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A Week of Travel

Jan 04, 2005  -  Comments

I returned to Grenoble yesterday to find that my bag had FINALLY arrived! It was so nice to wear my own clothes again. Well, I'm going to try and catch everyone up on what we did for the last week.

Lauren's parents rented a car last Monday morning and we started on our driving tour. Our intention was to drive through the Loire valley (wine region) and tour some famous Chateaus (castles). Our first stop was the chateau at Chambord. It was described as "massively huge." That description was absolutely correct. The place was gigantic. So, we toured through there and then went to the hotel where we were staying. It was a smaller chateau built in the 1500's. It was really nice. The lady who owned the place was super friendly. She made a "simple" dinner for us that night which consisted of four courses. The cheese course was particularly interesting. We had heard that the worst they smelled, the better they tasted. That couldn't have been farther from the truth. I was naive enough to try the worst smelling one. I was able to swallow it, but I was afraid I might start dry heaving at any second.

The next day we went to three more chateaus that were close by. We toured the chateau at Amboise, Ussé, and Azay-le-Rideau. All of them were very nice. We stayed at the same place that night.

On Wednesday, we went near Orleans and toured a couple of more chateaus. I can't remember all of the names right now. I'll try to post some pictures in the next few days. I'll let everyone know.

Thursday we drove into Paris and dropped the rental car off. We spent four night in Paris and did all the normal tourist stuff. We went to Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum, the Louvre, and other stuff I can't remember. I did have to buy some more clothes in Paris because, even though I had washed my one outfit twice, it was beginning to get a bit stale. So, I bought some more underwear, some socks, another long sleeve shirt, and a pair of pants. I got them all for pretty cheap. The shirt was only 10 and the pants 15.

So, Lauren's family left yesterday to go home and we rode the train back to Grenoble. Lauren didn't feel very well, and it turns out today that she has a pretty bad cough and a 101 temperature. So, she's hanging out in bed. I just got back from the grocery store, which I went to with one of Lauren's gay roommates. He's really nice though. Lauren says the other one is really negative though. Alright, that's all for now. I'll work on posting some pictures on my website and I'll email everyone once they're up. Hopefully by Thursday or Friday. I hope everyone is doing well. I don't get any news here, so if anything major happens over there, email and tell me.

Alcohol and (Dog) Shit

Jan 06, 2005  -  Comments

Lauren and I went to Monoprix today. It's kinda like the French version of Kroger. Anyway, it really surprises me how cheap some things are here and how expensive other things are. Usually, a can of Coke (and they ARE smaller here, Robb, you bastard) costs around 2€ in machines and around 3.50€ in restaurants. Wine and liquor are completely opposite. There are often just as cheap as a Coke.

Anyway, I bought a six pack of France's version of Budweiser today called Stella Artois for 2.50€. John, Robb, and Charlie will appreciate this: a six pack of Heineken here is only 4€. How crazy is that. Liquor is the same way. It is way cheaper here. Josh and John, that same set of Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey and two glass set that you bought me as a going away present is sold here for 19.90€. Crazy.

Well, that's really all I wanted to say in this email. It's cold as balls here. I doubt it gets over 40 degrees ever. It has snowed a bit, but not enough to amount to anything. All the mountains around the town are covered in snow. I think tomorrow I'm going to take a bus up to the top of one of the mountains so I can get some good pictures. I'll try to work on posting some soon.

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There is dog shit everywhere here! The Frenchies aren't required to pick up after the dogs like in the US. On top of that, the dogs shit right on the sidewalk, in the middle of the path! They don't even wait for the dignity of a patch of grass. Unbeleivable. It's like walking through a mine field, watching every step because it might be your last.

Soldes

Jan 10, 2005  -  Comments

Today, Lauren and I went shopping. In France, they only have sales twice a year. Once in January and once in June. By sale, I mean EVERYONE has a sale. Evidently it's a pretty big deal. Every clothing store or shoe store that we walked by had big signs hanging everywhere saying "-30% -40% -50%." I got another pair of pants for 15€. The stores were so packed. You could barely move. One of Lauren's French friends informed us that the sales last for a month! So, we'll probably go back later and get some more cheap stuff.

