Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Good and the Bad: Train Travelling to Barcelona

Such a weird day. The good was really good and the bad was just annoying.
Good: got to sleep in and didn't have to sweep for once. Had a relaxing morning finishing packing and cleaning my room before going down to the train station. It was sad to say good bye to the family I've been working for as well so that was good because it means I'll miss them.
Bad: I stopped at the MonoPrix for some snacks for the train. They were out of baguettes (?)
Good: I got a cart because I was hauling my bags with me and it was way easier to deal with them that way.
Good: The cart takes 1 euro, 2 euro and 50 cent pieces. That makes it easier.
Bad: I picked the LONGEST slowest moving line in history. And when it was my turn, the clerk decided she needed to replenish her change so I had to wait more.
Bad: When I went to return the cart the cart in front of mine didn't have a key so I lost my two euros because I didn't have time to find someone to retrieve it for me.. :( I hope it made someone's day.
Bad: A store I wanted to visit really badly was closed.
Good: Got on the right train.
Bad: Sat in the right seat in the wrong car and had to move.
Bad: Train was delayed for a half an hour due to technical difficulties.
Good: I realized I was listening to the French announcements and then getting confused when they repeated them in English "they already said tha...oh..."
Good: Even though the train was delayed I made my next two connections without issue.
Bad turned into Good: I was waiting for the Metro in Barcelona and a guy walked by me and gave me a strange look. I got really nervous but then he came back and explained that my backpack was open and asked if he could re-zip it for me.
Bad: I came out of the metro and I was utterly confused as to where I was in relation to where I needed to go. There was no one around that looked good to approach for directions (and my brain still can't decide which language to speak in so I get really tongue tied)
Good: I randomly picked a street (based off what I could remember about the stores on the same block as my hostel when I looked at Google Maps) and not only did I find a Starbucks (It's been over two months since I've had Starbucks, this is exciting) but my hostel was right across the street!
Good: The hostel is amazing! I'm in a room with twelve beds but they're all curtained so it's like a little fort and we each have a lockable cage on wheels under the bed for storage.
Good: I'm in Spain! And I'll be home in less than a week <3 p="">
That's funny, they actually come out equal. Bottom line is I'm in Barcelona safely. I'd say that's all good. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Walkabout Year

A friend of mine referred to 2013 as my "Walkabout Year". That really helped to put my adventures into perspective. As I wind down my time in France and my prepare to return to Canada I find myself reflecting on the past eight months. What have I been doing all of this for? Is there a bigger purpose? Travel in itself is never wasted but what have I learned from this experience? I'm sure I won't really know the extent of it until I get back home into the environment where I am familiar and comfortable. There I'll see how much I've changed. I do know that I know now more than ever that world is a big place and there is so much to see. I also know that I am Canadian and no matter where I live, that is home. Georgia was wonderful and France is amazing but I'm ready to get back to the middle class rather socialistic society (free healthcare!) that I am used to.

I'm also very ready to get back to church on a regular basis. That has definitely been the biggest struggle for me yet I find that rather than pulling away from God and just living as I please I am even more determined to return to my church family and the encouragement that comes with attending service regularly. It has been good for me to realize that. As someone who was born to Christian parents and raised in church it's nice to confirm that I attend church for me, not just out of habit or because it's something I do but because it is truly my hearts desire to be there and be part of that community.

Another friend asked if I'll be "done with Europe" when my time here is over. I don't think I could ever be "done" with Europe. There's just too much to see. Too much to discover. In fact if all goes well I hope to be back here next summer but that remains to be seen. The bottom line is I've made friends here and connections and I certainly hope I'll be able to return.

But in the meantime I have memories and stories and a deep assurance that I am on the right path with my life. Wherever it takes me.

Ha! I'm editing this to add that about five minutes after I posted it my boss was lamenting the end of summer and said "But you are ready to go home right? Three months is enough?" I replied that yes I am very ready to go home but more so because it's been eight months total. Not just three. Three would be fine. Eight has been hard. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Random 80's stuff

I don't have specific pictures to go with these items but they were some of the things I identified with from the Original List.

24. The simple thrill of the smell of your eraser collection.

I still have most of mine in a box somewhere. Why I'm not sure. They're certainly not good for anything but they were so fun to get. I definitely recognize a few in this picture. 

50. The smell of these things after wearing them all day.

I honestly can't remember if I actually had jelly shoes or not but somehow I do remember that they stunk. Why they keep coming back in style I'll never understand.

