A weekend in Saint Malo

Even though I’ve been living in France for almost six whole months now, I feel like I haven’t really seen much of the country other than Angers, and the couple of cities I visited back in November. Angers is unfortunately not super centrally located, which can make day/weekend trips difficult, but not impossible! I opted for a weekend trip to Saint Malo, about three hours away by train. I had one connection in Laval on my way up, but the station is small so I didn’t have to run around.

Spending only a weekend somewhere means the bulk of my exploring happened on Saturday. This being France, most things don’t open until 10am anyway, so I could have a quasi leisurely morning. I decided to start the day with a trip to the aquarium, which was about a 20 minute bus ride from where I was staying, since it’s more towards the entrance to the city, rather than the center of it. I arrived for opening and spent the next 90 minutes seeing all kinds of marine life (including turtles, sharks, and everyone’s beloved friends Nemo and Dory). They’ve done a great job at laying out the exhibits, and in addition to the touch pool, they also have two “attractions” you can visit. They’re not the most thrilling, but one is an adventure underseas where you feel like you’re in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean, while the other actually allows you to go underwater in your own Nautibus as you get up close and personal with some fish on a five minute track (I’m not doing a good job at explaining the attractions, but you can google them if you’re more interested in them). I really enjoyed getting to feel like a kid again, while also seeing some new fish, as well as some baby turtles. Aquarium in Saint MALO

After the aquarium, I took the bus back to the old city, and got to explore the Intra Muros part of Saint Malo. I started with a quick stop at the beach where I touched (what I think was) the English Channel, and was able to walk up to the Fort National since the tide was out, although it wasn’t open as March is still considered off season for them.

I watched the waves crash for a bit before finally entering the walled city. I walked up along the ramparts to get a panoramic view of the city, it’s surrounding area, and the coastline. Other than the fact that it was super windy, I very much enjoyed the views, and I can say that Saint Malo is a beautiful city, indeed. I got more views as I climbed the watchtowers in the history museum.

My entry ticket also included the Solidor Tower, so I took the half an hour walk there, but unfortunately, due to weather conditions, the viewpoint wasn’t open. To their credit, it was extremely windy – to the point where sometimes I couldn’t even walk straight! I did get to, however, see their smallish museum dedicated to Breton sailors who explored Cape Horn. The wind did put a slight damper on the whole day as I definitely got wind burnt, and felt tired earlier than I normally would. I found some shelter from the wind by visiting the cathedral, which has some of the most beautiful stained glass I’ve ever seen (always a sucker for stained glass). It oddly isn’t super religious, which made it more relatable for me, at least.

To finish off my day, I had a Nutella beignet from Maison Hector, and it was divine. I made a mess for sure, but it was well worth it. I’m not sure what the deal with beignets here is, but there were many places from which they were available, so I figured I had good reason to partake (as if you ever need a reason to get something filled with Nutella).

This being France, very little is open on Sunday, so I had a day of a lot of wandering (I think I covered most of the streets in Intra Muros). I wanted to do a bus tour but I couldn’t find it (not sure if I was in the wrong place or what), so I ended up going into little stores to escape the wind, while also walking almost everywhere I possibly could. I went down to a new beach, grabbed a seashell as a souvenir, and enjoyed a galette for lunch. I made sure to grab a Kouign Amann before I left, seeing as those are a speciality of the region. I definitely had time to spare when I arrived at the train station, and had a painless journey back to Angers. Even though I only had a short time in Saint Malo, I’m glad I was able to visit, and check off a new city in France!

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February Holidays part III: Going back to London

Ever since I studied abroad in London my junior year of university, I feel like part of me is always longing to go back to London. As soon as the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent, I could feel a smile forming on my face as I looked out onto the landscape. We touched down, and I went as quickly as I could through customs, getting my bags, and heading down to the tube. It’s super convenient to be able to hop on the Picadilly line from Heathrow and go really anywhere in London without much effort. It’s always interesting to me how easily I slip back into the ways of the tube, and how at ease I feel navigating my way around the city. It’s also nice because having been there before, I feel less stressed about seeing everything, and more relaxed with my time there.

Even though I’ve spent an extensive amount of time in London, I still enjoy wandering around, and doing a lot of walking. Some of my favorite sights to explore are Southbank, where you can walk along the Thames, by the eye, the Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, the National Theatre, as well as see some great views of Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and Parliament. Walking along those familiar paths is so calming, and you can also walk across the Millennium Bridge (well known as the bridge the Death Eaters destroy in the seventh Harry Potter film) to St. Paul’s. I lucked out with the weather, so it was beyond pleasant to be out and about walking around the city the whole time I was there.

View of the London Eye and Big Ben

Some of my other favorite things to do in London include the many museums. Unlike a lot of other countries, the museums in London are all free (obviously special exhibits can cost some money, but the basic entrance doesn’t cost you anything). My personal favorites would have to be the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and the V&A in South Kensington (you can easily spend most of a day here since it’s such an extensive collection, and the museum seems to never end). This time, I also checked out the Tate Modern, and the Design Museum for the first time – a 10 minute walk from Earl’s Court Tube Station. Most of the exhibits here are paid entry, but there is a cool free exhibit on the top floor called “design, maker, user,” which looks at the evolution of technology, among other things. It’s pretty interesting because it looks at the methods that go into designing advertising, street signs (typography), as well as the history of things we take for granted in our daily lives like cell phones, laptops, and even smart watches. I found it a super easy exhibit to follow, and full of interactive things.

