In the End We Only Regret the Chances We Didn’t Take

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DSCF2635I am an extremely logical person. I don’t make hasty decisions and I often doubt if I am making the right choice. Analyzing, diagramming, list-making, color coding–these are all the strategies I employ when faced with making a decision. Last April when I was faced with the decision of accepting a position in France or remaining a teacher in Michigan I did all of the above to help me decide. The thing is, I always know what I want to do deep down, but have to accept that choice, which is much more diffcult for me. Living and working in France has been a lifelong dream (the earliest memory I have of this dream is when I was 5 years old). I’ve learned that I am very good at having lofty drams, but the follow through tends to be a terrifying process. When my dream was presented to me 5 years ago (to be an assistant in France) I knew the timing wasn’t right. I had just graduated from university, found my dream job, and at the time, I was in a relationship. After giving it much thought (see above for the process) I decided that I could not accept this opportunity. To this day, I do not regret this decision. I feel that I had a lot of growing to do that could only be done in Michigan, and I made several amazing connections as a result of this choice. However, I also knew that if the opportunity presented itself, I would not turn it down again. I was ready.

I reapplid to the same program, not entirely sure if I really wanted to do it, but also knowing that public schools in Michigan are not doing so well. The year before I had been laid-off from my teaching position, the specific position/program had been eliminated, and I had no idea what I was going to do. That summer I did some serious reflecting to decide what I really wanted to do with my life. I love teaching, but every two years my position/program was being eliminated or downsized. This happened in two different school districts. This helped me to realize that this might be the perfect opportunity to follow my dream of living and working in France. I had saved my previous application and essays and decided to reapply. Everything was in order and submitted before I knew that I was going to be offered another position in my school district. The position I was offered was a second grade teacher (one of my least favorite grades to teach). Because I needed the income, I accepted the position. Luckily, about halfway through the year a fifth grade position opened up at the school where I had taught world languages.

I changed positions in January, still not sure of what the following year was going to hold for me. In the meantime I had found another opportunity teaching English abroad, for which I also applied. I was very late in submitting my application and was missing many documents. However, the organization must have been impressed with my application, as they contacted me multiple times asking me to update or submit the missing documents. In the end, my application was late and took multiple corrections to complete, but I was placed on the waiting list for this program. Around the same time, I found out that I had been accepted to the program in France, which was my first choice. So, that’s how I ended up where I am today.

Fast forward to the present…

It’s hard to believe that my time as an English language assistant will be over at the end of this week. I arrived in France on August 17th and cannot believe that it is already the end of April. I have no idea where the time has gone and I am very sad that this experience is already over. While my contract as an assistant terminates at the end of this month, I will be remaining in France for the rest of spring and summer. I am glad that even though my time as an assistant is almost through, my time living in France is not.

I am hopeful that I will be able to return next year for the same position, but in different schools. This year has been full of ups IMG_2594and downs, good experiences and bad, but given the choice, I would do it all over again. Having worked/volunteered in American schools for the past 10years (6 years as an actual teacher) I was excited to experience another type of schooling first hand. The teaching part of this experience was the least intimidating part of the past 8 months. I know how to connect with students, I know how to teach and manage a classroom–in general, I am a very confident, capable, and motivated educator. Professionally, this year did not challenge me any more than my years working as a teacher in the states. Having worked in all types of schools–public, Montessori, urban, rural, suburban–I felt confident about my ability to now teach in an international school.

My two schools in France were quite different from each other. The best I can describe it is that one was very suburban, while the other was more-or-less like an inner city school in the states. In general, my experience working with the students was enjoyable and beneficial. My interactions with the staff were not always as easy and helpful. In the beginning, I had a quite negative experience in one of my schools, but as time passed, it slowly improved. Had I not had 10+ years of teaching experience I think that I would have very seriously considered resigning from the position. I stuck it out and survived, but did not feel as though I was being utilized to my full potential. I was never allowed to design my own lessons, but rather had lessons handed to me. As an experienced teacher this was frustrating because I did not always understand the lesson before I was expected to teach it, which resulted in a disasterous lesson. My other school trusted me and my judgement from the beginning , and as a result I had a much more beneficial experience. I was able to design my own lessons, play games, and really teach about my culture.

While this year was not especially challenging, personally, it was one of the most challenging years of my life. I decided to take a leave of absence from a school district where I worked for three years. I decided to leave my family and most of my friends and relocate to another continent half-way around the world, and move to a country where my second language is basically the only language used. While I have always viewed myself as a strong and independent woman, this year helped me to gain some perspective and a better understanding about myself. Some things I’ve done/realized/learned about myself:

  • I’ve pushed myself further outside of my comfort zone than I ever imagined I would be able to.
  • I can, in fact, speak French relatively well and be understood (except for when I panic and begin overthinking everything, then it’s a disaster).
  • Making friend is just as difficult as I remember it being (probably even more so)
  • I can do more than I used to think.
  • Traveling around France terrifies me, but put me on a plane/train to any other country and I am fine.

Once my contract is finished on Friday I will be remaining in France and preparing for several people to come and visit. I will continue teaching online classes, as that will become my only source of income. It terrifies me to think that my income is going to be cut in half at the end of this month, but I am truly looking forward to the adventures and memories I will be making. I’ve adopted a new mantra that I hope will make this easier for me: It’s only money. This is one thing I’ve learned since arriving in France–Americans are much more focused on making a living, rather than enjoying life. I oftentimes get caught up in trying to make money that I forget to enjoy and appreciate the opportunities that I have been given. While teaching online is going to be my full-time job starting next week, I am going to do my best not to let it consume all of my time. I am planning to dedicate the mornings and early afternoons to teaching, but then keeping my evenings and weekends free so that I can still have some fun.

