The time is passing here much more quickly than we would like, as is evidenced by my lack of posting. I feel like I just wrote about our trip to Krakow (heck, I feel like we just went to Krakow) but here we are, end of January already.
We really enjoyed the Christmas season here. Between the Christmas markets that pop up at the end of November/early December and the Fête des Lumières in Lyon, it felt so much more festive than it normally does at home. The only thing missing was the snow – not that I particularly enjoy snow, but I did miss it during the holidays. Though I have to admit, it’s been really nice to be able to spend the season walking on (mostly) dry streets and in temperatures that have rarely descended below freezing.
We kicked off winter with a trip “up North” to visit our friend, Célia. We spent the weekend snuggling her new baby boy, visiting the Christmas market in Montbéliard (seriously impressive) and gorging ourselves on raclette and crêpes.
The weekend after was the Fête des Lumières, a yearly celebration where the entire city is lit up by various light displays and installations. Even though it was a “meh” year, according to our local friends, we were still sufficiently marveled. The atmosphere was just so nice…for four nights, everyone was outside exploring the city, and just about every café, store, and restaurant in town had a small table set up outside to serve vin chaud and other snacks to help keep everyone warm while they took in the sights.
Dani’s parents came to visit on Christmas. They spent two weeks with us; one week at our place in Lyon, and then we took off on an adventure to Paris (obviously) and Annecy, a small-ish city in the Alps. It was absolutely freezing cold in Annecy but ho-ly crap I could not have cared less – what a charming place. The mountains! The lake! The food!
Since they left, we’ve been hunkered down in Lyon, just enjoying the day-to-day. We moved apartments in mid-December and have been so glad to have a space that’s just for us. It’s tiny, but it’s perfect for the two of us and Lucie.
We have some fun travel plans coming up in the next few months, and I do want to re-cap a couple of other things from Krakow that we really enjoyed, now that my teaching schedule has been greatly reduced and I have the time to do more writing.
As a teacher, I’ve always been more spoiled than most when it comes to time off during the year – though I tend to argue that summer breaks and the occasional week off during the school year are compensation for working nearly every single evening and every single weekend during the school year. It’s like cashing in your overtime all at once – which, coincidentally, is how overtime is usually paid here in France. It’s always been relatively rare that Dani and I get to benefit from having the same vacation time, but now that she’s a student at the university where I teach, we’re off school and work at the same time, which means…travel!
There’s no Thanksgiving in France, but most students get time off around la Toussaint, a holiday that falls on the first of November. For non-university students and staff the break is usually two weeks long, but for us, just a week. We decided to make the most of our time and check out a new-to-us country. Dani and I debated a bit over where we wanted to go – Barcelona was a momentary frontrunner – but we settled finally on Krakow, as I’ve always wanted to go and it was insanely inexpensive for the dates available to us.
While actually getting to Krakow was a huge headache – think delayed plane, missed connection, overnight in Munich, failed landing in Poland followed by a return to Munich – we finally arrived in Krakow about a day later than scheduled. The first night we were there was cold, foggy and rainy (which made for some pretty cool photos) but for the remaining days we got incredibly lucky with some seriously nice weather. Blue, sunny skies and changing fall leaves made Krakow all the more charming – not that it needs any help in that department.
We tend not to be overly finicky travelers – we mostly like to explore on foot and eat and drink well. Krakow offered us plenty of opportunities for all of that – and it was so cheap. I almost don’t like telling people that, because I want it to remain that way. There are so many free walking tours, craft breweries and distilleries, fantastic coffee shops and delicious restaurants that it would be impossible, I think, to go to Krakow and not have a fantastic time. And the people were so kind and welcoming, despite our total lack of any Polish language skills whatsoever. It’s really made us want to explore other parts of Poland.
It’s been a minute since my last update, but life went a little crazy once the semester started! Then the next thing I knew, six weeks had gone by and here we are, halfway through the first semester with Christmas quickly approaching. We’ve started to settle in to life in Lyon…there are still a few kinks left to work out, but so far we’ve just been enjoying ourselves and lamenting how quickly the time’s been passing.
