There and Back Again: Prague

“I keep going back as if I’m looking for something I have lost”–Heather Nova

So there were two repeat cities on my trip. However, one was more repetition than the other. I’ve been to Prague twice already.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a place you’ve been before. Honestly, I wouldn’t be on this voyage at all if I didn’t love France and it is technically my fifth time in the country…and my fourth time “living” here.

My first time visiting Prague was in 2011 with my high school orchestra. We did a European tour where we played in three cities and had chances to explore and see some of Europe too. I had a walking tour and saw most of the main sites then.


First time in Prague!

My second time was with a friend during study abroad in 2014. Like this trip, we’d decided to do a two week Eurail journey. Prague was a good stopping point, and since she’d never been there it made sense. We only spent a day there, and since she had never been to Prague we again stopped by most of the main sites. Also apparently there are NO pictures of me. Not sure why. Guess pics or it didn’t happen? So I’ve only been to Prague twice? Well, regardless you’ll just have to trust me.

So third time in Prague? What to do? Well, when I’ve visited Paris again I usually try to go see new things. I had a friend comment that she was sick of going to Paris. She’d already seen the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and seemed to imply that was all there was to see. I disagree. There are so many museums in the city. So many different historical sites that are off the beaten path. And I’m sure the same goes for a big city like Prague… it’s only a matter of knowing what they are.


3rd time in Prague. Hair is blocking the “Praha” part of the sign.

I admit I didn’t research as well as I probably should have, so when I arrived in Prague the first thing that sprang to mind was the big museum on Wenceslas Square. The first time I’d been there our guide had pointed it out. Sounded interesting to me.

So I arrived at my hostel early that afternoon. They’d mentioned free walking tours on their website, so I asked at the front desk. “Oh sorry those leave at two.”

I looked at the clock. It was well after two. Oh well, I’d seen most of the points they’d probably cover anyways.

I relaxed in my room for a bit. Oh my goodness, my cheapest hostel but the nicest by far. Looked more like a hotel with bunk beds than a hostel. Anyhow, so if anyone is looking for a good centrally located hostel for not too much money and a free breakfast I invite you to check out Hostel Orange. Perfect location!


Wenceslas Square!

Anyhow, I set out after a quick break to go check out the National Museum on Wenceslas Square. It’s a big square, so it probably was still two blocks from my hostel crazily enough. I arrived and was confused that I didn’t see any entrances into the building. It looked like they were doing construction, so I didn’t understand why there weren’t signs telling tourists what entrance to use.

I walked a little more and noticed a newer building that had signs about being the National Museum. I perked up and headed towards that, glancing at the prices and pulling out enough Czech crowns before heading in.

I asked the lady for a ticket and she looked at me blandly and handed over two pamphlets.

“You can only visit these special exhibitions.”

I frowned and looked them over. One was on fashion and the other on Noah’s Ark. Perhaps interesting, but not what I’d come to see.

“But I want a ticket for the main museum,” I explained.

“This is all that is open right now,” she said pursing her lips.

I thanked her and turned to the door, feeling utterly confused.

Looked it up later. The museum is closed for renovations other than special exhibitions and has been since 2011. It’s supposed to open in 2018. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. So to anyone going to Prague in the next few years. Don’t try to go to this museum.

Although I did look it up and there are other museums that are housing some of the collections right now, so check out the list and see if any match your interests.

Well with that not a possibility,  I walked back into the square trying to think of what I else I knew there was to do in Prague. I knew there was a Museum of Communism, which honestly was a very relevant topic to the city and I figured it might be worth trying.

So off I headed in search of this other museum.

The Museum of Communism was interesting, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend especially if you haven’t seen the main things (IE Old Town, Prague Castle, St. Charle’s Bridge, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the astronomical clock tower, etc). It’s not really a very modern looking museum. Most of the signage is pretty outdated and it’s mostly just a lot of reading rather than anything more visually interesting. I know I know, I’ve been spoiled by some really nice museums, so when I get to the less fancy ones I’m always a little disappointed.

Again, a very relevant topic, however, so fellow people who’ve been to Prague more than once, yes you might want to check it out.

After that I simply walked around the old town a little. Bought some ice cream and relaxed. It was nice in some ways to be somewhere where I didn’t feel like I had to see everything. So I just enjoyed that no rush feel and let it carry me into the evening.

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I went to find a place to eat in the evening. I walked towards a restaurant my hostel had suggested. They provided me with a list which was awesome! I am in love with hostels that give you detailed information about what to see and do in a city. Nothing better than having some idea of what you might want to do…or eat!

