Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back "home" to the Cantina

The next morning I woke up casually. I had spent a lot of my evening trying to contact my friends from the cantina without receiving any kind of response. I was kind of worried, but by this point in the trip I have learned that no plans usually end up to be the best of plans. So I woke up and got in a 30 minute workout when I finally got a text back from Daniela. She told me that the early of the two time options for my arrival was better for her to be able to pick me up...which meant I had less than 45 minutes to shower, pack, and be out the door to the train station. I shot into the shower like a bat out of you know where. I got my ENTIRE (because on my day of rest I washed AND DRIED, Vickie had a drier which I hugged when I saw because it was one of the frist I'd seen in about 2 months, every single article of clothing I had)pack rolled, zip-locked, and pack in 30 minutes. A new trip record. I was literally sweating by the end of it. I think they should turn it into an olympic sport- backpack packing. Vickie and I were out the door in a hurry after quick good-byes to Joe. We got to the train station and Vickie stayed with me until I was walking onto the train, such a great friend! My train ride from Geneva, Switzerland to Vicenza, Italy was by far the most beautiful...too bad I was sitting on the wrong side of the train to get the best views. The nice Swiss gentlemen from the Dutch speaking part of Switzerland offered to let me sit by them, but i opted for just taking pictures over them. They meant well, but a girl can never be too careful when traveling by herself. Not to mention EVERYONE around me was a chatty Kathy and wanted to know my life story and where I was going and where I had been...I just wanted to keep my mouth shut, stay mysterious, and journal. No such luck. The first person who sat across from me was quiet until he saw that I was writing in my journal, in English. Then he flat out stopped me just to talk to me. He was a 32 year old rapper from Venesuela who has produced 4 albums and was on his way to do a video shoot. The best thing about this 32 year old rapper? He had a MASTERS degree in POLITICAL SCIENCE. He seemed like he only had good intentions but I had to tell him my name was Allison an I was from Texas because about the second sentence out of his mouth was the about the fact that people from Venesuela HATE people from the US and actually even use us as part of their curse words...mmmmmmmmmk. Not a great conversation starter. Also when he was getting off the train (and I was secretly letting out a sigh of relief) a small bag of pot popped out of his coat. He promptly asked me if I smoked, and I informed him that I did not smoke anything, ever. His response was "oh, well I would've just left if for you if you did." I wasn't too sad to see him go. After he left that's when the Swiss gentlemen started to talk to me. They too were on vacation, traveling around, but only in Switzerland. I gave short answers and kept looking down at my journal. I wasn't trying to be rude, but no one seemed to get the idea that I just didn't want to give up my story to strangers. Then the girl across from me asked me straight up if I was on my own. I looked at her with the "yes, but please don't say anything about it" look and she understood. She actually got the hint and left me alone, only telling me to have a safe trip when she left the train.I liked her, and she was wearing pearls...made me like her even more. Something really fun about this train from Geneva to Swizterland was that everything that came over the loud speaker had to be repeated in 4 languages; French, German, English, and Itlaian. I didn't like hearing English again, and it was strange to hear the Italian and understand after three weeks of hearing languages I had no idea what they were saying...I started to miss French and just spacing out in my own little world while everyone talked around me. I arrived to Vicenza a little after 7:00pm, all worn out and in my typical travel outfit (all the heaviest articles of clothings that just don't want to roll up nice enough to fit in my pack). Daniela and Alessandro were at the station to get me.

It was great to see my friends again. It had been over a month since I'd finished at the cantina and left for my adventure. This time around the air was cold and there was a slight akwardness that came from our time apart and what I could only assume was their complicated personal schedules. We went to have a spritz (only 6 euro for 3 spritz, ahh it's good to be back in Prosecco land) while we waited for Augusto to have dinner. The spritz loosened up the evening and Daniela had already convinced me to stay a day longer that I had planned. One less day in Venice and one more day with them. I was okay with that. The time arrived to go meet with Augusto, but not before a smoke break. I had not been on a smoke break with my friends since I had left, and my lungs did not miss the 2nd hand smoke. I decided that I would opt out of any more smoke breaks taken during the evening in order to keep my lungs content. We went to meet Augusto at his family's winery. Augusto was the missing piece to making the awkward puzzle disappear. With one hug the atmosphere changed and it was like we were our family of four friends again. I literally felt like we were all different people until the four of us are together, then, we're family again. We took a tour of Augusto's winery while sipping on some of his family's sparkling rosé. The winery was a much smaller scale than that of Fattori, but charming and producing excellent wines none-the-less. We left the winery to head to a restaurant. I understood that we were going to a typical restaurant, but did not understand that it was Augusto's family's restaurant! ---I would like to point out that by now my Italian has gotten to the point that most of the time we were all speaking in Italian, rather than everyone speaking in English!--- We walked into the restaurant through the kitchen (the first moment I realized he must know the owners) and Augusto gave the "hello kisses" to his parents (the moment I realized it was their restaurant). We went to find a place to sit but the place was PACKED to the brim. It was by far the busiest restaurant I had seen in Italy, and now that I think about it, in all my travels. We had a prosecco in the outside seating area but it was too cold to stay out there to eat. That's when Augusto's dad told us we should go up to the house and have dinner there. So we did. We headed up the hill to their house and made ourselves, quite literally (TV included), at home! With every course the house buzzer would ring, Augusto would put on his shoes and walk down the hill, then return with a pot or basket or platter of food and a bottle of wine! All the food was amazing. We had an appetizer of salamis, polenta, and those wonderful just slimy enough mushrooms. We had a primi of rich warm creamy mushroom soup. The main course was beef and goat with sides of spinach and potatoes. We had garganea and cabernet wines from Augusto's cantina. We got our things together and headed to the restaurant for dessert. The place was still packed, so we got to eat our dessert in the kitchen with the staff, which to me was more fun anyway! We had that amazing almond cake with the crazy sprinkles on top that I had eaten at my going away dinner (and now understood where Augusto had gotten it, even though he tried to explain it to me before) and panecotta with a mixed berry syrup on top. We had coffee and two kinds of bubbly, one sweeter than the other. We watched Augusto give a presentation to the restaurant guests. he talked about the family wines and then opened the bottles of bubbly with a big chef's knife. I had seen that on TV before, but never in real life, so that was a fun experience. AFter this we went to a club close by to have some more drinks and dance. The music was techno and even though I was still in my non-flattering travel clothes, and everyone else was in typical amazingly beautiful Italian mode, I went ahead and danced my little heart out. I stayed that night at Augusto's house, on his couch. I didn't mind. Everything about this area of the world was screaming "home" so as long as I had a blankent I was fine.

The next morning I woke up early and laid around taking note of all the things about Italy I adored. 1. The concept of the thing that closes off the outside world from your house. It's like the metal doors that come down over business fronts in the city, only they are on all the doors and windows of every place in italy, either that or they have shutters! I love it though. I love waking up and opening up the house to the sunshine (hopefully, if the weather is nice)and the rest of teh world. It's like the house is waking up too. 2. Everyone in Italy always looks like they belong on a fashion show runway. Always clean, nicely dressed, nice shoes, nice ironed clothes, hair perfectly in place. Truely a beautiful people. 3. I love the food. The amazingness of simplicity. Itay has that down. 4. The mixing of water with wine and drinking out of regular glasses. It doesn't matter how you drink it or what you're drinking out of, chances are if you're drinking locally, it's amazing. After pondering for a while we had our breakfast of cookies and tiny the coffee. Then the rest of the afternoon was laziness at it's best. We watched Eagle Eye in Italian...well, I watched Eagle Eye in Italian, every time I looked over at Augusto he was doing the “baby-neck” as one of my college professors calls it. When I’d catch him nodding off I would wake him up and then try to explain what was going on, in Italian. Try explaining about 30 minutes of a complex movie in a new language, once again, the dictionary was our best friend. After the movie Augusto and I played an old style video game on his Playstation. I really like the old games where the only buttons I need to know are up, down, left, right, and shoot. That kept us entertained for a good 3 hours until we needed to get ready to go to the Durello festival. We had only planned on going to the festival to see Daniela, but ended up staying for a bit of the festivities. I was happy to see more familiar faces as I walked in the door, including Giovanni (this is the brother of my boss from the winery) and his wife and daughter whom I had spent time with at work and the Soave festival. I was starting to feel like the Prodigal Son returned home. It felt good to know I had been missed and it made me realize that, “Yes, I did make at least a little impact in the lives of these people.” Maybe they will forever remember me as that American girl that came and screwed all the boxes and labels, but at least they will remember me! And speaking of people who remembered me…The director of the Soave consortium also greeted me at the door. For those of you who don’t remember, because it was a long time ago, he was the one who made Guilia and I be in the promotional video for the consortium (which I’m still working on finding where they posted) one day when we were only suppose to deliver wine to them for the shoot. He asked me how I had been and how my travels were. He told me he still wanted me to come by the Consortium if I had time (which I didn’t but wished I did). Then he asked me how long I would be staying at the festival. I told him not long, and he insisted that I stay for just a while longer, telling me that he wanted to talk to me after he did this presentation for everyone. Of course this conversation was in Italian and it was loud in the building so in usual Rachel-form I only got about half of what was going on. I said, “okay, okay, okay, “ then went straight to Augusto and told him I didn’t understand more than three words this guys had said to me and we just laughed it off. Well, later I found out just what it was he wanted me to do. I was standing in the back of the room, minding my own business, going from table to table tasting Durello (which is a varietal that is new to sparkling wine, drier than Prosecco, but not as dry as a Brut Champagne, with not quite as crisp fruits as a Prosecco and a bit of a minerality) when I heard myself being called up to the stage. I broke out in instant embarrassment and nervousness knowing that I was bound to have to talk in Italian in front of this room full of people who would undoubtly notice every grammar and tense (because I’m really only good with present, simple past, and simple future) mistake that stuttered out of my mouth. I walked up to the stage with that stupid half smile thinking I really just wanted to crawl back to the corner and hide. When I got to the stage I really had no more of an idea of why I was there then I had before and just stood there looking confused. The announcer was speaking so fast and the reverb was so bad that instead of making an effort to speak Italian I played the “I don’t understand the words coming out of your mouth” card pegging myself as the poor Pretty Blonde girl that was only there because she looked nice. Which I found, upon asking the guy standing on the stage next to me, was exactly why I was up there! They played it off as I was receiving a gift from the consortium for being the person that had traveled the farthest to attend the festival, but truth of the matter was, I was pretty so they put me up there. To make matters worse, because I was so nervous I made myself out to be the Babbling Pretty Blonde Idiot from Missouri who really didn’t have a clue. After the presentation I basically ran off the stage and hid in the corner. So sorry to all my MO friends who I poorly represented that night, BUT I did get three really cool wine books about the Soave area. Unfortunately, there was no room in the back pack for the large heavy books, so I gave them to Augusto. We left the festival and went with Daniela and Alessandro to a new pizza restaurant known for their specialty crusts. I had a mushroom pizza and a wheat crust. It was a bitter sweet moment, realizing that this would probably be the last time I would eat dinner with my three friends, as well as the last time I would eat the delicious Italian yumminess called pizza. I savored every, single, bite. After dinner we went to a sports bar near the house to have one last drink before we all slugged off to bed.

