Friday, December 14, 2012

Pour L'amour d'une Ville

Bonjour! Ça va?

J’adore la ville d’amour! J’adore Paris, avec tout mon cœur! And today I shall talk about my lovely trip à Paris with my lovely Alpha Phi sister, Mindy (from the Heidelberg program), her parents, and Adam! Her parents were visiting Europe over long weekend and the following week, and they invited Adam and I to join them in Paris the weekend of November 9-11.

First, let’s talk about how incredibly silly getting to and from Paris with a Eurail is. Knowing that we needed to reserve tickets back from Paris (Adam booked a flight to Paris on the evening of the 8th, so I had to book my own reservation for the 8th) on the 11th, and that other groups from the Lausanne program had had problems reserving train tickets with their Eurails when they reserved a week in advance, Adam and I went to the train station two weeks in advance to ensure that we would be able to get spots on one of the TGV trains back to Lausanne. However, at the station, we weren’t able to find a train back to Lausanne with open Eurail spots. Why? Well, we found out that because TGV is a privately owned company, they are able to limit the amount of Eurail reservations available per train to ten. So already two weeks in advance, all of the spots were filled. Instead of booking a nine-hour train back through Lyon or another city, we decided to figure it out in Paris, and hope that some spots would open (I’m not sure how they could have opened, but hey, we wanted to give it a shot! Oh, and the TGV train would only have taken four hours to get to Lausanne). I had also wanted to reserve a ticket to Paris on the 8th so that I could arrive around the same time as Adam, but those trains were also fully booked. Even the trains from Geneva to Paris were booked! So I had to settle for a 6:20 AM train on the 9th. Even though it wasn’t ideal, and even though I would arrive much later than I had wanted, at least I found a train with open spots!

Fast-forward to the 9th: I left the house for the gare with a group that was also going to Paris, and when I got on my train, I found another two girls from my program going! (I have an irrational fear of traveling alone – but only in Europe – so this was comforting, especially since they were sitting across the aisle from me, whew!) After watching the sun rise above the mountains and green fields through a hazy sky, I got to work on reading a 250-page book until I fell asleep (a rare feat for me!). About twenty minutes away from the city, I woke up and stared out the window at the green landscape until I arrived at the train station. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to meet my entourage until I saw them standing at the end of the platform, waiting for me. Like a scene from a movie, Mindy and I ran up to each other and gave each other a huge “hello” hug. It was pretty darn cute. I even got hugs from her parents! I got a nice “oh, Leigh we’ve already seen everything there is to see in Paris, you came a bit too late” sass from Adam. Always the sass master trying to thwart my own attempts at sassing. We figured that since we were at the train station, Adam and I might as well try to reserve seats back. When that didn’t work out without a nine- or ten-hour train back to Lausanne, we decided we would try the next day. We then left the gare and headed to our weekend apartment so I could drop off my stuff.

After settling in, we went to see the Eiffel Tower! What a sight for sore eyes! 

(La Tour Eiffel)

(My adopted family for the weekend!)

When I visited Paris with my parents, we didn’t go all the way to the top, but this time we did. Sadly, it was still hazy, so I couldn’t get an amazing view or photograph of the city, but that was fine by me; I was still on top of the Eiffel Tower. Possibly my favorite part of visiting the tower was the announcement on the second floor, warning that “pickpockets are active in the tower,” which I originally heard as “pickpockets are active in the town.” Silly French announcements! We then grabbed some lunch (a burger for me – I don’t know why I’ve become so enthralled by burgers…oh, wait! That’s because I can’t eat American food here!) and then took the metro to the Arc du Triomphe. Adam had to be back to the hotel by four to register for spring courses back in Malibu, so we went back early and rested until dinnertime. In the meantime, Mindy, Adam, and I talked and listened to music. Oh. And Mindy and I booked our tickets to the Mumford & Sons concert in Budapest in March!!! So stoked! We went out to dinner and got steak and champagne, which were both delicious, then walked back to our hotel and slept the night away.

We spent Saturday literally seeing everything touristy in Paris. First, we had to get breakfast, so we went to Starbucks. Then we stopped by the Gare de l’est, which Mindy’s mom called “Gary East” since she refused to speak French. We still couldn’t find any TGV spots back to Lausanne, so Mindy’s dad kindly paid for a regular train ticket, which I couldn’t thank him enough for (and which he didn’t need to do – we could have easily taken the nine-hour train home). From there, we visited Notre Dame, followed by Shakespeare & Co. Then we were looking for somewhere to eat lunch when I spotted the cute restaurant right next to the famous bookstore. It ended up being a delicious find! I got myself some duck with pistachio, followed by the most delicious cappuccino with vanilla chantilly (whipped cream).

