Adventures in Culture and Travel

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27 November, 2011

Top 10 Romantic Movies set in Foreign Countries.

A romantic destination.
Rom-coms, chick flicks, romantic tragedies... I felt this was a worthy post, which is presented in no particular order of my Top 10 Romantic Movies Set In a Foreign Country. Agree or disagree, I'm sure I left some out but this is not an easy list to compile, but if you can't get on a plane, travel via film is the next best thing. A few not listed may be on this list: The Top Modern French Movies Available in America.

The Holiday (England)


    10) The Holiday: is one of my favorites. It inspired me so much, we drove to Shere in the U.K. to visit where it was filmed. 

    Why I loved it: Because it brings to the screen a commonality that all women have. American girls all dream of falling in love with a cute guy like Jude Law and living in Europe, and all British women dream of Los Angeles. Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack which is gorgeous, and the writing is empowering and brilliant. But the real clincher is that this is story about two women (and Jack Black) who get fed up with being treated like crap by their jobs, by their boyfriends, and make dramatic changes in their lives which then leads to their happiness. Bravo!
" Miles: The wind... it's what makes it so warm this time of year. Legend has it, when the Santa Anas blow, anything can happen.
P.S. I Love You (Ireland)


    9) P.S. I Love You is an especially lovely movie for me because it's partially about Ireland, and I watched it the first time coincidentally flying over Ireland.

    Why I loved it: Because Ireland is this "mystical" place with mysterious powers that is a metaphorical representation of the characters heart. She finds love there, and then loses it in the States. She goes back to discover a piece of herself. 

    " 
      Daniel Connelly: Hey, you're Irish. Maybe it's an Irish curse or something.
      Holly Kennedy: Well, Gerry and I did love the Yankees, which was pretty much against our religion.
      Daniel Connelly: Well, there you go. That explains a lot, actually. I love the Yankees, too, and I lost my fiancée last year.
Dirty Dancing (USA) & 
L'arnacoeur / Heartbreaker (France)

    8) Dirty Dancing: Okay we're all familiar with the movie. It's so funny that when it came out, all of our parents were worried that it may be to risque for us kids. Why it's included here: it's the basis for the modern romance movie: travel. It also the characters of the movie  L'arnacoeur favorite movie which makes this a one / two knock-out for awesomeness! 

    Why I loved Dirty Dancing: Because no one really knew who Baby was. Everyone thought she was this bright "Good girl", but she was so much more, but even her family never cared to find out who Baby really was.... that's until Johnny comes a long and gets her out of the corner. It's a coming of age story so many of us have. The naive parents, the child breaking out of defined rigid stereotypes, and a huge happy ending where Baby proves she's more than just a Peace Corps candidate. 

      "  Jake Houseman: Don't you tell me what to see! I see someone in front of me who got his partner in trouble and sent her off to some butcher, while he moved on to an innocent young girl like my daughter!
      [silence]
      Johnny: [angry] Yeah, I guess that's what you *would* see.

    Why I loved L'arnacoeur:
    Romain Duris to start with, and Edward Scissorhand's wife (Vanessa Paradis) second. It's a story that proves the moment you think you have it figured out, your life goes spinning out of control. 
Casablanca (Morocco)


    7) Casablanca: Okay here's the thing about Casablanca. It's a good movie, lots on zingers, lots of great quotes, we all know them... but if it wasn't for the love story, it would be just another movie about Germany's world domination efforts and a bunch of soldiers singing in a bar. But there's so much more here. It's how war tears people apart, and sacrificial love. 

    Why I loved it: Guy and girl fall in love. They're separated and then by happenstance despite the size of how big the world is, end up in the same place once again. The clincher is a retelling of the Tale of Two Cities when Rick Blaine sacrifices himself so Ilsa and her husband can escape the chaotic Casablanca as the plot spins out of control. Bottom line, a love story, is much more effective when the lovers never get together.
      Sam: [singing] You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss / A sigh is just a sigh / The fundamental things apply / As time goes by. / And when two lovers woo, / They still say, "I love you" / On that you can rely / No matter what the future brings-...
      Rick: [rushing up] Sam, I thought I told you never to play-...
A Tale of Two Cities (France)





    6) A Tale of Two Cities: It's a book which has been re-made into a movie multiple times and I get that it's not all that comedic. It's also Charles Dickens if you didn't know. Even if your not familiar with the book or the movie, I'm sure you've heard the line: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." 

