Welcome to jdenparis.com.  I'm jd, and I just graduated from college.  For one year before med school, I'll be working and living in Paris, and traveling the world with my job.  Below are my stories, photos, and videos.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

we took a QUICK sidetrip to Belgium...

Well, it turns out that in Amsterdam, there is one casino group. If you work for the group, you cannot get into any of the casinos within 6 months of your termination. Damian and I found this out the hard way. Looking to make a few quick bucks last summer, Damian took a job at the main casino in Amsterdam as a cocktail waiter. From what I understand, the job lasted about 4 days - July 15th - 19th. This date is so precise because we were not allowed into the casino there, as the hold on Damian's name expires Jan 19. They check passports.

Defeated but still determined, we decided to take a quick trip to neighboring Belgium, as Brussels has a pretty nice casino (and, as it were, Christmas festival)! We booked a hotel, packed a bag, and took a drive south. I set both an upper and lower limit on my gambling, just as the Travel Channel advises on all of their vegas shows. I did have some exciting blackjack hands, like piggy backing one guy's hand and getting blackjack right away, or increasing my bet by a factor of 2, splitting, and winning both hands! Woo :) Ultimately, I did hit one of my limits, and diligently stopped.

Aside from the casino, we did ALL of the musts while in Belgium, and all in under 24 hours: beer, waffles, french fries, chocolate, brussels, and antwerp. Really efficient trip.

Anyway, enjoy some pics!

A bientot,

Saturday, January 10, 2009

photos from Scandinavia

Follow up from Scandinavia, here are some pics!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I'm Notsterdam, He Is-sterdam

Well, if you've never been to Amsterdam, you must make the trip. What a city. Go quickly though, cause the things you may have heard are starting to change. First of all, apparently there are fewer registered prostitutes in the Red Light District. Fortunately for us, when we walked through, there were plenty: skinny, fat, old, young, black, white, brown, purple, anything you could want. Damian's pretty similar to me though, and so we did just walk through, neither of us even wanted to look in, lest we make eye contact and our skulls explode.

A change of greater significance to me and my line of work, the city has gone Smoke Free! What a victory! This, of course, refers only to tobacco, and so a new job has come into existence. In Holland, and well, most of Europe I guess, a type of marijuana, hash, is rolled into joints mixed with tobacco. They don't smoke weed joints like I imagine the hoodlums do in the United States. However, with the passage of SF laws, there are now enforcement agents whose job is to enter coffee shops (the standard euphemism for a place where you get marijuana) and smell for tobacco! If they smell weed, all is fine. Tobacco, big trouble! What a great country :)

Another change is well underway: the outlawing of Psilocybin mushrooms aka'd as shrooms or magic mushrooms. Now I was talking about this with Damian (my Dutch friend, a native of Amsterdam). He said that at first they only outlawed the dried mushrooms because they are more potent and more difficult to detect (no odor). That left the wet kind which were, yes, less potent and EASIER to detect. Well, evidently they too are on their way out now. Damian told me that although there have been deaths attributed to mushroom use, the argument against their illegalization is that there are way more deaths attributable to alcohol! This was most shocking to me, however, because of the fact that in the Dutch legislative body, there exist elected officials and lobbyists fighting for 'shrooms!

Thankfully, Amsterdam isn't only about prosties and drugs. We dedicated a full day to museums there! First up was the Anne Frank House. Contrary to our expectations, we didn't wait forever to get in or go through. We did the whole thing from arrival to departure in an hour. Not bad. The house was really interesting and I'm glad I went. There's not a lot to see, as Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only Frank to survive the Holocaust wanted the Annex to remain unfurnished, since the Nazis stole all of the furniture shortly after imprisoning the occupants. It was definitely a moving experience and I'm glad I went. Next up was Van Gogh.

Lots of art at Van Gogh. My favorite was his painting of a skeleton smoking a cigarette. I bought postcards for the people at The Union. Didn't see starry night :/ Did see the famous self portraits, bedroom, and landscapes. They are nice. Lastly we went to the Heineken Experience / Brewery.

Heini was great! Loved the museum. I learned a lot about the branding and the awards they've won. My favorite was their claim about how Heineken makes the world just a little greener :) Also, I never knew before, the the 3 "e" letters in the branded name are smiling! Look closely next time. The best part of the museum was the ride that made me feel like a piece of barley goin through the beer-making process. Of course, the tasting stations were nice too, but as I would learn soon, were no match for the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen. Heini also had some cool Surface-esque tables. Lame implementation. It was also pretty funny when one of the brewmasters went to use a grinding machine which I had broken just moments before. I tried to tell him at first, but he was presenting to another group and I didn't want to interrupt! Then it was just too embarrassing to 'fess up to that in front of our whole group... Plus there were 2 cute girls following us.

One day Damian took me to a port town in Holland (forgive me for not remembering the name every time... Fullendam? **Volendam - Home of the annual Herring festival - Thanks Lori!!**). This place was really cool. And by cool I just mean freezing!! The boats and sea were really picturesque. On the way back, we stopped by one of the dikes. Here you can really see why in French, Holland is called Pays-Bas (Low Country). It's way lower than the sea! (see pics).