37. Your Le Clic camera — which, let’s face it, you only bought because it came in awesome colors.

Yep! Mine was purple. It took a weird format of film too which was a pain because it was hard to find. I loved that camera. 

22. The pure magic of the acid trip for kids that was Lisa Frank.

LOVED Lisa Frank! I collected a lot of things. Erasers as mentioned above, bookmarks, and stickers. Lots of stickers. Lisa Frank stickers were some of my favourites.

14. Using scrunchies as your favorite statement piece, and owning one in every color and print in existence.

I may still have/use scrunchies...but I'm not fessing up here :P

6. The importance of nailing the perfect sideways ponytail.

Yes, the IMPORTANCE, was placing it just right so you didn't get a headache. My hair was so heavy though so even though I loved the look of a sideways ponytail, I rarely wore them. 
There. That's some more random 80s nostalgia for you. I have more posts with pictures of me coming in the future. Stay tuned :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Cup Overfloweth

The other night I was laying in bed and I couldn't sleep because I was just so overwhelmed and excited about my amazing life. I have just over a week left here in France and my time here has been everything I didn't allow myself to hope it would be. Meaning it sounded amazing before I got here so I talked myself down so I wouldn't be disappointed but everything I was promised was exactly how it was, and more. Yes it's been hard work. Yes living in someone else's home in a different culture can be stressful. Yes the kids were a handful when they came but I loved it all. And most importantly my French is way better than when I arrived and THAT is what this is all about.

Sunday I'm planning on going to Barcelona for a few days (I really need to book my ticket but I'm blogging instead :P) Spain wasn't even part of my original travel plans but I really feel like I want to go there. I'm not sure why but I'm very much looking forward to it.

My flight back to Canada leaves from Amsterdam at 8am on August 31st so I'll be flying between Barcelona and Amsterdam on Friday. That means I'll have a few hours to kill in Amsterdam as well which will be nice. It's where I started this adventure and I'm looking forward to wrapping it up there.

And then when I get home, I am moving in with a friend of mine which is going to be amazing and school starts soon and I'm super excited for my classes and to see my friends and well yes. Life just rocks.

That night when I couldn't sleep I ended up taking my pillow outside and laying on the balcony and looking up at the stars. You can't see all that many here but it was enough to just sort of center and ground me. I tried to pray but really all I could say was "Thank you" Thank you for this amazing life and these wonderful opportunities and for blessing me with more than I could ever dream of. Thank you. Thank you for it all.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Pen pals

50. The excitement of coming home to a letter (or tons of letters) from a penpal is still, to this day, unmatched.

This is so, so, SO true. I received a letter the other day from someone in Georgia. I knew it was coming because she had asked for my address but it was still incredibly exciting to receive. Cards are amazing. I got a bunch of those for my birthday as well and many of them had particularly special about a letter written on stationery. As a child and young teen I had a few different pen pals. First and foremost were my cousins and my Grandma M but none of us wrote very often. My real pen pals were Leasa and Sharon. Leasa was first. Our families have known each other for years. As in before we were born. Our parents used to hang out together and know a LOT of the same people through church camps and other connections. We started writing when we were ten or eleven (so 1991 or 1992). I don't remember exactly but her family was in town and came to visit and we exchanged addresses. We wrote fairly steadily for the next ten years or so when email took over and life just became too busy. When I visited Ontario in both 2000 and 2004 I hung out with Leasa and actually stayed a few nights with her and her new husband David the second time.

Last year when I was in BC after Seth's wedding I went digging in one of my boxes of stuff that is still at my parents and found the letters that Leasa sent me. When I got back to Ontario she and I sat down and read our letters out loud to each other. What a trip down memory lane. I read my letters and she read hers. We went in order by date. It was hilarious. My pre-teen self was incredibly stuck up. My letters were all about the books I was reading, what my brothers were up to and trying to figure out how old her siblings were (I asked for their ages three different times!) Her's were all about reciting her report cards (she was a fantastic student who generally scored in the high 90s) reporting on piano lessons and talking about family vacations. Some of it didn't make sense to read almost 20 years later (20!!!) and some we had to give back stories too but it was fascinating and really fun. When it was done we took back our received letters. Maybe we'll do it again in another ten years or so. 

