Monthly Archives: October 2014

Château de Chenonceau

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As part of Roger and Toshi’s adventures Matt and Ben decided they had to visit at least one of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. I was lucky enough to be invited along for this adventure. Living in Tours we are in the heart of the Loire Valley and only a short drive from many of the world’s most charming châteaux.

It was decided that they would visit Chenonceau. I had visited this château once before, in 2007 when I was a student at l’Institut de Touraine. This château holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first château I ever visited in France. It was also where my favorite professor told me that he had noticed a significant improvement in my French and was so happy that I decided to study abroad.

We began our visit in the maze and then headed into the château itself. Though not the most impressive château I’ve ever visited it is still pretty impressive. We spent several hours exploring and taking pictures. Once we had finished looking around inside we continued our exploration of the grounds. Turns out there is a mini village just outside of the castle. It reminded me (and Benoît) of Marie-Antoinette’s imaginary world at Versailles (le Petit Trianon). Very charming, but slightly impractical.

 

 

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Matthew’s Surprise!

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Matt’s birthday is this week. He is not a big fan of birthdays or having a lot of attention given to him. We’ve been talking about his birthday for quite some time, especially what he might want as a birthday gift. Let’s just say that his ideas and suggestions were less than helpful. Luckily, I had a few ideas up my sleeve, so I did not have a problem coming up with what I thought was an awesome gift.

As awesome as I thought my gift was, I would never be able to top the gift he received a few days before his actual birthday. There has been a surprise in the works for many months. When I say surprise, I am talking about a surprise of epic proportions. I was fortunate enough to be in on the surprise and to help Ben plan some of the details. Keeping things a surprise is very challenging, especially when Matt has a way of finding everything out.

On Tuesday, October 21st Matt’s dad, Roger, and stepmom, Toshi, arrived in Paris. This was both of their first trips to France and the occasion for their visit was Matt’s birthday. Ben went to the airport to pick them up and I stayed in Tours to make sure that everything went according to plan. Matt worked the night before at the hotel, which meant that he was going to sleep until early afternoon. My job was simple: make sure he was awake and did not leave the house prior to Roger and Toshi’s arrival.

Luckily, I had some online classes to teach that morning, and as I am still waiting for the Internet to be installed at my apartment it was the perfect excuse for me to hang out all morning at Matt and Ben’s. Of course, the one morning that Matt had to be awake at a somewhat normal time he decided to stay in bed and hit snooze four times! By the third time I was up and about moving around trying to wake Matt, without making him mad.

Eventually, Matt got out of bed and came downstairs to the kitchen. We talked for a bit, while I was texting with Ben to get constant updates on their ETA. After what seemed like hours, the door bell rang. A little back story, Matt loathes the doorbell. Every time it sounds he becomes enraged and has a one man show about how much he hates the doorbell. This time was no different. Except that on the other side of the door was his dad and stepmom. Ben filmed the event from the street and I filmed from the house. It was an awesome moment to witness!

Of course Matt had not showered and was still in his pyjamas, however he was so overwhelmed by the moment that he didn’t really seem to care. Until he realized we had filmed the whole experience. The next several hours were a blur, but so much fun! This was the first time I had met Roger and Toshi and I was very happy to be included in this very personal moment with Matt.

For Matt’s actual birthday there was a bit of a ‘surprise party’ at his house. I spent the day preparing from my upcoming vacation and cleaning my apartment. Because I don’t have the internet I’ve been spending a lot of time at a bar/café on the same street as my apartment. I’ve become a regular, and the best part is the resident border collie, Goomba. I now can get puppy cuddles on a daily basis! 🙂 That afternoon I was hanging out at le Bartók being productive when I saw Matt and Ben wander by and then come in. Turns out, they had just stopped by my apartment to invite me to grab a drink in honor of Matt’s birthday. Since I was already at the bar, I put my computer away and spent time chatting with them. (The whole time Ben and I were having a secret combination about the upcoming events for the night).

