Goodbye, Paris

1 day left! Tomorrow I’ll be up bright and early to take my 3 hour long final exam for grammar. Afterwards, I will enjoy good food and drink with my wonderful friends before departing Sunday morning.

For my final Paris blog post, I decided to make a short list of some things that I’ve learned during my stay. Here goes:

1) I will never be Parisian, no matter how well I speak French.

2) The metro stop Chatelet-Les Halles smells bad because of the mushrooms growing in the walls.

3) The French Paradox should not refer to the fact that French people can eat as much wine/cheese/butter as they want without gaining weight, but rather to the way they never sweat, yet smell always terrible.

4) The cheapest beer you can get in a bar is still 5 euro. Roughly $6.36.

5) Few things are funnier than watching Europeans play American football.

6) It’s possible (and not even problematic) to live life without a cell phone.

7) Purchasing a ticket to a club ahead of time does not guarantee entry into said club. Yelling, “Your Mom works at Monoprix!” on the way out further decreases your chances of entry.

8) You can buy a fine tasting bottle of wine for 3 euro.

9) Most frequently uttered phrase in this country (to me, at least): “Ehh…non, ce n’est pas possible.”

10) Riding the metro for four months will significantly improve your balance.

11) Gaydar in Europe is like Netflix and Pandora: It simply doesn’t work.

12) Military police: scary guns, silly hats.

13) An awful weekend can easily be fixed with wine, cheese and bread along the Seine.

14) Saying goodbye to the people you lived with for the past four months suck-suck-suckity-suck-sucks.

15) You don’t have to love Parisians, but you must love the city.

That’s all, folks! See you in a couple days, New York.

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Stereotypes: They Exist For A Reason

Disclaimer: The following observations are based upon my last four months studying here in Paris, as a young (not-too-obnoxious) American student. They are in no way scientific or quantitative, and if I quote numbers, I’m making them up. If my opinions appear biased, it’s because they are. Please keep in mind that I adore the city of Paris, and I jest because I love. With that having been said…

Stereotypes of the French

1. French people smell bad.

True. In the US, it’s accepted that most people shower and put on deodorant every day. In France, however, as my friend Jake has put it: you either “do or you don’t do” deodorant. I’ve found a large percentage (let’s say, 57%) do not “do” deodorant. I can forgive (to a certain extent) smelliness on the rush hour RER, because people are packed in like sardines with a smell to match. My real issue is the sheer number of individual people who will walk by on the street at any given time, leaving the scent of rotten animal carcass and body odor in their wake. The one thing that I will not miss about this country: people who smell as bad the cheese.

2. French people are rude.

I have found this to be both true and false. In traveling to other parts of France (Normandy, Brittany and southern France), I have found people to be much friendlier than in Paris. Parisians have an air of arrogance, as if your presence or absence in their store/restaurant/etc is of no matter to them. They close themselves off to people that they don’t know well, though I have found this to be true more with adults than with people my own age.

Most young adults that I’ve met have been friendly and open to conversation. If they want to speak English with me, it’s not an insult to my French but rather because they are excited to converse with a native speaker. Which is funny, because I’m usually anxious to practice my French on them.

3. French people think that Americans are loud and obnoxious.

True. Because compared to the French, Americans are louder and therefore come off as obnoxious. This was one of the first things that I noticed upon coming here. My friends and I would be having a conversation on the metro, and I would suddenly realize that we were being much louder than everyone else. No one really talks while riding public transportation here, so it made us stick out. We don’t notice it at home, because everyone is speaking at the same decibel. Here, though, it becomes much more noticeable.

4. The French make the best bread in the world.

I do not want or need to eat bread in any other country, ever again.

5. The French are fabulously fashionable.

I’ll put it to you this way: I was called out by a 70+ year-old man for wearing shorts and a flannel shirt to walk to the grocery store. All of my jeans were drying, so sue me! But seriously, don’t ever leave the house in sweatpants here. It is unacceptable.

In conclusion: They may smell terrible, but they definitely know how to bake a baguette.

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The End Is Near (dun dun dun)

My flight back to New York leaves 2 weeks from today, almost down to the minute.

What?!?

My time here in Paris has absolutely flown. The end really is near: my touristy to-do list is down to just three items (Les Catacombes, Les Invalides and Musée L’Orangerie), final exams begin this week, and it’s time to start thinking about places/things I want to revisit before I leave:

1) A warm, lazy day picnicking along the Seine

2) Luxembourg Gardens (which is where I eat lunch/walk through between classes just about every other day, anyway)

3) One last amazing French dinner (maybe try frogs’ legs??)

4) Baguette/cheese/wine night (probably my Last Supper on May 26th)

5) Spend lots and lots of time with my amazingly awesome friends

6) Continue to enjoy Parc Montsouris, located right across the street from my building

A tangent about Montsouris: This is where I go running most of the time, and what else do you do when you’re running besides listen to music? You judge other people, of course. Don’t get me wrong; the French population is super in shape and everyone runs. Undoubtedly they are, for the most part, in far better shape than I. But they wear the most bizarre outfit extremes- either it’s a fancy workout suit, or it’s khaki shorts and a polo. With a leather belt. I even saw a woman last week (in sunny, 60 degree weather) jogging in a scarf and parka. C’mon, guys: gym shorts and a tshirt. Don’t make it complicated.

