The Big Island: A Post Study Abroad Trip

To go from traveling to new cities, eating different foods, and experiencing unique cultures every other weekend to go back to my old, small hometown causes quite the reverse culture shock – to say the least. That is why I was ecstatic to learn that my family had planned a trip to Hawai’i (the Big Island) in June. So after a miserably mellow month of June, we drove to LAX two weeks ago for a five hour flight to Kona, Hawai’i.

We left LAX at about 6 pm, and after a rocky and turbulence-filled landing, we ended up in Kona at about 9:00 p.m., rented our car, and drove straight to our hotel. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriot in Kailua-Kona, and it was the perfect spot for us. The hotel was nothing fancy, but its placement right along the beach and a ten minute walk to some touristy shopping, decent shave ice, and a local farmer’s market was great for my family. We then grabbed a quick bite to eat at the restaurant across the street then headed straight to bed, suffering from the jetlag of a 3 hour time difference.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early and decided to try a breakfast joint I had found on Yelp called 808 Grindz Café, just a ten minute walk from our hotel. If you ever go to the Big Island, you absolutely MUST eat here! We ate here four out of the seven days that we were in Hawai’i. My parents got a rice dish called “Moco Moco” which is fried rice with different types of meats and gravies and it was amazing – or if you are like me and are not a big fan of gravies or meats, you can order their Local Fried Rice which is also amazing. If you want something more sweet or starchy, try the coconut pancakes with a macadamia nut-vanilla syrup. These were some of the most amazing pancakes I had ever eaten – they were light fluffy, and despite the fact that they sound sickeningly sweet, they were just the perfect amount of sweet. I also suggest the breakfast burrito on their menu, which is served without a tortilla and tastes incredible. Basically you can get anything on the menu and you will be beyond satisfied.

After our breakfast that made us so full we were practically sick, we walked around the street past our hotel, exploring the tourist shops. While there was some fun shopping in this area, it is definitely tourist trap-like and therefore a bit overpriced. But there is a farmer’s market across from the mall and at the market my mom and I tried white pineapple, a type of pineapple only grown on the Big Island in Hawai’i. I normally do not like pineapple because I find it to be too acidic, however the white pineapple was so sweet and not at all acidic. I loved it. (Bonus: pineapple is one of the very few fruits you can take out of Hawai’i back to the mainland so my mom but a white pineapple for us to take home!)

That was about it for day one. The next day we went back to 808 Grindz Café for breakfast, then did a quick Costco run where we got some Poki (a Hawai’i tradition for my family), chips, and waters for our road trip the next day. Then it was back to the hotel where we went to the little beach just outside our hotel and rented paddleboards from the little shack right on the sand. No one in my family had paddle boarded before but we had been warned it was hard, and it was, especially because the wind was crazy that day, causing some rocky waves. So we did not leave the bay for the hour that we had the paddleboards. But it was so fun and I definitely recommend trying out some type of watersport while you are there – the shack also had kayaks and giant canoes for rent as well.

That night we went to a seafood restaurant called Umeke’s and it was great. It’s a little pricey because it’s seafood, after all, but the food is really good and they have giant bowls of Poki, if you really love Poki.

The next day we woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast then headed south toward the Volcanoes National Park. On our way, we stopped at South Point which is the most southern point of the U.S.A. and it is a beautiful view of the ocean. But tread carefully because the point is on a rocky cliff that overlooks the sea where the waves are quite large. But the view is incredible and we had a great time crawling around the rocks and looking at the tidepools.

Then we hopped back into the car and continued to the Volcanoes National Park. The park itself is huge and it has a lot of things for guests to sea, but be prepared for a lot of hiking if you want to see a lot of what the park has to offer. Obviously, for safety purposes, you cannot take your car too close to any of the craters. If you want to see where the lava flows into the sea, for example, it is a four mile hike to the lookout spot, and even the lookout spot is still a half a mile away from the lava.

We did not do any of the long hikes but we did explore the lava tube, saw a few of the older craters that were accessible by car, and saw about a billion fields of lava. We also drove down the the sea arch which was a beautiful view of the ocean (we even saw a little sea turtle swimming around below us) and up to Jagger’s, where there is a little observatory where you can see the crater where the lava is currently active and pumping out steam. We did not stay late enough into the evening to see the lava glow but it was still quite the experience to see all of that smoke coming out of the volcano. Afterwards we booked it back to Kona where we grabbed some late night pizza then headed to bed, exhausted from a day of driving.

Sunday was another day of adventures. We drove up to a little breakfast joint called the Coffee Shack. The food was pretty good, but I mostly suggest going here for the crazy view down a Hawai’ian hillside, overlooking the crystal blue ocean waters. Plus there are these cute, tiny geckos all over the restaurant (don’t worry they won’t go near you). They were crawling all over the walls and ceiling. It was a really cool breakfast experience.  Then we drove down to a little beach across the bay from the Captain Cook monument where we went snorkeling. We saw some fish and it was a fun experience but we were determined to find a more lively snorkel spot.

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We had heard a few people recommend a Manta Ray night snorkel so we decided to book one through a tour company for Monday night. We arrived at the dock around 5:00 p.m., were given wetsuits and then loaded into a catamaran. The ride was about an hour to a little cove where we all zipped up our wetsuits, put on our snorkel gear and jumped in the water. It was still sunny out when we first got in so the water was clear enough for me to see that this water was deep. It was pretty trippy, at first to be swimming around in water where it was so deep I could not see the bottom. But it just made the experience more amazing.

I had only been in the water a few minutes when I turned around to see a large dark figure gliding through the waters. Sure enough, it was a manta ray. There were a few more that we saw after that, swimming and gliding back and forth through the cove just a few short feet underneath our stomachs. As it started to get darker, they brought out a surfboard with LED lights attached to it, so as to attract more plankton (the feeding source for manta rays). We had to lay completely still and flat so as to not wash away the plankton, or scare the manta rays, and it took a good while, but towards the end of our night, the rays came right up to us and started doing little flips in the water, so close I literally chest bumped a manta ray. If you go to the Big Island, ever, you absolutely must do a manta ray tour (but be prepared for some waiting around and a sore back and shoulders the next day).

We got back to the dock around 9:00 p.m. and then sought out a late dinner. My dad found a place called Chubby’s Diner that we had heard a few locals say was really good, and it was. The diner is actually located inside a bowling alley but the food was so good. I got chicken katsu (fried chicken breaded with panko crumbs) which came with fried rice and a salad and it definitely hit the spot of four straight hours of snorkeling.

