Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Is this real life...?

I don't think that I had stopped smiling the entire 1 hour and 7 minute train ride to the airport today. As I lie here in bed at an overpriced airport hotel in Lyon (thanks mama), it is slowly starting to hit me that in less than 24 hours I will back on Canadian soil, a surreal feeling to say the least.

The last 9 months have been crazy, to put it into a single word.  And frankly, I haven't had much time to personally reflect on it.  My blogging has been minimal this second half, as has my travelling (*she says having just returned from a two week tour of Greece, Portugal, Morocco and Spain*).  A big change, from traveling to a new country every weekend during first semester, to having only left the country twice during my second semester.  My outlook coming into the new year and the second part of my year abroad was needing to change and I fully knew it.  I had decided that I wanted to spend more time in Grenoble, adjusting to the true life of an exchange student, and creating more of a "homey" feel, and I did just that.

My year abroad had me faced with more challenges than I had ever thought possible, and for a moment my "year abroad" became my "semester broad".  Its easy to lose yourself in a new situation, to become overwhelmed with the new experiences brought before you, all while trying not to let go of what you know.  Ironically enough, when you finally do let go of what you know, new doors open up, and you find a new sense of home.

For the past few years, I have always had the strong desire to leave home and explore the big wide world, I caught the travel bug in high school and never looked back.  And now, in this moment, I am ready to be back Canada more than ever.  This year has taught me a greater patience than I've ever known (French administration I'm looking at you) and a serious idea of what perseverance really is.  I may not be looking at the initial outcome I had expected from my year abroad, I may not have discovered that I want to pick up and move to France in the future and live there forever, but I have discovered a sense of surety in myself, a confidence in my self and my abilities.  Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you to.

As much as Grenoble and I have had a love-hate relationship for the past nine months, it will never change just how difficult it is to leave a group of people as amazing as the ones I have met during my time here.  For my newfound Canadian friends, I will be patiently awaiting our reunion.

18 countries in a total of nine months (while actually going to school, yes), 15 new patches for my backpack, countless planes, trains and buses, and one Canadian girl who is more than ready to sleep in her own bed, its au revoir Grenoble.  I will certainly miss the days of hiking the mountains and sitting in the park being surrounded by them, the days I would wake up, open my mountain facing window and realize just how amazing the world is.  Thank you Grenoble, and thank you once again France, for allowing me to fulfill my year abroad without regret. Until we meet again. đŸ’“

Saturday, 4 March 2017

When in Rome

It's taken me a little while to get the ball rolling on this one, as I think both James and I can agree that this past reading week break didn't go exactly as planned.

Things went smoothly from Grenoble, to Geneva Airport and onward to Rome Aiport, it was however, upon arriving at Termini Station, the central train station of Rome, that we began to question our choice of hotel.

We learned one thing for certain, a 35 euro a night hotel (private room with en suite bathroom) is too good to be true. We basically ended up in what had to of been the poorest part of the city. We may not have paid for it in terms of the hotel, but we sure paid for it on our last night in a much worse way..


And, now that we have that out of the way, on to all of the beautiful sights that did manage to capture our hearts, while in Rome.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum was by far one of the most amazing sights I've seen throughout the past six months of my European travels... I mean it is after the largest Colosseum ever built and still incredibly well maintained so I think it'd be rather offensive if I didn't feel this way...n'est pas?

Entrance to the Colosseum depended whether or not you are part of the European Union or not, so in other words James paid 7.50 while I paid 12..hmmm.

Nonetheless, it was obviously well worth the price paid to go inside (and the queue which ended up being about and hour- quite long in my opinion considering it was off season), and included access to both the first and second levels of the Colosseum. 

Roman Ruins

What I found particularly interesting (and unique) about Rome was the number of excavated remains of roman ruins situated directly in the center of the city, open and free for the public to visit.

Historical Monuments Doubling As Lookouts Over the City

Specifically referring to the Victor Emanuele II Monument, or officially known as Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, the monument is a large white marble building that dominates the Piazza Venezia.

The monument was built to honor the first king of United Italy in 1861, Vittorio Emanuele II.

Free to enter, walk around, and climb up to the first level (there is a true lookout point accessible by elevator for around 10 euros), there is access to a beautiful terrace with a 360 degree view of the surrounding area- and not a bad one at that.

James perfected his selfie-taking skills this trip :)

Trevi Fountain

Well not much else to say about this one other than, well, Trevi Fountain. There is a certain history behind the fountain, but to be frank I don't exactly understand it (so sorry folks, you'll have to google it). I do know however, that the Trevi fountain is one of the most famous fountains in the world (hence my first sentence) and is the largest baroque fountain in the city.

Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican City was quite the hike from our hotel, but well worth it and is one of the most beautiful areas of the city.  We queued in line for the Basilica for even longer than the Colosseum, but were "lucky" enough to have three middle aged British women behind cracking savage jokes the whole time, so that helped to pass the time.

We also had a second motive to waiting in the never-ending queue, and that was to inquire for tickets to the Papal Audience the next morning. Upon passing through security for the Basilica, we talked with one of the Swiss guards (the men guarding the doors wearing the funny pants and hats) where we received our ticket (completely free) to see the Pope speak.

The Papal Audience

Every Wednesday morning (given the Pope is in Rome that week), he will do a public reading, and everyone is welcome. Before the 10 o'clock start, the Pope rides around in his Popemobile (its a Mercedes Benz), waving to the crowd, and kissing babies on the head (no joke).

Waving to all his homies!

Following a few rounds in his Popemobile, he then took his place on the stage and read his blessing in Italian. It was then followed by readings (the same one) in a number of different languages, including, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Polish and Arabic. After each reading, the Pope sends out a blessing to certain countries which are thought to be represented in the crowd on that day, and yes, Canada was mentioned!

The official (and free) invite to the Papal Audience!
Whether or not you are Catholic, or even religious for that matter, if you have the chance to see the Pope speak during one of his public blessings, I would highly recommend it. His words are bound to touch you (and they'll be spoken in your language as well)!

The Catacombs

Last but not least for us was a visit to one of 60 some odd (can't remember the exact number) catacombs in Rome. We visited the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, a Catholic burial site where some of the earliest priests are said to have been buried. 

We chose these catacombs in particular solely based off of the reviews online (can be risky but turned out just fine), in terms of how knowledgeable the guides are, the price of the tour, and what the tour offers exactly.

What I found quite interesting about our visit to the catacomb is that we actually didn't see a single real human bone, as we had anticipated we probably would..going to a cemetery and all.

I have no photos to share of this part of our adventure, as none were allowed to be taken, I can assure that walking through the tunnels of the ancient burial ground was both as claustrophobic and eerie as you're probably imaging.


So would I jump on the chance to visit Rome again? My honest answer would be not any time soon, but that doesn't take away from the amazing time we had together exploring this beautiful city over the past week.

Until next time, Rome (or not)!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

How to Spend a weekend in Copenhagen

How to spend a weekend in Copenhagen? Well for starters, quite easily. Various districts make up this diverse city, leaving you with plenty to do, and making Copenhagen the perfect weekend getaway.

Our Friday morning started with a 4 am wake-up call, as we headed to the train station, direction Geneva.  The rest of the morning was smooth sailing from Geneva, and we landed in Copenhagen in the late morning.

We had been quite skeptical of our hotel choice the few days leading up to our weekend (Copenhagen is very expensive so naturally we went with the cheapest hotel), but upon arrival were presently surprised, and all was good on the accommodation front.

Copenhagen central...covered in bikes! 

The city of bikes!

The Shopping District

Our hotel was located right behind the main train station, in the Copenhagen V area, making it really easy to head into town on foot, and stumble right into the shopping district of Strøget. One of Europe's largest pedestrian streets, with budget chains shops (shout out to Zara) to some of the most expensive brands (irrelevant to my shopping needs- no shout out here) and everything in between. Among the shops to your left and right, you'll

Freetown Christiania

Beyond Strøget was the area of Christiania, home to Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed free state that operates independently from the rest of Copenhagen, where the area is governed by its own set of laws (and doesn't pay taxes)!

The Statue of the Little Mermaid

Located down by the sea front, the Little Mermaid statue, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's classic fairytale, is one of the most photographed spots in Copenhagen (probably after the canals of Nyhavn).

Tip: the sea front is about a 45 minute walk from the city center, or you can hop on the 1A bus from Copenhagen Central station and be there in under 10 minutes (we bused there and walked back into the city center.

Spot the Dome of the Marble Church

Officially known as Frederik's Church, the dome of the church is the largest in all of Scandinavia. It is located between the Amalienborg Palace and the Opera, in the middle of the elegant area of Frederiksstaden.

The Changing of the Guards at the Amalienborg Palace

As previously mentioned, the Marble Church is right between the palace and the opera, so upon exiting the church we just happened to stumble upon the changing of the guards at the Amalienborg Palace, home to the Dutch royal family. The changing of the guards ceremony (accompanied by the Royal Guards music band) starts at 11:30 am daily.  we just happened to find the palace at the exact time!

The Canals of Nyhavn

Nyhavn is the picture perfect part of Copenhagen, with the canals and colourful buildings that everyone imagines when they think of Copenhagen- and that is exactly what it is like.

