Buses and St Louis


I love trains. Trains are my favorite mode of transportation. I love that you have leg room and a big window through which to watch the world go by. I love that they’re fast and that they’re anchored to the ground so you can’t get too crazy.

But mostly, I love that they aren’t buses or airplanes because buses and airplanes are social torture experiments designed to see how people interact when shoved into a small space where their knees touch the seat in front of them. They are designed to see how you will respond when someone leans their seat back to decrease your personal bubble to the bare minimum. Buses in particular, since seats are not usually assigned, test your courage to ask a stranger if “this seat [is] taken?” and to see what you will do with your elbows when there is no space for them to thrive.

You’ve probably guessed it by now, but I spent some time on a bus last night. I was on a train first, and that’s what my ticket was for, but because they’re upgrading the rails, I had to take a bus for the second half of my trip. Which would have been fine. Not all buses are created equal, however, and when driving through rural Illinois then Missouri, it would be helpful to have leg room.

I digress from my main point.

I’m having a lovely weekend away from school, which is the point of fall break. Of course, at North Park, fall break is a pittance, Here, have one Friday off. You just had 8 weeks of school, and you deserve it. No, really, take a day off. Thanks. One day. I suppose we’ll take it. North Parkers are pretty good at making the most of it.

So, I’m in St. Louis. I’m visiting Dawn and Eric, seeing and tasting all the city has to offer, and enjoying being away from Chicago.

I’ve had a day full of sightseeing, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves since words aren’t really coming much anymore.

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These are the capsules that we would have gone up in at the arch if three million other people hadn’t already bought out all the tickets for today and tomorrow. Talk about claustrophobia… especially for tall people.IMG_20141017_140307

Dawn is an incredible woman… and hostess. and entrepreneur. and humorist. and driver. and I could go on. friend. that, too.IMG_20141017_162333Yellow curry at one of three Thai restaurants on the Loop (different than the Chicago loop). And Dawn introduced me to Thai tea. So now I’m a huge fan.

All in all, we’ve made the most out of what is a very short trip!

 

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En transit


I’m sitting in the Frankfurt airport right now, using my free half hour of wifi before we start boarding. I’ve gradually been hearing more and more English as I get closer to the United States (aka, heading to Canada right now, then to MSP).

Now that I’ve left, I think I’m ready to be home. But oh. The goodbyes.

I already hate saying goodbye. I never have the words to sum up what someone means to me or what I want them to know. But there was a bit of sweetness in the goodbyes this week, like the hint of sugar in my coffee on Friday since I was using the very last of my sugar. The friendships I’ve made here, though they’ve had little time to gestate and grow, have been so deep and wonderful. I said a lot of goodbyes, but I didn’t even get to say goodbye to everyone.

I haven’t cried yet. I’ve been close just about all week though. I think the crying will come once all the travel adrenaline goes. I’m not sad to be going home, but I’m sad to leave. I’m sad for this adventure to be over. I’ll grieve whenever that wave hits.

Where I often wished for more English, I’m grasping at the last bits of German, so proud of how much more I understand today than when I sat here on February 13th. I’m wearing the same shoes I was when I left (because I left so many pairs of shoes in a trash can in Graz since they were worn out), but my feet aren’t the same. They’ve got new callouses and blisters. And the rest of me is different, too. But I can’t say how. I’m not sure how I’ve changed or really, even all that I learned. But I suppose I’ll figure that out soon.

Almost time to board. Signing off til I get to the US.

Hungry in Hungary.


Some weekends are more eventful than others. Like this weekend, when we took carpools to go to Budapest on a spur of the moment trip. My friend, Hannah, and I just had the travel bug and wanted to get out of town for a weekend. On Thursday we finalized our plans and left Friday morning. That’s part of the beauty of Europe.
We filled our two days to the fullest. Friday night we ate dinner then wandered around the city, buying souvenirs and getting some of the tastiest ice cream I’ve ever had.

