Saturday, June 25, 2011

a little bit of home.

sunday, 12 june 2011 – germany

my next stop was a tiny village in western germany called mehlbach. and when i say small, i think there are like 100 people who live there. the reason it was on my itinerary at all was thanks to my boyfriend. or, really, his mom. when she learned i’d be in the neighborhood (ie – europe), she said i had to go visit their old neighbors from huntsville. they moved here just 6 months ago, but it’s the family’s third time moving to germany. drew suggested nancy, the mom, to me on facebook in february.. and we’ve been in contact ever since! she was more than happy to welcome me at their home for a few days, so it went right on my list. i said goodbye to katherine on the train and got off at the kaiserslautern station. it was easy for nancy to recognize me, considering i was the only person who got off the train! she flagged me down and gave me a welcome hug, which only confirmed my suspicions that i’d made a good decision in coming to visit! i love hugs. we walked to the car and drove back home. the village is about 20 minutes from kaiserslauten. their house is lovely – very new, clean lines, and in typical germany fashion, very sturdy. i even have my own room with a huge, real bed! the bathtub is gigantic, too. i met nancy’s husband ross and their temporary dog, a white german shepherd named apollo. a few minutes later, their boys came upstairs – don ross (12) and liam (10). they are both sweet kids, eager to talk with you and share their knowledge! i’d forgotten how influential the presence of a “cool older person” can be on young kids, though! they attached to me pretty quickly.
after a bit of visiting time, nancy and i left again to go visit the ramstein military base, except the visitor check in was a 2 hour wait! we decided to wait until later in the week to visit the base. she offered to take me to a town called trier instead. it was about an hour away, but that’s pretty standard for the area. we got there around 14h30 and wandered around for a couple hours. we saw the ‘porta nigra’, a roman ruin from the 2nd century ad. the town cathedral houses a very special relic – the tunic of christ. the cathedral itself is gorgeous – lots of detail and cool door handles! there was this awesome mechanical arm thing outside, writing out the bible on a big scroll in perfect calligraphy. we got some tasty ice cream, too. as we left, we walked through a little carnival – it reminded me of the main street festical so much. we got back to the house around 18h30 and nancy made a FANTASTIC dinner – steak, potatoes, salad, chocolate cake for dessert. so simple, so good. after dinner, we sat and talked for a while befor ei went and watched half of ‘a knight’s tale’ with the boys. after such a long day, i was exhausted by 23h and went to sleep in my big, comfy bed.

monday, 13 june 2011

since the night-night shades were down, it was tough to get up! i finally went downstairs around 9h45 and visited with the family. nancy had made crepes (bless her), so i ate a light breakfast. apparently, liam had eaten about 15 of them! tiny kid, too. i took a bath and then got ready for the day. nancy took me out to Heidelberg, also about an hour away. the town is so, so pretty and there was a castle tucked into the mountainside above it. the castle itself was totally different than what i’m used to seeing – made of the indigenous red clay brick and very stocky. we had to climb loads of stairs to get there, but the views were totally worth it. one part of the castle had an ‘exploding tower,’ which had been attacked by the french and blown to bits, thanks to the gunpowder stored inside. the view from the garden over the town and river was picturesque. we walked back down to the town and wandered through the streets before stopping for lunch. the restaurant was a mix of germany, Mexican, and Italian with a very rude waitress! i got chicken nachos. we left after ‘lunch’ and headed home. on the way, we stopped by the smaller military base near the house. nancy had to go in person to report a stolen GPS, which ended up being a big hassle. the two airment in charge of the paperwork were funny, though. after the police station, i finally got the experience the glory that is the commissary – it was so surreal to see american products and american prices. cheez-its, hershey syrup, poptarts, kraft mac n’ cheese.. everything. it reminded me how fat americans are though. we bought things to make dinner and headed home. when we got back, i started fixing dinner pretty much right away. i made the guacamole first and then made fajitas. they turned out well! the boys are quesadillas and nancy, ross and i ate the real meal. for dessert, i replicated the mascarpone/jam/strawberries idea from earlier. it was really nice to cook for my hosts, since they’d been so great to me! after dinner, i went upstairs to catch up on blogging before bed.

