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A month of Christmas markets

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I spent every weekend in a different city, then spent the weeks recovering. And clearly not blogging. But read on!

November 27th, the day after Thanksgiving, I went with four of my teaching assistant friends to Grenoble, a beautiful city close to the French Alps. The first thing I noticed was that Grenoble is a much more international-feeling city than Clermont-Ferrand. People tended to make a friendlier first impression and weren’t turned away by people speaking English like we’ve gotten used to in Clermont-Ferrand. Overall, Grenoble is a picturesque city where the Alps are prominently feature in the landscape – although we didn’t get a good view of them because of the clouds. This is also when we came to realize that the French just don’t do brunch. They prefer to eat a measly breakfast, ie. hot chocolate, toast, croissants, coffee, orange juice.



Chelsi, Lenie, Caitlyn, me, and Lizzie at the highest point in Grenoble.

In the month of December, Strasbourg is one of the most talked about cities in France. It is locate in the region of Alsace, which used to be part of Germany. Because Christmas markets were originally a German tradition, the Alsace region and Strasbourg in particular have a swarm of tourists during the Christmas season. Visiting Strasbourg at Christmas was something I didn’t want to leave France without doing, and was lucky to be hosted by a friend who is working on her master’s degree in Strasbourg and did an exchange at Hamline University last year! Strasbourg is now in my top 3 favorite French cities. The culture is unique because it is still influenced by both German and French culture. There are also rivers throughout the city that add to its charm and beauty. Something I learned on my visit was that there are a bunch of important European institutions in Strasbourg, notably the European Parliament.



One of the Strasbourg Christmas light displays

Nadia’s visit!
The best part of my month was a visit from my sister Nadia! We spent a couple days in Clermont-Ferrand while I finished up my work week, then three days in Paris. Here are all the things we saw:

  • Christmas market on the Champs-Elysées
  • Macarons at La Durée
  • Hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots
  • The Musée D’Orsay
  • A picture in front of the Louvre – not enough time to check out the inside…it really is a massive museum
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Notre Dame cathedral
  • Centre Pompidou modern art museum
  • Luxembourg Gardens
  • Musée Orangerie, where Monet’s water lilies paintings are housed
  • Climbed the Arc de Triomphe for a panoramic view of the city
  • Photo by the Moulin Rouge
  • Sacré-Coeur cathedral in Montmartre – one of my favorite parts of the city!

We also visited one of the sites of the Paris terrorist attacks exactly one month after they occurred, which was a shocking and moving experience. We also really enjoyed our experience staying at the “Trendy Hostel” where we made several new friends and played Phase 10 in the evenings! These friends included two girls from Québec, Canada who ended up coming to Clermont-Ferrand a week later to stay with me!

My friend Julia and I spent an afternoon and evening in Lyon before our flight out to Berlin the next morning. I instantly fell in love with this city… the lights on the river at night, the beautiful church overlooking the city, the historic old part of the city, and the liveliness of the city. That night Julia and I tried Couchsurfing for the first time! for those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing is an online community of travelers and people who have a spare couch or bed to host them for free. Since many of the young people in Lyon had already gone home to their families for the holidays, we had trouble finding a place to stay near downtown, but we stayed in a suburb of Lyon in a spacious house with very hospitable people! We learned a new card game and they shared homebrewed beer with us! It was very memorable.

Lyon at night

Lyon at night.

Before you travel to Berlin, you should know that it is a HUGE city. In area, it is over eight times the size of Paris! During our stay in Berlin, I learned about and was reminded of all the history the city holds. World Wars I & II, the legacy of Martin Luther (Berlin has the first Protestant cathedral I’ve visited in Europe!) and the Berlin Wall.
Perhaps the fondest memory I have of Berlin is visiting a bunch of different Christmas markets throughout the city. Gendarmenmarkt was by far the most beautiful, and it was worth the skepticism we had about the 1 euro entry fee (all the other markets we visited were free entry). Other highlights of Berlin include the TV Tower, which is especially picturesque at night, cheap doner kebabs, climbing to the top of the Berlin cathedral for a panoramic view of the city, top-notch street art throughout the city and on the Berlin Wall, and finding out that none of the good nightclubs are open on a Tuesday night but it is still worth going out, because you could make some cool new friends! Also I was mildly disappointed to learn that Germans don’t put sauerkraut on bratwurst.

Berlin Brandenburg Tor

Brandenburg Gate! Snapchat worthy.

