New adventure, new blog!

In just one short week, I’m heading back to Europe for a couple weeks of travel before starting my new job as an English teaching assistant in Aiguillon, France. To keep up with my latest adventures, feel free to follow my new blog here

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FAQ…six months later

So, about six months ago when I wrote my latest blog, I promised one more with final reflections. A few times this summer, I sat down with the intent of writing it but never knew what to say. With the start of school and work, blogging quietly fell off of my to-do list. Since I’ve been back, I’ve answered so many questions about my time abroad and thought this would be a great place to consolidate all of the Q&A with a little FAQ.

Are you fluent?

This is probably the question that people ask the most and the quick answer is “no.” Learning a language is a life-long commitment; expecting fluency after 10 months is (unfortunately) unrealistic. However, I did make a lot of improvements in my speaking, comprehension, writing, and reading. I tried to absorb as much as possible through having all of my classes in French, interacting with locals, and spending time with French people. I learned a lot of new words, phrasing, and conversational habits. Without spending time in France, I wouldn’t have been able to improve as much as I did. Immersing yourself in a country is crucial to learning a language and I hope to continue learning and bettering my French for the rest of my life.

What was your favorite city?

This is probably the second most frequently asked question and it’s always a hard one. To tell you the truth, I loved everywhere I visited. Each place was unique and interesting; I truly appreciated my time in all 16 countries and 35 cities. If I really had to choose, though, I would probably say my top three (excluding France) were Copenhagen, Denmark; Fez, Morocco; and Brussels, Belgium. Even while making that short list, I can immediately think of at least five other cities that could be in the top. Of course, Aix has the most special place in my heart because it was home.

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What did you miss the most?

This one is easy: my family and friends. I was really only homesick once (right after my mom and Rick left after our trip) but I often thought about my friends and family stateside. I missed being in Madison, going to football games, celebrating birthdays, having cheese curds and a Spotted Cow, and spending time with the people I care about most. Although I’ve had my moments of France withdrawal, I’m more than happy to be back for my last year of college. I will always hold my time in Aix, my Aix-pats (coucou Sara, Danielle, et  Julia !!), and my travels close to my heart.

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What are you doing after graduation?

That’s the million-dollar question, n’est pas ? Next year, I hope to return to France as an English teaching assistant. I’ve applied to programs with both Fulbright and TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France). After that, your guess is as good as mine. I have interests in a couple of graduate programs, education, educational policy, government, and diplomacy to name a few. My favorite way to answer this question: it depends who wants to pay me.

Do you think you’ll end up in France or the US?

Je ne sais pas. I can see myself doing a little bit of both. Eventually, I can see myself settling in a bigger US city but I can’t say anything for certain. Wherever I end up, both countries will always be a huge part of life whether professionally or personally.

What advice would you give to someone studying abroad?

There are probably thousands of things I could say to answer this question, but I think the best way to summarize is to immerse yourself and profitez-bien. Take advantage of every opportunity and truly enjoy it. Time goes by quickly so do what matters most to you. Of course you should travel and try new things, but don’t forget to stay home too. My weekends in Aix were some of my favorite. Getting to know your city makes it more than just your home base; it makes it your home. For some more in-depth tips and tricks, check out Sara’s latest blog on how to make the most of your time abroad.

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Thank you so much for following my adventure! It’s been an absolute pleasure to share my travels and experiences with you. If I’m able to teach in France next year, I hope to keep another blog about ma vie en France. Until then, go out and find new adventures! Grosses bisous 

Two weeks of travels

After nearly 24 hours of travel on Sunday, I finally made it back to the US! I’ll talk more about my last moments in France, my trip back to America, and being home in a later post. For now, I’m going to give a little summary of the five countries Madelaine and I visited during our two-week trip. Because there’s so much that I could say about all of things we did (and all of things we ate), I’m just going to make a quick post with highlights of each place.

Venice, Italy 

What we did: visited St. Mark’s Square and St. Mark’s Basilica, climbed the Campanile, wandered the nearby island of Murano (known for glass blowing) and Burano (known for its colorful buildings), Doge’s Palace, walked the canals, wandered aimlessly like Rick Steves suggested

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Why I liked it: Venice is beautifully historic and there’s no other city like it. My favorite part was visiting Murano and Burano because they were less hectic and more quaint. Taking water transportation was a great way to see the city.

