Sunday, October 16, 2016

The In-between

I've been home for more than a month now with no set plans to leave again and it's hard. I don't want to seem ungrateful that I have a place to come home to, because I am SO grateful that I can come back and stay whenever I want and my gracious parents will always take me in, but after one month I'm restless. It is wonderful to see my family and friends again and to catch up with the amazing people that I miss so much when I'm away but I can't help feeling a little bit stuck here. I like doing new things and seeing new places and, honestly, living the life of a traveler keeps me from overthinking. When I'm living in another country in an environment that I've chosen, I am rarely bored and usually doing things that I want to do. When I'm here, I have more time to myself and less choice over my job since I have to take what I can find around here. That leaves more more time to think about everything and anything and worry about the future or miss the past and wish I was somewhere other than here and doing something other than what I'm doing. It's hard to stay positive even though I know I have so much to be thankful for.

The ocean <3

I love fall days in New England

I'm currently working two jobs, as a server at a Thai restaurant Friday and Saturday nights, and as a Shift Supervisor (although my title actually technically just became Store Manager) at a burger place and, needless to say, it's not exactly my dream job. I'm sure there are plenty of people in a similar situation but I find myself wondering how I ended with a college degree and two-page resume, working at a burger joint. I guess you could say I'm having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I realize that I chose a path of less security when I decided to travel and I don't regret traveling for one second but I guess it can't always be glamorous... I kind of thought I'd come home and find a job as a biologist or field researcher or something along those lines right away and I'd settle in and spend some time around here. But apparently God has other plans for me. I don't know what they are yet but I'm excited to find out! In the meantime, I'm going to be thankful for the people I have here, a place to live, a job, the car that I just bought, the New England fall I get to enjoy for the first time in several years, the surfing, a horse to ride, and many other things that I don't have everywhere!
No waves today but the surf is pretty good some days!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


It's taken me a while to write this because there's just so much to write about and I haven't stopped moving around until about a week ago when we got back from family vacation in Minnesota. Even after that, time has gone amazingly quickly and I've filled up my days with surfing, going to the barn, and looking for a job.

It feels like forever ago but it's been a little over a month now since I left France. I said my goodbyes to the family over the course of my last week with them and then the mom and youngest daughter dropped me of at the bus station where I met my friend, Olga, with whom I would be traveling for the next week and a half. It was cold and kind of rainy despite the fact that it was the middle of summer, but I guess Brittany, France is like that. It was something like eight hours from where we got on the bus to our destination of Paris. If you've ever heard that the French like to go on strike and do so frequently, it's true. Unlike in the U.S., however, it's a very planned-out thing and our flight happened to be the last day of a week-long strike on our airline, Air France, and we were so afraid it would be cancelled. My Google homepage even told me that it was cancelled, though I hadn't received an email or anything so even as we made our way to the airport we weren't sure if we would be flying out or not. Luckily, we were fine and as long as there were no delays we were scheduled to arrive in Venice just in time for the last bus... We arrived at the airport around 10:30 pm and figured out we needed to take the bus to Mestre station and then one more which would take us practically right to our Airbnb. When we got to Mestre it was completely dark, there was pretty much no one there, and we couldn't see any signs for buses. There was one  unmarked mini-van taxi so we asked the driver where we could find the bus and he pointed us in the direction. We walked for a few minutes and tried asking at a restaurant but they only spoke Italian. As we would learn later on, we weren't far but it was late, we had no idea where we were, and we were a bit sketched-out so we decided to go back and take the taxi. Fortunately we didn't take the bus because I don't think we would ever have found the apartment from the station. Even the cab driver couldn't. He had no meter, much less a GPS, so he stopped twice to ask for directions. When we still couldn't find it, he pulled over to call the host of the Airbnb since neither of us had service. Turns out we were right in front of the apartment.

Our hosts were a wonderful retired couple who prepared meals for us whenever we were there and did everything they could to help us out and make us feel comfortable, even though they didn't speak any English and we didn't know enough to really communicate in Italian. Fortunately, Olga speaks Spanish and the two languages are similar enough that we could usually make each other understood. It was quite a nice appartement, too, even though her territorial chihuahua did pee on our floor and the metal fan blades did fly off the fan one night and land on my bed.

