Monday, May 28, 2012

paddle board

just spent my second long weekend in a row at one of my very favorite places: my family's lake house. i shut my brain off from work and made it my mission to relax for 3 whole days. 

activities for the weekend included: sitting on the porch, paddle board yoga on the lake, snuggling with the puppies, laying on the dock, flicking ants away, running, regular yoga, walks with my parents, and sleeping in. 

happy memorial day! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

eh?

after 18 glorious days back in the united states of americuhhhhhhh i'm packing my bags again. figured i'd visit the hat of the best country in the world. it's been a while since my last visit and i'm going to an entirely different province this time (i am SO worldly.)


in addition to going to the largest mall in north america, i'm hoping to spot a mounty, a hockey player or two, and some moose. can't wait to go oot and aboot and have some beers.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

one last stop

i officially have one week left in my teaching contract. i am amazed at how fast the time has flown by, especially these last few months. i can't even begin to describe how incredible this experience has been. i have a lot of mixed emotions about coming home; i'm so excited to see friends and family and start new adventures, but at the same time i'm sad my adventure here is ending. i'll no longer be able to up and go to paris or amsterdam for the weekend, i won't be able to take the train whenever and wherever i want, i won't have 2 week vacations every other month, and i won't be able to walk to a patisserie and get a fresh baguette whenever my little heart desires. 

i do have one more european adventure before coming home: croatia. my itinerary is as follows (roughly). 

image from google


i'll be starting in dubrovnik, skipping korcula and heading straight to hvar, then finishing the week in split.  adventure starts on the 21st and lasts until the 28th. ah, the dalmatian islands, cannot wait. i'll be back in lille on the 29th to get all of my luggage and then am heading to paris for the last time. 

happy vacationing!

Friday, April 6, 2012

cruisin

amsterdam. the place that made me feel like a kid again and want to give the world a hug.

the canals were so beautiful, the city was made for bikes, there was amazing food, incredible museums; it was vibrant in every way. 


if you're wondering what an incredible day is like, i'll tell you. we rented bikes. awesome bikes. cruisers. i will most certainly be investing in one in the near future.



we rode for less than 5 minutes before finding a flower market. so pretty; tulips in every color. 


we stumbled across a cheese shop (or two.) who knew holland had such amazing cheese? flavored gouda (pesto, garlic, and red pepper to name a few) and herbed goat cheeses. incredible mid-morning snack. 


post cheese coma, we continued on our bikes. we we having so much fun just riding around the streets along the canals. we must have gone all over the city. we took the typical touristy picture next to the i amsterdam statue before going to the van gogh museum. 



the most expensive museum i've been to in europe, but it was worth it. van gogh was an incredible artist. i could have stared at my favorite paintings for hours. if there was any confusion before as to who my favorite artist is, there is no confusion now..vinny wins.


we finished our afternoon with happy hour at our hostel, had amazing thai food for dinner, then wrapped up our day at a coffee shop in the red light district. 

on sunday we went to the anne frank house. something i'm so glad i got to experience. listening to and reading exerts from her diary, seeing pictures from her life, hearing accounts from the survivors that knew her, you walk through all of the rooms in the house where she and her family hid before they were betrayed during the holocaust. incredibly moving and terribly sad.


go to amsterdam. even the street art is beautiful:


Thursday, March 29, 2012

tulips

going on an adventure in amsterdam!

leaving tomorrow with luli, kiley, and joe--

happy happy happy weekend!



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

haiku

everything's sunny
birds go chirpity chirp chirp
the sky is bluer


sun i really love
happiest must be the earth
play play play play play 


happy spring! 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

that happened.

istanbul/not constantinople. after the nightmare getting there, it was amazing. so much culture. the mosques, the bazaars, the food, the language, everything opened my eyes to something new.

there were mosques around every corner. my favorite? the blue mosque:


it also happens to be one of the only ones we actually went into. my first time hearing the call to prayer was one of the strangest things i've experienced. over megaphones, every mosque calls the people to prayer, 5 times a day. chants from the quran filled the streets.

