Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prague, Czech Republic- first stop for Spring Break 2011

We started our Spring Break trip in Prague, Czech Republic. All of my friends whom have recently studied abroad told me I had to visit Prague if I had the opportunity. I'm glad I did! It was unlike anything else I've seen before. Very different. It looks almost as if you're in a fairytale or a picture book. It's really weird too, how you'll be walking along these century old buildings and then there is a McDonald's next door. So different from America. Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg have nothing on Ancient Europe. Good try, though.
Prague was awesome to see and had some great things to do. I learned a lot and it's definitely a place you should go to learn and experience the older architecture, but it was a tad cold. Not quite spring break weather :p haha. One of the coolest things I found from our visit, was seeing the balcony where the fall of the Soviet Union was announced, the creation of Czechoslovakia was announced, and where the separation between the two countries Czech Republic and Slovakia was announced. Pretttty cool.

Balcony where the 3 announcements have been made
Czech Republic is also the first former communist country I've been to. We learned a lot from a tour we took at how fresh the wounds are from the oppressions of communism. We tend to forget how recent the Soviet Union fall was. Twenty-one years ago. That isn't a long time. (However, on May 25th of this year I will feel as if 21 years is a long time, but I digress). The Czech Republic has made some astounding accomplishments and progress in 21 years. They went from 3 hour waits in line for a single banana to being a member of the European Union. I'll tip my hat to that.

Dinner in the Cave!
I wish we would have have gotten the chance to talk to someone older who had lived through the years of the communist regime, but English seemed to really only be spoken well for the younger people. Our last dinner in the city was in a cave which was built in the 1200s. The part we ate in was the younger part- only built in the 1400s. Young spring chicken, huh? On our last day in Prague, we also saw the "Dancing Building" modeled after Fred Astaire. Incredible how this is a real-life buliding!

Dad's pictures of food

Risotto with lobster and cod

Chocolate Lava Cake

Creme Brulee being Bruleed :)



Chocolate cake and Coffee Ice Cream
Dad's face while eating the Profiteroles...

"You will fill me with joy in your presence" Psalms 16:11

Psalms 16:11 couldn't describe visits from friend Sarah Clancy and my parents any better. The last weekend of March my good friend Sarah came to visit with friends for the weekend in Paris. It was so fun to be able to show other people around Paris and look like I even know some stuff about the city. Quelle chance? :)

Sarah and I at the Eiffel Tower at Night :)
Unfortunately, I had to do something silly like attend class during the day, but I was able to still try and show Sarah and her friends around beautiful Paris. Sad as it was to see Sarah go back to London it meant the crazy duo April and Gary Keeler were on their way to Paris!

The best way to describe their visit was either the word hilarious or nuts. Both are applicable and if you know my parents both are characteristic :) To start the travel adventure, Dad thought it was a good idea to sing Canada's national anthem where ever he went. He thought it would make him look better in the eyes of the French so he wouldn't seem American. Like the song would help!

It was such a nice visit. We saw all of the Parisian sights. Shopped :) And enjoyed French food to the ninth degree. That may have been the most enjoyable part of their trip: sharing the awesome culinary French experience. Dad thought it was a good idea to take a picture of literally every food he ate while here. (Next post will be his pictures for all to enjoy)

My parents with Lexi's Parents
We were able to go to dinner with most of my friends from my program, which was really fun. It's always fun to be able to share your new world with your family. To top, my friend Lexi's parents were in town so we had a double parents dinner. Talk about laughs :)

We also went to dinner at Le Grand Colbert, which is the French restaurant where Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholoson ate dinner! Pretty cool. I'm not sure it's possible to laugh as much as I do with my parents, but it happens. In short, Psalms 16:11 said it best...being in the presence of my parents and good friends fills me with joy :)

L'arc de triumphe

Cute Lovebirds

Mom and my first glass of French wine together

Parents and the Eiffel Tower :)

Barcelona, Spain 2011

The second place I went to visit after Dublin, Ireland was Barcelona, Spain! It has definitely been my favorite city we've visited thus far. It is such a cool city. It definitely helped that it was sunny and warm. It was our first taste of the sun in 2 and a half months of cold gray Parisian skies. I even got some sun!

We had a great weekend filled with touring the city. We started the weekend off with going to the open market. It's called La Boqueria. Heaven on Earth could suffice as well. It literally has every fresh fruit, veggie, meat, seafood, and more available. It also had every fresh fruit squeezed into fresh juice! I had passionfruit and rasberry juice.

We visited a lot of the works by architect Gaudi. He had some really cool and far fetched things. Like this building which is now a museum. This is a small picture, but it was really neat. Kind of out there. Almost as if it was a building from Whooville from Dr. Seuss!