Anyhow, I arrived and for some reason couldn’t find the restaurant. By the time I figured it out, I realized it looked to be more of a bar. Which wasn’t really what I was interested in for the evening. So I turned around and decided to try something else. That’s life traveling. You always have to be willing to be flexible.

Thanks to my list I knew there were several other places that were supposed to be good. Including a place on the Old Town Square itself!

It was called Staroměstská Restaurace. I had been told that if you eat on the terrace it’s twice as expensive. However, having taken out my normal budget in Czech Crowns (about 50-60 euros a night) I had quickly realized I wasn’t going to spend that because everything was much cheaper. So I was willing to sit on the terrace if need be. Only it was full, so I ended up inside. It was still a cute restaurant even without being out on the square. So I settled back and tried to decide what to eat.

The first time I was in Prague my tour group ate at a traditional restaurant one of our nights. I didn’t like the food very much. Which led me to a lifelong assumption that I didn’t like Czech food. The second time I visited Prague I convinced my travel friend that Czech food is awful. And we got Italian instead.

So I was hesitant to try Czech food, but I was trying to be brave and try things again, because I have found before that even if I didn’t like something initially…I might like it trying again.

So I looked over the menu and listed in the chef’s specialties was a “Moravian wedding plate” which sounded huge but also sounded like it would have a variety.

If you hadn’t noticed already, I haven’t been mentioning lunch at all. That’s because most days I haven’t been eating lunch. I usually am stuck on a train during lunch time, meaning I have to pay for more expensive and possibly not as tasty train food (also needing to leave my bags and things unattended at my seat), or wait and try to find something once I arrive, which cuts into my tour time. So I usually have been having some snacks on the train and then eating a lot for dinner. And in places like Germany and the Czech Republic, I can usually get large portions pretty easily and cheaply.


So I went ahead and ordered it anyways, figuring I’d probably be able to eat most. The plate included a quarter of a duck, bacon dumplings, bread dumplings, potato dumplings, smoked pork, roasted pork, and red and white cabbage.

And I asked the waiter what he recommended to drink and he just pointed at beer, so I ordered one of those too. I said small, so either this is what Czechs think is small, or he misunderstood, but regardless it was decent tasting and paired nicely with the meal.


Best meal of the trip so far! So incredible tasting. So just a reminder to readers to try things a second time, because sometimes you’ll change your mind. And also remember with food that sometimes a different restaurant can make a big difference!

After that I headed back to my hostel to get a good night’s sleep and tried to think about how to spend the rest of the crowns I’d withdrawn since I didn’t use all of them. For any wondering, Prague is cheap so you don’t need to take out as much money as you might in another big city…or just do a credit card…makes it easier.

Not a very full day, but regardless a good experience. Very glad I went to Prague. Maybe by the time I go back again that museum will finally be open.

And the next day is the real adventure… Bratislava.

A Stop in Dresden Doesn’t Hurt

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”-Ursula K. Le Guin

Honestly I didn’t have any great desire to go to Dresden. It really just was a logical place to stop between Hamburg and Prague. Although Prague was really just a logical place to rest between Hamburg and Budapest… wow. Essentially you can tell that I never ever want to do a night train again. (to be honest I had a bad experience, but I think if you do it better than I did and pay a little more you can actually have a quite nice time…but I don’t like spending more money and to use the Eurorail… again I’ll get to this in another post).


So I headed to Dresden out of hopes of not exhausting myself and thinking I’d at least be able to see something new.

I arrived in the afternoon and caught a tram over to the Neustadt where my hostel was located. I stayed at Lollis Homestay, and I might just rave about this hostel a little.

Again, I’ll need another post just on hostels to cover this accurately, but the main thing you should know is that I really enjoyed my time here. And the reason for that was simple. The hostel strove to create a good environment where you could meet people. And it was small enough that it could do so effectively. But I’ll mention more on that later.

After checking in I headed out to go to the Zwinger palace and museums. They are absolutely gorgeous buildings, but inside there are also three collections. A porcelain museum, a fine arts museum, and a museum of scientific instruments.


I was interested in both the porcelain and art museum. Figured I’d skip the science one. However, the tickets came bundled at a cheaper price, so I gave in and bought one for all three. I started with the porcelain. It was a giant collection, and I enjoyed seeing the variety. I can’t say I really took my time, but I did walk through the whole place and stop to examine some pieces n greater detail. Then from there I moved to the Old Masters art gallery.