Speaking of the V&A, one of my “must-dos” the past times I’ve been back to London has been to have tea, and scones with clotted cream and jam at their cafe. Since I studied abroad, I stand by the fact that the V&A’s scones are amongst the best in London, and they’re truly a treat. Scones just aren’t the same in the US as they are in the UK, plus clotted cream isn’t exactly a household item either. Whether you put the cream on first or the jam, you have to admit that it’s a delicious combination. I was able to nab this one with a friend from university, so I got a tasty treat, and a well needed catch-up. I managed to have two scones during my week, one at the V&A, and one at Caffe Nero, which I would have to say is second on my list of best (easily accessible/affordable) scones in London. Of course, I had tea with my scone, and one of the things I truly love about London is the accessibility of tea. I was even able to buy tea at McDonald’s, which is something I don’t think I could find in the US! In case you were concerned about my tea supply in France, fear not, I returned to the other side of the channel with 160 PG Tips bags so I’m 100% covered, and definitely a very happy camper.

Tea and scones at the V&A

Ironically, the majority of my time in London was spent in a theatre. I’ll admit, that was one of the things that drew me to London when I was choosing where to study abroad, and it is one of the big things that keeps me coming back (along with how at home I feel there). I managed to see seven shows in the six days I was in London, and logistically, I couldn’t really have seen many more. I lucked out regarding the availability of shows, as well as the costs for my tickets. Using rush, and day seats, I never paid more than 25 pounds. I won’t do length reviews of them all, but I can’t write about my time in London and neglect to talk at least a little bit about the phenomenal shows, and actors I got to see while I was there.

  • Tuesday, 19 February, 8:00pm – SIX: The Musical. A clever 75 minute musical about the six wives of Henry VIII, told by his “ex-wives.” All six women are total queens (both literal and figuratively), the songs are jams, and the band is all female as well! It’s such a fun show, tells what they dub “her”story, and made for a great first show in London.
  • Wednesday, 20 February, 7:30pm – Come From Away. Another musical based in reality, about the real life stories of people diverted to Gander (as well as its inhabitants) following the closure of American airspace on, and after, 9/11. It’s a really touching and poignant story, and deals with the events in a beautiful way – plus, it is at its core, truly a happy story about humanity.
  • Thursday, 21 February, 3:00pm – True West. My first play in London this time around. A Sam Shepard piece, essentially carried by two actors. I got to sit second row to see Kit Harrington, and Johnny Flynn deal with the struggles of sibling rivalry, as well as witness nine toasters pop up toast at the front of the stage (I think that’ll stick with me longer than any other part of the play… whoops).
  • Thursday, 21 February, 7:30pm – Pinter Seven. The Harold Pinter Theatre put on a five month “Pinter at the Pinter” festival, where seven Pinter plays were performed over the course of the festival. I caught the sixth, and seventh Pinter play. If you’re familiar with Pinter, I saw a slight ache, and the dumbwaiter. This was my first experience with Pinter, and although I don’t know that he’s really my cup of tea, I got to see Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer act the latter play, and that was something I couldn’t have predicted would have happened to me.
  • Friday, 22 February, 7:30pm – Jesus hopped the ‘A’ Train. I’ve never seen a play at the Young Vic, so this show gave me an opportunity to do just that. This particular play speaks to the criminal justice system, and again, deals with a serious subject in a way that doesn’t make you feel weighed down by the content the whole time. We did “lucky dips” tickets so we were guaranteed a spot somewhere in the theatre, but we didn’t know where we’d be seated, or if we’d end up standing. I’m pleased to say my friend and I got to sit together, and we had good seats as well!
  • Saturday, 23 February, 2:30pm – When we have sufficiently tortured each other. This was the only play that I knew I was seeing before I left France, as one of my friends had secured two Entry Pass tickets, and invited me to come along. We got to sit front row in the Dorfman at the National to see Cate Blanchett, and Stephen Dilane. This wasn’t my favorite play that I saw, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it – plus, it isn’t a play that I would probably have booked had I not already secured tickets. However, Cate Blanchett is phenomenal, and it was worth the price of admission just to be able to see her perform live.
  • Saturday, 23 February, 7:30pm – Company. I day seated this performance (ironically at the same theatre where I day sat The Ferryman last year), and got great seats in the dress circle. Company is a musical with little plot (in the sense that it’s mostly vignettes, and there’s no evident order of the scenes), but it’s a Sondheim musical, so it does have some well known songs. Not to mention, I got to see Patti Lupone perform “ladies who lunch,” as well as just see her onstage, and my younger novice musical theatre aficionado would not have imagined that happening. Also, this production did some gender bending, so Bobbie was played by a woman (which makes the whole “you’re turning 35, you should settle down” trope a little more REAL), and Amy became Jamie, but he smashed “not getting married” out of the park (also probably my favorite number as it was done hilariously). It was definitely a good final show for me.

I could go on forever about how great my week in London was, but I feel happy with what I was able to see and do while I was there. I met up with friends I hadn’t seen in almost two years, and got to have Choccywoccydoodah as well. If you’re a chocolate fan, this is a must for you. I also did some damage at Primark (of course) buying London, Paddington, and Harry Potter themed clothing and goods… I highly recommend stopping by their Oxford Street store if you want some well priced souvenirs, or themed clothing. I frequently think about London, but I don’t think I actively realized how much I missed it until I was seeing the familiar sights, hearing the voice on the tube announcing the next stop, or dining at the ever present Pret. I’m so glad I got to go back to my favorite city, and I’m already waiting for the next visit.

You can check out a little vlog of my adventures here!

February holidays part II: exploring Malta

So early into 2019, and I’m already checking a new country off the list! We flew into Malta on a direct flight from Charles de Gaulle, and immediately I was struck by the fact that we were on an island, completely surrounded by water, with palm trees all around the airport (which might seem silly but even with knowing I was going to an island, the landscape was just so different from where we’d been before). We spent five days exploring the island, and really, there is so much to explore! Malta is full of history (much of which I didn’t know before coming here), and is self-described as an “open air history museum,” so there’s ample to see, no matter how long you’re here.

