Pyranees Backpacking Day 1

Day after Lolo’s surprise wedding. Castet, France.

Woke up “relatively” early to a beautiful day in the Pyrenees: mountains all around. Today, after the picnic at noon in Port de Castet, we were headed out towards GR-10 trail close to the border of Spain, en-route to Pic Midi D’Ossau. It will be just T, K, D and I. Getting excited, we were gearing up, going to the grocery story where we bought too much food (as always), and some gifts to take home. While we’ve been in France, D and I have completely broken our diets, eating bread and cheese almost every day. I still refrain from eggs for the most part. So far we have experienced little to no side effects, having regular bowel movements. D’s even been eating pork.

Lolo was so welcoming, allowing us to use her new car when we needed one and we also borrowed sleeping bags, a tent and pads from her. Plus her most favorite 49L backpack since I didn’t have one big enough. The brunch was left over food from yesterday, enjoyed on a wide plateau 5km east of her castle-like house in Castet. As the four of us drove up in her tiny white Dacia, we had more and more expansive views of the opposing mountains.

PicnicFrench FoodAt the top, we were treated by a loud eew-haw from the next door donkey and grazing horses with cowbells chiming across the field of soft green grass – the type you would want to roll around in – except for the minefield of fresh and sun-dried cow pies. Paul had driven his yellow camping van to the middle of this open pasture, and dished out the boeuf-roti, ham, fromage de brebis, carottes-rapés, haricots vests, among many other delicacies of the region.

We found the beer tap in the basement, next to the “dungeon” dormitory we slept in that night, and brought over a bottle to everyone’s delight. The mood was very relaxed, a lazy dimanche après-midi in South France.

SiesteAfter a large plate of food, a glass of juice/beer/wine, we lazed around in the sun, the chilly breeze whipping up light goosebumps on my skin. In the distance, colts rolled about in the dirt, hooves kicking the air. A bit closer, dogs licked the remainder of plates to their owners’ nonchalance, and babies hummed softly as they learned the art of the afternoon “sieste”.

Packing up, the drive to the Pic began – first in a wide valley, then detoured through a village where we got stuck behind a tractor and some herders herding two cows (which decided to take a nice shit right in front of the car, our wheels squishing through the moist manure seconds later). Finally back on the main road, it narrowed between a deeper canyon on the right, and steepening walls on the left.

Pic Midi D'OssauNoses pressed to the passenger glass window, we arched our necks up to see the tippity-tops of rocky peaks peeking out left and right. Parking the car at a lake we were originally going to hike to (we weren’t sure if the roads were open), I was really jumping up and down in excitement watching other people mull around with packs, hiking poles, and climbing gear. It was so great to be out here, the Pyranees where I had spent my 23rd year of life, six years ago.

Our team of hikersThis time it was with my life partner and two of my favorite people in the world. We even brought a rope, as we expect the peak to be a series of easier 5.3- 5.4 climbs – which we will do tomorrow. Six and seven-tenth km, rolling hills, many sheep, cows, and horses in the shadow of high-jutting peaks later, we reached the refuge de Pombie at 2032m.

Nearby was a lake and farther, awe inspiring views to mountains in the east turning orange, red, then purple in the reflection of the quickly approaching sunset. Tent set next to a stream of water, we finished 1.5 L of wine and nearly a full bar of hazelnut chocolate before retiring to bed.

Bicycle Charged Cellphone ChargerPS: there was a bike to recharge non-iphone mobiles (Pedal to create electricity) and T & K found the coolest camp spot under a 45degree angle boulder. They called it their “living room 🙂

French Interview

So a little overdue, but I’ll write it anyways. However strange this is, I believe my first sit-down for-real interview was the one I had about two weeks ago, for a astrophysics research lab in Toulouse. The strange part is that, although I’ve worked in the US, and had interviews, I guess I have never had one before that was in front of real live people, except for this one.. which in fact was in French. And to think about it, I wasn’t really fluent at all when I got here a couple months ago. Clearly I didn’t get the job (I didn’t really even want to since i would screw up my school and other plans after), but it was a pretty sweet experience, and also to get a taste of what they do in these communistic- block looking buildings.. however you can just taste the brainpower that floats around in these offices.

Some thoughts

French don’t believe in soap

Or hot water. I think I should start carrying around my own little bottle of liquid soap in order to wash my hands after going to the bathroom. The hot water I can deal with… although it would be nicer if there were warm hand dryers, or at least paper towels so my pants don’t always have a permanent wet hand-mark on the ass. (and those of you thinking “hand sanitizer”.. my hands would turn to dust if I use that every time I can’t find soap)

I passed my Algebra final!

