Normandie “fort et vert” (for-e-ver)

After being a typical American tourist for a few days in Paris (already wrote alll about that in my previous post), I was warmly welcomed at my friend’s/roommate’s family home in Potigny, a French municipality located in the department of Calvados in Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy). One thing I didn’t realize before arriving was that the town Marion lives in is SO rural and so small! According to Wikipedia, Potigny has less than 1800 inhabitants…. a far lower number than the 30,000-odd people living in Lexington, MA! Initially, I was also extremely but pleasantly surprised to see a great expanse of farmland and cows RIGHT across the street from Marion’s house!

Although I definitely wouldn’t want to live in such a small town, it was pretty nice to take a break from small city-life in Santiago and spend time relaxing in a small village. Everyone in Potigny seemed to know each other and it was really nice to see that Marion’s extended family was so tight-knit, with relatives all living within 20 minutes from one another. Her family has also been there for generations — on my last full day in Normandy, Marion brought me to the extremely old farmhouse that her great-grandparents used to live in and told me stories about how the family was forced out of the house during WWII and had to live in a small shed for months while the Germans were occupying France.

Anywho, we arrived in Potigny on Christmas Eve, so right away I was privy to a very nice, multiple-course Christmas Eve dinner with Marion, her brother,  Frédéric, her brother’s girlfriend, Erika, her mom, Brigitte, her dad, Thierry, and her grandma, Pauline. For Christmas Eve dinner, Marion’s mom made a point to cook some dishes typical of Normandy so that I could get a taste for Norman cuisine, which was really nice of her. (Dishes will be listed a little further down in the post 🙂 ) Not only that, but when everyone went to open Christmas presents (on Christmas Eve… I guess they couldn’t wait until Christmas day), Marion’s brother’s girlfriend, Erika, surprised me by saying that there were three gifts under the tree for me, too! SO UNBELIEVABLY SWEET OF THEM! Not only did her parents agree to host me for almost two weeks, but they got me Christmas gifts, too? BAH. Love them. Oh, and they also used markers to draw and write holiday related messages/pictures on their sliding door and they wrote things in English just for me so that I’d feel somewhat at home 🙂

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Yes, I am definitely proud to be Jewish, but there is something so magical about Christmas and it was so exciting to celebrate it the first time… especially in France!

Even though we ate WAYYYY TOO MUCH at the dinner for Christmas Eve (see below), I was warned that the Christmas Day lunch would be an even greater feast at Marion’s grandmother’s house. But, first,

THE CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER MENU (Norman-style meal):

ENTRÉES

  • pâte en croute (tastes sooooooo goooooooood… translates to “meat pie”); –toasts avec (1) oeufs de lump, (2) saucisson, (3) anchois, et (4) surimi (small pieces of bread with (1) lumpfish roe (caviar?), (2), sausage, (3) anchovies, and (4) surimi)

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  • feuilleté d’andouille, pommes et camembert (flaky pastry with sausage, apples, and camembert cheese)
    • a typical Norman dish — (who would think pork, cheese, and warm apples with a wrapped in a croissant-like  dough would be such a delicious combination?!)

PLAT PRINCIPAL

  • poulet (de gallina) a la crème (hen meat (chicken) with cream)
  • pommes de terre avec des carottes et poireaux (potatoes with carrots and leeks)

FROMAGE (much of which was made in Normandy)

  • e.g. Camembert, Pont-l’Evêque

DESSERT

  • bûche glacée crème brulée 
    • a crème brulé-flavored ice cream cake that looks like firewood

Okay, now we can talk about the REST of the food I ate in celebration of baby Jesus 🙂 Here’s the menu from Christmas Day:

CHRISTMAS DAY LUNCH MENU (French-style meal)

DRANKSSSSS

  • champagne

ENTRÉES

  • toasts (petits-fours) avec du beurre, saucisson, mousse de foie, anchois, rillettes de poulet (small pieces of bread with butter, sausage, liver mousse (?), anchovies, chicken spread from a can (?))
  • saumon et jambon serrano (smoked salmon and serrano jam)
  • saucisses et boudin blanc (sausage and white sausage)
  • une salade (salad)

PLAT PRINCIPAL

  • marrons (roasted chestnuts), haricots verts (green beans) dinde (turkey), pommes duchesse (French piped potatoes, a.k.a. fried potato balls)

FROMAGE

DESSERT

  • bûche de mousse du chocolat (chocolate mousse cake)
  • café/thé (coffee/tea)
  • calvados avec du sucre et l’eau chaude (Calvados is a type of liquor (apple brandy) from the region of Basse-Normandie, where Marion’s family lives, that people sometimes drink before, during, and after a meal. During the meal, it’s supposed to help with digestion so that you can fill your stomach with more food. You can take a shot of it or mix it with hot water and sugar)
  • clémentine et du raisin (clementines and grapes)
  • chocolat

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Christmas ever. Not only was the food delicious, but the 15-20 guests at Marion’s grandma’s house were all very friendly. Sure, I could only communicate with two or three of them, but whaaaaatever. Okay, to be honest, I did feel pretty out of place there. Sure, everyone was very friendly and we always smiled at each other, but it was really difficult to be in another country at someone’s grandma’s house with strangers and not be able to understand what people were saying to me and to each other. Although I did take a semester of French my senior year at American, I reallllly didn’t remember all that much from the class, so I didn’t really know what to do other than eat at the dinner. Hah and after the dinner was finally over, I was invited to play a board game with several of Marion’s family members… it was a t.v./movie trivia game. It was nice of them to invite me to play, but how am I supposed to be of any help to my team when everyone is rapidly reading clues and shouting out answers in French?! Oh well, I did what I could 🙂

We ended up staying at the house from noon until likeeee 10 p.m. and actually had more food for dinner… as if we needed any more food! Overall, it was a very nice day and first Christmas and I’m really lucky to have had the experience I did.

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After resting for two days and taking it easy, on Saturday we went to a nearby town called Falaise where one of William the Conqueror’s castles can be found. William the Conqueror was a French Duke and in 1066 took over the English throne as king.

