Saturday, May 14

Saying goodbye to Rennes ... again

My last couple weeks in Rennes were fantastic and I can't believe everything came to an end so quickly. After I got back from Lisbon and Lyon, my cousin Gordon came to visit me. He is currently living in Madrid so he came up to Rennes for three days and then headed to explore Paris with friends for the weekend. He was such an easy guest as we had a very similar itinerary in mind: sleep, take advantage of the sun, and eat good food. I introduced him to camembert cheese, paté, duck, and galettes so I think he was a happy camper. As soon as Gordon left I suddenly realized I had one week left. Time absolutely flew. My last week consisted of packing and attempting to cancel internet, move out of my apartment, and pawn all of my extra 'stuff' off on my host family and my friend Caely who is staying. It is incredible how much stuff you can acquire in such a small period of time. I also had my birthday which was so nice and a really wonderful thing to have in my last week. I celebrated by going to Apple Pie for lunch (pictures to come of course) and then having a small dinner party with friends. It was the nicest party and I got great gifts from friends, including a Stade Rennais scarf and Caely-knit socks ... which I refused to take off and ended up wearing home on the bus. The cake was delicious - absolutely one of the best I have ever had. I had sent Caely a recipe months and months ago, and somehow she remembered and surprised me with it: sweet potato pie with coconut and almonds and a speculoos cookie crust ... like really? 
absolutely. delicious.

Georgia and Kelsey

Berit and Margaret

Getting some help from Caely: at first I thought I was having a hard time blowing
out the candles, until we all realized they were trick candles ...
which took us a little too long to figure out ...
I am officially home and not ready to admit that I am no longer living in France. I'm not sure what is next, but I know for sure this is not the end of traveling and I will be back to at least visit Rennes in the very near future. Stay tuned for more travels ... even if they are stateside travels!

L stands for ...


Spring adventures started on the last day of school - April 22nd. Gracie arrived THAT night and after a long traveling day, came straight home with me and passed out. Saturday morning we got up and went the market - obviously - to soak in the sun and have her try some of my favorite foods there. We went to the park in the afternoon with some friends, but Saturday was interrupted by a quick trip to the ER after a super random back spasm. But all was fine, just needed some relaxation, hydration, and sister time. I took her out for a typical Breton dinner on Saturday and then Sunday, Easter, we had a wonderful brunch with my friends complete with delicious quiche, scones, and of course, bellini's. Monday was absolutely beautiful, basically beach weather, so we simulated the beach at a park near my house and packed up all of our stuff for our long trip to Portugal. Tuesday involved buses, metros, trains, cabs and cars, and around 10 pm we finally arrived in Lisbon. I felt so flustered with the end of school and Gracie's visit I didn't have too much time to research what we were getting ourselves into ... and perhaps lesson learned? Of course our hostel was in the hilliest part of Libson (Barrio Alto) and was at the top of one hill and the bottom of another. Also I think the notion of accessible is definitely a relative term and depends on where you are, so lesson number one: always clarify what 'accessible' means. We stayed in the hostel one night before realizing it really was not going to work, and we were lucky enough to find a great, inexpensive hotel in a perfect location with perfect accessibility for the other three nights. 

Ginjihha: strong cherry liqueur very popular in Portugal and
and specifically in Lisbon

Beautiful mosaics on the façade of most buildings

Our first day, after we called about 10 hotels and ran around trying to figure out our next move, we decided to sit down, take a breather, take advantage of the sun and have some lunch. The first day we just tried to catch our bearings walking all over the city and attempting to figure out how to understand Portuguese which is a beautiful language, but extremely hard to understand. Nevertheless, we were talking with our hands for most of the trip. Lisbon is a really beautiful city and all of the streets are paved with designs and every building is covered in traditional tile mosaics. That night we went for a nice dinner and of course we were given directions to go up two of the steepest hills in Lisbon and then the restaurant was down about 10 stairs ... I think Gracie got her workout for the week. We had a great dinner: I got a delicious seared tuna and Gracie got a crab salad - it was delicious and we felt completely on vacation when we were able to go back to our room and absolutely crash. Thursday we decided to make our way to the castle that sits up on one of the hills. The views were absolutely beautiful and we definitely lucked out with the weather because we were able to see for miles. Again, we were told that the castle had ramps going up, but by ramps I believe they meant old cobblestones thrown together to resemble some sort of walk way making it impossible for ANYONE climb to the top.

