Friday, December 24, 2010

Quite An Eggsperience

Upon descending le tour’s archaic elevators, I proceeded to walk across the Parc Du Champ de Mars, past the countless autumn leaves that spoke amongst themselves in many inexplicable tongues of color, and looked back to the Eiffel Tower as though the experience of reaching the top had yet to happen. It was all so surreal and beautiful. A fantastic aspect of travel is upon visiting a place that is particularly memorable or impactful, one can almost travel there, back to those same places within the heart, mind and soul. Almost. While the unique sounds and extraordinary sights can only be fully experienced when physically present, the mere remnant of that is significant enough to last until I can create more recollections to add to my mental memoir on the next adventure... I can still faintly hear that familiar accordion playing those old tunes echoing throughout the Paris Metro.

I then proceeded down L’Avenue de La Motte Piquet and across several busy streets to a corner café where my girlfriend at the time and I decided to stop for some lunch. Now something I learned on this day was that French food has l’œufs, or eggs, in… well just about everything. This doesn’t trouble me a bit, as I am a fan; however my ex-girlfriend is really quite allergic. So basically everything on the menu turned out to, quite literally, be a recipe for disaster. Of all the experiences I had attempting to speak French, I would say I had the most difficulty in restaurants and patisseries. Perhaps more vocabulary would have been useful. Be prepared for understanding terminology for those environments! But I digress. After asking if what we had ordered contained eggs, and the waiter promptly replied “non”, he randomly reappeared minutes later with the biggest egg you’ve ever seen sunny side up smiling at us from the plate. I apologized for the mistake and although he said our applicable plates had no eggs, soon after we departed (and left a rather large tip), I soon found myself travelling with a nauseous wreck. Had it not been for the fact that I was fascinated from exploring Paris, I probably would have felt much worse about the situation, especially seeing as how each picture I took had a shot of her about to throw up over every bridge and landmark along the river Seine.

As we passed l’Hotel des Invalides, the captivating gold dome reflecting the light of the sky, and with my feet shuffling through the fallen leaves, I truly felt I was in an entirely new world. We turned down Boulevard des Invalides and walked past the Museé Rodin, which was incredible to simply know what lay within it’s walls. Rodin’s most famous work, with which people most often associate him, was his sculpture “The Thinker”. It was actually originally to be part of a very large contract for an art museum entitled “Hell’s Gates” that was never completed. The site of the Museé can be found here:

Traversing Esplanade des Invalides, the view of Paris is one of the most interesting. The Eiffel Tower can be seen above nearby apartments, the expansive Assemblée Nationale building and l’Hotel des Invalides is directly to the left, and across the river can be seen les Grands et Petit Palais. I kid you not, had I not gone inside myself, I would say the front gates to Le Petit Palais could possibly be a portal into heaven. See for yourself! Inside was an art exhibit (likely a cover to disguise the real portal), and after taking a good look we then carried on down the famous Av. des Champs Elysees towards La Jardin du Luxembourg and Museé Louvre. And this, dear readers, is where I must leave you for now. Until next time!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A View From The Top

Je suis vraiment desole, je ne parle pas français tres bien, mais..." (followed with random vocabulary words in French) was the phrase I used most while exploring Paris. And you know what? It worked rather well. It means, "I'm sorry, I don't speak French very well but...", and I found that as I made an honest effort to communicate in the language of that particular country, almost everyone was willing to help me or kindly make sympathetic attempts at friendly conversation. Which really, who could ask for much more?

For some reason, many Americans assume the French are extremely rude and dislike any form of interaction involving them. I suppose I can imagine if one goes to France, acting like a tourist rather than a traveller, and expects everyone to speak English and automatically conform to customs and habits one has picked up in their own country, the ensuing encounters could be a bit unpleasant. Living in Southern California, it would best be compared to an individual of Mexican descent approaching you and rattling off their concerns in Spanish, expecting you to communicate effectively with him or her and becoming irritated you cannot. Make sense? I hope so.

Moving on! As the morning began, and the sounds of Parisian activity rose from the street outside my window, I quickly set out on the path that was planned out the previous evening before I reluctantly went to bed. Of course the true art of travel is diverting from one's plans, so I wasn't counting on sticking to it. Walking to the nearest Metro station, I breathed a sigh of satisfaction from merely being in Europe on my own time, with such a feeling of detachment from all I left behind in the States. That is one of the many sacred characteristics of travel: the ability to completely escape all you’ve known as ordinary and replace it with what others know- their culture, their world. There is something spiritual in nature about becoming immersed in a different culture; a sort of connection with people that cannot be attained by sitting at home or in your hometown all of your life. Not to say that is the incorrect thing to do, but it is something you will never experience unless you get out into the world and be a part of others’ lives and let them become a part of yours. Seeing things from a completely new perspective in that way is something that the cost of a plane ticket and hotel can never cover; it truly is priceless. I think at some point or another a part of each of us has thought of how incredible it would be to drop everything and take a plane out of one’s own world and into a totally new one. Dropping everything and leaving, just walking right out the door and boarding a plane. Of course apart from being a fugitive, that could be a very good thing. Perhaps one could ask themselves why they “can’t do that” and look for solutions to remedy the problem?

