I need to start off by saying that I know the life I am currently living is ridiculous. I am almost done my exchange here in Europe and so I have been doing a lot of reflecting and am constantly in a state of “I don’t want this to end/ I’m the luckiest girl alive.”
Last week I was lucky enough to visit one of the places that was on my list of ‘must see’s’ while in Europe: Northern Ireland. Working at camp for the past few summers has provided me with a few friends from the land of the Irish. This past summer I got to live with a wonderful gal by the name of Jess who is from Northern Ireland and so I knew while on my exchange I had to make it over to see her.
I flew out on Saturday afternoon from Paris and arrived in Dublin where I was immediately welcomed by the smooth and lovely southern Irish accent. Pretty sure I blushed the entire time I spoke to the border guard. From Dublin I caught a bus to Belfast where Jess met me. So nice visiting people in their home towns and having them show me around. Jess and I drove up towards to the north coast which is where she lives and stopped at a local pub called “bushmills inn” where we met a few of her friends, her brother Niall, and listened to traditional Irish music.
The next morning we got up and headed off to church which I was also super excited for. Jess goes to causeway coast vineyard which is filled with young people and has a really joyful and friendly community. After church we headed out to lunch with her parents and then headed back to Jess’ apartment to relax. That evening I tagged along to Jess and Niall’s cousins engagement party. I have never been surrounded by SO many Irish people in my life- quite the experience and quite overwhelming. But what a great night- a nice break from my backpacking life in hostels.
Jess is a primary school teacher and worked on the Monday and so I took the train bright and early to Derry to visit another one of my Irish friends Sinead. Two summers ago when I volunteered at camp for a week I met Sinead and we clicked instantly; she’s wild and smart and hilarious all at once. She’s also training to become a doctor which is so great for so many reasons. We spent the day walking through Derry and enjoying the sunny weather. We headed south just over the border to the beach near Donegal for the afternoon which was great, being so close to the ocean makes me so happy. I took a train back to Portstewart and Jess that night feeling so happy that I got such a good day with a good friend.
The rest of the week Jess, Niall and I spent wandering through the beautiful north coast which I would like to rename ‘Adventure Isle.’ So many hills and cliffs and trails and all of it is along the ocean. So so beautiful and such a great way to spend a week. We trekked over to Mussedeen Temple one day which had some of the most stunning views I have ever seen; fun fact a lot of ‘Game of Thrones’ shots are filmed near there. Another day Jess and I headed over to the famous ‘Giants Causeway’ which was even more beautiful than I imagined. All of the natural rock formations really looked as if they were man made and hand carved and it constantly blew me away that they weren’t. Walking through the Causeway and the beaches surrounding it I really felt as if I was in the movie ‘PS I Love You’ ya know minus the whole Gerad Butler serenading me thing. Everywhere you look in Ireland is green and full of life and even better is being on the North Coast and having an ocean view as well.
Another special highlight of the week was getting to head down to Belfast on the Wednesday night with my good friend Phil. We have worked at camp together for a few summers and he moved to Canada this past fall! He was home visiting and so we were able to put in some time together. He and I are going to be co-section heads this summer which worked great because we got to go to an international meet and greet for camp on Wednesday night and meet some of our staff! Seeing everyone got me super excited for this summer. I’m also super conscious of how great it is to be so in love with my life at the moment but also so excited for what’s coming up in the future. It’s a good limbo to be in.
Friday morning Jess and I rushed down to Belfast so I could get an hour in exploring the city before my bus. She drove me through the Peace Wall sections of the town which were very surreal to see. The stated purpose of the peace lines is to minimise inter-communal violence between Catholics (most of whom are nationalists who self-identify as Irish) and Protestants (most of whom are unionists who self-identify as British). Being a politics student I’m fascinated by the Troubles in Northern Ireland and this part of Belfast is a very real reminder of them and the continuing battle there is between some Catholic and Protestant communities. All over the country I would notice that in some areas streets were painted with the Union Jack and had those flags flying which meant we were in a very Unionist area and in other areas the tricolour flag would be flying which would mean we were in a very Nationalist area. All of it seemed kind of surreal to me to be honest. It didn’t feel like this would be a reality for a developed, prosperous European country. And yet the divide (while a lot less serious than during the troubles) still remains.
After this quick little tour we made our way to the bus stop for an almost tearful ‘see ya later,’ where I was I was surprised by another Irish friend Paddy who had come to say goodbye. People are too good to me.
It was such a fulfilling week for me. Travelling so much and living away from home has led me to live quite an independent life, which I love, but can get quite tiring at times. Because of this when someone takes the time to take care of me it is such a huge blessing. Jess was such an amazing host and it was such a treat to have someone take care of me like that for a week.
What more can I say- Northern Ireland is a place that truly takes your breath away. I got to spend a week hiking cliffs, walking through coastal towns and having nightly walks on the beach- seriously what more could you ask more… Other than Gerad Butler serenading me.

