Paris 4.0 avec maman et papa

I know, it has been way too long since I’ve posted, but I thought I would re-cap the end of my traveling anyway! My goal when I got back home was to finish my travel posts before my birthday – this is pretty close!! Thanks for keeping up with me and for following me in my adventures across Europe!

After celebrating the end of classes with my new friends, I started packing up and getting ready for my last round of traveling with… my parents. They were meeting me in Paris on Thursday, April 12th, and I was so excited to see them. Our vacation itinerary was as follows: April 12-15: Paris, France; April 15-18: Prague, Czech Republic; April 18-21: Budapest, Hungary; April 21-24: Krakow, Poland; April 24-28: Nantes, France.

I was able to go to Paris one day earlier with my friend Erika. We stayed in a super cute hotel (Hotel ClaireFontaine) and spent the day exploring the most famous bakeries and chocolate shops of Paris. It was great. We knew our way around Paris by then, so we were able to go visit Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, Angelina’s Café and l’Étoile d’Or.

In case you were not able to watch my presentation on Macarons, here it is again: Macarons Presentation. You have heard me talk about Ladurée here, here and here, but you might not have heard about Pierre Hermé yet. He is also famous for his macarons, many of which have unusual flavour combinations. He is also known as the “Picasso of Pastry”. Their flavours vary from traditional caramel, chocolates, oranges, to avant-garde flavours like wasabi, ketchup and truffle. When we visited, we split a box of 8 macarons, and my favourite was chocolate passionfruit (second from the bottom in the picture below). The texture of these macarons were much more dense than those at Ladurée, but still just as delicious. We loved trying out the different kinds of macarons, and were so excited for the rest of our day!

We then made our way through the Jardins des Tuileries, where we ended up at Angelina’s Café on rue du Rivoli. Angelina’s café is known for its hot chocolate. It was absolutely phenominal! We were brought into a beautiful tea room where we were served a large pitcher of dark, rich, creamy hot chocolate with our own pot of chantilly cream. The hot chocolate was so thick, and velvety smooth. It felt as though we were drinking liquid chocolate. It was the most amazing hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and was worth the 8 euros!

After filling our bellies with hot chocolate and macarons, we sat near the big fountain in the Jardin des Tuileries and just enjoyed the beautiful weather. Our next and final stop was l’Étoile d’Or near Moulin Rouge. It was a tiny little chocolate shop that looked like it was stuck in 1920. In fact, it has been there since 1902, and the shop owner explained to us some of the varieties of the chocolates and that the hazelnuts are hand-picked from a local farm! They were some of the best praliné chocolates I’ve had – almost as good as in Belgium at Pralinette. We finished off our day eating a late dinner near our hotel, and calling it a night!

I woke up early the next morning and rolled my suitcase to the RER, and met my parents at the airport at 9AM. Their flight was just a bit late, but I was so happy to see them when they came through the gates! We made our way to our apartment, which was just north of Montmartre, and it was just like in the pictures – so eclectic and really cozy.

We dropped off out luggage, and started our day right away (I wanted to fight their jet-lag by keeping them busy). I had put a lot of work into organizing our trip so that it was the most optimal, so that we could see the most in the least amount of time We started at la Place de la Concorde, where we got our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. We decided to visit the musée de l’Orangerie, which was a great experience. My mom is an artist, and she was absolutely blown away by les Nymphéas, Monet’s Lilypads. It looked as though she was going to faint, because she was in awe. We walked through the jardin des Tuileries and made our way to the Louvre.

Both museums were nice, but my favourite of the two is still l’Orangerie, especially because of Monet’s huge paintings. We decided to finish off our touring for the day by visiting the Eiffel Tower. We stopped at Trocadero, where we got some amazing photos of the tower, and walked through the gardens to be below the tower. We decided to walk up, because the line was very long. It was a hard climb, and it was very windy, but it was so worth it! When we got to the top, it started raining, so we stayed up there and enjoyed the view, until it cleared up. We headed back to our apartment’s neighbourhood, and picked up a bunch of baguettes, cheeses, wines, charcuteries and veggies. We went back to our apartment, and enjoyed our “French dinner”. We even popped out for a bit later that night to visit Sacré Coeur Basilica, which was only one metro stop away. It was absolutely beautiful inside!

On our second day in Paris, we started off by browsing through the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, which was a flea market. Not too much was open because it was a Friday, but we saw a few cool shops that were kind of like storage garages where people arranged their vintage stuff and sat outside for you to look through. A lot of the stuff was very random like the plastic top hat that the woman was trying to sell as an ice bucket for champagne. My mom decided to try it on as a hat instead… all for 25 euros!? We enjoyed our time at the flea market, and even collected a few ideas for my mom’s art projects. We headed towards Notre Dame de Paris, and visited the cathedral. I think it was extremely nice for my parents, since they had never been, but had only read about it in books. It really is an amazing cathedral.

We saw Shakespeare and Company, and even went for the best falafel ever (that Kathleen and I discovered during Paris 3.0). After lunch, we visited the Sainte Chapelle, where my mom’s reaction was caught on camera. Her jaw literally dropped when she walked up the stairs to the upper chapel, and saw the stained glass “walls”.

We even got to squeeze in the Musée d’Orsay before it closed, which was great, because they had an exhibit on Degas’ nudes, which was a huge collection. On our way home, we picked up the same type of dinner, and even got some roasted chicken to go with it, and ate at our beautiful apartment. We decided to spend the night in, because we were all pretty exhausted from the extensive metro-tunnel walking, climbing and museum-going. It was nice to stay in, especially since we were essentially renting out someone’s house. They had bookshelves after bookshelves of interesting books, CDs, and filled with artwork. They seemed like a very cultured family, and it made it feel like we were truly living the Parisian life.

The next morning was our last full day in Paris. We started off bright and early and went to Versailles! It was great to show them Versailles as the only castle in France, since it truly is the most renown, and the most decorated castle in France.

We came back to Paris after a nice lunch of sandwiches and wine in the town of Versailles, and  made our way to the Arc de Triomphe. We walked down les Champs Élysées and also got a chance to visit the Moulin Rouge and Pigalle districts (sketchy stuff). I brought them to the Étoile d’Or chocolate shop, where we had a few delicious chocolates, and even got to take a picture with the store owner – she was so cute!

We had dinner back at the apartment, and were planning on making the 8:00 boat ride on the Seine. However, we were running late, and rushed the whole way there, only to arrive at 8:02. The boat was just leaving. We were pretty upset, but it’s okay, we probably would have gotten bad seats anyway. We waited along the river banks for about 30 minutes before buying our tickets.

We got great seats, and loved the boat ride. The best part was when we were getting close to the Eiffel Tower, and decided to go out on the deck. We started taking pictures, and got stuck in front of a group of Italian students. It was pretty funny trying to get a picture of the three of us at night on a moving boat!

My favourite moments in Paris were definitely climbing to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, laughing so hard on the boat tour and walking down the streets of our neighbourhood (the Jules Joffrin metro stop) every night in search of our dinner! It was beautiful weather most of the time we were there, and it was nice to see the tulips (my favourite flower) in bloom! It was neat to have my parents get to see my new country, and to visit the places that I visited this whole year. Overall, it was amazing getting to show my parents around the city that I had come to know this year, and I’m glad they got to get an idea of why I love France so much!

Next stop: Prague, Czech Republic!

The End of the Year

This past week was a great one! Even though I’ve had to part ways with many of my great friends that I’ve made this year, we really made the most of our last week together! On Tuesday, we went to class, and coffee with our teacher, enjoyed a lunch at the caf, cooked a delicious salmon meal with some friends, went to trivia night at Flemmings.

Wednesday was equally busy with a theatre meeting, pasta lunch, a grammar test, and another coffee date followed by a crepe dinner with 20 of us canadians!

On Thursday, we had our last class, our last final, and afterwards, we got ready for a great night celebrating a great year. We all got together at Flemmings, and celebrated all night!! It was great to have everyone together!

Since then, I’ve gone for thai food with some friends, shopping, out again, enjoyed the carnival and fair and now mostly everyone is gone. It’s been strange, because everyone is leaving at different times, and some are coming back to Nantes before they go back home, but we might not see each other… then all of a sudden, today, it seems like everyone has left! The halls of my residence are so quiet, because it’s spring break for University students in France.

