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Amassine

We had found a little bit of information on the internet about some climbing just north of Jebel Sirwa. Basically it was just some pictures of huge boulders in a beautiful valley and the name of a close by village, Amassine. After scouring google maps and consulting our guide book, we figured we would be able to make our way there from Ouarzazate. Our bus arrived there around noon and we wandered around for a few hours picking up supplies and making our way to the main bus station. We bought tickets for a local bus that would take us to Anezal. After a two hour bus ride through the foothills of the Anti Atlas Mountains we were in Anezal, much to the surprise of the locals. After a couple of minutes we were approached by a stocky man with a bushy mustache, wearing a white turban. In broken French he asked us where we were going. Rob told him we wanted to get to Amassine and the man pointed to a large van, “mon voiture”. I asked him how much money it would cost, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Eventually he pointed to each of us saying “dix Derham, dix Derham”, about one Euro each. We got in the van and waited for him to round up some other passengers. A couple of old men and some young school boys piled in and we were off. We flew down an old paved road through fields of wheat, eventually making our way up and around the mountains. The views were spectacular. We dropped the kids off at the first village and continued on fast as ever. An old man got out and three bubbly, withered Bereber women climbed in, chatting away in the back as a lamb screamed every time we hit a decent bump or rut in the road. After about 45 minutes the paved road ended and we continued on dirt and rock, only slightly slower. The man next to me pointed out the window, “Jebel Sirwa”, we were finally in its shadow. We crossed a stream and winded around another hill and then a village came into view. “Amassine” said our driver and he began to ask where we were sleeping and what we were going to do. We tried our best to explain that we had a tent and would be hiking and camping in the area. I’m not sure if he really understood but he shrugged and pointed out his house as we drove by it. He let us out at the end of the road, half way into the village near the crest of a hill. A short misunderstanding of money followed after I began to hand him a 20 Dirham note. Obviously he did not mean ten Dirham each back in Anezal. I asked him to write out how much he wanted since he could not give us a straight answer in French. He handed me back the paper, saying “800”. Rob and I looked at eachother confused, neither of us even had that much cash, I don’t even think I had spent that much money since entering Morocco. Rob handed him a 200 Dirham note, which he promptly accepted and handed 120 back to Rob. “Ahh catre vingt Dirham!” I exclaimed and he nodded his head smiling. We shook hands and explained to him that we would return in 3 days to find him and a ride out of town. He mentioned something about food but we missed exactly what he was saying, probably offering us a meal at his home which would have been great. Lackaday, we wandered off up the hill and out of town. We climbed another hill that was covered with boulders and proceeded to pitch our tent. After 12 hours of traveling we had made it. The view from our tent was spectacular, with Amassine tucked away down the hillside and the hills, valleys and mountains off in the distance. I woke up on my birthday after a very cold night that we spent wrapped up in most of our clothes. The shade was already disappearing and it was getting hot. We had some canned fruit and bread for breakfast then set out explroing the area. We found a little bit of climbing near a stream that flowed through the valley. We walked along it and had some canned olives and tuna for lunch on top of a big boulder. We sat in the sun with our feet dangling in the stream and I worked on a nice sun burn. We headed back to camp to watch the shepards leading their flocks back to the village. For my birthday dinner we ate canned ravioli, more tuna and Rob even made me a little cake out of some lemon bread and jam. We washed it down with some sun warmed Bourbon that we carried all the way from the Valencia airport. It was a great birthday and one that I will never forget. The days we spent in the valley were slow and relaxing. We hiked every day and relaxed by the stream when the heat got to unbarable. On our last day we were approached by two young boys from the village, probably aged 8 and 10. They gave us a bunch of cherries and proceeded to dig through our stuff, admiring my $15 watch and writing on their hands with Rob’s pen. They younger of the two showed us his slingshot and promptly set up my plastic water bottle as a target. We played some games with them, mostly just throwing rocks at my water bottle from varying ranges and passing two water bottles back in forth at the same time. As the sun went down we walked back towards the village with them. We found our driver hanging out on a stoop with a bunch of other local men and we told him we wanted to go back to Anezal the next morning. He said to meet him at his house at 7am. We walked back to the tent for our last night in the valley. When we woke up it was still cold from the night before. We broke camp and walked into town. The van rounded a corner and we joined the handful or local men also making the ride into town. After an hour of driving we got out and shook hands with our driver. He said there would be a bus back to Ouarzazate coming soon so we sat down next to the road and waited. Once in Ouarzazate we discovered we would have to back track through Marrakesh to go to Essaouira, our destination on the Atlantic Coast. We made it to Marrakesh with just 45 minutes to walk to the other bus station and catch a bus to Essaouira. After another 12+ hours of traveling we made it to the coast, looking out at the Atlantic from the roof top terrace of our hotel.

