Watch Out World, Here I Come!

The title pretty much says it all. My BIG trip is finally here! I’m traveling to eight cities, in six countries, over the course of three weeks! I will be visiting Barcelona & Madrid, Spain; Porto & Lisbon, Portugal; Prague, Czech Republic; and Geneva, Switzerland! I’ll also be spending a day in Vienna, Austria, as well as two nights in Paris, France! This will include countless metro’s, five hostels, two hotels, a condo, six flights, four trains, four buses, & a boat ride! (and a partridge in a pear tree)

Before I get too carried away, I want to talk about what I did a few weekends ago. I spent April 11-13 in Paris and participated in the Color Run! It was absolutely amazing! It was my first 5K, and I wasn’t as prepared for it as I could have been, but I had a great time! There were about thirty of my fellow classmates from France Business School that participated as well which made it so much more enjoyable!

10255928_10152049518412966_6590574509263090029_nA group of us made our way to Paris on Friday night, and spent Saturday at Versailles. It was nothing like I had expected! I was so impressed with the grounds and the gardens! Unfortunately, our group got separated in the beginning and half of us went into the palace, while the others started in the gardens. We met as we switched and were all exhausted already! Making my way to the gardens, my friends and I headed towards a grassy area near the main pond. There were many people there having picnics and taking a break so we decided to do the same thing. Within 10 minutes, all 4 of us were asleep! We napped on the palace gardens on the most perfect day for an outdoor snooze! After our rest, we started touring the gardens and were impressed beyond words. The size of the garden grounds alone are almost impossible to cover in one day! There were lots of exhibits and fountains as well! I had a blast and am so glad I was able to make it to Versailles! I highly recommend that everyone goes while they are in Paris!

Sunday was the day of the Color Run. I woke up energized and ready to rock! It started at Hotel de Ville (which is like the City Hall), so many of the students from FBS agreed to meet near a fountain there and try to all stay together during the run, (even though it didn’t last long!). I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run the whole thing, especially going to Versailles and walking so much the day before! My knees, which I’ve had multiple injuries with the past few years, have been holding up well in Europe, knock-on-wood. I knew if I pushed too hard, I would be paying for it for weeks, so I took the slow & 10174897_10152049548887966_7649900887301837903_nsteady approach and it worked out perfectly! Kajsa was sweet enough to stick with me while the others ran ahead and got all full of color! For those of you who don’t know about the Color Run, it’s known as the “Happiest 5K on Earth!” At each kilometer, you get sprayed with a different colored powder and by the end of the race you look like a rainbow! It is a mixture of cornstarch & food coloring that is thrown at you as you cross each kilometer. The race is intended to promote happiness & healthiness, and I know it did both for me! I looked like a kaleidoscope by the finish line (which made for an interesting train ride home a few hours later!), and had a blast running through each kilometer knowing I was that much closer to the finish. It was even better that I was able to share such a fun experience with my friends! At the finish line, there is a huge party with a stage and DJ’s playing music. They hand out snacks and drinks, and you even get your own packet of colored powder to throw yourself! We had a blast and I can’t wait to get home and do it in Michigan! Any takers?154701_10152049547682966_2907576724768798188_n

I was back in Poitiers for two and a half days before heading out again, but this time I would be gone for much longer. I would be leaving on April 16th and returning May 5th! Barcelona has always been a dream and Spain was always one of my top places to visit because of everything I’ve learned from years and years of Spanish class. There was no way I was going to come to Europe and not make it to Spain! Originally, I booked three days in Barcelona and three days in Madrid with my Swedish friend Kajsa. I told my Canadian friend Katie about our trip and she was interested and joined in as well. Kasja had to go back to Poitiers after Madrid for class, but Katie and I both had a few weeks off so we decided to keep going! From Madrid, we will head to Porto for two days, and Lisbon for four days. We thought it would be fun to fly into Nice and slowly take the train back to Poitiers, making lots of stops along the way. It was a great plan until we looked at flights and saw how insanely expensive it was to fly into Nice. We reevaluated and detoured ourselves to Prague, which we both really want to see! We will spend three days in Prague, and use one of those days to take a bus trip to Vienna, Austria! We will fly back to Paris together and spend the night there. Katie will leave to go back to Poitiers, and I will meet up with my friend/roommate Diego and we will head to Geneva, Switzerland for the weekend to close out my trip. Phew! It’s gonna be a lot, but it’s gonna be amazing!

As I’m writing this, (I’m a little behind) I’m already a week in and have seen Spain. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I wish I had spent more time there, but now I have something to look forward to when I come back!

IMG_0398In Barcelona, we stayed at the Feet Up Garden hostel. It was a bit out of the city, but was in a gorgeous neighborhood which most definitely made up for the extra travel we had to do to get to the main attractions. The hostel was great, but the people made it even more amazing (this seems to be a familiar trend wherever I go!). The employees of the hostel were great and went above and beyond for us. I also really enjoyed the rooftop terrace which provided a spectacular view of the surrounding city. While in Barcelona, we visited the Park Güell, went to see the Sagrada Família Church, and the Magic Fountain show.

IMG_0582

We also spent a day walking down the Main Street full of shops, store, and restaurants. IMG_0443We found an awesome market full of fresh fruits, meats, fish, and more! We had an amazing lunch there at an organic stand and it was the best meal I had while in Barcelona! Veggie burritos, rice, and a spinach snack was nothing I would’ve picked off a menu, but it was so delicious because of all the fresh ingredients! I really enjoyed the market and was happy Katie found it when she did her Barcelona research. IMG_0455We also spend an afternoon at a pier off the main strip. We spent time looking at the water and boats in the harbor, and enjoyed some Paella and Bombas, and of course shared a jug of delicious Sangria! The city was amazing and I was a huge fan of the amazing architecture (which also seems to be a familiar trend).IMG_0486

One of my favorite times in Barcelona was spent in our hostel. Kajsa, Katie and I made dinner in the hostel kitchen to save money from constantly eating out. While eating dinner, we were joined by Erik, Kajsa’s friend from Sweden. We also met a man named Tomas. He is a politician from Brazil, and a really fun guy to hang out with. The five of us played board games and shared some wine. Things got interesting when we started playing “name all the countries of the EU” and then “name all the states in the US”. I was very proud they knew so many! The night was an absolute blast and I laughed until my stomach hurt! The company was amazing and made the night very memorable!

We took the train from Barcelona to Madrid which is about three hours. I got to experience running for the train, and barely making it. Then jumping off, because the conductor is yelling at you and making you think you are on the wrong train. It’s a miracle we made it, and another miracle I didn’t fall or lose anything!

