Tag Archives: Adventures

30 Before 30: The Updated List

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Before the end of the last school year I decided to do something that gives me happiness in life–make a list! I love making lists. Even if I do something without having made a list, I will go back and make a list for the sheer joy of crossing things off the list. This past July was my 30th birthday. I must say, that I ended my 20s in the best and most unforgettable ways possible–surrounded by friends and family and making memories all over the world. I am truly fortunate to have so many people in my life who take the time to come and visit me in my new home.

When I sat down to make this list, I had no clue the direction it would take. Sitting here looking through the list, I must admit, that I am quite proud of this list. My original intention was not to just write down everything I had planned on doing before I made the list, but to really create a list that was about personal growth and challenge. Looking over the list and realizing how much of it I was able to accomplish makes me feel as though I was successful. I am actually happy that I did not accomplish everything, because if I had, I would be questioning the validity of the list. Also, it gives me a few things to look forward to planning for this year.

  1. Go kayaking in France, either on la Loire or le Cher: I spent my 29th birthday kayaking with my mom in Michigan, so 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. In the end, I was able to visit 9 new countries! This does not include the countries I visited for a second or third time. I would consider this item to be accomplished!
  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. Wasn’t able to do it on this trip to Liechtenstein as it rained stormed the entire time we were in the country. Oh well, maybe next time.
  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… Without a doubt I accomplished this. In fact, I was able to get 8 new stamps in my passport before turning 30. I promise, this is not as impressive as it sounds, as there are repeats of stamps for entry and departure. However, I am quite happy and impressed that I had to have pages added to my passport, as I only have two with no stamps.
  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. I still know exactly what and where but now I have to work on finding an artist, as my original choice moved to Arizona.
  6. Make a decision about next year:…See previous post for this dilemma. Given that I am writing from France, I believe my decision is quite clear. Now begins the fun process of trying to decide what to do next year…
  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. This summer was definitely the best summer of my life, but was also the summer with the largest price tag. I worked my butt off in the months leading up to the summer, as I knew that I would be spending, rather than earning, money for approximately four months. There were times when it stressed me that I was spending money all the time, but in the end, I don’t regret anything.
  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. Turns out, when I stop thinking and just speak, I sometimes sound rather intelligent. I’ve had several meaningful and insightful conversations with my French friends over the last several months and continue to become more confident each day. I am also making DSCF6348an active effort to improve my written French by completing exercises. I feel like a student again!
  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. I have been much better about speaking French whenever I have the opportunity. I also am speaking with new people more often and more confidently.
  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. I had accomplished this prior to my travels, but then I got out of the habit. I really don’t like watching television, so my compromise has been reading about the news while on my way to and from work everyday.
  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. Accept is a very loose term, but I will say that turning 30 has turned out to be an incredible experience thus far. I’ve made many new friends since turning 30, something that I believe I struggle with doing. I’ve also been told by many people that they never would have guessed that I was 30, which made me feel a little bit better.
  12. 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 (!!!!!) I did this for a few weeks, but then got caught up in the final steps of preparation for all of my trips. I am trying to get back into a routine now that the school year has started, where I can go geocaching one or twice per week.
  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 Apparently, everyone else thinks that I have always been adventurous and outgoing. I think visiting multiple countries alone last year helped me to begin to see and accept this side of myself. I would still like to become more outgoing, especially when it comes to social situations, but I have made significant improvements since moving to France.
  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 The ride there was no problem, but the ride back…I wasn’t sure that we were going to make it. Matt, Benoît, and Bénédicte all rode bikes together to Villandry. What was funny was that at the time, no one knew that this item was on my list.IMG_0353
  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 As an American, this is something with which I will always struggle, but I will say that I have become ever so slightly more French in this way. 
  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. This was almost accomplished. There are only a few that I have left to visit: Brissac, Sully-sur-Loir, Valencay, and Saumur.
  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. This was accomplished when Jeannette came to visit. Much fun was had!
  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! I’m glad I visited, but I’m not sure that I will be visiting again any time soon. I went during the mammoth exhibit, which was interesting, but in my opinion, not very well done.
  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. Chris and I stopped in this area during our adventures. While I did accomplish this goal, I am not comfortable saying that I have visited and discovered this region. I will visit again this year.
  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. While it was not easy to get to, it was definitely worth the long and interesting drive. It also hopes that I shared this experience with two of my favorite people in the world. I think it would be interesting to visit again during spring.
  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.Such a random, but unforgettable experience. It was absolutely amazing to discover these towns and all of the surrounding villages. While I would not recommend anyone not names Tracy set out with this goal, I definitely think it was worth it.
  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. Well, I’m a bit of a klutz. After much discussion, my mom and I decided that this might not be the best idea, especially at the beginning of our trip. Our compromise? Rent motorized tricycles in Poland. We THOUGHT they would be safer. However, I crashed mine (neither the tricycle nor I were injured).
  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. Time got away from me. I will achieve this goal this year.
  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?! Every weekend I tell myself that I am going to visit. However, I still have not. Maybe next weekend…
  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). I sit at the tram stop and stare at this museum everyday. When I get off the tram, I walk right past it. Have I ever stopped to go inside? No. Maybe this month.
  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 search and will buy a set this spring/summer. This was such a fun investment. Drinking wine and playing pétanque is so much fun. 
  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. I have decided that this is going to be a lifelong struggle. It doesn’t help that I am living in a country where clothes are not designed for curvy women. I am still making healthy choices and trying to go to the gym (it’s hard, as I’m still getting used to my new work schedule). I’m also going to begin doing yoga in my apartment. I rediscovered Bikram yoga while I was in the states this summer. Unfortunately, yoga is not very common in France.
  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. The world is a very big place and I will see as much of it as I can. 
  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. Breathtaking. A truly touching experience. As my mom and I were standing on Omaha Beach the Star Spangled Banner played on church bells and French fighter jets flew over. Unforgettable.
  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. I hate mornings. Simple as that. I might be able to accomplish this during the fall or winter.
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First World Problems

