This year has been full of so many crazy amazing experiences, that I thought it would be appropriate to look back over the last year and show you all some of my favorites. As this chapter comes to a close I’ve really been trying to take a few moments to reflect before I hop on the plane back to the U.S. The whole last week has seemed so surreal, and I can’t even believe that in only 3 days I’ll be back in Seattle!
While I am (of course!) so excited to be coming back to the U.S., it still is a bitter-sweet experience to be packing my bags and leaving Europe. I have definitely not taken the ability to hop on planes and visit places I had only ever read about in books. During this experience I’ve learned SO MUCH about myself, and no matter what my was happening in the smaller picture, I can now look back and say “That was a great adventure.” I feel so amazingly blessed to have been able to travel the world, meet amazing people and live a life some spend their lives dreaming about living. So without further adieu, here are my top 10 beautiful memories (in no particular order)!
1. I got to see the Berlin Wall!
2. I got to visit a 14th century REAL castle (with its original moat!!!)!
3. I saw the Mona Lisa (and, like, all the original art I could ever wish for) and probably should have just moved into The Louvre.
4. I went to 3 scifi/manga conventions and met the real life (okay, Cosplay, but damn awesome) TinTin!
5. I became part of, and viewed, original Miyazaki sketches from all of my favorite movies!
6. I made beautiful friends and we made beautiful memories all over Paris.
7. I WENT TO THE VAN GOGH MUSEUM, and almost died from an art love overdose!!
8. Galway, Ireland stole my heart and Ireland won the “Most Visited” award for the year!
9. I went to Normandy and saw history in real life (also biked 22 km)!
10. I spent Easter weekend in Rome and went to the Colosseum!
11. I went to the Cliffs of Moher and unintentionally spent my Spring Break falling in love with Ireland.
12. I went to Versailles gardens/Palace and became the little Marie Antoinette fangirl I always wanted to be.
Thanks to all who have made this such a crazy wild experience. Cheers to next time!
Wouldn’t it be nice if we received an award every time we achieved something? Or at least a certificate of achievement? Something to mark that “You did it!” complete with balloons and a long-winded speech about how “promising” the rest of your life is going to be, and how “the best is yet to come.” Wouldn’t that be great!?
Unfortunately, reality check: That’s not life in the real world. That’s not how things work when you’re an adult. There aren’t balloons for every occasion, or huge groups of people to always celebrate with you. Sometimes, when you achieve something, the celebration is just for and with yourself.
This week is a week of “lasts” for me, in Paris. It is the last week I’ll be in France, and tomorrow starts off by being my last ever Monday as an au pair. And, as much as the decision to leave weighed heavy on me initially, I can now say that I am very much ready to go.
To quote a phrase born out of Parisian storytelling, this year has been, “the best of times, and the worst of times.” I feel as though I’ve been away from home for a hundred years. When I look back over this year I really don’t know how I’ve managed to hold on this long, but although I’m leaving a couple of months early, I know that it is the right timing and the right decision for me.
It’s kind of funny, you often hear about the nervousness of starting a life in a new place, but you seldom hear about the nervousness of setting out on the path to start a new life in a place you’ve known all your life. But it is a real thing.
For some reason, the thought of returning to the U.S. absolutely terrifies me. What has changed? Who has changed? What differences, no matter how seemingly minute, will be present?
And while all of these questions keep swimming around in my head, I have this little voice in the back of my head reminding me that it’s gonna be okay, and that I’ll figure it out. And maybe that’s the biggest lesson that I’ll take away from this year: The ability to have an inner peace when nothing externally seems to possibly be headed on a track to success.
Because, in all honesty, this year went NOTHING like I thought it would. In fact, I would say it went the exact opposite, in every possible way, direction that I thought it would go. Every plan, every goal, every idea that I had for this year seemed to somehow have been lost along the way of me forging forward along this path.