Once we finished our drinks we parted ways. Matt wanted me to return home with them, as ‘we were having a traditional French dinner’ for his birthday. I told him that I had to stop by my apartment and drop off my computer and to get his birthday present, but that I would come over shortly. I arrived at his house and it seemed like any other night. We were hanging out in his kitchen and talking. We were all drinking either a coffee or a water and were about to being our apéro. During this time Matt opened his gifts and was completely oblivious to the impending events.

As we were opening presents and talking the doorbell rang. (This completely reminded me of the book “The Doorbell Rang.” The first guest was our friend Céline. Matt was completely surprised, as he had only moments before finished saying how he had to introduce his dad and stepmom to Céline. Over the next 90 minutes the doorbell rang many, many more times. Each time, Matt had the same reaction. It was such a low-key relaxed night, but also a perfect way to celebrate Matt.

We ate, drank, and talked for many, many hours. This was a turning moment for me, as it was the first event in France that I felt neither intimidated nor out of place. I was comfortable starting conversations with each of the guests. Also, I was able to act as a translator for Roger and Toshi, which was a huge boost in my confidence.

Around 1am many people started to leave, but I hung around talking with my new ‘family.’ After several more hours and several heartfelt conversations, I decided it was time for me to head home. At this point it was about 5am. What an experience walking home at 5am. I was not scared, but it was a new experience for me.

All things considered, I would say that Matt’s birthday was a huge success. I also think that this birthday is going to be near impossible to top!

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Hop a Plane

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Note: I started this post while waiting at CDG for my flight to Prague. Because of an unstable internet connection I had to stop writing until I returned from my vacation. Below is what I originally started.

So, I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to depart. Today marks the beginning of my second week of vacation for la Toussaint. Last week I stayed local because it was Matt’s birthday and his dad and stepmom surprised him with a visit.

Saturday morning I began my real vacation. I took a train from Tours to Paris. I had been to Paris many times before, but was looking forward to this trip because I would be showing a friend around. This was a good challenge for me because when I am with my French speaking friends I tend to rely on them to do most of the talking and question asking. Traveling with a friend who didn’t speak French really helped to push me outside of my comfort zone and to prove to myself that I truly can survive in France.

Paris was wonderful. I arrived a few hours before my friend and hung out at Les Deux Magots. If you ever find yourself in Paris on a cool fall or winter day be sure to visit this café and order the hot chocolate. Oh my yummy! This place is a pit pricey, but an interesting experience for a quick drink and is rich in literature related history. After enjoying my hot chocolate I wandered across the street to explore the church and to view some art nearby.

Once I met up with my friend our whirlwind trip began. We had about 30 hours to see and do as much as possible. We had talked about the most important things to do/see prior to our trip, so we had a plan of action. Our first stop was Notre Dame, as we hoped to go on the gargoyle tour. The line was the longest I had ever seen it, so we decided to try that activity a little later. While we were there we visited the cathedral. Over the course of all of my trips I have probably visited Notre Dame a dozen times. This trip was especially fun because Patrick didn’t know much about the cathedral, so I was able to share all of my knowledge.

From Notre Dame we wandered over to the nearby Saint Chapelle. I had heard about this church, but this was my first time visiting. What makes Saint Chapelle special is its stained glass windows. There are two levels to this church. If you visit be sure to see both, as the second level is much more impressive. While at Saint Chapelle we also bought a Paris Museum Pass, which not only included admission to many of Paris’s most popular attractions, but also allowed you to sometimes skip the line and gain immediate access. The pass was 42€ for 2-days and in my opinion, worth every centime.

While in this area we were also sure to visit Saint-Michael’s fountain. I was recently told that this is one of the most famous fountains in Europe. While I have not. Drifted this statement, after visiting the fountain again I can understand why. We also visited Pont des Arts, one of the bridges covered in locks. I had seen pictures of this bridge, but had never actually been able to find it. I was excited because this has been on my list for many years. We also visited the oldest public park in Paris, which is located just on the other side of Notre Dame.

After wandering around Île de la Cité for some time we made our way over to le Louvre. Again, I have visited this destination many times, but always look forward to visiting because of the massive collection of art it houses. Of course Patrick wanted to see la Joconde, or as she is known in English, the Mona Lisa. Somehow we managed to make our way to the front of the crowd in a matter of moments. We then wandered around the museum for a little of an hour before we both got tired of the crowds. We also decided that now would be a good time for a beverage break and to find our hotel, so we could drop off our backpacks.

