Wanderlust

The Nanny Diaries Edition

Returning to Life as I Knew It — April 14, 2017

Returning to Life as I Knew It

I’ve been home about a month and a half now and all I can say is wow. Did I really live in Paris for six months? Is it really over? Did I dream all of that? How is it that one of the coolest experiences of my life is now over, done, in the past?

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It’s honestly still strange to hear myself tell other people that I lived in Paris for six months. I always got the same generic questions in response, so I thought I would talk a little bit about how I respond to them, but also how I internalize my experience based on answering these common questions. Beginning with:

“What was it like?” 

To attack the first question, Paris will always be for me a place that makes me feel inspired in a way that is difficult to describe. I’m as giddy as a school girl each and every time I see the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle, I am constantly amazed by the way in which the city is constantly revealing its beauty to those who take the time to dwell in it, and I’ll be forever grateful for what living in Paris taught me about myself. It was culturally diverse, it was challenging to live in, but it was also amazing and breathtaking and challenged me to reach new depths personally.

Anyone who follows my blog will recall that I had a rough couple of months at the beginning; I contemplated coming home and not finishing my commitment (which is so unlike me);  I was just overall unhappy, but I didn’t really know why. There were rough spots throughout the first half of my stay, but December and January were really where I started coming into my own and feeling confident about my place in the city. Unfortunately, this left me only a couple of months to really dig deeper into my surroundings and cultivate my experience. I find myself often lost in thought, thinking how disappointed I would have been in myself if I would have given up, if I would have called it quits so early. There’s no shame in it, really, but then I wouldn’t have met lifelong friends, learned more about myself, or traveled. Even the thought of it scares me, because now I don’t know when my next adventure will be and I can’t imagine having wasted an amazing opportunity.

“Do you miss it?”

The answer to this is always tough because I so love being back closer to family in an environment that is totally comfortable and familiar. But Paris is Paris…so of course I miss it! I miss the crepes, the Eiffel Tower, the quaint streets and beautiful architecture, and just knowing that I was living in one of the most amazing cities in the world. I will say that there are definitely things I don’t miss–the stereotypical rude locals, the traffic and feeling closer to death each time I crossed the street, navigating and riding the metro, and the timid feeling I got whenever I had to attempt to converse in French, knowing that I would butcher everything I was about to say. That being said, overall ,yes I miss it, but you can’t beat home.

“What’s next?”

Everyone’s favorite question about life in general. For those of you who don’t know, I recently accepted a position at Kaplan University at their Des Moines location. I’m in my third week as an administrative assistant for both the nursing and health sciences departments. Whenever people ask me what I do in this role, I resort to telling them that I’m basically a ‘catch all.’ I help with planning events, orientation for new students and nursing students, keep track of paperwork for students, and many other duties. It’s always tough learning a new role, adapting to a new environment with strangers, but my colleagues and supervisors have been nothing short of fantastic and I’m starting to get the hang of things. I enjoy the versatility of the role and the fact that I work for two different departments, which allows for a ‘change of scenery’ and the opportunity to do many different things.

For once, my “grand adventure” will be staying put long enough to dig some roots. For someone who has been on a whirlwind of adventures for the last two years, it feels good to say that I’m here to stay…for now. 😉 I’m looking forward to meeting new people, reestablishing connections with old friends, and simply living in the moment in a place I can call home.

“How does it feel to be back?

I was expecting it to be a much more difficult transition coming home, but to my surprise, I fell back into my routine about as easily as I could have hoped. Whether we like to admit it or not, life goes on whether you’re there to partake in it or not. I was quickly back with friends and family, going about our normal evening or weekend plans, and I hit the job search hard just as soon as I got home. I think throwing myself into job searching and having numerous phone calls and interviews the first week or two really helped me acclimate and it took my mind off the fact that I was now moving on to the next stage in life, leaving Paris behind.

and finally…”Do you miss the girls?”

The six months I spent with my little munchkins was definitely challenging, but watching them open up and fall in love with me was so worth it. I began talking with Daphne a couple of weeks before I left, explaining that she would have a new “nounou” and that I would go back home when that time came. She understood the general idea, but I don’t think we both understood my role in their lives until my last night, as I was saying goodbye. I went to their apartment to say goodbye, where I was showered with gifts and loads of hugs. Daphne was pretty entertained by herself, but the moment she sensed that I was really leaving…to “go back to Americ” as she would say, her demeanor instantly changed. I only made it from the living room to the kitchen before she weighed me down, where I sat on the kitchen floor for a good 20 minutes holding both girls in my lap and Daphne repeatedly saying “Don’t go, don’t go.” It came time where the girls needed to get to bed and I needed to finish packing, which was the most heartwrenching moment. Alice (her mom) peeled her off of me and that’s when the tears started. I said my teary goodbyes as Alice took her to the other room, where I could hear her in hysterics saying “Kaley, Kaley!” 

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They will always hold a most special place in my heart. I think about them often and fortunately for me, one of my good friends, Lily, has taken my role, which means I get (almost) daily updates about Daphne and Penelope and where their beautiful lives are taking them now. Like this picture of Daphne losing her first tooth. Or the other photos from the girls’ Spring vacation. It makes my day whenever I receive pictures and videos of them and I’ll be forever grateful to still share in these moments with them in hopes of seeing them again someday.

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One of the things I will always resent memories is because oftentimes, we don’t appreciate experiences until we look back on them in retrospect. I don’t feel that I took the experience for granted, but find myself hoping and wishing that I really did appreciate it for what it was: the opportunity of a lifetime. With each day that goes by and I get further settled into life back home and further away from what seems like a dream life, I’m so fortunate to have that experience to look back on, and my goal now is to appreciate my adventures close to home, no matter how big or small, and to remind myself to appreciate the moment before it becomes a memory.

Stay grateful and never stop exploring!

xoxo,
K

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Hola Spain! — February 14, 2017

Hola Spain!

I spent last week traveling through Madrid and Salamanca, Spain. In France, they are required to have two weeks off every 45 days of school (!), and last week and this week are holiday weeks. My host family headed to the Alps to ski, leaving me with a free week. It worked out perfectly because my friend Lily, who is taking over my au pair position, was coming to Europe early and we planned our trip together. I hadn’t been to Spain since 2014, so I was eager to go back and see more of this beautiful country.

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It was an eventful morning the day we were set to leave for Madrid. Lily flew into Paris that morning so that she could drop a majority of her luggage off. We had a mid-afternoon flight, so there wasn’t any rush. I got to the airport and there was a security lockdown of sorts–someone had left an unattended briefcase–and it was blocking me from reaching the terminal where Lily was. Luckily we weren’t too far apart and she could walk outside to meet me, but it was a little alarming that’s for sure. We went back to the apartment and I showed her where she’d be living and working for the next six months. We ate a quick lunch and headed back to the airport.

