Friday, February 13, 2015

(golden) state of the union

lord have mercy, time does fly. 

i feel like the last year's worth of posts have been 'catch up' posts... so, in the interest of consistency, here's another one!

my internship with 'my french country home' last fall was absolutely delightful. i had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a completely new industry and i learned so much! i saw so many beautiful places and met so many wonderful people - the fall of 2014 will be a cherished memory forever.

the cherry on top of it all was getting to travel in eastern france with my very best friend, mary lyn. she flew all the way from memphis to spend thanksgiving in france with me! we explored many of the fairytale towns of alsace, which were all dressed in their christmas best. it was like being inside a story book! 

coming home was a breeze, as i landed right in the middle of the holiday season and got swept right up into preparations for christmas. i worked at a fun little boutique near my home for a few weeks, spent time with my family, and celebrated the holidays. christmas and new years came and went in a flash, and suddenly, a whole new year began.

on january 3rd, we sent colleen off to france for her semester abroad (which made me quite nostalgically jealous). a few days later, my parents and i headed out to california to visit family. we celebrated my grandfather's 40th "AA" birthday and also his 20th wedding anniversary with my step-grandmother! it was so much fun to see everyone again - i hadn't been out to california since the fall of 2010! yikes.

my parents left on the 14th, and in keeping with recent history, i finagled a way to stay out in cali for the following weeks... and (surprise?) i'm still here! the rest of january was spent hanging out with family and visiting my dear friend rachel up in burbank. i finally got to go to san francisco at the end of the month, to explore the city and visit a friend in the east bay. that visit ended up being quite a life-changer... if everything goes according to plan and the fates are on our side, mary lyn and i will be living in the bay area by the spring!!! big things are happening, and it is so much fun to be along for the ride.

for the month of february, i've been working with a blogger in laguna beach, helping her to launch a new project called 'french food camp.' she is a super talented cook who loves to bring the french lifestyle into her southern california home. i've been spoiled rotten with the food here - not sure i'll ever be able to feed myself adequately after this month!

next month, it's back up to the bay area to do some reconnaissance with mary lyn. as of now, i'll be home in mid-march......... maybe. ;)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

my french country internship

hello again, world. it’s been a while, so i thought this was as good a time as any to give you a little update on my goings-on! for those of you who don’t know, i’m back in france. at this point, i don’t think anyone can really be surprised… it seems to happen pretty often these days. but how did i get here, you ask? well, it’s a fun story!

back in may, when i got home from my last stint of working in france and traveling in europe, i didn’t have much of a plan. (shocker, right?) i knew that i had a friend from france coming to visit me in nashville at the end of the summer, so i was hesitant to find a “big girl job” that would take away from my ability to spend time with her. apparently, normal jobs don’t give you two weeks of paid vacation… weird. plus, i still thought i was going to be taking a big road trip before  her arrival… so really, i had no true motivation to get my career going. instead, i lived at home and pieced together an income throughout the summer, working as an assistant coach for my neighborhood swim team (the same one i was on for 14 summers!), tutoring french, and dogsitting. it was fun and relaxing – exactly what i needed the summer to be, in order to avoid the reentry shock that i suffered last time around. as the summer drew on, certain plans formed and other plans fell through… the roadtrip ended up getting postponed for another time, and my friend mathilde came for two weeks. i flew up to meet her in new york city, taking advantage of her flight route to spend a few days touring around with her. we came back to franklin and enjoyed a week of fun, southern adventuring and relaxation together. i got to bring her down to my friend liz’s lake house, which was fabulous, and we had a couple good days in nashville as well.

all throughout the summer, mathilde’s departure was my mental d-day – i was allowed to lay low and not think about the future until after she left. it seemed so far away during the months of june and july, but finally, the week was upon me… her departure was set for august 20th. i could feel the pressure mounting as my mantra of priorities – “car, job, house” – started to get louder and louder. and then, everything got crazy. on the 17th, my mom sent me a link to a blog  that she had been following for some time called ‘my french country home.’ the author of the blog, sharon, was looking for someone to help her through a hectic few months – a sort of unofficial fall internship. the ideal candidate: young(ish) with few attachments and responsibilities (i.e. able to pick up and leave); be willing to live in the french countryside for a few months; have a love for all things french, antique, travel, writing; be interested in learning about publishing, blogging, travel planning. as i read the post, i couldn’t help but feel like it would be foolish not to at least send an email. what could it hurt? so, i spent an hour drafting up a message that introduced me, explained a little about my history, and gave a few reasons why i would like to be chosen as the intern. i sent it late sunday night. by wednesday, i had a response that detailed the job a little more and requested a conversation on skype if i was still interested. on friday, i skyped with sharon for about half an hour and we hit it off really well – she told me she would decide within the week and let me know. the following friday, i was offered the job, and i bought my tickets on sunday. so, within the span of two weeks, i learned about, applied for, interviewed for, accepted, and bought tickets for an 8 week internship in normandy! definitely the fastest one of my europe trips has ever come together. :)