Being an immigrant in France has taught me so much about myself and my culture. This year I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever worked before, but was also the financially poorest I’ve ever been. Accepting that there is more to life than money has helped me to become a happier and more grateful person. Here’s to hoping I know what my next adventure is going to be and that I find out sooner rather than later.

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The End is the Beginning

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The original reason I came to France will be finished at the end of next week. I have four days of teaching left, and then it is over. Luckily, I will be remaining in France at least through the summer (and hopefully for another year). As my time as an English assistant is coming to a close I am getting really excited about all the potential adventures that lie ahead of me. In May one of my close friends is coming to France. I’m so excited to be able to share my new life with a friend I have known for years.

The more time I spend away from my family and friends the more I realize how much we actually have in common. It turns out that Chris is equally crazy and likes to do ridiculous things while traveling. When I was in college it was very difficult for me to find friends who liked traveling as much as I did, and also friends who liked to do the same crazy things. One of my closest friends in college was the first person I found with exactly the same traveling style. I’m talking itineraries planned to the minute, typed and put in paper protectors, and then put in a binder for reference throughout the trip. (Not to mention the three back-up copies, just in case…)

It’s funny how time, distance, and growing older changes a person. While I still like to do my research and plan my trips, I have found that I am a much more conservative traveler than I used to be. I think back to 2007 when I was a young and stupid student. I had no experience traveling alone while abroad, but I didn’t let that stop me. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and made friends (an extremely difficult and awkward task for me) and planned a week-long adventure through three countries. I managed to book train and plane tickets, reserve hotels, and make an itinerary of what we were going to do. Looking back, I have no idea how I did. There is no reason I should have been as good at planing these trips as I was. In a week we managed to do Paris, Barcelona, Rome/Vatican City, Venice, and Paris again. It’s crazy when I think about it, and I have no idea how the 21 year-old me knew what to do. Perhaps it was that I had a virtually unlimited budget (thanks to my very generous family), perhaps it was because I knew everything would work out eventually, perhaps it was sheer luck. Whatever it was, I’m currently trying to channel it as I am preparing for three very important visitors.

Luckily, Chris is very organized and has several awesome ideas for our adventures throughout Europe. We’re currently in the planning stages and I’m getting really excited. I’m not going to say exactly where we are hoping to go, but it is quite a lofty goal and I truly hope that we can make it come true. I’m also really excited because Chris has already been to Paris, so he only has a few things he would like to see/do there, and they are things I’ve only done a few times.

My next visitor will be my best friend (again!). Needless to say, there are not words to describe how excited and happy I am for her to come back to visit me. We’ve recently discovered that we have some sort of cosmic connection (i.e., my asthma flares up, her asthma does the same; her fingers go tingly/numb, mine do the same). It’s quite freaky, but is yet another example of how we are virtually the same person. We’ve begun trying to plan our adventures, but it’s still very uncertain. The one thing we must do is visit Monet’s house in Giverny. After my adventures with Chris are planned, I’ll begin coordinating with Jeannette about our adventures.

My final visitor will be my mother. She has never been to Europe, much less left North America. When she was a child she and my grandparents traveled extensively. When I was a child, my parents took my sister and me on countless vacations. I consider myself very lucky to have traveled so much as a child, with my parents, grandparents, and aunt. The first time I left my mother was around six months old. My uncle was in the airforce and my grandparents would travel to wherever he was stationed and I would go with them. Ever since the first time I left my parents, there was no turning back. My family struggles to understand my passion for traveling and seeing the world, but as we all grow older they have accepted it and support my choices.

The itinerary for when my mom comes to visit is the most extensive and overwhelming. She will be in Europe for one month and we’ve been discussing the places we would like to go and the things we would like to do. I’m taking it little by little, and with the help of my Sharpies, I will figure this out. However, at this time I feel completely overwhelmed by the task of planning these trips. While my mother is here we will also be celebrating my birthday (the real reason that she did not have a choice about coming to France). This will be the second birthday I’ve celebrated in France, and they were both monumental birthdays. In 2007 I had my “21st birthday do-over,” as my real 21st birthday was quite uneventful. This year, I will be turning 30 (ahhhh!!!!!!). I am not handling this fact well, and am in fact practically in denial about only having a few months left in my twenties.

Below is a tentative list of the countries/cities I will be visiting between now and August. Here’s to hoping they all come true!

  • France: Paris, Versailles, Giverny, Èze, Nice, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Normandy, Douai
  • Italy: Pompei, Venice, Florence, Almafi Coast, Pisa
  • Poland: Krakow, Warsaw, Zakopane, Wieliczka
  • Liechtenstein
  • Austria: Salzburg, Vienna
  • Switzerland: Zermatt
  • Turkey: Istanbul
  • England: Bath, Wiltshire

Here’s to the adventures of a lifetime with some of my favorite people in the world!

Timing in Everything

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I cannot believe it is already the middle of April and that my teaching contract for this year is done next Friday. Where did the time go??? This year has been an eventful year, and I will write a separate summary/reflection about my time in France. The purpose of this post is not the reflect on this year, but to ponder the options for next year. To begin, let me just mention how much I hate being an adult when it comes to times like this. I miss having my parents make decisions for me and not constantly worrying about what the ‘right’ decision is going to be.

