Wednesday, July 21

Paris alone and happy

Taking a deep breath, it's time to explore alone once more. Finding confidence in yourself and moving on knowing that all I have is myself here is a challenge that I am afraid of but willing to face.

I stepped out of the hotel room, my cold gone for the most part. I started walking. The sun and the blue sky are beautiful in Paris. The feeling in the air had both the rush of New York and the deep connections of Portland.

I was in Paris, of course I had to go to the Louvre. What a place. Extremely grand, there were so many astounding pieces of beautiful art it was overwhelming and as everyone says, there is so much security and human bodies around the Mona Lisa it is hardly worth seeing in person. I much prefered looking at some of Leonardo's other works there like Landscape with Two Men Sitting near a Coppice.

The following day I walked to the Musée d'Orsay which I was really looking forward to. I spent hours looking at the paintings and standing with the grand statues. Seeing Monet in person was... indescribable.
The most beautiful thing I think I did in Paris however was to walk among the graves at Père Lachaise Cemetery. I felt surrounded by creative spirits. Not only of the dead but the other visitors as well. There were not to many of us but enough to build a sense of community as we walked, in personal meditation, thinking of those who are gone and of our own hopes and dreams.

Sunday, July 18

Paris alone

My days with close friends came to an end. It was almost worse saying goodbye to Aydin the second time for I already knew what missing him felt like.
Paris seemed duller without friends I knew with me. Duller and frightening. I only knew three words in French and those I spoke with a terrible accent. I was unsure of where to go and CouchSurfing was exploding at the seams with tourists.

I had made reservations at a small hotel that promised wifi but when I arrived I found it situated up a creepy alley and lacking internet. I moved on.
My search for a place to sleep for the night led me through the area around Socre Cour to another little hotel near a fountain and a number of restaurants and pubs. The main room was open and clean and the man at the front desk, kind. I booked a single room for several nights and was overwhelmingly happy to find it also included superfast wifi and better yet, my own lovely shower.

I woke the next morning feeling ill. Acy and sniffly and grouchy. I lazed in bed for the day planning all the adventures I could have in Paris..Update: May, 2011 but, and I can admit this now, frightened to leave the security of my little room. Finally as darkness fell I explored outside for a little shop and bought myself some bread and wine for dinner and went back up to my room.

Thursday, July 15

Paris with friends

Paris with Aydin and his parents was indescribably lovely.
The waves of old culture and new exploration mixed with the security of being with people I deeply care for was pure joy. It was an experience I will never forget.

Wednesday, July 14

First morning in Paris

Paris is one of those cities you never forget. It feels so wonderful and old and splendid. Far to splendid for the likes of me but whatever. I was here and they could just deal with me.

One thing to note, if you are a traveler heading into Paris do not do what I did and show up without a reservation or knowing anything about where you are going to stay for the night. Especially in summer. I always enjoy a good adventure but I think my knack for finding good luck is the only thing that got me through this trip so very unscathed.

Stepping off the overnight train I wandered aimlessly through the station, getting my barrings. The best deal, if you are staying in the city for several days, is to purchase the metro pass then add a 1 week credit to it. It'll give you limitless travel on the Metro for a full week without the pain of little tickets. Give yourself thirty minutes or so for purchasing though because the pass requires photo id. You can get your photo taken in one of those little photo booths right at the station which will print out a whole sheet of photos on sticker paper for about $5.

Then I was on the metro and on my way into the center of the city.

I ran into a bit of a hurdle almost immediately when I became confused by my extremely bad map and my lack of any knowledge of French so I go off several blocks early and was completely lost in a residential area of paris on the south east side of the river. It was awesome.

There should be a blues song for the 20-something traveler, wandering through a strange city, looking for free wi-fi. Though to more accurately fit my my mood at the time perhaps an perhaps an indi metal would have be more appropriate.

I enjoyed a nice long wander through the streets and parks and across the river. I passed several little pubs and shops that looked so interesting I swore to myself I would come find them again but I never did.

My surprise then, when I stepped around a corner and find myself surrounded by tourists and walking west on Champs-Élysées was quite enormous. I felt a bit bashed about by the dichotomy between the peace that had surrounded me and my big blue backpack all through the rest of Paris's small shops and lovely signage that melds perfectly into the whole ambiance of the city and the Champs-Élysées which feels quite a bit more like walking through downtown New York.

To further my surreal experience, the first shop I happened to walk by down this swarming thoroughfare was an enormous glass corner shop for Iran Air. I felt such a strange sense of relief seeing it. I knew that everyone would greet me as the same strange annoying American as any of the other French citizen would but at least I speak more Farsi than I do French. It was a centering point for me. That this other culture who had welcomed me in the past was here as well and maybe I wasn't as completely lost as I felt. I felt an urge to go inside and hug someone or got buy a ticket straight to Tehran.

But ahead I could see another familiar sign. A Starbuck's welcoming green lady with her arms outstretched. Promising one and all beneath her frightening corporate shadow that here they are sure to find caffeine and wifi.

It cost me almost $10 but I got my first medium latte in over a month. It was delicious caffeinated heaven.

My luck was to continue though for to my surprise who should be online but Aydin. And he was in Paris too. And I would be more than welcome to stay with him for a few days. Living situation solved.

And it was only 11am.

Monday, July 12

The night on Las Ramblas

The night of the world cup was the kind of experience that I truly lack the right words to fully describe.
A city wide explosion of celebration so loud and enthralling that even those of us new to the game were caught up in it and on that day I was the biggest football fan in the world. The world rolled with emotions, with screaming and crying. From one end of the city to the other bodies rolled and rocked and danced in waves of humanity. For you could not see the city streets for the bodies that celebrated on La Rambla that night, from the northern edge of the city the street party danced all the way to the sea.