i had two weeks to get everything sorted before leaving on the 14th of september. when i arrived, sharon picked me up from the airport and brought me back to her beautiful home, located in normandy, to the west of paris. it’s a beautiful area of the country, with rolling hills and winding rivers. i have been staying in the guest cottage, which is exactly as charming as you’re imagining. her husband and son are both incredibly nice and there are two dogs, gibson and ghetto, whom i adore. my job has been great – lots of variety and fun excursions. i’ve done everything from assisting at glamorous photo shoots and helping facilitate group tours to carrying out the everyday, behind-the-scenes maintenance of the blog. it’s been a dream to see some of the places i’ve gotten to visit – glitzy parisian hotels, charming 17th century homes, huge antique fairs, and quaint village squares, just to name a few. learning about the blogiverse has been interesting as well – the amount of work it takes would genuinely astound you. if you would like to see photos from my time here in normandy, check out this album or my instagram.

i actually just got back from visiting a friend in sweden, but that’s a story for a different post. :) this internship has flown by – it’s my sixth week of work already, and i only have two more after this one! once i leave here, i’ll have two weeks of travels before heading home at the end of november. then, the winter, with more adventures already on the books. i truly am living the dream, y’all. i can't believe my life sometimes. cheers to the uncertainty, flexibility, adventure, and joy that being 23 offers!

a portrait of the author, laughing in the face of conventional employment - honfleur, france - september 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

mother's day in france and ireland

one final update from this past year, and then i promise i have more recent news for you all!!

after three weeks in turkey and greece with some fantastic friends, i made my way back to paris at the beginning of may to intercept my final two visitors – my mom and aunt!! we had planned a sort of dual-purpose mother’s day trip, splitting my final two weeks in europe between france and ireland. it worked out perfectly, because i needed to get back to dublin for my flight home anyway, and they both had dreamed for years of visiting ireland. but first, we had to get the bags i had left in excideuil, and of course i had to show them around paris!

we rented a little airbnb apartment near the gare du nord in paris, and used it as a home base for a whirlwind two days in the city of lights. in order to hit the ground running and beat the jet lag, i pretty much dragged them all over the city on their first day. they were total troopers, humouring me as i offered sight after sight, in an effort to keep them awake until a reasonable hour. we finally hit the wall around 4pm at the musée d’orsay, and we headed back for a light dinner and early bedtime. we even saw the eiffel tower twinkling in the distance from our apartment window. :) the next day was our only full day in the city, and we made it seriously full. i like to walk when i travel, so we covered a good bit of ground – shopping in montmartre, strolling along the champs elysees, treating ourselves to a nice dinner near the arc de triomphe, and then ending with a trip up to the middle level of the eiffel tower. if you’re going to visit paris for only a day or two, that’s the way to do it! see the sights, get a taste for the local neighborhood flair, and soak up the atmosphere. a wonderful visit!
in order to get back down to excideuil with all our belongings, we decided to forgo the train and just rent a car. thanks to the mobility inherent in controlling your own methods of transportation, we even got to make a pitstop at versailles on the way south! i had already visited a few times, but neither my mom nor my aunt had ever seen it. we kind of breezed through the palace (it was majorly crowded, and difficult to enjoy) and then took the little palace train out to marie antoinette’s hamlet. back when the palace was still a royal residence, the then-queen had a little faux village constructed on the grounds, so she could go play peasant whenever the fancy struck her. it makes sense when you think that this was the woman who, upon hearing that the people of her country had no bread to eat, responded with “let them eat cake!”… still, though, the hamlet was so beautiful and charming and cool. definitely my favourite part of versailles. despite the pouring rain as we were leaving, and my inability to determine the proper route to take in the car, we finally got on the road to excideuil after lunch.