Venice is a beautiful city but you have to pay to do anything and there were soooo many people so after walking all over the first day we were exhausted and ready to see something else.


We decided to take the bus about an hour away to Verona, the site of Juliet's balcony. Verona is a small city with lots of ancient buildings and shady, stone-paved streets. We visited the balcony (but did not take a picture with a hand on Juliet-the-statue's breast like everyone else - apparently it's good luck...), we saw the market and an ancient Opera theater, visited a beautiful Roman cathedral, crossed the river to see the ruins of a Roman theater, walked through an old Roman fort, and ate pizza and gelato.
The river around Verona

Juliet's Balcony

Roman fort

The next day we took the bus to Florence. We stopped again in Verona but we only had about an hour before our next bus so we found the closest restaurant and ate very mediocre sandwiches from a kebab shop (a Turkish restaurant that is very popular in Europe) while being stared at by unsavory, non-Italians who seemed to be locals. Needless to say, we ate quickly and made our way back to the bus. We continued our streak of struggling with public transportation but somehow made it to the appartement with the help of kind locals on the bus and in town where we asked for directions multiple times, and the Google maps that I had downloaded on my phone. We arrived at exactly the same time as the host which saved us from wandering around for an indeterminate amount of time since the buildings were not clearly marked. The place was rather cold and unwelcoming and we could hear the neighbors talking and babies crying but it could've been worse and Florence the next day made up for it.
We left for the bus stop way too early so we got beers and sat in the middle of weird little market

I  liked Florence even better than Venice and Verona. It's a bigger city but not so busy that you feel constantly surrounded by people and cars. We started at Michelangelo Square - the site of Michelangelo's "David" - which overlooks the entire city. What an incredible view!
Me and David


We started to descend the steps into the city and stopped to take pictures with the view in the background and we were talking to each other (in French, which we always spoke together) about asking someone to take our picture and a man, who must have been about 70, asked if we wanted our picture taken. He took our picture and we started talking. We asked him if he was French and he told, no, he was a local and he liked to just come up here and see the city and "tour guide" for people because he is a retired teacher (if I remember correctly) and his wife didn't like going on long walks with him. He asked if we wanted a tour of the old church on the hill behind us and we figured "why not". He told us that a lot of people missed the church altogether because they were too focused on the tourist highlights but that it was his favorite church in Florence. It really was a magnificent church and in a mix of French, Italian, and English, he told us all about its history and the architecture and artwork inside. After our tour he gave us some tips about seeing the city and then said goodbye.
Inside the church

Florence from outside the church on the hill

We descended from the hill into the city until we came to the river. The Arno River cuts right through Florence - large rivers seem to be a theme in major European cities - so there are a series of bridges all down the length of the river. The oldest of these bridges is Ponte Vecchio which is so crowed with shops and building, you almost don't realize it's a bridge at first! It was an interesting site, however, and I can see why it's a popular tourist attraction.
The Arno River

Ponte Vecchio

One of our first stops was food. We wandered a little to find a place off the main drag that would be less expensive and just all-around better. We found a little pizza place (shocking, I know), that I can't even remember the name of and ate the best pizza that I had the whole time in Italy. It may have tasted better since they made the pizzas heart-shaped just for us. Afterwards, we walked a lot. We went to the Duomo (a cathedral with a dome) where we were obligated to buy shawls from a nearby vendor and put on jackets or be refused entry because we were in shorts and tank tops and, as we found out, the dress code for most of the Italian churches is covered knees and shoulders. It was worth it, though, because it was incredible inside! In fact, every church we went to in Italy was beautiful on the outside but exquisite on the inside. The amount of time that must have gone into all the paintings on the ceilings and walls is unimaginable!
The best pizza in Italy

Inside the Duomo

The Duomo
The Duomo in Florence
We went to one museum which was really interesting because it had some of the oldest artifacts that I had ever seen and lots sculptures by Michelangelo and other artists of the time but it was a little overwhelming because there was so much to see and it didn't help that it was about 90 degrees. We admired lots of other old buildings and statues and tourist sites, and when we couldn't walk anymore, we found a little cafe where we got fruit, gelato, and beers over the course of at least a couple hours. We had planned to move on but we were just so comfortable that we stayed there charging our phones, using wifi, and talking to the server until it was time to catch the bus to Rome.