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I’ve been back in France for a little under one month now, and I feel like I have completely readjusted to being back. I have a routine once again: I am teaching in the classroom, I am teaching somewhat regularly online, and I am going to the gym. I also make some time to go out with my friends, but I’ve really been trying to focus on reestablishing some normalcy in my life. With this goal in mind, I am on vacation for just over two weeks right now. Before I even returned to France, I made the decision that I would not be traveling anywhere during this break.

Then reality struck. Spending two weeks with no solid travel plans because to cause a great deal of anxiety. My original plan was to teach as much as possible online, so as to rebuild my bank account from my summer of travels. Then one night, my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to just do some quick research to see how much short trips would be during this break. It was my hope that the prices would be so outrageous that the idea quickly passed. However, that was not the case. There were many very affordable destinations for me to visit. However, of all of the places I have left to visit in Europe, I have very specific times that I want to visit. Here are some examples:

  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands: during the spring to see the fields of tulips
  • Brussels, Belgium: during August to see the Begonia carpet in town square
  • Munich, Germany: in the winter to visit the Christmas markets

I also had previously ruled out returning to places I have visited within the last year, as I want to try and see as much of Europe as possible. However, I began to question this decision for a few destinations (Poland and Portugal, to name a few). I’ve also reconsidered visiting some of the places I visited on my very first trip to Europe, in 1999 (Madrid is currently at the top of this list). As I was sitting here pondering all of my possibilities, and even looking at destinations outside of Europe, I realized how fortunate I am to be in this current predicament. At the age of 30, when I look at a map, I feel very satisfied with my travels so far. I am by no means done exploring the world, but I feel at peace with my accomplishments so far. How is it possible that I do not have a strong desire to visit anywhere specific right now???

Over the years, many people have questioned my style of travel, which is one of the reasons that I prefer traveling alone. However, as I was researching popular destinations and monuments in cities around the world, I can say with complete honesty that I very vividly remember all of the places I have been and seen. I am also quite impressed as I read travel articles about different destinations how much of the world I have already seen. Each location and experience is very distinct in my memory. I am happy constantly experiencing different cultures and seeing as much as possible. I have always been of the mindset that I can sleep on the plane or when I get home. When I am in a new place, I should utilize my time to gather memories and experiences. If someone does not agree with me, that is fine, but please don’t tell me that I am wrong. This is something I have been pondering quite a bit recently and I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t care what other people think. Traveling and seeing the world makes me happy. I have found a style of travel that fits my personality, and if it doesn’t seem right to you, the solution is simple: don’t travel with me. However, do not judge or criticize my choices, as they are MY choices.

With all of this in mind, I am still not sure if I will go anywhere during this break, but it is still a possibility. If I do not go anywhere, I will be taking several long weekend trips to different countries and cities. Does anyone have any must see destinations they would recommend, especially in Europe? I am always looking for new ideas and suggestions and would really appreciate hearing about your travel experiences.