I usually have an unlimited public transit pass, but because I’m here so little time in February, I didn’t buy the pass and instead bought individual trip tickets. I’d been told these work to get to the airport (and I’d used them before to do so), but on our way back to the airport, we were slapped with a nice 35 euro fine because apparently they were the wrong tickets (eye roll). When we reached the airport, we found that our flight was delayed. A minimal 45 minutes so not terrible, but it was definitely not the most positive start to the trip.

We arrived in Madrid Monday evening and made our way to our hostel. We took the train and then the metro, which is where I immediately noticed the change in culture between France and Spain. In France, the metro is so fast-paced, and the buzzer starts alerting that the doors are about to close before there’s even enough time for people to get on and off. In Spain, the metro stopped at each station for at least a full minute, if not more, and people were really in no rush. It was much more laid back and easy here than in Paris.

Our luck definitely started to turn when we arrived at our hostel. We had booked to stay in a 6-bed female dorm because it was the cheapest option. When we went to check in, he said he had to talk to us about our room (we were immediately thinking “uh oh”), but it turned out that they upgraded us to a 4-bed female dorm for the first two nights, and our own 2-person room for our final night. Score! They also hooked us up with two days of free breakfast and free drinks at the rooftop bar. I was immediately impressed with the staff and service, and would highly recommend The Hat Hostel Madrid to anyone who travels there. Not to mention its fantastic location–a block away from the main Plaza Mayor.

After we checked in, we made our way to grab dinner. We knew it was going to be a low key night, and I was super impressed by Lily, considering she’d flown from Minnesota the day before and didn’t sleep until that night in Madrid. We ended the night with a glass of wine at the rooftop bar. It was nice to have a decent night of sleep before touring the next day.

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If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of Sandeman’s free walking tours, so we started our Tuesday morning with that. We met up with a friend and fellow Luther grad, Emilee, as well. We began in Plaza Mayor, where I learned that Madrid used to be divided into Austrian and Belgian territories. The plaza and the area of our hostel were in what used to be the Belgian region.

Madrid became the capital of Spain and the entire Spanish empire under King Phillip II in 1561. At that time, Plaza Mayor was an open space outside of the walls of Madrid, and was used as a marketplace–it was cheaper to buy and sell here than inside the walls of the city.

The King decided to build a square here to take advantage of the thriving marketplace and collect taxes on goods. He also utilized the space during the Spanish Inquisition for public trials, executions, and humiliations. He also held bullfighting matches here.

In the middle of the plaza sits a statue of Phillip III on his horse. It used to smell so bad and people believed it was cursed because no one knew why. In 1936, during the establishment of the second republic, rebels bombed the statue and it made a hole in the stomach of the horse. Out came the remains of hundreds of dead birds. Apparently they flew through the horse’s mouth and got trapped. They’ve now closed off the entrance of the horse’s mouth so no more birds have to meet their demise in the stomach of a horse statue.

We then made our way just outside of Plaza Mayor and saw the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Sobrino de Botin Horno de Asar. It opened in 1725 and has never closed since. It has also seen its fair share of famous people pass through its doors. Goya, the second-most famous painter in Spain behind Velazquez, washed his dishes here before becoming famous. Hemingway, who came to Spain in the 1930s and absolutely loved it, wrote about this restaurant in the last two chapters of The Sun Also Rises.

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Just down the street from this restaurant is an area that was referred to as closed gate. It was closed all day and night in order to wall in the scum of the city and rowdy people to stop them from spreading into the rest of the city. A cross statue, La Latina, sat here to remind those people of morality.

Since the 13th century, Spain has had a drinking problem. Those who were poor always had to choose between food and drink, and they usually chose to drink because it was cheaper. At lunch, they would drink on an empty stomach (we all know what a bad idea that is) and this created horrible productivity for businesses after the lunch hour. Because of the downfall in the economy as a result of drinking, King Alfred demanded that every beverage be served with some type of food, thus creating tapas and a great Spanish tradition. 

The Iberian peninsula was ruled for 700 years by Arabic moors from Northern Africa, who conquered the entire area in just 50 years. This explains the heavy Arabic influence in tradition, culture, architecture, and language throughout Spain. 4,000 Spanish words come from Arabic influence, for example “asucre” for sugar and “camisa” for shirt. The Arabic influence is also present in the flamenco dance culture (most common in Southern Spain), mixed together with Spanish and ghost culture.

Spain had a 200 year golden age from roughly 1500-1700. During this time, Spain was the biggest and most important country in the world, but to understand how that came to be we have to go back to the late 1400s, when the two biggest kingdoms were Castile, ruled by Isabella, and Aragon, ruled by Ferdinand. They got married and unified Spain, caused the Battle of Granada during the Reconquista of Southern Spain in 1492, the same year in which Christopher Columbus discovered America for the same King and Queen, massively growing the Spanish territory. Ferdinand and Isabella had three children: their son died of illness, one of their daughters died in an accident, and they were left with

Ferdinand and Isabella had three children: their son died of illness, one of their daughters died in an accident, and they were left with Johanna the Mad, as she’s referred to today. She married Prince Phillip of Belgium and together they ruled for six generations. Her “madness” started off that she was madly in love with her husband, who is said to have been a tall, blonde, and very handsome lad, then she quickly became mad out of jealousy because so many women swooned over her husband. She then transitioned into madness out of grief, as her husband was poisoned by his father-in-law because there was no one to rule Castile, so in Phillip’s death, Ferdinand became the King of Castile and Aragon.

Johanna and Phillip’s son, Charles I (Carlos in Spain) was only 17 when King Ferdinand inherited Spain, America, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, parts of Italy, part of the Roman Empire from his grandfather Maximillian. He eventually retired into a monastery for a more peaceful life and was killed by malaria.

Charles I’s son, Phillip II is who made Madrid the capital in 1561. He enlarged the Spanish empire by adding Portugal and Brazil (his mother was the princess of Portugal), and the Philippines. It was said that this was the empire where the sun never set, because there was always a territory where it was day time. Phillip II was hardworking and died of old age.

Under the rule of Phillip III is where we see the fall of the Spanish Empire. He was a lazy King and, as a result, those under his rule became lazy. Naturally he would die in his bed…

Phillip IV was nicknamed “the loser king.” He battled to retain the empire but lost. He loved art and commissioned a lot of paintings by Velazquez and died of old age in his 60s.

