Spring Break

My room has finally settled into a state of general disarray that marks a kind of comfort in permanence. I may be a very clean person (brush my teeth twice a day, can hardly stand to leave my own dishes unwashed for more than an hour or so) but this doesn’t prevent me from being messy. It doesn’t help that my wardrobe has only shelves, not drawers. I’m not known for my precision in folding clothes. So my room looks, well, lived in.

I’ve been here eleven weeks. Eleven. It feels like yesterday i was pulling myself up the stairs to my flat for the first time, bleary-eyed and nose still a little sniffly from saying goodbye. And yet the walk to the grocer has become passé, conversations with friends have delved deeper than small talk and into real-person places. Edinburgh is home, now. The two times i’ve left – for Amsterdam and Paris/London – have marked incredible sojourns into new and familiar places. But both times, riding the bus from the airport back into town, i’ve been happy to murmur my “oh, home,” without a second thought to the newness of this place to me.

And it won’t be long before i’m riding that same bus back into town after yet another trip; Spring Break is almost here and my flatmates and i were hankering for some warmer weather. Edinburgh may be cozy and lovely and dapper, but all of its charm doesn’t halt the freezing cold. There’s still snow in the fourteen-day forecast.

In. April.

So tomorrow, we’re jetsetting off for somewhere basked in warmth: the Andalucia region of Spain, and Morocco!

There will be beaches, a camel ride, the Rif Mountains, tapas, couscous, bargaining, and hopefully-hopefully some flamenco dancing. But mostly, there will be sun and lower 70s-temperatures (Fahrenheit, mind you, i don’t have a death wish) and A CAMEL RIDE IN MOROCCO.

I’m stoked. Northern Africa, as a region, has been a place i’ve wanted to visit for so long. And though this will only be a taste of Northern Morocco, it’s still a taste that involves riding a camel along the Moroccan beach. You know, not bad.

I’ve written a few blog posts scheduled to go live whilst away, so be sure to keep your eyes out for more adventures regaled from J’s time in Edinburgh. Until then, bon voyage!

current jam: ‘kiss you’ 1D. no shame.

best thing: packing.

Magical Montmartre.

I thought the magic of Paris was wrapped tight in the Eiffel Tower; intricately woven, measured but unexpected. Then i thought it was a potion concocted by the Seine wrapping itself around the islands in the middle of the city – the candles glowing in Notre-Dame casting a final color-coded spell. I suspected the secret ingredient to Parisian magic was the wine and the food, flavors bursting and lasting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But it was when we strolled through the mountainous alleys of Montmartre that i learned where the real magic of Paris is tucked away. And it’s here, the neighborhood once home to Ernest Hemingway and Vincent van Gogh and Satine. (Okay okay, Satine is fictional. But you can’t talk about Montmartre without the Moulin Rouge!)

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Montmartre is the Paris of absinthe stupor, of romanticized memory. It’s where my mother bought her most treasured keepsake from Paris: an acrylic painting of flowers in a vase. It hung on our dining room wall, the blues singing harmony with the white curtains. She’d told me over and over the place i had to go was Place du Tertre – a cobblestone square where street artists gather, luring tourists into buying caricatures and twenty-minute portraits. My favorite artist stall had done a series of cats sleeping around Paris (so out of character for me, i know) but since J and i had already bought our recreation of van Gogh’s sunflowers i was merely window shopping.

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But Place du Tertre is not the only place in Montmartre where art is to be found; the metropolitan signs themselves are works to behold, adjacent to ivy-colored buildings covered in graffiti.

metropolitan

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The Scottish flag hanging in Paris! Viva la Scotland!

The Scottish flag hanging in Paris! Vive la Scotland!

Hand-in-hand we strolled along the lanes of art on display, covetously sneaking glances at the cafés offering wine under checkered umbrellas.

Just up the hill we could make out the silhouette of Sacre-Coeur white against the blue sky. It was the last church on our list of Parisian places we wanted to see – making it the sixth church we’d see on our trip.

And it turned out to be our favorite.

Sacre-Couer is unlike anywhere else i’ve been; it has the enormity and grandeur of Notre Dame, but the intimacy and quiet contemplation of a smaller church. The windows are dazzling, bathing the whole place in the lux nova that made gothic architecture such a sensation in medieval France. No photography was permitted inside and, while i am sad to have no photos to remember it by, i was glad for the forced contemplative time. It allowed me the full breathing space of presence.

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Awed and quieted by the beautiful building, we meandered back to Place du Tertre for a final glass of wine. Our walk overlooked the whole of the city spread below, the Eiffel Tower stark against the skyline. Paris had enthralled us, the clutter of art and mash of accordion metro musicians just the backdrop to the hum of the city itself.

