Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A wintery weekend in NYC!

Spending a couple of days in New York with my girlfriend Ariel--before flying home to Indiana--was such a fantastic way to wrap up my travels! We saw and did a lot in such a short time (story of my life, haha).

We spent Saturday in Uptown and Midtown Manhattan -- Saks Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Time Warner Center, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Hall, Macy's on 34th Street, Times Square

Ariel standing strategically in front of Lady Liberty. Who knew that she's located just outside Central Park? ;)

Ice skaters! I *loved* Central Park and the beautiful view of the city. :)

This photo doesn't show it, but just outside Radio City Hall was craaazy busy! So many people!

A really sweet lady took this photo at Rockefeller Center for us. Again, the place was packed with people, just like at Times Square too...

I could totally be on Broadway! haha

Day #2: Downtown Manhattan -- Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange, World Trade Center Ground Zero, Greenwich Village, SoHo shopping district, Chinatown, Little Italy

We also went to Brooklyn by accident since we stayed on the subway too long, oops! But it allowed us to see a nice view of the city & the Brooklyn Bridge, which we wouldn't have seen otherwise.

We arrived at the financial district around lunch time and bought some hot dogs from a street vendor--the NYC thing to do, right? For the record, they were pretty good. :)

The World Trade Center site is being rebuilt with six new skyscrapers and a memorial to the casualties of the attacks.

Despite the freezing cold weather, we walked around two different neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan--Greenwich Village and SoHo--and did some window shopping. Later that evening, we went to Chinatown for dinner and foot massages, and walked through Little Italy on our way back to the subway...

Ariel lives in an apartment in Queens, so it was a long subway ride from Downtown! It was so nice spending time with her and seeing so much of the city.

And now it's nice to be back home again in Indiana for Christmas time! I'm not sure yet what I'll be doing next year, but I'm not going to stress about it. Instead, I'm just going to enjoy this time with my family. :) So I'm taking a blogging break, until my next travel adventure...whenever & wherever that might be.

Have a happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Au revoir, France!

I spent my last day here touring the big, yet charming city of Lyon with a new friend from CouchSurfing. (I am quickly becoming the number one fan of this Web site, no joke.)

It was freezing outside, and I needed lots of hot tea & hot chocolate to keep me going as I walked around the city...

See Lyon's own version of the Eiffel Tower? (Haha, not's just a TV tower.)

Lyon has it's own version of the London Eye, too. ;)

Crossing a bridge to get over to "the old city." Lyon doesn't usually get snow this early in the season; while it wasn't fun to walk around in, it was pretty to look at. :)

At noon, this clock inside St. John's Cathedral came to life with music and dancing figurines at the top. From there, we went to a silk shop...

Lyon is known for producing silk. It's also known for its sausages...

...which I tried at lunch. (along with some gratin) Deeelish!

After lunch, I took a cable car up to the grand cathedral (the great big beautiful white building in the first photo of this blog post), where I had a nice overlook of the city...

I couldn't wait to get out of the cold and inside the beautiful cathedral!

My pictures of the gorgeous interior (and amazing mosaics!) really don't do them justice.

I loved this nativity set... well as the Christmas market I went to tonight! I need someone to explain to me why there are umbrellas on this tree, haha.

Ah, I'm getting sooo excited for Christmas!! I can't wait to spend this weekend in New York City (which will look very Christmasy, no doubt) with my girlfriend Ariel...and then going home to spend the days leading up to Christmas with my family. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Meet the Hatcher family...

The parents are Amanda and Philip, and the girls (from left to right) are: Nathalie (age 8), Camille ("6 and a half"--the "half" is important to her), Abigail (9) and little Emily (who will be 5 next week).

As I wrote last time, I've really been enjoying my time here and the four ADORABLE girls!

These high-energy gals have kept me busy with all kinds of different things: playing with their train set and other toys, coloring, listening to them read stories, me reading them stories, teaching them how to write their names in Japanese, playing board games, playing made-up games, playing dress-up...

We had a "fancy dance ball" in our fancy dresses. :)

Three little "mothers."

They definitely keep me entertained! They've said some of the cutest things EVER. Here's a conversation from the other day at lunch:

Nathalie to me: "When you were in Japan did you see any of those big, bulky guys?"