Barely.. but passed! ’nuff said.

Ran out of ink

In one semester, I exhausted 4 pens worth of ink. Never in my life has that ever happened… you know, I’ve kept the same set of writing utensils, sometimes I even had some small pencils from grade school even in high school. Not here.. Hello BIC cheap pens from USA, I need you now. Also paper is mad expensive. One pack of lined paper here = the price of 5 200 sheet packs back home. Plant them trees yo!

Exam week

Doesn’t really exist. Neither does reading week for that matter.. exhibit A: I have a class from 9-12 on the 11th of January, but coincidentally, they’ve scheduled an exam 10:30 to 12:30 on the 11th of January. I guess pretty soon I’ll need a time turner. Exhibit B: last day of classes: 17th of Dec, first day of exams Jan 3rd.. ok so reading week should be the week before the 3rd (27dec-2nd Jan). The days in the set “reading week” also include the days “the 31st of Dec and 1st of January”, which is coincidentally the intersection of the set of “reading week” and set of days “You should never have to study on.” That contradicts the definition of the second set mentioned above. Gotta love it.

Ok.. back to you Shannon (that is the lovely human who made my life a little more difficult with échantillonages and des fonctions du transfert) If you’re interested: a little metaphor.. then applied to signals.

Adrenaline Rush

I think I had enough of Adrenaline for one weekend.. but it is merely Saturday night.

Part 1
So first… Friday night I was invited to my first real “french party” aka a house party full of mostly french dudes/dudettes. (except for one guy from Sweden or somewhere- but he was actually asian or Malaysian looking) To get there, I had to take a bus from home all the way to the metro, then took the metro north two stops. From there, it was all by foot. I had looked up the way to get there on google maps, but when I was walking, I took a wrong turn, and went on the road I thought would pass by some tennis fields (which it did, but was actually the wrong set of fields- really the field I was looking for were rugby fields, and a block north)… so this road I thought would pass over the canal, but instead I ended up with a dead end of fence. Proceeded to climb the fence, because the canal road was just on the other side.
Bad idea.
Fence was the kind that was not just supposed to keep cars and bikes out, but people too. Long story short, it created some pretty nasty wounds in my hands. (Eyes… check, ass… check, face…check, hands… !check) I even felt the sneaky little metal pointy thing at the top sink in. At least it avoided any ligaments and nerves, actually barely hurt, only slightly swollen now.

Ah but then it was not very pretty… blood seeping out, dripping all over the place (I bet I would have some vampires on my tail if they existed). And for those of you I know are reading this (mom), don’t worry, I’m OK. no need to go to the hospital or anything. But just sayin, good thing I have some leftover calluses from rowing.

Party was fun, but more booze flowing there than adrenaline :p (Again for those worrying too much- I did not get drunk, or puke, or anything terribly bad)

Part 2
Today, I offered to take photos of a kind of suspicious place – namely where the guys doing some construction two houses over basically almost blew up the house where I’m living by fiddling with the electric boxes (presumably trying to steal electricity), and somehow ended up routing way too much voltage through the wires (you know nothing too bad – just some smoke and flames coming out of the wireless router, busting all the light fixtures, screwing up the fishtank’s 700 Euro water pump, blowing out the heating in half the house, etc.)
So today, just to have some evidence of the scene, I went out to take some photos from the PUBLIC road (did not go into anyone’s property). I go happily along with my small camera, snapping some photos of the electric box, the property being constructed on, etc. All of a sudden, I hear this guy yelling in French: “Why are you taking photos!!?” He’s pretty far away, so I just pretend not to hear him and keep going on (I was gonna jump on the bus that was coming in 10 minutes).
One minute later, a car comes racing towards me from behind.. in my mind I’m like oh crap… I hope I don’t get beaten up :-/. Comes screeching to a halt in front of me, guy jumps out, and starts yelling, “Why are you taking photos!!?” I’m just like, well “I’m here for a bit, and I just want to take photos of the places I’ve been, which includes this street…” His face turns red and keeps yelling,
“You can’t take photos of my car, and my work!! Why are you taking photos, you’re not allowed” I swear he’s like spewing spit he’s so mad… (there are 3 or 4 other guys in the car with him.. presumably illegal workers), I rebuke:
“What are you talking about, this is a public road, I can take as many photos I want here, there” ..He keeps ranting
“Why can’t I take photos??” I ask.
“It’s the law, you can’t take photos of someone’s vehicle, and someone’s work, it’s not like your country” (BULL SHIT).
So hes like show me the photos, starts grabbing my arm (me against 5 guys.. no way in hell – so I take out the camera). So I’m obliged to pull the camera out show him.. He’s like thats my car, thats my property, you can’t take photos, blah blah. At this point I’m getting really mad to – there must be something really bad if he’s acting like this.
He snatches the camera from my hand, and jumps back in his car, saying I’m taking the photos.
Then accelerates full speed. At this point, I’m like, great… there goes my camera… at least it wasn’t my really big expensive one.
But he ends up slowing down and stopping again, getting out of the car as Im about to pass by them with a really angry look on my face. He hands me back the camera saying “I took the card out, here’s your camera.” Wanted to flick him off so bad, but probably would have made matters worse.
He drives off, then another car full of Arabs drives by (most likely also illegal).
I think it’s time to find a new home… disappear before they attempt to blow up the house again…
Although in future cases these are the things I would have done (or should have tried to do):
1. hide as soon as he first notices
2. turn off the dumb flash when taking photos (why didn’t I think of this earlier)
3. have 2 cards, and switch the cards after taking the photos, showing him the empty one, saying they weren’t good and so I deleted them (probably wouldn’t have worked, but an interesting alternative).
4. put the scarf over my head as a headdress, and start swearing to Allah and bowing in the 4 directions.