Once in Madrid, we took the metro towards our hostel, and exiting the metro is always a fun time. You usually come up and have not a clue where you are, or what street you’re on, and in some cases, the surroundings are unexpected and you’re stuck looking at what’s around you.photo1(1) Madrid was no different, except for the fact that I know now what love at first sight feels like. I was immediately in love with Madrid. We found the street our hostel was on and thought it was too good to be true. It was like a scene out of a movie. The weather was perfect which made the blue skies, sunshine, and green trees add to the incredible atmosphere. We were looking for number 22 on the street buildings and couldn’t believe how beautiful our hostel was once we found it. I couldn’t even go inside, I had to stop and take a picture of this gorgeous place I would call home for three days! After checking in, we went up to our room on the 4th floor in an old, glass elevator! (Yes, we were a bit nervous.) We found our room and were thrilled to see a balcony upon entering. We also had turf, and swings hanging from the ceiling outside our room to make it look like a mini park in our hallway! The UHostel in Madrid is awesome! They also have a kitchen, a cinema room, and a great, large common area! I would definitely recommend and return!IMG_0621

IMG_0633After coming down off my cloud, we asked the receptionist at the hostel what she recommended for food in the area and wound up at a great sandwich shop. These sandwiches were 2-3 inches long and only 1€ each so you were able to order a few and try different things. We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather on this perfect day! We spent the rest of the day exploring and walking the streets. There were so many beautiful buildings it was easy to stay occupied! We found our way to a gorgeous park and casually walked through this gem inside the city. There was a large pond in the middle where you were able to rent canoes and paddle around. Slowly making our way back to the hostel, we found some great shops, and we I did just as much looking as buying!IMG_0691IMG_0631

The next day was our only full day in Madrid (it’s just the way the flights worked), and unfortunately it was rainy and overcast. We planned on heading to the Reina Sofia museum, but never made it. We ended up just walking around all day, in and out of stores, coffee shops, markets and more. It wasn’t the best conditions, but we had a great time and I feel like I really saw much more of Madrid than I would have if I stuck with my original plan.IMG_0744

IMG_0705Spain was amazing and now that I’ve been there I can’t wait to go back! Madrid has made its way to #1 on my list of favorite European cities! I wish I could’ve spent more  time in Spain, but now I will head to Porto for two days, and Lisbon for four… Stay tuned for tales from Portugal!IMG_0688

♥This heart of mine was made to travel the world♥

The Girl with the Moroccan Tattoo

It’s amazing to me how within 3 hours, I can go from one of the largest cities in the world, to a land with blazing sun, grounds made of sand, and men selling freshly squeezed juice. Although I’ve done some traveling in my life, it still impresses me just how pleasantly surprised I am at the quick change of scenery. From the description I gave, the image in your mind might include a beachy shore with swim suits. Let me set the record straight: take away the ocean & paradise scenery, and add a camel and loud markets. I’m talking about Marrakech, Morocco!

In February, my fellow American friend, Nina, introduced the idea of spending a weekend in Morocco. The idea of going to Africa was tempting, exhilarating, and… well, scary! I’ve heard of other student traveling to Morocco and it seems that many Europeans travel there, but I didn’t know enough about Morocco to know what to expect. For about 3 seconds, I debated not going. Until I reevaluated why I’m here: I’m studying abroad to experience new things and step outside my box. This was the perfect opportunity to do both of those things!

We departed on Friday morning with our destination set to cross continents into Africa. The three hours flew by (pun intended) and we starred at sand and palm trees as our plane descended. We departed the plane, collected our bags, exchanged some money, and set forth to find the driver who was waiting to drive us to the hotel. We were told he would be outside the gate, and holding a sign with my name. Pretty cool right?! I thought so, until I exited the gate and saw about 70 men all holding signs with names! We searched for about 20 minutes until we found the needle in the haystack that was our driver!

He took us to Hotel Cecil, which was recommended to us by other international students who had also traveled to Marrakech. It is quite inexpensive, includes breakfast, and has a great location. It is right outside the market square which is a large attraction in Marrakech. We dropped off our bags and immediately set out in search of food!

Initially, we were a bit cautious about our surroundings. Like any other place, I evaluated the environment, and slowly ‘got my feet wet’. Because we were three girls, traveling by ourselves, I was especially aware that we were typical targets for any one looking for prey. After doing a lot of research, I found that the town didn’t have a dangerous reputation, but the amount of people in the market made it easy for a pick-pocketer to have a field day! I just made sure I was constantly aware of who was around me and where my belongings were.

We found a nice restaurant next to our hotel and got comfortable in the wonderfully cushioned booth. (I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss how amazing it was to sit in a booth that felt almost like a couch. I didn’t realize until I sat down, how much I missed cushioned seating! I use my bed (which is a cot) in my apartment as my couch as well. So when I sat down on an actual cushion, it was the first time in three months that I remembered how good it felt for your body to sink into the place you rest. Okay, rant over!) We looked over the menu, and quickly loaded the currency converter app on our phones, because we had no idea how much any of the menu items were going to cost us. We quickly realized that the average meal at this fairly nice restaurant was going to cost us about 85 dirham, or 5€ which is very cheap for what we are used to paying for a nice, sit-down dinner (in France, a dinner entree will cost you about 15€). Knowing we had the financial freedom to order anything we wanted was a nice change and we took advantage of it! The three of us shared an appetizer, I ordered a chicken couscous for my entree, and we split an assortment of pastries for dessert. I also ordered a mint tea because I was starting to feel a cold coming on. The tea and appetizers arrived at the table and I was very impressed with the presentation. My tea came in a beautiful silver teapot, and when I opened the top, the aroma from the mint leaves became pleasantly overwhelming. I took a sip and immediately fell in love! The warmth was soothing on my scratchy throat, but the bold flavor was like nothing I have ever tasted before. I hadn’t known of the Marrakech Mint tea phenomenon before this trip, but since I’ve been back in France I am constantly seeing “Marrakech Mint” as flavors in cafés! (Not complaining!) I urged the other girls to try, and they both agreed with my positive review, in fact, they ordered their own pot with dessert! The appetizer was a type of pastry with chicken and a strong almond flavor. It was very good, but the sweetness of it caught me off-guard. It was a great dish to share with others! My couscous was amazing! I am a big fan of couscous, but I can never seem to make it as good as other people can so I don’t cook it often. This was delicious! Full of vegetables and chicken, the serving dish was like nothing I had ever seen. Little did I know, they were all over the market place and part of the reason the dish tasted so good. It’s like a Moroccan crockpot that sits on charcoal and cooks for hours before being served. The dessert we order was an assortment of pastries which we shared, however we all ordered a tea for ourselves because we knew that was too good to share! There were six different sweets and I would compare them to baklava with a twist. There was, again, a presence of almond flavor, but the combination of other ingredients made it a wonderful end to our dinner!