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After visiting the castle, we went out for lunch in the town and then we went on a car ride through the rolling hills of Norman Switzerland (still in Normandy, but so-called because apparently the landscape looks a lot like those of Switzerland). It was beautifullllll.

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Then we went over Marion’s friend’s (Gail’s) place for a fondue dinner. So very French of us 🙂

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The next day, we drove for about an hour and a half to get to Mont Saint-Michel, this amazing island and tiny town in Normandy. It seriously looks like paradise. The story goes that the archangel Saint-Michel told a bishop/priest (I don’t even know the difference…) to build an abbey on the site of this mountain and now, at the top of the montain, there is an abbey where monks live and pray and do what monks do. About 80 people live on the island… even though it’s beautiful, I can’t imagine living there, given how isolated it is! Buttttt, the place is seriously a wonder to look at and walk about. It helped that Marion worked there for the two past summers so she was my own personal tour guide 🙂

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After seeing Mont Saint-Michel we went to a the nearby Biscuiterie Saint-Michel to buy delicciiiiiiiiiious cookies. BAH. I want more.

Finally, we drove about 40 minutes into neighboring Brittany to try to check out the fortified city, Saint-Malo. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find parking by the fortress, so after about half an hour, we just parked really far away and got something to eat. I had a galette de sarassin á l’oeuf et jambon (egg and ham) (similar to a crepe, but the crepe-like stuff is made from a darker type of wheat). Nom nom nom.

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On New Year’s Eve, we went to the D-day landing beaches (specifically, Omaha Beach, where American troops landed on June 6, 1944), and to the museum/memorial and then the American cemetary. We also went to Juno Beach for a bit to see German battery artillery still left over from the war. I’m really glad I got to see all of this in person because I feel like I can absorb more information about historical events when I actually can be at the places where they happened and read/hear facts about what happened during that time.

Below are pictures of Omaha beach, some images from the museum, the American cemetery, and Juno Beach.

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After that somber visit, it was still New Year’s Eve, so we had to celebrate that, of course! We decided to stay in, as Marion’s aunt and uncle were visiting and I am a homebody and prefer to celebrate with a small group of people in a warm home 🙂 Marion’s mom and aunt prepared an amazing feast (I ate so much food in Normandy…. oy!) And, for New Year’s Eve, I threw all caution to the wind (ok, that’s a little dramatic) and tried all new types of food (mostly shellfish which I never had the opportunity or desire to try)

NEW YEAR’S EVE MENU

toasts w/ surimi, chorizo, etc. and pâte en croute
les crevettes (3 types of shrimp, heads and tails intact…), huîtres (oysters) au beurre d’escargot (with herbs and butter), l’escargot de mer (sea snails), crab (except everyone ended up being too full for the monster crab so they were saved for the following day)
-calva(dos)
-fromage
-ice cream cake

(I’m getting a little lazy trying to name everything we ate)

ANYWAY, I TRIED SNAIL FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. I’m so wild. I definitely wouldn’t order it in a restaurant, but it wasn’t bad. The texture may not appeal to me, but it was kind of fun to use special utensils to pull the meat out of the shell and eat it. I also tried SHRIMP, which I am sorry (but not really sorry) to say that I’m not a fan of. I can’t handle dealing with the whole bodies of each little shrimpie with the legs and the heads and the eyeballs and the tail and the shell. BLAH. Luckily, Marion’s uncle was a great sport and for one of the bigger shrimps I tried, he took off the head for me… I was too squeamish to do it myself. I also “manned” up and took off the legs and shells/skin and tails myself and squeezed lemon on the shrimp and ate everything on my plate. I probably could have eaten more of each shrimp on my plate, but after I was done taking each one apart, there was like barely any meat for me to eat haha.

OKAY, surprise of the night was I really liked the cooked OYSTERS that I was served. There was this really tasty sauce over the meat (called snail butter, but it’s not actually snail butter… it’s just called that?) and yum yum yum. At everyone’s insistence, I also tried ONE raw oyster and again, Marion’s uncle prepared it for me by draining out the juice and separating the meat from the shell so that all I had to do was slurp it down. It wasn’t bad, and it helped that it was salty because then I didn’t have to think so much about the squishiness of the meat, but I definiiiiitely prefer the cooked oysters! At least I gave it a try though, right?

My first real shellfish dining experience. Ahhhhh!
les huîtres au beurre d’escargot (oysters) -- YUM
l'escargot de mer!

SUMMARY OF MY TRIP TO NORMANDY:

Immediately upon stepping into Marion’s house, her family kindly welcomed me and made me feel at home. I am/was definitely a bit homesick, and even though it wasn’t MY family I was staying with, there was still something so comforting about being able to spend the holidays in a home with a family. My whole time there, her family was so sweet to me — they fed me, fixed up her brother’s room for me to sleep in, offered me anything I needed and they made my stay truly memorable. They really went above and beyond.

Staying with a family over winter break was exactly what I needed – it’s hard not being home for the holidays, but I was very happy to spend time with someone else’s family, although there was definitely a language barrier! Note to self: learn French for the next time I travel to France. But, Marion’s mom was adorable and spoke pretty good English and I also found out that Marion is actually not bad at English either! She’d only said a few words of English to me in Santiago, so I didn’t think she knew much of the language, but she understands almost everything people say in English and can speak it a bit, too! I’m glad she chooses not to speak English in Spain though…  I need to improve my Spanish and being forced to speak Spanish is the only way that can happen!

It was awesome being able to celebrate Christmas, not to mention in France(!), not only because I’d never celebrated the holiday before (that type of thing doesn’t tend to happen when you are Jewish), but also because I got to see how the holiday is celebrate outside the U.S.