My second regular pen pal was a friend of Leasa's. In fact Sharon dated Leasa's older brother for a few months. We started writing later. Maybe in grade 10 or 11? Those letters are full of a LOT of teen-aged angst. Grade 10, or when I was 15, was not a good year for me. Looking back I was probably depressed but at the same time I was a teenager and we all go through crappy times. Sharon (and Leasa) are originally from Saskatchewan but both moved to Ontario. Leasa with her family while she was in high school and Sharon in 1999 or 2000. Sharon asked me to move with her at that time. How different might my life have been if I had taken her up on that offer!!! I wasn't ready though. Before I finally got around to joining everyone in Ontario, Sharon had moved back to Saskatchewan. We stopped writing in the early 2000s and I really haven't spoken to her since. I know she's doing well though. Two of her sisters and her mother in law go to my church in Ontario so I get updates. Part of me would love to do the same thing with Sharon that I did with Leasa, sitting down and reading our letters. But at the same time I think it might be better if some of those letters never see the light of day again. 

One last comment (this is getting long!) It was Sharon who gave me the name "Agent713". She had gone on a date with Leasa's brother and they saw the James Bond film "GoldenEye" in the theatre. (huh, Google says it was released in 1995, maybe we started writing sooner than I thought.) She started signing her letters "Agent 13.7" Thirteen was her favourite number but she added the ".7" to make it a little less unlucky. I just swapped that and became "Agent 7.13" When Hotmail came along and everyone was freaked out about using "real" names online, I was looking for something to use. Agent 7.13 was one of the few nicknames I've ever used so it became my online handle. Hotmail didn't allow periods at the time so I just became "agent713". Today I style it with the lower case "a" and run it all together and I use it pretty much exclusively online. In fact if you Google agent713, you'll find out more about me than if you use my real name (including finding this blog). So there, that's the story of my name. It's crazy to think I've been using it for over half my life already! That's the impact that a pen pal can have!!!

Also, a funny related to that. I was in Ohio a few years ago and my friend's dad was teasing me about being a Canadian spy. I denied it but a little while later in the conversation someone asked for my email. I spieled off "agent713 at hotmail" and he exclaimed "HA! I knew it! You've been exposed!!!" So that's now the running joke with us. That I'm a secret agent who visits to spy on Americans. The truth is that I DO major in North American Studies, so yes, I am there to study them ;) Not much secret about that! 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Roommate

My potential roommate for September got a job in town which means we can start house hunting. I am SO excited to live with this girl. She's a French major/teacher and did an exchange to France a few years back so we can practice French with each other. She scrapbooks and knits and likes the same kinds of movies and music that I do. Plus we like doing a lot of the same things. I'm feeling really confident about this arrangement and am not concerned that living together will damage our friendship. Instead I think we'll become even closer and our place will be where all of our friends hang out. Plus it means I don't have to live with strangers anymore. Awesome news!

Kerri and I met when I was in first year and she was in third. I didn't realize I had this picture until the other day. In fact if you had asked if she was there that day, I would have said no because I didn't remember or know her that well. Plus she left for France later that year so it was really in second year that we got to know each other. (and no, I can't remember the name of the other girl in this picture)

This is us at the Campus Clubs end of year banquet in 2012.

We have had lots of adventures together already. From the KW Oktoberfest Parade to picnics on Heather's living room floor because it was raining outside.

The three of us (Heather, me and Kerri) are super close. Heather decided to live with a boy (:P) but I know she'll come visit lots. I'm stoked that our house can be the meeting point now. It was Heather's place but this is going to rock.

And Erin's still around too. She's just finishing her fourth year (Kerri and Heather have graduated) but we're all still in Waterloo this fall. Woohoo!!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Were you afraid to come to France?

I find this question so interesting. It's more than fair. I mean there are a lot of people who would never consider moving into a strangers home in a foreign country for two months. The thing is for me, it's not the first time I've done this. I moved from BC to Ontario and into the basement suite of someone who I had only ever talked to on the phone. We ended up becoming friends, although she likes me more than I like her, and I was definitely living "in her home". Even though I had my own entrance and could come and go as I pleased I still had to stay in contact and report when I was going to be using my car.

The in 2011 I went to Quebec for five weeks. There I stayed with a host family and two other students, all of whom I met when I moved in there.

Earlier this year I went to Georgia where I had spoken with two people before arriving. The international student coordinator and my academic advisor. Other than that I knew NO one. That changed quickly though. I met my best friend down there on the first day and met dozens of others who have enriched my life.

So no, coming to France was not a stretch. Even with the language barrier I make friends quickly and can make conversation with pretty much anyone. It's a great skill to have.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Saint Tropez

Yesterday was my first day off in over two weeks. My boss and I discussed it and it wasn't a big deal but I was sure ready for some R&R when it came. I used the opportunity to visit the town of Saint Tropez. You can get there by car or train but the fastest and most scenic is definitely by boat. It's also probably the most expensive but my dear mother sent me some money to fund the trip. There was an option of reserving a spot online but I kept forgetting to do it and then I just decided to take my chances.

