In Retrospect

Well.

It has been quite a while since I visited this blog. My life is completely different now, and I have accomplished so many things since my study abroad experience two years ago. So, why now? Why have I spent my entire night revisiting every blog post, and have even been persuaded to create a post such as this at nearly 2 in the morning?

To recap in extreme brevity, I am now a graduate student studying art history at the University of Kansas. I am in my first semester, and I am taking a seminar about Paris! In the process of procrastinating some homework on a Sunday night, I decided to revisit this blog, as I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Down the rabbit hole I fell. So that brings me here.

I am absolutely astounded to see that this blog is visited regularly, by people from all over the world. I had no idea people were still visiting this blog, since I had forgotten about it myself. Well, after a night of reminiscence and re-discovery, I would like to share a few thoughts.

I would like to first state that I never finished this blog, and I deeply regret that. Obviously, I was incredibly busy in the last half of my semester in Paris. However, I included so much detail that I would otherwise never have remembered. I really can relive my semester through those posts, although it also seems like another life lived by another person. In some ways, it is. However, by not taking the time to create posts about the end of my semester, I am missing out on some great memories. Sure I still have the photographs, and I could potentially try and re-create image-filled posts with the few details I have left in my memory, but it would not be the same as the rest of this blog. I am conflicted as to whether that would benefit me, or anyone else, to do that two years after the fact.

Some of the things that this blog is missing from that time include a visit from my German friend, Sophia, and her sister. My grandmother and mother also visited me for a week in November, during Thanksgiving, and I got to play tour guide. We took day trips to Bruges and to Chartres. Also, I wish I had written about Paris around Christmastime, which is magical. I spent more time in Montmartre and went to the Dali museum. I crossed more things off of my list, including Sainte-Chapelle, Garnier’s Opera (twice!), the Paris Catacombs, and Disneyland. I made a super cute video with my friend Anna for my film class. I went to the Louvre a few more times and finally found the Code of Hammurabi. During my last weekend in Paris, Nelson Mandela died. The Eiffel Tower was lit in tribute to him. I visited the Abbey Church of Saint Denis, and my life was forever changed. My friend Miranda’s then-boyfriend came to visit her, and we went to Père Lachaise. The next day, they went to Saint Denis, and he proposed to her. I am still great friends with both of them, and was delighted to attend their wedding. There were many, many other things, too.

After returning to the US, I did end up getting a car, and I have been on many road trips across the US since! I still have not been back to Paris. I have, however, returned to Europe. This past summer, after graduating from KCAI with my BFA in photography and art history, I spent 3 weeks backpacking in Europe. I went to Istanbul, Prague, Salzburg, and spent a week in Spain. I planned all of this myself, along with my best friend from high school, Amelija, who joined me after Istanbul. All of that would not have happened if it weren’t for everything I learned during my semester abroad.

I mentioned that Saint Denis changed my life. It is evident throughout small bits of my posts here, but I fell in love with Gothic cathedrals during my Paris semester. I initially chose to study in Paris due to what I believed was my art historical passion; 19th-20th century French art. By the end of the trip, I was a Medievalist. I spent the rest of my junior year writing what would equate to an undergraduate thesis on the Abbey Church of Saint Denis. I used this to apply to graduate schools, and I presented it last spring at the Midwest Art Historical Society (MAHS) Annual Conference in Minneapolis, as well as KCAI’s annual Art History Symposium. Another change occurred in my interests during this time. My love of Medieval architecture expanded to Islamic Art, hence my desire to travel to Istanbul and Andalusia this past summer. I am now working toward my Masters in Art History, and I feel that anything is possible!

I have considered updating this blog with the aforementioned backpacking travels. I did dutifully keep a hand-written journal throughout the trip, as I did not bring a computer with me. The journal was, of course, a result of this blog, and the regret I still hold from not finishing it. I wonder if posting my more recent travel experiences would be helpful to anyone else, and considering the clicks I see this blog getting, I think they may be. Endless free time is not something I have as a graduate student, but here I am, writing this post.

I hope this blog inspires and informs anyone who is interested. I hope this post in particular is useful to someone other than myself, though it could also be only useful to me, and I guess that’s okay. Maybe not, it’s after 2AM now. I have to TA a class in the morning and I really should be sleeping. Who knows, I may not be finished with this blog yet!

My Ultimate Tourist’s Guide to Paris!

Note: This post was never completed as intended. I had originally planned to add more. I have discovered this unpublished post nearly 2 years after I started it! I think this information is great as-is, though I do very much wish I had finished this post. I may think of something every now and then and add on to this. If you ever have questions or seek advice about Paris, study abroad, or traveling in general, please feel free to ask!

Packing

If you need to buy another suitcase while you’re in Paris, there are several places you could look. I would recommend Rayon D’Or, because they have a wide selection and price range. I went to their location at Republique.

If you need any type of travel accessories (bottles and containers that fit the 100ml carry on requirement, for instance) there is an amazing store called Muji which can fulfill all of your needs and more. They have several locations across Paris. I went to the one in Forum des Halles.

As for the type of clothing you should bring, obviously it first depends on the season. As a general rule, a monochromatic wardrobe will be classic and versatile, with a few statement pieces for pops of color. Bring comfortable walking shoes, but not “sneakers.” I have noticed a sort of “sporty” fashion that is popular, including jogger pants and brand name running shoes, like Nikes. So, perhaps you can make that work for you. If you are only in Paris for a short amount of time, I would not worry about looking your most fashionable. I know it may seem like a big deal beforehand, especially if it’s your first time in Paris, but unless you’re going for fashion week, just be practical and comfortable above all else.

Measurements

Most people are familiar with some of the measurement differences between the US and Europe, such as how Europeans use the metric system and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. However, I was unaware of just how many different ways there are to measure everything you can think of, and they’re all different in France! Here is a run-down of what you can expect to encounter that might catch you off guard:

Distance/Height/Weight/Volume: kilometers, centimeters, kilograms, liters.

