europe trip ... september 6 - 21, 2001 ...

unexpectedly extended due to the events of september 11, 2001.

links to photoalbums organized by city:
Genoa, Italy
Antwerp, Belgium
Paris, France

the journal begins...

thursday 6 sept 2001

on the plane.

friday 7 sept 2001

landed in Charles de Gaulle airport at around 11am. walked through immigration and customs. took the RER B train into Paris (50 FF) at 12 noon.

around 1:15 we arrived at Max and Sheel's place. but Sheel was not home from French class, so we walked to Hotel D'Ville (which was like 5 min away) to sit and hang out for a bit. then walked back and found Sheel home. We all then walked to the St. Germain area and had lunch at Creperie Sainte Germain. I had the egg and cheese crepes. it was almost like an omlete b/c the egg and cheese was blended into the crepe mixture.

afterwards, we walked to Sainte Chapelle and saw the beautiful stained glass windows from within. then we ate glace (ice cream) at a famous place known for their ice creams on one of the islands that is inhabited by mostly Americans, as i was told. we headed home afterwards and took naps until Max came home from work.

we all changed into going out clothes and walked around the Marais area to find a place to eat. eventually, we ended back on the same street was their home. Feria Cafe is a tapas bar just at the corner of their street. we ate prawns, cheese plate, and potatoes. drank real sangria (not the stuff you get in Texas) and had dessert. French Vanilla ice cream is very different and very yum.

at around 10:30, we walked to the Bastille area and was 'allowed' into Bario Latino, a latin dance club and bar. the place is so exquisitely decorated, very latin. the fan-like stairway led up to the second floor. there were four floors, with the top floor for VIP only. from the center of each floor, you can look down and see the first floor. there is not a set dance floor, so everyone just dance anywhere. i definitely recommend this place. if i remember correctly, there was 50 FF cover charge. we didn't get back until about 3am.

saturday 8 sept 2001

we all got up around 10am and went to the corner store to buy eggs, milk, pepper, nutella, then to a nearby bakery (so many to choose from!) to buy a baguette, croissant, and pain au chocolat. we cooked and ate in their new dining table. Max made southwestern scrambled eggs and Sheel made potatoes with indian spices. i ate the croissant with nutella. i am now addicted to nutella. though, i'm told that the nutella we get in the u.s. is different from the european. after brunch, we just hung out and looked at Mona's wedding pictures. while we were packing, i took pictures of their home.

at around 1:45pm, Max walked us to the Chatalet train station to take the RER B to CDG airport. it took us a while to find the check-in counter b/c each counter is specific for the flight. i saw the 'Genes' sign, but didn't realize it until later that 'Genes' is French for 'Genoa', our destination. after going to the gate, we boarded a small shuttle bus that took us to our small airplane, probably the size of a tour bus. the two flight attendants served us a nice european meal on the quick 1.5 hour flight. everyone, but us, had champagne or wine with their meal.

after landing, we took a taxi to our hotel. our driver was nice. he gave us a map of Genoa. Hotel Veronese is located directly across the street from the Aquarium. when we went to check in, the man at the desk waved his arms and shook his head. i said, "Ho prenotato", but he shook his head again. i repeated myself, then he realized what i was saying. i later found out that the Genoese dialect was extremely different from the textbook Italian. so it wasn't me. he warned us that there is currenly no electricity in the rooms b/c the electrician was fixing some circuits. he took my passport (which many hotels do, but i heard later was illegal), then gave me the key to Camera 5. we dropped our bags and went exploring the city. nearby there was a festival celebrating the liberation of the Italian Communist Party. we then walked to the harbor, then to the center of town where the large antique buildings sported large neon signs for different financial establishments. we ate bruschetta (pronounced 'brus-Ketta') and russian shashlik. then i bought an Italian dictionary in a bookstore by the pier b/c i had neglected to bring one. one annoying thing about staying at these hotels is that you have to turn in your key at the desk everytime you leave. when you get back, you have to ring the bell and have someone get the key for you.

the room i reserved was a single, and it literally was a single. this 3-star hotel was just recently renovated. the bathrooms look super new. we went to sleep early, like at 10pm.

