Saturday, November 28, 2009


Thanksgiving!!!  Yes, there is Thanksgiving in France (only when Americans live there).  And yes, we (the au pairs) did have a traditional Thanksgiving.  We had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc (I made the turkey, a rice & squash mix, and a french silk pie...ironic?).  And thanks to my computer, we even had the Macy's Day Parade and football!  I honestly think that we had the best Thanksgiving Europe has ever seen.

The turkey.  This was a bit of a problem.  No grocery store had turkey prior to Thanksgiving.  The butcher shop could order it for me.  -FYI, turkey is "dinde" (Dond...with your nose)-  This led to a lot of confusion because I can't say that word.  But anyway...the turkey was going to cost about 100 euros ($150) for the cheap small one.  I could have gotten something in the vicinity of $300.  The butcher said it would be good, though.  Let me think about this...I could get a turkey that I'll probably overcook or go on a vacation.  After turning him down, I hoped that Migros (Switzerland's Wal-Mart) would have a turkey on Thanksgiving.  They did!  For 55 euros ($80)!  Pass again.  Instead, I just got some drumsticks and thighs and pieced together a turkey.  It was great!!!  And cheap.


So Thanksgiving was a complete success.  Actually, Thanksgiving had no rain here...the first day in about 3 weeks.  If you're curious, the Europeans here do know of Thanksgiving.  But its a vague knowledge.  Kind of like Americans knowing there is a Ramadan.  We know it exists, but not much else.

The feast!

And now that that's all done...we move on to Christmas season!  My FAVORITE time of year!  Thankfully, all the towns here have lights up waiting to be turned on.  We (the au pairs) might be going to Strasbourg (they claim they are Europe's Christmas Capital) for some Christmas markets.

I've been showing the boys American Christmas Classics (Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, etc).  They are thoroughly intrigued.  Macsen says that he doesn't believe in Santa...sorry, Father Christmas.  But some of the questions he asks me leads me to believe otherwise.  Its rather cute.  I'm also trying to have them listen to Christmas music.  The said that they normally don't listen to any!  The lack of Christmas spirit here is absolutely depressing.  I'm glad that my family's given me such a burning spirit that can't be extinguished even in these harsh environments!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Couch Surfing

Travel problems solved.  I have bought my plane tickets, and here's my vacation plans during the holidays...

I can't wait!  I think this has potential to be a REALLY interesting trip.  Why?  Mostly because I plan on couch surfing.  For those of you who don't know what that means, here's my best explanation.  There is a website called  Basically, I set up a profile, and then search other profiles who live in the cities I plan on visiting.  I then choose who I want to contact, and send them a message asking if they'll take me in for a few nights.  This is a really long process!  There are so many profiles to look through and some many messages to individually write to everyone.  A few minutes ago, I got my first positive response!  So it looks like I'll be staying with a Polish girl in Krakow.  Yay!  Now hopefully I can find somewhere for Christmas and New Years.

On a totally different note, I've been noticing a couple driving differences here in Europe that I wanted to share.
  • MUCH more people park backwards in normal parking lots.  Why?  While I'm awesome at it, isn't it harder to do for no good reason?  It seems like a waste of time to me.  It also leads to a lot of people parking on the lines.
    • Funny side note: A few days ago that exact thing happened causing Macsen to not be able to open his door because the guy parked too close.  When we got to the car, Macsen asked why he didn't have room to open the door, so I told him it was because the guy parked on the line, too close to me.  So then he started pointing at the car and looking on the other side seeing how much room the guy had on the other side...making a big production of it.  The problem was that the guy was sitting in his car!!!  I felt bad.
  • Drivers are much more impatient here.  If someone who wants to go fast gets behind someone who wants to go slow, they will either pass immediately (if they can) or ask the slow driver to pull over by flashing lights or putting on their left turn signals.  I think this happens because there are hardly any 4 lane roads here.  Nearly everything is 2 lanes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Travel Conundrum

