A Little Bit of Lisbon

It’s January, the time of year when we wistfully think back to our summer vacations! After I got back from Italy, Hugo and I spent a few days in Lisbon at the beginning of July. We had been planning to go for a year, but the summer before he had started a new job and couldn’t take time off (so I went to Spain instead).

Everyone kept raving about Lisbon – it was so beautiful, so cheap, so charming, so friendly, their favorite European city. We had a great time and the weather was beautiful, but I wouldn’t go back in high season. It was quite crowded, and many of the locals didn’t seem thrilled with all the tourists.

The language barrier was frustrating too – I memorized the essential travel phrases before we left, but Portuguese is not a language that comes easily to me despite its Latin roots. It wasn’t hard to navigate the city in the least, but I feel uncomfortable and apologetic when I can’t speak the local language. I do my best not to be an ugly American, but I just don’t speak all the languages. There were several instances where we were treated rudely, I suspect because we didn’t speak much Portuguese, and even though that wasn’t the overall trend, those few bad experiences stuck with me.

I would still like to go back to Portugal and visit more cities; Porto and Comporta (thanks, New York Times) are both on my list.

Today I’ll share a few highlights, some resources (scroll down to the bottom for those), and things I would do differently next time. And gratuitous photos, of course.

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Nice, in photos

We heard the news after we got back from the fireworks. We probably would have gone to bed and slept in ignorance until the morning, but Hugo gets news alerts on his phone.

On Friday, there was an outpouring of shock and grief over the attack in Nice on social media. But at least in Lyon, there doesn’t seem to be a public space of tribute and mourning, like there was after the Paris attacks, where people leave flowers and messages. The public reaction is different this time. Maybe it’s because the possibility of more attacks has been hovering in the background, especially during the Eurocup. But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of this tragedy.

I dug up my old photos of Nice. I haven’t been there since 2012. I thought it was only two years ago, but then I did the math. I meant to go back this summer, but time is short. (By “short” I mean “hurtling along at rogue rocket speed.”)

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Hostelgeeks

Anna & Matt of Hostelgeeks may be two of the nicest people ever. Not only have they created loads of free travel resources, they are generous with their personal travel recommendations and hostel discount codes, and they answer all of their messages and emails personally. For once you feel like you are intereacting with real people, not just a disembodied brand (you know what I’m talking about!)

Scroll down the Hostelgeeks homepage and you’ll find 5 star hostel reviews, city guides, travel stories, and helpful blog posts. I used their Geeky Travel Guides in every place I traveled this summer, and in Bologna I stayed at the 5 star hostel We_Bologna. Recently they featured this hostel in Granada and it looked so cool that I wanted to go to Granada just to stay there (as if I need any more reasons to go to Granada).

Matt was kind enough to send me their e-book “The Greatest Hostels of Europe” (thank you!!) and just looking through it gave me major wanderlust – the hostels are so beautiful that all of a sudden, you’re dreaming of a weekend in a new city, just so you can stay in a hostel with a rooftop pool or sleeping pods instead of bunk beds. At first, I didn’t see how much the e-book could really add to their site, since there is already so much information there. But oh, how wrong I was.

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Florence: Visiting the Uffizzi

I’ll tell you right off the bat – I don’t really care for Renaissance art. I’m mostly interested in art from the last two centuries or so. The Renaissance is just not my style. I know, I know, I’m a barbarian. But the art just seemed so repetitive and boring – Madonna and child, Madonna and child, Madonna and an even fatter child, portrait of rich person, portrait of rich person, portrait of ugly rich person, fat cherubs, biblical scenes, blah blah blah.

I wasn’t even going to visit the Uffizzi, but people looked at me the way you look at someone who tells you they don’t like crême brûlée. (Like a crazy person.) So I changed my mind.

I met two badass girls in Rome named Leah and Stella. Leah said that she felt the same way about Renaissance art, but that the Uffizzi was still something to see. She gave me a couple really helpful tips which made my four hours at the museum (yes, four hours!) go smoothly.

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Eating my way through neighborhoods of Rome: Monti, Trastevere, Testaccio, and more

I don’t know what to tell you about Rome. I didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do. Shannon and I agreed we would definitely skip the Vatican because we’ve both been before, and while we might pop by and wave hi to some of the famous monuments from the outside, there was no way we were waiting in line to go in.

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Ciao from Italia!

Hi! I’m in Italy! I’ve been eating my way through Rome, Florence, and Bologna and I’m exhausted! I haven’t spent much time in Italy in the last ten years (with the except of a January weekend getaway to Turin) and it’s been so much fun to be here. I love having a morning espresso standing up at the counter and trying to speak Italian. 

Each city had its own distinct vibe – I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. I fell in love with the Monti neighborhood in Rome but was overwhelmed by the tourist hordes elsewhere in the city. Florence had its own tourist crowd but it was easier to escape the city center, so it didn’t feel as suffocating. I loved finding little spots for cheap eats, and visiting a few major attractions (they lived up to the hype). 

Bologna was the perfect antidote after a week in cities occupied by tourists – it’s a city of locals, gritty, delicious, Italian. I had the best pasta of my life and people actually gave me the chance to speak the little Italian I know. In Florence, everyone in the city center spoke English right off the bat without bothering to find out if you spoke Italian or not, which I found incredibly irritating. We’re in Italy, at least let me try to practice what Duolingo and Bellini taught me! 

I’ve been keeping some notes along the way in hopes of writing a more thorough blogging account once I’m back in Lyon. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I have to say, or just with life in general, and I don’t get around to blogging about everything I’d like to. Let’s see if I can catch up this summer, shall we? 

   
    

    
   

I hope your summer is off to a good start, wherever you are!

