The final countdown: Amsterdam Edition

Wow, that sounded way more final than I meant it to. But nonetheless, it is true. I am in my last week of classes here in Aix and being the considerate friend and blogger that I am, I decided to give all of you study-holics and insomniacs who are in finals mode a new way to procrastinate that doesn’t include Robot Unicorn Attack or likealittle.com (it’s just creepy). A new blog post! (applause)

So before the final week of classes began, I had my final trip. And what better way to end 4 months of Euro-fun than AMSTERDAM. In an effort to keep this blog readable for all ages, I’ll omit many of the morally questionable events of the weekend (not that there were any, Mom and Dad but hypothetically). I arrived with my fellow voyagers, Audrey and Laura, around 4 on Friday. We made sure to profit from the free drinks policy on the plane (Author’s note: US, please try to adopt this policy. Flyers would be MUCH happier and I’m pretty sure this would’ve avoided the Jet Blue worker freak out circa Aug/Sept 2010) and even created a flight sensative drinking game: most important rule being that when Ali freaks out, Ali has to drink. Mom, I”ve been flying without Dramamine these past few months and so the freakout have been plentiful. They lessened as the flight went on grace à our little game. Lesson learned: All these years of sleep-inducing Dramamine should’ve been replaced by white wine, rum, vodka or – most recently tested – gin. Who knew?

After arriving on Friday, I could officially start answering the question “Whatcha doin’?” with “Nothing, chillin’ at the Holiday Inn.” The 10th grader inside of me felt a great deal of pride being that since the first time I heard Chingy utter this phrase, I had – for some reason – a huge urge to use it in my day to day life. Mission accomplished. We then left our Holiday Inn and went to a coffee shop to, ya know, get some coffee. When in Rome, right? There we rendez-vous’ed with our, for lack of better phrasing, French entourage. Cultural lesson here, readers: We Americans are used to very specific directions when trying to meet up or get somewhere. And after an entire semester of reading chapter after chapter of Raymond Carrol’s “L’etrangete Francais” I thought it was all bull$hit. Turns out, she may have been right on this one: directions can be culturally based. Example: “Meet at the church.” People, this is Europe. If you didn’t know, there are churchs everywhere. The Europeans of days past were verrry adament about churches on every street just as we seem to be determind to place a Starbucks on every street corner. Thus, meet at the church gets a little confusing. Still, we managed to get by and find our way through the cobbled and snow covered streets of the ‘Dam.

Saturday: huge ititerary (how badly did I butcher that spelling?) With only 48 hours in Amsterdam, Audrey made sure to wake us up at the crack of dawn to really take advantage of our time. Her shrill, morning-person voice still echoes in my ears…at least she followed through on her promise of coffee within 5 mins of waking up. Nonetheless, we started early and got a lot done! First stop: Van Gogh museum – which turned out to be a great way to pass time in a culturally educational fashion because it was blizzarding outside. Then IAMSTERDAM sign, then a park (see Facebook for photos) and then the Heineken Brewery, all while trudging through the continually falling and ever so slippery Amsterdam snow. The rest of the night went in typical Amsterdam fashion – coffee shop, Red Light District, general loss of morals and my soul. No big deal.

Sunday: Anne Frank house. Truly one of the best experiences I’ve had since in Europe. We went the four of us and I’m pretty sure not more than 4 words were uttered upon entering the half-museum, half-memorial to the writer of one of the most celebrated journal’s of all time. I found myself holding back tears, many times without even knowing I was about to cry, upon re-reading the lines of the Diary I had read so many years ago. I found it only fitting to finish the visit with a copy of the book that came from the Annexe itself. But to me, the best part of this visit was the way that they made the issues relevant today. Interactive features that created ties to present societal issues of persecution and prejudice help the legacy of Anne Frank to live on in a capacity that isn’t just a remembrance, but a precedence and an applicable example. In this way, Otto Frank’s dreams and wishes have been acheived: tolerance will forever be relevant and in this way, we can use Anne Frank – her words, thoughts, wishes – today. I will always find it amazing how much relevance history has (and always will have) in contemporary society not just from a political and economic standpoint, but from a moral point of view as well.

