Cakes, spectacles, and jobs oh my!

Yesterday was awesome. Excuse my lack of eloquence, but there’s just no beating around the bush- it was simply awesome. Here’s why:

1. In spite of feeling lackluster and daunted by the idea of spending the afternoon speaking in French (still working on my fear of immersing myself in the language), I decided to help my friend make a birthday cake. And boy am I glad that I did. Not only was it a fun-filled afternoon with a French friend, but also an educational experience chock-full of vocabulary, and a French Baking 101 session.

You see, I learned how to make un Gâteau au Yaourt, a yogurt cake, one that French children master when they’re five. 1 point for France. Americans are lucky if they know how to make brownies from a box by age five.

But let’s talk cake. This was one of the best ways to ease into French baking, especially for me (context alert- I am the WORST baker. Seriously. I once turned boxed brownies into a brick slab, though to be fair my crazy vegan roommate told us that we could use oil as a substitute for eggs- this is FALSE).

The reason this cake is so wonderful for an American like me, or a novice French cake baker, is that all the measurements are in un pot, aka the convenience of a yogurt container.
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Time of Thanks

As I’ve said before about Living Abroad, I find that my holiday convictions are especially strong when I’m far away from home. This year has proved to be not much different from the last. I’ve planned with fellow Americans weeks in advance, scoured super marches for items that could be feastworthy, and even requested a care package from home- which turned out to be a fully stocked surprise. Moms are the best:

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So much deliciousness

It’s amazing how at times like these, the smallest things bring me joy. When I discovered Ritz crackers at Carrefour, I could barely contain my excitement, or avoid the awkward isle stares of, “C’est qui- this strange cracker enthused fille?” But I didn’t care. I was one step closer to creating a real green bean casserole.

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They actually exist in France!

When I finally baked the pumpkin bread yesterday, I was surprised by how a simple taste or smell could instantly transport me home. And by how much happiness the delightful taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin could provide. This time of year Americans are inundated with pumpkin flavor and scents- pumpkin candles, lattes, breads, pies…I guess even commercial traditions work their way into your psyche. Because having pumpkin flavors and scents brought me far too much joy. I was happy to share with my student as we discussed thanksgiving traditions, and how the holiday has changed over time. And I was happy to come home to an apartment filled with the aroma of fresh-baked goods and spiced pumpkin. Oh the simple pleasures. Continue reading

The Portugal Diaries

Since I didn’t have wifi for the majority of the trip, I took to writing notes on my iPhone (starting to understand the beauty of these devices). So here are The Portugal diaries:

Day 1: Getting There (Grenoble-Munich-Lisbon-Faro)

Is this a day? It feels like 5 rolled into one. We’ve been traveling since 3am this morning. Bike to bus to airport, to another airport, to another bus, to a train we missed because our flight was delayed, to finally waiting in the dark streets for our airbnb host to let us in. We’ve feasted like hobbits having a meal or snack every few hours because our internal clocks are askew and as a hobbit might think, eating helps pass the time. 18 hours of travel. Antoine and I have been through something like the seven stages of grieving- denial of how long this day would actually feel, anger, and then guilt, from being grumpy with each other, and ultimately acceptance and hope that in spite of missing our train we might actually make it to our destination. Reminder- if possible avoid insanity-inducing long travel days like these.

Too early

Too early

Although I must admit- seeing the sun rise over the Swiss alps is pretty stunning.

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Day 2: Exploring Faro

Good news- we didn’t sleep on the streets! Even better, we met our German host who let us in to our cute little Faro apartment, and informed us that there’s a fall fair starting tonight in our honor! Well…there’s a fall fair on the day of our arrival. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s a gorgeous day- there’s a semblance of summer lingering just outside of my window! How can this much sun and warmth exist in October? I won’t waste my time asking questions- time to explore the old town, take a boat ride around the lagoon and go enjoy the beach. Finally a real vacation with Frenchie!! Continue reading

“We’re deep in Chartreuse now”

I was lost in green. As the green grass whizzed by rolling green hills, I secured the Chartreuse in my lap. Feeling content in the passenger seat of Antoine’s loud campervan, I surveyed the scenery as green turned to grey and we slowly ascended into the mountains. I was pretty sure we were lost, but I didn’t care. As if to read my mind, Antoine smiled at me, “We’re deep in Chartreuse now”.

With past weekends filled with house projects, Ikea runs and general post-week recoveries, we were well overdue for a day trip. And the idea of a small visit to the Chartreuse cave seemed ideal- it would be short and simple…and delicious.

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Deliciousness

We entered into a space covered in Chartreuse (both the color and liqueur). I was surprised to learn that not only was the tour gratuit, but with that lack of ticket payment, you got to survey the distillery, watch a unique 3D film of Chartreuse history, tour the longest liqueur cellar in the world (you heard that right folks!), and sample a Chartreuse flavor of your choosing. Impressionnant, non? Continue reading

Perks of being a Teaching Assistant

Being appreciated.

…REALLY appreciated…

Wined and dined by my teachers tonight for a farewell dinner and then received this!