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What we ate: Pizza, pasta, gelato, and cannoli of course

Stop in Trieste: on our way to Pula, we made a stop in Trieste, a town right on the border of the two countries. It was a nice break in our trip and it was cool to see such an Austrian-looking city in Italy.

Advice: wander away from the tourist areas! Get lost around Venice and follow the canals. I’m happy to have visited Venice, but it was sometimes a little hard to deal with the crowds and how touristy everything was.

Pula, Croatia 

What we did: explored the Roman ruins (amphitheater, Augustus’s temple, gate to the city), had a beach day at Verudela beach, wandered the city streets

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Why I liked it: Pula is really small, but in a good way. We only had one full day and although I wish we had more time, I feel like we still got a good feel of the city. Had we stayed longer, we would have visited more of the beaches. Verudela was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. Definitely would love to see more of Croatia after this trip!

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What we ate: seafood, pizza (at the best pizza place in Pula: Jupiter), beer

Advice: if you have more time, go on excursions to other beaches and nearby cities and try the local food

Brussels, Belgium

What we did: wandered the Grand Place, did a free walking tour (Grand Place, Manneken Pis, palace, St. Michael and St. Gudule Cathedral), Atomium, day trip to Bruges and Ghent, ate some of the best food I’ve had

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Why I liked it: Brussels was wonderful. We both agreed that it’s such a livable city. There’s a lot of little things to do, delicious things to eat, and a lot of beer to drink. I really liked the mix of French and Dutch cultures (everything was written in both languages and there was a cool mix of architectures).

What we ate: fries at Fritland which is the best in Brussels (fries are more potatoe-y in Brussels and super good as expected), 1 euro waffels, Trappist beer, traditional Belgian dinner (I had stoemp sausage and Madelaine had rabbit), an Ethiopian dinner that was incredible

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Bruges and Ghent: both cities are in Flanders, the Dutch half of Belgium. Bruges is a very typically Dutch/Belgian city and is full of elderly tourists. It was cool to wander around and see buildings, churches, and relics from the Middle Ages, but it was a little overwhelming. Ghent is a student city so it’s less touristy but still bustling. In Ghent, we wandered around and visited the castle

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Advice: go on the free walking tour and try all of the Belgian and ethnic food you can! Brussels is a big and bustling city so wander around and do some research

Prague, Czech Republic

What we did: wandered the area around our hostel, bar crawl (including the biggest club in Central Europe), free walking tour (main squares and areas, John Lennon Wall), Petrin Hill and Tower, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Old Town Square, visited the Jewish neighborhood

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Why I liked it: Prague is full of history and beautiful architecture. I always love doing the free walking tours because it’s a good way to get a feel for the city and its history. Prague is really inexpensive and has really good cuisine, which made it easy for us to do and eat all that we wanted.

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What we ate: pickled Camembert cheese, steak tartar, goulash, Prague ham and potatoes, potatoes on a stick

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Advice: take the tram, eat the local cuisine, and don’t buy food from the stands in the Old Town Square (it’s good, but overpriced and a tourist trap, which we found out the hard way)

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Berlin, Germany 

What we did: historical walking tour (Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie), Berliner Dom cathedral, Tiergarten, East Side Gallery, alternative walking tour of the street art and underground culture of Kreuzberg, DDR (East Germany museum)

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Why I liked it: Berlin is full of history and is really modern. I liked hearing about the war history, East Germany, and the underground music and art scene. Berlin isn’t your typical European city which makes a really interesting place to visit

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What we ate: traditional German dinner, currywurst, Turkish dinner in the Turkish neighborhood, spätzle

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Advice: eat everything! Visit Kreuzberg and at least one museum in Berlin; I wish we had seen a couple more. The history of Berlin is super interesting so walking tours are great

Our two-week trip was a wonderful way to end my time in Europe. Although it was exhausting at times, it was worth it to be able to see all of these beautiful cities. With all of this traveling and then coming home, I’ve been on a lot of planes, trains, and buses these last few weeks so I’ll be spending these next few weeks relaxing at home (but more on that later). Only a one or two more blogs to go and then I’ll officially finish up my Aixcellent Adventure.

