Thursday, March 12, 2009

Flashing lights

 As you well already know, I have been on hiatus now for two weeks. Where have I been you may be thinking? What debauchery have I gotten myself into this time? How have I managed to survive without updating all you wonderful people who so ardently follow me?  And more importantly, how are my laundry experiences shaping up thus far? Well, the answers to these questions and more (aside from the last one of course) are quite clear: I am involving myself greatly in every aspect of being a foreigner. This, in my opinion, entails taking advantage of all the fabulous places in which Europe seems to keep throwing in my face. Now all this may sound exciting and new, but the process of actually planning and executing said missions is anything but easy, for they take someone with gusto to really follow through with. And I admit, yes, it is taxing, but as I have said in previous posts, someone has to do it, so who better than me. And since it’s my life, I better suck it up and get to it.

Ok, ok, so joking aside, I really have been very busy in the past two weeks and I apologize for not informing all you fine family folk of my incredible experiences sooner. However, I have set aside all night to thoroughly bombard you with amazing stories that will take place in two subsequent blogs; therefore, you can then fully grasp the gravity of all this ‘stuff’ (so much so that when you tell other people, they’ll actually think you were here instead). With that, I implore you to take a seat, make sure the kids have a good movie playing and while you’re up, grab a beer, because baby, this is going to be one long night…

Wednesday, March 4 to Sunday, March 8:

Having booked this Parisian holiday far in advance, the details of the trip became a bit muddled in my mind as the date of departure grew closer and closer. I knew the general days and remember being excited when I first got the flight, but after that, other events seemed to eclipse my initial joy. Now, flash-forward to last Wednesday when I was sitting in class and drumming my fingers in anticipation to just leave, craving to travel and finally take a trip that gets me out of Italy. Well, that is exactly what happened and the occurrences that comprised my four days of travel were anything but mundane.

 Having a busy day Wednesday, one that included two presentations, I was already stressed over school, let alone my night of travel that lay ahead. So, attending class straight from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., I was fidgety and a bit unfocused, but had to remain calm or I would undoubtedly explode. So, leaving my anthropology lecture an hour and a half early in order to run (and I do mean run here) to catch my train by 4:37 p.m., I was made even more nervous because if I missed this, my flight would also be royally displaced. Needless to say, I had my fingers crossed tightly. 

Jogging through the streets, I dodged into my apartment and grabbed my bag before heading to the station, boarding my train minutes before it actually pulled out. I’d like to think I am lucky I actually made this. Sweating and panting a bit, I sat quietly, munching on an apple and banana to suffice my hunger. Arriving at the airport two hours later (this is only after I got totally lost at Pisa Centrale, the stop where I had to change trains in order to get to Galileo Galilei Airport) I was required to go through a song-and-dance-like routine provided by the leading airline in all the land: Ryanair (I am joking, you see).  Battling online check-in fees, checked bag fees and generally having luggage that was overweigh by one kilogram (2.2 pounds), I was frustrated beyond belief. And after having to pay some ridiculous surcharge for a mistake I made, I was not a happy camper. 

 Although the personnel were not understanding in the least with how heavy my bag was (you see this is how the company makes all its money) they did provide me with some much needed humor. Helping me sift through my bags, they pointed out objects I could jam in my pockets, making everything work without me having to open my wallet yet again. Several high-fives later and after the exchange of some Italian ‘goodbyes’ I was off. Security was a breeze and afterwards I had ample time to contemplate life, learn a fourth language, read a book, discover why giraffes’ tongues are black and generally stare off in to the distance, because my plane was over an hour late in boarding.  Sarcasm aside, I was pissed. But, that’s just what you get for having to pay such cheap airfare rates (by the way, if you were wondering, I am no longer angry. I was just really hungry and not prepared to spend money on cheap airport fodder when Parisian delicacies such as Duck Confit and Nutella crepes were but hours away).


My plane did eventually come and after boarding in a torrential downpour, I was on my way to the lights of gay Paris. Although rough at moments, the time we actually spent in the air was quite enjoyable. I accomplished some Sudoku and took a breather as several rows of Italian girls screamed behind me about how this was their first flight ever, meaning they were all more than a little nervous. And to make things even better, when the plane rocked and shook (and let me say, I was convinced at one point we were going down too) the woman beside me began praying and crying a bit. Couple all the aforementioned instances together with flight attendants trying to sell scratch-off lottery tickets, pre-packaged foods and overpriced beverage cards, and you had a rip roaring good time. You can understand my delight when I actually arrived in Paris.

