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à bientôt

I’m not sure what to say. What do you say at the end of the greatest adventure of your life?

As you read this, I’m likely somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Likely feeling wistful, heartbroken, and already nostalgic. Likely plotting my imminent return.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m so incredibly excited to go home, see my family, and in January, to go back to New Orleans and resume my wonderful, equally charmed life there. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to leave Paris. It’s one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever said.

I recently read a book called “Paris Was Ours”. I had originally spotted it last summer in an Anthropologie store, of all places, and made a mental note to read it sometime. Well, the book turned out to be a compilation of memoirs written by authors who have, at some point and in some way, loved Paris. None of them arre true, born and bred Parisians–some were born here but left, others have an enduring on-again-off-again sort of relationship with the place, still others, like me, have borrowed it for a time. Claimed it as their own, if only for a moment.

Paris Was Ours.

I remember not quite getting the title the first time I saw the book. Paris Was Ours? It sounds vaguely romantic and weirdly possessive, kind of a strange way to express one’s love for a city. I didn’t give it much thought, until I read the book. But now–now I get it. I get it because Paris was ours. Paris was mine.

It’s difficult to explain. This is perhaps the most humbling city I can ever imagine living in. My oft-mentioned favorite guidebook, Let’s Go Europe, says “Paris will charm and bitchslap you with equal gusto”, and my God, are they right. I’ve never been anywhere so simultaneously enchanting and difficult. I spent the first half of the semester not entirely sure how I felt about Paris. One moment I was convinced it was heaven–say, as I took in the view from Montmartre or wandered through Luxembourg Gardens on a sunny day. The next, I was left feeling like I’d been doused with cold water after the taunting words of a shopkeeper or an especially brutal shove from a fellow pedestrian. Ouch.

Somewhere around the time I returned from Italy, though, things clicked. It wasn’t a gradual realization–it was sudden. I just knew that somehow, at some point, Paris had snuck its way into my heart, never to leave again. I felt, suddenly, like I got the city. Like it got me. No other place has ever made me so acutely aware of how very small I am in the world, but weirdly, in Paris, that’s empowering. Never have I felt like I have grown up so much in such a short period of time. This is dumb and cheesy and probably has come from the mouth of many a young twenty-something upon their return from such a trip, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so confident about who I am and what I want in life. (To be honest, I’m still not totally sure–far from it–but I guess I feel closer.) I think, for some reason, I love Paris all the more because I had to fight for it. Because it wasn’t instant and simple. It was something I had to earn. And it was so, so worth it.

What’s actually terrifying to me is that I was thisclose to not going abroad. And what’s even more terrifying is I don’t know that I would have regretted it as immensely as I should have, because I would have had no idea what I was missing. Which is everything. The world. The experience of a lifetime. The perfect flaky croissant. A thousand walks down St. Germain. Hundreds of miles around Luxembourg Gardens. Drinking wine beneath the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. The most exquisite crême brulée, a plate of fresh pasta, a late-night crepe. A million laughs and priceless moments shared with friends on bridges in Venice, beaches in Nice, at small, dimly-lit cafe tables in the 6th, on grassy hills in Montmartre. This semester has been made up of thousands of precious memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. I can’t imagine not having had them. Here, at the end, what I am most thankful for are whatever twists and turns of fate led me here when I myself was once so certain I’d be spending the fall in New Orleans, as per usual. And I love New Orleans, in a really big way, from the bottom of my heart, all-encompassing, ridiculous, unconditionally, love love love it kind of way. But I have seven semesters of that. I only have one of Paris. I wouldn’t even have known it, but not going would have, no doubt, been the worst mistake of my life. God knows these past four months haven’t always been easy. In many ways, going abroad was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But I can say, with 100% certainty, that it has been the most rewarding. For better or for worse–and I do believe it’s for better–I will return to America a different person. A person who belongs to Paris, and to whom Paris belongs. Because somewhere in the midst of everything, somehow, through the highs and lows, the ups and downs, Paris became mine.

