Tag Archives: Friends

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

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30 Things Before 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to do before I turn 30:

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

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

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

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

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

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    Wine tasting in Traverse City, Michigan.

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

    search and will buy a set this spring/summer.

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

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

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

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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Thanksgiving in France

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Prior to this year, Thanksgiving was never a major holiday for me. While I enjoyed the traditions and spending time with my family, as a vegetarian, I found it difficult to truly enjoy a holiday which focuses on the cooking and eating of a turkey. From the time I first became a vegetarian until now, my family has gotten much better at knowing what to do with a vegetarian. For many years, I simply at the sides, but lacked the main course. Then, it suddenly clicked and my family was able to figure out a way for me to also have a main course. While Tofurkey is very popular in the USA, I am not a fan. I find the texture to be odd and the Tofurkey itself to be salty. Typically, my main dish features sweet potatoes of some sort (one year it was sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter sage sauce). Last year it was a lentil loaf, filled with smashed potatoes. It was delicious!

Currently, I am living in a country where Thanksgiving doesn’t exist, and truly isn’t understood. This year, because Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebrated in France, I had to work on Thanksgiving. I’m not going to lie, it was a very strange feeling going to work on Thanksgiving. I was very jealous of my friends and family back in the states who had the day off. Then I reminded myself of all the days off that I have that they do not have, and I was more okay with having to work on a holiday that isn’t major for me.

Because of the time difference, I was able to make it home in time to watch America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on my computer. I am grateful for technology, as well as ClickOnDetroit for streaming the entire parade live on their website. Watching the parade made me feel like I was at home with my family. However, rather than it being early Thanksgiving morning, it was mid-afternoon. Prior to the parade I Skyped with my parents to say ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ and to see my dogs. After the parade I called some of my other relatives to say ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ as well. It wan’t until this day that I began feeling slightly homesick.

Luckily, the following weekend my friends and I were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving. Because Matt and I are the only Americans, we were in charge of planning and executing the dinner. This was a first for us both. Neither of us had been the person primarily responsible for preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s just say that kitchens in France (even ‘American kitchens’) are not equipped for the preparation of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Fortunately for me, I’m a vegetarian, so I was considerably less stressed than Matt about this whole ordeal. Turkey is not a very common food in France, so Matt and Ben had to special order the turkey from the butcher. Because French ovens are so small, the turkey barely fit in it. Keep in mind, that this was not your typical American turkey, it was considerably smaller. When Matt uncovered the turkey, it actually touched the top of the oven, which produced a ‘lovely’ smell.

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While Matt was preparing the turkey, I was busy at work preparing my main dish–a lentil loaf. Imagine a meatloaf, made of lentils and with mashed potatoes in the middle. It’s one of my favorite meals, and super easy to make. I also made a sage and cranberry stuffing, with a homemade mushroom gravy.

Side note: Sage is surprisingly difficult to find in France. I spent a good three hours walking around Tours trying to find sage. I visited seven supermarkets and countless speciality shops, with no luck. Luckily, Matt saw my frustration on Facebook and asked Ben to pick up sage when he went to the big supermarket. 🙂

I remember cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my mom, and figuring out the timing of everything. It was a surprisingly complex task. It’s even more complex in France, as the oven is literally half the size. In addition to the turkey, lentil loaf, and stuffing, we had the following: sweet potato casserole (both with and without marshmallows), broccoli and cauliflower casserole, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. Everything was delicious and we had a great time together. There were plenty of American flags and good wine to be drunk.

While Thanksgiving Day was not a big deal for me this year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving turned out to be everything I could have hoped. I’m especially thankful for my friends and family this year, and celebrating with my friends in France helped me to remember how lucky I am.

Beaujolais Nouveau

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There is a long standing tradition in France, surrounding the world-wide release of a specific wine. This wine is known as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau.’ I first heard about this wine during my first French course at university. At the time I was not 21, so I could not buy it, but the idea intrigued me. Every year, on the third Thursday in November, this wine is sold around the world. It cannot be sold prior to 12:01am on the third Thursday in November. Since this tradition is nicely aligned with the American tradition of Thanksgiving, it seemed like a natural tradition to embrace with my family.

While the tradition is fun and the history of how this tradition began is interesting (click here to learn more), the wine itself is not that stellar. Because it is a young wine, it has a very light body and very light and fruity nodes. When I first began drinking wine I loved it, because I found most red wines to be too heavy for my liking. As my preferences for wine have evolved, I’ve become less and less of a fan of this wine. The history and the celebration behind it, though, I am still very interested in.

As I was in France this year for the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, I had the opportunity to attend a few parties celebrating the release of this wine. Prior to heading out to the parties, Matt, Ben, and I all tried the “Touraine Primeur” wine, which is Tours version of Beaujolais Nouveau. I have the same feeling about this wine as I do about Beaujolais Nouveau. Great story, terrible wine.

