Tag Archives: eats

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.

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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!

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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,

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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.)

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(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:

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

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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!

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(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:

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And these:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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).

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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.

Berlin

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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MAYBE BECAUSE IT’S MADE OF PURE CHOCOLATE.

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.

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(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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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!

Amsterdam

Since it’s Turkey Day and the idea is that it should be all about gratefulness, I thought I’d do an appropriately thankful post. Without further ado, I give you Amsterdam (through thankfulness).

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In Amsterdam, I was thankful for friends. I was especially thankful for my friend Allison (who you might remember from London!), because not only did she act as my tour guide for the weekend, she also let me crash on her floor. And eat her stroopwafels. Having now successfully pulled off two European weekends together, I think it’s safe to say Allison and I make good traveling companions. My friend/former suitemate/future housemate Taylor also happened to be in Amsterdam (well, “happened to be” makes it sound like we didn’t share multiple BBM conversations about coordinating our Amsterdam trip) with some of her friends from Granada, where she’s studying for the semester. It was so incredibly wonderful to be able to spend the weekend with two of my closest friends in this incredible city!

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So. In Amsterdam, I was thankful for waffles. Waffles of all kinds. Fluffy Belgian-style extravaganzas, waffles topped with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, waffles dusted with powdered sugar, waffles dipped in melted chocolate, and of course, last but certainly not least, the famous stroopwafel, wafer-thin and full of chewy caramel. If it’s carby and sweet, chances are, I’ll love it.

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(D E C A D E N C E.)

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I was thankful that for the first time thus far in Europe, being a blonde, green-eyed giant actually helped me blend in. Everyone assumed I spoke Dutch, and that made me so happy. But it also made me feel bad when I broke the news that “stroopwafel” is the extent of my Dutch vocabulary. So, that was a bummer. But still–it was cool. In France, everyone thinks I’m Swedish, so I guess I need to go there to really find my people. And maybe learn a few words of their language first.

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I went to the Rijksmuseum, and I was thankful for whatever wonderful curators organized the place. The museum is under renovation, but what was on display was really wonderfully curated. I’m pretty into art, generally speaking, and even I often end up finding museums tiresome. But in the Rieksmuseum, they provided just enough information about the works to keep things interesting without making my visit feel like a 3-D textbook reading. I loved it. And I got to see some really cool things!

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I was thankful for the completely adorable couple that agreed to take my picture with the “t” bit of this famous sign. (Don’t worry, I returned the favor.)

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I was thankful for pancakes. Specifically this one, which was ridiculously huge and topped with bananas, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. It was heavenly–slightly thicker and doughier than a crepe, but still closer to crepe than an American pancake. I loved every bite.

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I continued to be thankful for whatever Dutch quality it is that makes good curators when I went to the Anne Frank Huis (a.k.a. house, wish I spoke Dutch). It was incredibly moving and informative and well-done. It was definitely a sobering experience, and I’m so, so glad I waited in the line stretched down the block to get to see it.

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I was thankful for the Dutch in general! Seriously, people have been pleasant and warm almost everywhere I’ve gone, but the Dutch are topping the “Friendliest Europeans” list by a mile. Everyone was so kind and helpful and smiley. I think it has something to do with the bikes (which really are everywhere and more common than cars). People just seemed healthier and fresher and happier and more generally rosy and glowing.

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I was thankful for my coat, which kept me warm on a very chilly weekend. Previously, the coldest I’d been in Europe was actually my first weekend in London (which indubitably had more to do with the fact that I was coming straight from the melting, steamy American southeast than with actual temperature). But Amsterdam marked my new freezing point, especially at night. Brr.

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I was thankful for Wok to Walk. (Which is pronounced “Vok to Valk” in Dutch, tehe.) There’s not much more to say. Except, go there.

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I was thankful to learn that I still love playing with bubbles just as much as I did when I was a kid and would play with the giant bubble toys outside of Chattanooga’s Creative Discovery Museum. Actually, I would do exactly what I did in Amsterdam a mere two weeks ago. Yes, I had to wait in line with five and six-year-olds to have a turn. Here’s to maturity and self-growth! No, but really. Here’s to the simple pleasures and their eternal ability to delight. Bubbles are perennially amusing.

