Sunday, November 30, 2008

I've made a huge mistake

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... was the first thing  I thought as I heard the announcement on the train say we were arriving in Lorraine TGV - the opposite direction of where I was supposed to be going on Tuesday morning.  I felt slightly panicked as I jumped off the train and onto the platform; knowing that I was not at all where I was supposed to be.  You see, I had just take a high speed train 45 minutes in the wrong direction meaning that not only was I not in the right place I was FAR AWAY from the right place.
I had woken up that morning at 6AM, my day bag was already packed from the night before and all I needed to do was shower and show up at the train station on time. I did both of these things and did not feel at all rushed as I took my train shuttle to the other station in my town.  The think about Champagne TGV is that it is a train station where trains pass through and so most days the name of your destination is only a mere subheading on the sign whilst another city takes precedence.  I was stressed about taking the wrong train in the wrong direction - I tend to always get flustered when I have to grab a train here as I am usually running late due to a bus or train delay.  So as I waited on the platform and my train did not show up on time, I started to die inside. 

I had told my friend, Meagan, that I would be meeting her at the Charles de Gualle airport train station at 9AM, so we could go and spend the day in Paris together, frolic and eat crepes.  Meagan had just arrived from Tanzania after three months in Africa and was pretty excited for her first European experience, so we had planned an exciting first day touring Paris.  The night before I had talked to her online telling her how everything would work for the next day. I had been worried she would be lost and nervous as she doesn't speak French and would be toting things around in France. 

I had been so stressed about all these things and being late in general that when a train on the opposite side of the platform came in and had Charles de Gaulle TGV writing on it I ran up the stairs and jumped on that train.  The thing is that train had COME from Charles de Gaulle train station and was headed to the German frontier. 

I must have look a wreck as I went up to the ticket booth and explained to the lady what had happened.  Her first question was if the train controller had noticed if I had the wrong ticket.  My answer : no. No, no, instead he had yelled at me for minutes about the fact that I had not validated my ticket. As she rerouted my ticket so I could get back to the train station, a new fear came over me. I had no way to contact Meagan, as her phone wasn't working.  With an hour before my next train left I had time to think and agonize over my mistake.  I went back up to the ticket counter where I explained that my anglophone friend was probably lost in the train station, and had no way to get in contact with me.  The woman quickly acted and called the CDG train station and was about to make an announcement when my phone rang. It was Meagan. She started off telling me that she was lost (how ironic) as I began to tell her just HOW lost I was.  Thankfully she was ok with it all and just used her computer and the CDG free WIFI available at the airport as she waited the three hours for me to get there.
I was not so lucky.  I had not prepared for a three hour train ride.  In fact, I had only brought with me three birthday cards that I had been meaning to write for the entire month - all three of which I had finished on the first train. At 10AM I got on my train heading to Marne-la-VallĂ©e -Chessy TGV train station and sat reading the Economist's prediction for 2009, and let me tell you 2009 sounds not very good at all. It was a depressing train ride.

As the train pulled in I realized why I knew the name of this train station! THIS WAS THE TRAIN STATION THAT LANDED RIGHT SMACK DAB AT DISNEYLAND PARIS! I wouldn't mistake those ears anywhere.  So I did what any awesome individual would do if they had a 20 minute  layover at the happiest place on earth. I took pictures to prove that I made it.

I did get to CDG that day. I was three hours late, and was suffering from a bruised ego - but I made it!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Next on the list for melodramatic...

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The sad truth about graduating from an international school is that come July, we will all be going our separate ways. 

No one want to talk about it. It's the ever looming elephant in the corner - if we talk about what our future holds there is just the silent ever growing distance, our promising futures in all different parts of the world.

I hate saying that I am going back to the states next summer even if I am excited for what the future holds. I mean, I'm pretty excited for my prospects: working for a new and exciting company, finding a new city and finally making my way in the world. At the moment it is almost certain that I will go back to live and work for awhile to start my career and become a real person. So I don't know why I feel that sick feeling akin to failure when I admit that a one way ticket to the US is in my future. Why does it feel so much like giving up?