All I can say is, when I go back to Paris, I am getting some of that duck and a cappuccino again! It was beyond delicious! Then we headed over to the Luxembourg Gardens, which I had visited with my family two years ago. Even though it was cloudy out, and the toy sailboats weren’t floating in the pond, it was still gorgeous – the flowers were still in bloom, and the leaves were stained yellow.

(Mindy, Adam, and me sitting by the main pond)

The Lewises thanked me for suggesting we visit the garden. Point two for Leigh! Of course we had to visit the second most touristy place after that: the Louvre. We didn’t spend too much time there – just an hour. But we were already tired from the day, and didn’t have quite enough energy to absorb the whole museum (even though it’s impossible to see the whole museum in a day – much less an hour). When we left, we tried to find Angelina, home of the best hot chocolate in the world. However, the line was so long that we decided it would be a better idea to go back to the hotel instead of wait in line. Once again, we relaxed and unwound after a busy day of sightseeing, and spent our time back at the hotel talking and laughing.

Then, we went out to dinner, where Mindy and I got burgers (judge us harder…because Mindy’s parents and Adam were judging hardcore. I even ate my burger like a real European and cut and ate it with a fork and knife!) and Bordeaux wine fit for Alpha Phis (silver and bordeaux are our sorority colors). Dinner was a riot! We talked about who I’m going to marry (oh dear…if you really want to know, ask me personally; I’m not going to post it on the world wide web), how “artsy” means “drunk” (I’m not sure how we arrived at this conclusion, but it does makes sense in a way), among many other subjects. And for dessert, I ordered the most delicious pistachio macaroon with raspberry sauce in the middle. I died. And I loved it so much that I declared that I wanted to lick my plate, but I didn’t think that was socially acceptable. But really. I would definitely go back to that restaurant just for the macaroon.

(Dying even just looking at it! - and it was bigger than it looks, with about a three-inch diameter!)

After a delicious and hilarious meal, we walked all the way to the Concorde (basically from the Arc du Triomphe) to see the Eiffel Tower shine. Like a true artist, I spent a good fifteen minutes taking “#artsy” shots of the tower and street and capturing video footage for a possible video of my travels. We returned to our hotel and slept.

(Getting #artsy)

Sunday morning, we woke up, got ready, and ate at Starbs again. Then we collected our backpacks and parted ways. Mindy and her parents had to be at the Gary East at eleven, and Adam didn’t have to be at the Gary Lion until one, so he and I went back to the Concorde to film a short video for our amazing media coordinator, Richelle! The basic premise was to take a piece of paper and write anything on it and pass it from the left side of the shot to the right; she would then compile all of the videos and make it look like everyone in our program was sending the sheet across the continent! Cool right? Yeah our media coordinator is the best! Adam’s said “#beekeepingismysecretpassion” and mine said “I am a cat lover, and I love to run!” since Mindy and I had been singing that all weekend, much to the dismay and annoyance of those around us (

(I'm going to make a cute cat lady someday! Actually, let's hope not. That said, this is probably a terrible thing to be posting on the internet...guys I'm a dog lover!)

Then, we headed to Gary Lion and left the gorgeous city of love. On the way home, I attempted to read Measuring the World, but that left me tired, so I instead listened to music and wrote in my travel journal!

Overall, I loved my trip to Paris, as well as Mindy’s family! It was so nice being able to finally meet her parents, especially since they’re so hilarious and easy to have conversations with. In my own words, “[Mindy’s] mom is like my dad the way she stuff says. Ah sang it! I mean dang it!” I am so glad I got to spend my weekend in Paris with such a fun group, and I look forward to my third time visiting – sometime in the future!

Au revoir! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Viva La Vida!

¡Buenos días!

