A Short Summer Home

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Everybody experiences time differently, but it’d be safe to say that the three weeks I was home was a short one. It’s the first time I’ve come home in the middle of the summer and the first time I’m leaving early august. Even though this is the shortest summer home it’s still been a good one, it’s been filled with fun activities and I’ve somehow managed to cram a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. Later today I’ll be leaving for S.Korea. This is what I did this summer:
-Went out in Brooklyn with Richie to see Jaclyn’s new apartment and to go to three cool bars we’ve been talking about going to: one was a secret bar at the back of a laundromat, the second was a bar with old coin operated arcade games and the third was a bar with a taco truck inside and an antique ink printed photo booth
-Played a lot of sushi go, if you’ve never played I suggest you buy it off amazon and learn
-Played a lot of Mario party 2 on n64
-Ate an amazing vegan burger with my dad at the food market next to penn station
-Celebrated my grandmas 80th birthday with my family in south Hampton by drinking a lot
-Went to see Tonno’s new place in manhattan where we were joined by Ian who came up from D.C. for and interview and then later we went to a Yankee game joined by Tonno’s Roomate
-Went to the beach a few times
-Watched as much as I could of the new season of game of thrones as well as rewatch parts of s4 with Allie and s6 with Richie
-Read the Magicians trilogy
-Went to the Brooklyn brewery with Ian, Dave, Tonno and Richie and was later joined by my college roommate Steve and his girlfriend and then by my friend Kendall and his girlfriend who drove up from D.C and even later by Christine and her friend
-Had a barbecue at Tonno’s house
-Played more sushi go
-Had wings with my mom, dad and Allie
-Ate Mochi for the first time! As soon as I got back Allie started talking about them and she tried to get them at Trader Joe’s but they only had coffee flavored. The other day I stopped by TJ’s hoping they put more out, but they still only had coffee flavored. So Richie and I went to this big Asian store a town over and they had tons of different boxes! Mochi is a Japanese ball of ice cream thing wrapped a rice dough
-Ate Mexican food for the first time in a long time with my dad and sister and La Mesita in my town
-All you can eat and drink tapas! With a flamenco show in NYC with my sister her boyfriend and two friends. After living two years in Jerez, hearing flamenco in the city brought a tear to my eye
-Ending it all with a hibachi dinner with my family

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Alternative Berlin

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For a major city Berlin is unlike any other I’ve been to; between the tourist attractions and slightly off the tourist path beats the true heart of Berlin; an alternative side that’s found slightly below the surface. On top of this Berlin is also extremely cheap considering it’s the capital of Germany and compared to  prices of Paris, New York or London it’s in a different world.

In order to understand Berlin you have to look to its recent history and the polarization it faced during its duel occupation, symbolically and literally shown through the Berlin Wall.  Put up overnight it cut the city in half, tearing apart families, friends and lovers for 28 years; while the democratic western side flourished, the communist controlled eastern side stagnated and was stripped of all its resources. For 28 years the Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin, when it fell in 1989 the Berlin that we know today was born.

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After WWII destroyed Berlin it was built to hold a population of 8.5 million people, today there is only 3.5 million with a unemployment rate between 10 and 15%. Now you can imagine how much worse it was when the wall fell. When the wall fell millions of people had already fled and were fleeing to the western half and with the GDR no longer in control of the east there was a surplus of vacant apartment buildings. This led to a massive squatter movement, people believed that since the buildings belonged to the GDR and the GDR no longer existed, they were free to move in. These squatter homes, which I believe don’t exist in any developed capital city have been the anchor of a vibrant radical cultural and political environment, and the cornerstone of Berlin’s anti-gentrification movement; with graffiti and street art as a tool for this counterculture.