Captura2
The next day, we had a tour planned to see the Ouzoud Cascades, the tallest waterfall in Africa. I booked all of our tours through Marrakech Airport Transfers. They were affordable, and always picked us up and dropped us back off at our hotel. The cascades were two hours away by car, which we were fine with since we woke up to dark clouds and rain. We hoped that we would drive out of the weather, but no such luck. When we arrive, we hired a guide that took us to different locations where we could see the waterfall from the top, the base, and everything in-between. Our guide was great! He gave us a lot of information about the history and surrounding areas, and we even stopped at his house along the way so he could get an extra umbrella for a British woman who was getting soaked! Along the hike, I couldn’t stop taking photos. It was so beautiful and I wanted to capture as much as I could. While I was busy shooting the waterfall, I failed to notice the family of monkeys in a tree 15ft above me! There were other travelers that started to feed them, which brought them even closer! These are wild baboons! And they were close enough for me to touch! Our guide proceeded to tell us that hikers often feed them to get close enough to take photos. However, the animals are now becoming dependent on human help/food for survival and it will become a big problem very quickly if it is not stopped. Although I thought it was very cool to see them, I had no desire to come as close as I did. One even photobombed me! CapturaCaptura1

As the day went on, we got closer to the base of the waterfall and the clouds separated enough for the sun to make an appearance. Once we reached the bottom of the cascades, the suns reflection on the water created a rainbow and it was one of those beautiful moments where nothing else in the world matters. I was soaking in the pure beauty of the glorious environment around me, and simply enjoying the moment. We retreated back to the top of the waterfall where we ate tajine for lunch before the two-hour drive back to our hotel. Captura5

That evening, we ventured into the market outside our hotel. The vendors were a bit overwhelming and very competitive, all trying to get you to come into their stores. Being the great barterer I am, I got some great souvenirs  including a teapot, a medium-sized travel bag, a decorative candle holder, and a few pairs of earrings! I would say 40% of the market vendors were selling freshly squeezed juice. Grapefruit, lemon, and oranges made the market colorful and added a citrus aroma to the air. We took the opportunity to get a few glasses while we were there and even helped behind the counter! Captura6

Captura7The next day we had a tour booked to ride camels! When in Rome Morocco! Again, our driver picked us up and took us to the Palmeria (a desert land with palm trees). Once we arrive, we were immediately instructed to climb up on the camel! I thought we would at least get a little demonstration or something. The looks on my friends faces were priceless! Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous or scared. I can’t say the same for them! We rode around for about 45 minutes, with a guide of course. My camel had a baby with her who followed us and trailed behind at times chewing leaves off other plants. It was such a cool experience! After 45 minutes I was ready to get off, which was another adventure… Have you even been atop a camel when it sits down? I don’t recommend it! It requires strict coordination and amazing balance. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don´t possess either of those qualities. Luckily I didn’t fall, but it was hard to stay on! Captura8

Once our camel ride ended, our driver took us for a ride though a part of Marrakech we hadn’t seen yet. It was a classier shopping district than we had been used to. We were tempted to ask if we could shop for a little (actually, my friends did ask), but we didn’t come all the way to Morocco to go shopping at Zara! I talked the girls into going back to the market to get something to eat and hanging out on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. We ate and walked around the market a bit more making sure we had all the souvenirs we needed. There were also street performer in the market, but be careful, if you want to take a picture, they will expect you to give them money, or delete the picture. There are women belly dancing, men with monkeys, and that day we even saw a snake charmer with real cobras! I chose to get a henna on my hand, and became known as “the girl with the Moroccan tattoo” back in Poitiers! After round two at the market and grabbing lunch, we packed up our things and checked out of the hotel. Our flight would leave that night and take us back to France.

Because our flight got in so late, there was no train available and we would have to wait until the morning to get back to Poitiers. This was not our original plan, but the airline had to change our flight and we didn’t have much of a choice. Being in our 20s, in college, and in Europe, we really watch where we spend our money. Seeing as how we would only be in Paris for less than 11 hours, we did some research and agreed to spend the night in the airport! (Another adventure!) There were lots of other travelers doing the same thing, and which was comforting knowing we weren’t the only ones. We found a spot, and pulled two benches together to make our bed for the night. It was definitely uncomfortable, and the noises in the airport made it hard to stay asleep, even with headphones and music. We were also cold, despite the layers of clothes we were using as blankets. We waited for McDonald’s to open at 4:30am and moved our location once the airport started filling with travelers. I think I got about 80 minutes of sleep that night. We decided that next time, it would definitely be worth it to split a hotel near the airport!

Captura9

Our trip to Morocco was amazing! I can’t believe I can say I’ve been to Africa now! The way of life there is much different, but that is to be expected. Look at my pictures here: https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/. I hope I am inspiring some of you to travel and see the world that’s out there waiting for us! I will be in Poitiers for two weeks where I will finish a few more classes before I start traveling on my bigger/longer trips.

Captura3

*Great things never came from comfort zones.*

When in Rome

IMG_8511Earlier this month, I spent 3 days in Rome with my good Swedish friend, Kajsa. As anyone would be, we were ecstatic at what our weekend would hold.

It got off to a bit of a rocky start. We flew out of Paris Beauvais, so we had to take a train from Poitiers to Paris, and then another train from Paris to Beauvais. (Beauvais is on the outskirts of Paris and took about 4 hours by train to get there.) We knew we would have to spend the night in Beauvais to catch our 7:30am flight, so we booked a B&B to stay at near the airport. After explaining our plans to our host via email, she was kind enough to send us a map of her home and how we would be getting to the airport. (Unfortunately, the map didn’t include the train station.) We didn’t realize the train station was about 45 minutes away from her home AND the airport, and at 11:00pm, we were lost with no wifi or maps to help! We stepped outside the train station and noticed a bus stop, so we caught the last bus running that evening (so lucky!), and the driver ensured us we would get to the airport. From the airport, we knew how to find the B&B. I’ve always told people that “when you travel with me, it’s more of an adventure”. This was definitely an adventure! Complete with pitch darkness and enough fog to film a horror movie, the environment wasn’t exactly ideal for 11:30pm in an unfamiliar town.

Arriving much later than we expected, we got settled into our B&B and got a couple hours of sleep before heading to the airport. After checking in and going through security, we had to find our gate (which was easy, because there were only 4), and waited for our flight to board. This was my first time flying within Europe, and I’m not sure if this is common everywhere, but I noticed it in Rome too… airports are confusing! There were no signs at the gate saying “Rome Flight 8987″, or really help of any kind. It was nearly impossible to find an employee to help, so we followed the crowd since our flight seemed to be the only one leaving that morning. Another fun fact about airports, there is very limited seating. There were maybe 20 chairs for the 100+ people on our flight. Something that this American isn’t used to. Also, don’t expect to plug in your phone or iPad while you’re waiting, unless you’d like to pay. There are no outlets or charging docks next to the seats. There is a charging station where you can plug your phone in, but you have to pay by the half-hour. (Man, Americans really are spoiled!).