Finally we get to Charles II, the bewitched/cursed King. He suffered from a big head, a large jaw, a huge tongue, bone disease, and to top it off, he was mentally ill. It is believed that it because he spoke with a lisp due to his enlarged tongue that the Spanish spoken in Spain is spoken with a bit of a lisp compared to Spanish spoken in Mexico or South America. (Ex: “gracias” is pronounced “grathias” in Spain). This is a result of generations of inbreeding. He died on Halloween in 1700 and wrote in his will that his grandnephew (French) would receive his territory. This began a war of 15 years for the succession of Spanish grounds.

The cathedral is known as the most “mañana” case in Spanish history. Technically, “mañana” means tomorrow, but in the Spanish culture it can also be used to describe something that is taking a long time or something that is delayed. In 1561, there were 5,000 inhabitants in Madrid. The cathedral is said to have taken so long because, as the capital of the empire, it commissioned to have cathedrals in 40+ cities throughout the entire empire, putting off the work for the main cathedral in Mardid. Construction began in the 1870s in a neo-Romanesque style. By 1911, when the architect died, only the crypt had been finished. The next architect began constructing in the neo-Gothic style inside until 1936 when the Spanish Civil War began. Construction then stopped until the 1950s, when the third architect began constructing the outside in neo-Classical architecture to match the outside of the royal palace. The fourth architect kept the style for the rest of construction. Only in 1993 was this cathedral consecrated by Pope John Paul II. Barcelona and Madrid seem to always be in competitions with each other (especially football), but it’s safe to say that Barcelona has won the “mañana” competition, as La Segrada Familia is STILL not finished.

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The royal palace was originally created to defend the city of Toledo (about an hour from Madrid). It was used as an outpost and located in the oldest part of the city, which everyone thought was ugly. The new royal palace was built right where the old one was located by Phillip V (who was French). He was used to nice palaces, as he grew up in Versailles, and the palace in Madrid is bigger than both Versailles and Buckingham Palace. I was amazed that anything could be bigger than Versailles, but lo and behold!

The Madrid Opera House was built in the mid-19th century and is known as one of the best opera houses in Europe for its acoustics. The square outside the opera house is named after Isabella II, but is more commonly known as the “Opera Square.”

Queen Isabella II was the only official queen Spain ever had. Daughter of Isabella, Queen of Castile, Isabella II was called filthy because she was afraid of water and bathed once or twice a year. She also got this nickname because she had many lovers. Her husband was homosexual, so he also had his own affairs. She had five bastard children. Because Isabella II and her husband would never have any legitimate children, they named one of the bastard children King, and he is the great great grandfather of Spain’s current King today, which our tour guide joked that the current king is a literal bastard. Ha!

After our tour, we made our way to the mercado (market) for lunch. They had an array of Spanish foods and we got a smorgasbord of food for lunch. After, we went to the most well-known place for churros, San Gines. We were even filmed (and perhaps on Spanish TV?!) while enjoying this delicious Spanish delicacy.

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It rained off and on the rest of the day, but the sun was mostly shining so it wasn’t too cold. After full bellies, we needed to walk, so we went to the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian gift to Madrid.

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After basking in panoramic views of the city, we headed back to the hostel for “siesta,” perhaps my favorite thing about the Spanish culture. For those of you who don’t know, Spain takes an afternoon rest/nap/relaxation time and a lot of places close down in order to observe this tradition. After relaxing, we ventured out for dinner and ended the night with sangria at the rooftop bar in our hostel. Literal perfection.

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The next day we tackled Museo Nacional del PradoI’m not a huge museum person and neither is Lily, so this was a fairly short stop, but at least we can say we visited and saw the works of Velazquez and Goya, the two most famous Spanish artists. After the museum, we went to Retiro Park and soaked up the sunshine. We had another lowkey night with dinner in Plaza Mayor, and a fairly early bedtime, as we woke early to get the train to Salamanca.

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Salamanca is a small town in Northwestern Spain. It was only about an hour and a half train ride. We were staying in an air bnb about 10 minutes walking distance from city center. When we arrived Thursday morning, we ventured into the city center to look around, grabbed lunch and churros of course, and then went back and took advantage of siesta. We did a tapas dinner, which is so awesome because we all ate for under five euros, as each tapa is around the one euro range.

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Friday in Salamanca was a day of twists and turns throughout the small cobblestone streets. We were looking in particular for the cathedral, which we were told was absolutely beautiful. Even though we were looking at maps, we seemed to always be getting turned around or ending up where we had been just five minutes before. It was then that we realized just how small Salamanca really was. We also concluded that we did see everything we set out to see, we just don’t know exactly when we saw certain things. Later that night, our air bnb host, Pablo, took us to a heavy metal bar. I felt pretty out of place here drinking a glass of red wine, but it was an interesting place and something I wouldn’t have stumbled upon on my own.

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We returned to Madrid Saturday afternoon where we met up with another friend and Luther grad, Ryan Goos, who graciously welcomed us into his (awesome) apartment. It rained all day, but everyone was so exhausted from the week’s adventures, that we mostly stayed inside and caught up, as most of us hadn’t seen each other since graduation last May. We ventured out to meet some of Ryan’s friends and enjoy tapas. We then came home and made guac and watched a movie. The definition of a chill Saturday night, which was fine by me as I had to be up at 5:30 am for my flight back to Paris.

My favorite part about this entire trip was that it actually felt like a vacation. After so much traveling, I’m prone to thinking we have to jam pack every day and take the utmost advantage of being in a certain place. We definitely took advantage of our time everywhere, but we didn’t rush around and we didn’t even have a game plan. We wandered, sat and ate, talked, rested, and still got to see everything (and then some). While I’m all for having a plan of action, it really is refreshing to just go with the flow and enjoy living in the moment rather than scrambling to make it to the next moment.

I can’t believe that my last trip, my last visit to a European city/country has come and gone. For the last four years, I’ve known my next adventure, my next trip, my next opportunity to go to Europe or a new place I’ve never been. It scares me that that topic is now a big question mark. I’m so glad I got to spend it with some great friends in two beautiful cities. Now it’s time to enjoy my last four (!) days in Paris!

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Gracias, Spain!

-K

Welcoming 2017 in Dublin, Ireland — January 8, 2017

Welcoming 2017 in Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is one of the most pleasant, friendly cities I’ve ever been to. All of Ireland was extremely welcoming, but I spent the majority of my time in Dublin so this is where I really noticed the hospitality and genuine kindness of people. 