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The graffiti and street Art is world class, found throughout Berlin in various formats, from tagging to monumental wall pieces they can display the quick scrawl of somebodies initials or an elaborate mural depicting current events as the artist sees them. Others are put up simply to improve the urban environment and its people. One artist a teenager put up bright colored smiling mushrooms around the city because he thought it would make people happy and you never see mushrooms in a city. Another artist put up “crying girls,” water based paint pasties that are placed in areas of rain, so the longer they’re on the wall, the more they “cry” and merge with the wall. A different one pastes pasties of people dancing and while the paint is still wet throws confetti onto them. His subjects are people he notices at concerts that are completely lost in the music, he takes their picture and then blows up the picture to paste on the wall. Personally I wouldn’t want to see myself on the side of a city building in Berlin. Street art is synonymous with Berlin as yellow cabs are with New York, without them, neither city would be the same.

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Vokda, Wódka and more Vodka

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It’s true what they say about the Polish, they like their Vodka. Walking into a liquor store I’d never seen a wall of so many various types of Vodka. I didn’t know that many types of vodka even existed, with my knowledge limited to Popov and Svedka. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was in shock of seeing a wall of clear bottles with labels I’d never seen. They were cheap too! and while I didn’t buy any I drank my fair share.  Each night in the hostel I participated in their organized bar crawl (to meet people of course), which included about  an hour and a half of unlimited vodka drinks, from various types of mixed shots, to mixed drinks, or if you wanted just straight shots of vodka.  As the saying goes, when in Poland do as the Polish do.  It would have been rude to do otherwise.

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Krakow, unlike Warsaw was saved from the destruction of WWII. There are a few reasons as to why Krakow was saved, for one it wasn’t the capital, the second reason was that it was proclaimed the capital of the General Government, it was to be the third reich’s supply base for agriculture and light industry, and lastly when the Red army approached    in 45 the Germans had to flee quickly in order to not be trapped in the city. They didn’t have time to burn it to the ground, leaving the historic center of Krakow with its original century old charm. However, just because it wasn’t burnt to the ground doesn’t mean it was exempt from Nazi’s rule.  The Jewish quarter, which once housed the ghetto during WWII is now a UNESCO world heritage site.  It was also where the film Schindler’s List was filmed.  The actual factory is not far from the border of the former ghetto.  There is a small section of the ghetto wall still standing, which I was unable to find and on it there is a plaque that reads, “Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”

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Auschwitz

Auschwitz is a place you read about when learning about WWII, it’s a place that you hear about, a place you see in films, a collection of descriptions in various forms.  But, words cannot describe it, pictures cannot do it justice.  Anything I say will just be another one of those descriptions.  It’s one of those places you have to experience, to walk the grounds of a place where unimaginable horrors took a place, a place where 1.5 million people were killed.   These are some of my photos:

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Wroclaw

After Krakow I spent a night in Wroclaw.  Wroclaw is a quaint little city located on a river about halfway between Krakow and Berlin.  It has a beautiful market square lined with colorful townhouses and about 400 dwarf statues scattered throughout the city.  They’re cute and extremely fun to find while walking throughout the city.  While in Wroclaw, I also got lucky that the three people staying in my dorm were friendly and interested in doing something together.  We got dinner and ate pierogi’s, or Polish dumplings and then ended up at a cheap food and drink place where we sampled shots costing a euro each.  With prices like that, good food and beautiful cities it was hard to leave Poland.

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Busing Through the Baltics

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Coming from sunny Andalusia where summer was in full swing and because it was July, I imagined the rest of Europe to be in summer. I was wrong, I wasn’t prepared for the weather in the Baltics and felt it as soon as I arrived. I arrived to Estonia at one in the morning to 10 degree weather; more than a one third difference between what it was in Spain. I hoped that maybe the next day would be different, but it wasn’t. It was cloudy and cold, to me it felt like winter and all I had brought were shorts and short sleeve shirts. Luckily I had accidentally forgot to pack my sports coat in my suitcase my parents took home. It would be my savior. While writing this waiting for the train stop I realized I forgot it in my train car so I went back and got it just before I had to get off. Had I forgotten it I would have been devastated. My second day I also bought a pair of pants that were well needed and used to their fullest, but sadly I would later forget to pack them when coming home from Berlin.

