A Fish Outside the Bowl

"Because oftentimes, I look at people in the pub and realize that they're stuck in life--swimming in circles around a fishbowl. As for me, I live outside the bowl"

My final travels

One last blog entry:

It wouldn’t be fitting if I left the UK without incident.  When I woke up this morning after a fitful night of sleep, I just HAPPENED to double check my itinerary that was sitting haphazardly on top of a stack of papers that I still needed to stuff into my already over-full backpack.  Don’t ask me why—it was just one of those things.  In a moment of terror, I realized that the time that I had thought my plane was supposed to depart Edinburgh for London-Heathrow (and which my taxi from St. Andrews to the airport had been booked under the pretext of) was actually the flight number of my plane.  So…I wasn’t actually leaving at 14:45, as previously thought, but 13:30 and my cab was supposed to get me to the airport by 12:45. 

Fantastic.

A typical chaotic day in the travels of Panny ensued, involving a crazy long construction delays* en route to the airport, a broken luggage cart, and my ever-present sprint to the terminal gate and darting on the plane with the rest of the stragglers.  Not sure how my inability to have a drama-free travel experience has not caused me to miss a flight yet, but I am grateful to the travel gods—they clearly got my back.

*The thing that pisses me off the most about construction work in the UK is that a lot of it is used as a government stimulus to give people work, and is totally unnecessary.  Also, thanks to the fact that the UK (and Europe in general, for the most part) seems to stop working around 6PM, night work is obviously out of the question.  Cannot wait to get back to Amurrica—land of the free, and the home of stores that are open past dinner time.

The Grand Canal (Palace of Versailles) at sunset.
Overlooking Seville from la Giralda.

Music in Paris

When visiting friends who live in different cities across Europe, I inevitably face the question that all guests must endure from those who are trying to be good hosts (I fall victim to this myself often): “What do you want to see while you’re here?”  There are two typical answers to this:

1) “Uh, I don’t know/Whatever you want to show me” and

2) “[insert stereotypical tourist attractions for any given city, e.g. Eiffel Tower in Paris, etc.].”

Ultimately though, I try to steer clear from both of these.  The first is almost rude—it implies that you don’t actually care enough to find out anything about where they live, and expect your host to provide an itinerary.   The second is just kind of boring.  Obviously, when I was in London, I made sure that my friend (David, for those of you just tuning in) took me to Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, etc., and when I went to Paris last week to visit a friend who spent a few weeks with me this summer (Clélia), I was sure that I had to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre.  But at the same time, I like seeing the more unique parts of the city and places where residents of the city enjoy frequenting, away from all of the Asian tourists (don’t even try to be offended—if you’ve ever visited any European city, you know that they are EVERYWHERE).  While in London, that was Brick Lane.  In Paris, I got a chance to go to an underground (literally) club with Clélia and her friends to see a concert.

The club was apparently so well hidden, that even my host had no idea where it was, so the group of us (3 additional girls, other than Clélia and myself) wandered around the streets of Paris, asking various shop owners and passersby if they knew where the venue was.  Eventually, we got some slightly accurate tip, and accidentally stumbled into it: an inset doorway down a really sketchy looking alley/parking garage kind of structure.  The club was pretty typical: dim lights, inadequate seating, and overpriced drinks.  The talent that was to perform that night though set it apart.  The girls had found out about the concert, which was really a rotating selection of bands struggling to make a name for themselves in the indie music world in Paris, from their friend who was performing.  We arrived just in time to watch them take the stage.  I was blown away by their friend, the lead singer’s, powerful and clear voice voice.  There was no amateur quality about her, and I found myself hoping that she would continue to sing and try to pursue some kind of future in it, as unlikely as the possibility of success was.  Interestingly, her band (as well as all but one of the bands) sang in English…but all groups were very Parisian.  You could have fooled me though.  When she sang, there was no trace of an accent, and if I had had to guess without any kind of pretext about who this girl was, I would have thought she was an American who was attending school in Paris, whose first language was English. 

As impressive as Clélia’s friend was, she wasn’t my favorite.  Another group (also female-led, which was again, another interesting trend I noticed for ALL of the bands) had a singer whose intoxicating presence and passion for music made her group an lively stage occupant.  Her short-cropped brown hair bounced around as she danced during instrumental breakdowns, and periodically swept it out of her eyes with a cheeky grin on her face.  She never looked at the audience though, looking down at her feet, or glancing to her band mates to gauge how much fun they were having.  Finally though, when their set was over, she glanced up, smiled slightly at the audience, and walked off the stage to thunderous applause, not turning around. 

How would I have found that on my own?  Answer: I wouldn’t have.  It pays to keep in touch with international friends; someday they’ll treat you to an experience that isn’t documented on any travel tips website or guide book.

Plaza de España.
How do I have the prettiest friends? So great to see Marianne again.
Can’t beat Paris café food.

