The hardest thing to realize in a friendship is when it has become unhealthy.
This is particularly painful when you've invested a lot in that friendship; confided in the friend, shared laughs, adventures, and experiences together. But the human endeavor is a progression of growth where we learn from our surroundings, shared experiences, and communities in order to make things and ideally ourselves, better. Healthy friendships are support systems for both people involved. The friendships you have provide accountability and a gaze through which you partially understand yourself. So it's paramount that the people you associate with care about you and exert as much effort in the friendship as you are putting into it. Because they influence who you are as a person without you even noticing it. The things a friend tells you shapes the way you see yourself, the way they treat you influence your sense of self-worth, and its hard to overcome these influences when they become negative.
I try to go through life seeing the good in people because there was a time when I needed someone to see the good in me and they did. This became a character trait that has carried over into friendships and recently, wrecked havoc. When a person who actively seeks out the good in people enters into a friendship they latch onto the good memories. This was the case with me. As the friendship deepened I began to associate good times with this person -- whom I'd thought in the beginning was becoming another best friend. When things started to go bad I'd replay those good times in my mind clutching onto the promise of returning to them.
The problem occurred when I began to overlook the hurtful things she'd say and do to me in favor of the good memories. As the bad times slowly stacked up outweighing the good moments I'd had with her I began to see how toxic the friendship had become. I think our most daunting moment came when we were sitting on the banks of the Seine by Notre-Dame a month or so ago talking about where, when, and how things had fallen apart. I think this was truly the first real conversation we'd had about the foundational cracks in our friendship. This was also the moment that I realized just how broken it had become. I found myself asking her that day "Where are the good moments in this friendship? Because I can't see them anymore." And I remember her saying to me "I hadn't realized how deeply I'd hurt you."
We had gotten to this point in our friendship where we couldn't even spend more than a day together without getting into an argument -- often a repeated or circular one. There was this lack of communication coupled with hurt feelings that accrued and caused an explosion.
We'd reached a stasis and were locked in this position of operating in opposition to each other yet clinging to the hope of returning to the good times. I think this realization was the farewell moment for me. I'd mourned the lost of her friendship that entire day before we met at the Seine. And when we agreed to give our friendship a second chance, to mend the damage, I think subconsciously I knew it was over for me but I tried again because I wanted those good times back. I convinced myself somewhere along the line that this friendship was good because all the groundwork had already been done. But I am better than that.
I do not have to accept love. I am deserving of a love that is equal to the love I will give. I am capable of being loved to this degree. This applies to every human being.
So, when a month later I found myself, her jacket, dress, and cardigan in hand, knocking on her door for the last time; I had a conflicting sense of relief and angst. This was a person I had spent six months with sharing dreams and fears and being pushed by her to do things that were so far out of my comfort zone that I'd never occurred to me to do them before. I had epic experiences with her and that was all going to end with a double rap on her door. Hours before I'd sat on the floor in my apartment weaving a scenario in my mind of what would happen when I knocked on her door. I envisioned that I would have the bag with her clothes poised to hand over when she opened her door. I imagined I'd say one sentence "Hey, I just wanted to say goodbye." I felt like our friendship deserved this, the finality of that last "goodbye". A word to express our mutual separation and a lament on what we'd somehow lost along the road of trying to change each other.
This scenario; however, was not my reality that night. In reality I knocked four times and the door did not open. There was no closure, no personal finality. Instead twenty minutes till midnight I received a text containing a total of sixteen words which rendered our friendship so insignificant that I felt the familiar rage boil up inside of me again. I, all at once, remembered exactly why this friendship was not working. You have to receive as much effort from the opposite party as you are giving. That night I did not cry anymore, I was enraged by all the ways she'd rendered me and our friendship irrelevant over the last six months. Perhaps without her even realizing it.
