Monthly Archives: December 2014

Adventures in Copenhagen: Day 1

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I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect when visiting Copenhagen. I had talked with a friend who lived and worked there, so I had some knowledge about where I was travelling. I also spent a great deal of time researching things to see and do in Copenhagen, both touristy and not. I think that my first solo adventure in Europe set the bar for all the others very high. I absolutely fell in love with Prague, so now compare everywhere else to it. Doing so can have some negative consequences.

The one thing I was grateful for about this trip was that I was traveling to a country where the majority of the people have a working knowledge of English. As I don’t speak Danish, I was a little intimidated about traveling to Copenhagen alone, but with my few helpful phrases I quickly discovered that most Danes speak English very well.

When I arrived at the airport, there were no problems. The airport was easy to navigate, and because I was still in the Schengen Region I did not have to go through customs. I had done my research and learned that the Copenhagen Card was a great value for a short trip to the city. With the Card, you gan admission to almost 100 museums and other attractions, as well as unlimited use of all public transit. The 2-day card cost about $85, which was well worth the money (one of the few things I think is actually worth the cost in Copenhagen). The airport is just outside of the city centre, so it is very easy to reach the city centre via the metro. It was a short 20 minute metro ride from the airport to my hotel, which was near the Central Train Station.

I was really hoping that it would be cold and there would be snow when I arrived, but I discovered that I was going to see neither of these things during this trip. The temperature was very comparable to that of Tours. However, the wind. Oh, the wind. Chicago is nicknamed “The Windy City,” however, I think Copenhagen deserves this name instead. The wind in Chicago has nothing on the wind in Copenhagen. I literally had to stop walking and turn my back several times, and even then, it took all of my strength to remain upright.

The location of my hotel was ideal: central, near public transportation, and in a well-populated area. However, it was being renovated, and therefore was not quite what I had been hoping for. The good news is that the hotel is quite possibly the least important thing to me when I am traveling, because I spend minimal time there. However, this hotel had neither a television, nor a radio and there were no garbage cans anywhere in the room. This hotel served its purpose, but I do not think I would stay here again. I would pay a little bit more for a slightly nicer hotel.

Because my flight arrived in the evening, I spend my first day walking around and exploring different areas of the city. I found a Mexican restaurant that I decided I wanted to try, as I have been craving a margarita and cheese quesadilla (made with cheddar or Monterey cheese). The margarita did not disappoint, but like every other “Mexican” restaurant I’ve visited in Europe, the food was a major letdown. After dinner I walked around and just absorbed all that I could of the city. I had done my research, so I decided to go to a cocktail bar that was supposed to be a speak-easy. When I arrived the atmosphere was nice, but not exactly what I would classify as a speak-easy. The bar was called Ruby, and like everything else in this city, was ridiculously priced. My drink, a traditional daiquiri, was about $18!!! Honestly, the bar was cool, but not quite the atmosphere I was hoping for and there were a bunch of older, drunk men who felt the need to continuously talk to me, so I left as soon as I could.

I decided to call it a relatively early night (a little bit before midnight) so that I would be sure to get up bright and early the next morning for a jam-packed day of adventuring.

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Weekend in Copenhagen: An Overview

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So, I’ve decided to really try and visit someplace new each month. Because of Christmas and New Year’s this month, I have a two-week vacation from school. Normally, during these vacations I do most of my traveling. However, this vacation my best friend will be visiting, so rather than exploring somewhere new, I’ll be sharing my new home with her. 🙂

I decided that rather than not going somewhere new, I would just shorten my trip and move it up by a few weeks. The destination was Copenhagen. I did a lot of research leading up to this trip, in order to maximize my limited amount of time in the country.

A couple of things you should know if you are planning a trip to Copenhagen:

  • The weather is intense. I thought Chicago was “The Windy City” until I visited Copenhagen. Chicago is nothing in comparison to what I experienced in Copenhagen.
  • They don’t use the euro in Copenhagen; rather, they use the Kroner.
  • Everything is super, super expensive. I thought London expensive, but London looks like a budget vacation compared to Copenhagen. Most things are double or triple the cost of what I am used to paying in France. For example, a mediocre glass of wine cost 11€, or $13! It was insane!
  • The hours are very limited everywhere. Most places don’t open until 11am, and close at 6pm (with restaurants being the exception). And I thought the French worked limited hours!

Overall, I’m glad to have visited Copenhagen, but the city itself is not on my list of places I must visit again. For me, the city was not very memorable. However, I would love to return to Denmark to visit some of the smaller towns and villages. I found the Danes to be a very friendly people. I almost felt like I was back in the Midwest.

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Thanksgiving in France

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Prior to this year, Thanksgiving was never a major holiday for me. While I enjoyed the traditions and spending time with my family, as a vegetarian, I found it difficult to truly enjoy a holiday which focuses on the cooking and eating of a turkey. From the time I first became a vegetarian until now, my family has gotten much better at knowing what to do with a vegetarian. For many years, I simply at the sides, but lacked the main course. Then, it suddenly clicked and my family was able to figure out a way for me to also have a main course. While Tofurkey is very popular in the USA, I am not a fan. I find the texture to be odd and the Tofurkey itself to be salty. Typically, my main dish features sweet potatoes of some sort (one year it was sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter sage sauce). Last year it was a lentil loaf, filled with smashed potatoes. It was delicious!