Marrakesh

We arrived in Marrakesh around 7pm. It felt kind of like returning to Egypt, the air was warm but not as thick and humid as one would expect. Instead of the caked, dusty white buildings of Cairo, everything was covered in a pleasant, faded pink plaster. Our cabby dropped us at the edge of Djemaa el-Fna, the main center of commerce in the medina. The name, “Assembly of the Dead”, refers to its past role as the site for public executions, circa AD 1050. Today it is packed with orange juice stalls, snake charmers, , Gnaoua musicians, food stands, shops and tourists. Eventually we found the riad we were looking for, “Hotel Essaouira”, tucked back in a derb, a short walk from the center of the action. We were finally in Morocco. The next three days we spent wandering around the city. It took us a little while to figure out the maze of alleys and winding streets. Like most European cities, there is no grid, but the handful of large traffic rotaries work as good landmarks when trying to navigate the city. Marrakesh was especially energetic while we were there. There socccer team was on a winning streak and beat Tunisia 4-0 our first night there. Every day we saw cars and scooters loaded with people waving flags and stopping traffic to cheer. We could here the crowds celebrating in Djemma el-Fna late into the night from our room. We were trying to figure out where we wanted to go next. Eventually we decided to head south to Ouarzazate and try to make our way south west from there towards Jebel Sirwa and the Anti Atlas Mountains. On June 7th we caught an early bus and began our journey.

Milan

When planning a trip according to the cheapest flights available, you sometimes end up going to places you did not expect to visit. Milan turned out to be one of those places. I knew that I wanted to go to Berlin, and I knew that I wanted to go to Valencia after. The only way to do this through Ryan Air was by flying in and out of Milan. Rob had mentioned wanting to visit Italy anyway so it worked out. We arrived on Friday morning and took a bus from the airport to the main train station. We got off just in time to get hit with a rain storm while we wandered around looking for the right bus stop and bus to our couch surfing host’s apartment. It was not a good first impression. Milan is said to be “the most European” city in Italy, I suspect this is just because it is one of the farthest north. The bus ride to the apartment was certainly filled with a diverse crowd and we were after all staying with a Chinese exchange student. Either way, it did not feel like Italy in the way that we were anticipating. We got to Jason’s apartment soaking wet and hungry. We spent the day walking around the neighborhood and hiding in a cafe from another big rain storm, this time with hail too. We decided to get out of the city on Saturday. I found some information about some rock climbing around Lake Como, the third largest lake in Italy, about 45 minutes north by train. So we woke up early and got on the train bound for Varenna. We got their and started walking north along a road, through a couple tunnels and eventually we found a great spot right on the edge of the lake. There was a natural slope down to the water and then a bunch of cliffs around the corner that dropped straight down into deeper water. It turned out to be a great day. We ate while enjoying the view of the mountains and lake. It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever climbed. Unfortunately the water was still pretty cold since the lake was fed by the melting mountain snow. By the time we got back to Milan we were exhausted and sore from climbing. The next day we headed into the city to check out some art museums. We spent a couple of hours at the Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna which had a great retrospective exhibition of Tony Oursler’s work. Then we saw some traditional paintings and sculptures by Italian artists. We walked down the street and ran into a crowd that was standing behind barricades on both sides of the street. Then we saw a cyclist speeding down the street with a car following. The crowd all began to clap and we realized there was a bicycle race taking place that went throughout the city. We got back on the metro and headed for the Duomo, which our host told us was amazingly beautiful and very holy. We got their to discover an even larger crowd and the track wrapping around the Duomo complex. It was a little hard to appreciate the architecture with so many cheering fans around so we headed back to the apartment for an early dinner. We spent the next morning preparing for our trip to Valencia and said goodbye to Jason at 2pm when we began our journey back to the airport.