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Consequently, it was also scooped into the shape of a rose.
We weren’t sure what made a Turkish bath so special, but since we didn’t have other plans and knew they were popular, we bought tickets and went on Saturday morning.

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What we had thought might be a two or three hour visit turned into a little over four. I wasn’t expecting it to be so relaxing and enjoyable.
We got to Szechnyi (the biggest bath house in all of Europe!) around 10:15 and immediately got into our ill-fitting swimsuits we’d purchased en route, just looking for something cheap that we could use. Mine is pink with sequins on it, completely not my style. However, it did the trick. And I have to say, as badly as our swimsuits fit, they still looked better than all the older gentlemen  in speedos we saw. That’s one part of the experience that I’m not as ready to repeat.
The first pool we swam in was outside. There was a cool breeze, but the sun was warm, so it made the experience of rushing through a circular pool with a strong current even more enjoyable. We immediately agreed that we didn’t have to leave as soon as we’d planned.
The thermal baths, saunas, and pools each had a different temperature, ranging from 18 C to 70 C. My favorite was around 36-38 C. I sat with my arms floating in front of me and my head back in the side of the pool with nearly every muscle in my body relaxed. We hopped from pool to pool since there were around 17, spending very little time in the cold ones and almost half an hour in some.
After we’d made a thorough inspection of each pool and sauna (or nearly every one) and eaten lunch on the outside deck by the lap pool, we sat in the sun, drying off and talking.
The rest of our day consisted of finding our next hostel and exploring the Buda city. The woman who drove our carpool from Vienna to Budapest explained that Budapest is actually two cities: Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube. We were staying in Pest aide, so we took a little trek across the Danube (no big deal, right?) to see the sights on the other side.

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Then we smelled something amazing, something that smelled suspiciously like cinnamon cake. We followed our noses (and bought some more souvenirs along the way) and found the above pictured stand. And bought cake.

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It tasted even better than it smelled.
We decided to go find a burger for dinner since we’d heard that Budapest had amazing burgers.
I know what you’re thinking. Ashley, you don’t eat burgers.
Touché, dear reader touché. Hannah wanted a burger. I wanted falafel. So we compromised by getting her a burger to go and heading to a Hummus Bar. (doesn’t that sound like a dream come true?) It was just about a perfect compromise.

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They put pickles on my falafel sandwich, which I questioned at first, but it ended up being pretty good.
Then we headed back to the bridge to take pictures of the city by night. Unfortunately, my phone camera is a poor substitute for my currently non functional point and shoot, but I got a couple good ones.

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Then we walked back to our hostel,

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bought baklava on the way, and went to bed in Hungary without feeling a bit hungry.
We ate well this weekend and feasted on laughter and time to relax in the Turkish baths. We walked our feet off (almost literally), got to know each other better, and enjoyed cultural misunderstandings. They’re around every corner, so you just have to enjoy them.
Now we’re on the last leg of our trip  about to board a train to Graz, to homework, to our “real life”. We’ll miss Budapest!

On Failed Pickup Lines


I suppose I should begin by saying that I think that pick-up lines, though funny in theory, are a rather lame and degrading way to try to get a date. I’m not writing about my experiences with this way of asking someone out to applaud them but more because each experience shows how dumb it is to use them. Also, they are rather hilarious.

When you imagine a guy trying to get a girl to have a drink with him, you typically see a Ryan Gosling-esque man in your mind, sauntering up to a lovely looking girl, who is typically in a bar or some kind of establishment where you almost expect people to hit on you. He runs his fingers through his hair then makes some sort of appropriate comment about the situation (“Hey, this joint is really hopping tonight”) then, after establishing some rapport, he whips out his best pickup line… “Did it hurt?” “Do you have a map?” “Do you have a quarter?” or something similar that leads to a cheesy compliment that might make you inclined to offer a courtesy laugh.

My experiences were nothing like that.

About a month into my time here in Graz, I headed home on foot after my Gothic fiction class. As I rounded a corner, I nearly ran into a guy coming from the opposite direction. Said guy had thin, red, curlyish hair that stuck out at odd angles. Perhaps his hair style should have been a warning sign. He said something urgent in German.

