Tag Archives: An American Abroad

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.

Travel is the Only Thing You Buy that Makes You Richer

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This past year has been one of great adventure for me. I’ve visited so many wonderful places, learned a great deal about the world and myself, and done a lot of solo traveling. As much as I love to travel and see the world, it is also difficult for me to spend my money. I am a very logical thinker and I know what my daily/weekly/monthly budgets are, and I adhere to them. Always. I sometimes get so focused on working and making money that I forget to enjoy life (especially the fact that I am living my dream in France). 2d47eeffb96a1b600d0d10e2d17c2c44While I am really good at budgeting and saving, it always stresses me out to see my bank accounts decreasing, rather than increasing. I’ve made it through some pretty difficult financial times this year, and finally feel like I am financially stable again. I don’t want to feel like I did at the beginning of last school year ever again. When I was presented with the possibility of several visitors this summer I had mixed feelings. I was of course excited about the possibility of having people visit, but also a little hesitant, as I wouldn’t be able to do my Freelance job while people were visiting me. In the end, I decided to do as much of my freelance work as possible before people started to arrive. This meant consolidating one month’s work into about two weeks. As stressful as this might sound, it helps me to feel more financially stable and secure, so that I can focus on having a good time and enjoying the company of the people around me.

After my adventures with Chris, I had a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. While I would have preferred to have returned to France and picked up with my freelance work, I didn’t have a choice. My visa to stay in France expired at the end of May, so I had to leave the Schengen Zone and return to France as a tourist for the summer. If I didn’t leave the Schengen, a massive administrative nightmare would ensure, on both the French and the American sides. In order to try and prevent this catastrophe, I decided to willingly leave the Schengen. However, most of the countries which are not a part of the Schengen are very expensive countries to visit. The last couple of times I’ve had to leave the Schengen, I went to London. As awesome as London is, I was ready for a change. I began researching other countries that are not part of the Schengen. Many countries were possibilities at the beginning, but there were a few characteristics that set Edinburgh, Scotland apart from the others:

  • There is a zoo with pandas
  • There are several acclaimed vegetarian restaurants
  • There are castles
  • There are beautiful landscapes

Coming at the end of a week long adventure throughout Europe I was not feeling my best. The night before my flight to Edinburgh I tripped on a curb, twisted my ankle, and scraped my knee pretty badly. I felt like I was falling apart! I decided to push through the pain and tiredness and make the best of this new journey. Going through customs in the UK was a nightmare, as always. They asked me questions I had never been asked before–what are the credit limits on my credit cards, what are ALL of the places I’ll be visiting while in Edinburgh, and then the usual questions. While I understand being cautious, it was quite a different (more intense) experience than I’ve had while going through border patrol in any other country.

DSCF5495When I finally made it to Edinburgh, the first thing I noticed was how friendly and helpful everyone was being. I don’t know if living in France has jaded my perspective, but the people in Scotland seemed genuinely happy and willing to help in any way they could. I was able to take the tram from the airport to my hotel, which was very convenient. I arrived mid-afternoon in downtown Edinburgh and promptly checked into my hotel. I really just wanted to drop off my bags and begin exploring the city. My hotel was perfectly located–at the end of the tram line, next to Calton Hill. The hotel was very clean and modern with average-sized rooms (by European standards). It was perfect for me. I dropped all my things off in my room and set off to find the Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens. The monument was impressive from the ground, but it was possible to climb to the top. This was a major accomplishment for me, as it was a very windy day, so at the top of the monument I felt like I was going to be blown away. The views were spectacular and made me very eager to continue exploring this city.

After walking through the gardens I decided to just walk around the city for a bit. Just walking around was a relaxing DSCF5515experience. I decided I would try to find a cocktail bar before dinner. After some initial searching I found a bar called “Panda & Sons.” After reading a little bit more about this bar and a few reviews it was clear that I had to visit it. Unfortunately, I was almost two miles away. However, the walk to get to the bar took me through some interesting neighborhoods and near some cool looking gardens. This bar is designed to look like a speakeasy and is perfectly executed. Speakeasy-style bars have become one of my favorite types in recent years. Panda & Sons was the best executed speakeasy bar I’ve ever visited. You enter through a bookcase and walk into what feels like someone’s living room. The drinks are perfectly made, and relatively reasonably priced (considering it’s Edinburgh). Everything in the bar was panda themed (!!) which was an added bonus for me. After a few drinks I set off in search of dinner. I found a restaurant that claimed to have veggie burgers, and since I’ve yet to find a true veggie burger in Europe, decided to give it a shot. It was one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve had in a really long time. It was an actual veggie burger!

