Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It shouldn’t have worked, but it did…

Me (standing on platform in pig-tails and fleece): It’s too bad you didn’t find us last night, we headed to a different bar. I’m headed out of town in about 20 mins.
Him: That’s too bad; you’re very cute.

Berlin Day Two

I slept in today. What can I say? My bed was so warm and soft, and it stayed up watching news and raiding the mini-bar (it too, is ridiculously cheap—well, for a mini-bar) until around 2:30 a.m. I headed to the tourism office from the day before (next to the Christmas market where I had another type of sausage hot dog and a hollow ball of fried dough powdered with sugar) and bought a Welcome Pass to Berlin. It offers discounts on most of the sights, and free passage on all city transportation. 2 days cost 16.99 euros. Learning from my experience in Dublin, I planned to milk out every savings possible, and make the most of the pass. I started with the zoo and aquarium across the street. With my discount, I paid 13 euro for admission into both. I had fun, but both proved to be rather unremarkable, but not without anecdotes:

1) while watching the North American brown bears frolick in their enclosures, a tubby short one was attempting to climb over an enormous log. He got one leg over, and was trying his hardest to get the other. Or so I thought. Actually, he was just humping the shit out of it.
2) While watching the hippos frolick about in their enclosure, one swam by the window, releasing a stream of diarrhea. Following swiftly behind? A family of ducks greedily dining on hippo poo.
3) The big cats in the Big Cat exhibit were all inside for the day, it was cold and rainy, and cats big or small just can’t be bothered with either. The lion and lioness were incredible. I’ve seen tigers and pumas—and up close, but never before a live lion. They were magnificent; their paws were bigger than my head, and his mane… his mane was unbelievable. I could’ve sat for hours just watching them, bored out of their minds, yawning at on-lookers. Their muscles, their teeth! How was man ever able to kill them before the advantage of firearms? Amazing. Serena. Speechless.
The zoo was like any other zoo I’d ever been too, but not nearly as nice. There were no maps available to guests, all of the animal houses smelled awful-- overwhelming awful, and very few of the sights were kid friendly.
Leaving the Zoo, I headed back to Postdammer Platz and the Sony Center. The Berlin Film Museum is there. It is my new favorite place on earth. It is a cross between a business park and commercial center, with a couple cinemas (all VO* all the time), the museum, restaurants, bars, and the like. It, too, has a Christmas market with a sheet of ice for hurling in the center of it.
The Film Museum was awesome. The building in super modern and the interior inspired. The exhibits take guests through the history of film, German film, it’s place in history, actors, actresses, etc. I am torn between the Marlene Dietrich exhibit and the Ray Harryhausen display. They had some of her most famous costumes, photos, letters, luggage, knick knacks. They had some of his models from the “Clash of the Titans” and “Jason and the Argonauts.”
The exhibits are in English and German, and audio guides are available for a refundable 10 euros deposit.
If you ever make it—and I recommend that even the most film-illiterate of travelers do, look for me in the guestbook.
Next stop: shoe shopping. The boots were not in my size (two big [!] or too small), but I did pick up three pairs of shoes that aren’t tennis shoes. In lieu of a food court, the mall had two different grocery stores. One of them had a deli/bakery-type place where I dined on a sesame seed rye bagel sandwich with cream cheese, fresh sprouts, tomatoes, pastrami (oh, patrami, how I’ve missed you), and a bottle of orange juice. The best meal I’ve had in a long time. You see, my adoring fans, that is the closest thing I’ve had since my arrival in May to what I generally eat at home.
I then headed back to the Sony Center where I watched “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Serenity”—both of which I was eagerly anticipating. I wasn’t disappointed with Narnia like I was with Harry Potter (I am still to angry to post about it), but I wasn’t enraptured. Joss Whedon, on the other hand, really came through. I was not disappointed in the least.

