Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Alarm from Hell: Florence Day 2

I woke up the next morning to the sound of a blaring iPhone alarm. I reached for my phone and it was 6o’clock in the morning. Who in the world set an alarm for such an early hour? I looked around our eight-person hostel room (which was comprised of seven of us and some asian dude next to me), waiting for someone to shut off this evil sound. No one. The sound continued on for a couple minutes until the iPhone snoozed itself. We realized that it was our dear friend Keith’s phone. “KEITH!” We would yell. “TURN OFF YOUR PHONE!” 10 minutes later it would go off again. “KEITH! TURN OFF YOUR PHONE, DON’T JUST SNOOZE IT!” “Yea, Yea you guys. I got it,” he would reply. This went on for about an hour. Finally, after the asian guy next to me had just left out of frustration, I got up from my bed, walked up to Keith’s bed and yelled “GIVE ME YOUR PHONE.” He handed it over begrudgingly, and I turned off the alarm.
The next morning, all of us yelled at him for his alarm. He looked at us confused, What were we talking about? Apparently, all those times he responded to us, saying he had turned off his alarm, he had been sleep talking. His only recollection of the entire fiasco was me, standing over his bed yelling at him, as he wondered why in the world I was so angry.
For breakfast, I tried to lead the group to some “Secret Bakery” my friend had told me about. For directions, she had taken a screenshot of a sketchy alleyway from Google Streetview. We wandered around alleyways for about an hour until we finally gave up. Apparently you need to do some secret door knock and its only open at night for a late-night snack. My friend had not informed me of any of this until after I told her I couldn’t find it…. If you do find yourself in Florence though, apparently this place is amazing. Good luck finding it though.
After this fail, we picked up some croissants from a bakery and headed over to the Piazza del Duomo to climb the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. We had to mount the thing to a) say we had some exercise to burn off all the Italian carbs b) see a pretty view c) get a closer look at the beautiful paintings on the dome d) there’s no better way to cure a hangover than climbing up a tall building. Climbing up cost us 8E, but the class before us told us that paying those extra euros to see the cathedral views are definitely worth it. While most of the advice the earlier class provided us with was complete and utter crap, this little gem of advice was one worth following. But as a warning for travelers venturing to Florence, if you are claustrophobic, scared of heights, or clumsy you might want to find another viewpoint in Florence. Summiting the dome was pretty scary because the pathway is extremely narrow yet is magically supposed to accommodate both those ascending and descending AND the steps get really steep and small when you are at the dome spot. (The descent is far scarier by the way.)

When we finally made it up to the top, it was beautiful; the red roofs were a welcome change from all the grey I had been experiencing in France. While there, we had to take a group photo. While taking a group shot is not usually something worth noting, this was particularly funny since Zoe had her Colgate sweatshirt on and someone came up with the idea that this would be the perfect moment for us to take a (cheesy) Colgate study abroad picture to land us in the Colgate Scene magazine. I think the photo came out pretty good (besides the fact that I look gross), so I’m going to look out for this photo the next Scene that comes out. 

After, we headed to the other side of the river to get some pizza. My friend had recommended a place called Gusta Pizza. very casual, take a number place. fucking awesome pizza, def the best I had there. very inexpensive. its on the other side of the arno though so a bit of a hike. So as we headed over to find Gusta Pizza, that’s all I knew about it. It was on the other side of the Arno, but I had no address. Somehow we magically found someone that knew where it was, and he pointed us in the right direction. I am so glad we found it. I got this spicy sausage pizza and it was incredible. As usual, I finished the whole thing and tried some other peeps’ pizzas who apparently can’t handle as much food as I can. At our table, there was a bunch of papers and various currencies hidden under the glass with tourists name’s written on them, so we signed one of our number slips with Geneva Spring 2013. The Americans at the table next to us asked if they could borrow or pen. They also wanted to leave their trace in Florence. So if any of you head over to Florence, definitely go to Gusta Pizza and then go to the back room, sit at the table in the left far corner and try to find our paper! GO! NOW! 

After, we had to wash our pizza down with something and since we were in Italy, we chose some gelato. Faith had been to Florence before and said this place called Grom was amazing and my friend Sarah had also recommended it. Once again, we had very limited knowledge about where exactly it was. What I knew about Grom? In terms of gelato, it is all amazing. Grom is supposed to be the best, right next to the Duomo. Faith said it around around the Duomo, on the Arno side. At this point, it had started raining and we were aimlessly wandering around the streets of Florence, hoping to stumble upon this gelato spot. When we were about to give up, I decided to see if I could catch any available wifi (pronounced WeeeFeee) in the middle of the street. Surprisingly, I did and led the crew heroically to Grom. The gelato was amazing. The Asian tourists in line after us thought the same thing. 

