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Archive for the ‘weekend trips’ Category

Already April 3rd – time is flying! It’s been an eventful week and a half or so. Right now, I’ve just started to unpack from a weekend family vacation to the coast and decided to take a break with a blog update.

Last weekend, we visited the Victoria Memorial – one of the most known monuments of Kolkata. It was completed in the 1920s and was a monument more to the British presence and a symbol of their power in Kolkata and served as a museum.It’s an impressive building – best described as cross between the U.S. Capitol building and the Taj Mahal. There are many galleries inside with lots of artwork, but I preferred the exhibit on the history of Kolkata – there is so much to learn! We spent a few hours there and spent the rest of the day relaxing and teaching Arundhati how to make chocolate chip cookies :) Sunday was an eventful day. We all went as a group to a Jain ceremony – 2 of Madhu’s neighbors are in the process of becoming Jain nuns and she was invited to the ceremony, so she brought all of us along to see what it’s like. I had never heard of the Jain religion before coming to India, and I still haven’t had much exposure to it yet. I’ve read about Jain nuns in one of my books for class – Nine Lives – and it’s incredibly fascinating. I’ll share only what I know, but please don’t think of me as the authority on this and keep in mind that these are monastic Jains and the average Jain is not this rigid in their beliefs. These are Jain nuns, devoting their life to their religious beliefs. The Jain religion is isolated to India, and is most known by its belief of non-violence. Jains believe that there is the spirit of God in every living creature, so one of the main beliefs is no violence. They are strict vegetarians, which also excludes eggs, fish, and root vegetables (because harvesting them kills the plant, and also the numerous microorganisms that live on the plant or in the ground). Monastic Jains also wear masks over their mouth so as not to swallow any insects. They also sweep the ground in front of them as they walk so they don’t step on and kill any living things. They are not allowed to take any form of transportation other than their own two feet. They eat only once a day and only in the daylight so they can see what they are eating. If they find a bug or something in their food, they must drop it and wait to eat until the next day. The monastic Jains take 5 vows – no violence, no stealing, no untruth, no sex, no attachment. The no stealing can go as far as one must ask to use a table to set down something, because if they set down something on the table without asking it’s a form of stealing. The no attachment is also intriguing – they have no material possessions and must detach from personal relationships. This doesn’t mean they live as hermits – they do live in communities. They believe that all attachments cause suffering, and the release from suffering is Enlightenment. They also believe in reincarnation. Once one decides to become a Jain monk/nun, they renounce all their possessions and become a stranger to all their friends and family. At the end of their final ceremony, these women will walk of the ceremonial stage and will never see their family again. If they do, they may be friendly to them but still will be a stranger. The ceremony we saw was the second to last ceremony – and I didn’t understand much of it since it wasn’t in English. There were hundreds of people there, and it was a strange mood. To me, it seemed partway between a marriage and funeral – it was happy and celebratory like a marriage but also a bit somber like a funeral since it’s only another month before these women won’t be seen again by their family and friends. There wasn’t much that actually happened – their cousin was speaking, there were slide shows of the women, and the women sat up front looking slightly uncomfortable on display.

After the ceremony, we all came back to our house for an art workshop. Alpona is an art form that is a paste made from rice and water which is applied to floors and walls for celebrations. It was a lot of fun to draw on the floor and I can’t believe some of the detailed drawings. It’s difficult to be precise at the first go – you have to hold the pouch of rice paste carefully so there’s enough pressure that it won’t be too watery or too thick and so that it will drip down your fingers the right way. I went to go see the movie the King’s Speech on Sunday night – and it was a wonderful movie! I loved it. Colin Firth was amazing – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to adopt a speech impediment when you don’t have one.

Class was pretty uneventful as usual this week – nothing to report there, except that we’re all feeling a little stressed out with all the deadlines that have seemed to appear out of no where. We knew we would have several assignments to finish before the end of the semester, but the deadlines and expectations weren’t outlined until last week. We’ve all got a lot to do before we head home in another month, and we’re seeing the days count down. The time left is feeling pretty segmented now – we have one full week of class left next week, a few days of class and then Thursday and Friday off, then three days of class before we have a 6-day trip to Kerala. After that will just be another week or so and I’ll be headed home!

Loreto has been okay lately. I’ve kept up on going twice a week for a total of at least 4 hours a week, and I’m getting closer to some of the girls. Durgi has taken to calling me “mama” and many more girls now recognize me and are happy to see me. I’m enjoying spending time playing with them more than tutoring them, since the language barrier is pretty discouraging. I tried teaching one of the girls, Andrea, how to play hangman the other day. It started out okay, but she may not know many words in English or how to spell them yet and she started to get frustrated when she kept guessing letters that weren’t correct. I’ll try again another time with 3-letter words and we’ll see if that’s better.

