"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for all of Paris is a moveable feast." -Ernest Hemingway

Friday, May 28, 2010

Full Circle

This is really weird. Just thinking about the fact that I'm going to be in the States tomorrow night. Today was a nice and mellow, yet also epic, last full day in Paris, before the shuttle comes to pick me up at noon tomorrow. It was oddly fitting, if you reread my first post from when I moved into Beatrice's. I remember desperately wanting to play with the kids, yet feeling really awkward speaking French to them. But this morning Beatrice left me with the kids again, and I played with them alone for about an hour or so. All day, while I was in and out of the house packing and buying gifts, the kids would run in and out of my room, using it as the most epic spot to hide in for hide and go seek. Right before my last dinner with the fam, Beatrice's son (whom I met earlier this semester, at the dinner party she held) and I chatted, and I also unusually ran into every one of her neighbors and relatives today. It's as if everything has come full circle. I'm serious when I say that today I ran into every single person that I've met over the course of the semester through Beatrice. Her house is like a revolving door, there are constantly people staying the night, or children staying the week. I'm going to miss this so much. I told Beatrice (along with her sister and the cleaning lady) that I'm planning on returning after graduation, and she made me promise that I'll call her when I do--I can even stay here again if I'd like. She has a heart of gold.

I also had my last meal at L'As--unfortunately it was pouring and my friend (the same guy who always serves me multiple times a week--we're BFFs now) didn't serve me my last pita of falafel, but we ate inside instead. It was also my last night at the Frat, and instead of leaving really early to catch the metro, I splurged on a taxi, which I was grateful for because it drove us by the Arc du Triomphe and the unlit Eiffel Tower--that's when I realized that it's going to be at least a year before I see this place again. But I'm telling myself that I'm for sure going to return--it's the only thing that's keeping me from ultimately freaking out.

I don't want to say goodbye yet, but I guess I should. It's only fitting, right? Thank you for reading so far, but it turns out that this blog was more for me than I could have imagined. I wonder what my blog for Florence would have been like. Certainly not like this one. There are too many lasts right now for me to handle. And a last blog post is definitely not something that I want to think about at the moment, but I guess this is it. My bags are packed and my room is bare. Tomorrow I'm perhaps leaving Beatrice's forever. But let's not talk about that. Or think about that. Lets think about the fact that this semester was one of the most amazing semesters of my life, and that as soon as I touch US soil I will be counting down until I can eat a real croissant and go to museums and speak French and drink café crèmes all day long. Maybe I'll never get to do that again, but shh, let's just pretend for now...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

New places, favorite haunts, and to-do lists

It's the final countdown. I'm leaving Beatrice's (and Paris--both I think equally hard) in only five days, boarding a plan on Friday evening. In a way I'm getting anxious to leave already, only because the goodbyes to both Paris and to my friends have been long and many--I just want to get it over with. Kind of. I've taken advantage of finally being free from school and the amazing weather (the closest we've come to spring this entire month) and haven't been in my apartment for more than a few hours at a time. After saying goodbye to Meaghan and Alena, it's only Amelie, Maria, and me that remain, and we've been revisiting our favorite places in Paris (L'As, the Marais) as well as crossing off things that we have yet to see (various parks, museums). I've been hesitant about breaking out my camera (known to all as Betty) these last few days, and I've finally realized why: I don't want to think of it as my last week living in Paris, my last week to take pictures of my life here--I'm making sure, in a way, that I'm going to return.

Last week British Airways emailed about the possible strike that their crew is threatening to have--well, it looks like they're having it. Every flight from Paris to Boston on Friday has been cancelled except for mine. How's that for fate, or luck, or what have you? I guess I'm meant to leave after all. I've been saying to my parents this entire semester that I'm going to return, and I've asked as many people as possible to describe their expat lives here in Paris, but while writing this post I'm only a mere 80% sure that I'll actually live here after graduation. That might sound like a lot, but I need some definite answers to cling to as I board my plane to the States. There are a lot of options for me to choose from--there's being an au pair, there's working for NYU, there's getting my masters at the University of Paris...I've done my research. But the thought of leaving again for not a semester, but possibly years, is daunting. I'm thinking too far ahead. Hell, I don't even know what I'm doing this summer!