For dinner that night, we went to this fancy place called Zaza. a huge place with a ton of outdoor seating and a massive menu. really good food, had a great truffle risotto, my sister had steak tartar. eggplant parm is supposed to be good. Since it was winter, we sat inside. And since we were in Italy, we just gorged ourselves on pasta. I actually got an artichoke appetizer and pasta for my main course, accompanied by multiple bottles of red we had ordered for the table. The six of us just sat there eating, drinking, and talking for hours. Although we didn’t go out that night, we didn’t have to. We got tipsy enough off our classy red wine and just chatted away until 11pm. Sometimes, just talking with friends is so much better than going out. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Just a Little Stalking: Florence Day 1

My first weekend trip after arriving in my new home of Geneva was Florence. As per usual, I had very little to do with the planning of this expenditure. I am pretty sure some people were planning on going and then some more people jumped on the idea and the next thing you know, almost the entire crew was heading to Northern Italy. Three of the five guys headed to have a romantic weekend in Milan and Venice (I so desperately wanted them to take a canal ride together, but unfortunately they didn’t); two other girls went to Florence to visit a girl in their so-rawr-ity. And me? Well, I was in a crew rolling seven deep that was also heading to Florence. 
I am not quite sure why, but Florence has never been on the top of my priority lists for Italy. When I was younger, I stayed in Rome for six weeks for an Opera and fell in love. I’ve always wanted to go to Milan for Fashion Week (which was the same weekend as this trip to Florence, but no one wanted to go to). Venice has been on my bucket list to see before it sinks. But Florence had never even crossed my mind until two of my friends studied abroad there. Both of them had loved it, and one of them had come back after having gorged herself on amazing Italian food a little plumper, inspiring her mother to starve her last summer.
Noting that last comment, one of the major highlights for both of them was the food. So I obviously had to get some recommendations. The first place I headed to after getting off the train from Geneva (well technically my train journey was Geneva>>Milan>>Florence) was to get some lunch. My friend told me about this sandwich shop that called All’Antico Vinaio. Sandwich place where you tell them what you want, AMAZING. huge line but so worth it, but also no seating, but still worth it. Cheap-around 7 euros for a huge sandwich and theres wine!
 When we stumbled on this small hole-in-the-wall sandwich spot, it was packed with people. Going up to order, I realized I spoke absolutely no Italian and neither did anyone with me. I desperately asked them if they spoke English, and they said very little. So I just yelled, make me whatever is good! ANYTHING. Now, I’m still not quite sure what I was given that day. I think there might have been eggplant? Proscuitto? Some sort of sauce? I don’t know but it was AMAZING and served on this delicious and gigantic piece of foccacia bread. The four of us sat there, stuffing our mouths with the deliciousness. I was so in love with it, I kept eating far past being full and had to take a couple breaks so I wouldn’t vomit. I just couldn’t stop eating; it was so good! The one strange thing I noticed about this small hole-in-the-wall sandwich spot was that everyone around me was American. The family next to us was visiting their daughter who was studying abroad in Florence. And as we left, the entire line was comprised of American students around our age who didn’t seem to speak any more Italian than we did.
That night, we decided to go out. Our hostel hosted sangria pre-games, so we met up with the rest of our crew at that lovely social event. In case you aren’t aware, I am not the most social of people, especially when meeting random strangers. My theory is that I merely absorbed the phrase “Stranger Danger” a little too well. So I was not expecting good things from this sangria party, but I actually had fun. About half of the group was my crew (we were rolling eight deep that night after all) and the rest were primarily English speakers who knew how to play drinking games. Although the sangria probably had no alcohol, we also added some hard liqueur to the mix. All the Europeans were beyond impressed by Keith’s ability to take it to the face (even though I’m pretty sure I’m the only person from Colgate who can’t do that). Unfortunately, Keith might have been a little too aggressive because he poured rum all over the only pair of jeans I brought for the weekend.