But seriously- WTF?!

But seriously- WTF?!

Never in my life have I received a necklace in a box! -or such schmancy bling. Best date ever! I was pretty much left blushing and speechless. Jewelry doesn’t make me do that! I’m pretty sure it was the surprise of their overwhelming kindness. Next set of co-workers are going to have some big shoes to fill…

But seriously. After 7 months of hot and cold co-worker relations (though in their defense I recently discovered that past assistants were horrible and thus they were keeping their distance)- it’s nice to know that my hard work was noticed and appreciated!

So many mixed feelings are whirling throughout my mind as the end of this program draws near and yet another chapter of my life comes to a close. But exciting prospects are on the horizon and today I’m really feeling the love and support! I truly am lucky.

Paris Je t’aime

Where else can you finish your first “night” at 6:30 am, and your second at 8:00 am after you’ve watched the sun rise and the commuters come out? They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, but Paris definitely gives New York a run for its money. And Paris by night truly is enchanting.

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This past weekend I went for a short visit to see my friend Luke from Boston. After an exhausting day struggling with a computer virus, checked out students and no-show classes, I was happy to make my way to Paris sans train complications. After navigating to our host’s house, happily reuniting with Luke and filling up on delicious wine, cheese and baguette, it was time for the match de foot! As soon as we exited the metro, you could feel the energy shift in the streets. Crowds of fans donning blue attire and chicken? hats swarmed into the stadium equipped with flags, whistles and horns. I was beside myself as we took our amazing seats and stood for the French anthem. The excitement that I felt as a 12 year old, rooting alongside the dedicated French fans in bars as we screamed at the television, flooded back as I stood there in person screaming at the actual players, “allez les bleus!” I laughed in disbelief and amusement as the French booed their own players for missed goals or actions not up to par. Only the French would feel so offended by anything other than perfection. As the flags flew, the horns blazed and the roar of the wave that made the Red Sox stadium sound like a mere trickle passed through the crowd, I couldn’t help but think “Is this real life??” Georgia gave France a difficult beginning, but the game finished with a satisfying 3-1.

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The stade!

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The dedicated fan section

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The group!

The night continued with rejoicing in the streets, late night “burritos” (panini pressed and filled with thai rice- but at least they had black beans!!), a house party, followed by a random dive bar with only men and a bizarre selection of 90s music, another surprise dance bar with gummy bear drinks and wonderful west african music, and ending at the Notre Dame where a crowd of teenagers excitedly interrogated us on and impressed us with their knowledge of american culture. Had I not spent the past 6 months working with teenagers, I think I might have been intimidated or annoyed by these kids. However their enthusiasm amused me and my heart went out to one in particular- a Syrian immigrant who came to France for the Army even though he wanted to do graphic design. His face lit up when I told him I taught art in the states and as we left I couldn’t help but tell him not to give up on his artistic passion.

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Notre Dame at night

Day two got off to a late start, but we made our way to the Château de Vincennes originally constructed as a hunting lodge for Louis VII in the 12th century. It was bizarre to see a château in the middle of apartments and shops and to witness an actual prison tower (the kind you would imagine Rapunzel in).

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This is older than Versailles!

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Love the Gothic style

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Ginger Reunion!

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The tower looks much more impressive up close

After enjoying the warm weather at an outdoor cafe, we returned home for aperos and received a special treat- Paris by car. We were lucky enough not only to stay with our French friend in Paris, but to stay with one who happily offered us a personal tour of Paris by night. As we passed the famous monuments and places- Louvre, Bastille, Oblisque, Orsay- I couldn’t help but feel mesmerized by Paris. The glow of the lights, the old buildings, the winding streets, the history encompassing all- it really was enchanting. My favorite moment came as we drove down the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. I have walked to, around, on top of and under the Arc, but it was amazing to see it from a perfectly centered view as it grew ever closer along the strip of lights.

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Night Tour

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Picture doesn’t quite do it justice

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Illuminated Arc

Our next stop took us to another house party. Unfortunately we were not in the loop, and had no idea that is was not only a birthday, but also a themed party. Apparently the French love to do theme parties starting with letters. Since Charlotte was the birthday girl, everyone dressed in C related attire. It made for great conversation starters to meet people and call out across the room “Chat!”, “Cleopatra”, “Cowboy”, “Charlie” (The French Waldo- weird, I know.) Our night continued with more bar hoping, champagne on the subway, and eventually the Centre Pompidou- at 5 in the morning. It was the last weekend of the Dali exhibit and as a result it was open for 24 hours. 

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Late night/early morning excursion

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We got in!

Convinced we would be the only ones there, we were quite surprised to discover the contrary- a gallery full of people. What a surreal experience- to be in Paris, in an exhibit at 5 am wandering among all types of people and having time to take in Dali’s actual work. I relished the time and intimately stared at and studied Dali’s brush strokes, his choice of color, and bizarre subject matter. It was all the more surreal to exit as the sky shifted from a deep blue to a rosy purple.

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Loved the colors in this one

Wait for it...

Wait for it…

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Too cool!

