Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Finally in Verona

The people of Verona like to drive. The traffic seems heavy all night long outside the apartment window. I woke up a bit earlier than I meant to, climbing out of bed at seven. I went to the kitchen to have what would become a routine breakfast; toast with nutella.

That first morning, in addition to getting to the school, I actually had to find it as well. I thought I knew how to get there, and as I had no map, or internet, I would have to rely on what I remembered from google earth.

I set out about 45 mins before the beginning of class as I had no real sense of how far a walk it was.

After making one short detour, I managed to find the street I was looking for, and proceeded to walk up and down it for about half an hour, looking for a sign indicating the school. Eventually I went into a building that seemed to be some sort of educational institute, and immediately saw a sign for the school. I followed the signs, through the lobby, down a long corridor, up some stairs, back outside onto the roof, and across a bridge thing.

I entered the school, and a lady popped her head out of the office, asked if I was Graham, and disappeared again. Seconds later, my teacher walked out, and directed me to a small classroom to begin my first private lesson.

She was very nice, and as it turns out, is my conversation class teacher now. The hour long class seemed to whip by in no time at all, and I soon found myself directed to a larger class where in just a few minutes I would meet my classmates.

Pretty quickly, the three other students entered, Julia, Rangel, and Beni. The teacher followed a few minutes late in, as I now know, a classically italian fashion.

We introduced ourselves, and learned where we all hailed from. Julia is Danish, Rangel Brazilian, and Beni Indian. The classes are conducted 100% in italian, so giving your full attention is kind of a necessity. The first hour and a half of class passed without any sensation of time, and we found ourselves with a half hour break.

The four of us students headed outside, and down the street a little ways to a bar. By bar I mean coffee bar, it has no real translation. It is a bar, but different. We all got cappuccinos in what would become a tradition, and little sandwiches.

Talking in english, we got to know each other a little bit more, and a bit about where we come from and why we are here.

Back in the school, we had another hour and a half of class, then we dispersed to our respective homes. I stopped along the way and got a nice bun on which to spread nutella.

After a quick lunch of pasta, Jake and I walked to the library thereafter to go on the internet. It is a 2 km walk in each direction, so it is a bit of a haul. We stayed there for a while, and eventually I left to head home.

The next few days saw me settling into a routine pretty much like that. I do a ton of walking, eat lots of pasta, nutella, and bread. I found one of my favorite kinds of tea in the grocery store on the weekend and I have had around ten cups a day since then.

I have timed my walk to the school at 11 minutes and still, I am always the first one to arrive, even though I step through the door only a minute or two early.

Today I took my camera out for a walk, and I got some nice pictures, and I will put those up in the next few days, as well as writing a bit more about the past week and a half.


Back to Verona

My second day in Brunek was a lot more laid back than the one before. Getting up and lazing about for most of the day seemed to be the plan of action.

Lawrence, Jake's little brother, and I shot arrows at an apple for a while. First we put the apple on the railing of the barn, but once we went to retrieve the arrows, we reconsidered and put the apple far from where they could get stuck.

We lost 3 arrows to the barn, having to snip them off where they entered the wood.

After lunch, all us young folk started watching Iron Man 2, initially in german, but eventually in english for my benefit. About 3 quarters of the way through the movie Jake got up and a few minutes later called out to ask if I was coming. When I enquired where, he said Verona. 

I replied yes, and having been prepared for this kind of situation, grabbed all my stuff an headed out to the car.

We were not driving back to Verona, but instead taking the train. In fact, it turned out that we were heading to an aunt an uncle's house first, where Jake and I were dropped off. We ate pizza, and after an hour and a bit got into the car with another aunt and uncle who live nearer to Verona. They gave us a ride to a town just south of Bolzano where we caught the train to Verona.

We arrived late that night, and I went to bed for my first of many sleeps in Verona.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Day In Brunek

Waking up on saturday the 20th, I looked out the window and saw the picture perfect mountain scene that had been obscured by darkness the night before.

The light dusting of snow on everything, settling on the trees like iceing sugar, and the sharp lines of the treeless peaks, as well as the traditional colors and shapes of the mountain houses made the scene unforgettable.

I went downstairs and found much of the family already up in the kitchen/sitting/breakfast/snack room. I had tea, and wonderful bread, as well as a whole range of tasty goodies.

