09 December 2010

Conversations with my host father or why I am glad I have less than 2 weeks living with these people

I like this picture because it has Hungarian on it, but also because it pretty much sums up France

(this was actually written the day I after got back from hungry- I’m super behind)…
Tonight’s dinner, the first after a week and a half of freedom from awkward dinner conversation, was as annoying as it promised to be. YAY.
            Unlike the last two meals I ate with them, during which not a single question was directed towards me, they decided they would ask me some questions. (translated, except when I didn’t have to)
HF: Did you speak French much on your trip
Me: No, not much.
HF: Probably not at all.
Me.: *considers*
HF: strong stuffy accented English Not … at … all
            So, I’m annoyed, but I let it go because I think my host father is a bit of a show off and likes to show off his “amazing” English vocab once and a while. Everyone knows that “pas de tout” is nothing at all like “not at all” except that it is an EXACT translation of the two common words plus a preposition.
HF: Did you see the Berlin wall?
Me: *finishes chewing-*
HF: SSAE wall
So now I’m fairly annoyed, but I answer the question. I tell them I visited the East Side Gallery and tell them about it. My host father then informs me that they saw it on television in suh a superior way that I had to suppress a laugh. They saw it on TV- how dare I suggest that going there is cool? You can’t make this stuff up.
The meal continues.
HF: Did you know there was just an election in California?
Me: Err- DUH (more literally: “Bien sur” (of course))
HF: You know, not for president, but for other things.
Me: NO WAY! (“oui”)
HF: Really? Because there is more than one kind of election in the US.
Me: Oh, never mind! It’s not as if I’m the American here. Clearly you know the way my country works better than I do. (“Yes, I know. That’s how it works.”)
HF: They voted on the legalization of marijuana.
Me: yeah, I know.
HF: It didn’t pass
Me: …
This is not the first time, and probably won’t be the last that they have asked me questions that imply that they think Americans, or possibly just me in particular to be completely moronic. Others include “Did you know in America that North Korea is basically a closed state” and after a completely biased report on the French news about people in America who have lost everything because of the economy: “Did you know this happens in America?”
Me: *face palm*
(I have now officially posted everything I've written so far, I guess this means I have to go home and type some more :) )

Are you hungry? No, but I’m IN Hungary! And other adventures.

At the airport, Lisa and I found the saddest panda in the world, and then we played Every Word (given letters you have to find “every word”, particularly the longest word) on my kindle.
We arrived in Budapest without event and found our hostel, “The Goat Hostel”, located in a nondescript building. We buzzed up.
Me: This is a pretty nifty windy stair case.
Lisa: Your FACE is a nifty windy staircase
Me: HEY!
Lisa: Would you rather your face was a boring staircase?
Me: I suppose you have a point there
Hostel keeper at the top of the stairs: …
Then we went off in quest for food.
To our glee, everything in hungry is pretty cheap because of the 260 Forints: 1 euro exchange rate. We were so excited that we ordered food until our meal cost about 9 euros each anyway. I had chicken wrapped in bacon with broccoli and corn, a fairly strange crepe (that they called a pancake on the menu) filled with cottage cheese and apples, and a strawberry colada. Lisa had spaghetti noodles, a fruit tart, and a cocktail of some kind. Then we did math for fun. Conversion math. It was surprisingly entertaining.
Food + cocktails + math = fun
Don’t you love math?
Then we wandered around a bit and met up with Tristan and his girlfriend, Reka. And together we went to a Scotland themed bar, and then a bar in which you can get 10 beers for the equivalent of $10 (this seems extra amazing if you have only ever been to a bar in a country in which one beer costs 6 euro). They were not large beers, probably more like half pints, but still.
Then we walked around with plans of seeing the pretty things, but it turned out they were no longer lit. So we went home, it was around 2:30.
The next morning we had plans to meet Reka and Tristan at the Museum of Terror at around 11.   On the way, we walked by a billion “Antiqukonivm” (used book stores), in one of which I bought Harry Potter és a Bölcsek Köve. Which brings me glee despite the fact that I can’t really read very much of it/ any of it.
In the end we ended up splitting with Tristan and Reka, as they had some specific things they wanted to see, and we wanted to see the main things because we only had one day. We went to this gigantic park and saw some really beautiful things:

And I found my favorite bridge in all the world.
And we explored to the sound of “native American” music which was slightly confusing.
I climbed in a fountain in order to put my teddy bear in it.

Then we wandered aimlessly and saw a girl riding a pony through the awesome Hungarian park and we were extremely jealous. 