I told my mom afterwards that I’d seen the cherubs painting from our local coffee shop. It sounds dumb, but one of my favorite coffee shops back in my hometown in the US had a replica of this painting (or the cherubs I should say) and had them sitting with coffee at a table. It no longer exists sadly as the shop closed down, but I loved that painting as a child. I never actually learned the name of the painting until now. So I present the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. Better known for its cherubs than the madonna of course!


This was the most famous work in the museum, but there were a few other pretty ones. All in all a nice collection and housed in such a beautiful place! I will mention you can feel free to roam the outside without paying. So for anyone not interested in the museums, you’re fine!

Last I stopped by the scientific instruments museum. I skimmed through it because I wasn’t all that interested in the content and was beginning to find myself zoning staring in display cases anyways.

So I headed out to go explore more of the city. It was beginning to get dark so I walked around downtown a little bit. I didn’t see quite as much as I wanted to, but I don’t know that I really would have wanted another day there since there weren’t a lot of other “major” sites to see. And I felt more self-conscious of my lack of German skills in a place like Dresden as well.


I picked up a few groceries at an incredibly busy grocery store. Like in France, Germany has a lot of places that are closed on Sundays meaning the few that aren’t are incredibly busy. After eating two warm and fresh rolls on my way out of the store, I headed back to my hostel. They were having a free dinner. Carrot ginger soup and spinach rolls. And it was an awesome experience. I talked with so many other people from a variety of other countries. It was a good chance to connect and eat delicious food.

So I chatted with a girl from Georgia (the country) and a Korean and two ex-British men who were now living on the continent. I was getting sleepy with the filling and warm meal so I couldn’t stay as long as I liked, but  it was a great experience nonetheless. If any are interested in staying in Dresden I really recommend Lollis Homestay. It’s a lovely place! Very eclectic and fun and wonderful to meet people. I’d say its only downside is it’s a little far from the old town. But if you’re into the newer town with all the bars and such it’s a good location. Just depends what you want!

Off to bed before leaving Germany to head for…Prague!

Hello Hamburg!

So day two of my incredible journey. Well two and three. Might as well just blog about my whole time in Hamburg in one go.

The train ride to Hamburg was much less eventful than the one to Cologne. Just was stuck next to a German boy with bad breath who kept coughing into his hands (why can’t European people use their arms like Americans do?). Oh and I also was squeezed onto the train with a crowd of people all trying to go to some convention in Dusseldorf. So I had to squeeze off because I was too uncomfortable to last for four hours and go hop on another car. It was much less crowded there. Sometimes people just move like sheep and all crowd in a space without paying attention.

Anyhow, once to Hamburg I headed straight to my hostel. Well, after a little bit of confusion over how the metro system works. No need to validate your ticket, which was very strange, and at first it can be hard to tell which line goes which directions, but at the station there is always something that shows the stops following. Once I figured that out it was much easier.

I decided to stay in Jugendherberge Hamburg Auf dem Stintfang. It’s a part of Hostel International, which I’ve enjoyed before, so I figured it should be good. What I wasn’t anticipating was a breathtaking view, pleasant facilities, and a delicious and filling breakfast all very close to the action and just a short walk to a metro stop! I think the only letdown was realizing there wasn’t any wifi. I usually don’t even bother to check because most places have it now a days, but if you need wifi…you’re in trouble in this hostel. Otherwise it is great. I enjoyed dinner there my second day. Very big filling and pretty tasty meal for only eight euros.

Regardless I checked in, used a small bit of time to recharge, before heading off to explore. I thought I’d go see the Miniature Wunderland, which is supposed to be an incredible collection of model trains and other mini figures etc. Anyhow, I took my time heading over to that, snapping pictures and enjoying the sights of the harbor. From what I saw of Hamburg, some of the best of it is just wandering and seeing the beautiful architecture, waterfront, and various sights.

I arrived at Miniature Wunderland, but unfortunately they told me it would be an hour wait to get in, because it’s a super popular attraction. Had I known, I would have booked tickets online, but it was too late by that time. I just said no thanks and walked out. I wasn’t going to spend an hour of my forty-eight (less actually) waiting in a room. No way.

So I set off to go see the Planten un Blomen. It’s a gigantic park in the middle of Hamburg with all kinds of flora. I took far too many pictures there, so I’ll try to only post a few…but it will be difficult. It was absolutely beautiful, and I’m sure it’s even better in spring and summer with the fountains going too!