I’ve stayed in hostels many times before, but never alone. However, that’s the beauty of hostels; it’s usually full of young people who are also traveling alone and looking to meet people who are doing the same. I was feeling a little down when I first arrived, as I had said goodbye to my family that morning after an amazing 9 days together over Christmas. Fortunately, I befriended a girl who was staying in my room and also traveling by herself, and we went for a few beers (Guinness of course!) at pub down the road. I’m not usually a dark beer drinker, but it felt wrong to drink anything else while in Dublin, and the Guinness was fresh and delicious. 


We were at the bar for less than two hours total, but in that span of time we met and talked to a variety of people. They would come and sit next to us and converse with us, all with the intention of realizing similarities and commonalities, and bonding over things like places we’ve been or books/authors we liked. The atmosphere was so refreshing and I felt very much at home in this foreign place thanks to the friendliness of strangers. I headed back to he hostel fairly early, as I had an early morning for the Cliffs of Moher tour the next morning, and I went to bed already falling in love with Ireland. 

Like I wrote about before, my Friday was filled with a tour to Western Ireland. Coincidentally, one of the girls on the tour was staying at my hostel that night, the Generator, so afterwards we headed back together. The Generator Hostel is the only hostel in Dublin that has a bar in it, which makes the environment even more friendly and inviting to meet people. I would recommend staying here for anyone who is traveling and/or looking to meet new people in a fun environment. 

After freshening up, we met back st the bar. Since the next night was New Years Eve, we weren’t looking for a crazy time, but enjoyed each other’s compny, a few drinks, and talked and got to know each other. Meeting new people is so refreshing; it gives you the opportunity to see life from someone else’s perspective, which doesn’t happen as much when we grow comfortable with our surroundings. This is probably my favorite part of traveling. 


I woke up the New Years Eve morning excited because I was meeting up with an old friend from camp and his sister. While I hadn’t really been alone during my time in Dublin, it was nice to be with a familiar face. After they checked in, we grabbed a drink at the hostel bar and caught up for a while. We then ventured out to grab a bite to eat, followed by a few drinks at a bar in The Temple Bar District. This area is famous for fun pubs with live music, which is my favorite thing about Irish pubs. There were quite a lot of people out already in the early afternoon getting a head start on the New Years Eve celebrations. To be honest, I’m not sure how/if many of those people made it to midnight. 

We went back to the hostel and got changed and ready for the night. We started with a drink at the hostel again, where I met up with the friends I’d made the last couple of days. We then headed to a bar called Soder & Ko. where we were meeting up with other camp friends. While it wasn’t the venue I’d choose for NYE, I made the most of it. The most disappointing part of the night was the anti-climactic turn of the year–all of a sudden confetti wa falling from the sky and that was about all the excitement. However, I embraced the fact that I welcomed the start of a new year in Dublin, Ireland! 

The next day was pretty relaxed. We went out and explored the city a bit, which is when I realized how small Dublin is (in a good way), especially compared to how spread out Paris is. We strolled through St. Stephen’s Square and walked around the Trinity College campus. Trinity is Ireland’s oldest university and was founded in 1592. Writers Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett attended Trinity College. It was cold, but the air was refreshing. After a mid-afternoon nap, we reconvened for dinner and my last night out in Dublin. We ended up back in the Temple Bar District at a bar with–you guessed it–live music. This night redeemed my average NYE and was my favorite night in Dublin.


My final morning/afternoon in Dublin was spent at the Guinness Factory. If you go to Dublin, it’s a must-do activity. It’s a self-guided tour, so you can take as long (or not) as you want on each of the five levels. The center of the building is constructed into the world’s largest pint glass. After a brief introduction where you view the 9,000 year lease for the building and learned the Gaelic word for cheers, sláinte (slawn-cha), which means health, we made our way through the factory. We participated in a Guinness tasting where I learned that the color of Guinness is actually a ruby red, evident when you hold it up in natural sunlight, and gets its color from roasted barley. I also learned that the word beer is believed to come from the word barley and that porter was invented in London in the 18th century. The cool, but perhaps inconvenient, thing about Guinness is that it has to be poured uniquely because it is so foamy. You can choose to learn how to pour your own Guinness at the factory, but we chose to enjoy our complimentary Guinness at the Gravity Bar, which offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city. 


We grabbed a bite to eat after the tour and I left for the airport shortly after. My cab driver kept up with the expectation of the amazingly nice Irish people I’d met on my trip. I arrived early to the airport–luckily considering all the holiday travelers–and was instantly nostalgic tocome back to Ireland. It has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit in depth, especially considering my Irish heritage (who would’ve guessed?!), but since my first trip here was pretty short lived, all the more reason to come back. Mark my words, next time I’m back I’ll be renting a car and exploring the entirety of this amazing country. 

The last two times I’ve been waiting at the airport to head back to Paris, I’ve booked flights for more upcoming trips, and this time…? to Spain! I have my second-to-last week in Paris off of work, so I’ll be traveling with a college friend for six days! I haven’t been back to Spain since my J-Term course in 2014 and I’m so looking forward to it! Check in next month for my Spain post! 

-K

Cliffs of Moher and Clare County, Ireland — January 6, 2017

Cliffs of Moher and Clare County, Ireland

My first full day in Ireland was an early one. Because I traveled by myself and had a couple days to kill before meeting up with some friends, I booked an entire day tour to the West Coast of Ireland, specifically the Cliffs of Moher and Clare County. 

I went through a company called Paddywagon and would highly recommend this company. For a very reasonable price, I got 12 hours of entertainment and six stops along the way. I’m not going to lie, it was a long time to be on the bus, but 100% worth it. 
As we pulled away from our departure location, the driver turned our attention to the spire monument that sits in the middle of O’Connell Street. It was constructed to celebrate the millennium and looks like a giant needle shooting towards the sky. He shared with us that it is often referred to as the “erection on the intersection” (LOL). 

We crossed over the Liffey River and our driver continued with some of the history of the city of Dublin. There was a rebellion in 1916 that led to a Civil War until 1921. During this time of strife, rebels burned the Four Courts building, destroying ancestry history from 1911 onward. 

We passed by the Guinness Storehouse on the way out of town–which I will get to later–and our driver told us that 29 million pints of Guinness were expected to be drank over New Year’s weekend. The Irish can drink, that’s for sure. 

Similar to the U.S.’s saying “West Coast, Best Coast,” which I can’t speak to because I’ve never been, they say in Ireland that “West is Best.” In the 15-1600s, the West had poor land and was where the poor Irish lived, isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the world. It is becoming more and more developed and is drawing more people into its beautiful countryside and coast. Today, motorways have opened up and universities in Galway and Limirick draw people to visit and plant their roots in the west. 

The main export in Ireland is agriculture, specifically beef and lamb in the midlands and 90% of dairy farmed in the south is exported. Everything produced in Ireland is natural with no additives. 

