Friday, June 29, 2012

Cologne

Got to Cologne around noon on Friday. Had a little scare at the station when my train was displayed in red text. Turns out that just means it's an international train.

The hostel is really cool; it's got a real chill atmosphere, and it's a communal living space rather than a hotel. I like that; you meet people, it's cheaper, and it's easier. Also at this place (Black Sheep hostel), almost everyone speaks English, and for about half, it's a first language. I've met people from South Africa, London, New York, Hungary, Australia, and here in Germany. In the lounge about half of the speech is in German and the other half is in English. Since this is my first time speaking mainly English in over a month (in Belgium I spoke French and Karin spoke English; communication is easier that way), I'm doing this thing where I sometimes respond to questions with "oui" or "d'accord," and in trying to speak German (which is a train wreck) I'll use "et" instead of "und" or stuff like that. I'm tryin to get out of French mode. I think I'll be out of it when I'm in the US.

The rooms have themes instead of numbers. Mine is the Cologne Room. It's kinda redundant, but I'll take it. The only bad thing about this hostel is the noise from the nearby street when I'm trying to sleep. And we have to keep the window open to keep the room cool :\

At the bar I met 2 surgeons and an anastesiologist, none of whom fit the stereotypical doctor profile. I wonder if people just say random things to see if you'll go along with it.

Schnitzel, by just the sound of the name, sounds like a snack food on a stick similar to a corn dog. That's just what I imagine when hearing the name. But I've eaten 2 of them, and they are actually just fried slabs of pork. Pretty decent, but nothing particularly awesome.





Bruxelles

Didn't spend a whole lot of time in Bruxelles, but I did see le Grand Place, the Atomium, and a nice park.

There were a lot of Muslim women in hijabs on the subway, more so than I had seen anywhere else on this trip. I saw one using her hijab to hold her cell phone to talk hands free! Karin said a lot of Turkish people moved to Bruxelles because of the cheap apartment prices.

I'm starting to get used to this public transportation thing, which is good since I'll have to do a lot of it without knowing the native language! :)

After Bruxelles we went to a music festival, but as soon as the Italy/Germany game started the concert cleared out an the band just did mic checks. For a really long time. While I was trying to understand people speaking French (my comprehension drops from 75% to 0% when a rock concert is happening right in my ear).

Guys do the "biz" (cheek kisses) with other guys more here than in France. I was surprised the first time i met a guy and instead of shaking my hand he leaned in for a cheek kiss. But in general, here I've just seen one-cheek kisses, whereas in France it was both cheeks.


Making out in public...

... is a lot more popular here. You'll see it in touristy spots as well as more familiar places. I saw a few couples making out at the concert we went to last night near Liège, and as I am typing this, sitting on the train to Cologne, there is a couple in full prone position across their train seats making out. Karin told me that's not a big deal here, but I told her in the US that's considered very inappropriate

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On to Liège, Belgium!

On the train from Bruxelles to Liège I freake out a little bit when the train I was on departed and said "Liek." Oh no, did I get on the wrong train??? Ahhh!! But the person beside me said Liek is the Flemish name for Liège. I thought I would be in the primarily French part of Belgium but a lot of signs had French second, behind Flemish/Nehrlandais (and no English!)

Staying with Karin, who my very sociable grandmother met when she was visiting the US.

Spent today walking through Liège and seeing two museums: one about Wallonian life and another about the Holocaust. The Holocaust one was more of a multimedia experience (though not very high tech) than a museum. It seemed to be oriented toward introducing the horrors to kids, except for the very disturbing footage of piles of naked bodies being pushed around with a bulldozer. That was something I hadn't seen before. Karin told me her grandparents, one Polish and the other a Belgian resistor (Is this the correct word for "cooperator in the Resistance"?), met in the concentration camp. Also, another of her relatives was killed by a German bomb that landed on her home.

The Wallonian Life museum had a really wide variety Of stuff, and was way longer than I expected. I especially liked the stereographic photos from the 20's-50's of people in the streets, merchants, and "ateliers." The photo quality was really good, an I felt like I was actually there! I think when I get back I'm gonna try some stereographic photography...

Ate a gaufre, drank some pèket, took a picture with Tchautchee (?), and saw the statue of George Simenon. Tomorrow we're going to Bruxelles.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cellphones

Everyone's cellphones here are like 5-10 years behind the times. I even saw someone using one of those blue Nokia stick phones my mom used to have when i was in 2nd grade.