The next day was hiking day. In my research I discovered that there is some excellent hiking to be done in Edinburgh. Initially, I DSCF5550wasn’t sure if I was going to give it a shot or not. Hiking is one of those activities that I feel is best done with a buddy (especially when one is accident prone). After scoping out the situation and reading reviews/tips, I decided that I could handle it. However, with my still twisted ankle, hiking to Arthur’s Seat proved to be a more challenging task than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up making it all the way to the top, but I made it almost to the top. I encountered another American while hiking and she told me that the path got really narrow, rocky, and steep just a bit ahead. As I was already hurting, I decided not to attempt the last stretch, but rather to take a moment and enjoy the scenery.

After my morning of hiking, I spent the afternoon enjoying the architecture and visiting various museums. I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable the museums were to visit (most were free!). I have a weakness for art museums and could spend days exploring the lesser known museums of the world. As much as I love and appreciate the major and well-known museums, I think there is a lot to be said for the independent, local museums. I called it an early night after visiting many museums, as the next day was my zoo day (pandas!).

I awoke very early, as my scheduled panda visitation was with the first group of the day. Compared to the other zoos I’ve DSCF5784visited, this zoo was not one of my favorites. It was very confusing to navigate, with either no signs or misleading signs. Also, the animals were not very active, so I was a bit disappointed. Of the two pandas, I was only able to see the male. It was nice to see a panda, but I think my experience at Zoo Parc Beauval in France has ruined all future panda visits. Last December my best friend, Jeannette, and I were lucky enough to have the panda exhibit to ourselves for nearly an hour and the pandas were incredibly active. While I don’t regret visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, I don’t think I will be making a return visit anytime soon.

To conclude my weekend in Edinburgh, I spent the next day exploring Stirling. Several of my friends highly recommended visiting Stirling Castle, and now that I have, I can see why. It was definitely worth the train adventure, even in the terrible weather. I’m used to the romantic styles of castles, which are very different from the castles in Scotland. It was also at the Stirling Castle where I received a real history lesson about Scotland. I love learning about the history of different countries and cities I visit. It was also here that I learned about the significance of the unicorn to Scotland, and who wouldn’t love a country where the unicorn is a very important symbol.

OverDSC06950all, it was a wonderful getaway to Edinburgh. It helped me to realize that I would love to return to Scotland to explore other cities. While Edinburgh was lovely, I think there are many more equally lovely cities I need to explore. After returning to France I had about 10 days of normalcy before Jeannette arrived in France. I embraced those 10 days by trying to relax and regain my energy, while also working at my freelance job as much as possible, as this was going to be my last opportunity to earn money for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned for the next adventure: two redheads take on France, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco!

If We Were Meant to Stay in One Place, We’d Have Roots Instead of Feet

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At Château de Chenonceau

The past few weeks have been a true whirlwind of adventure. Saying good-bye to my twenties is truly turning out to be the adventure of a lifetime. While I am still not okay with the fact that I am about to turn 30, having so much fun in my final months as a twenty-something is making the inevitable at least enjoyable.

About two weeks ago, my friend Chris came to visit me. We had planned a ridiculous road-trip through Western Europe, and it shaped up to be much more eventful than either of us could have imagined. Chris arrived in France on a Saturday, and we set off on Sunday morning. Our trip included the following destinations:

  • Loire Valley: Château de Chenonceau and Chaumont-sur-Loire
  • Munich, Germany: dinner and to see the glockenspiel
  • Salzburg, Austria: Sound of Music Tour and architecture
  • Liechtenstein: originally, renting and riding bikes, but mother nature had other plans, wine tasting
  • Zermatt, Switzerland: go to Glacier Paradise to see the Matterhorn
  • Lausanne, Switzerland: wine tasting
  • Bourgogne, France (region): wine tasting
  • Tours: cathedral, le Petit Atelier (coffee shop), Château de Langeais (not technically Tours), wine tasting
  • Paris: le Panthéon, l’Arc de Triomphe, champagne

I’m going to write a very brief synopsis of the adventures that ensued for each of these destinations. In order to get the full story, you will have to ask Chris or me personally. Let’s just say a lot happened in a very short period of time.