But that’s okay. Somehow it feels like those directions weren’t realistic, or (perhaps, more importantly) in any way mature. Life does not follow the rule sheet that we write before setting out on whatever road it brings us. It doesn’t take into consideration our wishes, or our safety or our hopes.
Those things are up to us. And throughout this year I’ve had to continually strive toward the ideals, rather than the finite details of what I thought this year would/should entail.
So, let me take a moment to share those with you:
This year I learned to press on, even after being broken.
This year I learned to listen to my instincts and to follow through with them.
This year I learned what true spontaneity means, and how to use it to my advantage.
This year I learned to stand up for myself, and to fight for what I value.
This year I learned what makes me happy (Hint: it has nothing to do with money)
This year I learned how to use social media wisely, and how to disconnect.
This year I learned how to open my heart.
This year I learned to be authentic and vulnerable in the things I pursue.
This year I learned to let go of my plans and ideas of how things “should go.”
This year I learned the importance, value and absolute necessity of friendship.
In 1 week a new chapter will be starting for me. There won’t be any speeches or ceremonies or any crazy rave parties…but that’s okay. I survived 10 months living in another country, with random strangers, speaking a language I was hardly fluent at and living in a culture that seemed completely opposite to what I was used to.
I DID IT. And recognizing that for myself is enough.
This time of year a lot of students are forging forward past the signposts of a new chapter in their lives. They did it! They’re graduating! And yes, there will be the balloons and parties and cards and speeches.
But, if there was one thing I wish that I could go back to tell my graduating self, it would have been that the world post graduation is a whole lot darker, and a whole lot more beautiful than I ever could have imagined in that moment. I would have told myself not to be distracted by the balloons, or to feel like the last four years had somehow made me superior to anyone or anything. I would have told myself not to listen to the speeches – because those were written to make me laugh and to “inspire” me to succeed in a fairy tale world that would be waiting for me with arms wide open post graduation. Life is so much smaller! Life is so much bigger!
I would tell myself that I would never be able to subsist solely off the inspiration of others, and that I sure as hell can’t depend upon it when choosing my path in life. I would say, “Learn to inspire yourself. To light a candle within that no one else can ever blow out.” Because that is what is going to make you ‘successful’ – that is what is going to make you happy. The world around you will always be a roller coaster of missed opportunities and sunny day chances. You will always have goals that are father than you think you’ll ever be able to reach. There will always be seemingly “lost” causes and impossible hurdles to jump – but learn to inspire yourself and you will always have the strength to clear them.
Want a great place to feel like a hipster, eat great hamburgers and possibly get a tattoo afterwards? Well I’ve got just the place for you!
Tough Burger was actually a suggestion from my aupair host mom, because she noticed the hipster vibe of the places I generally like to go. She thought I would like it – and she was right!
Luckily, this swanky little joint isn’t only about good looks – the food was phenomenal as well. I ordered the fish burger and french fries and it was sublime. Again, perhaps a little pricey at 15 euro for burger, fries and drink. But that’s Paris. And also why we only go out once a week. Ha.
One of my favorite features of this bar was the stash of American candy they had. You heard me. Real American candy – in PARIS!! I was a little bit excited. There are, of course, specialty places that carry American food at the cost of an arm and a leg, but I was just so surprised to be able to buy a dark chocolate Milky Way at a burger joint. Beware though, the prices are (of course) inflated due to the candy not being French.
Overall the food was amazing, the waiters were some of the most suave I’ve ever seen, and the atmosphere was swanky, fun and perfect. A warning about this place: YOU HAVE TO RESERVE VIA TEXT MESSAGE in order to get in. You’ve been warned.
Ordered: Fish Burger, Fries, Coke
Where: 40 rue de Meudon
92100 – Boulogne-Billancourt
Went: Saturday, April 4th, 2015 around 1pm
Wifi: Unknown – I did see that they had a connection, but I’m not sure it was accessible to the public
(Written last week, but I didn’t have time to edit it – oops!)