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Continuing my crazy galavanting across Europe I had the extreme privilege to travel to the Cotswolds of the UK. “This is the area West of London containing the Cotswolds Hills, a range of rolling hills which rise from the meadows of the upper Thames to an escarpment, known as the Cotswold Edge, above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. The area is defined by the bedrock of Jurassic limestone which creates a type of grassland habitat rare in the UK, and which is quarried for the golden coloured Cotswold Stone.” (According to wikipedia) All I knew was that one of my best friends from Muskoka, whom I literally lived on top of this summer, was going to be visiting her parents who lived in the area and she graciously invited me to come visit. Steph’s parents live in Cheltenham (they work for the Canadian government and have been stationed in the UK for three years) which you will see on the map is West of London and Steph had planned on visiting them for two weeks. 

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I took the overnight bus from Lille to London on Thursday night which is always an adventure. In classic emzups style I was late for my bus and so I ended up sprinting from the metro to the bus which is always fun. The bus journey spans from 12:30 am- 5:30 am and going into the UK you have to get off the bus to go through border crossing before the bus is put into a shipping container on a train to go across the Chunnel (not recommended for the claustrophobic). I got the short end of the stick and got an aisle seat and so not much sleep happened for me. Add in another bus ride to Cheltenham and it was a long night of travel for this guy. None of that mattered as when I saw Steph at the bus station there was nothing but excitement and adrenaline. Steph and I’s relationship is something I can imagine would be quite funny from the outside. We are both blonde, loud, obnoxious, and silly and all that amplifies when we are together. We are siamese twins and even though we hand’t seen each other since the summer as soon as I stepped off the bus our giggles and chat began. Cheltenham is a small town and easily walkable and so it was only a short wok to her parents flat (which was STUNNING). Her Dad was an immediate host offering me anything I needed. After living away from home for so long and traveling, being in the care of adults is always SO nice.

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(Steph’s Parents Flat- they were on the second floor)

Thanks to camp Steph and I have a few international friends, one of them being Em from England. Em is from the North but goes to uni in Bristol which you’ll see isn’t too far from Cheltenham. Steph’s dad offered to drive us there as he was making a trip to the Costco which is also there. (Being in Costco reminded me SO much of home- free samples ftg). Arriving at Em’s flat the giggles only intensified. After a short walk around town Steph being the caretaker she is made me take an hour power nap so I would’t pass out on them later. I woke up to dinner already made (not complaining) and the three of us enjoyed lots of chat and ciders. Seeing as it was Friday we got all dolled up and enjoyed some more drinks and games with Em’s roommates before heading out into town. Around 3:00am is when the exhaustion hit me and so I had to be the party pooper and we all headed home (we stopped for kebabs first obviously). A true mark of Steph and I’s friendship was demonstrated that night when she told me that a way to cure the spins while lying down in bed was to keep one foot on the floor. Well she came back from brushing her teeth and I was fast asleep with both legs swung over the side of the bed, feet planted on the floor. Bind trust in Stephs knowledge.

