Monday, March 28, 2011

Paris, Je T'aime?

Of the four cities that I planned to visit on my Spring Break trip, Paris was the one I was most looking forward to. The most romantic city on earth...home to the Eiffel Tower, buttery pastries, and some of my favorite films. It was going to be fabulous! Surprisingly, it ended up being my least favorite city of all. I hate to be that person and I did enjoy Paris VERY MUCH but, honestly, it is highly overrated. There are far too many tourists to fall in love and it is such a big city that, by the end of my time there, I was more familiar with the metro system than the city itself.

Don't get me wrong. It's a really cool city but it's cool in the same way that London is cool. It's massive and there is a lot to see and do. There's always a concert going on or a show playing. The architecture is similar to London's and there's a lot of history there. It's pretty but not nearly as gorgeous as Prague or Amsterdam.

The Tower

We arrived at about 5pm on Thursday. I was still feeling sick and a little dehydrated so we took it easy and just took a stroll to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up. It was gorgeous and definitely one of those surreal "look at where I am!" moments.

When we went back during the day, it was even more beautiful. It's a tourist feeding ground but, if you can get past the sketchy guys everywhere harassing you with cheap eiffel tower keychains, it's totally worth it. We didn't walk up the tower because the lines are ridiculously long and it's hella expensive. Seeing the tower was awesome enough for me.

Champs Elysees

This is the famous street that leads up to the arc du triomphe. It's definitely one of the most mispronounced street names in the history of the planet so say it with me: SHAWZ EH-LEE-ZAYZ (one thing I really love about the Italians is that they pronounce words EXACTLY how they're spelled, lol).

So, we walked all the way up the road (which is far longer than it appears!), past shops like H&M and Louis Vitton, to the Arc. The Arc is surrounded my a roundabout approximately 5 cars deep with no street lines. It's estimated that an accident happens here every 20 minutes.

The Louvre

First of all, like most attractions in Paris, the line for the Louvre is CRAZY LONG. It takes at least an hour to get through it. Fortunately, our tour guide told us of a lesser known entrance through a metro station and we got right in. Score!

Secondly, the Louvre is HUGE! There are over 35,000 works of art and we were told that, to see everything, you would need at least a week. We picked 4 art pieces we wanted to see and it took us about an hour and a half to see them. It's an impossible place to navigate.

Kate and I at the Louvre
Eyebrowless and creepy in all her glory.

Mary Magdalene
You know you've found the Mona Lisa when you see the clump of about 50 Asian tourists looking at the same thing. Let me tell you something, the Mona Lisa is so tiny! I honestly didn't see what the big deal was. There are so many more impressive pieces in that museum and I have no idea why people choose to focus on that one. Maybe I'm being too snarky.

We also found Napoleon's coronation piece. In case you don't know, when the pope was crowning him, Napoleon took the crown from his hands and placed it on his own head. He didn't want anyone to say they helped him rise to power. He wanted all the glory for himself.

Notre Dame

We saw the church in the morning during our walking tour but we didn't get to go inside.

Kate and I went back to it in the evening to check it out. We didn't climb to the tower so no hunchbacks were spotted but we did get a different surprise. While we were inside Notre Dame walking around, mass started! I'm obviously not Catholic but I still think it's pretty cool that I inadvertently attended a mass in Notre Dame.

In 9 years of being Catholic, I never remember seeing a giant
bowl of smoke. The French know how to do mass. 

Sacre Coeur 

We were told that if we wanted to see the "real Paris" (aka, the Paris that everyone thinks is Paris), we needed to go up to Sacre Coeur, a church on a hill overlooking the city. It was still extremely touristy but it was much more beautiful than anything we saw in the city's center.  And, apparently, 90% of the film Amelie was filmed there (that's one of my favorite movies. If you haven't seen it, you should!).

The view was amazing and the church was really gorgeous.

If you've seen Amelie, you should recognize this. 

This was my favorite part of my time in Paris...and it isn't even in the city. The Palace of Versailles was built by King Louis XIV in the 1600s and housed Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and other famous rulers in the French monarchy. And it was the biggest, most beautiful building I have ever seen.

The gate, entryway, and molding of the palace is gold. I have no idea if it is real but it's shiny. The rooms are massive and the frescoes on the ceilings and art on the walls rival the Sistine Chapel. Countless crystal chandeliers fill each room and every apartment is extravagantly decorated. King Louis was not messing around.

The famous Hall of Mirrors
Marie Antoinette's Bedroom
The gardens are even more impressive. We didn't have time to walk through them all because they appear to go on forever. There are flowers, shaped shrubs, trees, courtyards, statues, lakes, streams, cottages, and some of the weirdest fountains I have ever seen. I really wish we could have spent more time there.