    Why I loved it: Oh come on! The man who loves her, but she can never love him, trades places with her beau because he loves her so much.... again... and DIES! Sacrificial Love.... it's beautiful, it's poetic, it's heroic! When's the last time a boy/girlfriend died for you?
    It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
Imagine Me & You (England)


    5) Imagine Me & You is an absolutely fabulous look at two girls who fall in love in modern times. This is no Hollywood-esque version of a Lesbian movie that make the two girls into a Fred Phelps wet dream... no this is truly gently, and "real" love story between the chic from Coyote Ugly and Lena Hedley who plays Sarah Connor in the Terminator Series.

    Why I loved it: I identified with it a lot because what I saw on screen was me and Shannon. The problems we receive, the awkward moments, and more importantly the friendship. Coincidentally both the actresses though straight in real-life, are best friends.... and it shows in this story. The two love being together, doing things together, before anything else sexual comes into play... and that's so much more than Rachel's heterosexual relationship with her fiance. 

      Edie: You need a love life.
      Luce: I have a like life. It suits me fine.
Run Fat Boy Run (England)





    4) Run Fat Boy Run stars Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), your typical London loser who pulls a run away bride and later regrets it. The only way he gets her back is to run the London marathon.

    Why I loved it: I was in London in 08 during the "real" marathon. We practically walked (when I say practically, I mean about 1/3) the entire route the first day we landed. I about died. This movie is so funny, so hilariously charming and the idea that it's based on such a simple concept of redemption really doesn't matter. What makes it gold, is in the fashion of dirty dancing, the love interest makes Pegg's character discover something in himself he didn't know he had, and because of it rises above everyone else's expectations of himself.

    Gordon: Dennis, you're my best friend, I'm not going to bet against you. Not with these odds.
Roman Holiday (Italy)






    3) Roman Holiday which is the original black and white European romance movie has been remade into several other of my favorite movies including (quasi) 'The Holiday', and the 'Lizzy McGuire Movie'. Royalty trades places with being normal, and is showed a little about love while running away from it all.

    Why I loved it: Sometimes you just want to escape reality. It explores the concept that it's difficult to break free from the life that's been set for you, that experiences can shape a persons characters. The mouth of truth metaphorically leads to the epiphany that Princess Ann love is doomed from the start, that she can never lead a normal life, and her reluctant relationship with Joe can never be. For any relationship where a child has been told by a parent that "it will never work" this is probably why their parents say that.

      Princess Ann: At midnight, I'll turn into a pumpkin and drive away in my glass slipper.
      Joe Bradley: And that will be the end of the fairy tale.
Made of Honor (Scotland)

    2) Made of Honor is about two friends who are right for each other except that Hannah is about to marry some bloke from Scotland who is absolutely "perfect". She calls on Tom (her best friend) to be her maid of honor, and suddenly Tom plays a long to kill her with kindness and win her back.

    Why I loved it: Because it begs the question of how many people out there are marrying for the wrong reasons. Then again, who minds marrying wrong when it's the cute time traveler from that TV show that got canceled and whose family lives in a Scottish castle. Oddly enough I think in some parallel universe this could have been my story.
    " Dennis: I can feel my sperm dying inside of me, one at a time.

Moulin Rouge (France)





    1) Moulin Rouge is a movie where Ewan McGregor sings, and no one really cares about the rest of the plot.

    Why I loved it: Ewan McGregor sings, his eyes glisten (CGI). No seriously that's enough. Although I do love the subtext of writing your own story.

      The Duke: I don't like this ending...
      Zidler: Don't like the ending, my dear Duke?
      The Duke: Why should the courtesan chose the penniless sitar player over the maharajah who is offering her a lifetime of security? That's real love. Once the sitar player has satisfied his lust he will leave her with nothing. I suggest that the courtesan chose the maharajah.
      Toulouse-Lautrec: But, but tell me, that ending does not uphold the Bohemian ideals of truth, beauty, freedom, and...
      The Duke: [shouts] I don't care about your ridiculous dogma! Why shouldn't the courtesan chose the maharajah?
      Christian: [shouts] Because she doesn't love you!... Him... Hi-him, she doesn't love... she doesn't love him.

