Tag Archives: Wine

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.
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Two Redheads Take On…Paris

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My best friend and I are a dangerous combination when we are together. The last time she was in France we had so many stupid adventures together that I wasn’t sure that trip could ever be topped. I was wrong, in every way possible. This trip was, quite possibly, the most ridiculous vacation I have ever been on. After a week of normalcy in Tours, I was ready to begin my adventure with Grown-Up Me in Europe.

The first two days of our trip were spent in Paris. I was lucky enough to find an awesome apartment on AirBnB for us to rent. It was ideally placed and in a neighborhood I have been exploring for about 6 months. Part of the reason that we chose the exact dates of her visit were because of an annual music festival that began in France, but has since spread to other countries—Fête de la Musique. We are both avid lovers of live music, so any opportunity we have to discover new music we embrace (especially if it is free!). Having spent a significant amount of time on her last trip to France exploring Paris and being tourists, this trip was designed to be a more authentic Parisian experience.IMG_2857

While I have been to Paris countless times since moving to France and am always discovering new things I’d like to do there, it is also difficult for me to always make these hopes come true. One of the main problems is that a lot of the things I’d like to do require me going off the beaten path, into areas I do not know very well. As a solo female traveler, I am always hyper aware of my surroundings. If I’m not sure about something, I always ere on the side of caution and add that activity to my list of things to do when someone else is with me.

After retrieving Grown-Up Me from the airport (I was not late this time, but her plane was), we immediately headed to our AirBnB apartment to get the keys and drop off our belongings. The apartment was huge and the host was very friendly and helpful. After a quick pause to gather our thoughts, we immediately began our adventure. The first stop of this trip was the Pablo Picasso Museum, which had only recently re-opened. This was one of the museums I had not explored, as it had been closed for over one year. It was a very nice museum, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a smaller museum in Paris. (Don’t get me wrong, the Louvre is wonderful, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. While the artwork is magnificent, the crowds leave much to be desired.)

I also forgot to mention that in honor of our last escapade around France, where we wore matching headbands because it was winter, we decided to do something similar, but in the style of summer—floppy sun hats! All of our outfits this vacation centered around our sun hats, which caused some frustration when trying to take pictures—they always got in the way!

After the Pablo Picasso Museum we wandered around Paris for a few hours. At first, we wandered aimlessly, just finding cool streets and areas to explore, by chance. One area we explored was the Chinatown neighborhoods. This is something Jeannette really enjoys, as she has visited many different Chinatowns around the world. However, to this day, neither of us are really sure that we ever actually made it to Chinatown. For Jeannette. the lack of a gate was very misleading, and for me, it did not look like any of the other Chinatowns I had visited. I can’t remember for sure what we did that night, but I can guarantee that either wine or mojitos were involved. If I remember correctly, this was the night we bought a bottle of wine and drank it along the Canal St. Martin. You know that your friendship has reached an epic level when the only criteria you have for buying a bottle of wine is that it have a twist top (I had forgotten the corkscrew in my suitcase). Needless to say, with such limited criteria, the quality isn’t always the best. In fact, I would say it was one of the worst wines I have ever had in my life, but it was okay, because of the scenery and the company.

We tried to call it an early night, as we were heading to the Château de Versailles the next day. Prior to Jeannette’s arrival, I had bought an annual pass, as I was also planning to visit with my mom, so it ended up being cheaper to buy an annual pass than individual tickets. As an added bonus, with the annual pass you get to skip the line! After walking from the train station to the château, we bypassed a line of several hundred people and were the first visitors inside the château for the day. It was quite an amazing experience and feeling—we saved ourselves probably 3-4 hours by having this annual pass.

IMG_2867This was not my first trip to Versailles, but was my first trip without being part of a group. Honestly, it is a much more enjoyable experience when you are with only a few people. The château was much different than I remember it from 2007 (the last time I visited). It was also a much more enjoyable experience, as we were there when the château opened, so there were not many people there (yet). We also chose this particular day to visit, as it was one of the few days each week where the fountains were turned on for part of the day. We had also planned ahead a packed a picnic lunch for later in the day, which, of course, included a bottle of wine (with the same requirements: twist top).