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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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.

Feels Like Home

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Some things you need to know about what happens when Jeannette and I are together. We tend to do stupid things. Things that we normally wouldn’t do, but for some reason seem like a great idea because we are doing them together. Prior to my moving to France, Jeannette and I had a Detroit Day where we just drove/walked around the city like crazy people. There’s a local publication, MetroTimes, which created a list of 100 things every Detroiter should to do before they die (check out the list here). I’ve always been a big fan of lists, whether I created them, or found them. This list was no exception. As I knew I would be moving to France, I made it my personal mission to accomplish as many things as possible on this list. While we are still debating the exact number that we accomplished (we actually pulled out the list and discussed it in France), great times were had on many adventures, but by far one of the best days of our friendship so far was Detroit Day.

Leading up to Detroit Day we had spent some time discovering local art and artists, especially in the form of street art. One of the places we visited during Detroit Day was the Packard Plant, which has some awesome street art. Unfortunately, much of the art is on the inside of this crumbling building. The Packard Plant is also located in one of the shadier parts of Detroit. However, that did not stop us from getting out of the car to take a few pictures. During the few minutes that we were outside of the car, a man on his bicycle tried to convince us to follow him into the Packard Plant and he’d show us exactly where the best art was located. Luckily, this was one of the rare times we were both on the same page, and knew better than to follow this man.

I like to think that it was this day that truly sparked our bond with street art. We explored various neighborhoods in Detroit and I really began to develop an appreciation of it. Before Jeannette came to France, she sent me a link to a street art tour in Paris. We decided that it would be worth checking out, so we bought tickets. What we didn’t realize when we signed up was that the tour was entirely in French (not a problem for me, but a major challenge for Jeannette). However, the night before our scheduled tour, we received an email inviting us to attend the Sunday tour rather than the Saturday tour, as they were launching the English tours on Sunday. Of course, we opted for the Sunday tour instead.

The tour was through a company called Underground Paris, and took place in the 13ème Arrondissement of Paris. Since moving to France, I’ve discovered that the 13ème is actually one of my favorite areas in Paris, so I was excited to learn about the street art here. The tour was interesting, but also a little bit disappointing, as it focused primarily on commissioned art, rather than traditional street art. One thing that I found to be particularly cool was how supportive the major in the 13ème Arrondissement is of street art. In fact, it’s actually the mayor who has commissioned most of the murals and art to be painted.

The tour lasted a little over three areas and covered most of the arrondissement. Afterwords, Jeannette and I realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch, and decided that a snack was in order. We wanted to stay in this general area, so we walked back to some cafés and brasseries we had passed earlier. We found a restaurant with ‘service continu’ (non-stop service) and decided to go there. Jeannette had made it a mission for us to have have wine with every meal, so of course we began with wine. We also decided that we would split a vegetarian pizza. Turns out, pizza was the only thing they weren’t serving. Disappointed, we look over the menu again, only to discover that the only vegetarian option left was fries. We split an order of fries and drank our wine while unthawing from the street art tour.

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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Final Day of an Amazing Adventure

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I left my hotel at 4:30am to head to the airport. When I bought my tickets I had forgotten that the 24-hour clock is used for tickets. As a result, I accidentally bought a return ticket for a flight that departed at 7am. All things considered, it ended up working out very nicely in the end. Because I left Prague so early, I had an entire day to explore Paris and do some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do.

Getting to the airport and the flight itself were uneventful experiences. I landed in Paris and made my way from CDG to Paris without any problem. I ended up beginning my morning at Gare d’Austerlitz, where my train would depart from that evening. I also learned the previous night that there are guarded lockers that you can rent at the train station. Needless to say, I decided it was worth whatever they were charing to not walk around Paris with my backpack.

Because I have been to Paris multiple times before (with the most recent trip being less than one week earlier) I have visited all of the popular tourist destinations. One thing I’ve always wanted to do in Paris, but never had the time to do was visit the covered passages throughout the city. These covered passages were built between the end of the 18th and the mid 19th-centuries. There were originally 60 covered passages throughout the city, however only 15 remain today. While I was not able to visit all 15, I was able to visit multiple.

Technically, the passages are private roads with shops on either side. The passages that remain today have been declared historical monuments. Each has a unique style and some have been better maintained than others. The passages I was able to visit are:

  • Place Choiseul
  • Grand Cerf
  • Galerie Vivienne
  • Passage du Caire

In my opinion, Galerie Vivienne is the best maintained and preserved that I visited. It definitely had a very luxurious feel to it Passage du Caire is one of the least well-maintained. When I found it I felt like I had discovered the Detroit of the covered passages. At one time, it was stunningly beautiful, but now it is neglected and in ruins, but definitely has the potential to be something great again.

