Monday, June 20, 2016

Caen, France: A Rainy History

Just over a year ago, a few of my friends and I decided to head to Normandy for a history-rich weekend away from our small towns in France. Visiting Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery was important to us, which made the city of Caen the obvious destination. This region is known for its abundance of rainy days, but we were lucky enough to score a tiny bit of sunshine that weekend.

Our only full day in Caen happened to fall on Easter (we had arrived Friday night, spent that Saturday at the WWII sites, and left on Monday), so we started the day at Easter Mass at the Abbey of St. Étienne (l'Église Saint-Étienne). L'Église Saint-Étienne is the final resting place of William the Conqueror, who rose from Duke of Normandy to King of England in 1066 following the Battle of Hastings. (You can learn more about him here.) Although I did not partake in the service (I'm Jewish), I loved being part of the celebration! For my practicing friends, this was an especially meaningful Easter Sunday. Something cool about Caen is that their Hôtel de Ville (city hall) is attached to this church, so we got to see two landmarks at once.

The sun shone briefly, and as the entire city (/entire country) had shut down for the holiday, we visited the Château de Caen for its open grounds. William the Conqueror built this fortress around 1060, and many of its original foundations are still there (in ruin-form, which you may see below)! Today, it also houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, a church, and the Musée de Normandie (which we visited the following day and LOVED!). While I do not have photos from the Normandy Museum, it was a fun and interactive way to learn about this city's (and this region's) historical importance. Plus, castles always offer the most stunning panoramic views! (After all, you need eyes on the entire city in order to keep out intruders.)

The Abbey of St. Étienne is also known as l'Abbaye aux hommes ("Men's Abbey"), but William the Conqueror made sure to have an Abbaye aux dames ("Women's Abbey"), as well. This former monastery now functions as a church and convent, and the grounds and architecture are beautiful!

Perhaps one of my favorite memories of Caen was making flower crowns amid some Romanesque ruins! I had never made one before, so Maria gave us a lesson. We weren't quite sure where we were or the origin of these ruins, so if any of you know the answer, comment below!

And what sort of girls' weekend would it be without alcohol? Let me rephrase that--what sort of visit to Caen would exclude calvados?! Calvados is an apple brandy that originates from Normandy, and man is it strong. Yes, it comes in a shot glass, but I highly advise that you do not take it like a shot! Rather, you sip it slowly and enjoy it after your meal, like how you would drink limoncello. As they say in France, Chin chin!

Monday, June 6, 2016

In Honor of D-Day: Strolling Along Omaha Beach

I meant to write this post one year ago, but when I missed the date, I found it only fitting to hold off until this year.

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Normandy landings, better known as the D-Day invasion of World War II. Rather than try to sum it up myself, here's the U.S. Army's version:
On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.
During my eight months in France, my friends and I knew that we could not pass up the opportunity to visit Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery. So one dreary weekend in April 2015, we packed up and headed to northern France to visit this historical landmark.

As soon as we passed through those gates, we were on American soil, just like that. From the first language being English to the water fountains scattered throughout the grounds (never to be found in France), it sure felt like the U.S., too. And as much as I adore France and feel secure there, I breathed a sigh of relief to be back "home."

After passing through security, we made our way through the museum. There were personal accounts, historical texts, audio and video clips, artifacts, and even interactive displays that took you through the events leading up to the famed invasion, as well as the details of what happened. I did not take any photographs in the museum, except for this quote that greeted you upon the exit.

We walked out, and there was Omaha Beach, staring us in the face.

We learned that Omaha was a actually code name for the beach, as were Sword, Gold, Utah, and Juno. Taking the winding trails down to the beach, it felt like a nature trail rather than a former war zone.

It was a hilly descent (and climb), even with the boardwalk in place--we couldn't fathom the idea of being in full Army uniform, maneuvering through the grasses and trees and marsh to get to the enemy, all while protecting ourselves and our comrades. But the beach itself was beautiful and calm, the total opposite of what you would expect a World War II battlefield to be.

After wandering along the rocky shores, we headed up to the cemetery. Nearly 10,000 Americans have been laid to rest here, most of whom died during the D-Day invasion. It felt like a smaller, cloudier version of Arlington Cemetery: religious gravestones perfectly lined up, with monuments and reflecting pools along the pathways. The cemetery also offered a wonderful view of the beach.