Genoa, Italy photos

sunday 9 sept 2001

i couldn't sleep well. i woke up at 3am, laid in bed for a while, then got up and read some short stories from the book Mary lent me, "Interpreter of Maladies". when back to bed at 6am and woke up at 11am!!! we quickly got out of there and headed for the Genoa Brignole train station. bought the tickets and met some other English speaking travelers headed towards Cinqueterra. one was from Canada and the other two were from England. the Indian girl from Canada was meeting friends in Monterosso, where we were headed. the train ride was 1.25 hours. after deboarding the train, we went to find FISHNET (i recommend this site for great info on cinqueterra), one of the Internet cafes there. i had been corresponding with the owner Kate who is a native Texan. she married an Italian man and has been living in Monterosso for 12 years. when we arrived at FISHNET, the place was closed, but there was a note taped on the door with my name on it. Kate was expecting me to arrive earlier. she instructed me to FAST, a bar 2 doors down and ask someone there to call her. the man i spoke to turned out to be Kate's husband. we conversed in my broken Italian. i spoke with Kate on the phone, and she told us to go ahead and go to the apartment.

these apartments are usually rented out for a minimum of 7 days, so we were lucky to have a connection. ryan and i walked up the hill, through the unpaved dirt path to the apartments, and heard two ladies yelling, "ragazzi! ragazzi!" it was the ladies who we are suppose to meet. we were staying in a small studio apartment owned by Signora Cavallo. the place has a small kitchen, breakfast table, futon couch, bathroom, and a two single beds put together to make a king.

we then went back down to FISHNET to find Kate, but the girl working there said she wouldn't be in today. so, we ended up walking around the city and taking scenic pictures, ate gelati, walked some more, and bought limoncino (a lemon liquor) and sciacchetra, both of which are specialties of the area. then on our way back to the apartment, we bought 3 squares of focaccia bread --- cheese, potato and spinach, and the last one i couldn't tell what it was, but it was good. to give you an idea of how much we were spending in Italy: train ride from Genoa to Monterosso, 7800 Lire; studio apartment for 3 nights for two people, 360000 Lire total (which is about $30 USD/person/night); sciacchetra, 35000 Lire; one gelato was 2000 Lire. after dinner, we walked down to the center of town, sat in the playground listening to a jazz band, then walked back and drank some sciacchetra.

monday 10 sept 2001

woke up around 11am again. walked to FISHNET to see Kate. she was very thankful for the salsa and tortillas we brought her. we used the Internet, and asked her for restaurant recommendations. she suggested Belvedere Ristorante, Miky, and Focacceria la Marina. so we went to discover the new focacceria. after eating outside by the beach, we walked up stone steps to the Man and Dog statue. perhaps there is a formal name for it, but i didn't find out. the statue lives on top of a big hill over looking the ocean; a very nice view. then we walked back and took a siesta.

at mid-afternoon, we went down to the beach. it was not as crowded as sunday, so we were able to find a spot on the public beach. the water was cold and salty! slowly, we were able to get into the water. the sand is like little itzy-bitzy pebbles. good for exfoliation. hung out for a while. there were a few topless sunbathers. then we ate some gelati and walked around some more. found a grocery store! we bought panne, Fornal formaggio, and pastrame. for a snack, we made sandwiches and ate on our patio.

in the evening, we had a nice seafood dinner at Miky's. i spoke a bit of Italian to our waiter, but he responded in English. for antipasti, we had prosciutto e melone (ham and melon); for primo piatto, we had penne scampi that came in a big ceramic dish with a large piece of "nann"-like bread on top; and for secondo piatto, we had gambone (prawns). then i had the dessert speciale, a lemon creme torte with berries. the gambone was a bit lacking in size, but all in all, dinner was delicious. after dinner, on our way back to the apartment, we saw some old Italian men playing bocce. we stayed and watched them for a while. i still don't fully comprehend the game.