Final Thoughts: GREAT winter vacation. I’m very happy I decided to spend two weeks in France with my roommate rather than travel every 3 days to a different city in a different country. BUT, don’t worry. I still have many trips to plan this year 🙂

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Little Facts I learned while in Normandy:

“cu cu” = hello
-instead of the typical one kiss on each cheek, Normans give 4 kisses... given I’m already awkward when I try to do the double kiss, I’m infinitely more awkward when I try to do 4 kisses with glasses on… can’t we just HUG? 🙂

ANSWER: No. We can’t just hug. No one really hugs in France to show affection 😦 And from what I’ve seen so far in Europe, Europeans in generally don’t tend to hug! It’s so sad…. hugs release endorphins and other thingies that make you feel happy! I need more hugs!

-it rains a helluva lot! BUT, I was kind of confused because Marion told me that Normans usually don’t carry umbrellas or wear rainboots… I guess they just loooove the rain and are so used to it that they don’t care about getting wet?
-LOTS of cows, green pastures, rolling hills, dairy products made in the region
English is actually a mix of the ancient Norman language and ancient English (as a result of William the Conqueror becoming the King of England in 1066)
-only old people speak the ancient Norman language (it’s basically just a different accent and way of speaking) — the language used to be more different from French but now it is more similar to the French language… however, there are still ancient Norman words in French dictionaries
Suisse Normande (Norman Switzerland) is BEAUTIFUL: picture rolling hills, small winding roads, greenery everywhere, etc.
-something interesting: because the death penalty got outlawed in France, now a mass murderer might spend a max of 25 years in jail and then be released… whether the death penalty should be legal obviously does not have an easy answer, but the idea of murderers being released after so little time is really scary!

OKAY. That’s all. I definitely left a lot out. Maybe I’ll update later… but for now, this is what you get 🙂

ADIÓS!

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Bonjour de Paris! (Except I’m not actually in Paris anymore…) :)

WARNING: Lots of boring(?) historical facts/info about architecture and Paris in general in this post. Sorry! That stuff is mostly for me because I find that stuff to be interesting but my memory is terrible. Feel free to skip through all that 🙂

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Although I miss home and family and friends a ton, I at least had the opportunity to travel to France with my French roommate, Marion, and spend 3 nights in Paris and around a week and a half in Normandy, where her family lives. It’s not the same as a Feldman Chanukah Haggle with Rob as the M.C. or eating latkes and bagels and lighting Chanukah candles, but it’s so nice to be able to spend winter break with a family at their home 🙂

Soooooo, this post is about Paris, where we started off our trip in France. We checked into a hostel in the Montmarte District on December 21st. This was my first REAL hostel experience… i.e. sleeping in a room full of bunkbeds. Although it wasn’t the worst, I definitely prefer to be in my apartment or someone’s home. The guy sleeping in the bed beneath Marion snored like a hibernating bear and I was kind of worried I’d catch some disease if I walked barefoot in the bathroom. BUT, on the plus side, there was free breakfast! Woohooooo. Very beneficial for a 22 year-old whose salary is miniscule.

Anywho, we spent the first night in Le Montclair Montmarte hostel and woke up bright and early to jumpstart our first day in Paris. We started off by walking to La Basilique du Sacre Coeur (The Sacret Heart Basilica) which was built on the “hill of martyrs” in Montmarte between 1875 and 1914.

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The inside of Sacre Coeur was beautiful, but unfortunately, visitors aren’t allowed to take photos 😦 Here’s a google image of the inside just so you can get an idea of what the place looks like:

Afterwards, we walked around a bit in the Montmarte district. I got a little shot glass souvenir from one of the touristy shops (that’s one of my things — to collect shot glasses in the places I travel to) and we also passed through a Xmas Market. Montmarte and the community around it is where many artists had studios or worked (for example, Salvador Dalí, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. Montmartre is also the setting for several hit films. It’s also apparently known as a night-club district although Marion and I didn’t spend time in any night clubs during our stay 🙂

Taking the “Metropolitain”, we arrived at St. Michel-Notre Dame stop and then walked along the banks of the Seine River. We went past the Palais de Justice

…and eventually came across a bridge full of “love locks“. I was SO EXCITED that we’d found the bridge where people attach locks in the hopes that leaving a lock on the bridge will make their love last forever. But, after doing some research (while writing this post), I’ve learned that there are multiple bridges with “love locks” attached… the most famous of which is the Pont des Artes (Considered the most romantic bridge of Paris, the location where lovers declare their eternal love for each other by writing their names on a padlock and locking it to the bridge. It’s a pedestrianised bridge that connects the Louvre to the Institut de France.) So, although I found one bridge, Pont Neuf (I think?), where love locks can be found, it wasn’t THE BRIDGE I was looking for. Oh well. I still thought it was really cute/romantic 🙂

After thatttt, we got to la Catédrale Notre Dame de Paris! The place is SO incredibleeeeeeely beautiful. I’m still in awe of the gothic architecture and the stained glass windows inside are seriously a wonder to stare at. Plus, the additional lighting expertly placed inside the cathedral made everything seem so old and a bit creepy but also mysterious and full of secrets. Luckily for me, we were allowed to take pictures inside this work of art 🙂

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After having lunch in a cute little restaurant by Notre Dame, we passed through another Xmas market and then walked to Le Panthéon, formerly a Christian basilica built in the 6th century (FRIGGIN’ OLD) by a certain King Clovis, designed to house his tomb and that of his wife when they died. Saint Genvieve, the patron saint of Paris, was also buried here in 512 AD. Eventually, The Pantheon became a secular national “temple” where the tombs of many famous Frenchmen (including the philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau –– considered to be symbols of the Enlightenment of the 18th century and the ideals of reason and science) and ONE Frenchwoman (Marie Curie a.k.a. Nobel Laureate in physics for her work on radium) are now housed.