We left Amsterdam Sunday afternoon – tired but well-toured; praying for sleep but instead receiving a death-defying flight home. I swear, I was preparing in my head for where I would exit in the case of a water landing. Still, we arrived – safe and generally sound – just in time for our last week of classes here at AUCP. And speaking of, I now have my last art class. Author’s note: Art classes generally tend to be more trouble than they’re worth – especially if you’re someone who just really isn’t an artist and, honestly, just took the class because you didn’t want to take anything that would involve using your brain. I now know for next time.

Hope this provided sufficient procrastination! Now get back to work – most of you have finals to take and I don’t want to come back and hear you crying about how you failed. Good luck little Smarties! À bientôt!

Now to come back to our sheep (yes, that’s a phrase here)

Now, where did we leave off with these “Rules of the Game”? Ah yes…

…#9: Always compliment a boy on his velo. If you want to make French friends, apparently this is what you’ve got to do! During an ever so unnecessary group meeting on Monday night, we were told a story of a girl who met a boy while she was buying a baguette (so French) and who walked outside, made eye contact and said “Hey, nice bike.” He, of course, reciprocated and they came to talk. She then asked him, after 30-45seconds of social graces, if he wanted to have lunch with her. He did. So he bought his baguette (he’s French) and off they went. The next time, he brought his friend Boris. It was there that Boris met Kelly, and eventually, they got married. Moral of the story: compliment someone’s bike if they’re outside your local patisserie. Authors note: I just learned that Kelly and Boris have divorced. With this new knowledge in mind, make your choice of whether or not to speak to the boy on the bike. His best friend could be a heart breaker.

Rule #10: Be an ice queen. Apparently, French guys like this. For the two boys in our program, they must also play the role of Ice Queen. The validity of this rule is still being tested…

(Are you getting the idea that our director just wants us all to find husbands here?)

Rule #11: Abroad is abroad. We’re here to explore, not study. This mentality so eloquently put by the one and only Christina Houser has dominated my actions thus far in France. But after receiving a rather abrupt letter from the Abroad Office about my grades transferring – something I choose to forget quite often – I guess I need to come back to my moutons and lance into my studies. But not before partaking in Rule 12…

Rule #12: It’s always acceptable to get drunk off champagne with your host family, even if it’s after wine class on a Wednesday, and especially if it’s your host brother’s birthday. And so was my night last night. After having been certified in the degustation of wine – certificate and all! – I came home to find apertifs and a bottle of champagne waiting for me. Merci, David!  It’s always a little awkward being drunk in the presence of a freshley 45 year old “brother” and his 60+ year old mother, but things definitely got interesting when I smiled a little too big when David, describing Amsterdam, said: “il y a des coffee shops partout.” I laughed (nervously), he laughed (knowingly) – but c’mon, everyone knows why college students go to Amsterdam. I downed the rest of my champagne and he promptly refilled me. And so it went for the rest of the bottle.

Rule #13: No feet on the seat! Another encounter with the French but this time I was lucky enough to be a bystander while my friend Jamie got verbally smacked for having her shoes on the seat on a public bus on our way back from Prague. The couple in front of her, having only just sat down, turned around and expressed their inner rage at her infuriating actions! “Do you do that at your house?” She took her feet down. I’m not even surprised anymore – or I shouldn’t be – this kind of thing seems to happen pretty souvent.

Rule #14: Balls exist. At least, this weekend they do. I’ll let you know how this goes…Marie Claire’s last student passed out in our bathroom (naked!). I hope to fare better than her. The way I see it, if I can make it through Mardi Gras clothed, I can do this. And yes, parents, I make it through Mardi Gras clothed – albeit, in neon.

And we’re off (again)!

Figured I’d post a quick blog before heading out to the Gare Routiere to catch our bus to the airport. PRAGUE THIS WEEKEND!! I have the great fortune of being able to stay with none other than the lovely Suzy Appel who has taken up residence in this land of, well, I actually don’t know what exactly Prague is famous for…but I will soon! Oh, the joys of learning while abroad. I return late Sunday night with much homework to do, as I am pretty sure that none will get done this weekend. Eh, tant pis.

