Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
After dawn broke over the wedding, we took a taxi back to Casablanca, from where we took a Moroccan bus to Essaouira. This was a five hour bus ride, but the bus ride was a mess. It was an old bus, but functional, and open windows made it pleasant to ride in. However, it was smelly, and it was very sketchy. We stopped very often, picking up passengers on the side of the road, and it looked like the driver was stopping to run his errands all the way there. A mess. And we were so exhausted that it made the process kind of stressful, but really it wasn't as bad as our flight experience, in proper perspective.
Essaouira is a beautiful city on the Atlantic Ocean, where Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, and Bob Dylan have all lived or vacationed. Most of the buildings are white, against a blue sky and a blue sea, with palm trees and a gorgeous white sand beach...a person couldn't ask for much more. And while the latitude we were on should have meant it was VERY hot, the position of Essa makes it a wonderfully sunny but 75 degrees cool. It was perfect. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted we didn't see anything that first day. N had arranged for an apt there (rather than a hotel...it was wonderful and super cheap!), and once we arrived, we laid down for a nap at 6pm at woke up at 830am. Whew.
We woke in the morning and headed out for breakfast, which we ate on the open Plaza Moulay Hassan near the marina. We had lovely Moroccan mint tea and omelettes and crepes and squeezed orange juice and the like. Afterward, we walked around the medina and shopped...mostly looking rather than buying...to see what was out there. Terracotta wares, rugs, clothing, silver, art, beauty products, leather, thuya woodworking, lanterns, stoneware...you name it and it can be found there. And for cheaper than in Marrakech, the location of a more famous medina.
We walked around the medina and port for a little while, with Darick taking hundreds of photos for painting references, and then we had lunch at the fish grills around the square. These little shops buy fish fresh caught that day from the port, line the seafood in a row, and then you point to the very fish you want to eat. They grill it up and you eat it. The freshness of the seafood was really wonderful. And we had so much fish!! It was quite a delicious (and messy) adventure. Note the photos of our lunch before and after.
To walk off our big lunch, we walked along the beach for a few hours. Darick went into the water and reported it was much too cold for swimming, though that never stops the 14 and under crowd. We, however, laid ont he beach for a while. The unique geographical position, mentioned earlier, keeps the city cool, but the beach very windy, which makes it ideal for windsurfers but not for loungers. So we walked instead of bathing.If you walk far enough, you come upon men with camels and horses who would love to take your money to let you ride their animals along the beach. This sounds romantic, but not for us, so we walked back toward the center of town and had a drink overlooking a makeshift soccer pitch on the beach.
After a rest in the apt, we went to a bar, Taros Cafe, which is a rooftop bar overlooking the square, the medina, the ocean, everything. From there, we watched the sunset and drank expensive drinks in order to stay for the show, which is why we had come in the first place. Essa is known for Gnaoua music, which is a Moroccan style of music involving cymbals, a stringed instrument, and wild jumping and dancing. Our photos of this didn't turn out, but N's were great. It was really a fantastic concert. The bar is expensive, but worth it. We finished the night with kebabs for dinner, and who can beat that? Love me some shawarma.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
After lunch, we checked out of the hotel and took a harrowing taxi ride to the Gare Jelel, to then catch a grand taxi to Ben Ahmed, where our friend (well, my cousin's friend) lives and works. Grand taxis are the workhorse of the Moroccan public transportation system. You pay for your place in the sedan-like vehicle, usually a Mercedes from the 80s, and when the taxi is full (6 people plus the driver in a car built for 5), you head toward your destination. So I basically sat on Darick's lap for an hour drive to Ben Ahmed, in a very hot car with some very smelly men.
After some phone trouble and some hassle, N's fiance, I, found the only Westerners at the taxi stand and took us back to N's apt to hang out until her hair was done. He made us Moroccan tea and we lounged and napped for a few hours before heading to the wedding of I's good friend, Youssif. Youssif was so kind as to invite us to come to the wedding party with N and I—apart from us four, the wedding guests were all family.
Moroccan weddings last from around 11 pm or midnight until sunrise. We hung out with family members until the party started at 11, when N and I put on our borrowed Moroccan wedding clothes. Youssif and his family and in-laws were so kind and
welcoming to us! They fed us tea and cookies and invited us to be around them. We were seated at the guest table, and the bride's uncle, Hajj, kept handing us the best parts of the meat, insisting we kept eating. Family members grabbed us and kept pushing us to the front of crowds to see the action more clearly. Youssif's mother held my hand and made sure I felt comfortable. All of this and everyone spoke little or no English, or even French. It was wonderful.
And the party was wild! There was a band of women playing Berber music (Berbers are the original Moroccans) and great dancing, particularly by the women in their beautiful wedding clothes. The bride and groom parade into the party, dressed to the nines, and they sit in this chariot-like thing. They carry the bride around in it over their shoulders, and then the bride and groom sit in these silver and gold thrones so that everyone can have their picture taken with them. Then they exit, the bride changes into a new dress, and the parade begins again. She wore six dresses that night. Somewhere in the middle, we all stop for dinner, which is tagines eaten Moroccan style—communal, and with our hands.
It was crazy, and so much fun. People kept pulling us back up to dance again. At one point, the electricity went out for an hour, and we had to run the party on generators! By late morning, I was exhausted and crashed on a couch, but the party didn't end until breakfast was served around seven am. All weddings should be that fun.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
After that crappy ordeal of flying Jet4You, we rode a taxi into Casablanca and arrived at Hotel Kizmi Basra around 1:30 Moroccan time. The staff was very friendly, the hotel was beautiful and comfortable, and the price was great for a 4 star hotel: 68 euros! It's also in a nice location, close to the Medina and the Marche Central. A relief after disappointment.