In just a few days, I’ll be heading to Paris with Erika to spend a day hunting down the best bakeries in Paris, eating macarons, and enjoying the city before meeting my parents at the airport the next morning. I am so excited for them to get here! They’ve never been to Europe before, so I know they’ll be so excited, and they’ll love it. We’ll be spending time in Paris, Prague, Budapest and Krakow before coming to Nantes to pack up my stuff and head home. I’m ready for this last big trip, and am so excited to be back home, to see the rest of my family, and just to be HOME.

Thanks to all of my new friends who made this year amazing. Thanks to all of my old friends who kept in touch and made me feel at home. Thanks to my amazing, and huge family for supporting me, and for making me feel like you were here all along! I can’t wait to be reunited :)

-E xo

Galway Girls

This post is a bit delayed because of a super busy week at school. I had a few assignments due this week, but they’re done, and there’s only one week of school left! Two weekends ago, I went out for St. Patrick’s day. We headed to our favourite Irish pub, and spent the night playing beer pong, and hanging out!

We had a great time :) Then this past weekend, I went to Ireland. It was my second time going this year, but this time, my friends Laura, Stephanie and I planned on visiting the beautiful countryside. We left on Thursday around noon, and made it to Dublin by 3pm. We decided to spend our first evening shopping,a and spent over 3 hours in Forever 21. We all found some great stuff, and went for our first meal of fish and chips at Beshoff’s. It was good, but not as good as Leo Burdock’s (which I had visited twice last time in Dublin). We had an early night in, because in the morning, we were up at 6 in order to meet for our first tour. We actually found a Tim Horton’s on our way to meet the tourguide, and we were so excited :)

We took MacCoole’s tour, and made our way by bus to Galway. Once we arrived there, we got to take a small tour bus to MacCoole’s farm, which had lots of cows, and we hiked up their privately owned “mountain”.

It was such a nice view once we got to the top.The mountains in the Burren (the region that we visited) have distinct layers of rocks because of the ice ages. All of the soil got pushed down into the valleys. The Burren is a region in County Clare, Boireann in Gaelic, means “great rock”. It is one of the largest glacio-karst region in the world, which is a formation made by the dissolution of layers of soluble bedrock (in this case limestone). It was our first taste of Irish countryside, and we loved it!

After our hike, we got a chance to visit the family’s cottage, where they served homemade cakes, pies and tea. I had a delicious carrot cake, and some tea, and it was so good! We even got to meet their cute puppy. It was a really cool experience! The cottage was so cute, with family photos, nice wallpaper, and cute trinkets.

After our tea break, we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the most visited natural attractions in Ireland. The cliffs are raised 120 meters above the Atlantic Ocean, and reach a maximum height of 214 meters. They were absolutely breathtaking. I had seen pictures before, but seeing them in person was amazing!

I was so scared to go out far, because I have heard of so many close call stories, where people have slipped, or lost their footing, and fell. I could hear my dad saying: “Don’t get too close to the edge” (since he’s always afraid of Olivia and I getting too close to the edge of cliffs, balconies, etc.). I didn’t go out too far, and came right back in after this picture was taken.

So scary! It was so windy when we were at the Cliffs, I was scared that I would get pushed off the edge. We left the Cliffs, and made our way to some more cliffs on the ocean on our way to Dunguaire castle. Here we got closer to the edge, because it wasn’t as high up or windy, and it was so beautiful.

We got the chance to visit Dunguaire castle, which is a castle that was built in the 16th century on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay. It is one of the most photographed castles in Ireland. It is said that if you stand at the front of the gate and ask a question, you will have an answer by the end of the day. This is because the lord of the castle was very generous, and people thought that his generosity continued in his afterlife.

After visiting Dunguaire castle, we made out way back to Galway, and then got to Dublin at 9. We found a  really cute wine bar and pizza restaurant to eat at, which was absolutely delicious. It was a really cozy restaurant, and it was a good end to our day.

On our second full day in Ireland, we took a free walking tour, which was really interesting. We visited Dublin Castle, the Dublin Gardens, Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College, and then we went to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room library in Trinity College. It was so nice to see again. I was able to just sit in the Long Room, and just admire all the old books, the vaulted ceiling, and tried once again to figure out how they sorted the books in there!

We went to a food market in Temple Bar, and bought lots of stuff – hummus, bread, olives, cheese… and took it back to the Dublin Gardens to eat our little picnic. It was a beautiful day out, and we made the most of our time in the city.

That night, we went to Leo Burdock’s for fish and chips, I was so excited :) It was so good! We also found a cool milkshake bar, which had tons of different kinds of milkshakes that you could have with different chocolate bars in them. I tried the Chunky Monkey, which had banana, nutella, vanilla, caramel and a flake bar. It was delicious!

We headed to bed early again, because in the morning, we left pretty early for our second day trip. This time, we headed to the Wicklow Mountains. The drive there was stunning. We saw some amazing views going through the mountains, and got up to Lough Tay, which is also known as Guiness Lake, in the Wicklow Mountains. It is part of the Guinness family estate and has a man-made beach of white sand, and dark water (because of the peat) which makes it look like a pint of Guinness! It was one of my favourite places to visit, because looking out on the lake, you could see a perfect mirror-image of the mountains and the sky. It was almost like an optical illusion, but was breathtaking. I was so excited to see what was next on our tour!

We kept driving down roads like these:

It was pretty scary! We made our way to our next stop, Glendalough Valley in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Glendalough means “glen of two lakes” in Gaelic. The valley is known for its early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin. The valley was formed during the last ice age by a glacier which left a barrier across the valley mouth, which divided the original lake in two (hence the name “glen of two lakes”). The Irish wedding in the movie Leap Year was filmed at the Upper Lake of Glendalough Valley.

We walked through the park and made our way past the Lower Lake (pictured above) and the Upper Lake (pictured below). It was a beautiful day, the sky was so blue, and the nature surrounding us was so beautiful!

We hopped on the bus after a couple hours wandering through the park, admiring the scenery, and made our way to Blessington, which used to be known in Irish as Baile Coimin, which means “Kevin’s townland”. We visited the Avon Ri resort for lunch, where we ate delicious Irish food overlooking the lake, where the boat scene in PS I Love You was filmed.

We also got a chance to visit Trim Castle, also known as the BraveHeart castle (because it was used during the filming of the movie). It is the remains of Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle built in the 12th century. The keep (great tower) was very unique in its shape, as it is in a cruciform shape (a square with four small towers on each edge), and has 20 corners, which made it very hard to defend.

We made our way back to Dublin, and went out to Merchant’s Arch, a restaurant that I went to last time I was in Dublin. The funny thing is, that we tried to go all three nights that we were there, but it was always full! The third time was a charm, and we had delicious chicken wings, Guinness & beef pie, Caesar salad and seafood chowder. Of course, we had all of this with a couple glasses of Guinness. We were in Ireland, after all.

While we were at Merchant’s Arch, we got to hear some great live music, obviously Galway Girl, which came on at least once per day during our adventures in Ireland, and we even requested a few songs, to which the musician shouted out to “the Canadian girls” when he announced our songs. We headed to the Temple Bar, and were surprised by the most amazing live band. They played the accordion, guitar, interesting drums, and a cool wooden flute. They were really great, and played lots of traditional Irish music. It was unbelievable how fast the flutist was playing. He must have been so out of breath afterwards. Right before we were about to leave, they played Mumford and Sons’ Little Lion Man, which totally made our night!