We all just sat around for a bit, talking in a multitude of languages. Jake and slipped out to the TV room and started watching Robin Hood, the new one. It was not bad. As soon as we finished, it became apparent that we all of a sudden had to leave to go to town.

It has been my experience, and my families before me that with this family, everything is humming along, and then with seemingly no warning, they reach a critical mass, and whatever was going to happen happens right then.

In this case, Jake got up as the movie was ending, then a minute later called me. I came over to find him half way out the door, all ready to go to town. I got ready quickly and we were on our way.

Another thing with Italians in general is that they seem to keep doing whatever they are doing for as long as they can, and then have to rush to get to the next thing, and the next, and so on. It is an interesting cultural thing.

In this case, we were rushing to town to get our hair cut. It is about a half hour drive, even going super fast like the Italians do, and we arrived right on time at the salon. They seemed to know Jake at the upscale establishment, and we were ushered in to the seats.

With ample hand gestures, and a little help translating, I got accross what I wanted. The first stop was the hair washing place. The seats were massage chairs, and for the 15 mins or so that I had my head massaged with shampoo and conditioner, I had my back warmed and massaged by the chair itself.

Back in the chair, I was given the choice of tea or coffee, and a selection of magazines to choose from. I chose a car one, and looked at the pictures as it was all in german. After the cut itself, the woman who had been cutting my hair gave me a soothing face massage with some kind of cream.

It was much different than what I am used to in barber shops in Canada.

Sophia met us there, and we walked back to the car, then rushed back to their house for lunch.

Oh what a lunch it was. I think there were four courses, pastas, salads, breads, wines, treats, and much much more. These Italians sure know how to eat. Their food is just amazing. Everything about it is just about perfect.

The most amazing desert was the Pandora cake thing. It is a funny shaped cake with icing sugar sprinkled on it, and it is just soooo good. There are no words to describe it.

After lunch, I got ready to go, as I knew we were heading into town soon to play laser tag. It turned out that I was right on time, as we soon left, 5 of us. We picked up Jakes girlfriend Julia, and we headed to the laser tag place. It was really cool. So much fun.

After however long of playing, and our time had expired, we got score sheets. I won, but there was a close second. It gave all the data that one could want on it. It was really cool actually. I like things like that.

We went next door to the sports bar and had a drink, then piled back in the car to head back to their house.

There was no formal dinner, but there were lots of snacks and little dishes and desserts to choose from. Sophia, myself and her uncle played a game of cards for a while.

Sophia, Jake, Julia and I were going out that night, and we left fairly late. We parked the car, and went into a bar.

The night went on, and it was a lot of fun. We went to a few different places, and met a lot of Jake's, Julia's, and Sophia's friends.

At 2 o'clock, Sophia and I headed to the bus station, Jake staying at Julias house in town. We had to take the nightliner bus back out towards their house. Getting on was an experience, and the bus was totaly packed full.

It took a long time to get out to her valley, almost at the end of the line. By this time it was past three, and we had to wait a few minutes for the next vehicle, this time some sort of taxi van to take us up to her house.

We got dropped of right at the house, and went quietly to bed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Train To Italy

To set the scene, I am sitting in the deserted upstairs lounge of the Paris Bercy train station. By this time, I had been waiting for around 2 hours. I got up and went in search of a bathroom, and, in doing so found the first class lounge. I went in and asked, and the nice man said there was one in there.

I was allowed to sit in the nearly empty lounge with nice chairs for about an hour an a half. It started to get busy then, and I headed out and downstairs to the platform.It was about half an hour or so before the train departed, and people were finding their way to their coaches. Mine turned out to be the last one of the train, just a few meters down the platform.I got in, and saw that it was the stereotypical train car. It had a narrow passage down one side, and there were compartments coming off of it with fold out beds.

I found mine, and stowed my bag. Other people started coming in, and by the time the train left, all 6 beds were full. None of them spoke english, so I did not talk much with any of them.

At the strike of 20:33, the train started pulling out of the station, perfectly on time. I stood in the back of the car, where the door to the next car would be, and looked out at the receding station. I like things like that so it was really cool.

Standing there for the next 30 mins or so as we left Paris, I watched other trains slide past us in both directions, and all sorts of cool things you don`t see looking out the side of a car.

Settling down into my seat, I read for a little while, then headed forward to the dining car where I purchased a sandwich. It was the first Italian I had to speak as the train was a TrenItalia service.