After about two hours of driving, we arrived at our first stop, a town called Kinvara which means “beginning of the sea.” that was known in the past as a fishing village and where daily fishing excursions are still a prevalent contribution to the local economy. The tide was low when we got there, but it was a charming and quaint little town. In the distance, we could see the medieval Kinvara Castle, which was bought and restored in the 1960s and where medieval banquets are still held today. 


Ireland is part of the Celtic nation, which also includes Scotland, Wales, and part of Normandy. Christianity and Catholicism were major here in the past, thanks to Saint Patrick who brought them to the country (Saint Patrick’s Day), and it was known as the land of saints and scholars from the 4-10 centuries. 

The need for food and wood for shipbuilding forced the English to seek after rural Ireland, specifically the West. They sent armies to fight chieftains for land and they sent British Protestants to take over land and push the Irish into subservience. No Irish man could be educated and the kids were forced to wear a tally stick around their neck. If they got 10 notches, they were flogged or they disappeared to places like Tanzania. They received a tally whenever they were caught speaking Irish, which is still the main language in Galway and the Aran Islands. 

The British destroyed the Western agriculture. They cut down forests which they never replanted. What was once the breadbasket of Great Britain for their production of potatoes, famine and starvation struck from 1845-46. From 1850-1900, 3 million people were left in Ireland, which was down from 11 million, and Galway itself went from 1.9 million to 250,000 inhabitants. That number is slowly on the rise today. In 1875, Boston and New York had more people speaking Irish than the number of people in Clare County. Today there are 6 million people in Ireland, but there are 42 million Irish passports. If you can trace your Irish heritage directly, you are able to apply and receive one. 

Throughout the midlands and in the Burren region, there are random stone walls throughout the fields. Apparently during the famine, poor people would build these walls to earn a penny a day for their family. The walls served no purpose but to create a labor-based reward. People put seaweed on the stone walls to deteriorate it and now soil is rich for potatoes again. 

Once we reached the Burren Hills, we were driving right along the Atlantic Coast overlooking Galway Bay. After about 20 minutes, we came up to what they call the “baby cliffs.” This view was beautiful, giving us a glimpse at what to expect for the Cliffs of Moher. 


Though it was foggy, we could make out the outline of the Aran Islands, which are famous for their wool sweaters. A long time ago, each family would adopt their own pattern. This was helpful because fishermen who fell overboard could be identified by the design of their sweater. 

After this quick stop, we drove about 15 more minutes to Doolin, where we stopped for lunch. The Irish don’t let you go hungry; that’s for sure. What I ordered could easily have been shared with two people, as it resembled a dinner portion. Although it was a heavy lunch, with potatoes as a side to potatoes along with fresh vegetables and roast beef, I wasn’t complaining. 


After lunch, we were finally about a 20 minute drive from the anticipated Cliffs of Moher. We had about an hour and a half here to climb up, take pictures, enjoy the view, and trying to not fall over the edge. I’m not really afraid of heights, but with the wind and literally zero protective barriers to stop you from falling to your rocky death, it was a little off putting. Not to mention that it was muddy and slippery. There’s even a plaque dedicated to those who haven’t been as fortunate to return after visiting. Yikes. 
You can hike up two different sides. To the right has a castle but hundreds of steps, and to the left is more pedestrian-friendly and climbs gently uphill. We went up to the left, but had we had more time I would have gone up the other side as well. I’ve been told both sides offer similar spectacular views, and I was not disappointed. I have officially seen the Atlantic from both sides. It was one of those experiences that put things into perspective, making you realize just how small you are, and how big the world is.


Our last stop was to view the Bunratti Castle. Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on that prevented us from going inside. This is another castle that has been restored and is used for medieval banquets today. 

We got back into Dublin around 7:30pm, just in time to grab a bite to eat, a Guinness, and enjoy the company of a friend I made on the trip. I was nervous about going alone, but there were several others on my tour who were doing the same thing, so we ultimately bonded. Well worth it, that’s for sure. 
Stay tuned for my Dublin post! 

-K

Christmas in Paris — January 1, 2017

Christmas in Paris

The last two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind in the best way possible. I got to show my family around my city and when I saw them off at the airport I, too, was catching a flight to Dublin, Ireland, for five days. In the midst of all of this, I accepted a remote internship with Cliché Magazine on their Editorial Team as a copy editor intern. Needless to say, the high from the last couple of weeks will be tough to come down from.
My family and I did the basic touristy things that are must-dos in Paris. Though I’ve done most of these things multiple times, we did a few things that were new for me, and you just can’t beat sharing remarkable moments with some of the people that you love the most in this world. 

With an extended 9 day stay in Paris, we stretched our bodies to do the absolute most each day, averaging about 9 miles of walking everyday to add up to about 80 miles thanks to FitBit trackers. 
We went everywhere from the Louvre, to the Champs Elysées and the top of Arc de Triompe, to Moulin Rouge, out to Versailles, out to Disneyland Paris, up to Normandy for a Dday beach tour, a dinner cruise on the Seine River, a stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens on a beautiful sunny day, to the top of both the Eiffel Tower and Cathedral Notre Dame, and going to the 56th floor observatory of Tour Montparnasse for a remarkable panoramic night view of the City of Light. 

We did all there was to do in Paris and beyond and definitely made the most of our time together. My favorite moments were definitely the dinner cruise, climbing Notre Dame, going up Tour Montparnasse and our day in Normandy.
We used a company called Bateaux Parisienne for our dinner cruise. We boarded at the base of the Eiffel Tower and were quickly greeted with a smile and efficient service. This was one of my favorite things because you can’t beat seeing the most beautiful of Paris’s monuments lit up at night while enjoying delicious food and a glass of wine. I highly recommend this company and to do the night cruise. While all the monuments are beautiful beyond compare at any time of the day, they are a whole other experience lit up and contrasting the black night sky. 

Another of my favorite moments was climbing to the top of Notre Dame. I’ve been to Notre Dame more times than I can count, but have never claimed the 300+ stairs to the top. While there was about an hour wait before getting to climb the stairs, the view of the city and of all aspects of the cathedral were well worth it. 

Tour Montparnasse is that ugly skyscraper that stands behind the Eiffel Tower if you’re looking at it from the Trocadero side. However, if you are in the tower, it provides the most amazing view. We were fortunate enough to reach the top a few minutes before the Eiffel Tower sparkles at the top of the hour. If you didn’t know, at the top of every hour for five minutes the Eiffel Tower sparkles. Literally. Is it any wonder why it’s my favorite monument?! It’s a sparkling monument for heaven’s sake. The beauty of those five minutes is magical and I will never tire of saying that the Eiffel Tower is better at night, especially all lit up and sparkling. 