The next day was the fourth of July and my family decided to get up early to go snorkeling just outside the bay outside of our hotel. We had heard the snorkeling there was amazing and had been snorkeling there the day before, but it was late in the afternoon and the water was murky from a day of boats and people being in it. So we ventured back out in the morning while the water was still clear and it was some of the best snorkeling we had done. The coral reefs and the sea plant life was plentiful and beautiful (but be super careful not to touch any of it or you could seriously damage it!) which meant there was an abundant and diverse population of tropical fish. We even saw a moray eel and a sea snake (stay away from the sea snakes though – they’re venomous). Then as we were about to head back in, we noticed that just past the reef, the water got really dark and murky.

My dad and I, at first, assumed that it was a large drop-off but we did not remember the water being that deep before. So we swam a bit closer and as we did we realized that it was not a drop of at all, it was a school of fish. Literally millions of fish. I cannot stress enough how many fish there were. If you were not close enough, you would think it was just the color of the water. They were packed together, all swimming in formation when another snorkeler dived straight down into the middle of the school where they parted for a moment, then came back together, going straight back to their whirpool formation. It was incredible. And we saw it literally yards away from our hotel.

Afterwards we drove up north toward Waimea where we visited the Pololu Valley (a gorgeous view). We explored the area in the northern part of the island, stopping at a few road stands along the way (something I definitely recommend doing because they always have really great fruits). And since it was the fourth of July we knew that we wanted to watch the fireworks that night and they shot the fireworks off at the pier by our hotel. So we ended up eating dinner at the hotel restaurant (which turned out to be a great idea because the restaurant was empty but the beach outside of it was packed) where we could watch the fireworks from our table, outside.

The next day was our last day in Hawai’i, with our flight back to LAX leaving at 9:00 p.m. that evening. So we used our day to drive to the other side of the island, Hilo where we explored the waterfalls like Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls. Both were beautiful but the drive was long, and my family agreed that we were glad we stayed in Kona which was less “city” than Hilo.

Then it was goodbye Hawai’i and back to California. It was a great vacation, a good break from the monotony of the reverse culture shock that comes with returning from study abroad.

There’s No Place Like Cannes

After living in Cannes for four months, I feel comfortable enough to say that I am an honorary Cannois and as an honorary Cannois, I am compelled to say that Cannes is the ideal spot to visit, vacation, study abroad, or (hopefully, one day) retire. This city taught me so much about french culture, European culture, the film industry, and (queue the study-abroad-cheesy line) myself. So I am here to tell you why you should go to Cannes, if you ever have the chance to visit France.

  1. Everyday is the perfect beach day: Obviously if you are looking for a great vacation destination, Cannes is a perfect place. It has miles of beach for people to lay out under the beautiful blue sky and warm sun, or swim in the crystal clear salty waters of the Mediterranean sea. I am ruined because of the Cannes beaches, which are ridiculously clean and the water is clear enough that when I look down at my feet I can see the little fish swimming up to me. There are little food stands about every quarter mile down the entire beach and coastline that sell ice cream, fries, sandwiches, and drinks. If it is peak tourist season, you can rent paddleboards or other aquatic sport equipment. Some of my favorite memories in Cannes are of myself and a group of friends at the beach, laying in the sand or floating in the water. The sea is really salty too, which many people hate, but it does make it easier to float. And the waves are very mild, so just grab yourself a drink from the beach side snack stands, rent a floating device, and relax in the Mediterranean sea for a little while.
  2. Cultural Immersion: When people think of France, they primarily think of Paris and, of course, when most people visit France, they visit Paris. Paris is a very important french city which you should definitely visit, but if you are looking to really immerse yourself in the french culture, Cannes is the way to go. Paris is super touristy which means you won’t really get the full cultural experience that is half the fun of traveling to a foreign destination. Especially if you want to learn the language, you should go to Cannes. You could even take language classes at the International Collège de Cannes, which is a language immersion school. With three hours of french class, five days a week, you will pick up the language and culture in no time. Plus, unless you are there during the film festival, there are not a lot of tourists in Cannes which gives you ample opportunity to try to practice your language skills with the french locals. But even if you are not interested in learning french, don’t worry. Almost everyone in Cannes speaks english. It can be a bit of a small town at times, but this can be a good thing because it means that it is easier to learn the way of the locals, whether that is doing the best local leisure activities, going to the best local restaurants, or observing the locals and trying to understand and adapt to their culture. One of the biggest cultural differences that I found, and actually enjoyed adapting to, was that the french live to eat. And play. And relax. Really, they know how to say enough is enough after a day of hard work and take their time to live a higher quality of life. This usually takes form in insanely slow walking, early closing store and restaurant hours, and maybe even a restaurant closed on a random day at a totally random time. Since Cannes is also a beach town, it is clear that the locals know how to take it easy. And immersing yourself in that type of culture is really quite refreshing.
  3. Food: Everyone knows the french are known for their cuisine, and rightfully so. French pastries such as croissants, pain au chocolats, and crèpes are incredible and must-haves in France, as are non-pastry french dishes like escargots and ratatouille. But what a lot of people may not realize is that there is also a lot of region-specific french food as well, and Southern Provincial french food is to die for! One of the most popular dishes is moules-frites, which is mussels cooked in a white wine sauce, served with fries. It is really delicious but be careful where you get it from because myself and a lot of people in my study abroad program got food poisoning from it at one restaurant. Another dish is a Niçoise salad, which is traditionally made with anchovies. I’m not a big fan of those pungent little fish, but if you are, definitely give this local salad a go! But, if you’re like me and not a big fan of stinky fish in your lettuce, then definitely try a Salade du Chevre (goat cheese salad). It is make with lettuce, tomatoes, and lightly toasted goat cheese over tiny pieces of toast served with a balsamic vinaigrette (which is not really southern/provincial specific but still an absolute must-have in France). Try any of the local sea food (or fruits de mer) that Cannes has to offer as it is super fresh and amazingly delicious. You should also venture to a local market one morning to try local, Provincial produce such as cheese, olives, and maybe a few pastries as well! If you are looking for somewhere to eat out, I also have a few suggestions! For a nice lunch, try Le P’tit Zinc (which has an amazing Salade du Chevre). Or if you want a nice dinner, try Chez Vincent et Nicolas for some great Provincial french food or Astoux et Brun for some incredible seafood. If you want a nice coffee shop to do some work, or have a nice brunch, I suggest Casa di Nona or Café Picco (which is not anything fancy but it is right across from the Collège and has pretty good pastries and coffee).
  4. Location, location, location: Cannes is situated along the French Riviera in the region of Provence. The riviera runs along the coast of the Mediterranean sea, which means crystal clear blue waters and beautiful weather almost all year long. The region of Provence is home to beautiful little medieval towns that will make you feel like you are in an old fairy tale. And Cannes is perfectly nestled right in between Italy (just a two hour train ride away) and Spain (only a cheap hour long flight away). Basically, even if you get bored of Cannes, it is perfectly located right by some amazing places that you should definitely take the time out to visit if you are ever in Cannes. Some great nearby French cities to visit are Monte Carlo, Nice, Èze, and Menton, all coastal cities to the east of Cannes. Other provincial towns to visit are Nîmes, Arles, Avignon, and Les Baux de Provence. Each town has amazing medieval architecture and will definitely make you feel like you are in a movie. As I noted, Italy is just a two hour train ride away. Ventimiglia is the first city on the France-Italy border and it is a cute little coastal town, but make sure to have your french language skills ready because most of the locals do not speak english (but they do speak italian and french). You will find a beautiful, but rocky, beach here and some amazing Italian food. If you want to go to a more touristy destination, it is super cheap to buy train or plane tickets to Rome or Florence. For more information on some of the local traveling that I did, see my post “Pont, Palais, et Pizzas: Local Exploration.”
  5. Hollywood: Even if most people have not heard of Cannes, they have probably heard of the Cannes Film Festival. This festival drops a Hollywood bomb over Cannes during the two last weeks of May. Inside the Palais des Festivals, there is the film market full of hundreds of film companies, from production to distribution, marketing themselves to fellow filmmakers and industry professionals. Half of the Croisette (a major street in Cannes) is blocked off for the Red Carpet, which dozens of celebrities climb up to three or four times a day when a film is premiering inside the Palais theater. The whole city buzzes with festival-goers, festival workers, security, military, police, and tourists and locals with signs begging for movie tickets for the chance to climb that coveted red carpet. During the two weeks, there are other film competitions going on all over the city, where people with Cinephile badges can try to get in to see almost any movie they please (of course, many times there are limits on who can or cannot get into the movies). But it is an amazing opportunity to see movies months before they hit theaters, or see movies they may not be able to see at their local theaters because they are independent films. There are also concerts and movie screenings (of old movies) on the beach. The entire city it lit up with excitement – and occasionally film industry stress – from the crazy atmosphere of Hollywood infiltrating that small french town. My experience at the festival was a bit hectic but also amazing. I gained experience working in the film industry and dealing with businessmen and women as well as the perks of getting to climb the red carpet twice and see the festival premiere of Sofia Coppola’s new film. So if you want to visit a touristy Cannes, then go during the festival. It is a completely different town at this time of year than the rest of the year but it is still an amazing experience. (See my previous blog post: “Hollywood in France” to learn more about what I did during the film festival.)IMG_4248