26 November, 2011

How to fall asleep on a plane? SOLVED!

Travel pillow propaganda. 
How to fall asleep on a plane? I asked the same question back in 2009 when I began travelling on long international flights. Everyone seems to have their own answers. It makes sense, everyone sleeps differently. (Though some people are trying to sell you something too.) Some people literally can fall asleep standing up, not me. I like my cat, have a ritual where I circle the bed three times before snuggling into the perfect fetal position with exactly no less and no more than one appendage, usually a leg, lying outside of the blanket. I'm also a bit of a insomniac. So you'll understand that's it's complete murder for me to try and fall a sleep in a air-plane seat. I've also ordered probably every apparatus, pillow, and neck brace on the market trying to remedy this situation ever since my first flight to Heathrow which left me awake for the entire flight and the subsequent day. It was painful.

Seemed like a good idea before we left.
My first serious attempt to fall asleep on the plane came in our 2010 trip to Brussels. I purchased a couple SkyRest pillows also known as Cabin Comfort pillows. They were about $26 dollars and basically these huge inflatable cubes. The idea is that you put it on your lap after looking like an idiot blowing it up, (Why must all travel pillows make you look like an idiot?) and then you casually go to sleep like you did in third grade playing 7-UP with your head on the desk. It doesn't work though. Mine formed a hole mid-flight, and being high on sleeping pills made it a nightmare. It was bulky, and when people put their seats back, there's just not enough room to make it function.

She looks constipated, no?
The next year we tried the Komfort Kollar also known as the Kiro Pillow. It's basically like the normal inflatable kidney bean travel pillow except it uses memory foam, and goes completely around your neck like those braces used when you've been in a car wreck and are trying to sue the insurance company.My dog literally fell on the floor laughing when I tried it on before the flight. On the flight, it was useless. It may, and I say may, be perfect if you're a person who already can sleep sitting up, and wish to reduce neck strain, but for people like me, like us, who are wanting to sleep and can't do it like someone with sleep apnea, than I'd skip this dog collar.

So this brings us to the solution, and it's so obvious, you might kick yourself: bring the pillow from your bed. (A true Hollywood secret.) Last year for the heck of it, I rolled up my pillow, with a bungie cord, and strapped it to my carry-on, (a back pack) and it was perfect. I put down the tray table, placed the pillow on top, and had a little piece of home with me. Of course if you've got a bit of attachment to your home pillow, go to most any dollar store and pick one up for $3. If you get tired of carrying it around, dump it in the trash when you get there. It worked so well for me, I carried it all the way to Egypt and back. It barely cost me a thing, and I didn't have to blow it up like a wheezing cow during flight. Better yet, not only can you sleep, head down, on the tray table, (which is a fetal position actually) but it works great behind your head, or against the window if you get that seat. It's universally adaptable. (imagine that?) Sure you look like a college backpacker in the airport (which could be kind of cool) but it's worth it! Trust me. I may try to find a small duffel, or one of those deflatable zip-lock bags to shrink the pillow in the future, but my whole, bungee cord that I got out of the trunk and pillow from the closet worked perfect for me. (For the record, the metal was not an issue at all in the hook-ends of the cord at security.)

Blake Lively figured it out.
Eva Longoria does it too










I suppose I should also mention there's another trick I learned to aid in sleeping on the plane, from my very first attempt to fly internationally: Every professional flyer told me get some Unisom. They also told me be careful, because there's two kinds of Unisom, a cheap kind made with antihistamines, (dyphenhydramine) and a more expensive one. (doxylamine succinate) The expensive one is what you want. (Don't go cheap on me here!) It's the swallow, knock you out, and don't wake up till landing pill that's worth the difference in price. So here's the plan to sleep on the plane:

Liv's Recipe for sleeping on the plane: 
(For overnight International Flights)
  1. Eat light the day before your flight.
  2. Exercise heavily prior to the flight.
  3. Cut out all caffiene.
  4. Pack Unisom (doxylamine succinate) in your carryon where it can be easily accessed.
  5. Pack a traditional pillow and roll it up, securing it with a bungee cord or strap to your carry on.
  6. Once on-board, wait till dinner is about to be served and then swallow you pills.
  7. Eat dinner, get comfy, and prepare for sleep.
  8. Wake up sometime hopefully the next day for breakfast as you prepare for landing.
As a side note, many people do like ear-plugs or earphones, and I'm told the Snuggie is an absolute must for people who like blankets beyond the one that is provided, though I personally do not use any of these items.