The Mall

Jan 11, 2005  -  Comments

Yesterday Lauren and I went to the French version of the mall. But, instead of being called a mall, it is called a Centre Commerce. They look pretty much the same. Two levels of stores, all the same stuff. The mall has this huge store called Carrefour attached to it. It's like the Super Wal-Mart for Frenchies. As far as I can tell, it's about as big as a Wal-Mart. The only difference is that it was super crowded. Not that Wal-Mart necessarily isn't crowded, but this place was crazy. And a lot of people there had their dogs with them. The French dogs must be like best friends, cause they never go anywhere without them. And this are big dogs too, not the kind they can hold or carry in a Paris Hilton dog-sac. I'm really surprised I didn't see a dog shit in the mall, they shit everywhere else.

Saturday night we went to some French friends of Lauren's for dinner. They're names were Ileana and Mikael. I think one of them is originally from Argentina and the other is from Pakistan. They were really nice. They made us a kind of stir fry with only bell peppers. It was very good. Before dinner Mikael cut up some sausage and some cheese for an appetizer. He offered me some and I took the sausage and tried to take a bit out of it. It was pretty tough. He saw me struggling to take a bite and said, "Uh.. you have to take the skin off the outside first." "Oh. . . . Thanks," I said a little embarrassed. But, it was some good sausage. I think he said it was made with Blueberries? Then, after dinner, we watched Napoleon Dynamite, which we had brought. Both of them spoke really good English, so we assumed they might think it was pretty funny. Mikael laughed a lot, but Ileana just kinda sat there. I don't think it was her type of humor at all.

Chips

Jan 13, 2005  -  Comments

You'll never believe the flavors of potato chips they have here. Wednesday, we bought a bag of Lay's chips that were 'Roasted Chicken with Thyme' flavored. The best part? They were delicious! It really tasted like roast chicken, which is either good or bad I guess. Anyway, I finished the bag in two days. Good stuff.

Weekend

Jan 15, 2005  -  Comments

This Saturday we went to Chambery. It's the town that Lauren lived in the last time she was in France for the study abroad program. It's only about 45 min. away by train, and the tickets were only 10€ round-trip. So, we decided that we would spend the day there. We left Grenoble at 9:30 and were planning on taking the 3:30 train back home. When we arrived in Chambery, it was freakin freezing. My guess is it was around 30 degrees plus wind. Also, the town is a lot smaller than Grenoble, so there isn't a lot going on. Our plan for a whole day outing was quickly cut short by the weather and a lack of anything to do. We wondered around for two hours, ate lunch, then got on the 12:45 train back to Grenoble.

We were both really tired when we got back and each of us slept for a little over three hours. So, the rest of the day was pretty much wasted. That night, the parents that Lauren babysits for occasionally, invited us out to a bar to listen to some music. As we are on the tram heading toward the bar, they text Lauren on her cell phone and say that they are just leaving and will meet us there soon. We go ahead to the bar thinking we'll save them a table. When we walk into the bar, it is the size of a small bedroom. The room is about 10'x10' and that is including the space for the bar. There are only about eight people total inside. Also, up on a loft-type room overlooking the bar is a DJ playing like techno remixes of 80's songs very loudly. Lauren and I hide in the corner (there are no tables, there are no chairs) waiting for the couple to come meet us. I drank a couple of beers and we waited for about 45 minutes, but they never showed up. Lauren checked her phone and there was a message from them saying they changed their minds and were going to a movie instead, and would we like to join them. "Thanks a lot," we said. But, it wasn't a total waste. We had some fun at the bar making fun of all the hip young people.

The Most Delicious Food in France

Jan 16, 2005  -  Comments

As I've said before, the food here in France isn't that great. Some things are good, they have some pretty good cheeses, but on the most part the food is sketchy. There is, however, an exception to this rule. To be fair though, the food to which I'm referring isn't even French in origin, it's Turkish. Anyway, they have a lot of ethnic sandwich stores that sell Kebabs. I tried one the last time I was in France and remember it being pretty good. So, I wanted to try one again to see if my memory was accurate. Well, I have to say that they are the most tantalizing food in all of Europe. Let me describe what a Kebab is. It's comprised of a pocket of bread, similar to a pita, but a different type of bread, with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and shredded spiced lamb. I know what you're thinking: Lamb? Yes, lamb. It is wonderful! I've eaten three this week alone. I can't get enough. It's like a drug. If you ever visit France (I don't know if they have them in other countries) then you need to try one out.