Unfortunately, “Serenity” ended after the Underground closed and I had to take a cab. Equally unfortunate, I forgot the name of my hotel (I’m an ass. I make no apologies), and my cabbie didn’t speak English—I’m not entirely sure he spoke German. I did make it back to the Adrema for less than 10 euros, and stayed up even later watching CNN and The BBC World.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Monday started Sunday night

Sunday night, I hopped on the last train out of Caen. I got to Paris around 11:45 p.m. and took the Metro cross-town to Gare de Lyon. There is a night bus that runs from there to Orly (where I was taking an EasyJet to Berlin). This was the first time I had taken a night bus—the first I’d heard of the night bus system. Sure, it makes sense that a city the size of Paris would have one—millions of people use public transport in Ile de France, I just never did after 1 a.m. The night bus to Orly is the 120. Unfortunately, several stops—on several different lines all have Orly in their titles. I had no idea which one was the Orly airport, and no idea what bus to take there. Worse still, the bus stops for Gare de Lyon are not all in one place; they surround the enormous station on all sides, some are located on side streets, and some a not so short walk away. There is no site map showing you where exactly each one is located. I spent about 15 minutes looking for a station employee (I wanted to know exactly where I was going before I started running around the quarter in the cold), then another hour just looking on my own—employees of any kind are hard to come by in this city after 8 p.m. I started to get very angry, I was so tired, cold, and, despite having a healthy 4 hours before my flight, terrified I would miss it.
The first of the night buses arrived around 1:30. The driver told me I needed to catch the 120 and to wait by the moped parking. I waited for another 45 minutes and found myself on the right bus, desperately trying to stay awake*. The airport was totally empty. I had my pick of chairs right in front of my assigned check-in counter, and fell asleep for an hour and a half.
I was one of the first in line to check-in at 4:40 a.m., but no one was allowed through security until 5:30! I walk down to the shops—none of which opened until 6 a.m. and got a call from my sister. She was a welcomed distraction, as I had completely lost my ability to be patient or polite to everyone at the airport. Whether being mowed down by old ladies with huge carpet bags or yelled at by security (okay, I yelled at them first) for not leaving the screening area (int’l airports close at night here. How? Why? There are still flights coming in and out, just no employees!).
After hanging up, I headed back over to the security area where there was now a line of about 200 people. Moving very slowly. I got through without having to take off my shoes or belt and made it to my gate 5 minutes before departure time. Whew. I even got a seat in the front row (hello, leg room!). I buckle up, and listen intently as the pilot announces we are waiting for six people who have checked in, but are stuck in the security line. We took off an hour later. Serena. Very. Angry.
It was snowing when we landed in Berlin, big white flakes, and I easily found my way through the airport. Serena. In. Much. Better. Mood.
They (and by They, I mean two fraus with braids and moustaches [it’s funny because it’s true] at the customs desk) wouldn’t give me a stamp on my passport because I was coming from France. Hhmpff!
The next hour was me finding my way to Berlin’s Zoo station, and from there, my hostel which was supposed to be just around the corner. That, unfortunately was not actually the case. It is just around the corner from a station three stops away from Zoo. What didn’t help, everyone I stopped and asked directions from—including a woman at the tourism office, told me I was on the right street. There was a big Christmas market a few blocks from the station where I had lunch, and took a break from wandering aimlessly around the street looking for my hostel. I stopped by an Internet café to confirm the online directions and address, and my e-mail. It was freezing outside, and my pack was kind of killing me. With my frustration mounting, I returned to the tourism office where a very rude woman told me where I needed to go.
When I got to David’s Hostel, a greasy man orienting a group from South America to the facilities greeted me. I was told to take my shoes off and given a mattress in a co-ed dorm. It was small and, upon first glance, not anywhere I wanted to spend the next three nights. It was, in a phrase, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I dropped my pack on my mattress and headed down the street to another internet café run by a strange Russian woman who spent the entire time I was there yelling over the phone in Russian. I logged onto every site I could, and found a hotel on Expedia.com for $50/night. In contrast to the 8 euros I was paying at David’s, it was a splurge, and I tend to make rash decisions, and spend money dangerously when frustrated, angry, and/or out of my element.
I headed back to David’s and got my stuff together. I couldn’t get my money back for the three nights, but I was really okay with just eating it at that point. Worse, being totally passive aggressive, and in loathe of confrontation, I told the short, greasy man that my travel plans had changed and that I was headed elsewhere for the next few days. As we chatted, my opinion of the place began to change. The man’s name was Adrian (from Athens), and he shared a few anecdotes about his experiences there. He also offered me three nights stay there in the coming weeks. He felt bad that he couldn’t refund my money, and was eager to make it up to me. I told him I really appreciated that, and would give him an e-mail if I made my way back to Berlin. Okay, I overreacted, this place was not the Ritz—nor should it have been: it’s a hostel. And not a bad one. But, I was committed to the hotel, so headed there next.
The Adrema Hotel is on the Spree River, which dissects the city. It is on the 245 bus line and a 10-minute walk from the Ernst-Reuters Platz Underground station. It ix a boutique hotel: modern in furniture and design,hip bar, great amenities. The employees all spoke English and were very accommodating. My room kicked ass. So clean, so new. I had my own bathroom**, soft—so soft mattress, and TV and Internet access!
AAAhhhhh. Serena. Euphoric.
My extra day in Berlin was scrapped. I spent it walking around the same street for several hours, and spending 8 euros worth of time in Internet cafes.

