Winter Wonderland: Journeying from Stockholm to Oslo

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
Lewis Carroll

So I raved about the trains in the last post, but I think it could be said again. Scandinavian trains are my favorite.

They’re not too pricey, and on top of that you get free wifi, chargers at your seat, and of course fantastic snowy views.

However, I’m jumping ahead of myself.

For any who haven’t been following, this is part of my Nordic adventure, heading up to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Oslo was our last stop on the road. However, to get there we needed to take a long train ride all the way there. Not that it was a great burden to us.

We checked out of our hostel in Stockholm and headed to the train station where we grabbed coffee and treats to finish off the last of our Swedish crowns. And then we boarded the train and were on our way.

It was very crowded, but thankfully my seat partner got off at like the second or third stop, so most of the ride I had to myself and could look out the window while working on my computer. The countryside was beautiful. You could see small black dots out on the surface of a frozen lake, little ice fishers waiting for their catch. I just would catch myself sighing, and thinking the train ride could be longer, and I wouldn’t mind.

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In fact it was, delays apparently were caused by trains crossing, though I don’t really understand how that works, but nonetheless we arrived in Oslo in the late evening.

My friend and I headed out into the cold, both enjoying the snow as we have none where we are living in France now, but both come from places that get a little frozen precipitation during the winter months.


We walked through the downtown before heading to our Airbnb.

I had never done Airbnb before. Maybe that’s strange for a traveler, but it’s true. I had never seen the need, choosing to usually find hostels instead. However, Oslo had very few hostels, so my friend and I realized it might be just as cheap to book something else instead. And that’s how we found the place we were staying.

It was a very nice apartment, very close to the downtown area. The hosts were very friendly and offered us advice about what to do. They were even helpful when I asked if I could wash my clothes while I was there, since it would save me a trip to the laundromat when I got back.

I highly recommend this option if you’re in Oslo with another person, because it’s worth it splitting. Or another Airbnb. It’s nice to have another option if there aren’t hostels to house you, and it beats paying for a fancy hotel. Such is the modern world I guess!

After getting some advice about what to see from our host, my friend and I headed out to find food. We walked down to the downtown area, enjoying the snow and lights and city. We were again hungry enough (having skipped lunch) we decided to settle for anything. Which is how we ended up eating pasta at Prima Fila. It was pretty good food overall, and we even splurged and I had dessert and my friend a starter. Good to treat yourself sometimes I guess.

After that we took a little walk around the area before heading back to get some good rest. We were looking forward to a full day of exploring when morning came!

The Christmas Adventure Begins- Bourges and Brive-la-Guillarde

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”-Walt Whitman

So, as I’ve just finished up writing about my last round of travel so it’s time to start another round.

For Christmas vacation my family came to visit me in France! The joke is that my family never ever does a relaxing vacation. On the first day, my brother remarked that couldn’t we just have a relaxing rest at a resort instead of our usual crazy rush from one city to another. My joke, the one time my family tried a vacation on a beach in Mexico a few years ago, we all became sick and weren’t able to go to the beach due to an incoming hurricane. So yes, it’s been concluded that my family is not allowed to have a restful time traveling. We must always be moving or we will invoke some kind of unknown deity’s wrath. The family curse I tell you.

Therefore, I invite you to follow the next few weeks worth of blogs to hear the full experience of this trip. It was almost two weeks long, and covered five (six…unsure on technicalities) countries, and multiple different cities, all while celebrating the holidays. So there should be some very interesting posts to come. They might seem a little crazy at times, but I hope you can enjoy hearing a little bit about our adventures.

The first day of the trip isn’t all that interesting for two reasons. One, long drives down towards the Spanish border. And two…jetlag.


So my family flew into Paris Thursday morning, and I took a train down to meet them from Lille. It’s about an hour train, but of course my luck was it was delayed…and my family’s  plane happened to be early. Just my luck. So I ended up waiting in the train station for more than an hour at seven in the morning (think five AM wake up to be there on time).

