Sunday, October 30, 2011

Week 1: "You are very welcome to Sweden!" - Part II

My first impressions/experiences at the hospital deserve their own blog. Jenn and Mags - you might be the most appreciative of these things since you know how things work in the US as a med student. I am doing two x 4-week rotations while in Stockholm, both at the large public hospital Södersjukhuset which is directly across the street from my dorm and actually connected to my dorm via an underground tunnel meaning that when it is dark and cold and rainy/snowy, I don’t actually ever have to go outside (well, except for grocery shopping and to maintain my sanity of course although the days are getting noticeably shorter and shorter...) I have met a few fellow medical students living in my dorm. Edith - from Austria - is currently starting an orthopaedic surgery rotation at Södersjukhuset, Almudena - from Spain - just finished internal medicine at KI-Solna and is now on general surgery with me at Södersjukhuset, and Kenneth and Anthony both from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda who are also on general surgery with me at Södersjukhuset. Our first week was spent on anesthesia and we met the anesthesiologist in charge of international students (Åsa) at 830 on Monday morning. Like most of the Swedes I have since met, Åsa’s English is very good although she does have some difficulty finding words occasionally of which I have picked up the habit of finishing sentences. Here, that seems to be appreciated, but I’m going to have to be careful when I get back that I don’t continue to do that. One of the cute/quirky things I have noticed when speaking with people and telling them this is my first time in Sweden, is that they say “You are very welcome to Sweden!” I’m not just welcome, I am very welcome. People here are polite and the physicians seem genuinely glad to take on students, especially international ones. 

We started our first day by going and getting the mandatory hospital apparel. I had been somewhat prepared for what to expect by an essay written by a previous University of Minnesota medical student who was in Stockholm this past spring on an ENT rotation but nothing could really prepare me for seeing myself in the scrubs that we were provided with. The blue color was the same as we use in the States (although they also have white, gray, and green scrubs - not sure what those mean yet) but the scrubs themselves were like something straight out of the 80s. First off, there are pockets everywhere which is kind of handy especially since we haven’t been wearing white coats (I was told not to bring mine, so I don’t know if we will ever be wearing them). But the scrubs have cuffed ankles, a cuffed waistline on the shirt, and cuffed, puffy sleeves. They are probably one of the ugliest things I have ever worn on my body and I have definitely had some less-than-fashionable periods in my life. The nice thing about having to wear these and being not allowed to wear our own personal clothing while in the hospital is that it means I don’t ever have to dress up to walk to and from the hospital. After changing, we went to the simulation center and practiced intubations, peripheral IV placement, and spinals after a not-so-brief 30 minute coffee break. Just before lunch, the surgeon in charge of international medical students and our rotation as a whole popped in to introduce himself and greet each of us. He was very friendly and seemed genuinely happy to meet us which was confirmed later that day by an email he sent us stating just that. 

By the time lunch came, Åsa brought us all to the cafeteria and lunch was provided on the anesthesia account. It was a delicious array of food in the cafeteria and since my protein that I bought for myself consisted of some peanuts, cheese, and peanut butter, I decided to load my plate with fish and fresh vegetables. Coffee is a very important part of the Swedish life and we had our second coffee break of the day after having lunch. Over the past week, I have realized just how important these coffees are. Everyday I have taken at least two coffee breaks with my mentor. And a coffee break in Sweden is not grabbing a coffee and getting back to work or even taking a 15 minute break. No. Coffee breaks in Sweden last for an HOUR. You get your coffee, you sit down and chit-chat for an hour. Twice a day. At least. Our days are not that long to begin with, but I could be home by lunch if we just worked and didn’t take such long coffee breaks! But, I am embracing the culture of where I am living, so I will take my several hour long coffee breaks and just be glad that I get free coffee and don’t have to worry about dealing with a caffeine headache while I’m here. During lunch and coffee, we talked some about health care in our respective countries, about each of our medical education systems, and about a typical day as a medical student/resident/physician in each of our countries. In Sweden, a typical workday for most physicians and medical students is about 730 in the morning until about 4 in the afternoon except for Fridays when we are done at 2. Sometimes they will go until 5 or 6 (especially surgical fields) but they also include in there a legitimate hour-long lunch break and two hour-long coffee breaks. They are guaranteed 3 weeks of vacation per year and for every night or call shift they take, for one hour worked, they get 2 hours of vacation time which adds up quickly. So most people end up with a couple months of vacation time per year. If an anesthesiologist works night shifts, he/she will work 2 or 3 in one week and that’s it. No day shifts in between - just 2-3 shifts starting at 230 in the afternoon until 9 am the following morning. There is both maternity and paternity leave with each person getting 8 months paid off for having a baby. This time can be extended so if you only want to take 2 or 3 days per week off, you can have your maternity/paternity leave extended for longer. Also, if you have children under the age of 8, you have the right to work part-time with getting some sort of subsidy for you lack in income. Daycare is also subsidized by the government so it is extremely affordable for parents to return to work after their 8 months of baby-leave. 