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After a glorious sleep-in the three of us enjoyed breakfast outside as the weather was nice and warm. I had my first crumpets (amazing) per em’s request and I plan on never eating anything else again. We headed out on the town for some wandering and shopping. Bristol is STUNNING. Very much a student town it is filled with all sorts of hip shops, cafes, and pubs. It is also on the water and very hilly so its a gorgeous place to walk through. It actually reminded me A LOT of Halifax. We spotted a TGI Fridays in the mall and bee-lined straight there. We had to laugh as the night before I had explained to Steph that the thing I miss most about Canada (after the Zupnik’s and Keith’s) was chain restaurants like Applebee’s or TGI Fridays. I have been getting sick of French cafe’s and craving a real American chain restaurants where I can get BIG appetizers, and BIG drinks, for SMALL prices. So you can imagine the smile of my face when I saw TGI Friday’s. After our day of shopping we headed back to Em’s flat where our friend Paddy who lives near Birmingham was waiting. Paddy came down for the evening to take the three of us to dinner which was SO lovely. We went to the most amazing pizza place (I can’t stop its an addiction) and then Paddy drove Steph and I back to Cheltenham (seriously one of the nicest people I know).

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My first full day in Cheltenham Steph and I took to the streets and explored the shops. (I don’t know if you are noticing my shopping habits increasing, I am slowly becoming my mother). Later that night we met her parents at the local wine bar which is a super cute pub that has huge bay windows that overlooks the town for some ciders.

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On the Monday we had quite the surprise when Em took a train to spend the day with us in Cheltenham. Steph’s dad drove us through the country side (SO SO beautiful) and we spent some time in a tiny little town called Bourton-on the- water. We got back to Cheltenham and went for a long dinner and drinks. We actually ended up at the Slug and the Lettuce which is the same chain pub that my sister worked at when she lived in the UK. It was half priced food, and two for one drinks so we ate until we physically could not anymore.

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My final day was spent with Steph doing a little more shopping and enjoying patio beers and burgers in the sun. Tuesday night I caught the bus back to London where I caught another overnight bus back to Lille. This time I thankfully did get some sleep. Going back into France border control could not care less. I didn’t have to get off the bus once, and no one asked to see my passport. ALL ARE WELCOME IN FRANCE YA’LL!

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My extended weekend I spent in England was one of my favourites I have had in Europe thus far. Not only was the scenery and towns absolutely beautiful but spending time with camp friends is always so fulfilling. Spending a summer up North at camp with people creates a friendship so different and so deep, and it is for sure a huge reason why I continue to go back summer after summer. I think I even loved the country-side of England even more than London. You get the UK vibe without the craziness and chaos of London life. Speaking English for five days was also a huge treat. I noticed how much I miss being able to chat to whoever I want. I don’t get the luxury of talking to store clerks or waiters in France- my French only allows the basics haha.

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I will keep enjoying the beautiful spring weather here in Europe for all of you stuck in cold Canada. I hope all of your hearts are as happy as mine!

 

xoxo

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You know those kind of friends that you can hang out with after years apart and chat like nothing has changed? You know the ones; you see each other and suddenly time is just an illusion, you go back to the age you were when you met and its as if the laughs never stopped. One of these very special friends I have is a gal named Rachel. Rachel and I did a leadership program at summer camp together in 2009 and became instant besties. Recently we tried to pinpoint the exact moment we became friends over that month together but we could both only come to the conclusion that it was instant. She was quiet where I was loud, patient where I was impulsive, and easy-going where I was demanding. But together we became a pair of silly, wild, and courageous girls trying to figure out our adolescence. Unfortunately distance and time has separated us and so I was MORE than overjoyed when Rachel, who is studying in Switzerland, announced she was planning to visit Lille to visit me. 