Apparently, every year, a bunch of hair dressers take turns hosting the Beaujolais Nouveau party at his/her salon. One of my dear friends owns a salon and is therefore invited to these parties every year. By association, I was also invited. The party was held in an actual hair salon, complete with snacks and all. It was a very enjoyable evening and I had the opportunity to try many different types of Beaujolais Nouveau (my feelings are the same for all of them). This was my first time attending a Beaujolais Nouveau party in France, as well as my first time attending a party in a hair salon. It was a lot of fun!

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After this party, we decided to get dinner together, where we continued to drink wine from Beaujolais, but not Beaujolais Nouveau. Dinner was enjoyable, but nothing special. I am oftentimes underwhelmed when I go to restaurants in France. There are very few (if any) options which can be modified to be vegetarian, and even fewer vegetarian options.

I’m glad the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau continued and that I was able to experience it in France.

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Inside l’Opéra de Tours

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Those of you who know me know that I love going to the theatre, whether it be musicals, operas, symphonies, or plays, I’m interested in seeing them all. Since I was a child, I think 12 years old, I have attended a minimum of one event at the theatre each year. Last Sunday was the day of open doors at the Opéra de Tours. Simply walking into this building caused me to have an instant desire to attend a performance in the near future.

On the outside, l’Opéra de Tours seems massive. On the inside, it seems small and intimate. Apparently, there are 1,000 seats in the theatre, but in my opinion in felt much, much smaller. The architecture and design is very classic and elegant. I sat in a box seat for several moments to take in everything. I was overwhelmed by everything I saw.

While I knew that the open doors day was quickly approaching, I had forgotten until we walked by and saw the doors open. When we returned home I promptly visited the Opéra de Tours website and selected the performances I want to attend. One goal that I have set this year is to attend an evening performance at l’Opéra de Tours, where I get dressed to the nines. Matt and I are in discussion for how to make this happen, as it is something that he would like to do as well.

I am hoping to attend my first performance at l’Opéra de Tours within the next couple of months.

Hop a Plane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So concludes day number one of my vacation.

Londres: Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Londres: Part II

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The interesting thing about my life is that I have very few friends who are my age. Most of my friends are older than I, and it works out great because I tend to enjoy doing the same types of activities. However, I have recently come to the realization that even though many of my friends are older in age than I, they are actually much, much younger in spirit. I tend to have a difficult time keeping up with my friends when we go out. I enjoy going out, for example: seeing musicals/plays/operas, going to dinner, getting drinks, going to museums or benefits. However, I do not enjoy: dancing, staying out late, going to loud bars, etc..

Fast forward to London. While Ben is slightly older than I, he is a much more outgoing spirit and is able to stay up much later than I. Both nights that we were in London we stayed out until way later (or earlier) than I had in the recent past. We stayed out until almost 4am on both Friday and Saturday.

DSCF2242Because we stayed out so late and got such little sleep copious amounts of coffee were necessary on Saturday. While France in wonderful, there are some things that are much more readily available in London that make it quite a pleasant city to visit. For example, vegetarian options on menus, indicated by ‘v’, macaroni and cheese, cranberry juice in bars, and Starbucks, just to name a few. Because we were staying in the heart of London there was a Starbucks connected to our hotel, where we began our day on Saturday. Prior to my arrival in France I was very much addicted to Starbucks. Since my arrival in France I can say that I honestly haven’t missed Starbucks very much. What I have missed is having the option of ordering my coffee ‘to go.’ As an added bonus, the Starbucks in London also had skim milk! Additionally, I was able to order an iced coffee! YUM! Ben truly struggled with the idea of getting coffee to go. As a compromise we started our morning by sitting in Starbucks and drinking part of our coffee. We then continued our day by taking our coffee with us across the Tower Bridge.

Saturday consisted of a great deal of walking. A lot more walking than I had realized until I looked at a map. We left our hotel, walked across Tower Bridge, wandered around the Jubilee Walkway along the Thames, then continued walking the Jubilee Walkway. Here’s a list of some of the monuments and interesting things we saw along the way: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Pickle Building, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, London Eye, London Aquarium, London Bridge, various art installments, Parliament, Elizabeth Tower (where Big Ben resides), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park, Trafalgar Square, Hippothames, Harrods, St. Pancras, Platform 9 3/4, Soho, Chinatown, and Piccadilly Circus. Of course throughout this adventure we stopped for lunch and refreshing beverages.