*I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and it was about 2:30 a.m. And the bus was dark and warm with cushy seats.
**Of course, I had my own bathroom, but, after living months without one, I really see it as a luxury.

First Night

I ended up taking a nap for a couple of hours, and headed out for dinner and a movie. A girl at reception told me about Postdammer Platz, home to a mall*, and several movie theatres that play films in English.
Emerging from the Underground station, I crossed the street to yet another Christmas market (the third I’d been to that day). I had some kind of wurst, and a cookie type thing. It was a kind of spicy, mushy gingerbread with a papery wafer on the bottom, and a layer of chocolate on top. I know it sounds good, and in theory, should’ve been, but was not. Oh well, the whole meal—with grande hot cho at Balzac Coffee cost 4 euros. The Markt was just in front of the mall, where I bought some new jeans, and did some window-shopping. It was close to 8 p.m. and everything was closing up for the night, so, after seeing a pair of boots I absolutely had to have, I vowed to return. Now, as all of you know by now, I am tall. Very tall, one might say. The fact that I found jeans—in abundance—in my size the first place I looked, left me teary eyed. That doesn’t happen in the States. That does NOT happen in France (or should I say Lilliputian). And it wasn’t just pants, shoes too! I crossed the Markt, yet again, and made my way to the closest movie theatre. I made it as the previews began rolling on King Kong**. I caught one of the last trains and was in bed, snuggling and watching CNN*** buy 1 a.m.
So, first impressions of Berlin? I really like this city. Sure, getting here sucked ass, and took me to a very, very bad place, but it’s Christmas in Berlin. There are Markts everywhere, and all of the streets smell like gingerbread, sugar, and pipe tobacco. Everybody I’ve asked to help me, has gone out of his or her way to do so; the Underground and inner city trains are really easy to navigate; and, everything is so cheap here. Everything. This world-class city is less expensive than Caen! Also-- and know that last certainly does not mean least in this instance—everyone here is tall—many taller than me. Hot, beautiful Master Race specimens waiting in line to meet and greet Serena at eye level. I am loving Deutschland!
Oh yeah, I hear Berlin is also home to museums, historical sights, and a live bear in the middle of the city. Stay tuned…
Shame on all of you for the last quote challenge. It was Will Ferrell in “Elf.” He was talking to the Gimble’s Santa right before they got into a fight.

This might be too easy, but I’m in a generous mood. 10pts. for character and film.
“Look! Bed pans!”