As much as I loved visiting each of the passages, getting to them was less than simple. Because they are not major tourist attractions they tend to be located off the main roads and with minimal signs to guide you. Also, for whatever reason, my phone was not working properly, so I was literally wandering around aimlessly for far too long.

While wandering around Paris looking for the covered passages I stumbled upon many interesting things I had never visited. For example, the Nelson Mandela Garden. It was a beautiful park, with a very different feeling than Luxembourg or the Tuilleries. I also stumbled upon one of the smaller, but still somewhat well known, churches. However, I am currently drawing a blank on its name. Also, I found Lunettes pour Tous, an eyeglass store I had seen on a TV show about innovative French companies. The premise is that you shouldn’t have to pay an astronomical amount of money for something as basic as glasses. Your glasses will cost you less than 10€ (about $13).

There was one other thing I hoped to accomplish during my day in Paris. When I arrived I was not optimistic that I would have enough time to do this last thing. However, I had plenty of time. One of my favorite movies is Amélie. It is set in Paris and features many beautiful bridges throughout the film. The part of Paris where much of the movie is set is known as Canal Saint-Martin. One of the reasons I had not visited it before is because there is no easy way to get there using public transit. The most common way to get there is to take the Metro and then walk, which is exactly what I did. It was a very pleasant walk.

When I arrived it was everything that I had hoped it would be. The canal itself was a canal, but the area was charming and cute. The shops were colorful and very French. The bridges were just as they appeared in the movie. I ate lunch in this area, as there were several restaurants that were either vegetarian, or extremely vegetarian-friendly, a rarity in France. I had originally selected a vegetarian restaurant, but when I arrived I was very underwhelmed by the menu. I remembered passing a Middle Eastern restaurant, Mezz, and decided that falafel sounded good to me. The food was just okay. I think living in metro-Detroit for most of my life I got spoiled by the copious amounts of superb Middle Eastern food that is available. While the food was simply ‘okay’ a major bonus was the fact that they had true, honest to goodness lemonade. This simply does not exist in France. To top it off, the lemonade was true, old-fashioned, homemade lemonade.

By the time I had finished lunch I still had about 4 hours until I needed to be at the train station. It felt weird being in a wonderful, historical city, such as Paris, and not having any idea what to do or see. It was at about this time that I began toying with the idea that I had seen everything there was to see/do/experience in Paris. While I know this is not true, it truly felt like it at that time. I knew there was one museum I wanted to visit, but by this time my feet were very sore and the idea of doing that much more walking sounded like a terrible idea. I decided to revisit some of the monuments that I hadn’t visited since my very first trip to Paris when I was 13 years old.

I began my tour down memory lane with a visit to Place de la Republique. Other than the fact that there is an interesting statue in the square, there isn’t much to do when visiting. The history behind it is interesting enough, but truly not very memorable. The one thing I noticed while visiting is how much the woman resembles our Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from France.

Once I left Place de la Republique, I made my way over to Place de la Bastille. Today, la Bastille no longer exists. Rather, there is a column that stands where the Bastille (the prison) used to stand. The column is called Colonne de juillet, or July Column. It is meant to remember the July Revolution of 1830. None of the Bastille remains, which can be confusing for people who are visiting and do not know the history.

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After visiting Place de la Bastille I began working my way toward the train station, hoping to find a café to stop and have a drink along the way. Just outside of Gare d’Austerlitz there is a garden, Jardin des Planteswhich I did not know existed. Since I had the time, I decided to wander around for a bit. The gardens were still beautiful. Apparently, the garden was created in 1626 as a royal garden of medicinal plants. Also, within the garden you will see the Museum of Natural History. Walking through the garden was a relaxing way to end my whirlwind adventure.

 

The last thing I did in Paris was go to a café and have a drink before heading to the train station. I retrieved my backpack and found a small bar in the train station to have a drink while waiting for my train. Of course, my train was delayed by almost 30 minutes. However, once I was on the train, it was a smooth journey back to Tours.

On the train I began thinking about my next solo adventure. Stay tuned for an update on where I will be heading next. Hint: I’m basing my choice on the quality of Christmas markets in the town.

Hop a Plane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So concludes day number one of my vacation.

Londres: Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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