Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm in Paris!

Hey guys, so I made it to Paris and things are starting to feel really, really real.  I'm also so in love with this city already that I have nonstop butterflies and goosebumps just walking up and down the streets!

Before I get there, let me just quickly finish up my time in Nice with a few photos.  I worked on Friday, transferred hotels, and then checked out my new neighborhood a bit, stopped for a glass of wine on the beach as the sun set and then went out for a Nicoise dinner of a beef ravioli type thing.  Nice is actually pretty close to Italy so there were definitely lots of Italian influences throughout the culture and city.  I really loved the dinner I had, as well as the glass of wine I had before :)

On Saturday I did my final "long" run of 8-miles in the morning and then showered, relaxed a bit, and then proceeded to do some more wandering and eating.  I found the most delicious gelato and it totally made my whole trip there!  I have become a bit of a gelato snob since I studied abroad and the gelato I had was so, so good.  I tried three flavors... salted caramel, speculous, and macaroon. YUM!

I went to bed early on Saturday night because I knew I was going to have an early, early morning on Sunday.  My flight to Paris was at 7:00 a.m. so I needed to leave my hotel at 5:00 a.m., plus, it is daylight savings time in Europe so we lost an hour of sleep on Saturday night!  Up until now, I have been 5 hours ahead on Central Europe time and now I am 6 hours ahead.  I was pretty much half dead when I woke up on Sunday morning to get my flight.

However, once I arrived in Paris, I guess I will just have to use the words of my friend Ally and say, "This city energizes me!"  I am lucky enough to have a friend who has been living in Paris since around November and she was returning Sunday morning after a visit back to the States.  We arrived right at the same time (from different airports) at her apartment and then spent the day together before I came back to check in to my AirBnB rental apartment in the early evening.

We went to the Notre Dame cathedral, walked by the Louvre, ate a "macaroon snack" before a delicious Thai food lunch, more macaroons, and some delicious thick hot chocolate that tasted like melted Hershey's kisses.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, the sun was shining, flowers were blooming, and I just had goosebumps all over as I actually absorbed the "springtime in Paris" weather that I had been thinking of for MONTHS.

Macaroon snack!

Before I signed up for this marathon, I never had an overwhelming urge to visit Paris and now that I am here, I have NO IDEA why I wasn't dieing to come!  I absolutely, positively love this city.  It is enchanting and beautiful and the whole city smells like fresh baked bread and sugar.  All of the pastry shops are gorgeous.  All of the retail stores are filled with beautiful clothing.  The architecture is gorgeous and has the wonderful charm of many European cities where you turn a corner and see a monument or plaza or something historic and insanely cool.

I am by no means a history buff so the fact that there are many things that I have actually heard of that are in Paris, is pretty cool.  I mean, the Eiffel Tower is probably the most notable European monument I would say?  Ever since I was a little kid, my friends and I used to pick each other up in the pool and pretend to be the Eiffel Tower.  Everyone knows it!  When I first saw it, I literally think I lost my breathe a little bit.  I don't mean to be dramatic but it's true!

And later in the evening when I was walking around my neighborhood, I turned around at one point and saw the Eiffel Tower perfectly centered in the middle of the street I was walking down with a wonderful view -- I audibly gasped.  I felt like it kept getting better too.  When the sun went down the Eiffel Tower lit up.  And then it started sparkling!  It is just so amazing.

I spent today as a "work day" and was able to visit my company's offices here, but otherwise spent the day at my laptop.

And literally any moment now Jess is going to arrive and we are going to go for a run so I am BEYOND excited about that.


Jess texted me that she was here before I could post this :)  We just did our 3 mile run around the Eiffel Tower (!!!!!) and are now feasting.

I can't believe this week is finally here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Seven years of wanderlust.

This morning I got up at a reasonable time and did my run going the opposite direction on the promenade for a really beautiful 3-mile (3 miles!!) run.

The type of boats I assume Rihanna parties on when she comes to Nice

Afterwards I went to "my coffee place" and when I walked in there were two American girls going over the menu. Now, this place clearly caters to Americans as there is a big sign outside that says "Coffee-to-go!" which is not a very European concept. Plus their decor, bright colors, and menu options just let's me think they are trying to pick up the tourist business.