Temperature: Celsius. So I still haven’t gotten used to this, but if you keep in mind freezing is 0 in Celsius and 32 in Fahrenheit, it can be somewhat helpful. I just use my phone to check the temperature in Fahrenheit.

Time: 24 hour clock. I recommend changing your phone to a 24 hour clock before coming to Paris to get used to it. Now I keep it this way all of the time!

Dates: Written as day/month/year

Names: Written as Last Name/First Name

Floors of Buildings: The ground floor of a building is 0. The first floor above that is 1, and so on. The first floor below the ground floor is -1, and so on. This takes a while to get used to.

Money

I’ve never exchanged money before, and honestly I don’t think it’s worth it. You absolutely need cash while you’re in Paris, however, because many places don’t accept cards (or require a chip card), or if they do accept cards, they have a price limit that you must spend in order to use a card. In any case, I think the best way to get cash is to take it out in large sums from ATMs. This limits bank fees, and you don’t have to pay exchange fees either.

Transportation

The two best ways to get around Paris are your feet and Paris’ amazing public transportation system. This includes buses, the RER trains (which go outside of the city to places like Versailles and Disneyland) and the metro. The Paris metro is really easy to use and is probably one of your best resources. You can get a map of the Paris metro pretty much anywhere (for free) and they are posted at least two times in every metro stop. Now depending on how long you will be in Paris, you have several options regarding tickets. If you’re only going to be there for a few days, then just get a booklet of tickets. If you’re going to be there for a week, a good option would be a Paris Pass, which gets you into pretty much all of the major museums/tours and acts as a public transportation pass. If you’re going to be there for several weeks, I recommend getting a Navigo. You can get these in weekly or monthly passes. I’ve been using it ever since September 1st and I haven’t looked back. It is seriously the most useful, easy little card ever. To get one, you have to have your picture taken in any of the photo booths that are in nearly every metro station (it costs 5 euros). Then, take this photo to the desk in the metro station and ask for a weekly/monthly Navigo pass. You can buy tickets and recharge your Navigo at any of the automatic ticket machines in the metro, which all have an English language option.

Eating Out

Rule number one of eating out in Paris: never sit down to eat unless you have at least 1-2 hours.

The food service industry is very different from what Americans are accustomed to. You will either take your own seat or wait to be seated, and then your drink and food orders are taken. Once your food is delivered to you, you will probably not see your waiter again for much of the meal.

If you would like to order water, the best method is to ask for “une carafe d’eau” (a carafe of water). The glasses are fairly small, but at least you can refill them yourself instead of trying to track down a waiter!

As in many European countries, tipping is unnecessary unless you feel that you received extraordinary service.

Sometimes, you may eat at a restaurant that seats you at a table with complete strangers. I’ve had this happen to me a few times in various European countries. You can either completely ignore them, or make some new friends!

Pickpockets & Beggars

Everywhere you go in Paris, you will constantly be warned against pickpockets. These are warnings you should seriously heed. Pickpockets aren’t out to hurt you physically, they just want to take your stuff, and they’re good at it. Since coming to Paris in August, I am literally the only one of my friends that still has their phone. It is not difficult to avoid being pickpocketed, you just always have to be aware of your bag. If you have a purse, make sure it is always closed and in front of you. Make sure that it closes in a secure manner, such as with a zipper. If you have a backpack, whenever you are in a crowded area or on the metro, swing in over one should so that it’s in front of you. If you are just keeping things in your pockets, do so at your own risk. As long as you are aware, you should have nothing to worry about. I’ve caught people sticking their hands in my bag twice since coming to Paris, but I’ve never had anything stolen yet (probably because I’m really paranoid). Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Aside from pickpockets, there are people all over Paris who want to take your money. They have many tricks to try and get you to give it to them, but the best thing to do is to ignore them. Homeless people have the cutest puppies you will ever see in your life. Women will sit crying and holding small infants. Groups of men will try and get you to play this finger game with them, and then while you’re distracted they’ll take your wallet. The worst are the clipboard girls. These are usually young women who walk around popular tourist areas (Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe) asking if you speak English. If you say yes, they will start telling you about some charity they are raising money for and ask you to sign their clipboard and donate some money. Seriously, ignore these people. They are everywhere and are very persistent, so the best thing to do is keep walking very determinedly in one direction. Don’t even try to be polite or talk to them. Just ignore them.

Apps

During my semester in Paris, I had an international data plan. However, during previous, shorter trips, I just used my phone in airplane mode and used WiFi, which is becoming more and more accessible anywhere you go! I usually don’t travel with my computer, and I do not have a tablet, so my phone is the main way I access information while traveling. As a result, I have discovered certain apps that I love to have while traveling. In some cases, apps will allow you to download information onto your phone, which is great because then you don’t need data or WiFi to access it, just a full battery! Also, these are all FREE apps, and I have an Android but I’m sure they’re all available on iPhone as well.

Google Translate: This is one such app that will allow you to download certain languages on your phone. That way, you can always translate on the go. There is also a camera mode which is useful for reading things like signs and menus, though it is admittedly not perfect. Still, Google is my favorite translation app!

Duolingo: If you want to have some semblance of the local language before you go (which I highly recommend), download this app and practice the language 10-15 minutes each day. It’s really fun and kind of addicting!

TripAdvisor: This app is a must-have! You can download entire maps and travel itineraries for cities to reference on your phone without any kind of connection. There are countless reviews and rankings for activities, restaurants, sites, you name it!

Google Maps: Granted, you really need a good data or WiFi connection for this to be helpful. Regardless, I do not know what I would do without it! Physical maps are not always easily available, and if you are planning on the fly, this app is a necessity.