Football

Jan 22, 2005  -  Comments

Saturday morning Stephanie, one of Lauren's friends from UT who is doing the same thing she is, came to visit. We had planned to go to a soccer match that night. I found out that Grenoble had a team, so I wanted to check it out. We took the bus out to the stadium only to find a note tacked to the ticket office that said the match had been canceled.

We had nothing to do, and Lauren's roommates were having a vegetarian potluck dinner for like 15 of their friends. So, we didn't want to go back to the apartment. We walked to the movie theater, but all of the movies had already started. We ended up walking around the city for like two hours. Then we went to a bar and sat for about an hour. When we left, Lauren stole the Heineken glass I was using. Nice.

So, we ended up back at the apartment around 10:30 and all of the people we didn't know were still here, so we retreated to the room and watched 'Napoleon Dynamite' on Lauren's computer.

One hell of a night.

Wide Open

Jan 28, 2005  -  Comments

We went to Lauren's bank today because she had to deposit two checks. The bank is right in the middle of the city. In the entryway to the bank, there was a guy just standing there. As we walked by him, my nose detected something that seemed a bit off. I asked Lauren "Does it smell like weed to you?" She agreed, and I looked back at the dude. Sure enough, he was smoking a joint in front of the bank in the middle of the day in the crowded city. Crazy Frenchies.

Just Our Luck

Jan 29, 2005  -  Comments

Well, after last week's disappointment at the soccer game being canceled, we decided to try it again. So last night, we made the trek back out to the stadium to try and catch the last home game before I have to leave to come home in three weeks. Take a wild guess. That's right kids, the game was canceled AGAIN!!!!!!! What the hell? Once I can understand, but twice? We got off the bus and were looking stunned at the completely blacked-out stadium. Some drunk Frenchie saw our confusion and slurred something at us and laughed hysterically as he was walking by. I can only speculate that he said "the game was canceled you silly American jackasses." We were pissed.

Bisous

Jan 30, 2005  -  Comments

When two people meet for the first time (usually girl/guy or girl/girl) they give each other what's called bisous (pronounced bee-zoos). It's pretty much touching left cheek to left cheek and kissing, then repeating it for the right cheek. You don't kiss the person, but you make the kiss sound and motion. Bisous are also done as a greeting between two people who know each other well. In this case, they are even done by two guys.

As a non-French person, this is very awkward for me. I never know if a girl I'm introduced to will expect this or what. Usually, they will initiate it. It's still pretty uncomfortable. In one instance, we ran into one of the teachers Lauren works with at one of her schools. She introduced me to her and the woman leaned in to give me the bisous. The first one went off with no problem, but when we switched to the right cheek for the kiss, something went awry. I don't know if it was my fault - being utterly inexperienced - or hers, but instead of our cheeks touching, it was almost the corners of our mouths that touched. Either way, we got way too close to actually giving each other a real kiss. After she left, I told Lauren about it and of course blamed it on her teacher trying to get some American action. After all, she was young and pretty cute.

As I've said before, this is done as an introduction between a girl and a guy or two girls. I'm not really sure of the etiquette between two guys being introduced. But, to save myself from the possibility of kissing another guy, whenever I am introduced to someone new I immediately stick out my hand to shake.

Stickin It to the Man

Feb 05, 2005  -  Comments

We walked downtown today to run errands and we ran into a sea of people. Evidently, there was a protest today about something or other. There were seriously around 800 people carrying flags, chanting, and marching straight down the middle of the street. This really hurt us because the tram that we usually use to get around wasn't running in the middle of town because of all these jackasses. We got a flyer from some dude handing out propaganda. Evidently, liberal politics have been hurting the job market. So, there were a ton of pissed off people.

