletin boards for housing offers (1 find), walked to find the Sciences Po buildings (and I found all of them! And they are super modern and cool! Remember my first Paris post? Yeah, that was just the back entrance.) and looked for more bulletin boards (2 offers for rooms over 700 Euros and estimated 30 offers of students looking for accommodation and presenting themselves as the perfect roommate.) Wow. Then I metroed out of the city to see the suburb I was visiting an apartment this evening by daylight. Gentilly is a really cute suburb, with flowers on the streets, parks, residential buildings, residential buildings, residential buildings… Oh, and there is a supermarket near the RER station! I could imagine myself living there, though, it is just a completely different lifestyle. There are no bars. No cafes. No anything except for housing. But then again, how much time would I really be at home anyways? Then I metroed up to Jourdain, in the Belleville district, 19th arrondissement, and completely fell in love with the district. It’s still Paris – it’s got the cafes, the boulangeries, the boucheries, but it’s also very diverse, multicultural, and a little more run-down and working class than the core Paris districts. In Jourdain, I was supposed to meet my future roommate in a cafe, close to the metro station.. But which one? There was no 19-year old girl anywhere around, not up the street, not down it.. I even randomly started people: “Are you Alice?”, while the charming song of “Who the hell is Alice??” was running through my head. Turns out, later, that Alice was under the impression that we were meeting the following Thursday. My bad. Bad communication. But it made me check out and fall in love with Belleville, and find what might become my usual hangout cafe with good wifi and not too many crowds. Their mirror is decorated with money bills from around the world; cool. Later in the evening, I went out to the 20eme in the East and did not even try to check out the apartment; I didn’t like the area particularly and the prospects of living in a flatshare with only one guy, even if he is 20, started to make me feel uncomfortable. Therefore, I went to look at an apartment with 3 guys! They were the ones living in Gentilly, and they are actually super nice. Their apartment is, too, and you can see the Eiffel tower and the Montmartre from their kitchen window! This was definitely one option to be held open, and I was given a list of things to get for their landlady… OMG. In France, you most definitely need a garant who stands in for you if you don’t pay your rent, mostly one of your parents, but he or she must theoretically be living in France…. Also, you need their pay check, tax bills, identity card and account balance information. Just hand all that over, please. But we might still not take you cuz you’re a foreigner. Looking forward to that battle.
So, the next visit is just after the first one, and this visit is also for a colocation (a flatshare) with an older guy. He says he is 35. What really brought me to even look at the place is that it’s located in the fifth arrondissement, the nicest district of Paris, right close to the Latin quarter. When we find the place, it’s one of those kind-of-fancy-but-none-descript doors, but when we open it, it looks like you just stepped into the Garden of Eden. So many doors in Paris hide wonderful courtyards, little squares full of plants, sunlight, laughing children and roaming cats, that you would never expect. Other doors hide… well, other things. This door was a happy door, and stepping inside the courtyard, I was already asking myself what the drawback on this deal was, because I clearly couldn’t afford such a place. We were let in by a man that certainly looked 35 to 40 years old and led around a gorgeous apartment, flashy kitchen, big room, and nice bathroom included. Then, we get a tea/coffee to get to know one another better. You know, it’s important if you are flatmates that you make a careful decision, because you really enter in a special relationship. When a girl moves in in his place, one could say, it’s almost like a couple relationship. Yeah, he really likes the feminine touch, without having to marry right away. And obviously, this close relationship needs to be maintained by having at least one dinner a week just the two of us. Actually, if I were to be further interested, he would gladly invite me to an evening (without my lovely friend) so that we could get to know one another even better, be honest, show all our flaws (by the way, do I drink alcohol? Only little? Oh, because he –ahem- likes a good red wine. A lot.) So, do I have any questions? Oh, whether friends could come over to visit? Well… Since there is a certain age difference, it would make me feel a little uncomfortable to be surrounded by 20 year old people, so, it would be better if I just came back here to work. And hang out. You know. Oh, and I showed you my son’s room, right? He comes over around every second weekend, and sometimes in between. Also for his sake, there are certain rules and restrictions in the house. I mean, the future roommate should at least be around every time he is here, to give him a certain consistency in his lifestyle. But, then, the price is really good, I lowered it to make sure that I could also target students and not just people with a lot of cash. So, are you interested? Just think about it, text me tomorrow and then we can make arrangements for dinner.
I did not text him.
He called me.
I politely texted back that, after due consideration, it wasn’t what I was looking for.
I think I found the drawback.