Berlin

I went to Berlin with my school in early April for five days and had a great time exploring the city, all the of the art galleries and museums. Now I was back with Rob for a whole week. We arrived at Schoenefeld Airport around 4:30 in the afternoon. After catching a train and a tram we went to supermarket to grab some food and beer. We met our couch surfing host in the parking lot and he took us to his house, which shares a yard with a water purification plant in the Wuhlheide Forest. Stephan, our host, was a really nice guy. He is studying for a Masters Dergree in Physcis and we had a a lot of great conversations. Our first night in town we spent eating currywurst, drinking delicious beer and watching TED talks with Stephan and his brother Olly. On Saturday we woke up around 10 and made our standard breakfast of fried potatoes. We took the S-Bahn to Oranienburger Strasse in East Berlin and proceeded to walk around for a couple hours. We saw some good art galleries, Checkpoint Charlie, remains of the Berlin Wall, and an  abandoned building that has been turned into an artist squat. We also got some delicious coffee from The Barn, a cafe that one of the students took us to when we were in Berlin with my school. We left Oranienburger Strasse and headed east to Warschauer Strasse to get some hamburgers from a burger place that a different student took us to in April. We got off the U-Bahn and after walking a couple of blocks towards the hamburger place, we ran into a street festival. There were two different stages with reggae bands playing, a girl stacking beer crates 30+ feet tall while she was standing on them, and tons of people. We grabbed our burgers and then went to sit in a park and drink beer while people watching. It is legal to drink beer in public in Berlin not to mention it is a huge part of German culture. After sitting around for a while, we walked to a bridge to watch the sunset next to the Berlin TV Tower. Then we got back on the U-Bahn and headed to Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg, a hip neighborhood in south east Berlin. There we walked along a canal to a bridge where lots of young people like to hang out at night and…you guessed it…drink beer. After sitting around for two hours we began to head back to Stephan’s house. It was a good day in Berlin and we needed some sleep. The next day we woke up early because Stephan had invited us to play paintball with him and some of his friends. When he originally proposed the idea I was a little unsure. I looked at Rob and he said we should definitely do it. So we met up with his friends around 9am and drove out north of Berlin. After about 45 minutes of driving we arrived. The paintball place was in an old military barracks and when we got out of the car we realized we were the only people without camouflage and military parafinalia. It was a little intimidating and too WWII-like at first, but then it got fun. We played several different military games with about 50 people total and then some smaller games with our group of 8. It was definitely something I did not expect to do in Berlin but Rob and I had a great time. We got back to Stephan’s around 7 or 8, bruised, covered in paint and tired. We did some laundry, made dinner and fell asleep. On Monday we had a late start and walked all around Mitte and the Tiergarten Park. We saw The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, The Reichstag, The Brandenburg Gate, some interesting architecture and even a Richard Serra sculpture. That evening we went back to Kreuzberg and got some cheap chinese food for dinner. Around 10 we headed back to the Wuhlheide for our last night at Stephan’s. Tuesday we woke up, made some potatoes, packed our stuff up and headed to Ostabahnhof to our next couch surfing host’s apartment. Reena lived on the top floor of a student hostel. It was basically college apartments. Rob and I even had our own room with a full sized bed and a great view of the TV Tower. We spent the night cooking up a huge batch of curry, talking with Gloria and Kenna, and waiting for Reena to get off work. She got in around 12:30, while we were watching the movie 180 degreees South (a great adventure documentary). We finished the movie and went to bed. On Wednesday Rob got up first, as usual, and headed to the Neue National Gallery, which I had already seen with my school a couple weeks before. I met him there, after he got lost for a bit pre-museum. Then we walked to the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. I had seen this museum before with my school but they have a ton of great art work that I wanted to see again plus a new exhibition. We spent a couple hours there, the last of which I spent in the museum bookstore scouring the shelves for some art theory books in English. The museum closed at 6 and we headed back to Reena’s for more curry. On Thursday we headed back to Oranienburger Strasse to visit some art galleries. We spent a couple hours wandering around the neighborhood before heading east to Rosa-Luxembourg Platz to get burritos and visit my friend Victoria at work at Bar 3. My stomach has been suffering without Mexican food, something that is abundent in New Brunswick. The Mexican ingredients in France were expensive, usually Taco Bell brand, and it was impossible to find black beans. Dolores’ made huge, delicious California style burritos. I had made the trek across Berlin to Dolores’ one night with two fellow students in April but just as we arrived they were closing down. It was worth the wait though. After chowing down we headed to Bar 3. I met Victoria with my school when we were taken to visit her and her boyfriend Ryan’s studios. They were two Americans who had graduated from art schools (Ryan from RISD and Victoria from Brown) and made the move to Berlin. It is an extremely attractive city for artists. There are lots of galleries, very cheap rent and if you can prove that you make a living from selling your art the government gives you a stipened. Berlin is probably my favorite European city and one that I could definitely picture myself living in. Thursday was our last night in Berlin and we headed back to Reena’s around 11 since we had an early flight to Milan the next morning. On Friday we woke up at 6am, walked to the S-Bahn station and had a breakfast of bread and jam on our way to the airport. We had a great time in Berlin and I am very glad I was able to return to it and explore it more.

