Saturday, December 22, 2007

Deutschland!

So today, I flew to Germany to visit Hannah and her family over winter break. She and her dad came to pick us up, and he is like a cross between Ben Franklin and Santa Claus. Brilliant and jolly. But without the gout.

First, we went to Düsseldorf, where I bought a classic children’s book with a bunny named Felix for my sister (who takes German) at a store where everyone was doing last-minute Christmas shopping, and then we went to a fisch haus (i.e. restaurant) where I saw a fish knife for the first time in my life. Until Hannah explained to me its purpose, I thought it was one of those peanut butter spreader things. And even after she told me what it was, I still had no idea how to use it properly. Then we wandered down some famous shopping street, and came back to Hannah’s for a dinner party. But first, the sunset!


A bunch of Hannah’s cousins came over, and I’m told they probably understood everything I said but just didn’t want to let on that they could speak English because they were self-conscious about their language ability. I thought that was kind of sad. I mean, you can hardly improve your foreign language skills without making a fool of yourself, and I’m sure their English was better than they thought.
Tip: Make a fool of yourself, or make yourself a fool.

(See, this is what happens when I try to be clever. Such behavior should not be encouraged.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Best pickup line ever?

So this morning I get up and go get breakfast, which is included at this hostel, and the guy remembers who I am, which is either 1) creepy, 2) nice, or 3) suggests a slow night. I’m sort of leaning towards 1) and 3). I’m chomping away on something covered in nutella when who do I see but Yuta, a guy from my French class at AUP. Never have I once run into a classmate in Paris, so it figures that I would run into one 6 hours away in Amsterdam. Probably because we are never all in Paris when the rest of Europe is a train ride or 29€ flight away.

Rather than wander around by myself, I tag along with him and his friends, and we go to the Van Gogh museum, where I learn how dark and twisty Van Gogh is and that he went through a Japanese phase. Neat. Then we got hungry, and Yuta’s friends knew about some legendary Dutch pancake place, and it was very good. It sort of reminds me of ‘smac, in the sense that they take a traditional concept and fuse it with other styles to make it better. I got the Indian pancake, which looked like this:

And the table had molasses that looked like this:

After lunch, we went to the Anne Frank House, which is as chilling and depressing with a touch of hope as when Frankenstein gives the little girl a flower and then drowns her. (I have not read Frankenstein. But I am reading David Sedaris.)

Tip: Anne Frank’s House does not look like you would expect it to on the outside. If you think you are there according to your map, but you are confused because there isn’t a crappy old house, don’t worry, you’re there. Unless you can’t read maps. In which case, we can’t be friends.

After that, I split off on my own, and went to a diamond… refinery? The place where they chisel them and give them facets and stuff. There were lots of Chinese tourists there. (It’s because we are drawn to shiny things that indicate possession of wealth.) I saw both very tiny and very large diamonds, and they were equally amusing.

Then I wanted to walk around the red light district, but at first I couldn’t find it. I was clearly walking in the area indicated on the map, but I was thinking, “Where are the – oh.” And there they were. The euphemisms in Amsterdam are excellent. For example:

Yeah, I bet. They also say “smartshop” instead of “buy weed here.”

Anyway, I went to get dinner at Satellite Sports Café, where I got those little pierogies which I already forget the actual name of, but are traditional Dutch things to eat. While there, they played Thriller and Ghostbusters. It was odd.

I went back to the hostel, where I met Jonathan, a random American college student. He was going to meet with his friend, and I decided to go along, so I rode on the back of his rented bicycle to his friend’s hostel. I hadn’t done this in a long time, and I’ve never done it when the biker isn’t Chinese, so I was a little anxious, but it was fine. When we were walking around, a couple of guys about 10 feet away got into fisticuffs, and suddenly every single freaking police car in Amsterdam showed up and they rather roughly shoved us all out of the way, as if their violent pushing was less dangerous than an accidental swing from one of the drunk guys. I was not pleased. However, I was also amused. Because clearly, the police here have nothing else to do.

Then we went to “wonder bar” where we smoked hookah (because obviously, getting high with strange men is probably not the best idea). At this bar, Jonathan and his friend, whose name I forget, but let’s say Mark, were telling me about the school they go to. It’s out in one of the flyover states on the west side of the country, and they learn about chakra and things. They “taught” me how to take my pulse and “measure” my chakra or something. You have to use three fingers, and then the sensation that goes through each finger is different. So yeah. I’m never going to go to that school.