A day later, and I'm writing this, sitting on the roof she helped me break onto that night we shoved the door open, planted ourselves with a view of the Eiffel Tower and tossed our friendship with Champagne -- a bottle that later rolled off the roof and rests still a month later in the drainage gully -- and McDonalds Hamburgers. When I think about the times we shared I wonder how I will feel next year at this time when I am writing in my once-a-day journal and I come across an event we'd done together.
All I can think of now is that, I hope I remember why it had to end, that I wished we hadn't gotten to the place where we were continually hurting each other.. I hope I remember how I mourned the loss. I hope I remember how I tried to mend it. I hope I've learned by then to separate our good moments from the pain of our ending. I hope I remember the pain I had to overcome because of that friendship. And I hope I remember the nights we spent sitting at Trocadero until 2am, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle, listening to street performers, and sharing our vulnerabilities.
So, it's spring break time for me and for the first time this year all three of the schools I attend and the babysitting gig I have, have aligned so that I have two glorious weeks off from any obligations. I could stay in bed all day without pants on if I choose to and no one but the elderly disapproving French lady who lives below me would be able to judge my life decisions.
Instead of doing this though I have decided to spend this time in the typical Anna-Fashion (why that's capitalized I'm not sure; but language is fluid right?). That being reading for fun in a lounge chair.
Normally this would feature a desert atmosphere and a pool. As my spring breaks growing up were spent with my Grandparents at their time-share in Indian Wells; which if you've been to Coachella know that this is just twenty minutes outside of Palm Springs and hot as all hell from March-February. Hence the necessity of the pool. There was this one time in high school I remember staying with my brother when he lived in Big Bear and worked as a Groomer for Bear Ski Resort back when it and Snow Summit hadn't been bought out and there was a freak snow storm that we BBQed in.
My spring breaks changed when I got to UCLA as a transfer-in Junior and got, well, real crazy 😜. My first year there I road-tripped with a student theater club I was apart of (The Shakespeare Company at UCLA) to Ashland, Oregon to camp and attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. My second and last year at UCLA I made a mixtape and road-tripped with my best friend to San Diego to meet her family, go hiking, and tide-pooling where I got to enact my lifelong dream of being a mermaid in a cavernous water outcropping (there is most definitely as easier way to say this).
This year I'm reconnecting to my childhood spring breaks by lounging at various outdoor locations around Paris; mostly gardens. This started when I woke up on Monday with nothing to do and in desperate need of some REST & RECOVERY after the whirlwind that has been my life as a grad student living abroad. So I first wandered aimlessly until reaching my favorite chocolate shop in Paris : Edward's, where I purchased melted chocolate for 4€ then discovered that there has been all this time an English bookstore right next door(WHSmiths; highly recommended cause it's swaggy af and has a secret English tea room on the second floor). Y'all can guess what happened next; with a book I purchased for 10€ I made my way across the street to the Tuileries Garden and sat down on a marble bench to read.
While reading this book and underlining; a thing I've highly missed as I've been working with primary documents; borrowed copies of books, and kindle editions all year. It struck me to do a posting of a collection of favorite quotes from the books I've read over my spring break because if there is one tradition I've kept without realizing it, it's been to read at least one book for fun over spring break. So let's span the last six years of spring breaks with quotes from the books I've read.
Luckily for me I was a deeply geeky young adult who created a blog dedicated to book reviews and was highly active on Goodreads.
I had this realization the other day that I am approaching the half year mark y'all. As in I've been in Paris for nearly 6 months now. Its safe to say that by now I have found myself solidly into a fluffy routine. That is to say I am devotee to particular pastry and coffee shops (*cough* catch me reading on Sunday mornings at Café Kistuné *cough*). But it's time to shake myself out of it! So it's time to create a list of things* I want to do before leaving Paris and start doing them. Also, if y'all got any suggestions, I am all ears.
*I admit, I stole this idea from another Paris based blogger Anne Elder, seriously check out her blog as she's a pretty cool and dynamic lady, who I discovered through Our Paris Stories, a great website dedicated to showcasing real people and the reasons they're in Paris.
