Monday, March 21

I still haven't finished blogging about my wonderful spring vacation and seeing my family in Roma BUT I couldn't resist adding some pics and moments from this past weekend. I feel like I haven't stopped since I have been back from break, which is a good thing. I also am really starting to hold off thinking about how I only have about six weeks which is not enough time - I'm really starting to feel at home and the longer I stay the harder it gets to think about leaving. All of that being said, here are some highlights from my past week:

Thursday was St. Patrick's Day, which I'm sure most of you know, so I tried to concentrate my lessons on talking about what St. Patrick's Day actually means for both Ireland and the United States. I taught my kids the legend/story of St. Patrick and we did a little exercise about the meaning of shamrocks. We have also been focusing on energy so I spent a good part of my day grading 'Alternative Energy' posters for my sophomores - which was absolutely exhausting, but fun to see how hard the students had worked! Because I don't work on Thursdays, my friend Caely and I decided to splurge and go to our favorite restaurant, Apple Pie, for some real Ireland indulgence. Well, we couldn't have picked a better day to be true gourmands. Lisa had prepared homemade bread with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, an Irish stew with cabbage, beef, carrots and potatoes, and last, but certainly not least, Irish Coffee Cheesecake. Now, I've been treating myself to Apple Pie since my discovery of it in late November. I even wrote an entire post dedicated to Lisa's Pumpkin Pie over Thanksgiving, but I have to say that the cheesecake was the most incredible thing Lisa has made so far - basically I should write a new post: Ode to Irish Coffee Cheesecake. So Lisa, thank you, yet again you have managed to make me want to share my food adventures with everyone who reads the blog. 
Homemade brown bread and smoked salmon .... really?

Irish stew - reminding me of St. Patrick's Day at home!

Irish Coffee Cheesecake: Renamed "Can I have another
piece?" cheesecake ...
Caely hard at work
Now that you are salivating and hungry ... I worked all day Friday, as I usually do, but took on some extra hours to help the students with their oral exams. Friday night I was absolutely exhausted and went to bed at some unreasonably early hour because Saturday I also worked. Saturday was 'Open House' at school - basically so that parents and their middle schoolers could come and see what the lycée has to offer. Lycée Chateaubriand is considered one of the, if not THE, best public school in Rennes, so you can imagine we were super busy. We schmoozed with parents for a few hours in the morning asking their questions about our role as assistants and where we come from etc. It was exhausting, but actually quite fun to see how many parents are really curious about the next step of their children's education. Saturday afternoon, I continued working and did another afternoon at Les Petits Bilingues - which is a small school offering special afternoon classes for younger kids to practice/learn English. I help once a month with the cooking class offered on Saturday, and this week we made Carrot Cake and American Pancakes. The students were so well behaved and the parents were very pleased to see their kids so excited to share the cake with them, in addition to proving they can say "eggs", "flour", "sugar", and "cinnamon"... very cute. To top it off, France 3, a French news station, came to interview us and film a bit of our class - very very nerve racking. So apparently, tomorrow night, Emma attempting to teach English, cook, and speak French will be on French news - yikes.

Caely attempting to review the ingredients with some of my students
Despite my exhaustion level after meeting friends for tea after teaching, then going to see a very adorable new French film, I decided to 'profiter' from the incredible weather we have been having, and I took a day trip to the northern coast of Brittany with my friends Fabienne (from Germany) and Elsa (from Russia). We left around noon and drove up to the coast stopping at a couple different beaches and points. Our main goal was to see Cap Fréhal, a place I have been wanting to visit since arriving in Rennes. It went above and beyond my expectations. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and it was so nice to be in a car, exploring the countryside and the coast - which is absolutely beautiful here in Brittany. It is truly spring here, and I saw all of the colors and lush gardens to prove it. We would drive a bit, stop, get out and take advantage of the sun and walk a bit before getting back into the car and hitting our next stop. Fabienne vacationed here as a kid, so she knew the area like the back of her hand. Our last stop was at a beach where we walked along the boardwalk and grabbed a galette before heading back home in time for a shower, and finally, sleep. I'm so lucky that Fabienne has a car, and it was so nice to only speak in French all day.

Beautiful sunset

Me at Cap Fréhal

The 'phare' or lighthouse at Cap Fréhal
Catching mussels

The beach 
Fort Latte at Cap Fréhal

The water color was absolutely crazy - there were times when
you couldn't tell the difference between sea and sky. Right
below the cliffs, the water looked like Caribbean water it was so
aqua and absolutely beautiful.
Paragliding in Brittany
Families have picnics and take advantage of the sun on a Sunday

Horses at low tide

Thursday, March 10


One of the perks of this assistantship is school breaks. Because France values vacation time, unlike the United States where you have to beg for one day off, school vacations are shall we say ... frequent. Schools have two weeks off in February/March and another two weeks over Easter in April. So for the past two weeks I had the opportunity to travel a bit and see my family! The adventure started in Barcelona with my friend Lindsay for four days ... 

