Monday 27 October 2008

Champagne in Champagne!

Jessica and I left Corporate Finance early at 11:40AM to catch 0ur train to Reims at 1:57PM. There, we would experience having champagne in Champagne! Thankfully, our friend Borja was able to take our books back for us!

We JUST caught the connection train to Massy Palaiseau and raced around the train station trying to find where Jess could print her ticket! Just in time, we were able to grab her ticket at 1:45PM.
What most of my European train adventures consisted of!

Contrary to popular belief, Champagne is not a city, but rather an entire region. The similarities of the rolling hillside of the region resemble the Italian countryside of Campania and thus, the region was dubbed Champagne (from the Latin term Camapania).

Surprisingly , Reims was quite a great town to visit. The map that was provided was quite easy to utilize as it listed all the major attractions in the small college town. Our first stop: buy some champagne in Champagne!

Our first stop: Comtesse du Barry for some champagne!

We found another Notre Dame - I actually liked the outside of this one more than the one in Paris! The cathedral was completed by the end of the 13th century and remains the seat of the Archbishop of Reims.

Notre-Dame de Reims a.k.a. Our Lady of Rhiems


Unfortunately, being a Monday in France, many buildings are closed including small boutiques to Monoprix to goverment buildings. Thus, the cryptology and Palais du Tau were closed. Hence, it gives me a reason to return to the region of Champagne one day!

Crypt of the Basilica

Back of Notre Dame!

Jess and I then rode on the merry-go-round! It was about 3euros for literally five minutes. Rip off, but still so much fun!

On the merry-go-round!

Interestingly, as each H&M store has its own style of clothing, the H&M in Reims was fantastic as it targeted the hip college-aged population. As dinner didn't start until 7PM (again, small town France), we walked around a bit and ate at Beuff ou Salade. We also practiced our "Franglais" the whole time. Yay for champagne in Champagne!

Sunday 26 October 2008

Salut, Lyon!

Frederica took off to Paris and Julian told me to wake him up whenever I was leaving, even if it were 7AM! Thus, I did! Marco was quite sleepy and sent me off with a "Bon voyage!"

We headed off to the Museum of Beaux-Arts where one can find everything from Egyptian to Modern Art. The museum's temporary and permanent galleries surround the public g
arden and serves as one of Europe's leading museums.

Of course, the museum was free for students! In fact,
everything tends to be free for students in Lyon. Love it!

Pablo Picasso of course!

Julian really feeling the art piece!

At the train station, I tried to catch the early train with Pauline, but unfortunately, it was sold out. Hence, I went off and introduced Julian to Subway sandwiches to which he loved! Further, a woman came up to us asking where he got the sandwich as she went to Montreal and fell in love with Subway. Nice!

His first time eating Subway!

At the train station, I though the trains were terribly backed up (it's France of course!), so I just waited for the late train. I thought a conductor was trying to explain to me that French trains are sometimes late, but then I realized that it was Daylight Savings Time! So, I waited ANOTHER hour!

Listening to some great jazz, meeting the mayor, couchsurfing, not paying for anything, and spending time with some great French students...what more do you need?

Saturday 25 October 2008

Bonsoir! Qui est?

Pauline and I bought breakfast at a local supermarket consisting of a ham sandwich, Contrex, and orange juice. We took the bus to Rive de Gier to get to the train station, Lyon Part Deaux. While on the train, I called my CouchSurfing host! is a website started by an American who was tired of staying in hostels and not meeting any locals. Thus, he started the website in which the general idea is that others offer up their couch and travelers passing through will "crash" with them. This creates a cross-cultural connection and sparks friendships throughout the world. By living by the "travelers taking care of travelers" mentality, over one million successful host/CouchSurfing experiences have been had! And do not worry, there is a feedback rating similar to Ebay and individuals can be verified through credit cards as to avoid creepers!

At arrival, I found two big welcome signs saying, "Hello, Krys!" Already I knew that Julian and Frederic would serve as great hosts!

Walking to their nearby apartment, they said that they wanted to take me all around Lyon! I also met the third roommate. Their profiles:

Frederic: Italian, speaks English well and good French
Julian: French, speaks basic English
Marco: German, speaks English/French conversationally well

We walked the city taking photoshoots at every fountain and statue we saw until we reached the Center of Lyon which is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

By les quais du Rhone

"The Flower Tree" by Choi Jeong-Hwa

We walked around Old Town Lyon, which is quite beautiful with its Medieval and Renaissance architecture. There, I went into St. Jean Catherdrale, the cathedral of the Archbishop of Lyon and perhaps more importantly, is the leading Archbiship of France.

Old Town Lyon!

Being around the three roommates was great for my French because they would always start off speaking in English and then they would always revert back to French! This is much easier than practicing with fluent English speakers because then you somehow always resort back to speaking English. We definitely spoke in "Franglais."

We then took a funicular to get to Mount Fourvière which provides a magnificent view of the Lyon! Not surprisingly, as Fourviere literally means "one who prays", we visited the Fourvière Basilica and the enowned statue of the Virgin Mary.