We successfully made it to our hotel, which ended up being nicer than I expected. We stayed near Place d’Italie, which I had never explored. The area seemed safe and slightly less expensive than staying in the city centre. After a brief pause, we worked our way over to Montmartre to see the Moulin Rouge and Sacré Coeur. There seemed to be significantly fewer stairs leading up to Sacré Coeur than I remembered. However, it was also significantly cooler than the summer of 2007.

We ended our first day in Paris by visiting l’Arc de Triomphe to get an aerial view of Paris. I told Patrick that I preferred the view from l’Arc de Triomphe because you were able to see la Tour Eiffel and it was less crowded than many other tourist sites.

We concluded our night with dinner at a cute restaurant, the name of which I forget. We called the night relatively early, as we planned to get up early the following morning to get in line to go to the top of la Tour Eiffel. And I’m not sure that our feet could have walked one step more.

So concludes day number one of my vacation.

La Toussaint Vacation

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Life in France is all about living in the moment and enjoying everything. I began my assistantship at the beginning of this month. So far, I have worked a total of eight days. Remember that I only work 12-hours each week, over the course of four days. This means that every week I have at least one day off, in addition to my regular weekend. I was just starting to get into the swing of things and develop a routine in both of my schools.

Last Friday was my final day of work for the next two weeks, due to All Saint’s Day (la Toussaint). It’s difficult for me to comprehend how it is possible for me to already be on vacation, when I have worked a total of eight days! I decided that for this vacation I wanted to visit somewhere in Europe I have not visited. After much research and changing my destination many times, I have finally selected my destination and purchased my tickets.

This coming weekend I will be in Paris. The husband of one of my college roommates is currently working in Dublin and has always wanted to visit Paris. However, he does not speak French and really doesn’t know what to see/do in Paris other than the major tourist destinations. I will spend 2.5 days exploring Paris and then I will continue my vacation by heading to a different destination.

After Paris I will be heading to Prague for 4 days. I have never been to Prague, so am super excited about this new adventure. It is also the first time that I have traveled to a foreign country alone. My biggest concern is not being able to speak the language. When traveling within France I am okay because I can speak the language.

So far on my list of things to do and see in Prague are:

-Charles Bridge

-Prague Castle

-Petrin Hall

-David Cerny’s public sculptures

-Church of Our Lady Tyn

-The Dancing House

-Old Town Square (Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church)

Does anyone have any other suggestions for what I should see/do while in Prague? I’m always looking for additional ideas! I’m super excited for these new adventures!

Schools in France vs. Schools in America

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I’ve been working at my schools in France for two weeks and I’ve already noticed many drastic differences between schools in America and schools in France. Remember that prior to coming to France I taught in American schools for 6 years. Additionally, I had volunteered in American schools for 5 years. I have a great deal of experience with the expectations and standards in American education.

A little background about my teaching experience in the states. I have worked with students ages early-fives through seniors in high school. The bulk of my experience has been at the elementary and middle school levels. When I was an undergraduate my major was elementary education, but about half way through I realized my passion was actually working with secondary students. Being a volunteer is drastically different from being the real teacher, so I understand all the different capacities of working in a classroom.

I have also worked in a number of types of schools–rural, suburban, and urban. In all of these schools I faced similar challenges, which helped me to understand that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status face similar challenges. Since I began my teaching career in 2008 a lot has changed in the field of education. As all of my experience has been in American schools, I have very little understanding of what education actually looks like in other countries.

In my short teaching career there have been drastic changes to the ways in which teachers are evaluated, as well as the way that students are assessed. Every year the expectations placed upon me changed, without warning or explanation. Students were given standardized tests more frequently and for longer periods of time, beginning at younger and younger ages.

With changes to the curriculum and the implementation of No Child Left Behind, along with other types of legislation, the face of education has changed drastically, and in my opinion, not for the best. I also noticed that in America, we as a culture, are afraid of hurting the feelings of students or letting them know when they have made a mistake. Grades have changed, so an not to make students feel as though they were unsuccessful.

