Home sweet home

As of today, I have been back in Canada for a whole month. A lot has changed, but somethings feel like I never left. My family is still the same loving group of people I left over four months ago, and they continue to amaze me – not only with their feats and accomplishments, but also by their love and support. They’ve been excited about my adventures abroad since the moment I heard I got accepted to study in Lyon, and they continue to encourage me to do what I love and what makes me happy. 

School feels the same as ever, trekking across campus three days a week to attend my English and History classes; most of which I am really enjoying, with only two I have yet to find the passion for. The University friends I left behind in August all carried on with their Carleton days while I was away, but have thankfully welcomed me back into their lives as if I had been there the whole time.

When I’m immersed in my school life, it sometimes feels like I never left Carleton’s underground world for the little tabacco factory of a school in Lyon, France. I guess some things never change, no matter how long you are gone or how much an experience changes you. I still get to spend my Fridays running errands and lazing around the house with my mom. She’s still there to nag me and hug me whenever necessary. My sister and I still drive each other crazy but would be lost without each other. Chris and Jon are still the nerdy, protective older brothers I’ve relied on my entire life. Dad is still working his ass off trying to bring some law & order to this crazy world we live in, all the while finding time to worry about and love his four children.

And my friends, well, I would be a mess if not for them. Whether in Texas getting her drawl back, or in Vancouver enjoying her yoga and ocean-side views, or back in Lyon struggling to keep up with the circus that is France, or even right here in Ottawa (and surrounding cities) where I left them, waiting to welcome me back with open arms, ears and hearts. My friends bring me back down to earth when life gets overwhelming, or just remind me to laugh things off and enjoy life because we’re young and we still have so many more adventures to embark on together.

Not that I don’t ordinarily enjoy life to the fullest, but sometimes it’s hard to have to face the reality of life after living in an ignorantly blissful world while on exchange. So many questions run through my head everyday: what do I want to do with my life; am I making the right choices to make me happy in the future; should I be volunteering more; should I give yoga a second chance; what should I eat today, etc. Sure, some of them are easier to answer then others, but when they all start cramming their way into my head, they start to take their toll and life gets overwhelming all over again. I know that my time on exchange has changed me as a person, and even though I’m yet to fully understand how I’ve changed, I know that it has affected my life here in Ottawa. My mom has always said that everything happens for a reason, so whether or not I’ve decided if my changes are for the best, I know life will sort itself out and I’ll be back in the world finding new adventures for myself in no time. As for now, I’ve got fantastic friends (old and new) and family to help me get readjusted to my life here in Ottawa. And look at that, I’ve made it a month and I’m still pretty much in one piece – just a few battle wounds to prove I can make it through the rough patches. I’m excited for life, whatever it holds; hopefully I have more travelling in store for me, which means more stories for me to share with the world. But for today I have Uni readings to conquer and a sister to bother. 

Love to you all, xox, B. 

Last day in Lyon

It’s finally here. I can’t believe it. But it’s true. I have been in Lyon for 114 days, and yet it feels like I was just taking that first unnerving step away from everything I knew to start on this crazy adventure. I wouldn’t trade my time here in Europe for anything in the world. But that being said, I am very much looking forward to be surrounded by my friends and family in just over 24 hours.

As I’ve mentioned before, this Christmas season is nothing like any I’ve ever experienced before because I’m not surrounded by the people and things I’ve become accustomed to at this time of year. That being said, I am experiencing an entirely new feeling of excitement and anticipation for this year’s Christmas. I have an entirely new appreciation for being home for Christmas, something that I have clearly taken for granted in the past years. It will be so nice to be surrounded by my loved ones, and even if the siblings and I get in an inevitable fight or two, at least we’ll have each other to bicker with, all in the same house and the same city for a few short days of the year. 

I’m sitting in my very empty apartment waiting for my landlord to come and inspect it to make sure I can get my deposit back, and then I’m on my way to the airport hotel to get a few hours sleep before my 7 AM flight tomorrow. It’s been a busy last day here in Lyon, arriving from London at around noon, and then repacking my suitcases, while doing some last minute deep-cleaning of my place and then running to my French bank to withdraw money and officially close my account. 

London, by the way, was the perfect trip to end my semester abroad. Two days was not nearly enough time there, but I am satisfied with what I was able to see and do in that short time. I arrived Sunday morning with Ievy, Naomi and Olivia, and we started our day with a traditional English afternoon tea at a “Secret Tea Room” above a pub. We ate mini sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and scones with clotted cream and jam, and drank delicious pots of loose leaf tea, served in elegant and dainty tea cups. Then we met up with Preeti and shopped a bit before getting caught in the rain. We ate dinner at a pub, and I had some very tasty fish and chips, which I washed down with my first ever Guinness  which I was pleased to say I actually enjoyed. We had a early night, so that we could have full day of touring on Monday.

