Sunday, January 29, 2012

chirping

just got back from a lovely weekend trip. i decided to meet up with some people i met in prague. with a little coaxing from my best friend from home i booked my ticket to paris for a few nights. in the wise words of audrey hepburn: "paris is always a good idea." it was fantastic. the weather was great. a bit dreary when i got in on thursday afternoon, but friday was beautiful and the rain held out until i got on the train yesterday afternoon to come back to armentières.

i've found a new friend in champagne and decided it's appropriate for any (and all) occasion. after going to the louvre and notre dame, we picked up a few bottles and took them to the eiffel tower to wait for it to light up. i never get sick of seeing it sparkle.

on friday we went back to the eiffel tower and went for a little skate. my new friends are hockey players and were convinced they were going to die from skating on such dull skates with toe picks, but somehow we all made it out alive. we did almost have a man down after walking up the stairs (he was 'cut like a bag of milk' as scott chirped) but we survived. for some reason i really enjoy taking the stairs all the way up--makes me feel like i accomplished something.

i learned some very catching canadian lingo, heard 'eh' more than i ever have, tried poutine for the first time (and liked it), and even got to have canadian beer. successful weekend. now if only all of my weekends could be like that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

to the city of lights--


figured i'd jaunt off to paris tomorrow--happy weekend!

falling in love too much.

i have a problem. i love too many places. i love paris, i love lille, i love bruges, i love bordeaux, and now? now i love prague, too. i went for just a quick weekend trip with my closest girlfriend here and we had such an amazing time. i took my first low-cost flight through easy jet (and yes, it was so easy) and made my way to eastern europe.

i had a few signs of lust before i realized it was love. first, the sunset. i only saw it for a few minutes before getting to the metro, but it's been quite some time since i've seen something so beautiful. second, how clean and quiet the metro was. no homeless people begging for money, no smell of bodily functions, just the hush of people moving around. third, the single file lines on the escalator. it's incredible. people actually ride the escalators in one line on the far right so people in a hurry can pass on the left.

i was still lusting on the metro listening to the language. we got off and walked through wenceslas square. the national museum is at one end and in front of it sits a statue of saint wenceslas. the first post-communist president (václav havel) passed away around christmas time and so there was a memorial there for him. candles and flowers were everywhere--it was lovely.

i was lusting some more over an espresso learning some basic phrases to (hopefully) help us get by for the weekend. our host was very patient, which is terribly important when 'learning' a language that literally sounds nothing like the two that you already know.

the first signs of love came soon after. we saw the astrological clock in the old town square then walked toward old charles bridge. i could just feel the charm, the city was oozing with it..even in the dark. i'm a sucker for charm, so i could pretty much tell i was doomed from that point on. then we had dinner. we ate at an incredible restaurant. the food, in a word, was scrumptious. and the beer? amazing. i had a sauerkraut and bratwurst soup followed by a budweiser goulash. don't let the name budweiser fool you, the czech budweiser has nothing in common with the american budweiser (thankfully). we had more beer for dessert and called it a night.

the next morning was when it was all over. it had snowed over night. my first snow in europe. there is such a calm that comes over a place when it snows. luli and i made our way to the prague castle. we missed the walking tour we wanted to take that morning so we decided to tackle the castle ourselves and go on the second walking tour offered later that day. the castle was amazing. the view was beautiful and st vitus' cathedral was breathtaking.

it was snowing while we walked back to the old town square for our tour. beautiful, gentle falling snow. the tour was perfect. we learned so much about the city. we walked all over the place, saw amazing things, and met amazing people. it was pouring snow when the tour ended so we decided it was a great time to sit down and have a beer. best place to do it? at a monastery. my monk-brewed beer was fantastic.

we decided to keep up with our new friends and all go on a bar crawl together that night. it was so fun. we played flip cup, jenga, reenacted famous sculptures, and had the most amazing night. i don't know if any of my nights compare since moving here.