After that it was getting dark and starting to rain, so I figured I’d head back towards my hostel where I had been recommended a restaurant for dinner.

My hostel had recommended Block Brau for good German food. It was also incredibly close, which was very convenient. I walked over from the metro. No English menu posted. My hostel had to know what they were doing though right? But I noticed unlike a lot of German restaurants that there was a person at a sort of front desk area, making it easy for me to at least ask if they had an English menu. So I went in and asked and said I wanted to eat there by myself.

Now the day before I’d sat at a table awkwardly by myself and had my dinner. I mean, I get a little anxious sometimes about what people think, so it can be uncomfortable eating alone. But I’ve started trying to not care because I’m a young single woman who still wants to enjoy life. And sometimes that just means enjoying a good meal by yourself.

Well…unfortunately in this case it didn’t. It meant they looked around the restaurant and saw nowhere to seat me, just as two German ladies walked up and asked for a table. So they asked them if I could join. I don’t speak German, but I could understand that much. And I stood there feeling pathetic and embarrassed while they talked and then they both smiled at me and motioned me after them.

I embarrassingly admitted I didn’t speak their language and they said they spoke a little English. I apologized and awkwardly sat down at the same table with them. They kindly offered me a seat where I could look out the window and see the river. I thanked them more than once and focused on looking at the English menu. I’m only a little embarrassed to say I ordered a hamburger. Honestly…it was too funny not to. And the restaurant listed it as a specialty. Had a beer too, even though I’m one of those people who doesn’t care much for beer. When in Germany…

Anyhow, I thanked the ladies again when I left, and then went back to my hostel to relax a little for the night, but not before taking a few night harbor pictures.


The next day I started by enjoying the lovely breakfast my hostel provided. There was meat, cheese, bread, fruit, yogurt, cereal, juice, and coffee all included in the price! So I definitely pigged out. My philosophy on food purchases while traveling is usually to make the most of included breakfast, buy a grocery store lunch, and eat out for dinner. Or sometimes I swap the first two. This trip I’ve been doing a lot of crackers and apples for lunch because I’ve hit awkward times for meals due to train rides. Saving money, but definitely ending up a little hungry at the end. So included breakfast can make a huge difference.

After breakfast I took the metro to the Rathaus, city hall where I was supposed to meet up with my walking tour. When I went to Berlin two years ago a girl in my hostel recommended Sandeman’s walking tour and I did it and LOVED it. Put Berlin on the map as one of my favorite cities for a long while. So I definitely wanted to check out the Hamburg Sandeman New Europe tour.

Definitely a good decision. Our guide was funny and insightful. He led us through the city helping to point out things I’d never have noticed just walking on my own. And relying only on tips, he clearly did his best to make it interesting and to be helpful. So at the end I was able to pay what I wanted to pay for his services. Makes it work very well!

We walked all over, but here are a few pictures of the different things we saw. If I was more into the party scene I would have been interested to see the evening tour covering the Rieperbahn which is a sort of party district…apparently quite famous.

After the three hour tour I headed to the hostel for a break, I was getting chilly and tired. So I recharged and then headed off in search of the International Maritime Museum.

Oh my goodness. I cannot begin to describe what an amazing museum it was. Ten floors of ship models and information on sailing and historical artifacts etc. I told my mother that only the main signs are in English, not each individual artifact, and I spent almost two hours there without being able to read everything. It’s an incredibly in depth museum, well worth the money and time in my opinion. Very nicely laid out and with great visuals. It looked like a great place for kids too.

I spent most of my day there and then headed back to the hostel for a dinner there. Figured I’d save money, be filled up, and not have to worry about getting put at a table with German people. Besides, who could resist the view! And the pumpkin soup they had turned out to be one of the most delicious things I’ve had so far on the trip!


Walked around a little at night to enjoy the lights. As I’m not a party person and alone to boot, I didn’t go check out any of the scene here in Hamburg, but it was quite active even early on a Saturday night, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing Hamburg is certainly the place to be!

Off to bed in my hostel. Hoping for a good day tomorrow as I head to Dresden!


The Adventure Begins: Cologne

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” -Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

So for any not keeping up with my blog, here’s a quick summary. I’m living in France for a year to teach English and now am on my fall break. So… what to do with two weeks without classes… how about travel?

Therefore I decided to purchase a Eurorail ticket and travel across Europe by train.

I’ll post another time on the ticket itself, because I think that deserves a blog, but for now I want to update friends and readers on what has been happening so far.