View atop Mount Fourvière

Note: When a German utilizes the phrase "That's porno," that does not necessarily mean they are referring to an inappropriate industry. Rather, it is slang utilized by younger individuals to describe something that is extravagently grandiose (i.e. a pink limo).

Frederica and I headed off to Le Parc de la Tête d'Or which was huge! It is argubly like Central Park in New York complete with a zoo. We bought churros (10 for only 3.50euros) and walked around the bears, mongeese, and rose garden. Next time I am in Lyon, I will visit the Contemporary Art Museum!

In the rose garden at Le Parc de la Tête d'Or

While walking back, I was able to take a gorgeous picture by the Rhone River and see the famous Opera Houst lit up at night!

The Rhone River

Back at the apartment, they even further proved great hosts as they made my first home-cooked meal in weeks! We had fish, vegetables, rice, and pizza! Love it!

They wanted to know the sign for an Aries, so I did my best with my limited drawing skills! "Rabbit?" "No, no." "Oh, uhh, animal that goes baa, baa?" "No, no." "Torro, torro!" Haha, it was so funny listening to all of us communicate! Quite honestly, it would not have been such a great conversation if we were all fluent in one another's languages! It was simply just a great conversation learning about each other's lives, culturally and locally.

We headed off to the costume party as Columbo, My Name is Earl, a disco woman, and Bri from Desparate Housewives! "Bri" later told me she wanted to come to California so I could show here where the show was filmed!

On the way to the fête

At the party, I mistakenly thought Paris Hilton was Goldilocks (she was too adorable!) and I further met the Love Boat captain and members of the Adams Family. Can I experience something besides from American culture? Haha...

Fortunately at the party, people barely spoke English, so thus, I improved my French ten-fold to the point where people actually complimented me on the fact that I speak French well! The costume party was great as well for one could simple ask somebody "Qui est?"

Back at the apartment, I was awoken by Julian and Marco who wanted to make sure I was warm on the couch. Thus, they pulled out a blanket and threw it on me. They proceeded to put on another, and another, and another! By the time they tucked me in, I had half a dozen blankets on me!

The many blankets the boys tucked me in with!

Great night!

Friday 24 October 2008

And That's How We Met the Mayor

It was a rushed morning as I woke up at 10:07AM when I was supposed to leave at 10AM! With the November 4th Presidential Elections approaching in the United States, I ran to drop off my absentee ballot before taking the bus to Massy Palaisseau.

Pauline would be joining me later, so I slept on the train during the two hours to Lyon. We were on our way to the Rhino Jazz Festival which we had found online. I had heard (or thought I had heard) of it before, so I imagined that it must have been huge!

Note: Have your passport on you if you have the Eurorail pass! They usually never check, but the pass is only technically good with a passport.

Upon arrival, I felt like I was back in my study abroad program: out in the middle of nowhere! The train station attendant had NO clue as regards to the Rhino Jazz Festival nor did Rive de Gier have a tourism office. Thus, the attendant gave me the name name of one (and only) hotel in the city: the Renaissance. Pauline and I found the hotel online, but they were originally sold out!

As I walked to the center of town, I found rhino-symboled banners and statues everywhere. Obviously, the Rhino Jazz Festival had to be huge! Ironically, none of the banners had any contact information whatsoever.

I see the signs, but where's the festival?

I ate at a small patesserie and actually found a Jazz Festival brochure next to the cahier stand. The owner gave me directions to the ticket booth (all in French) where we had previously made reservations on tickets.

The ticket booth actually had a rhino horn coming out of it, but was quite helpful as I received directions to the concert and hotel and paid for the tickets (again, all in French!). The old man offered to take me in his car the two kilometers to the hotel, but for obvious safety concerns, I politely declined.

I soon realized a few things that made the predicament quite difficult:
-We had no hotel for that night

-I really could not speak the language
-Nobody could really speak English in this small town
-I was probably the only Asian within a fifty kilometer radius

Hmm, what to do? At arrival to The Renaissance, they had no vacancies (in all five of their rooms). There were also no couchettes (couches) or chaises (chairs) we could sleep in either! Sigh...but they gave me information for another hotel in the next town over.

Pauline finally arrived and was able to call the other hotel. We found a taxi number as well as the buses stop running early in Rive de Gier (of course) and they would pick us up after the concert. Thus, we went to grab a beer and Orangina!

After picking up a panini at L'Hollandais, we headed up the steep hill to the concert! Thankfully, our trusty post-it note map the French ticket attendant gave me was pretty accurate! Thankgoodness the random Rhino Crossing Signs helped show us the way!

Another clue leading to the Festival!

After the 3km uphill climb, we made it to the top at Salle de Grange! It was dark, in the middle-of-nowhere, and many, many senior citizens. It was just the Rhino Jazz Festival I had imagined! Haha, my bad!

Nonetheless, the concert was amazing! The Hampton Vibrations consist of a four-man saxophone, a pianist, a guitarist, a drummer, a trumpetist, and a xylophonist! They all sand, clapped, and had energy as well as talent. Quite an entertaining performance!

The amazing and energetic Hampton Vibrations!