Berlin cathedral and TV Tower

Berlin Cathedral and TV Tower

Berlin street art

Some awesome street art of the Berlin skyline

walking man

Imitating the little green man who indicates to pedestrians when they can cross the street in Berlin.

Since the Clermont-Ferrand airport doesn’t serve many destinations and isn’t cost-effective, traveling long distances is more time-consuming than when I lived in Nice. So, when I found a 10 euro Ryanair flight from Berlin to Brussels, I jumped on it. Then I took a train to Paris then Clermont-Ferrand, which turned out to be a little more expensive than I would have wished, given that I was traveling on Christmas Eve. But, this gave me four hours to explore Brussels a little bit! I had “visited” Brussels in 2013, which was not a real visit but just an overnight wait in the Brussels train station on my way to Germany. My objective in these four hours was to have an authentic Belgian waffle, Belgian fries, and Belgian beer (they have the best beer!!). My mission was accomplished, along with a little wandering around the city. It’s a surprisingly small city for being the administrative center of Europe in many ways.


The accomplishments of my day.

Stay tuned for a post about my New Year’s travels!




This blog post is long overdue

I might be far too much of a procrastinator to be a blogger. But I like to remind myself that this blog is also for me to look back on, as I have never been disciplined enough to keep a journal, and I want to remember as much as possible about this adventure I’m on.

So for the first week of my vacation, I went back to Nice, France to visit friends I keep in touch with from when I studied abroad there…and to bask in the sun. Two of the highlights of this trip were visiting the nearby towns of Eze and Gourdon.

I visited Eze with my friend Marie. It is a picturesque town overlooking the Riviera that I’ve been wanting to visit since I lived in France the first time.




I also traveled with my friends Jill and Amy (who graciously hosted me during my visit) to Gourdon, a perched village on top of a mountain that you can only get to by car, foot or bicycle (if you are daring enough to attempt the last two). We also stopped by a historic candy shop on the way there that was absolutely heavenly.

Gourdon is in the background of this photo.

Gourdon is in the background of this photo.

Next, my wanderlust took me to Spain. It was a great feeling to get out of France and experience a culture that was very different from what I’d grown used to in the previous month. I was so lucky that my friend Julia lives right next to Plaza del Sol, one of the busiest squares in Madrid.  One of the great things about the city center of Madrid is that everything is in walking distance, so I could easily get to Buen Retiro Park, the Prado museum, Gran Via (the street with all the shopping), and the Royal Palace of Madrid on foot. Two of my favorite places were Mercado San Miguel – an indoor market with many options of traditional Spanish food and drink – and Lavapiés – the most international quarter of the city where many immigrants live ~ you can find some cheap, tasty Indian food there! In general, I ate a lot of good food in Spain. And got used to the wild meal times: lunch around 2pm, dinner around 10pm. I definitely ate my fair share of tasty traditional Spanish tapas.

Breakfast the Spanish way - churros and chocolate.

Breakfast the Spanish way – churros and chocolate.


Touring the Royal Palace of Madrid with Julia.

I also made a side trip to visit my friend Andrew in the port city of Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. I believe that you begin to really experience a country’s culture once you’re outside of the capital, which I got to do by visiting Valencia. One of my favorite sites was the Mercado Central, which is considered one of the oldest European markets still running today. Since Valencia is on the coast, of course there was a bunch of fresh seafood, as well as the jamón (dry-cured ham) that Spaniards never stop eating. I also got to climb the cathedral in Valencia, which had a beautiful view of the city. And last but not least, I went to the beach because I will never stop being fascinated by the ocean.

Plaza de Toros, Valencia's bullfighting stadium.

Plaza de Toros, Valencia’s bullfighting stadium.

This work of art redefines the word sandcastle.

This work of art redefines the word sandcastle.

After returning to Clermont Ferrand on the first Monday of November, I took another trip the following weekend to Le-Puy-en-Velay with some of my new friends Lenie & Lizzie, who are also teaching assistants. Le Puy is a town located in the region of Auvergne, where I currently live. We were hosted by another teaching assistant who we met at our orientation at the beginning of October. We got really lucky with the weather that weekend, as it reached the low 70’s! We got to see the cute, small town Saturday market, and all the vendors were very friendly. We also got to see the annual hot air balloon festival just outside the city…though unfortunately we didn’t get to ride in any hot air balloons because the cost was 225 euros per person! One thing I didn’t take the time to do when I lived in Nice was travel to the surrounding towns and cities in the Cote d’Azur region, which was a regret of mine. That is something that I am committed to doing during my 7ish months living in Clermont-Ferrand: exploring the surrounding region and nearby towns.


