Iceland Recap

This is a long overdue and a very long post because I get to share all about my week in Iceland over my spring break! J and I have been looking for locations that allow us to meet somewhat in the middle between France and the United States and apparently, we have a thing for I-destinations…Italy, Ireland, Iceland, you get the drift. We planned this vacation in January and read all about how Iceland is a wonderful place to visit in March and how the weather can be soooo nice. Even the venerated Rick Steves recommended Iceland in March so how could we go wrong? It turns out we could, but we had a wonderful trip despite all the challenges. So, with a warning on the length, I will recount our Icelandic adventures!

Mountain View from Day 4

I flew in on February 27th because there are regular flights from Paris to Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, twice a day and both get in during the afternoon. Because J would be getting in early on the following Monday, I decided to get there a day early to check things out. I flew in around 2 in the afternoon and was able to take a bus from the Keflavik airport to Reykjavik proper. The two cities are a forty-minute drive apart and you need to have a rental car or purchase a bus ticket for 25 euros to get into the capital. I had been warned ahead of time by online research so once I landed, I got out my ticket and hopped on the bus. Once I made it into the city, I walked from the bus station to my hostel, which was no easy feat. A weird phenomenon that J and I experienced throughout our time in Iceland was that the streets and sidewalks outside of very well trafficked areas were barely ever properly cleared of snow or ice. Perhaps they don’t salt the roads for environmental reasons, but they don’t seem to do anything at all to clear sidewalks in parts of the city and roads in the rest of the country. It was occasionally extremely irritating and inconvenient so I’m glad I brought a pair of something like cramp-ons that I could strap to my feet. I forgot my yaktrax that I had in Baltimore, so I bought another pair at Decathlon, the popular chain of sports equipment stores here in France. I had also forgotten heavy boots and I’m really glad that I found a pair of tough, water proof boots with thick rubber soles at the thrift store. They were a lifesaver, and I would not recommend going to Iceland without a solid pair of boots, at least in the winter months. Once reaching the hostel, I spent most of my afternoon exploring Reykjavik, before grabbing a quick dinner at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog stand which is by the cheapest eat in the city. I had been forewarned about the high price of food and groceries, but it was still a shock. Iceland is an island nation that imports most products sold and that includes food. The hotdog stand was a comparative steal, costing under 10 euro for 2 hotdogs which were delicious. I ate them with everything on it and extra fried onions which was the move. After, I went back to the hostel and called it a night. The wind and the cold really wore me out so I’m glad I just rested.

The next day had some pretty horrific weather. We had planned on renting a car at the airport which J had arranged online when we booked everything. The rental place didn’t open until 8 in the morning, so he had to wait a couple hours after landing. At first, it was looking hopeless because the driving conditions were terrible, and they couldn’t even get the car out of the rental lot…not a good sign. The driving conditions that day ended up being some of the worst that either of us had to face and I am really glad that J made it through the white out in one piece. He got to Reykjavik around 10:30 and I was busy having a pastry at a café I had found the night before called Sandholt. The pastries were divine, and I wished I had been able to eat there another time before leaving. However, to give you an idea of prices, we each had a pastry and a coffee, and the bill was almost 28 euros. I joke a lot with J about this one time that he paid almost twenty dollars for two lattes and a pastry, but this really blew that out of the water. So, this past month I really went from the extreme Icelandic prices to the deliciously cheap Venetian ones! Fun times for my wallet! After breakfast, we wandered around Reykjavik in the bitter cold and wind but tried to make the most of it. We couldn’t check into our guesthouse until 3pm so we had to fill the time before we could rest and get warm. We visited the famous Lutheran church, the Hallgrímskirkja which was very cool and very big! We also walked down the “rainbow road”, which is the main tourist street. Once 3pm rolled around, we headed to the guesthouse to rest up for our very busy week of driving around the south coast of Iceland.

The next day was a bit tricky. We had plans to drive down the south coast to our next place to stay, a little cabin in Vík, but the night before the online road guide was showing all the roads to Vík as closed which was not reassuring. We decided to head out anyway and try driving the Golden Circle which is a ring of tourist sites closer to Reykjavik. However, once we got there, the road was covered in snow and we were able to four wheel drive over it until we got to a section that was backed up because someone else got stuck. We decided to cut our losses, turn around, and  head towards Vík and see how far we could go. Surprise, surprise we made it all the way! We stopped for many sites on the way such as Seljalandsfoss, a famous waterfall. It was here where we got to experience the terror that is Icelandic tourist site parking in the winter. The parking lot had more potholes than the whole city of Baltimore and the areas where tourists walked to see the falls were covered in ice. I was happy for my crampons, but it was still a rather precarious experience. The sites are all cool but it’s not cool to have to risk life and limb to get to see them. Perhaps this is where we should have learned our lesson about visiting Iceland in the winter months. We also decided to go further than initially planned because the weather for the next day was looking really rough. We ended up seeing every single site on our itinerary but had to make some significant adjustments to make that happen. We drove all the way to Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon which was wayyy further than we had planned on driving that day. From the Golden Circle spot where we turned around to there was a five-hour drive which we had not planned on. However, we made a last-minute change and were able to go see it! We saw both the glacier lagoon and the diamond beach right before the sun set which was magical. From there, we had a long drive back to Vík on the dark and somewhat twisty Icelandic roads but thanks to my superior driving skills, we made it back in one piece!

The next day was more relaxed. We ended up driving around a bit in the afternoon because of the high winds in the morning. It was shocking to both of us that from our cabin, we could see people in tiny cars and tour buses just zooming down the road at upwards of 80 kilometers with really strong winds. I guess the Icelandic people don’t mind as much but we were worried about being flipped over on the road!! We left the cabin after lunch and headed to Skógafoss, a nearby waterfall. From Skógafoss, we drove to Dyrhólaey which overlooked the black sand beaches and the very fierce ocean. From there, we drove back to Reynisfjara or the black sand beach. It was an otherworldly site and I think one of my favorite places we visited. Both J and I stood transfixed just looking at the waves pounding the volcanic beach. It felt like we had left earth and we wondered what could have possibly made people think that settling in Iceland was a good idea. From there, we just drove for a bit past Vík and once I was too cold to stand being in the car anymore, we drove back to Vík and got soup for dinner from The Soup Company. 10/10 would recommend the lava soup and if you stay in the restaurant to eat, you can get as many soup refills as you want which is nifty. From there, we went back to our cabin for the night. 

Thursday was our last full day of driving. We had accommodations near the Keflavik airport for that evening and we had to get back to there eventually for our mid-afternoon flights on Friday. We decided to try our luck with the Golden Circle and were much more successful this time. We were able to see all the sites, from the Kerið crater to the geysers and then to Þingvellir National Park. I loved Þingvellir because of the waterfalls and pleasant hiking. I also let my Game of Thones fan out and made Jason hike through part of Þingvellir that was used as the entrance to the Eyrie in the show. It was definitely the day of the our adventure where we ran into the most tourists, but the sites were worth it. We wrapped up by heading to our hotel for an early dinner. 

