Paris, non, je ne regrette rien.

What best way to start a post about Paris than with a song by lovely Piaf?

My stay in Paris was extremely short, but memorable.
I went to Finland in July, to visit my cousin, and I had bought tickets to Paris before hand. I only stayed there for 5 days, and before getting there, I was upset it wasn’t a lot of time and maybe I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the trip.
Oh, man, was I wrong. Paris is worth visiting, even if you have just a couple of days.
Everything they say about it is true. It’s a damn romantic city, it has amazing food, beautiful places, great music.
I will have to disagree with ONE thing though. And I will explain why.
People kept telling me that French people were rude. I’m not sure if I didn’t took that advice into consideration because people tend to say that about my city (Curitiba) or because I just don’t like pre-judgements. I like checking it out myself.
So I did.
I went to Paris with the most gigantic smile on my face. I was happy to be there, I was enjoying being with myself. In the airport, I bought some food because I hadn’t had any breakfast and I was taking a bit too long to choose what I wanted to eat. This FRENCH lady in line, smiled at me, with absolutely no hurry or any signs of impatience, and told me that the fruit juice was really tasty and the pan au chocolat was delightful. She realized I wasn’t from there and chose to help.
There. My first ever impression about French people. Not bad, huh?
Actually, I’m not being fair. I take french classes and my teacher is from France and he is the nicest person, really sweet and patient. Not at all rude. And then, the lady at the airport.  I thanked her, took my food,sat down, called my mom on Skype and said: Mom, I’m in Paris.

This was the first time I tried Couch Surfing. When I was in Finland I sent messages to a bunch of people and asked if I could crash on their couch for a few days. I got a few replies, but there was this one guy with a lot of references. So I messaged him back, we talked a lot, for a few days, to get to know each other a bit better before I went to his house.
Sam was his name. Sam gave me directions from the airport to Gare du Nord, to his house. I thought I was going to get lost, actually, I had no doubt about it. But I followed his instructions, asked people if I was going the right way, and I got to Gare du Nord pretty easily. Then, from there, I had to carry my…quite big….suitcase to Sam’s house.
Then I got off the train and realized that there was no elevator or escalator.  ”Ok, ready to carry this huge thing up the stairs?” I thought. That’s when two guys gently offered themselves to help me carry it upstairs. I was so relieved!
On the way to my host’s house, I took time to look around. The area I would stay at, was mostly a immigrants area. A lot of indians, middle-eastern people whistling and asking if they could carry my luggage for me. It was funny.
Following the directions from my iPod, I got to his house, but could not type in the numbers to open the gate. I think Sam saw me from upstairs and ran to help me.
His apartment…also no elevators. But he carried my bag. :)

His apartment was a very pleasant little place, with two rooms and a nice living room, with a tiny balcony. So french.
I noticed that no matter what time you went to the balcony, you could always see people in the other buildings smoking on their balconies.
The weather was really warm when I was there, which I love, by the way.
After leaving my suitcase in the room I was staying at, Sam asked if I wanted to go sit by the Siene river and drink some beers. ”If I want to??? I’ve been dreaming about it.”
There we went, got some beers, sat down and talked for an hour about our travels, favorite places, stories, etc. Then we decided to go ride the Paris bikes.
They have a pretty good bike sharing system.

Paris

A resurgence in bike sharing programs is attributed by many to the launching in 2007 of Paris’s Vélib’, a network of 20,000 specially designed bicycles distributed among 1450 stations throughout Paris. Vélib’, inspired by Lyon’s seminal Vélo’v project, is now considered the second largest bike sharing system of its kind in the world. 

That was absolutely the best idea ever. We rode our bikes all over Paris. For hours. Such a great feeling.
We stopped at a bistro to have some…burgers! Yes. And then Sam ate them with a fork and a knife and I found that hysterical for some reason. Then we continued our ride. It was summer, so through out the city, there were these water spraying ballon things to refresh everyone.

Refreshingg

Fork and knife + burger = Sam

In the days that followed, Sam took me to a few other nice places around town. We talked a lot. I was too shy to practice my french with him, but when I was alone and had to order something, I did pretty well.
My cousin, Ana, who is basically my sister, was living in Europe at that time and she was going to be in Paris when I was there. So we decided to meet. It was so great that we were there, together. We are very close, always have been. I live a couple blocks away from her house, in Curitiba. We were always together when kids, we even looked a lot like each other. But meeting in Paris was so special.
We stopped by little shops, had amazing ice cream, walked around, went into gorgeous churches, talked, talked, talked. She then met my couch surfer for a few minutes, only, though. Then she took her train back to Germany, where she was living.

Me and my cousin, Ana,@some train station.

The next day, Sam introduced me to his friend Tytti (I know….) from Finland! So we had something to talk about since I had just spent 10 days in Finland.
The three of us went out for some drinks, little shops etc. And on the next day, Tytti brought a friend who worked with her at Disney Paris, so we all went out for a walk in the city, had some drinks… and that’s when we went to La Famille  (one of my first posts). We had a great time, laughed a lot, tried all sorts of drinks…
Sam decided he wanted to make a Moroccan dinner for me and Tytti. He is from Morocco but has been living in France for years, with his brother. He no longer follow traditions like the Ramadan (Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, involves abstaining from food, drink, sexual relations, smoking and other vices between sunrise and sunset.). His mom, who was still back in Morocco, thought he did, so she sent him a few Ramadan sweets, that he could eat after sunset. We ate them fro breakfast, and they are DELICIOUS.
Anyways, about the dinner. We invited Tytti to go to ”our” place the next day. Sam and I went to buy the ingredients and wine. There is ALWAYS wine, all the time, everywhere, for everything, in France. No need to say that I loved it.

