Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Normandy Invasion (Trinity Style)

Would you like me to regurgitate the list of tourist attractions I went to this past weekend? No? Don't worry it won't take long: The village of Honfleur, the Abbey Mont St-Michel, the memorial of Caen and WWII museum, village of Arromaches, the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, site of the Normandy D-Dau landing, Pointe du Hoc (bombed-out cliffs and bunkers from D-day), a working cider farm, The Tapestry de Bayeux, The Cathedral de Notre Dame de Bayeux, the memorial to reporters without Borders, and the port town Port en Bessin. Phew.

That wasn't so bad, huh? I mean, each location was about a thirty minute bus ride apart from each other, and we were four hours away from Paris. And we were only consistently about an hour behind our meticulously planned schedule. No, it was a casual 60 hour trip. I guess that's what you get when Trinity plans one weekend-long group excursion. At least they paid for all my meals.

In all seriousness, I can't remember the last time I learned so much in such a short period of time. Yes the Mont-St-Michel Abbey was built in the eighth century. But it also sits at the tip of a peninsula on the top of the mountain, and watching the tide come in and totally surround the pseudo-island reminded me of watching bore tides and playing in the mudflats in Anchorage. There were even idiots trying to beat the tide as they ran back from the mudflats. The beach towns of Normandy (Honfleur, Arromanches, Port en Bessin) were sleepy and precious and quaint, and had delicious buckets of mussels and fries (moules frites) and too many nautically-striped items of clothing to pine after (I got a kid's raincoat and a scarf). But the WWII history is what really got me.

D-Day is known throughout the U.S. as June 6, 1944, and credits the United States with ending the war in Europe. Well, that's sort of true. American and British soldiers did storm a number of Norman beaches in Nazi-occupied France in order to march on and liberate Paris, causing the Germans' surrender. The mission wasn't done in a day, but over that sumer of 1944, tens of thousands of British, American, French, and German soldiers died in combat. We walked on the very beaches where young American boys scrambled out of their boats and crawled through the wet sand, sitting ducks for the Germans at their superior vantage points. We stood in bomb craters and bunkers occupied by Germans, using their radar technology for the first time to spot the Allies' planes overhead. We saw the cliffs that the Allies scaled using a rope ladder, rushing head on into enemy territory.

More pictures coming soon. Uploading is a struggle.
But words don't do it justice.
Saturday was cold and windy with torrents of rain as we walked up and down the rows of pure marble crosses, marking each young American killed at the Normandy landings or in the subsequent weeks. Where an unidentified soldier was buried, the words: "Here lies in honored glory, a comrade in arms, known but to God." We saw veterans visiting the graves of their friends, and walking on beaches they had fought on nearly 70 years earlier. It certainly wouldn't have felt the same if it had been sunny, I'm sure. The rain helped match the mood of sadness and remembrance. WWII really wasn't that long ago at all, though we may like to push horrors like the Holocaust and atomic bombs as far out of our memory as possible.

In Normandy, in the rain, standing in the soft sand or a massive bomb crater in the earth, it was impossible to push out of our minds. France tries to cover up and forget about its involvement with the round up of Jews--its "darkest hour." But in the past few years, people have begun to face that reality again and address it. We did the same thing on our weekend visit to Normandy. America may not always be the good guys, and we may have made some mistakes, but there on those beaches, thousands of Americans died for an honorable and glorious cause.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I did it! My first weekend away, at the glorified beer drinking party in Munich. We left Friday morning from Paris, took a train that arrived in Munich at 4pm, and left Munich on Sunday at 4pm and arrived back in Paris at 11pm. It was definitely a wild experience, but I loved traveling and feeling independent and figuring out a new city all by myself.

Things I liked about Oktoberfest:

Dirndls and lederhosen:
While I didn't make the investment to purchase a real dirndl (those magical three-piece apron dresses that makes the beer maids look sooo good) or leather capris (lederhosen), i loved how everyone wore them. Not just Germans, and not just tourists, but everyone (except me, it seemed) was parading around the festival, the metro, and the city itself in their beer-drinking clothes. Next time, I will be sporting one for sure.