So first part of the journey was to head to Cologne, Germany. I’d tried to pick a large city not too far from my hometown, but far enough away that I likely wouldn’t do a weekend trip. Besides, I had some kind of an idea of grandeur when it came to Cologne, so I figured it was worth a shot.


My friend Chrystal and I started a tradition of doing a selfie at each train station you stop at, therefore commemorating the great European train route. So here’s the first one in my hometown!

I started my journey with a 6:30 AM train from my home town of Armentieres, to Lille the next major city. I have a train pass, so no need to use my Eurorail yet, which was part of why I’d left so early. See, if a Eurorail pass isn’t stamped it’s not valid. So I needed to ensure I had enough time to get my pass stamped before boarding my 8:08 train to Froyennes, Belgium.

Well, I arrived in Lille with no problems and headed straight for the train office. And it was… dark. The doors were closed and no one was in there. I stared at the sign listing the hours and noted it didn’t open until 9:30! My train would have come and gone by the time I could get my pass activated.

Feeling a little panicked I decided that if the station I was at wasn’t open, maybe the bigger “mainline” station would be. So I hopped on the metro and rode to the next stop (they are very close making it easy) and sure enough the office was open.

Walked back to the station with my pass in hand, only to walk by the office again and notice it was open! Looks like I misread the times and if I’d waited just a little longer I would have been fine. Oh well.

So my first train was to Froyennes about 30 minutes away. I sat back and relaxed for a bit with some coffee. I was surprised to see that a large crowd gathered at the doors when we stopped. I didn’t think Froyennes was very big, but I happily followed after them.


They all headed confidently down the railway platform to a door and disappeared inside. Assuming it was the train station, I followed after, delighted by the thought of going inside since it had begun to rain. I followed them through the door into…

A field.

It looked like a door but it was more like a gate. Walking through it simply led to a field with trees and small dirt path.

I looked around and tried to figure out where all the people were going. I didn’t see any train station anywhere nearby, and beyond the trees simply seemed too far.

It began to rain harder.

I did my best to keep my calm. The rain was pouring down and all the people had long since disappeared into the trees. I looked around and saw nothing. No buildings. No cars. I wasn’t even sure what part of Belgium I was in and whether I could use French with the people or would encounter Flemish speaking ones instead. I did my best to breathe as I fought for a solution.

I looked on my map on my phone and it provided no clues as to whether there was an actual train station building or not. I walked back to the platform, wondering how people could possibly know when to come to catch a train without at least a reader board.

And that’s when I saw it.

A dusty old plaque listing the various trains and when they would come and what platform to wait for them at. I crossed my fingers and headed to the first platform, huddling in a concrete shelter out of the rain and hoping the train would come.

Thankfully a few minutes later a train pulled up. I stepped on, figuring if nothing else maybe it would get me to a bigger city. I sat down and took a deep breath.

The hard part wasn’t over. On the right train or not, I had one more transfer in order to make it to Cologne for the night. And this was the tricky one. Ten minute transfer time.

I’ll write a post on Eurorail passes, as I said, but the thing to know is that you cannot get on just any train with a Eurorail pass. You must only use trains that do not require reservations, unless you book an extra reservation yourself. As a result, some of the means of getting to and from places can be tricky. But I was willing to try.

I arrived in Brussels and bolted for station to try to see where I should go. Thankfully, unlike the little rural station, this one had a reader board and I saw my train and the platform where I should go. I made it with a few minutes to spare!

The next challenge was finding seats. Some trains have a reservation “option” therefore, you must find a seat that is not reserved. But how do you tell? Most of the seats had the word Reserviert above them. Thankfully, a British couple behind me was struggling as well, so we figured it out together. As long as it doesn’t say a city name on it, you’re good.

So I sat down for a long ride, munching some snacks I’d brought along. It was nice to know I was on my way to Cologne and the hardest parts were over.

I arrived in the city and walked out to find the most amazing site. The Cologne Cathedral sits right in front of the main station. And there it was in all its glory. It was pouring rain, but I snapped a few photos nonetheless, promising to come back later to see inside. For the moment I simply wanted to get my luggage to my hostel, because even with packing somewhat light, lugging a backpack with all your clothes around just doesn’t make for good sight seeing.


I arrived at the Cologne Downtown Hostel a little early, but they let me sit and wait until my room was ready to check in. For anyone looking for a hostel close to the city center, I highly recommend this one. Friendly staff, good level of cleanliness, and a good atmosphere!

