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."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back to Rome

After the day before I needed an easy day in Rome. Plus it was All Saints day and just about everywhere in Rome was closed. So we slept in and then Andrew took me to Piazza Geraldo which is close to his school. This was a beautiful piazza and had an awesome view of the city. The problem with our outing is that it started to rain... hard. We were soaked by the time we got to Piazza Santa Maria to eat. All I wanted was a coffe but their machine was broken or they just didn't have one, either way no coffee in sight. So I ordered a red wine thinking it would at least be something room temperature. Nope, the coldest Montepucciano (or any red wine for that matter) I have ever been served in my life, we're talking almost like it had been in the freezer. Fail. We stayed there for about 2 hours before we had a reason to leave and had to venture back out. That night we met up with Andrew's friend Jen and bought snacks and ingredients for Sangria. We had an evening inside, where it was warm and cheap, and watched Superbad. Well, they watched Superbad, I fell asleep in the chair and woke up with a sore neck. BUT it was a much needed easy night.

The next morning was an early one as we wanted to make it to the Vatican Museums, to see the painting for real this time, at a decent time. When we arrived we knew we were in the correct line because we had tons of people hassleing us to join their tour groups. We were told by one tour salesman that it would be a 3 hour wait, a few minutes later it was a 2 hour wait, we actually waited for only less than an hour. Good thing we didn't fall for their trickery. I did see one victum of the salesmen though, a man bought a book of postcards for €2 and around the next corner another salesman tried to sell him the same book of postcards for €1. You could see in his eyes that he felt dumb. When inside the musuem I forced Andrew to bee-line with me straight to the Sistine Chapel. On the way we were lucky enough to see the other painting I really wanted to see; the School of Scholars. We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel where a room crowded full of people was continuously shushed by the guard as they stood with necks craned towards the ceiling. It was beautiful. After this we walked back around and saw all the things we zoomed past earlier. 2 1/2 hours later we were museumed-out and headed back to the apartment to pack for Hungary.

As I rolled up my clothes and stuffed them into their ziplock baggies I reflected on the fact that this could be another place previously only of my dreams that I was about to leave, maybe forever? And another time I successfully fit everything into my bag. We left the apartment and headed for the airport arriving at our gate just in time to stand in life for boarding. Our plane was about to take off at 9:30pm and I sat between Andrew and the Hungarian that kept elbowing me while singing in my head, "I'm a wanderer, I'm a wanderer, I wander 'round and around and around..."

Napoli/ Pompei

I caught my train to Napoli at the last minute, and by last minute, i mean three minutes before it left. I feel bad now because I was in a hurry and kind of rude to the English woman who asked me for the time while I was trying to get the ticket paid for before the ticket machine made it unavailable. However, she had just whacked me and almost knocked ,e over with her oversized backpack so she kind of deserved it. The poor Italain woman on the other side of me didn't deserve to be confused but got nothing but confusion when she also asked me for the time and I told her twice in English before just showing her my watch then suddenly realizing why she was so confused, I quickly apologized. Anywho, ran to my bin and jumped on the train just in time. I found a good seat in a quiet car until we got to a major stop where my car mates all left me and I was joined by a reunited family that xas busy deciding what they would do and who would cook for the next few days. Oh well, I practiced my listening skills.

When I arrived to Napoli train station I had to purchse my ticket to Pompei but I didn't understand why the ticket seller told me it wouldn't leave for two hours; it was supposed to be just a 3O minute train ride, I thought. So I had to do something I hate to do; I had to ask the person in the special "Tourist Information" booth. Ugh, I shudder at the thought of being labeled a "tourist." I feel that for people who live in the cities of tourist attractions that word brings to mind only obnoxious, loud, rude people who don't really respect their place of habitance. I didn't want to be sterotyped like that (espeically not in Napoli) but also didn't want to be lost or stuck (especially in Napoli) so I sucked it up and went on in and asked for help in perfect English. Apparently it was a Metro that I had bought my ticket for and it was done stairs and hidden in the corner. Good thing I asked. I made it to my train on which I overheard two young boys talking and looking confused like they didn't know where they were going. I couldn't understand their language but thought it sounded like German, so I asked them in English where they where getting off the train. They didn't understand anything, so I asked again more slowly. One boy looked at the other and said, "Uh inglese, no lo so, questo é per te." Boooooooy did I feel like an idiot. They were Italian and I just hadn't understood their dialect. I later talked to them in Italian and explained my earlier behavior. They ended up giving me a suggestion for where to eat good pizza in Napoli, and now, we're Facebook friends. :)