Carving by Michelangelo
Some statues at the museum...

Yet again, we had misadventures getting to where we were staying in Rome. Supposedly all we had to do was take the metro to the train and then it would be a 15 minute walk from the train station to the hostel. We'd been told that the last train was at midnight and it was around 10:30 so we figured we'd be fine as long as we hurried. We found the metro and got off at Flaminio (the stop for the city center and also where we had to change to the train) and the train station was completely dark. Horrified, we asked a police officer outside the station when the last train was. He didn't quite understand but he told us the next train was at 5:30 in the morning. He tried to help us and gave someone a call to see about getting us a taxi or something but there was nothing he could do so we walked into the center - luckily it wasn't far - and found a taxi which was certainly easier than trying to find the hostel for the first time in the dark. We missed the train again the next night, too, and had to take a bus before we learned that the last train was actually at 10:30 and not midnight.
The square at Flaminio during the day

 Over the next three days we did all the touristy things like the Colosseum, the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica... We probably spent more time waiting in 95 degree-heat and blazing sun for everything then we did actually seeing it but it was worth it. I loved the Colosseum because you can almost imagine being there back in the day and it is really an amazing piece of architecture. You never see pictures of the inside but it's way more incredible and almost everything is still in place like it used to be. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel were incredible and almost every surface was covered with some kind of painting or artwork but it was so much it was almost impossible to really appreciate it and it was impossible to stop to admire anything because we were being pushed through by the masses like a herd of cattle. The Basilica was equally adorned but less frenetic and we stopped occasionally just to take it in. We also went to see the Trevi Fountain at night and it is very beautiful and remarkably large - like everything in Rome - but, once again, there were so many people that it kind of took away from the overall experience. We did throw a coin in which apparently means we're going to fall in love with a Roman and come back to Rome...

Inside the Colosseum

Paintings like these were on every surface in the Vatican

Inside the Vatican Museum

It was impossible to capture the splendor inside the Basilica

...but I tried

One of many painted domes

Trevi Fountain

Aside from the main highlights there were plenty of interesting streets and buildings to see and I was amazed at how many ancient ruins are still there. The old is completely mixed in with the new and is everywhere. There are ancient walls lining streets and pathways, Roman arches over and next to the main highway, and large tracts of land covered with ruins. It makes you feel so close to the history. It's unlike in Paris, for example, where you know the buildings are old but the majority of them are seamlessly blended into the modern city and often have a new purpose. I really loved Rome for that reason. The only thing I really didn't like were the crowds.
Olga in front of some ruins

By our third day in Rome, we were so exhausted from the countless miles of walking (I think it was 15-20 miles a day) and the heat and all the people that we didn't do a whole lot. We were also tired of spending money, often unintentionally, on everything (we once paid 20 euros each for a dry sandwich and some chips because we didn't know it was twice the price to eat-in and we had to pay for silverware, whether or not we were using it) so we decided just to buy a pizza and take it back to the hostel and drink the bottle of wine that my au pair dad had given me as a parting gift. Then we tried to go to bed early since we were taking the train at 6 am to catch the plane to Brussels and then to Denmark.
Fitting meal for our last night in Italy

We didn't actually sleep much at all but we got to our flight on time with no real difficulties. I'll write about Brussels, Denmark, and England later or I'll never get this posted!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sometimes You Need To Walk

