- Chantez et vous trouverez votre chanson -

Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.
     -George Bernard Shaw

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves- in finding themselves.
      -Andre Gide

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fall '08... Vampire Fever

I returned from France to a vampire-obsessed country.  Then I decided to join it.  

After hearing good things about HBO's series, True Blood, I decided to download the first episode of the season (albeit almost 3 months late) and check it out.  Instant addiction.  

I managed to watch the next ten episodes within a span of 4 days (to get ready for tonight's season finale).  And when I finished watching the next-to-last episode on Friday, I couldn't wait until tonight's finale... so I ran to B&N and bought the first of the Sookie Stackhouse novels (the novel set the series is based on), Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris to hold me over.  Finished it in a day.  Whew.

I don't know what's come over me, but I cannot get enough of vampire Bill Compton!  I don't know the last time I've been like this about a TV show.  Wait, maybe I do.... May 2007, Heroes season 1, ha, but this is different.  

This quickie vamp obsession is probably helped in part by the fact that I do not currently have a day job.... but man, do I love this show.  I love the intense attraction and deep love between Sookie and Bill, I love Bill's charming ways, I love the witty dialogue, I love the allusion to real life issues in this fantasy world, and I love the quirky cast of characters. 

In case you haven't caught the bug yet, here's a brief little synopsis...

Two years ago, vampires officially "came out of the coffin" and now wish to be accepted into society, due to a new Japanese synthetic blood drink on the market (meaning they no longer must kill for their blood fix).  In the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, the townspeople haven't quite accepted the idea of vampires in society when Bill Compton (played by Stephen Moyer) arrives.  A vampire from the 1800's, his family originates from Bon Temps, and he is hoping to "mainstream" and live amongst the townspeople once again.

Cue in Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress in her mid-twenties and the only truly open (and somewhat naive) person to accept Bill.  She has no qualms about an outsider since she is one herself... ever since she was a girl, she's had the "gift" of reading people's every thought, making it difficult to fit in and especially difficult to date.  With Bill, she can relax and be herself.  Yet as she grows closer to Bill (very, very close... wink wink), the danger around her increases.  The small town of Bon Temps witnesses more murders than it ever has and the prejudices of the townspeople try to break them apart...

Throw in her extremely hot (yet very dumb) brother Jason, who has made his way through every hot girl in town (not too bad to see...hahaha) and gets hooked on the designer drug of the day, V (vampire blood), her "watchdog" of a boss Sam, her outspoken and wise-cracking best friend Tara, Tara's flamboyantly fabulous burger-flipping cousin Lafayette, a set of vampires with perfect deadpan humor, and a cast of crazy Southern good ol' boys and you have yourself a show.  Trusttt me, you need to watch it if you haven't started yet.

Season 1 ended tonight and sadly it will not return until Summer 2009.  I may make it through all eight Sookie Stackhouse novels by then, but hopefully I can hold out for the show....sighhh.  I miss Bill already, haha.

Now, I haven't read any of the Twilight series nor have I seen the movie, so I have no real way to compare, but from what I've heard others mention, it seems in some ways, Twilight is the PG-13 version of True Blood.  Both are love stories between a human and a vampire (yet both stories have other plot twists and turns), but after all the intensity, blood, drugs and well, sex in True Blood, I don't think Twilight would interest or hold any mystique for me anymore. Thoughts?  If you've seen and/or read both vamp series, comment and tell me the similarities and differences.  I'm really curious!  And if you just loveee Twilight... tell me why it's so great (other than Robert Pattinson, I can tell he's great myself, hahaha).

Big love for True Blood - great article from msnbc.com today about True Blood

Sunday, October 26, 2008

France Finale


I knew I was ready to go home the day my suitcase broke.

I was moving to a different apartment in Paris for the umpteenth time and basically dying as I tried to lug all my shit (pardon my French) down the street when all of a sudden, my suitcase felt very awkward.  I stopped to check everything out and realized that the long handle used to drag the suitcase on wheels had bent and snapped under all the weight and was now dangling by a thread.  Fab.  Just fabulous.

My plan of taking two buses over to the new apartment I was staying in for my last 3 days being thwarted, I hailed the next cab I saw and overpaid just to get to the apartment in one piece and without killing someone.  That was when I realized I was sick of living like a nomad.  As much as I loved being in France, shuttling all my belongings from city to city and apartment to hotel to apartment was wearing on me.  I was done and it was time to go home (plus, the money was wearing thin).

That being said, I enjoyed my last week to the fullest.  Meaning I spent every last dime that I owned.  I went to Laduree and waited on a line far too long for its own good for delicioussss, expensive macaroons, went out to eat as much as humanly possible, and as a grand finale, spent 400 euro on amazing French vintage dresses.

Before this trip, the idea of vintage clothes intrigued me, but I didn't really know where to look or how to go about the whole shebang.  Then, this summer, on an unexpected plane ride to Florida sans reading material, I came across an article about Ooh La La Vintage in the US Airways magazine stuffed in my seat back pocket.  A private vintage boutique based out of Paris, the article mentioned that I could arrange for a personal lesson on vintage, learn the styles that would flatter my body type and then try out all sorts of pieces from their collection.  Sounded like a winner to me.  I earmarked the page, stole the magazine and held onto it until I arrived in France.

Ooh La La Vintage was amazing.  The owner, Tara met me right outside of Paris at the RER metro station and led me back to the boutique.  We spent the afternoon chatting and as she filled me in on the history of fashion and the keys to a good vintage piece, I got to play dress up! It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon in my opinion.  She even made us lunch!  

I happen to be made perfectly for vintage clothes- I'm petite, and women back in the day tended to be built very small, so everything was in my size for once!  I also have an hourglass figure - a small waist countered by some good ol' baby-bearing hips - meaning I fit nicely into those awesome 50's dresses.  After she told me this, I knew it was going to be dangerous, haha.  

Tara was so helpful: she wanted to see everything I tried on and gave honest judgement on the fit and style.  There was absolutely no pressure to buy... but of course I fell in love with everything and just had to have it!  I walked out five hours later with my first five pieces of vintage: a dark 50's button-down tartan dress, a cream crochet curve-hugging dress from the 70's, a 60's Cacharel plaid A-line high-waisted skirt, a tweed vest from the 30's and finally, a olive green leather cinching belt with awesome detailing from the 80's.  

I left France a happy (yet broke), overpacked lady.

Finding History in Honfleur

My trip to Honfleur was my "voyage a la source."  

My great-grandmother, Andree Charlotte LeBlanc was born in Honfleur - a cute, little marina town in Northern France, and visiting was my chance to see where she came from, and understand a bit more of my past than I had before.  It was my chance to put on my sleuthing shoes and fulfill my childhood dream of being a part of the Ghostwriter team (you know you loved it, too).  Well, not that serious, but I was on a bit of a wild goose chase for answers: What was her childhood in France like?  What street did she live on?  Do we have any relatives left here?  Why did her family move to the U.S.?

It was harder than I imagined to get to Honfleur without a car.  After five different buses/metros/trains, I finally arrived in Trouville... not even Honfleur.  Apparently, Honfleur doesn't have a train station, so I had to stay in the next town over.  It turned out better than expected - Trouville is a really adorable beach town with old Victorian beach houses, old-fashioned changing rooms right on the water, and plenty of good restaurants and inexpensive hotels (in the off season at least).  During the summer, Trouville and Deauville (another neighboring town) are two of the most popular weekend getaways for Parisians because they are only two hours from the city.

In the morning, I was able to jog on the beach right near my hotel, and then catch the local bus to Honfleur for only about 1.50 euro.  I came armed with an address, a name and a date.  The address: 36 Rue Lingots.  An Henri LeBlanc (we think he was maybe a cousin of my great-grandma) wrote her numerous postcards after she moved to the U.S. from this address.  The name: Laurent LeBlanc, the only LeBlanc I could find in the White Pages of Honfleur.  The date: 1898, the year my great-grandma was born.