One of the luxuries of the Lausanne program, in addition to our gorgeous homeland and our central location on the European continent, is our ability to travel every weekend we’re here (save for the weekend between our finals weeks and the first weekend of our orientation weeks), made possible by our three-day weekends (Friday through Sunday). While you’d think that this is a lot of time to travel and see Europe, it’s really not that long. Unless you leave on Thursday night after your last class and return late on Sunday (you can’t return after midnight on Sunday, or you get counted as absent in all of your Monday classes, and an absence on a Monday (or Thursday) counts as two instead of one), you will only really spend a day and a half in any given place. Since our main means of transportation is via train, our travel days can be extremely long, so that sometimes leaves only a day to see a city. However, every semester we get a long weekend, which is a five-day weekend extending from Wednesday until Sunday (again, you can leave after your last class on Tuesday if you wish). I spent this semester’s long weekend with my roommate, Alexa, and two other roommates, Hank and Jonathan, in Madrid, Spain. ¡Vamos!

The whole process of going to sleep and getting up in the morning was a bit stressful (a bit meaning really in this situation). The night before we left, I was busy working on a humanities paper I had due the following Tuesday, and had decided at around seven o’clock pm to change my topic. I was so stressed that I decided not to join in the fun of the house’s Halloween party (worst decision I’ve ever made…). On top of that, I hadn’t packed for my trip, printed my boarding pass or hostel reservation, or filled out the travel log, so I found myself packing in my room from midnight until 1:30 in the morning. After a measly hour and twenty minutes of sleep, my roommate woke up to take a shower. Being the light sleeper that I am, I stayed awake for the next half hour before it was my turn to hop in the shower. At four o’clock we rolled out for our 4:20 train with another group that was heading to the airport as well. About twenty minutes into our 40-minute train ride to the Geneva airport, my roommate started arguing with one of the boys. At that point I knew it was going to be an interesting trip.

We arrived at the airport, went through security with no problems, and got on our airplane. The instant our plane’s ignition was turned on, a terrifying sound resonated through the plane that sounded like a saw cutting through the body of the plane. I’m not the best flyer, so this sound set me on edge and set my heart on a racehorse’s pace. To be honest, I was quite convinced the plane was going to break down on the takeoff, but tried to calm myself. As you can all see, since I am able to write this today, the plane did not crash or blow up or get sawed in half. Which I am beyond thankful for. And about ten minutes into the flight, the horrifying sound stopped.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, we landed in Madrid! After exiting the plane, we made our way to the metro to find our hostel. After twenty minutes on our second metro train, Hank noticed that it looked like we were heading into the outskirts of the city, and that we were supposed to be staying in the old town of Madrid. He asked an older gentleman sitting across from us if we were heading in the right direction, and found out that we had passed our metro stop seven stops ago. So we had to disembark and go almost all the way back (we were supposed to get off at the second metro stop…oops!). At the metro station, Alexa asked the police where our hostel was in relation to the metro station. However, since she didn’t know much Spanish and since the policemen didn’t give the best instructions, we couldn’t find it, or the street it was on. That led to another hour of searching, lugging our luggage and asking person after person where the street we were looking for was. Finally we found it and checked in around eleven. However, we couldn’t go into our room until three, so we had to find something to do in the meantime, but they would hold our luggage for us. So we decided to get some tapas for lunch and to see the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real.

(Plaza Mayor)

(Alexa, Jonathan, and Hank in Plaza Mayor)

(Palacio Real)

The palace was stunning. We were able to go in (Alexa and I were smart and brought our student IDs, so we got a discounted entry price. Note: when in Europe, always take advantage of your student ID!) and walk around. Every single room was extensively decorated, and it reminded me a lot of Buckingham Palace. One thing I noticed about the palace was how many Chinese paintings there were. There was even an entire stateroom filled with Chinese paintings on the walls and ceiling. After seeing the palace, we stopped by the armory and marveled at the helmets with pictures of demons and intimidating beasts on them. Once we left, the line to get in was at least ten times as long as it was when we first came, so we were thankful that we had come early enough to beat the crowds. We then walked around the palace onto the street. 

There, we saw an interesting looking painted rooftop and Alexa, Hank, and I decided to look for it. Jonathan decided to stay at the small park next to the palace until we returned. Our scavenger hunt did not lead us to the building we were looking for, but we did encounter two different parks – one normal one and another one with Egyptian ruins that overlooked the city. We then continued searching, but couldn’t find the building. So we got some ice cream and returned to the palace, only to find the building and realize that we had passed it before. We gathered Jonathan and headed back to the hostel, stopping at a jewelry store to buy some turquoise bracelets. We got our room key, and settled in to our hostel room.