SEE THE LOUIS VUITTON FOUNTAIN
If there was one place on this planet I never thought I thought I'd it would be standing on the grounds of the Roman Forum. But there I was this past November, standing before the Rostra completely dumbfounded. The words of Cicero playing in my head, the pain at seeing what was left of it, wishing desperately to either be Marty Mcfly (for time traveling reasons yo) or a cat (for their ability to go where humans cannot--damn our destructive and pilfering nature).
In this post I'll tell y'all about the absolute wonder of seeing three Italian cities (Pisa, Florence, and Rome) in two days. So here we go, crossing the Rhine (figuratively of course, as the only body of water I crossed was the Ligurian Sea).
chapter 1: pisa
Nicole and I made it to Porte Malliot with the world still a damp blue and caught a bus to Aéroport Beauvais (BVA). This airport bares a striking resemblance to a warehouse (tbh not entirely convinced that it is not one and is simply masquerading as an airport). It has a whooping total of two gates which made it rather difficult to find our flight and a tiny duty-free store that stocks Chanel.
We disembark the plane and discover, to my eternal chagrin, that our passports have once again both not been not asked for and not stamped. *cue dramatic sigh* I realize next two things: #1 romance languages do not translate as easily as I'd imagined they would and #2 water is excreting in copious amounts from the sky. Let me take this moment to tell you a little fun fact about Nicole, she and rain really just can't handle each other.
Thus if this was a movie the camera would flint to a shot of two American girls wired and racing, backpacks flopping from side-to-side, through the cobblestoned streets of Pisa battling this sporadic and epic downpour of water struggling to remain under the protection of a one-person 3€ rainbow umbrella. The scene would lean do a slow creep segment of the Leaning Tower. Which indeed is really quite astounding in its ablilty to remain upright as the lean is noticeably significant. I think in total I spent about an hour in Pisa before boarding a bus to Florence.
The good stuff: A scarf was purchased for 5€ (#score). Pisa resembled Nice so much it was a little triply. I was seriously digging its buildings and their varying hues of reds, yellows, greens, and off-whites.
chapter 2: florence
And By 1pm Nicole and I were back at the airport in Pisa and boarding a bus bound for Florence. During the hour or so bus ride I did a total of two things, #1 combed the matted mess that had been my hair before the rain claimed and #2 ogled the handsome man sitting in the seat in front of us.
The first thing we saw in Florence was the church, Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. And I was irrevocably stupefied. There I stood, before this massive structure that stretched so far into the air above and around me that its construction seemed to be improbable. A church stapled in marble and bronze doors. The city which watched the birth of the Renaissance.
By 3:30pm I was eating another canoli and learning from an old Italian man the proper way to accentuate the 'double r' in vorrei, which is in no way pronounced as it's spelling suggests it would be. From the small shop we wandered to Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. In which museum there is an entire, and rather large, room dedicated to Roman busts. Seriously an impressive collection.
After which I ate more, this time gelato. Really this trip was more of a Anna eats every hour while in Italy. But the gelato. *whine of withdraw* Let us pause here. Because goodness did Florence have the most amazing food I've had in Europe thus far. While in Florence I had a cannoli, two gelatos, a huge plate of pasta, and a rich chocolate tarte/cake/cookie thing.
I strolled along the Arno River well the city sparkled with lights and nightlife, licking my gelato and loving so desperately every sight around me. And then something dreadful happened... Nicole tripped and fell shattering her iPhones screen.
chapter 3: rome
We woke up the at 8am jumped on the first train we could find leaving Florence toward Rome and made our first stop our hotel to drop off our stuff. What an adorable hotel that was, so quant with blue and white tiles as a bed frame and complementary chocolates.
Trying to see all of Rome in one day is impossible. Word for the wise: if you've given yourself just a day in Rome, first rethink this option, second if you've decided you want to do this than resolve yourself to the fact that you will have to breeze by some things. Accept this and the day will become more relaxed because doing Rome in a day is possible if you have a clear idea of the things you want to see.