Waiting for our flight, and hoping we were in the right place, we started talking about how unorganized it was and heard a voice behind us say, “Hey, you speak English!”. (I’ve noticed here, that if I hear someone around me speaking English, I almost assume that I know them since it seems I know every English speaking person in Poitiers!) I turned around to see two relieved Americans! Lauren and Tiffany are from Ohio and were studying in Paris for a week. They decided to travel to Rome and Barcelona before heading back to the states. After talking with them for about three minutes, we knew these girls were fun! We spent the reminder of our waiting time chatting with them in the terminal, and they joined us on our 40 minute bus ride from the Rome airport to the Termini station (near our hostels). We even reunited for a glass of wine one night while we were there! They are two amazing women, enjoying Europe as well! Everyone’s heard the expression “what a small world”, here comes another story: While talking with Tiffany and Lauren, I mentioned something about ‘when I lived in Alaska’, and got the usual “wow that’s amazing!” response. Tiffany mentioned she knew someone in Alaska and when I asked what city they were in, she said to herself “Ughh, what city did Jamie live in?” *Click* I knew her friend Jamie, in fact, I had actually been to Ohio and met Jamie’s friends and family. Now, I meet another one of his friends, but this time in Europe! The ‘small world’ theory is proven again!

Once we arrived in Rome, we took a Terravision shuttle from the Campino airport to Termini station. This was about a 40 minute ride which gave us the opportunity to see the city of Rome right from the start! We weren’t exactly “thrilled” when we arrive at Termini. Although we were very excited to be in Rome, it seemed that Termini wasn’t the best place to be dropped off. There were many crowds of people and the area was quite dirty, so we quickly made our way to the hostel and settled in. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hostel in Rome and I recommend it to everyone! Great value, clean, and a very nice impression of what’s ahead of me in my future travels!

In efforts to change our first impressions of our surroundings, we left our hostel in route to the Colosseum. After walking for only five minutes, we found ourselves much happier with our surroundings, and only a few blocks away from the Colosseum. Kajsa and I enjoyed the beautiful views of Rome slowly walking down the streets, with no map, and no place to be at any certain time. We had deep conversation while taking in the architecture and beauty of Rome. It was one of my favorite moments and a really great end to our first day in Italy!

IMG_8765

Making a wish at the Trevi Fountain

While in Rome, we saw the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi fountain, and  the Spanish steps & shopping district. The weather was beautiful! It was in the 60s and 70s, and the sun was shining which was a nice change from the rain in Poitiers! We took the opportunity to do some shopping in the local markets and I got myself a genuine Italian leather purse (note: the terms genuine and leather are used very loosely), as well as a turquoise ring I fell in love with.

IMG_8682

Spanish Steps

 

IMG_8615Kajsa and I agreed that the food was our favorite part of Rome. We ate a ton of pizza, even more pasta, and so much gelato, I’m still not sure how we managed to fit into our clothes by the end of the trip! The food was ridiculous! The ingredients were all so fresh and full of flavor is was difficult to leave any on your plate no matter how full you were! Italy definitely knows what they’re doing when it comes to food!

We also met some amazing people on our trip. We shared a room at the hostel with Cory and Yvette from Australia. They are cousins, touring Europe together for a month. We shared a lot of laughs and made some truly great friends. Coincidently, they happen to be in Amsterdam the same time I am, so we will meet up again there! We also met some Spanish police from Barcelona that were definitely loving their time in Rome! They didn’t know much English, but they had the words “party” and “vodka” memorized! It was fun to really use my Spanish with them and translate the hilarious things they were saying!

IMG_8839

Gelato with Cory & Yvette

On our last night in Rome, we spent some time with our Canadian friends we go to school with in Poitiers. The five guys did a tour of Italy and landed in Rome about 12 hours before we had to leave. This was not planned. It just so happened they would be in Italy the same time as us! We made the time count and spent the night talking & laughing in our hostel over a few cartons of wine (yes, cartons).

Our time in Rome was amazing. The architecture and history was everything I thought it would be and I find so much enjoyment in traveling to different cities and countries, and seeing all the different landmarks and eating all the different foods each place has to offer.

Follow this link to see all the pictures from my trip! https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/

IMG_8545

At the Colosseum!

 

Once the travel bug bites there is no antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.

-Michael Palin

Jet Lag is for Amateurs

My most recent travel has taken me to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Copenhagen, Denmark. This was the first trip I booked when I started studying abroad. Katie, Alex and I booked this trip in late January so we’ve been waiting for it to come for about two months. Although Katie, Alex, and I were the only original travelers, we had some friends who tagged along in Amsterdam, as well as other friends who met up with us in Copenhagen. I’ve found that many of the trips I have booked with one or two other people, have now turned into groups of 7-12 travelers accompanying us. It’s great being able to travel with so many people!

After taking the train to Paris, (which we have to do for almost all of our trips), we took an overnight bus to Amsterdam. We arrived at our hostel around 7:00am and relaxed in the lounge until breakfast was available. We stayed at St. Christopher’s Winston and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Amsterdam. It’s a younger crowd, but a lot of fun with a great lounge area. Because we couldn’t check-in until 2:00pm, we put our bags in a storage locker and headed out to explore the town after breakfast. We joined the free walking tour of the city at 11:00am and after about 45 minutes of standing in the freezing rain, these tired girls were ready for another coffee! We skipped out of the tour and headed to a place called Crepes & Waffles, which quickly became one of our favorite places in Amsterdam.

When 2:00pm finally approached, we made our way back to the hostel for a much-needed nap. The little sleep we did get on the bus, was frequently interrupted and uncomfortable so we were happy to lay our bodies horizontal in our temporary bed at St. Christopher’s. After a nap, a shower, and food, we were as ready as we could be for whatever Amsterdam had in store for us! We ended up walking around and exploring the town which was much more beautiful when it wasn’t raining! We met up with my Australian friends Cory and Yvette, who I met in Rome a few weeks earlier. We toured the streets and walked through the famous Red Light District.

IMG_9021

At the “iamsterdam” sign.

On our second day in Amsterdam, we headed to the Anne Frank house/museum and spent a few hours walking through the house and hiding place that’s known so well throughout the world. It was very heart wrenching to be where so much tragedy took place. After the Anne Frank house, we had lunch, then met up with some of our friends at the “iamsterdam” sign. From there, we strolled along the even nicer part of Amsterdam, taking pictures and window shopping.IMG_9032

Our hostel was in a really convenient part of town and just a block away from the bar district. We joined in on a pub crawl that night which took us to six different bars within walking distance. It started out nice, but we found that the bars got smaller and more expensive as time went on. After leaving the 4th bar and on our way to the 5th, we passed Crepes & Waffles. Katie, Alex and I decided we would have more fun there than at the next bar, so we said goodbye to our friends and ended the night with some delicious food!

On our third and final day in Amsterdam, we went out to a nice brunch and spent the rest of the day shopping and getting souvenirs. Amsterdam was much more than I expected. For the reputation it has, I presumed it would be much more touristy and dirty, but I was happily surprised to find it as one of the prettiest places I’ve been to yet! I would recommend to go there if you have the chance, and hope I’ll get to return someday as well.IMG_9046

From Amsterdam, we flew two hours to Copenhagen. I will say that both Amsterdam and Copenhagen have really awesome airports. I was very impressed, and a bit relieved, to see it was much bigger and organized than prior airports I had traveled to in Europe! Both of these airports had a lot of options for food, as well as shopping. I’m talking full on grocery stores, H&M’s, Pandora’s, etc. in addition to all the people watching, (which is probably my favorite thing to do in airports).

