Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amsterdam Pt. 2

I wanted to make Saturday more productive than our Friday was - not to discount the magical Heineken experience, however - and do more touristy things. We started off with a three-hour walking tour of the city that went all around the central island and canals. As mentioned in the last post, there was a good two inches of powder on the ground but the roads and bridges had all turned to compact ice since the evening before. It made for a very slow-going and occasionally sloppy walking tour for the forty or so people that went. We went through the red light district, saw the Olde Kerk (Old Church), old ports and weigh stations, New Kerk (New Church), and a host of other old buildings significant to Amsterdam history. The tour guide was very charismatic and had a bunch of good funny stories about Amsterdam. After the tour, I followed him to his favorite pub for Heinekens and a traditional Dutch "stompokt" sausage and mashed potatoes dish. I was in the mood for something cheap and filling, and since this was all you can eat and included a half-pint, it fulfilled both of those things.

After dinner, I met back up with Cameron and Lauren to go to the Anne Frank house. The house was never damaged during the war because Amsterdam had no real resistance to the initial Nazi occupation and wasn't a major battleground when the allies arrived like Eindhoven was. The building stayed intact and, although the Nazis removed all the furniture from the two-story attic annex where the Franks and four others lived, the rest of it is exactly intact. For instance, the bathroom and kitchen fixtures are still there and one wall still bears a bunch of pencil marks charting Anne and Margot's growth. It was a very humbling experience, but thankfully it didn't go too far into depth on the death camps the family all ended up in. It was more sad to see Otto Frank's post-war interviews. He was the only survivor out of the eight hideaways and was the one that published Anne's diary and worked to preserve the house.

The Anne Frank house definately needed a follow-up activity to boost the spirits, so after Cameron and Lauren got a bite to eat, we met up with the other girls and some Clemson University kids we met the day before at the Heineken plant. We all went down to a different section of the city than we'd been before and participated in a pub crawl. I'd never done one before, so although it was pricy at 18€, it was a good experience. We got back to the hotel, packed for the morning, and went to bed around 3 with an early start ahead of us. We left the hostel at 7:30, walked to the Central Station, rode a train to Amstelstation, and got back on our bus, getting back into Paris about 5pm here. It was definately good to be home, good to have all my stuff again, good to have internet access, but most of all, good to stop the money bleeding that Amsterdam entailed. But, I guess you're only young and in Amsterdam once, so oh well.

Amsterdam Pt. 1

We got into Amsterdam on Thursday evening via the Eurolines bus system. Since we hadn't booked until the last minute, we opted for an 8-hour bus ride for 64€ as opposed to a 4-hour train for 170€. We got into Amsterdam Amstelstation at around 10:30pm and took a metro into the Central Station in the heart of the city and walked to our hostel from there. We stayed at a youth place called the Heart of Amsterdam, sandwiched in the middle of the central island in the red light district. That night, since we got there late, we just cleaned up and met some of our friends from ESCP at their hostel and went out to some bars from there. From that point on, it was pretty much a constant bleeding of money.

Friday day we got a late start and were pretty indecisive as to what to do. I ended up going with the other 3 girls that were on the trip with Cameron, Lauren, and I to the Van Gogh museum. It was pretty interesting to see his progression as an artist. I guess all I've seen of him until now was his much-later really impressionist stuff of which I'm not that big of a fan.

After the Van Gogh museum, we made the best decision of our entire lives and went to tour the Heineken brewery. When I say brewery, however, that's a misrepresentation. It was about 1/4 brewery, 1/4 museum, and 2/4 nightclub. We went through a history of the brewery and company, then into the actual factory part. We then went on a very Jurassic Park-esque video ride where the room moved around and showed us how the beer is actually made. After that, though, we just went into the tasting rooms and then it was pretty much a nightclub for the rest of the time. Everything was green neon with techno music blaring. We played a foosball tournament, filmed a music video, and then ended up in a Heineken-only bar where our 15€ entrance fee got us two more free beers. All in all, we spent about 3 1/2 hours there and was the best investment I made in Amsterdam all weekend. From that point on, I pledged I'd drink no other beer but Heineken for the duration of the trip. After the brewery, I went back to our hostel and bought a herring sandwich from a street vendor. It was a little bit sketchy, but it was a roach coach with a bunch of different fish, crab, and lobster sandwich option. Plus something called Han's Haring just can't be refused.