Anyroad, I left the Metro once it arrived at L’av des Champs-Élysées, and proceeded above ground to L’Arc de Triomphe, which turned out to be quite a bit larger than I had previously anticipated it would be. It was also a great deal more epic a sight to behold, with an immense French flag waving amidst the four pillars of the infamous landmark. After walking around it for a time and seeing The Tomb of the Unkown Soldier, I proceeded down L’av Kléber to the Palais de Chaillot. Now, this was one of the most incredible sights of the entire trip. Not the Palais itself, but in fact what I saw once crossing the open plaza to survey the city. I had seen bits and pieces of Le Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower for you English speaking folk) between the beautiful buildings along the avenues, but when you walk into plain view of all that Paris has to offer, your breath can’t help but escape you.
The amount of sky when in harmony with the environment of the low level buildings, and contrasted by the tower against it all is something pictures really cannot capture in depth, both physically and mentally. It really took a while to soak it all up (that’s me in the center of the picture there), but once I recovered and got back on my feet, I walked across the bridge, or Pont d’léna, to the tower and purchased tickets to the very top. It was about €14, but the price was actually much higher than those Euros to get to the top. I never thought the words “this is a nightmare” would come out of my mouth when on the Eiffel Tower, but there was the absolute coldest, highest-speed wind I’ve ever experienced bombarding all of us when moving up the three levels of the tower, I just couldn’t help it… so make sure you dress warmly for the occasion. A young child was crying and trying to hide it was that bad! But keep in mind, it was well worth it to see what there is to see from the top. It seems for many things in life, the price you pay to get to the top turns out to be nothing for what you really get in results and rewards of finally reaching it.

The interior of the tower itself can best be described by the following: A small, rambunctious young lad was running around and misbehaving when he suddenly runs to a support beam and yells loudly, “Ces’t comme le chocolat! NOMNOMNOM!” All of which basically means, “It looks like chocolate!” shortly followed by the charming sounds of the boy pretending to eat the Eiffel Tower. I suppose it was the brown paint covering the metal, but either way it apparently looked delicious. The structure really was a remarkable sight and the views it offered were spectacular. The best view of the rest of Paris is where I will leave you for now, but needless to say, the day held much, much more

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Paris, je t'aime (Pt. 1)

Ah oui, the charming sounds of an accordion playing in the distance. The birds flutter past ze Eiffel Tower in unison and there are artists (emphasis on the “i”) painting amongst the many parks. Ah, Paris. You can pretty much bet that any and all thoughts you may have about how spectacular Paris is will be blown away and far surpassed. While I only spent two days in Paris, it was not nearly enough time in the city to fully get all I could out of the experience. Don’t get me wrong now; I definitely was out seeing all I could practically nonstop. So buckle down and prepare for the rapid unfolding of events!

My travel partner and I began the journey by taking a Eurostar train from London’s Kind’s Cross/St. Pancras Train Station to the Gare du Nord Station in Paris, France. And no, unfortunately I did not take platform 9 ¾. I am convinced the Chunnel is the easiest way to get from London to Paris, being affordable and much less of a hassle than airlines. The trip went smoothly and I had the great pleasure of being in the car with a host of drunk Irishmen who were on the way to Paris for a big football match. To give you an idea of the crew, upon nearing the station in France, one merrily shouted in regards to the Eiffel Tower, “It’s just a big f---ing pylon!”. Charming.

First tip on visiting a foreign country: Go with a map in hand of where you will be. This seems like common sense to most people, me included, however I was talked into purchasing one at the train station when I arrived at the Gare du Nord station. Bad idea. There was so much happening upon arriving, I soon found myself distracted by patrolling French military carrying FAMAS assault rifles and trying to read signs in French. Fortunately, I had been taking French that semester and it paid off to no end. My travel partner and I soon found ourselves on the boulevard looking at public maps in an attempt to find our hostel, the Montmartre Clignancourt Hotel. We eventually found it after asking for directions in French a couple times. This place worked out fantastically. It was extremely affordable (about forty American dollars a night) and I scored a room on the third floor above a quiet Parisian street. Well quiet aside from rioting Algerians; but I’ll get to that later. It even had a view of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica lit up in the evening over the neighboring rooftops. Speaking of rooftops, one of the best things about Paris was the open feel to it. There was just so much sky! The buildings in the main circle of the old city are not allowed to be over a certain number of stories. The one building they let go beyond the limit was a complete eyesore and an obvious mistake. I personally think they should demolish Le Tour Montparnasse, but that’s not up to me.