i decided there is no such thing as too much love, so i'm in love..again (and i don't hate it.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

reflections and lasers

i just looked down at my calendar and somehow it's been more than two months since my last post. i'm the world's worst writer. just like ever other journal i've ever started, my attempts at writing have gone right down the drain. with actual journals i think i stop writing because i get bored with my own thoughts and opinions. however, for this 'journal', i wanted to make it more of a documentation of my life and adventures in france. somehow i'm still awful at it. i'm not big on new year's resolutions, but i'm going to try really really hard to keep up with my life here before it completely flashes before my eyes.

the holiday season has come to an end. the holidays (as always) are a time for reflection, hopes, wishes, dreams, and for love and happiness. this was the first year of my life i didn't spend the holiday's with my parents. this whole experience has made me realize how obsessed with my family i am. they're the most wonderful people in the world and my days would be incredibly dark without them.

we'll start with thanksgiving. i wasn't going to celebrate at all, then a horribly tragic event happened and i found myself in normandy with my little sister. we reflected on a life lost and got to spend the holiday weekend together. we ate turkey and pumpkin pie, watched 'elf' over and over again, decorated for christmas, and drank apple cider. i can never express how much i am thankful for and this year is no different. i'm so lucky to continuously have so many blessings come into my life, they all add to my already long list. trying to explain the meaning of thanksgiving to my students was rather tough. they don't have a holiday even remotely close to it and just don't seem to grasp the importance of reflecting on your life and being grateful for the things in it. yes, little frenchies, there is way more in life to be thankful for than shopping, video games, and money.

the weekend after thanksgiving cari and a friend of hers, rachel, came to lille to visit. the christmas market was in full swing. ferris wheel, carrousel, mulled wine, waffles, christmas trees and christmas lights everywhere. france really knows how to do christmas. we spent the day in the city wandering around vieux lille and the centre ville, went to the musée des beaux arts, and even got to catch a free show at the opéra. it was one of the best weekends i've had in lille since i moved here. it's the type of memory i want bottle up so i am able to remember every detail forever.

i've had a lot of memories like that since coming here. there'd be about a hundred bottles from my christmas vacation alone. for starters, my older sister got engaged to an absolutely incredible man the day before she flew over the pond for her visit. i cannot wait to call houston my brother, he's so great. cari and i are going to be co-maids of honor in the wedding. here's a little snippet on how she told us he proposed and asked us to be her maids of honor:

video

we had a seriously amazing trip together. i picked dani up at charles de gaulle on the 17th and we met cari at gare de lyon in paris. we got lunch then started our two week vacation. first stop: marseille. we stayed at the most adorable hostel (vertigo, vieux port) and got to walk around a beautiful mediterranean city for a few days. we ate 'moules frites' by the port, walked to the old fisherman's village, wandered around 'le panier,' and saw amazing cathedrals.

after marseille we headed to bordeaux. i don't think i can love a city more than paris, but bordeaux came pretty close. i love wine, so it's not really a big surprise that i would fall for a place like bordeaux with it's  many vineyards. perks of being there during the winter: cheap wine tastings. we went to two different chateaux and tasted one gross wine and two tasty wines. the weather wasn't the best while we were there, but for the most part it held out and we didn't see too much rain. we walked all over the city--saw old ruins, an enormous park and botanical garden, incredible architecture (of course) and took plenty of time to sit in café's drinking coffee and hot chocolate.

we headed to paris on the 23rd. i am like a little girl when it comes to that city. there isn't anywhere in this country more incredible to me. i discover new things each and every time i'm there and it never ceases to amaze me. the more familiar i become with the streets and the metro, the more i love it. rachel met us at the hostel and we got settled and went walking around before dinner. we decided to splurge and spoil ourselves for one meal during our vacation. when my parents were here in october, we got the greatest restaurant recommendation from the concierge at our hotel. just a few minutes away from the eiffel tower, a little place called 'café constant' provided the best meal i've ever eaten. we loved it so much we ate there twice. the second time was just as good as the first, and taking dani there was a must. we considered it our 'christmas dinner' knowing a lot of places would be closed christmas eve and christmas day. i tried fois gras for the first time, we had a great bottle of wine, incredible meals, and fabulous desserts. if i could afford to eat at that place every day, i would.