more things that filled the streets? street food vendors. like this guy selling 'simit' (round bread  covered in sesame seeds):


stands were all over the place selling all kinds of food; simit, roasted chestnuts, boiled and roasted corn, pickled vegetables (gross),  and halka (similar to churros). kebabs are also considered street food, and there were kebab 'stands' everyywherrreee. walking through one of the many many markets, luli and i stumbled on this little place:


there was a decent line of turks, so we figured it was a good idea. for 2 turkish lira, we got the most amazing sandwich i've had in a long long time. spicy deliciousness. in addition to to street food being everywhere, there was also baklava all over the place. 


there are very few words to describe how good it was. after sicily and istanbul, i have a new found love for things with pistacchio. i'm pretty positive i had at least one piece of baklava every day we were there. it never got old, just stayed flaky and awesome. 

i became obsessed with multiple things while we were there...

evil eyes. which, despite their name, are a symbol for protection.

 

tiles. so ornate. so pretty. 

 

apple tea and turkish tea. we were given apple tea practically every time we walked into a store and were served turkish tea every afternoon when we got back to our hostels. i just love tea...so, job well done, turkey. 


probably one of the best things about istanbul were the markets. the grand bazaar and the spice bazaar are two of the most popular, but there were so many others that oftentimes felt like little hidden secrets. 

the grand bazaar. grand indeed. huge and intimidating. also, be prepared to haggle prices down; the vendors are extremely pushy and try to sell things to you for at least 50% more than what things are actually worth. needless to say i didn't buy a single thing there, i hate being harassed and hit on when i shop. a sight to see, but not the place for me. 



the spice market on the other hand was much less crowded, and much more calm. they had everything. spices (duh), tea, honey, plants, mass amounts of turkish delights, and more. the colors were beautiful. 


i think of all the markets we went to, my favorite was the arasta bazaar. they had the most incredible jewelry, and i found these old maps:


everything was really pricey, so again, no purchases; but everything was awfully nice to look at. it was also the smallest, easiest to manage bazaar we found and was right in the heart of sultanhamet, perfect. 

the only market we went to that i bought anything was one we stumbled upon after walking around an area of the city known as eminönü:


i found a few cheap crafty things that i couldn't pass by. i'm convinced tourists don't really know this bazaar exists, we hardly saw anyone other than turks, and no one there spoke english. we also found amazingly delicious freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. since the man working at the stand spoke no english, we had to play charades to get it, but it was well worth looking like fools.  

we went on a boat tour of the bosphorus and golden horn. it was freezing, but the sultans palaces that we got to see along the sea were incredible. 

another incredible thing we got to see. whirling dervishes. mesmerizing.


my favorite part of the whole trip was probably the hamami we went to. a traditional turkish bath. it is probably also one of the most awkward things i've ever experienced. once i got past the naked self consciousness, it was blissful. i was scrubbed and exfoliated raw, bathed head to toe, massaged, and shampooed all by a turkish woman who's only english words were 'lady,' 'turn,' and 'douche' (which she used in the french sense, meaning shower). i got to sit in a sauna and a steam room, and swim in a cold pool. i hardly remember a time i have ever been so relaxed. i would go to one every week if i could.

istanbul was, in a word, beautiful. more words to describe our week: bohemian, spicy, aladdin, elephants, hookah, tea, homemade wine, sparkling, pushy, charlie, lamps, angels, stray cats, genie pants, magic carpets, unique, blissful.

Friday, March 16, 2012

rocky road (not the ice cream)

my trip to istanbul started off rocky (understatement.) 

due to inclement weather, all trains to brussels from lille were canceled the morning of our flight. we wanted to take the bus but, for some reason, eurolines had no buses that day. no bus, no trains. so luli and i took the metro to a border town. then a bus to another town in belgium to try to take a train from there, thinking it'd be close. wrong. we ended up having to take a cab. holy expensive. 

our cab driver (bless his heart) was driving as fast as he possibly could (well over the 90kmh limit) to try to get us to the airport on time. our flight started boarding at 1:15. we got to the airport at 1:25. our flight was leaving at 1:45. we got to security at 1:30. we ran. we were the last people on the plane. all we could do was laugh. if i wasn't laughing i would have most certainly been crying. the crying set in later when luli and i were discussing how much packets of powdered soup cost because that was going to be all we could afford to eat when we got back to france. 

luckily for us the exchange rate was definitely in our favor once we got to turkey.