At the top of the castle!
We at least took advantage of the sun and the views at the top for an hour or so before deciding to head back down. The rest of the day we walked around and checked out the fashion museum and the Santa Justa elevator, designed by an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel . The elevator is situated pretty much in the middle of downtown and it takes you to the top of a beautiful view.

View of the elevator from the back

View from Eiffel's elevator

View from Eiffel's elevator with the castle in the distance

The next morning, after yet another incredible breakfast, we ran to the room before heading out and didn't leave until an hour and a half later ... thank you Royal Wedding. Lisbon is on London time and Kate was just arriving at Westminster ... how could we leave? We sat and watched most of the wedding before realizing we were in Portugal and should probably be taking advantage of Lisbon instead of living vicariously through Kate Middleton. So peeled ourselves away from the television and yet again roamed the streets of Lisbon. We attempted to go check out the big market, but unfortunately missed the opening hours so we walked around it and I can only imagine the enormity of what is inside based on the building. On our way back, we came across a crowd of people. We found a guy levitating surrounded by so many people. It was so bizarre. He had a plaque in front of him describing that he had won a Guinness World Record for standing as a human statue for a certain amount of time: almost 17 hours! He also had local records for levitation and human statue's from Libson, Barcelona, and Paris to name a few.

Market mosaics 
Freaky huh?

That night we met up with one of Gracie's friend's from Waynflete's older brother's, who is living in Lisbon and he brought us to a great local restaurant, followed by showing us a bit around Bario Alto where there is a majority of Lisbon's nightlife. I got Lisbon's traditional cod dish, and Gracie got grilled calamari, and of course some sangria. It was so surreal to see someone from Maine in Lisbon, but was very helpful considering his Portuguese is fluent and for a few hours Gracie and I didn't feel completely incompetent. 
Our hotel

Square in Lisbon - note the sidewalks with the cobblestones
in a certain pattern - this was everywhere and actually
kind of trippy ...

Entryway to the port

Last day in Lisbon, John had recommended we go to Belém, a small suburb of Lisbon with a famous cathedral, and, more importantly a famous pastry shop we had read about. That morning we headed to Belém and walked around a bit before checking out the Church of Santa Maria. There is also a monastery attached, but we only spent time inside the church. Inside, when you first walk in, there are two tombs. Directly to your left is the tomb of Vasco De Gama, famous Portuguese explorer. On your right, is the tomb of Luís de Camões, a famous Portuguese poet. In front of the church there is a slab of stone outlining the Treaty of Lisbon. We did a small tour of the church then headed to the infamous Pasteis de Belém. They make the pastry 'pastel de nata' which is a small custard tart, almost like crème brulée in a small cup. This specific bakery makes thousands and thousands of them a day and only three people in the world know the recipe. In fact, they have a competition every year to see which other bakery can get their recipe to be the closest ... there is no way anything comes close. The pastel de nada's are served hot with a side of powdered sugar and cinnamon and they go perfectly with a hot cup of coffee. We couldn't have asked for a better afternoon. Our trip to Belém marked our final day in Lisbon, and I have to say, regardless of the multiple hiccups, we had such an incredible time and it truly felt like vacation. We had one last meal of local cuisine, before heading to bed early. Gracie left very early on Saturday morning and I had a bit of time to clean up and check out before grabbing my plane to ....

Church of Santa Maria

deliciously hot pastel de nata
Park in Belém

Train station in Lisbon

Ominous storm on our last day ...