These are only a few of the reasons that Cannes is the best place to visit/study/vacation. I have a billion more but that would turn this blog post into a thesis project. I may also be a little biased because Cannes was made a home to me for four months and it will always be another home to me but it does not take away from the fact that it is my favorite city and one that everyone should definitely travel to at some point.

Time to Say Goodbye

The time that I had been dreading since February 3rd finally arrived. The last few weeks have been busy but left me feeling quite emotional as I know that I have had to say goodbye to my new home and who knows when I will return or see any of my friends again. Most of us started crying a few weeks ago as we realized that our goodbye date was approaching. And now we are in our last week. On our last Monday together we had a farewell/Memorial Day party on the beach which was fun but also reminded me of all the amazing times we have had together this year. In an attempt to hold onto those happy thoughts, and because it is too hard to say goodbye, for this blog post I am going to share with you a list. It is a list of all of my most memorable moments I have had while studying abroad here. Some of them are small, simple memories. Some of them are grand memories of adventures I had in Europe. Some are funny and happy times. Others were quite stressful in the moment but funny to look back on now. But they are all memories that have made me feel like I truly am leaving my home behind here in Cannes. So here it goes . . .

  • At the very beginning of the semester, and it was our last night in London, and a large group of people from our program were seated at a large table in a pub that had the most annoyed, rude bartender I have ever encountered. I remember she carded each of us at least three times (despite the fact that we were in there for hours), laughed at my ID photo, and then told us she was closing the pub at 11:00 p.m. but did not make anyone else leave. While we were there, though, we played getting to know each other games, and I remember laughing so much and I had never felt so comfortable so easily with a group of people I had just met.
  • On our first Wednesday, karaoke night at Morrisons’, my roommates and I – having only met 4 days previously – decided to get up on stage and sing “Dancing Queen” and it was a wonderful bonding moment.
  • Playing card games and 5 Second Rule in the P’tit Cafe with lots of wine and cheese.
  • Any night when my roommates and I came up with random, hilarious phrases and I decided to turn them all into hashtags and pin them to our corkboard in the room. We started with three and now we have like twenty. I will always miss and remember talking in ridiculous accents and laughing so hard, I fall on the floor with a stitch in my side.