A few hours later, we converted the compartment to sleeping mode, all 6 beds folded down, and the seats non existent. with the lights turned out, I slept for a while, waking up whenever we stopped in the stations along the route.

At around 5 in the morning, I decided I was not going to fall asleep again, and I got up to watch the world go by. We soon pulled into Milano, a huge station with many trains going in and out even in the early hours of the morning.

To my surprise, when we started moving again, it was in the opposite direction. Milano is a terminus station, so we had to go back the other way for a bit to get onto the track we wanted, but it was sure a shock until I figured it out. We were now the first car in the train, a locomotive having attached itself to our car.

I watched the black morning sliding by, slowly getting brighter and brighter. Eventually, as we were approaching Verona, the sun came up.

The train by this time was about half an hour late, and we pulled in to Verona Porta Nouva at 7:55 instead of 7:25.

The first thing I saw after stepping off the train was a palm tree brightly lit by the sun. Quite a difference from Rouen the morning before. I went out the main exit and found Jakob, who was just arriving himself.

We walked out of the station, and accross the expansive bus terminal, and into the city to his apartment.It is near the station, and in fact, near to just about everything in Verona. The downtown area is quite compact, and walking everywhere is possible.

The first thing I saw upon entering the appartment was the most massive jar of Nutella known to man.

That is a 1 liter jug of milk beside it. The behemoth weighs in at 5 kilos. It is awesome.

I got a tour of the flat, quite expansive, and very nice, then we headed out to town to go to the library. We took a little bit of a detour to see the main square, Piazza del Erbe, and eventually ended up at the biblioteca.

The library is the only place were there is internet that I have found so far, so to go online it is a half hour walk, then another to get home. Welcome to modern Europe.

The city is amazing. Totally different than anything I have seen so far. The roman arena, and old city wall, as well as the churches and cathedral are all made of red brick. We walked past Juliettes balcony and saw all the messages people have written on the walls.

After an hour or so in the library, we had to head back to the apartment as we were going to Jakobs house in the afternoon, and his mom was already in Verona. It was my first time meeting Astrid, although the whole rest of my family had.

I also met the other three people living in the apartment, including Jake`s brother Mathias. We went out again, looked at a piano store, then went to eat lunch. I was introduced to my first real Italian food, and it was amazing. There were 4 courses to the meal.

It started with litte open faced sandwich things, then went to some pasta soup stuff, then to a vegetable and meat dish, then finnally an amazing dessert. Also present were a few glasses of wine, and some mineral water.

That completed, we went back to the apartment and to the car. Jakob drove us out of the city, towards the autostrada. Once on the highway, we started accelerating. It is quite the experience.

By the time we got up to cruising speed, we were going faster than I had ever gone in a car, around 160kmh cruising speed, and still were getting passed. When that happened, we moved over into the right lane where the trucks are, all traveling at 80kmh, then zoomed towards the truck in front, then zipped back over into the left lane.

Crazy drivers.

We soon entered the first of the different kinds of valleys we would that day. This one was wide, with a flat bottom, and many fields stretching accross it.

The valley got narrower and narrower, until it no longer had any flat places in it, and the highway crisscrossed from side to side, weaving in and out of tunnels, and crossing many bridges.

After a few hours, we got off the highway, about 40 km before it enters Austria, and turned into another valley. The road was now narrow, and really curvy. By this time, the valley was just a narrow cleft in the folds of the earth, the land dropping off to one side of the road, and soaring up to the other.

We eventually reached Brunek, or Brunico in Italian. The native language in this part of Italy is German, as well as many many local dialects. We spent quite a time in Brunek, dropping off the flatmate we had given a ride, picking up Sophia and Tobi, the two who had visited our house in the summer, and eventually getting Jakobs girlfriend as well as another of his brothers.

When we finally got on our way again, another half hour of driving ahead of us, it was very dark, and the road was even curvyer. After turning off into another valley, it headed up, gaining probably a couple thousand feet of altitude.

The road in this valley was strait for long sections because although the valley has no flat in it really, it is fairly strait. Right at the end of the valley, starting up the hill towards the mountains, and past the last town is their house.

As I stepped out of the car, I stepped down into a thin layer of snow. Quite a change from just a few hours before.

I finally met the rest of the family after having heard about them for about two years. We had a marvalous supper of lasagne. They are the kind of family that just absorbs any extra people and makes them feel a part of their life.