Currently, I am living in a country where Thanksgiving doesn’t exist, and truly isn’t understood. This year, because Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebrated in France, I had to work on Thanksgiving. I’m not going to lie, it was a very strange feeling going to work on Thanksgiving. I was very jealous of my friends and family back in the states who had the day off. Then I reminded myself of all the days off that I have that they do not have, and I was more okay with having to work on a holiday that isn’t major for me.

Because of the time difference, I was able to make it home in time to watch America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on my computer. I am grateful for technology, as well as ClickOnDetroit for streaming the entire parade live on their website. Watching the parade made me feel like I was at home with my family. However, rather than it being early Thanksgiving morning, it was mid-afternoon. Prior to the parade I Skyped with my parents to say ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ and to see my dogs. After the parade I called some of my other relatives to say ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ as well. It wan’t until this day that I began feeling slightly homesick.

Luckily, the following weekend my friends and I were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving. Because Matt and I are the only Americans, we were in charge of planning and executing the dinner. This was a first for us both. Neither of us had been the person primarily responsible for preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s just say that kitchens in France (even ‘American kitchens’) are not equipped for the preparation of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Fortunately for me, I’m a vegetarian, so I was considerably less stressed than Matt about this whole ordeal. Turkey is not a very common food in France, so Matt and Ben had to special order the turkey from the butcher. Because French ovens are so small, the turkey barely fit in it. Keep in mind, that this was not your typical American turkey, it was considerably smaller. When Matt uncovered the turkey, it actually touched the top of the oven, which produced a ‘lovely’ smell.

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While Matt was preparing the turkey, I was busy at work preparing my main dish–a lentil loaf. Imagine a meatloaf, made of lentils and with mashed potatoes in the middle. It’s one of my favorite meals, and super easy to make. I also made a sage and cranberry stuffing, with a homemade mushroom gravy.

Side note: Sage is surprisingly difficult to find in France. I spent a good three hours walking around Tours trying to find sage. I visited seven supermarkets and countless speciality shops, with no luck. Luckily, Matt saw my frustration on Facebook and asked Ben to pick up sage when he went to the big supermarket. 🙂

I remember cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my mom, and figuring out the timing of everything. It was a surprisingly complex task. It’s even more complex in France, as the oven is literally half the size. In addition to the turkey, lentil loaf, and stuffing, we had the following: sweet potato casserole (both with and without marshmallows), broccoli and cauliflower casserole, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. Everything was delicious and we had a great time together. There were plenty of American flags and good wine to be drunk.

While Thanksgiving Day was not a big deal for me this year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving turned out to be everything I could have hoped. I’m especially thankful for my friends and family this year, and celebrating with my friends in France helped me to remember how lucky I am.

Beaujolais Nouveau

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There is a long standing tradition in France, surrounding the world-wide release of a specific wine. This wine is known as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau.’ I first heard about this wine during my first French course at university. At the time I was not 21, so I could not buy it, but the idea intrigued me. Every year, on the third Thursday in November, this wine is sold around the world. It cannot be sold prior to 12:01am on the third Thursday in November. Since this tradition is nicely aligned with the American tradition of Thanksgiving, it seemed like a natural tradition to embrace with my family.

While the tradition is fun and the history of how this tradition began is interesting (click here to learn more), the wine itself is not that stellar. Because it is a young wine, it has a very light body and very light and fruity nodes. When I first began drinking wine I loved it, because I found most red wines to be too heavy for my liking. As my preferences for wine have evolved, I’ve become less and less of a fan of this wine. The history and the celebration behind it, though, I am still very interested in.

As I was in France this year for the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, I had the opportunity to attend a few parties celebrating the release of this wine. Prior to heading out to the parties, Matt, Ben, and I all tried the “Touraine Primeur” wine, which is Tours version of Beaujolais Nouveau. I have the same feeling about this wine as I do about Beaujolais Nouveau. Great story, terrible wine.

Apparently, every year, a bunch of hair dressers take turns hosting the Beaujolais Nouveau party at his/her salon. One of my dear friends owns a salon and is therefore invited to these parties every year. By association, I was also invited. The party was held in an actual hair salon, complete with snacks and all. It was a very enjoyable evening and I had the opportunity to try many different types of Beaujolais Nouveau (my feelings are the same for all of them). This was my first time attending a Beaujolais Nouveau party in France, as well as my first time attending a party in a hair salon. It was a lot of fun!

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After this party, we decided to get dinner together, where we continued to drink wine from Beaujolais, but not Beaujolais Nouveau. Dinner was enjoyable, but nothing special. I am oftentimes underwhelmed when I go to restaurants in France. There are very few (if any) options which can be modified to be vegetarian, and even fewer vegetarian options.

I’m glad the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau continued and that I was able to experience it in France.

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My Next Adventure

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This Friday, straight from my school, I will take the tram to the train station and head to Paris for my next solo-adventure. This time, I am headed to Copenhagen, Denmark. After much research, I decided that this would be my next destination for several reasons.