I had a lovely last night in Paris. Dinner was eaten at what is perhaps my favorite restaurant yet (Les Editeurs in the 6th, if anyone’s interested). I had a quintessential French feast of French onion soup, a croque madame (sans jambon), and–what else?–crême brulée for dessert. It was raining in the most pleasant way possible—a Midnight in Paris rain–and, lo and behold, as I entered the metro to take line 10 home one last time, a musician was playing “Si tu vois ma mère”. (The song plays in the opening credits of the movie, a compilation of stunning and adoring shots of Paris–of places that, I am proud to say, I now know personally and can lead you to by foot, metro, or car.)

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear. It is one of the writers featured in Paris Was Ours who best describes this sense of nostalgia tinged with loss I’m already feeling:

“…and one day we knew that no matter where we might find ourselves in the world, Paris would be an ache in our hearts.”

Always, for the rest of my life, there will be a part of me that misses Paris when I am not here. Goodbye is too hard to say, so, instead, I will end this most wonderful of journeys not with the slightly more definitive “au revoir”, but with a simple “à bientôt”.

See you soon, Paris. I’ll make sure of it.


walking in a winter wonderland

Alternately, this post could be called “Bruges”. Not last weekend but the one before, I took a trip to Bruges, Belgium. I was lured by promises of Christmas markets, chocolate, ice skating, beer, boat rides through the canals, and last but certainly not least, waffles. The city more than made good on these expectations–walking through the streets, I felt like I had been transported straight into one of those little Christmas villages you can buy to set up on your bookcase or coffee table or you know, wherever, at Christmastime. It was charming.

And, indeed, we had waffles.


Weirdly, though, I discovered that I actuallydonotreallyliketrueBelgianstylewafflessosorryforgivemebye.

They were too crispy. I like my carbs doughy, what can I say….

I sampled plenty of chocolate, but more importantly, I saw this chocolate replica of Obama in the chocolate museum!


To be totally honest, I wouldn’t have picked this out as Obama if it hadn’t been for the sign telling me it was. But it’s still awesome. Even cooler than the chocolate Titanic I saw in Berlin. And that’s saying something.

We spent lots of time wandering through the streets of the city,





Bruges is actually known for its canals–I was told it’s called the Venice of the North? It certainly wasn’t as canal-ridden as Venice, but we still took advantage of the ones that were there with a canal cruise! This was a great way to see the city, but I was freezing by the end of it…a perfect excuse to go find some cute, cozy little restaurant and order a cup of tea. (Which probably happened four or five times over the course of the weekend. I can’t help it.)







(I hope these pictures are giving you a sense of how ridiculously charmingly beautiful Bruges is…I couldn’t get over it.)

We saw some famous art, too. Here’s a Michelangelo altarpiece:


Here’s what actually inspired me most in the church that housed it:


Why yes, those are small dogs depicted lying at the feet of the dead queen. Does anyone know where I can order at tomb like this?

Of course, one of my very favorite things was seeing the Christmas decorations and lights all over the city. It was the perfect way to welcome December!








(Got a little artsy on that last one, bet you weren’t expecting that! Things are getting crazy around here….)

It’s my blog, and I’ll fill it with amateur photographs of Christmas lights if I want to.

If there’s something I love more than Christmas lights, though, it’s food, so let’s get back to that. Because guess what I ate in Belgium? No really, guess. Just do it.

It involves these:


And these:


MOULES FRITES! I was so happy. So so happy. And in case you’re wondering, those frites were split shared by our table of eight. Just kidding, they were all mine.

No really, we shared them. Even I can’t down that many fries in one sitting.

I think.

Oh, funny story, though. After we left Beligium, my friends (who don’t eat meat except for fish, like me) and I found out that Belgian frites are fried in duck fat. Hehe, oopsie! Bad vegetarian. Pescetarian. Whatever. (I actually hate the word “pesectarian”, you automatically sound obnoxious when the words “I’m a pescetarian” come out of your mouth…I mean I am a pescetarian and I’m not sure there’s another food term that oozes more self-righteousness. Ick. Shudder.)

And Belgium wouldn’t be Belgium without any beer!