IMG_9076

Hello Copenhagen!

Upon arriving in Copenhagen, we headed straight for our hostel. Nina and Keya, who we met up with in Amsterdam, also joined us in coming to Copenhagen, and we met up with Kajsa, Michael, and Gloria at the Downtown Copenhagen Hostel so our group grew from three to eight! After settling into our hostel, we went exploring for a few hours. We knew from our journey from the airport to the hostel that Copenhagen was beautiful and had great shopping! It was very quaint, the buildings were colorful and the streets filled with bicycles. The housing architecture and bicycle transportation were very similar to Amsterdam, but there was a much bigger ‘city-feel’ to Copenhagen, lots of shopping and restaurants. Venturing out after dark was fun in a larger city with lots of people and things to do. I was very excited to see a 7-Eleven, a taste of home I’ve missed. (Although after some investigation, I learned they do not have slurpees!) We finished off the night back the Downtown Copenhagen Hostel which has a great common area; live band, bar, coffee bar, foosball, board games, etc. It’s a great place to hang out and meet fellow travelers.IMG_9158

IMG_9175The next day was our only full day in Copenhagen. We didn’t realize how little time we had devoted to Denmark, but it turned out to be fine. Although the city was beautiful and there were more things we could have done, it was very expensive (specifically to eat), so we were okay with only spending a little bit of time there. Let me put ‘expensive’ into perspective for you: when we went out to dinner, at a mediocre restaurant, the bowl of chili my friend ordered for dinner was $28.00, and my nachos were $21.00! I think you can tell from the menu items, nachos and chili, that this place was no suit & tie establishment! Being in the 50s, it was cool outside, but many of the restaurants had outdoor seating and every chair had a blanket. It was really cute and almost made you want to sit outside. Unfortunately, the wind and rain had other plans so we spent most of our time indoors.

We made the best of the good weather when we could by visiting a famous street with very colorful houses, as well as visiting Freetown Christiania. Christiania is its own town inside of Copenhagen. The government gave them the land, and they have their own law/rules, and even their own currency! After reading many reviews on TripAdvisor, we decided it was worth seeing and went for a look. We were cautioned that since they are their own town, they are free to do what they want. There is a board with rules posted as you enter, and if you choose to disobey these rules, the locals of Christiania have been known to attack travelers and throw them out. These rules included “Have Fun”, “No Photos”, “Buying and Selling Hash is Legal” and “No running because it causes panic”. Here, drugs are legal, and there are no standards. My friend described it as “what the world would look like if it ended”, and I think she summed it up perfectly! The streets were dirty, buildings were man-made out of all different materials (sheet metal, tire rubber, etc.), there was much graffiti, and everyone looked as if they hadn’t showered in a month. Although it might come off sounding horrible, I was glad we went. It was really interesting to see how a beautiful, upscale town like Copenhagen, has its own world inside it behind a wall that explains how running causes panic!

Walking back to the main street from Christiania, it started to rain so we took the opportunity to do some indoor shopping where it was dry and warm! Being a group of girls, all in our twenties, I’m sure you can understand how we managed to survive a few hours inside some stores, but I think you’ll be surprised to learn that our afternoon started at the Disney store with a Tea Party!

IMG_9202

Tea Party

We are all still very much kids at heart so we couldn’t pass up the Disney store, in which we found the movie Frozen was playing, and there was a table and chairs set up (for five-year-olds) to have a tea party. Obviously, we took the chance to be children again and spent some time watching the award-winning animated movie. We spent the rest of the rainy day going from store-to-store mostly looking because everything was pretty pricy. We found some very cool shops though and enjoyed our time even though the weather was unpleasant.

Surrendering to the wind and rain, we returned to our hostel around 5:00pm and warmed up while everyone enjoyed the free wi-fi. As some hotels and hostels offer free breakfast, we learned that our hostel offered free dinner in order to help travelers with the prices of the town. We stayed in that night, ate some free spaghetti, and relaxed in the common room of the hostel again. (FYI: The hostel also offered a continental breakfast, the cheapest in town, costing you $12.00 USD.)

The coffee bar was one of my favorite things about the hostel. I really enjoyed having Chai Latte’s at night while enjoying the company around me. Chai has been something I’ve missed dearly from home and I was very happy knowing I could have it whenever I wanted in Copenhagen, (even if it did have a ridiculous price tag!)

Our weeklong trip was great! Amazing places with even better company made these six days very enjoyable! I would absolutely recommend everyone go to Amsterdam if they have the chance. It’s one of my favorite places, so far, for its beauty and architecture. Look at all my pictures from Amsterdam and Copenhagen here: https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/IMG_9003

I’ve spent a lot of time recently on buses, planes, and trains and speaking with my fellow travelers, we’ve all agreed that we feel we spend as much time traveling to the destination, as we do actually IN it! I’ve always been a good flyer and have no trouble in buses, cars, or trains, but I actually don’t mind the traveling part so much. It’s part of the journey and part of the story. Fortunately, I’ll have a lot of good stories at the end of these five months! (That are already 60% over!)

After returning home from Copenhagen, I spent one day (okay, 36 hours) in Poitiers before traveling again. I’ll tell you about my trip to Marrakech, Morocco in my next post! Stay tuned…IMG_9135  IMG_9171“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment” – Hilarie Belloc

A Parisian Adventure

I spent February 27th-March 2nd in Paris. I had flown into the Charles de Gaulle airport when I first arrived in France, but had to run to meet my train and had no time to spend in the city. I’ve been in France now for two months, and was finally able to make a trip & spend a few days in Paris. Seven friends and I planned a four day weekend in the city, and it was absolutely amazing!

My housemate Elizabeth has a friend in Paris named Lorelei. Lorelei is from France and met Elizabeth when she was studying abroad in South Carolina. Elizabeth let her know we were planning a trip to the city, and asked if she could recommend some of her favorite places that we should see while we are there. Lorelei took it 10 steps further and got us all rooms at the Novotel hotel where she works! A four star hotel, a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, for less than we would’ve spent at a hostel…. Yes please! The Novotel hotel was amazing and I recommend it to anyone traveling to Paris. We were also able to get vouchers for breakfast which you must pay extra for if booking as a traveler, but it was a great spread, and my American friends were all very pleased to see bacon! (A rare commodity here in France.) The rooms at the hotel were great, and the lobby area was very impressive! There were computers available to the guests and many nice sitting areas for tired travelers. I hope to stay there again with my family, when they come to visit in May.

Checking-in to the hotel took a few minutes because we had three separate rooms booked, but were only checking into two of them at the moment. (The others had class and would meet up with us later.) As the receptionist verified all of our information and started programming room keys, she started going through (what I like to call) “the check-in spheel”. She proceed to give us the information to connect to the wifi, pointed us in the direction of the breakfast room, and then smiled, handed us the keys to our rooms and said “You’re in rooms 1301 & 1303. The elevators are down the hallway to your right.” The words she said had stuck me like someone walking into a glass doorwall… 13th floor?! They do exist! It was the first time I had ever been in a hotel with a 13th floor! There’s a first time for everything!