Medical training in Sweden is also very different. Their public school/mandatory education goes until age 16 after which they do 2-3 years of “Gymnasium.” Gymnasium consists of either continuing general education (math, science, literature, etc.) or learning a trade. If you have continued general education, when you finish gymnasium and want to go onto further education, you choose either social sciences or hard sciences tracks - this also includes a medical school track. If a person chooses medical school, then starting at age 18/19 they have 5.5 years of medical school. When that is finished, they take 12-16 months to work as a sort of apprentice physician in a field of their choosing (which they are paid for). Then I think at that point they become “authorized” physicians. Either that or they become “authorized” after completing their internship. Internship is about 18 months long and includes internal medicine, psychiatry, general surgery, and general practice. After internship, they take an exam for licensing  and apply for residency in whatever field they choose. Residency is generally around 4 years in length and varying specialties have different difficulties in getting into. Interestingly, anesthesia also does intensive care. Internal medicine and pediatrics are all sub-specialties - you choose a cardiology, infectious diseases, etc. within those. General practitioners are the clinic doctors and take care of everyone. There is no such thing as a formal fellowship for sub-specialization within a field. 

There are also things I’ve noticed that are different in hospital practices. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are uncommon in Sweden so they take extreme precautions when it comes to things like MRSA. Any person who has traveled outside of Sweden recently and comes to the hospital is presumed to have MRSA and is basically put into isolation with one-on-one nursing until MRSA status is confirmed to be negative. I had to be swabbed myself for MRSA - results are still pending. I’m not really sure what will happen if I am positive beyond getting re-tested. Hopefully it wont come to that! Also, we wear plastic aprons when taking care of patients that must be changed between each patient encounter to decrease the spread of germs. In the OR, unless you are fully scrubbed into the surgery, you don’t wear a mask except when you are in an orthopaedic or vascular surgery procedure. The reason for this is supposedly that a mask only keeps respiratory flora contained for about 5 minutes then it is as if you weren’t wearing a mask at all. However, the fact that you then have to wear them for ortho and vascular surgeries to decrease the potential for infection makes little sense. I think this may be one of those things that is just policy without necessarily much definitive reasoning behind it. Also in the OR, people are allowed to wear sandals - most people will wear them with socks but there are some that wear sandal with no socks. And there are no shoe covers either (I think there might be for joint replacements, but not for most surgeries). As I continue to see differences in practice, I will continue to write about them just because I think it’s very fascinating. Everyone seems to think that there is only one way to do things (usually the way that that particular person does it) and I simply don’t think that’s true. 

My first few days on anesthesia, I got to do an intubation and a spinal and help with masking and bagging. Then when we switched departments mid-week, I was with a Swiss anesthesiologist living in Sweden who didn’t let me do anything. So, by the end of the week, I was ready for the weekend and ready to be done with this part of the rotation. Next week I am on general and emergency surgery which will hopefully be interesting. Apparently Södersjukhuset has the largest and busiest ER in all of Scandinavia which hopefully means a busy week of surgery! 

One last thing I found interesting about last week. Smoking rates are similar in Sweden and the US (at least from what I heard from one of the physicians) but a thing called Swedish Snuff has started taking the place of smoking especially among the men in Sweden. So far, no definite link has been made between the use of this snuff and oral cancer. It’s sort of like chewing tobacco but apparently different in ways I don’t understand since I’ve never used either and don’t plan to. It’s highly addictive. I kept an eye out for it after I was told about it and noticed a few male physicians stuffing their lip with the snuff while at the’s definitely as unattractive as watching someone chew (no offense to anyone who chews that is reading my blog - but it really is kind of disgusting). Well, I will keep you all posted 1-2x per week, more if something really exciting happens. Until next time, hej då!

"You are very welcome to Sweden!" - Part I

My goal for blogging during my rotation in Sweden (and likely the same while in India and Uganda) is to write once to twice a week. I think it's a reasonable goal that I can realistically maintain and have enough to add so that it's not "read yesterday's blog...that was pretty much today." There is a lot to say after my first week of rotations at the hospital Södersjukhuset. I am hoping that by the time I leave Stockholm, I will be able to pronounce that correctly. I'm getting there but still don't have it down. Pronunciation is one of the most difficult parts of the Swedish language. The way things are written is definitely not how I would think to pronounce them. Also, they have some additional letters like ö, ä, å. I'm not giving up, but Spanish is so much easier by comparison!

