Tag Archives: France

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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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.

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.

Timing in Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy-sur-Loire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

When Grown Up Me Came to France

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I’ve been in France for almost five months (what?!) and was doing okay with being away from my family and friends, until Christmas was getting close. While I am not religious, I do enjoy spending time with the people I love, and being about 4,000 miles away was making this a very difficult year for me. Matt and Ben returned to the States to celebrate Christmas, so I was going to be left alone in France. Luckily, my friends Bruno and Lionel stepped up and suggested that I spend le Réveillon and Noël with them. I’m going to write an entire post about this experience later, but I really want to reminiscence on the time I spent with my dearest and bestest friend, Jeannette.

We had been planning her arrival in France practically since I found out that I would be moving here. We had the dates picked out, but didn’t buy the tickets right away. Because she bought the tickets so far in advance, it didn’t seem real.  I never forgot that she was coming, but there were many times that it did not seem possible that she would be in France with me, if that makes any sense. Leading up to her arrival, we spent a great deal of time talking about the things we wanted to see and do. One of the reasons that we are such great friends is because we have the same interests and travel styles. Neither of us want to do only the touristy things, but rather would spend time exploring the less touristy parts of a city. Of course, with her coming to France, there were a few non-negotiables that was had to do: see la Tour Eiffel, see le Louvre (not necessarily go inside), see l’Arc de Triomphe (not necessarily go to the top), visit Notre Dame, visit Montmartre. In addition to my must-visit list, her boyfriend also gave her a list. Her boyfriend is originally from Sweden and has lived and worked in many different European countries.

On the day of Jeannette’s arrival, Friday, 26 December 2014, I was so excited I could not sleep. In addition to my excitement, there were a few other factors that were keeping me awake.

  1. The night before, all of the wires that powered the trains had been cut between Tours and Paris (the route I needed to take). This meant that all trains were being re-routed or cancelled.
  2. Once I arrived in Paris, I had to get on the metro and then get on the RER to get to the airport. I am no longer afraid of transferring different lines, but rather afraid of unexpected delays.

Of course, the morning of Jeannette’s arrival I was super excited. Luckily, the trains were running normally and I made it to Paris without any significant problems. The train was a few minutes late, which normally isn’t a big deal, but this time I just wanted to get to the airport! I had been tracking Jeannette’s flight the entire journey from Tours to Paris, and of course, she arrived early. Early as in I was just approaching Paris when she landed. Another fun fact about this adventure is that Jeannette did not have a working phone. Her phone would only work when connected to WiFi, which of course, was not working at the airport.

After navigating from Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord, I successfully made it to the RER B, or so I thought. Turns out, there was an ‘incident’ that had interrupted the RER B line, so the trains were delayed for an unspecified amount of time. The trains ended up being delayed by almost an hour, which is significant considering this train runs once every 8-10 minutes. I was stuck on the quai waiting for a train, with no way to contact Jeannette. I was eventually able to talk to Jeannette (thanks to the kind person at the information desk who let her call me from the airport phone). I explained about all of the problems with the RER and that I would be there ASAP. After what felt like forever I successfully made it to CDG and found Jeannette. As so began the adventures of Grown Up Me and Mini Me!

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Getting Healthy

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Now that I’m settled in and have discovered my routine in France I am trying to truly get my life back in order. Prior to moving to France I had a great routine for working out. However, once I moved to France I stopped following that routine, primarily because I was not a member of a gym and was busy being a tourist in my new area. The one good thing about moving to France is that I walk just about everywhere. On a daily basis I do considerably more walking than I would have done over the course of a week back in Michigan.

Even though I was doing more walking, I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see and I simply wasn’t feeling as fit as I wanted. I enjoy riding bikes, however, up until a few weeks ago, I did not have one. Also, the weather has gotten cooler in France and I find bike riding to be slightly less enjoyable.