Much more affordable prices than Paris (Germany in general):
Even within the fair gates, where drunk people would surely be willing to pay exorbitant prices for a bratwurst, Munich was very reasonably priced. Maybe I've gotten used to the outrageous prices in Paris, but a liter of beer cost 9.40 (with a sixty cent tip going directly to the beer maid), which is the equivalent of at least three normal-sized beers that would cost at least 5euro in Paris. A half-meter long bratwurst on a bun was only four euro. Public transportation in Munich sort of operates on the honor system, though you will get fined if caught without a ticket. I bought one metro ticket when I first arrived and didn't pay again all weekend. All in all, I ate and drank excessively all weekend and ended up spending far less than I anticipated. It helped that our campsite provided unlimited alcohol for five euros and a decent breakfast was included when we got up to go to the tents at 5:30 am.

Songs and convivial atmosphere:
After standing in line for two hours and making the mad rush to grab a table when the halls opened at nine, it was so nice to see everyone so friendly. I felt it was too stressful to coordinate with a big group anyway, and didn't go to the popular American tent on Saturday when everyone was there. Luckily people at our campsite were super friendly and inclusive and each table was one giant party. When the band started playing, every other song was the typical German drinking tune without any discernible words, interspersed with American classics like YMCA and Country Road. Every single person was up on the benches Swinging their steins around in a very convivial way.

Rides and fair food that outs a state fair to shame:
By about 1pm on Saturday, Molly and I were falling asleep in the beer tent. We had been up since 5:30 after quite a late night. We decided walking around was a necessary change of pace, even though it meant losing our place in the beer hall. Weaving through packs of German families in matching lederhosen and stumbling tourists, we experienced the other side of Oktoberfest: the rides! It was just like a state fair except bigger than any I had ever seen. There were about six different themed funhouses (amazon, luau, haunted beer themed funhouse though) and huge roller coasters with flips and loops that belonged in a permanent amusement park, not a carnival. So many rides mixed with so much alcohol seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, but luckily everyone stayed buckled in. The food was also obviously delicious and included staples like cotton candy, candied nuts, soft serve ice cream, and hot dogs, but also traditional fare such as pork knuckles, aforementioned bratwurst and gingerbread cookies.

Also, we realized we accidentally sat in first class on the train there and got a free meal and super comfy seats big enough to lie down in. Unfortunately, on the way back, when I really needed the nap, this was not the case.

Things I didn't like about Oktoberfest:
Pressure to drink a liter of beer at nine am and then stay awake and continue drinking for the next 17 hours or so (didn't happen).

Being cold at night, because we decided to camp with a company that we thought provided sleeping bags but didn't. We instead rented dirty fleece blankets that really didn't do much in the way of warmth and we had really underprepared for the rain and wether. Luckily my quest leader self made. Do with the resources we had and we survive the night and had a great experience.

A total of eight million people attend Oktoberfest each year, over the three weeks that it runs. I think one million of those people were there on Saturday. It was nearly impossible to move, let alone find friends and coordinate meeting up with people. Sunday was a lot quieter, but that was because so many people were on their way home anyway. Crowds can be overwhelming and it was a little frustrating not being able to meet up with everyone!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Things to Get Used to

It's my one month anniversary of being abroad and there are countless things to celebrate: the food, the wine, the freedom, the history, art, and culture everywhere you turn. There's too much to tell! Perhaps a little easier to quantify, then, as I look back on my past month of experiences, are the things I'm not quite sold on just yet. I'm not complaining, persay; let's just call it "exploring differences."

1. French keyboards. The "q" is where the "a" should be. Mqkes for lots of mistqkes.

2. To-go coffee cups. No running late and picking up a caffeine fix.

3. Smiling makes you weird and makes you a target for petty crime. That seems counterintuitive :(

4. Wine hangovers.

5. Notebook paper--all graphed/miniature lined so that my European history notes run up and down the page like a EuroDisney roller coaster.

6. I don't WANT to walk into a Starbucks or McDonalds abroad...but they are the only places with free wifi.(and clean bathrooms).

7. Yes, I'm jogging in the Luxembourg Gardens. You can put your cigarette back in your mouth and stop staring now.

8. I'm really trying to assimilate into your culture. I left my sneakers and sweatshirts at home. So even if my attempt at speaking French is horrible and insults your very heritage, please don't laugh and answer in English. We get it, America is behind the curve on the language thing.