The weekend between returning from Paris and starting my rotation, I did some window shopping in Stockholm as well as grocery shopping in Södermalm. Stockholm is a great place for shopping. H&M is a Swedish company and there are some blocks that literally have an H&M on every corner. There is a great mix of boutique shops as well as what look like more corporate chain stores. They also have a large department store called Åhléns which has a grocery store (Hemköp) in the lower floor. Basically it's not hard to find what you want to as far as clothes, shoes, toiletries. Grocery shopping is an entirely different matter. For one, I am not a good cook - I'm not even an adequate cook. In fact, I think my cooking could be classified as mediocre-poor. I don't really enjoy doing it especially when cooking just for myself and so I haven't really ever learned how to approach cooking - I don't just think of things that would be good together. I literally have no ideas when it comes to making food. Add to that the fact that all of the grocery stores are in Swedish, so things that I would have difficulty finding in a grocery store at home are all but impossible for me to find here. In addition instructions for cooking are written in Swedish and in metric measurements - I have no idea what 115 grams is in terms of cups. Also, I'm pretty sure canned frosting does not exist to my great disappointment. I do know how to make frosting, but sometimes you just want to buy the can instead of all the ingredients especially when I'm only going to be here for 7.5 more weeks. The end result is that my meals are incredibly boring and repetitious - yogurt with granola for breakfast, PB&J sandwich with a fruit or vegetable for lunch, and typically some kind of pasta with sauce for dinner or cous cous with veggies. I did find some frozen pizzas if I want to switch it up :) Oh well. Good thing I'm not too picky with my food except that I am absolutely refusing to go to a McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, or TGI Fridays (these are the American restaurants I have seen so far in Stockholm).

Another difficulty comes with trying to do laundry. Thankfully there are free laundry facilities on the floor of my dorm. Not so thankfully, the machines are all written in Swedish and only a partial translation is provided on the wall near the machines. I also tried looking up the words in my Swedish/English dictionary which only helped a little - I figured out which were the cotton settings, but I don’t have any clue what is meant by the Swedish word that is translated to “beat.” There are three levels of “beat” indicated by these teardrop-shaped icons. Which setting I want to dry my clothes at is beyond me. Good thing I didn’t pack anything difficult to wash with me. Although if I had to pack again, I would pack much differently. For one, the hospital is connected by an underground tunnel to my dorm so I actually don’t have to go outside. It’s a nice feature. Also, we are not allowed to wear personal clothes - all hospital personnel has to wear the lovely provided scrubs. So, I dressed up my first day and my first day alone. By the end of the first week, I was wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeve t-shirt on my walk over to the hospital to change. Definitely more my style! So, I would have only brought one nice pair of pants with maybe 2-3 different tops and would have instead brought some slippers (I bought a pair because my feet have been cold), a pair of tennis shoes for the OR (they don’t have shoe covers from what I’ve seen so far), another sweatshirt, and more work-out clothing. At least with free laundry, I don’t feel so bad doing a load once a week.

From my walking around that first weekend, I got a little bit of my directional bearings set for the city layout. Stockholm is a city made up of many islands connected by bridges or by ferry so you never have to walk far to find water. It also is a very natural looking city - it’s like the city was laid out so as to be within the natural setting and not like a human destroyed the natural setting to build a city in it’s place. In a nutshell, this is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever lived in. There are abundant parks, ample sidewalk space for walking, bike lanes on every road, and a good public transport system. Plus I’m surrounded by water and gorgeous trees that right now are in the midst of changing colors. Despite the fact that the days are getting shorter (and will be quite short come December), it is a really beautiful city that would be quite easy to live in. Most everyone at least understands English and can speak enough that I can easily shop or get done what I need to get done or find my way somewhere. The only thing that has been a bit of a disappointment is that Netflix does not work here and neither does Hulu, Pandora, or any videos from US network TV station websites. I have some TV series on a portable hard drive that I can watch while I’m here if I’m in the mood for a night of mindless entertainment, but this is for sure a change. It also means that I have spent a lot more time pleasure reading. I am currently reading Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which takes place in Sweden (mostly in Stockholm). It’s really cool to read it while I’m here because I understand his cultural and directional references - I have been on many of the streets he’s mentioned and inside many of the stores that he talks about. It’s a good change of pace.

The city is also very active. On the weekends when I have gone out walking, I have noticed tons of people out walking and biking. This past weekend, I walked past a cyclo-cross race which was like an obstacle course for bikers. Very cool. I need to do some more research and start doing some touristy things on the weekends, but so far I’m liking what I see. Stockholm is a very livable city and if it weren’t for the fact that I would miss my family and friends so much, I could see myself living here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Au Revoir

Rodin Museum
I got up early this morning so I would have time to pack, see the Rodin Sculpture Garden, and make it to the airport on time for my 4:00 flight that afternoon. I checked out of the hostel and put my stuff in a storage locker before eating breakfast and heading out to the bikes to make my way to the Rodin Sculpture Garden. It was a longer ride than I had anticipated and it took me nearly an hour to get there. I finally arrived and was happy to see that the sculpture garden alone was only one euro. Because I only had about 1-1.5 hours to see it, I didn't think it made sense to pay the 7 or 8 euros it would have cost for access to the garden and the museum itself. It was a beautiful morning to be outside and I took my time winding my way through the gardens and looking at each of the beautiful sculptures that Rodin had created. Probably the two most famous within the garden were "The Thinker" and "The Gates of Hell." One of the things I have enjoyed most about Paris is getting to be up close to so many incredible works of art. I think seeing the work produced by anyone so talented is awe-inspiring whether that work be art or music or books or's amazing to see what humanity can be capable of when energy is channeled positively.