IMG_7554Remarkably, Lorelei’s generosity didn’t end there. We knew we wanted to do something special for her for getting us such great accommodations, so we asked if we could take her out Saturday night. We asked her to take us to her favorite place in town so we could treat her, and also to see where the local’s like to go! Not sure what to expect, we started out on our adventure. When we asked Lorelei where we were headed, she replied with “it’s a surprise!” My excitement was growing as we took one metro, to another metro, and started walking around the town we eventually settled at. Following the leader, Lorelei led us around a corner where we faced a huge, steep road. It was one of those ‘out-of-breath’, ‘feel-the-burn’ type hills. Once at the top, we walked another 30 feet or so, and found ourselves battling an even longer, steeper hill! I have been up and down many hills in Poitiers, but these were exceptional! I was waiting for someone to award me with a Girl Scout hiking badge! (Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but you get the picture!) We were all a little curious if this was going to be worth the treacherous hike. Let me be the first to say it was absolutely, 110% worth it! We found ourselves in the center of a small Parisian town square with the most perfect ambiance you could imagine! Complete with caricature artists, live music, restaurants, and a beautiful church, I can’t think of anything that could have made the mood any better! We had dinner at one of the bistros in the square, which was absolutely fabulous. I had beef bourguignon, and it was by far the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been in France!

IMG_7575After dinner I walked around with a friend to see some of the shops. We got about 15 feet outside the restaurant before we were approached by artists that started drawing sketches of us. I was completely aware that I was a typical tourist/target, falling into the trap, but at the moment I was content with it. The night was already amazing so why not make it even better?! I came home that night with a souvenir sketch, (that looks nothing like me, by the way!), but it’s a fun memory of that night. After dinner we took a walk and exited the square on the opposite side of where we entered. Lorelei took us to a lookout point of the entire city and it was absolutely breathtaking! If you’re ever in Paris, take the metro to Abbesses and walk up each hill until you reach the top. You will thank me, I promise!IMG_7612

IMG_7412Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the trip was getting to see the Eiffel Tower. With our hotel so close, we were able to see it pretty much anytime we wanted to, and made many trips there to take pictures & just enjoy the view.

IMG_7782We also visited the Louvre, and hung out with Mona for a bit. :-) My best friend in Poitiers, Diego, didn’t plan to come on this trip, and as we were leaving & saying goodbye, I said “I wish you were coming!” I was chatting with him online the next day, and told him how I missed him & that he should be here with us. He took it all to heart and surprised me Saturday! He met us at the museum and spent the rest of the day with us. Such a great friend! It made my trip so much more enjoyable! From the Louvre, we walked past the shopping district to the Arc de Triomphe. After standing and walking for the entire day, we wanted to sit down for a while. Finding a Starbucks, we grabbed a cup of coffee and sat in a McDonald’s just talking and relaxing. I know what you must be thinking, “You’re in Paris! Why are you at Starbucks and McDonald’s?” Believe it or not, it was delicious and missed on my part. I don’t go to either of these places very often at home, but having them available to me was a nice change. Don’t worry, we ate at plenty of great French places in Paris as well! We made a trip to see Notre Dame and entered just as a mass was ending, very powerful and simply breathtaking. From there we walked to the famous Love Lock Bridge, and also visited the cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried.

IMG_8032

IMG_8268On Sunday, our last day, we took a boat tour along the River Seine. Our hotel room had a great view of the river so it was nice to end the weekend with what we had been looking at for four days. The tour was an hour long, and cost 13€. In my opinion, completely worth it! We were able to see Paris from a different angle, and there was commentation in French, Spanish, and English that was very interesting! I learned that the White House was build with inspiration from the building in the picture below. I also learned that their Statue of Liberty was originally facing the Eiffel Tower, but was turned in 1889 so that the Statues of Liberty in New York and Paris (the sisters) would be facing each other! It can also be seen in the movie “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”!

IMG_8214

Can you see the resemblance?

 

Overall, the weekend was amazing! Visit https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/ to see all of the pictures! We were definitely exhausted when we came home, but it was totally worth every minute! I will be returning to Paris in April for a 5K, and again with my family in May. It’s crazy to think that I am traveling to all of these places and seeing all of these landmarks that I’ve only dreamed of. I am definitely taking in every second. I realize this is a chance of a lifetime, and am not taking anything for granted. To think I am already halfway through with this experience is sad, but if it ended tomorrow I would be so happy with the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met.

*Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory* – Dr. Seuss

Fun Fact of the Day

As I sit on my train to Paris this rainy Thursday morning, I find myself thinking of all the things that are so different here in France. Specifically because I cannot get any wifi on this train! In fact, if you don’t have a data plan with a French phone, you can kiss your web surfing days goodbye! Wifi is pretty much non-existent in the majority of Europe. Although it was extremely hard to adapt to at first, I’m two months in and still alive so it can be done! So much of our lives now-a-days revolve around the convenience of having access to the internet with our phones. When you lose that convenience, you start to learn a lot of lessons… First, always look up directions before you leave your house, and take a screenshot of them. Secondly, when you make plans, they don’t change after you leave your house! The time and place of a meeting destination stays the same because neither party can get a hold of each other! My family was wonderful enough to send me a phone that was supposed to have global capabilities, however it just doesn’t seem to want to connect to the French network. Since I’ve been phone-less for 2 months, what’s another 3 months?! Besides, I will be traveling a lot in that time, and the network doesn’t work outside of France, so here I go…. without a phone for 3 more months! It’s actually not as bad as it sounds. The thing I have to say I’ve enjoyed most is that when friends are together, they are talking, and laughing and interactive with each other. They’re not on Facebook, or tweeting or snap-chatting. It has definitely been a breath of fresh air compared to how some people are in America. There’s so much to see and enjoy here, that looking down at your phone all the time seems like it should be a sin. It’s been a big change, but a good one. It’s allowed me to enjoy the experience of simply walking down the street, and taking in the architecture of Poitiers without my thoughts being interrupted by an alert that someone liked my photo on Facebook. With all of this being said, I will be much more grateful for the fantastic phone service I receive in America! (I’m sure the French students at UofM are loving this change!)

20140228-143647.jpg

Lunch with Cécilia!

Beverages are also a bit different. I am not a big pop drinker. (Yes I say pop. I mean soda, but I’m sticking to pop!) I do enjoy juice, but I drink mainly water and tea. When I’ve been out at cafés and such, I’ve noticed that the 20oz. Coca-cola bottles have names on them. Talking to different people, I’ve learned that this is true through much of Europe and is used as a sales tool. It actually a great idea, if there was a coke bottle with “Jessica” on it, you can bet I would be buying it! (I’m on the lookout!) I think it’s quite fun though! Also, Limonade and Lemonade are not just spelling differences between French and English! I ordered a Lemonade at dinner last weekend and was brought a carbonated lemon-lime beverage. I thought the waiter had made a mistake, until I learned that Limonade is a soda in France. Curiosity struck when I was grocery shopping and sure enough, down the beverage aisle there were plenty of bottles of pop called Limonade! When in the store it’s easier to see the color and such, to tell if you’re getting the correct item you’re looking for. Before this, I had just thought they must not add many artificial ingredients, such as food coloring. Turns out it’s just Sprite! (Yes, I felt like a ditz once I realized that!)