Here’s what I know about next year so far:

  • I have applied for and been granted an additional year-long leave of absence from my permanent teaching position in Michigan
  • I have submitted all of the necessary paperwork to renew my current teaching contract in France for next year.
  • I just received an email from a position I applied for with the U.S. Embassy. I am being considered for a position teaching ESL at the university level in Vietnam.

This is a ton of information to process, and to be quite honest is extremely overwhelming. I feel like I have only recently become truly settled and comfortable in France. I thought that after living here for one year my wanderlust for France would have contained itself. Boy was I wrong! The opposite has happened. Being an immigrant in a foreign country is an eye-opening experience and really changes one’s perspective on immigrants and immigration. I am also constantly reminded how difficult it is to be an American outside of North America. Even with all the challenges I have faced this year, I am beyond content with my life in France.

While I haven’t officially been offered either position, just the prospect of having to make a decision is terrifying. Upon receiving the email that I was being considered for a position in Vietnam I was so excited. I immediately texted my mom and best friend. I thought I had misread the email, but I had not. After the initial excitement wore off, a panic attack set in. I cannot imagine my life in France coming to an end. The next several months are filled with friends, family, and crazy adventures. I have so much to look forward to that I cannot even begin to think about the possibility of having to give up my apartment and leave France.

I’ve already begun the color-coded diagramming process to help make this (potential) decision easier when the time comes. For the position in France I will be told anytime between the beginning of this month and the end of August. For Vietnam, I will know before the end of this month, most likely as soon as the end of next week. Needless to say, I am terrified and excited about what the future holds.

An adorable road I discovered when I got myself lost driving around the French countryside.

An adorable road I discovered when I got lost driving around the French countryside.

Tracy-sur-Loire

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Several weeks ago some friends shared some valuable information with me: there are apparently cities in France with ‘Tracy’ in the name. This was surprising on many levels:

  1. ‘Tracy’ is definitely not a French name
  2. ‘Tracy’ is rarely spelled this way, but rather ‘Tracey’

After learning about two cities, Tracy-sur-Mer (in northwestern France) and Tracy-sur-Loire (in central France), I began doing some research. Of course, neither of these towns were within what I would consider close proximity. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to give up. I continued my research about these two towns, and in the process I discovered that there are actually three other towns with ‘Tracy’ in their name. In grand total, there are five towns/villages is ‘Tracy’ in their name. After finding the exact location of all five, I decided that the most do-able one was going to be Tracy-sur-Loire. However, because of the exact location, taking a train was not the best option. The best option was actually going to be renting a car. I’ve rented cars several times in France and have no problem driving around the country, however, I had never driven alone in France. I’ve always had a friend with me, which was crucial in terms of navigation.

Finding a time to go on a day-trip can be a bit challenging, especially when factoring in the schedules of others. I toyed around with this idea and tried to rationalize through the process of renting a car, simply for the sake of visiting a town that had my first name in its name. After some more research I finally decided that this crazy adventure had to happen, or I would regret not taking this opportunity while I had it. Normally, when I get an idea like this my friends have one of two reactions: they look at me like I’m crazy or they think it’s so crazy that it just might work. Since arriving in France I’ve made many new friends (which is incredibly surprising, given my shy personality). I don’t talk to many of the other English assistants, but there is one assistant with whom I’ve begun talking and hanging out. I mentioned this trip I wanted to take to Trevor, thinking that he would have the first reaction (that I’m crazy), but he did not. He seemed very interested and excited about the possibility of a mini road trip. I continued my research, now with a specific date in mind, and found a day that worked for both of us. I reserved the car and could not wait to visit my town!

DSCF4944Yesterday was the day of my grand adventure to Tracy-sur-Loire. I had picked up the rental car (a Fiat Panda) the night before, and made sure that I had all of my essentials for a road trip: audio cord, charger for phone, cameras (with charged/extra batteries), my umbrella, and of course, my phone (for navigation purposes. It was almost 200km each way, with a total of three hours of driving, if we didn’t stop anywhere along the way (which is not what happened). I used to be a very Type A, obsessive traveler who wanted everything planned out to the minute. In recent years, I’ve become a much more relaxed traveler. I still do extensive research, but rather than an itemized itinerary, I make a list of places I want to visit and things I want to see/do. Also, I used to get up at ungodly hours to begin my adventures, but again have become a little more relaxed. The plan was to leave at 8am, but we didn’t end up leaving until a little after 9am.

When I travel in France I prefer to take the national roads, as you are able to discover cute villages along the way that you had no idea existed (and they are also free). When using the national roads the distance is a little bit shorter, but because you are driving through towns and villages, the actual travel time is slightly longer. Roads in France are significantly smaller than roads in America, which normally isn’t a problem, as I’ve rarely encountered many other cars on the road. I oftentimes have difficulty determining if a road on a oneway or a two-way road, as all of the roads look jut wide enough for one car (maybe). Almost always, the roads are actually two-way roads. I’m always very nervous for the first thirty minutes or so of driving, but then I realize that everything will be fine, that I do know how to drive a car, and that I have a solid understanding of the laws in France.