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I was thankful that a computer doesn’t understand the inner workings of my mind any better than I do. Also, I’m thankful that I’m at least certain I have more of a personality than the quiz I took at the Nemo Science Museum (amazing, so cool, home of aforementioned bubbles) would indicate.

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In Amsterdam, I was thankful for coffee and canals, for beautiful Dutch architecture, for fresh mint tea paired with Dutch apple pie, for Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit, for bikes and trams and helpful people, for breathtaking art, scarves, lingering meals and long conversations, for watching the tear-jerker finale of Friends with friends, for frites dipped in mayonnaise, freshly squeezed juice, and goblin beer (whatever that is), for wandering new streets and soaking up new sights. Amsterdam easily earned five gold stars on the Tessa Crevasse Euro-rating scale. Go there! You won’t regret it.

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Also note that, as at Thanksgiving and in life, my thankfulness primarily revolved around food.

Amen.

on the homefront

So, I’ve been traveling like crazy and therefore have lots and lots to share but little time to share it! Don’t worry, though, I’m here to promise you and myself that I’ll be fully caught up by the time I leave for this weekend’s trip.

In the midst of all this traveling, I did manage to spend a weekend in Paris! Well, at least in France. There were some memorable day trips involved.

The first weekend in November, my friends Eric and Jimmy came to Paris. I love when people come to visit because it gives me an excuse to do all the touristy things I love and also helps me to check some of my other must-do tourist stops off the list.

For starters, I went to the top of Notre Dame! Happily, there were lots of gargoyles, and the view was gorgeous–one of my favorites so far.

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Unhappily, no, I didn’t see Esmerelda or the Hunchback. Disappointing, Notre Dame, disappointing.

We also went through the cathedral itself just in time to witness some intensely Catholic people in the midst of an intensely Catholic ritual.

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Creepy.

No, what was actually happening was the revelation of the alleged crown of thorns–yes, the crown, the one Jesus wore when he was crucified. Well, with all due respect, I somehow don’t think the crown was made of spotless sterling silver…sooo…that’s awkward.

I also finally went to Cafe de Flore, one of the most well-known cafes in all of Paris and former gathering place of lots of famous artsy tortured writers.

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The boys were inspired by the spirit of Hemingway and ordered whiskey.

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I was inspired by the lowest possible price and the color pink and ordered a Kir. Don’t lie, Ernest, I’m sure you did the same thing at some point.

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We ended up doing something of a walking tour of Paris one night, and because it is Paris, I of course saw or noticed things I’ve never seen or noticed before.

For instance, I finally did what I have dubbed the “death dart” through the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe to get beneath the thing. There’s no delegated crossing place, so basically you just have to say a prayer, run out into the giant no-lanes-no-rules circle while dozens of cars speed by and swerve around you, and desperately hope for best. It’s exhilarating, and I never want to do it again.

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Oh wait, except once we got to the middle, admired the giant structure, and paid our respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, we had to go back. Oops. Forgot about that. At this point just moving in was looking like a viable option. (I’m happy to report that I both made and survived the return trip, though, and am not writing this from my perch by the tomb.)

That night, I also got to see the last Eiffel Tower light show of the night…which, little did I know, is extra cool because they turn all the lights off except for the ones that are sparkling…so it’s like Eiffel Tower: The Dark Knight. Or something. I don’t know. It was dark and cool and edgy. I liked it.

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Other weekend activities included following the Rose Line through the city…some of us were more excited than others to finally find it.

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But we had lots of fun tracking it from Montparnasse…

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through Luxembourg Gardens…

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and all the way to Saint-Sulpice.

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The famous church is where the best part of the journey awaited us: this sign.

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HAHAHA! Little do these church people know, Tom Hanks is always right. Thus, there is a Rose Line. And it is here. (See: The DaVinci Code if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The Tom Hanks fun continued that weekend with an extra special French day trip: to Normandy!

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(See: Saving Private Ryan if you don’t know what I’m talking about. But please, please tell me you know what I’m talking about.)

My inner American History dork came out in full force on this excursion. However, my knowledge was sadly sup-par, and I spent a significant portion of the day BBM-ing my dad, who actually knows what he’s talking about and could give me the real play-by-play of how D-Day (and WWII for that matter) unfolded. Thanks, Dad!