Then later in the evening, Mark, who is 31, turns to me and goes, “So when are we gonna make out?” In my head, I’m thinking, “BAHAHAHAHAHA. Seriously? That’s your line? Are you kidding?” but I manage to say, “Uh, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.” Then, his response is even better. “Just kidding. But not really.” I mean wow, what a follow-up. Like a moth to a flame, baby.

Two final things:

Hand chair! (Watch Arrested Development.)

Street urinal!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

SNOW

So you know the obligatory sentimental, teary goodbye scene when you leave a school never to return? I think they make that up. ("They" being Hollywood, I suppose.) I turned in my calc final early so that I would definitely make my bus to Amsterdam. I was in quite a rush, so there was no looking back to admire the building I had spent the last four months in or hugging people goodbye; I was out of there. On the bus, I started composing a list of useful French for Cathy, who'll be here next quarter. Then my neighbor started talking to me, and I now know that one has to go through Mexico and do some shady business deals to get to Cuba (if one is an American citizen and not on an educational program). He also kept telling me horror stories (ok, relatively unpleasant stories) about hostels he'd stayed at in the past, so when I got to my hostel I was all paranoid about bedbugs and gross things. I used the flat sheet over the existing sheet (as if that helps) for psychological comfort.

Then we hit Brussels. You know what's in Brussels? Possibly nothing. But also, SNOW! It was beautiful, and definitely hit the spot in terms of post-semester relaxing.

Here's what Amsterdam looked like when I arrived:

Across from train station

Leidseplein

Heineken Factory (which was closed)

Amsterdam is like Prague in that no Dutch whatsoever is necessary, which is good news, since I don't speak Dutch or German.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Finals

If I were really blogging at the time and date of this post (and not in my statistics class, during which I previously spent time wondering how I could kill myself using only a ballpoint pen), I would've been incredibly stressed out, because I had an art history final on Monday, a term paper about democracy in Iran due on Tuesday (which I actually turned in on Wednesday...), a French final that just ended, and an advanced calculus final tomorrow. I'm fairly certain at this point, I had lost the will to live (read: be a student) and was looking forward to going home. So if I had really written this at the time, it would've been more like this:

I have lost the will to live. Why, God, why? I am tired and cranky, and I can't do math. Actually, this is not true, but nothing good can come from this!

Oh, also, I finally went up the Eiffel Tower "today," because it "is" the last possible time to do so, given that I "will" be leaving for Amsterdam "tomorrow" right after my calc final. I'll stop with the quotes. I also had foie gras at this special foie gras place on campus called Le Toulouse for the same reason, and it was delicious. Here are very few pictures:




I'm not adding a lot of Eiffel Tower pictures, because as you can see, it was kind of dark, so the pictures aren't that great. You'll just have to go for yourself. Get on that.

I also forgot, on Monday, I went to La Durée, a bakery/restaurant that is legendary for it's macaroons. And after having the coffee flavored one, I can say it's with damn good reason. It was like a little bite of heaven. Which is probably as close as I'll ever get.


I got a gift box for my landlady, and it's very pretty and unnecessarily nice. But I guess that's what I paid for. Even the bag they give you is black and - that's right - gold.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Polyglots

Our host's friend (last night's drummer) brought some food over for lunch for the 5 of us (me, Hannah, and two CouchSurfer hosts), and we uncovered one of our host's extremely extensive "Le Petit Prince" collection. He's got it in at least 15 languages, but interestingly enough, not English. While flipping through the different editions, we found that between the five of us, we spoke 8 languages (and I may even be forgetting some): French, Provencal, German, English, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish. So we read the first few lines of "Le Petit Prince" in that many languages. Of personal interest to me is that the Cuban version and the Spanish version were ever-so-slightly different. The order of words, for one thing, and the words themselves differed.