Munich, Germany:

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Old Town Hall, Glockenspiel

Munich had been on my list for several years, and still remains there. Unfortunately, we only had time for a short stop in Munich, but I quickly realized how much I wanted to visit for real. Munich was a big city, but very different from the other big European cities I have visited. In my opinion, Munich was the first BIG European city I had driven in, and it was not as terrifying as I had anticipated. We were able to find parking with relative ease and found the Old Town Hall and glockenspiel without much problem as well. We ate in one of the oldest beer halls in Munich, and it was mediocre at best. It didn’t help that we were in a hurry, but the atmosphere was fun and I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I could have had a few glasses of wine.

One of my favorite memories from our short visit to Munich was being able to drive on the Autobahn. First of all, I love driving in general. Secondly, anyone who has driven with me knows that I like to drive really, really fast. Thirdly, the Autobahn combined these two loves. At my fastest, I made it to 180kmph (112mph). It was awesome!

Salzburg, Austria:

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At one of the glacier lakes

We arrived very late at night, so it was difficult to form a true opinion about Salzburg, as our hotel was at the top of a winding road going through a mountain. We check in and pretty much went straight to bed. The next morning was something Chris was really looking forward to–the Sound of Music Tour. In all honesty, this was probably the activity I was least looking forward to on this entire trip. I hate tours, especially bus tours. I hate being part of tour groups. Also, I’ve only seen “The Sound of Music” once so I’m just not that interested in it. It ended up only being somewhat awful. The one part of the tour I really enjoyed was the view of the glacier lakes. However, I think I would have liked it even more if we had our car and could have stopped whenever we wanted. We also passed several awesome hiking trails that I would have loved to visit.

After the Sound of Music Tour we explored Old Town and some of the architecture (the part of Salzburg I was not interested in). I love the Baroque style of architecture, and seeing as so many influential composers are from Salzburg, I found it fascinating to walk around and imagine the inspiration for some of the pieces I have performed throughout my musical career. This was our only day in Austria, as the next morning we were getting up bright and early to drive to Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein:

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Wine Tasting in Liechtenstein

Let’s begin the story with an explanation that we had one idea and mother nature had another. The sole purpose of our visiting Liechtenstein was to rent and ride bikes the length of the country. I checked the weather before we left and there was a 100% chance of heavy showers. We managed to make it to Liechtenstein with the hope that it would clear up. It definitely did not. Our first stop was the Office of Tourism. Liechtenstein is one of the few countries in the Schengen Zone where it is possible to get a stamp in your passport (if you are willing to pay 3€). Next, we had lunch at an Asian Fusion restaurant. It was the best Thai food I’ve had since leaving the states. It was actually a little bit spicy and cooked perfectly.

By this point, we had realized the rain was not going to stop. It was also around this time that I discovered there was a winery in Liechtenstein. Since we couldn’t rent bikes, we decided to go wine tasting instead! It was one of (if not) the best wine tastings I’ve done in my life. We sampled three wines–a red, rosé, and white. The ‘samples’ were practically full glasses. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to finish all of my samples, as I had to drive us to Täsch, which was a route through the mountains and I wanted to be safe. It was also a seated tasting in one of the cellars, so it was extremely calm and relaxing. We left Liechtenstein and began the crazy drive to Täsch. Let me preface this story by saying that during the planning stages of this trip, I was under the impression that Chris was going to be splitting the driving responsibilities with me. Had I known that I was going to be doing all of the driving, I would have gone into this adventure with a different mentality.