on the 24th we got up and started our day at the musée d'orsay. we spent hours looking at the impressionist art on the 5th floor and could have stayed much longer if we weren't so hungry. we grabbed sandwiches and walked along the seine towards notre dame. we had a very important place to go: shakespeare and company (my favorite bookstore in paris.) i was dying to take dani and cari there. from the second i saw it i knew how much they'd love it. it's so quaint. there are hardly words to describe how great the atmosphere is. we went back to the hostel to talk to our mom and dad and our grandma and grandpa in louisiana. probably one of the most difficult conversations i've had. in a few words, i never want to spend christmas away from my parents again. it's a tradition for my dad to read us 'the night before christmas' every christmas eve before we go to bed. this year he read to us on skype. we hardly got through it, but it was a piece of home i can't do without. to lighten the mood my grandpa read us the cajun version afterwards. we left the hostel again to go to notre dame for the midnight mass. it was packed, but so beautiful. the choir sang hymns from 11 until 12, then mass started. the smell of frankincense and myrrh filled the entire cathedral. it was a great experience, but made me miss my church from home...so i hummed 'silent night' to myself on the way back to st. christopher's.

we had a really slow start on the 25th. i spent the whole day pretending it wasn't actually christmas. it was an amazing day, but didn't feel like christmas without my parents...so i decided it was just the 25th of december, nothing special. dani, cari, rachel, and i went ice skating on the first floor of the eiffel tower. easily one of the top 5 greatest things i've ever done. i haven't been on skates in years and it came back like riding a bike. the view was great and we laughed practically the whole time. when we had our ice skating fill we walked down the stairs, across the street, and rode a carrousel. we walked through one of the many christmas markets and headed to see the arc de triomphe and the big ferris wheel. there was another christmas market on the champs élysées--this one was an enormous 350 shop marché de noël that smelled like waffles and crêpes the whole way through.

on the 26th it was time to head to carentan, cari's adorable little town. we walked around for a while, and got the chance to relax for a few days. we played the french version of 'clue' and will be officially instating a family board game night when we move home. we got to skype with my mom and dad and gram and granddad in florida and tell them about our holiday.

we left carentan for lille on the 28th. we got in, had sandwiches for lunch, and grabbed hot chocolate and macaroons from paul (a lovely pâtisserie chain here in france) before going to check into our hotel. we read and relaxed a bit (traveling is exhausting in case you wanted to know) then went to grab dinner. we moseyed through the centre ville and along the rue de béthune and ate at my favorite crêpe restaurant. before heading back to paris on the 29th, we walked through vieux lille--my favorite part of the city here.

we stayed at the sheraton at the airport that night because my dad is the most amazing man that ever walked the face of the planet. dani's flight back home was the morning of the 30th and i'm pretty sure both cari and i were plotting ways to sneak on her flight so we could go home. homesickness hits me hard every now and again, and even pretending like christmas wasn't actually christmas didn't really help. i absolutely did not want to say goodbye to dani--we had such a fantastic trip and i would have given a lot to go home and share it all face-to-face with my family.

cari and i stayed at the aiport hotel until the last possible minute then took the rer-b back to paris for our last two nights of vacation. on the agenda: disney land for new years eve. it rained, but was still great. i forgot how much fun amusement parks are. roller-coasters, the smell of popcorn, people walking around in cheesy poncho's. and disney themed amusement parks? a buzz lightyear ride that lets you laser blast the evil emperor zurg, a peter pan flight, a pirates of the caribbean boat tour, and the swiss family robinson tree house. incredible. we had gross tex-mex for dinner (but what can you really expect in an amusement park in france?) the rain was pretty miserable, but the fireworks show at the end of the night made it all worth it. they were b-e-a-u-tiful. not a bad way to ring in the new year.

i made it back to armentières around lunch time on the 1st, unpacked, ate poptarts for lunch, then proceeded to sleep for about 20 hours. i have a few trip countdowns that will (hopefully) get me through my last few months here: first to prague, then to turkey and southern italy, and last but not least to greece. all before flying back to charlotte in may. it will be an exciting 4 months.

i'll be photo dumping onto facebook this weekend. so keep an eye out.