Then we did a sort of quick car tour of Marseille and walked around a bit, after which we ate chichis frigis, which are sort of thick sticks of fried dough that you can have cut in half and spread with nutella. I have limited pictures of Marseille, but here's one of the harbor/sea:


Then we went to the Arab market, where we saw smuggled olive oil and bought our dinner. We had some thin pancake-ish things with some really spicy sauce and some thicker pancake-ish stuff. Overall, it was excellent. We also had dates with cottage cheese, which may sound gross, but is actually surprisingly good. Also cottage cheese is more like suan nai in China, in that it's meant to be drank rather than eaten. I'm realizing how gross this sounds, but you'll have to take my word for it.

Overall, I would say my one day in Marseille is the most culturally educational experience I've had in Europe. It was awesome.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Salon du thé

Our Marseille CouchSurfer came to pick us up at the train station, which was very nice. The first thing we saw upon leaving the station was a rat, which made me feel at home, New York-wise. We dropped off our stuff in her friend's trunk (who was with us - no breaking and leaving things) and went to a bar where one of her colleague's was having a celebration for the completion of his thesis. In practical terms: free food and free beer. I had a Pelforth, which I enjoyed heartily.

After this, we walked through the center of Marseille to an Algerian tea salon. It was an amazing experience. We got mint tea and two rounds of shisha (which is immeasurably better than the crap they serve in New York). There was live Algerian music, and our host's friend played the drums and, I guess, "jammed" with the musicians there. Later on, another group of people came in, including a white girl who nonetheless was very good at belly dancing. Unfortunately, my camera was about to die, so I only have one picture of this whole thing:


In the car on the way to her house, our CouchSurfer explained to me that Marseille folk have a reputation for bad driving, as do Algerians, so she was doubly cursed. But actually, I drive exactly like she does. And I'm Asian and a woman. Funny how that works out.

A funny thing about Marseille is that it's got a reputation for being extremely dangerous, even across the border. (Hannah's dad called to tell her to be careful in such a sketchy city.) Well, we were walking around together at 3 in the morning on a Saturday night, and we didn't see another soul around, except for a woman who was trying to sell bread for some money. No one even remotely dangerous.

We got back to the house, and it was a REAL house. With two floors, and living rooms and everything. It was nice, after being in apartments all the time. Then it was definitely time to sleep.

Last Nice Day

Ok, lame pun. I apologize.

This "morning," Hannah and I went for lunch on the shore. I had seafood pasta, and the setting could not have been more relaxing or perfect. Except I broke a glass, and instead of having a socially proper response like apologizing immediately and sincerely, I kept laughing, except I think in my attempt not to be obnoxious, it came out as kind of a continuous snickering as the waiter was picking up the shards among the rocks on the beach. Whoops.

The bread they gave us while we were waiting for our food was amazing. In Ratatouille, they talk about bread that sounds good - this bread sounded amazing. Like a philharmonic orchestra. It was served perfectly warm, and you could almost taste the oven (in a good way). The pasta was also excellent. Plus, you can't beat the view.


After lunch, we went to the Christmas market and got some churros with nutella. Let me tell you, even without nutella, churros are already a lot sweeter in France than they are in Spain, so this was like a sugar circus in my mouth. Following the sugar shock, Hannah went back to the apartment to continue her work, and I trekked around Nice all day. (Obviously, Hannah is a significantly more diligent student than I am. I have brought "Islamic Economic Systems" to read for my term paper with me both on this trip and to Lausanne, and I have gotten to page 11.)

The Christmas market
(The fence is around an ice rink.)

Here are some sights I encountered:

Selling mini- to regular-sized Christmas trees on a boardwalk has to be up there with Santa scaling palm trees.

This is the Church of Jesus. It's very fancy.

This is a typical street in Old Nice.

Then I went up the big hill in Nice, and I stood in the exact spot as the photographer of the postcard I just bought for my parents. I could tell because if I held the postcard really close to my face, I could line it up exactly with my actual view. It was strange. Anyway, the view is excellent. You'll notice that I've said this a lot. That's mostly because Nice is gorgeous, so it's pretty from anywhere.


After that, I got gelati, because I like ice cream, and Nice is close to Italy. It was delicious.

This was followed by more wandering, and more sights:


Presumably, these kiddies were going to sing, but I didn't have the patience to stick around.

Stilts and a Segway? How often does that happen?