Church on a rock. A picturesque rock.

Church on a rock. A picturesque rock.

And just one more photo that was one of the highlights of the past week for me in my adventures on public transportation:


Sorry for the delay in blogging…hope it was worth the wait!


All work and no fun is just not French

So, it has been 3 weeks since my last blog post. A lot has happened since then!

My apartment search didn’t end as I expected. The 2 bedroom apartment search with my potential roommate and I turned out to be unfruitful, so we went our own ways. I am now living in a studio apartment that is subsidized by the high school where I will spend 2/3 of my hours teaching each week. It is “smallish” by US American standards, I do not have my own washing machine, nor much storage space, it is farther from the city center than I pictured myself ending up, and the whole living alone thing is new to me. However, I have almost no commute to work 3 days a week, I have a great view of the city, I have everything I need, and it is ridiculously affordable (150€ per month!!).


I have gotten to know most of the other TAPIF teaching assistants living in Clermont-Ferrand, and we spend a bunch of time together. I’m still figuring out the best way to break out of my shell and meet locals…all the French locals I met are very nice but I don’t brush shoulders much with them, except the teachers I work with.

Speaking of the teachers I work with, they have all been very welcoming and excited to work with me! Between the two schools, I am working with about 9 teachers. This will be a good challenge for me in cross-cultural communication and figuring out how best to work with a bunch of different people. This past week was the first time I visited the classrooms where I will be teaching in the coming months. At the middle school, I will mostly be with older students who are engaged in the English class, whereas the high school is a little bit different. Since it is a vocational high school, many students have a low interest in mastering the English language, and there are more behavioral problems. As I’ve mentioned, the school is predominantly boys as well, and let’s be honest – high school boys everywhere are still high school boys. But in general, I am excited to join these classes and hopefully encourage some students to excel.

Onto the more fun aspects of my life here, because relaxation and recreation are super important to French culture – that’s a big part of the reason I wanted to come back! For those of you who don’t know, (which I also didn’t know until recently) Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in mid-October, and last Monday was Canada’s Thanksgiving. A bunch of the teaching assistants had a potluck to celebrate, since one of the assistants is Canadian. It was really great, and of course every celebration in France is paired with a bunch of wine.

canadian thanksgiving

Starting yesterday, I’m on Toussaint vacation for two weeks. And vacation = travel. I’ll be going to Southern Europe: Nice, Madrid and Valencia to visit good friends and catch some sun rays to bring back with me to this cloudy city.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll share an update of my travels upon my return!


Getting settled…kinda…

Let’s just say that I wish I had accomplished more after living in Clermont-Ferrand for a week, and I haven’t. But in this post I will focus on what has happened, rather than what I haven’t done yet 🙂

Most notably, I have met 5 other teaching assistants so far! We are a diverse group, hailing from Minnesota, Canada, Michigan, Texas and Kansas. It has been good to meet people who are going through the same joys and challenges that I am. On Saturday I’ll be going to a party hosted by one of last year’s teaching assistants who is staying in Clermont-Ferrand to teach English at the university level. I’ll get to meet more of my fellow teaching assistants and gain some new insights, so I’m very excited about that.

On Friday 9/25 I got to tour and meet some English teachers at the “Lycée Professionnel” where I will be working 8 hours a week. It is essentially a technical high school where students study many of the same vocations that you would see in a technical college in the US – auto mechanics, painting, restaurant management, and carpentry. The school is vastly male students, which will be very interesting for me! (You know Minnesotans use the word interesting when they can’t think of a specific word to use, and don’t want to say something negative.)

That same day I also got to go to a crêpe restaurant – crêperie – with the Adamson family, who I’m staying with temporarily. It was so good! Here’s a snapshot of my savory crêpe and dessert crêpe:


I had a great weekend in which I did a lot of walking. On Saturday, myself and three new friends (Lizzie, Lenie and Chelsi) hiked up the Puy-de-Dôme – the most prominent of the 7 dormant volcanoes that surround Clermont-Ferrand. The hike up took over 3 hours, but the view was well worth the effort!

