In Bruges…Literally

Advertisements

Not getting any younger

Again, it’s been a while since I’ve last posted.  I’m trying not to make this a habit, but it might be inevitable….oops!  At least it’s because I’ve been busy doing things, and not because I’ve been sitting around twiddling my thumbs (that only happens about 37% of the time).

Last weekend, my roommate and I decided to be spontaneous and took a day trip to Bruges for the Bruges Beer Festival (sorry, Dad).  I had heard a ton of great things about Bruges, and our day spent there definitely lived up to it.  I would describe Bruges as a typically European town, with many rustic touches, cobblestone streets, and beautiful scenery.  The beer festival wasn’t too shabby, either.  For €10 each, Sarah and I received a keepsake tasting glass and 4 tokens to try beer.  I was a little bummed, thinking that this would amount to 4 sips of beer, but no.  Each glass was filled to the brim (literally), and there were hundreds of beers to choose from.  We tasted our 4 beers, bought 2 more tokens (we had to take advantage of the beer festival!) walked around Bruges a bit, and went back for 1 more taste.  All in all, it was a really great outing.  We even happened to stumble on what we believe to be a middle school choir performing on the street (I’ll upload a video of it after this post).  I’d definitely go back, even more so if there were another beer festival going on!

Sarah and I at the Bruges Beer Festival

Sarah and I at the Bruges Beer Festival

The next big event after our beer-filled adventure was my birthday (!!!), which was last Thursday, the 7th.  I was a little bummed that I had to work that day and the next day at 8:00AM, but my students and the English teachers I work with made it so, so worth it.  Students I passed in the hallway (some whom I didn’t even know) wished me a happy birthday, and many of my students made me hand-written cards.  My favorite one was by a little girl who wrote, “I ♥ AMÉRIQUA!”  The English teachers also all pitched in and bought me a box of chocolates and a lovely little gift basked filled with bath soaps – I guess it’s time to take a bath then!

I don’t know why, but 23 sounds much older than 22.  Maybe it’s because it’s my first birthday celebrated after the end of college…I don’t know, but I feel old.  There are still things to look forward to, however, in my 23rd year!  We’ve got another vacation coming up in a couple weeks, and it’s going to be jam-packed: I’m visiting my host family in Dijon (I literally could not be more excited for this – my host family was the best), Sarah and I are traveling to Barcelona together, and at the end I’ll be spending a weekend in Florence, Italy with my little sister, Libby.  So it looks like 23 will be a good year after all!

In other news, school is still going well.  The one school that has the disciplinary issues still poses a problem, but I guess now it’s been enough time where it’s just easier to deal with.  Both my schools just changed my schedule so that I could spend time with other English classes, so it’s nice to see some new faces.

Many thanks to everyone who reached out and wished me a happy birthday – you all made my day very special!

À bientôt, mes chéris – and merci beaucoup!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my Camera Roll for photographic evidence of my adventures!

Back in action

First off, an apology to those of you who have been asking about my blog (Grandma and Aunt Randie) – once you get in the habit of not posting, it’s really easy to keep doing that.  My laziness has certainly come out to play in the last month or so!  So let’s get started on this epic catch-up session.  Things that have happened since my last blog post:

1. School became a lot more difficult – I don’t know really know what happened here. It must be the water or something.  About three weeks ago, the teachers at one of my schools started talking more about how discipline was becoming more and more difficult, and they were noticing that some students seemed to have some more serious underlying problems.  There were instances of students threatening physical violence against teachers, and students who were having some serious issues at home.  The teachers had weekly meetings, and at one point even considered asking the parents of an entire class to come in for a group conference regarding the discipline issues (I don’t know if it took place or not).  However, things at my other school seemed, and still seem to be, going fairly well.  I thought that maybe students were acting out more because it was the week before vacation, and they were getting antsy.  I’ll be at the not-so-great school next week, so we’ll see.  Speaking of vacation…

2. I went back to California – As I’ve mentioned before, France has much more school vacation than America does, which is great.  The downside is that students have much longer school days – lasting from 8:00AM until 5 or 6:00PM in most cases, a very weird school week – no school on Wednesday afternoons, and school on Saturday mornings to make up for it, and a longer school year.  But let’s get back to that vacation I was talking about.  Throughout the French school year, the whole thing basically adds up to 2 weeks of vacation ever 6 weeks, so this was my second vacation.  And for this one, I got to go home, and it was so great.  I got to see my family and friends, and it really couldn’t have been a better vacation.  It was the perfect amount of time, and I was still excited to come back to Lille by the end of my time at home.  Of course, not everything could go perfectly.  Upon my arrival in Paris, I was convinced my bag had been lost in transit until it was the very last one to be unceremoniously freed from the pits of hell, otherwise known as baggage claim.