I’ve developed a policy that when someone starts to speak to me in German, I let them finish their sentence then say, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak German.” I really didn’t know what this guy could have to ask that was so important, but perhaps he was lost.

I gave him my English response.

“Oh..” He looks baffled and slightly interested. “Are you British?” Ah, so he knows English… but not well enough to recognize that I definitely don’t have a British accent.

“Nope. I’m from America.”

“Oh.” Wide eyes, more interest. (Americans are kind of a novelty among people here that actually want to know English) “You’re from New York?”

“No.” Shaking head, looking for a way to end this conversation since it’s obvious that he doesn’t need anything urgently.

“Los Angeles.”

“No.” No band-aids required. No directions to the nearest hospital or post office.

He looks amazed that Americans could be from anywhere else.

“I’m from Minnesota.”

“Oh!” More excitement, wider eyes. “Like Bob Dylan!”

“Yes, like Bob Dylan.”

“I’ve seen him 18 times!”

“Wow.” With about the amount of interest you show a toddler when they show you their 13th drawing of you… but it’s scribbles. (“That’s nice, dear…”) “You know him better than I do.”

Trying to leave.

“Do you know a good place to have a drink?”

A drink. A drink. Obviously, he doesn’t know who he’s asking. I’m a 10:00 pumpkin. I only drink wine… and even that’s rarely. I don’t even know where the bars in this town are except the pub I went to with a friend once… and left at 11:00.

“Um, like coffee?” Yes, I know how to feign naiveté. Or, perhaps, I was hoping that he didn’t feel the need to drink before 5:00pm.

“Oh, well,” He doesn’t know what to do with this. “Coffee, or something else.”

“Um, not really. The Beanery has good coffee though. It’s just down there.”

I try to make my escape now, turning away. I’ve done my duty. He knows where the nearest coffee shop is and that I obviously don’t care to tell him where to get a drink.

“Are you on Facebook?”

Apparently my face says, “STRANGER DANGER” and “I don’t know how to tell you no in a nice way” because he changes the subject.

“Are you free tonight? Will you be around? I am thinking it will be nice to get a drink with you.”

Hem. Haw. Doing that whole thing where your mouth moves while you decide which words to use to say no. I begin to say, “I don’t really know you….” He senses the rejection coming and says, “I am asking because you are very pretty.”

Dang it. I knew I should have worn my habit today.

“….. *hesitation* and nice.” Well, that was a good afterthought.

“Um, no I’m going home to… call my mom.”

I know. It was a lame excuse.

“But you won’t be around later?”

“Nope, I need to go.”

“Okay. I’m a little drunk.”

“That would explain a lot.”

And then I leave, because not only am I not inclined to go out with strangers, but I’m even less inclined to go out with anyone who’s drunk before 5.

Then there was the French guy in the park.

I was just sitting on a bench. I’d just finished eating an apple. It’s always the foreign phrases that get me talking to people. Then once I tell them I don’t speak whatever language it is they’re speaking, they keep talking in English.

Then he sits down next to me and tells me I have nice eyes after some confusion about thinking I was crying because I said I was sorry that I didn’t speak English.

“uh, thanks. I like them, too. They work. They see things. It’s nice.” Okay, yes, I was being snarky. Jesus probably wouldn’t have been snarky. But Jesus also wasn’t a 20-year-old girl traveling alone in a foreign country. Sometimes, snakiness is my best defense. I’m not friendly! You don’t want to talk to me. I also can’t think of a good way to walk away without you feeling like you’re welcome to follow meSo I’m using snakiness as a stall tactic!

“They’re like wahves.” Yes, he said it like that. “wahves” I had to turn that over and over in my mind. wahves, wahves… what does he mean? 

“Ohhh, you mean waves? Yes, they’re blue.”

But then he keeps going on about how he was over there in the park when a wahve came up close to him. What would I do if that happened? I don’t know. He was very still.

He means a wolf. He thinks I have wolf eyes.