When we made it out, we had no idea where we were going. We ended up finding the Ponte Vecchio and had a spitting contest, which I lost to such a horrible degree that I vowed right there and then never to spit again in my life (at least competitively). At this point it was 12o’clock, and the crew was pretty beat and wanted to go home. I was not down for this plan. The GSG crew had been pretty weak on the nightlife, especially for a study abroad semester, and I had been getting a little frustrated. So I proceeded to throw a small drunken tantrum at the two remaining players: Zoe and Keith. But we all decided that the three of us were determined to go out that night. 
Unfortunately, we had no idea where we were and without 3G had no hope of finding anything. After wandering around for some time and almost giving up, we heard hope. We heard American college students. We knew that these kids were going exactly where we wanted to go (obviously a club, what else would they be wandering around looking like that at that time of night?), so we followed them. I was so worried they would see us that I was ducking behind cars and trying to keep at least a half block distance. Zoe and Keith didn’t find that spy tactic necessary.
Now, you are probably reading this and thinking that I am a straight crazy person. It was 1o’clock in the morning, and I was essentially stalking a group of American study abroad students. But before you go judging, it worked amazingly. It brought us to the club “21,” which my friend had even listed on her nightlife recommendations. The whole scene was pretty much like an American frat party with less alcohol on the floor, but even provided me with my elevated platform to dance on (it’s not a good party without elevated platforms after all). I had fun and Keith and Zoe apparently had an absolutely fucking mindblowing night because the next morning they dubbed it “the best club they had ever been to,” which I still find to be a hyperbolic statement.
I am still uncertain about how the three of us managed to find our hostel that night, since we are almost always the blind-followers in our travel groups. But somehow we stumbled onto the plaza right by our hostel. Of course, just finding our hostel and getting to bed would be too easy of a story. While in the plaza, these guys starting heckling us, and drunk Keith needed to fight them. There were five of them, one of him; let’s just say that was not a good idea. I literally had to attack him and bear hug him for a while so that he wouldn’t get the shit beat out of him. After we finally convinced him to go home, we got up to our hostel and couldn’t figure out how to open the door. We tried for like 20 minutes, until we went downstairs to call the hostel manager. He finally walked down the stairs, clearly having just woken up, and opened the door with ease. The next day, Alice also opened the door within 3 seconds. Clearly, the three of us cannot function by ourselves….but we did find a club!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saturn Devoured His Son in Madrid

I can't believe my February break has already come and gone. I put off making concrete plans for the longest time and then I literally just showed up to the SNCF boutique when the kids going to Madrid were there buying their tickets. Hey, they said anyone could come! Most of this crew was the same people I went to Barcelona with, so I felt comfortable enough to literally force myself on them. 
We took the train Saturday morning and got in just in time for evening activities. The first night, we went to this nice restaurant for tapas called Lateral. Apparently it's a local chain, but based off the ambiance and popularity, I don't think it has lost its soul quite yet. I liked the tapas at Lateral and would recommend it, but I wasn't blown out of the water. I think I prefer my tapas with less bread and more substance, but maybe that's just how Spanish tapas are? If I hadn't been thinking about ChaChaCha and other tapas places back home the whole time, I probably would've really liked it. Sadly, I can never help but compare. Our bill came out reasonable (about 13E with sangria), as it always can at tapas and dim sum spots. But I probably could've eaten more and gotten a less reasonable price tag at the end.
After dinner we went back to our hostel called Uhostel. I was rather pleased by the hostel  I has absolutely no part in choosing. Everything was there to have an enjoyable hostel experience: clean bathrooms, lockers, great showers with warm water and perfect water pressure, a nice lounge and dining area, and a kitchen. I wish my traveling crew had taken advantage of the kitchen facilities, but looking around a lot of the other guests did and honestly it looked like they were having multiple course dinner parties. All in all, it was a fun and welcoming atmosphere, well besides the concierge that has a stick up her butt.

We pregamed in the dining room until 12pm when they kicked us out since they don't have a bar license. When we finally left probably around 1am (so Spanish to start that late, right?) and headed to Kapital. Kapital is this huge 7 story club in Madrid. Now, from my previous experiences in clubs, they aren't exactly my cup of tea. So I aggressively drank to prepare myself for this venture. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough pregaming to prepare me for the prices-- Kapital essentially robbed me: 20E entry, 2E coat check, 5E because I was feeling a little sick.....kill me. I must admit that I did have fun at Kapital. The thing about Kapital is that it sounds fun saying there are 7 floors, but just don't waste your time on any floor but the first. That's where the main music is, the most people, the fun lights, the violent yet refreshing blows of white wind. Although I had fun, I didn't like it enough to say I'd ever go back. It was expensive and exclusively American (not even general foreigners like it was in Barcelona). If you're not a club person and on a budget, you can definitely avoid this. Going to local bars would be a perfectly reasonable choice and you'd probably be more peppy the next day than I was after I dragged my ass home on the metro at 6 in the morning.