The Baltic states have a very interesting and diverse history starting hundreds of years ago in the middle ages and continuing until they were part of the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War and now as independent states

Tallinn is an amazing city and incredibly underrated. It’s architecturally beautiful and has one of the most intact medieval walls out of Any city in Europe. It’s cheap, the food is good and the people are extremely nice. In case you don’t know where it is it’s located just across the Baltic Sea from Helsinki, if you don’t know where Helsinki is, look at a map. Tallinn today is a mixture of legacies from those who use to rule it.  Throughout the centuries it changed hands many times between the Germans, the Dutch, the Swedish and the Russians until they gained their independence on August 20th 1991.  It is a city that is definitely worth visiting

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After Tallinn I went to Riga, Riga is in Latvia, which is just below Estonia, which is where you can find Tallinn which can be found right across the Baltic Sea from Helsinki. The reason I wanted to go to Riga was because two years ago on my second journey to Spain, I sat next to a couple, an Irish guy and his wife from Riga. At the time I’d never heard of Riga, but he talked about how beautiful it was and if I ever had the chance I should visit it. Fast forward to when I was planning this trip, I knew I wanted to go to Riga, I’ve always wanted to visit Poland, I heard great things about Tallinn (I don’t remember how or where), Vilnius and Berlin; so it all came together easily being that they’re all right next to each other. Riga like Tallinn is a small city with a big history. It’s beautiful and green with plenty to do and see. One of the highlights was midnight kayaking around the river that runs around the old town. You get to see the city in a different light and I saw beavers! Riga was also the city where I got the drunkest. I did too many shots of vodka on one of the bar crawls.  After the night of too many shots I attempted an escape the room with two others from the hostel. We unfortunately didn’t escape and I wouldn’t blame the state I was in, it was a really hard room. Latvia has more escape the rooms per square kilometer than any other city in the world (I made that up, but they have over 200 in a city of 650,000, they have professional teams that do them.  The record time for the room we did was 23 minutes, we didn’t even get out of the first room in 23 minutes and there were four of them.  Riga, like Tallinn is an underrated city that has a lot to offer.

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After Riga I went to Vilnius, Vilnius is located in Lithuania which is located right below Latvia which is where you can find Riga, which is just below Estonia, which is where Tallinn is, which is right across the Baltic Sea from Helsinki.  Until the beginning of last year I had never met anybody from Lithuania, but in September I met a girl from there who was teaching English in Jerez for a few months and we became friends. Before meeting her I had already had the idea of going, but she made me even more excited to go. Unfortunately the day we planned to meet in Vilnius, the weather decided otherwise.  Up until that day I was very luckily with the weather. While cold, it hadn’t rained like the forecast predicted and even that day it was sunny until five. I went to Trakai island Castle with a bunch of people from the hostel. We rented paddle boats, drank, swam and sunbathed. It was beautiful! Until it started pouring and we had to walk to the bus stop (about 30 min) in a rainstorm. A rainstorm that continued throughout the night. Like Tallinn and Riga Vilnius is a small city, it’s beautiful, cheap, has good food and beer and like all the countries in the Baltics, the people are great.

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Oh, and the best way to get to each city is by bus and they are amazing coach buses.  They have more leg room than a plane, free wifi, a bathroom! free coffee and tea, and screens behind each of the seats with a pretty in depth movie collection.  If you ever find yourself in the baltics, go with Lux Express.

A Quick Walk Around an Alien World (Copenhagen)

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With a 6 hour layover in Copenhagen and an easy train ride into the city I decided to go see it. I stored my luggage in a container and set off to explore with the limited time that I had. The first thing that struck me was the abundance of blonde haired people. After living in Spain and hardly seeing any, it was like crash landing on an alien planet. These aliens also used a two wheeled man powered vehicle to get around everywhere. They call them bikes and there were more of them than cars! They had special bridges, roundabouts and signs specifically for them. Their houses along the river were painted a plethora of colors and they had a market area where you can try foods from other alien worlds.  After filling my stomach with food from the Alien country called South Korea, I headed back to the airport and made my way to the Baltic states!