I settled in for a nights sleep in the perfect silence of the mountain air.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Galette, Gaufre, Guimauve, and Other Adventures.

If I lived in France, I would probably have a sugar overdose within a week. Not only do they have more desserts than you can even imagine, the have them with lots of sugar. They even, get this, put sugar into their hot chocolate!

On sunday, I met up with a good friend of my sister. Anais, who is from just outside Rouen, picked me up from where I was staying, even farther out in the country. This was the first time we had met, and it was really nice to meet her, as I had heard much about her from my sister. 

Her mom drove us downtown, and she showed me around the town. I happened to have arrived during a 2 week long fair that comes to town every year, bringing with it many rides and food stalls.

We walked though the throngs at the fair, heading downstream along the Seine. The fair stretches for quite a ways along the river. I tried a crepe with Nutella, very tasty, and we walked some more. Anais got me guimauve, a candy with a taffy like consistency, but a flavour that is quite unique. It took me almost an hour to eat it.

Just as we were leaving the sun made a brief appearance, shining down on the cathedral.

We crossed back over the river to the Rouen side, and I saw the place my sister came to sit with her friends. We walked and walked all over for quite a time, seeing all there is to see in Rouen, including Jean d'Arc's place of captivity, and where she was burned. 

We took the bus out to her house, a little ways away, up out of the river valley. I met her brother, then her sister, and he mom again. Her sister speaks english, and we all sat down and talked, well her sister talked, and we tried to get a word in, until it was time to get a ride back out to my host house in Isneauville.

Dinner this time was a lot more relaxed and quiet. No dancers to be seen. We had quiche Lorraine. That is a very very tasty dish. Afterwards, I tried some cheeses, and found that there are some I really really don't like. I had a hard time getting the Camembert to stay down. 

After a chat on skype to my family, I went to bed.

Sleeping until 10 is a very nice feeling. I woke up and found that the sun was shining, and the clouds were all gone. 

I had lunch when Jean Claude came home at noon, the leftovers of the previous night's dinner. Heading into town with my camera, I set out to take advantage of the rare sunlight.

It turned out that it was not sunny for very long, the clouds rolled in pretty quickly, so I did not get to much in the way of photographs. I did however find something very tasty. "Pain au Chocolat" is the name. Basically a square croissant with chocolate. Mmmmmmmm......

At 4 I met up with Anais when she got out of school, and we went right to a bakery and got a baguette for me to eat.

Finishing it on the bus, we got off about half way to her house. We walked and walked all through Mont St Aignon, visiting a beautiful park next to the golf course I had been to, and eventually ended up at her house again, and this time made started making crepes. The first one turned out horribly, but then Anais's mom showed up and corrected our rookie mistakes. They turned out great after that, and we had them with all sorts of dessert toppings from chocolate, to jam, to honey.

A ride back to Isneauville later, I was having supper. I can't really remember what we ate that night, but I am pretty sure it was tasty.

Tuesday morning brought with it fog, and lots of it. I had lunch with Jean Claude again, and spent the early afternoon writing the post before this one, and figuring out how to get it onto their Mac that is the only thing connected to the internet.

I eventually succeeded, and headed to out to meet Anais once again at her school. At her house again, her mom made us something kinda like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but very different, and all together more French, and we sipped some of Normandy's famous cider.

Anais and I got a ride into town to a little bar where we sat amidst very funky decorations. We each had the little bartender's secret recipe, beer with a touch of vodka and lemon added, and although very skeptical at first, having tasted it, it is an unlikely but quite pleasing combination.

In the morning, having got a ride back to Isneauville after leaving the bar, I got up a little early, and went to town to meet Anais at noon. We went to a cafe and had galettes, myself choosing the Tuscan one with mozzarella, tomatoes, and various herbs.

We went across the river to get dessert. We both got gaufre, a special waffle with many choices of toppings.

After walking towards the bus, we decided to visit the fine arts museum. There were many many amazing paintings, and some of them were huge. Absolutely mind blowingly huge.

The coolest thing was one of the staircases. I was painted with seemingly random patches of orange, going in all different directions, and all different colors, but when you looked at the convex mirror placed in one of the corners, the orange formed perfect circles. It was not just standing in one spot that it occured either, you could stand anywhere in the stairwell, and the reflected image was always of perfect orange circles. Very cool.

Once we got off the bus at her house, we went in and watched tv for a while, talking all the time. I had to leave early to get back to Isneauville. After saying goodbye, and promising to come back soon, I took the bus back to Rouen, then to Isneauville, getting in just after dark at around 5. 