So, in the warmth of a soft sun Nicole and I set out to conquer the sights. We found the Trevi Fountain first, threw a coin in and made a wish I won't spoil. From the Trevi fountain and its mass of people we walked along worn cobblestones to the Pantheon. The thing that will amaze you about Rome is how an incredibly modern metropolitan city is built directly around buildings that have been there for thousands of years. The amount of times we walked by the ruins of temples that were simply just there in their eroding format across the street from a restaurant is crazy.
Next, we took to the ruins, which to this day brings forth a surreal feeling of otherworldliness in me. I remember we took a break to sit on a marble stone in the shade and look around. The scene you see is marble blocks that form squares and rectangles in the ground to distinguish the different rooms of a house. The marble stones are everywhere in the ruins among them grass grows and more marble for pathways wind through them. For some reason I imagined the homes of the Romans would be further away from the Forum, they are not actually all that far.
The colosseum, what to say about the colosseum. I will say that on the size is impressively intimidating. The picture of it in its epoch, red flags waving and vibrantly painted statues in the archways is really an image you can picture quite clearly while there. We ate gnocchi at a restaurant across the street, purchased more gelato and stumbled upon an obelisk stolen by the Romans from Egypt.
My experience in Rome was unlike anything I have felt before and it ended with the two of us eating a large greasy pizza in a hotel room.
chapter 4: the way back
This was a mission and a half and I'm not even sure how we managed to pull it off. Think James Bond and the ominous presence of a large timer ticking away. Start time: 2 hours. Go.
Two hours to get from BVA, roughly 50 miles northwest of Paris, to the 5th arrondissement where I had to present my Master's thesis to a group of distinguished professors and my peers. Not that I was feeling the pressure or anything. Word to the wise, never try and go through customs on a time crunch you will end up, as I did, cursing the red letters of a digital clock that would not stop moving forward.
From the moment we landed in BVA entered into dark-ops mode without the leather attire, the mission was: make the impossible possible. We were out of our sets and into the aisle of the plane before anyone had even clicked their seat belts. Unfortunately the passengers were exiting from the opposite side of the plane making us the last people off the plane and some of the last people to make it through customs. 20 minutes down the drain.
Once free, we rushed straight toward the bus where a ticket mishap happened, because I'm Anna and this is my life. The man scanning tickets scanned Nicole's ticket and then I unknowingly but promptly handed him a copy of Nicole's ticket and had him scan that the scanner flashed red. So there's me speaking something that I don't feel was French and there is the man looking confused. If you could burn minutes like paper another 20 had just gone up in flames as the man proceeded to try and figure out why there was not enough seats for all the passengers. The answer was of course because he'd scanned my seat twice.
I bite away my nails at such an unprecedented speed. Changed my shoes, combed my hair, and willed time to slow down. We arrived in Paris 30 minutes after I was set to present; however, luckily for me the other Master's students in my year have epic topics and so the presentations were running 45 minutes late.
I arrived at Reid Hall with quite literally 2-3 minutes to spare. I was just sitting down in a seat when one of the professors was finishing up a comment on one of the students presentations.
After rumanaging through some discount designer clothes at a Confessions of a Shopaholic like yardsale-thing. I wound up where one normally does when fatigued by elbowing through masses of impeccably dressed women: Chipotle; munching on a burrito that I wished had French fries and carne asada chunks.
Two things occurred to me, one, I was alone and two, this was an advent in my life.