In the morning (we only had a morning left in Casa after the lost evening hours), we took a tour of the Hassan II Mosque, the third largest mosque in the Islamic world and one of a very few that allows non-Muslims to visit. It was absolutely stunning. It can hold 25,000 worshipers at once. It is constructed of all Moroccan materials—wood, marble, granite, glass, etc.--except for the chandeliers of Murano glass. It's an architectural and artistic wonder, with amazing woodwork, tilework, stucco carving, etc. I can't really describe how beautiful it is, and how awe inspiring the work of those Moroccan artisans. It was amazing.
Under the mosque is the ablution room, where the worshipers go to wash before prayer. The room is so cool, not only for the fountains which spew water for cleaning, but more (for me) for the columns made of a mixture of materials which absorbs the moisture in the air, preventing the brass light fixtures from ever oxidizing. So cool.
There's also a Turkish bath, not yet open to use, but which will be open even to non-Muslims soon. Incredible.
Post-tour and picture-taking extravaganza, we walked around the Marche Centrale, where lots of vendors of all types of food (I saw a box of live turtles!) congregate to sell their wares to the locals. It's a frenzy of colors and smells and textures. Each vendor also seems to have a stray cat associated with his niche, which we found to be the case all over Morocco.
Across from the market, we ate traditional Moroccan food for lunch at L'Etoile Centrale. The place is beautiful, with carved stucco and beautiful tile work. The guidebook noted that it is rarely busy, though it should be, and I agree. We were the only customers, and the guy seemed to shower attention on us (we left him a hefty tip). Darick had a lamb tagine and I ate the recommended couscous royale, and both of our meals were delicious.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
We bought a one way flight from Paris to Casablanca, in an attempt to pay as little as possible, with the airline Jet4You. I name it now, and several times throughout, to try and impress upon you a company from which you should NOT purchase tickets. The first trouble was in getting from Charles De Gaulle, where we stayed, to Orly, from where our flight departed. This was a pain because none of the ticket machines accept American credit cards, so we had to stand in long lines everywhere, and the train ride itself (which is actually two train rides) took over an hour.
Once finally at the airport, at which we miraculously arrived with plenty of time to check in, we waited in line to check in for over an hour (and, by the way, there were three check in lines, all of which as long as ours), which would have made us miss our flight had it been on time. But it was not. Once finally checked in, and through passport control, and through security, we arrived at our gate, packed with people and many screaming children. The gate then changed twice.
We finally boarded the plane 3 hours after it was scheduled to take off and listened to the safety instructions only to taxi to another part of the airport and sit on the tarmac for an hour, due to continuing technical difficulties. An hour elapsed, and they declared the plane unfit to fly, unloaded us onto buses and took us to an unoccupied section of the airport.
Here's where the incompetencies arise. I am very understanding of airlines: difficulties arise, delays happen, long lines can't be helped. Okay. And all along, the employees had been very polite to everyone, and I was still feeling generous. However, once herded into this space, three employees were places there to placate the crowd but gave out no information. Despite the presence of a PA system, the employees made no announcements to tell the angry passengers whether there would be another flight, they should book hotels, anything. In fact, they did pass along that we could get a free sandwich for dinner, but only by telling the passengers swarming them for information, NOT announcing it for all passengers, particularly those attempting to be patient.
Still so many screaming children, and now also angry, screaming adults.
We spent another hour and a half in this space, ate horrific excuses for chicken salad sandwiches, and paid an exorbitant amount for the internet so that we could arrange for our hotel to still allow us to check in despite what would be a very very late arrival into Casablanca. Finally, we were bussed to another plane, loaded up, and then proceeded to sit on the tarmac for, I kid you not, another 2 hours. This was the worst delay of them all. Again, no information as to why we were waiting, except to those passengers who demanded answers and passed them along to those waiting. Turns out, two passengers had called it quits while waiting in the airport and had decided to leave. However, we could not take off while their baggage was on board, so we had to remove all baggage from the plane, find theirs, and then put it all back on. It was unbelievable.
Nine frustrating hours after we were supposed to take off (and to think I had been glad it was late), among the loudest and angriest Moroccans I'd ever seen, we left Paris for our three hour flight to Casablanca. Note also that though we sat on the tarmac for 2 hours and the flight was 3, the serving staff never offered the passengers water. I understand that normally there is no drink service on this commuter flight, but these are extenuating circumstances.
At any point, the only compensation for this ridiculous delay and the amazingly frustrating lack of information given to passengers was a horrible sandwich and a can of coke.
Never fly Jet4You. Never.
Monday, July 28, 2008
We arrived in the late evening in Brussels, and walked a ways over cobblestones to get to our hotel. Since it was late, we didn't really go to dinner, but instead had “beer for dinner,” or went to a bar for beer and light sandwiches. It was a beautiful old bar, one we had visited last year. After that, we went to a bar closer to our hotel with hundreds of beers on the menu and almost all Americans as patrons (or at least on a Tuesday night). It was a cool bar, but don't go for the locals.
In the morning the next day, the group had a visit to NATO headquarters, where we had two briefings. One on NATO in general, and how it has changed since the end of the Cold War required a different mandate, and one on the NATO mission to Afghanistan. They were both really fascinating. NATO is an organization I know less about, given that it's not really a human rights institution, but it was really a cool site visit.
After the meeting, Darick and I went to the comic strip museum. It was a really great museum, but it was all in French, with a particular focus on Belgian artists. It was still great to look at all the incredible art. And there was a special exhibit on the Smurfs! I used to love the Smurfs, so I thought it was thrilling to see them in their original language...French!
After comics, and keeping Darick from buying out the gift shop, we met my mom's former French teacher, Nicole, for a drink at Roy d'Espagne, which is a cool little bar on the Grand Place. It feels a bit like Pirates might have drunk there, but I doubt it. After a lovely drink with Nicole, we walked, a long way, to the restaurant for our last group meal as a study abroad program, Ultime Hallucinatie. It was a beautiful place, with art nouveau decorations and a lovely green tint. The staff was also very friendly and helpful, particularly to an obnoxious group of Americans. The food, however, did not live up to the price. Darick had a perch filet served cold (unintentionally) and my coq au vin was good, but not great.