Monday morning started with a trip to the TKTS booth to get discounted theatre tickets before meeting up with Preeti for a big and hearty English breakfast. Ievy, Olivia and I got tickets to see Shrek the Musical for 30£, which was highly entertaining and a great way to end our short trip to London. After our big breakfast, we wandered through Trafalgar square, down to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, then through St. James’s Park Lake to Buckingham Palace, then back down to Westminster Abbey. We debate about whether or not to take the double-decker bus tour, but decided we could make a tour of our own, so we hopped on the tube to get to Tower Bridge. We walked along it and stopped at a bar beneath it for Pims and Colas (I chose the Cola, I needed some caffeine to keep me going for the rest of the day). The next stop on our walk was the Globe Theatre, which I was very excited to see in person, being an English student and all. I would’ve loved to see a show there, but I guess that will have to happen the next time I’m in London. We took the new pedestrian bridge (which is destroyed by Dementors in a Harry Potter scene) back across the Thames and then hopped on another tube to see Harrods and grab dinner before our show. Harrods was everything I thought it would be and more. Emphasis on the more – as in more expensive than I ever would’ve liked to imagine. I wisely decided to not buy anything at Harrods, but it was nice to dream. After Shrek, Olivia and I went back to the hostel to try and get some sleep before our 4 AM wake-up call. And now here I am, writing my last post in Lyon before starting my long journey home tomorrow. 

It’s been an amazing experience. I can’t wait to continue to travel the world and see what else it has to offer me. Thanks for following along on the adventure with me, it’s been great! 

Cheers,

xox, B. 

Pierogies, exams and lights!

I’m going to try to make this a quick post tonight; it’s been a long weekend of wine drinking, festival going and last hurrahs with good friends. Before I get into my weekend in Lyon, I’ll quickly fill you in about Poland and my week of exams (Blah to the latter!).

My weekend in Poland with Preeti started in Paris (alliteration for the win!) on Thursday evening. Our flight to Warsaw only cost us 7€, but it meant we had to fly out of Paris Beauvais – which is not an easy airport to get to. We took the last train out Thursday night from Lyon, and couch surfed for a very brief night in Paris, as we had to wake up at 5:15 to take two metros to catch the 7 am coach bus to Beauvais airport. We finally got into Warsaw at around noon, and found our hostel nestled right in the center of the Old Town. Our location was perfect, and we had a whole room to ourselves for 15€ a night – not bad! Friday we stuffed ourselves silly with pierogies – both savoury and sweet, and then napped off our food coma in our hotel room.
Saturday we did half of a free walking tour, which was interesting and we saw everything we wanted to see before deciding our toes would fall off from the cold if we were outside for any longer. We warmed up in a bakery with a Polish donut each (yum!) and then went back for yet another nap and some studying in our cozy hostel room.
Sunday we made our own walking tour, starting with the Castle, and stopping at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while on the hunt for Chopin’s heart (which we never did find). We ate more delicious food on Sunday and then called it a night for one last bit of studying before our 12 hour day of travelling back to Lyon on Monday.

The rest of my week was a blur of studying and writing exams. By Thursday night my hand was about ready to fall off from the amount of writing I had done with it, but it’s starting to heal up after a weekend off. I wrote my French exam on Tuesday morning (which I passed, hurray!) and then my Contemporary Indian Society exam Wednesday morning, followed by my open-book Concepts of Law in the European Union exam in the afternoon. Then I came home to study for Thursday’s Comparative Literature exam, which was fine, but not as good as I had hoped it would be. Thursday night I had my last Avant-Gardes class, and then my last exam for that class is this Thursday, the 13th.

Friday night I went out with a group of girls to see la Fête des lumières, which was very impressive! I had been warned not to take any public transit because the 2 million toursits that come into Lyon make it very difficult to get around. But I was pleasantly surprised to find my way around the city pretty easily, even if sometimes we felt like a herd of sheep being directed by gates and cops. The light show in Vieux Lyon was amazing – I never could have imagined what a projector and some impressive lights are capable of.

Saturday I studied at Little with Mackenzie and Preeti, and had a very yummy lunch of Quiche and soup, followed by a decadent Red Velvet cupcake. We had plans to head out to the festival again Saturday night, but instead had a slumber party in my apartment with five girls crashing on two twin mattresses – and various other forms of mattresses made up of coats/yoga mats/scarves/etc.

Today was devoted to studying and packing. I went over to Kenzie’s to help her pack because she is leaving on Wednesday to head back to Texas, but that left me feeling pretty down. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the amazing friends I’ve made here in Lyon. It feels like we just met on the first day of SELF courses, and yet here we are packing up our things and having our last few nights together. It’s not going to be fun to say all these goodbyes (or see-you-when-I-have-travel-money-again) this week, but it is what it is. Plus in ten days I’ll be home surrounded by all my friends and family who I have been missing dearly in my life. Maybe they’ll start to fill the void created by being separated from friends I’ve practically been living with for the past three months. At least now I have a million more excuses to travel – there will always be someone I can visit once I have the money saved up again. Note to other wanderlusts out there – save your pennies, it’s money well spent, I promise!

That’s all for now, my bed is calling my name.

xox, B.

