Saturday, September 26, 2009

le weekend

Hooray for warm September days! 
We haven't had one in a while.

Hooray for Pâtisserie des Rèves! 

A patisserie that is, I kid you not, COMPLETELY nutella. 
It's a dream come true!

photo credits from a website you should all check out- my little paris, here

Hooray for a biking tour of Versailles tomorrow!

Boo for 3 exams in 3 different classes on Monday...that I have not started studying for yet. 

gothic structures,
history/kings of france

Due to the activities planned for tomorrow, my Saturday night is cut out for me. Yuck. 

Friday, September 25, 2009


...was not that impressive. I'm aware that its a huge financial center and important to the world economy, but that still does not budge my opinion of the city as a whole. Driving into the center of the city, Brussels just struck me as...dirty, polluted, and unsafe. 

There was, literally, trash flying around on the streets, piles of trashbags by lampposts, homeless people sitting on the streets asking for money, and run-down looking buildings. Not much to see. We parked and explored the main square, and the few tourist-y streets lining it, and packed up on our way back to France. That was pretty much all there was to see there- not exactly worth a night in a hotel, so we figured we should head out early and spend the night closer to France since the car was due back the next morning. 

Here's some of what we did in Belgium (not much): 

The big square in Brussels. That was about all the historic sightseeing we did. 
It was pretty, though. 

and of course, we had to have Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolate ice cream! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

coffeeshops and windmills

Amsterdam. I really had no idea what to expect from it. I mean, what do you do in one of the most liberal cities in the world... with your parents? 

Luckily, a lot. 

sitting by a canal

I think of all the cities we visited, Amsterdam is one of my favorites ( its a close tie with Zurich). The city is built around a series of concentric canals, so most of the streets line the canals. You can get to almost all of them by boat, And there are boats and houseboats parked along the wider canals.

This cafe is right across from the Rembrandt house- built in the 1600s!
 If you look at it from behind, it is tilting. Leaning tower of Pisa tilting.

We took the boat tour, which basically goes around the city by canal, and you can get off/on wherever you please. Amsterdam isn't that huge of a city, so we were able to see almost everything in a day- the Rembrandt museum, Anne Frank house, red light district, boat tour, and we finished off with some delicious Chinese food (I'm not kidding you- It's better than the stuff in L.A.!). So here's Amsterdam in pictures!

If you look closely, the buildings all tilt inwards. 

Amsterdam is built on soft soil, so many of the buildings stand on sand. The buildings are supported by posts that are placed deep into the ground to keep them steady. But of course, they're still tilting since they've all been around since the 17/18th centuries. 

I remember being told what Coffeeshops in Amsterdam really were.

I didn't actually believe it until I saw it. There are so many in Amsterdam, as well as shops selling seeds, plants, and weed lollipops. I also smelled pot on the streets on multiple occasions. 

Buildings along the canal. 

If you look closely, you'll see that the roof gables are different on each house. Until the 18th century, buildings in Amsterdam didn't have numbers- they were identified by the roof gable and embellishments/tile on the house, which referenced the trade of the family that inhabited it. You can still see the the tiles on some of the older buildings. Strange, isn't it? But Amsterdam wasn't very big back then. 

Another fun fact- If you look closely, you'll see that each roof gable has a hook protruding from it (at the center of the point of the roof). All of the houses in Amsterdam have it. Since the houses are so narrow, all the houses use the hooks as a pulley system when moving large items, moving things in through the window instead of up flights of stairs. The system has been in use since the 17th century. 

And last but not least, my favorite part of our trip to Holland: Visiting a windmill!
I never actually understood what these were for and how they functioned, and visiting a windmill definitely enlightened me. I insisted on it the last morning we were there (I convinced my entire family we had to see a windmill. I mean come on, we're in Holland!). I highly recommend it to everyone. I think it was my favorite tour out of all the ones we did on the trip- better than the castle tours in Germany, the Opera House in Paris, lake tour in Zurich, and the Anne Frank House (they were all awesome, believe me, but this one surpassed the original basis of awesomeness). 

We got to climb the sails on the mill! The tour guide made us get on there to take our picture.
 I think this should be our Christmas card photo. It is hilariously beyond cheesy.

Skip this last part if you don't want to read about mills.

How could the explanation and demonstration of the a) round wooden brake system, b) Use of Archimede's screw in transferring water, and c) rotation of sails not be fascinating? (sorry if my description is lacking, I'm doing the best I can without a visual aid)

The mill we visited (molen van sloten, mill of Sloten) is used to transfer water. Amsterdam is below sea level and gets more than enough rain than is good for it, so the function of the mill is to transfer the water out of Amsterdam when the levels get too high. Without it, the airport would be under water. The system of milling hasn't changed for hundreds of years, and windmills are still in use all over Holland.