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  • Our program director treated us to a dinner out, where several of us ordered the moules-frites, a Southern France specialty, only to end up with food poisoning the following three days. It was awful to watch everyone drop like flies as the sickness hit every single person one at a time.
  • Going bowling with the group. My team was fairly mediocre but at least we had Sandrine, our program director, on our team. Afterwards, everyone discovered Ma Nolan’s for the first time and we all ate a ton of nachos and hot wings. Then we had karaoke night on campus where a group of about ten girls sang “Burnin’ Up” by the Jonas Brothers.
  • During our trip to Florence, everyone really wanted to find a fun club in the city and that, unfortunately, backfired as we ended up at a club called “Space” where we truly discovered hell on earth. We could not walk through the club without shoving through literal walls of people, getting groped and grabbed by aggressive strangers, and I got beer spilt all over my hair. The club set-up is weird as well – you enter, get a ticket for your drink and then you cannot leave without your ticket at the end of the night and you don’t pay the ticket/cover charge until you leave as well. Of course, half of our program lost their tickets, or lost their coat check tickets, and were literally being held hostage in the club, upset because it was late and they had had a terrible night in that terrible club. Note: never go to space in Florence, Italy.
  • I’ll never forget all of the college bonding over how annoying the young Italian students were who cut in the lunch line, made exuberant amounts of noise throughout all god awful hours of the night, and on occasion, attempted to enter our rooms randomly, without permission. Whenever the wifi wouldn’t work, everyone would immediately hiss, “The Italians.” (Sorry, Italy.)
  • On our first quest for sushi in Cannes, a friend tried to order teriyaki sauce but had no idea what the french translation was so she just described it as the sugary sauce and they brought her a literal bowl of sugar instead.
  • Every 2:00 a.m. kebab that was purchased and eaten after a late night out at Morrison’s.
  • Venturing through the Paris metro late at night, to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up and sparkling with an amazing group of girls, one of whom bought everyone tiny little Eiffel Tower keychains, and then just sitting there together, eating crepes and looking at the beautiful Parisian monument.
  • In Dublin, my roommates and I had a super early flight back to France, and it was the same weekend as Daylight Savings, which meant we were losing an hour so we decided to not bother going to bed. We happened to be staying at the apartment of one of my roommate’s friends so we just stayed in the apartment until 3 a.m. playing games, listening to music, and laughing.
  • On our flight to Greece, our airline’s computer system was down until about 30 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave which meant that no one could print their tickets or check their bags. Finally, when it worked, the line took forever and we ended up running through the airport to our gate, only to find out the flight had been delayed for even longer.
  • Every moment in Greece is an amazing memory that I will never forget. From our AirBnB’s friendly cat, to the amazing food, to the wifi that only worked on the AirBnB balcony, to renting a car in Santorini and driving around the entire island at sunset, to swimming through the freezing Aegean waters to get to the hot springs, to riding a donkey up a cliff, and going to a fish spa for the first time – it was all amazing.
  • The twelve hour bus journey to Eastern Europe – it was long, and my neck and back were quite sore afterwards, but the drive was cheap and the scenery was gorgeous. I do not regret the experience one bit.
  • Driving through France’s Provencial region and seeing the French greenery and mountainsides, especially in Les Baux de Provence where the cliffs and greenery seemed to stretch on forever.
  • Standing on the roof of a medieval castle in France and just watching the small Provincial town below.
  • Taking the train to Italy for the day and eating the most amazing food with friends, then sitting on the rocky beach and watching the parasailers take off into the air.
  • Walking around Barcelona and taking in all of the amazing architecture. Then getting amazing sangrias and tapas after touring the Sagrada Familia. And eating lunch at the market two days in a row.
  • My entire internship experience at the Cannes Film Festival – waking up at 7:15 a.m., going into the Palais at 8:30 a.m. before anyone else got there and seeing all of the booths, being hostess for the distribution company that I worked for, and helping out at my boss’s cocktail parties in her apartment.
  • Walking the red carpet (both times) – the first time, watching Sophia Coppola’s new film, The Beguiled, which was amazing. And the second time, sitting within yards of Jessica Chastain and Will Smith, quite close to the stage, as my friend and I watched the Palm D’Or awards ceremony.
  • Going to the beach with my friends during our last weekend in Cannes. I got a killer sunburn but being on that beautiful beach with some of my favorite people was definitely worth it.

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  • The Memorial/Goodbye party on our last Monday – it was so fun it inspired at least three other memorial day parties on the beach throughout the week, all of which were just as fun.

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  • On our last night, on Friday, everyone stayed up all night to hang out on the beach. We watched the videos people had made during the school year and even handed out superlatives. Despite the fact that there was quite a bit of crying, it was still fun and I will always treasure that memory and be glad I stayed up to spend my last hours in Cannes with my friends.

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These are only a select few of my favorite memories from studying abroad and I am so sad to say goodbye to France, but at least I know that Cannes will always be my second home.

Hollywood in France

Two days after I returned from my trip from Barcelona, I switched gears into a different kind of temporary daily lifestyle as I was thrust into the fast-paced, crazy life of Hollywood . . . in France. May seventeenth marked the commencement of the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival and I was lucky enough to participate in an internship at one of the companies at the festival which meant that I have been crazy busy these last two weeks. But the experience was amazing and I honestly wish that I could have that type of stimulation everyday because despite how exhausted I was at the end of every day and the early hour that I had to get up to go to work, I always woke up feeling like I’d had the best night’s sleep ever. So it is fairly safe to say that the festival is one of the best experiences I have had in my entire life.

On Tuesday, the festival had not yet begun but the companies in the film market were all setting up their booths in the Palais des Festivals or along the riviera where in just a day’s time, producers, buyers, sellers, and everyone in between would be roaming the halls and streets hoping to make a business deal. I had been in communication over email with my bosses at Vision Films, a distribution company based in Los Angeles, for about a month and today was finally the day we would meet. We had a rendez-vous scheduled for noon that day where we would meet at the palais after I picked up my badge. I left my campus at about 11:15 and took the bus to the crazy crowded streets near the palais. Cannes is a very small town and never had I ever seen the city so busy and full of so many tourists (little did I know on Tuesday, that it would only get busier and more crowded from there). Unfortunately it was also hot and humid out (a cruel temperature that lasted for the entire length of the festival), so I was sweaty and hot when I arrived at the Palais and stood in line to get my badge. The line was not too long but trying to get my badge ended up taking longer than expected because the employees, at first, thought that I could not pick up my badge until the next day. After a few minutes of panic, they fixed the computer error and gave me my badge. I then ran over to my boss’s AirBnB apartment across the street where both of my bosses greeted with a smile and a hug. After a half hour of stress, I was quite relieved at the warm welcome. Then one of my bosses took me back to the Palais and showed me where our booth was and I helped organize some DVDs for them and set up. They showed me what I would be doing everyday – primarily hostess work.

Afterwards, they took me out to lunch, where I was in such awe, listening to their conversations about the film business that I barely spoke two words. And that was the end of my first experience with my internship.

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The next morning was my first real day on the job! I woke up at 7:15 a.m., did my make-up, put on my nice business clothes, ate a quick breakfast on the go then took the bus to work. Trying to find an entrance into the palais though was a nightmare, and that nightmare ended up continuing every morning. Luckily, I was with a group of other interns from my college and we waited in a long line together to get into the Palais. But security claimed that the line didn’t even open until 8:30 a.m., the time all of us were supposed to be at work. I approached a security guard to ask for an explanation as to where else we could go to enter the palais but no one seemed to have an answer, despite the fact that there was another salesman there, clearly very frustrated with the fact that employees could not get into their own place of work.

I texted my bosses asking if there was somewhere else I could go, but they both claimed they were having similar problems getting into the Palais. So I waited until 8:30 in the line, then had to wait even longer as the line moved slower than a snail. I finally made it to our booth at around 8:50 a.m. and got a bit of a late start on unlocking the booth and setting up all of the TVs. One of my bosses then told me that some workers had found an entrance by the casino and I made a mental note to use that entrance the next day. When my other boss arrived, she showed me how to make her tea in the mornings. After all, what is a first internship in the entertainment industry without the cliché of fetching tea/water/coffee? And obviously no tea-fetching cliché would be complete without the tea boiling over the edge of the tea pot and making a mess on a desk. Luckily, no papers or anything important was on the desk so I tried to hide my red, embarrassed face as I quickly cleaned up the tea.