Grenoble and a winery tour

It seems like I’ve been cramming a lot of last-minute French activities in recently. All of a sudden I realized that there were so many little things that I haven’t done and had to do before leaving, like visiting more French cities and going to a winery. So, with a mini-trip to Grenoble this past week and a winery tour yesterday, I’m starting to cross the many little français et aixois things  off my list.

Grenoble, France 

Grenoble is east of Aix and is situated in the Alps. It’s the tenth biggest city in France and is known for it’s breathtaking mountain views and for hosting the 1968 Olympic Games.

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Sara and I left Aix around 8:00 Thursday morning and got to Grenoble right around 10. After dropping our stuff off at our hotel (yes, a real hotel !!!) we were off to explore. Our first stop was taking the cable cars up to La Bastille. The ride up was really cool and once we were at the top, there were stunning views of the city below. We took a ton of pictures, had un petit café, and then walked our way back down. The walk down was just as beautiful: green trees, brightly-colored flowers, and so many mountains.

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I’ve come to realize this year that no picture I’ve taken will ever do justice to all of the beautiful places that I’ve been.

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After our walk down, we had a really good (and full-of-cheese) lunch at a nearby café and continued to wander. We meandered around a couple of parks, downtown, and eventually ended up sitting on a park bench for a couple of hours, which is definitely one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.

That evening, we “made” dinner in our little hotel room: salad, a baguette, wine, and chocolate.

The next day, it was raining and 50 degrees which was a big change from the 80 and sunny weather on Thursday. To avoid the rain, we spent the morning exploring le Musée de Grenoble, which is full of art from a lot of different eras. We saw classical French art, Italian Renaissance paintings, and even a Warhol.

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Afterwards, we had lunch at McDonald’s, or Macdo as the French say; it was my first time having it in France this year. Our next stop was the old part of Grenoble where we stopped for some café/thé at the second oldest café in France.

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Sara decided to leave a little earlier to have dinner with her dinner family in Aix so, after the café, I was on my own for a few hours. Because it was so cold and rainy, I relaxed in the hotel for a while, went to Monoprix for snacks, and then headed to the train station. On the way back, however, my train had a couple of “layovers.” So, three trains and about three hours later, I finally made it back to Aix around 10:30 that night.

Sara and I both really, really enjoyed our time in Grenoble. It was absolutely beautiful. We both agreed that it seemed like such a livable city and that’d we’d love to go back.

Winery tour 

Saturday morning, three friends and I went on a guided winery tour through the Aix tourism office. We spent about four-and-half hours learning about wine and how it’s made, visiting two wineries, and sampling nine wines. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday, and one of my last full days in Aix.

Our first stop was Château Vignelaure. There, we learned about the winemaking and storing process. We saw the cellar, “the library” where they keep the vintage wines, and learned about how each wine differs. To make red wine, for example, you first ferment the grapes and then press them. Rosé and white are the opposite: you first press and then ferment the grapes. Another interesting fact: rosé is made with dark grapes just like red, not a mélange of red and white like a lot of people think.

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The owners of this vineyard are art collectors by trade so the whole place had a lot of really cool and different art.

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And their property was absolutely stunning.

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Our second stop was Château la Dorgonne, an organic winery. There, we talked more about vines, soil, and the growing conditions of grapes. Our time there was a little rushed but it was still beautiful (and they had dogs !!).

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Both wineries were awesome to visit; they both had wonderful wine, property, and atmospheres. It was such a cool experience and something that I’ve been really wanting to do. And, bien entendu, I absolutely loved spending one of my last few days in Aix with some fabulous ladies.

Busy weeks ahead 

Four weeks from right now, I’ll probably be sitting at the O’Hare airport begging an American Airlines flight attendant to let me on an earlier flight back home to St. Louis. With all of my adventures starting in just two days, I’m not sure when I’ll get the next chance to blog. If I don’t get to write before I’m back aux Etats-Unis, get ready for a couple of long blogs about all that I’ve been up to and reflecting on my ten-month adventure. Until then, go out and explore!