My first day in Paris. My first visit. Taking the metro out to Crimee, in the very north of town, was fine, and seeing my friend there waiting for me was even better. So then we go and look for the apartment. It’s in a gated complex of houses, though the gates are open during the day and there is a gang of guys hanging out within the district. So we are making sure to keep the creepy guys… inside the gates..? Calling the dude, I suddenly remember his last mail. “Oh, by the way, how old are you? I’m 45, haha, but I feel much younger..” Well, this is supposed to be for comparison purposes anyway. We follow him up the stairs. The door opens and you walk into a shelf, because the corridor leading to the two rooms on either side is so tiny. He shows us the free room. It’s smelly. It’s gross. It looks like it hasn’t been used (or tidied) since the 70’s. Then he shows us the grimy kitchen and the grimier (is that a word) bathroom, and finally his room where he does his recordings. He’s a musician/composer. Note: he will be at home all the time. Finally, he faces me and says: “Well, let’s be honest. How old are you? 21? Well, I think you might be a little too young, although I am open to everything..” Without further ado, we acquiesce, and he gives us further tips for the apartment hunt I am about to really start. It turns into an ok encounter. Except for the 1 second that I imagined myself living there.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
2. The possibility of going jogging and meeting a cow, a barn cat, a bird of prey and a goose without the slightest bit of difficulty.
3. People greeting you on the street.
4. Max Havelaar fair trade bananas. Seriously, Canada, you get them here everywhere!
5. Church bells telling you the time.
7. My friends.
to be continued.
Wandering further, through the cute old Nikolai quarter, you get back to the river and to a sight where originally stood the German castle. It was bombed as well and torn down later by the East German government to make place for a parade square as well as the Palace of the Republic, a building with ballrooms, restaurants and loads of entertainment for the people of the Republic (and of course their elites). Once it was found to have been built with asbest, it was decided to tear that building down and rebuild the German castle outside with a modern inside, to restore German history as it was. There was a large controversy about the Palace of the Republic, with many East Germans feeling that it was also part of their history, but finally, the plans for the German castle (originally from the 18th or 19th century I believe) overweighed. It is interesting who and how is decided what history contains and what doesn't, isn't it? Finally, I also went into the German Museum of History, where I was only able to touch the first half of the main exhibition - it is huuuge! - and met up with my friend Sara, who worked there, to talk a little more about - history. Amongst many other things. An interesting day for sure. I just had to pull myself into the present with some difficulty.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Friday afternoon, 2.00pm. T-1. I try to use my aunt's computer because the internet is more reliable. Password-protected. She not home. Fail. Run back to my grandparents house, start their computer. T-0.45. Think long and hard about how long I could count on the internet being fast (it continuously slows down the longer you use it) vs. how early I would have to sign into the server before it overloads. T-0.30. This is the time I decided to risk it, and sign into my sciences po portal, making sure to click back and forth on random options every 5 minutes to avoid being kicked out of the system. T-0.01. I get ready, chart and time table in hand. T-0.00. The Clicking Contest has begun. I get my first class, check. I enter my second class, check. The third one. Woah, times changed, but it still fits my schedule, check. Fourth and fifth are fine, check. Where is the foreign language class? What, the Russian level I self-evaluated my way into is called moyen-fort? Whatever. Check. It is 3.02pm. I am out of breath. Once I check that I am really signed up for what I wanted, I click on the classes again out of interest and see that they are full. All of them. ALL OF THEM. At 3.07pm. Oh geez. Now I get interested and click random classes to see how popular they are. Full. Full. Full. Oh, a place open! Ah, that's the Theatre Workshop with 4 options. Full. Full. Hospitality and Parasitism? Really? I go and get a glass of water. And pity all the people that overslept/had to work/logged in at 3.08 and get to study Hospitality and Parasitism. (P.S. Quote from the FB Sciences Po Exchange Students page: 'I got raped by enrollment.' Comment: 'Unfortunately it was mass rape.' Or: 'Good to hear I wasn't the only one who got crushed in the stampede.' Oh noo..)
Saturday, July 10, 2010
But of course the sketchy things are more fun to write about, right? So here one last Russian impression before I hit German ground and was back in the orderly, boring world of Western Europe:
My flight from St. Petersburg to Moscow went through Pulkovo 1, the domestic airport of St. Petersburg. And to people complaining about Pulkovo 2, the international one, let me tell you - you ain't seen nothin' yet. At a certain point, I had to cross a concrete tunnel with one of those horizontal escalators that probably hadn't been renovated since Brezhnev's time. It felt very foreboding, especially since I was the only person in the whole thing. Tunnel into the underworld or something like that. But then I came to my gate and the underworld had a whole new face: While we were waiting for our gate to open, me and two American ladies were watching our plane. All of a sudden, 3 police cars and one unlabled white van come swerving around the plane and halt with screeching wheels in a line, blocking some of the view on the airplane. The doors of the van open and 6 or 7 SWAT - looking people in balaclavas, with kalashnikovs, bullet-proof vests and all in black stormed out and surrounded the plane. Then, somebody with a black hood over their face was led into the plane by three bald-headed guys in crisp white shirts, the SWAT team stayed there for another 10 minutes (one of the balaclava-wearing people was looking and pointing his gun in our direction, kinda scary), and then they all ran back into the van and left. Then, the stewardess announced that we could board our plane. And who would've thought, the black-hooded guy (prisoner? principal witness?) and his three bald companions were sitting in economy class next to all the vacationers and even got the same lunch as us. When we left the plane in Moscow, I turned back in the terminal just in time to see the whole action in reverse happen to get him or her out of the plane. Mind blow. Especially after the huge spy-exchange between the US and Russia was just announced. Maybe I was on the plane with some American FBI agent???