We were heading to the neighbor's house for supper that evening, and we left shortly after I got in. 

Dinner was cous cous again, and afterwards we played a fun game where there were cards that had clues in french, and one person read those out, and the rest tried to guess the english phrase or band name, or place, or whatever. Lots of laughs.

I said goodbye to the family then, as I would not see them the next day.

Waking a little earlier, I packed and made sure all of my travel plans worked. I was taking the train to Paris early in the afternoon, and then in the evening getting on the night train to Verona. All of the schedules still looked the same, and after heading to the post office to send off requested gifties, I went to Rouen for the final time, headed to the Gare, and bought my ticket. 

After a little wait, I got on the train, a non stop to St Lazare, and settled in. I started writing this post then, but didn't get too far as I was too interested in looking out the windows.

In Paris once again, went down into the metro and took line 14 towards the Paris Bercy station. Line 14 is an automated line, and it has very few stops, so the distance was covered quickly. 

A bit of a walk put me in the Paris Bercy station. It is where the night trains to Italy, as well as the auto/sleeper trains leave from. I bought my ticket and sat down. By this time it was around 4, and the train did not leave until 8.30, so I went to look for a quieter place to sit than the main lounge. 

Going up the stairs, I found a deserted waiting room, and down a long hallway saw another that would have a view of all the tracks going into Gare de Lyon, a very busy station. I got into it, and was surprised to see that all the seats were pushed to the sides, and it looked like it was not really in use.

I sat down anyways, and for nearly an hour sat undisturbed, several employees coming out of a door, looking surprised to see me and walking away. The view of the tracks was very good, and I saw many many TGVs going in and out of the station.

Eventually I got asked to leave, and behind me they locked the doors and put up a no entry sign. Sitting in the deserted lounge for quite a time, I read my book quietly.

Next post will take over from there, and should finally catch up with real time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Not Your Routine Meal

It sure knows how to rain in Normandy. When I woke, the view out the window was all funny because of the rain. I have seen a lot of rain in my life, living in one of the rainiest places on earth, but this rain was intense, co;in out of the sky with immense vigour, like all the water in the air longed to be on the ground all at once.

After a breakfast of fresh bread and nutella, Gheslain and I headed out into the rain to get apples for the dessert she was making. We donned our jackets and scarves, and by the time a minute had passed, my goretex jacket was soaked through.

The market we went to, just down the street, had all kinds of goodies. Stalls selling fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries, flowers, meats, and more covered the little square.

Back inside, I watched the preperations for lunch. It was going to be a special meal, as it was the birthday of Marianne, the daougher of the family. She was coming in from Paris on the train in hour or so, and after preparing the apple tarte that was dessert, we went to Rouen to pick up a gift for Marianne, as well as Marianne herself.

Walking in Rouen for the first time in daylight, I saw many more amazing buildings. The town is spectacular, the spire of the cathedral reaching many tens of meters into the air.

None of the buildings seem to have straight lines in them, and they just bulge out to occupy as much space as they can, or sag due to the centuries they have stood. There are all different colors, with the wood crossbeams usually a contrasting color. It is impossible, no matter how hard you try, to recreate the scene in a photograph.

Back at their house, the meal was fantastic. It was veal with green beans, and bread, cheese, and ham, with wines to choose from. The apple tart dessert was fantastic.

Later that day I was to head to the other side of town to another of my sisters host families. I did not have the phone number or address of the family, and as the day progressed I was trying to contact my mom, and my sister in Canada as they woke.

I eventually did reach them, although it did not help much, they did not have any of the information either.

I did know where the house was, my sister having showed it to me on Google earth, so the plan was that we would head out there and see what happened. I finally managed to get their phone number, and we contacted them, and everything was all right.

Having heard from them a month or so ago, I knew that there was some sort of little party going on that night. I thought that it was going to be a few friends over or something like that. It turned out that we were heading to their golf course for a dinner party. The theme was to be Morrocan.

Now when I pictured a dinner at a french golf club, I pictured quiet music, peacful views, subdued tones. As it turns out, I was dead wrong. As wrong As I could be.

When we arrived we put our coats away in the back room. In the entrance area, there were probably around 90 people, all sipping wine, and talking, many dressed in Morracan garb. The music was turned up, and a few people were pretending not to be dancing.

