Monday, January 3, 2011

When plans A-D fail....

First off, ¡FELIZ 2011!!!!! So as promised this will be a long one about my trip via rail through France and Spain.  My friend Annalisa and I got Eurail passes for 5 travel days in 2 months through the two countries.  This means that we didn't have the buy the tickets, we just had to pay the reservation fee which is usually between 1.50 and 7 euros.   
Dec 23: After arriving at the train station in Murcia we realized that plan A (going to the border and then Lyon before's cheaper to go to the border first because if its a straight trip the reservation fee is way more because its an overnight train) was already a no go because it was a HUGE travel day.  So instead we went to Alicante -> Madrid -> Paris.

Dec 24: We arrived in Paris at about 11:30 am after traveling all night (11 hours from all in all a little less than 20 hours from Murcia).  Since we couldn't check in yet we went to the hostel to drop off our luggage and then we just walked around our neighborhood...luckily we were staying in Montmârte near the base of of hill that leads up to the Sacre Croeur.  Also, it was snowing! I though that was awesome...Annalisa not so much.  We walked around for about 2 hours and then we got lunch at a little cafe near our hostel.  I had a zucchini soup with toasted brie on top and a piece of quiche lorraine (and yes I will be giving detailed accounts of my French food so be prepared to get very hungry as you read the rest of this post).  After checking-in and putting our bags in the room we went to see the Moulin Rouge.  It was kind of a huge let-down because it was under construction so it was pretty much just a red building...the windmill part of it was covered.  Annalisa then went back to the hostel for a quick nap and I was left to my own devices.  I wandered in and out of shops, bought (and subsequently consumed) a box of assorted macarons, and found a Salvador Dalí exhibit at the top of the Montmârte hill (he used to live there when not in Spain with Federico García Lorca)
 I followed this with a nutella crêpe and then headed back down the hill.  For dinner Annalisa and I went the bread and cheese route and watched movies for the night.  Thus was our Christmas Eve (altogether very much like my Christmas Eves usually are...just without the Chinese food, which we were actually thinking about getting, but then we realized that neither of us actually spoke French well enough (I only know a little bit and Annalisa none at all) to not order something REALLY disgusting).
Dec 25: We got a pretty slow start this morning, the first thing we did was go on a free tour of the city at 1:00 pm.  It was actually a really good tour and helped us to figure out the city a little bit better.  We started at the Fontaine St. Michel and then walked along the Seine toward the the Louvre (our guide pointed out the Notre Dame, which was behind us).  We then went to a little park under the Ponte Neuf where Henry IV used to take his mistresses.  The park was actually almost completely summerged because of the snow melt.  This is also where the Friday the 13th superstition began...
The knights of Toulouse (I think...a religious order) started the first lending system along the roads so that rich people wouldn't have to carry all their money with them when they traveled and then get robbed.  Eventually the nobility owed huge debts, King Henry IV and the Pope included.  Henry and the Pope decided that they didn't want to pay the debt, because it they did they would have bankrupted their respective countries, so Henry rounded up all the knights (on Friday, October 13, 1813) in the park and killed them all.  As the leader was burning at the stake he cursed Henry and the Pope saying that they would both be dead within the year; the king died 2 months later and the Pope 6.
From there we walked through the courtyards at the Louvre and along the Jardin de Toleries where our guide pointed out a couple museums and the Oblesique.  The we walked to the Gran Palais and the Petit Palais ending the tour on the Pont Alexandre III overlooking the Hotel des Invalides.  From there Annalisa and I, along with 2 people we met on the tour, walked over to the Eiffel Tower and climbed up to the 2nd floor (669 steps) at sunset.

We then walked along the Champs-Elysees where we spent awhile trying to find an affordable French cafe (a lot like trying to find an affordable restaurant on Rodeo Drive).  However, along the way I did find the studios for Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gautilier, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton...unfortunately I did not find Chanel (a little upset about that, not going to lie, since Chanel is one of my favorite designers).  We did finally find a restaurant where I ate Soup a'la Onión and Risotto foie-gras (the soup was really good....) Then we walked toward the Arc de Triomphe where we found Laduree (famous for their macarons) I tried 3 new flavors; Orange Blossom, Cassis-Violet, and Rose Petal & Ginger.  All were fabulous!  We finally made it up to the Arc just to see it.  The eternal fire in the middle has only ever been put out twice...the first time when Mexico lost to France in the world cup and a Mexican tourist peed on the flame to extinguish it, the second when some Australians were trying to save money so they were BBQing over it and some piece of whatever they were cooking fell in and smothered it.  In both cases the perpetrators were exiled from the country.

