Monday, April 22, 2013

In which I take the record for earliest sunburn

It is April 14th.  I have an all over sunburn.  Today is the first sunny day of my time in Paris.  And I got a sunburn.  Let's just take a minute to process this shall we?





Besides the sunburn, I also had one of my favorite days in Paris.  It was 75 and sunny, just absolutely beautiful.  I started off the day walking from my dorm to Notre Dame to check out the cathedral in the sunlight.  The last time I was there was during a blizzard, so it was a nice change up.  I also wandered into the American grocery store in that neighborhood.  It made me so excited to go home in 19 days!  It's not that I haven't enjoyed my time abroad immensely, because I have, but I mentally prepared myself to be here for four months, and now that it's at the end, I'm itching to go home.  Anyways, the grocery store.  It's a good thing I didn't find this place before now, because I could have gone broke.  9.50 euros for a small jar of JIF peanut butter? Please.  I'm desperate but not that desperate.  It was harder than hard to pass up on the overpriced black beans however.  Lately, my friend Jacqui and I have taken to listing all the foods we're going to eat when we get home that you can't get here, and Mexican is at the top of both of our lists.  Tacos are in order for my first night home.

After Notre Dame, I walked to the Eiffel Tower to meet up with Jacqui to take a cruise along the Seine.  We've been holding onto these tickets for months now.  The first day of our program, January 6th, they thought it would actually be a good idea to go on a river cruise.  Really? 30 degree weather is not made any more pleasant by being on the water on a gray day.  Thankfully, the tickets were good for six months, so we ditched, and finally got around to going today.  It was lovely, but I also suspect the cruise is where the sun decided I shouldn't be allowed to enjoy the day like a normal person.  Paleness is a handicap, I can get burned walking from the car to the store.  I should apply for a parking permit.

The cruise was wonderful, and afterwards we sat on the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower like real parisians.  Just delightful.  Our last thing today was to ride the elevator 56 floors up to the top of the Tour Monparnasse.  It's the only skyscraper in the center of Paris, and man is it ugly.  Sticks out like a sore thumb and totally ruins the panorama of the city.  However, if you are in the building, this becomes less of a problem.  What is a problem is the huge group of Japanese tourists that budged in front of us.  Karma got them later though, one of them started coughing so hard she had to sit down for fear of passing out.

56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse, see the Eiffel Tower in the background?

Sorry this blog is actually getting posted the 22nd, Mom, I've been busy writing a 40 page research report in French.  That'll teach you, yuo got called out on the internet.

Friday, March 29, 2013

In which I fall madly in love

....with my internship that is.  Yes, I've found my true calling in life.  That is, if it doesn't work out with Prince Harry.  I mean, being royalty wins any day, and he does like the blonde ladies.

Anyway,  I am the International Relations Intern for the Communication, International Relations and Development department at the National Institute for Sport, Expertise, and Performance (INSEP).  Yeah, it looks pretty sweet in my email signature.  I have a desk, a phone, tape, and a spinny chair.  I have officially entered the working world and it feels goooooooood baby.

Basically, I work at the Olympic Training Center in Paris.  Their facilities rival the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  I'm doing my dream job, but in French!

I can't really say what my major duties are, since on any given day I could be working on a hundred different things.  So far I've written reports, done research on foreign delegations, and prepared fact sheets for our people who go on international missions.  I also go on tours with groups, keep records of some financial stuff, and translate official documents to English.  I have real responsibilities, which is more than I can say for some of the people in my program (sorry all you coffee makers!).  Plus, my boss is 24, and is like really concerned that he's going to give me something boring or that I'm not enjoying my time.  I think I convinced him I like interning there when he had to tell me to go home three times on a Friday because I didn't want to stop working.

Oh yeah, and then there's the fact that I work all day with Olympians hanging around.  My boss is the 2010 men's gymnastics world champ.  He's on Google.

This is my third week of six, and I started to get some more responsibility this week.  I am going to be the one dealing with some upcoming foreign delegations that are visiting.  I also found out that this huge update to one of our reference booklets that I've been working on is going to be distributed with MY NAME on it!  Like, people in the government and various Olympic committees are going to get this.  I'll forever be in their archives, so they can't forget me.  As if anyone could.
Jonathan Horton?

An unexpected perk of this job is that I get to feel like a spy pretty much every day.  There is way more political intrigue and backstabbing than I would have thought.  I really can't go into any more detail than that.  And I'm not joking, I had to get security clearance at work.  Isn't that cool??!

Can't you just feel the gold medals?

So long story short, life is better than good and I'm going to Deutschland this weekend.


