"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why travel?

Thought Catalog posts are pretty hit or miss, in my opinion, but I enjoyed this one, as it got me thinking about the ways in which I am grateful that I chose to study abroad.

After reading the article, I began to make my own list of reasons to travel:

I travel to learn more about my own country while half a world away. My program consists of about fifty American college students, of which I am one of only three from the Midwest. So, I am learning about the cultures of different American regions because while we all come from the same country, we are not all accustomed to the same things. We have all experienced a different version of culture-shock while here in Europe because of our varying backgrounds.

For the smile on my host mom's face as I try new things. She tells me so many students are afraid to try new or foreign foods. Furthermore, many students sulk back into what is comfortable and do not fully embrace new cultures. They obsess in their American comforts, no matter how small they are right now - they crawl into bed and eat peanut butter from the jar, which they bought for a ridiculous price at the grocery store.

To walk through the streets and ride the metro home without hearing your mother language once.

To be completely dependent on public transportation and your own feet. There are so many sites to see, but you cannot just hop in your car to do so.

I travel to learn how to live on less. After living out of a suitcase for nearly four months, I feel almost invincible. You learn what the bare necessities truly are.

To discover a world of structures and buildings that have been here since a time before the United States were even discovered. Then, to hear about the controversy on where Christopher Columbus was actually from, when American textbooks simply tell us he traveled for Spain. So there I was again, sitting in class as the dumb American as the Polish student argued that Columbus was from Poland.

For the warmth I feel when a French friend thanks me for spending a semester here to learn about them, when so often it is expected that everyone should know English and learn about America. I am here for the smile that lights up the storekeeper's face when she hears I am here to study French for the semester. As a side note, I even have a French friend that has asked me to vouch for them and tell my American friends that the French do indeed shower and shave.

I travel to make new friends, even though we know we will be separated again within a few months. Everyone in my program is at the age where we are aware of the type of people we are attracted to. It was interesting to see how quickly people were drawn towards those with similar characteristics. Moreover, if any of us had chosen to study abroad even during a different semester, we would have never met. And I am so grateful for the relationships I have formed with several people here.
To discover humankind. To converse with the other travelers in a bar, to help French students with their English in a café, to be placed in a classroom full of foreigners yet be the only American. To go on a date and have no clue what the cultural expectations are, but to learn so much from the one on one, intimate conversation with a stranger. I pass the same homeless people and beggars every day, and get to watch as the occasional Good Samaritan offers a loaf of bread from their bag of groceries on the way home. I watch as someone always reaches out to the blind citizens - strangers, escorting them through the metro or across the street.

"I am hungry"

To learn more about myself. To discover new places while discovering new things about myself. I have learned that while you were raised in an environment that made you who you are, that does not mean that you ARE that environment. I have completely removed myself from my comfort zone, and therefore I have discovered which parts of me existed because of my surroundings and which exist because of my personality and beliefs.

I travel for me. They say college is made up of four "selfish years," or a time to better yourself before creating a union with another person. So I suppose I took that one step further when I decided to travel abroad for a semester. I could not be happier being single while exploring new places and finding myself. I have earned this escape, and I deserve to discover and learn all i can. It is the best gift I have ever given myself.

I refuse to live in ignorance.

"I have wandered all my life, and I have also traveled; the difference between the two being this, that we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment." - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Carrying a baby with style

One of the funniest things I see on a regular basis is a baby in a baby carrier.

Sounds simple enough, but let me give you the whole picture. Living in the city, and especially navigating the metro, makes strollers more of an inconvenience than an aid. So, Parisians all have one of these front-facing baby carriers so they can strap on their baby and still have their hands free. This also simplifies navigating the stairs and squeezing through the turnstile at metro stops.
I typically see men carrying babies this way, while traveling alone. Plus, with the cold weather, every baby I have seen in a carrier is sporting a fuzzy, pink bodysuit, and its legs are bouncing around with every step the dad takes.

This combination makes for an amusing sight. Picture Alan from the Hangover, but here, the man carrying the baby is dressed in Parisian designer clothes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

French cuisine

I have come to the conclusion that those who say they "don't really care for French food" are picky eaters. I, on the other hand, am willing to try new foods and I view that as an important way to learn about the foreign culture.

Yes, all cooked meat here is still pink and eggs are also undercooked by American standards, but it is not killing all the French people who regularly eat them that way. So why not?

And how could you not love French food, which is viewed as both a study and an art?

Nutella and banana crêpe
Ham and egg crêpe
Fresh seafood on the Mediterranean in Collioure, France

A croque-monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and a croque-madame is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top.

Sandwiches, quiches, pastries

Pain au chocolat
Cheese and sausage
Vin chaud (hot wine)

Fresh salad at Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois restaurant
Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois
Fresh fish at the Sunday market
French and Italian grapes
Chocolate, banana, and coconut crêpe
Sausage and mushroom galette, and chocolat à l'ancienne at a restaurant in Chantilly, France
Chocolat à l'ancienne is a hot chocolate drink with the chocolate and steamed milk served separately.
Chocolate mousse, crème brûlée
Café gourmand
Café gourmand is a dessert option. Coffee is often ordered after a meal in France, and this option comes with several desserts on the side.

Macarons at Ladurée
Apple tart with ice cream
Chicken burger with blue cheese
Pot de crème caramel for breakfast
Baked apple and baguette dessert
Apples from the Bretagne region of France
Gaufres in Brussels, Belgium
Chocolate barks in Brussels, Belgium
Belgium is known for its chocolate as well, and the streets of Brussels are lined with chocolate shops.

Moules frites in Brussels, Belgium
Mussels and fries are another specialty of Belgium. French fries actually originated in Belgium, and you can buy them at stands along the streets just like waffles and crêpes. Belgian legend says American soldiers stationed there during World War I heard the Belgians speaking French, which was the official language, and thus gave credit to the wrong country.

Demonstration at Choco-Story chocolate museum in Paris, France
Cidre in Normandy
Cider is a specialty of the Bretagne region, where there is an abundance of apples. There are two types of this sparkling, alcoholic drink: sweet and dry.

Crêpe with apple, vanilla ice cream, and Chantilly whipped cream
Apple crêpe with flaming liquor
Caramelized banana crêpe

Apple and caramel crêpes at Mont Saint Michel
Mushroom, ham, and egg galette

A galette is a buckwheat dinner crêpe. Crêpes and galettes are also specialties of the Bretagne region, and during my weekend there, I tried seven different ones, having a crêpe at each meal.

Tacos at El Guacamole restaurant
We even found a good taco bar in Paris. We recently went there for Sadie's birthday, as she is from Texas and has been missing her tacos.

Italian burger on an English muffin at Le Petit Café

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Le marché de Noël


Without Thanksgiving, there is nothing stopping the Parisians from beginning Christmas celebrations already. Lights and trees are popping up all over town.

Last night, we went to the Champs-Élysées to visit the Christmas market that stretches from the Champs-Élysées roundabout near the Arc de Triomphe all the way to Place de la Concorde, on both sides of the street. Père Noël and polar bears decorate the booths that line the street, designed to look like a little village and selling anything from vin chaud (hot wine) and crêpes to Christmas ornaments.

And how could we pass up the opportunity to "descende" the large, four-person potato sack slide on the Champs?

We walked up and down the street, eating waffles and riding the ferris wheel, and feeling a little better about missing Thanksgiving celebrations back home in the United States.