Monday, October 18, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I just posted my last blog a little over an hour ago, and I can't stop thinking about how depressing I sound. Well, I wrote it to feel better. Sometimes I feel better when I write what I'm feeling...just another form of venting I guess.
Here's what happened. I was on my way home and I was listening to my Ipod. Of course, some song came on that triggered everything, and I started crying. I cried by myself and then to get over it, I wrote a blog. Hence, it was pretty miserable. However I will not delete it. It is true, it is how I am feeling, and I can't deny how sad I am about leaving. But I am also happy. I am so comfortable here, I am with the guy I love, and he loves me too. Aside from the fact that going home means I have to leave him, at least for now, I am so excited to get home. Finally. I have missed friends, family, even Cadillac. What do I want to do when I get home?! Well, here's my list. It's not finished and I'm sure I left out a lot, but here are just a few things.
1) Hug my parents
2) Hug my dogs and throw tennis balls for them
3) See Lina, Sanna, and Lucas (Maria, Gus, and Buxton too!)
4) Go to the movie theater with my dad
5) Hang out with Lauren
6) Play Cranium and Euchre with the Lempe family and friends (Lo, you're on my team, chica)
7) Eat peanut butter chocolate ice cream
8) Eat Mexican Food at Herraduras
9) Swing with Grandpa Porter on his porch swing and learn from Pat
10) Drive up to Traverse City to have lunch with Grandpa and Grandma Brugger
11) Call Julie and Brittany and (insert a bunch of names here of my best buds) and REALLY catch up
12) Drink coffee on my porch with my mom
13) Skype Olivier
14) Go through my closet and rediscover my clothes
15) Go camping (luckily I have 2 trips planned right away!)
16) Lay on the boat
17) The list goes on and on.....
I am thankful that when I get back, my time will be completely filled with friends, family, and fun (some of my very favorite "F" words). I already have some lunches planned, I have a week-long camping trip with the Brugger family, and Olivier is coming for two weeks, arriving in Chicago on August 1st. Then it will be my birthday and Lauren has already assured me that we WILL have fun. Basically, I will be so busy having fun, that my time will fly and before I know it, fall will be here, I'll be working, and planning a trip back to France. Life is good. No, life is great.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Hi. I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged in ages. I can’t even explain why. I have not been exceptionally busy or anything. I guess I just have not had the desire. I had plans to run through all of the little details of summer trips, etc. However, for now, I just feel like writing about how I’m feeling.
My countdown has been in effect for several months, but I am officially leaving in a week. It is down to the wire and I am going through hundreds of emotions: happy, devastated, hopeful, love, fear, heartbreak, longing… I still haven’t figured out exactly how I am going to eventually come back to France, but I know that I will…I know that it is in my future, and that I just have to somehow work out the logistics.
Several weeks ago I wrote a poem about being in the calm before the storm. I wrote that I could see a storm approaching, I knew that it would be bad, and that eventually it would pass. The storm I am referring to is, of course, my life far from my love. It hardly seems fair, but I guess life never is. Don’t misinterpret this please. I am so excited to finally be with my family and friends, but my heart is already aching knowing how hard it is going to be for me to be away from Olivier. In my poem, the storm broke as I said goodbye on my way to the airport. It was the strongest at first, and over time, I got used to the thunder and rain. I adapted and even though it was hard, I survived. And I will. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be fine. However, instead of starting when I leave, I feel like the storm is already here. I love every moment I spend with him, but every time I think about how happy I am, I am reminded that my time with him is almost over, at least for now. I just thank God that my upcoming goodbye is just temporary and that I am not saying goodbye forever.
My emotions are completely crazy. I am so happy one moment, then crying the next. I am trying to be strong. I am doing ok. It is just hard. I don’t know how I will find the strength to leave, but I will. I can’t wait to hug my parents. I can’t wait to chat with girl friends, visit family, go camping, walk on the beaches, play ball with my dogs, and see my kids (aka Maria’s kids). This will all immensely help me. I am so lucky to have so much love in my life. Thank you all for loving me, supporting me, and just being there. I love you all. What would I do without you?
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
At the airport, we were surprised to find that our rental car happened to be a little better than our quoted Taurus. Hello BMW. We travelled in style :)
My Mom tested her skills among the French drivers and successfully got us to our destination, Crystal's place, for night one. We walked around Pigalle, Paris's touristy red light district, grabbed some lunch, and headed back to the apartment to try and rest up before dinner. My parents were finally able to meet Olivier and it went very well.