When I arrived to Pompei I had no idea which way to go, but I wanted to see the ash-encrusted people I remembered so well from my history books, and it was nearing 3 o'clock. So since I had already given into my tourist status for the day I went up to the nearest English speaking people I could find and asked which way was what. They said the bus to the mountian was one way and the ruins were the opposite direction. For some reason my brain said, "Mountian, the people have to be near the mountian." So I went to the little sign that said Mt. Vesuvius Tours and asked for the next bus. He told me it was too late, and after the disappointment of not seeing the painting in the Sistine Chapel, my eyes almost filled with tears as I said, "You've got to be kidding me." He told me there was a local bus to arrive in 10 minutes I could take for €10 and I could just pay on the bus. So, spirits lifted, I waited for the bus, pushed my way in with all the other tourists, paid my €10, then got to thinking... ruins...ruins... hmmm, maybe I should ask where those people are just to make sure. Just as I had suspected...they were in the ruins. Crap. The tour guide also told me I would not have time to see them tonight becquse by the time we returned from the mountian the ruins would be closed. "You beat your *$$ I'm seeing the ruins today, let me off the bus." They stopped the bus and I walked back to the entrance of the ruins, only to pay another €11 to enter. Lesson learned again (this time the expensive way) DO YOUR RESEARCH AND KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING.

By this time I was in a heck of a hurry to find my people. So I segwaed like a bat outta you know where to the spot of the map where I thought they should be. However it still took me 20 minutes to find where I was on the map. I finally found them, and when I did, I was struck into silence. I just couldn't believe the pure sadness of it all. These people had acutally died just like this. Petrified in ash from a volcano. In their faces you can see their pain and sadness, and the little ones, the babies... after that I walked around in silence just aweing over the entire city. A big city, with houses that had rooms, streets, stadiums, schools, even vineyards. The entire city destroyed and still there was Mt. Vesuvius all erie and ominus shawdowing over the city. I left the park around 5 qnd took the metro back to Napoli.

In the train station I visited my good friend the "tourist specialist" for directions on how to get to the pizzeria my new friends had suggested. She told me, saw my confused look and told me of another one that was closer and older and better. She also assured me I would be okay to walk and had no need to take a cab. So I set out to find this place in the dark streets of Napoli walking with my eyes straight ahead, my hand on my purse, and the speed of a cheetah. I walked for a while and finally stopped to ask someone if I was close. I was close alright, it was right beside me and it was closed. I guess that happens on Sundays. So I figured I'd just stay on the same road until I found something, but anything I found was either closed or didn't have pizza. By the time I finally found something I was exhausted and practically blinded by hunger. The place I found was so perfect it even included the stero-typical Italians that speak in that thick accent and everyone secrectly suspects them to be a member of some mob. I had Mariana pizza and Lambrusco all for only €5.50 which is less than just a pizza would've cost in Rome. After my delighful dinner I had to find my way back to the train station through the mazes or roads I didn't recognize; more cheetah walking and asking which way to go from every decent person I saw. I made it there and safely to my train.