PuyDeDome hike

Sunday I went to a local flea market – which is always interesting and a tiny bit overwhelming. There was a definite mixture of junk and treasures. Then my new friends and I also visited the cathedral, which is in the center of town and made of black volcanic lava rock! We climbed 250 steps to the top and saw a very beautiful view of the city.

clermont ferrand cathedral

Tomorrow I am visiting the middle school where I will be teaching 4 hours a week, as well as visiting a potential apartment which I really hope will work out!! Send good thoughts and prayers my way for the next 24 hours 🙂


Je suis arrivée en Europe!

A week ago I left Minneapolis with a lot of nervous, excited energy.

I flew to Reykjavik, Iceland and then to Paris, France. In Paris I stayed with some friends of Claire Boyle, a friend I have stayed in touch with through middle school, high school and beyond (I couldn’t stay with her, because her temporary living situation is a tiny apartment!). Since it wasn’t my first time in Paris, I wasn’t concerned with doing the typical touristy stuff. We ate good food and drank good wine, and wandered around the city.

I was in Paris for 24 hours before hauling my heavy luggage to the train station, en route to Turin, Italy. I stayed in Turin for 4 full days, which were filled with pizza, pasta and dear friends. Here’s a picture of Friday night aperitivo – basically Italian happy hour:

Turin apero_9.18.15

Since I’d also visited Turin before, I’d seen most of the tourist attractions, so spent time reconnecting with friends, and even got to see one of my friends perform with his band, Alephant! Check them out on YouTube 🙂 I also went to the small Italian countryside town of Caluso to experience their annual wine festival.

This morning I traveled to Clermont-Ferrand from Turin by train, which was about a 7 hour journey. Thanks to a friend of a mutual friend, (I owe you, Jenny Keil!) I am staying with an American family in the interim period between my arrival and landing an apartment in Clermont-Ferrand. The husband/father of the family is employed by Michelin, which is headquartered here in Clermont-Ferrand; most of the city’s expats are connected to Michelin.

Tomorrow I start the process of getting a French phone plan and setting up apartment visits. My roommate Samantha, who is an English teaching assistant as well, arrives on Saturday! I start my job the first week of October. Here’s the view from where I stand right now:

Clermont Ferrand_9.22.15

Thanks for reading 🙂

Under 48 hours until departure and of course I’m not packed!

I have consulted the internet for all the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) blogs saying what to pack and what not to pack, and I’ve laid out most of the clothes I want to bring. But I still have a few more things to buy and a few more errands to run. I am praying that my new Warby Parker glasses will come in the mail surprisingly early, but there’s not much chance of that (yes, sometimes procrastination really kills.)

On Tuesday, I take an evening flight to Reykjavik, Iceland and have a connecting flight to Paris. This flight costed a grand total of $484, thanks to Expedia and purchasing it 5 months in advance. I am spending a night in Paris with one of my close high school friends who is living there for the year. The next day I take the train to Turin, Italy to reconnect with some dear friends and spend 4 days there before taking another train to my final destination, Clermont-Ferrand. Here is a map of where the city is located:map of Clermont-FerrandThat’s all for now!

Better late than never?

So long story short, I studied my butt off in January in attempt to do anything but fail my 10 courses. Yes, 10 courses. Then I had a week between my last exam and my departure so I spent as much time with friends as possible.  Then I came back and it would have been too hard to write a final blog post because I was so sad to be back in the US.  Then my computer stopped working (and my car needed repairs but that isn’t relevant to this story).  Now I have a new computer and I’m ready to give you all a summary of my last month in Europe.

At the end of December I went to Cannes.  I did some exploring on my own which included the Christmas market, the old city, the port filled with yachts and taking advantage of the after-Christmas discounts!  Then I met up with my friends Anthony and Sam who grew up in Cannes.  We walked along the Boulevard de la Croisette as well as the most impressive street of stores and shops, Rue d’Antibes.  Also I took pictures on the red carpet, naturally.

cannescannes 2

New Years. We went to the highest point in Nice to watch the last sunset of 2013 over the ocean.  At midnight we went to the beach to see the fireworks from Monaco and Cannes. That was pretty fabulous. Then we went to a pub with live music and danced and such!  Here’s me with my friends Silvia, Sonia and Giorgia.

new years

Then I went back to studying until one of my great high school friends (we were in Paris together) came to visit for the weekend! She is living in Mallorca, Spain and teaching English for the year.  We rode the Ferris wheel, walked on the beach, saw the sights and went to Monaco.

me n patty

chateauThen… guessed it, I studied some more. My record for how many consecutive hours I was in the library was 9.  Finally, on January 22nd I finished my last exam and the following day I got on a plane to Rome.  I knew some of my friends from Hamline would be there for a January term class but I didn’t anticipate getting to spend a lot of time with them because of the demands of the class.  So without a care in the world I got onto an airplane with my backpacking backpack and a guidebook to Rome without much of a plan.  That was when I seriously realized how far I’d come since arriving in Dublin nearly 5 months earlier.  I realized how independent and self-sufficient I’d become.  It was a really empowering feeling.