We went to this really cool, apparently well-known place called Bruges Beertje. It has hundreds of different beers or something completely insane like that. I really loved the atmosphere–it was very relaxed, and friendly, and there were all these cool old signs on the wall, and it just felt so perfectly and cozily Christmas. Yeah, I just made a beerhouse sound girly. Done and done.





Bruges was the perfect place for a December weekend trip. It’s not somewhere that I really ever thought about going before I got to Europe, but I’m so, so glad I did. One of the best parts about Europe is that it’s hard to choose a wrong city to travel to, really. But Bruges is no exception!




P.S. We were super fancy on the way home and ended up in first class…our train may or may not have been the Polar Express. It was.


we’ll always have paris

Remember when I (briefly) quoted the Marseillaise when I was talking about my Berlin trip the other day?

That’s because two weeks ago in French, we did an obligatory learning/singing of the French National Anthem. Needless to say, it’s been stuck in my head ever since.

I remember when I was younger, my dad used to lament the fact that The Star Spangled Banner (try translating that one into French for your professor, by the way–ROUGH) didn’t sound cheery. “Like the Marseillaise.”

I must say, the Marseillaise definitely sounds cheery–peppy, patriotic, appropriately dramatic at times, catchy and sing-songy at others. But it turns out that it’s actually an incredibly bloody, gory, violent song. Let me share some brief translations:

“against us tyranny’s bloody standard is raised”

“they are coming into our midst to cut the throats of your sons and consorts”

“let impure blood water our furrows”

Okay, France.

In any case, la Marseillaise playing on constant loop in my head for two weeks has got me thinking a lot about one of my favorite movies, and more specifically, one of my favorite scenes in that movie. One of the first indicators that I’d gotten over what were sometimes rough early days with la vie français was when I started feeling sad and defensive when faced with reminders of the Nazi occupation of Paris. (Not that that happens often…just when I was in a museum or taking notes in class or something.) So, the clip I’m about to share is just another reason to love Casablanca even more–I can now appreciate this scene with my new sense of on-loan patriotism.

It’s impossible to decide who I like most in this scene. Victor Lazlo for his unbreakable, earnest devotion to defeating the Nazis in every possible way? “Stick my neck out for no one” Rick who allows his loyal musicians to play the Marseillaise in a room full of Nazis, openly defying them? Ilsa, so evidently consumed by her inner struggle, but here so clearly full of admiration for Lazlo? Or Yvonne, who’s finally seen the light and proved her French patriotism? If I’m being honest I probably like Captain Renault the best, just because he’s there, and as any fellow Casablanca fans know, one of his many glory moments immediately follows this scene. “I’m shocked–shocked–to find that gambling’s going on in here!”

Okay, I’m getting carried away. I’s just so beeaaauuuttiiffulll. I could watch this movie over and over again. All day. Every day.

Vive la France, indeed.

London, Again

So, I went back to London. I just loved it so very much I couldn’t help myself! Plus, my complete and total obsession with the movie Love Actually has planted enduring dreams of London at Christmastime in my mind, so I jumped at the chance to go the weekend after Thanksgiving, right as November was poised to become December–my very favorite month of the year.

I’m sure no one’s surprised to hear that I went to the Kensington Whole Foods…three times in two days. The very best part was our Friday night dinner, which consisted of American-style Thanksgiving food! This in itself completely made my weekend. It was admittedly a little sad to be away from home on Thanksgiving for the first time, even if I’m away from home in Paris. But nothing else could have possibly been quite as warm and comforting to me that day as mashed sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce from Whole Foods.


I also enjoyed an abundance of vegetables, which the French do not believe in, over the course of the weekend. Aren’t they beeauuutiful?


Don’t worry, though, I also took the opportunity to enjoy some real English food. At last, fish and chips!