I still have mixed feelings about this trip. It was both super neat and it tested me like nothing else. The weather was unpredictable and impacted our plans a lot. If I did this again, I would do it in a much warmer month like July. The country is also absolutely overrun with tourists which was super disappointing to me. I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect but I felt like the country was being used as this outdoorsy Disneyland for tourists who did not respect the land they were visiting. It was saddening and I don’t think I would come back because of it. I have heard similar comments about Venice but when I contrast the two experiences, I felt like Venice retained some character that Iceland may have lost along the way. I’m glad I visited but I think I’ll steer clear of Iceland in the near future. I would also say that overpacking helped a lot. I brought a ton of snacks that I purchased ahead of time as well as a ton of outdoorsy gear. I felt that I was prepared for the weather but even I ended up asking Jason to buy an additional neck scarf for me before he hopped on his flight. And that’s all I have to say about Iceland! And for now, that’s a wrap on Iceland. Happy travels!

Venice

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen from our intermission. Midterms were r-o-u-g-h and I’m overjoyed to be joining everyone again from my corner of the internet. I’ll be posting an update on my Iceland trip soon because I can’t leave you all in suspense for that long, but I’m happy to fill you guys in on my most recent trip to Venice!

I headed to Venice because it has long been a dream of mine to visit and it was there. Tickets were incredibly cheap, so the lodgings and the flights for this trip were under 100 euros. Which is a STEAL for Venice. I’m also trying to take advantage of the downturn in travel due to the pandemic and enjoy some places that have very high tourism rates. Venice is a destination that was described to me as a historical Disneyland for adults and it did deliver. I found there to be quite a few tourists, but according to my gondolier, it wasn’t that many people for this time of year. I have also noticed more tourists in Paris in the past few weeks, so perhaps it’s confirmation bias on my end. I left for Venice on a Tuesday evening around 7pm and this was an earlier flight than originally planned. My friend encouraged me to skip class and I took her advice although the class I was supposed to skip got cancelled so lucky me! I came back on Friday morning and even got a shower before my afternoon class! Look at me living my best life!

The hostel from my first night, très bougie

I got into the Venice airport around 9pm and while I thought this was pretty early, to the Italians this was the equivalent of midnight. I had to wait an hour for the bus to come to take me to the train station and seriously contemplated walking…it may have been quicker. Thankfully, J was up for a chat and I was able to while away the time on the phone. The Venice airport is a fair distance from nearby lodgings and almost 40 minutes away from Venice which you can take buses to. I chose to stay across the causeway from Venice on my first night because the hostel I was staying at in the city had strict check in times that I was arriving after. This ended up being a not great decision for buses because the buses were running much more frequently to and from the city center of venice than to Mestre Train Station which is what I needed. The bus ticket cost about 8 euros which I paid for twice because there are two different transport groups, ATVO and ACTV which run buses from the airport. ACTV is the public transit agency for Venice and I bought my original ticket with them, but when their bus didn’t show, I bought another ticket from ATVO. I also took the chance to buy a vaporetto pass at the airport which was very convenient because they don’t get activated until the first time you swipe. The vaporetto are the ferries that run all around the Venetian lagoon and I made good use of my two day pass, which was 30 euros. The hostel I stayed in outside of Venice, Anda Venice, was a very nice hostel for the price and very modern. However, as J has pointed out while I grumbled about my lack of sleep on these trips, hostels may not be for my delicate sensibilities. However, my budget does not really care about my delicate sensibilities so hostels it is for now! I had picked up a sandwich on my way out of Paris and ate before my flight so, once I finally made it to the hostel, I crashed but set an alarm for an early morning the next day.

The next day, I walked back to the Mestre Train Station, where I had been dropped off by the bus the previous evening. I bought a train ticket for the train that takes you into the Venetian city center which was about 1.40 euros which was a deal! Once in Venice proper, I took the vaporettos and started exploring the city! I purchased a ticket for a Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge’s Palace in English, which I had to purchase the ticket more than a month in advance. The ticket is a steal for a student because you get a tour in english and access to the Doge’s Palace after you finish the tour. I got to Piazza San Marco earlier than my tour so that I could explore and see the Basilica. There was a huge line, but you’re able to skip that if you make an online reservation which I was able to do the same day. I also stored my backpack in a nearby church, thanks to a Rick Steves recommendation because you cannot take items beyond a certain size into the basilica. I was told the storage was free, but it ended up being 2 euros. Perhaps prices have gone up with the pandemic. Inflation is everywhere! I got into the Basilica on a reduced fare because I am a student, a fact I exploit regularly for all my museum visits. It was a little underwhelming because the Basilica was under a bit of construction so you couldn’t see everything super well but the mosaics inside gleam as beautiful as ever. After my visit, I took the vaporetto up and down the Grand Canal for about an hour so I could ogle all the sites from an easy angle. I used the vaporetto early and often and spent probably half my time in Venice on these boats. I just love being on the water and would be seated outside rain or shine. For lunch, I used another Rick Steves recommendation for Calle de la Russe to find a bar with cheap coffee and sandwiches for a quick bite. The place I went was Osteria da Barco and the service was great as well as the fried rice balls. I returned to St. Marks for my tour at the Doge’s palace and got a close up look at the prison and closed offices in the Doge’s Palace. I walked around the front rooms afterward and marveled at it all. I’ll also mention that the palace has a coat check which was super useful to me because I was carrying around all my earthly belongings after checking out of my first hostel in the morning.

A lovely Venetian garden

After touring the palace, I checked in to my second hostel which had really restricted check in hours starting at 1pm and going until 7pm. The second hostel was called Ostello Santa Fosca and was a converted piece of property from the Church run by volunteers to create a student hostel. The location was amazing! It was really spacious and clean and I loved it! After checking in, I went off in search of gelato and more sites to see. I ended up getting on a vaporetto to the Rialto Bridge and found some gelato nearby. Fortified by sugar, I wandered through the streets of Venice for a few hours, admiring all the beautiful buildings, canals, and churches that I came across. I let myself walk around and get a little lost in the city. My maps were really helpful in getting me to my intended destinations, but Venice is a maze to be explored and enjoyed. I always knew that I could find a vaporetto stop and be back on track easily so I wasn’t scared of getting too lost. I enjoyed getting to wander and see the little beauties of the city. I ended up at a bar called La Palanca for dinner on a more residential island of Venice. It was a lovely, low-key and cheap meal courtesy of a recommendation from a New York Times travel writer. I ordered up a few of the Venetian speciality of cicchetti which are different spreads on toasted bread. Most people know of my enduring love of open faced egg salad sandwiches which is essentially American cicchetti so, I was in heaven. I also really enjoyed the prosecco which at 3.5 euros a glass was cheaper than a pint of beer at a Parisian happy hour. Some people complain that Venice is a bit pricey, but compared to Paris prices, it was a bargain. After my evening repast, I headed back to the hostel for another night of not so great sleep. Again, cheap accommodation but at what cost??

Day Two was just as full as my first day. I set another early alarm to be up early to get in line at Accademia, the famous Venetian art museum. I didn’t purchase a ticket in advance to try and avoid the surcharge added for online transactions, but the Rick Steves recommendation was to get there early if you didn’t buy a ticket in advance. I didn’t make it that early, around 10 am, but slid in just in time to avoid the line. They only allow 400 visitors at a time and it’s a popular destination on rainy days and it was predicted to pour. I got in on a student ticket (2 euros!!! I cannot make these prices up!!) and spent the next two hours wandering around admiring the Venetian art. The art told a fascinating story about the rise and fall of Venice’s political power as much of the artwork centered around religious works with patrons from Venice or allegorical paintings of Venetian history. I really enjoyed looking around and zoning out with some beautiful art so I headed to Frari church afterwards to take in more of Titian’s paintings. It was incredible to see the hodgepodge of masterpieces housed in a single church. After taking in the sites at Frari, I went to grab some more cicchetti for lunch at a bar near the hostel called Teraferma. Absolutely delicious and good value for good food. I used the break to rest up for my lengthy afternoon tour of the lagoon.