Honfleur was smaller than I thought.  I started my day by searching for the address.  I easily found it... right near L'Eglise de Ste. Catherine, a church famous in Honfleur for being the only all-wooden Catholic Church.  It was a home-wares store on the first floor with a set of apartments upstairs.  Really cool to imagine someone sitting at one of those windows nearly 80 years ago and writing postcards that I still hold onto today...

Next, I headed over to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) to see about finding any information about my great-grandmother through the old town documents.  But, alas, the Hotel de Ville was closed daily from 12:30-2:30pm for lunch.  Yes, in France, they close things for lunch and on Sundays.  Hard for an American to get used to...  So I set out to explore the town for awhile and find lunch.  I poked around all the different shops and tiny, little roads and took plenty of pictures of the Vieux Bassin, the dock famous for all the Impressionist and Watercolor painters that have loved it over the years.  I found a restaurant serving Moules a la Normandie (mussels in cream sauce) and broke for lunch.  I treated myself to a Pommeau aperatif, an apple-based liquor popular in the Normandie region, and a Tarte Tartin (upside-down apple tarte) for dessert.  Why not?  As my trip was nearing an end, I no longer feared eating by myself and I was all about eating as much yummy French food as possible before I couldn't anymore (that may be why I feel a little extra pudge in my stomach area that wasn't there before, hmm).

Trying the Hotel de Ville again, I faced the typical French attitude... at first, they basically told me it was impossible for them to search for anything on her because I didn't know enough background info.  But, as I had learned to do during my stay, I kept inquiring, and a nice woman finally directed me to the Town Archives.  At the archives, they found her birth certificate from 1898 as well as the marriage certificate of her parents from 1896 within five minutes.  It was so exciting to see all these incredibly old documents that led to my past!  The marriage certificate explained that on the day of their marriage, my great-great grandmother's father had been missing without any news for 17 years... interesting.  The birth certificate listed the road my great-grandma's family lived on, so I was then able to find the street she grew up on until moving to the U.S. when she was four years old.  So much history in one day!

My final stop of the day was Laurent LeBlanc's address.  Who knows... maybe we were cousins?!  It turns out Laurent LeBlanc was an artist (a good one, too!) and the address I found was his gallery.  I stopped in to chat with him when there were no customers around, and unfortunately, we were not related.  His family grew up in another French town, so it looks like the Honfleur LeBlancs of my family have died out or married.  Damn.  But, I did make a friend.  We talked for awhile and he showed me all his work, and then he offered to drive me back to Trouville in an hour, since I had missed the last bus back.  Sweet deal.

I finished my Honfleur day by painting a small tableau sitting on the edge of the Vieux Bassin, just like all the artists around me and all the artists of days before, and then hitched my ride back to the hotel.  Some mysteries solved, but other questions about my family history had just begun.

Monday, October 13, 2008

La Drome - Living the French Country Life


I've been traveling about a month and a half now (and mostly by myself) and I just realized something -- I think I might be proud of myself.  What I'm doing here (while lots of fun) is not easy.  With the help of a good friend back in New York, I've met up with different people in Paris and found places to stay.  I've gone multiple times to French travel agencies and (in French) figured out travel itineraries, rail passes and how to get around in this foreign country. With no definite "plan" before I left, I organized myself here and decided where I wanted to visit each day/week and when necessary, searched online and found hostels/hotels, etc... I might just be a good traveler!

As I write this, I'm leaving the Drome, one of my favorite areas of France.  I visited this area - a tiny village outside of Valence called Ste. Croix - once before, 3 years ago during a summer study abroad trip with St. John's University and fell in love.  Beautiful mountains, cute little towns, open markets, Clairette de Die (a bubbly and delicious wine specific to the area), horses, roosters, sheep... it's a simple and real way of living here.

I think I like it so much because it's such a different way of living than I'm used to.  It's a sort of departure from my life -- I stay in a plain bedroom in a monastery built in the 11th century, eat delicious French meals until I think I'm going to pop, go on hikes, picnics, and horseback riding, speak only in French and have very little contact with the outside world.

But then again, this whole trip has been a departure from my life.  I don't have to think about jobs, growing up, friends lost, boyfriends, or what I'm doing with my life.  I can just be.

Sadly, this once-in-a-lifetime trip will be ending all too soon, and I will have to think about all of the above again, and make some very big girl decisions.  But for 3 days, I was a French country girl, galloping through the mountains on a horse named Shepes without a care in the world...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Adventures in Amsterdam

Staying on a boat sounded much more glamorous than it was, haha.

When we arrived at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, it was rush hour and we had to fight through the crowds to find the "botel."  But once we found the dock, there were over 20 boats! I guess that makes sense for a city of canals, but it was confusing for us American girls. 

The gruff Dutchman that owned the boat showed us the way to our cabin (calling it a cabin is a stretch) -- and lucky for us, the way included a set of the steepest, skinniest stairs I've ever seen.  Once inside the "cabin," there wasn't even enough standing room for the two of us and our bags, haha.  My friend couldn't stretch her wingspan across the room without touching both walls and I couldn't sit up on the bottom bunk without bumping my head.  It was interesting to say the least!

We headed out for food and exploration and stopped at the first pizzeria we saw.  Bad idea.  It was the worst pizza I've ever tasted.  And the guy microwaved it!!  That is such a no-no when it comes to pizza.  We're from New York for Christ's sake!  That's not to say Amsterdam doesn't have good pizza.  I'm sure they do... just not where we went. 

Left to our own devices without tour guides like the California guys in Munich, we set off walking and hoped to run into something fun.  We found our way to the edge of the Red Light District and found a long row of coffee shops, bars and a quite interesting store called The Condomerie.  Plenty of people were out and about and we were curious about the whole coffee shop experience, but our prude American nature made us hesitant to walk in.  How does it work?...Is there a certain coffee shop etiquette??  Finally, we pushed our reservations aside and tried out Coffee Shop Sheeba.

Sheeba was great.  The middle-aged man behind the marijuana and hash counter showed us the menu, chatted with us and joked around.  We made our purchases and headed back to the boat.  3/4 of the way back, we made the brilliant realization that we lost our lighter somewhere in Munich.  Damn.  Amsterdam is an early city - all the stores are closed by 6 or 7pm and the bars and coffee shops close at 1am.  We were stuck.  Then came Funky.  

Funky was a Jamaican reggaeman (and possibly homeless) that was wandering and dancing to his own beat on the dock near the boats.  We went up to him, asked him for a light for a cigarette, he lit it and asked where we were staying and tried to chat... we responded far far away and scampered back to the deck to smoke our legal goods before he saw us.  We then came to the conclusion that though illegal, it just might be easier to smoke in America.

We sat on the dock together, looked at the beautiful city of canals at night and smoked.  A nice Dutch guy from the boat next door and his dog, Dolly came to join us.  After a few struggles, it was a perfect end to our first night in Amsterdam.  Then, the rain came and we had to head inside to our cubicle.

A few things to note about Amsterdam:

- A trip to Amsterdam is probably best during the summertime.  Surrounded by many canals and situated in the North, it was windy, freezing cold and raining during our whole stay in late September.  Plus in the summer, there are tulips!

- Go out early because most of the bars and coffee shops shut down around 1am.

- The Van Gogh Museum has an amazing collection of his work, but for some reason, it's more expensive than any other museum I've visited in Europe, and they don't offer a discount for people under 26 years old. (costs around 12.50 Euro)

- The Anne Frank Haus is a must-see.  We've all read the book and it was both moving and sad to see the actual place where her family hid as she wrote her diary.

- Amsterdam has great shopping.  If you're looking for funky trinkets and souvenirs for family and friends, there are tons of gift shops on every block.  And if you're looking for a great piece of Euro fashion to take home, there are a bunch of cool boutiques and shops like Sacha, where I found my new favorite boots.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

PROST! Oktoberfest in Munich

I left Munich with war wounds and a massive hangover, and I loved it.

