Goodbye money, hello adventures!

I’ve heard that money spent on travelling is money well spent because it’s the only thing that you can buy that will make you richer. I have to keep reminding myself this as I watch my bank account balance quickly deteriorate while my weekends become more and more packed with trips to new destinations. Within the next three months, I will be visiting; Paris, Dublin, Lisbon, Barcelona and Berlin. Those are the trips that I have booked so far, and my wallet is most certainly feeling the affects of it, but I am beyond ready and willing to throw my money into flights and hostels if it means I get the chance to see what the world has to offer. I am also hoping to visit London after my exams are over in December, and I’d love to see a bit more of France while I am here. We’ll see how far I can stretch my money – good thing baguettes are cheap here, I think I’ll just live off of bread for the semester. They say carbs are good for runners, right?

With only two free weekends left in November, and none in October, I’m beginning to realize how quickly my semester abroad is going to fly by. It feels like just yesterday I arrived in my hotel in a strange new city, overwhelmed by the prospect of a starting a new life in a foreign country. But here I am today,  eating Nutella and baguette as a late-night snack like any other Frenchy (or so I’d like to think). I’m really feeling settled and comfortable in my new environment, and I am happy to be back into a regular school routine, finding time to run, meet up with friends for dinner and fitting in some time to tackle my pile of french homework. I have already found a favourite spot in the library on campus, which Ian jokes will always be my home away from home, no matter what country or city I am in. I find comfort in being surrounded by books and the silence of concentrating students.

But most of the desire of being an exchange student is escaping the academic life in order to see the world around us, which I will always manage to find time for. This past weekend I went to Geneva for four other girls. Two of the girls stayed overnight, but unwilling to pay the costly Genevan hotel prices, I opted to train in just for the day on Saturday, which only cost me 26 euros roundtrip thanks to student pricing. It was a beautiful city, but I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to stay any longer than a day.

We started our day at the UN, which had a line that looked like it would’ve been over a two hour wait to stand in, so we took pictures of the “broken chair” and the line up of flags, then went to hunt down a fondue restaurant.

Broken Chair

The fondue was quite tasty and cost us each 10 euro, which seemed affordable considering what we had heard about prices in Geneva.

Empty fondue pot after a satisfying meal

On our way back to the city from the restaurant we noticed the line had only about a ten minute wait, so we got in it. Unbeknownst to us, the one day we decided to visit Geneva happened to be the one day in two years that the UN is opened to the public for free. After going through security, we got a short tour and then were given free range to roam around the property and through the buildings.

Proud to be Canadian.

I still can’t believe our luck, and 3/4 of the girls I was with are studying International Relations, so they were in “academic heaven”. The rest of the day we spent along Lake Geneva, which was beautiful. We made friends with some very tame swans and got drinks along the water. It was the perfect ending to a Swiss day.

I should probably be heading to bed sometime soon but I am far too excited to be sleeping. Ian leaves for Lyon on Friday, which means we will be reunited in 3 sleeps! I am so excited for him to see Europe and for him to get a glimpse of the life I have made for myself here in Lyon. We will be sight seeing in Lyon for the weekend, and then next weekend we are going to Paris for my birthday!

I had my frist two non-french classes today, which went well. It’s different than the Canadian learning environment because we don’t have to buy our own books and our mark is based only off 2-3 assignments/tests, but that is perfectly ok with me. I have two more classes tomorrow and then it is my weekend! I plan on spending Friday studying in a coffee shop, and getting my place ready for Ian’s visit. I’ll keep everyone posted on my life in France as best I can.

Love and miss everyone back home,

xox, B.

Beautiful Lake Geneva


Home away from home

Last night I got home from my first weekend getaway. It’s strange to think that Lyon is my home now, but it really feels like it. After an amazing, but exhausting, weekend I was looking forward to the familiarity of my cozy apartment and my comfy bed. It’s nice to know that I feel at home here in Lyon with my own little family of friends, when my hometown awaits me so many miles away.

It was an amazing first trip, and I am already looking forward to more weekend adventures! Our getaway started on Friday, when I got on my first European train with 11 other girls from my program at UJM. It started out well when one of my friends couldn’t remember her booking code, which resulted in us getting her tickets printed with only 5 minutes to catch the train. I’m sure it was quite the scene to see a swarm of backpack-laden girls running across the train station in a panic to get our weekend away started. Since we were so late catching our train, we couldn’t find any seats to accomodate our large group, so we resorted to sitting on a large floor space behind the conductor’s door. We were all very satisfied to have our own space, and were getting settled into the 3.5 hour trip with some wine and snacks. Unfortunately no backpacking trip is complete without a few bumps along the way, which we encountered within the first few hours of our weekend. About 4 stops into the ride, two very dirty and drunk hobos came onto the train and decided to sit down with on the floor and spent the majority of the trip swearing and yelling at us in French. It was unnerving to say the least, but we soldiered on and pushed our way past them once the train pulled into the next stop.

