MonthMarch 2011

Paris

Paris

Day 77

330. That’s how many pictures I took in Paris after going through every picture. If I didn’t go through them, I’d have 475 pictures. From the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, to the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Musee du Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. It wasn’t very hard to take tons of photos in Paris because all the tourist attractions were just so beautiful.

After being in Europe for over 2 months, I finally visited Paris three days ago. Going to Paris is something that many people in North America (probably the world too) dream to do. I woke up early in the morning for my train from Stuttgart that left at 7 and met up with my friends from Bosch.

On the train, sitting together proved rather difficult because that went against the preassigned seating provided by the French TGV. We tried our best to find vacant seats, but in the end, two of us ended up sitting elsewhere. I managed to sit with the rest of the group for the duration of the train ride.

Along the way, the train passed through the French countryside. Only farm fields separated Paris and Stuttgart, with the exception of a few cities and towns. We joked about how the only things in France were farm fields and an Eiffel Tower. After a four hour journey, we arrived at the eastern train station in Paris.

The train station in Paris set my first impression the city. I didn’t see Paris in the beautiful setting that all the tourism advertisements showed. Seeing that the first place I go to in any city is often the train station, I ended up basing my first impression on that. To my surprise, the metro here lacked the maintenance that the trains in Stuttgart got. In general, the trains looked much dirtier and vandalized in more places. I saw graffiti in all of the train tunnels, and beside all the train tracks. In some areas, the station smelled like a dirty washroom. The trains themselves looked very old as well, but that’s just aesthetics. One of the trains even used tires and not train wheels, so it ran like a bus on train tracks. Despite this, the metro served as our only means of transportation within the city. We took the train to our first destination.

Our first destination was the Sacre-Coeur, a basilica located on the summit of butte Montmartre, the highest point of Paris. Unfortunately, the Sacre-Coeur was not exactly in the best part of town. The enormous amount of street performers, street vendors, and people trying to get me to donate money caught my attention right away. They really liked bugging the foreigners. I guess they think that if foreigners can afford to come to Europe, they must have lots of money. Some of them were like pushy salesmen that wouldn’t leave people alone. Some of them even know how to greet people in different languages. I heard them say phrases like “ni hao”, “konnichiwa”, and “arigatou”. I wondered about how many more of these people there’d be at the Eiffel Tower, when I already saw of many of these people at a lesser known landmark. I tried my best to ignore these people and focus on where I was, the Sacre-Coeur.

Looking at the basilica from afar reminded me of the Dom in Cologne, but this place was a little smaller. Unfortunately, the church did not permit photography, otherwise I’d post pictures of this place. I must say though, after seeing the Cologne Dom, this place didn’t seem that special to me.

When we left for the Notre Dame afterward, we passed through the poorer part of town. For some reason a big crowd of people stood outside selling prepackaged food that one could get from the supermarket. Why would they end up selling the food that they bought? Or maybe they never bought them at all.

Our next destination was the Notre Dame. The Notre Dame was one of those places that almost everybody knew, so many tourists visited it. In fact, there were so many tourists there that the city decided to post armed guards wielding FAMA’s at the site in case anybody tried to cause trouble. Like many other European churches, the church also had the old European design. The design here definitely rivaled the Cologne Dom.


The Notre Dame was situated beside the Seine River, so the natural next thing to do was to walk along the Seine. Unlike the Rhine River, the Seine was a lot more polluted. As we walked, I saw many more street vendors, but these ones sold retro photographs of Paris, post cards and various antiques. In the distance, we could see the Eiffel Tower. Before heading there though, we went to visit the outside of the Louvre. Seeing the pyramid in the courtyard instantly reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, when they revealed the location of the Holy Grail. Further outside the Louvre was the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which was a smaller arch that served the same purpose as the Arc de Triomphe. Further down the road, was an obelisk that Napoleon once took from Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars.



We walked along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, but before getting there, we had to hurry to the Eiffel tower so that we didn’t miss the time we reserved online. Because of our reservation, we didn’t have to wait hours like everyone else. Hundreds, if not thousands of tourists waited their turn. As I expected, there were a lot of street vendors here too, but the ones here weren’t as pushy.