In 1744, Louis XV had the architect Soufflot redesign the church and the king dedicated the church to Saint Genevieve because he prayed to her when he was very ill and attributed his recovery to her.  In 1791, the monument to her was turned into the national Pantheon and for two periods during the 19th century, Christians worshiped here. It was finally given over to secular use in 1885 with the funeral of Victor Hugo (a writer famous for his support for Republican ideals and his support for fundamental freedoms). Inside the Pantheon are many paintings created by the most famous artists from  the late 19th century and onwards; the paintings depict the history of Saint Genvieve and the story of the beginnings of both Christianity and the monarchy in France. There are also paintings of Joan of Arc and other famous Christian heroes from the history of France. Sculptures from the early 20th century depict subjects that include the French Revolution, at the base of the pillars supporting the large dome. In the back of the main floor is a painting of The National Convention. Downstairs is the crypt where the famous Frenchmen and woman are held.

After checking out The Pantheon, we went to meet up with Justine, another girl from France who, like Marion, is also studying at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela this year. We met underneath the Eiffel Tower. To be honest, when I first saw it, I was like “ummmm this isn’t as pretty as I imagined it would be”, but once the sun went down the lights on the tower went on, I changed my mind 🙂 Anywhoooooo, after meeting up with Justine, the three of us walked around. We passed by Pont Alexandre III,

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then through a Xmas market full of booths selling hot wine, macarons, and other Christmas-time goodies,

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then we walked along Champs-Elysées (one of the most famous streets in the world, lined with cafés, restaurants, and shops, that is over 1 mile long),

and FINALLY we got to…

L’Arc de Triomphe (a monument built in Place de l’Étole (now called Place Charles-de-Gaulle) between 1806 and 1836 to honor the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte and, later, generally to glorify the armies of the Republic and the Empire).

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We actually got to climb to the topic of L’Arc de Triomphe and the panoramic view from the top was spectacular. Definitely worth the walk up! The monument stands in the center of the Place de l’Étole, which translates to the “Star” because 12 avenues radiate out from it, all of which are named for famous people and battles. Here are some views from above!

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Champs-Elysées

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Then we called it a night and stayed at one of Justine’s friend’s dorm rooms in the outskirts of Paris. And Justine and Marion ate McDonald’s for dinner. Here’s to “Breads and America”!

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DAY 2

For our second day in Paris, the three of us decided to go to Versailles. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was discovered that the palace is closed on Mondays. Double-you-tee-eff. We were still able to walk around the outside of the palace and see the gardens but it wasn’t the same, especially since it was winter and the gardens and greenery weren’t all that magical…

For example,

Statues covered during wintertime

Statues covered during wintertime…

Certain statues were simply removed...

Certain statues were simply removed…

Fountains not in order...

Fountains not in order…

YET, although many things didn’t go according to plan,  here are some pictures showing the beauty of the palace:

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Next time I am in Paris, I’ll go during the Spring or Summer and make sure Versailles is open to the public!

After our attempt to visit Versailles, we went to see the Bastille (a monument) and then had lunch. Afterwards, we went on a free walking tour (love thoseee) through the Left Bank of Paris (the Latin Quarter) where all the bohemians and students live. We walked through medieval streets, learned a little bit about the history of Paris and this particular area of Paris, saw La Sorbonne (famous and prestigious university in Paris), and ended the tour at the Pantheon. We also walked to a square where literally the BEST cheese-maker in France sets up shop (he actually has the title of best cheese-maker in France. What a baller). Here’s some of his/her very expensive cheese in photo-form since I am not forking over 40€ for cheese 😀

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Then, we met up with our friend, Irís, also a student at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, who is from Mexico. We walked around a bit and then went to the Trocadero where we got a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower at night:

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From the Trocadero, we walked down the stairs and then through one of the Christmas markets and  finally ended up finding a place to have “le dîner”.

And THAT, folks, is the story of my trip to Paris.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I love Europe so much because there is just SO MUCH HISTORY here. Yes, I love the United States and it will always be my home, but seeing architecture and other things built centuries ago that still stand to this day is something else. For example, take the Mona Lisa… yeah, I might have not actually gone to the Louvre to see it, but who needs the Louvre when you can see a great representation of the masterpiece on the street? 😀

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Paris is beautiful and I would love to return in the future. The Parisians I met were all very nice so maybe the stereotype about Parisians being snotty and rude to foreigners isn’t totally true… although I’m pretty sure the French still hate Americans… oh well! I can’t change their feelings on the United States all by myself!

Anywayyyyyyyy, Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année! Bissous!

And don’t forget: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!

La Sorbonne

La Sorbonne

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P.S. Paris has got style because it has this store:

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THE END!

My first home-cooked Spanish meal in Santiago & THANKSGIVUKAH

Even though I’ve been in Spain for over two months, I still haven’t had an authentic home-made Spanish meal. Yes, I’ve eaten at restaurants and tried octupus, tortillas españolas and stuff like that, but don’t most people want to be able to come home, relax, and have a nice meal with your family?? Even though I couldn’t have that home-cooked meal with MY family (miss you guys!), having it with someone else’s family this week was special. While driving back to Santiago from Noya today with two teachers from my school, one of them, Fran, a gym teacher at the school and someone I’ve talked to a bunch and is really cool, surprised me by asking if instead of dropping me off at home, did I want to have lunch at his home and meet his family? Sooooooo, I said yes!

When we got to his house, I met his wife (7-months pregnant) and his 5 year old daughter (ADORABLE) and 2 year old son, along with his wife’s two sisters. We sat down for lunch and his wife was asking if I wanted more of this or more of that or if she should prepare something else if I don’t like fish, etc, etc. She was so welcoming and friendly and I liked her immediately. Fran and his wife’s daughter also knows a tiny bit of English from school so she said a few words like “I’m five” and she was so cuuuuteeeee. And both the little ones gave me kisses on the cheek when I met them and when I said goodbye. 🙂

Anywayyyy, this Spanish lunch was definitely more like a U.S. dinner than a U.S. lunch because the biggest and most important meal of the day in Spain is lunch. They aren’t into the whole “eat-at-your-desk-in-under-30-minutes” or “eat-on-the-go” type of thing. Families all get together, with students coming home from school and parents from work in order to have lunch together. I was very grateful to be invited to Fran’s house to join his family for a home-cooked meal! Everyone at the house was so friendly (which didn’t surprise me at all) and they really made me feel at home 🙂

Soooo, for lunch we had merluza (hake), potatoes, salad, jamón serrano (Serrano ham), white asparragus and fresh bread.

hake and potatoes

mmmmmm. not kosher, but yummm.