I didn’t get any fish and chips in August because I was absolutely reeling from the horrible dollar to pound/euro conversion and the high costs of everything in Europe and was terrified my bank account wouldn’t last throughout the semester. In fact, I barely remember eating at all the first time I went to London…and know for a fact that we had beer for dinner at least once. Insanity! Don’t worry Mom and Dad, you’ll be happy to hear I’ve gotten over my shock at the conversion rates and now spend freely! (God help me when I’m a real person and have to learn about scary things like budgets and responsible spending.)

I actually got to do several things I didn’t get to the first time around, once of which was visiting Borough Market. Even though it was crowded, it completely lived up to my expectations. On my next trip to London, I’ll be back.






So, now that I’ve gotten the crucial thing–food and everywhere they sell it–out of the way, let’s move on to culture and sight-seeing, shall we?

I insisted upon returning to some of my favorite spots. We wandered through Hyde Park, where I loved seeing all the swans gathered in a pond near Kensington Palace.



I of course returned to Westminster to visit my favorite building in all of Europe. At least in terms of exteriors. Can I say that? I think I can say that. The Duomo might be a close second. Oh, I mean, the Louvre. That’s pretty impressive. Okay, I can’t pick a favorite. But I really, really, love, love this one. A lot. I mean, it’s been there, just being beautiful, for hundreds of years! Incredible. Incredible.


I also went to the Tate Modern, but I don’t have any pictures because I accidentally checked my camera with my bag when I walked in. But it was awesome!

Moving right along to my very favorite part of the trip (aside from Kensington Whole Foods, obviously): anything and everything to do with Christmastime!

Starting with the Christmas lights on and around Regent Street…




And ending, most importantly, with my Christmas dream to end all Christmas dreams: Harrods decked out in all its festive holiday glory. It was a verifiable wonderland.






Maybe the funniest part of being back in London was noticing not how the city has changed since my trip there in August (not much aside from the Christmas decorations), but rather how I’ve changed. Walks that felt incredibly long on my first trip seemed to pass in an instant this time around. And, shockingly, I was not appreciate of but rather annoyed by our many attentive waiters–somewhere along the way, against all odds, I seem to have adjusted to the Parisian standard of service. I remember landing in London, fresh off the plane from the U.S., and delighting in how European London was. On my recent trip, I was surprised by how very American it seemed. Everything from the way people walked around with Starbucks cups to the presence of Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods to the way parents coddled (and, dare I say, seemed to enjoy the presence of) their children to the many pedestrians on the streets not dressed to the nines (how dare they!) served to remind me of all the things I’ve come to accept as normal in Paris that are not part of my life at home. Throughout the semester, I’ve maintained that both Europe and America do so many things right and so many things wrong. I keep threatening to build an island in the middle of the Atlantic that combines all the things I love best about Europe and all the things I love best about America…but maybe, just maybe, London could be that island?

I just wish they’d appreciate the importance of dressing well to go to the grocery store.

Oh God, they’ve got me.

an afternoon on the tuileries


I recently spent a spare (and unusually sunny) afternoon wandering through and around the lovely Jardin des Tuileries, nestled in between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, which marks the beginning the Champs Elysées, which stretches, famously and beautifully, to the Arc de Triomphe. So I was basically right in the middle of one of the most visited, most beautiful, most well-known areas of the city, and it was delightful.


The park’s looking lovely this type of year, which just a few lingering brightly colored leaves silhouetted against skies that are usually a wintery dove grey, but on this particular Friday, managed to retain some vestige of that summertime blue I miss so much.



A ferris wheel is all set up as part of the small Christmas market at one end of the park, ready to offer anyone willing to fork over the ten euro fee what I’m sure are stunning views of the city.



The shops on Rue de Rivoli, which runs along the non-Seine side of the park, are beautifully adorned for the holiday season.



The hot chocolate and the Mont-Blanc pastry I enjoyed n at Angelina were divinely decadent, much like the building in which they were served.





I visited L’Orangerie, where Monet’s wall-sized murals left me feeling serene and full of awe. (I had to borrow some photographic evidence.)



And as I made my way home, the sunset over the city was positively breathtaking (and amusingly patriotic, for both of my most beloved countries).




I’m feeling pretty blissfully lucky these days, and equal parts thrilled and devastated that I’m going home so soon. I seem to fall more and more in love with Paris every day.