It was a sobering day in Normandy, but we were so thankful to have visited. God Bless America.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Blue Skies of Montpellier

Following my time in Toulouse, I took the train about two hours south to Montpellier, near the Spanish border. Unfortunately, it rained most of the days I was there, which literally put a damper on the outdoor activities I had planned on doing. I took advantage of the one sunny day I had there, though, and rather than kayaking I decided to explore the city in all of its sunny glory!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rennes, France: Crêpes, Cider, and the Cœur de Bretagne

While living in France, I knew I had to spend a weekend in the land of crêpes and cider: Rennes, the capital of Bretagne (Brittany). My friend Sarah and I synced our schedules, examined train times (we were coming from different cities), and headed to France's northwest corridor!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sevilla, Ma Belle Andalouse

Please please PLEASE forgive me that I'm only now catching up on last year's travels here...but better late than never, right? :)

Following 10 days in Morocco, my friends and I took the ferry from Tangier to Algeciras, Spain for a dose of Andalucía. This ended up being one of my favorite places I visited all year, and I don't say that lightly. So get ready, because this is about to be a super photo-heavy post!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

101 in 1001, Part 2

It isn't totally travel-related, but my second 101 in 1001 list is complete!

Inspired by Mackenzie Horan's lists (and part of the Day Zero Project), the idea is to come up with 101 goals that you can attain within 1001 days, no matter how big or small. However, I don't like to make a goal unless it will require at least some effort on my part! (For example, I'm going to Iceland in July already, so I wouldn't write "visit Iceland" as a goal.)

About a quarter of my goals are travel-related, though, so check them out!

Do any of you have a 101 in 1001 list? I love reading them--share yours in the comments!

Friday, March 4, 2016

My Airplane Essentials

Now that I can use Photoshop (after all, it is my job), I thought I'd try out a flat-lay collage! I never get on a plane without these essentials:

  • A roomy tote bag with a zip close (to make sure that no one can reach inside)
  • Wallet, passport, phone, phone charger, know, the obvious stuff
  • Sunglasses (I love to sit by the window, but the sun is definitely brighter in air than on land!)
  • An empty water bottle, hand lotion, and lip balm to make sure I stay hydrated and moisturized
  • An eye mask for when I'm ready for a nap
  • My Kindle for iPhone app--I can't even tell you how many books I've read on that thing!
  • I always feel super gross after sleeping on board (and especially after a long flight), so a travel toothbrush/toothpaste, face wipes, small hairbrush, and dry shampoo are a must
  • Ibuprofen, because you never know when a headache may hit
  • A pen may sound silly, but some countries require you to fill out customs forms upon or even before entering, so this can be a huge time saver
  • Last but not least, an adapter (if I'm going to a different country)--nothing worse than arriving and being unable to recharge your phone right away!
So tell me, what are your plane essentials?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

ABCs of Travel

Hello, hello! I ran into my friend Christina last night after a couple of years, and she lamented that I have not posted in a while. That was the inspiration I needed, and here I am! So shoutout to you, Christina. :)

I borrowed this ABCs of Travel game from We Took The Road Less Traveled, and I'm really excited to share my answers with you. Some of them won't surprise you, but others may--a LOT. Here we go! (P.S.--some parts are NSFW. Heads up!)

A) Age you went on your first international trip:
Not counting the time my dad drove me to Windsor, Canada, for the day when I was 8, it was France at age 13! That's what sparked my interest in French language and culture. The rest is history.

B) Best foreign beer you've had and where:

Without a doubt the house cherry beer at Delirium Café in Brussels! I'm not even sure I can find it on their site, and don't remember what exactly it was, but it was GOOD. And I even got video footage of the bartender pouring it. (P.S. how cute is that beer glass? I ended up buying it!)

C) Cuisine (favorite):
ITALIAN. Is there any question here? Keep an eye out for an Italian food porn post coming soon!

D) Destinations--favorite, least favorite, and why?:

I don't count France since it's like another home to me, so I'd have to say that Vienna, Florence, and Morocco are my favorite destinations. Vienna and Florence are filled with so much culture and history, and every time I visit I feel more refined. Morocco, on the other hand, has such a different culture--it's NOTHING like the U.S. or Europe, and Moroccans are so excited to share their culture with you. My least favorite was probably Prague. I found the tourist crowd to be more interested in partying than learning, and frankly, I just didn't have a great experience. I'd give it another shot, but under different circumstances.

E) Event you've experienced abroad that made you say "wow":
It was in Paris last January when I marched in solidarity against terrorism, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, among nearly 4 million others. It was completely awe-inducing to see that many people join together for a common cause, and it's something that I haven't even experienced in my own country. You can read about my thoughts and experience here and here.