Here is the story of two girls who dashed in mad flight from the city one weekend to court. Enthralled by the sun and autumn around them they went boating, were surrounded by lady bugs and beheld the wonder of Versailles at sunset.
le château du roi-soleil
Nicole and I, war battled travel pals at this point in time, set out as we normally do, early in the morning and half awake. We hopped on the Metro at Kléber and took it to where it connected to the RER C, getting off at that stop we find out that the RER C is not stopping at this station until the beginning of November. This is of course just the sort of thing that would happen to us. We flounder for a few seconds waiting for my data to adjust from coming from underground and in end simply did to hop back onto line 6 and take it to the 10 where the RER C connects again. Once on the RER C we take that to the end of its line Gare de Versailles Château Rive Gauche.
Once in the city of Versailles we do what must be done before attempting to take on such a daunting task such as seeing the old sun king's home and gardens. We stop at Starbucks to fuel up on scones, muffins, tea, and pumpkin spice lattes. Facing to train station I watched as person after person consistently did the same thing, they would descend the stairs, look about themselves confusedly then head towards where all the other people were going: left to the Château. This is what most come to Versailles for, the grand palace of the once beloved sun king, who's rule was absolute, until it was not. And then, well then heads rolled; but that's a different story. Today, we talk about what is left of this king.
Caution~ Tangental aside on the tiny beds at Versailles; skip over if disinterested.
The one thing I did not understand a second time was the tiny beds. Last summer when I first went I swore I'd go back to my apartment and research as to the historical accuracy of these tiny beds. Alas, I did not do this last summer, so now, now I research. My google search started first as a question "Why tiny beds Versailles?" This search proving unfruitful I switched from web to books and searched "beds 17th century France" this brought me to page 206 of a book called "Culture and Environment" written by Irwin Altman and Martin M. Parliament. On this page I learned that a bed was an integral piece of furniture in a home because as I was told, Guy de Maupassant (a 19th century French author) says "The bed comprehends our whole life..." I was also informed that Louis XIV was said to have 400 beds made throughout his lifetime and one truly large one installed in the French Parliament. The official website for Château de Versailles says that the bed that is in the Queen's Grand Chamber today was "... resculpted from the old documents..." and having interned in a historical landmark I am quite aware of the tediousness of having to be as precise and historically accurate as is humanly possible when one is trying to revamp a bedroom. So I have no doubt that the beds are true to size.
So back I went to google this time searching "average height of French people in 18th century". Because if the beds were historically smaller than average sized beds today than logically the people should be smaller. Interestingly enough with this search I found a discussion paper written in 2005 by John Komlos and Francesco Cinnirella for the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Economics department entitled "European Heights in the Early 18th Century". This analysis relied a lot on datasets pertaining to the heights of soldiers and estimated that the general height in France was 65.8 inches which is roughly a person who is 5'5. So, basically people were not all that short in the 18th century and I still have no idea why the beds are tiny.
Aside is concluded, you may resume to adventure here.
The marble staircases in the château have worn groves in them from where mass quantities of people and their weight over the decades have walked on them. The wooden floors creak and the age of the place resounds in such a way that its hard not to imagine what it would have been like in the 18th century.
les jardins du roi
I remember reading in my first World Civilization's textbook four years ago that it took thousands of people to keep the gardens of the Castle groomed. Walking around today, I wonder how long it takes the army of gardeners to prune and tend to the vast acres of these gardens.
Nicole and I got it in our minds, while on our way to find the Queen's Hamlet that it was a great idea to rent a row boat and row around the grand canal. Now, I have rowed a total of one kayak in my entire life and that Kayak's ore broke on the way back to shore. Nicole has never rowed a boat before in her life, she was; however, very determined to row this one. And one thing I have learned about Nicole is that when she has settled her mind on doing something, there is quite literally nothing you or any force in the world can do to stop her from doing that.
So, there we are rowing this wooden boat on the grand canal in the middle of this garden next to a castle. And there I am advising Nicole that if we wander too far away from the boat launching area we will have a harder time getting back there. She is having far too much fun at this point enjoying my freak-out session to be bristled by my advice and continues on, struggling with those two ores and treading a lot of water in the process.