So, remember when I promised that I would be caught up on all my intended posts before I left to travel last Friday?

I might have broken my promise, a little bit.

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t quite make it to this post: Berlin!

I went to Berlin the weekend of November 18th, and it was actually a very special trip because I went alone. I know. It was sort of a stressful decision to make. Okay, it was a really stressful decision to make.

Traveling somewhere alone was actually an idea I had stored in the back of my mind for something I would do abroad if I magically became very cool and independent. There was a kind of allure to the idea…it just seemed like something that a real, grown-up, mature, fearless (a.k.a. not me) person would do. But, instead of spontaneously booking the tickets and eagerly anticipating the weekend, I went back and forth for days trying to decide if I was making a horrible decision, if I would be bored and lonely, if I would be taken the moment I landed in the airport and my parents would spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to me on my way to Berlin. I turned it into a huge deal, but encouraged by tales of how cool Berlin was and reassurance from friends and family that I might just be mature and street-smart enough to pull the whole thing off, I booked the flight and hotel…two days before I was supposed to be leaving. And then I cried. Really, though.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I’m 100% thrilled to have made the decision I did! And that I obviously was not kidnapped or murdered in a dark German alley. There were definitely moments when I wished I had someone to talk to (or, more often, someone to make decisions for me), but it was a really great trip. And perhaps most importantly, I returned to France feeling that much more confident in my ability to eventually become a real, grown-up, mature, fearless person. Someday.

Berlin began with yet another sign that, as much as I love the places I’ve been able to travel to this semester, I really did make the right choice when I decided to study abroad in Paris. As I walked from the airport to the metro, I passed a whole row of advertisements for the European budget airline Easyjet. Each ad was for a different city and basically had an orange (the company’s color) object that was representative of that city. Brussels had an orange chocolate bar. London had an orange tea pot. You get the idea. I wondered what Paris’s would be and kept my eye out for it…and finally, after passing what felt like dozens of other cities, the last one was my temporary home sweet home.


It’s a dog. A white, super girly dog. Even though it’s big, and not a Bichon, and much more devotedly groomed than my little ragamuffins ever will be, it just confirmed that, yes, I do belong in Paris. Good decision-making, me one year ago.

But anyway! I got into Berlin at night, so I just checked into my hotel, watched a movie, and crashed. And yes, I stayed in a real hotel…it seemed a little bit safer than a hostel. So I guess that makes me a little less daring and adventurous. But it was really, truly wonderful to be able to sleep in a nice bed, work out in a gym for the first time since August, shower in a bathroom I don’t have to share with a million other people, and even order room service. After months of hostels and the smallest dorm room ever, I felt like royalty.


So, seeing as I was alone, my Berlin weekend looked sort of similar from day to day and was heavy on the sightseeing. I always woke up later than I intended to, went to a Starbucks (I pre-mapped them before showing up in Berlin, I know, I know) for breakfast and then saw sight after sight until it got dark, at which point I’d go back to my hotel and take advantage of the workout room. Working out in shorts and a running top again was awesome. I was not made to handle cold weather.

One of my first major stops was the Pergamon Museum, which was awesome. Basically, Germany went to other countries, snagged some really incredible, often really large things, and reconstructed them inside this museum. Things like, you know, the Ishtar Gate. And the Pergamon Altar. Small, insignificant…you know.



Really, these things were so monstrous, there’s no way to fit them into a single picture without the use of a helicopter and an impressive lens.

I also went to the Berlin Cathedral, which was beautiful and impressive.




I was sort of miffed because you had to pay four euros to get in, which is soooo un-churchlike and I personally don’t think Jesus would approve, but then there ended up being a teeny little gallery/museum inside–and, more importantly, you could climb to the top and have access to some pretty impressive views of Berlin. So obviously that was going to happen! And I got over my irritation with the whole four euro thing.