I went to Amsterdam with Amelie and Maria on Tuesday morning, and we returned to Paris Thursday night. It was amazing. I had the best pad thai in the entire world, ate a warm belgian waffle covered in chocolate, actually had to pay for my water at restaurants (I forgot that not everywhere is it illegal to refuse to give people tap water--it makes me love France and the US), bought tulips at the flower market, drank ICED coffee to go (both ice and "to go" are foreign concepts in France), went into every single cute bookstore we saw, went vintage shopping (something that I never do in New York but actually liked here), napped in the park under the sun, went to the Anne Frank house, paid the vultures at the Van Gogh museum a whole 14 euro to get in, and pretty much walked around the entire city. One thing that I refused to do though: ride a bike. You know me and bikes--I love them. I rode one for five days. I rode my bike with Ece in New York a couple times last semester. But I absolutely hated the bikers in Amsterdam. Never in a city have I felt so unwanted as a pedestrian. That might sound weird to people who have never been there, but you can pretty much walk the entire place, and yet I never knew if a sidewalk was really a street or a bike path or whatnot, and I was constantly in danger of getting run over by bikes or cars or trams. Every time I heard that little bell behind me coming from the biker, I wanted to throw that person off their bike. The first day I had no doubt that I would get run over on that trip. By day three I stopped looking before I crossed the street because I wanted to take back my pedestrian pride that I've gained in both New York and in Paris. I'm used to getting the right-of-way--taxis hate me in New York for demanding that right. But in Amsterdam, it felt like the bikers were an infestation. Of course I'm being overdramatic, but that's just why I stubbornly refused to ride a bike, something that everyone says you have to do if you visit.

The city is beautiful, though. I'll give it that. Amelie and I figured out how to describe it in two ways: the first is that every street looks like it could be Main Street of a small New England town. The second is that it takes all the perfect, quaint parts of Boston and puts them into one city. It's quaint but metropolitan. And the people there are just freakishly nice. Of course I loved it, and I had to admit that it was a drastic change from Parisians, but as Amelie and Maria were reveling in their kindness, I felt like I had to stick up for the French. Sure, they're not as bubbly as the Dutch, or smile as much, and they don't do as many outward acts of kindness to strangers, especially tourists, but that's just their charm. They're fun and combative and you have to get in their good graces. It's like the differences between Northerners and Southerners. Being a proud Northerner, you see why I'd choose the Parisians. But I want someone to live in Amsterdam so that while I'm in Paris I can go visit--I loved it enough that I'd definitely go back.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A lack of mimes, but plenty of duck

So. The program ended Thursday afternoon, somewhat anti-climatically after my last final, and then my friends and I had an amazing pre-goodbye dinner on Thursday evening at a fancy French restaurant, in which I ordered amazing escargot, duck, and apple crumble. Meaghan is leaving Tuesday morning, so we've been pretty much planning every single meal we're going to have until then--i.e. going to all the restaurants we've been meaning to go to all semester but for some reason never went to, along with David Lebovitz's newest recommendations. So far we've had delicious couscous at a Moroccan restaurant, the most fabulous duck confit you've ever dreamed of at a Southeastern French rotisserie, the best scrambled eggs in the world (seriously, you will never find better scrambled eggs until you come to France--no exaggeration), true French brunch, warm and authentic crêpes from a street-cart on rue Mouffetard, the freshest salad with loads of eggplant and avocado, and of course, lots of wine.