That being said, the drive from Liechtenstein to Täsch was one of the most terrifyingly awful drives of my life. Prior to leaving for this vacation I had purchased a GPS, as it was cheaper for me to buy one than to pay for one with the rental car. I had been careful to avoid all toll roads, but what I wasn’t careful to avoid were ferries. Silly me, the possibility of a ferry was something that did not cross my mind. When we left Liechtenstein, the GPS said our drive would take just over 4 hours, which wasn’t terrible. About 2 hours into the drive, it had us deviate from the main road and begin zigzagging through these back roads, and ended by telling us to ‘proceed to the ferry.’ (Which we did not see.) We then reprogrammed the GPS telling it to avoid toll roads AND ferries. Our new route would take just over 5 hours. I literally could have cried at hearing this. I was tired, it was raining, and we were driving through the Swiss Alps, none of which made the drive especially easy or enjoyable.

I sucked it up, put on some Sara Bareilles and forged through this disaster. We continued driving through the Swiss Alps and countless ghost towns. Just when things seemed to be becoming almost normal, in terms of the road, we suddenly crossed into Italy! In comparison to the Swiss Alps, the Italian Alps were astronomically worse. The roads were even narrower, twisting, and up/downhill. My nightmare was multiplied. And on top of all of this, we were now driving through dense fog. The posted speed limit was 90kmph (HA! On my best of days, in perfect weather, I would not have gotten close to this speed!). My actual speed was between 30-40kmph. Given as I was going less than half of the posted speed limit, our drive time also lengthened. Each time we got a break from the winding mountain roads, I was dealing with equally insane village roads and deer. Honestly, if there had been a hotel, we would have stopped for the night. I was at my breaking point with only 1.5 hours of the drive remaining. Just when I thought I was done and had survived driving through the Alps, I had one final push to get to the hotel. All uphill on winding road, still in the rain and fog. It was after 1am by the time we rolled into our hotel, which was locked. I sat in the car and had a meltdown while Chris tried to get us into the hotel.

After another 30-45 minutes, we were in our hotel room, which thankfully had a bathtub. I ended my hellacious drive with the most relaxing bath of my entire life. Then I took a nap.

Zermatt, Switzerland:

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The cables for the third gondola.

After a short nap, we were up and ready to go again. Because no cars are allowed in Zermatt, we had to take the train from Täsch to Zermatt. One of the reasons we chose our hotel was because of its proximity to the train station (literally across the street). The train ride was stunning and when it ended you were in a typical ski town, but so much cuter than any I had ever visited before. There was still a very Bavarian feel to the town itself, which I really enjoyed and appreciated. Our first destination was to get tickets for Glacier Paradise. We got our tickets and began the walk to the first cable car/gondola. Back story to this adventure. I hate cable cars/anything suspended by a wire that I have to get on. HATE. When I was a child my family took a vacation to Disney World and my mother made all of us go on the cable cars across the park. Heights are one of my biggest fears in life. Actually, I think heights are my biggest fear, and one that unfortunately debilitates me from time to time. My fear of heights seems to be getting worse as I get older, but I am really trying to work through it. As a child, I sat on the floor of the cable car screaming and crying the length of Disney World. I was afraid a similar situation was going to happen on my way to the Matterhorn. Needless to say, I managed to keep it together for all three, that’s right THREE gondolas.

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View from the top

By the time we reached the top, we went to one of the lookout points to see all of the mountains. It was stunning. Honestly, words and pictures do not do this experience justice. If you ever have the opportunity, you MUST go to Glacier Paradise. We then found the restaurant/bar at the top, where I promptly rewarded my bravery with a few glasses of wine. We then explored all of the parts, including an ice cave, and a few more lookout points. Everything was so clear and calm. It inspired me to visit the French Alps within the next year. I’ve also decided to give snowboarding another shot!

We spent the rest of the day exploring Zermatt. We had a small snack from a bakery and then did a bit of shopping in town. After, it was too early for dinner, so I found a cool bar for us to stop at and have a few drinks. Because we were in Switzerland (wow is it expensive!) we stuck with wine. We also had some quality conversation over our wine and just enjoyed being where we were and not having anything pressing to do. For dinner we had cheese fondue. I have had cheese fondue in France, and it was quite different in Switzerland. The cheese was much thinner and not as flavorful, in my opinion. I’m glad we were able to experience cheese fondue in Switzerland, but it is not something I feel the need to do again.