3. HUGE. SALES.  Sorry in advance, bank account (and Mom and Dad).  All of the stores in Lille (and actually across France) are currently having huge, enormous, larger-than-life sales.  And these sales aren’t like American sales, where you’ll see advertisements like: “Come to the Macy’s/Nordstrom/Bloomingdales sale from 1-1:15PM on the one day you absolutely cannot miss work/the day of your scheduled C-section/during your yearly check-up that you’ve already postponed thrice!!!  Everything is 7% off!!!”  No, these sales are different.  These sales last an entire month.  And stuff is seriously cheap.  Sarah and I ventured out to H&M and a French store called Pimkie today, and luckily I only bought a scarf.  I ain’t finished yet though!  Those sale racks will feel my wrath soon enough.

4. I had to see a doctor – I was really nervous about this one, since I had never needed to see a doctor in a foreign country before, and I also was really hoping my French healthcare would work (I don’t know why it wouldn’t, but I usually manage to think of every worst-case scenario and assume it will happen to me).  The doctor I saw was really nice and was able to give me the medicine I needed (yay!).  And because I’m under French healthcare, I will be refunded 23 of the 26 euros it cost me to see the doctor, and I only had to pay 2 euros for my medicine.  Sweet deal, right?!  

5. It snowed – Actually, scratch that.  It’s snowing.  As in, right now as I write this.  It only started snowing today (which is why Sarah and I only went to H&M and Pimkie instead of hitting up every store Lille has to offer), but it’s sticking to the ground and does not look like it’s going to let up anytime soon.  Ugh.  I’m sure the second I step out of the apartment I will fall flat on my face (or behindular region) and make a complete fool out of myself.  And it will be neither the first nor the last time I will embarrass myself in public due to the weather.  Wish me luck!

 

À bientôt, mes chéris, and this time I mean it! 

Rain, rain, go away….

Could you tell that it’s raining here?  It won’t stop!  And it’s so cold!  Can we all just take a moment to feel bad for poor little me who will be weathering (see what I did there?) below-freezing temperatures this weekend?!

IMG_4385

For a California girl like me, this is pretty dreary.  There have been a couple days so far when my less-than-trusty iPhone has predicted snow, but to no avail.  Here’s hoping it holds off for a while yet!

Anyways, today, Wednesday, Sarah and I didn’t have work and we decided to make the most of it instead of doing what we normally do, which consists of a lot of sitting and very little leaving the apartment.  Today, we took a day trip to Dunkirk, in Normandy.  Dunkirk is on the most northern tip of France, and is also on the water.  These two factors combined made for one extremely cold day.  But it was worth it!  There’s not a ton to do in Dunkirk, but we learned a little bit at the tourism center.  I knew that Dunkirk played a large part in WWII (being in the Normandy region it played a large part in D-Day, and it was the very last French town to be liberated), but it also was important during WWI, and there are many memorials for both wars around town.  Since it is a port town, there is a maritime museum in addition to a museum commemorating British soldiers and WWII in general.  Unfortunately, these museums are closed in winter (why?!?!?) so we weren’t able to see them.  We did, however, climb to the top of the belfry, which gave us an incredible view of the town and the water.

A panoramic view from the belfry in Dunkirk

A panoramic view from the belfry in Dunkirk

I’ve always been immensely interested in the Normandy region, as my grandfather fought in WWII and landed in Normandy on D+17 (seventeen days after D-Day).  He never talked much about his experience, but when he found out that my parents were visiting Normandy during their trip to France in 2002, he sent them an e-mail detailing his experience there.  He landed in the Cherbourg Peninsula, which I discovered is not really close at all to Dunkirk (all the more reason to go back when the weather’s nicer, right?).  He and his battalion landed on one beach (Utah), but their artillery landed at another (Omaha).  Incredibly, most of his battalion were able to recover their materials and continue on through Europe.  I found out from my aunt that he and his soldiers even liberated a concentration camp, but we don’t know which one.  I am determined to get to Cherbourg before I leave France.  I’m going there, even if it’s the last thing I do!

Still, even though we weren’t able to see much of the things we were really hoping to see (the war museums), we had a great time nonetheless (despite the bitter cold).  It was so much fun just spending the day in a new place, seeing the sights and finding things to laugh about through the rain, hail (really though), and cold.

yup.

yup.

I hope to get back to Dunkirk and the rest of Normandy when it’s less frigid.  I’ll let you know how that goes!

À bientôt, mes chéris!  And don’t forget to check out my Camera Roll to see pictures from Dunkirk.