But if running, a train, and a flight weren’t enough modes of transportation for you, I then had to take an hour bus ride in to the actual city. Quite queasy at this point and feeling the effects of an empty stomach, I was really, really ready to settle into my humble abode, nestled in the center of Paris’s red light district. How cozy. However, seeing the Eiffel Tower poke up in the distance, blazing in hues of gold and orange, was enough to make any famished traveler alert and fully awake. I had, finally, arrived.

Taking a metro (yet ANOTHER transfer, gah!) I was at my hotel in less than ten minutes and ready to go out and see what Paris was all about. I met Emily, a good friend from Pittsburgh who I was rooming with, and we began making all these lofty plans to really begin to experience the European nightlife. However, after wolfing down some pizza (I know, I was in Paris and ate Pizza) and some French fries (at least they have French in the title?) Emily and I decided to just hit the sack. Hey, I was exhausted and needed my rest for Thursday. Leave me alone!

Our room, quite small and with several stray hangers, walls caked in yellow paint and two single beds, was a far cry from four-star luxury, but after awhile I did begin to actually like it (especially our small ledge off the two French windows, the place where we stored food that wasn’t supposed to be in the room. Oh well, we weren’t allowed wine either, but we snuck that too!). Rebels.

Now, the following four days were truly a blur of activity and I have the blisters on my feet to prove it. But instead of recounting every minute detail, I will hit the highlights in my favorite way imaginable. A LIST! Are you ready? I know I am…

Thursday: Emily and I awoke to breakfast at the hotel (which they provided every morning and of course, we ate every morning) and consumed croissants, bread, jam, juice and tea. Afterwards, we headed to Sacre Coeur (you know, where the movie Amelie was partially filmed?) and strolled along beautiful walkways to this gorgeous church and overlook for all of Paris. Afterwards, we made our way to Notre Dame, where we awed in the absolute grandeur that is this magnificent church. Taking a million pictures and walking around a bit, we then met another friend from Pittsburgh (this one studying in Paris) for lunch. Following some pretty badass food (I ate a Croque-Monsieur, basically ham and cheese, but so much better than that) we headed back out into Luxembourg Park and the surrounding beauty for the day. Hiking nearly all afternoon, I bought Emily a yellow rose for her twentieth birthday, which we celebrated later that night with wine, coconut bon-bons, fruit and homemade sandwiches in our room. So classy. Also, we managed to get at Musee d’Orsay, a great museum housed in an old subway station and complete with priceless Monet’s, Van Gogh’s and anything else you could dream up for sculpture and paintings.

There was so much art and beautiful scenery surrounding us, but at this point we were really feeling the effects of a rather long and overly involved day. However, we did pull ourselves up in order to go to the Moulin Rouge, which was literally two steps from our hotel. Beautiful, but not that similar to the movie’s portrayal. We did think about seeing a show there, but the cheapest was 89 euro and I was NOT prepared to drop that kind of money. The outside was just fine for me. Also, if you were wondering, our area was not that bad at all. Yes, there were some sketch people, but mostly just a lot (a lot) of sex and drunkards. Hey, it made for some amusement at least.

Friday:  Rising again at 8:30 a.m., after going to bed at 2 a.m., we were ready for another day of fun and traveling. Today, my friends Lauren and Traci joined us and we again walked the city and hit some major spots every tourist has to go. In the afternoon, we headed towards the Eiffel Tower and upon exiting the metro station, saw the looming beauty right in front of us. It was awesome. I never thought I would think something like that was so cool, but let me tell you, it really was. Climbing the nearly 600 steps to the middle of the tower, we decided to use the stairs in order to make the experience more personal. Boy, did our feet hate us. However, the views were amazing and after we made it up, we were thankful we had the memory. Taking an elevator to the very top (visitors weren’t allowed to walk any further) we gawked in amazement at how tiny the city looked from such a high point. Everything was gleaming and despite the frigid temperatures in Paris, the sun felt so good.  

