Tag Archives: Memories

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.

Les Coquelicots

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Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone (or something) until you have it again. I knew that I was missing my friends and family, but I didn’t realize the extent until I was reunited with Grown-Up Me. It honestly felt like no time had passed–we just picked up right where we had left off. Obviously, this isn’t true and we had a ton of catching up to do, even though we talk on a regular basis. Even if I had done absolutely no planning, Jeannette and I would have had the best time ever galavanting around Paris and other parts of France. She is one of only a few people that I am comfortable being my silly, stupid self around.

That being said, I did some research about Paris before she arrived and decided. Her boyfriend told her that she had to visit Montmartre, so I was sure to plan many things in the area. While doing research I stumbled upon this bakery/café that had awesome reviews. The name of the café was “Coquelicot” or “Poppy.” ‘Coquelicot’ also happens to be my latest favorite word in French. I think it is such a cute word! As an added bonus, this was the only place in Paris I had found that serves an ‘American’ sized coffee. The coffee actually comes by the bowl, which was just what we both needed to get up going on our last day in Paris. Did I mention, that it took almost an hour to get to ‘Coquelicot’ from our hotel? Jeannette was willing to go on this adventure, if it meant coffee by the bowlful.

What I forgot to mention to Jeannette was the number of stairs that were going to be involved to reach our destination. In addition to stairs, they were of course spiral stairs! Jeannette’s favorite! After this adventure to Montmartre Jeannette decided to rename Paris ‘The City of Steps.” Breakfast was wonderful: bowls of coffee, scrambled eggs (not very French, but what we needed for the long day ahead of us), and bread with butter and different jams. This was the day we were going on our street art tour, so we knew that we wouldn’t be eating a real lunch, and wanted to make sure that we would survive many hours of walking.

After a failed attempt at finding the Berlin Wall at la Défense, I did some research and discovered there was another piece in Paris, at Porte de Versailles. After breakfast we decided to venture to see if we would be successful at finding the Berlin Wall. Luckily, we were successful this time! Jeannette was very excited to be able to see an actual piece of the wall. It was a cool experience. By the time we finished this adventure it was time for us to head toward our Street Art tour. Remember Jeannette and I get lost, a lot, so we made sure to give ourselves almost two hours to find the meeting place for the tour. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we decided to pre-game before our tour, as it was very cold. We decided to give Irish coffee a try, as it was cold outside.

 

That night we had a vegetarian dinner, at a vegetarian restaurant near Notre Dame. The food was okay, but not fantastic. I was happy to have finally found a vegetarian restaurant in France. After dinner we went back to our hotel to get our luggage so that we could begin our journey back to Tours. After getting our luggage, we hopped back on the metro (turned out to be the wrong line, but I realized just in time), hopped back on the right line, and made our way to Gare d’Austerlitz for our journey home.

Feels Like Home

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Some things you need to know about what happens when Jeannette and I are together. We tend to do stupid things. Things that we normally wouldn’t do, but for some reason seem like a great idea because we are doing them together. Prior to my moving to France, Jeannette and I had a Detroit Day where we just drove/walked around the city like crazy people. There’s a local publication, MetroTimes, which created a list of 100 things every Detroiter should to do before they die (check out the list here). I’ve always been a big fan of lists, whether I created them, or found them. This list was no exception. As I knew I would be moving to France, I made it my personal mission to accomplish as many things as possible on this list. While we are still debating the exact number that we accomplished (we actually pulled out the list and discussed it in France), great times were had on many adventures, but by far one of the best days of our friendship so far was Detroit Day.

Leading up to Detroit Day we had spent some time discovering local art and artists, especially in the form of street art. One of the places we visited during Detroit Day was the Packard Plant, which has some awesome street art. Unfortunately, much of the art is on the inside of this crumbling building. The Packard Plant is also located in one of the shadier parts of Detroit. However, that did not stop us from getting out of the car to take a few pictures. During the few minutes that we were outside of the car, a man on his bicycle tried to convince us to follow him into the Packard Plant and he’d show us exactly where the best art was located. Luckily, this was one of the rare times we were both on the same page, and knew better than to follow this man.

I like to think that it was this day that truly sparked our bond with street art. We explored various neighborhoods in Detroit and I really began to develop an appreciation of it. Before Jeannette came to France, she sent me a link to a street art tour in Paris. We decided that it would be worth checking out, so we bought tickets. What we didn’t realize when we signed up was that the tour was entirely in French (not a problem for me, but a major challenge for Jeannette). However, the night before our scheduled tour, we received an email inviting us to attend the Sunday tour rather than the Saturday tour, as they were launching the English tours on Sunday. Of course, we opted for the Sunday tour instead.

