Budapest | Vienna | Prague

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Since any regular readers have become accustomed to the lateness and irregularity of my blog posts, it won’t be a surprise to you that I am only now getting around to telling you about my February vacation. (What can I say? One of my worst faults is procrastination…) However, even with the delay I’d like to catch you all up on this trip, and what’s been going on with me lately.  And though I certainly could write enough about my trip to fill up several blog posts, I’ll try to keep it concise and leave everything here.

So, I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit several central/eastern European countries during my February vacation, and exciting opportunity because the furthest east that I had traveled before this was Germany.  The weather during most of the trip was colder than I had experienced in France so far, which meant it felt like a real Michigan winter, minus the snow (good for me, maybe not as good for my friend Heather who I was traveling with. She’s from the south and doesn’t like the cold as much as I do.)

I began my trip in Budapest, Hungary.  I didn’t know much about the town before arriving, except that it was famous for thermal baths.  We had some mishaps on our arrival, in that we wandered around for several hours looking for our hostel even with google maps and once we arrived the desk workers had gone out for ice cream (oops!), but overall my experience with Budapest was lovely.  On our first day, we spent the morning at the Rudas Baths.  These Turkish baths were built when the Ottoman Empire ruled Hungary, and were recommended by a friend because they were less expensive and less touristy than many of the other thermal baths that Budapest has to offer. Before we went to the baths, I was skeptical as to whether or not I’d enjoy them, but overall I found them very relaxing.

After this, we had a tasty lunch and wandered around Fisherman’s Bastion a bit before taking a walking tour.  We could only find one free walking tour that was run in Budapest, and thought it was a good way to see all of the sights in one go, we were disappointed by the limited information that our tour guide gave us (every other free walking tour I’ve been on has always been really informative and well worth my time).  Also, because of the cold, we were feeling pretty exhausted after the walking tour, and at this point went back to the hostel and called it a night.

On our second day in Budapest, we took a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building. The building is stunning from the outside and even more beautiful inside.  The architecture was based on that of the English Parliament building in London, and inside you can see the Hungarian crown jewels.   This was honestly one of the most worthwhile things that we saw in Budapest, so if you’re making a trip out that way, it’s not to be missed.  Later in the day, we went to the Hungarian National museum.  It was interesting to visit and learn about the Hungary, from its early history, to its time under communist rule.  After visiting the museum, we went to the Great Market Hall, a huge market with all kinds of fresh and prepared food, as well as souvenirs.  We had goulash for lunch here (a traditional Hungarian dish) and rounded off our meal with some delicious strudel.  I’ve never seen so many flavors of strudel in one place.  It was heaven!

After our filling lunch, we went to visit St. Stephen’s  Basilica.  One of the draws of this particular church is the mummified “Holy Right” hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s beloved King-Saint.  Unfortunately, during our visit we couldn’t get the display case holding the hand and its reliquary to light up, so we didn’t get to see it properly (I was disappointed. I think reliquaries are AWESOME!). The basilica also had really interesting,modern-looking stained glass windows of some of the saints.

In the evening, our last in Budapest, we went on a Ruin Pub Crawl. The ruin pubs are famous and very particular to Budapest.  There are also many of them.  They are all different, and to save space trying to explain them, I’ll link to a description here.  The experience was very cool and we were lucky to visit several of the city;s most famous ruin pubs, including Szimpla.

On our last morning in Budapest, we visited the House of Terror.  This museum gives visitors a glimpse into life in Hungary during the fascist and communist regimes and is housed in a building that was used by them.  The museum was a chilling but important look at some very dark times in Hungary’s history.  After we finished at the House of Terror, we caught our train and were on our way to Vienna.

Click here to link to my photos from Budapest.

In our first day in Vienna, we also went on a walking tour to get to know the city.  I enjoyed this tour as it was much more informative than the one that we did in Budapest.  On the tour we got to see the opera house, Mozart’s house, and St. Stephen’s cathedral (not a typo, there’s one here too), among other sights.

After the tour we got lunch at a restaurant called Aida, where they serve sachertorte, one of the most famous desserts in Vienna (a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling).  We also got to try some of the delicious coffee drinks that Vienna is famous for.  If you know me, you know that I’m a foodie and I have a big sweet tooth, so this was a highlight for me.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the Hofburg Palace, where we got to see the royal silver collections, the royal apartments, and the Sisi museum.  Not having known much about the Austrian royal family (apart from the fact that Marie Antoinette was Austrian royalty – most of my European history knowledge, which is very little, comes from my French classes), these exhibits were interesting.  Also it was interesting to see the apartments of a royal family that wasn’t French, because most of the palaces or castles that I’ve seen have been in France. Finally we visited the Austrian National Library (gorgeous! reminded me of the library at Trinity College in Dublin) and headed for dinner.

It it interesting to mention the restaurant that we had dinner at, called Vollpension.  The restaurant’s meals, especially their desserts, are cooked by grandmothers and grandfathers who use their own family recipes.  The restaurant itself looks like your grandmother’s house, all decked out in knickknacks and retro dishes.  There are even little old ladies to bus the tables and make sure everything in the restaurant is ok.  I loved the food and cakes and the atmosphere here, and it made me miss my grandma a bunch.

On our next day in Vienna, we went to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs.  The palace was lovely, and the interior reminded me a bit of Versailles.  Later in the day, we went to see the Capuchin crypt, where many of the Hapsburgs are buried. After, we saw St. Stephens Cathedral (the inside this time…and there were a bunch of reliquaries!)  the inside and the outside of the cathedral were impressive.  The church has lovely colored tiles on its roof, making it different from the ones that I’m used to seeing in France.  We ended our day by visiting the Kunsthistoriches Museum (an art museum).  The museum was very big and had many interesting old pieces.  The building it was in was something to see even on its own.  All of the rooms had beautiful ceilings.