In every picture I’ve ever seen the Eiffel Tower looked so small, so the sheer size of it total surprised me. At the base of the tower, I tried to take as many pictures as I could of the tower using the photography knowledge that I crammed the night before. Hopefully, my pictures turn out really well.


The view at the top of the Eiffel Tower totally struck me in awe. One could see as far as the eye could see. I pretty much saw all of Paris from here. In the distance, I could point out some of the landmarks such as the Louvre, Seine River, Arc de Triomphe, and Les Invalides. I also saw how the streets were laid out in the whole city. It differs a lot from the modern urban planning in the way that the roads don’t form grids. They seemed to go in random directions. No wonder it was so hard to find where we were going at times.


I could even see rain clouds slowly moving toward us. We didn’t choose the best day to go to Paris, but we couldn’t exactly predict the weather a month in advance. On the way down, it rained pretty hard, but it stopped about two hours later.

In the evening, we decided to go for a drink at a local cafe, since we were all so tired from carrying our things and walking around all day. Looking at the menu, I found that the price of beer is very high. In Stuttgart, I typically pay around 3 to 4 euro for half a litre of beer, but here, it costs 8 euros. That makes sense, I guess. Stereotypes do say that Germans are a lot more crazy about their beer than the French. I ended up trying a beer called Saint Omer. I don’t really know how to describe the beer so I can only really say that it tasted quite good, but not as good as German beer though.

After our little break, we went back to the Eiffel Tower to take pictures of it from afar. As the sky began to darken, the tower lit up. It must look even prettier at night. Unfortunately, we didn’t stick around to see it.


We went to the hostel since we were all so tired. For dinner, we ate baguettes that we bought from the local supermarket. And since we were in France, we had to have a bottle of wine. From the window, we could see the Sacre-Coeur.

After dinner, we went around some more to see what Paris looked like in the night. Because of the rain earlier, the wet cobblestone roads reflected the lights nearby. We stopped at a bar for a quick drink before heading home. This time, I ordered a beer called an Amstel. It had quite a strange after taste. By about 11:30 pm, we were all ready to sleep because we all woke up so early to catch the train and walked around so much, so we went back to the hostel where would recharge before continuing our journey the next day.


Little did we know when we organized our trip to Paris, this weekend would fall on the time change for daylight savings time, and as a result we had one less hour in Paris. We just slept one hour less to make up for it.

In the morning, we woke up early to get to the Louvre when it opened to avoid the enormous line up that we saw the day before. After passing the security check, we went to get our tickets. To our surprise, residents of the EU could get admission for free. I showed the ticket staff my work visa and got my free ticket. That saved me ten euros.

The main highlight of the Louvre was probably the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. I don’t think many people know why the painting is so famous, and I don’t either. Like everyone else, I went to see it purely because it’s famous.

The whole area we were in housed many Italians and Spanish paintings from the Renaissance. I didn’t understand any of the paintings, but I noticed that people back then really liked to paint about Christianity. A lot of the paintings showed Jesus on the cross. In other paintings, they really liked to paint naked people. Naked men, women and kids showed up in so many paintings.

The next group of exhibits we went featured art from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. They displayed mostly sculptures from various native groups living in the area a long time ago. It was quite interesting to see the difference in art among all these cultures.

Afterward, we looked at the section on Egyptian art. Here they showed various relics left over from the Ancient Egyptian civilization. They displayed various styles of sarcophagi used in the past and also urns of mummified remains. Among all the relics, the ones they showed the most were the stone tablets and papyrus paper with hieroglyphics written on them. I don’t know what any of it means, so for all I know the writing could just be something ordinary like, “today I went fishing by the river.”


At this point, we realized that the museum was so large that we wouldn’t be able to get through it all. So we looked at the map and chose to see what we wanted to see most.

We then arrived at the exhibit about French culture from the 14th to 17th century. The decorations in the rooms was decorated the same way as the old French style and it made the room look so beautiful.


Our next exhibit was Ancient Greece. The majority of items here were statues of the Greek Gods. These statues were pretty much everywhere, but they were all interesting too. It goes to show how devout the Greeks were when it came to worship.


The next item on our list was to find the Code of Hammurabi. Along the way, we went through the exhibit for Mesopotamia. Although not far from Greece geographically, their culture differed immensely.