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The Palazzolo’s Come to Spain

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After months of planning and preparation the time finally came for my family to come visit. For my dad and younger sister it was their first time in Europe, for my twin, it was her first time in Spain and for my mom it was her first time in Andalucia or any city other than Barcelona.  We had a tight schedule with a lot of things planned, a tour of Andalucia, places I have seen and visited over the last two years living in Jerez all packed into 9 days. I was excited to show them the country that’s been my home for the last three years, but nervous and stressed about the timing of our plans. They arrived to Madrid on the 24th. The night before I hardly slept, the hostel was hotter than a sauna and I went to bed thinking their flight was going to arrive early, only in middle of the night I checked and it was delayed by almost an hour. On top of this Madrid was the epicenter of gay pride week, so I imagined more traffic than NYC at rush hour, being that Madrid has one of the biggest gay communities and parades in Europe. We had a specific train to catch and if there had been a line at customs and if their luggage had not been the first out, the trip might have started very differently.

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In 9 days this is what we did:
6/24: We arrived to Jerez at 7pm
– We walked around the city
-Saw a 10 pm flamenco show at Tablao Pura Arte
6/25: In the morning we walked around the gypsie market near the Alcazar
-Went beach in Cadiz
-Took a train to Seville
-Had dinner on the waterfront
-a failed attempt to see Plaza España at night

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6/26: We did an Alcazar tour in the morning
-Ate lunch
-Toured the Seville Cathedral and climbed the Giralda, we waited for a half hour at the top so my dad could see the bells move, but they didn’t. A hammer hit the bell. I guess some hours they move, other ones they don’t
-Walked to Plaza España
-Took at taxi to the mushrooms and walked atop them during sunset
-Had dinner at the oldest restaurant in Spain, el Rinconcillo. Established in 1670.

6/27: Picked up the rental car
-Drove to Jerez
-Saw the 12 pm dancing horse show
-Did a 2pm Tradición bodega tour
-At 7pm we drove to Cadiz, walked  around the city and ate dinner at 9:30 at la Tapería Columnela. One of the best places I’ve eaten at.
*the morning was very stressful because originally I had planned to drive to the hotel my mom and dad were staying at in Jerez, drop the car off and then take a taxi to the horse show, that way we could walk to the bodega. However due to the long line at the rental place and other foreseen events we drove straight to the horse show. The horse show got out at 1:45, but we were able to drop the car off at the hotel and walk to the Bodega making it just in time for the 2pm tour. Until we got to the Bodega I was stressed about the timing all morning.

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6/28: Toured the market where I bought my fruit and vegetables over the last two years and introduced my family to my meat friend Abraham
-Stopped by my school
-Drove to Ronda
-Walked around Ronda and toured the bull ring
-Drove back to Jerez, at 9:30 we saw some flamenco, just for 20 minutes because I wanted my family to experience it in a different way and then we had 10pm reservation at a nice restaurant, La Carbona where we did a Sherry and food pairing

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6/29: Caminito del Rey at 2pm
-Drove to Granada
*getting to the Airbnb we drove through the oldest part of Granada, Albacin, through streets where cars have gotten stuck. Luckily ours didn’t, but there were moments where on either side of the car there was only an inch of breathing room. My dad was directing me and did an excellent job, while my mom was having a panic attack in the back. We got through unscathed, but I would never want to drive through those streets again
-We ate some bad watermelon
-We spent the rest of the night enjoying the view of the Alhambra from our terrace

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6/30: We didn’t know it was the bad watermelon yet, but we had an 8:30am tour of the Alhambra and my dad had been up all night sick, my mom felt a little ill and my stomach wasn’t feeling that great. My two sisters were fine
-We made it through the Alhambra tour
-I showed my mom and sisters more of Granada while my dad stayed home, I joined him after some time, while they did shopping and navigated the city on their own
-Had dinner at El Agua, a fondue place (except my dad)
7/2: A sleep in day!
-Mitch came to visit, we met him in the center around 2 and did a tapas tour
-Mitch left at 7, we chilled on the terrace then climbed up the mountain and made our way to Casa Juanillo in Sacramonte for a 9:30 dinner reservation.
*in Granada we spent a lot of time on our terrace looking out at the Alhambra because it was, without a doubt the best view of the Alhambra you could get.
7/2: the final day with the fam and another sleep in day!
-Left Granada at 12:30 and arrived to Jerez at 4:30
-They had a 7:30 train to catch so we spent the rest of the time packing. We had to make two trips because all the luggage couldn’t fit in the car.
-At 7:30  I said goodbye and helped them load their stuff onto the train trying not to get trapped on, I didn’t.
-Dropped the car off
– I met Jose at 11pm for dinner