The next morning, we visited our favourite Milkshake bar, and treated ourselves to one last taste of Dublin. We just made our shuttle bus to the airport, and had plenty of time before our flight. However, our plane was running late, and we got to Tours later than expected. We walked so quickly out of the airport to try to find a shuttle bus to the Tours train station (where we were going to train back to Nantes). The shuttle was waiting right outside the airport doors, but we realized that we didn’t have any cash left. We scrounged up the last of our change, and just barely had enough to get on. We only had an hour to get to the train station from the airport, and catch our train, and we made it just 20 minutes before our train was to leave. When we got there, we didn’t see our train up on the board, so we asked a station employee what platform the Nantes train was on, to which he responded: “there are no trains to Nantes tonight. Go talk to my colleague inside the office”. So we went to the information desk, and asked about our train, and it turns out there was a strike going on, and to get to Nantes, we would have to wait three hours, take a train to St Pierre des Corps, and then transfer to get to Nantes. We were not very happy, because we wouldn’t end up getting to Nantes until 11:09, and we all had work to do that night when we got home. So we decided to make the most of the last few hours of our vacation, and went for dinner in Tours. We had pasta, pizza, wine, creme brulee and crepes. It was so good, and definitely ended our trip on a high note. The upside of the strike, was that we got upgraded to first class on our way to Nantes. The first class seats on the train were so roomy, reclined back, and there was so much more space! We were so giddy! When we got to Nantes, our Irish luck had clearly run out, and the tram tracks were under construction, and we just missed the relay bus. We walked to the main tram transfer stop, and waited for our tram for 19 minutes (since by then it was close to midnight and the trams barely run). Just before our tram was scheduled to arrive, we were just casually waiting at the tram stop, and some drunk guy punched another guy, and hit a girl, and there was chaos. Tram officers came by, people were all staring, the guy pepper sprayed the drunk guy, and we were all so scared to make eye contact, or even look that way for fear of what the drunk guy would do. This obviously delayed our tram even more, because they weren’t sure if they should let him on the tram. Sure enough, he got on our tram, but tons of tram officers were on, and kept a close eye on him. It was a scary ride! We finally made it back to our residences around 12:30 PM, after a CRAZY day of traveling.

Since then, we’ve had a busy week, but got to enjoy the end of most assignments on Thursday and went out to celebrate. Then yesterday, we all went to a big field/park near our residence and tanned, played frisby, and listened to some music since it was absolutely gorgeous! I even got a small sunburn!!

This coming week is my last week of classes, and we have small “finals” in each class. I can’t believe it’s already the end of classes, which means that everyone will be leaving, going on their last traveling adventures, and soon enough, I’ll be back in Canada! It’s definitely a bittersweet time, because I’m so excited to be home, to see my friends and family, to start my job, and so much more, but at the same time, I’m sad to be leaving Nantes, France, Europe, and to be separated from my amazing group of friends. This week has really gotten me to reflect on how amazing this year has been. I can’t believe that it’s already been 7 months since I left Canada, that I moved in to my tiny residence room, and I’m so happy that I made the choice to come to Nantes for the year. It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study here, and travel through Europe while doing so!

Jules Vernes & Clisson day trip!

Hello everyone!

Since I last wrote, I have been keeping busy in Nantes, and have had a great week!

On Friday, I visited the Jules Vernes museum with a couple of my friends.

Jules Vernes was born in Nantes in 1828 and is a very well known author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days. He mostly wrote about space, air and underwater travel before air travel and submarines were invented.

He is also the second most translated author in the world. Vernes lived in a house just on the outskirts of the city, upon the banks of the Loire River, where he could see many of the ships come to port. This definitely sparked his imagination, where he started writing short story autobiographies. He published two or more volumes per year! I mostly enjoyed reading up on his inventions in his novels, since it is unbelievable to think that he came up with spaceships and submarines before they were even invented! I even got to see one of his games that looked very similar to Risk! Afterwards, we walked around the beautiful city of Nantes, and enjoyed every minute of it, because it was such a beautiful day out! We discovered another very cool church: Notre Dame de Bon Port in Nantes, which I had never seen before. It was built in1852 with a dome on the top to mimic the Eglise des Invalides in Paris. It was very unique in that it was a square church, and had a beautiful painting of constellations on the ceiling of the dome.

We stopped for gelato at Place Royale, and ate it by the fountain. It was such delicious gelato, they even molded it in the shape of a flower. I chose baccio and pistachio – yum!

On Saturday, I stuck around Nantes, did some shopping, and went out with some friends, which turned out to be a great night.

On Monday, my friend Dominique and I decided to go to Clisson, which is a small city just outside of Nantes.

It is known as the Italian Clisson because of its Florence and Tuscan-inspired architecture by François-Frédéric Lemot and the Cacault brothers (who came from Italy). They re-built the city using Italian-inspired architecture after it had been found in ruins after the revolution. It cost me 6 euros for a return train ticket, and the weather was supposed to be gorgeous, so we were looking forward to it! We left in the morning, and it only took about 30 minutes to get there. The town was pretty deserted (because not much is open on Monday mornings in France), so we decided to walk along the river.

I also discovered new settings on my camera, as you will notice throughout this post! It was absolutely beautiful! There was a nice path, and we got to see a pony, deer and lots of goat.

We made our way around the path after about an hour of walking past the waterfalls and were just enjoying the beautiful weather. We had a tasty lunch on the patio (although we were the only ones out there – guess we are more resistant as Canadians)! We had to wait for the castle to open at 2:30, but we sad outside the castle in the sun, and chatted for a while before getting to go in and visiting the ruins of one of the castles in the “Marches de la Bretagne”. La “Marche de Bretagne” was created in the 8th century when many regions in Brittany got together to create a barrier between France and Brittany.

This week in my history class, we learned a bit about the history between the French and Breton people, which was interesting, too! Brittany used to be a completely separate duchy from France, and was ruled by Anne de Bretagne (who lived in Nantes). The Breton people wanted to be separated from the French since they had such a distinct culture and heritage. They had Celtic roots, had their own language, religions and traditions.

The castle of Clisson was built in the 13th to 15th centuries, and was a fort-castle, which was a strategic point on les Marches de la Bretagne, which protected the duchy of Brittany, and especially southern access to Nantes (the ancient capital of Brittany).

It was so nice to see some more castle ruins, especially since this one was a big castle. I put together a little video so you can see what it’s like in person:

Yesterday, I made delicious tacos with my friends, and I also applied for a Master’s program in French Studies, so I’m really looking forward to hearing back :) Wish me luck!


PS – You can also check out a new video of my Switzerland trip that I put together by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the post!

Nantes, Venice & Paris 3.0

I’m back from my amazing week-long vacation with my friend Kathleen. We spent the week visiting Nantes, Venice and Paris, and had a great time. I met Kathleen at the Nantes train station on Saturday, and met her at her train to take her to my residence room. We got all settled, and snacked on delicious sheep and goat cheeses, baguettes and delicious wine from the Alsace region. I brought her out to Flemming’s (the Irish pub), and we met some crazy guys who asked us the strangest questions like if we were sure Canada didn’t have a king. They also had really strange jobs (bagpipe instructor, elevator mechanic, kite flyer?) We woke up the next morning, and decided to go to the market in Nantes. It was great! We found some more delicious cheeses, and we found one that was absolutely amazing – fresh goat cheese covered in herbes de provence. It was fabulous!

We found some artisan pear juice and some cute earrings too. We visited the St. Pierre cathedral and had a picnic beside the castle before walking on the ramparts. We had coffee and tea at le Select cafe and had a delicious pistachio cupcake to share (this was the beginning of our week-long pistachio tastings). We finished off our night in Nantes by watching Midnight in Paris to get some inspiration for our trip.

On Monday morning, we headed to the train station to train to Paris, then took a flight to Venice Marco Polo airport, where we had to bus to get to the city. We arrive to our hotel at about 10pm and wanted to go explore right away. We were walking towards San Marco square when we walked past a pizza place, and decided to grab a bite to eat before restaurants closed.

We planned to go to Venice for Carnavale di Venezia, an annual carnival that starts 58 days before Easter, and ends on Mardi Gras (the day before Ash Wednesday. The Carnival of Venice originated from a victory against the Patriarch of Aquileia in the year 1162. In honour of the victory, people started to dance and celebrate in San Marco Square. In 1979, the Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice and reinstated the yearly carnival.

So, everyone was dressed up, and we knew that first thing the next morning, we would be out finding ourselves some masks. Masks have always been a central part of the Venetian carnival traditions. They can be made in leather, papier maché or glass. There are a few mask categories that you’ll notice in Venice:

Bauta is the whole face, with a stubbord chin line, and no mouth. It used to be used primarily to hide the wearer’s identity and social status so that they could step out of their boundaries and interact with other members of society. In the 18th century, it became mandatory to wear the Bauta mask during political decision-making events where citizens had to act anonymously.