In Tulane news, the demons that consistently plague the Tulane system have struck again. While having my mother register me for my courses (I lost internet….again) I found my account had been randomly disabled! Two hours of long distance calling later, they fixed the problem. Nothing is ever easy, really. Either way, schedule done and MWFs start at noon for me! This makes up for the 9h30 start on Tues and Thurs but hey, whats a little give and take once in a while?

OK off we go! Story time on Monday, readers!

“Ici, nous parlons francais.”

For you non-French speakers: “Here, we speak French.” The “here” being in Aix-en-Provence and the “we” being a man at the bus stop who chastised my friend and I for speaking English. I was totally floored, partly because I couldn’t believe the luck I’d been having lately with old European men (see “The Oinker”) but mostly because this is exactly the kind of rude stereotype that is propagated throughout the world about my current country. This is the event which prompted the status: “The stereotypes continue to perpetuate themselves.” I’ll explain further. This man stated that if he were chez vous, that’s to say the United States, it would be disrepectful to speak anything other than English. Here, in France, it’s the same.

I’m sorry but he clearly has never left his little corner of the Rotonde. The US itself is a melange of languages, Spanish and English mostly, but in any corner of most cities you can hear some dialect, some foreign tongue and I’ve never felt the need to tell them that it’s a matter of respect to speak my language. This man probably would’ve stopped a Cajun speaking French and told him to chagne his dialect because it wasn’t true French.

He stopped talking to us after we said we were d’accord and that we understood. He started again, this time with an example of how if he went to Italy or Germany he would still speak their language, even though he doesn’t know how to. Considering that makes absolutely no sense, I’d love to see how that trip worked out. He’d either be a mute the entire trip or a babbling idiot in between the romantic sounds of French and the harsh syllables of the German language. Good luck, monsieur. He stopped again after this ridiculous example of Franglitian. We tried to return to our conversation – this time in French. He interrupted…again. “C’est pas mechant.” He said, almost trying to convince himself and the others who had started listening to our exchange. It’s not mean? Are you serious? Not only are upholding the standard of being rude, but you’re also upholding the stereotype of the crochety, mean old man.

Few things render me speechless – in fact, for those of you who know me, you probably wish it happened more frequently – but this event caught me so offguard that I’m pretty sure a part of my jaw is still laying on the ground near my bus stop. It’s because of this initial shock factor that all I could say was “d’accord” and “OK.” I even agreed that he wasn’t being mean and I’m pretty sure I said I understood his reasoning. I sat on the bus feeling, not only embarassed having been chastised like a 4 year old by this man in front of a crowd of bus-awaiting francais but also like a complete idiot who couldn’t uphold her sense of self. Could I go back and find that little old man with his brown/orange sweater vest and tufts of gray hair sprouting from his head and ears, it would be a very different conversation. One that probably would’ve upheld the stereotype of a loud ignorant American fighting for her right to speak her language where ever she wants. And maybe he was right – I’m in a french immersion program and should probably be speaking French. But to say it the way he did, maybe doesn’t come across in this article, but was absolutely, well, rude. And to talk about a matter of respect and then talk to us like that? Well that’s just absolutely hypocritcal.

“Did we just get oinked at?”

So, I’m currently in the process of reflecting on the past 10 days of vacation. And I type this reflection to you from my bed which means, yes readers, I have finally found the solution to my internet problem. Thank you, Nathan Eberhart…and SFR. But mostly Nathan Eberhart. Anyway, my meandering thoughts brought me to one of my favorite moments in the Italy Extravaganza: the oinking 60+ year old man at the Vatican. As we 6 Americans thoroughly enjoyed our gelatos (and crepe) a little old man hobbled over, peered at us over his tortoise brimmed, oversized bifocals and then started snorting at us. Yes, I’m serious. And this wasn’t just any snort – for those of you who have heard me laugh, you know that’s saying something. Picture the most horrendous noise that you can think of, a mix of week 3 of a never ending cold/stuffy nose and Shakira’s voice when she does that tribal thing in “Whereever, Whenever.” It was absolutely, for no better word, gross! At first, we just stood there confused. Tongues poised for the next lick, the snorting noise came again – this time louder and with a vengeance. It reached our ears as the cherry and chocolate met on my taste buds. We all stopped – incredulous. Was he snorting at us!? Now, keep in mind that all of us are studying in France and, the French have a habit of commenting on those who take their food, snacks and – worst of all for me – coffees, to go. Thus, it’s not uncommon for us to overhear a “bon appetit” as we walk through the street eating our freshly prepped and bought sandwiches from the Greek stand just 5 minutes away from school. Hey, we’re busy! Still, in all of the snide remarks thrown my way by my host-countrymen, never had I encountered such a way to say “hey, Americans, get a table!”