Rodin's "The Thinker"
I got done a little earlier than I needed to in order to make it back to the hostel in time to collect my things and head to the airport so I decided to bike back and enjoy one final ride through the city of Paris before leaving. The day was so beautiful. I love it when you visit a place and leave with a positive feeling that makes you want to return. Much better to leave a place wanting to return. The bike ride back to the hostel was lovely. I retrieved my bags from my rented locker, called Mom to let her know I was on my way to the airport to head back to Sweden, then made my way to the train. One good thing about leaving in the middle of the day is that the train wasn't too crowded for me to fit with my large backpack. I arrived at the airport uneventfully, checked in, and made my way to the gate to have some lunch before my flight. I found a café with a stack of daily newspapers in a number of languages for people to take and read while waiting for their flight or to read on the flight. It was a nice amenity. I enjoyed a salad and a glass of wine (appropriate to say goodbye with a glass of wine) and read while I waited for my flight. 

Rodin's "The Gates of Hell"
As I sat there, I thought about my time in Paris. I had a great time traveling by myself - I met so many new people and got to spend time exploring an amazing city. There are a lot of people in Paris that smoke. The cafés all have outdoor seating which is always nice to sit at, but unfortunately get overrun with smokers rather quickly. The insides of buildings are smoke free, but there is no rule for how far from a doorway people can smoke and I often found myself inhaling it second-hand. Speaking of cafés, one interesting thing about Paris is that food costs more if you sit down to eat it than if you take it to go - sometimes up to 1-2 euros difference in price. Since there is ample park seating pretty much anywhere in Paris, I often got my food to go and sat out at a park bench to eat my meal. Another thing about restaurants is that the tip is included in the stated price - the price you see is what you pay and you don't add any additional tip. I wondered at times if this was because the service was generally not what we would consider "good" in the USA - people in France definitely border on rude. The customer is not right generally and the mission is to get people in and out as fast as possible. I could see where that might get frustrating living there after a while, but to me as a week-long visitor, I couldn't help by think that it was oh, so very French. Additionally, France has implemented a 35-hr work week. This is really nice except for situations like Sunday when nothing was opened or the fact that the time that is listed for things closing means you need to be in there about 30 minutes before that. Think you can pick up one thing at the grocery store quickly ten minutes before closing time? Think again! The doors are locked and the security guard will not let you in. Too bad. Also, like a lot of people in the US (and apparently Britain as well), the French for the most part only know their native language. I think a second language is an optional part of studies. This made getting around more difficult since I knew very little French and the French I did know was pronounced poorly. I definitely want to spend some time working on my foreign would make life so much more enjoyable to not be limited to just English. 

St. Christopher's Hostel
Finally, a piece of practical information. I had some issues with credit cards while I was in Paris. They have converted almost exclusively to using cards with chips embedded in them. None of my credit cards have chips so I was unable to use my credit card for a lot of things including buying a ticket from the ticket stands at the metro stations. So, I resorted to pulling money out of an ATM quite frequently. Just be prepared if you are in Paris and if you, like me, don't have a credit card with a chip.

Overall, it was a great vacation and I learned a lot about Paris, traveling, myself. I highly recommend visiting the city if you haven't or re-visiting if you have. It is an incredible place to spend some time, and I will miss it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Falling in Louvre with Paris

Victor Hugo's Mansion
My final full day in Paris. Quite sad really. I have immensely enjoyed my time and could easily spend much longer here because there is so much to see and do. Today is no exception. My plans start with a few of the free things Paris has to offer in the Marais neighborhood including a visit to the Victor Hugo mansion, the Mémorial de la Shoah, shopping in Marais, and finally - the thing I have been most anticipating - a trip to the Louvre this evening. 

Hugo's Interior Decorating
I got up early-ish despite my once again late night after having dinner with Dan and got ready to head to the trendy Marais neighborhood. Apparently if you want to know where it's at in Paris, it's here. I was lucky this morning in that there was a bike in good condition available at the Vélib' across from my hostel; however, I was not so lucky in terms of figuring out my directions. I thought I was heading the right way until I found myself near a metro that I vaguely recall being in the Montmarte neighborhood - the total wrong direction from Marais. I decided to continue biking a ways since I couldn't find my place on the very busy and torn up map I had with me. Soon, I found myself on a street filled with at least 4 sex shops per block. I knew then that I was definitely not in the right neighborhood and as my 30 free minutes on the Vélib' were about up and it would take me more than 30 minutes on a new bike to get to Marais from there, I made a decision to buy a metro ticket and metro my way to Marais. Nearly an hour after leaving the hostel, I finally found myself in the Marais neighborhood headed towards Victor Hugo's mansion. The museum itself was free, but I decided to fork over the 5 euros to pay for an audio tour and learn a little more about the famous French author. The mansion had a beautiful view overlooking a square that was set up in honor of one of the King Louis-ies (XIII or XIV I think). I learned a lot about Hugo including that he was very anti-Napoléon and went into exile during his reign. During that time, his mistress maintained his home in Paris for him. Also, he had an interest and hobby with interior decorating and did a lot of the designing of his home in Paris. His designs included an "Oriental" themed room in which he hid his initials amongst the decorations. I went on a sort of "Where's Waldo?" hunt for his initials and found them cleverly displayed in the artwork of the room.

