Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hanging out with an Ozzie, a Kiwi, and a Canuck

I took the overnight train last night from Barcelona. The trip was relatively uneventful aside from being accosted by a French man with two rotten front teeth. He came into my cabin, which I was sharing with an older Spanish woman, and helped me with my bag. He then tried to come into our cabin and stay. The Spanish woman said, "No, no, women only." She then left to go meet with her friend. He snuck back in and pulled out a wad of bills and asked me to meet him at midnight in the bathroom. I told him, under no uncertain terms, to get the hell out of my cabin. He left and I slammed the door and locked it. The Spanish woman ended up changing cabins, so I was stuck alone in mine. I kept the door locked the entire night until the next morning, at which point we were about to arrive and I thought my bladder was going to explode. I cracked the door and peered out. I saw nobody in the hallway, so I quietly slipped to the bathroom. Of course, the second I turned around, there the man was, staring at me. He approached me, and started trying to talk to me. The person in the restroom was taking an eternity, and I began to feel extremely uncomfortable, so I walked past him back to my cabin. He followed me, then as I was trying to close my door he pushed it open, pushed passed me, and slammed it shut. At that point, I was obviously scared. I punched him as hard as I could in the stomach and started yelling for help. Of course nobody came, but I was able to push him out of my cabin and slam and lock the door. I didn't go near the door until we were at the Paris station until nobody was left on the train, and the conductor came and asked me to get off.

My last day and night in Barcelona was a huge success. For the day, I organized a trip with some of the people from the hostal to Montserrat, a monastary in the mountains, about an hour outside of Barcelona. It is the site of Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary and is identified by some with the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurain myth. "Montserrat" literally means "serrated mountain." It describes the peculiar aspect of the rock formation, composed of pink conglomerate, a form of sedimentary rock.

The people in attendance were an Ozzie (Australian), a Kiwi (New Zealander), a Canuck (Canadian), and of course, yours truly (Texan). New Zealand is to Australia what Canada is to the US, so there was quite a bit of banter, and I learned several new terms. Afterwards, we took the train back to Barcelona, and my Canuck friend and I made a giant pot of Sangria for everyone in the hostal. The party was a huge success, and had ambassadors from several countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Slovenia, Portugal, Argentina, England, Massachusetts, and Texas. Here were some quotes from that great day:

Guy: "I'm from Lisbon."
Me: "Really? You dont have an Irish accent."
Guy: "Thats because Lisbon is in Portugal."
Me: "Oh...right..."
Canuck: "I think you mean Dublin."

Canuck: "After I talk, people ask me if I'm from the States, and I say, 'no I'm from Canada.' Then, they say, 'Oh, sorry.' I dont understand why they always apologize after."
Ozzie: "Its because so many people dont like Americans, they are afraid you'll be offended."
Texas: "No. Its because everyone knows Canada is the red-headed step child of the US."

lip chap= chapstick
runners=running shoes
togs=swimming trunks
thongs, jandals=flipflops
knickers in a twist=panties in a wad
wanna route love?=have sex
bang on=right on

The hostal experience has been very intriguing. Of course there are times I get lonely and wish I were with someone. And, there are definitely times I wish I had my own room and shower without automatic water shut off. However, I have met people from all over the world in the short amount of time I have been in Europe and have explored much more than I thought I would. I initially thought I would be more reserved and miss out on some of the opportunities of the cities travelling alone, but it has been quite the opposite.

I have now been in Paris, my home away from home, for the last two days. I have been taking in all the typical tourist sites and museums. It is a very different feel from when I was last here as a temporary inhabitant. I am just another tourist: checking my map on every street corner, trying to figure out which metro line to take, and frantically trying to take in every monument in my short time here so I can say "been there done that" in the true American spirit.

I have made sure to hit up my favorite spots- le Tambour (a restaurant by my old apartment) for chevre chaud salad, Fauchon for croissant aux amands, Paul for pain au chocolat (yes, my life revolves around food), and of course a crepe stand for a nutella crepe. During these moments, I feel back "at home" in the temporary life I had here: eating my pain au chocolat in the Luxembourg gardens outside the Sorbonne where I studied; eating a crepe and drinking wine on the steps of the Sacre Coeur while I listen to kids playing guitar. Of course, I loved going to the Louvre and seeing the Eiffel Tower. But, just Being, living life the last few days in the Parisian spirit, that is what I have truly enjoyed and realised I have missed the most about Gay Paris.

