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

 

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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

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