We became peckish (word just automatically corrected this to be “puckish”. What does that word even mean?!)  and tried to wander out of the park to somewhere that might have food. Tristan called us and asked us if we wanted to meet for Mexican food. Did we ever?!
It took us about 45 minutes to get there as we had walked quite far away, but the quesadilla was totally worth it.
After that, I had to convert more money and Lisa discovered that her money had mysteriously multiplied- I was jealous.
Then we headed over to Buda Castle. On our way we stopped for coffee because we were pretty tired (or at least I was). We had been walking/ standing for basically 6 hours, so when we reached the hill we took the tramy (/funicular) thing to the top for 800 Ft = $4 each. It was totally worth it.
We admired the most beautiful, epic parliament in the world. FACT not opinion. 
I am a bad photographer

That’s when viola man attacked.
VM: *is suspiciously eager* I take picture for you.
Us: Err, no thank you.
VM: Here, I take camera and take picture of you.
Us: No, thanks
VM: It be very nice. Pretty view. Largest parliament in the world.
Us: No, we’re good. Thanks
VM: Okay, you hold my viola and I take funny picture. *shoves viola at us*
Us: No, thank you
VM: It will be really funny!
Us: NO, I think we are okay.
VM: AMERICAN IDIOTE. *undecipherable yelling* You don’t even know what No, thank you means!
Us: *OMG, we made crazy man angry*
VM: *walks away to find next victim*
It took us like 15 minutes to recover.
Everything was beautiful. We admired and talked of wubbles and got more coffee.
Then we tried to get over to the hill to see “the sky worshipper.” We asked some threatening looking police officers. Unfortunately, their directions required us to walk through a gate in front of which stood scary viola man. DUN DUN DUN.
We waited for Viola man to be distracted by harassing others, and we ran for it. Seriously.
The directions turned out not to go where we wanted to go. So we walked down the hill via the sketchy path.
Once we reached the bottom, we sat on a wall above the street and talked. Every once in a while the cars would slow down as if they expected us to jump down.
Eventually, our feet stopped actively hating us and we walked to the other hill and climbed the badly lit path in the dark. As we got closer to the top, I tried to remember the four steps of self defense on the off chance we got attacked.
Step 1: Figure out what’s going on/ get in fighting stance
Step 2: Blow smoke, ie distract attacker by making loud noises or causing physical injury.
Step 3: get out
Step 4: run away/ prepare for a second attack
Only I couldn’t remember all of them then, so we probably would have been screwed if we had been attacked. *solemn nod*
Really my experience in Budapest can be summed up in one word: beautiful.
We walked down a different badly lit path with aching feet and empty stomachs. So we found a restraint in which to spend some time. We settled on an Italian place, and Lisa had pizza while I ordered of the Hungarian menu – ordering a meal of paprika chicken with dumplings. I was a little nervous because my whole life I’d thought I hated dumplings based on a vague early childhood memory. It’s weird how you can live by decisions you made more than a decade ago and NEVER question them. I liked the dumplings.
By this time it was getting late, and we were both exhausted (or at least I was). In one day we had managed to see all the main sites of Budapest. My flight left at 6 am the next morning, and my taxi was coming at around 2 am. Therefore, I had vaguely planed on staying up all night to enjoy the city and the company. Additionally we had vague plans of meeting up with Tristan and Reka again.
In the meantime, Lisa and I went back to the hostel and played Every Word on my kindle (by this time, we were getting pretty decent).
We decided that we wouldn’t meet up, after all. The commute was kind of ridiculous, and AWAY from the airport for them. So at 11:30, I decided to give up the staying up all night plan.
Lisa and I said a tearful goodbye and an eager desire for it to be time to go to Istanbul together. And then I went to sleep for a meager 2 hours.
At the airport my suitcase was completely unpacked by the security guy. I kept thinking he would stop, but then he’d keep going. I stood there and thought “Seriously?  You better repack that” – he didn’t.
So I know what you are thinking- you’re on your flight now in this story, how could possibly have more to say You have no idea.
So you know how leg room is a problem on REGULAR airlines? Try flying budget. Furthermore, try flying budget with a total douche canoe sitting in front of you. I think we have established that by this time I was VERY TIRED, therefore I was attempting to sleep on my tray table. Even at the beginning of the flight, it was necessary to lie sort of diagonally – unfortunately this guy was determined to make it WORSE. Every ten minutes or so he would recline his chair MORE to my significant displeasure. The more he leaned back, the more diagonally I had to lie which resulted in me falling off the tray every time I fell asleep. By the end, folding over had become completely impossible and I had added another person to my list of people I will murder if all else fails and decide to pursue the rewarding career of serial killer.
Then we arrived in England. As we got off our plane they had all male persons show their passport and walked by a military person with a scary looking gun. Then we had to go through passport control which had the longest line I have waited in at an airport on these trips by FAR. Luckily, in this case, being a non-EU member worked to our advantage, and we got to cut everyone. MU HA HA.
Then we had to walk back into the airport to check in, which was annoying. Only when we got there the guy was like: “Dude, here in England we tots don’t even pretend that we don’t do racial profiling. You are both white Americans, you didn’t have to come here to show your passports.” Only he sounded more british.
We pooled our money (my pounds and euros, and Tristan’s euros) and got starbucks for breakfast.
On our next flight, we once again had lamesauce people in front of us. This time they were climbing on the seat and leering out the window (I’m not sure if it is actually possible to “leer out a window,” but that is the best way to describe this guy’s behavior). They were both in their thirties, AT LEAST, and were the type of people you’d expect to see sleeping at the train station.
This is unlikely to mean anything to anyone else, but this hilarious conversation ensued:
Tristan: You know how there are supposedly less than 6 degrees of separation between every person. There are way less than 6 degrees of separation between these people and Nix.
Me: I bet they slept at the train station with someone who is friends with Nix.
Laugh, it would be hilarious if you knew what we were talking about.
Much to my immense displeasure the zombies (my host family- I occasionally use this term, thanks to some wonderful advice from Devyn). Didn’t go on their Sunday excursion because of the rain L . And I had to wait for 30 minutes for my “short-cut” bus, because it was Sunday.
And it basically hasn’t stopped raining.