On our final day in Vienna, we did some shopping and then visited the Albertina Museum.  This museum also had royal apartments and wonderful collections of impressionist and modern art.  We saw many beautiful Picasso pieces, as well as an exhibition on photography’s importance to films.  After that, we got on a bus and headed to Prague.

Click here to link to my photos from Vienna.

When we got to Prague, we had a day before we were joined by several of our other teaching assistant friends.  We went on a walking tour (by Sandeman’s New Europe. The best one of the whole trip!) that gave us a lot of background on the history of Prague and an overview of the important sights.  After this, we wandered across the Charles Bridge to see the John Lennon graffiti wall.  In the evening, we met up with our friends and had dinner.

The next morning, Amy, Sarah, Josh and I took a day trip to Kutna Hora to see the Sedlec Ossuary, a church decorated with human bones.  I was really amazed by how beautiful it was.  That evening, we went on a beer tour. We got to go to several different pubs and sample traditional Czech beers (all pilsners).  This was a great way to end the day.  We got to drink beers, while learning about how they were made and what makes Czech beer different from beer in other places.

On our last day in Prague,we went to Prague Castle. We had to climb up a huge hill to get there, but the view over Prague from up above was breathtaking.  The castle was nice, but the most impressive part of the castle complex was St. Vitus Cathedral.  The architecture was stunning and the stained glass windows were lovely.  Another interesting part if the castle complex was getting to see the windows where the defenestrations (throwing people out of windows) that started the Thirty Year’ War happened.  In the evening, Josh, Sarah and I went to see a Two Door Cinema Club gig.  I was really pleased that we could see them in Prague, as they’re one of my favorite bands and I couldn’t make it to their concert in Paris on this tour. It was my first time seeing them live, and it was well worth the years that I’ve waited.

Click here for my pictures from Prague

I really enjoyed getting to visit 3 cities that I had never been to on this trip. Before we had gone, I thought that Vienna would be my favorite city to visit, and though I really liked Vienna, it wasn’t actually my favorite.  Prague was my favorite city to see.  The architecture there was lovely.  I really liked the atmosphere of the town.  The food was great, too(chimney cakes galore!).

Thanks for bearing with me in the long wait for this post.  It’s been a busy around here. I’ve been trying to make the most of the time that I have left in France (just about a month!) and that hasn’t left a whole lot of time for blogging.  Tomorrow, I’m off for my April vacation (yes another school break. how do they do it?) to Brussels, Dublin, and traveling around Scotland.  I’m sad to be leaving France very shortly (probably a post on that later) but I’m trying not to dwell on it.

Anyway, if you want to see pictures of some of the things I’ve been up to lately (visiting to châteaux, biking to châteaux, picnics because the weather has been amazing, etc.), feel free to click here.

Blois had a Carnavale and a parade, so that was cool and there are some pictures of that, as well as some cool châteaux, there.  Don’t miss the pictures from some of the museums around Blois and the really awesome light show that they project on the château here.

That’s all for now and thanks for reading!

Sara

 

Updates on TAPIF Year Two

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Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while, but I’m back to blogging, and I’m really going to try to keep up with it this time.  It’s been a crazy couple of months, and I know I’ve got a lot of updating to do.  This is going to be a long one, so maybe grab a drink or a snack to have while you read 🙂

I’m back in France and have been here for just about 4 months,  I’m living in a town called Blois. It’s still in the Loire valley like I was last year.  This town is much smaller than Orléans, however.  I have been loving living here so far.  The town is quaint and beautiful and has a grand old château in the middle (photo above). There are also a bunch of other assistants who live here, and they’re fantastic.  Blois has been a fun town to explore, but has also been ideal because of its proximity to other places: It’s about halfway between Orléans and Tours (the two largest towns in my region) and just a short bus or train ride to many of the other chateaus in the region.

Another new thing about this year is that I’m working in two schools instead of one and that I’m working in collèges (middle schools) instead of a lycée (high school).  At first I was worried about working with younger students, especially because I got on so well with my high-schoolers last year, but  it’s been going really well. I’m still getting the hang of planning lessons for them as their levels of English are less than the older students I’m used to being with, but it’s getting easier as time goes on.  I was also worried about how it would be to have my time split between two schools, but it’s been working out well. I obviously don’t spend as much time there as I did last year because I’m only in each school for 6 hours each week, but the teachers have been really welcoming and helpful.

The two schools that I’m in are very different from each other.  Collège Begon is much smaller and is classified as a ZEP school (zone d’education prioritaire) which from what I’ve understood is the French way of classifying a school as inner city.  Many of the students at this school are immigrants, or have parents that immigrated to France before they were born. My students at Begon are always very excited to learn and participate in class, which makes my job a lot more fun.  Collège Augustin Thierry, in contrast to Begon, is a very big school and not in the ZEP.  Augustin-Thierry is actually a cité scolaire and has a collège, a lycée, and classes for adults. The school has about 10 buildings and a large park in the center of it all.  There are many other language assistants who work at Augustin Thierry (mostly in the lycée), while at Begon, there are only two of us.

Another difference this year, is that I have my own apartment, instead of living with a host family.  It’s the first time in my life that I’ve lived alone without roommates.  It was a bit weird at first, but after I got used to it, I’ve found that I kind of enjoy having my own space.  It also helps that most of the other assistants live less than a 10 minute’s walk away, so we see each other really often.

While I’ve been here, I’ve managed to see several more chateaus, take a few weekend trips, and meet up with old friends (I’ll attach links to pictures at the end of the post).  Within the first month of being in France, we had a school break. During this break, I stayed in France and did some day trips within the region.  I got to rediscover Tours and spend some time back in Orléans. I also visited the Chateau de Cheverny, one that I didn’t have the chance to see last year. This château is famous for housing many hunting dogs, which sets it apart from the other chateaus in the region.  Seeing this chateau in late October was perfect, as we also got to walk the grounds and see the fall colors.