When we arrived at the Code of Hammurabi, I saw a giant stone, but on it were a set of laws inscribed into it. It basically spoke of the consequences of actions that people did. A lot of it resembled the principle of “an eye for an eye”. For example, if a builder builds a house collapses on its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.

After being at the Louvre for about five hours, we were ready to leave. We didn’t even see half of the museum. I’m sure there are people that stay there for like ten hours or something. I even saw people sitting down with their artboards and drawing the sculptures they saw. As we left, we saw a huge crowd of people waiting to get in. I’m glad we went early. We barely waited at all.

After leaving the Louvre, we went to the metro to make our way to the Arc de Triomphe, located on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the rich district in Paris. It is a monument constructed for Napoleon to showcase his triumphs. It stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle. The monument also honours the soldiers who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Also there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War.

The flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is always lit. It serves as a memorial for all the soldiers killed in action who could not be identified during the First World War. I went up to the grave to pay my respects and gave him the traditional three bows that the Chinese typically give to the deceased.

Also there was a plaque of Charles de Gaulle’s famous BBC radio speech to the French people in 1940, telling them not to lose hope, and that the war does not only affect France, but rather the entire world.

The arc also named the major victorious battles of the Napoleonic Wars. The inside walls of the arc name most of the generals who served under Napoleon and the names of those who died are underlined.

When we were finished at the arc, we went back to the Eiffel Tower to get one last look of it before leaving. On the side of the tower were the names of famous French engineers. As an engineer, myself, I had to look at each name to see which ones I recognized. I ‘d say I knew about a quarter of them. They were people like, Lagrange, Carnot, Ampere, Fourier, Clapeyron and Laplace.


While we all took more pictures of the tower, we had the idea of getting our French friend to wear the stereotypical French hat and hold a baguette while we took pictures of him with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was so stereotypically French that this teenage girl got so excited seeing that she wanted a picture with him. We joked that if working at Bosch didn’t work out for him, he could make a living taking pictures with tourists in Paris! We stayed there until it was time leave for our train back home.

Paris was quite a beautiful city to visit, especially in the tourist locations, but some parts of the city were quite dirty, especially on the metro. That part of the city I didn’t really like, but the rest was amazing.

On the train, I tried to go to my assigned seat, but unfortunately a family had taken up all the seats there. I didn’t want to make them all find new seats, since I knew how hard it was to get everyone to sit together as a group without reservations, so I went to find an empty seat instead.

On the way home, due to some technical difficulty, the train made an unscheduled stop in the middle of nowhere. This delayed us by about twenty minutes and we all wondered how we were going to catch our connecting train. We found out later that our connecting train was going to wait.

As we crossed the border, the police came by checking people’s passports. In the entire wagon, only one of my friends and I were checked for passports. They did that probably because of the fact that we looked foreign.

As the train got closer and closer to Stuttgart, I was reminded of the fact that I’d have to go to work the next day and that I’d return to my usual routine once again. At the same time, I felt really good about the fact that I can now cross off another place on my list of places to visit.

My Picasa Album for Paris


Paris

A Time of Firsts

Day 69

I gotta say, I was pretty spoiled before.  Not in the way of material things, but more the fact that my parents did all the cooking, laundry and pretty much all the other house cleaning chores.  I don’t think I ever had to set foot in a grocery store either.  All the food my mom bought and cooked, I ate.  She even took the time to make the food that I liked to eat.  That all changed when I came to Germany.  Well, it’s been a time of firsts.

Cooking

To state this bluntly, I can’t cook.  I came here without knowing one of the most critical things to keep myself alive.  In order to avert the crisis of me starving to death, I had to learn this crucial skill.  I already know how to cook like eggs, bacon, and pasta (but not the sauce, unfortunately), but it’s not like I really know how to cook.  I can’t eat that stuff everyday either.  I remember during my first few weeks here, I researched online for different recipes.  I sucked so much at cooking that I didn’t even understand what I was reading.  Marinate? Sautee? What?  Instead of following recipes, I took a different approach.  I started with the easy stuff.  Potatoes.  I was so bad that I even cut myself the first time I tried cooking potatoes.  I think I’ve gone a long way since then.  Now I know how to marinate my meat (thanks to my mom for teaching me that over VOIP), and how to make sauces like curry.  It doesn’t sound like much, but I probably quadrupled, if not tripled my cooking knowledge.  I want to learn some more like how to steam my own fish and cook rice with a stove (too bad I don’t have a rice cooker).  I am by no means a decent chef at all, but it’s a start.