The view from Vaporetto 4.2

Due to the rain, I chose to take a tour of the Venetian lagoon via vaporetto. I thought it would be easier for me to do that, rather than continuing to trudge through the very damp streets of Venice. I was correct although it was a very chilly experience! I took the 4.2 Vaporetto to Isola San Michele, the cemetery island. After admiring the cemetery, I took the same vaporetto line to Murano, the glass makers island. I walked around Murano for a little bit and admired the window displays. After Murano, I took the 12 to Burano, the lace makers island. I loved zooming around Burano via vaporetto because it was such a tranquil island and very picturesque. I took the 14 from Burano around the lagoon and just stared at the smaller islands that we passed on our way back to San Marco. Altogether, it was a two to three hour tour and took up most of my afternoon. I had decided to try for a gondola ride after getting back, but it was unfortunately still raining. I passed the time by taking a vaporetto to Salute Church to admire the iconic church from up close. The church was built after a devastating plague outbreak in the 1300s and felt apropos for the moment that we are at in this pandemic. After visiting, I headed back to my hostel for a warm cup of tea and a break from the rain. After my tea, I walked outside to discover it was no longer raining!!! I was terribly excited and ran to the vaporetto stop to take the vaporetto to another stop with gondoliers.

My gondola ride ended at Rialto Bridge

My original plan was to take a gondola ride from the Accademia stop, but I was so nervous that it would start raining again, I got off early at Rialto and found a gondolier who would take me for a quick ride. The normal price for one of these rides is around 80 euro and that price goes up to 120/135 euros after 5pm which had come and gone by this point in the day. I was also nervous to be taking one alone as a single female traveler, but figured that taking one in a crowded tourist area would be safest. After agreeing to a lower price, I jumped into a gondola and was whisked down the Grand Canal. My gondolier Emmanuel was kind enough to take some of the wonderful photos featured in this post. I am glad I did it, but it was a little awkward to do solo. Maybe next time I’ll have my partner along for the ride! After that ride, I practically sprinted through the city to try and make it to the restaurant I had chosen for dinner before it closed. In Paris and France in general, restaurants will often stop seating people within an hour of closing which is annoying and frustrating when you’re looking for a bite to eat outside of normal eating hours. However, the waitstaff at Trattoria Altanella were incredibly kind and seated me with no questions. This trattoria was another recommendation from the New York Times travel section. I felt so lucky because I got to enjoy a fabulous meal undisturbed and listening to the happy chattering of local venetians. I started with a grilled octopus salad, then squid ink pasta and finished with a delicious semifreddo with almond biscotti crushed inside. It was divine!! This dinner was where I had my only pasta dish while in Italy, but I’m hoping to rectify this in the near future!

The semifreddo from Trattoria Altanella

And that was a wrap on my Venetian travels! I left the city around 6am the next day, taking the vaporetto to the bus station to catch a bus to the airport then catching a flight back to Paris. Honestly, I was so nervous for this trip and it turned out better than I could have imagined. Beyond the rain and the very late night bus from the first night, it was a phenomenal experience. I can see why Venice is inundated with millions of tourists each year. It’s an incredible city, but we need to savor it in small sips so we leave room for the locals. Happy travels my friends!

Book Review: The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

I saw this book over the summer at a local bookstore, Laguna Beach Books, and immediately wanted to buy it. Being on a student budget, it was a little pricey for me at the time, but I put it on the good ole Christmas list and it was with much joy that I opened it up on Christmas Day. I did not have the time to read it on my short break back home, but took it with me to France so I could peruse it at my leisure. I am glad I did because it really helped me out during a tough time. I do live in Paris these days but it’s still my daily life. I’m far away from friends and my support system and good lord I miss the SUN! Paris is an incredible place to visit, but for a homebody like me, adjusting to being back has been much harder than I thought it would be. I hit a low a few days before my birthday this year, feeling terribly, terribly alone. On one of my worst days, I picked this book up and John Green’s pensive writing was able to bring a smile back to my face. 

This book was not what I expected it to be. It is literally a series of reviews of random things that we have or experience during our human lives. I was surprised by this, but it ended up being just what I needed to read. Green reviews things from air conditioning to sunsets to a specific soccer match from the 1980s. The subjects of the essays are truly all over the place, but they are bound together by a common train of thought, one that carries the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impending doom of climate change. But it also contains so much hope for a day that will be better and brighter and we are the ones who can make that happen. I have been a fan of many of Green’s books in the past and this was just as wonderful and as soul soothing as those books have been. For my review of Reviewing the Anthropocene, I gave John Green 4/5 stars because his books are wonderful but sometimes, they make me cry. I hope you have the chance to give any of Green’s books a read and happy reading. 

Book RevIew: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read Adichie for the first time for a school assignment during the fall semester. I read her novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” which followed the lives of several Nigerians during the Nigerian civil war. I really enjoyed her writing and critical perspective towards politics, academics, humanitarians, and the press. For me, the book encouraged me to research more into Nigerian history as well as the present-day importance of Nigeria in Africa. While doing research for the book review paper, I realized that Adichie had a few other books that I was also interested. Purple Hibiscus was her debut novel from 2003 and is set in an unspecified year in postcolonial Nigeria after the civil war. 

The book’s narrator is Kambili Achike, a young Nigerian woman who has been oppressed by her religious upbringing and abusive father. The book explores her coming of age in a state and family which is not friendly to the expression of the individual. The book was hard for me to read because of the extensive description of child and spousal abuse. It’s a hard book to read that reflects the hard realities of many children and spouses around the world. I appreciated the way that Adichie was able to capture both sides of the coin, the situation where the abuser is revered by the outside world but still capable of enormous cruelty to those they purport to love the most. While it was a hard book to read, I felt that it was worth every minute. I was enthralled by the storytelling of Kambili and her unique perspective on life and its happenings. I read the book in a span of my recent trip to Lyon, an occurrence that is rare during the school year. I would really recommend this book to young adults (maybe 13+) and adults. I would say that the descriptions of abuse suffered by Kambili could be too much for a younger audience, but I also believe that young people should read whatever the heck they pull off the library shelf, something I can speak to from experience. 

Le Retour En France!

Hello everyone. It has once again been a minute since I’ve posted because life gets in the way of me constantly updating my blog! I realized I’ve been using this blog more as a travel log for myself which suits me just fine. I still have been reading at my usual rapid pace but as the school year gears up, it gets harder and harder to keep that pace. I do have a few books from break that I finished that I’m hoping to review soon! However, let me fill you in on my latest adventure, a 45 hour whirlwind tour of the French city of Lyon, renowned for its gastronomy and its beauty!