This week was probably the most relaxing finals week I've ever had in my college career. Having that week of hell (before spring break) literally paid off, because I was not stressed out in the slightest. Sure, I had a lot of final exams, but they seemed to be a lot easier than my final papers and projects and things that were due weeks before. Wednesday night was the last Wine Wednesday, as well as Beatrice's birthday (unfortunately we didn't know until that night! She's 67!) and our last dinner with her. It was fun because her grandchildren and her daughter were there (as usual), as well as her sister (who lives in the same building) and her neighbors. She made quiches, there were lots of cakes, and then everyone just hung out and talked afterwards. I've been told multiple times this semester (something that I learned) that I can't keep my thoughts from showing on my face, so I tried extremely hard to not look as confused as I felt, because they were all talking so fast and I was extremely tired from finals and wanting to leave to go to Wine Wednesday, but I'm glad I stayed. My listening comprehension, as horrible as it was when I arrived, has definitely gotten better while being with Beatrice. But then after everyone left I ran to Wine Wednesday, which has turned into watching Glee and drinking wine during certain parts of the show. Fun times. Sad times too, since it was the last one before New York (where the tradition will obviously continue). Thursday, like I said, was the last day of the program and our fancy dinner, and then Friday we went to the Museum of Natural History and saw a lot of animals with two heads in jars, as well as other creatures and bones. It was overwhelming, disgusting, and fascinating, all at the same time. There are still a lot of museums I need to cross off my list before I leave, but I'll probably get to those next week. When Meaghan leaves on Tuesday we're going to Amsterdam for three days, and then coming back on Thursday night to say goodbye to Alena and then I have about a week left in Paris--it's going to fly by! The weather I swear has gone from winter to spring (still not quite summer) in the past two days, but watch, I just jinxed it. Watch it snow tomorrow because of me.

I'm sorry I keep talking about the kids at Beatrice's, but seriously, I need to talk about Alix. I want to take her back to America with me. I'm not kidding. I walk in now and her face lights up and she just follows me to my room (walking now, along with the random dogs hanging out in the apartment--Beatrice has started babysitting animals as well as children) and plays with me in my room. She's adorable. And the sounds she makes are so interesting because they're not the same sounds that an American baby makes. Beatrice walked into the living room and wondered where everyone was, and then she saw that they were all in my room, hanging out on my bed. And ever since our last dinner I've been talking with Beatrice's grandchildren a lot more--I guess the fact that Julia left Friday and I'm leaving in two weeks makes us realize that we should be comfortable with each other by now.

I bought a Mini Diana + camera last week (a fun toy film camera) and I've been playing with it the past few days. Just ran out of my first roll today, so I'm excited to get it developed on Monday--let's hope the pictures actually turn out and I can post them here. In other news, tonight (Saturday) was Night at the Museum in Paris, in which most of the museums were free and open to the public until 1am, with ballet and music and mimes and things. I got to cross off the Orangerie off my list (Monet's Water Lilies, among others--so cool! Monet apparently designed his room himself), but we arrived too late for the mimes. Boo. I want to see at least one before I leave. And gypsies dressed in stripes don't count.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Is the program really almost over?