Me: Haha, you mean sumo wrestlers??

Nathalie: Yeah!! Do they wear eternity clothes?

Abigail (I think): No silly, they don't wear maternity clothes...they wear diapers!


Last night when the girls were getting ready to brush their teeth, Camille asked me, "Dana, do you like pink? Yes. Do you like sparkles? Yes. Do you like stars? Yes. Do you like Snoopy? Yes. Then you love my toothbrush!!!" [Then she got out her sparkly pink toothbrush with stars and Snoopy on it to show me. Sure enough, I loved it. :)]

And these are just two short examples of the cuteness I've experienced since Friday night. Ah, I love kids!

It turns out that I also love something called a "raclette party," which is a meal that looks this...

The potatoes are boiled in this special machine, and underneath are little pans of melted cheese. You use the wooden spoons to put the cheese on your potato, then top with different types of meat and sour cream. Delicious!

Tomorrow afternoon, I leave Toulouse and head to Lyon. I'm flying out of Lyon on Friday morning and return to the U.S. I'm definitely excited about being home with my own family!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bon Appétit

Bonjour from Toulouse!

I arrived here last night, and was met at the train station by the entire Hatcher family. What a welcoming committee! They're an American missionary family (friends of my friend Sarah), and I'm visiting them for the weekend.

The first thing we did when I arrived at their house was eat Thanksgiving dinner (leftovers). Especially since I didn't have a proper Thanksgiving dinner while in Le Mans, I was so happy about the meal!

Of course I've enjoyed the delicious French food I've been eating for the past month, too. :)

The French have a reputation for being serious about their food. In that way, I fit in quite well here. When I was in Le Mans, we ate lunch each day around 12:30 and dinner at 7:30. Both meals were sit down affairs that took time. We would have a main course, then a cheese and bread course, then dessert.

Crêpes are one of my very favorite French desserts! (We used to make them in my French class in high school.) I made crêpes one day with my friend Pauline...

Making crêpes in France = exciting times!!

I also went to a crêperie (a restaurant specializing in crêpes) a couple of times...

Nutella on the inside (yum!) and lots of whipped cream on the outside. :)

Thin buckwheat flour pancakes called galettes are eaten as a main course at a crêperie. I think of galettes as a non-dessert crêpe. They're especially popular in the Brittany region and are often served with cider.

This one had cheese & mushrooms inside, topped with sour cream. At a different crêperie, I had a galette with tomato & cheese. Liliane made galettes with eggs & ham a couple of times for dinner.

Just about every single day this month, I've eaten French bread, a baguette. At my homestay house, we usually had a baguette with wine and cheese. As Liliane said, "The bread, the wine, and the cheese--the three is happiness." :) It makes me happy whenever I see people walking down the street carrying a baguette in their arms.

Eating a sandwich made on a baguette with friends at the university in Le Mans. I sat in on a couple of classes at the university and really enjoyed meeting people there! :)

I've learned a lot about French cuisine in the last month, and will continue to enjoy eating it...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A typical Wednesday night at the dance club

When you first arrive at 8:30, there's a lesson for beginners. Hello! That would be me.

You find a partner and give a quick French self-introduction. Bonsoir, je m'appelle Dana. You try to explain to your new friend that you don't actually speak or understand much French, and you're also not a great swing dancer. (At this point, he is most likely already wanting a new dance partner.)

Then you turn your attention to the guy on stage who's giving instructions. You don't know exactly what he's saying since he's speaking French. But. You keep your eyes on him, watching every move he makes. (At this point, you sound like a stalker.) You do your best to mimic his movements.

You attempt to dance with your partner, giggling the whole time and doing your best not to step on his toes. After about 3 minutes, you rotate right to the next victim...err partner, and the process repeats.

Since there are more women than men, you give get out of the dance circle and give someone else a chance to dance. :) This gives you time to watch all the other couples and take a quick video...

(This song was in French, but most of the songs played at the club are actually English...and are also more upbeat!)

After the lesson is over, you get a chance to practice what you've supposedly learned. Naturally, the more you practice, the better you get! If you're lucky, you have a great dance partner like my host dad to make you look good. And you also have a nice guy volunteer to take a video of you dancing...

