Wednesday, August 25, 2010

European People

I am taking a break from my blog to give an update on what the people I have encountered so far are like. In doing this, it will also give you an idea of what I have done so far. As far as you would be able to tell from my blog posts to this point I have not left France! This is simply not the case, I have just not been able to update you past France as of yet. Partly due to a lack of internet access as well as the urge to complement my posts with pictures. Talking about the people I have encountered will not require pictures.

The best and most logical place to start off is France, as I was there first. Stereotypically, I have not heard a lot of great things about French people. The list of their attributes include being arrogant, stuck up and being pretty rude. I already have my own ideas on these stereotypes as I have made some great friends. This trend has continued through camp and friends of friends. I really enjoyed getting to know my French co-workers as well as the students I was lucky enough to teach, and campers I was lucky enough to get to know. I also met some fantastic French people out of camp and rekindled existing friendships as well. All in all some of the nicest and most considerate people I have ever met come from France.

Next I went to Denmark where one of the sweetest people I have ever met comes from. The Danish people all seem to be this way though. Generally very nice and helpful. Everyone's English is also fantastic. Nothing I did not already know here.

Next I went to Berlin. My first impression probably shouldn't count for much because it was with a bus driver. I have found bus drivers everywhere to be pretty unpleasant when you don't know where you are going and don't have proper change for a ticket. This bus driver was no different. At first it seemed like he wanted me off the bus and wasn't willing to help. When I didn't move he finally resorted to speak in English and take my money. Most others I met were quite willing to help and generally spoe pretty good English.

In Prague I experienced much the same as Denmark, people genuinely wanting to help with pretty good English levels. While trying to find the sub way when leaving one girl insisted on taking me there herself as she was going anyways. I was too shy for the most part to do a lot of talking to the Czechs I met, but I did manage to hold a conversation about hockey with the last couple of girls I met, which overall impressed me. Nice and able to talk about hockey is always great in my books.

Afterwards in The Netherlands, just outside Amsterdam, I had another encounter with a bus driver. He gave me a great first impression of the dutch however as he was more then pleasant, spoke great English and I had no problems with him. The others that I met were also quite willing to help. I got lost several times in Amsterdam but it was easy to find my way because their level of English was the same as the Danes and they were quite willing to help.

I have met a lot of people from other places as well, either travelling just the same as me or coming from somewhere else but being fixed in a certain spot for a lengthy period of time. Travelling by yourself it is quite normal to meet a lot of other people. Unfortunately while I am independant enough to travel on my own and willing to be social, I am shy and that has like always been a bit of a barrier in meeting people.

That said, I have still made some friends that I will not forget anytime soon and whom hopefully feel the same way about me. Those friends were made at American Village.

Just to note while travelling around I feel pretty ashamed at my expectency (as well as others I am surrounded by) as far as language goes. If anyone comes to Canada as a traveller (or the USA) we would totally expect them to speak English and be pretty unaccomedating if they tried to speak anything else. Yet we come into their country and expect them to speak English. I feel bad, especially outside of France, that I am unable to even ask if they can speak English or tell them I cannot speak their language. That is about all I can do in French, but atleast that is something.

Currently I am back in Germany in Munich. I did a day trip to Austria today and I head to Switzerland tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The South of France

So it has once again been a while. Not unexpected I would hope. My last post was about Versaille but I made it from Prague. Since then I have been to Amsterdam and now Munich. This post is my second last on France. I am really behind. Unfortunately there arent a lot of pictures to go with this general post which means I probablz could have added it earliar. I promise to finish France before I leave Munich. All I have left is a castle and an old town equipped with pictures. I will add some to this as well just because.

On Tuesday August 3rd I left Paris for a new part of France, the south. I stayed in a small town, I am not sure of the name. It was however right on the coast of the mediterranean sea. Unfortunately most of my time in the south had the wind blowing out to sea, which meant the water was going to be cold.
Wind seemed to be very typical for this part of France. I always knew what a wind turbine was but had never seen them regualarly. The wind here was always expected, it was just the direction that was inconsistant. When the wind blew in from the sea, it meant the weather was great for the beach. The water would be warm and the sand would not blow in your eyes.
The small town was located near a small city, Beziers. This city had a man made canal in it that ran from the west coast, the Atlantic ocean, to the mediterranean sea. This particular town also had lift locks.
I visited this town on my first day in the South. I am almost ashamed to say I watched how these lift locks worked for the first time. This is shameful because during university I lived in a town for 4 years with lift locks and never once watched.
Another thing I did while in the South helped me appreciate older French men. I spoke of patunk, a game I learned at camp similar to Botchi or lawn bowling and found out it was stereotypicallz an old man game. An added feature to this stereotype is a drink called pestis.* I took to the drink and found that older men seemed quite keen to have the drink with me when thez heard that I liked it.