tuesday, 14 june 2011

i woke up around 9h30 and went downstairs to eat waffles with the boys. we all got dressed and the boys came with us to ramstein for the day’s outing. nancy drove us around and gave me a little etour of the place. we went to the base’s shopping mall, called the BX, to get a new GPS and some taco bell for me – yes. the taste of summer. i got a few souvenirs as well. it was super weird to be in such an ‘american’ place in a foreign country. i also go to use the library computer for a little bit while nancy and the boys went to get groceries. i just checked my emails and whatnot for about 20 minutes until they came back. once we got home, i took another bath (yay baths!) and read for a while before setting myself down to finish catching up on the parental visit blog. i even got through typing up my belgium post! i played rummy with nancy and ross until dinner time. she made this chicken dish with sundried tomatoes and artichoke.. SO good. after dinner, i got to take over the kitchen and bake!! i made chocolate chip cookies, mostly because they’re so easy and delicious. they went over well with everyone, and i got my baking fix! nancy helped me buy my train ticket to st. gallen, switzerland for thursday. i stayed on the computer, searching for couches and talking online, until about 23h45 and then went to bed.

wednesday, 15 june 2011

last day at the ratcliffe's! it was a lazy day. we basically sat around the house.. i cleaned a bit, did laundry, blogged, and worked on the computer. it was so cute, apollo was trying to fight with the vacuum, and then he would go hide behind an armchair if i 'attacked' with it. :) i finally got all my blogging 'caught up'! nancy and i went to the vogelwah base to pick up some forms and we stopped at the commissary as well. for dinner, we had p.f. chang's general chicken (i forgot the name!) and rice.. talk about a blast from america! it was delicious. i made a rockin' cookie sundae for dessert. we sat and watched top gear for a while, and then i went to go take one last bath. i finished reading 'the screwtape letters', which was phenomenal! i used the computer to do more couchsearching, but the internet died before i could post the last blog. whoops! i finished packing and fell right to sleep.

thursday, 16 june 2011

i woke up at 7h30 to finish my internet stuff.. once i sent everything off, i gathered all my belongings and we headed to the train station. nancy and the boys dropped me off around 9h outside the station.. we said goodbye for now and i continued on my way!

*germany was awesome, thanks in TOTAL to the ratcliffe family. they housed me, fed me, drove me around..  i could never thank them enough! i can't wait for them to move back to huntsville so i can see them again! :)

(up next, switzerland!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

belgian waffles and a marathon.

wednesday, 8 june 2011 

...i got the 12h15 train to brussels via lille, and got to brussels in about 2 hours… gotta love those TGVs. i had barely finished my sandwich before the journey was over. the train for the second leg was a ‘eurostar’, which was fun. they did announcements in 4 languages – french, english, dutch, and german! loved that.
once i arrived, i had to find my way from the station to my host julie’s flat. the directions she gave me were good, but with my bags, it took me loger than expected. i got to her place around 15h15 and settled down for a bit – got some water, changed into shorts, talked to julie, etc. around 4, i left to go explore. i had no map, but since everything was new, i didn’t really have a direction picked out. i just wandered around and turned when i saw something interesting. there’s a big 50th anniversary park that was very beautiful. i saw some cute Belgian houses and buildings, and got an ice cream. at one point, i figured i’d gone far enough out of town, so i made my way back on a completely different path. my sense of direction was in top form! i wandered further downtown and saw all the EU buildings – HUGE. i felt like i was in a city completely comprised of EU offices. i walked for a solid 3 hours, taking little breaks here and there.

i got back around 19h and met the other CSer staying with julie. her name is katherine, she’s from alberta, canada, and she’s lovely! the three of us sat and talked, ate some soup, and then made dinner – chicken in a masala sauce. yum! after letting that digest, we did the dishes and got ready to go out. julie took us to the city centre (which i hadn’t yet seen!) for a little tour. she showed us the grand place, which is surrounded on all sides by beautiful 17th century Flemish buildings – it was breathtaking. we went to see the mannekin-pis statue, which is tiny! and got waffles. SO GOOD. we strolled around for a while, and stopped in delirium café bar for a drink. in 2004, it held the record for most beers available – 2004 beers! the menu was half an inch thick. seriously. i ot a light, fruity beer (surprise) and really liked it! i also very nearly guessed what part of england our bartender was from. just the wrong side of london… i said west ham, but it was fulham. we left around midnight and hopped on the metro home. when we got in around half past midnight, julie’s boyfriend came over and we all went to bed pretty shortly thereafter. i stayed up for a bit writing postcards, but went to sleep around half 1. it had been such a crazy day! wake up in paris with my parents, go to bed in brussels with plans to visit luxembourg with a brand new friend. three cheers for europe, traveling, and especially couchsurfing!