Lausanne, Switzerland:

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In the port of Lausanne/Ouchy

Jeannette (my best friend) and I are slightly crazy, especially when it comes to lists and trying to accomplish everything. In all honesty, it is probably my insanity that drives us most of the time, but nonetheless, she seems to have jumped on board with finding lists. One list she found was “Europe’s 11 Most Underrated Small Cities.” Lausanne was one of the cities on the list, so when I discovered how close we were going to be, I immediately added it as a ‘must-see’ during our visit. At first, it seemed very industrial and I couldn’t understand how it made the list. It turns out there are several parts of Lausanne, and we happened to stumble upon the right part, eventually. Lake Geneva was gorgeous and the surrounding area was so peaceful. We also discovered that we were in the wine-region of Switzerland, so we had to go wine tasting. It turns out, that the ‘tasting room’ was actually more of a wine bar. It was nice, but not quite what we were looking for.

Bourgogne, France:

Prior to this vacation, I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘A Year in Burgundy.’ I have a dear friend who is from this region and he talks about how amazing it is all the time. I had never visited, but it has been on my list for a few years now. After viewing the documentary, it was another addition to the ‘must-see’ list. I was not disappointed! The wines were amazing and the scenery was beautiful. I hope to return within the year to spend a few days exploring this region.

Tours, France:

We had only one day in Tours, so I decided to show Chris some of the ‘must sees.’ The cathedral is down the road from my apartment, so that was our first stop. We also did the cloister tour, which I had never done before. It was truly an interesting experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone visiting Tours. We then went to my favorite coffee shop, le Petit Atelier. It’s a relatively new coffee shop, but i have gotten to know the owners relatively well. We smile and wave when we see each other, and they know my order now. We had a relaxing coffee and cookie before beginning our adventure to Langeais. This was one of the remaining castles I had to visit in the Loire Valley. It was interesting, but not as memorable as the other castles I have visited. On the way home, we stopped to do some wine tasting in Montlouis-sur-Loire. It was interesting for me as I had never done wine tasting here. I usually go to Vouvray when I have people visiting. It was nice, but not something I feel the need to repeat (however, if it happened, I wouldn’t be disappointed).

We ended our night at Matt and Benoït’s for apéro. As always, Matt and Ben were extremely gracious hosts and welcomed Chris into their home as though they had known him for years. For the rest of our trip, Chris talked about how awesome it was to meet Matt and Ben and how much fun he had hanging out with them.

Paris, France:

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View from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe

The final stop on my vacation with Chris. Chris really wanted to visit the Panthéon, which I have only visited once before. However, when we arrived, we discovered that it was closed the entire week, in preparation for a special event. Since we couldn’t visit the Panthéon, we decided to stop and have a glass of wine instead. (I’m beginning to think that I am a bad influence on my friends…) After, we walked around Paris for a bit and got some gelato. Our final official stop of the night was a visit to the top of l’Arc de Triomphe. Again, something I have done several times, but always at a different time of day. It was, as always, a beautiful view. Chris then suggested that we stop in a café on the Champs-Élysées for a drink and light snack. We decided to have a few glasses of wine and some cheese in an excellent restaurant, George V. After, we decided to get take-out to eat in our hotel. I found a small Chinese place just off the Champs-Élysées, which was very reasonably priced, and surprisingly spicy. This food definitely gave the Thai food from Liechtenstein a run for its money.

We took our food back to the hotel room, which was excellently located, just off the Champs-Élysées. On the walk back to the hotel, I wasn’t paying attention and managed to miss a curb and crash to the ground, along with our dinners. I ended up twisting my ankle and scraping one knee pretty bad. The sad thing is, I was completely sober when all of this happened, so I have nothing to blame other than my clumsy nature. I got some ice and cleaned up my knee and pushed through the injuries. To conclude our vacation, we went out for a glass of champagne. The atmosphere at the bar was perfect, the service impeccable, and the champagne perfectly refreshing.

The next morning, we had to be out of the hotel bright and early, as Chris had a flight back to the states and I had a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Quick Recap:

While this vacation did not go exactly as planned, in the end it all worked out and I have countless memories and stories. In the end, I drove almost 2,000 miles in less than one week, visited 7 different countries, and conquered many fears. Knowing what I do now, I would do it all over again, with only slight modifications along the way.

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Outside of Chaumont-sur-Loire

The End is the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy-sur-Loire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buda and Pest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quick Update

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

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

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

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

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On the Road Again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tour of Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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