2016, so far

2016 is a big year of change. I’m feeling excited and anxious about the big move to California, and sad to leave Lyon and see most of my expat friends scatter all over the world as we all move on to the next chapters of our lives.

Recently, Hugo and I got a little taste of California life – one of my oldest, dearest friends got married this May and we flew to California for the occasion. She had a beautiful outdoor country wedding that belongs on Pinterest – vintage family dress, DIY centerpieces and bouquets, maid-of-honor hairdresser (that was me! So much pressure!) Her husband is an awesome dude. He cooked all the food. For 150 people. I repeat, he cooked all the food for his own wedding. And made the cake. (He is a good cook!)

So we spent a lot of time out in the countryside – way out in the countryside. I kept an eye out for rattlesnakes, like the paranoid city girl I am. (Did you know they coil up like that to spring at you?! And that they can spring really far?!) We also hung out with my parents, did some shopping, and toured some nearby town like Pacific Grove and San Juan Bautista. We made a trip up to San Francisco, where we wandered around gaping at the gorgeous Victorian houses. It was a speedy trip but I tried to throw in some fun new places that Hugo hadn’t been before (you know, like Target).

Other fun vacation stuff: my mother taught him the words “curmudgeon” and “kerfuffle.” (You can see where I get my love for funny words.)

And now we’re back in France and I’m planning my travel for this summer! (Trip to Rome, Florence, and Bologna in the works, and Lisbon a bit later. And I’d like to squeeze in some shorter trips if I can swing it. Major European travel FOMO here. Suggestions welcome!)

Classes are out, exams are graded, and there’s still a bit more work to be done but it’s quasi-vacation in that I don’t have to go to work every day or plan lessons or grade exams. Which is weird, because this semester (the whole school year, really) was so busy and intense. I kept trying to enjoy my last days of teaching, but I was constantly stressed from being in the hamster wheel. But I had some lovely students this year, and I certainly learned a lot. (I hope that having been a teacher will make me a better student. When I was in undergrad I was very passive and afraid to participate or ask questions, and I would have learned so much more if I had been more active in class. And from my perspective as a teacher, class is so much more interesting when students ask questions.)

Before the wedding, I squeezed in a trip to Paris to see another close friend, aka my partner in crime. We strolled the Marais and Place des Vosges, walked the Coulée Verte, and climbed the fence of the Petite Ceinture, an abandoned railroad that circles the city (but that’s another story). I also got to see a dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier at the Opera Bastille, which was so cool! I loved getting to see behind the scenes, and I remembered how much I love Strauss.

(Speaking of music, I must take the time to tell you about Arts Alliance soon – they’re an awesome organization that makes London opera, dance, music, theater, and art available all around the world. They are killing it on their YouTube channel.)

I don’t write about Paris much since everyone else already has, but I may round up some of my Paris favorites at some point since I do love exploring the city. Anything you want to know? I’ll be back in Paris before the summer’s out, so if there’s anything cool you think I should check out (or eat) while I’m there, let me know!

Going to Paris really kicked off a new season for me – I was mostly chained to work for the first four months of the year and I didn’t travel at all. There is always more work to be done, whether it’s prepping lessons or writing exams or grading them, so taking a weekend trip would be more stressful than anything. Thank goodness for the supportive group of lectrices at work!

I didn’t even leave Lyon during the week-long vacation in February – Hugo’s sister was expecting her second baby and I wanted to be here when he (as it turned out) arrived. It was so worth it to be here for that important day. Hugo and I got to tell her two-year-old that he was a big brother, since the baby came during the night. I’m really going to miss getting to see those little guys and their cousins grow up while we’re in California. It’s one of the hardest things about leaving, because unlike everything else, they will change so fast, and we’ll never get that time back. Will they even remember us? (I’m an only child, so no nieces and nephews on my side.)

I don’t believe that fear of change is a reason to avoid it. I’m not afraid of something new and unknown, but I’m a little heartbroken that I have to let go of so much in order to move forward in my life. I wish I could have it both ways, but as they say in French, you can’t have the butter and the money for the butter (which makes more sense than “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” because you don’t exactly part with the cake when you eat it, whereas you must part with your money to buy butter. Unless you are a butter thief, I suppose. Butter thief, teach me your ways!)

I’m terribly sad to be uprooted from the life I’ve built in Lyon, but I am looking forward to building new roots in a new chapter of life. I’ll let you know how it goes.

All I know is that 2016 has been hurtling along at an alarming pace, and I don’t anticipate that it will slow down any time soon. All aboard the TGV of life!

 

 

 

 

Seville Favorites

I didn’t fall in love with Seville, but I also kind of did.

That’s confusing.

I mean, when I first arrived, Seville didn’t live up to the hype, and I kind of hated the cramped touristy city center, Barrio de Santa Cruz. But once I explored a bit more and got some churros in me, I felt differently.

You know those cities that you love so much that you imagine going back over and over again, or even renting an apartment and staying awhile? I didn’t feel that way about Seville. But I loved a lot of individual things about the city, which all smushed together add up to an awesome week in Seville.

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Lille: First Impressions

I have spent next to no time in Lille. Maybe two or three hours, total. The first time was when I was 22, changing trains on the way to Brussels. This is all I remember:

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Here I am, seven years younger and really tan after a summer in France, pretending to be Thumbelina.

So for years, Lille was to me “the city with the big flowers by the train station.”

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San Sebastián Favorites: Sun, Shopping, and Pintxos

The good thing about #slowblogging is that the buzz of the trip has died down in my mind, and the highlights stand out against the blur of my memory. I don’t remember why I wasn’t excited about visiting San Sebastian when I planned my trip to Spanish Basque Country, but I am glad that I decided to stay two nights instead of making it a lightning-quick trip from Bilbao.

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