While everything we saw was wonderful, one of my favorite moments of the night was eating dinner in Soho. There are many restaurants throughout London with highly celebrated macaroni and cheese. As I haven’t had macaroni and cheese in many months I wanted a very traditional mac & cheese. Prior to our trip I spent time researching different restaurants in London, specifically those known for their mac & cheese. One of the most celebrated restaurants for traditional mad & cheese was Soho Kitchen & Bar. When we arrived (via a traditional cab) the place was packed! I was slightly worried that we would not get a table before the kitchen closed. We put our name on the list and then wandered to the bar. The restaurant and bar was a nice balance of traditional and innovative options. I began my night with a mango and chile cocktail. It was the perfect balance of spicy and sweet. Since spicy food is difficult (virtually impossible) to find in France I enjoyed eating and drinking as many spicy things as possible.

When we were almost finished with our drinks we were told that our table was ready. It was a great location–right at the front and in an open window. We ordered a corncake and red pepper relish appetizer, mac & cheese, and side salads.  The mac & cheese was served in an individual crock, with a breadcrumb layer on top. Again, YUM! Ben had never had mac & cheese, so when it came out he was not sure what to expect. His view on mac & cheese: it’s good, but nothing special. He still does not understand my obsession with it, as the idea of ‘comfort foods’ does not exist in France. He told me that he would make me mac & cheese (an offer I completely plan on holding him to).

After dinner we proceeded to go pub/bar/club hopping. We went to multiple establishments throughout Soho and Chinatown. I was more in the mood for a lounge or a cocktail bar, so it took some patience and drinks along the way to find a place to settle for the night. After visiting multiple establishments, we ended up back where our night started, at Soho Kitchen & Bar. I continued to drink my cranberry vodkas and was quite content, as we were able to find a place to sit. After leaving the bar we ended up walking to Piccadilly Circus. It was great, but finding a way back to our hotel posed an interesting challenge. We were willing to pay for a cab, but finding a cab proved to be a near impossible endeavour. After much walking I was finally able to hail a cab. We made the long trek back to our hotel, and by the time we were back in the room it was nearly 4am.

While this was our final day in London it was not the end of our adventures. The final installment of our adventures in London will be posted soon. Stay tuned!

Londres: Part I

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DSCF2158Life is full of challenges and unexpected happenings. Before moving to France I was told that I would have to vacate France prior to the start date of my visa, as I was arriving in the country too far in advance. As I knew this well in advance, I was prepared for having to plan a trip outside of the Schengen Region. Fortunately, the United Kingdom is not a part of the Schengen Region. As a bonus, there are flights from Tours to London for a relatively low price.

Because Matt works weekends he was unable to accompany me to London. However, Ben was more than happy to oblige and go to London for the weekend. Ben has been to London many, many times. If I remember correctly, this trip was his 11th time in London. We selected a weekend, booked our flight, then searched for a hotel. We were very lucky and very patient when searching for a hotel. We ended up staying right next to (literally) Tower Bridge and the Tower of London at Tower Hotel.

Now that you have all of the background information about this trip, let’s move onto the adventures of the weekend. Our flight from Tours left late in the afternoon on a Friday. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time and enjoyed a class of wine with Matt prior to our flight. The airport in Tours is very small…quite possibly the smallest airport I have ever visited. When I was younger I had an extremely difficult time making it through airport security. Without fail, every time I passed through the metal detectors they went off. When I was in college I seemed to have overcome this dilemma…until this trip. Both in Tours and in London I activated the metal detectors.

The flight from Tours to London was super, super short–less than 45-minutes! It was crazy! The first time I went to London I took the ferry and then a bus. The second time I went to London I took the train, which was a cool experience, but too much longer and was much more expensive. Ben and I enjoyed some wine while on the plane. Interesting fact: apparently when one orders white wine it is served with ice. Who knew!?!

We arrived in London without delay, made it through customs, and found our bus to the centre of London. As we flew into an airport just outside of London, the bus ride was about one hour long. We made it to the centre of London and then had to find our hotel. This proved to be slightly more challenging than either of us had anticipated. Of course, we were in London for the one weekend when the tube stop right by our hotel was closed for maintenance. It ended up being a little more complicated than expected, but we eventually made it.

After checking into our hotel we went up to our room and realized that we had a stunning view of St. Katharine’s Docks. After settling in we decided to go to one of the bars in our hotel for an apéro. The drinks were pricey, but worth it for the view we had of the Tower Bridge. The experience was similar to my experiences at the Signature Lounge in the Hancock Building in Chicago, Illinois. Though expensive, it was worth it for the experience, and is not something that I would do on a regular basis.

After our apéro we decided to walk around and choose a restaurant for dinner. We wanted to stay in the general area, but were able to explore and take many great pictures. What I loved about London was the fact that the people there understood the idea of vegetarianism, something that is severely lacking in France. We found a little pub that was not only reasonably priced, but also had a veggie burger. This was amazing, as there are only two restaurants in Tours that serve veggie burgers.

When dinner was finished we decided that we were not ready to return to the hotel. Rather, we decided to go on a mini bar/pub crawl. We visited several pubs, one bistro, and ended our night at an interesting bar. It was a long, but enjoyable day.

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