*I packed one pair of jeans, one pair of tennis shoes, hiking boots (thank the good Lord for my hiking boots), and not much else. While at Orly, trying to make a loud, angry exit from the security gate, I ducked under a line ribbon and split the crotch of my pants. This, however, was no ordinary rip. Sure it was loud (I was thankfully too far away from the guard for him to hear), but it was big. So big, that had I not been wearing long underwear, my modesty could’ve been easily compromised.
**I loved it, I don’t care how long it was, I would’ve have changed a second of it. Sure, things could’ve been taken out, but Jackson knew they shouldn’t have. I loved it. I even like Naomi Watts in it. Loved, loved it.
***In Germany, all of the commercials for phone sex that play on late-night TV have clips of topless woman bumping and grinding in a variety of different settings. Some are S&M types, others school girls getting it on with their locker doors, one was in a weight room not using the equipment as the good people at Nautilus had intended. *shudder* It was really adult, and yet, really available on a couple of my cable channels. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. It was after midnight.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Je m'appelle

Christmas Elf Name

My Christmas Elf Name is
Get your Christmas Elf Name at JokesUnlimited.com

I stopped by Spinning Girl's blog. I don't really have anything to blog on right now. I am leaving tomorrow night for Paris, where I will spend the night at the airport-- waiting for my 6 a.m. flight to Berlin. I am spending the next 10 days in Germany: Berlin, Nuremburg, Rothenburg, Fussen, Munich, and wherever else I feel like dropping my pack. :) If any of you have tips, would love to hear them.
And, because Germany is not in the stone ages (like some of its European neighbors), I will have internet access wherever I go!

10 pts. for title of this new Christmas classic:
"You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa. "

Monday, December 12, 2005

Reims Part II

I knew my time in Champagne was limited and I was determined not to let this setback ruin the trip for everyone—especially me. I was going to have to suck it up and ask for help*. All the girls were very gracious—they could tell it was a humbling experience for me, and knew I was good for the cash, so were also very generous. After getting as much information from the Board of Tourism, we headed to Epernay by way of a 20 min. commuter train (which was hysterically small—my POS Pontiac at home is bigger). Epernay is home to most of the Champagne Houses, and the Boulevard de Champagne—which is not nearly as spectacular as it sounds. We signed up for a tour of the Moët et Chandon Caves. Moët et Chandon owns the most famous champagne labels, including Dom Perignon, and Veuve Cliquot (my favorite), and of course, Moët et Chandon. The tour is more of a journey through the moldy, dank labyrinth that is the company’s storage and mixing house before tasting (in my case) several of the house labels. The whole thing cost me 28 euros, but tour/tasting rates begin around 8 euros. There are several champagne houses in Epernay, which is a cute town surrounded by vineyards. Big on ambiance, but not a lot to do there. If you’re not interested in the (half) day trip, stick to Reims, where one finds just as many cave tours—if not of the big labels.
We had time to kill after our tour and decided to take a petite promenade around town. We ended up walking out towards the outskirts of town and vineyard on a hill to watch the sun set, thousands of birds swirl in the air creating black clouds, and pick wine grapes from the vine (technically illegal).
That night, we headed out for a nice dinner. Our hostel—the only hostel in Champagne, is only several blocks from the center of Reims, where we found a restaurant serving local dishes with a menu** around 22 euros. We were seated in the no-smoking section on the lower level by a hostess, and introduced to our waiter—the worst waiter in the history of bad French waiter stories.
He literally threw our menus at us, and stormed away, clearly upset by our presence in his section. As the cuisine was local, we were unfamiliar with most of it, but eager to experience something new and waited for him to return to ask questions and order some wine.
I got his attention first, and ordered bottle of the house red. He laughed, sighed a little, and then walked away before I could inquire about the menus. When he returned with a carafe filled with red water, he took a moment to answer questions. One moment. I attempted to ask him several things, but he wouldn’t let me complete any of my questions, talked over me, and became so frustrated by my refusal of his attempts to guess what I was going to ask, he walked away in a huff. Now, my French is not perfect, but it just so happens that I was speaking very well and very clearly that night. The problem was not in my communication skills.
The wine was disgusting; it tasted like vinegar and cherries, and it had a gritty texture that scratched my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I am still unable to account for this—or forget that awful taste. Blech! We have our theories—one of which includes our waiter emptying half of the full bottle we ordered into a carafe and filling the rest of the pitcher with urine, keeping the bottled wine to himself.
The food was amazing, I started with shrimp and basmati, stole one of Maggie’s escargot, and tried some of Andrea’s cow marrow. Marrow is not as disgusting as it sounds or looks. It is gelatin. Brown gelatin served still in the bones, with sea salt and hard toast. It tasted like salt and hard toast.
I had duck—my favorite, with mushrooms in a black sauce, and ended the evening with chocolate and cocoa covered profiteroles. YUM! Unfortunately, the service got progressively worse with each course. Everyone in the no-smoking section was smoking, and terribly drunk and loud, which was fine as they included us in the fun, but were awful to our waiter who took it out on the table of foreign girls. Thankfully, one of the neighboring tables consisted of an amateur soccer team who “love the US and American women!” I like to think that their ogre-like behavior—including tipping over the two melted ice buckets, and throwing food at other tables was their chivalrous idea of rescuing four damsels suffering at the hand of a greasy, stringy waiter.
We returned to the comfort of our hostel after dinner. Having originally planned on staying the night in Epernay, we were so impressed by its facilities, we decided to stay the extra night in Reims. To say that it was nicer than our dorms is not saying much, but the shower, toilet, even the beds and linens were so luxurious by comparison, we felt spoiled as we settled in for the night.