Let me tell you something funny about visiting the beaches of Normandy, though. The French don’t want you to do it. They hate Americans being patriotic, I guess. Our trip involved a train to Caen (that left from a different train station than SNCF told us, thanks for that), a shorter train ride to a small town outside Caen, and then a bus ride to Omaha Beach. Where, at 3:30 in the afternoon, our bus driver informed us (literally as the doors were closing) that no more buses were coming that day, so we were stranded in small-town Normandy. Uh, great. He then sped off, leaving a small crowd of nine or ten very confused Americans in his wake. HEY BUDDY, remember that time we saved your scrawny French derriere in WWII We were unimpressed. Very unimpressed. And let me just say, I imagine if that if the French had pulled off an incredibly courageous and daring wartime feat comparable to the Allied Forces landing on the beaches of Normandy and, you know, fighting off the Nazis, there would be government-sponsored trains running every five minutes to the site of said feat. And everything would be forever preserved in solid gold. And encrusted in diamonds.

I really do love, you France. All in good fun.

All American patriotism aside, though, I really do think it should be a little bit easier to do what we were trying to do. After all, it is a pretty important site in, you know, WORLD HISTORY. Anyway. It was worth it.

The beaches were beautiful in an incredibly solemn way. Maybe it was just knowing what happened there, but it was almost haunting.

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(Didn’t stop us from snapping a few tourist pictures. American and proud, y’all.)

We also visited the D-Day museum by the beach, which was small but cool. I think my favorite part of the day, though, was visiting the British cemetery. (Because, oh wow, shocking, the rest of the day had been so easy! But the American one was closed.) Still, even though it wasn’t the final resting place for fellow American citizens, it was incredibly moving and really very upsetting to stand among the graves. Fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, young and old, my age, my sister’s age, my dad’s age…it was really incredibly difficult to fathom the losses so many people faced that day.

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Normandy was definitely on my abroad bucket list, so I’m really, really glad I got to make the trip. It was worth every little bit of difficulty the French put me through to do it. (Kidding, kidding. Sort of.)

Another recent day trip was to Rouen! Which any fellow art history dorks might recognize as the home of the Rouen Cathedral, which Monet famously painted multiple times in a series that experimented with the changing qualities of light. Others might know the small city as the site of Joan of Arc’s (or should I say Jeanne d’Arc’s?) death at the stake. So, that’s whimsical and artsy, too. No it isn’t.

Here’s the famed cathedral.

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And see the cross? That’s where Mademoiselle Jeanne d’Arc was burned. Alive. So. Ahem. That’s…awkward.

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All drama aside, Rouen was a really cute little town…that somehow, with a population just over 100,000, still gets to have an Hermes?

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That seems sort of unfair, Hermes. But whatever. Whatever.

I spent most of my day in the Vieille Ville, which was really charming because the architecture is almost entirely that style that I think is called half-timbered (but I’m not sure) but definitely looks like this:

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I liked it. It’s the kind of city I would love to see at Christmastime, because I already felt like I was walking through a little gingerbread village. (A gingerbread village with an Hermes.) Charmed.

Aside from walking through the streets, highlights of the day included the cathedral…

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…an especially delicious apple pastry (just embracing fall)…

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…and a visit to the museum that houses the second largest collection of Impressionist works (behind the Musee d’Orsay, obviously, holla…). As cool as it was to actually see some of Monet’s (haha I just typed Money’s…) Rouen Cathedral paintings in Rouen, I think my favorite thing I saw there was the temporary exhibition installed in the stairways.

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It was cool. It made me smile and wonder how on earth the artist did that. And hey, if art does that, it’s doing something right…right? Maybe I’m just on serious art overload over here.

All in all, it was a great day. It’s consistently amazing to me how different the rest of France feels from Paris. I was told several times when I first arrived here that there’s Paris, and there’s the rest of France…and there are Parisians, and then there’s the rest of the French. Very different. I get where they’re coming from. And I am so, so grateful to get to experience it all.

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Plus fall.