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The shift

Our final destination brought us to the Eiffle tower as the sun came up. Unfortunately the Paris weather prevented the viewing of an actual sunrise, but the experience was no less impressive. We stood under the massive tower as it penetrated the morning mist, listening to the birds waking up and watching Paris come alive. I felt rejuvenated and overwhelmed. What an amazing adventure. What a treat to remember why I love France, to embrace new experiences, to feel the romantic night of Paris, to take in these famous sites at off hours. It is so rare to have a personal moment with monuments without the hassle of crowds, the noise of tourism, and the rush of “gotta see this quickly!”

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Time for intimacy

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Good Morning

As we walked away, delirious and tired, I couldn’t help but smile and think about what Luke said earlier in an outburst of delight (though he will tell you otherwise), “Everything I’ve ever wanted has happened!”

How lucky were are to have these moments.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Buongiorno from Italy!

The Texan Holiday Ambassador (or in other words, my father) finally arrived! With him descended madness, much laughter, thoroughly missed Texan cuisine (re-fried beans and tortillas!!) and a gift bag stocked full of goodies from ma mere (which I have been diligently waiting to open until xmas…well most of it anyways).

Some how relaxing took a back seat as dad and I ran around trying to prepare for our trip, fighting with gps technology (or lack thereof), and printing out last minute maps. We made a snap decision to cut our trip in “half” (if only we knew), crash at Antoine’s in Grenoble Wednesday, and brave the snowy French Alps on Thursday all to avoid Swiss tolls and make it to Como, Italy. After the 4 hour drive turned into over 10, and as sanity, patience, energy, and motivation to make it to our remote mountain villa faded, it seemed as though we would not arrive at our final destination in one piece. But we finally arrived and the sight of our beautiful (and GIANT) lake view villa was enough to breathe new life into us. We couldn’t believe that such lavish accommodations were all ours! But lesson learned- sometimes your time IS worth the money.

The past few days have been dreamlike, or as Dad keeps calling it “Disneyland!”. We took ferries around the pristine lake from Menaggio, to Bellagio to Como and caught the funicular in time to watch night fall over Como. (Fun fact: for those of you who don’t know, George Clooney owns a villa in Como. Unfortunately no sights were made). Today was just as surreal, as we popped across the border and took another (much bigger) funicular up Monte Bre in Lugano, Switzerland. While I might have an ever increasing personal annoyance with Switzerland (their “neutrality” is a little too convenient, they hold most of the world’s money, they’re surrounded by EU countries all sharing in currency and border privileges and yet remain their own little island of superiority AND charge out the wazoo to pass through their little island…), I cannot deny the breathtaking beauty that is the Switzerland. Layers of snow capped mountains stacked upon steep rolling hills with crystal waters and cozy villages nestled in valleys is pretty hard to scoff at. As we ate our pre-packed sandwiches, we stared in awe at the fairy tale scenery before us. Sometimes I really have to stop and remind myself of the amazing experiences I am having. I truly am lucky.

That being said, I must reaffirm what I already learned through my travels (especially during my East Europe trip) as well as some new insight.

1. Maps- always have them. Especially detailed ones. Don’t rely on technology (namely stupid Garmins!) to help you.

2. **A little planning goes a long way** I’m staring this one because as much as people like to write my desire to plan trips off as just another anal tendency, there are certain factors that, when planned, can alleviate stress and insanity.

  • Knowing where you’re going and having a general time frame helps avoid hunger, night driving, tolls and delirium…
  • It also helps to think about when to leave (especially by car), when to pass through, and when to arrive in big cities. Will you hit traffic? That goes for small cities too! Will you get lost if there is a detour? Will you be able to find your way at night?
  • Having detailed maps for leaving one location and arriving in another is always good. Surprisingly enough, the highway roads are not as easy to find the next day.
  • And I have learned that roads always take longer in Europe. They’re windy and you don’t know they way and maybe even the language. Prepare to get lost. Prepare to smile.

As Dad likes to quote from Peepaw, “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance”.

3. There’s something to traveling off season. True, things might be more dead than usual and you might miss out on some experiences due to off season closures, but there’s a tranquility, a peace that you don’t normally get to have when travelling to hot spots. During off season, you’re not battling the crowds, the jacked up prices, or the stress of “gotta see it all quickly!” You have time to set up the shot that you want to take, to breathe in the air, to listen to the sounds. Most of these places are beautiful in their own right- because of the area and not necessarily the tourist attractions set up around them.

4. And finally shoulda/coulda/woulda doesn’t ever really help. It’s tempting to pull them out during times of frustration, but it never changes your situation or predicament. And most of the time you don’t really look back and think of the bad things. I won’t resent the traffic jam in Milan, or the scary snow/ice covered alpine roads, or the expensive tolls because they led me to the good. And they helped pave the road for future travel knowledge. Instead of lamenting the things that should or could have gone better, it’s best to keep our eyes on the road, the final destination and learn from our mistakes- our experiences.

Here’s hoping I can apply these things to Nice! Tomorrow we bid the mountains arrivederci  and make our way towards the Cote d’Azur!

Ciao ciao!