The people milled and laughed and talked, then you would hear a crackle and fireworks would explode  into the center of a group. The crowd leapt back, laughing, the trickster gods were in full swing that night and no one seemed to mind. Dance circles formed and dissolved like waves. Circles of a hundred people, all strangers, laughing and enjoying what life had to offer. Then the dance party would meld back into the sea of people and we would wander further down the street and the cycle would begin again.

Every statue had people hanging from it waving Spanish flags. The sheer joy in the night, to think of it even now I could cry from the remembrance of the happiness that night.
Party on LasRamblas


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Sunday, July 11

Barcelona Day 1 and 2

Barcelona was not as impressive overall as I had hoped. There were a few notable events, namely Spain winning the world cup for which I will dedicate a whole post, but overall it was touristy and boring.

Upon arrival I found my couch surfing host and settled in. I was so exhausted from my bus trip I slept pretty much the whole day. In the evening I met my two fellow couch surfers, two lovely sisters from France. We made dinner together and talked about our travels. In the late evening we went out for a few beers at a local bar and played fosball but by 11pm, early by Barcelona standards we were all exhausted and crashed out.

The next day I headed out on my own. I found the Picasso museum and wandered the shops of las ramblas.

The Picasso museum was memorable for me, it showed not just Picasso's more famous works but also a large collection of the work from his early teens and the sketches he did while he was in school including a work book that he had sketched all over. It reminded me a little of some of Sean's sketchbooks. What I saw was more of the real person who was Picasso, I saw his uncertainties in early work, mistakes and lines that weren't quite right. It made me think about how critical I am of my own work. I have expectations of where I think I should be without having committed the years and years and years of bad drawing that I still need to finish. It helped me relax a lot and afterwards I found myself inspired to fill pages and pages and fill my first sketchbook so I was forced to go searching for an art store in Barcelona a few days later.

After the museum I found a little bar off of Las Ramblas called the Travel Bar which catered specifically to backpackers. There was free wifi and a ton of other travelers where you could just sit down with a beer and talk about your various journeys. While I was sitting at the bar a rather cute 20-something guy walked up to the bar and asked the bartender if she knew how to solve a computer problem he was having. She said she had no idea.
I was only half paying attention to their conversation as I was trying to solve my problem of having no couch to sleep on and no hostel to stay at when I arrived in Paris but I understood his problem with his camera and fixed it for him. He was very thankful and asked me if he could buy me a beer.

I was only partially paying attention to him and had gone back to what I was doing so I just shrugged and said, 'no, I'm good'.

He looked confused for a second then asked, "Are you sure, I would LOVE to buy you a beer."

I said no again.

It was only after he wandered away looking a bit defeated that I realized he had been trying to flirt with me. Oh well.

I finished up my work at the Travel Bar, having sent out numerous emails asking for a place to stay and went back to my hosts house to meet up with the French backpackers to get ready for the World Cup game.

Friday, July 9

Gibralter

Hey Look! I'm still alive and well. Sorry all, I'll try to get up to date as soon as possible.

At 6am I woke up with my hosts and shoved everything in my backpack and then slept the one hour car ride down to Gibralter.

Gibralter is a little tiny sorta country on the tip of Spain. What ammounts to one of England's few remaining colonies. You have to flash your passport as you drive past the border and the only way from Spain to Gibralter is to cross the Gibralter airline runway which begins and ends in the ocean. I watched a plane take off and land while traffic waited meters away behind a flimsy wooden gate. It was amazing but I am quite positive that eventually the precentages of the universe are going to make that airport go very very wrong.

Because Gibralter is British territory, despite being surrounded on one side by ocean and further along, Morocco and on the other three sides by Spain, they speak only English and use the British Pound for currency.

The city is small. I started at one of the furthest most points at the hotel that Gina and Mario worked at. I had coffee in the lounge as the sun rose over the ocean. I don't remember much about the first hour or so, its been a long time since I've woken up that early and I remmeber more of a fuzzy contented sleepy blearry buzz until the caffine started working.

Upon awakening enough energy to move I left my backpack in the hotel baggage room and started walking into downtown. I found out later there was a nice bus system around the town but so early in the morning I didn't mind the fourty-five minute walk into the city center where I had a more complete breakfast and some more coffee than another thirty minute walk to the trolly station that took people up to the top of the Rock of Gibralter.

The Rock of Gibralter is the only big tourist attraction. Legand has it that it was placed where it is by Herculese durring his trials. It rises out of the ground so tall that it shades the entire east side of the peninsula by five or six in the evening. Leaving hopeful sunbathers quite in the dark.

At the top of the rock are troops of wild monkeys. Many tourists visit the rock to see the 'adorable monkeys' in the hour I was at the top of the rock nothing I saw about these creatures could be deemed adorable.

One woman had her makup bag stolen and ripped to pieces, one woman was bitten and I had a money walk right up to my leg and try to grab my bag out of my hand. I am no ashamed to say I hissed at the little bugger and kicked at him. These monkeys are very wild animals but they have absolutely no fear of people at all. They are fed daily in an attempt to keep them at the top of the rock and to discourage them from wandering down into the city but it is still not uncommon to hear about small troops of them down in the city.

For me though, by 11:00 am I was quite finished with Gibralter and ready to head out.

I took a 30 minute bus back to Algeciras where I had originally arrived in Spain and then booked my bus all the way to Barcelona... a full eighteen hour bus trip from 18:30 - 12:30 the following day.

Random note, I don't know if I've mentioned this but they use twentyfour hour clocks everywhere in Europe. It takes some getting used to but after that it makes telling time much clearer.

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