So with umbrella in hand I set out to see more of Cologne.

The cathedral was my first destination. I walked in and enjoyed gazing up at the high ceilings in awe with the other tourists. It’s a very beautiful church, one I highly recommend seeing if you’re in town.


After that I tried going to the perfume museum. That seemed appropriate given the location. However, they required a scheduled tour, and the only ones they had available for the day were in Portuguese or Chinese.

So it was off to Plan B. Wallraf-Richartz Museum.

It’s nothing fancy, just a decent sized collection of art work from medieval times up until the 20th century. It has a few Van Gogh and Rodin pieces, and was one of the better ranked museums on Tripadvisor. Besides, it was raining…so anything to get inside for an hour or two.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s worth seeing if you can find other things. In better weather I might have just stuck with wandering around the old town instead. Not highly recommended in my books, but this is coming from someone who has a fair amount of museums tucked under her belt.

After wandering around until exhausted, I headed back to my hostel to rest up for a bit before finding dinner. I’d asked for recommendations, but when I went by the places my hostel recommended they looked far too local for my tastes. What’s bad about local? The fact that I sadly only speak about three words of German… anyhow so if you’re looking for a good local place supposedly Papa Joe’s is good, but don’t take my word for it.

So I was bad and went to a place that clearly had an English menu. It was right on the square in the old town, though not good enough weather to actually sit on the town. I’m definitely looking forward to spring break at this point so I can actually enjoy eating outside in some of the places I visit.

I went to dinner at Keule’s if anyone is interested. Decent food. Kind staff. Cute atmosphere and a mix of tourists and locals.

Afterwards I went and walked around the old town a little and went to see the cathedral all lit up before heading back to the hostel for the night. Had a great chat with a British girl and an Australian couple about the differences in all of our cultures and about good places to travel. This is what I love about hostels, being able to meet new people from all over the world. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at times, but this makes it worth it for me… well and saving some money for good food and seeing the sites as well.


So that’s my review on Cologne. Was one day enough? Probably not. But I feel like I saw some of the main sites and had a good time exploring. As I’m writing this in semi-real-time I cannot say how Cologne compares to other places. Will have to sum up my thoughts at the end I guess. For now off on the next stop of my tour… Hamburg!

Just a Little Bit of Courage

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” ― Emma Donoghue, Room

It’s safe to say I’m scared of heights.

If fear involves shaking and gasping for breath and coming close to tears, then you have yourself a nice picture of fear whenever I end up in a situation that takes me off the ground.

I suppose that’s what makes my parent’s decision to take me ziplining so amusing.

Now people reading this might be thinking…hold on you went ziplining in the U.S. last September. Isn’t this blog supposed to be about your current life in Europe?

I’m getting there.

See Europe is such a similar scenario to ziplining for me. Both start my adrenaline going. As I stepped onto the plane I found myself shaking, getting teary, struggling to take a proper breath. Not because of fear of heights, but because of my fear of the unknown.


After ziplining, I pretty much know how this year abroad will pan out. I know the start of my journey was getting up on the platform. Like with ziplining, I was reassured by plenty of people that there would be safety and security,  tested by thousands of users before me. But as I walked through the customs line into France, that didn’t keep me from feeling a rush of anxiety over the realization that my feet had left solid ground. I was soaring freestyle, and at this point my trajectory was inevitable, and there was no getting out of my harness. I’ll be on this line until May. Seven months of dangling off the ground.

I am aware that by May I’ll likely be so happy I did this. For all I know I’ll want to do this another year in fact! I will be so proud of myself and so much better off in the long run. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard right now.

I just wanted to post this to let people know that I get scared the same as anyone. In two days I’m leaving to go tour six countries by myself. I’ve had a lot of people telling me how brave that is. Several teachers yesterday commented that I was “comme une grande”…in other words…like an adult (which I will point out I actually am). The point is, as much as people keep telling me I’m brave, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel afraid.


The point is I’m taking a leap of faith in spite of my fear. I’m trusting in systems beyond my control, even if I’ve researched safe areas of cities, booked highly reviewed hostels, and planned a very detailed route around Europe. However, I’m almost certain that when I touch back in France in two weeks, I will be so happy I did this, even if it was scary at the time. But for now, I’m simply taking a leap of faith and keeping that quote at the top in mind. Fear is an emotion. Bravery is an action. So let me act now and hope that the fear will disappear eventually.