History lessons like never before

I’m not sure where the week has gone – it’s been a blur of studying and cafes and unpacking and repacking. I got home from Berlin on Monday at around midnight, was in bed by 1:30 am and was up for my 8:00 am French class at 6:30 – at least it was my last French class of the semester, yippee! Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon I spent in this adorable little cupcake/coffee shop called “Little,” studying for my four exams next week. I leave tonight to go to Paris overnight to catch a plane to Warsaw with Preeti tomorrow morning, so I haven’t had much time to really catch my breath this week, but that’s the fun of being on exchange – learning to juggle everything in the name of travelling.

Berlin was amazing last weekend. I definitely could’ve spent more than the 3.5 days that we had there, but I am still amazed by how much we saw and did in the short time we were there. There was a total of nine of us from Lyon who went, but throughout the weekend we split up into smaller groups to make it easier to make our own plans and to see what we all really wanted to see, which is important in a city as big as Berlin.

We arrived late Friday night, but since we didn’t go out drinking, we were able to wake up bright and early Saturday morning to get in as much sight-seeing as possible. A group of five of us started our day by walking along the East Side Gallery, which was just down the street from our [amazing!] hostel. The art is amazing, and it was surreal to finally see the wall and know that so much history surrounds it. After taking the usual touristy pictures of the many art pieces, we hopped on the U-bahn to visti our first Christmas market of the weekend. Unfortunately it wasn’t fully set up yet, but we treated ourselves to some freshly fried donuts and a few cups of Gluhwein among the five of us before heading to the Brandenburg Gate to meet for the free walking tour.

The tour lasted three and a half hours, and took us to most of the city’s main tourist destinations. I learned so much from our tour guide, and gained a fresh understanding of Berlin’s history just from being fully immersed in it. My dad and brother are big history nerds, and I have been told countless times about the Berlin wall and much of Germany’s vast history, but I have never understood it as much as I do now. Take the Berlin Wall for example; I had learned in high school how the wall surrounded West Berlin, and my Dad even explained it again the day before I left for Berlin, but by seeing the wall, and seeing the death strip, I have a totally new appreciation and understanding of what exactly took place and why the wall was built.

On the walk we also saw Checkpoint Charlie (not much to see, but it is a tourist destination, so I’m glad I saw it), the Reichstag, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the site of Hitler’s former bunker – where he killed himself and his wife, Luftwaffe Headquarters, the former SS headquarters and museum island – just to name a few. I was blown away by how much history one city could have, and left with the desire to learn more about it.

After our tour we went to the Jewish Museum, which was amazing! We were there until it closed at 8:00, and then walked as fast as we could to the nearest Indian restaurant for a much needed hearty and delicious meal to end our long and informative day. We were once again too drained to go out on Saturday night, so Sunday we were able to wake up early to see more of the city before meeting back at the Brandenburg Gate for a tour to the Sachsenhausen Memorial. Logan, Mackenzie and I went to the Berlin Wall Memorial before meeting up with the others to one of Germany’s first concentration camps open to the public. It was a heavy day of experiencing Germany’s darker history, but it is important to me that I recognize both the good and the bad of the world’s history, rather than hide from it and pretend that bad things don’t happen to good people.

Sachsenhausen was the first concentration camp I have ever been to, and while I most certainly can’t say I enjoyed it – in fact, it left me with a pain in my stomach and a very heavy heart – but it was definitely something worth experiencing. It once again put history into perspective for me by visiting a place with such a dark and complicated past.  It was a fairly personal experience, and I will forever remember what I saw that day, but I think that’s all I’ll write about it. If you ever get the chance, I think it’s an important part of our world’s history that cannot be ignored because ignorance will never lead to improvement.

The weekend ended on a happier note, with a full day of Christmas market shopping with Logan, Kenzie and Livia. It was just what I needed to start getting me into the Christmas spirit. Usually it doesn’t take much to get me into the Christmas spiriti back home – I’m the girl who starts counting down for Christmas as of December 26th, and who starts listening to Christmas carols in November, and who will make any excuse to drink out of a Christmas coffee cup because it just makes the day that much cheerier. But I’ve been finding it hard to make my world feel Christmassy here because it is so unlike being home for the holidays that it almost feels like I’m missing out on a part of this Christmas season. I keep telling my friends that I’ll just have a Christmas overload when I finally get back to Canada on the 20th, which should do the trick. At least the German Christmas markets began to fill my Christmas void – with more Gluhwein, lots of delicious food, Christmas carols and lots of shopping, Christmas began to feel just a little bit closer.

I have a pile of studying to do that is unfortunately calling my name, but I’ll fill you all in about Poland and my first four exams next week. Love to you all,
xox, B.

Giving the Americans some love

Happy American Thanksgiving to all Americans out there. I tend to go on and on about how proud I am to be Canadian, and how much I love Canada, so I figured it was time to send some love to our neighbours in the South. Americans tend to get a bad rep, especially when travelling, and there is a tendency to believe that Americans and Canadians don’t get along. So I’d like to start by saying that some of my best friends here in Lyon are American, and I don’t know how I would’ve survived this experience without them. Sure, some of them are clueless about Canada, and some of them talk with funny accents, but that just makes them more endearing, and a little bit more exotic than the many Canadian friends I’ve made here.

