Tuesday, April 29, 2008

sudying french in aix-en-provence

not me. the people i'm staying with. my host jordan is just finishing up a year studying french in aix with a bunch of other college kids from california. i knew i missed out on something by going to work right away, but i had no idea i missed out on this. now i think i'll spend some time catching up on lost time. and niko. puuuhlease...just watch this kid juggle!

Monday, April 28, 2008

pont du gard

before leaving ales, jacky and i visited visited the pont du gard in nimes.

 huge. impressive. built by the romans a long, long time ago....

just the two of us hanging out and attempting to communicate although neither of us could speak the other's language.

it couldn't have be nicer.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

yelena's favorite color is red. wait, no, pink!

i've been with fred, tanya and their daughter yelena in alès, france since the 24th and am honored to have been welcomed into their art-filled home and into their lives. ok, i actually invited myself to watch the installation of a swimming pool at fred's parents home, but i swear i didn't invite myself to fred's birthday party. tanya did. really. and i'm really glad she did. it was a perfect day with amazing food, drink and company.

tanya speaks both french and english fluently while the rest of us bumble around. ok, that's not completely true; tanya's hubby fred does a pretty good job with english too. and that's not all. he also creates some beautiful art on tiles. yelena, at just under 3, was kind enough to draw a beautiful abstract for me in my journal, and was also so generous as to adorn the cover of my journal with a socialist party sticker.

fred's sister and her boyfriend are very cute and sweet, and fred's dad robert is an incredible artist who shows in france and in carmel california.

fred's mom jacky is very cool, recently having couchsurfed herself for a week in california. she's just learning english and i'm ashamed to say i can only utter a few words of french, but that didn't stop us from having a lovely visit today. today, robert (who speaks as little english as i do french), jacky and i had fun trying to help each other with our pronunciation. and tomorrow jacky is going to show me the roman aqueduct in nimes. perfect!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

nimes

wandered around nimes, france all day today. the city has been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times, first by the gauls who built around a sacred spring, then the celts, and then the romans around 28 bc. saw the best preserved roman coliseum in the world there, built in the 1st century bc and apparently a smaller copy of the one in rome. amazingly, it still gets used for bullfights. also hung out in the jardin de la fontaine, designed in 1745 with a fountain and canals running through it that are partly roman. such a beautiful place that i hung out there for hours.

alive and kicking in alès

ahh but people do worry... i've been here since the 24th.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

jeremie

yura hosted another couchsurfer tonight - jeremie from canada. i love this guy. check out his blog.

it amazes me that within the space of just a couple of days, i met two of the most authentic, incredible humans i've ever known. i can't imagine having better conversations than i've had with yura and jeremie and i will be forever grateful for having known them. and i hope i will cross paths with them again and again in the coming years.

Monday, April 21, 2008

yura, you spoil me....

paris. what can i say about paris?

 hmmmm. i think i can say this: i don't think it gets any better than running through the streets of paris at 3am holding hands with a beautiful young ukrainian man while trying to catch a bus. that's what i can say.

question: russian vodka. how much russian vodka can you down on a nearly empty travelers stomach? answer: not that much, really.

so after yura met me at the malakoff plateau de vanves, we pounded some russian vodka, took our medicine, listened to some incredible music, and ran out the door to attend a vj (video disc jockey) festival. it ended at 3am, after the trains stopped running, so we hitched a ride to a bus stop. we didn't know where the right one was, so it's a good thing our ride did. but the bus took off just as we were running to catch it. our ride saw it, picked us up again and - this time - dropped us off right in front of the bus at its next stop.

don't know when we made it home, but i do know we stayed up until dawn. couldn't have asked for a better night. really. i planned to stay for just one day. but i'm still here. how can i leave really? yura's taking such good care of me, it will be hard. movies and a lovely stroll through vanves last night. some sight-seeing tonight. fff

sigh... but the south of france awaits...