Travel Tip: When visiting the Champagne Region, one is sure to encounter lots and lots of champagne and champagne recipes. But beware! Those charming bubbles giving your morning orange juice a kick, served as an aperitif during dinner, and then an afternoon of tasting will leave you flatulent. You and all of your traveling companions. This can be humourous but a bit off-putting. Avoiding dairy products of all kinds can help, and opening all windows will rid the room of such an ungodly odor and prevent the respiratory problems we encountered throughout the night. Just be sure to ask the front desk for extra blankets.

*The dirtiest word I know
**Culture lesson of the day:
in France, the menu is called
la carte. A starter is called l’entrée, and an entrée is called un plat. Stay with me…
If you would like to order a meal consisting of two or more courses, you choose from a selection of
Menus that typically offer an entrée , un plat and dessert; with cheese and salad courses also available.
Menus typically start around 15 euros for un plat and dessert. If you would like something that is not offered within a Menu , you must order from la carte as we do in the states—or rather, à la carte.

Reims Part III

Sunday (most of Sunday) was spent at the hostel. We woke early, but were so exhausted, stayed in bed until the maid knocked hoping to clear the room. I had reserved a single for that night*, so we just moved our stuff over to the single and continued to ready ourselves at a leisurely pace. When we finally did emerge from the hostel, it was around 1 p.m. (just a few hours before the girls had to catch their train back to Caen). As it was Sunday—and in the off season, town was deserted. We profited from having the streets to ourselves by taking pictures of Reims’ beautiful and eclectic architectural styles. We saw several war memorials (varying from small signposts to a garden stretching several acres), an old roman aquaduct/bridge/ possible gateway thing—that is much bigger than it looks, and then on to the Cathédrale de Reims, or la Cathédrale des Anges.
It is, thus far, the most impressive in France. It is not as big as most, but light and airy inside, cheerful almost. And the Chagall windows au fond are stunning. Vibrant blues, hot reds and oranges, and haunting images: I loved these windows.
After dropping the girls off at the station, and saying our goodbyes, I headed back into town. Reims has great shopping, and I spent hours ‘licking the glass’ as everything was closed. I also took in a movie, Woody Allen’s “Match Point.” Liked it, would’ve loved it if it didn’t have Scarlett Johansson in it.
The next day, I was checked-out, and waiting at the entrance of the bank offices at 9 a.m. I entered as the receptionist unlocked the doors. I explained to her my situation (now with no money in my pockets) over and over again. She kept telling me to come back Wednesday afternoon when the machines are emptied. I kept repeating that that was not an option and why, my voice getting louder and more forceful each time. I think she finally realized—only after my voiced cracked and I began to tear up from frustration, that I was not being unpleasant and demanding for the hell of it, and called somebody down. I assumed it was simply someone who could speak English, but she didn’t call just anybody, she rang up the Vice President of Customer Relations. He didn’t speak English and after hearing my story in French, repeating it back to me to confirm he undstood, offered me a cup of coffee and couch to sit on. He then called down someone who did speak English, but didn’t just hand me off to her. The VP of Customer Relations stuck around and insisted on taking care of the situation himself. They asked for my phone number and told me they would contact me in a few hours. I told them that if I did not hear from them, I was going to return and hold a protest in their lobby with the other customers who--having lost their cards, too, during the weekend--had begun to loiter in the lobby, waiting to see how my situation was handled. They laughed lightheartedly, and I glared at them. I was not joking.
I wandered around town, taking pictures, more window shopping, and I spent the last of my cash at an internet café.
They called me just before noon to let me know they had my card and I could retrieve it at any time. I was stunned. The people at Caisse d’Epargne went out of their way to take care of me. They were incredibly apologetic, and made a point of giving me customer service information, phone numbers (their private lines), and even offered me a couple months free checking (free checking does not exist in France, as a matter of fact, nothing is free in this country) should I want to open an account there. I have not received this kind of treatment from a bank in the States, so I was left a little speechless as it came from one in France.
With money and a credit card, I bought a first class train ticket back to Caen by way of Pairs and was at home snuggling in my bed by 11:30 that night.