thursday, 9 june 2011

thursday was a walking day. our goals were to go to the museum of fine arts and buy stamps at the post office. we woke up around 10 and ate breakfast with julie. after some lazy lounging, we got dressed and left the apartment around noon. katherine and i decided to go on foot, so we could see the city and same some money too! the apartment wasn’t too far from the downtown “old” district.. if you go the right way. we rarely consulted the map so we ended up wandering a fair distance off the course. but we got to see some new parts of the city that way! once we realized that we were going the exact wrong direction, however, we checked our location and turned around. on the way into town, we stopped in a beautiful cathedral and also bought some chocolate gifts from cote d’or - julie had let us try some of the chocolate spread (à la nutella) and it was amazing! i got some from the ratcliffe family and a small box of chocolates for julie. we continued on to search for lunch, finally finding a kebab-esque place just off the grand place. after my last kebab experience, i went with a vegetarian pita. we went and got waffles for dessert – delish. we walked on to find the main post office, where i bough some stamps for my collection and some for postcards. we sent our mail and started to make our way to the art museum. after not checking the map again, we headed in sort of the wrong direction, but that brought us to the main cathedral on the hill! nice. we eventually made it to the mont des arts, where we sat and rested for a while. we finally got to the museum around 16h45, only to discover that it closes at 17h. whoops. the best part was when we looked just down the street, we realized that we’d walked about two blocks away a few hours earlier and not realized it. double whoops. we just laughed and decided to come back the next morning. our journey home was uneventful – we took the metro to avoid another long trek. i picked up some peppers and a courgette to go with dinner – the plan was just to have fries, belgian style, but i needed some veggie action! the meal was good, though, and we made a lovely dessert of strawberry sorbet, raspberries, and chocolate sauce. yes. after dinner, we hung out and then watched a movie online called “chaperone” – it was funny, in an awful movie sort of way. i skyped shane (who’s meeting us in LONDON next month!!!) and my mom briefly before heading to bed.

friday, 10 june 2011 - belgium

katherine and i woke up around 8h to pack up and be ready to go around 9h30. we walked to the metro, went to the train station downtown, and bought our tickets for later in the afternoon. once we got those sorted, we headed back up the hill to finally go to the art museum. the combiticket was only 3 euro, so we got it – magritte museum and the fine arts! the magritte museum was okay – none of his “known” stuff, but still cool to see. so much symbolism.. i think! we got through there by 11h15 or so and went next door to fine arts. it was also okay. i don’t love the northern school, so i wasn’t too overwhelmed. i did see “marat assassiné”, which made the 3 euro totally worth it. we looked in the museum of music but it was too expensive so we got sandwiches instead. we went back to julie’s at 13h to get our stuff and say goodbye. we got a bus to the station and hopped on our 2 hour (thanks to the TEN stops) train ride to luxembourg! i’d found a host for us there, and it was so nice to be going with a buddy.

*belgium was so great. i’d like to see more when i go back; ghent, brugge, antwerp. i loved the food – waffles and fries! – and the architecture. the people are very lively and kind. plus, i bet they have a great sense of humour once you get to know them – with the most famous landmark in the city being a tiny statue of a naked, peeing boy, i think you’d have to have a strong humour!