Airbnb: If you are like me and use Airbnb to book most of your lodging while traveling, you need to have the app on your phone. Yes, you will need some kind of connection to access it, but you will be glad you can directly message your host when you get lost on the way to the residence!

Viber/WhatsApp: These are free messaging services that I have used to communicate with my family and international friends while abroad! It’s basically an app that allows you to text via WiFi or data, so you do not need a phone signal. I prefer to use these for texting, though I have made calls with Viber before. Sometimes you get the “ocean” sound and you need to have a strong connection, but it works for the most part.

XE Currency: An easy currency conversion app to calculate costs.

Unit Converter: This is non-specific, but it can be very helpful to have a measurement converter when traveling in countries that use the metric system.

Weekend 11: Pisa & Pizza, Italia Part I!

I left Paris cold and raining on Friday morning after only 4 hours of sleep, due to allowing myself a little bit of Halloween fun the previous night. Since I was flying on a small, budget airline, I had to take a bus outside of Paris to one of the smaller airports. It seemed as though the moment the plane touched down in Pisa I started sweating. A few days prior to leaving, I decided to spend the day in Pisa, because why not? I didn’t see the point in being there so early, with the city being so accessible from the airport, and not going to at least see the leaning tower for the afternoon before taking the bus to Florence. I took the bus from the airport to the city train station, where I left my bag at the luggage check and then headed in the direction of the Piazza del Duomo. I took my time, wandering where I wanted and enjoying the sun. I immediately regretted my last-minute decision to not bring my sunglasses. Everything about Italy is warm; the colors, the light, the people. It’s such a refreshing change from the coldness of Paris.

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After wandering, I realized how hungry I was. However, I also didn’t have enough cash on me to buy a meal, and I had passed up several ATMs. Just as I approached the Piazza, I decided I needed to backtrack to find an ATM fast because I was so hungry. This took up a good half hour at least, which combined with the heat was frustrating. Once I finally found a working ATM, I headed back to a place I saw with a view of the leaning tower and an amazing deal of pizza, fries, and a drink for 7 euros (unheard of in Paris). The pizza was delicious, and it was the first pizza I’ve had in Europe that I could actually eat with a fork and knife (there’s no such thing as finger food in Europe)!

My first Italian pizza!!

My first Italian pizza!!

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After eating, I walked around the Piazza for a while and then got a ticket to go into the cathedral and the baptistery. I initially wanted to climb the leaning tower, but then decided it was getting too late since the line was pretty long.

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Italian cathedrals are soooo very different from French cathedrals, or really any of the Northern European cathedrals that I’ve been in. I think I prefer the Northern ones, but of course these are impressive in their own right. For one, they are massive. This was by far the largest cathedral I’ve ever been in. They are also relatively plain inside compared to Northern Cathedrals, which spare no centimeter of wall, floor, or ceiling from decoration. Italian cathedrals also have much smaller stained glass windows. The outsides are decorated in colorful patterns, but the overall whiteness of it all is still very present. I think these photographs make it seem more decorative than it is, probably because that’s what I ended up being most interested in! Also, I don’t think any of these properly convey how massive it is. Just go there for yourself and see!

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A reliquary with a human skull!

A reliquary with a human skull!

I didn’t know what to expect in the baptistery, since I’d never been in one before. It’s pretty plain, but there were two things that made it worth it. One, if you go to the top level, one of the windows has part of the screen cut out so you can take a photograph looking directly at the cathedral, with the leaning tower in the background. And two, while I was in there, a woman stood in the middle on the lower level and started vocalizing, and you could hear it echo throughout the baptistery. It was haunting.

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After that, I headed back to the train station to get my bag and then take a bus to the airport to take a bus to Florence.

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Why do they even have this sign?

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By the time I got to Florence, it was dark and I was pretty tired. I just settled in and had a relaxing night before going to sleep early. Stay tuned for Italia Part II: Firenze!

2 Months in Paris: Halfway There

It’s pretty crazy that I’ve been living in Paris for two months now! Which also means I have two months left to go. Each week goes by faster and faster, so I think this last half will go by much quicker than the first.

As far as school goes, this past week was mid-semester. I’m now working on final projects/papers for all of my classes. I think maybe towards the end of the semester I’ll make a post dedicated to how school is here, so I don’t go off on a tangent. Basically, it has been kind of difficult adjusting to a new school, particularly one so much smaller than what I’m used to. I definitely appreciate KCAI even more now that I’ve been away from it and I’m so excited to go back next semester.

My French has definitely improved in the past two months, though not in the way I expected it to. I am really comfortable with practical French and do all of my  daily “transactions” in French. This past week I even got a haircut without using any English! I am still not very good at conversational French, and I am not happy with where my vocabulary is at. I know this will improve over the next two months, and once I leave France I will continue to work on it! I also think I have a pretty good French comprehension, as long as whoever is talking speaks slowly and uses enough words that I know. I was pleased to find that while waiting in the hair salon, I could read the celebrity magazines and understand almost all of it. I didn’t expect to become fluent within only four months, but living here has definitely given me a great start to understanding the language. In Amsterdam last weekend, I had to resist the now-impulse to speak French to everyone, which I guess is a good thing! I still have off-days where I can’t seem to understand what anyone is saying to me and I feel really stupid, but then there are equally triumphant moments where I completely understand someone and am really proud of myself. It has, like most things in this experience, its ups and downs.

I think in my one month post I described the stereotypical outfit for a Parisian woman, but it’s taken me a little longer to figure out men. In some ways, they’re almost exactly the same as women. The working men all wear business suits, but your average everyday outfit for the Parisian male consists of jeans or pants, shoes (meaning not sneakers or sandals), and a blazer. Under the blazer could be a plain t-shirt, light sweater, or a button-up shirt. Chambray button-ups are also big with men. And it is perfectly normal to wear scarves and have a murse.