Monday morning I woke up early and went to work with Augusto and Daniela. I was excited to spend time at the cantina, to be able to see everyone one last time before I really left. I dressed for a run and planned to run into Ronca to pick up my photo album from the lady who used me as her store’s model. The run itself felt very nostalgic. It felt like I was home again, running on familiar roads, but at the same time the scenery had changed, the weather had gotten colder… I took the time to reflect on just how far I’d come since I had first run this path. I had finished my internship, learning Italian and how to make wine. I had traveled more of Europe than most of my Italian friends might ever see, not to mention just more of Italy! I had experienced heart-break when I had to leave my friends behind the first time, but now I felt more prepared, more ready. It’s comparable to my vocal contests in high school, the first time to sing in front of the judges was always the hardest, but after it was over I always felt like if I could do it a second time, I could do it perfectly without all the nerves. Maybe I had just come to grips with the fact that my Italian friends would always be my friends, and that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I HAD to go home. Or maybe I was just starting to get tired and home was beginning to not sound so horribly bad. Either way, I finally felt at peace with the idea of leaving the place and people who had become so much a part of my life. My attempt to retrieve the album failed. The store front was closed the first time I ran by, so I ran a little further hoping I’d catch her on the way back, but there was no such luck. So in Ronca, Italy there is quite possibly an album still waiting to be picked up being held by a store owner who probably thinks I’m a liar and just never came by to get it. By the time I got back to the cantina my friend Francesco had arrived. Since I had left the cantina Francesco had started a new job. He came back to see me (and collect his last check, but I like to think it was more to see me :-) ). We walked around the cantina finding people to say hello to. I got to see Vassi, my funny Romanian friend. He was planning on leaving for the season on December 6th. He explained to me that working the harvest for 5 months in Italy gives him enough money to live the rest of the year in Romania. He was excited to get back to his family and friends. Francesco and I spent about an hour walking around until he had to go get ready for work. He dropped me off at the bank and we said our goodbyes. “Last hugs” and very touching moments. Francesco and I had started off not understanding even a small bit of each other. I was pretty convinced that he didn’t even like me. Little by little we could make conversation and understand each other, allowing us to really become friends. I told Francesco if he ever wanted to come to the US to work on a farm (because he’s an Agriculture boy) that I had plenty of connections for him in Missouri. He wasn’t too convinced he could make it by with his English non-skills, but I told him he’d get the hang of it. After he left I hit up the ATM to prepare for my trip to Venice the next day, then I walked around the little town of Terrosa running across a beautiful church I had never noticed and the little grocery store that Augusto and Alessandro had taken me to the first day that I ate lunch with the Cantina employees. I bought some grissini and cookies and took them to Franco’s where I met my Cantina friends for lunch. It was nice to have everyone around the table again (minus Francesco and Giulia). After lunch I spent the rest of my day using the computer finding hostels, buying tickets, house cleaning basically, getting ready for a trip to Venice and the following trip to Spain. Augusto and I left the cantina around 6:30 then headed home. Augusto taught me how to make a Spritz, telling me that way I could make them when I got back to the US. We had our Spritz while we waited for his neighbor, Andrea, to join us for dinner. We had Pasta con Tonno (tuna) just like Augusto had made for me the lunch time I spent at the Cantina. Andrea brought a large tray of small Italian pastries in honor of my departure. From this I finally got to try a Sicilian Cannoli, however it wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. I must prefer the ones Julia and I made at Nonna’s Italian American Café in Springfield, MO! We drank Giulia’s Prosecco so that we could feel like she was a part of it all as well. Alessandro and Daniela joined us later in the evening just to say goodbye (which was a lot easier, with a LOT less tears this time). After everyone left I started some laundry, got my pack as ready as possible, then listened to some orchestra music to calm my nerves and get to sleep in preparation for the most un-planned part of my trip.

I left early the next morning. Augusto took me to the bus station and left me in the care of an older couple who was taking the same bus as me to Vicenza. It was hard to say bye to Augusto. He had been so much like an older brother to me, always making sure that I was feed and taken care of, always stopping to explain things to me even if it took an extra five minutes. But I promised him I wouldn’t cry until he was gone and I managed to hold it together with thoughts of seeing Venice. I would take the bus to Vicenza and go to the train station to catch my train to Venice, arriving there at 8am. I would have all day and one night in Venice, then I would leave the next morning on a plane to Barcelona, Spain.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Switzerland: Europe-wise Vickie, Cheese Castles, and Day 92.

Stephanie brought me to the train station in Vienne after stopping to take pictures of the Guidal mansion which was the main French target when trying to find a place to accept me as an intern. They refused because of work visas, but can you imagine how different my experience in Europe could've been had I done the internship in France instead of Italy? The people I wouldn't have met, the places I probably wouldn't have seen? Crazy to think how one detail can change so much. I'm confident it played out as it should've, but it was till neat to see the literal mansion that the Guidal's live in. I arrived the station in the afternoon and Steph and I said our goodbyes. Nothing too mushy gushy, but I believe I've made a friend (through a friend)for life.

Once on the train I really wished I could remember more of that two week French clas I took before I took the Italian class. I sat there in my seat wondering if I was on the right train. The scroll kept saying something about Geneva, but it just didn't feel quite right. So I asked (in Italian) "Questa a Geneve?" "Oui, Oui," my train mates said. So I felt better. Untiiiil the man came around to check our tickets and told the person across from me, "Yes, this for you is okay. -then he looked at my ticket, looked at me and said- but for you, is not okay." My heart stopped. We'd been riding for at least 30 minutes which meant I was 30 minutes in the wrong direction and who knew when the next stop would be. Luckily my train was a "two part train" (as he called it). The front part would go to Geneva but the second part wouldn't, I was on back section...I had to get off the train at the next stop and reboard the front half of the train. Only the train all looked the same to me so when I got off I just stood there looking confused trying to figure out which way was the front half. Luckily the nice ticket man assumed I wouldn't know where to go and hung out the window to get my attention to wave me in the right direction. I felt like I had just added a point to the "Dumb American" sterotype scoreboard...but oh well, at least I wasn't going to be lost. Once on the train I was able to relax and ponder on whether or not I would recognize the friend of a friend who was picking me up at the station...I hadn't even spoken with her yet. I only had a profile picture to go off of; good old Facebook! As I looked around from my spot in the caboose of the train I counted at least 5 other backpackers. I knew they were traveling because, well, of course I saw their packs, but also everyone of them looked exhausted and were half-sleeping curled up a smaller bag of what no doubtedly held their most valuable belongings. I could sympathsize with them. I was tired. I was still sick from allergies that started in Hungary (seriously how much snot can one human produce?). I had spent three crazy almost sleepless days in Paris, followed by four days of eating and drinking luxoriously at this point I wanted carrots, water, and the same pillow for more than three nights at a time.

I had no problems recognizing Vickie. She was the only other person who looked like they were looking for someone whom they had no idea what they looked like. We hugged. This is important because I've come to realize that a greeting can set the whole tone of a first impression and when dealing with different countries and the "Do they kiss? Do they not? How many times? Which side do they lean to first?" questions that run through your head in the first 3 seconds of knowing someone, it can get messy. The hug though, it says friends, comfort, safety. Perfect. I realized right away that Vickie was no ordinary American living in Europe. She was "Europe-wise" if you will. She had been living here long enough to know where to go to find real Orbit gum, the closet brand to Chapstick, and she even explained to me why I was having so much trouble with European washing machines! This lady is a fireball of energy and knowledge. Just to give you an idea of her energy level, she's doing student teaching for two different subjects for two different grade levels! Luckily for me, she still had energy enough to welcome me into her home and make me wonderful dinners. :) Which is exactly what she did when we got home from the grocery store. She gave me the grand tour of the house then left me to a bottle of 2008 Solum Dole from Valais Switzerland. 14 Swiss Franks from the Coop Merche. It was a clear brick red and had aromas of black cherry and not just oak but a cherry oak. When smelling it I was reminded of shop class in 7th grade and really wanting to make my CD clock case out of red cherry oak wood but decided on a much less expensive wood instead. The tastes on this wine were similar to a termpernillo with leather, tabacco, pepper and then little flirts of fruit flavors all over the palate. I was surprised that it had such flavors because usally a wine with these charactheristics is grown in a much warmer region and Switzerland is mostly cold...right? This was a very good wine, but once again, like Hungary, the Swiss drink all the wine they make...didn't their momma's teach them to SHARE? Well, mine did. So when Joe got home from work I shared the wine with him and Vickie and we got to know each other over minestrone soup and yummy salad.