Monday, March 5, 2012

it's amazing!

i'm just back from my trip to catania. it was so amazing. the sea was beautiful. i spent the night in belgium on monday to catch an early flight on tuesday morning. let's talk about how much i enjoy waking up at 4am. actually, no, let's not, because i HATE it and would like to forget it ever happened. mine and luli's 7:15a ryanair flight to lamezia-terme was right on time. we got to italy, promptly ate pizza, then took a 5 hour train to catania. our train went right along the coast the whole time, took a ferry, and got in at around 5:30p. our hosts for the week, peppe and ciccio, came to pick us up from the station and we drove out to their house in capo molini.

it was dark when we got there, but their house was right near the water (incredible) and came with a cat (gross). we went for pizza round 2 for dinner around 10 (they eat dinner incredibly late in sicily) and then went back to our new home for the week to catch up on sleep.

on wednesday we got up, marveled at the sea, and went in to a neighboring town, acireale, for breakfast. we had granita (like gelato, but made with water) and brioche. it was delicious...as was everything we ate the whole time we were there. we went for a drive through another town right on the water, giardini naxos, to get to taormina, a town on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. we walked around the deserted town and it was so adorable, cobble stone roads, screaming italy. we continued our drive further up the mountain to castelmola, yet another adorable little town with an old castle sitting right on top. we had some local wine, took a baby hike up to the ruins and basked in the sun.

for dinner, ciccio and peppe invited some friends over and we had fresh pasta with a pistacchio pesto sauce and a bajillion other yummy things. seriously can't get enough of the food.

thursday: to add to my list of the coolest things i've done in my whole life, we decided to go skiing on mt etna. skiing. on an active volcano. with a panoramic view of the mediterranean. amazing. it was a tiny little mountain, but it was cheap, and the view was...amazing. i got to collect lava rocks on the way down the mountain and then we went and had some kind of pizza thing and gelato for lunch. amazing. for dinner we went into catania and ate at a street side place. luli and i were suckered in to trying horse meat for the first (and last) time. gross. but everything else we had was...amazing.

on friday morning we got up and decided to walk down to the sea. no beach, just huge lava rocks...but the perfect place for a nap in the sun. the rest of my day was destroyed by a killer migraine, so i slept, slept, and slept some more...until saturday.

in the morning we took another nap on the lava rocks then went into catania to walk around. we went to the open air market, saw the biggest tuna fish of life, and found one of the only things i knew about catania: the elephant statue. made of lava. I LOVE. we cooked a big thank you dinner for our hosts that night and took one last trip down to the rocks to say goodbye to the sea.

on our train ride out of town on sunday morning we got to see etna explode--tons of smoke, lava coming down the side. amazing (favorite descriptive word.)

such an...amazing! week. hopefully my tan sticks around for a little bit. doubtful, but i can dream. i'll also be dreaming about this for quite some time:


tomorrow: istanbul (not constantinople)! happy vacation!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

up, up, and away

one thing i'll miss about living in france and working for the french government: 2 week vacations every other month. i'm able to travel, travel, and travel some more.

on monday i'm heading to charleroi, belgium to catch an outrageously early flight on tuesday morning. i'm going here:

(http://www.pickatrail.com/jupiter/location/europe/italy/catania.html)

catania, italy. 6 days of the mediterranean sunshine. pure heaven. as if i don't usually have enough time for rest and relaxation, i'm going to get more of it. 

my biggest problem in preparing for this trip is trying to figure out what to pack and having my backpack weigh less than 10kg (about 22lbs). i've always been terrible at packing a bag. and to put a weight limit like that on it? i'm screwed...thank you, ryan air. i have a feeling i'm going to look like the michelin man going through security at the airport. 

i suppose it's not a bad price to pay for such a cheap flight to somewhere so beautiful. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

is that a boy or a girl?