Tytti came over and we set the table in the living room, by the balcony, because, like me, Tytti also had a passion about the french balconies and she had noticed the smokers, too. We decided we could stay in the balcony looking at Paris, for hours.
Sam made this Moroccan chicken, and it was divine. I wish I had learned how to make it, but it took quite a while ot cook it, then all the spices etc….besides, I do like cooking, but he was the chef that night, so me my new finnish friend stayed out of the kitchen. Drinking wine and talking.

Our french/moroccan dinner :)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will finish this post TOMORROW :)


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Couch Surfing – ”The World is smaller than you think”

I just came back from a bar here in my city, called Cana Benta. I went with my two cousins (Ana and Lucas, who are more like my siblings) and this German girl who is staying at my house through Couch Surfing and a girl called Fernanda, who is also a member of the Couch Surfing community in Curitiba. It was fun because Fernanda is very active with Couch Surfing and so am I (although not as much as she is) and both my cousins have ”used” or met people from CS before.

What is Couch Surfing, you ask!?
Well, it’s a large corporation that offers its users hospitality exchange and social networking (CS Wikipedia) . Basically this is what CS is: You like to travel. You like to meet people. You’re a student, or maybe you don’t have a lot of money to spend on hotels or hostels….that’s where CS enters. You can create a profile at the site and when you are planning on traveling somewhere, you search for a few profiles from the city you’re going to stay at and message a few people asking if you could maybe ”crash” or, surf on their couch for a few nights while you are in town. Or, even, maybe you already know someone at the city and have a place to stay, but wanna meet new people. You can also ask if someone is available to have some coffee, show you some cool places in the town, or just go out to hang out and chat about the country/city/people/language etc.
It works both ways. You may also host people at your house, offer them a couch. It’s FREE. But that is NOT the cool part. Once you start surfing couches and hosting people at your house, you realize that it’s all about knowing places and stories about the World. It’s about getting to know parts of the world through some fun stories and pictures. It’s about being a nice person and understanding people who are wandering, traveling… It’s actually pretty amazing. Maybe one of the coolest things we have nowadays.
On your profile at http://www.couchsurfing.com you can specificate what kind of people you would be able to host at your house, by gender, number of surfers, age… And when you are asking someone if YOU can stay at their house, you need to send a nice message to let them know what you’re doing in town, who you are exactly etc.

Some people are a bit afraid because it seems like an unsafe kind of website, I mean ”who’d be crazy to let some stranger into your house?” and I get that, but here are some facts you need to know about CS:

  • Once you are serious about hosting and surfing you should probably get your account verified. In order to do that, you will go to a part of the CS website that says ”get verified” then you will enter some personal info, like your current address and wait for them to send you a post card in the mail. Once you receive this post card, you will see there is a code. You will enter that code on the Couch Surfing website and there, you have confirmed that you actually live at the address you said you live.
  • If you are looking for couches to surf when traveling, look for references at the person’s profile. A person can have positive, negative or neutral references. The more references, the safer it is to stay at that house.
  • Write references so you can have people write references about YOU. That will make you a ”safe” person too.
  • CS deletes profiles with suspicious references, that is, references that alert that that place is not a good deal. It is a safe site, but remember that everywhere in the World, there are people with bad intentions.

And more: if you will be hosting someone, be a nice host. You do not need to take your surfer anywhere if you don’t want to, or don’t have time to, but make sure he/she won’t get lost. It’s all new to them, bus, taxi, train…
Same thing with food. If you are eating, it might not be that bad to invite your surfer to eat with you. Make him/her feel comfortable and at home. Making sure they have a good experience is up to you and remember, that’s what they will talk about your city/country. ;)
They are travelers. But you are, too, when you host. Ask them where they’re from, what their habits are, what they like to do for fun, the differences between cultures.

If you are traveling, the best advice I can give is: have common sense and be polite. Don’t EXPECT your host to buy you food. Don’t EXPECT your host to take you places. Don’t EXPECT your host to do anything. The host will probably do their best to accommodate you the best they can, but sometimes they have jobs, busy schedules, school and other things that will make a bit hard to pay attention to you 100% of the time. Ask him questions about the city, maps, directions, tips about restaurants and sight-seeing, but if they cannot go with you, be comprehensive.
It’s not your responsibility to buy them food, but if you can cook, it’d be nice to make them some typical food from where you are from. Or take them out to dinner. It’s just a nice gesture, to say ”thank you for having me over”.

I will in the next posts, tell stories about my experience with CS. I have surfed once and hosted many times, gone out for coffee and sigh seeing a whole bunch of times. So I have stories to tell. I’ve met amazing people from a lot of places: Arizona, Oregon, Ohio, Australia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, Germany, China, some states in Brazil….

The mission of the Couch Surfing community is to make people from all over the globe, be closer. Like I have said before, we might feel like we are part of a gigantic planet where no one knows nothing and no one but WE can make distance shorter.