Last night we celebrate American Thanksgiving at Logan’s apartment, and it had everything a Thanksgiving should have: chaos, family  roommate drama, ridiculous amounts of food, every kind of wine imaginable, good friends and lots of laughs. Everyone brought a dish to contribute to our Thanksgiving feast, and we ate and chatted for hours, sitting wherever we could find room in Logan’s beautiful French apartment. It was so nice to be surrounded by the amazing friends we have all made over the past few months. With less than a month left in France for many of us, we are all trying to spend as much quality time with each other before we all head off on our paths – whether on internships in Paris, another semester in Lyon, more backpacking throughout Europe, or simply returning to wherever we call home for the reality of another semester of University.

American Thanksgiving feast with good friends.

So this [American] Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the friends I have made, and the many amazing experiences I have had with them on exchange. They have been there for me when I just needed someone to get my mind off home, to drink Belgian beers out of ridiculous glasses, to waddle home with extremely full bellies after yet another extravagant French meal, to climb the French Alps, to calm me when I finally realized that I will sometimes have to study/do homework, to get lost with in foreign cities, or just to share stories and laughs like we’ve known each other for ages. Thanks guys, you are all fantastic!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, even if you aren’t American, cause I’m not, but I see no problem with being reminded to be Thankful for all we have in life, American or not.

Love to all,
xox, B.

Mountain air and good friends.

It’s amazing what a weekend away in the mountains with a good group of friends can do for your sanity. I’m on the train back to Lyon from Annecy, and I am already feeling refreshed and ready to face a busy week at school before heading to Berlin on Friday.
I’d say it’s a sign of a successful weekend when everyone is sprawled out in the train car, with their hiking shoes airing out on the ground and their many layers of clothing surrounding them. Friday night we hung out with some local ski bums (and by local I mean Brits, Irish and Aussies who have moved to Chamonix to soak up the mountain life) because our hotel was attached to their bar of choice for Friday nights. They all thought we were there for the season, but we sadly had to tell them we were only there for a night. I definitely could’ve stayed at least a week more there, if not a whole season! Chamonix is such a beautiful little town, and being surrounded by the alps was surreal. I felt guilty the entire time that Ian couldn’t be there to enjoy it with me, seeing as he’s the biggest ski bum I know!

Chamonix Mont-Blanc. Stunning.

Saturday the five of us took a train most of the way up the mountain, and I was blown away by the view. We hiked around for a few hours, and I even ended the day with a bit of a run back up the mountain to warm myself up. Once we were back in the village of Chamonix, we settled in for a delicious meal of cheese! We all split a oil/beef fondue, a cheese fondue and raclette: a traditional French dish where you melt your own cheese using a special device and then put it on potatoes and/or meat slices. I seriously could’ve been rolled out of the restaurant after the meal, that’s how full I felt. But it was so delicious, and worth the mild tummy ache I had afterwards.

Fondue x 2 + Raclette = Perfect meal after a day of mountain wandering.

After our meal we had to leave the Alps behind to head to Annecy for the night. We were pretty exhausted after a long day of walking/hiking, so we got ourselves a dose of wifi in the hostel lobby and then were in bed by 10:30. Something in the hostel had made my allergies act up, which made for an interesting night of sleeping for the other girls, who thought I was either choking on my own mucus and/or that I was unable to breathe. Naomi even got up in the middle of the night to bring me tissues because I was breathing so dangerously. Thank god for good friends who worry about me.

Today we explored Annecy, and even though we only saw it for less than a day, I feel as though I saw everything I needed to see. It is an adorable little French town, with lots of old bridges, canals and a massive Sunday market. We meandered around the market and the old town this morning with our “Maxi Pain au Chocolat” (it was literally bigger than my head!).

Maxi pain au chocolat! Nom 🙂

The sun came out just in time for our walk around Lac Annecy in the afternoon, where we people and swan-watched while we soaked up the good weather.I’m ready for an excellent night’s sleep to prepare for a productive day of homework and catching up on my life in Lyon.
See you in almost a month Canada,
Xox,
B.

Canadian loving

This past week has been very busy, slightly emotional, entirely exhausting, but definitely worth it considering the weekend I had in Arras with Logan and the most welcoming group of Canadians I’ve ever met.
On the 10th, Logan and I caught a train to Arras. After nearly missing our connection in Paris, and walking circles around the city a few times, we made it to our cozy hotel, where we had the best sleep either of us had had in a while. As exchange students, we’ve been traveling on a fairly tight budget, and have been sleeping in hostels or on couches for the past two months of traveling. But Arras had neither hostels nor couches for us on Saturday, so Hotwire came to the rescue with a Best Western for only 63€ split between the two of us. Needless to say, a night on a hotel bed was just what we needed to start our amazing weekend in the quaint little city of Arras.
We caught a cab from our hotel at 8:30 on Remembrance Day, and 15 minutes and 30€ later we were at the Vimy Memorial. I had been to see if five years ago, but my experience the second time around was nothing close the first. We were dropped off at the site before it officially opened, and were able to fully take in the empty remnants of battle fields, the signs warning of potentially undetonated mines, the massive ridge Canadians conquered over 95 years ago, and the massive monument commemorating the thousands of Canadians who died for our country. It was a chilly, quiet morning on the ridge, and neither Logan nor I felt the need or desire to talk for fear of breaking the silence and/or letting my emotions get the better of me. It was nice to have those few moments to ourselves to take everything. We also were lucky enough to get blue skies to appreciate and capture the majesty of the monument. As we walked towards the visitor center, the fog rolled in, as if Mother Nature was setting the scene for the 11:00 ceremony.
The ceremony was put on by the 18 Canadian student guides who are hired by the Canadian government for a semester of working at Vimy and Beaumont Hammel. The ceremony was short and sweet, and had everything you’d expect from a Remembrance Day ceremony- men and women in uniform, the last post, “In Flanders Field”, wreath laying, the national anthem, bagpipes, and two minutes of silence for the soldiers who have fought and for those who continue to fight around the world.