Monday, March 18, 2013

In Which I Do Not Enjoy Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight is like fancy Dots Candy.  There, I've said it.  It is chewy, and sometimes they put nuts in it, hence the fancy.  And they charge a lot more than Dots.  Those are about the only differences I noticed.
Jelly Logs

In happier news, this is part 2 of my Turkey blog.  I had too much to say in my first one.  This one is going to be nautically themed.  Put on your lifejackets, kids.

One of the really great things about Istanbul is the meeting of the cultures in one huge city.  This culture fusion can be physically felt by crossing the Bosphorus into Asia from Europe.  Istanbul is actually split in half by the Bosphorus, and so their public transportation runs a regular ferry across the strait.  Of course I had to go.  I went to Japan six years ago, and after Istanbul I am officially able to say that I have been on both sides of Asia.  Kind of a big deal, I'm expecting to get piles of job offers from travel magazines any day.  To be honest, the Asia side of Istanbul was kind of boring.  There's no major tourist attractions, and much less English.  I'm not trying to be an ugly American, I swear.  I honestly didn't understand the language, so I was kind of bored.  The real excitement came when a 20 lira note flew out of my pocket and into the water as I was getting back on the ferry.  No fewer than four crew members got down flat on their chest with poles and nets to get roughly the equivalent of $12 back to me.  It was nice to get away from the aggressive sales pitches and street vendors and actually have people just be nice, with nothing in it for them.  I've missed that.
Oh hey Asia
This is public transportation

Ugh, enough feelings.  The other nautically themed thing I did in Istanbul was to walk along the seaside.  I love water, love love love it.  I've been dying to go swimming lately.  This was not exactly a beach type of place, but still awesome just to get the sight and smell of the ocean.  There were also thousands of jellyfish just doing their thing in the water.  You go jelly dudes.

That brought my trip to a close.  The most noteworthy thing that happened on the way back to Paris was that I struck up a conversation with a pilot who is apparently so dissatisfied with his life that he feels the need to rain on everyone else's parade.  He told me that college is a sham, and that my career goal is too lofty and too much in the public eye to be attainable because better schools have people going for that job too.

You sir, are a jerk.  You also told me that you're 59 and never moved out of your parents' house.  There, now the internet knows the embarrassment that is your life.  That'll teach you.

Goodbye Europe....

...Hellooo Asia!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In Which I have a Crisis of Identity

So I went to Istanbul last week.  It was awesome.  Sadly, I did not make it to Constantinople.  I tried to find it on a map, but I must have been reading it wrong or something.  Hmm....

Anyway, Istanbul.  I felt a little sketched out when I first got there.  I had to buy a visa to enter the country, and I kept getting weird looks from people.   Then I remembered I probably look like an albino to the Turks.  My program director's first reaction when I told her I was going to Istanbul was "Oh! Your hair!"  Yes, once again I am in the minisculest of minorities by having the best hair color.  Sorry, not everyone can be special.

My hotel was nice, wifi, free breakfast, the whole deal.  Lovely.  Except for one thing.  My room didn't face the outside.  I didn't realize this until I woke up the next morning.  My room was completely dark, so I figured it must still be the middle of night, but then when I checked my ipod, it was 9.30 in the AM.  My window was a lie.  It really messes with you.

Hagia Sophia
The first day I decided to go check out the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  As luck would have it, my hotel was a ten minute walk from both of these.  As soon I as stepped outside I was bombarded by sales pitches.  Every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street seemed to have something to say or sell to me. Having lived in France for the last two months, where a salesperson won't give you the time of day and follows you around because you don't look rich enough to shop in their store, this was a shock.  I couldn't handle it and I wanted to run back inside and stay there for the rest of the trip.  But, being the amazing trailblazer that I am, I kept on going.  I was walking around inside the Hagia Sophia, when I saw someone I knew.  Weird, right?  It was a guy who had been on both of my flights to Istanbul, and in front of me in the visa line once we got there.  I heard him speaking English, so we chatted for a few minutes in the airport and went our separate ways.  When I saw him in the Hagia Sophia, we again chatted and separated.  We ran into each other again in the gift shop.  We finally introduced ourselves, and found out we are both from Minnesota and know some of the same people.  The world really is tiny.
MN takes Turkey

I spent the rest of the day exploring with my fellow Minnesotan and his friend.  We checked out the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.  Both were simply beautiful.  Turkey has this amazing fusion of cultures, completely unique in the world.  They have greek, roman, and Arabian influences.  Today, Istanbul is a total mix of east and west, old and new.
Never wearing a head scarf ever again, I look like a chipmunk

I went home at about 5 pm each night, so my days were pretty short.  It is not because I am a weird shut-in.  Despite being a very friendly city, Istanbul can still be a bit sketchy, so as a single, American female, I tried to avoid being out after dark.