Pretty soon, a magician arrived. He set up a little table, and the space around him quickly filled with curious faces, young and old. He started off with coin conjuring tricks, and the ones with cups and balls underneath. He was pretty good. After doing that for a wile, he moved on to cards.

He was really good at cards. He was making things appear and dissapear and change in ways that I could not figure out, and usually I can figure these tricks out. He finished, and moved to another spot. I followed him and made sure I was watching not the hand he was doing something with, but the other, to try to figure it out. I could not. He moved again, and I took up a spot behind him, and still I could not understand.

That magician was very good. Funny too, and I could not even understand what he was saying!

We moved into the dining room after a little while, tabes for 10 set out with many glasses, knives, forks, and candles. I regretted allready that I had not brought my camera. I was seated at a table with 20 somethings who spoke english. Mostly they talked in french, but it was still fun. The wine arrived, Morrocan, both a rose and a red.

Eventually the cous cous got there. It was simply amazing. The taste was exquisite. About half way through the meal, the lights dimmed and the music got a lot louder. We all looked around, trying to find the reason.

As laser lights turned on, two girls dressed with sequins and jingly things came out and started dancing throught the tables. It was very bizzare. It went on for three songs, and then they left.

After the dessert course came out, so did the dancers again. This time, after the first song, they started pulling guys up and dancing with them. Finally, at around midnight, the family came and got me and we left to go home, the party anything but winding down.

It was a strange, but very fun second night in Rouen, but it was nice to get to sleep.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Paris and Beyond

Waking up in Paris, a city often touted as the most beautiful in the world is a wonderful feeling. I woke up late, around 10, and after preparing for the day, and re-packing my bag, I went downstairs and checked out.

The hostel has a secure store place for luggage, and I left mine there.

Wanting to see the Eiffel Tower, I hopped on the metro, and after one change of lines I got off at Invalides. As it turns out, that is quite a walk from the tower. It was a bit cold, and raining a little, but it was nice to just absorb the sounds and sights of France.

After catching a small glimpse of the top of the tower from the metro station, it was invisible until just a few minutes before reaching it. It popped out from behind the buildings in its immense glory.

It is huge. Framed agains the grey sky it looked like a beautiful black and white painting. The tower spreads its massive bases over a huge plaza underneath, crawling with the tourists absent so far in my trip.

To take in the whole tower properly one must walk away from the river towards the military academy. I sat on a bench and just stared for what must have been half an hour.

To build such a structure is a feat of engineering, even today, and it was built so long ago, and in addition with a grace that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

I did not go up into the tower, however I did walk back under it again, braving the mobs of souvineer sellers.

Walking towards the military academy again, I took the customary self picture in front of it, and stopped to take a picture for a couple with the magestic structure as the backdrop.

Deciding that instead of walking around Paris then, I would wait until the spring and hope for better weather, I headed back to the hostel.

The night before when I had originaly found the hostel, I had used the correct exit, and found myself pointing in the right direction. This time I most certainly did not.

I walked and walked and walked for around half an hour until I finally found the correct road. As it turns out the metro station I was using had 5 exits, all widely spaced.

Back at the hostel, I retrieved my bags, and read for some time.

At around 3 I left for Gare de St Lazare. Upon arrival I found the ticket booth, and after purchasing my ticket I went inside to find the platform. To my surprise the ticket had no platform writen on it, and it appeared to work the same as a metro ticket, you validated it when you want to use it.

I wandered around with my big pack for a while, looking at all the departure screens for Rouen. I finnaly found it, and walked over to the platform. I validated my ticket, then walked along the train a ways to find a seat. What seemed like a kilometer later, I entered the lower level of the double deck train, and sat down.

Soon after, right on time, the doors slid shut, and the train rolled out of the station. Just like the Eurostar, this train was so smooth, and once out of the station area and its multitude of junctions, there was once again the feeling of gliding over the rails.

It sped up to its remarkable cruising speed, and soon emerged into the countryside. Sliding through France at what seems to be hundreds of kilometers per hour is quite an experience for someone who has never experienced it before, and my face was glued to the window the whole way until it got dark.

There were only 3 or 4 stops before arrival in Rouen, the terminus of the train's service.

The riders of the train and I all piled off and up into the terminal building. I was to be picked up by my sisters host mother from last year, but I did not know when or where, or even what she looked like.