View of Fourvière from the River Saône

I’ll start off by sharing my travel wishes which since I’ve got here has been to take a few weekend trips by train from Paris. That has NOT happened as often as I thought it would before I came here due to a terrible confluence of events making my class schedule not ideal for such travel. I really enjoyed my longer trip for my fall break (which I believe my last post is from right before), I might do a retrospective and share the photos and adventures from that trip if I ever run out of material but that was about the only large travel I got in during the fall semester. This semester is turning out to be a wee bit more friendly to travel and I’m ready to take full advantage! That being said, I had a last minute class cancelation and thought it would be the perfect time for a getaway! I got lucky with the train ticket pricing and was on my way!

Exterior of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

I got into Lyon around 11 in the morning, early enough to get a whole day of sight seeing in. On the advice of L, I headed to the hostel that I had picked (SLO Living Hostel) and dropped my stuff off. This was my first time staying at a hostel and L really helped with loads of good advice before I left for Lyon. I was able to store my bigger backpack in their storage room and set off! Armed with my Rick Steves recommendations, I was ready to tackle the city! The first order of business was lunch and this was not so successful. The tricky thing about going to a French city over a Sunday-Monday timeframe is that a lot of things close on either Sunday or Monday so you really have to plan your work and work your plan! On the recommendation of Rick Steves, I headed towards Lugdunum, the Gallo-Roman museum that also houses some really cool architectural ruins of a Roman amphitheater (closed on Mondays). This museum happens to be in the hills overlooking Lyon and is accessible by walking or by the funicular. Being hungry and in the mood for adventure, I chose the funicular and enjoyed the smooth ride up. Unfortunately the stop closest to the museum is closed so I went to the other station and  I chose a restaurant for lunch nearby but for reasons unknown (probably because it was prime lunch hour on a Sunday) they turned me away, saying they couldn’t serve me. I was pretty upset as my stomach had been growling since I stepped off the train but didn’t let it stop me. I have two very wise friends who remind me regularly to always bring a snack and was prepared with two tangerines! While this doesn’t sound like much, it got me through until I was able to scrounge a sandwich from a boulangerie later in the afternoon. The museum was amazing, and I learned a thing or two! They showcase some incredible mosaics in the museum that were worth the trek up the hill by themselves! I wandered for a bit then headed to the other major attraction on the hill, La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. Try saying that four times fast! Entry is free and there are guided tours of the roof but only during the summers, so I was unable to avail myself of this! Walking around the cathedral was an incredible experience. The stained glass is gorgeous, and the walls are decorated in the most ornate mosaics. It was a very awe-inspiring and I was really glad I stopped by. Finally, I headed down the hill to try and grab a bit to eat before I fell over. 

Interior shot of the ceiling of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

After a brief stop at a boulangerie for a sandwich, I checked the time and saw that I had more time than I thought and with some luck, could make my third stop of the day. I was hoping to stop at the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation Musée de Lyon which is also closed on Mondays. This museum does have audioguides in English but I chose to try out my French skills and do without. This worked out well as large parts of exhibits featured video testimonies from those who experienced the war. I had no idea that Lyon was the center of the Resistance during the war as well as a major hub where both resistance fighters and Jews were targeted for deportation. I enjoyed walking through the museum and was happy to learn something new about history! I did a bit of internet sleuthing about Klaus Barbie, a name featured heavily as he is known as the Butcher of Lyon and was the head of the Gestapo in Lyon during the occupation. I found out that the United States helped him to evade French custody until he fled to Bolivia, which was just a little reminder that the United States actions both during and after the war didn’t always follow the high-minded ideals of our representative democracy. After the history lesson, a brief stop for goûter! I followed Rick Steve’s lead and headed back to Vieux Lyon to try the patisserie of A La Marquise, a well-known patisserie and tea salon. Pictures of the food below! I enjoyed a lovely light herbal tea alongside a porte froc, made of chocolate mousse with a base of praline. Praline is a local delicacy in Lyon, with bright pink flavored praline showing up everywhere! From what I’ve experienced so far in France, praline seems to be congealed globs of sugar that sound not so great but really taste good! They often make dessert loaves with praline studded throughout and they’re delicious! I didn’t have any on this trip but it’s nice to know that it is out there! After a restful repast, I went back to my hotel for a bit of a rest because traveling can take the mickey out of you. (Pun entirely intended) I was also absorbed in the book I had brought alone which I’m hoping you will all get to read about sometime soon! 

Goûter from A La Marquise

Taking a bit of a break in between adventuring and dinner meant that I had some time to recover from the fierce Lyonaise winds that were blowing through as well as some time to research my dinner options! After perusing the reviews for a few recommended spots from Rick Steves, I realized that reservations were the move for a nice Sunday dinner and since I do not yet have the confidence in my French skill to make a dinner reservation over the phone, I had not made any! Some places (such as my lunch spot the following day) do take online reservations which is very helpful! I decided to change around my dinner and lunch choice so I went to the more casual, Bistrot a Tartines for dinner and made a reservation for lunch the next day at La Bistrot de Lyon. I laughed a little as a I walked up to Bistrot a Tartines because the two restaurants are right next to one another. I had a chill dinner at Bistrot a Tartines, opting for a simple croque monsieur and a honey mustard salad with a small glass of local wine. I was glad to have gone more lowkey and afterwards, called it an early night. 

Breakfast from Boulangerie Saint Paul

Unfortunately for me, all my roommates at the hostel also decided to call it a night. I chose an all female dorm room which made me very safe but does not guarantee a good night of sleep! The girl underneath me snored so loud and at such a pitch that I was able to hear it through wax earplugs. If I hadn’t gotten so little sleep, I would be impressed! Due to her and another of my roommates getting up at 7am for their days activities, I was able to snooze a little longer and checked out about an hour before the 11am checkout time. At hostels, you’re also able to leave your bag in staff monitored storage after you check out which I did! Unfortunatley for me, it was pouring rain! This slightly changed my plans for the day which had been to head to the largest park in Lyon but I settled for exploring Vieux Lyon and its churches and covered passageways until my lunch reservation! I started by grabbing a pain au chocolat and a black coffee from the Boulanger de Saint Paul which was so good I came back to grab a sandwich for my dinner. I then walked around Vieux Lyon, darting into any open covered passageway that I could find to marvel at the inside look into many buildings.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste

I also went to the main church of Vieux Lyon, Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which was gorgeous but a bit drafty! After there, I high tailed it to my lunch reservation at La Bistrot de Lyon where I enjoyed a nice traditional lunch with an appetizer of a hard-poached egg with a mushroom stew and quenelles for my main course. Quenelles are the traditional fish based dish of Lyon and I could not tell you more than this. I enjoyed them for lunch but don’t think I’ll be looking for them for my every lunch. I REALLY enjoyed the gravy that came with the quenelles and could eat that everyday!

Une Quenelle

After such a heavy lunch, I paddled on over to the Musée de Beaux Arts de Lyon and was pleasantly surprised by the vastness of the collection. I spent over two hours looking at everything from ancient artifacts to Art Nouveau furniture. I was glad that the Rick Steves guidebook warned about certain floors being closed during the traditional French lunch hour (12/12:30-2pm) because this turned out to be true! I entered just as everything was re-opening for the afternoon and happily wandered through the galleries for hours. I almost wished I had picked up the English audio guide which was only an extra euro but I usually don’t like them so I abstained. I worked on my French skills from reading all the plaques! After that, I walked around the river for a bit and enjoyed the last strands of daylight. After picking up a sandwich, I headed to the train station. It was rush hour and I was not as careful with my belongings as I should have been. I was pickpocketed but the thief was unlucky and grabbed my chap stick which he sheepishly offered back to me. While I was not worried about my stuff, I should have been more careful! I did have my phone in the other pocket and should have put it somewhere more secure before waiting with a huge crowd of people at the train stop. I can get complacent and it was a good reminder to be aware of my surroundings! I did have a bit of a chuckle over the return of the chap stick but I appreciated having it back! At least the thief can agree with me that dry lips are the real menace to our society! 