I know I posted information about my future travel plans last week...but now I need to vent to someone about my problems I'm having.  Ok, maybe they're not problems.  I just have too many options and not enough time and money.  Here are some itineraries I'm planning for my Christmas Break:
Milan-->Helsinki(Finland)-->St. Petersburg(yes, Russia)-->Riga(Latvia...really?)-->Milan
Milan-->Rome-->Oslo(Norway)-->Krakow(Poland, Auschwitz)-->Milan
Milan-->UK-->Canary Islands(off the coast of Africa)-->UK-->Milan

So where do I go?  Any suggestions?  As you can see, I'm a man who doesn't like to do the usual.  I don't know why.  But who would pick Baltic or Scandinavian countries during the winter during his one year in Europe? 

Olympic Museum:
After visiting my second Olympic city last month (Barcelona...the other was Sydney), I realized that I have an infatuation on the Olympics.  I've been an unaware Olympic-phile.  Just off the top of my head (with no help from wikipedia), I can tell you the previous 8 summer olympics...Beijing, Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona, Seoul, LA, Moscow...with London and Rio to follow.  Is that normal? it normal for someone my age?  Maybe it is.  But really, over the years, I've fallen in love with the Olympics.  I think it was my crushes on Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, and Shannon Miller that started it all.

Anyway, I decided to take a short jaunt to Lausanne (a little North of Geneva) to see the Olympic Museum.  The official one.  It really reminded me of some sort of Hall of Fame.  That means it was really cool.  Lots of multimedia stuff and really interesting artifacts.  I loved it.  Definitely one of my favorite museums I've seen in Europe.

Every once in a while, I have to stop and realize the beauty of this place that I'm taking for granted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Travel, Weather, and Depression

I've decided to take a break from talking about Spain, even though I only have maybe 1 more post regarding the trip.

Upcoming trips: In almost exactly a month from now, I'll be going to Budapest for a 3-day weekend.  This city has been very high on my list.  Then, in 2 months, I'll be spending another 3-day weekend in Stockholm.  Yes, I head north for winters.  If I'm going to be cold, I want to be cold.  And then, I'll have about 2 weeks off for Christmas and New Years, so I'm planning another trip somewhere.  As of now, I have several ideas.  But I'm thinking I might do a roadtrip exploring the North of France (Champagne, Normandy, Verdun, Loire Chateau's, etc.). 
Here's a list of the places I'd most like to visit before I leave (kind of in order):
  • Polland (Auschwitz)
  • Czech Republic (Prague)
  • Austria (Vienna, Graz, Strasbourg)
  • Romania (particularly, Transylvania)
  • Belgium (Brugge)
  • Holland (Amsterdam)
  • Denmark (Copenhagen)
  • UK (Scotland, Ireland, London)
  • Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome)
  • Russia (anywhere...I HIGHLY doubt this will happen)

Weather: Sucks.  Since I've been back from Spain, I've seen maybe 20 minutes of sun, total.  Its been 10 days.  And everyday it's rained.  I asked if this is normal.  It is.  And its a shame because there is now snow on the mountains, and it's GORGEOUS!  Too bad the clouds cover it.

American: I'm too much of one.  Aside from being able to travel, here are the top things I look forward to each week:
  • Bears games (though this is PLUMMETING because they are playing horribly)
  • New TV show episodes (Curb Your Enthusiasm, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, The Office, 30 Rock, Community)
  • Hearing from family and friends
Pays de Gex: This is the region I'm living in.  Basically, imagine a super large canoe.  The sides are mountains.  Now draw an imaginary line down the middle.  The right side is Switzerland and Geneva.  The left side is the Pays de Gex.  It sucks.  I'm really now one to complain about areas, but I'm doing it now.  Here are the reasons I hate it:
  • Its the most expensive area in France (that may not be entirely true...but it might be)
  • I feel trapped by the mountains
  • Its not French nor Swiss
  • There's nothing to do
  • The weather sucks
Wow, this turned into a depressing blog.  Sorry about that.  On a happier note, I bought myself a pillow that's comfortable and an espresso machine.  Yay!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spain: Madrid's Welcome Party