Grocery Shopping

I wasn’t so clueless in this regard, but it didn’t help when I couldn’t read any of the food labels in the supermarket.  Luckily I installed an English-Deutsch dictionary app on my phone before I left Vancouver.  The app saved me so many times already.  It was kind of like, “What the hell does this mean?”, type type type, and then “oh, so that’s what it is”.  I think I ended up eating nothing by sandwiches for almost a whole week.  I mean, I can buy eggs, sausages, bacon and all that, but I had no idea what canola oil was called.  The dictionary didn’t help here, unfortunately, since they used a different word altogether.  Eventually, I figured out everything, and now I’m buying all the food I can eat and more.

Laundry

My flat doesn’t have a washing machine, and I wasn’t about to pay to go to the Laundromat.  I didn’t even know where it was either.  I knew that my mom occasionally washed some clothes by hand and so I consulted her on how to do it.  Her instructions sounded simple enough, but I needed to go out to buy laundry detergent.  Problem: I didn’t know what that was called in German.  I looked it up on my phone and found out.  I thought it’d be pretty straight forward after knowing what laundry detergent was called, but I was so wrong.  I went to the laundry section in the store and saw about fifteen different brands/kinds of detergent.  I had no idea which was which.  I stared at the wall of items for about twenty minutes while looking up various words on my phone before I knew which one to get.

Planning Trips

Since I’m here, I must take the time to travel around Germany and its nearby countries.  Before doing that however, I had to look up the places I wanted to go.  How do I get there?  How much will it cost?  Where will I stay?  Only two methods really exist for transportation: train or plane.  To book a ticket for travelling, I had to use the Deutsche Bahn website and that site confused the hell out of me for the first little while.  But now I know.  Booking flights should have been quite simple, except for the fact that the discount airlines don’t fly out of the major airports.  Now I had to think about how to get myself to one of these airports.  Seeing that I’m not made of money, I try to optimize costs everywhere.  50 euro a night for a hostel?  No way, time to look for something cheaper.  30 euro?  That’s a good deal.  Despite all this planning, I’ve gone to so many places already, and I still have not exhausted my list of places to go.

Drinking

Stereotypes say that Germans like to drink, and it’s totally true.  Although, it’s not really my first time drinking, it is my first time making a habit of it.  Every Thursday is my drinking day.  Sometimes Saturdays too.  I’m never looking to get hammered, but I find that drinking beer and socializing is just super relaxing.  Typically, I try a new beer every week, but a lot of times I just order my favorite beer, Hefeweizen.

Living in Another Country

This is the first time I’ve ever left home for longer than a week.  I used to live on residence at the university, but I went home every weekend.  I could go home every weekend and enjoy my mom’s wonderful cooking.  I have no such luxury here.  I often find myself craving the things I’ve temporarily given up in order to be here.  Besides missing family and friends while over here, I started appreciating the little things.  It’s just things like sleeping in my own bed, sitting in my own computer chair, and eating Chinese food.

Dealing with A Landlord

I always thought a landlord was just someone you pay so you can live in their house, but I learned to realize that it’s not only that.  A landlord is analogous to a dictator (but obviously not as bad).  They pretty much have total control over how I like to live in their space.  If they’ve got a problem with something I’m doing, they’ll tell me and I have to change my habits for them.  Just like the time where I showered too long.  Luckily, my landlords are pretty nice people, but I could have been really unlucky and gotten some mean ones.  Maybe the mean ones might even try to kick out their tenants if they didn’t like the way their lifestyle.

Goal in Life

Day 68

During lunch, I spoke with a colleague about how I my work term was going so far.  I told him that I didn’t really have a huge interest in Microsystems, but I didn’t hate it either.  I feel more or less indifferent towards the subject.  Because of this, he asked me what I wanted to do.  What field do I want to work in?  What kind of work do I want to do?  Do I want to stay in research or go into design?  I didn’t really know how to answer those questions.  This colleague is older than me by probably seven or eight years so I was quite sure that he had been through the same ordeal at some point.

