Normandy: Exceeding all my Expectations

I just got home from a lovely weekend in Normandy with my program, so first off I’m really tired so please forgive me in advance. But, I had pretty low expectations: I figured it would be rushed visits to a million super touristy spots, bad food, bad hotel, bad weather… the whole deal. But everything was wonderful! Here’s a brief summary of the events of the past two days, photos to follow!

SATURDAY

7:00 AM Leave my house, yikes. Get on a bus bound for Normandy with a lot of other sleepy students.

11:30/12 Wake up in Bayeux, home of the famous Tapestry depicting the Normands conquering England. I listened to the French audio guide (go me!) and understood it all! My 9th grade world history teacher would be so proud of me for remembering and seeing it in person! Before we saw the tapestry, we ate lunch in small groups where we pleased. I had a crepe with lots of cheese MMM.

2 pm Leave for the American Cemetery and beaches. This was really moving– something anyone who ever has the chance to see it should go for. The lawns were so pristine, the graves so ordered and systematic; the entire place was so peaceful and serene. There were also a lot of American tour groups there. Add to that the fact that the cemetery is technically American soil that was given to our country by the French after the war, it pretty much felt like I was in 8th grade again on my class field trip to Washington DC. Except way better. We went down to the beach and in the beautiful sun all of us were so happy, just beaming to be in such a lovely place.

3:30 pm Head to the Point du Hoc memorial– similar and close by, but a very different landscape. The ground all nearby this memorial has remained untouched since the war, so it is covered in hundreds of craters from bombs going off and damaging the earth. The memorial was to honor American soldiers that had somehow scaled a nearly vertical cliff face in their ascent to aid the French. Wild.

7:30 pm Arrive at our hotel– a Best western, I might add, in a little town near Mont St Michel. We dropped our bags in our cute rooms and headed downstairs for a yummy dinner in a beautifully decorated dining room. After dinner, we walked around town a little bit, but the only thing we found by 9:30 was a kebab joint that swore they were closed. Well, too bad– we all went to bed around 10:30. Sorry I’m not sorry, I was tired.

SUNDAY

8:30 am Breakydoo! A gigantic beautiful spread of French continental breakfast. Breads, yogurts, cheeses, meats, coffees, teas, hot chocolates– goodness I was in heaven. It was nice and leisurely too! We ended up leaving the hotel around 9:30 to head to Mont St Michel, which we climbed and toured until 12 when we departed for the next stop.

1:30 pm Arrive in Saint Malo, a darling little coastal town that you would think, by the palm trees and seaside shops, that it was in the south of France. Delicious burger (sorry I’m not sorry) with friends in an open air cafe, exploring the regional specialties in all of the souvenir shops, getting ice cream and walking along the seaside ramparts taking in the view— what a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

4:40 pm Get on a TGV fast train at the Saint Malo gare bound for Paris. Sleep, take in the scenery, think about all the things that had been seen in the past two days… And arrive in Paris at 8 pm!

…I promise the pictures will come soon, but don’t you totally understand now why I’m so wiped?

ps. I have my first exam Tuesday. AHHHH!

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Zagreb: The Full Story

So in my delirious traveled-out stupor of last week, my post regarding my weekend trip to Croatia was not very informative. Although I like to think those pictures were pretty nice, right? More on the Plitvice National Park later. I suppose I should start at the beginning…

Croatia was never a place I expected to want to visit. I don’t even know that I knew it was a destination before this year. Once I started obsessively looking up trips around Europe, however, it began to pop up on my radar. Mostly because the flights round trip were 50 euros. This low-cost airfare suggested a trend that it might be a cool and cheap destination, which, let me tell you, after living in Paris for over two months… cheap would definitely be a welcome alternative. Two of my friends suggested we take the trip, and we booked on a whim. Our flight left Friday morning at 8:30 am and we would return Sunday afternoon. A pretty good size weekend!

When I went to Copenhagen, my first real student travel experience, I certainly was a little freaked out by how many logistical matters there are to keep track of– I was suddenly very much aware of how lucky I’d been to have my father’s meticulous plans in the past. Anyways, there’s things that I hadn’t even considered; for example, the necessity of public transportation functioning during the hours when you need them too. Getting back to Paris from Copenhagen at 11:30 on a Sunday night almost stranded us halfway home– we hadn’t realized that making all of our metro connects would be problematic. So, when my flight said the gates closed at 7:40 am, I went into planner mode. I checked all the hours of all the trains that it would take me to get out to the airport. I actually caught the very first RER train at 5:35 AM– now that’s commitment. I’d also planned ahead to ensure that I had the proper coins to pay for the 9 euro airport train. They don’t take cash and the vendors nearby are very rude and will not help with change.

But anyway, we all made it in time, and got on the plane and passed out for the brief, hour and a half flight. We were slightly worried when, during our descent in Zagreb, we couldn’t see anything that remotely resembled a city. But, we threw our hands up and got on the airport shuttle bus in the high 50 degree weather with smiles on our faces, happy to be on the adventure. Now, we obviously don’t speak Croatian, and while many people do speak English, not everyone does. A theme that arose early was that of being totally lost and confused. Once we got to the tram station, we knew what tram to take but couldn’t for the life of us figure out where to buy tickets. After about 25 minutes of running around this teeny two story station, we finally figured out that the news stands sell the tram tickets and after taking out some local cash, or “kuna,” we bought tickets and boarded the tram.

