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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 12, Wednesday - Beirut

Yesterday I wrote about trying to cross the street, well there is also another interesting habit that I have noticed here: the regular use of car horns. Now, people do use them the way I consider “normal” which is to caution someone of immediate danger, although here that may be more like “You are going to be in danger if you don’t move your car out of my way because I’m coming.” Horns also mean, “You are going too slow,” “You are taking up two lanes and I want to pass you,” “You stopped right in front of me to let someone in/out of your car,” and also, it can mean that a taxi wants to ask you if you want a ride.

Quick note about taxis: if you want one, stand just next to or on curb, they will stop. Tell them where you want to go, if they are going that way they will take you, otherwise let them go, another will be along shortly. Don’t try to argue with them to take you where you want to go, they may take you in the end, but it will cost you $20 for a $1.50 ride. 

Most commonly, car horns simply seem to mean “I’m here.” They aren’t used particularly aggressively (unless of course you are stuck in a traffic jam). 

Back at the coffee house
Another fun fact: the way to tell the difference between police and military guys is by the colors they wear: police where black and white camo, while military wear green and brown camo. You see lots of police on the streets, mostly just hanging out, with some sort of automatic rifles (or something, sorry, my weapons knowledge is limited to TV and movies). It’s funny, in most countries it seems normal to have police and military guys walking around with big weapons, but in the US we are rather adverse to it so it’s weird for me to see, but I realize normal for most people around the world. 

Also, the military guys drive around doing patrols in Jeeps with big guns on them. Tonight, as I left the cafĂ© where I was having tea, there were a bunch of soldiers hanging out with a couple of these Jeeps parked half on the curb. I tried to take a picture without being too obvious, since I didn’t know if they would care or think I was weird. I’ll have to crop it and post it later. Again, it is normal here, but interesting for me to see. 

In case you were wondering, I feel perfectly safe here. No one has bothered me, uniformed or otherwise. It’s mostly the cars you have to watch out for. ;)

Day 11, Tuesday - Beirut

Have you ever played the game Frogger? I haven’t, but from what I’ve seen, it’s something like trying to cross the street in Beirut. You sort of have to time yourself with the flow of traffic and be a little bold. If you don’t, you’ll never get to the other side of the street. Now, I’m not saying you just run out in front of cars… well, not exactly. It’s more like a carefully timed ballet. You do sort of have to just step out sometimes, though. If you just stand on the sidewalk, they’ll never wait for you.
I have found that you have to sort of step off the curb, then look for a break in the flow of traffic before stepping out, and the cars will slow down enough to let you go. Or, if the cars are stopped, or moving slowly, you just weave your way through. I learned from a friend here that locals will act very insistent but they don’t actually want to throw the first punch, which is how I survived my closest of calls with a moped. 

So when crossing the street, you really have to be especially careful of people turning right, because they will try to go between you and the curb if necessary, especially if they are a small car or a moped. I was just trying to get off the street after crossing five “lanes” (they don’t really have lines of the street, you just kind of go wherever) when a moped tried to challenge me. I kind of started him down, he stopped a foot away, and I made it across safely. Don’t worry, I don’t usually make of point of confronting motor vehicles. 

The sidewalks tend to be rather narrow (though I think wider than the ones in Leiden), and on really narrow streets, cars park on the sidewalks so that you have to step out onto the street to get around. You sort of get use to walking in the street a bit and the cars never get that close. The way that people and traffic mingle around here reminds me a bit of Europe, although there is the noticeable absence of bikes and a little less of following road rules here.

View from where I am staying now
By the way, I still don’t exactly have a map. I do use Google maps when I have internet, but when I am walking around and actually need to reference one, I pretty much have to guess (no, I don’t have internet on my phone, that’s expensive). This resulted in me getting “lost” twice yesterday, once walking to work and once walking back. Okay, I didn’t really get lost since I did make it to where I wanted to go, which was the result of having a good idea of the direction I wanted to travel. It is a little over 1.5miles from the apartment where I am staying to the AMIDEAST office where I am working and the temperature around the time I am walking is something like 85F with high humidity (mind you, I also wear long pants but I can wear tank-tops while I walk and put on a sweater at the office). 