The tour was through a company called Underground Paris, and took place in the 13ème Arrondissement of Paris. Since moving to France, I’ve discovered that the 13ème is actually one of my favorite areas in Paris, so I was excited to learn about the street art here. The tour was interesting, but also a little bit disappointing, as it focused primarily on commissioned art, rather than traditional street art. One thing that I found to be particularly cool was how supportive the major in the 13ème Arrondissement is of street art. In fact, it’s actually the mayor who has commissioned most of the murals and art to be painted.

The tour lasted a little over three areas and covered most of the arrondissement. Afterwords, Jeannette and I realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch, and decided that a snack was in order. We wanted to stay in this general area, so we walked back to some cafés and brasseries we had passed earlier. We found a restaurant with ‘service continu’ (non-stop service) and decided to go there. Jeannette had made it a mission for us to have have wine with every meal, so of course we began with wine. We also decided that we would split a vegetarian pizza. Turns out, pizza was the only thing they weren’t serving. Disappointed, we look over the menu again, only to discover that the only vegetarian option left was fries. We split an order of fries and drank our wine while unthawing from the street art tour.

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!

Bon Apétit!

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DSCF1648 Here is a sampling of my latest culinary adventures in France. Benoît and I continue to cook together most nights. Matt’s work schedule was insane this week, so unfortunately he was not able to eat with us during the week. Last night was the first dinner that we ate in a restaurant. It’s quite challenging for me to find true meals when I go to a restaurant in France, as the French are still not very sure of how to feed a vegetarian.

For example, yesterday Matt and I went to the 5G for a cocktail break during our afternoon errands. Because it was in the middle of the afternoon, the kitchen was closed. However, we were feeling kind of snacky. Céline offered to make us a small snack of baguette with tapenade. Given my understanding of tapenade, I had a feeling there were anchovies in it. To be polite, I took a bite of it and automatically got a fishy taste in my mouth. We then inquired as to the ingredients of the tapenade. Céline went to get the jar from the kitchen and read the ingredients to us. Sure enough, there were anchovies in it. I then tried to explain that if there were anchovies in it that I could not eat it, as I was a vegetarian. Céline seemed confused by this, as anchovies are just “little fish” and therefore, not meat.DSCF1591

After several minutes of trying to explain that even though the fish were little they were still once a living thing with a face we decided to agree that we had different understandings of what it meant to be a vegetarian. However, she felt bad that I could not eat the snack, so she offered to bring us a cheese plate. It was very kind of her and much appreciated.

Late in the day after going to the final Apéro Classique we decided to eat at a restaurant rather than at home. Matt knows the owner and chef of the restaurant. As a result, I was able to get a delicious vegetarian meal that was not on the menu. This is an extreme rarity in France.

Below you will find an assortment of pictures depicting all of the recipes we have made this week.

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Stir Fry with Tofu

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Moroccan Stew

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Ramen Noodle Stir Fry

And I Helped!

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One of my favorite things to do is cook. I don’t so much enjoy eating, but I find the act of cooking to be very therapeutic. Also, being a vegetarian, I am always excited when I find someone who is willing to try vegetarian foods. With those two ideas in mind, this past weekend I had a great time cooking with Benoît.

Matt works on the weekends, so normally Benoît is alone on Friday and Saturday. This gives us the opportunity to get to know each other better and create a friendship independent of Matt. Benoît and I decided that we are going to cook together every weekend and that the meals will always be vegetarian. Seeing as French food is not the most vegetarian friendly, I am excited for Benoît to show me some new recipes.

Our first dinner was “Lasagnes aux Légumes et au Gorgonzola.” It was a delicious meal, but not your traditional lasagna. More vegetables and less cheese. The great thing about cooking in France is that you continuously drink wine, so by the time the meal is done you are feeling pretty wonderful.

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Our second meal was “Crispy Black Bean Burgers.” Veggie burgers are practically impossible to find in France. I don’t feel the need to each veggie burgers often, but having the option is nice. However, I had never made my own veggie burgers. I have saved multiple recipes that I would like to try, but simply never had the time. Benoît had never had a veggie burger and was very excited to try one.  We had to modify the recipe, as we were unable to find black beans, so we use red beans instead. The veggie burgers had a good taste, but were more crumbly than I would have liked. Overall, it was also a good meal.

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I’m not sure what recipes we will be making this weekend, but I know that it will be a very enjoyable experience.