The drive was relatively calm for the first hour, but then we came to a standstill and saw dozens of flashing lights and police officers. At first, we thought there was an accident of some sort, and not knowing the area and being in the middle of the French countryside, we really had no choice but to sit and wait until we could continue down the road. Eventually, we made it to the roundabout and discovered that there were people protesting (or using our made up word ‘manifestating’) about something with the local schools. It was quite and interesting experience, and so typically French. A bit later we stopped in this adorable village for croissants and to just take in the French atmosphere. It was quintessentially French–church in the middle of town, a butcher shop, a bakery, and adorable old French men riding bikes with baskets while wearing berets. We explored the church, which had the tiniest door (perfectly sized for me). After our breakfast we continued on our way, but discovered many charming villages en route to Tracy-sur-Loire. DSCF4925

As we approached my municipality, we discovered a train station for ‘Tracy Sancerre’ which was a great photo opportunity, because how often does on see their name on signs. We continued on our way to my village, which was significantly smaller than I had imagined. We stopped to take pictures with the signs and then drove around for a bit (a very short bit) trying to figure out exactly where we were and where we needed to be. We ended up parking the car at the church (which was closed so we couldn’t go in). We also went to the Château de Tracy, which is both a castle and a winery. The castle itself is privately owned, so we couldn’t go on a tour. However, Trevor didn’t seem to want to accept this as an answer, so he proceeded to approach the castle, with the dog barking at him the entire time. I am a rule follower, so I stayed back waiting for the owner to come out and yell at us. The owner didn’t end up coming out of the castle, thankfully.

The wine tasting room was closed for lunch, so we wandered around my village for a bit. To summarize, there is a church, a castle, and maybe eight houses in my village. We walked the entire village trying to figure out what we were doing wrong. There was a little hut with a map, which highlighted a downtown area, which we couldn’t seem to find. Map reading is not one of my strengths, as I am extremely directionally challenged, but Trevor seemed confident that he had figured it out. We decided to drive to find downtown (which was a great decision, as we missed it the first time around). Of course, being a small village, everything was closes, as it was Saturday and lunch time. We were both hungry, so we decided that finding lunch was going to be our next mission. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to eat in Tracy-sur-Loire, so we headed back toward Sancerre, where we had passed some restaurants. In the neighboring town there were three restaurants and a bakery. Being a vegetarian in France is difficult enough, being a vegetarian in a small village in France is impossible. We ended up going to the bakery and getting some savory pastries and goat cheese.

DSCF4927Because the weather was being temperamental, we could not have a picnic outside, so we ate in the car. After ‘lunch’ I started to get really tired and not feel very well, so we took a mini nap in the Panda. After about 15 minutes we were both reenergized and ready to go do some wine tasting. I decided to be brave and nice and let Trevor drive for the rest of the day. (He drove very well, except that he likes to shift at the last possible moment.) We made it back to the castle and did some wine tasting. It was a great experience, but unfortunately on white wine is made here. The wine was good, but only something I would drink on a hot day while sitting outside. We tasted all four wines, and I bought two of the four (the other two were much more expensive and too sweet for my liking).

While Tracy-sur-Loire was smaller than I was expecting, I am so glad that I was able to visit it and that I went with someone DSCF4922who is equally ridiculous and easily entertained. Once I felt like I had taken an adequate number of photos with things that had my name on them, we began the next part of our adventure. Trevor has some friends who lived in this part of France and he asked for suggestions on interesting places to visit. Our first stop was Briare, an adorable town that is known for its canal. By this point, the weather had cleared up completely and it was perfect to walk the length of the canal. After walking down the canal we stopped in an adorable café for coffee and a snack (a Paris-Brest to be specific). I had never had this pastry before, but Trevor had mentioned it before and said it was delicious. After walking through a mini-festival near the canal we got in the car and continued our adventure. Along the way, we found a bridge that was too cute to pass by without taking a picture. We pulled over and walked over to take some pictures. At this time there was a boat that was going down the canal, where there were locks. I was super excited about being able to see the locks in action. Of course, being the French countryside, there were charming houses lining the canal, and one of the houses of chickens.

Our next destination was Gien. While this town was cute, I think I preferred Briare for its charm. We walked around for a bit and took some pictures. The bridge in the town was beautiful and the flowers were in bloom. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to discover some of the lesser known villages/towns in France. We decided to leave Gien with a little bit of daylight left, so that we could stop in more cute places along the way. We found one final town to stop in, where there was a beautiful bridge and trees. It was our final stop along the way and I was sad that the day was coming to an end. We made it back to Tours around 11pm, and we were both exhausted. Overall, it was one of the best days I’ve ever had and unforgettable in many ways. I’m eager to visit the other towns/villages with my name this summer.

My First Solo Music Festival (in France!)

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IMG_2528Music has always been an important part of my life, both playing, listening, and appreciating. I was in band for eight years, and continued playing in my free time throughout college. As I’ve grown older and busier, actively playing music has become a less important part of my life. When I met my best friend almost four years ago, she helped me to rediscover my love of music. We went to many live performances together. In fact, so many, that without really stopping to think and diagram everyone we have seen live, I don’t know that I could begin to name all of the awesome performance we have seen.

Each year, a local magazine puts on an awesome music festival, featuring local and up-and-coming artists. Last year, at MetroTimes Blowout we discovered some pretty awesome bands from Detroit. One of those bands was Captain Ivory. We didn’t know much about them at the time, and we stumbled upon them quite by accident, but we both quickly discovered how much we liked their music. Of course, this was at the time that we were both preparing for my move to France, so we were a little bit sad about discovering this great new band, only months before I left the continent. We then discovered that Captain Ivory was going to be relocating from the Detroit area to Nashville, which didn’t really help with the sadness.