Bisous ! 

Little moments

Since my last post, I’ve finished classes, had a one-week break, and have taken one final. Just as I planned, I’ve spent these last few weeks relaxing and going on little adventures. Time seems to be moving even faster nowadays and I don’t know if I want it to speed up, slow down, or stop altogether.

Springtime snapshots

With the weather warming up, I’ve been trying to spend as much time outside as possible. Here are just a few pictures of my life around Aix: Parc Jourdan, Parc de la Torse, and the flower market in L’Hôtel de Ville.

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La Ciotat 

A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to take a solo day trip to La Ciotat, one of Southern France’s many little port towns. Although the city was fun to explore, it was really small and I didn’t do my research. The buses didn’t come as frequently as I thought so I spent a little more time there than I wanted to. I wandered around for a while before having some gelato at the port. It started to sprinkle and I wasn’t appropriately dressed to hike to the nearby cliff so I sat and read for an hour or so before heading back.

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Les calanques de Cassis 

Last Thursday, three friends and I headed to les calanques. Although I went with Sam and Kristin on a warm day in January, I wanted to see them again in the spring. We hiked up the first calanque, sat on a large flat rock overlooking the water, had lunch, and relaxed for almost two hours.

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We then hiked back and enjoyed a beer on the beach. A lovely, relaxing day spent outside with friends.

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Montpellier and la Camargue 

Last weekend, Florence, the mom from my dinner family, graciously invited me to spend a weekend with her in her hometown of Montpellier. We left Saturday morning a little after 9 and were in town around 11. We explored the little streets and many boutiques on our own for a little while and then had lunch at cute burger café. We also saw a Kodak exposition that depicted American life in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.

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We next went on a guided tour of the city where we saw an old hotel, a Jewish bathhouse from the Middle Ages (one of only three still standing in Europe), and walked by Cathédrale Saint-Pierre and part of la fac de médecine, which is the oldest still-functioning medical college in Europe.

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We broke off from our tour group to explore a nearby garden. From there, we could see a 17th century aqueduct and view the city below from the highest point in Montpellier.

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We also said “bonjour” to Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe, built by Louis XIV.

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That evening, we had dinner and spent the night chez la mère de Florence where we had an incredibly delicious dinner. Everyone was so friendly and fun to talk to; I really enjoyed myself.

After breakfast the next morning, we headed to La Camargue, a somewhat-swampy area in southern France. We spent a couple of hours exploring la Parc Ornithologique where we saw a lot of birds, pink flamingos, and camarguais horses.

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I’m so very thankful to Florence and my dinner family for inviting me on their weekend trip; it was wonderful. I’ve loved spending my Wednesday evenings with them and getting to know them over these past few months.

Bridget and Martigues 

This past week, my friend Bridget came to visit me. She arrived Tuesday evening and left yesterday morning. We spent our time aix-ploring, relaxing in the park, having wine with friends, and going to the beach. It was so nice to have her visit and to hear about her time studying abroad in London.

We spent Thursday meandering through the little town of Martigues and going to a nearby beach with Danielle. I loved spending some time in the sun and laughing with friends.

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I was sad to see Bridget go yesterday, but it won’t be long until I see her again this summer in Madison.

Coming up

This week, on Monday and Tuesday, I have my last two final exams (and will FINALLY get to say au revoir à la fac de lettres forever). After spending this weekend studying and taking my exams, my last month in Europe will be pretty crazy. Next Thursday and Friday, Sara and I are taking a mini-trip to Grenoble, France, my cousin arrives May 19 (we’ll aix-plore, go to Paris, and go to Nice), and on May 29 I fly to Venice to meet my friend Madelaine and start our two week grand adventure (Venice, Italy; Pula, Croatia; Brussels, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; and Berlin, Germany). I’m so excited for my trips but I also know that the sooner they come, the sooner my Aixcellent Adventure is over. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again: I’m caught between never wanting to leave ma vie aixoise and being so ready to go home to St. Louis and to spend my summer in Madison.