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In a not so classic Emzups fashion I arrived at the train station fifteen minutes early eagerly anticipating the arrival of Rachel. In classic Emzups fashion I was at the wrong train station and so I found her half an hour later in a bar waiting for me. By the time we got back to my apartment it was around 12:30 and we were both exhausted but we couldn’t stop from chatting and so it was 2:30am before we headed to bed. Our first day together we ventured out to explore the Wazemmes Market. This is a Lille staple and I had yet to visit and so we were both looking forward to going. The sun was shining and we were excited to wander and see another part of town. The Wazemmes Market is located in a very ethnically diverse area and the market products very much reflects that. There were lots of Middle Eastern kebab stands, Turkish sweet stores, and North African spice and clothes shops. The market was filled with locals many of whom are most likely immigrants from the places previously mentioned and so Rache and I definitely stood out (thats something that has been happening a lot which will be another blog I will have to write). After wandering for a bit and getting some baguettes (were in France so duh) we found the flower stand and got some beautiful Spring florals to bring back to my apartment.

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After a brief stop at home we headed off to one of my favourite places in Lille; the Citadel. I have mentioned the Citadel and its history before so I won’t bore you again, but in the warmer months it is something to be seen. The carnival side is swarming with families with kids enjoying the rides, snacks, and each other’s company. Then theres the zoo (which I HATE on principle- animals are not meant to be in cages) but it is an open free zoo so I am not financially supporting it by walking through it. Because Rachel and I spent the majority of our time trying to find a bathroom (we ended up using the bushes because were classy ladies), and then the rest of the time avoiding the flash hail storm and protecting our beloved fries, we ended up being too late to walk into the zoo. No worries we would adventure and see it on our own. Rachel inspires a serious sense of adventure in me and so we climbed up the large hills of the park which were quite muddy and saw parts of the zoo from overhead. Quite frankly I am glad it worked out this way because struggling up and down those hills was one of my highlights of the weekend. After our strenuous efforts we headed to a pub to again avoid more of the flash hail (Lille wtf is this weather). Hands down there is nothing better than catching up with an old friend over a pint…or two. 

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Monday rolled around and I deduced to show Rachel centre ville and all of its splendour. We found our way to a cafe for lunch (because who doesn’t like going out to eat), and then headed off shopping. One of the side effects living abroad has had on me is a newfound love of shopping and fashion. Europe’s made me not want to live in sweats and birks….WHO HAVE I BECOME?! I have learned to love 9 euro overnight busses because that cheap bus means I can shop! So naturally I took Rachel down my favourite shopping street where we found some deals. After exhausting ourselves trying on clothes we decided to continue our relaxing day and went to the movies. Side note: We saw Non-Stop and my review is as follow: super intense, not ideal for someone like me who flies often, and I have learned I am awful at guessing who the bad guy is. We spent the rest of our final night chatting into the wee hours of the night because thats what old friends do right?

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Seeing Rachel off the next morning was a sad sight. I am SO thankful that I got some time with her here in Lille, it was a short trip but such a nice one. It’s a cool thing having bad-ass females in your life and it was awesome seeing one of my favourite B.A chick. 