Before this trip to the biggest beer festival in the world, I had never been to Germany or met many German people... but if Oktoberfest is any indication, I loveee them both.

My friend and I arrived in Munich after midnight on a Thursday and exhausted from the train, we assumed we'd go to bed early and get a good start the next morning... hahaha, not so much.  We had rented an apartment through Craig's List Munich (best idea ever - thanks Mel!) that was just 5 minutes walking distance from the fairgrounds and when we got inside, we met the 4 guys from Cali staying in the room next door.  Instant friends.  That's the thing about traveling -- you make instant friends wherever you go because frankly, you don't have anyone else!  We went straight to the local bar and quickly got our first taste of Oktoberfest.  The place was crawling with leiderhosen-clad men and Bavarian-dressed ladies already tanked from drinking all day.  They were jolly, loud and so much fun.  We didn't go to bed until probably 5am, and as soon as we got up the next day, we started all over again.

The guys showed us the best beer tents (don't be deceived -- the beer tents are huge, completely enclosed barn-type buildings) and we drank steins, danced on tables and rode the carnival rides (interesting when drunk...) all day.  We thought we were drinking well into the night, but as we later learned, it was probably 9pm when we left the festival grounds, ha.  But we didn't stop there... the pub we went to the first night became "our pub" for the week, and we made a point to go back every night post-Oktoberfest.  It was my "Traditions" in Germany :) and the beer maids knew us by the last night.
 
My memories may be a little dim thanks to the strong Bavarian brews, but I know I had a good time... there are pictures to prove it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thought of the Day


A French boy told me the other day that he knew he was fluent in English the day he began dreaming in English.

I wonder if I'll ever dream in French...

Euro Beauty and Fashion Finds



Can I just be European already?  Euro girls always look so fashionable and put together.  I love their nonchalant, au natural yet still looks perfect long hair, and even their short cropped coifs that only the likes of Vicky B and Anna from the O.C. (2003/2004 reference) can pull off without looking like a boy, butch, or both.  No matter how cute I thinkkk I look, I always feel frumpy around French girls.

So in my travels and attempts to gain a European sense of style, I've figured out a few things along the way...

French pharmacies are cute... shops with blinking neon green crosses dotting each corner with every product imaginable for complete health, beauty and well-being.  The pharmacies carry expensive French beauty brands, holistic heath products, and in addition, they sell medicines over the counter that in the States we need prescriptions for (score!).  One cool product I picked up is a citrus scented shampoo/shower gel combo by Rene Furterer Paris.  Why don't more companies make products like that?  It's so convenient!  This one is called Initia, Gel douche tonique cheveux & corps.  It's soap-free, smells fresh and lemony, and since I'm a multi-tasking traveler, I'm able to use it as my shampoo, body wash anddd shaving cream.  Not bad for a 12 euro set of two bottles.

Paris has their fair share of H&M's and stores we have in the U.S., but while poking around in St-Germain-des-Pres, I found a French shopping chain that I absolutely looove.  It's called Sinequanone.  It's far above the price level of an H&M, but not terribly expensive, and their clothes are tailored, hang nice and make use of interesting patterns.  In my opinion, the clothes there are perfect for the twenty-something set just getting into the working world.  I bought myself a high waisted cream silk skirt with splashes of navy and black cropped and tapered leg pants with a bow tie high waist.  Both will be perfect work attire (even though I don't currently have a job when I return, haha).  Also, side tidbit: I had no idea how to even pronounce the store name let alone know it's meaning, but I recently found out that "sinequanone" is a French term that means ideal.  If you ever want to look smart and savvy you can say, "C'est une situation sinequanone."  Like if you decided months in advance that you wanted to run a race and you practiced regularly, for you, the race will be "une situation sinequanone."  It's the best case scenario.

This last one is going to give a little credit to the Dutch: For high, flat Fall leather boots, Sacha is awesome.  Everywhere I went in Amsterdam, women were wearing flat leather boots to die for in every shade of brown, black and the rest of the rainbow.  They all looked so...warm.  Unfortunately, during my trip to Amsterdam, it was freezing, rainy and windy, so I was super jeal of the boots I was seeing everywhere until I was window shopping and came across Sacha. The store was closed at the time, but my boots were glowing in the window.  Love. at. first. sight.  They were smooth green leather, flat heel, rounded toe and almost knee length.  I ran back to the store the next day to try them on and it was a done deal.  They're wide enough to slip over my jeans perfectly, but still look great with a simple dress and tights or leggings and a sweater, and the shade of green goes with (almost) anything.  I've worn them every day since I bought them, no joke.  And Amsterdam had a great selection of boots and plenty of shoe stores, but one thing to note is that a lot of them were extraordinarily expensive.  Sacha wasn't cheap by any means, but I was okay with paying 109 euro for these puppies.

So, that sums up my spectacular beauty/fashion finds from the past month or so in Europe ;).

Things I've seen a lot here are leather bomber jackets, scarves for every occasion, boots boots and more boots, and a lot of cream, violet and navy shades.  What's the fashion scene like back home now??  I feel so out of touch...

Friday, September 19, 2008

French Lesson of the Day

Ohhh the mistakes we make when speaking in a foreign language.

Last night I got together with a new friend in Paris that I had emailed earlier this week. He was a lot of fun and we had a great time. We met at the Centre Pompidou for drinks on the top floor at the outdoor lounge and then went to dinner at Chez Chartier, a well-known Parisian cafe where they write your order on the tablecloth...reminded me of The Italian Oven (but French-style). Anyone else remember that place? It was like, my favvvv restaurant when I was 9 years old.

He knows how to speak English, and I know how to speak French, so it was a good match and we switched back and forth all night between the two languages. Once we were a few drinks deep and comfortable with one another, he explained to me that the email I originally sent him was a little innneresting. See, at the end of the email, after explaining who I was (a good friend of his friend) and that I would be in Paris from such-and-such dates, I said the following sentence: "J'ai pensee que nous nous rencontrons pour un cafe ou aller au restaurant/lounge, etc. quelque apres-midi ou nuit bientot." Loosely translated to mean, I was hoping we could get together for a coffee or drinks/dinner one afternoon or night soon.

The problem is that in English, the words "evening" and "night" are basically interchangeable, but in French, "soiree" (evening) means one thing, and "nuit" (night) means something very different, haha. In other words I sounded like a dime store hooker!!

I'm so glad I sent basically the same email to all of my friend's friends in Paris (sarcasm). Just fab. I'm like the foreign exchange student in Can't Hardly Wait... "Would you like to touch my penis? I am a sex machine!"... no idea that I was saying something bad.

Ohhh, you live in a foreign country and you learn. :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TOPLESS! and other independent French woman things...


Ahhh Nice, how I love you.  Nice (pronounced like "niece" for all you uncultured folk out there, ha), is in the south of France along the Mediterranean Ocean and one of the main cities of la Cote d'Azur, or the French Riviera... meaning it's gorgeousssss.  And, Nice happens to be near the Italy border, so throughout the town, and especially in Vieux Nice (the old quarter), both French and Italian are spoken, and the food is a yummy mix of French and Italian influence (my two favorite kinds!).

I hopped on a train in rainy and chilly Paris (not without many lines, questions and struggles to figure out the best travel deal for my time in France and Europe), and arrived five hours later in paradise.

I became independent in Nice.  I bought a single train ticket and booked hostel arrangements one day before, hopped on a TGV train, and went to a city I had never visited without knowing a soul in town.  

I did things I had never done before... I ate my first meal out at a restaurant by myself, which has previously kind of terrified me.  I don't like walking into bars by myself, even to meet up with people, let alone sit through a 3 course meal alone.  I think deep down I feel like everyone is looking at me thinking, "Oh look at her, she's a loser that can't find anyone to have dinner with," when in reality I just need to realize that people don't care that much about my life, haha.  I see French women sitting by themselves at cafes all the time, so I decided to embrace the moment and be French.  I brought a book along, ordered from the prix fixe 3 course menu, relaxed and ate a great Nicoise meal.  It was... quiet.  Quiet but pleasant, and not nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be.