Dani’s been keeping occupied with her French classes, which she has for a few hours each day. She’s been also working remotely for her former boss in Michigan; finding a job in France is super challenging, even moreso if you don’t really speak any French, but for now she’s plenty busy. I currently teach seven classes per week, down from the NINE I originally had for the first month of the semester. My students range in abilities from A2 (beginners) to C1 (advanced), and each class that I teach lasts nearly two hours. The curriculum for each course has already been designed by another teacher; we’re invited to put our own spin on things, but thankfully I don’t have to create anything from scratch. I don’t know how I’ll go back to teaching high school after being relatively spoiled prep-wise at both Penn State and Lyon 2. This semester I only teach on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which means I have time to pursue other projects (freelance, reading the Master’s list, play with the dog) on Thursdays and Fridays. I am not-so-secretly hoping for a similar schedule in the spring, but I don’t think I’ll be so lucky!
Other than that, we’ve just been enjoying living in a city once again. There is no shortage of great places to eat and drink, or things to do and see, so our weekends are normally full. We’ve instituted a weekly “Wine Wednesday” tradition, which involves mostly finding a bar or a restaurant to have a glass of wine (or beer) and perhaps a couple of snacks, so that we can enjoy as many different places as possible during our time here. Luckily for us, the concept of “happy hour” is alive and extremely well in Lyon! If we don’t go to an actual bar, we’ll usually opt for something al fresco next to one of the two rivers than run through the city. The weather has been so good that we’ve been trying to soak up as much outside time as possible, before it turns gray, rainy and cold.
Lucie has been adjusting well, too – lots of new things to sniff in a city this size! I think she feels a little cooped up in our current living situation (not a lot of room for her to roam freely) but other than that, she’s been enjoying the freedoms that come with being a dog in France. Unlike in the US dogs are permitted basically everywhere here, with a few exceptions – it’s not uncommon to see a dog on the floor at a restaurant, or running through the aisles at a grocery store.
We’ve been in Lyon for about three weeks now and while we love the city, we’re going a little stir crazy. Classes don’t start here until the 17th, which means that I’ve been effectively “off duty” work-wise since the beginning of May. (I don’t count teaching online, as that wasn’t really an everyday commitment like grad school/full-time teaching.) We moved back to Michigan at the end of July, so Dani has also been off for the last two-plus months; while it’s been nice, we’re also both very much feeling the need to get back to a routine.
So in an effort to keep ourselves occupied until we’re back to the long-awaited “real world”, we decided to take a day trip to Pérouges, a medieval town just up the road from Lyon. At first I was a little bit skeptical, as I thought it might be packed with tourists and totally inauthentic as such little towns can be (I’m looking at you, Frankenmuth and Mont-Saint-Michel) but much to my surprise, we had the place (mostly) to ourselves!
There wasn’t much to do in the cité itself other than take in the scenery and eat which is, let’s be honest, not a problem for either of us. There are some walking trails that circle Pérouges and then go out into the surrounding countryside that vary in length from 30 minutes to about 2.5 hours. Since Lucie came with us and we were operating on a semi-strict timeline because of the train schedule, we picked the 1.5 hour long trail. We ended up not finishing the whole thing because it was blazing hot and poor Lucie was wrecked, so after not quite an hour we took a shortcut back to Pérouges, had an absolutely enormous lunch, then milled about the town until it was time to had back to Méximieux to catch the train to Lyon.
You can click on any one of the photos below to see a larger version!
Dani gets angry when I don’t properly credit her photos. She took this one!
Regardless of whether or not I decided to participate in the Lyon exchange this year, I knew I wanted to go to Paris this August. It’s not really the ideal time to visit the city, as things tend to shut down while the Parisians leave the city for their annual vacances (or maybe that DOES make it the ideal time to visit…) but I wanted to come to celebrate my 30th birthday, which is at the beginning of the month. We were actually pleasantly surprised to find that it was not too overrun by tourists – perhaps it was just late enough in the month that most families had already gone back home to prepare for a return to school and work. Then again, for this particular trip to Paris, Dani and I opted to avoid doing most of the touristy things as we both have been here several times before. Also, having a dog back at our AirBnB meant that we had to limit how much time we spent out and about so that Lucie didn’t feel too neglected.
