Monday, November 25, 2013

6 Things I Miss From the US

It feels somewhat sacrilegious writing a post about the things I miss from the US. After all, I'm in France-- the land of cheese, bread, pastries, chocolate-- the list of delicious things goes on and on.

However, there are a few things that I miss from the US.

1. Breakfast Food

The French don't believe in breakfast as much as Americans do. In the United States, at least once a week when I'm home, my father cooks up a huge homemade breakfast. From fried eggs and bacon, to chocolate chip pancakes, to crispy waffles covered in fruit and whipped cream, it is always a great way to start a day. I can't wait to get back to the US and stuff my face with bacon-- something that doesn't really exist over here.

2. Taco Bell

I can't believe I'm writing this. And I wouldn't be, if I hadn't daydreamed about eating Taco Bell tacos for hours during class this semester. The meat isn't real and neither is the nutrition, but sometimes you just crave cheap Mexican food. Also, another thing that isn't terribly popular over here.

3. Public Restrooms

So this is rather inconvenient, but in France, public restrooms don't exist. Sure, if you go into a decent restaurant you might find one, but everywhere else you're out of luck. The bathrooms in McDonald's ((which sadly exists in abundance over here)) have codes that you have to look on your receipt to find in order to unlock the doors. You have to pay to use the restroom in the train station in Lyon. So when your day consists of sight seeing in a town and getting a baguette for dinner, finding a restroom turns into a game of who-can-charm-the-waiter into sneaking and using the restroom.

4. Goodwill

I have found exactly one thrift shop in my town. To put things into perspective, in my hometown, which is considerably smaller than St. Etienne, has four thrift shops--and those are just my favorite ones. Suffice to say, I can't wait to run to Goodwill and buy some cheap sweaters when I get back home.

5. Pianos

This can't come as much of a surprise, but there aren't any pianos just lying around for me to play here in France. Even though I expected this, I still missing sitting down and striking out the opening chords to The Great Gate of Kiev. I'm excited to get back home and even Hendrix, where there will be pianos-- albeit perhaps badly turned-- a plenty for me to play.

6. English Cheese

So this the most sacrilegious thing I can say while living in France, aka the country of cheese. It was like saying I didn't Guinness while in Ireland-- I'm a little worried the inhabitants will kick me out. Revoke my visa.

However, my friends won't be surprised to hear that I'm slightly obsessed with cheese. English cheeses that is. French cheeses, while I haven't tried all of them, goodness who has, tend to be far too strong for my taste. And France, non-surprisingly, doesn't sell English cheeses really. Aside from a bit of cheddar from a nice friend a couple weeks ago, it has been three long months since I last ate cheddar. Sometimes I think I have a calcium deficiency to amount of times a day I crave cheddar cheese. Hopefully I'll be able to eat cheddar before I get back to the US-- Michelle and I leave Thursday for London. They better have cheddar cheese.

C'est tout! Just a few differences between France/US. It's probably a good thing they exist. Otherwise I might just stay in France forever.

Like I mentioned above, Michelle and I are flying to London-- 45 min flight! great thing about Europe, everything's so close-- on Thursday to visit the great city and some friends :) Stay tuned to read about our British adventures.

Thanks so much for reading!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Snow Day!

I will, undoubtedly, go back and finally write a post recounting the rest of my adventures in Dublin, and one on my beautiful day trip to Annecy, BUT I wanted to write a quick post about the wonderful surprise I had today.

Yesterday, as I was walking home from class it started to lightly snow. It took a while before it began to accumulate, just a powder sugar dusting on the still-green grass. The weather channel said it would snow an inch or so that night, so when I went to bed I eagerly waited to see what morning would look like.

When I woke up, I couldn't believe the amount of snow that had magically appeared outside of my window. It was easily more snow than Jonesboro receives in five winters combined. 

It was surreal walking to school. I had a feeling that I wouldn't have class when I finally trekked to my building. The roads were nearly impossible, and a beautiful strange silence lay alongside the freshly fallen snow.

I felt like I was walking in a strange winter wonderland which has previously only existed in the tv. I didn't have class-- turns out the public transportation was down, which meant that 75% of my class and my teacher weren't able to make it. After this pleasant surprise some friends and I headed out to walk around town, marveling over the quickly falling snow, before stopping for a much need warm coffee.

