Thursday, 20 May 2010

Paris part three

I think I have come across three people in Cyprus that don’t speak English. While this makes it a lot easier for me, there is little motivation to learn Greek. Going to France, I was hoping to be able to stumble through my high school French to get around. One morning, Mom and I went to a cafĂ©. She ordered her coffee and I attempted to order a hot chocolate. Proudly, I ordered a “froid chocolat”. When I got chocolate milk, I remembered that “froid” is cold and realized why the waiter gave me a confused look at my request. I doubt he gave anyone older than 12 a “froid chocolat”! If I remember one thing besides, “bonjour,” I will remember that “chaud” is actually hot and “froid” is cold.
Besides going to the monuments, we couldn’t leave Paris without going shopping. I was barely properly dressed to window shop at many of the stores. I did manage to find an Audrey Hepburn outfit though! It’s a black dress with a belt. Now I just need big sunglasses!
In Europe I have observed many fashion trends that I am hoping don’t come in style in the states. I am saying this now, but I am guessing, a year from now, I will be wearing the things that I am currently criticizing. One of the trends here are jeans that are the epiteme of mom jeans! They are super baggy at the top and crotch area and continue being bagging down the thigh. Then they suddenly suck in at the calves! I think the pants are confused whether they are skinny jeans or jeans from the 90’s. Not going to lie, I tried a pair on! I did not buy them though.
Going to the Louvre was on the top of my list for the trip. In my mind, I was picturing the Louvre, in the outskirts of Paris, surrounded by trees, squirrels, maybe a monkey –secluded from the city. It turns out that the Louvre was only a walk away from where we were staying. In the Louvre, Mom and I made goals of what we wanted to see. The Mona Lisa and Napoleon’s apartment were on the top of our list. The Mona Lisa was swarmed by a crowd of people. We still managed to take pictures with it. I heard that her eyes follow you, where ever you stand. Sure enough, they do! Right now, I am in the process of apartment searching. It was huge and decorated with elaborate paintings and chandeliers. Do you think I will be able to find an apartment like that in Lakewood under the budget of a college student? Probably not!
We also saw the Arc d’ Triomphe. It is in the center of a multiple lane roundabout. Seeing people at the monument, we could not figure out how to get over there and considered running through the heavy traffic. This idea did not last long! We figured our lives were more important. Eventually, we did make our way over by the tunnel underground (much more logical).
In the area of the Arc d’Triomphe is the Eiffel Tower. Being there, I genuinely felt like I was in Paris. If someone knows only one thing about Paris, it is usually the Eiffel Tower. As if the coffee shops, language, and other historical monuments were not enough, the Eiffel Tower completed the trip.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A short break from France to fit in Utopia

Beginning in 1516, the world was painted an image of an ideal society. It was a culture where people lived unanimously and in peace. There was no economic recession or unemployment. Dare I say… a socialist society that succeeded. This picture was constructed by Thomas More, author of the novel, Utopia. Although countries have tried, only More has been able to perfect this society.
After living in Cyprus for 5 months, I have realized that Cyprus is the closest to a Utopia that the world has to offer. There is a homeless population of 0%, crime is unheard of, and Cypriots are more than willing to invite others into their lives (female Cypriots can be a little more selective). There are also many different activities. This includes a city life, beaches, and mountains. Cyprus is a well-rounded country.
I am not claiming that Cyprus is perfect. My wallet has suffered since getting here from the high prices and Cypriots can be the loudest, most distracting people I have ever met. There is also the Greek/Turkish conflict. With this, my “utopian” idea is referring more to the Greek side. Overall, I am thankful that I came to a country that I don’t need to cover my purse with my arm everywhere I walk. I can even walk alone, knowing that I am safe. Being in Cyprus, provides me with hope of restoration.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Paris part two

