Friday, June 20, 2008

Too Many Sweets

For the last few weeks, as I've mentioned a few times, I've been trying to use up my ticket restos because they are piling up. I have taken to using them during the week now for lunches and dinners at restos I would otherwise not have gone to because of their price. I even went and splurged on a bunch of food at McDonald's one day all in the name of using up the value of the ticket. However, now I have to use up the food I have at home and cook more again because I will be moving in a week to an apartment that does not have much of the basics, i.e. it does not have a microwave or a working freezer and the fridge that will be shared for 2 is the same size as my current fridge.

Thus, today for lunch, I decided to use my ticket resto at a pâtisserie, a place that sell croissants, tiramisu and all kinds of pastry, in order to buy pastry I would normally not spend my money on. The thing is that while I find the price of pastry here expensive, like at McDonald's, when one has a 8,20Euro ticket resto then it becomes very difficult to use up all the value of the ticket. This particular patisserie that I went to does not believe in giving back the change from ticket restos so I had to find enough pastry to buy. I wanted to buy the unusual (for me) ones so I ignored the easily identifiable croissants and sandwiches and went for the selection shown in the first photo on this page.

My goal was to eat at least two of them. I decided to start off with the white circular one. After two bites, my appetite for eating it was completely gone. See the pic to know how far I got before I felt like I'd had enough. In my excitement to buy nice-looking pastry from a real french pâtisserie, I did not take into consideration that I really do not like sweets or sweet things in general. Case in point: I brought two little boxes of Belgian chocolate with me from Canada. Each box contained 3 little worm-shapeed pieces of Belgian chocolate. Almost 5 months after I arrived in Paris, I still have one box left to eat. Case number two, about a month ago, my boss gave me a nicely wrapped box of chocolates from a well-known french chocolatier (do I need to explain that one) for helping out on a project. I haven't even tried to open the box yet.

Yet I somehow conveniently forgot that I am not the greatest fan of sweets or maybe I just hoped that I would like it when I decided to choose the sweetest pastry to try. I ended up having to force myself to eat the whole thing. Then I felt sick afterwards. The whole time I was forcing it down, I was thinking that I wish I could switch places and give my sisters these sickenly (at least for me) sweet lovely looking pastries because they LOVE sweet things and I'm sure they would love what I had to force down. So now I have 3 more of these to suffer through and eat before the end of the week or before they spoil.

Ah least they will be in a pretty box!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Fight To Stay Awake After Lunch

Is it just I the only one who finds that around the one hour mark after eating lunch at a restaurant sleep-itis takes over my body so suddenly that it's like someone slapped me into that state? Of course, I am talking about this happening on weekdays when I have to go back to work after eating said lunch. I find that, since being in Paris, this ALWAYS happen when I eat at a restaurant for lunch. I don't know if it's because the restaurant I usually eat at gives a huge 3-course meal. That may have something to do with it. All I know is that every day I have eaten out for the last two weeks, an hour after getting back from lunch, like clockwork, I would get sleepy at around 3pm and would get barely any work done until 4pm. During this one hour torture, I would struggle and nod off and go to the bathroom every 15 minutes (seemed like eternity) to steal a 2 minute shut-eye in one of the bathroom stalls.

The last time I had this problem of falling asleep after lunch was last summer when I had my most interesting job yet, doing what I would like to be doing when I start working 'for real' - programming. The work that I was doing was great and extremely interesting and allowed me lots of independence on how to implement the program I was developing. However, sitting in a cubicle all day with minimal interaction used to bring on the snooze. Now, I am here in Paris, working at a job that is just a filler job to earn some money while I am here but it actually looks good on my resume as it is related to my field and it can be very interesting as well. Again, I find the sleepiness taking hold so now I am worried about when I start to work for real. How on earth will I survive just sitting and coding all day, not interacting much with other people in a real office? I know I can code all day, but not without taking breaks or chatting every now and again (I think this goes back to my ADD post earlier).

You know what else the sleepy state reminds me of? Those times in church where as soon as the pastor starts preaching you get hit with the sleepy slap and spend the entire pastor's sermon fighting sleep, knowing you look funnier trying to control your bobbing head and jerking awake every few minutes than if you had just stopped trying and bent your head like you were praying and gone to sleep. That reminds me of my father who has no shame when it comes to sleeping in church. He still does it now but the worst was when we were in Jamaica.

When we were in Jamaica, my aunt and mother were correct in describing my father's weekly sleeping position in church by saying he was like Jesus on the cross. This is because he would have both his arms stretched along the pew. One hand would be behind my mother but the other one was sometimes behind other people. He had no qualms about putting his hands behind other people. He usually asked them if it was ok and being in church they never said no. His feet would be crossed and stretched out in the pew so that no one could pass without having to either do an awkward climb over his feet or hit him to wake him up. Then there were the times he would start snoring. When I was thirteen and this was a regular occurrence, I used to think I was going to die from embarassment!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Free MP3?