Day One

Our first day wasn’t a full day, as we arrived a little after 13:20 on a direct flight from Charles de Gaulle in Paris. We took a shuttle to our hotel (these can be reserved at the airport, ours was €5 per person), and then walked around the area surrounding our hotel. We stayed in St. George’s Bay, which borders on the city of Saint Julian. Many cities make up Malta, but barring the walled ones, they tend to run seamlessly into one another. Saint Julian’s is the nightlife area apparently, so there are bars and restaurants and a casino. The evening was filled with a traditional Maltese buffet and a magic show at the “chamber of mysteries,” which gave us a good introduction to the cuisine, and culture of Malta as well as gave us a fun evening to start our time here!

Day Two

This day was spent exploring Valletta, the capital of Malta. We pre-booked a three hour walking tour, which gave us a brief overview of the city (we walked around most of it), and some detailed history as well. It was a great way to see Valletta, as well as learn some new things. On our tour, we also learned that several films and TV shows (notably Game of Thrones) have used Malta to film. Once it’s pointed out, it’s clear that the island’s architecture can stand in for many places in the world: as Malta, anywhere in Italy, parts of the Middle East, and even Northern Africa. It’s versatility is impressive and every view point is phenomenal.

Valletta is an easily walkable city, where it’s difficult to really get lost. Some of the highlights include St. John’s Co-Cathedral (which houses two paintings by Caravaggio), and the Upper Barrakka Gardens for a beautiful view of the three cities. Additionally, there’s the saluting battery which fires a cannon twice daily, at 12pm, and 4pm (you can watch for free from the gardens, or pay €3 and get close to the action)! There are remnants of British rule throughout the city (and the island) with red telephone booths and post boxes littering the streets as a reminder of Malta’s relatively new independence.

View of the Three Cities froView of the Three Cities from the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta
View of the Three Cities from the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta

Day Three

From Saint Julian’s, if you want to get anywhere, you’ll probably have to go through Valletta. Once there, you can connect to many busses to get almost anywhere on the island. Today’s adventure was heading out to Rabat to visit Saint Paul’s Catacombs. There are 20 some catacombs of Christian, Pagan, and Jewish religions, complete with pavilions with descriptions and information regarding rituals, archeology, and conservation of the ruins. From Rabat, we walked into the “silent”, ancient of Mdina. Much like Valletta, it’s easy to see the history in this city, and it feels like it’s own little world due to the high walls. You can peer over the walls to see a view of that side of the island, and see why this city was once the capital of Malta.

Day Four

After having looked at the Three Cities from Valletta, we thought it might be cool to do the reverse, and look at Valletta from the cities! Once again, our first bus arrived in Valletta, before we caught the number 2 bus to Birgu. Once inside the gates, we entered the city of Vittoriosa, and walked (and got lost along the way) to Fort St. Angelo, the giant fort you can see from Valletta, and which was a major stronghold for many centuries. It was bombed 69 times during WWII, which I definitely did not know, and would’nt have known without visiting the island! From the fort, you can see the other two of the three cities, along with harbors and many boats, and Valletta from one side. Although we didn’t visit them, there’s also the Malta at War Museum, and Fort Rinella in the city next door (Kalkara).

Valletta from the Fort’s battlements

Panorama of the Three Cities from Fort St. Angelo

Day Five

Last day in Malta, and we decided to explore its sister island of Gozo. There’s a ferry located at Cirkewwa, and for only €4.95 round trip, you can get to Gozo in around 25 minutes. Granted, it took us 2.5 hours to get to the terminal via bus, but we didn’t take the straightest route (make sure to really scope out your quickest route there so you don’t back track). As soon as we disembarked, we got on a city sightseeing Hop On, Hop Off bus so we could better see the whole island in our limited time. The bus has an audio guide tour, and offers great views of the island, along with history/culture regarding Gozo. We had limited time so didn’t get off at any of the stops, but you could stop off on any of the 14 stops and explore the sites, and beaches that line the coast of the island. I imagine in the summer that many of the beaches are a great place to go, but seeing as it wasn’t entirely all too warm, we bypassed laying out in the sand. Since we returned from the ferry a little after 16:00, we got stuck in rush hour (I say rush hour, but know that traffic isn’t great at most hours considering how small Malta is), but we found a more direct route to our hotel that only took an hour!

Dwejra from the bus: one of the stops

View of Gozo harbor

Ultimately, I feel like we saw a lot of Malta! Although we definitely didn’t see it all, I feel as though I have a better understanding of the history there, and can now say I’ve been there. Malta is beautiful, and I’m glad to have visited it.

Maltese Fun Facts

  • They drive on the left (I say this if you’re thinking of renting a car, it’s something you should know)
  • They have two official languages: English, and Maltese, which is a mix between Arabic and Italian
  • Malta has a remarkable history: no one post could do it justice, but they don’t call it the “eye of the Mediterranean for no reason”
  • Malta has been independent since 1964, and joined the EU in 2004 (you can use your euros here)!
  • They have some fantastic local dishes. There’s a puff pastry called pastizzi which is filled with cheese and almost mushy peas. You can also dine on rabbit, and different varieties of fish
  • If you go to a McDonald’s here, you can get a Malteser McFlurry! (You can also find some other clever Malteser goods because that pun is too good to miss)

You can watch a vlog of my February adventures here!

February holidays part I: Two days in Disneyland Paris

If you know me, you’ll know that I love all things Disney. I jam out to the songs (who doesn’t love a good Disney jam session), and the films, but one thing I truly love is the Disney parks. I’ve been going to Disneyland in California almost every year since I can remember, and I love exploring other Disney properties (so far I have only visited DisneyWorld and Disney Paris, so I’ve still got a ways to go on my list). To start off my February holidays (I know, *again* on break…), I spent two days having fun in Disney Paris! I thought I’d dedicate my first post of the month to my time there and what I thought about it having only been once before several years ago!