Keeping with Spanish tradition, we then took a two-hour siesta. Which was much needed. Afterwards, we went out to get our hands on some paella for dinner. We found a nice little restaurant that served it and stuffed our stomachs with the delicious Spanish plate. Because it was Halloween, our hostel was having a special event with its sister hostel nearby, with free sangria at our sister hostel followed by bar hopping. We decided to try it out, but 1. the sangria was cheap and disgusting (which should have been expected, since it was free), 2. we were just playing drinking games instead of actually being social and getting to know other people, and 3. I was far too tired and grumpy to go dancing with my companions, so I asked if we could just go back to the hostel and sleep. The boys agreed with my suggestion, and we decided to go back and rest since we’d had a long day. Alexa wasn’t too happy about our decision, but it was for the sanity and health of our group that we didn’t go out that night.

The next day we got up, got some breakfast from the tapas restaurant we’d eaten at the previous day, and went to the Prado Museum (I got in for free!). 

(Museo del Prado)

On the way there, we saw the most adorable beagle puppy, and Alexa and I went up to his owner, a friendly and cheerful little kid, and asked if we could pet his dog. We asked and found out that his name was Gumer. Gumer! So cute! Of course I got some pictures of him, and fixed my need to pet an adorable dog. 


Since I was writing my humanities paper on Venetian Renaissance paintings, the museum helped me develop my ideas and gain more knowledge on the subject. Plus, we got to see all of the famous paintings and painters, like Las Meninas and Goya, which I had learned about in high school, so that part was really exciting – I finally got to see the paintings and the museum that I had learned about in Spanish class since I was a measly middle school kid. We then took a break from museums and visited the botanical gardens next to the Prado, where we took pictures, looked at the beautiful scenery, and talked. 

After our jaunt through the gardens, we visited the Reina Sofia (I also got in for free – thank you Pepperdine ID), which was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. I had no idea it was filled with modern art, which I’m not a big fan of in the first place. We had only really gone to see Picasso’s Guernica, but since the boys had to pay full price, they wanted to check out as much of the museum as possible. So we did that. And then we encountered the floor filled with propaganda from South America in the 1970s. After being sufficiently depressed and freaked out by that, we encountered a separate exhibition, and a piece that took up three rooms. The first room had a white light projected by an empty slide projector onto a white screen and a chair in front of it. Every few seconds, the slide would change, still with white light shining on the screen. Though the lights were off in the room, lights from the room before it still illuminated the space. Then we moved onto the second room, which was pitch black except for a white light that was projected onto a white sphere. Over the speakers was an uncomfortable noise. The white light fluctuated with the pitch of the voice. It took me a while to figure out what the sound was until I realized that it sounded like a man being beaten to death. His screams filled my brain, and my heart picked up its pace. I then moved into the third room, which was pitch black and silent. I was freaked out more than words can express, and so I anxiously asked my companions if we could leave. They weren’t quite as freaked out as I was, but they agreed that we should leave.

After departing the museum, we got lunch at a restaurant affiliated with our hostel, and then walked back to our hostel to take another siesta when Jonathan and I remembered that we had seen these two-foot long pieces of candy that we wanted to buy. Hank decided to take his siesta and Jonathan, Alexa, and I went back to Plaza Mayor to buy some candy. Then, we went to Plaza del Sol (the plaza we had entered the previous morning from the metro station) and went browsing and shopping. We stopped at a jewelry store, Sephora, a soccer store, and a few clothing stores. 

(Plaza del Sol)

Alexa had wanted to go to Zara, but we couldn’t find it (I had asked someone in Sephora where it was – in Spanish – and she had told me the right directions, but I just didn’t realize that we had to go farther than we had in order to find it) until we were walking back to the hostel. Of course, we had to go in. There, I bought some heels and a sparkly blue dress, and Alexa bought a sweater. Happy with our purchases, we went back to the hostel. I got on my phone and had a spontaneous freshman year roommate, Ruth! It was such a great conversation, and even though I know I was supposed to be living it up in Madrid, it was great to talk to such a great and lovely friend!