Cathy, one of my best friends from back home, is a French major and in love with French culture. Naturally, I was wishing she was with me the whole time. I would have loved to experience Paris with her.
If you can't read it, the sign says. "Wish
you were here, Cathy!"
One thing Cathy told me was to eat a croissant at a sidewalk cafe in Paris for her. Unfortunately, sidewalk cafes don't actually sell croissants (sorry, Cathy!). I did find a patisserie (bakery) and enjoyed my croissant on a park bench. I was still feeling ill so it was the first thing I had eaten in about 2.5 days that didn't make me sick (good suggestion, girl!) The old french woman I bought it from was so typically french. She didn't speak English and she was extremely rude. I also ordered one macaroon and she scoffed at me. Excuse me, if you don't want my business, I can go elsewhere. Both the croissant and the macaroon were yummy and well worth the fight!

Also, when we were enjoying our croissants, a parade of men leading goats and children came marching in front of us. It was the most random thing EVER!


I tried to have no expectations regarding French people before arriving so that I would not be inclined to find them rude. But there seemed to be a consensus among us: French people are rude. In Amsterdam, everyone was so helpful and laid back. In Paris, people just didn't seem to care (much like NYC). Also, most Parisians speak English but won't use it. If you try to speak French with them, they get even more mad at you because you butcher their language. It's really best just to keep your mouth shut in Paris.

I did meet one nice Frenchman at a cute hand painted porcelain shop near Sacre Coeur. He was adorable and took €2 off my purchase because it was raining and I forgot my umbrella.

Is it French or Italian? 

Many things that we consider to be French culture actual came directly from Italy through the marriage of Caterina de' Medici to King Henry. 

Food: She brought over her pastry chefs who introduced the French to puff pastry (so, thank the Italians for croissants and pain au chocolat) and other types of cakes (like macaroons). She brought the frittata, which led to the omelette. 
Refinement: The fork was unheard of in France (any anywhere else, for that matter) until she brought it from Florence. Thanks to her, the world uses silverware!
Fashion: Caterina influenced fashion and  introduced the concept of the 16 inch waist via the corset and was the first to wear high heels (maybe we shouldn't thank her for those two!)

Random Stuff

-We visited the Moulin Rouge! We didn't go inside but it was cool to see. I love that movie! Haha.

-We were entertained by a clarinet and saxophone player on the metro. I thought that they were there for my enjoyment but, when I tried to take a picture of them, they wanted money. An important concept I learned over spring break: It's all about the benjamins. Lesson learned.

-I had recovered enough by the last night of our trip to somewhat enjoy some of a crepe at a creperie near Sacre Coeur. I ordered Crepes Gourmande: Crepes filled with nutella and pineapple and topped with chantilly and toasted coconut. It was still a bit much for my stomach but I think I did okay with it!

And now, I'm home sweet home in Florence, Italy! As much as I loved the trip, Firenze feels so good and I was ready to get back. We drove 15 hours in the bus from Paris! (I made sure I was heavily medicated)

I spent a total of about 50 hours on this thing!

If you think planes don't have legroom, try riding on this bus!

Over the course of 10 days, I travelled 4500 kilometers by bus with 100+ college students through 7 European countries, stopping in 4 major cities: Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. My favorite city was Prague, followed by Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris. I'm going to have a tough time topping this spring break!

Talk to you all soon!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Amsterdam: Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children

When I say Amsterdam, what comes to your mind? If you're like most people, this is probably what you think of...

Marijuana "coffee shops" and the Red Light district. It's a shame that these are the things Amsterdam is most known for because it is an amazing city for so many other reasons.


The most infamous historical character to hail from this place is Anne Frank. The home in which she and her family spent 2 years hiding during the Holocaust is now a museum and the most popular tourist attraction in the city. It was, by far, the most interesting museum I have visited in Europe. And my friend/roommate Kate who accompanied me on this trip is Anne Frank's biggest fan. I know it sounds weird but she's read the book 4 times, knows all about the lives of Anne and her family members, and has been dreaming of visiting Anne's home since she was 10 years old. I've seriously never seen this incredibly quiet roommate of mine so giddy. Most people our age look forward to getting completely stoned in Amsterdam. Kate and I looked forward to walking through the house of a 16 year old Jewish girl. Different strokes for different folks, I always say.

The Anne Frank House

One of the most striking things about Amsterdam is how beautiful it is. It has more canals than Venice (about 1500 kilometers) and there are trees EVERYWHERE. The architecture is very old-worldy and buildings are stacked one next to the other, much like SanFran.
The quietest place in Amsterdam

There is also a MASSIVE park that we visited with trees, lakes, fountains, gates, and gazebos. A lot of people go there with friends to chill after a trip to a "coffee shop" but many just go there to enjoy nature.
So many things about this park reminded
me of the Sound of Music. 
Where the hell are Rolf and Liesl?
It was so gorgeous that I was perfectly content just walking around the city, window shopping, and dodging the many, many bikes.