My first step toward getting healthy was to look at what I was eating and to make healthier choices. Upon reflecting on my eating habits I discovered that I had been eating more pasta and starches than usual. I decided to increase my daily fruit and vegetable intake and to only eat whole grains. This was an easy switch for me. I also monitored my alcohol intake. Living in France, my liquor consumption has decreased drastically; however, my wine consumption has significantly increased. I decided to change this as well. I now only have one glass of red wine with dinner each night (I can’t live in France and not drink wine, that would just be wrong).

With a plan for my eating habits in place I began doing stretches and simple exercises at my apartment. I began practicing yoga again, following a series of poses that I remembered from my yoga classes in Michigan. I also began doing a number of exercises to target my hips, butt, and legs (my problem area). Doing these on a daily basis was helping me to feel a little better in general. I was more relaxed and could more easily fall asleep after stretching and doing yoga. I found that beginning and ending my day with stretches or simple exercises was helpful to my overall well-being.

I have been doing my stretch/exercise routine daily, in addition to my daily walking. Now that I was in a routine, I decided that I was ready to take it to the next level and join a gym. I did some research about which gyms I could join and where they were located. I remembered passing a gym on rue Nationale, one of the main roads I walk down every single day. I researched the gym, Nova Gym, online and it looked very similar to my gym back in Michigan. There was also a promotion where if you began  your paperwork online you received a discounted sign-up fee. Of course, I began my paperwork online, knowing that if I changed my mind and decided not to join the gym that there would not be a penalty.

After work one day I stopped by Nova Gym to officially join. It was a good experience, because it was conducted entirely in French, and I was able to not only understand, but also ask questions. The gym truly is like an American gym, which was a nice surprise. They have the standard equipment, as well as a circuit training video you can use. I decided to join the gym. During my tour the man was explaining the hours, how my badge worked so that I could enter even on Sundays and holidays when normally everything is closed.

The one part of this experience that stood out to me was during my tour. As we were talking about the different equipment, the man was telling me about the treadmills. Apparently, running is not allowed on the treadmills, only walking, because it places less stress on the machine, thus allowing it to last longer. I hate running on treadmills, so this wasn’t a big deal until I began thinking about it. It seemed silly to tell people they could not use a piece of exercise equipment for the purpose it was designed.

In addition to making healthier eating choices, I’ve also cut back considerably on my alcohol intake. This has been extremely difficult, as I am living in a country that is known for its wine. I’ve also cut back considerably on my bread and cheese intake. For my feelings on this, see my comment about wine. However, I finally feel as though all of my small changes are starting to pay off. I have more energy and just feel overall healthier. I did not weigh myself before I started these changes, and I do not plan on weighing myself to monitor my progress. At this point in my life I want to feel healthy, and am less concerned about the number on the scale.

Final Day of an Amazing Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Prague: My Final Day

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When I arrived in Prague I wasn’t sure how the trip would unfold. This was my first solo, international adventure. It was also my first time traveling to a country where I knew none of the language (I did research useful phrases and translate them into Czech, however, my pronunciation was awful!). Overall, I was pleased with everything about this trip. I learned a great deal about myself and what I can do without the help of others. I visited many amazing places and created many memories.

My final day began a little later than I had planned (8am, rather than 7:30am), but I was still able to see and do everything that I had planned. Because many of the places I wanted to visit did not open until 9am, this gave me time to visit some of the other statues and monuments that did not have restricted hours.

First Stop: Main Train Station, Praha Hlavní Nádraží

Turns out, I had actually been here yesterday, but didn’t realize it. I had a minor emergency when the batteries in my camera died, so I entered what I thought was simply a metro station, to buy new batteries. I did not know there was another building connected, but on the other side of the road that was the Main Train Station. It was beautiful! Much more artsy than the train stations in France, but still quite simplistic.

Next Stop: St. Nicholas Church, Malá Strana

Prior to leaving France I purchased a small travel guide for Prague. Many of the places mentioned in the book were already on my list, however, there were many places I did not know about, but seemed interesting. The St. Nicholas Church was one of those places. On the outside, it looks like most other churches. On the inside it is much more detailed than most churches I have visited. The altars were extremely elaborate and detailed.