We hit the edge of the canal twice, a stone ridge that divides the water from the people who are lounging on the grass and chuckling at our slight dismay. We nearly topple over twice during this boating adventure when we try to shift positions. At one point a song from Pocahontas is sung by Nicole and I have proclaimed that we are redefining the notion of the chivalrous lord who rows his lady around the canal.
When we return to land, I obtain an ice cream for my efforts and Nicole a tea. Than we return to our original mission of finding Marie's house because the clock strikes 6:30pm and the grounds close. We take a misleading road that turns out to not be the road we needed to take and have to make many turns to readjust our direction and when we finally reach the area where Marie's house resides we discover that a tram would have taken us from the Grand Canal straight to Marie's house.
le domanine de marie
This is where the ladybugs made their move on us. Nicole and I walked down a tree lined gravel path took two rights asked for directions and then took a left into Marie Antoinette's house. Coming from the opulence of the gardens and the gilded house, we were expected the same to be found here. We were though very surprised, instead of the ornate designed wooden floors or the tapestries that we had been expecting, we found a same country home. White marble floors, cream stone walls, arched ceilings with sparse furnishings were the things occupied the Austrian Queen's home. To get to the Queen's Hamlet you had to walk over the carcasses of the fallen ladybugs, which was really quite unsettling for me. I wish I'd been able to snap a picture, but my phone had died at this point; however, the sheer amount of ladybugs (we're talking hundreds here) was truly astounding.
It seemed somehow fitting to me that the Queen's respite from the court, its glamour, and espionage, would be simple and surrounded by foliage, trees, and small ponds.
By the time we'd left the city of Versailles around 7pm(ish), boarded the RER C heading toward Musée d'Orsay, and sat for about an hour in that train Nicole and I were barely able to keep awake. I climbed those 133 stairs of my 6-floor walk up and fell face first onto my bed with a huff. How I even showered that night is beyond me.
Still despite this being my second time seeing Versailles I still feel like I could go back a thousand times and still discover new things, just because of the sheer vastness of the estate.
So, this is how it began: a fellow au pair friend of mine mentioned in passing one day that she was spending her upcoming weekend seeing Brussels, Ghent, and Brugge. I, being the incredibly direct person that I seem to be now, invited myself along. On the day before the day we were to depart, just about at midnight there is me in my apartment sitting on my bed booking a hostel and two BlaBla Car rides to and from Brussels. It was done, I was going.
Immediately after the fact I thought I had made a terrible mistake. In semi-hysteria I texted my friend back in L.A., who was just getting ready to start her Senior year of Undergrad, venting about the lack of research I'd done and how tons of things could go wrong once I stepped out of my Parisian bubble of security.
And she told me this: "Paris wasn't always a bubble." I realized that if I wanted to take full advantage of being in Europe this year than I would have to confront my fear of traveling or else I would never see anything cool.
So, here I go, confronting my fears.
chapter 1: brussels
Nicole and I, left in an Uber from my apartment at 5:20(ish)am on a Saturday, the Uber dropped us off at Gare de Lyon around 5:40. We had 20 Minutes to spare before we were to meet our BlaBla Car driver. The problem was that our meet up point was not Gare de Lyon but Porte de Bagnole, which was approximately 25-30 minutes away. We hefted it onto a bus and silently willed it to go faster making it with just minutes to spare before our ride showed up.
From there we drove 2 1/2 hours from Paris to Belgium waiting rather anxiously for the moment when we'd have to present our passports to get it that stamp that proved we'd actually left France. Much to our chagrin though, that time never came. In fact, we did not need our passports the entire trip. We'd both left France and entered Belgium without so much of a bonjour. The differences between the United States and European border control was not lost on the two of us.
Nicole and I were dropped off in Braine l'Alleud (a neighboring suburban town just outside of Brussels) around 10:30 (ish). Which was sort of a miracle in and of itself because our BlaBla car driver, a pianist doing her M1 in Paris had never driven to Brussels, had no idea how to get there, and lost her data (and therefore her ability to navigate) once we'd left France. From Braine l'Alleud we bought a 6 euro (them student discounts though) train ticket to Brussel's city center.