Let me set the record straight: marijuana is NOT LEGAL in Amsterdam. It is, however, tolerated. The city's law enforcement has a long standing record of turning a blind eye to rule breakers. That's why there are coffee shops. Coffee shops are not coffee shops; they are a cheap disguise for drug dealers. Don't try to order coffee. You ask for a menu and they hand you a list containing everything from space cakes and lollipops to black widow and pineapple express. (note, I know this only by WOM, not experience). Coffee shops are never comfortable because the owners don't want you staying there. You go to the bar or a random bridge if you want to smoke. Though, in 30 years, only 1 person has been arrested.

Prostitution IS legal in Amsterdam. The Red Light District is seen as a business district and it's exactly what you picture it to be. Glass-paned doors with red strobe lights overhead and scantily clad women in the windows, waiting for offers. There are 3 requirements for these women:
-They must be citizens of an EU nation.
-They must be over 18 years old.
-They must be women (though, believe me, not all of them are. That's the blue-light district).
The women are treated basically like contractors. They must go to the tax office and register themselves as self-employed just like, say, a tour guide. Pimps are not allowed and women may refuse any proposition they are given. Also, if you try to take pictures in the district, prepare to feel some hooker wrath. They will come after you.

Our hostel was basically located in the Red Light District so I took many strolls through that area and it was as sad as I thought it'd be. What forces a woman to that point? How can anyone see that as okay? What's more, the oldest, largest church in Amsterdam (creatively named Old Church) is in the center of this district. And around the corner? A kindergarten.
Old Church

The kindergarten
Also, there are sex shows and sex shops (called supermarkets) all over the center of Amsterdam (you can get away from it if you move away from the center). Obviously there's a HUGE market for all of this stuff. I guess I just never realized how freaky people are.

For the sake of taste, I will not post any pictures regarding this topic. :o)

Holland isn't exactly known for its cuisine. The typical foods are pancakes and cone fries. The pancakes are different here and you can get them filled with just about anything. The fries come in paper cones and are covered in a sauce of your choice. The way I see it, Amsterdam markets these foods as their own just to cure people's munchies and hangovers.

Also, Amsterdam has FEBO, a fast food restaurant comprised of rows of glass boxes similar to vending machines. You choose what you want, put your money in, and pull your cardiac arrest out of the box. I did not partake but I was extremely intrigued by the concept.

One good food that I stumbled upon was a Dutch Stroopwafel. I got a coffee (yes, Amsterdam does sell ACTUAL coffee) and it came with it for free. It is 2 thin waffels with a tiny layer of Dutch syrup in between. I don't know how the dutch make their syrup but, Hoosiers, take note. It's delicious.

Unfortunately, my last night in Amsterdam, I got VERY sick. It's too gross to discuss in too much detail but I became extremely dehydrated and I was still feeling it in Paris. Because of this, I wasn't able to experience much of the cuisine in Amsterdam.

-The hostel situation was the worst in any of the 4 cities we visited on this trip. It wasn't bad. The hostels are always clean, give you a decent breakfast, and provide comfortable beds. But we jammed 8 messy female 20-somethings into a room barely big enough for 2 girls on a good day. It's a good thing Amsterdam was too beautiful to waste much time there!

-Amsterdam isn't a huge city and most people use bikes to get around. There are about 500,000 bikes in the city and about 10% of them are stolen every year (apparently the canal floors are lined with bikes).

Bikes are so common, they have their own traffic lights. 
As for the kids, just add a seat to a wheel barrel and call it a day. These things aren't just nifty, they're stinkin' adorable. 

-The people of Amsterdam are super chill. Almost everyone speaks English and they are happy to do so (I can't say that for all countries!). I didn't meet a single Amsterdamer I didn't like. Most of them were probably high but I will take a friendly stoner over any kind of grouch.
-The city of Amsterdam provides its streets with what I have termed "pee deflectors". Male public urination became such an issue at one point that the city installed these in many of its corners. If a man did decide to relieve himself there, he would be the sole provider of his own negative reinforcement (if you catch my drift).

-With over 50, Amsterdam has more museums than any other European city. The Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum are the most popular but you can also visit the Sex Museum, the Vodka Museum, and the Bags and Purses Museum.
-As is the case in most European cities, Amsterdam has really legit graffiti.
-And, when in the Netherlands, one must find a large wooden shoe to sit in.

-I would LOVE to go back to Amsterdam...especially to do mission work. It's such a gorgeous city with so many beautiful people and it's a shame to see how totally lost some of them are. Tolerance is a part of what makes the city what it is and I think it'd be really cool to show Amsterdam that you can love God and be tolerant. Christianity is all about seeing people as equal to ourselves, loving others, and treating them accordingly. That's a philosophy that most stoners already maintain so why not add Jesus to the mix?

Okay, so...Many of you have expressed a desire for detail when it comes to my blogs. I'm trying to go into detail without getting mundane so let me know if I cross that line. Believe me, I could delve into much more depth here! 

I'm writing this one after the 15 hour overnight bus ride back to Florence and a full day of catching up on random things. I look forward to painting a picture of the past 2.5 days in Paris for you all. Goodnight, my loves!