friday, 10 june 2011 - luxembourg

we arrived at the train station around 16h45 and waited about 20 minutes for our host chistian to show up. he had agreed to host us even though he was already hosting another guy, an american studying in Amsterdam. the other surfer, nate, was arriving via bus around 18h, so we dropped our stuff in christian’s car and went to get a coffee and kill an hour. he is such a nice guy! we had a lovely chat over our various drinks and only left when the employees kicked us out. we went and waited for nate, making bets on who he was as people arrived. his bus was late, but he showed up around 18h30. i was so convinced that a different guy was nate that i followed the guy for a bit. but nate showed up (not wearing the blue shirt that’d he’d promised to wear!) and we headed back to the flat. on the way, we stopped and checked out a sweet park behind the philharmonic. great view of the city, and some very interesting sculptures. we finally got back to the flat, dropped our stuff, and began preparations for our PASTA PARTY! christian had invited three friends over – tweety, chester, and bobbie – all filipinos, all amazing! we had loads of fun over our pasta. christian, nate, and tweety were al running various distances the next day, so they needed to load up on carbs. we had an awesome dessert of strawberries, mascarpone/jam, and crumbled shortbread…heavenly! they left around 23h or so and we all hung out until perhaps 1h before saying goodnight. katherine and i shared a room with a giant blow up mattress – nice!

saturday, 11 june 2011

marathon day! we woke up around 9h and ate breakfast befor e heading out for our tour around the city. i bought a stamp for my collection and we walked all over – even down to the valley floor, a neighborhood called ‘grund’. it was so beautiful, and reminded me VERY much of the island of sodor from thomas the tank engine – stone arch bridges with trains on top, colourful houses, valleys.. i don’t know, it was just all very sodor-y. :) we had a lovely morning – sheep’s milk ice cream from the market! – and then got sushi for lunch later. i even tried a few rolls! mostly, though, i ate pineapple. we headed bac to the flat so nate and christian could rest before their run 0 katherine and i napped as well. around 16h30, we left again. christian dropped katherine and me off downtown, and continued with nate to the ‘luxexpo’, where the race began. we had about 4 hours before they would pass our designated spot. there is an awesome pirate park where we played for a while to kill time.. the slide was so sweet! we wandered around, got mcdonald’s for dinner (with a free side salad!) and did some souvenir shopping. around 19h, we went to stake out our spot. runners started passing us around 19h45, and nate passed at 20h20. we never saw christian, though! :( we ran and caught nate again, and then cheered for random people until nearly 21h before we started walking to the finish line. it was a long walk – nearly 7km – but the night was so nice. we met up with christian, who finished the half-marathon in about 1 hour 44 minutes, and then nate came along a while later, finishing his first full marathon in just over 4 hours! amazing. we got lots of pictures. unfortunately for them, we had to walk about 2km back to the car, and with all the road blocks, we didn’t get back to the flat until around midnight. we were all hungry, so we ate hamburger patties and leftover pasta. everyone split off around 1h30, and katherine and i stayed up talking until about 3h.

sunday, 12 june 2011 - luxembourg

the morning came quickly again.. i got up around 7h30 to pack up. we all ate breakfast together and left for the train station around 8h30. nate’s bus back to amsterdam left at 9h, and our train was at 9h15. since katherine was going to a city nearish to mehlbach, my next stop, we got to ride the bus/train together until my stop! we had a nice stopover in saarbrucken, where i successfully ordered two pastries in german, only to realize that i didn’t understand anything after my initial order. oh well!

*luxembourg was a great example of having no expectations and then having an amazing time. it was all about the people – katherine, nate, christian.. even tweety, chester, and bobbie! plus, the city itself is so great. i loved the cute buildings and the old abbey in the grund neighborhood. all in all, it was another raving couchsurfing success that i believe will yield true friendships in the future.

--next up; germany!

Friday, June 17, 2011

bob and mary go to france.

dear reader.. i must beg your pardon. i didn’t realize how difficult it would be to blog without a computer! and even when i did have access to a computer, i didn’t have time to really sit down and write. so, here i am.. with many days behind me and nothing to show for it on here! whoops. make a cup of tea, pop some popcorn, turn on your answering machines.. this post is gonna be a big one.