tuesday 11 sept 2001

took the train to Riomaggiore. there were too many people. there was a big group of old people, mostly old Italians from other parts of the country visiting. we bought the one day pass for 10000 Lire. it only took about 20 minutes to get to Riomaggiore. we first walked around the city, then began our hike on the Via Dell'Amore. we hiked all the way to Manarola, then Corniglia, then Vernazza. it was a 3-hour hike in total. we took the train back to Monterosso from Vernazza b/c the last stretch is another 1.5 hours. the trail was paved at first, until Corniglia. some parts of the trail looked scary. we saw some crazy people with strollers... that's definitely not recommended. we had some gelati in Vernazza before taking the train back. on our way back to the room, we saw some ladies playing this nut game on the ground. they would roll the nut on the ground and try to hit some other nut. we realized later that they were getting ready for the big nut tournament to be held later in the evening. we also stopped to get postcards and wine.

when we arrived at the room, ryan turned on the TV. it was about 2pm and the news was on. we saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. it was so unreal. we thought it was a clip from a new movie coming out or something. then we saw that it was "LIVE". then we saw the report on the plane crash in the Pentagon. we watched for a bit, then decided to walk down to town and see if other people have heard. we stopped at FISHNET and found a girl crying. Kate brought her radio and TV to the shop so that the Americans in town can listen to the latest update. it wasn't long before there was a big crowd in front of the cafe. so many were in shock, worried, and scared.

we bought a calling card and had the worst time trying to call, but eventually we were able to reach our families. then, i remembered that Signora Cavallo has my passport! this is not a good time to be without my passport! we checked email at FISHNET and said thanks-and-bye to Kate. i found my passport on the kitchen table when we got back. we leave in the morning!

Cinqueterra photos

wednesday 12 sept 2001

woke up at 6:30am to catch the train into Genoa Principe station. when we got to Genoa, we realized we were short 2000 Lire ($1 USD) for the bus ride to the airport! so i pulsed out 50000 Lire (about $25 USD). we got on the #100 bus and arrived at the airport in no time. we were actually extremely early for our flight. we got to the airport at 9am, but our scheduled flight leaves at 1:30pm. we were hoping to catch an earlier flight to Paris, but we had forgotten that the Genoa airport is tiny and had only a few flights running. so, with my left over Italian Lires, i bought an Italian newspaper with color photos of the terrorist attacks in the U.S., ate margherita pizza, bought 2 nutella snack packs, then baci chocolats. I spent most of it, with only 50 Lire left. we still had 2.5 hours to kill, so we decided to walk outside of the airport. there was a Sheraton hotel nearby, so walked in and sat around in their lounge chairs for a while. i could have sworn someone was going to throw us out. most everyone there was dressed in suits; we were in camping gear. we were so tired by the time we got on the plane, that we slept through the meal.

at 4pm, we landed in CDG, took the RER B into town. when we arrived at Max and Sheel's, Max's aunt Monica was there. we all sat and watched the news for a bit. then we took the metro to the old Opera house. we, the girls, voted to go to Gallerie LaFayette for some shopping. everything there was top of the line, european designer stuff, aka expensive. the building was just as extravagant. we then met Max at the house to have dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant in Paris.

thursday 13 sept 2001

i had to sleep on the floor since Aunt Monica had the guest bed. it wasn't too bad, except that i can hear the people downstairs and my butt was sore. Sheel gave us a set of keys, so we left the house at 11, ate croque monsieur at a cafe and saw the Picasso Museum and Socre Coeur. it was raining when we were at the Picasso, but afterwards, the sky cleared up. we had blue skies when we were at Socre Coeur. nearby, there were young people singing with guitars and a man playing classical music on flute with accompaniment on tape. in a square near the Socre Coeur, there were swarms of artists who would approach you to draw your portrait for a fee.

at around 4pm, we went back to meet Sheel and Aunt Monica at the house. we elected to visit the Champs Elyses and meet Max there for dinner. we ate at FlyBar -- a very shee-shee place. the bill was over 900 FF for half decent food. Aunt Monica treated. for dessert, we went to the famous Laduree, well-known for their macaroons, which weren't very coconutty at all. ryan called the airlines to check on our flight tomorrow. we had to change our flight to the following Wednesday. this means that i have to get clothes! i bought a pair of what is suppose to be dark denim capri pants for tall people but runs ankle length for a shorty like me. brilliant.

