Although I’ve said this before, it never gets old; one of the great things about living here is that you can so easily pick up and go to a really cool destination. This time, as I had some vacation I needed to use and the weather was blizzarding east of Geneva, we decided to make it a five-day trip somewhere west – and where better to go than Paris? So with one day of planning we hopped a train, got to our cheap hostel, and started to explore one of the world’s most famous cities.

Before I move on, let me state a little fact about Paris; everybody secretly tries not to like it. You know you’re guilty of it – you might not be able to put your finger on why, but deep down, while you may want to go there, another little voice in your head tells you it’s all a giant scam. The problem being, Paris has too much hype surrounding it; not only is it the focal point in a lot of popular media, but everyone knows someone who’s crazy about the city, and a part of you thinks there’s an element of them saying they like it simply because they were there. Also, there are apparently a large number of pompous French people living there. As a result, it’s easy to say “I don’t want to go there”, and I have to admit that I wasn’t overly excited about using my vacation time in Paris. But – I can now say – I was wrong (I would never say that about any argument I’ve had with Soph, mind you). Paris is a pretty cool place, and not for the reasons normally given.

So, let’s start with the tourist attractions. The Eiffel Tower – yes, it’s big. Yes, it’s pretty. Yes, we took 67 pictures of it. But that’s not the point. It’s just this huge tower, right? Well – yeah. But it’s still pretty cool. In our defense, we didn’t actually go up it (going to Paris and not going up the Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s major tourism sacrileges!) But this trip wasn’t about tourism – it was about trying to get to the underbelly of the city and taking it in our hands, and twisting it and bending it to our will! Well, that and drinking a lot of wine and coffee while not going to work – but I digress…

Next, the Louvre; the Louvre is, simply, the world’s greatest museum (partly because the French never gave back a lot of the artifacts they stole from other countries back in the 18th and 19th centuries…but again, I digress…) So we basically spent a day there, and didn’t even come close to seeing it all. It’s ridiculous, but in a good way. And yes, we did go over to the Mona Lisa and take pictures – we can’t break all the tourism rules! Even though I’m vehemently opposed to aforementioned rules, for reasons I may or may not get into in a separate blog entry, as it’s worthy of more space than I will give it here. Gotta stop digressing…

Notre Dame is next on the list. We went while a mass was going on, which was good in the sense of having grown up going to churches (I stress the term “church”, as there are no “cathedrals” in the Midwest, at least none that I know of), I always thought the ceremony would seem sort of empty if there was so much space. On the contrary, a loud organ and a nice choir fills up the cathedral quite nicely, and changes the experience quite a bit. Anyway – Notre Dame is worth seeing also – but my favorite cathedral in Paris was St. Sulpice, because unlike Notre Dame, it was cold, dark, empty, and had an otherworldly quality to it.

Finishing up the cathedral tour of Paris, we went to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, another fine example of aforementioned gigantic works of architecture. Montmartre, a neighborhood set on Paris’ only real hill (I think it’s the only hill – it’s a big hill though), was once a haven of artists from all over the world. This is important because Montmartre tries so hard to pretend it’s still bohemian, but the reality is it’s been gentrified beyond all recognition of whatever glory it once had. That being said, that’s probably a good thing, as the winding streets and alleys are now filled with fun shops and cool restaurants, making it a fun place to explore.

In this vein, we spent the rest of our trip. We would pick a couple of neighborhoods each day to go to, and then just walk around and stop in cafes or lunch spots when we needed to rest. We saw Marais, the Latin Quarter (“Latin” because people used to speak Latin there, not because they’re Hispanic), St. Germain des Pres, and a few other areas around the river. Lots of walking, lots of cafes, and a lot of fun. What we learned during these travels is that Paris gets a bad rap; we ran into a bunch of really nice people, all of which were French, and not a single snob! In fact, all the French we’ve met so far in Europe have been pretty cool, so I’m going to start giving them a little credit. Maybe.

The only problem we encountered on this trip – and it wouldn’t be a trip if there weren’t at least one problem – is that on Wednesday, our final day in Paris, there was a transit strike. As you might know, the French are notorious for working fewer hours and getting paid more than pretty much all other countries in the world. So what do you do if you have it good? Apparently, you go on strike. Ok – not to be bashing workers’ rights or anything – but our train, which we had booked and paid for, no longer existed when we got to the station, so I was a little annoyed. Also – as a result of the strike – we got stuck on what was the worst subway ride ever, in rush hour, due to the fact that only about half the trains were running. Our subway was too crowded to get in, so we had to take the train going the opposite way, half an hour to the originating station, stay on it as it turned around, and then take it back another 45 minutes to our destination – the entire time being completely jam-packed with armpits only inches from our faces. Check that – with European armpits only inches from our faces. Absolutely brutal.