Hugo's Writing Desk
It was another gorgeous day in Paris and after leaving Hugo's home, I made my way towards the Mémorial de la Shoah - the Holocaust museum of Paris/France which was also free. It is not nearly as large as the one in Washington, DC but it did have a hauntingly beautiful and powerful Wall of Names - the names of every Jewish person in France that was killed in the concentration camps. France did not nearly lose as much of it's population of Jewish people as other places, but the Wall of about 76,000 names was overwhelming. There was also a memorial in the lower floors of the building with eternal flames lit around a Star of David beneath which lies the ashes of victims from all of the Concentration camps. It was a beautiful memorial and although I left feeling somewhat heavy, I was glad I made a trip to learn more about the Holocaust and WWII in Europe. We are so distant from it in the fact that other than Pearl Harbor, the war did not take place in our country. The devastation and destruction in Europe is ever present and it was a good reminder of that part of our world's history.

Me at the Louvre
My heavy feeling did not spare me from hunger and I decided to make a stop for lunch. I had planned to go to a falafel shop - apparently the best in Paris according to my guidebook - but I was hungrier than a search would allow me to wait so I stopped at a nearby café and had a sandwich and eclair to go. I found a nearby park and sat enjoying the beautiful weather while eating my lunch. 

Egyptian Collection
After finishing, I decided to wander around the neighborhood and window shop in the many stores of Marais. The Louvre was open until 10 pm and was apparently cheaper if you entered after 6 pm (which I found to be incorrect...unfortunately I didn't know this ahead of  time otherwise I probably would have gone a bit earlier in the day to maximize my 10 euro ticket. Oh well - now I know for next time!) so I had plenty of time to do some wandering. There were a ton of interesting shops although many of them were more expensive then I really wanted to spend money at, but I nevertheless enjoyed having another Paris shopping experience. 

I returned to my hostel briefly and checked my email then hit the metro to the Louvre. One thing I learned from the bike tour is that it is better to enter through one of the side entrances than through the Pyramid because the lines are shorter and to get the Pyramid experience upon leaving the Louvre. I didn't have to wait long to get a ticket (it may have been worth the wait until later in the day just to avoid the large crowds) and had a chance to observe that the lower level of the main lobby of the Louvre is a shopping mall - not quite what I was expecting in such an impressive art museum although I guess it probably is pretty smart for business. I grabbed a map and purchased a guidebook (for later reading) and headed towards the Egyptian collection which is one of (if not the) largest in the world. I had heard it was impressive, and I was not mislead. The Egyptian art was beautiful and impressive and so old. I wandered through the entire collection snapping photos about every 10 seconds or less. While wandering through the collection, I also took the chance to take in the Louvre as a whole. The building itself is an art masterpiece and often it took a second glance to figure out what was in a collection vs. what was the building. This was especially true when I made my way through the Greek and French sculpture collections. 

After making my way through the Egyptian collection, I decided to pay homage to the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting housed in the Louvre - the Mona Lisa. I was happy that I didn't have to fight too much of a crowd to see the infamous painting and it was incredible to be standing in front of it. The Louvre houses so many famous and old pieces of art that you stand within a foot of to marvel at, but the Mona Lisa is roped off and has glass surrounding it. Despite that, I still was in awe to be in the presence of such a historical piece of art history and once again found myself teary eyed. 

After visiting the Mona Lisa, I did not have much of a plan for the rest of my time at the Louvre. You really can't go wrong wherever you decide to wander, so I wandered without a purpose and just took it all in. It's hard to describe in words what it felt like to be in that museum. It fully surpassed every expectation that I had for it and in addition to being teary eyed and walking around with wide eyes and mouth partly open, I tripped more than once because I was not watching where I was walking. I could have stayed there for days. When you make it to Paris, the Louvre is a must. I plan on visiting again and on my return trips, I will without a doubt be spending time with my greatest love in Paris - the Louvre.

Egyptian Collection

Egyptian Collection

Wandering around the Louvre




Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Versailles & Dinner out in Paris

I planned on spending the entire day at Versailles (the elaborate palace built in the 17th century by King Louis XIV) and wouldn't you know that today was the only day with rain in the forecast. Of course I just buy new sunglasses and it rains. C'est la vie. I could in theory switch around my plans, but as you all know, once I have committed to something in my mind, I don't change it unless I have a really good reason to. So, since I brought an umbrella (smart thinking on my part!), I made my way to the Château de Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors - Treaty of Versailles signed here
Versailles is about a 25 minute train ride to the suburbs of Paris. I got off the train and made my way to the nearby ticket sales - you can also buy your tickets at the gate but supposedly it's quicker if you get it before you get to Versailles. The tickets were pretty expensive. About 30 euros to see the château, the gardens, and Marie Antoinette's estate. I knew I wanted to see the château and the gardens for sure and that was only a few euros cheaper than the full package so I decided to just go for it which in retrospect I was very glad for because my favorite things to see were the gardens and Marie Antoinette's estate. 