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Thanksgivukah!

Although I was sad not to be in MA or NY for Thanksgiving, auxiliars here still made an effort to celebrate Thanksgiving as we would at home. Like 10 people (American, British, and one Spaniard) came over to my and Nicole’s apartment to have as close to a Thanksgiving dinner as we could! We had green beans/peas (defrosted haha), quinoa with pieces of turkey (unfortunately, we didn’t get to celebrate with a big ol’ roast turkey,) candied yams (made with pink and white marshmallows which made the dish look a liiiiiittle strange), mashed potatoes, mac & cheese (something I don’t really think of when I think of Thanksgiving, but at least it’s an American dish), and for dessert, apple pie and pumpkin pie (the girl who made them actually had to buy a pumpkin to make the latter because they didn’t have canned pumpkin in the grocery stores).

That’s about it… we weren’t able to stream any American football games and we didn’t get to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on tv, but at least we attempted to celebrate this lovely American holiday and give thanks for this amazing opportunity we have to live in Spain for a year!

¡Me gusta La Coruña, Me gustas tú!

Last Saturday, my roommate, Marion, and our friend, Irís, went to La Coruña, a city a little over 30 minutes north of Santiago de Compostela by train. I’ve been so happy because although Santiago is one of the rainiest cities in Spain, these past two weeks have been nothing but sunny! Last Saturday was no different, with blue skies and the sun shining, and what made the day that much better was that La Coruña situated right next to the water.

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I was a little scared by this pruning job, though…

skull and crossbones? should we leave?

skull and crossbones? should we leave?

We started off the day by going to la Plaza de María Pita, essentialy the heart of the city of La Coruña, just outside the limits of the Old Town. Here is a picture of the Palacio Municipal (City Palace), or City Hall:

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I wish the U.S. had town squares/plazas like the ones found in Spain! Every single time I come across a new plaza, I am in awe of how beautiful it is and it’s so nice to walk around the edges of the plaza when it’s nice out and to check out the different restaurants/cafés/shops.

Anywho, after checking out the plaza, we walked through la Plaza del General Azcarraga and La Plaza de la Constitución (pics below):

Mini Statue of Liberty?

Mini Statue of Liberty?

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Plaza de la Constitución

Then, we walked along the waterfront to el Museo Arqueológico e Histórico Castillo de San Antón, in the background of the picture below.

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The island of San Antón is situated on an island of the Bay of Coruña. The old fortress was built to defend the city against attacks coming from the sea. During the English assault by Francis Drake (and the English Armada) in 1589, the castle effectively served to defend the entrance to the city. Starting in the 18th century, the fortress became a prison, which it continued to be until 1960. Here is me defending the city of la Coruña!

No one would mess with THIS chick.

No one would mess with THIS chick.

After visiting the castle and museum, Marion, Irís, and I went out for lunch and had el menú del día (a several course meal offered at most restaurants for lunch that costs around 10 Euros total) at a small restaurant. I ordered a Coca light, revueltos de chorizo (scrambled eggs with chorizo), guiso de pollo (chicken stew), macedonia (which I found out was just a cup of Dole fruit that was opened up and poured into a bowl) for dessert, followed by coffee. Not bad for 10 Euros. I was definitely full by the end of my meal!

With our stomachs satisfied, we made our way to the famous Torre de Hércules (The Tower of Hercules), which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2009. Before getting there, we walked for like 20 minutes along the pier. Ahhh, how ocean air can make you feel like your on vacation even if it’s freezing out:

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Then we got to the big attraction. The Roman Tower (which would eventually turn into the Tower of Hercules) was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD (it’s almost 2000 years old!) and it is the only lighthouse of antiquity that is still in operation today.

Tower of Hercules + sunset = quite a view

Tower of Hercules + sunset = quite a view

The lighthouse has undergone several transformations over the centuries:

  • Originally, it was somewhat lower and wider because it had a ramp that wound its way up around the outside so fuel could be taken up to the beacon.
  • As the tower gradually fell apart between the 4th and 10th centuries, the destruction of the original outer wall of the Tower began.
  • From the 10th century onwards, some constructions were added, and at this time, the tower functioned as a coastal watchtower against Arab and Norman attacks.
You can kindaaaaa see the light at the top, proving it's a watchtower

You can kindaaaaa see the light at the top, proving it’s a watchtower

  • In the 12th century, stones were taken from the building so they could be used as construction material during the expansion of the city, which completed the ruin of the outer wall and part of the access ramp.
  • Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the building was surrounded by defensive structures as well as tower guards.
  • In the 17th century, an attempt to recreate the tower was carried out, and included the installation of two small towers on the top in order to hang two lanterns, which helped ships navigate through the waters.
  • Today, there is a “casing” around what remained of the Roman lighthouse, as well as an addition to the top of the lighthouse (the reforms carried out between 1788 and 1790). Yet, despite all the construction carried out over the centuries, many of the primitive Roman stones from the original Roman Tower can still be seen upon entering the Tower of Hercules.

For example…..

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Anyway, enough history! We got to the Tower of Hercules just in time because it was going to close at 6, so we rushed to the top of the lighthouse to see the views, and dayummmm were they spectacular:

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And here are some pictures of us girls because obviously we took plenty of pictures of ourselves 🙂

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THE END

Magosto: Mini Post!

Here in Galicia, one of the autonomous communities of Spain, there are several unique festivals that aren’t celebrated in the rest of the country. One of these is…

EL MAGOSTO (a.k.a. CASTAÑADA),


a festival celebrated in some of the northern communities of Spain, including GALICIA (yeahhhh, baybay), Cantabria, Cataluña, Aragón, and Asturias. It’s also a popular traditional festival in Portugal, where it is known as “Magusto”. In the international community, people sometimes refer to it as “chestnut party”…. which sounds really strange, so we’ll just refer to it as “Magosto” 🙂

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Q: What is this traditional festival you speak of?