Speaking of being French, I went topless, too! ;)  It took me a day and a half to work up the courage, but I decided to be free on my last day at the beach and whipped my top off to give the "girls" a little Mediterranean sun, too.  Too bad it was windy and a little cloudy... I ended up leaving the beach only maybe 20 minutes or a half hour later.  But I still did it!!

Nice was also my first hostel experience.  Not so bad.  I stayed at Hotel Baccarat: a 5 minute walk from the train station, and about a 15-20 minute walk through town to the beach.  It was a plain room with 3 bunk beds and a small bathroom, and kind of reminded me of college freshman dorms.  And I even made friends!  Our last night, the group of guys and girls in our room went out to the bars together and I ended up swimming fully clothed in the ocean in the middle of the night.  Nothing like a good exit!  Our lovely bar night also ensured that the train ride back to Paris the next morning felt fantastic... complete with salty hair and a hangover.

I love summer, the beach, being young, and traveling... do I really have to go home at some point and find a job again?  What a downer, haha.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The One Week (and then some) Update:

What I learned (in short) from my first week in Paris:

The architecture in Paris is prettier than most American cities hands down...probably because most of it has been around longer than our country.  It's hard getting along in your second language, but rewarding when you realize you can get along.  In some ways, big cities are all alike in that they like to make your life difficult.  French creepy men just don't get the hint.  The kindness of strangers is a-maz-ing.

So, I've been out of the country for about a week...a little longer.  For the most part, I've stayed with a friend of a friend in Paris.  It was great because I avoided the touristy hotels and got the grand tour from a girl that has lived in Paris for years.  So what did I do?

Well, I poked around and got lost for the most part, haha.  But, that's okay.  That's why I plan to be here for almost two months.  

My first day, I walked around and followed the shadow of the Eiffel Tower until I found it.  

The second day, I passed out due to jet lag.  One day lost; whatever.  

The third day, I went running around the Champ de Mars (the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower), visited the Musee D'Orsay (finally!!) and saw the Sacre Coeur and Montmartre by night.  

During the weekend, I relaxed, walked around the markets, le Marche aux Puces (flea market!) and the Catacombes.  The Catacombes were eerie to say the least.  It was actually my third attempt to see the Catacombes, but I was very pleased to finally see them.   See, the first time I attempted the Catacombes was Summer 2005, when I did the summer study abroad program through good ol' SJU.  I took the Metro to the site only to realize they were closed on the day of the Fete de la Musique, a city-wide music festival every summer in Paris.  My second attempt, just one day before I actually made it (last week), I left too late and they capped the line before I could get to the gate at 4pm.  I was disappointed, but I made it the next day in plenty of time.  And, though it was super-touristy, I was to >thisclose< to femurs and skulls from the 18th century, and that's pretty damn cool.

And now?  Now, I'm in Nice, on the French Riviera, and loving every moment.  I leave tomorrow morning, but I wish I could stay here longer, and I wish it could be summer forever. Updates are soon to come :).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I have arrived!

Bonjour mes amis!

I made it to France(!), but not without a few bumps along the way of course.  Traveling is never as easy as you'd like it to be.

I left my apartment in Queens on September 2nd at 1pm, and finally arrived at the apartment in Paris at 12 noon on September 3rd.  Whew it was a long trek. 

First leg of the journey was getting to Newark airport from Queens while hungover, fun times. My friend was nice enough to drive me and thank godd we didn't hit traffic.  Once by myself at the airport, my nerves fully kicked in, so I paced around a lot before finally deciding to take the plunge and go through airport security (no turning back now!).  

My flight was with Lufthansa (a good airline, I recommend it) and I had a quick layover in Dusseldorf, Germany.  Of course, as I'm beginning to realize every flight out of New York is, we were delayed on the runway for like, forever (number 19 to take off, ughhhhh), so as soon as I got off the flight in Germany, I had to book it to the next gate for my Paris flight, which was already boarding.  So, obvi, since I was in a rush, the customs line took forever and they decided to inspect my bag.  But, I made it in time and even had a seat in the emergency exit aisle (extra leg room, woo!).

Once at CDG, the airport in Paris, I had arranged for Paris Shuttle to pick me up and drop me off at the apartment.  In theory, it's really simple.  You set everything up before you leave online (www.parishuttle.com), and once you get off your flight, you call their toll free number from a pay phone in the airport and they tell you the meeting place for your van.  They pick up up to 6 people at a time and drop everyone off at their hotel and/or apartment.  In reality, it didn't work out so easily for me.  First, I couldn't find a pay phone and I was afraid they would leave without me.  Ha!  Once I got outside at the meeting point, 3 different van drivers passed up myself and a few other travelers claiming they were full and we didn't have reservations.  I waited about an hour before a van was able to take me.  Then, of course, I was the next to last to be dropped off, so I got to circle around Paris 4 times through traffic before arriving.

Then, oh then, there are the lovely quirks of old apartment buildings.  The friend of a friend that I'm staying with was already at work when I got here, so I was left to my own devices to get into her place.  I had difficulties opening the old door, which was embarrassing since the Paris Shuttle van decided to hover until I got in.  Once in, I had six flights of stairs to master with my 48 lb. suitcase, haha!  Somehow I made it to her floor, although I realized around the 3rd level that the railing was very shaky and I should absolutely not lean on it with my weight as I pulled my luggage unless I wanted to end up splattered below.  And the last obstacle...her front door. It almost got the best of me.  Tired, frustrated and absolutely exhausted, I could not get the door to open to save my life.  I had the key...but the door wasn't budging.  I didn't know what to do.  Tears started welling...

I worked up the nerve to knock on a neighbor's door one floor down, only to be barked at in French by some crotchety old woman to leave her alone.  I retreated to the entree of the building (left the luggage upstairs, though...no wayyy I was doing that climb again) and hoped for someone to walk in that could help.  A different neighbor offered me her cell phone and I was able to call my friend and get some advice on the door, and voila, it opened instantly of course.

So needless to say, traveling can be a lot of fun, but it is not always roses.  But, what can I say? I'm now here in Paris enjoying my life :) 

The apartment I'm staying in is right near the Eiffel Tower, so I plan to go on a bit of a jog soon around the Champ de Mars, the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower.  I actually got dressed and tried to head out about a 1/2 hour ago, but the main apartment door gave me trouble again, and I gave up for now, hahaha.  I really need to get a handle on these French doors, they are proving to be quite the contender.

I'll write more soon, hopefully once I've conquered the doors.  Ciao!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Dreaded Packing List

Yikes-- time is flying and I leave for France exactly one week from today.  Major bout of anxiety and minor freak-out have begun...

Packing is going to be rough.  By nature, I am not a light packer.  But from the experience of my last trip to France, I know that I do NOT want to be lugging around an insanely heavy suitcase through the streets and into TGV train cars.  So, I am going to be a responsible traveler and do a "dry run" so-to-speak of my luggage tomorrow and see what fits and what is completely unnecessary.  Someone may need to help me with this...I grow attached to all my shoes and outfits and think of every "what if" situation that might cause me to need ridiculous items.

Here is the packing list.  Drum roll please...