Drawing with Rosie on my lap

The Cricket World Cup came to a close this week. Wednesday was the semi-final of India vs. Pakistan, and I went to city centre with my friends to watch it. There were so many people there – and their enthusiasm and passion for their team was infectious! India won – and it was great to see everyone celebrating. The final was just last night – India vs. Sri Lanka. It was a tense really close game – and India won!!! It was awesome. And how awesome for us – our first real exposure to cricket is during the world cup and our host country wins :)

The crowd at City Centre for the semi-finals

We left on Thursday night on an overnight train for a weekend family vacation to Puri! Puri is on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, but is an easy train ride away from Kolkata. Our family has been planning this for weeks – and it was hard for Arundhati to contain her excitement. The overnight train was fine – similar to the train we took from Jodhpur to Dehli except it was three-tier sleeper this time and the AC was cranked so high that I had trouble sleeping since I was so cold. Puri was nice – the beach was awesome! It was nice to be out in the fresh air and it was great to swim. There was really nice soft sand, and there were huge waves. Apparently Indians must not have swimsuits or don’t swim very often, because there were very few Indians swimming and the few that were swam in shorts and a t-shirt. We were some of the only women swimming, and of course we were well covered in tank tops and shorts. There were also lifeguards available – in their funny cone-shaped hats – and our family was much less worried if we were swimming with the lifeguard. However, the lifeguard (an older man with just a kind of loin cloth for a swimsuit) hovered so close to us the entire time it felt pretty suffocating. He was never more than 10 feet away, even though we were never in more than chest-deep water. I hate feeling so restricted and feeling like I’m being treated like a child. That was the only downside to the swimming. We also did some sightseeing in the nearby area, to a really famous temple called the Sun Temple (though we didn’t go in since the ticket prices were pretty ridiculous for foreigners) and my favorite stop was in a village. This village was an entire art community – every house was a home and a workshop for whatever craft that family made. I got some great art – some painted coconuts that will become Christmas tree ornaments and an awesome painting/etching on palm leaf. I love buying crafts here! We also just had some great family bonding time – watching the cricket final on TV, hanging out on the beach, dinners out, and teaching Vinayak card games. It was a great weekend, and I’m glad I still have another month to spend with them :)

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Well, I am very overdue for a blog post! A lot has happened in the past 2 weeks – a nightmare with Easy Jet, a canceled trip to Paris, Thanksgiving, and my trip to London…oofta.

My last post left off with me only having 3 days until Paris – which was all fine and dandy. I got up for Paris the day of thinking luck was on my side. I had left a little late, and got onto a bus just as I was leaving, so I thankfully made it onto the bus to the airport in plenty of time. Everything was going just fine until I was boarding the plane…the woman scanned my ticket and it didn’t work. She started to punch in some numbers, and I wasn’t concerned. The barcode must have been smudged while it was printing or something. I started to become mildly concerned when she called her supervisor on the little walkie-talkie. I became very concerned when she told the supervisor that the ticket was suspected of fraud and I had to follow her and talk to the people at the desk. WHAAT??? I followed the supervisor trying to express my bewilderment and trying to ask her questions. When I reached the desk, the people were dreadfully unhelpful. The only information they had was that there had been an error (suspected case of fraud??), my tickets had been canceled, and my money had been refunded. I started to get very upset since I was realizing they would not allow me onto the plane. I was becoming enraged, because :

A) case of fraud is impossible. I bought the tickets myself, for myself, with my own bank card issued to me in my name, through the Easy Jet official website. B) i had not been notified there had been a problem whatsoever. Easy Jet never contacted me with a problem – no email, no phone call. C) my money had not been refunded (and to date, still has not been). They had taken the money from my account, but I certainly would have noticed if they had put money back in. D) They told me I could buy a new ticket to Paris, the next flight leaving at 5pm, and I would have to pay in cash. E) I now was not going to Paris, thanks to Easy Jet’s mistake, and my friend Kate was going to have to spend all weekend in Paris by herself. F) They had canceled my tickets to London as well.

I was trying not to lose it and just break down crying because I was so frustrated and purely livid with them. I managed to maintain some dignity – I didn’t make a scene, but it was very difficult not to. I was a storm of indignant rage – ready to lash out on anyone who looked at me the wrong way. I managed to email the hotel and send Kate a Facebook message that I wouldn’t be coming to Paris. I had a miserable ride back to Cannes, walked back in the rain, and spent most of the rest of the weekend trying to overcome the depression of being in Cannes instead of Paris and my rage toward Easy Jet.

The next ordeal was trying to call the Easy Jet line to get it sorted out. I tried right away when I got home from the airport to call the international number on the phones here at the college – but the international number doesn’t work! They can’t get anything right. I thought it may be the phone too – so I asked Beth (our director) if I could use her phone to call. I used Beth’s phone to call the next day – the international line still didn’t work, so I tried using the French line since it is cheaper than calling the UK line. Unfortunately the phone kept dropping the calls – and the farthest I got was telling someone my confirmation number when the phone ran out of credit. Beth was nice enough to put more credit on the phone for me to try again…but it still kept dropping the calls. Soooo we went to Beth’s apartment to try her landline. The landline worked much better – but I first called the French line and the woman was not cooperative and I think some things were lost in translation because she was not understanding my problem, and kept telling me I would have to request my refund online. After many more angry tears, I called the UK line. This went better – but they still didn’t fix the problem. At least the guy on the other end of the line was sympathetic, but he didn’t have access to the information as to why there had been a problem in the first place. He said he would send my case back to the people who decided it and my money would be returned to me in the next few days…and now it’s a week later, and I still don’t have my money back. I have to gear up for another angry phone call tomorrow demanding my money back. Suffice it to say, I HATE EASY JET. The thing that is the most ridiculous is that this is entirely their fault and yet they are not taking any responsibility. They’ve screwed me out of two trips and are doing nothing to rectify that. I’m still bitter that I wasn’t able to go to Paris for a second time, and that I missed out on showing my friend all the things I love about Paris and France. *Obscenity* you, Easy Jet!

I still wanted to go to London though – I wanted to get at least one trip out of this ordeal. The only problem was, now that London was only about 5 days away, it was difficult to find tickets that weren’t outrageously priced (which is why I had bought them over a month ago…). I had 3 essential criteria: 1) needed to be 250 euros or less. 2) NOT with Easy Jet. 3) that I would be able to get to/from flights via public transport. It was stressful – but I managed to book a flight with Swiss airlines, and I would have Friday night-Monday morning in London! WOO!