I stayed for the second year. I'm one of the ones who made it and then made the choice to stay and battle out the memoir, and take a whole new battery of tests. That was supposed to be my challenge.  Now looking to the future, I see myself challenging myself to stay again, but maybe this time it's for the wrong reasons.

Maybe it's because I know how much easier things will be in the states : I'll be speaking my own language, I'll be working in my desired industry, and I'll be closer to my family - or at least reachable in an easy inexpensive phone call.  After a year and a half of constant struggle, maybe I don't feel like things should be easy anymore.  What if I'll miss the struggle, the foreign and awkwardness, the pain in the ass cultural differences? Because like it or not, who I am right now has been founded on the fact that I am rarely ever in my comfort zone and that I'm always trying news things. And I know, I know there will be challenges along the way - challenges I can't see clearly right now or that don't seem as significant right now.

So I guess maybe it's just that I'll feel less special next year. It's an idea that I will have to come to terms with.  There won't be the looks of surprise at my accent or my fluency in their native tongue. Being normal is a very different experience then what I am dealing with right now. Everyday I am noticed, where it be negatively or positively, and I am treated differently.   Some may see this as altogether negative side effect, but I'm used to it.  I'd even go as far to say, I like it. But the big fear of going home is that I'll just be one of the many, and maybe that is not what I'm ready for.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Going North

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I've been wanting to get North for the last five years.  Ever since I met a Finnish girl named Jenni, I have been determined to go North.  So finally after years of wanting to go and thinking about going, I made it. 

We arrived in Stockholm around noon.  Looked around at the train station and put our bags in a locker.  Form there we met a fellow couchsurfer who was staying at the same guy's house as us.  He was a cool Canadian that instructed us to go to the Vasamuseet, a 16th century battleship that had been pulled out of the water in the 50's and now has a full fledged museum built around it.  I'm so glad we went.  Then we decided to go walk to the old town and even though it was only 3pm, twilight was setting in.  It's an eerie feeling seeing the moon in the middle of the day.  I wasn't sure if I should feel hungry or tired, but I do know that it was unsettling. 

From there we sat in a cafe and I had some soup (the entire weekend we kept searching for soup) and we chatted with the other guy, getting to know him and see what he was all about. 
Then we headed back to where we would be couchsurfing for the night.  We were staying at a Swedish guy's house for the night who lived about 20 minutes outside of the city.  He was really nice to us and we all cooked a big pasta dinner together and sat and talked, watched English tv series and had a good laugh.

The next day we walked out to Stockholm to do what I call a bit of destiny : we went to the largest IKEA in the world. I love IKEA, I love the obnoxious branding, the quirky items found within, and the immense sizes of the store.  I could spend an entire day looking at home goods, comparing glasses and looking at different couches.  We walked around and did make second favorite thing. We took pictures in the different rooms.  I don't know why I like doing this so much, but there is something utterly hilarious about posing in front of the different rooms in IKEA.
After we had our fill of IKEA, we took the free bus that we had arrived on back to the city center, from there we bumbled around looking for different sites and walked over to the fun and trendy area of Sodermalm. 

After walking around some more, night started falling or just darkness, and so we decided we would go to the Ice Bar.  I thought it would be a good story to say that we stood in a room made of ice and wore the funny jackets, but when we got there the Japanese tourists and the families smiling inside put us off the idea.  We just thought about how awkward and weird it would be, just the two of us in our funny jackets, sipping on vodka, among the other awkward tourists. 

I am in love with Stockholm, there is something so familiar about the wide streets, the perfectly articulated English, and the cute cafes that had made me fall in love with it.  The fact that it is a network of connected islands makes it a fun and exciting city to discover.  I really enjoyed my time there and hope to go back soon ;-). And then we left.

We were off to Helsinki to find one of my favorite people.  She was waiting for us inside of the airport looking all smiley and just like I remember.  She took us back to her government subsidized apartment - complete with sauna - and we went to bed (we arrived at like 1am). 