Well, with the way I walked to work it probably was closer to 2.5miles, maybe 3, because I thought I had gone too far so I doubled back a bit and then had to redouble back once I realized where I was. Anyways, the way back I didn’t get quite so far away, but I ended up on the wrong side of the hill which the apartment was on (though I didn’t know for sure I was on the right hill), so I walked up it, figured out where I was and found my way back safe and sound. (Not to mention that if I really got stuck I could always take a cab, which I have been told is pretty easy to do and not expensive.) “All’s well that ends well.” 

Just some ancient ruins I walk by on my way to/from work everyday...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 10, Monday - Beruit

And the jetlag is back. I believe that it was a combination of all the traveling and the extreme heat in my room, but I woke up sick again this morning. John, from the AMIDEAST office, came to meet me at the place where I am staying and took me to the office. Once there, I ended up having to lie down for a bit, and John and Allyson were gracious enough to let me (actually, encourage me to) take a break.

I have learned the importance of treating long travel like a marathon, not a sprint (thanks, Dad), and while it has been a difficult lesson to learn, I know that you have to take care of yourself because trying to push through can just make it worse. For me, it seems to help if I can get some rest and eat a little, simple foods, and a few hours later I feel normal. Not to mention drink water! It's easy to get dehydrated while traveling, especially in hot climates. 

Dunkin' Donuts is rather popular here (and you will notice the chocolate frosting w/ sprinkles, finally!).  Technically this picture is from Friday, but the point is to show you one of the classrooms I set-up in.

View from one of the classrooms

Street near the office building's entrance

Anyways, I am feeling much better now and have begun to do some work, proof-reading, office tasks, and generating some ideas for a conference. John took me on a tour of the office and I think I have met just about everyone. I have been trying to speak Arabic, but I am still adjusting and inevitably we all switch into English (they also have a hard time with the classical Arabic so we generally end up joking about it all in English). John has been very good at pushing me to use my Arabic though, which I appreciate, even if it is hard.

I have also had a new experience while I have been at the office: blackouts. They didn’t last that long, but all the lights went off, as did the hum of the A/C. After a minute or so, everything pops back on.  It turned out that we had overloaded the circuits.

I actually ended up changing housing today. It was decided that I really needed some place with A/C and John had a friend who offered to let me stay at her place. Her name is Emma and she is a journalist and a great singer/pianist, as I discovered. She lives on the fourth floor in an apartment building and there is a deck with a great view (I might sleep out there one night). There are lots of restaurants and stores nearby and it isn’t that far from where I was before, so I still know the area a little. 

View from the apartment at night (towards Syria, I think)

Different angle, but view from the apartment's deck during the day

While I decided to move because of the heat and being sick, I always think it is more fun to stay with people who can tell you about the area and get you connected in. I am currently sitting in a coffee shop eating ice cream, drinking tea, and using their internet, and I am enjoying it. 

They play MTV at this coffee shop, so it's hard to tell that you are out of the country
Tomorrow I hope to go exploring a bit more around the city, and I will try to take some pictures. Sorry for all the long writing blogs lately. I have more time to write them before I post since I don’t have internet so handy, and uploading pictures takes a lot of time.

Day 9, Sunday - Beirut

One of the main challenges for me thus far has been staying cool. I slept in late since I am trying to get over my cold and I was exhausted from my day of traveling. After getting up, I took a cold shower to try to cool off. I actually had only intended to wash off my feet and cool off my hands, but ended up taking a full shower because it is so hot (and muggy). I have also been using the old trick of getting my arms, neck, and face wet and letting the breeze help cool me down (though, unfortunately, my room does not get much of a breeze nor does it have air-conditioning or a fan). 
My room at the foyer

View from my room
I had three goals today: 1) find somewhere cool, 2) find something to eat and drink, and 3) break my larger local currency into smaller bills (yesterday on my walk I got local currency out of an ATM, but it gave me rather large bills, so it is hard to pay for small things). I also wanted to get a map, which has proven rather difficult. 