Clothes, clothes and more clothes:
- Nike Shox for the daily run I hope to take
- black leggings, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 tees, Under Armour (running gear)
- hot pink Converse sneakers
- one pair of cute sandals, one pair of flip flops
- black suede booties
- brown wedge sandals that can easily go from summer to fall
- 10 pairs of socks ( who knows when I'll get to do laundry)
- gray and black tissue thin cardigans to throw over t-shirts or dresses as the weather gets colder
- red and white stripe lightweight sweater
- black skinny jeans, denim skinny jeans, wide leg jeans
- air brush Madonna tee
- white v-neck tee
- "vintage" (aka Goodwill) purple transit authority tee
- cream eyelet blouse
- red v-neck blouse
- gray braided edge tee
- gray/back silk tunic
- American Apparel gray, cream and black tanks
- 2 dressier tanks
- 2 long sleeve tops
- 3 dresses and/or skirts
- cutoff jean shorts
- thick tights
- black yoga pants
- pretty scarves!
- brown skinny belt, black thick belt
- white double-breasted crop jacket
- all the "unmentionables"
- Wallaroo straw hat to shadeeee me from the sun in style
- simple string bikini for those European beaches...should I even bring a top? ha

Pour la Toilette:
- my super cute, incredibly tiny TS-2 Detailer flat iron
- Biolage Scalptherapie Oil Control Treatment (dry shampoo)
- wide tooth comb
- Cor silver soap big bar...best travel face wash everr because it lasts forever, it's solid (not liquid) and I don't need any other products
- razor
- travel-size deodorant and toothpaste
- toothbrush
-Bath & Body Works self-meditating body butter
- nail file and clippers
- make-up bag (condensed version)
- turquoise earrings from Mexico, thin silver hoops, small interlocking gold hoops
- gold cuff bracelet, silver dream bracelet, back-up nose ring, cross necklace
- small case of bobby pins and hair twisties

Gear:
- Wellness H2O water bottle to filter out any funky tap water I come across (Man this would have been helpful last year on Spring Break in Mexico...)
- umbrella
- Sephora Microfiber Hair Towel, regular towel
- tryptophan herbal pills to adjust to the time difference and sleep better
- Macbook, charger, protective sleeve
- digital camera, batteries, camera cord
- travel pillow
- oversized zip tote bag for weekend trips and backpacking
- zebra print beach bag/messenger bag for everyday wear
- address book for all my V.I.P.s that will be receiving post cards
- small journal
- Plan de Paris
- i-pod, obvi
- cream clutch
- oil paints and canvas notebook

Wheww.  Is that too much?  I guess tomorrow will tell.  Do I need gloves and a warm hat during mid-October in France??  Hmm...

Also, I need to buy plug converters and maybe those "As Seen On TV" vacuum bags (depending on how stuffed my suitcase looks).  I plan to buy shampoo, soap, etc. once I arrive in Paris from one of the many pharmacies that dot the streets.  I figure that will make a littleeee more room in my bag (though not much), avoid accidental leaks in my luggage, and allow me to buy cute French toiletries!

Am I missing anything else?  Thoughts??

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Freedom.

Well ladies and gents, I did it.

After about six months of thinking and debating...I bought a non-refundable roundtrip ticket to Paris for a two month solo trip and quit my job in PR.  Eeek!  I don't normally do daring things like this!!

Yesterday was my last day on the job and after a celebration to remember with all of my wonderful co-workers, I woke up this morning, grabbed a huuge iced coffee and hit the open road to Pittsburgh for family time before shipping out to France.

The road trip was exactly what I needed to sort my thoughts.  What is it about open windows, loud music and interstates that makes it so freeing?  During my seven glorious hours in the car (glorious=sarcasm...seven hours cooped up in a car without cruise control is never quite glorious), I sung, I cried, I used the steering wheel as my own personal drum set, I yelled, I daydreamed, and I tried to comprehend all that is currently happening in my life.

I basically pretended I was the only car on the road-- I bet those cars driving near me on the PA turnpike got quite the entertaining show, ha.  The level that I rocked out to Kanye, Lucky Boys Confusion, Danity Kane, Jay Z, Fall Out Boy and Dave Matthews Band normally does not come out unless I'm drunk at a karaoke bar.  And yes, I realize that is quiteee the variety of music; don't judge.

I don't know about any of you out there...but I'm kind of over this "transitional," early twenties phase of life.  It's so confusing and so many things are changing.  That simple, fun and protective shell of college is gone, people are coming and going in and out of your life, and I swear the thoughts in my head are completely spastic.  One minute I want one thing, the next I want something else.  And really, at this age, we can do whatever it is that we want to do, but most of us are just so utterly indecisive that no one can figure it out.  I know my life will unfold as it should, but could the Big Guy just give me a little heads up and point me in the right direction, or lend a clue of what the future holds?  It would be much appreciated.

What's funny is, I bet when I'm 40 and hunkered down with a family and a never-ending job (...because maybe that's how I'll be when I'm 40?), I'll look back and miss these exciting times when I could go out 3 nights a week and survive, and quit my job and hop to France on a whim. Such is life.

But, oh my god...I really can't believe I'm really going to France for practically two months by myself.  Ahhhhhh it's going to be great.  I'm feeling excited but scared shitless, adventurous but very nervous.

The countdown is on.  I leave September 2nd...18 days to prep.  More is definitely to come.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

american girl's Summer Concert Tour


This american girl was one lucky lady this summer.  I saw four of the biggest concerts to hit New York over the past 3 months:

Read 'em and weep:

5/13/08 - Kanye West, Glow in the Dark Tour (round 1)

6/17/08 - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

7/18/08 - Billy Joel, Last Play at Shea (the real last play)

7/31/08 - Counting Crows and Maroon 5

Here's the skinny on all the awesome concerts you missed this summer, ha.

Kanye - His show really kicked ass, as previously mentioned.  It was pure entertainment and a high energy, rock opera-ish show with the craziest stage set up I've ever seen.  Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Lupe were a great match for Kanye and put on awesome sets as well.  In my book, he lived up to his promotion of the tour and I'll go see him again anytime.

Tom Petty - Don't let his age or his previous, um, habits fool you.  His voice sounded amazinggg and just as it must've in the '70's/80's when my parents loved him (and therefore I loved him by association).  He really rocked out and played all of my favorites, closing with none other than "American Girl!!"  Love him!  
PS - My uncle also told me he saw Tom Petty in the early '80's and it was the best show he ever went to...clearly things haven't changed, so if he comes to your town soon, you should get yourself to his concert.

Billy Joel - As soon as I heard he was coming to Shea, I knew I wanted tickets.  I grew up listening to this guy, the River of Dreams album especially (a favorite of my mom's).  Little did I know it would be the history-making and INSANELY AMAZING performance that it was.  A 3 hour + set list including all the classics (You May Be Right, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Only the Good Die Young, We Didn't Start the Fire...shall I go on??) combined with all-star guests Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, and Roger Daltrey blew me away.  When Paul McCartney joined him on stage at midnight, I lost it.  Lost it!!  I got to hear "Let it Be" live from an actual Beatle...that's not supposed to happen to someone in my generation.  It was magical to say the least.  This is a girl whose favorite movie at age 3 was The Yellow Submarine cartoon and loved to listen to her uncle read The Fat Budgie poem by John Lennon.  So, needless to say, this was the concert of the summer.  Look for it on DVD in the coming months if you missed it!  :)

Counting Crows/Maroon 5 - It's all about the venue, and the Jones Beach Amphitheater was the best venue I've been to so far this summer.  The stage basically looks like it's floating in the water.  Con - it's a national park, so no alcohol is served there, but it's still all open air, which is sort of key to a summer concert.  I went into this concert psyched to see the Counting Crows and happy a good band like Maroon 5 would be there with them...I left the concert affirmed that Maroon 5 was an awesome band, and disappointed in the Counting Crows, mostly Adam Duritz.  He forgot the words to one of his songs...not a good start.  Only playing a few of their major hits was pretty dumb, too in my book.  I've heard from others that the Counting Crows are iffy live-- sometimes great, sometimes not-so-good.  Looks like I got one of the not-so-good shows.  Sadness.  At least Maroon 5 was great; I really loveee their latest CD and Adam Levine isn't so bad to look at either, ha.

To sum up, I basically blew all of my money on concerts this summer, but I saw some amazing performances by many of my all-time favs...and hearing live music and being with friends really is a great way to spend your summer.  Worth every penny!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Maine: Rethink Your Idea of a Beach




I'm a Florida native, so I was born with high standards for beaches and coastline.

So, when I recently spent a week in Belfast, Maine, I was skeptical of what exactly this northern beach town would be like.

So, you ask, what was it like?