Since arriving in France, I’ve had a very difficult time finding live music, especially with local musicians. It has become much easier, as my favorite bar in Tours, le Bartok, has live performances almost every week. My next challenge was overcoming my fear of going to performances alone. Luckily, the events at le Bartok were painless and easy for me, as I have become a regular there, and the owners and their dog have befriended me in a way. Little by little, I’ve been pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and been searching for live music throughout Tours, as well as the other cities/countries I visit in my travels. IMG_2534

I still follow all of my favorite bands from back home, even though I no longer live there. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. I like feeling as though I’m informed about what is happening back home, but at the same time it makes me feel a little sad realizing how much great, live music I am missing. Captain Ivory is one of the bands I follow on Facebook, and I noticed that they were working on a European tour. While I wasn’t getting my hopes up about them coming to any of the cities in my immediate area, I was really hoping they would have a few dates in France. Turns out, they were going to have two dates in France. The first show was on a Thursday night, near Paris. As I work both Thursdays and Fridays, this was not an option. The second date was a Saturday night, still near Paris, but do-able, as it was the weekend.

The seed had been planted, and now I had to decide how brave I truly was. I had been to this town before, but only to catch a flight. It’s a small town, with not much to do. Turns out, the only thing this town is known for is a music festival, le Blues Autour du Zinc. And apparently, this festival is a pretty big deal and this year was the 20th anniversary. This was the festival where Captain Ivory would be playing, alongside another American musician, Otis Taylor. After pondering my options, I decided that I would ultimately regret it if I didn’t take the opportunity to see a Detroit band play in France, because let’s face it, this doesn’t happen often. Tickets for the performance were very reasonably priced, just under $20. I bought my tickets and then began working on the logistics of how to get to the festival, where to stay, and how to get to the concert.

Figuring out the train was easy enough. Of course, I had to change trains in Paris (because that’s how it works in France for almost every destination). I am incredibly comfortable with navigating Paris, so this did not stress me out in the least. I had also picked a hotel very close to the train station in Beauvais, so I was comfortable with that part of the trip. The only part of my adventure that was stressing me out was figuring out how to get to the actual concert. The venue was not in the centre of town, and as it started in the evening, all public transit would have stopped by the time I needed to depart for the concert. My only realistic option was to take a cab, something that I very strong oppose. I hate taking taxis, as I think they are the least affordable way of getting from Point A to Point B. However, I literally had no other choice (aside from renting a car). To get from my hotel to the concert venue was a 2 kilometer drive (less than 1.5 miles). The round-trip cost of my taxi ride for the concert was 30€! For less than a four mile journey. This was nearly double the cost of my ticket for the concert. At the time, I was pretty irate about the cost, but in the end, ended up being okay with it because I had a great time at the concert.

The concert was in the coolest venue I have ever seen live music performed, la Maladrerie Saint Lazare. It was a medieval hospital for lepers that has since been converted into a venue for live performances. The history of the building itself was extremely interesting, but actually standing there, thinking about it, while watching a band from my hometown perform was a surreal experience. I’m still trying to figure out the role of live music in the French culture, as every live performance I have ever attended has been drastically different from what I’m used to. For all performances in France, most people sit. This is a very strange concept for me, but one I’ve since gotten used to. When I arrived at la Maladrerie, the first thing I noticed were the chairs and the number of people sitting. There was a very small space (what we would call ‘the floor’ in America). There was hardly anyone standing there when the performance began, but then it started filling up. I was able to find myself in the second/third row for the entire concert. While I don’t typically sit for performances, I also typically avoid the floor, as it tends to get a bit hectic and rowdy. People were definitely having a good time, but were very much in control of their bodies the entire time.

Anyone who has hung out with me in a social situation or attended a live music performance with me knows how socially awkward I can be. This is one of the countless reasons that my best friend and I are best friends. We are equally awkward, but make it work when we are together. Attending this concert alone was a very uncomfortable situation for me, but I quickly tried to stop thinking about it. Thank goodness for technology, as I could text Jeannette throughout the night, especially when I needed a bit of encouragement.

Captain Ivory’s performance was amazing. Exactly like I remembered them from Blowout. I had been listening to their music for several weeks leading up to this festival and  was very excited to have a bit of home in France. Throughout the entire performance I felt as though I had been teleported back to Michigan and was listening to them perform at the WAB or Old Miami or the Majestic. I felt at home and completely happy (even if I was there alone and feeling socially awkward throughout the performance). I had forgotten how awesome a live performance by an American band could be. Needless to say, I stayed out way past my bedtime, but it was totally worth it.



Buda and Pest

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Everyone tells me how brave I am and how much they admire me for following my dreams, but I don’t see it in the same way. I could not imagine doing anything other than what I am doing. As scary as it is to travel alone, I think it would be scarier regretting never having taken the opportunity to see the world. There are so many incredible places to visit that I have a difficult time deciding where to visit first. I’ve stopped making a list of the places I would like to visit and have just accepted that I am going to be travelling for as long as possible. Since moving to France I’ve learned a lot about myself and my friends and family. Maintaining friendships isn’t always easy, especially with the 6 hour time difference, but I’m doing the best that I can. Whenever I feel down and defeated, I FaceTime Nana and she is always able to give me the exact advice that I need at the time. During out past couple of conversations she has been so incredibly supportive of my desire to travel and see the world. It’s interesting because she and my late grandpa are the people who instilled a love of travel in me from a very young age.

Of everyone I know, Nana is the person I listen to most seriously. While I love my mother, I feel like Nana is able to give me unbiased advice, even if she would rather have me in Michigan with her. Our past couple of conversations have focused on two ideas:

1. I will not be young forever and I must seize every opportunity that I have to travel while I am young, healthy, and able bodied. (This was great advice as I am going to become a senior citizen in less than five months…)

2. Don’t worry about the money. It will always work out. If it were always easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Focus on the memories and experiences and everything else will sort itself out.