The next morning, we left for Normandy....first stop: D-Day beaches. We arrived in the early afternoon at the American National Cemetery in Normandy, where we went for a walking tour and solemnly gazed at Omaha Beach, once widely called "Bloody Omaha."
We decided to call it a day after a light lunch, and headed to our hotel to rest up for the next day. My parents fell asleep very quickly thanks to jet-lag. Jet-lag also influenced internal clocks, along with the help of the blinds that made the room completely dark. After my mother's assurance that my dad would wake up around 6 or 7 am, I did not set my alarm. Well, at 12:14 pm the next day, I woke up in disbelief. Haha. It really didn't matter anyway.
We headed to one of the world's wonders, Mont-Saint-Michel, an abbey started in the 10th century. This medieval city was absolutely breathtaking. My dad couldn't get over how old it was.
After Mont-Saint-Michel, we started the drive south. We knew getting all the way to the French Riviera from Normany was a long stretch, so we stayed one night in Tours. After a long drive the next day, we pulled up to our condo. It was perfect for us and in a great location. Basically it was central to all of the major cities we wanted to visit on the Riviera. Nice and Monoco were to the East, and Antibes and Cannes were to the West.
We decided to spend our first full day on the Riviera with a car tour. We didn't have any specific destination in mind, but since I had been there a few months earlier with Olivier, I sort of knew the area. My mom ventured the winding hairpin turns to our first visit in the medieval town of Eze. Eze is situation very high up and has one of the best views of the Riviera. We climbed the streets and stairs until we finally reached the eagle's nest view surrounded by an exotic garden.
After the trek back down through the village, we drove towards Nice along the water, and then through Monoco. We didn't even get out of the car in Monoco. The streets were so curvy and unfamiliar that we decided we preferred to just head back for the day. We did our grocery shopping and enjoyed a nice meal before heading to the beach to gaze at the moon. It was full, glowing, and glistened over the water. We thought of my grandmother as we always do when we see the moon.
If you know my family, you know that we love the beach. Guess what we did the very next morning. We packed up our mini cooler with drinks, lunch and a few snacks, and headed to the closest beach we could find. The beach was rocky like most beaches east of Antibes, but my mom made the best of the situation, occupying herself for hours in the hunt for the perfect stones and beach glass. She was actually pretty successful in her search. My dad pretended to help and I found a few pieces while I was lying on my towel.
After a few hours in the sun, we decided to check out Antibes, Olivier's home town. It really is charming with all of the boats and little streets. I think it is my favorite Mediterranean city.
That night, after a few cocktails and dinner prepared by me, we headed to the beach again to watch the moon rise (My dad was so surprised that I could cook. He thought I would never know how to cook a thing. I guess France agrees with me. However, I have a LONG way to go...trial and error is how I get by). The moon was absolutely gorgeous. It started off as a huge, glowing, red ball as it climbed itself up over the water. I don't think I have ever watched a moon rise like that before. It was breathtaking. We enjoyed our wine and cameras as we took countless photos, continually laughing uncontrollably at ourselves. Luckily we had a few winners.
The next day we went to a sandy beach in Antibes for a few hours, and then headed home for awhile before venturing into Nice for a dinner out. I couldn't find the restaurant recommended by Olivier, so hunger and the need of a bathroom led us to a restaurant similar to most others. It was the perfect evening for strolling around Nice. Place Massena, the main open area, was very cool and alive with night life.
My parents went to the beach for a few hours the next morning while I slept in and avoided making my sunburn worse. Then we headed into Nice to check out the area a little more for the rest of the day. We left Nice the next morning and drove through Italy and the Alps towards Chamonix. Apparently we were in the South at the right time because a huge wave and bad weather made a mess of the area just a few days after we left.
Chamonix was, unfortunately, not exactly the same as it had been the last time my mom and I visited. It had been perfect before, but this time, the weather made it a little less desirable. It was rainy and very foggy, making the amazing mountains almost completely hidden from our view. We tried to make the best of it by enjoying onion soup and a train ride through the mountains to walk inside a huge glacier. We ended up leaving Chamonix a day early because of the weather. We drove as far as Dijon, and then drove back to Paris as scheduled.