30 November 2010

OMG BURITOS- or in which I visit Berlin

I was starving to death when I wrote this, that probably explains the title of this post and the amount of times it mentions food.
I left my Edinburgh hostel four hours or so before my flight, mostly because I didn’t want to leave and then come back, because that just seemed silly. Because I am an addict, I made my first order of business returning to the Starbucks I had visited the day before for peppermint mocha, num num. (side bar: something is making a weird clicking noise, and it’s very distracting). The nifty thing about this Edinburgh Starbucks is the pricing. At the one I went to in Paris (there are none in Bordeaux :( ), the pricing is redonc. That is, if a tall peppermint mocha costs like $4 in the us, than it costs 4 euro there. Which is totally stupid because 4 euro is like $5.80. At this one Edinburgh, the price was more like 2.40 pounds which is something like $4. (side bar: word grammar is really irritating. I SPEAK ENGLISH BETTER THAN YOU COMPUTER.)
Anyway, then I failed at finding my bus stop a lot, and had a ten minute conversation with this Scottish man. And by conversation, I mean he talked a lot and I could only understand like 10% of the things he said, and so I mostly just made agreement sounds based on tone. “OH NO!”, “Really?!”, “Wow!”.  It’s important to be enthusiastic, lest the other person realize you don’t have the slightest idea what they’re saying despite the fact that you both supposedly speak the same language fluently. Occasionally, he would ask a question that seemed like it might require an actual response, in which case I would have to say “what?” at least 5 times before getting the gist of the question. Finally, I escaped his clutches, found my bus, and paid 2 pounds to ride it the airport (remember this for comparison with the NEXT time I take an airport bus).
Then some general travelly stuff happened. And I ate a prepackaged panini that they heated up for me, which was surprisingly good for being overpriced prepackaged food. OMG I’M STARVING. Then I sat on the plane for a bit and had Ryan Air try to sell me stuff to make up for the fact that I only paid like 15 euro for a ticket, and then I landed and Ryan Air played their unbelievably corny “we arrive on time!” sound effect. YAY, budget airlines.
I exchanged my remaining pounds for euros on my way out of the airport, and I’m pretty sure that I got totally ripped off.
Then I met Lisa, bought a tram pass of some girl for a 6 euro reduction, and then went places.
She showed me her university, and this nifty memorial for all the books that were burned in its library, and most importantly DOLORES. Dolores is amazing. Dolores is my hero. Dolores is a California style burrito place that serves burritos that taste like they are supposed to- like joy in a tortilla. And I had a burrito which was amazing. AMAZING.
I also met Lisa’s roommate, who is very nice, but who had a minor medical emergency that was completely harmless except that it resulted in her having a very unpleasant evening at the hospital, which wasn’t completely harmless.
Lisa and I went back to her apartment which is on the fifth floor and has no elevator, and I dropped off my stuff.
Then guess where we went…McDo. And we had mcflurries which were cheaper than the French ones, but also less amazing. Then we watched some Dr. Who, because it’s awesome.
The next day after Lisa got back from class she took me to Kreutz burger which has authentic curly fries which they serve with not so authentic mysterious white substance that is possibly sour cream, and then she took me on a tour of parks in her neighborhood. Starting with this one which is in a graveyard:

(you know what Microsoft Word? Your FACE is a fragment. And no, I’m not going to capitalize you- just to SPITE you.)
In other news, it is possible that typing snarky notes to a computer program may be a first sign of insanity.
Anyway, it’s most definitely fair to say that German parks pwn American ones, and that American parents need to chill out on the whole “OMG THIS WILL KILL MY CHILD” thing and realize how amazing these contraptions are.
Then we went back to the apartment, after a quick stop at the grocery store. Then we did some stuff, I think. And then we made pizza, actually mostly Lisa made pizza, and I sat around and laughed at her. I am GOOD friend who performs irreplaceable moral support activities.
The pizza was fantastic though. OMG, starving.
The next day, Lisa didn’t have class, so I she took me to see all the Berlin touristy things:
Straddling the Berlin wall, or where it was at least
For being a bunch of rectangular blocks the Holocaust memorial was surprisingly effective and moving.
The bunker in which Hitler killed himself was located under this parking lot. You wouldn't know...