The next morning we got up to a rousing breakfast of brown bread, cucumbers and cheese (meat for the meateaters as well :-). We walked around the downtown of Helsinki, went into stores like Marimekko and other Finnish staples.  The funny thing about Finnish staples is that they all seem to be home good.  We went to glasses, ceramics stores, and to fabric stores.  Each store had it's own taste of bright colors and patterns.  Each store made me wish I was graduating sooner and decorating my own apartment. 

Then we went and saw two different churches.  Two churches that might explain a bit of the Finnish spirit.  One was a beautiful white church that stood on a large and open square near the port area.  The other, called the "Rock Church" was a bit away from the center up the hill.  The Rock Church looks like a space ship has landed in downtown Helsinki.  Aerial photos prove that point and maybe even allude to a meteor/flying saucer attack.  But inside, the church has an austere charm.  The ornate decorations seen in most churches in France are absent, mostly because this is a Lutheran church as opposed to a Catholic church.  But the ceiling looks like the dissection of a tree trunk, full of concentric circles. It feels divine and a wonderful place for prayer and devotion.  

As night began to fall, I saw my friend Jenni do a curious thing.  She flipped two little circles out of her pocket.  They were reflectors.  Apparently in Finland, there has been a public safety campaign for people to wear reflectors.  This is to avoid cars hitting people in the darkness (a darkness that stands for most of the day in the wintertime).  I found this fascinating and I began to see them everywhere.  The reflectors exist in a variety of colors and shapes, from cute to awkward and big to small.  Some people had them attached to their arms whilst others followed the example of Jenni and had them only in their pockets. I found them to be really cool and decided to grad some shaped like Moomins as a souvenir. 

The next day we went to an island outside of the city center to see some old Finnish houses and other buildings.  It was drizzling outside, a normal November kind of day.  A theme throughout the weekend was that everything was nicer in the summertime.  Every time we got a gust of wind or even saw a pretty site, we were reminded by our little Fin of how much nicer everything was in the summertime.  And honestly I can imagine it.  The city must light up in the summertime.  With green things growing and a bit of warm summer air, the city must be magnificent by bike.  I  love the Russian influences seen in the buildings and I can only imagine how much more beautiful they must seem with sunshine on their walls.  I don't care though if I went in November -I know I'll go back. 

Throughout the 5 days we were their, we ate some great cinnabuns.  I really enjoyed them and have been wanting to share this cinnabun recipe given to me by a coworker.  They are really delicious and so make some up with a good cup of coffee.  I think sugary goodness like cinnabuns keep the people from going insane during the long winter months. 

Henrietta's Cinnabuns : a Scandinavian tradition!
(two dozen round rolls)
1/4 cup warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
1 tsp +1/4 cup sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
230 gr butter, chilled
3 egg yolks
1 cup milk

1/4 cup butter, melted
6 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 confectioner's sugar, (200gr)
2 Tbsp butter, room temp.
1 Tbsp water, a trifle more may be needed to make a manageable glaze

  • Put the warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle yeast over. Add 1 tsp sugar, stir, let dissolve for 5 min. 
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt w/ fork to mix well.cut butter into pieces size of small grapes and add to flour mixture. Using hands or pastry blender, rub or cut the butter into the flour mixture until distributed and there are coarse little lumps of butter throughout.  
  • Stir in the yeast mixture, egg yolks and milk. Beat until blended. 
  • Cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge at least 6 hours,(this dough can be refrigerated for 12-14 hours).
  • Divide dough in half. On lightly floured board, roll out half the dough into a rectangle about 10 by 12 inches.  Spread 2 Tbsp of melted butter over rectangle.  
  • Mix remaining 6 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon together in small bowl.  Sprinkle half sugar mixture evenly over rectangle.  Starting with the wide side, roll rectangle like a jelly roll.  Divide roll into 12 pieces by first cut into 4 equal portions, then each portion into 3.  Put rolls cut side down in greased muffin tin.  repeat these steps with other half of dough.
  • Cover loosely and let rise for 1 hour.
  • Bake in preheated 400F(200C) oven 20-25 min. Remove rolls and put them on a rack set over a piece of wax paper.
  • To make the glaze, sift confectioner's sugar into a small bowl then beat in the butter and water until smooth. 
  • Spoon a little of the glaze over each roll while still hot.