On our second to last day together, we took a two hour train up north to Bayeux in the Normandy region. When I did a Euro tour with my Uncle in May of 2015, we did a similar tour of the Normandy Dday beaches with a company called Gold Beach Evasion. Our tour guide’s name was Eric and he provided an amazing experience for us, which is why we used this company again and were fortunate to have Eric again. If you ever think of doing a tour, trust me on this one that Gold Beach Evasion and Eric do not disappoint. He’s a wealth of knowledge and goes out of his way to give you an unforgettable experience. We started the day at Point du Hoc, then proceeded to Omaha Beach for a quick stop, then went to the American Military Cemetary. After that, we saw the entirety of Omaha Beach from above, which was stunning and as an original site with the trenches still in tact, gave me goosebumps as I thought about the sacrifice and dedication that took place on the ground I was standing on so many years ago. We were chasing what was left of the sunlight to get to our last two stops. We saw an original German bunker with the original gun still in place. With one of the most incredible sunsets taking place, we reached our last destination which was the man made harbor that the English built in order to get supplies to the troops. An incredible feat of engineering, it is crazy to think how they managed to be so successful without modern day technology and architectural machinery. 

These were just a few of my favorite moments, but nothing beat simply being with my family. It was just as hard to say goodbye to them again, but my journey in Paris ends in just 7 short weeks. I’m forever grateful to them for spending Christmas with me and allowing me to show them around the place I call home at the moment.

I hope everyone was able to share amazing moments with their own families over the holidays, too. Stay tuned for my Dublin post. 
-K

At Home in Hamburg — December 19, 2016

At Home in Hamburg

Nostalgia hit me like a brick wall as soon as I arrived at the airport in Hamburg. Hearing the flight attendants speak German, seeing German on the signs leading to the exit or ‘Ausgang’ took me back to one of the best times of my life when I lived in this beautiful country for four months.

My friend and I had booked this flight two months in advance, so it was a long time coming. I was giddy with excitement each time I thought of this trip. It crept up on us very quickly, and here we are, already over a week since we came and went from Hamburg. Time needs to slow down, but I’m learning that the older I get, the faster it goes.

The nostalgia I felt from the beginning of the trip accompanied me the entire time. I met up with an old friend, Lennart, who spent a year in my hometown and went to my high school during my senior year. He was a gracious host and it felt like we had our own personal tour guide who knew the best places and areas to show us. It was awesome!

I didn’t know how accustomed I was to French until I went back to Germany. I picked up a little bit of the language when I was living there but not much. I thought I would remember it when I went back…not the case. I was fumbling around and actually quite amazed that I ever could understand bits and pieces. Does this mean I’m actually retaining the French language?!? (Gasp!)

Aside from differences in language, the major difference I’ve always noticed about Germany compared to most other European countries is its cleanliness. The trains were spotless, the city had hardly any trash on the streets, and for a city comparable to the size of Paris with about 1.8 million people, I was astounded at the difference.

Paris has been going through a bit of a rough patch with its cleanliness. Pollution has skyrocketed and forced the city to mandate free public transportation and the regulation of which licensed vehicles can drive on certain days. I saw pictures of the polluted sky and it is NOT a good look for Paris. It was a perfect weekend to get away and breathe in some clean German air. Ahhhh.

We arrived early Saturday morning and trekked to Lennart’s house which is in a small town right outside of Hamburg called Barsbüttel. After dropping our bags and caffeinating ourselves, we hit the city and didn’t stop all day long. Lennart showed us around the center of town, where Christmas markets are set up. I’ve only experienced the Christmas markets in Paris and Hamburg, but Hamburg blew Paris out of the water. It was much more authentic and less tourist-aimed, which made for a more Christmas-y atmosphere.

We walked along the Elb River and even walked under it in the tunnel. Much like the chunnel that runs from London to Paris, the Elb River has a tunnel for pedestrians to walk or bike through. The other side offered a great view of the city.

After walking 19 kilometers, we decided to get in a quick bite. On our way to find a restaurant, we walked through the Sankt Pauli neighborhood, which is similar to the Monmartre area in Paris. It is a very alternative neighborhood, but it’s also deemed “the” place to go out, especially if you’re a tourist.

After dinner, we wandered back through the Christmas markets at night. Nothing beats seeing all the lights in contrast to the dark sky. We drank our fill of glüwein and hot chocolate, and ate a delicious dessert of schmalzkuchen, which are basically fried donuts with powdered sugar on them. Yum!

It was getting later and we were anxious to rest a bit. We were able to get a table in the hustling and bustling Hofbraühaus, which is famous for serving 1L beers among many other things. I’ve been to the one in Munich and this experience was no different; entertaining, warm, fun, and a typical German drinking atmosphere. I’m not kidding people, I had to use two hands to drink that liter of beer. It was heavy, but my dad taught me how to drink a beer so needless to say, I finished it.

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We wandered to a couple of other bars nearby before finally giving in to the fact that we’d been up since 5 am. We earned our sleep that night, that’s for sure.

We took our time waking up the next day, only to spend our remaining time on Sunday afternoon meandering the Christmas markets again. No complaints here, it was these markets that truly put me in the holiday spirit!

I have and will continue to say that Germany is an amazing country. The people are warm and inviting, the cities are beautiful, and I have yet to have a less than amazing time whenever I visit. I think the biggest part for me last weekend was reminiscing with an old friend in a country that still holds a big piece of my heart. If you haven’t, I highly recommend a trip to Germany. It will be worth you while and you will not be disappointed. Especially if you go around the holiday season.

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Special shoutout to Lennart, who showed us an insider’s look at the city of Hamburg and was a gracious host!

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-K

Stonehenge Rocked — November 20, 2016

Stonehenge Rocked

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting London for the second time where I met up with one of my best friends, Nat, from college. She was celebrating her birthday there and being a mere two and a half hour train ride away, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reunite with her since I hadn’t seen her since graduation in May.

I arrived early Saturday morning and met Nat and her dad at their hotel, where we spent a majority of the morning catching up and reliving our “glory” days that seem so long ago. We didn’t have an agenda for the day, we just knew we wanted to explore. I’ve been to London before, so I wasn’t in any rush to see anything in particular since I’d done most of the touristy things anyway.

The first thing we did was wander around the neighborhood. Not far from where they were staying was the infamous house from The Parent Trap. Being a staple of both of our childhoods, it was fitting that we made our first stop here. We got turned around a couple of times, got directions from a lovely couple, and finally arrived at the house just as the owners were leaving which made for awkward wandering and stalling so that they’d leave and we could snap pictures. They definitely knew what we were up to, but shouldn’t they be used to that by now? The whole street was amazing and is categorized as the wealthiest street in London, evident by all of the Mercedes, BMWs, Tesla’s, and other luxury cars parked on the street.

