christmas and new year's in england

once you stop blogging for a little while, you kinda lose your touch and your subconscious schedule -- that part of you that says "man i need to update for this week". but here's my game of catch-up.

I ran for a flight that was three hours delayed.
I met a real interesting guy who was sloppy, imposing, and very British. as well as an obnoxious mother and her son. finally on the plane, i had a big cup of cocoa that wasn't free but was still worth it... and a couple cat naps.

a friend of dave's picked me up from the airport just after 1am. it was truly wonderful to have someone make a fuss over me, making sure I was taken care of, fed, and comfortable. plus they had one of the cutest dogs i've ever met! the next day he took me to dave and anna's place. it was so cold and snowy i didn't want to go anywhere. and the next day too. finally on tuesday, i went out for the afternoon to see natalie and chris. we really just wandered around everywhere for a few hours - saw the national gallery at trafalgar square, saw the parliament and westminster through the upper deck bus windows, and went to the winter wonderland in hyde park. it was cold and rainy. it was nice to see them and some of london :) i'll be going back there in a few days, so i'm not too concerned about that.... unless it decides to snow again *knock on wood*.

on wednesday the 22nd, i took a coach (a bus) from london to birmingham, but it was an hour late because of a heavy snow that was falling in the birmingham area. what was I thinking taking a bus that drives on the wrong side of the road? i got used to it pretty quick, mostly because it's just like looking in a mirror the whole time. fortunately, i hadn't bought any train tickets toward telford, where steve and sam live, because the first train i tried to catch was cancelled so i had to wait another half hour for the next one. i got there just a minute before they got to the station to pick me up - fortunately the weren't still snowed in!

so now i'd been here for a whole week! we were snowed in a bit because it didn't melt until a couple days ago. sam and i went shopping on thursday and yesterday (wednesday), the first to scope out selection, and the second to snag some deals during the after-christmas sales. on christmas eve sam and i had a girly day where she did my hair and we painted our nails, and then tried to build a snowman, but it ended up being a snow monster. we all watched a movie and stayed up till midnight when we opened presents (well, more just me because they've been spoiling each other for the past month or so). on christmas day i made biscotti in the morning, and then we cooked a feast for dinner, complete with christmas crackers (yay english traditions!).

on sunday, we popped over to church and had a nice service. on monday we had some people over for dinner and a game of cluedo (what we call "clue" in the states). they had changed all the rules, at least that's how it seemed, so it took quite a while to figure out how to play. the rest of the week consisted of after-christmas shopping and a few bubble baths :) on new year's eve we went to a party with steve's old roommates, which was fun, and then to a little party at one of the churches they go to, where we did the countdown and popped confetti poppers. apparently people also release lit chinese lanterns -- and my goodness were they pretty! i had a moment of quiet contentment (i.e. crying) watching the fireworks go off and the lanterns gently floating away.

on sunday we went to church in (well, near) birmingham, but we left early so we could go to ironbridge on the way; it was the first iron bridge built in europe and predated the industrial revolution by quite a ways. we had tea and the popped out of town. it was so cute and quiet, quaint really. i liked it a lot.

after church, we went out for lunch and then coffee before i grabbed a train to london (instead of taking the coach i had booked). in the following few days, i would run about seeing some sights. i got to see sonya (one of my suite mates from first year at UCSD) who is studying in london this year.

and then it was back to lyon. and it felt good to be home. and to speak french again. but i didn't have school (except finals).


paris in rainboots

i can't decide whether to bombard you with pictures or to tell you a story. we'll see how this ends up.

this is my first time taking the TGV (train de grande vitesse- the super fast train). it was limited to 220km/hr for the whole trip. it snowed an inch in the last 45 minutes. it's a whopping 18 degrees (-7C) out which means you can see the breath coming out your nose. I was surprised at how empty the train was but they told us we'd be stopping at another station in Lyon which is bigger and more centrally located so I bet that's where all the people are.

the French countryside sure is lovely when it's covered in snow :)

first impressions on paris: the train station was like a small city alone! the metro system is much more elaborate and widespread here compared to Lyon but pretty straightforward. I bought a five day transit pass which I dare say will be cheaper in the end. I ended up walking on pony neufchâtel (what the heck iPhone pont neuf). I could see notre dame so I high tailed it back to hôtel de ville (I want to save the big stuff to see with Natalie!).