That being said, I’m so grateful for all these “little moments” and “mini-adventures” I’ve been having these past few weeks. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my time abroad and it’s true: life is really made up of millions of little moments. I’ve been trying my best to find la joie de vivre everyday, whether it be the sun at the park, time spent at the beach, or just time spent with friends. This has truly been the greatest experience for so many reasons and thanks to so many wonderful people.

Le printemps en Provence

Of course the day I want to rave about springtime in France, it’s windy, raining, and about to storm. Nonetheless, springtime here has been beautiful and seems to have come out of nowhere; I feel like I woke up on Wednesday and all of a sudden the trees were completely green and the flowers were in full bloom.

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I’ve been taking advantage of this beautiful weather by travelling around Provence. With only one week of classes left (or, if you’re me, just two classes tomorrow), I’ll have plenty of time these next couple of weeks to lounge at the beach, go for runs, and just wander les petites rues.

Les Baux de Provence 

I visited les Baux about a month ago with my dinner family to see Les Carrières de Lumières. Each year, a quarry is illuminated with artwork and music. This year, we were transported to Renaissance Italy as we wandered through the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Da Vinci. Although the day was rainy and a little chilly, it was still a great day: I was able to see something special about Provence, and spend more time with my dinner family.

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Le Luberon

Last weekend, I took a day trip with my study abroad program to Le Luberon, an area in Provence known for it’s little villages, wine, red rocks, and lavender. We stopped in the villages of Lacoste, Rousillon, Gordes, and visited the Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque. It was perfectly sunny and each town was adorbaly quaint and bursting with colors.

In Lacoste, we climbed to an old chateau atop a hill. The city was beautiful and quiet. From the top of the hill, you could see all of Le Luberon below and it was breathtaking.

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We hopped back on the bus and headed to Rousillon, which is probably the most known city. Before exploring its famous red rocks, we had a lovely lunch on a terrace. Sharing a bottle of wine with friends under the southern France sun, what more could you ask for?

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After lunch, we wandered les sentiers des ocres. Walking through the red dust and giant rocks made it feel more like we were wandering the western US rather than southern France.

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Provence is known for its lavender so it just felt right to enjoy a little glace au parfum lavande before leaving. A lot of the people who tried it didn’t really like it but I loved it; it tasted like sugar with a hint of flowers. Sounds weird, but it was so good.

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Our next stop was L’Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque, which I’m pretty sure I learned about in my Middle Ages history class. Although the tour was a little dry, it was still cool to see the abbey. It’s situated in a valley full of lavender (which, unfortunately, won’t bloom until after I’m gone) and is still an active abbey. Walk into any gift store in any city in Provence and you’ll find a postcard of the abbey in the summer.

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Our last stop was the little village of Gordes. We only had about 45 minutes to wander around so we really only had time to go to the lookout point. We walked around, took a lot of pictures, and just sat staring out at the beautiful view.

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It was really nice to spend a day exploring Provence with my friends. I’m definitely going to miss having days like this. It was perfect.

Aigues-Mortes

Yesterday, Sara and I took a day trip with her host, Madame Roubaud. We woke up at 6:30 and were on a bus by 7:50 to head to Arles and Aigues-Mortes. The two of us were the youngest people on the bus by about 40 years. No exaggeration. I’m pretty sure the company that does these trips is for elderly people, but it was a fun day nonetheless.

We first stopped in Arles, which we had already visited in September, for about two hours. We had a café with Madame Roubaud and her friend before wandering the market, walking by the amphithéâtre, and visiting Van Gogh’s gardens.

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In Aigues-Mortes, we had a delicious lunch (and some wine, of course) at a tapas restaurant. Afterwards, Sara and I explored the city on our own for about two hours. We shopped and walked the city’s surrounding wall. Aigues-Mortes is famous for being the city of Louis IX, also known as Saint Louis. He left from their port in the thirteenth century to participate in the Crusades.

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The day was long but still really fun. Madame Roubaud is the sweetest person and is great to speak French with.