Paris

It was now the third time this year that I had been to Paris. I took the RER train from CDG airport with my friend Nate to Pont de Neuilly, where we would be spending the night. After carrying our 50+ lbs suitcases up the 7 stories to Justin’s apartment we were exhausted. Justin, a friend of a friend, and fellow Rutger’s student had a very small apartment, maybe 8′ x 14′ with one bed, a shower and stove top. Nate and I were not expecting it to be that small but either way it was free and we were in no shape to complain, especially since most hostels were charging 30+ euros a night (roughly 45$). Justin said he would be staying at his girlfriend’s apartment so the place was all ours. That night we headed to Alex’s apartment, a fellow PASCA student who had rented a nice place with her boyfriend, a stone’s throw from, and with a good view of, the Pompidou Center. There we had a final gathering of a few PASCA students before most of us departed for America or other travels. We drank and enjoyed the view from her Parisian balcony, marveling at how fast the past 4 months went by. Nate was departing at 11am the next morning for America so we took the night bus back to our place and promptly fell asleep. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for him, he had volunteered to take my suitcase back to the states for me as an extra checked bag. It was an old wooden suitcase I found at a French flee market, full of paint, new artwork and a bottle of beer for Nate’s sister. He probably saved me 100$. The next morning I escorted him, suitcase in tow, to Chatellet, where he left the metro and got on the RER back to CDG airport. We had a somber good-bye but both of us knew we would be seeing each other soon. I was off to travel for two months and Nate was off to Yale for a summer painting program that he was awarded enrollment to through Tyler, Temple’s Art School. We agreed to meet at his parents house when I got back to America in July so that I may retrieve my suitcase and most likely buy him a beer for his efforts. I still had three days to kill before Rob, my friend, fellow Europe/Morocco backpacker, and recent Rutgers graduate met me in Paris. To be honest I did not do much, and at the same time, did a lot, over those couple of days. I wandered around Paris, read in several parks and by the Siene. I had dinner at Alex’s apartment one night and then on Wednesday morning I met Rob at the metro station near Justin’s apartment. We had a small breakfast and then headed to Antoine and Hella’s apartment in the 18th arrondisement , where we would be couch surfing for the next two nights. They had a beautiful second floor apartment two blocks from the Moulin Rouge. Rob was definitely jet-lagged but despite this he was able to manage my vast walking tour of Paris. We left Antoine and Hella’s apartment and walked about 10 blocks to Sacre-Coeur. Then we headed south east down Blvd. Magente to Le Republique and then the Bastille. We caught up on what we had both been up to the past 5 months and then got some falafel from my favorite place on Rue de Rosier. After lunch we walked across the Siene to Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, a great bookstore that I can never manage to leave without buying something (this time a used copy of “Under the Sheltering Sky”, which I plan on reading in Morocco). We then walked west along the Siene to the Grand Palais. This time taking a nice break in a park for a bit of reading and napping. Alex called me after about an hour of sitting in the park. We were supposed to meet her and Kurtis at the Grand Palais to see the Moumenta exhibition by Anish Kapoor, but unfortunately it was closed. Thankfully I had already seen it with Nate and Rob would be returning to Paris to meet his father at the end of our trip, so he too would have another chance to see it. We met up with Alex and Kurtis anyway and decided to go to the Eiffel Tower. Rob and I walked while Alex and Kurtis rented bikes (something we were unable to take part in since American bank cards do not have the necessary chip to be read by the bicycle machines, Alex and Kurtis’ Canadian cards do). We were unable to find them once we got to the Eiffel Tower but it was still a nice sight. After this we finally decided to hop on the Metro and head back to the Siene for a lovely sunset dinner of bread, cheese, salami, olives and cheap red wine. We finally wandered back to Antoine and Hella’s apartment around dusk (11pm) exhausted and ready for a good sleep. The next day we woke up relatively early and took the train to Versailles. We walked around the Gardens and then had another nice lunch by one of the ponds. I, as usual, got a lovely sunburn. We headed back to Paris and got ready for the Akron/Family concert I had bought tickets for earlier that week. It was a great show by a band I was supposed to see play last year in Brooklyn. We were standing right in front of the stage and I even got to jam on a drum with them at one point during the concert. It was a great last night in Paris. The next day we woke up early, since Antoine and Hella had to go to work. We spent the morning and early afternoon in a quite park before heading to the airport for our flight to Berlin. Despite how expensive the city is, I always enjoy my time in Paris. I had gotten used to being there over the past couple months and it is strange not to know when I will be there again.