Still, we managed to get up to quite a lot while we were in the City of Lights; some days even felt positively busy. Here are some of the highlights:
Lunch in the Marais with Dani’s niece – The day we arrived in Paris also happened to be Dani’s niece’s last day in France before returning to London to fly home. She was on a trip with two of her friends, and we managed to meet up with them in the Marais for lunch – the best falafel on the planet (well, at least in France) – and a quick walk around the neighborhood. Unfortunately we were absolutely exhausted after our flight and the experience of hauling our massive suitcases over to the bag check at Gare de Lyon, as we couldn’t check into our AirBnB until later in the afternoon. Did I mention that I also had to carry Lucie in a bag around my neck nearly the entire time? So we probably weren’t as fun as we could have been, had we been a bit more fresh – but it was still fun to show the girls one of our favorite spots in Paris.
Sainte Chapelle and Dani’s first galette – Still exhausted but not wanting to waste our day, we took the train into the city (our AirBnB was just outside of Paris proper) and went to Sainte Chapelle, which Dani had never seen and I had only been to once. There was almost no line! The last time I went, the stained glass windows had been partially under restoration, so it was nice to see them in their full glory. After, we wandered down the rue Saint-André-des-Arts and Dani had her first galette – a savory crêpe. She opted for cheese and caramelized onion filling, which was delicious.
The 130th birthday party – When I was 18 and spending the summer in New York City, I had the great fortune to meet my aunt Christine’s two close friends, Liz and Andrew. At the time that I met them, they were planning a move from New York to Paris and I assumed that it would be the last I saw of them; fortunately, through a weird/serendipitous series of events, we’ve managed to keep in touch over the years and I have had the great privilege to visit them several times on various trips to Paris. They very graciously offered to host a “130th birthday party” during our trip, as I turned 30 and Christine and Andrew both celebrated their 50th birthdays this year. As always we had a fabulous time and way, way too much wine.
A night at the Moulin Rouge – My only other birthday request was for tickets to see the show at the Moulin Rouge, which Dani happily obliged. We had a fancy dinner at Le Bon Bock, which claims to bethe oldest restaurant in Montmartre, hosting the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso (among others), which was delicious and, thankfully, not overly touristy. Afterward we had a quick cocktail at Lulu White Drinking Club which was delightful and I will for sure be adding that to my list of must-visit places in Paris. It was off to the cabaret after that, and while I won’t spoil the experience for anyone else who is thinking of going, I will say that it was kitschy, fun, and totally worth doing, if only just to say you did. One unexpected highlight of the show was watching a dancer shout at a woman in the audience for filming a number on her cell phone, which is prohibited, while in the middle of performing a number.Yowza.
Montmartre Food Tour – We really love a good food tour, so on a whim I booked the last two spots on a morning tour of Montmartre. It turned out to be really wonderful – not quite as good as Rome, maybe, but excellent in its own right. Our group was small and friendly, our guide was great and knowledgeable, and we were extremely well fed (and nearly drunk) when all was said and done. Plus, we’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend a few more hours in Montmartre.
General flânerie – Since we weren’t in a big rush to see and do anything in particular (other than our trip to the Moulin), we really enjoyed taking some small strolls around the city. Our AirBnB was not too far away from the Bois de Boulogne, so we packed a little lunch and took the dog over one day, which was nice for all of us. Another day we hopped on the metro and got off at Notre Dame and went up to the top of the Cathedral to take in the view of Paris and the different gargoyles and chimeras, then afterward just wandered over to the Louvre, through Tuileries, and down the rue Saint-Honoré. We had a nice late lunch, ate macarons from Pierre Hermé, went shopping, and just enjoyed the fact that we had nowhere else to be other than exactly where we were. It was perfect.
Overall, it was a great week to get ourselves primed and ready for the year ahead. We’ve been in Lyon for a few days now and are trying to settle into more of a routine of daily life vs. constant vacation mode, but with school still out of session and us still feeling like tourists, it’s definitely a work in progress. We’ve needed to remind ourselves to slow down a bit – after all, we’ll be here for a year, so there’s no need to rush about and try to do and see everything all at once.