This is the space ship of love = representing America it pretty much sums up the Global Stone project (which has a stone thing for each of the 5 continents 5 because German people are apparently unaware that there are actually 7). The male viewer is supposed to use his imagination a specific date to connect these rocks with their sister rocks in their continent of origin, thereby envisioning peace. OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT ...)
Then we ate amazing burritos at Dolores before going home for a nap (because it was cold and rainy and we were tired) after which “we would do more stuff”. (I want a burrito, SO BAD.) Only we didn’t actually do stuff because we were lazy and sleepy. Unless by *stuff* you mean watch Dr.Who, make yummy hamburgers, and invent mixed drinks (The Friendly Chipmunk: 1 part red orange vodka, 1 part Orangina).
The day we ate one final time at Dolores, and I attended a class with Lisa. I slept through most of it. Also, I drew an ALOT of German Confusion.
Then we did some more touristy things in the rain:
Check point Charlie
Giant ball of stuff (supposedly representing that which an immigrant brings and wishes to bring). The truth according to Lisa, Kathy, and Delilah is that it was originally designed for Toon Town but was rejected because, WTF?
pretty nifty art on the longest stretch of the Berlin wall that remains

Fantastic quesadillas were had for dinner. Our plane left 2pm the next day, so we left the apartment at 10 ish, and stopped for bagels. I got a coffee. And a “california bagel” which was like a Chinese chicken salad in a bagel, because that’s what they do in California, OBVIOUSLY. It was pretty tasty though.
Word objects to the “like” in the last sentence. Please stop being prejudiced against my California dialect, Word.
For more pictures go here

Guess what’s fantastic… Money

Because of my early bedtime and the falling back I was awake at 7 and out of bed by 7:45 and out of the hostel before 9.
The early morning was crisp, quiet, and beautiful. I hiked up to the Scottish memorial to admire the view and the strange structures there. It turns out that this project, built during the 1820s to honor victims of the Napoleonic Wars, is considered to be folly because it appears that the over ambitious project was never completed because of budget problems.
The view from up there was gorgeous and the early morning lighting was perfect.
Then I came down and stumbled upon this really awesome Giraffe sculpture. I really liked the poem encircling them and how the little giraffe gazes at the larger.
I took a picture for a couple and they took one for me in return. Then the woman asked to take a picture with me. So I did….
Then I did some shopping and bought some of the least intelligent things to buy when you are travelling light and 4 plane rides left before home, 7 if you count the ones to return to San Diego. But I’ve wanted galoshes for forever and I’m all about practical souvenirs. And also that tea shop was filled with AWESOME and inexpensive.
This is one of the best purchases I've ever made. It started raining as soon as I got back to Bordeaux and it basically hasn't stopped

I would like you take a moment to ponder if I would go to Edinburgh without visiting “the birthplace of Harry Potter”… if you guessed “no”, you win.
Also, they didn’t give me any napkins. How am I supposed to rags to riches without napkins on which to write my first novel? If I never make it big, I will always hold you responsible, Elephant House.
Then I went to Edinburgh Castle and admired it and the view from outside, because I wasn’t about to pay 13 pounds to go in.
Then I walked down the hill, vaguely searching for the soldier’s dog cemetery I had heard about. But I didn’t ever find it.
Instead I found this graveyard in which the inventor of logarithms is supposedly buried. I couldn’t find his tomb stone. I can only assume this is because they were lying to me.
Then I made an awesome, yet somewhat offensive discovery:
This is a sculpture of Buddy, the beloved vagabond dog of San Diego. He was a gift from San Diego, as Edinburgh also has a beloved vagabond dog. I am offended because no one told me
For more pictures go here