this past weekend i experienced french carnaval. boys dressed up as girls, confetti everywhere, dead fish being thrown from windows, and of course, beer and fries.

my roommates and i took a day trip to dunkerque on sunday for the experience..we heard it was something we shouldn't miss out on. i wore my green pants to try my hardest to fit in without a costume..it didn't work. we stuck out like sore thumbs. the train ride itself was nuts. every stop they had to add more cars to accomodate all the drunk frenchies dressed like girls. i've never seen so many men wearing tights and lipstick. 

we got there and finding the center of town was easy enough: follow the people. it was so crowded. we got fries and walked around. a little girl came up to me, gave me the twice over, then threw confetti at me. only me. i guess she liked my pants? 

we ended the afternoon in front of the hotel de ville to watch the mayor throw dead herrings wrapped up in plastic out of the window. i still don't know the meaning behind this, but we ran as soon as we realized people unwrap them and proceed to throw them at each other. i almost got one rubbed in my face, but being small has it's perks; i just ducked behind people while we were trying to push our way out of the crowd. 

the fish throwing madness: 


part of the confetti/feather aftermath:


happy carnaval!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

where to?

'a lot of moving, a lot of rolling, a lot of driving, a lot of strolling. a lot of leaving here, arriving there. trying to go just about everywhere. a lot of thinking about where i'm going next.' -the avett brothers

so many trips coming up! i figured i'd let you in on my super (not so) secret plans..

planned:
dunkerque, france on february 19th
sicily, italy on february 28th for a week
istanbul, turkey on march 6th for a week

planning:
somewhere to try to see the northern lights or edinburgh, scotland (march)
london, england (march)
working on an organic farm somewhere in france (march or april)
amsterdam, netherlands (april)
dubrovnik, split, and zadar croatia (april)
ibiza, spain (april)

i'll be gone practically every weekend until i'm back home. i'll be back in the great state of north carolina in less than three short months--i can't believe it. i'm so looking forward to being in charlotte again but am thrilled about all the trips i'm about to take. here's to happy travels!





Wednesday, February 15, 2012

me, i play

in honor of valentines day and adorable things, i found this video. i love. i love polaroids. i love fun. i love things that spread happiness. i love love. 


i also LOVE this song. by brigitte bardot, called 'moi je joue.' it's so playful (and playing is one of my favorite things.) 

'moi je joue. moi je joue à joue contre joue. je veux jouer à joue contre vous. mais vous, le voulez-vous? de tout coeur, je veux gagner ce coeur à coeur. vous connaissez mon jeu par coeur..alors défendez-vous.'

meaning:
'me, i play. me, i play cheek-to-cheek. i want to play taking aim at you. but you, do you want to? with all my heart, i want to win this heart-to-heart. you know my game by heart...so defend yourself.'

too cute. happy (belated) valentines day lovebirds. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

happy winter?

it started...almost as if punxutawney phil really is a meterologist (or god.) winter has arrived in the north of france. i thought i wasn't happy about it. the wind turned cold and--already being in the warm weather mindset--i was PISSED. i was ready for spring and summer and all that comes with it. then, while i was lying in my bed watching my new tv obsession (amc's the killing,) it started to snow. it was so pretty. i love the snow. because it's been so cold it started sticking immediately. 

i walked to the train station, caught a few snowflakes on my tongue, and was just so content. i'm so intrigued by the calm that comes with snow. everything seemed so still, so slow, so perfect. it kept snowing and snowing and snowing. i went to ashtanga and when i came out there were inches covering the ground. then, walking to the metro, i fell and busted my ass. thanks phil. 

i decided this season can only stick around if it keeps snowing. happy winter.

