bonjour, paris (pt. 1)

A couple months ago now, I posted on my blog about all the things I was/am grateful for. One of them was a surprise pair of tickets to Paris courtesy of CheeseWeb, a blog for English speaking expats living in Belgium, and iDbus. Besides the fact that they were making a nine-year dream come true, they were extremely courteous and gracious in every way… so thank you for all your help getting me to France! (And getting me back out…)

Thursday, August 15th

In addition to the miracle of free bus tickets, the friend I invited to come with me (Hi, FP!) had a friend-of-a-friend with an apartment in Paris with extra space for those days. (Thank you too, Anca!) We climbed on the bus at Garde du Midi and landed a few hours later by Bercy. It took us a hot minute to figure out the metro – I was completely unprepared for just how massive that city is. I mean really huge-normous.

After stopping off at the apartment to drop off our backpacks, we decided to waste no time and headed right for the Eiffel Tower. It felt like she became the third travel companion, she kept popping up whenever we least expected it since you can see her from pretty much everywhere on the west half of the city. Of course, a photo shoot ensued.

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We wandered around for awhile, looking for a cafe for lunch. What we didn’t realize was that we showed up on a bank holiday, which means that evvvverything local is pretty much closed. We were a bit annoyed we had to go with Le Pain Quotidien (I could eat this in the US, boo), but we were very happily surprised that each country approaches LPQ differently. So our food was far better than expected, and the waitresses were very excited to hear they had edged out NYC for food quality and presentation, haha.

After lunch we hopped back on the metro and tried to see as many touristy things as possible before it got dark.

The metro signs themselves were heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. You can tell how old they are by how simple the signpost is. The one on the left, above, came before WWII, because it still has a hint of the 1920s artistic influence and it has a lamp post attached. The newer ones just have an M, or Metro with a blue circle. The oldest posts were all kinds of fancy (on the right), but a lot of them have been replaced over the years.

Next up was the Arc de Triomphe. It was actually a pretty good idea to visit all the big, don’t-have-to-worry-about-it-being-closed sites on the bank holiday, it wasn’t even a little crowded. Unless you’re talking about Champs Élysees, which had so many people I couldn’t stay longer than ten minutes, and I couldn’t afford to even walk in half of the stores. Not worth my time.

Our fourth travel companion became the Seine. We took a lot of pictures of her, too. 🙂 (ÉgalitĂ© means equality.)

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But the best part of the day was the end, when we met up with a friend of FP’s who lives in the city (Hi Max!). We went all the way to the other side of Paris, near the library, where lots of people our age hang out on a bridge that goes over the Seine. There are lots of restaurants and bars lining the river, and people just bring their food and wine up to the bridge to share with new friends they make on the way. It was seriously adorable. I loved the wine I had so much I brought some home for my boyfriend for a Paris souvenir. That day someone had set up a projector and they were all watching a tv show (I think Breaking Bad, haha).

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Side note, I found this hilarious. Apparently the architects responsible for the National Library of France didn’t really design the four buildings (meant to look like four open books facing each other) for actual… books. The glass outside was all wrong for its contents because books kept catching on fire when the sun was strong. What! So now the windows have something behind them to block out the sun, and the library has lost its beautiful view of the city. Wompwomp.

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A couple other random parting shots for you, then I’ll save the second day for a new post… that won’t take two months I hope. 🙂

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mussels and steamers, noank, connecticut.

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One more “I refuse to let summer go” picture. This was from a trip to Abbott’s in Noank, Connecticut on Memorial Day weekend.

When I’m not using and abusing my camera, at school/work I’m researching marine policy, economics, and conservation issues. Seafood has always been tangentially related to what I study, and I’ve learned that what you’re eating and how it arrived on your plate are important questions to ask. Shellfish can be some of the most environmentally sustainable seafood, since they are filter feeders (and therefore use fewer resources to produce a serving of food) and they grow relatively quickly. I have the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app on my phone for when I’m at a restaurant or grocery store, because it lists seafood according to whether it’s good/okay alternative/bad. Mussels are definitely good. 🙂

 

Birthday & Antwerp

Um…oops? 🙂

The last two weeks have been a blur. I had a birthday on Friday, and celebrated quietly… for four days straight, haha. Thursday night, my friends and I (including KB who was also celebrating her birthday!) went to the best restaurant around, Soleil d’Afrique in MatongĂ© (I went earlier in the summer as well.)