A lot of advice people typically give are similar in the way that they just say to follow one’s own interests.  Apart from saying that, he also asked me what my goal in life was.  He clarified his question by giving examples such as being super rich, or doing something that people will remember me for when I die.  I already knew my answer to this question.

My goal in life isn’t anything grand.  I don’t need to be able to afford a Porsche or a Ferrari.  I’m not looking to change the world.  My goal is just to lead a happy life.  Well everyone wants that.  But different thinks make different people happy.  For me, it’s the idea of leading a chill life, not how many Porsches and mansions I can buy.  As I said before, money can’t buy happiness, but the lack of money can’t either.  I believe it’s about having enough money to not have to worry about it.  Yeah, rich people don’t worry about money, but that’s not what I’m referring to.  Take my family for example.  My parents own a house, two cars, and are able to send both my brother and me to university.  When we go out to eat, we don’t have to worry about the money.  I’m not talking about only these things specifically.  It’s about not having to worry about every penny being spent.  People don’t have to be super rich to do that.  In a way, it’s like always having enough money to go out with friends for a few beers.  I suppose with a goal like this, I chose the right major.  The next question is what field in engineering I will work in.

After I told him the way I wanted to live life, he told me his view on it.  He started by saying how he didn’t like staying in one place a lot and likes a change in scenery every now and then.  He was born in Germany, but he’s worked in the Netherlands and in Switzerland.  By going to all of these places, he’d get a lot of life experiences and moving around is what he enjoyed.  He’s following his interests and that is certainly good.  He then added when he’s old and sitting on his rocking chair, he will be surrounded by his grandkids that would ask him about his life.  He wanted to be able to tell the kids stories of his youth and listen intently and enjoy his stories until the kids get tired and fall asleep, but he would know he lived a fulfilling life if the kids come back again and again to hear him talk about all the adventures in his life.

I never heard anyone put it like that before.  Everything he said seemed so profound and I probably did a really bad job replicating that here, but the stuff he said really got me thinking.  From something like my future career path, he managed to dwarf that entire issue and expand it to the idea of how to live life.  Telling interesting stories to my future grandkids sounds pretty cool to me.

Factory Outlet in Metzingen and My Unexpected Discovery in Stuttgart

Shopping at the Factory Outlet in Metzingen and My Unexpected Discovery in Stuttgart

Day 66

After learning from a colleague that a factory outlet existed in Metzingen, I organized a trip there with a few of my friends from Bosch. I was told that this place would have lots of brand name items at really reduced prices. I guess that is similar to the factory outlets in the United States. But even at the reduced prices, the items are still quite pricey. I suppose that this is good for people who really want their brand name clothes. Unfortunately, I only bought a t-shirt since I couldn’t find anything else I liked here. But a friend of mine did manage to buy a pair of shoes for 35 euro when its original price was 180 euro.

Not satisfied with my shopping experience in Metzingen, I decided to continue shopping in Stuttgart. The people that I were with were pretty much done shopping for the day, so I went on my own. Going places alone just gives me so much freedom. It feels quite nice. Being tired already from walking so much in Metzingen, I finished shopping in Stuttgart an hour and a half later. On my way home, I found something that I had been searching for for the past little while.

I found a place that serves Chinese Dim Sum and Hot Pot. This is like a taste of home. Looks like I’m going to have to go here soon, even if it is quite expensive for a restaurant (14 euro). Judging from the restaurant’s banner, it doesn’t look like westernized Chinese food either! Fantastic surprise for me.

Fighting the Food Coma

Lately, I ran into a little problem where I had the ultimate urge to sleep whenever I eat a meal.  Whether it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I’d feel like sleeping afterward.  Even though I sleep plenty every night, I couldn’t seem to fight this urge to sleep.  Luckily I found a sure-win method.  I don’t know how good it is for my health though.  I figure that if I get sleepy after I eat, it’s because my blood goes to my stomach to aid digestion, hence a blood shortage in the brain and thus giving me the urge to sleep.  By holding my head in a position tilted such that the elevation of my head is below the elevation of my heart, I can get the blood flowing to my brain.  I hold this position for about 15 to 20 seconds and I sit up straight again, feeling refreshed and awake.  Works every time for me.

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