Anyroad, the first night I arrived at the hostel, I was not about to just stay there, even if it was late into the night. I soon came to find that Paris is alive and active well into the early morning and actually on into the following day. As I walked the many streets (or “rues”), I found that every neighborhood or street appeared to have its own café in a way, at which the residents of said establishments would spend time together on into all hours of the night. I decided to check out the nearby Sacré-Coeur Basilica and ran into numerous charming streets and market squares.

I also got a chance to see the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret after walking past the Café des deux Moulins (from “Amelie”).

This was an interesting point because a group of Irish football fanatics were literally stopping traffic and jumping on everything they could find in celebration of beating the French and moving a step closer to the World Cup. I managed to leave by the time the local police finally gained the courage to begin breaking it up.

As the night wore on into the early morning, I made my way back to the hostel and made preparations for the next day. I decided I would catch the metro to L'Arc de Triomphe and head from there to the rest of the areas I wanted to hit. I knew the day ahead was going to involve a lot of walking, and could not have been more excited for the things I would soon see and experience. And with that, I bid Paris bonsoir.

Monday, January 25, 2010

London Calling

Ladies and gents, I'll be frank. While I have not forgotten anything about Europe, there remain things I will have to leave out in order to keep to the main points. I went to London for two reasons. I wanted a good ‘ol fashioned European vacation since I had never been to the continent before, and I wanted to visit someone I was in a relationship with at the time. Since things have changed since then, I will do my best to recall only the relevant information.

was an incredible beginning to the trip! I had never been so happy to see a beautiful, rainy landscape before my plane descended through the clouds over London. I have been on a plane many times before, but this particular decent was spectacular. It was difficult to comprehend I was finally in Europe even as the pure green pastures quickly turned into the busy streets of London below me. I even made an audible, nonsensical noise of excitement when I saw the vehicles on the lanes of the road reverse to those of the Unites States.

The transit from Heathrow Airport to my hostel was an easy one. If you have to stay in a hostel, I recommend St. Christopher’s Village near downtown London. Of course, I didn’t spend a ton of time there because I greatly took advantage of exploring the city. That first night I went out on the town and instead of eating traditional English food, went for an Italian ristorante near Trafalgar Square. Don’t scold me just yet, I got my fill of fish and chips, bubble, beer and all that jazz! The days at this point all kind of blend because it has unfortunately been a while since the trip. I know I was in London for five and a half straight days, went to Paris for two, and returned for another three days.

Those eight days in London were incredibly memorable. Museums, plazas, cathedrals, landmarks and pubs, you name it; I saw it. Public transportation was amazing, and it was easy to get from one place to another by use of the Underground or the classic red double-decker buses. If and when you go to London, make sure you bring an umbrella. You will need it. It rained a good majority of the time, and while some entire days were rainy, many times it was only the mornings that were overcast. Even when sunny, it was quite cold in November, and I had to buy a scarf before walking along the Thames River. My pea coat helped in unimaginable ways between the material and collar. Oh, and how could I forget about CCTV? Basically the government had cameras everywhere. Like Big Brother. In one case, I even witnessed two rather large men crammed in a Smart Car sitting on a side street for hours with a CCTV camera attached to the top. Strange to say the least.

There really is a lot to see from the Thames, and while I did not spend a lot of time alongside it, most places of significance I visited had a clear view of the river. The Houses of Parliament (Big Ben and all) was an amazing sight at night, with the London Eye directly across the Thames. The London Eye is similar to a large Ferris wheel with large capsules in which people can move freely and take pictures. It was difficult to get clear shots with a camera at night, so try to figure out your settings before excursions. Big Ben was a lot smaller than I thought it actually was, but I suppose you could blame “The Great Mouse Detective” on making it seem gigantic. The architecture was amazing, and the detail that went into even the most basic surfaces of the towers and walls is clearly visible. Buckingham Palace was no exception and was quite a sight to stumble upon coming out of Green Park (I know, such an original name). The skyline of London was filled with cranes and construction rigs because the city seemed to be growing constantly. It was also interesting to see the many types of bridges across the Thames as well, including London Bridge, Millennium Bridge and the famous Tower Bridge.

Now I am very interested in art, and if you are too you can relate to this next bit quite well. Coming out of the London National Gallery, I felt as though my mind and soul had expanded exponentially every few minutes I was inside. Full of original Van Gogh’s and Monet’s among Flemish era paintings and Renaissance portraits from around Europe was awesome in the true meaning of the word. As astounding as that was, I was literally speechless when it came to St. Paul’s Cathedral. I feel confident in saying St. Paul’s was my favorite sight in London. It looks amazing from the outside, towering above the neighboring buildings and lit up by night. But the inside is just mind-numbing. I took no pictures because it is something you just have to see for yourself. The dome is surprisingly high and I wondered to myself how the artists actually did work on the seemingly impossible places to reach. Traversing the steps to the very top is a chore (you may actually die, there are so many), but the view is so worth it. Here is a view from one of the outer levels.