A: Magosto is a festival celebrated around the end of October and the month of November and the main elements of the festival are a) chestnuts and b) fire. A long time ago, when the Romans expanded the cultivation of chestnuts, the chestnut became the food base of the population, as fresh produce, dried fruit, or a ground-up powder used to make flour.

But, in the 16th century, corn and potatoes started gaining popularity as they were imported from America, causing chestnuts to lose their importance in the Galician diet (and people from the other regions of Spain where chestnuts were a big part of the population’s diet)

Eventually, the festival of Magosto began to be celebrated and the festival involved harvesting chestnuts and served as a way to give thanks for a successful harvest and to remember how important chestnuts were to Galicians for many centuries.

Usually between November 1st (All Saints’ Day) and November 11th (Día de San Martín), people celebrate Magosto and there is a neverending supply of fire-roasted chestnuts (to be peeled and eaten), new wine, and chorizo. It’s celebrated at school and outside of school and there are still festivals going on this weekend even though it’s already November 15th!

Roasted chestnuts

The end. I now realize this post wasn’t very interesting, but at least you learned about a new holiday. PEACE OUTTT

I see London, I see France…

Okay, so I haven’t ACTUALLY seen France yet, but I’ll start off this post by announcing that I am OFFICIALLY going to France from December 21st through January 3rd over winter break this year! My French roommate, Marion, invited me to stay with her family in Normandy, so after flying into Paris, we’ll spend some time in Normandy with her family and then make our way to Brittany, followed by Paris (and who knows? maybe other places, too!)

But, we can talk about all that when the trip gets closer, because this post is devoted to

LONDONNNNNNN!!!

Since arriving in Spain, my first trip out of the country has been to England, and it was amazinggggg. It was the first trip I planned almost 100% by myself, so I feel pretty proud of myself for figuring everything out, including transportation, accomodation, and my game plan for when I was there 😀 After finding out I had Thursday, Friday, and the following Monday off of work (2 weeks ago… sorry, this post is SO OVERDUE), I made the decision to go somewhere and I narrowed my options down to Paris and London. I eventually decided on London because a) I speak the same language as the English, b) one of my American friends is studying and living in London this semester, and c) one of my friends is about 2 hours north of London and he said he’d come visit me if I chose London.

So, London it was!

Although my lovely mom was a bit freaked out to find out I’d be staying in a house in London with 4 college aged guys (and a girl), I used couchsurfing.com to find a group of people to host me (for FREE) during my stay in London. It was my first time couchsurfing, so I was pretty nervous! I’d never met these people before and didn’t know anyone who knew them. But, I’ve heard from a lot of people who’ve traveled abroad that couchsurfing is a great option, especially when hostels are really expensive, as they are in London. Plus, I had the opportunity to stay with people who knew the city well and who were interested in getting to know me and make my trip as enjoyable as possible! I was mainly in contact with a guy named Rupert and made sure the whole situation seemed safe before saying yes. And I made sure this would be possible:

When I got there, Rupert and his friend were playing Xbox like typical boys and Rupert invited me to go to a dinner party at his friends house in honor of Halloween. So, I went with him and met a bunch of English students around my age and it was a lot of fun! It was great to actually hang out with British kids in someone’s house and hang out with them rather than just spend all my time going to major tourist attractions.

At the party, one of the housemates was an amazing cook and he made pumpkin soup, sundried tomato and something-else bread, pasta with meat sauce, and key lime pie and chocolate cake with candy corn on top. What a feast! Rupert assured me that this was not the norm for England haha… I just happened to show up on a day when they were celebrating a fun holiday. We also played some Halloween games, like pumpkin carving and bobbing for apples — which was fun but gross at the same time haha (who wants to dunk their head into a bunch of water that eventually gets filled up with spit and facepaint? yuck!).

Anywhooo, we stayed pretty late and then went back to Rupert’s house where I slept on the couch. All the roommates made sure I was comfortable and  I was so grateful 🙂 They gave me two comforters, two pillows, a towel, and told me I could help myself to food/coffee in the kitchen in the morning. SO MUCH BETTER THAN STAYING IN A HOSTEL ROOM WITH 10 OTHER PEOPLE!

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The next day, I was “Super-Tourist” Allison and went on a double-decker tour bus by myself through the city. I woke up early so I could make the most out of my day and got on a bus with a live tour guide who was pretty entertaining. Butttttt, I realized after I got off the bus that I spent the majority of my time trying to get quality photos of important sites and I didn’t listen as closely as I would have liked to the tour guide. WOOPS! So, later on that day, I may or may not have gotten on the same bus again so that I could actually listen to the tour guide. Unfortunately, the guide was a different man on this bus and he was like 70 years old and spoke in the most monotononous voice imaginable. Sooooo, I got off the bus as soon as  I could to avoid falling asleep 🙂 I also got to go on a Thames River cruise and it was nice to be able to see part of the city from another angle!

Among the places that I saw on my tour were: Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, London Bridge, Waterloo Bridge (and more bridges), Westminster Abbey, Fleet Street, The London Eye, the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Shard, HMS Belfast, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Here are some pick-chas:

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

London Eye with Big Ben in the center!

Look! I can reach the clock! 

The name “Big Ben” actually refers to the bell inside of “Elizabeth Tower”, the actual name for the famous clock tower in London. The bell rings every hour and weighs 15.5 tons. DAYUMMM. Another fun fact is the minute hand on the clock is 14 ft long.

The Palace of Westminster is in Parliament Square and is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, together commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. Since 1066, the seat of government (the supreme legislative body in the UK, British Crown dependencies, and British overseas territories) has been at Westminster Palace. Parliament first met at the palace in 1295 and continue their meetings here to this day. Along with being the home of Parliament, Westminster Palace serves as the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice (the highest civil law courts). For ceremonial purposes, the palace retains its original style and status as a royal residence — throughout the Medieval Period, Westminster Palace was the primary royal residence.