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The theme of exchange is travel as much as you can and so after only five days home from being on my Spring break Sam and I (Blondes do Paris) left for a weekend in Paris. We left Friday afternoon and arrived around 4- perfect time for some dinner outside. The first time I was in Paris the weather was absolutely dreadful and I spent the weekend FREEZING, so I was overjoyed that this time it was sunny and warm. After grabbing some dinner (we got Subway because we are travelling students) we found a spot not he Eiffel Tower lawns and enjoyed the view. Paris honestly kills it for the people watching. Sam and I sat under the fading sun for about two hours watching Parisian life. Although we were right on Champs de Mars and so it was really more like tourist life we were watching. Sam and I spent the rest of the night in a cafe enjoying our ridiculous life.
The next morning we ventured over to Montmare which is the artists corner side of Paris. We had planned on a walking tour but were also not the best with time so we missed that one. So onto Plan B. We did our own tour and explored the area famous for the Moulin Rouge ( disappointing in person ) and the beautiful Sacre Coeur. We spent a few hours wandering around it under the prettiest blue sky.
That night I was lucky enough to go see the six nations final between France and Ireland at the Stade de France. I love sports (live sports are even better), I love rugby, and I love beer. So I was a pretty happy camper. Surrounded by Irish die hard fans it wasn’t hard to get into the spirit. It was such a panic inducing game, so close- too close- for too long. Literally in the last minute France scored a winning try and you could honestly hear hearts breaking all around me. Thankfully the try was a forward pass and called back and Ireland was able to hold onto the win. Vive le vert! 🍀 My Irish friend Paddy who took me to the game looked like a kid on Christmas morning. What a night to experience.
The next morning the three of us ventured over to Versailles. There was WAY too many people there for my liking, but the palace was beautiful and so grand. I can’t even imagine how that was someone’s reality. The gardens were my favourite part, I would love to see them in the summer in their full glory.
It’s been such a cool experience living in Lille and having the opportunity to venture to places on a whim. Paris has such weight attached to its name and it’s been a treat breaking through that and getting to explore that.
The next time ill be there will be with my parents and sister which makes me so so excited!!!!

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The last stop of the #blondesonbreak tour was Budapest, Hungary. On Thursday (March 6th) Sam and I hopped aboard a mini bus that held about ten people and headed East. After about three hours we had a quick pit stop at another bus station to stretch our legs. Turns out this bus stop was in Slovakia, so I can cross that one off my list! We arrived in Budapest pretty late so after navigating our way to our hostel we hit the hay. We opted to stay in a private room in Budapest for a bit of luxury and we are SO glad we did because that meant we got to see what apartment life is like in the city. Our hostels private rooms are located in an apartment building which is very reflective of the communist architecture of the city. These apartment buildings are oval shaped with a kind of open centre. The open style apartment buildings that are very reflective of communism architechture The building in which our private rooms from our hostel were located

Our first full day in Budapest was spent walking the city- we literally walked from 10:00-7:00. My feet were hating me after that day but I learned a lot so it was worth it. In the morning we did just a general walking tour so we could get our bearings on the city and on it we ended up meeting six girls who are all also studying in France on exchange and who all go to Queens! I instantly knew they were Canadian by all of their Aritzia jackets haha. It was a stunning day and so walking all over the city was a treat and we found some places with gorgeous views that the blue sky made even better!view of the Pest side Hanging out at the top of the Fisherman's Bastion

After an amazing Italian lunch with our new friends Sam and I headed off on our SECOND walking tour of the day this one was specifically focused on the country’s communism history. Even though I study politics I know VERY little about communism and even less about its story in Hungary so this tour was super interesting for me. What really excites me is learning and so I was like a kid in a candy shop during this tour. We focused on Hungary’s communist history in three parts: early communism, happy communism, and post-communism. The early communism was very much based on Stalinism which in itself should tell you that this was a hard time. Work was made mandatory and the hours were long, there were informers and secret police crawling throughout the city, and the only way to survive was to keep your mouth shut. Thousands were arrested, imprisoned, and killed in Budapest’s infamous Andrássy út 60 which we visited later in the week. An estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. Some 44,000 ended up in forced-labor camps, where many died due to horrible work conditions, poor food and practically no medical care. Another 15,000 people, mostly former aristocrats, industrialists, military generals and other upper-class people were deported from the capital and other cities to countryside villages where they were forced to do hard agricultural labor.  After this awful period the country moved into an era named “happy communism.” The political leaders realized that the happier citizens are the less likely they are to rise up and so the government spent lots of money trying to keep the people happy, and most importantly quiet. Vacations, flats, and cars were all paid for as long as you were a good communist. This era ended when the money ran out and that is when communism fell in Eastern Europe in ’89. The city was in 90% debt at this point and is still in such debt that it is unable to join the EU’s Eurozone and possess the euro. Communism has left a HUGE mark on Budapest and the cities buildings still bear the consequences of it. I would say around 70% of the cities buildings are in need of serious renovations and many of them look abandoned. People could simply not afford to buy any of these properties and so many of them have been left as is. We even saw a few buildings that still have bullet holes decorating its walls.