(image from google)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

champagne wednesday

happy wednesday! deciding i don't need any particular reason to celebrate, i instituted champagne wednesday with my roommates. why? well...why not? there isn't always rhyme to my reason.

i encourage everyone to find a little bliss and happiness on this humpiest day (in any way you can.)

santé!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

chirping

just got back from a lovely weekend trip. i decided to meet up with some people i met in prague. with a little coaxing from my best friend from home i booked my ticket to paris for a few nights. in the wise words of audrey hepburn: "paris is always a good idea." it was fantastic. the weather was great. a bit dreary when i got in on thursday afternoon, but friday was beautiful and the rain held out until i got on the train yesterday afternoon to come back to armentières.

i've found a new friend in champagne and decided it's appropriate for any (and all) occasion. after going to the louvre and notre dame, we picked up a few bottles and took them to the eiffel tower to wait for it to light up. i never get sick of seeing it sparkle.

on friday we went back to the eiffel tower and went for a little skate. my new friends are hockey players and were convinced they were going to die from skating on such dull skates with toe picks, but somehow we all made it out alive. we did almost have a man down after walking up the stairs (he was 'cut like a bag of milk' as scott chirped) but we survived. for some reason i really enjoy taking the stairs all the way up--makes me feel like i accomplished something.

i learned some very catching canadian lingo, heard 'eh' more than i ever have, tried poutine for the first time (and liked it), and even got to have canadian beer. successful weekend. now if only all of my weekends could be like that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

to the city of lights--


figured i'd jaunt off to paris tomorrow--happy weekend!

falling in love too much.

i have a problem. i love too many places. i love paris, i love lille, i love bruges, i love bordeaux, and now? now i love prague, too. i went for just a quick weekend trip with my closest girlfriend here and we had such an amazing time. i took my first low-cost flight through easy jet (and yes, it was so easy) and made my way to eastern europe.

i had a few signs of lust before i realized it was love. first, the sunset. i only saw it for a few minutes before getting to the metro, but it's been quite some time since i've seen something so beautiful. second, how clean and quiet the metro was. no homeless people begging for money, no smell of bodily functions, just the hush of people moving around. third, the single file lines on the escalator. it's incredible. people actually ride the escalators in one line on the far right so people in a hurry can pass on the left.

i was still lusting on the metro listening to the language. we got off and walked through wenceslas square. the national museum is at one end and in front of it sits a statue of saint wenceslas. the first post-communist president (václav havel) passed away around christmas time and so there was a memorial there for him. candles and flowers were everywhere--it was lovely.

i was lusting some more over an espresso learning some basic phrases to (hopefully) help us get by for the weekend. our host was very patient, which is terribly important when 'learning' a language that literally sounds nothing like the two that you already know.

the first signs of love came soon after. we saw the astrological clock in the old town square then walked toward old charles bridge. i could just feel the charm, the city was oozing with it..even in the dark. i'm a sucker for charm, so i could pretty much tell i was doomed from that point on. then we had dinner. we ate at an incredible restaurant. the food, in a word, was scrumptious. and the beer? amazing. i had a sauerkraut and bratwurst soup followed by a budweiser goulash. don't let the name budweiser fool you, the czech budweiser has nothing in common with the american budweiser (thankfully). we had more beer for dessert and called it a night.

the next morning was when it was all over. it had snowed over night. my first snow in europe. there is such a calm that comes over a place when it snows. luli and i made our way to the prague castle. we missed the walking tour we wanted to take that morning so we decided to tackle the castle ourselves and go on the second walking tour offered later that day. the castle was amazing. the view was beautiful and st vitus' cathedral was breathtaking.

it was snowing while we walked back to the old town square for our tour. beautiful, gentle falling snow. the tour was perfect. we learned so much about the city. we walked all over the place, saw amazing things, and met amazing people. it was pouring snow when the tour ended so we decided it was a great time to sit down and have a beer. best place to do it? at a monastery. my monk-brewed beer was fantastic.

we decided to keep up with our new friends and all go on a bar crawl together that night. it was so fun. we played flip cup, jenga, reenacted famous sculptures, and had the most amazing night. i don't know if any of my nights compare since moving here.