Paris is every man’s urinal. I think this is because of the lack of public toilets, as well as the fact that most of the homeless seem to be men. I’ve seen men peeing along the sides of all types of buildings; one down the street from me to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries! The metro is basically the unofficial sewer system of Paris. There are little gutters along where the floor meets the walls that I’m sure were made with the homeless and drunk in mind, but I’ve seen plenty of people clearly neither of those things use them as well. Once I saw a man along with his two small children, a boy and a girl, all peeing in the metro. I also saw a woman having a conversation with someone while her dog peed right there on the floor. So, beware of puddles!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the American chains that also exist here in Paris. Obviously there is McDonalds, which I haven’t gotten anything from because it’s not somewhere I go even in America, but I might just for the experience. You order on these touch screens and they have croissants and macrons there as well as everything else. I wonder if cheeseburgers are really called Royale with Cheese? A chain that surprised me here is Subway. For some reason it’s really, really popular. I don’t know why, considering all boulangeries sell sandwiches, but I guess in a way hoagies (or subs, or whatever you call them) are the closest thing in America to French sandwiches. They also have Pizza Hut here which again I don’t understand because you can get pizza almost anywhere and it’s probably a million times better than an American chain. There is the one Chipotle which I have gone to. It’s super expensive though, so unless you’re dying for it, it’s not really necessary to go there. Another surprise to me was Office Depot. It’s such a random chain to have here in Paris, but there’s one that I pass every day on the way to the metro so I’ve become used to it.

This second month has been fairly difficult, emotionally. I have tried to be honest on this blog about my experience studying abroad to make this as real and accurate as possible. However, there are a lot of things I haven’t shared on here yet simply because I didn’t feel ready to, or that they didn’t fit in with my previous posts. Mostly these have been very mixed feelings about living in Paris. I even felt guilty for a while, because I honestly do not like living in Paris, which is a dream come true for so many people! However, after talking with many other semester-long exchange students from America at my school, we all seem to be going through the same things and are on the same page, which is so relieving. Basically, none of us are that crazy about actually living in Paris. We think it’s beautiful and we love being able to see things in person that are not possible in the US, but none of us find Parisians to be accessible. This is heightened especially for me, because I specifically chose to live with a Parisian family and I had so many expectations, none of which have happened. Parisians are very prideful and private people. Whenever I see couples ogling all over each other (every day) I am more and more amazed that they somehow had an opportunity to speak to each other and get to know each other enough to be in a relationship. I don’t actually know any French people and I’ve been in France for two months! This is a pretty frustrating realization, but it’s one I’ve mostly come to terms with over the past month. This is the way it is here, which is something that I wanted to find out. It’s not what I expected, but I think I’m okay with that. Also, the main reason I chose Paris was because of all the history that the city holds, and regardless of who lives here, that is all still intact and has been well worth the trip. Still, I definitely think Paris is one of those cities that is much better suited for being a naive tourist for a week or two, seeing all the sites, eating the food, and then moving on. You will have a much more enjoyable time than trying to assimilate with people that are indifferent.

Another huge source of stress for me here has continued to be food. Every time I feel like I’ve finally found some stability, it doesn’t last very long. I honestly think that it is not possible for me to eat the way I want to in Paris. I’ve already decided to stop stressing so much about it and have since finally started eating baguettes every once in a while. Still, I dread every weekday at school when lunch time comes around and I have to struggle to find something in the area to eat that is somewhat decently healthy and not entirely composed of bread and cheese. The worst are cheese paninis. A lot of times this is my only option, and it is literally a bunch of cheese melted on some bread. I always regret ordering this, but sometimes I’m so hungry and frustrated I do it anyway. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to just take out half of the cheese and add in some vegetables, considering most places at least have lettuce and tomato, but it is not always an option. Why not get salads, you may ask. Well, salads are usually much more expensive than sandwiches and are also less filling. So I usually opt for the cheaper, more filling, but less expensive option, because being full longer means potentially not having to spend money on food later. Not being able to eat healthily would also not be nearly as stressful for me if I could work out the way I want to, but that is not an option either. I have no weights, no yoga mat, and there is no running trail near me. I have been making do with doing Youtube pilates videos on a towel, but if you’ve ever tried working out on a towel on tile floor, it is awful and extremely difficult. It’s better than nothing, though, and there have been a few days where I felt like I had a decent workout. I’m pretty sure I have gained some weight here, but that seems to be pretty normal and I’m trying not to worry about it because I can lose it when I get back to the US (after Christmas of course!)

I’d like to end this post on a more positive note, so here’s an update on my internship! At times it has felt very overwhelming and potentially impossible, but overall I am really happy that I decided to do this. My main job so far has been taking quotes that Annie used in the French version of her book and finding the English translations of them. This is an incredibly difficult task, especially in the cases where she did not have a source for the quote, so all I had to go off of was the person who said it and the translated French version. We are really close to (finally!) having all of the quotes translated, which I will be so happy about. I’ve been able to complete this mostly thanks to Google Books and the American Library in Paris. Annie always lets me know how grateful she is for my help, and I am learning a lot in the process, so despite my few moments of doubt this has been a really wonderful experience.

This coming week is going to be a very full work week for me because on Friday I leave for Krakow, Poland to visit my friend from high school, Janka! I’m really excited to visit somewhere so different from Paris, and I’ve heard great things about it from people who have been there. Before then, I’ll update on this past weekend, but other than that I have a ton of work to do!

Weekend 8: Amsterdam & Brussels

So not to say this was a failure of a weekend, but it was riddled with bad weather and poor planning. However, it was so wonderful to get out of Paris and experience completely new places and I’m so glad we went.

Shelby and I getting psyched for the weekend on the Megabus!

Shelby and I getting psyched for the weekend on the Megabus!