I hope that others can take these words to heart. Even after years of traveling, it can still be scary. You cannot allow these feelings to keep your in place, however. At some point, you just have to leap and figure you’ll touch back down eventually.

Future posts to come on my great two week adventure. For now, just know that being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid. It just means you go ahead and act in spite of the fear.



What Harry Potter Failed to Teach Me About Living in a Boarding School

“The narrow path had opened suddenly on to the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets towers.”-  J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

So I don’t know about any other Americans, but this image is the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear the words “boarding school”. Idiotic as it may seem, I’ve never run across a real one in my life, that is until this year.

When I found out I was going to have the opportunity to come live in France for a year, almost the first thing I did was asked about housing.

“Where do you recommend I live?” I asked my professor.

“There’s an internat at one of the school’s you’re going to be teaching at and you can live there.”

Doing a quick translate, I soon found out that internat is in fact the French term for…boarding school. I immediately began to get excited.


I have since learned what the Internat is for. See, schools in France are specialized. You want to become a teacher, then you’re on a certain track. You want to become a plumber then you’re on a certain track. So some students might choose a specialty, especially a “professsional” (vocational school) one that is not readily available at the high school in their town. The example I was given was upholstery. You want to study upholstery you go to a bigger city. Now the next town over has what they want to study. However, it’s a long drive and finding an apartment or some other form of housing could be expensive. Enter the internat.

This provides students with an easy way to live on campus and study during the week without having to do a long commute every day or try to find elsewhere to live. Very practical.

Now don’t get my wrong, it’s cheap and very convenient accommodation. I can probably make it to my class in five minutes time and more than 3/4 of my salary now get to go to travel instead of a fancy apartment. However, my Hogwarts assumptions have quickly been thwarted and here’s why.


It’s nothing glamorous: Substitute the castle with a grubby mod building, tapestries with peeling mint green paint, fireplaces with rattling radiators, and four poster bed with a thin pad of foam in place of a mattress. Although the school grounds themselves are lovely, the building here is nothing short of hideous.

How do you sleep!?!: Well, after living in a cupboard for years, Harry’s beds likely felt luxurious (well and magic private school might account for some of that too), but my bed left me with a sore back my first week until I finally went hunting for a mattress pad. And even then it’s not great because French mattress pads are more to protect the mattress than to actually give comfort. And don’t even get me started on the round sausage shaped pillows…


Teenagers are idiots: Oh wait…I think Harry Potter does cover that one… but it’s one thing to read about Neville melting Seamus’s cauldron and having to go to the hospital wing, and quite another to have to evacuate the building in the middle of the night because some teenager was smoking in their room. Well at least my room is in a separate wing so most of the time I don’t have to interact with them other than during potential evacuations. Oh Harry, I imagine how much your fellow classmates must have gotten sick of you, you little trouble maker!

I wish house-elves prepared my food: I’m sure Hermione would lament, but I’m so ready for a delicious meal that I might even condone the service of house-elves. Just plain old cafeteria meals for me. I thought it might be manageable due to how good the meals were in the college I studied abroad at. However, high school cafeterias < college cafeterias…even in France. I’m just lucky I’m not at a middle school I suppose (middle school<high school). The good news is it’s cheap, and usually fairly filling…just not…delicious…

Goodbye cooking: Harry probably doesn’t think about this one, but as a young adult it’s much more troublesome. Well, my friends and family will tell you I’m not much of a cook. Much of college consisted of spaghetti and hotdogs or rice and vegetables… but when you remove all forms of heat and leave me with only a fridge…well the options become even more limited. I never thought I’d be one to complain about not having a kitchen, but let me tell you it’s sad. I broke down and bought a coffee pot at least… and they say a microwave is coming, but I’d give anything to be able to bake a few cookies or make a good hot meal!


Our dim common area… no roaring fireplace or comfy couches

Candles might just be brighter: Hogwarts might not have electricity, but that almost sounds better than the flickering lights that make me think I’m in one of the episodes of Stranger Things. My poor little wasteful American heart can’t take this one dim little light! What is this nonsense? Bring out the big bulbs!

I’ll take Peeves any day: Did I mention teenager boys are idiots? Music blaring at seven in the morning and loud shouting to one another in the stairwell. Oh yes, bring on the poltergeists… at least when they go through the door it will be quiet.

So yes, not quite the beautiful fantasy I imagined, but I’m holding tight to the advantages. I don’t have to take a long commute to work every day. I’m saving money to go travel and enjoy myself (which is why I’m here incidentally, not to have a nice flat). I don’t have to go argue with someone in French about a problem with my utilities or worry about paying a nasty tax or anything of the like. I even get to live with three other assistants!