One final crazy story of the day. I had just finished walking through the Impressionist section of the Musee d'Orsay and was just too tired to take in any more. I decided to go back to the hostal for a quick nap. I walked towards the nearest metro, of course accidentally walked past it, so continued on to the next nearest stop. I walked down the stairs and onto the platform, exhausted and dripping sweat, when I suddenly heard, "Alex! Alex!" coming from across the tracks. Belwidered, and not really expecting it to be yours truly being beckoned, I glanced over half-heartedly. But, low and behold, there were two girls from my med school class!! Amazing how the little steps in a day can lead up to one giant coincidence.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Some strapping young gentleman, who shall remain nameless, asked me if I was journaling or blogging? I guess the past few entries have been more journal style. Although, to be honest, I´m not entirely sure I know the difference. That´s why I´ve decided to coin the phrase "joggling." True, I am giving you a run down of my day, but I´m certainly not withholding my opinion, which I imagine is what primarily separates a blog from a journal. But, obviously, those of you who know me (which is everyone reading this blog), are aware of the fact I have no problem giving you my two cents, whether your asked for it or not. Heck, even if you asked me to NOT give my opinion, I usually find it just too hard to resist.

I had my capuccino and croissant con chocolat this morning. My two roommates are very cute girls from Canada. One is studying abroad in Copenhagen and the other is teaching Spanish for a year in a small village. There was a third roommate in the room this morning that was not there when I went to bed last night. Not too sure if it´s a man or a woman. I thought I was in a female only room, but the leg that was hanging off the bunk bed, dangling in my face this morning was definitely hairy and it sounded like there was a leaf blower on in the bed above me. But, hey, it´s Europe, so who knows.

I went to Casa Battlo today, a private home who owners commissioned Gaudi to redesign it. He never used straight lines for any of the architecture or furniture, everything was curved. He was inspired by the curves seen in nature, many of them reminiscent of the sea and sea shore. This form was fairly typical of Catalan nouveau art. He also used forms similar to feminine body parts. This eroticism was possibly a reflection of Gaudi´s one true passion, architecture. Finally, the outside of the house was covered in murals, also aquatic in theme. He created the mural from pieces of broken ceramic tiles from demolished buildings. He was recycling before the word was even invented!

Right now, I´m sitting at Brown, a trendy restaurant on the Passeig de Gracia, akin to Paris´Champs Elysees. I´ve been relatively frugal with my dining choices thus far. However, I knew I was going to treat myself to one nice restaurant while in Spain, and when I passed by Brown and saw burrata on the menu as well as foie gras pizza, I knew had found my soul mate.

I was introduced to burrata cheese when I was living in Miami after my first year of medical school, doing research at the Miami Cure for Paralysis. Burrata cheese is a type of mozarella cheese, stretched, and stuffed with creme fraiche. The burrata I had today was drizzled with truffle oil and served with fresh tomatoes and arugula. It´s about as rich as you can get, as far as mozarella is concerned, and is a creamy heaven in your mouth. (Yes, Lindsey, I know,"thats what she said." Sorry dad, inappropriate.) Anyway, after eating burrata once, and having the addictive personality that I do, I began ordering burrata in every restaurant I went to while in Miami. I must say, the burrata I had today, was the best I have ever tried. The foie gras pizza was not so bad either, though it was more like pate than foie gras. Its amazing how much joy the culinary pleasures in life can bring you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BFF Forever

My roommate made it to the final tryouts for the Madrid opera, we went to dinner to celebrate. She also thinks we are new best friends. She told me she was going to come visit me in Texas, and I was going to find her a "cowboy" boyfriend. She asked me if it was true, if all the men in Texas wear cowboy boots and hats and drive pickup trucks like in the movies. I told her, yes, that stereotype is painfully accurate.

I had a little mishap in the hostel. I bought an international adapter that was SUPPOSED to work with all smaller appliances. They lied. I got it out and my roommate pointed and said, "oh no, very dangerous." To which I replied, "Oh yes, straight hair better." I plugged it in but it was taking forever to heat up, so I set it aside and subsequently forgot about it. All of a sudden, we heard a crackling noise. We looked over at the socket and sparks were flying from it. Then, boom! There was a mini explosion and all the lights on the entire floor of the hostel went out. I quickly hid the evidence, aired out the room since it smelled like a roman candle had just been set off, and my roommate went to tell the worker at the desk. Oops. Once everything was back under control, my roommate laughed hysterically at me and called me a "peeromahnaheec."