F) Favorite mode of transportation:
Trains! There's often room to spread out, you can lounge, look at some nice scenery, and even get your nails done.

G) Greatest feeling while traveling:

Simply being in awe of everything new around you. Seeing sights with virgin eyes. Most of all for me, though, is when I can speak their language (or at least somewhat communicate in it, like Arabic).

H) Hottest place you've ever traveled to:
The first time I went to Morocco, it was between 105-110˚F! It wasn't terrible, though, because it was dry heat. When I was in Israel last May, it was a little cooler at around 100˚F, but I was doing lots of hiking and outdoor activities which made it feel worse.

I) Incredible service you've experienced and where?:

HA. This is tough, coming from the flashpacking world. But I'll never forget when I had to catch a train from Toulouse to Montpellier with two suitcases, a backpack, and a tote bag, and it was pouring rain. A nice man from my hostel booked me an Über--and paid for it. It was only 4€, but I appreciated it so much.

J) Journey that took the longest:

The first time I went to Israel, I had three flights. Pretty normal, except one of my layovers was 12 hours, so it was 26 hours start-to-finish.

K) Keepsake from your travels:

Anything home-related! I have a coffee set from Turkey, teapot and tea glasses from Morocco, porcelain from Poland, a hamsa wall art from Israel, a cheese-knife set from the Gruyères region of Switzerland...

L) Let-down sight, where and why?:

Venice. It was musty and made my allergies act up, and WAY more touristy than I ever would have liked. Also, much more expensive than the other big cities in Italy, it seemed.

M) Moment where you fell in love with traveling:
I always loved traveling, but I really fell in love with it in the summer of 2013 when I did an internship in Tours, France. For the first time ever, I was able to plan weekend getaways and longer trips, and I got addicted. The wanderlust bug bit me HARD.

N) Nicest hotel you've stayed in:

Not counting our family trips to Chicago when we stayed at The Drake, it was definitely Hotel Neptuno in Calella de Mar, Catalunya, Spain! Luxurious rooms, amazing meals, and just a couple blocks away from the beach.

O) Obsession--what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:
I'm really into capturing the tops of buildings against the sky--I'm sure there's a more eloquent way to put that, but I'll let the photos do the talking.

P) Passport stamps--how many and from where?:

I have 22 total stamps. They include a slew of French airports, Israel (back before they stopped stamping passports), Morocco, Turkey, the U.K., Spain, Italy...and counting. :) Plus my French work visa and residency verification, both of which come in sticker form!

Q) Quirkiest attraction you've visited and where?:

The Museum of Eroticism in Paris, right down the street from the Moulin Rouge. My friend and I couldn't stop laughing--and, as inappropriate as they are, I've included some photos below so you can laugh as well. However, I have a feeling that the Icelandic Phallological Museum will beat that out when I visit in July.

R) Really frightening: where's one place you've visited where you felt unsafe or uneasy?
Istanbul. My friend Vanessa and I got followed by these two young, well-dressed men all day. We'd go into a museum, come out two hours later, and there they'd be behind us. All. Day. We were terrified.

S) Splurge--something you have no problem spending money on while traveling:

Trying a really good version of a regional dish or drink. Within reason, of course--to me, 25€/$30 is still an expensive meal. :)

T) Touristy thing you've done:
By far and large, I never felt more touristy than when I visited Niagara Falls over the New Year.

U) Unforgettable travel memory:
Hiking the Erg Chebbi dunes at nighttime and stargazing and playing games at the top.

V) Visas--how many and for where?:
Two visas! One long-stay work visa for France (I worked there last year), and one tourist visa for Turkey.

W) Wine--best glass while traveling:
The best wine I ever tried was a Sauternes in Bordeaux. I wish I knew the name of the winery! Otherwise, I always try to stop by Domaine Marc Brédif when I'm in the Loire Valley. They make my favorite Vouvray, and I'm always down to take their 6€ tour!

X) eXcellent view and from where?:
I think the Galata Tower in Istanbul offered the best view. The silhouettes of the mosques look so beautiful next to the glistening Bosphorus, especially since they're juxtaposed with the city.

Y) Years spent traveling:

In my life total? Approximately one year. Longest time spent out of the U.S. at one point? Eight months. Longest time TRAVELING without a home base? Five weeks.

Z) Zealous sports fans and where?:
France! That Paris Saint-Germain/Marseille rivalry...

Leave me a comment if you've done a similar tag post, or just with your answers! I'd love to read them all.