So, Nana and I have had many conversations about my life and life decisions, and whenever I am doubtful or fearful, she is able to talk some sense into me. Thus, my trip to Budapest. Originally, I had a different destination in mind, but after researching, learned that it will be better to visit this other country in April. As I mentioned, I no longer have a list of places I want to visit, I just want to see the world. My new strategy for deciding where to travel is based on the affordability at the time. Because I am living in Europe, so many countries are only a few hours and a few hundred euro away. Budapest happened to be one of the most affordable places to visit at this time of year. So, I bought my ticket and didn’t look back.

I decided to spend four days in Budapest, which tends to be the maximum amount of time I can spend visiting one place. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that are divided by the Danube River. I was able to get a really good deal on a hotel on the Pest side, right near the Danube Riverwalk. What’s nice about Budapest is that there is an airport shuttle directly to most of the hotels, for considerably less than the cost of a taxi. My roundtrip ticket was 20 euro, which is impossible to beat.

My hotel was in a perfect location. A two minute walk to the river, and bus stops and metro stations within a five minute walk. The public transit was super reliable and super easy to navigate. In the city centre the metro arrived every 90-seconds, so it was never a long wait. It was a similar system to that in Copenhagen or Prague, where you bought one ticket, validated it, and could freely use all of the public transit. However, even though the public transit system was super easy to navigate, when someone is as directionally challenged as I am, a lot of time is wasted trying to determine the direction to head after exiting the transportation.

I spent most of my time out and about, trying to see and do as much as possible. The one thing that I was really hoping to do, but wasn’t able to make happen was visit the Mini Bar. Apparently, there were special hours for the January through March. I was really bummed at first, but then I realized that this was a perfect reason for another trip. Additionally, I was only able to visit two of the bath houses, so I’d like to visit many more. While I saw and did many different things in Budapest, there were a few things that stood out, and others that were not very memorable.

One of the not so memorable things I did was visit Buda Castle. Don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome adventure/experience trying to get here (see directionally challenged commentary above), it just wasn’t what I was expecting. It might be because living in France has left me jaded when it comes to castles, or it might be that it simply wasn’t anything too special. The zoo was a cool experience, but it was also a little depressing. Compared to some of my favorite zoos (Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago,Illinois), Cleveland Zoo (Cleveland, Ohio), National Zoo (Washington D.C.), and Memphis Zoo (Memphis, Tennessee), and Beauval ZooParc (Beauval, France) to name a few) this one was much smaller and didn’t give the animals as much space to play. However, there were several baby animals in the zoo (elephant, giraffe, kangaroos).

Also, the architecture (especially the roofs) was stunning. I am falling in love with Eastern Europe. Another reason I would love to visit Budapest again is to spend more time discovering the architecture. I didn’t realize how comfortable and at home I felt in Eastern Europe until this year. Prior to moving to France, I had only visited Western Europe. This was a nice change of pace and is helping me to want to understand my own heritage in a new and deeper way.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience in Budapest and hope to visit again in the ‘near’ future. Below is a collage of the highlights of my trip. It is difficult for me to remember (and more importantly, accept) that I cannot see and do everything a city has to offer in one trip.

A Quick Update

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It’s been a bit since my last post. Things have been busy and a lot has happened. Last month was the Charlie Hebdo attack, and it was interesting to be an American abroad during that time. I happened to be in Paris the day of the attack, and how the French handled it was completely different than what would have happened in the States. I was able to make it back to Tours without any troubles, but daily life in France was just different for many weeks following the attack. In all honesty, I was never scared or nervous, but my family and friends did not handle it so well.

Teaching has been the same. Some days are really amazing, and others are really awful. I’ve not once regretted my decision to come here for this opportunity and am excited for all the possibilities in my future. However, there are some days when I feel incredibly lonely and isolated, but I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. It’s hard to believe that my contract is almost over. I’m really looking forward to being able to travel extensively and for my mom to visit. I’m actually getting really, really excited for my mom to come and share this part of my life with me.

I’m currently on mid-winter break from school. Earlier this week I went to Budapest, which was amazing. As much as I love France and western Europe, I am truly falling in love with Eastern Europe. Visiting new places is really helping me to discover and appreciate my heritage. I’m trying to plan my next weekend getaway, and I have a few specific places in mind. Here’s to hoping I can make them all happen. I’m also working on a trip to a suburb of Paris to see Captain Ivory, a Michigan band that is currently touring Europe. My best friend and I discovered this band last year at Metrotimes Blowout, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them in France.

Also, while I was in Budapest the cutest coffee shop I’ve found in France opened on my street. It’s run by a bunch of French-hipsters and they have ice, which is the best news ever. I’m going to work on writing a post about my adventures around Budapest this evening or tomorrow. That’s pretty much all that has been happening in my life. Oh, and my parents adopted another dog. Her name is Brooke and she is pretty stinkin’ cute.

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On the Road Again!

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I love driving, but prior to my departure for France my car was going to be the death of me. It seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong with the car was going wrong. That being said, I was truly looking forward to a year without car repairs. What I wasn’t expecting was how much I would actually miss having the option to drive.

Being from Detroit, where any form of public transportation is, to be honest, non-existent, I was really looking forward to moving to a country/city with reliable public transit. As much as I love walking and taking public transit, I’m not going to lie, there have been days when I really wished I had a car. So, Jeannette coming to France was the perfect excuse to rent a car. And, because Jeannette does not know how to drive a manual, it was up to me to successfully navigate us around. Not only did we rent a car, we rented a Fiat 500, which I’ve wanted to drive since I knew they existed. The nice thing about the Fiat 500 is that it is similar in size to my Mini Cooper, so it was very easy for me to drive.