I really enjoyed the hostel that I stayed at.  I met some great people and bonded with the French speakers the most.  The first thing I did was get out my map and figure out how to get to the legendary Trevia Fountain.  I succeeded and then proceeded to walk back to the hostel that evening on a different route, where I passed a restaurant/pub with live musicians.  Of course that was enticing to me so I did something that I probably would have never envisioned myself doing: I sat at the bar alone and ordered a beer and chatted with the bartender.  Because it seemed like the perfect thing to do on a rainy evening in Rome.  Also it is one of the better ways to receive compliments like, “You’re too pretty to not have a boyfriend!”  Here’s my best selfie at the Trevia fountain.

TreviaDay 2: I went to the Colosseum with a new acquaintance from the hostel.  It was so majestic! Very incredible.  Then I went off on my own to see the Pantheon, Piazza d’Espagne, and just to wander around.  That’s a great thing about Rome.  It’s much less daunting to wander around Rome than a city like Paris or London, because it’s not as big as those cities.  So the density of cool things to see is higher. I think it’s pretty obvious where I’m at in this photo.

ColosseoDay 3: I went to Vatican City with another new friend from the hostel.  We waited in a super long line to see the San Pietro Basilica; there’s a mediocre picture of me there below that doesn’t do that gorgeous place any justice.  We also went into the Vatican museums but really all I wanted to see was the Sistine Chapel.  The museums were cool but the Sistine Chapel really took my breath away.  We stayed there for like 15 minutes I want to say, just staring.  I didn’t want to leave.  On the way back we walked along the river that goes through and then accidentally found the coolest neighborhood that my Italian friends had told me about, Trastevere.  It had the rustic charm that I had always imagined Rome would have. So basically we walked around until our feet hurt.

san pietroMy last day in Rome was really only a half day, and I got on the bus to go to the airport just as it started to pour. So that was fortunate!  Anyway, my last morning I wanted to go to this huge flea market that I’d read about in my guidebook.  It was definitely an interesting and mildly overwhelming cultural experience!  Getting there was a challenge because it was a bit of a hike from the nearest metro station!  It was a great ending to my weekend in Rome.

The moment I got back to Nice I started rehearsing with my friends who performed with me at my going-away party/concert.  I wanted to make sure I could say goodbye to as many people as I could rather than leaving without a goodbye.  A couple weeks before we auditioned for the manager of a pub in the old town and he said we were good enough to perform!  The night of my concert was definitely one of my top 5 moments of all 5 months I was there.  I invited everyone I was facebook friends with in Nice which totaled about 100 people.  And in the end I think about 70 of them came and brought their friends! To see how many people cared about me enough to come see me sing on a Tuesday night when they had 9am class the next day…that is when I started to realize just how blessed I was with all of these incredible people in my life. My friends in the pictures below are Andrea (from Italy), Vinh (from France) & Piotrek (from Poland), and Guillermo (from Spain).

concert2concert1concert3The next day it rained. It’s like Nice was sad to see me go too.  I spent all day packing and then stayed up all night with friends until I left at 5:30 the next morning for the airport.  After flight delays and missed connection flights, I finally landed in Minneapolis 26 hours later.

Now, I’m going to try to  make some overarching statements about my time abroad.  But really I can’t even put how I grew and what I learned into words.  I became more or less fluent in French.  I learned about a bunch of different cultures from the people I met of different nationalities, and even the French that I met from different regions.  I learned that beer is my favorite alcohol and tequila is my liquor of choice (especially with salt and a slice of lime).  I learned to navigate a bunch of subway systems and confusing streets.  I learned to hold back the tears when faced with a really challenging situation, and just push forward until the problem was solved.  I discovered that after a night out, when the buses have stopped working and no one has a bike, 1 hour is considered walking distance.  I learned how much Italians really do love their pizza and pasta.  Sure I learned some things in school too, but that’s not what I will remember the most.  My “study” abroad enriched my life and helped me see what it’s like to separate myself from the comforts, friends and family of home that I hold dear and take my own risks. My experience was more fabulous than I could have dreamed. Thank you to all who have supported me and encouraged me along the way.