The best thing about Amsterdam may have been Damian's family. They took me in as one of their own. First of all, his mom's boyfriend let us stay the whole two weeks for free at his place, conveniently located right near the city and on a pretty canal (see pics). Then, his brother and sister-in-law had me over for not one, but two christmas dinners! Again, see pics. Lastly, both of Damina's Omas (grandmas - same as in German, Dad's side of the family!) had me over for lunch! So sweet. His Indonesian grandmother made a fantastic noodle stir fry, and we had some good pastries with the Dutch one. Good times, thanks Damian's family for making me feel like one of your own!

Enjoy les photos.

A bientot,

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Of course, no trip to Cairo would be complete without seeing the pyramids, and mine was no exception. Right after class, I chartered one of the hotel cars to Giza (not a Hummer this time :( ). Since we were running early, the driver told me there was a chance he could get one of his friends there to take me around back through the desert on a camel. That sounded awesome and I was really pulling for it, but, I guess due to that horrible Cairo traffic, it didn't happen. (Un)Fortunately, the driver had some OTHER friends that I would meet before seeing the (interesting? cheesy? educational?) pyramid sound and light show.

First up was perfume lady. The driver told me, "here, you go with him (his friend), he's my friend." The three of us (me, driver, friend) went into a shop where a woman (perfume lady's assistant) offered us drinks. Now, courtesy of a Delta ad on the LIRR, I had read that it was an offense to turn down a drink in Egypt. The ad had led me to believe that this applied primarily to alcoholic beverages. I was probably wrong (drinking is prohibited in Islam), and so perfume lady's assistant asked 4-5 times before accepting 'no' as an answer. After a few minutes, the driver and his friend stepped outside for a smoke (guess I wasn't doing my job there...), and I was left alone with perfume lady and a room full of flasks with colorful liquids.

Perfume lady, noticing I was drinkless, began the incessant drink-offering ritual again. After another 4-5 offers, I realized this one wasn't taking no for an answer. I begrudgingly accepted a tea (I don't really like drinking caffeine, much less in the evening). While the defeated assistant prepared my drink, perfume lady got to work.

She began with a brief schpiel about the origins of perfume and cologne, and how these were all concentrated oils made from all natural ingredients, et cetera. As she took each one from the wall, she opened it, took a bit on her hands or a swab, and rubbed it on a new spot on my person: my left wrist, my right wrist, my palms, the back of my palms, the lapel of my sweatshirt, the other lapel, and so on. She even did some trickery with one, dropping a bit of it into boiling water and forcing me to smell with my eyes closed. That peppermint cleared my passages better than any maror ever has. By the time she was done, I smelled worse than a trigger happy 6 year old in the makeup department of macy's trapped by the promise of KB Toys while his mother is swooned by the lancome salesperson (like I would know...).

After this _powerful_ demonstration, perfume lady started talking about prices. I assured her I didn't want any, but like the tea, 'no' was not an option with this one. I wound up with the smallest bottle of concentrated aftershave (just add a drop to water!) at half the initial asking price. Boy did I take HER for a spin!!

As the sun had set, I figured I was done meeting my drivers' friends and it was time for the show. Nope. The original guy told me to follow him. He led me around a pitch dark bend over the side of the street covered in what felt like livestock excrement (it probably was - the street was lined with donkeys, rams, goats, camels, everything). We arrived at a papyrus "museum," which was run by more 'friends!' Great.

I sat down as the guy in there told me to wait. He left and returned with another woman. After another 40 minutes of drink negotiations (I won this time), the guy stood behind the counter, the woman motioned me over to another counter and started a papyrus demonstration. Cut by hand, soaked for 6 days, turned, soaked another 6 days, fresh water, weaving, pressing, ya ya ya - its a time consuming process. They had all these prints on the walls, supposedly made from hand crafted papyrus! They can even add my name in hieroglyphs!

To make a long story short, I left with 4 of the things with free personalization, the student rate (50% off list), and the 4th free. Guess I took them for a spin too!! Hah!

When I finally met up again with my driver, he asked how I liked the "museums." I said it was interesting, and that they were very pushy. He assuringly replied, "you didn't have to buy anything... These people know how to sell to anyone. You tell them you're Japanese they do one way, American they know how to make you buy, anyone." Well great! Thanks for bringing me to them.

The sound and light show was pretty cool at some points. The Sphinx narrated it. He told us about the 5,000 years of sunrises he's seen, and all of the famous people like Napoleon who've come to visit. I was really quite shocked that the educational show made no mention of the words "Jew," "Jewish," or "slave." Hmph. I found it amusing to hear the people boarding the tour busses saying that the show was the most amazing thing they'd ever seen in their lives.

I guess if you have a family, you can bring them. Otherwise, I'd opt for going during the day, riding a camel around the desert, and watching the pyramids rise above the dunes. I did see them appear in the distance from the highway, and it was really amazing. They're absolutely huge and majestic. This effect was somewhat diminished when I realized exactly how close the Pizza Hut/KFC had encroached on one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world (the answer: you can basically throw a tennis ball from the pyramid and hit the eatery).

When I finally got back to the hotel, I was too hungry to go upstairs. I decided to go to the adjoining mall and find some food. Of course, the entrance has airport security, and so I had to put my papyrus and perfume through the conveyor belt xray machine. Unfortunately, the papyrus look like a pipe bomb, and so the next security guy who saw me carrying it forced me aside and opened it all up to inspect :p

Well, enjoy the pics!

a bientot,