The next day, I braved the Grand Bazaar.  This is no small feat.  It's this maze of little booths selling so many things.  The big items are: Turkish carpets, spices, ceramics, and jewelry.  Most of these vendors are essentially selling the same selection of items, so it's in their best interest to get you to look at them first.  Their main tactic is yelling at you.  This is where the identity crisis comes in.  In one afternoon I was asked if I was:


Never once was I asked if I was American.  Which is odd.  Not that I would have said yes, since apparently this causes a bump in the price of their wares.  Nor was I asked if I was French.  Probably because I looked like I still enjoyed being alive, and not like I had just endured a thousand years of drudgery.  Sorry France.

Anyway, any time you so much as glance at a shop, it's too late.  They invite you in, they drop the prices, the whole deal.  If you walk away, they yell after you.  These people have good memories, too.  I got lost and walked down a row I had already been down, and one of the shopkeepers asked me why I had walked away before and would I like to buy a carpet for only 200 dollars?  Still, all in all, it was a cool experience, and not one I'm likely to have the opportunity to repeat.

That afternoon, I crossed another item off my Turkey bucket list, the famed Turkish baths.  I went to the Cemberlitas Hamami, which was built in 1584.  This experience was by far the highlight of my trip.  You put your stuff in a locker and change into a soft cotton wrap and sandals.  Then, an attendant leads you into a huge sauna, with a large marble slab in the center.  This is where you really have to embrace the experience with no inhibitions, because the attendant takes off your towel and puts it on the marble and has you lie down naked.  Yikes, it was like ripping off a band-aid.  Just go for it.  You sweat for a while, and then your person comes back.  This is where the loveliness begins.  First, she exfoliates your entire body, leaving you feeling warm and tingly.  Then, you get all soaped up and massaged.  She even washes your hair.  Afterwards, you're free to chill out in the sauna for as long as you want.  Oh yeah, and the whole time the attendants are singing traditional Turkish chants.  It's an unreal experience, one that I'll definitely remember forever.
Don't worry, I'm not a perv who brought a camera into where people are naked.  This is from the internet.

OK, there Mom, I wrote a blog post.  Geez.  This was only half of my Istanbul adventure, so I'll try to put the rest up soon!

Monday, March 4, 2013

In Which I discover a centuries old conspiracy

You guys, I think I may have stumbled upon clues to the Holy Grail.  Yes, it exists.  There seem to be all these connections between art at the Louvre and the Roslin Line at St. Sulpice Church.  Now I just need to find a crippled English historian to put it all together for me.
Saint Sulpice, and a car that drove through my shot

Ok not really, but I am having fun recreating The Da Vinci Code while I'm here.  I've probably read it at least ten times so I know every landmark and work of art involved.  I visited St. Sulpice yesterday, and it was beautiful, definitely worthy of its role in the book.
I bet there's a clue under that gold disk...

"Offerings for the souls in purgatory"  Who know they still sold indulgences?

It was finally, finally warm yesterday.  I'm talking sunny and no scarf here, people, a big deal.  One for the record books.  Apparently the French feel the same way, because they came out in droves.  I walked around the Jardins du Luxembourg, which is beautiful.  They have tons of chairs scattered around the park so people can sit and enjoy the sun.  It even draws the crazies.  While I was there a man in scrubs got escorted out of the park for erratic behavior.  He was screaming at other people, dancing, and walking on invisible tightropes.  Yikes.
Happy turtles!

First signs of spring!

Pony rides in the garden, how very noble

I finished up with classes this week as well.  Finals were rough, three in one day.  But I obviously rocked them, do you expect anything less?  I'm most proud of my Art History accomplishments.  The final had two essay questions.  One was a picture of a sculpture.  The other simply said "Nouveau Realisme".  No instructions, no direction, just a picture and two words.  I was actually able to write decent essays about both, no way I could have done that two months ago.  This means, no tests, papers, or studying for the next six months.  That's the longest reprieve I've had since I was five!  Instead, I get a taste of the real world starting a week from today.  Full-time internship.  A 9 to 5, the daily grind, coffee breaks.  The whole deal.  I couldn't be more excited.  But first I have a whole week to relax.

Side note, I have noticed that the dryer here had shrunk all my clothes.  Every time that my grandmother worried about that when we went shopping has come back to haunt me.  I should have listened!  I'm just ashamed that it took me this long to figure out the dryer was to blame for my tight jeans, not the baguettes.  Thank goodness.  I've had to resort to some rather unusual drying arrangements since I don't have very much space in my room.  The irony of being an Edina resident and line drying my clothes is not lost on me.  For those of you who don't know, we aren't allowed to line dry our clothes outside, it doesn't look nice.  I quite agree.  Especially now that every door handle, chair, and hook in my room is covered in socks and underwear.
Yes, this is my life now

Monday, February 25, 2013

In Which I am one step closer to being friends with Kate Middleton

I just got back from Milan yesterday.  I do not recommend it.  It is boring.  How can Italy possibly be boring you say?  Because Milan has one tourist attraction.  The Duomo.  Granted, Il Duomo is magnificent, and you can go up on the roof, which is cool.  Apart from that and the shopping center right next to it, there is really nothing there.  Oh yeah, unless you want to pay 40 euros to see Da Vinci's last supper.  I did not.