Day two in Swizterland started with a trip to the gym. Joe was going to work out and invited me along. I decided to attend a cyclying class. When Joe and I found the room the weight room attendant set up a bike for me then he and Joe went on their way and I hopped on my bike to warm up. So I'm spinning along, minding my own business, when about 20 or so male soccer players enter the room and take the two rows directly behind me. So I'm thinking, "Okay, you really can't look like you're struggling with this class or you'll look so stupid in front of all these boys." Little did I know that was the least of my worries. Not long into the class my bike started to squeak. Not just a small squeak, but a loud squeak each time I spun my wheels. I mean, even the teacher noticed and tried to cover the sound by turning up the volume of the music. So I get off my bike and try (unsucessfully) to adjust the bikes on either side of mine. I gave up and hopped back on my bike. Not long after the weight room attendant came in with a can of oil and stopped me so that he could oil the chains. The squeaking would not be defeated so he adjusted the bike next to mine and left me to the class (because it was still going as all this is happening). Well the new bike didn't squeak, but it made a wonderful *crachet* noise instead...whyyyy me? So I just kept peddling hoping that it was at least less annoying than the squeak. Then I reached down to get a drink of water and when I tried to put the bottle back on teh floor the top popped off causing a flood of water under my bike...whyyyy me?? So I tried to clean it up with some paper towels, doing my best to avoid eye contact with anyone, then hopped back on my bike for the rest of the class. Afterwards I cleaned my bike and basically stared at the floor until I was safely out the door and out of embarassment's way. I'm sure they had a great story to tell all their friends that night, and maybe the team will think back fondly on that "poor clumsy American girl from spin class that one day." Back in the car, Joe got a good laugh out of the story, as did I, and then we were off to his and Vickie's favorite little French (because Geneva is completely surrounded by France so just a little ways in either direction and you were back in France, it wreaked havoc on my "Welcome to a new country" texts from my Europen phone provider) bakery to get crossiants. I don't much care for crossiants *insert large gasps here* or the crossiants with chocolate (because quite honestly I don't care much for chocolate either *more large gasps*) but I had to try them, and they were better than other ones I had tasted before...but still not my favorite. We made it home to find the remains of a package of gum scattered over the basement floor. The family dog, Snowball, decided to have a tasty snack while we were gone. He ate the ENTIRE pack of gum...and the packaging. And apparently he preferred only the mint gum because he had taken the fruity package as well but just brought it to his cage and not actually eaten it. I have never seen a dog eat gum before, but I learned my lesson and kept my door shut to keep it from happening again! After I got over teh shock of a dog that eats gum, I got cleaned up and ready to go out into the town. Joe and I went to have lunch (Vickie was busy doing the important teacher thing) at a little cafe that is known for its soup. So well known, as a matter of fact, that they were out for the day by the time we got there. We had quiche and salad instead and it was a delicious balance of flakey crust and fluffy eggs with salmon and broccoli that was cooked to have just enough of a bite to it. Yuuummm. For dessert, what else? Swiss chocolate. Like I said, not a huge chocolate fan, but I wasn't going to go to Switzerland and NOT eat chocolate. My favorite was the candied orange dipped in dark chocolate (which I got because Vickie had suggested it). -Quick break for an interesting fact. Joe told me skiing is so important to the Swiss that every year the schools let out for a week for the sole purpose of allowing the kids time to go skiing! Also every week on Wednesday the younger kids will have the whole day off from school and the older kids will get a half day just to go skiing! They also still celebrate Potato week which used to be the week where everyone would stay home to help harvest potatoes, but now is just a holiday.- Joe dropped me off in the center of town and left me to explore on foot while he headed to work. I walked around for about 3 hour exploring everything and taking lots of pictures. I went up to the church that was once a Catholic cathedral but Martin Luther turned to a Protestant church and stripped of all its statues. It was strange to be in such a grandoise building that seemed so naked inside. I walked in and out of stores looking for a ring to buy for Switzerland. One store I went in and the lady asked me in French if I needed something, not thinking I answered, "No Grazie." And the lady started speaking to me in fluent Italian...I decided then that it probably wasn't safe to pretend to be Italian in this country. I felt like everyone in Geneva was from all over the world and no matter what language you spoke someone probably had you covered. My last stop for the evening was to a department store, like a JcPenny, but in the bottom floor they sold wine and speciality foods. I shopped around, tasted some samples of olive oil (none as good as Colleen's I helped to make in Tuscany), then purchased a couple of bottles as gifts for Joe and Vickie. I took the bus home, which was good for me because I've discovered that the Metro and I get along great, but the bus system tends to be more of a foe than a friend. BUT I did make it to the bus stop near the house and with the directional help of some construction zones, made it back to the house. Vickie made us pan seared salmon breasts with zucchini and boiled potatoes that we had with a Savingion Blanc from South Africa. Honestly not the best pairing, which was my fault because I forgot that SavBlanc from SA has a very distinct Green Pepper taste to it that was a little over powering with the Salmon...oh well, live and learn, and now I'll remember!

The next day Joe dropped me off at the foot of the Geneva market. I walked around looking at the different produce and goods, people watching. I love to watch the interaction between the vendors and locals at these markets. People always benefit when they have a friendly relationshop with the vendor, you can watch as he or she pulls the "prime crop" out from behind the table and gives it to them at a fair price. Maybe it springs from the fact that I came from a farming community, but I'm a supporter of local markets and I wish we had more of them and less Wal-Mart superstores in the states. I took into account the kiwis in the market, incredibly tiny! It could've been the fact that the last kiwis I saw were in Italy (#2 kiwi producer in the world) and they were in season, but these kiwis in Geneva were the smallest I've ever seen. I was also impressed by the massive varieties of greens available at the market. We're talking whole stands just lined with different types of lettuce, varieties I'd never even dreamed of. By far the coolest thing I saw, and am actually surprised I didn't see it in France, was the prepared mirepiox! Mirepiox is a flavor staple in traditional French cooking; a mixture carrots, onions, and celery. Here in this market you could buy it all pre-chopped and mixed and even cryo-vaced/ freezer ready! I was shocked to see it already prepared like this in the market, but realize now had I gone into a grocery store it could've been found like that in the freezer section with a brand like Green Giant or something. I guess it was the vendor's way of trying to compete with the overpowering supermarché. I bought some snacks for later on in the day and continued to walk around and just look at things in the old town of Geneva. I had a mission to find a store I had been in the day before and purchase the ring I fell in love with and couldn't stop thinking about, obviuosly it was meant to be mine. I found the store and the lady remembered me from the day before. She knew what I wanted. She explained to me that the ring was made from real rubies and saphires by her friend in India whom she went to gemology school with in LA. He makes most of the jewerly in her shop and she sells it. She sold me on the story, and the ring. I'm happy and the ring is beautiful, even if they aren't the best quality stones. I started to make my way to the train station to catch a train to Gruyere for a day trip to the cheese factory. I got sidetracked by my bladder and tried to find a public bathroom. I did what most Americans would in this situation...I searched for McDonald's. I found one pretty easily, because as sad as it is Mickey D's has taken over the world, getting into the bathroom however was impossible. They have figured out a system that keeps their bathrooms ONLY for customer's use. You must have a pin code from your food receipt in order to open the bathroom door! Brilliant, however unfortunate for me. I ended up waiting until the train station. In the train station I came across a sad realization for the way Europeans view Americans. I was in the grocery store and found a Doritos flavor that I'm sure most of you would be able to identify. A light blue color package and a small ramiken of white sauce...Cool Ranch, right? Nope, in Switzerland it is referred to as Cool American...maybe it's a sign that we should make some changes to our eating habits America... The train ride to Gruyere was gorgeous, lots and lots of vineyards, some on the hillsides like in the Rhone region of France and some in the valleys. Gruyere itself was my picturesque sterotypical mountian village, I kept waiting for the "maids a milking" to walk through with their braids and clogs leading their cow by a rope, but that never happened. I walked straight off the train and into the cheese-making factory. Very touristy, but worth every penny. I learned so much about cheese! Did you know that the cheese cows are treated basically like a family pet and have to be grazed in certain areas at specific times to get certain flavors into the cheese they produce? Cheese is a lot like wine; the cheesemaker decides where to graze the cows and for how long to get the flavor they want. Then once the cheese reaches the perfect curddling stage they put it into molds, then into a salt bath, then they age it. The manner in which they perform every step can change the outcome of the final product. It was incredibly interesting and made me have an appreciation for good quality cheese (we're not talking Kraft American slices here either folks). After the factory, and some samples, I headed up the road to the actual town of Gruyere and the castle! The castle had been standing through many ages and the decorations inside proved it. You could walk through centries just by stepping through a doorway into another room. My favorite room was that of the Beautiful Lucy. The king of the moment's love interest. The room itself was nothing special, but one could imagine how she felt as she looked out her window at the view of the mountians wondering if her King would ever marry her. I later found out by watching the movie and light show in the castle's new multi-screen theater about the history of the castle that Lucy was also a dancer and that's how she first caught the king's eye. I arrived home just before Vickie called me to find out if I was still living. I have good timing like that. :) I showed off my ring and told them everything I learned about cheese over a dinner of spinach pasta with basil sauce that we shared with a bottle of swiss wine produced by Joe and Vickie's friend. This bottle was a bit pricey at 30 Francs but well worth it's cost. Ce Pont Des Sou Pires 2008 by Domaine Eu Paradis in Geneva is a blend of Cabernet Savingon, Cabernet Franc, Gamaret, and Merlot. With a lot of my favorite varietals there really wasn't any way I would've disliked this wine. It had a deep plum red color and smelled of smokey oak and a distinct black cherry. The tastes countered the smell with a bit of pepper added to the red berries and smokey-ness. It balanced out nicely with just the perfect amount of tanins to remind you that you were in fact drinking a fuller-bodied red. Perfect wine for the end to a rather chilly day in the mountians.

And on the 92nd day...I finally rested. I was tired. I was lazy. I mananged to sleep in late, eat, shower, and take a short trip to the post-office up the street only to realize I didn't have the post cards addressed and had to wait to send them. I spent my day watching TV and catching up on my blog. Day 92 was the first day that the voice inside me saying, "But Rachel, you only have so much time here in Europe, you shouldn't waste it by doing nothing..." was defeated by the voice saying, "I'm freaking tired, d*mn it!" Sometimes I get cranky with myself. :) Either way, a much needed day of rest. That night we had traditional Swiss fondue for dinner. Vickie explained to me that fondue was prepared different ways in differnt countries. The French like to add herbs to their fondue, the swiss add wine and liquor and sometimes herbs, except for in Guyere where they are just straight up cheese. Either way, it's a very filling meal, but delicious none the less. A Sicilian chardonnay paired prefectly, especially since it was the same wine we used in the fondue.