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“We’ll spend a whole week just in Montmartre when we come back, someday,” J mused. Our last Côte du Rhône of the trip was poised in his hand. In the Scottish wool scarf he’d snagged from my wardrobe, he looked downright European.

I scoffed-laughed, a knot of broke-soon-to-be-grad-student-woes clamping in my stomach. I knew what he meant, though. That Montmartre was the neighborhood you wanted to live in a little- learn the streets by heart, pick a favorite haunt for late-night drinks. I felt the same way.

And i knew that this trip was such a gift. A privilege to have the time and money at all to travel. But a gift to spend such time with J, who hadn’t been able to study abroad. A gift to be in love in the city most famous for romance. A gift to stroll alongside the Seine on a sun-dappled afternoon, with no agenda but being in Paris. I was grateful for all we’d seen – the snafus in getting to Paris, the chance to see my dearest Saran at the Eiffel Tower, the sore feet and the sappy smiles.

Mostly, though, i was simply grateful to share in it all with the dimple-faced man wearing my scarf sitting across from me.

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current jam: ‘lullabye’ billy jowl

best thing: freshly-downloaded boarding passes…

Répéter: Trois Jours.

I should be writing my paper on sexuality and nationalism.

I’ve spent my afternoon making spinach-and-artichoke dip for my mojito chicken nacho dinner tonight. (The whole cooking thing? Yeah, it’s taking off with frightening fast elevation.  I think i’ve watched three or four hours worth of Sorted videos in the last two days alone). Before that, there was a stroll around The Meadows and the library under the ruse of “returning my books.”

You get the idea.

My restlessness is not unfounded, if resiliently unproductive. In a mere three days (THREE DAYS) J will be here for his spring break. I can’t breathe, i can’t focus, and i certainly cannot think about anything else (much less worrying over the intersection of sexuality and nationalism in a 2500 word essay).

So here am i, procrastinating in my most favorite way. Writing to you. My current second-favorite means of not-doing-homework is reading up on restaurants in Paris and London, where we’ll visit in the twelve days J is here. (If you have suggestions, please do leave them in the comments!)

As if seeing him were not enough, i’m finally realizing my thirteen-year-old dream of scaling the Eiffel Tower and downing more wine and cheese than i can imagine. Maybe the wine part wasn’t so influential in my eighth-grade-doodles. Whatever. Je voudrais deux baguettess’il-vous-plaît, i practice. Mademoiselle Kelly would be proud. I’ve come two inches in my French grammar since my middle school days. But i can rock the all-black-clothing with pouty-red-lipstick look like Amélie personally loaned me her wardrobe. My sense of fashion has certainly progressed since then

I have a running playlist of the strangest juxtapositions: Zac Brown Band (for him), Edith Piaf (for Paris), and the Hunchback of Notre Dame (for the guise of focusing, the reality of pretending to be Esmeralda in the famous cathédrale). Rinse, remix, repeat.

Rinse, remix, repeat. Mojito chicken, library, repeat. Three days, three days, three days.

current jam: ‘la vie en rose’ édith piaf.

best thing: affordable airlines.

Montréal & Vermont: The Final Installment

Day Five: Saturday

The three of us were up, packed, and ready to go by 9 (be impressed, parentals) in part because we had to check out by noon, but also because we wanted to hit the road. Another fabulous meal was in order; barely a block down from the hotel was a small place called “Eggspectation” to which we directed by a passerby. It was stylish, affordable, delicious, and (are you really surprised) a wonderful meal.

Maybe I should just give up on college and be a food blogger. Eat, travel, write.
While we originally were planning on going to the biodôme it was going to cost us more money and, to be honest, we were running low on funds and pretty tired. So after a harrowing journey through the one-way cobbled streets of Montréal we finally made it to the highway and headed stateside. The drive, post-getting-lost-in-Montréal, was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Vermont to Brenna’s cozy house where she fed us her homemade pizza (yum!) and her mother’s brownies (double-yum!) and her sugar cookies (I melted with every bite). Seriously, food blogging. New professional occupation.

The moon that night was HUGE and BEAUTIFUL, so we drove up to Overlook Park to appreciate the view.

Day Six: Sunday

Another early start (7:30AM) wrought monkey bread for breakfast and the Firebolt (my car) packed to the brim. We hit I-89 and were back in South Hadley, at long last.

Campus WAS totally snow-free and beautiful until this morning (Monday) when, as I write, snow is pouring down in buckets outside. I. am. not. amused. But I’m kind of still in the midst of midterms and a play and a job application, so I’ll be MIA from the blog for a bit! Stay tuned to my youtube channel for the Thoughts From Places vlog that will surely go up on Friday or Saturday, post-paper-writing. But thanks for following and reading, and here’s to your next adventure?