Molly has a good friend who once lived in Madrid.  He made some friends who Molly got a hold of.  This guy invited us over for dinner Friday night to get a true taste of Madrid.  This was basically all we knew going into it...
We arrived at 9:45, because that's when we were told to arrive.  We show up and the hosts are still in gym shorts and t-shirts.  They told us we were early.  So they stuck us in their living room while they continued to prepare the food (awkward!!!).  It wasn't until 10:15 when the next guests arrived.  And I really think that time was shortened because of our early arrival.
They did make some authentic Spanish food for us because we were visiting.  Very nice of them.  All the people (early 30's) were very nice.  The problem was that most of them didn't speak very good English.  But its funny how little language matters when everyone gets drunk.  My ease of communication kept improving throughout the night.
I'm not saying the following to be a bigot, its just's a list of guests:
2 Americans
1 Swede
1 Phillipino
1 Gay Couple
2 Straight couples (one guy being the ex of the Swede)
a few "regular" Spaniards

So, this was an interesting night.  Everyone was VERY nice and VERY welcoming.  But this had to have been one of my top 10 most awkward situations.  And yet, I'm glad it happened.

Then to cap it off, during the night after I'd been sleeping for awhile, I threw up.  Gross throw up.  And I got a lot of it on Molly's clothes.  I thought it was because I drank too much.  But it was because I was sick.  I swear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spain: Barcelona vs. Madrid

Naturally, while visiting 2 cities in one week, I made comparisons.  Here are my thoughts between Barcelona and Madrid:
  • Barcelona is laid back.  Madrid is up-tight.
  • Barcelona, while big, seems small.  Madrid seems big.
  • Barcelona's beach creates a different atmosphere.  Madrid has no beach.
  • I saw maybe 4 suits my whole time in Bar.  Madrid, I think 86.
  • Bar.'s old town is charming with many winding streets.  Madrid's old town is...ehh.
  • Bar. has a lot of green space (parks, beach).  Madrid has very little.
  • Equal metro systems.
  • Bar.'s women seemed hotter.
  • Bar. is very adapted towards tourists.  I heard tons of English and French and it seemed like the locals all spoke English.  Madrid seemed to speak only Spanish.
*These are all strictly observations made by me.  These aren't facts.  Clearly, I liked Barcelona better.  Molly liked Madrid.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spain: Just the Facts

Let me first give my pre-depature analysis on Spain.  I did not like Spain.  Looking at a list of countries to visit in Europe, Spain is equivalent to the Detroit Lions in those standings.  I don’t have anything against the country or the people, it just doesn’t interest me.  I know very little of their history, and frankly I don’t care.  So why did I spend a week there?
It all goes back to Paris.  Paris was AMAZING.  I got to visit a friend while there, but a lot of my time was spent alone.  While walking the city alone, I realized that traveling with no one to share it with is quite boring.  It felt like the whole tree falling in a forest thing…if I visited the Louvre, would anyone hear me?  So with that in mind, I knew I needed to travel with someone.  Fast forward to several weeks ago…
I found out that Molly was getting this last week off, too.  Finally!  Someone to travel with!  She’s already been to Europe, though.  So she’s seen quite a bit.  And the only country that she really wanted to see was Spain.  So, being desperate for a traveling partner (and also, I know I like to travel with Molly), I went along with going to the last place on my list…but I’m glad I did.
As you can imagine, after a week, I have some many stories to tell.  I could easily make a thesis paper out of this.  So I’m going to tell this story in installments.  This first installment is the reasoning why I went, and some of the factual elements.  After this post, I’ll give more interesting anecdotes and observations.  As I write this, I’m kind of excited.
First stop, BARCELONA.
I flew by myself from Geneva to Barcelona on Sunday night (Molly had spent the previous 4 days in Florence with some friends…she met me there).  We ended up staying until Thursday morning (that’s 4 nights and 3 days, for those of you keeping score at home).  We stayed at a rather small hostel not too far from the main drag (Molly says that I use that word quite a bit).
·         Day 1- Walked along the beach.  Much farther walk than we thought.  After that, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  I really like this type of art, but this museum lacked something.  There wasn’t a “wow” factor as I was hoping for.  We finished off this day with a walk around the old-town, some tapas, and some bars.

