Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Permanent traveling

I have wanted to live in Europe for most of my life. I dreamed of it when I was little. When I was older I started reading books on France, Italy. I just wanted to experience it so badly. Then I got to go, finally, and instead of making that feeling go away, it made it stronger.

I've also been studying language for 10 + years now. My mom was helping me pay for school, so I took one class at a time (Spanish) for years, until I figured out financial aid, and ever since then I've been working full time and going to school full time trying to finish. I decided to get a degree in Spanish since I loved it so much. French is another language I have always wanted to learn. Last year, as I realized I was reaching the end of my Spanish studies, I decided to start taking French.

A couple weeks ago, I got approved for a study abroad in France. Although I'm still a little broke, I decided, since I'm close to graduating, that I needed to just go for it. And I am so excited. I feel pretty comfortable in Spanish - I can read and write it with relative ease, I can speak it well although it makes me nervous, and I can (although it's scary sometimes) have actual conversations with actual Spanish speaking people. Since I only have a short time left at school, I want to be as fluent as possible in French before leaving and not being able to afford classes anymore. The study abroad will (I hope) allow me do that.

But, I need a little bit of help. So if anyone has $1, $5, $25, anything you can part with to help me get there, it would be so greatly appreciated (here's the funding site)! I'm still working full time and in school full time and hardly sleeping at all trying to make sure I have enough to survive! And I'll be updating here (of course) while I'm living there, and probably sending postcards and trinkets to everyone who gives me a hand. =)

I'm so grateful for everyone who has helped me and encouraged me along the way, and I'll be thinking of all of you while I'm over there, not speaking English! I'll be staying in Pau, which is the south of France, and super close to the Spanish border. It's perfect - I get to learn French while practicing Spanish at the same time!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

There have been many a time that I've sat down with intentions of starting a blog, and have even started a handful over the years, and then promptly lost interest, ran out of time, or realized I had nothing at all to write about. So here's hoping this one will be different. I've decided there's a chance I might keep this one up since the main reason I'm starting it is that I took far too many pictures on my last trip, and feel kind of guilty uploading 800 photos to facebook. Mostly because a) everyone's sick of looking at my Europe photos and shouldn't, probably, be forced to any longer, and b) I don't need to have that many pictures on facebook.

So slowly but surely, I will be adding to this (I hope). It will serve as my own little journal of the trip too, somewhere I can combine all the random notes and things I wrote down in a hundred different places throughout the trip. This way I can have them all in one place so I can remember how it was, and all the little reasons why I didn't want to come home at the end of it. I will probably be backdating them too, so we can all pretend I was wonderfully organized and writing things and keeping records as I went along.

And once I've gotten through this last trip, maybe I'll keep it up just for kicks, just in case anyone feels like continuing to read about my little adventures.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Baden Baden, Germany → Paris, France

Toward the evening of our day in Baden Baden, I started to feel a little ill. I had thought I had an ear infection after swimming in Cinque Terre and (stupidly) took some antibiotics, hoping anything could help the pain in my ear. By the next morning, I could tell I was getting sick and was very grumpy about it. I tried to ignore it through our massive, delicious breakfast in the hotel lobby. I had bought a little box of soy milk at that bio store in Pisa, and was extremely excited to get to dump it on some cereal in Germany. After brekkie, mom thankfully agreed to drive the first half of the way and I conked out in the backseat to the sound of German voices on the radio.

I woke up as we were pulling into a massive roadside truckstop, somewhere in France. I felt slightly better and took over driving the rest of the way. This was fine, until we got into Paris. I would very much prefer to never drive in Paris ever again. We decided the wisest decision was to go and check in at the hotel so that we could dump our bags and not have so much crap to carry on the metro. The hotel was in the 16th arrondissement, just near the Eiffel Tower, and the car rental return was across town near the Gare du Nord. It was also the middle of the day on le 14 juillet, and they were starting to close roads in order to set up for the firework show later that evening. In other words, it was chaotic. It took ages to get anywhere near the Eiffel Tower and we just sneaked by as they were closing the road. We then missed a turn, like ten times and had to keep turning around. When we finally found the hotel (the easiest part), there was no parking. Mom and I left Noah in the car and ran up to dump all our bags. Then it was back into the car to rush over to Gare du Nord to get the car back in time. The other side of the Seine was even more crazy as everyone was trying to find their way around the closed streets. We got halfway there and remembered we were supposed to put gas in the car before returning it. We spent almost 30 minutes finding gas stations on our phones only to get to where they were supposed to be to find closed down pumps on the side of the road, no attendants or stations in sight. When I tried to make a left turn and four other cars and then a motorcycle pulled in around me and all tried to turn at the same time, I was done. I'm sure it would have been super amusing for everyone else in the car if I wasn't so busy yelling, but I did not want to drive around in search of a gas station anymore. So, we went back to drop off the car, which I'm sure didn't help with fees at all (sorry, mom). But seriously. Driving in big cities here is nothing like Europe. I will stick to public transportation and bikes, thank you very much.