 I love intense sports. I love surfing and running and horseback riding... I love moving fast and feeling alive and pushing myself, but sometimes, I just need to walk. Today was one of those times, though I didn't realize it at first. My impending departure from France has me left with a million emotions, as every big change does. Things feel different now as two of my good friends have just left and I know I will soon be saying "goodbye", too. Sunday is my day off and I spent the morning organizing my room and going through my things. I had no idea what to do with my afternoon but I was feeling restless, pensive, and a bit down. There were no waves so I couldn't go surfing and the thought of running (especially in the heat of the day) wasn't terribly appealing. I would have loved to see friends but they are all either gone or were busy. I couldn't imagine staying in the house all day so I decided to take the car and go visit a small town not far from here called Pont Aven, which I had never seen before.
Pont Aven

The Port

As soon as I got there, I realized that walking around a bustling tourist town with people and cars was not at all what I wanted to do but I worked my way through the busy center towards the port and I stumbled upon a trail on the edge of town. It was exactly what I needed and I followed it as it wound along the edge of the water and into a perfectly green and lovely woods. The woods do something for my soul and being practically alone on that quiet trail was wonderful. I thought about my time in France and of times before and of all the places I have gone and all the wonderful people I have met. I thought about the things I love in life and how I wish I could have them all at the same. I happened upon a couple of horses in a field along the trail and my heart ached for the times when horses were my world. I walked past farms down a long, dirt, tree-lined road and I reminisced of other dirt, tree-lined roads through farmland in other parts of the world and the times that I had had on them. Occasionally, I passed people - families, couples, friends - and I longed to be with people that I love and care about. I dreamed about the future, too. What I will do, where I will go, who I will be, and who I will be with. I have so many dreams but really no idea where I will end up and I love thinking about the possibilities. I walked for a long time and I didn't want the trail to end. I wanted to walk until I couldn't walk anymore and just to be alone with my thoughts and memories and dreams.
My lovely little trail

Ponies :)
I can't remember the last time I just walked and thought like that and it felt so good. I'm always with other people or, when I'm alone, I'm distracted by my phone or computer or some activity and I didn't even know how much I needed it. When I finally came back to the town, I felt completely different. I calmly admired the pretty, French town, strolled past the little shops and restaurants, and waded in the river that flows under the bridge for which the town is named ("pont" is French for "bridge"). Then I bought myself and Italian ice, which I thoroughly enjoyed before making my way back home. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016


I had every intention to keep up my blog here but the time has passed incredibly quickly. It's hard to believe that I've been here for more than four months, which means I only have about two and a half months left! I could write about so many things I don't even know where to start. What is it like to be an au pair in France? It's wonderful and incredibly difficult at the same time. I love that I'm here but I can't say I love every minute of it. When you live in a family, you get to experience things in a way that you never would if you were alone or living with friends but are also in the midst of all their problems and it can be hard not to be affected by them. I think it's a great way to experience another culture and to see what it's like to live in a French family but, I have to say, I really do miss my independence, especially after living on my own/with friends. And it's not like a 9-5 job where you know your hours and once you clock out you're done. Of course, it's different in every household but I've found Saturdays (like today) to be the most difficult. It's not that I work so much but that I never know exactly when I'm needed and when I'm free. It can be incredibly frustrating because I might have nothing to do but I can't actually do anything because I might need to be with the kids in an hour or bring one of them to or from an activity. If you know me well, you know I'm not so good at being patient and I don't really like sitting around doing nothing. Recently, I've really been trying to change my perspective and take advantage of the time I have to write my blog, journal, read, etc., etc. But it's still a struggle, especially when there are waves I could be surfing...

I don't want to complain, though, because I do actually get a lot of time to enjoy France. In the beginning, I thought I would be traveling practically every weekend and really seeing France but in reality I haven't done too much of that. I've seen some of the nearby cities - Rennes, Vannes, Lorient, Quimper - but my only full day off is Sunday and, in France, everything is closed on Sunday and really, as nice as French cities are, I'd rather spend time with friends or go surfing or do something outdoors than spend money to drive to city only to be able to walk around, eat, and spend more money.  I would really like to see a bit more but I'm also quite content to spend my time surfing, and doing things around here. I feel like I'm more addicted to surfing than ever since coming here. I check the surf reports every day just hoping that there will be waves and I will do just about anything to make time for a session if I know there are waves, even if it means waking up at 6am to go before the day starts. I've made friends with some other au pairs here and one of them, Anne, just happens to be a surfer (and an equestrian!) like me so we go surfing together every chance we can get. Au pairing might seem like an easy job but, mentally and emotionally it isn't and I don't think I could do it without the support of friends and the escape of surfing (or running if I can't surf ;) ).
Surfing with Anne <3

