Armchair Travel Blog

Adventures from Paris onwards circa 2012

Month: April, 2012

Sunny Sunny Seville

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Andalucia, here I come!

My backpack is packed, toothbrush and passport and all, and in one hour my journey starts. I’m excited. Can you tell?

Oh The Places You’ll Go

Today is Earth Day. Today is also April 22 and consequently French election day for those keeping up in politics.

Today Kelsey also went back to Seville, Spain (and I am soon to follow)

She landed in Paris Friday morning and only just left to catch her flight back – because some people are actually doing a study abroad where one studies and as such has class in the morning. (Gross.)

We have spent the entire weekend together, for she slept chez moi for lack of hostels, and managed to cram all of the important sights in just over 48 hours. My back and feet have not been too happy with spending hours out and about on the street. For the most part however, the weather has held. Which honestly made me super happy because it was Kelsey’s first time in Paris.

That’s not to say that we didn’t get rained out a little, but a quick duck into a cafe is always the cure for such things. Plus it offered Kelsey a chance to try to burnt espresso taste of Paris. (She says the Seville espresso is better) (I believe her)

I’ven’t any pictures because Kelsey was more than happy to take the pictures, but she did promise that in the coming week she would Dropbox or email the whole lot of them over, and I should be able to put a few up here. 

The biggest accomplishment perhaps comes that as Kelsey is somewhat of an art lover we managed to not only tour the Musee d’Orsay, but the Louvre as well. And it is popular culture that says that one could spend a week inside the Louvre in order to see everything properly. Needless to say we saw the hottest and the best attractions – Mona Lisa included – and it was nice that France is on vacations so the lines were not long. 

Being under 26 in a socialist country like France can be awesome sometimes because it means full and free access to the museums. And at 10 euros an entrance free, it makes it worth it. However spending 5 hours inside the Louvre is exhausting, only to run around to the rest of the tourist attractions makes for a really sound sleep. 

I do have a picture of me with Hammurabi’s Code and I was super excited, for while Kelsey is about Spanish art, I like the Anthropology//Archeology aspect of the Louvre. As I roughly translated everything best as I could – everything in the Louvre is explicitly in French, which I find odd considering its status as possibly THE most famous museum the world over – she seemed to become infected with some of my new found energy; funny as not 20 minutes before I was flopping on the benches as she explained to me the Goyas and El Grecos and Rembrant’s

I learnt a lot about classical art and that the Mona Lisa is due for a cleaning but no one wants to be that guy to do it. 

(I still prefer impressionism found at d’Orsay, but probably because I love the idea that these painters were overcome by such emotion – or drugs I’m not sure which – that they were, “I’m going to paint my feelings onto this canvas because I have so many of them, and you will enjoy it) (I’m partial to Gaughan’s colors)

Up close its a mess, but from far away it’s beautiful, which I think sums up much of how life can be sometimes, and that getting bogged down in the details won’t get you much more than seemingly blurred colors running together.

Kelsey and I went out after a splendid dinner with Phillipe and son, where we ate frittes and steak tornedo paired with a lovely – admittedly I’m not a wine amateur but I liked it well enough – real french red wine.

Paris by night is a different animal, and I’m not sure which is better, but both bring different things to savour and see, and I took her to a popular bar where the tables are cramped and the bar tenders perfectly sassy for an after-dinner cocktail. 

We were warm exiting the bar and not even the 1am drizzle could dampen our mood for as tired as we were we would sleep soundly.

We taught her the art of the French crepe and she even flipped her own crepes; she was laughing because everything that I introduced her to of the French cuisine I would say would change her life and that it was the best thing ever – and how can be go back to the United States after being awoken from an ignorant slumber – but I told her that if there is one thing I am fluent in, it is French cuisine. (She said my French was good too, which hello, compliments and thank you, but I still think it is poor) (I am pretty good at Cabet English though, and had to translate a few things; Kelsey says I started to talk like him and I laugh and say I am a poor soul indeed)

Oddly enough, it was also the second time that we got checked by the ratp officers, and Kelsey’s ticket almost didn’t pass inspection, and had she known the consequences for being collared she might have been more worried. As such nothing happened, but it was odd that out of the 4ish months I’ve been here it was the second time ever, and I mean riding the metro all over Paris at all times of the day.

C’est la vie.