monday, 30 may 2011

arrival day!!! the parental voyage to france finally took place. they had a LONG day of traveling (flights changed, airport transfers, etc) but they finally made it. as a fortunate coincidence, my dear friend andrea was arriving at charles de gaulle aiport at approximately the same time as my parents! since they were going to be on the same train, i asked her to meet up with them and kind of guide them to angers. it worked perfectly! i hadn’t slept much the night before, as i had stayed up very late packing and cleaning and saying bye to people. i got about 3 hours of sleep before i woke up to see claire off at the bus stop! then i got another hour and a half before danielle knocked on my door to put her stuff in my room, since her check-out appointment was super early. she actually stayed in my room for her last night, since she had to leave for the airport at 6h on tuesday! i took another brief nap until about 10h and then got up to keep cleaning, etc. danielle and i went into town to do shopping for dinner and eat lunch around 13h. at 15h30, we met andrea and my parents at the station. it was such a great moment.. really happy to see them, and kind of surreal that they were actually there. andrea and danielle went their separate ways to take care of things while i brought the parentals to the nearby hotel to check in and drop the bags. we rested for a little while and then went to meet andrea for a late lunch at my favourite café – la gourmandise, on the plaza with the maison d’adam and the back of the cathedral. we had sandwiches and drinks (with ICE!) and talked for a while.

once we finished eating, we walked around town for just a little while before hopping on a bus back to belle-beille. i had plans to make dinner for everyone one last time in the belle-beille kitchen.. except the kitchen on my floor was closed. lame. we cooked one floor down. lots of people came and it was really fun! our final fajita night.. sigh. it was weird without my main 4th floor crew there (jessie, emma, shane) but i still enjoyed it. ;) we cleaned up and gathered my bags to bring back to the hotel. i gave danielle my keys for the night and said goodbye to her.. sad!!! the bus took forever getting back to the hotel, but we finally made it and pretty much collapsed into bed. mom and dad slept hard after missing a night’s sleep on the plane and going hard all day! i couldn’t sleep very well for all the noise next door and the worrying in my brain about nearly everything.

tuesday, 31 may 2011

7am came much too soon. we had to wake up early to go back to belle-beille and finish everything up before my check-out at 11h. dad helped me bag up all the ‘donate’ stuff and we took it downstairs to the secret closet where all the extra stuff is kept for next year’s residents. i also gave the desk attendant (minijupe) all the extra cheese i had in my fridge. we walked the other box of stuff over to the international office on campus so i could show mom and dad what school looked like. we dropped it off, said happy summer, checked out the library and headed back to the res. i stopped by andrea’s room to say goodbye to her, and we took some stuff to the secret closet for her. once that was done, all i needed to do was clean some more. that tiny room ended up taking forever to clean!!!! it had to be flawless though. i had gotten nearly everything done the days before, so all that was left in the morning was to clean out my fridge and wipe down the counters and the bathroom once more. i thought i’d done a pretty excellent job, but the cleaning ladies showed up and made me redo the counters and get a tiny spot off of the baseboard in the bathroom. sigh. they charged me for a missing outlet cover that i had never possessed, but since i hadn’t filled out my ‘state of the room’ form in january, i couldn’t prove i’d never had it. oh well. they took my keys and i said goodbye to that sweet little shoebox of a room. double sigh. it was actually really sad.. too many goodbyes. i did get a little bonus when minijupe stopped me on my way out and waved my fine for the missing outlet cover.. she must like cheese more than i thought! i put my parents on the bus back to the hotel with my bags and stopped by the secretary to get my security deposit back…. in CASH! woooo! that’s always nice. 

the reason i didn’t go back with my parents was because i had to bike into town one last time, to return my sweet bike! i had my (jammed-full) backpack on, so it was a moderately tough ride. rachel and laura were with me because they were heading to the train station to go on a bike tour in dijon! i said bye to them at the hotel and stopped in the room for a rest. once i’d regained my energy, the three of us went out to run some errands and explore the city some more. we first went by the bike store, where i gave back my bike for good. the next stop was the bank, where i signed a mysterious form and also made a deposit from my bank of america account to my bnp account. we got some sandwiches and snacks from la gourmandise and ate lunch on the cathedral steps… so lovely. since we were so close, we went and did the chateau tour as well – an excellent choice! the gardens looked great, and i think mom and dad enjoyed standing in a 1,000 year old fortress! we checked out the apocalypse tapestries and walked around the entire perimeter of the walls. after the chateau, we stopped by the post office so i could buy some stamps for my collection. jessie met up with us at the hotel later and the four of us went out to dinner at an awesome french-food restaurant misleadingly called ‘la cantina’. we sat and ate for a long while before saying goodnight to jessie and walking slowly back to the hotel. i severed many ties with angers that day… dorm, bike, bank (kind of), friends leaving… it felt very odd.