The Medico Della Peste mask is a mask with a long beak. It is one of the most recognisable Venetian masks. It was first used in the 17th century during the Plague to protect the doctors. The doctor would stuff the beak with herbs to purify the air that he breathed.

The Columbina mask is a half mask that is often decorated with jewels, gold, silver and feathers. It is either held up to the face with a baton, or tied with a ribbon. It became popular after an actress of the Commedia dell’arte didn’t want her beautiful face covered completely. This is the most common type of mask that you’ll find in Venice mask shops.

There are so many more, and it was great to learn about masks, their history and their fabrication when we wandered through the mask shops

The next day, we stopped at a mask shop that we had noticed the night before and both found beautiful wire masks. Mine is all black, and Kathleen’s is black and gold. By then, it was only 11am, but we decided to get our first gelato of the trip. I tried banana, and Kathleen had pistachio. They were both great!

We shopped for most of the day, browsing through mask shops, jewellery shops and glass shops. We bought some more masks (cheaper ones to wear during the day), and I got lots of jewelery.

We stopped for a late lunch along the grand canal. We were eating on the patio because it was an absolutely beautiful day, and we had some delicious pasta with wine. All of a sudden, as we had finished our meals, one of my favourite Italian songs came on. A street artist started playing Con te Partiro by Andrea Bocelli. It was such an incredible moment, I felt so lucky to be there, and to really have the opportunity to travel so much. It was amazing.

After lunch, we tried some more gelato (lemon for me) and had a nap. We went for dinner at a restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge, and I had an even more delicious pasta with mushrooms and shrimp. We got ready to go out, put our cool masks on, and made our way back to San Marco square. It was the last night of Carnavale, so there was a great concert on. We watched the concert for quite a while. A band Moda was playing, and they were so good! I wish I could have understood what they were singing, so that I could sing along. Here is a link to a song that we heard.

After the celebrations ended in San Marco Square, tons of people were heading towards the water, so we followed the crowd and waited. We weren’t sure what was going on, but we thought that they might have fireworks. Kathleen overheard a police officer tell a woman that they were getting ready to burn the cow at midnight. It turns out that the first event of Carnavale is the arrival of the bull. Lighting a wooden bull on fire on the last day of Carnevale is an old tradition, which has not been part of current celebrations in Venice, until this year.

On our way back home after the concert, we tried to charge Kathleen’s camera, but we blew a fuse! The power went out in our room, and we were scared that we would get in trouble, so we decided to go to bed, and hope that the breaker was reset in the morning.

On Wednesday, we visited the Rialto bridge and went to a small market, and made our way to Murano island. Murano is the island that is known as the glass island. In 1291, all the glassmakers in Venice were forced to more to Murano due to a fear of fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings. Exports began a century later, and the island became famous for glass beads, mirrors and chandeliers. Aventurine glass (or goldstone) was also invented on this island. For a while, Murano was the main producer of glass in Europe, and although its decline started in the 18th century, glassmaking is still the island’s main industry.

We visited a fornace, which is a glass factory. We got to see some artisans creating a sculpture by melting some glass, stretching it out, rolling it in beads and then stretching it with metal utensils.We wandered around the island, and it was so nice to walk around because it felt like 15 degrees and the sun was so bright. It felt like we were somewhere down south, because it was so warm and we were surrounded by water. We decided to go to a small convenience store to pick up stuff for lunch, and the old woman offered to make us sandwiches for 3 euros. It was the messiest bread for a sandwich, but it was absolutely delicious. I had a really good Italian salami.

We left early the next morning, and were sad to go, but we were up so early that we got to see the sunrise as we were waiting for the water bus. It was absolutely stunning. We saw the Rialto bridge again, and made it to Paris late in the afternoon after taking a delayed flight.

Overall, Venice was absolutely amazing. I still can’t believe that I was there. It was so beautiful, and just like in the pictures. The Carnavale was my favourite part. It was just so cool to see everyone all dressed up, and to see people just posing on the streets, just happy to be participating in the Carnavale.

When we got to Paris, we decided to go straight to the Louvre, and it was about 4pm once we arrived. It turns out it was a great time to go. I have been to the Louvre 4 times now, and it was the least busy I have ever seen it. We were able to walk right up to the rope of the Mona Lisa, and there was absolutely no one around Venus de Milo. It was so much more enjoyable to walk around the huge museum without having to nudge people to walk through and look at the paintings. We decided to take a walk all the way through the Jardin des Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde, where we followed our noses and got some delicious crêpes while walking up the entire Champs Élysées.

It was nice to see it at night, because I usually go there during the day to visit Ladurée. The sun had set, and we decided to visit Ladurée, and got some delicious macarons. I tried vanilla for the first time, and absolutely loved it. I will definitely have it now every time I visit. We walked the 284 steps up the Arc de Triomphe, and it was worth it!

We were exhausted from walking around all afternoon, but once we got up, it was amazing. The sun set, the Eiffel tower was all lit up, and Kathleen played around a lot with long exposure on her camera to get some awesome shots of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Élysées, and the cars zooming past. It was fun. We even tried our first macarons of the trip while we were up there.

On Friday, we decided to do a day trip to Versailles. I had not yet been to Versailles this year, but had visited when I was in grade 11 on my trip to France and Spain. I was really looking forward to it, because I have since then learnt so much more about the French Revolution, Louis XIV, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

Louis XIV (le Roi Soleil) started expanding the castle in 1661, and moved the French courts and the governments from Paris to Versailles in 1682 to distance himself and the governments from the population. After Louis XIV’s death in 1715, Louis XV (the five-year old king) and the government returned to Paris. It was not until 1772 when the king and the court returned to Versailles. However, in 1789, the royal family had to leave Versailles and move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where the Parisians thought the king would be more accountable if he lived among them in Paris. In 1791, Louis XVI attempted to secretly flee with his family so that they could get assistance from other nations in order to recapture France. However, they were recognized in Varennes, and brought back to Paris. In 1792, Louis XVI was officially arrested, and the absolute monarchy was abolished. It took nearly a year to decide on a verdict. He was found guilty for high treason and crimes against the state. He was beheaded by guillotine in January of 1793.

It was fun to walk through the castle, and to see how extravagant it is. There is so much gold everywhere. My favourite room is the hall of mirrors, which was used for balls. It is so pretty, with tons of mirrors, chandeliers, paintings on the ceiling and gold everywhere! Once we got outside to the gardens, the sun started shining, and we were so happy to be there.

We had finished our visit of the Château de Versailles in the early afternoon, so we decided to hit up the Eiffel tower, and see it up close. We got off at the Trocadero stop and saw it from far (so that we could get the whole thing in our pictures), and got another crêpe – yum! We sat in the sun, eating our crêpe, just watching the Eiffel tower. It was so surreal.

Now that I have been to Paris quite a few times, I feel like I know my way around the city, and the big sights seem almost normal since I’ve seen them all before, but it was still so pretty. I was so happy to be visiting the beautiful city once again. We made our way up close and waited for a while in line. By the time we got up, the sun had just set, and the tower was lit up. We were at the top when it started sparkling! It was so cool to be on it when it was sparkling – so magical.

We went to a cute Indian restaurant and had a delicious meal. On our way back home, we walked by Notre Dame, and I ended up seeing the same “pirate guy” that I saw my first time I was in Paris. He was on this bike that transformed into a bunch of fountains, with a bubble maker, music player, and was all lit up. I couldn’t believe that I ran into him again.

On our last day in Paris, we visited everything else that we wanted to see – the Catacombs, Notre Dame de Paris, la Sainte-Chapelle, Shakespeare and Co. and we also got to find another Ladurée (on Bonaparte). It was so much nicer than the one on les Champs Élysées, because it was much less busy, cuter inside, and the people were much friendlier.We had some more macarons, and also found a delicious place for falafel, which had the best falafel I’ve ever had. I had found it online, where David Lebovitz blogged about it as the best falafel place in Paris!

