“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10%, and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white t-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is accented sex after good wine and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is ‘maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.'” -Nick Miller
I came upon this quote a few weeks before I left for France. I was looking for something to represent my excitement for my future time abroad, and stumbled upon this quote by Nick Miller. Because of it’s length, I didn’t originally stop to read it, but something drew me back in. I immediately fell in love with the idea of travel that he portrayed. Even though I hadn’t left yet, I had some type of understanding that this is how my life in Europe would be. It’s been sitting on a digital sticky note on my desktop for about 2 months now, and I’ve fallen more and more in love with it every time I read it. I’ve had a few of my fellow international students also read it, and it’s unanimously favored as a perfect description of what we expect out of our time abroad.
The ‘slow internet connection’ couldn’t be more true. I do have pretty decent wifi in my apartment that I can’t complain about, but once I leave, that’s it. There is no wifi in stores, malls, restaurants, coffee shops, anything. Even in the biggest airport in Paris, I was only allotted 15 minutes of internet before I had to start paying… internet is just not a priority here. It really is a great way of life… until you’re lost and need google maps :-/. My advisor from UofM commented on how amazed all the French students are at the abundance of wifi hotspots in America. I can honestly say I completely understand their enthusiasm!
After a very busy couple of weeks, things have started to settle down. Orientation is over and I’m onto my schedule of classes I’ll be taking while I’m here. Not knowing exactly how heavy the schedule & work-load was going to be, was a big worry of mine. In America, you really have to prioritize your time, and set aside time in your schedule to study, do online homework, research, etc. I was very concerned at how much of my ‘free time’ would actually be spent doing things I wanted to do. Turns out…. a LOT! I had to enroll in 5 classes here to get my Certificate. After viewing my schedule (and talking about it with numerous students and faculty to make sure I understood correctly), each class only has 5 meeting sessions of actual class time. And these 5 days of class are spread out over several weeks. For example, I started a class called ‘Advertising in Europe’ this week. I had class Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30am-12:30pm, then lunch, then again from 2:00pm-5:00pm (a total of 6 hours a day). I will have this class again February 13th & 14th, then that’s it! I will take an exam on the 14th and the class is over! All of my classes are scheduled the same way so I will have class 2-3 days in a row, then a break for a few weeks, then finish with another 2-3 days. With the exception of a French class I have every Monday and Wednesday night for an hour and a half, I’m pretty much a free woman! For someone like me who works full time and goes to school full time…. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with all this ‘me’ time! Yes, I’m in Europe, and you can bet I will travel immensely, however, I am on a budget so flying to a different country every 4 days isn’t exactly realistic. I’ve already come up with a few things I’ve always wanted to ‘get around to when I had time’, well now is that time! Reading that book that’s been downloaded on my nook account since last April, and sharpening my photography skills are among a few of the things I am looking forward to working on. When I first got here, I was talking with another student and we were sharing some of our life goals and ambitions. He stated that someone once told him, “you will really discover your passion for life as you travel because it gives you time to think without all the commotion of life’s stressors in the background”. I can already see how this statement can be true and am excited to see where the next few months lead me!
Now that I’ve had a few days to ‘play around’, I’ve gotten to discover the town of Poitiers. It’s so immensely beautiful I still find myself blinking repeatedly to ensure that I am not, in fact, dreaming. Walking down the streets, and window shopping as you pass by the boutiques has become a daily occurrence. Just as you turn the corner, and round yet another bakery, a giant cathedral stands before you holding so much history it’s overwhelming to try and comprehend. These amazing masses of architecture are literally in my backyard, and although it makes me an obvious out-of-towner, I can’t help but stand and gaze at them constantly. I made it a goal this weekend (now that I have some free time, and grocery shopping & laundry isn’t as much of a priority as it was last weekend), to get out and take some pictures of this gorgeous town I live in. To see all the pictures of my adventures, go to http://www.thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com
Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to experience so much that I was never previously exposed to. In the same respect, I also have missed many of the ‘luxuries’ I’ve selfishly taken for granted throughout my life. A few of them being a good cheeseburger, a dryer, peanut butter, ranch dressing, and hair serum. As this all comes out, I mean no offense to anyone and I hope everyone can understand that there’s nothing wrong with the way of life here, it’s just different than what I’m used to and that is one of the best parts of this whole experience.
The food here has been absolutely amazing. Being a huge sandwich fan has definitely had it’s advantages. You can literally walk anywhere, and within 5 minutes come across a sandwich shop with the most delicious bread you’ve ever tasted. I’ve also become a croissant connoisseur and am doing a fairly decent job of trying all the different croissants around town! With that all being said, the comforts of home like a PB&J or greasy cheeseburger, are hard to find around here! There is no peanut butter in the stores which comes to a huge shock to all the Americans, seeing as how we put peanut butter in everything from cereal to brownies! Here, Nutella is life! I’m not complaining :-), but my family was awesome enough to send me some JIF and Hidden Valley!
The quote above really is true, you do start to respect walking everywhere, and McDonald’s does sound like a luxury right now. When you put the two together… you see a “walk-thru” at Mickey D’s!
Grocery shopping here has also been quite an experience! There are a lot of familiar brands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the food is familiar. I thought Pringles might be a good comfort food to have when that craving came along, then I realized the flavors included “Paprika” and “Prawn Cocktail”! They do have most things we have in America, you might just have to look a little harder for it. Would you like a little “American Sauce” (1000 Island) on your salad/burger?
Also, look closely at the vending machines in airports and train stations. They don’t all necessarily have food in them. On one of my first trips, I had to be to the train station around 7:15am. Not knowing when I would eat next, I ventured toward the vending machines before our train arrived, only to find complete necessities… guitar strings! I’ve seen beauty products, iPods, phones, etc. in vending machines, but never musical instrument accessories. Not only was this machine loaded with strings, but it also had a variety of tuners and picks. It was one of those moments that you couldn’t help but laugh and take a picture :-)
I’ve already had such a great time here, and now that I know my schedule, I will be planning trips soon! As of now, I will be in Bordeaux on February 8th for a wine tasting class with a few great friends. I am looking forward to being able to start planning some trips around Europe very soon! Until next time… Merci, et Bonne Soir!