But the rest of the trip was great. Good food, beautiful architecture, fun shops, tons and tons of monuments, and so much more. In truth, travel is always better when you’re not rushing to see everything, but when you get to simply relax and enjoy yourself (and maybe seeing just a couple of things) – and luckily we had enough time to do this. So to summarize, if you like big cities, then Paris is awesome – the street upon street of history and sights is great from a tourist perspective, but the hidden neighborhoods and underlying spirit also make it worthy of being called a cultural capital. I definitely recommend checking it out, even though you’re probably secretly thinking it’s not that great…


This weekend we went to Budapest – probably my most anticipated city to visit in Europe. Years ago, post-cold war Budapest was one of those ultra-secret backpacker destinations that was dirt cheap, yet had a lot to offer. Times have changed a little since then, and while it’s no longer the “live like a king on $10 a day” mecca it once was, it’s still cheaper than most of the other major European destinations, yet it now also is a bit more tourist-friendly than it used to be (i.e. there’s little risk of crime). On one bank you have Pest, which is a teeming, expansive city with all sorts of interesting buildings and tree-lined streets. On the other side is Buda, a hilly knoll with castles and cobble-stone streets overlooking the winding river. Together, they form an amazing sight, one which in my opinion rivals the beauty of any city I’ve seen so far.

Budapest has a very long and storied past, which is important in that each period of time has contributed to the city as it currently stands. There are a lot of Turkish influences, which can be seen in some of the architecture; Viennese influences, seen in the cafes; communist influences, seen in the lack of wealth among the older generation; and western influences, seen in the fact that only 20 years after the fall of communism, a huge portion of the city speaks fluent English. That was the thing that surprised me the most; every waiter, shop owner, vendor, etc., all of them could speak English. More than people in Geneva, even. This borders on shocking due to the fact that it’s occurred so quickly; there’s no way English was taught in schools until recently (if even now), but everyone learns it – even though geographically, there are no English-speaking countries nearby. Made it much easier to travel, although we did try to use the simple Hungarian phrases we memorized. Anyway, on to the trip…

The first morning, we navigated the fastest escalators on planet earth into the subway, on our way to the Szechenyi baths. Here, I donned my speedo and bathing cap in joining the locals in an old-school thermal bathhouse! If you ever get the opportunity to go, the thermal baths in Budapest are great; we went early in the morning, and there was still a nice chill in the air as we sat in the extremely comfortable 85-degree water. I can’t think of too many better ways to start the day, or to continue it, as we stayed a couple of hours just floating around.

After this, we got serious, and decided the best use of our time would be to aimlessly walk around. The weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold – and the leaves were in full autumn color-changing mode. There’s a great road cutting through the center of Budapest, full of squares, statues, and other assorted sights. One of their big monuments, Heroes’ Square, is simply monstrous – the pictures truly don’t do it justice. We walked throughout the rest of the afternoon, and ended up going to an opera later that evening. It was at this point I remembered I don’t particularly enjoy opera, but since it was a cool opera house it was alright for a couple of hours.

The next day was started by going to the greatest café in Europe – a very unpretentious, 20-ft-ceilinged establishment serving great coffee and amazing breakfast sweets. To me, this typified the entire Budapest experience – the city is still in a stage where it doesn’t have enough money to be snooty (kind of the opposite of Geneva), so you have these venues that are gorgeous and really nice, but have normal prices because they still rely on the lower and middle classes for business. In ten years, I imagine this café (and many others like it) becoming high-priced and not necessarily having better quality; but for now, it’s just right. Anyway – we finished up the day by seeing a traditional Hungarian folk performance, complete with dancers and a folk ensemble. Simply put, it was really cool.

The final day was spent roughly in the same manner – the common theme being that we tried to see something in the morning, walk around during the day, and eat as much food as possible anytime in between. Because the truth is, not only is Goulash an extremely fun word to say, but when it’s prepared correctly, it’s quite good. So we ate. And ate. And ate. We ate so much that, at one meal, Soph actually left some food on her plate due to being full! In my 6+ years with her, I’ve never been witness to this phenomenon, and it scared me. But the point is – we ate a lot. And it was good.