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On Friday, my actual birthday, I took care of business at work and then let myself catch up with my far-flung friends. I heard from some people I haven’t seen in ages and it made my day. I vaguely remember some of my college friends discussing buying our own retirement community when we’re old and have money and nothing else to do, I think that would be awesome. Can we make that happen?

Birthdays are like New Year’s Eve to me (my favorite holiday, BTW). They’re time for reflection and re-assessing and updating and changing habits, not just celebrating surviving another spin around the sun. I took myself for a long walk around my neighborhood and ended up finding a cozy little restaurant serving one of Belgian’s specialities – moules frites. It was everything I wanted and more, haha. I’d like to point out the mayonnaise in the corner, which is for the frites. Ketchup isn’t a thing.

I also needed to knock two more beers off my bucket list, so I tried I Chimay Rouge. (I had the ‘misfortune’ of finding my favorite beer on the first try, so I’ve had to force myself to branch out).

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OEP kids, it wasn’t until I sat down that I noticed the name of the restaurant was Carpe Diem. I felt like it was an appropriate end to the year, hahaha.

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JB took me out for drinks that night at L’Athenee because she’s a doll, and I tried a caipirinha? I’d never heard of it before but apparently it’s Brazil’s national cocktail. OlĂ© indeed. The next day we met at Bruxelles Centrale and took the (crazy-€4-cheap) train to Antwerp. It was beautiful.  Afterwards we sat outside in Parc Royal listening to the sweet jams of K’s choice and drinking margaritas outside the Brussels summer festival entrance.

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This guy was amazing - Tobias van Hattem. I found him on Facebook but I don't know if there are any videos of him playing. He rolls the piano around to wherever he's playing.

This guy was amazing – Tobias van Hattem. I found him on Facebook – and here he is playing price tag, haha. Awesome.. He rolls the piano around to wherever he’s playing.

I did some research on the big statue in the middle of Grote Markt. It depicts the hero of Antwerp Brabo cutting the hands off the giant who used to take money from ships who wanted to enter Antwerp's harbor (because if the sailors didn't pay they suffered the same fate). It's actually a major swipe at the Dutch who used to restrict traffic going into the harbor - HA!

I did some research on the big statue in the middle of Grote Markt. It depicts the hero of Antwerp Brabo cutting the hands off the giant who used to take money from ships who wanted to enter Antwerp’s harbor (because if the sailors didn’t pay they suffered the same fate). It’s actually a major swipe at the Dutch who used to restrict traffic going into the harbor – HA!

because why not.

because why not. oh, and that’s an inflatable dragon behind me, haha.

grote markt. very typical flemish architecture I learned.

grote markt. very typical flemish architecture I learned.

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Today was the last day of my internship (I’m really sad about this), but I need to pass in my thesis by… oh, tonight. ReadysetGO.

Also! Thank you to the newly-discovered-by-me blog Journeys of the Fabulist that gave me a shout out on her recent post about visiting New York and Boston. I hope I was helpful! 🙂

Days 49 & 50: MIM & PRICE.

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On Saturday I set off an adventure with my camera in the morning. I wanted to knock something off my bucket list, so the Museum of Musical Instruments it was. I wandered from West of the city center all the way to Parc Royale and the museum (Note, this long walk is important later.)

jenclinton/08052013aFrom MIM’s website: “Besides the well-known Scottish version, many more countries appear to have their own type of bagpipes, Tibetan monks make musical instruments out of the bones of their deceased colleagues, and African slit drums are the local form of Twitter.”