The rest of my day consisted of sitting at the front desk and greeting clients who walked up for meetings, offering them water or coffee, and showing them where to sit. Occasionally I would schedule a meeting, and sometimes I would listen to my boss take a producer’s pitch on his/her film. A bit of background information: a distribution company basically sells/distributes already finished films to buyers on different platforms like VOD, DVD, or theatrical release, and they do this with companies from all over the world. But occasionally, or rather very often, a producer would come up to try to pitch a film for the company to acquire and distribute. This was always an interesting interaction to watch because, to my surprise, a lot of producers had trouble finding a good pitch for their film and my boss would help them try to clean up their pitches by giving them feedback. Of course, many producers would not really take heed to this advice but I guess that’s their loss.

The rest of my days were mostly like that. I greeted clients and producers and occasionally helped the lost passer-by find the exit or bathrooms. I tried not to make too many mistakes, but I am only human. Luckily my mistakes were not terrible at all, and I always made up for them. I was also relieved to hear, from my fellow interns, that they had made the same mistakes at their jobs too. For example, on my second day I accidentally scheduled a meeting with a producer who I, mistakenly, thought was a business associate. So instead of my boss taking the meeting and listening to the pitch, my boss suggested that I take the meeting and tell her if the pitch sounded at all interesting. So I did, and it was actually really fun getting to listen to the pitch and ask questions about the film. And for the rest of the festival, I ended up being the one who listened to all of the pitches from producers. My only other mistake that I felt bad about was when an insurance salesman came up, claiming to know my boss and asking for an appointment. When I asked my boss if she knew him she said she had never heard of him and I felt terrible. Luckily she just kind of laughed it off, and funnily enough there were plenty of people who claimed to know my bosses who didn’t, but I didn’t schedule appointments with any of them after that incident.

Here is an awkward picture of me at work:

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After work each day, my boss held little cocktail parties at her apartment across the street for her clients where we could watch the red carpet from her balcony. So I went over each night and helped prepare the food and wine and then would stay a bit longer and listen and occasionally participate in conversations with the film industry professionals. My boss even let me bring friends each night and it was always a very fun and interesting time.

And that is what my last two busy weeks have been filled with. But now for the fun parts. My bosses are, clearly, very generous and nice people so they gave me their company numbers to request any red carpet tickets that I wanted. So I put in requests for several different tickets, assuming I probably would not get that many. I mostly wanted a ticket to The Beguiled, a new movie by Sophia Coppola, but I knew that it was in heavy demand so I was not holding my breath until, on Sunday afternoon, my boss turned to me and said, “Oh by the way. I just got an email and you got that ticket to see The Beguiled.” I tried not to squeal with delight as I replied, “Really?!” And I excitedly went to pick up my ticket and on Wednesday night, I was fortunate enough to be able to walk the red carpet – or half of it anyway. Security only lets us common-non-celebrity folk in by the stairs, about fifteen minutes before the celebrities even start to arrive, and security is constantly yelling at you to keep moving, despite the fact that everyone just wants a quick picture on the carpet. But it is still a really fun experience. We were then ushered into the theater. I sat in the “nosebleed” section of the balcony in the Grand Théâtre Lumière, which is the main theater in the Palais for the festival films.

While we waited for the stars to arrive and the movie to begin, they displayed the live footage of the celebrities arriving on the red carpet right outside. I watched stars like Gwendolyn Christie and Elizabeth Moss, among others, arrive before the cast of The Beguiled (Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Collin Farrel), accompanied by Sophia Coppola arrived, walked down the carpet together and then entered the theater. And I got goosebumps as the camera followed them into the theater and everyone stood up and clapped for Coppola. Then the film finally began and it was amazing! I definitely suggest that everyone see it when it comes out on June 30th!

So after my exciting night at the red carpet, the next day I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer at the AmfAR gala in Antibes which is a huge gala that raises money for AIDS research. It is at one of the most expensive, exclusive hotels in the world, Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc. It was beautiful and enormous and the decorations and dresses worn by some of the guests made me feel like I was either at a Gatsby party or a Capitol party from The Hunger Games. Clearly, it is safe to say I have never been around that much money in my entire life. Our jobs were really to just stand there and help guests if they needed anything, like to take their photos, which we barely did. We mostly watched the celebrities we saw walk by. I saw Diane Kruger, Bella Hadid, Will Smith, Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan. Not to mention all the people I missed in the crowds like DNCE, Dustin Hoffman, and Leonardo DiCaprio. It was an interesting and fun night.

I could not take pictures at the gala with all of the celebrities or the amazing decorations (but you can google those pictures!). I did snap a couple images of the beach by volunteers’ rest area.

After that, I was done with all of my film festival duties and I got to observe the insane festival culture from the perspective of a Cannois local. And honestly, I got really tired of all of the tourists really fast. Everyone always made passing comments about Cannes being a small town but I never really realized how small of a town it was until it was being overfilled with tourists from all over the world. The buses were so crowded that there were several nights I rode home on the bus, stuffed up against a window. And while the festival is a fun time, I am very ready to spend the rest of my time in France in the Cannes that I know – sans tourists.

But my festival festivities were not finished yet. I was happy to find out on Friday afternoon, that I had gotten two tickets to the closing Palm D’Or ceremony of the film festival on Sunday night and this time they weren’t nosebleed seats! So on Sunday evening, my friend and I got to walk the entire length (not just the stairs like last time) of the red carpet, which was still crowded and there were still security guards yelling at us to “Allez! Avancez!” but it was very fun. Our seats were in the Mezzanine section, very close to the Orchestra section, where all of the stars were seated. Plus we were on the side of the auditorium that was facing the judges’ seats on the stage which meant that we were yards away from Will Smith and Jessica Chastain! The stage was decorated so beautifully and it was amazing to be present for a ceremony that honored so many amazing filmmakers.

And that wrapped up my Cannes Film Festival experience. I walked the red carpet twice, saw the red carpet premiere of a Sophia Coppola film, attended the Palm D’Or ceremony, volunteered at the AmfAR gala, and I know have the ability to say that I worked at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Barcelona: Just Gaudí Enough for Me

*Note: I wrote this post about two weeks ago but have not had time to add pictures and post it until today! Find out why later this week in another blog post!*

With only four weeks left in my program here in Cannes (queue the waterworks), and the low balance of travel money I had left, I knew I could only take one more trip this semester so I had to make it a good one. So I chose the city I heard multiple people had moved to after only going for a small time span because the city was just so incredible. The city I dreamed of visiting when I saw my favorite childhood girlband strutting down its streets. The city where six friends from different countries could come together and build an incredible life together in L’Auberge Espagnole. That city was Barcelona, Spain. And it was truly one of the most, not dream-like, not crazy, but most captivating cities I have ever visited. I could understand why so many people who went for only a semester, or even 3 weeks, decided to move there. My weekend in Barcelona was filled with blister-and-sore-foot inducing amounts of walking, but also so many different, beautiful sites to see and an enormous amount of culture that I gobbled right up.  