9. Horizontal stripes don't look good on everyone.

10. You'd think that living in this city, people would understand how to fill a metro car. Unfortunately, when you stop just inside the door even though the rest of the car remains empty, the floods of people still behind you get stuck in that pesky gap between the train and the station.

Don't worry, a more positive version of this post will soon follow.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Last week the Trinity-in-Paris program treated us to a two-day excursion to the nearby provincial town of Giverny, where Claude Monet lived and painted his famous water lily series. We also visited two famous chateaus (old medival fortifed mansions, basically) and spent a lot of quality time bonding. It was actually a great trip, even though I wasn't expecting much. I've always though those hyper-organized, pre-planned bus trip things are stupid and not much fun. I'd rather figure things out on my own and get more of a full experience. But for a group of 35 obnoxious college kids, it worked out really well.

View of the Seine, an orchard, and part of the medieval chateau  Roche Guyon
The first "appointment" was a tour of Roche-Guyon, a medeival chateau on the banks of the seine River. Barely an hour outside of Paris, the Seine looks nothing like its urban counterpart. It's about twice as wide, and instead of harsh cement barriers along either side, it lazily laps against green pastures and trees. The water is (presumably) less sewage-filled as well. After climbing the hundred or so steps to the top of the dungeon tower of Roche-Guyon, a long thread of river could be seen twisting and turning through the countryside, extremely calm. It made my friend Molly and I miss the crew team back at Trinity (I'm still an honorary member). The chateau itself is still home to a French family, but the museum part is run by a regional organization. It has some weird modern art installations alongside historic replicas of the house. I couldn't tell you much about it, though, because we only had half an hour to look around and I spent 25 minutes climbing the stairs to the tower, which were cut right out of the limestone cliffside and quite a steep affair. After the climb, we bought some apples and pears from the gift shop, which are famously grown in Normandy (where we were). They were spectacular. We also visited the Impressionism museum, which was interesting but not entirely too captivating, since I was more interested in seeing Monet's actual garden.

My Water Lilies
Monet's Water Lilies

Our coach bus managed to make it through the narrow streets (more like trails) and we only got stuck about three times before making it to the hotel. It was sort of a dingy place with no atmosphere, but perfect for 30 rowdy newly-legal college kids. First thing we did is hit the crappy hotel bar and start bonding. It turned out to be a really fun night and I met/bonded/made new friends within the program. We all went to bed pretty early, luckily, so the next day wasn't too much of a struggle. We saw the gardens and the famous water lilies and weeping willows and bridges. It was a little overcrowded but still wonderful to finally see. His house was also amazing. He married a woman with six kids and had two of his own, so it was a full brood. There is a huge industrial kitchen fully covered in blue and white tile, which is actually one of the most popular highlights, along with the yellow dining room. I really enjoyed the history, culture, and natural beauty!

Our last stop was one final chateau, which used to be a fully working farm and had very lavish, landscaped grounds. Unfortunately, we had a guided tour of each and every room of the house, and I just couldn't enjoy the slow-moving account of each and every piece of chair upholstery and its historical significance. It was a lot of sightseeing packed into less than 48 hours, but it was generally very nice to get out of Paris and also break through some of the pre-exisitng friend groups on our program and all spend some time together.

The trip was topped off by stopping at the newly-opened Chipotle upon our return to Paris. A burrito bowl remains a burrito bowl no matter the language. (The tortillas are different, though).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First Breakdown Abroad

Attention: this post is about me being a bit of a princess. But I might have learned something, too.

French bureaucracy is somewhat legendary around the world for being the most difficult and inefficient system around. This summer, it took a total of four days of travel time and a flurry of faxing, scanning, copying, and finding documents just to get my student visa. The country basically becomes dysfunctional during the month of August because everybody has an entire month of vacation at the same time. And the customer service is notorious for being extremely un-serviceable.

