Sunday, January 11, 2015

On Recommence

Chicago... it was exactly what I needed. In so many ways that I didn't even expect.

Before going home for Christmas, I felt like I was failing my experience in some way by needing a break. But I have to say, looking back now, I don't think I would have lasted the rest of my time in France had I not taken those 12 days to really take a breather. The idea of being abroad 9 months total had become overwhelming, more so than I was even willing to admit to myself... but now I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I couldn't feel more relieved or happy. Plain and simple.

NYE with two of my very best friends.
I made the most of every minute I was in Chicago and loved it. Eating at my favorite restaurants. Taking long walks in my favorite neighborhoods. Even just being in my own bed. It was all amazing. A week later, I am still on such a high from it all, though I am most thrilled about having been able to see so many of my friends and family, a few more than once, and a few of which I didn't think I would be able to spend time with at all. My grandma even helped give me the Thanksgiving I had been absent from for the first time in my life. Like I said, it was just a complete relief. And now, I'm determined to keep a slightly more optimistic point of view than before I left. My experience may not be what I had expected, but it is my experience to take advantage of, for better or worse.

Had to stop to take in the beauty of my walk home on a 50 degree day! Thanks, France.

Donc, on recommence, let's restart, this experience in France... and I've already begun to make the absolute most of it, which started by planning a week of vacation in February... to Italy and Greece!

My friend Jessica and I had been talking about traveling together in February. We started with the idea of going to Scotland or Denmark or Sweden or even Norway. Today we sat down to plan, via Skype (... for 6 hours), and I mentioned how I thought I might want to save the North for when the days would be longer... as well as warmer. Jessica threw out the idea of Greece, and from there we began to plan.
First up... Milan, Italy!

First, we'll be taking a train from our hometowns to Milan, Italy where we will spend about three days total. Jessica has already had the chance to visit Italy, but this will be my first time and I couldn't be more thrilled. While there are many more cities I would love to visit as well, I am going to save the rest of them for a trip later in my life when I can focus just on Italy. But, I have heard wonderful things of Milan from one of my closest friends, Sarah, who lived and worked there last year-- she's already given us a ton of suggestions and advice on the area!

Then, Athens!
After Milan, we are going to use EasyJet to fly us to Athens, Greece. Never used a discount airline before, so that should be an experience in and of itself, but who can pass up a 20 euro flight to Athens? Not us, at least. We'll have the chance to wander around the Acropolis, Parthenon and other ruins for a couple days before...

Taking a ferry to Santorini! The Greek Isles. I truly never imagined I'd make it to Greece this time around, let alone the islands! They look magical, and while we may not have summer weather in February, I know Santorini will be a surreal and breathtaking experience. Hopefully, that'll make up for the fact that getting back to France afterwards will cost nearly as much as we would have spent on hotels and transport up to that point... but, when in Europe, right?
... and we'll finish with Santorini!

In light of everything that's happened this past week in France, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to check and see that I am safe. I am safe. It's been a devastating week for France and security is very high all over the country, as well as all over Europe. It's shaken France to its core, but it's amazing to see how people have come together in the aftermath. I hope that the victims' friends and families of these horrible attacks are able to find peace one day... though I can only imagine how difficult that will be.

 Things I've Learned
  •  It's really important to pay attention to things like, oh, I don't know, signs... when jetlagged. I was on the last leg of my trip back from Chicago. My trip from Lyon to Saint Chamond. A trip I've done dozens of times, no problem. Only this time, I assumed the train I had hopped on was the right one without first confirming by looking at the electronic sign on the side... BIG mistake. Ended up going 20 minutes in the opposite direction. Normally, not a huge problem. This time, of course, there was some sort of accident holding up the train that would get me back to where I needed to be. All trains were over an hour late as a result. So, cue me getting in 2 hours later than I should have on two hours of sleep. Bien fait, Sarah. 
  • Les Soldes-- France has two massive periods of sales and the time after Christmas is one of them. I went shopping 4 days after the sales started and nearly everything was already picked over because the discounts are just so insane. Somehow, the sales are supposed to last till February, so I assume stores must get restocked at some point.
  • Travel in February. No one wants to travel in the middle of winter so everything is cheapcheapcheap. 

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