Thursday we got on the night bus at 11:30 PM heading to Amsterdam. The company we used was Megabus, which actually is in Europe as well as the US. You can’t beat 12 euros to get from Paris to Amsterdam, even if it takes 8 hours. The bus ride really wasn’t that bad. There was Wifi but we couldn’t get it to work. There were even plugs (but I didn’t have the right adapter). Other than being squished in a tiny space for 8 hours, which is pretty unavoidable on a bus, it was tolerable. I slept on and off the whole night. The bus does stop fairly often, which accounts for why it takes so long. Still, if you want to travel for cheap in Europe I highly recommend it!

Amsterdam Centraal Station

Amsterdam Centraal Station

We arrived in Amsterdam at 7:00 AM on Friday. We were half sleepy, half really excited. We had no idea where to go or start. Our phones were almost dead. We were also really hungry and thirsty. I mentioned before that we were lucky enough to be able to stay with Dov’s brother, Matt, who lives in Amsterdam. However, his family was very busy this weekend, so we couldn’t meet him to get keys to their apartment until 5:30 PM on Friday. So we basically had the entire day to roam the city before being able to settle in with our things, rest, shower, etc.

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Being so early (and also not light out) nothing was open yet. We wandered around the Centraal Station trying to find a map. The best we could find was for a tour bus company, so it was kind of biased because it highlighted the sites they showed on their tour. We couldn’t find any kind of map on their public transportation system, which includes trams, buses, and a metro. We decided to start walking outside straight from the station. It was actually pretty cool to see everything so early in the morning as the sun was rising. We began to get re-energized with excitement.

Fast food is everywhere. They even have Burger King! Also that hotel name.

Fast food is everywhere. They even have Burger King! Also that hotel name.

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I used the last bit of battery power on my phone to find a place for breakfast that I had heard good things about called the Pancake Bakery. It didn’t open until 9:00 AM so we continued to wander around the area until then. We found out the Anne Frank house was right down the street from it. This is when it started to rain. We both had little umbrellas, but we were soon pretty wet. We picked a bench to sit on until the Pancake Bakery opened.

A creative french fry stand.

A creative french fry stand.

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Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank statue

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Hobbit Houseboat!! My new dream home.

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We were so early that we were the only customers. Man was it an amazing breakfast, though! We both got hot chocolate and Dutch pancakes, which I liked even more than crepes. It was amazing, but sadly almost immediately after eating I had some bad stomach pains. The entire rest of the weekend I had bad stomach problems. For some reason my stomach has been really sensitive this time in Europe (remember when I first came to Paris?). When I did the exchange program to Germany 5 years ago, I never had any problems like I have had this time.

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Apple-banana pancake. It was incredible.

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Hot chocolate with a Stroopwaffel! I love Stroopwaffels. I got a package of them that I hope lasts until I get back to the US…

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Shelby cheesin’ at the Pancake Bakery.

Anyway, we planned on going to the Anne Frank house after we ate since it was right down the street and it’s infamous for having an incredibly long line. It wasn’t even open yet so we would be among some of the first inside. It turns out the museum has no coat/bag check, and seeing as we both had our bags with us, we realized we would have to walk all the way back to the Centraal Station to put our things in a locker for the day before being able to do anything else. We trudged back through the now pouring rain to the station. By the time we got there my little suitcase was soaked through. By the time we got back to the Anne Frank house, the line was super long and we didn’t want to stand in the rain so we decided to go to the Van Gogh Museum instead.

We ended up spending a ton of time staring at the map, unable to find it. Eventually we found a tram map and were able to find where it was, but we really could not figure out how the tram system worked. We’ve been spoiled by Paris’ Metro system and the ease and frequency of maps! We took a wild guess and got on a tram.

Luckily, we picked the right direction AND the particular tram we were on was announcing what sites were at each stop. We got off to find that this area had several museums and the “I Amsterdam” letters. Since it was pouring, no one was climbing on them. We got in line for what we thought was the Van Gogh Museum, only to realize after at least a half hour that it was actually the Rijksmuseum. So we got out of line and got in line for our Van Gogh tickets. They sell them for advanced times, so we got ours for 1:00 PM and then went over to the museum to do more -gasp- waiting in line. Keep in mind, all while it was pouring!

At this point we were also really cold. I was losing feeling in my feet. I was still extremely thirsty, as I had not found a place to refill my water bottle (water fountains don’t exist in Europe for some reason). After a lot of waiting, we finally got in! The museum is one I definitely would recommend. Despite my extremely tired, wet, cold state, I still had it in me to appreciate some art.

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The Potato Eaters

One of his sketches I really liked.

One of his sketches I really liked.

Sunflowers!

Sunflowers!

White frames!

White frames!

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

Flowering Plumtree

Flowering Plumtree

After the museum we were so ready to just collapse, but we still had around 2 hours before we were going to meet Matt. We got some food and then I somehow managed to navigate us on the trams back to the Centraal Station so that we could get our luggage out of the lockers, and then from there to where we were staying with Matt. I honestly could not tell you how I figured it out. I think it was a string of lucky guesses.

We had great timing, because as soon as we stood in front of their apartment building, unsure of which was theirs, Matt’s wife Frances walked up with their dog, Starr, and let us in. We were finally able to sit down and drink some much-needed glasses of water. We talked with Matt and Frances for a while, who told us some interesting things about living there. For instance, as we had noticed, the Dutch love to speak English to the point that Matt (not a native Dutch-speaker) said his Dutch is not good because he speaks English at home, work, and people speak it socially as well. Just one of the many differences between Amsterdam and Paris! We went up to our rooms to settle in while they ordered “New York Style” pizza. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep. Once the pizza arrived, we sat watching “The Big Bang Theory” while silently devouring our pizza. Afterwards we went upstairs and it wasn’t long until we were passed out.

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This leads up to the roof!

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View across the street.

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Our new little friend.