I was also lucky enough to be able to take a weekend trip to London in November to see two of my friends from when I studied abroad, Nunzia and Silvia.  We got to wander the city and see all of the beautiful Christmas decorations, something I’d never been able to experience in a big European city besides Paris.  I must say that London’s Christmas spirit might have been even greater that Paris’.  It was great for us to all be together again, especially because we hadn’t all gotten to meet up for three years. If you’re interested in seeing some photos of London all decorated for Christmas, here is a link to the photos from my trip: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1536717346343375.1073741849.100000153723798&type=1&l=bac4c51c3f

Later in November, I got to have a proper American Thanksgiving celebration with the other assistants. We had all of the traditional Thanksgiving food covered, even pumpkin pie and stuffing! It was really cool to get to share this holiday with others who hadn’t celebrated it before, and it made it easier to be away from home for this holiday.  I was actually very lucky to get to go to two Thanksgivings this year, as my reference teacher, Natasha, invited me to another Thanksgiving celebration as well.

In the beginning of December, I got to fulfill a dream of mine, seeing the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, France.  Ever since I’d heard about these markets, I had hoped that someday I would get to see them. They’ve been voted the best and France several times. Visiting the markets was lovely. They were much more traditional and less commercial/touristy feeling than the markets in Paris.  Several other nice things about this trip were getting to visit a region of France that I hadn’t seen yet and getting to see my friend Liz, who is a teaching assistant in city not too far from Strasbourg (Shout out to Liz and her blog alotofworldtosee!), and helping celebrate her birthday. Strasbourg is a lovely city that I’d like to revisit in different weather and when I have more time. I think there’s a lot more exploring to be done there! Here’s a link to my photos from Strasbourg: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1546113468737096.1073741850.100000153723798&type=1&l=b4bcb48f98

For Christmas, I went to Italy to spend the holidays with my friend Cassie, who I went to college with and who is now studying in Florence.  It was nice to be able to spend Christmas with someone from home, since we were both staying in Europe for the holidays.  We took a short trip to Venice to explore the city and see an exhibit on illuminated manuscripts, which Cassie is planning to make for her post-grad project. Exploring Venice and Florence with Cassie was a joy.  It was also fun that for New Years two of our other friends from college, Lindsay and Kaitlin, came to visit. I was glad that our trips overlapped so that I could see them.  Italy has been one of my favorite places to visit, so getting to go back again was lovely.  Florence and Venice are both such beautiful and atmospheric cities, full of amazing food, great art, and wonderful surroundings. Here are some photos from Venice and a link to my album from Florence: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1581125898569186.1073741853.100000153723798&type=1&l=bdc13efa83

 

That pretty much brings me up to now.  I’ve been back at school for a few weeks and have been enjoying being back in Blois. It’s been pretty cold, but we haven’t really had any snow. There have been galettes des rois (king cakes, but not like the ones that you can sometimes find for Mardi Gras in the states), a delicious French tradition for the Epiphany (or the day the three kings would have made it to Jesus) in every shop, which is certainly a January highlight for me. I’ve even found the charm in the cake and been a “king” for the day.

We have another break starting the second week of February, during which I will be traveling to Budapest, Hungary, Vienna, Austria, and Prague, Czech Republic with my friend Heather, another American assistant in Blois.  I’m really excited for this trip, as I have never been to any central European countries. I’ve been doing trip research and all of the pictures of these cities are just gorgeous. I’m hoping it won’t be too bitter cold during our trip, but if there was a bit of snow, I wouldn’t mind too much.

That’s all for now! I will be trying to update this blog more frequently in the coming months, as it’s easier for me and more interesting for you. I will close with a link to my album of photos of daily life here in France: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1472358106112633.1073741848.100000153723798&type=1&l=139a78016f

Goodbye France, but not for long. 

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Hello all,

Another update to my blog so soon after the last post is probably shocking, as I haven’t been very good about posting regular updates on my life here. 

This week is my very last week of working with my students, and I think tomorrow is going to be a hard day. I’ve had a fantastic year and my students have been just wonderful, so I will miss them a lot. I will also miss the teachers that I’ve been working with. They’ve been so kind and helpful throughout this whole process. I couldn’t be any luckier in pretty much every aspect of this experience.

 I know in my last post I takes about how it would be hard to say goodbye to France, but since posting, I’ve received some exciting news! Last Friday, I got an email saying that my application to renew my teaching assistant contract had been renewed! I won’t learn of my city and school placements until late June, but I couldn’t be more thrilled. 

Now if you’d asked me seven months ago (side note: I can’t believe I’ve been living here for seven whole months!!) if I saw myself staying in France for another year, I’d have said no. As much as I love this country, I thought that I would just return home and start work until I could get everything in order to apply to grad schools. This wasn’t in the original plan, but plans change and that’s how life goes. 

It will be strange next year to potentially be somewhere completely different, but I’m excited to see where my next adventure lies. 

As I’m leaving for the summer in just under a month, I’d like to make two lists (Best to make them now before I get wrapped up in packing and goodbyes). The first will be some of the things that I will miss about France and my experience in Orléans and the second, a list of things I’m looking forward to for the coming year. 

Things I will miss:

  • The friends that I’ve made here
  • Crossing the Loire on the way to town
  • My students
  • My favorite tea room in town (Cafe au tour de la terre)
  • My host family, and their adorable cat
  • The walkability of cities here. You just don’t get that in metro Detroit. 
  • Going to my favorite bookshop in town to browse the books and stationary
  • Talking long walks on the walkway in the middle of the river
  • The many food markets that happen here throughout the week
  • Rhubarb yogurt
  • All of the delicious pastries and foods 
  • Speaking French every day (I always lose some of it during the summer when I’m not practicing….)