So, if you’ve been following along on social media, you’ve no doubt seen that we’ve been preparing for a trip abroad. There’s been no “formal” announcement, but as most of our friends and family know (and those who’ve been reading closely), this particular trip will last…about one year! Last October I was offered the opportunity to participate in my department’s international teaching exchange in Lyon, France; it’s always been a goal of mine to get back to France at some point, and at this stage of our lives – no kids, we’re not homeowners, not tied down by any one job – it just seemed like the right moment.
That said, we weren’t certain it would actually be happening until about two weeks before our scheduled departure date, as there was some drama with my visa application. Thankfully it all worked out for the best and we were able to leave as planned, with no delays or rescheduled flights or any of the other nightmare scenarios that ran through my head every night from May until…last Tuesday, when we were sitting at the airport and waiting for our flight to Paris.
We made it down to Lyon yesterday afternoon after an unintentionally busy week in Paris and are just starting to settle in. Now that I have a little more free time to write, I thought I’d take a minute to address some of the questions that have kept popping up as we’ve told people about our new adventure!
Wait…what? You moved to France? Why?
Yep! Well, kind of – for a year. The university where I am doing my graduate work offers two year-long teaching exchanges in France – one in Strasbourg and one in Lyon. We happened to visit both cities in 2015 and we preferred Lyon (zero shade to Strasbourg though, which is a lovely place) and so when the time came, I applied to participate in the Lyon exchange.
What are you teaching?
Not French! For the first time in my career, I will be teaching English! My target audience is French university students. I’m not sure what variety of English classes I’ll be teaching just yet, but these exchanges usually involve helping students with their speaking.
Are you taking classes,too?
No. Participating in the exchange puts my degree progress on hold for one year, so this does not count toward my Master’s degree. I am expected to return to Pennsylvania at the end of my year in France to finish up my degree.
What will Dani do?
Dani is also here in France! Bringing her along made the process a little more challenging than it otherwise would have been, as we had to figure out a way to get her legally into the country for a year, but luckily she was able to sign up for some classes and obtain a student visa. She didn’t have any super solid things going on in Pennsylvania that she felt she couldn’t walk away from, and has always wanted to live abroad (though Australia, not France, would probably have been her target country if it were up to her) so…why not? Her plan is to take French classes during the week and do some remote work to make ends meet, and eat as many croissants as she can cram into her body.
What about Lucie?
Moving a dog to a foreign country for a year seems like a crazy idea, and we briefly considered leaving her in Michigan with her Nana and Puppa (Dani’s parents), but we just couldn’t do it. She’s a part of our family and we really hated the idea of being apart from her for so long, so we began the process of getting the paperwork in order to bring her to France. Luckily, France is pretty lenient – so lenient, in fact, that the border agent didn’t even ask to SEE the paperwork that we had to drive 2 hours to East Lansing to have endorsed by the USDA – and as long as she’s microchipped and up to date on her vaccinations, she’s good to go and doesn’t have to spend any time in quarantine. It made our initial travel arrangements a bit more expensive, as we had to find a direct flight to France; normally we don’t mind flights with layovers and flying through Dublin is pretty cheap, but as Lucie is not allowed into the UK or Ireland and entry regulations can vary from country to country within the EU, we thought it best to fly direct. She was a champ on the flight and on the train and has so far been adapting to life very well as a city dog!
What did you do with all of yourstuff?
Dani’s parents are saints and helped us pack up and move most of our stuff from Pennsylvania back to Michigan (despite having just done the opposite trip a year prior), so most of it is currently living in their house. We did purge a TON, however, which felt really great.
Have you found a place to live?