The next day was our last day as a group, but for us it was our last day in Europe, essentially. We slept in and then headed for a very Belgian lunch of moules frites, or mussels and fries. We walked into one of the multiple restaurants on the Grande Place, I couldn't tell you which. Darick had fried scampi as an appetizer, deliciously breaded, and then helped me eat a giant container of mussels in white wine. It was super delicious. Darick drank a Warsteller, in his effort to try dark beers, and he liked it as much as the Leffe. After lunch, we wandered around looking for the Mannquin Pis.
We then went to a mediocre exhibition of Dali prints and met some of the group members to take a tour of Cantillon, the last remaining brewery in Brussels. It's a family-owned brewery which uses all organic ingredients and does all the brewing the way it used to be done one hundred years ago when the brewery started. They make lambic beer, using spontaneous fermentation, and then use the lambic, or flat, beer to create geuze and fruit beers. After the self-guided tour we had a tasting, and it was really delicious! Even I, the non-beer drinker, enjoyed this beer. It was really sour, with many flavors. It was great. We visited one more bar on the way back to the hotel, and Darick tried another geuze beer, the Mort Subite, and it was perfect...just as flavorful as the Cantillon, but less sour. Lovely.
Train ride back to Paris, and the group disbanded. A successful study abroad program concluded. And tomorrow off to Morocco...wait till you hear the travel story...
Thursday, July 24, 2008
So today I'll catch you up on our two days in the Hague, Netherlands.
On Sunday night, we traveled to the Hague with the group, and checked into our hotel, a Mercure. Given that these are very nice hotels, and it was raining. We stayed in and did nothing but watch TV for the evening. It was awesome.
On Monday morning, the group had a visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. We had a briefing on the Court and its workings and cases, and we were able to observe a witness examination for one of the ongoing cases. It's really fantastic for the students to study things like this and then to be a part of it, and observe how it functions. It's a verification process, of sorts, and I think it inspires some of them interested in choosing their career paths in human rights. I love this job. (While at this meeting, Darick went to the Het Mauritshuis to see the Girl with the Pearl Earring. He was more impressed with the Vermeer landscape, and I can't say I blame him.)
For lunch, we had a lecture, and we met our guest at an Indonesian restaurant called Garoede. The Dutch aren't known for their own food, but instead for the food of their colonial reign—Indonesian food. We had rijsttafel, which is rice with a wide assortment of types of “mix-ins.” I really like Indonesian food, and I made Darick attend the lecture to try the food—he enjoyed both.
After the long and late lunch, Darick and I broke off and rode the tram to Delft, the nearby town where Vermeer lived and painted. It was actually a horrible, dreary, wet day to be walking around, so Delft didn't end up being that attractive, but we did purchase some of the blue and white porcelain (Delftware) that Delft is known for, and we stopped for a beer in a Bierhuis near the tram stop. It was a very dark bar with only older, local patrons, with few beers available. No food, except peanuts on the table, and the patrons left their shells on the floor. It's been operating since 1651 or something ridiculous like that, and we loved it.
That night it rained like hell. Sucked. But we had to go out for food, so we found a pizzeria in the center of town called La Lanterna. It was pretty good, all told, though not phenomenal. But Darick had his first proper Italian pizza, and I was able to practice a bit of my restaurant Italian. A pleasant experience. We were soaked when we arrived home. Stupid rain.
The next morning, I wanted Darick to accompany us to the site visit to the International Criminal Court. We were allowed to observe the trial of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia. He's been tried in the ICC facilities by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity. We were there for the questioning of a protected witness, one fairly high in Taylor's army, attesting to the chain of command for war crimes. The witness was blocked form our view, the video was pixelated, and the person's voice was electronically distorted, so no one could identify him. It was fascinating.
Darick was then into the political visits, so he came with us to a briefing by a Dutch parliamentarian on immigration. After this, we went to the Escher museum. Escher specialized in optical illusions, and quite a bit of his work is in this museum. Darick loved it. There's also a floor of physical illusions, but that doesn't compare to how great the work is. Here's a link to some here.
To kill a little remaining time, we stopped for a beer (a Leffe dark beer, which Darick loved) and some bitter ballen—my favorite bar food, and now Darick's too.
Then off to Belgium!
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I'd never been to Amsterdam before, and we were excited to experience it. After checking into the hotel, we had the evening in front of us. My first sight of Amsterdam was the Red Light District. It's a cultural experience, but I think I would have preferred to see the pretty parts first, so I was a bit wary. The nightlife is great fun, though, and we found a nice bar and a delicious restaurant (Harlem) where they served vegetables!
The next day was museum day for us. We started at the Van Gogh museum, which leads you chronologically through his life and work , which is a fascinating way to see it. My favorite was the Potato Eaters, and I really liked his early work, of which I hadn't seen much before. On our way to the Rijksmuseum we had a burger at a stand between the museums, and it definitely hit the spot and didn't break our bank.
The Rijksmuseum was wonderful. I don't care much for older art, but I am a big fan of 17th century Dutch art. It was cool to see the Delftware, the old remnants of Dutch colonialism, and of course the art. It has a very impressive collection of Rembrandts, and especially Vermeers. I have a personal life goal to see all of his paintings (there are about 35 in existence) before I die, and I was able to check off four more from the list.
We then went to the Modern Art Musuem, or the Stedelijk Museum. Right now only a tiny piece of their collection is on display in a temporary location, until next year when they open a new facility in the Museumplein by the Rijks and the Van Gogh. Right now it's not worth visiting, but the permanent collection will be fantastic.
After buying Darick some much needed and nice-fitting slacks, we met up with the group for dinner at the Brasserie die Poorte. This restaurant was wonderful! We had a fixed menu of tomato and goat cheese soup, tilapia, and pear ice cream on a waffle, and every part was wonderfully delicious. And vegetables! It was marvelous, and at a nice price. I hope we return next year. They're known for Dutch food, so try it out. And the bar next door has beautiful Delft tile and looks like a great place to have a drink.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Things I've done with Darick in Paris since he arrived:
Pique-nique with cheese and baguettes and grapes under the Eiffel Tower to watch the sunset and feel Parisian. The tower turned blue instead of white in honor of the French taking the EU presidency as of July 1, and the train stopped working so we had to walk the long way home.
The Louvre, for a full day. It was overwhelming. The Louvre is meant to be done in many, many days, two hours and one wing/floor combination at a time. We did as much as we could in one. Saw the Mesopotamian, Iranian, and Egyptian rooms, as well as Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa (I don't find her disappointing, by the way, though most tourists do—she's beautiful).
La Belle Ronde, my favorite little creperie in the 14th arr. that Kate found last year, for Darick's first crepes. Parrakeets chirped while D enjoyed the “inside-out pancakes,” as he referred to them.
The opening night of the world premiere of the Fly, the opera based on the movie, directed by David Cronenberg, musical direction by Placido Domingo, score by Howard Shore (he conducted himself!) and art direction by Dante Ferretti (who just won the Oscar for Sweeney Todd). With such an incredible background (and we're big fans of the movie), it was bound for greatness, though it disappointed. It was mostly recitative, with few moments for the singers to shine, and little emphasis on the emotional and important moments. A lot of lost chances for greatness. We did like some of the things they added, though, and it sure is a great story—one prime for adaptation to the opera form.
The morning doing the best we could to get through the Musee D'Orsay—the impressionism museum. It's packed with a lot of major works in a small space. Darick found a new artist he likes: Henri Fantin-Latour.
We walked our way (farther than I expected) to the Musee Quai Branly, the anthropological museum. I think this was Darick's favorite museum we visited, perhaps for the whole three weeks. He's really into Oceanic art, particularly since it is so integral in the lives of it's people, rather than a cultural luxury as art is in our society. It's a really great and packed museum, and I recommend it to everyone.
An evening in Montmartre, trying to feel a bit like Amelie. We had fondue for dinner at La Refuge du Fondue, which is certainly an experience, despite being filled with non-Parisians. We then walked around, listening to music, people watching, visited Picasso's first studio in Paris, and climbed the stairs of the Sacre Coeur to watch the sunset over Paris. We also were able to walk around in Sacre Coeur, which is a particularly unique church in Paris, filled with beautiful mosaics. It's no St. Louis Basilica, though.
After some administrative work for the program, we had falafel in the Marais and bought Darick some second-hand clothes at a Parisian thrift store. We then walked to the Centre Pompidou. With very limited time in Paris, we felt like we were shoving things in at the last minute. On the top floor of the Pompidou was a special exhibit on modern/contemporary sacred art, which Darick is really into right now. It was the perfect exhibition for him. He then powerwalked through the permanent exhibition of the museum, for lack of time. He said it was like gorging on art without chewing. I think we'll have to return there.
We visited Notre Dame, which was of course packed with tourists, ruining the effect of how beautiful it is there. I wanted to take him to my favorite church, Ste. Chapelle, but we ran out of time. I had a talk to attend, and then we all went out for dinner in Montmartre at Restaurant Chartiers, which is a very classically French restaurant in a lovely space. The food was mediocre, but cheap, so it was a hit. We ended the night with jazz at Le Caveau des Oubliettes. I think Darick really loved Paris, though we'd love it a lot more if we lived there...
Saturday, July 19, 2008
As an undergrad in Geneva, I attended Webster University Geneva, which is a very international school, with students whose parents are diplomats, foreign executives for multinational corporations, or running from retribution because they ratted on the mafia. This means most of the friends I had there have now moved away. However, I was able to see, stay with, and have a fantastic time with my friend G who still lives there, working for an NGO.
We met at the train station when we parted from students, and he and I walked to have a drink and meet others at La Terrasse, a bar on the lakeside where the Genevois come to drink and relax on the grass in the summertime. It was packed. Some of his friends from work filtered through, and we met up with three others I had known during undergrad: M, P, and N, all of whom work for different UN organizations.
We then walked over near Parc des Bastions to L'Incontro, an Italian restaurant in the plaza in front of the synagogue. Their specialty is penne siciliana, and the four friends insist it's the best in the city. You order it and then are given a second gigantic helping if you want it. Honestly, it's among the best pasta dishes I've ever had...wonderful rich flavor and zing, with the perfect bite from the added picante oil. Genius. Well worth the money and the subsequent bellyache from overeating.
G and I then retrieved my bag from the train station, traveled to his lovely apt, watched Family Guy, and hit the sack.
The next day we slept in late and had a brunch of cheeses, bread, tomatoes, scallions, peaches, eggs, and tea. That G, he knows how to treat guests. Afterward strolled over to the Rue de Marche to buy sunglasses for G and an English language book for me. Behind the rue is the old town, so we walked up to a bar with outdoor seating on the Place Bourg-de-Four. The bar started with a C, but I can't remember the name. I had a panache, something of which I had not previously heard, which is a mixture of beer and something sweet, like Sprite. Just enough sweet to cut the gross beer, and I liked it. Had 2.
We then walked all the way around the lake, which was really lovely, though the sun was so hot as to be scorching. Once we made it to the shade of the Parc Mon Repos, the temperature was perfect. G snoozed a little, I read a little, and the Spanish ladies nearby shouted a lot.
Later we met M and N for ice cream at the outdoor bar next to the previous one, where I ran into a few students heading for dinner at Chez Ma Cousine. We thought about going there too, for old times' sake, but I preferred to go somewhere I had not previously been, so we had Indian at Bollywood (which is ironically the name of my favorite Indian place in Atlanta), in the Paquis. It really was quite delicious, with stuffed naan, and really spicy food. We stuffed ourselves to pain once again.