Springtime around Aix

With the sun shining (well not today, but usually) and the flowers blooming, Aix is starting to look like a postcard again. The Cours Mirabeau is lined with green trees, the bright flowers around La Rotonde are back, and (most) people are finally putting away their down jackets. I’ve been going on runs a few times a week in a nearby park and have been trying to spend as much time in the sunshine as possible. I’ve decided (well really my bank account has decided) to spend my one-week break between class and finals here in Aix. I hope to spend a few days at the beach between now and the end of finals, go on more runs, have picnics, explore the markets a little more, and have a few more afternoon wines on Sara’s terrace. I’ve spent the last 6 weeks in France and I couldn’t be happier. Hanging around Aix has me appreciating my time here even more. I absolutely love it here and I really do consider it my home. The French always say profitez bien, which literally translates to “profit well.” I interpret it as enjoying your time, taking something from your experiences, and really just absorbing it all. So, with 8 weeks to go, I’m going to profiter as much as I can.

We’ll always have Paris

Rather than checking another new city off my list, Sara and I spent our long weekend exploring Paris (yes, that’s three times this year). We bypassed the typical spots and instead did all things we hadn’t done before. We hoped to see Paris a little more like parisiennes rather than tourists. Not to say that we did top-secret things that only the French do, but we definitely broke out of the stereotypical Louvre/Tour Eiffel/Notre Dame bubble.

A rainy Friday 

We left a sunny and warm Aix-en-Provence a little after 9am and arrived around noon. After dropping off our stuff at our Airbnb in Montmartre (which was really great!) and having a quick lunch nearby, we headed to L’Orangerie, the Monet museum. L’Orangerie is right by the Louvre and le Jardin des Tuileries. It’s small, but so worth the visit. The upstairs part has two room with huge paintings of Monet’s water lilies. Downstairs is a collection of Renoir, Matisse, and some modern and abstract art. All of the art is absolutely stunning.

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Afterwards, we wandered le Jardin des Tuileries and said “bonjour” to the Louvre.

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We then headed towards la Sainte-Chapelle, which is right by Notre Dame. Unfortunately, once we arrived, it was already past last admission time. Since we couldn’t go in, we walked a little farther to the Quartier Latin where we visited Shakespeare & Co, a famous English bookstore. Of course, being the English major that I am, I couldn’t pass up buying another a copy of Jane Eyre. The store is wonderful and bursting with books, both old and new.

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We next headed to Le Panthéon, which was also unfortunately closed. If you’re like me, you’re probably unsure what a Pantheon is; I had no idea before visiting. When it was originally built in the late 18th century, it was a church. Now, it’s a burial site for les grands hommes like Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean Jaurès, and Marie Curie (the only woman buried there). Even though we couldn’t go inside, the building is pretty cool to see from the outside and all of the buildings around it are built with the same grandeur.

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Our last stop Friday was Le Refuges des Fondus, a restaurant famous for serving its wine in baby bottles. We read online to get there when it opens at 7 because it fills up quickly. Because the restaurant is small and narrow, all of the tables are along the two side walls; to get to the seat against the wall, you have to climb over the tables. We enjoyed a cozy meal of cheese fondu with bread and red wine. And yes, they’ll keep bringing you bread until the cheese is gone.  It was definitely a fun experience, and only 21 euros per person.

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Since dinner was in Montmartre, we said a quick “bonsoir” to Sacré-Cœur. I’m not sure what it is about Sacré-Cœur, but it’s my favorite monument in Paris. Maybe it’s because it was my first stop on my first trip four years ago, or maybe it’s the unique architecture, I’m not sure; I just love it.  

Saturday

We started Saturday at Musée Picasso. I had no idea how much art Picasso had done so it was incredible to see a museum filled almost entirely with his works, especially considering there’s a Picasso museum in Barcelona too. The building was beautiful (a converted 17th century hotel, I believe) and it was the perfect size for spending the morning at a museum.

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We walked from Picasso to Saint-Eustache, which is about 25 minutes away in the 4ème arrondissement, and I’m so happy to have discovered this area. It’s full of all sorts of restaurants, cafés, and vintage stores. Saint-Eustache was huge and, like all the churches in Paris, has impressive architecture and stained glass.