Barcelona is AMAZING. I had so so much fun. It was the perfect balance between eating, drinking, sleeping, and sightseeing. I think spending a lot of time in one place is really nice in order to get to know the city and to not feel like you are rushed in seeing everything. It is super navigable, has a great public transportation system, and not to mention, surprisingly very accessible. After spending the night in Toulouse with Lindsay (which is in the south of France) on Saturday, Sunday we got up and had a lazy day of going to this incredible market, making a big lunch with her roommates and preparing for our journey to Spain. Somehow, we got to Spain without any glitches pretty late on Sunday night. After dumping our stuff at the hostel, we found a tapas restaurant on the corner that was very very good and every table came with your own tap and it just calculated on a big screen how much you were drinking, which was really cool and their beer wasn't bad! 

Monday was our first full day and we were determined to go, go, go. We first headed into the Gothic Quarter to explore the Cathedral and attempt to get our bearings. We walked around everywhere, did a little bit of shopping, and of course, found churros. For those of you who haven't been to Spain, or who haven't read my previous posts, churros are doughnut like pastries you dip in hot chocolate - the thing about hot chocolate in Spain though is that it is LITERALLY melted chocolate. So basically it's heaven. I had read about this one street that is well known for it's chocolate because it is full of art galleries and so while people used to go around to all the galleries they would obviously need a place to rest and get a sugar fix. Lindsay and I wasted no time doing exactly the same thing ... Monday night we began our ritual of a 7pm siesta for about an hour and a half to two hours - every day. I seriously think Spain knows how to live. We also went out on Monday night only discover exactly why people sleep for almost 2 hours every afternoon/evening ... people didn't even start going out until between 2 and 3 am! So you don't eat until 10 pm because you have been sleeping because you went to bed at 6 am and didn't get up until noon - NOW I get it!

Can't go wrong with churros 

Tuesday turned out to be absolutely beautiful so we went to the famous market in Barcelona to pack up some things and head to Gaudi's famous Park Guell. Of course we found the most difficult route to get there which included impossibly steep hills, stairs, and an escalator, and then on our way down realized we had gone the back way and made it impossibly difficult for ourselves BUT that did not take away from the incredible view, beautiful day, and amazing picnic we had at the top! The market was so cool and everything was so fresh - not to mention the colors! It was different then the market in Rennes as there was so much exotic fruit and their meat and cheese are very different. Sidenote: I felt like in Barcelona no one spoke English so this is where Lindsay pretended she spoke Spanish. Although, putting an "O" at the end of every word does not make it Spanish. Somehow we managed because people seemed to think we understood as soon as she or I said one word in Spanish someone would just start speaking fluently to us. And instead of asking questions, we would finish with "vale" which means "ok" and then walk away without a clue as to what was said. But we ate well, slept well, saw everything we wanted and understood  directions so we must have done something right! When we went to the market we had to rely on speaking French some of the time, which was comforting in a weird way.

Entrance to Park Guell

View from the top - complete with ocean view

Picnic complete with sangriaaa

Entrance to the market

incredible fruit - figs, oranges, papaya, you name it ...
Smoothies in every flavor - we had them every day
no joke, mango/coconut was my absolute favorite

Barcelona is right on the beach, so we had to try some fresh calamari

Tuesday afternoon we took a tour of the Palau de la Musica Catalana - a privately owned performance space for choruses in Barcelona and Spain. It is absolutely beautiful and is hands down own of the most incredible and intricate buildings I've seen. The details are amazing and there is a lot of symbolism surrounding the legend of St. George, the patron Saint of Barcelona imbedded on the inside. The reason the photo below of the facade is so steep is because the facade is facing another building, making the front very difficult to see. Facing the building is an apartment building, which the architect thought would eventually be torn down, and there were churches on the other sides so the architect thought they would never be torn down, hence the reason the building faces the apartment building. Coincidentally, the apartment building is the only building left standing around the Palau! After a siesta, Lindsay and I met up with my friend Julia from camp. Julia and I never plan anything ... ever. But somehow we are always in the same place at the same time. This summer she called me after canoeing in Maine with her dad for three days and ended up spending the weekend with me. Then we discovered we were flying into Paris the exact same day before our assistantships (she is in Grenoble). She was supposed to go to Cairo for spring break and didn't, for obvious reasons, so left me a message two days before I left saying she would be in Barcelona the exact dates I would. Jules, I think it is fate! So we had a wonderfully late dinner with her and a friend near our hostel. Below is a picture of the Palau, along with some other things I found interesting throughout my exploration of Barcelona!