However, the gelato we obtained across the street at GelatoMania overshadowed the deliciousness of the Indian. I hear it's the best ice cream in Geneva, and I have to say it's at least the most interesting. Every week they have a different bizarre special. The chocolate was good, but paled in comparison to the canelle (cinnamon, my standard), the Pineapple Basil (which was really refreshing), and the Apple Celery (surprisingly wonderful). I couldn't bring myself to try the goat cheese and pesto ice cream, but I bet it was actually good.
We next traveled to the old town to a bar named something like Capaccio on the second floor of the Confederation Center. It was quite ritzy, but with inventive and really nice quality drinks. Unfortunately, it was just so hot that it was difficult to enjoy the place. The people, however, were very enjoyable. In our little group, there was an American (me), a Kosovar, an Indonesian, two Japanese, a Guatemalan, a Nigerian, and a Frenchman. It was very Genevois, as I know no Genevois other than internationals, and perfect.
G and I watched Across the Universe that night, which was exactly as I'd expected it to be, but I liked it more than I expected. In the morning, we had a similar, and just as delicious, brunch as the day before and then met S and P at La Terrace de Paradis, which is another bar situated next to the lake, but further in on the Left Bank, more towards the river. Nothing exciting in terms of fare, but a great spot to hang out and see the day and be with friends. I miss Geneva.
Monday, July 7, 2008
We went to Geneva for site visits, and within moments of arriving into the train station I felt like I was home. Everything felt familiar and warm. (For those of you who might not know, I lived in Geneva for a year while in undergrad. However, I never was there during the summer.)
We stayed in Webster Geneva's new dorms in Versoix, which were just lovely, particularly compared to the form we stay in in Paris, which are old and have encrusted dirt in the corners and cracks. Versoix's a sleepy little town, and it was nice to stay there. Thanks to them for helping us with wonderful accommodations.
Our site visits began on Thursday. We started with a briefing on international humanitarian law at the International Committee of the Red Cross, followed by a guided tour of the museum. The museum is really impressive, with a history of humanitarian law and all of the things the RC does (which, by the way, is a really wide variety of efforts), but do the museum on your own—the guided tour didn't add much.
After lunch in the cafeteria, we walked down the hill toward the Palais des Nations to our briefing at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It was informative, but we had at least one student fell asleep. Ah well.
With a few hours between visits, I took a few students on a walking tour of the lake and the Old Town. Geneva was stunningly beautiful while we were there, with gorgeous blue skies and hot sun. It was amazing to walk along the lake and toward the Old Town, past the old places Kara and I used to eat and around the Cathedral and the Parc des Bastions.
We met a person who works on child violence at World Vision for a talk over dinner at the Hotel Les Armures, known for the best fondue in Geneva. And it was, in fact, the best fondue I've ever had. Try the mushroom fondue. You won't regret it. Bill Clinton didn't, and neither did I.
At the end of the evening, we headed to the giant Fan Zone set up in Plainpalais. Switzerland and Austria hosted the Eurocup this year, and so Geneva hosted a FanZone, with two gigantic screens for the Spain/Russia game. It was wild to be there with that many people, almost all supporting Spain. It was awesome.
The next day we had a morning meeting at the World Health Organization, a flamenkuche at Les Brasseurs, and an afternoon meeting at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Afterward, we walked along Lac Leman through the Parc Mon Repos back toward the train station. With time to kill before meeting my old friend from my Webster days, we took the Mouettes (the public transportation boats) across the lake, spending about 45 minutes on the lake on the beautiful day. It definitely made me wish I had brought my swimsuit...
Monday, June 30, 2008
On Wednesday the sales began! Paris goes on sale during the month of July, and EVERY store goes on sale, from Louis Vuitton to H&M to Cartier to Claire's. Its quite remarkable. Given the poor exchange between dollar and euro, the sale price doesn't really save me much money, so I didn't buy much, but it is still cheaper than it was without the sale...
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Friday afternoon we had a meeting at the French Senat, which would have probably been cool, but they didn't have enough headsets. Being unimportant that I understand, I let the students take headsets before me, so I relied only on my French skills to listen, so the lecture and the tour were less than compelling to me. I'm glad we did it last year too, so I had an idea what the tour was about.
After the visit, we ate dinner on the Rue de Mouffetard, which also has a fun market and is filled with people. It's a great place to eat and go out, since it's cheap! Post-dinner, most of us went to a bar near our apts, Wide Open Spaces, to watch the Turkey-Croatia game (what a great game!!) and then a few of us went bar-hopping at St-Michel. Being broke, I walked back a little earlier than the others. Ah well.
Saturday was the Fete de la Musique! Paris suspends its noise laws and runs the metros all night, and there's music on every corner, bar, restaurant, square, monument, bridge, etc. It's really quite remarkable. People also get extremely drunk. It's a fantastic time to be in Paris. We saw a jazz band on guitars and saw a guy tap dance! I love this city. It just comes alive, all the time.
Sunday a student and I went to the Opera Bastille to see Don Carlo, by Verdi. The building was so beautiful! I was quite impressed even before it began, but the opera was magnificent. The conductor was so vivid and expressive and specific in his gestures, the artists were so talented, the staging was so inventive and minimalist...it was wonderful. Ah, the arts.
Monday, June 23, 2008
We traveled to Saint-Mere-Eglise, which is where the Allies dropped paratroopers (think Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan) the night before the invasion, drawing Germans away from the beaches but also creating chaos with missed drops. You can still see bullet holes in the walls of the buildings there. There's also an airborne museum there, with lots of remnants from the D-Day invasions. (I also had a sausage on a baguette at the local market. It was delicious. I'm quickly getting very tired of eating so many sandwiches...)