It was surprisingly busy out on the main street. Local schools seemed to be out and everyone was out as though the foot of snow piling up around them was no big deal. Almost every store was open; people were driving, or attempting to drive on the narrow, often times steep, now icy roads, which more times than not resulted in stalled cars halfway up a hill.

This afternoon the clouds lifted and the view from Michelle's window turned magical as the mountains appeared through the fog, carrying the most beautiful winter coat of bright snow.

St. Etienne isn't the most beautiful city in France, but it sure looks gorgeous when coated with freshly fallen snow.

Hopefully I'll be able to motivate myself sometime soon to talk about Dublin/10 other blog post ideas I have swirling around in my head.

Thanks for reading :)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dublin: Day Two

Day two of Dublin found us trekking over to the Dublin Zoo. It was a long walk, but after another delicious breakfast at our favorite joint, Oscar's, we were ready.

But a side note on Oscar's...

Oscar's was a little restaurant next to our hostel. We went there every morning for breakfast-- not only were their scones/muffins to die for, the atmosphere was amazing. They had an eclectic mix of huge armchairs surrounding little tables.

After another delicious breakfast we walked to the zoo.

It was a slightly chilly, sunny day-- the zoo was sparsely populated with young families.

The zoo was a lovely medium sized zoo-- I really liked their Africa section; the giraffes were adorable. It was really cool to watch them dash across their enclosure. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be an European explorer seeing the African planes for the first time. The giraffes have such an awkwardly large body but they run with surprising grace. 

The light was just gorgeous in the wolf enclosure-- this photo is completely unedited, which is a rarity for me.

After the zoo, we stopped in a little pub for a quick lunch and plotted our afternoon. We wanted to see an old castle that was supposedly easy to reach. Our guide book didn't offer anything more than 'take bus 42 from city center'. I would just like to make a little side note to explain that the city center of Dublin is about the size of a good size town in Arkansas. I would also like to a take a second to rant about the impossible Dublin public transportation system. Even after asking for directions twice, it still took maybe an hour and half to find the bus stop for bus 42. Not that this 'stop' was labeled. Or had a map. Or any useful information. It was just a little yellow pole.

We got on the bus, telling the driver exactly what stop we were going to get off at-- in Dublin how far you are going dictates how much you pay-- and then settled down for a surprisingly stressful 30 min. There was no map on the bus to tell us how many stops were before our stop. None of the stops we stopped at were labeled. I also had very little coins on me-- and you have to pay exact fare-- so if we got lost it would be expensive to try and get back to the city. Eventually the houses gave way to trees and I feared our stop had been one of the many little yellow poles we had already paused at. I inched my way to the front and asked the driver when our stop was, he kindly said it was the next one. 

If he hadn't told us specifically, we would have never gotten off at the right stop. It was just a little yellow pole of the side of the road-- from the stop you couldn't see anything that suggested that a castle might be near. 

Regardless, we miraculously got off at the right stop, and meandered through the forested trails that led to the castle. 

It was cold and it had just started to rain when we turned a corner and saw the castle.

It was a cute little castle overlooking an impressive lawn. We quickly made our way to the ticket office, glad to get out off the cold rain. However, when we tried to buy tickets to see the castle we were informed that since it was Halloween the castle was closed, running only children's scary tours, which were completely booked. However, the gardens were still open. So, after a coffee break as we let the rain peter out, we walked through the gardens.

There wasn't much in bloom, seeing how it was the beginning of November, but the gardens were still interesting.

I never wanted to get on a Dublin bus again, so we followed the signs to a train station that was next to the castle. The only sign offering help at the train station was a piece of paper on the wall that had an arrow pointing to the right labeled DUBLIN. However, after several helpful people, we somehow managed to get on the train heading to Dublin. With free wifi on the train we both were quickly on the phone with friends/family back home; ah the miracles of technology.

And thus ends day 2! It didn't go exactly as planned, but neither did day 3 ;) stay tuned to see how the best laid plans of mice and men went!

Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dublin: The Beginning

It was a warm summer day. Our coffees lay discarded on the table as we dreamily browsed through the travel books. 

'We should backpack through Europe.' I said, the words representing nothing more than a hazily defined dream. 

Diamond just laughed. We became friends when we met in jazz band in 8th grade, when Diamond decided that I, friendless and introverted, wasn't as weird as she had previously thought. But traveling through Europe? Our educational system had equipped us with just enough knowledge to point to a couple European countries on a map-- I dreamed of the excitement of foreign cultures and languages. However, we were just two girls from Arkansas-- all we were currently worried about was homework, and figuring out what college to apply to. Traveling through Europe, staying in hostels-- it was all just a far fetched dream, one that would, in all reality, probably never be realized. Concrete obstacles, such as time and money, stood firmly in the way of that crazy wish.

That is, until the stars aligned, and somehow Diamond and I found ourselves both studying abroad in Europe. Granted, we were almost the furthest away two people can be and still be in Europe-- me in France and her in Estonia. However, when I started planning my week long break, I remembered the dream we had had several years ago. Who knew when this opportunity would come up again, so we picked our dream location, Dublin, Ireland, and started working on achieving that dream.

On Tuesday, October 29th, we set off for Dublin. Diamond had a direct flight from the capital of Estonia. I wasn't as lucky-- it was almost a two hour trek to the nearest airport, with a tram and two trains-- flying first to Frankfort, where I had a long three hour layover before a flight to Dublin.

We met up in the baggage claim in Dublin--  I hadn't seen Diamond since she left for Estonia, so it was great to finally see her again.

Finding our hostel adventure. We took a tour bus into the city, but missed our stop because we forgot to hit the button to ask to stop. We stumbled off on the next stop, pulling our maps out and trying to figure out what was what in the dark streets. It was cold and windy and we wandered around for maybe an hour, having no luck for finding the mysterious street where our hostel was on. Eventually we found the hostel-- turns out, we had walked right by it about ten minutes after getting off the bus but we had somehow missed the huge signs and bright lights.

The hostel was huge, with a cool bar/lounge area/mini-restaurant on the ground floor. It had a great atmosphere with the added benefit of me not feeling guilty when I hung out without buying a drink; it was our hostel, after all. Our room, a 8-bed mixed sex dormitory style, was on the second floor. For the first couple of days our roommates were reserved, and we didn't see much of them. It felt like someone was always asleep in the room so we didn't hang out much there. Aside from a little issue-- let's just say that the hostel got a bit too creative with their men/women bathroom symbols, apparently writing men/women is just too mainstream but we don't need to expound upon that-- the hostel was a fun, cheap housing option.

Our first full day in Dublin was spent exploring downtown in a search for the National Museum of Archaeology. The museum was as cool as the name sounds. But on our way to the museum we spotted a cool looking national library so we decided to check it out.

The library was surprising gorgeous and surprisingly functional-- we were the only people in this room who hadn't come there to read the books so we didn't stay long.

The National Museum of Archaeology was very interesting, packed full of cool artifacts and stories.

I don't have space to post all the cool things we saw, but they ranged from Ancient Egypt to Medieval Europe.

After the museum, we set off to find Christchurch Cathedral. Finding it wasn't that difficult, getting in, however, was. We walked in one of the doors only to see an 'exit only' sign. So, we circled the entire church for the next 15 minutes looking for any other entrance, and not finding anything. Eventually we returned to the first door and realized that the entrance was exactly opposite of the exit sign.

Um. Yeah.

The cathedral was enormous and beautiful. We hung out for maybe an hour, exploring the cathedral and the basement/underground area.

After the cathedral we headed to the Guinness Factory. Luckily for us, getting there was fairly straight forward, just a rather long walk.

The factory was interesting-- we learned the official way to drink Guinness and got a free pint. Diamond opted for a free Coke but I braved an entire pint of Guinness...suffice to say, it is not my favorite type of beer; it's far too bitter for me.

After the Guinness factory both Diamond and I were exhausted and we trekked back to our hostel and collapsed onto our beds.

And thus ends, day 1! Be sure to check back to hear more tales of my adventure in Dublin.

Thanks for reading :)