Monthly Archives: March 2010

Back in the U.S.A.

Home, sweet Douglas home

Our welcome home party

Well, here ends the current installment of this blog project. I’m not quite done with my traveling, I’m heading to Boston and Vermont to visit college friends before I go back to New York and try to find some work for a few months, but I think I’ll hang up the blog towel for now. I know this makes everyone very sad, but don’t worry, I’ll be back!

I’m heading to Guatemala for the month of June to study Espanol and get my travel yaya’s out before I hit the real books as a student at CUNY. I’ll be going through an organization called Pop Wuj, and will be studying Spanish in the morning and volunteering in the afternoon and living with a host family. I’ll also get to go on weekend excursions and do other activities as a visitor to the region. After that I want to do a little more traveling to a few destinations a little farther south, but I’ll fill you all in when that’s finalized.

For now, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in a few months.

Adios Amigos!

Mon Dieu! Paris!

All you can drink!

All you can eat!

When my mom and sister came to Paris after skiing in the Chamonix region years ago they went to a lovely little restaurant that served them 4 courses and all you can


drink. Ever since that day my mom has been trying to get me to go check it out. As I continually say I can’t afford it, she generously offered to sponsor a visit by me and Jeremy. The restaurant is called Le Sergent Recruteur on Ile Saint-Louis. All my mom said was true: for 40,50 euro you get all you can eat appetizers (a bucket of sausages and a bucket of vegetables as well as bread and soup), and all you can drink beer, white wine and red wine. Jeremy pointed out that all you can drink alone for that price was a deal in Paris, and declared the restaurant his new favorite. The food was tasty and hearty, but the cheese looked old and my crème caramel was not the best I’ve ever had. Although it was not gourmet french cuisine at it’s finest, and a true Parisian would probably not be caught dead in there, we really enjoyed our meal, and the setting, and the generosity of my parents. A note of caution though: The bathroom is up a steep ladder-like staircase. After a few pitchers (or bottles) it can be treacherous to navigate, but that just adds to the experience!

The next morning poor Jeremy had to go to work early. I wanted to lie in bed all day and try to make my stomach stop rolling around (we took all you can drink to the next level), but as it is my tourists duty, I set out to explore the city. Jeremy had suggested I check out the Munch exhibit at The Pinacotheque. He’s the guy who is best known for ‘The Scream“. I thought the exhibit was really interesting, and it reminded me of Tim Burton’s works, which I saw at the New York MOMA. They are from different generations, and both have such unique styles, yet many of Munch’s images reminded me of Burton’s, leading me to theorize that Burton may have been inspired by the old Norwegian artist.

Church of Saint Marie-Madeleine

Church of Saint Augustine

Church of Saint Augustine

However I couldn’t fully appreciate the exhibit due to my past night’s indulgence. Wanting nothing more than to go home, but feeling guilty about being in such a beautiful and historic city and not exploring it, I went into the Church of Saint Marie-Madeline, a huge building that looks like it should be a greek town hall rather than a church. It was right next to the Pinacotheque, so it didn’t take much effort or imagination to walk over. There I felt the spirit and was healed. Actually the temperature was nice and cool because of the thick stone walls and it smelled pleasantly of incense which helped settle my stomach. With my renewed health I set out to walk the city. I spied St. Augustine’s Church down the boulevard, so I headed that way, and then just kept walking, making my way towards the Grand Palace. I wasn’t feeling any more museums, and it was late afternoon anyway, so I decided to walk along the river. Eventually I came upon Notre-Dame, and had to stop in there as well. By now it was 5:00 pm, and there was no line, so it met my standards of great tourist attraction: fewer people than normal. I also used my student ID to get into the treasury at a discounted price, and enjoyed my second visit to Notre-Dame. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t go up in the tower because it was too late in the day. Next time perhaps.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

For my last night Jeremy and I got Chinese take out and ice cream from the market. Parisian Chinese food is different than American Chinese food, but still yummy and greasy, and probably unlike any food you would actually eat in China. We had fun staying in with a movie, and then watching Will & Grace. My vacation has been a ton of fun, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the States and finalizing the details of my PhD program and trying to make a little money before I become a destitute student.

Adieu Paris! I’ll miss you!

Where else can you get view's like this???

Versailles Versailleeeeessssssss!



I’ve probably taken too much liberty with the French language here, but I can’t help it, I was so excited to go to Versailles! As some people know, I have a great affection for ‘old timey’ places, and a royal palace definitely fits the bill. For my first full day in Paris I decided to head out and explore Versailles. After buying breakfast, a picnic lunch, and then getting lost on the way to the metro, I was on my way. I arrived around 12:00 noon, and was rather pleased that it wasn’t over-run with people.