We ate lunch at Utah beach, one of two American landing sites during the D-Day invasions. There were few casualties there, because the dunes are low and the beach is short, allowing soldiers to reach safety and overtake the beach easily. Omaha (which we also visited, but my camera batteries were dead) was a very different story, as anyone who has seen a D-Day movie knows. 800 dead, 3000 casualties on Omaha, since high cliffs allowed the Germans easy protection of the beach, making the invading Americans easy targets. It was very hallowing to be on that beach. We followed Omaha with a visit to the American cemetery, which looks much like any other US military cemetery (Arlington), with pristine white crosses and beautiful landscaping. The cemetery overlooks the Omaha beach, which seems quite fitting. We saw Teddy Roosevelt Jr.'s grave marker, as well as the Niland brothers, which inspired the Saving Private Ryan movie. The visitor center had a really wonderful display which gave you some insight into how some of the soldiers died, earning medals, etc. It was really something.
We also visited Pointe du Hoc, which was a cliff point of invasion. Rangers had to scale 100 foot cliffs to take the German guns, which otherwise would have made the invasion of both American beaches impossible. Air bombing left many bomb craters which are still there today. The photo is me in a bomb crater. Amazing.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
That evening, a group of students and I attempted to visit the Musee de L'Orangerie, thinking it would be free for the young'uns after 6, but we found it to be closed. So we just wandered for a while, finally landing in the Saint-Michel area, which is a very busy and vibrant area of the city, filled with students and tourists. We ate at a forgettable but fulfilling restaurant with a 12 euro menu of very French, but not great, food. We then wandered until we found a bar that could accommodate us to watch the Holland/France match....everywhere was full of shouting French people. We did find a place, though, and enjoyed the thrill of European football with the locals. We ultimately returned to my favorite jazz place again, this time not for the music but the very delicious and best-bang-for-your-euro drinks there.
Unfortunately, the late night combined with alcohol made it more difficult for me to find travel partners for Saturday, when A, K and I took a day trip to Chartres. The Notre Dame cathedral there is a UNESCO world heritage site, and for good reason. However, we arrived at an awkward time. I think if I'd been alone I'd have gone into more museums, but instead we just took a lovely, tourist-free, self-guided walking tour of the medieval city, which sits along a river. The whole city closes between 12 and 2, except restaurants, which don't open until 12. It makes touristing a little awkward unless you plan better than we did. We did wander a lot, and the city is really peaceful and quaint, even on a Saturday when you might expect tourists to overwhelm you. We ate really delicious crepes for a great price at Creperie les Trois Lys (I seriously have the best guidebook ever), and then wandered some more, to increasing frustration and doubt that the trip was worth it.
However, we finally went to the cathedral, which made it clear it was worth it to come there. It's just stunning, from the Gothic architecture to the largest collection of medieval stained glass in the world to the stone retelling of the Bible that surrounds the alter. Incredible. We took the much acclaimed English tour from Malcolm Miller, a British Gothic architecture scholar who told what seemed like a million stories and facts about the place...and we only saw three windows and a door! Apparently every tour is different...next time I'll take both tours he offers in a day to learn even more. It made the place really vibrant and alive with history and spiritual meaning. It was fascinating and wonderful.
And exhausting. I stayed in last night and crashed before my movie was half finished. Phew.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
On Thursday, a wonderful friend of mine from my year abroad in Geneva came to Paris for a very short three hours. We filled those three hours, though, and went shopping along the Ile-Saint-Louis in the boutiques, and we just talked the whole time. Lots of catching up to do. We had lunch at Le Grenier de Notre Dame, recommended by many vegetarian and vegan travelers (J is one, and I'm doing some scoping for future guests). It was delicious! I haven't had a good meal in Paris, really, yet, other than those sandwiches from Wed, since I'm saving money, but it was really hearty and yummy. And the restaurant itself is just delightful, with tasteful, rather than touristy, French jazz playing in the background. I'll return there.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
So, as a refresher, my apt is on the sixth floor of this building. While it makes getting to my room a pain, being in my room is wonderful. When I look out of my window, I see rooftops of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower. Tonight, when the sun was finally setting around 10pm, behind the Eiffel Tower, which was glittering with lights, with a cool breeze drifting into my room, I listened to an entire opera being performed in the Luxembourg Gardens, which is a mere block from my apartment. An opera. Live. Only Paris could be this perfect.
Monday, June 9, 2008
I got a ticket in the 8th row for only 15 euros because I'm younger than 28. The opera was the world premiere of Melancholy, by Georg Friedrich Haas, who is about my parents' age. It was very very dark, with the set and cast all in black and only the two lead roles wearing all white. A very dramatic staging, with extremely slow movement at the center of character and in the blocking of stage movement. The music was all dissonance, with an atonal chorus describing the action and screeching string sections. It was very intense. And amazing.
At the end, the cast came out for a raucous curtain call. The conductor came on stage, and the composer himself. It was really impressive. Even the orchestra left the pit to take a curtain call. Incredible. I'm so glad I went.
(And it was great French practice. The opera was in German, but the projected translation was in French. I was totally impressed with myself. I understood the whole thing...almost every line.)
Sunday, June 8, 2008
After an afternoon of grocery shopping, baguette hunting, napping, and some academic work, I went out to my favorite gelati shoppe, Amorino. Mmm. Then I came back once more, only to go out for jazz at Le Caveau des Oubliettes, my favorite jazz club in Paris. I've talked about it before. It really is fabulous, and I read a review somewhere that described it as becoming known for the cutting edge of jazz. Last night we heard some quartet. I wish I could tell you who it was, because they were fantastic, but the website isn't helpful.
Today I woke up and attended the Gregorian chant mass at Notre Dame. I'm so glad I did, though it was hard to wake up. Even though it's difficult to understand the French mass, the symbolism is all understandable to me. The chant is just gorgeous, and I had a chance to practice a wild different way of doing shape notes. And of course Notre Dame doesn't hire just any slacker on the organ, so that was really incredible as well.
