Monday, December 12, 2011

Ghent & Frankfurt

So I last left you off on the 2nd of November, when I had just barely made it home from Liverpool... In my memory, nothing too exciting happened in Le Havre (LH), so I'll just skip to the 11th...
On Friday, November 11th it is not only Veterans day in the US, but also la fĂȘte de l'armistice (Armistice Day) in France, which meant I had the day off (and since I only work 3 hours Thursday and 6 hours on Friday, I only had to work 3 hours that day!). So, I hopped on a train from LH to Paris and then did this cool thing called "covoiturage." Covoiturage is kind of like modern hitch hiking except for a few major differences: you plan it in advance, and its not free. To covoiturage, or ride share, you use a well known webisite (there are several, but I've found the most popular and easiest one to be covoiturage.fr) and you search your starting city, ending city, and date you want to travel. Then a list pops up of people going that route. The site calculates how much each seat costs in the car based on the car's gas efficiency (drivers post what car they have- model, year, everything), the distance, and tolls. Each person has a profile, contact info, and reviews. I used this site to find someone driving from Paris to Ghent, Belgium. The cost of the ride was 22euro. Covoiturage isn't always necessarily faster or cheaper than buses or trains, but its typically nicer because you get to talk with someone (and practice your French!) and its a bit more comfortable. Trains can be quite comfortable and fast but expensive and buses are cheap but usually take a long time and are uncomfortable... Also, the price never changes, unlike buses and trains which get more expensive as you get closer to your travel date.
So, anyway, I found this very nice young guy who was driving 3 other people as well from Paris to Ghent. He wanted to meet everyone at Ivry-sur-Seine, a really nice area just on the border of paris towards the east. Unfortunately, I miss read the train list and got on a train that was on the right line but was SKIPPING the stop and not stopping again for another 15-20 minutes!!! In a panic, I called him and explained what was happening. I was extremely worried that he was going to tell me, "Sorry!" and leave without me! Luckily, he was super nice and drove to where I was (a good 30-40 min in the other direction by car!) to pick me up. Apparently one of the couples that was supposed to come on the covoiturage bailed (not very nice! Though Jo, the driver, said that it happens fairly often), but there was a girl who was stopping in Lille, a small city in France just before the Belgian border. So we had a nice conversation. Jo turned out to be Belgian, studying chiropractics, and happened to speak French, English and Dutch. The girl (I forget her name now and what she did), didn't speak English but understood it, so it was nice to speak in French, but when I had trouble explaining something or understanding, it worked out.
So after a nice car ride into Belgium, I did another thing that I know might shock you (since I imagine many of you are shocked that I am taking rides with strangers haha). Since Ghent is a very small city in Belgium and I was going there because it is the host of a major indoor electronic music festival, all the hostels were booked. So, I Couchsurfed. Couchsurfing is a cross between hitch hiking and covoiturage-ing couches. For those of you who don't know what Couchsurfing is, it is a free website that connects people looking for places to stay, with people who have places to stay. It's more elaborate than covoiturage and is in many ways similar to Facebook. There are many different forums within it and people can plan events, meetups, etc. It's a really nice way to meet people in your community if you just moved there. Also, the profiles are more elaborate. You write a description about yourself, where you've traveled, life goals, where you live, your age, education, pictures, etc. You can also have friends and they write about what they think of you. Also, when you've stayed with someone or they've stayed with you, you post about each other as well and write about the experience. So there's quite a lot of feedback you can look at when trying to choose someone to stay with or deciding if its ok for them to stay with you. Couchsurfing is how I met my best friend, Emily! :)
Anyway, I was staying with a guy named Simon who is Dutch and studying architecture. When I got there, he introduced me to his roommate Frank and a guy from NY named Erik who was staying at their place for the week... Unfortunately, Simon had to go home to Bruges, and Erik was leaving to go somewhere else in Ghent. Luckily, Frank was super cool! Frank is also studying architecture and he is from the Czech Republic. He was very interesting to speak with and had a lot of really interesting ideas. The Friday night, after hanging out for a long time talking, we went out. Simon left me his bike, so Frank and I rode bikes through the town. Ghent is a really cool city because it is very small and very beautiful. I would definitely recommend it if you just happen to be passing through Belgium. It has a really medieval feel to it. And there's a castle in the main square. There are also really beautiful canals. We rode our bikes through the desolate but beautiful streets to get to the student area where all the bars are. Its really hilarious because the area is really grimy and dingy. The bars are really smelly and the street is just unattractive... As soon as we got there, I was no longer in the mood to be there. So Frank and I just hung out on the street watching people pass by and talking some more...
One funny thing is that they had a public urinal on a street corner. Whats weird about it was that it was open air and it was made of glass that wasn't see through, but there was a light behind it so that you could see the shadows of the guys peeing! It was very strange...
The next day, my friend Emily's friend joined me in Couchsurfing with Frank. Her name was Meli and she is from Argentina but is currently working at a fancy hotel in Spa, Belgium. When Meli got there, her and I spent a while walking around and seeing the sights of Ghent. We went in a few beautiful churches and just generally walked around.
That night we went to I <3 Techno, a huge in door music festival (one of the largest in Europe!). I saw tons of artists and met lots of people from all over Europe. I also brought my LED light hoop. A girl FOUND ME because she hooped too! She and I were the only hoopers there that night and we had a blast. Not surprisingly, she was also from the US. I wish more people hooped here. In the US I could go to a festival like that and easily find people to hoop with... Nevertheless, it was still really fun and crazy!
The next day I took an 8 hour bus to Frankfurt to meet up with Emily! After a crazy fiasco, and nearly missing the bus, I got onto the bus and just sat for ages, wait to get there... We passed through Brussels and I got to see the UN building there... but that was the only cool sight...
Finally got to Frankfurt and was reunited with the lovely and amazing Emily Davidson!! :D I stayed in the hostel she's been living in, 5 Elements. It's such an epic hostel. There is an amazing lounge area with leather couches and free laptops you can rent out and Tuesday is free unlimited past night and the pillows and comforters are super nice as well... Her friends in the hostel are also super nice and amazing! Also, its funny because the hostel is in the red light district of Frankfurt. It's totally safe, especially for girls because the hookers aren't really looking for female clientele, but apparently if your male they can be extremely aggressive in trying to get you into their "store"...
Frankfurt is also a very modern, very clean city. There is this beautiful mall that has this amazing glass architecture inside it and you can go on the roof for free and see the whole city. There's a huge cathedral that we could see from there that was used by the Allied army (I think) in WWII as a reference point, so it was never bombed (while the rest of the city was).
I'm trying to think of what other cool stuff we did in Frankfurt, but I really went there to go see Emily so I spent a lot of time hanging out with her... One cool thing we did do was that there are 5€ films on Monday nights. You pay the 5€ and all you know is that it will be a film in English, but you dont know if the film will be awful or old or sappy or scary... Luckily this one was a good one. It was called Hysteria and it featured Maggie Gyllenhall in it. It was a period piece about the late 1800s when women who were unsatisfied with their lives were labeled with the medical term, hysteria. The treatment: and handjob... that is until they discovered, the vibrator! Haha it was a hilarious film and if youre interested, I've written about it for a friend's blog : http://sensiblereason.com/hysterical-occupation/
That was kind of it really... On Wednesday I took an over night bus to Paris and then the train to LH in the morning! Worked that afternoon ;)
Up next: MADRID!!!