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Nantes in the summer

July 22, 2013

Spending my first summer abroad has been a bit of a change. The heat is comparable but the humidity is way down. There’s usually a breeze because we’re pretty close to the ocean. I’ve visited three different beaches over the past three weeks. BUT! France is not up to speed on the whole AC thing. Right now we’re sitting in the dark with the fan going full speed, trying to keep cool. I tried my very first hamman last week (sauna) and, surprisingly, sitting in the steam sweating for an hour made it a lot more pleasant outside.

I missed celebrating the fourth of July at home, but we did have an awesome party at the local American bar. I somehow got everyone I went with drinking Bud all night long. (I know, I know but it felt patriotic) I did get to join in the celebrations for the Fete Nationale ten days later though on the Ile de Nantes. It was absolutely packed! Luckily my friends got there early to save a space so we had a great view.

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Hanging out on the Ile de Nantes


264Lots and lots of people!

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Fireworks were shot from the Titan Jaune, a large yellow crane that memorializes Nantes’ history as a shipping town

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La Vie en Rose… Or Grey

March 8, 2013

Well despite my goal to update more, I’ve been failing rather miserably. I’ve been caught up with school and work (I take 18 hours of French courses a week and teach English around 10-12 hours a week) and now I’m starting the application process to do my masters at the university of Nantes.

I’m settled into my apartment, a 34m squared one bedroom flat about 5 minutes from the center of town on the tram or a 10-15 minute walk. I still need to get some artwork for the walls but otherwise it’s pretty respectable.

Christmas was spent with my boyfriend’s family near Birmingham (England not Alabama) and we rang in the new year with our friends at the local. We went to the local pirate themed restaurant for Valentine’s Day, which was delicious and amazingly cheesy. Our table came complete with pirate hats, our waiters spoke with pirate themed vocabulary, and the best part was that our check came in a treasure chest, wrapped up like a scroll! Too funny.

Next month I’ll be flying back to the states with Dan so he can meet the family and show him around my neck of America. The countdown is getting close already!

Otherwise life is mostly being seen through rose colored glasses for right now but when you live in Nantes, there’s always going to be a least a little grey on the horizon. Despite the amazing mid teen temperatures this week, next week will be back in the low single digits. Oh Nantes, why must you tease us so?

I’ll be trying to post some more with recipes and useful tips and tricks for the American living abroad, but no promises! Until next time…

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Hillbilly Halloween in France

November 12, 2012

Hillbilly Halloween in France

Our favorite local pub had a hillbilly night for Halloween this year. If only I hadn’t left my cowboy boots at home!

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Mon retour a France

August 29, 2012

Hello all! I know I’ve been terrible about updating this blog, but my little notebook that I kept track of all my restaurants and sightseeing and what not was lost in a taxi in Portugal in April so I was a bit discouraged. I’m going to try to get a few posts on the rest of my February and April travels, but no promises. I will however be moving BACK over to Nantes this weekend so I will try to be blogging about la belle vie en France. I’m also doing a stop over in Copenhagen on Sunday so I’m going to try to see a little bit of the town. Any advice would be appreciated. Gros bisous a tous and speak soon x 

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Underwhelmed in Amsterdam

March 28, 2012

Two years ago I spent a weekend in Amsterdam, and while I enjoyed myself, I didn’t think it compared to many other cities I visited. I decided to give the city another chance on this vacation and spent 3 days there. I wish I had spent them in another city. While I do agree that Amsterdam is a beautiful city, I don’t think it’s the best place to spend your money when on a backpacker’s budget.

Vita Nova hostel, however, is one of the exceptions to this. I stayed in a private room with two other girls, and it averaged under 15 euros each per night. The boat is easily walkable from the red light district and has one of the most amazing breakfasts I’ve ever had at a hostel with different kinds of bread, cheese, meat, vegetables, yogurt and my personal favorite: bottomless coffee.