Next Stop: Prague Castle, Pražský Hrad

Living in France, specifically the Loire Valley, I am no stranger to the beauty of castles. I’ve visited several castles in France and a few in Spain, but that is all. A friend suggested that if I only visit one thing in Prague to be sure to see the Prague Castle. This friend is French, so I knew that her recommendation was one not to be ignored.

I spent a considerable amount of time researching Prague Castle because I wanted to learn about the history and plan an adequate amount of time to visit without feeling rushed. I’m glad I researched because it was much more massive than I had imagined. In fact, I learned, it is the largest castle in the world. Also, it’s apparently the residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. My goal was to arrive between 9am and 10am, which I was able to do.

While it is very easy to find and see the Prague Castle throughout Prague, when one is there and trying to actually enter the castle, it is much more complicated. I spent more time than I would like to admit walking in circles trying to find the entrance. It turns out that signs in Prague are only written in Czechoslovakian, which is not in the least bit helpful for me. The good news is that the French are terrible at creating signs, so I am quite used to walking around blindly.

 

Visitors have a choice of which type of ticket to buy, depending on what you want to see and do. I strongly suggest you buy the most expensive, 700CZK (about $32) as you will be able to pass several hours without becoming bored or running out of things to see and learn. Also, if you can, try and arrive as close to the beginning of an hour as possible, as there is an interesting changing of the guard ceremony to see. It’s very similar to the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, but much more casual and less intimidating.

I began my visit in St. Vitus Cathedral. It was beautiful and quite impressive, however not much different from other cathedrals I have visited that were built during the same period. The stained glass windows were absolutely stunning.

While visiting St. Vitus Cathedral my camera began yelling at me that my batteries were almost dead again (turns out I took a lot of pictures throughout this trip). Luckily, I was still near the entrance and the gift shop where I could buy more batteries.

Once I had a camera that was ready to go again, I headed toward to Old Royal Palace. It turns out that it was closed that day for technical reasons. Things like this happen to me often. I used to get upset, but now I view them as an excuse to return if I like where I am visiting.

Right next to the Old Royal Palace was the exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle.” It was interesting because it detailed the history of the castle, as well as what has been discovered during renovations. Overall, it was interesting, but also overwhelming because there was so much information to read and so many artifacts to see.

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When I left this exhibition I ended up in the gardens, where I spent a considerable amount of time wandering and exploring. Unfortunately, it is not peak season for the gardens, so they were not that impressive. However, the views of Prague were astonishing. Also, because of a lack of signs/maps/information of any sort, I accidentally ended up leaving Prague Castle. To return, I had to climb up hundreds of stairs and retrace my steps, practically back to where I started.

 

I then visited St. George’s Basilica. It was nice, but the man checking tickets at the door was very rude to everyone who entered. He left a bad taste in my mouth and it was difficult for me to enjoy being there, as I was expecting him to start yelling at me again.

Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower was my next stop. This was an area where people would have lived hundreds of years ago. It was still set up like a town, with shops and houses you can visit. It reminded me of the Petit Trianon in the Palace of Versailles in France. It was interesting, but extremely crowded. I visited many areas, but there were some that were simply too crowded. If there had been fewer people, I could easily have spent twice as much time exploring this area, but was feeling overwhelmed by the situation, so I decided not to stress about seeing everything.

After finally making my way through the massive crowds, I made my way to Powder Tower (not the same one I had already visited). The building itself was interesting, but the exhibit inside was less interesting for me. It was dedicated to the military and displayed uniforms. It was interesting, but not of very much interest for me, so I walked through relatively quickly. The one nice aspect was that it was not crowded at all.

Rosenberg Palace is also included in the ticket and is very interesting; however, photos are not allowed so it is one of the least memorable parts of Prague Castle for me. It is set up like it was when people lived there, so it was interesting to see, but really nothing all that special.

I spent some more time just walking around, as there are many buildings you cannot visit. The architecture throughout the area is stunning. By the time I was ready to leave, I had spent about 3 hours exploring. I did not feel rushed at all and luckily the lines were not too long for any of the places I visited. I would suggest dedicating a minimum of 2.5 hours if you plan to visit.