We have! We were lucky enough to secure a place before we left the States, which we had hoped to do, but knew that the odds weren’t particularly in our favor. The rental market in Lyon is crazy – it moves quickly, and requires a ton of documents that are challenging for us to provide, particularly when it comes to income. Most landlords in Lyon require a French guarantor, who must also provide copies of their work contract, three most recent pay slips, three most recent tax returns, bank account verification…it’s really mind-boggling. Though we wanted to have our own place, we ended up finding an apartment with some roommates. The place is HUGE and is smack in the center of Lyon, with an amazing view and a rooftop terrace. It’s only been a day so it’s really too early to tell how it’s all going to turn out, but so far so good – both girls have been super welcoming and kind, and Lucie and the cat (“Mouette” is her name – it means seagull) have gotten along well.
That should cover it for now – we hope to post here regularly, so that we can keep everyone updated on our adventure in France. We can’t wait to see what unfolds!
France wasn’t really in my 2016 travel plans, but last year an opportunity came up that I knew I had to jump on. It was a scholarship for American French teachers, sponsored by the French Embassy in Washington D.C., for a two-week pedagogical “internship” at a language school in the city of Vichy. Very nearly all expenses paid – tuition for the language school, room and board with a host family, a round-trip train ticket from Paris to Vichy, a $600 allowance to defray the cost of a plane ticket, and 200 euros in spending money.
Um, yeah. Sign me up, please.
The only problem was that the scholarship is super competitive. Like, only 20-teachers-nationwide-competitive. Added to that, I didn’t even find about it until literally three days before the deadline Still, I figured I’d give it a shot (it didn’t cost anything to apply – but I did pay to overnight my materials to Chicago) so I cobbled together the application materials as best as I could (realizing that I had lost my passport in the process – thank goodness I had made a copy of the first page for my records!) and crossed my fingers until the day the notifications were to be sent out to the recipients (it was a Friday).
Well, the day came and went and I hadn’t heard anything. I let myself feel disappointed but ultimately moved on – I had rushed to get the application together, after all, so I couldn’t be too surprised – when Wednesday arrived and so did the e-mail that started with Félicitations!
I may have cried a little in front of my students. They were nice about it though!
A few months later I was on a train from Paris to Vichy.
Vichy is an interesting place; it’s in the center of France, right in the midst of a chain of dormant volcanos called Puy-de-Dôme. For literally centuries, Vichy has been known as a place of healing and restoration – there are numerous natural springs that provide the city with mineral water. Some is freely drinkable, and you can fill up as you like at a couple of local wells. The water is naturally carbonated and tastes slightly salty. The others are found in a beautiful art nouveau building in the center of town and can only be drunk with a prescription from the doctor citing your specific ailments and what variety of mineral water you need to drink to cure them.
There are also hot springs and spas are in abundance. Likewise, outdoor activities are in abundance – rowing, biking, horseback racing at the Hippodrome, a lovely riverside park for jogging or rollerblading. It’s a place that values health, quietness and calm. It was lovely. I was surprised at how much I loved it there, particularly considering Vichy’s more recent history.
While Vichy has long been known as a sort of “resort town”, just slightly more than 70 years ago Vichy became known for something else. The French government, on the eve Germany’s invasion of Paris, packed up and left the City of Lights while simultaneously assuring her citizens that there was nothing to fear. Yet the Parisians awoke one day to bombardments, and also to find that their leaders had fled – to Vichy. Vichy became the new capital of France, and forevermore a symbol of the French government’s ultimate collaboration with the Nazi regime. Maréchal Pétain, the president of the Vichy regime, was complicit in the deportation of thousands of Jews – including children (originally denied by the Nazis, Petain sent them anyway) – to ghettos and ultimately, death camps such as Auschwitz.
In Vichy, there are no traces of the war years. No museums, no memorials, no commemorative plaques on any buildings as there are in Paris. The quiet calm of the city makes it hard to believe that such atrocious ugliness happened there. Yet I’m sure the citizens of Vichy – largely made up of elderly retirees – must carry the memory quietly within themselves.
Or perhaps, just as the water of Vichy has healed the many thousands of people who have come to drink from its springs, the city itself has been healed, too.
Five years ago today, I stepped on a plane and my life changed forever. I had just gone through a major transition in my life and wasn’t sure what would be waiting for me when the plane landed in Paris. I was excited, terrified, sad, nervous – everything, as I faced the prospect of spending five months living and studying in a foreign country, away from my friends and my family and my familiar.
