Miming My Way Through Italy

Most of last week’s short trip to Italy is just a blur, quite honestly. Days softened into evenings and late nights as I traipsed through the streets with four of my fellow English assistants. Only stopping to tumble into a café or gelato shop when we were hungry, the hours melted into one unending day.

Each afternoon, we continued our unceasing stroll through the town called Salerno, about an hour from Naples. Confetti inexplicably filled the cracks of the cobblestones, like the beads that hang from New Orleanian phone lines year-round. Every night, we read books out loud to each other, one girl swiping through the pages of an e-reader while the others sipped from their wineglasses and snuggled together thoughtfully. We snacked on cookies and fruit in the afternoon, never minding the calorie content and whole-heartedly enjoying ourselves as we chatted and solved all of modern society’s problems. 

So there was obviously a lot of this.

So there was obviously a lot of this…almost every meal.

Southern Italians on the streets hollered, gesticulated, and stomped their feet to comment idly on the weather. I spent most of my time wondering why everyone was so angry with each other before I got used to the fact that we were just in Italy.

A fair amount of this.

A fair amount of this.

We trekked to the dark grey beach nearby, where the wind played notes on our beer bottles and whipped sand into every possible nook and cranny. It wasn’t exactly beautiful weather, but it was a heck of a lot better than what we’re used to in Normandy. We kicked off our boots and socks, and my tootsies saw sunlight for the first time since last September. 

Descending upon the port while our seagull drones complete recon.

The busses klaxon before going around each blind mountain corner, and there’s always a lady who makes the sign of the cross and kisses her crucifix necklace as all the other passengers lean into the turn. We spent quite a bit of time praying for our lives and our lunches on those wild bus rides.

When you see pack horses, you know you're in the country.

You know you’ve reached the countryside once you see pack horses.

A hike through the Sentiero Degli Dei  (literally the Path of the Gods) along the Amalfi coast provided some seriously gorgeous views. Italians have been farming and fishing against the steep, rocky mountainsides for thousands of years, and it shows from the moment you step outside. Modern graffiti painted on top of Medieval ruins stacked on top of Roman ruins-it’s everywhere. 

Becky and Stace are terrible people.

Becky and Stace are terrible people.

French civilization holds just as many claims to being “old” as Italy’s does (just look up the cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux), but this countryside seems so much more steeped in history than Normandy’s. These pictures absolutely do not do it justice, but I tried. 

We saw some nice views, or whatever.

We saw some nice views, or whatever.

There’s nothing like heading out of your comfort zone for a few days to get some fresh air, hear a new language, and eat obscene amounts of tomato sauce on carbs. Italy comes nowhere near France on my list, but you’ve gotta admit that it’s got style.

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A Reunion à la Touraine

Feeling sick is no fun, especially when you’re miles and miles away from a familiar healthcare system and your mommy.

Luckily, I’ve managed to navigate both roadblocks and be an adult while trying to get over this yucky cold. I’m currently resting comfortably in bed with all sorts of wonderful French miracle cures from the pharmacy, and not planning on doing anything productive for at least the next 48 hours. In the meantime, please enjoy a few of these iPhone photos from last weekend’s reunion trip to Tours to see my old host family.

(You can see more about the family and my time in Tours on my Cast of Characters page.)

 

Tours' Hotel de Ville, officially remodeled with its beautiful new tramway.

Tours’ Hotel de Ville and city center, officially remodeled with its beautiful new tramway line

A panoramic shot of a country home I passed by. I'd love to hear about who lives here.

A panoramic shot of a country property I passed by. I’d love to hear about who lives in that house on the hill.

Chateau de Saché, the vacation home of Honoré de Balzac, a noted French writer.

Chateau de Saché, the vacation home of Honoré de Balzac, a noted French writer

inner workings of a printing press inside the Chateau de Saché

inner workings of a printing press inside the Chateau de Saché

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Thankful For

Happy [day after] Thanksgiving!

As cheesy as it sounds, the best part of Thanksgiving really is being with loved ones. For many people, including myself, Thanksgiving is the only occasion I have to see most of my extended family during the year. Though it can occasionally be a little awkward to make conversation with the third cousins whose names I absolutely never remember, it’s still great. Plus, I love having an excuse to doze on the couch and watch a Law And Order: SVU marathon with my brother, pretending to help my parents in the kitchen, and taking the time to listen to my grandparents’ amazing stories.

So of course, I knew it would be difficult to be away from my family for the holiday. Luckily, I’ve formed a pretty wonderful family of friends in Normandy, and we managed to have a perfectly fantastic Thanksgiving all by ourselves. Two Americans, three Brits, and one Spaniard came to my apartment for an all-afternoon feast, and it was far more successful than I could ever have imagined.

Taking a page from my dad’s book, who has always taken great care to slice my toast diagonally before transferring it to the final plate, I went for decoration as the key to the meal’s presentation. I spent the whole morning spiffing up my apartment with my meager supplies and making the eensy kitchen suitable for a dinner party.