Our goals for the time during which we had the car:

  • wine tasting
  • castles
  • zoo
  • adventuring
  • meals in new and unusual places

We were able to accomplish each of the goals, in addition to many other accomplishments. After getting our car (which was an adventure that involved riding the tram and commuter train to the next town), we were off! I always have a difficult time figuring out how to put rental cars in reverse (manuals, not automatics). The night before I shared some stories about the last time I had rented a car, and neither Matt nor I could figure out how to put the car in reverse. Matt sent me back to the rental office to ask how to put the car in reverse. I felt like a complete idiot! “Hi, you just rented me a car, and I can’t even figure out how to get out of the parking space.” It turns out, that on the shifter there’s a small mechanism that you have to pull up on to put the car in reverse. It was the same in the Fiat.

Once we were out of the parking lot I remembered how touchy first gear is and how much I hate it. I will say that over the course of two days of driving I did not stall one time, which made me feel very proud. However, each time I had to downshift or get out of first gear it sounded like the car was a rocket ship/race car. By the end of the first day, I was used to driving a manual again and things went must more smoothly. Our first stop of the day was Château d’Amboise. We took the scenic route, as we didn’t want to (really, couldn’t) take the pay roads. Thank goodness for Google Maps and a large data pack, or Jeannette and I would still be lost in France. I actually prefer taking the non-autoroutes, as you are able to drive through and discover many small villages along the way.

Amboise was Jeannette’s first European castle, and she was fascinated as we walked around. When we were trying to decide which castles to visit, this one stood out in the brochure, and Clos Lucé is down the road, so we could very easily visit two castles without having to spend time driving. Additionally, this was the very first castle that I visited in France, so it holds a special place in my heart. It was also my first time visiting the châteaux during Christmastime. It was wonderful to see the châteaux decorated and with real fires burning in the fireplaces.

IMG_2346After wandering around Château d’Amboise we wandered up the uphill road with half sidewalks to reach Clos Lucé. It was supposedly 400m from the castle, but I think the signs were lying. If I’ve learned anything since moving to France: the French are not great at labelling things, or really at using signs in general. We eventually reached Clos Lucé and began our visit. I had also visited Clos Lucé before, but it was much different than I remembered it being in 2007. While we were wandering through the château itself, we stumbled upon a painting of the Mona Lisa (not a surprise). It was funny because Jeannette’s boyfriend had told her that she must see the Mona Lisa while in Paris (which we did not). This was our compromise.

By the time we had finished wandering through the gardens/grounds it was almost time for lunch. We decided to eat lunch in Amboise, prior to heading off in search of wine tasting. For lunch we found a restaurant that had vegetarian soup (very difficult to do in France). After lunch, we set off toward Chambord, planning to do some wine tasting along the way. We found a cute winery along the way and did some wine tasting. It was an interesting wine tasting, in that we were only given one sample of each wine and had to share the glass. Luckily, we like each other enough that it didn’t really bother us.

After wine tasting we decided to finish our journey to Château de Chambord. However, Google Maps kept changing our route and trying to make us take the freeway. We were able to catch it every time, except for one, and we were able to easily to around as soon as we discovered where we were heading. Again, we made it to our destination without any problems. I even managed to keep the car on the road, in my lane, without running red lights, or hitting curbs/driving on the sidewalk.

Unlike many of the other château, you had to pay to park at this one. Anyone who has ever driven with me when paying for parking is involved knows the adventure that ensues. I can never keep track of the little parking ticket. One time, I spent almost an hour in a parking garage looking for the ticket in my car…This time, I found a little piece of fabric on the visor I could slip it under, so I did so, and felt proud of myself that I found a safe place to store it. However, this parking lot was one of the lots that you had to pay before you could go to the gate. With the closets pay station being a good 250m from where we had parked.

Walking up to the château, Jeannette kept saying ‘this is what a castle is supposed to look like.’ I had been to Château de Chambord once before, but this time was much better because I was with my best friend. It was much more impressive than I remembered it being. I had also forgotten that it was originally built as a hunting lodge! We spent a good amount of time exploring the château and reading about the history of it. What impressed Jeannette the most (I think) was the double-spiral-staircase designed by Leonard da Vinci (or as we know him, Leonardo da Vinci). She talked about how we had seen where he was buried and his house today, and now we were walking on a staircase designed by one of the most intelligent people ever to live.

IMG_2348On our way out, I saw what was quite possibly the absolute cutest thing I have ever seen in my life. An old, French man, wearing an adorable hat, riding a bike, with a whicker basked with a dog wearing a sweater inside. It was way too much cuteness in one area. Honestly, I wanted to take them both home with me because they were so adorable! Unfortunately, the bike wouldn’t have fit in the Fiat, so that plan was quickly abandoned. After we returned to our car, we drove as close as we could get to the pay station, and en route, I almost hit the cute old French man riding his bike with the dog in the basket! It would have been such a disaster; luckily, I did not. 🙂

We took our time heading back to Tours, and meandered through many different villages in the region. Eventually, we reached Blois. Blois is an adorable town, and one I have visited many times. When we arrived in Tours, we unloaded our purchases (just a few bottles of wine) and went to my favorite bar in Tours for apéro, le Bartók. We had sparking wine with poppy liquor (super yummy). Then, we decided that we would venture outside of Tours for dinner, seeing as we had a car and all. We decided to head to the neighboring villages, with our back up plan being to eat in Amboise. Let me tell you about the fiasco that involves trying to find a vegetarian meal in France. This night was no exception. We ended up eating Italian (again!) in an adorable restaurant in Amboise. The food was yummy, the wine was delicious, and the ambiance was very French. However, the food was not French, which was disappointing, as we had yet to have a French meal since Jeannette arrived in France.

