Dec 11, 2013

PARIS




I was glad to the take the Chunnel train from London to Paris, even though I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a train traveling for several miles underwater (I really don’t know when I became such a pussy).

I was NOT glad to confirm what I read in some historical romance novels is true and when you are in the seat facing away from the movement instead of facing forward you get a little sick. We arrived in rainy and gloomy Paris and my stomach was not my friend. The smell of the Gare Du Nord station is THE worst smell of any train/subway I have ever smelled and I’ve been to New York in the summer. It was an odd combination of cat piss, food and sweat...Christ, just remembering makes me break out in cold sweats.

Luckily DH lived in Belgium eons ago and remembers some French and he figured out how to get to our AirBnB rented room (more on that later).

We went in and out of our room and ventured back out in the cold and rain to see Paris. My entire body was aching after 5 days of nonstop London, but off we went without complaint.  The subway in Paris made me sorely miss the underground in London; it was just so damned old! It was odd that you had to push a button or lift a lever to be able to open the doors because they didn’t open by themselves at each stop. I placed the blame on the language barrier, but that map was impossible to decipher and the difference between the metro and the RER line is still lost to me to this day. 

No matter what it was public transport and I love, love, love, being able to get around a city without a car and just going back to my days of using the metro makes me happy.  The Eiffel Tower looked stunning and iconic but I felt a weird disconnection from it. I don’t know what it is, I guess because the historic significance of it it’s quite minimal but I was not in awe as I was pretty much everywhere in London. It was too late to go up so we settled with walking around and taking pictures and ignoring the seemed like hundreds of (I assume illegal immigrants) trying to sell us something, anything. I felt a little for them, I know how it feels to live in the fringes…I was also a little bit afraid of them because it was really dark and they approached people without any thought of their personal space, unaware of their of how threatening they appeared…it doesn’t help that I am paranoid than a first time weed smoker.

We finally sat down to eat, at this point we couldn’t have cared less where we ate as long as we something, so we ended seating in some tourist trap with Italian food and had the best pasta I had so far (until Italy at least) and got sat next to a family of four from Minnesota...Go figure.

The next day it was off to the Louvre where DH and I took the required picture next to the Mona Lisa and walked around until I was ready to barf art. I couldn’t check (because the lines were impossible) but I can bet there must be priceless art hanging in the toilet stalls at the Louvre. There were paintings upon paintings, almost looked like wallpaper, not one inch of wall space was wasted and the result was overwhelming. DH and I enjoyed much more the sculpture section (especially me since I had to giggle when he was ogling the Sleeping Hermaphroditus’ ass until the walked around to the front and saw its penis)

If I had to choose my favorite Paris monuments I would have to say it was the Notre Dame Cathedral (can’t escape that Catholic upbringing) and the Arc de Triomphe…you gotta give that Napoleon some credit for sheer pizzazz.  I wanted to enjoy the Eiffel Tower but we stood in line for at least 2 hours in the freezing cold while all of us strangers huddled together to conserve heat. Then made more lines to take the elevators up (where there was always some bitch who wanted to cut in) and then we made it to the top, where I was shivering uncontrollably, the wind was pushing me and the razor sharp rain that was pelting us came horizontally. Fun! I had to laugh at the people that at the top shelled some good money for cold champagne and they banged their plastic glass against their teeth with their shaking.

The next day DH was sick as a dog because of the Eiffel Tower’s visit but we ventured out anyway, to Montmartre where he proceeded to get attacked by a pack of feral foreigners that were duping the tourist playing three-card Monte. Since DH had his handy GoPro out recording our climb up to Sacre Coeur, they assumed that he was recording them, playing that game with the tourist is illegal and the main Mafioso surrounded him with his posse and roughened him up and asked him to delete it. I turned around when I heard raised voices and for a moment felt like they had dropped me in a version of Taken and I screamed something at them and rushed to him and I guess they weren’t willing to shove this little lady around so I grabbed his hand and we walked away from there. The rest of the day I was anxious and feeling sick and was unable to eat anything at all.