I parked myself in the main hall of the building with my pack, and sat down to wait. Just ten minutes later I was hailed from across the hall. We introduced each other, and it turned out that I was just where I was supposed to be, right at the right time.

As I dont speak french, and she doesnt speak french, the ride was quiet for the most part, although we were able to communicate a bit with our very limited command of the others language.

It was my first experience in a car in Europe, and man was it ever crazy. They do not seem to have any regard for lanes, or signs, or pedestrians, or anything outside the car. It was somewhat hair raising, but it was really cool to see a little bit of the city my sister loves so much.

I caught a glimpse of her school, and of several churches and the cathedral. The architecture of Rouen is just amazing, the city being many centuries old.

Arriving at her house on the other side of the river, I met her husband, and was shown around the house. Arriving later in the evening was their son Guillame, who speaks fluent english.

I settled in, and spoke/gestured with my hosts. They have a very nice house, small, but with everything tucked away in neat ways.

Guillame arrived an hour or so later with his girlfriend, also fluent in english, and we all sat down for appetizers. I had my first french wine, a very strongly flavoured one as it turns out.

Soon after we settled in for dinner, potatoes, ham, and cheese mixed together in a dish called Tarteflete, or something like that. In any case it was very tasty, and we had desert of ice cream.

The three of us young folk headed out to Rouen at this time, already after eight in the evening.

We stopped first at a friends house, and spent a little bit there before heading into the city.

Finding parking was a bit crazy, the winding streets filled to the brim with cars already. We eventually found a spot, and walked towards Rue de Gros Horlage, the most famous street in the city. It has a big clock on an arch about half way down, and ends at the cathedral.

The buildings are amazing in Rouen. I looked at the date on one and it read 1630. A 380 year old building with a clothes shop in the bottom and apartments above. None of the buildings had straight sides, all of them bulged out in odd directions. They seemed to be just squished in between the others, all depending on the one beside for support.

We stopped at a bar, by this time our group numbering 14 with many other friends having joined us.

Even with the language difference, it was a lot of fun, and we managed to communicate with our limited vocabularies and with our gestures. Lots of fun to be meeting my sisters friends from last year as well.

Eventually we headed off, back to the house we had visited earlier to watch a very odd tv show in which the mother of a grown man chooses between several women trying to be his wife. Strange.

In bed I fell asleep right away, my second night in france having been tons of fun, with lots of new people, and new sight sounds and smells.

I was sleeping in the bed my sister had last year, and it was nice to see it in real life after seeing it so many times on skype.

Paris was nice, but Rouen with so many people to connect with was so far, a lot of fun.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Tube, The Train, The Metro

After a such a wonderful time in London I had no desire to leave. But, alas, it had to be done. I woke and packed my bag, made difficult by the fact that my bed was so close to the ceiling that I could not stand it up to put things in, and also the fact there were so many people sleeping still.

I managed to do it, and after leaving my room for the final time went to the luggage storage room. Paying my 2 pounds I headed out to Tesco for breakfast.

When I got back I really didn't feel like going anywhere at all. I just sat in the common room for a while watching the music video channel that was on the television. Eventually I went and got my computer and started writing my blog, but eventually gave up and started talking to a guy from eastern England.

At about one I decided I should probably start heading off as I had a long ways to go. I went down to the tube for the last time, heading for the first time to St Pancras Station.

I purchased a ticket for the 14:02 train to Paris, and after going through the security and border control sat for a short wait in the lounge.

Soon, the train was opened for boarding. It is soo huge. it seemed to stretch out of view in both directions when I got up to the platform. They are marvels of engineering. I walked to the back end of the train, snapped a picture, then went into coach 4 where my seat was.

I was sitting beside a french woman, and neither of us spoke the others language at all so we didn't really talk at all. The train left right on time, pulling out of the station perfectly at the strike of 14:02.

It was such a neat experience. I am used to the train on Vancouver Island which does not even begin to compare in any way to the amazingness of the trains here. There is no feeling of the rails, it just feels like floating across the ground.

We soon descended into the first tunnel that took us most of the way out of London. Through the countryside and industrial areas we went, zooming by at hundreds of kilometers an hour. Really really fast!

We had a short stop just before the Chunnel, and soon we were hurtling along it. It was really not all that exiting, it was just a dark tunnel that went on for a long time. there was no sense of what had just been accomplished when we emerged into France.

The sun had set by then, and the clouds made it very dark. I read until arrival at Gare de Nord.