Anyways, I could have told you these girls were American without even having heard them speaking American English. It's funny how much we U.S.A-ers stick out in foreign countries, it's almost comical. They were wearing bright shorts, slouchy sweaters, and sandals. And although it is definitely nice weather in Nice (Aubrey would probably kill me if I tried to complain about it, right Aubs??), it is NOT shorts and sandals weather. The French are still bundled up.

The girls ordered fruit smoothies and bagels with cream cheese. Now, again, the fact that they have bagels on the menu shows you who they are marketing to. But then the fact that the girls actually ordered them... Are you kidding me!? Bagels in France!?! What the heck, get a croissant. Heck, get FIVE croissants and lord knows I wouldn't judge. But a bagel? Okay, well, anyways, I heard them talking about travel plans and asked where they were headed. They told me they were spending the weekend in Nice. "We're studying abroad in Luxembourg so we travel every weekend."  Ah, study abroad.

This interaction just reminded me of something I've been wanting to write about for the past week. And that is that for whatever reason I have been really nostalgic on this trip of my own study abroad experience, which was the first time I left the country (discluding a middle school class trip to Quebec.)  That study abroad experience is also when I fell in love with travel.  As I have gone from country to country this trip, I've been browsing through my passport which is almost in need of a renewal, and it is full of stamps, visas, and memories.

I know I'm probably too young to have these, "Back when I was your age..." type thoughts about technology, as I am a millennial and grew up with the Internet for the most part. However, communication was even so different seven years ago when I spent six months studying and living in Florence, Italy with Syracuse University.

I didn't have any WiFi, or a smart phone for that matter, and I would either buy minutes at an Internet cafe (which were always sketchy!) or wait in line to snag a desktop computer in our school's computer library. And when you got one of those you would hoard that chair and spot for as long as possible to check email, research and book weekend travel, and of course, upload pictures to Facebook.

Pre-mega popularity for blogging and pre-my first blog (which I didn't start until Fall 2007, holla!) so I used to write home novel length e-mails to a distribution including all my family members and friends. I'd often write the emails just in a word document in my tiny empty bedroom in my host families home and then use the coveted Internet access to send them out. My mom, and grandparents as well, would print them all out and keep them together in packets they both still have.

My bedroom for 6 months in Florence, 2007
I used to love recapping what I was seeing and experiencing and loved sharing everything with my family and friends back home. I was the first in my immediate family to travel to Europe and coming from an Italian family, I thought it was really cool to be able to share the experiences with them through words and photos. I also loved getting comments and responses back.

A photo with my namesake to send back to the fam, 2007
I had a little prepaid cell phone that I mainly used to communicate with my friends within Italy who were also studying abroad but every now and then I would use some minutes and euros to call home and talk to my parents. A couple drunk nights when the expense seemed more trivial, I called friends to have silly conversations -- because of the time difference they'd be just finishing classes for the day or having dinner.

I remember when the tragedy at Virginia Tech happened and how isolated and scared I felt trying to get in touch with my high school friend who went to school there to make sure he was okay.

It's just crazy how much communication has changed and how between my laptop, free WiFi, G-Chat, my iPhone equipped with iMessage, Skype, Whatsapp, Snapchat, and international coverage... Lack of communication is not even a thing.

I've been nostalgic about more than just the communication though. Some things have just stuck out at me about how much I have grown up and how some things I am still the same me.

I'd still prefer to often just sit outside of a museum and people watch/reflect than go inside. Although it's somewhat shameful looking back, in my 6 months in Florence, despite walking by it alllll the time and having not only a free entry pass but a pass to allow me to cut the line... I never visited the Uffizi museum.

And in Istanbul, I spent hours walking around and wandering and sitting on street benches. And although I walked over to them and viewed them from the outside I chose not to go inside the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sofia. It's not that I am disinterested, it's more that I just like to experience things in my own way.

In Florence I LOVED the Accademia Gallery and visited there multiple times to just sit and look at the David statue. And when I went back to Florence years after, I paid money and went to do it again.  And the Blue Mosque in Istanbul? I could have just sat and observed for hours. But if I have an afternoon... I'd rather spend it on my own sometimes and making my own observations, rather than walking a guided tour and being told by someone else what was important or memorable.

