Friday, June 24, 2011


Last weekend we headed to Toulouse to spend some time with several of Olivier's friends...well, more like "our" friends that were Olivier's friends before I met them and got to know them all. We had a wonderful time!

Honestly, living in France is wonderful, but sometimes it is hard to be the foreigner in the crowd. I don't talk a lot about it, not wanting people back home to worry. Life as a foreigner can get very lonely. Trying to keep up with conversations and understand jokes, etc., can be exhausting and often leads to my mind wandering into it's own little world. With every other foreigner that I have come into contact with over here, we have discussed similar feelings and it turns out that we all feel the same way. In group settings, we often feel lonely, not because people are intentionally leaving us out, but because we really just don't feel like ourselves, and that can be frustrating. When putting so much effort into simply comprehending what is going on, I am not my normal self, talking, being sarcastic, adding my tid-bits here and there...I'm just not my normal, fun (I think I'm fun, anyway) self. About a year ago I was frustrated after having been to a group gathering and I asked Olivier when I would stop feeling like such an outsider. How long does it take to just be myself and stop trying so hard just to understand everything? I felt as if I had a learning disability and was several steps behind everyone, and then simply getting lost because I couldn't catch up (education classes coming into play here, thanks Ferris State University). He lived in Denmark for a year so I thought he might know when this transition actually happens. Well, he didn't know, so I just kept waiting. Nowadays, things are much easier. I still have to put effort into paying attention and comprehending while in a group setting, but I am much more comfortable now than before. It was a lot more isolating a year ago, but since my knowledge of the French language has improved, so have my feelings when in a group setting. I'll just add that when it's just a few people, it is much easier to follow and be a part of conversations in French.

To me, the weekend in Toulouse was a small victory in this struggle. For the first time, I found myself having real fun in the group, talking, laughing, understanding. It felt so great. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I was with truly wonderful, fun, caring people. There are so many hurdles in becoming part of another culture, and this is a big one, at least for me. I still find myself confused from time to time, but at least I'm not in my own little world, lost from the conversation as I was before. Anyway, on with the story of our weekend.

We arrived late Friday night. Toulouse is about 5.5 hours from Nice by car. Everyone else came from Paris, so we all arrived around the same time. We talked, ate, and drank for a few hours and then everyone headed to bed. The next morning, we all got up and left for Carcassonne, a fortified city about an hour east of Toulouse. On the way, however, we stopped for apparently the best Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a delicious French dish from the region. It is essentially beans, sausage, chicken, other meats all in a crock pot. It is very good.

After the filling Cassoulet, we went the rest of the way to Carcassonne, where we were traditional tourists, checking out the historic city and its ruins. We had fun climbing on the walls and taking pictures. Here are a few pictures of our time in Carcassonne.

When we returned from Carcassonne, we all played a game of petanque, which is similar to bocce ball, and very popular in France. We played for hours, laughing and having a great time. It ended in a few of the losers being thrown in the pool, and then a card game to end the night. That night was the most fun I have had in a while.

Sunday was our last day in Toulouse, but it was awesome. That's the best way to describe it, really. Pierre and Laetitia are the couple from Toulouse, and Pierre's father is a pilot. He took us all up in a little four-seater plane to see Toulouse from above, making three separate trips to accommodate us all. It was thrilling and the city was beautiful. It is known as la ville rose, as it looks pink from above.

Luckily we didn't have to catch a train, so a few of us were able to walk around Toulouse for a few hours before departing. I found it quite charming. Our hosts could not have been more welcoming or accommodating to us. I am very thankful for having spent such a wonderful weekend with them and for gaining such great people as friends.

Monday, June 20, 2011

To London, To London...

Olivier and I visited London the weekend before last. He had a holiday from work on Monday, so we took advantage of the long weekend and ventured back to London where we always have fun, despite iffy weather. I almost wrote "unpredictable" to describe the weather, but that, in my opinion, would be inaccurate, as there always tends to be some rain when we are there, despite predictions from, my go-to source before all travels. And so the story-telling of our enjoyable weekend in London begins... (I must add that I am currently enjoying my coffee from my I Love London coffee mug, my souvenir from our previous visit)

It all started Friday evening right before 7. I was all packed up and ready to go to the train station to take the bus to the airport when Olivier arrived home from work. He informed me that we might as well drive and pay for parking as opposed to paying for the bus, as the difference was quite minimal. I was definitely okay with this since I really don't like taking the bus home and walking after flying. However, instead of finding the cheap lot, we ended up in the minimum 44 euro lot for 96 hours, which was longer than we needed, and definitely more expensive. Oh well, we bit the bullet and stayed there, since we were worried we couldn't leave the lot without paying the full price (no parking attendants). After our cramped EasyJet flight to London Luton, we ran to catch our scheduled bus at 11 pm. We made it just in time, but they had already overfilled the bus and taken our seats, so we waited for the next bus, with the promise of being first to board. We found our way to Olivier's brother's apartment and went to bed immediately, as we were all exhausted.

Luckily for us, Saturday was a nice day. We left to explore the city with Vincent, Olivier's brother, and his fiance, Laura. After a bit of walking near Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, we found ourselves unable to get over to Westminster/Parliament area because of barricades. After asking a police officer what was going on, he informed us that it was the Queen's birthday celebration. Many people were out, hoping for a glimpse of the queen. We got away from the crowds in search of an alternate route, but once again, found ourselves unable to cross. We decided to give in and wait, and just maybe we'd get to see the queen. As it turns out, we never saw the queen. This is probably because we were not in the right area to see her. There were not very many people waiting...mostly just barricades, police officers here and there, and random tourists.