In the afternoon, we headed to Versailles, just like last year on the first weekend. On Sundays the fountains are on, and they just explode with the extravagance of the place. This year I walked around the town with David to find us a place to eat, so I missed out on the palace, but the grounds were as beautiful as ever.
And I'm pooped.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
After hours of dealing with luggage and then getting to our interim hotel, I was exhausted. It was a really nice hotel in the very south of the city limits of Paris, so I literally spent all day in the hotel, venturing out only to get food to go. I did accomplish things to do off of my academic list, after an extensive nap, so it was a good day.
Yesterday we spent most of the morning and early afternoon moving from the interim hotel to the dorms. I certainly hope we/they don't have to deal with this mess next year. But we're in now, in our homes for the rest of the stay in Paris. Let me stress that I am very glad to be married, 26, and no longer living in dorms or crappy apartments. I woke up like 6 times last night, either because of the noise through the very thin European walls or because my whole body ached from the horrible thin mattress and too firm thick pillow. Ick. And then the dirty communal bathrooms...ugh.
But I do live on the sixth floor, and my window has a balcony which overlooks the Eiffel Tower. Last night it was alight over the rooftops, and it sparkled on the hour. I must say it made the whole deal better.
Several students and I went in the late afternoon to Angelina, the teahouse/cafe that Audrey Hepburn claimed as her favorite. Anything that is good enough for Holly Golightly is certainly not too good for me. The specialty of the house are the Chocolat Africain, which is this wonderful, creamy, rich hot chocolate that feels like drinking pure, melted Godiva. It was glorious. There's also a wide variety of delicious pastries. The specialty is the Mont Blanc, a filled meringue with chestnut creme topping (pictured). While some tried it, this (the chestnut part) did not appeal to me. After being out of my first choice, the millefeuille with vanilla bourbon filling, I settled on homemade, delicious, ice cream.
The cafe was built in 1903, and most of the place, including some tables, is original. It's really posh and lovely. It was great.
After that, we walked through the Jardins des Tuileries to reach the Louvre, which is free to those under 26 on Friday evenings. Unfortunately, not being UNDER 26, I didn't enter with the students and instead walked along the gardens, through the Place de la Concorde, and along the Champs Elysees. I shopped a little, not buying anything, and returned to the gardens to meet the students only to be hit on by an older Frenchman. But it was a lovely evening all the same.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Today I worked again during the day, and this evening we had a group outing. We visited a creperie on a cute little street which happens to have, like, four creperies. This one was quite good, though, in my experience. Not, say, outstanding, like the one near the cathedral in Geneva, or great atmosphere, like the one in the 14eme arrondisement, but quite good and recommendable all the same. It was called La Creperie des Canettes. A wide variety of crepes. I had a Savoyard, which would have made the Genevois jealous, and la Capitaine, which was flambee. Very exciting.
Then we walked to Pont Neuf to take a cruise of the Seine at dusk. It was not as lovely as last year, since we were on a boat with a ceiling, making it difficult to see the sights. We had a commentator whose English was heavily accented, making it very difficult to understand her. And we were mooned. Yikes. Luck of the draw, though. This is the same company as last year, and last year's was tres magnifique.
Tomorrow we move to a new hotel due to an organization problem, before finally moving to the dorms on Friday, where we'll remain for the rest of the time in Paris. It's going to rain, and I plan on working all day, with a dinner stop for French Onion soup near where I lived last year, since the hotel is near there. Mmmm.
Monday, June 2, 2008
After I arrived at the hotel (which is fine, but not worth discussing), I dropped my bags and headed out to try and catch up with the students and profs, who were beginning orientation without me. More travel. Lunch. Walk to center, walk to class, walk to center, walk to class, walk to Luxembourg Gardens, walk to center, walk to metro.
Some of the students and I then walked (again) to L'As du Falafel. Apparently, Lenny Kravitz pegged its falafel as the best in the world. I must say, it was pretty delicious, though it was the sauces that made it outstanding. Don't get me wrong--the falafel was delicious and better than any I've had--but the hot sauces put it in the realm of rockin'.
I'm exhausted. Good night.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
We had briefly tossed around the idea of driving the 13 hours from ATL to DFW, but instead found a decent rate for both flights and rental cars and flew instead. Boy was that a good decision for the preservation of our marriage. After landing, we promptly found the first ridiculous hip country radio station and headed to Fort Worth, where the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner were to be held that evening. (The bride was my college roommate, and I was to sing in the wedding...it was a great honor to be asked.)
With some time to kill, we found the Kimbell Art Museum. It's the general art museum in FW. For art reasons, we would have probably preferred the Modern Art Museum (which we never managed to make it to) but the Kimbell was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn. You might noticed the link I provided was not to the art museum general page, but instead to the page in which you can virtual tour the museum, to see this gorgeous building. It's really remarkable. The collection is small, but really quite good, particularly for being such a small collection. Some of you may know I'm not a huge fan of the Atlanta High Museum's permanent collection, despite how incredible the traveling exhibitions tend to be. But the Kimbell's collection was lovely, with at least one Caravaggio, Monet, Manet, Picasso, Mondrian, Pisarro, Munch, and beautiful old Spanish and Dutch paintings, which are some of my favorite genres. The ancient art collection was also nice. All in all, though you can't say there was much, each piece is worth spending time on, which is not something you can say for many other art museums. (Across the street is the modern art museum. We didn't have time to go in, but we did take photos in the outside sculpture.)
We found a Starbucks, because we were starving and wanted to find a place to sit and work for a while. D napped.
Finally, we were able to see K and J at the rehearsal! The wedding was in a lovely (tiny) chapel in Fort Worth, designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, called the Marty Leonard Chapel. It had a beautiful skylight the length of the roof, and it was just gorgeous. And so, of course, was my friend. We then had dinner at an Italian restaurant I can't remember the name of, and drove, late, to Dallas, where we were staying with some friends I met in grad school. J was in choir with me back in the day. It was great to stay up and catch up with them!