Fucking A. Just remembering makes my blood boil. Moments like these are the reason why I vehemently believe in gun control, because if I had been armed I would’ve shot that motherfucker’s kneecap off right there in the middle of the street, in front of tons of horrified tourist, a few steps away from Sacre Coeur Basilica. The part that pissed me off the most (aside from the danger and the hit my poor DH took to the ribs) is the fact that people like them give all immigrants a bad rep. Which country, which people will be happy to have a flexible immigration policy when the people that arrive to their country behave like criminals, mobster and hoodlums?
DH was pissed for a while and then he was pretty cool and relaxed and I was like a startled cat for the rest of the day, hair standing on end and ready to hiss and scratch and maul whoever gave me the slightest provocation. I mean what the fuck? One isn’t even safe in Paris? It’s not like we are in some far off country where they target tourist for their kidneys or fulfill perverse fantasies like in The Hostel.  

It hadn’t helped that pretty much every stereotype of the French service to the tourist was confirmed in pretty much every restaurant we went. At one point some dude gave me attitude because he brought a bottle of water when I have specifically asked for tap (like I am going to spend 5 fucking Euros on bottled water) and he scoffed at me…I slapped that napkin on that table and got up so fast the chair almost fell back. I was fucking paying customer, they aren’t doing me a favor here by feeding me, so I took my money and my ass out of there told them to do something anatomically impossible and went to another restaurant where our waiter was pleasant and about 80 years old.

I mean the nerve! It’s not like I expect to be catered to like I am royalty, good manners are all I require really.  I can out-bitch any French at any time…I just choose not to, because I have manners. I don’t think anyone EVER in a South American country complained to a tourist that they needed to learn Spanish, or Portuguese...They are visiting your country asshole, be gracious!

Needless to say the visit left a bad taste in my mouth which is truly sad because the city was gorgeous, the history is so rich and interesting, the architecture is breathtaking and all the pastries are filled with Nutella, which alone would get my vote. But even though I was warned by everyone I know that had gone to Paris, I didn’t believe it could be like they described. I had thought they had been mistaken, I had thought the articles and forums I had read were just filled with the typical American who dislikes the French. I had thought when I read an article where the French Department of Tourism was offering classes and sending out brochures to restaurants, taxi drivers and hotels to have them polish their tourist etiquette that it was a gross exaggeration. It wasn’t…they truly need some polishing.

The other bright lights in our Paris trip were our wonderful host, who contradicted all French stereotypes. They went above and beyond the call of duty with Curt’s sickness and they had the most wonderful array of rescue pets (including a pet rat named DeeDee that was surprisingly soft to the touch).

A little weary we left the city of lights and were off on our way to Prague.



PS:  Ok. Who am I kidding? Was the service in Paris rude? Hell yes. Was the weather craptastic? My frozen ass agrees. Was the “Taken” experience a bit traumatic for my person who is used to the safe Florida suburbs? No doubt.

But Paris is undeniably like an elegant old lady, who is secure in her attractions, confident in the knowledge that she is magnificent. She is a little rough with us, she isn’t coy, and she doesn’t play around. We may complain but we will be back. 










Dec 9, 2013

LONDON



There are three things you need to know about me before we continue with the updates on my travels. 1. I am a bit of an Anglofile. 2. I love traveling and it was one of the main reasons why being undocumented was such a damn struggle for me. 3. I am terrified of flying.

My fear of flying will never get in the way of my love for traveling thanks to the pharmaceutical help of Xanax and cheap wine.

I have been pretty much an emotional wreck the whole week of the trip. It is only because I am a reserved and self contained person that DH only saw me express some annoyance, shortness of temper and occasional bouts of silence. Inside I was a mix of nerves and happiness, terror and joy.  I was so excited to finally travel! we had planned and saved and planned and saved some more and I was going to go where I had dreamt of going for over a decade. The thought of flying on a metal death trap for 8 hours over the Atlantic Ocean made me want to scream and burst into tears. Every time I have to fly I think “this is the way I am going to die” I picture the plane plummeting down to inevitable death and I think how cruel it would be for me to die before I see Europe. Or before I reach whatever destination I am supposed to be reaching.