Foggy mornings, a sea full of ships, sunny, bright afternoons and lots and lotssss of seafood.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Maine was exactly what I needed.  It was a vacation where I actually - gasp - relaxed.

We went sailing or kayaking in the mornings, napped in the hammocks, took the monsters (my family's two german shepherds) for walks along the water, laid out in the afternoon and read, and ventured into town in the evenings for dinners at Darby's, movies at the kitschy cinema, or community concerts and gallery openings.

The beach was veryyyy different from what I'm used to.  No sandy white beaches here!  It was rocky, jagged and a bit slippery from all the seaweed and moss, making those "long sunset walks on the beach" more challenging.  Though I appreciated the challenge-- it became a sort of sport for me to hike from solid rock to solid rock without slipping and breaking myself. 

Adding to the challenge was the fact that at certain points during the day (aka High Tide), we had no beach!  Early in the week I had found a sweet spot to perch my beach lounger each afternoon and then one day, as I coerced my brother to be my cabana boy and carry the chair down to the shore for me, realized that there was no "beach" for me to go to.  The steps lead right into the lapping water.  Eh, the cute little yard worked out just as well for afternoon reading and sunbathing.

The good, the bad and the ugly of Belfast and Maine in general:

- I could do without the Crocs.  Everyone wears them...in every color.  Why?  Why do you do it to yourselves?  Can someone explain this phenomenon to me?

- Lobster rolls are delicious, yet sort of over-hyped and overpriced.  I waited on line for over an hour at Red's, the famous lobster hut, in the hot baking sun for one of their renowned lobster rolls.  Was it really over a whole lobster's worth of meat (as they claim) on a roll and absolutely amazing?  Yes.  Was it worth my profuse sweating and the grouchy, frustrated attitude I acquired while waiting?  I'm still deciding.

- No matter how "green" New York thinks we are, New England is better.  Everyone is so concerned and attentive about the environment.  Belfast is home to a Co-op organic and local grocery store that sells raw milk and other interesting finds.  BTW, I have no idea how raw milk is made or why it's raw.  I wanted to try it but chickened out/forgot.  

They also have a shop aptly named, The Green Store.  They sell everything and anything green. My mom forgot her toothbrush and seeing as there was no standard pharmacy right in town, she brought a "green" toothbrush there.  Who knew they made those??

- I've found that most beach towns up and down the Atlantic Coast have a sleepy sort of attitude, and not much goes on (excluding the prime party beaches of course, like Belmar). Belfast was an exception.  There were things going on every day and night in this little town. Bike races, Art Walks, movie premieres, concerts...those Maine folks know how to enjoy a summer.  Then again, it's probably because their poor winter lasts for like six months of the year...nooo thank you.

In the end, I think one of the things I appreciated most about Belfast was that it was genuine. You could feel the community vibe pulsing throughout the town, and the locals appreciate tourists but don't thrive on them.  Multiple shop owners and people about town would strike up conversations with us, and each time the same point came up:  Belfast, unlike Camden (their larger and more touristy neighbor), does not have a direct exit off of the interstate.  Meaning there are no huge signs and arrows pointing the herds to town as in Camden.  You can still appreciate the true town in Belfast without the tourism/marketing/phony pop-up ventures that only serve to stereotype destinations and overcharge unknowing visitors.

As much as I'd like to see the world, it's also important to see your own country.  I'm really glad I got to experience Maine...next on the U.S. tour list for me should be Arizona, California and all those other states that look the same in the middle.  Kiddinggg.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Strangers

The Strangers = hard not to pee your pants, must squint and barely open one eye to watch, afraid to be home alone for the next week, sleep with the lights and TV on, scary.

I  actually saw The Strangers opening weekend, on June 2nd, but I have been mentally dealing with it since and unable to write until now, haha.

The plot is simple enough.  A couple (well played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) retreats back to the family's house in the woods after a fight only to be terrorized and brutally tortured by a group of masked strangers that takeover their house.  

I think the horror actually lies in the simplicity.  This could happen.  There were no elaborate special effects, and the movie didn't have much dialogue.  But, the fact remains that these two were victims from the start.

The movie sets it up for you and shows the ending first.  The audience knowsss the outcome, making it that much more difficult to watch the movie play out.  The masked strangers play a senseless and sadistic game of cat and mouse, and caught off guard in the middle of nowhere, the couple is literally helpless.

The silly and superficial reason it scared me so much?  

Those freaking masks!!!  The blank faces of a potato sack mask, a dollface, and a pin-up girl will haunt your dreams, no kidding. And if this movie really does well in its theater run, I'll bet money that the potato sack mask will be a popular lazy Halloween costume for the next few years (I mean the Scream mask was hot for a good 5 years.  Hell I even saw people last year still rocking it.).

The deeper, philosophical (yes, I really did use the word, "philosophical" for a horror movie review) reason it scared me so much?

This was just one more indication that if people are really twisted enough in the head, it's really simple to plan an act and victimize people.  It happened in the school shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech.  It happened on 9/11.  It happens everyday when people plot and break into people's homes and places of business.  Scary.  That is why I couldn't go home alone after the movie and had to sit with my friend and watch hours of SATC to eradicate bad thoughts floating through my head.

This movie did its job.  It scared the living daylights out of me.  I'd even venture to say that this was the best horror movie I've seen in a long time.

I always know I've found a good movie if I'm still pondering it days afterward... The Strangers was on my mind for about a week.  I've heard that the movie was inspired in part by the Charles Manson murders...another creepy twist.  

Anyone know anything about how the Manson murders connect to the story?  The CSI, Criminal Minds, and SVU-lover in me would love to hear.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Traditions Pub

Traditions, where everybody knows your name.

I'm actually surprised I haven't written about this place yet.  Traditions is the most well-known St. John's college bar, and as you might expect, I spent the majority of my formative college years there.  But, this bar is more than a typical college bar to me.

To me, this bar means family.  

Shadows of my past - of who I was when I arrived at school from Pittsburgh to who I have become now - lurk in every corner of Traditions.  I grew up there.  Ohhhh if those walls could talk. 

During drunken silly nights, we made fools of ourselves in that bar and somehow still liked one another enough (hungover) the next day to become friends for a lifetime.

On that crowded upstairs dance floor, I first kissed the boy that would become my boyfriend for the next 4 years.  Granted, it may have been a drunken mini make-out session (overshare?  I mean you know it happens all the time), but it never-the-less began a relationship that changed my life.

My junior year of college I began bartending at Traditions to afford my off-campus apartment, and the bar become even more like my second home.  The manager, Raj took myself and my friends under his wing, so to speak, and made sure that every weekend we had the sloppy, foolish, college "time of our lives."  And it was.

See, this place is more than your average bar.  Raj just may be the best host I've ever met, and no matter whether you're a college kid or a regular from the neighborhood, you'll get to know him, the owner PJ and our crew of bartenders.

Birthday parties, dart leagues, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas parties (aka Raj-mas!), graduation parties - we do it all for our patrons.  Loyalty is sort of what keeps this place alive.

Stop by sometime and check us out.  We're a friendly bunch... except on those packed weekends during the college school year.  Then we might just throw you a drink and move it along.  Hey, I never said we were perfect.  If it's busy, you're on your own to find friends. ;)

In summation, who needs Cheers when you can have Traditions?

Traditions Pub
84-28 164th St.
Jamaica, NY 11432
718-297-3516


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Austin's Steak and Ale House


Sometimes, you need a good steak.  And sometimes your local Outback just won't cut it.

Now that's not to trash Outback-- I'm a big fan.  It's that when your mouth is watering for meattt, you're not always in the mood for the long lines, standard menus and cheesy waiter lines that come with the territory of a popular chain steakhouse.

In those situations, it's good to have a local steakhouse, and I've found mine.

Austin's Steak and Ale House, located in Kew Gardens on well-known Austin Street has a tasty menu that covers all ground on America fare: seafood, salads, soups, poultry, pastas, burgers, and of course steak (and lots of it).