I ended the day with a huge power nap, cleaned up for the night, and then went over the Bulldog hostel - where our friends were staying - for their happy hour. Tried Absinthe, which was interested but nasty tasting, and then we went exploring the city for good nightlife. As we were leaving the club / bar area, it started snowing considerably heavy and by the time we got back to our hostel there was a good inch or two blanketing the ground.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nightlife and Traveling

The past few days have been a lot of fun and I've been going out much more than the first couple of days when I wasn't feeling so well. Last night we went to an Australian bar in the Latin Quarter for Australian Independence day. The Australian exchange girls (pictured below) were our unofficial hosts and organized the whole thing. When we got there, we discovered that it was a beach party theme and that you could get 2 free Coronas for taking off your shirt and joining the party. For 10 Euros, you can damn well bet that it was worth it. I spent a fair amount of money, since nothing is below 5€ here, but I hadn't yet celebrated the good news I got last week, so it was an appropriate decision I think.

We also sat down and booked trips to Amsterdam (tomorrow!); London (Feb 4-8); Bratislava, Slovakia (Feb 12-14); and Barcelona (March 15-18). Bank of America assuredly freaked out and called my dad saying that my card was being run all over Europe. But we got the transportation for 64€, 120€, 40€, and 85€ respectively, so they should be pretty affordable trips even when food and hostels are thrown in. The place we are staying in Amsterdam this weekend is right in the old city center and was 30€ a night for the three of us to get a private room. I was down to save money and sleep in a room with 20 other people, but Lauren and Cameron just booked it without telling me. Oh well. Expect an Amsterdam-related post Sunday or Monday, but I probably won't have much internet access during the time there.

Le Premier Semaine de Mes Cours

This week, brisk as it was, was the first week of classes at ESCP. I only have class Monday through Wednesday, because all four of my courses are 3-hour sessions and thus only meet once a week. My schedule is:

Monday: Multinational Financial Statements(13:30h-16:30h)
Tuesday: Strategic Marketing (9:00h-12:00h); Positional Bargaining & Negotiation (13:30h-16:30h)
Wednesday: International Finance (17:00h-20:00h)

Group Financial Statements is lead by an old English guy with a very proper and hilarious accent. He calls us chaps. The marketing class sounds like it will be pretty boring, but the afternoon will be picked up by the negotiation class, which is taught by a teacher that looks exactly like Johnny Depp. The first session of international finance was cancelled, so I'm not sure what that class will be like yet.

The school itself is very different than UT. For one, it's less than 2000 students, and it only occupies 2 buildings on 2 city blocks. You enter off of Rue de la Republique and go into a central courtyard with five "bâtiments" (or buildings) around it. So it kind of looks more like a high school than a university. It has a cafeteria and a pretty small gym, but differs in the sense that it has two bars and a pub built in.

I am going to take advantage of the sports the school offers. I went to my first fencing practice on Monday and wasn't half bad for a beginner. I went 1-2 in matches, beating one girl that started just a few weeks back and losing to two guys who have been fencing for 10+ years with scores of 2-5 and 3-5. I think I might also try rugby and yoga next week. The only problem with rugby is that it starts at the same time as I get out of class on Monday, so I'd be late getting to the field. Not sure if that will be able to work or not, but it'd certainly be an experience. A kid from Wisconson who joined last week got a significant amount of playing time in th match on Thursday, and has a black eye and a shoemark on his shoulder to show for it. Now that the week is over, time to concentrate on Amsterdam tomorrow.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Le Sixième Jour

Today we met some people from Switzerland and the University of Illinois-Champagne in Montmartre, the traditional bohemian art district famous for the Sacre-Coeur church and the Moulin Rouge. We spent the afternoon just walking around the neighborhood, with some pit stops for a crêpe and to buy myself a fake Burberry scarf. I’ve never owed a scarf before so I had to have Lauren tie it for me, but it’s so damn cold it’s definitely worth the 9€ that I spent for it.

The Sacre-Coeur is perched at the top of a massive hill that overlooks all of Paris. If it hadn’t been such a rainy and cloudy day, the view would have been amazing. Even through the fog you could see the Pompidou Center to the South (where Rue Quincampoix is), La Tour Montparnasse further South than that, and the Eiffel Tour and Les Invalides to the West. The inside of the church was a traditional basilica style, but there was a no-photography rule so no pictures, sorry. Montmartre is a mix between a bohemian artisan paradise and Paris’s red-light district. There were a ton of artists painting pictures or making caricatures in the city squares, and then on the street fronts were places like La Diva or Le Moulin Rouge.