Final thoughts and memories before this week actually ends:
1. That first night in the FIAP, getting sent off in groups to go buy our phones and metrocards and meeting Emily (Amelie) for the first time.
2. Sitting at dinner at the FIAP with people I didn't realize at the time would become part of the Wine Wednesday crowd.
3. That first night out in Paris, getting a glass of wine at the restaurant near the FIAP, getting to know each other.
4. My first ride on the metro at night, hearing a man playing the soundtrack to Amelie on an accordion and realizing I was actually in Paris.
5. Going on a scavenger hunt in Passy during orientation, getting completely lost and taking some of the most awkward pictures.
6. Our first opera, which lasted for five hours and had an entire scene in which people, dressed in bunny costumes, came out and humped onstage for fifteen minutes.
7. Standing in the incredibly long line at L'As every Sunday afternoon, talking about the night before and salivating just thinking about the falafel we were about to consume.
8. Going to "The Yellow Place" (it just has a yellow banner, we never know what the name actually is) next to school every single day during the preliminary course to the point where we couldn't look at a baguette for days and couldn't imagine going back there...until we realized they sold amazing quiche.
9. Reading Oscar Wilde in the Luxembourg Gardens.
10. Discovering that French guys absolutely cannot dance (but dance hilariously), therefore taking dancing to a whole new level (i.e. imitating their dance moves). I don't think I want to/can dance any other way anymore.
11. Talking about David Lebovitz to the point where we've become worshippers (but not so much anymore, after we found out he dissed someone we love).
12. Becoming groupies to three certain staff members.
13. Learning the hard way that French guys look a lot older than they actually are.
14. Going to the Frat (Emily, Sara, and Maria's apartment) so much that it's literally a second home.
15. Meeting Beatrice for the first time, in which she served us macarons, orange juice, and cookies and introduced us to her grandchildren. We knew right then and there that she was going to be amazing.
16. Having our first picnic on the first beautiful day of spring after class.
17. Eating amazing brunch and digesting all that food while sitting along the canal, talking and people watching.
18. Buying a Petite Recolte (type of wine) and drinking it while watching Glee.
19. That first Wine Wednesday, that first Dinner Party, and that first Dinner With Beatrice. All my best memories are centered around food.
20. Realizing how loud we were in the beginning of the semester when we actually told our visitors to be quieter on the metro (Americans are really the loudest).
21. Speaking in British accents on the metro so that people don't think we're stupid Americans.
22. Becoming so close to each other that saying goodbye for our two week spring break was actually hard.
23. Going to the most amazing chocolate place in Paris, meeting Denise Acabo, and telling her how much we love David Lebovitz.
24. Realizing that I don't look as American as I used to (doe-eyed, among other things) when I sat across from some English-speaking people on the metro and they thought I was French.
25. Loving and learning to appreciate the brusque-ness of Parisians when they respect you for arguing and standing up for yourself (something that I've learned to do here), while if you did the same thing in New York you'd just get beat up.
26. Seeing the Eiffel Tower's light show (the finale, at 1am) from someone's balcony.
27. Learning to get our money's worth at NYU by taking any free food they offer, or cutlery they have. Best example: walking away with a trash bag full of soft baguettes and a platter full of cheese, only to make some pretty good fondue later that night with our spoils.
28. Sitting in the Champs de Mars (under the Tour Eiffel) speaking in gibberish to the gypsies who come by asking, "Speak English?"
29. Drinking a panaché under the sun by the harbor in Île de Ré.
30. Learning who makes the best frites (fries), croque monsieur, or the different types of steak (entrecôte, aligot).
31. Being able to drink good wine for under three euro.
32. Sitting for hours chatting and digesting, never being bothered by the waiter to leave.
33. Not having to deal with tax or tip in restaurants.
34. People watching while drinking a café crème (Parisians don't do café au lait) in the oldest café in Paris.
35. Sitting down and planning every single meal for our last week so that we miss out on absolutely nothing.
36. Running around the city on National Macaron Day in order to receive our free macarons.
37. Thinking Wheelie Baby was an absolute menace, only to have Amelie come over and meet her and show me that she is the cutest baby in the entire world.
38. Seeing Alix (Wheelie Baby's real name) learn how to walk. Seeing her face light up every time we walked through the apartment door.
39. Holding Cabbage Patch Baby (don't know his real name, but he's also known as Kitchen Baby, because she sometimes puts him in the kitchen to nap) and playing with him, realizing that he's actually cute.
40. Appreciating the fast-paced, yet joie de vivre that Parisians know how to experience.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Le dernier mois

Salut! I feel bad leaving you with such a long post that I'll try to keep up with shorter ones as the time I'm here comes to a close. One more month. I can't believe it. And I only have two more weeks with NYU--I'm staying with Emily at her apartment for the last two weeks of May. It only hit me this morning that it'll be summer so soon, I feel like normally the start of summer means going home. Not this time. The next two weeks are filled with finals, field trips, goodbye "mandatory" garden parties, wine and cheese at profs houses, last meals with Beatrice, a final Wine Wednesday (until New York), goodbyes (even though it feels like we're still saying hello), and...moving out of Beatrice's. That last one might be the hardest.