 I headed back the same direction as yesterday (after talking to my dad again and having him map where I was – the slow internet has make mapping rather difficult as well – I learned that there was a shopping center and some large hotels that way). My plan was to find a large hotel where I could cool off, eat, and use the internet. 
I walked past the mosque (Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque) and found the Place de l’Etoile (where I later got some coffee from Starbucks, just for fun).

"The Mosque" (which became a major landmark for me

Passing through there, I ended up finding the Beirut souqs, which is like an outdoor mall, and an excellent way to stay cool. Inside the shops are air-conditioned, which is how I found where a lot of people go to “beat the heat”).

Place de l'Etoile

"Silver" where I ate lunch

I ate lunch at a place called “Silver,” and then wandered through some of the stores. I also tried to break one of my larger bills to pay for my lunch, but they gave me change back mostly in American and only a few Lebanese pounds. Prices here also tend to be quoted in US dollars quite often, and the currencies are used pretty interchangeably.

The view from my table
I also must be blending in a bit because no one gives me any trouble and I actually had a few people ask me for directions today, both in Arabic and in French. I try to respond in whatever language people speak to me in, but when they go too fast I tend to default to English. Also, my answer to questions about directions is fairly simple: “I don’t know, I’m sorry.” It is my goal to try to rely more on my Arabic (or French as the case may be), but of course, when people realize that I am struggling, they switch to another language until they hit English. (This was also the case in Europe, I had a lot of people speak to me in Dutch, which I only vaguely understand because parts of it sound a lot like English.)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am starting to feel more comfortable here. I noticed on my way back to the hostel, that when I reached a particular part of the neighborhood, I quit thinking so hard about where I had to go, I just went. Things are starting to look familiar, which makes me feel more comfortable. I am still struggling with the heat a bit and I am learning the importance of keeping cool and hydrated (I try to always have a bottle of water with me). 

The main street near the foyers

Well, I am off to bed soon as I start work tomorrow at the AMIDEAST office!

P.S. I will add pictures when I get internet that can handle that. In the mean time sorry for all the words!

Day 8, Saturday - Amsterdam to Beirut

Another travel day! And this one has quite worn me out. Let’s start from the beginning: I got up at 4:30am to dress and pack away a few last things before heading to the airport. Uncle Mark, Aunt Julie, and Cora all got up to say goodbye (thank you all!) and then I headed out. Once I got to the airport, I learned that I could only carry on one bag. I usually check one and carry on two, as I have put most of my valuables and breakables into one bag to carry on and then another “purse” bag for easily accessible things. Well, in Amsterdam, they are very strict about what you can carry on, so I had to check the two bigger ones and carry on the smaller one. This made me a little nervous as I had a connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany, and I hoped they would make it safely. 

I had arrived rather early so I kept myself busy for a while at the gate, but I noticed it getting closer and closer to boarding time and no one else was showing up. I also had a security guard ask to see my boarding pass, copy some things down, hand it back, and leave (not sure why). Well, I eventually discovered that the gate had been changed, but it was just the one over, so no problems there.

The flight to Frankfurt was rather short and I had fun listening to all the different languages and drinking a mini Sprite.

 Once I got to Frankfurt I had to switch planes. Looking at the schedule, I didn’t think there would be any problems. When I got off the plane, I check to find my flight and the departing gate, it was B33. I came out around A35 or so (I didn’t check right when I got off), so I started following the signs to B. Well, turns out, to get there, you have to walk a mile, go down a few flights of stairs, walk another mile, go back up some stairs, and just as you think “Good, I’m at the B gates” you run into a huge group of people going through passport control (I may be exaggerating a little on how far I had to walk, but I was in high-heels and a suit, plus I am sick with a cold, so while I know it probably wasn’t a mile each part, it was very far).