And that was my whirlwind trip around Lyon! I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures and are along for the rest of my journey! Be safe and keep traveling!

Fall in Paris

Greetings from Paris everyone! I was going to write about how crazy cold it has been here but today, it was once again above 70F so summer has returned. I think my lesson about Fall in Paris is that it is unpredictable! Just a week ago, I was begging to turn the heater on and today I went out walking in a sundress! Oh how the weather has changed. The fall leaves are looking beautiful and giant piles of leaves have been accumulating all over the city. I’ve been happy and busy. Again, I do go to school and midterms season is here! I’ve avoided the worst of the exams but I still have my fair share of work. I last posted two weeks ago and while I’ve been out and about, it’s mostly been about getting more comfortable walking around Paris and feeling at home in the city. However, adventures continue to abound!

A Beautiful Bloom for the Jardin des Plantes

On Thursday after my last post, I finally made it to L’Orangerie! This museum was originally a greenhouse for orange trees, which were grown to feed the French public and monarchial obsession with oranges. It was later converted into a multi-use building and was proposed as an annex to the Musée du Luxembourg. It now houses the large panels of Claude Monet’s “The Waterlilies” and has space downstairs for temporary exhibitions. The chief draw for me was Monet’s work and it was incredible to view. When I went, there weren’t many people around and I was able to bask in the sheer immensity of the work. You really feel sucked into the pond where Monet painted. After seeing the real deal in Giverny, I have to applaud Monet’s skill in capturing their beauty for posterity. I also enjoyed wandering around downstairs where there were two temporary exhibitions. The visit did not take long, maybe an hour and a half total. I would recommend this to museum weary travelers to Paris or just students in need of a break! I know I needed one.

Inside La Felicita

Later that evening, I made my way to the hottest spot for drinks in town at La Felicita. I was able to enjoy a relatively cheap beer and got dinner as well. La Felicita appears to be a converted warehouse or some large space. It’s very cozy and the ambiance was amazing! It was wonderful to get to go and hang out with my friend. It felt almost like pre-Covid with the exception of the checking of the sanitary pass at the door. Hopefully, I’ll find some more great spots for drinks on the cheap in the future! I can’t spend all my money in France on happy hours!

Beautiful fall blooms at the marché on Saturday

The following weekend, I was able to enjoy some time for myself. M was traveling so I invited a friend over for brunch and we made American style pancakes! It was delicious and very fun to do on a weekend. That same day, I went to an Ethiopian restaurant with other friends and had a delicious traditional meal. I was the newbie to Ethiopian food in the group and had to learn to use my hands and the bread to scoop up dinner. It took some time but I eventually found success! I’ve found that in Paris, most of the cheaper or more accessible restaurants for my budget tend to be non-French food. I’ve had excellent Chinese, Korean, and Ethiopian food so far and I’m looking forward to trying many other new restaurants. On Monday, I was able to bake some cookies again! I found enough stuff to make my famous chocolate chip cookies and went for it! I was over the moon that the cookies turned out well and have added pictures below. It was the confidence boost that I needed and it helped me get through the rest of a crazy week! Our heating system was down for three days and I had to make due with no heating or hot water just as the Paris weather turned freezing cold! M and I made it through together and I’m very happy to be enjoying my heating when needed. With the weather turning nice again, M and I had a bit of a laugh over the trials and tribulations of the previous week.

Chocolate Chip Cookies! My sustenance through our heating troubles!

On Saturday the 16th, I finally made it to the Jardin des Plantes for a nice walk! I had been planning on going earlier in the week but the heater troubles kept me at home. I had a lovely walk in the sun and got to see all sorts of different plants. It was mind-boggling that this lovely garden was in the middle of Paris. When I walked in, it felt like a different world. The sun was out and I took advantage by slowly making my way through the different gardens. I loved the Alpine garden but the garden for the school of biology was pretty neat as well. It just seemed amazing that the garden was still in bloom in October. Of course, the roses had been cut back and were ready for winter but there was plenty of beauty all around.

A California Brown Bear sculpture at the Jardin des Plantes

After my time in the Jardin des Plantes, I walked over to the nearby Paris Mosque. I had stopped by on my Paris bike tour but was so entranced by the sweets that I had to come back. The mint tea is incredible and so are the Arabic desserts that they have available for dining in or takeaway. The price for tea is 2 euros and each of the little cakes are 2 euros. I thought it was a great deal and a real treat on a Saturday. Of course, the mosque’s restaurant and tea house are the hottest spots in Paris on a Saturday so it was tough to get a seat but once I did, I was able to enjoy a lovely repast that fueled my walk home! And that’s been the biggest things I’ve done these past two weeks. I’m trying to balance my obsessive desire to see every inch of Paris and also focus on my studies. I’m excited for fall break in just a few weeks and can’t wait to share my new adventures with you guys after the break. Until then, happy travels!

Where Have I been for Three Weeks?

I wish I had a more exciting answer but I actually have had a terrible cold! After my last post, I had a couple days of wonderful adventures but soon fell horribly ill! I’ve heard that other people have had a terrible cold recently so at least it’s not just me but it really knocked me out. I forgot that I haven’t had a cold or anything since the pandemic because of not being around that many people. I ended up with a bit of a lingering cough which is still bugging me but getting better. I’m almost glad I got ill while in France. It sounds crazy but I have always wanted to use the services of the magical pharmacies here and I got a solid chance to do so! By the end of my cold, I had been to three separate pharmacies on three separate visits so I got to meet all the pharmacists in my neighborhood! I’m lucky that I had a lovely host mom who made sure that I was taking care of myself and made so much soup to make my throat better. That helped as did the buckets of ice cream I ate…perhaps not the best food for a cold but it really hit the spot when I was down in the dumps. So in lieu of my weekly blog posts, I decided to aggregate the adventures of the past three weeks into one post. I had two great adventures before my illness and just got back from another weekend jaunt to Dijon. Without further ado, my adventures!