friday 14 sept 2001

we woke up and found Sheel at home. she skipped French class today. we decided to go buy veggies for a stirfry for lunch. i was craving rice. Ryan got a falafel. Sheel and i sat around and ate until mid afternoon. then we went to chinatown to find some asian cooking stuff for Sheel. when we got out of the metro station, the girls had to go to the bathroom. so we went into the MonoPrix to see if they had bathrooms... no. then i had the idea of going into a brasserie. we thought it would be rude to just use the bathroom without being a patron, so we all got hot chocolate. Sheel went first, stood there for a while, then came back. well? she didn't go. it stank. it was a squat toilet. she couldn't do it. i encouraged her to tough it out, but she didn't budge. so i went and found a nasty, gnat infested, unbreathable little stall with a squat toilet. then, i understood. we paid, left, and found a McDonalds' a block away! we didn't realize until later that brasseries typically have old male patrons.

Aunt Monica lives in Palestine, so she didn't want falafels... fortunately, she didn't dine with us this evening, so we definitely had to have some! they are so good. so good. we rented a movie from a rental machine. you use a prepaid debit card to access the machines. there were three machines together, each machine knows what movies are in each machine. so you pick the movie you want, and the machine tells you which one of the three to get it from. pretty cool. we watched "groove".

saturday 15 sept 2001

Aunt Monica left early morning to catch a flight. the rest of us woke up at 6:30am to catch a TGV train to Berchem, Belgium. Max's relatives live in Antwerp. the tickets were about $100 USD round trip. Michel came to pick us up at the train station. he drove us to the main part of town and we found a cafe on the pier for some breakfast. we then went to a florist shop to buy nice floral arrangements for the party. we are celebrating Max's Aunt Helen's 50th wedding anniversary. it was a small get together of family, with the exception of ryan and me. they hired a chef to cook the 4 course meal. we stayed at Fabienne and Michel's house. they are not married, but they have two children together, Boris and Lara. the family has a exceptionally good relationship. their house is so euro, so cool, so Ikea or Habitat (a pottery barn version of Ikea in Europe). we sat around, ate, drank, chat, and had a great time. in the evening, we went into town and walked around, sat at a cafe and drank some more. then went home to have vegetable soup, cheese, bread, yogurt, and fruit... my favorite meal. i can't believe how cold it is here... like winter in Texas. thank goodness Sheel is about my size.

sunday 16 sept 2001

woke around 10am and had brunch. ate the famous Belgian pastry: croissant shell with pudding in the middle and chocolate on top, rectangular shaped. we went to the contemporary art museum, where they had a fashion exhibition. then to a super eclectic restaurant with one long table. the place makes you feel like you are eating at someone's kitchen. then we went to an artist's open studio -- an open house for an atelier. i got postcard prints of his work.

for dinner, everyone, including grannie and granpa Mathis, went to a frites place to have Belgian fries. i had the typical Belgian sauce flavor - pickle. afterwards, we had drinks at a cafe, and they took us to the train station. we said our thanks and gave our goodbye kisses.

our train was 15 minutes late. Sheel and i played scrabble on the TGV ride, which only took 2.5 hours. we got into Paris at 11:45pm, took a cab home, and ate some rice and seaweed before bed.