What did you spend your spring break doing? Leave it in the comments!


current jam: my friend hanna’s cover of “teenage dream”
best thing in my life right now: turning in applications!
days until departure: 76

Montréal & Vermont, Part 3

Day Four: Friday
True to vacation, Austin and I slept in until 11 AM whilst Brenna (ever the early riser) was up and showered and ready by 9. When Austin and I finally hauled our over-slept selves out of bed, the three of us headed down to Rue Saint Paul for breakfast. 

The night before while walking we’d noticed a tiny little restaurant called Chez Suzette which specialized in crêpes and fondue. Having been informed that crêpes were an absolute must to eat in Montréal (like we needed telling) I’d made a mental note to return the next morning. 

And friends, let me tell you. Not only are crêpes a must in my new favorite Canadian city- the crêpes from Chez Suzette are a necessity. The prices were reasonable, the food superb, the service wonderful, and the atmosphere perfect. Having worked in two fine dining restaurants as a hostess/waitress I’m kind of a restaurant snob (but no matter what I always tip 20%. You should too. No, really, you should. Your tips = my college fund). This charming little place in Old Montréal was exceptionally marvelous, passing every standard I have for restaurants. I suppose Europeans and Canadians just got it right when it concerns fine cuisine. 

As I’m writing these post-trip I keep reflecting on how much of the voyage experience centered around food. The fact that our cultures are so often defined by how we sustain ourselves on the most immediate level speaks volumes to what our needs are as human beings, and, more importantly, how important it is that everyone everywhere has enough to eat. I realize this is a deviation far from my delights and little joys in Montréal, but it is something that needs mentioning: I am very, very lucky and blessed and fortunate to not only have enough to eat, but to have the means to sleep in and meander a few blocks over and be fed. That is a luxury. I neither grew the ingredients for my food nor harvested them; I was not up at the crack of dawn to cook my meal nor did I have to worry about my meal. It bodes reminding for me- my trip to Montréal, while lovely and relaxing and full of life lessons, was a trip of luxury. Okay, diatribe over. Back to spring break!

After crêpes, Austin went to the Musée d’Archeologie before we all headed over to the primary shopping district in Montréal: Rue Sainte-Catherine. It was an afternoon of CRAZY busy dressing rooms and colorful fabrics. I had two exclusively French encounters; one, where I bought two über-hipster headbands from a place called Garage, and the other when I tried on my dress from none other than Urban Outfitters. (Figures, really. I rant about world hunger and go on to blog about my new dress!) But! My French apparently wasn’t too shabby as I had no problems with either clerk and paid for everything just fine. Merci, Mme Bloom!
Rue Saint-Paul
Our shopping (and walking) rendered us pretty tired so once again we went back to the hotel for a spell before hitting Saint Paul’s again for dinner. This time we chose a rather more upscale place called Les Pyrenées which was aptly named after the mountain range than runs along France’s southwestern border with Spain.

It was here that I think I had the real French cuisine experience. I’d been told that Montréal is very European but this was as if I’d taken a ship to the continent proper. When our waiter asked me what I cared to drink with my goat cheese crumbled over sautéed vegetables (the cheapest thing on the menu) I replied with “Une rosé s’il-vous-plaît” (a glass of Rosé, please). He promptly told me that rosé was a terrible wine, only to be had in the summer by the pool. Instead, he told me quite insistently, he would select a nice white wine to go with my meal.

Now, I worked in two pretty upscale restaurants this summer. My night job was as a waitress (I hosted at the other place during the day) and as a waiter I had to have a somewhat thorough understanding of wines. The reality of that, though, was that in the US I’m underage and therefore certainly not educated on the language that is drinking fine wine. Our waiter most definitely educated me on the subject as the wine he picked for me was exquisite, if not pricier than the glass of putrid pink I was supposedly going to try to have. It was one of those moments where I was totally thrown in the simplest of situations; a real “when in Rome” time. Quelle chance!

Montréal was beautiful and all lit up as we walked back to the hotel.

The Cathedral (again)
After our stroll we, like the party-crazy (not) students we are, went back to the room. Austin and Brenna tried to go swimming (the pool was closed) and I wrote my first blog post (see below). It had been a lovely, long day, so we decided just to hang out and veg before bed.

Annnnd the last installment to come! I have lines to memorize and a paper to write and a midterm to study for….yikes. Procrastination: over. 

-the wanderer

current jam: “the king of spain” the tallest man on earth (sense a trend?)
best thing in my life right now: waffles!
days until departure: 77