Pont-Aven

It is hard for me to believe that my semester in France has ended. It seems like only a few weeks ago when we were all sitting on the bus at CDG airport, waiting to depart for Pont-Aven, from Paris. I met a lot of great people during my semester abroad. People from all over the United States and even and a guy I grew up skateboarding with but had never officially been introduced too. It truly is a small world. I would consider the semester a success. Although the program had its shortcomings I still made a lot of artwork that I am proud of. There was never much to do in Pont-Aven except go to the studio and make art/hang out and talk about art. I found it to be a great environment for me to be in at this stage in my education. I learned a lot from my peers and even managed to build my resume much more than anticipated. About a week before departing for our last school trip to Berlin, followed by spring break which I spent in the studio, we were told of an opportunity to put together a sort of installation in one of the galleries in town for Easter weekend. I, having no plans for spring break except working in the studio, said I was interested. After talking to Mac, another interested student/friend, we decided to pursue an actual exhibition in a gallery instead of the faculties proposal of a “window space installation”, something we felt would be a waste of time and effort. Mac and I share common interests, aesthetics and influences within our work so the decision to put an exhibition together was an easy one. We discussed what we were attempting within our own work and how some of the other students’ work could fit in. After a few meetings and the addition of our friend Allison to the curatorial/organizational/exhibiting team we finally had a statement for, “Simplicité”, a works on paper exhibition. Our friends Nathan and Danielle also had put together a proposal for a painting exhibition and with these in hand we all went to meet with Izabela, the director of the Izart Gallery. Our original proposal of exhibiting two shows during Easter weekend was shot down. This is a very popular weekend for Pont-Aven and Izabela has to make a living after all. Eventually we agreed that we would have our exhibitions in two identical adjacent rooms on the second floor of the gallery, the following week, hanging for one week’s time. The school pushed us to make this an event for the town and soon two other students had arranged an exhibition in another gallery for the same week. The event became “La Derive”, and the school hopes it can become an annual event. “Simplicité” and “Image/Imago”, the two shows in the Izart Gallery were a great success. On top of that I also showed a painting in the other exhibition titled “Bleu Ouvert” (a sort of play on words). On top of installing our own group exhibitions in the town, all of the students had the school exhibition and open studios the following weekend in the school affiliated CIAC Gallery. The CIAC show, titled “Alias”, after the so called “curriculum theme” of the semester was our last hoorah. Classes had finished and all we had left were two days of final reviews and clean up/packing (or so I thought). On the last day of the CIAC exhibition I was approached by a woman who had opened a new gallery in town called UNA. She said she was very interested in the series of paintings I showed in the CIAC exhibition and would like to show them in her gallery. Before I knew it I was installing these 6 small paintings on wooden boards, plus 2 very large paintings on chip-board (that were much too heavy to consider shipping home), in her gallery. I typed up a consignment contract lasting for a year and two days later left Pont-Aven, bound for Paris and elsewhere. Every time I finish a semester I feel as though I have never been more busy in my life. But the end of this semester; three group exhibitions followed by my first, and unplanned solo exhibition, thennnnnnn followed by two months of travelling, two days of rest and the beginning of two summer classes…must certainly be my busiest. The past 5 months have been a once in a lifetime experience and the next two months of travelling will be too.