Dana’s first response, of course: “Guys, he’s calling us fat.” And considering the amounts of pasta and gelato consumed by us on a daily basis, it was a possibility. Maybe he saw the mounds of ice cream and saw it as his window of opportunity to live us to the “Mean Old Man” stereotype. Maybe he was envious but had forgotten his wallet at home and thus, had to remain gelato-less for the afternoon. Maybe..who the hell knows. Regardless, I can say I’ve been oinked at in one of the holiest places in the world. AND that gelato was some of the best I’ve ever had. So take that Evil Oinking Man! I’m sure my reflections will breed more stories later, but my newly acquired Internet just seems to keep navigating to Ch131.com and the 3rd episode of Gossip Girl. I can’t fight with it so early in our relationship, so I should probably suck it up and watch some more absolutely horrible, but totally guilty pleasure TV. *sigh of satisfaction* Finally.

Halloweekend in Roma

Well pink bob wigs translate the same in any language: you’ll always catch some looks in them. And that we did – especially walking into Tony’s Ristorante (recommended by none other than Steven) which makes me realize that most any food I’d eaten to this point in my life was nothing in comparison. This realization will probably aid me on my diet because all food really does pale in comparison after last night’s fried calamari and pollo parmeggiano.

Anyway, tonight’s our last night in Rome before heading back to France (sad) so we’re going to spend it eating some pasta, gelato, cannoli and singing kareokee – because why wouldn’t i know where to find some good old fashioned Monday night open mike nights? photos to follow – keep an eye out on Facebook!

Warning: This post may cause jealousy, drooling or just an overall want to book a flight to Rome.

In the event of the last one happening, do it – we’re here til Tuesday. It’s been a jam packed two days in Rome so far, and nothing short of amazing. After arriving around dinner time Thursday night to a room of 6 beds packed into a room, the size of which can only be described as Polly Pocket-esque, we decided to ease our pain at a cafe down the street with some good (much needed) wine and pasta – tagliatelle to be exact. We awoke the next morning, rectified the room sitch and were off to our 1pm Coliseum reservation where Dana and I clearly got into the whole gladiator, Gate of Life, kill or be killed thing. Hey, when in Rome…

After that, we crossed the street (traversiamo for all you Italian/”Eat Pray Love” enthusiasts out there!) to the ruins of the Roman Forum where we spent time in Cesar’s old stomping grounds – his living room really provided us with a great view of the rest of the Senate area.

Cesar’s old coffee table? Anyway, Hannah’s years spent in Mr. Scott’s Latin class really came in handy here and we sat and listened as she regaled us with tales of Sextius and Cesar, Romulus and Remus, Optimus Prime and – dammit, that’s Transformers. We then walked through Rome to buy our tickets to the Roma vs. Lecce soccer game. Because the world is so absolutely small and it’s so insanely normal to see a kid from your graduating high school class of 161 people – we would of course literally walk into our old classmate Gideon and his parents, freshly arrived from the 914!

We proceeded on to a wonderful dinner, made for us by some new friends in their Rome apartment. Pasta tastes better in Italy, even when it is out of a box and made by Americans. We then went to the Ice Bar (gloves and futuristic jackets included!) for our first real night out in Rome. Sadly, my camera didn’t make the trip to this winter wonderland with us – I learned my lesson about water and technology in Munich – but I’m sure these pictures will appear on Facebook soon enough. From what I’ve seen of the photo archives, these are shots to be on the look out for.