I decided that I couldn't spend my last day in Switzerland sitting on the couch. So I started the day with a trip to the gym with Joe. Bike class again with the same weight room attendant, but no squeaky bike this time! I came home and showered then left the house in the afternoon and went on a walk to find the Red Cross museum. I got sidetracked, however, by the giant geyser that was FINALLY on in the middle of the lake. I took picture after picture as it was bright and sunny outside (however still very cold) and then started on my way again towards the museum. I looked at the map and thought I could walk there pretty easily by following the coast of the lake and would be able to see some sites a long the way. I did see some sites, but it took a lot longer than I expected to get there. I also got sidetracked by two Italian tour bus drivers that asked me if I wanted coffee. I of course said yes because I was frozen and tried to play like I was Italian for awhile. They believed me until I mixed up the word vacanza with the word vacaciones (silly spanish snuck in on me) and they called my bluff. They were still nice to me though, even after they discovered I was American. By the time I got up to the museum they only had 10 minutes until closing time. So I decided to just hop on the bus and head back towards the town's center to meet Vickie. I got on the #8 and took it to the train station where I thought the line ended. So then I got on the #9 and asked a lady if it stopped at the center and she said yes...I waited and waited and rode and rode all the way to the end of line. It did not stop at the place I wanted it to stop. I was frustrated. I called Vickie and told her I would get off at a stop I had seen on the way there that I knew was close to the center. She said she would meet me there. It took us about 30 minutes but we FINALLY found each other. She had passed one of "those days" as well so we went to treat ourselves to some of those delicious tiny macaron cookies only to knock over the display in front of the cash register. We decided we had better head for a drink if we were going ot be clumsy, we needed an excuse. Vickie also had a reason for taking me out for delicious tiny cookies, she bought me a recipe book just for those cookies!!! I'm excited to try it out, however it may take a little longer than normal because the book is written in French. :) It'll be so worth it for those cookies though! We went to a bar on the plaza in the old town to have mulled wine, warm spicey red wine was perfect because it really was sooooo cold. I also got to try another local white variety, Chamleus. Joe met us at the bar when he finished with work and we ventured out to find a place to eat. We had eaten fondue the night before but went to a restaurant that was well known for their fondue. We barely got in thanks to a cancelled reservation, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. I had scallops in a dill sauce with juliened veggies, puff pastry, and rice. The food was wonderful, but my choice for wine was horrible. I wanted to try to white version of the Dolé I had tried my first night in Switzerland. It was waaay too sweet. To me it was like a mixture of rose and white zinfindel...*shivers*.... it didn't even slightly pair with my food either. Owell, everyone has to make mistakes sometime! For dessert a pear tart which paired a little better with the wine...or maybe it just masked the taste with the buttery sugary yummiess of the tart. Then came coffe and tiny amaretto cookies. After dinner we went to a Spanish wine bar. A neat concept. Kind of set up like our Vino100 only with a kitchen in the back, and all the wines in the store (and offered by the glass) were Spanish wines. The place was packed and people were eating Tapas (appetizers) everywhere. We stayed for a copule of glasses then headed home for the night. I was happy with my night out and decided to hit the sack early as the next day I would be leaving to go back to Italy to visit my friends from the cantina (however, at this point I had no idea what time I was supposed to arrive to Vicenza or even if someone could still pick me up).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cute Baby Jesse, 4-hour dinners, and the Bio-vineyard

Stephanie picked me up at the train station in Vienne. What a crazy feeling to meet someone you'd seen pictures of and been in contact with only over the internet with a few phone calls thrown in. Either way, we greeted each other with a hug and it was like we were friends catching up on what had happened in the past couple of months. Stephanie has just had a baby and has been busy being a Mommy and a wife. I of course told of my travels and my horrible last day in Paris and how happy I was to finally being in a home and not just an establishment that housed beds.

Stephanie's home was indeed a home, complete with a toasty fireplace which was well recieved after a loooong day in the cold blowing rain. Stephanie got right to work on fixing dinner, first we had appetizers of crackers and tiny cubes of Laughing Cow cheese in all different flavors with a Vouvray that was made by her friend Christine who's vineyard is in the Rhone area. Stephanie and Patrick (Steph's hubby)help Christine harvest every year. It was a very good appertif wine since it was a little sweet and rather fruity. After appetizers we moved on to a salad course that was a mixture of tomatoes, carrotes, broccoli, peas or corn (I can't remember which) and hard boiled eggs (from their own chickens) on top. The main course was pan seared duck breasts (no I did not partake) and pan fried potatoes and onions just like Dad makes at the lake...only maybe not quite as greasy. We had our main course with a Red wine I had bought for them as a gift when I was in Paris. It was a red wine from the Landoc region, it was full bodied with a bit of a smokey aftertaste from what I remember. I forgot to write this one down in my wine journal and it's been so long now that I really haven't the slightest. I remember it was good though. :) After the main course Stephanie brought out the cheese platter, mmmmmmm cheeeeese. All kinds of cheeses, hard and soft, stinky and mild, oh so good. After cheese and crusty bread came dessert. Tiny individual desserts of all types were up for grabs. I had one that was like a custardy/cakey vanilla flavored thing with cheeries, it was pretty delicious. Then there was of course coffee (tiny coffee) and chocolates. Then there was comatose from eating so much!

The next morning I woke up and went for a run through Stephanie's mountian side. It was chilly but the views were amazing. You could even see the tallest mountian in Europe, Mt Blanc, from oustide Steph's back door. After the run and a shower came breakfast. Stephanie told me there was coffee so I went to search a mug. Steph asked me what I was looking for and I said, "A mug for coffee." S- "I have one here on the table for you." I looked at the table and there was only a bowl with a spoon which I could only assume was for cereal. R-"No, a mug, so that I can have some coffee." S- "Yes, there is one on the table." R-"But that's a bowl." S-"Yes, that is how we have it, it's traditional, but if you prefer a mug..." R-"Oh no, I want to drink like the French do; bowl it is!" So I had my coffee in a bowl. It amazed me the difference from the Italian tiny expressos and the French entire BOWL of coffee. I prefer the large bowl to the teacup. :) Also at breakfast Steph had a variety of typical French foods for me to try: A chestnut spread that was more like a sweet paste with condensed milk mixed in, an apricot marmalade, milk cookies, a sweet bread, and regular crusty bread. I tasted everything and the chestnut spread was so good it was dangerous. After breakfast we got ourselves and little Jesse ready to go down to the town's market. This would be Jesse's first trip to the market, appropriate because this was also the day his birth announcement would be in the newspaper. We walked around the market, and I enjoyed watching Stephanie interact with the vendors because this is how she norally does her shopping, everything was so fresh! Along the way we met several people who had a friend who had a vineyard and all of them said they would ask if there were any openings for me, then they would add in, "Of course, you'd have to learn French." I would smile and say, "oh, I know!!!" We even met a lady who had a son (please remember we are in a small town in France on the mountians) who was married to a woman from, where else, KANSAS CITY MISSOURI. You're kidding me!?! This vendor had in fact just been to KC, MO just 10 days ago. I was shocked. This world is so small. At the market I was allowed to sample lots of cheeses as well and picked out three to take home with us. We were also talked into buying a 5kilo pumpkin after I asked Stephanie what it was (because the outside was green and not orange like I knew it to be) and the owner of the stand saw us discussing it. He sold it to Stephanie cheap because he wanted to be rid of it. After the market we went to the grocery store to pick up the rest of the things we needed and headed back to the house for lunch. Lunch was snails that we picked up from the market, another typical French food, and a type of fish pie. I LOVED the snails but dipped them in mustard instead of mayonaise like the French do. The fish pie wasn't my favorite, but it was good to try it. After lunch we packed up again because we were going to visit a Biological vineyard that was owned by a friend of friend. We weren't sure what to expect, but I learned so much from this lady whom I can't remember her name so we'll call her Marie. Marie and her husband live in a region of France that produces a wine called Condrieu. We began our tour with and example of the type of vineyard work, but specifically the soil preparation, they didn't want to have as a biovineyard. Then we started a walk through their vineyard where Marie and her hubby work the entire land, BY HAND AND BY THEMSELVES. And the fact that their vineyard sits on a very very steep hillside (as much of the vineyards in teh Rhone region do) makes the work even harder. They do their work by hand right now because machines have not been made to fit into the space allowed between the rows of vines by the AOC controls of that area. Marie pointed out the importance of tilling the land before planting new vines because it brings out the nutrients in the soil, apprently a lot of grape farmers will skip this step. She explained to me that after planting the baby vines their AOC controls say that the vines must be 3 years old to be able to be used in Condrieu wine. So they have established vines that they can use but were in the process of planting new vines as well. Their AOC also had controls on how many vines you can plant per acre, how close together you can plant them, how much wine you can make based on how many vines you have. Marie also explained to me how the pruning process of a vine works. Each year when you prune the vines you take on one vine at a time. You start from the trunk of the vine and then leave one long stem and one short steam. The short steam should be cut so that it has two buds on it. The following year the long stem from year one will be cut and then short stem will become the long stem and one of the two buds will become the short stem which will be left with two buds for the following year. Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Don't forget that Marie and her hubby are doing all this by themselves. After walking to the fields Marie took us up to their little cantina which I felt right at home in. This part of the process I knew! They were lucky enough to have been involved with fruit harvest before so they already had a place that was temperature controlled in which to put their cantina. After the cantina we went into their home to taste their wine. We tasted their wine, Condrieu vs. a Vioginer which they also made because they wanted to point out the difference in the taste even though Condrieu is made from the Vioginer grape. The difference in the taste is due to the AOC controls- yes, that's right, the AOC even controls the TASTE of the wine. So if they did all this work to produce a batch of Condrieu wine and an AOC guy came in and said, "Nope, the taste is not up to par," then they would have to sell that whole bacth of wine as Vioginer, thus bringing in a lot less money. The French are pretty darn serious about their wine. And apparently this is why a lot of Frenchmen are moving to the States to produce their wine. We're all willy nilly with our wine and do whatever we want (obviously not litterally, but comparitively) so they can make wine the way they want to! Marie also pointed out the label of their bottle which is sentimental to her husband because his family lived off the river, they also played a sport like jousting only on boats! I had never seen that before so that's why I took a picture of his picture where his ancestors are playing the game. When we departed they allowed us to keep the bottle of Condrieu which is usually a pretty expensive bottle of wine. It was a great trip and I learned SO much! We drank our wine that night with pizza from the local pizzeria. When we went to pick the pizza up the guy told me it would be better than the Italian pizza, and I would have to tell him what I thought. Luckily I didn't see him again because it was in fact not as good as Italian pizza, but really now, how can anyone even try to be better than the Italians at making pizza! It was good though, just not AS good.