Afternoon in Villeneuve

Across the river from Avignon there's a smaller village called Villeneuve les Avignon, or just Villeneuve.

I went there on the bus. Visited a fort and the Chartreuse monastery. The fort had its own little chapel an plenty of prisoner's cells. You could still see prisoners' graffitti on the walls and floor. There was also a supposedly-beautiful garden, but it was closed, because for some reason almost everything is closed on Monday. Although the chapel was a single room about the size of my living room and made entirely of (nonflammable) stone, it had a fire escape plan. [facepalm] See pic below.

The Chartreuse monastery was particularly cool. Everything there was so "sympathique!" Seems like it would've been a cool place to live, except that if you ever try to leave they imprison you in this cell for a year with very little food. Don't worry, though, all the cells have little windows so you can watch an hear religious services at the alter. Even the cells on the floor below had tiny windows coming up to the chapel room. That must've been a pain in the butt for some architect.

There was also this chapel with relatively-intact 14th century frescoes by Giacommetti (or some name like that), who did the no-longer-intact frescoes at the Palais des Papes.

Also at the monastery was a church that was, for some unexplained reason, half-destroyed. The missing wall does make for a cool skylight, and view of the fort. Although I imagine from time to time the nearby tomb of Pope Innocent gets rained on. Oh, by the way, a pope is buried there!

Instead of eating a proper lunch I just snacked all day on some fruit, a brioche and a viennoise baguette that I bought at Carrefour and some boulangerie in Villeneuve. Also, on the way to Chartreuse, I bought some apricots from an old lady selling them for 2€/kg. I paid 1€ and got 18 apricots! I'm not sure if she really knew how to work the scale. She was really nice though. She kept slowly speaking in incomplete sentences, something about "9 popes... 9 popes... 10... 9... Avignon. Then she gave me directions to Avignon even though I told her I was going to the Chartreuse.

Also at the Chartreuse I saw some my-age actors rehearsing something. This girl in a red clown nose was saying in a squeaky, flustered voice, "My hands! They're getting so big!" Apparently there is a theatre at the Chartreuse, and an acting school or something as well. The gift shop doubles as a bookstore for acting textbooks and scripts.

It being Monday, almost everything was closed, including all the live theatres (Avignon is supposedly well-known for theatre), so at night I saw Adieu Berthe at the Utopia cinéma right near the Palais des Papes. The film was very 'meh.' I wouldn't recommend it.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Left Ubaye; now in Avignon

This is my 2nd time writing this post; 1st one somehow got lost in cyberspace.

We had a big dinner on the last night with all the Ubayens we met throughout the program. The vet's wife said she had a nephew who is an actuary. The accredidation is different here; you go to actuarial grad school for 2 years. She said he also does programming, and spent a few months transferring clients from one bank to another.

The goodbyes in Avignon were pretty hectic, and i'm pretty sure i missed a few people. I took the shuttle into town and the bus to my hotel. Met a group of American students from various colleges studying at the American University in Paris for the summer. They were starting their vacation week, to be spent here in Avignon.

Missed my bus stop b/c i didnt realize you had to press a button. I had looked for a pull-cable but didnt see one. The bus driver told me my hotel, Mistral, was 200m back, so i walked, but he apparently mixed it up with something else called Mistral 7. Finally bused back to my stop, and a lady in a hijab offered me her still-valid bus ticket, thinking i was trying to get ON the bus.

Ate my picnic lunch on the sidewalk while waiting for check-in. Talked to some Spanish guy, which was hard since he barely knew any French. I barely made out that he was a bus driver for a group of 55 american students, and they started their bus tour in Barcelona.

Had dinner and walked around with Haley and her boyfriend, Catriona, and Mary, all of whom are staying in Avignon like me.

Sunday, I visited the Palais des Papes, from which 9 popes reigned, and the Pont d'Avignon (which was actually rather boring). I also just walked around the city, which was pretty nice. They've got these cool-looking "remparts" on the old boundaries of the city, which I suppose were used for flood control and/or military protection.

I thought it was funny that at the Palais des Papes, the exterior walls had archer slits, just like a military fort, except here they added a little horizontal bar to the slits to make them into crosses. It's just ironic seeing the Papacy having built something in preparation for battle. But I suppose times were different back then.

At a few random points they have 1st century roman ruins just chilling on the side of the road, with a really modest sign. But generally it's just a few carved stones, no whole buildings or anything.