Once we arrived in Marseille, we tried to get a few cabs to our hostel, but were told it would cost us 5 Euro each person, which was clearly an attempt to take advantage of a group of young female travellers. We tried convincing them to use their metre, but to no avail. One of the cabbies was nice of us to point us in the direction of our hostel, and we made it there alive and well in about half an hour by foot. I had heard that Marseille is a fairly dangerous town because of gangs and pickpockets, but luckily none of us experienced this first hand – other than feeling a bit unnerved during our midnight stroll to the hostel. A few of us went for a drink along the Old Port on Friday, but called it a night around 2:00.

Our hostel was amazing – free breakfast, free wifi, great location, very clearn, and our own shower and toilet in our 4-person rooms. One of my friends had ran into a local while waiting for us at the train station, and he told her that we should visit “Les Calanques” in a town called Cassis if we had the time. So Saturday morning we asked how to get there at our front desk, and were told that the next bus left in 30 minutes. Once we realized the bus stop was at least a 20 minute walk from our hostel, we scurried as fast as we could and made it, once again, just in the knick of time. There was a very long line ahead of us, but were fortunate enough to convince the bus driver to let us squeeze 12 girls into the 6 empty seats that were remaining. 5 euros and a return ticket later, we were cozy in our crowded seats. 

After picking up a few groceries for a picnic lunch, we were pointed in a direction towards Les Calanques. We asked several locals along the way how to get there, but everyone told us it was either impossible to walk there, or that they were closed after 11 am. Fortunately we were sceptical about the local’s advice, and continued in the direction we were first pointed. After about 40 minutes of walking, we ran into two French women who were properly equipped for a day’s worth of hiking. When we asked them how to get to the Calanques, they said they were also heading there and that they would show us the way. They told us that to get to the 2nd Calanque (a nice small beach area along the Mediterranean Sea) would take us another half an hour of hiking and that the 3rd Calanque was another hour past that. We were unfortunately all equipped for a day at the beach in our bikinis and flip flops, but we decided we’d attempt the hike nonetheless. Once we reached the 2nd Calanque we were blown away by it’s beauty and remoteness. We took a break for lunch and a swim, and rested our sore feat. I had worn flip flops, and by this point I already had a blister between my big and 2nd toe on each feet.

The 1st Calanques – For boats only, not swimmers.

11/12 of us at the 2nd Calanques.


We decided to finish our hike to the 3rd Calanque, which included some detours and many naysayers that we met along the way who told us we wouldn’t be able to reach the 3rd in our footwear. Once we reached the lat stretch of our hike and realized how much mountain climbing it would require from us, only 6 of us actually decided to finish the trek.

The top of the “Calanque” that we had to climb down

Ready to conquer the climb! (No matter how ill-equipped I was)

The top of the “Calanque” that we had to climb down




It was quite the adventure to walk down to the 3rd Calanque but it was most certainly worth the pain it required. I felt small and insignificant in such an impressive, beautiful and natural setting. There were plenty of other hikers and boaters who were enjoying the sun and welcoming water that pooled into a bay among the rocks. After basking in the beauty of the 3rd Calanque, we missioned to get back to the town of Cassis where the rest of our friends were waiting for us. We started our walk back to the town at about 4:40, and made it back just in time to catch the last bus of the day at 7:00 pm. It was a long day to say the least, but one of the most unexpected and amazing places I’ve ever experienced. This weekend it really hit home how lucky I am to be able to experience the world from such an amazing perspective – through the eyes of a young, inquisitive, uninhibited student, willing to take the good with the bad in order to experience the world as it comes.


After an amazing dinner of fish and delicious wine Saturday night, Sunday rolled around with the promise of exploring more of the beautiful French coast. We left the old port of Marseille in a boat which brought us to the “Chateau d’If” – a fortress on an island just on the outskirts of Marseille which was built in the 16th century under Francois 1er’s orders. It was used originally to defend the port from attacks at sea, but was eventually used to hold political and religious prisoners and was also where the hero of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is kept prisoner. After touring around the castle and its island, the boat brought us to a second island where we lay on the beach and enjoyed the Sea one last time before catching the boat back to the mainland. The 12 of us girls dragged our tired legs and feet into cabs and made it to the train with 20 minutes to spare.