I wouldn't give up this experience or this family though. I really like being in France and I really like the family. I can't imaging being anywhere else right now and I know being here is teaching me things and I hope that I will have a positive impact on this family as well. I know that I am here for a reason and I don't want to waste my time here in wishing for things to change.
Exploring the coast on an evening run

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Biarritz et Barcelone

The French are serious about their vacation and the kids get two weeks off every couple of months. Normally that means more work for me since the parents are still working and I have to be with the kids, but for the last round of vacation the parents took the second week off and I had the chance to travel! I haven't been so good about blogging since I've been in France and this post is about two weeks late but I wanted to write it anyway.

It was hard deciding where to go - I mean, I could've gone pretty much anywhere in Europe - but it just so happened that my sister, Beth, was going to Spain around the same time and I had talked with one of my friends here about going to Barcelona (although she didn't end up coming) so I decided on Barcelona. I had a few days free before Beth arrived so I figured I'd stop somewhere along the way since Barcelona is about 10 hours from here if you go direct and most trains don't. I chose Biarritz 'cause I'd heard it's a really beautiful place... and it's known for it's surf. ;) So I took a board (which the family kindly let me borrow) and got the train to Biarritz.
Basque country

In my imagination, I would be staying at a hostel within walking distance to the beach. I would surf at least two times a day and in the evenings I would relax with a beer and good food and talk with the other surfers from around the world who had come to Biarritz to surf. Of course, it would be sunny and hot and the waves would be perfect. In reality, I had to take a bus from the hostel to the nearest beach and I was the only surfer in the hostel. In fact, I was practically the only person in the hostel (okay, I exaggerate, maybe there were a dozen people). The first day I was there, the waves were almost 3 meters (about 9 feet) which is not exactly my level. But since I had bought an unlimited bus pass I could go anywhere I wanted, right? In theory... Unfortunately, the buses only run every hour or half hour in the off-season and they don't necessarily stop close to the beach. But I asked the people at the hostel desk (they looked like surfers and seemed to know what they were talking about...) where I could find some slightly smaller waves. They suggested a place called Bidart so I took my board and boarded the bus to Bidart. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at a small town which, as the driver informed me, was Bidart plage (beach).
Bidart Plage
I quickly realized that I would not be surfing there as the waves were huge and rather messy. But I had heard about another plage nearby so I set off to find it, hoping it would be better. After climbing a huge hill, toting my surfboard - which acted more like a large sail - all the way I found the other beach. There were still no surfable waves but there was a surf club unpacking boards from a van. I asked a lady where they had surfed and she rattled off a list of names, none of which I understood clearly enough to repeat but I figured I could find them on a map. I walked back to the bus stop and consulted the map. Saint Jean du Luz sounded familiar so I took that bus. However, there were about six different stops under that name so I just got off at one that looked like it was near the water. I found the tourist info center and was informed that it was on a bay and, thus, there were no waves but I could walk up the coast to the open beach. I must have walked at least five miles and the only waves I found were huge. I finally gave up and slowly made my way back to the bus and then to the hostel. That evening I went into the center of Biarritz to see the Grande Plage and find something to eat. It is really a stunning area and the sunset was absolutely beautiful!
View of the bay at St Jean du Luz

The port at St Jean du Luz
Grande Plage

Sunset over Grande Plage

The next day the waves were significantly smaller and, although I still did quite a bit of walking during the morning, I managed to find some good waves and surfed all afternoon until the sun set. Back at the hostel that evening, I met a Canadian guy while I was in the common room using the internet and we talked for a bit about what we were doing in France and then he started playing his guitar. Some people heard it from the kitchen and came to ask if we wanted to join them in singing and playing guitar and of course, talking travel. It was so nice and I met a lovely French girl who had been an au pair in the U.S.! It was cool to hear the opposite perspective and to be able to share a connection like that.