Getting back to Andrew's apartment in Rome was a hassle of it's own because of late busses and missed stops. At one point I was told by the official bus person to wait in the incorrect spot for my bus. After 20 minutes of waiting I finally asked someone near me. When they turned to point to where I shoudl go i saw my bus, getting ready to leave. I stupidly, yet successfully, sprinted in front of 2 lanes of traffic and right in front of the bus as it was pulling out. I finally made it safely to Andrew's by 12:30am and pratically collapsed on the floor from exhaustion. What a trip.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lots of New PIctures

Hey guys!!! New pictures in: Casa Fattori, Going out with Friends, Days at work, and Rome. New albums of Hungary and Paris. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When in Rome...drink house reds, not whites.

I arrived in the train station in Rome famished and scoped out my favorite little grocery store (with normal priced, not train station/airport priced items). I bought some snacks and another one of the tiny juice boxes of wine I had on my first day in Rome and Italy oh so long ago. Andrew and I took a bus back to his apartment in Monteverde outside of the city center. As we were riding in the bus I look out the window and, "Holy poopy, that's the Colosseum!! It's real! It's huge! And it's right there, right out my window." I look around like a little kid who just told a GREAT story expecting everyone to be in just as much excitement as I was. I was shocked to discover that no one, not even Andrew seemed to really notice that ginormous famous structure just out our window...I suppose if you see it everyday it could be different. My first night in Rome Andrew and I headed out for a night on the town with one of his friends. This is when I realized I wasn't in the Veneto anymore and now it's safer to order a house RED wine rather than a house White. Egh...I didn't know white wine in Italy could taste so bad, I think it was really Yellow Tail Chardonnay in an Italian disguise. Egh, shivers. Needless to say we ended up leaving this wine (glass and all) on the bus. At the end of the night we stopped for kebabs and I ate some fast-food Indian style...egh, more shivers. My stomach was KILLING me the next day. I literally felt like I had a knife in my tummy when I woke up. From now on I will avoid fried rice balls with mushrooms and tiny patties of spicy eggplant stuff.

My second day in Rome I started with a run through a very large and very beautiful park. Once again I was in childlike amazement as I ran though structures and up to statues that were ages old and still so wonderfully beautiful. I noticed again that I was the only runner in the park who seemed to give a crap about the amazingness surrounding us. What is it with Romans, don't they know what they're living in?? After the run Andrew and I got geared up for some Piazza-seeing. We started with Piazza Novona. It was filled with beautiful buildings, artist outside doing their different trades and selling their work. We found the best Gelato place right to the side of a Church (thanks to a suggestion by Sharon). This was the first time that I took notice of just how many tourists were in Rome. Most people in Rome don't even look Italian. It's reminds me of the New York City of Italy. Always something to do, people from all over mixed into one city, more tourists than locals...I also found it interesting that one the bus ride home there were literally more people on this full bus speaking English than there were people speaking Italian! We had an easy night in. It was also laundry day, long overdue. I was down to my last pair of pants that didn't smell THAT bad and one last shirt that had only been worn one other time. We played board games with Andrew's roomie who is from, where else, St. Louis, MO!!! And we drank red wine that they bought at the corner store on the $3 special, they were reds from the Veneto. Made me miss my Italian home.