In Paris, Mom and I stayed in the 5th arrondissement, which is renowned as the artistic and intellectual section of Paris (we figured this was the best place for us since we are such intellects!). The 5th arrondissement is along the Seine River. Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway completed works there. It turned out to be close to many historical sites. Arriving there, Mom and I walked around the area. Our first stop was the Notre Dame. For years I have studied the sites I have visited throughout this trip but each one brings the same feelings of shock. It takes me a second to realize I am not staring at a blow up picture from a history book but the real building, painting, or sculpture. It’s something I can touch and even smell. I’m hoping that this sensation never fades because I think that would mean that I don’t appreciate it as much.
What I have always remembered from the Notre Dame in the goblins that protect the cathedral. They distinguish it from any other cathedral. With this, I was more excited to see the outside of the building than the inside. Not only have they been hyped up from school but also the movie, “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Seeing them, I could imagine them flying from the building. The faces looked fierce and ready to pounce on any oncoming predator. After almost tripping on flower pots and the side walk from staring at the strong walls, combined with walking, Mom and I took our bundle of picture and moved on.
Following this, we walked further around the 5th arrondissement, where the UniversitĂ© la Sorbonne is located, along with the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens). If you love reading or walking in parks, the Luxembourg Gardens is ideal. Statues line the walkways of Gods, along with members of royalty. Ignoring all shame, I mimicked the statues, while Mom took pictures of me. I couldn’t get her to do it though! There is also a large fountain in the middle of the park with tanners lining the sides. I doubt Marie de Medicis, the widow of King Henry IV, figured that the Palace’s garden she built would be used for tanning centuries later!
After taking a tour of this monumental neighborhood, we went out to eat. I don’t know how Mom was still awake with the major time change that she was suffering through. There were many restaurants close to the hotel and we chose the one that looked the least touristy. I had smoked salmon fettuccini, along with amazing bread that was provided. We both finished all of our food and went back to the hotel where we fell asleep until the next morning.

Paris part one

So it's definitely been a long time since I have written in this (sorry about that). Combined with already getting easily distracted, studying abroad has intensified this procrastination. I suppose it may be a good sign. If I were on top of my blog, it may mean I had too much spare time. Throughout this experience, I have had anything but spare time and am glad for that. With that, I have a lot of catching up to do!
One plus to studying in a European country is that I am able to travel, fairly cheaply to other European countries. This provided me with the opportunity to travel outside of Cyprus. After studying French throughout high school, I knew I could not leave without visiting France. It was also the perfect opportunity to follow through with the years long, plans my mom and I had made to explore France together. After looking at my schedule, I decided that the professors would not miss me if I skipped class for a week. So I booked my flight, left school behind, and said “bonjour” to the country I had been missing for four years.
I flew to France with Kristi, my roommate. She was meeting friends there and then taking off to London, while I was with Mom. After stumbling our way through the airport, confused, Kristi and I got on the train. My first experience with Paris was their amazing public transportation system. It’s fast, efficient, and will take you anywhere in the city for only 1.30 Euros. While it was convenient, the train was incredibly confusing for an Alaskan who had stuck with cars, dog sleds, and snow mobiles. (Kidding about the dog sleds and snow mobiles). With all the stairs so switch trains, it was a maze. I was glad to have Kristi, a New Yorker, who had been doing this forever. I am a workout fanatic and would usually love taking all those stairs but not when I have a suitcase that reaches my waist, to carry around with me. Dragging my suitcase up one step at a time, I thought my arms were going to fall off. After reaching the top of the stair case, I had to go down steps to reach the other train. After being under ground for half an hour, we reached the other side of the city. It was ten at night and dark outside. Coming from underground, we see the Eiffel Tower lit up. It was the perfect introduction to Paris.
Kristi’s friend, Yasmin, met us at the exit from the train station. We walked down the brick path to her apartment, where I spent one night before meeting Mom. Since it was late when we got there, we decided to go out for dinner. What I have missed from America is their amazing food. Yes, this includes burgers, waffles, and milkshakes. So instead of getting crepes we went to “America in Paris,” where I got the biggest banana, chocolate chip pancakes since the creation of Denny’s. Thankfully, I was wearing leggings so there was no need to unbutton my jeans as I finished the last bite. After, we went immediately back to the apartment where I passed out for the night.
The next morning I said “bon voyage” to Kristi and her friends, to meet with Mom. Meeting her at the hotel lobby was like a breath of familiarity. I usually see her at spring break anyway, but being across the world makes time spent together seem more valuable. With this, I wanted to take advantage of every day.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Like Hallmark has made us all know, a few weeks ago was Valentines Day. In America, Valentines Day is celebrated February 14, with chocolate, flowers, and high expectations. While Hallmark has hit Cyprus, their Valentines Day is celebrated in a less romantic way. For Cypriots, Valentines Day is another excuse to party!
In Cyprus, it is tradition for them to have a carnival on Valentines Day. At their carnival, there are no cupids or heart shaped "Be Mine" candies. Instead, Carnival is a town-wide costume party. On this Sunday morning, we were bused down to Limassol, a beach town, to experience carnival. The main attraction is a parade which goes through the middle of town. Not only are there floats and dancers but the food at the stands in A-worthy.
After the parade we explored the beach town. I wore a tie dye wig in the spirit of things proudly! My costume did not compare to the cross-dressing guy wearing a pink skirt or the girl that was a replica of an avatar. Even so, at least I tried!
Miles from the parade, paper confetti trailed the street. I could not take a step down the sidewalk without it sticking to my shoes. It must have taken a dedicated cleaning crew to take care of that!
While Valentines day is celebrated across the world, Cypriots have taken this Hallmark holiday to a new dimension!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Adventures With Cab Drivers