*see Reims Part I

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hot for Teacher

I have always had a thing for older men. Even now, if given the choice, I would prefer to pass my time with a gentleman, than a guy. So, it should come as no surprise that I am crushing hard on one of my teachers. Actually, he is no longer my teacher; because I moved up from level 4, I don’t see him in class every week. I do, however, see him on campus and always make a point to flash a big smile. He is an elementary teacher but teaches a couple oral classes/week. Monsieur Dupont is one of maybe 20 Frenchmen—ever -- over 6ft tall, he’s in his early 30s (okay, not that much older), with thick black hair and an amazing smile*. He has a deep voice and he rolls his r’s as though he was from the south of France. In fact, I have no idea where he is from, what he does in his spare time, or what kind of car he drives; but as I plan to stalk him, I will keep all of you posted.
Friday last, I spent the evening drinking margaritas at my new favorite Mexican restaurant, followed by several pints too many at the local Irish pub, where who should I run into but François-Michel. He was sitting in a corner with friends, but stopped over for a few minutes to say “hello.” He was forced to stand very close to me and whisper salutations in my ear, but I became too nervous to respond in French, and simply admitted to being much to drunk to do so…in English (which he, of course, speaks beautifully). So, very drunk, I was unable to be “clever, enchanting Serena” in French and made a few lame comments--again, in English about the French country-western band playing bluegrass covers, and how I was much better suited I was in level 5. After making a complete ass out of myself…ironically, in my native tongue, M. Dupont returned to his corner where he was joined by a teeny, tiny Asian wearing ‘man-eater’ boots (even with a 4-inch stiletto, she couldn’t have been more than 5’3”)
During this time, my drinking companion had taken a liking to a Croatian sailor sitting nearby (they are docked here for the week). He and two friends joined us—or rather trapped us in our corner, and bought us a round. Unfortunately, a flower man found his way to our table, and one of the Slavic semen bought us each a rose. Sweet, I guess, but I was not at all interested. Awkwardly holding my rose, and silently drinking my beer as Megan exchanged numbers with the cute, English-speaking sailor, Monsieur Dupont passed eyeing my flower and giving me a “Not Bad” look. To which I responded (in French), “A little help would be nice.” But he didn’t understand what I was asking and simply asked nudgingly if I was making friends. Dommage.
He spent the rest of the night playing with his precious little doll (fetishist! I’ve seen My Size Barbie’s bigger than her!), and I stumbled out of the pub a couple hours later much, much too drunk to walk myself—or my friend home. Thankfully, our not-as-drunk friend, Joey, guided us to safety.

Update: Serena is feeling the strain of being in France for several months...alone. Needs are not being met and she is going a little stir crazy: picking up a few facial ticks and has begun to bite fingernails.