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
P.S. Also, in our unit on home remedies, my Russian teacher swore on hot milk with honey and baking soda as a trusted Russian home remedy. And I tried it. It didn't really work. And Gleb had never heard of it either. So, apparently half of our Russian education is not to be relied on anymore. Uh-oh.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
After this interesting tour, I walked up the Andrassy avenue (the Champs-Elysee of Budapest) and found the city park - and apparently all the city's inhabitants. It was a holiday and everybody was hanging out in the sun, playing ball games, and just having the time of their lives. So I just joined in with gusto! In the evening, after a quick trip up the Castle Hill (the picturesque little streets were nice, but I had already seen similar ones so often.. But the Fishermen's Bastion with its little turrets was great!), I had a snack and chat with an interesting Jordanian guy before returning back to the hostel and watching most of 'Into the Wild'... which gives a whole other direction to the term of backpacking...
Pecs is sweet and has a beautifully done-up city center. However, although it is one of the three 2010 European Culture Capitals, half of the museums were closed due to renovations. Apparently they were extremely behind schedule, and a lot of the EU money just disappeared without a trace. According to Hunor, the extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff member at the Big Fish hostel I talked with a looong time about Hungarian politics and everything else, corruption is still widespread and politics is especially marred in this pessimistic feeling of 'we can't do anything anyway'. And that with extremist groups gaining power...
I jogged up to the TV tower which offered a stunning view of Pecs and the Hungarian countryside, then came down and walked round the city a bit until a thunderstorm made me seek refuge in a museum and then in the hostel. A sold-out folk concert meant that I spent my evening at the hostel as well (other than a reaggae festival, there wasn't that much going on..), but it was really fun times talking to fellow travellers and exchanging views over some home-brewed wine which the hostel owner brought over in the course of the evening...
The next day, I left for Budapest and spent my time in the train dozing (the night had been short) and occasionally snatching glimpses of gorgeous stretches of nature. Budapest was big, confusing, exhilarating after these few small-town days, but after finding my hippie-esque hostel in the Buda section of town, I set out exploring, climbed up to the Citadel for yet another great view (I'm really getting into hiking here!) and slowly made my way over the chain bridge and by the St. Istvan Cathedral to the Opera, where for 900 Forint (about 3 Euros) I experienced a great performance of the 'Barber of Sevilla'. I mean, it would've helped if I had read the story in beforehand, or if the subtitles hadn't been in Hungarian... But who wants to complain...
Friday, May 21, 2010
How to be stranded in Hungary for Dummies
1. Pick a travel route that requires you to change regional trains at least twice and at the smallest train stations possible.
2. Make sure that your first train is delayed just enough to make you miss your connection.
3. Get off at the random train station anyway because you don't have another plan and your ticket doesn't take you to Budapest.
3b) Optional: for maximum enjoyment, try getting off the train before the Hungarian border guards have checked your passport, causing the control person to bellow "What are you doing? Sit down again!"
4. Realize that nobody at the random train station speaks any other language but Hungarian.
5. Realize that you don't have any of the local currency on you.
6. Take it as an adventure.
I had assumed that since I was taking a regional train, even if I missed the connection it would be fine because those trains run hourly or something. Well, no. Fortunately enough, there was another train to my final destination (Pecs), but it left a good three and a half hours later. So, time to explore the city! Um, town. Village really. Wait, do five houses count as a village? After I had tried to find the city centre and walked along a road of never-changing basic grey concrete houses in diverse states of dilapidation, I realized that the little square in front of the train station was the city centre! Yeah, Gyekenyes is that hardcore. Looking it up, I can't believe I missed the famed attractions of chapel and mine lake! Apparently, "The former closed border station has become an open-minded village by now aiming to focus on the development of tourism in the future." LOL. I ended up giving my survival apples to really sweet kids excited to see an alien backpacker in their environment, though our communication was limited to "hi" and "bye". The rest of the three hours had me sitting in the square, in front, in, and behind the train station, althewhile trying to dodge the looks of "what a weirdo with a backpack is that" that I got from diverse Gyekenyesers. Seriously, I felt like I was the first tourist they ever saw. That focus on tourism might have to be a touch better developed.
Finally, the train pulled in (it was the longest three hours ever, I was really tired but terrified of sleeping through the train and having to sleep in Gyekenyes), and after bording it the next adventure begun. Don't get me wrong - the Hungarian countryside was crazily beautiful, a lot flatter than Slovenia but with the same charm, but the adventure was rather how the train sometimes slowed down to probably around 5 km/h and followed the railroad tracks that seemingly went across a lake! It must have been raining like crazy the last couple of weeks, because the whole area seemed inundated and the train seriously was maybe half a meter above the water's edge. Wildlife sightings included water snakes and various kinds of birds; it sometimes felt like the train was slowing down in order to give us a scenic tour instead of just trying to snake along the tracks.
Finally, finally arriving in Pecs around 6.15pm, I was impressed by the beautiful old town centre (I know, same old, same old) and am looking forward to explore it in more detail tomorrow. Knock on wood that it won't rain too hard!