It was a full and busy weekend, which I’m sorry to say has resulted in a very long blog post. I’m still recovering from the effects of the weekend away, battling a cold and exhaustion, but I managed to drag myself to my first French class of the semester. My teacher is very intimidating and has already dumped a large pile of homework on us, which is daunting, but I am trying to stay positive about the experience. I will undoubtedly learn from Mme. Meunier, and it will help me work towards my goal of improving my French while living in France. I have another 14 hours of class this week, so maybe I will even see an improvement by Friday. My real school schedule starts next Tuesday, which I am looking forward to. I am eager to have some regularity in my new French lifestyle, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a nerd at heart – I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom surrounded by words and history.

I will try to post more regularly so I don’t have to dump such a big post on everyone, but I have been keeping very busy here. Love and miss everyone back home,

xox, B.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

As the youngest child of four, I was put through many extracurricular activities growing up in order to fill my free time and give my parents a break from our hectic and noisy life. I tried them all – gymnastics (not exciting enough for me), dance (embarrassing memories of being a chubby kid in too-small leotards), art (not very talented in that department), Beavers (…realized there was a girl equivalent and tried out >), Brownies/Girl Guides/Pathfinders (ya, I was the super cool kid who went all the way through Pathfinders – even got my Canada Cord to prove it!). But my true loves were horseback riding and drama, and since horse back riding was a little bit less practical and a lot more expensive, drama became what I liked being good at. Drama and horseback riding had something in common though – they required some concentration and a bit of courage, and the combination of those two things often led to me unknowingly holding my breath. I lost track of the amount of times directors and instructors would remind to me to breathe – such a simple request, seeing as it’s a natural part of our everyday lives. But when you’re trying something new and scary, breathing gets put to the back burner, and all you can think of is the task at hand. I’ll never forget that advice though – to breathe even when life gets tricky. It obviously keeps us alive, but it also reminds us that we are alive, it can keep us calm in a nerve-wracking situation, and it reminds me that no matter how much courage or concentration life requires from us, we can’t forget to breathe and to live, our seemingly scary lives.

All that to say, moving to a faraway country in an entirely new continent was a pretty overwhelming experience for me. Lyon is a beautiful city, and I am so excited to experience it, and the rest of Europe, but that was hard to remember when all I could think of was how far away from Ottawa I was, and how I wouldn’t be seeing it or many of my friends and family for another four months. But today was a wake-up call. I realized that it was my choice to come and have this new experience, and that I should enjoy it while it lasts, instead of holding my breath and hoping it would be over quickly. I am all settled in my apartment now (pictures to follow), I have set up my French bank account, and I have dropped off all my necessary forms at school and with my landlord, so things are starting to fall into place. I should have my student card by Friday, and then I get my Metro card for September, which will let me use the Metros, Trams, and Buses all for 27 Euros/month! Seems affordable to me- cheaper than Ottawa, and a better Transit system from what I can tell 🙂 .

Orientation started today, so I finally got to meet some of the other S.E.L.F. (Studying in English, Living in France) students. I don’t really remember what we talked about during the morning half of the presentation, but the good news is that I have met lots of cool people, and we enjoyed our nice French-length lunch break from 11:30-2:00 at a cafe patio with beer and delicious bagel sandwiches with fries! Yum 🙂 We had another presentation this afternoon, which talked a lot about the history of Lyon, and of Jean Moulin (our Uni’s namesake) – a leader of the French resistance during WWII, who was tortured by the Nazis and eventually imprisoned in France, and then died while being moved to Germany. We also learned a bit more about how the S.E.L.F. program works, and the requirements of the program. We also found out that we would have to make appointments with S.E.L.F. staff in order to register for our classes, which result in a mad-dash to the sign-up sheet after the presentation. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the earliest appointment was for Friday Sept. 7 at 4 pm, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the classes don’t all fill up by then since appointments start tomorrow.

Tomorrow we have more orientation from 2:00-5:00, so I plan on exploring a bit in the morning on a run, and then walking down to campus to find where we need to meet. Tomorrow night there is a party put on for exchange students at a club, so I’ll either be doing that with the girls I met today, or just going to a bar with the girls, depending on whether we want to dance or just enjoy some wine and patios :).

That’s all for now, chat soon.

xox, B.

P.S. Here are my apartment pictures!