This was a great trip for a lot of reasons; first, the city is just amazing. Words really can’t describe how nice the buildings are and how great everything looks. Second, there was the fact we got to go shopping and eat out a lot. Buying things is fun. Third, there were so many cool things to do – there were the Baths, the Central Market, music – there’s even a 1000-year-old mummified hand in the city’s Basilica! That’s just cool. And lastly, the history of Budapest, and Hungary in general, is at such a crossroads of different cultures and time periods that there’s a lot to understand and absorb – which we were able to attempt over coffee and cakes in the wonderful cafes. And how can you not enjoy a little deep thought and introspection over a cup of coffee?

Non-Desperate Geneva Housewives

That is what my new friend Melanie has named our little luncheon group, and I have to admit that one of the highlights of not working (among many) is being able to meet up with some like-minded gals who love food and experiencing different things as much as I do. Plus the advice exchange is invaluable! Our new mission statement involves trying out as many different Geneva restaurants as possible (in a reasonable price range obviously) every week. One of the first weeks we went to a teahouse called Le The, which served the best tea and dim sum I've ever had. Granted, I don't eat dim sum very often, but hey the point is, it was great. And now that the weather here is getting cooler by the day, warm tea is very appealing to my anti-cold personality. Plus it's right around the corner from where we live! I'm so glad that we chose to be in center city because it affords us an opportunity to be in the action and close to everything. We're in a more student inclined area, which is fine by me, because jeans and sneakers fit in perfectly, and there are more thai restaurants in the vicinity of our house than I can shake a stick at, which is great for me, and doom for Tyler. :) He thinks I'm slightly obsessed with Thai food, which is probably true because it is surprisingly so easy to get all the supplies you need to make really great green curries and drunken noodles. It's helping ease the pain of not having a lot of korean food around, ok AFFORDABLE korean food around. A kimchijigae (kimchi soup) back home would have cost maybe 7 bucks, here it's thirty. Ah Geneva. However, I did get some kim (seaweed laver sheets) in a care package that I've been gobbling down with rice, so that's been helping alot, and I even gave a try at making kimchi. That wasn't so successful as I think I didn't rinse the salt enough off of the cabbage before dousing it with garlic and red pepper powder. So it's a little too salty, but I think I've learned my lesson and am ready to try try try again, much to Tyler's chagrin, ha ha. Can't believe he invented a new bad word just to describe kimchi!

So I can get really lazy, and as such this is the continuation of the draft blog I had started awhile ago. Part of it is Tyler's fault, as he now calls this blog HIS blog, and he has become very possessive of it (love you honey!!!!), but it's rather cute. So since going to Le The a few weeks ago, the Non-Desperate Geneva Housewives (otherwise known as NDGH) group has expanded to around 10 members, and we've gone to Vietnamese, Indian, and Sushi. The Indian was very yummy and a great deal because it was a buffet, the first buffet I've seen in Geneva! And let me tell you, I went to TOWN on that buffet. Talk about getting your money's worth! Although the service was absolutely atrocious; I nearly got into a fight with the snotty waiter. They don't get paid on tips here, and unfortunately it is reflected in the service sometimes. Everyone who knows me, knows that I'm a really easygoing, non-trouble-wanting kind of person, but this guy just made me want to throw down. Regardless, I paid him back by polishing off all of the chicken dishes in the buffet line by going up for seconds and thirds. Ok, not really. Ok, maybe :)

The lunchgroup has just been so much fun and such a great way to meet new friends; one of my biggest fears coming over here, was not being able to establish a network of friends very easily. I'm just a very social person and there is nothing more I like than to have a good chat or just to commiserate. Well, I'm very lucky to have found that in these girls, as well as some other people we've met through the expat network sites. I think our transition to living here has gone so smoothly because of that, and I know Tyler likes that I'm not pining away waiting for him to come home. Well, I know secretly he'd like that, but after awhile I think it would start to annoy him.

Today the NDGH group had lunch at Sushi Misuji, which is literally maybe a six minute walk from me (love that!) and I was surprised by how good my spicy tuna roll was. And the miso soup. I was expecting some kind of spicy mayonnaise gob concoction, but what came out was a very nice sized roll with large chunks of avocado and tuna, sprinkled with sesame and spicy pepper. Very yummy, and totally satisfied my sushi kick. There's something to be said about a really good sushi roll laden with wasabi and soy sauce...I felt very content, sitting there with my chopsticks poised on its way to bringing me goodness, listening to the gab around me. Life is good.
Next up: Budapest!