It feels really weird. Last year, I was counting down the days until I was flying home to the States. This time, I'm still not ready. Last year, I cherished and missed everything that was American. This time, not so much. The only thing I miss is a big mug of tea, and that can merely be solved by getting my lazy self over to IKEA. But we'll see. Perhaps once I'm forced to accept that this program is, in fact, ending, will I be ready to leave Beatrice's. And maybe once I've eaten L'As falafel so much that I can't stand to look at it will I be ready to leave Paris. There are still so many things I want to do, parts of neighborhoods I still need to discover. We'll see if I'll ever be content enough to leave. Maybe there'll be another volcano...I kid, I kid. There are certain things that I'm excited about--I'm just not letting myself think about them until perhaps minutes before my flight home.

Also, I feel like I don't talk about Beatrice enough. If, while reading this, you slightly disagree, just ask one of my friends here and they'll tell you that we talk about Beatrice constantly. Always good things of course. She said a gem Sunday night at dinner: she felt really bad (as well as amazed and proud) that I did my biking trip by myself, like I didn't have anyone to go on spring break with. But I assured her that yes, I did have many options (I even turned down an invitation to Ghana...let's just be real here), but I wanted to do it by myself. And then she said that if Natty's flight had been cancelled because of the volcanic mess and/or if she had known I was going by myself on my bike trip, she would have invited me to her country house in Bretagne (that would have been fun, but honestly I needed a break from the kids). She is too cute. She also came back from Bretagne with personalized bowls for Julia and I, as well as another bag of the cookies she brought back last time. I'm going to miss her. When (not if) I come back to Paris, my first stop, mark my words, will be to head on over to 56 blvd Beausejour.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

WTF: Welcome to France

Oi. Sorry it's been so long since I wrote anything worth reading. Things have been a little hectic. As I mentioned in my last post, I went to La Rochelle with NYU and it was incredibly fun; it was the first time I left Paris and the first time traveling with my friends. All was pretty much free, and we got to ride bikes around this cute little island which fueled my plans for spring break.

Oh, spring break. As you know, there was a little volcano in Iceland that screwed pretty much everyone in the program over if they didn't leave by Thursday afternoon. What you might not have known, however, is that at the same time (I swear they were conspiring together) France was having "a grave social disturbance" (note: they never once said "strike"). So my overnight train to Nice for Thursday night was cancelled, and the woman told me to try and catch the 7am train the next day--well, I returned, defeated, to my apartment, and woke up early the next morning to try again. When I got to the train I was a little confused, since they said to just use my same ticket, but what would happen to the seat assignments? Well, I was soon answered as I saw people trying to pile into the train--people were standing with huge bags of luggage in the aisles and everyone was squashed into the windowless compartments between cars (you know, by the stairs), prepared to stop breathing for eight hours. I managed to jump into the compartment (I've learned a thing or two from the French in how to get to the front of the line) past a line of families, only to be greeted by a nice stench of B.O. and an old woman coughing up a lung. I could barely even last thirty seconds, let alone eight hours, so I hopped on out and went back to my apartment a second time, completely sure that there was no way I was going to be able to go to Nice. There was no mention of when the strike was going to end, and they were telling everyone that no more trains would go to the Southeast portion of France (which is a big portion, might I add, and contained two legs of my trip). When I got home Beatrice threw a hissy fit and started screaming Sarkozy's name in vain and would tell my sob story to every mom that came to drop off their kid. I spent the rest of the morning researching last-minute spring break ideas and it seemed like everyone in France had something to say about my story and took pity on the poor American who just wanted to go on spring break--the cleaning lady even dropped in my room for a chat to complain about France and Beatrice made sure to share with me some of the snacks she bought for the children.

The third leg of my trip was supposed to be spent biking around the chateaux in the Loire Valley. The weather was supposed to be great all week, so I just decided to lengthen my biking stay from one day to...six. I managed to find this book entitled Cycling France and the author gave some pretty irrésistible (spell check is now apparently in French on my computer) descriptions of trips that made it seem like I would be biking through fields of sunflowers past fairytale castles. I pictured myself on a bike with a basket in front with a warm baguette chilling there, laughing and slowly cycling in no hurry whatsoever.