1)The Archimedes screw at the base of the mill is used to transfer water out of the city. As the screw turns, it churns the water out (one way only) at 60,000 gallons of water/minute (max. speed).

2) The screw is connected to the sail at the top of the windmill (the 4 wings). The sail works exactly like how sails on a boat work and control the speed/braking of the screw at the bottom. 

3)You rotate the direction of the sails depending on which direction the wind is coming from. A wheel, similar to the steering wheel on a ship, is used to control the sails. The sails weigh around 4 tons, and you can turn the wheel like a hamster, walking inside the rungs when the wind is too high. The speed the sails turn determines the speed of the screw pump, therefore controlling the amount of water that is being transferred.

See, isn't it cool??? If you're reading this and you got this far, thanks. I always knew we had something in common.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I love German food!

dad acting like a kid in a candy shop

Well, maybe not so much me. But my dad sure does. I think his favorite thing about Germany was the food. They love meat, and they like sausage. He's been reading about all his favorite musicians eating sausages by the river for the last 50-odd years, and he was itching to go to Germany to try them for himself. To their credit though, they really know how to cook their pork. 

Me and german fast food at the rest stop. Interesting, no? 
Cheap and hearty...

We visited tons of castles in Germany. Driving along the Rhine river, there are old castles on almost every hilltop, dating from the 1100s and on. Crazy, isn't it? There is this one castle tour that marketed 14 castles in 2 days! I think that would kill the novelty of castles and i'd be so fed up I wouldn't want to see another one for a while. 

View of the Rhine- said to be one of the most scenic drives in Germany

Mel in one of the halls of the was breathtakingly old and grand! 
(as you can see from her expression)

My personal favorite was Heidelberg Castle- its HUGE, and its literally falling apart. I think that the fact that its crumbling makes it all the more believable that people once lived and worked right there on the same spot I was standing... except dressed as courtiers or servants. You stand there and its so easy to see where the settings of all the fairy tales came from. 

Just like in the fairy tales

The tower is fell in on itself! I wonder how that happened.

Germany is beautiful, but the unfortunate thing about seeing castles and old churches every day is that after a while they all start to blend in with each other and you can't tell one from the other. We visited other castles and numerous churches, but when its a hot day and you've been walking all day, plus you're tired and hungry, the fun of it wears off a little. But nothing a visit to the bier garten can't fix.

Bartholomew and a Bier Garten in Cochem

look what I found!!! the german version (made in china).
Bartholomew: "i'm better than you."
other hippo: "ich verstehe nicht" (i don't understand you)

Our B&B in Kloten. This place was adorable. It even had a bier garten in the back!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Me and the Swiss flag on the lake tour. 

Zurich is a city built around a glacial lake- and it feels like exactly that. It is so crisp, and clear, and clean... your entire being can really just breathe there. I definitely want to go back... hopefully up to the snowy alps next time.

Lucerne, famous for this bridge. The tower used to be a jail, but is now a gift shop.
 We saw some guys on pool floats under the bridge at one point.

Strangely, it wasn't the historical landmarks and old cathedrals that I found most striking in Zurich- it was the nature-y, outdoorsy atmosphere. In the summer, all the parks are green, and everyone is out tanning, boating, swimming, camping, or relaxing in the parks. The lakes here are so clean, you can literally drink from them- no joke! While we were on the boat tour, there were so many other little boats, paddle boats, and canoes out there with us. Many parts of the lake are reserved for public use, and you can see families swimming and picnicking along the shores-- its so picturesque and unreal at times. Kind of like a story book city that you see illustrated in those scenic puzzles. 

The parks there are so green!

Interesting observation -- excuse me if I'm politically incorrect, but I'm just saying it as I see it-- Zurich is full of pale people. Not just white, but pale skin,blonde hair white. It was so strange- At least in France it was a bit more diverse, and same with Amsterdam, Bonn, Cologne, and Brussels. For such a big metropolitan city, I found it strange to see so much heterogeneity.

A few of the many swans in the water

Fun fact- they advertise the Alps, or the mountainsides along it, as Heidiland. There are brochures of a little girl dressed as "Heidi," a little boy dressed in Lederhosen as "Peter," and a little goat, all standing on a Swiss hillside beside a log cabin with wildflowers all around it.

Pictures like these are on every brochure...

I don't know who's idea it was to market it, but good for them, because seriously... IT SELLS. 
If my sister and I were ten years younger we'd have given my parents hell for it. 

But anyway, I am going back to Switzerland to see Heidiland. Just wait and see.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

driving in europe

After about 2 weeks on the road, driving in Europe is really a piece of cake. Not much difference from driving in California- after all, nothing can really ever get any worse than L.A. traffic, right? 