A status update, for lack of a better word

1. Things are still going fabulously here in Lille.  Yes, it’s still cold.  But they just lit up our street, so now it says Bienvenue Rue Gambetta, which is so adorable.  It makes it so much more Christmas-y, in addition to the Christmas Market that’s already well under way and the Ferris Wheel in the Grand Place.  In fact, most of the streets have little Christmas lights strung between the buildings, and they’re all lit up now.  I certainly was not expecting this level of cuteness out of Lille, and I am loving it!

Image

 

2. I ended up having a proper Thanksgiving dinner here in Lille!  Sarah, a teacher at my roommate Sarah’s school, invited Sarah (I was her +1) and 6 other teachers to partake in their very first Thanksgiving dinner.  Sarah cooked two chickens (since turkeys are nearly impossible to find here, and there’s no way any French-sized oven would fit a turkey us Americans are used to) complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes (they were actually yams but were still to diiiiie for), veggies, and….wait for it…..homemade pumpkin and pecan pies.  I almost pooped my pants it was so good.

3. People here in France have been more than obsessed with the American elections.  It is a big no-no for teachers to talk about political preferences in school (similar to the United States, but more enforced), but since I’m not technically a teacher I get asked left and right who I voted for and why, and the teachers seem to be perfectly okay with it.  I explained the elections and the different sides to my classes, and asked them who they would vote for if they got the chance.  My favorite part of learning about the elections, though, was when I sat in on a class that was listening to a recording about the elections.  Now keep in mind that this was not a podcast or something the teacher simply found online — this was a CD that came with a certified English workbook that all the teachers at this school use.  The great thing about this CD was that it was clearly biased.  Some of my favorite quotes: “Tea Partiers have a quasi-religious devotion to the Constitution, although many of them seem to have never even read it.”  On Mormonism and polygamy: “Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather had 5 wives. To try to distance himself from polygamy, Romney said, ‘I can’t imagine anything worse’ than polygamy.  It was clearly not the most imaginative response.”  On healthcare: “Romney has vowed to repeal Obamacare, as it is called, if he is elected President.  The absurdity in this is that Obamacare was inspired by a healthcare system implemented in Massachusetts by a governor named…….Mitt Romney.”  The teacher and I were cracking up, but the rest of the class really didn’t get it.  She told me that it’s really hard for French people to be impartial.

4. Sarah’s mom is awesome and sent us a ton of holiday (okay, Christmas) decorations and now our apartment is adorable.  We have garland, bows, and even a little Santa to greet us when we come in.  We’re still on the hunt for a menorah….only two-ish weeks until Hanukkah!!  Speaking of Sarah, I could not have gotten luckier on the roommate front.  We have so much in common, and get along really well.  Being here in Lille would seriously not even be half as great as it is without Sarah as my partner in crime (assuming dancing Gangnam Style 24/7 is a crime).  And now we actually have French friends!  Couldn’t have done it without her.  

5. Just under one month until I go home for 2 weeks for Christmas vacation.  I’m interested to see if I feel ready to go home, if I miss Lille, and how I feel coming back after 2 weeks.  It feels like everything’s looking up right now, so fingers crossed it’ll keep on keeping on!

P.S. This week I had my students participate in a spelling bee.  It was hilarious.

À bientôt, mes chéris!

Reunited and it feels so good!

Image

That’s Lindsay, on the left (for those of you who know me – duh.  For those of you who don’t know me – now you do).  She and I were neighbors throughout elementary school, middle school, and most of high school.  She is insanely good at soccer and just finished up a contract playing on a national team in Norway, and has a couple weeks to travel, and I was one of the lucky ones she came to visit!  It was so awesome to see her.  Who would’ve thought that 15 years after we became neighbors we’d be hanging out together in France?!  We certainly didn’t….

I wanted to show Lindsay everything Lille has to offer, and she came at the perfect time, since the holiday season is just starting to get into full swing on our side of the pond, and she was here on a Wednesday, when I don’t have work.  We visited the Christmas Market, which was opening for the first time that day.  And let me tell you, it is so cool.  There are tons of stalls selling regional food (lots of sausage and potatoes and cheese), candy, jewelry, chocolate, and other delicious unhealthy things.  There also were ponies that kids could ride through the market.  This is how I felt.

Image

A verrrry tempting candy stall at the Christmas Market

Image

My new pony friend!

Image

The market even had a mailbox where kids could mail letters to Santa…how cute!

We walked a little bit more around Grand Place, which was full of people even though it was a Wednesday afternoon.  The Ferris Wheel has finally started up, but we both agreed like it was moving at a speed a little too fast for us and our (mostly my) fear of heights.  I took Lindsay through Vieux Lille, where we stopped for lunch and looked around some shops.  Most of what we saw was waaayyy too expensive for our taste (and budget), but it wouldn’t be an authentic visit without at least a little bit of shopping, so we managed to do some damage in the shoe department.