This was also followed by one of the most random experiences in my life. I was looking around in a Monoprix, which is a French sort of department store, and this French woman approaches me and asks me if I'm Chinese. I say yes, and she starts talking to me in Chinese. So I just figure, well this is random, but not that weird. I mean, I imagine she doesn't exactly have a lot of opportunities to practice her Chinese. So we chat for a little while. Then she asks, "Are you religious?" And all I can think is, "... Seriously?" So I tell her that I'm not, and lo and behold, she whips out three magazines - in Chinese - explaining why I ought to accept Jesus as my lord and savior. So not only does this woman randomly speak Chinese, she actually walks around with evangelist material, presumably, at all times. So now I have three magazines about Jesus. That's an excellent addition to the souvenir box.


Following this, I wandered back to the sea, constantly wondering if I had really just experienced drive-by evangelism. I decided I needed to sit by the water and watch the waves and the sunset. Then I decided: I'm right by the Mediterranean; it would be ridiculous if I didn't set foot in it. So I did. I over-anticipated the coldness, so it was actually fine, though I'm sure it was indeed quite cold. and picked up Hannah for dinner. At the restaurant, I ordered pizza and was promptly handed a ninja weapon to eat it.



Then we gathered our things, and hopped on the train for Marseille.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

To Monaco!

Hannah had some work to do today, so we agreed that I would go to Monaco on my own and we'd meet up for dinner.

I met two Americans at the train station while buying my ticket, so we sat on the train together. One of them pronounced "baguette" like BAG-it. He also said some very, well, stereotypically American things (in the bad sense). Even though he was Indian. And his (white) friend was visibly embarassed and amused. It was funny.

Anyway, we all wanted to see Monte Carlo, so we did that leg of the trip together as well. I decided against going in because a) there was a chance you had to be 21, b) there was a much stronger chance a passport was required, c) there's an entrance charge, and d) I don't have any money to gamble anyway. I'll come back when I'm rolling in the green. Literally. For now, here's a picture of what other people's fabulous wealth have helped sustain:


After that we split up, since I wanted to see more of Monaco, and the boys, oddly enough, wanted to go shopping. Weird. And now, a picture tour:

This is Feuilleville, which is, I suppose, where people actually live in Monaco, assuming the fact that people living in Monaco is an actual phenomenon.

The prince's palace

Candide in front of the harbor, taken from the palace area


A bubble stand at the Christmas market

Another word about this Christmas market. I ordered hot wine at a stand, in French, naturally, and the guy asked if I was French. I said "No, I'm from the States," and he responded, "Oh really? You sound French." I could've married him on the spot. Now, I know what you're thinking, because I also thought, "If I sounded so French, then why did he ask?" But there are a couple reasons to ask. For one, I'm Asian, so no one in Europe would assume that I'm from the area; also, I was in Monaco, which has huge numbers of tourists. All the same, I'm sure he was just being nice or hitting on me, but still. It made my day. Also, the hot wine was €2,50, and you keep the cup. And the cup was Ikean. So it was a good deal.

Eventually, I came back to Nice, and Hannah and I went out to dinner. I had an excellent plate of paella, and Hannah had some pizza. Afterwards, we went over to the local college where Marie (one of the CouchSurfers) was part of a dance exhibition where every dance club in the school was performing. She did a contemporary piece with perhaps 12 other girls, and it was very good. The ballroom however, made me want to cry. It was like robots, only worse, because robots ballroom dancing would at least be kind of funky.

Two of their friends came back to the apartment to join us, and we all watched L'auberge Espagnole, which is a great movie, and even better once you've actually travelled as a student and can relate to the characters. Also, it makes Russian Dolls (the sequel) make a lot more sense.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Entering the Riviera

Tip: Don't oversleep on an overnight train and miss your stop.

It actually wasn't that bad, since the next stop after Nice is Monaco, which is pretty close and very easy to get back from. But in general, it's probably bad practice. I had actually set an alarm, but I turned it off in a state of semi-consciousness and went back to sleep. Then someone was calling me and I did the same. About 15 minutes later, I thought to myself, "Wait, if someone called me, it's probably Hannah. Which probably means we arrived." So I woke up about 30 seconds before the train started pulling out of the "Nice - Ville" station. At that point, I didn't really care anymore, since I'd have to wait for the next stop in any case, and I remembered seeing that Monaco was one of the stops when I got on the train in Paris, so I wasn't too worried. Instead, I looked out the window, and HOLY CRAP. I saw a brilliantly blue sea and PALM TREES. It was amazing. The perfect break from the crappy cold and rain that we'd left in Paris.