HA. It was anything BUT that vision. But it was amazing, let me first put that out there. According to the book, I was supposed to start my journey in a little town called Saumur, so I decided to get there Sunday afternoon and start biking on Monday. I'm not going to go into much detail about the train, but let's just say I had many WTF (also known as Welcome to France) moments which include my train once again getting cancelled and missing the only connecting train. A bus ride and some nice French people later, I made it to Saumur relatively unscathed by 9pm (having left my apartment at 9am...it was supposed to only take an hour to get there). Welcome to France. Anywho, I spent the night in a relatively abandoned hostel in which I was the only resident and rented a bike from a guy who took one look at me and upon hearing that I was to be biking to Blois in five days, told me that should I need to, I could abandon my bike at another store in a town along the way and take the train back to Paris. I laughed at his condescending advice and put on my Raybans, mounted my bike in a simple jeans and t-shirt, and started riding along the Loire River on my way to my first town, Chinon. Let me also point out that the backpack I had packed a week's worth of stuff into was too heavy to put on the back of my bike, so he gave me something like a saddle bag to put half of it into, and I had the rest in my backpack which I wore the whole way. I didn't even have that much stuff, I only really brought like two outfits and suntan lotion, but man, that stuff is heavy. But let's continue with the story.

The author of the book provided me with some interesting directions that basically just read "follow the sign that says 'to Chinon,'" banking on the fact that there was indeed such a sign. He only meant for the day to be 45km, which would take somewhere between two to four hours, depending on how long you spent at the chateaux. But because his directions were worthless, I was forced to buy a map at the tourist office and follow the trail, which proved to be relatively easy (when there were signs for the trail, like shown) because I was basically just following the Loire River. Okay, no problem. Six hours and 65km later, I finally made it to the little sleepy town of Chinon. I may have circled the wrong side of the river (the town is divided in half by the Loire) three times before I finally found my hotel, but I was still relatively happy and upbeat when I called my parents to let them know I was alive that night. Chinon was my favorite village that I stayed in--it was located in the shadow of a gorgeous château and it was very medieval. I stayed in a fairytale building that had a huge garden and in the morning got to have a huge breakfast with their homemade jams and juices. That morning was definitely my favorite.

Day two was easier in difficulty of the ride because I was more prepared for the hills and the distance. Plus I had my ipod to help me keep going, because as beautiful as the birds and the rushing water of the Loire is, it got old by the end of the day and just made everything seem longer. I wasn't sure I was going the right way for the first hour of the day because there were literally no signs and I found myself in a tiny village (it probably couldn't even be described as a village, as it only had one street of houses) and had to call my dad to check Google Maps for me to see if I was going the right way. I invariably was, I just was never sure when I was so used to seeing the "trusted" signs. As far as I can remember day two was relatively fine, I had bought some bread at the boulangerie in Chinon but spent the entire day in search of some fruit. The only grocery store in Chinon was closed "indefinitely" so in every single village I went through I kept my eyes out for some sort of market or stand or whatever that would sell fruit--it was this strange craving that I had. And I learned that any sign for Carrefour or whatever supermarket that was supposedly "up ahead" just did not exist. I took a 10km detour to a cute town because I had seen an ad, but no, it was in vain. On the way to my destination, Azay-le-Rideau, I stopped in Villandry to see the château, but was only able to walk around the gardens and take random pictures because I was so incredibly exhausted and I still had 12km to go. Those 12km took forever because there were no "rolling hills"--more like mini-mountains I would say! I remember stopping halfway up the "hill" to take a picture and when I was done I was contemplating continuing on foot, but then two girls were riding their bikes downhill past me and one said in French that I couldn't quit now, I wasn't finished. So I sucked it up and conquered that hill and soon arrived at the sleepy little town that was nestled in vineyards.