wednesday, 1 june 2011

HOW CAN IT POSSIBLY BE JUNE?! ugh. time is faster in europe, i swear. wednesday was our day trip to villandry, a chateau about an hour away from angers. we woke up and ate a rather-overpriced hotel breakfast before getting ready to go. mom had asked if we could visit this chateau after seeing the world-renowned gardens in a coffee table book about gardens that i got her for christmas a few years back. luckily for her, i’d already been planning on taking them there! perfect. the transit, however, was less than perfect. there is a shuttle that runs between tours (the nearest big city) and the chateau… in july and august. otherwise, you can either get a cab (which includes drive there, wait time, drive back.. easily 100 euro), rent a car, or get off at the nearest tiny train stop, called savonnieres, and walk. we took the third option. it was about 5k from the train stop, but thankfully, a girl and her dad picked us up about 30 meters into our journey and drove us there! bless them. the chateau itself was gorgeous, but the real star of the visit is the garden. or, rather, gardens. because there are so many!! it is a huge estate filled with different landscaping… and it was breathtaking. i know my mom really enjoyed it! we took loads of pictures, which will be posted in about a month when i finally get home to my laptop. we DID do the full walk back, but we left with such a head start that it ended up being perfect. we stopped in the village of savonnieres and ate some awesome pastries before finishing the last leg of the journey to the train station. after a 30 minute wait, we got on our train back to angers. for dinner, we got chicken sandwiches from the rotisserie down the street – YUM. they were enormous though.. i couldn’t finish mine. after dinner, we took a walk around angers so i could say my final goodbyes to the city itself. i was sent off with a gorgeous sunset.. viewed from my favourite spot on the cathedral steps. lovely. we went back to the hotel where i took a bath (heavenly!) and read a bit before bed.

thursday, 2 june 2011

bye bye angers! we got up around 8h again to get all of our stuff together and check out in time to be at the station by 9h. jessie met us at the station to say bye, which was sad, and we were off. it was weird to know that i will probably never see that city again… but i was so preoccupied with transporting ALL of our luggage (which was an impressive amount) that i didn’t have time to really be upset about it. we made a rather stressful transfer in le mans, thanks to a delay in our train’s arrival time, but thankfully we all made it, with all of the bags. we got to caen, our next stop, at noon and were met at the station by our couchsurfing host emilie and her mom. angels sent from heaven. her mom was there to provide the extra car needed to get all of us and our luggage to the apartment. thank you monique!! emilie’s boyfriend julien was gone for the weekend, so emilie hosted us all by herself. they live in on the third floor of a corner building, the first two floors of which are occupied by a baker school. and yes, the building smells like bread. awesome!! unfortunately, we were there on a holiday weekend, so the school was never open. the apartment was so nice!! way big for french standards, and really cutely decorated. emilie had dinner cooking for later – beef bourgignon. DOUBLE YUM. she sat and talked to us for a while, showed us a map of the city, and then walked us to the most central point of the city. from there, mom, dad, and i did a 3 hour walking tour of the city – we saw the fort (including william the conquerer’s old place), the cathedrals, a few other churches, the city hall, some great architecture, and ate some awful kebabs. by the time we got back to the apartment, we were exhausted!
dinner was such a treat. emilie had invited a friend over to join us – mathieu, who works as a tour guide for the normandy beaches! perfect!! he chatted with my parents while i helped emilie get dinner ready. she had planned a big “typical normandy” meal for us – and the full deal, too. some little finger foods and an aperitif, a paté entrée, the beef bourgignon (which was incredible), a cheese course, an apple tart for dessert, and calvados as a digestif. full on french meal status achieved! mom and dad were great about trying everything.. i was so proud. after dinner, mathieu gave my dad an itinerary for our tour the following day and we said goodnight.

