mes pensées éparpillées

scattered thoughts from a european adventure

Archive for the tag “wanderlust”

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!

Grenoble
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.

 

Grenoble

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

Strasbourg
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.

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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!

Lyon
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.

Berlin
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.

Brussels
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.

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The accomplishments of my day.

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

xoxo,
Alia

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

Bisous,
Alia

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