Each person had their own hand-drawn place setting.

Each person was greeted with their own hand-drawn place setting.

As previous posts have detailed, I’m no cook and have certainly never prepared a Thanksgiving meal, but the other two Americans and I took on the chief roles of organizing the menu for our almost-not-quite-traditional dinner. Confronted with the task of creating classic American flavors with French ingredients for a mostly vegetarian group, I’d say we did pretty well. We stuffed our faces with a meal for the record books: the aptly named stuffing, sweet potatoes with goat cheese gratin, melt in your mouth brussels sprouts, green bean casserole with mushroom sauce, fluffy mashed potatoes, caramelized sweet onion pastries…the list goes on.

The closest thing to fitting it all in one picture

The closest thing to fitting it all in one picture

It was nearly impossible to save room for dessert, but we managed to suffer through it. We spent several hours laughing around the table, telling past Thanksgiving stories and sharing jokes between sips of mulled wine. As everyone waddled to the door with their belts loosened and pants buttons popping, we decided that a reunion Thanksgiving dinner would have to happen in the future, no matter where we all may be living at the time.

Pumpkin, chocolate, and apple pies being cut simultaneously by professionals

Pumpkin, chocolate, and apple pies being cut simultaneously by true professionals

As I fell into bed shortly after midnight, having named my food baby (Patata) and planned her entire future (pastry chef and freelance caterer to the stars, married at 28 to a veterinarian with 3 cats), I couldn’t help but smile. The days of preparation were completely worth seeing the non-Americans taste their first bite of pumpkin pie. This year, even though I can’t be with my blood family, I’m thankful to have found a group of people with whom I can share some of the best things in life: food and friendship.

The best part: the Black Friday leftover sandwich

The finale: the Black Friday leftover sandwich, featuring French baguette

Teachers Hate Mondays, Too

I thought going back to school after a long holiday was difficult enough for students…

turns out it’s just as not-fun for teachers!

Even though it’s been a bit tough to wake up before 8 AM and focus the past few days, it’s been great to see everyone again and to have a delicious lunch cooked for me by the cafeteria guys every day. I’ve spent most of my classes recapping what we worked on before the break, as it seems that getting a holiday lobotomy is a universal ritual, but the students are pretty much back on track now that it’s Thursday.

I also thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed by the local newspaper (!!) at a soirée that was organized by several of the high school administrators as a way for all of the assistants to get to know each other on Tuesday night. Good thing we’ve already been here for over a month and the seven of us already hang out all the time. Ah well, it was only exactly as awkward as it sounds, and at least we got free cider and cheese.

I had a field trip on Wednesday, which will warrant its own post later on, but the rest of my week has been blissfully uneventful! All in all, a relatively smooth re-entry into the working world.

Next vacation: 39 days until Christmas break!!

But who’s counting?

 

 

 

Reflection

As someone smarter than me once said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” It’s been exactly two weeks since my return to the United States, and I’m beginning to adjust back to American life.
I’m proud to say I fully unpacked and organized my bags within just a few days of arriving home, but unloading all of my thoughts and ideas from the past six months will take a little more time. For now, I can simply say that my study abroad experience was one of the most exciting and educational times of my life thus far, and I can’t wait to return to France to see my family and friends as soon as I possibly can! I will spend the rest of the summer reflecting on some memories from my time in France and writing about them as I see fit.

After classes begin in the Fall, I will continue writing this blog, but my posts will likely be much fewer and farther between than my European updates were. The plan (for now) is to continue with a travel/world cultures theme, but you can bet that irrelevant ramblings will happen from time to time.

I’ll end this post in the same way I ended my time abroad-not by saying “goodbye”, but by saying “until next time”.
À la prochaine!

Belle of Belfast City

wonderfully sketch.

Please excuse my delay in posting this; the past two days have been a mixture of equal parts unpacking at one home after a long vacation, and packing to go to another home after an even longer vacation.
See? That sentence was completely convoluted, but I don’t even feel like changing it. So, there.

Anyway, Marcus and I spent the last leg of our trip in Dublin, Ireland, and I felt quite at home there. Much less touristy than the other places we visited, Dublin is wonderfully rough around the edges. It still holds all of the history of a typical European city, but it also somewhat Americanized and isn’t quite so chic as certain other cities. I loved it.

We spent one morning taking a really neat historical walking tour of the city, in which we discussed the creation of early Ireland all the way up to the beginning of The Troubles. It was a good refresher of what I’ve learned in the past, but I would have loved to learn a bit more about the Unionist/Nationalist struggle from someone who actually lived through it. Alas, it was not to be, but I still really enjoyed walking all over the city center and having its major government and education buildings as the backdrop of our tour.

An example of modern Dublin’s issues. Preach.