View from the hostel - beautiful!
After a very confusing week, language wise, I couldn't be happier to hear French when I got off the plane in Lyon. Lyon is the second largest city in France - it is south east and is close to the Swiss border - I saw beautiful mountains on my way in. I met my friend Berit at the hostel that night and we immediately had a drink and did some major catching up. Berit studied abroad with me and coincidentally is an assistant in Rennes with me this year which has been great. We decided to do just a small weekend trip on the tail end of our vacation to see another part of France. I absolutely loved Lyon, definitely one of my favorite cities and I was immediately struck by how incredibly nice everyone is. It is a big smaller then Paris, but has the same idea of layout consisting of arrondissements. There are two rivers running through it - the Rhone and the Saône - forming a little island in the middle and also allowing for lots of boats along the riverbanks that have been transformed into small cafés and restaurants, and of course, dance clubs. Any city where you can dance on a river boat is good by me. Another reason Lyon was of interest to us is because it is the 'food capital' of France ... so does that surprise you? You can walk all around the old quarter of Lyon and find 'bouchons' which are restaurants serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine which consists of a lot of sausage, foie gras, tripe and Côtes de Rhone.  Our first night we indulged in a delicious dinner where I had steak and gratin dauphinois, which is a fancier, more French and delicious version of scalloped potatoes. And we tried some Beaujolais rosé which is typical of the region. We were so full so instead of walking it off, we decided to dance it off, by finding one of the dance boats. They were playing mostly music from high school days so I'm pretty sure we impressed all the Frenchies by knowing the words to all of the music ... 

Gratin dauphinois - goes perfectly with steak!
Typical 'salade lyonnaise' which consists of frisée, croutons,
small pieces of ham, and a poached egg

Terrace at the hostel
Our first full day was Sunday and it was a holiday, which means there was literally nothing open. The weather was absolutely fantastic so we went for a walk and found at least one bakery open where we grabbed some traditional praline pastries and went for a good place to sit and people watch. We hit a market along the Rhone - jackpot. They had beautiful flowers and incredible local food. We sat and people watched in the summer heat before wandering around the city for hours. We must have visited close to every arrondissement. I kept thinking when we crossed the street, or turned a corner, we would end up somewhere familiar, but we kept discovering new places. The city was so quiet and so beautiful we stayed out all day discovering the city. We had an early night on Sunday having a light dinner consisting of all our goodies we had bought at the market - fresh radishes, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, sausage, and of course delicious French bread. We ended up meeting a couple girls around our age traveling on their own, one from Australia and one from Germany, and we hung out on the hostel's terrace enjoying the view and chatting for a couple hours about language and the difference between our respective countries.

View of Lyon 
Marching band playing on the bridge
Hotel de Ville
Opera house
Monday morning we made our way to the tip top of the hill to see Lyon's famous basilica, the Notre-Dame de Fourvière,  an official UNESCO sight. We made our way up the steepest hills to get to the top, being told there wasn't any public transportation to take us to the top, of course to discover the tram and one of the bus lines went to the top ... we got our exercise I guess. The basilica was absolutely beautiful. Not only were the views spectacular, but the inside was so unique and it was one of the more recently built churches I have seen which was very interesting, it wasn't completed until 1964. Even the crypts below the church were uniquely laid out.

Notre-Dame de Fourvière

View from the top of the basilica 
Inside the church
That afternoon we grabbed quiche and decadent French desserts at a little café before heading to Lyon's biggest park. The park was absolutely huge and because it was vacation in France, there were dozens of families and small children. It was the perfect park day. The park had gorgeous botanical gardens and as we were walking along we found elephants ... which lead to a full out zoo in the middle of the park. Berit and I were almost more excited then half of the French kids strolling along, especially once we came across the giraffes ...

All in all we had an absolutely wonderful time. Our last night we had a series of unfortunate events where we came back from this perfect summer day at the park to find some things ... missing. Someone had stolen Berit's toiletry kit and about half of my clothes, my iPod, and a pair of my shoes (which is just weird.) We were really upset at the beginning, but in the end it is just 'stuff' and nothing extremely precious was stolen. We sucked it up and treated ourselves to yet another delicious dinner at a typical bouchon, this time I had fish and Berit and I shared profiteroles to end, which ended up being a mountain of whipped cream - not complaining. And as a side note, other then the hill leading up to the Notre-Dame, the city was very easy to navigate and very accessible, including an easily accessible metro which became essential in getting around as the city is so huge.

Tarte Fraise et Tarte Praline
'Flower Tree' sculpture designed by Choi Jeong-Hwa

Entrance of botanical gardens

Grass gardens