When I first arrived at the château, I was impressed by the immensity of the palace. It was extremely large and like much of Paris, a piece of art in and of itself. I stopped for a few moments to take it all in before going to the long line for the entrance for people already holding tickets. Once I made it into the château, I got into another line for the audio tour (included in the price of my ticket) and started making my way through the designated route through the main château. Even though it was a Tuesday and the off-season, it was incredibly crowded with people. I felt like I was being herded along through the building and didn't really get a good view of much. Every time I tried to take a picture, someone would jump in front of me to take one and so it got to be very frustrating very quickly. My goal became to just look, try to snap a few photos, and make it out of the château and into open space as soon as possible. It was beautiful and gaudy and I would have liked to have more space to take my time going through. Another problem was with my audio guide - the last row of numbers didn't work and so I was unable to listen to about 1/3 of the audio tour. It was too crammed for it to be worth getting a different one and trying again so I figured I'd just read about it sometime later on. 

Musical Gardens with Grand Canal
Once I got out of the craziness that was the château, I made it into the immense gardens. Again, the size of it was overwhelming and it too was like walking through a giant sculpture garden where the sculptures consisted of actual marble sculptures, bronze fountains, and intricate landscaping artwork. It was incredible. I decided to make my way to Marie Antoinette's estate and wander around there first. 

Marie Antoinette's Estate
my long walk around Grand Canal
beautiful landscaping - focus on symmetry
After a short walk through a very scenic pathway and a stop for lunch at a small café, I made it to the estate. The tour of this estate was much more pleasant as there was not a huge crowd making their way through the buildings. I was able to take my time and actually look around and read the displays as I went through. It was much more enjoyable. I continued my tour of the estate and the grounds of the estate and then just started walking through the grounds of Versailles without any real purpose. I wandered upon the hamlet and the working farm and took several pictures of the charming old buildings there. I then made my way back towards the grand canal - a giant artistic body of water through the central portion of the grounds - and made the decision to walk around it. The walk was a lot longer than I anticipated and took over an hour to make my way completely around. I had the path mostly to myself though and enjoyed taking in the scenery at my leisure without being interrupted by crowds of people. 

Around 4 pm I decided to make my way back towards my hostel. I had plans to meet up with Dan for dinner that night at a French restaurant that he enjoys to get a different taste of the French culinary experience. 

incredible gardens of Versailles
The place where I met Dan was set back in an alleyway. It was very French in that the hostess seemed intent on moving people through the restaurant as quickly as possible. The restaurant was previously a soup kitchen that had been converted into a restaurant. It was big and open and filled with people. Dan helped explain the French menu to me and we decided to have several courses in the French tradition for our meal. I started out with avocado with shrimp followed by duck and French potatoes with a red wine accompaniment then ended the meal with some sort of dessert that sounded much better than it tasted. Turns out it was some kind of nut paste and it would have been much better with a boat-load of cool-whip on top. All in all, it was a great meal with great company. I have so much appreciated having Dan to show me some of the "real" Paris. I think it definitely enhanced my experience of the city and I made a new friend out of the deal! Hard to believe that tomorrow is my last full day in Paris. I'm sad to think about leaving...

Paris Restaurant

Monday, October 17, 2011

Making Friends through Jim Morrison

Galeries Lafayette
After my failure to get a pair of sunglasses yesterday, I set out this morning on the Vélib' bike towards Galeries Lafayette - the huge department store in the middle of Paris near the Opera. As I walk into the store, I take a moment to take the enormity of the place in. For one, it is actually a couple of buildings and I was in the main store which houses all the clothing and accessories including designer fashions and a couple of cafés. I take a map of the store and make my way towards what looks like the accessories section on the ground floor (called floor 0 in all of Europe). I found the sunglasses section and see that they have quite an arrangement of designer sunglasses. Knowing myself and my history with sunglasses, I didn't think it was worth spending $100+ on a pair of sunglasses so I find the cheapest ones I can (still around $50) and make my purchase. I splurged partly because I was in Paris and it really felt like a rite of passage to make a purchase at Galeries Lafayette. I took some time to explore a few of the other floors and was awestruck by all the designer clothing and what I assumed were the latest fashions (they will probably hit the US sometime in the next year or so...). I had been feeling completely out of place in Paris - it seems the thing to wear is any kind of skinny jean/pant with boots. Or tights with very short skirts/dresses or long shirts or a pair of short shorts also worn with boots. I'm not really sure that is for me, but I did think a pair of boots might be kind of handy. (Fortunately) I didn't find any boots that I liked well enough to pay the listed price for. I wandered out of the department store and decided to continue my browsing in the neighborhood. 

Père Lachaise Cemetery
H&M (started in Sweden) is the major discount clothing chain that I have seen in both Stockholm and in Paris. Because we also have these in the US and because if I was going to buy something from there, I would rather buy it in Stockholm than in Paris, I skipped over H&M for discount shopping. I passed by another store that I had seen many people carrying bags for and wandered in. The store was called Uniqlo and was a discount store based originally out of Japan. I was able to find a couple of pairs of skinny pants for reasonably cheap and made my purchase - at least I would be able to fit in a little bit better with the Parisian crowd!