Speaking of grocery stores, that is also something you have to plan ahead for… Since I don’t have a car here, I make many trips to the grocery store each week simply because I can’t always carry everything I need in one trip. (My fridge isn’t that big anyway!) There are two grocery stores that I can walk to from my house. They have most of your basic items. There is also a superstore (like a Walmart or Meijer’s) that I can take the bus to when I need more specific items. If I am going for more than just a few things, I usually take my backpack because it holds a lot, and it’s easier to carry home. One thing you should note when going grocery shopping in Europe, is that you need to bring your own bags. In America, you can get as many grocery bags as you want, (and I’m pretty sure everyone has a drawer in their house dedicated to these bags!). In an effort to be a greener continent, you have to pay for your bags here. They are not horribly expensive, and there are different kinds. The typical, disposal ones are about 0.04€, and one that is heavy-duty and reusable is around 2.00€. You also bag your own groceries. Because of all these reasons, many Europeans go to the grocery store several times each week. To go to the store and buy food for the whole week is uncommon. You may buy enough food for a few days because that is all your fridge can hold and all your hands can carry. Of course this is mainly in the cities where walking is the main mode of transportation for many people. There are obviously many exceptions to this, but from what I’ve learned thus far from living in Poitiers and talking with people from other towns, it seems to be quite common.

I think many people in America use these ‘disposable’ grocery bags as garbage bags. Here, they are like gold so we do not throw them away! Garbage bags are inexpensive if bought at the store, but you can also go to city hall and they will give you a roll of garbage bags, and a roll of bags for recycling for free! Garbage was not an obvious question when I first moved into my apartment, but became a concern quickly afterwards! There is no dumpster, or trash can to put my trash bag into. There are recycling containers abundantly all over the city where you can recycle your glass, plastic, and cans, but where does the trash go? Where I’m from, we have a large trash can, and once a week on our designated day, you roll it to the end of your driveway, and the trash man will come and empty it sometime that day. In Poitiers, we put our trash bags right on the street pavement outside our gate, and we have trash pickup 4 nights a week! You put your trash out after 6:30pm and they take it sometime in the middle of the night! There is also one day a week where they will take your recycling if you don’t take it to the bins in town yourself. It’s all very convenient! However, if you put your bags out too early, or on the wrong day, you get a fine of 76€! The garbage system here was very interesting to me. (I never thought I’d be writing a whole segment on trash!)

Most everything in Poitiers closes at 7:00pm during the week, and is closed on Sundays. However, there are certain things that are open longer, like the laundromat, and a school building where students can go to do homework. Since both of these establishments have extended hours, and neither of them have security, the doors have a special button to allow you to get in and out. There is a button, that looks like a doorbell, that unlocks the door. There are also similar buttons in hallways which activate the lights, since most lights are motion activated. If you find yourself locked inside a building, or roaming around in the dark, look for a doorbell type button to relieve your panic. It’s quite alarming to think that you’re trapped inside a dark laundromat by yourself at 9:00pm!

The last fun tip I will share with you is something I’ve found to be a benefit, but I still haven’t gotten used to it yet. In the past, I have worked a handful of jobs where I’ve depended on tips. Because of that, I always try to be a “good tipper”. In France, and most of Europe, it is actually insulting to tip! The wages here are much different and the waitstaff is paid much more than what is considered normal in the states. Their tip is figured into their wages, so employers have higher expectations from their staff. If you do leave a tip, you are implying that you don’t think they make enough money and you are giving them charity. This is the same for restaurants, bars, hotels, etc. Although I think it’s a good thing, I’ve found myself trying to tip more than once, then remembering that it’s not normal here! While sitting at dinner one of the first nights I was here, I learned this gesture. We had finished eating, and the waitress asked us if we wanted an espresso or dessert. After replying no, she walked away, and for about the next 30 minutes we continued to watch her walk by us constantly while we talked at our table. Finally, one of the girls said, “Her tip is going down by the minute! Why isn’t she bringing us our bill?” We soon found out that the phrase she just spoke was one of the most American things she could’ve ever said! First off, we learned that you don’t tip. Secondly, dinner (and all meals for that matter) are meant to be long and social. Lunch here is 2 hours long. The social aspect is the biggest and longest part if the meal. After you’re finished eating and socializing and you wish to leave, you have to ask for your bill, or, in many cases, find the counter with the register and pay there. A bit difference from what I’m used to, and definitely something that’s good to know!

In the past two weeks, there have been a few American events that I’ve embraced 100%! Every few weeks, Aloha (a student-run group within the school) organizes a party for the international students, and we get to vote on the theme. The last party was an American Party! Obviously, I went all out, (as you can see from the picture), and even got my friends to join in! It was so much fun and we had a great time! The Olympics have also been a big thing here. Since none of us have televisions, we have been going to the sports pub in town to watch many of the events. Men’s hockey was a big deal for me (shocker!), and living with a Canadian made it much more competitive! I was also a big Sweden fan since many of my favorite players (and best friend here in Poitiers), are Swedish. Obviously, I was disappointed in USA’s last few games, and upset that Zetterberg is out for the rest of the season, but CANgrats to my Canadian neighbour! (See how I added the ‘u’ there!) A big thank you to my Aunt Sue and Uncle Tommy who got me a Winter Classic sweatshirt for Christmas before I left. I was unsure if it would fit in my suitcase, but it has come in very handy, and my Canadian friends absolutely love it! (And I’m slowly turning my Columbian friends into ice hockey fans as well!)

20140228-015414.jpg

The American Party!

I am very excited to announce that I am signed up for a 5K! On April 13th, I will be running (more like walking), in The Color Run Paris! This is my first 5K, and although I will not be able to run the whole thing, I am just excited to be a part of the experience! I’ve wanted to do The Color Run for a few years now, but never had the opportunity. To be able to be a part of it, (and in Paris!), is simply amazing! There are about 30 of my international friends who are doing it as well, so it will make for another memorable weekend and Parisian adventure! Now I am off to enjoy my first weekend in Paris!

*Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travelers don’t know where they’re going*

Me = Busy Bee

In the time since my last post, a lot has been going on! I started a ‘class’ called “Company Project”. This was described to me as a type of internship I’d be able to participate in. Basically, instead of sitting in a classroom, I would be working with an International Company, based in Poitiers, and help them execute a project. I thought this would be a great opportunity, because not only will I get the experience of going to school in France, I will also be able to say I interned with a company there! I’ve had a few meetings regarding this project, and it turns out that there are not any companies in Poitiers who do business internationally that need interns. I will actually be working for the school I am attending while I am here. Although it didn’t seem to be what I had anticipated, it is turning out even better! As part of my project, I will need to help students who are based at France Business School, and are going to study abroad at UM-Flint! I will be helping them adapt to everyday life with things like housing, transportation, food, etc., as well as planning 6 trips/excursions for them while they are in Michigan! I will need to organize, arrange, schedule, and budget these trips so it is easy for students to see what is offered. I am so excited to be able to show everyone what Michigan/US has to offer! It’s turning out to be a really fun project! I’ve learned that there are currently two French students at UM-Flint, and I was able to make contact with one of them. Unfortunately, the winter doesn’t seem to allow for much fun right now (with record breaking temperatures and snowfall!), but I hope they will get to enjoy the spring! I am really excited to work with future exchange students once I return home as well!

IMG_7267 IMG_7263

IMG_7290

I took a day trip to Bordeaux on February 8th to go wine tasting! It was actually a ‘tasting class’ where we were educated on the wine, where it originated from, what to look for in the taste, etc. We tasted 8 different red wines, all from France! It was a lot of fun and after being in the class I feel like I really know how to properly drink and taste wine! I went with 4 other friends, and after the 2 hour wine class, we roamed around the city and found this HUGE market! It was one street for as far as you could see filled with vendors selling everything from sausages to shoes!

IMG_7303

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating, and the wind and rain drove us into ‘The Blarney Stone”, an Irish Pub (whad’ya know?!). We enjoyed a beverage, a cheese tray, and a game of soccer before making our way back to the train station. I felt like a horrible friend that day because I begged my friend Kajsa to tag along with us, ensuring her there had to be white wine at the tasting class (she does not care for red wine). Of course, to our luck, all red wine! To make it up to her, the 5 of us each got a bottle of white wine from a local store, a few baguettes and some cheese, and had our own wine tasting on the train ride home! It was probably the best part of the day. We had a short train car to ourselves, where we were able to drink, eat, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company! Bordeaux is a beautiful city with so much to offer, that we didn’t get to take advantage of because of the weather. We all agreed that once the weather gets nicer, we will do another day trip to Bordeaux, and recommend that anyone in France make that a mandatory stop! (As always, visit https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/ to see photos!)

IMG_7330

Last week I finished my first class! I had three days of this class in January, and finished it last week with a presentation on Thursday, and exam on Friday. I am confident that I did well and am relieved (and shocked), that I already have one class down! In addition to the classes I am taking here, I am also enrolled in an online Calculus class at UM-Flint. I am taking this class so I am able to continue with my curriculum plan on schedule. The online class is going quite well so far (*knock on wood*), and luckily doesn’t take up too much of my time here! :-)

20140214_130106 I’ve been asked by many people “Do they celebrate Valentine’s Day in France?”. Of course they do! It’s home to the “City of Love”! Although I spent most of my day in class, and preparing for my final exam, a few friends made it a great Valentine’s Day! I’ve always had the notion that Valentine’s Day hit it’s peak in 3rd grade, where you were able to decorate a shoebox, and received candies and cards from all your classmates, (sort-of a second Halloween). This year, a few friends made this day very special for me! My good friend Michael, who is like a little brother to me, surprised me and two other friends with tulips we had been talking about seeing around town all week. (He got the hint ;-) ). After lunch, my roommate Elizabeth had a donut waiting for me at my seat in class, which I ate during my exam :-D . Later that night, we all headed to Kajsa’s house to get ready for the Valentine’s Day party a few other students were having at their house. Upon arrival, Kajsa had heart-shaped cakes, wine, and music for us! We had a great time and it turns out there is something to look forward to after 3rd grade! ♥

IMG_0411

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my roommates mother. My roommate, Elizabeth, is from South Carolina (another American!), and one of the sweetest, most genuine girls I have ever had the pleasure of meeting! It is really a blessing that we were placed in the same house together! Her mother reached out to me, asking if I would help surprise Elizabeth for Valentine’s Day. Their church group had all gotten together, and donated some money to send Elizabeth to make her time here a little more enjoyable. Obviously, I was all-in! I LOVE surprises, and planning a creative reveal is my speciality! So Saturday, February 15th, Elizabeth thought we were going out to lunch, and catching up on episodes of Duck Dynasty. Little did she know, I planned a scavenger hunt around Poitiers! I had clues leading her to her favorite spots around town, and even had some friends waiting at each location. When she thought the surprise was over, and we were going to start watching D.D., she was shocked when she saw a familiar face on the screen instead of one of the bearded Robertson men! I was so thankful to be part of this surprise and so glad her mother reached out to me. Seeing the look on her face during each reveal was one of the best memories I’ve had since I’ve been here. Great day for a great girl!

My international friends have truly become my family and recently, we’ve had few family dinners! My Columbian friends, Germán and Paula, made me and a few friends their Meatballs! I’m not exactly sure how they cooked them, but… WOW, they were amazing! I brought a side dish, and introduced them to my mashed potatoes! The next night I cooked Shepherd’s Pie for 9 of us, and seeing as how I did it without an oven, I think it turned out pretty good! Everyone was quiet and there were no leftovers so that’s always a good sign! I love trying new foods from different cultures, and seeing how everyone makes certain dishes. The Colombians put cut up hot-dogs in their meatball sauce, and even though I don’t, I know many people put cheese on their Shepherd’s Pie. The variety of customs we have is amazing!

20140217_194059

Family Dinner

20140216_200056 20140217_192617

I’ve been keeping busy in my ‘off’ days by… planning trips! A huge part of being here is being able to see different countries, and experience new cities. Even many of the teachers will say “let me know what day is good for you, I know you’re here to travel too”! It’s nice to know that the school encourages you to travel while abroad, and your schedule allows for some great trips! (But just remember, you work hard so you can play hard!) Last time I talked to my dad he asked, “So how is travel agent school going?!”… It’s going great dad! :-D I’ve gotten to the point in my calendar where I need to start thinking about which trips are really important to me because there are so many trips planned, I don’t have enough time to participate in all of them! I have created a new page for my Calendar so everyone is able to see where I’m at and where I’m going! (Look at the menu bar at the top of the screen.) I’ve been so blessed with the opportunity of being here… you can bet I’m taking full advantage of it!

My next trip will be with 8 friends to Paris for 4 days at the end of the month to explore the city. Elizabeth knows a friend who was able to get us an AMAZING deal at a very nice hotel near the Eiffel Tower which will make the trip even more memorable! We will also be celebrating Katie’s birthday that weekend, and I’m sure she won’t forget this birthday party! I’m excited to spend a few day in Paris with some lovely ladies!

I am definitely keeping busy, planning trips for exchange students visiting UM-Flint, keeping up with my online course as well as courses here, and planning trips for myself! The next few months are going to fly by and I’m just trying to live in each moment and not blink for too long! I constantly find myself walking up and down the streets of Poitiers (or wherever I may be), and really take in the fact that I am living in France!

*This is the time for small paychecks, and big memories*