In Cyprus, the main form of transportation is by car. I have yet to see anyone riding a bike and according to our program coordinator, Cypriots only walk when they need to get somewhere that is a short distance away. As the bus system is rough, I have been left to taking a cab most places. Despite the 9 euros to get to Old Town, the experience has had it's benefits.
As pathetic as this may sound, I have had some of my most helpful conversations with cab drivers. They teach me Greek (which I never remember) while telling me the hot spots of Cyprus. With one cab driver, Levkos, my roommate, Kristi and I have been welcomed into his personal life.
Last Sunday, Levkos brought Kristi and I to a Cypriot church. Arriving at church, we were greeted and asked if we needed anything. The people were sincere in making us feel comfortable. I received more kisses on the cheek than I have throughout my trip. It was not a surprise when we found out the service was in Greek. Thankfully they had a translator but it was through headphones. I felt like I belonged at an arcade with these receptive beasts sitting on my head. They were bigger than many of the Cypriots hair, which is hard to accomplish! Most of the service was worship. It seemed like this church came out of a movie of a baptist church. It was over the top, even in comparison to a young church that I go to in Colorado. Occasionally, a song would be in English and the Cypriots would rarely be following the words but they were always singing! When they got to the message, I do not think the speaker could keep up because he was always talking and their was a continuous "amen" that was nonsensical from the translator. Nonetheless, I think we got the gist of it!
Cab rides are no longer just ways of transportation but introductions to Greek culture. It makes me feel better to think of that 9 euros as an advancement towards my education! Does this mean I can stop going to classes?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Egypt part three

On Saturday night, our group spent the night in the desert. I figured, I had gone camping in Alaska in the rain, freezing multiple times so I should be fine. The Sahara desert provided a different experience.
The desert did not turn out to be the fine, tan sand that has been materialized by media. Instead, the Sahara has more landscapes than hair on a camels back. In driving to our camping spot, we made stops to take pictures and hike. The surroundings varied in the color and structure of the land. Driving directly back to town the next morning, I must have seen at least four dramatically different types of desert in a one hour time span. This ranged from black sand to "mushroom" desert. The mushroom desert is where we camped. White chalk covered the ground, making it appear snow-like and the rocks made me feel like a character from "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" in a garden scene. Their white character hovered over us, growing from the ground like mushrooms. With their abnormal shapes, I pictured them as clouds and found characters from their curves. It seemed that their unique qualities belonged on another planet.
Never before, have I seen the stars more vividly. A few of us, left the camp fire and stared at the stars. The Milky Way was a glittering wave across the sky. I have a new appreciation for the candy bar. It seemed that new stars were being burned. Stars filled spaces between others that I had never noticed. Spending the night in the desert, exposed me to nature I was not aware of before.
Sunday was our final day in Egypt. After much confusion, we made it back to the airport... but to the wrong terminal! Forty-five minutes before our plane was leaving, we realized we were in the wrong terminal and ran to find a shuttle. After finding a shuttle, we got off at the wrong terminal again! This was the most running I have done in a while! Now we were outside running. My duffel bag in hand, I swear it gained ten pounds. I had fun in Egypt but I did not feel like experiencing a night in their airport. Without a boarding pass, seeing the "boarding" sign flashing forced our jog to a sprint. Finally, we made it through security and forgot one of the most important things. Egypt works on middle-eastern time. And that can be slower than island time! I never thought I would be so thankful for untimeliness!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Egypt part two