We took a tour bus around Paris for a few days, and then I led us around a little as well. They saw just about everything. The weather was really cold, but at least it was not raining! We were able to have dinner with Olivier again before they left. The last night, we ate dinner, just the three of us, in a little restaurant by Arc de Triomphe, and then headed to a bridge to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle before heading in. It was hard to see them leave, but it did help knowing that I will be seeing them in just a few short months. I am so thankful that they came and were able to share France with me. Ten years ago, I would never have thought this to be a reality. Thanks so much Mom and Dad. I love you and feel so honored that you came to spend this time here with me.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
First of all, I moved. Like I said before, I decided to leave the family I was working for. It just was not working out for me, and I wanted to spend my time here enjoying it as much as possible. Luckily things ended relatively well with the family, so there was not much drama. I moved in with Olivier and have started looking for any small job. Basically, I'm looking to tutor people in English and for babysitting jobs.
Right after I moved out, my parents arrived. Perfect timing. Luckily the volcano allowed for their flight to arrive on-time. We did a grand tour of France, and I will post a few pictures later when I have time to go into further detail of our trip. It was so nice to see them again. I had a great time and had fun sharing my love of France with them. We went to Omaha Beach (D-Day landings) in Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel, the French Riviera, Chamonix (a small town near Mont Blanc in the Alps), and, of course, Paris. We rented a very fun car and enjoyed driving everywhere we went (except Paris). I was sad to see them go, but I know they were ready to leave when their 2 weeks were up.
Now I am just preparing for a long week-end in London. Olivier's brother lives there, so we will stay with him. I am very excited as it will be my first time in London and my first real trip with Olivier. Also, at the end of next week, my cousin Bonnie is coming for about a week and a half. I can't wait to see her! This must be the season for visitors :) I will write more next week when I have a little more time. Things have just been busy. Have a nice week-end!
Monday, April 5, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
"After four months of traveling, I know only one thing with absolute certainty: if I don't go to France...I might regret it forever. I'll always be wondering about the love of my life that could have been, the entirely different future that might have been if only I'd taken the risk. Sure, there's no guarantee that it will work, but then nothing ventured, nothing gained. All I know is a chance encounter has thrown open an unexpected door. Instinct tells me to step through it."
This quote hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't know what my future holds, but I know that if I come home as planned and don't try to be with Olivier, I will always wonder what might have been. The path I had always envisioned for myself has shifted drastically from a life in the US to one in France. The next quote is also very meaningful. I feel like I am an "in-betweener." I feel so American in France, but when I am home in the United States, I feel like a part of me is missing. I see France in everything...I think of it every day. While in Greece, the author encountered a man who was also from Australia, but had spent a lot of his life in Greece.
"'It's a bittersweet thing, knowing two cultures...It's a curse to love two countries.' ...I had no idea then how radically my life was about to change and how well I would come to understand what the Greek had said."
The last quote has to deal with some of the frustration that comes from living in a world where my first language is not spoken on a normal basis. After a dinner party, Sarah was perceived as being shy and quiet for not talking a lot. I feel just like her because I simply cannot always follow conversations and I feel like when I do try to add something, I end up sounding stupid. This is not so bad right now, but before, it could really be frustrating.
"It does matter to me that I'm now perceived as quiet, nice and boring. And the reason it bothers me is because it's true. Looking back, I'd said very little all night. When I did speak, it was to issue childlike statements or ask simple questions which made me cringe at my own dumbness."
In general, this book has really helped me realize the differences in French life and culture, and helped me to better understand that what I am going through is similar for other expats.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
In general, I feel taken advantage of. What I was told and promised before I arrived is just not the reality. The hours in my contract have never been respected and the idea of being paid for several extra hours left my mind right after I first arrived. I never really know when I will be finished at night, which can be very annoying, especially when I have plans with friends. For example, last week I was supposed to meet with friends around 8:30 pm. Well, since I wasn't relieved of childcare responsibilities until 10 pm, that did not happen. Monday night I figured I might be done around 8:30, when in fact, I was not done until 11. It just gets old. Oh, and hardly ever is there a call or text to inform me that I will be done very late. It is all a guessing game. I am never paid extra for working the hours outside of my contract. Apparently these make up for the "2 babysitting nights" that were never mentioned before I arrived (they are definitely not mentioned in my contract). I had assumed that I would be paid for extra full days (since I had been told I would be). Oh and I am hardly ever paid on time.
Another thing is that it is hard with the kids. They act out all of the time because they want their mother. They blame me for their mother not being there. I understand that they do not understand and I try to comfort them. I do not like being a part of it. I feel bad for them, but I am ready to be away from it.