Paris

We arrived at our hotel in Paris around 3pm.  Luckily we did not have anything planned for the group so we were able to explore the area.  Our hotel was situated a few blocks from the Bastille.  After unpacking I took Nate, Maliya (who is the best person I have ever met)* and Allison (who is really phenomenal)* to the jewish quarter to get falafel.  My friend Chris had taken me to this area when I was in Paris in January and I had the best falafel of my life.  Rue Rosier was only a ten minute walk from the Bastille.  After filling up on delicious falafel Maliya and I walked across the Seine, past Notre Dame, to Shakespeare and Company bookstore.  We ended up spending about 4 hours there, playing piano, reading, and spending more than we meant to on great books.  Daryl, Danielle and Alex eventually met us there, after getting soaked in the rain.  Eventually Maliya headed back to the hotel, also getting soaked in the rain.  We spent the night hanging out in various hotel rooms and intermittently trying to dry our shoes/clothes.  The next morning we woke up early for free hotel breakfast and then walked to the Maison Rouge museum.  They had a show up about cannibalism that was very interesting.  There were lots of different work from lots of different artists.  After that I headed back to explore the weekly market set up on the boulevard near our hotel.  I went back to the hotel for a quick nap that lasted longer than expected but I was able to wake up and dash over to the Pompidou museum to meet the rest of my group.  There we saw a lot of contemporary art and had an amazing view of the whole city from the top floor.  After walking around the museum for a couple hours we headed back to the jewish quarter for some more falafel.  That night I met up with Justin, a fellow Rutgers student who was studying in Paris.  We had a drink and then walked around the canal south of the Bastille.  The next morning we woke up early again to spend our last day in Paris at the Louvre.  I only had enough energy/attention to spend 2 .5 hours there but I saw almost the entire museum including The Mona Lisa, some Caravaggio’s, Rembrandt’s and many other art history class paintings.  After the Louvre I headed to Clichy, a neighborhood way out in the 18th arrondisement, to check out a thrift store.  It was mainly women’s clothing but I was able to find a purple ruffle shirt from H+M (for the PASCA prom. To which I plan to ask Allison. Since she is so phenomenal.).  It was nice to get out of the center of the city to experience a non touristy area of Paris.  That night we headed north to Oberkampf, a cool area with lots of bars.  We met Justin and some of his American friends at “L’orange mecanique” (the orange mechanic).  It was a cool and crowded bar.  After they closed we walked around for a little while but eventually headed back to the hotel.  We talked into the wee hours before sleeping a little and then getting our last breakfast. We left the hotel and caught a train back to Quimperle around 10.  When we finally got back to Pont-Aven, around 3pm, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunny day.  Too bad all of us were to tired to do much but unpack and sleep.  In all, the trip was great but we were very glad to return to our quiet, Breton lifestyle.