Things I’m excited about for next year:

  • Exploring new places 
  • Having opportunities to visit with friends
  • Meeting new people
  • Getting to work with more (hopefully) wonderful students
  • Improving my French even more

Thee lists are far from complete, but I think capture the essence of my experience and my hopes for next year. 

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I will leave you with a picture of Figaro the cat who is sitting with me while I write. 

    Northern Ireland and Other Thoughts and Updates

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    The view from the upper trail at Giant’s Causeway

    So, once again, I just finished a two week break from school (thanks, French school system!!!). It’s starting to hit home that it’s nearly the end of my time in France. I have less than two more weeks working with my students and them my contract ends, though I’ll be in Europe until the end of May. But more on that later….

    I was lucky enough during this break to meet up with a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a while and visit a few things that I’ve been meaning to see.

    Firstly, I spent a day in Tours and got to meet up with my high school French teacher to catch up.  It was so cool as well because I got to have dinner with her, her students, and the other French teacher at my high school, who was the student teacher in my class my senior year! Tours is a lovely city with a lot to see, but obviously my favorite part of the day was getting to catch up with my teacher. If you’re reading this, Madame Kort, thanks for making time to meet with me 🙂

    Later in the week, I went to Beaugency to see the chateau there with my friend Graicey.  It was a lovely little chateau in a tiny town, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather!

    On Thursday, I went to visit Claude Monet’s Gardens in Giverny with my friend, Katie.  This has been something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time.  I missed the opportunity to go when I was studying abroad, so was really pleased to finally make it there.  We had to get up quite early to get to the gardens in good time and got very lost on our walk there from the train station, but it’s not an adventure unless you’ve gotten a bit lost!  Especially for any fans of Monet or Impressionist art, I’d say Giverny is definitely worth a visit.

    The next afternoon, I hopped on a train to make it Paris in time to catch my flight to Belfast, Northern Ireland to meet up with one of my friends from college, Dustin.  Dustin has been living in Northern Ireland for the last two years, so I hadn’t seen him since he moved away. It’s always great to catch up with friends, especially ones that you haven’t seen in a long time.  I feel like I’ve been really blessed that my time in France has allowed me to travel and have quite a few nice reunions like this.

    Anyway, on Friday evening I arrived in Belfast. I checked into my hostel and got dinner at Maggie May’s (more on this wonderful place later, but if you’re in Belfast, please do yourself a favor and eat here).  The next morning, I met Dustin at St George’s Market. The market had food and crafts made locally and was a dream for a market lover like me. We walked around the market for a bit and then made our way to get some coffee. According to Dustin, Belfast is a big foodie city, so of course the big foodie that I am was beyond pleased to hear this. After coffee/tea and lunch we headed over to St Anne’s cathedral.  The inside had the most lovely stained glass windows and some beautiful mosaics as well.  It was cool to see this cathedral that was a bit newer than many that I’ve seen in France to be able to compare the architecture and style.

    After the cathedral, we went on a tour of city hall.  While we were waiting for our tour, there was a wedding party taking photos in the main area of the hall.  It was a lovely place for photos as the building was gorgeous, but this poor couple now has several dozen disgruntled looking tourists immortalized forever in their wedding photos.  The tour of city hall was nice as there was a bit of history thrown in and like I said, the city hall building was gorgeous, so definitely something worth seeing.

    After city hall, we wandered around town a bit and ended up taking a bus to see Belfast Castle.  The walk to get there had amazing views and we got to pass by the university building where Dustin had his master’s classes. Also, it had snowed there earlier in the day so I was pleased to see a bit of snow that actually stuck to the ground, unlike the snow that we’ve gotten in France.  Snow in April always feels just like home.  The castle was mostly closed for private events, but the building and grounds were lovely! While at the castle, we stopped for tea and scones, and can I just say that thus is one of my favorite things.  Tea and scone breaks should be a thing in more places. If you know me well, you’ll know that tea is largely important to me. Every place we got tea, they served it to you in a tea pot. You may be reading this saying, “Ok, Sara, calm down it’s not that exciting,” but in most places in France I feel like they just don’t take tea as seriously and often just serve it to you in a mug.  So, Northern Ireland, I applaud your dedication to tea.  Good on you!

    After returning back to Belfast city center, we found a pub that had traditional Irish music and spent some time there.  One of my favorite things about the pubs in Northern Ireland is that you can always find at least one pub with live music no matter what day of the week it is.  I found the same thing to be true in Ireland when I visited Dublin in December.  The live music just adds to much to the atmosphere of the pub. It’s something that I wish we had more of in the United States. Also, traditional Irish music is just lovely, so there’s that, too. After leaving the pub, we went to a pizza place called Little Wing Pizzeria for dinner.  The pizza was so good and they had a bunch of really unique flavors!

    The next morning, we met at Maggie May’s for breakfast. Here is the part of the blog where I will rave about this restaurant because oh my gosh it’s amazing. All of the food was really reasonably priced and the portion sizes were GIGANTIC. I feel like in France I’m very well fed, but it doesn’t feel like  home unless the portion sizes on your plate are enough for 1 1/2 -2 people (#americanproblems).  This time, I decided to get a Ulster Fry and it was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a while! After breakfast, we went to see the botanic gardens.  They were super cute and just nearby. There was a domes glass greenhouse protecting the plants from the weather and it was beautiful. Next stop was the Ulster Museum, just a short walk from the botanic gardens.  The museum was nice and bigger than I had expected it to be.  There were several different sections of the museum: nature, ancient history, modern history, and art.  The historical parts of the museum were where I spent most of my time and they were very well done.

    In the museum, there was also a special exhibition about the Troubles.  The Troubles were something that I didn’t know much about before visiting Belfast, but thanks to Dustin and the Ulster museum, I learned a bit about them during my time in Northern Ireland.  For me, it was striking to see that such a huge conflict happened so recently.  Now that surely sounds ignorant of me, because there are huge conflicts happening in many parts of the world, even as I type this blog.  But something that I can just see people saying is that conflicts like these haven’t happened recently in the “western world.”  Obviously events like the Troubles prove this wrong.  The fighting largely ended in 1998. I was five years old.  Many of the European conflicts that people think of are further removed, such as world war I and world war II, but these are not the most recent.