Saturday morning we planned to start with the Anne Frank house. We took some time getting ready, showering (for the first time since Thursday) and eating our leftover pizza from the night before for breakfast. Then I used my freshly charged phone to figure out how to get there. We had to wait in line, but it was actually not raining so it was pretty nice. We waited around an hour and a half, which really wasn’t that bad.

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I’ve never seen a cat sleep like this in real life!

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Awesome bench made from books

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You can really see how crooked the buildings are!

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Photography is not allowed in the museum, and understandably so, I think. The building looks modern on the outside, as it is built around the original building of Oscar Frank’s office and the Secret Annex. He requested that the rooms be left unfurnished, so to keep it interesting and informative they are filled with photographs, quotes from Anne’s diary, and short video interviews. It was really amazing seeing the actual space where she wrote her now-famous diary. It has probably been almost a decade since I’ve read it, but now I really want to read it again. What I found both amazing and tragic about all of it was that she dreamed of being a published author, and as a result of her situation she achieved just that, but it also resulted in her death. Also, she was so mature and intelligent for her age! I was amazed at the amount of surviving photographs they had of everyone and everything from that time. It works really well with the museum. At the end, the museum has her actual diary along with pages of her writings and the draft of her book. I highly recommend going to the Anne Frank House, even if it means standing in line! You can get tickets ahead of time online, so if you can you should do that.

The side of the Anne Frank House. The top part is actually apartments that are probably super expensive.

The side of the Anne Frank House. The top part is actually apartments that are probably super expensive.

Afterwards we ate in the museum cafe. Shelby got hot chocolate, which looked great. She said it was the best she had all weekend, and she had maybe 4 or 5 hot chocolates from Amsterdam to Belgium! One thing I’ve noticed in Europe is that unlike in the US, museum cafes are not outrageously expensive and they are usually good quality. So, consider fitting them into your eating plans when traveling, since they’re also very convenient and have free bathrooms and indoor seating.

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We passed this pink car so many times.

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After the Anne Frank House I wanted to go inside the Nieuwe Kerk (seen above). However, they’re having a Chinese exhibition throughout the church so they were charging 15 euros to get in. I decided to just stick with peeking around from the entrance. Next, Shelby wanted to do a little souvenir shopping, and we also stopped in at H&M because I had been wearing the same long-sleeved shirt I got in Paris, and after living in it for 2 days straight (including sleep) I figured I should just get another. I also got another sweater, a blazer (the staple of Parisian fashion for men and women), and a cat dress, because you can’t have too many cat dresses! Shelby needed to get souvenirs for a lot of her family so we spent a while in the many souvenir shops near the Centraal Station. I ended up getting some souvenirs as well, the first I’ve gotten since coming to Europe. I have a lot to get considering I’m missing several birthdays while I’m here, and then I come back to the US just in time for Christmas. During this time we also got fries, although this afternoon was when I was also experiencing my worst stomach pains.

Fries! In Amsterdam!

Fries! In Amsterdam!

After shopping we decided to go to the Rijksmuseum, which I really wanted to go to after realizing what it contained. However, by the time we got there, everything was closing, it was practically dark, and it started raining again. Mind you I don’t think it was even 6:00 PM. On a Saturday. I’ve been in Europe almost 2 months now and I still can’t get used to their hours! We were pretty disappointed, but there was nothing for us to do at that point except go back to Matt’s. We dropped off our bags and relaxed a bit before deciding to go out to eat at this Mexican place I looked up. It turned out to be amazing! It’s called Los Pilones, and they have three locations in Amsterdam, so if you’re ever there I highly recommend it!

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I really like this photo 🙂

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At least we got there in time to see the letters just as it started to rain!

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Rijksmuseum

Mango margarita that was basically a slushie [=

Mango margarita- my first ever!

After the deliciously satisfying amazingness that is Mexican food, we headed back and packed our things to be ready for our early morning. Little did we know how wrong it would go! I woke up at 6:00 AM which I figured would give us plenty of time to get to the bus station for our 8:00 AM departure to Brussels. We were taking a different company (Eurolines), but I didn’t think it would be that different from Megabus. We left a little before 7:00 AM and waited at the night bus station for a while. Then, a woman came up to us and explained that there was a sign posted (in Dutch) saying that particular bus wasn’t running this weekend. So, we had to take the tram, which I originally avoided because it didn’t go directly to the Centraal Station. We got off at a stop to transfer to another night bus, only to realize that one wasn’t coming either. At this point we were getting worried that we would miss our bus, so we just got in a taxi that took us to the Centraal Station. Once we were there, we grabbed some croissants and then took the metro to the Eurolines bus stop. We arrived right before 8:00 but with enough time that I wasn’t worried. That is, until I saw that there was a line coming out of the station, and unlike with Megabus where you can walk right onto the bus, you have to check in at a counter to get your ticket before getting on the bus. We probably could have butted ahead, but we didn’t think of it, and we watched our bus drive off without us. Once we finally got to the front of the line we had to pay 8 euros more each to get on the next bus at 9:00 AM. It wasn’t that bad, but we would be losing an hour in Brussels, and our originally tickets cost about 8-9 euros, so we were paying double.

The Eurolines bus was not nearly as nice as the Megabus, despite having TVs. The bathroom was completely not functional, and the bus seats weren’t as comfortable. I stared at the bouncing, color-changing DVD symbol on the TV screen until I fell asleep. It poured the entire bus ride, but by the time we got to Brussels I was hopeful it wouldn’t rain too much. We arrived around 11:30 AM. Determined not to make the mistakes we made in Amsterdam, our first priority after getting off the bus was to put our things in a locker. Then, I found an ATM (I ran out of cash the day before), and proudly used some French to get day passes for the public transportation and maps of both the city and the metro system. Off to a far better start than Amsterdam AND having a working phone with Google Maps, we headed down to the Metro towards Brussels’ Grand Place. The Metro there is very similar to Paris’, and is actually in some ways nicer, though it’s probably also newer. It is somehow really calm and clean.