Tomorrow I’ve one more language class, and then I’m off to Spain – Seville and Madrid.

Kelsey was impressed with my idiot-savantness of being able to book hostels and plane tickets for a country I know nothing about, but I say it’s all skill.

(I also say that if I can navigate the Paris public transport, Madrid, much less Seville, cannot be that complicated)

It is also weird to see things in Spanish as I am so used to everything in French that seeing it in Spanish took a while for my brain to adjust.

(I cannot wait for Hungarian to join the language mix, then things will get interesting)

All in all, a most pleasant weekend, both Kelsey and Phillipe were pleased and happy and everyone with good spirits and full bellies.

I look forward to sunshine and warmer weather.

The Nose Knows

Today my nose fell off of my face.

But let me back track a little bit before hand.

I’m not sure when or where or why or who decided that the middle of April was a good time to have a second winter, but here it is colder than it was for the month of March, coupled with a rain that makes one’s knees swell and hair frizz.

(I really do need a haircut by the way, it looks like a lion’s mane, but I’m not keen on a 30 Euro shampoo-cut styling; not to mention the little language barrier)

But here it is wetter than ever – something Phillipe says is normal and necessary for France if I want to keep eating my acid (not really) fruit. (I do like green bananas) I could go with a warm spring rain, but mostly it hovers around 12 degrees every day.

And to think that there was a point when I was joyous for 12 degrees!

But I’m a little worried because by week’s end my friend from school will be coming to Paris for the weekend and I’d really rather her have a good impression of my city (yes, I have claimed it as such) and not a dreary wet one. Besides, how are we supposed to go up the Eiffel Tour when the weather seems to be more suited for London than Paris.

I want it to be warm and sunny and so that I can show her nooks and crannies that are good to visit, in addition to the more trafficked areas and so that they make for a good photo opportunity. After all, shouldn’t one’s first visit to Paris be an unforgettable one?

Perhaps the best part after this weekend then is that I will be spending the week in Seville, Spain following her visit to Paris. It’s the first time any one in the family will have gone to Spain and I am looking forward to warmer weather – in addition to it being the week of the Feria – something I hear that is not to be missed; sleep pending.

Also bull fights! So while I hope that my weather will be good, that she too will have a great take-away experience from the whole thing. It might also be a positive thing that I’m going to a country where they actually speak a language I can understand without – what others tell me I don’t do – talking like a toddler.

Needless to say, I want the weekend to come by faster than it’s crawling speed right now.

Many pictures and (fuzzy) memories to be had. And a blog post surely.

But back to my nose.

After class today, after getting on the RER, a lady wearing the traditional African garb and a little bit of a hobble came and sat across the seat from me.

Immediately it felt that something that curled up and died inside my nose, my stomach did this uneasy flop as a dull ache worked its way into my brain, trying to breathe through my mouth. I swear the dead must smell better than this woman – who by all other accounts neither looked homeless nor crazy – because after about 45 seconds of sitting across from her the urge to vomit was too much and I moved to the other end of the car just to get away.

However, so potent was this woman’s body odor that not one person could stand to sit next to her, and even at the other end of the car you could still catch a good whiff – gasping for air when the train lurched to a stop and you could open the door.

I’m not sure how it is possible for a person to have such a serious stench about them. And I know they say that men have a lesser sense of smell then women but everyone was cowering in fear against this odor. I knew that the metro smelled bad – but this woman took it to another level.

Even hours later, as I sit back and think about it, trying to find words for the horror my nose faced today, I can still find it, so powerful is the memory of a smell. I feel as I must flush my nose out with menthol.

If there ever was a use for the word ghastly, I swear that this would be it because I honestly cannot express to you how disgusting and fowl that smell was. Unlike anything – but I am convinced that it would wake the dead.

I chose to take another bus home because I could not bear being in a smaller cramped bus if she could fill out an entire RER car.

They say that scent memories are the strongest and that they jerk us away to a certain time and place when we feel them again – and I can certainly tell you the smell has been burned into my nostrils, never to be forgotten.

Now I know you may shake your head and say that this is not a very nice post or a nice topic to write about a person – who I will never see again. But I cannot pity her much for how bad do you have to get where people visibly and rapidly have stand up and leave your proximity before it dawns on you to bathe? I am merely glad I was born when I was and not in the 18th century.