Europe, I’ll be back soon.

Alia in Italia!

Hi family and friends,

Let’s pretend this isn’t my first blog post in 3 weeks. But I honestly have to say that the first half of December was nothing special, I was just finishing up classes and hanging out.  But from December 19-24 I was in Italy and then of course life got more interesting!

And now that I said nothing interesting happened in the first half of December…there were a couple singing gigs. But this is natural because Christmas always means singing for me.  The 13th and 14th of December I participated in Christmas choir concerts with my church in Nice.  We sang 12 traditional Christmas carols and invited people from within the church as well as the community. It was a great time!  Then Sunday the 15th I sang a duet with my friend Jill who is a missionary here in Nice and is a formally trained opera singer! You can see the performance below:

Back to Italy. On the 19th I traveled to Torino by train with 2 of my fellow students who are Italians from Torino.  It took a lot of the burden off of me because I don’t have too much experience with trains, and I don’t speak Italian.  My first day in Torino I ate….pasta.  And pizza.  Pasta for lunch, pizza for dinner. It was fabulous and I also got to see the 3 biggest squares (the Italian word piazza is way better) – Vittorio (the biggest in Europe!), San Carlo and Castello.  It was also raining, which eventually turned into snow! I was very excited to see snow because for me, winter has always meant snow.  Here is a picture with me and my friends Stefano and Paolo in Piazza Vittorio.


The second day in Torino I did not see snow, but more rain.  I met some friends of my friend Stefano who spoke English pretty well so that was exciting! I also went to the Egyptian museum which is only second largest to the museum in Cairo!  I also experienced an Italian jukebox firsthand! (as pictured below)


Day 3 I took the train to Milan with my friends Thomas and Clara.  Before I heard my Italian friends here talk about Milan, the name was really just a foreign, mystical name and I no idea what the city was like.  The Duomo (cathedral) is absolutely beautiful, especially the façade on the outside (see below).  There are lots and lots of shops including lots of luxury shops, and of course there was a bunch of people there the weekend before Christmas.  We also saw the Castle Sforzeco…that Victoria Beckham wanted to buy.  We also saw another area of Milan with the Navigli (manmade waterways) which is a picturesque area that I would love to see in the summertime (it was raining when we were in Milan as well).  And naturally over the course of the day we had pizza and authentic Italian coffee.  I ended the day by seeing my friend Andrea perform – he lives just outside of Milan.  He gave a vocal jazz concert that was absolutely incredible.


Day 4, I returned to Torino to see the Torino Football Club take on Chievo.  I was with my friend Stefano, his friend Stefano, brother Federico and cousin Annalisa in the section of the stadium with the most engaged and excited fans.  All of the cheering worked because Torino won by a little bit of a landslide, 4-1.  That night I saw more of the piazzas of Torino with my friend Thomas; Torino is really beautiful at night!  I also ate delicious gelato.IMG_0899


Day 5 was my last real day in Torino.  I wandered around the city some more with my friends Fabio, Enrico and Paolo, including going to the Caffè Baratti & Milano which is a fancy fancy café (photographic evidence below).  I also went to the museum of cinema, located inside the city’s most well-known landmark, the Mole Antonelliana.  Then I took the elevator alone to the panoramic view at the top.  I highlight ALONE because there is a superstition that if a student takes the elevator to the top they will never finish their studies, so none of my Italian friends came with.  I, however tested fate, because why not?  That night I met a lot of friends of my friends at a welcome home party for one of their friends who was studying abroad in Maastricht this semester.  It’s always interesting to say to someone at their own party, Hi you don’t know me. And oh, I’m American.  I was switching between English and French a lot that night.


Day 6, I left my friend Paolo’s house at 8am and did not get back to my dorm room until 2:30pm.  4 trains, a tram and a bus.  And it was raining again.  A few hours later I hopped in my friend Marie’s car to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with her family just outside of Grasse.  Santa even brought me chocolate! I was so blessed by her family’s hospitality and welcoming me as their own daughter for two nights.  I even sang some Christmas carols for them while playing Marie’s guitar, because again, Christmas for me is always associated with music.  Here is a picture of most of us at Christmas! From left to right: Pierre, me, Marie, Camille (son of sister Sarah who isn’t pictured), Samuel and Pascale.