The train itself was actually really nice. The covers were bright green, which is my favorite color, so I was unreasonably excited from the beginning. The rooms are kind of cramped, because there are six people sleeping in an area that is smaller than my parents' bathroom, but it's all good. It's not uncomfortable, and you save money on a place to stay and don't waste any time that you could otherwise be doing things.


At the train station in Monaco, all I had to do was go to another platform and hop on a train in the opposite direction. (Nobody checked my ticket, so it was fine.) I met up with Hannah, who had become thoroughly familiar with the Nice train station while waiting for me to come back.

After that little adventure, we set out for breakfast and found a little place called "Le Colbert," so naturally we ate there. The sky was so clear, and it was so much warmer, it was impossible to be in bad spirits. We walked around and I saw a decoration that involved Santa climbing up a palm tree. I cannot express how wrong that image is. But you can see for yourself.


Then we got to (drumroll please) the SEA. There was a BEACH and everything. So we just walked along the shore on what is roughly equivalent to a boardwalk (since the beach is rocks) though nothing like the Jersey shore boardwalk. We got to a little port, but the boat tours weren't running in the off-season, so we couldn't do that. In fact, a lot of things were closed in general, since it is customary for businesses in Nice to close for about a month in the winter. I would still recommend going in December though, because the thing about Nice is that it's a real vacation. There's not a lot of sights to see, unless you're really into art museums, and there's really not that much to do. You are essentially forced to relax (not that I needed any encouraging). I think that's the difference between travelling and going on vacation. A lot of people travel and call it vacation, but never get around to the relaxing part that is implied in the word "vacation." You're supposed to vacate. Your brain. And just relax.


Anyway, we went back near the station for lunch at a place called "flunch," which I thought was inexplicably entertaining. It was set up like a cafeteria (i.e. you take things like at a buffet, except you pay for everything you take), except the food was good. I got the "Christmas menu" which meant lox, a choice of salmon or chicken, and this chocolate christmas-tree shaped cake thing with chantilly cream. It was good. There were free "vegetables" that come with the meal, which I put in quotes, because it included french fries, mashed potatoes, (which granted, are both potatoes, but neither are something I'd call a "vegetable") and rice and stuff.


At this point, we hadn't yet been contacted by the CouchSurfers we were staying with, so we just went back to the beach to sit and stare at the water, which seems really dull, but is actually very, very nice. Hannah had to work on a little paper about St. Augustine's Confessions, so we talked about religion and original sin, which was interesting.


Then we met the CouchSurfers! They were incredibly nice. We all went out to have a street food sort of dinner of socca (which is a chickpea kind of pancake thing), pissaladière (which is like a pizza of onions and olive stuff, no tomato sauce), hot wine, and beignets (which are sort of like dumplings, I suppose). It was really good, and very cheap. For dessert we got nutella crêpes, which were a LOT better than they are in Paris, because the seller made them right then and there, whereas in Paris, they've usually already made the crêpe and just put it on the hot plate thing and add whatever you ordered. I'm sure this is due to volume, but it is why Nice's crêpes kicked Paris' crêpes butts.

We then went to a free performance which was between a Chopin concert (piano) and a play. It was odd.

Then off to home we went. We bonded over Georgia Nicholson, and Little Miss Sunshine, and "Friends," and it was good.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Leaving Lausanne

On the way here, all I passed were lots of fields, and also, I was visibly travelling from clear skies into rain. On the way back, it's so dark that all I can see is my reflection. I'm not sure which is more depressing.

Anyway, today we walked up to a little park that is really a green hill with some paved paths, but mostly we lazed around at home, because that's what you do on Sunday. We did walk around a little before the lazing though, and I have some other closing thoughts/photos for Lausanne, so here they are.

First, Lausanne is really close to France, so you only ever hear French here, aside from tourists. However, unlike France, Switzerland has its own currency, which I didn't realize until the night before I came. I was (unsurprisingly) looking up restaurants in the city, and all the prices were posted in "CHF," and I kept thinking, "What the hell is CHF?" Well apparently, CH is confederation helvetica (I believe) and F is just franc. So Switzerland has their own francs. I was not aware.