it was so strange to be back in my little village with my family. after the hustle and bustle of paris, it was such a relaxing few days, despite all of the tasks i needed to accomplish before leaving. it was great to see my friends again, and i was happy to have a chance to say goodbye to everyone officially, but my favourite part was getting to show my mom and aunt the area. we took advantage of having the rental car to go a bit further afield, checking out the chateau de hautefort and a few antique shops in the area. thanks to the generosity of one of my colleagues, we got to stay in a beautiful guest house just outside of town, and we were invited to eat with the family two of the three nights we were there. heaaaven! i never got over how kind and generous everyone was in excideuil – it’s one of the best aspects of living in the countryside. i was sad to leave, but the next step was so enticing that i couldn’t help but be excited as well!

on mother’s day, we loaded up the car for a relatively short drive to bordeaux, returned the rental car at the airport and finally made our way to dublin! it was so great to be able to accompany my mom and aunt to such a meaningful place. the first few days of our trip were spent in the city, exploring and shopping and just generally enjoying the atmosphere. we ate at several excellent pubs (including a touristy one in temple bar, but i love it anyway), saw the sights, and i tried to give them a sense for why i love ireland so much. truly, though, you have to get out of the city to really understand… so the second half of our trip was a four day tour of the country! we rented a car (with only a few hiccups to start the adventure) and headed west. our first stop was the true homeland – county mayo, where my maternal great-great-grandmother, delia, was born. after several more children were born, the family emigrated to the united states in the 1860s. my mom has done so much research over the years, delving into records of births, baptisms, marriages, immigration, deaths… you name it. all her work paid off, though, when we finally arrived in the teeny parish of islandeady and got to browse the church’s documents. we found the original, handwritten record of delia’s baptism, signed by her parents, william and anne. we enjoyed a stroll through the parish cemetery and a lovely night in a b&b nearby. the next day, we hopped back in the car for the drive down through country galway to county clare. we stopped to check out the cliffs of moher, which were soon covered in the thickest white fog i have ever seen, and then made our way to ennis. one of the best moments of our trip for me was getting to introduce my mom and aunt to my dear friend shane’s parents. they only live half an hour from ennis, so they kindly agreed to make the drive in for a few pints with us in town! it was so fun to spend time together, chatting away in a cheery local pub.

the following day was simultaneously the best and most stressful day of our trip, in my opinion. we made the drive down to blarney castle without a hitch, and enjoyed a marvelous afternoon exploring the gardens, visiting the castle, and even kissing that stone. which, in actuality, is part of the wall just under the battlements, requiring you to lean backwards and several feet down to reach it. thank goodness for the guy who holds you while you make the effort! we left blarney in time to head into cork for a late lunch and a walk around town. the stress came later, when we decided to get as much driving as possible out of the way that evening, in order to lessen the road time back to dublin the following day. we made it all the way from cork to waterford, hoping to find a nice b&b to stay in for our last country evening. waterford proved to be too urban, so we ventured past the city and towards the coast… not wanting to settle for something just because it was there, we kept driving until it was nearly dark. we were starting to get a little nervous, because eventually there was nothing around us… so we stopped to ask two ladies out walking, and they pointed us down the road to the haven hotel. and truly, it lived up to its name. one of the most beautiful country manor homes i’ve seen, and the staff was absolutely delightful. we arrived just around 9pm, and they happily offered to feed us a full meal. the whole building was splendidly decorated, and our room was so charming… we couldn’t have asked for better. we passed our final night on the road in high spirits, praising the irish luck that brought us to such a fabulous spot.

the last few days in ireland were spent winding down – my mom and aunt from their two week trip, and me from my 9 month one! we drove back up to dublin, stopping in a few villages along the way, and ended up at the airport hotel. the following morning, we drove into the city, returned the car, and spent the day visiting the guinness storehouse and having one last pub dinner. it was a great way for me to officially say goodbye to europe – one last pint! i did get one bonus day with my friend shane, after seeing mom and aunt sandy off to the airport. we spent the day just hanging out and enjoying the company. it was a nice bookend to my trip, because shane was the one who picked me up at the airport back in september, and he also came with me as i left. he truly is a precious friend! it was hard to leave such an amazing year behind... and that finally wraps up the blog posts! if you want to see pictures from our trip together, you can check out the album here. :)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