Since childhood, I have read about the pyramids. School has built up stories of exotic structures that stand solitude from any civilization. In reality, the pyramids are built in the outskirts of Cairo. Some have the privilege to waking up to the Egypt's most famous history only within a few miles of their homes. With this, I pictured myself living in one of these Egyptian homes and every morning opening my blinds to history. Instead I have the Rocky mountains but have no complaints.
At the pyramids, I rode a camel. They are much bigger than I thought they would be! A tour guide rode next to us on a horse and we were hovering over her. My camels name was Moses. Ironically, we were in front. Moses is always leading people through the desert!
In Egypt, people are more fascinated with Americans than in Cyprus. I was asked to get my picture taken with multiple people. This included marriage proposals. One man offered to give me 10,000 Egyptian pounds to marry him. In USD, this is $1,800. To his dismay, I refused.
After the pyramids our group went on a dinner cruise on the Nile. Before the cruise, we were told there would be belly dancing but what we did not expect was a wedding reception. They were enthused to include us in the dancing. The mother was especially attracted to my roommate's, blond hair. She took pictures of our group. The dinner on the Nile was a cultural experience. I was able to interact with the methods of a Muslim wedding.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Egypt part one

I had few expectations for my trip to Egypt. My mind was in limbo over the extremes of Middle Eastern culture but the modernization through politics and even tourism. With this, I went to Egypt with an open mind.
Surprisingly, my biggest concern was flying with a big group of people. "What?" you ask... "How could that be your biggest concern?" Well, I am used to flying alone. I have developed routines and timing. Flying has become my control freak characteristic. Stressing about everyone else, it took me by surprise when I became the problem child. On our flight back to Egypt, I went to the bathroom. This may sound innocent, but apparently no one heard when I said I was going. After being with a large group of the same people for 4 days, I did not put in as much effort as I probably should have. With this, the group asked "where's Gillian?" for the rest of the night to tease me. I was glad to have my own row on the flight back.
The flight there was much more pleasant though. It was each of our first times in Egypt. In arriving, we had to buy a visa at the airport. It now remains the most flourished decor in my passport. We had no problems getting through and met transportation people that worked for the hostel outside of security. As part of our stay, they brought us to and from the airport. It was nice to be welcomed when arriving in a busy and unfamiliar, foreign country.
Driving in Cairo is out of control! There is no such thing as lanes. Two lane roads turn into three lane roads and there is no such thing as a speed limit. Our driver was going onto an on-ramp to a highway and apparently realized he was making a wrong turn. Among the traffic, he backed down the ramp. Other cars swerved around us. Nicosia has a very low crime rate but is high in traffic accidents. While I thought they were crazy, Cairo acts like a bulldozer over Nicosia's sand box. The only good thing is, Cairo drives on the same side of the roads as in the states.
Somehow we made it to the hostel. We were greeted my the owner, Abraham. He told us a plan for the weekend he made up for us and offered us tea. According to Abraham, we needed to talk before we drank the Egyptian tea because afterward we might not be able to understand him. Did this make me hesitant to drink the tea? Most definitely. Did I drink it anyway? Yes, I did. After waiting anxiously through every sip and surveying my body's tendencies, I finished the cup without any affects. The Egyptians are big-talkers.
In comparison to hostel standards, I think ours was up to par. The only controversial figure was the bathroom. The room was a giant shower, containing a toilet and sink. This would not have been a problem but the hostel had a horrible draining system. Throughout the trip, we walked in bath water from our stay. I did not walk in the room without shoes.
That night we walked around town. The heavy population was overwhelming. Children walked the street without parents. We were stared and pointed at. As we were unfamiliar with the area, our group only walked for a few blocks. In one night, I received more culture shock than my stay in Cyprus so far. Egypt is a country that involves a slow transition. Compared to America, there are few similarities.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Hello Reality!

Today was my first day of classes. While it has been fun running around, exploring, it will be nice to have a routine. My class tonight was photography and I think it will be an easy A. The professor's name is Nicholas Constantinou. Greeks do not make their names simple! My plan is to look at him and talk. Or maybe I can call him Dr. C. Is that okay past middle school?
He showed us how to focus SLR cameras today. Since not everyone brought one, people took turns using his. Thankfully, I have my own! So I got a chance to be creepy during class and take pictures of everyone. What they don't know won't kill them!
This weekend I will have an amazing opportunity to take pictures! I am going to Egypt with a group of students in the GLS program. We found the nicest eight dollar hostel we could find! I never expected to be able to just spend the weekend in Egypt!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Troodos Mountains