13 November, 2011

Top Modern French Movies to Watch in America

Amelie, is the definitive modern French film.
So I was asked by my French professor to compile a list of French movies for the class to consider watching during our Friday exploits. Most of the semester we've been watching pieces of L'arnacoeur, otherwise known as "The Heartbreaker". It's probably one of my favorite romantic movies in French, and it follows Alex, who is played by Romain Duris as he tries to breakup couples for parents who don't want their daughters married. Of course the hitch is that he falls in love with one, and the rest is one big comedy. That's why I'll put L'arancoeur on any list of French movies you have to watch.

1) L'Arnacoeur (The Heartbreaker)
Combine the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing with the romance of Monte Carlo, and you have the funniest romance movie you've ever seen. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll dance.
Netflix
2) L'Auberge Espagnole  (The Spanish Inn)
Romain Duris becomes a student abroad in Barcelona as he discovers life as an Erasmus exchange student. It's a rather romantic look at young adult life in Europe as a life of friends and fun contrast the working world. Don't forget the sequel "Russian Dolls"
Netflix
3) Les Visteurs (The Visitors)
Combine Back to The Future with Robin Hood (they even stole the soundtrack) and you get Les Visiteurs. Jean Reno is time travelling romantic who attempts to go back in time to save his love but is accidentally sent into modern day future. The sequel continues the fun, and the third movie, a English American re-telling of the first throws a new twist at the end. Start with part one, and you won't be disappointed.
  Netflix (has only the third English version.)
4) Paris Je t'aime
This is one of those beautifully done multi-story format movies with some big American names in it. Elijah Woods, Natalie Portman, are but a few of the actors who invest in the story of average people who make Paris a not so average city.
  Netflix
5) Le Placard (The Closet)
Guy loses everything. Wife, house, kids... and then a rumor starts at work that he's gay and suddenly his world turns around.
  Netflix
6) Gazon Maudit (The French Twist)
When her husband begins making homophobic comments, she decides to teach him a lesson by sleeping with a woman. Eventually she falls in love, and the three must make a family.
  Netflix
7) Les Choses de la vie (Life's Choices)
If you like oldies but goodies, then this is it. Through a car wreck working backwards we examine the choices of the characters lives and how they arrive at their destination.
 
8) Le Grand Chemin (The Grand Path)
A charming tale of children and adults as they experience life in their little village.
 
9) Pour Elle (For her)
When your wife is convicted of murder and sent to jail for life, but is innocent, what do you do? You break her out. Now of course Pour Elle was remade in America as "The Next Three Days", but the original French version is far better in my opinion.
  Netflix
10) La Petit Baigneur (The Little Bather)
This is hands down one of the funniest French films I have ever seen. A man builds a boat called The Little Bather and then is subsequently fired. His boss, having learned of the boat winning a prestigious race, now must do anything to get his employee back. This film harks from an era of some the greatest French actors of all time.
11) Potiche (Vase: trophy wife)
Many French films attempt to dissemble false constructs of gender, social status, etc. This irony of art, such as in Pour Elle (the father as the mother), or Gazon Maudit, (non-monogamous, same-sex polygamy) seems to be at the core of a good French film. Potiche is another great movie because the power of a husband's multi-million dollar umbrella company is serendipitously placed in the hands of the wife he thinks is an idiot and nothing but a trophy wife.
  Netflix
12) Amelie
Of course, no French film list would be complete without mentioning Amelie. Most of us have already seen it, some of us a thousand times. There's no explanation for the attraction to the film, because if it were made in America we'd all walk out. Yet something magical happens in Amelie, but we can't put our finger on it. If you haven't seen it. Don't be stupid, watch it. It's the benchmark for modern French cinema. Netflix
13) Dans Paris (In Paris)
Do you have the courage to remake your life? Jump off that bridge and do something wild? This movie asks what happens when you decide to make that change to be apart of something bigger. Once again, the city of Paris is used as a breathtaking backdrop to the world of Romain Duris's character as he struggles for change. Netflix
14) Paris (2009)
It's one of the saddest, yet most strikingly beautiful looks at Paris as one man lives out his final days waiting for the possibility of a transplant surgery. Everyone has a story, this is one. As the tag line says "Experience life for the first time, again". Netflix
15) Irreversible
This is one of the first French films I ever watched. It's known for its very realistic rape scene, and that image is burned in my mind till this day. Rarely can a film change a person to such a level that they cringe at the thought of the scene, but this film will do just that. Netflix
16)Ma Vie en Rose
This Belgian film explores gender through a child's eyes. Ludovic a girl who the world perceives as a boy, struggles to convince everyone of who she is before they convince her she's not. Netflix