I came up with an excuse pretty quickly after that, also because I actually did need to go. The guy couldn’t take the snarky, cold shoulder hint.

You could say I’m a little bit wiser to the ways of the world now. And I’ve got some great stories for my children someday. “So, moral of the story. Don’t go out of your house or talk to strangers, girls.”

Just kidding. You can talk. But don’t talk long. Don’t make much eye contact. Don’t tell them your last name. Be snarky if need be. And have an out. Like… “I need to call my mom.” or “I’m meeting someone. Gotta go, bye.”

Moral of the story for all you single men out there: avoid pickup lines or anything similar. Also, don’t tell me that my eyes are like a wolf. That’s not really a compliment.

Lovely and more lovely.


It almost felt casual to say I was going to Germany for the weekend. “Sorry I won’t be checking my email for a couple days. I’m just visiting a friend in Germany for the weekend.”

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(there she is, my beautiful, wise friend in her carrot apron in her kitchen, ready to make pizza dough with me)
Ellen and I marveled these past couple days about our new norm, that you can just pop over to another country for church or a picnic or a weekend reunion.
I’ll have spent about 20 hours on the train by the time I arrive in Graz this evening, but even though I’ll have travel face, I’ll be refreshed in my heart and my head and my eyes.
My eyes are wide, and my hands are open in the newness. The past few months, I’ve reveled in different and new and unusual. So this weekend, my heart and my mind and my soul reveled in familiar and known.
Ellen taught at my high school and lead a Bible study for the girls in my grade when we were seniors. Perhaps because I never had her as a teacher, she always felt more like a revered, admirable, wise friend than a superior adult. She would ask about the details and was interested in seeing our hearts.
So, naturally, when I found that I would be only a ten-hour train ride from her, it made sense to book the ticket as soon as possible.
We talked and talked (and I think we wore her voice out since she’s fighting a cold… But that didn’t lessen the conversation quality) over tea and coffee, over pizza, over crêpes and trail mix, because the best bonding is done with sustenance and with substance. Good content and good things to nibble and sip.
My normal now, as an adult, as a student, as an international traveler, is that I spend weekends hiking in the Black Forest with a young woman who has influenced me and made pie with me and talked through challenges and joys and questions with me. We then about things that we wanted to bring back to our lives in the States with us, and I think we’d both agree that we want this openness to newness and adventure to be part of it, along with a desire to be more of who God is making us to be through those experiences.
It was anything but casual to spend a weekend with my friend, Ellen. Casual experiences leave you unchanged, but I leave with joy and freshness and leftover pizza. I leave with lightness of heart and new eyes.
I’m glad that I can surround myself (if not in proximity, in influence) with people who help me see differently and invite me to think differently and remind me what’s important.
I’m leaving on a train, about to go through the Alps (but not stare at them for too long because apparently that gives you motion sickness… Who knew?) and back to my other life. And I thank God for this weekend, for a whirlwind trip to Germany, for good food, for thoughtful and hospitable friends (and their kind friends), for making connections, and for His great planning.
These kinds of weekends are no coincidence.

Some days.


Some days, I think I could live here for a while. I mean, longer than the 20 weeks that I’m here. Days when I walk home from school in the fading sunlight at 7:30 while the streets grow quiet and the sun goes down and the man with the wrought iron balcony that hangs over the sidewalk waters his flowers, and I have to be careful to not get dripped on as I walk under his flower pots.

It’s just after I’ve eaten pizza with a friend on the sidewalk after class. It’s a beautiful, nearly-summer evening where I drop by my friend’s apartment to have some tea and chat for a bit. Then I go home, tired after a day of learning (after three weeks of vacation) and socializing. I eat chocolate, watch Parenthood, FaceTime with my mom, and go to bed.

Some days, Graz could be my home. The detailed architecture could decorate my walk to work. I could waltz down Sporgasse and get tripped up on the cobblestones over and over again. I could get my hair cut at the salon on the corner (after I learn a sufficient amount of German to tell them to be careful with the curls… I’m a little bit overprotective of my hair). I could meet my friends for dinner at the gasthaus. I could be a regular at Hofer (and would bring cash so they can’t deny me my groceries).