It was so nice to have another friend here.  We had so much fun together, and just sitting in the kitchen catching up on Los Altos goings-on was a great time.  I even got to jump in on a mini Skype session with her dad!

In other news, last week when I was working at my school in Halluin, I finally walked to Belgium.  It was only about 15 minutes, and I felt like Mandy Moore in A Walk to Remember when she stands in two places at once (except it was daytime and I was by myself, so it was much less romantic).  Also, my teachers had said that it’s almost impossible to tell when you cross into Belgium.  Well, when I crossed into Belgium, there was a big sign that said Menen, and all the street signs and storefront windows and signs were suddenly in German.  It was pretty clear to me that I was in Belgium.  But it was cool anyways!  I’d definitely do it again.  No passport needed!

So now, what I have been trying to avoid thinking about: Thanksgiving.  Of course, all the teachers only wanted me to talk about Thanksgiving in class today.  I got many questions of why I wasn’t with my family, and if I was sad to not be with them.  I actually found it a little difficult not to get emotional at times.  Mostly when one girl summed up my situation with a simple, “you are forever alone, yes?”  But I will be home in a month, for two whole weeks!  I cannot wait.

À bientôt, mes chéris and Happy Thanksgiving!!!  Save some pumpkin pie for me 🙂

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my Camera Roll to see pictures I’ve taken during my time here!

Having a moment

Image

 I saw this picture (on Pinterest, are you really that surprised?) and was immediately flooded with emotion.  I actually had to take a moment to decompress and figure out what it was all about.  Then I realized: this is what I’m doing.  I’m traveling the world, I’m discovering and exploring new places and myself in the process (cliché, I know).  Because there are people in this world who love me enough to encourage me to do what makes me happy (and to make good decisions – shout out to my funky fresh dad).  I feel so lucky.  I am so lucky, and I know it.  I am lucky to have a family that is supportive, and to have parents who want me to learn as much as I can about everything, who push me to step outside my comfort zone and experience something new.  

I am traveling the world, but not necessarily due to the things I’ve accomplished in my life; the entire foundation of my success is my family.

So, if I haven’t said it lately, or don’t say it quite enough (I certainly don’t): thank you.  Thank you for inspiring me to be passionate about something, anything.  Thank you for everything.

Okay, I’m done being sappy now, I promise.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Today

I taught my students about the US elections.  One of them asked me if it’s true that part of the campaign is a bake-off between the two potential first ladies.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

In which I think of more things I wanted to write about an hour after I publish my blog post

This always happens to me!  I’ll write a post, review it, and think to myself, “Yes.  This is good.  It says everything I want it to say.”  So, accordingly, I publish it.  And then, minutes, hours, even days later, I realize there were about ten thousand other things I had mentally noted that I wanted to talk about, but of course completely forgot.  I always tell myself that I’ll write my ideas down the next time.  But do I?  Of course not!  Don’t be silly.  And now, in writing this entire paragraph, I realize that I’ve already forgotten one of the things I came here to write about.  Crap.  Maybe if I actually start it’ll come to me.

1) After waiting FIVE WEEKS (I kid you not), we finally received our metro passes.  Typical.

2) My so-cute so-comfy perfect-for-France Steve Madden boots that I bought myself as a graduation present are now ruined.  I don’t know how, when, or why, but last week I noticed that the sole was just about ready to separate itself from the rest of the shoe and sail into orbit, but only on the right boot.  The left boot is completely intact.  I took it into a shoe repair shop (they’re everywhere here, thanks to the cobblestone streets), but the cobbler said it was so damaged that there was nothing that could be done.  I’ve only had them for 5 months!  WHY IS THE UNIVERSE AGAINST ME?!?!?!
Update: After going to 3 cobblers, someone finally had the decency to explain to me why my shoes can’t be fixed.  It’s because they’re made of synthetic leather.  Thanks a lot, Steve.  You got me good.

3) The weather has been…not bad.  There are times when I get cold, though, and French people (particularly the teachers I work with) laugh at me and tell me I haven’t felt real cold yet.  Yikes.

4) I’m going home for 2 weeks during my school’s winter break, and I kind of feel bad about how excited I am.  It’s not that I dislike it here, because that’s not the case at all.  I just miss home too!  Also, missing Thanksgiving for the first time in my life is not helping.  Especially since our family’s theme this year is so good.  Side note: for those of you who don’t know, our family does themed Thanksgivings.  It’s not normal, and that’s what I love about it.

That’s all, she wrote….until I think of more things I wanted to add, that is.