    Something else that is striking to me is that some of this fighting was based on rights given to people based on their heritage and religious affiliation.  Though I know that religion is and has been the base of so many world conflicts, it makes me sad to see something that is meant to bring comfort and hope turned into something that kills and alienates.  The same things could be said about the conflicts that have been recently going on with religious extremists that have caused attacks in Paris, Belgium, and countless other countries.  It’s just something that’s horrifying to me, that these beliefs can be morphed and cause hurt and hate instead of love and joy.  I talked to my mom this weekend, and she said she remembered hearing about the troubles often when she was growing up, so like I said, this is not far removed from my generation as many of us would probably like to think.

    Part way through the morning, Dustin had to leave to go back home.  I finished up at the museum and after that, headed to the Titanic quarter.  This area of the city was interesting to see, as one can explore the place where the Titanic was built. There’s a Titanic museum there, but I decided to just admire the impressive building that houses it from the outside. After wandering back and doing some window shopping, I headed back to the hostel for the day.

    The next day was my birthday, and I had scheduled a day trip to see Giant’s Causeway, which is an amazing rock formation on the coast just a few hours from Belfast.  Luckily, there were three other people from my hostel that went on this trip as well, so we hung out for the day. It was nice to meet new people.  Our tour made several stops on its way to the Causeway, including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and Bushmills whiskey distillery. Luckily by the time we made it to the Causeway, it had stopped raining and it was just a bit cloudy. With the tour, we only had two hours there, but I could have stayed all day.  It is honestly one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been.  Everything was such a gorgeous shade of green, and the rock formations were stunning. There were more trails there than I had time to walk, and they all gave breath-taking views out on the sea.  I took a bunch of photos, but none of them do this place justice.  It’s so much more amazing in person.  Also, my new friend Tammy told out bus driver/tour guide that it was my birthday and he made the whole bus sing to me, which was nice, but a little embarrassing.  He referred to me as “birthday girl” for the rest of the day.

    That night when we got back to the hostel, we hung out at the hostel before going out to a pub to hear some traditional music.  Tammy told the other people at the hostel that it was my birthday as well, so they all sang me happy birthday too.  The pub we went to was super noisy and busy but the music was good, and I had a nice time. All in all, I can say that I had a pretty spectacular 23rd birthday and a pretty spectacular weekend.

    On Tuesday, it was time for me to head back to France. On my way back to Orléans from Paris I stopped to have dinner with some of my friends from Albion who were in Paris as well.  Some of them I hadn’t seen for a year or more so that was another nice reunion I got to have.

    The rest of my week was pretty quiet, which wasn’t a bad thing. I needed a bit of time to relax and work on lesson plans (read catch up on my Netflix).

    On Saturday, my host parents took me to Chartres for the day.  It was a really cute town to visit.  The cathedral in this city has a really big labyrinth in the middle and stained glass windows that have blue glass like no other cathedrals in France.  It was a fun day trip, and I really enjoyed being able to spend the day with my host parents.

    As I said previously., my time here is coming to a close. I’ve already had to say goodbye to four classes his week. Next week I will have to say goodbye to the rest of my students, and I know it’s going to be really hard.  I have become really attached to most of them, and I hate goodbyes anyway. I also don’t want to have to say goodbye to my colleagues, because they’re a fantastic bunch of people. I’m avoiding thinking about how I’ll also soon have to leave my host parents and my friends, because I know I will cry.

    On a happier note to all of these goodbyes, I am counting down the days until Kaitlin, who has been one of my best friends since we were eleven, meets me at the Paris airport and we fly to London together.  We have been saying that we would do this trip when we were older for honestly about 12 years. However, I never thought it would be this soon. We are so lucky that we will be able to go on this trip together to London, England, Scotland, and then make it back to France a few days before we fly back to the U.S.  So look forward to updates on that, and probably a post about my last bit of teaching and the Joan of Arc Festival that is happening here starting next Friday, in the near future.

    Here are some links to albums of photos related to things that I’ve mentioned in this blog post:

    Giverny Pictures: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1329120120436433.1073741846.100000153723798&type=1&l=7f8ec97009

    Northern Ireland Pictures: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1326808994000879.1073741845.100000153723798&type=1&l=a6cc284957

    Pictures of Chartres/Pictures of Daily Life in France: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1234104536604659.1073741840.100000153723798&type=1&l=bbe6812e6c

    Also, you may have noticed that the blog has a new look! I’m still playing around with the style a bit, but I think this theme is a lot more clean cut than my old one, and I really like it!

    That’s all for now 🙂

     

    My Travels Through Italy in February

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    Here I am again, super late in updating my blog.  I’ve been back from Italy for more than a month, but it’s been a little bit crazy here in Orleans with work and everything else that’s been going on. *Disclaimer: This blog’s been cut quite short because I wanted to get it put up before my post about my spring break, so sorry for that. That’s why it starts off with a lot and then the descriptions get significantly shorter….*

    So in my February break from school, my friend Madison and I traveled to Italy for two weeks.  We started our trip in Milan and the proceeded on to Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, and Turin.  Naturally, we did a lot in those two weeks, so I think I’m just going to include mostly just the highlights for each city to keep this blog from becoming ridiculously long.