So when yours truly woke up on Saturday morning and decided to reach over to the dresser for the iphone containing last night's muploads, and said iphone slipped of the dresser with great force, landing screen-first on the corner of a pulled-out drawer, leaving the screen a pixelated and striped unusable mess. I hoped a quick trip to the apple store would solve all my problems and leave me able to WhatsApp my mom and dad once again. But I was wrong.

There are two apple stores in Paris. One is by the famous Opera, and the other is underground, next to the Louvre. Of course, I didn't know it was underground. I thought it would be hard to miss. We kept walking back and forth along the line of stores outside the Louvre. I'd ask a shopkeeper for directions, in French, and for the first time they all seemed insistent on answering in French as well. I'd smile, nod, and be just as lost as before.

When we finally realized that there was an entire mall hiding out under the Louvre pyramid, I thought a repaired iPhone was a blink away. However, did I have an appointment? No. They next available appointment was for Friday. (six days later). I made the appointment and dejectedly treated myself to Starbucks to numb the pain

Luckily I was able to take a friends appointment for the next day,and after waiting thirty minutes, dealt with the nicest genius bar guy, Xavier. My new phone was in reach! He ran a bunch of tests to make sure my American sim card would work. Then, he said to come back Monday night because international systems are down on Sundays. So close.

Monday evening finally brought a new phone, at the bargain price of 199 euros, though I was left to my own devices to set it up. iMessage wasn't working, and I couldn't redownload whatsapp without receiving a text. A new apple employee told me there was no way iMessage would work without an international plan, even though it has been working perfectly for three weeks. Whatsapp wouldnt work either, because you need to receive a text as verification and i cant receive texts abroad It was the last straw.

This is what a bathroom that costs 1.50E looks
like, in case you were wondering.
I threw a princess fit in the middle of the apple store and started crying. (yes, because my iPhone didn't work. I know). The employee backed away slowly and left me to my tears. He came back over to ask if it was working which was really just a hint because the store was closing. I stood outside the store stealing their wifi for my nearly-functional new phone, complaining to my brother. He kindly informed that I was having "first world problems," which was entirely true and I calmed down a little. I still allowed myself some Starbucks and paid 1.50 to use some pretty fancy bathrooms in the Carrousel de Louvre. (they were pretty clean).

Anyway, I survived my first abroad breakdown, which is more a product of the wear and tear of living in a new culture than the technical difficulties I was facing. Luckily, employees at the apple store speak English, though the values of French customer service still show through. Thanks to the tough love of my brother and the efficiency of globalization, I realize my stressful problem could have been a lot worse. Now, I just need to find an otterbox so I can't break my phone again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Things are starting to pick up in Paris with the arrival of the rest of the program and a very structured and culture-focused Trinity orientation this week. We have french classes in the morning, which has been interesting since I last sat in a French class my senior year or high school (and let's face it, there wasn't a lot going on during senior spring). The 2 I got on my AP test stands out as a testament to how much French I ever actually learned, and how much i've forgotten since then. Luckily, I signed up for the intermediate class, and we focus mainly on conversing about activities and things to do in Paris or we talk about food. The practical component is very useful because it gets us talking and also allows us to eat cheese and hard cider during class. What's not to love? The orientation also includes dorky things like walking tours of the neighborhood, a bus tour, meetings with our "mentors"--french students who went to Trinity last year who are there to answer our questions: for instance, "Where can I find an American bar?"

The good thing about having french classes is that I actually am starting to communicate more freely and easily, whether that be in restaurants and stores, at home with my homestay family, or with random Brazilian waiters I meet on the metro. We both speak perfect english but for some reason I thought it would be more fun to try to get by with french. A couple of glasses of wine in me and I feel nearly fluent. The other night I sat with my host parents after dinner and talked in french for almost an hour, though there's still beaucoup de gesturing and translating, since my sneaky host dad, it turns out, speaks pretty excellent english, he's just been hiding that skill for two weeks. Well, I really want to become nearly fluent, so the more practice the better! Waiters and shopkeepers here will speak to you in English as soon as they realize you're not a native french speaker, but I've just been soldiering o, trying to order in french as they respond in perfect english. Usually I think they appreciate the effort and will joke around with me a little, sometimes I think they're just annoyed at my 'orrible accent.