  • The weather should be colder and more wintery (based on current weather forecasts, I don’t necessarily believe this to be true)
  • I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful
  • They have what is considered on of the best Christmas Markets in the world
  • The display of Christmas lights was designed by the head designer at Tiffany & Co.

My tickets have been bought, and tomorrow I will print them. I’ve also been researching things to do in Copenhagen. I’ve started my own list, but if anyone has suggestions of must see/do while visiting Copenhagen, please let me know. I love doing the non-touristy things when traveling, so I’m open for any suggestions.

Inside l’Opéra de Tours

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Those of you who know me know that I love going to the theatre, whether it be musicals, operas, symphonies, or plays, I’m interested in seeing them all. Since I was a child, I think 12 years old, I have attended a minimum of one event at the theatre each year. Last Sunday was the day of open doors at the Opéra de Tours. Simply walking into this building caused me to have an instant desire to attend a performance in the near future.

On the outside, l’Opéra de Tours seems massive. On the inside, it seems small and intimate. Apparently, there are 1,000 seats in the theatre, but in my opinion in felt much, much smaller. The architecture and design is very classic and elegant. I sat in a box seat for several moments to take in everything. I was overwhelmed by everything I saw.

While I knew that the open doors day was quickly approaching, I had forgotten until we walked by and saw the doors open. When we returned home I promptly visited the Opéra de Tours website and selected the performances I want to attend. One goal that I have set this year is to attend an evening performance at l’Opéra de Tours, where I get dressed to the nines. Matt and I are in discussion for how to make this happen, as it is something that he would like to do as well.

I am hoping to attend my first performance at l’Opéra de Tours within the next couple of months.

Getting Healthy

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Now that I’m settled in and have discovered my routine in France I am trying to truly get my life back in order. Prior to moving to France I had a great routine for working out. However, once I moved to France I stopped following that routine, primarily because I was not a member of a gym and was busy being a tourist in my new area. The one good thing about moving to France is that I walk just about everywhere. On a daily basis I do considerably more walking than I would have done over the course of a week back in Michigan.

Even though I was doing more walking, I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see and I simply wasn’t feeling as fit as I wanted. I enjoy riding bikes, however, up until a few weeks ago, I did not have one. Also, the weather has gotten cooler in France and I find bike riding to be slightly less enjoyable.

My first step toward getting healthy was to look at what I was eating and to make healthier choices. Upon reflecting on my eating habits I discovered that I had been eating more pasta and starches than usual. I decided to increase my daily fruit and vegetable intake and to only eat whole grains. This was an easy switch for me. I also monitored my alcohol intake. Living in France, my liquor consumption has decreased drastically; however, my wine consumption has significantly increased. I decided to change this as well. I now only have one glass of red wine with dinner each night (I can’t live in France and not drink wine, that would just be wrong).

With a plan for my eating habits in place I began doing stretches and simple exercises at my apartment. I began practicing yoga again, following a series of poses that I remembered from my yoga classes in Michigan. I also began doing a number of exercises to target my hips, butt, and legs (my problem area). Doing these on a daily basis was helping me to feel a little better in general. I was more relaxed and could more easily fall asleep after stretching and doing yoga. I found that beginning and ending my day with stretches or simple exercises was helpful to my overall well-being.

I have been doing my stretch/exercise routine daily, in addition to my daily walking. Now that I was in a routine, I decided that I was ready to take it to the next level and join a gym. I did some research about which gyms I could join and where they were located. I remembered passing a gym on rue Nationale, one of the main roads I walk down every single day. I researched the gym, Nova Gym, online and it looked very similar to my gym back in Michigan. There was also a promotion where if you began  your paperwork online you received a discounted sign-up fee. Of course, I began my paperwork online, knowing that if I changed my mind and decided not to join the gym that there would not be a penalty.

After work one day I stopped by Nova Gym to officially join. It was a good experience, because it was conducted entirely in French, and I was able to not only understand, but also ask questions. The gym truly is like an American gym, which was a nice surprise. They have the standard equipment, as well as a circuit training video you can use. I decided to join the gym. During my tour the man was explaining the hours, how my badge worked so that I could enter even on Sundays and holidays when normally everything is closed.

The one part of this experience that stood out to me was during my tour. As we were talking about the different equipment, the man was telling me about the treadmills. Apparently, running is not allowed on the treadmills, only walking, because it places less stress on the machine, thus allowing it to last longer. I hate running on treadmills, so this wasn’t a big deal until I began thinking about it. It seemed silly to tell people they could not use a piece of exercise equipment for the purpose it was designed.

In addition to making healthier eating choices, I’ve also cut back considerably on my alcohol intake. This has been extremely difficult, as I am living in a country that is known for its wine. I’ve also cut back considerably on my bread and cheese intake. For my feelings on this, see my comment about wine. However, I finally feel as though all of my small changes are starting to pay off. I have more energy and just feel overall healthier. I did not weigh myself before I started these changes, and I do not plan on weighing myself to monitor my progress. At this point in my life I want to feel healthy, and am less concerned about the number on the scale.