NOTE: I always talk about how much I hate ‘touristy’ things. That isn’t quite true. I love going to places and attractions, and even restaurants or pubs that many would deem ‘touristy’. What I dislike is when these places are either over-run with people and you have to stand around waiting, shuffling from one spot to the next, or when they take advantage of tourists simply because they can through over-pricing or by forcing extras on a visitor and then charging for the extras.

Bernini bust of Louis IV

Lion head used to latch the windows.

Anyway, back to what I like about Versailles. I love the attention to detail and master craftsmanship of all the people who built and decorated the palace initially, and all those who have maintained its decadence over the centuries and through the social and political revolutions.

Me in the hall of mirrors.

Today was a great day to visit the palace because it was nice balmy weather, and visiting midday, mid-week and during the low season means there are not too many people to compete with. I even got a picture of myself in the hall of mirrors and no one else is reflected in it!

I decided to buy a ticket that was only good for the Palace and gardens and skip Marie Antoinette’s Chateau, because I’ve heard what an ordeal the visit can be, and I didn’t want to feel obligated to drag myself around once I got too tired. For me, that just defeats the purpose of going to an awesome attraction. I didn’t research my visit at all, and I believe there are ways to combine your transportation and admission tickets, but I just did everything à la carte. It came out to about 22 euro for the whole visit the way I did it, and with my picnic lunch (4 euro) I didn’t have to purchase any food, and I got to enjoy it in the lovely gardens.

Grounds through palace window

All the statues were wrapped in the garden.

Fountain in gardenThe only downside about going this early in the season is that all the statues in the garden are protectively wrapped, and none of the fountains are running. It’s still really impressive to see the vast hectares of garden spreading out before you, and it’s fun to walk on the paths and try to get lost. Or actually get lost…hmm, that may be the theme to this part of the trip…

Castles and Palaces and Breweries, oh my!

There's ice coming out the gargoyle!

We checked out the cathedral today. It was pretty cool, nice and big and not too long a wait. It was neat to see the ice frozen as it dripped out of the gargoyle’s mouths. I also enjoyed the Mucha stained glass window, and it’s easy to pick out because it’s stylistically different from the rest of the windows.

After that we went to the Pálffy Palác restaurant. It was recommended by my friend’s dad, and when me, Lindsay and Daphne were in Prague we went on a subsidized visit. I wanted to bring my parents, and we decided to use a Rachel Ray tip: when going to a fancy restaurant check out their lunch menu to save a few dollars. I had an amazing three course lunch for 390 crowns, which is about 21 dollars. Plus if you’re parents are treating you, it’s free!

After that we walked home up about a million steps. It was a nice way to work off lunch. For dinner we hit up one of the oldest breweries in Prague, U Fleků . It was fun, and the food was more of the traditional Czech food, meat and potato or dumpling. No veggies in sight, unless you count pickled cabbage. My mom had been hounding us about hitting up this brewery, and she was pretty happy about the atmosphere. It was a little too touristy for me, and I didn’t like how they forced some ‘traditional’ shots on us and the fact that it was full of American and Japanese dudes. It just didn’t feel too authentic to me, but considering I got to pick a lot of our tourist activities, if this is what my mom wanted, it was fine with me.

What a huge cathedral. Built in two parts, hundreds of years apart, yet you can barely tell.

As a side note, usually my parent’s out-drink me. I’ll take a nap and they’ve gone out on a beer run. Go figure…

Praha: From Cubism to Art Nouveau

Powder Tower in the Old City

Today we set out to explore Prague, Czech Republic. It’s always fun to explore European cities, and when you’re in one as old as Prague, it could take years to find all the secrets the city holds. Having visited the city a few years previously I was very excited to return. Our group took a bus tour this morning, and it was fun to drive past places that me, Lindsay and Daphne saw on our trip; where we begged to park our car, where we got soaked as we searched for our hostel, and where we ate gelato on a warm summer night after getting a pizza box with George Clooney’s face on it.

Today, however, it was freezing. I don’t think I’ve even been this cold on a ski slope. After our bus/walking tour of the castle and parts of the old and new city we returned to the hotel to add a few layers. Immediately we had a family fight, likely due to our growling stomachs and freezing limbs. We returned to the subway, eager to grab some lunch and hit the two museums I had chosen. Our lunch was pretty tasty, but definitely not light, with huge sides of potato or dumpling and large portions of meat. It warmed us up, but made us dangerously drowsy.

I planned for us to hit up The House of the Black Madonna and The Mucha Museum. I chose these because of the subject matter (one is cubist and one is art nouveau), their small size, and because they will be closed tomorrow, so today was our only opportunity to check them out.

A picture of a postcard of the house and its cubist architecture

Center staircase from the bottom up...

...and the top down

The House of the Black Madonna is a house near the old center of Prague, at Celetná 34. It is a cool place to visit because it is built in the cubist style, yet it blends completely with the old architecture of the surrounding buildings. It houses two floors of permanent collection and one seasonal floor, all of Czech Cubists. One the second floor is a beautiful café, where you can come without buying any admission ticket (100 Czech Crowns), and get free internet wi-fi access and delicious food and drink. You can also easily get through all the exhibits in about an hour, so the museum size is not overwhelming.