The group at Thanksgiving, minus Shawn

The rest of the week was pretty good – and Thursday was Thanksgiving! The Collège was very accomodating for our American holiday and made us a Thanksgiving feast. For dinner, all of us Americans dressed up for the feast and I was pleasantly surprised by both the Collège’s effort and the meal itself. They had set up all the tables in a giant U shape with new table clothes, wine with wine glasses, and candies on the table.  The French interpretation of this holiday is a little different from home – they had decorated with a playmobile scene of pilgrims and indians, a teepee, and an american flag. I thought it was all very cute! The meal was similar to the menu at my house, but certainly not as good as mom’s cooking! There was waldorf salad, corn chowder, turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and an assortment of breads. There was also dessert of pecan and pumpkin pie – though it looked nothing like our version of pumpkin pie! It didn’t look very appetizing, and someone else told me it tasted like the inside of a pumpkin. I had a great time at dinner, and there was karaoke in the foyer afterward. I also got to skype with both Karl and the family – it was a great day! I really wish I could have been home though – that’s one of the best holidays and it’s definitely not the same away from your family!

Dinner - YUM! Not as good as Mom's, but still good!

I didn’t spend too much time at karaoke though, because I had to pack for London! I made it through grammar class before I had to leave for my flight – and I had a level of paranoia that something was going to go wrong again, since the last time I tried traveling resulting in a canceled ticket without my knowing. It went fine – I had a layover in Zurich, and I saw snow there for the first time this year!

I was on my way from Zurich to London City airport, and we were reaching the time we were supposed to be arriving…and the pilot announced that there was a technical problem and we would have to fly into Stansted instead! Stansted is about 45 minutes outside of London, and London City airport is in London city center. This wouldn’t have been a problem…except that Kate would be meeting me at London City airport, and I didn’t have her phone number (if she even had a phone, I didn’t know) or her address! Hmmmm this was going to be interesting. The guy sitting next to me was really nice though, and he offered me his phone to call someone. When I explained that I didn’t know her number, he told me it was a blackberry and I could use the internet to send them a message instead. So, I wrote her a message on Facebook, since that’s how I alerted her that I wouldn’t be coming to Paris and she got the message. Swiss airlines was supposed to be putting together a bus that would bring us to London City airport, so I told Kate I would take that and would meet her there.

When I got off the plane, the information desk was closed, so I went to ask the man at the bus ticket counter about it, and he told me I would have to talk to my airline. After much searching, I found that there was no desk for Swiss airlines! Time to come up with a plan B. I checked the internet again at the computers available there, and Kate had gotten my message and had given me her address, tube stop, and a phone number of someone else in her group. I was much less worried then – no longer facing the prospect of being lost in London without a way to meet up with Kate, I knew it was now only a matter of when and where. Stansted has some cool machines that you can type in your destination and it will give you directions to get there – so I typed in London city airport and received some very complicated directions that included 2 buses, the metro, and a rail line. I decided I would get on the first bus of the directions, headed toward the city center. Part way through the trip, I realized that I had no idea where Kate was in the airport and I should just go and find the address. I decided to get off the bus at the first stop, Liverpool Street, since there was an underground stop there and I could find my way to the stop Kate had given me and just ask people for directions to the address once I got there. I had just made it to the underground and was contemplating buying a map or using the telephone, when I heard, “KAAATIIEE!”

It was Kate! I don’t know how she found me – it was incredible that she was in the Liverpool underground at the same time I was. I thought she was still at London city airport! Apparently she had sent me another message saying she would wait for me in Liverpool St station for the Stansted express – an express train from the airport, but I never received the message! She had waited for about 4 or 5 trains before deciding to just head home and trust that I would make my way there. It was such a great moment – still can’t believe we found each other like that! Thank God.

We headed to the flat and Kate showed me around and introduced me to her many flat mates, all other CSB/SJU students on the London program. Their group is huge compared to mine – 25ish students compared to our 10. Everyone was really nice and hospitable, and I was more than happy to have a free place to stay! We had a little pasta for dinner and hung out for a little while before going to bed.

The next day, we got up and had a little breakfast before heading out to see the town! I was freezing – London is way colder than Cannes. Cannes is about 50 degrees and sunny, while London is 30 or less and cloudy. Luckily, Kate had some extra mittens to lend me, which helped a lot. We had a really busy day walking around most of London – it’s much bigger and more spread out than I thought. We started off at Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, the London Eye, a Christmas market, some street performers, some gardens, Buckingham Palace (and even witnessed a changing of the guard!) and Covent Garden before we stopped to have some fish and chips! It was delicious, at one of her favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

We stopped by Westminster Abbey afterward, but unfortunately visiting hours were over by that time so we couldn’t go inside. We also went the National Gallery (saw Van Gogh’s Sunflowers there) and then stayed there for some afternoon tea! It was great – a whole pot of tea, and one of the most delicious scones I’ve ever had with raspberry jam and cream. I loved it, and felt so British! We walked through some more parks and markets, and I was loving the British ambiance. The telephone booths, the double decker buses, the “look right” and “look left” printed on the street, the British accent, the underground, tea, Big Ben – it was great!

