January 2014

Well i can finally say I have seen the Eiffel Tower. Paris is such an iconic city and holds such history and character that I was beyond excited for this past weekend to arrive so I could finally walk those famous streets. Rhea and I jetted out of Lille on Friday evening and by jetted I mean we took the bus because we’re poor students and that’s a way cheaper option than the quicker trains. We arrived around 7 and met 3 of our Canadian friends from Lille at our hostel. If anyone’s ever going to Paris I would recommend Oops hostel- it was a great find, located in the Latin Quarter it was in a fun location and the hostel itself was really nice. We wasted no time once we got there and off we all went walking in search for lil miss Eiffel. We had walked about half an hour when my love of pizza took over and we stopped for a great meal, but after that we were back on the streets feeling the excitement. The closer and closer we got the faster and harder my heart started to beat. When we finally saw the top of it and realized how close we were I let out a little scream and all of the girls laughed at me. Cest la vie. We got to the tower at about ten to eleven which was perfect because we had about ten minutes to take it all in and obviously take multiple pictures (#instasfordays) before the light show that happens on the hour. At exactly 11 the tower began twinkling and we suddenly all fell silent- it truly was magical and I couldn’t help but shed a tear. I’m a sucker for sparkly, shiny things and so that magnified on a tower was perfect for me. From there we decided to continue the theme of magic and all took a ride on the carousel which is directly beside the tower. So I mean that was my pretty casual Friday night.
On Saturday we hit the streets around 10 ready to explore. We made our way to the famous Notre Dame cathedral which was honestly breath taking. I think my mouth was open the whole time I walked through it. It has some of the most exquisite architecture I have ever seen and everything is so detailed and personal that it is breath-taking. It blows my mind that the whole structure was constructed before the days of cranes and power tools. The Notre Dame was my favourite piece of art I think I’ve ever seen. After walking through the church we found one of those Hop on -Hop off bus tours and so we got our tickets and we hopped on. I love these tours because you not only get to see a whole city, but you also get to learn interesting facts and background knowledge on it that you probably wouldn’t get otherwise. On the bus we saw the Champs de Mars, Musee d’Orsay, the opera, Champs Élysées, Grand Palais, and the Trocadero. In the middle of the day we got off at the Opera and our lady senses were telling us it was time to shop. Right across from the opera is Paris’ famous department store Galleries Lafayette. I’m pretty sure this department store was the nicest shopping building I’ve ever been in- my deepest regards to Harrods and Macy’s. This place was ornate and luxurious in every sense of the word. 7 floors in total with all of the best designers and brands. And the building itself could be a palace- imagine Castle Loma (but way nicer) as a department store- it was amazing. I was seriously missing my shopping partners Jo and Sarah in there. After a few hours of shopping we hopped back onto the bus and finished the tour. After the tour a few of us headed to a pub we had passed earlier which had caught our eye- The Great Canadian Pub. We walked in and felt like we were home- hockey jerseys covered the walls, maple leafs were everywhere and they served poutine! It was the best place to unwind. I was a very happy camper with my pulled pork sandwich and a Stella. It was also nice to get inside because Paris decided that it really wanted to make us Canadian girls feel at home and give us a bit of Canadian weather. We were a bunch of shivering chicks all weekend. After a delicious dinner we headed back to the hostel to drop off our stuff. We had dinner but now we needed dessert and in Paris that only means one thing- crepes. Being the dedicated foodies we are we walked 35 minutes in the rain until we found the perfect spot. I loved that walk because despite the rain we were all smiles- we were in Paris and life was more than good. Our creperie of choice was a hole in the wall that smelled amazing. I was pretty proud of myself because I was able to order my whole dessert in French- little things eh? I don’t think any of us were prepared to eat a whole crepe after the dinner we had but not shockingly we all managed to clean our plates. It’s a good thing we walked so much this weekend because we also ate like queens- I also wouldn’t have it any other way- I mean it is Paris.
On Sunday we got up and headed to the louvre. That building is amazing. It took me a minute to take in how big it actually was. Walking into the courtyards and seeing the famous pyramids was a pretty surreal experience. After we all got our obligatory pictures with the pyramids we headed down into the museum. Once we got in however we realized that unlike we thought Sundays were not free for everyone. Only the first Sunday of the month is. We decided it wouldn’t be worth paying for tickets when we would only have maybe two hours to explore. We all knew we would be back in Paris soon and would rather spend a full day in the louvre. So back onto the streets we went. We walked across the love lock bridge and all made jokes about our singleness. We did see a few really obnoxious locks that made us laugh, and some really sweet ones which made us smile. From there we did one of my favourite things and just wandered through the side streets of the city. I saw so much life on those little cobblestone streets. We stopped after a few hours of walking for lunch at a bakery and enjoyed some baguettes followed by some more crepes. We then headed off to the bus station to catch our bus home to Lille.
Paris has definitely gotten my attention. I am so excited to go back and shop, aimlessly wander, go to the louvre, eat, and just discover. Paris also took people watching to a whole other level. The people of Paris have got it going on. I don’t think an hour passed without me pointing at someone and exclaiming how fabulous their look was. I think I’m going to spend a day in Paris (when it’s warmer) sitting in a park somewhere just watching. That sounds like an ideal day.
Some random tidbits ill include about my past week- on Wednesday rhea and I went to a party that her school organized. And this wasn’t just any party- to begin with this party was in Belgium. Casual right? Belgium is a lot looser with rules and so this party is set up basically right past the border in order to take advantage of that. We got there on the bus around 12:30 and walked into the scariest bar I’ve ever been too. Crowded way past capacity, people were literally shoving there way through the bar. You can also smoke inside the bars and so it was also crazy hazy and it reeked. On top of that apparently garbages didn’t exist in this bar and so beers were being tossed everywhere. This all made for one messy night…literally.
Another one of my classes start this week so I will have a bit busier of days. This Saturday were headed to Bruges which I’m super excited for.