frunneymoon, part two - island time

after soaking up the history in athens, the second half of our trip was spent gallivanting around the islands. (man. just reading that sentence makes me want to pinch myself – i have had so many cool adventures, i sometimes can’t believe it’s real life.) we had organized a three-island route, starting in serifos, passing through paros, and ending in santorini. our plans started off perfectly – we got the ferry to serifos with no problems (except a little seasickness on my part) and made our way up to our first b&b, which entailed a fairly long up-hill evening hike with our bags. little did we know, our host was waiting for us at the dock in his truck… whoops. we found this out by taking a wrong turn at the very end of our hike, and ending up in a very dark, very isolated little courtyard of houses. no b&b in sight. after a few minutes of deliberation, we decided to knock on the door of the nearest house and ask for directions. slightly intimidating, and even worse because of the language gap – thank goodness for those few phrases we had learned! we eventually got our point across and the man called our host, michael, who came to find us. so.. all’s well that ends well, i guess. due to funky ferry schedules, we only had one night in serifos, so we took advantage of our nice b&b to relax, take a hot shower, and just decompress from the hustle and bustle of athens. it was a fabulous evening!

our ferry the following day wasn’t until after dinner, so we had the whole day to explore the little island. we packed our things and brought them down to michael’s little grocery shop on the bay, where he let us store them for the afternoon. after buying a few snacks, we headed to the beach, where we proceeded to plop down for at least an hour. since we were there at the end of april/beginning of may, the true summer season hadn’t yet begun, which meant we basically had the place to ourselves. it was pretty hot, but we were on the windy side of the island, so the breeze kept us cool... too cool, actually, because we didn’t realize how fried we got until way later… whoops. after having a small lunch at a restaurant on the beach, we decided to hike up to the ancient capital of the island, chora. it was only a mile and a half, but it was honestly all uphill. like, a mile of stairs. it was so amazing, though, because the path took us through the old village, past the classic little white houses with blue shutters and big red bougainvillea bushes, and once we reached the top, we had an unbelievable view. really windy, though!! we spent a few minutes taking photos and admiring the view and then started making our way back down to the harbor. we grabbed our bags, said goodbye to michael and his wife, and then stopped for a cup of tea on our way to the dock. that tea break ended up being one of our coolest memories from the islands, all because we met a 98-year-old woman named maria out on the terrace. the waiter translated for us for a few minutes, and we chatted about her experiences as a native of the island. eventually, though, the waiter had to go help other customers.. but that didn’t stop maria from talking to us! we sat there for nearly a half an hour, laughing along with her to jokes we only sort of understood. she had two cats with her, and i’m pretty sure she explained that one of them was the other one’s mother, and also that her husband had passed away a few years ago (she mimed a dead person to explain that one, hands crossed across the chest and eyes closed). but regardless of the fact that we hardly understood each other, it was awesome to sit and share a moment with someone like maria.

after our tea, we headed down to the dock to catch our ferry to paros. as we waited, a man who had talked to us for a few minutes in the café came up to us and handed me a small gift bag, saying it was a “memory from serifos.” when he walked away, we looked in the bag to find two coffee mugs, painted with typical mediterranean villages. mine had a sailboat and liz’s had a donkey! very random and very kind. kind of like greece. the night got weird, however, when our ferry showed up an hour and a half late… which meant we got to paros very, very late. urgh. and due to the may 1st holiday, the ferry schedules were limited for the following days, so we had to reevaluate our timing a little bit. we ended up deciding to just spend the night in paros and take a 10am ferry the next morning, in order to have a more relaxing stay on santorini. we managed to walk around the main town on the island that morning, but it hardly counted as a visit to the island. oh well.. next time!

in retrospect, our decision was an excellent one. we got to santorini in the early afternoon (a day early) and found the shuttle for our hostel. it turned out that the place liz had found for us to stay was like… the greatest hostel that has ever existed. i cannot express how nice it was. the place was pretty new and beautifully maintained, in the classic white/peach mediterranean style with a huge pool and cabana bar. we had our own suite, with full beds, a huge (clean!) bathroom, a kitchenette, wifi… all for 13 euro per night. and they didn’t care that we were showing up a night early. it was unreal. plus, we met two sisters basically our age on the shuttle who were staying the same days as us, so we had friends for our visit! the extra day we had on the island meant that we could do a fun tour and have a day to just bum around on the beaches, plus we had three evenings to go into the villages. we literally could not have dreamed up a better situation.