Music Hall
Are those eyes??
Check it again ... those are towels! 
Statue by the beach in Barceloneta 
Wednesday was another beautiful day so we decided to head down to the beach. I guess I didn't realize that Barcelona was ON the Mediterranean, well one beautiful walk on the boardwalk and two pastries later I was amazed and in love. It was super windy, but the beach seemed to go on forever and it was so nice to see the ocean. On the way down to the beach we were able to see the port and we discovered an incredible Catalan history museum. Usually I am not very good in museums for a long time, but this museum was one of the best I have ever been to. We only went to the third floor to discover the history of the Catalan region from the revolution in the 1930s to present day. It was so well laid out and really clear. I learned more from just spending a couple hours in that museum then I have in any history class, and I honestly could go back and explore it more. 

la playa!

This sort of looks like my apartment after I do laundry ...

Wednesday night I think was my favorite night in Barcelona. We met up with some of Lindsay's friends from Toulouse who happened to be in Barcelona as well, one girl was staying in our hostel. Five of us headed back down towards the beach to try this dinner place I hadn't stopped reading about La Champagneria. Seriously one of the coolest restaurants I have ever been. Let me explain: you order champagne, either a round, or a glass, at 90 cents a glass (pink champagne mind you), but the deal is is that you have to order some sort of food as well. So you can order 5 glasses of champagne, but you have to order at least one small plate of tapas or something. We all got sandwiches and split some tapas and it was so amazing. This place sounds classy, but you have to fight your way to order. It is standing room only, the floor is disgusting filled with paper wrappers from the sandwiches and people dropping things, and there is a bouncer at the door making sure it doesn't get too packed. It opens early and closes early because it takes a while to get people to leave. We called to say there were 5 of us and one wheelchair to make sure everything would be ok, and on the phone they said "Yes, of course no problem!", but of course we get there and there is a huge line and the bouncer was less than thrilled to see us. Good thing some very nice (and very cute) Italian boys, helped us get a spot in line and we all chatted a bit and shared a round of drinks. It was crowded and loud, but completely worth it. The food was delicious, the people were crazed, but very nice and it was definitely an experience. I would go back in a heartbeat! Afterwords, the five of us moved to an equally crowded bar to chat some more before the Toulouse gang headed out, as they were all leaving that night. Linds and I continued to head back to our hostel, in the rain, and ended up going out with some of the girls from our hostel which was really fun. At the beginning I was teasing Lindsay because I thought going out on an organized rendez-vous with the hostel would feel like field trip, but I ate my words because it was so fun and everyone was really nice and we had a great time. 

Thursday morning was a bit slow, but after another smoothie and a Spanish pastry I was good to go. We decided to do a free walking tour of Gaudi's architecture in Barcelona. Highly, highly recommended. Our guide was really sweet, she was from England, and because the weather wasn't superb, there were only eight of us. We walked all around the city as she explained to us the details and history of Gaudi's masterpieces. We finished at the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's yet-to-be-finished Cathedral, which was actually recently deemed an official basilica by the Pope. The Sagrada was my favorite part of Barcelona. We did an audio tour, duh, and the inside of the church was just amazing. You really do feel like you are inside a forest. It is the most modern cathedral I have ever seen and truly unique. All of Gaudi's architecture makes you feel like you are taking a walk in Candy Land, which is a bit ironic considering one of his apartment buildings is actually owned by the family that owns Chupa Chups! Our guide took her time explaining as many details as possible about the outside of the Sagrada, but once you see the pictures below, you will realize there are SO many details it is impossible to cover them all. Thursday ended with an incredible typical Catalan lunch at 4 pm, a siesta, and a final dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Barcelona. Shoot, I just remembered we went to the Picasso museum too! How did I forget that? I have no idea which day it was now ... they are all running together! Well, the Picasso museum was very cool, in a very cool sort of hidden area, but to be honest a bit underwhelming, considering there was only the permanent collection which was smaller then I assumed, but nonetheless still impressive! I can't tell you enough how much I really loved the city. I would love to go back and explore more day to day life of the city and take day trips. Friday morning I flew to Rome to see the fam so stay tuned on more updates from Italy...

Ciao for now!

Morning coffee with muffin tops dipped in chocolate ... really?
Linds investigating the map
Gaudi's Casa Milà
Gaudi's Casa Batllo
Me and Linds in front of the Sagrada Familia
Storm troopers or Gaudi statues? It was said that George Lucas
got inspiration from this exact facade for Star Wars ...
Inside the Sagrada - Gaudi designed it to make you feel as though
you were inside a forest
Looking up at the ceiling over the altar in the Sagrada