The next day we all slept in a while then had a lunch of fondue paired with a French Chardonnay (my favorite!!!...okay well I have a lot of favorites, so maybe it's better to say the French make Chardonnay the way I prefer to drink it!). Stephanie showed me the proper way to clean a fondue pot, with an egg! After everyone has stuffed themselves with crusty bread and cheese then you crack an egg into the pot and make an omlette, preventing the hassel of cleaning hardened cheese and makeing a tastey after dinner snack! After lunch we got ready for an outing to the city of Lyon. I was on a mission to find my ring! Lyon was a typical touristy place, filled to the brim with people, lots of shops with typical French type things. I saw lots of typical restaurants called Bouchon which is the French word for cork. I also saw lots of spiral staircases which are typical to this specific region in France. The neatest thing (and quite possibly the creepiest thing) I saw were the puppets. I say creepy because I was that little kid who was scared to watch Pinoccio when I was little...people controled by strings is a bit freaky to me. *Shivers* Either way, the puppets were neat to see, and you will probably recognize the two characters of the police and the man with the bat. We also saw a really neat clock in one of the churchs that was very intricitaly designed. Patrick was starting to become tired of the shopping and touring and did a typical boy thing of standing in the door to a sports bar to watch the game (in his case a rugby game). I tried to get a picture but he caught me in the act. So with one boy at maxium shopping limit I started to really search for a ring and I found a store that had what seemed a gagillion. I was determined to find one so I looked through every single one, found about 5 I liked and finally narrowed it down. The ring was designed by the girl who sold it to me, a real French lady, so I was happy. I also tried some more of those delicous tiny little cookies, macarons, from a specialty store that sold only those cookies. I had praline and strawberry puff and they were good but I prefered the less complicated lemon one I had eaten in Paris. Just in time for the second boy (Jesse) to reach his shopping limit we were headed back to the car. Just about that same time everyone else in Lyon headed back to their car. It took us about an hour before we made it out of the parking garage (which, I forgot to mention, have a really awesome system for telling you if the lot is full and if the row you're passing has any open slots, and all the lots in the city are titled/named so you can easily remember where you parked! Anyone who's tried to park in one of Missouri State's parking lots on a Monday morning around 10am would appreciate a system like this). We made it home just in time for Stephanie and Patrick to get ready for their harvest dinner with their friend. A harvest dinner is a tradition in France. When the harvest of the grapes is over, everyone who helped to harvest the grapes comes to the winemakers house for a big long dinner and they usually get to taste the new wines from that year. Which normally aren't that good yet because they are so young, but it's a tradition! I was able to stay at the house and get a lot of planning, blogging, and laundry accomplished!

Most of our day on Sunday was consumed by preparation and consumption of dinner with Patrick's daughter, her husband, and their two little ones. Patrick and I peeled hardboiled eggs which Stephanie tackled the giant pumpkin. She needed 1kilo for the pumpkin au gratin...1kilo down 4 more to go! I also helped chopped onions for the sausage dish Steph would prepare for the main course which was really intersting because the recipe uses the leftover stems from grapes! So for this dish you start by sauteing the chopped onions in a little of olive oil and then you add on your sausage links until they are fully cooked. Then you throw in the grape stems and pour red wine of it all and let it simmer for a while until the flavor is good. Simple and very interesting recipe for the rasps (grape stems). Patrick's family arrived at 12:30pm and we didn't finish our dinner until 5:30pm. We had apperatif with vioginer; salad of endive(which is expensive to get in the states, and then goes bad very quickly afterwards) tuna tomes and apples with the Red wine blend(Cab, Syrah, Cab Franc, and Merlot) I had bought that was from the Landoc region in France; main course of the sausage dish with sides of pumpkin au gratin; cheese with crusty bread and Red table wine from Corsica (my favorite cheese was the stinkiest goat cheese...yuuumm); dessert of Almond Tides and Flan with a wine compareable to moscato but a little sweeter; coffee and chocolates. After that I was lulled into a coma for about an hour before I woke up to have the first skype date with my family. They were all together for Thanksgiving. Seeing my family was great, but hard at teh same time. Knowing they were all together and having a great time was one thing, but actually seeing it happen was another. Also I knew from a phone call home the night before that a lot of other important friends and family were in town that weekend. I never thought I could want to be in Dawn, Missouri so much (especially since I was sitting in France)! It was pretty hard to fight that lump in my throat and put on a happy face during the skype date, but I made it through. This should be marked as the first time of my whole trip that I was acutally homesick. I think I fared pretty well to make it such a long time before it happend. Bed called my name early that night and the next morning I would be off to Geneva, Switzerland.

My time with Stephanie and Patrick was wonderful. They were so open with their home and made me feel like family. Stephanie has traveled a lot as well and really understands what travelers want and need (a bed and a laundry room with a shower and food thrown in). She was great for allowing me to relax or workout and always made sure there was something I could eat. She also is very active in helping me find a path for my life, as in a school to attend or a job to work. Of course, I'd have to learn French, but I wouldn't mind! ;)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ah Paris, the stinky cheese, the crusty bread, the French wines...J'adore Paris!

Nov 8th: I was on the plane going to Paris. I was going to THE Paris. THE Paris, with THE Effiel Tower, and THE Louve. Unfortunately, it was also THE Paris without a known person with whom I can stay. I would stay in a hostel for my first night, so my plan was to stock up on zzz's while on the plane because hostel sleeping is more like quick catnaps between creeks and squeaks that wake me up because someone could be trying to steal my life (my backpack). I was also still running on 2 hours of sleep plus 2 kind of hours of sleep from the night before. But somehow the excitement and neverousness of being in Paris was keeping me from sleep. There was no sleep to be had on the plane. I would like to point out that I was still traveling with the banana I bought in the airport, and it was cracking me up because my purse is so tiny I had to let half of it hang out the side. Also my trusty green water bottle that has been everywhere with me is starting to show it's age. :( I don't know what I'll do when it's a goner.

I arrived in Paris airport around 6:00pm, got my backpack and headed straight to the information counter. The girl there was super helpful, gave me a metro map/map of Paris and even printed off a street map on google on how to get from the metro stop to my hostel. I was thrilled to have such a good plan of attack. So I got on the tram that would take me into the 1st station. I made it to the first train station but couldn't figure out how to buy my metro ticket. Usually I use the handy little self-service machines but they were no where to be found. I finally asked a nice couple who had seen me checking the map on the tram earlier and asked me if I knew where I was going. I figured they'd be willing to help. They were; the man told me that it was too late to purchase the ticket to the city center, then he looked around for the machines and when he didn't find them adviced me to "cheat." He wanted me to jump the metro without a ticket. I thought about it, remembered that usually if I do something wrong then I'm unlucky enough to get caught. Better to buy a ticket. So I walked up and out of the terminal looking for someone to help and just ask I turned around in defeat my metro showed up...."To jump...or not to jump..." I sprinted down the steps and onto the metro before the doors shut behind me (please remember to keep my backpack in this vision). I had a long and very nervous ride after that. Who knew what they would do to me if they caught me without a ticket. Could I play "dumb tourist" and get away with it? Would they make me pay a fine? Just how fast could I run with my backpack? Luckily, I didn't have to find out. No one came on the metro to check tickets, in fact, in the whole time I was in Paris I never saw anyone control the metro tickets at all, AND I saw several people jumping over the entrance bars and also got pushed through my entrance bar by people going through on my entrance! Anyway I made it all the way through my three switches and to my metro stop. It was after the metro stop that I had my issues. I looked at my google map print off and tried to orient myself, which way was which? I knew I was in the correct area because right there in bright red flashing lights was the Moulin Rouge. A random stranger saw me looking lost and helped me figure out which street was which. Then I got worried because this same random stranger followed me for about 10 minutes while I was still trying to figure out where I was going. So I ended up paying more attention to the guy behind me than where I was walking and what was around me. I swear I must have walked up and down the same street 9 times before I found the metro stop where I had orginally started. And I KNOW the people sitting oustide at the 15 or so restaurants I passed each time I walked that same road had some great conversations about the lost little girl with the huge backpack. Somewhere in all that mess I lost the guy that I thought was following me, apparently, he was just walking. Better paranoid than sorry! Once back at the metro stop I decided it would be better to follow the somewhat directions given on the hostel's website. "Go up Lepic," I went. "take the 3rd on the right" I could only assume that this meant to turn right at the third street, so I did. "and Arisitde Bruant is the first street on the left; we're #7." I turned onto Arisitde Bruant and saw the big "Plug-Inn" hostel sign. Whooooo hoooooo!! I checked in, first only for one night until I saw the room. The receptionist looked at me with pity when she told me my room was on the second floor. By the time I got up there and unlocked my door it was 7:45ish, almost two hours after I picked up my pack...I turned with my back towards the bed and let the pack pull me down. Exhausted.