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I was already feeling extremely fortunate to be able to be at Vimy Ridge on Remembrance Day, but the day continued to get better as we were welcomed into the lives and homes of our fellow Canadian students. At the visitor center I got talking to a guide from Ottawa, who lives a street down from my best friend in Chapel Hill. After talking a bit longer we realized that we had a mutual friend who had helped us both with our French Visa applications because she has gone on exchange to Lyon last fall – such a small world! Once we had established that connection, she offered to host Logan and I on the couches in the house they all lived in, in Arras, and we of course accepted with much gratitude! After a tour of the trenches and intricate tunnel system that was used to capture the ridge, Logan and I shared a cab back to Arras with two other Canadian backpackers we had met throughout the day. We had a delicious dinner of Moules & Frites at a restaurant in Arras with the guides, their bosses, and the parents of one of the girls.The night continued at an Irish pub, and ended with us crashing on a DIY bed made of couch cushions and spare blankets.
The travel gods were clearly on our side on the weekend, because we were then welcomed into the travel plans of two wonderful east-coasters who were visiting their friend, one of the Vimy guides. Shaun, an RCMP officer who had gotten permission to wear his formal uniform for the ceremony, had rented a car to drive around Europe for a week, and invited us to tag along for a road trip with his buddy Colin on Monday. Traveling with Logan can be a bit overwhelming for me at times because she is so easy going and spontaneous (I just tend to plan ahead whenever possible), but it has always worked out for the best, and this weekend was no exception. We gladly accepted the offer to tag along, and had an amazing day driving through the French and Belgian countryside.
We had lunch and lots of chocolate in Gent, and walked throughout the city for a few hours. Gent has lots of pretty canals, bridges and old churches – one of which has a dragon on top of it that has been overlooking the city since the 12th century! Our next stop of the day was in Knokke-Heist, a fancy and very expensive coastal town that stretches along a beautiful beach, dotted with hundreds of huge condo buildings. We also had the most delicious Belgian waffles from a small shop hidden among the Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores. It was to die for! We then somehow made room for dinner and Belgium beer in Bruges – yet another beautiful town with canals, arched bridges and lots of chocolate shops! By the time we got back to Arras from our adventure, it was 10:30, and long past the last train to Lyon. Luckily the guides were friendly enough (duh, they’re Canadian) to let us crash on their floor for a second night, and we caught the 7:30 train back to Lyon the next morning.
As for the rest of my week:
Tuesday we celebrated Mackenzie’s 22d birthday at her favourite bouchon in Vieux Lyon, and surprised her with a pair of rock climbing shoes she’d had her eyes on for months. Wednesday the school organized a trip to Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine festival with lots of drinking competitions and wine tasting galore. It was a very cool experience to be part of, especially because the locals were so excited to have so many international students at their farms and in their small little town. We didn’t get home until 3:30 Thursday morning though because the real festivities don’t start until midnight- when they open the 2012 batch and give a sample to everyone! Thursday I was really feeling the effects of a busy week, and spent the majority of my day on campus – 6 hours of class and 3 hours in the library. By the end of the day I was ready to crawl into my bed and was seriously considering canceling my weekend travel plans because I was feeling so tired and overwhelmed from the week’s events. But I’ve come to learn that good friends are the glue that holds you together, especially while in a different country in new environments, and especially when they are facing the same issues as you every day. Logan saved the day with a phone call saying just what I needed to hear. Shaun had come into Lyon for the night from Arras on his way to Switzerland and Germany, so I had dinner and wine with him, Logan and a couple other girls. Shaun, being the kind Canadian that he is, offered to drive us to Chamonix so that he could see the Alps on his way to Germany, which we once again accepted graciously. So here I am now, sitting in our Chalet/Hostel enjoying some free chicken wings and some down time with Logan while we wait for the three other girls to get in from Grenoble later tonight. Tomorrow promises beautiful views of the alps, hiking in the clean mountain air, and then an evening train to Annecy where we’ll stay until Sunday.
I think that should catch everyone up with what I’ve been up to lately in France. Hoping everyone is doing well wherever they are while reading this,
Xox, B.

