Odds & Ends

Life has been rolling merrily along here in France. My teaching schedule this semester has been mercifully easy – so easy, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll ever adapt to having a “regular” job again. I only teach one class on Thursday evenings, and then three classes in a row on Fridays, from 8 AM until 2 PM. That’s left plenty of time to explore Lyon, read the MA list, and put in some hours for freelance projects.

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Some of our best moments in March

We’ve not done as much traveling this semester as we would really like (the passage of time has always and will forever follow an academic calendar), mostly due to the dog and Dani’s school schedule which is a bit more punishing than my current five-and-a-half-day-weekend situation. Taking a trip back to the States also set us back a bit financially, as one of those trips was an unpleasant surprise. Spring Break is on the horizon, though – and we’ve got an adventure planned!

Until then, we’ve just been enjoying the little pleasures that come along with living here. The weather has been exceptionally nice, so that has meant lots of afternoon picnics in the park and walks along the river. We try to hit the open air market at least once a week, and enjoy a coffee or a pint on a terrace in the afternoons. I also recently had the pleasure of finally meeting someone in person who I have known for years online; she is part of my personal learning network on Twitter and was in Lyon with students for their spring break. We were able to have dinner together, and it was so nice to finally get to speak with her face-to-face!

Also, just a few days ago we went to our first European soccer match. It was a match between the local team, Olympique Lyonnais, and the football club from Rennes for the “coupe de France” which, as far as I can tell, is the game that decides the best team in France. In an attempt to fill up the stadium, tickets went on sale for only 1 euro! A local friend of ours, knowing that we’ve wanted to make it to a match this year, bought a few and invited us along. Unfortunately, OL lost to Rennes in the last few moments of the match, but it was fun and exciting nonetheless! A few months back Dani bought a ticket package to the last three matches of the women’s World Cup, so we’re looking forward to (hopefully) seeing the United States play at the same stadium in July.

We’ve also settled on a return date to the United States: August 7th. It’s exactly one week shy of the one-year “anniversary” of our arrival in France. I’m trying not to get too down in the dumps about going back home, but it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the countdown. There is still a lot to look forward to in the months to come – we have a TON of travel plans coming up and our best friends are coming to visit in June. I just know that once the “busy” season sets in, as summer begins, that the days and weeks are going to fly by even faster than they have been. So for now, I’m enjoying this “slow” season and trying to soak up as much as I can with the time we have left.

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Delicious Krakow

I know this post is super late, given that we traveled to Krakow in November, but I just really have to talk about our food tour experience since it was such a great one. We’re food tour people – I’ve posted about our amazing experience in Rome here – and food tours have become our go-to activity in new places that we visit. It’s a fun way to see a city, and the guides typically make excellent restaurant recommendations for places that provide quality food and are authentic and not too overtaken by tourists.

We knew we definitely wanted to do a food tour while we were in Krakow, and we opted to book through Delicious Poland. They’re locally owned and operated, and though the company has expanded to include tours in other cities like Wroclaw and Warsaw, it was created in Krakow. In fact, our guide for our food tour through Kazimierz, the city’s former Jewish quarter, was the company’s CEO/co-founder, Kamila.

Having done several food tours, Dani and I have a pretty good idea of what we like and this one ticked all the boxes. It was a group experience, but small – there were only six of us, plus Kamila. We’ve been on larger tours and we’ve been on smaller tours where it was just us and the guide, and we definitely like the group atmosphere – there is just something fun about discovering and sharing new food with other people. But the one thing that we really loved about this particular tour through Krakow was that we tried foods that were totally traditional to Poland and that we also would probably never have tried on our own. I mean, everyone likes pierogies and potato pancakes – but pickled herring? Chilled beet soup? In all honesty, I would never order either at a restaurant, but I’m so glad we had the opportunity to try them on our food tour and that the food choices were not tailored to the palates of finicky tourists.

So, what did we eat?

We kicked off the tour at a pierogi take-out joint and sampled four different kinds of pierogies, three savory and one sweet. As it was getting close to the Christmas holidays, Kamila explained that the pierogies she chose were typical of those served at Christmas time in Krakow, and she explained how they are typically made (it sounds super tedious). From there, we walked further into Kazimierz and stopped at a restaurant where we the aforementioned chilled beet soup, which was surprisingly delicious and not at all “earthy’ tasting as one normally expects with beets. We also had zurek, a hot soup made from a sourdough starter. It reminded me a lot of the dill pickle soup at the Polish-American restaurant my family frequents. I’m not sure why I was initially put off by the idea of a sour soup, given that I quite like the dill pickle version, but the zurek was excellent.

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From there, we went to a Polish vodka bar where we sampled two different kinds of vodka – one traditional/plain, and one flavored – accompanied by herring and other small bites, like smoked sheep’s milk cheese. I’ll be honest: this stop was my least favorite, food-wise, as I’m just not normally a fish person under the best of circumstances and herring is quite particular. But it’s typical in Poland to have herring alongside vodka, as the grease of the fish complements the bite of the alcohol, so I tried it. Final verdict: herring is not for me, but Dani liked it (as did the others in our group) so definitely don’t be put off by my unpopular take. I’m glad Kamila included this stop on the tour, since herring is everywhere in Krakow, so it added authenticity to the whole experience.

Wisely, we took some time to “walk it off” before heading over to a craft brewery, Ursa Maior. Krakow is big-time into craft beer (definitely NOT a problem for us) and this brewery in particular was cool for two reasons: one, the head brewer is a woman and two, they only serve their own beer, which is 100% vegan, natural, and locally made. Not much else to say on this stop – we love beer, so we loved it (obviously).

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Finally, we had our stop for dinner at a restaurant where Dani and I had actually stopped for a light lunch earlier in the day…whoops. No matter – we were more than happy to eat there again because the food was amazing. We had a beef goulash and potato pancakes, followed up by a dessert (which I unfortunately don’t remember) and kompot, a juice made from a variety of boiled fruits.

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It’s hard to make this look appetizing in a photo, but believe me, it was delicious.

To say that we left fat and happy would be an understatement. And, as a little side note and shout out to our awesome guide, Kamila, she helped me read the instructions on the cold medicine I had bought earlier in the day. She also recommended a great paczki place that we tried the very next morning (there was no way I was going to Krakow and not getting paczki). I went with Kamila’s suggestion of rose jam filling and all I can say is that the Michigan paczki market needs to get on board with that particular flavor, STAT.

Really, we can’t recommend Delicious Poland enough. This is not a sponsored post – we just know a good food tour when we see one, and this is right up there with our epic experience in Rome. If you ever find yourself in Poland, check them out – you won’t regret it!

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I see you looking at my donut, pigeon.

Winter in Europe

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.

Toussaint in Krakow, Poland

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.

A complete gem.

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fog and rain in Krakow’s main square

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the courtyard at Wawel Castle

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Dani with her bagel – did you know bagels were invented in Krakow?

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Daily Life

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.

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our neighborhood
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the roman ruins just up the street from our place

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!

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the view from our current apartment

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.

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the campus of the university where Dani takes classes; I teach at technically the same university, but a different (and MUCH less photogenic) campus

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.

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weekend open-air markets
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the banks of the Rhone
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velo’v, the city bike sharing system
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a rare glimpse of fall leaves at Parc de la Tête d’Or

Pérouges

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!

The healing waters of Vichy, France

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).

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CAVILAM – Alliance Française

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.

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La source des Célestins, just steps from my host family’s house

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.