17 November 2010

Pretty okay for a disaster

As far as non-life threatening travel tragedies go, I’m pretty sure losing your credit cards when you’re alone in a country that you don’t have any currency for yet ranks as among the worst. I discovered my cards were missing when I went to take them out to stick them in the ATM to get myself some pounds. It was midnight in Edinburgh, that is, one am Bordeaux time, and I had gotten up at 6:30 am in order to jump through the last visa getting hoop. In a moment I saw all the times I had unzipped my wallet since leaving Bordeaux- more than 5 times at least. And I had no idea at point they had disappeared.
And that was the beginning of what proved to be a very long early morning.
I left the airport at nearly 1:20 am on a night bus I couldn’t afford to pay for. I had explained my situation to the bus driver and told him my stop. Forty-five minutes later as everything started to get less city like I began to suspect I had missed my stop, and sure enough 5 minutes later we arrived at the terminus. The bus driver got off, had a smoke, clearly saw that I was still on the bus, and got back on. I thought surely this time he would tell me my stop (because a person with an American accent who was picked up at the airport, and who rode the whole bus line without getting off probably doesn’t know where to get off the bus since the announcement are turned off).
And so I watched everything go by in the opposite direction. At a stop next to a sign saying “Princes Mall” I wondered if this was my stop (“princes st”) but I wasn’t sure and I really thought he would tell me. I can’t explain why I didn’t get up and ask just that on a night that went on a scale from “cold, miserable, and tired” to “furiously happy” I was much closer to the first at this time.
We left the city again, and I started to regret intensely not getting off the bus, I didn’t even care if it might have been the wrong stop. I felt bus sick and wished that I had not left Bordeaux. We arrived at the airport. The bus driver asked me if I was going to get off, I said no and that I didn’t know which stop was mine. He said okay, he hadn’t known that and that he would be back in 10. I waited and we left the airport. When we got to town I decided I would ask him, lest I end up at the other terminus again. A large group of people got on the bus, and then I asked him before he pulled away. He said, “this is Princes St” and I was like, “Thanks for nothing!” only not out loud and got off the bus into the freezing cold.
It was windy and past 3:30 am. My google directions told me to walk “east” on Princes St. which was absolutely useless to me at this hour in a city I had never been to before. I choose a direction that turned out to be west, which I discovered when I turned around and saw a bridge (I was looking for “north bridge”). After that I found the hostel without much difficulty. On my way there, a homeless woman asked me if I could spare any change, but like her I was penceless. The hostel, thankfully, didn’t turn me away. Although the guy was kind of a jerk- I was like: “Brrr, it’s cold” because it was and my feet were wet and literally numb. And he said in a you-stupid-tourist tone “Yeah, it get’s like that in Scotland”. I actually really regret being so nice about this comment.
I woke up at 9 the next morning and was unable to sleep. I hoped I would be able to obtain money soon because I was starving. A couple hours later, after talking to a woman at the American Express office multiple times, attempting many calls with both my cellphone and also a payphone (none of which actually went through ) (do you have to pay to make toll free calls?) , and writing an email or two, I gave up my quest for money temporarily and adopted a furiously happy attitude, and decided to do my best to enjoy Scotland despite my hunger and exhaustion.
I made a kitty friend:

Eventually I ended up in a park, and I swung on a swing and wondered why it is that adults give up this enjoyable pastime. Then I played doggy stalker and took a nap on a park bench because I was pretending to be a homeless person.
I spent some time window shopping and by the time I was finished I had a list of things I would buy if I had money with me, and of things I would buy if I was rich. It appears that I have a Scottish sense of style because the stores were filled with awesome things.

I headed back towards my hostel, but I got a bit turned about. I don’t want to say “lost”, let’s say “exploring”
A cow is running into a building, weird

I finally got back to the hostel, where I hung out for like 10 minutes when my parents called me. Then I spent the next threeish hours waiting for the money to arrive.
Then at 6ish, edinburgh time, a full 24 hours after I had eaten last, I feasted. I had amazing butternut squash and coconut soup and a not really amazing burger and it was fantastic.
I obtained shampoo (the jerky French security people threw mine away because it was “too big”) that was also “too big” but it still made it out of Scotland and Germany.  Then I showered and sent some emails and I went to sleep at 9 Edinburgh time.
And that was day one in Edinburgh. It sounds kind of awful, but it actually wasn’t THAT bad. 

21 October 2010

Once upon a time, I went to St. Emilion

Last Saturday (/a really long time ago, like 3 weeksish), I got to pretend that I’m one of the poor souls who lives 40 minutes away from the university, and got up at the awful early hour of 7 am. But unlike them, I did this to go to the train station, which I suppose beats going to the DEFLE. Because of this, for the first time since moving here, I ate breakfast with my host family, kind of. Honestly, I was beginning to suspect that they ate breakfast in the middle of the night, because all evidence of their breakfast eating (except two cold pieces of toast) has vanished by the time I go upstairs, no matter when I get up. My train left at “10ish” and the train station is about 1hr away by tram, and I hadn’t bought my ticket, and needed to go to an atm. Everything went smoothly, including a perfect of amount of time to get money from the atm before the next tram at my transfer, except it turned out that the train didn’t leave until 10:40, which isn’t really the same as “10ish”. I would blame Tristan for this, but really it’s my fault for always relying on him to know when things are. Also, he showed up way too early too, so I wasn’t waiting alone. At 10:40 all six of us were sitting on the train, and 45 minutes later we arrived in St. Emilion.
We started off the trip by eating at creperie, that had a beautiful patio that over looked the bottom part of St. Emilion. I had a crepe with jambon et fromage, and a delicious dessert crepe with mint chocolate filling, whipped cream, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.
St. Emilion, like most places around here, is famous for its wine production, but it is also home to the largest monolithic (For those of you who don’t speak Latin or know random architectural terms, monolithic means “one stone” or something like that- that is, this church is carved out of the mountain) church in Europe. St. Emilion supposedly was capable of healing people and performing other miracles, and it was his fame that led him to go to St. Emilion, where he hoped to live a more quiet life. He was buried in the catacombs at St. Emilion and rich people paid to be buried close to him. During the war between the protestants and catholics, however, his remains were thrown into a river. The catacombs at this church were reserved for those who were “pure” that is those who had never lived (still born babies), those who were important members of the church, and those who were rich enough. The church itself was dug out from the top down; it is believed to be modeled after monolithic churches that its builder saw during the crusades. Drainage pipes were dug underneath the church to prevent structural instability due to wet soil. These pipes worked fantastically until they were destroyed when rich people wanted to be buried right underneath the church. Over the years the water seeped into the stone, and today the churches pillars are held together by metal clamps, while scientists work on a way to restore the strength of the stone. Once a year they hold mass in this church, and this actually took place the weekend before we visited.
The last paragraph was brought to you by the 4 euro I paid to tour St. Emilion’s cave, the catacombs, and the church. These historical sites are privately owned, and therefore they cannot be toured independently. I don’t have any pictures of this, because the private owners are selfish jerks who want to be able to make as much money off of this stuff by selling pictures of it, or something like that. (rereading this post it comes off as very anti- wealthy people, huh…)
monolithic churches are more impressive from the inside
Later we visited a winery, and the caves in which they age their wine underneath it. The most fascinating part of this visit was the amazing silence of the caverns. If you were in one of the far corners and no one was walking around you the air was completely still – perfect silence. The winery offered free wine tasting, but they told us to come back in an hour, most of this time we spent at these ruins:

We sat on the wall surrounding the vineyard, and set a camera on self timer across the street in order to get a picture of all of us:

I haven’t fallen off the planet or anything, it’s just that my computer broke, so actually I take that back- I’ve been off planet.

The good news is that I have successfully resurrected my computer to thanks to the guy at FNAC who didn’t speak english, my handy new portable hard drive SHINEY, and the handy system restore function. There isn’t any bad news, except that I haven’t been writing any posts, but you knew that already, so it’s not really “news” per see.
Mostly I haven’t really done anything though, except Lisa and I went to Paris which was AWESOME, and then she visited me which was AWESOME. Basically it was an amazingly FANTASTICALLY awesome week. I’m working on a post about Paris, but don’t get your hopes or anything because the jury’s still out on whether or not it sucks. I also might write a post about Lisa visiting, or making fun of French bureaucracy, or French strikes, or how they FINALLY gave me my appointment time to get my carte de sejour a mere 11 hours before I leave the country for more than a week (I’m going to Edinburgh, BERLIN, and Budapest) and how about a week before I got this letter the program advisors were all “what do you mean you can’t leave the country yet? You can go to any shenegan country!” and we were all “that is TOTALLY not what you said before *you mean we’ve been prisoners in france for a month and half because you gave us misinformation*” (basically I just told you all of that story *check*), anyway the possibilities are pretty much endless now that my computer is alive again, yay!

30 September 2010

It turns out Bordeaux is really famous for wine: the title of this post has almost nothing to do with it, in keeping with the random

It’s probably going to take me five times longer to type this because my fingers have been corrupted by a week of only using French keyboards – that’s right folks, I haven’t used the internet on my computer for over a week- I know this for certain because my antivirus is throwing a hissy fit: “OH NO! I HAVEN’T UPDATED MY DEFINITIONS FOR OVER A WEEK”, antivirus can be quite the drama queen.
This is an example of my favorite kind of french books- the kind of french books intended to teach english to french people, more specifically those purporting to teach them how to speak "like an english speaker". These books are always hilarious, whether they're right about what english speakers would say, or not. This one is particularly awesome in that it claims, not to teach one english, but to make one's boss THINK one speaks english. I would have bought it if it hadn't been 12 euro. Or if I had remembered to bring 8 euro with me before leaving to go to E.Leclerc (=supermaket), where I found this book and where I was planing on purchasing body wash and fach wash (this actually worked out, just barely)
Anyway, last week was pretty uneventful: I went to a bunch of DEFLE (have I explained DEFLE here yet? DEFLE = the department of French for foreign non-french speakers) classes that I’m not actually going to end up taking (maybe), I ate like 4 McFlurrys (French McFlurrys, like most “mac do” (pronounced “mac doe”) fare, are different than American McFlurrys – basically they are soft serve with a candy topping and “nappage” (which is like chocolate syrup or caramel, you actually have to pay extra for this, but it’s totally worth it :) ), I developed a habit of over using smilies and lol because of incessant texting, I read three books (they were short, okay!), and I started making a habit of going out at night (mostly this involved a lot of sitting at this monument and talking).
"this monument"