Although we didn't spend a lot of time in the Nyhavn area (it was chilly and we needed to be on the move), this is supposedly the spot to be during the summer time months, especially for catching the sunset.

The Carlsberg Brewery

The brewery was the perfect adventure for a rainy last day in Copenhagen.  What makes this brewery in particular so important is that Copenhagen is the city of the first official Carlsberg brewery. Although it started as a small run brewery in the mid 1800s, it has become very well known all over the world, including, North America and Asia.

For only ten euros, you can take a tour through the history of the company, including their famous bottle collection,

old brewing mills,

and horse stable,

Meet Gustav!
And you can't forget the furry four-legged Carlsberg ambassadors who roam around freely...

The tour also comes with two free beers or ciders (Carlsberg owns Somersby!) and there is a restaurant located on the grounds as well. A day well spent!

A weekend can very easy be spent in Copenhagen, in fact, you'll probably even want more than that if you can manage the time. Copenhagen is a large city with tons to do..and if visited during the spring and summer peak months, you'll also be able to pay a visit to the famous Tivoli Gardens, and amusement park located right in the center of the city!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

I see London, I see France...

So after all the holiday craziness came to a close, it was time to head back to Grenoble to complete semester one, and two finals exams. My only motivation to get me through exams right after the holidays? Another holiday of course!

I was home in Grenoble for about a week before I took off again, this time to the opposite side of Europe, and back in England.

I flew into London Gatwick and grabbed the train to Brighton, where James picked me up. We hadn't seen each other in nearly a month, and he still wanted to be my friend, so that was cool.


First stop for us was all you can eat sushi. Now this may sound minor, but when you're living in a country where all you can eat doesn't exist, its a big deal (yeah you heard right, France has not yet adopted the idea of all you can eat sushi). Falling into a sushi coma is a sure way to end the night early.

So the next morning we were up and headed to the sea front. Brighton was pretty bumpin for an early Saturday afternoon, and it gave me the impression of being a pretty active community (lots of dogs out too, so naturally I was content).

I am obsessed with these coloured beach huts and can only imagine this place in the summer (hey, maybe I'll be invited back).

Saturday was also the day I would see my first soccer (sorry, football) match. Hard to believe soccer was the first sport I ever played as a kid, and still do play, but I had never seen a professional game. According to James, the atmosphere wasn't anywhere close to what it would usually be seeing as it was a cup game, but in my opinion it was enough hype for my first football experience (British men get very defensive of their players during these games).

After the game, was a lovely home-cooked me (I was definitely spoiled with meals over the holidays) and then off to the skating rink.

With some practice in Vienna behind me, I was ready to roll, or slide rather.

I regret not getting a picture of the rink by itself with the Brighton Pavilion lit up behind, so you'll just have to deal with this bad selfie as I forced James to smile for selfie after selfie. :)

Sunday morning we were up bright and early and headed to London for the day (what a casual day trip).  It had been 3 years since I was first in London, so I was definitely excited to be back. We started the morning at Buckingham Palace, but unfortunately just missed the changing of the guards.

Then we headed to Trafalgar Square, where we came upon the Canadian Embassy, covered in over 10 Canadian flags, celebrating the 150th birthday of Canada (yay), and of course I needed a pic.

We were then stopped outside of the National Art Gallery while watching the street performers, by a man who grabbed both our fingers and began making us matching bracelets (and of course asked for money after) but he was very sweet, so we didn't mind too much. What a good money-making tactic! 

Headed to walk through the Covent Gardens, where we caught some street performers along the way.

Then we made our way to Southbank to check out Big Ben and the London Eye, where my hopes of checking out the view from atop the wheel was crushed when the lady told us it was 25 pounds a person!

Our last stop was the Tate Britain where we pretended to be cultured before grabbing a pizza dinner and heading back to Brighton for the evening.

Monday morning had me sleeping in after we walked over (what felt like) half of London the day prior.  We stuck around Brighton Monday, where James' mum gave us a tour of the Brighton Pavilion, the same place we were Saturday at the ice rink.

The outside of the pavilion is designed in an Indian-like style, where the inside (where no pics were allowed) had a Chinese decor taste. It was originally the a former royal seaside retreat of George, Prince of Wales, before it was passed on to Queen Victoria, who then sold it to the town of Brighton where it now serves as a museum and a main tourist attraction of Brighton.

My last day in Brighton took us into the countryside, of rolling hills, muddy paths, and farm animals, followed by a much deserved lunch at the Devil's Dyke pub.

And I think this baked Camembert is engraved in both of our brains...

My time in England, as it always has been in this beautiful country, was well spent. For now, it's time to leave the suitcases empty, as I reintegrate back into the French school system, with classes beginning tomorrow, and await our next adventure in just a few short weeks.