now I'm getting my wits about me at shabnam's place (the friend I'm staying with). and waiting for Natalie to get here though I'm tempted to go me promène in the freezing cold! I'll have to pop over to a grocery store to pick up some tea and soup and the like so we can eat for cheap and stay warm. I've gone over the map I have and circled all the places I'd like to check out while I'm here. hopefully shorter daylight won't get in the way of that. however I am planning to come back in the spring so maybe we can just stick to the stuff that Natalie doesn't want to miss.

unfortunately when I got to the stop where I was supposed to find Natalie, I called her and the first thing she said was "thank god you called me because I'm in Brussels!" It was rather garbled so when I repeated the question "what? where are you?" she said "BELGIUM I'm in BELGIUM". apparently her plane couldn't land because of the fog. so then she had to get on a bus to Paris which would take like 4 hours. so I was content going out for a drink with Shabnam and her friends and the couch surfers who were also staying there. we went to a bar that had a nice ambiance but was soooooo crowded. however it was worth it for the cheap beer. (important since I was doing this trip on the cheap).

natalie texted me when she was leaving from the airport stop that was 75 minutes out of paris so i knew when to leave. that was enough time for my second beer... thank goodness cold air sobers you up! she gave me the fattest hug when we finally met up, at almost midnight. so we hit up mcdonald's on our way back to our couch.

on saturday, we headed out fairly early in the morning, stopped in at brioche dorée (bakery chain) for hot chocolate and croissants for breakfast, and then hopped on the metro toward the island where notre dame is. it's funny because i wasn't like WOW'd by it. europe has so many huge beautiful churches, so i've seen quite a few by now. i had given natalie my purple hat (the one i got out of necessity in geneva) to wear so she wouldn't freeze in the 28-30 degree weather. however, because of glove-wearing, she lost track of where it was and eventually freaked out apologizing that she had lost it -- reception hadn't received anything, so someone had to have picked it up and liked it (so they put a ring on it). we walked out and it was SNOWING like mad. it was natalie's first snow this year, so you can imagine her excitement.

after that, we wandered around over near centre pompidou and along the seine north of the island. we walked from that area all the way to the louvre and then through les jardins des tuileries (a huge strip of gardens) up to place concorde, where the christmas markets of the champs-élysées started. we walked down that for a couple hours, just perusing all the stalls. right when i started to feel tired, i saw the arc of truimph. we got the metro from that point on because it was just too much to walk it. we went back to the place we were staying and made some soup and pasta and just hung out. it had been far too cold so we were tired and having a hard time thawing out.

on sunday, we spent the greater portion of our day at the chateau de versailles and saw all of the beautiful and ostentatious decorations and glorious gardens. i'm pretty sure we saw it all there... even japanese art in the palace. it was so out of place it was mind-boggling. afterward we decided to go see the eiffel tower. i was impressed. floored. it was so big and so intricately designed. after all this time i really thought i wouldn't be fazed by it, but man was i! it was lit up since it was night, and i remembered that it gets sparkly lights every hour on the hour, so we wandered around burning our time before that so we could see it. and then we went to go get crêpes at the christmas markets (again), followed by a stroll along the seine where we could see the eiffel tower. we waited around for it to sparkle again so natalie could take a video of it.

on monday morning, we went up to the basilica sacre cœur, which would have been better if some jerks didn't come make bracelets for us and make us pay for them right as we hit the stairs. it was pretty inside, but nothing like the basilica in lyon (which is byzantine inspired). a mass started while we were on our way out, and the opening prayers/sayings were so pretty in french and really spoke to me in those few seconds, even though we decided to leave out of respect for those who came to worship (can someone please give me a crash course in the catholic traditions? like how mass works and all that? or should i ask wikipedia?). after saying a nice goodbye to natalie, i played metro roulette. i got on the metro 1 and took it to a stop i thought sounded nice and just hopped off when we came to it. i ended up seeing l'hotel des invalides, the grand palais and petit palais, the eiffel tower (again), and place de la concorde, which brought me to the musée de l'orangerie where monet's water lilies are (something i was dying to see).