Next Stop: St. Loreto

This was one of my destinations that was not originally on my list of must-visit places. However, it was strongly recommended in the tour book I had purchased, so I decided it was worth visiting. Unfortunately, the outside was being renovated and for whatever reason, you could not enter the church. I was not the only person confused, as the posted hours said we should be able to visit the church. I could imagine it being very beautiful, however, it was difficult to truly appreciate it because of the construction

Next Stop: Church of Our Lady Victorious, Kostel Panny Marie Vítězné

I come from a Polish, Catholic family. When I was growing up my Nana had a ‘doll’ (turns out it was a statue) of baby Jesus. When I was young, I referred to this statues as “creepy baby Jesus” because I found it weird that a baby looked like an adult. In reading my guide book I discovered that “creepy baby Jesus” is actually called Pražské Jezulátko, or ‘Infant Jesus of Prague.’ While I am not religious, I decided to add seeing this to my list of things to do because of the connection to my childhood.

Also, when I was an infant I accidentally (at least I’m fairly certain it was an accident) broke the hands off of my Nana’s statue. I decided to buy her a mini replacement, from the original location. I’m glad I took the time to visit.

Next Stop: Lennon Wall

Was not on any of my lists, but I discovered it by accident walking around. It was cool to see, but nothing that has any significance for me. I’m glad that I accidentally stumbled upon it, though.

Next Stop: Petřín Lookout Tower

This was something I had heard about and researched, but was torn about actually visiting. On the one hand, it was built to look like a mini Eiffel Tower for the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition. On the other hand, it was isolated from everything else, and aside from offering a nice view of the city, wasn’t really anything special.

In the end, I decided to visit it because I had the time and I didn’t want to regret not doing it. Because it is located at the top of a hill, getting there is not the easiest of walks. There is a funicular railway (it reminded me of a ski lift) to get to the top, or you can navigate several paths and trails to walk to the top. I tried my darndest to find the funicular railway, but had absolutely no luck. This meant I was walking to the top. Again, there was no map or signs pointing you in the right direction. The views of the city along the way were breathtaking. Eventually, I made it to the top.

 

The area around Petřín Lookout Tower was interesting. There were many historical buildings to see; however, you could not go inside. I bought my ticket to visit the tower itself. I hate heights. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before. Hate. Loathe. Avoid at all costs. For whatever reason, I decided to put my fears aside and climb the stairs to the top. About half way up I began to have a mini panic attack and had to stop to calm down. Once I made it to the top the view was nice, but I don’t know that it was much better than any of the other views I had from the top of other buildings and towers. The fun part was going back down. I was shaking pretty badly, but more than anything I wanted to be out of the tower and back on solid ground. I slowly made my way back down and eventually calmed myself enough so that I could make the trek back down.

Luckily, I found a sign that included images as well as words, and I saw what looked like the funicular railway. I decided to follow the signs and see if I could find this thing. Turns out, it was much easier to find from the top of the hill. I was willing to pay to take this down the hill, but it turns out the cost was included in my public transit pass. In the car I met a pair of elderly Americans. It turns out it was a mother and her son who were doing a mini vacation together. They live in Texas and we got to talking about why I was in Prague and what I did back in the states. It was a very nice conversation and the mother reminded me of my Nana with some of her comments!

 

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Final Stop: Prague

I then had dinner and wandered around Prague for a bit before returning to the hotel. I didn’t have anything specific that I wanted to see, so I just took in everything that was happening around me. I visited Old Town one last time, walked across the Charles Bridge, and at one last Trdelník before heading to dinner near my hotel. After dinner I walked around the area of my hotel a little more and visited Wenceslas Square one last time. I decided that I was going to treat myself and have dessert since it was my last night in Prague. I decided to try what was translated as ‘apple pie’ but was so much better than what I know as apple pie.

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My trip to Prague ended with some Czech wine in my hotel room. It was the perfect ending for this trip, especially since I had a flight early the next morning back to Paris.

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