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.