I don’t know what genius decided the concept for MIM but I’m kind of in love. You get a little transponder thing in your language of choice when you walk in, and there are markings on the floor that you stand on in front of most of the instrument displays. Once you’re in the right place, you hold the transponder to your ear, so you actually hear what the instrument sounds like! I mean really. That’s the point of an instrument right? It was so simple it was obvious, but it sort of blew my mind when I realized what the deal was, haha. So clever.

Many of the pieces were from Eastern Europe (lots of Romania), and most were instruments I’d never heard of. I apologize in advance for picture quality but lighting was definitely not conducive to picture taking, not with my little camera dude anyway. Let’s give out some superlatives, shall we?

Creepiest :

Yikes! That would be a skull drum and a femur horn. I thought a femur flute would be a great alliteration but would be decidedly less intimidating in battle I suppose.

Yikes! That would be a skull drum and a femur horn from Tibet.

Most ornate:

I'd be too afraid to even hold this thing, never mind play it.

I’d be too afraid to even hold this thing, never mind play it. She’s so dainty.

Most BA to play (listen to it here):

the SERPENT from RUSSIA.

the SERPENT from RUSSIA, distant cousin of the tuba.

Most difficult to play:

no WAY is that a one person instrument! holy lung capacity. maybe it comes with a reverb pedal or something, haha.

no WAY is that a one person instrument! holy lung capacity. maybe it comes with a reverb pedal or something, haha.

Best Smile:

:D!

:D!

Best Dressed:

from romania, circa 2007. (that threw me.)

from romania, circa 2007. (that threw me.)

Most “what the?” moment:

"it's a little weird that we're blowing into animal intestines, ya? let's cover it in fur so it's less conspicious. much better."

“it’s a little weird that we’re blowing into animal intestines, ya? let’s cover it in fur so it’s less conspicious. much better.”

Personal favorite:

phish guitar?

phish guitar?

I will say this though, I did enjoy the museum but it would  be much better for you if you have a pretty deep-seated appreciation for classical music. I only appreciate it in small doses, usually when working, which is not something pleasant to think about on a free Saturday afternoon. That’s probably why the nature museum was the one for me. 🙂

On the walk back I took a few more pictures of the city. Isn’t she pretty?

PRICE
So Sunday was designated write-your-damn-thesis day. It went, eh. Okay. I took a break go to the insanity that is Garde du Midi on a Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately as I was walking through the crowd my right knee just gave out for no reason at all. I’m like, hello old lady. I was able to put weight on it fine so I kept on keeping on. I actually got some delicious food today, look look! And aside from the provolone I didn’t spent more than… seven euro?

pĂȘche, pastĂšque, fraises

pĂȘche, pastĂšque, fraises

carottes, fromage feta, fromage provolone, persil

carottes, fromage feta, fromage provolone, persil

When I got back to my work space I tried to stretch my legs out to the chair on the other side of the table. OWWWW OWOW OW. So I can walk on it but I can’t straighten it. Gah. My several-knee-surgeries boyfriend suggested a strained tendon and PRICE – pressure, rest, ice, compression elevation. It’s not swollen or anything, and I’m sure it’s from walking so much in not-made-for-distance-walking shoes. Just PLEASE no crutches, they don’t have normal ones here. Everyone uses the hand ones and not the underarm ones and excuse the vanity but it would make me look all the more pitiful.

Sad face. I should probably wear my sneakers to work for a while. I’ll be the only one in BRUSSELS wearing running shoes, I think even the women who run wear cute flats at the very least, haha. Ah well. Body says slow down, you better darn well listen.

Day 47 & 48: I try baking. Curse you, Pinterest.

Happy August! 90% of my office left on holidays this week, so we’ve been trying to fit all the work in we need to do together into a very short time period. I’m going to miss the whole group. I baked some Italian almond cookies as a goodbye present/early happy-birthday-to-me last night. They’re goooood.

This goes out to all my friends who are on Pinterest, and have discovered for themselves that pins are never what they seem.

Cookies baking in the oven.

Cookies baking in the oven!

Except actually it looked like this because the pan was too big to close the door all the way.

Except actually it looked like this because the pan was too big to close the door all the way.