This weekend I actually went to a pool with my host sister, Constance, and got some swimming in (very little). All the pools were still closed because it was still "vacances," when all of paris shuts down,  so this one was the only one open and it was very crowded. There were locker rooms and showers, but were basically shared for both genders. Swim caps were required, too. There were three lanes open for lap swimming and I joined the lane for "naguers rapides (>3 km/hour)" where I was the only girl. I bravely joined the land of speedos and attempted to swim some laps, but I was (proudly) catching up to all the men and having to maneuver around them. there were about ten people in the lane so it was hard to get a real workout in, and Constance was floundering a bit over in the baby pool area so I tried to show her some crawl techniques and such. She says she really wants to get better at swimming this year, and there's no such thing as after-school sports for students here, so I think we will go together on the weekends, which will be good for me! I also went for a run in the park just north of my house called Buttes Chaumont, which is a 19th-century garden with lots of (fake) rock formations, bridges, cafes, gardens, trails, etc. It's really beautiful, if a bit hilly, and was filled with hundreds of joggers on a Saturday morning, so I didn't feel as conspicious as I do running in the streets around my neighborhood. Gyms are really expensive to join here, so I need to be sure to take advantage of running in the nice weather before my fromage consumption catches up to me!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Avant-gout de l'Amerique

A Taste of America

This summer I had a great opportunity interning in DC and after realizing the exorbitant prices of rent in the city, I decided to stay with some friends-of-family-friends who kindly put me up in the apartment above their garage in Virginia. It was kind of like a precursor to the homestay I'm doing now, actuallly. (Let's just say I'm ready for a single when I get back to Trinity). Anyway, all summer Jack and Veronica, my hosts, told me about their old friend Jordan, who used to live with them and now lived in Paris running a food truck. His truck "pioneered" the food truck movement in France, and there was even an article about him on the front page of the New York Times this summer. Jack and Veronica said I'd have to meet him while I was here.

So yesterday, I left sciencesPo with the intention of getting lost, wandering my way over to the Eiffel Tower and doing some shopping on the way. I couldn't have been more than ten minutes into my walk when I saw a little farmers market, on its way to shutting down for the day, and a big brown UPS-looking truck that said "Cantine California." I had no memory of the name of this food truck that Jordan had started, but upon further investigation, I found a young American man taking orders for burgers, baja tacos, milkshakes, and more. When it was my turn to order, I said "Are you Jordan?!" and he said "Yes I am...(who is this crazy girl?)" so I said that I had been sent all the way from the United States by his old friends Jack and Veronica to try his food truck.

I used all my charm and connections to score a free, delicious lunch (tacos de carnitas, if you're ever missing the taste of Baja California) and had a completely chance encounter in the middle of a random street in downtown Paris. It's extremely popular among Americans and Parisians and is giving American cuisine a better reputation in the eyes of Parisians, who think we spend our days gorging on McDonalds and 72oz sodas. Jordan assumed I had looked on the website to find where the truck was parked that day, but I had just simply walked into it. I'll have to go back though, and it's probably like the taxi that takes Owen Wilson back in time in Midnight in Paris (again): if I'm looking for it, I won't be able to find it!

Another highlight of my day, in this food-themed post, was on my way home last night. I went with my friend Sarah to a bar called Les Caracteres for the sciencesPo welcome week happy hour. As we were walking back to the metro we were talking about how little snacking there is here and how we hardly ever eat after a night out, so we decided to treat ourselves. There was an open bakery so we each got a croissant and then I found a take-out asian place of all snacks. You could order one chicken skewer or five mixed pieces of sushi  or a fresh spring roll. I though it was the coolest thing ever and immediately forgot my pain au chocolat in favor of an on-the-go spring roll. Genius! Wish I remembered what it was called.

Food is obviously a biiiig focus in Paris (uh-oh) so it was nice to find some little places that I really liked, but it was also cool to happen on such a coincidence in such a big city! Thanks Jack, Veronica, and Jordan!

The other Trinity kids arrived/are arriving today so it will be nice to know a few more people in the city. We have an orientation with everyone today where I'm sure I will feel like a total pro when we talk about how to use the metro or refill our pay-as-you-go phones. Crazy what one week in a city will teach you. And now I'm hungry again!