The trip started out with a little hiccup.  My friend, Jacqui, and I paid 9.50 euros to take the train to the airport at six in the morning.  Three stops later, our train broke down.  Thinking we would be late for our flight, we shelled out 40 euros to take a cab to the airport.  Once there and through security (my makeup turned out not to be a bomb, thanks for checking) we saw that our flight had been delayed for two hours.  Essentially, we had no reason to get up at 5:30 in the morning nor to pay for a cab.  Great.

Once we got to Milan, it was an hour long bus ride to the central station, then another hour on the metro/tram to get to our hotel. Oh yeah, it was half raining/half snowing.  Again, great.  But our hotel was really nice, and the tram line it was on took us directly into the center of town.  The Italian people are extremely nice as well.  This was our experience in London.  Paris still takes the cake for meanest city in the world.  Whenever we needed directions or a dinner recommendation, everyone was quick to help us as much as they could.

Like I said, the Duomo is pretty much the only thing in Milan.  But it was just stunning.  We walked around on the inside for a while before climbing the 250 stairs to the roof.  You can walk around on top, getting views of the entire city.  It was really cool, and definitely worth the trip.  That was definitely my favorite part of the weekend.

Il Duomo

Rooftop Party!

Americans Against European PDA, get a room

Next to the Duomo is an enormous department store called Rhinascente, basically Milan's answer to Harrod's.  This is where Kate Middleton comes in, I found her Issa engagement announcement dress!  It's a beautiful blue wrap dress by Issa.  I was sorely tempted to buy it, but I figured the powers that be (hi Mom and Dad!) might be a little disapproving of that decision.  Still, tempting.


I can't write a blog about Italy without mentioning the food.  Yes, it lives up to the legend.  Pizza, ravioli, and tiramisu were my foods of choice, and I was not disappointed.  So good.

It also happened to be fashion week while we were there.  Good thing I only packed a backpack so I had one pair of pants and two shirts with me.  We were definitely not part of the glitterati this time around, but it was fun to see the wacky things people put on their bodies.  It's just hilarious.  Heel-less high heels, rainbow hair, and fur coats seem to be big this season.  Take note everyone.  And P.S, someday I will be one of them, so you can all start sucking up to me now because I won't be bringing everyone with me.

On Sunday, it was snowing even harder than on Saturday, so we decided to call it a day early and head to the airport.  The guy at the kiosk was nice enough to change our tickets for free to a flight for two hours earlier.  Thank goodness he did, since the weather delays caused our early flight to take off two hours late.  Essentially, we sat in the airport for six hours.  I spent good money on a bad book.  It also turned out to be book 2 of a series, so now I'm in the frustrating position of wanting to know the ending but not wanting to put forth the effort.  Icing on the cake.

All in all, I liked Italy, though I wish we had gone somewhere different.  The luxury of not caring where we went as long as it was not expensive came back to bite us in the butt this time, but spring break is next week so we'll see what happens on my next adventure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In which one of my nightmares comes true

You know that dream that everyone has where they somehow end up in public with no clothes on?  That actually happened to me.  But more on that a little later.  This morning I had to go to the immigration office to get a specific stamp in my passport.  Here's how it went:

Get to this place in the middle of nowhere.

Wait.  In a line outside of the building.

Get in. Go upstairs.


Get my name called.  Go to another room.


Get my name called.  Have an eye exam.  Read a paragraph in tiny print in French. What if your vision is perfect and you're just bad at reading French?  These are the things going through my mind during the agonizingly long waits.


Go into a changing room.  Strip off everything above the waist.  Proceed to shiver so hard it looks like I'm having a seizure.  Here's where the nightmare part comes in.  Someone barges in.  Not a doctor, another "immigrant" like myself.  Horrifying.


Get called into a big room.  Topless.  Get pushed up rather forcefully against a cold metal surface.  Apparently an X-ray machine.  No paper sheet or anything.  I am not confident in the sanitary procedures used in this room.  Door opens,  strange man enters.  Realizes there is a young woman naked from the waist up.  Coughs awkwardly and leaves.  Get X-rays taken.  Realize they didn't put a lead vest on me.  Resign self to probability of sterility.  Remember I don't like kids that much anyway.


Talk to an actual doctor.  For 2 minutes.  Get blood pressure taken.


Get name called.  Get sticker in my passport.

Done.  And it only took two hours and four strangers seeing me topless.