Of all the possible cultural exports, why Scientology? This is why people hate America.

I don't know what's going on here, but I'm disturbed. I think Señor Guevara is, too.

Graffiti is an art form in Lausanne, as you can see.

I don't know whether I should feel sorry for this child or just let it go and be entertained.

I understand that it's cruel, but I'm going to eat foie gras anyway. It should come as no surprise that if it comes to choosing between good food and animal rights, I will choose good food. A) I like food, and B) I'm Chinese. You do the math.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Lausanne, the beautiful

Ok, so the "modern" music was just weird. There was constant drumming in a schizophrenic manner, a guy randomly playing the sax every now and then, and a very loud and obnoxious vocal recording on loop. And when I say vocal recording, I don't mean to imply that there was lyricism or a melody of any kind. I mean just noises that were vocally produced.

Today though, was pretty awesome. We started off in search of some alleged Roman ruins. We found them, and well, ruins are not that exciting. See for yourself. (Candide actually is in this picture, if you look above the right post.)


But then, we walked all along Lake Geneva, across which lie the French Alps, and it is gorgeous. See for yourself.


Also, there are swans.


Then we ate at this restaurant:


I had perch, which is locally abundant, but I didn't find it particularly flavorful. After lunch, David and Janet split off since they have real non-tourist lives to lead, and I walked around the town. There's not all that much to do here, but there's a church sort of in the middle, which is surrounded by a small Christmas market. I tried baked chestnuts for the first time, and I must say they are quite delicious. Then I went uphill forever to see the cathedral, which was cool, but honestly, the view was better than the cathedral itself, especially after you've seen other cathedrals. They all start looking the same.

Tonight we are going to a tango ball. It should be fun.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What is "Modern Art" exactly?

This journey marks my first experience on trains in Europe. It's pretty much the same. There are, however little logos for where your cell phone can be happy and awake.



I'm staying here with David and Janet, whom I know from the ballroom team back at NYU. They've got a nice little apartment that is overwhelmingly furnished by IKEA, of which I approve entirely. Too many prepositional phrases. Anyway, my first impressions are that Lausanne is very hilly and very small.

David has cooked us a very good meatball and pasta dish for dinner, and Janet's prepared a very nice salad, and I am just mooching and hoping that washing dishes is somewhat equivalent. Later tonight we're going to Les Docks to see a performance that's part of a whole week of free modern art exhibitions. This one is music, so it should be... interesting.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Farewell, Prague

Roman had class again, and since I can't get back into the dorm without him, I could only leave once, and I had to take my luggage with me. I decided I wanted to finish up the Jewish Museum though, so I did just that, and the ticket checkers were nice enough to let me leave my suitcase with them at each of the sites. For lunch I had a potato cake with sausage at one of the stands in the Christmas market. It was good, but not put-hot-dogs-to-shame good. Maybe put hot-dog-buns-to-shame good.

Then, since I had nothing left to do and I had my suitcase, I left for the airport. This time, I got there 35 minutes before check-in started, so I was well in the clear. Thus ends my trip to Prague.

After getting on the plane, they play some weird yoga/spa-inspired music, and then this really creepy guy says, "Welcome aboard. Take a breath. Relax. Enjoy your flight." I'm not sure if he's trying to soothe me or lull me in a false sense of security so he can rape my children.

Upon leaving, my general impressions are as follows:

Prague is really small. If you're in a touristy area, you can walk to any other touristy area.

Tip: Don't bother buying the day pass for the metro, just buy single rides.

Prague is really low. When I got back and my train passed the Eiffel Tower, I was like, "Holy crap, that thing is tall."

Prague can also be kind of creepy. Like many cities, there is a TV tower. Like many post-Communist cities, it was constructed by the Communists. In order to de-Communize it, they added sculptures and tacked them on the sides. You might ask, "What are these sculptures of?" You probably wouldn't expect the answer to be, "Babies. Crawling vertically up and down the tower. With TVs for heads." I'm not kidding; I swear.

Besides being creepy though, Prague is really beautiful. It's a small but sprawling city of orange roofs and pretty old churches and synagogues, and come on, it has a history of defenestration. History doesn't get funnier than throwing people out of windows as part of a revolution.