Saturday, April 19, 2008

logistics

i found my way from shenfield to st. pancras onto the eurostar train (186 miles an hour and thru the chunnel) into paris. met naomi (i hope i remembered that right naomi. email me!) who was wonderful company and help on the train. i arrived at the gare du nord, where there are many people happy to help you lug your pack up and down the stairs, managed to contact my last-minute couchsurfing host, get the name of the metro station in vanves (malakoff plateau de vanves - NOT malakov rue etienne dolet) where he would meet me, and find my way there. so ha!

Friday, April 18, 2008

jetlag is a mutha'

that's about it. jetlag is a mutha'. so i thought i would stay at j's sister's house in shenfield outside of london for 2 nights to ease into the journey. but given the muth'a-ness of jetlag, i ended up there for 3 nights. mary is an incredibly kind person and a generous hostess, providing me with an en suite room replete with jammies, bottled water, and a supremely comfy bed. we had lovely conversation and meals, and a fun night out in shenfield, walking to the pub and then to a little birthday party at friend of mary's. all of this while mary was preparing to leave for a trip to california! if i'm lucky, towards the end of the journey, mary might just join me for a little trip to dublin!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the truth shall set you free - or get you detained by immigration at heathrow...

i had a choice as i sat on my flight filling out the immigration form before landing in london. i could lie about my occupation and put in some random job title, or i could write in "unemployed." i settled on "retired." and as for my travel plans, i could lie and say i was staying at an address in london for the entire 3 months or i could tell the truth and indicate that i was travelling. so i told the truth (ok, well i'm not really retired, but its close enough) and it resulted in me be detained by immigration for oh, i don't know, close to 4 hours at heathrow.

in between bouts of sitting and waiting, an immigration official would ask me questions about my funds. "how is it that you retired so early? how is it that you can afford to travel for 3 months. why is it that you don't have a printed itinerary of hotels you plan to stay at? how much cash do you have on you? can i see it? is this all you have? can i see your credit cards? what is the total amount of credit you have on these?" despite offering, within the first 15 minutes, to simply log in to the internet and show them my credit card limits and bank balances, we instead played the periodic interrogation game.

about 30 minutes into this, i was faced with a choice to get upset and whine to myself that this was certainly a lousy way to start my trip, or to look at it as just another adventure. and on queue, a new immigration agent showed up with a video cameraman in tow. sky tv was shooting a documentary and asked if i'd consent to have the process filmed. aha! adventure confirmed. i said yes and the rest is history.

at one point, hours into the process, i indicated that next time i entered the uk, i'd probably just lie about my employment and reason for trip in order to avoid a repeat of the situation. my interrogator, blondie, bristled and said that she would not ever recommend lying to immigration. i thanked her for that advice and told her that i, however, wouldrecommend that in order to avoid wasting hours of time playing 20 questions. i know, i could have just not antagonized her. but why not? they weren't really going to deny me entry when there was an easy way to prove my ability to fund my trip. and we were being filmed for a documentary... and since i really didn't have anywhere to be at the time, this was getting interesting. so i antagonized just a teeny bit. and then i sat a little more.

blondie came back to have me answer another round of the same questions, and this time i mentioned to her that it seemed that asking me the same questions over and over again was a pretty ineffective technique and a waste of both of our time given that it had done nothing to assure them that i wasn't a broke foreigner planning to stay in the uk and get a job as a bartender (apparently this is a problem here), and that had they simply allowed me internet access, i could have shown them my bank balances within the first 15 minutes. that didn't sit too well with blondie and she snapped back "i can detain you here for a lot longer." sweet! we're being filmed! i replied "yes i know that, and thanks so much for the threat." she walked away and after 15 more minutes she ever so graciously granted me entry in the uk.

then i did a little follow-up interview with the camera guy. i did the pre-requisite statement about understanding how they have an important job to do, but added that it seemed a highly inefficient process and waste of the taxpayers money to have spent nearly 4 hours on me when they could have ascertained the answers to their repeated questions in 15 minute of time on the internet. He giggled. I giggled and then I managed to find my way on the tube and the above-ground to my host's home in shenfield.

Monday, April 14, 2008

i'm still not packed

it's 10:50 the night before i leave... and i'm still not packed. well, i'm packed a little bit.

tevolving