Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Weekend in Paris

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I have just returned from what may have been my most magical moments on the continent to date. I made the decision to come to Paris on a whim and expected a quiet, relatively solitary time away to take in some culture. What I got was a non-stop collage of memories with all sorts of people from all over the world. I actually did not spend any time alone except for my metro travels entering and leaving the city. Anyway, I’m going to use this blog post to write down as much of the events and people as I can remember, because it felt like I was in a movie. Still not sure if I’ve just had a really long dream.

So I stepped out of a private class on Wednesday night at 8:30 with a 6:00 am flight looming over my head. Awkward decision to be made: try to get a little sleep at home, and run the risk of missing the flight, or recognize my inability to wake up sometimes and go directly to the airport. Fortunately I opted for the latter option, and although it was a very strange hour to arrive, I managed to stretch out on chairs and get my sleep there. The flight was fine. My luggage was carry-on, not too much to worry about there, I checked in as an Irishman, and I took a seat with RyanAir. No problems. Spoke with an American girl from South Dakota on Erasmus in Granada. How BIG is that exchange program?? Nice to make some jokes about each other’s states and hear about our experiences in Spain, but mostly it was a flight for sleep.

Arrived into Beauvais Airport, to a drizzling French scene. It appeared to be a small town, I didn’t get the chance to take it in. From there I caught a shuttle to Paris as the airport was about 80 kilometers away, about an hour drive. Slept some more and was in Paris at about 9:30 AM? Wasn’t really sure where to go from there…was without phone and a little confused on my orientation so I figured to just walk it out. I stumbled across the Arc de Triomphe and just as I was approaching it I was called upon, “Hey! Are you American?” “Yep, I am.” “How are you doing? We’re lost here…” bla bla bla. So I ended up getting talking to these two guys from Brazil and as we were all collectively without a clue on the layout of the city we tackled it together. They were fantastic, very very nice. One fellow splits his life between Boston and Rio de Janeiro. I unfortunately did not learn too much about the other man as he didn’t speak Spanish or English, but we shared some nice smiles.

So from about 10 to 3’o clock I took a casual walking tour with them: the Arc, down the Avenue of Champs-Élysées, took a lot at some of the stores there (outfits were typically going for well over a thousand euro), past the  Élysée Palace, drifted past the Louvre, and laid our eyes on Notre Dame Cathedral. We went inside and took it in. I liked it, although I would say that the Basilica of the Sacred Heart struck me more. At that point I was ready for a check-in with the hostel, Le Montclair,  just to take a breather. This hostel receives very high recommendations from me. Will get to that later. Met the loveliest receptionist in a long time: an Irish girl, Leah, and just so nice and sweet. We kicked off with our Irish connection and made banter over that. An American traveler of about the same age made some sarcastic comments during our exchange, occasionally knocking our momentum, but I’m sure he meant well.

Back out! Brunch with our very own Tiffany Teng of TCNJ, studying abroad there for the semester. Nice to hear her impressions of the city as a resident and to compare them across my own intentions and objectives in Paris as a tourist. Shameless tourist :). We parted ways and I saw the Basilica, about two minutes from the hostel…striking. Breathtaking the way they illuminate it at night. I walked through a small market located nearby, did a little souvenir shopping, and bought a ‘hot wine’ which I enjoyed quite a lot. I think it would fit in very well with the New Jersey Autumn scene…in the same vein as our hot cider.

Night time socializing at the hostel! Bought a bottle of wine and spoke to a Frenchman, very particular sort of individual, he didn’t remember me the next morning, then got speaking to an Australian middle-aged man, Leba, who cooked a mean pot of stew which we shared. I never fully got to have a full-out conversation with him, but we have each other’s e-mails and I think there’s room for some really great exchange. I got my bottle over to two Americans. It was an exchange of European ideas that could be taken over to American to capitalize on. At times very interesting, though can’t say I totally hit it off with them. Walked over to a jazz bar to take in for a little, but fatigue told me back to the hostel. I had been getting ready for bed, but got to know my roommates. A Dutchman, a German, two Mexicans, and a South Korean. That was fun! We had some snacks and ate, and as I and the Dutchman had Spanish, our friends from Mexico asked us to try it out in conversation. Very fun!

The next morning was the departure of the Europeans, but the rest of us saw the Museum of Science and Industry. Some English, some Spanish, and lots of fun. We took silly photos and just basked around the city in tranquility. Arrived to the L’ouvre at midday and would spend until about 9:00 there. I absolutely loved it. You could spend weeks there. Got my Mona Lisa picture and the whole experience was just very impactful, between Napoleon’s quarters, the Egyptian display, the Greek sculptures, the castle there…just so much to take in! Back to the hostel to share a wine between the four of us and we connected with a group of medical students hailing from England. Had a little bit of fun with them and then some rest. The next morning marked the departure of my first group of friends. All the contact information is with our South Korean friend so I am hoping that he will send an e-mail out to all of us to maintain the friendship!