Before we get to Brussels though, I have some words to say about Braine l'Alleud.
I'm quite certain that whenever I think back on the brief time spent in this tiny place I will cringe a little. I will always think of how "Barbie Girl" was blasting from one of the homes while Nicole and I were walking around. This mental image will forever be in my mind and in a way that theme song will forever mar my image of Braine l'Alleud which just doesn't seem like a real place in my mind because of that song.
Now that that's done: onto Brussels. Firstly, bravo on your train system Europe. Secondly, United States take note.
The first thing I adored about Brussels was the cobblestones. Paris has cobblestones as well, yes, but they are not as noticeable, what I mean by that is that in Brussels, Ghent, and Brugge, you could feel the shape of each stone you were stepping on. And that's just cool. In certain areas where stones were missing you could see that each stone was placed in the ground and the gaps then filled in with dirt and unlike the fan pattern some streets have in Paris the stones here are all uniformly rectangular and placed simply in lines.
The next thing I loved about Brussels was that chocolate could be found on literally every street. This morning I counted just how many chocolatiers I had visited over that weekend and was quite surprised to find I'd only visited 10. It felt like Our entire trip was me dragging Nicole from chocolate shop to chocolate shop.
What was most striking about Brussels was how familiar the town felt to me. It was different from Paris in shape and size, yes, but the storefronts were the same. Small one-level boutiques attached to larger buildings. More buildings were made of bricks here than in Paris but the churches looked very much like the ones you'd find France.
At some point during the day after dancing a bit at a random concert we found that was playing mashups of American top 40 hits Nicole and I remembered that we had to check into our hostel. So with 30 minutes to spare find our hostel and discover a square room with white walls, a small bathroom, tiny balcony, and three bunkbeds. The one girl we talked to was on vacation from school visiting Belgium from Denmark, she asked us a lot about the L.A. culture and the presidential candidates. (A standard question I get over here.) That night all Nicole and I did was buy more chocolate and watch War Dogs in a movie theater with both French and Dutch subtitles.
chapter 2: ghent
By 12pm the next day Nicole and I we at the train station heading towards Ghent. It took nearly over an hour to arrive at the city center and once there I was quite dumbfounded. Here spread before me was a proper medieval town, the likes of which the child in you imagines are only in Disney movies and bad historically inaccurate History Channel shows. The streets were cobble-stoned, the buildings old and composed of mainly red bricks and thick slabs of rough weathered wood. There were horse-drawn carriages and venders in wooden brightly painted wagon carts selling candies and then there was the castle that Nicole and I had just randomly came upon in our awe of this new world we'd entered into.
The entire day at Ghent was spent on a mission: we were trying to find this one spot where some unknown photographer had taken this picture we'd found on Google Images. And in our pursuit of this one very photogenic spot we'd gotten lost once, been navigated to a pitiful looking river, found a dive bar near an elementary school, and stumbled, quite literally I tripped lightly over a cobblestone, looked up and thought to myself: "Is that a castle?"
We tried two things in Ghent, traditional candies, from one of the aforementioned carts, which they call 'Noses' which they named so because they apparently resemble human noses. They honestly just looked like cones to me; however, I would not if I were you ask why they are called 'Noses' because you may or may not get lightly teased.
chapter 3: brugge
We left Ghent around 4 pm for Brugge arriving just as the golden hour settled in. This particular time in the day when the sun begins its descent is my favorite. A glow seems to settle on the world and it's magical.
We spent a long time in Brugge just wandering lazily around the town, strolling alongside their river, and be holding the gilded buildings we swore we'd seen replicas of in Paris.
We made it eventually to the market center just as the sun and temperature was fully setting. Webought chocolate from one of few shops that were open and sat next to a moment of a Dutch explorer who's name escapes me now, Yelping for a traditional Brugge restaurant.