* I later saw this drink in a bar in Prague under the brand name of Ricard.

This is the view of the town from he window I dlept in at night. I was verz spoiled while in this home.

From a castle...more on it later, just a picture to share for now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


One thing I have wanted to see in France for a long time is the Palace of Versaille. I am nor sure if there is an exact reason for this desire, or if it is an accumulation of many reasons.

I remember learning about Louis the XIV, the sun king, and being fascinated by him. It was he who decided to move from the present day Louvre after building the palace. The palace was built for all royalty in France to live in. By moving everyone there Louis the XIV was "keeping his friends close and his enemies closer'' a message from Machiavelli's book, The Prince.

The palace also hosted the Treaty of Versaille, the peace treaty Germany and friends were forced to sign ending World War I. This treaty can also be argued to have helped cause World War II. I often wonder what would happen if Woodrow Wilson, the American president at the time, was listened to. He didn't want to oppress Germany which is what made them so desperate to allow someone like Hitler gain power.

Unfortunately, we went to the palace on a Monday, the only day it is actually closed. I was unable to enter the building but was still able to visit the grounds. This building was built to replace the Louvre as the kings home. I was impressed by the size of the Louvre so you can imagine the size of this place. You could spend the whole day on just the outside grounds and in the garden, which is what we did.

It is hard to show a picture and give you an idea of how big the place is. Obviously I can't get all the buildings into one picture. This is part of the front building.

There are statues all over the grounds. There are 4 big ones outside of this fountain (there are also many fountains) and they are named after the 4 major rivers in France. You can see part of the back of the palace in the background.

A close picture of a part of one of the gardens. You can see many statues in the background.

This is to give you an idea of what the grounds look like and how big they could be, but you still can't see everything.

My final night in Paris was spent playing poker with one of my old Australian flatmates and some of his friends and co-workers. It was nice to play with him again. A lot of the game was played in French. I learned one poker related phrase, ''ta-pay.'' It translates literally to carpet but in poker it means ''all in.''

Monday, August 16, 2010

An Update

I have a few minutes on a computer not so great and decided to give a small update on what I have been doing, and what is to come to the blog shortly. My last update came less then 2 weeks ago but it was about more then 2 weeks ago I went to Paris.

I obviously have not been at a stand still and have been doing plenty in between. In fact, I went to Versaille the very next day. I have in my notebook a post about Versaille and on my USB several pictures. The computer I am using is a pay one...with no USB port.

Anyways, after Versaille I went to the south of France and visited a couple different things, like a castle and an old Roman city. After that I flew to Denmark for almost a week and then I took a train to Berlin. That is where I am now, although I have just checked out of my hostel and am about to catch a train to Prague shortly. Super exciting!

I fully intend on getting all my stories on line...which means I will be doing a lot of writing even after I am home. Writing things down in my notebook as I go certainly helps in that aspect. If the computers in the next hostel are any good I will make a post or two while I am trying to plan what is next.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Eiffel Tower

Early in the day on Sunday I visited a cathedral just outside a jewish area of Paris. I went inside but hesitated to look around as people were praying and I felt awkward being in there even though there were clearly other tourists who didn't mind. I then went and tried a falafel. It was pretty good.

In the afternoon I went to Montmatre, a hill in Paris where sights of the city can be seen and where sacred heart cathedral lies. It was a large tourist area and because it was Sunday it was quite busy. From there I walked passed a big red windmill...famously known as moulin rouge. After that I took the subway to the place I saw in the car ride through Paris my first day, the arc de triumph, which was located on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the main street of Paris.

Obviously a trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Eiffel tower. My trip to the tower didn't get me all the way to the top, the line was too big, but it did get me pretty high up on the second level. From there I watched the sun set and then walked back down the stairs and had a picnic in the park beside.

On the hour, the tower would sparkle for several minutes, which was kind of neat to see.

Proof that I am there and not just finding pictures.

An overhead view of the park below the tower, taken from the tower itself (duh).

As the sun sets on Paris.

A blurry picture of Paris at night. This shot has the louvre on the far left. I only know because of the ferris wheel.