My first thought was sleep, my second thought, Effiel Tower...AT NIGHT! The second thought got the better of me and with it came my second wind. I felt a whole...oh 50lbs lighter, foot loose and fancy free! Hey, I was in PARIS after all, no way I was going to bed early. I was filled with visions of sitting on the grass, eating crusty bread and stinky cheese, and sipping Bordeaux. So I re-applied the deodorant, pulled out my map and wrote down which metros lines to take to which stops so I could go to meet the tower in all its twinkling glamour! I made it there in about 30 minutes. And once again I was like a little kid on Christmas all excited to see what Santa brought. As I walked out of the Metro station I looked right and there it was, all lit and beautiful against the black sky peaking out from above a building. Wooooooow... I walked towards it until it came into full view. I was stunned into awe and understood the magic of Paris. I stood there without moving letting people shove past me until I finally decided the magic was probably stronger with a closer look, stopping to have a couple take my picture along the way. I hadn't planned on going up but saw the lack of line and decided, why not go now? So I did. The access to the top was closed off because of wind/construction/whatever excuse they wanted; it was closed. So I rode the elevator to the second tier and looked out over Paris, the city I was going to discover for the next three days. It was beautiful, just, beautiful. Heart-gripping, breath-taking beautiful. I wondered around the 360 degree, first view, of the city for about and hour before I decided to go down and find some bread, cheese, and wine (it was waaaaaay too cold to sit outside, so I had plans to go back to the hostel area where it would be cheaper. Also I had passed an amazing cheese store in my efforts to find the hostel). But one the way down the elevator I over-heard two people talking. They were also traveling alone. One was from Mexico and traveling through Couch Surfing and the other was from CA in Paris on business. I started talking to them because Beronica said she was going to Italy. I had to tell her how beautiful it was there. We all ended up going to a restaurant nearby where we all had our own cliché meals. Beronica had cremé brulée, Ryan had hot chocolate, and I shared a cheese platter and bread with Ryan and drank Bordeaux wine. We had great converstaion until we had to leave to make sure we got back before the Metro system closed. On my way back I was in a daze of enchanment from the perfect-ness of the evening. There was no way it could get any better.

I was on my way to the hostel from the Metro stop ready to call it a perfect night when I passed a bar that was packed and everyone inside seemed to be having the time of their lives. I passed it up because it wouldn't be smart to go in there alone...

-but I am in Paris *step, step, step* and I'm really cold, I could get a mulled wine *step, step, step* I need to sleep *step, step, pause* Forget it, I'm in Paris, sleep can wait. *Turn, quick walk back.* I'll just take a look...-

I showed up in the Irish bar on the corner called Luk's and told the bartender I needed a drink and made him feel my hands. He was shocked at how cold I was and got me something to drink right away. I made friends with him, and the other bartender who acually owned the place, and with all of their friends who were the ones making all the noise before. Apparently it was the last night of work for their friend from the bar katy-cornered to theirs. They insisted that I join them for Champagne and dessert. I said Okay! I mean, why not? The Champagne was REAL Champagne from the real region in France and the dessert they told me was called Au Revoir that was layers of chocolate and caramel mousse that just melted in your mouth before you could even bite it. After we all closed down the two bars that my new friends were in charge of, we went dancing. After a bit of dancing the sleepiness really caught up to me. One of the bartenders was nice enough to walk me to the hostel, even though we were still just down the street and around the corner, it was safer to have someone else there. I made it home at about 3am, walked into a room full of sleeping roommates I hadn't met yet and crawled into my bunk wondering if they had passed such a perfect day in Paris as I had.

Nov 9, Day 2: I woke up at 8am to one of my roommate's alarm. I had a converstation with the roommate sleeping in the bunk over me before I even saw him. He was from Columbia, his name was Oscar, and he was here on vacation, he had spent the day before just doing touristy type things. We decided to go down to breakfast together so I got up and showered and got ready, then we headed down to get some free (included) breakfast. For breakfast they offered, in true French style, crossiant, rolls, cereal (special K!!), BIG coffees, and orange juice. We sat down at a table with another person. This is where I met Derek from Canada. I didn't know much about Derek except for the fact that he was Canadian and wanted to join me in my search of the day for a huge market I'd seen on Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Paris episode. We went back to our rooms to get ready then met downstairs and started our adventure with a trip to the grocery store to buy bananas since there were none at breakfast. €0.75 later we were on our way to the road we were pretty sure the market was on because Oscar had seen the same episode and was going to go to this same area to have lunch. So we went to the area and searched, and searched, and searched. We never found THE market. But we did stumble upon A market which was good enough for us. We found a place we referred to Cheese Heaven because of all the different types of stinky cheeses ranging from soft and creamy to hard and crumbly...yuuuummm. We also found a lady selling Fois cans of all shapes and sizes. We left there and went to see Notre Dam. Notre Dam was beautiful, and it had some really interesting architechture like the big tall statues standing on little tiny guys. And of course the inside was as beautiful as all the Catholic churches I had seen in Europe. Probably the most interesting thing about Notre Dam was outside when we left. There was a guy who was standing in the rain on one of the little pillars singing a chant at the top of his lungs and clapping his hands. We weren't sure what he was saying but the tune was stuck in both of our heads all day long and he was having the time of his life up there, so Hey, you do what you do I suppose. After here we traveled back to the Effiel Tower because Derek hadn't seen it yet. On our way there, while we were in the metro tunnels Derek said, "Mmmm, I smell cheese...or maybe it's just mold." I laughed for about 10 minutes. Derek and I had a lot of good converstaions about cheese, and food in general. He has just graduated from chef school in Canada and was on his way to Holland to find work since he has family there. We got to the Effiel Tower and I was able to see it during the day. Derek took the stairs up to the second level and while he was doing the view thing I was waiting at the bottom watching the random vendors come though. One that was particularly interesting was a guy playing the bagpipes. It made me think of my dad right off the bat. Then the guy (very red-checked and having a hard time breathing in the frigid air) played the most beautiful version of Amazing Grace. It was so beautiful to be there under the tower looking at the Fall parks around us listening to Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. I didn't even care that it was raining and so cold you could see my breath. After that song I amused myself with taking pictures of the parks as well as a group of those very scary and mean looking French police, carrying their rather large guns, all gathered in a group out of the rain having a smoke break. They caught me taking a picture and a few actually smiled for me. Since my French isn't so great, I just smiled and laughed. When Derek came back down we walked through the park to the building that holds Napolen's grave. We stopped to take pictures, and to play in the piles of leaves that they had raked up. It reminded me of when I used to play in the leaves at Mom and Dad's...and when they finally got to the point when they said, "If you want to play in them, you have to rake them." That's the last time before this that I had played in the leaves. :) We got to the other side of the park and the building was closed. We figured it was sign that we should move on and caught the metro down to Champs Elysées to walk the famous shopping district. We got there and walked past store after store of things we couldn't afford until we got tired and deicded it was time to go home for food and a nap. We stopped at Derek's favorite wine shop on the way home and bought a French Chardonnay. I left Derek at his room with a corkscrew and told him I'd see him later at the computers...I was DEAD tired. I took an hour and a half nap before I rejoined the living world. I got up and made myself presentable and then went down to work on the computer. After awhile Derek and I decided it was time to have a happy hour and met in my room to share the Chardonnay. Then we decided we had probably better go get some crusty bread and stinky cheese since it was all we had talked about all day long. We got sidetracked by a restaurant that specialized in beers and went in to have a drink. This is where I had the SMOOTHEST most delicious French red wine I have ever tasted. It was not only smooth, but also had a great body to it. It was smokey and fruity and the tannins were there but not annoyingly strong. It was called Chinon AOC. I know nothing else, but it was amazing. We left this place and deicded to try a bar that was labeled "Austrialian" but it was a bust, they had comfy couches and only a cocktail list in which everything was overpriced. We left. I mean, they would never see us again, so why stay? We decided it was time for that bread and cheese. But now it was late and the Fromagerie by our hostel was already closed as well as the Boulangerie. So we had to settle for a convenince store and bought President's Brie cheese (although considerably cheaper in France than in the states) and Wasa melba toasts and a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc for €3.50. We (read, I) also bought several kinds of gummies for our dessert. We went back to the hostel and shared our random smorgasbord. We even had to use the radiator in the room to warm our Brie up to room temperature. When we finished we were ready to go dancing. And dance we did. We went back to the same place I had been the night before and danced with all sorts of Frenchies and Tourists until about 2am when we decided we were hungry. However, the creperie was closed so we had to find somewhere that was actually open. We went into every restaurant if they were "overt" and "per manger." We got enough no answers and at one place there was a kind gentleman (read, slightly drunk older man) who offered to take use to a crepe place his friend ran that was sure to be open. So he lead us there, but insisted that we skip and sing and hold hands as we we did. Hey, the guy was leading us to food and we were starving! Plus it made for great memories. When we got to the crepe place it was closed, just like everywhere else. The skipper/singer/mojito drinker left us to fend for ourselves and we wondered around until we finally find a place that was open. We got a goatcheese and tomatoe salad with balsamic dressing and also the dessert assortment. We, being the foodie type people we are, picked apart every part of the dessert deciding that they must've been a pre-made. We left there and were still hungry so we found another restaurant to have a main course of Salmon with a dijon and dill dressing and potatoe wedges. It was delicious and now we were full and sleepy so we headed back to the hostel. We arrived around 3am.