Day one of Rome started with me flying into the airport, missing buses because of the enormous demand (due to Easter) and then ultimately getting into the city! When we drove in, the bus went past some of the southern monuments, including the Colosseum. My first thought, honestly, when arriving there was “Whoa. That looks just like the Colosseum.” Sleep deprivation does things to you, and I don’t think my mind had quite figured out I wasn’t in France anymore.
Obviously, I figured it out a split second later, and whipped out my phone to snap some pictures as we sped by. The bus took me pretty close to my hostel, which was so nice! The name of the hostel where I was staying was called The Freedom Traveler Hostel and I really really enjoyed my time there. The staff was just so extremely helpful and so incredibly nice. When I checked in, the staff woman pulled out a map that showed Rome and circled all the “must see” places. Basically it was every highlighted attraction. Which meant I needed to get started right away, despite being barely able to walk straight due to my 4am wake up time.
So I dropped my stuff off and headed straight back out the door. The thing to remember about Rome is that there are only two subway lines and neither goes near anything you’ll want to see, with the exception of The Vatican. The reason, as you can probably guess, is because it would endanger so many of the ruins and monuments to have tunnels running underground near them. But it does make transportation (other than by bus) a little more tricky. The good thing is, a lot of things are clustered together, and there are beautiful structures to see that aren’t even on the maps for your walk to in between places.
Day one I decided to head back down south of where I was staying, BACK to the Colosseum. The great thing about traveling on Easter weekend was a lot of monuments were FREE! The bad thing was that there seemed to be the whole of Europe there to visit.
When I walked up to the Colosseum the line was impressively long stretching out farther than I could really see. It was at this moment that for some weird reason the movie Big Hero 6 came to mind, and I started looking at the insanity in a different way. I started walking around the building and found another line to the side that apparently no one knew existed except for the 10 people in front of me – so I got into the building in about 15 minutes (in comparison to waiting hours). Getting in so quickly, and not having to pay made the experience all that much better and I got to savor the guided tours that I joined up inside. I honestly spent so much time in there just in awe and wonder at the magnitude and history that made up the Colosseum. Absolutely crazy.
After the Colosseum it was pretty late for museums, due to the fact that I didn’t get into the city until almost 3pm and they closed at 6pm. So I walked across the street to the Roman Forum where there are just ruins for as far as the eye can see. I also discovered, while walking around, that Italy has doughnuts – which was one of the best moment I’ve had in months. I don’t even know why, but I’ve been craving doughnuts for months and to finally get a real fried doughnut (France has them, but they’re baked – gross) was just heaven.
Even though it rained the first day, the overall mood of the city was on fire. Everyone was having such a good time and you could tell. That’s something I really miss from Paris. As weird as it sounds, happy people are not in an abundance there and it starts to rub off on you after a while.
Italians are loud and expressive and sarcastic and fun. Italian couples, not matter what age, were my favorite to people to watch because they are hilarious – so much teasing but in a I’m going-to-play slap-you-and-then-kiss-you romantic way. It actually really reminded me of Ireland and the Irish sense of humor. Which is saying a lot, because Ireland is my absolute favorite place ever.
After all the walking I went back to my hostel and got to chat with my hostel roommates – Pat and Kat. Which is just awesome that those were their names. One was a student from The Philippines, who was studying in Denmark and the other was a single mom from Hawaii who just decided to go to Rome on a whim. They both were just so incredible.
That really is so much of the experience of travel. Yes the sights and the ruins are amazing. I love museums and paintings and castles and churches. But what really makes a trip a good one is the people you meet. I absolutely love bing able to hang out with other travelers and swap stories and ideas – they really are my favorite kind of people.
I absolutely love Saint Patrick’s Day because it’s a day when I get to celebrate my family’s heritage and one of my favorite places on earth – Ireland! My family traditions are no joke when it comes to Saint Paddy’s Day, right down to the green breakfast and the corned beef dinner. So, it’s been pretty interesting to be in a country where there is the exact opposite of celebration happening in most places.