The weekend the before that, I spent my time being a cultured bordelaise because it was the weekend of Patrimoine, which is the weekend during which cool stuff in europe that isn’t normally opened is opened. I went to the Musee d’Aquataine (Aquataine= the region of france in which Bordeaux is located, this is a historical museum about its past (no kidding, right?)) - this is actually always open, we just happened to go. Then we walked through the Grand Theatre, which isn’t, “grand” that is. It was very pretty and cool to see, but large it was not. Tristan and I had a conversation while sitting in the theatre in which we pretended to be pretentious 19th century british bourgeois while we waited for Claire to catch up with us.  That night we ate at Ed Wood Café which is like the Corvette diner only in France – yep, I traveled half-way around the world to go to an American 50’s style restaurant, go ahead and judge me. We had yummy milkshakes, and laughed at all the French people who ate their hamburgers with their forks. Then on Sunday we went to a free classical music concert in the Jardin Public. I don’t have pictures of any of this, I don’t know why.
Something I learned (or really was reminded of) in my “Bordeaux Art” DEFLE class (which would me more aptly named “random French vocabulary pertaining to Bordeaux- and by random I mean you probably don’t even know the English word for this stuff”) is how lucky I got when I picked the name of this blog. So, you know, “chateau” is a French word that generally means “castle”, or “really gigantic house”.  But it is also used to name vineyards, after the presumably grand house that is part of them, in this way, wines are called “Chateau insert_name_of_house_here”. And this is the origin of the slang Chateau Lapompe, to mean water (la pompe meaning the pump). I more or less new all of that when I choose to use it as a name, what I didn’t know is that naming vineyards this way is actually a custom specific to Bordeaux. So, you win, me, you win. On the other hand I haven’t actually heard anyone call water anything other than l’eau.
Look familiar? I found this in my 3rdish day in france, just before finding E.Leclerc. Until I stumbled upon it again, I believed it to be from Eureka, CA, which would have been really oddly specific- it turns out it just says Eurkea on it because it's, yah know, the state moto. It says Pessac Automobiles on the seal. So still random, but slightly less so.

17 September 2010

SPOILER ALERT: Spectuloos does not equal Peanut Butter

Wednesday, I walked all the way the home from downtown Bordeaux, despite the fact that there is perfectly good public transportation. I have no rational excuse for this. It was decidedly irrational behavior, though it started out slightly rational. After standing for about 5 minutes at the Musee d’Aquitaine tram stop, I was getting a bit impatient. This isn’t one of the nicest stops; it’s a bit dirty and some people around me were smoking (smoking, in general, by the way, is less prevalent and less bothersome than I expected). I wasn’t feeling super fantastic as I’ve had a bit of a rhume (cold) the last couple of days, and suddenly I wanted to be home immediately and began dreading the long tram ride (if you call 20 minutes long, sometimes it feels that way, other times it goes by in a flash. In any case it was sounding pretty long about then).  So I looked at the sign which told me the tram wouldn’t be to the stop for 4 more minutes. I looked down the street and decided I certainly had enough time to walk to the next stop before the tram would get there, so I did. I easily beat the tram to Victoire, the next stop, but when I saw the crowd waiting for the tram and shortly after, how packed the tram was, I decided to keep walking.
I reasoned that I would walk to Simply (a super marker whose slogan is “Be Happy, Be Simply”- that’s not a translation. Side note: Simply has some hilarious ads for itself in the windows, having customers say things like “I can shop here without being embarrassed!” (in french). I must be missing some sort of subtly or the necessary culture background, because I can’t imagine why anyone would be embarrassed to go to any super market.). Anyway, Simply is a fairly decent walk from Victoire, and about 3 stops off campus (there are 3 more stops on campus, before mine). But I thought a walk would be nice, as I hadn’t done anything all day excepting eating, sleeping, and enjoying the “authentic” designer UCLA shirt/ sweatshirts being sold at a store in Bordeaux (for more 40 euro and 90 euro respectively, and I thought the UCLA store was expensive), and I didn’t have anything else to do. Besides the tram would likely be less crowded by the time that it got to that stop, and I was going to go to Simply anyway to continue my quest for peanut butter which I had begun the day before.
I was thrilled to find that Simply did sell peanut butter, the only trouble was that it was tiny, tiny, tiny jar of Skippy and cost 3.75 euro. There was something that COULD have been peanut butter next to it, but I wasn’t sure. I decided to continue on to Casino (another grocery chain, and one I hadn’t been to yet) which I believed to be located one tram stop down, which OBVIOUSLY wasn’t worth the wait for the tram.
It turned out to be two stops down, but I walked anyway. I found that they didn’t have anything that was DEFINITELY peanut butter, but they had the stuff that was next to the peanut butter at Simply. It looked like it could be peanut butter, and it came in crunchy and smooth. So, what else could it be? I was slightly uncertain, because there weren’t any peanuts on the jar, instead there was a picture of a shortbready kind of cookie, and the story of its invention written on the back didn’t seem to be correct. But peanut butter goes awesome on cookies, and maybe they wanted to frenchicize the story of invention. Besides, I really WANTED it to be peanut butter, and who was I to say that Spectuloos does not equal peanut butter? So I bought the jar (and two bananas, so I could make the peanut butter & banana sandwich I craved) on hope alone. After buying these things (which was a bit of a fiasco, because how was I supposed to know that I was supposed to weigh and print out a price tag for the bananas?), I opened the jar of what I was then certain was peanut butter. I found it to be the consistency of peanut butter, and was already beginning to celebrate victory when – umm, that’s not peanut butter, or else it’s really odd peanut butter. In fact, it tastes quite a lot like the cookies pictured on the front. I feel disappointed and disenchanted. I wonder what anyone would want with a substance that is the consistency of peanut butter, but that tastes like these cookie things. (If anyone has any suggestions, let me know, as I know am the proud owner of a jar of Spectuloos.)
I put it back in my bag and continued to the tram stop. As I approached I considered walking the rest of the way, but I dismissed that as a crazy idea. But when I arrived and saw that it would be 12 minutes before the next tram arrived, I decided to keep walking to the next top, because it would be unbelievably ridiculous to walk this far because of a 4 minute wait, only to wait longer than that. And this logic carried me almost all the way home, and the belief that it would be ridiculous to take the tram at this point carried me the rest of the way. 
It was actually quite a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, and it was interesting to see the areas of Bordeaux which have been to me tram-over places at a slower pace.
Also, I finally took a picture of something I’ve been meaning to capture since the beginning: 
This is one of the university restaurants, I don't know why it's shaped like a boat.