Day three in Rome started with a trip to the Colosseum with a planned trip to the Vatican City. We waited in a very long line just to get to the ticket office for Colosseum. Although, since we didn't hit high tourist season we did manage to miss the 3 hour waits I've heard so much about. Once we got in, we walked around for a bit, took in the amazingness of the pure old beauty of the structure, and then decided to skip on the Roman Ruins across the street (because neither one of us know what they were) even though the ticket for the Colosseum included entrance to the other place as well. We would've gone, but we really wanted to see the famous painting in the Sistine Chapel and we wouldn't have another day to do so. So we went to the complete opposite side of town and made it to the St. Basilica just in time to wait in another ridiculously long line. You might also notice in my pictures that the square was really really trashy. Quite literally trash everywhere. I couldn't help but think, "How can they let the most holy place because some dirty?" My answer would come later..Once inside the church my eyes were glued to the ceiling trying to find the painting. I walked around and admired the beautiful cathedral and existed a confused little girl. Where was that stinking painting. So I asked a tour guide. The painting was in the museum. "Okay, so how do I get there?" "Oh, the museums close at 4 on Saturday."... it was 5:00pm and my heart literally died. My spirit crushed. I had wasted an hour looking for the painting in the wrong place. I had missed one of the things in Rome I had really wanted to see, and now I may never see it. Sunday was set aside to go to Pompeii and Monday was a national Catholic holiday so quite literally EVERYTHING would be closed and Tuesday we left for Hungary. Let this be a lesson people, DO YOUR RESEARCH. KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING. Luckily, for me, this was not a sad ending. Andrew realized and reminded me that we weren't leaving for Hungary until 9:00 at night and would have time that morning to go back to the museums and see the painting. Okay, my spirits were lifted so we decided to go back to Piazza Spagna, which I went to my first day in Italy, to have a drink. When we got off of the metro there was a lot of confusion and noise. We were sure someone had gotten mugged or something bad was happening and then we came up out of the metro and we had our answer. The lines were packed with teenagers, children, and supervisors all wearing the same shirts in different colors and chanting cheer camp type cheers. We had stumbled upon a Catholic youth rally, a traveling youth rally that had been to St. Basilica's earlier that day. These kids were everywhere. We skipped Piazza Spagna in an effort to avoid them. We found a place off another piazza and enjoyed a good happy hour with some happy hour snacks, which they aren't quite as generous with in Rome as they are in the Veneto. Just as we were leaving the kids started to march by in groups, no doubt on the way to their next location. We more or less sprinted in the opposite direction. I'm telling you, these were the MASSES. Later on that night we met with Andrew's friend Jen for dinner at a pizzeria in Piazza Santa Maria, a very busy and lively piazza and were were sitting outside and I was the lucky one who had my back to the road. I'm pretty sure I almost got hit 4 times by cars or scooters passing by. Later we went to see Jen's friends tiny quaint bar that can only be described as a Barnes and Nobel, meets quirky boutique, meets chic bar. I sat in a hand chair and flipped through an Italian Vogue. It was a fun experience and the owners were great, and interesting, people.

The next day was Sunday and I started my day in Rome. I went back to the strange stuff next to the Colosseum because I had paid to see it, I had time and I was going to see it! I'm so glad I went. It was the Roman Forum and Ruins and I enjoyed it way more than the Colosseum. First of all I didn't even realize the entrance was the entrance because it was slightly raining, kind of early, and there was no line, at all. I walked right in. This place was huge and had so many beautiful ruins to see. Sometimes I wasn't really sure what I was looking at until I read the description on the board and realized it was something really cool I'd heard about in school a long time ago. I walked around here for 2 hours, in awe the whole time. After my stroll through the Roman times, I headed to the train station to get the next one out to Napoli and Pompei.

Where's the flippin Tower??

