Archive | November, 2010

You know you live in France when…

30 Nov

When you eat dinner at 9:30.

When people cross freely in front of trams and on the tracks all the time, and you have only been almost hit by a train once (knock on wood).

When the titles of movies are changed…but kept in English.  i.e. The Hangover becomes A Very Bad Trip.  Oh, and when Hogwarts becomes Poudlard, Mudbloods become moldu, none of which are actual French words.  Both beg the question why change it in the first place.

When your university was shut down for two weeks because of les grèves.

When chocolate croissants have lost their magnetism and have become a mere rarity.  (Surprising, yet fortunate for the waistline).

When pronouncing words ever so slightly differently can unwittingly give a whole new meaning to what you are trying to say.  (See earlier sein/sang incident).

When you walk by a vineyard on the way to the university.  A small vineyard in the middle of the city enclosed by houses and office buildings.  Really??…..wonder if the wine’s any good…

When Nutella is the new peanut butter.

When Thanksgiving dinner consists of: eating at 8:30, being served in separate courses, randomly starting with a tossed salad and pita bread, having hot cranberry sauce (actual liquid-y sauce; and I’m pretty sure there were lingonberries in it), soy sauce-esque gravy, a small apple tart, and not having to loosen your belt or wear maternity pants (à la Joey on Friends).  Being oh so truly French, we only had a little bit of each course, didn’t have seconds, and ended with an espresso.  Not very American.  This could very well be the first Thanksgiving I’ve experienced where I didn’t feel sickly full.  But there were no kolaces nor one of my mom’s amazing pies, so I think I would rather have instead taken the dazed inertia that is Thanksgiving night at home.  Not to mention the complete unsettlement of not being at home with the family for the holiday–a first for me.

When you’re considering going all the way to London just because you heard they have a Chipotle.

When you can still buy your Harry Potter opening night ticket an hour before the showing.

b) When no one dresses up for Harry Potter.  (And when you secretly wish you had your mandrake costume with you from HP6 to scare the fashionably-conscious French).

When no one moves for screaming ambulances.

When you start buying mainly stripes.

When you pass about twelve cats on the street everyday, see cats strolling the rooftops in your neighborhood, and it isn’t rare to have a black cat cross your path.

When you can never escape cigarette smoke.

When baguettes are not just a stereotype, and you see people carrying them around everywhere.

When your family eats foie gras fairly regularly.

When you would kill for a large to-go skim latte with extra froth. (preferably from Dunn Bros)

When you end dinner with fruit and cheese instead of ice cream or chocolate.

When you cannot wait to go to a gym.

b)  When you are constantly perplexed at the lack of gyms and people exercising and the amount of pastries, carbs, and wine consumed versus the incredibly high percent of skinny people.

When you start listening to Christmas music November 9th.  The whole not having Thanksgiving thing is really throwing off my timetable for the appropriateness of Christmas sounds and decor.

When you crave Mexican and Asian food.

When you’ve tamed yourself to not respond to people talking to you on the street.  95% of the time, no good would come of responding.

When your little brother is showing you his 24 new Silly Bandz and has no idea what one is and passes it off as “un truc” (a thing), but you look at it and realize it’s Minnesota.  A 10 year-old French boy had a Minnesota-shaped Silly Band.  He also had Louisiana and Nebraska.  And a rectangle.  So, Colorado.

When your host dad deserves an Oscar (this is more of a, “You know you live with the Planchons when”).  The aforementioned fake slap fight garnered the Planchon duo a nomination, but this new performance took home the grand prize.  So, when someone fakes dead/unconscious (*cough Mom *cough), it’s usually fairly short and a cheap laugh.  However, when another person also gets in on it and acts up the scene to a whole new level, it can be unnerving and puzzling.  So, there I was making my coffee one morning when Mateo goes limp at the table, and his dad nudges him, then starts patting his cheeks trying to wake him up.  Not only is Mateo good at not smirking, but Greg was shooting me the most sincere and concerned “what is happening to my child?” looks I have ever seen.  I went from thinking Mateo was being silly to not wanting to voice my doubt because of Greg’s fearful eyes to actually having a moment of confused unease.  Nevertheless, the second I timidly asked, “Mateo?”, they broke and caught me–hook, line, and sinker.  And the Oscar goes to…!

Dobar dan….

27 Nov

….And with cao (bye) and hvala (thanks), that would be the extent of my Croatian.  Somehow we were able to get through the country using those three phrases.  However, it definitely helped that basically everyone under 30 spoke at least some English.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Recently, for a long weekend, two friends and I went to Croatia–why not?!  We left Thursday morning, and we decided to go and bought our tickets on, well, Tuesday afternoon.  Generally, I like to have things at least semi-planned out earlier than that, so I think it’s a good sign that I really had no reservations or anxiety about going on such short notice and not having every night or transportation paid for or even decided upon.