    Milan:

    The first city that we explored was Milan. We spent two days in Milan and I found that it was a really beautiful city.  My favorite thing that we saw in the city was the Duomo or cathedral.  It was beautiful and different from any of the cathedrals that I’ve seen in France.  We walked climbed up to the roof of the cathedral in the rain as well, which was very cool.  Later that day, after wandering around the city, we went to a modern art museum.  It was a nice museum, and had a great view over the main square with the Duomo.  Our hostel also had an aperitivo that night, where they had a bunch of free dinner food if you bought a drink in the bar that was there.  We ate dinner in the hostel that night and it was really cool.   It was probably one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in.  The second day we were there, I had risotto for lunch.  The risotto had saffron in it and it was a really typical Milanese dish. We also explored a castle that had feral cats living in the gardens around it, which was adorable.

    Rome:

    After Milan,we spent 3 days in Rome. One of the coolest things for me was that we arrived in Rome super early in the morning. Though I wasn’t initially pleased to be awake, we went to see the Trevi fountain and almost no one else was there.  When I went to see it in December it was so crowded, so getting to see it like this was perfect! Later that day, we went to see the Sistine Chapel.  It was worth seeing, but I didn’t know that they led you through museums and buildings and gardens before you even got to see the chapel.  It took several hours to see everything!  We also went to see Saint Peter’s Basilica and waited in line about three hours to see it.  The basilica was lovely, but at that point I was very tired of standing and waiting. That night for dinner, we went to dinner our roommates from the hostel.  They were super nice and it was fun to meet some new people. The food at the restaurant was amazing (though I didn’t eat much in Italy that I didn’t love).

    The second day in Rome we went to the Castel Sant’Angelo. This was once the residence of the Pope but has been turned into a museum.  It had stunning views over the city and the Tiber river.  We also saw some lovely fountains and the Colosseum later that day.  That night, we had dinner with Nunzia and Vito.  I was so happy that they could take time out of their  busy schedules to meet up with us.  After dinner, we walked around the Trastevere quarter of room.  It was cool to see such a lively place at night, but it was also bizarre because there were so many people speaking English there since there are many American universities in the city.

    On our third day in Rome, we spent the morning in the Villa Borghese, a big beautiful park in the city.  The weather was so nice while we were in Rome, so I was happy for us to spend some time outside.

    Naples/Pompeii:

    Pompeii was an amazing site as well, and something that I never thought I’d see. I can’t tell you how fascinating it was to be walking through a city so much older than almost anything else I’ve seen in my life.  Naples was nice to visit again. The city’s coast is gorgeous, especially in the setting sun.

    Florence:

    What a cool city for art! Saw many museums and galleries and they were hosting a chocolate festival while we were there.  The duomo in Florence is also gorgeous.

    Venice:

    A city like none other I’ve ever been to.  What gorgeous canals! We visiting some of the neighboring islands while there and I was impressed by the picturesque houses. Also, a lovely modern art museum, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, calls Venice its home.

    Turin:

    Many nice museums in this city. It was a nice calmer end to the whirlwind trip.

     

    Anyway, linked below is are the albums of photos that I took over the trip. As per usual I went a bit photo happy….

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1275179552497157.1073741843.100000153723798&type=1&l=d99f8fb8a9

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1282984948383284.1073741844.100000153723798&type=1&l=920e6123f3

    As I said previously, expect a post about my spring break adventures very very soon!

    Christmas in Italy and Other Updates

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      Oops! Another blog post that has been long overdue.  This will probably be a longer post since I haven’t given you any updates lately, so here it goes!

    This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by my friend Nunzia to spend Christmas in Italy with her and her family.  Nunzia and I met when we did our semester abroad at the University de Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines and I hadn’t seen her in two years, so needless to say I was really excited about this trip 🙂  Another reason to be excited for this trip was that our friend Zhou, who also studied at UVSQ was going to fly in to spend a few days with us as well.

    I left France on the 18th of December to fly to Rome.  With Nunzia’s guidance I successfully navigated the train system and made it into the city from the airport. The first night, we wandered around the city. We saw St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.  It was beautiful to see it at night, with all of the Christmas decorations and the nativity scene.  While we were in the square, a choir of American seminary students was there singing Christmas carols.  We stayed a while listening to them, and it was all very magical and Christmas-y.  We walked around some more and I got to see several of Rome’s lovely fountains. One of my favorite things that I saw the first night was the Pantheon.  It was such a lovely building, and seeing it lit up at night was gorgeous.

    The next day, we planned to spend the day seeing the highlights of Rome. Nunzia’s boyfriend Vito came along to show us the city. Before we started, we had to pick up Zhou who had flown in that morning.  We saw many more fountains and went back to the Pantheon to see the inside.  We also had a typical Roman lunch, a sandwich called pizza biancha e mortadella, which was made of yummy thin bread and a type of ham.  We had gelato from Nunzia and Vito’s favorite gelato place in Rome, Giolitti.  I picked to have dark chocolate and tiramisu flavored gelato and it was some of the best ice cream that I’ve ever had in my life.  Later, we got to see the Trevi fountain. I was very excited to see this fountain, because it was featured in one of my favorite childhood movies, The Lizzie McGuire Movie.  I know it’s kind of dumb to be so excited to see something that was in a kids’ movie, but to be fair the fountain is really beautiful as well.  Of course I threw in a coin and made a wish as well 😉 We were actually very lucky because they had just finished renovations on the fountain in November so it was especially lovely when we saw it.

    We got to see many other really lovely things in Rome that day, such as the Colluseum, the Pantheon (again for me), the Spanish Steps, and many really beautiful churches.  We also got to eat amazing food.  Nunzia and Vito took us to their favorite place to get tiramisu, I drank the most espresso I’ ve had in my life, and we even went to a bar for happy hour. You may not think that happy hour would be a very exciting thing, but in Rome, happy hour was way better than in the States. They had a deal at many restaurants where you bought a drink for a fixed price and then had access to an all you can eat buffet of appetizers. They had pizza, salad, and many other delicious things.  If you hadn’t already gathered, I really enjoyed the food.