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Afterwards we made our way to Buckingham Palace and from there wandered Parliament Square and then Tower of London and Tower Bridge. All of this wandering was done slowly and leisurely, taking in the sites and enjoying the day. After stopping off for a coffee break and to warm up indoors, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus and meandered the beautiful streets with designer stores and window shopped on Oxford Street. This area is so lively and I hadn’t been there on my first trip to London, so I’m glad I made it here. We ended the night with Prosecco and a nice birthday dinner at an amazing restaurant called Piccolino (Heddon Street), which played the best R&B/Soul music and kept us entertained all throughout our meal – I would highly recommend this place!

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We got back to our hotel, earning our night’s sleep and feeling the tiredness in our bodies from walking through the city all day. Our next morning we’d set off pretty early for a tour of Stonehenge, which is about two hours outside of the city.

We didn’t have much time to think about waking up early the next morning, because our alarm wasn’t set correctly and we woke up about an hour later than we were supposed to. Luckily, we were out the door in 20 minutes and in the lobby with plenty of time to spare.

The bus ride offered an informative recording of the city which was very interesting to listen to on the way to Stonehenge. It revealed that 1 Hyde Park is the most prestigious apartment building in the entire city, and individual apartments go for 30, 60 million pounds, or 160 million pounds for the penthouse complete with bullet proof windows and a panic room. Nice to know in case I’m ever in the market for an apartment with a panic room…wow.

London has 31 separately governed districts with their own officers of administration. In total, the city is over 600 square miles when combined with Westminster.

9,500 years ago, Britain was connected to the European continent. A mini ice age separated the two pieces of land. In 7500 BC the ice melted and the sea levels rose which created the island of Great Britain. The agriculture in this region came from the Middle East and began 5,500 years ago with the raising of livestock, crops, and the building of homes.

Stonehenge is one of the great wonders of the world. It is comprised of 56 pits reflecting the rise and fall of the moon cycle. It is shaped like a horseshoe with an opening toward the northeast. The arrangement of these stones demonstrates the astronomy knowledge of the people who created it.

Even for those who have extensively studied the subject, no one knows how the blue stones from southwest Wales got to where they are today. The other stones used in the sculpture come from Marlborough, which is a nearby town. Apparently it took 85 separate journeys to get each 40-ton stone to their final destination where they sit today, and they were most likely transported by rolling logs. Using stone hammers, the creators spent thousands of hours of hammering to get them to the position they are in today. One of the most unique aspects of Stonehenge is the shape of the tones — they fit together like legos.

It is difficult to identify exactly which worship or celebration took place here. Theories include  that the pallbearers and ancestors who built it performed worship here or that it is part of a massive cemetery site for persons of higher status, especially considering that burial grounds called barrows surround the rock structure. Another theory is that it was a destination those sought for miraculous cures.

Scientists are able to tell where we come from by studying the isotopes in our teeth. The remains found around Stonehenge reveal findings from places as far as Albania and Switzerland.

The neolithic people buried here were buried with all their worldly goods, similar to Egyptians buried in tombs. This is so that they could properly enter the afterlife.

This miraculous wonder of a structure was built and rearranged over 1000 years. It truly reflects the minds and engineering ability of the neolithic age, which is quite impressive considering their lack of machinery and their need for sheer man power. I must say that upon seeing the structure, I was expecting the stones to be a lot bigger, but I can’t even imagine how they were maneuvered into such a fascinating layout. Stonehenge has been on my list of things to see and quite honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever see it. It was worth the trip and the ability to check yet another thing off of my endless list of things to see in this beautiful world.

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Stonehenge rocks. (ha!)

-K

We Came Here For the Food (and Beer) — October 18, 2016

We Came Here For the Food (and Beer)

A couple weekends ago I made my first journey out of France and spent the weekend in Brussels, Belgium. It’s one of those places that’s never really been on my list of things I had to see, but after over a month of being in Paris, I needed to experience something else. Brussels was a short, cheap bus ride away. Not to mention, I’d heard the food (and beer) were delectable. So we made last minute bookings and away we went!

We arrived late morning in Brussels after a four hour bus ride. A word to the wise, when you have to be well outside of the city at the bus port at 7am (and don’t really know where you’re going at that), don’t stay out until well past midnight the night before and drink copious amounts of wine. Just saying. We barely made it to our bus and crashed as soon as we were on it. However, it did not help that there were tens of buses that looked exactly the same and NONE of them had signs as to where they were going. We ran around to each one, because why wouldn’t we check the one we actually needed until last.

After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we made our way to the city center, which was about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. We were so hungry, but all we could focus on where the endless chocolate shops that we kept passing by. Our mission was something sustainable, but we knew we’d be stopping by one (more than one) of those shops afterwards. As promised, we did and they were the best chocolate covered strawberries I’d ever had.

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We joined the free walking tour group, which I always love because I learn a lot about the city’s history while enjoying fresh air and seeing cool sites along the way. To my surprise, Brussels is actually quite renowned in its own simple way, it just doesn’t ever get the credit that perhaps it so rightly deserves. Belgium has been the creator of numerous things, while everyone else has taken the credit.

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The central marketplace where we began our tour (Grand Place) was once a swamp. It was the center of trade for Germany, France, and England. This is where Brussels gets its name, as “Brussels” means “swamp.” Settlers of this region were German, Dutch, and French.

It was such a hot commodity and prime location that Louis XIV wanted to have it for his own. Since he couldn’t get into the city because of it’s walls, he bombed it. The tower in the center of the square was his aim, and he destroyed everything in the center of town, except for that tower, in 1695. In just five short years the lobbies were all rebuilt and today it is the only well preserved medieval square in Brussels.

What is very interesting about the Town Hall in Grand Place is that it had two different architects and was built in three stages, which is why it is in no way symmetrical or equivalent.

In medieval times, there was one duty and one county. The duty was the Flanders region, with Bruges as its capital and controlled by the King of France. The county was the Brussels of Germany and was part of the first reich. It was in Brussels that Karl Marx wrote Communist Manifesto.

The first thing we learned that began in Belgium that is not as well-known today as the Belgians would like is that the first stock exchange in history occurred in Bruges. Bruges and Venice were the most wealthy nations in the Middle Ages.

A running joke about Belgium is that it is the ‘prostitute of Europe’ because they’ve pretty much belonged to everyone in Europe at one point or another. This, however, makes them the perfect country to be the capital of the EU. It is also fitting because I learned that Brussels is the second most international city in the world, behind New York City.