We were supposed to go to a flamenco dance show that night at the other hostel, but when we got there, they informed us that the dancer had gotten in a car accident, so the show was canceled. To compensate for any inconveniences, they said we could go bar hopping with the hostels for free. So we went out and got a quick dinner and returned to the hostel in time to leave for the event. Overall, the venues were so fun, especially compared with a bar that Pepperdine students frequent back in Lausanne. Here, they had great dancing music, and the people from our hostel were really friendly and nice to talk to. I even got to talk to some locals in Spanish and practice my Spanish speaking skills, which I apparently haven’t lost, thank goodness! Basically the whole night was filled with dancing and talking to other hostel guests (who weren’t drinking much, or anything, and by default, I could actually have a good conversation with). One of the guys from our hostel was from France, and I also got to practice my French with him, which was encouraging, since I hadn’t really talked much in French outside of our French class, to be honest. After visiting four bars, we decided that we were tired out from dancing and the loud music and returned to the hostel at, yes, four in the morning.

The next day, we got up and went to Toledo on a day trip. I hadn’t realized how close the city was to Madrid, and it was nice being able to get out of the city and see some new scenery. Our driver dropped us off near a museum, and we essentially wandered around the city for a good six hours. There, we visited the cathedral, and pretty much every part of town. Sadly, we hadn’t done any research on the city before arriving, so we didn’t have an agenda. But we got a lot of walking in regardless, and got to see many cats! 

(ahahahaha silly cat!)

Even though it was a cool little city, there wasn’t anything extremely remarkable about it, except for the view of the countryside and the river. Our driver picked us up at four and we returned to Madrid for the rest of the evening. Again, we took a siesta and went out to dinner afterwards. Once more, we returned back to the hostel, packed, and went to sleep early.

Saturday morning our alarm had somehow not gone off, so we had to rush to get out of the hostel and to the airport on time to make our flight back to Geneva. We literally woke up and were out the door in fifteen minutes, running the whole way to the metro station. Since we were all upset about not waking up on time, tensions were high between all of us, which did not make the trip to the airport any fun. Alexa and I had to constantly remind the boys to stick with us instead of walking ahead of us. When we arrived at the airport, it turns out that we had a lot of time to spare, actually. So we grabbed some donuts from a shop and sat in the waiting area, where we ran into three other girls from our program, who had been in Barcelona for a few days, and had come down to Madrid for a day. We caught up on each others’ travels and boarded the plane. Sadly, my carry-on bag was slightly too big to be considered a carry-on by the airline, so I had to check it for a fee of fifty euros – not a happy thing for me to hear. But once we were back in Lausanne, I was so relieved to be home. So relieved. That’s when I realized that I was essentially done with traveling for the rest of the semester (well, save for my trip to Paris the following weekend). I was already so over traveling and just wanted to spend my weekends catching up on sleep and work, since I hadn’t done either in a long time.

All said and done, my trip to Madrid was great. I loved the city, and although I didn’t love the company, it was a good trip. I’m so glad I got to go and experience the culture I had spent seven years learning about in middle and high school.

¡Hasta luego!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Olive Oil Out the Wazoo!


Oh dear, it’s been almost an entire month since my last post…again…I think my new year’s resolution should be to keep on top of my blog (and travel journal) writing. Today I shall address the short trip that took me to Siena, Italy.

When I visited the de Planta family at the beginning of the semester, Mr. de Planta suggested that we go to Siena, Italy during the month of October. Why then? October is the month of olive harvesting, and when those olives are pressed to make olive oil. I am a huge fan of olive oil, so I had to get my hands on some of that. Plus, Siena is in Tuscany, so…how is that even a question? That said, I knew I had to visit Siena in October. So after our EFT to Normandy, Kyle and I planned a trip to the small town and recruited people to come with us. However, since we planned it in such little time, most of the people I recruited decided not to go. So Friday, October 19th, Kyle and I departed for the Lausanne train station at five in the morning, our bags filled with history reading and our notes from our classes (midterms started the next week, so the trip wasn’t too great of an idea, but I think my excitement about getting some authentic Tuscan olive oil overshadowed the reality of midterm exams).

Our first train ride was somewhat of a fiasco. I stayed awake to read the 300-page book we had due in American History the following Tuesday (not complaining, but our professor never referenced it in class other than our short, 30-minute discussion of the painfully boring book on the Filipino War) while Kyle passed out in his seat with his hood over his face to block the artificial light of the train. 

