Tag Archives: Life Abroad

Southeastern France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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Weekend in Copenhagen: An Overview

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So, I’ve decided to really try and visit someplace new each month. Because of Christmas and New Year’s this month, I have a two-week vacation from school. Normally, during these vacations I do most of my traveling. However, this vacation my best friend will be visiting, so rather than exploring somewhere new, I’ll be sharing my new home with her. 🙂

I decided that rather than not going somewhere new, I would just shorten my trip and move it up by a few weeks. The destination was Copenhagen. I did a lot of research leading up to this trip, in order to maximize my limited amount of time in the country.

A couple of things you should know if you are planning a trip to Copenhagen:

  • The weather is intense. I thought Chicago was “The Windy City” until I visited Copenhagen. Chicago is nothing in comparison to what I experienced in Copenhagen.
  • They don’t use the euro in Copenhagen; rather, they use the Kroner.
  • Everything is super, super expensive. I thought London expensive, but London looks like a budget vacation compared to Copenhagen. Most things are double or triple the cost of what I am used to paying in France. For example, a mediocre glass of wine cost 11€, or $13! It was insane!
  • The hours are very limited everywhere. Most places don’t open until 11am, and close at 6pm (with restaurants being the exception). And I thought the French worked limited hours!

Overall, I’m glad to have visited Copenhagen, but the city itself is not on my list of places I must visit again. For me, the city was not very memorable. However, I would love to return to Denmark to visit some of the smaller towns and villages. I found the Danes to be a very friendly people. I almost felt like I was back in the Midwest.

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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.

Château de Chenonceau

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As part of Roger and Toshi’s adventures Matt and Ben decided they had to visit at least one of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. I was lucky enough to be invited along for this adventure. Living in Tours we are in the heart of the Loire Valley and only a short drive from many of the world’s most charming châteaux.

It was decided that they would visit Chenonceau. I had visited this château once before, in 2007 when I was a student at l’Institut de Touraine. This château holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first château I ever visited in France. It was also where my favorite professor told me that he had noticed a significant improvement in my French and was so happy that I decided to study abroad.

We began our visit in the maze and then headed into the château itself. Though not the most impressive château I’ve ever visited it is still pretty impressive. We spent several hours exploring and taking pictures. Once we had finished looking around inside we continued our exploration of the grounds. Turns out there is a mini village just outside of the castle. It reminded me (and Benoît) of Marie-Antoinette’s imaginary world at Versailles (le Petit Trianon). Very charming, but slightly impractical.

 

 

Matthew’s Surprise!

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Matt’s birthday is this week. He is not a big fan of birthdays or having a lot of attention given to him. We’ve been talking about his birthday for quite some time, especially what he might want as a birthday gift. Let’s just say that his ideas and suggestions were less than helpful. Luckily, I had a few ideas up my sleeve, so I did not have a problem coming up with what I thought was an awesome gift.

As awesome as I thought my gift was, I would never be able to top the gift he received a few days before his actual birthday. There has been a surprise in the works for many months. When I say surprise, I am talking about a surprise of epic proportions. I was fortunate enough to be in on the surprise and to help Ben plan some of the details. Keeping things a surprise is very challenging, especially when Matt has a way of finding everything out.

On Tuesday, October 21st Matt’s dad, Roger, and stepmom, Toshi, arrived in Paris. This was both of their first trips to France and the occasion for their visit was Matt’s birthday. Ben went to the airport to pick them up and I stayed in Tours to make sure that everything went according to plan. Matt worked the night before at the hotel, which meant that he was going to sleep until early afternoon. My job was simple: make sure he was awake and did not leave the house prior to Roger and Toshi’s arrival.

Luckily, I had some online classes to teach that morning, and as I am still waiting for the Internet to be installed at my apartment it was the perfect excuse for me to hang out all morning at Matt and Ben’s. Of course, the one morning that Matt had to be awake at a somewhat normal time he decided to stay in bed and hit snooze four times! By the third time I was up and about moving around trying to wake Matt, without making him mad.

Eventually, Matt got out of bed and came downstairs to the kitchen. We talked for a bit, while I was texting with Ben to get constant updates on their ETA. After what seemed like hours, the door bell rang. A little back story, Matt loathes the doorbell. Every time it sounds he becomes enraged and has a one man show about how much he hates the doorbell. This time was no different. Except that on the other side of the door was his dad and stepmom. Ben filmed the event from the street and I filmed from the house. It was an awesome moment to witness!

Of course Matt had not showered and was still in his pyjamas, however he was so overwhelmed by the moment that he didn’t really seem to care. Until he realized we had filmed the whole experience. The next several hours were a blur, but so much fun! This was the first time I had met Roger and Toshi and I was very happy to be included in this very personal moment with Matt.

For Matt’s actual birthday there was a bit of a ‘surprise party’ at his house. I spent the day preparing from my upcoming vacation and cleaning my apartment. Because I don’t have the internet I’ve been spending a lot of time at a bar/café on the same street as my apartment. I’ve become a regular, and the best part is the resident border collie, Goomba. I now can get puppy cuddles on a daily basis! 🙂 That afternoon I was hanging out at le Bartók being productive when I saw Matt and Ben wander by and then come in. Turns out, they had just stopped by my apartment to invite me to grab a drink in honor of Matt’s birthday. Since I was already at the bar, I put my computer away and spent time chatting with them. (The whole time Ben and I were having a secret combination about the upcoming events for the night).