i decided there is no such thing as too much love, so i'm in love..again (and i don't hate it.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

reflections and lasers

i just looked down at my calendar and somehow it's been more than two months since my last post. i'm the world's worst writer. just like ever other journal i've ever started, my attempts at writing have gone right down the drain. with actual journals i think i stop writing because i get bored with my own thoughts and opinions. however, for this 'journal', i wanted to make it more of a documentation of my life and adventures in france. somehow i'm still awful at it. i'm not big on new year's resolutions, but i'm going to try really really hard to keep up with my life here before it completely flashes before my eyes.

the holiday season has come to an end. the holidays (as always) are a time for reflection, hopes, wishes, dreams, and for love and happiness. this was the first year of my life i didn't spend the holiday's with my parents. this whole experience has made me realize how obsessed with my family i am. they're the most wonderful people in the world and my days would be incredibly dark without them.

we'll start with thanksgiving. i wasn't going to celebrate at all, then a horribly tragic event happened and i found myself in normandy with my little sister. we reflected on a life lost and got to spend the holiday weekend together. we ate turkey and pumpkin pie, watched 'elf' over and over again, decorated for christmas, and drank apple cider. i can never express how much i am thankful for and this year is no different. i'm so lucky to continuously have so many blessings come into my life, they all add to my already long list. trying to explain the meaning of thanksgiving to my students was rather tough. they don't have a holiday even remotely close to it and just don't seem to grasp the importance of reflecting on your life and being grateful for the things in it. yes, little frenchies, there is way more in life to be thankful for than shopping, video games, and money.

the weekend after thanksgiving cari and a friend of hers, rachel, came to lille to visit. the christmas market was in full swing. ferris wheel, carrousel, mulled wine, waffles, christmas trees and christmas lights everywhere. france really knows how to do christmas. we spent the day in the city wandering around vieux lille and the centre ville, went to the musée des beaux arts, and even got to catch a free show at the opéra. it was one of the best weekends i've had in lille since i moved here. it's the type of memory i want bottle up so i am able to remember every detail forever.

i've had a lot of memories like that since coming here. there'd be about a hundred bottles from my christmas vacation alone. for starters, my older sister got engaged to an absolutely incredible man the day before she flew over the pond for her visit. i cannot wait to call houston my brother, he's so great. cari and i are going to be co-maids of honor in the wedding. here's a little snippet on how she told us he proposed and asked us to be her maids of honor:

video

we had a seriously amazing trip together. i picked dani up at charles de gaulle on the 17th and we met cari at gare de lyon in paris. we got lunch then started our two week vacation. first stop: marseille. we stayed at the most adorable hostel (vertigo, vieux port) and got to walk around a beautiful mediterranean city for a few days. we ate 'moules frites' by the port, walked to the old fisherman's village, wandered around 'le panier,' and saw amazing cathedrals.

after marseille we headed to bordeaux. i don't think i can love a city more than paris, but bordeaux came pretty close. i love wine, so it's not really a big surprise that i would fall for a place like bordeaux with it's  many vineyards. perks of being there during the winter: cheap wine tastings. we went to two different chateaux and tasted one gross wine and two tasty wines. the weather wasn't the best while we were there, but for the most part it held out and we didn't see too much rain. we walked all over the city--saw old ruins, an enormous park and botanical garden, incredible architecture (of course) and took plenty of time to sit in café's drinking coffee and hot chocolate.

we headed to paris on the 23rd. i am like a little girl when it comes to that city. there isn't anywhere in this country more incredible to me. i discover new things each and every time i'm there and it never ceases to amaze me. the more familiar i become with the streets and the metro, the more i love it. rachel met us at the hostel and we got settled and went walking around before dinner. we decided to splurge and spoil ourselves for one meal during our vacation. when my parents were here in october, we got the greatest restaurant recommendation from the concierge at our hotel. just a few minutes away from the eiffel tower, a little place called 'café constant' provided the best meal i've ever eaten. we loved it so much we ate there twice. the second time was just as good as the first, and taking dani there was a must. we considered it our 'christmas dinner' knowing a lot of places would be closed christmas eve and christmas day. i tried fois gras for the first time, we had a great bottle of wine, incredible meals, and fabulous desserts. if i could afford to eat at that place every day, i would.