A few other things like the stock exchange that are original to Belgium but no one seems to know (or care) are fries, cookies, waffles, chocolate, and comic books. Belgian chocolate was created in the Queen’s Gallery (shopping arcades) in a pharmacy. And fries only got the nickname ‘French Fries’ because G.I.s from the United States had fries while they were in Belgium and they thought they were in France at the time because everyone was speaking French. Therefore the US messed this one up for Belgium. (Our bad!) I can say firsthand that Belgium knows what they are doing in the area of the food. As far as comic books, I’m not a huge follower of them but throughout the city there are numerous street art displays of comics and a huge museum as well.

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Brussels is also known for having the third most popular statue in the world behind the Statue of Liberty in NYC and Christ the Redeemer in Rio. It’s called Hannequin Piss and is literally a two-year-old boy peeing. That’s it. Sometimes it’s dressed up in costume, but it’s pretty underwhelming. It’s like when you come to Paris and see the Mona Lisa. It’s just sort of there, but gets way more accolade than you maybe think it should.

Most of the original city has been ‘destroyed’ by what the locals have coined as “Brusselization” in the 1960s and 1970s. I think this is true for a lot of places though, as ancient architecture is being destroyed to make way for modern buildings. Brussels is serious about stopping this though, as the city center is being renovated to be pedestrian only and it should be complete by 2018. They aim to set an example for the rest of the EU.

Belgium became a country during the revolution in 1830. What is fascinating about this revolution is that it didn’t start with military men or people of higher status, but began with an audience of the opera. Essentially the revolution began with art, which is perhaps why it is so esteemed throughout the city.

After the walking tour, which conveniently ended at the best waffle truck in town, we enjoyed hot waffles that were every bit as good as they were hyped up to be. And, hence the title, after that we made a trek to experience the best fries in the whole city. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a huge restaurant with fancy signs, but rather a tiny stand in the corner of a busy plaza. We waited in line about 25 minutes, but it was worth it. Definitely the best BELGIAN fries I’ve ever had! (Yes, even better than McDonald’s).

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We had planned for it to be a tame night, but had planned to go to Delirium Cafe to experience the place that served over 3200 different kinds of beer in all its glory. In true fashion, we broke our vow of only having one or two casual drinks, and sampled a few more than that. Belgian beer is amazing to say the least. There is no purity law in Belgium, unlike in Germany, so they can essentially add any ingredient to their beer to make it taste good. That’s why there are thousands of different options for Belgian beer, because they’ve got an endless amount of ingredients they can use. Not only was the beer totally worth it–it was cheap at a high alcohol percentage so you definitely got your money’s worth–but the atmosphere was incredible. It is a very touristy place, but worth it in every sense.

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Since we had every intention of starting early to make it back early, we did make it back before midnight. We slept in a bit the next morning, since we didn’t really have an agenda and didn’t leave until later in the afternoon. We spent the day wandering the city center, filling up on delicious waffles that are often imitated but never duplicated, and enjoying the sunlight and warm weather.

Overall, I had a pleasant weekend in Brussels. I will say that it is not my favorite city, and perhaps I would have found more joy in the smaller cities such as Bruges and Ghent (which I have been highly recommended and vow to make it to eventually), but it was still exciting to experience a new place, a new culture, and get out of town for a bit. Plus, as my title says, we came for the food and beer and did not leave disappointed in that aspect.

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Childhood Meets Adulthood: Welcoming Old Friends to My Current City — October 11, 2016

Childhood Meets Adulthood: Welcoming Old Friends to My Current City

I think I had anticipated the first weekend in October far more than I had originally thought. First of all, I am excited that I made it that far here and that things are far more on the upswing than I ever thought they’d be. But perhaps one of the things that kept me going was that I would be able to meet up with a dear childhood friend’s mom and family during their short weekend in Paris.

While we didn’t meet up until Sunday, on their last day here, we were able to spend the entire day together. I was so overwhelmed with a sense of relief and the comfort of having such a familiar face visiting me meant more than words can describe. After cheerful hellos and giving them a recap of what my life is like here, we moved on to explore the city in one of the best ways: through conversation over crêpes and coffee.

We found a café on a side street near Champs Elysees where we warmed ourselves up and were entertained by a friendly waiter – quite an unusual thing in this city when people know you’re not local.

Lucky for me, I explored new things that I hadn’t gotten around to yet. One of the things being Invalides, which I live right next to. Hotel des Invalides is a complex of buildings dedicated to the military history of France. It is also the resting place of French war hero, Napolean Bonaparte, and his brothers.

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After touring the complex, we made our way to Père Lachaise, which is a huge cemetary that holds the graves of many renowned people, such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. To cut it short, we spent most of our day with dead people. But it was totally okay and not weird at all.

We finished the day with dinner in a cute little restaurant in Monmartre with delicious food and a glass of red wine. As difficult as it was to say goodbye, the day spent with familiar faces was just what I needed. It offered a refreshing outlook and attitude, one that makes me excited to live out this time in Paris and hope that more familiar faces get to visit me here as well. On that note, I cannot wait for my family to be here for Christmas!

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Monmartre —

Monmartre

About a week and a half ago, I went on an alternative walking tour of the Monmartre district in Paris. Because I’ve seen most of the name brand things throughout the city, I thought it would be interesting to take the roads less traveled to learn about a more secluded part of the city.

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Monmartre is the home of monuments such as Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur, and was home to many writers and artists, such as Van Gogh. The area was cheaper than Paris and also located outside of the city wall, thus creating a perfect environment for artists and writers to thrive, creating a more hipster neighborhood that is still present today.

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Evidence of these artists is still present today, as there are numerous sculptures of breasts randomly stuck to sides of buildings, along with street paintings and sculptures strewn throughout the winding streets. La Bateau Lavoir is here as well, which is a famous building where early 20th-century artists met and created work that is known worldwide today. This prominent art culture in Monmartre was the birth place of cubism and impressionism.

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Not only is Monmartre known for art and a much more laid back vibe, but it is home to many restaurants, patisseries, and even the boulangerie that holds the title of having the best baguette in the entire city.

As I mentioned, Moulin Rouge is located in the Monmartre neighborhood. Though it is quite a tourist attraction today, it was famous for very eccentric shows in the past, an example being the glutton and le petomane. Interestingly enough, the buildings title “Moulin Rouge” is not sexy or interesting in any way, “moulin” means windmill and “rouge” is red, meaning that this infamous building translates to The Red Windmill. Attractive.

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This tour was interesting and offered a refreshing take on one of the most interesting and oldest neighborhoods of Paris.