Tag Archives: Tours France

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

Standard
DSC00017

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:

DSCF5046

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:

DSC00112

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:

DSC00194

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:

DSCF5234

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.

DSCF5235

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:

DSCF5346

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:

DSCF5428

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.

IMG_2687

Outside of Chaumont-sur-Loire

Advertisements

30 Things Before 30

Standard

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.

217936_10102443741673914_1113047873_n

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
    1936075_961037770464_4318022_n

    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.
  12. 1915091_947445753974_8230013_n

    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!

    DSC07799

    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
    IMG_1879

    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!

IMG_0090

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

A Quick Update

Standard

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

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

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

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

IMG_2416

On the Road Again!

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tour of Tours

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les Coquelicots

Standard

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.

Thanksgiving in France

Standard

10608361_10152865264782579_504715459268704092_o

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.

10830798_10152865271037579_3124039637350214870_o

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

Standard

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!

IMG_2178

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.

IMG_2176

Inside l’Opéra de Tours

Standard

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

Standard

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.