Tag Archives: Adventure of a Lifetime

30 Things Before 30

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So here’s the deal, in less than three months I’m turning thirty. My friends and family know that I have not been handling this fact well or with grace. I’ve gotten better in the past month at accepting the inevitable, but I am still not happy about this. It’s funny how life doesn’t go as you expect. The last time I had a crisis was for my 27th birthday, which seems like ages ago. Ever since I was a little girl, 27 was supposed to be my magic age, when everything just fell into place and my life unfolded exactly as I had envisioned. My 26 year old self had a legitimate breakdown about turning 27, which looking back was a bit silly.

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My 27th birthday. I was boycotting it, but my mom planned an outing with my friends.

Here’s what I was supposed to have by the time I turned 27:

  • A well-established career (I did, in fact, have this)
  • A house/condo/townhouse of my own (at 27 I was living with my parents again)
  • A husband, or serious boyfriend (I was single and still recovering from a terrible break-up, and wanted nothing to do with dating)
  • A dog (I still pretend that the family dogs are actually mine)

I guess 1 out of 4 isn’t terrible…it could have been worse. Since turning 27, I’ve abandoned my successful career to follow my dream of living in France. With this decision, stability, security, and a real pay check disappeared. This year I have been financially poor, but emotionally rich and happy. Thinking back to my 27th birthday and realizing how nothing was how I thought it needed to be, it all worked out okay in the end. If I had had everything I thought I would have by the age of 27 I wouldn’t be in France today living my dream.

Unlike my 27th birthday, my 30th birthday doesn’t include anything specific. I don’t have a list, it just seems like a really big number. I don’t feel like I’ve experienced enough to turn 30 yet. For the first time in my life I feel like I don’t actually have a plan and I’m not sure what my future will hold, and it terrifies me. To help me embrace my final months as a twenty-something year old I’ve decided to a list of things I want to do/accomplish (because who doesn’t love a good list?). While this list does not include everything I hope to do this summer, it is a great start!

Things to do before I turn 30:

  1. Go kayaking in France, either on la Loire or le Cher: I spent my 29th birthday kayaking with my mom in Michigan, so
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    Kayaking at Kensington Metroparks, Michigan.

    this seems like an appropriate way to say good-bye to my twenties.

  2. Visit at least two new countries: My list of places I will be visiting this summer is growing by the minute, so this should not be a problem.
  3. Bike across a country (Liechtenstein): I have my friend Chris to thank for this item making the cut. He actually suggested it and now it is on our list for when he comes to visit.
  4. Get at least two new stamps in my passport: In order to remain in France after my visa has expired I must leave the Schengen zone, thus guaranteeing me one new stamp. Only one more to go…
  5. Finalize tattoo design: I’ve been mulling this over for years and have stuck with the same design and placement for 4 years, which means I am officially ready to actually get it when I am stateside in August.
  6. Make a decision about next year:…See previous post for this dilemma.
  7. Stop worrying about money all the time (while still being financially responsible): I tend to become obsessed once I get into a routine, and I know it is not healthy. Now that I am only teaching online it is really difficult for me to know when to say enough is enough and to stop teaching and go out and do things with my friends.
  8. Become confident in my ability to speak French: Give me a glass of wine and I can speak without any problems. In normal, everyday life I overthink it and make the silliest mistakes. Luckily, my French-speaking friends can tell when I’m thinking and force me to just spit it out.
  9. Speak French as often as possible: I’m actually very grateful for the number of friends I have made in France who only speak French (and the few who pretend like they don’t speak English). I need to force myself to spend more time with my friends and not getting so nervous that I won’t talk to them.
  10. Start watching the news (it turns out things have been happening in the world): In addition to being an informed citizen, it’s a great vocabulary exercise, as I’m only watching the news in French. I will still read articles written in English to gain a balanced perspective.
  11. Accept that fact that I am turning 30 (how is that even possible?!?): There are days when I am surprisingly okay with this fact, and then there are days when I want to build a fort out of pillows, blankets, and kitchen chairs and spend the day coloring there.
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    Geocaching, near Detroit, Michigan

    Rediscover geocaching and do it regularly: Matt actually inspired this one. Last week when we were celebrating my final day as a language assistant we got on the topic of geocaching and I mentioned that I had brought my handheld GPS with me. Within half an hour we were on the hunt. It was so much fun and I quickly remember how much I loved doing this five years ago (!!!!!).

  13. Become a more outgoing and adventurous person: In many ways I have already accomplished this goal. I have no issue with traveling alone and planning trips around Europe. However, being willing to go to a concert in Tours by myself or to try and strike up a conversation with someone in a café/bar is something I simply have not been able to do. It is terrifying. I hope to at least try to talk to strangers more often.
  14. Ride a bike to a castle in France (Villandry? Amboise?): This has been on my list since 2007, but I’m yet to actually do it. Each time I come to France I say I’m going to do it, but haven’t. This summer is the summer. It’s 21km to Villandry and 25km to Amboise. The distance wouldn’t be bad for me, as I’ve done 50km on my bike in one day without any troubles. However, it is not an adventure I want to do alone, and it’s difficult for me to find friends willing to do these crazy things with me.
  15. Find a better balance between work and my personal life: This year I spent the majority of my time working, both as an assistant and an online teacher. I hope to find a better balance between my jobs and my personal life so that i’m able to actually do things with my friends.
  16. Visit the remaining châteaux de la Loire: (Chaumont-sur-Loire, Angers, Langeais, Brézé, Cheverny, Abbaye de Fontevraud, Brissac, Sully-sur-Loire, Valencay, Saumur). I already have plans to visit two of these castles–Chaumont-sur-Loire and Langeais–with Chris. Jeannette and I were talking about doing Angers when she is here in June. The other ones I haven’t come up with a plan yet, but I will.
  17. Go wine tasting in Chinon: I’ve visited the town of Chinon and the château, but I haven’t actually gone wine tasting here, which is just plain silly, as Chinon is one of my all-time favorite wines. It makes sense to stop in Chinon on the way to Angers, as they are in the same general direction and on the same general route.
  18. Visit the Natural History Museum in Tours: (I’m not sure how I haven’t been here yet). I’ve read many articles about this museum and have heard about it from a few people in Tours. It wasn’t until last week that I actually discovered where the museum is located. It’s ridiculously close to my apartment, so no more excuses!