School

Feb 13, 2005  -  Comments

Thursday afternoon I went with Lauren to one of her schools to watch her teach two classes. The little kids (they were between 10 and 12) seemed very confused by my arrival. They all just stared at me and a couple asked Lauren if I was her husband. I sat in the back of the room for both classes, and all during the lessons the kids would intermittently turn around and just stare at me.

After the second class, it was time for recess. We stood outside with a couple of the other teachers watching all of the crazy little bastards run wild. After recess was over, one of the classes Lauren teaches invited us to stay and have some chocolate cake for one of the student's birthday. Well, while we were eating, I guess the students got up their nerves because they started asking me a million questions. . . . in French. About eight of them backed me into a corner all speaking at once asking things like 'do you know spider-man?' 'do you know batman?' 'do you know Spongebob?' 'have you been to Paris?' 'have you been to New York?' I couldn't even answer them because I couldn't understand five people speaking at once.

As we left, two of the little boys shook my hand and all of the students taking English were saying 'goodbye' with very heavy accents.

Home at Last

Feb 20, 2005  -  Comments

Yesterday was my flight back to the US. And of course, it wouldn't be a true international flight for me unless at least seven things went wrong. I started the morning in Beauvais, a small town about an hour north of Paris. We were there because Lauren was flying to Scotland to visit her cousin and her flight left from the airport there instead of in Paris. Also, her flight left really early in the morning, so we spent the night there to make it easier. Well, after she left, I had to take a taxi to the train station in Beauvais. I got out pretty easy because someone else from the hotel had to go the the station too, so we split the cost of the cab. Once I got there, catching my train to Paris was no problem. We even arrived on time. Even in Paris things went smoothly. I caught the train to the airport, no problem. I got to the airport in time, checked in, and at the proper time I boarded the plane.

"Wow," I thought as I sat on the plane waiting to take off, "this is actually going pretty well for once." Of course, that's where everything fell apart. The captain informed us that the hydraulic lift used to load our baggage onto the airplane had broken. Our bags got loaded fine, but they couldn't get the machine away from the plane for us to take off. Well, after about half an hour they fixed it and we took off. The captain assured us we would still land at the scheduled time. Naturally, that didn't happen. We were about 20 minutes late landing. Because our flight had come from France, my luggage didn't automatically get forwarded to my connecting flight. I had to go to the baggage claim, get my luggage, go through customs, then re-check my bags. Keep in mind that because of our delayed take-off I had exactly a one-hour window before my connecting flight left.

So, I go to the baggage claim area and wait patiently. After at least 30 minutes of waiting, the bags finally start to appear. None of them are mine. I keep looking at my watch nervously. I have 20 minutes before my flight leaves, still no bags. I have 15 minutes before my flight leaves, still no bags. I decide "screw it," I'd rather be home than have my bags. I take off running through the airport. I assumed that the gate for my connecting flight will be nearby and 15 minutes will be ample time to make it there. Wrong again. It's all the way across the airport. I ran non-stop until I reached the gate. . . . . . . . five minutes after the plane had left.

By this time, I just want it all to end. I go back to the American Airlines ticket counter and they get me booked on a Delta flight to Atlanta that leaves in an hour. I go check-in with Delta. "I may actually get home tonight," I say to myself. I proceed through the Delta security check. I guess because I haven't had a haircut in a few months and haven't shaved in a week, they think I look like some kind of security threat. I get the full work-up. They thoroughly go through each of my bags. They pat me down, wave the metal detector over every inch of my body, make me take off my shoes, take off my belt, and empty my pockets. Despite this lengthy delay, I still get to the gate on time to board the plane. On the entire airplane, there were maybe 20 other people besides me.

I get to Atlanta on time and my mom is there to meet me. If you recall though, my luggage is still in Chicago because I didn't have time to claim it. So, I have to go to the other side of the airport once I arrive to file a missing bag report with American. Once there, they tell me that since Delta brought me to Atlanta, they have to find my bags for me, even though American is in possession of them. So, I walk back to the other side of the airport and file the claim with Delta. To their benefit, they were a lot more efficient than American. Where it took more than a week for American to return my lost bags in France, Delta had them back to me today (less than 24 hours).

It's good to finally be home.