Park Guell

The next stop was Park Guell. It was also built by architect Gaudi. Literally, the coolest park in the world. We had a beautiful view of the entire city at the highest point in the park. Before leaving we made sure to dip our toes in the Mediterranean Sea- on the Spanish side! The last stop before leaving was seeing the Magic Fountain. It's name doesn't do it justice. It is the most spectacular fountain with a light show. The best part? The light show was playing to the tunes of Disney movies!
Lexi and I at San Sebastian
Incredible Fountain and the Lights!
Moral of the story...if you get the chance visit Barcelona!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Luck of the Irish!

Neil Conway, our Irish jeweler and friend!
The weekend of March 10th-March 13th a few friends and I went across the Channel and over the Irish sea to take a weekend trip to Dublin, Ireland!

We had such a great weekend. Dublin is such a different city than Paris. It's smaller so it feels so much more hometown compared to the sometimes gigantic Paris :) The best part was Lexi and I got to hang out with two of our best friends with our new Paris friends! It made the trip so much more fun to be able to enjoy it with good friends and have some tour guides show us around.

We literally packed as much as possible in 3 days. Lexi and I stayed with our two friends and our other two friends stayed at a local hostel. Lexi and I stayed up until 4 am for a much needed catch up session with our good friends and then Friday took on Dublin.

Breath taking view of Irish coast :)
We saw JFK's favorite pub, Trinity College, attended a book fair at Trinity College, had real Bangers and Mash and Irish stew, bought real Irish Claddagh rings from an Irishman, had Irish Coffee, sips of Guiness ,and Bulmer's Cider. What a day. To top the day off we saw Irish Step dancers and listened to an Irish band. Perfect.

Saturday we saw the green countryside of Dublin as well as the Irish Sea. We also enjoyed walking through the streets of Dublin. Some shopping may or may not have taken place. C'est la vie :)

When in Dublin...See Guinness' Home

Seeing best friend Elise!

Before boarding our 5 am Sunday plane back to Paris we went to Dublin's oldest pub. There we met our friend Dermot. It was Dermot's 26th birthday. All in a days work, exploring Dublin and getting invited to an Irishmen's birthday party...

Happy Birthday Irish friend Dermot!

Irish Dancers!

Bordeaux, France and Castles Oh My!

My first weekend trip while abroad in Paris was a trip to Bordeaux (to the Southwest of France). This is where Bordeaux wine is made! It was such a great first weekend trip. Another friend from my program went with me and it was a such a peaceful weekend.

Yup, I stayed in a hostel!
We literally spent the two days walking, walking, and walking. We stopped a few times to eat when needed and of course to taste real authentic Bordeaux wine. :) I know absolutely nothing about wine, but I do know that it was good.

The weather was warmer than Paris and the pace much slower. I was able to walk around without being pushed, bumped into, or cursed in French! Quelle chance! It was also the perfect first place to try out living in a hostel. The hostel was clean and full of neat people to chat with. Of course, I met someone I could talk about my beloved Morocco with so that was great.

Bordeaux, France

The next weekend our class took a day trip to one of the nearby castles. Dad always said I was a princess. I just hadn't found my castle until now!

Some friends in front of Fontainbleu Chateau

Have a Little Faith

My mom has this incredibly annoying habit, as all mothers do, of always being right. It's like a superpower. I just can't wait until I'm a mom and can master the talent as well.

The ebb and flow of traveling abroad is the best way to describe one's feelings. You adjust to not being a tourist, to being a habitant of the city, to then resenting it and missing A'murica. I've gone through the rollercoaster :)

I can say, though, that it's a wave I can appreciate for my character growth. I always wonder when we've had enough character building situations, but apparently that isn't now!

Often times, people deem the French as rude, provencial, and unfriendly. However, many Americans forget that France is equally as exotic a land and culture as somewhere in Africa, Asia or some place else far away. Just because the French may look like other Anglo-Saxons (do NOT tell them I referred to them as Anglo-Saxon because I'll be deported) does not mean they have the same culture or even same mannerisms. The language in it of itself is exotic enough, however, for fun we added a totally different culture.

My French family relations continue to improve. They aren't as "welcoming", "friendly", or "bubbly" as families I'm used to, but in their own way they are equally as friendly and welcoming. It's just in their own way.

Despite the adjustment to the cultural differences, one thing that hasn't gotten hard to adjust to is the amazing architecture and life of Paris. It seems like any homesick day or a bad day can be cured with an ice cream cone and walking around Notre Dame, a glass of wine by the Seine river, or even wandering through the back streets of the city.
Friends at the National Opera

Seine at Night
Friends at the Seine :)

The Opera!
So like mom says...have a little faith. If today isn't your day, take a breath because your glass of wine by the Seine moment may just be a few minutes away. :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

French Cuisine!

My French Cooking Class!
Saturday I got the neat experience of going to a French cooking class! I went to a class for making macarons. My host brother said that the only people that go to those classes are exchange students, old couples, and single guys trying to meet girls.

Jean was wrong. I was the only exchange student and only non native French speaker! There were 3 couples, 2 young women a little older than me, and me! It was an hour and a half class, and a really cool experience.