We said our goodbyes at the airport train station in Paris on Sunday morning, but we had a really great time together. I wish we could have stayed longer in each city, and even visited some more, but we had to come back to “reality” (for me, school two days per week – haha).

Since then, I have reunited with my friends, and have gotten to hear about all of their travels over reading break. I had a very busy week; got to see a play on Diderot, a French philosopher, had a delicious crepe night, went for lunch with friends and won a 4 hour game of risk (I conquered the world)! I visited with my host family yesterday, and got to see the movie The Artist. Then, I discovered peach beer at a cool Bar à Bières (beer bar), and will definitely have to go back!

Congratulations if you made it through this post, I know it was a long one, but it had been such a long time since I posted, so now you are all updated on my adventures in Europe!

PS – Most photos were taken by the amazing Kathleen (she deserves all the credit)!

Paris 2.0, Nantes & Amboise

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ll try to recap what I’ve been up to for the past two weeks. We had a special pasta night a few weeks ago, and invited the two guys in our residence to join! It was fun, but kind of chaotic to make pasta, garlic bread and salad for 6 people in a tiny kitchen with only 3 hot plates! We had a great time, anyway!

On Friday (the 3rd), before I left for Paris, my friend got free tickets to Cirque du Soleil since one of her friend’s is in Cirque. We headed to the stadium in Nantes, and got to go through the VIP entrance. We had great seats and I loved the show! It was amazing to see the crazy acts, hear great music, and just be amazed throughout the show by the talent and acrobatics. After the show, we waited to meet with my friend’s friend, and got to go backstage, which was super neat to see the set-up and some costumes. It turns out that it was someone’s birthday, so they had lots of champagne and cake, so we got to have some with them! We were then able to take their tour bus with them to downtown, so we stayed out at the Irish pub for a while with a bunch of Cirque du Soleil guys! It was amazing, and I really didn’t expect it to turn into such an unforgettable night!

The next morning, I had to catch an early train to Paris where I was meeting my friend Brianna! I made it there a few minutes late, but we were both so excited to see each other when we met up in the train station. We had a great time in Paris. It was nice, since she had already been before, so we really got the chance to explore and to take our time walking down the streets and enjoying great food!

On our first day, we headed to Notre Dame, and went inside. It was really cold out the whole weekend, but the sky was nice and blue, which made it a bit more pleasant.

We walked around some shops, ate some delicious quiche and omelets and made our way to the Eiffel tower. We had both already been up, so we just decided to walk along les Champs de Mars to get a good look at it.

We made our way to les Champs Elysées and obviously stopped at Ladurée. It was busy again, but was delicious! We walked up and crossed the huge roundabout by going underground (which I had not realized last time I was there). It was amazing to see the Arc de Triomphe up close, because it is absolutely huge (164 feet tall)! We made our way up to the top by climbing 284 steps, but got to see amazing views of the arrondissements and the Eiffel Tower from far. The metro stop here is called Étoile because when you’re at the top, you can see all 12 arrondissements coming out from the Arc de Triomphe, which looks like a star.

After the Arc, we headed back to our hostel (which was the same one that I stayed at last time in Paris). We met some cool people, and went out for dinner with a guy from Australia to a cute little restaurant where we had snails and a cod and potato dish. It was delicious! We made our way back pretty early, and had some macarons before going to bed early.

On our second day, it was Sunday, February 5th, which was the first Sunday of the month. This means: free museum entrance!!! We took advantage of it and planned our day around museums! We had planned on visiting Versailles, the Louvre and d’Orsay. However, on our way to Versailles, the metro broke down, and we waited about 30 minutes while they were trying to repair the tracks. After that, we decided that we didn’t want to wait anymore, because it was freezing, and we had no idea how long it would take. We walked up to street level, and found our way to the next station where we decided to go to the Louvre instead. When we got there, the line was quite long (since it was, after all, free museum day), but we made it worthwhile!

It was great to visit the Louvre with Brianna, since she has Fine Arts degree, and she was able to explain a lot of the pieces, and especially the sculptures. I really enjoyed seeing them in a different way! We got to see all of the famous paintings, and spent lots of time in the Greek & Roman Antiquities and Sculptures section.

I really loved this one, because she was a female geometer, and I want to be a math teacher :)

After spending 4 hours at the Louvre, we went for a quick lunch, and waited in a long line at le Musée d’Orsay. It was worth it, because we got to see some great paintings of Monet, Renoir and Degas which I hadn’t seen last time I was there!

After going back to our hostel for a little break, we made our way to Montmartre! I was so excited, because I hadn’t been before, and was really looking forward to seeing Sacré Coeur and Moulin Rouge. We got off the metro, and explored a bit before making our way up the stairs to the Basilica. We were pretty sore from the Arc de Triomphe the previous day, but it was absolutely worth it! The sun had just set, so the sky was a very dark blue, and we could see the Eiffel Tower through the trees all lit up with a pink sky behind it.

We went to another cute French restaurant and walked near the Moulin Rouge! It was a crazy walk there from the restaurant to the Cabaret, and was even more interesting at night – some questionable stores!!

The next day, we had to pack up, but had the day to visit some more sights of Paris. We visited l’Orangerie, which has 8 of Claude Monet’s Nymphéas. I loved it! They are amazing! Click here for a virtual tour, and then select “Salle 1” and “Salle 2” to see the expositions. Monet designed the water lilies from 1914 until 1926. They are inspired by the water garden at his property in Giverny. From 1886, Monet became more interested in representing his garden according to the rhythm of light variations. Afterwards, we walked near la Place de la Concorde, and got to see the Pont Alexandre III and the Eiffel Tower.

We also visited the Sainte Chapelle, which has stained glass on every side of the chapel! It was beautiful, but so cold!!

We came back to Nantes late on Monday night since the trains were delayed because of “extreme weather conditions” aka 2 cm of snow and had to reduce their speed. On Tuesday, Brianna came to class on with me, and we had a delicious dinner at Tant’tra. On Wednesday, we got to tour Nantes, and on Thursday, had pasta night :)

We went to the city of Amboise on Saturday where we got to see the Château d’Amboise, which was gorgeous. Amboise was the principal settlement of the Celtic Turones tribe, from which Touraine gets its name. The castle fortifications were gradually built up overlooking the Loire river. In 1413, Louis d’Amboise is condemned to death and must relinquish his Château d’Amboise to Charles VII.

Amboise is the first expression of Renaissance in the Loire valley as Charles VIII ordered the constuction of the St Hubert chapel and the royal wings of the castle. They were all built in flamboyant gothic style, and later, under François I, the buildings were developed in italian renaissance style.

We spent lots of time exploring the castle with our audioguides and got to learn so much about French history and Amboise. We warmed up inside the castle at one of the fireplaces that had wood burning inside. It was so warm!

One very distinctive fact about Amboise is that in 1516, Leonardo da Vinci was invited to join the French court at Amboise. He was installed in the manor of Clos Lucé and devoted his time to drawing and teaching. He died in his Amboise manor on May 2 1519 and was interred at the Château d’Amboise. We got to see his tomb, and next up we visited his manor, le Clos Lucé.

We got to see where Leonardo da Vinci slept, and where he lived for the last three years of his life. From his bedroom window, you can see the Château d’Amboise, and there was even an underground tunnel connecting the two. There was also an exposition that featured many of da Vinci’s invetions. We saw some really great ones such as a hang glider (similar to a helicopter), parachute, hydraulic pumps, water wheel, steam cannon, ball bearings and more!

We had a great day, overall, and it was fun to discover another city of France on our last day together. We got back quite late (since our train was delayed), and we said our goodbyes the next morning. It was really great to have her over, and to get to visit France together – something we’d been talking about for years!

This week, I had two midterms, and our reading week starts tomorrow! I am really excited to have another week off school (even though it feels like we just got back from our one month break). My friend Kathleen is arriving on Saturday, and I am so excited to meet her at the Nantes train station. We’re going to spend a couple days in Nantes, then spend the rest of the week in Venice, Italy and Paris! I hope we get to reenact our time at the Masquerade ball in 2008 and find some great masks!

Until next time!