That night we headed out with our new friends to one of Buddapest’s finest gems; the ruins bars. Because so many buildings were left abandoned and gone decrepit within the city there was lots of empty space within these massive old apartment buildings. So in the late ’90’s an entrepreneur had the idea to turn these abandoned buildings into bars. They are literally built within the ruins of the buildings hence the name “ruin bars”. These bars are some of the coolest places I have been filled with lots of different rooms and knick knacks, we saw tree’s, disco balls, flying rabbits, and movie screens, and that was only in the first bar. These bars had such a cool vibe and I would LOVE if some were to pop in Toronto but I have a feeling it wouldn’t work quite the same as they do in Buddapest.

The ruins bars Ruins bars

The next day we enjoyed a morning of walking around and made a visit to the Terror Museum located on the infamous Andrássy út 60. This museum is dedicated to the terrors Budapest experienced throughout the 20th century and was super fascinating- unfortunately a lot of it was in Hungarian which made things a little bit difficult. The second half of our day was spent in the absolute best way possible- AT THE SPA. One of the reasons the Romans first colonized the area immediately to the west of the River Danube is so that they could utilize and enjoy the thermal springs. Today that translates into lots of thermal spas all over the city. Sam and I headed to the biggest one Szechenyi Furdo where we met up with the girls we had met the day before. The baths were unlike anything I had ever seen before- I felt like a Queen.  There are three large outdoor pools (which are pretty hot) and inside there are 18 pools and baths and different steam rooms and saunas. We all started at one outdoor pool and then made our way through the ones inside. Some of the baths have medicinal treatments and my favourite one was mint scented which was amazing. We finished in the last outdoor pool around 6pm and when we got outside it had started drizzling making the pool look even more steamy and mystical. Sitting in the hot water having the cool raindrops hit me was such a cool experience. It was one of those “is this really my life” kind of moments. Pictures do not do it justice but thankfully my camera is waterproof so I took a few videos that I will upload soon! That night we went to an amazing buffet dinner with the girls- spending a whole day in the baths wrecks ya!

The Baths Budapest Baths with our new friends! The baths at night DSC00515

The next day was a very special one- MY 21ST BIRTHDAY!!! I woke up to an amazing surprise. Mercedes (one of my oldest friends) had made a birthday video for me with all of my friends and family wishing me well and sending their love. There were tears at 8am that is for sure. Cedes had me feeling SO loved sitting in my hostel room in Budapest- best present. Sam and I were overjoyed to see the sun was out and so we were eager to get outside. We ran some errands in the morning and then headed to the main square for lunch and birthday beers. I had a burger and beer for my birthday lunch- how predictable can I get. We spent the rest of our day with one of our new friends wandering the city and shopping (also predictable.) The three of us headed out for cocktails and pizzas (seriously I’m nothing but consistent) later on that night and then hung around at one of the ruins bars. Great night however Sam and I had to haul ass back to our hostel at 3am to grab our bags and catch a cab to the airport to catch our 6am flight. Not the most enjoyable morning but a memorable one for sure.

Birthday motto...jk mom Birthday cake! 21! Birthday Ruins bar birthday friends! Watching the sunrise as we board our plane back to France

My spring break in Eastern Europe was something I will never forget- so many beautiful sites, lots of learning, and lots of amazing connections made. Also 21 in Budapest- not ever going to top that eh?!