One would not think that a Tower such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa would be quite so difficult to find. Sharon and my's plan for the day started as this: 1.Leave Colleen's go to Pisa to see the Tower 2. Go to Lucca for her meeting 3. Go to train station in Lucca, Rachel goes to Rome. We made it as far as Pisa. We followed all the right signs, we followed her Mike and Greg (because her boys have personalized her Tom Tom with their own voices and hilarious sayings that make it hard to be angry when you're lost), we even asked locals how to get to the tower and somehow we could not find the silly thing. We spent about 30 minutes driving around Pisa until we finally ran into the wall the surround the piazza. By this time we were going to be late for Sharon's appointment so she let me out at the road crossing and waited for me in the car. No problem, this would a simple in, take the picture, and then get back out. So you had better believe I was sprinting like a girl on a mission (I was also dressed in nice close and cute boots so I got quite a few funny looks). As I hit the entrance I slowed to a fast walk so I could snap some photos while I was in route. I got to a good spot, saw a family taking a good angled photo and asked if they would take mine. The nice English man snapped the photo of me by the tower, it was perfect, and I was outta there with within ten minutes. We were still late for the meeting, but luckily the lovely English realtor couple were totally fine with it. We spent about an hour at Sharon's meeting and it was actually pretty interesting to hear about all the laws and restrictions someone living in Italy as well as a historical area have to deal with. After the meeting Sharon asked me if I wanted to join her for her Christmas shopping trip in Florence...uh, YEA! So instead of me leaving for Rome from Lucca I would now leave from Florence. We got to Florence and headed straight for the leather shopping district. Man oh MAN did it smell good there. There was booth after booth of fine (and some not so fine) Italian leather. We're talking handbags, gloves, belts, boots, and of course jackets. We accomplished Sharon's shopping list for that area and I was happy as a bug in a rug with my pretty new blue leather gloves that match my blue scarf. I got my gloves for 25€...not to shabby for real leather with cashmere inside. As we were headed towards the piazza to see the famous Duomo Sharon said to me, "You know, it's too bad that you can't stay later. I'm going to this big outlet outside of the city. And there's a really good bar close by that I went to 5 years ago and it would be fun to see if they are still there. We could go out tonight and maybe stay in Florence or you could just come with me back to my house in the mountains." A few text messages to my friend in Rome later I was sitting in Slowly enjoying the BEST Spritz and amazing happy hour bites. We wondered around Florence a while longer, basically window shopping and then headed to the big outlet outside of the city. Afterwards it was back towards Lucca to her beautiful Villa in the Tuscany mountains (45 min drive from the flat road and town of Bagni di Lucca) in a tiny little village of Montefegatesi.

The next morning I woke up early and went for a run down the path next to Sharon's little village. I wasn't really sure what I was getting myself into, running in the cold in the mountains, but the view...the view was so worth it. The night before it had snowed in the mountains nearby and as I rounded that first big corner I saw the snow capped beauties. I should've known better but I continued to follow the road DOWN the beautiful hill running through Autumn trees by the time I got myself back to flat land. The run back up was a bit rough with the air thinning as I was climbing. When I got back to the Villa the plan was set to see the town and later in the afternoon Sharon would take me to Lucca to catch a train to Rome. Sharon and I walked down to Montefegatesi and had a coffee and a very smokey local coffee bar. Everyone had just cranked on their wood stoves for the season and this particular bar had some ventilation issues that day. No worries, everyone was there enjoying their tiny coffees and brioche just the same. We walked across the street to the small grocery store for the town. I was amazed by the variety, they even had Special K cereal. After the grocery store visit and the necessary morning banana we went to visit a friend of Sharon's. As we walked up to Dominico's house I could feel a warm heat and hear gorgeous Italian opera singers setting the mood of his happy home. We had a great visit, I enjoyed every minute of the music, the talking, and the warm tiny coffee, by the even warming fire place. We left Dominico's and headed up to see the town's statue of Dante. The view from up there was amazing. Afterwards we headed back to Sharon's and I was able to serve as a translator for the men who came to fix her heater. While they worked Sharon wrapped Christmas presents and I caught up on journaling in front of the space heater with a glass of red wine that was so cold just from sitting out in the kitchen I actually set it in front of the heater to make it close to room temperature. It was a delicious red from Sardinia that Sharon had bought on her last diving trip in Sicily. Filieri Cannonau Di Sardegna had a light mulberry color but packed a lot of taste. Tabacco and chocolate with swirls of sharp fruits on the nose and a predictable yet strong smoke/tabacco and oak taste with a loooooooong linger of coffee. I felt it had a lot of the same qualities of a tempernillo (which is interesting because now that I've researched it, the Cannonau varietal's origin is a mystery but one of the theories states that it was brought over by Spainards...). After the workers finished with the heater Sharon and I headed back into town and talked some more with Dominico. Dominico said to me while we were talking, "You know, it's too bad you can't just stay one more night." A few text messages later dinner plans were made and Sharon and I headed off to another outlet for more shopping before returning home to a bit warmer temperature and a hot shower that was, after running and spending all day walking around, much needed. For dinner Sharon, who is also and Italian cooking teacher, made a delicous pasta with sauce that Dominico had made with ingredients all grown in his garden. Sharon also made zucchini with red onions and garlic that weren't quite caramelized and weren't just sweated...they were perfection. Of course Sharon made a simple meat dish as well. We enjoyed dinner and stories. We talked about operas, the good, the bad, and the down right boring. We said goodnight to Dominico and got excited to decorate the Christmas tree. Sounds strange, I know, but Sharon's family will be spending Christmas in the Villa and she wouldn't be back to decorate before they would all arrive so now was the time to do it. I was stoked. We had Andrea Bocelli blasting, red wine, and I had my eye on the Santa hat I saw in her decoration luggage earlier that day. Sharon went to get the tree and I browsed her collection of books based in Tuscany. Sharon appeared in the doorway 10 minutes later with a very confused look..."Someone has stolen my tree." WHAT?! Who steals a Christmas tree?? Indeed someone had taken the tree from her house while she was in her normal residence in Singapore. No tree decorating, but we had a great night enjoying The Princess Bride.