I was then rewarded the next morning because when walking around after breakfast I found the weekly farmer's market and bought a gorgeous carton of the most delicious strawberries I have ever tasted and a nice big orange. Day three I spent taking little ten minute breaks to eat the strawberries and right now I am amazed at how high my morale was then, even after seeing the sign to Loches, with "80km" next to it. Loches was unfortunately not on my map of the Loire Valley trail, but located in the Indre valley, another river that runs south of the Loire, and luckily there was a similar trail with signs and everything to lead the way. I got lost a few times because the signs vaguely pointed between two roads, but with my ipod everything was fine and I rode at a much faster pace because I was nervous I wouldn't make it to Loches before my usual time. Normally I left the hotel at 11am and would arrive at my destination by 4pm. But as the days went on I found myself anxiously starting earlier and getting to my destination later and later, even though I rode faster and took fewer breaks. I didn't realize the distance was increasing so much every day. My arrival in Loches was chaotic and jarring because it was more of a big town than a village, like the others, and I found myself biking into multiple rotaries where huge highways would intersect--very European. By the time I arrived at the tourist office (I always followed the signs there and then would pick up a map of the village/town/city to find my hotel) my spirits were really low and I just resigned to walking my bike to my hotel. When I called my parents to check in that night I was contemplating giving up my bike and taking the train to Paris the next morning, but I didn't have internet access to find where the bike office (if it existed) was located, and I didn't want to give up, so the next morning I grudgingly woke up and began day four, in very, very low spirits.

Day four was complete and utter hell. It was the day I lost my sanity, the day I had to ride against the wind, the day my ipod decided to break, and the day I spent three hours riding between Loches and it's neighboring village (sur-Loches or something) completely lost and miserable. I was already nervous about leaving Loches because I really didn't want to run into any more complicated rotaries and I didn't really have complete faith in the fact that there was indeed an Indre River trail that was supposedly going to meet up with the Loire River trail. My eight euro map that I had bought in Azay-le-Rideau wasn't very detailed and my Loches map didn't help either--that was all the tourist office could offer. I tried following the Indre River signs (like the one pictured above) through the neighboring village that would take me to Chenonceaux, which was where the famous Chenonceau Château is located and where I would then pick up the Loire River trial to head to my destination, Amboise. But the signs just stopped appearing and the map didn't mention where they would go. I literally took every single road that the sign could have meant, but it led me to all the wrong places. I then went back to the Loches tourist office to start over and maybe try the guidebook's directions again, but once again his signs didn't exist. That morning I christened my bike Rudy, which was as close to naming a volleyball Wilson as I could get. In the neighboring village sur-Loches or whatever it was called, I literally passed the same mailman on his morning route eight times. He just chuckled every time I passed him. On my eighth trip through the town center, I stopped for probably the fortieth time that morning and took out my map and compass, utterly confused as to where to go. An amazing old man got out of his car carrying a shovel and walked over to me and told me in French that he was the best person I could meet if I was lost because he knew the area like the back of his hand. We then proceeded to speak in Franglais (he was traveling to India in a few weeks and wanted to practice his English...?) and told me how to get to the highway I wanted in order to get to Chenonceaux. By this time it was noon and I finally headed in the right direction, entirely grateful to this little old French man. A few killer mini-mountains later and I had to stop on the grass of the highway, still not completely sure where I was going, and wanting to give up right then and there. That moment, sitting on the side of the highway, was the worst moment of the trip. It wasn't the physical exhaustion that I felt. My body was surprisingly not sore--I was able to do every part of the journey, probably because the only part my butt didn't hurt was when I was on the bike. It was just constantly getting lost and realizing that I wasn't getting everything that I wanted to out of this trip.
A quarter of my trip was biking through really quaint villages that I would never have gotten to experience (most of them don't have train stations) otherwise. Another quarter was through beautiful forests. And half of my trip was through beautiful fields full of yellow flowers that I still don't know what they were (not wheat, but something that people farmed). But after three intense days of constantly seeing the same thing, albeit they were all beautiful, they started to blend in, and I couldn't really enjoy them anymore. I wasn't appreciating them as much as I wanted to. So then and there I decided that I obviously had to continue (what was I going to do with Rudy?), but that I would call the bike company and figure out if they had a store in Amboise, and end there. There was no way in hell I could continue on to Blois. After this decision I rode through one of the most beautiful villages I have seen that perked my spirits up a bit, and decided to stop for the night in Chenonceaux. I had initially parked my bike at the château, but I didn't want to worry about someone stealing my saddle bag while I was walking around, and plus I didn't think I could make the 30km to Amboise (it was already 4pm by this point), so I found a nice little bed and breakfast and set up camp there. I'm really glad I did that because Chenonceau was beautiful, definitely one of my favorites, and I got to walk around the gardens and actually enjoy myself, and not worry about the rest of the km I had to do to get to my hotel.