As for the London Eye, it was built for the new millennium celebrations (it was also referred to as the “Millennium Wheel”) and was only supposed to be up for 5 years, but it´s still up today. When it was erected in 1999, it was the tallest ferris wheel in Europe (not all that surprising) and can carry a max of 960 people at one time. I didn’t get a chance to go on it, but the views from it must be amazingggg. There are 32 capsules/pods total, representing the 32 burroughs of London (note: the city of London isn’t considered one of those burroughs; yet, the city of Westminster is one of the 32 burroughs).

FUN FACTS ABOUT LONDON’S HISTORY:

London is actually made up of two cities (Westminster and London). Londinium was a settlement established on the site of the current city of London by the Romans. They followed the Thames and arrived in 43 AD,  built a bridge (the 1st “London Bridge”), and built a this settlement that would later be called the city of London. The settlement served as as a major commercial center for the Romans until it was abandoned in the 5th century. Remember that childhood song with the lyrics “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down….”? Well, the lyrics are referring to this original London Bridge! Today there are over 30 bridges in London over the Thames River, with the best view from any bridge in the WORLD (supposedly) from the Waterloo Bridge, which was built in 1945 almost entirely by women (95% of the workers were female). Sidenote: Waterloo Bridge is named after the Battle of Waterloo (1815) which took place in Waterloo in present-day Belgium, which was at that time part of the UK. A French Army under the emperor Napoleon was defeated by an Anglo-allied army and this marked the end of Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French.

During the 2nd century, Londinium was in its “Golden Age”… many impressive public buildings were constructed around this time. Also, sometime between 190 and 225 AD, the Romans built the London Wall, which was a defensive wall around the landward side of the city — it was one of the largest construction projects carried out in Roman Britain. It was about 3 miles long, 20 ft high, and 8 ft thick. The wall survived another 1600 years and defined London’s city limits for centuries after being built. The current city lines are still roughly defined by the line of the ancient Roman Wall. Here’s a photo of a piece of the wall:
ancient Roman wall

As for the other city in London, Westminster, it was founded by the Normans who invaded and conquered England in 1066, led by William, Duke of Normandy. William of Normandy was crowned William I on Christmas Day in 1066 at Westminster Abbey and now coronations are held there, as well as weddings and burials. Westminster Abbey is also the private church of the queen.

Westminster Abbey (a.k.a place where the most recent royal wedding took place!)

Westminster Abbey (a.k.a the place where the most recent royal wedding took place between Kate Middleton and Prince William!)

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Below is St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Princess Diana and Prince Charles got married…

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

There has been a cathedral on this site since 604 AD, but the construction on the current St. Paul’s Cathedral’s began in 1679, to replace the ruins following the 1666 Great Fire of London destroyed the medieval cathedral. It was completed in 1710, and has survived even during the Blitz during WWII. With the help of firefighters and policemen, not one bomb was able to burn down the cathedral and destroy it. The cathedral rests 365 feet above ground.

The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument to the Great Fire of London

Also, known simply as “The Monument”, the Monument to the Great Fire of London was built to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. It stands at 202 ft, the highest single-stone column in the world.

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This is the Tower Bridge which is seriously so beautiful, especially considering it’s just a bridge… Built in 1894, it is known as the “see-saw” bridge because it opens in the center to let ships go through. At certain points during the year, the bridge opens 20-30x a week.

Now THAT is how you make a bridge!

Now THAT is how you make a bridge!

As part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration and in preparation for the London Olympics, the Tower of London shone in red, white and blue, lit up by 4,000 LED lights

After crossing the bridge, we made it to the Tower of London, located on the north bank of the River Thames. The Tower of London was founded towards the end of 1066 and started to be built in the early 1080s by William the Conqueror (William I). The fortress was added to during the reign of successive monarchs. The fortress has been used as a royal residence, surrounded by defensive walls and a moat. The Tower has also served as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the UK. The peak period of the castle’s use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries when many religious and political figures were locked away within its walls. Although the Tower of London is notoriously known as a place of torture and death, only seven people were actually executed within the Tower before WWI. Executions were more commonly held on the Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period. During WWI and WWII, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage. Between 1540 and 1640, the peak of imprisonment at the Tower, there were 48 recorded cases of the use of torture. The three most common forms used were the infamous rack, the Scavenger’s daughter, and manacles.

The rack: A torture device consisting of a rectangular, usually wooden frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one or both ends. The victim’s ankles are fastened to one roller and the wrists are chained to the other. As the interrogation progresses, a handle and ratchet attached to the top roller are used to very gradually stepwise increase the tension on the chains, inducing excruciating pain. The ropes could be strained until the sufferer’s joints were dislocated and eventually separated. Additionally, if muscle fibres are stretched excessively, they lose their ability to contract, rendering them ineffective.<

The Scavenger’s Daughter: The Scavenger’s Daughter was conceived as the perfect complement to the rack because it compressed the body rather than stretching it.

Tower of London

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Many prisoners of the Tudors entered the Tower of London through the Traitors’ Gate. The gate was built by Edward I to provide a water gate entrance to the Tower. The name Traitors’ Gate has been used since the early seventeenth century. Prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames, passing under London Bridge, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes.

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After going inside and getting back on the bus, I also saw:

The Shard (tallest skyscraper in Europe!)

The Shard (tallest skyscraper in Europe!)

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast was a warship built in 1937 in Belfast, Ireland. It took part in the D-Day landing in 1944 and sunk there, but now rests on the Thames and serves as a museum.

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After my long day of touring, I got to see my friend Allison from college who is studying/interning in London for a semester. I went to my first true English pub on my second night in London with the boys I was staying with and she joined us for some real English pub cider!

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The next day, my friend Seb and I met up (he goes to uni like 2 hours north of London and came down for the weekend to hang out with me) and we hung out in Trafalgar Square, saw the changing of the guard and Buckingham Palace, went to Leicester Square and Covent Garden, then to Notting Hill to check out Portobello Market, then we went to see Kensington Palace, and finally we made it to a fireworks show.