 Dec 26: This was our museum day.  As it turns out, if you're studying at an EU university you get into museums for free.  We started at the Louvre where we quickly discovered the truth of the words that it would take 6 months to see every piece of art in the museum.  We did not spend 6 months there...rather 2 and a half hours. The only things that were easy to find were the Venus di Milo and Mona Lisa (I would like to point out the irony of the fact that the two most famous pieces in the Louvre are Italian).  Then we had lunch in the mall below the Louvre, Carousel du Louvre, where I had quiche lorraine, a salad, and a chocolate tartlett. We then went to the Musee d'Orsay, which is supposed to pick up where the Louvre drops off with Impressionists.  There some Monet, Renoir, and Van Goughs that I liked, but other than that I was not very impressed.  Then we went to the Musee de l'Orangerie, which was amazing.  Monet donated some of his larger water lily paintings specifically to this museum and placed them himself at eye level.  
Then we went to the Christmas market when I drank vin chaud and bought an Eiffel Tower charm for my bracelet.  We then ate some more bread and cheese for dinner while watching It's a Wonderful Life
Dec. 27: We went to the Notre Dame today.  We first went into the cathedral, which was really pretty and impressive in all it's Gothic style.  Originally we weren't going to be able to go up the bell tower because of snow and ice, but by the time we got back outside they had opened it again, so up we went.  This time it was only 400 steps, way better than the Eiffel Tower.  The view from the top is a breathtaking view of the city, not to mention the gargoyles : ) Then we walked along the Seine and I bought a anthology of plays by Moliere (I know, I lit major nerdiness never goes away, even when I don't speak the language) and had crepes for lunch.  Mine had cheese, ham, and mushrooms.  Not exactly kosher, but very delicious nonetheless!  

Dec. 28: We checked out of the hostel at 11:30 and then wandered around Montmârte again, particularly in and out of tourist shops and into the Sacre Croeur.  It was really nice day outside so we actually had lunch outside (under a heater) at a restaurant in the main square where we could people watch, particularly the artists.  I had mussels in a white-wine sauce and french fries followed by cafe au lait and creme brulee.  Then we got on our train to Bordeaux, which was delayed, but we made it there safely, just at about 11 pm, so we automatically fell asleep and left exploring the city for the next day.
Dec 29: As it turns out, the primary things to do in Bordeaux are drink wine and shop, so we did just that.  The hotel had given us a map, so our strategy was just to get lost in the city and then pull out the map when we wanted to go back.  We saw a couple churches, an old antique market, and the synagogue.  Then we stumbled across a quaint old restaurant in the city center.  I had a glass of red Bordeaux wine and a croque monsieur (which is basically a grilled cheese with ham, but the cheese is on the outside).  Then we spent a few hours at a cafe, which had wifi, checking train schedules and emailing parents and such things.  Then I read while Annalisa messed around on her computer.  Following this we went to a wine bar where I had another glass of red wine from the region, and I even got Annalisa to have a glass of wine (she doesn't like red wine)
Then we walked over to the Christmas market and had sandwiches for dinner (basically like sloppy joes).
Dec 30: Today was primarily a travel day; Bordeaux -> Irún (the Spanish side of the border) -> Salamanca.  It was 9 hours of travel, but during the day so we got to see the mountain landscape, which looked a lot like driving through the Rockies during the summer.  We arrived in Salamanca after dark though so we didn't really get to see the city, we just walked around and saw the outsides of the buildings all lit up.
Dec 31: We took at 2 hour train ride from Salamanca to Madrid, which was our last train (thank Gd...because my inherited motion sickness from Dad was starting to kick in, especially since on some of the trains I was facing backwards).  We had a late lunch and TGI Friday's...we were both really missing American food.  Then we just wandered around on the Gran Via and Puerta del Sol.  We bought champagne and grapes (its good luck to eat a grape on every chime at midnight) and then got ready for new years.  We went to the Puerta del Sol, which was insanely packed liked sardines (I saw on the news the next morning that there were over 40,000 people there) and counted down the end of the year!  We finally made it back to the hostel at about 5 am and crashed until 2 later that day.

Dec 1: We started the day with Chinese food to combat my train wreck headache (combination of cheap champagne and a cold).  There was literally nothing open except tourist shops and restaurants so we wandered in and out of the shops and then just hung out at the hostel.  Later that night we went to the Ballet Flamenco de Madrid who's purpose is to show that there is more to Spanish dancing than just flamenco.  It was a combination of flamenco, sevillano, bolero, and ballet to both Spanish guitar and Spanish classical music.  The show was absolutely AMAZING!
Dec 2: After a 5 hour bus ride (we watched Little Fockers for half of it and slept for the other half) we made it back to Murcia in one piece with all of our luggage.  
And thus ends my adventures through France and Spain!
I think I may have just written a novel...but anyhow, that was how I spent the last 12 days.  

¡Hasta la semana que viene!  I hope everyone has an amazing 2011!!!

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