I tried not to think about it, but the closer the departure date got the more nervous I became. I didn’t want to think about it but I couldn’t separate my dreams of walking the London streets from the actual process of getting there.

Somehow I made it to the plane after two glasses of insanely expensive airport wine and popped my pill. After seating down for twenty minutes on the plane, getting comfortable for the night flight ahead, talking to family and relaying last minute instructions for the care of Max and Zoey, the pill finally kicked in.

Sweet baby Jesus…there is something to be said about not being afraid. It’s almost like that feeling when you know you are about to piss your pants and you won’t make it to the toilet and somehow you do make it and release and you get goose bumps and the hair on your arms stands on end, and you shiver and your eyes water and there is no greater feeling than that of your bladder emptying…aaaah.  

That’s how the pill feels, I feel normal, my body unclenches, my heart rate slows, my mouth produces saliva again, my head stops pounding, my hands aren’t sweaty, my stomach no longer rolls and that niggling need on my chest to release a blood curling scream is gone and I feel like myself again, not gripped by that fear of ‘this is certainly my last day on earth’. I feel relief.

I smiled feeling loopy and DH just gave me that planes-are-safer-than-cars look that I always get when I am flying or talking about flying, but I was too relaxed on my pill and too happy not to be afraid anymore to take umbrage.

What feels like minutes later, I wake up to a stewardess shuffling around cars to serve breakfast and coffee, the flight is almost over.

We made it to Heathrow, what an airport, I mean WOW. That has got to be the most trafficked airport in the world. We walked to immigration and in less than twenty minutes they stamped my passport and we walked away. They stamped my passport…I felt so gauche but I kept looking at that little stamp like it was a gift, it looked so pretty there on the page next to my visa. Sigh.

London was everything and more than I wanted, it was sunny and crisp every day we were there. I bought a really cute green raincoat prepared for the “awful London weather” and the sky was blue and the sun shone just for us those five days.  I loved every corner of that city, I loved its Underground and it’s informative voice over the speaker warning us to “Mind the gap”. I loved St. Paul’s Cathedral, the breathtaking magnificence of Christopher Wren’s architecture. The Parliament and the Big Ben was imposing and oh so iconic. The Tower of London was sad, depressing and yet interesting and informative, and the Beefeater guide was hilarious. Windsor Castle made me realized I was born to be royalty and something must have gone wrong because I am not. The Queen was there since the flag was out on the Keep. Westminster Abbey was equally impressive with the tombs of so many important people is hard to keep track, Buckingham Palace was gorgeous and the nearby Wellington’s Arch was the scene of the crossing of the royal horses, we saw them come out of the royal mews and prance around with their riders in full regalia, those horses we so preening!

It’s a sign of how much I loved London that I didn’t even struggle with my dislike of Monarchies. I have always had a conflicted view of it; the romantic, historical romance obsessed part of me adores everything that has to do with the peerage and the monarchy of England. The part of me that is bothered by empires and social inequality is disgusted.

In London one can’t help but feel the need to sing a God Save the Queen when walking around her castle, the Keep of which has been standing there since the 1000s. DH was in as much aw as I was by all the beautiful structures, the accuracy of the public transportation, the history of the city, the old buildings, etc…he was just not quite as giddy as I was.

The last day in the city went and I was so not ready to leave it. I would’ve been glad to spend the rest of my vacation safely ensconced in London, walking around, drinking beer and maneuvering the Underground with ease. We went to Kings Cross Station to transfer to St. Pancras (which is the international rail that takes you outside of England) and I couldn’t leave London without making a stop on Platform 9 ¾ for a picture. Everyone in line to take the picture was at least in their 20s, 30s and some in their 50s. There were only two kids in line…I had to laugh at that, Harry Potter transcending generations.

I took my leap for the picture, holding my trolley with its stuffed white Hedwig, wearing the Slytherin scarf in Snape’s honor and pushed through the platform all the way to Paris.