Early Morning Louvre

The Thursday following my last blog post, I was at the Louvre! Despite the lack of visitors to France in general, plenty of people are coming to the Louvre and the only ticket available was a 9am entry ticket. I got there bright and early and captured this lovely photo of the main triangle. I decided to tackle the Louvre with the help of Rick Steves’ audio tour which is available for free through his app. The tour was all about hitting the greatest hits of the Louvre and I felt very satisfied with my visit. The audio guide makes a disclaimer at the beginning that some exhibits may be moved or in storage and I’m glad that it was mentioned because this happened to me twice during the tour. Thankfully, I was able to figure my way around obstacles (hall renovations and missing statues) but if you aren’t able to, there are museum docents in almost every room in the more popular galleries. The audio tour focused on the Danton wing and covered masterpieces like the Venus de Milo to the Mona Lisa to Eugene Delacroix’s painting of Liberty Leading the People. It was AMAZING to see all of those pieces in the same place. I’ve been seeing them and studying them since I was a little girl and it was truly awesome to see them in person. With the audio guide, it took me about an hour and a half to see the greatest hits so I had some time to wander around. I really don’t think it’s possible to see the Louvre all in one day and I realized that since I’ll be in Paris for a bit, I can always go back if I realize that I missed something. I ended up touring the decorative arts section and the apartment recreations which were neat. The Louvre seemed pretty empty to me and I relished the chance to feel like I had the Louvre all to myself. It did start towards the end of my visit but none of the crowds that I saw seemed like pre-covid size. I left shortly before noon as I was all museum-ed out for the day. Again, one of the advantages of living in Paris means that I don’t feel as stressed about seeing everything all at once. I’m still not sure what my final verdict on the Louvre is! I definitely didn’t like it as much as the Musee D’Orsay because some galleries just seemed filled with the same stuff but again, it had so many amazing things! One of the advantages and disadvantages of using a giant palace for a museum is the space. I think both museums have their merits and if you are visiting, you should try to see both. However, I did like the Musee D’Orsay because it felt much less formal to visit. I had to prepare a lot before going to the Louvre and I would say that it was comparable to my experience at Versailles in terms of planning. I hope to finish seeing the Musee D’Orsay soon and I’ll definitely be back at the Louvre sometime soon but I have a few museums on my list before I get back there.

The Senat

Next up on the adventures was seeing the Palais du Luxembourg! The weekend of the 17th and 18th were the Patrimony days in France which meant that many museums had free admission or places that weren’t normally open for tours allowed visitors. A friend, L, mentioned that the Senat, housed within the Palace, would be open for walk through tours and I jumped on the opportunity. It took us about three hours total from standing in line to leaving the petite palais but it was worth it! I got to see all the parts of the Senat and gawk at the incredible architecture and interior decorations. The ceilings were incredible! I also felt very welcome. They had English language materials which helped to introduce me to the French Senat and their work. It also had very helpful background on the building and the paintings within. It was a great experience and I’m very glad I went!

The Arc, Wrapped!

On Monday, L and I went to go see the Arc de Triomphe which was wrapped for the Christo and Jean Claude art installation. When I first got to Paris, a month and a half ago now, I saw the scaffolding on the Arc and thought they were just repairing parts of the Arc. However, now I know better! They were putting scaffolding on the exterior so they could better secure the fabric to the art. The wrapping of the Arc was the culmination of the work of Christo and Jean Claude who were known for wrapping other famous monuments such as the Reichstag in Germany and the Pont Neuf in Paris. There were very helpful guides everywhere, sponsored by the Christo and Jean Claude Foundation, who were handing out fabric swatches of the same material that the Arc is wrapped in. It was a neat thing to see and really a once in a lifetime experience. The Arc is now unwrapped and I think they’re still removing parts of the art installation. Hopefully I’ll get to see the original Arc soon but it was neat to see it wrapped.

Burgundy Wine Trail

After my Arc adventures, I ended up in bed for a whole week trying to recover from my cold which lingered into the next week. However, by the beginning of October, I was feeling suitably recovered and took a train visit to go see Mo in Dijon. I left on a late train on Friday and came back late on Sunday night. On Saturday, I took a bike tour with Actif Tours which has two offices in the Burgundy Region. The bike tour entailed two wine tastings and a lunch along with the bike rental, helmets, and baskets along with a pre-set gps route for us to follow. I ended up on the bike tour with a lovely couple fresh off their wedding and it was fun to chat with them. Leaving Dijon was a bit stressful but we managed! We left town and got onto the bike path that goes through the vineyards. It was around 10am when we left and we got to see some of the harvesting of the grapes which was neat. It was crazy how you could go straight from town into the vineyards on the bike trail. The bike paths were supposed to be paved which I think was a bit of a stretch for the imagination. The paths aren’t very well-maintained which made me glad for the heavy duty rentals and the bike helmets. One wrong turn could have landed any of us in some serious trouble so I would caution any potential tour takers of this risk! We rolled up a bit late to our first tasting but were still able to get in. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the tasting room, the staff, or the wines at the first stop so that was a bit of a let down. The next stop for us was lunch which was INCREDIBLE. We were booked for lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant La Millésime which was a welcome surprise. It was amazing and I cannot believe the quality of the food or the service. We started with shrimp tartare, then on to risotto with snails, and finished with a vanilla panna cotta with a divine raspberry jam on top. It was the best meal I’ve had in France so far. I was really blown away! We also had some great wine and coffee to go with our meal so kudos to the restaurant! After that, we slowly pedaled to our next tasting, at a much more leisurely pace with our very full bellies! We got to the last tasting stop at Côte de Nuits which was much better than the first. It was more set up for groups and we had a personal sommelier who walked us through the tasting. I ended up getting a few bottles which were pricier than I’d like but they’ll be a nice treat later in the year! We took a train back with our bikes and ended up safely back in Dijon! A wild weekend and a fun experience in Dijon. And that’s a wrap on my adventures for now, I do have to do school work at some point! Happy travels and stay safe out there!

What is a Normal Week?

Hello everyone. It’s been another week in my new life and it isn’t quite getting to that “normal” equilibrium that I thought it would. I think there’s a couple factors preventing my life from settling into the daily routine. I’m in a totally new country, with a ton of new experiences at my finger tips, and a healthy fear of not getting to do anything of this again after my two years. That being said, I took a LOT of time this past week to chill. It may seem like I’m constantly on the go but I do rest. Taking time for myself means that I can recharge my batteries and it is incredibly important while I’m still in the honeymoon phase with Paris. So rest assured, there have been a few nights cuddled up with Netflix or going to bed early so I can wake up feeling recharged. With that in mind, let me tell you all about what’s been going on for me during this past week.

Monday was more of a school oriented day. I have one class and had also signed up for some French tutoring. Due to some logistics issues with my schedule and being restricted to a certain number of courses, I had to drop my French class which was disappointing. However, there are a lot of virtual language sites where you can engage with a language learning software or an actual tutor. I chose the tutoring option as I’m trying to improve my verbal skills before really diving into grammar specifics. I realized that this is what I wanted to work on when I was at the farmer’s market and realized that bantering with vendors was a key part of each transaction. Unfortunately, my French skills are not quite there yet so French tutoring it is! I am using Verbling, which was a suggestion from back home. I’ll be doing this lessons on a weekly basis for most of this semester so I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress!

The entrance to the Musee D’Orsay

Tuesday was my first research methods class which seemed overwhelming. It’s crazy to think that I’m going to try and write a thesis during the next two years but somehow I will do it! After class, I treated myself to another visit of the Musee d’Orsay. I’ve heard from a few friends that they prefer this museum to the Louvre and I’ll let you guys know the final verdict in next week’s blog post. This time, I worked through the left side of the ground floor as well as most of the second floor. I loved walking through the Art Noveau exhibits on the second floor because they have so many furniture pieces that they are able to recreate full rooms. It was lovely to bask in the art and because I’m not really pressed for time, I can come back as often as I’d like. I have mentioned that students usually get in for free if you live in the EU economic area as I now do with a long stay visa for France. I’m definitely taking advantage of this while I’m in France and can’t wait to explore other museums. The Centre Pompidou has a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit on during the fall so I’ll have to stop by sometime soon! I’ll be returning to the Musee D’Orsay soon to finish the other floors but I’m also enjoying taking in the art at a glacial pace so I can really appreciate it all.