Before I left on the trip, someone had told me that food in England is virtually none and they serve you nothing but cucumber sandwiches and tea at every meal. I was pretty sure those in the UK were human and needed food just as much as anyone, so that idea was out. Sure enough, I was able to partake of many kinds of food including, but not limited to, pasta and white wine, pork burgers with mustard that will clear your sinuses, fish and chips with a pint of Guinness, two pound meal deals, and a traditional English breakfast. Yes, I was serious about the mustard, that stuff will rid you of sinus problems forever it’s so spicy. Two pound meal deals are the way to go if on a tight budget. Two pounds you get a sandwich (or pasta), chips and drink of your choice- available at most grocers. The English breakfast was a far shot from cucumber sandwiches and consisted of [inhale] eggs, mushrooms, a couple cooked tomoatoes, four pieces of toast, beans (for the toast), a sausage or two, bacon if ordered, and bubble, which consists of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, corn and other vegetables mashed up and cooked like hash browns [deep breath]. As you can see by the picture to the right, some items in the market were not particularly appealing. Not repulsive enough to make me skip the pork sandwich though. I also had the opportunity to try some seasonal ale at a pub: Doomsbar and Broadside. The former was delicious while the latter was a little too much to handle on the tongue. There are so many options when it comes to food and dessert if you go to a market. I had the most delicious steak burger EVER at the local market by the hostel. The markets at Brick Lane also have a lot of food, candies and cool clothes if you’re in the shopping/walking aimlessly mood. You’re bound to run into something or someone interesting.

Speaking of interesting people, I’m going to be completely honest in my observations here, okay? I know people say the British are, for the most part, some of the most unattractive bunch you’ll ever cross paths with. And well, it’s … mostly true. I’m sorry, I mean everyone has a different taste I suppose, but really attractive people must have been very few and really far between. However, they all had amazing style. They will completely blow you away when it comes to style, I don’t care if you’re Tim Gunn. Well, maybe not, but you take the most nerdy, most underdressed clown in London and compare him or her to the best dressed American and you still may have a hard time calling it even. Stylish though they were, most people in London seemed closed off and rather cold to interaction. It’s almost as if most people had business to attend to, and didn’t want you to be any part of it. That mostly was apparent on public transportation and other areas by the financial districts. But I guarantee you, if you go for a good time, you will find it. The nightlife seemed pretty active and most cafes and landmark areas seemed friendly as well. I will undoubtedly be making a trip back there, and have added surrounding areas to the list of must-go places. I am definitely going to be planning trips to Ireland, Scotland, and other cities in the United Kingdom over the next couple years. I’m actually already thinking about Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day 2011, so if that sounds like something you may want to take part in, contact me!

In the meantime, feel free to discuss London further with me, as I’m sure I didn’t cover all the ground in this post like I did while actually there. Feel free to check out more pictures at Coming soon will be more on the beautiful city of Paris, so stick around and be amused! If you are not amused, suck it up and go there yourself! You’ll have a great time, trust me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

These Days

Well a lot has happened recently. Potentially upsetting but mostly exciting things.
I do believe things happen for a reason, and although my recent plans seemed to have been cut away, I am left at present with immense potential for progress and improvement in many areas. While much of this, I imagine, will be realized upon stumbling upon it, I have a lot to begin work on immediately. This is what excites me.
It is the many daily decisions, both easy to do and yet so easy not to do, that make a huge difference when compounded over time. It is what in the end makes us or breaks us. A decision to read certain things over others, to exercise or watch TV, to eat healthily or unhealthily, to lie or be honest, the list goes on. But these build one's character and ultimately one's destiny, leading me to examine where I really want to be in the future. Who I want to be. It's decisions; little adjustments on the way to the goals. Keeping it simple and being consistent seem to be the most helpful factors through the decisions.
What I have learned is I will indeed face adversity. We all will and do on a semi-regular basis. Adversity that challenges our belief in ourselves and what we truly desire. There are forces that oppose even the grandest dreams imaginable. President John Adams once said, "People are forged in the fires of adversity." A friend recently pointed out to me that the quote should insert the word "successful" at the beginning. He was right. So many are not willing to face opposition to their beliefs and dreams and run at even the slightest smell of smoke, much less the heat of the fire. But you look at anyone in history who overcame, who fought, who went through hell and back, and you will find a person who left a legacy because they accomplished what they dreamed possible for themselves or for others. Isn't what you desire worth fighting for?! Don't listen to "them", listen to you.
I'll catch up Europe soon, so stay tuned. I suppose it's taken me this long partially because it just feels like so much to attempt to convey! Until next time.