Lots of love to everyone.

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Well Happy Sunday friends!

I have now been in Lille for about two weeks. It is starting to feel like home more and more everyday, and as I explore more and meet new people I am starting to see myself really fitting in here. I only start school tomorrow so I have had the past week and a half to myself to settle in, explore, and get my French life together. Rhea has already started school so she has been quite busy everyday which meant I have been enjoying my sleep ins (what else is new right?). The past week Rhea and I have ventured out and explored Lille and all of its wonders.
On Monday we put on our runners (we looked like straight up Moms) and walked to the big park on the Western side of the city which is about a 30 minute walk from our apartment. It was a beautiful sunny evening and I felt like we could walk forever. People watching is one of my favourite past times and doing it in France is on a whole other level. (Main takeaway-people pretty much only wear black here, and if not black then dark colours. I already stand out having blonde hair but wearing my pink rain jacket this week really made me look like a foreigner). In the midst of the big park we walked to is Lille’s Citadel. The Citadel was designed by Vauban and built in 1670 under the orders of Louis XIV. It was dubbed the “Queen of Citadel’s” due to its sheer size and capabilities. The Citadel is really a city within a city surrounded by bastions which form a five-pointed star. As the army is still active within the Citadel we couldn’t actually go in, but we walked all around the park which was just as great. It reminded me a lot of Central Park, lots of runners, dog walkers, people enjoying the outdoors, a zoo (which is closed till February), and a Carnival area which opens in the Spring. I can’t wait to go back when its a bit warmer out and everything is open, but Rhea and I will for sure be walking there at least once a week.
On Tuesday we ventured out to the movies. I had REALLY wanted to see the Wolf of Wall Street but hadn’t gotten the chance to while home so we decided to go Tuesday. After an intense aerobics session we held in our apartment, we sped walk to the movies but when we got there realized it was student night and thus it was a zoo. We finally got to the front but the earlier show was sold out so we got tickets for a show an hour later and went off to get some food. You all wouldn’t guess where we ended up…good ol’ McDonalds haha. In our defence we didn’t have time to sit in a restaurant and it was the closest place we found. The movie was really great and its awesome to know that movies will be shown in English from time to time (with French subtitles). Lots of other walks through our neighbourhood and errands for school filled up our next few days.
On Friday we decided to go shopping once Rhea was done class and so we headed to the mall around 4pm. I don’t think either of us were 100% in the shopping mode so we didn’t do too much damage, we did buy matching shirts at H&M and I am starting to see a pattern of us dressing like twins on this trip. After a few hours of wandering through the mall we hit the mall’s Sports Bar for dinner. We both had pizza’s which were AMAZING but super big and so we were surprised and delighted to find that they had pizza boxes for us to take them home in. Saturday night we finally ventured to the bars for a proper night out. We met about 25 people from my exchange program at a bar which looks very similar to pubs at home. We have learned that the French do not “club,” they like to sit and chat and drink beer- all things which are fine by me! It was great to meet all of the exchange students- most of the girls are from Canada which is funny and a lot of the boys are from Italy! It seems like a really good group of people and I’m sure we will have a really fun semester. It was so great spending the night with people from all over the globe learning about where they are from, what their story is, and why they are in Lille.
Today was spent lounging until we met up with everyone at The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille which is an art museum here in Lille. The Museum is one of the oldest museums in France and also the second largest after the Louvre. Now I LOVE museums but I favour the history ones, Art has never really been my thing. I did enjoy all of the beautiful architecture though. After a few hours of wandering through the museum, Rhea, myself and two girls we met from Calgary headed out to grab a bite to eat. There are lots of Shawarma places here and so tonight we decided to try one and we were all very impressed. I spent the rest of the evening putting all of my courses into my day planner for the next few months. Since my classes are not regular events and sorta all over the place I think its going to be really confusing for me to remember what I have and when. Were planning a trip to Paris this weekend and have booked a bus to Bruges the following Saturday for a festival! Can you tell that I am loving the travel life?! Still struggling with the language barrier. Your brain really has to work hard when you are forced to string together broken sentences to communicate even the simplest of things. Its definitely a challenge, but thats what makes things fun. It’s also given me SUCH a deeper appreciation for those back at home whose first language is not English. It is not an easy feat living in a place where you can’t understand the majority language. Can’t wait to start school tomorrow (who am I) and see what class is like here in France.
Lots of love to you all!