Dec 6, 2013

WHAT'S IT GONNA BE?




Ok folks, so I am here again and trying hard to figure out how to make the transition from a blog about a chick with no papers and her bitter battle to a blog about a chick with papers and her current life.
 

I guess that happens a lot, kind of like how Cougar Town show with Courtney Cox got stuck with the name “Cougar Town” even thought Courtney Cox’s character has been dating someone her own age for the majority of the show.
 

My DH says I should just write, talk and talk about anything and everything that happens to me and put it on the blog…a blog about everything and nothing. Not surprising he is a Seinfeld fan.  I need a little bit more structure and to be honest with you I don’t think I am that interesting. He thinks I can make anything interesting, which is terribly flattering and also untrue.
 

My life currently consists of getting up an hour before I have to run to work, eat breakfast, feel sleepy and miserable until I finish my coffee, work for ten hours, go back home and hang out with husband, eat dinner (which most nights is popcorn, hummus, cheese and wine) read some books or watch Korean soap operas and then go to sleep to start the process all over again.
 

Kinda hard to write about that fascinating topic that is my routine.

But I do want to try to write more, to have a commitment, all those who have kept with me all these years know that I have a hard time making commitments and keeping promises I keep to myself, (I’m looking at you New Year’s Resolutions!)  I want to write everyday and maybe the flame will ignite again.
 

So I am going to go and tell you what has happened in my life these past few months and go from there, maybe all the writing will turn into something worth reading, even if the purpose of the blog isn’t what it used to be.
 

I traveled, kind reader, I actually left U.S. soil two months ago.  I fulfilled my lifelong dream of going to Europe, and you know what? It was even better than I imagined.  In two weeks I visited 6 European cities with DH, we walked until we got blisters, ate until we felt sick, drank until…well we actually never stopped drinking, we drank A LOT.
   

As you know I am a Colombian Citizen and therefore cannot go ANYWHERE without applying for a visa, so pretty much the first half of the year was spent with me filling applications to go to the UK, making itineraries, making copies of my bank statements, getting international health insurance, getting letters from my employers and copying paystubs, all so I could spend five days in London.
 

I cannot explain how excited I was when I got the UK Tourist Visa stamped on my passport. I looked so pretty in the picture too! Then I had to go to the Italian Consulate in Miami so I could apply for the Schengen visa.
 

For those of you who are Americans, or Canadians or simply are from pretty much everywhere else in the world and don’t require a promise of donation of a kidney or a first child to visit another country, a Schengen visa is a permit given to enter the Schengen Area after a treaty with 26 countries allows the carrier to enter said countries without a visa on their passport.
 

Since I wanted to go to Italy, Germany, Czech Republic and France and they all belong to the treaty that meant I only had to go to one Consulate to apply for the visa, instead of having to go to four.  We were spending the longest time in Italy so I applied for the visa there. It took one morning and reservations to hotels, planes, cars, trains, etc and pretty much the same that was required from the UK Consulate to be approved.

 With both visas in hand I was ready to go.
 

I love DH but I must confess I was a bit resentful that he gets to enter all the countries in the world without suspicion, without that country expecting the worst from him, without assuming that they are there to stay. I mean I did stay here when I came, but that is not the point!

 England and USA have been at war before, and France and the US have had some skirmishes, and Italy was one of the Axis Powers and the Czech Republic used to be communist and Germany was THE main Axis…what beef can any of them have with Colombia? Why deny its citizens entry unless jumping every hoop in the book? Even now when the EU is trying to lift the requirements for Colombian citizens Germany is refusing to sign up on the idea. I don't appreciate your dizzing Germany!
 

Whatever man!

Anyway, after all the paperwork and the saving and the booking and the reviewing the day finally came. I was all ready with my happy pills (Xanax for the flight), my autumn outfits carefully planned, my steps by step itineraries made on Excel, printed and tucked away in the suitcase. Research was done, money exchange rates checked, tickets for museums purchased in advance…we were readier than MacGyver.