(sleepy Kyle)

The ride was lovely until we reached Italy (except for when I was hastily penciling in the date on my Eurail Pass and the ticket man told me to have the date filled in before the ticket man came on the train in Italy, since they would be harsh on me and take the whole pass away from me, despite the fact that I hadn’t used all of my ten days yet. Thankfully he let it slide, but I was a bit overwhelmed by this information). Then once we entered Italy, the police came. Oy vei! First, they came and took Kyle’s hood off and shook him awake (quite roughly). I didn’t realize they were police, and when they said something in Italian, I thought they wanted my ticket, so I got my seat reservation and Eurail out. When I presented it to them they looked at me angrily and said “passaporte” and rolled their eyes at me and started laughing at me. So I presented my passport, offended that they would be so rude (yes, I do know that I am a “dumb American,” but hey you can’t expect me to know Italian!). Literally two minutes later, another pair of police came to ask for our passports. This time we had a much better interaction, but they still seemed to be angry. Then, another two minutes later, another pair of police came to check our passports. I was so confused! If they already had two pairs of police come through the car, why would they need another one? Why would they need more than one, anyway?

We arrived in Milan a few hours later, and had an hour to kill before our next train to Firenze (Florence), so we walked around the city just a tad and spent a little too much time in the Sephora at the train station. 

(The view of the train station)
(The view of the street from the train station)

Then we were Florence-bound! We hadn’t reserved seats for the journey home, but since the Italians seemed to be sticklers of having a reserved seat, we decided it would be best that we played it safe and ensured that we wouldn’t get a fine for not reserving seats. So we stood in line for about half an hour to reserve seats. Our next feat was to find the bus station that would have the bus to take us to Florence. After about thirty minutes of looking and asking around, we finally found it, and departed on the next bus! One hour later, we were in Siena! (Tangent: my favorite part of the trip up to that point was when we were driving through Firenze and an old man ran up to the bus stop we were stopping at next, thinking that we were on the bus he needed to take. But when he realized it was not his bus, he started laughing. His laughter filled me with joy and made me smile like a Nordstrom model, as Kyle would say). When we arrived in Siena, the bus crossed a bridge that overlooked a valley filled with olive trees and Tuscan-looking houses. I just about died. It was so gorgeous! And was better than I had imagined it would be!

Finding our hotel was also a challenge. Apparently we had to go to a restaurant to check in since it was owned by the same people who owned the restaurant. We searched for about twenty minutes before asking a man in another restaurant where we should go. Finally, we found it and were given our key. After settling in and resting for a little bit, we decided to peruse the shops along the street we were staying on. Since the city is so small, there are hardly any cars, save for the occasional police car. So walking around wasn’t hard, except for all the people out too. After a few hours of walking along the street and checking out the shops (they had a shop filled with Pink Panther purses and computer cases!!!!!), we noticed a pathway into a huge square, and came upon the Siena clock tower. The buildings around the square were arranged in a semicircle, and were comprised of restaurant after restaurant. So we decided to eat there! And since we were in Italy, we had to get pizza. Which was amazing. And of course we had to get some Italian red wine. Which was also amazing. But really. My mind was blown by how amazing the food was (and it was cheaper than in Switzerland! It’s always a relief when a pizza doesn’t cost CHF 25, which is about $28). 


(delicious pizza!)

And I was also amazed by how warm it was – I was sitting outside at 8 PM with a skirt and short-sleeved shirt on in the middle of October. You can’t even do that in New Mexico, for goodness sake! In addition to good food, I had quite good company. Kyle and I had a great conversation and ate our dinner as the Europeans would: nice and slow with a lot of conversation in between. When we were done with dinner, we meandered back to the hotel and fell asleep quite easily after a long travel day.

We slept in the next day, and explored the city even more. At lunch, I bought a piece of rosemary bread so I could make my dad envious. We saw the Duomo of Siena, which was gorgeous! Then we decided that we needed some gelato. Kyle’s friend told him of a gelato shop in Siena called Kopa Kabana that he had to try, but when he had looked it up on Google, it gave him three different addresses. So we ventured onto an unpopulated side street and decided that we would get gelato at the next gelato place we passed. Literally one minute later, we saw Kopa Kabana and literally screamed with delight that we had found it! We each got our two scoops and went back onto the street, excited that we had found the shop! Kyle noticed that I had gotten more than I did, and was confused, but I wasn’t. I explained to him that we were in Italy, and that I was a girl. That’s all that was to it. So he lived on in envy as I ate my excess of delicious gelato.

(rosemary bread!)