In addition, their nightly specials add an extra twist of flair to the menu, and the Filet Mignon and Jumbo Scrimp special I had was delish.  As was my friend's Horseradish-crusted Salmon special that I was lucky enough to acquire the leftovers of.

The decor is classic and tasteful -- it feels very homey in a good way.  Good time, good friends, good steak.  No big complaints here.

PROS:
- near the Long Island Railroad station
- nice menu variation
- good specials
- extensive beer menu and drink list

CONS:
- mediocre waiter (he may have been new...hopefully)
- a surcharge or 2 that didn't make sense
- not all beers listed on the menu were available

Next time the wait at Outback is 45 minutes even with your "call ahead," try Austin Steak and Ale House for a nice and juicy steak.

Austin Steak and Ale House
82-70 Austin St.
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
718-849-3939

Austin's Steak & Ale House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Burnt and Burnt Out...Long Beach

Summer is officially here.  Whew, I'm beat.  I took a beating from the sun and got very little sleep this weekend in Long Beach, Long Island and I loved every minute of it.

Long Beach is a fun little beach town in Nassau County of Long Island just about a 20 minute drive (or LIRR trip) from my area of Queens.  It's a cute little town that's nothing like the city...yet it's still just a short commute, and the people there (young and old) love a good time.

Two examples:

1. One night we headed out to Saloon, and were drinking within a mixed crowd of folks in their mid-twenties and some in their mid-fifties.  I'll admit, as part of the mid-twenties grouping, those fifty-something party animals provided a dose of humor for the night, but hey, when I'm around that age, I still want to have places to go out with my friends and have a good time!

2. As we walked back to our car after a weekend of sun and a little too much fun, an old couple sitting on their porch laughed at us and asked if we had a good night last night. What kind of old folks say that?? haha

There's an active boardwalk full of bikers, joggers and walkers, plenty of little coffee shops and restaurants, and even a town parade on Memorial Day.  On the other hand, there's a long strip of bars made for bar-hopping and, this is key, they are all within walking distance from the houses... perfection in my book!

Summer is a celebration in Long Beach, as it should be.  There were constant barbeques to attend, the beach was always lively (but not too packed), and the West End where I stayed had a college-anything goes-laid back vibe.  The houses in the West End are typically small bungalows stacked close together and parking can be difficult, but the bonus lies in their community feel and close proximity to the beach.  Everyone sits out on their porches and chats with neighbors on nice afternoons, and the beach is literally only a block or 2 blocks away.

Things to note when heading to Long Beach:

- You will need to get a  beach pass from a kiosk on the boardwalk to head to the beach for the day (or bum one from a resident in the area with a summer-long beach pass).

- Parking can be tight on the West End near the "state streets" (Indiana Ave., Louisiana St., etc.).

- Breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is cheap and good at the West End Coffee Shop at W. Beech and Georgia Ave.  On busy weekends, expect a bit of a crowd in this cute small town diner.
 
516-432-7147
1042 W. Beech St.
Long Beach, NY 11561

- Bring your volleyball!  Lots of people set up nets on the beach and love joiners interested in a game.

- Saloon at Indiana Ave. and W. Beech St. is a fun bar with a mixed crowd of young and old.  They often times have live music or karaoke.  
 
516-432-9185
1016 W. Beech St.
Long Beach, NY 11561

-Ever wished you could do the Pleasantville-small town stereotype of riding a dainty bike with a basket and a bell?  Now's your chance.  The boardwalk is long and the small alley streets are free from traffic making Long Beach a biker's paradise.

- Minnesota's Restaurant & Tavern at Minnesota Ave. and W. Beech St. is known to have the youngest crowd in Long Beach.  I found it to be a really good time (but then again, I'm only 23!).  
959 W. Beech St.
Long Beach, NY 11561

I've only been to Long Beach three times, but I hope to go a lot more this summer.  Anyone else have other places to recommend in the area?  

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mr. West lands at the Garden


Kanye West. Rihanna. N.E.R.D. Lupe Fiasco. MSG. Stunna' shades. Glow in the Dark.

Yes, I was there, and it was A-MAZ-ING.  Jealous?  You should be.

Last night, on May 13, 2008, Kanye West's much anticipated Glow in the Dark Tour took over midtown.  By 6:30pm, the bars surrounding Penn Station were crammed with eager concert-goers sporting "Stronger" glasses and neon clothing.  By 8:30, they had packed out every tier of Madison Square Garden and were jumping to the sounds of N.E.R.D.

The concert lasted a little over 4 hours, but the flow of the concert was so fast paced, time flew. Arriving close to 8:30pm, I was amazed to realize I had already missed Lupe Fiasco.  All I'm going to say is...I really like Lupe and was not very happy to learn I had missed his performance.  

Turns out, in his true diva-like fashion, the 3 headlining acts were only to perform 1/2 hour sets to leave more time for Kanye.  And, you know what?  That's fine with me. Kanye, you are an amazing performer, you put on a great show, and I love you for all your "modest" ways, haha.

N.E.R.D. really got the crowd pumped up...I loved the designated "rockers" on stage, and Pharell busted out some fun dance moves (kind of like a cool Carlton dance).  They played their current single, "Everybody Nose" and older hit, "She Wants to Move" among others.

Rihanna had a great set.   The stage had jagged neon-lighted levels, and she first appeared in a black dress with a tulle skirt large enough to comfortably house multiple people.  She eventually rid of the heavy skirt and donned skin tight black leather leggings with a Madonna-esque (Read: cone boobs) red patent leather jacket.  I gotta hand it to her-- I would not look good in that.  Every song she played was great, although a friend pointed out that she did not sing "Shut Up and Drive."  I guess you can't fit 'em all in when you're only on stage for about a 1/2 hour.  Chris Brown also made an guest appearance for the "Cinderella" remix of "Umbrella."  All together now, 1, 2, 3 awwwwww.

Kanye was a-maz-ing, as previously stated.  His nearly 2 hour, uninterrupted set was a rock opera (or rap opera?) of sorts.  The plot: His space ship crashed landed on a planet with no creativity. Oh no!  As the set went on, he kept chatting with his robot spaceship, Jane and attempted to sing more and more powerful songs to bring creativity and boost the power of the spaceship to get back to Earth.  He opened with "Good Morning," worked through songs from all 3 albums and closed with "Homecoming."

Here's my sum-up.

Disappointments: 

- Missing Lupe.

- Not playing "The Glory."  I don't know if anyone else likes this song, but it's my fav from the new album.  I was really hoping he'd play it...it's my ringtone and all!

- I didn't glow.  The concert was called the "Glow in the Dark Tour."  We all wore bright and white clothes, and bought the white stunna' shades at the concert so we could glow properly.  I expected black lights or something all through the Garden, or something to that effect.  So, tell me Mr. West, why didn't we glow? 

My fav moments:

- "Hey Mama."  This song was a wonderful song before the tragic death of his mother earlier this year, and obviously now it means that much more to him.  Great song, great voice, just beautiful.

- "Jesus Walks."  Always been a favorite song of mine...it's just such a powerful and awesome-sounding chant.  It was very cool hearing it live.  It merited the obligatory phone call held out toward the stage to my brother who was (not very happy) sitting at home in Pittsburgh.

- "Stronger."  Obvi.

- "Gold-digger."  Almost 2 and 1/2 years later, this song is still so much fun.  I loves me some hilarious gold-digging bitches!

Sooo glad I was there.  This was a concert not to be missed.  Want more details on what you missed?  Check out this article on Billboard.com.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

One Year Later

Over this weekend one year ago, I was graduating college.  (Cue in major bout of depression)

So what has changed?  Well, just about everything.  A lot of my friends have moved back home and I've fallen into the routine rut of the working world, but I have real money and I don't need to "study" anymore.

Congratulations to the class of 2008.  I know in some ways, you can't wait to get out of school, and it feels good to be done with classes and papers and lectures, but trust me, appreciate every last second of college life.  Over this next year, I promise you will wish on multiple occasions that you could run back to the dorms and do it all over again.