I did not realize before I arrived that I would have the kids all day long, five days a week during the entire month of July (about 50/55 hours). This is well over the 30 hour a week rule, but once I found out about it, I was told that I would be compensated. Right after announcing that I would be leaving, I learned that in fact I probably would not have been paid anything extra. Thank goodness I am deciding to leave because I would much rather spend most of the month of July in beautiful northern Michigan than spending endless stressful hours watching three kids that are constantly naughty and disrespectful.
In the beginning I had asked about taking a Friday off here and there for traveling. After all, part of living in France is being able to take little vacations around Europe. I was told that this would not be a problem, just as long as I told them a few weeks in advance. Well, for the first time I asked for a Friday off. I asked for it nearly two months in advance. It was refused on the grounds that the parents had to work. Well in my opinion, they have plenty of time to work something else out. I think the mother figured out that I was mad about that and eventually gave me the day off. This happened the day I told her I was leaving, so it was too late for her. Oh well, I wouldn't have changed my decision anyway.
There are lots of other little things that I do not like about my job, like all of the cleaning, but I can put up with that stuff. If I had the hours in my contract and did only "light housework" for the cleaning (like I was told), I would stay the rest of my time here. However being continually taken advantage of has put a damper on my year abroad. I want to spend the rest of my time here enjoying myself without this burden. I have a student visa and plan on taking a class this summer to satisfy that. And if that doesn't work I can always just go to England for a few days and return to France as a tourist. I'll figure it out. I can do little babysitting jobs or tutor people in English and I will make more than I make now. I have a place to stay so I am not worried about that at all. I can always just hop on a plane and come back to the states if there are problems. Since I have told of my leaving, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. Even though the situation in the home is now pretty uncomfortable, I can deal with it. The parents and I are not often home at the same times anyway. I am helping in the search for another au pair and I already have a few potential people that are already in Paris.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Well, we arrived on time and right away, the warm air put smiles on our faces. The writing on the airport was also exciting because it was in Arabic. That night, after an interesting taxi ride, we were led through small, winding streets by all kinds of people wanting a tip. We were definitely uneasy, but luckily we spoke French and could talk to other people, in order to make sure we were going the right way. Sure enough, after many turns and stops to ask for advice, we arrived at our hostel. Honestly, it is a good thing that locals helped us, because I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been able to find it ourselves. After a knock on the door, our minds were set at ease as we trudged into our little sanctuary (voted #1 hostel in Morocco in 2008 on Hostel world!). We loved the place right away. It felt very safe, the people were very kind and helpful, and it had an authentic Arabian feel to it. The random cats everywhere also gave it a little character. I guess replacing Parisian pigeons for Moroccan cats isn't a bad trade-off for a few days. Our room that slept 8 was huge! I felt like it had once housed a small harem.
We decided to take a stroll that night to take advantage of our first night in Marrakech. Amazingly enough, we easily found the main square and realized our hostel was in the perfect location. It was in the Souks, a famous area of Marrakech known for it's sellers and bargaining. One could by anything from little leather camels to prayer carpets to saffron to fake Gucci here (no, I did not buy any fake goods)!
In the main square, called Place Jemma el Fna, there were several performers (like gay arabian dancers haha), games, henna artists, and mini restaurants under tents. Being that were were starving and excited to try something new, we dove right in, finding the first tent that looked good, also known as "#81" (since the tents are numbered). It ended up being our favorite. Here are are "homies" and our dinners. They knew us for the rest of the week and called us their "homies" whenever we walked by.
We ended the night early because we wanted to be ready-to-go early the next morning. It is funny how we were all so motivated early-on, and then determined to sleep in the last few days. Lucky for us, the breakfast at our hostel was delicious. First of all, we were served fresh orange juice, which was probably the best OJ I have ever tasted, and then we were brought several goodies. Of these breakfast things, we loved the Moroccan version of the crepe and some fried airy things (a little like beignets), that I quickly named "pockets of love." We documented the making of the pockets of love. The staff got a kick out of our intrigue.
Just for reference, here is our street in the daylight. You can imagine how we were a little worried when we arrived at night.... Also, here are some pictures of our walk through the Souks, on our way to the main square.
Once in the square, we saw our first snake charmers and monkeys of the day, as well as the endless dried fruit stands.