We stayed on Disney property at the Hotel Cheyenne, which gave us access to a magic hour, one hour before the parks opened to the general public. Additionally, there is free bus transportation to and from the train station (Marne La Vallee-Chessy), which is located right next to the parks, and the airport for a fee if you want to take advantage of that.

Our first day was spent at Disney Park (much like in California, there are two parks in Paris), and although it’s smaller than the one in CA, it is very similar in layout and feel. There’s still Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland (Tomorrowland for Disneyland visitors), an entrance along Main Street, and most of the classic Disney rides. One big difference is that the castle is no longer Cinderella’s Castle, but Aurora’s Castle! You can walk in it a little, and there’s even a dragon’s grotto under the castle complete with an animatronic dragon. It feels like there are fewer rides at this park, so we spent a lot of time walking around, and what felt like killing time when either rides were down, or lines were too long. We even rode the Steamboat because everything else had such a long wait! Many rides don’t have fastpasses, which further increases line wait times, and doesn’t give you a way to potentially bypass them. That being said, we still rode most of the rides in the park by the time the day was done, and watched the fireworks show at the end of the day, so it felt like a success! I highly recommend watching the show (it was Illuminations at the time of my visit), as it gives a fun end to the day, and it’s usually pretty spectacular!

We started day two at Disney Studios. Even with the magic hour, we still had a wait for Crush’s Coaster which seems to be the most popular ride in the park. However, if it is, it is with good cause. I ADORE this ride, and it’s hard to do it justice with words, but it’s a perfect roller coaster that’s filled with thrills, but doesn’t push you too much as other coasters might. And what’s not to love about Finding Nemo?? We also experienced the Ratatouille ride for the first time (a trackless ride filled with smells, sights, and sounds as you shrink down to the size of Rémy, the rat), of course rode the Tower of Terror, and even took the time to watch some of the shows put on at the park (partially to escape the cold)!

One thing that was a little disappointing was the rides that were down for maintenance. Considering that this is the “off-season,” certain rides were down for refurbishment, which increases wait times at the other rides, and even though there’s nothing you can do about it, it feels like you’re missing out a little! Be sure to check (you can look it up on the Disney site when you check daily hours) which rides might not be running while you’re there so you’re prepared! Additionally, pack for all weather! Surprisingly, a lot of the lines for the rides are either partially outside (meaning there’s just a cover above you) or completely outside, so be prepared for rain and cold if you’re going during those seasons. Another surprise was the park hours. I visited in early February, on a Monday and a Tuesday. Both days, the park hours (excluding the magic hour) were 10:00-19:00, which seems definitely not as late as the park in California would be open this time of year! Of course, weather is a big part of this, but that’s definitely something to consider when looking at visiting Disneyland Paris.

My Top Rides/Attractions (in no order):

    Crush’s Coaster: Finding Nemo, fun, surprising! Surf the EAC on a spinning coaster in the dark – I can not recommend this ride enough! It’s just enough thrill to make your stomach drop a bit, but not too much as to have you gripping your seat the whole time. I laughed the whole way through as I was having so much fun!
    Hyperspace Mountain: unlike Space Mountain in the states, this coaster is much more intense, and faster, with upside down loops and corkscrews in the dark. Plus, it’s Star Wars themed!
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril: again, this ride differs from its counterpart in the states as this is a veritable outside roller coaster with upside down loops and high speeds! There’s less theming, and no classic Indy saving you from a falling boulder (or snakes, why’d it have to be snakes?), but if you’re into roller coasters, this one will make you feel like you’ve entered the temple and are running away from whatever doom is inside.
    Hollywood Tower of Terror: this ride still exists in DisneyWorld, but has been revamped in Disneyland. I still love the classic, original version though, and never get tired of the drops and the sensation of flying off your seat.
    Thunder Mountain Railroad: this one is super similar to what it looks like in the states, so if you like it there, you’ll definitely like it in Paris! It’s still “the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness!”
    Moteurs, Action!: a stunt show in Disney Studios, which includes motorcycles, cars, trucks, flames, and of course, action. It shows you how some stunt scenes are filmed, and is overall a great time. Plus, you get to sit down for half an hour, and be impressed by true professional stunt actors as they do some incredible stunts.
    Alice’s Curious Labyrinth: not so much a ride, but a maze filled with Alice in Wonderland characters. You can get lost with the Queen of Hearts, find her castle, and weave your way through the DoDo birds in this fun, unique attraction. It’s also a great way to kill some time while you wait for a fast pass to kick in or for a line to shrink!

I could go on for days about the fun you can have at Disneyland Paris, but I’ll stop here. It definitely felt to me like one day was not enough to explore both parks, but two days was almost too much time for both (in my opinion, part of this could’ve also been attributed to the weather when I was there). No matter what, taking a trip to any Disney Park is always fun, and Disney Paris is no exception!

You can watch a vlog of my February holiday adventures here!

11 Things I miss as an American living in France

Moving abroad, for any reason, is exciting, but in all that excitement, you can sometimes forget that you are in fact, moving to another country, where the culture, customs, and even the language can be different from home. It’s totally okay to feel homesick, or to feel out of place when you first take that leap of going abroad, but no matter how used to it you get, there are always those few things that can’t be replicated elsewhere. Living in France, I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve thought “it wouldn’t be like this in the states,” or “that’s not how we’d do it back home,” and it can be cathartic in some ways. That being said, there are some things I miss, and would love for them to make their way over to France (and Europe). Here are some of those things:

1. TARGET

I 100% missed Target (pronounced tar-jay if you know what I mean), while I was in England, and I miss it equally as much in France. I feel like there are more quasi-superstores here than I encountered in London (at least, places where you can get more than just food), but nothing can ever truly compare to Target (or American superstores for that matter). There’s something about picking up that red basket, and wandering through the aisles that can’t be found in the land of cheese and wine. Not to mention, they had a hilarious adult avocado costume for Halloween, and if I had been at home, I might have bought it for the sheer giggles it would produce (so maybe it’s good we don’t have a Target in Angers?).