We had dinner at a little Italian place and had some delicious pasta (with a hilarious waiter who kept making little mistakes and swearing) before some of us went to Hyde Park for Winter Wonderland! It was a cute Christmas kind of carnival – lots of lights, food, market stalls, and rides! It was a lot of fun to see, and definitely put me in the Christmas mood. We didn’t spend too much time there since it was cold, and warmed up at the flat watching a little bit of Sweeney Todd on the tele before we headed off to a pub for a drink. It was a cute little pub a couple of blocks away from the flat – it was nice to be having a drink in a real British pub!

The next day, we woke up a little later than we had planned, and started off the day at the Portobello market – a really long street filled with shops that set out their goods for the market. It was a cute knick-knack kind of market and we wandered that for a while before we stopped at Charlie’s cafe for some lunch. I had a great BLT and there was a group of 5 people speaking in French next to us! I was eavesdropping a little bit…but I actually heard quite a few French speakers throughout my time in London. Then we were off to the Tower of London! It was very impressive, and we managed to get in free! One of Kate’s flat mates had a museum pass and we got to use it to avoid paying the 17-pound admission fee – score! The Tower was very cool, full of history as it was previously a castle, palace, and prison. The traditional guards give the tours (nicknamed beefeaters) and we had a pretty lively guide. Apparently there has been executions at the Tower in every century except this one – the most recent execution was in the 1940s. Some really famous people lived or were held in the Tower – Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, Rudolf Hess, and more. It also houses the crown jewels – which includes the biggest diamond in the world! They were incredible.

It was already dark by the time we were done touring the Tower (even though it was about 4:15pm) so we took a few pictures of us and the Tower Bridge before we headed off to a huge souvenir store called Cool Britannia. They had so much stuff there! I got a London mug (which will sit nicely next to my Paris mug), some postcards, and something Arsenal for Matthew (though he’ll have to wait til I get home for me to give it to him!). On our way back to the flat, we stopped at an adorable little bakery, the Hummingbird Bakery, for some cupcakes! They were some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had, especially one that had some cheesecake in it! YUM! We hung out for a little while before heading off to dinner at the Churchill Arms – half classic British pub, half Thai restaurant. Interesting combination, but the food was great! Kate and I split our dishes – a spicy green chili dish and a mild thick noodle dish – they were both great, cheap with huge portions! The rest of the night was spent hanging out and packing.

I wish I had more time in London! It’s such a great city and I didn’t even make a dent in all there is to see. I was really lucky to have a friend living there though – she was a great hostess! It’s also sad that was my last trip around Europe…and I realized the next time I will be at the  Nice airport will be to come home on December 11th! It’s very bizarre. I am excited to go home, but I will miss France and Europe a lot. One of the things that makes it so sad is that I know it will be a really long time before I will be back here – nooo! I really can’t complain since I still have India waiting for me…but still.      I love Europe and how accessible it is and how many different things you can experience in such a small area.

It’s less than 2 weeks until I’ll be home…bittersweet.

Cannes sunset

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When in Rome…

Paris one weekend, Rome the next! I’ve just arrived back in Cannes after a really fun and busy weekend in Rome! I apologize if this blog ends up being short – really tired and still have things to do!

After three very short busy days at the College, I headed off to Rome with Megan, Leah, and Regina. We were going to meet up with Andrew, Evans and Ryan who had left the night before. We left pretty soon after morning class on Friday, and we left early since the Chinese president was visiting in Nice and Sarkozy was going to be there, so we were expecting a lot of traffic from blocked roads and a lot of security. We had no problems and we were at the airport super early! Always better to be early with these sorts of things, I suppose. This was my first flight with EasyJet – a very popular cheap airline here, similar to Ryan Air. We didn’t realize that when they said one bag, they meant ONE bag. Purses count as one bag – ugh! Luckily, we had enough room inside our real bags to fit our purses.

We arrived in Rome just fine (less than an hour flight to get to Rome – how cool is that?) and had to take an express train to get into the city center – the airport is actually really far away from all the tourist sights. We made it onto the train just a few minutes before it left – and we arrived about 45 minutes later. We stepped out of the station and realized it was kind of a sketchy area – not the best well lit and tons of graffiti. Welcome to Rome. I wasn’t worried  – there were 4 of us, and if you walk confidently and are aware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine. We had to find our new hotel – our reservation had changed. It was in a new location, but same owners. There was no reception area at the new hotel, so we had to call the owner to let us in. We found the hotel fairly quickly, but had to try several times before we reached the owner, Barbara, who only really spoke Italian. Luckily, she arrived within 15 minutes and the room was great – kind of apartment style without a kitchen. There was a big open entry room with a computer (free access!) and some things for breakfast. There were 2 huge bathrooms (both with a shower and bidet!) and we had a nice room with a double bed and 2 twin beds. Barbara was very helpful in telling us where we should go – she drew all over the map she gave me. We met up with the guys for dinner, and spent a calm evening enjoying bruschetta and pizza before deciding to call it an early night so we could get up early for a long day of sight seeing.

The next day, Saturday, Leah and I split off since we were going to see the Vatican in the afternoon, and the others weren’t too interested in that. All of the tourist sights in Rome are actually really close together and it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes of walking between the sights. It was funny to us that Rome only has 2 metro lines, after we had just been in Paris which has the best metro in the world! We each bought a day pass for the metro, which gave us unlimited rides on the metro until midnight. We actually didn’t use the metro too much since the stops are not always convenient. Anyway – we set off toward the Colosseum in the morning – it was great! So hard to believe that something that old is still standing today. It’s impressively huge, and surrounded by tourists and a bizillion street vendors selling things like scarves, bouncy putty, and other trinkets. Again, we had the impulse to respond in French and one vendor brusquely corrected our Merci with Grazie. The lines were really long, and we didn’t think we would have time to see all of the Colosseum and the Roman ruins before we had to go to the Vatican. We had bought our Vatican tickets online the day before, for 1pm and we weren’t sure how strict the Vatican was about showing up on time for your ticket.