 See...Barcelona's beach
·         Day 2- We went to the farmer’s market to get a picnic.  Then we headed off for Mount Monjuric.  We didn’t really know what to expect from this, but I was pleasantly surprised.  We took a bus up to the top of the mountain (maybe a large hill).  On the top stood a formidable castle… maybe it was a fortress.  Either way, it had a great view of the city and the ocean.  On our way back down, we stopped by the Olympic Stadium and grounds (Barcelona ’92).  I have this huge fascination for the Olympics, so I loved it.  We also stopped at a village which was built for the 1929 World’s Fair.  They created a replica of different Spanish villages from around the country…it was ok.  Finally, we finished it off with the Picasso Museum.  I liked it, didn’t love it.  It was missing several famous works.  And then, some paella finished off the exhausting day.

The market...and some weird looking, fruit?

View from the fortress on the moun...hill

Olympic Stadium and park
·         Day 3- Again, we started the day off with picnic supplies before heading off to a park.  This time, we visited Guell Park.  This was made by the one and only Gaudi.  It was definitely strange, but definitely cool.  I liked this a lot.  We then went to the Sagrada Familia.  When you think of Barcelona, this is the most common image…the church that looks like a sand castle.  We then hung out at the hostel for a while and then at the beach before getting some dinner.  That was basically it.

 Trippy Park (Guell Park)

Sagrada Familia.  Gaudi's Masterpiece.  Still under construction after 100 years.

Beach at nighttime
We flew in Thursday morning.
·         Day 1- We got settled in the hotel, had some lunch, and then for the first time, Molly and I parted ways.  I went to the Museum of the Americas.  This had artifacts from Colonial Spain.  I actually really liked this museum, but it could have been SO much better if the descriptions were in English.  I was disappointed by this.  After this, Molly and I met up for some city-exploring and bar hoping.  We then got some dinner and called it a night.
·         Day 2- I spent a lot of time away from Molly on this day.  I went to see the main palace of Madrid, Palacio Real.  It was basically a typical grand palace.  Nothing too special.  I then spent some time relaxing.  I was tired.  I then met up again with Molly for a picnic lunch in a plaza and then separated again.  I went to Retiro Park (Madrid’s answer to Central Park).  And then I took a nap.  Molly and I met for some drinks before meeting a friend of a friend of hers for dinner.  That’s a story in and of itself.  More on that to come.

 Palacio Real
·         Day 3- This morning, I woke up throwing up.  Not pleasant.  At first I thought it was too much alcohol…but nope, I was sick.  This was really upsetting, because I had 2 Butler friends coming in to visit with.  Sam and Jordan arrived a little before noon, and the 3 of us and the day to ourselves.  We explored the city and the monuments.  We did a lot of what I did the day before, but it was great.  Great to see those two.  We finished up our day with a trip to the Prado “don’t call me Prada” Museum of Art.  This is supposed to be Madrid’s answer to the Louvre.  We went late enough so that it was free.  It was fun to make fun of the paintings.  We then caught up with Molly for dinner and finished the day.

 Sam and I taking a nap...beautiful
·         Day 4- Because Jordan missed her bus, she spent the night with Molly and me.  The three of us went to the flea market.  It was HUUUUUUGE.  It seemed like every street in Madrid had people selling something.  And then we flew back home.
Phew!  That was nearly as tiring as the vacation itself.  If you read through all of that, I highly commend you.  I’ll have more interesting things to say later on.  Just had to get this out of the way.