-Evana xo


It’s been way to long since I’ve posted, but I will try my best to recap my amazing trip to Belgium! Dominique, Tori, Erika and I went on January 20-23, and it was only planned about 1.5 weeks ahead of time. We were really excited to try out some Belgian chocolates, waffles, fries and beer. Belgium did not disapoint!!

We took the train to Paris, had to transfer stations, and trained all the way to Brussels, Belgium. The train ride lasted about 5 hours, and went by really quickly. We arrived around 1PM on Friday, and headed downtown to visit the chocolate museum. Unfortunately it was closed, but we decided to take some pictures of the main square: Grand Place andwalk down a tiny street to visit some chocolate shops.

We stopped in the first one, tried a few chocolates, and bought a few, and then went next door to the next chocolate shop. Pretty soon, we had gone down about 100 meters, but we ended up going into close to 20 chocolate shops! It felt like Halloween with our bags of chocolates.

After spending what felt like hours going through the chocolate shops and souvenir shops, we decided to visit a pub and try some Belgian beer. I tried a trappist beer: La Trappe Trippel, which was recommended by the bartender. It was pretty good and cheap too :) Afterwards, we decided to visit a few more chocolate shops on our way back to the hostel. I found my favourite: Neuhaus. They had such good chocolates, and allowed us to try any one for free! We saw some pretty cool shops, and saw some that were called “Chocoholic”, “Chocopolis”, “Planete Chocolat”… Yep, here we’re kissing the chocolate elephant, and you can see our bags of chocolate!

We stopped to get waffles, and made our way back to our hostel, full, but so excited to look through our chocolates. Some of our chocolates from the first night:

On Saturday, we sought out to see most of the “touristy” spots of Brussels, and we got so much done! We visited the chocolate museum after grabbing breakfast on the go, and enjoyed watching the old man doing the demonstration. He kept saying: “30 minutes, and it’s okay”, “toc, toc, toc, and it’s okay!” when talking about making the pralinés. We visited Mannekin Pis (which was so crazy with tourists trying to take a picture of a little boy peeing?), the lace museum, more chocolate shops, and then headed to Mr Falafel (4 euro falafel, which was so good), and then to Cantillon Brewery.

Cantillon Brewery is a family owned business that produces its beer with equipment dating from the 19th century. It is the last traditional brewery in Brussels. They are famous for their mysterious beer: Lambic. One of the most particular steps of the brewing process is the spontaneous fermentation. The beer is placed into a red copper vessel (that has not been welded) which holds up to 7500 litres of wort (the first stage of beer). The cold season has a particular strain of airborne wild yeasts, and these micro-organisms cause spontaneous fermentation in the oak barrels. Until 1860, when Pasteur made important discoveries regarding yeasts, all beer was produced by spontaneous fermentation. Today, only Lambic beer is still produced this way. After a few days, the reaction of wild yeasts and sugars cause the spontaneous fermentation which is violent and visible. They cannot close the barrels for fear of explosion – a whitish foam comes out of the barrel, and about 5-10 litres of wort per barrel are lost due to this fermentation process.We were actually able to see and hear some of the spontaneous fermentation take place.

We were able to try the gueuze beer, which is a blend of 1, 2, and 3-year old lambics, fermented in the bottle. They blend these three kinds so that there is some carbonation due to the various stages of fermentation (since liquids maturing in wooden barrels aren’t bubbly). This beer was so sour, it was really hard to finish. We also got to try the Rosé de Gambrinus, a two-year old lambic blended with raspberries. It was still sour, but tasted almost like cherry blasters!

After our brewery tour, we went to Vitalgauffre, which was recommended to us by our hostel as the best place for waffles. They were absolutely right. The waffles here have their flavourings cooked inside. For example, the apple cinnamon waffle is green, and has apple puree and cinnamon baked inside. The chocolate waffle is just a vanilla waffle which is cooked and then they insert chocolate into the little waffle ridges. It was amazing! Look closely at the waffle in this picture; you can see a piece of chocolate sticking out of the middle ridge. YUM!

We then made it to Planète Chocolat, a chocolate shop that had a workshop in the back. We made it for one of their demonstrations where we got to learn more about chocolate, taste chocolate, hot chocolate, and my friend Erika got to make some pralinés! In case you don’t know what a praliné is, let me just say that it is the best kind of chocolate in the world! To make pralinés, you first take a chocolate mold, place chocolate in the mold, run a spatula over it to remove the excess, then vibrate the mold to remove air bubbles. Then, you turn the mold over so that the chocolate runs out, and all that is left is a small shell of chocolate on the inside of the mold. The next step is to let it cool for 30 minutes, and “it’s okay” (it’s ready). You just flip over the mold, and chocolate shells come out! You can then fill them with whatever you want, but the best is praliné: a combination of hazelnuts, chocolate and sugar. You make this by roasting hazelnuts, covering them in syrup to candy them, grind these up, and mix it with milk chocolate – voilà, pralinés!

On Sunday, we took a day trip to Bruges, which was about an hour away by train. We ran into a pilot who was from Florida, worked out of New York and was in Belgium to meet family. He told us that the proper pronunciation of Bruges (which I would pronounce broo-je) in Flemish is brœkh-uh (so rough-sounding). We went to de Halve Maan Brewery, which has been active since 1856, and is today the only remaining brewery in the centre of Bruges. We went through the brewery for a funny tour, and made it to the top with a beautiful view of the city:

We got the chance to try out the Brugse Zot which is a goldenblond beer with a rich froth and a fruity flavouring. The beer is brewed with four different kinds of malt and two aromatic varieties of hop which give the beer its unique taste. However, we hadn’t had lunch yet by 1PM, and got to try a glass of Brugse Zot, so we were feeling good!

We stopped for some fish and chips, more chocolate shops, and I found my favourite chocolate shop called Pralinette. We walked around the city some more (it was so cute!) and visited the Market Square:

We then visited another chocolate museum and a fry museum!

The fry museum was especially fun, since it was a museum about potatoes, and french fries. It was neat to read up about the origins of the potato, and why French fries are named French fries! For example, did you know that if you make a mixture of grated potato, a few drops of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of sunflower oil, and soak cotton balls in the mixture to place under your eyes, they will reduce circles under the eyes! Also, grated potato and a small quantity of olive oil will help ease the pain of a burn on your hand. It is hard to determine the origin of fries, but it is said that Belgians “created” fries since they were used to fishing, but in the winters, the rivers were frozen, so they would cut potatoes into slices resembling fish and fry them! However, we started saying “French Fries” in WWI when some French-speaking Belgian soldiers offered some chips to the American soldiers. The American soldiers thought that the Belgian soldiers were French, and so they called them “French Fries”. We made our way downstairs to the fry shop below the museum, and tried some “Belgian French Fries” :)

After eating way more than we thought possible, we took the train back to Brussels, and called it a night!

On our last day, we wanted to go to the European Union Parliament, but it was not open in time (since we had a train to catch). So we decided to do some more shopping, and more chocolate shopping. We had lots of time to look around, and went for a thai lunch (right in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year), and all of a sudden, we were running late! We got to our hostel, grabbed our bags, and as soon as we got out, it started raining out. We caught the tram to the train station, and literally ran through the train station to find our platform, and hopped on the train with about 3 minutes to spare. It was absolutely insane. We can’t understand how we went from having lots of time, to all of a sudden RUNNING to catch our train! I think I know why – the chocolate shops were everywhere!!

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. It might sound like I just talked about food this entire blog post, but that is honestly the best way to recap our weekend. We truly enjoyed ourselves!

Since then, I spent the week in Nantes, and it’s been great to be back! I got to see my host family for the first time in almost two months, celebrated a friend’s birthday bowling and to the Irish pub, and worked on some schoolwork.

My next trip is happening on Saturday, where I’ll be heading to Paris to meet up with my friend Brianna (from home). Can’t wait!

Swiss Alps, Swiss Chocolate & Swiss Chalet!