We still had quite a bit of time before the Vatican, so we decided to go to the Trevi fountain. It was a bit of a walk, and we got turned around a few times (Roman streets are hard to follow! The name changes about every block, even though you’re on the same road). The fountain was beautiful, and mobbed by tourists. I can’t imagine how this place would be during high tourist season! We saw Regina, Andrew and Megan there and hung out with them a little bit. We each threw in a coin – if you throw a coin into the fountain, you’re destined to come back!

Leah and I continued to the Vatican, and had no problem getting our ticket. I didn’t see a long line to get in, but I was still happy that we had bought our ticket ahead of time. Everything in the Vatican was very decorated – kind of reminded me of Versailles. Every surface was covered in something – nearly always artwork – especially the ceilings! There are tons of museums there – we wandered through a couple before admitting to ourselves we weren’t interested and really just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. We still had to walk through 10-15 more rooms of art before we made it there, and it was AMAZING. It’s overwhelming when you walk inside. Literally every surface is painted – and it’s all incredible. It was so much to take in all at once, and there are tons of tourists in there. The poor guys who have to work in there just wander around saying “No Photo” and “Silencio” (Leah and I did sneak a couple pictures…shhhh). We stayed in there for a while, reveling in the fact that we were in THE SISTINE CHAPEL…before hunger drove us onward. We grabbed a quick bite of pizza at the Vatican pizzeria, since it wasn’t outrageously priced and we still wanted to see St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Basilica was just as amazing as the Sistine Chapel – jaw dropping as you walk in just because everything is so decorated and ornate and it’s just SO BIG. Also got to see Michelangelo’s La Pieta there, and St. Peter’s tomb. We couldn’t actually see the tomb, just the area where it was, but it was surrounded by people and it’s difficult to see anyway. We didn’t really want to leave the Vatican, but we were so tired at that point that we had to keep moving to not fall asleep everytime we sat down!

We headed to the Spanish Steps to spend a little time there and ran into Regina, Andrew and Megan again! Kind of amazing we found each other since there were so many people there! There was a military brass band playing, so it was nice to have some music to accompany the gorgeous sunset. We all headed to the Trevi fountain to see it again at night (gorgeous!) and Leah and I went on a hunt for canolis. I had my first canoli (when better than in Italy?) and I liked it – though I think it’s too much filling for me. We headed back to the hotel to relax a little bit before dinner – which was amazing!! We went to a little place near the Colosseum called L’Archetto – a restaurant recommended to us by Megan’s friend. I had the lasagna – and it was so delicious!! and tiramisu for dessert – I figured I should have it now before I left Italy, since I don’t know when I’ll be back. It was so delicious – and so nice to have such a great meal!

Today, we woke up early because we were all going to go to the Colosseum before we had to leave to get on the train back to the airport. Only Megan and I ended up going, since the others thought it was too expensive. It was a bit more expensive than any other museums I’ve seen (it was 12 euro) but what’s 12 euro in the long run? How many times in my life will I have the chance to go into the Colosseum?? We did argue with the teller for a little while – he wouldn’t accept that we were E.U. students and therefore wouldn’t give us the student discount. Apparently a student visa and proof that we live here is not enough – to him, it had to be a European passport, not American. It’s things like this about Italy that make me prefer France. The Colosseum was great – so cool to see. We walked around the Colosseum for a while and then wandered around the Roman ruins nearby. Spending our Sunday morning wandering through thousands of years old Roman ruins, no big deal. I love study abroad.

We made it back to Cannes safely and without problems (no getting stranded this time!). It’s too bad I won’t be going back to Italy again, though I’ve decided I prefer France. Time is definitely flying by now (very bittersweet!!). Now, only 3 days until Lyon!

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Life has settled down back to normal after my haphazard trip to the Cinque Terre.

Classes are still going well and keeping me busy, theater is getting a little more intense, and tutoring is still wonderful! I’m really happy that tonight, I’ll be having dinner with my tutoring family :) really looking forward to it!

This past weekend, our CSB/SJU group took a day trip to Aix-en-Provence. It was really nice to get out of the College for a day, and it was nice to be someplace that felt a little more like fall. It’s a 2 hour drive to Aix from Cannes, so it passed by pretty quickly. Once we got there, we had a quick tour of the city and then were allowed free time for 3 hours. Aix is very pretty, and feels very collegiate – it’s a big university town. There aren’t a lot of tourist sights, so Mickey and I just wandered the streets and did some window shopping. Afterward, we all left to go to l’atelier de Cezanne – Cezanne’s studio. It was the last studio he used before he died. I was a little surprised that it was so small! It’s a very small cottage house, and the actual tour is just one room upstairs. I’ve realized that I’m not really into art, so the tour didn’t interest me as much. Afterward, we just came back to the College.

This weekend, Mickey and I watched some of the movies we had borrowed from the mediathèque, the library, down the street. On Friday, we watched the movie Persepolis – and I loved it! It’s a great movie, and very artistic. It’s about the revolution in Iran and the radicalisation of Islam through the eyes of a young girl. Later, her parents send her to Austria to escape the war. The movie is about her coping with her identity, feeling like a stranger, and feeling like a stranger in her own country. And, it’s all animated! I was very proud that we watched the whole thing (in French, bien sûr) and I understood all of it! We had to watch with subtitles (in French), and that helps enormously. It’s still too difficult to watch movies without subtitles – it’s much easier when I can read what they are saying. On Saturday, we watched La Môme, or La Vie en Rose. It’s a movie about the life of Edith Piaf, a very famous French singer. It’s very well done, but a depressing story.