on the 24th we got up and started our day at the musée d'orsay. we spent hours looking at the impressionist art on the 5th floor and could have stayed much longer if we weren't so hungry. we grabbed sandwiches and walked along the seine towards notre dame. we had a very important place to go: shakespeare and company (my favorite bookstore in paris.) i was dying to take dani and cari there. from the second i saw it i knew how much they'd love it. it's so quaint. there are hardly words to describe how great the atmosphere is. we went back to the hostel to talk to our mom and dad and our grandma and grandpa in louisiana. probably one of the most difficult conversations i've had. in a few words, i never want to spend christmas away from my parents again. it's a tradition for my dad to read us 'the night before christmas' every christmas eve before we go to bed. this year he read to us on skype. we hardly got through it, but it was a piece of home i can't do without. to lighten the mood my grandpa read us the cajun version afterwards. we left the hostel again to go to notre dame for the midnight mass. it was packed, but so beautiful. the choir sang hymns from 11 until 12, then mass started. the smell of frankincense and myrrh filled the entire cathedral. it was a great experience, but made me miss my church from home...so i hummed 'silent night' to myself on the way back to st. christopher's.

we had a really slow start on the 25th. i spent the whole day pretending it wasn't actually christmas. it was an amazing day, but didn't feel like christmas without my parents...so i decided it was just the 25th of december, nothing special. dani, cari, rachel, and i went ice skating on the first floor of the eiffel tower. easily one of the top 5 greatest things i've ever done. i haven't been on skates in years and it came back like riding a bike. the view was great and we laughed practically the whole time. when we had our ice skating fill we walked down the stairs, across the street, and rode a carrousel. we walked through one of the many christmas markets and headed to see the arc de triomphe and the big ferris wheel. there was another christmas market on the champs élysées--this one was an enormous 350 shop marché de noël that smelled like waffles and crêpes the whole way through.

on the 26th it was time to head to carentan, cari's adorable little town. we walked around for a while, and got the chance to relax for a few days. we played the french version of 'clue' and will be officially instating a family board game night when we move home. we got to skype with my mom and dad and gram and granddad in florida and tell them about our holiday.

we left carentan for lille on the 28th. we got in, had sandwiches for lunch, and grabbed hot chocolate and macaroons from paul (a lovely pâtisserie chain here in france) before going to check into our hotel. we read and relaxed a bit (traveling is exhausting in case you wanted to know) then went to grab dinner. we moseyed through the centre ville and along the rue de béthune and ate at my favorite crêpe restaurant. before heading back to paris on the 29th, we walked through vieux lille--my favorite part of the city here.

we stayed at the sheraton at the airport that night because my dad is the most amazing man that ever walked the face of the planet. dani's flight back home was the morning of the 30th and i'm pretty sure both cari and i were plotting ways to sneak on her flight so we could go home. homesickness hits me hard every now and again, and even pretending like christmas wasn't actually christmas didn't really help. i absolutely did not want to say goodbye to dani--we had such a fantastic trip and i would have given a lot to go home and share it all face-to-face with my family.

cari and i stayed at the aiport hotel until the last possible minute then took the rer-b back to paris for our last two nights of vacation. on the agenda: disney land for new years eve. it rained, but was still great. i forgot how much fun amusement parks are. roller-coasters, the smell of popcorn, people walking around in cheesy poncho's. and disney themed amusement parks? a buzz lightyear ride that lets you laser blast the evil emperor zurg, a peter pan flight, a pirates of the caribbean boat tour, and the swiss family robinson tree house. incredible. we had gross tex-mex for dinner (but what can you really expect in an amusement park in france?) the rain was pretty miserable, but the fireworks show at the end of the night made it all worth it. they were b-e-a-u-tiful. not a bad way to ring in the new year.

i made it back to armentières around lunch time on the 1st, unpacked, ate poptarts for lunch, then proceeded to sleep for about 20 hours. i have a few trip countdowns that will (hopefully) get me through my last few months here: first to prague, then to turkey and southern italy, and last but not least to greece. all before flying back to charlotte in may. it will be an exciting 4 months.

i'll be photo dumping onto facebook this weekend. so keep an eye out.