Just 20 minutes outside of the city, the cliffs of Howth peer over the Irish Sea, and that’s where Marcus and I went that afternoon. The peninsula of cliffs is easy enough to walk alone, so we strolled through the hills at our own pace and took in the beautiful views. I sat in complete silence for quite some time, just marveling at nature. I’d never seen such quiet, humble beauty. It rained most of the time, but by the end of our day, the clouds parted and a true Irish rainbow appeared. I was all for running after it and finding a leprechaun, but we decided to leave it be and head back to town.

being a wee one.


Magical.


nature, people. nature.

at the end of the line.


Splashing in the cold Irish Sea!

The next morning, the rain was coming down in sheets and no umbrella could keep us dry as we scurried to the National Leprechaun Museum to (hopefully) catch a glimpse of the pot of gold from the day before. Unfortunately, we weren’t very successful, but we heard some fun stories and learned a lot about how the Irish have continued the legends of the wee folk into the present day.

That afternoon, we headed toward the business district of town to learn all about the porter production process (unintentional alliteration) at the Guinness Storehouse. What an experience! The original Guinness factory now includes a museum that shows all the steps of how the beer is made, as well as the story of how Arthur Guinness began such a company. It was fun to see, and even more fun to drink. We learned how to pour “The Perfect Pint” , which I will be happy to teach you for a small fee of five euro, and saw an amazing view of the city from the panoramic bar at the very top of the Guinness tower. We ended our journey on a literal high note! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

My perfect pint! I’m a pro.

Marcus and I parted ways at the Dublin Airport, and I made my way back to Tours for the last time.
I’ve spent the last two days in a bit of a trance, trying to soak up as much of my host family and France before I leave as I can. Yesterday, we rode our bikes to Château Villandry and made a last little cultural tour of the area. We’ve eaten all my favorite meals this weekend, from crêpes to l’eau de menthe. My host family even gave a goodbye present-a French cookbook for students. At this point, I haven’t fully processed anything yet and I don’t quite know what to say. I’m sure it’ll hit me tomorrow morning at 5:27, when I hop on the train to Paris.
For now, I must keep packing and keep moving. I’m excited to return home, but I’m also hesitant to be leaving Tours already. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

The Painter/The Architect

As tourist traps go, Barcelona isn’t quite as crowded as Paris or Rome can be, but Marcus and I still experienced our share of being jostled around by thousands of our fellow travelers over the past few days. Being located in the city center came with its difficulties, but we also got to easily see some of the neatest places in town. All in all, I had a fun time exploring a city and culture unique from any other place I’ve visited. Barcelona scrambles the look of typical European streets with the kitschy beachy atmosphere of Florida towns, and then adds in a touch of Gaudi architecture to make it all its own. Very strange, but very cool.
For our first night, we strolled down the Ramblas, which is the main drag of all shopping and touristy markets that leads straight to the water’s edge. I could have sat on a bench and people-watched all night, but Marcus reminded me that we had places to be. On the recommendation of a friend who recently studied in Barcelona, we checked out a theme bar called Espit Chupitos, which exclusively serves specialty shots. We watched patrons toast marshmallows over flaming drinks and down all sorts of other combinations. We even tried a few ourselves before calling it a night. 

Jelly candies for sale near La Ramblas.


I was very careful not to make any sudden movements.


so.many.olives.


On Sunday, we started out our cultural tour by visiting the Museu Xocolate, or the Chocolate Museum. Barcelona was one of the first European cities to popularize the drinking and eating of chocolate imported from the Americas, and so the museum highlighted the history of chocolate’s industrialization and production. Best of all, we got a little taste of the stuff after the tour. Best hot chocolate of my life.

We split one traditional hot chocolate and one iced!


Next, we moved on to the Picasso Museum. I’ll admit it- I’ve never been a huge fan of Pablo’s work. I always thought it was creatively imagined but poorly executed, because I assumed his famously abstract style was a result of his technical inability to reproduce a subject realistically. After seeing the rest of his work, I am a changed woman.
Picasso started out doing lifelike portraits and landscapes in oil, and later moved on to his signature Cubism. Maybe he decided that detail wasn’t necessary to effectively recreate a subject on canvas; maybe he got fed up with the whole process of painting itself and wanted to simplify it. Either way, I loved it. After seeing the evolution of his work and his countless studies of other artists’ masterpieces, I am proud to call myself a Picasso lover. Definitely my favorite part of all of Barcelona.
Monday morning found us wandering around the northern end of the city, taking an unofficial tour of Antoni Gaudi’s most famous architectural constructs. Gaudi spent a lifetime covering Barcelona in his distinctive Modernist parks and buildings, so you can’t go far without stumbling upon one of his colorful mosaic benches or melting lampposts. We checked out Park Guëll and the yet-unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral before ending our day beachside. A quick toe dip in the cold Mediterranean Sea was enough for us to say we’d done it, and we made it back to the hotel with just enough time to catch the Queen’s Jubilee before heading to bed.

from the highest point in Park Guëll.


cathedral or magical alien forest? couldn’t decide.


Light from above.


Nothing better than a cathedral of rainbows.

This morning, we flew to blustery Dublin, Ireland, where I feel quite at home already. More updates and photos to come soon. Cheers from the homeland!