friday, 3 june 2011

despite a rough night for dad’s guts, we woke up ready to take on a full day of normany touring! having stayed at emilie’s place as well, mathieu drove us to the car rental place, where i successfully picked up the car i’d reserved for us online. we were on the road by 8h30, heading to the furthest point for the start of our tour. during the visit, we stopped at saint-mere-eglise, utah beach (where dad pulled a general patton and “stormed the beach”), point du hoc, omaha beach, and finally, the american cemetery. i think it was a really excellent day for my parents… more than a bit of déjà vu for me, considering i’d done the exact same tour exactly one year beforehand. but my favourite part was seeing them all excited, so it was worth it. plus, you can never get sick of that cemetery.. it’s amazing. we returned the car at 17h45, right on time and 5km over our limit. the guy waved the overage fee and we walked back to the apartment… with a few rest breaks. we took emilie and mathieu out for dinner at a nice restaurant near the fort. we sat outside and enjoyed each other’s company until nearly 23h.. and it was just barely dark! by the time we got back to the apartment for the night, we were all VERY tired.

saturday, 4 june 2011

saturday was another transit day.. we woke up around 9am and had an awesome breakfast with emilie. once we got all packed up, emilie’s mom and sister came over and helped transport us and all of our stuff to the station. we took the 12h37 train to paris, arriving around 15h. upon arriving at the gare st. lazare in paris, we walked with all the luggage to rental apartment, which was about 15 minutes away on foot. i had found our temporary parisian home through a site called, where people can list their apartments and rent them to travelers. sometimes, people manage several listings for the various owners, sort of like an online realtor. it’s a much better alternative to hotels, especially if you can get a good deal! i had found a different apartment initially, but when there was a mix-up with the owner, the “realtor” found us a new option. it’s a 5 minute walk from the opera, and it is literally within a stone’s throw of the galeries lafayette. if you know paris, you know this is a killer location. it was SUPER hot on saturday afternoon and we were in a big shopping area.. so it was a tough walk. we were met by natalie with keys to the flat. there was a slight confusion about the number of people staying at the flat.. the woman i’d been talking to the whole time had thought there would only be two people staying, even though at one point in our conversation, i literally said “there are three of us.” so, i was a little surprised that she was surprised. but we sorted it out and there were no lasting problems! natalie left us to settle in and we enjoyed the comfy couches for a while. around 17h, we went out for a wander in the neighborhood. we walked around, looking for a place to get groceries along the way. as it turns out, there was a grocery store less than a block from our place! convenient. :) we got some essentials for the next few days and stuff for dinner. while i checked my emails, mom made spaghetti for our first parisian dinner. lovely! after dinner, we went down to the champs elysees to see the arc de triomphe and eat some laduree macaroons.. win! we had an awesome walk around the area and then hurried back to the flat, just barely beating the rain home.

sunday, 5 june 2011

sunday was tough on the old feet.. we walked a LONG way, all over paris. we started out from the apartment and walked to the musee d’orsay, passing by the madeleine church and the place de la concorde. our goal for sunday was to visit some museums, since all museums in paris are free on the first sunday of every month. unfortunately, that was the plan of about 10,000 of our best friends too. the lines were WAY long, and even if they had moved quickly, the museums would have been too crowded. we decided to punt the museum idea and do a seine walk instead, from the muse d’orsay down to notre dame. we stopped and got sandwiches at sidewalk café, eating our snacks from home alongside the baguette sammies. it was a gorgeous day, which made for a lovely picnic. before heading to notre dame, we got to do something i had actually never done, which was visit sainte chapelle. it is an incredible 13th century chapel built on the same island as notre dame, but not as part of it. in fact, when sainte-chapelle was constructed, notre dame already looked like it does today! crazy. the thing that makes sainte-chapelle so special is the panoramic stained glass windows, depicting several stories from the bible and the lives of some saints. really, you just have to see the place to understand how overwhelming it is. i was so happy to finally get a chance to see it.. third time’s the charm! from there, we went to see notre dame, which i think the parentals really enjoyed. it’s amazing to think that something can be so intricate and massive at the same time. i dragged mom and dad to my favourite place on earth – the bookstore shakespeare & co – where i bought a copy of the screwtape letters and just soaked up the awesomeness. since we were on the right side of the river and kind of in the neighborhood, we took a walk to the gardens of luxembourg, meandering our way through the little side streets and just admiring the atmosphere. there was a cute little band playing in a bandstand in the park, so we sat and listened to them for a while. we took the path to the metro stop that brought us by the pantheon and the church next door. we didn’t go inside the pantheon, but it’s still pretty excellent to see from the outside. i stopped in a boulagerie and got a few little quiches and a baguette to complete our dinner, and then we took the metro home. there were no grocery stores open, so we just had the quiches for dinner, with fromage frais/muesli/honey as a side and some bread. after dinner, we walked down the street to sit on the opera steps and watch a distant lightening storm. we stayed out late enough to see it all lit up and then i made mom and dad hurry back, because i was nervous about how dark and scary the sky was looking, with clouds coming towards us really fast. we juuuust barely beat storm home – second night in a row!