The city was so lively! The sunshine seemed to have brought everyone out into the streets. The tram took forever to get to our stop because there was so much pedestrian traffic blocking the streets. Unsurprisingly, we had a lot of trouble finding our hostel, and stood right across the street from it for a half hour stressing out about being in the wrong place in a foreign country with no phones or maps or anything. Then we just checked again. Yeah. Our bad. The hostel we stayed at was on this street:

It was called the Hobo Bear Hostel, and it was actually really cool. We were traveling just the three of us, but we got a room for 4 people all to ourselves. We dropped off our bags and went to go walk in the beautiful pedestrian streets in search of lunch. It was so gorgeous! We were thrilled to be out there with everyone else. We had trouble picking a place to eat though, as most of the street-side cafes sold only drinks. Here’s a sample of the street we looked on

We eventually found a place selling authentic and CHEAP Croatian food, which means heavy on the meats. We sat down outside and chatted with our waiter throughout our meal; each time he addressed one of us he said “Lady?” It was too cute. Here’s Linda and Catherine sitting at lunch

We walked all around for the afternoon– it seemed to be the popular choice for the afternoon activity in Zagreb. We made our way to their cathedral which was unfortunately under construction at the time. But it was still very beautiful.

The inside was very ornate and pretty too. We met a history professor who spoke English and described for us some cool facts about Zagreb and the cathedral. It was pretty nice. We headed back towards the central square, Kaptol, and were enticed by delicious ice cream cones that everyone seemed to be consuming. We had to try some as we sat in the sun drenched square.

We walked around for the rest of the day, but when our legs were tired and our feet hurting, we headed back to our hostel to recharge. We had woken up at 5 am that morning, after all. We had made reservations at what tripadvisor.com rated as the number 1 restaurant in Zagreb. It was Croatian/Italian food and it was so good! We all indulged in three course meals because it was so cheap we couldn’t not! I had risotto for my first course, then pork stuffed with cheese and artichokes and a pumpkin sauce, and then finished off with a blueberry panna cotta: vacation. Here’s the dishes!

It was definitely a one way ticket to delicious city. We felt kind of lame, but after eating it was almost midnight and we all confessed we’d rather go to bed early and be fresh for the next day. But, it was definitely for the best, because we woke up early to go to the national park! See previous post if you want to look at stunning photos of snow and ice covered waterfalls tucked in the Croatian countryside. That was certainly an all day affair– we got back to Zagreb around 7:45 and after all the transport to our hostel and changing and preparing for the night, we left for dinner around 9:15. We went to another spot on that same pedestrian street and it was so good, so cheap, yet again. At this point, we were a little at a loss for how to approach what we hoped to be a really fun Saturday night in Zagreb. Well, we ended up seeing all ends of the city with some students we met who toured us around to all the cool places. We ended up going home at 5 AM!! …And our flight left at 10:45 the next morning. Our original plan was to be out of the hostel en route to the airport at 8:30, and then we all groggily woke up at 9. Yikes. Lots of running. Lots of confusion. Lots of “WE’RE NOT GONNA MAKE IT!!!!” Though it did seem like we were destined to get stuck in Zagreb forever, we made it on our flight. Hooray!

It was such a wonderful trip, such a necessary little break from the hardcore expensive metropolitan Parisian lifestyle. So if you ever have the option to go to Croatia— GO!!!! Your wallet will like you, you can see beautiful waterfalls, and you can sample delectable meat-filled pastries. MMMM.

Pictures of Waterfalls

No, this isn’t REALLY pictures of waterfalls. Well, it is, but more than that: here are the first round of photos from my weekend in Zagreb, Croatia! Stories and descriptions to follow some other time when I’m not so tired. Now: see the incredible sights at the Plitvice National Park in Croatia.

 

 

Traveling through Europe, casually

Lately, I’ve been making a lot of travel plans. I don’t often give myself reason to go on trips– I have trouble justifying the costs of a vacation when you could save money at home. BUT, I am abroad and I do have access to all these wonderful places, so this semester I’ve been putting my frugality on the back burner and embracing all the travel opportunities I can. At this moment, I have so many things to look forward to! My calendar looks packed from here on out and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve become such a whiz at finding cheap flights and scouring hostelworld.com to find the best places to stay, some might say it’s becoming obsessive. But, hey, I’m traveling, I might as well enjoy it as much as possible.

Here is a brief look into my upcoming trips:

March 11-13: Going to Zagreb, Croatia with two friends from my program. Have no idea about what we’re doing. Not familiar with the city, the country, or anything. It was, however, the cheapest flight on easyjet, and we were itching to get out of Paris for a weekend. Dispatches with news from this trip will follow.

March 26-27: Headed to Normandie for a night with my program. Signed up last minute, but it will definitely be worth it. If for no other reason than that it’s payed for by my program already… Mmmm, free things!

April 8-20: The EPIC Spring Break. Destinations include: Rome, Florence, Arezzo, Lisbon, Madrid, Alicante, and Barcelona. It was a genuine nightmare figuring it all out– getting from Lisbon to anywhere else in Spain was impossible unless you traveled through Madrid, which wasn’t on our original itinerary. We had hoped to go to Granada, but it was too difficult logistically. Alicante was a last minute decision, but it seems promising, mostly because there will be beaches! This is another mission with the same girls who I traveled to Copenhagen with, so we’re all looking forward to going on another trip.

Photos and updates when these trips happen, I promise!