That was my first real experience with a busy train station, and it was quite amazing. So amazing that I forgot to take any photos at all.

I followed the signs to the metro, and after buying my ticket, headed off to the platform I wanted.

I had to make a change to get to the hostel, and that was accomplished without any problems. I got off the metro at the stop nearest the hostel, and after a careful check that I was headed in the right direction I set off on the ten minute walk.

I found it with no problem, and headed in. I got my room and headed upstairs.

It was a 3 bed room, and one of the beds was empty, just myself and another man staying in it.

After a quick meal of an omelette and fries, I tried to connect to the internet to no avail. Deciding to give up I went upstairs and read for a bit before falling asleep.

It was a long day, and I was sad to say goodbye to London, but also exited for the new wonders just a sleep away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More of London, More of Klass and Anne

I am a little behind on the posting of things. I was right on top of it, and then for inexplicable reasons, the internet simply would not talk to my computer. Strange things.

Anyways, Wednesday brought with it the promise of clear, sunny skies. I woke early and headed out for a walk. I took my big camera with me, and wandered down from Piccadilly to the Thames, going just on the east side of St James Park.

I walked east along the river, then headed over the bridge at Embankment station. I walked back down the other side of the river past the London Eye, and to Westminster Bridge. Across the bridge and past Big Ben I went into a Tesco, a store where you can get cheap anything, and got some breakfast.

From there I went up to Trafalgar Square, and got on the Tube, going only one stop, the cold finally having got to me.

Here are some of the results of my early morning photo walk.

I met up with Klaas and Anne, and we had some tea in the common room, then went out to the tube. We were heading out to Chelsea to see how much tickets to the football game were.

We took 3 different trains to get there, having to change at several stations.

The stop we wanted exited into a mall, and as we were leaving we saw a Starbucks and decided to stop there on the way back. We got to the stadium, and walked around to the ticket booth, and got in the short queue.

When we got to the front, we learned that the seats were going to be 64 pounds, and they were way way way up in the top section. Definitely not worth it.

A stop at the Starbucks, and we were on our way again.

We went back to the hostel for a quick rest, then were off again, this time in the opposite direction. Heading east on the District line we got off at Tower Hill. Walking out of the station you see the Tower of London, hence the name.

Another tower related thing there is the Tower Bridge. We walked out along it, and then payed the 5 pounds to get the tour. The elevator takes you to the walkways at the top. The view is pretty cool.

We walked down after exploring the top for a while, and took a tour of the engine room where they used to open the bridge from.

After walking back across the bridge, and back to the station, we took it one stop to Monument, a tribute to the damage caused by the London Fire.

The monument itself is a giant column with a viewing platform at the top, reached by a 311 step spiral staircase. That is quite the climb. The view is worth it though.

At the bottom, they give you a certificate that you have climbed it, and survived. A neat touch indeed

From the monument we went to Piccadilly Circus again, this time staying in at the fountain. I had arranged with my family that I would be at that certain place at a certain time, and that they would at the same time look at the webcam of Piccadilly Circus.

To make sure I was identifiable, Klaas, Anne, and I held up a Canadian Flag. We had several people come take pictures with us which was funny because Klaas and Anne are not Canadians.

After the appointed time had come and gone, I went back to check if it had worked, and they went to find some food. I met up with them shortly, and we ate quickly by the fountain.

A short time later, we were on the tube again, this time heading to Adlegate East. It was not quite apparent what we were looking for, so, after walking in a big circle, we got back on the tube and continued on to Liverpool Street Station, where Klaas and Anne's train to the airport departed later that night.

We found a pub for later and went back to the hostel one last time.

In the common room, we met Bruno, from northern Spain. He was a hoot to talk to, and a while later when we headed to Oxford Circus to go shopping, he tagged along with us. We walked and walked and walked, and finally found the store, a discount place with amazing prices.

Anne was the only one who wanted or needed anything, so the three of us followed her around.

She ended up getting the most ridiculous pajamas ever. A fleece one piece with a funky pattern. It was awesome.

We headed down Central line to the train station, and went into Dirty Dicks Pub across the street. I dared Anne to wear her PJs to order, and for the rest of the time we were there, and she did, with 5 pounds of encouragement that is.

We said goodbye much to soon after. Them leaving to Stanstead for the flight home, and myself and Bruno to the hostel again.

I will miss them, and hope to see them soon in their home town in Holland.