Between the wild black berry picking, long walks and picnics, and the lack of easily accessible internet access my life is becoming increasingly like a Jane Austen novel.

Last Friday I moved to my new home, it’s located in Pessac, about a ten minute walk from my old building, and the area of the university where I will be taking my classes. Though it’s a bit far from downtown Bordeaux, I’ve decided I prefer this set up to living in the city and having a 50 minute commute before morning classes. There are two parks within a couple blocks of the house, one of them quite large. On the other side of the smaller of the parks is Pessac town center, which boasts, among other things, a train station, a movie theatre (with free WiFi, which is cool, if a bit nonsensical), and a Carrefour (a grocery store chain). It’s also about 8 minutes away from the nearest, most practical tram stop, which makes getting downtown only a matter of sitting (or standing, as has become more common recently, do to the inexplicable Bordeaux population boom i.e. everyone came back from vacation) on the tram for 25 minutes or so. So all in all, it’s a fairly convenient location. The house itself it is pretty cute, it’s a split level kind of thing, with a bonus second floor. My room and bathroom are right at the entrance, the next kind of level features the laundry room, office, living room, dining room, and eat-in kitchen, the final kind of level has the master bedroom. The second floor has another bedroom, bathroom, and a game room. They have an awesome dog named Cali, and their/(my?) neighbor has a horse. There is nothing more foreign than hearing a horse whinny while eating your breakfast of corn flakes and non-refrigerated milk.

Yes folks, that IS a toilet seat. Obviously my bathroom is quite the luxury suite :)
Though, admittedly, the water pressure leaves quite a lot to be desired
You can't see anything in this picture? That's the POINT. Isn't it glorious? They have these fantastic thing in france called "le voile" or something like that, it's like outdoor blinds, and this is the effect they have. This photo was taken, by the way, at 8:30 am. Granted it was raining this day, but I promise that when I woke at 10 am the day before (which was sunny) I could hardly believe it was that late and still this dark
These, as we call them, "bomb shelter blinds" can also double as a full length mirror when you turn on the light
This is a picture they have of Cali in their kitchen. Their last exchange student was also from San Diego, so she's with a sign that says: San Diego Si Vous Plait
This is a statue in the smaller of the two parks
And this is the park
On Sunday, my family took me back to the Bay of Arcachon (where the oyster place, the big pile of sand, and beach are located) in order to walk and picnic. It’s my understanding that they do something like this every Sunday. Their youngest son (21) came down from wherever he goes to school and joined us for the day. Up until this point I understood more or less everything my host family said, however, the conversations of the three of them were considerably more difficult to follow. I ended up tuning out for most of the ride there, because I’m not so interested in apartments in Paris as to try to follow their conversation. Cali came with us and she seemed to really love running about. We walked on a trail along the side of the bay (this bay has an incredibly large tide, that is, the water goes WAY out, so we were pretty far from the water most of the time). Looking across the bay, though, feels very similar to looking across mission bay from the Sea World parking lot. Then we picnicked in a nice field, under some trees. My host mothers cooking is fantastic, and her meals are always multiple courses. This picnic began with rice/vegetable dish with tomatoes (have I mentioned that tomatoes are all super fantastic here?), palm shoots (the family held a little conference to determine the English word for what we were eating because I didn’t know the French one, it was hilarious), and maybe something else. Then we ate something that was kind of like a pizza, but with a sweeter crust, and possibly egg, I have no idea what it was, but it was pretty decent. Then we had cheese, meat, and bread. Then these things that kind of looked like miny rice cakes, but were the texture of cheese, I think. We finished the picnic with a delicious desert of grilled chocolate and peach sandwiches. They were delicious. All the meals we eat here are like this, although dessert is usually yogurt (I usually take their homemade (!) plain yogurt, with apple & some foreign fruit stuff in it. It’s pretty fantastic, and the homemade yogurt is more creamy and less sour than regular plain yogurt). On the way back, we had some trouble getting back to the trail, but we ended up finding it. And we stopped along the way to pick wild black berries (!), which my host mother later made into jam. They were incredibly sweet. All in all, we were out picnicking for 6 hours, and when we got back my host mother had crepes with sugar and or honey prepared for a snack. Their son begged is mother for some of his favorite jams and “comptes”, and teased is mother about being short (which I thought was a bit funny, as I’m a bit taller than he is), and then he headed back out. It was quite a pleasant day.
And I’ve managed to do fairly well with the internet issue. Kindles make awesome email writing devices. :)