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    Wine tasting in Traverse City, Michigan.

  19. Go wine tasting in Bourgogne: Living in the Loire Valley I have gone wine tasting many times. It wasn’t until recently when I ventured to Tracy-sur-Loire that I did wine tasting outside of the Loire Valley. At the end of this month I’m going to be driving through this region with Chris, so I decided this would be the ideal opportunity to do some wine tasting.
  20. Visit Monet’s house in Giverny, France: Again, this is something that has been on my list for many, many years. The reason I haven’t done it yet is that it requires multiple forms of public transportation from Paris, and traveling alone in France is terrifying for me. June is supposed to be one of the best times to visit, so I’m hoping Jeannette and I can make the trip together.
  21. Visit the remaining towns/cities in France with Tracy in their name: Tracy-Bocage, Tracy-sur-Mer, Tracy-le-Mont, Tracy-le-Val. So far, I have visited 1 of 5 towns with Tracy in the name in France. After Benoît mentioned that there were towns with my name in their name it became a personal mission to visit these places, simply to take pictures with the signs and walk around cute French villages. Normally, when I suggest a road trip like this, my friends look at me like I am crazy. My friend Trevor thought it sounded like a great idea, so we rented a car and went to Tracy-sur-Loire for the day. When my mom comes we’re planning to visit the remaining 4 towns/villages.
  22. Rent and drive a moped/Vespa: I’ve wanted to do this since I went to the Bahamas when I was 17. No clue where I want to do this yet, but I will be visiting many cities where this could happen.
  23. Make time to discover and enjoy all of the parks in Tours/Saint-Cyr: This week I walked to the park near my apartment and sat on a bench reading my book. It was so peaceful and just felt so French. I looked around and was amazed that my life has become sitting in cute parks in France reading. I need to do this more often.
  24. Visit the Château de Tours: It’s actually a museum, but I’ve never been inside, and it is literally at the end of my street. There are always exhibitions of some sort in the château and entrance is free. Again, why have I never made the time to visit?!
  25. Visit le Musée de Compagnonnage: Again, how have I not been here? It’s a really small museum, and is at the opposite end of my street than the Château de Tours. I believe it is free on the first Sunday of the month (which happens to be this weekend).
  26. Buy and play pétanque with everyone who comes to visit: On my first full day in France last summer I played pétanque. It was so French and so much fun. We drank sparkling wine and just had a blast being ridiculous (measuring the distance with sticks…). When I went to buy a pétanque set it was no longer pétanque season. However, I’ve begun my
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    Playing pétanque on my first full day in France last year.

    search and will buy a set this spring/summer.

  27. Be happy with my body: This is something with which I’ve always struggled (and will continue to struggle). I have severe body dysmorphia issues and am never happy with how I look. I used to be obsessed with my weight, but have since moved on to being happy with how my clothes fit and how I feel. I’ve been going to the gym everyday for a few months and feel like I am finally starting to see the results. I will continue to go to the gym and to make healthy choices so that I can wear the dress I brought with me for my 30th birthday with confidence.
  28. Accept the fact that every time I cross something off my list of places to visit, I add three new places: I’ve made lists for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first bucket list at the age of 13 and haven’t stopped. When I began making these lists it was more like a goal to see if I could cross everything off the list, rather than viewing each list as a new adventure. I oftentimes feel overwhelmed by all of the places I want to visit, but haven’t been to yet. But then I step back and think about all of the places I have been and feel extremely grateful.
  29. Visit the D-Day Landing Beaches and the American Cemetery: This is something I have studied extensively, but haven’t actually visited. In the past, I have explored only Paris and central France. Since moving here, I’ve branched out more, but not as much as I would like.
  30. Watch the sunrise and sunset on la Loire on the same day: This is something I find every relaxing, but haven’t taken the time to do in far too long. I’d love to get up early, walk to la Loire and just drink my coffee and wait for the sun to rise and then spend the day discovering my city.

Here’s to making the most of my final months as a twenty-something!

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Biking along Lake Michigan/Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, Illinois.

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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!

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.

The Beginning

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On August 16, 2014 I began the adventure of a lifetime. My bags were packed, the tickets were bought, my plans were made. About an hour before I was to leave the country, my friends and family all panicked about the amount of luggage I would be taking with me. Remember, I will be living abroad for at least one year…that’s a lot of stuff!

So, with only moments to spare, my family and friends decided that it would make more sense to mail almost half of my belongings to France. While I completely agreed, I was not willing to spend even more money than I already had to get to France. However, my parents very, VERY generously agreed to pay for the mailing of my belongings.

This new discovery caused my carefully packed suitcases to be unzipped and torn apart in an effort to decide what to bring in the suitcase and what to mail. Needless to say, I am currently awaiting the arrival of my 48lb box.

This marks the beginning of my adventures in France. My next post will be about the adventures on the airplane.