Finally, finally, the train arrived and I was able to board and head in the direction of Paris. Thank heavens for the modern convenience of fast trains. About an hour later, I was safely in the big city, wandering through the large corridors of the Charles de Gaulle airport, eagerly awaiting the sight of the people I hadn’t seen since September. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

Sure enough, I found them still waiting for the rental car, so no harm was done in being late. After lots of hugs and getting our affairs in order, we went to find our cute little orange car and start off on our adventure.

The biggest part to start with was escaping Paris, trying to wind our way out of the congested roads and off towards the countryside. After several long periods of sitting in traffic, we finally made it onto our road and were on our way.

As I said earlier, one of the big obstacles was jetlag. My family was pretty much wiped out after such a long flight. None of them had slept well leading up to the trip, and all of them looked thoroughly exhausted. I at least was adjusted to the time, but had only slept three or four hours the night before in eager anticipation and with such an early morning. So, we ended up keeping it pretty leisurely for the first day.

We started with a quick stop at a grocery store to buy a picnic lunch. Well, picnic in the sense that we ate at little tables in the entryway to the store. It was rainy and gray and no one felt like trying to brave the poor weather to eat outside. So we devoured our food and were on our way once more.

We made a quick stop in Bourges, deciding to stretch our legs for a bit. There was a Christmas market going on as there are in many French towns, so we wandered amongst the booths before heading over to look into the big cathedral there. I thought the stained glass seemed particularly magnificent. Although I have seen hundreds of cathedrals now, I never tire of going into a new one. I can always find something that intrigues me in the grand halls of these beautiful old churches.

After that it was back on the road and towards Brive-la-Guillarde. We arrived late to our hotel. As my father did most of the research for hotels, I’ll list where we stayed, but I should warn readers that as I didn’t do research on lodging I’m not the best person to consult for recommendations. However, the challenge of finding cheap accommodation for four people in France can be difficult. Thankfully my family knows a few ways to keep it more budget. We stayed in a chain called B&B, a convenient “motel” like set up that keeps the prices down by having an automated check in system instead of a person at the desk.

We dropped our things off and went to find food.

So, you’ll notice very soon that I’m not always going to have a magical restaurant recommendation either. That’s because, my family has to find ways to be budget in order to travel. So admittedly, we do a lot of picnics for lunches…and a lot of cafeterias for dinner. So in Brive-La-Guillarde we ate at a local Flunch.

Honestly, it’s really a pretty good deal. For less than 50 euros, all four of us can eat a full meal with vegetables, meat, starches, desserts, and wine. It’s quick and convenient, and some of them are open all seven days of the week which can be very useful in a place like France that often has things closed on Sundays and even Mondays too.

After a filling but maybe not delicious dinner, the family went off to explore the city a little bit, mostly just walking around in the old town. It was very beautiful in the evening, though quite empty on a Thursday. Still, we enjoyed exploring the winding old pathways of the old city. These lamps seemed particularly beautiful to me, a sort of brief glimpse of magic in the empty roads.


So I can’t say a lot about either of these places, but what I will say is that going around and seeing smaller towns and cities can be fun too. They still have their charms, even if they don’t have their famous tourist sites.

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!

Share in my Adventure

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” – Gandalf, The Hobbit

For any who still haven’t heard the news, on September 25th I’m going to be leaving the country to begin a new adventure. I’ll be moving to the town of Armentières, France to help teach English to high school students. Though I don’t know all the details yet, you may feel free to look into the town a little yourself and see where it lies on the map below. I am sure as I learn more about it myself I’ll have much more to share, but for now this is what I know.

While this journey is certainly an exciting one, I am indeed looking for someone to share in my adventure. And while I will extinguish hopes of either sneaking along in my suitcase or getting a free plane ticket, I want readers to understand that this is why I am creating this blog. This is a place where I can hopefully share the details of what happens to me while away, and possibly to continue sharing travel stories in the future as well.


As someone who’s traveled a good bit before, I hope that my stories can not only enlighten those who are curious about where I’m going, but help those who aspire to travel as well.

Sometimes I might post on travel advice. Other times I’ll simply share stories of my journey whether it be daily life in a French town, or further journeys abroad in Europe. But for the moment, I hope friends and family will keep this site in mind as a way to check in with how life is going for me. This next year promises to be an incredible one, and I want to share it with any who are willing to come along on this virtual journey.