At intermission, Pauline started to speak to one of the older ladies asking what time the concert would end. Otherwise, we would have to call the taxi cab to pick us up later. When she discovered that our hotel was over seven kilometers away, she balked and actually found us a ride with another older woman!

Word travels fast around a small town and the locals were so surprised that two "Parisians (one of which isn't even French!)" came into town. Thus, a reporter decided to interview us and take our picture! Long story short, the next thing we knew, we were standing next to the mayor and shaking his hand for the local newspaper! Hahahah...

Just another day in meeting the mayor and the son of the oldest mayor in Rive de Gier (he worked for fifty years!)

The nicest woman gave us a ride to the next town to which the hotel front desk actually just left us our keys at the front desk. What a lovely, trusting, and beautiful commnity of Rive de Gier!

Add ImageThe kindest women in France!

Saturday 18 October 2008

Monaco...Cash Out!

The girls woke up energized and ready for our day's adventure...more excitingly, we were prepared for our night out in Monaco Monte Carlo!
The girls in Old Town Nice

Our first stop on this sunny day was to Plage De L'Opera. Although we loved Paris, nothing can beat a good beach. For only 5euros, Pauline, Jessica, and I had to try to Aerojump! Although I was getting quite skilled at the backflip, everybody (including the seven-year-old jumping next to me) showed off their double backflips and frontflips. Boo.
The Aerojump! Notice how I'm the only one not doing crazy, cool tricks.

So excited!

We took a wade in the water as the temperature was just right and explored Lumieres de Nice, a free art exhibit by Alexis Mossa. After the gallery, we headed off to Castle Hill.

Contrary to popular belief, the hill does not actually lead to a castle, but does provide a beautiful view! It is actually just a hill that serves as a natural fortress separating Old Town Nice from the Port of Nice. The Greeks actually selected Castle Hill for this very reason when protecting the Goddess of Victory: Nike.

From there, we walked to Palais Lascaris amidst the several small public art galleries all over teh city. The 17th century house is associated with
the Lascaris-Vintimille family and as it's free and if one has time, it's worth a visit!

Views from Castle Hill

Once the evening hit, we headed off to our night in Monaco Monte-Carlo! Our studio hotel, the Monaco Adagio City Aparthotel Monaco Palais Josephine (whew!), even had it's own signs pointing the way throughout town!

After eating at Cafe de Paris, an affordable restaurant next to the Monte Carlo Casino, we headed inside to gamble! The Casino is highly sophisticated and is actually very quiet. In contrast to casinos in Vegas, the Monte Carlo is very small with only a handful of tables.

Note: It costs 10euros, but worth it to see inside the casino. If money is an issue, then just gamble to win back your entrance fee. Make sure to have a government-issued ID as well!

Monaco Monte Carlo - gorgeous!

The girls decided to play poker on the slot machines and luckily, I won 20euros and Julia broke even. Somehow, everybody else, went into debt! At the end of the day, anytime anyone was up, we would CASH OUT! And yes, the second I blew on Anne's coin, she scored three-of-a-kind. Woohoo!

We walked to the discotheque, Karament, that provided a good mix of French, Electro, and American music. Over the course of the night, our group turned down over 50+ guys - we just wanted to dance!
Our dancing crew!

Anne and I danced until about 5AM to which we decided it was time to go home. Woo, Monaco!

Friday 17 October 2008

Nice is nice!

After four trains and six girls later, we finally made it to the French Riviera! As each girl arrived, we quickly ate at Fast Food China, your typical mom-and-pop inexpensive, but good eat restaurant.

We took a walk down Jean Jaures to the Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art (MOMAC). Not surprisingly, Nice is full of fountains and is quite quaint!

Middle of Old Town Nice

Surprisingly; however, my new favorite museum would have to be the MOMAC! With its multiple floors, the art is refreshingly presented and organized well. The building's architecture sits with Carrara marble towers that are linked with glass footbridges. The roof, which provides a magnificent view of the city is appropriately called the Jardin d'Eden (Garden of Eden). Beware though as Andy Warhol's works are heavily advertised, but there might only be one ("Dusty Diamond Shoes").

A temporary exhibition by Richard Long was arguably the most exciting! The British-born artist utilized a variety of forms from photography to painting. His works typically embody a response to his journeys across environmental spaces.

Richard Long's "Whitewater Falls"

Richard Long's "An Eight Day Walk in the Cairngorm Mountains"

Perhaps the most beautiful view of the Nice can be seen from the rooftop of the MOMAC. Of course, we held another photoshoot!

From the rooftop of the MOMAC

After walking around Old Town (which is beautiful at nighttime just as it is in the day), we had a delicious outdoor dinner at Le Pub Opera. The weather was fantastic and it was nice to have a ladies night out!

Eating outside at Le Pub Opera

Afterwards, we went to the only bar in town catering towards backpackers: Wayne's! Each night, the bar is packed with travelers and is the place in town to listen to music and dance on tables!

Wayne's Backpackers!

We barhopped to Blue Whales, another venue for live music, where we sat up close and personal to the stage. Before the night ended, Pauline, Julia, and I toured Nice at night. Apparently, the television show "High School Musical" is as popular globally as it is in the U.S.! Good night!

We all love "High School Musical"