Anyway, I’m still floored by how little time I have left here. In many ways, I’m ready to go back home. I miss the “fam jam” (qtd Brown), my boyfriend, my friends, and of course, my beloved Riley. Every dog that I see is starting to look more and more like him. I really hope he’ll forgive me for ditching him for four months.

Then again, Paris has become my home. For one, I’ve made many great friends. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time here nearly as much if they had not been here. I also can comfortably speak French now- do I still screw up? Yes, bien sûr. However, I can get what I need, hold a conversation, make small talk, and maybe even a few jokes (I’m still funnier in English though).

A couple more things before I sign off:

First, Happy Mother’s Day to my amazing mom! I’m sorry that I couldn’t spend the day with her, so a Skype date will have to suffice until I get home. Love and miss you, Mom!

Also- A big shout-out to my Malaysian readers. According to my WordPress blog stats, there are three of you. I appreciate it!

That’s all for now, folks- sorry if this post was a little all over the place, but I guess that mirrors how I’ve been feeling lately. Next up: French/American Mythbusting (hint: the stereotypes are mostly true).

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Berlin

Okey dokey, we have arrived: the last and final stop on the Tara-Hannah-Dan tour of Europe brings us to Berlin, Germany.

Berlin may have eeked past Budapest as my favorite city that we visited this trip. This is saying something 1) because I loved Budapest and 2) I was exhausted when we arrived in Berlin. I was growing a little weary from this trip, but Berlin had such a lively feel to it that it woke me up out of my daze. Our group of three had also grown to four, as we were joined by our good friend Jake.

We, once again, started off with a free walking tour. I will admit that I was completely against this, because my feet felt like they were exploding out of my shoes they were so swollen. Hannah and I already devised a plan to skip out on the second half of the tour, because we simply could. not. do. it. anymore.

And guess what? We stayed the entire time and then some. Rob, a charming Englishman, brought us through all of the main sites in Berlin with a great sense of humor. He was incredibly informative as he discussed the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall (duh) and Museum Island on our three and a half hour walk through the city.

That wall. In Berlin.

This is where it gets a slightly embarassing, but I make no apologies. We ended at a pub, in which the four of us sipped a beer and discussed what else we wanted to do that day. The boys asked Rob which museum he thought they should visit. Hannah and I asked him if he knew of any nearby nail salons.

Our feet were in pain! Don’t judge us.

The next day, Hannah, Jake and I decided to do another tour with Rob. This, though a decidedly less cheery one, was incredibly moving. We went to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp located a 30-minute train ride from Berlin. I could describe what it looked or felt like, but the truth is that would never do justice to the experience of visiting it. I was completely drained by the time we left, but I’m so glad that I went. It was something that I’ll never forget.

The next day, and our last one in Berlin, we did some city exploration of our own. My favorite part was the Tiergarten, a gorgeous, sprawling park/garden that provides great relief from the concrete jungle outside. We had a great day for it, too:

Tiergarten on a beautiful day

Strikin’ a pose in front of the Reichstag

I really wish I had had more time in Berlin to spend photographing and seeking out street art. To call it graffiti is a misnomer- these amazing murals take up entire sides of buildings, and they’re everywhere. I was able to take pictures of a few, though many were only visible while zooming by on the metro. The authenticity of the art and music scene is what really sealed my love for Berlin.

Captured while whizzing by on the metro

Euro, Euro Bills, y’all

Even telephone poles are inspirational here.

And so concludes our spring break adventures! What an incredible trip. Next up: my lists of what I still want to do in Paris, what I need to do one more time, and the first things I’m doing when I go home.

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Prague

I am slowing chugging through these spring break posts, as my workload as become remarkably heavier recently. Finals time is upon us, and with just three weeks to go, it’s crunch time. Which is weird, because I’ve basically been on vacation and have had next to no schoolwork the entire time that I’ve been here.

Anyway: Prague. The second to last stop on our tour, and the city in which I turned 22 years young. We arrived at the hostel a mere hour before the big event, and after getting settled in, I was promptly booted out of the room by my two amis (and our British roommate, a guy who lived next door and had locked himself out of his house for the night). I was called back in at midnight, and greeted with balloons and a birthday tiara. Needless to say, my birthday and our stay in Prague got off to a wonderful and festive start.

The next day, we headed over to Old Town Square for a free walking tour. Unfortunately, our guide didn’t quite live up to high bar set by Emma, our Hungarian tour guide. We bailed halfway through to do some exploring of our own. Crossing over the Charles Bridge, in which artisans sell their wares for very reasonable prices, we headed to the Castle District. And we climbed and climbed and climbed, until I’m relatively sure we reached the top but I was too tired to notice. Birthday Girl needed a snack, so we sampled a fried dough-esque ring that had been rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Delish!

While I enjoyed our wanderings through Prague, it really only felt like a more touristy version of Budapest. It was much more crowded and more expensive (though still not nearly to level of Paris). I had originally thought that two days might not be sufficient to see everything, but I feel like we made the most of it.

