Thursday, April 4, 2013

And so it begins

The Month of Madness is finally under way!
It began on Friday the 22nd with a five-hour trip on a bus and three trains from Parthenay to Mayet, where Brooke lives. We stayed there the night in order to meet the Rotary kids the next day.
On Saturday morning, we waited along a highway for the bus to arrive. Once it stopped, I eagerly boarded it to hear my name being called from my friends all over the bus. As is customary, the atmosphere was full of joy as I made my way down the bus hugging my fellow inbounds, some of which I haven't seen in over three months. There's nothing quite like being reunited!

What exactly did we do in Paris? Well, we didn't go through all the cliché stops like you might have expected us to.
First, the bus drove us straight to Montmartre and stopped in front of the street that we had to walk up to get to the Sacre-Cœur. Chatting and catching up along the way, we hiked up to the landing where we got a good view of the basilica.

We spent about 20 minutes eating our picnics and taking pictures, and then began our lovely walk down the butte.
On the way, we saw this wall with "I love you" written in many languages 
We saw the Opéra too!
Actually, scratch the "lovely."
What we all thought would be a relaxing, picture-taking stroll ended up being a mad, two-hour rush to the bateaux mouches in front of the Eiffel Tower (according to Google Maps, it's a distance of about 6 kilometers).

Nobody was too happy about the fact we had to travel all that distance using our own legs, but at least at the end, we got on a boat to take a cruise down the Seine River to see Paris from a different perspective.

The Pont des Arts and the Louvre
Under a bridge
I hadn't previously done one of those river cruises, so it was a pleasant experience. The Rotary kids, being the crazy outgoing exchange students we are, waved madly at all the boats that passed by us and at the people looking out from the bridges.

A lot of people actually waved back!

Like this kind lady
The next morning, we paid a visit to the largest cemetery within Paris' city limits, the Père Lachaise cemetery. The ambiance was very appropriate for a graveyard; the skies were overcast, everyone was solemnly silent, and best of all, a crow perched atop a leafless tree would occasionally caw, its call ominously echoing among the tombstones and mausoleums. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see Edith Piaf's grave, but I was able to see the grave of another one of my musical inspirations.

This is the grave of Frédéric Chopin.
I made sure to stand a few moments in front of it, thanking him in my head, before I continued on.
Our next stop was Fragonard. I myself didn't even know what that is, but if you're part of Rotary, you have to be prepared for anything. It's a perfume museum. We went through a tour and learned how perfume was made and how people end up in that trade, and then of course there was a gift shop, where I got real 25% concentration perfume. Hey, it was Paris, might as well, right?
After that, I left the group because, to everyone's jealousy, I stayed in Paris that night. I met up with a friend of my mom's from high school, and we were able to walk around Paris for the afternoon. We ate at a chic restaurant, meandered along the Seine, visited the Place de la Bastille at night, and as a bonus I got to see the front of Victor Hugo's house. For once, it was nice to see Paris without a set schedule or a group to stay with. I can't get enough of that city, with all that there is to explore.

The next day, I took the metro to the Gare du Nord, another very pretty train station, where I boarded a train headed for Amsterdam. The three hour trip passed by quickly, though the last twenty minutes or so before I arrived were a bit tinged with adrenaline as I knew when I would get off, I would see my family again after 7 months without them.
Or so I thought.
They weren't there when I got off, nor were they at the meeting point as I left the platform. I roamed around aimlessly the train station for about ten minutes wondering what to do, when finally, I was approached by this old guy asking me if I was who I am. I recognized one of our family friends, Gerrit, and I told him, "Yes. Finally!" He told me to wait as he fetched my parents, and at last I saw them (and not my sister) again.
Well, I saw my sister when we got to our family friend's house.

Me back with my family after 7 months!
We spent three nights in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands. Other than some fantastically cheap shopping in Primark and seeing windmills, a wooden clog factory, and Amsterdam (there's nothing like the first time in a new big city), there were two highlights to this trip.
First of all, the Kuik family has two sons named Vince (18) and Sam (17). Their parents are very good friends of my parents, and I even ended up in preschool with Vince and Sam while I still lived in the Philippines. Although we get sent their family newsletter every year at Christmas, I hadn't seen any of the boys since I was about 4 years old. Of course, I don't have very many memories of my time spent with them, but there was a picture of us that we successfully recreated (13 years later version)...