You find that swing dancing (or "rock n' roll dancing" as my host dad says) is a lot of fun to do, and you get hot quickly! When you want to take a break, you can watch the people who are regulars at the club show off their complicated moves...

Maybe--just maybe--one day you will be able to move like that!

So this is what I have to look forward to in just a couple of hours from now, when I go swing dancing in Le Mans for the very last time. For the past month, Wednesday nights have been a highlight for me because I love to dance. :)

Tomorrow is my last day in northern France before I travel to the southern part of the country, and I'm looking forward to going to an elementary school; I'll be teaching the kids about Thanksgiving, as well as some English songs. Should be fun!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Visit to Versailles...and back to Paris!

I ended my last post by saying that I wanted to return to Paris sometime soon, and that's where I ended up going today. :)

And I spent yesterday in Versailles seeing the famous palace & its gardens. In the last two days, I've taken over 100 photos (!), so this post is going to be picture heavy. Ready?...

My first glimpse of the "Chateau de Versailles"

Inside the palace grounds, I met a couple of students from California (native English speakers, yay!) and spent a couple of hours talking & walking with them. The gardens are like a giant labyrinth; there are so many paths with hidden fountains to stumble upon, so it was fun to explore.

November is definitely not the most scenic time of year to visit the gardens, but there were still quite a few people walking around. It was pretty cold, but at least it wasn't raining!

Here are a few indoor shots (which I was kind of surprised were allowed)...

* * *

Today in Paris, where it was decently warm and sunny, :) I went to the famous sites that I missed when I was there on Tuesday. Such as:

  • Notre Dame: I loved the big, beautiful stained glass windows and seeing so many people from different countries.

  • The Louvre: I need another day in Paris to go inside the museum, but I enjoyed walking around the grounds & seeing the famous glass pyramid outside.

  • Montmartre: A hill that overlooks Paris & site of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart--lots of people!

This afternoon, I met up with a French student named Fred (who I met on the CouchSurfing Web site) and two of his friends. I had fun walking around Paris with these goofy guys...

The three stooges themselves, haha. We saw a few other characters today, too...

such as a man posed as a statue...

and a guy walking around with a bottle on his head. (!?)

Just like last time, I'll end with a few shots of the Eiffel Tower...this time I have night shots! (I love the tower even more at night.) :)

Well, it's getting late, and I'm tired. Bon soir!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My relationship with Paris

I have to admit, Paris didn't make a great first impression a few weeks ago.

When I was just passing through the city on my way from Brussels to Le Mans, I was surprised by all of the graffiti-covered walls I saw. I was also surprised by the lady at Information who I tried to ask for help; she couldn't have been more rude or less helpful. Not impressed.

But I'm happy to say that Paris and I are on good terms now. :)

I went by car with Yves & Liliane, which took about three hours. (It would have taken only two hours had the traffic not been so bad!) The main purpose of our visit to the capital city was to see an exhibition of Claude Monet's paintings. On the way to the Grand Palais--where the exhibition was--we passed by this café...

Indiana represent!!

After parking, we walked across the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées, where I saw the Arc de Triomphe...

Not far away at all was the our destination, the Monet exhibition.

We spent three hours inside, looking at over 200 of Monet's paintings that have been gathered from different art museums all over the world (one was even from Indy!) for this special exhibition. I had no idea that Monet did so many paintings and such a variety of subjects, too.

During the afternoon, we had some time to walk around the city...

We walked around the Palais de l'Elysée--a.k.a. the French President's Residence.

And then...

The moment I'd been waiting for...

I got my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!!

I kind of felt starstruck. After all, I was meeting something super duper famous in real life! "The Iron Lady" herself...

Getting closer... :)

The line to go up the tower was really long, and we unfortunately didn't have much time. Some other time I guess.

Yet another shot of the tower, different angle. Nearby the tower base, there was an artist at work...

You know you're close to a popular tourist site when you see people selling trinkets, too.

A shot of the Grand Palais, where I was earlier in the day.

Walking back to the car, past the Christmas lights!?, to return to Le Mans.

I've decided that one day in Paris definitely isn't long enough, and I'd like to go back sometime within the next week to continue getting to know it. :)