Of course I'm sure there are more, and I'll add to the list in time, but I'd also love to receive any recommendations readers may have. Just post them in the comments, and I'll check it out!

11 November, 2011

Chip & Pin Card - Your American Money Is Worthless To Them

Where to get a chip and pin card?
Chip and Pin. It sounds like a combination of french fries and needles. Technically it's the way most of Europe pays for things on credit cards. Worse yet, America doesn't have it. Worse yet, getting stuck on the Brussels Metro with one of their stupid unmanned kiosks mocking me telling me to be "Patienze" then telling me my American money is worthless.

See there's a couple things I wish I would have taken with me to Europe. I did good with taking a mobile phone. (check) But I really should have sprung for some boots.... (it's like a national law there) and I wish somehow, someway I could have come up with a chip and pin credit card.

I'll be honest I didn't understand the whole deal completely till Smiler sat me down in the living room of his home and gave me the 411 (118 in the UK :) ) See the U.K, unlike America has signature-less credit and debit cards with microchips that allow the "pin" to sign for the user. While the old magnetic slider cards we have in the U.S. are supposed to still be accepted in the U.K. and mainland Europe, I found that's not always the case... for instance... In Brussels, where the computerized kiosks give you two options, cash or card. My American debit/credit card is useless despite any which way you try to insert it into the slot, (believe me, I got creative) or what foul language you use- so that leaves cash. Except most Americans get their Euros (or Pounds) from the ATM which (I've never seen one that shoots out coins) spews notes that unfortunately don't work in the kiosk. I'm told many self-serve gas stations have left tourists stranded. Fortunately Brussels doesn't really care and you can still walk on to the Metro. We dug up the 1.50€ for a single jump (all we had in our pockets) and prayed one of us didn't get busted by the random checks they do. We made it safe down to Stockel where lovely Sarah helped us out with her chip and pin card. 

I will admit I was aware of this before I went. I wasn't exactly sure how it all worked and had considered borrowing a card with a U.S. chip. I didn't, and it wouldn't have mattered because here to find out it's not compatible anyways.

It continued to be a problem not having chip and pin. Try having a conversation with the guy at Harry Ramadan's fish and chips about chips and pins? Gets confusing. At one point in a French Supermarche in Paris we were refused goods because the merchant couldn't figure out the "old" swipe technology. This occurred several other times, and it became apparent that the situation was much worse than in previous years when I was barely even aware of the issue and you can really carry only so much cash before you scare yourself. Eventually it's going to reach a point where American credit cards are worthless, and unusable in the rest of the world. Unfortunately to my knowledge there isn't a work around, though one may be on it's way. Till then I'm going to go order some boots and dream about fish and chips and a place where I have an unlimited balance credit card to go shopping. 


Update: Travelex, now offers chip and pin cards in America. I used one on my last vacation to Cairo and Brussels, and it worked brilliantly!  Just picked it up at the airport.  (Save your receipt though as they'll credit the refund when you return.) Also, my local credit union, North Carolina State Employees' Credit Union, has converted to chip and pin, which is Awesome. Keep nagging your bank, if they don't offer it- because apparently some are listening.