Nov 9: The next day my alarm went off early, tooooo early. We were planning to go to the Louve to meet the Lady of the City and we wanted to get there early to beat the crowd and Derek's train left in the afternoon so we had to be on top of things. I drug myself out of bed and got ready and went down for breakfast. However, when I got there, Derek was no where to be seen. Hmm... I finished my breakfast then went to find Derek. He had gone back to sleep!! I woke him up with the knock on the door and he got his packs ready and the we left. He carried his big backpack and I carried his little one so that he wouldn't have to carry it on his front like a pregnant lady. We made it to the Louve and I was expecting a 3 hour wait just to get in. Lucky for us, there were no lines, no wait. Nothing. The only hang up we had was when Derek had to put his backpack through the scanner and they found his chef knifes. I think he's had to explain those a few times because he was totally cool about them telling him to come the to screen and explain, "What is THIS?!" to the upset Frenchman. Once inside with bags and coats checked we bee-lined to the Mona Lisa. We wanted to see her first since she was the Lady of Paris and therefore the most important. We stoped a couple times along the way to take pictures wherever we saw groups of tourists crowded around a statue or picture. Most of the time we didn't know what we were looknig at, just if it was pretty or not. When we found the Mona Lisa we could barely see it because it was hidden by the massive group of tourists. I pulled us through to the very front and pushed back and forth with a group of Asian tourists in order to get to the middle up in front. When I got there I was SUPER surprised to see just how small she is. She's tiny! Like 8x10 size. And they put her in a room surrounded by some of the biggest paintings I've seen! After Mona we ventured to see Vesuvius (the lady statue with no arms). Then we walked around looking at more statues. Captions to some photos: France file, picture#180 "Dude, you're such an idiot!"*SMACK* Pic#183 I found all the heads that the statues in Rome are missing... Pic#184 "Chariot!" : After the statues we walked around endless amounts of paintings, never finding the one I was looking for. We gave up and called it quits on the museum for the day, too much museum can really get boring. We had a snack at the cafe then picked up our belongs and headed out to find a Patisserie that I had read about on which was reccommended by the airline's in flight magazine. The reviews of this place were not off by even a little. The place is called Gana and it is run by two daughter's whose dad is a Michellen chef. It was quiant and there were just enough choices. They even had a half open kithchen in which you could see them working on their breads. I choose some sort of Almond pastry that was made from phyllo dough and just a trace of almond creme in the middle with a crusty sugary top. I sat there on the street side bench eating, each bite was like heaven in my mouth. Derek had a sweet bread that was also filled with a type of custard and chocolate chips on top. After we ate dessert Derek went back for pizza and told me it was just as amazing. After this it was time to take Derek to the train station. We got there and his train was 20 minute late, so we hung out and looked this his recipe book and he told me about a cheese cake that he did that sounded amazing, but I can't remember what it was called now. When it was time, we said goodbye with a hug, and exchange of Derek's 5 day metro pass to me, and a "Until later, have a most excellent adventure." He was off to Holland and I was headed back to the hostel for an easy night. I got back to the hostel, re-arranged some things and headed back out again. I was on the search for my souvineer ring. I found a few that I liked, but the one I liked the most was too small for the finger I wanted to wear it on. So I left it there and headed up to Sacre Cuore, a church that sits on a high hill and is not only beautiful itself but also has a great view of Paris. I looked through the church then planted myself on the steps outfront in order to watch the sunset over Paris. I must say that it was so beautiful I felt like Paris was saying to me, "Au Revior,a prochaine!" It was absolutely beautiful, minus the other tourists. I even go someone aske me for a light, and when I said I don't smoke asked me if I was Spanish. This guy could've been a drunkie, especially to think I look Spanish. I picked up some dinner from the grocery store and headed back to the hostel. On the way back I saw the sister store of Vino100. This guy may not have meant to do it, but the reds were on one wall, the whites on the other, and the wooden box set up with one bottle out for display was REALLY like Vino100. Maybe the founder of Vino100 came to France and saw this very store and thought, "hmmm...I should build a wine store like that..." I also took time to stop at another Patisserie and have one of this cutisie looking cookie things that I'd been eyeing the whole time in Paris. I paid €.90 for a bright yellow meringue type cookie which was lemon flavored with a lemon filling, it was literallz like a little bite of heavnly lemon cloud at first and then like a chewy lemon flavored caramel in the middle. At "home" I got my bag all in order and packed, caught up on my journal, took a shower, and then headed downstairs to update the blog. I went to sleep late but didn't worry because I could sleep in late the next morning.

Nov 11: Yesterday Paris was sending me off with a lovely sunset over the city I had been enchanted by. Today, with the blistering wind, fridgrid cold, and rain, it was kicking me out with a big F*** You. Actually the morning started well with a very intriguing converstaion with my roommate Oscar, whom I discovered is a piolet for Delta airlines. We talked about all the places he's been and all the places he wants to go. This is always a great converstaion when you're traveling, everyone has their own story to tell. Also Oscar told me that Delta is looking for flight attendants who are multi-lingual, could be an idea for when I get back to the US, you know, to the part of life I haven't got a plan for yet. So I went down to breakfast feeling positive and with a plan for my day. When I left is when it went downhill. First I tried to go to the antique market to find myself a ring. The metro I needed was closed from my main stop to the market stop so I had to take the long way around and then walk two metro stops worth before I could there there. I finally made it there, after having to orient myself when I got off the metro. When I got there, everything was closed. The place was like a ghost town. There was nothing there. I finally got up the nerve, and gathered enough vocabalary from signs, and asked when they opened. He told me they are only open Fri-Sun and I said, of course they are because I'm here on Thursday. The man who helped tried to convince me to stay for coffee but I declined and headed back to the metro to find this infamous giant open market Derek and I had searched for before. This time I was armed with the address. I had to take extra steps with the metro, and nwo it was lunch time, so they were extra super packed. Luckily I was able to leave my backpack in storage because having it in this mess would've been horrible. I made it to the stop where the market shoudl've been, but instead got trapped inside a giant mall that seemed as if it had no exits other than the on I came though. So I eventually went back down to the metro and out that way, only confusing myself even more. I walked around the area hoping to run into this large plazza with a giant market. I couldn't find it, it was getting close to leaving time, I was cold and wet. I gave up. I headed back to my hostel to go to the store I had seen the day before to buy the ring that didn't fit the correct finger. When I got to the store adn went to try the ring on again, one of the pearls fell off... this was not my day. Let's add to this that I was also going to take bread, cheese, and wine to my friend's in Lyon and I had bought the wine the night before but now all the bakeries and cheese shops were closed. I gave up. I just wanted to be on my train. So I went to get my things and went to brave the metro crowds with my backpack. I made it just fine to Gare de Lyon and then went to buy my ticket on the little wouldn't take my credit card, or the other one, or the other one. I wanted to cry, "PARIS JUST LET ME LEAVE!!!" I had to go to a special line to buy my tickets, luckily the lady I got was really nice and spoke English and in a good mood. A genuine smile changes a lot. Finally I was on my train headed for Lyon, then Vienne where Stephanie would pick me up and drive me to her family's home in the mountians just off the Rhone River valley.

The picture of the chips was meant to show the difference between American's preferred tastes and the tastes of the French. Here was have potato chips that are the flavor of Roasted Chicken and Thyme, next we have Special K cereal with Stracciatella which are strips of chocolate that are half white and half chocolate. The next picture was a funny way to tell prenant women not to drink wine.


Andrew and I took the Hungarian cheap flight through Honestly when we got to the Rome airport and had to walk to the back of the building, down some steps, then outside, I was a little scared that we had gotten ripped off and were going to end our wild goose chase at the dumpsters of the airport. Luckily, we found our terminal just in time. Once on the plane it was small and a little cramped but it got us there just the same. I mentioned the guy the kept elbowing me; I should be fair and tell you that part of that time he was holding his little girl, so the elbows were excusable. I even got to hear him singing Hungarian little kid songs; I imagine something comparable to patty-cake, but it was Hungarian so I have really no idea. It was adorable though. My first run in with the Hungarian language...and the fact that I have not even the SLIGHTEST clue what it's trying to say to me. Arpi was there at the airport waiting to pick us up (bless his heart, he had worked all day and then picked us up at midnight only to take a wrong turn and turn a 10 minute drive into a 30 minute drive back to his apartment). He drove us to his flat which is right, litterally, right in the center of Budapest on the "Pest" side of the river right up the road from their famous Parliment buliding. Arpi and his girlfriend Sara were nice enough to move in with their friend for the week and allow Andrew and I to have the flat all to ourselves, what hospitality!! Arpi left us with the keys and Andrew and I set out to find some sort of food since by this time we were starving! First we had to have a 24 hour ATM so we could get some Hungarian Forints. Andrew found a Kebab place still open and tried his best Hungarian pronunciation...luckily they understood English. I found some snacks at the 24 hour Tabacco/convience store to tide me over until morning.

Day two, Nov 3rd: We started our morning just walking around to discover the area. The buildings alone, including Arpi's apartment complex which was a historic buliding full of people who worked in the Parliment, were an amazing site to see. First we walked to the Parliment buliding and tried to get tickets to see it. The people there were kind of rude to us and told us we had to wait. So we waited, then they said there were no more tickets for today, so I asked *this whole conversation is in broken English* if we could buy tickets for tomorrow and he said no and then turned away and pretended he didn't see us. So we left and walked down to the Danube riverside where were saw lots of iron-coated shoes lining the sidewalk. At the time I didn't know what they were, but they were beautiful so I took pictures. Arpi later explained to me that they are the shoes left behind by the Hungarian Jews that were shot there and pushed off into the river by the Germans in WWII. So that's pretty darn sad. From here we walked across one of the four bridges that cross the Danube between Buda and Pest. Each brigde is unique and one is even downright ugly because it was destroyed during WWII and then rebulit by the Communist rule and is just a basic white concret looking bridge. We walked across the Chain bridge which is said to be the most beautiful. I liked it because of the lions. On the other side was a very steep hill and a tram that lead to the top where there was a Castle with great views. We skipped the tram and opted for the stairs, which could've been a bad idea. By the time we reached the top, we needed the rest. We stopped in a little bar which was hands-down the most "typical" bar or restaurant we've been in. We walked into a little counter that looked like a mini-cold counter with soup taureens labled with different wines. Andrew was able to order a beer in Hungarian but I failed when I tried to say Bor and ended up using English. The guy behind the counter filled my glass from one of the soup taureens with a soup ladel and Andrew and I took a seat in a wooden booth in the tiny seating area next to the table of older Hungarian men who were obvioiusly having their daily meeting and talking about politics and their nagging wives. My first Hungarian wine was a dry white wine that smelled of lemons and apricots and a small spicey aftertaste. Don't ask me the name, I couldn't prounce it and didn't write it down. When we left we walked past a Chinese restaurant that sold Tiramisu...hmmmm Chinese food in Hungary and they sell an Italian dessert....something tells me that's a stomach ache waiting to happen. We didn't stop, I only took a picture. We walked around to the side of the Castle but not all the way to it as we needed to go back to the Parliment buliding to meet Arpi so he coudl come from work to translate for us. Apparently to see the buliding you can onlz make online reservations. So Apri would take care of it and let us know. Arpi walked us to a grocery store bz the flat and gave me some suggestion for Hungarian wines. A red Portugieser that was the color of a Merlot, had the raspberry fruits of a Rosé and the bodaz of a lighter style Cabernet with a slight spice of a Tempernillo. A Rosé sparkling that was a typical sweet sparkling Rosé with strawberry nose and a light cheery added to the flavor. Apri also convinced me to buy some typical Hungarian candy bars, filled with cottage cheese. I tried a milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and darkchocolte with marmalade all with cottage cheese filling...nooot so much my thing, but glad I tried it. Apri then gave us an itenerary for the next day and headed back to work.