Last night, I went and had a drink at the Plaza Hotel. I then went to dinner with two French couples and ended the night at a gay bar with a gay British guy. Fabuloouusss! Of course, I was well behaved. I left for Barcelona this morning. As I was hauling my Samsonite off the metro, a creepy looking kid took one look at me and thought, "jackpot!" He jumped off the train and followed me. I went faster, he went faster. He got in my face on the escalator and started talking to me in Spanish. I dont know Spanish, so I cursed at him in French and went as fast as I could with a 60lb suitcase. At the exit, a police officer noticed the commotion and finally got him to leave. Close call. My hostel here in Barcelona seems nicer. It even has a bell captain! (Not really, the man behind the desk carried my bag up the stairs for me.) On the way up, he asked if I was sneaking a body up in it. How rude, he offered!

I went to la Rambla this evening, it was very crowded and there were books and roses for sale everywhere. First of all, I really hate crowds. I get that same road rage feeling that I get when I´m stuck in traffic, only I´m on foot. I just don´t feel like i´m moving unelss i´m accelerating. Apparently, it was crowded beyond the norm because it is some Catalonian holiday today, in which the girlfriend gives the boyfriend a book and the boyfriend gives the girlfriend a rose. I asked the man at the desk what for and why it started, but he had no idea, he says he just does it. Barcelona to me, so far, seems to be to Spain what Austin is to Texas. Its a really young person city, with lots of entertainment, parks and dogs all over, and people are here to PARTY. Stereotypically not stereotypical. Let´s see what unfolds!!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hostile Hostal

I´ll start this off by saying I just sat down on a bench in the Jardines de Sabastini next to the Palacio Real for a brief respite before continuing on to conquer Madrid à pied. A bum just sat on a bench across from me, stripped to his boxers, and is now reading a newspaper and catching some rays. Awkward? Slightly. Speaking of bums, they seem so happy here. There is one in particular who lives on a stoop a few buildings down from my hostal. He´s got a nice palate set up and greets me each morning with a toothless grin, then takes a swig from his bottle of wine, his two dogs chilling at his feet. All the bums here have dogs, well fed dogs, even though they are begging for money for food. Gotta love socialism. I guess I´d be pretty happy too if I could spend the day hanging out on a stoop with my pooch, drinking wine, and collecting money from passersby. Maybe I´ll rub some dirt on my face, find a stray, buy a cheap bottle of wine and give it a shot, since it´s only day 2 and I´m already running low on funds.

Anyway, I digress. My hostal really isn´t hostile, I just thought it had a nice ring and couldn´t think of another adjective that started with ¨h¨. It is a little ghetto, though. The showers are 2x2ft. You press on the water and every 60seconds it shuts off and you have to press it on again. Like a sink. Only, it´s a SHOWER.

I have one roommate, a cute Italian girl from Venice. She´s a soloist there and here for an audtion for the Madrid opera. She sang Rossini. She made callbacks this morning and is there now for round 2! We are going to go out to dinner and celebrate her audtion tonight- she is in for a treat! I really hope she makes it, for her sake, and also so I can say I am friends (because obviously we are bff now) with a famous opera singer.

Last night, I had a sandwich and a beer in a little bar near my hostal. There was a big soccer game on. I have no idea who was playing, but I cheered for the team everyone else in the bar was cheering for, thought that was a safe bet. I then listened to a Spanish Stevie Ray Vaughan cover band. The Spanish accent really brings out the bartione notes in his music. Obviously, it was a good night, since any night that ends with SRV, accent or not, is a good one ;).


When i got to NYC, I was still unsure of whether my flight to spain was still in operation. I also realized that I had flown into LaGaurdia and was flying out of JFK on my next flight. I fortunately had a several hour layover, so was able to take a shuttle to JFK. When I checked into Iberia airlines, I was told it was the only airlines currently flying to Europe and my flight was the first to go. What luck! The downside to that was the fact my flight was the only flight, and thus was booked solid. I am a window seat kind of girl and got stuck with an aisle seat (at least it wasnt a middle seat, that may have been a deal breaker). Fortunately, however, the Italian couple next to me preferred sitting in each other´s laps instead of the seat next to me, which left me with quite a bit of room. Although I´m normally not a huge fan of PDA, it really worked about this time.