Antwerp, Belgium photos

monday 17 sept 2001

ryan and i went to the pompidou. we walked its perimeters, then inside. we had a day pass that allowed us to see all the exhibits and lets us come and go as we wished. the first exhibit we saw was by the artist Dubuffet. some of his work reminded me of some african tribe art i had seen once before. his signature pieces were that of white background with oblong curvy figures outlined in a black sharpie. each figure had either red or blue color filling or verticle or horizontal line filling. he even produced a self-portrait in this fashion. obviously, very abstract stuff. afterwards, i got hungry and decided it was best that we eat before continuing. we went outside and found a little bakery/deli that had very good looking quiches. we sad outside in the pompidou square and watched people approach the copper painted mime dressed in colonial attire (similar to the gold or silver ones you see in San Francisco).

then, we went back into the pompidou to see the Alfred Hitchcock exhibition. it was very nicely done. i've actually never seen any of his movies entirely, so i will have to do so soon. then we toured the other floors of the pompidou; there were 4 in total. the glass walls of the pompidou allowed us to see that there was a long line forming outside. after a while, we realized it was for entrace to the movie theatre and the library, both in a separate part of the building. we joined the line once it was shorter and went into the library. it was such a nice library. there were many computers, though they ask that you do not use email. there was also a large section of a room that had 14 inch televisions with headphones. all the tv's were full, seeing as it was the first day of stock trading after the terrorist attacks.

we walked back home and waited for Sheel to get back from French class. then we walked on Rue de Rivoli. we went into Marks & Spencer to get tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, and four tortillas, things you can't find in regular grocery stores. Max and Arnaud finally arrived, and we began to make quesadillas. then we watched dancer in the dark.

tuesday 18 sept 2001

we went to tour the sewers of Paris today -- Musee des Egouts de Paris, then walked on the Champs Elyses. on our way back home, we found graffiti written with a sharpie on the subway walls. all of it was in French of course, but we caught the words "ben Ladin". i was able to figure out one that read: "religion is the cocaine of life". i'm curious as to what the other graffiti said.

when Sheel arrived home, we went to Habitat b/c Max and Sheel needed some furniture, then to the Samaritan to have a great view of the city from the roof. unfortunately, it was cold and drizzly. for dinner, we went to a Moroccan restaurant where Sheel and i had a couscous and 'legumes'. it was so good. i hadn't been this stuffed in a long time.

wednesday 19 sept 2001

we met Max for lunch today in the La Defense area where he works. the Metro stop was inside of a huge mall. ryan and i got lost in it while trying to find the 'Sortie'. this area is pretty much the only place you'd find high rise buildings standing together as it is typical of an American.

then we met Sheel at her language school. we didn't walk around in that area b/c it was raining. instead, we went home. we then went into several grocery stores to buy ingredients for vegetable soup for dinner. we also bought fresh bread from a bakery in the neighborhood.

it was a very low-key, lazy day. we just hung out mostly at home and watched the news.

thursday 20 sept 2001

ryan and i went to Versaille today. we took the C5 (VICK) train to Versailles RG. it was easy to get to the Chateaux because at each street corner, there were large signs for the major attractions of the city. we took the main tour and got audio headset to help give us a tour. it was cold and raining, so we ate sandwiches under an archway. the sky didn't clear up, so we toughed it out and walked around the gardens with an umbrella. we walked for a long time... all the way to the trianons and an area filled with straw-roofed, german-styled houses. we hopped on the train at 4:45pm and got back at 5:30pm.

we ate dinner at the famous falafel place L'as du Falafel, where Lenny Kravitz is a patron. framed pictures of him and others decorate the walls of the restaurant. afterwards, we went for drinks at the Lizzard Lounge just two doors down from Max and Sheel's place. while Sheel and i played chess, i drank 1/4 of a nasty pina colada. yuck.

friday 21 sept 2001

we got to the airport 3 hours before our flight. we had breakfast at a brioche place, then took turns walking around the shops to decide how to spend the last of our 62,20FF. when it was time, we showed our boarding passes with our passports, and boarded a shuttle that took us to our airplane that was parked at an area where new gates were being constructed. we sat in the back in row 41. i sat in the middle of ryan and this Mexican man. he had just finished a 3-month backpacking tour of Europe. wow. our plane was stuck waiting for a gate once we landed in IAH. we were late for our connecting flight into AUS. fortunately, while walking through customs, airport workers stopped us and gave us our new boarding passes. what luck! we were able to catch the next flight to Austin in no time.

tired, though filled with new experiences ... it's good to be home.

Paris, France photos


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