Day 3, Nov 4: I wanted my day to start with a run down on the river walk, what I got was a wrong turn down a road I thought went through to the river, lots of construction blocks, and 15 minutes added to my run to make up for the fact that I ended up two bridges down from where I should've been. Luckily for me you can always see the Parliment buidling and Arpi's flat is about 3 minutes walk from there. After making it back and showering, Andrew and I walked down the main street in Budapest with all the shops and attractions. We stopped at the Terror House which we thought was full of the torcher devises the Nazis used for the Jews and later the Commies for the Nazis but really was a regular museum full of papers to read about the war history of Hungary. This little country has been thorough a lot, and you can see it in the buildings and even in the people, and they just got out of communist control in the 1990s! We then walked to Hero's square which is a huge momument to Arpad, the founder of Hungary. From here we found our Turkish bath which simply put, is a series of hot tubs ranging in temperatures heated by the Earth's natural gases. This particular bath had a huuuuge outdoor section. Andrew and I spent about two hours going around to the different tubs and then landed in the outside pool for lots of poeple watching. We stay there the longest because it was waaaaaaay too cold to get out, and when we finally got out we ran straight to the hottest sauna room to warm back up. Then it was off to find Menza to find the best goulash in Budapest for Andrew. When we found it, to my surprise, it was not what I expected goulash to look like. This goulash has no noodles, no ground beef, and no spaghetti sauce...but that's what Momma told me goulash was! In fact, goulash, Hungarian goulash, is a soup with a beef broth and chunks of beef steak and veggies. Huh, who knew?

Day 4: My morning started off with a trip to the Parliment buliding. This time I didn't have any hold ups because Arpi brought me the paper that had our reservations and times on it so all I had to do was show it to anyone who tried to stop me on the way to the ticket door which was on the other side of the chain link fence. I made it and took my first official "guided tour" of my whole Europe trip. I was happy to see the inside of the buliding and I must say that the tour guide was nice to fill me in on little facts about where stuff came from and just why it was so special. I got to see the first Hungarian Royal crown that had a bent cross on top because it was dropped in an escape. Also the cigar holders outside of the meeting room that served to hold the cigars of the members of congress while they went inside the room to listen to the speakers. You could tell how good the speaker was based on how long the ashes on the cigars were. They have a saying about speakers/lectures, "It was as good as a Cuban cigar." After this Andrew and I took the Metro to the part of town that housed their large central market. The metro in Budapest had the FASTEST escalators I have ever seen. It literally made me dizzy to watch them and you felt the need to hang on when you rode them. At this market I found my souvineer ring, an Amber and Silver ring and the Amber was mined in Poland. Not necessarily Hungarian, but I felt that trying to bring back goulash could get kind of messy. After the market Andrew and I headed home and got ready for a night out. I drank my Hungarian Rosé and got all dressed up for going to a club to dance. But when we went out in search of the club we first found a packed little place that was blaring live Latin music. It reminded us of Costa Rica and we were sucked in. We ended up staying there for the evening, ordering Hungarian pizza which tasted a lot like Tony's frozen pizza and coming home around 1am.

Day 5, Nov6: Day 5 was supposed to be a trip to the Hungarian countryside, but at 12:30 the night before Arpi's car got broken into and a lot of things stolen out of it. So he needed to spend his morning taking care of all the little annoying things, like canceling credit cards, changing locks, calling car companies...The funny thing is when we got the call Andrew decided he needed to protect us from whomever had the keys to the apartment so he grabbed...a cheese knife. It cracked me up. So rather than go off to the Hungarian country-side I spent my morning journaling about just how worried I was about my next stop in my trip, Paris. I hadn't heard from anyone on finding a place to stay but had already bought my ticket based on the fact that I had so many people looking for me. I didn't have a computer at the time to check, and I hadn't had a computer in three days. I was a little more than a little worried. Then I flipped to the front of my journal and saw the verse that Kristin had written for me, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough worries of its own." It helped, I had to do a mentality check and realize that there's a reason I've been safe this far. And there's a reason I haven't run out of money yet. I sent up my Thank yous, and felt better. Arpi showed up not much later with his computer and calmed my nervous even more to know that friends were still waiting on answers. Arpi and Sara decided that if they couldn't take us to the Hungarian country-side then we would go to the next best thing. A life-size museum of all the different areas of Hungary and the typical housing found back in the day in the different regions. It was interesting to see the differences between the houses in the north and the houses in the south as well as the size of the furniture and the way they lived their everyday lives. We even went inside of a typical winemakers house and got to see all the wine making tools. We also saw typical wine serving tools, including the ladel I saw on Day 1. The most interesting of the tools was a glass container with a long glass pipe coming out the bottom and a shorter glass pipe on top. Arpi explained that servers would suck wine into the container and then put their finger over the bottom of the tube and carry the whole thing on their shoulder as they walked around serving wine to customers. The glass is a more modern version as this device used to be made from a particular squash that just happened to grow in that shape. After we left our "Hungarian country side" we went to a typical Hungarian restaurant. This wasn't just a typical restaurant that is set up for tourists, but a typical restaurant with typical Hungarian cuisine, and real Hungarians out for the special dinners of the week. I had a traditional Catfish and Paprika soup served over a flame. I also had a dry Hungarian riesling and tasted some of Sara's lighter bodied red wine. Arpi also let me try his catfish dish that was a catfish fillet with noodles and a red sauce on one side with a creamy sour-creamish and cottage cheese sauce on the other. It was pretty tastey, but I loved my soup more. For dessert we all shared crepes with an apricot jam and strudel with a cottage cheese filling. I didn't care for the cottage cheese, but the crepes were delicious! After dinner picked up Arpi's friend Chubo and drove up to Cittadella to have an amazing night view of Budapest. We were going to go to another set of Turkish baths for the rest of the evening but unfortunetly there was a special "foam" event that cost the equvilant of €80 to enter not including food or drink. We skipped that in favor of staying at the house for a while, enjoying snacks, drinks, and a sunglasses party that sprung from the fact that Arpi and Sara collectively own at least 20 pairs of sunglasses. We got ready to go out and go dancing, but I didn't make it past the couch.

Day 6, Nov 7: Sunday was an easy day. Everyone slept in late, and in the afternoon Arpi took Andrew to the airport. It was weird to say my goodbyes to someone I'd been traveling with since Rome. Before this trip Andrew and I hadn't seen each other since Costa Rica about a year and a half ago(it had been even longer since Arpi and I had seen each other in Nicaragua!). How long will it be before Andrew and I see each other again? So I gave him an extra hug, thanked him for being my travel buddy, tried to convince him to come to Paris with me and skip school, and sent him on his way. After Arpi got back we all headed to Chubo's for the evening. Arpi cooked us Indian food and I especially enjoyed the addition of raisins to my sticky rice. I spent the most of my evening in a bad mood trying to find a hostel to stay in for mz nights in Paris. I was freaking out. I apologized for my anti-socialness but still couldn't get my mind off of the fact that I had no where to stay. I finally put the computer away and joined in a game or 10 of hearts. Then everyone went off to bed becauase they all had towork in the morning. I laid down but couldn't sleep. I went back through the hostel choices one more time. Watched the videos, checked things over and over again. I wrote down directions and prepaired myself for the worst possible scenario...if the hostel was horrible I would find the nearest Holiday Inn. Finally at 2am I slept, or laid down. I think I slept at 4am.

Last Day, Nov 8: I woke up with the rest of the house and Apri took me back to his flat on his way to work. I got in one last workout, some hand washed laundry...ohh I forgot to mention that I ruined more clothes in the laundry. I spilled Hungarian Rosé on my blue t-shirt and when it dried, it dried clear so I thought it didn't stain and didn't spray it before washing it with other clothes. A few things came out a pinkish color, the blue shirt had spots, and my stocking hat was crusted up into a baby-size. I can't win with laundry here. So I tried to wash the t-shirt and hat by hand before leaving. I packed up my stuff, once again relieved that it all still fits in my bag. I then I made time to take a shower and get ready for my plane. As I watched myself putting on mascara in the mirror all fresh and clean with wet hair just starting to curl, I couldn't hlelp but feel like I was preparing myself for a date. I had showered, shaved, done my make-up, and spritzed on an extra spray of perfume. I even had the jitters and butterflies in my stomach like today, I could possibly find my soulmate. Not my person soulmate, but my city soulmate. The thing I've realized I've been searching for all along. Could today be the day I meet my city? Will I fall in love with stinky French cheeses, crusty baggette, French wines like the deep Bordeaux and bubbly Champagne? Will I finally find it here? The one city on the Earth that can keep me forever? Forse (maybe). Arpi showed up to call me a cab at 12:15pm. I tried to make converstaion with the cab driver, but we had limited options due to vocabularies of the other's language. I had plenty of time to roam around the EasyJet's tiny area of the airport trying to figure out the best way to spend my Forints without getting ripped off and without keeping any change. I chose some gum, a banana, and come chocolates. Now I should mention my love/hate relationship with budget airlines. We waited in the boarding line for 30 minutes for a person who played "dumb tourist" and refused to put one bag inside of another bag so that he would only have 1 carry on. I saw about three other people try to hide their extra bags after this incident. Once through the boarding point all passengers were put into two buses. One really really packed full bus and one barely full. Then they shuttled us the whole 500 ft or so to the airplane where we got corraled onto the plane from the front and the back entrances, people pushing and hitting you with luggage...oh well, it didn't matter. I had a plane, I was one it, and I was going to Paris, France.

Random Hungarian Tidbits:

While in Hungary, my allergies flared up. I woke up one morning with a matted shut eyeball only to wash it off and discover that it was completely blood shoot. I was first worried I had caught something but realized it wasn't itching and my throat felt dry so it was allergies. So I took my pills and eventually my eye cleared up, but the snot, the snot is never ending.

Hungary is the first country I have been in that I haven't been able to understand ANYTHING of their language. Not a single word. Even French looks vaguely familar to me because of the connections of the Romance languages. This lead to a complete insecure feeling since I wasn't able to say anything, even as small as "Hello" "Goodbye" "Please" and "Thank you."