Tag Archives: American Abroad

Southeastern France

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For the past two weeks I have been on vacation from school. La Toussaint (All Saints Day) is an officially recognized holiday in France, therefore, I get two weeks of paid vacation. Last year during this vacation I headed to Prague. This year, I was torn between going somewhere and staying in Tours to save money for bigger trips in the future. In the end, I ended up with a compromise. I stayed in Tours for the first week and worked my freelance job. The second week I went on a road trip with one of my friends.

While it was nice to be in Tours for part of the vacation, by the end of the first week I was becoming quite restless at the possibility of having to stay for a second week. Luckily, I have a friend living in Tours who also had the second week of my vacation off. We decided we wanted to head to a region of France neither of us had visited. After much discussion, I realized that I have seen a considerable amount of France (as pointed out by my friend).

IMG_4218In the end, we decided on visiting three regions: Auvergne, Languedoc Roussillon, and Provence. A few days before our vacation we made the necessary hotel reservations, rented a car, and began looking at the different things to do in each of these regions. This was one of the most sporadic road trips I have ever taken, and in the end it worked out, even if it was a bit stressful at the beginning. (I like planning and think that it is a very important stage of every vacation.)

Our first destination was Clérmont-Ferrand, in Auvergne. What makes this city so well known is the chain of dormant volcanoes nearby. The city also used rock made from volcanic ash to construct many of its buildings. The darkness if these stones gave the city a grim and almost dire feeling. While the architecture was interesting, I’m not sure this city would be on the top of my list of places to visit in France. It was nice to stop here, as it was the halfway point of our road trip.

One quality of this region that I was pleasantly surprised to find was that one of the regional specialities was actually vegetarian friendly! This never happens in France, so I am usually left eating omelettes and lettuce while travelling in France (and also when in my town). The regional speciality is called truffade. It was very similar to what we call scalloped potatoes in the states, but even cheesier. Apparently, this food is not traditionally vegetarian friendly, but has been made for vegetarians for many years.

After Clérmont-Ferrand we were off to Languedoc Roussillon, where we visited the cities of Nîmes and Arles. Our drive from Clérmont-Ferrand to Nîmes was one of the most beautiful and picturesque views of my life. We drove through the Cévennes. I imagine that the Cévennes are beautiful year round, but during the fall the beauty is taken to another level. The fall foliage extends as far as the eye can see, and for a brief moment, I felt like I was back in the midwest. Also, we arrived just as a light drizzle was ending, so there was a double rainbow. This had to be one of the top five most beautiful moments in my life.DSC07769

After feeling like we had been transported to another planet, we eventually arrived in Nîmes. What makes this region so interesting is the presence of Roman ruins. Also, in Nîmes is the best preserved Roman ampitheatre in the world. Other than the ampitheatre and the maison carrée (which was closed for renovation), there really wasn’t much else to see in Nîmes. However, the highlight of this region for me was the proximity of the Pont du Gard. The Pont du Gard is one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts in the world. While I was less than impressed by the Arènes (ampitheatre) in Nîmes, the Pont du Gard definitely lived up to my expectations.

After spending one night in Nîmes, Scott and I were off to Arles. When one researches this region, Nîmes is much more popular than Arles. However, after visiting both, Scott and I are perplexed as to the reason. Arles is a much more interesting, active, and beautiful city. The whole time we were in Nîmes we felt like we were missing something. It was a very tranquil city–so much so that we had to spend almost an hour trying to find a restaurant. Arles also had many more Roman ruins. The ampitheatre, while not as well-preserved, seemed much more impressive. The other ruins were equally impressive–the theatre, the baths, the churches. We also visited a museum in this town to learn about the history of the region. The one thing I did not do that I would like to do is visit the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Throughout the city there were posters for the Vincent Van Gogh walk, which explained Van Gogh’s paintings in front of or near where he painted or was inspired. We also visited les Alyscamps, a roman cemetery. In my opinion, visiting in the fall is the best time of year, as the leaves are changing and beginning to fall.

Our final destination was Aix-en-Provence. I spent a very short amount of time here this past summer, but immediately fell in love with the city. It was just as amazing as I remember it. Again, the one thing I wanted to do but didn’t have time for was to visit the Cézanne museum. These two museums alone are reason enough for a return trip with Jeannette in the future. We happened to be in this city for Halloween, a holiday which has become increasingly popular in recent years. Apparently, in Aix, it is common practice to wear your costumes all day and then board the mini choo (a train for tourists) and throw confetti while yelling. It was quite a strange sight to see.

In the end, we made it safely back to Tours. Being able to finally see the monuments and places I have been reading and learning about for the past 14 years was an experience for which I am extremely grateful. I’m not sure where my next adventure will take me, but I have a few ideas in the works.

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And So Begins Another Year

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Wow! It has been a really long time since I’ve written about my life and my adventures. It’s hard for me to believe that it is already the middle of October! The past five months of my life have been among the best in my life. I’ve never been happier and I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent nearly half of the year (?!?!) traveling with some of my nearest and dearest friends and family. I plan to dedicate a significant amount of time to blogging about all of my adventures, but that is going to be a huge undertaking, which I shall commence next week, when I am on vacation.

Here’s a quick overview of my late spring/summer/early fall endeavors to pique your interest:

  • 3 continents visited
  • 13 countries visited
  • 6 states visited
  • 2 friends came to Europe
  • my mom and I spent 5 weeks exploring Europe together (and both made it out alive!)
  • returned to France for a second year of teaching

When I write it, I still can’t believe that this was my reality for so many, many months. I am currently back in France and have begun my second year of teaching English as a Second Language. This year I am in one collège (middle school) and one lycée (high school). So far I am loving working in the high school and am very excited about everything that this next year will hold for me. In addition to teaching, two of my dear friends will be getting married at the beginning of the month, so I will have the opportunity to attend a French wedding and the opportunity to celebrate their very special day.

After tomorrow, I am on vacation (already). As I’ve only been in France for a few weeks and I’m still acclimating myself to my French life, I will not be traveling anywhere for this vacation. Honestly, I’m a little sad to not be taking advantage of this opportunity to explore another new country/city, but am secretly relieved to have a staycation after such an intense summer of traveling. However, I am planning a long weekend away somewhere during the month of November, followed by a real vacation in December.

Here’s to another unforgettable, absolutely amazing year in France!

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Enjoying some limoncello in Venice. Cheers!

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.

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.

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.



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.

Adventures in Copenhagen: Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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My Next Adventure

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

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

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