Tomorrow…we leave for PARIS!! I am so excited! Originally, we were going to leave for Paris on Thursday, but there is going to be a big strike then and we will have to leave a day earlier to get there. I don’t mind though – now we have an extra full day in Paris! We will be there until Monday afternoon (my birthday!)- so we’ll have 4 full days there! EXCELLENT. I think it’s really cool that I get to wake up in Paris on my birthday. The trip is not very structured – we will have a ton of free time. Beth will give us suggestions of things to do each day, but it’s up to us what we want to do. There are only a few required things: Friday morning, we will give our Revolutionary tour of Paris. Each of us has to present a site in Paris that has significance to our historical character (the character we played in the game for our class). Friday night, we will go to the Louvre as a group. Then Beth also has some optional things, like a boat tour down the Seine river at night, and a trip to Versailles on Sunday. I am so excited!

So, I won’t be updating again until after we return from Paris…about a week from today. When we return to Cannes, I will only have a couple days before I head off to Rome! Life is good.  In the meantime, check out the Lost Girls website on Thursday: www.lostgirlsworld.com I’m going to have a new piece up on Thursday, another re-telling of my weekend in the Cinque Terre.

Love to all at home!

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Well. I’m not quite sure where to begin to try and describe my recent weekend in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Many of my friends have been to this wonderful place before – the Cinque Terre – and after hearing their stories and googling pictures, I decided I just had to go. The Cinque Terre is 5 towns along the Italian Riviera, and it is just absolutely gorgeous – you hike between the 5 towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. It’s not a place you go to see museums and monuments, but instead to be in nature and appreciate the natural beauty. And when better to go than when I’m already here in France with some open weekends? I started looking into it,  and Leah and Alejandra said they would come with me. I went last Tuesday to ask about train tickets from Cannes to the Cinque Terre – and it looked like it would work, especially since it only cost about 50 euro for there AND back! Things were looking good.

We started to get a little worried if we would even be able to go…because there is an ongoing strike (la grève) throughout France because the government wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. France loves la bonne vie, and la grève is a national pastime. They strike for everything. And, more than 2/3 of the French agree with la grève – they do not want to work for 2 more years! It’s not just that it is 2 years, they believe it is a slippery slope…if it is 2 years this time, how much will it be next time? Younger generations and highschoolers are protesting as well. There are tons of protests every day and transportation has been on strike. It has not yet been a full strike where there are no buses or trains, but instead there may be one train for every three normally, so it is a little difficult to figure out which trains or buses are available when. Everything is very organized though – you can go online and see what is available when, and the strikes are planned in advance. The National Assembly has already voted on the reform and it has passed, so now it goes to the Senate which will vote (tomorrow night!) – if it passes, then it becomes law.So, I had checked on Tuesday with the train station but they told us to come back later because they weren’t sure if there was going to be a strike on Saturday, the day we wanted to go. Alejandra checked in again on Thursday, and they said they never know if they will be on strike until the day before, so we would have to come back tomorrow. So…Friday we all headed to the station, ready to buy our tickets if they said yes, but completely expecting a no. And we were pleasantly surprised! The trains we wanted would not be affected, and within minutes we had tickets to Italy!!! We were so excited – our first trip to Italy!

We got up bright and early Saturday morning for our long trip of train transfers – our first train left Cannes at 7:10am, so we had to leave the Collège at about 6:30am. We got there with about 10 minutes to spare, but Alejandra needed to use the ATM first to get some cash. For some reason, it didn’t work – and we figured the machine was broken, and didn’t have time to mess with it since our train was leaving in about 4 minutes. We made it just fine, and we were on our way! Our first layover was an hour in Monaco – so we headed out of la gare for a little petit dejeuner at a café – some tea and croissants :) Then we were back on the train, headed to Ventimiglia, one of the first stops over the France/Italy border. We noticed some differences right away once we crossed the border – the buildings are similar but have enough differences, and everything is in Italian! None of us speak any Italian, but between the 3 of us, we had three languages to work with – we all speak English and French, and Alejandra speaks Spanish as well. We were really excited when we got off in Ventimiglia for a 45-minute wait before our next train – we were in ITALY! We stepped off the train and heard all this Italian around us and thought, “this is definitely not French…and I have no idea what they are saying.” We headed down the stairs to use the toilet and were shoved down the stairs by a pack of nuns. Welcome to Italy. I was waiting in the excessively long line for the toilet, since there were only 3 stalls and no one was using the second one because there was poop on the floor…and then the woman ahead of me got stuck in the stall! The door wouldn’t open! She started banging on the door and yelling, I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, and everyone was looking around with a look of I’m not sure what to do in this situation. Some guys arrived and started to try to ram down the door…it was my turn to use the bathroom then, so I didn’t see the victorious liberation from the bathroom stall, but I heard everyone cheering once she was released.