our first full day, we were talked into taking an adventure boat tour by poppy, the amazing woman who runs the hostel. she signed us up the night before and told us when to catch the bus down to the harbor. amanda and brianna (the sisters we met) had decided to come as well, so, around 9am, the four of us found ourselves on a big boat full of tourists, heading out to sea. the boat looked kind of like a pirate ship – it was all wooden and had the rope rigging and big masts and everything… it was cool. our first stop on the tour was the volcano in the middle of the caldera. santorini is famously crescent-shaped – the island itself is actually the rim of the volcano crater, sticking up out of the water. we popped over to a volcanic island in the middle of the bay, where were were allowed to get off the boat and walk around. i may have snuck some volcanic rock for my amateur-geologist mom. as it turns out, volcanoes aren’t very interesting if there’s not like.. lava. it kind of just looked like a very arid, rocky, hilly island. but, anyway.. our second stop was to a hot springs near another island in the volcanic grouping. normally, the boat goes way closer to the spring, but there were other tours there already, so we had to drop anchor about 100 meters away from the spring. they had announced that anyone wanting to swim to the springs needed to go downstairs and change clothes as we approached… the four of us waffled for about 10 minutes, and then finally bri said she was going to do it, which propelled the rest of us into action. a quick minute later, i found myself jumping off the side of a (rather large) boat, into the very cold mediterranean ocean. brr. the swim wasn’t very long, but it was tough going with the waves. to make matters worse, when we got to the hot springs, we discovered that it was really more of a tepid spring. to call it warm would have been generous. plus, we had waited so long deciding that we were called back to the boat within like 2 minutes of getting to the spring. sigh. the swim back was even harder, going against the current, but we all made it back and quickly dried off. all in all, kind of a disappointment, but a worthwhile experience, just for the story. the rest of the day was much less exhausting. we stopped at a different island for lunch, and then made our way over to oia, one of the more famous villages on santorini. it’s where you see all those pictures of the homes clustered together on the cliffs, little blue domes of churches poking out here and there. as we hiked our way up some more nearly vertical steps, we stopped to admire the progressively more impressive view. we made it to the top and explored shops lining the single pathway through the village. after grabbing a quick dinner, we headed to the very end of the village’s main thoroughfare… along with a whole drove of fellow sunset spectators. oia is best known as the place to watch the sunset on santorini, because it has an unobstructed western-facing view. and boy, is the sunset worth seeing in oia. we admired the fading pastels (along with hundreds of others) until the last sliver of the glowing sun slid beneath the horizon… and then there was applause. literally. people applauded the sunset. as twilight fell, we made our way to the meeting place and got on the bus back to our hostel. such an adventurous, memorable day!

day two of santorini was perhaps equally adventurous, in a totally different way. along with amanda and brianna, we rented four-wheelers and took off for the beaches! i’d only driven a four-wheeler a couple times, but the guy at the rental place showed me the basics and i picked it up pretty quickly. once we were squared away, we picked up a picnic lunch at the grocery store, checked the map and hit the road. i distinctly remember the feeling of the wind on my face, as we zipped along a wide stretch of road overlooking the ocean. that was a glorious moment. even though we got slightly lost, the whole island is small, so we made it to the beach we had been looking for in good time. we chose a beach on the southern side of the island, known for its red and black sand. after hiking over the rocks to actually access the beach, we settled in for a few hours of blissful mediterranean beach lounging. we played in the water, ate our lunches, and laid around on the sand for a few hours, until we were all simply too hot. so, we packed up the bags, and headed to akrotiri, a cool archaeological site nearby. it had been destroyed pompeii-style by a volcanic eruption many centuries ago, but we got to see a little bit of how the city would have looked just by observing the way the foundations were structured. very historical, very interesting. we made our way back to the rental shop, returned the four-wheelers, and grabbed some take-out gyros to eat by the pool for dinner. we sat and talked for a long time, finally saying goodnight (and goodbye!) as we went to our separate rooms to pack.

we woke up bright and early to catch our flight off the island, heading back to istanbul. the teensy little airport was basically just big enough to manage one flight at a time, so there were only maybe 50 or 60 people there. although our flight plan was changed a little last minute, we eventually made it back to istanbul for a two day whirlwind visit. we stayed with my friend alex again (bless her, and her darling flatmate liz), so liz could have a quick taste of turkey (hah!) before we both flew away to our next destinations! it was incomprehensibly fun to have liz come traveling with me – i love seeing new places, but i love seeing them with friends even more. we had an amazing experience in greece - i would go back in a heartbeat! if you’d like to see some pictures from this trip, you can check out the album here, starting at photo #51. :)