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So I live in Lille now. And as I sit in my living room on this Sunday night uploading pictures, and streaming TV online I can honestly say it is starting to feel like home more and more everyday. Ray and I arrived in Lille on Wednesday morning after a brief night at a hotel near the Paris airport (thanks to mama Jo’s PriceLine abilities). That morning we found our way to our train (which took a few guesses) and we were on our way to Lille! We arrived at the Lille train station around 10am ready to meet our landlord, the only problem was that we had no phones, no access to internet, and no clue where we were. We managed to get ourselves and our heavy bags to a cafe nearby where we were able to score a few moments of wifi. Our landlord arranged to meet us at noon and so we settled in and had our first lunch in Lille. Our landlord is lovely and after bringing us to our apartment it started to finally sink in that we were moving here. My thoughts on on our apartment; it is awesome. We are super lucky that our apartment is quite spacious, has a fully stocked modern kitchen, great wifi, and is in a pretty convienent location. Ray can walk to school in 25 minutes and by bus it is even shorter. And after my 10 minute walk to the metro I am only 4 stops away from my school.
We have both had different orientations this week. I have chosen my courses which is a relief but also a bit overwhelming since course schedules work differently here and so one course I have for 9 hours one day, and 9 hours the next, and then it is done. Very different from the regimented weekly schedules I am used to from home. We have explored the town a little bit over the past few days, making trips to Ikea, various supermarkets, the mall (a mistake on Saturday), and the Grand Place (central Lille). Overall I love Lille thus far. The weather is fairly mild, colder than Paris for sure, but definitley warmer than Canada!  The sights are beautiful and I don’t think I will ever get sick of the amazing European style architecture that can be found on every street corner. The greatest curveball Lille has thrown our way has been the language barrier. I have never been anywhere in the world where English is spoken less. Even in the mall at one of the biggest phone shops not a single employee could speak a word of English. While this has been a little bit frustrating at times it has forced us to rely on our minimal French. It is amazing how quickly it all comes back to you. I have a French intensive course all next week and so I am hoping that will improve my accent even more. A professor at my school said my May we will all be dreaming in French- heres hoping!

Miss and love you all!!

Bonne Nuit! 

 

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Well it starts today folks; my next BIG adventure. I had the time of my life in East Africa, and then spent an amazing summer in the Muskoka’s. Now after a semester in my beloved Nova Scotia I am off for five months to study in France!! I know, I know, for those of you that know me you know that French isn’t my strong suit, but just you wait I am planning on coming back fluent! 
Tonight I am getting on a plane with my roommate Rhea and we are travelling to Paris where we will catch a train to the Northern town of Lille. Ray and I have an apartment there that we are both VERY curious to see. I do not start my orientation until Friday so I have a few days to meander around town and get things sorted before I head off to school!
Although I have been to Europe before this is probably my scariest adventure to date. This is not a short term trip where I will be moving from place to place, one adventure to the next. I will be LIVING in a foreign country for half a year. If I am honest, that scares me. I am grateful everyday for Skype and iPhones because they remind me that even if I am half a world away I can still call home at anytime…which I will do. 
I am going to try and video blog more on this trip, so I can better communicate with you all of the amazing sights I plan on seeing!

As always thanks so much Mom and Dad for making this and everything possible. 

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