Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

An American in Paris II Oct 30-Nov 3rd

November 1, 2009

Here I am in Paris, in the city of lights, surrounded by thousands of years of history and miles and miles of beautiful landscapes and monuments, and I find myself in Starbucks. You can take the girl out of America, but… What can I say? I longed for some familiarity- in any form. Even though the Baristas speak French and they serve pancakes drenched in nutella, but still. On my last day in Paris, I roamed around the city afoot once again, and saw the Pantheon. Well, I saw the outside of the Pantheon. I was going to attempt a fake British accent and claim to be a EU citizen under 20 to get in for free, but decided against it at the last minute. I wasn’t sure they’d believe I was a EU citizen. I then went and took a stroll through the Luxembourg Garden, which wasn’t much of a garden as its name would have you believe. I was hoping for more flowers. Nonetheless it was lovely watching the little French children floating their toy sailboats along the famous pond, and looking at all the fall colored leaves that enveloped the park’s trees.  Along the way to the garden, as I often do, I stopped a local on the street to ask for directions. My latest victim turned out to be a very nice native Parisian who offered to walk me to the gardens himself. I accepted. He asked me where I was from. When I told him New York, he expressed his love for the city and for its open-mindedness. When I asked him to expand on this, he explained that he believed that in NY, as opposed to Paris, one can walk down the street as they like, wearing what they like, and nobody would judge. Whereas in Paris, one was constantly being judged for his appearance and fashion sense. He said he wished Parisians would be more like NYers! Interesting point of view I thought.  Straight from the Parisian’s mouth.  Well, my time in Paris unfortunately had to come to an end and it was time to fly to London to catch my flight back to the states. Au Revoir Paris, we shall meet again! As I waited on line to check in at Charles de Gaulle airport, I found myself chatting with a nice little french guy, who  asked me to join him for coffee while waiting for our flight. Since we had time to kill and he seemed like a nice enough fellow, I said why not. The conversation was going ok- well, from what I could make out through his incredibly thick french accent- until I realized I must have missed a subject change. He was rambling: “I have come to realize the goal of life. And what I realized is that the goal of life is death. And now that I know that this is the purpose of life, I am no longer afraid to die. For example, if our plane crashes tonight…”  This was about the point where I interrupted him and excused myself while I popped an extra xanax. I was just beginning to overcome my debilitating fear of flying and this was not helping!! I explained my fear to my new friend and politely asked him to refrain from using the word ‘crash’ until we safely landed. He chuckled, apparently not realizing my seriousness in the matter, and continued his rant. Watching me nervously grip the armrest while I mentally flew the plane, he assured me, “Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen. And anyway, if we do crash, it’ll probably happen so fast that you won’t even feel a thing!”  “OKAY, YOU HAVE TO GO NOW!!”, I finally snapped. “What?”, my clueless friend asked. “You need to move. You  need to move your seat, now.” As I closed my eyes to block him out and let the xanax in, I let my mind wander back to the question that I keep asking myself over and over again: How do they find me??

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Spanglish Part II (Pueblo Ingles, La Valdellevilla, Oct 2- 10)

October 22, 2009

I had so thoroughly enjoyed my first English Immersion volunteer program with Pueblo Ingles (www.morethanenglish.com) that I signed up for an encore, this time in La Valdellavilla. La Valdellavilla is a restored abandoned village in the Soria region of northern Spain, apparently designed for hobbits as all of the doors of the houses were about 3 feet high, and the ceilings not much higher. During our 4 hour bus ride from Madrid to the village, Amelia, our lovely MC, explained to us that the village was actually quite remote and that there would be no internet or mobile service available, nor any restaurants or stores within reasonable walking distance. Furthermore, the closest village, or civilization, was at least 15 minutes away by car. Given the fact that most of us did not have cars, this would mean that the 40 of us (20 Anglos and 20 Spaniards), would basically be stuck with one another 24/7 for the next 8 days (so I guess that would be 24/8?).

When we arrived at the village, after a divine 3 course lunch, complete with a bottle of complimentary red wine, we each checked into our rooms. To my pleasant surprise, I was given my very own chalet. Ah, peace and quiet for once. So I foolishly thought. After foregoing that evening’s after-hours party (at which I supposedly missed a whole lot of craziness and international debauchery.. Oh well.), prefering to get some sleep so that I may begin my 16 hours of work the following day, I unknowingly locked myself into my house. When I awoke in the morning, I realized what I had done. As I heard voices outside the chalet, I began frantically knocking on my own door yelling, ‘Hello! Please let me out!’. When the door finally opened, our program director Pablo and about 3 of my fellow anglos and several spaniards stood before me and we all had a good laugh at the absurdity of the situation. I then knew it was going to be a good week!