Learning from experience what books could never teach me

It’s been a busy week for me, which seems to be the norm since I’ve been on exchange. I got back from Barcelona on Monday, and was literally in my apartment for 15 minutes before changing into my least-fashionable-but-most-comfortable outfit to meet a group partner on campus to finish up a presentation for Tuesday’s 8:00 am class. It’s already Thursday and I never seem to understand where the week disappears to, but here I am with yet another week of classes under my belt, and only four more to go. Tuesday’s French presentation went OK, and the day ended on a good note with an evening of wine, food and trip-planning galore! Next weekend, I will be going to Grenoble, Chamonix and Annecy with three other girls for a weekend of hiking, snow and maybe a bit more wine and food. I swear I’m not a drunkard, the wine here is just so good, and always cheaper than any other beverage on the menu- c’est la vie!
Wednesday’s six-hours-straight of class was fairly uneventful, other than handing in my only paper of the semester for my European Union Law class! I’m not sure what to expect with the paper, because as much as I enjoy writing, I’m not used to writing about the European Union and its legal system, so it’ll be interesting to see how I do. Today I had my favourite class, Comparative Literature, the only class I seem to be gaining anything from, which makes Thursday mornings enjoyable, but puts into perspective how futile it is to be in school here.
I came into this experience with an open mind, prepared to work hard on my studies when necessary, but also hoping to be able to see as much of Europe as my wallet and my organizational skills would allow. There is now a wide consensus among the SELF kids that as hard as we try, the classes here are not enlightening us in the same way as classes do back home. I think it is likely  because we are put into classes designated for exchange students instead of being integrated into the classes of full-time UJM students, and we are therefore treated differently (more leniently) than other UJM students.  While our brains may be missing out on a semester of an academic learning environment, I know that I have already learned so much about myself and the world around me from the places I have seen and the experiences I have had. I think that is what people expect to gain from going on exchange, but it has taken some getting used to. I definitely still make an effort in school, and I am doing well as far as I am concerned, but it is a refreshing feeling to be able to focus on my experience here as opposed to being stressed and hung up on schoolwork.
This past week was definitely a learning experience in itself. I went to Lisbon and Barcelona for eight days with eight girls and it was…something. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lisbon and Barcelona, and love the girls that I was travelling with, but after eight days of eight girls living together, I was craving the serenity of my little apartment in Lyon. I learned that I am a much less patient person that I used to think I was, which is difficult when travelling with such a large group. I often felt guilty for getting frustrated when having to wait for the whole group to catch up, but I was just so keen to see what each city had to offer. I also learned that the more the merrier is not always applicable when it comes to travelling. In the end, I got to see plenty of each city, and loved what I saw. Not only did I get to experience new places, but I also got to know the girls a lot better, learning both the good and bad that comes with every person, and still loving them dearly despite being with them 24/7 – that must say something good about them!
Despite the high estrogen levels and cramped bathroom shenanigans, my week off was amazing. From what I saw of each country, I think I preferred Portugal over Spain, but I know there is still so much to see in each country. Lisbon, as you know if you read my last post, was beautiful and we kept very busy with sights and good food.
But we said our goodbyes to the welcoming people of Portugal on Halloween morning, and caught our flight to Barcelona without any problems. We were welcomed with sun and about 15-18 degree weather – better than the zero degree weather we’d had in Lyon! Wednesday we had a low-key meal at a restaurant called Tarantino, which was decked out in movie posters and other Tarantino paraphernalia. We stayed in a six-person apartment (with 8 girls…) in the Gothic quarter, which was the perfect location. Staying in an apartment was nice because it felt like we were really experiencing the city from more of a local’s perspective. And we managed to survive without wifi, making the occasional trek to a nearby Starbucks for a quick dose of Internet access.
We did two free walking tours, one on Friday and another on Saturday, which were super informative. Friday’s tour was about Gaudi, the very talented and quirky architect whose work is found all throughout Barcelona. His quirky style appeals to me, and a lot of his work reminded me of my mom, who is attracted to the quirkier things in life. The second tour took us through Barcelona’s Old Town. We saw a lot of the city within those 2.5 hours, and I learned a lot about the city’s history, which was right up my alley. Before visiting Barcelona I had no idea that it is Catalonian, as opposed to Spanish, so I definitely learned a lot about its culture and history throughout the week. (See, learning without books is possible!).
Barcelona was full of lots of adventures, which were unfortunate and miserable at the time, but have already made for some good stories now that we are back in Lyon. On our first night out in Barcelona, one of the girls stepped on a piece of glass at the club, and had to go to the hospital the next day because she thought she might need stitches. It was a pretty deep cut, but luckily 300€ and a pair of crutches later, she was let out of the hospital with a cleaned and bandaged foot. It put a damper on the rest of her trip, which was unfortunate, but we did our best to make it as enjoyable as possible for her.
There was also a spout of food poisoning near the end of the week, which was no fun for everyone involved. But my theory is that no vacation goes off without a hitch, and we were lucky to not have been pickpocketed or have anything worse happen to us. We’ll all be laughing it off in no time (I hope!).
The rest of my time in Barcelona consisted of delicious meals, a walk along the beach, and lots of shopping! It was a good week off from classes, and I still have so many places to look forward to seeing. This weekend I am going to the Vimy Ridge Memorial near Arras, France with a fellow Canadian, Logan, for Remembrance Day. I’m looking forward to seeing the memorial again, and am glad that I’ll be able to be there for November 11th. Our soldiers deserve to be remembered, and what better place to do it than where they fell over 95 years ago.
Love and miss you all,
Xox,
B

Getting lost has its benefits.