 

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  Well hello again- or as the Czech would say Dobry-den. The second stop of our #blondesonbreak tour was the beautiful Prague located in the Czech Republic. My dad has always raved about the beauty of this city and so I was super excited to finally see it for myself. You feel like you’re in a medieval town filled with castles and stories filled with such rich history. It’s so picturesque that you could easily spend a week just walking aimlessly through the city. It also has quite an international population which surprised me and so we have met lots of people from all over the world in the past week and have gotten to speak lots of English (such a difference than living in France). The first day Sam and I did a walking tour which was a great experience. Our guide Declan was from Ireland but had moved to the Czech Republic about 15 years ago and so he had a vast amount of stories he shared with us. Prague is such a walkable city it was great to kind of get our bearings of the city this way.  After the walking tour we continued with our wandering nature and explored all of the nooks and crannies that we could find. That night we ended up hitting a British pub for dinner where we ended up spending the whole night. Lots of great beer, live soccer games on TV, and a live band- literally my perfect night. in the old town square View from Charles Bridge My first Bud on our pub night
Prague (like much of Eastern Europe) has an extensive Jewish history and so we’ve been exploring that which has been neat. The day we spent at the concentration camp/ ghetto of Terazin was super interesting. Terazin is a town about an hour outside of prague that was originally built as a military fort during the Hapsburg Empire. Our tour guide knew a lot and it was amazing getting an inside look into the town and all of its stories. It’s a very different story than most concentration camps as it was used as a transit camp but more importantly it was used as a propaganda center. The Nazi’s created a sort of fake camp within the camp and ghetto to show the Red Cross ( who would show up for inspections) that nothing was really wrong. They even made a full length movie about how great life was for the Jewish population who was living in Terazin. They allowed the prisoners to put on opera’s, plays and do art work so that to the outside world Terazin would look like a normal town. Whats crazy is that this propaganda scheme worked- the red cross was convinced and Terazin continued to send mass amounts of prisoners to the death camps of the East. It was bizarre to see the bipolar nature of it all.Terazin the town of Terazin The fortress still stands The unnamed graved in front of the crematorium It was also very interesting to see how much of Prague’s Jewish history is still intact within the city. In most cities all of the Jewish buildings and synagogues were systematically destroyed and burned. Yet in Prague they all still stand. This isn’t because the holocaust didn’t touch the Czech Repulic, it very much did, it’s because Hitler had plans to keep Prague as a museum dedicated to an extinct race once the war was over. That blew my mind. We walked through the Jewish quarter in depth on our third day and walked through all of the old synagogues which are beyond beautiful. It was really an awesome experience to be able to dig deeper and learn more about a culture and history I have always been so fond of and felt so connected too. The Jewish Quarter The old Synagogue Inside the old synagogue The old synagogue cemetery
Prague receives the highest ratings from me. It’s such a walkable town filled with so much to do and see. It’s history is rich and it’s selection of food amazing (street food ftw). We crossed the bridge on our last morning to see the Castle which wasn’t my favourite but the views from the top were worth it. Prague is definitely an international city with lots of young people looking to have a good time- we didn’t hate that either. We went out on a bar crawl while there where we met people from all over the world which is always a good time.
Off on another 7 hour bus ride to Budapest we go!!!
Love ya all a lot.
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So last Thursday Sam and I headed off on our Spring break which we have given the title and the hashtag #blondesonbreak. After a bus from Lille to Paris, a tram and then a bus from Paris to the airport and then a flight (where i had three seats to myself woohoo) and a cab ride we finally got to the beautiful city of Berlin. We woke up early the first morning and had breakfast at the hostel which was surprisingly good. Then we walked to the Reichstag which is the German parliament building. I had made an appointment to go up the building where the glass dome is which not only has great views but you can learn a lot about the government which was awesome. And it’s free! Super glad we had that planned as it was a great way to spend the morning and brush up on my German politics. From there we went to Starbucks to get a quick snack. I have really been loving how no one can spell my name in Europe. In berlin I got: Ameulie.