My sister just told me about this site where if I qualify I might get a new mp3 player. Man, I would so qualify for this and I heard it is for the Microsoft Zune, which I would much prefer over the extremely overpriced iPod. I remember I actually was considering getting one over the Christmas break although it wasn't yet available in Canada. However, I bought a laptop and had spent a bunch of money preparing for my trip to France so I didn't have the extra money. However, now that the opportunity has arisen, I find myself once again looking at the specs...Hmm....C'mon C'mon C'

Friday, June 6, 2008

ADD much?

I often wonder if I have Attention Deficit Disorder when I am searching the web. I can spend hours on it switching between topics faster than the time it takes a few songs to play. This means that at the end of my surf time my brain feels overloaded with all the things I just read or researched. Take today for instance, I came online to answer emails related to looking for an apartment. I put up posts on some of the appartment/roommate hunting sites for Paris yesterday and already got quite a few responses and I was planning to go through what seemed like 10 emails with offers.

Anyways, after replying to one email, I went looking on a bunch of apartment-hunting websites for Paris, which always makes me wish apartments were as cheap as they are in Toronto (which really isn't very cheap but just cheaper than Europe). Then I started thinking how summer in Toronto is great with many events and I remembered that I was interested in selling T-shirts for Caribana so I started looking up T-shirt sites. Then I thought about giving some of the money earned to charity so I spent some time looking up caribbean charities (very difficult to find one that was in many countries), then I looked up charities in general. This took me back to looking up volunteer programs in South America, then back again to reading up on volunteering in the Caribbean.

Now thinking about Jamaica, I went to a site to catch up on Jamaican news and was reading an expats comments about living in JA and finding employment in JA. This reminded me that I need to look for a job for when I get back to Toronto soon so I took a detour to the job sites in Toronto and the U.S, checking out what was available. By this time, a few hours had passed and I thought to go back to my email to continue responding to people offering their apartments but I saw I received an email from Grinnell (the college I attended in the States) and one item they highlighted was this one. It reminded me a little of the isolation one can feel at Grinnell, great school that it was, and were it not for friends in similar situations, it could be unbearable at times. Then I realized that I have only eaten once today, a huge meal at a Portuguese restaurant. I am going out later so I should eat and I recently resolved to eat out more often, even if by myself, because my ticket restos are piling up. There are only so many restos one can visit in one weekend. I have around 25 left and I will be getting another batch at the end of the month. So I am now on an internet quest looking for cool restos in my area where I can get a nice healthy-size meal before coming back home tonight and preparing to go out.

At the end of these marathon web-surfing sessions. I feel like coming up with an expression for my surfing similar to the ''jack of all trades, master of none'' because at the end I always feel like I accomplished nothing. Hell, I KNOW I accomplished nothing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Twenty-five years and counting

Last Thursday I went to Porto, Portugal (also called Oporto) to celebrate my quarter-century of living on this earth. I went to Portugal as a couchsurfer. It was the first time I tried Couchsurfing and it was a great experience. For those of you who don't know about couchsurfing, let me sum it up for you.

The idea of couchsurfing was born from people who wanted to travel the world cheaply but also wanted to get to know people from the cities they were visiting so that they would get a better feel of the cities, instead of just what they would find out from doing the touristy activities. The concept is simple. Many people have a spare couch in their apartment, dorm room or house that they could offer for one or a few nights to someone to sleep on. On the couchsurfing site, there are hosts who offer their couches for free to visitors (called couchsurfers) to their city. The couchsurfers get free accommodation and the chance to find out about a city and/or country from a local resident. In return the hosts meet interesting people and learn about other cultures/countries without having to leave their city. Of course, the site works because most members are both hosts and couchsurfers. Usually couchsurfers are hosts when they are in their own cities or living in another city for an extended period. Thus, everyone on the site is called a couchsurfer.

I had heard about couchsurfing when it first started in the States and I thought it was a great idea in theory. I kinda forgot about it until I came to Europe and knew I was going to be travelling around. That's when I remembered the site so I signed up and decided to try it out. I found cheap plane tickets to Porto, Portugal one day while looking for cheap flights. I had never heard of the city before but a quick google search brought interesting results so I decided to try going there. I went to the couchsurfing site and couchsurfed for a host from 25 - 30 years old. I sent a couple emails off and, surprisingly, quickly got a positive response. Thus, I bought my plane ticket.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal of trust involved in couchsurfing on both sides, especially when the couchsurfer is a woman, as in my case. As a couchsurfer you are taking a risk by going to stay in a stranger's home, having never met the person before. In addition, the host can easily decide at any point to not host you. If you did not make any other plans you would be stuck in a strange city with no place to stay. As a host, you also take a great risk inviting a stranger to your home. Hosts often leave couchsurfers in their home and some, like mine, even give their couchsurfers an extra key - a great risk. Hence, it is no surprise that when I told my parents about my plans they were vehemently against me going. In fact, a couple days before I went, they were both on the phone chiding me and telling me to cancel my ticket but I was determined to go. I'm glad I did! I had a great time! Also, in my short time in Porto I met many couchsurfers (male and female) who had couchsurfed or hosted and had never had any major problems.