It has been an absolute impossible task to explain to my au pair family the significance of this day. In fact, my nine year old informed me that since it’s not a French holiday, it isn’t a real holiday at all.
But, after 7 months, I’m used to the realization that the general French population doesn’t accept things that seem normal or even second nature to me. I still celebrate, anyway. And yes that means giving my kids green baths, baking green cookies and listening to Celtic music. The celebration must go on!
And being in an expat state of mind, today, also reminded me of something else I love celebrating: identity. What makes us who we are? As someone who comes from a biracial background my own identity has been quite the journey to come to terms with, mostly because, growing up, I never felt like I was entitled to it.
But through the years, I’ve slowly begun to unravel the tangled ball of self-identity that we all have to face, in one way or another, at some point. We all are faced with the questions of who we are, and who we want to be.
When I first moved to France I had a really hard time adjusting to the craziness of suddenly having absolutely nothing to define me. I no longer had my friends, my job, my apartment, my family…in short I had nothing. I didn’t even have a phone.
Actually, I still don’t have a phone.
I stood in this foreign country knowing 50% of the language, having no idea what was surrounding me, and wondering what I was thinking when I stepped on the plane that brought me there. I was so scared. I cried so much. I wanted to go back home more than anything in the world, not because I was homesick, but because I was felt so hopelessly lost.
Who was I?
Right about this time, I had a friend who sent me a message that just meant so much to me, and I don’t think they probably even know. It reminded me that I had people back home who loved me, people who supported me and who cared about me. And as simple as that seemed at the moment; those words have circulated in my mind for the past 7 months, again and again.
I have people who love me.
If there has been one theme from this year it has been the love and support of the people back home. I’ve said it before, but I just have no idea how I got so lucky. Maybe it was my Irish blood (Just kidding. Every Morehouse knows our Irish blood is cursed with bad luck).
When I moved to France it was because I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I felt like I needed to “do something with my life” in order for me to figure out if it was worth anything. In short, I felt like I needed to prove myself.
And I intended to – prove myself, that is. I fully intended on this year being the best year of my life. Of everything going beautifully and me then having triumphant tales to spread far and wide for all to hear.
Then the first blow came. And the second. And the third, and fourth and fifth and sixteenth.
And all I could think was “Wait!! This isn’t how this was supposed to be!”
And maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.
I don’t have a crystal ball showing me what direction my life is going in or why things happen. But I do know that when these things happened to me, they pushed me closer to myself than I’ve ever been before. Why? Because when everything else is stripped away, when you have nothing left and you’re just sitting there, you realize what actually matters in the grander scheme of things. And here’s a hint: It’s not a smartphone.
Over the past months I’ve realized just how much my identity is reflected through the hearts of the people who love me, and love well. The people who have laughed, and cried and sent me words of encouragement, even though it was in no way convenient for them to do so. They gain nothing by being the best friends a girl could ask for. But I guess that’s the truest test of love when it comes down to it – selflessness.
Who am I? I have no idea. But I know that each day I feel like I’m getting to know myself a little better. And maybe I’ll never reach that point of really knowing. Maybe I’ll forever be searching out this person who can be defined by a label or a category.
But, for now, I am just me: a writer, artist, geek, class clown, adventurer, leader, fashionista, sporadic, camera obsessed, storyteller traveler who thinks of impossible things and jumps at the chance to take on new experiences. It’s not a perfect identity, and it sometimes feels like I’m being pulled in fifteen different directions, but I am me. I am both a dreamer and a doer, an academic and an artist. I sketch pictures of superheroes and modern fashion trends. I live in the present, but I’m in love with the past. I’m a reader and a writer. I am of Africa and I am of Ireland.
But most of all, I am loved.
More than I ever knew before. More than I ever could have imagined.
And that, is the greatest part of my identity that I ever could have discovered.
(Also, I’m going back to Ireland in a month!! I’m so excited!)