In the morning, they took us to brunch at a fantastic little Latin bakery, La Duni. I had a brunch chile relleno and marvelous fried potatoes, coupled with a Latin (foamy) hot chocolate made from melted Godiva chocolate. Oh it was heavenly. J had to work for the afternoon, but S took us to the site of the JFK assassination and the Sixth Floor Museum. This is the museum dedicated to the life and death of JFK. It was a much more serious museum than we expected. We were ready for something full of conspiracies and tawdry ideas about JFK, but it was a very respectful museum about the man, his policies, his family, and then that day. The photos and videos were very moving. I found myself very upset and near tears at several points on the tour. If you go, I highly recommend the (free) audioguide. It walks you through the exhibit very carefully, has interesting tidbits on top of reading the posts, and if you don't you would have to do quite a bit of reading, blocking up the crowds behind you. You can also see the corner where LHO was supposedly sitting when he fired shots (you know, if he did it). It really was quite something to be there. I was not alive when he died, but I feel his death quite personally, nonetheless. Isn't it wild how that happens?
We made sure to drive by the Fountain Place and building designed by IM Pei, which is where S asked J to marry him. Then we three drove to FW to the botanical gardens. It was a really beautiful day in Texas, with 80 degree weather and bright sunshine, so it was a perfect day to be outside and look at flowers. Apparently, the rest of FW had the same idea, so it was very busy at the gardens. Wedding parties were out taking photos, which I always fun. Who doesn't like to see a lady in a pretty wedding dress? After the rose gardens, we went into the Japanese gardens, which were really quite lovely. Coi populate the pond, and there was lots of shade and benches on which to rest. It was such a nice day to be outside and enjoy beautiful things with friends. J was only able to meet us at the end of the day, right before we had to leave for the wedding, but it was worth it for us to see her, at least for us!
The wedding was perfectly beautiful, and so very like our friends. It was gorgeous.
After the wedding and the lovely reception, we drove late into the night to Austin, to S & P's apt. Poor thing, we woke her like three times to find her apt. Sigh. And then we all crashed. The next day was all with friends. We spent most of the time with S & P and their daughter Charlotte, who's just precious, but unfortunately was sick and therefore very sad all day, and their great dog Strazh. We just hung out and talked all day, plus a lovely walk around the Lake in downtown (or close to downtown) Austin. Recently, S saw Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong running there! We also had dinner with our friends, K-A, T, and B, which was also great. We didn't see much of Austin that weekend, but we saw lots of our great friends. In the morning, before heading back to Dallas for our flight, we had brunch with my cousin, L, who is a freshman as UT, and S&P, at the Magnolia Cafe. A southwestern take on breakfast. Man, was it delicious. I sure love good food. And it was cheap! And, I think, organic. What more could a person want? And it felt like it lives up to Austin's ideal: Keep Austin Weird.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
For starters, here's a fun site designed to suggest trips especially for girlfriends. I know I have a few girlfriends scattered around the country with whom I would love to someday do annual weekends in new and fun places, and here's where I'll start, when that financial day arrives.
Right now there's a feature on a getaway in each of the 50 US states, and a story about some girlfriends who spent a vacation in Como stalking George Clooney. Someday, girls, you and me. And George.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
You know, I have had quite a bit of trouble learning about things to do in Morocco. Travel guides all seem to say the same thing, and not many travelers make helpful comments on the many travel websites for sharing ideas. I find lots of hotel suggestions, and not many "DO" suggestions. I wonder why that is.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
We then set off to celebrate the post-game in the bars of Wrigleyville. After trying to get into the Cubby Bear and finding it packed to the brim with young folks, we made our way to Goose Island, a micro-brewery nearby. As you might guess, they brew their own beer. Of course, I think beer is disgusting, so I had a rootbeer float with Goose Island root beer--made with real sugar! It was delicious. Successful rootbeer...check.
We then went back to the hotel to pick up Andrew and Terry and find deep-dish pizza. To refer again to my St. Louis roots, I like my pizza made with provel cheese and cracker-thin crust. But one has to eat deep-dish in Chicago! So we went to Giordano's, where not only is it deep dish, but it's stuffed with all the toppings in the middle of the pizza. Such a concept is madness. But oh so delicious.
The next morning, S and I presented our paper and then went to another panel. Then I went shopping. Our hotel was in the loop district, and that's where I shopped. I bought a new suit! I'm sure to get a job in this getup. That afternoon we walked across the river to Mother Hubbard's, a sports pub with tons of screens and a great local feel to watch the NCAA semifinal games. The drinks were expensive, but the food was okay. In particular, the onion rings were rockin'. I had picked UCLA to win the whole shebang, so I found the first game disappointing, but at least Kansas won. Root root for the midwest! It was a really great place to watch the games...dark, yummy, and loud with sports cheers.
I attended one more panel the next morning, and then we had to check out of the hotel and wander until we had to leave for the airport. So we had coffee and tea at Ada's--we didn't eat, but we'd had brunch there before and really enjoyed it. Not much to look at, but breakfast is yummy. We then dropped Andrew off to head to the airport, shopped a little, and moved on to lunch. We tried this new chain called Wow Bao in the Renaissance Hotel. In Asia, bao are stuffed yeast buns that are common fast food items....just buns stuffed with meat and vegetables. Wow Bao is the first American chain to offer these. They're delicious! I also had yummy hibiscus tea, and they offer handmade ginger ale (which I didn't try but sounds awesome). It feels very trendy and California-yuppy, but that doesn't change the deliciousness or the novelty. I recommend it.
Then boring homework in the hotel, a ride to MDW, and a ridiculously difficult crossword puzzle later (still unfinished!), we returned to Atlanta. Successful weekend, though severely lacking in tourism. Next time.