It wasn’t easy at first. Landing at the CDG airport was a shock – we (I was with two other girls from my same university) were greeted by a clearly homeless and mentally ill man with no pants or underwear on who was lighting magazine pages on fire inside the airport. The first time I ever spoke French to a real, live French person was to buy train tickets (I planned out everything I was going to say, word-for-word, before I got in line). The bathrooms were filthy and cost money to use. It was freezing cold in the train station, and the only area with heat was a closed-in waiting area that smelled so strongly of urine I could practically taste it. The jetlag caught up with me once I sat in my seat on the train, and though I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open, I was terrified of falling asleep and missing my stop.
And then we arrived in Angers, met our host families and went to our new homes where it really started to sink in – this is it. I won’t see my home or my family again until June. I cried the first night as I Skyped with my mom.
But slowly, Angers started to feel comfortable. My French exploded, and I felt more confident in my second language that my first, wanting to avoid betraying myself as an outsider. I made friends with my host mom’s daughter, fell in love with a little café and their amazing lattés, and even reconnected with some friends that I had originally met during my time in New York, who I thought I would probably never see again after they announced they were moving to Paris (life is so funny sometimes). I got to know people from all around the world. And then when June rolled around, I didn’t want to leave.
I’ve been back to France many, many times since then. I even revisited Angers in 2013 and had lunch with my host mom in that big, old house. It felt like slipping back into a favorite old sweater. Five years – it seems like so long ago but just yesterday at the same time. Even so, I can’t help thinking that I’m not quite done with Angers yet.
On our trip to Cinque Terre, our “home base” was the middle of the five villages, Corniglia. We actually came by our lodging a bit by accident; originally, we had hoped to stay in Vernazza or Riomaggiore. In fact, we had found an AirBnB that the both of us adored and in the time it took us to come to a consensus, the room had been snapped up! And so it goes with such popular destinations, I suppose.
Well, we couldn’t agree on anyplace else in either Riomaggiore or Vernazza that also happened to be within our price range and so we clicked on the next listing we found which was a room in a B & B in the very heart of Corniglia (not that it’s that big of a town but really, it was the dead center of the village). Once we saw the pictures of the roofdeck, we knew – this was it!
When it came down to it, we could not have been happier with our choice. Our hostess, Lidia, was utterly charming and kind; she provided us with maps, directions, suggestions on where to eat, and checked in on us each day during our stay. It was clean, centrally located, had an amazing view and oh, yeah – was literally just steps away from the best gelato I have ever eaten in my life! I mean, we’re talking about a village that counts about 250 year-round residents, but still. If you’re ever in Corniglia, do yourself the favor of getting a scoop or two at Alberto’s – the basil/lemon combo (made with fresh basil from the garden!) was the stuff of which dreams are made.
Corniglia is distinctively different from the other four villages in the Cinque Terre in a couple of ways. First, it’s the only village that doesn’t touch the water. There are two ways to get into the village:
By hiking in from either Vernazza or Manarola.
Arriving by train and walking up 245 stairs.
To be fair, there is a semi-reliable shuttle that runs from the train station to “downtown” Corniglia, but you do have to buy a ticket to use it and it only runs until about 5:00 PM each day.
Once you get into the town itself, though, it’s markedly different from the others. Quieter. Far fewer tourists. There’s no beach – just a man-made swim spot at the bottom of a steep, rocky staircase. More laid-back restaurants. None of the chintzy souvenir shops that make up the bulk of the businesses in the other villages. Corniglia just seems much more untouched – perhaps it’s the hassle involved in actually getting there, but something about its realness made me love it so much more. While we visited the other villages during the day, we returned each afternoon to Corniglia to enjoy our daily aperitivo and to eat dinner. We also couldn’t bear to miss the sunset from the roof of our B & B! I miss just sitting in the warm evening breeze, listening to the sounds of life down below – the cathedral bells, the rumble of a car rolling past, silverware clinking on plates, laughter. If you find yourself in the Cinque Terre, do yourself a favor and spend at least one night in Corniglia. I promise, you will not regret it!