Rome

Roma Roma Roma…the last stop on our amazing trip. The Eternal City. Rome was nothing like I expected in some ways and exactly like I expected in others. The city was sprawling and beautiful, at once modern and ancient. Cars raced down streets and around traffic circles in a frantic, interminable river, making crossing the street a heart-pumping, adrenaline-filled experience. Ancient ruins sat waiting around every corner, Vespas whizzed by constantly, and the food–the food. It was unforgettable.

Rome was actually a little bit sad at first, because our little travel family went separate ways upon arrival. Amanda is studying in Rome for the semester, so she went back to her homestay. Heather’s parents were in town, so she headed off to their hotel. Meanwhile, Nicole, Tess, and I checked into our hostel. But we also gained a traveler! My friend Eric met us in Rome, bringing the Tulane count to six. NICE.

Nicole and I celebrated our arrival in Italy with some McDonald’s french fries. What, that’s not what you want immediately upon arriving in the capital of the greatest food country ever? Weird of you.

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Our first night, we wandered around a bit before meeting Amanda for dinner. We ended up passing this impressive building. I’m still not entirely sure what purpose it serves, but Tess’s guidebook described it as a monument basically just meant to say “WE ARE ITALY. WE ARE GREAT.”

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Fair enough.

We also sat by these Roman ruins and tried to figure out where exactly the Colosseum was. Embarrassingly enough, it was pretty much right down the street. We didn’t find out until a day later. It would seriously be like standing on the Champs Elysées and scratching your head over the location of the Arc de Triomphe. I pray that no actual Romans overheard our conversation. Or, you know, anyone.

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Dinner that night was 1000 kinds of amazing. (This was sort of a theme in Italy…shockingly.) We went to Dar Poeta, an amazing little restaurant located on the most charming cobblestone alley you’ve ever seen in your life. It was in Trastevere, a.k.a. Amanda’s hood! Unreal.

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We feasted on bruschetta (Amanda and I had a blue cheese and honey variety that was actually life-changing, I crave it regularly) and some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

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Oops, blurry.

The real highlight of the meal, however, was this:

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That, my friends, is a Nutella and ricotta calzone. Mark your calendars for our upcoming nuptials.

The next day was insanely and wildly successful in terms of sightseeing. Rome is huge, and we knocked out a serious chunk of the requisite attractions in those 12 or so hours. I slept like a rock that night. Actually, I always sleep like a rock. But you get the point.

Our day started bright and early and in line for the Vatican museum. We thought the entire Vatican experience would take until around lunchtime or so…we were very, very wrong. And I’m so glad. I don’t think there’s a nook of that place we left unexplored. Including the Pope’s living quarters. Okay, that’s a lie, but we found out which windows belong to him.

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(They aren’t those ones.)

The museum was really incredible! Eric and I went all out and sprung for the audio guides…any shame I might have once had about marking myself as a tourist has completely dissipated since August. American and proud, y’all.

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Highlights included:

dead mummy feet

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the super cool map room

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a Gator! For you, Dad. And because all ancient Romans were obviously Florida fans.

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I guess the School of Athens was pretty cool. (Especially because it was commissioned just to decorate a pope’s living quarters…which is funny, because I also commissioned Raphael to paint a mural in my bedroom! Great minds think alike, Pope Julius II.)

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Annndd then there was this tiny obscure work of art I really liked! Sadly I couldn’t take any pictures…no idea why…but it was called the Sistine Chapel, if that helps you imagine it.

(This might help, too: http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html)

After spending several hours touring the museum, we grabbed a bite to eat…

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SALAD PIZZA! It’s carb-y and vegetable-y. In other words, my dream meal.

And then made our way to St. Peter’s.

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Heather and her parents reunited with us there, so that was exciting! We ended up accidentally in line to go to the top of the dome…best mistake ever. We not only got to see the inside of the Basilica from the dome, we also got to see the view of Rome outside of it! It just took a ridiculous number of steps, winding staircases, and narrow passageways.

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Once we came down, we wandered around the inside of the basilica…

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…and saw some more semi-famous art.

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Also, do you know that you can get married in St. Peter’s? If you’re willing to pay an absurd amount of money and wait 147 or so years. Cool!

We met up with Amanda (this was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon, mind you), and then the sightseeing whirlwind began. Because 7 hours of thoroughly exploring the Vatican and 551 steps wasn’t enough.