The only things I've heard about macarons are that they are incredibly hard to make. Au contraire! They have a lot of steps in the recipe and are a little high maintenance, but not too hard to make again. Hopefully, I can bring it back to the States! I'll have to convert my recipe from using grams, first :)

The final steps of preparation for the macaroons :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

There is More To Life Than Increasing Its Speed...Gandhi

That Gandhi...sure knew what he was talking about. France is a country embodying this quote. It's a country where people enjoy time and act as if there is an infinite amount of it. No one is rushed (unless they're walking anywhere or on the metro).

Unlike in the United States where university students may have a few laundry lists of things to do in a day (cough, cough ELON's entire campus), the French university student's daily life is quite different. They have classes, play a sport (normally tennis), maybe play the guitar or something they're interested in, hang around with friends and then be home in time for dinner then putz around for a bit. Meals (EVEN LUNCH) are cooked. Cooked! With real food not being warmed in a micro wave. Dang.

Dinners are enjoyed. Drinks, no matter if they're alcoholic or not are finished before leaving. Once you are done with your food, it's common to sit for at least 30 minutes. Enjoying food is an art here. "To go" cups of coffee really don't exist. A few cafes have them, but it is really uncommon to see a French person holding a cup of something warm to go. You sit at a cafe, after all.

The metro, though, isn't real life. Everyone is in a hurry. People literally run. I'm thankful for growning up in the D.C. area. I've been exposed to some great cultural experiences, have learned a lot, and of course have loved the history/politics surrounding the area. The most important lesson though has been using the metro. At a young age I learned to not look at people. Not when you're walking down the street. Not when you bump into them walking. Not on a sunny afternoon in D.C. and ESPECIALLY not on the metro.

The French take this "don't-dare-look-at-anyone-on-the-metro-because-I'm-far-superior-than-you-so stop" game to a whole new level. First of all, personal space doesn't exist. (D.C. you didn't prepare me for this, but I still love you). Even if you're closer to them then you are in a hug with your parents, you don't look at them. Second of all, while riding the metro you're never supposed to be looking at something, but you're always looking. If you do make eye contact you act as if it never happened and quickly look away.

When this game starts I always want to shout TAG, YOU'RE IT. However, unfortunately for some bizarre reason Americans have been stereotyped as loud and obnoxious, so I try to avoid fueling this stereotype with real life evidence.

I digress... Where ever you are and reading this take a breath. Maybe even two. Remember that life still continues whether or not you're 30 seconds early or 30 seconds late. Enjoy an extra cup of coffee while sitting and talking with a friend. After all, there is more to life than increasing its speed. :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life's a beautiful thing and there's so much to smile about." -Marilyn Monroe ♥

I hate to not use a more intelligent individual to quote, but she has a good point ;)

I am happy to say I've had a wonderful weekend. The adjusting blues have hit the road, thankfully. Saturday, three friends and I went to a cute little cafe and then went to dinner. We wanted to stay in French style by going to a cafe before dinner. To epitomize our emotional roller coaster of a week, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. We had a great time and had some good old American food. The girls and I even got a job offer if we choose to take the manager up on it.

A blurry picture of myself, Lexi, Josh, and Pualani outside Hard Rock!
Amurrica :) That's for you Uncle B :)
Speaking of American food...when we saying globalization in civics class (Americanization) they aren't joking. America is everywhere. In French, globalization is not a word that exists. There is "mondialization" which means worldization, but does not carry the same connotation as globalization. The French-American relationship is almost like a reoccuring break up. The French have a lot of resentment for Americans' way of thinking that we are the global leader and the world's superior leader. However, they embrace our fast food, music (any year it is played over here 24.7), celebrities, and pop culture. The reasoning for their bit of resentment to the Red, White, and Blue is because they genuinely feel they have the best country in the world. I'm not striking up this debate, but to give them some merit to their argument they do have one of the most diverse nations in the world in terms of terrain and food. And I digress...

Lexi and Josh with their pretty sweet looking drinks
It's incredibly interesting being told to fully immerse oneself in a country's culture and language when you are constantly reminded of your home culture and language. We may pass a McDonalds from time to time. Or I may walk into a store and speak French and be responded to in English. As the nice elderly man on the metro put it..."your sound, it is different I hear". Despite all of these reminders, I'm supposed to be still immersing myself in France. They really aren't helping the situation :)

Needless to say, despite the reoccuring reminders of the culture I am a few thousand miles away from I am continually trying to immerse myself here. My host family continues to get better. Today we had a birthday lunch celebration for one of the son's and I was kindly invited. This is my second time of seeing a different culture celebrate a birthday (Morocco and now France), and I can still confidently say birthdays are by far the greatest holiday :) And as Marilyn Monroe said, life truly is beautiful and what not a better way to celebrate it than smiling over a birthday lunch with a new family?
My pre dinner snack at the cafe :) Nothing spells happiness better!