I just got back from an amazing weekend away — to Geneva, Switzerland! My friends and I booked the trip a while ago last semester, but it was something I got to look forward to after my Christmas break. But first, I want to write a bit about last week. It was a great first week back. I got to do some shopping in Nantes (sales!!), went for a really nice dinner at Tantra, a French restaurant in Nantes, saw a great movie (Les Intouchables), had some good classes, booked a trip to Belgium, and got to see all of my friends again! It feels like I never left Nantes. I’m glad to be back, spending time with my friends, and getting back into my French routines. I am really appreciating the French wine prices again :P

On Friday, Ruth, Jody, Dominique and I headed off to the Nantes airport to board our plane to Geneva, Switzerland. We had heard that it isn’t one of the best places to visit in Switzerland, but we had a must-see list, and great attitudes. It was an unforgettable weekend. We checked into our hotel, which turned out to be really nice, and in a perfect location, and headed out for dinner. We went to a delicious Indian restaurant, walked through the city, and had some nice hot chocolate before making it back to our hotel.

On our second day there, we had a delicious breakfast at our hotel of croissants, bread, jams, cheeses, coffee, hot chocolate, it was so good! We visited the tourism office and joined a tour of the old city. We were able to visit the old city, the big chess boards, the mur de la réforme, the city hall, la cathédrale St-Pierre.

It was a great opportunity to take some gorgeous pictures, and see more of the city. We got to see the longest bench in the world:

We then got our first taste of Swiss chocolate at a super cute chocolaterie in the old city. I had “trois frères” which was delicious!

Afterwards, we  decided to visit the archeological site under the St Peter’s cathedral. The archeological site is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It was started in 1976, and the archeologists discovered the remains of several preceding churches, the oldest of which dates from the 4th century.

We also went up the two towers of the St Peter’s cathedral, and got to see some amazing views of Lac Léman, Geneva and the alps.

We also visited the reformation museum which presented information on Martin Luther and John Calvin, who was born in Geneva. When the protestants came into Geneva, they had to “build up” the houses. That is, they added one or two floors above the existing buildings to accommodate the incoming population of protestants. We could really see this throughout the city!

We crossed the city to visit the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva:

It was unfortunate, but the offices are closed on the weekend, so we weren’t able to visit inside. I guess we’ll just have to make another trip to Geneva another time!

Ruth and I decided to go for a “Swiss” dinner, and went to a restaurant called “Chez ma cousine” that our hotel receptionist recommended as a cheap but delicious dinner. We made our way there after taking a 10 minute bus ride, hoping that we were going in the right direction. Once we got there, we sat down, ordered a half-chicken dinner each, and literally five minutes later, we were presented with a platter with our chicken, potato wedges, a big bowl of salad and some bread. It was so delicious! The chicken was good!!! It was exactly like a Swiss Chalet, but it was actually swiss :)

The next day, we took a trip to Mont Salève, on the French border, and went up the téléphérique.

It was absolutely incredible. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the view was, and was so happy to be there :) It was definitely the highlight of my weekend. I wish you all could have been there to experience the sights and to feel how incredible it was to be up there. After making our way back down, we had some super rich hot chocolate and made our way back to our hotel to warm up for a bit.

Dominique and I went to the Clock museum (Musée de l’Horlogerie), and got a chance to see watchmaking in Geneva throughout the years. We saw some miniature enamel paintings, intricate watches, and cool jewellery.

We went back out for dinner to an Italian restaurant that had cheap take-out pizza, and we were watching the guys make pizzas so they asked Ruth if she wanted to go in the kitchen part to pull the pizzas out of the stone oven – so cool! We had quite a laugh, and enjoyed our pizza before going to get some ice cream (despite the cold). We had a great time singing to musicals and chatting in our hotel room before heading to bed after a wonderful day.

This morning, we woke up early, enjoyed another delicious breakfast, and tried to get more touring done before we had to fly out of Geneva. We decided to ride the “mouettes” (aka water-taxis) since we had a public transit pass (it was free once we checked in to our hotel, and lasted the whole weekend!!).

We bought some more Swiss chocolate, and made our way to the airport! It was an absolutely amazing weekend. I will forever remember the amazing experience of climbing Mont Salève and seeing the alps, eating delicious Swiss Chalet chicken and singing “What is this feeling?” and “Let It Be” (Jody – skip to 2:30 for our favourite part!) in our hotel room. Great weekend ladies :)


UPDATE: Here is a video compilation of our fabulous weekend in Switzerland. Enjoy!

-Evana xo

I’m back!!

Hello everyone!

I’m back in Nantes and all settled in again. I had a wonderful time at home for Christmas – it was so nice to see everyone, and to be around family and friends. This time when I was coming to France, it was a completely different feeling than in September. When I came over the first time, I had no idea what to expect, and was a little bit nervous. This time, I was so excited to be back, to see my friends, be in my new city, and to start off the new year! My flights were fine, and much easier than my trip back to Canada. I was on the same plane as the Russian Jr Hockey team, which was kind of neat! It has been harder this time to adjust to the jet-lag, but I will try to correct that tomorrow! The weather in Nantes is really nice. We got here and it was sunny, and felt like 10-15 degrees, it’s a nice change from the cold in Canada. My classes start on Tuesday, so I have one more day to get organized before things start. This upcoming weekend, I’ll be heading to Geneva, Switzerland for a trip with some of my friends, and am looking forward to doing some more traveling this year.

I hope you all had wonderful holidays! Keep checking for some more updates on my adventures this year!

-Evana xo


Ireland & Canada :)

Hello from Canada :) I am back home in Canada for a little vacation, and had written a blog post documenting my Ireland trip when I was  waiting at the airport on Wednesday, December 14th, here it is:


So much has happened since I last wrote! I was off to Ireland on Saturday morning. I got to the airport without any problems, and boarded my Ryanair flight. Unfortunately, it was running about 10 minutes late, so we had to wait a little while. The ride itself was okay, it was a bit turbulent, but we were really happy when we landed. We got to Dublin at about 3:00, and took the shuttle to our hostel. It turned out to be a really great hostel. The rooms were clean, there was a huge common room, free breakfast, and it was very safe, and close to the Temple Bar area. What’s even better, is that hostels in Dublin are some of the cheapest I’ve been in. They were much cheaper than Paris, and especially Switzerland (which is my next trip after Christmas), so I was pleasantly surprised with the quality given the cheap price!

I had done some research about the places that we wanted to visit, and knew that the Book of Kells wasn’t available to visit on the Monday that we were there, so we wanted to fit that in as soon as we could on Saturday. Pretty much as soon as we dropped our stuff off at our hostel, we went off to find Trinity College. It was absolutely beautiful, and the Christmas decorations in the city were gorgeous. The Book of Kells was located in the library, and it was absolutely amazing. I didn’t know much about what to expect, but the Book of Kells was in its own room, and the illustrations were really nice. After seeing the Book, we got to see the Long Room, which I thought was even more amazing than the book itself. The Long Room is a huge old library, which holds some of the library’s 200 000 oldest books. It was actually breathtaking. I can’t imagine ever coming into that library just to read, or to get a book. Pictures weren’t allowed because of the fragility of the books.

We got to see Trinity College at just the right time, because as soon as we finished touring, the exhibit closed for the night. At this point, there were quite a few students from Nantes on our trip: Victoria, Sarah, Ruth and I were traveling together and staying in the same hostel; Jody, Nicole and Michelle were also in Dublin for Saturday night, but were off to Munich the next night; and Siobhain came to Dublin for the weekend to visit some family. We were a huge group! We went to Leo Burdock’s fish and chips after lots of recommendations, and we were not disappointed.

We didn’t have too much of a hard time finding it, and when we did, we didn’t quite know what to get. A man behind us in line was kind enough to recommend the cod, which I tried. But I did not expect to receive what I did. It was great! They wrapped my huge piece of fish and a huge pile of chips in paper, then stuffed it into a brown paper bag. The bag was so heavy, there was so much food, and it was really warm! We went near Christ Church Cathedral to eat our fish and chips, and pretty much all devoured it. Everyone was really impressed with the fish, and I was so happy to be eating it, although it was hard to finish!

After our delicious meal, we were getting cold, so we went to a cute bar for hot cider, which really warmed us up.