At the Blue Mosque in Istanbul last week
I also like to see a place as it is today and would rather get lost in a neighborhood in a city and have to find my way back rather than spend hours in line or fighting crowds to take a picture of a historical painting that I'll probably forget what it means later. Plus, all that stuff costs money and wandering is free. I'd rather spend that money on gelato and/or meringue to munch on as I walk.

One of the most memorable day trips from my study abroad time was when I went to Siena and San Gimingano. A friend and I ditched the guided tour completely after we got off the bus. We spent the day walking around on our own, talking pictures, and what I felt like was really SEEING Siena.

Do I regret not seeing any of the statues or historical monuments in the church tours we were supposed to be on? Not in the tiniest bit. But do I remember the old man that we met who walked with us for a bit, offered us gum, and took us to his favorite restaurant to "make ciao"? Absolutely.

"Making Ciao" with Othello in Siena, 2007
And in San Gimingano when we missed the tour and instead spent the afternoon sitting on a random fountain talking to some school boys who had no idea that the baby blue sweatsuit they had on said "Cheerleader!" on it and totally punked us by telling us that in Italian you don't say "Cheese!" when taking a picture but "Pomodoro!" (tomato) or "Lechuga!" (lettuce.)  That was perfection.

Best afternoon ever in San Gimingano, 2007
I still make friends when I travel and somehow find myself memorable to the lady who makes my coffee or the man who waited on my table.  My favorite waiter from my favorite restaurant in Florence remembered me years later when I returned.  But to be fair, I did eat there A LOT and one time my uncles and I took him out for drinks as a thank you for being awesome.

With my favorite waiter from studying abroad, 2 years later in 2009
I still takes chances and accept the offer to get tea or go to dinner with a stranger-turned-friend.

I still think it is important to view my time abroad as being a short term citizen rather than a tourist.

I still think it's important to try to ice cream in every city I travel to.

My favorite Gelateria in Florence, 2007
I still love noticing the similarities and differences in lifestyles in the people I meet around the world.

I still want to buy, and eat, pretty much everything I see everywhere I go!

I still get nervous trying to get in touch with friends after a tragedy happens at home, like the recent fire in Boston that happened to be across the street from my best friend's home.

I still like to zone out listening to John Mayer and Jack Johnson while sitting and people watching or seeing the countryside fly by via train or bus or airplane window.  I vividly remember being on a train to Grangola, Italy and discussing Jack Johnson's "Breakdown" and John Mayer's "Stop This Train" with L-Smith.

A memorable trip to Grangola with L-Smith, 2007
I still feel incredibly blessed and thankful to have the means and ability to have this life.

And of course, I still send home lengthy and verbose recaps of my adventures!

However, I've also grown up.

I'm not tempted to overhaul my wardrobe buying out the cheap European clothing lines such as H&M, Mango, and Promod. (Although I do stand true that European Zara is different, and cheaper, than the U.S. Zara...)

I no longer am willing to stay in hostels with shared rooms or bathrooms, and thankfully, have the means to no longer need to!

After last night's 2.50 euro wine, I will no longer be purchasing the cheapest wine on the shelf either! When I studied abroad in Florence I would drink the under 2 euro "frizzante" by the bottle and wine juice boxes were my best friend. The 2.50 wine was pretty much undrinkable (but I still drank a glass... because I'm willing to suffer like that... I just dumped the rest of the bottle out this AM and wouldn't drink it again.)

Many a days & nights spent with Tavernello wine juice boxes, 2007
Aside from financial things, I'm no longer as nervous to try new foods. I'll take a bite of most anything that is put in front of me.

I'm more apt to see a city by morning as it is waking up and I go for a run, than by staying out late and seeing the bar scene.

I no longer get upset when I don't get to see or do everything I want to do in a city and just vow that it is a reason to go back another time. I remember the first time I went to Rome I was really upset that I didn't get to see the Trevi Fountain. But low and behold, I returned to Rome and spent enough time at the Trevi Fountain to make up for it's absence from my first visit!

Back in Rome, 3 years later, finally making it to the Trevi Fountain, 2010
I also no longer feel the NEED to drink the wine and beer on international flights... Even though it is free! Or in the words of Ross Gellar, built in to the price. I remember my very first drink (also, first "legal" drink ever!) flying AirFrance from JFK to Florence and it was damn amazing though!

I mean, and let's just face it, I've grown up a lot over 7 years. Although much of me is the same, I've experienced and been through so much since I first studied abroad and stepped foot in Europe. And I like who I have become. I look back on the end of college and first years of adulthood - both the painful and the happy times-- fondly. As a part of who I am, and a part of my personal story.