Right now I’m studying, memorizing, studying for exams in January. But I will still trying to pack as many fun experiences into January as I can 🙂

A bientôt,

Thanksgiving, performing, and lots of sunshine

Hi everyone!

It’s December now…but what’s difficult to comprehend is the fact that I’m listening to Christmas songs saying “the weather outside is frightful” which I’m so used to…when I spent Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the beach!  I’m enjoying the mild weather and the sunshine while my friends from home post snowy photos on Facebook.

But back to one of my highlights of November: Thanksgiving dinner! I think I ate the most that I’ve ever eaten at Thanksgiving, I was a little overzealous.  The dinner was hosted by two American missionaries from the church I attend. The other nationalities represented that evening were friends from France, Lebanon, Portugal and Columbia! Unfortunately this photo is missing one of the hostesses because she was taking the picture.

IMG_0718Next exciting thing: my dear friend Kyrie from home came from Dublin to visit me for the weekend! I got to be a tourist in Nice all over again, it was fantastic 🙂 Since she doesn’t speak French and I talk with my friends in French 90% of the time, I got to hear their English that I’ve never heard before. It was entertaining 🙂 They were great sports.  We also went to the Marché de Noël (Christmas Market) in Nice which has a Ferris Wheel, ice skating rink, crêpes, mulled wine and lots of lights!  Before she left we spent the 1st of December soaking up the sun on the beach. Incredible!

62351_10202766112098979_1028879572_nIMG_0742857000_574117125994904_1637680258_oThen I went to some classes, wrote some papers, and finally received my food stipend! Getting 1000 euros at one time is very overwhelming. Naturally I treated myself with a trip to H&M.

One of my favorite memories so far was last night, when I got to perform at a concert with some great guys from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Poland and Vietnam.  The capacity that music has to bring people together is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t give my camera to anyone to take pictures, but I do have some pictures of us rehearsing and a friend posted a picture from the concert to Facebook already.

A bientôt,

Wow my blog is close to 1000 hits!

Hi everyone!
A week ago I returned from a great but chilly weekend in Geneva with some of my American friends 🙂  Truth be told, there is a lot to see in Geneva but finding those places is the tricky part.  Everything is quite spread out, compared to Nice where most of the touristy activities are near each other.  The first day Kyrie and I explored and mastered the public transportation system.  That night we went to this cool area of town called Carouge and saw a concert with some incredible Quebecois musicians.  The picture below is one of the bands that performed.  The woman was singing (Jorane, by name) and playing cello at the same time. It was incredible!

ImageSaturday morning we saw some markets and meandered along the Lake, which is a beautiful color of aqua blue.  We went to the Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre which holds a lot of history of the Protestant Reformation and John Calvin in Geneva.  Also, its tower is the highest point in the city, so we paid 5 francs to climb a mountain of stairs and get a beautiful view of the city. Unfortunately Saturday and Sunday were very cloudy so we could barely see the Alps. Next we went to Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva which has been converted into a free museum.  We also saw the longest bench in the world and took a detour to the park.  Later that evening we cooked some pasta in the microwave of our hostel (there was no stove or oven!) to curb our hunger because eating in Geneva is super expensive! (Thank you Kyrie for bringing the pasta! I did my part by bringing the chocolate.)  Then we went to this restaurant out on a pier on the lake and ate some very tasty cheese fondue.  Then we checked out a few pubs in the Old Town as well as this British pub near our hostel which had a live band playing oldies music. Kristina and I were entertained…Kyrie not so much.


Sunday, I finally got to see the Jet d’Eau on the lake so that was fantastic! Then Kyrie and I made the rounds to see the United Nations building as well as a human rights museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.  Then we explored the Botanical Garden which was incredible! We saw a lot of exotic animals, plants and…rocks. That was one of my favorite parts of Geneva.  One other cool part about Geneva is that there are small boats that cross the lake as part of the city’s public transport system so that was great! Almost like being back home in Minnesota.

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Since Geneva I have continued to have a grand time in Nice. Contrary to what I thought, brisk autumn weather does exist here, and at night the temperature is usually in the low 40s.  But that’s nothing compared to the freezing temperatures I see in the Minnesota forecasts! That’s all for now.


A bientôt,

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