My friend and I left Nice at around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday night and got to Barcelona around 11:30 p.m. And – not going to lie – our first night was a little rough. We were deliriously tired and therefore determined to get to our hostel as fast as possible so we immediately went straight to the metro station downstairs to buy T-10 metro passes since we had heard that those particular passes were great. However, maybe it was our crazy fatigue or that they were no longer selling them, but we could not find the T-10 passes so we bought the more expensive 72 hour metro passes. And while I was a little bummed about spending the extra money at first, by the next day, it was not a problem at all because I had gotten so much use out of it. But after buying the passes, it was past midnight and the metro was closed. So we tiredly made our way to the airport-city bus which dropped us near the city center, about a half-mile from our hostel. We walked to our hostel, and checked in smoothly. And our hostel experience was honestly great. Personally, I am always weary of hostels because they have mediocre service and/or weird roommates, especially in mixed gender dorms (I’m looking at you weird men in your 30s with real jobs who can afford actual hotels – stop staying in youth hostels). I have never had a particularly awful experience in a hostel, I mostly just find them to be annoying from time to time, so I had low expectations for this hostel, despite its tremendous reviews on HostelWorld. Yet I was so pleasantly surprised.

We stayed in The Hipstel Hostel and it was a gem. First of all, the architecture on the inside of the building is very antique and cool looking. The reception is 24 hour and all of the employees I interacted with were very nice and accommodating. My friend and I paid for an eight bed mixed gender dorm, however the hostel obviously tries to pair up the genders as best they can because our room ended up being all girls (no weird adult men) and we had a cute little window that overlooked the street below (a little annoying when the wild city nightlife was making a lot of noise, but overall great). So consensus: great hostel!

The next day, after we were well rested, my friend and I headed off to find brunch. Our first stop was a little place called Brunch & Cake, but unfortunately they had a long wait so my friend and I kept walking until we happened upon a little coffee and breakfast shop called Cosmos. And wow did we pick correctly! This tiny little shop had an incredibly simple breakfast menu and yet it was so good. Firstly, the decor in the shop is very artsy and hipster, and secondly the food was amazing. We ordered a combination plate that came with a hard-boiled egg, toast, watermelon, and then various options for two other sides – I chose some brie cheese and avocado. Along with that I also got a matcha latte. And while all of this sounded so simple, it all tasted so rich and amazing – especially the toast with the homemade strawberry jam. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone who wants a filling, simple breakfast.

After breakfast we took the metro to the Sagrada Familia, but were bummed to find out that we needed tickets, purchased in advance. However we are not tourists who quit easily so we bought tickets for 6:30 p.m. and decided to kill time doing other touristy things. So first we went to the Arc de Triomphe, which was beautiful and located right by a lovely little park which everyone who visits the Arc should explore. It was a lovely place to take an afternoon stroll and would have been a beautiful place for a picnic as well. If you’re curious as to where to get picnic food, do not worry because La Boqueria market is gigantic and has the most amazing food I ate in Barcelona.

It is located on La Rambla street, which is filled with street performers (but mind the pickpockets!) and artisanal vendors. The market is truly incredible though. They have amazing fruits and smoothies, seafood so fresh that the occasional lobster may escape from its tray on the booth, and a plethora of local spanish cuisine. I got nachos and watermelon (not spanish, I know but this Southern California girl just needed some guacamole) and it was so good. And after we stuffed ourselves silly on local market foods, we casually strolled through the market again before taking the metro back to our hostel to rest for an hour until it was back out on the Barcelona streets again!

We finally made it to the Sagrada Familia which is an incredible piece of architecture that I was in absolute awe of. But let me warn you about something I wish I had been warned about: a basic ticket gets you into the Sagrada Familia however it does not let you climb up the incredible towers, which is what I wanted to do. So when you buy your ticket, make sure you specify that you also want to take the elevator up the towers. But overall, the Sagrada Familia was one of the most beautiful – if not the most beautiful – pieces of architecture I have ever seen, and it’s still not even finished!

Afterwards, we were famished again so we set off in search for a perfect spanish food combo: sangria and tapas. We ended finding this cute little restaurant-bar where mostly locals were eating and ordered a liter of sangria. This place was my favorite place for sangria, too. It was cheap and it tasted the best out of all the sangria I had in Barcelona. It was not too strong and it had orange and lemon slices that made it the perfect amount of citrusy. The tapas were also very good – and we got a whole lot of them for the very reasonable amount that we ended up paying. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name but if I find it I will add it to this post.

Afterwards, we went back to the hostel to find that they had organized a bar crawl so we decided to join in. And while it was probably fun for some, it was not really our cup of tea. We got a free small beer at the first bar and then a card for a free shot at the second bar but neither my friend nor I are shot people so we gave our cards away and left early because we were exhausted from our busy day around Barcelona. So, like the exciting kids we are, we went back to the hostel and got a full nine hours of sleep.

The next day was also full of exploration. First, we were determined to find good food so we went back to Brunch and Cake, waited for forty-five minutes then were finally seated and it was worth it! I got an amazing tropical smoothie, an iced latte, and a bagel with scrambled eggs, avocado, salmon, and hummus. It was a great meal for a fair price. Then we walked to the Metro station and took the metro to the Park Guell, only to have the same thing that had happened to us the day before happen again – we needed tickets in advance to get into the park. So we bought our tickets for the next available time, which was at 6:30 p.m. again, and then took the metro to the port where we saw the statue of Christopher Columbus pointing toward America, admired the beautiful bay, and then walked down La Rambla, which was on an adjacent street.

So, of course, we went back to the market for a small lunch. In the market they actually have these mini restaurants where you just find a stool at the bar in front of their booth and they serve you. So we ordered more sangria, calamari, and I got myself an oyster. All of it was amazing and probably the best seafood that I had while in Barcelona. Then we bought some candies for later and took the metro back to the Park Guell because it was finally 6:00 p.m.

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The park was amazing and definitely my favorite sight to see on our trip. It was filled with greenery, incredible architecture, and stunning artistry. From the little balcony in the park, there is the most incredible view of the Barcelona skyline that I could have stared at for hours. We walked around the park, in awe of its beauty, eating the candies we bought from La Boqueria market, for a good hour or so then left for the beach.

We did not actually go to the beach, though. We took the metro to the Barceloneta beach and ended up just grabbing a dinner (more tapas and sangria) by the water. Dinner was also excellent, although I did not enjoy the sangria quite as much as the previous day’s, and afterwards we took the metro back to the hostel where we went to bed because we had an early 7:20 a.m. flight the next morning.