And then I realize that my oven is in centigrade not fahrenheit and 270 degrees IS NOT less than 350F.

And then I realize that my oven is in centigrade not fahrenheit and 270 degrees IS NOT less than 350F. Panic, check on cookies, let the oven cool down, moving on.

alright, four minutes to make a glaze. confectioner's sugar and milk, could this be easier?

alright, four minutes to make a glaze. confectioner’s sugar and milk, could this be easier?

apparently yes, yes it can be.

apparently yes, yes it can be. oh look, i match my bowl.

annndd worth it. totally pinterest worthy.

annndd worth it. totally pinterest worthy.

 

So the blog has gone from photography to travel to food, basically. I’m okay with it. (Funny, today’s daily prompt was about origins of your blog – she was all photography six months ago! See my about me, now en français aussi!) It’ll be back to travel and photography this weekend – thesis on one day and adventures on the other! And my poor neglected camera can come back out of hiding.

Day 45: You’d think I was hungry or something.

I really, really enjoy cooking. My living situation right now is not terribly conducive to doing so however (sharing a small fridge with 6 other people; no real oven; not much counter space), so I’m afraid my skills are heading downhill. I’ve been making lots of sandwiches for lunch (mozz/prosciutto/roma tomato/ciabatta) and lots of veggie things for dinner.

For example, last night:

Step 1, Cut your veggies. (Zucchini, onion, mushroom, tomato.)
Step 2, Heat in an oiled pan on the stove, in that order. Add spinach.
Step 3, Break a few eggs over the top. Curse yourself for not using the non-stick pans.
Step 4, Melt mozzarella into it. Eat the whole pan guilt free.

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And I’m still not very used to the food shopping situation here. I talked about my first food shopping trip here; I think next time I go to Carrefour or DelHaize I’ll take more pictures to show you my progress. Or non-progress, since I discovered Tiramisu gelato, haha.

There have been a few times that I try something and say OH MAN that tastes just like ______. Or I was looking for something for a recipe, and I had to come up with the closest thing because graham crackers just plan don’t exist in Belgium. So of course these equivalents aren’t exact, but I’ve been trying to come up with a list of acceptable substitutes.

Spa Citron = Sprite

La Beurre crackers = graham crackers

Toast and cheese spread (la vache qui rit! translates to the laughing cow :)) = bagel and cream cheese

Nutella = peanut butter (of course)

I’ve also swapped in fresh mozzarella for pretty much every instance I eat cheese now here, shredded cheese is so expensive! And cheddar isn’t easy to find sadly.

Fortunately I’ve been trying to eat more veggies and less processed food here, which makes shopping easier as long as you know the french word for flaxseed is graines du lin and zucchini are courgettes and what not. I did get busted the other day for printing a price sticker for zucchini and sticking it on cucumber but in my defense concombre AND cucumber were not listed as options on the price-sticker-printing-machine. I didn’t think I could explain that quickly enough in French so I pretended I didn’t know my vegetables, haha.

Other food quirks I’ve noticed…

The loaves of bread are made on site, and not sliced. Most grocery stores worth their salt have a free machine you push the bread through and it slices it automatically. I haven’t tried this yet.

I wish I actually liked orange juice because some of the stores near me have a fresh juicing machine. It’s got a pile of oranges near the top and you have to crank the machine and hold a bottle at the bottom to catch all the fresh juice.

One of my coworkers puts cottage cheese in her soup. Which was orange. Sorry if you just ate. hah

It’s becoming progressively more difficult to avoid chocolate in my every day life. I have mixed feelings about this, haha.

Food packaging needs a major overhaul here. I thought we were bad, until the bananas and broccoli started coming shrink wrapped here. Or I’d open a package of crackers to find several small individually wrapped packages inside. Not necessary!

 

All the Way to Day 43. Darn.