To escape the cold we decide simply to go to one of the overpriced tourist traps nearby, where the food was predictably overpriced and sub-par. During dinner the waiter, an Albanian man named Artie, and Nicole trade wise-cracks. Nicole, teasing that I'm free after 10pm and Artie playing along that he gets off at 10:30pm. Me, being the overt person I am, simply sit there squirming, thinking up a way to make Nicole pay for this (all in good fun, of course).
The last of our bus fare money is spent giving this Alabian a 5€ tip-- for reasons I still do not understand-- and have to walk back to the train station through a semi-lit park. (I am a big enough person to admit that perfect choices may not have been made during this trip.) This is where it happens, at some point during this walk one of the many things Nicole says to me is just too much and I, well, I loose it.
And by 'it' I mean, control over my bladder, as I'm doubling over in hysterical laughter in the deemly-lit park in Brugge I faintly realize that a waterfall is running down my legs. And indeed it was a waterfall because my pants were soaked down to my knees. After the initial euphoria wears off I am mortified and contemple briefly, jumping into a nearby water fountain. In hind sight I really ought to have gone into that water fountain because for the entire train ride I smelled like a seasoned homeless person.
So, there I am on platform 9 with both my and Nicole's cadarigns tied around my waist, and there Nicole, is dying in laughter. To give her credit, this is always the moment that I realized we'd be friends for a while, because when you learn that your travel partner has peed herself and you offer no judgement but instead sacrifice your cardigan for her, well, it forms a very unique bond that is hard to break.
Boarding the last train out of Brugge I think about the events of the weekend and I remember thinking " So this is how we part Brugge, with pants that I'll have to wash twice before wearing again and itchy thighs.
chapter 4: the way back
We wake up at 5:30am again, shuffle obnoxiously through our hostel room changing and stuffing things into our backpacks. We take an Uber to the meet up point: Zaventam train station and wait.
Our BlaBla car driver, a mid-20-something man from Toulouse, arrives relatively on time in a rusted red van. When he opens the trunk so we can put our things in there Nicole and I notice that their are two mattresses, a blanket, and pillow back there.
What I would have given to have our expressions captured. Naturally we decide to not put our bags in his bedroom and instead occupy the length of the middle seat. In a gentlemanly fashion, the man with the red van from Toulouse offers us his blanket; a fluffy over-stuffed feather montrosity cloaked in a black duvet.
I bring up the route to Paris on my phone and track our way back to civilization where cars are normally tiny faits and therefore incapable of housing a mans bedroom.
At some point I fall asleep, I know I must have done this because I am awaken by a loud sort of musical collaboration that involves a banjo, electric violin, acoustic guitar, screamo vocals which randomly counted to 5 in German, and a drum. Apparently it was a soundtrack to a Serbian movie called White Cat Black Cat.
By the time we were dropped off in Paris I was swearing to never get into a Bla Bla car again and was extremely greatful for the rigid normality of the Monday full of classes and babysitting that occurred.
This is it, the beginning of my year abroad, where I'll studying in a city I never expected to see again and living alone for the first time in my life. Armed with the same Birkenstocks I wore last year follow me as I chronicle my journey from LAX to JFK to ORLY to Paris. Let the grand adventure begin.
It's already been 4 years?
I like to think of my past as a series of chapters in a book. Within the last 4 years I feel like I have completed 2 chapters: there is the time I had at MVC and the time I had at UCLA. When I was creating the outline for this posting I was stupefied by the outrageous amount of things I've done and learned in such a short period of time. Not all of it could fit in this post but I tried to talk about the highlights, here's the rundown:
Chapter I starts with MVC, my reintroduction to social interactions, education, and the professors who changed my life. Chapter II is about UCLA, the home I built without knowing it, the people who touched my life forever, and personal growth. Then the conclusion, which talks about the life lessons I gained from the past four years.