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. 

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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. 

 

 

 

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Christmastime in France

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Good thing I didn’t promise you a weekly blog, or you guys would probably be super mad at me.

I figured that since Christmas decorations have been popping up all over Paris and the suburbs as of late, I’d talk to you all about Christmas in France.  They have these wonderful things here (and I guess in other parts of Europe, who knew?) called Christmas markets.  They are cropping up all over Paris and there’s even a small one that’s talking over parts of the mall in Guyancourt.  These magical markets sell everything that one could ever want for Christmas, be it food or gifts.

There are stands and stands full of baked goods, macarons, pain d’épice (not actually gingerbread cookies, to my dismay, but more like spiced sweet bread), chocolates of all kinds,and really any other dessert you could ever want.  Food stands sell tartiflette (the best potato dish ever made with cream, onions, cheese, and BACON!), sausages on baguettes, and even soup! There stands that sell hot wine, hot cider, hot chocolate, and hot beer (I’m still not sold on hot beer…).

I am very excited to be able to do a lot of my Christmas shopping at these markets.  Though some of the stands sell cheesy trinkets there are some that are absolute gems! Handmade crafts, soap fabricated in France with French ingredients, and tons of things made out of lavender are some of the things that have impressed me at these markets.

There are Christmas lights everywhere as well.  The markets are full of Christmas decorations and Christmas spirit, and some even have ice rinks! However,these are not the only places that have begun decorating for Christmas. The large department stores have put up their elaborate Christmas window displays, but so have the smaller stores.  Lights, trees and decorations are showing up all over.

I was even lucky enough to get to go to the Champs-Elysees and see them turn on the Christmas lights there.  The lights themselves were pretty nice, but the ceremony filled the sky with silver confetti, so naturally I loved it.

If you can’t tell, I’ve had Christmas spirit flowing through my veins since early November.  France is such a magical place to be this time of year and I’m so happy to be able to experience it.

Here are some pictures of some of the best decorations I’ve seen and the markets:

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One of the beautifully decorated stands at the Christmas markets on the Champs-Elysees.

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Santons! I remember learning about these in French III in high school 🙂

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Christmas tree at the Galeries de Lafayette

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Some of the window decorations at the Galeries de Lafayette

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Christmas decorations in the shopping center in Guyancourt, near where I live.

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Lights on the Champs-Elysees (and incredible amounts of confetti in the first two pictures :D)

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Christmas lights in Montmartre near the Sacre Coeur

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Sephora on the Champs-Elysees all lit up for Christmas.

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Lights at the Christmas markets

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Pain d’épice

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Nunzia and I in front of the Christmas display at Ladurée.

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More gorgeous lights just off the Champs-Elysees

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Nativity scene at the Christmas market.

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They even have a Christmas Ferris wheel!!!!!!

On another holiday note, it was weird to spend my first ever Thanksgiving away from home and away from my family.  Luckily my other American friends felt equally weird about this and we decided to plan Thanksgiving here in France.  We had some interesting problems to confront with this, as our apartments don’t have ovens, but we enlisted the help of our friends to bring dishes to pass and had a successful, if not slightly unconventional Thanksgiving.  It was actually a really cool thing to do because most of my friends had never celebrated Thanksgiving before (only Americans and Canadians do, but Canada’s is in October).  I am happy to be able to have celebrated Thanksgiving abroad and am thankful for all of my wonderful friends here who humored me in joining in on the celebration.

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When your turkey is frozen, you have to thaw it somehow…

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Maddie and I cooking the turkey

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Everyone’s A+ food contibutions

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I asked everyone to write what they were thankful for on a leaf to put on the wall. Some people even made hand turkeys with me 🙂

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Some of my friends that came to the party 🙂