Stole this from my friend Morgan because I never got my picture timed right with the strob

Since I only got 4 hours of sleep the next day, pretty much everything I did was a major struggle. The main thing we did that day was go to the Reina Sofia. I apparently was the only person out of my group that was disappointed, but I really wasn't impressed.The set up of the museum seemed confusing, I didn't like the architecture which usually is better in contemporary/modern art museums, and I didn't like how all the pieces were put up. However,  I did stand in front of the Guernica for an absurd amt of time. It's always funny getting to see a piece you've studied so many times. It really is a great piece. 
The next day we went to the Prada, which is like the Louvre of Madrid. The whole thing was pretty overwhelming, but I did enjoy this museum. My favorite moments you may ask? Velázquez's Las Meninas and Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son obviously. I liked Goya's so much that is the only postcard I bought in all of Madrid and it's currently propped up in front of me in my room. It's just so romantic and pretty right?

For lunch, we went to this farmer's market that is just as much of a farmer's market as the SF ferry building farmer's market. Swanky as fuck, but no farmers in sight. Unless their urban organic farmers, maybe they were invited. Instead, there was a million different food and restaurant vendors (see, I told you it was like the ferry building). The quality of all the food there was so yummy, that we just couldn't stop eating. I got paella, this questionable looking but ended up being super yummy "gulas al ajillo" tapas, and the classic spanish ometette. YUMMY IN MY TUMMY!
For dinner, we met up with Faith and her friend for more tapas. When we met them at the train station her friend asked if we were ok with going someplace "not so touristic." Obviously we were into the idea. Besides the farmers market, everything I had eaten in Madrid was touristy, oily, and made me want to barf. To get there, we passed through many relatively sketchy areas where she warned us people would be offer us weed. When we finally arrived, it was this cute little restaurant that she clearly frequented often. We told her to just order the table anything she thought would be good because we're all about trying new things (how adventurous student abroad!). A whole assortment of things came out, and I think the one I liked the best ended up having blood sausage in it. Sue me ok, I don't care what you think. It was good. 
I also stole this picture of me--Look it's the paella!
In conclusion, Madrid for my February break was a lot of fun. But I'm saying BYE to Spain for at least this semester. It was hard not being able to speak the language, and surprisingly the Spanish weren't quite as forgiving of our American ignorance as I would have assumed and there are even less people there who speak English than France! Coming back to Francophonie was lifesaving for me. But who knows, maybe after I take Spanish 101 next semester, I'll be able to come back and feel perfectly at home! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Action ou Vérité?

Cap ou pas cap?

I've always hated those types of middle school games. Truth or dare and spin the bottle have given me my fair share of nightmares. Throughout middle school, I was always the incredibly awkward girl sitting in the corner while someone yelled "I dare you to kiss herrr!" I had a similarly horrifying experience at the end of my high school career--an experience that me and my friends often bring up during breaks with amusement, horror, and embarrassment. Each stage of my life, I am convinced I am done with such stupid games invented by prepubescent middle schoolers, but I am always wrong. Since college, I have discovered that "Never Have I Ever"--I game I always "won" in high school even if I lied and said I had done more than I had--is extremely commonplace since you play it every time you play kings.
But I would never have expected to play such a game during my experience abroad. Do the kids on the other side of the pond even play games like that? I figured that from birth they were more mature than that. Of course I was wrong. Instead, during my first month abroad in France, I found myself with two boys I just met with Faith in a park playing truth or dare or "action or verite". How high school in San Francisco could I get? Making out with boys you just met in a park? Did I mention to cheap alcohol and cigarettes as well? Did I mention that they were hipsters? Was I in Dolores Park or something?
 But let's go a little further into the dares: "I dare you to kiss him" or "I dare you to kiss each other" Or truth: "which one do you prefer me or my friend?" Or "on a scale, how attractive do you find me?" Obviously being the awkward middle schooler I am, I opted out of the whole thing. Every time it was my turn I was just laugh at the whole situation, maybe make fun of them for being hipsters.
There were a couple things I took from this funny experience. First of all, French hipsters lack moves. What the hell, truth or dare? What happened to the little flirting dance? But when they walked me home and I attacked them about their approach and overly aggressive questions, they just told me I was "timide" and that I "pense trop" What was the point of the facade, we were leaving in a week and would never see them again. There was nothing to lose.
These statements made me think about something else they had mentioned earlier that night. Basically those classic statements about how stereotypically slutty American girls were. "In America, a girl with a boyfriend can...comment dire sucer un bite?...give a blowjob to another guy?" "Uhhh no!" Even the next day, me and my friend Morgan stared talking to these guys at a bar and within a couple minutes they were already asking for a kiss. What the hell, I literally just met you! But to kiss that random French boy at the bar isn't weird because you're abroad right? "#YOAO You're only abroad once!" The way we act when we're abroad isn't real, especially when it comes to boys. We're just having fun! But it also makes sense that we've created a stereotype for ourselves on this continent.
So this is my question: should I stay true to my normal comfort level for these situations (aka 0) and by doing so combat this slutty American image OR should I just say #YOAO and take it as another part of the crazy, abnormal abroad experience? I think no matter which path I choose, I'll still try to avoid Action ou Verité in a park at 2am from now on. But hey! It didn't turn out that bad! We didn't take kidnapped à la TAKEN and our awkward game ended a whole lot better than the "cap ou pas cap" from Jeux d'Enfants! Right? Right?! In case you didn't get the references....