Freeway driving is pretty much the same as in the States- minus the fact that in Germany they go WAY fast. At one point, we were going 160km/hr on the slow lane, and cars to the left were zooming by like there was no tomorrow. Then we entered Holland, where they love to drive slowly.

Driving within the cities proved to be the most complicated- Paris (too many pedestrians and one-way streets), Zurich, Bonn, Cologne, Brussels, and especially Amsterdam (bikers and one way streets. oh, and watch out for parking- if you're not careful, your car can topple into the canal). Parking is crazy, often expensive, but still cheaper than buying train tickets for 4 adults into the city. In Amsterdam it cost around 45 Euro to park in a garage for a day (which was still cheaper than by-the-hour parking). I think by far, Germany was the most inexpensive country we visited- you could go to a really nice restaurant and spend under 60Euro for 4 people. But if you convert it, its about similar in the United States.  

Driving in the countryside was different in each country- the farmland in central France, the mountains going into Switzerland, the Rhine river and Black Forest in Germany, and the farms of Holland. All of it was beautiful- definitely different than driving up the I-5 through Fresno!

In France and Germany, there are picturesque little villages and historical landmarks every few exits on the "autoroute." This picture was taken in France. In Germany, there were often castles up on the mountains above the Rhine. While the amazing views inspire you to want to get off the freeway and take the scenic route, it's not as easy as it sounds. In France, getting on the big freeways requires you to pay a toll- about 30Euro to drive from Paris to Dijon- and that also means that there are no exits, only rest stops. So you may see a beautiful village or an old castle by the freeway, but there's no way to get there- no kidding. We tried at a rest stop, and the freeway is literally fenced in- so no one can get in, and no one can get out. Weird system, no? 

We ended up getting off the autoroute at Dijon and taking the back country roads- you definitely can't go as fast (40-60km/hr), and the roads are quite windy and sometimes extremely narrow. But the view makes it totally and completely worth it. The countryside in Europe is so CLEAN. Its fresh and breatheable, and all the houses and buildings are neatly kept- but not only that- it is full of colorful wildflowers. There are flowers hanging from street lamps, landscaped roundabouts that are exploding with color, and flowers flowing from each windowbox in every house. It's really like something out of a picture book. 

Driving does have its headaches- like bickering in the car and getting lost late at night- but at least now I can say that I've driven through the arches of the Louvre and past the glass pyramid, around the Champs Elysées (there are NO traffic lanes whatsoever and tons of cars), and over the bridge onto the Ile de Cite-- all in the process of trying to find the car rental return office Paris. And the icing on the cake: my dad was yelling at me the entire time for the navigation system going haywire. Fun times.

But seriously, if you ever drive in Europe, make sure you have a navigation system.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Playing catch-up

The Sacre Coeur, view from the bottom. 
Taken the first weekend of my program- the weather was perfect! I think half the times the clouds are what makes the pictures so beautiful.

Yikes... it's definitely been a while since i've posted. I'm finally all moved in, settled, and in a daily crazy routine of class and commuting, with little time in between for exploring. I'm in class every day from 1-5pm (and all morning on Mon. and Wed.), which pretty much kills any plans for exploration unless you still have energy for it after class. And you don't- straining your ears to understand a foreign language for so long makes you MENTALLY tired. Not to mention kills any self-esteem you originally had for learning the language. I hope that slowly i'll get the hang of it and actually see some improvement. Nevertheless, I've found my moments to explore and discover my own version of Paris- and I know you guys can't wait for me to share.

Its partly taken me forever to get back on this thing because I've been a little intimated by the massive amount of photos I've had to upload, and the loads that I have to update you all on. I don't even know where to start! So I suppose i'll start from the beginning. 

a drinking fountain!

This picture was taken our first few days in Paris- my mom and I were wandering around exploring, and we came upon a group of people gathered around this fountain, refilling water bottles. We were pretty shocked-- and asked a security nearby what it was and if it was really safe to drink. He told us that he was sure it was, and voila! Here I am, refilling my water bottle. The water tasted fine, and it was nice and cold too- better than the stale stuff I'd been carrying all day that was getting warm in the heat. 

I think this picture is the perfect embodiment of Paris- an old, elegant twist of something that is completely ordinary and every-day. You walk along the street, turn a corner, and you're met by something thats so old and grand that you're struck by its beauty- even if you don't know what it is. Just from my first week of class, I've learned that here, there is a function to beauty, and sometimes its the beauty that hides the function from the naked eye. In a way, I think this principle is also true in French culture- you can see it in the way people here dress, their traditional ways of doing all sorts of things just because "its the way its always been." It's so different from the rush for modernity that permeates American culture. Here, you still feel the rush of city life, but at the same time, you get a sense that there is always some time to spare to sit at a streetside cafe and chat away the afternoon with a friend. But really- time (as well as service) really does seem to go a lot slower there. Sometimes, frustratingly so- aren't I such an American?