Luckily I was able to get a stand by ticket. There is only one run between Cannes and Saint Tropez each day so if I had missed out I would have just bought a ticket for the next time I have a day off (which is actually tomorrow. When it rains it pours!)
Anyway, I got on and it was a lovely ride over there. In Saint Tropez I explored and shopped. I've been looking for a new skirt and for a shirt in that awesome coral colour and I found some great ones on sale. I had lunch in a little cafe and although the food itself wasn't that interesting, the ambiance was nice. Saturday is market day as well so I checked that out but didn't buy anything. The boat left for Cannes at 4:30 (it arrived at 11:30) so the day felt a bit rushed but I made the most of it.

Saint Tropez is bigger than a lot of the towns I've visited lately and for some reason, I found it really easy to get lost. Normally in these coastal towns I can keep myself oriented by knowing where the water is but I couldn't do that here. I loved it. It may be weird but I LOVE getting lost. I love just walking around and not knowing exactly where I am and this was the first time I've been able to do that in awhile. All in all it was a very enjoyable day and I'm glad I took the time to go over there.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Barrettes

Ornamenting your ‘do with a bevy of colorful day-of-the-week and animal-themed barrettes.

This one should have probably gone first. I wore these barrettes ALL the time. You're going to see them in most of these photos LOL Also, this one features bobbles as a bonus. I love this photo. It was taken on Long Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island one summer when my family rented a trailer and went camping. Unfortunately our vacation was interrupted when my mom suffered a miscarriage. I don't have a lot of memories about that trip but the ones I have are very specific. Being on the ferry and having to take the elevator because Mom wasn't feeling well (that was weird. We ALWAYS just took the stairs.) Walking along the beach with Mom and finding these starfish. Being woken up VERY early because we had to drive to the hospital and then having Dad do my hair because Mom was in the hospital. I didn't really know what was going on but I do remember the difficulty he had doing my hair LOL

But yeah, barrettes. I had really fine wispy hair and I almost always had barrettes in my hair. Watch for them :)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


My boss's cousin is here for the week. She's an older lady and VERY French. She smokes in the house, not a lot but enough to be annoying. My boss smokes in the house too but he smokes cigars and that doesn't bother me. Mimi also walks around in her bikini most of the time. I come from a very conservative background where you just don't do that. I guess it's good that she's at least wearing a bikini (we're in France, it could be worse) but put some clothes on already.That said, she's super nice and fantastic with the kids. Despite the Frenchness I love having her here and I'll be sad when she leaves.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Summer Reading: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

I know I'm in France to learn French but sometimes you just need a break. I bought a few books in Paris but I finished them by the time I got to Cannes. Luckily there is an English language book store here. Apparently one of only six in France? Anyway, I went in one day and found this book. I have two complaints about it. Considering it has 850 pages, it's WAY too easy to read and, it's "Book One of The Century trilogy" but book two is still only available in hardcover and book three isn't even written yet!!!

Other than that, to say I enjoyed it is an understatement. I forced myself to leave it downstairs so I would only read when I was taking a break or waiting on someone or something but even then I plowed through it. If I had taken it up to my room I would have finished it in a few days.

It deals with the First World War, starting in 1911 and ending in 1924. It follows the stories of six families and associated characters who get caught up in the events of the war. I'm confident that anyone would enjoy it but for me it was particularly appealing for a few reasons. First, I recently visited a lot of the places mentioned in the book. Paris, Berlin and various battlefields. Second, Follett is great at weaving historical events into his fictional works and the History nerd in me got excited every time he mentioned one. Particularly events having to do with Mexico and the US like the Zimmerman Telegram and the Occupation of Veracruz. I studied both in detail in Georgia and even wrote a book review on a book that dealt with the Occupation. Aside from that the book is just really well written and I found myself thinking about different characters and wondering what was going to happen next. Book two deals with their children and I can't wait to read it.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Story Time: Pride Goeth Before the Fall

My computer keeps dropping the internet connection here which is really annoying. The only way I can seem to get it back is to reboot the router but I’ve done that three times in the last 24 hours and I don’t really want to do it again. Plus I’m the only one experiencing this. Argh! Anyway, I’m taking it as a notice that I shouldn’t be online and writing this blog post in Word instead. It’s good. I’ve been meaning to get this down anyway and I always get distracted when I’m online :P