Since we were already at Gare du Nord and sans bags, we decided to check out Montmatre, as it was a relatively short walk. We wandered into a chocolate shop with massive chocolate sculptures (they had a pirate ship, and Notre Dame. Craaazy!) and up toward Sacre Coeur. I wanted to find the coffee shop from Amélie, but at this point I was feeling so sick that I'd started to get dizzy. I also hadn't eaten in quite a while, which probably wasn't helping. They finally stopped at some cafe and made me sit down because I'm pretty sure I looked like I was going to die. Some water and food helped keep me on my feet so we could head back to the hotel. I don't think I even felt so bad as I just did not want to be sick in Paris. I wanted to enjoy the last few days of my trip! I fought it as best I could, but I was pretty miserable within a couple of days. 
Like a bat outta hell.

 Mom had paid for two people to stay in the hotel room, thinking we may or may not be joining her. Meg and Geoff (my sister and her husband) had decided to stay in the room too, so we were now in a one bedroom room with 5 people. Thankfully, the hotel staff was nice and didn't comment on it. I think it was hard to find a place nearby because of the holiday, so they weren't going to be rude about it. In any case, we hung out for a bit until Megan and Geoff arrived, and then all headed out to find a spot to watch the fireworks.

Something else I love about Paris: they put on a good fireworks show. Even I felt patriotic at the end of it, and not for my own country. We walked around the Eiffel Tower in search of a good spot, discovering a little late that the Champ de Mars was closed. But we found a light post to lean on, amongst some trees. Noah took off to find us some food (a most delicious baguette and some fresh strawberries), and I stood in a bathroom line for about an hour, which was ridiculous. There were so many people there. I heard so many different languages being spoken while I waited in line, which was especially interesting when someone tried to cut in front, diving for the bathroom door before the rightful next person could get to it - lots of cursing in lots of languages.

Remember how I said I took a lot of pictures of the Eiffel Tower? Nothing even compares to how many I took during the fireworks show. There had been a live opera going on in the park behind it, and they quieted down and music started playing. Oddly, lots of American music - Nirvana and Joan Jett, among others. It was a spectacular show, though.

We had to be tourists in front of it too, of course. How could we not be?
Blurry sheeester.

I hadn't seen everyone all together in well over a year, so it was fantastic and exciting that we were all in Paris. We slowly made our way back through the busy streets to the hotel.  We got back a bit later than we'd intended, but ended up staying up talking to everyone for a while anyway. The plan for the next day was to hit up all the tourist spots that we hadn't yet had time for.

I do, Paris! Ne vous inquiétez pas!
The first thing I wanted to do however, was head back to that vegan place we hadn't gotten to try the other day. Deciding it might be an easy pit stop to go to l'Arc de Triomphe on the way, we started walking. This was our first mistake. We kind of just headed in the general direction it was in without consulting a map. We lingered around the Eiffel Tower and started walking into the city. We ran into a real live crime scene, too! There was yellow tape and very important looking people in suits, holding notepads and interviewing a small crowd around a giant bloodstain on the ground. After about an hour we realized we needed to actually look at where we were going - luckily one of us had the little tourist map from the hostel shoved in a pocket. Unfortunately, it was missing about 50% of the streets around us. We kept walking, changing direction every few streets in an attempt to outsmart the map, and somehow just happened upon l'Arc about ten blocks away from where the map said it would be.

This thing is massive too, but not quite as impressive as the Eiffel Tower. It's on a roundabout in the middle of a very busy intersection, so we took the underground tunnel to get over to it. It was too early to be open, but I wasn't willing to shell out more euros to go up anything else at this point anyway, so we just looked, and it was lovely.