Here are my thoughts on what to expect during the next year:

Things can still be fun, but they will never be the same.

Whether you stay in the area of your school, or move back to your hometown or elsewhere, you will not see your friends near as often...even if you live only a few blocks away.  That said, when you do get together, it is just like old times (in a good way).

Even the slacker friends that barely rolled out of bed to get to class will find a job and clean up their act (on the weekdays at least!)  It's amazing what a suit does.

You will compare every major celebration to how it was the last 4 years...and 9 times out of 10, it will not live up to how it was then.

You will suffer through applications (if you're going to grad school), or resumes and the dreaded job search that everyone warned you about, and it will be more time-consuming than you ever thought possible.  But, eventually, if you keep working at it, you will succeed.  I promise.  

You will live for the weekend.  In college, you lived for the weekend, too...but really, if you wanted to go out on a Wednesday and skip class the next day, you could.  Now you will live for the weekend so you can sleep in...also so you can go out to the bars, but c'mon, I don't think that will change for awhile.

You will slowly stop wanting to go to the cheap college bar you lived at 4 nights a week, and desire to go to new and cooler places.  You will also realize it is possible to go out with less than 10 people, and that the world will not end if you stay in on a Saturday night.

You will have real money!  It will not be near as much as you dreamed your starting salary would be when you were in school, but hey, it's something.  Please don't blow it all.  It's hard, trustttt me, but save part of every paycheck.  (This only applies to those of you looking for a job. If you're going to grad school, sorry.  You'll still be poor.  That's what you get for still semi-living the college life.)

You will probably have a mini life crisis.  RE: What am I doing with my life??  Why did I major in that?  How do I find a job?  Where did my fun life go??  Someone tell me what to do please!  Take it one day at a time, and life will unravel in front of your eyes.  You don't need to know everything at age 22.  Live and enjoy being young. You will make mistakes, but you have plenty of time to make up for them.  We're young; that's what we're supposed to do.  

I hope I've imparted a little wisdom.  It's definitely an adjustment to leave the safe and simple community of college, but you will make it in the real world.  Sometimes, you miss the good old days, but keep in mind that there are still plenty of good memories to make.  Life is what you make of it; enjoy your days.



Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Little Love for Queens

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Sometimes, you do things that make you appreciate where you are, and remember why you choose to live there.  

This weekend I visited Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the annual Cinco de Mayo festival.  Flushing Meadows is the largest park in Queens, and 1.5 times the size of Central Park.  The park is well known due to its proximity to Shea Stadium and the World Tennis Center as well as its famous structures: the Unisphere that stands as a symbol of Queens and the ancient towers leftover from the World's Fair that we all know as an "alien launch pad" in Men In Black. 

Ironically enough, this park is right in my backyard...about a 10 minute drive away (yes I drive, one of the perks of being in the outer boroughs!), yet I had never been there until yesterday.

The Cinco fest was so much fun!  It was a beautiful day, a beautiful park, and so many families were out.  Little kids were whizzing by on skateboards and bikes, men were playing cricket and soccer, and even some pot-bellied old Mexicans were getting in on volleyball games.  Spanish was definitely the first language for most of the people around us.

As we got nearer to the actual festival, foreign ballads lofted over from the concert stage, and the food stands came into view.  Yummmm.  We sampled as much as possible -- arepas (sweet cornmeal pancakes filled with mozzarella), chicken empanadas (one of my favorite Spanish foods) and tamales (steam cooked corn dough stuffed with peppers wrapped in corn husks). We tried on sombreros and pretended to fit in, and it was a grand ol' time.

It's times like this that make me really step back and appreciate the borough I've made my home in.  Queens is the most diverse community in the country.  That's something to be proud of.  Living in a place like this, there is such a great opportunity to try and appreciate, if not understand, the cultures surrounding you.

A smattering of the cultures in the borough I call home:  

Chinese - Flushing, Queens is a miniature version of Chinatown in Manhattan.  When traveling down Main Street, the signs suddenly change to Chinese characters only...kind of difficult when trying to find a particular restaurant.  I tried a "hot pot" meal for the first time in Flushing a few months ago, and it was so interesting.  You order everything raw...chicken, shrimp, beef, blood (eeek, who knew people wanted to eat that?!).  It comes to the table in heaping plates, and you sit around the table and cook your food over a communal "hot pot" of sauce. Personal party rooms hooked up with karoke add to the vibe. 

Hot Pot City
40-33 Main St.
Flushing, NY 11354
718-886-3266

Disciples of Sri Chinmoy - A large group of around 300 devout European followers of Bengali guru Sri Chinmoy call my neck of Jamaica home.  They shun drinking and honor extreme athletics and discipline for the guru, once called by the Wall Street Journal, "the stunt man of the spiritual world."  Each year, the disciples run the longest foot race in the world.  Called the Self-Transcendence Race, each participant runs 3,100 miles...long enough to cross the country and then some...yet the race course is a single city block.  They loop around my neighborhood from 6am to midnight everyday for nearly 2 months, logging at least 57 miles per day in a goal to move beyond themselves and do the near impossible through meditation.  Amazing to see.

loop around Thomas A. Edison Vocational Technical High School
165-65 84th Ave.
Jamaica, NY 11432
June 15- August 5, 2008

Japanese - I had never eaten sushi until college.  I had never eaten Thai food before college either.  Kyoto has both, and their lunch special can't be beat.  The intimate seating and decor are very calming and zen, and I can always find something unique and tasty to try here, no matter what kind of appetite I have.

Kyoto
153-11 Union Turnpike
Flushing, NY 11367
718-380-7777

Jewish - Jamaica Estates and Fresh Meadows both have large communities of Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish families.  In fact, the Jewish community center near my apartment was supposedly featured once on The Nanny.  You know..."the flashy girl from Flushing, the Nanny named Fran..."  The neighborhoods in J.E. and F.M. are immaculate.  It's quiet, the streets are tree-lined, and everyone goes for strolls.  I love walking through the neighborhoods and checking out the beautiful old homes.  Cunningham Park, a large park in the area, is my fav for summer jogs, picnics, frisbee and having catches.

Cunningham Park
Union Turnpike near the intersection of Francis Lewis Blvd.
Fresh Meadows, NY 11366

Czech - The last remaining original beer garden of the city is located in Astoria.  Called the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, this beer lover's paradise is a piece of NYC history.  Try out the thick and delicious Eastern European brews, and try the Czech food specialities.  The beer garden is the place to be all summer...get there early or don't expect a seat in the large picnic-table filled outdoor oasis.

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
29-19 24th Ave.
Astoria, NY 11102
718-274-9278

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Baby's First Expensive Bag

I did it.  I bought my first expensive bag. (thank you New York tax return!)

It's a Kooba Lola, and it's beautiful.  

I've always been very interested in fashion, but never really able to afford (or bring myself to pay the incredible sums) for the brands I like, especially when it comes to handbags.  But, after a year of debating and mulling over brands and styles, I finally decided to buy a Kooba.

Maybe for some, Kooba bags are inexpensive, but for the Pittsburgh native, just of of college, underpaid career woman that I am, they are pricey, and definitely not an everyday purchase.

I consider Kooba an in-between luxury brand: more expensive than Coach, yet less expensive than say, Chloe (dream brand that I hope someday to afford...ahhh wishful thinking).  And, to tell you the truth, I'm not always about the labels; I don't really like Coach handbags.  They seem too prim and proper for me.  Kooba's bags, on the other hand, are slouchy, soft leather with excellent detailing,  and just my style. 

I may be hooked now.  I sort of want another Kooba bag...the Harper.  Hmm....maybe if I get this supposed tax rebate, I'll go for it.  This could get dangerous. 

I'm debuting the Lola tomorrow, and I'm pumped.  During my commute, my F train neighbors will be so jealous of me nodding off clutching my beautious cream tote.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll feel like a true, respectable and fashionable New Yorker as I strut to work in Soho.