And now I’m sitting in the Uni’s parking lot. I came here with the intention of finding a chair and table and a place where there’s internet so I can do some work. Fail University, fail: I found internet but no chair and table (unless I break into the building).

3 Strikes, your out…

Well today was interesting, en fait, when I arrived to campus, I ran into one of my classmates, with whom I walked to class. But alas, the building was blocked from the inside with chairs and tables that were piled against almost every single door… except one – which we found and then finally could make our way up to class. Why the blockage? Well, the french are en greve.. basically having a strike against the raised retirement age, which of course effects students aversely I guess too. The class started a bit late, but pretty much everyone was there.
I’m sure in the US, there wouldn’t have been one person in class. The second class of the day was cancelled because the building was locked, then when we went to the secretary to ask if our last class (algebra) was to be held, the whole secretary building was closed. Being insistent, our class of 12 found the algebra professor’s office, and decided to leave a note asking him to phone one of us if there will or will not be class – which we would propagate throughout. It looks like I have to go home since the cafeteria is closed, and there’s no where else to eat really, unless I took a bus somewhere. I kind of hope there is no class anyways, since I have plenty of catching-up to do. Plus, I could take a nice nap which would suite me well.
Oh and ps, I don’t get why it is so terribly cold here. Seriously. I’m like 100 miles from the Mediterranean. and it’s only mid-october.

Toulouse: The Chicago of France

Reason for that is not because it’s cold, but it’s windy… I feel like I’m a monsoon, without all the rain. But every day, i look at my watch, it says it’s into October, but it’s still very warm. Makes me happy. While watching french TV today, I found something kind of amusing: every commercial that was advertising any kind of fattening food (kinder chocolate, McDonalds, etc) had a marquee subtitle warning the viewer that one should eat a balanced diet, and exercise enough. AHA, so that’s why the french are so skinny – they are warned at a young age to beware of fatty food. Oh and of course becoming half anorexic too..
Otherwise, I’m getting many compliments from all french people I meet that I speak french very well.. I wonder if they are just being cordial or if it is actually true. I feel like I’m getting better but it’s not progressing as fast as I’d like it to. And when I’m tired, It is very hard to pull out the language.
I start classes on Monday, with a 3 week late start in the third year of a math/statistics/information studies license. For the first week I’ll be sampling the classes, but I really like the city of Toulouse, and if nothing else, I believe the fluency of French is a huge step forward – it would make me more internationally competent with a third language under my belt. It will be indefinitely hard, of course, but if I do manage to make a living somehow, and go to school it would be a really good feeling.

Le but de mon voyage, c’est…

To learn to speak french better. Yes.. which is what I thought is what would happen when i went out to farms to help, and these random people in the country side, but it turns out most of these people are friggin BRITISH. Ok, so I have nothing against british people, except for a couple of them who decide to be really cool and send me off in 4 hrs notice.. but enough about that. Anyways, I may learn to speak french better if I just stay in a hostel.
Yesterday 3 new guys joined us in the room des Musiciens (just a theme… it’s not like we have a grand piano in there or anything), they are here for a week, and doing some sort of carpentry school, then three weeks doing work with a company to build specifically log cabins. They were really cool, only one of them could speak English, so it was really interesting trying to talk with the other ones, but I somehow “uhh”-ed and ahh-ed my way through the conversation, circumscribing as much as I could.
Interestingly, we did somehow manage to get our way through some conversation about Radio Frequencies, and also some disorder of the heart which one of them had… it was quite a good feeling.