People ask “what was something that surprised you about Europe”. The easiest and most profound answer was when we crossed from Belgium into France. I was riding shotgun in one of the vans and my friend Brendan was driving. It was a cold rainy day (like most of those first two weeks) and the six other people in the back seat were sleeping. In the area of Belgium we were in (around Ypres) Flemish is the dominate language, followed by French and then, on things like menus, English. Still, the moment we crossed into France and all the street signs changed from Flemish to French, I felt myself relax. It was a strange feeling. I didn’t even realize I was tense but all of a sudden I felt comfortable. Sure I still couldn’t read half the words but I whipped out my “Petit Bob” (which is what my prof in Chicoutimi dubbed my Le Robert & Collins mini French/English dictionary) and started looking up words. My favourite was when we were on the Auto Route and looked up “péage” which is “toll”. A few minutes later Brendan asks “why is traffic slowing down?” “Uh, dude? I’m going to assume there’s a toll booth coming up…” LOL

Our first stop in France was in the town of Péronne where we visited La Musée de la Première Guerre Mondiale. We were given a certain amount of time and told to go find lunch when we were done in the museum. They said “there are lots of wonderful restaurants here, go try them out” Okay good plan except, two things happened. One, everyone got through the museum faster than expected so the organizers of the trip shortened the time we had for lunch so we could get back on the road. Two, my friends and I had our first true exposure to the French way of eating. It is, let’s say “leisurely”. There is NO rushing the French, especially in a busy restaurant at lunch time. So we’re sitting there and it turns out I have the best French at the table. I’m doing my best to translate for everyone but even I couldn’t figure out “Coque St. Jacques” (scallops). Of course it didn’t help that I hadn’t brought my Petit Bob into the restaurant. Anyway, I did try and ask the waitress if our meals would be ready within 30 minutes and she assured me they would. And they were, it’s just that it only left us about three minutes to eat :( It was an incredibly stressful meal because of our time crunch even though the food was delicious. We were the last to get back to the vans, which made the organizers mad (even though it was their fault for changing the parameters on us) and to add insult to injury, I stepped on my skirt hem and pulled it half off while I was running through the rain from the restaurant to the van. Not my finest moment.

So, good? I like French and I was fascinated by my reaction when I was surrounded by it. Bad? My first chance to actually use it was a low spot during the trip.

Now to put this experience into perspective.

One of our next stops was at the Beaumont-Hamel Battlefield. This was the site of a short nasty battle that featured a battalion of soldiers recruited from small towns in Newfoundland, Canada. In the space of time that I stressed out and ate my lunch, over 700 people lost their lives. 700! I have that many Facebook friends! That’s like having every single person I know killed in under an hour. And for many of these communities, this is exactly what happened. One family lost four or five sons in this one battle. This was the first place that the numbers regarding the casualties of war actually made sense to me. Before that they were just numbers. At Beaumont-Hamel they became people.

Also, this is slightly unrelated but it’s from the journal that I wrote for that site.

The welcoming nature of the Parks Canada guides at Beaumont-Hamel was also nice. Their faces seemed to light up when we identified ourselves as Canadians. I made a point of discussing employment opportunities with one of the clerks. She was awesome with discussing the required qualifications and different types of positions with me. She even discussed housing and transportation arrangements that the government provides. If I can bring my French language skills to the required level, I would love to work at a site like Beamont-Hamel. Being able to share the story of fellow Canadians would be an honour and something I would take great pride in.

I’m serious about that. My grand plan with being in Europe this summer is to hopefully come back and work in the future. I’d love to live in France and work for Parks Canada. That’s my dream job. We’ll see if I can make it happen!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Strawberry Shortcake

Okay, maybe I am a bit of an 80s girl. 

The day after I posted my comments about not being a child of the 80s, this list popped up on Facebook: 
53 Things Only ’80s Girls Can Understand The vast majority of it does not apply to me, which supports my claim of not being an 80s child. However there were a few things, for younger kids, that did apply. I've chosen a few of them and will be featuring them in a new series I am un-originally dubbing "Throwback Thursday". Note all images not of me are stolen directly from the above link.

Also, for the record I'm writing this post while watching "Pretty in Pink" as suggested by my readers. I think that's appropriate :)

27. The delicious smell of Rose Petal and Strawberry Shortcake dolls

I definitely had the Strawberry Shortcake doll. I remember her hat. I think she was the only one though. I would have loved to have them all. 

This was probably my fifth or sixth birthday. I forget exactly. I'm wearing a Strawberry Shortcake necklace too. I still have that in a box somewhere! 

I used this for my profile picture yesterday. 48 "likes" and counting? I'd say it's a pretty good choice!!!