Dijon City Center

Wednesday was an exciting day and full of more firsts for me! I was planning on visiting my friend Mo in Dijon over the weekend, but due to some logistics issues, the best time for me to go ended up being on Wednesday. To get there, it’s about an hour and a half by SNCF, the national high speed rail company in France. I also used their trains to get to Giverny and they have student discounts which are super helpful! The student discount costs about 49 Euros and it lasts for a whole year. It’s for students 12-25 and provides discounts on all types of train tickets. This has allowed for a travel subsidy for my adventures which I really appreciate! Being a student in Europe is really nice because of the discounts. I have many more opportunities to see amazing museums and travel around at a more affordable price. I’m enjoying being able to take advantage of it! Anyway, I took a late afternoon train into Dijon to visit Mo and stayed for two nights. The first night, we went out for some yummy cocktails and a bite to eat. We went to the Petite Reign and had a delicious meal. We had planned on getting just cocktails and dinner (a delicious truffle ravioli!) but saw the desserts for some other patrons go by and had to have some. We both got caramel chocolate cake with whipped cream on the side and it was divine. There are no pictures because it was consumed SO quickly. It was brownie like but so much better. I know I’ll be spending a lot of time in the kitchen trying to find just the right recipe to recreate the taste.

Dijon is a cute town and is easily digestible in a day or two. It is the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Burgundy, and was the center of a very powerful province during the Middle Ages. There are a few museums scattered around the town as well as three cathedrals. I couldn’t believe the amount of cathedrals and was able to visit each which was neat and I got to compare the architectural style of all three. The Ducal palace has been converted to an art museum called Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. I loved visiting the art museum as I just love art (see previous posts). Just getting to see a bunch of different art pieces is a great time to me and a picture above shows my strong appreciation for the finer points of historical portraiture. After the art and cathedrals and many, many steps, we walked over to Mo’s favorite tea shop or a salon de the as they are called here. We got some lovely tea, mine was Opera Blu and I will try to find some in Paris going forward. We also had MASSIVE ice cream sundaes that ended up being a large portion of our dinner. Overall, an incredibly satisfactory visit! I’ll be going back soon for a bike tour of some nearby vineyards. Dijon is in the Burgundy region which is well-known for its wines. Unfortunately, Rick Steves had little advice for my visit to Dijon so I found the bike tour the day before I left and it was too late to book! I’m excited to go back and see Mo and enjoy some of the regions’ fine wines.

A Dame Blanche and an Opera Blu Sunday

Friday was a bit hectic because of arriving back in Paris and promptly running to get to class on time. I was able to catch up with some fellow students and go for a happy hour around Châtelet, a well known spot in Paris for drinks with friends and a very famous jazz scene. M had recommended that I visit with some friends and I was glad to make that happen through serendipity. I tried a red beer or a biere rouge for the first time and loved it! It’s the first kind of beer that I’ve found that I really enjoy drinking. On Saturday, I went for a bike tour through Paris with the Bike About Tours Company that operates in Paris. They were a lovely group to bike around with, even if Paris is a bit of a hazard zone for cyclists and pedestrians! It was neat to be guided around the city and feel like a tourist for a little bit! I would recommend their tours for English speaking tourists and I’m hoping to go on a longer day trip with them when they resume doing them. Covid is still impacting their operations so I was glad that I could go on a ride with them through the city. The cafe where they work out of is also a neat gathering spot for expats of all countries so I’m excited to go back sometime soon for a big latte. I also went thrift shopping afterwards which was a learning experience! I’m trying to be both eco-friendly, but am very mindful of the extended summer that Paris is experiencing. Just to be on the safe side, I wanted to pick up a few additional items so that I wouldn’t sweat through my three summer outfits. I started at an outdoor flea market, but the one I was at was in no way cheaper than a real thrift store so I headed over to the Croix Rouge to pick up a few things. The selection was fantastic and I felt much better about getting clothes that I knew wouldn’t be needed for that much longer but would make me much more comfortable in the near term.

Sunday was another day that was meant to be chill but ended up being busier than I anticipated. I really do go to graduate school in between these adventures and was hoping for a solid day to plow through my readings and that sort of happened. I got a good three hours and got everything finished for my first class of the week but I had a planned activity at 2 that cut through my afternoon. I went on a little expedition of the Paris Catacombs! I went with a group of grad students from Sciences Po because we all figured that we owe it to ourselves to go see one of the most famous sites in Paris. It was neat and less creepy than I thought but I don’t think it was worth the 29E entry fee that you have to pay if you reserve in advance. It was more of an exploration of the story of the city of Paris and its relationship with the land, specifically the stone quarries and the cemeteries. The bones themselves were cool to see. I’m glad I went with a group because it made me a little braver going down there and we all went out for coffee afterwards to decompress. The catacombs were a little cold because they’re so far below ground. but I felt fine wearing a light autumn outfit. There is a lot of walking involved and the catacombs walls “sweat” moisture which made the expedition down there a little bit messier than I thought it would be. I think I would go with an actual guide next time if I did go again but I feel like it’s more of a one time experience. I will send out a warning to taller travelers if they plan on going…the ceilings are VERY low so if you do visit, be prepared for crouching. Anyway, that’s the end of my adventures for this past week so I’ll be seeing you all next week. Happy travels!

School Starts!

Hi guys! School started this past week; I actually wrote my blog post last week after my first day! Being a Masters student seems to be both a very chill gig during the start of school and hellacious when all the final papers are due! I’m trying to take advantage of the continued summer weather in Paris and the relaxed start of the school year to continue exploring all of Paris and its surroundings. I’ve realized that to make this as easy as possible for me, this is really going to read like a travel diary for the moment. I may slow down later in the year because of school so I’m trying to prepare book reviews for later in the year when I might have a little bit more stress. For now, my Paris adventures continue! This past week was a bit of a blur because of school but I’ll try to detangle it here for the interested reader.

I’m sure I briefly mentioned Monday in last week’s post but it was a more normal day. Going to a new school in a new country was a lot and I am trying to pace myself. While I am exploring at a hectic pace, I’ve had to remind myself that this is not sustainable and that I will be here long enough to enjoy all the sites. I think it’s also a lot of bottled up energy from the pandemic because I was somewhat limited for a while and the opportunity to just see new things is too tempting to pass up. However, I must pace myself otherwise I will be out of things to do and personally burnt out. After school, I ended up going to the Jardin du Luxembourg and reading for a bit. I also discovered that the Medici Fountain is finally open after being closed for restoration and the picture below shows the beautifully restored fountain. I walked over to see it, snapped a few pics, and then headed home for another one of M’s delicious dinners!