I made it to Madrid and onto the metro with my Samsonite suitcase, my bookbag, and a purse stuffed with shoes because my suitcase was apparently five pounds overweight. After what seemed like thirty metro line changes, I made it to my final destination and was heaving my bag up the stairs, when a nice Spaniard saw my plight and offered to help me with my suitcase. When I got to the top of the stairwell, the first sign I saw was ¨sex shop¨ in blinking neon lights. This obviously gave me pause, and I began to curse the website that assured me I was going to be in the ¨heart¨ of the city. The good news is that when I asked for directions, I was still a good mile or so from my hostel. This bad news was that I was still a mile or so from my hostel.

As I was dragging my bags up what appeared to be the steepest street in Madrid towards my hostel (after coming full circle thanks to a taxi drivers sketchy directions or the fact something got lost in translation thanks to my excellent Spanish, whatever....), I had a minor ephiphany. This trip is an embodiment of my current stage in life, my late 20´s. I´m really too old to do the true ¨college¨ backpacking experience- walking around Europe in the same wrinkled clothes and shoes that don´t match, but I´m really too young (mainly just too poor) to do Europe the grownup way- in taxis and hotels with bell captains. I´m willing to cut some corners at this stage of my life (lugging suitcases onto metros, sharing rooms and showers with complete strangers), but I will not wear the same outfit day after day or shoes that do not match (hence the 60 lb suitcase accompanying me on my ¨backpacking¨ journey). I´m once again stuck in the purgatory of your late 20´s- too old to be young, too young and poor to be old, hiking up a mile-long hill in 3inch heels, lugging a giant suitcase behind me.

I finally made it to my hostel, dropped of my stuff, freshened up in the communal bathroom and spent yesterday morning sipping a cappucino and eating a croissant con chocolat across the street from the museo del Prado. I may be in purgatory, but life is still pretty good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Second Happiest Day of my Life

Thursday, March 18, 2010 was the infamous Match Day. This is a day when fourth year medical students across the country find out at 11am central/12pm eastern standard time where they will be spending the next 3-7 years of their lives. Four years of tears, sweat, blood, overnighters, and angst, all accumulated into one moment. This moment was shared with 500 of my closest classmates, their friends/family, and my dear friends Lauren and Cory from Houston.

Coming up to that point, I honestly did not feel all that much angst. My first choice was Washington Hospital Center, which was not the most competitive of all the places to which I applied. I also had a fairly reassuring email from the residency director after I emailed her to let her know her program would be my top choice. So, I felt fairly confident. But, the moment I opened that letter onstage and saw the words, "Congratulations, you have matched!" with "Washington Hospital Center" typed just below, I felt an explosion of exhilaration and relief. Finally! After four years of feeling inadequate, always being almost, but, not quite there, I had finally accomplished exactly what I wanted to accomplish, no more, no less.

That euphoria of the second happiest day of my life reminds me of the happiest day of my life, Christmas Day, the tenth calendar year of the life of Alexandra. All year I had been begging and pleading with my parents for a battery-operated car with a shift stick. Christmas came and went that day, with no car. I had received some great presents and was satisfied, but not elated. I thanked my parents and quietly took my presents upstairs to my room. A little while later, my mom called me downstairs. She had our new Polaroid camera in one hand and an undeveloped picture in the other. She said, "I don't understand how to work this thing, the picture is all blurry." I told her she needed to wait for it to develop and proceeded to shake it (Hey Yeah! Shout out to Outkast!). I looked again at the picture and saw it was a picture of our courtyard with a gray, battery-operated Purego jeep sitting outside the window. I then, naturally, looked up to my mom and said, "I don't get it?" She frantically pointed out the window, at which point everything became clear- that courtyard had my Purego gray jeep with a shift stick. I started screaming and jumping up and down then ran for the door. All those months of wishing, hoping, begging, had come to fruition and that initial disappoint that Christmas morning I would yet again have to face another year without my Purego jeep, only served to further augment the euphoria I was feeling at that very moment.

I drove that car a good 50,000 miles around my pool, ran many a carpool, went to many a grocery store/shop/restaurant, and lived my perfectly normal imaginary life with my baby Betsy Wetsy named Beth, in the car seat next to me.

That euphoria I felt match day, though I am still incredibly excited to start this new phase of my life, has dissipated some and lent itself to a new feeling: scared shitlessness. I am excited yet concurrently terrified to finally have real responsibilities, to finally have the power to make decisions that could have potential life and death consequences. There isn't much I can do now, except hurry up and wait, and then bust my ass to do the best that I can come July 1. In the interim, I will dabble in Europe (the next several blog entries) and then will benefit from a prescription of Valium as July 1 approaches to curb the anxiety over the new life I am about to lead.

Best to all,