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We randomly decided to go into a vintage store and it was probably one of the best decisions I made all weekend. While perusing the rack of old American sweatshirts, I found a 1994 Wisconsin Rose Bowl Champions sweatshirt! I’ve always wanted a “retro” Badgers sweatshirt and finding it then, on the morning of the Final Four game, just felt like fate. Of course I bought it. Thrilled with my 19 euro find, we headed to a Moroccan couscous restaurant for lunch. It was so, so good. I will never get over how good Moroccan mint tea is, or how much food they served us.

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After being stuffed full of couscous, we headed to Centre Georges Pompidou. I went in January when my friends visited but it was Sara’s first time. Even though I was just there, I still liked seeing all of the (mostly bizarre) modern art.

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Our next stop was a first for me, but not for Sara. Although I’ve seen the Arc de Triomphe every time I’ve been to Paris, I had never climbed it. It was quite the climb to the top but after catching our breath, we headed out to see the view. Beautiful.

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Afterwards, we relaxed at the apartment, had dinner at restaurant recommended by our hosts near the apartment, and went to sleep for the big day ahead: Disneyland.

Disneyland Paris 

Now I know I said we were doing less touristy things this trip, but we had to go to Disney (and yes Arc de Triomphe is touristy too, je sais). It’s not actually in Paris but about 30 minutes away via the RER train. We got there a little after 10am and I practically ran off the train and into the park. There are no words to describe how excited I was; I grew up on Disney and coming to Disneyland in Paris was like combining two of my greatest loves.

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Before riding any rides, we both bought Minnie Mouse ears because why not. Our first stop after was the teacups. My mom’s all-time favorite picture of me is me on the teacups at DisneyWorld circa 1998-1999, so I had to recreate it for her.

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Although a couple of the rides we wanted to ride were closed and a few had delays, Sara and I had a great day running around the park, eating hot dogs and ice cream, and just enjoying our time.It’s both cheesy and cliché, but Disneyland really did feel like the happiest place on earth that day and I loved every second.

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We stayed at the park until about 8pm and by then we were cold and exhausted. We made soup in the apartment and then crashed until the morning.

Monday 

Yesterday we got a slow start after all of the excitement at Disney. We started our day in northern Paris at le Marché aux Puces, one of the biggest antique markets in Europe. At first we weren’t very impressed; the first part wasn’t antiques but touristy junk. Once we got to the good stuff, we saw a lot of vintage clothes, furniture, art, jewelry, and a produce market. I even found a stuffed badger (on the morning of the Championship basketball game, nonetheless).

After the market, we headed back to Sainte-Chapelle where we waited in line for about 45 minutes (and ate fresh market strawberries). At first, I wasn’t very impressed with the church because there didn’t seem to be anything special about it. But, once we went upstairs, I realized why it was so famous: the walls of stained glass.

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Afterwards, we grabbed sandwiches, wine, fruit, and chocolate and headed to La Tour Eiffel for a picnic. Although I really do hate the crowds and the men selling one euro plastic towers, sitting in the grass is always nice. The weather was beautiful and it was a nice way to end our trip before heading back to Aix around 6.

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Sometimes I really do see myself moving to Paris, at least for a little while. It sounds so typical of a French major, but there’s something about the city that’s just so captivating. Discovering the shops and restaurants au 4ème, wandering Montmartre, and doing new things made me so happy to be there. There’s so much more to Paris than just the basics; it’s a wonderful city full of culture, little streets, and twenty different arrondissements. I really do love visiting Paris, but there’s also something to be said about seeing the rest of France. I’m all for people visiting France, and I love helping them plan their trips, but it’s also important to realize that Paris isn’t France, just like New York isn’t America. Every part of France is different, and beautiful. Go to Normandie and see the D-Day beaches, explore the history of Bretagne, taste wine in Bordeaux, see the German influence in Alsace-Lorraine, lazily wander the beautiful South. Maybe I’m a little biased, but France is an absolutely wonderful country full of history, culture, and twenty-two completely different regions. Go see what else is out there: that’s my little soapbox speech for the day.

After this week, I only have two weeks of classes left. After that I have a week of studying and two weeks of finals the first two weeks of May. I’ll be showing my cousin Alyssa around France for the last two weeks of May before heading off on a two-week trip with my friend Madelaine. It’s hard to believe that ten weeks from now, I’ll be back in the US. But until then, I’ll be savoring my last moments in France.