Needless to say, waking up was a bit difficult this morning. But we managed to turn our 12:30 start time into a jam packed day of Roman conquering. We started at the Vatican and saw, of course, the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica. I’ve been lucky enough that this trip is a series of 2nds and 3rds for me and when my friend Jamie asked me if it was boring to re-do all of these landmarks and tourist sites, I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘no’ because, honestly, who can scoff at seeing the Sistine Chapel twice? It’s been fantastic for me to get to revisit these things, not only with a new group of people, but (selfishly) with no pressure to have to see everything because, well, I already did. It’s like getting to eat the whole cake and then being told you can lick the spoon – and don’t even pretend you’re too cool to lick the spoon.

After this ever so attractive shot in front of the fountain in St. Peter’s we made a quick-change and headed out to the Roma vs. Lecce game that we were tipped off about by our resident trip planner, Steve Antenucci. Quick aside: Steve, if we could’ve bought you a plane ticket, we would’ve. THANK YOU SO MUCH for everything. And I’m sure we’ll be kissing your feet after dinner at Tony’s tomorrow night.

Our view from our seats!

(Sorry for the size! This one’s a mobile upload) We were oh so spirited in our Roma tee’s and jersey’s – #10, Totti for me! After the game we hopped the Metro and headed to the Trevi Fountain. My wish for amazing pizza was obviously granted because we stumbled upon a great restaurant a few blocks away. Oh the magic of throwing coins into Italian fountain water!

And now, I am one exhausted Italian. Well toured, well fed and teetering on the brink of food/gelato coma, I sign off happy and exhausted but completely and totally ready for Halloween in Rome tomorrow night (YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYYAYA). I’d get ready for stories and photos. One word teaser: pinkbobwig. Okay, maybe that was a phrase where I took the spaces out but still, the point stands.

Nigel Thornberry, here!

My sister (and family) can probably attest to the fact that I was speaking in this accent the other night as I plodded home from a night out in Florence (drunk dials are quite an expensive international vice). But I think my drunken, accent/language loving, alter-ego may have actually been quite poignant when picking out this character because we have truly been explorers of Italy for these past days. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can’t talk to animals and our experiences haven’t been anything that hasn’t already been written about in Tour Italy guides across the globe, BUT it has still been nothing short of fantastic.

My rule about gelato has been kept to and, I won’t lie, I’ve been quite strict about this. But yesterday there were thanks all around because I’m pretty sure we found the best ice cream in Florence, and the best ice cream we’ve ever had. 3 experts surveyed, all in agreement.

One of the experts. Her face really says it all.

There are 1,000 stories I could tell about these past four days and nights here in Florence – the Academia, the David, the David’s p…arts, the Uffizi Gallery, every single piazza, every single cobblestone, every single bottle of wine, scoop of gelato, step of the 463 that it took to get us up to the most breathtaking view of Florence I’ve ever seen courtesy of the Duomo, every bite of pasta – whether it was tagliatelle or gnocchi, it’s all just been that good!

The climb to the top, around 150 steps in we stopped for a breather.

436 steps later…I’d say it was definitely worth the 360 degree Panoramic view. Malou, we’re going back and I’m taking you. Start training now, my friend!

And as for the people here, they’ve have been fantastic – and extremely, extremely patient – with this American girl’s attempts at speaking Italian. They’ve also been insanely nice, although coming from France, this apparant change in attitude is probably amplified for us because it’s really not that hard to be nicer than the French. Stereotyping. Sorry (I’m not sorry). If the Italians we encountered at Oktoberfest were any indication of how friendly (and quelquefois a bit persistant) Italians can be, we certainly encountered more of their kind here! I think I’ve come away from these past 6 days with over 15 new requests on Facebook? Man, Europeans love this social networking thing. BTW, all requests are pending.