The learning environment in an American classroom is very different from that in a French classroom. In an American classroom the physical appearance of the classroom is part of how a teacher is evaluated. The classroom should be welcoming and promote student learning, with tools and other support materials visible throughout. Whenever a student contributes, her contribution must be acknowledged and praised in a positive way, even if the idea has nothing to do with being discussed. This is the style of teaching I have been used to for the past six years.

Now, let’s talk about my new reality. French schools are nothing like American schools. The learning environment feels cold and unwelcoming. The only teachers who have anything on their walls are American teachers. When a student volunteers, if her answer is incorrect, she is told so. There is no sugarcoating. You are either right or wrong. I’ve not once heard a teacher in France say “Good guess” or “Good try” or “Wow! That’s a very interesting way to respond.” Everything is black and white, you are either right or you are wrong. End of discussion.

The style of teaching in France is more direct, and as a result there is more time for actual teaching. Teachers are not afraid of hurting student’s feelings. I have witnessed teachers yelling at students and “shhhhing” them, which would never happen in today’s American classroom. Also, behavior problems are simply not tolerated and immediately brought to an end.

While I have only been in French classroom for a total of eight days I have learned a great deal about the differences between American and French schools. I know that I will continue to learn more as the year progresses and I am looking forward to better understanding another system of education as a result of this experience.

New Adventures = New Stresses

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I’m about to being my second week as an English Language Assistant. The assistantship is going very well. If anything I am the least stressed I have ever been about a job. I’m only working four days each week, and only half days. That means that by the end of this week I will have taught for eight days.

At the end of the day (11am) Friday I will be on vacation for la Toussaint. I have from October 18th through November 3rd off. During that time, one of my dearest friends, Matthew, will have a birthday. Other than celebrating Matthew, I have nothing special planned…yet.

I have decided that the first week of my vacation I will stay local and enjoy my time off in Tours, during which time is Matthew’s birthday. The second week I would like to visit somewhere new, outside of France. I have changed my mind multiple times about my destination.

My first thought was Brussels, Belgium. When I was a world language teacher in Michigan one of the cities we learned about was Brussels, and ever since then I have wanted to visit. However, there appears to be nothing special going on in Brussels during the month of October. However, during the summer they create a flower rug and have many special activities. I decided I would rather visit Brussels in the spring.

My second idea was Lisbon, Portugal. After much research I learned that Lisbon is one of the safest and most affordable cities to visit in western Europe. As a bonus. it is located considerably further south than France, which means nicer weather. I looked at hotels and flights and cant’ decide if I want to stay in Lisbon or in Estoril. I also realized how close Portugal is to Morocco, one of the countries I will be visiting in July with my mother. Therefore, I decided to postpone my trip to Portugal until July.

Next, I researched Prague, Czech Republic. Much like Lisbon, Prague is one of the safest and most affordable countries to visit. While I’ve wanted to visit Prague for many years, I honestly do not know much about what there is to see and do there. Unlike the other cities I would like to visit, I do not have a list of must see/do while in Prague.

The last destination I have researched for this particular trip was Dublin, Ireland. Dublin has been on my list of cities to visit since I was in high school. The one challenge I am facing with this destination is easily getting there from Tours. Unlike the other destinations, this one is slightly more expensive, at least in terms of travel costs.

So, this week I will continue my research and by the end of this week I will have selected my destination and purchased my plane tickets and booked my hotel.

School in France

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I’ve begun my teaching assignment for the school year. This is the fewest number of hours I have ever worked while still getting paid. I am technically a full-time teaching assistant, but I am only teaching a total of 12 hours for the week. I am working in two different collèges (middle schools), two days each per week. That means, that I have one weekday off each week, in addition to my weekends. Additionally, my schedule at one of the schools rotates, meaning that I might be able to teach all 6 hours in one day, thus giving me two days off during the week.

As nice as this change of pace has been, it’s also very difficult to accept at times. Having been a teacher for six years it is difficult to take a step back and become the assistant, rather than the lead teacher. The staff with whom I am going to be working are very kind and helpful. At one of my schools my primary contact person is actually an American who has been living in France for 20+ years. This is great because she understands the unique frustrations and challenges I am facing as an American in France.