For those who know me outside the blog, you know that I've had some experiences that could have left me closed off from other parts of the world.  Maybe, with some bitterness about opening oneself up to new cultures.

And I'm really happy that isn't the case. I'm confident that the urge to explore and learn about others and bring them in to my life will always be with me. I like that part of me. And I like being able to share it all with you.

Florence, 2007
So with that, I'm gonna log off and go start my day. Happy Starbucks Friday to my girls back home and happy Friday to everyone else!! XOXO.

Nice, 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Scenes from around Nice, France

[Disclaimer:  This is mostly a travel post.  Just a heads up.  If you're not interested, well then, why don't you start your own blog... I decided to write this stuff! :) ]

Last night I took a break from working to go out and grab some dinner.  Since I have been having a lot of meals in my little hotel room, dinner last night was my first real meal out in France.

I have been Google-ing some different meals and things to do in Nice since I arrived here and one of the main things that came up that I needed to try in Nice was something called "socca."  According to Wikipedia, where all good, worldly information can be found, socca is common of the Ligurian sea coast, and goes by different names... essentially consisting of a chickpea flour pancake or crepe.  I read about it on Yelp and learned one of the most popular places to get socca in Nice was a little wood oven-fired place a short walk from my hotel.  Some key words in there were "pancake," "crepe," and "wood oven" -- so I was basically sold.

After giving them a call to make sure they were open, I walked over -- which was interesting in itself, because Nice, although wonderful, just seemed totally dead.  It was such a ghost town I had a hard time imagining it busier, but I am sure in the summer and warmer months it is packed.

When I got to the socca place, I first sat down at an open table, but when a waiter arrived, I was told that you ordered food from a little counter to the street, then sat down, and only ordered drinks from the waiter.

Okay, no problem.  I could do that.  So I went over to browse the windows where the food was and saw these different pita bread looking things filled with meat and cheeses and vegetables and delicious looking things so I got super excited.  I carefully read through the descriptions, asked the girls working there which was their favorite, and picked one out that had a prosciutto type meat and mushrooms inside.  The girls toasted it up for me, wrapped it up, and I went to go sit down, get a glass of wine, and eat my socca!

Then I looked around a little bit and realized that NOBODY was eating what I had just ordered and they all had this scraped up pile of stuff in front of them.  Interesting.  I went back and inspected further and realized that what I had thought was the socca, was not in fact, the traditional Nice dish, but just like, a French pizza thing.  Woops.

Socca, was came on this giant pizza looking tray and was served up by scraping the chickpea flour pancake thing off the bottom of the pan, and just folded up and flopped on top of a plastic plate.

Appetizing, huh?

I sat down and ordered a glass of wine and dug into my plate of socca, but I have to say I wasn't really impressed.  It didn't have a ton of flavor, so I loaded it with pepper and some salt.  The burnt pieces tasted like burnt stuff.  And it just all around... wasn't really that cool.  However, for some reason I felt bad not liking it so I ate it all anyways and then brought home my I-wish-it-was-socca pizza thing to have for lunch today.  After I took a bite of it when I got home...

This morning wasn't a running day for me but I still got up early started my day.  I am really trying to get into a routine this week of being on a schedule, that I am hoping will somewhat stick through next week.  Since the marathon is early in the morning on Sunday, I want my body to be used to being up early.

I started my day by stopping at the same "Coffee To Go" place that I had been to the day before after my run.  When I walked in this morning, the woman who worked there and had served me the day before looked up and said, "Ah! You're the pastry girl! From yesterday!" Now seriously, I've been in France for 2 days.  How am I already earning the nickname "pastry girl?" :)

It was funny though and what's ironic is that I actually didn't even buy any pastries yesterday (or today for that matter!)  But when I got the coffee yesterday, she noticed me eyeing the pastries and asked if I wanted anything else.  I said no, but responded that maybe I would come back because "I had been dreaming about French pastries for months!"

When I was in the store getting my coffee today, she also commented/asked that I had gone running yesterday.  I responded yes, since I been in the coffee shop right after my run, and explained that I am running the Paris Marathon next week and she was impressed!  I told her that because I like pastries so much, I need to run a lot :) We ended up having a really great conversation about running and shes said she wants to do her first half marathon next year.  She asked how often I train, when I started running, etc. and it was a great way to start the day, and I'm looking forward to returning tomorrow for a coffee after my run!