From there, we hopped on the metro, switching lines a few times until we reached the Bastille stop. This time the place was open. I got a giant tofu breakfast and almost lost it when I saw they had pain au chocolat. Noah had eaten ten of those damn things since we'd arrived in France and I was extremely excited that I could finally try one. It was tasty.

Queen of the alleyway!
The last stop before meeting up with everyone else for the day was le Centre Pompidou, which we had walked by after Greek food with Mom the other night and not even realized. With full bellies, we made our way back to the museum. It boasts one of the best views of Paris, and you wouldn't think so from looking at the building, but they weren't kidding. I was having a hard time admiring the view though, because I was so ridiculously excited to see Roy Lichtenstein's work in person. The fact that I was going to see it in Paris made it even better (doesn't Paris just make everything better??). We probably spent far too much time in the museum, but I took a very long time going through his work, and then we had to check out the permanent collection while we were there.

Fountains next door to Pompidou, which were in the Harrison Ford remake of Sabrina, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come here when I was a kid!!

Le Centre Pompidou

View from the top.

Lichtenstein in person!

They didn't allow photos of a lot of the pieces, but I was just happy to get to look at them up close.

We had to rush a bit to leave and kind of ran through the last few rooms of the permanent collection, just to have finished at least one floor. We were headed for the metro at Les Halles to meet mom and Meg and Geoff at Père Lachaise Cemetery. None of us believed we could come all the way to Paris and not see Jim Morrison. The cemetery doesn't look all that far on a map, but it took forever to get out there. We were all trying not to text each other (crazy international fees), so we were kind of hoping we'd just run into them somewhere, and strangely enough, we did. They'd been there about an hour already, and had already been up to Jim Morrison's grave. We consulted a map of the cemetery, picked a few places we'd like to see, and left Megan and Geoff to go exploring with mom.

Mom had read about this guy before we arrived, and we just randomly happened upon him. People come and rub him all over the place, for luck and/or to get pregnant. Either one. She had also read about a statue of a man climbing out of his grave and screaming or some such thing, but we had no luck finding it.

Jim Morrison <3

Thanks for the bulletholes.

 The place was sprawling and beautiful, especially because we had such nice weather. I never tired of looking at my phone and seeing this as my "current location" -

Everyone had bought tickets for the BatoBus, but I was very nearly at the end of my money and didn't want to buy a ticket just to get back to the hotel. We ended up on the metro with the intention of meeting at the Louvre. That was my only other goal for the day - in fact, had been my goal every day we'd been in Paris: I wanted to see the Mona Lisa. I had tried to get into the Louvre first thing every day we were there, and something always prevented it. I was also worried I'd end up getting distracted and spending the entire day in there (which seemed very likely, honestly). So we hopped off the metro at the Louvre stop and went to buy tickets - and they were no longer selling them. We had completely lost track of time and the museum was only open for another hour. I thought we could sneak in before heading to the airport the next day, but they were closed on Tuesdays. This whole ordeal took far more time than it should have, and by the time we got back up to the Louvre, everyone else had gotten bored waiting for us and gone exploring, then hopped back on the boat. I was feeling pretty disappointed, so we just kind of wandered around and sat out in the sun for a while, trying to shake off the grumpy feeling. People were laying out along the standing pools near the Louvre pyramids, the majority of them with their shoes off and their feet stuck in the cool water. We wandered back to the Seine for a while and just walked around, taking in the gorgeous sky.

We all met back at the hotel and everyone was starving. We walked out in search of a restaurant (any restaurant, really), and Megan and Geoff were super sweet and treated everybody. Afterwards, they headed back to the hotel and Noah and I decided to go explore along the Seine. The bridges were dotted with late night traffic lights and there were remnants of bridge picnics everywhere we went - people cleaning up their wine bottles and cheese and bread, everyone laughing and speaking beautifully in French. We sat across from the giant silver T-Rex and watched some giant creature surface from the water. He climbed up onto some floating planters and started eating vegetables. He looked to me like a ridiculously oversized rat (he was housecat sized), but apparently he was not - I looked him up back at the hotel, but have no recollection whatsoever of what he's called.

We went back to talk to everyone and make plans for the morning. We were leaving Paris early the next day, headed back to Dublin for the evening and catching a flight home on the 17th. How could I possibly be at the end of the trip already?? It felt as if I had been traveling for months, not just 3 weeks. My old life was miles and timezones and a lifetime away. It was bizarre to think in just a few short days I would have to go back to it.

To be continued

A handful of pics were stolen from my mom! Gracias, mamá!