Saturday, July 20, 2002

i am soooo tired, and there is so much still left to see!

hmmm... what have i done the past two days. oh, yesterday (friday) we had class all day long, but we finally found a good place to eat nearby - a cute little italian restaurant about 5 blocks away. yum and reasonable - my favorite combo. thanks, Warren, for the food tips, but the problem is that most of the time we have to grab and go or eat on the fly in an area we are unfamiliar with. its difficult to plan meals at specific places... even better, we discovered a bar near the italian restaurant that advertises 12 beers on tap and 150 bottled varieties. guess where we're going in about a half hour? ;-)

went out to Versailles today. like Giverny, the getting there and entering almost made me want to kill someone. the train that runs to Versailles is closed between certain stops for a month now and we didnt know, so we had to switch trains like four times to get out there. then, the line to get through security is a nightmare, and once inside, they have a really stupid system in which different sectors of the estate require different tickets - and they are all sold at separate ticket areas. lovely. that and they refused to give us a discount even though the sign said students were 5€, not 7€, for the one section we decided on. the way they run things here amazes me sometimes, although i have to say that was the first place i really noticed price-gouging. almost everywhere else, the french usually seem like they could care less if they made money off of you (cabs are a great example: evidentally there is a law that says a cab must pick up up to three people but can refuse if there are 4; but, the cab driver can also charge an extra 2.50€ for that fourth person, yet they almost always refuse to take a group of four. Autumn says they think to themselves, hmmm;;; do i want to make a fare plus an extra 2.50€? no, i think not, i will not take any of them!).

oops, didnt realize the time. gotta run to commence to drinking. i'll write more on Versailles tomorrow. Au revoir!

Thursday, July 18, 2002

back from Genéve and all is right with the world once more...

no, actually, i ended up having a fine time there, after my initial crankiness wore off. the classes were really great - really smart people and very succint speakers - none of these drone-on -for -hours types. the classroom was like out of a movie - really high tech, with microphones and earphones at each seat. i kept wanting to turn on the mic and say, "i'd like to address the next question to the Senator from New York..." oh, i just realized i didn't say where it was - ITU, or International Telecommunications Union (an agency of the UN, which was across the street). the first day, our speakers were from the ITU Strategy and Policy Unit, and the second day our speaker was this razor-sharp woman from the WTO, talking about international telecom trade issues. very very cool.

the dorm, however, was very NOT COOL, as was a lot of aspects of Geneva. the dorm only gave one key per room, whiwh should be ok to work out between you and your roomie (one of whom was on a cot), except they lock the outside doors after 11 and also lock the interior hallway doors!!! Autumn and i both had to get creative to get in after locking one or the other out - i just went to the back of the building and yelled up to our fourth floor room at 1:30 in the morning. hey, the night before a group of teenage french basketball players were forced to run laps outside my window at 11:30 at night, so i figure i was entitled. anyway, they also kicked us out of our room early this morning - before the 10 am checkout time - because the had to polish the floor. i went to take a shower at 8 and ran into the guy in the hallway who, of course, spoke no english. in his attempt to tell me what was going on, he went in the room with Autumn still asleep and took the entire bed out - we had to get everything off the floor for them, too, i gathered. ;-)

ok, dorm griping over. Geneva is a pretty and modern city - as for looks, it reminds me of DC. lots of kinda or pseudo-old buildings next to modern ones, and they are all short like in DC. the problems: Geneva is the most expensive place i have ever been to, and it is also one of the deadest major cities i have ever been to. no nightlife. no stores open after 6 at night. there are some bars but they are few and far between. its just pretty boring overall, and frustrating since what they do have is always closed when you have time. oh, and it was cold and rainy the whole time, of course. what other kind of weather is there????

BUT, there were two bright spots to my trip to Geneva. one, Murad, one of the MSU grad students, rented a moped and we rode around in the rain one night - he even let me take it for a spin for a while by myself. that was awesome - i want one! like a jet ski on land.

the second was that i managed to take the short Lake Geneva boat trip yesterday afternoon. it poured all morning, so we thought we couldnt take the boat trip, so most folks went back to the dorm after class. i wanted to go back downtown to buy a gift i had seen in the window the night before, and when i was done, the weather cleared, so i jumped on the boat. Lake Geneva is beautiful, and massive. i only saw the part the refer to as the Petite Lac, which mean small lake b/c its the narrowest part, but jesus that thing was wide. i cant imagine what its like up at the Grand Lac part. too bad it was crummy weather, too, b/c the water is beautiful - a brilliant green from the minerals but crystal clear. anyway, the highlight of the trip was a stop at the village of Yvoire, which is actually back in France along the lake. Yvoire is a medieval village, complete with the fort and walled city with houses all attached and made of stone. the town is also huge on flowers - there were flowers everwhere! - and the little houses are now resturants and little artsy and craft shops. it was so adorable - i wish i could have spent more time seeing the rest of the village, outside the medeival part. i also had a great meal right on the waterfront - fresh lake perch and homemade pasta - yum!