Unlike the owner of our hostel who was friendly and knowledgeable, the staff at the Centraal tourist office were rude and condescending. Maps aren’t free, so be sure to pick one up at your hotel or hostel. When I asked him about a museum discount card I had read about, he was dismissive and told me no such thing has ever existed. (False, it just doesn’t exist anymore)

Instead we walked to the Anne Frank house, passing the homomonument on the way (you can see part of it in the top left of the picture above). The entry fee was 9 euros and don’t bother asking for a student discount. Although the house was interesting and informative, I don’t think it was worth almost ten euros, especially when you’re trying to cap your spending at 30 euros a day. Afterwards we had dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Firenze, which was entirely underwhelming but very cheap, especially for the area it’s in.

Two of the highlights of the trip for me were the restaurant we had dinner at on the 15th and the bar/café we went to after (and Erin and I spent the afternoon in on the 16th while waiting for our bus). We had dinner at Bird, a Thai restaurant that is supposed to be the most authentic in the city.

We started with some amazing spring rolls, and I had tofu with basil and peppers for 12,50. The food was amazing and came in huge portions. If you want to have approximately the same meal, but cheaper, check out Bird’s snackbar located across the street. For our beers after the dinner, we went to a cafe called ‘Skek, mostly because of its free wifi but it won us over with its charm. A pint of Grolsch costs under 4,50; nachos are the same; sodas and teas come in around 2 euros.

Our last day in Amsterdam was rainy and cold, but we decided to take advantage of our free bike rentals from Vita Nova and trek out to Museumplein and take the obligatory iAmsterdam pictures. Our bike rentals came from a company called Starbikes (copyright infringement?), which is located right behind Centraal station. One day’s bike rental costs 7 euros, or you can rent the bike for 24 hours for 9 euros. The staff was very friendly and they have options for tandem bikes and pre-packed picnic baskets.

Although Amsterdam is a charming city, its cost can be a prohibiting factor for many backpackers. If you decide you want to visit the city regardless, take advantage of its beauty and the joys of riding a bike by the many canals.

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Never Sightsee on a Monday

March 20, 2012

We arrived in Antwerp and walked to our host’s apartment which was only about ten minutes from the train station. Here we were staying with Ellen and her two roommates, who also took us out for a round of drinks after we arrived. We went to a small bar around the corner from her house and sampled more Belgian beers (when in Belgium!). I tried a Westmalle Trappist and a De Konnick, both of where were delicious. Briana and I split the second round of drinks, so although I don’t have an exact price, I paid 8,50 for 4 beers which isn’t bad. We had fun chatting with our hosts and horrified them with tales of how the French add fruit-flavored syrup to their beers.

Unfortunately we made an error in only giving ourselves the day on Monday to do our touristing – everything worth seeing is closed on Mondays! (Warning to the wise: this is a pretty common problem throughout Europe) So instead we took it easy and spent the first part of the morning wandering up the main drag, Meir St, which has every chain store imaginable including a Forever 21.

We arrived in the historical center and took tons of pictures. The Hilton pictured here was formerly the Grand Bazaar and in the background you can see the KBC tower. It was one of the first skyscrapers in Europe and was the tallest until 1952. The art deco style bares a similar style to one our own famous skyscrapers – the Empire State building.

To add insult to injury, not only was everything closed but we had to dodge rain clouds all day long. As you can see from the picture above, it was a pretty dreary day in Belgium. My picture of the City Hall (the building with the flags) in the Grote Markt (market square) isn’t nearly as pretty as the postcards I sent my family, but the Brabo foutain still maintains its playful flair under the clouds.

We also walked down to the waterfront and managed to take a few pictures of Het Steen, or Stone Castle, before a torrential downpour opened up on us. Stone Castle was built in 1520 and is the oldest building in Antwerp. Previously located in the city center, the castle is now on the edge of the historical center and the Scheldt (the river that runs through Antwerp).

For lunch, we decided to try a friterie, or a sort of fast food restaurant that specializes in french fries. We chose to go to Fritkot Max, one of the few friteries that still serves its fries in the traditional paper cones as opposed to plastic baskets or paper boats as most modern friteries do. The restaurant is located at Groenplaats 12 and is impossible to miss because you’ll see this out front:

For a veggie burger, sauce, and a huge thing of fries I paid 6,30. The burger left something to be desired, but I thought the fries were delicious.