This week my sole responsibility has been to observe the classes and gain a better understanding of the different levels of English and how they correlate to the different grade levels. It’s been an interesting experience, but also kind of boring, as I am not actually teaching. Next week is a normal week, where I should be able to being actually teaching.

In other news, after next week I am on vacation for la Toussaint. I will be on vacation from October 18 through November 3rd. I’m currently in the process of planning my first solo international adventure. Stay tuned for more details!IMG_1938

Mon Appartement

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After several weeks of apartment searching I finally found my apartment! Apartment hunting in France is very different from apartment hunting in the United States. I had found several apartments that were of interest to me. After reviewing the apartment with Ben and Matt we would decide if it was worth visiting or not. One major advantage to my apartment hunting experience was that I had friends to help and support me through it. Matt had done this sam thing when he was an assistant, and Ben is French, which automatically gives me an advantage over other non-French renters.

We first visited this apartment on Friday of last week. Unlike all the other apartments I had visited this one felt like something that could become my home. It was not a cube and had personality throughout. Technically, it is a studio, but it doesn’t feel like a studio and actually feels much larger than its actual measurements. One of my favorite parts of the apartment is that the bed is raised from the main part and there are curtains that can be drawn to separate the two areas. As Ben pointed out, it is truly like the bedroom of a princess in the châteaux of France.

Also, unlike all the other apartments we had visited, this one was set up with not only the necessities, but also with some luxuries. For example, this one comes with a television, a microwave, a mini oven, and a really nice coffee maker. It also had a real bed, with a separate sofa. I knew right away that this was the apartment that I wanted to rent. We decided to arrange a meeting for this week where we would sign the papers and get the keys. That meeting was set for October 7th at 5pm.

Yesterday, we went to the apartment and signed the papers. My landlord seems very friendly and understanding, so I feel at ease with renting this apartment. Everything went smoothly, but like everything in France, this administrative activity was complex and time-consuming. Every paper must be complete in either duplicate or triplicate and all by hand. The signing took just over one hour and I left with keys in hand.

There are a few necessities that I am going to buy prior to moving in, but I will begin moving in this week. Today is filled with more administrative undertakings. First on the schedule is applying for renter’s insurance. Second on the list is transferring the electric bill to my name. Third on the list is figuring out internet/phone/cable.

I am excited about making this apartment my own. Below are the “before” pictures and I will post “after” pictures as the apartment comes together.

First Days as an Assistante d’anglais

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For the past 6.5 weeks I have been in France as a tourist and someone who is trying to establish a life in this country. I had no true commitments of any sort, though I was able to do some online teaching during this time. Last week I began my assistantship, the entire reason that I am currently in France. As this is neither my first time in a classroom nor my first year teaching, I am experiencing very little stress about this opportunity. In fact, this is probably the least stressed about a job that I have been in my life.

Since my arrival inFrance I have learned a great deal about the logistics behind how things are done in France. The toughest lesson I have learned is that time and schedules are mere suggestions. In fact, more often than not, people will be late (really late) and it is not only acceptable, but expected. Weird.

My first responsibility as an English Language Assistant was to attend an orientation in Orléans with all of the language assistants. This meeting took place exactly one week ago today, on October 1st. I had been to Orléans before so I had a basic idea of how the city was designed. Matt and I also looked at a map and discussed the route that I would take from the train station to the school where the orientation was held.

The day went smoothly. Ben was able to drive me to the train station in the morning, which was a huge relief. When I arrived at the train station I had about an hour until my train departed, so I got a coffee and read my book while waiting. I then boarded my train and continued reading my book. Several other assistants sat near me on the train, but did not know thatI was also an assistant. I observed this group for several minutes, then decided that I would continue reading my book rather than trying to introduce myself. These assistants seemed very cliquey, and I am past that phase in my life.

The orientation was informative, but not overwhelming, as I had a good idea of what to expect thanks to Matt. At the orientation I talked to one person who seemed to be focused and mature. We ended up being in the same group for the tour around Orléans and it turns out we have much in common. He was the only person I felt it might be possible to befriend. He’s also living in north Tours, so I am hoping that we are able to become friends this year. However, making friends is not my strong point, in fact it is actually a weakness.