 Making our descent, we made our way to the Champs Elysees (fancy shopping street in Paris, framed at the top by the Arc de Triomphe) and wondered a bit before I separated from the group and forged my own path. Strolling along the streets, I saw Paris by night and everything was just spectacular. I even bought a CD at the Virgin Mega Store, which was actually quite mega. Happy as a clam and with my new ‘Israel in Egypt’ soundtrack (I couldn’t find this ANYWHERE in America, yet discovered it in the first store I entered in France) I made my way back to the Eiffel Tower for some nighttime fun. The tower, which lights up and sparkles every hour on the hour, was absolutely breathtaking (I had Kanye West’s song “Flashing Lights” in my head the whole time). And people were just so happy, sitting in patches everywhere and generally being content with their lives. So after taking some pictures, I had to just sit and watch as the whole scene unfolded before me.

 Staying downtown for a good two hours, I met up with my friends to go salsa dancing later that night, which didn’t prove to be that fruitful. I did attempt this style of dance however, but for those who know me, I am awkward enough when not moving around like a fool, so I enjoyed a beverage. Afterwards, I slept well, very, very well and dreamed about all the amazing things the following days would hold.

Saturday: Today, the four of us had plans to go to Versailles, the ostentatious palace of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, which was, as I just said, quite palatial. Dripping in gold and stretching miles and miles, the whole estate was like something out of a fairytale. We spent much of our time just wandering outside, but to actually enter cost a bit much for my blood (13.50 euro), so Lauren stayed, Emily and I went to visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery and Traci, well, she needed a nap. So we all parted ways and met later that night for Traci’s twenty-first birthday extravaganza! Jumping a metro, we picked up two more of Traci’s friends, also in Paris, and living in a horrible part of the city. After we got nearly accosted on the street and virtually killed (details can be given upon request), we chose a restaurant suitable for the birthday girl herself. With a view of the Eiffel Tower, I dined on steak and tap water, as we talked and laughed throughout the night. 

 Quickly paying and wanting to stake our spot for the light show, we headed out and bought a bottle of champagne to ring in the big day. Popping the cork in front of the Eiffel Tower as it lit up on the hour, we drank and had our pictures taken by some German people who were kind enough to document the night for us. The whole experience was quite magical and definitely something I will remember forever. We then watched some break dancers get down and again, had to eat some crepes. God, this city rules.

Sunday: For our last and final day, Emily and I again went to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, because previously it had been closed, and we just aimlessly wandered around through such graves as Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. It was raining pretty hard, but this just added to the ambience of the whole scene. Afterwards, we headed to Shakespeare and Company, a tiny bookshop selling all kinds of titles and genres, and quite frankly, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I loved rummaging through stuff like this and the whole place was quite small and confined, with books just scattered everywhere. Leaving the shop, we then headed to The Louvre and viewed priceless artwork such as the Mona Lisa (which wasn’t that great, because it is really small and quite frankly, not as beautiful as everything else in the museum).  Spending almost four hours there (I kept looking out for Tom Hanks and the rest of The Da Vinci Code crew), we decided to grab a fast dinner at Quality Burger (so much better then American fast food) and got out bags to head home.

The whole four days was one of the most memorable experiences I could have ever had and there are tons more stories, but I am sure by this point you are quite overwhelmed and ready for a break. So, I’ll leave you for now, but get ready for more outlandish episodes to come soon, because next week starts spring break, and that includes London, Ireland and Scotland. I am sure, as you can imagine, I will have loads to say. But for now, go rest your weary eyes and remember how much I love all of you. And, if you think I am ever doing too much, just remember I am having all this fun for each and every one of you too. Miss you all so much...


  1. pooping the cork...

    i almost peed myself. seriously nick. ahhahahahahhaahahaha.

  2. GREAT! Nick, your writing is so expressive and detailed. I feel like I was in Paris with you!

  3. WEll you eat pizza ALOT!! i mean alot and you must have a big tolerence for alcohol by now!! more than dad!! crazy!! well while you are in scotland and ireland i am in oil city working my butt off not getting home till nine at night every night for the past two weeks and my show is this coming weekend!! sorry!! I LOVE YOU and I MISS YOU ALOT ALOT ALOT@@