The Grand Place in Brussels really caught us off guard. We approached it from a tiny side street, and as we walked further in, we incrementally kept saying “woah” as we noticed more and more of what was there. We spent a while kind of spinning around and staring at all the buildings. Then it started raining. It was a different rain than what we had in Amsterdam. The drops were less frequent, but heavier. There was also a nice, strong wind accompanying it.

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We were really hungry, so our first priority was getting some genuine Belgian waffles. We picked a place on the Grand Place and ordered the most extravagant waffles possible, along with hot chocolate. We had to wait quite a while which was sort of frustrating since we only had a few hours, but it gave us time to plan out and prioritize what we wanted to do. Once the waffles arrived, we were not disappointed. They were pretty much the best thing I’ve eaten since coming to Europe!

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Devoured!

After that, we stopped in a few shops along the Place and each got these awesome Magritte butter cookie tins. Then we headed to our first destination, the Mannekin Pis fountain. It’s just a statue of a little boy peeing, but for some reason it’s one of the most iconic things in Brussels, so we felt like we needed to see it. Ta-da.

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Then, we headed to the Horta House Museum. It’s kind of on the outskirts of the city in a not-as-nice area, and only 45 people are allowed in at a time, so we got to do our favorite activity of the weekend: standing in line in the rain. I didn’t mind because I was so excited. Once we were inside, we had to check everything we had on us. No photographs were allowed, but once inside you have completely free roam of the house. It was incredible. If we had more time, I would go to every location that he designed in Brussels. They gave us a little brochure of everywhere in the city; there are so many locations!

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The outside of the Horta House Museum

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The door knocker

After the Horta House we went back towards the city center to the Musee Magritte. This museum requires you to get tickets for a certain time, like the Van Gogh Museum, and also does not allow photography. It’s a really interesting museum, though. They don’t have most of his super-well known paintings (they’re probably in America) but the museum is laid out in chronological order of his entire career, so you get to see tons of his lesser-known works, sketches, writings, drawings, and photographs. I especially liked seeing his “Exquisite Corpse” drawings, as well as the evolution of his repeated imagery. For instance, in the first room he already was using pipe imagery and similar ideas to his Treachery of Images work, but it wasn’t until the last room that apples started showing up.

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After Magritte we only had enough time to head back towards the station and get something to eat (waffles again, but quick ones on the street), grabbed our bags, and got some fries.

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We wanted to get to the bus with plenty of time to check in to avoid the morning’s mistake. Of course there was no line and we waited a while, but we got on our bus at 6:30 PM without a problem. We were back in Paris around 10:30 PM and I was home sometime after 11. I then got to stay up until after 1:00 AM finishing homework. Yay.

So to conclude all of this, you can tell that there were several major problems encountered during this trip. The weather was out of our control, but we definitely could have planned ahead much better. We did more things in 5 hours in Brussels than we did in two days in Amsterdam. I just see it as an excuse to go back some day! Despite all of that, it was so refreshing to go somewhere that was basically the opposite of Paris. Paris is full of amazing things related to art and history, but honestly I do not identify with the French lifestyle at all. Amsterdam, on the other, hand is much more my pace of life. It was so fun to observe how people live there. For instance, bikes are definitely the number one transportation method. I saw every type of bike and bike attachment possible. The Dutch are pros, and they continued to ride around in the pouring rain, sometimes while holding umbrellas!

I also really, really have a strong attraction to Belgium. It is the perfect combination of France and The Netherlands. I would love to spend more time there and there are so many cities I want to explore. I am seriously considering figuring out a day trip to Bruges, even though I am so pressed for time here. I also took some of my favorite photographs during this weekend, even though due to the rain and all the museums not allowing photography I only took a total of around 120 photographs. Crazy, right?!

Weekend 7: Crossing Off My List

Saturday was completely a school work day for me. By the end of it I was pretty exhausted. I had dinner with friends at Miranda and Shelby’s apartment which was really fun. We were all still craving Mexican after Chipotle on Thursday, so we had a taco night. It was amaazingg. We hung out there for a while and eventually went out to Nuit Blanche, but didn’t see very much. It’s a big city-wide arts night that happens once a year. Apparently it is pretty big but maybe we weren’t in the right area.

Sunday I wanted to cross more things off of my super huge to-do list in Paris, so I got right to it and went to Les Invalides. This building was originally a war veteran retirement home, and now houses the military museum of the French Army, a few other museums, a chapel, and the burial sites for several important French war heroes.

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I didn’t go into any of the museums and I don’t know if I will, but it was nice just to walk around. Of course I loved the chapel, Saint-Louis-des-Invalides.

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Now one of the main attractions of Invalides is Napoleon’s burial site under the gold Baroque dome. I wasn’t sure how to get there from where I entered Invalides, but you can actually kind of see it through the windows at the end of the chapel. When I first got a good look I couldn’t believe what I saw because it looks just like the Baldacchino from St. Peter’s Basilica which is obviously in Italy, not Paris. For a second I doubted myself, but I definitely remembered learning it was in Italy. I looked it up later and it is supposed to be a direct influence, so I’m glad I wasn’t going crazy!

There didn’t seem to be a way to get to the other side from where I was, so I left for my next destination: the Musee Rodin.

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Being the first Sunday of the month, entrance was free, though I think I get in free anyway with my school ID. Still, it’s definitely nice going to museums on first Sundays when you can just wander in! There was a really long line to get into the Biron house, so I wandered the gardens first.

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They are installing some kind of stage, so this was my beautiful view from the other side of the garden:

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Also, in the part of the garden with The Thinker, they play this weird “music” that is basically a woman humming and vocalizing. It’s really eerie and at first I didn’t realize it was part of the museum. I wonder what the reasoning is behind it?