What made the biggest difference for me from that point forward was that I managed to connect with the most fantastic group of people I have met in a long, long time in my life, hailing from Argentina. I’m not even sure how we started talking, I think it was a moment of casualty at the front desk, and I say thanks to God for that connection. I was with them for the rest of the trip. There are no words. We were a family by the end of the trip and I miss them so much. We talked and talked and talked and talked…singing A Capella Ben E. King in the streets, Michael Jackson, cracking funny jokes in two different languages, and just making banter…just simple human conversation with no rhyme nor reason. I haven’t felt that naturally connected to a group of people in a long time. We drank Argentinian Mate quite a few times a day, and made our way back to the hostel to sing and talk…it was just so simple…no crazy nights out, just chatting away…and their way of living, their view of the world…to me absolutely precious. Almost like a Latino version of Irish people. That makes for a lot a lot a lot of difference. A lot of difference, but that same charm, that same certain magic that exists in certain pockets of humanity…it was there. Praise God how fun it was. And they’ve impacted me significantly. Some experiences just make a mark on your soul :).

We did Versailles that first day together: 2 Argentinian sisters, their Spanish-speaking French friend, 2 Argentinian best friends, and a 5 Argentinian. Versailles was nice, but overcast weather unfortunately. The property was enormous. It took us a couple hours to walk around it all I think. The interior was of course very elegant, very over the top…interesting for sure. I liked it and talking with the group was fantastic. We  had some food in the town and made our way to the hostel, where we found a group of American girls studying  in Granada and we had fun singing with them and just riling everybody up. Fantastic, bloody fantastic. Felt very tired by the end of the day from all the walking, and had a deep sleep in the room of the Argentian fellows as there was a technical difficulty with my own door. That was a funny situation.

And yesterday we did the free walking tour! We did it in Spanish and after it I felt I had a much better perspective on the city. So so rich. I’m positive I’ll have to return, I’ve barely scratched the surface. So we saw all the sites, all the sites, we got tickets for the Eiffel Tower and we climbed to the top with all the lights illuminated, that definitely struck me. Then we took the nighttime cruise on the river…oh my gosh. That just hit me…there are no words, nor time, to explain it. We had more chatting at the hostel until three in the morning and then to the bed! Breakfast together this morning, and as my flight was at 1:30, that was all. Photos will be up soon, here or on FB.

That’s the trip in a nut shell! AH, and how about the fact that I randomly encountered a TCNJ student at the hostel as I was leaving this morning?? El mundo es un pañuelo.

Basically: great people, great hostel, comfort, gorgeous sites…my mind is still taking it all in. A must see city for anybody. Magical.

Superbowl Sunday

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…and I won’t be watching. Not to worry, it’s a big shame, but I’ll survive. The Giants/Patriots match-up takes me back to my Freshman Year of college and the really great time one of our floor-mates was able to put together. 4 years ago!

I spent the weekend in Madrid and although I had previously been reluctant to be a tourist, I took full advantage of those activities. I was on two bus tours and it’s amazing how fuller my appreciation for the city and history is. There is so much that I must learn. My Friday night passed just fine although I had an anti-American encounter that was a little startling. The individual was not necessarily hostile, but his opinions of the country were extremely strong considering his lack of logical argumentation. Maybe it was the alcohol. I think what stung me the most was the fact that he immediately personalized it all and directed his commentary toward my worth as a human. Ridiculous. We chatted away for a good hour and the positive spin to the story is that he did apologize at the end of it all and I think he recognized some of the errors of his ways. Hombre, speak honestly about my country and what you think, but do it with respect and reason. There are ways to exchange opinions which he completely missed.

It’s always amazes me how fast others can make impressions. The soul, in my opinion, is so infinitely vast (I will never in my living days understand myself) and yet we have a tendency to attach labels and petty words to people in seconds. That fellow “knew” me in two seconds as soon as he discovered I was American. Come on! I experience this labeling here more often than I would in America because I title of foreigner here. To fans of America I think this makes me something to the effect of some super-macho, suave, money-making cowboy who just kicks ass. To those less enthused by the country I think it makes me a minion of Palpatine’s Empire. 

It’s a blessing and a curse. There are times where I feel it to be a great privilege to speak about my own experiences and impressions of the country and 95% of the time these conversations are excellent exchanges. At worst I hear impressions of us as the nation of burgers and, seeing as that is somewhat accurate, it’s a laugh. At other times I just want to be Conor Byrne and couldn’t be bothered to speak about these things, but there is no escaping it. It is obvious that the American ‘brand’ makes a very strong impression on the people I’ve spoken to and it’s important to carry out these exchanges. For me, it’s more that the marvel, wonder, and illusion or hate and disdain seems like such a simplified, childish version of the reality that I see in the country. But it’s like any of us with another nation I suppose. And truth be told, I am starting to ‘get’ that awe of America because there is something magical about the country, especially when you see it from this part of the world. My defense of the country (although it was more a mini-lesson on how to conduct a conversation) was a pleasure. 

Let’s go Giants!