When we had finished dinner, we drove back to Tours and just talked and hung out at my apartment. It was a wonderful day, and was going to be followed by even more adventures the next day.

A Tour of Tours

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IMG_2277Our train arrived in Tours a little after 1am, so by the time we made it back to my apartment it was almost 2am. We slept in a little the next morning, then got up to go exploring Tours. We walked through Vieux Tours, visited the cathedral, visited le Musée des Beaux-Arts, went to l’Institut de Touraine, walked through some gardens, then had lunch. It was a pretty relaxed day. That night we decided to open the Christmas gifts my mom had sent us. We Skyped with my mom while opening the gifts, while of course drinking some wine.

In addition to opening our gifts and Skyping with my mom, I was also cooking dinner, ratatouille. I was surprised by how yummy the recipe turned out! This was our first traditional French meal, as it is almost impossible to find vegetarian options when eating in a French restaurant. One of the things in our massive gift box was a game, “Elf Ring Toss.” It’s basically a giant birthday style hat that each person wears, while the other tries to toss rings of differing sizes on the other person. The game itself is rather simple, but after some wine it can be challenging and very entertaining.

IMG_2344After dinner we decided to visit the new wine bar on my street, La Reserve. It opened not too long ago, but I was waiting to visit it with Jeannette. It was a cute bar with a very Detroit-type feel. Jeannette and I talked for a bit and enjoyed some wine. Before we knew it, we were being kicked out of the bar because it was closing! I haven’t closed a bar in what seems like forever. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I closed a bar. Upon returning to my apartment, we decided now was a fantastic time to try and play “Elf Ring Toss.” We also decided that we should Skype my mom so she could see how stupid we looked.

As we were getting ready to play, I realized that I had no idea where my phone was, and after looking around my apartment with no luck, conclude that I must have left it at the bar. We leave to go the bar and see if they found a phone, which they did not. Once we got back and I began to panic, I found my phone in my bed (no clue how it got there). Elf

I’m not sure what time it was when we went to bed, but let’s say it was very late/early depending on your perspective. I forgot to mention that we were renting a car the next morning to do some exploring of the region, so yeah…When my alarm went off I was not the happiest of people. This was going to be my first time driving since August 16th and I was really excited. As a bonus, I’d be driving a Fiat 500!

PS: This was also the morning that Jeannette couldn’t find her sock…that was halfway on her foot! 🙂

Les Coquelicots

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Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone (or something) until you have it again. I knew that I was missing my friends and family, but I didn’t realize the extent until I was reunited with Grown-Up Me. It honestly felt like no time had passed–we just picked up right where we had left off. Obviously, this isn’t true and we had a ton of catching up to do, even though we talk on a regular basis. Even if I had done absolutely no planning, Jeannette and I would have had the best time ever galavanting around Paris and other parts of France. She is one of only a few people that I am comfortable being my silly, stupid self around.

That being said, I did some research about Paris before she arrived and decided. Her boyfriend told her that she had to visit Montmartre, so I was sure to plan many things in the area. While doing research I stumbled upon this bakery/café that had awesome reviews. The name of the café was “Coquelicot” or “Poppy.” ‘Coquelicot’ also happens to be my latest favorite word in French. I think it is such a cute word! As an added bonus, this was the only place in Paris I had found that serves an ‘American’ sized coffee. The coffee actually comes by the bowl, which was just what we both needed to get up going on our last day in Paris. Did I mention, that it took almost an hour to get to ‘Coquelicot’ from our hotel? Jeannette was willing to go on this adventure, if it meant coffee by the bowlful.

What I forgot to mention to Jeannette was the number of stairs that were going to be involved to reach our destination. In addition to stairs, they were of course spiral stairs! Jeannette’s favorite! After this adventure to Montmartre Jeannette decided to rename Paris ‘The City of Steps.” Breakfast was wonderful: bowls of coffee, scrambled eggs (not very French, but what we needed for the long day ahead of us), and bread with butter and different jams. This was the day we were going on our street art tour, so we knew that we wouldn’t be eating a real lunch, and wanted to make sure that we would survive many hours of walking.

After a failed attempt at finding the Berlin Wall at la Défense, I did some research and discovered there was another piece in Paris, at Porte de Versailles. After breakfast we decided to venture to see if we would be successful at finding the Berlin Wall. Luckily, we were successful this time! Jeannette was very excited to be able to see an actual piece of the wall. It was a cool experience. By the time we finished this adventure it was time for us to head toward our Street Art tour. Remember Jeannette and I get lost, a lot, so we made sure to give ourselves almost two hours to find the meeting place for the tour. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we decided to pre-game before our tour, as it was very cold. We decided to give Irish coffee a try, as it was cold outside.

 

That night we had a vegetarian dinner, at a vegetarian restaurant near Notre Dame. The food was okay, but not fantastic. I was happy to have finally found a vegetarian restaurant in France. After dinner we went back to our hotel to get our luggage so that we could begin our journey back to Tours. After getting our luggage, we hopped back on the metro (turned out to be the wrong line, but I realized just in time), hopped back on the right line, and made our way to Gare d’Austerlitz for our journey home.