From there we headed to the Holocaust memorial which is the square with all of the black blocks you all may have seen before. It looks super abstract but once you walk through the blocks the ground kind of dips up and down. It almost swallows you up. Someone told me that this must have been what the Holocaust was like- from the outside it just looked like an abstract, chaotic mess. But persecution is nothing new to the Jewish population and so it may have not seemed so different than past problems. However once you were IN it, it took you down a whole other path and swallowed you up whole. You lost your sense of self and your surroundings. I found that description of it all really haunting. Underneath it is a little museum about it all and it dedicated a lot of focus to personal stories to the lives of those who may otherwise be forgotten. They also have a database where you can look up those affected. There were A LOT of Zupniks. I’ve never seen that before ( I’ve never seen another Zupnik before ever) and for me that was when a whole new range of emotions came on.
That afternoon we got on a hop on hop off bus tour. Berlin is so big I was glad to see lots of it this way. We also learned a lot which great- for instance did you know Berlin is one of the greenest cities in the world with over 1/3 of it being covered in green space? Or that it has one if the oldest undergrounds in the world. Bet ya didn’t. We naturally stopped midway in the shopping area to go in forever 21 (France doesn’t have one). All I can say is now I am traveling with a backpack and a whole other bag. After we finished the bus tour around 6 we grabbed a quick bite in a food court at the train station and walked home ( I led the way and didn’t get lost!). We spent that night in the hostel bar enjoying some German pilsner until I found out they had Strongbow and I started enjoying that instead.
Day two in Berlin was spent exploring the city some more. We went to the Topographies of Terrors which is located on the grounds where the Getaspo prison and headquarters was located during the war. Lots more learning was done there. Outside the museum is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that was left as is which was so neat to see. I can’t even imagine a city being separated in the way that Berlin was. So surreal that after all of the destruction that Berlin experienced during WWII the Cold War came and ravaged the city even more. In the afternoon we headed over to East Berlin to check out the East Side Gallery. This is about a mile long stretch of the wall on the edge of the river which has been decorated by artists from all over. Such cool artwork and messages that we couldn’t help but take our time and take about 1,000000 pictures. That night we had planned to go out and experience the infamous Berlin nightlife but were maybe to ambitious and confident in our directional/German skills and so we ended up getting lost. We ended up hanging at the hostel bar with our favourite hostel bartender Rob who is from Australia and we had nicknamed hipster Rob.
Our last morning in Berlin we decided to grab some food and bring it to the lawn in front of the Reichstag where we just lounged and people watched, all while enjoying the beautiful sun and Germany’s beautiful people (seriously hottest boys in Europe this far).
Overall I loved Berlin. Such a hipster vibe which constantly made me want to be trendier. I really loved the mix of the old and new that you find there as well. There is a huge presence of old neo- classical architecture but there is just as much modern architecture which makes for a really cool city landscape. I had previously loved Munich and now after visiting Berlin I think Germany would be the European country I’d most like to live in.
Saturday afternoon we caught our bus to Prague or as it’s known in Czech: Praha. There were only about six people on the bus so we were able to lounge and spread out quite a bit. Once we got to Prague I was immediately struck by the beauty of it all. After finding our hostel (literally the most central place if anyone is going to Prague stay at Prague Square Hostel) we met up with my long lost roomie Rhea who was just finishing up her Spring Break with her friend Julia who is studying in Amsterdam. We met some Spanish guys in our hostel and after having a few drinks there with them we headed out to explore a bar rhea had found. The bar was basically a labyrinth of connected tunnels that looked like caves. Very cool and very laid back. Sam and I were exhausted at this point after a long day of traveling so we headed back to the hostel for a much needed sleep!

Lots of love to you all!

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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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