So here’s what I’ll say to any fellow assistants who might be considering a “boarding school” setting. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It will simplify a lot of the process that is already quite complicated and frustrating in the process.


Room spruced up with a new blanket and some of my personal effects

But you know, Harry finds a home in Hogwarts, which I don’t blame him for at all now that I know how much worse it could have been for the poor guy. However, what I have always taken from Harry’s situation is that home doesn’t have to be where your family is. It doesn’t have to be a traditional house. It doesn’t have to be the place you’ll live for the rest of your life. It can be where you make it. The place you make connections. The place you accept, regardless of all it’s problems.

As someone who loves traveling, if I am staying anywhere for more than three days I always unpack first thing. Get my things put away and set up and you know what? After a little bit it starts to feel just a little bit like home.

Still missing everyone, of course, but it’s good to know that even if I haven’t been whisked away to a castle in Scotland, I can still find some happiness in what I have.


Added some photos to help make it feel more like mine. Like it or not, this room is my home and I’ll make it feel as such!

Welcome to the Rest of the Year

“Un étranger qui vient dans le Nord pleure deux fois : quand il arrive, et quand il repart”. A stranger who comes to the North [of France] cries two times: when he arrives, and when he leaves. –Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis

So the quote likely has no meaning to most Americans reading this, but I will elaborate to try to make it clear. There’s a comedic movie that’s pretty well known in France about a man who is forced to move up to the North of France. Playing off of typical French stereotypes, the north appears to be a rainy and cold rural nightmare with country bumpkins who drink and can’t speak proper French.


Since I found out I’d be moving to Armentières in the very very far north, I’ve had more than one person who knows of this movie reference it. So I felt it appropriate to list the quote from it. Partly because half of it has come true.

So let’s begin with how I came to the North. Not the receiving my contract to work bit, because that’s boring. But my journey up here.

Everything went relatively smoothly for the most part. No delays in flights. No lost baggage. I flew to Dallas Fort Worth and then to Paris. My flight was largely empty so I had two seats to myself to stretch out in during the night (which was fantastic!) I still only managed about an hour of sleep though since I was anxious and just ready to reach my final destination.


I think waiting is often the worst part of anything. Waiting in the plane. Waiting at the train station. Waiting in the train. Building up anticipation and worries about what might come. Rain or freezing temperatures or people who I couldn’t understand.

But I jest of course, the ride to the town provided me with a lovely sunny view of rolling countryside. The town I pulled into was clearly small, but I had no problem with comprehension.

One of my teachers picked me up at the train station. I was thoroughly exhausted having gone more than 24 hours without much sleep at that point. So when he mentioned going to see my school and meet people I was certainly not thrilled, but I put on a smile and agreed.

I was led through corridors and up stairs, frantically trying to memorize everything as he chattered away. The school is ginormous! It’s beautiful, but definitely huge. So I present to you the wonders and terrors of Lycée Gustave Eiffel! This is one of the two high schools I will be teaching at over the semester.

I was led to the internat, essentially a “boarding school” where students are housed during the week. In a separate wing there is an area for assistants. There are five rooms connected by a hallway that all share a bathroom and a small kitchenette with a fridge and supposedly a microwave (though we haven’t been given one yet).

It’s really just like being in the dorms again. I have two roommates so far (both Americans who will also be assisting in nearby schools). We go to the cafeteria on campus for meals and are all just trying to figure out how this works. And it’s also like college in seeming unreal until actually arriving.


After finally being taken back to my room, I was given a few seconds to let it sink in. I’m in France. I’m living in France. I’m stuck here for seven months!

So yes, there might have been a little crying, even if the place seemed better than expected.

Needless to say, since then it’s just been a lot of exploring my town and the nearest big city of Lille. So far no disasters. My teachers all seem to be very friendly and welcoming.

I had to laugh because one let me stay over at her house this weekend (I might again write more in detail on that), and her husband drove me back to the train station. And as he did he said this exact quote I put at the beginning of the post.

So yes it’s all a bit of an adjustment so far. But by the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few tears are shed on the way home. It’s going to be an extraordinary year.

Stay tuned for more. I think that’s about all I have to say so far, but I’m sure I’ll have more in the next few days.



The main square in town. I’d hoped to add a bunch of photos but it appears my internet is acting up again! The problems with living in a boarding school…