We're in ITALY! In Ventimiglia

We headed out into the town to explore a little bit, and Alejandra tried another ATM. The ATM said the transaction was terminated and returned her card. Crap. We tried again at another ATM…and realized that her card had been deactivated. Luckily, Leah and I had enough cash and money on our cards to pay for her throughout the weekend – no problem, but an inconvenience. We wandered through a market with some of the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen, stands selling just pasta, and a huge flower market (though later we realized all the flowers were fake!). We headed back to the station and got on the next train headed for Genova, which was fine, but a long ride – about 2 hours. We arrived in Genova and needed to buy a regional ticket to one of the towns in Cinque Terre – we had decided on Corniglia because it is the third town, and that way we could hike in either direction to 2 towns as we wished. We got to the counter and asked English? Français? Espangol? and the woman replied, “english…poquito.” The story of our trip – no one spoke French or Spanish, and the Italians we encountered spoke broken English. We managed to get our tickets for Corniglia, but the train didn’t leave for another hour and we would have to change trains yet again in Monterosso. But at that point – qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire? We took the tickets and grabbed a quick kebab before hopping on the train. We accidentally sat in first class to Monterosso (luckily didn’t get caught) but in our defense, it was not marked well at all (we saw as we were leaving that it was a piece of notebook paper taped to the side of the door that said first class).

The 5th and final train!!

We arrived in Monterosso….and it was raining. Damn. We were not prepared for this – I had quickly looked online for the weather and it had said 60 and mostly sunny for Saturday with only 20% chance of rain. None of us had rain jackets or umbrellas, and we had packed mostly shorts and t-shirts since we figured we would be hiking and would get hot. Alas. On the last train, (train #5 of the day) the 10 minute train to Corniglia…one of the workers came around to check tickets. He checked Alejandra’s, frowned, then started talking to her and pulled out his write-a-ticket book. Turns out we didn’t stamp our tickets – you’re supposed to stamp those tickets because you buy them without a specific date/time on them, so you have to stamp them so they know you’ve used it just for this one trip – but we didn’t see any stamp machines anywhere! Besides, on the French tickets it says quite clearly at the top of the ticket that you have to validate your ticket before you get on the train – and it said it no where on the Italian ticket! Even it was on there somewhere, we wouldn’t have been able to read it in Italian! In France, the stamp machines are right in front of you…turns out in Italy they are tiny and hidden in the corner. Ugh. So he said, “this time you pay 5…next time you pay 50!” Whatever…but we weren’t in a position to argue, especially with a language barrier, so we just paid the 15 euro. And after, he just left! Didn’t check any other tickets, and if he would have started at the other end of the car, we would have gotten away without the stupid fine. But, we were finally in Corniglia!! We stepped out into the rain and headed for the information booth. There was no one there…so we just started to walk up the hill figuring we would run into the town. We were right – and luckily it let up raining about halfway up the hill.

uhh...where is she taking us?

It was already about 5pm by then (the trains took way longer than I expected with all the time inbetween), so the first order of business was to get a hotel room. Since we had just gotten our tickets the night before, we hadn’t had time to book someplace to stay, and figured we could find some place once we arrived, especially since it’s the off-season. We started to look for rooms, and saw on the door next to us that it said “rooms”…and this old lady in the window above us who had been watching us called down to us and presumably told us to stay there. She met us – sweet old plump lady with glasses and thinning hair who didn’t speak a word of English. She asked us how many nights…we said one, and she smiled and started to walk in the other direction. We were expecting the rooms to be right there in that same building, so we were a bit surprised and unsure…but started to follow her anyway. Hmmm. She kept walking. And walking. And walking. Alejandra and I exchanged some bemused glances…thinking, “is she actually leading us to a room? where are we going? is she just crazy or something? She looks too sweet and old to try and harm us…?” After what seems like forever, she finally stopped and lead us inside a building, up some stairs, and into a room. The first thing I noticed is a big double bed and thought, but there are three of us…eh, we can all fit. I was so tired and we just needed a place to stay. She pointed to the closet in the corner and said something in Italian…we just exchanged unsure glances, and she pulled down a bed from inside the closet. Sweet. It took a little while to figure out the price – Alejandra was better at deciphering the Italian than Leah and I – but it was only 25 euros each, so we paid her and managed Si and Grazie until she smiled and hobbled away. Well, at least we had a place to stay – with a huge bathroom!

We dropped our stuff and headed out to explore the town – it was really cold out and it didn’t take very long since it’s a pretty small place. We stopped at an internet café so we could email our director our hotel information and for Alejandra to try and figure out why her card wasn’t working. This one balding and toothless man kept coming in to talk to us, and left with “Ciao. Good night. Sleep well. Think of me.” We stopped at a nearby open restaurant for dinner – I had some spaghetti with paprika, and we discovered that the couple at the table next to us was from New Brighton, MN!! It’s a small world after all. We headed back to the room, exhausted, and freezing – there didn’t seem to be any heat in the room despite the storm outside, and the covers were very thin! Leah and I took the double bed and agreed that it would be understood if we woke up spooning. We set an alarm for 7am so we could wake up early and get a full day of hiking in, hoping that the storm would blow over during the night.

Our alarm went off at 7am, but we could hear the howling wind and pouring rain outside. UGH. Leah actually went downstairs and looked outside and reported back that it was pretty ugly out…so we promptly went back to sleep and woke up again at 9:30am, since we had to be out of the room by 10am. Luckily by then, it was still really windy but not raining! Nothing was going to stop us from hiking, but we would prefer not to hike in the rain. We pulled out all the long sleeved layers we brought (which wasn’t much) and passed them around so everyone had at least something! I layered 4 shirts under my track jacket and was very happy I had brought a scarf. Poor Alejandra hadn’t even brought pants – she only had shorts and leggings. We headed out and met the old lady along the way, who was coming to collect the keys from us. We managed some more Buongiorno, Si, and Grazie before we continued to a little cafe for breakfast of bread and jam and yogurt – yum!

Leah!