*revised by Maliya and Allison

Madrid

We left Pont-Aven before the sun came up on Saturday morning, around 6:30am.  After a 30 minute drive to Quimperle, and a 45 minute wait at the train station, we were on our way to Charles de Gaul airport in Paris to catch a flight to Madrid.  It seemed like a typical start to a trip.  Everyone had what they needed, except Maliya, who had emptied the contents of a wine soaked backpack into the river a few days before, not realizing that her passport was also in the bag.  I had convinced her to be optimistic and told her the time I flew from Valencia to Paris and no one even looked at my passport.  At least she had a copy of her passport and visa.  The train seemed like it was from the future.  A brightly colored interior, it certainly topped my experiences with the Cardinal traveling to Charleston from Philadelphia…or so I thought.  After about two and a half hours I was awoken by an announcement.  Something about having to switch trains…because we hit an animal on the tracks.  Everyone was in a daze but as we got off the train in Auray we realized what had happened.  The train, traveling at full speed, had hit a cow that was on the tracks.  A few of us brave souls ventured to the front to really take in the damage.  It was graphic and I will spare you the details, but needless to say the train was in need of some serious work.  We were forced to wait 45 minutes until we could squeeze onto another train destined for Rennes.  After an hour of standing in the aisles we got off at Rennes and quickly jumped on another train headed for CDG and beyond.  While waiting in Auray it became clear that we were unsure whether we could make our connecting flight to Madrid.  By the time we were approaching CDG we knew we had about 45 minutes for all 29 of us to clear customs and board the plane.  Luckily most of us chose to only bring carry on bags.  Nate and I decided that we were going to be in Madrid that night, with or without everyone else.  We hustled to the check in counters of Terminal 2F, quickly punched in our ticket numbers and the automatic machines printed our boarding passes.  We cleared customs without a problem and made it to the gate.  With about 15 minutes to spare everyone made it to the gate, including Maliya who got a nod and a smile when she presented her photocopy instead of her real passport.  Despite the sabotage of a suicidal cow everything worked out fine.  We arrived in Madrid around 6:30 and headed to our hotel in the center of the city on Gran Via.  After getting our rooms sorted and unpacking a bit a few of us headed out for a walk.  We needed coffee desperately.  I spotted a cafe and after walking inside and peeking at the menu we all realized they only served coffee with booze, and some great looking combos at that.  We went with the flow and sat down upstairs on a long red velvet couch.  I went with the Jamaicano, a mix of coffee and sweet coffee liqueur.  We sampled each other’s drinks and then headed back to the hotel to meet the whole gang for dinner.  After about 3 minutes of standing outside the hotel in a mob of 29 I announced that I was heading out and was not interested in dining with a million people, let alone waiting for everyone to make up their mind on a restaurant.  Nate, Allison, Mailya, Danielle and Daryl all tagged along.  We wanted something good an cheap which meant we had to get off of Gran Via.  We made a right and stumbled into the Brooklyn of Madrid.  A few blocks of restaurants covering everything from Indian to Siamese food.  We explored our options but eventually settled on the first Indian restaurant we saw.  Then we saw it, the “Luvin’ Hut”.  Our concern with dining were always Nate’s options, being the only vegan of a group of mostly vegetarians.  “Luvin Hut” was an all vegan restaurant, and a good one at that.  We immediately went in and sat down excitedly for what we knew would be a good meal.  The waiter was a little creepy but the food was great.  Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to meet up with everyone else.  After exchanging stories we knew we definitely had the best meal.  We hung around in Mac and Nate’s room for a while and then went out to find a bar in the neighborhood where we had dinner.  We came across a pretty cool one but eventually followed a local across the street where the drinks were cheaper.  I started talking to a group of guys outside and was immediately presented with a CD.  “Los Ultimos Banditos” were a band visiting from southern Spain to shoot their first music video.  We talked for a while about music and I told them they were welcome to play a show in New Brunswick if they every made it across the great divide.  They told me I should come to their music video shoot tomorrow.  They had rented out a club and were just having a bunch of friends come.  They made me tag along after my fellow students headed back to the hotel.  After walking around in search of a free club with them I finally gave in and headed back to the hotel.  I told them I would meet them for the video shoot the next evening, after ARCO.  I knew it was unlikely.  I woke up with 15 minutes to spare before the free breakfast ended, a recurring theme in my travels.  It was the best breakfast display I had seen in a long time and I was thrilled to have made it in time.  We met in the lobby and took the metro to ARCO, one of the biggest art fairs in the world, similar to New York City’s Armory Show, which I saw last year.  It was a maze of stalls featuring galleries from around the world.  I spent about 3 hours wondering around, jotting down names of artists I had never heard of before.  Eventually I had to head back to the hotel and crash.  I decided that if I woke up in time to go to the video shoot, I would.  I didn’t but the sleep was worth it.  We spent the night in the hotel watching “What Women Want” overdubbed in German and drinking cheap wine.  Today we walked to the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s contemporary art museum that houses “Guernica”, one of Picasso’s most famous paintings that I had studied last semester in my art history class.  It was a huge museum with lots of amazing work from lots of artists I love and some new ones I didn’t know about.  After three and a half hours I walked back to hotel for yet another well deserved siesta.  Our hotel is very nice but the wifi is expensive so I am currently soaking of some free internet at a nearby starbucks.

The Prado museum was a great place to spend my last day in Madrid.  I saw a lot of famous paintings that I studied last semester in art history.  My favorite pieces were Goya’s black paintings.  After the museum we explored a medieval sword and armor store then went to get some espresso.   The last night was fun but we had to wake up early to catch a flight to Paris.