    The next day, we all left together to go to Nunzia’s village.  This was a five hour drive from Rome, since Nunzia’s family lives in the south of Italy in a small village called Pellare which is part of a slightly bigger city called Moio de la Civitella.  The drive was long, but very beautiful, as there were spectacular views of the montains.  When we finally arrived in Nunzia’s village, it was very much in contrast to Rome.  Both places were absolutely lovely, but Nunzia’s village was very small in comparison.  Also, nearly everyone in Nunzia’s village knows each other, so the atmosphere was very friendly and welcoming.  The fist thing thqt we did when we arrived was eat an amazing lunch prepared by Nunzia’s mom.  The food was absolutely amazing and it was so nice to be able to meet Nunia’s family.  Later in the day, Nunzia gave Zhou and I the tour of the village and we drove up to the top of the village’s hill to see the breathtaking view of the mountains and surrounding villages.  That night we went to a Christmas market in the village as well and got to try all kinds of yummy foods.

    The day, we got coffee with some of Nunzia’s friends in one of the nearby towns.  That night had a party to celebrate Nunzia’s dad’s birthday.   It was really nice to meet so many of Nunzia’s friends and to be able to help celebrate her dad’s birthday.

    Later in the week, Nunzia, Zhou and I went to a city called Paestum to visit the ancient Greek ruins that were there.  It was cool to see these, as I don’t think I’ve seen anything as old as those ruins in my whole life. There was a really nice museum there as well that showed what some of the things they had found in the ruins. Later in the afternoon, we visited a town called Agropoli and saw the Mediterranean Sea.  The sun started to set some time after we got there and it was perfect.

    The following day, we had to drop Zhou off at the airport in Naples.  We spent the whole day exploring the city before his flight. Some highlights of this day were getting to eat pizza margherita in the restaurant where it was invented and spending time at a lovely castle by the sea.  Naples was quite a cool town to see and while we were there it was bustling and full of people.  There were nativity scenes being sold in many parts of town, which was something cool to see.  Nunzia also showed us the metro station called Toledo, which has won awards fir being the most beautiful metro station.

    The next day was Christmas Eve.  Throughout the entire time I had been in Nunzia’s villages, the men who lived in the village had been constructing a large bonfire pile.  One of the village traditions is to light a bonfire on Christmas eve.  This bonfire is huge and is said to be a tradition to help keep baby Jesus warm.  The oldest man in the village gets to light the fire, which burns for several days.  this was an amazing thing to see, as I’ve never seen a bonfire so big in my entire life.  We also went to midnight mass, which was cool as I’ve never been to a midnight mass on Christmas eve before as I’m not Catholic.  It was all in Italian so I didn’t understand a word, but the choir that sang was really good. 

    On Christmas, we had a big meal with Nunzia’s cousins and then spent a lot of the rest of the day visiting family members. I thought that this was a nice thing to do and was different than what my family usually does at Christmas as we all usually get together at one persons house and spend the day together there. It was a bit weird to not be with my family for Christmas, but it was amazing to spend Christmas with a friend and see how other people celebrate such an important holiday. 

    The day after Christmas, Nunzia and I took a train to Salerno in the evening to see the famous Christmas lights there. They were fairy tale themed. There were many other people there so it was hard to see all of the lights but they were beautiful. That night after we got back Nunzia and I got to cook pancakes for everyone for everyone for dinner. This was fun because pancakes are one of my favorite things to make and pretty much everyone likes them. 

    All in all, I had a really nice time in Italy. I think that it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. I am so lucky that Nunzia and her family so graciously welcomed me into their home. I was sad to leave, but when I returned to France my family had arrived to visit me for two weeks

    With my family we spent one week in Paris and one week in Orléans because I had to go back to work the second week. We got to see a lot of lovely things. Some of my highlights were going to the chateau of Versailles and getting to meet up with Zhou again, going on a river cruise on the Seine, and going on a chateau tour once we returned to the Loire valley. I am so pleased that I got to see my family as it made it easier to be away from home for 7 months. 

    I’m finishing up this blog as I’m on the bus back to Italy. Madison and I are going to see many of he major cities in the next two weeks as we are in another school break. That’s all for now! I promise my next blog will come sooner than this one has. 

    Here is a link to the pictures from my trip to Italy over Christmas. 

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1243064349042011.1073741842.100000153723798&type=1&l=8fba089994

    I will update this post with a link to the most recent album of photos of what I’ve been up to in France when I have access to a computer again. 

     

     

     

    Dublin and Wicklow

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    I honestly hadn’t realized that I haven’t updated this in over a month, so I apologize for that.  I can catch you up later on what I’ve been up to here in Orléans, but for now, I’d like to talk about the trip I took this past weekend to Ireland.

    This trip was especially cool because I got to meet up with one of my closest friends, Melissa, who has been doing a teach abroad in Spain program for the last six weeks.  I never imagined that we would be abroad at the same time and get to travel together, so this was a real treat.

    I began my trip at 4:30 on Friday morning by taking the tram to the train station.  My flight didn’t leave until 10:20, but I had to take the train into Paris, the metro and then another train in order to end up in the airport, giving me two hours of travel time if all of the traffic went well.  Luckily everything went smoothly, but this left me at the airport quite a bit earlier than I needed to be there.  The Charles de Gaulle airport really isn’t too bad to navigate, so I was lucky that way too.  Once I got on the plane, the flight was really quick, only an hour and twenty minutes long. I’m not used to flights being this short so I was appreciative of that.

    When I finally got to the airport I had to wait a bit for Melissa.  This was ok, but once she arrived it took a while for us to find each other because I was unaware that there were two terminals and that her flight had actually arrived at the other terminal.  We eventually found each other, but it took a lot of wandering and asking people about the layout of the airport.

    We took a bus from the airport to O’Connell street and wandered around there a bit before finding our hostel.  We were both really hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant and got some beef and Guinness pie, which in this case was a beef stew with a pie crust top and mashed potatoes.  After this, we started to head to the hostel, admiring all of the Christmas decorations along the way.  I thought that there were a lot of Christmas decorations in France, that is until I saw the decorations in Dublin.  This city does Christmas right. We checked into our hostel, which was located quite near Christ Church cathedral and then eventually decided to spend a bit more time wandering around the city.