This woman was neither homeless nor ostensibly crazy. I’m not sure what it was that allowed her to get into such a state of stench. Honestly, at this point she should have stood outside in the rain and let the cool April showers was away what it could.

Now that I have perhaps painted a figment of what attacked my nose this afternoon I’ve some positive news to share with you, albeit not my own.

Phillipe got a job as a Skipper on a race boat at the end of May. In a 2 day all expense paid trip, he will be in charge of this entire boat and it’s crew – details forthcoming – to hopefully win some kind of honest-to-god sail boat race with prizes.

It’s particulalry good for Phillipe as it will provide experience for him for when he will buy (with a little faith, trust, and pixie dust) his own sail boat. It’s also given him something to look forward to and he brims with excitement; something that we toasted ice cream eskimo’s to.

And then this afternoon he had another job appointment, and they will follow up with him on Thursday. If he gets this job it will be his first real job in 4 months. I am keeping my fingers crossed for him as he for me with my law school applications.

As the saying goes, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end”.

Life continues to thrum on at a rhythmic pace and hopefully my next post will be about Paris-Seville adventures.

Spring Into Action (hah puns)

And We’re All Just Singin’ In The Rain

April is the month of showers here in Paris.

I don’t think that in the past 12 days there has been a stretch of more than 2 days where it hasn’t rained. I’m not saying that it rains long or hard particularly, more that it rains on and off almost on a stopwatch a few times a day; usually in the late afternoon.

Getting caught in them can be quite thrilling. The rain is warm and the grass smells as only a spring rain can, as the pavement releases thin tendrils of smoke as your shoes get wet working its way into your socks and you’re blinking out the raindrops from your eyelashes.

It’s warm and cloudy and just as suddenly it started, it stops, and the clouds clear making way for the sun as if to say the entire thing had been little more than a heartbeat of time – ephemeral – and leaves are glistening fresh with rain..

Light Up Shoes

Call this my obligatory birthday post.

Today indeed, April 11th marks my birthday and my entrance into 22 years of life. Last week my baby brother – or can I even call him that anymore – turned a “man” now at 18 years, and a week to the day it’s my turn.

Frankly I wish that I was still old enough to get away – or rather they made for adults – LED light up shoes. Because really, I’m a 5 year old at heart and this growing up buisiness kind of stinks and it tricky to navigate sometimes.

For exaple, as of today, and for what I can only assume to be the forseeable future, I now no longer have dental insurance. Apperantly, once I turned 22 Company X decided that it was time that I too became a paying customer. Now, seeing as that currently I’m in no position to be able to afford dental care, I am brushing up (hah puns) on proper dental care as to avoid cavities. Still, I will miss the slick feeling that comes after a good teeth cleaning. Perhaps it helps that I actually like to floss and so at least my gums are what I can only hope to be all sorts of clean.

Unfortunately the bakery is closed today, and so I won’t officially get my birthday cake – French style, yo – until tomorrow. Which honestly suits me fine and I’ve never really understood how  a matter of hours makes a world of diffrence and how suddenly in the eyes of the law you’re a grown and responsible adult ready to take charge of your life. (Or maybe I am wanting a weeklong celebration and so it doesn’t matter really WHEN I get the cake) But I had a delicious ice cream tonight, and my belly is happy.

In fact if we lived in an idyllic world where I was President I would make a law that says every one needs to eat ice cream at least 4 times a week, because ice cream is happiness for the soul.

Non sequiturs aside, today it was actually sunny for a brief period of time and the temperature had worked its way up to 16 degrees before the tried and tested adage of “April showers bring May flowers” held true and we were treated to a litany of on-again-off-again sprinkles. 

Phillipe who is ever a dear surprised me this morning with my very first and very French cookbook. It’s a beautiful book with pictures and a dictionary, and it’s all in French so as to help me along with my French. 

(We all know the only language that matter is the one of the kitchen)

It’s wrapped up now, carefully as not to bang up the corners or stain the cover, but I look forward to the day when I can be in my very own kitchen – that pesky frowing up thing again – with my cookbook in hand. If anything it promopts me to continue with my French language education. 

It starts to come along a little easier, and while I may not be fluent, I can hold a simple conversation and at least stay alive with nourishment needs. So I would chalk it up as a success.

22 feels a lot like 21, and I still get mistaken for younger than I am, but it doesn’t cease to amaze me how fast time flies and how 21 years ago I was mastering the art of walking – an incredible physics feat by the way – and now I am on baited breath to get into my law school of choice.