After lunch the sky cleared up enough for us to use the Antwerp bike rental system to check out the Justitiepaleis, or Palace of Justice at Bolivarplaats in the southern part of the city. It was designed by the architect of one of my favorite buildings in Paris. Can you guess which one?

Some people think the shark-fin like structure is ridiculous looking, but it was one of the city’s first environmentally friendly buildings. The architect chosen to construct the building was Richard Rogers, who designed the famous Pompidou Center in Paris.

After we finished up at the Palace of Justice we were running out of time, so we headed back to Ellen’s apartment to pick up our bags. Sadly there was no need for me to rush because I waited on the steps where Eurolines picks up its passengers for half an hour. In the rain. But for a seven euro ticket to Amsterdam, I can’t complain too much!

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The Hidden Gem of Ghent

March 13, 2012

When I told people I was going to Ghent, the most common response I got was “Where?”

Ghent is the largest city in the Flemmish region of Belgium, and up until the 13th century was the largest city in Europe after Paris. Today the city has a population of around 600,000, including a large number of university students and recent graduates which gives the city a very fun and youthful feel. Despite this fact however, there are very few budget hostel options available in the city which is what led my follow travel companion and I to try couchsurfing for the first time ever. I’m happy to report that our host, Fien, was absolutely fantastic and helped show us all of Ghent’s charm.

We arrived on the later side Saturday night and took it easy, first at the apartment of one of Fien’s friends with a few glasses of wine, and then a trip to one of the local bars to sample some Belgian beer. Fien took us the Damberd Café (Korenmarkt 19) and treated us to a round of drinks. I tried the Tongulo Bruin, a darker beer, and Briana tried the Orval, a popular Belgian beer. The two drinks cost 3,70 and 3,60 euros respectively.

The following day, Fien surprised us with a breakfast of pain au chocolat, croissants, eggs, “farmer’s bread” and some homemade apple juice from a farm in West Flanders. It was the perfect way to start off what turned out to be an absolutely freezing day walking around Ghent.

We followed the walking tour in the free guide we picked up from the tourist office, located just behind the belfry in the main square. (Fun side note: the belfry played Au Champs Elysées while we were standing in the square, which absolutely made my day) The tour takes about two and a half hours depending how long you spend at each spot, and hits all the main tourist sites including St. Bavo’s Cathedral, home of the Ghent altarpiece and the reason I put this city on my list.

After we finished the walking tour, we decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant called Du Progrès, located just across the street from the bar we went to the night before and I got to sample some of Ghent’s vegetarian cuisine. Look at that delicious veggie burger smothered with a creamy mushroom sauce! That and a half pint of Hoegaarden cost me 14 euros, which isn’t the cheapest meal I had on this trip but was worth it since I haven’t had a veggie burger since September :)

As everyone knows, chocolate is a must have when you come to Belgium and Ghent has no shortage of stores to indulge your sweet tooth. After window shopping for a while, we ended up making our purchases at the Chocolaterie de Graslei, located about half a block away from where the two rivers in Ghent intersect (Graslei 2). The owner was the sweetest man who believes he has the best job in the world… and can you blame him? He explained all of the different flavors to us, the unusual way he makes truffels, and why he recommended one flavor over another. I ended up buying a 250g bag of hazelnut chocolate shells for 4 euro 80, which lasted me through most of the trip. They were absolutely incredible.

However merely purchasing chocolate wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to drink some too! Fien pointed us to a coffee shop owned by one of her friends called Huize Colette (Belfortstraat 6), which was packed to the brim when we arrived. I ordered a Witte Chocolatedemelk met Praline, or a white hot choclate with praline. It tasted like drinking a liquidated praline chocolate and only cost 3,50. The first half was delicious, but the second half started getting a little sugary to enjoy. I’d recommend splitting the drink with someone if you decide to get one.

Snow began to fall as we took the tram to the train station to head to Antwerp (9 euros), a perfect ending to a beautiful day in one of the most charming mid-sized cities I’ve ever visited.

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