But today we leave for Rome, continuing our vacation in the Eternal City – and just in time for my favorite holiday…Halloween! Reports are in: this is celebrated in Italy, so I won’t look as crazy as I expected when I put on a costume and celebrate. But we have many things to do, many plans to be made and many friends to meet up with before then! The brave (and wig hunting) Hannah Berkman has managed to outwit the strikers of France (seriously guys, still?) and get to Rome, along with some other recurring cast members such as Christina Houser (the Oktoberfest episodes), Jamie Shapiro (AUCP cast) and I’m sure we’ll have some surprise guests from people that we don’t know are even in Rome but – OMG, you’re here too?! It’s gonna happen…

In fact, this did happen to me over dinner last night – which could have been the most amazing food, wine, dining, everything experience of this trip. Quick story: I turn around to hear English being spoken with a slight Westchesta twang (you know the accent) and thus, in a very out of character move, strike up conversation. Less than 5 minutes later I am listing names of any girl from Briarcliff who ever played Lady Knicks basketball circa 8th grade. Strange, huh? Even stranger, this girl knew who I was talking about. The world is tiny, the word ‘small’ doesn’t even do it justice.

Okay, on to Oil Shoppe (we’ve become regulars at the best panini place in Florence in only 4 days), the Duomo, a last gelato in Florence and then train to Rome! See you in la Citta Eterna!

The Florence Crew on top of the Uffizi.

Voyage to the Homeland: “c’est mon patrimoine!”

Yes readers, this marks the blog beginning of my 10 days in Italy – and the homeland has been good to me right from the start. Unlike our most recent foray into Paris, which began with a cancelled train, a 3-hour flight delay and some stereotypically (realistically) rude Parisian cab drivers, our Italy travels got off quite easily. Though it was a bit surprising getting on a less than 20 person, propeller plane for our flight from Marseilles to Milan. Okay, more than surprising – I had a slight breakdown. Great suggestions on flights PANGE.

But we did get to Milan in time to enjoy a gorgeous meal at the lovely Hotel Cavour and then hit the pillow hard before we did some serious Milan touring. And by touring, we really hit all of the essentials: Prada, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, to name a few. We’re such avid and dedicated tourists! And after sampling the local shopping scene, we made sure to get Gelato #1 (chocolata e amereno per me) all before heading back and showering before Fantastic Dinner #2. I’m going to go all “that couple” on you right now and give you a run down of what I ate for dinner – this will most likely go on all week, so for those of you dieting, this may be the time to step away from the computer or train your eyes to pass over key words such as tagliatelle and mozzarella. That being said, one of my two Milanese traveling partners (Laura) and I shared an artichoke and cheese fondu crèpe which, though seemingly French inspired, paired perfectly with Italian bread. Go figure! (Sidenote: yes parents, I tried artichoke and liked it. Believe it.) For the main course, tagliatelle with salmon – MMMMMMMM – and then espresso followed by On the House Limoncella. This stuff’s always good but there’s something about being in Italy – or maybe just the fact that its authentic here – but it always tastes better in Italy! Milan was no exception to this rule.

After dinner we moved on to the nightlife. I’ve read that in Milan you go out to be seen, so dressing the part was definitely a necessity. Clad in Euro-chic, AKA black from head to toe with some red lipstick for flare, we took on the cobblestone streets which are the new Archnemesis of my favorite black heels. Bar hopping, meeting locals and sampling the Milanese Vodka Diet Coke combo definitely made for a great night. Hearing a medley of Sandy and Danny croon hits from “Grease” and watching drunk Italians do the “YMCA” was a high point. We then spent Sunday on the streets, walking and wandering through the streets of Milan before catching our midday train to Firenze, where we’ll be spending the next four days and will be joined by Dana Hauck who just returned from her week long stay in Morocco!

So far my favorite part is that, for me, this trip has been one big refresher in language. It’s like that Celine Dion song says: it’s all coming back to me…now. And it really is! After one semester of Italian 101 and a lifetime of Italian slang (moppine, anyone?) I’m finding that maybe I can kind of, sort of, maybe speak un poco d’italiano. Oh Professor Arduini if you could see me lavorare-ing now!

Pictures to come soon. I was far too lazy and tired to find my camera cord in my mess of a bag to insert pictures into this blog entry. But fear not loyal followers, the pictures will come! And by loyal followers I mean, Mom and Dad thanks for reading and I’ll post pictures soon. Bueno Notte!