Newly Restored Medici Fountain

Tuesday was a little more exciting because I went with a group of friends from my French class to Cafe Flore which is very, very famous both because of its associations with the literati of the 1920s and its current Instagram fame. The cafe itself was well known because it was frequented by many American expatriates during the Roaring Twenties but is no longer the cheap place to eat it once was! I did enjoy my hot chocolate and quiche that I got while there, but it cost a pretty penny. The hot chocolate alone was nearly 8 Euros so I will be looking for a regular lunch spot elsewhere! It was cute but we didn’t get to sit at an outside table and it felt weird eating in an almost empty dining room. Loved the hot chocolate but will go to another cafe for my regular coffees. Other than that, took another turn around the Jardin and headed home! I also believe this was the day that I first bought stamps in Paris which was quite an adventure. I had to figure out where to buy them (the tobacco shop which helpfully has postcards out front) and was confounded when I got them and realized they didn’t have a sticky back. So back to my host mom I went to understand how to use them. It turns out that France still has lick-able stamps which was a wild concept to me but quite normal to them. After a bit of wrangling, I finally sent my postcards out through one of the yellow mailboxes which in Paris have two slots, one for intra-Paris mail and the other for “other departments and international mail”. A neat organizing system and easy enough for even the most befuddled of letter senders such as myself!

Wednesday began pretty low-key because my afternoon class is later but it was still packed! I only had one class and had a regular ole lunch from the school cafeteria which was surprisingly good if a little bready for my taste. At this point, I hadn’t yet discovered the Rest’U, the cafeteria for students in France that provides full meals for 3.30 Euros! Amazing! So I settled for one of the many sandwiches offered at the school cafe. On Wednesday, I also stuck around school for an after school lecture by Olivier De Schutter! He is currently the UN Special Rapporteur for Poverty but was previously a two time Special Rapporteur on the right to food. During his tenure doing that, I read many of his reports for my research. After the lecture, I walked over to the Quai d’Orsay for a drink with my fellow Masters Students. What was really amazing was during my walk back to the Metro home, I passed through the Champs Elysees without even realizing it! My geographic intuition has a lot still to learn in Paris!

Shining Lights over the Seine at Night

Thursday was more of a personal day for me. I had a bit of a meltdown in the morning. Figuring out where my first class of the day was ended up being much more of a challenge than I thought it would. I ended up running all over the Saint Germain de Pres neighborhood and finally finding my class after a forty minute detour. Not fun and not a great way to start your day. However, it happens to all of us whether at home or in a new country. Picking myself up from that took a bit of time. I had other problems like how to find a book in English that I now needed for one of my courses, and M was very helpful there. She suggested Gibert Joseph, a massive bookseller in Paris that has a couple of big stores nearby. It ended up being so much more convenient than I thought it would be! I was able to go online, find my book, pay for it, and collect it within two hours!!! Woohoo! I also grabbed a gelato on the way back home which really perked me up. I don’t often use food as a reward but that gelato just hit different. I did need to treat myself and was glad to be able to do so!

Friday was more low-key. I had plenty of time in the morning to take care of business and try a new restaurant called Egg and Co in the 6th. It was very good and reasonably priced. The restaurant sells itself as a restaurant focused on eggs, but they’re really more of a brunch spot. It was nice and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch before dashing off to class. After class, I got the chance to hang out with some new friends! I’ve been trying to get out of my shell a bit because socializing can be hard but it’s so important in a new place! So this is me trying to follow my own advice.

An open air market from Saturday, 09/04

On Saturday, I was finally able to go to the fresh market with M. It was fun to watch M talk with the vendors and figure out what we would be eating for the next week. I loved the fishmonger’s stall. It was a pleasant, albeit different experience to see the whole fish and then watch the men fillet the fish right in front of you! Really brought me closer to my dinner! We walked around a bit on our way home, taking time to also get fresh bread from the boulangerie which was a treat. M has introduced me to bread made from corn flour and it’s scrumptious. I love eating it and as we are going through a loaf a week, we were in desperate need of more bread by Saturday. Laden with our purchases, we walked back home. As I am a student, I did have plenty of readings to keep me occupied into the evening. I had to put my studies down eventually and headed to an outdoor disco on a boat in the Seine near the Right Bank. 10/10 would recommend and headed home after a late night because I knew I would have an early morning the next day!

Countryside around Giverny with some very cute cows

Sunday was the crown jewel of my week. Per a Rick Steves France 2020 travel book, I had decided to try going to Giverny for the day to see Claude Monet’s house. I was able to go with a school friend and we had to leave very early in the morning to make our ticket time for the house. The train to Giverny is about 45 minutes to an hour from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. We left on the 8:10 train and got into Vernon around 9. The train station is about 4km from Monet’s house so we either had to hoof it or rent bicycles. We chose the bicycles and it was about 12 Euros for regular ones. There were some electric ones for rent at another shop for 15 Euros, but I don’t love electric bikes and enjoy the exercise so we chose the regular ones from Gare d’Arrivee per the Rick Steves book. The ride to Monet’s house was lovely; once you were out of Vernon proper, it really felt like the countryside. I got to see all sorts of farm animals and rolling hills. Very bucolic! We did hit a few snags and rolled into Giverny around 10, thirty minutes after our entry slot, but this wasn’t a huge issue. At the moment in France, most museums will only accept people who are going with a reserved time slot along with the pass sanitaire. I had been showing my vaccination card which worked fine. I finally got my pass this week which has made things easier. Going to Monet’s actual house was wonderful and the curators have worked meticulously to restore the museum, as well as arranging for loans of artwork so that they can show the artwork that hung on the walls during Monet’s later years. The house itself felt like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, each room had its own color scheme and matching decor. I’m glad I didn’t do a guided tour of the house because of the time pressure I would have felt however it would have given my more historical background on Monet and his life which was entirely lacking from the museum signage. If I went with a group, I definitely would have arranged for a guided tour. The gardens were amazing and it seemed like they were still in full bloom even though it is early autumn. The famous lily pond is across the street so we got there by a pedestrian tunnel that goes under the road. I found the little stream that runs through that part of the garden very beautiful so I took home a print of that. The famous lily pond is in its original condition but I found that it didn’t speak to me as much as Monet’s paintings of them do. I’m not sure if it was the right time of the year or day to see them so I may give them another chance in the future. The Monet house and gardens took about two hours so by the time we left, we were ready for lunch!

We both got the baked camembert, a traditional Norman dish

Lunch was based on another of Rick Steves’ recommendations at Hôtel Baudy, a site where many American impressionists used to gather. While we didn’t eat inside, the interior has been preserved so that you can experience the same ambience as the young American impressionists did so long ago. I had the baked camembert and LORDY was it delicious. I’m still not entirely sure what was in it (picture above) but WOW (definitely some tomatoes but beyond that, I was lost)! We walked around town a bit to get back to our bicycles then cycled back to the Seine and had a bit of a rest there. While at lunch, my friend had suggested we visit Chateau Bizy in the same town as the train station and the pictures online looked cute so we agreed to go. We selected a three o’clock time slot so we could make our way there at a leisurely pace and boy am I glad that we did! My mother once told me that during my parents’ chateau bike tour they discovered that all chateaus were up very large hills because that made them more defensible. Her words came back to me as my friend and I struggled to bike up the very large hill the chateau was on! We made it to the top, huffing and puffing, and had a bit of time to rest before our tour time. After the tour, we walked just a little bit of the gardens then headed back into town to catch the train. I wish we had more energy to walk more of the grounds because they were gorgeous but we were both exhausted. The train ride back felt long because we were tired and in desperate need of a cool sweet treat! Once back in Paris, we got gelato then went our separate ways to get ready for the week ahead!

That’s all for this most, more adventures to follow and maybe even a book review sometime soon! I have a bit of a backlog with those but I hope that you enjoyed this! Let me know if you have any France or European travel recommendations by commenting below! Happy traveling!