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…

October 21, 2009

My second night in Barcelona (this time around), I decided to go on a pub crawl, hoping to meet some interesting fellow travellers while at the same time getting to know the nightlife. Well I got to know the nightlife. Just kidding. I also met some interesting people, including a group of Scots and a few Canadian girls. At the beginning of the night, someone asked one of the girls if she was American. Given her repulsed reaction, it would appear that that assumption could be considered a great offense to some Canadians. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you thought I was American. Didn’t you notice the Canadian flag ironed on to my backpack?”, she said, setting him straight. I thought this would be a good time to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Allison. I’m from New York”, I said, as friendly as can be. “Oh my god. I totally didn’t mean anything by that. I just hate it when people confuse us with Americans. Oh my god, Bridget, this girl is from New York.” “You’re from New York?”, asked Bridget. “I’ve met a few people from New York and they were actually really nice!” “Really?? Imagine that!”, I said in feigned shock. “Yeah, I know. They’re really not that bad”, replied my new Canadian friend, apparently not getting my (NY) sarcasm. After a few cocktails and cheap shots, the Canadian girls turned out to be pretty okay, and the rest of the night was spent with them, the Scots, and my friend Amir (hi Amir!). After the crawl was over (or we were over the crawl), the 7 of us decided to roam around Barcelona looking for a diner. I know. Here we go again. Looking for a diner in the middle of the night in Europe. I realize its just a pipe dream, but a girl can hope. While walking along the port and deciding which Yacht we would crash, we came upon some amusement park rides that were part of the La Merce street carnival. Unfortunately the rides were closed, being it was 5 o’clock in the morning and all. But that didn’t quite stop us. So, the girls excitedly jumped over the barrier and climbed onto the merry-go-round. “Take my picture!”, I shouted, as my inner child emerged to play. Then, after sufficiently tiring ourselves out, we decided to call it a night. I said goodbye to the Scots and to my new Canadian friends, who once again, expressed their delight at meeting a nice New Yorker. “No problem. Be sure to go home and tell all your friends.” and then maybe I can stop defending my nationality once and for all. But alas, stereotypes will live on. And we will survive. Yes we can!

Barcelona Nights (Part II of III)

October 12, 2009

After a lovely week in London, it was time to return to my adventures on the road. With Susie gone, Mara back in the states, and everyone I had met throughout my European summer returned to their so called reality, I was now truly on my own. The fear of travelling alone that I experienced before I left and at times throughout, was now gone. After 3 months of revolving travel partners, visits with family and friends, and ne’er a moment to myself, I longed for solitude. So, off to Barcelona I went. Note to self (and life-lesson #18 of trip so far): If it is alone time which you seek, do not to Barcelona go. I chose Barcelona for many reasons- familiarity, the culture, the sea. I envisioned long days by the beach followed by quiet nights by myself. Now, anyone who’s ever been to Barcelona will tell you that quiet nights in this town are nothing more than an oxymoron. And just as if the gods themselves were laughing at me, I came to realize that I had arrived on the first day of La Merce, Barcelona’s own Carnival- one of the biggest annual cultural festivals and street parties, honoring one of Barcelona’s greatest patron saints (apparently there’s a lot of them). Picture late night outdoor concerts in every plaza, light shows and fireworks at night, music on the beach, carnivals along the port. And that was just the first day!
After checking in and dropping off my bags at my hostel, which was a converted primary school, (in more ways than one), I set out to find some food. I was starving. As I walked through the streets in a desperate search for food, I noticed that almost all of the shops and restaurants were closed. What was going on? Then I remembered. Ah, siesta. But alas, I finally found a small coffee shop that appeared to be open. At the counter sat the only patron, a boy of 12 or 13, who was talking to the woman behind the counter. When I asked the woman for a menu, after describing what a menu was, she informed me that the kitchen was closed. I thanked her and left. A moment later, the boy at the counter emerged from the cafe and began running towards me. ¨Senorita! You looking for menu?¨ ¨Um, yes, I´m looking for a restaurant¨, I replied. ¨Ok, I show you¨, and before I could respond he was running down the street ahead of me. So, in my broken Spanish and his broken English it was determined that he would help me find a place to eat (or at least help me find a menu). I continued to follow him as he led me down several blocks, eventually coming to a large median in the middle of a busy street, which he of course, being a boy of 12, jumped over. Looking back at me and wondering why I wasn´t jumping the barrier, I thought, why not. So in my sundress, in the middle of the streets of Barcelona, I jumped the barrier. Yes, I did. A few moments later, one of his little friends rode up on his bicycle and my new friend explained what I was looking for and that I was a ´turista Americana´. ¨Ah, you want McDonald?¨ he asked. At this point, I would eat anything, so I replied, ¨Yes, perfect¨. So, after they pointed me in the direction of Mickey D´s, I thanked my new friends for their help and said adios. I then waited for them to round the corner and I headed back towards my hostel (I was hungry but not that hungry, and I didn´t want to hurt their feelings after all their trouble). Back at the hostel I began chatting with a young German student who was part of a school trip. ¨So, are you 19?¨, he asked. Confused, I looked behind and around me, and when I realized he was talking to me, I began to laugh. I thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t. He was serious. ¨Uh, no, I´m not 19.¨ I corrected the poor kid. ¨I´m actually 20¨