TRAFALGAR SQUARE:

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

CHANGING OF THE GUARD & BUCKINGHAM PALACE:

The beginning of the “Changing of the Guard” ceremony

Sweet Caroline... ohhh ohhh ohhh!

Sweet Caroline… ohhh ohhh ohhh!

Funny story. The changing of the guard starts out with a band playing a couple of songs, and guess which songs they played? Can’t guess? They played “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. This was right after the Red Sox won the world series AND an American from Boston was there, so maybe the Red Coats are fans of the Red Sox and don’t hate Boston after all! 😉

Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace!

Queen Victoria Memorial @ Buckingham Palace

Queen Victoria Memorial @ Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is the official London residence and workplace of the Queen. Originally known as Buckingham House, the building used to be a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckinham in 1705. George III later acquired it to gift to his wife, as a private residence for her. It became the official royal palace of the British monarch in 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne — which explains why there is a giant statue devoted to Queen Victoria right in front of the palace). Every queen since Queen Victoria has lived there, but the current queen mostly sees it as an office and is only there about 50 days out of the entire year. Buckingham Palace is fully equipped with 775 rooms (the Queen only uses 9), an indoor swimming pool, and….. a lot more.

Next to the palace are the Royal Mews, the place where the Queen’s horses and state coaches and other ceremonial carriages are kept:

COVENT GARDEN:

Covent Garden is a famous covered Piazza/market home to fashion and gift boutiques. There are tons of stalls in the covered market, selling jewelry, crafts, and antiques. There are also street performers outside the covered market, as well as in the market:

A little bit of street performance is always fun to watch

A little bit of street performance is always fun to watch

NOTTING HILL & PORTOBELLO RD. MARKET:

Notting Hill/Portobello Market

Notting Hill/Portobello Market: stalls selling lots of antiques, vintage jewelry, and collectibles

Some antiques found at one of the stalls at Portobello Market

Some antiques found at one of the stalls at Portobello Market

KENSINGTON PALACE/GARDENS:

Kensington Palace

Hanging out at Kensington Palace with William, Kate, and little Georgie

the secret gardens...

I felt like I was in the secret gardens..

Queen Vicky Statue

FIREWORKS for the 4th of July equivalent in England:

Fireworks to celebrate the 5th of November

“Remember, remember the 5th of November…”

The carnival and fireworks display were there to commemorate the Gunpowder Treason Plot of 1605, which took place on November 5th and was when a group led by Robert Catesby almost succeeded in blowing up Parliament and assassinating the king, King James I. Luckily, they caught the guy right before he was about to light the fuse to set off the bomb, and now the English celebrate this holiday every year. It felt exactly like the 4th of July, although the 4th of July is obviously better :D.

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The next day…

I went with Seb and his friend to Borough Market, which was closed, unfortunately, and then we went to Camden Town, which is by far my favoooooorite place in London! Camden Market is such a cool place. It is actually 5 connecting markets with shops selling all sorts of stuff (e.g. vintage clothing, cool trinkets, bank t-shirts, records, and hand-made crafts). There was also this really crazy neon goth store which was really strange but kind of cool haha. I didn’t buy anything but I certainly enjoyed looking around! (I wanted to take pictures but they would have charged me a fine 😦 )

The British will never forget about Lexington :D

The British will never forget about Lexington 😀

Afterwardssssss, we went to…

PLATFORM 9 3/4! For all you Harry Potter fans, I made the trip to Kings’ Cross just so that I could pretend to be a witch and travel to Hogwarts for a few hours! Let me tell ya, Hogwarts is awesome. Hermione and Ron Weasley are great company.

Platform 9 3/4

Platform 9 3/4

After my time in the world of witches and wizards, we went to Westminster Abbey to see it up close and we also saw Westminster Cathedral. Finally, Seb and I took the tube to Harrod’s, the most insane, upscale department store I’ve ever stepped food in. It was like a museum. In the chocolate section, there was a platter of chocolates one might bring to a Christmas party and it cost friggin’ 370 pounds (a.k.a nearly $600). Chocolate is great and all, but I passed up on the opportunity to buy that…

Harrod's is too fancy for me...

Definitely wouldn’t find something like this at Macy’s

£370 (about $600) for chocolates. Reasonable.

£370 (about $600) for chocolates. What a deal.

Finallyyyyyy, Seb and I went to a pub to chill out before I had to leave for the bus station (I took a night bus to the airport because my flight left at 6 am on Monday morning). When we showed up at the pub, this guy and his brother invited us to sit with him, which was weird, but whatever… there weren’t any tables open, so we said “what the hell?” Then the guy bought us each a pint of cider each and ended up buying 6 pints total just for us. He was kind of weird, but we didn’t object. Then we ran into a bunch of Australians, and because the more the merrier (and because the guy was strange), we invited them to hang out with us at our big table. The more the merrier! They taught me some Australian phrases, so at least I learned something while drinking alcohol 🙂

Free pints for everyoneeee

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SOOOOOO, I had a busy and fun-filled weekend in London and I LOVE THAT CITY SO MUCH. I want to go back ASAP. I wish I’d had a week there because there was so much I didn’t get to see and I had a blast while I was there! BAHH I wish I had an unlimited budget so I could travel for the rest of my life!

30 Non-Americans On The American Norms They Find Weird

Kind of funny to hear what foreigners have to say after visiting the US…

Thought Catalog

It’s easy to forget that what’s normal for us is completely strange to others, but it’s nice to take a step back and hear what’s considered odd, straight from the mouths (or fingers) of foreigners. For more check out the original post on Reddit here.

1. orde216

Your toilets are too low down and the stalls have massive gaps around the door so that people can see in.
You can put a man on the moon but can’t design a setup whereby I can have a shit in comfortable privacy. Sort it out America.

2. funfwf

A few things:
political correctness. Americans are so scared to insult people or be considered racist. I’d joke around with someone then later get a text message from them apologising. It was quite humorous. Edit: I sometimes had the question “y’all and new zealanders don’t like each other right?” I had to…

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