2. Things being open on Sundays

This might not be as big of an issue if you live in a super big, touristy city, but here in Angers, Sunday is a QUIET, and UNEVENTFUL day. Very little is open, and if the weather isn’t great, you’re unlikely to see masses of people out and about either. You can’t grocery shop on a Sunday (shoutout to the famous Costco runs, I definitely miss those samples), and there’s just generally very little to do – even those big stereotypical French strikes tend to be organized for Saturday here, so you can see how seriously they take their day of doing nothing. I also miss stores not closing for a couple hours for lunch every day… we get it France, you love your food.

3. To-go beverages

Americans’ go to “on the go” beverage is usually coffee, but since I’m not a coffee drinker, I tend to stick with tea or hot chocolate for my morning pick me up. The French emphasize the importance of relaxed eating, and indulging in your meals, so the idea of grabbing a quick coffee to go isn’t really a thing… My morning commute is not filled with people drinking from paper cups, or from travel mugs (even though I stand out like a sore thumb because I definitely do this with my morning tea because otherwise I would not function), and it doesn’t seem to be a thing to pop into a café to grab a beverage to-go. PLUS, if you do grab to-go, don’t be surprised by the seemingly minuscule sizes, which speaking of, another thing I miss is…

4. Large(r) drink sizes

I know it’s a joke that Americans plus size everything, but that is definitely not an issue here in France. The sizes for beverages can sometimes be a little smaller here, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheaper! I miss being able to go into a cafe, order a hot chocolate, and having it be the size of an actual drink, rather than something I can consume in three sips. I remember getting a hot chocolate to go one afternoon for kicks and giggles, and it was the size of an espresso shot… that was the only choice I had, and it was consumed almost before I’d left the shop!

5. A proclivity for snacking

No matter where you shop for your food in the States, there’s usually a giant snack aisle, filled with an assortment of snack foods that can range from healthy to absolutely not so. As I’ve mentioned before, France takes their meals seriously, so even their goûters (snacks) aren’t quite the same as I would be used to at home. Not to mention, the snack food that is available tends to be spendier because it isn’t a common purchase. I miss being able to buy hoards of granola bars (at a reasonable price) and goldfish crackers that I could nibble whenever that afternoon hunger takes over (because I can be a #hangrygal).

6. Peanut Butter

Don’t get me wrong, Nutella is great, but nothing can quite substitute my love for peanut butter, and the versatility it has when it comes to how it can be eaten. I miss being able to eat my fruit with some added creamy protein, topping up some dessert for an extra sweet flavor, and coating my late night toast, (or just straight up eating it from the container because why not). Peanut butter is sold in France (mostly in the American/International section) but it’s very expensive when you calculate on a per gram basis, so I haven’t splurged for it yet. That being said, I miss it a lot, so it might happen soon.

7. Goldfish Crackers

Much like peanut butter, this is a go-to snack of mine, and a staple of my diet since I was a child. I miss the cheesiness of the cheddar crackers, and popping a handful into my mouth at once. Even more so, this summer I discovered the Vanilla Cupcake flavored crackers, and I even brought a bag over with me in September (it didn’t last very long) because they are a game changer. I could wax lyrical about Goldfish crackers, but regardless, I miss having them to snack on during my long days, or as a comfort food when I’m feeling down.

8. Burgerville (or whatever your local fast food/burger place is)

I missed Burgerville when I went away to university two states away, so there was no way I was going to France and not wanting some delicious rosemary fries, or a phenomenal chocolate milkshake! There’s something special about your local place, and that definitely can’t be replicated anywhere else. I made sure to have my go-to Burgerville meal before I left the States, but that doesn’t mean that when an ad of theirs pops up on my facebook feed that I don’t get a little sad inside that I can’t eat it at this moment in time.

9. People asking “how are you” during many forms of interaction

Unlike in the US, your cashier or bus driver in France isn’t going to ask you how you are when you interact with them. You’ll get a perfunctory hello, and then the interaction is mostly finished, except for you handing them money, and then you say “have a good day/night” and you leave. Even though my conversations aren’t that much shorter in these kinds of situations in France, I still find myself sometimes starting to ask “comment ça va” before remembering that that isn’t really done here (or at least, doesn’t seem to be). I’m not the most outgoing of people, but it’s still a nice little thing to experience whenever you’re out and about. Not to mention, a lot of Americans who do this are very smiley, and their enthusiasm can usually bleed into you, which is not so much the case here.

10. Hearing that good old American accent

Granted, there are Americans participating in TAPIF, so I’m not bereft of hearing English spoken in an American accent, or the English language at all (considering it’s part of my job, it would be concerning if I never heard it), but it’s not quite the same as being surrounded by a language, and accent, that is familiar to your ears. Not to mention, I’ve had several French people tell me my accent is unintelligible, or allude to the idea that Americans don’t speak “proper” English, and sometimes it makes me so sad because I can’t change the way I speak! (this also is by no means a complaint about being in France, surrounded by French… more that I miss the familiarity of what I would be surrounded by at home).

11. Free public restrooms

I’m a planner, and forgive if this is oversharing, but any journey of mine includes planning of where the nearest facilities might be should I need them, and let me tell you, that is not an easy thing to do in this country. There aren’t any Targets, Fred Meyers (shoutout to those of you in the PNW who get it), or really any kind of store that just has a public restroom that you can nip in and use at any given moment. Here, you’ll either have to shell out to use a public restroom (especially in train stations), or you’ll have to hop into a cafe, buy something, and hope that they have a restroom you can use. It’s not something you really think about in the States, but it’s definitely something that you have to think about in France!