London Bridge is Falling Down

October 11, 2009

After saying goodbye to my new friends in Ireland, I was off to London once again, where my friend Andreas (see June posting) would await me. Although I flew from New York into London, I had tried to avoid the city throughout my trip, as I have come here to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of what I left behind, and to spend any time in London would be to defeat that purpose. However, during my short stay at the start of my trip I did make the acquaintance of one handsome Brit for whom I would decide Britain may be worth visiting once again. I decided that I would spend one week with Andreas and then head off to Spain where I would perfect my imperfect Spanish. The week would be one of relaxation, culture and personal growth (but we’ll get to that later on). Throughout my 6 days, I saw 3 very different plays. The first, a gripping drama by the brilliant playwright, Kieron Barry, entitled, “Stockwell” about the aftermath of the London bombings http://www.curtainup.com/stockwelllon.html Next we saw a one-man show written and performed by Mark Thomas, Britain’s own Michael Moore, entitled, “The Manifesto”, described as “a show that attempts to probe our collective creativity… The economy is bust, the environment broken and governments have run out of ideas, the only people who can save the day… is us!”, involving audience participation, where Mr. Thomas asks each audience member to submit one original idea or policy, social, political or economical, that they believe would benefit the world. Throughout the show, he reads out the audience’s ideas and at the end, the audience gets to vote on the winning policy. Being a socially conscious person, the ideas I came up with were along the lines of required licensing for the parenting of children, stronger penalties for child abusers, abolishing organized religion and replacing it with yoga (wouldn’t the world be a happier place?) However, my fellow audience members were a bit more creative (and a tad darker), proposing policies such as ‘hang one banker per day” and ‘bring back public stoning of hedge fund managers’. Bring back???! Other ideas included the forcing of people who shuffle their feet while wearing Ugg boots to sit and listen to the sound for an hour; having separate sidewalk lanes for fast and slow walkers and tourists who stop in the middle of the street to stand and stare at the buildings (Ironically, I used to despise those people and now I’m one of them); and everyone should be gay for 2 years. The winner was a tie between the following: 1. Set a federal maximum wage (Agreed!!!) and 2. Force potato chip manufacturers to fill the bags all the way to the top. Hm. It was an interesting night and I learned much about the Brits. My days in London were spent relaxing, site seeing and shopping. Speaking of shopping… my first full day in London, I spent walking along Oxford street, merely window shopping and fantasizing, until I found heaven. It was a place unlike any I had ever been to, It was called Primark. It was Bloomingdales meets Zara meets Sacs with the prices of TJ Maxx. Pure fashion heaven…backpacker style. It was moving. I could have shopped for hours. Well, actually I did shop for hours, but I could have shopped for days if I only had the time and the bank account. But alas, my spree had to come to an end. So, I made my purchases, gathered my bags and walked out onto Oxford Street where Andreas would be waiting to take me to the theater. On my final day in London, we decided to spend the day at a park just outside of London, where we saw herds of baby deer..little bambies, whom we were close enough to to pet. Afterwards, we picnicked under a blanket of clouds…. and suddenly…London didn’t seem so bad.