Le Cinquième Jour

The last couple days have been relatively uneventful. I haven’t felt all that well and have stayed indoors the last two days. Today was an easy relaxing Friday at home. All I did that was productive was to have a three-hour phone interview with J.P. Morgan for my second round interview. I had to warn the various recruiters that the reason I sounded like an Oompa Loompa was because of whatever I picked up on the plane.

Lauren found out that Friday nights are free for students at the Louvre, so we met some new Slovakian friends down there last night to check out some of the museum. Luckily the Louvre is about a five minute walk for us down Rue Rivoli. We worked our way through the Middle Ages wing, which is about 1/40th of the entire place. There were French art students there whose job was to explain the various pieces to tourists, but unfortunately they didn’t speak much English, so I was forced to interpret her giving us an explanation of a statue of Joseph of Arimathea removing Christ from the cross. I plan on going back a substantial amount to look into the various other wings, so I'll need to buy the year membership for 15 Euros, but that's pretty worth it. Plus any Friday I'm actually in Paris I'll probably go in there for free for a little bit.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Le Deuxième Jour

Yesterday we started our orientation at ESCP (École Supérieure Commerce de Paris) and got our syllabus for the week. We have a bunch of seminars geared toward us better understanding French business, so we have classes all this week (but not thereafter) in French-style management, French institutions, and business debates within the European Union.

In the evening, I just took care of some random errands like buying a go-phone from Orange Mobile. The saleswoman flat-out refused to speak to me in English when I asked “Est-ce que nous pouvons parler en Anglais s’il vous plaît?” so I had to conduct the entire conversation in French. My ability to listen to it has gotten pretty bad, so I hope that I didn’t overpay or get the totally wrong plan. I also found a BNP Paribas down on Rue Rivoli that I’ll use to get my cash from and went to the pharmacy for some sinus medicine. The air composition here is really weird and I haven’t been able to breathe through my nose since I landed.

We met a couple Swiss MBA students in our program and met them for beers at O’Sullivan’s irish pub right by our place and the Centre Pompidou. Happy hour was Kronenbourg pints for only 4€; halleluiah! I was told when I ordered that I had an excellent French accent, and one of the Swiss guys told me that my order in German was pretty good too. Now if I could just apply those accents and learn the actual languages…

Le Premier Jour

The first day I spent unpacking and getting situated in our apartment. The three of us rented a 1 bedroom 1 bath in the 4th arrondisement, due north of L’Ile de la Cité (where Notre Dame is) and directly East of the Louvre. The whole place is about 40 square meters or 700 square feet, so pretty tiny. Cameron and Lauren each have a twin bed in the bedroom and I have a fold-down sofa in the living room. The kitchen is especially tiny, and the refrigerator is smaller than the mini-fridge I used to have, but according to Cameron and Lauren it’s the most luxurious kitchen they saw during their apartment tours. We are living in a relatively nice part of the city and right in the middle of one of the gallery districts, with the Centre Pompidou two blocks away.

I didn’t have much time to go exploring in my neighborhood, but after unpacking the three of us went to the G-20 Supermarché for some groceries and I was able to see a few of the streets around us. All of the grocery stores in Paris are very small and don’t offer that wide of a selection, but there’s a lot of fresh vegetables, cheeses, and, of course, baguettes. I bought a bunch of simple stuff like sandwich materials, cereal, and pasta, and yet it still cost me 36€. The conversion rate is killer over here. A bottle of Coke is going on $3, and – as I discovered later that evening – beer is even worse. The one plus is that wine is dirt cheap and you can get good bottles starting at 3€. Ridiculous.

I ended my first night out by going across the Seine to a pub called The Great Canadian to watch the Cowboys play. Luckily for me it was a noon game in the States and I wasn’t having to seek out a sports bar at 4am like Brice had to do in Florence. The Great Canadian’s least expensive beer was 5€ a pint, which, when coupled with the Cowboy’s loss, was a disappointment. But it was good to get out and stretch my legs after the long flight over. Granted, I was in business class (thanks Debbo), but it was still amazing to walk around.