Obviously, missing things about the US doesn’t mean that I don’t like being in France, or that there aren’t things I know I’ll miss from France when I leave (potential blog subject for a few months time?). I’m glad I miss things because it means I’m experiencing a different culture, and living somewhere new, all while pushing my personal boundaries, and learning a lot about myself, and the future (whew, run on sentence, sorry to all my English teachers this sentence offended).

Lisbon

Finishing up the holiday tour de force, we arrived in Lisbon early (following an overnight bus from Seville), and it felt like we didn’t stop moving from that moment… barring of course the nap we took upon arrival. Since we did so much, I figured I’d switch it up, and try a little list of the things I enjoyed most, and would ultimately recommend!

Things to do in Lisbon

  • Castle of São Jorge

A medieval castle that offers a great view of Lisbon and the river. There’s a long wall around which you can walk, and a camera obscura, which enabled us to have a 360 view of the city in a unique way. We hiked all the way up (accidentally), but you can take an elevator or the tram most of the way up (and save your legs a little)!

  • Praça do Comércio

I loved this plaza because it leads out directly to the Tagus river (which allows for beautiful sunset views) on one end, and a magnificent arch at the other. It’s also the place where one of the many Christmas trees in town were lit up at night! This square is immense, and is the perfect place for watching the boats sail by, grabbing a drink, or just people watching. You can also catch the tram to Belém here, or walk out onto Rua Augusta to find many places to eat!

Watching the boats sail by from the walkway that leads into the river
  • Time Out Market

If you’re familiar with the Time Out magazine/industry, the name of this market should sound familiar! Located near the Cais do Sodré metro stop, this market is filled with all the food you can imagine, and was packed full when we stopped there for dinner. There are several seafood options (which I would recommend, especially the Bacalao), but also a bar, dessert stalls, and even a place where cooking lessons are held. If anything, it’s worth visiting for the atmosphere and the remarkable number of eating options available!

  • Eat (many) Pastéis de Nata

I have no words for how good this flaky, custard pastry was, but we certainly ate our share while we were there! You could easily eat several of these in a day, let alone in one sitting. We took the mindset that anytime we saw one, we had to try it to compare how it stood up to the other ones we had tried. Our favorite came from Fábrica da Nata, but there are several from which to choose in Lisbon! You can’t really go wrong though as long as you’re eating one.

Eaten with powdered sugar and cinnamon, these were a welcome treat upon our arrival to (and throughout our stay in) Lisbon!
  • Jerónimos Monastery in Belém

If you want to explore the areas surrounding Lisbon without going too far, Belém is definitely the place for you. You can take the tram out and there are several sites of note to visit. We chose to spend time exploring the Monastery, which is much larger than you’d expect it to be. There’s also the tower of Belém located on a small island right off the shore, as well as the monument to the discoveries which is a sight to see, and includes an elevator ride to the top for a beautiful view.

  • Ride a funicular up to the top of one of Lisbon’s seven hills for a great view of the city (and a fun experience as well!)

Since Lisbon is a city of hills (it’s very similar to San Francisco in this way, and in others as well), there are several ways to get up them without actually walking. There are three funiculars in Lisbon, and the cost to ride them is included in your transport card if you choose to purchase a 24hour or more pass. We rode the ascension da Glória up to the Bairro Alto neighborhood and watched sunset as the lights came up on the castle.

View of the castle from Sao Pedro de Alcantara Garden, the viewpoint at the top of the funicular
  • Day trip to Sintra

If you have extra time while you’re in Lisbon, you can easily hop a commuter train and voyage out to Sintra, about 45 minutes away. It has a completely different feel to Lisbon, but still has so much to see. We ended up spending most of the day there ultimately, and managed to see the National Palace, the Moorish Castle, and the Palácio Nacional da Pena, along with its gardens. These all come from different eras, and offer different architecture, while the latter two have beautiful views of the whole city as they are atop a very high hill. The castle is essentially all wall, but almost resembles a mini Great Wall of China in its construction and layout. The Palácio Nacional’s exterior is very colorful, and the interiors are at the same time lavish and simple (half of it used to be a monastery, while the other half was built much later on). We took a tuk-tuk both up and down the hill to save time, but you can also take a bus or if you’re really adventurous, there is a hike both ways.

View from the Morrish Castle of the wall, and the view of Sintra

It’s hard to believe that my two weeks in Spain and Portugal are already up – they went by so quickly (no matter how many times someone says it, time really does fly when you’re having fun)! It was an intense two weeks, but I’m glad it was that way because that allowed us to see so much, and enabled me to visit several cities in both countries (as well as Gibraltar). I’m already looking forward to including this trip in my scrapbook for my year participating in TAPIF, and now it’s back to the real world of work… wish me luck!

A Spanish New Year

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

The last day of 2018, and we spent it in Granada. After an afternoon spent touring the Alhambra, we geared up for the evening’s festivities. Bundled up, we headed down to Plaza del Carmen where we joined a very long line to get our 12 lucky grapes for midnight (canned, I might add, but specially canned for the occasion). Along with that, we got a party hat, a paper mask, a silly red nose, a lei, and a streamer in a special party bag to augment our experience. Wearing my warm hat and party hat (a bonified lewk if ever I saw one), the clock neared midnight with a small performance including some intense base drops and enthusiasm. Come midnight, the Spanish eat one grape at every chime of the clock, equaling twelve in total. Like clockwork, everyone in the square took out their pre-prepared cans, baggies, or containers in preparation for the big moment. The moment the clock strikes twelve (and with little warning), you begin eating grapes to start out the year with good luck, and to hopefully bring you luck throughout the year! In case you were wondering, the grapes are seedless and skinned to make it easier to consume them quickly. As soon as we had eaten the twelve grapes, the fireworks began! They set them off fairly close to where we were (closer than they’d do in the US), and just like that, it was 2019!

