Sunday, April 5, 2009

Day 2 in Paris

First, a trivia item: Paris is named after the Parisi tribe that discovered the island and set up their huts here in 200 BC. They set up on Ile de la Cite, where I am staying. It's one of two islands on the Seine; the other being Ile Saint Louis. On this particular island is Notre Dame. Another interesting fact: there was discussion among city planners to tear down Notre Dame until Victor Hugo's book "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"" was written and made the place famous.

So today (Friday to me) I started out at the gym - see, it's possible to work out on vacation, even in a foodie place like Paris. After getting back and having breakfast it was decided that Byron, Glenn, and I would trek along Champs-Elysees from Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. Concorde is where the beheadings took place during the French Revoluution...The Directory renamed the square Place de la Concorde (from Place de la Revolution). On the northwest corner of Concorde is where the guillotine (aka the national razor) was placed. It is now marked with a statue of Brest and underneath that it's a bathroom. So from a place to where Marie Antoinette lost her head to aa place where you drop your pants...crazy. The rest is blah,blah tourist stuff that you should do if you're in Paris...walk the Champs-Elysees, go to the Arc de Triomphe, then walk to the Eiffel Tower. I could describe it for you, but you have to experience it yourself. All I can say is that Hitler was only in Paris for a day and got a photograph of himself in front of the Eiffel Tower and marched through the Arc de Triomphe, so then should you.

Speaking of the Eiffel Tower - go up, Take the time and spend the money: 12 euros. It's quite a view. Just watch out for all the trinket people! They'll try to sell you 100 different miniature versions of the tower. Yeah, so they got me.

Last thing - the ride home was on a Batobus: a river taxi of sorts. There are different versions - some with naratives of the city and others without.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: my thought of the day. Taking the batobus home I couldn't help but wonder how it would be to live in Paris. Actually, I do this in every city I travel to. I wonder what I would do for work: would I start a gym? Would I wait tables and live a day-to-day existence? How livable is Paris? What about the climate? Then I think about about how I could make it happen. Sell my share of the business. Find a job. Learn French. Get an apartment. It's a thing that I have done in every city that I've been to. Paris would be fun, but I think that the cost would be a tough thing to deal with. It's on par with London and worse than New York, especially with the exchange rate. I tend to think that I would pick up a smoking habit in about 3 months, as seems to be the case with everyone I see. I would date a smoking hot super-model girlfriend. Yeah, every girl here is smoking hot and dresses with crazy style.

Ok, that's it. Versailles on Saturday, museums on Sunday (they're free!)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Paris in the springtime!

The trees are turning green, the sun is shining, couples are hanging out along the Seine - yes, it's spring in Paris. I arrived here Thursday morning...via Cincinnati. Of all the things I wanted to get done before I left, buying a guide book was one that I failed to complete. Once I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport I had to find my way to Paris and the apartment that my friends Byron and Glenn rented. At this point I realized that I should have paid attention in my college freshman French class. I tried in vain to figure out how to get to Paris, but to no avail...I ended up getting directions at the info booth. They told me to get on the free train, get off, buy a ticket, get back on another train, etc, etc. Seemed like a lot to when it was time to get off the train, I was met with an onslaught of boarding passengers and I couldn't get off. Instead I took a wait and see approach. Finally I arrived at (one of) the main metro stops where everyone else got off. I followed them and realized that I had to switch lines. Then I was given two options: buy a ticket and walk through the turnstile, or just walk through an open gate that everyone else was walking through...I choose the latter option. Once I got to my destination (Ile de la Cile) I calculated that I had saved 8 euros. Now I could eat!

Now as I write this I am sitting at Le Petit Plateau - across from Notre Dame and Ile Saint Louis - drinking a much anticipated glass of red's currently 7:10 a.m. DC's a little early for wine in DC, but just the right time in Paris.

Here are my early observations and thoughts: on the train/metro ride here I noticed a NYC-amount of graffiti along the rails. Also, not having a guide book, I had no idea which way to go to find the apartment - all I had was the address and a Metro map. I knew that the apartment was on Ile de la Cile, which limited how lost I could get!