My plan for the following week is that if the weather holds to try and take more pictures, but I hate now how people need the approval of others instantly in posed photos with witty Facebook captions underneath as they appear to have fun, instead of actually having it and, and screw the camera. But people have asked for pictures of where and who I am with and so I will try to be better about it, weather promising.

In other news, I really, really, really miss pancakes. I guess along with bagels it’s another American thing that they just. don’t. have. here. I want a whipped cream smiley face on top of my IHOP chocolate chip pancakes.

I guess I’ll settle for crepes instead. (I have been wanting to mix my two favorite things – ice cream and crepes – together anyhow, and today is my brithday; I can’t be stopped with my bad-ass devil-may-care rebellious attitude today, obviously)

re:blog

Last time we confessed our love for TV shows and today, celebrating the return of one of our favorites for season two (we won’t say the name not to spoil the riddle but you know which one we mean, of course), a post combining our two loves: shows and icons.

Below a set of 15 shows each presented through three icons for your guessing pleasure. We realize that most of these are ridiculously easy if you’re a TV-maniac (and possibly very difficult if you’re not, who knows) but boy, were they fun to work on. (And yes, we’ve seen all these shows, at least a couple of episodes but often quite a lot of them.)

Under each poster there is an answer in white: you have to highlight it to read.

New! Now we’re selling the posters here.

Friends

Mad Men

Game of Thrones (yes, it’s back tomorrow)

Sex…

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Karma

My karmic balance has been restored.

It had been eating away at my very sould, gnawing away at a clump of my mind for over a week now and I just coudn’t shake the feeling of guilt that had settled weightly upon on my shoulders.

I must’ve been having a bad day, I must’ve been tired, and simply I misplaced my head. It might have explained what I did but it did not excuse it.

There I was on the bus, coming back after a day out, and an old woman boarded the bus. Next to me there were three young guys who too saw the old lady and how clearly she wanted to sit down. Not one of them made any move or showed any intention to get up. The instinct to stand up for her shot through me like a bullet, but I bit down the urge saying that I got on the bus first and that it was the men’s job to stand up – not mine. 

That didn’t stop me from repeatedly kicking myself as soon as she shuffled away towards the back of the bus looking for a seat that would only come 5 minutes later. It’s not like I was going that far on the bus, I could have easily stood up. And yet.

I know my mother raised me better than this, that I have better manners, and that I should not let the by-stander effect affect my life and my descisions. But on this day, it did. And I am ashamed that I did not. It’s a simple thing that can go a long way. A pay it forward effect. Smile at a stranger, stand for the lady on the bus.

And to whit, it has been this reason that I feel my karmic balance has been off kilter in the last week. Maybe I am being a little superstiticous, but I feel that the blisters I’ve earned from practice this week on my feet, leaving me limping along for a day or two, are karmic retribution.

My friends here say that I have to thicken my skin, that I have to be able to stand it, that yes you got on the bus first and that’s how Paris runs.

But simple because “that’s how it is”, doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna fight against it.

And today, finally I had my opportunity.

Coming back from class I was waiting for the bus to leave and an elderly couple, the man clutching an ice pack to his check followed by a lone old woman whose hands were shaking (from what I can only assume to be Parkinson’s) boarded the bus. The seats had all been taken. And after waiting a beat to see if any one else would stand up – naturally no body did – I decided that I would be the lone cavalier in this situation. Without hesitation I stood up and gestured towards the woman, who asked the man first since he was in what appeared to be a post dental surgery situation, to sit down.

The man politely refused and the lady sat down, relieved. As the man looked at me and nodded a silent “Merci” on his lips, I felt the blush work it’s way up my neck as I nodded briefly as if to say, what else could I do? It’s the only polite and correct thing to do, even as every one looked at me from the sides of their eyes and I tried to play it cool, fiddling with my ipod.

As we got off the bus I made eye contact with the woman, and she had a small smile and a thank you in her eyes, and I felt that finally the universe had settled back into it’s groove.

My karmic balance is restored and any one else who claims that it’s not a big deal not to stand up for an elder can kindly shove off because from now on, I will always – should the situation arise – stand up for the old woman on the bus.

I swear Karma is the real deal and it feels great not to have this burden and guilt weighing on me anymore.