monday, 6 june 2011

on monday, we got up and walked to the train station for our early train to giverny! thanks to a stupid mistake on my part, our tickets ended up being 30 euro more expensive, because i forgot to validate them at the station.. so when the conductor came through the car, he charged us 10 euro for each unstamped ticket. ugh. that was frustrating, and in conjuction with the rainy morning, i was in a bit of a bad mood. we got to giverny finally and visited monet’s house and gardens. it was nice to get to go back there after 3 years, and there were lovely flowers in bloom – poppies and water lilies in particular. the weather cleared up a bit and we ate lunch at a really neat restaurant called the ‘hotel baudy’, where american painters used to stay when they came to visit monet back in the early 1900’s. i finally got to see monet’s grave, which i hadn’t seen last time. we looked in the little church before heading back to the bus stop where the shuttle came to take us to the train station. we rode the train back (with validated tickets) and then went back to apartment for a nap. we went back out afterwards and stopped in monoprix for snacks and lunch meat. we ate a quick dinner before heading out for our evening at the eiffel tower. we started at the trocadero, which is a plaza across the seine from the tower, to get the best views of the tower before walking over and going to the very tippy top. it was pretty sweet, and i know they really enjoyed it! we stayed on the tower for a while, seeing the views from all sides and each level before we went back to the ground. we walked back across to the trocadero to watch the tower twinkle, took some pictures, and then rode the metro home. while we were out, the apartment owner, marc, had returned, so we met him and visited for a while before finally retiring to our rooms for bed.

tuesday, 7 june 2011

tuesday was our last day in paris. in order to take full advantage of it, we were up and out of the apartment by 8h45 after a quick breakfast. since sunday’s museum plan fell through, we took the metro to the muse d’orsay to start our day. the line was relatively quick, so we were in by 10h. We saw pretty much everything inside, making sure to see all the art we could. i love the orsay, because it has all the impressionist art. my mom got to see lots of the pieces that her art class kids imitate, which was really cool. we had a museum lunch snack and then finished our tour of the museum before heading to the next stop. we had purchased dual tickets to the orsay and the musee de l’orangerie, where monet’s giant last works are displayed. we walked all the way over there only to discover that the orangerie is closed on tuesdays. another stupid mistake on my part.. so that was disappointing. we punted that idea and left to explore the tuileries garden, in front of the louvre. since we had packed a light lunch, we sat by the fountain and ate our ham baguette sandwiches and peppers. we walked home the long way, stopping to check out the madeleine church on the way. it was a little rainy, so once we got back we decided to abandon the original sacre coeur plan. instead, we spent the evening organizing the bags, talking to the owners of the apartment, and just hanging out. after months of standing on its last leg, my laptop finally gave up the ghost. i guess it was good timing, considering the parentals were bringing it back to the states on wednesday. i used marc’s computer to do some final planning and check my emails. i took a cold shower (lame) and washed my hair.. so that mom could trim it. i swear, i could feel the difference even though she only took off about an inch. she walked with me to the train station to buy my ticket to brussels for the next day. we stopped to get just a few things for dinner and then headed back to the flat. we ate the rest of the spaghetti for dinner and then staged the bags for the morning before heading to bed.

wednesday, 8 june 2011

parental departure day. we woke up early, got all our stuff out the door, and nearly had a collective heart attack when the last load of bags got trapped in the elevator. dad broke in and freed them, and we headed to the airport shuttle stop near the opera. we were at the airport by 9h45, so there was plenty of time for them to sort through the check-in business. we sat and talked for a while, and then said goodbye around 11h. they went through security and i headed to the charles de gaulle train station..

next post: belgium and luxembourg!