I could be a frequent Skyper. Some days I have two or three Skype conversations and think, yeah, this could be my life.

I could do that, some days.

Then there are the days where I miss the American perspective. I’m not even sure what that means, but it’s different. It’s just homey. Not better, not worse, but mine.

There are days where I wish I didn’t stick out as the “American” in my classes. There are days when I wish it was easy to communicate all the time, not just with my friend who are fluent in English or are native speakers. There are days when my family and friends feel so far, days when I don’t talk to any of them, when they’re asleep when I’m awake and no one seems to know how far away I am. There are days when I just want to have a job, to have work. Strange that I miss that.

There are days when I miss my car, when I wish I could fill her up with petrol and cruise down the highway or give her a bath in the driveway.

There are days when I think I couldn’t go longer than the four and a half months that I’ll be here. How do ex-pats do it?

The good thing is that this is where I am now, for 20 weeks, which I can handle. And I suppose only God knows where I’ll end up in the next few years. And that’s the person to know.

Things I love about Austria


I have 65 days left in Austria. That’s two months, so I figure I need to be all here. I know I’ll look back in two months (as I have at the past 2 and a half months) and say, “WHERE DID IT GO?”

I asked God what He wanted me to do with my time left here. I mean, I’ve seen most of the sights in Graz, excepting a few museums that I’d like to get to. I’ve eaten tons of new things, even expanding my diet a bit. I’ve met lots of new people, and I’ve started my tan early. I’ve travelled, I’ve gone to class, I’ve gotten halfway through Moby Dick. Now what? What do you do with your last two months?

I’m hesitant to quote God, but I think this is what I heard him say, somewhere deep in my stomach (the way to a person’s heart….)

What do you want to do?

Good point, God.

What are those things that I pictured myself doing before I left that I haven’t done yet? What desires are in my heart to pursue before I leave this period of adventure and freedom in my life? I’m going to start doing those things. And to kick off my newfound adventuresome spirit, here is the long-awaited list of things I love about Austria.

  1. Semmel. Some of the most simply tasty breakfast rolls you can imagine.
  2. Cobblestone streets
  3. Beautiful architecture that has a story to tell
  4. CAFÉS. Oh I will miss all the cafés.
  5. Having the ability to walk anywhere, the plethora of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings
  6. It’s cheaper than many countries in Europe.
  7. Musical history everywhere!
  8. Close proximity to so many other countries
  9. Friendliness to Americans (for the most part…)
  10. the Alps… it’s enough to make me want to live in a small mountain village someday. They’re breathtaking
  11. Cheap train transport (Amtrak, get your act together!)
  12. Gelato and ice cream shops on every corner, or at least every corner where there isn’t a bakery
  13. Easy access to beautiful postcards
  14. The good quality food in stores, so many cheap organic options grown in Austria, few GMOs, less processed food
  15. How the egg yolks are orange… and one time I found a feather in my egg carton. That’s FRESH.
  16. Even though they love their wurst and schnitzel, they’re pretty vegetarian friendly. Not as much as France, but pretty good.
  17. It’s a pretty temperate climate this year, especially compared to my homeland.
  18. Kebap as the common fast food instead of McDonald’s
  19. Easy access to lots of types of food – not that Chicago doesn’t have the same thing, but Chicago doesn’t have the same charm
  20. CASTLES and PALACES. I am blown away by the number and amazing history.
  21. Photo ops. There are a million and a half equally gorgeous photo ops.
  22. You can use any ATM if you have an Austrian bank account without extra charges.
  23. Student discounts on tourist things are actually a good discount and make it possible for me to do things!
  24. No shortage of good chocolate or pastries.
  25. The coffee. Oh, Julius Meinl, I could marry you if you were an actual, living man.
  26. The little biscuits served with a cappuccino.
  27. The absence of Starbucks and other subpar chains
  28. Baking with metric measurements. I might be a convert.
  29. The produce here actually goes bad quickly, which indicates freshness and localness.
  30. Amazing dairy products.  Really.
  31. the honors system with public transportation. Seems pretty effective, and it speeds things up.
  32. Sometimes, I really love the formality of things. Sometimes not, but we’ll put it on the list anyways.
  33. The hills are alive.
  34. Dirndls. I think they’re the coolest thing ever.
  35. Street artists with harps and digderidoos.
  36. Did I mention cafés? That alone is enough to make me want to be an ex-pat. (But then, I love America)
  37. The charming accents when Austrians speak English
  38. Ivy everywhere
  39. Winter didn’t last long after I got here, which I can’t say for Minnesota
  40. The abundance of street food vendors