I never like to plead for forgiveness when I don’t get around to blogging regularly like I should. For one, I’m not getting paid to blog. (Is that the economics student in me? haha.) Second, that means I’m having too much fun to spend time in front of my computer. So don’t forgive me! 🙂

Here’s some speed blogging for you:

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Italy Day 4: Perugia

On my last day in Italy, before my flight, my friend and I went to the town where she went to university. We stopped for lunch, where I tried some tomato-basil pesto pasta, then I had one more caffe gelato (I mean come on, it’s Italy) from GROM. She did that on purpose so if I really miss it I can actually go to NYC and grab some. Much cheaper than a flight to Italy, haha. Wasn’t that kind? We got some super last minute shopping in too. Yay presents!

The little bridge-looking thing is a Roman aqueduct through Perugia.

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Back in Brussels

Since coming back from Italy, I’ve been trying to get a grip on writing the rest of my thesis. Today I found a place that was not only open on a Sunday but they sell BAGELS! I didn’t realize how hard they were to find until I looked. No picture necessary because you know what bagels look like. I knocked Chaochow City off my bucket list Saturday though. That would be 3,80 euro for lunch thank YOU.

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Thursday was one of the intern’s last day, so we celebrated Friday night with a dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. (On the life bucket list, trying food from a new country. Check.) The whole process was so strange, but it was delicious!

I finally saw the little pissing dude. He’s really small for such a major symbol of the city, haha. Next on the list is zinneke pis, the peeing dog.

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And pissing bees, which just cracks me up. I’ll never look at honey the same way. (Completely non-scientific judgement on my part of course.)

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Otherwise, I have deadlines squared coming up at work, so back to work! Ciao ciao.

Oh ewwwwwww I just realized my flight is a month from today.

Italia Part 3: Castillo & Bagno di Romagna

This is the third in a series of posts about my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

When it comes to the city versus the country, I definitely consider myself a country mouse. I like having so much to do and try and see in the city, but I much prefer the quieter sanctuary of living with more trees than people. Preferably palm trees.

Sunday in Italy was a whole new level of country mouse though.

My friend’s family owns a farmhouse in their hometown, perched on a hill far from the downtown area. In the early morning, her dad picked out squash, zucchini, and herbs from the garden, and her mom put together a stunningly elegant lunch to bring up to the country house (shocking, I know). There’s no kitchen quite yet, so everything was cooked at the main house and carted up there. This time, lunch was prosecco (cin cin!), olives, homemade spaghetti with truffles (…once again my favorite meal in life), squash sliced into strips and cooked with herbs and zucchini, only to be followed by the actual meal of duck breast (I don’t even know how it was cooked but it was unreal). I was so. full.

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Nonno told me this was the “key to paradise,” isn’t he so adorable?

After lunch, my friend asked me if I wanted to take a walk around and see the area around the house. This was one ‘YEP’ I should have kept to myself… I was in a dress, work ballet flats, and a bathing suit, and sort of anticipated a ten minute walk at the most. Mmmm nope. I should have brought water, sunblock, and my inhaler at minimum, haha. I forgot that I had been silently praying on our drive to the house that the car could even make it uphill… thank the lord for manual transmissions. It was seriously a 50 degree gradient in some places. But it was all worth it, check our the scenery.

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Those long things growing on stalks are onions, and sunflowers grow for miles around here… in addition to the Tuscan vineyards of course.

At the top of the hill, embedded in the stone wall around the house, is a statue of Mary. We both crossed ourselves and said thank you once we got back up, haha.

NBA! haha

If you look closely you can see the handpainted NBA sign, haha.

The rest of the afternoon we spent being lazy at the neighbor’s pool. It’s a big saltwater infinity pool overlooking the rolling hills and sunflower of Castillo. I felt weird taking pictures because they don’t know me, but this is basically what I was looking at from the float. 🙂

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I couldn’t communicate well with most people there sadly, but I was able to tell them I was American. And I definitely understood when he told me that it’s okay, we can’t all be perfect. Haha

We took pictures on these stone benches on the top of a hill, and the neighbor came over to explain to me that they were actually placed there by Romans 2000 years ago, carried over from Africa. I can’t even take a sit without finding a piece of history, haha. While I was sitting there, my friend offered me a green bulb looking thing and told me to mangia. I’d never seen anything like it before, and it was a little oddly squishy. Her mom insisted I eat it too, and showed me how to tear into. I was like well. When in Rome? Literally? After one bite I said Ohhhhhhh my god. It was a fresh fig. The Italians thought it was hilarious…”haha! Americana! My got!”