Before I even got to Porto, I knew my host was great because he told me he would call me and come meet me at the metro after he finished work. I arrived in the morning but walked around and then went back to the metro station in the evening. When my host called, he wished me Happy BDay, sweet of him to remember, and then took me to a great restaurant where I had arroz con bacalhao (rice and saltfish/codfish), another rice, bean and seafood dish, crab/saltfish cakes and some other great food. On our walk to the resto he took me along a route that the locals take, with a lovely view of the Duoro river, and he explained the background to everything.

The food at the resto was excellent and cheap! Another benefit of going out with locals is that they know the cheap but good places. With regards to food, Portuguese people love their seafood. That was fine by me as I love seafood. In my entire time since I left Canada I ate no fish or seafood (except that time I mentioned when I had shrimp appetizers). However, while in Portugal, I had seafood at least once per day and it was all good.

My gracious host had a very big and very nice apartment right in the centre of the city so I didn't need the 3-day metro pass I had bought as a precaution just in case what he said about being in centre wasn't exactly correct. After being in Paris, the city of 8 metres square rooms, anything would look big but his apartment was truly big for just one person. Plus, it had a big balcony! And it was nice. And it was very well decorated. I think this was because he is an architect. Also, it was clean! A guy having a clean apartment was something to be celebrated in my books. Porto is a seaside city. I think because of this many of the houses that were by the beach remind me of Jamaica. They were nice and bright and didn't have carpets inside! The streets in the beach area also seemed more like Jamaica, wide but flanked by palm trees at times and sand and dirt, not just concrete like in Toronto or even Paris. In the houses and apartments it was nice seeing concrete floors again and not thinking I was gonna freeze to death.

Besides the sea area, there was the mainly older historic area to Porto. It including where I was staying. I found out that the city centre was declared a World Heritage Site. Every street there was cobbled and most of them extremely narrow. Oh and the hills. Let me not forget the hills. It reminded me of Montreal but much much worse with the great number of hills everywhere.

Good exercise though. After the first day walking around, my legs were sore. After the second day, they hurt a little and my last day there, I had no pain. Hmm, but I digress. I was talking about my first night in the city...

After the resto, my host took me to a bar where the young people and students hang out, so that I could meet and hang out with some of his friends and get introduced to the night life. They bought me a little cupcake (only type of cake selling at the bar), with a little candle and their famous little bottle of sweet wine called Moscatel de Favaios. Then they all sang Happy Birthday to me in Portuguese.

The wine at the bar was only 0.80 cents Euros a bottle and a cup of beer 1.00 Euro but, being cool Europeans, no one over drank. It was nice just sitting, drinking and talking. It had been raining when I got there earlier in the day and was still kinda chilly so everyone was apologizing for the unusually bad weather. Afterwards, at around midnight they invited me to a concert. I knew that my host had work the next day, plus I had not slept the night before, thanks to procrastinating as usual and doing last-minute packing. Thus, I told them I would pass. My host and I walked home with him telling me more about the city. From that night alone, I learned many Portuguese words. My birthday night ended with me being very happy and thanking God that I enjoyed myself.

The rest of my visit included doing sightseeing by day then hanging with my host and his friends at night on Friday, going home very late. Thankfully Friday and Saturday, while still too cool to go swimming at the beach, were sunny. Saturday was full of activities, guided tour from my host, going out, meeting people, café stop by the sea and two birthday parties (one with only Portuguese and the other with a mix of Portuguese and international). At both parties and in general, I was welcomed like an old friend. Everyone in Porto is very friendly. Maybe it's because I had my own personal and local tour guide. I heard lots of portuguese but most people knew english so we could converse. Anyways, we didn't get home until 4:30am and then talked for an hour before going to sleep for 2 hrs as I had to get to the airport the next day. He even woke up with me and walked me to the train station although I told him he did not have to. Needless to say, I think my host was awesome. He had a very active social life and was exactly what I wanted in a host - someone who could show me the city as they live it. I think if people came to visit me in Paris, or even worse, in Toronto, I would not have even half as many fun activities for them (besides sightseeing).

Other noteworthy things I remember from Porto besides the expected (beach visit, eating by the riviera, winery visit, walking the cobbled streets, etc) were visiting a cool concept mall with independent trendy art, furniture and fashion stores where they serve loads of champagne all over the mall and apparently do this every weekend, laughing at jokes made by drunk Portuguese speaking in half-portuguese half-english and when some got pretty drunk a smattering of french (bday party), drinking tea in a cool tea place, having a 3-language conversation with some guy who approached me. He spoke Portuguese and I was speaking to him in my very poor spanish. He was actually selling sunglasses. I bargained with him and got a nice pair for what I think were a good price but I'm the worst haggler so I don't really know. Anyways, from this exchange we ended up speaking for like half hour. With him speaking portuguese to me and I in spanish to him, we were fine and went on like this for a good 15 minutes. Then I learned he had a Senegali background so we switched to french. I LOVE EUROPE!