Possibly the most well-known place I visited was the famous Brandenberg Gate. In the words of Let’s Go Europe, the best travel guide ever, “Friederich Wilhelm II built the gate as a symbol of military victory, but Germans these days prefer to shy away from that designation, you know, because of WWI and, uh, WWII.” So there’s some semi-humorous background for you.


And here’s a semi-humorous photo of me cheesing with some faux German/American soldiers.


Aux armes, citoyens!

There were two potential correct languages (slash national anthems…) I could have gone with there, and I still got it wrong. Oh, France, what have you done to me?

As cool as the real Brandenberg Gate was, I liked this one better.



I saw this total gem at Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers, a famous chocolate shop that also boasts chocolate replicas of the Titantic, the Berliner Dom, a volcano, and other large, impressive things. The place was enormous, and it would have been extremely out of character if I hadn’t picked up a few little gifts for certain chocolate-lovers back home (just a warning, Crevasses, you might end up with chocolate from every country I’ve visited). And of course, a little treat for myself.


(To be honest, that was not mine. I got some much fancier and more decadent truffle thing obviously, but I forgot to take a picture. So instead you get to see the cute little Berlin bear they threw in for free. Because they totally loved me and sensed my German ancestry.)

A trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without spotting some remnants of the Berlin Wall…which was definitely cool, but you know, it was before my time. It’s like the difference between seeing a WWII memorial and a 9/11 memorial. We’ve been talking about this sort of thing a lot in my artsy farsty classes…so you know…sometimes I go to school. There’s your proof.

Seriously, though, I wish I’d made it to the East Side Gallery, where there’s some pretty impressive street art displayed on remnants of the wall…but alas, I didn’t. Next time!


One of the most moving things I saw was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, located just down the street from the Brandenberg Gate. The structure was incredibly somber, and it was actually a little bit frightening and disorienting to walk through the blocks. They were taller than me in the middle of the memorial, and it’s impossible to see other people walking around them until you literally run into each other. So, you know, creates a little bit of a jumpy atmosphere. The children flying over your head as they jump from block to block really add the excitement.



I also visited the Topography of Terror Museum, which details the rise and fall of the Nazi Party, and where I took one picture…of the most frighteningly Aryan family EVER.


And the DDR Museum, where I also only took one picture.


Come on, it’s pretty funny. Also, as you might notice, while I thought the museums overall were really well done, the translation was not always excellent. Not a problem or annoying or anything, it’s just kind of interesting to notice where and when that happens in Europe.

One of the things that was interesting but sort of sad about Berlin was that there almost seemed to be this air of necessary atonement in some these museums and memorials. When I went to Normandy in early November, I remember talking with my friends about how in the south, decades after the Civil Rights movement and even longer since the abolition of slavery–both events that I and my peers were in no way involved in–you still have to be really careful when you talk about “southern pride”. It’s necessary to be specific about what that pride stems from. I can’t help but wonder how young people in Germany feel about the events of WWII, and how long it will take before the horrific events of WWII truly feel like a horrific part of the past than something haunting the present. For all of us, really. I mean, I’m sure no Germans are ashamed or upset to be German–I’m not ashamed or upset to have been raised in the South, after all–it doesn’t have to define the country the way it once did. It’s just interesting to think about.

On a lighter note, I spent some time doing less formal sightseeing–primarily wandering around Berlin’s famously plentiful flea markets and the Christmas markets that were being set up around the city. These were some of my favorite things I did–I didn’t even buy anything, it’s just so fun to wander! And even more fun when you’re sipping on mulled wine. 🙂




Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bretzels. Which, in full disclosure, I began using as meal replacements at some point during the weekend. So much carby goodness.


Berlin was a really cool city that somehow felt very different from most other cities I’ve visited this semester. I really am so glad that I did a trip alone, but someday I’d like to go back with friends…specifically so that I can explore the Berlin nightlife scene, which I hear is really cool. Above all, considering that I made it back in one piece and, as far as I know, without any creepy stalkers in tow, I’d say the trip was a success. I’d do it again!

’tis the season



Happy December, everyone! I’ve officially begun playing Christmas music non-stop…it really is the most wonderful time of the year. I have a real post that I’ll put up later today!