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Apparently one pool was not enough for us on Sunday though! Something else on my life bucket list was visiting hot springs, and wouldn’t you know it, those Romans loved a good hot spring bath. Again, not super conducive to taking pictures but this is from their website. We closed the place down (11pm), then went into town for dinner (pizza! quattro stagione is my favorite) and walked around the town. Look at these sweet little mandala-like things lining the streets – they were all made of dried flowers and leaves.

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This should have been a two week long vacation, darn it.

Italia Part 2: Fano & the Mediterranean

This is the second of two posts on my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 here!

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early for our beach day. My friend and her mom and I drove over a mountain or two and headed east towards the Mediterranean! [note: apologies for minimal photo editing today, i’m out of time this week!]

Part of the issue with talking in three languages is that I miss a lot of what the plans are, so Saturday was full of surprises for me, despite my friend having told me in at least one of the languages what was happening. What I definitely understood was that there is abig weekend market in Fano, and I would be there. If you know me IRL, I can shop. We’ll call it a strength and a weakness.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

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I was far too busy actually shopping to truly capture the feel of that market, and besides, I couldn’t ask in Italian if I could take pictures. (Puis-je prendre des photos? was a sentence I learned on day one in Brussels, especially after pissing off some fishmongers at Garde du Midi). I’d call it a success though – I may or may not be coming home with a new pair of Italian shoes. 🙂 I felt like Cinderella.

After the market it was time to head to our… campground? Here was surprise #1 of the day. I somehow completely missed that my friend’s family has a campsite on the sea, complete with a car trailer, and that I’d be meeting the extended family over lunch, haha. We showed up and this delicious plate was staring me in the face.

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It was made with all kinds of fish, from shrimp to clams to lobsterlike things to bony white fish from the market. In the top corner is a zucchini salad, and we also had green beans, white rice, and fresh Italian bread. Surprise #2 – Italian bread tastes completely different from home, it’s far less salty but equally as useful for sopping up tomatoes and herbs. Mmmm mmm. They got a kick out being able to talk to me in “francese,” but I liked listening to the Italian surround me while I was eating.

This was my first view of the Mediterranean.

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I did what any sensible ocean lover would do and walked right out to the water and swam. It only lasted about ten seconds before my friend was sent to calmly ‘rescue me’ because ‘people have died swimming after eating as much as I did beforehand.’ Seems a lot more severe than the ‘wait 20 minutes or you’ll have a stomach ache’ I was used to hearing, haha. I didn’t want to concern anyone though, so I “forced” myself to nap in the sun for a bit, haha. Did I mention how much I love this country yet?

We were on the beach for hours, collecting shells and playing with the one year old in our company. One thing that was different from home was the people walking up and down the beach selling things, like knock off purses, bracelets, hair wraps, and pinwheels. The only time I’ve really seen that was in Haiti (and I still wear the necklace I bought from that man to this day). Not only that but they’re walking around in jeans and long sleeve shirts! Eesh.

When we got hungry again, my friend took me to the best little piadina restaurant in Italy. I’m not even sure if it was in a town it was so remote. But surprise #3, piadina is REAL darn good.

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Especially when accompanied by Italian beer. I got prosciutto, rucola, and stracchino. Oh look at that, we’re back to the best meals of my life list. Deliciously filling and warm and gooey and quintessentially Italian.

I learned about six or seven words while I was there – per favore, ciao, grazie, si, francese, inglese, and machina, haha. Putting on my (miserable) Italian accent even allowed me to order a meal for myself by pronouncing the menu appropriately and throwing “e vino per favore” on the end. I was a little proud, though I’m sure the waitress choked back laughter when she heard me speak.