We continued along the street and yours truly was in an artsy mood, so we took a while to stop and take picture after picture on the streets. Then we heard drums, so we went to see what was going on. We came upon a pair of young boys dressed up in medieval-looking garb doing a flagging dance, with another young boy playing the drum and an instructor. 

(flagging dance)

(the view of the valley)

We watched a few minutes, then crossed the street to walk through a small park, which overlooked the valley of olive trees and another courtyard with a flagging dance, which we watched as we finished our gelato. Once the dance and our gelato were finished, we started to make our way back to the bus station. I had wanted to buy some Siena olive oil, but sadly didn’t find any until we were almost at the station. I bought myself a beautiful bottle, and we left the city.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. Well. Almost. When we got on our train to Milan, Kyle and I went to our reserved seats only to find an older couple sitting in them. We explained that we had reserved the seats, but the man said that he and his wife had tickets for the seats. Since we didn’t want to kick the couple out of their seats, because the train was almost completely full, and because they were older than us, we let them keep their seats (confused as to why we had to pay for seats we couldn’t even sit in since they were somehow double booked) and instead sat in the space between the cars. Half an hour later, we walked back to see if any seats were open (we had made a stop or two), and when we saw no adjacent seats open, we decided to go back to our gangway seats. However, the man who we had talked to before asked two men across the aisle from him if they could both move next to the window so Kyle and I could sit in the seats, so we moved to the more comfortable seats for the remainder of the journey to Milan. Our train to Lausanne presented no such difficulties, and we returned home and went to sleep early again to make up for an exhausting travel day.

Things I learned:

-The Italians are so outgoing and nice
-My brain doesn’t switch between languages easily – I was constantly saying mercioui, bonjourje voudrais, and s’il vous plaît when speaking to the Italians, and didn’t start saying sí until I got back to Lausanne (fail). Thankfully, they were gracious and helped me out and understood me
-Pizza really is good in Italy
-Italians are much stricter than the Swiss on the trains
-Italian policemen still scare me!!!
-I love Tuscany
-Long train rides + reading Benevolent Assimilation = no fun (actually I learned this with Leo Africanus when I went to Cannes, but this book was much worse since it wasn’t fiction)
-The cappuccinos at the café across the street from the Firenze train station are cheap and really yummy
-When you have a book due the week of midterms, study for midterms instead of forgetting about them

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Many, Many Norman Cows!


Oh my goodness. It’s been a whole month since the last time I posted! Whoops…it’s been so hectic and stressful here, and I’ve honestly forgotten about catching you up with my travels! I’ll try to address each week/weekend within the next few days, but in multiple accounts.

Normandy EFT:

After only being in the Lausanne house for ten hours, I had to get up early Monday morning (October 8th) to leave with “Group 1” for the Geneva airport (the program was split in half – Group 1 got the luck of leaving early and having to wait for Group 2 for a few hours in the Paris airport). The bus ride to Geneva, along with the flight to Paris, was uneventful, seeing as pretty much everyone else was asleep. Once Group 2 arrived in Paris, we were given about twenty extra minutes to get food, and took off for Caen. That evening, we settled into our hotel (in which our rooms were like little apartments, which fit four people – two pairs of roommates), and went out for a group dinner. Because I was exhausted from going to Oktoberfest, I went back to the hotel and slept.

Tuesday we took off in the rain for the beaches. We stopped first at the World War II and D-day Museum, which was a lot to take in. A lot of the images really hit home, so that kind of made me a bit emotional. Then we drove a little bit along the beaches and ate lunch at a cute beachside restaurant, and spent our two hours almost exclusively in the restaurant talking to the three other people at my table: Nathan, Erin, and Kyle. Then, we headed out to take pictures and meander across the beach. After our lunch break came to an end, we went to the American cemetery near Omaha Beach. My emotions ran wild. Sure, I’ve been to big cemeteries like the Arlington National Cemetery in D.C., but it’s never hit home like this before. I realized that these fallen soldiers did not only fight for our country’s freedom, but also for the world’s freedom. Wow. The world’s freedon. And thinking about this made me disappointed and embarrassed that I never learned about D-day in middle or high school. The sheer weight of this realization, along with the numerous gravestones, names of unfound soldiers engraved on walls, and the rainy day brought me down. On top of that, we were all given a rose to put on a gravestone of our choice. I found (with Kyle’s help) the gravestone of a New Mexican soldier who had died in the war, and placed my rose next to Rito F. Arellano’s grave. This was the last straw, and I broke out into tears, just thinking about how honored his family should be, that their son, brother, or husband fought for such a worthwhile cause and gave up his life so others could. It was a bittersweet feeling, since I was so grateful for his service, but also sad for his family.