The Mucha Museum, located at Panská 7 contains the works of Alphonse Mucha, founder of the Art Nouveau style. It’s a small museum, one floor, about 30/45 minutes to go through the whole exhibit. The posters are phenomenal, and I particularly enjoyed some of the works he created upon returning to Czech Republic that contained traditional folk symbols and beautiful artistic figures that have the ability to connect with the viewer (even if you aren’t aware of the symbols and can’t read the language). One piece of advice, always bring a student ID. I paid half price (80 Czech crowns vs. 160), simply for showing my ID. They don’t need to know I’ve been out of school for a year and a half…

Maybe next time I'll hit up this museum

Powder Puff Day

Sister searching out the powpow.

Me showing the mountain who's boss...

Me showing the mountain who's boss

We don't look like tourists, do we?

We don't look like tourists, do we?

Today I did the most powder I’ve ever done. I hiked to a drop-in. Despite the fact that my rental boots were too small today resulting in a whinier than usual Liz, Sarah stuck with me and showed me some of the nicer and slightly easier powder spots she’d found over the week. The powder fields were awesome, especially the one we hiked to, but my exits were usually far from graceful, and I fell many times, like the rookie I am.

Working through powder the day after my cross-country trek that ended up being 12.5 kilometers has turned my legs to jello. We’re heading to Prague tomorrow, and I am looking forward to simply walking around town! No more extreme sports this week…hopefully!

Last night sister and me went tobogganing. The trail is 7 km long, and about half a kilometer in we were going too fast, hit a berm, and we went flying one way and our sled continued on down without us, off the track. Luckily we found the sled a few switchbacks down later, and we had fun sliding down the mountain to find it. Leave it to Sarah to drag me off-piste on a toboggan run.

Our horses looked thrilled when we met them

Sarah and me decided to join the group on a horse drawn sled ride through town. It was picturesque and all, but it followed the same trail, and went to the same café, that my dad and me did on our cross-country ski journey. And it was pretty cold. And having a team of 2 horses pulling 12 Americans and one driver along a snowy trail made me feel kind of guilty. All in all, typical tourist’s adventure, however this is one I wouldn’t repeat.

Sarah and Dan hit up Club Pacha, a VIP club in Ischgl that boasts hosting individuals such as Paris Hilton and Katy Perry. They had a blast, until they realized the credit card limit was 100 euro. Pretty sure they would die if they drank that much they chose to join the hotel’s waitstaff and have a few drinks on them before crawling home. They’re headed out tonight to try and surpass their previous antics, hopefully they’ll make it on the bus to the airport, departing bright and early at 6:45…

Cross Crunchy Screaming

For some reason every time I try to say “cross-country skiing” it comes out as “cross crunchy screaming”, and it’s starting to get old. Today I went out on an exploratory run with my dad, and it was awesome. We found the one rental place in Ischgl for cross-country skis, and hit the trail. We ended up on a great groomed trail that runs through a valley, and stopped in Mathon for our lunch coffee and hot chocolate. This is when we decided that the only people who live in this town work in the resorts or on the mountain, as we only found one open restaurant, and no one was walking around anywhere…except us!

Map of cross-country ski trails

All in all, it was a great work out. I had some awesome pictures, but of course my camera is not cooperating, and decided the memory card was no longer formatted correctly, so I’ve got nothing. Since we’re heading out again tomorrow on a 10.5 km jaunt, I should be able to shoot some new ones. I’m also mad because I had some sweet shots of Galtur from our day skiing over there. It was a really nice mountain, although far smaller than Ischgl/Samnaun. And a lot colder, with a bitter wind blowing the snow and creating some icy spots that were hard to identify.

Sister all tuckered out after a hard day of boarding. And eating steak.

We had an awesome dinner at a restaurant in town, and enjoyed some traditional wienershnitzle and steaks. I followed mine with some deeeelish white and dark chocolate mousse. It was a great end to an excellent day. Tomorrow we’re going tobogganing at night, which I can’t wait to do. Last time me and sister rode the same sled, and have some pretty hilarious memories. We’re looking for a repeat performance. Then Friday I’m going to bite the bullet and follow the experts (Sister and Dan Erickson) as they leave their signatures in some of the gorgeous pow that’s still on the mountain, 4 days after the last snowfall. I’m a little nervous considering Sarah has been dragging Dan around the mountain all week and today he hit a jump and cracked his ski all the way through and pulled his hip flexor. And he’s a ski racer. Just think what she’s going to do to a rookie like me…

On a side note I just got accepted into CUNY’s PhD program, with a full scholarship, health insurance and a living stipend. I’m so smart!