The next morning Sharon and I planned to leave early so that I could go with her to this super secret Prada outlet before she took me to Florence to catch a train to Rome. We stopped on the way out of town on the bridge in Bagni di Lucca to take a picture. I asked Sharon if we had time for me to take a picture with me on the bridge if I ran up and back. She said yes, so I sprinted towards the bridge and about halfway up before I realized just how steep the bridge was. It's deceiving. The bridge is unique because the middle arch is wider and taller than the outer two arches. Legend has it that the bridge is this way because the Devil flew through and pushed it up with his wings. There was more to this legend, but I'm drawing a blank on it right now. Something about the first person to cross the bridge had to give their soul to the Devil so the townspeople got smart and sent a pig. Anywho, We find the outlet just fine, and it didn't even look like anything other than a factory. She was serious when she said it was super secret. I went up to the gate and pressed the intercom button to be asked to be allowed to come in. The nice lady on the other side of the speaker told me, "No." They didn't open until 2:30pm and it was only 10:00am. So we looked around for anything else in the area and then headed to Florence to send me off to Rome. Unfortunately the traffic into Florence was absolutely horrible. We were making okay time until we hit the outskirts of town and basically met a dead stop. I was going to miss my train. It's okay, I hadn't bought the ticket. When we made it to the station I ran in to see if I could still get the train, but it was a no go. I went to the ticket machine to find the next train. It left in 30 minutes from another station in Florence. The race was on. We didn't even park the car when we arrived to the other station. Sharon helped me get my pack on and I sprinted with up the stairs through the hall to find my Binario number, dropping my new gloves along the way. Luckily I noticed and recovered them. I breathlessly hopped on the train 1 minute before it took off. Ho fatto (I did it). Now I could relax in my 2nd class seat that seemed more like 1st class to me and pray that I had hopped onto the correct train. I asked my neighbor...just in case.

I was right, safe and sound, and just a few hours from Rome.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

a quick sorry folks

Hey everyone out there. I needed to write a short message and let everyone know that 1. I am alive.
2. I have little to no internet access w/o having to pay boatloads
3. The blogs may be a little sparse from here on out.

With that said. I know I'm way behind on a matter of fact I have been to Rome and Hungary and tomorrow I will leave Hungary for France. I hope to get some writing stuff in soon. Everything has been going smoothly, except for that whole internet thing. So how it may happen from now on is that I write a quick note (such as this) to let you know I'm still out here, and when I return home to USA I'll completely catch everything up to date. Keep an eye on pictures as they are easier and faster to update. k? Grandest apologies, and until the next time, hopefully soon!!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuscany, Olive Oil Making, Wonderwoman Colleen