I decided to go to see the Nice flower market, which I read starts early anyways.  Whatever I read said that you should get there around 6:00 a.m. but that is totally false because I got there at 8:30/9 and they were just setting up!  Maybe it's because it's the off season, but even so, that was way off!

The flower market had gorgeous flowers, but also lots of lavender, fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, tapenades, soaps, etc.  Apparently lavender is a big thing in Southern France as it is where a lot of lavender is grown, so that's the "go-to" gift or souvenir for the most part.

I wandered the market for a bit and then just roamed the streets as Nice seemed to be waking up.  The stores were setting up their outdoor stands, bakeries and meat markets were bustling, etc.  It was great to just explore and check out some of the cool streets and shops in a busier part of town.  I thought this little street and section of narrow homes was so odd!

And nobody loves carousel's more than Europeans.  This one was double decker!

Did I mention that there were meat shops out and about?  Anyone hungry?

I have no idea what is inside of that pic, but I will tell you, that is one thing that is NOT appetizing to me!  But you know what is?  Meringue.  I love me a good meringue cookie.  I snagged one from a bakery and resisted the urge to eat it right then but saved it for later in the day.  This might not seem like much, but that is a win for me!

And I also ran into what I thought was the most adorable, well maintained, most creative park I have ever seen!  Check out all this playground equipment.  It is all themed around oceans, marine life, pirates, etc.  It takes the fun of a children's park and makes it even more exciting and adventurous!

So those are some of the highlights from my walk this morning!  It was really pleasant and gave me a good idea of the places that I want to check out more on Saturday when I have the whole day free.  There were some pretty cute clothing shops that I think I need to wander in to.

I spent the rest of the day working, having the same cereal and berries combination for breakfast, followed by the I-wish-it-was-socca pizza thing (which, was delicious) for lunch, and a giant meringue cookie for a snack.  For dinner, I stopped by the grocery store just down the road and picked up some salad, bread, 1/2 a roast chicken, water, and some wine.  There's no way I am going to finish the wine, but it was 2.50 euro!  Hellooooo, Europe.

I don't know why I sort of felt the need to do an extensive amount of grocery shopping.  I mean, I guess it wasn't extensive.  But, I have to check out of this hotel tomorrow to a smaller, cheaper one that I am in for the weekend.  I am a little overwhelmed thinking of how I am going to make that transition with all my luggage, and then also leftover chicken, salad, wine, water, cereal, milk, and all the other randomness I felt the need to buy at the grocery.  My fridge here looks pretty much like how my fridge looks like at home usually.

Because I am a little stressed about all the food I've accumulated, I will probably spend tomorrow morning trying to eat it all.  Which, I need to not do.  I sort of had a mini panic attack looking in the mirror a little while ago because my belly and midsection in general is definitely a bit rounder than when I left for Europe!  I will work to get back in shape once I am home, but it is a big panicky to see after I'd been working so hard in January and February to clean up my act.  Oh, and I have to carry that extra weight 26.2 miles!!!!

And while I am sharing photos and observations, I figured I would share these pictures.  I actually took them yesterday when I came back from my run, but didn't see where they fit into my post.  However, now I've written an excessively long entry that is really just a ramble of photos, and I've had that glass of wine so I am feeling more generous in sharing ridiculous photos.  Also, if you are still reading at this point, you deserve a present.  So here it goes.

My hotel has these giant weird statue things all over that scare me every time I see them.

When I got back from my run, I was still on that giddy runner's high and feeling silly so I decided to take a picture with the statue.  Also, I am a weirdo and that's what I do when I see things like this.

And then I decided to take another goofy picture and the result is slighting terrifying, slightly hysterical and 100% embarrassing...

Whhhhyyy am I SO creepy, you guys?  Oh my gosh. I can't even look at that, haha.  AND, the best part about this series of photos is that after I took them and was looking at them shuddering laughing, I realized that a couple had come out of their room a little down the hall and was just STARING at me.  Not amused.  Not entertained.  Just, blank faces.

I turned and walked into my room, hoping to never see them again in my life.

And with that, I am going to go to bed.  Hope you had a great Thursday!