We spent practically the entire day exploring the various parts of Versailles—château, gardens, Trianons, and Marie-Antoinette’s domain. It was a long and exhausting day, but also a very fun day. After the château we began exploring the gardens. This was also around the time that the fountains were scheduled to be turned on. We had a snack and a bit of wine while waiting for the fountains to turn on. After watching the fountains, we began our trek to the Trianons. I forgot how far apart everything was and was already feeling pretty exhausted when we arrived. We explored the Grand Trianon and then we began exploring the grounds. We spent quite a bit of time walking and trying to find a good place to have a picnic. In the end, we found an excellent place to have a picnic. It was secluded and quiet. In fact, in the almost 1.5 hours we spent picnicking, we only saw two people. TWO PEOPLE! We were still in the grounds of Versailles, but we only saw two people. How was that even possible?!?

It wasn’t until after our awesome picnic, when we tried to find our way out, that things go interesting. Everything in this garden looked the same! We could not seem to find the main path, and kept ending up right back where we started. Then, we saw where we needed to be, but couldn’t find a way to get there, as there was what appeared to be a dried up moat between us and the other side. Then, we found many gates that, in theory, should lead us to the other side. Only one problem, every single gate was locked! It was at this time that we began wishing we had more wine. There’s never enough wine!

Then, we headed to the Petit Trianon, followed by Marie-Antoinette’s domain. This was one of my favorite parts, as I have spent the least amount of time exploring these areas. It is truly mind-blowing to stand there and think about why these areas were built and how disconnected Marie-Antoinette was from everyone else. While I understand that she was a very, very young queen, it is sill quite baffling that she built her own little world, in an effort to better understand what it was like to be poor. It was also here that Jeannette found her future house—Marie-Antoinette’s farm.

After countless hours exploring the domain of Versailles, we got on the train back to Paris to continue our ridiculousness. This night, we went to one of the speak-easy style bars (the Red Door) that has been on my list, but was also connected with my favorite bar in Europe (Panda & Sons in Edinburgh). They had recently done a bartender exchange, and I was excited to see this bar for the first time. Again, we tried to call it an early night, but of course, that simply isn’t possible when reunited with your best friend in Europe.

After staying out way too late and drinking way too much wine, we eventually made it back to the apartment to get some DSC06996sleep before Fête de la Musique the next day. The “problem” with this festival is that it goes all day and into the next morning. In an effort to make sure that we would be able to partake in the festivities for as long as possible, we didn’t begin the festival too early. Rather, we spent our morning trying to be a little healthy We had a typical French breakfast in a café, followed by another great adventure: tying to find the Promenade Plantée. This had been on my list of things to find and do for many, many years. Again, it was something that after much research and consideration, I decided would be best to do with at least one other person. Jeannette was the perfect person for a number of reasons:

1. She loves hiking/walking as much as I do

2. She loves exploring gardens

3. She had been to the High Line in NYC (which is modelled after the Promenade Plantée)

4. She is just as directionally challenged as I am, so getting lost would not be a big deal

Before, during, and after breakfast I had been looking at maps and reading things on the Internet, in an effort to make sure that we didn’t spend 17 hours trying to find this path. When we started our adventure, we were both optimistic, but quickly, we realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy to find as we had hoped. As it is a raised line, we were able to spot it relatively quickly, but then we couldn’t find how to actually get to/on it. Then, after a bit more walking, we made it to the line itself, but had to do some investigating to actually figure out how to access the line. In the end, we were successful and able to walk the entire length of the line. It was a really, really interesting experience. There were many times during our walk when we both forgot that we were still in Paris. It was really quite calm an peaceful. If you enjoy walking and seeing a city from another perspective, I highly suggest that you take a few hours to walk the Promenade Plantée.

After our morning walk (I realize we sound like a couple of old women, but whatever) we began celebrating Fête de la Musique. Our first stop for the day was a taiko drum performance. It was interesting, but not exactly what we had envisioned. We both have a passion for listening to drums (taiko drums especially) so we had high expectations. Unfortunately, our expectations were not met. We decided to leave about half way through the performance in search of another type of music. We decided to begin heading back toward our apartment, as there were supposed to be many interesting performances in that area. We were not going to stay in this area for the rest of the day, but it seemed like a good place to have some lunch and drink some wine.

This was not my first time celebrating Fête de la Musique in France. In 2007 when I spend my summer studying in France, I discovered this festival in Tours, the city where I currently live. The problem for me, is that Tours is significantly smaller than Paris, so it was much easier to just stumble upon awesome musical performances. With the countless neighborhoods in Paris, it was much more difficult to just wander aimlessly, while still finding wonderful musical performances. I had spent considerable time exploring the Paris Fête de la Musique website, only to become even more overwhelmed as I spent time reading about different performances. This was the only part of our trip that was not very well planned, as I didn’t even know where to begin.

One of the reasons I wanted to head back to Canal St. Martin was because there was supposed to be a steel drum performance in the late morning or early afternoon. Sure enough, while we were sitting along the canal enjoying our lunch and wine, we could hear steel drums in the distance. We decided to cross the canal and try to find the performance. We were successful! I’ve always loved the sound of steel drums, so I loved hearing them being played, while standing in one of my favorite parts of Paris. After spending quite some time listening to this performance, we began walking along the canal again. We decided to stop and enjoy some more wine and just talk for a bit. While we were sitting there drinking wine and chatting we noticed many people stopping to look at us and take our picture. It was very strange and eventually someone came over to talk to us. It turns out that we both looked so French that tourists (usually Americans) wanted to take our picture to show their family and friends. We both laughed at this, and explained that we were also American, but that I now lived in France. It made for an interesting conversation. Also, it helped a great deal with making me feel that I had truly acclimated myself to the French style.

IMG_2932Eventually, we left Canal St. Martin and headed toward Montmartre. I enjoy Montmartre a great deal, but it is one of those areas I will not explore by myself. At this point, we realized that we were out of wine (surprise!) so our immediate mission became finding more. Luckily, we had saved our twist top bottle, as we did not want to deal with wine leaking in our bags. We replenished our supply of wine and began just walking around Montmartre. What I loved most about this part of our day was the different feel it had. It was a much more independent, eclectic experience than in the other parts of Paris. We discovered a band that reminded us of the Detroit Party Marching Band (one of our favorite local bands). We also discovered a number of very young, local bands, who had stages set up in the middle of the street. After spending a few hours listening to music and drinking, we decided that we should stop and have a snack. We continued exploring the area, and eventually stumbled upon a café called le Chat Noir. We decided to stop here, and again, there was live music taking place inside.

After countless hours in Montmartre, we decided it was time to head back toward central Paris. One of the main reasons was that it was getting later in the day, and we wanted to make sure that we staying in very safe areas. Our next stop was exploring the Marais and nearby neighborhoods. We popped in and out of many cafés and bars during this time, both to listen to live music and to enjoy a tasty beverage. As the day went on, our conversations became more and more ridiculous, to the point that I was laughing so hard I was crying, almost nonstop. After eating dinner and listening to wandering music performances, we decided to just begin walking and trying to find different music. It was already quite late (probably around midnight). This time, we were truly wandering aimlessly, and had taken to displaying our musical ‘talents.’ Drunkenly singing “Part of Your World” with your best friend, while walking the streets of Paris, is a memory that will never be forgotten. We were both having so much fun and just embracing being absolutely ridiculous. While performing our fantastic rendition of this song, we began hearing drums in the distance. As I mentioned, we both love listening to drums, so we decided it was worth exploring. It turns out, there was a drumline performing outside of this bar just up ahead. We could not believe our luck! We listened to them playing, while drinking the last of our wine. Every time we thought they were done performing, they would begin another song. And they were really, really good. We spent probably two hours listening and dancing to this performance.

As we had an early flight to Porto, Portugal the next morning, we decided that we should probably begin heading back to our apartment, as neither of us knew exactly where we were or how long it would take to get back to our apartment. We left the performance and were just talking about what an awesome day we had had, when we hear this man yelling behind us. It was someone who was also at the drumline performance and felt the need to follow us and ask us questions and try to get us to go somewhere with us. Of course, he was very drunk (as was most of Paris by this time), and really wasn’t listening to what we had to say. Eventually, I had had enough and began yelling at him in French. This sent a message to him, and eventually he walked away, mumbling under his breath about how unreasonable I had been. While I had been drinking all day, I knew my limit and made sure not to cross it that day, as Jeannette does not speak French, so I knew that I had to at least be able to communicate clearly the entire day. At the time, this was a very scary experience, but it was also a learning experience. I learned about the value of remaining alert. If I had not, who knows what could have happened. I learned that being nice only works to a certain point, and sometimes you have to be mean to get your point across. I learned, that in a potentially dangerous situation, I am able to send a clear message in French and have that message respected.

After a lot of walking and a metro ride, we made it safely back to our apartment. I made sure that we were both back and ready for our early departure in the morning. However, Jeannette was having a very difficult time getting everything prepared, and could not find her contact case (it ended up being in her suitcase the entire time). We eventually made it to bed for a quick nap, before we had to get up to catch the bus to the airport. Overall, this trip was off to an amazing start and we were both eager to begin our next adventures—Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.

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

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At Château de Chenonceau

The past few weeks have been a true whirlwind of adventure. Saying good-bye to my twenties is truly turning out to be the adventure of a lifetime. While I am still not okay with the fact that I am about to turn 30, having so much fun in my final months as a twenty-something is making the inevitable at least enjoyable.

About two weeks ago, my friend Chris came to visit me. We had planned a ridiculous road-trip through Western Europe, and it shaped up to be much more eventful than either of us could have imagined. Chris arrived in France on a Saturday, and we set off on Sunday morning. Our trip included the following destinations:

  • Loire Valley: Château de Chenonceau and Chaumont-sur-Loire
  • Munich, Germany: dinner and to see the glockenspiel
  • Salzburg, Austria: Sound of Music Tour and architecture
  • Liechtenstein: originally, renting and riding bikes, but mother nature had other plans, wine tasting
  • Zermatt, Switzerland: go to Glacier Paradise to see the Matterhorn
  • Lausanne, Switzerland: wine tasting
  • Bourgogne, France (region): wine tasting
  • Tours: cathedral, le Petit Atelier (coffee shop), Château de Langeais (not technically Tours), wine tasting
  • Paris: le Panthéon, l’Arc de Triomphe, champagne

I’m going to write a very brief synopsis of the adventures that ensued for each of these destinations. In order to get the full story, you will have to ask Chris or me personally. Let’s just say a lot happened in a very short period of time.

Munich, Germany:

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Old Town Hall, Glockenspiel

Munich had been on my list for several years, and still remains there. Unfortunately, we only had time for a short stop in Munich, but I quickly realized how much I wanted to visit for real. Munich was a big city, but very different from the other big European cities I have visited. In my opinion, Munich was the first BIG European city I had driven in, and it was not as terrifying as I had anticipated. We were able to find parking with relative ease and found the Old Town Hall and glockenspiel without much problem as well. We ate in one of the oldest beer halls in Munich, and it was mediocre at best. It didn’t help that we were in a hurry, but the atmosphere was fun and I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I could have had a few glasses of wine.

One of my favorite memories from our short visit to Munich was being able to drive on the Autobahn. First of all, I love driving in general. Secondly, anyone who has driven with me knows that I like to drive really, really fast. Thirdly, the Autobahn combined these two loves. At my fastest, I made it to 180kmph (112mph). It was awesome!

Salzburg, Austria:

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At one of the glacier lakes

We arrived very late at night, so it was difficult to form a true opinion about Salzburg, as our hotel was at the top of a winding road going through a mountain. We check in and pretty much went straight to bed. The next morning was something Chris was really looking forward to–the Sound of Music Tour. In all honesty, this was probably the activity I was least looking forward to on this entire trip. I hate tours, especially bus tours. I hate being part of tour groups. Also, I’ve only seen “The Sound of Music” once so I’m just not that interested in it. It ended up only being somewhat awful. The one part of the tour I really enjoyed was the view of the glacier lakes. However, I think I would have liked it even more if we had our car and could have stopped whenever we wanted. We also passed several awesome hiking trails that I would have loved to visit.

After the Sound of Music Tour we explored Old Town and some of the architecture (the part of Salzburg I was not interested in). I love the Baroque style of architecture, and seeing as so many influential composers are from Salzburg, I found it fascinating to walk around and imagine the inspiration for some of the pieces I have performed throughout my musical career. This was our only day in Austria, as the next morning we were getting up bright and early to drive to Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein:

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Wine Tasting in Liechtenstein

Let’s begin the story with an explanation that we had one idea and mother nature had another. The sole purpose of our visiting Liechtenstein was to rent and ride bikes the length of the country. I checked the weather before we left and there was a 100% chance of heavy showers. We managed to make it to Liechtenstein with the hope that it would clear up. It definitely did not. Our first stop was the Office of Tourism. Liechtenstein is one of the few countries in the Schengen Zone where it is possible to get a stamp in your passport (if you are willing to pay 3€). Next, we had lunch at an Asian Fusion restaurant. It was the best Thai food I’ve had since leaving the states. It was actually a little bit spicy and cooked perfectly.

By this point, we had realized the rain was not going to stop. It was also around this time that I discovered there was a winery in Liechtenstein. Since we couldn’t rent bikes, we decided to go wine tasting instead! It was one of (if not) the best wine tastings I’ve done in my life. We sampled three wines–a red, rosé, and white. The ‘samples’ were practically full glasses. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to finish all of my samples, as I had to drive us to Täsch, which was a route through the mountains and I wanted to be safe. It was also a seated tasting in one of the cellars, so it was extremely calm and relaxing. We left Liechtenstein and began the crazy drive to Täsch. Let me preface this story by saying that during the planning stages of this trip, I was under the impression that Chris was going to be splitting the driving responsibilities with me. Had I known that I was going to be doing all of the driving, I would have gone into this adventure with a different mentality.

That being said, the drive from Liechtenstein to Täsch was one of the most terrifyingly awful drives of my life. Prior to leaving for this vacation I had purchased a GPS, as it was cheaper for me to buy one than to pay for one with the rental car. I had been careful to avoid all toll roads, but what I wasn’t careful to avoid were ferries. Silly me, the possibility of a ferry was something that did not cross my mind. When we left Liechtenstein, the GPS said our drive would take just over 4 hours, which wasn’t terrible. About 2 hours into the drive, it had us deviate from the main road and begin zigzagging through these back roads, and ended by telling us to ‘proceed to the ferry.’ (Which we did not see.) We then reprogrammed the GPS telling it to avoid toll roads AND ferries. Our new route would take just over 5 hours. I literally could have cried at hearing this. I was tired, it was raining, and we were driving through the Swiss Alps, none of which made the drive especially easy or enjoyable.

I sucked it up, put on some Sara Bareilles and forged through this disaster. We continued driving through the Swiss Alps and countless ghost towns. Just when things seemed to be becoming almost normal, in terms of the road, we suddenly crossed into Italy! In comparison to the Swiss Alps, the Italian Alps were astronomically worse. The roads were even narrower, twisting, and up/downhill. My nightmare was multiplied. And on top of all of this, we were now driving through dense fog. The posted speed limit was 90kmph (HA! On my best of days, in perfect weather, I would not have gotten close to this speed!). My actual speed was between 30-40kmph. Given as I was going less than half of the posted speed limit, our drive time also lengthened. Each time we got a break from the winding mountain roads, I was dealing with equally insane village roads and deer. Honestly, if there had been a hotel, we would have stopped for the night. I was at my breaking point with only 1.5 hours of the drive remaining. Just when I thought I was done and had survived driving through the Alps, I had one final push to get to the hotel. All uphill on winding road, still in the rain and fog. It was after 1am by the time we rolled into our hotel, which was locked. I sat in the car and had a meltdown while Chris tried to get us into the hotel.

After another 30-45 minutes, we were in our hotel room, which thankfully had a bathtub. I ended my hellacious drive with the most relaxing bath of my entire life. Then I took a nap.

Zermatt, Switzerland:

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The cables for the third gondola.

After a short nap, we were up and ready to go again. Because no cars are allowed in Zermatt, we had to take the train from Täsch to Zermatt. One of the reasons we chose our hotel was because of its proximity to the train station (literally across the street). The train ride was stunning and when it ended you were in a typical ski town, but so much cuter than any I had ever visited before. There was still a very Bavarian feel to the town itself, which I really enjoyed and appreciated. Our first destination was to get tickets for Glacier Paradise. We got our tickets and began the walk to the first cable car/gondola. Back story to this adventure. I hate cable cars/anything suspended by a wire that I have to get on. HATE. When I was a child my family took a vacation to Disney World and my mother made all of us go on the cable cars across the park. Heights are one of my biggest fears in life. Actually, I think heights are my biggest fear, and one that unfortunately debilitates me from time to time. My fear of heights seems to be getting worse as I get older, but I am really trying to work through it. As a child, I sat on the floor of the cable car screaming and crying the length of Disney World. I was afraid a similar situation was going to happen on my way to the Matterhorn. Needless to say, I managed to keep it together for all three, that’s right THREE gondolas.

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View from the top

By the time we reached the top, we went to one of the lookout points to see all of the mountains. It was stunning. Honestly, words and pictures do not do this experience justice. If you ever have the opportunity, you MUST go to Glacier Paradise. We then found the restaurant/bar at the top, where I promptly rewarded my bravery with a few glasses of wine. We then explored all of the parts, including an ice cave, and a few more lookout points. Everything was so clear and calm. It inspired me to visit the French Alps within the next year. I’ve also decided to give snowboarding another shot!

We spent the rest of the day exploring Zermatt. We had a small snack from a bakery and then did a bit of shopping in town. After, it was too early for dinner, so I found a cool bar for us to stop at and have a few drinks. Because we were in Switzerland (wow is it expensive!) we stuck with wine. We also had some quality conversation over our wine and just enjoyed being where we were and not having anything pressing to do. For dinner we had cheese fondue. I have had cheese fondue in France, and it was quite different in Switzerland. The cheese was much thinner and not as flavorful, in my opinion. I’m glad we were able to experience cheese fondue in Switzerland, but it is not something I feel the need to do again.

Lausanne, Switzerland:

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In the port of Lausanne/Ouchy

Jeannette (my best friend) and I are slightly crazy, especially when it comes to lists and trying to accomplish everything. In all honesty, it is probably my insanity that drives us most of the time, but nonetheless, she seems to have jumped on board with finding lists. One list she found was “Europe’s 11 Most Underrated Small Cities.” Lausanne was one of the cities on the list, so when I discovered how close we were going to be, I immediately added it as a ‘must-see’ during our visit. At first, it seemed very industrial and I couldn’t understand how it made the list. It turns out there are several parts of Lausanne, and we happened to stumble upon the right part, eventually. Lake Geneva was gorgeous and the surrounding area was so peaceful. We also discovered that we were in the wine-region of Switzerland, so we had to go wine tasting. It turns out, that the ‘tasting room’ was actually more of a wine bar. It was nice, but not quite what we were looking for.

Bourgogne, France:

Prior to this vacation, I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘A Year in Burgundy.’ I have a dear friend who is from this region and he talks about how amazing it is all the time. I had never visited, but it has been on my list for a few years now. After viewing the documentary, it was another addition to the ‘must-see’ list. I was not disappointed! The wines were amazing and the scenery was beautiful. I hope to return within the year to spend a few days exploring this region.

Tours, France:

We had only one day in Tours, so I decided to show Chris some of the ‘must sees.’ The cathedral is down the road from my apartment, so that was our first stop. We also did the cloister tour, which I had never done before. It was truly an interesting experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone visiting Tours. We then went to my favorite coffee shop, le Petit Atelier. It’s a relatively new coffee shop, but i have gotten to know the owners relatively well. We smile and wave when we see each other, and they know my order now. We had a relaxing coffee and cookie before beginning our adventure to Langeais. This was one of the remaining castles I had to visit in the Loire Valley. It was interesting, but not as memorable as the other castles I have visited. On the way home, we stopped to do some wine tasting in Montlouis-sur-Loire. It was interesting for me as I had never done wine tasting here. I usually go to Vouvray when I have people visiting. It was nice, but not something I feel the need to repeat (however, if it happened, I wouldn’t be disappointed).

We ended our night at Matt and Benoït’s for apéro. As always, Matt and Ben were extremely gracious hosts and welcomed Chris into their home as though they had known him for years. For the rest of our trip, Chris talked about how awesome it was to meet Matt and Ben and how much fun he had hanging out with them.

Paris, France:

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View from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe

The final stop on my vacation with Chris. Chris really wanted to visit the Panthéon, which I have only visited once before. However, when we arrived, we discovered that it was closed the entire week, in preparation for a special event. Since we couldn’t visit the Panthéon, we decided to stop and have a glass of wine instead. (I’m beginning to think that I am a bad influence on my friends…) After, we walked around Paris for a bit and got some gelato. Our final official stop of the night was a visit to the top of l’Arc de Triomphe. Again, something I have done several times, but always at a different time of day. It was, as always, a beautiful view. Chris then suggested that we stop in a café on the Champs-Élysées for a drink and light snack. We decided to have a few glasses of wine and some cheese in an excellent restaurant, George V. After, we decided to get take-out to eat in our hotel. I found a small Chinese place just off the Champs-Élysées, which was very reasonably priced, and surprisingly spicy. This food definitely gave the Thai food from Liechtenstein a run for its money.

We took our food back to the hotel room, which was excellently located, just off the Champs-Élysées. On the walk back to the hotel, I wasn’t paying attention and managed to miss a curb and crash to the ground, along with our dinners. I ended up twisting my ankle and scraping one knee pretty bad. The sad thing is, I was completely sober when all of this happened, so I have nothing to blame other than my clumsy nature. I got some ice and cleaned up my knee and pushed through the injuries. To conclude our vacation, we went out for a glass of champagne. The atmosphere at the bar was perfect, the service impeccable, and the champagne perfectly refreshing.

The next morning, we had to be out of the hotel bright and early, as Chris had a flight back to the states and I had a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Quick Recap:

While this vacation did not go exactly as planned, in the end it all worked out and I have countless memories and stories. In the end, I drove almost 2,000 miles in less than one week, visited 7 different countries, and conquered many fears. Knowing what I do now, I would do it all over again, with only slight modifications along the way.

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Outside of Chaumont-sur-Loire

30 Things Before 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to do before I turn 30:

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

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

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

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

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

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    Wine tasting in Traverse City, Michigan.

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

    search and will buy a set this spring/summer.

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

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

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

On the Road Again!

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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

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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! 🙂

Best of Intentions

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Sometimes, the best planned events turn into the biggest adventure possible. This was exactly what happened with Jeannette and me on our second day in Paris. On my last trip to Paris I discovered a fromagerie near the Pantheon that I fell in love with and immediately decided that Jeannette and I had to visit it when she was in France. I also learned from my last experience to bring paper plates, plastic knives, and plastic wine glasses. I had done all of this preparing prior to my arrival in Paris. I had bought all the necessary supplies, and even remembered to bring my corkscrew.

DSC06233After spending a few hours sightseeing, Jeannette and I decided to stop and buy the fresh materials for our little French picnic, as we were in the area. We decided to get goat cheese covered in chives and brie stuffed with truffles from the fromagerie. We then bought a bottle of wine to go with it from the wine store next to the fromagerie. A few shops down was a boulangerie, where we bought the baguette for our picnic. Our final stop was the pâtisserie for some macarrons. Things were falling nicely into place. We had all the necessary materials for an awesome picnic. We decided to wander toward the Luxembourg Gardens for our picnic. We walked around the gardens for a bit and then found what we thought was a perfect picnic location. The first thing that went wrong: one of the plastic wine glasses I had packed cracked. As I was unloading my bag, I handed Jeannette the bottle of wine, so I could get the plates out. Jeannette set the bottle of wine down on the bench, and the next thing we know, the bottle of wine is shattered on the ground. We decided to try and make the best of this not so great picnic, when the baguette blew off the bench, along with the macaroons, and Jeannette’s purse. Needless to say, this was not quite the picnic we had planned.

With our failed picnic behind us, we decided to continue exploring Paris. We wandered around the Pantheon for a bit, then headed toward le Louvre and the Tuileries. Of course, because we found another Christmas Market, more vin chaud was in order (not to mention the fact that our original wine was soaking the ground). We then explored different neighborhoods, including la Défénse (with another awesome Marché Noël). This was probably my favorite Marché Noël that I have visited in France. Not too many people, felt less touristy than the others, andDSC06234 beautiful lights. The reason we had ventured over to this part of Paris was because there is a piece of the Berlin Wall in this area. However, after much walking around (without much direction) in the wind and the rain, we discovered that the Berlin Wall was missing. We are fairly certain that we found where it should have been, but there was a temporary wall surrounding a big hole.

I forgot to mention, we began our day by crossing off something that has been on my list for the past sixteen years. Jeannette and I were able to visit the catacombs. I’ve read a great deal about the catacombs of Paris and have wanted to visit them since I was in middle school. Also, since moving to France I’ve learned a great deal about how cemeteries work in general, and have become very interested in learning more. The catacombs were amazing. It was the only truly touristy thing we did while we were in Paris, but I think it was worth the wait.

Again, dinner proved to be an adventure. This dinner was more peaceful in that we were able to sit and have a conversation with each other. However, our server was not the greatest, and kept bumping into and hitting Jeannette with various things. We also had dessert after dinner, but Jeannette’s mousse au chocolat ended up being more like a chocolate ganache.

In addition to the adventures described above, Jeannette and I also had a great time laughing with each other. She is the only person I do not feel pressure from when traveling together, because we are both as likely to get us lost. We just go with wherever we end up and make the best of it. Whenever we were on the metro, I was only allowed to explain the number of stops we had left using factors of four. We also managed to get lost walking in a straight line trying to find the bakery we were going to for breakfast.

Our second day ended with us discovering that there was still no heat in our hotel room. Prior to leaving that morning I explained the problem with the heat to the receptionist. He assured me that he would check into it. When we returned soaking wet to the hotel, we were really looking forward to a warm hotel room. We quickly discovered that the heat was still not working in the bedroom, but was now working in the bathroom. I called down to the front desk to explain the problem once again, to which I was told, “It’s not my problem. There’s nothing I can do. Maybe if you leave the bathroom door open, the heat will make its way into the bedroom.” Needless to say, I am not happy with my experience at Hôtel Manet and would definitely not recommend this hotel to anyone, only because of the terrible customer service.

Beaujolais Nouveau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Londres: Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Le Vin, la Loire, les Amis

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I am still in awe of where I am living. Every day I walk across a bridge from one side of la Loire to the other. Even when it is overcast or rainy, the view is stunning. Three weeks ago Matt, Ben, and I were walking home from the central Tours to “our” house. As it was a beautiful day (unseasonably warm), Ben suggested that we take advantage of the wonderful weather. We decided to go home, get a bottle of wine, and go sit next to la Loire and enjoy the sunset.DSCF1863

We returned home, grabbed some glasses, a corkscrew, and a bottle of wine. It had cooled down a bit, but was still a very pleasant temperature. As much as I enjoy the warm weather, I am not a fan of the immense amount of bugs that come with it. Gross! There are millions (maybe even billions) of gnats everywhere…especially along the river. After we left the house we walked along la Loire searching for the perfect place to enjoy our wine and watch the sunset. It turned out to be a grand adventure. However, because it is such a beautiful area I did not mind walking and taking pictures.

DSCF1883After almost half an hour we found a bench with a great view. We sat down, opened the wine, and began chatting. It was very relaxing. I have not yet adjusted to this laid back way of living, but am trying my best to follow the lead of my French friends. While enjoying our wine and the view several dogs sauntered past us. French dogs are so cute! We stayed on the bench until the sun had set and enjoyed everything around us.

Once we had finished our wine we began our journey back. It was dark and kind of chilly by this point, but it was still an enjoyable experience. When we got home Matt made omelettes for dinner. Overall, it was another perfect day.

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