This past weekend was so filled with goodness that it’s hard for me to even put together a blog post, but here are some of the highlights! Saturday was such a whirlwind of awesome. We started off visiting The Catacombs, which I’ve decided is one of the creepiest tourist attractions I’ve ever experienced.
Why waiting for an hour to see the skulls and bones of dead people is a thing, I may never know, but it’s one of those experiences that you’ll never forget (and can always brag about – which is a win! 😉 ) The experience itself consists of walking down down down into the depths of the earth and then coming out on piles and piles of bones, murky lighting and extremely humid recycled air. I wouldn’t suggest this attraction for anyone who experiences fear of being underground or claustrophobia. The key, though, is to not think about how far you are underground…or the fact that you’re walking through a tomb of millions of dead people.
After the Catacombs we jumped over to the Luxembourg gardens (after devouring some crepes, which are pretty much my Paris addiction) and hung out there a while. The steps up and down into the pit of The Catacombs was definitely a workout, so it was nice to sit down for a bit. The only danger of three American girls in the gardens, though, is French guys thinking the “nice American girls” are the perfect target for potential kisses and practical jokes. ” But we took it in stride. Maybe American girls are just really nice.
Our next stop was the home of Ernest Hemingway, and I would be lying if I said it was anyone’s “fault” other than mine that we went there. Hemingway is kind of a literary crush of mine (the geek in me is showing) so being able to stand outside his old apartment, in the neighborhood he called home was pretty incredible. There was even a cafe underneath the apartment which he wrote about in his book A Moveable Feast! Definitely worth the extra trek over there from the gardens.
Overall the day was just jam packed with fun and awesome memories. I’m so excited for the days to start getting warmer as spring arrives in Paris. We’ve all been a little cooped up over the winter months since it has been absolutely frigid, but now we can go out and see more of the city! More adventures to come!
Being in Paris can feel REALLY isolating, sometimes. You would think, in a city with 7 million people, that it would be easier than a lot of places to make new friends, but living in such a huge city means having a lot of other obstacles, as well (not to mention a language barrier). One of my goals, since being here, has been to make more Parisian friends, though, so I’ve really been trying to be intentional about going out and meeting some new people, despite my desire to sit inside all day and read.
Last Friday I took up the challenge, though and headed over to Coutume Cafe. It was such a fun time because I got the opportunity to meet up with some absolutely delightful women (and one guy!) who all live in Paris, all through our mutual Twitter followings! I know, I know, you’re all thinking it’s weird that I went and hung out with random people from Twitter – but it wasn’t! It was so much fun, and already having the basis of being travelers, Twitter peeps and bloggers (some of us) made it even more fun to meet up!
I went by myself, so it was a little bit intimating at first, but I ended up meeting some amazing people and finally making some new friends in this enormous city. It just goes to show you, stubbornness is a key factor in getting things done when you’re living the expat life. Here are some of the lovelies I met, so you all can follow them too!
I went to this café called Coutume last week and I really loved the experience! I thought I would let people (especially English speakers) know about it, because there have been a lot of less than desirable experiences with Paris establishments, so this one really stood out! First off – the details:
When: February 13th, 2015 – We went early in the morning, around 10:30am.
Who: With two other friends (One American, One English)
So, we walked into this cafe not knowing what to expect, and the thing that I noticed right away was that people were speaking English! In fact, ALL the baristas were speaking English! If you’ve been to Paris before, you’ll understand what a phenomena this is.
We were immediately greeted, seated and chose our drinks. I later got breakfast too – I will say, per usual “pancakes” aren’t really pancakes, more compact and dense, but still good. The overall atmosphere reminded me a lot of Seattle in that it was edgy, relaxed, artistic, earthy and everything a café should be (in my opinion, of course).
Our baristas were cheeky, hilarious and so nice! They gave us such a fun experience and helped us find things on the menu etc. Overall, such a great experience!
Oh, and they have WIFI (again, if you’ve been to Paris – not the same as in the U.S.)!!