We went back to our hostels to freshen up, and we were off to Temple Bar. It was SO MUCH FUN! It was our friend Jody’s birthday on Sunday, so we were celebrating a day early before she was off the next day. At first it was unbelievable. We couldn’t even find each other in the bar, it was so packed. I couldn’t believe it – I had never been in a bar so full, but also full of happy people. Everyone was pretty drunk, but looked so happy, and there was cool music and Christmas decorations up!

We stayed for a while, and although someone bought me some drinks, it was pretty expensive and touristy, so we went off to try to find another bar. By then, we had no idea where we were going, and all of the bars that we went to had lots of old men in them, and didn’t look like much fun, so we ended up going back to Temple Bar. This time, we knew more about the layout, and made our way to a different area and got some more drinks. We got to talk with some guys, and had a really great time! I ended up getting home at 5 AM, it was absolutely insane, but such a fun night!!!

The next morning, I was up early and so excited to start my day. I had planned to meet my great aunt Deirdre, and her family, and spend the day with them. I found the tram stop without any problems, and made my way to the red cow tram stop. It was neat to be on the tram, and to hear all of the stop names in English and in Gaelic. When I got to the red cow stop, we recognized each other right away. It felt like we had known each other for a while, and we had talked the whole way to Rathangan, the small town where Deirdre lives. There, she lives with her husband Andy, her daughter Lisa and Richard (who are off to University in Galway and Dublin), and I got to meet her other daughter Laura. What was especially special was getting to meet my great grandmother Helen. She was absolutely adorable, and so sweet. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet some more family members, and I really had a wonderful day getting to know them, and seeing a bit of the Irish countryside. Thanks again Deirdre!!

When I got home, my friends had just gotten back from dinner, and we met our new roommates in our hostel, two German girls from Mainz. They were so nice and adorable! We talked for quite a while, and ended up staying in, since we were all exhausted from the day before!

On Monday morning, we woke up early, actually earlier than we should have. Since Ireland is one hour behind France time, I had only switched back my watch, and left my phone as France time, so when I set my alarm clock for 7am, it was actually only 6am in Dublin. I was all ready when I realized that I was one hour early!! Oh well, I got to take my time eating breakfast. We had lots to accomplish on Monday, since it was our only day touring the city. We first headed to Christ Church Cathedral, which was a huge cathedral.

The inside was very beautiful, with nice and intricate stained glass, and the floors were amazing! The style of the cathedral seemed quite Celtic, which was quite different from the French cathedrals I’ve seen. We also got to visit the crypts, where we saw some old bibles, the cat and the rat and the costumes from the TV show The Tudors (since the series was filmed in Dublin, and Christ Church Cathedral).

We then visited the Dublin Castle. We decided to go on a guided tour of the State Appartments. My great grandmother said it was a really nice part of the castle, so I really wanted to see it. The tour was really informative, and we got to see some beautiful rooms. The best were the salon.

The salon was interesting because it was a large room lined with chairs and mirrors on the perimeter. This room was where the single ladies went when there was a party at the castle. They had to stay there until a guy came to ask them to dance, and if they were never asked, they had to stay there all night until it was ready to go home. It seemed so funny that things would happen this way! We also got to see the under croft of the castle, and got to see the foundation of the Powder Tower, the tower that held the gun powder, that was blown up because of a work accident. Other than that, the Record Tower is the only standing tower today.

After taking some photos in the Dublin Garden (named so because of the two words : Dubh Linn meaning Black Pool ), we went back to Leo Burdock’s for some more fish and chips! We decided to be a bit more reasonable and two of us shared a meal. It was a better portion, and we were able to finish it without feeling disgusting! Yum. This time, I tried the haddock, which I preferred over the cod. I can’t wait to go back and have more fish and chips!!

We visited the St Patrick’s Cathedral, some of the Dublin doors, and made our way over to the Guinness Storehouse.

The storehouse is like an exhibit/museum describing the entire brewing process of Guinness beer, as well as some historical advertisements, equipment and stuff. It was very cool to see, and the exhibit was really well laid out.

It was so interesting! Halfway through, we got to taste test a Guinness, which was pretty good. I had actually tried my first one on Saturday night at Temple Bar, and liked it more than I thought I would, although it was pretty strong. I’m getting more accustomed to the taste of beer since I’ve been introduced to Desperado in France (a beer with tequila in it). And, at the end of the tour, we made it up to the 7th floor of the Storehouse and got to the Gravity Bar, where we had a complimentary pint of Guinness. It was really cool how they poured it, and our bartender poured it in the shape of a shamrock, so you could see that in the head of the beer! It was so cool!

The gravity bar is a huge room at the top of the building that has floor to ceiling windows around the entire circular room. It was such an amazing view. We could see most of Dublin, and there were little bits of info on the windows in the direction of each attraction. For example, you could see Trinity College in the distance, and right above that direction, there was a little blurb about the College. I was pretty proud, because I was able to finish the pint of Guinness, but my friends weren’t as successful.

Afterwards, we went to the Jervis Street Shopping Centre, and found the biggest Forever 21 that I have ever seen! It was 4 floors, and I lost my friends in it. We went for dinner afterwards at a pub called the Merchant’s Arch, which was a really cute place right up the street from our hostel. There was a guy singing and playing the guitar, and he was absolutely amazing. He had such a nice voice. We sat up top, and had a perfect view of him singing. I ordered the steak pie, which was beef braised in Guinness, with a puff pastry crust, with mashed potatoes and vegetables. It was so good, and felt like such good comfort food.

We went back to Temple Bar afterwards for a drink, and it felt like a completely different bar. It was Monday, after all, but the atmosphere was completely different. People were sitting at tables, and we could actually make out the floor, and make our way to the bar really easily. We managed to get five chairs, and stayed there for a little bit. We all had an early night, so we decided to get some sleep before our 7AM flight.

Our flight on the way home was also okay, but much more turbulent – the landing was scary. But before we left, we saw SNOW! It was snowing in Dublin, and we were so excited!!!! It really is starting to feel like Christmas J When we walked out to the plane, though, it was so windy, and we were hit with the realization that it’s going to be much colder back home. It was definitely the coldest I’ve felt since last winter, brrr!  When we got back to Nantes, however, it was about 10 degrees, and it felt SO warm. It was also only about 11 AM when we got to our residence rooms. I got started on my packing, cleaned my room and had an early night.

As I am writing this, it is 2AM on Thursday, December 15th, and I am sitting in the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris. Victoria and I left Nantes at 6PM today to catch our train from Nantes to Paris, and we’ve been in the airport ever since 9 PM. We decided to spend the night in the airport to save money and to save time, because of flight leaves at 8:55 AM, and there were no trains that would get us here in time. We only have about 5 hours until we can check in, and then we will definitely be sleeping on the plane. So far, it hasn’t been bad at all. We managed to get to the right terminal, found some comfy arm chairs and watched a movie, took a little nap, and here I am! Hopefully the Starbucks that we’re sitting beside will open up really early, and we can get a boost from coffee. At least we’re all stocked up on movies and snacks, so we’ll be good for another 5 hours.

In 19 hours, I will land in Canada, and am beyond excited. I can’t believe that it’s been just over 100 days since I left to come to Nantes. It has been the most wonderful and amazing experience that I have ever had. I am so happy that I chose to come on exchange, and am so grateful that I’ve had this opportunity. It has really allowed me to get out of my comfort zone, and to travel more than I would have ever imagined. I’ve been lucky enough to get to see Paris, Normandy, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, the Loire Valley Castles, Mont St-Michel, and a few cities around Nantes in just over three months. It has truly been amazing! Some people in my residence are leaving after just 4 months, and I am so happy that our program lasts 8 months. I am not ready to move back home quite yet. It feels like I just got here, and even though I will be so unbelievably happy to be home for three weeks for Christmas, I will also be really happy to be back in Nantes. It really is a beautiful city, and it definitely feels like my second home.

I’m not sure how often I will post during my holidays back home, but I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!!


I am so happy to finally be back after a long trip home. I caught a cold, but am making the most of my time at home to visit friends and family. In just two days, I’ll be celebrating four Christmases with my families, and am so excited and thankful for the opportunity to be home for the holidays. It feels so nice to be surrounded by all of my family, and to get a taste of home before I start off my second term in France. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and enjoy Christmas with your families!

Merry Christmas,

Evana xo


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