We then visited Omaha Beach, and got to walk on the sand that thousands of brave soldiers walked on coming out of the sea before heading back to Caen. I grabbed dinner with about eight other girls, and then went back to sleep. Overall, it was a contemplative and emotional day. But I was glad that I got to realize just how momentous D-day was.

The next day we went to Mont Saint-Michel, which was pretty awesome! We stopped for lunch just outside the city, and the meal was the most delicious food ever, and the butter we had was prime, and made from the milk of Norman cows, which we learned from our tour guide, were colored with three different colors in splotches all over their bodies. Anyways, lunch was fantastic, and I would go back to Normandy if even for an hour just so I could eat at that restaurant again…sorry I’m not sorry. We then went to the city and were given a tour by our respective tour guides (each group had its own bus, and its own tour guide as well) of the city and the monastery. After that was done, we were given a few hours to walk through the city, during which Kyle and I got crepes and sat on top of the walls overlooking the mainland and the city. Once our break was over, we went to a different city and moved into a different hotel. As with the previous night, we all separated for dinner. And like the previous two nights, I returned directly to the hotel to go to sleep early.

(Mont Saint-Michel)

Thursday we didn’t really do much. We took our buses over to Honfleur, and were given two hours to explore before lunch, during which I walked with Nathan and Kyle around town and looked at shops before going to a park (I also bought a Pink Panther music box! WIN!). Lunch that day was great – I got to eat across the table from our director’s son, Tristan, who was such a delight to fool around with. I laughed more during that period of an hour and a half than I had laughed since probably the past Saturday. So it was a good day. After lunch, they gave us another hour and a half to explore the city before moving on to the next city and hotel. This time I walked with Celeste, Corinne, Jordan, Alex, Ryan, and Dan to a candy store. But when Corinne and I went to the bathroom, we got separated from our group. So we just explored the city a bit and ended up back at the buses at the denoted time. From there, we got to the next city around three in the afternoon and were allowed to go explore. Unfortunately, we were staying in the sketch part of town, so we had to take the metro to the nicer part of town. The group that I was with was being picky about food, and were also upset that none of the restaurants were open. It was 5:30, and in Europe, restaurants close between meals, so they probably weren’t going to open till 6 at the earliest, I explained. Nobody wanted to wait, so we went back to the mall near our hotel in hopes of finding food. All we could find was Chinese food and a Subway, so…we ended up eating at a McDonald’s nearby. Correction: everyone but me ended up eating McDonald’s. So that admittedly put me in a bad mood, and I returned to the hotel as soon as I could and just relaxed until bedtime.

Friday was our departure day. But before we left France, we went to Monet’s garden and house. Of the two hours we spent there, I spent a good hour and forty-five minutes taking pictures of the flowers and lily pond with Tristan (his nickname is T) and Kyle, and only fifteen in the house itself. But the flowers, combined with the gorgeous magic hour light of the morning, made for some great pictures! And T gave me a few flowers, so that was pretty awesome, too (we’re BFFs, just in case that isn’t apparent)! After a quick lunch, we got a group picture and went back to the Paris airport and flew back to Geneva. Since we didn’t want to wait for Group 2 to get to Geneva, Kyle, Richelle, and I went back on the train, which was a great idea, since the group didn’t get back for at least two hours after we did, and I had complete access to the Ethernet cords. Which never happens. Because of this, I got to Skype one of my best friends, Susan!

All in all, it was a great week. Some things, like our tour guide with her hilariously and sometimes obnoxiously high voice (saying “There are many, many Norman cows in this region,” or “There were many, many soldiers who fought here” – “many, many” many, many times), were kind of frustrating, especially since we were all sick with something, whether the twenty-four-hour flu or just really terrible colds. But our EFT was a great experience! And I’d have to say my favorite parts were when JJ (one of our RAs) was imitating our tour guide’s high-pitched voice. It was hilarious! But really. And my other favorite part was when Richelle (who’s our media coordinator) bought a small stuffed seal and started taking pictures of it on top of people who were sleeping in the bus. At one point, I tried to get one of her while she was dozing off, but she woke up just as I got it!

Well. That was Normandy. This account of my past month shall be continued…

À bientôt!