Oscar Wilde
After spending my morning shopping and armed with a new pair of sunglasses, I headed back to the hostel to drop of my things and go to Père Lachaise Cemetery. I stopped by a pastry shop on my way and had a delicious eclair for lunch. 

Jim Morrison
The cemetery was located near my hostel and the Bastille area of Paris. It is quite large, impressive, and free to enter. All the graves makers are these above-ground, mostly all artistic masterpieces in their own right. I walked into the main gates and was disappointed to discover that there were no maps available at the entrance to take with you. There was a posted map with a key listing the famous people buried in the cemetery. I came up with the brilliant idea to take a picture of the list of names as well as a picture of the map that I could zoom in on and refer to as I tried to locate the final resting place of several famous people. As I started heading towards my first destination - the grave of Oscar Wilde, I ran into a man carrying a map. Apparently he bought it from a street vendor that was no longer standing outside the cemetery when I walked in. The man with the map and I discussed our strategies for viewing the various famous people's graves in the cemetery and where we were from - turns out he was headed to a Bob Dylan concert that night in Paris (thought of both Dad and David at this). I briefly entertained the thought of trying to go, but apparently the concert sold out rather quickly. The fellow Dylan fan and I parted ways and I headed towards the end of the cemetery where Oscar Wilde was buried. After visiting Oscar Wilde, I decided to try and find Jim Morrison's (from the Doors) grave. He died in Paris and so was buried here. He also reportedly (and confirmed by me) has a 24/7 guard at his grave because it had been somewhat a tradition for people to get drunk and high and shoot up on drugs at his grave in his memory. I thought I was lost until I realized that I had mixed up the cemetery section with the number that corresponded to the grave's location on the map. Correcting myself, I was soon able to locate Morrison's grave and snapped a photo.

There were a few more people on my list before the cemetery closed including the composer Chopin, the artist Georges Seurat, and the French singer Edith Piaf. On my way to find these graves, I stumbled upon section 97 of the cemetery. I noticed the memorials within this section containing the names of concentration camps from WWII. Upon further reading in my travel guide, I discovered that this was the site where several memorials were placed for the victims of the Holocaust as well as the graves of French resistance fighters. It was somber, hauntingly beautiful, and appropriate all at once.

Memorial for Auschwitz
French Resistance Fighter
During my quest to snap photos of famous graves, I happened to run into a girl who appeared around my age asking me if I spoke English. She was from New Zealand and looking for Jim Morrison's grave. (She had made the same mistake I had in finding graves). While directing her towards his grave, we started a conversation and it turns out she was staying at the same hostel that I was at. She mentioned that she was meeting some friends at the hostel at 630 and was heading to meet some other friends at the Arc de Triomphe and then planned to have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower to watch it sparkle at night. She invited me to join the group. Without other plans for the evening and a chance to meet some new people, I gladly accepted and made plans to meet her at 630.

Champs-Èlysèes & Arc de Triomphe
I biked back to the hostel and met my new friend Analise. We took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe and I was able to see it lit up at night. We met three people at the Arc - all from Australia. We then took a walk down Champs-Èlysèes and took a picture of the symmetrical avenue and searched for a grocery store to buy some food for our picnic. While doing so, we happend upon a group of performers that were break dancing in the middle of the sidewalk. We stopped and watched for a while - they were rather impressive! - before moving on our way. After picking up baguettes, cheese, tomatoes, chocolate, and wine, we made our way towards the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful evening and we sat in a grassy area across the Seine from the tower. We had an incredible view and enjoyed our night getting to know some new people and enjoying a picnic in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Around 11 that night we decide to head back towards are respective homes for the evening since we were unsure of when the last metro was. It was a great evening and I really enjoyed getting to know some really nice people from other parts of the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The French Market Experience

Notre Dame
My 3 day unlimited metro pass expired today and so instead of renewing it (about 27 euros for another 3 days which wouldn't even get me to the end of my time in Paris) or paying for a book of ten metro tickets (again probably wouldn't last me the rest of my trip and still cost about 13 euros), I decided to join the bike share Vélib' for a week which cost about 8 euros and would last me the rest of my time in Paris. I woke up Sunday to another beautiful morning excited to ride my bike into Paris center. I had made plans to meet up with Dan at 11 at Place Monge where there is an excellent French market on Sundays. Paris is divided up into many districts and it is required by law that each district hold a market two days per week so that the people of Paris can have access to the freshest foods - produce, meat, cheeses, flowers, you name it! Since I had some time prior to meeting Dan, I decided to go see Notre Dame up close and see the inside of it. One nice thing about churches is that they are free to go inside and visit unlike many of the museums and other attractions in Paris. So I biked my way to Notre Dame and made it without a problem on the bike. The line was not too long and a service was taking place as I wandered through Notre Dame. It is as magnificent as I ever imagined it would be. The ceiling on the inside is very high so even though the church was crowded with people, I did not feel claustrophobic. I got a little teary thinking about this incredible historical and holy structure I was inside that I had heard so much about from stories. Interestingly (I also learned this on my bike tour), Notre Dame was in danger of being torn down because it had become quite run down after the French Revolution. The revolutionaries hated religious institutions as much as they hated the monarchy and so during the revolution, churches were outlawed and looted. During the time of Napoléon, it was being considered to tear down Notre Dame. Victor Hugo was greatly opposed to this, and so used his influence as a very popular French writer to save Notre Dame. He wrote the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or, as he preferred to call it, Notre Dame de Paris) as a way to bring attention back to the church and as a plea to save it. His strategy worked and Notre Dame has since been restored to it's original glory. In 2000, it had a major cleaning of the outside and instead of being a black, gothic-looking structure, the dirt and grime was cleaned off to reveal the marble beneath. Currently, Notre Dame is in the midst of another controversy over it's bells. The bells were looted during the French Revolution (all except one of the 200 originals) and when the church was restored in the 1800s, the new bells were not of as great of quality. Over the past couple hundred years, the bells have lost their tone and the plan is to replace them with bells that sounds like the original bells prior to the 1789 looting. This is planned to be done in time for the 850 year anniversary of the church. Some people support this plan, others argue against it. I actually read an article about it in the paper on my flight back to Stockholm...
inside Notre Dame