So my last trip was amazing and I would suggest traveling to Barcelona to everyone who studies abroad in Europe – or just as an incredible city to visit in general. Between its fruity sangrias, remarkable architecture, and fun culture, Barcelona will definitely captivate everyone who visits.

Life in Cannes: French Grammar, Beach, Morrison’s, Brunch, Rinse & Repeat

It is safe to say that I have done a fair bit of traveling in the last three months I have been in Europe. So far I have traveled to London, Florence, Paris, Dublin, Mykonos, Santorini, Salzburg, Vienna, Avignon, Ventimiglia, and not to mention all of the tiny journeys I have made to neighboring Côte d’Azur cities! And this weekend I went to Barcelona for one more weekend traveling adventure. But, there are some clichés which ring true: there’s no place like home. And (sorry, family) I am not referring to Southern California. I am referring to the happy home I have found and made here in Cannes. And since I have been talking about my journeys abroad, this week I am going to talk about the journey that my typical week in Cannes looks like.

Monday: My alarm goes off at eight o’clock in the morning but do I ever get up at that time? Never. I hit snooze and fall back asleep for a short ten minutes before I wake up again and get ready for class. I do the basics (clothes, teeth, pack my school supplies) and then it is off to breakfast. I try not to fall down the Harry Potter-esque spiraling staircase (truly the only thing that has ever made me fear for my life) in my morning drowsiness then walk to the Salle à Manger (cafeteria). “La carte, s’il vous plaît,” the cafeteria employees demand when we enter. We flash our student I.D. cards then grab our tiny breakfasts. If there is one thing I will remember about France – and Europe – when I leave, it is that no one here knows how to make a proper breakfast. My typical breakfast at the collège includes a hard boiled egg, an orange, yogurt, a banana, and coffee. And coffee is served in a big round bowl. It was a big of an adjustment, at first, but after doing it for three months, my stomach has adjusted.

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At nine a.m. people start lazily making their way towards class – but generally they only make it to the courtyard where everyone congregates and converses for a few minutes before finally actually going to class. During the first week of school, everyone was early only to realize that the french were always about five minutes late. Our only morning class is a three hour french intensive class and everyone is in a different class at a different level. In my class, we focus on a new subject each week, which we use as a perspective to study and analyze the french language. Last week, the theme was art and “La force d’image” and this week’s theme is film (perfect of me). We are using a diverse film vocabulary to analyze films, en français bien sûr, and learning “les expressions de l’opposition et de la concession” which I would explain further, but there is no exact english translation so it would be a bit difficult!

We have one fifteen minute break during class, which is really a twenty to twenty-five minute break when everyone, again, goes to the courtyard and talks and laughs. Some buy a small coffee, muffin, or a pain au chocolat from Le P’tit café on campus. Then it is back to class for another hour and a half before we have lunch at noon.

At lunch, it is not like your usual college cafeteria, buffet-style of eating. I sit at what is known as the “green table” – where people who are vegeterian, pescaterian, or gluten free sit. But before I eat my main course, I wait in a Disneyland-style long line (that I wish I could fastpass) for access to the salad bar then sit down and the cafeteria employees come by each table and serve us our food. The food is okay – it is by no means amazing, but (most days) it is not complete trash either. Then we are served dessert – usually fruit – and then I have about an hour to myself before my one and only seminar of the week.

This semester I took a French Society/Civilization seminar, that took place on Mondays from 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. It was actually a fascinating class because we learned a lot about how the french government works, french culture, la laïcité (secularism – a very important French right), the social inequalities and problems plaguing immigrants or residents in the banlieues (ghettos), France’s history of gender roles and equality, and we did a lot of research on the recent French presidential election (Woohoo Macron! Vive la France!).

After class, we will usually seek out dinner around seven p.m. Dinner around Cannes can range from an expensive seaside restaurant that you can only afford if you’re one of the celebrities visiting for the film festival or a cheap kebab from a food stand. There is also an in between though. Two popular dinner choices are Indian or Chinese. Both restaurants are fairly cheap and, even better, very close. The college campus is located about a mile to a mile and half away from the center of town, where most of the restaurants are located. So having good, cheap food close by is a blessing. Sometimes, if I really do not feel like going anywhere, I will simply cross the street to Café Picco where I can grab a salad to-go and eat it in my room while watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

But most of the time, I buy groceries from local stores like Monoprix (France’s less cool version of Target) or Leader Price. We don’t have fridges or kitchens in our dorms so I have had to get incredibly creative in order to save money. My typical grocery list includes rice cakes, tomatoes, oranges, bananas, nutella, and cheese. So how do I keep my cheese cold without a fridge? The windows in our room have to sets of shutters so my roommates and I put our cheese on the window sill in between the closed shutters and it keeps the cheese cold. So my typical dinner is a rice cake, covered in cheese and topped with sliced tomato – which probably tastes better than it sounds.

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And that about wraps up a typical Monday.

Tuesday: Tuesdays are basically the same as Mondays, minus the afternoon seminar. From 12:30 p.m. on, I am have no class! I usually spend my time writing, watching Netflix, or going to the gym. I also use my free time to do laundry. While I may have started out the school year paying 5 euros for a single use of the washing machine and a tiny sphere of detergent, I realized that it was just too much money. So I bought some laundry detergent of my own and started washing my clothes by hand and it has saved me so much money. Then I hang my clothes on either the heater in my room or out the window.

Speaking of the window in my room, some days I wish I could plop a couch down in front of it because I have a beautiful view of the campus’s courtyard and the beach, less than a block from campus.

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At 5:30 p.m., I take the bus to La Bocca, another part of town, where I teach English lessons to a little french girl. I tutor her for about an hour then catch the bus back to the campus. And that is it for my Tuesdays!

Wednesdays: If I were to state that Wednesdays were nothing special around Cannes, someone in my program might slap me. Because Wednesdays in Cannes are our sacred karaoke nights. But before I get to that, I use my free afternoons for some alone time in the lovely atmosphere of Café Picco where I sit and write my blog posts before grabbing dinner with my friends.

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Then ten o’clock strikes. Le p’tit café fills with students and and their bottles of wine. Funny french story about wine on campus: alcohol is forbidden but wine is totally a-okay. Upon arrival at the collège, everyone was confused about the presentation of this rule. “Alcohol is forbidden on the campus. Also there is a wine tasting on campus this Wednesday!” our program director said.

We asked her, for clarification, “Wait but we cannot have alcohol on campus?”

“No.”

“But we can have wine?”

“Of course.”

To me, there has never been anything more french than not considering wine a type alcohol. Anyway, at around 11:00 p.m. everyone leaves the collège and starts to make the long trek toward our karaoke night sanctuary: Morrison’s.