That night, Hannah, Dan and I went to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. I had a delicious pork tenderloin in a creamy chipotle sauce with a side of grilled veggies. It was the answer to my prayers after all of the heavy food we had had in Italy and Hungary, and absolutely perfect. This was followed by a trip to The Pub, a, uh, pub, in which you become the bartender. Each person has their own spout from which to pour beer, and a little touch screen keeps track of how much each person as poured and drank throughout the evening. At about 3 euro per liter, you couldn’t beat it.

The night was finished perfectly (and quite Parisian, might I add) with pastries (and more beer) back at the hostel. My wonderful friends even found two candles in the shape of a “2,” one for each pastry. Aw. They really did make it a great day.

The second day was also our last in Prague. I, in what I hope will warm the cockles of all my English professors’ hearts, made my pilgrimage to the Franz Kafka statue and (almost) to the cemetery where he’s buried. Okay, so I didn’t exactly make it inside. I’m sorry, I’m not paying admission into a graveyard. That’s messed up.

After lunch and a little rest at the hostel, we were on a bus to our last and final stop, Berlin!

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Budapest

The next stop on our spring break tour de force was Budapest. Why Budapest, you may ask? It’s true that I had heard great things about this city, and that it was one to hit if you were heading to Central/Eastern Europe. The real reason, though, was that I found a flight from Venice to Budapest for 4 euro. Done and done.

A funny note about that flight: It was supposed to take us an hour and a half to get there, and somehow we arrived in just 40 minutes. I have no idea what airstream we hit, but perhaps we should have taken a little bit more time. We arrived to find that they had, er, “misplaced” half of our plane’s luggage. Was it still in Venice? Maybe…they weren’t too sure. As all of us crowded around the Lost Luggage desk to fill out paperwork, we learned of Ryanair’s “lost-luggage-compensation-policy-or-lackthereof.” Luckily, in the midst of the chaos, a new stream of suitcases appeared on the conveyer belt. Phew.

The first thing we had to deal with upon entering Hungary was changing our currency. To give you an idea about how complicated this was, one US dollar equals about 216.50 Hungarian forints. We were rolling deep in hufs (as we affectionately dubbed them) once we hit the ATM.

I really enjoyed the ambiance of Budapest. We took a free walking tour with a great guide our first full day there, and she really got us excited to explore the city. Budapest itself is still in the process of rebuilding itself, as Hungary is a young democratic nation still trying to find its place in the world.

Everyone that we met was so friendly, and despite the dark history of their nation, had a great sense of humor. While describing the end of World War II, our tour guide asked us if we knew who had liberated Hungary. “Russia did, of course,” she said, “They liberated us for 42 years!”

We spent a lot of time wandering in Budapest, exploring both the Buda and Pest sides, which are separated by the Danube River. Among the sites we saw were the Castle District, Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Heroes’ Square, City Park and Vajdahunyad Castle (Try to say it. Your guess is as good as mine.)

Everything about Budapest was so vastly different from anywhere else that I’ve traveled- currency, language, food, etc. The language was not such a big deal, because nearly everyone we met spoke English (and usually a couple other languages as well). One person who did not speak English was the older woman working at the grocery store where I tried purchasing cold medicine. I acted out coughing and blowing my nose, hoping she would understand what I needed. Looking like she had had a lightbulb moment of understanding, she came around the counter and led me to the pharmacy aisle…oh wait. She led me to a bottle of Unicum, a Hungarian digestive liquor containing 22 supposedly medicinal herbs. At first I thought she didn’t understand, or it was that Hungarian sense of humor shining through once more. More I think about it, though, I think she understood me perfectly.

Enough of my ramblings. I’ll try to upload some pictures on here soon, though it has not been very cooperative lately. And there is still Prague and Berlin to go!

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Venice

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, pretty much summed up my sentiments about Venice in one sentence: “Venice is beautiful, but like a Bergman movie is beautiful; you can admire it, but you don’t really want to live in it.”

It’s true that Venice is one of the most beautiful, and unique, places that I’ve ever traveled. I’ve never seen anything like it: an entire city built on water just off the coast of Italy’s mainland. All transportation is either by boat or your own two feet. 

For a city in a state of permanent decay, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The water is much bluer than I expected, although as you move toward the smaller canals further into the city, it becomes less so. The buildings, all in various states of disrepair, make you feel as if you had been transported back a few centuries. 

There isn’t exactly much to do in Venice. We spent a day and a half there, which was the perfect amount of time to absorb the feel of the place. The big draw, I suppose, is the Basilica di San Marco, located in the aptly named Piazza San Marco. This is hands down the most touristy area, but the square itself is pretty impressive.

My favorite part of Venice, however, was getting lost in its winding streets and alleyways. And get lost, we did. It is nearly impossible to find the same way back to one place, because no streets are marked. And many streets are not really even streets- they’re more like little passageways barely wide enough to accommodate three people across. 

While it was a wonderful place to visit for a couple of days, and the beautiful sunny weather that we had was a nice break from the rain of Florence, I would not want to live there. I’d take the metro over a water taxi any day. 

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