I’ve decided, with the help of my good friend Mackenzie, that getting lost is an important part of traveling. She has always said, since the first time we travelled together in Marseille, that she loves getting lost because you get to experience the area in a new and unique perspective, and you’ll always find your way eventually. Sure, getting lost makes a trip last a little longer, but that’s not a bad thing when you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery and good friends.
Needless to say, getting lost on our trek to the castle in Lisbon yesterday was an adventure in itself. We strolled along residential alleyways and definitely got a good work out from the many stairs and hills we climbed up and down. And despite getting lost, we made it to the top and saw the beautiful view of Lisbon at dusk. Unfortunately, being the poor and budget-wise students that we are, we were unwilling to pay the 8€ to get into the castle, but it was beautiful to see!

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We spent the rest of the day wandering around the different districts of Lisbon, and tasting the various treats that Portugal has to offer. My favourite thing would have to be the “pastal de nata”, pastry tarts filled with a SCRUMPTIOUS custard. I also had a delicious dinner of cod and chips, and braved the unknown seafood that was served along our bread as an appetizer. I think it was octopus of some sort, and while I am happy I tried it, I didn’t exactly dig in for seconds.
We attempted to go out to a few bars and clubs, but seeing as it was a Monday, the nightlife was underwhelming. We managed to make the best of a rainy and dead night though, and met two guys from Brazil who are also on their fall break from studying in Grenoble, France. They were very friendly and spoke Portuguese, which was helpful for getting directions throughout the night! We even met up with them this morning to take the train together to Sintra, Portugal.
Sintra was amazing! I was expecting a city similar to Lisbon, but it was surprisingly quite unique. It had much more of a tropical feel to it, and didn’t have the old-town vibe of Lisbon. We spent most of the morning at Moor Castle, a massive and breathtaking fortress. We walked all along its edge, which was yet another workout of stairs, both up and down. The view of Sintra from the top of the castle was fantastic, and made me feel like I was “The King of the Castle”, hee hee.

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We had lunch at a cute little tourist trap of a restaurant, but our server was fantastic. He gave Naomi (he asked who was the youngest of the group) a handmade little pin of a Portugal doll, and ended our meal with a free shot of a cherry liquor made in Portugal. It was delicious! He was quite shocked when we all shot it back like a shooter, because he had tried to warn us to sip it because it was too strong. Gotta love ignorant North Americans. But he laughed it off. 🙂

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We finished our day at Sintra by wandering around “Quinta da Regaleira”, a summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family built in the 19th century. It is HUGE!!! There are hidden grottos and waterfalls and tunnels that link the entire property, we felt like we were in Pan’s Labyrinth and/or The Secret Garden. It felt magical :).
Tonight we are having tapas and sangria in our hostel for 6€! I love hostel living 🙂
We fly to Barcelona tomorrow for 5 nights, which should leave us plenty of time to wander and eat our way through the city 🙂 Yum!
I hope everyone is surviving the effects of Sandy wherever you may be. I’m worried about everyone, even if I don’t need to be. That’s the life of an exchange student, living across the world from her loved ones.
Xox,
B

I fell in love with Ireland and didn’t want to let it go

At the Cliffs of Moher!

I know I’m overdue for a blog post, but time seems to be slipping away during my time on exchange, and I don’t know where the past two months have gone (I have officially been outside of Canada for two months as of today) or how I already only have 56 more days here. I have been keeping busy with travelling and school assignments lately, which has definitely made the time go by more quickly, which leaves me wanting to spend the little spare time I have with the amazing friends I have made here. I only have one more day of classes (today) before I on my fall semester break for a week of no classes, and lots of good food, friends and drinks on the beaches of Portugal and Spain. But before I get into that, I’ll try to quickly fill you all in on my life for the past few weeks.

I have been pretty busy with school for the past few weeks, which means that the few days where I am in Lyon, and not travelling elsewhere, I have either been in my apartment/the school library/cafes meeting with partners to work on school projects and assignments. I am now happy to say that I got my Contemporary Indian Society midterm and presentation over with yesterday morning, and I have completed and passed three french tests in the past three weeks. I have one assignment and a presentation the week I get back from holidays, but I am done the presentation already and I am not worried about the other assignment – planning on starting and finishing it tomorrow. It’s been a strange feeling having to actually be productive on homework in the past few weeks because the French Uni system is very different than back home, where I already would have written several midterms and essays and would likely be preparing to write another batch in a few weeks time. Here in Lyon we basically have one assignment and one final for each class, and I am already done the majority of them. I love the life of an exchange student! But no aspect of being an exchange students compares to the ability to travel to places I’ve only ever dreamed of visiting, and having them fill every expectation and more.

Standing at the edge!