After eating (I've ordered a quiche and 3-cheese plate) I have to find a place to drop my bag since I don't have a key and then get to Musee d'Orsay by 5 p.m. to meet Byron and Glenn.

Ahh! Lunch is served! Excuse me while I eat....


ok...yes french food is quite good! (understatement, yes, I know) A vegetable quiche followed by 3 small but delicious cheeses. The quiche was larger than what is typically served in the States and came with a very fresh salad - simple but delicious. In total, a glass of red, a quiche and salad, 3 cheeses and bread...all for 11 euros, or $20 including "tip". But, hey, the waitress gets 12 weeks vacation, so it's worth it!

Monday, September 1, 2008

A new level of soreness

Sitting in a hotel lobby, my legs are still sore from the 5-day trek through the Andes to Machu Pichu. The most traditional route to Machu Pichu is the Inka trail, however that requires booking months ahead, sharing the trail with 400 other people (hikers, guides, and porters combined). I instead took the Salkantay trail, which at 5 day´s compared to 4-day Inka hike, and with a mountain pass at 4600 meters, may be a little more grueling and, with only a few groups along the way, is a lot more peaceful.

Each day had its own adventure, from the freezing temperatures on the first night but with the most amazing view of the stars, to the 5th days boring trek along railroad tracks interrupted with a dip in the river.

My group consisted of 3 girls (Liala, Zaida, and my friend Soraya), the token German, Phil, and the guide, horsemen, and cook (respectively, Socrates, Faustino and Wilfredo, and the amazing Severino). The group and guide turned out to be the second best thing of the adventure (the first being the views of, well, everything!).

The next couple of updates will tell some stories of the hike. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

London: it's not the rain, it's the showers

This is my last night here in London, in fact the last night of my vacation...5 weeks - it's been great and I will elaborate on some personal thoughts in another blog once I return. But now - London. First, second, and last, the weather here sucks. I knew it was going to be bad when the local weather lady said "today we'll have some rain in London and showers in the afternoon". Rain and then showers? Great. At least my rain coat that's been idle in my backpack will get some use. I arrived Wednesday night and promptly made it to a pub for a pint of Guiness and a delicious meal of chicken and least the food here is good - especially after trying to find a good meal in Thailand. Thursday morning I hopped on the metro, err Tube, to head to tourist central - Westminster. Since I was heading in during a work day, I quickly discovered that everyone here is a former model - everyone was decked out. So after getting off at Westminster I began to wander around. I walked around for about two hours when I realized that I am never going to see the entire city by foot, so I found an internet cafe, searched for a bike rental store and within 45 minutes I was biking around. I biked around and through Hyde Park, Kensington, Chelsea, Fulham, and finally back home to Hammersmith on the west end.

Later that night I met up with my friend Valerie for dinner near Whitechapel (Val and I met last year - she was doing some research at U Maryland and rented a room from Crick). The food was amazing - indian curry dishes that were just so rich. Afterwards we went to a seedier part of town, just north of Whitechapel...this is where the real fashion took off. Basically, the fashion works like this: find something so crazy, so old, so loud, and so weird and wear them all at the same time...and the funny part is that in their effort to create a uniquie identity everyone ends up looking the same. More on this later with the Hoxton wardrobe.

Friday I biked all around London, from the west end where the hostel is located all the way to London Bridge and the Tower of London, about 8 km one way. Biking is the way to travel around London...the Tube is everywhere, but then your stuck walking. Taxis are crazy pricey, and if you rent your own car, you have to pay a congestion tax to drive into the city. So about mid-day the rain began...and this is when I began to curse the weather. Luckily, the Tate Modern was nearby so I poked my head in to see art from Jackson Pollack, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Mark Rothko (who's art is growing on me and come to think of so is Pollack's).