i got into the museum after fishing my passport out of my money belt, which was under all my layers of clothes, and showing them my student ID card. the water lilies are set up in a little sequence of three rooms. the first one is white, blank, and silent. the next two are oval and also white, with the paintings all around on the walls. silence is the rule in these two as well. the first one i was just marveling at how impressionism worked its magic. from a couple feet away it looked like nothing, but then you step back and you are transported to the place depicted. i walked into the second room, which was much quieter and emptier. something in me lurched up and seized my heart. i started to cry. the only thought i remember having was "i've really been waiting my whole life for this and now i'm finally here." they were so lovely and, well, touching. i proceeded to see all the art downstairs, still in shock after my little crying spell. there were some works of picasso, and renoir (love!), and a few others whose names i can't remember but were very impressive. i went into the bookstore looking to get postcards, but i ended up getting a monet rubik's cube (yes!!!) as my souvenir. before leaving, i went through the water lilies once again. just like i would go back to geneva for that lavender chocolate, i would go back to paris for the water lilies.

ASIDE: man, i gotta say poor people in paris are pushy with their begging. it was really annoying. you really can't talk to strangers, even if they're being nice - it made me feel really isolated and... well, méfiante "distrusting". i fooled some of them into thinking i was french so they would leave me alone, but i think my rainboots made me stick out a little too much. one lady pretended to find a big gold ring on the ground (trust me, i would have noticed if it were really on the ground, plus it wasn't wet or cold) and then was all like "it fits you better and my husband has forbidden me from wearing jewelry, so it's for you! what luck!" and then we parted, but she turned around and said "oh since you've been so lucky, why don't you give me some money or food??" i didn't have any money or food on me, and she didn't want to come with me so i could get her something, so i just gave her the ring back. i didn't want it anyway. i had contemplated leaving it up on the wall by the river for someone else to find. creative begging. sheesh.

i wanted to find the flea market that was in the bastille area, so i headed that way. unfortunately, i got dreadfully lost, found a restaurant where i treated myself to french onion soup and crème brulée for about an hour and wrote out my postcards to mail the next day. i ended up never finding the flea market (i doubt it would have even been open that late anyway), but i sure did walk a lot! once i got back, i called my mom and talked to her for a while. so refreshing :)

tuesday was a lot harder for me since my whole day was going to be alone. i planned to spend my morning/early afternoon in the louvre and then to go back to the eiffel tower . so i got to the louvre and was super excited that there wasn't a line out front. but, unfortunately, that was because it was CLOSED. it always is on tuesdays, apparently, and somewhere along the line i missed that little detail (otherwise i would have gone on monday!!). i was momentarily disappointed, but i know i'll be coming back to paris in the spring, so i'm not worried about that. now i know. so from there i went straight to the eiffel tower, where it started snowing almost immediately. i took a bunch of pictures and sat there marveling at this huge structure, a feat of human engineering. it was still pretty in the daylight, and especially pretty with all the snow dusting everything around it. i walked around some more and saw the pont d'alexandre III, which is a really ornate bridge, and the christmas markets again, where i got my lunch -- a ham and cheese crêpe :) by then i was tired and cold so i headed back and got all packed up, said my thank yous and goodbyes, and got to the train station super early. i had enough money for a sandwich, but not for a coffee to warm me up. and people were still begging me for money.

on my return train there was this couple that was all lovey and PDA. they were speaking English thinking I couldn't understand. even talking about me which was a little funny but also annoying. the girl liked my rainboots and my red ipod and the guy thought i was "cute in that french way". the PDA part was the most annoying though. the guy sitting next to me was nice and offered the window, but then he pulled out his laptop and watched like half of a spanish drama about a gay couple or something. and then there were sex scenes. just no. no no no. get out. at least i couldn't hear it, so it was just awkwardly in my peripheral vision. but still.

the weather in lyon was 55 degrees, which was such a treat after spending days in weather below 38 degrees. i took off my hat and gloves while walking home. ahhhh :)

next time i go to paris, i'll see the gardens at versailles again (but green), go up in the eiffel tower, go up on the arc de triomphe, and go to the louvre.


it's beginning to look a lot like christmas

something new for everyone. apparently the weather wanted to end november with a bang! it decided to snow ALL DAY on the 30th, to the delight of all the californians here!

the whole city was covered in it by afternoon! and i got to bundle up.

statues getting covered!

welcome to the christmas market! where we put easter-colored umbrellas in our trees!

there's all these little huts where vendors sell their stuff. a lot of which is food. and smells SO. GOOD. christmasssssssssss!

this is what i saw at the university today. notice the lack of people.

and here is a video i made for my family to say hi!

happy december! i hope this puts you in the christmas/hanukkah spirit!

bisous! xx