 I stood in line for at least 20 minutes without moving more than two feet. I got chatting with the guy next to me and when I mentioned that my flight was boarding at that time (after we had just been commenting on the huge line in-front of us), he told me I should just cut the line. Well, I felt terrible about doing it, but I really didn’t want to miss my flight, so, I went to the front of the line and told the gentlemen standing there that my flight was boarding and would it be alright if I cut in, they were nice enough to oblige. I got through that check-point and headed to my gate. From there I went through another short passport check, then down some stairs to a bus which drove us waaaaay out to the plane. Once on-board I could relax a little. They served amazing little pancakes and offered a drink every five minutes. 
On the bus waiting to be driven out to the plane
Once in Beirut, I thought I needed cash for a visa, turns out that if you are American, you can just walk right up and they will give you a one month visa no problem. After collecting my bags (they came through no problem as well) I found the taxi driver who took me to the youth hostel where I am now staying. The hostel is run by some French ladies, which means I have actually used more of my French than Arabic so far! 

Once I got settled in a bit, and after checking-in back home, I went out for a walk. 

*Little side note here: I have learned that it is important to feel connected wherever you go. Now that I am in a new country, where there are new surroundings (I have never stayed in a hostel before) and a language difference (though, between English, French, and Arabic, I can generally get across my meaning), and no fully designated host, being able to connect with home helps me to feel stable. I am so thankful for the internet. (Which is a bit slow, hence the delay with the blog.) Even though I have traveled before, every new place, especially one that is so different from home in many ways, takes some getting used to. I am inserting this side note after my second day here, and I am finally starting to feel a bit comfortable, but I will write more about that in Day 9’s post.*

Since I do not have a map yet, much of my walk was spent trying to remember how to get back. I found a main street and followed it. I found lots of little stores and restaurants, and eventually I could see a large mosque with a blue dome. I had decided to walk towards the mosque when I ran into  a group of protesters. I do not know what they were protesting and I decided to go around that block because I didn’t want to get tangled up in it. I made it to a main street, across from which was the mosque. I could also see the corniche from where I was, so I walked towards it a bit. It was around that point that I decided I better find my way back because I was a little worried that if I made too many turns I would get confused. 

On my way back I walked by a dog that looked like a tall, skinny, German shepherd type of a dog that was clearly looking for food. Well, I walked by him and a few seconds later I felt something touch my hand. I pulled it away and looked out of the corner of my eye to see that the dog was following me. I was careful not to look directly at it because I figured that it would be more inclined to follow me that way. Anyways, it followed me for a while and it took me crossing the street and going into a “alley” with restaurants for me to finally lose him.
Back in my room, I got on the computer for a while and at one point could hear some loud popping outside of my window. It sounded like fireworks, but I still don’t know what they were. I plan to go to bed soon and catch up on my sleep as it has been quite a long day.  

And that was my day traveling from Amsterdam to Beirut!

P.S. Sorry about the lack of pictures, it's hard to think about photography when you are trying to get on  the right plane. :)

Day 7, Friday - Amsterdam

*Sorry about the delay, I have been having some internet trouble.*

I got caught up on my rest again this morning. Around mid-day Cora and I went out to do a little shopping and then to the park again for lunch. Here is a little video for you:
Also, I promised some interesting facts about Amsterdam architecture, so here they are: What do you notice that is common about all of the buildings in this picture?
They all have hooks attached to their roofs! Since the staircases in these houses are so narrow, these hooks were/are used to move large furniture in through the windows. Another fun fact is that many of the buildings are leaning. Unfortunately, I never got a good picture, but it is funny to see a house that has begun to lean and has then been repaired so that there is an additional pie-piece of brick-work to fill in the gap between it and its neighboring building. (Thanks to Aunt Julie for the fun facts about Amsterdam!)

Finally, people in Amsterdam know how to ride bikes. Here are some examples:

Guy with umbrella

You and 3 kids? No problem. (Can you find all the seats?)

The "suburban" model, very popular.

Girl with lots of stuff.

Guy with his dog, in this arm...