Here’s to a new year! As a little side note, I bought the 1SE app at the beginning of last year, so enjoy my compilation of one second for (almost) every day of 2018 here!!

Valencia, Málaga, Gibraltar, oh my!

After leaving Barcelona, we hit the road at full force for a half day of driving to Valencia (home of the orange)? I should mention, we did a quick stop in Tarragona, which had many Roman ruins on our way (and bought some canned special, lucky 12 grapes for New Year’s)! We didn’t have much time there, but still managed to check out some key sites. The biggest thing we saw was La Llotja – the silk exchange. We of course looked at all of the Christmas lights set up since everything stays up until Twelfth Night. We also visited the ceramic museum, something for which the region is well known, and ate the traditional paella Valenciana for dinner to top off the whole experience. Not to mention, we tried some hand made buñuelos (doughnuts), that we watched being made from start to finish!

After Valencia, we got on the road for the long, seven hour drive to Málaga. We arrived thinking it would be a smaller part of the costa del sol, but in reality, it’s so much larger than expected! To put it in perspective, the city has a metro (which is still under construction, proving cities can implement metro facilities whenever *cough cough Portland*). We walked down to the city’s historic center where we found a Ferris wheel and decided to ride it. We timed it perfectly and got up to the top right at sunset, which allowed for some great views at seeing all of Málaga. We got off fairly close to 6:30pm, when one of the main streets had a light show along with music (again, they keep up the whole air of Christmas until January). It was such a fun thing to watch, and I’m glad we got to see it! We all also finally had some sangria with dinner, and got to witness a master jamón carver in action while we ate.

About 90 minutes from Málaga, you can cross the border from Spain, and enter Gibraltar. We headed directly towards the Rock of Gibraltar once we got through customs (a quick glance at our passports), and got on a cable car going up the side of it. The ride up only takes about six minutes (although you can walk if you want), and from the top you’re greeted with some roaming apes, and a beautiful, and windy, view of Gibraltar, Spain, and even the tip of Africa. We also entered the Nature Reserve, which allowed us to walk down the rock, and see some historical sites. I can safely say that we got in our daily quota of steps, and that the way down is a fairly steep decline (and incline in some points). We had limited time so we didn’t get to hit them all, but you could easily spend a full day up on the rock… we managed to catch the last cable car down before heading to an Irish pub for dinner (the irony of eating somewhere Irish while in a British territory isn’t lost on me entirely), where I was able to order sticky toffee pudding, which believe me, made my day. Gibraltar is an interesting place to visit seeing as it’s a British territory… there are red telephone boxes, and some traditional British shopping stores, but there’s clearly a Spanish influence there as well. If you’re a country collector, it’s a definite must for you, but even if not, being a stone’s throw away from Spain, it’s a solid place to visit!

The Mediterranean (on the left), meets the Atlantic (on the right) in Tarifa

Four days in Barcelona 💃🏼

¡Hola de Barcelona!

The first stop on the grand tour of the holidays 2018/2019 was Barcelona, Spain. I arrived late (and I mean almost midnight, shoutout to absurd flight delays at the Nantes airport), so my first night, all I saw of Barcelona was some night life, lights, and my hotel.

Day one

I was finally reunited with my parents after not having seen them since September! We started our day together by wandering down Las Ramblas to a Christmas market in front of the Catedral de Barcelona, before heading all the way down to the harbor, complete with giant shopping mall. We picked up some crepes (I know, wrong country) as we wandered back down Las Ramblas until we reached Plaça Catalunya. They have a giant department store there called el Corte ingles, and we explored the food hall that was full of local delicacies (especially all the jamón being sold for Christmas dinners!) it was a long, but successful first day in Barcelona!

Day Two

The day started out leisurely, but quickly caught up to us as we headed to the Sagrada Familia to see the famous basilica that remains still unfinished. It doesn’t feel like many religious buildings I’ve visited in Europe, but it does have a feeling of immensity and splendidness that sets it apart from other basilicas (some might even say oh my Gaudí). The stained glass windows are superb (I’m a sucker for a good stained glass window), and we also went up the passion tower for a view of the city’s skyline. By the time the sun had set, we were off to the Palau de la Música for an evening performance of Flamenco dance (the red dress dancing emoji in real life!!) we didn’t have the best view of the stage itself, but what I could see, I very much enjoyed. It’s similar to tap in some ways, and just as impressive as any other form of dance when executed well. Finding a place for dinner Christmas Eve was a bit of a to-do, as many people seem to go out for dinner (and considering that they eat dinner so much later than my stomach is used to, it made it much harder to find a place). We found a place near our hotel with more traditional food, and finished up our Christmas Eve dinner with a Catalan crème brûlée.

Day Three

Merry Christmas! Surprisingly, it didn’t feel very Christmassy beyond the lights and the trees occasionally placed around, considering that so many people were out and about today! The metros were fully running, and people were out in full force. We visited the free part of Park Güell, once again seeing the skyline and peeking into a different side of Barcelona. We spent the rest of the day walking around, taking the bus up to castell de Montjuic, and then took a cable car down about half way. We then walked down to the Olympic stadium from the 1992 games to watch the sunset, and all the way back down to Plaça Espanya (thank goodness for escalators built into the way down). Dinner was once again a traditional Catalan meal, where we ate paella, bread with tomato sauce (very traditional), and once again, a crème brûlée.