In other news, when I returned home from my orientation I was pleased to find my box had arrived from my family! Overall, it was a pleasant, but busy day.

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Londres: Part III

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For a quick weekend getaway, my trip to London ended up being quite eventful. I had no idea that I would see and do as much as I did. When I started my first blog entry about London I thought it would be relatively short and simple. As I was typing I realized I was mistaken. This will be the final entry about my adventures in London (at least as related to this trip)…

Upon returning to the hotel late last night/early this morning I remembered that we had not booked our return ticket on the coach to the airport. Of course, the WiFi was not cooperating, so trying to book our tickets proved to be much more challenging and frustrating than anticipated. I spent about one hour in the lobby of the hotel fighting with the Wifi and eventually the National Express website. Once the WiFi was working, I quickly found our return tickets, selected them, and then tried to check out. Each time I entered my credit card information I received an error message. This went on for three attempts. After the third try I decided to try a different credit card, which thankfully worked.

After successfully buying our tickets the only obstacle standing between me and going to be was printing the tickets. Luckily, the hotel had a complimentary printer. I opened my email on the computer, selected the document and tried to print the tickets. I quickly discovered that both printers were out of ink. At this point I went to the night receptionist to seek guidance for how to go about printing my tickets. She said to email the document that needed to be printed to the hotel email address and she would print it for me. Relieved, I returned to the computers to email the document to the hotel. After emailing the document, I returned to the front dest, only to discover that the night receptionist was nowhere to be found. I waited for about five minutes, searching for a bell or buzzer of some sort, with no luck.

I decided that the most important challenge was completed–we had our tickets–and that I could deal with printing them in a few hours. I returned to the hotel room and promptly passed out for a few hour long power nap. Three hours later I woke and got ready. I returned to the lobby in an effort to print our tickets. This time I was successful and let the reception desk with tickets in hand. I then decided that I wanted breakfast, as I was hoping the food would wake me up and give me the energy I needed to make it home.

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After breakfast I went up to the room to make sure that Ben was getting ready. A few moments later we left our room, checked out of the hotel, and walked to The Tower of London. While I had visited The Tower of London years before, I wanted to visit again because there was an art installment on the grounds surrounding the Tower. The art installation was called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” and is intended to mark the 100 year anniversary of Britain’s first full day of involvement in World War I. The installation was breathtaking, and in fact was still being installed.

Because we had all of our luggage we did not want to spend too much time walking around without progressing toward our final destination, the National Express Coach stop. We began walking, only to remember that the tube was under construction, it proved to be a more challenging task than anticipated. After making our way toward the Liverpool Station we stumbled upon another Underground station, which fortunately, had a line that stopped at the Liverpool Station.

We arrived without much difficulty, found the coach stop, and boarded the coach. We made it to the airport without any difficulty. The Stansted Airport is significantly larger than the Tours Airport. After much walking we finally made it to the ticketing counter. Because I am not a citizen of the European Union, I have to go through a pre-screening of my passport and ticket. This is frustrating because this takes place in the same line as checking baggage.

After what felt like an hour, we had permission to proceed to the security checkpoint. Because I travel somewhat regularly, I am comfortable with the procedure for successfully navigating through security. I had my quart-sized bag of liquids out, my coat/scarf/jewelry was in a bin…I walked through the metal detector, and sure enough, it went off. I stepped aside and was on my way in no time. Ben on the otherhand had a more difficult time making it through security. His bags had to be searched and sent through the x-ray machines multiple times. The cause of the frustration: a full-sized can of shaving gel (which both Matt and I had told him was not okay in carry-on luggage).

Other than the small hiccup at security, everything about the journey home went smoothly. We had lunch in the airport and then boarded our flight back to Tours. The flight returning to Tours was slightly longer, but still under one hour. We got off the plane, passed through customs, and met Matt. It’s funny to think that the sole purpose of this trip was to get a stamp in my passport to validate my visa. In November some friends are visiting London and I am hoping to be able to visit them while they are there. I also have a trip to London planned for July 2015 when my mom is visiting. This was the first of many adventures to nearby countries this year.