That’s just a short list. There are other things I love about my experience here, but I’ll cap the list at 40.

For my remaining two months here, I intend to spend lots of time walking around, visit the art museum, invest in the friendships I’ve already begun, take day trips to other parts of Austria, and drink lots and lots of coffee, all the while photographing the entire thing and buying souvenirs as I see them.

There, we have a plan.

Conversations and identity


I had a long day today. I traveled for longer than I usually do, but the end result was that I got back to Graz. Little confusion was involved, so we don’t have to rehash all the hours of connections and transportation.

I have a theory. I think that Satan likes to attack when we’re not prepared. That’s just good battle strategy, right? I rarely think about the things that happen to me as a Satanic attack, but there are some days when anxiety strikes while I’m shaving a week off of my legs. Not because I’m holding a razor but… well, now that I think about it, I’m not sure why.

The thing about counseling that is so wonderful is that counselors can offer you habits. They don’t fix you or offer you a DIY kit to fix yourself. They just give you the habits you need to cope. My counselor emphasized curiosity. “When you feel that, just take a step back and be curious about it. Ask it questions.”

So, I ask my anxiety questions.

Hey there, anxious feelings.

Hi, Ashley.

Can I just ask you where you came from? Because I just got back from a really nice trip to France.

Yeah, we heard about that.

And now I’m done with all the trains, buses, trams, and planes, so I would think you could calm down now. Are we tired or something? Is it my messy desk? Is it the laundry? Is it the to-do list? Because you know we have a lot of time for that.

Hmmm, nah. None of those.

Is it that you feel like now you don’t have any structure and will thus not do anything for the rest of the week? Because we can remedy that. We can make a schedule.

 

This is how it goes sometimes. Today, I don’t really have a legitimate (or pseudo-legitimate) reason to be anxious. I really don’t. I have the entire rest of the week plus Monday to get homework, laundry, and planning done. And if I don’t finish everything, it’s not that big of a deal. I think Satan knew that I spent a short amount of time sleeping then a long amount of time going, so he decided to just slip in some knots into my stomach and racing thoughts about absolutely nothing.

You know what? I’m not falling for it. My God has always been the best at reminding me about the important things and helping me recover when I’ve forgotten something important. He also stands by me when I show anxiety the door, saying, “Thanks for letting me help you with this.”

And my identity isn’t based in the checkmarks on my list, the neatness of my living space, or my ability to keep a handle on my life at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. I am confident in me because my identity is that I’m worthy. Jesus considered me worthy of sacrificing everything, so that’s who I am. I’m not a doer or a planner or a major success story. I’m His, and He is mine.

It’s hard to feel anxious after speaking that kind of truth over yourself and actually believing it.

A week in France.


Sometimes you’re spending a semester in Austria, and you remember that one of your favorite childhood playmates is living in France for a year. You think, wouldn’t it be nice to have somewhere to stay in France? I do want to travel… So, you send a Facebook message and look for a flight.

Then you think, Well, it has been a few years since I’ve seen her. She might not really want me to come. What if she didn’t really mean it? What if it’s weird and she doesn’t want to do stuff with me?