Also, this is exceedingly specific, but the NYU Osadni dorm is really, really nice. The space is huge (everything - kitchen/dining room, living room, bedroom, bathroom), the kitchen is well-stocked (pots and pans, appliances, silverware, dishes, you name it), and I think there's even some kind of cleaning service. Ridiculous.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Czech me out!

That's not just me being lame; it's on a lot of T-shirts and shot glasses.

Since Roman had class, I was on my own today, but honestly, I actually prefer it that way. I find that when I follow someone around their city, I don't actually get to know it because I don't pay attention to where I'm going. Plus, I have a lot more freedom to do exactly what I want when I want at the pace I want. It's really the best way for me, personally, though I know others prefer to travel with company.

I started off at the Christmas markets for lunch, since they have some presumably traditional Czech finger foods there. First I had langoše, which is like a slice of plain cheese pizza, except it's really crispy dough, with ketchup (instead of tomato sauce) and lots of grated cheese. It was really good. Then I had klobasa, which puts American hot dogs to shame. After eating, I made my way over to the Charles Bridge, which I crossed to go see the Lennon Wall, which is incidentally across from the French Embassy. I wandered around the area for a bit, then made my way back to the Christmas market, where I got some baked apples, which is baked apple slices (obviously) with sugar and cinnamon arranged in a circle around raisins covered in rum. I then decided to stop at the Franz Kafka Cafe, where I had the "Franz Kafka" coffee, which is espresso, peppermint liquer, and whipped cream. It was good, but not as mind-blowing as the Kahlua caramocha at Coffee Heaven.

Then I checked out the Jewish Museum, since it is highly recommended by Rick Steves. When I got out of the Maisel Synagogue (the first stop), I noticed the sun was setting, so I rushed over to the Vltava (the river) and snapped some photos, before heading over to the Spanish Synagogue. I did not, however, realize that the synagogues closed at 4:30pm in the off-season, so I was unpleasantly surprised to be ushered out of the Spanish Synagogue (which is gorgeous) at that time. Alas.

I killed the rest of my time wandering around until 6pm, at which point I headed over to a bar to see NYU students perform jazz. It was actually a lot better than I expected it to be, and the lounge had a great atmosphere, so I'm very glad I went. Then the Andy from Catholic mass, some of his friends, and I went to dinner at a traditional Czech restaurant/beer hall, where I had a "Devil's Wheel" (potato cake with pork) and a cut of pork with cabbage and "dumplings" (which are really just bread-ish things). I also ordered a dark Budweiser Budvar, which was really good.

We then headed over to a karaoke bar, but there was some kind of group politics going on, so we left, and I went home.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oh, Good Lord

Megan and I started the day off way too early, since we had to go to Catholic mass to hear our friend Andy sing. (This is a different Andy than before, not that it matters to your comprehension of the post.) This is the first time I've ever been to church, if you don't count the evensong service I attended at St. Paul's in London. Holy Mother of God, mass is long. I fell asleep. Several times. That's how long it is. Andy sang towards the end, during communion, and it was good. Afterwards, Megan and I were starving, so we went to a mall at Flora to get some food. I went to the Chinese food stand, and since I don't know any Czech, I asked the cashier in Chinese what the menu said. She stared at me and then shrugged. Luckily though, one of the chefs was actually Chinese, so he helped me out.

At this same mall, I got a Kahlua Caramocha (I think there's alcohol in everything in Prague) at Coffee Heaven, which I'm told is the Czech equivalent of Starbucks. This might actually approach the best coffee drink I've ever had. Then we parted ways, and I went to meet up with Roman again. This time, he took me on an excessively long walk to the world's largest equestrian statue (from which there is also a good view, but perhaps not worth the trouble). We then walked excessively much to get back to Old Town, where I looked around the Christmas market and took a trek through the Jewish Quarter. We also stopped at Bohemia Bagel again for some mulled wine, and I got a slice of Bailey's Double-Chocolate Cheesecake. At the Christmas market, I also had trdelnik, which is like a hollow cuff-looking thing of dough covered in sugar and cinnamon. Excellent.

Then we went home because Roman had some work to do, and I also had to begin/write/finish my art history paper, which was due the next morning. I procrastinate internationally.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's the Christmas season!