We headed toward the main mosque to start a little sightseeing tour. We quickly realized that everyone willing to help us wanted to be paid, and that road signs, especially those not in French (French is an official language), were almost non-existent. So, we opted for the open-tour bus, a sure-thing in almost any major city, in order to get our bearings. It took us all over the city, and was a very good idea. Oh and by the way, I have grown to thoroughly love McDonalds. I used to hate it, really, but now that I am abroad, McDonalds has come to be some sort of safe-haven where I can always find a Diet Coke (or Coca Light) and a toilet. Crystal and I even went to the Arabian McDonalds to relax and catch some sun one afternoon after we decided we had done all the touristy stuff already. We never regretted it one bit, but we did consider ourselves a bit pathetic, and very American. I was honestly a little sick of couscous when that day came.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking in a famous garden, trying to figure out how we were going to get to Tangier later that week, visiting a palace, and making our way back to the main square for dinner. We had fun bartering with the Souks for a few hours, even though we did not buy much. Most of them were really fun, but there were a few here and there who got annoyed when we didn't buy anything. It is amazing how much they were willing to lower their prices. Usually we could get them down to about a fifth of their original offer. I must say that as the week wore on and in the heat of the day, these sellers could get pretty irritating, as well as the women always trying to henna us.
The next day was another day of touristy stuff, as well as still trying to figure out bus or train tickets (luckily we got it all figured it out that day). We visited a famous school for studying the Koran called the Medersa Ben Youssef, the Museum of Marrakech, and the Saadiens Tombs. The Tombs were actually hidden for centuries by a very narrow passageway, making it an especially hard-to-find tourist attraction. Luckily we are good at being tourists and can figure this stuff out. Hint: follow other tourists with guidebooks that look like they know what they are doing.
For the next few days we took it easy, having already seen the main attractions. We hung out at McDonalds where we sun-bathed and had a nice view of the Atlas Mountains, as I mentioned earlier, rested in a park, strolled in the newer area of the city, did some more haggling in the Souks, and went to a Hammam. The Hammam was the very best idea ever. A Hammam is basically the Muslim version of a spa. And it is amazing. Crystal and I bought the package that included a 30-minute massage, while Sarah joined us until our massage started. I will do my best to describe it. My advice is to go if you ever have the chance. It is soooo worth it. Us and three other tourist women were led into a room where we put all of our belongings, except for our underwear, into a basket, which was locked into a cabinet. We were then led into a shower-type room where two women started dumping buckets of warm water on us, and then washing us down with some type of soap. Then we spent several minutes in a sauna, which towards the end, was almost unbearable. In fact, it was kind of cool because leaving the sauna felt so refreshing. The women poured tepid water on us and then we laid down on tables where they scrubbed us with soap and these gloves that removed our dead skin (luckily we kept the gloves, which made me feel better about the sanitation of the place). Back to the sauna for another melt-down. I couldn't take the heat for very long, so I laid back down on the table, all the while thinking to myself how great this all was. The ladies then led us to another room where they washed our hair and bodies and rinsed us thoroughly with buckets of water. Then we were given big, comfy robes and led to a dim, mesmerizing room where laid down and drank tea while listening to soft, Arabian music. After awhile, we were taken to our massages. This was the first real massage of my life. It was incredible. So perfect. After that we relaxed in a room and drank more tea before leaving. The whole experience lasted around two hours. Imagine doing this, maybe once a week (not with the massage), in the name of religion...
After four full days in Marrakech, we took a night bus to Tangier. We thought this was a good idea. After all, we could sleep on the bus and save money on a hostel, as well as save daylight hours for touring around. We were wrong. This night was very bad. Out of Crystal, Sarah, and I, I was the only one that slept on the bus to Tangier. We first took a bus to Casablanca, we waited there for a few hours, and then took another bus to Tangier, where we arrived around 4:30 am. We found a cafe where we sipped tea and waited for daylight to come, surrounded by baby cockroaches, and then we took naps in the bus station once it opened. We saw the beach, ate some food, wandered a bit, and then finally took a cab to the airport. We were ready to leave Morocco by that time. When we booked our trip, we thought it would be fun to visit Tangier for a few days, so that we were not always in one place. We should have just stayed in Marrakech. Tangier was not too exciting, although I'm sure it would have been nicer if we had more sleep and more time to spend there. The sea was beautiful, luckily, and it was a nice day to wander. One of my Tangier highlights was that there were hundreds of boys playing soccer on the beach and I joined in for a few minutes. I really wanted to play, but quickly realized that I fell down more often than normal in the sand. Ah well...
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I was able to experience a very different culture and have fun. I even have a great new "worst travel experience" story (I'm talking about the bus trip and early morning in Tangier, of course).