Anyway, so the church was incredible and if you are ever in Paris, you must go see it because it is a beautiful piece of architecture with such great historical, literary, and religious history. After leaving Notre Dame, I walked the rest of the way across the Seine and was in the neighborhood where the Shakespeare and Company bookstore that I had failed to find a few days ago should have been located. I decided to resume my search for the infamous bookstore. A couple of days of navigating Paris improved my locating skills, and I found the bookstore! It was as charming as I imagined it would be, and like an appropriate English major tourist, I purchased a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast from the bookstore. From there I found my way to the nearest Vélib' station, retrieved a bike and headed to meet Dan at the market at Place Monge.

the American ex-pat writer hangout of the 1920s
The market reminded me a lot of the downtown St. Paul Farmer's Market at the heart of the harvest season. It was busy and full so much color! Everything was freshly laid out and Dan and I spent a little while wandering through the aisles of the outdoor market trying to decide what we should buy for lunch. We decided on getting some fresh bread, fresh cheese, some kind of meat, and a fruit. After sampling some of the various cheeses, we decided on one. We then made our way to the meat vendor. Dan was determined to have me try something that embodied the essence of France which ended up being mousse de canard - congealed duck liver. Not exactly what I would have chosen as I personally like to avoid organs of any kind and like my meat cooked (unless of course it is sushi in which case I happily will eat raw fish - miss you Jenn and Mags!!) But, when in Paris...right? So we found ourselves some amazing looking bread and since pears happened to be in season, we also got a couple of those. We then headed out of the market to this delightful old Roman amphitheater from way back when in Parisian history that the Romans controlled the city. It was sunny and gorgeous and we sat and ate our French market meal. The mousse de canard was very rich and although I probably would never order it for myself, it was definitely worth a try! The meal was fabulous, the company was fantastic, and I couldn't imagine any place I would rather have been on that Sunday afternoon.

Roman amphitheater
After a couple of hours, Dan needed to head to the library to work on some school projects and I had more of Paris to see. My sunglasses had been lost on the flight to Paris, so I decided to head back towards the Opera to Galeries Lafayette - an impressive French department store. Unfortunately, with a 35-hour work week, nothing is really open on Sundays and so when I got there, I was disappointed to find that it was closed. This made my decision for my afternoon much easier. I had considered seeing Père Lachaise Cemetery that afternoon since it was such a beautiful day, but without sunglasses, I thought the experience may not be quite as pleasant. Instead, I headed to Musèe d'Orsay to see the impressionist collection.

French market lunch
Supposedly if you went to the museum after a certain time, the ticket was discounted. This was false. My ticket cost the same as if I had gone earlier in the day. So for all of you traveling to Paris, don't wait for the last 2 hours because it might be cheaper - it won't be. Also, the time to be in Paris is when you are 25 years of age or younger...again, I missed that one by about 9 months. Tickets for museums are drastically reduced in price, if not free, for those 25 years or younger (they are pretty much all free if you are 18 or younger). At any rate, the collection was incredible and I enjoyed wandering through the fairly crowded galleries to visit some of VanGogh, Monet, Manet, Rodin, and several other of the great impressionist artists. The art was stunning and like the rest of Paris, the building the art was housed in was stunning in and of itself. There really is nothing like walking through art to see art. 

Musèe d'Orsay
When I left the museum after it closed (also, good to note that closing times mean everyone is out the door by that time - you actually start getting shoed out about 20-30 minutes before the listed closing time...) and headed toward a Vélib' station, I ran into my Canadian friend from the bike tour! He had also been at the museum. We chatted for a bit about the rest of our plans for Paris and then headed our separate ways. It was quite a lovely afternoon and a beautiful one to bike back to the hostel. Tired, I decided to get to bed a little earlier for a change (as in midnight instead of well past midnight) and looked forward to spending the following day doing some shopping in Paris and seeing Père Lachaise Cemetery.