We walkednacross this beautiful bridge designed by Bernini. (Angels, quit being so dramatic.)

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had some of the BEST gelato of my life (that’s pumpkin…my heart fluttered with happiness for a good 24 hours afterward)

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wandered around this beautiful piazza (which I should definitely know the name of but have forgotten)

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past (and through) the Pantheon

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made our way to the Trevi fountain, where I of course tossed a coin in so as to ensure my return to this magical city

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and eventually ended up at the Colosseum, which was very cool to see at night.

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From there, we took another lengthy stroll in the direction of the restaurant we planned on eating at. At this point, it was nearing 10:00. We also caught sight of the Vatican in the far, far distance at one point and realized that we’d not only spent 7 hours walking around the place, we had since put several miles between ourselves and the capital of Catholicism. On foot. Taking a very indirect route. On cobblestone streets. It was worth every step, but I guess it wasn’t a surprise that my feet felt like they were about to become unattached at the ankle?

And that we were total gypsies at the tram stop.

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And that dinner tasted like heaven and then some.

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And that I completely CRASHED that night.

Sightseeing slowed down after our first day, but we still managed to continue seeing the Eternal City at a pretty impressive rate. The next day started at the Colosseum, again.

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Heather made some gladiator friends.

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We lingered over Roman ruins.

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We ate a delicious lunch at a mozzarella bar in a little piazza that was hosting a great market.

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We went to the Piazza del Popolo, home to the Twin Churches (that I think might be mentioned in Angels and Demons?)

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…and more importantly, home these days to a middle school track meet. Can you imagine if your track meet were there?!

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We went to the Villa Borghese, a beautiful and expansive park that offered great views of Rome.

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We laid down in the grass, where I took a much-needed nap. After an hour or so of lounging and chatting, we made our way back down into the city…

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past the Spanish steps…

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and to Heather’s parents’ hotel, where we had some wine and appetizers and shared lovely conversation before heading out to the world’s most perfect dinner.

All of my dinners this trip were completely amazing. Not one left me at all unhappy in any way. But something about this last dinner was very special. It just kind of…sparkled.

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We ate at a restaurant on one side of a small, quiet square. When we first showed up, we were the only people there. There wasn’t even anyone in the little piazza–it was just us and a team of waiters, and I felt like so at home in this far away place with my oh-so-special fellow travelers (and Heather’s parents, who were completely amazing and ever so kindly took us under their wing).

Everyone’s meal was impossibly good. We all nibbled on this asparagus covered with cheese and shaved white truffles. It was…incredible. (The photo quality is not, sadly.)

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And then Heather, Amanda, and I made two really excellent decisions. Between the three of us, we had ordered two plates of gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola sauce and one plate of cuttlefish ink gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Like I said, my photos aren’t the best quality (far from it), but this meal–it was unforgettable. And I think black pasta is one of the coolest, greatest things ever. (Also the way the desserts were plated was completely charming.)

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We said goodbye to Heather that night, and I definitely might have shed a tear or two that our little family was splitting up and our absolutely amazing trip of a lifetime was coming to an end. Sad, sad night, friends.

Nicole, Tess, and I still had another day, though, which we spent eating at this charming little pizzeria…

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where I had some amazing funghi pizza and Nicole finished off my cheese for me. But not before sprinkling parmesan on it…told you the girl loved her cheese.

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That afternoon, we wandered down Via Julia, which was absolutely charming and full of some of the most irresistibly perfect boutiques I have ever seen in my life. (We also visited a really beautiful synagogue to make up for our thwarted attempt to visit a Florentine synagogue, but pictures weren’t allowed, so I have no evidence. Sorrryyy!)

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We even made a little friend. 🙂

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We eventually made our way back to Trastevere, where we got drinks in a little wine bar and watched little kids run in and out as they trick-or-treated. Because oh yeah, it was Halloween!

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(Blurry but necessary.)

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(Girly drink.)

Our last dinner was at an adorable little restaurant. As with every meal this trip, the company was amazing, conversation was sparkling and full of laughter, and the food was impeccable. It was really, really rough to part ways afterwards. This trip was truly incredible.

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But you know what? I got to come home to this. I suppose life is fair, after all.

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