Once we finished our drinks we parted ways. Matt wanted me to return home with them, as ‘we were having a traditional French dinner’ for his birthday. I told him that I had to stop by my apartment and drop off my computer and to get his birthday present, but that I would come over shortly. I arrived at his house and it seemed like any other night. We were hanging out in his kitchen and talking. We were all drinking either a coffee or a water and were about to being our apéro. During this time Matt opened his gifts and was completely oblivious to the impending events.

As we were opening presents and talking the doorbell rang. (This completely reminded me of the book “The Doorbell Rang.” The first guest was our friend Céline. Matt was completely surprised, as he had only moments before finished saying how he had to introduce his dad and stepmom to Céline. Over the next 90 minutes the doorbell rang many, many more times. Each time, Matt had the same reaction. It was such a low-key relaxed night, but also a perfect way to celebrate Matt.

We ate, drank, and talked for many, many hours. This was a turning moment for me, as it was the first event in France that I felt neither intimidated nor out of place. I was comfortable starting conversations with each of the guests. Also, I was able to act as a translator for Roger and Toshi, which was a huge boost in my confidence.

Around 1am many people started to leave, but I hung around talking with my new ‘family.’ After several more hours and several heartfelt conversations, I decided it was time for me to head home. At this point it was about 5am. What an experience walking home at 5am. I was not scared, but it was a new experience for me.

All things considered, I would say that Matt’s birthday was a huge success. I also think that this birthday is going to be near impossible to top!

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La Toussaint Vacation

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Life in France is all about living in the moment and enjoying everything. I began my assistantship at the beginning of this month. So far, I have worked a total of eight days. Remember that I only work 12-hours each week, over the course of four days. This means that every week I have at least one day off, in addition to my regular weekend. I was just starting to get into the swing of things and develop a routine in both of my schools.

Last Friday was my final day of work for the next two weeks, due to All Saint’s Day (la Toussaint). It’s difficult for me to comprehend how it is possible for me to already be on vacation, when I have worked a total of eight days! I decided that for this vacation I wanted to visit somewhere in Europe I have not visited. After much research and changing my destination many times, I have finally selected my destination and purchased my tickets.

This coming weekend I will be in Paris. The husband of one of my college roommates is currently working in Dublin and has always wanted to visit Paris. However, he does not speak French and really doesn’t know what to see/do in Paris other than the major tourist destinations. I will spend 2.5 days exploring Paris and then I will continue my vacation by heading to a different destination.

After Paris I will be heading to Prague for 4 days. I have never been to Prague, so am super excited about this new adventure. It is also the first time that I have traveled to a foreign country alone. My biggest concern is not being able to speak the language. When traveling within France I am okay because I can speak the language.

So far on my list of things to do and see in Prague are:

-Charles Bridge

-Prague Castle

-Petrin Hall

-David Cerny’s public sculptures

-Church of Our Lady Tyn

-The Dancing House

-Old Town Square (Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church)

Does anyone have any other suggestions for what I should see/do while in Prague? I’m always looking for additional ideas! I’m super excited for these new adventures!

Schools in France vs. Schools in America

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I’ve been working at my schools in France for two weeks and I’ve already noticed many drastic differences between schools in America and schools in France. Remember that prior to coming to France I taught in American schools for 6 years. Additionally, I had volunteered in American schools for 5 years. I have a great deal of experience with the expectations and standards in American education.

A little background about my teaching experience in the states. I have worked with students ages early-fives through seniors in high school. The bulk of my experience has been at the elementary and middle school levels. When I was an undergraduate my major was elementary education, but about half way through I realized my passion was actually working with secondary students. Being a volunteer is drastically different from being the real teacher, so I understand all the different capacities of working in a classroom.

I have also worked in a number of types of schools–rural, suburban, and urban. In all of these schools I faced similar challenges, which helped me to understand that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status face similar challenges. Since I began my teaching career in 2008 a lot has changed in the field of education. As all of my experience has been in American schools, I have very little understanding of what education actually looks like in other countries.

In my short teaching career there have been drastic changes to the ways in which teachers are evaluated, as well as the way that students are assessed. Every year the expectations placed upon me changed, without warning or explanation. Students were given standardized tests more frequently and for longer periods of time, beginning at younger and younger ages.

With changes to the curriculum and the implementation of No Child Left Behind, along with other types of legislation, the face of education has changed drastically, and in my opinion, not for the best. I also noticed that in America, we as a culture, are afraid of hurting the feelings of students or letting them know when they have made a mistake. Grades have changed, so an not to make students feel as though they were unsuccessful.

The learning environment in an American classroom is very different from that in a French classroom. In an American classroom the physical appearance of the classroom is part of how a teacher is evaluated. The classroom should be welcoming and promote student learning, with tools and other support materials visible throughout. Whenever a student contributes, her contribution must be acknowledged and praised in a positive way, even if the idea has nothing to do with being discussed. This is the style of teaching I have been used to for the past six years.

Now, let’s talk about my new reality. French schools are nothing like American schools. The learning environment feels cold and unwelcoming. The only teachers who have anything on their walls are American teachers. When a student volunteers, if her answer is incorrect, she is told so. There is no sugarcoating. You are either right or wrong. I’ve not once heard a teacher in France say “Good guess” or “Good try” or “Wow! That’s a very interesting way to respond.” Everything is black and white, you are either right or you are wrong. End of discussion.

The style of teaching in France is more direct, and as a result there is more time for actual teaching. Teachers are not afraid of hurting student’s feelings. I have witnessed teachers yelling at students and “shhhhing” them, which would never happen in today’s American classroom. Also, behavior problems are simply not tolerated and immediately brought to an end.

While I have only been in French classroom for a total of eight days I have learned a great deal about the differences between American and French schools. I know that I will continue to learn more as the year progresses and I am looking forward to better understanding another system of education as a result of this experience.