Struggling in Seville

One of the last places in Europe that I thought I would visit in my travels was Spain; I don’t speak the language (though have since pledged to try to take a class in it at W&M) and had that there were other places that were more typical of a “European experience” (e.g. Paris, Rome, etc.) than Seville.  However, after visiting this beautiful Spanish city, I realized that it was one of the best decisions I made since coming to St. Andrews, and a great way to return the trek that Lindsay made up to the rainy coast of Scotland.

Though it’s been awhile since I returned from Seville (I’m writing this blog post after a whirlwind of a week in Paris, which will be addressed in a later entry or two), the memories and sights won’t soon be forgotten.  A clash of Islamic and Judeo-Christian history is evident in much of the architecture and traditional tourist hotspots (Catedral de Sevilla and Alcázar).  Combine that with the Spanish-adopted tradition of flamenco dancing from the gypsy nations that have long occupied Spain, you get an intrinsically unique culture, that I got a chance to bask in.  The city itself feels intimate and friendly, even for a tourist like myself.   After only a couple of days, I found myself able to navigate “el centro” relatively easily, which made the time that Lindsay was busy with school-related activities that much smoother.  That in mind though, it’s still a city; there are enough back alleys and interesting shops to keep a student studying abroad there for a semester engaged and able to stumble upon new things.

To sort of quickly recap my experience and more memorable moments in Seville, I’ll do it the best way I know how (and what is quickly becoming a common theme for this blog): a list.

1.) Jesus (Lindsay’s host father) driving like a crazy mo’fo through the narrow-ass streets of Seville (Seriously, they are tiny.  Don’t even bother buying a nice car, because it’ll just end up getting scratches on it from making tight turns and bumping into cars while parallel parking);

2.) Food: tapas bars, real paella, and gelato;

3.) Warm weather and sun (a welcome break from Scotland, even if my pastiness led to getting sunburnt);

4.) Surviving on a 2L bottle of water and one meal per day, mostly because I was too timid to order food without Lindsay’s help;

5.) Spanish clubbing and “drinking in moderation”;

6.) Old people errywhere;

7.) Getting to see a flamenco show—totally different than what I expected, but still a great cultural experience;

8.) Opening a wine bottle with a rape whistle (BEST MOMENT EVER);

9.) Constant bickering with Lindsay (wouldn’t expect anything less).

While the sights I got the opportunity to tour were beautiful (select photos will be subsequently posted), one of the sticking points for me was the language barrier.  Even though Seville is the third largest city in Spain, it is not as tourist-oriented as Madrid or Barcelona.  Many shop owners and waiters do not speak English (or at least not very well) and for the average American/Asian tourist, this can compromise the experience of exploring a new destination. 

I had the privilege of meeting Lindsay’s host parents on her previous visits to Spain, Jesus and Carmen, when visiting Seville.  Jesus actually picked me up from the airport, and played a practical joke of pretending to arrest me—being the head of arms of the national police force, it had the potential to be scary, had I not been accidentally warned by Lindsay of the chance that they would be stopping by to visit.  Both Jesus and Carmen’s English skills were much better than my Spanish ones (which primarily consist of   a familiarity with elementary school vocabulary words and being able to recite “The Pledge of Allegiance”, neither of which are very useful in conversation), but they tended to speak primarily in Spanish, and use Lindsay to translate if there was something more complicated than “how many brothers and sisters do you have?” that they wanted to ask me.  Not that I could really blame them though—I’d do the exact same thing in their position, and in addition, it was almost rude of me to come into their country and not be able to speak at least a little bit of Spanish.  

I felt helpless and frustrated at not being able to communicate what I wanted or how I was feeling.  A good example of this was when I was invited to Lindsay’s host mother’s (Mercedes) apartment for dinner.  Mercedes and my English:Spanish speaking ratio were pretty equivalent, so poor Lindsay got stuck as the translator again.  I desperately wanted to show my sincere gratitude and appreciation for having me over, but it’s hard to adequately express such feelings with a simple “Mucho gracias”—at least I think so.

Despite the (at times overwhelming) setback of not speaking Spanish, I really did have a fantastic time seeing both a great city and friend, and it was the perfect time to take vacation—finals began a few days after I got back.  Finals at St. Andrews are worth way more than at W&M (approx.. 70%), so I needed to be at my best mentally to finish up the school year.  Right after finals, I headed off to France, for a week in Paris…

I don’t speak French either.  Fantastic.

Coming Home

Since the date of my arrival back in the good ol’ US of A is fast approaching (T-10 hours), I thought I would think of some things I was excited about coming home for.  This is the list I came up with:

1) Chipotle and 

2) Using my iPhone again.

OK, so not much of a list.  After 4 months of bland Scottish food (with the occasional decent meal mixed in, thanks to my travels), I’m so ready for some spice in my life.  I’m prepared to get off the plane, grab my luggage, and promptly pick up Chipotle on the way home.  Also, I’m dying to get to use the Internet at will again: checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and also looking up information that just “can’t wait,” it’s true what they say—you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

Oh yeah, and I guess see everyone back at W&M.  That’s kind of a big priority.  I can’t believe how much I ended up missing all of my friends and my school.

Tinto de verano and a cheese platter tapas with Lindsay, Jesus, and Carmen.