A look up at the tower when it started sparkling.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Voltaire and Rousseau

On Saturday July 31st I went to a crypt, a place where many famous and important people´s bodies are. This place, the Pantheon, was a large building originally built as a church by the King of France. This King was sick and prayed to god promising to build this church if he survived his illness, which he did.

It took a long time to build however and was constantly switched back and forth from a church and something else, often a memorial to the French Revolution. It was huge and the roof weighed a lot. I was quite amazed at how such a building could have been built with none of the moderen equipment we have now. None the less the weight of the roof has been an ongoing issue with the building.

The building also had a pendalum that swung in such a way that it prooved the earth was round. This undermined the church in a way and in order to regain support the pendolum was removed, but has since been returned. On the top of the building there were great views of Paris and underneath is where all the tombs of famous people's bodies are.

There were 3 rules to have a tomb in this crypt: you must be French, you must have written something great and your body must be able to be recovered. The most familiar to me were Voltaire and Rousseau, both of whom I studied in philosophy. Their tombs are facing each other even though while living they didn't really get along.

This is the outside of the Pantheon.

This is the inside, a look at the walls and ceiling.

Notre Dame, a litte more breath taking seeing all of it from a distance.

And of course the Eiffel tower in the distance.

Later in the day, in what seemed to be a Parisian tradition we had some drinks down by the river.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

La Joconde

July 30th, Friday

My first full day in Paris had promise to be a fantastic day. I would not be without my camera this time around and the plan for this day began as everyday in Paris would; waking up in a flat in a great location.

This day included some of the sites from the night before, as well as having dinner with more former flatmates and friends from Australia. The morning began with a walk to The Louvre, but stopping along the way to see other sites.

The first such site was Notre Dame. It was still relitively early so the cathedral was not nearly as busy as I had seen it pretty much every other time. This made for the perfect oppurtunity to go and see it!

This was how I recognised it, on the inside the stained glass window was quite impressive!

This was the view as we approached the island that Notre Dame is on.

A sign said no pictures inside the cathedral and inspite of everyone else seeming to ignore this rule, and not hiding the fact either, I honoured the rule. I just have mental images of the huge inside and the huge stain glassed windows of which words cannot describe.

The Louvre had similar unfollowed rules. I once again took only pictures of the outside, although to me the outside is what impressed me most. The museum was huge. Not all that surprising considering the King used to live there before Versaille was built.

This is just one of several sides. Behind is another building like this and a court yard surrounded by more buildings.

The giant Pyramid is the entrance into the museum. On top of the massive buildings all around the main floor is all under the pavement.

I was quite impressed with what I saw on the outside, by the sheer enorminity of the place. On the inside I saw a ton of famous paintings, the real paintings of things I had seen numerous times before. I am not big into art, so I more less just walked around. I saw the Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous. There were cool paintings depicting different historical events which I found interesting, but the coolest was easily just being outside.

After the Louvre we went to a large park and garden and just chilled for a while until it was time to meet people for dinner. Dinner was great to catch up and see old friends, as well as meet some new people along the way.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Picnic on La Siene

I was assigned to help with convoyage as my last bit of work for American Village. This meant I had to watch the campers on the train while we went to Paris. For doing this my train ticket was covered as well as a complimentry night at a hotel that they reserved for me. I did not use that reservation as I already had a place to stay with a former flatmate from Australia.

She met me at the train station and then I headed to her brother's place. She also let me know that we were invited to join some other friends for a picnic.

The location of the picnic was on a wooden bridge crossing the river in Paris: La Siene. It was about a twenty minute walk from her brother's place. I forgot to bring my camera and as famous places were pointed out to me I started regretting not having it. In the end however it was not a big deal because I later passed these same places when I did have my camera.

The first place was Notre Dame. It is a huge cathedral and is where we often use the subway to go to and from places. The wooden bridge was right near the louvre, perhaps the most famous museum in the world. Standing on the bridge from certain places you could also see in the distance the Eiffel Tower.

It is legal to drink in public places in France, so we brought with us a bottle of wine. The bridge was full of pad locks, usually with names written on them. I imagine it is something common for honey mooners to do.

Summer days are a lot longer in Paris (as well as in Normandy) then south western Ontario. It doesn't start to get dark until about 10 o clock. As a result a picnic and other outdoor activities can and do start later in the evening. It is also more common to have a late dinner here. At camp we ate dinner at 7pm and that was probably early for dinner, or that is what my experience has been.

The summer night did not treat us so well. It ended up being pretty windy so it got cold and we went home early. It was just as well as I was still pretty tired from camp and we could also get an early start on visiting Paris the next day.