Day five was better, but still not as fun as the other days. I knew that it was a shorter trip, so that definitely helped, but by this time I was pretty jaded and totally not trusting the trail signs. The previous day, to add to the fact that the signs led nowhere outside of Loches, they also towards the end (when I eventually found the trail) just made up distances to Chenonceau. At one point they told me I was only 12km away, which made me really happy even though I was riding against the wind and the sky was looking like it was going to rain. But then 12km later, the sign said 20km. And 20km later, the sign said 15km. So you can see why on Friday I was a little hesitant to be so happy about the supposedly short distance. I got to ride through some beautiful forests and even had a short conversation with a ten year old French boy who was biking in the opposite direction with his family. The trail must have been longer than I thought, because I arrived in Amboise an hour or two after I should have gotten there, but the ride was uneventful and relatively easy. I parked my bike near the château and decided to enjoy myself, and so I walked around the cute town (probably a little smaller than Loches, it looked like) and walked to the tourist office and the bike store, not wanting to deal with Rudy anymore. I then dropped off my bike, bought some lunch at a cute boulangerie, and walked to the train station and took the 4pm train to Paris. And then just a few short hours later I was back home and didn't realize just how much I had missed it. My legs could barely support me but I had the house to myself (Beatrice was at her country home in Brittany for the week) and could finally relax. It was weird.

So yeah, that was my epic adventure. I still can't believe I biked that far. I don't regret coming home a day earlier in the slightest. And even though it was incredibly hard, I'm so glad that I did it. Maybe I won't get back on a bike for a month or two, but I can see myself doing something like that again...in the distant future...when I'll have a better clue about what I'm getting myself into. Sorry for the novel, but I feel like people can't understand what I actually went through with only a few words to describe it. So if you've read this far, congrats. And thanks.

Also: flickr's been updated.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Past and Future (Brief) Hiatus

Wow. Sorry it's been so long. I guess the reason for that is the fact that I've been incredibly stressed lately. More so than in New York, and probably that's because I don't have Bobst to crawl into when things get hard, so I can spend an all-nighter and work everything out. Instead here we have a fake library, complete with horrible internet access (at least at school), which...actually closes. But whatever. All of my 230948 papers are done now (who said this is study abroad?) and I don't want to think about them anymore. So I went to La Rochelle last weekend with a big portion of the program and it was beautifully sunny and we actually got to see the ocean and eat really good food, try all different types of cognac at a chateau, rode bikes around a beautiful island, tried sea urchin and escargot, and came back incredibly pooped, totally not ready for hell-week to begin, which always happens right before spring break. Sorry, this is going to be a lame post because I'm incredibly tired from not sleeping and hopped up on lots and lots of allergy meds (as always every spring) and ready to leave for my 10:30pm train tonight to the French Riviera!! I'm going technically by myself the entire trip, but in Menton I'm going to meet up with a friend and hang out with her for a few days. So here's my itinerary: Menton to Annecy to Tours (I'm not really staying in the city, just setting up camp there so I can go biking to see all the chateaux)! I'm incredibly excited but also incredibly anxious at traveling by myself, just because I'll be by myself for a whole week! Haha, who does that?? And it's weird that I'm not going to be seeing my friends here in Paris for a whole two weeks, since we literally see each other every single day. But we had a nice goodbye over an amazing steak frites lunch. Okay, well I have to go pack, but next time I'll be back from spring break and hopefully have amazing things to tell!