The day after, I set off for Barcelona. My train wasn't scheduled until 2:30 pm but I left early because I had to check out of the hostel anyway. Luckily I did because, upon arriving at the train station, I learned that there had been a problem on the tracks and all the trains were delayed 1-2 hours! Since I had a connection in Irun (a Spanish town just over the border with France) the man at the station recommended I take the next train to Hendaye, France and walk "15 minutes" to the station in Irun. Although walking was the last thing I wanted to do after walking about 30 miles over the past two days with my backpack and surfboard, I accepted his advice. It was easy enough to find the town of Irun but the station was nowhere to be seen. It's amazing how fast the language changes when you cross the border. No one seemed to speak French. I asked for directions at a store and the woman explained them using Spanish with a few French words and lots a pictures and gestures. It worked and I made it to the station but as I had some time to spare, I found a cafe and sat for a while. About an hour before my train was scheduled to depart, I made my way back to the station and I was sitting outside waiting for my train when a man who worked there came up to me and asked if the surfboard was mine. I said "yes" and he said "No, not possible" "The train is too small". I must have stared at him for at least a minute and then I attempted to explain that I had already taken it on three different trains without any problems but all he said was "No, not possible" "I don't speak English, but no".  So I tried the man at the desk. He told me "You can walk to the station in France to get the money for your ticket". I tried to ask if there were other options but I got the same response every time. I tried the other man again, still no. And again. Finally he found someone who could speak English and she translated for me and he agreed to let me buy another seat just for my board. Of course, when I finally boarded the train, it was basically empty and my board would have easily fit in the overhead storage or the luggage racks. I'm sure there are lovely Spanish people, but I have to say from my experience, I prefer the French...

I made it to Barcelone that night, took the metro to the Airbnb, and spent some time talking to the hosts while I waited for Beth to arrive. In case you don't know what an Airbnb is, it's a room or an appartement which the owners rent out to travelers. Our hosts were an Argentinian couple who work as lifeguards in Barcelona during the summer and travel the rest of the year - not bad! It was great to reunite with my sister and travel together which was something we wanted to do for a long time. We spent the next two days exploring the city by metro, bus, and foot. We walked over 10 miles each day but we really made the most of our time there. We admired the works of Gaudi at Sagrada Familia, Casa Battló, and Park Güell, took in the city's history (recent and not-so-recent) on the old streets, at the Olympic Stadium, and at the Castell de Montjuïc, enjoyed the beautiful weather on the beach and at the Park de la Ciutadella, and savored the delicious and inexpensive food at the Mercat de la Boqueria and various local eateries. On our last night we watched an amazing light display at the Magic Fountain. Beth left early the next day and I wandered and the city a bit more while waiting for the bus to Paris.
Parc de la Ciutadella

An old Roman fortress

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

Parc Güell

Castell Montjuïc

View of the harbor from Castell Montjuïc
The magical fountain display

I spent the afternoon and night on the bus and, between a screaming baby and the bus's constant stops, I slept very little, and arrived at 5:15 am the next day in Paris. Since I had the whole day before my train back to Lorient, I walked around Paris and explored some places I hadn't yet seen, like Sacre Cœur and the Luxembourg Jardins. My train trip back to Lorient only made me more sure that I would never again take my surfboard on public transportation. Between the annoyed looks of other passengers and the fact that I had to stand in the corridor with my board because there were no empty seats and there was not enough space in the luggage rack, it was not the most pleasant journey. Luckily, someone let me have their seat for the last hour or so until people got off  and more seats opened up. Upon arriving at the train station around 11:30 pm, I found my car wouldn't start and I had to take a taxi home. Needless to say, the next day back to work was a bit rough but traveling is like that and it was worth it.
Luxembourg jardins