Eventually I made it home and then out to Hoxton to hang out with Keith. Keith is living the dream here in London - working from home, lives near a park (for pick-up football). We (me, Keith, and his roommate Tony and his gf who's name escapes me) made our way to the local pub. Now this is where fashion took a wrong turn. As a guy here's what you have to where in Hoxton: skin tight pants that are especially tight at the calves, white shoes, a button up shirt and a cardigan. Plus the hair has to be going sticking out in every direction. And the girls where black tights, a cotton dress with a belt around the waist and hair cut with the bangs cut just above the eyebrows...all too cool. This thing is - I am the strange one here: "hey look at the American wearing baggy jeans and a striped shirt"...yup, I'm the dork.

So we all tied one on (got drunk to you yanks), partying until a wee bit past 4. Thankfully, we got some exercise the following morning at the local park, playing some footy for a few hours - and, yes, it rained sideways for about 20 minutes. The rest of the day was spent playing xbox where I proceeded to shoot Chinese army people for a few hours (actually, they got me more than I got them.

OK, time for bed...I will wrap this story up once I get home and in the comfort of my living room. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Trouble in Paradise

It was one of those days that had the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. Sunday was spent rock climbing as I described before - the combination of the challenges, the scenery, meeting new friends made the day amazing...but then once we got home (a 2 hour car ride, mind you) it all came crashing down. Leo, Rod, and I got to the house around 10:30 p.m. and we knew something was wrong once we got to the house. The gate was open and all the lights to the house were turned off. Then once we got to the back patio, we noticed that the sliding glass door was open and the front door was open. And there were plates of food everywhere. Mun, the housekeeper, was supposed to watch over the house while we were away. However, as we put all the pieces together, it appeared that she looted my stuff while we were away. Once we turned the lights on I knew I was in trouble. My backpack was open and my jacket was hanging out. Before I left I put wrapped my valuables inside my jacket and placed it inside the backpack. I opened the pack and discovered that my wallet (containing several hundred US dollars), phone, and watch had all been stolen. I was so pissed...we had put our trust in someone and she stole from us. We found out that it was indeed her...Leo did the job of calling around, starting with Mun. She didn't answer either of her phones. And Leo found the girl who had been helping Mun on Friday and found out that Mun wanted to steal the scooters that we had rented too.

As you can imagine, I was pissed, upset, and any other word that you can imagine. But I had to do my best to find that happy zone...I knew that every minute that I thought about my losses was one minute that I couldn't enjoy myself. I had to really take time to do this. Has anyone else been in this situation? Funny thing happened later at the airport on my way to London - where I am now - I picked up a book called Farang about an Brit who moved to Thailand in 1997 and inside, one of the first 5 chapters details a story about the housemaid who stays for a while and then makes off with jewellry and money. I wish I had read that book before I got to Thailand!

So all's well ends well...just got to raise my personal training rates once I get back!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Railay Beach and rockclimbing

Seriously, this is paradise...we're near a place called James Bond Island since it was where one of his movies was filmed - the one with the cool rock formation right near the beach...I think it was Dr. No or something.

Yesterday, Rod, Leo and I took a taxi from Phuket north off the island and then east to Railay to do some rock climbing. The trip was about three hours and once we got to Railay we met up with the rockclimbing instructors to get outfitted - Judith and Mor own the shop - she's German and hes Thai...she came here years ago and fell in love with the place, and it's hard not to see how. So after getting our gear, we got some feed at a restaurant that Leo recommended. And let me just pause here for a minute to write about Leo - he's the nicest fellow you could meet and he gets on with everyone, so everytime we walk into a place, Leo knows the people and they take care of us. He sent me to a breakfast joint in Rawai and after I mentioned that Leo sent me the bloke who owns the place was good enought to chat with me for a bit. And we all need friends like Leo who take the road less traveled. live in an exotic place, and scope out all the cool, interesting things to do. Even as I write this I am asking myself if I'm the kind of friend that people would want to have? I guess it's all about being selfless.