I went to Dublin this past weekend, from Friday-Monday, and it was arguably one of the best weekends of my life, and definitely the most amazing places in the world that I have ever visited. I must point out that I don’t know how it rates in comparison to my cottage or Ottawa, but those aren’t places I visit, they are where I live and where my heart is, and most importantly where I call home.

I left Friday afternoon, and had to fly solo because Preeti (a friend I met in classes and who also happens to be from Canada) couldn’t get a flight out until later in the evening. On my way to the airport, I found myself thinking about the way I present myself while travelling, and how I inadvertently feel self-conscious about who I am and who I’m trying to be.

There is a fine line between struggling to feel like you belong in a new city, and the desire to still represent and advocate the place that you come from. I noticed this on my way to the Lyon airport from my little apartment in a very residential district of the city. I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb with my big Canadian flag sewn on my bag, and I felt the desire to inform everyone around me that, while I am undoubtedly a proud Canadian, I am also a resident of Lyon, and will continue to be for the next two months.
Once off the public transport, I ran into a fellow Lyon III student who approached me not because he recognized me as a classmate, but because, as a fellow Canadian, he wanted to tell me how much he liked the flag badge proudly displayed on my bag. So then I felt guilty for being ashamed of my flag back near my apartment, because I love being Canadian, as I have recently mentioned, I realize how much I take for granted while living in Canada that I now miss. It’s also nice to be Canadian because not only do people around the world seem to appreciate meeting Canadians, but fellow Canadians love being Canadian too. All this to say, I’ve realized that it’s nice to identify myself as a Canadian among a sea of Europeans, but also to be able to identify with the few other Canadians that I meet along the way.

By the time I had finished this internal debate with myself, I was off the Rhonexpress and waiting for my flight to Dublin! I was taken aback when I first stepped onto the plane and was met with a very friendly and accent-ridden stewardess, who greeted not only with a smile, but in english! It had been so long since I had heard spoken by someone in the service industry, that I instantly felt like I was back at home, and knew it was a good sign for the rest of my trip.

I found my hostel easily enough, and was content beyond belief to be surrounded by Irish people, who were not only ten times more friendly than the people I have become accustomed to meeting along my travels in France, but who had the most beautiful accents that my heart would just melt the instant anyone opened their mouth. I think it’s the Irish in me, but I was in heaven this weekend. I choose to identify with whatever percentage of Irish culture I have in my family because I am drawn to everything it is about, from its history and its stories to its food, music and art. I’ve said it already, and I’ll say it again: I fell in love with Ireland, and I am counting down the days until I can visit it again.

Saturday Preeti and I borded a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher, which lasted from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, but I swear I could’ve stayed for longer if only it meant I could see more of Ireland. We drove along the beautiful countryside and stopped every hour or so to see the architecture, quaint villages and natural beauty Ireland has to offer. The cliffs themselves were beyond anything I had ever imagined. I felt so small and insignificant in comparison to their size and majesty, which is always a humbling feeling. I took over 300 pictures this weekend, and a large majority are of the cliffs. Of course none of them can really capture the essence of the cliffs, but hopefully they will provide me with a good enough picture to fuel my memory. I took a few pictures standing as close to the edge as I could, which I know will freak my mother out, but you know what they say: live life on the edge! 😉

Cliffs of Moher

After our tour, Preeti and I headed to a pub for some delicious pub grub, which we of course washed down with a pint. We spent the rest of our evening in the “Temple Bar” area, moving between the various bars and pubs, meeting beyond friendly (in a good way, not a creepy way) people from all over Europe. We also had the great fortune of being shown how to party the Irish way because we met Leah, a very happy and gregarious girl from Limerick who was staying in our hostel room for the night. She asked what we were doing for the night, so I suggest she join us since we had no specific plans. It was a perfect evening of live music, impromptu air bands, arm wrestling, cider chugging and many many laughs. I didn’t want the evening to end. But Sunday showed us there was still lots to see and love about Ireland.

Sunday we toured around Dublin. My favourite part of the day was seeing Trinity College, which made me fall in love with Ireland all over again. The campus is beautiful, and I instantly had the desire to study there and be immersed in Irish life for semesters at the time. Upon hearing this, my mother said “Omg, my world traveller will never stay home”- but I swear once the travel bug bites, there’s no letting it go.
We had lunch (and a pint) at Ireland’s oldest pub, “The Brazen Head”. I decided to eat like the Irish, and left the pub feeling uncomfortably full after a fish cake starter and Guinness stew which came served in a giant yorkshire, complete with mashed potatoes and dense soda bread. But believe me, it was worth the tummy ache – so delicious! We traipsed along Grafton street, enjoying the window shopping and talented street performers, not to mention a leprechaun sighting or two! After our routy evening Saturday night, we spent Sunday at a pub near our hostel, and were in bed by 11:00 at the latest.

We said a sad farewell on Monday morning, and had to face reality once we had safely landed back in Lyon. I had a french test tuesday and my Indian Society presentation and midterm wednesday, all of which went well and are finally over and done with! Now I have a week of no classes to look forward to, and am looking forward to starting a new set of adventures Sunday night when I fly off to Lisbon, Portugal with five amazing girls. It should be amazing!

Miss and love you all,

xox, B.