And I’m glad I didn’t.  It was a really fun trip!  We had to spend (had to, I know, right? Darn) one night in Paris because the only flight we could get to Zagreb was early Friday morning.  So, we took the TGV up to Paris; had the typical lunch of baguette, cheese, and wine; bumped into a fellow Montpellier study abroad-er; went to a fondue restaurant for dinner (which serves you baby bottles of wine, has graffiti everywhere, and forces half the party to climb over the table to sit on the long bench on the wall); and then spent the night strolling Paris.  We saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle, visited the Sacré Coeur (which is even more spectacular at night), had the tiniest hostel room possible (three twin beds litterally squeezed together; but it was only us and we had our own bathroom with a shower!), and had some fun on the metro.

Then, after three hours of sleep, it was off to Croatia!

Arriving in Zagreb, we were introduced to kunas, a currency as cheap as it is fun to say, and made our way to the hostel.  Well, when we got to the street that the hostel was supposedly on, we couldn’t find it anywhere.  We stopped in a little shop where neither of the women knew English, and all we had to go by was the “Let’s Go Europe” guide book’s helpful phrases.  Luckily, we found a young traffic cop who spoke English and directed us right back where we had been walking by.  Deciding to walk down the other side of the street, sure enough we found our hostel.  However, I think they badly need to rethink their signage. The only sign they had outside was a little postcard-sized logo on the side of the door, not even facing the street.  Fortunately, that was our only complaint with this hostel; it was actually pretty nice, and the people who worked there even helped Elizabeth track down her camera that she had left on the plane!  High five Hobo Bear Hostel!

That day, we explored Zagreb and visited the Cathedral, the cemetery (immense and beautiful), and had actual roasted chestnuts (a first, and they were as delicious as the song makes them sound).  We topped the night off at a microbrewery/restaurant that served traditional Croatian fare and great beer.  In fact, we liked it so much–especially one dish–that we came back our last night and all ordered the same thing.

Although Zagreb has its Yugoslavian hauntings, it’s a pretty thriving, young, commercial capitol with lots to do.  And the kaleidoscope of beautiful neoclassical architecture in the old town wasn’t too bad, either.  Quickly, though, it was off to Plitvice Lakes National Park–basically, our reason for going to Croatia.

It didn’t disappoint.  After a bus ride through stunning rolling hills and quaint villages and a hike to our hotel, we quickly settled in and ran off to explore the park.  Saturday afternoon, we did the upper lakes, and we returned Sunday morning for the lower half.  While the setting sun and following moon provided an eerie and cozy feeling to the lakes and waterfalls, Sunday’s blue sky and sun made it all come alive.  The park was gorgeous.  I don’t really know what else to say.  The paths of wooden planks were like docks as they wound their way over the lakes and waterfalls, giving no concern to the walker’s risk of falling in to the icy waters.  As we joked, it definitely wasn’t an American national park.  There were no handrails, no signs warning “slippery when wet,” and no guides walking around.  On top of Saturday not showing us many other visitors in the upper lakes, beside the wooden paths, it was really an escape into nature.

The waterfalls were amazing, the lakes were so clear and colorful, and the water ate my camera.  Whoops!  There I was sitting on a path on one of the lakes, enjoying the view, taking it all in, and stupid me stood up to move on.  Here’s a tip, make sure you zip up your pocket.

Snapfish Croatia album

New Experiences

10 Nov

As I sit here eating some delicious Speculoos—what is Speculoos, you ask?  Well, well, wouldn’t you like to know?—I think it’s appropriate to recount my fall break trip in regard to new experiences:

Visiting Edinburgh: first leg of the week-long voyage was a few days in Edinburgh.  Kaitlin and I stayed with a fellow Chi Omega, Kat, who is in grad school at the University of Edinburgh, and we also got to see three of our other sorority sisters who are studying abroad there.  It was quite a sororitastic weekend to say the least.  Aside from the awesome people, the city was fantastic!  I loved it.  Edinburgh has such rich history, plenty to see and do, it’s beautiful, and the people are very nice.  Kat’s very lucky to live there!  We saw the sites—Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Abbey (amazing), St Giles’ Cathedral (home of John Knox), Walter Scott Monument, National Gallery of Art, Calton Hill (giving Edinburgh the title of “Athens of the North”), etc.  We even found Adam Smith’s grave.  However, it wasn’t until after scouring through the rest of the cemetery that we realized if we had turned the other way upon entering the churchyard and followed the “Adam Smith brick road” (literally), we would have seen it right away.  All of these sites were really great but even just walking the town was a treat.  And any city quirky enough to have a tradition where you spit on a cobblestone heart on the ground for good luck is okay by me.  The city is so old and beautiful; I just loved the feeling you get being there.  Needless to say, I am a little in love with the UK—which would also explain the obsession with Tudor England.

Exploring the secrets of Edinburgh: I am proud to say that we survived a ghost tour of one of the most haunted cities in the world on Halloween night (dun dun dun).  They did a good job telling stories (I will admit I was a little spooked), and then they brought us underground to the vaults right underneath the city that are said to be extremely haunted (I will admit I held on to Kat and Kaitlin for dear life and was nervously giggly the whole time).  Example: one ghost in the vaults was said to be a little boy who grabs on and holds your hand.  Well, I couldn’t shove and hide my hands in my jacket fast enough, while Kat on the other hand bravely stuck her arm out to the side ready and waiting.  I bring shame to the Lukens name.