But she says, “come! it’d be fun! I can show you around!” so you book the flight. And you keep talking to her, and she really does mean it. She checks in on you every few weeks because she understands what it’s like to be alone abroad, sometimes just at the right time.

IMG_20140427_140949Turns out to be better than you ever expected. These are all the things you do:

– are met at the airport by an excited hostess and her French friend, who hosts you for a night in Paris

– quick tour of Paris in the morning, just hitting the highlights and taking pictures, buying a few lil souvenirs

– carpool to Rennes with interesting people

– sit in on an English private lesson with an adorable 15-year-old French girl and drink delicious tea while you’re at it

– she takes you grocery shopping and lets you pick out whatever you want (kind of like when you’re at Grandma’s house, but this is Europe, and you’re with a friend you’ve looked up to for ages)

– she gives you her bed while she sleeps on an air mattress that she pumps up with a hair dryer every night.

– you see Rennes, meet her co-workers, buy more souvenirs, tour the Parliament building, have a cheese party with the most lovely people

– she has a job to do on Friday, so she enlists a sweet friend to take you to Saint Malo, a beautiful town on the seaside. You walk and talk for hours and thoroughly enjoy every moment… and buy more souvenirs

– eat great new French food, talk about faith and studying abroad and what both of you have been doing over the past few years

– watch “Call the Midwife” together and talk about movies and literature

– be geeky together, since it’s rare that you can really be a geek with someone

– Visit the Rennes farmer’s market, buy the perfect elements of a picnic lunch: Comté, baguettes, avocados, tomatoes, special French pastries, strawberries, apples and eat it with friends

– meander around a beautiful garden that happens to have a waterfall

– get fancy hot chocolate and play cards at the cafe

– make more delicious food together

– visit the most beautiful abbey on an island, Mont Saint Michel (and you have The Beatles’ song “Michelle” stuck in your head for about half the trip), walk around, get nearly blown away by the strong bay winds, and come home feeling saltified and happy

– eat Ratatouille

– eat at least a little chocolate every day

– drink lots of coffee

It was a full week, but I never felt like we were running around, chasing down experiences. Instead, we just did what we felt like doing, which made for a lovely getaway. I’m treasuring these memories.

 

Salty and more


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There’s nothing quite like a nice little panorama of anything remotely ocean-related. That mesmerizing blue and the consistent waves just command your gaze.

I think I’ll be reading some more of Moby Dick tonight since I’m in the salty seawater mood. I don’t think there are whales off the coast of the Bretagne region of France, but the sea is the sea is the sea.

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For the past few days, I’ve been enjoying Rennes with one of my childhood playmates and nearly lifelong friends. We played with beanie babies together as children, had sleepovers for birthdays, played until our parents dragged us home. Now she’s a professor here, and I’m a college student studying abroad.

The adventures are much more real now, even though our beanie baby stories had a touch of reality to them. Even though our beanie babies had names and personalities (and actually still do… can’t look at them without some feeling of recognition), in the past few days we’ve visited sites significant to the French revolution, French history, and her life for the past 8 months. It feels more real. Probably because this is now.

To remember Elizabeth as a nine-year-old when I first met her and to think that I’m her guest in her studio flat in France where she’s been living, and to think that I came from Austria, where I’ve been living, feels so foreign. That nine-year-old and that four-year-old feel like other people, different lives, but they’re part of us.

We’re still us. We’re still the same but totally different. This whole aging process is quite the enigma. I’m 20 now. Five times more myself than I was when I was four. Or, perhaps, I’ve made five times the mistakes and have had five times the amount of life.

Can you be five times more yourself than you were before? Was I less me as a fairy-loving, whimsical, platinum blonde four-year-old? I suppose the idea of “me” is always evolving. That perhaps I was fully who I was at four, but there was more to explore. Perhaps we simply color in the parts of our personality that we’re willing to discover, like a 3D version of a paint-by-number drawing.

No matter where I land on that thought, I like France even more than I thought I would. French food was NOT overhyped, and even as a vegetarian, I’ve had so many exciting new things while here. Looking forward to three more days of the loveliness.