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As I walked around, I found that I really, really like Rodin. He found a way to capture such raw emotion in an equally raw form of sculpture. He turned a really cold material into something fluid and natural. And those hands and feet are huuugee! I tried to take close-ups to show how big they are, but you really have to see it in person.

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After the gardens I finally got in the line for the house. You have to wait a while because they only let in a certain amount of people at a time, which they monitor very closely. At least you have a pretty view while you wait!

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The house is pretty small, but it’s great to see his process and some of his more famous works in their original sizes. There are also some great views out of the second story windows.

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There is a special Camille Claudel exhibition going on in one of the rooms, but no photography was allowed. I really loved seeing her most well-known works in person as well. They were actually much larger than I expected. The Wave and Women Gossiping were really, really green in color, which is given no justice in photographic reproductions.

After all that walking I was starting to get tired, so I decided it was time for a break at the cafe in the garden. I got some ice cream and it was AMAZING. I’d love to go back and actually eat there some time, but man was that ice cream good. I got vanilla pecan and chocolate. If you ever find yourself at the Musee Rodin, make sure you get some!!

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Next I headed down the street to finish my exploration of Les Invalides, but this time to the dome were Napoleon is buried. I had to get a ticket to get in but it was free (yay!). Being a student in Paris really has its advantages. My student ID is magical.

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When you first walk in, there is a tomb to your right. This is not Napoleon. This is his older brother.

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Like pretty much every other building in Paris, you can spend a lot of time looking at the ceiling.

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The Baldacchino I was talking about earlier:

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This is Napoleon.

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What a guy.

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There are really beautiful gardens in front of the dome. They have tons of plants I’ve never even seen before.

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This looks like something that fell off a Muppet.

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So that was basically my Sunday! This week is going to be super crazy for me, because I have so much to do before Thursday, when Shelby and I take a night bus to Amsterdam!! We are spending Friday and Saturday in Amsterdam, then leaving early Sunday to spend the day in Brussels before heading back to Paris. We are soo lucky that Dov’s brother lives in Amsterdam and is gracious enough to let us sleep at his house! I am so excited, but first I have a lot of work to do… for some reason even though it’s the first week of October, I have to write three proposals for final projects/papers. And do research at two different libraries. And prepare another PowerPoint presentation. Ahhh!!

Week & Weekend 5: Homework in Paris is Still Homework

I’ve basically spent the entire past week and most of the weekend doing school-related things and finishing up my first photo project for critique on Monday, which had a lot of last-minute problems. Despite all of this, I did find some time to explore this week!

On Tuesday, I finally went to Shakespeare & Co! It was even more awesome than I thought it would be. I could spend days in there reading all of those books. Of course I went right to the art section, which had a lot of books I’d never heard of before. I took note of a few to check out later on Amazon, because as awesome as the store is, it’s pretty expensive. I did get a nice 4 euro tote bag, which I’d been needing.

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On Wednesday, I got to go on the roof of my school for part of a class. It has an amazing view of Sacre Coeur, and it was the first time I had an elevated view of Paris since arriving.

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Thursday night I went out to an Irish bar with Anna and Miranda, who wanted to do go out before they left for Amsterdam for the weekend. It had a really great atmosphere and played lots of wonderful “American” music that was once again really nice to hear. We definitely plan on going back there sometime!

Mellon shots!

Mellon shots!

Friday and Saturday were pretty much dedicated to solving the Murphy’s Law that surrounded my photo project. Depending on how I feel after my critique I may dedicate a post to sharing the photos. After all the problems this weekend I’m just glad they’re done but I don’t know how I feel about them.

Sunday I met Francesca for brunch and she showed me some great shops, including a fromagerie! I hadn’t been in a cheese shop yet because I found them intimidating, but now I had some new cheeses to try and some amazing bread to eat them with. Fun fact: apparently white wine is the best wine to eat with cheese, not red! I’ve found that I am partial to white anyway, so this is good news.

Afterwards, I decided to finally go up the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the most touristy thing I have done since coming to Paris, but I knew I had to do it at some point. This doesn’t mean I didn’t want to, but I just don’t enjoy doing things with lots of people pushing and waiting in lines and taking photographs of each other in the middle of everything.

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Just a walkin’ down my street.

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The very top of the Tower was closed, so I could only go to the second level. I didn’t mind this, but I think I would like to go back one other time to go to the very top at some point. Maybe once there’s less people around, even if it will be freezing!

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The view is stunning, and it was neat to see the whole city and find landmarks that I’m now familiar with. At the same time, maybe because I waited so long to go up, it wasn’t that incredible to me. I know, I know. I’d rather go to museums any day over this kind of thing.

I still suck at cell phone selfies.

I still suck at cell phone selfies. Oh well.

The only other notable thing this past week was that I have finally started figuring out food stuff. It only took me a month, but I actually tried cooking and making meals at home. It was soo worth it. I also did some research and was able to find a lot of things I initially couldn’t, like oatmeal, almond milk, and peanut butter. It just takes persistence, but it’s possible! Also everything I’ve been buying is organic and it isn’t even that expensive. You just have to know what you’re doing and spend some time shopping. I found this stuff that is like apple sauce except with bananas. I never even thought of making apple sauce with not apples. It’s pretty yummy, but kind of what I imagine baby food is like. Also, Monoprix (the main grocery store chain here) has AMAZING quinoa. Who would have thought?!

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Oatmeal!! With raisins.

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A European twist on my favorite sandwich: peanut butter and bananas on toast!

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The meal I could eat forever: stir-fried veggies in soy sauce and egg whites with quinoa.

This coming week the weather is supposed to be really nice, so hopefully I don’t get too swamped with school work so that I can go out and enjoy it! I still have so many cathedrals I need to go see, among all the other things. I’m also hopefully going to finally figure out my whole internship thing, and then I’ll share about that as well. I also want to start photographing the area I live in and prepare more posts about every-day life for me here. We’ll see how it goes!