You dumbasses. You're about to drown in cement. 

But actually Jeux d'Enfants is a super cute movie. Watch it. Although the english voiceover is pretty shitty. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

It Was The Best And Worst Of Days

Just to warn you, this is essentially going to be a diary post with a little bit of travel blog thrown in. Sound good? The tale of the best and worst day I have yet to have in France actually starts Friday night. I popped open a bottle of vin blanc toute seule in my room while my host mom and her friends bellydanced in the living room in their bras. Dead serious, just in their bras.
Mont St Clair
After, I met up with some fellow Colgate kids at Rebuffy for the cheapest (aka cheap but also horrible) wine. During our 2 hour stay at Rebuffy I went from being nice and wine woozy to bawling. Then I started hiccuping. Then I paid 5E for a shitty club. Then I went home. Then I threw up. Then at 6 in the morning, my host mom wakes me up and tells me to follow her. She brings me to the door and I had forgotten to lock it in my drunken state. She locks the door dramatically for me and just walks away. UGH.
In the morning, I was supposed to go to Sète, a seaside town close to Montpellier. Still in shock and completely scared of my host mother, I tiptoed out of the apartment that morning and went to the train station. Not surprisingly, I was completely hungover and barely managed that shaky ride. Despite being near death, we started our day by hiking up a giant hill/mountain/cliff to the panoramic view of Sète. I swear I almost collapsed multiple times.
The croutons
The Soup
After our little urban hike, we found this seafood restaurant. We were starving so when they served us toasted bread with this amazing aioli sauce and cheese we devoured it. I didn't quite understand what it was, but my famished self was in no mood to question it. But when the waiter came with our fish soup we realized that it wasn't just toasted bread, it was the croutons for our soup! I still wonder how much the waiters laughed at us. They brought us another platter of croutons for the soup, and despite our embarrassment, the food was amazing.
For the rest of the day, we just walked around trying to find a beach. After a couple hours of wandering, we took the train back home. Walking back to my apartment, I was dreading returning home. When I came in, my host mother said was "wasn't feeling well" so me and Grace would be eating dinner alone (Lies). Feeling incredibly guilty, I almost didn't go out because I thought she would get even more angry with me. But my roommate said that I was being stupid, and she was going to be mad at me if I went out or not.
Faith and I were the only people who wanted to go out last night. I was slightly apprehensive just because practically every night this past week I've only gone out with two other people and it's been...well kind of lame. But it was so much fun. We went back to Rebuffy for cheap wine again and these boys next to us asked if they could sit with us to practice their english. They weren't like 'oh my god gorgeous' but they were pretty cute hipsters. Of course, since this always happens when I talk to boys while drinking, we brought up some politics. This time it was in the form of American Gun Control. Let me state this for the record, I DID NOT BRING IT UP. I was talking about dog poop in France and how gross it is and he was like well in America you can all have guns so that's worse....yes, totally relevant argument.
Do you see how windy it was?
After splitting ways with them, we headed to Faith's host sisters' friend's party. Since we've been in Montpellier, I haven't spent any time with French people and I literally felt like I didn't even see any French students my age--just high schoolers and old people. So it was so nice to chat with French college students. It was something I'd been hoping to do for awhile. After staying there, and smoking like my third cigarette in two days (what is happening to me?!), we ended out night at the Fizz. It was fun but not amazing. It was mainly fun obnoxiously yelling and jumping around with Faith while everyone else was far more calm. But in the end, what is more fun than being that obnoxious American abroad?
The Sète Crew

Summary for the Best and Worst Day
-1 Angry host mom (she's still definitely pissed)
-1 Horrible Hangover
-1/+1 Hiking up that goddamn hill BUT excercise
+1 Yummy seafood
-1 Angry host mom
+1 Soirée
+1 Being asked like 4x if I was French
+1 Sleeping in a comfy bed chez Faith
+1 Egg McMuffin that I ate for breakfast
-1 I'm scared to leave my room
The Sète Habor