Being Charlie Chaplin:  For Halloween in Edinburgh, we went to a vintage store, found some hats…then found some fake mustaches…then found some bow ties, and BAM we had costumes!  I was Charlie Chaplin, Kat was Burt Reynolds, and Kaitlin was the Monopoly man.  This was the simplest and perhaps most fun Halloween costume I’ve done.  Six pounds for the whole thing, and we got to wear normal clothes.  Win.  It was only made better by cider beer and finishing the night off dancing to Scottish folk songs in a bar—so much fun.

Making a Harry Potter pilgrimage:  J.K. Rowling (the author, duh) lived in Edinburgh, and Kat brought us to the Elephant House café where she wrote the first book.  In fact, Kat was sneaky enough to get us the table that she sat at.  Looking out the window, you can see the inspiration for the books—an amazing view of Edinburgh Castle on the top of the cliff.  The café boasts being “the birthplace of Harry Potter,” and even the stalls in the bathroom are graffitied by HP fans with notes like, “I heart Ron Weasley,” and even quotes from the books.  You could feel the magic (bah-dum-chh).

Actual going into Amsterdam:  As opposed to visiting the airport—which is still lovely.  But the city was great.  The canals, the flowers, the bikes, the buildings are all so picturesque.  We visited the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank Huis, took pictures at the “I Amsterdam” sign, but I really loved just walking around the canals.  One morning, we went on a free walking tour and saw the Red Light District (so strange to see as an American), some interesting spots in the city (architecture students from the 1960s should not have been allowed to have free reign, even if it was contained in one neighborhood—shutter), and got some great tips on how not to be killed by a bicycle.  Jimmye was a great host and shared some secrets of Amsterdam with us—(Speculoos! I’m getting there, patience.)—and it was great to have an NMQ freshman year reunion.  We even had the traditional popcorn, orange juice, and movie.  AND I got to see Frank, a fellow Foley counselor from this summer.  It was so great catching up with him and SO weird to see him not only outside of camp but in another country, his country.  Now I’ll have to visit London and see Jack and Sarah!

Being the stereotypical tourist:  Mostly to do with photographs.  A thank you to Kat for forcing me to have pictures taken with me in them (dubbed “mom pictures,” as in for mom), because otherwise there would be none to speak of.  We played up the tourist card by taking jumping pictures, paying to take pictures with a bagpiper and the Mel Gibson—I mean—William Wallace, throwing up the X and horseshoe (Chi Omega hand sign), and having a photo shoot with the UK telephone booths.  (The hipster photos were more for our amusement than a tourist bout.)

Trying new foods: In Edinburgh, we tried haggis (traditional Scottish meat dish “haggis neeps and tatties”—quite delicious; I believe we had haggis every day somehow), pear cider beer (not too shabby), black pudding (aka blood sausage), fish and chips (a must), deep-fried Mars bar (thankfully not right after the fish and chips), Irn Bru (slash cough medicine that the Scots pass as pop: disgusting, but Kat and Kaitlin got a kick out of it—seriously, I think there was something in it), and roast beef and mustard potato chips (not even the weirdest of their potato chip flavors).  In Amsterdam, we were adventurous enough to mosey on into a Febo.  What is that?  Well, it’s basically a vending machine restaurant.  You put money into this wall full of little windows with food in them and then you open the little door and pull out the food you want.  Upon telling Jimmye and her roommate what we had for lunch, her roommate responded with, “you had FEBO?!?”  Apparently, it’s not as fun-adventurous as we thought.  Apparently, it’s more like gutsy/hazardous/sketchy-adventurous.  But our Amsterdam food excursion was atoned for with muesli pancakes, hagel slag (real chocolate sprinkles that they put on toast and it kind of melts into the bread), and, finally, Speculoos Pasta (!).  Speculoos is essentially the new competition in Holland for Nutella and is currently winning in my book.  It is best described as a gingerbread/cinnamon (?) cookie mashed to a pulp and made into a crunchy spread.  Put it on bread, waffles, gingerbread cookies (the Lukens family’s favorite “windmill cookies” from the airport), or you might…..just eat it plain.  Delicious.  Best recipe: Speculoos and hagel slag on a waffle at 2 am.

Well, a puff of smoke in the face was the reminder I received telling me that I was indeed back in France—shortly followed by the realization that after one week of all English, I had lost some footing in my French.  C’est triste.  It scares me to think what my French will be like after a month back in the States.

Completely random side note, have you ever been walking somewhere and realized that you’ve been walking behind the same person for a while, and then you keep on going and you’re still behind them?  Then, you start to wonder when they’ll turn off, and then you start to wonder if they’ve noticed you.  Then, when they end up going to the same obscure place you are or they finish their walk while you’re still behind them, do you ever wonder if they think you’re stalking them?  You may have just freaked that person out so much to the point that they will watch their back for the next few days, convinced someone followed them home.  Way to go.

Now it’s off to Croatia for the weekend!!