I am actually really glad that I procrastinated all my travelling until late in the semester because everything is Christmas-ed up now. It's beautiful.

Anyway, Andy, Roman, and I started off the day with brunch at Bohemia Bagel, a diner-style restaurant opened by some American guy in Prague. I had scrambled eggs with spinach, tomato, and cream cheese, plus hash browns and bacon. We all also got mulled wine, which is a European Christmas tradition. Depending on where you get it, it can range from simply wine that is hot, to hot wine with a dash of cinnamon and a squirt of citrus. At Bohemia Bagel, it is amazing.

After that rather filling meal, we walked through Old Town to the castle district, which is where the old castle used to be (obviously) and is also home to St. Vitus Cathedral. This cathedral is a lot like Notre Dame (i.e. they're both very gothic in style), and we climbed up the tower, which took a horrendously long time. Seriously, it was hard. For some reason, the climb up the Arc de Triomphe was much less challenging; I don't know what their respective heights are, but I don't think they're that different. I think it has more to do with the incline of the steps or something. Anyway, the view at the top really is spectacular, so if you don't have cardiovascular problems and you're under 40, you should definitely make the trek. Oh also, it was pretty hazardous, since the tower is just one very narrow spiral staircase, so unlike the Arc de Triomphe, you have people going up and coming down in very limited space.

Tip: Try not to die or collapse on this staircase, especially since any kind of domino effect would kill many other innocent victims. Also, if you are prone to dizziness, watch the wall, not your feet.

Once we finished with the cathedral, we went over to a nearby monastery, which was nice, but I didn't find it anything special. We then wandered around the area and happened upon the Hunger Wall, which was put up during the Cold War. Then we walked over to Prague's mini-Eiffel Tower. I thought that was bizarre. At the café there, I got grog, which is hot rum with sugar. It sounds gross, but it's actually very good. We took the funicular down the hill, which was not that exciting, but still mildly cool.

I had KFC for dinner, because for whatever reason, I really like KFC, especially in foreign countries. It's odd, I will admit.

After all the touring, Roman went home, and I went to stay with some other friends for the night, which was great, because it was a Christmas-themed night at Megan's, which meant hot chocolate, cutting paper snowflakes, and baking cookies.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Praha 1

So what was fated to happen eventually, given my procrastination and always being late, finally did. Check-in for my flight closed 8 minutes before I got to the airport. I haven't learned my lesson though, because I still got on the plane.

I got into Prague around 6:30pm, so we went over to Roman's dorm to drop off my stuff and make some dinner. While eating, we watched an episode of "Yes, Minister," which I'd never seen before. It's not bad, but I think it would be funnier if I were British, the way Harold and Kumar is funnier if you're Asian (though I encourage everyone to watch it, Asian or not). We then attempted to go to Cross Club, which is this crazy venue that has mechanical things all around - along the walls, on the tables, hanging from the ceilings, on the way in - it's crazy. They were charging some kind of cover for some random band though, so we left.

This was on the way into the bar.

This is the National Museum, at one end of Wenceslas Square.

Afterwards, we walked through Wenceslas Square (which is really a boulevard lined with shops) and New Town to Old Town Square, near which we landed at a jazz club/bar and met up with Roman's friend Andy. It was cave-like, like a lot of French bars. That must be a European thing. Alcohol is very cheap in Prague. Cheaper than water. After a few drinks, the three of us walked up a hill to the Metronome where a monument to Stalin used to stand. It's basically a large red pointer that ticks during the day, and there's a pretty good view of Prague there.

This is clearly taken at night-time, so you'll have to take my word for it.

On the way back, I got my first smažený sýr, which is a deep-fried patty of cheese covered in mayonnaise or ketchup (or both) on a bun. It's quite possibly the best thing ever. If you like trucker food (like me), you would love it.

The following are just two random Prague things:

Yes, that's 3-person chess. I have no idea how that works.

Um. Yeah.

There's a lot of German in Prague, and everyone speaks English, so even after having gone to Prague, I still don't know how to say "Hello" or "Thank you." While this is mildly embarassing, I also don't care that much, because the practical use of Czech in my daily life is, well, none.

Tip: If you are like me and are always late to places, including the airport, don't bring any luggage you'd have to check in. I think this is what saved me.