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9 continuous days together, morning afternoon and night with the only reprieve coming with sleep; more consecutive time spent together than ever before and everything went perfectly. Colombus or Magellan couldn’t have planned a more perfect route around Andalucia and WD-40 wouldn’t have made it go any smoother. I’m glad they came and even gladder that they enjoyed it at much as they did.

*I didn’t know where to put this, but I did have to put up with answering a million questions, many of which were answered more than once, many that had an obvious answer if only it was thought about and many of which I didn’t have the answer to because it was my first time doing something. I wish kept a record of some of them.

Paris! at last

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Paris like London was one of those places that I never had a huge desire to visit because other cities interested me more.  Also like London I felt that I needed to see it before I left Europe and again like London I had a friend that I could stay with.  When you have friends in places you have to visit them while you can because you never know what the future will bring.
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I arrived to Paris Friday night and had four full days to explore the city .  On Saturday, my first day in Paris I did a tour of Montmartre in the morning.  Looking back on my trip it was probably one of my favorite areas because it is so different from the rest of Paris and at times it felt as if you were in the country.  For lunch I ate with an old lady who did the same tour as me.  She was traveling around France for her 75th birthday with some family members, but did the tour alone that morning.  When we got to the Sacre Coeur she was nervous and scared about making it back to the Moulin Rogue, so I said I’d walk with her. On the way we got a baguette from the winner of the 2010 and 15 Paris baguette competition, some cheese and strawberries. We found a table outside a bar that wasn’t open yet and sat down to eat.
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After I went to the armory museum and on my way I saw for the first real time the Eiffel tower from the Pont Alexandre III.  The night before I caught a glimpse walking to the metro, but it was only the very top between buildings.  It was so brief and it had this rotating light like a lighthouse I wasn’t even sure it was it.  The armory museum was huge and very in depth, I spent about three hours there.  From there I walked to the Eiffel tower.  Seeing the Eiffel tower in person was surreal.  You see it in so many pictures and films and in pictures it looks big, but it is so much more monumental and beautiful in person.  I immediately feel in love with it.  After encircling it for a bit, I climbed to the top (the 2nd floor),  which is as high as you can go using the stairs.
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After climbing the tower I walked over to the inception bridge
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then to this other spot where I waited for the sun to set so I could take more pictures of the tower.  While there I met a Korean girl and talked to her a little about Korea.
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After taking enough pictures to fill a scrapbook I had dinner and then walked to the main spot to the the light show.  I didn’t get back to my friend’s house until 12:30.  I had only been in Paris for one day, but I felt like I had seen the whole city.
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Sunday was the day of unsuccessfulness.  I had a 12:30 tour of Notre Dame and the latin quarter and I planned to do three things beforehand, one was to see 59 Rivoli, the second was to see San Chapelle and the third was to see the covered hallways.  When I woke up I realized I didn’t have the adapter for my camera charger and my battery was down to half.  I didn’t charge it before I came because I brought my charger and and I knew I had the adapter for my phone.  However my phone adapter is only usb and the camera charger needed the prongs.  Roxane (the friend I was staying with) thought her friend who lived in Canada might have one, so I delayed leaving in the morning until Roxane was ready and then we walked over to her friends place only to discover  that she didn’t.  I then went to the covered passageways, but for some reason they were closed.  So I went to 59 Rivoli only to find that it too was closed. On my way to San Chapelle I stopped in an electronic store to see if they had an extra battery, but they didn’t.  They told me about a store that would BHV.
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Finally when I went to San Chapelle and something positive happened.  I didn’t have to pay to get in! because of my Spanish student visa.
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After San Chapelle my day started turning around, but it still wasn’t without its setbacks.  At 12:30 I did the two hour walking tour.  It was very informative and the tour guide Chris was great.  During the tour I asked him if he knew where BHV was and I explained to him my predicament. He said he had a canon charger and if I wanted I could have it, I told him not to worry.  After the tour I went inside Notre Dame.