The instrument is bigger than he is!
This is my last full day in Europe and I have very much enjoyed my time here. After having been to the continent a few times, I am quite comfortable here and while it has been a busy week, it has been also oddly relaxing. It has been really nice to walk around the different cities with old and new friends and as much as I am excited to be heading to the Middle East, I will miss being here. Thank you to all my hosts: Uncle Mark, Aunt Julie, Cora, Carolin, and Rachel. You have all been truly wonderful and I hope to see all of you again soon!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 6, Thursday - Oxford to Amsterdam

I finally got to sleep-in this morning, until 9am. Which reminds me that I have a few updates which I forgot to include in my post yesterday. The first is that I almost slept in yesterday which would have caused me to miss the morning crew outing, but fortunately I woke up with about three minutes to get dressed before my ride was supposed to pick me up. Actually, I had a few more minutes than that, due to the fact that Oxford is five minutes behind GMT, so since my clock was set to London time (which is GMT), I actually had eight minutes. 

I also forgot to include this photograph:

This is the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis use to meet for a club they called “The Inklings” and read to each other pieces from whatever they were working on at the time. If you know me, you know that I love both of those authors. 


Me on the tour bus with headphones for the audio guide
Now on to Thursday. I went on an open-air bus tour around mid-day to see a bit more of the town. It is difficult to take pictures on a moving bus when something is gone before you can turn on your camera, but here are a few: 

Saaid Business School
Christ Church College (fun fact: the dining hall and other parts of the Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter movies were designed based of parts of this college)
Town Hall

Here is also a bit of video (sorry about it being sideways, I will try to fix that):

 After the tour, I did a bit of shopping and then returned to Rachel’s to pack. I left Oxford on the 3:01 (or 15:01, since everything in Europe runs on the 24-hr clock) train to London Paddington Station and after an underground trip and the Eurostar, I am currently typing aboard the Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam. However, since they don’t have free internet for the Class 2 coaches, I will post this when I get back to Uncle Mark et al’s house. 

Side note: in case you ever want to take the trains between Amsterdam and London, I highly recommend Thalys and Eurostar as they are quite quick, but from my experience, the Eurostar has been right on time while the Thalys has been late (about 30min each time). I haven’t had any problems because of it, but just something to keep in mind. 


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 5, Wednesday - Oxford

This morning started with a little bit of me coxing at Oxford. Here is the proof:

Yep, that's me in the front of the boat

It was a mix of girls with different levels of experience who have started training before the season begins. While they got some work in, I got a lovely tour of the river.

I am the white hat poking out of the bow.

 After the morning's outing, Rachel took me on a tour of some of the major colleges. The university of Oxford is actually divided among almost 40 colleges (and a few "halls"), there isn't really a central campus. Each college is quite different, some are very large and others quite small. Most have courtyards, a chapel, and they all have housing and a great hall. Here is a map that we made of everywhere we went today in the college part of town (I warn you, trying to follow the line is a little tricky. Just remember that loop-looking parts or backtracking are through different campuses). By the way, the map-pedometer estimates this little "walk about" is about 6.2 miles long.
We went through around a dozen of the colleges. Here are a few pictures:
The river going behind Magdalen College

A courtyard at St. John's College

Lincoln College's Library

St. John's College's garden

Everyone is in a college and it is largely through that college that you are connected to the university. First you apply to your program at the university, and then work out which college you will be in. Different colleges have different features that make each one a unique experience and you must be in a college which offers a tutor for your program. Tutors are sort of a mix between an academic adviser, a TA, and a professor. They are there to push you in your field as well as provide you with more individual attention.

For lunch we went to a great little market and I had a brie and french bread sandwich, which was delicious. Later on, I met up with one of the rowers from the morning, Vanessa, and we had a great chat over tea in the late afternoon. It's been great to get different perspectives on the university. Lots to take in.

Well, that's all for now. Tomorrow is another travel day, so I'll probably be late in recaping my last morning in Oxford.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 4, Tuesday - Leiden to Oxford

Today was the great train-trek and I had been looking forward to it for some time. Here is a map of my day's journey:

My stomach was unfortunately still feeling the jetlag a bit when I woke up, but I thought I would be okay. The first train took me from Leiden back to Amsterdam. At 4:38 in the morning. When I took the train down to Leiden, the machine let me pay with a credit card, so I figured the same would be true going home. Well, the machines in Leiden don’t accept Visa. Some of them did accept coins, however, but I only had about 40 Euro cents in coinage and Carolin didn’t have enough for the ticket either. Of course, because it was so early, none of the stores were open to ask if they would trade my bills for coins. Carolin did have smaller bills so that I could break one of my bigger ones and I ended up asking a cleaning guy if he could trade me for coins. And that is how I got my ticket to Amsterdam: with the coins I traded the guy for and a few Carolin gave me. (Thanks Carolin!)