Day Four

The last day in Barcelona before the Spanish adventure continues onwards. Our very early morning began with a 9:00am entrance time to the monumental zone at Park Güell (separate from what we visited yesterday). There, you can see Gaudí works, and take in the skyline of Barcelona. Unfortunately, one of the major parts of this area is currently under construction, but we’re here now, and who knows when we’ll be back. Needless to say, I got to live out my Cheetah Girls dreams by posing in the same place where they performed part of their iconic number strut back in 2006. We spent a solid 90 minutes there before hopping on the metro to head to the Picasso Museum (with a quick stop off for lunch in between). The museum houses a lot of Picasso’s early work, although much of that is currently on loan to the Musée d’Orsay (it’s all in the timing isn’t it…) The last stop of the day was the block of discord, which has one Gaudí house, and two modernisme architect houses. We only looked at them from the outside, but based on the lines to go in, they must be quite popular! On our walk there, we took a small detour to eat some churros dipped in chocolate, and they were definitely a good choice. Today definitely felt more like a holiday as many shops were closed, so perhaps the 26th is a bigger day for the Spanish than the 25th. It was a long day of walking and sightseeing, and now we’re preparing for the next leg of our journey. Next stop, Valencia!

✨The Holidays away from Home✨

When it gets towards the end of November (or really as soon as Halloween ends), people tend to start thinking towards the holidays. In France, the streets start getting decorated with festive lights, and all the shops put up their holiday lights, and decorations, to signal the start of the season. Even though in the US that’s usually delayed slightly by Thanksgiving, the lights going up signaled both a joyful feeling of excitement to see them lit up (and the fact that it means the holiday break is getting closer), but it also came with a twinge of homesickness, and longing for those we hold most dear (I sound like a Hallmark film right now, but if you’re not sappy at the holidays, when will you be?) When I was in London, I remember feeling saddened by the fact that I would not be at home for Thanksgiving for the first time in my entire life, but also that I was relatively alone in a season where we’re supposed to be surrounded by family, and friends, and although my circumstances this year are different, some of those same feelings did surface. 

I wasn’t expecting it, but this year at Thanksgiving, I did get a pang of longing to be at home, seeing family, and eating pumpkin pie (there aren’t many American foods I miss, but this one is something I truly miss dearly). Even with this feeling though, this didn’t mean that I let the holiday slip by unnoticed. I did a couple of Thanksgiving lessons in my classes, complete with hand turkeys, and the kids longing to eat all the food I was showing them. Even though during my year abroad I worked through Thanksgiving, and gave it no second thought, this time, I feel like I was more aware of the date itself. However, just because the day went by without celebration, that didn’t mean that it all went by without any notice. Many of the American assistants in Angers got together and held a Thanksgiving dinner the day after Thanksgiving (we all had to work Thursday/Friday so it made more sense to do it that way). We had to substitute the turkey for chicken and ham (which seems more appropriate for France anyway), but we had mashed potatoes, someone managed to throw together some stuffing (which was quite impressive considering the ingredients at our disposal), vegetables, and even some homemade pumpkin bread! It was such a lovely way to acknowledge the holiday, and to be able to feel slightly less far away from home. 

Once Thanksgiving had come and gone, the only thing on everyone’s mind (or at least, almost everyone’s mind) is Christmas and the holiday break. There are lights all throughout Angers, and I’ll frequently see them on some of my bus rides back into town considering that the sun is setting earlier and earlier at the moment. There’s a Christmas market in the main town square, along with a Ferris wheel and an ice skating “rink” set up, which makes Angers feel very lively. There’s something about lights that make me smile, and long for a nice, hot chocolate. The castle in town is also lit up, and if a medieval castle can get into the spirit of the holidays, it stands to reason that others can as well.

The castle, lit up at night
Lights adorning the theatre in the Place de Ralliement,serving as the backdrop for the Christmas market in town

The Christmas market in Angers isn’t a remarkably large market, but it gives the town a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it feel more like home (in a way that can’t really be described because it’s not as if Portland holds an annual Christmas market or as if it’s a long standing tradition in my family). There are homemade goods, food (tartiflette, and crepes galore), vin chaud, and even a merry-go-round all in one area. Not to mention, they blast Christmas music, which tends to be in English ironically, which gives you a bit more of that holiday spirit (yes, I have danced in the streets when Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is you came on, but honestly, what else was I supposed to do?) I was initially going to check out some Christmas cheer in Paris over a weekend, but due to the unfortunate collision of my weekend and the fourth weekend of gilets jaunes protesting, I had to cancel my quick trip.

What I find baffling (in a way,   although not really) is that all the teachers have asked me to do lessons on Christmas, even though France has laïcité, which is essentially a mandate that there is no religion in school, in any way, shape, or form. Even with that, I told my teachers that I would talk about Christmas in the US, but that I would also be presenting a little bit about Hanukkah, because that’s what I do during the holidays (even though some of them couldn’t seem to grasp initially why I didn’t celebrate Christmas.) The fact that I don’t celebrate Christmas seems to be fairly shocking to many people (I had one student quite frankly exclaim “oh, la pauvre” which essentially translates to “you poor thing”), and most of my students had never heard of Hanukkah before. I decorated my door with a paper menorah (since I don’t have a real one with me), and sincerely wish I had the patience, and time, to make latkes for myself here. 

My schools put up little decorations here and there, one of mine has a full-on tree in one of their doorways, and the children at the other school had to learn Jingle Bells for their school Christmas market. The oncoming celebration of Christmas, however, means that the students have endless energy, and are excited for a break they know is shortly arriving, which can sometimes makes lessons difficult. The last week of lessons consisted mostly of coloring, crossword puzzles, and games (which is something I definitely remember from my childhood but being on the other side, I can 100% see why teachers do it…) The teachers (along with the students) have been bringing chocolate to school, so I can’t complain there, and I got to partake in an end of year lunch at each of my schools (which included alcohol, for one of them IN the building… only in France). The best part though about the approach of Christmas and the holidays is that I get to see my parents when they come to visit (which has been a long countdown for me, let’s be honest). Here’s to the rest of the season and happy holidays to you all!!