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After the mass I tried BHV and they didn’t have a battery or an adapter.  They told me another store to try.  As I was leaving I connected to wifi to see what time it closed and to wish my Dad a happy father’s day.  I wasn’t going to check whatsapp, but did by chance.  The tour guide had texted me (I contacted about the tour through text because he didn’t receive my email) asking me if I wanted the canon charge, this time I said yes instead of trying another store.  I met him at his place on the island next to Notre Dame, which was only about 15 minutes from where I was. When I got there he brought out the charger, I looked at it with a sinking feeling because it looked slightly different.  I tried my battery and it didn’t fit, his charger was unfortunately an older one.  Then he came out with a converter! so I was able to charge my battery for 20  minutes, which was enough to keep it going the rest of the trip.  Feeling slightly happier and relieved that my camera wasn’t going to die I went back to 59 Rivoli and this time it was open.  After Rivoli I went to the Lafayette building because I wanted to see the inside, but it was closed so I walked over to the Opera house to check it out and go inside, but there was a show starting later so I couldn’t.  After those two failed attempts I went home.  Overall it was a good day, I got to see more of Paris.
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On Monday I went to the Louvre with a 10:30 entry time, but was able to get in around ten.  I spent four hours there exploring the halls and I enjoyed every minute of it.  My favorite parts were the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas and Egyptian Antiquities.  The first exhibited sculptural masterpieces from around those regions.  I had never seen art like it, to me they seemed like modern art, but without trying to be.
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 And the Egyptian art was fascinating because of how old it is.  To see hieroglyphics on papyrus and a mummy! was incredible.  It’s kind of funny if you think about it that 2,000 years after whoever is in the mummy was buried he is now on display in a museum for people to see, when at the time he wouldn’t even be able to conceive what the future would be like.
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After the Louvre I walked through the gardens, saw two goats eating grass and then went to the Orangerie museum.  I spent about two hours in the museum with a majority of my time spent in Monet’s oval rooms.
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 When I got out of the museum I was exiting the park and there was a police by the exit checking bags. I thought it was weird, then on the street there were a lot more police grouped together.  I was going to go to the Arc De Triomphe via Champs Elysees next to the petit palace, but it was closed off and there were at least 50 reporters waiting nearby.  It turns out that an hour before someone tried to crash into a police van.  Nobody was hurt except the driver who was killed and I had to walk the long way around.  I was able to get into the Arc for free because of my student visa, but even if you had to pay I would definitely recommend it because it provides beautiful views of the city.
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On Tuesday and my last full day in Paris I went to Versailles in the morning. I arrived at 9:30 and stayed until 4.  I chose the wrong day to wear black because I spent the whole time outside and it was the hottest day yet in Paris.  I toured the palace and was overall disappointed because I expected a lot more, though the hall of mirrors was spectacular as well as the gardens.  I walked the gardens for a bit and then toured the other half.  I saw  the smaller palace and got lost trying to find Hameau de la Reine, Marie-Antoinette’s fake rustic village.  It’s completely out of place and really strange to see, it had a farm with all sorts of animals.
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I then walked back to the other gardens to see the fountains on.  I ended up doubling back many times because I came across ones that were off thinking they were on, it was like a maze. it was extremely hot and they had no water fountains to drink from. I bought one small water bottle for 3€ and couldn’t find it in myself to buy another. I don’t think I sat for more than 2 minutes, the gardens are too big and there was too much to see.  To reward myself I went to best crepe place in Paris according to my tour guide, called Au’ptit’grec
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On Wednesday my flight was at 9 something and I had to be at the bust stop around 3:30, so I spent the morning walking around Paris.
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Paris was incredible, probably one of my favorite cities that I’ve visited.  I would really like to go back to experience the cuisine and night life because when I was there I mainly explored the city.  The day I left was the beginning of a music and dance week which would have been amazing to experience.  It is definitely a city I want to go back to and if money was not an issue a city I could live in. I’d have to learn the language first though.