*French dental hygiene = *shudder* Floss didn’t make its way into this country until the mid 1990’s.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cry Me A River

I have had very little internet access lately, and in truth, have wanted very little to do with Serena-Abroad.com. It is not that I didn’t miss any of you (or the attention you shower on me), but that I had other things consuming my time (and for a while, me). Re-reading my last few posts was depressing—I really don’t know how any of you did it. What a whiner! Ick. And while everything is hard right now, I am tired of blogging about it. Blech! No more will I subject you, my adoring fans, to the black cloud under which I make a point of walking.
I have been running a lot lately—and oh, how that has helped my mood, and overall well-being. But, oh, how it has hurt. My first time out, I thought it might be best for me to start with no more than 70 mins (I have not worked out since this summer). I was sure this would be a smooth, relatively painless length and set out at a strong pace. Oh, how wrong I was. I thought I was going to have a heart attack and began feeling pain shooting up and down my left arm (psychosomatic). Since then, I’ve made a point to hit the cobblestones at least 3 times/week for around 90 mins (sometimes more, often times less because of weather). I have seen some really wonderful areas of town previously unavailable to me as they are off the tram and bus lines and discovered the most beautiful neighborhood, filled with houses from the 1800s—not destroyed by the war, with a great park in which I met a very hot gardener. I also live close enough to the WWII peace museum/memorial that I can go running through the large grounds. England, the US, Canada, Germany, and France all sponsor gardens there, but few of the museum’s many visitors stick around to tour them.
Navigating traffic and busy streets has been a bit difficult*, but I am really enjoying myself. Thank you all for forgiving me my rather pathetic self-pity/loathing last few weeks and for coming back.

*see Third Person Runner

Third Person Runner

Serena knew she should turn around. The sun had dropped behind the Castle twenty minutes before, the sky was quickly changing from a its rich royal blue to indigo, and that light, refreshing sprinkle of rain was now a bitter-cold shower blocking her vision and soaking her clothes and trainers; but where to go, which of the many twisting streets would take her back to campus? She had paid very little attention to where she was going, concerned only with running off the day’s stress that weighed so heavily on her shoulders, and keeping pace with the beat of the music that flowed from her iPod. Her muscles, despite being pushed harder than usual were cooling with the evening temperature, and the curried rice she ate for lunch bringing sweat to her brow. She recognized several of the store fronts on the street stretching in front of her, that boulangerie was open on Sundays, and she had stopped into the bar next to it once, asking the moustachioed owner for directions. Serena started off with hopes that this familiar rue would take her home just as the Caesar’s Jerk It Out began pumping through her headphones. It was just what she needed to make the final push home. This ‘second wind’ got her head bobbing and her feet splashing through puddles at a strong pace. In fact, she was disappointed to see a large roundabout crossing the road in front of her; she would be forced to slow down—if not stop completely while waiting for traffic. As she approached, she saw a break in the flow of tiny, economy cars entering the whirlpool and decided to sprint through the gap. Crossing, she neared the edge of the far side bike lane, and jumped over a patch of gravel left by road workers from the last big snow. Proud of her slick, gazelle-like maneuvering, she glanced at the driver waiting for her to reach the other side of his lane. He smiled and winked as she nodded her head and, keeping her deft speed, advanced a few more strides. But, in taking her eyes off the pavement at her feet, Serena didn’t see the large patch of wet leaves in front of her…or the mammoth pile of dog poo laying underneath.
Her pace not affected by her anonymous flirtation, her right foot hit the leaves/ poo hard and skidded forward. By some miracle she did not immediately land in the gooey, brown—now skidmarked—mound, but her left knee buckled, bent, and landed on the sharp concrete curb, causing her body to launch forward onto the sidewalk. As Serena’s face scraped across the stone, headphones ripped from her ears, she thought not about the pain shooting through her body (her knee and jaw—both of which she had landed on would hurt for days), but the guffaws and honking horns bellowing from the cars in the roundabout. The rising laughter rendered her completely incapable of a graceful recovery and she slowly, painfully rose to meet the flashing headlights celebrating her face-plant into the gutter.
Head down, pace now somewhere around a slow limp, Serena continued up the street to her dorm. It was much closer than she had thought, but her recently incurred injuries forced her to take her time, and double the effort. It was then that she vowed to publicly humiliate—and possibly inflict pain on any and all French dog owners and parents of young children leaving their broods’ feces in the streets of this otherwise pleasant and pedestrian friendly country. She will not sleep until a steaming pile of justice is served to each and every one of them.