So today we woke up, got some feed (a new term I picked up) and then were picked up by Judith. She took us to the boat and then Mor took us for a 15 minute long-tailed boat ride to the rockclimbing location. We were joined by Liam, a young fearless lad from England and Rick, a 65-year-old guy that's going on 40. Once we got our gear on we started the climb...these were 6a, 6b, 6c climbs, which might mean something to some people, but I just looked up and saw a sheer wall of rock. Leo's done a bit of climbing, so he was up and down in minutes. Liam tore it too. Rod, Rick and I struggled a bit, but these were hard and neither of us had done much climbing. After about 2 hours at this site, we moved on. This next trek to the other side consisted of hiking through the caves, climbing bamboo ladders, and using ropes top get through. Then we had to belay down a 50 feet to get to the next path.
After lunch on West Railay Beach - a secluded beach accessible only by boat - we took our boat to another set of climbs - higher and ranging more in difficulty. Leo and Liam got up to the highest climb and I almost made it...I got stuck on one particular hold where my hands just gave out and I could not push off my legs enough to get to the next hand hold. I was about 60 feet up, so I was pretty happy with the climb. Funny thing - apparently Rod is afraid of being off of the ground - even climbing a ladder scares him - so he would climb about 20 feet up and insist on coming down. Rick made it up a smaller climb, but still difficult. Finally, I made a climb all the way up (you have to hit the anchor to make the claim). It was quite exhilarating!

We spent the next 3 hours climbing, resting, watching others (there were like 20 people here). The Thai instructors were ridiculous. They could scale the walls barefoot, without ropes, hanging upside-down. Of course, it's a lot easier when (a) you do this everyday, and (b) you weigh 110 lbs and (c) have no body fat. After our last climb, Rod, Liam, Rick and I went for some drinks while Leo and the instructor finished a lead climb (where you climb up with the rope and attach it at the top).

Liam was telling us stories about how on the Cambodia/Thai border there's a guy that lets people shoot chickens or cows with an AK-47 for about $20...and apparently the recoil on an AK-47 is mad, so most people just miss the damn thing. I guess that's why I love traveling - the crazy people you meet, the stories you's really what living is all about.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Life on Phuket

Phuket Island is paradise - for the past couple of days Rod, Leo, and I have been hanging out, scooting around Rawai Beach, partying a little and relaxing a lot. Leo has a woman at his house named Moon that cooks and cleans and generally takes care of us (there's also two other guys visiting here named Gary and Nugget - I'll be hanging out with Gary in London once I get there).

So after the fight Thursday night we went bar hopping in Patong Beach - this was an area devastated by the Tsunami in 2004...but it's back and as crazy as any place I've seen. The main street is closed off and resembles Bourbon Street in people watching, debauchery, drinking, and sex.

Speaking of sex, and more specifically, the sex's alive and well here in Patong. We went to a club called the Dragon the women dance on stage - some dances are choreographed - and the other times they just dance on stage to the bad music. But the interesting part here is that the girls are numbered. Here's how it works: you tell your waitress which girl you like and then she comes over to meet you. If she likes you then she'll come home with you. You have to pay the bar a cut (like 200-400 baht, about $10) and then shell out some cash for the girl. And then you have to arrange her transport in the morning so that she can do this again. But the thing is you have to treat the girls well and be nice to them, or else they won't come back with you. And the whole thing is happening in the wide open, not like the US or any other western country. It's quite easy to see why the industry survives - for $100 you can get a young, hot Thai girl for the night and then send her home the next day...

So after hitting the club (and we is Leo, Rod, Nugget, and Leo's girl) we got a few drinks across the way and kept watching the nightlife unfold.

The taxi ride home consisted of riding in the back of a truck for 35 minutes...first class, baby! Then Nugget and I hit up some bars before I decided to make it back to the hotel room. (I'm staying in a hotel because there are only 2 beds in Leo's home. Leo arranged a room - let's not call it a hotel - at the Stone Inn.) This room is a step up from a prisoner's pad, and not a bug step mind you. The bed, if you could call it that, is hard and sits in the middle of a small room. I was greeted by 2 dead cockroaches on the floor and another one on the way to the bathroom. But it's a place to rest my head and by that time of the night I was drunk enough not to care.

The next day I woke up arond 1:30 - the latest I've slept this entire trip - and then made my way over to Leo's. Moon was preparing a barbecue for the afternoon so we grubbed and watched the Waratahs play the Crusaders...

oh, gotta go, the cars starting...