September 30, 2010

The trip to France, Andrei, and Lentillac du Causse

So much has happened in the past 3 days, I hardly know where to start.. Au début, je me suis entré l’aéroport à Budapest, puis ils m’ont fait payer pour les bagages, parce que mon sac à dos était trop grand.. ça coute 22 euros.. pour la vol en Budapest à Genève, puis encore un 22 euros en Genève à Toulouse… Un début trés positive, sans doute =/. The flight from Budapest to Geneva was pretty uneventful, I was asleep for most of the time, but as we came closer to the city, we passed over some notable lakes that were so clear, if I were an eagle, I would have been literally able to see the non exisitant ray that was hiding in the sand on the bottom of the lake. There were a multitude of boats out on the lake, creating beautifully fractalic wave-shapes on the surface of the water. When I came out of the plane, and lifted my head outwards, an amazing sight met my eyes. It reminded me of Milan, all the mountains coming straight up out of the ground all around, the city laying low in the valley.

I had about four hours to waste at the airport, some of which I would have liked to go see the city, but I was afraid I wouldn’t get back in time, so instead I just went outside the airport with my really expensive bag (I was considering throwing some clothes out, maybe to the total value of about 20 euros, so I’d be able to take it aboard and lose only 20 euros not 22..) The air was very pure, but only farther away from the benches, where it was less toxicated by the constant smokers’ traffic.

Meanwhile I reflected on how I could condense my bag, perhaps roll my shirts up tighter, pull the strings tighter to make the bag appear smaller, then put it lower on my waist so that it does not poke over my head, even took out my belt to tighten it across the middle so it may perhaps fit better into that metal handbag-measure-thing by the check-in counter, and of course stuff as my of my non-duty-free objects into the duty free bag I nicked from the duty-free shop in Budapest.. Apparently you’re allowed to take an extra duty-free bag onto the plane besides your hand bag.

Of course after an hour of condensation, sweating a bit from the “weight-lifting”, I still failed to condense, thus paying the 22 euros once again.. Ah ok. Next time I will bring one underwear and my toothbrush, and wear everything else on my body. See what they say to that 😉

Once we finally took off, I took a look out my window, and was once again awed by the Alps. They never seem to astound me. These were farther in the distance, but so majestic, rising above two layers of clouds, one of which I’m pretty sure was Mont Blanc, parce que c’etait si haute, plus que les autres, avec un capuche des nouages sur le sommet.

Arriving at Toulouse, I instantly picked out Andrei, even though the only identifier he told me was “je suis tres grand, peu prés de 6 pied et 5 pouces…” He was very relaxed and extremely nice right off the bat, took my bag off the carousel, and headed out to the car. I told him I want to learn to speak french better, and so we continued in french, me understanding every third word, him listening hard when I attempted to put together a sentence.

That night, I was greeted by a traditional French dinner, one with so many courses I lost track, and a different kind of wine in a different kind of glass each time. By the time we were done, I think about 3 hours had passed, but I learned a lot, and warmed up to his wife and her two kids. They were extremely welcoming, the kids well behaved.

Next day I walked around a little in le centre-ville de Toulouse with the Andrei’s wife and the youngest son; he did not have school because it was Wednesday. I’m sure some of the photos I put online will be ones the little 5 year old took. Il était trés intelligent, et curieux.

Au fond, les deux jours que j’ai resté là, je crois que j’avais appris plus français que j’ai jamais appris pendant un semestre.

By the end, Andrei, who is a professor and also researcher in digital imaging/technology/crazy smart stuff, convinced me to consider going to school there in Toulouse, for at least a year, to at least get a liscense – or basically 1 year of “fill in” studies that I will need anyways before getting a masters in this stuff, since I only really studied two years worth of information technology at Syracuse… maybe I’ll do it; I don’t see anything negative in trying it at least, I’ll be able to speak french better if nothing else by the end 🙂

Today I finally got to near the city of Cahors (30 min outside) in a little village called Lentillac du Causse, with my host family where I’ll be making a web site for their apartment business, and if I have time, their adventure-sport business. We wasted no time in talking about it; I have started brainstorming, exploring my options. We have already bought the URL for it: