Take Me Down to Leprechaun City

I hope everyone got my Guns N Roses reference up there. It was the most clever thing I could think of, and now I’ve got “Paradise City” stuck in my head. Anyways, if you couldn’t tell, Sarah and I went to Ireland! We’re now wrapping up our very last school vacation in France, which is a bit surreal, but we wanted to make sure to go somewhere high on our lists, and luckily (pun intended) Ireland was a priority for both of us.

A little less luckily, however, was that Dublin turned out to be a bit disappointing. I was imagining lush green countryside, sheep roaming free, pretty much the entirety of the film P.S. I Love You. And while that does actually exist in Ireland, it doesn’t exist in Dublin. While I’m very glad I was able to see a new city, I definitely want to go back and focus on the countryside.

Sarah and I arrived in Dublin insanely early – we took a bus at 3:20AM from Lille to the airport in Brussels, and made it to our hostel in Dublin by 9:00AM. We had plans to nap like no one had ever napped before until a free tour at 1:00PM, but we forgot to take into account check-in times, so although we were exhausted at our hostel, we couldn’t actually access our room until 2:00PM, so we opted to take the 11:00AM tour instead. It was three hours long, heavy on the talking, and a little too light on the walking. We ended up walking around Dublin again ourselves to find things we had hoped to see on the tour, like the statues of Molly Malone and James Joyce and the Trinity College campus*. We did, however, get to go on a pub crawl through the historic Temple Bar district, which was quite an experience. Dublin is known for its live music, and one of the pubs we stopped at was featuring a very well-known Irish band that was, in one word, amazing. I’d go back to Dublin just to see them!

We spent our second day in Dublin touring the Guinness Factory, which was an interesting visit, even for a beer amateur like myself. One of my favorite parts was at the beginning of the tour, when we got to see Arthur Guinness’s signature on the nine-thousand year lease for the brewery. We also learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, which apparently is quite the process, involving sitting, waiting, and watching and altogether takes around 2 minutes. Who knew pouring beer could be so intense?! I survived, however, and now have a certificate proclaiming that I can officially pour the “perfect pint” of Guinness. Ask me about it, and maybe I’ll share my talents with you if I’m feeling nice. And we of course sampled our work afterwards, but I must admit that a pint of Guinness before noon can be a bit of a struggle. We wrapped up the day at another pub (of course), the Brazen Head, the oldest bar in Ireland dating back to 1198. I have a friend, Sophie, from my internship back in the day, who is now studying in Dublin. It was so much fun to see her again and catch up on what we’ve been missing in each other’s lives!

Another part of the Guinness Storehouse tour was the interactive exhibit displaying their famous ads throughout history

Another part of the Guinness Storehouse tour was the interactive exhibit displaying their famous ads throughout history

On our third day, we felt like we had seen everything we wanted to see in Dublin, so we took a 2.5 hour bus ride across the Irish countryside to the East coast to see the city of Galway. We had heard about the city and thought there might be a lot to see, but like Dublin we were a little disappointed. We checked out the cathedral and the River Corrib, but that was about as much as we could find to do in the city. Galway is known for its street music scene; however, it was an overcast and cold day so not many people were out playing. We did accomplish a major thing on our list though, which was to purchase a Claddagh ring from Galway, where Claddagh rings originated. We had planned to spend the entire day in Galway, but after a couple hours we were ready to come back to Dublin.

The Galway Cathedral on a cold and cloudy day

The Galway Cathedral on a cold and cloudy day

Upon our return, we decided that since it was our last night we were going to go out the traditional Dublin way, which obviously involves Guinness and live music. We chose to enjoy these at a well-known pub in the Temple Bar district, the Auld Dubliner before our early flight the next day.

All in all, a fairly uneventful trip. I’m bummed that Dublin was not all I’d hoped it would be, but I’m very glad I went. I know I would have always regretted it had I not gone. I do want to go back, though, and see as much of the countryside as I can!

Now we’re back in Lille, and although we’re entering May we seem to still be stuck in the April showers phase…fingers crossed for some good weather soon!

*The actor who plays the young king on the television show Game of Thrones (which I do not watch, but apparently absolutely must according to everyone around me) attends Trinity College and is apparently quite the smarty-pants.

Y.O.L.O.

I just asked my grandma if she knew what YOLO meant. She said yes. When did my grandma become cooler than me?! Apparently quite some time ago. Well, for those of you who don’t know (Mom, Dad, I’m looking at you guys), it stands for You Only Live Once. Drake wrote a song about it, but don’t listen to it. I’ll tell you right now you’ll hate it. Especially you, Dad.

Anyways, in embracing all that is YOLO, I decided to take a last-minute trip by myself to Amsterdam. It’s been on my travel list for a while, but my roommate, Sarah, has already been twice and didn’t have any interest. So I figured, if I want to go so badly, I’ll just go by myself. And I am so glad that I did! Seeing as it was my first time flying solo, I didn’t quite yet feel comfortable staying the night, so I spent all of today in Amsterdam, and got back around 9PM. It was the perfect amount of time!

I took a night bus from Paris, and I knew from the start that this was going to be a good trip. Now, you might be asking yourself how someone could know this far in advance that a solo trip to a new place would go so well. And here is my answer: first of all, I became instant BFFs with the bus driver. I took IDBus, which is a great service, and although not the most convenient compared to the train, it’s much cheaper. Second of all, and probably the most important part of the trip: I put my iPod on shuffle and immediately got, like, 7 *NSYNC songs in a row. If that’s not a good omen, then I don’t know what is.

We arrived in Amsterdam around 6AM, and I was a little nervous about being there alone in the dark, but I soon discovered that I had nothing to worry about. The only other people out were either opening shops or heading to work, and I felt safe the entire time. Side note: Amsterdam has a very efficient public transportation system, and I was able to quickly get from my bus to the center of the city. Also noteworthy – at 5:45AM, I encountered probably the most helpful bus driver of all time. Most of us on the bus were first-timers to Amsterdam, and she answered everyone’s questions with thorough information and a smile. Again, all signs were pointing to a good trip.

I had a list of things I wanted to do, and since Amsterdam is such a tourist attraction, I took advantage of the fact that I was there early. I headed to Museumplein, which consists of a large park surrounded by the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk Museum. My goal, however, was to find the famous “I amsterdam” letters, and luckily they were not hard to find at all. It was incredibly calm, and besides a few construction workers and a woman walking her dog, I was the only person there. The sun had just risen, and it was already warming up. Again, all good signs. I was able to snap this pic, and it was a great way to start the day. (Side note: on my way back out of the city to catch my bus home, this area was packed with people – it would have been absolutely impossible to get a picture without at least 10 strangers in it, which is a pet peeve of mine. I lucked out!)

IMG_5927

After completing this essential task, I didn’t have any commitments until my 10AM walking tour. I wandered around a bit more and took pictures of anything that piqued my interest, and eventually found myself in the Jordaan neighborhood, which has become very chic. The apartment buildings in Amsterdam are so beautiful and classic, especially in the Jordaan area, and I noticed that many of them had “Te Koop” signs. I don’t know if “Te Koop” means for rent or for sale, but there were an awful lot of cute places Te Koop and I was ready to Te Koop all of them. After convincing myself not to Te Koop an apartment in Amsterdam (like I could feasibly do that), I walked a bit along Amsterdam’s famous canals. My goodness, they are so gorgeous. I stopped probably every 100 feet or so to take a picture. One of the canals even has swans in it! I was in tourist heaven.

Canal without swans

Canal without swans

Canal with swans!

Canal with swans!

Finally, I settled in at a Starbucks – by this time it was around 8:00AM, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep on the bus, so coffee was a must. While there, I finally was able to do a little bit of people-watching, and, in this case, eavesdropping (not that I could even understand anything anyone was saying). Dutch is such a unique language – I did not hear much that resembled words I know in French or English, and I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I saw signs in a language I understood. Luckily, most people in Amsterdam also speak fluent English, but in the tram and on the bus, drivers would frequently make announcements on the loudspeaker, and all I could do was just sit there like an idiot. I still don’t even know how to say “hello” in Dutch. Or “thank you,” for that matter, which probably made me look like a huge jerk. Anyways, back to the Starbucks. I played my cards right, and managed to order the biggest coffee in the one Starbucks that does not have a restroom. This was not going to bode well for my upcoming 3-hour walking tour. Luckily, I had seen signs in the train station for a bathroom (thank god there’s a universal symbol for restrooms, otherwise I really would have been S.O.L.) and quickly made my way towards them. Normally I would stay as far away as possible from public restrooms, especially at train stations, but I knew this was a do-or-die moment. I paid my 50 centime fee and felt like I had entered that episode of S Club 7 where they have to pay $50 to use a bathroom in the middle of nowhere but then it turns out to be a luxury suite of sorts. Also, if you’re not familiar with S Club 7 and their television show, then we need to reevaluate our friendship. Anyways, I’ll be darned if that was not one of the nicest public bathrooms I’ve ever been in.

Like I mentioned earlier, I had reserved a 3-hour walking tour at 10AM. It was a good tour, but I would have preferred to have learned a little more about the history of the city. We mostly just walked around and our guide pointed out monuments to us, but I didn’t leave feeling like I knew the city any more than I did before. A highlight of the tour was when I met a French brother and sister who happened to also be from Lille! I swear, the world is only getting smaller. We got coffee together during a break in the tour, and I’m hoping to see them again before I leave.

After the tour, I had pre-purchased a ticket to tour the Anne Frank house. This was something that I absolutely knew I had to do – there was no way I was going to go to Amsterdam and not see the Anne Frank house. There aren’t guided tours of the house, but there is a free pamphlet that gives information on each room in the house and provides a good backstory. I can say in complete certainty that touring Anne Frank’s house was one of the most moving experiences of my entire life. I wish I could sufficiently describe the experience, but my words would never do it justice. Walking through the entire house and secret annex, knowing that Anne Frank and her family stood where you are standing, is one of the most surreal and emotional experiences I have ever lived; I cried through much of the tour, as did most of the people around me. I would say that the second most emotional part, after the annex, of course, is a video of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, after he survived the Holocaust (of the two families in hiding, he was the only one to survive the concentration camps). He describes his decision to publish Anne’s diary, saying he did so after realizing his children were not coming back. Even thinking about it now makes me tear up. If you have the chance to visit the Anne Frank House, do it. You will not regret it.

IMG_6042

After leaving the Anne Frank House, I stopped for lunch and to pull myself together. I got a sandwich from a shop that Sarah had recommended to me, and she did not steer me wrong. After spending some time refueling and people-watching, I was ready for my next activity, which I decided would be to see the flower market. Amsterdam is known for its flowers, specifically tulips, and since tulips happen to be my favorite flower, the flower market was also high on my list. To be honest, it was a little underwhelming, but I’m still glad that I went. I would have regretted not going, and the weather was too nice not to (we did have about an hour of rain, including some torrential downpour, during our tour, but other than that it was an absolutely gorgeous day).

A small preview of the flowers for sale at the market

A small preview of the flowers for sale at the market

Tulips, my favorite!

Tulips, my favorite!

By the time I was done at the flower market, it was time to head back to my awaiting chariot (the bus). It was about a 3.5 hour bus ride back to Lille, which gave me a lot of time to reflect on my day trip. All in all, I am really content with my time in Amsterdam. I got to see everything I wanted to see, and I survived out there by myself! Well, barely survived – bikers are not very accommodating to pedestrians in Amsterdam! I almost got hit a few times, and I witnessed people eating, texting, talking on the phone, and holding umbrellas while riding and simultaneously steering a flimsy two-wheeled metal contraption through busy city streets. Yeesh!

Now I’ve got some down time, and I’m going to (begrudgingly) start to pack some stuff up and ship home so that I can pretend that my suitcase will weigh under 50 pounds. But really, who am I kidding? Sarah and I are headed to Dublin next week, so I’ve got much more to look forward to!

À bientôt, mes chéris!

P.S. A reason my mother would love Amsterdam:

IMG_6048

See Ya Later, Alligator

Today was my last day at my difficult school. I was not expecting to really be sad at all, because let’s be honest, this school was really difficult, but I cannot tell a lie (that’s a lie) and must admit that I did feel a slight tug on my heartstrings as I left the building (that was probably more due to the nice teachers than the students). I am quite honestly shocked that I made it through my entire contract in one piece, and without a single tear shed. It certainly was difficult, though, much more so at this school than at the other one. Here are some of the things I survived:

- A student asking me on my first day if I had a chatte, thinking that I didn’t know the difference between chat and chatte (spoiler alert: I do know the difference)

- A student exploding in my face, screaming that I was racist and causing me to be scared for my physical safety (the student was Caucasian and believed I was giving preferential treatment to the Muslim students in the class)

- Students talking about me behind my back in French, thinking I could not understand them

- Students telling me to my face that they did not care to pay attention in my classes, no matter what I did or said

- Students intentionally misbehaving, thinking I was not aware of school rules (spoiler alert: I was aware of school rules)

- Students asking me if I was sexually active

- Being sent a particularly disobedient group of students week after week, even after having told the teacher I did not feel comfortable alone with them

- Faculty members approaching me voluntarily and advising me against pursuing teaching as a career

- An unparalleled and, quite frankly, appalling lack of respect (on the part of the students, not the  teachers) for me, my language and culture, and the subject matter I was attempting to teach

Needless to say, I am more than relieved to be finished with this school. If anything, it was at least quite a learning experience. I learned how to handle myself in a situation that is beyond my control, how to (attempt to) take control of a large group, and how to communicate thoughts and ideas to people who do not speak my language, among many other things. I also realized how lucky I was to be raised where I was by parents who value education and respect for others, and how incredibly important those are. I saw students influenced by their friends to care less about their education, and many parents here (certainly not all) don’t care. It’s extremely sad, and something I won’t ever let happen to any child of mine.

Now, on to more positive things: I’ve got another two-week vacation ahead of me! I swear, they’ve got so much vacation here. It’ll be hard readjusting to the American vacation schedule. I’m going to Amsterdam for a day on Monday, and then during the second week of vacation Sarah and I are headed to Dublin, Ireland. I am so excited for this vacation; Amsterdam and Dublin are two places that have been at the top of my list for a while. After vacation, I’ve got one day of work left at the school I like (and on Tuesdays I have my favorite students), and then it’s back to America on May 14th. Things are moving fast. I’m realizing now that I really need to start tying up loose ends, and that this next month is going to fly by.

But for now, I’m on vacation!

Playtime in Paris

Many of you may, at this very moment, still be reeling from the intense sugar high that is a side effect of Easter. But for all of my peeps out there (pun absolutely and 100% intended), we are winding down from a week of Passover festivities. Normally my aunt and uncle host a family-wide Passover Seder at their home in Southern California, but I haven’t been able to go for the past couple years, and this year was no different, even more so because I’m currently in France. Luckily, some of the kindest and most generous people I know live not too far away in Paris! The Coen family graciously welcomed me into their home this past weekend, and even though the sun greeted me upon my return to Lille (I know, it’s pretty incredible that the sun even reaches us this far north), I was quite sad to leave Paris.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and was told to bring clothes I could move around in for a 2pm “stretching lesson.” I had no clue what this could possibly entail, so I brought appropriate clothes and hoped that I wouldn’t end up with my legs behind my head (spoiler alert: I did). For the past few months, a personal trainer has come to the Coen household every Saturday for around two hours, and I sat in on their latest session. By “sat in on,” I mean participated in fully, complete with critiques of my head-turning techniques (apparently there’s a very clear right and wrong way to go about turning your head) and a few go-rounds on a pull-up bar. Needless to say, muscles I didn’t even know I had are currently screaming at me to never do anything like that ever again, so help them God.

After my impromptu and unexpected full-body workout, I got a tour of the Bois de Boulogne, which is home to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, which has been around since 1860, and is an all around bee-yoo-tee-ful place to walk. Even though it was chilly, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, and the ability to catch up with the co-head of the household on the family goings-on since I last saw them in November (this is the family whose bar mitzvah I attended, which I talked about earlier in my blog).

The next day, Sunday, was consecrated to going out and about and seeing Paris. We first of course had brunch, which I have missed so much since being in France – for those of you who are attached to the idea of brunch (not unlike myself) and are also thinking of moving to France, a word of caution: brunch is not a thing here. I can’t even tell you how excited I was for this brunch. It was delicious! But alas, I cannot let myself dedicate this entire post to food, so I’ll move on.

That day, we visited a museum called the Musée Nissim de Camondo. The de Camondo family was a wealthy Jewish family that moved to Paris from Turkey and lived a life of luxury until their tragic deportation to Auschwitz during WWII. I found it especially interesting because it is quite rare to hear of Jewish immigrants living wealthily during that time. Their home even had an elevator – I didn’t know that homes could have elevators in the early 20th century! The museum is the family’s private home, which is almost perfectly preserved, and shows the patriarch’s affinity for collecting 18th century art, and I really enjoyed seeing a different side of history.

Afterwards, we drove around and visited parts of Paris I had never seen before, neighborhoods that 10 years ago were not necessarily considered slums, but you and I would not willingly choose to live there. In the past few years, however, these neighborhoods have become more and more hip and popular, and are called quartiers bobos. The word bobo is slang for the words bohémien and bourgeois, and describes the group of people who are beginning to descend on these areas more so than the areas themselves. These bobos are considered “new wave” intellectuals, and are considered fairly pretentious by many. Although they breathe new life into otherwise forgotten neighborhoods, they are often disliked by original inhabitants, seeing as they cause real estate prices to skyrocket. I have to admit, though, as someone who does not particularly involve herself in the hipster culture (I’m doing just fine where I am in the mainstream and don’t feel the burning desire to do unspeakable things to it), even thought this neighborhood was cool. The window shopping was fabulous, and the streets weren’t packed with tourists. I also got to see things that I would never have discovered otherwise, like one of the best boulangeries in Paris. Literally. Thankfully it was a Sunday and it was closed, otherwise you know I would have run a train through that place.

Image

One of Paris’s bobo neighborhoods – actually quite beautiful!

Image

Gault & Millau, voted best boulanger in Paris in 2008

I also had a great time hanging out with the two sons of the family – they’re 13 and 16 and so much fun. We get along great and have no problem teasing each other and just being silly, which a) I’m really good at doing, and b) is a welcome reprieve from the stress of working with 11-15 year olds instead of playing with them.

Can you see why I was reluctant to leave this afternoon? I had so much fun, and going back to work does not sound like the most appealing thing in the world right now. I really can’t complain that much though, since in 11 days I’ve got another two-week vacation and then after that I’ve got one day of work left and then I’m done. Donezo. Finito. Terminado. WHAT?!?!?!? How did this even happen? I’m confused….

In other news, Sarah’s brother, Stephen, and sister-in-law, Rebekah (she goes by Boots), have been visiting us this week and it’s been so much fun showing them around and getting to know them (they are pretty awesome). In the short time they’ve been here, they’ve seen Brussels, Lille (obviously), Mont St. Michel and Honfleur in Normandy, and tomorrow they’ll be headed off to London for a day. They’ll then come back to us in Lille, and next weekend the three of them (Stephen, Boots, and Sarah) will meet up with Sarah and Stephen’s parents in Paris to run the Paris Marathon. How cool is that?! The only downside of having Stephen and Boots visit (for them) is that their timing made it so that they had to go through Daylight Savings Time twiceFrance and the US are inconveniently not on the same DST schedule, so for the past two weeks or so, I have been 8 hours ahead of my West Coast family instead of 9. That changed this weekend when we went through our own DST, and since Stephen and Boots were here for that, they have now changed their clocks one extra time this year. Yeesh.

I can’t believe I’ve only got 12 real days of work left in my contract. I don’t even know where the past six and a half months went. Seriously, I don’t. Should I start a search party? Put up flyers? Maybe I’ll report them missing….

Life of Ch’ti

So I know I’ve talked about the “Ch’ti” thing before. It’s the stereotype of the people who live here in the North, which many people equate to the stereotype of America’s deep, deep, deep South – very nice and welcoming, but at times a bit basic. The people here even have their own dialect, appropriately called Ch’ti, and I really don’t even know how to explain it. It’s really nasally, to the point that words become incomprehensible, it involves a lot of mumbling, and a lot of “c” and “s” sounds become “sh” sounds, which can become very confusing very fast.

1863289303_1

An example of the Ch’ti dialect

There was also a film made about the Ch’tis, called Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis. To give you a sense of how well-known this stereotype is, the film is France’s highest-grossing comedy of all time. Luckily, the people of the North have embraced this stereotype. People here are extremely proud to be Ch’ti – there are comic books for kids written completely in the Ch’ti dialect, there’s a Ch’ti beer (which, in my humble opinion, isn’t actually that good compared to the wide range of other beers here), and, finally getting to the point of this post, there is an equivalent of the Michelin guide, called Le Ch’ti. It includes recommendations for everything from restaurants to nightlife to cultural activities and much, much more. This year was especially important because it was the 40th anniversary of Le Ch’ti’s first publication. There was a huge event at Place de la République, right by our apartment, including games and activities for kids and adults alike. The guide is free for everyone, and I read in the newspaper that there were 300,000 guides made, and 500,000 people were expected to attend the two-day event. And the most impressive part about it is that it is compiled and published entirely by university students and all costs are covered entirely by advertisements. I of course had to get one, because a) who doesn’t like free stuff?! I mean come on. and b) it was free!

IMG_5751

 

It’s really true that time flies when you’re having fun. Or, as Kermit the Frog always says, time’s fun when you’re having flies. Either way, I’ve got just over a month left here, and two weeks of that will be vacation. Actually, the vacation situation is a little weird, because our last vacation is from April 12th – 29th, but our contracts end on April 30th. So I will have to work for literally one day after vacation and then I will be done. It’s really coincidental that it ended up that way; France is divided into zones for school vacations, and Lille happens to be Zone B, whose vacation just happens to have been assigned to April 12th-29th. Oh well. At least my last day of work will be at the school I prefer, and it’ll be with some of my favorite students. For the amount that I complain about the work and the difficult students, I can tell that my last day will definitely be hard to get through.

Snowpocalypse 2013

It always seems like every year, somewhere, there’s a snowpocalypse.  I’ve been lucky enough to not be wherever it is for most years, but of course this is turning out to be the year of exceptions.  Snowpocalypse 2013 hit, and it hit us hard.

To start things off, Sarah’s friend from school Brittany was visiting us, and it was her first time in France.  So of course we want to show her everything!  The week started out great, with some actual nice weather, and even some sun (I can’t remember the last time I had seen the sun before that).  Naturally, our next step after Lille was to take Brittany to Paris.  Because you can’t come to France and not see Paris!

The plan was for me to go to Paris on Monday night (originally Tuesday morning, but I changed at the last minute THANK GOD) in preparation for a couple of informational interviews on Tuesday, and then meet Sarah and Brittany in the city on Tuesday afternoon.  Brittany was going to come by bus, which would leave Lille at 8:30AM and get in at 11:30AM.  Sarah had to work, so she was going to take a train around 4PM and get in around 5PM.  The most I’ll say at this point is that our plans changed slightly.

Because of the snow, both of my interviews started late and over half of the employees could not get to work, so the people I was interviewing with were, in addition to already being late, totally stressed out by the idea of having to figure out how to pick up the work of the people who couldn’t come in, while dealing with the fact that everyone would most likely need to leave around noon or 1PM in order to make it back home.  At this point, the train and metro stations were physically closed, which I had never heard of before in my life.  I knew that sometimes the high-speed trains and metros would stop running due to weather, but I had never seen the stations actually closed.  My interviews finished much later than expected, but the train I needed to get into the city was not running.  At all.  The only thing I could do was wait, and text Sarah, who was back in Lille (Seeing as she was only visiting for a short time, Brittany did not have a phone that worked in Europe).  Sarah told me that Brittany’s bus had left half an hour late, but that she was on her way to Paris.  Our plan was to meet at the café at the Musée d’Orsay at noon, but that clearly was not going to happen with my current train situation.

I finally made it to Paris about 2 hours later, and texted Sarah to let her know.  She let me know that Brittany’s bus had stopped on the side of the road, and was not moving due to the snow.  Luckily, we were going to be staying with Sarah’s other friend Russell, who is spending the year getting his master’s degree in Linguistics from La Sorbonne, and who luckily I had met once before.  He very generously welcomed me to his apartment, while we waited for an update on Brittany.  In the meantime, Sarah let us know that there were no trains leaving Lille for the rest of the day, so she would not be making it.

LONG STORY SHORT: Sarah never made it to Paris.  The train stations in Lille were closed all of Tuesday and most of Wednesday.  Brittany did make it into Paris, but not until 11:30AM on Wednesday, TWENTY-SEVEN HOURS AFTER SHE LEFT LILLE.  Her bus was stranded on the side of the road the entire night, less than half of the way to Paris.  Paramedics and the French Red Cross came by to check on passengers and hand out blankets and food.  The weather conditions made the national news, and the President of the SNCF (the French railroad system) reserved hundreds of hotel rooms for the thousands of people who could not leave Paris, and even arranged for sleeper cars to house passengers at the train stations.  It was absolute pandemonium.  I didn’t make it home until Thursday morning, and since I had not planned to be in Paris that long, I did not have a change of clothes.  Gross.  Luckily, we had Russell, who was an absolutely amazing last-minute host.  Russell, if you’re reading this (doubtful): You are a lifesaver and I love you.  If you ever find yourself in the north of France again (although I’m sure it would be against your will) you’ve got a place to stay!

My main question still remains the same though: Is it really that hard to just have decent weather?!  I mean, come on.

Bella Firenze

The last weekend of my two-week vacation was really special, because the trip was a birthday present from the ‘rents.  Since lil’ sis Libby and I both have birthdays in February, they gifted us with a reunion in Florence, Italy!  I flew from Paris, and Libby flew from Philadelphia.  We spent the weekend together in Florence, and when I came back to Lille, she went on to England to see our family friends Donna and Ben and their two kids, Daisy and Alfie.

I had never been to Florence before.  My parents had been over the summer, and loved it.*  Sarah had also been, and had nothing but great things to say about it, so I was pretty excited.  Libby and I met at the train station at the Rome airport, and started our adventure from there.

We got to Florence in the afternoon, and went to our hotel (THANKS MOM) to unpack and rest up a bit.  Libby was absolutely exhausted, so while she napped, I did some initial walking around.  I mostly just explored the market, which is huge and very conveniently is open every day of the week.  Hooray for shopping!  Once Libby was feeling a little more alive, we ventured out for dinner.  We really had no idea where we were going, but ended up at a restaurant with an extremely friendly waitstaff and even more extremely delicious food.  Honestly, some of the best food I’ve had.  Ever.  Libby and I had both resolved to try anything and everything that sounded appetizing, so for our first night’s meal we had pizza and pasta, followed by gelato.  But let’s not get too hasty here, I’m not done talking about dinner!  Mostly, I just want to share as many pictures of it as I can, because OH MY GOD IT WAS SO GOOD.

NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM

NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM (notice that my sister is also taking a picture of her food at the same time)

The next day, we decided to do some serious walking.  We had heard that Florence was a small city, and they sure as heck were not lying.  I swear the map was bigger than the city!  Things that were across the map from each other turned out to be no more than a 5 or 10 minute walk away in real life, which was great for two lazy bums such as ourselves.  We checked out Ponte Vecchio, which is known for its jewelry stores and breathtaking river views.

Suuuper-crowded Ponte Vecchio...the views were worth it though!

Suuuper-crowded Ponte Vecchio…the views were worth it though!

Told ya....what a view!!!

Told ya….what a view!!!

As you can see, the weather was quite inviting…so we decided to defy our lazy ways and walk around some more!  We were told that we absolutely had to see the Duomo and the museum where the statue David was held, and so we did!  The line to go up to the top of the Duomo was ridiculously long, so we decided to skip that and went inside the cathedral instead.  I don’t have any regrets about skipping that part yet, but maybe when I’m on my death bed it’ll come back to haunt me.  The architecture of the Duomo and the cathedral is breathtaking.  It’s really unique and I wish I knew the name of it!  I blended right in with all the other tourists, though, who were taking thousands of pictures.  I fit right in!

The view from outside....love that architecture

The view from outside….love that architecture

And the view from inside.  Stunning!

And the view from inside. Stunning!

And now, back to the food.  That night, we ventured to a restaurant called Trattoria Marione that had been recommended to us by the taxi driver who took us to our hotel.  He said we would know it was good because the locals ate there, and there was always a wait to get in.  Trying to embrace the Italian lifestyle, we arrived somewhere between 9 and 9:30, thinking we would be among the last patrons to be let in before the kitchen closed.  Wrong.  We put our name on a long list, and waited outside with about 15 other people, and we were nowhere near the last people on the list.  It was bizarre eating out that late, but our taxi driver was right – definitely worth the wait!  We got to taste some delicious food, delicious red wine, and since the restaurant was fairly small, we also got to know our neighbors.

Worth the wait!

Worth the wait!

The next day was devoted to seeing David.  We of course started out at the wrong museum, but felt bad so we did a quick walk-through, got lunch, and then set out to see the real thing.  Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t a line to get into the museum and it was fairly easy to navigate once we were in there.  The only downside was that no photos were allowed, but we sleuthily got around that rule.  And let me say, the statue really is worth seeing.  It is amazing!!!

Gaahhhh so cool

Gaahhhh so cool

Florence is a great city – despite it being so small, it’s a popular destination for American students studying abroad, so it was full of students our age, both Italian and American.  In fact, Libby knew someone from her school who was spending her Spring Break visiting a friend studying abroad in Florence, and we ran into her not once, but twice.  It literally is that small.  Also, since it’s known for having so many foreign students, most people assumed we were two friends studying there.  We’ve encountered this before, but it’s been a while since the last time this happened – when we told people we were sisters, they thought we were joking.  They literally didn’t believe us.  Granted, we look nothing alike, but there’s got to be at least something that lets people know we share DNA!!!

The two least likely people to be sisters: I've got fair skin, red hair, and freckles.  Libby's got darker skin, dark brown hair, and no freckles.

The two least likely people to be sisters: I’ve got fair skin, red hair, and freckles. Libby’s got darker skin, dark brown hair, and no freckles.

Even though people didn’t believe us when we said we were sisters, it nonetheless was great seeing my baby sis and having some quality bonding time with her.  Florence was fabulous and I can’t wait to go back!!!

 

*Funny story: my parents took a trip to Italy last summer, right after I graduated from college.  They told me that I would need to come home fairly soon after my graduation to watch Woody, our dog.  Naturally, I thought my parents were planning to surprise me by taking me to Italy with them.  My dad has surprised me like this before, and usually I fall for it, but I knew that this time was different.  I was on to them.  So I played along, came home right after graduation, and whaddayaknow, they in fact had not planned to surprise me.  They really did need me to take care of Woody.  Womp womp.  Being the amazing daughter that I am, I let them enjoy their trip and didn’t tell them about this until they got home.

Barthelona

Our vacation was two weeks – you didn’t think I was going to let it pass me by, did you?!  After Dijon, Sarah and I flew to Barcelona.  I had been before, but it was Sarah’s first time, and it was beauteous!

Barcelona welcomed us with open arms and sunshine galore, so you can imagine how happy the two of us were.  Sarah and I have both agreed that since coming to live in the north of France, both of our standards for good weather have lowered significantly.  The fact that I needed my sunglasses in Barcelona, even though it wasn’t necessarily scorching hot, was enough for me to be a happy camper for the entire trip.

Sarah and I stayed in Arco Youth Hostel, and I’m including it as a link to the website because this was honestly one of the best hostel experiences I’ve ever had.  We were greeted with a smile and great advice, such as where to get the cheapest food, where to rent bikes for 5 euros a day, and even where to get a free dinner!  Both of us were extremely happy with our stay there, and I’d recommend it to anyone!

Our time in Barcelona was spent doing only a few things, but doing them quite often: walking, eating paella, and drinking sangria.  We walked all over the city, to the Sagrada Familia, the Olympic Stadium, Parc Güell, and this really cool fountain that we never did discover the name/significance of.

IMG_5347

We never did find out the name and significance of this insanely gorgeous fountain

We also took a stroll through Barcelona’s famous market, La Boqueria, which historians believe may have been established as early as 1217.  As an avid meat-eater, this market was like dying and going to heaven.  For Sarah, my vegetarian roommate, I’m sure this was not what she had envisioned would be at the Pearly Gates.  I only wish I could have shown this to my Zayde (my grandfather), who was a butcher and ran his own meat-packing company.  This blog will do just fine though.  If you’re not into seeing raw meat hanging from the ceiling (why wouldn’t you be though?) then you might want to engage in some scrolling action right about now…

IMG_5140

My idea of heaven...what's not to like?!

My idea of heaven…what’s not to like?!

And here are some fruits and veggies for everyone else

And here are some fruits and veggies for everyone else

In between our sangria tastings, we also managed to fit in a free walking tour of the city, which was a real stand-out.  I thought that I knew everything there was to know, seeing as I had been on a tour of the city in 2011 when I visited while studying abroad.  Shockingly, I was wrong (weird how that keeps happening).  Our tour was led by the most awesome guide – she was half French and half Greek, and had been living in Barcelona for a while doing graphic design and working at a bar.  If that’s not the typical European experience, then I don’t know what is.  She was super knowledgeable about the lesser-known landmarks and history of the city, and she pointed out things that I never would have noticed otherwise.  Again, another great experience to be had in Barcelona.

And did I mention that we ate paella and drank sangria?  I think I might have…we had sangria with almost every meal, because you have to try them all to find out which one is the best, right?!  And both our first and last night’s meals were paella-centric.  The first night, we went to a restaurant in a beautiful square hidden away from one of the side streets of La Rambla.  The paella was delicious and the sangria was strong; in other words, it was a perfect meal.  On our last night, we ate in the outdoor area of a restaurant actually on La Rambla.  We had heard that these were all rip-offs, so we were prepared, but we wanted the experience of eating Barcelona’s signature food while getting to engage in some extreme people-watching.  The paella was definitely not as good and the sangria was much more expensive, but it was worth it.  All in all, I would say we had a very Barcelonian experience (I just made that word up, I think), and it was a great one.

Je te salue, ma belle Dijon

OH BOY do we have some catching up to do!!!  I have neglected this poor blog for over a month, because honestly it is just easier to be lazy.  But no longer!  Seeing as it is now almost April, I have made a quarter-year resolution to actually pay attention to this blog.  So here goes.

Our last two-week vacation was in the middle of March, and the first thing I did was long overdue: I visited my old host family in Dijon!  In the Spring of 2011, I studied abroad there and attended  classes at the Université de Bourgogne and Sciences Po Dijon, while living with the Delespierre family, who are, simply put, amazing.  They welcomed me as one of their own and embraced my quirks and embarrassing French mistakes (instead of saying my parents and I like to joke around with each other, I once said we like to flirt with each other).  They also have two sons, Louis and Adrien.  Louis is my age, and we got along just like I always thought I would with a brother.  We had this thing going on where one week we would watch a movie I wanted to watch, and the next we would watch one of his choosing.  My first pick was A Walk to Remember (in French, Le Temps d’un Automne) and his was Full Metal Jacket.  Needless to say, we got along swimmingly.  He is studying both history and art history in Paris now, at La Sorbonne, and whenever I make it to Paris we make a point of seeing each other.  Adrien is older, but I did see him a couple times when I was studying abroad, and he was equally as fun and nice.  Unfortunately, neither of them were when I went in March, but even just the thought of seeing my host parents was beyond exciting.

I arrived on a Monday night and left on a Saturday morning, and I had an absolutely amazing time.  On Tuesday, my first full day, I spent my time walking around the city and getting re-oriented (and eating at my favorite kebab place of all time, Chez Babylone.  It was there that I ate the first kebab of my life, and I will remain forever loyal).  What surprised me is that Dijon is really different. Granted, it has been two years, but a lot has changed!  When I studied there, the only public transportation was the bus system.  Now there’s an established and efficient tram, and its lines have replaced a fair amount of the streets in Dijon.  Place Darcy, the main downtown area of Dijon, used to be a big pick-up and drop-off place for cars and buses, and is now completely pedestrian.  Also, rue de la Liberté, which is literally the main street to take you through Dijon, is now completely under construction to also become a pedestrian area.  I honestly don’t know how anyone will be able to drive through Dijon anymore!

There used to be a street, and a huge bus stop, in front of Le Darcy, Dijon's movie theater.

There used to be a street, and a huge bus stop, in front of Le Darcy, Dijon’s movie theater.  You can also see the tram passing by!

Rue de la Liberté, an extremely important street in terms of transportation, is in the process of becoming a completely pedestrian area.

Rue de la Liberté, an extremely important street in terms of transportation, is in the process of becoming a completely pedestrian area.

My host mom was also on vacation, so she and I were able to spend some real quality time together.  On one of my days in Dijon, she took me to see Les Sources de la Seine, or in other words, the starting point of the Seine river (the one that goes straight through Paris).  It’s pretty incredible to think that a tiny trickle of water can somehow turn into an enormous river, and yet there it was.  There’s even a tiny little footbridge that technically counts as the first bridge to cross the Seine.  The funniest thing about it was that even though the Seine starts in the Côte d’Or region, the region that Dijon is in, the site actually belongs to the city of Paris.

IMG_4940

My host mom also took me to two gorgeous little villages called Salmaise and Semur-en-Auxois, both of which had absolutely stunning views of the French countryside.  Even though it was a bit chilly (aka freeeeezing), I had a great time bonding with my host mom.

IMG_4941

This picture is from Salmaise, the first village we visited.

And, even though it was late February when I visited, my host parents made a point to celebrate my birthday.  How sweet is that?!  My host mom surprised me with a chocolate cake from her favorite bakery, and they set the table with the candlesticks that my parents gave them when they came to visit in 2011. I was so lucky to have such a great host family when I studied abroad, and I definitely look forward to keeping in touch with them for years to come.