Sharon picked me up from the train station because Colleen had her hands full with dinner and her three year old twin girls. We got to Colleen’s house in the Tuscany hills around 8:30. I was quickly drug away from the table to be shown the pile of toys owned by the two little girls. Sophia and Faye took turns showing me things and telling me the names in either English or Italian. Sophia usually preferred to speak in Italian while Faye usually chose English. They sure did keep my brain on its toes. After the girls were put to bed we sat down and had a wonderful dinner together that included some delish lentils that Colleen had prepared with a Greek recipe that I’m assuming she learned from her Greek husband Vass. Either way, it was yummy. We were also lucky enough to be the taste testers for some of the wines Colleen was thinking of sending to her clients in Japan. They were in need of some great Italian wines, but needed them to have a certain price point. Colleen was in charge of the price point and we were all in charge of quality control. The next morning I was up bright and early ready to start picking some olives. I honestly had not a clue what this would entail. I was assuming it would be a lot like picking cherries. It wasn’t really.

First we drug very large nets up from one of their many olive groves that had been finished the day before. We then stretched the nets out and made sure the ground around the trees we would be racking was covered. Then Vass said, “Okay Rachel, you take a rake (which reminds me of the racks little kids use to build sandcastles) and you take the branch and then you rake the branch.” I said, “That’s it?” He smiled and said yes. It wasn’t hard work, just long and….well just time consuming. Some trees were taller and required someone to climb up into the tree, others were thicker and reminding me of trying to brush tangles out of a little girls hair, others were just so simple that it only took five minutes to finish the tree. After finishing a row of trees we were start from one end of the net and corral all the olives to one said, then pick out big pieces of twigs and leaves, then we’d corral them into baskets. Then we’d move the nets and start on another portion. We did this all morning until lunch, had a beautiful two hour lunch with grilled meats and lots and lots of side dishes for me, of course wonderful wines (Colleen is a wine consultant so can’t go wrong drinking wine at her house). After lunch it was back out to the field for a few hours and then inside to help make dinner. Another lovely meal with Colleen, Vass, Sharon, and the girls (well actually the girls ate first and then we all watched the Little Mermaid while we ate). The next day I was supposed to go into the olive oil making factory, called a Frantoio, but slept in a little late and decided to go for a run through the Tuscan hillsides instead…however it was raining, a lot, so I opened up the shades and ran on the treadmill instead. We spent most of the morning indoors since it was pouring down rain, but in the afternoon I ventured out with Sharon to look at vineyard properties and to help translate. That night Vass took me up to see the Frantoio and to explain the process to me. This whole time I pictured Vass doing all the pressing of olives by hand in some little shop in the town….nope, the Frantoio looked a lot like a Cantina. Even the machinery and process looked and functioned a lot like the process to make wine. There was a machine to sepearte the foliage, a cleaning process, a machine to separate the insides of the olives from the pits and the skins (and a pump the sucked it all outside to a large trash can), a machine that pressed the olive paste (pasta) to extract the oil, and then another extraction after the first. I learned that depending on what temperature you keep the olive pasta and olive oil during this process is what decides if it’s just olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, etc. I also learned that just because Vass is Greek doesn’t mean he learned to harvest olives and make olive oil from his family…he laughed and told me he learned when they bought the house that included five acres of olive groves. The next morning I had planned on leaving Colleen’s to go back to Pisa to see the tower and then to Rome to see start my adventures there with my friend Andrew. Sharon had an appointment in Lucca and offered to let me see Lucca while she had her meeting and then would take me to see the tower and then to the train station. Of course I couldn’t turn that down, so I packed up and went with her to Lucca.

I’d like to stop my story here for just a moment to say how much I enjoyed my time with Colleen and her family. Colleen is truly a superwoman. She is a very successful business woman, a mom of twin three-year-olds, and a wife (not just any wife, but a Greek/Italian wife who cooks amazingly and loves and cares for her family every moment they need her). I very much appreciated her being so open and welcome to having me stay in her home. Thanks Colleen!!!