In my last post I mentioned our drive to the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. This time it was to see an ancient Roman tunnel carved out of the mountain. The plaque on the outside said 76 AD. Like… thirty years post Jesus, we’re talking. Italy, you’re SO OLD. But you’re aging so gracefully so it’s okay. 🙂

The tunnel was really small, but this picture should give you an idea of how fast you’re supposed to drive through it regardless.

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On the other side we pulled over because the sun was hitting the mountains just right. I love the color of the water and the sun together.

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Too tired to continue our day, we passed out as soon as we got home… again. I’ve never fit so much into a vacation and yet felt so relaxed! Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the 16th century farmhouse we ate at, with an infinity pool next door. If it sounds like heaven… that’s because it was.

buona notte, italia

buona notte, italia

Italia Part 1: Asissi & Castillo

My poor little blog, how I missed you. I’m back on track, and back in Brussels!

Last Friday I woke up to complete darkness, caught a cab to the bus to the plane and watched the sunrise over Europe as I flew to Perugia, Italy. My wonderful, intelligent, lovely, hospitable friend from UConn invited me to her hometown so off I went. Editing these photos might take ages so I’ll do a couple mini photo essays… I took about 75 pictures a day, so I’m trying to keep it under control here.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

Immediately after getting off the plane, she picked me up and we drove to Assisi.

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Francis is one of my favorite saints – being an animal lover and sharing his name with our Jesuit pope and all. (Go stags.) We visited his church and his tomb first. There were so many people, even some in their sweet little nun habits and monk robes. I didn’t take any pictures of them because I know I’d feel weird getting stopped for pictures in my work clothes. Anyway, St. Francis!

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We also visited the Basilica de Santa Chiara. St. Chiara was one of the first followers of St. Francis, and eventually founded the women’s order similar to the Franciscans. She also has a pretty pink basilica. And how about this, she was once a part of the church of San Damiano (Francis is also connected to this church), and that’s the saint my BXL house is related to (Kot St. Dam). Whoaaa full circle.

After the church-visiting, the temperature soared so we went into a little restaurant lined with stone walls. We hid from the thunderstorm and drank coffee and caught up on life.

When the rain stopped we hopped back in the car and drove the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. I mean really, she’s a girl after my own heart. Sometimes I can’t believe my own luck.

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jenclinton/072413jBut the clouds followed us uphill so we went home.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I could speak French to my friend’s parents – I was afraid that communication would be impossible. But even getting by on our rough around the edges ‘francese’ and Italian hand-speak (is that the official title? hmm) made for a much richer experience. Everyone got a kick out of talking to the American in anything other than English – I’m finding that a lot in Europe.

Now I try not to be too crazy with the hyperbole here, but for real. The best meal of my life was my first dinner here. It easily toppled my last favorite meal (which was a breakfast, if you’re curious) and was only matched by Sunday’s lunch. Handmade, hand rolled pasta, filled with chicken, beef, and pork, topped with a tomato sauce from home-grown roma tomatoes, basil, fennel, and herbs de provence. I can still taste it. Not to mention the caprese salad, salami and other meats we cut ourselves, and buffalo mozzarella picked up from the nearby farm that morning. The wine was made by a friend. My life, the movie. Welcome to it.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that by the end of the weekend her Italian mother told me I had a good appetite (read: I ate wayyy too much). We finished with a couple glasses of Pastis and then walked into the downtown area to meet up with more family. I’ve adopted her Italian grandfather, watch for him in tomorrow’s pictures. He offered me coffee, a cigarette, and gelato within three minutes, so I took him up on the first one (it was easily after 10pm, and I don’t drink caffeine even in the morning. Oops.)* I passed out pretty hard when I got home anyway.

I could get used to it here.

 

*My reaction to nearly every “do you want to….” was pretty much YEP before the sentence was even finished. It got me into hot water when I yep’ed a hike when all I had was ballet flats, no sunscreen and minimal shade… but we’ll save that story for tomorrow.

 

For the record, Italy pretty much took her own pictures. Only a few got some stylized editing on here, most were just exposure fixes.