Sam, me, and Vince
When I was about 9 years old and still in the Philippines, May-Ann, the boys' mother, connected me with a girl my age who was in Vince's elementary school class in the Netherlands. I was to have my own pen pal! We wrote each other a few letters about who knows what, and I remember sending her a keychain, and she sent me something like that too. Either way, we didn't write that many letters; eventually we switched to email (on those nonsense addresses all kids that age seem to have), and we lost contact. However, after I planned the trip to the Netherlands, I asked May-Ann if she could find Jamie for me. She did. We became friends on Facebook, and I told her that I was going to be in her country and we should meet.
We did.
Sushi, the dinner of champions
Despite us not being in contact in years, we unknowingly ended up a lot like each other. She too ended up being a young ambassador, volunteering in Zimbabwe with a charity called World Vision. She has a lot of international friends, speaks French, loves foreign languages, and traveling. She draws well, plays the piano, sings, and plays the ukulele (and I know that when someone plays the ukulele, they are instantly a cool person). Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about and got along like we had known each other for years (which, well, we kinda did).
Jamie is one of those rare friends I feel very lucky to have, one of those people I instantly formed a tight bond with just like Natalia from Poland and Nyrika from India. She's one of those people I feel like I was meant to meet, like it was inevitable and bound to happen. We were both born on the same year, she in Hoofddorp and I on the other end of the world in Cebu City, two cities that just happen to be sister cities. I find that rather remarkable.
Of course, since we both play the ukulele and sing, we prepared a song together.

Until next time, Jamie, we'll meet again somewhere...I am certain!
After we left the Netherlands, my family and I spent three nights in Paris, renting an apartment in the 3rd arrondissement. I was only gone for three days, but I really missed France and hearing French all around me, and it was such a relief to be back. Plus, my family got to see how fluent in French I have become.
We explored Paris so much I know the city better now. We did most of our getting around by metro, and on our trip we rode lines 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, and 14. Here's a map to give you an idea...

The two highlights of the trip for me were the Musée Dupuytren and the Espace Dali, my two new favorite Parisian museums out of the 200+ that exist.

The Musée Dupuytren is a room within the René Descartes medical school containing shelves and shelves of preserved anatomical anomalies. Some, though, were (extremely accurate) wax models, but most of the samples were well preserved in their jars despite their age.
Although I wasn't allowed to take photos, there are a myriad that can be found on Google Images, just to give an idea of what this obscure room within a medical university in Paris houses.

I figure that most people who visit this museum are medical students (or future medical students, wink wink). The world of medicine fascinates me so; it continually proves that reality is indeed stranger than fiction. I first read about this museum some time during sophomore year, and I made it a goal to visit it someday. Here is yet another item I crossed off my long bucket list as I wandered around the museum, contemplating the jars that held within them objects that seemed to have been fabricated by a macabre, twisted mind. If the role of museums is to inspire and awe, this one definitely did the job.  

As for the Dali Exposition, it was in Montmartre, the famous artists' quarter of Paris. This is a permanent exhibit that showcases about 300 of his works! 

"Surrealism is myself!"
Salvador Dali is my favorite artist. I love him for his intriguing pieces, many with recurring themes. Surrealism is also my favorite genre of art. Now that I think of it, Dali's mind could have easily conjured up the figures I saw in the Musée Dupuytren...

After Paris, I took my family down to Parthenay and gave them the tour of the town. They met my two host families, homeroom teacher, and class as well. It was a successful visit. They left on the morning of Wednesday, April 3. I will see them again on June 30, which I know is going to get here way too fast...

I've been putting off this blog entry a bit getting super sidetracked with my ukulele, Facebook, and packing for Poland. 
I leave tomorrow from the high school at 4 am. We spend the entire day on the bus, then spend the night somewhere in Germany, not reaching Katowice, Poland until Saturday evening. I am not looking forward to the long bus ride, but the destination makes it worth it. I figure I'll have aaall the time I would need to write about Poland on the bus ride back next week.
Ahhh, Poland...a new country to explore, the home of my favorite composer! Here we go! 

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