St. Pancras Station, London
Paddington Station, London
On the train to Amsterdam I started to feel sick to my stomach again. And, to sum things up: I spent the majority of my way to London focusing on not throwing up. (Sorry if you’re squeamish, but don’t worry, I didn’t. Thanks to everyone who was praying for me, it certainly helped!) The point is, about half-way through the saga, I decided that if I could cross Europe while feeling that horrible, I could make it through anything. The first train went from Amsterdam to Brussels, which was late because we had some sort of problem that I never understood which made us stop for a bit and be half an hour late. The next train was from Brussels to London, which means going through customs. I mostly tried to sleep on that train too, although it was less like sleeping, more like slipping in and out of a light coma. I didn’t have to worry about missing much of the scenery though, since during most the the journey we were enveloped in fog. Pretty, but foggy, and very hard to take pictures of. After that, I took the underground in London to another station where I boarded the final train of the day to Oxford. 

 This video is from the train to Oxford.

I have done a bit of touring about so far with my host, Dr. Rachel Quarrel, who has been wonderful, but since this post is already rather long I will save my descriptions for tomorrow when I will be touring several of the colleges. This is a beautiful city as well, and I can’t wait to post some pictures of it!

Day 3, Monday - Amsterdam to Leiden

First, I apologize for the delay in posting. There are a few reasons I have missed posting: 1) Yesterday my cousin Cora and I planned to get up early and go to the Anne Frank house.  So, we got up early, dressed, started to eat breakfast and then I got sick. Well, technically I woke up not feeling well, but it got worse from there. Turns out, jetlag decided that yesterday it was going to pick a fight with me. Well, I went back to bed, and slept. When I got up I felt a bit better, so Cora and I walked to the street market where we ended up chatting with a Pakistani man who introduced us to his Dutch friend who had just been to Jordan (he introduced us after he learned I was headed there). A little later we went bike riding in Vondel Park, which was a lot of fun but we didn’t get to stay very long because I had to go home and pack for my trip to Leiden. 

 I went to Leiden to visit my “German sister,” Carolin, who has been going to university and now works there. She gave me a tour of the city which is beautiful and charming, just as you would imagine a small European town to be.   

After the tour, we went to dinner at an Asian-style place where you can pick what you want and they stir-fry it for you. We also went to a pub, just for fun, and had Fanta. By the way, in case you didn’t know, European Fanta isn’t like American Fanta. We have orange soda, they have a slightly sweet fizzy orange drink. I love it. We went to bed around midnight because we were planning on getting up at 3:40am. Which brings us to Tuesday…

The blue line is where I traveled today

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 2, Sunday - Amsterdam

So, I'm working on posting some kind of map for those of you who want to track where I am, but for now I am just putting my location in the post title. As promised, here are a few pictures:

I just think this one is funny....
I didn't know you could dictate energy.
Also, we went to the grocery store today, which is always interesting to do in other countries. And fun fact for you: Dutch grocery stores are organized by meal, not type of food item. And I found:
Tiny coke!
Today was pretty low-key, church in the morning (in English and Dutch!) then lunch, the grocery store, some time at home, dinner, and a walk with the dog.

Now for some more scenic shots:
People here on bikes are amazing. I'll try to take some pictures, but seriously, they have talent. Also, roads are an interesting mix of people, bikes, cars, trams, buses, mopeds, and everything in between.

Canals are everywhere, and so are houseboats. We took a canal cruise for a little bit yesterday and I loved it!
This is from a bridge over the canal looking at some of the beautiful architecture. I have some interesting architecture facts for you but I'll save them for another post. 
 Amsterdam is a beautiful city, so I hope this gives you a little glimpse. Also, if there is anything you want to know, questions about my trip, or something you want to see in the blog, let me know and I'll do my best to accommodate!