She never came down the street where we were waiting, but we did get a different surprise. All of a sudden we heard the sound of horses approaching...two carriages to be exact. And who was in that first carriage? None other than Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and Camilla!!! I waved and snapped a picture.

In case you're wondering, the second carriage also had some royalty, but I don't know who they were. Finally we made our way down the street where they were opening up the barricades. All of a sudden floods of well-dressed Brits exited a building, apparently having just attended the Queen's event. I got to see some pretty cool hats and men in tails. Once we approached Downing Street, we had to move aside as the gates opened and David Cameron, the PM, made his way out in his car. I don't have a picture of this because the car flew out rather quickly and he was hidden behind tinted windows. We knew it was him because the guards told us. Once we finally made it to Westminster (well across the street from it anyway), we saw Kate's mother, and I ran up and caught a quick snapshot from behind. I know, that was a stalker moment, but I had to go for it.

Finally crossing the River Thames, we got some great shots of Big Ben and Parliament, along with the London Eye, the huge Ferris Wheel.

After a quick lunch at Eat., we made our way further down the bank and watched street performers doing things I previously thought impossible with their bodies...circus-type stuff, like extreme flexibility, gymnastic stunts, etc. There was even a little air-show for the Queen's birthday celebration. Blue, white and red streamed across the sky, which actually looked like the French flag. Vive la France! Funny.

We continued down the river, taking in the cites, and eventually met up with friends Philippe and Elodie who were also in London for the weekend. Here we are in front of St. Paul's Cathedral, and then again with Vincent and Laura.

With Philippe and Elodie, we continued our walk and enjoyed the English Summer Cocktail, PIMM'S in a few different bars, and ended the evening at a Lebanese restaurant, where we were surprised with a dancer after dessert.


Exhausted after the day of touristing, we made our way back to Paddington, the area where Oliv's brother lives. We were asleep within minutes of our return.

Unfortunately Sunday was filled with rain. Of course, this did not stop us. Olivier and I made our way to Camden Town where there is a huge market...It reminded me of a huge craft show, actually, with people selling their diverse goods. We checked it out, but since it was raining and we didn't find anything that we wanted to buy, we found a pub and enjoyed the traditional fish and chips. We made our way back to central London for some more shopping and eventually went back to Paddington to relax and escape the rain at the apartment. We went to a pub for dinner with Elodie and Philippe and then wandered to another bar for PIMM'S before returning home.

Olivier and I packed up our things on Monday morning and spent the early afternoon on Oxford Street, perusing the stores. We didn't purchase anything, but we did meet up with Elodie and Philippe one more time before heading back to Paddington to get our stuff and head to the bus stop to get to the airport. Overall, we had a very enjoyable weekend in London. It was filled with exciting and unexpected happenings, great friends, and fun.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spicing Things Up

When asked what type of food I like, Mexican seems to come to mind before anything else. Unfortunately Mexican food in France can be hard to come by, especially when it comes to quality. They have a little here and there, but nothing like the restaurants that can be easily found across the US. I did once eat at a Mexican restaurant in Paris that was not too bad. Anyway, I have been wanting some fajitas. With nowhere to go to get this food, I took it into my own hands...I decided to spice things up. Olivier and I had a Mexican-themed dinner the other night. I just wish we would have thought to buy some time.

To start I threw together some guacamole and chips.

Then it was time to throw all my pre-cut veggies and chicken into the pan. Thank goodness we found an Old El Paso fajita kit with some spice mix and tortillas.

And then it was time to indulge. So good!

Now that I have successfully made fajitas, I think we may have a fajita night get-together with friends.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Better Late Than Never! Sorry!

Hello! So sorry not to have posted anything sooner! My excuse? Hmmm....well I don't really have one, but beautiful weather and laziness account for most of my non-blogging. Anyway, I'm back, and will hopefully blog a few more times before I am once again on a non-intentional blogging hiatus. I often think of what I will write in my blogs, however, getting to my computer and actually typing seems to happen much less often.

So, what's been happening on this side of the ocean? Well, the French are, of course, obsessed with this Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, aka l'affaire DSK. It's all over the news, but I try not to get too into it. Being in France, it is, however, good to at least stay moderately informed so as to not look like a total knowledge-lacking individual. Other than that, I have been taking advantage of many gorgeous days. Even on days like today that start off rainy seem to end in sun. It was raining when I left at lunch. Before I got home, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I put off blogging for about two more hours to sunbathe on my little terrace. It's not much, but it gets the job done, especially since I have recently purchased a new beach chair. I read for hours in that thing. I believe that the front and back of me are two different shades. As I am only here for a month and a half this time, finding a job is very unlikely. I keep searching here and there for a little something, but in all reality, I am not likely to find much. Therefore, I have taken to just enjoying my free time. I am enjoying cooking in the evenings, walking around, reading, spending my weekends on mini-adventures with Olivier, and meeting a few new faces.

A few weeks ago I met a girl who went to high school in Cadillac named Sierra. She is a few years younger than me, but is very nice, smart, and also living in Nice (unfortunately only until the end of June). We were introduced by another Cadillacian (not a word, I know). Here we are getting a few drinks and getting to know each other. In fact, the band playing that night happened to be called Cadillac! So random!

Last week I ventured into Monaco to go see sweet baby Charlotte. She was the baby I watched for several weeks in February and March. She is getting so big! I was worried that she had forgotten me and would cry when I saw her. Nope :) She just smiled and wanted to be held by me. I just love her!

Last weekend Olivier and I drove to another town on the coast called Menton. It comes right before Italy. It was charming. On the way there we drove up in the twisty hills along the coast and decided to stop for a photo-op.

I am really looking forward to this weekend. We are going to London! I'll definitely have some photos to share from this upcoming excursion.