We didn’t get on the trail until about 11am at this point, and had to buy a ticket before hiking…but we were on our way to Vernazza! The views made all the struggle worth it – it was absolutely gorgeous, despite the wind and rain. The path was a bit strenuous, mostly because all the stones were slippery from the rain, but nothing too bad. It  was so great to be out in nature and hiking, and we reachered Vernazza in about 90 minutes. We even managed to fool a couple people that we didn’t speak English, since we were speaking French at the time! I felt as if I needed to get credit that I speak another language…it just happened to not be the language of the country we were in! We took tons of pictures, and once we had reached Vernazza, we decided to just continue along to Monterosso to catch a train back to Genova.

Corniglia in the background

Looking back at Corniglia

Leah, me, Alejandra at Vernazza!

Vernazza

with Monterosso al Mare in the distance

The second hike was a bit more difficult, mostly because there were so.many.stairs. We probably climbed over a thousand stairs that day! Many times, the path was only wide enough for one person, and a substantial fall would be just on the other side over the ledge. Some people still insisted there was enough room to pass on a clearly one-person trail…and we came close to falling a couple times. We were tired by the time we reached Monterosso al Mare, about 1.5-2 hours later. We went straight to the station to check for tickets, and it’s a good thing we did because the teller first offered us tickets to Genova that arrived at 4:58pm…and our train left from Genova at 4:55pm. Not good – little panic moment there, until she said, “oh, a fast train…” and we got tickets for a train leaving in 15 minutes that would get us to Genova by 4:15pm. Sweet. We had just enough time to grab a sandwich and eat quickly, and we made it onto the train just fine.

We had a little problem once we got on the train though…Alejandra and I went to our seats and saw that our compartment had the curtains drawn. I opened the door and fumbled open the curtains to find 6 people about our age in there already seated, half of them asleep. We just stared at them for a minute and began to explain that they were in our seats, and one guy tried to tell us (in Italian, of course) to take their seats elsewhere…we were about to argue more, but then Leah called to us that there were open seats in her compartment. We threw them some annoyed looks before taking a seat in Leah’s compartment. This was fine until about 45 minutes into the ride, when other people came to tell us that we were in their seats. So Alejandra and I headed back to the other compartment, ready to get our seats back, and they were being really stupid and uncooperative, trying to make it seem like we were in the wrong. I was about to call the attendant over when they let us in – they put 4 people in a 3 person spot…so Alejandra and I had spots…but really?? Why can’t they just go sit where they are assigned? They are causing a chain of problems for everyone else. We sat in an awkward/annoyed silence for a little while, until luckily some more people came along and told them they were in the wrong seats, so they all got up and left. Did they not have a ticket? Probably – but it’s annoying that they tried to make it look like it was us who made the mistake and caused problems for everyone else.

The rest of the journey passed without problem. Our train from Genova to Ventimiglia left about 20 minutes late, but that ride was uneventful. So, we reached Ventimiglia at 7:35pm and according to our itinerary, the next train to Monaco should be at 7:43pm. The woman in the compartment with us asked if we were heading to France, and warned us that there was a grève going on and we might not be able to get trains. We smiled and said thank you, mentally blowing her off and thinking thanks lady, but that was yesterday. Since we only had 8 minutes before our train left, we hurried inside to find the platform number. We looked up on the screen and saw all the trains to Monaco are “sopresso.” Shit. No no no no no. We need to get back to France – we can’t be stuck in Italy! This was just the icing on the cake of our less than well planned weekend. We verified with the ticket counter…no more trains until 6am the next day! It was time to call Beth, our program director, to let her know we were stranded and to see if she could somehow help us. We had to go to the station café/store to buy a phone card first – all the while analyzing our options. Option 1 – find a place to stay and stay here until 6am for the next train. Option 2 – maybe someone from the Collège can somehow come get us? Option 3 – some guy nearby tells us there is a bus headed toward Nice/Cannes that leaves at 11:30pm.We liked option 2 the best. The guy, fairly young guy from Romania named John, tried to help us figure out the phone – and after about 300 tries, we got through to Beth. Apparently we had been dialing the phone number incorrectly since we didn’t put in the right international code first. We are so lucky we were stranded on a weekend that Beth had rented a car for sightseeing! She and her partner Ross said they would look up directions and leave right away to come get us – we were saved!! John made some small talk with us, and gave me his number “in case you want to have a drink or something some time” which I couldn’t refuse since he had just helped us, but really not wanting to be hit on as we had just been contemplating our strategy of surviving a night in the Ventimiglia train station.

no chairs...thanks Italy.

We still had some time to kill, and we were really hungry. We headed out into the town to find a restaurant, but everything was closed up (which is surprising since at least restaurants are open on Sundays in France), but we didn’t want to wander too far from the station late at night. We returned to the station and decided to eat in the café there – they had a decent selection, but it was so confusing trying to figure out how to select what you want and then pay for it. We first saw some tables, and sat down expecting a waiter to come, as it said on the nearby sign. A waitress did appear, but just spoke to us in Italian and left. Apparently we didn’t understand the system. We decided the tables were too confusing and there looked to be an easier “a la carte” section. We tried telling the guy we just wanted some pizza, but apparently you don’t just tell them what you want and they give it to you and you pay. No, it has to be much less efficient and more confusing – you have to go to the separate cashier away from the food, tell them exactly what you want, pay, and then you show your receipt to the guy serving food.

We hung out on the station floor next to a hobo-looking guy playing Sodoku until Beth arrived! We were saved!! It was a great trip, despite the problems, and a great story now! I think I’ve decided I prefer traveling with a little more planning, but would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY.

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