just an aside: the fact that i do things alone weirds french men out. some of them seem to be completely amazed, like i am some sort of Super American Woman, and others don't seem to know how to take it. i dont mean the weirdos who try to pick me up on the street but like tourist people or waiters. for example, i asked the boat guys some questions about the stops and they started flirting. they were amazed i had gone "on zee boat? alone?" it was like i had just come back from the moon and they wanted to hear all about it. yet, the waiters at both the restaurants where i ate alone in Geneva seemed to regard me as some sort of Super Freakish Woman for being "just one???" don't French women ever go out on their own????

alright, gotta go get my laundry out of the washer. hope everyone is well and i'll see you in a little over a week!

Monday, July 15, 2002

ok, i amoffically homesick now. not for the states, per se, but for people who know how to enjoy life without needing lots of alcohol, and - maybe this is too much to ask - are intellectually curious. not that a lot of the people on the trip aren't smart... they just don't seem to want to exercise that part of the anatomy too often.

sidebar: ARGH! just when i got the knqck of the french keyboard, i come to Switzerland and have a weird semi-French, semi-German keyboard to deal with...

back to the show:
so, after having a rather trying time getting here - just me and this guy James came on the early train, so we had to navigate on our own once we got here. sure, we had a map and written directions, but like everything else on this trip, they only make sense to the person who wrote them. then the whole group sort of gathered to take the bus back into town (our dorm is kinda toward the outskirts, i think, or at least a residential neighborhood) to get some dinner: of course, all the yahoos were concentrating on finding a bar, as usual (the fact that it was only 6:30 meant nothing). a few of us were siting toward the rear of the bus and the next thing we know, they all get off and ditch us without a word. of, i forgot, they DO think of something other than alcohol: themselves. only. always. so the rest of us go into town regardless, but then all of them were bitching and moaning about how expensive everything was so they were eating at McDonald's. at that pont, i said au revoir and went my own way. i'm sorry, but Geneva is an expensive town, period. even a happy meal is like the equivalent of $7. i am sick of eating pizza, sandich grec (the mediterranean-ish kebab/gyro places about every five feet in paris, and camembert sandwiches). i wanted a real meal. so, that's what i got - yummy chicken kadai and cotes du rhone at an indian restuarant - with real cloth tabléecloths and napkins. fifty Swiss Francs later (equivalent of $35, more or less), i am fat and happy... but still empty cuz eating alone really sucks, especially at a nice place.

ok, i am taking a deep breath so i can tell you about the Bastille celebration this past weekend...

Parisians take celebrating independence to a whole new level. some of it wasn't so great. saturday night (bastille eve? ;-) ) we went out to the Bastille (no building there anymore, just a big plaza and a monument) but it was too nutty - people throwing firworks into the crowd, etc - so we left to go to the eiffel tower, only to find the same thing there. after nearly losing some toes several times from M-80s thrown at our feet (or, as in one instance, one dropped from a car window as we stood on the curb to cross the street), we eventually went home. i just kept contrasting it with the US in my mind and how just one firework set off in public like that would probably cause mass panic and the national guard to come out. but, i have to say i had one of the best hot dogs in my life - a hot dog in a baguette! vive la france, indeed.

ok, so on to last night. Bastille Day. Paris. on the lawn behind the Eiffel Tower with a bottle of red wine. that in and of itself should be enough. i hate to say it, but DC could take some cues from the french on the fireworks and show. this year the theme was around celebrating Victor Hugo and i guess the overall struggle of the french people. i'm not sure because the show was in french, of course... anyway, there were screens and speakers all along the Champs des Mars (the lawn) showing this very dramatic and moving show with complimentary music and then the light show from the opposite side of the Seine and the fireworks all choreographed. i was so overwhelmed, it was just so good and moving - they could have been feeding me O Town lyrics a francais and i wouldn't have cared - the presentation made the show. and i got some fantastic pictures. maybe one day, in a more perfect world, i'll actually be able to show them to everyone. ;-)

oh, i almost forgot the most exciting part: my first Turkish toilet experience. post-fireworks, the Eiffel Tower area is just like the Mall - people everywhere, metros completely packed - so we walked a ways and ducked into a cafe/bar to use the bathroom. girls rom: a porcelain hole in the floor, complete with foot holds and a flush. i guess european women have stronger quads than i do, cuz squatting over that thing was hard!!!

on that lovely thought, i bid you adieu... to the ITU tomorrow and hopefully a better mood. miss y'all, but wish you were here!