    We walked around the streets lined with shops and saw more and more Christmas decorations. It hasn’t been really feeling like Christmas to me in Orléans, so I welcomed the Christmas spirit that I felt in Dublin.  We eventually ended up in a pub called Madigan’s, where we had a lovely roast beef dinner with cabbage, carrots, mashed potatoes and a roasted potatoes.  Any meal that includes more than one kind of potato is perfect in my book.  After a while, there was a guy in the restaurant playing guitar.  I really loved the live music that filled the streets and restaurants of Dublin.  this is something that is less common in France, or is at least not something that happens every night in most restaurants, so it was really cool to experience.  I also had my first pint of Guinness here.  I never really thought I was much of a dark beer person, but I really loved it.  When in Ireland, you have to drink Guinness, right? 🙂

    The next day, we had booked a day trip to the Wicklow Mountains.  We had trouble finding the spot where we were supposed to meet up with the group and had to run through Dublin looking for the Molly Malone statue. We made it to the bus just in time and were off on our tour. Our tour guide, John, was great.  He talked to us about the scenery, the history of the area and was full of interesting facts, not like other tour guides I’ve had who seem to just enjoy listening to themselves talk.  We decided to do a guided walking tour with the day trip, but there were also options for horseback riding and visiting the Powerscourt gardens. For our guided tour, we didn’t do that much walking because it was really windy and rainy.  It was still nice to see the scenery though.  With the tour, we got to see an old German cemetery in Enniskerry, and several of the surrounding mountains.  We had lunch at Poppies’ where some scenes were filmed for Leap Year.  The food there was so good and the cafe itself was absolutely adorable.  After lunch, we drove around in the mountains more, and finally we ended up in Glendalough.  Here we got to see a lovely old cemetery, an old tower, and several ruins. The rainy weather was perfect with this scenery, even though it had begun to feel a bit too cold and miserable too be outside.  I was really happy to see some of the countryside, even if only for part of a day.

    That night, after we got back into town, we went to dinner and had really good fish and chips.  We went to a bar called the International bar and ended up in the comedy club there.  I really enjoyed the comedians and it was cool to end up somewhere that we hadn’t planned to be.  After this, we found another bar that had live music every night. Like I said before, it was amazing to be in a city where you could find live music almost everywhere you went.  We ended up chatting with some nice Irish people in this bar as well.  They were super kind and it was nice to speak with some new people.

    The next day had been set aside for seeing the sights around Dublin.  Since it was Sunday, most things didn’t open very early, but this gave us time to get breakfast at an adorable restaurant called Queen of Tarts.  The desserts there were amazing and I was very pleased to sit down and drink tea out of a cute little tea cup.  After breakfast, we made our way to Trinity College to see the campus and the library. The library there held incredibly old versions of the gospels called the book of Kells. I am always amazed by how well preserved old books like these can be, and the designs adorning the pages of the book were beautifully intricate and colorful. The library itself was also amazing.  I’ve never seen such a beautiful library in all of my life. The buildings at Trinity College were nice too. I’d always thought that the buildings at Albion were old and beautiful, which they are, but seeing the buildings here I knew that I would be too distracted by the architecture to pay attention in class if I studied here.

    After finishing up at Trinity College, we headed to St. Stephen’s Green.  This was such a lovely park with many statues and also the bridge where one of the scenes from Leap Year was filmed was here.  We got lunch in a restaurant in the George St. Arcade and then headed to Christchurch cathedral.  Unfortunately since it was Sunday, by the time we got there it was no longer open for visits.  Instead we went to Dublin Castle and looked around there. It was lovely with all of the Christmas decorations there and was cool to see a building that was so important to Ireland’s political history.  By the time we finished here, it was already dark out.  We wandered around the city some more and eventually found a place to eat dinner.  We had stew, which was again wonderful.  I was really sad that it was Sunday night, because that meant that our trip was coming to an end.

    The next morning we got up early enough to look around Christ Church cathedral before heading back to the airport.  The cathedral was really lovely both inside and outside.  I liked being able to compare this cathedral with some of the ones that i had seen in France and Germany.  One thing that especially struck me about the cathedral was the tiled floor. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, but the tile were colorful and patterned, and that isn’t something that I’m used to seeing in other cathedrals.  The cathedral also had a crypt, which held many interesting tombs and also had a restaurant where you could buy snacks, which I thought was hilarious and Melissa thought was super morbid.  After leaving the cathedral, we stopped at Queen of Tarts to get scones and tea to go and enjoyed our last hour in Dublin before heading to the airport.

    Overall, Dublin was a really impressive city to me. I loved that there was a perfect mix of modern and historic.  The food was amazing and the people were kind. As much as I love it in France, it was nice to spend a weekend somewhere where I didn’t have to think in another language as well.  Even though the weather was a bit dreary when we were there, it looked lovely on the town.  I haven’t been too many places that I’d say looked pretty with rainy and strong winds, but Dublin makes it on the list of those places.  I really saw Dublin as a place that I want to come back too.  I would love to see more of Ireland as well.  I know that I only got a small taste of the country, and there are many places there to see that will be just as lovely.

    There are very few places that I’ve visited where I’ve said I could see myself long term, and before this trip, that list only included a choice few cities that I’ve visited back in the states.  That being said, I could see myself in Dublin.  This was another thing that was unusual for me, because even though I love France, I don’t see myself staying here for more than a year or so.  The vibe of the city was really comfortable for me, and honestly I couldn’t stop smiling while I was there.

    Anyway, here’s a link to my photos from the trip:

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1234818273199952.1073741841.100000153723798&type=1&l=0cf6ca7da9