As an event for the GLS program, we went to the Troodos mountains. We were warned that it may be cold but as an Alaskan, I scoff at cold weather. This may have been a mistake in this circumstance.
We went to three different towns. The first two were each pouring rain to the point to when I found out there was a third, I considered staying in the bus. Even though the weather was miserable, Troodos introduced cultural traits of Cypriots that I had not experienced yet. Each town was very small and while there were signs of civilization, the towns were far from busy.
Cyprus is famous for their wine. In the first town, we went to a wine tasting. One of their most famous wines is called Comadaria. It is a thick, syrupy wine. Rather than wine, Comadaria reminded me of a heavy liquor. While it was good, I felt like I was swallowing a balloon.
Cypriots hospitality emphasized in these small towns. Walking through the third town, we came upon a mini supermarket. Pausing outside to take a picture, we were instantly welcomed by an elderly man. My roommate and I were not planning to go inside but he dragged us in. The supermarket was in shambles. It looked like it came out of a horror film but the man could not have been prouder. After taking a lap around the store, we were met by his wife. They questioned us of what we were doing in this small mountain town and we found out that their son studied in America. When we were about to leave, the wife gave us chocolate. Cypriots appreciate giving gifts and will do it often at markets and situations such as this, if one is friendly.
We also met one large language barrier on this trip. My roommate and I were walking through an alley when we were met by a woman who did not speak English. She motioned us to follow her and brought us to a church! Our first impression was that she had noticed the melted, black halo, dripping from our heads. Grabbing Lauren's hand, she led us into the church and showed us fabric. This is when we were really confused. Was she giving us something? After much deliberation, we found out that another GLS student had left the fabric at the church. This was my first struggle with a language barrier.
Each town was beautiful, while they were hidden behind clouds. It was as green as Alaska in the summer. We saw a butcher shop with sausage hanging outside and met a dog named Taz. It was the first dog I met that I could say "okie" to and it meant no! Flowers lined the roads, along with lemon and orange trees. These secluded towns are hidden treasures.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Cypriot Cuisine

Every Greek person I have met so far has spoken English. This may sound like a good thing but their accents are so deep that sometimes I can't decipher if they are speaking Greek or English. I have never asked "what?" more in my life! When I can't figure out what they are saying, I just smile and say yes. This is dangerous at restaurants but at least I am trying new things!
A few blocks from campus there is a gyro restaurant. Continuing to just nod when I don't understand, I ended up with a gyro filled with fries. Surprisingly, I had no complaints even though the fries were radioactive yellow.
Today, our global semester group went to a cooking class. The chef made raviole, stuffed with halloumi cheese, Keftedes (fried meatballs), and bread, sandwiched with more halloumi. Being American, one of the girls on the GLS program asked how fattening halloumi is compared to other cheeses. The chef answered with a story of a girl who came to him at the end of the semester a couple years ago. She had gained 25 pounds and didn't want to go home because she was a "whale"! haha. The chef asked what she had been eating all semester and she answered halloumi cheese! haha.
The food can't be that awful though because every Cypriot looks good! Leggings are a big deal in America but they are a huge deal in Europe! Girls wear shirts, leggings, with nothing covering their butts. And than they wear boots. I would feel super awkward. And living in a flash back when I was a child and only wore leggings all the time. But I do wear tights again so who knows!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

In the beginning...

This is my third day in Cyprus and it has definitely met expectations!
Yesterday we went on a tour of Nicosia. The city is over 5,000 years old. It is split between old city and new city by a Venetian wall. Much of it has been torn down when the Brits occupied Cyprus. Their goal was to develop the town and build roads. Our tour was on the old city side (undeveloped side).
The tour led us to the oldest church in Cyprus. The walls on the inside were decorated with wood carvings plated with gold. Super beautiful and easy to appreciate.
When we were walking out, the call of Allah was on a loudspeaker over Nicosia. Kind of ironic! Nicosia is a border for the Greek and Turkish. Even though we were on the Greek side, we could see the flag of Turkey. From our apartment we have a view of the flag lit into a mountain.
Nightlife in Greece starts late! This is the custom night for young people on the weekend... 9-11 pm dinner, 11-1am bar or coffee, 1-4am club! Either these people just don't sleep or sleep in all day. Last night we went to a club. We did not see any other Americans there! We definitely stood out! We were stared at and Greeks are not subtle at all!
But did you know pepper spray is against the law in all of Europe?! They consider it a weapon. I guess a couple years ago, a girl from my study abroad program got arrested and had to spend a night in jail for it! I guess it's good I didn't bring any!
Goodbye for now! miss you all