Paris/Pont-Aven

Ahh Paris.  I don’t even know what to say about the city.  I could never spend enough time there and two days was certainly not enough.  I did see an awful lot though.  I arrived around midnight on Wednesday and after surfing the web for a bit I went to bed.  I awoke the next morning around 830, just so that I could catch the free breakfast.  I was worried about being able to find a cheap guitar to buy.  But, as usual, I lucked out extremely.  My hostel was about two blocks from the literal “guitar street” of Paris.  For two or three blocks there was a guitar store or music store every 20 feet.  It was ridiculous.  After visiting about 10 or 15 shops I settled on a classical guitar with a nice price tag of 67 Euro.  I spent the rest of the day with a French Canadian girl.  We walked around the neighborhood of our hostel, saw the Moulin Rouge and then hopped on the metro to see the Eiffel tower.  It was huge, bigger than I imagined.  We walked around it for a while but eventually the cold was too much to bare and we headed back to the hostel.  The next day I met up with my friend Chris from Rutgers.  He graduated last year and has been teaching english outside of Paris in Cile for the past 6 months.  We met up right near the Arc de Triomphe and proceeded to walk around Paris for the next 5 hours.  We saw just about everything from the outside.  My school has a trip planned to Paris in a few weeks so I knew that I would be returning to the Louvre etc.  So we decided to cover as many things as possible without focusing to much on one specific thing.  We went inside Notre Dame, it was massive and somewhat ominous.  We walked to the Jewish quarter and ate the best falafel I have ever had, including all the falafel I ate in Egypt.  We went to the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, which the Swiss girls I met in Cairo told me I must see.  It was a great bookstore and I spent too much on some Kerouac and Bukowski books.  I spent the last night in Paris with some friends from the hostel and several of the cheapest bottles of wine we could find.  It was a great time.  I awoke the next morning with 10 minutes till breakfast ended and an hour till I had to meet my school at a hotel.  I ate and packed my things together as fast a possible.  I was going to walk to the hotel but due to time constraints I had to catch a cab.  I arrived at the hotel 3 minutes late and 10.60 of the 11 Euro I had on me went to the cab.  I don’t think I could have cut it any closer.  Ahh c’est la vie.  Our french teacher Carine, her husband and four other girls got on the bus and headed to the airport to pick up the other students.  After about two hours of waiting and many horror stories of being stuck in an airport for days due to the wonderful northeast snow storm we were off to Pont-Aven.  It was a seven hour bus ride, most of which I spent trying to sleep in various awkward positions, my upper half across two seats with my legs extended across the aisle and resting on another seat.  I spoke with a few of my fellow students talking about where I am from etc.  Two of them know people that I am close friends with at Rutgers, it is certainly a small world after all.  We arrived in Pont-Aven around 8pm and were greeted by our hosts.  Most of the students are seperated in to groups of two and one group of three, living with older single people.  I am the only one who is living with and actual family, Nicolas, Pasa and their two young daughters Manoe and Liza, aged 12 and 9.  They have a beautiful house only a 5 minute walk from my school.  I am living in a literal bachelor pad.  A studio apartment above the garage with my own shower and toilet and even my own entrance.  They say I can live free and have my own life but I am welcome at the dinner table whenever I want.  I could not imagine a better set up.  We had dinner together that first night.  A beautiful spread of Duck heart and gizzard, toast with goat cheese and ham, salad, good red wine, and followed up with a cheese platter and some cake the little girls had made.  This morning they walked me down to school to check out my studio and the lounge.  I have to return home for a nice lunch of fish, Nicolas loves to cook and he is very good at it.  They told me they like to try many different kinds of foods and wines with the students they host.  They asked if there is anything I am allergic to or don’t like and I had to laugh.  I told them I will eat anything.  They said it is a rule that after a month or two they make frog legs for the student to try and I surprised them by telling them I had already tried the Indonesian take on the dish.  After lunch they are taking me for a drive out to the coast.  There hospitality is endless.  When I told them I was from New Jersey their first reaction was “Oh Bruce Springsteen!!”.  Apparently Pasa’s brother is a huge fan and they told me about the time they waited outside for 12 hours to see him play in Paris.  We start classes on Wednesday and for the next two days we will be meeting with the faculty and doing tours around town and trips to the art store.  Things have been going well and I think they will only get better from here on out.

Valencia

I’ve been in Valencia since Sunday night and I’m flying to Paris tomorrow evening.  It’s been a great time but I don’t think I’ve gotten a full taste of the city yet.  I’m staying with Ian, a friend who moved here after graduating from Rutgers.  I also have a couple of friends in the city that are doing a study abroad program through Rutgers, which Ian did two years ago.  It’s nice to travel to the other side of the world and still have friends to hang out with.  Valencia has also been my first taste of winter on this trip.  The days have been bearable but the nights drop down to 25-30 degrees.  Ian’s apartment is big and beautiful but pretty old and therefore not well insulated.  My first day here I went to Mercado Central, the central market of the city, only about 2 blocks from Ian’s apartment.  It was awesome and I had my first real taste of Spanish “Jamon”.  Im hoping to return to Valencia at some point this year, maybe when I can actually enjoy the beach.  Ian’s rent is pretty cheap considering the space so it might even be somewhere I can spend a month once my program in France is done.