Morrison’s is the Irish Pub in Cannes that hosts karaoke nights on Wednesdays. The bartender knows almost all of us by name and looks out for all of the collège students should we ever need anything. And we spend the night dancing and scream-singing on top of a tiny stage to every Kelly Clarkson/Katy Perry/ABBA/insert-pop-artist-here that we can and we usually don’t get back home until 2:00 a.m. Obviously, this kind of night out is not for every Wednesday. I usually only go if it is a special occasion (birthdays, friends visiting, etc.) and when I do it is always a blast, but I always wake up feeling like I want to cut my aching feet off on Thursday mornings. And that brings me to . . .

Thursday: Thursdays are for recovering from karaoke nights for those who went out – or taking care of the karaoke night survivors (for those of us who did not go out). After class, I enjoy spending my afternoons at the beach. The water is always crystal clear and the horizon is set against the backdrop of a blue sky, mountains and islands in the distance and a brilliant and bright yellow sun.

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Friday: Fridays follow the usual schedule. Occasionally, our program director will host a little activity for us to do – getting ice cream together, touring Nice, or visiting some of the monuments around Cannes. On Friday nights, everyone usually goes out again. First, everyone congregates at Morrison’s for a beer then we head to Play, the local dance club, always filled with lots of people and music. And that is how we finish our weekdays in Cannes! Then it is finally . . .

The Weekend (Saturday & Sunday): On weekend mornings, I finally get to sleep in – which would be great if my internal clock did not wake me up at 9:00 a.m. no matter the day. So I get up, shower, and then head to brunch. Brunch is everyone’s favorite meal at the collège. There are scrambled eggs, fried eggs, crèpes, baguettes, cereal, fruit, yogurt, sausage, and cheese. I actually thoroughly enjoy sitting down for a long meal, mid-morning, chatting with friends and stuffing myself full of “real” breakfast food.

Other than brunch, what is there to do in Cannes? Having been here for three months, I’m very aware that Cannes is definitely considered a small town and can start to seem a bit boring. But I still love the sunny little beach town. Some weekends, I do local traveling (like I discussed in my last blog post), other weekends I write in the local coffee shops, or I go to the beach. It is never a dull moment with the group I am in Cannes with, though. Someone always has a way to keep life interesting even on what can seem like the dullest of Sunday afternoons.

On weekend evenings, I enjoy “splurging” a little bit for dinner, and by that I mean buying food out at a restaurant like Ma Nolan’s (see blog post: “Mal du Pays & Tacos”) or trying a new seaside café. One weekend, my friends and I went on a “chocolate crawl” where we visited various candy shops around Cannes and bought a bunch of chocolate. Some weekends, we have movie nights in the P’tit Café. But there is always something fun and relaxing to do.

And that sums up a typical week in Cannes for me (if I’m not traveling)! Check out the new “Local Recommendations” page for all of my favorite places in Cannes.

Pont, Palais, et Pizza: Local Exploration

The last few weekends have been filled with less “heavy duty” traveling and have been filled with more exploring of the area around the Côte d’Azur and the Provincial region of France. Cannes is a city which itself is really cool – the beaches are gorgeous and the giant hotels and designer clothing stores along the seaside are great to stare at and dream “one day.” Looking out onto the purest blue sea water I have ever seen in my life never seems to get old. But Cannes is also situated in a beautiful region of France, close to other cities full of life, culture, and history. And they are only a short, cheap bus or train ride away.

Two weeks ago, I spent my weekend exploring several historical cities and sites in the Provincial region: Arles, Le Pont du Gard, Avignon, and Les Baux de Provence. We traveled the whole way by bus, which stopped at each city and we spent one night in Avignon. Our first stop, after a three hour bus ride, was Arles. Arles was a cute little town with an amazing market, full of locally grown produce, amazing cuisine from different cultures, handmade clothes, and CHEESE. I cannot stress the sheer amount of cheese and olives. It was incredible. If you ever go to Arles, do not buy lunch at a restaurant. Get there early enough in the afternoon to visit the market and get food from the market. Everything tastes rich and amazing. After the market, we also visited the café where Van Gogh painted his famous, “Café Terrace at Night.” Then we traversed around some amazing Ancient Roman ruins that were located in the city, which were breathtaking and made me feel less disappointed about not making it to Rome this trip.

Then we took a short, twenty minute bus ride to a nearby medieval castle. I enjoyed exploring this little castle because it brought about memories of being young and dreaming of living in a castle with dragons – not to mention I seriously felt like I should have been a character in Game of Thrones, as I stood on the roof of the castle and looked out onto the gargoyles of the castle and the crystal blue water of the river below.

And after that happy little nerd moment, it was off to another beautiful, historical landmark: Le Pont du Gard. If you remember anything about aqueducts from your middle school history classes, you’ll remember that this aqueduct was built by the Ancient Romans as well (truly the Romans were just everywhere in Europe) to carry water between a spring at Uzés to Nîmes. It is grand and gorgeous, especially with the view of the river below it. The waters in the river are also crystal clear and dozens of other tourists were down in the river, swimming or kayaking. I braved the cold water and sharp stones, myself, and waded in the shallow part of the river. It is a definite must-see in the south of France, and don’t forget to bring your swim suit!

Then we hopped back on the bus and made our way to Avignon where we spent one night in a local hotel. Driving into the city, was a fascinating sight to take in. Firstly, I saw the famous Pont d’Avignon (the famous old bridge in Avignon) as we crossed the river (on a different bridge) to get to Avignon (You may know the song: “Sur le pont d’Avignon. On y danse. On y danse. Sur le pont d’Avignon. On y danse. Tous le rond.”). The second thing I saw upon arrival in the city, is that Avignon is still surrounded by castle-like large walls that box in the city. It was quite a sight to take in as our bus driver tried to navigate the incredible tiny streets of the old city to get us to our hotel. The next morning we were up by 10:00 a.m. and were off to explore the Palais des Pâpes, which was the papal residence when Pope Clement V moved there from Rome in 1309. It was home to two popes before the papacy returned to Rome in 1377. So needless to say, this building has a lot of history. I took an audio-guided tour of the Palais, which was actually very fascinating and allowed me to take in the history of the site at my own pace and brought back some nostalgia from my AP European history days, making me wish I was a history major. All in all, Avignon is a gorgeous little city with an incredibly immense history that you must visit in the south of France.

After our tour of the Palais, we hopped back on the bus and traveled to Les Baux de Provence – an area known for its lavender fields. Unfortunately, the lavender is not in bloom until July and we went in mid-April, however the greenery and beauty of the area is no less breathtaking. First we visited the Carrières de Lumières which is a vast, cold dark cave where multimedia shows are projected onto the walls – it is an indescribable experience that I can only recommend you see for yourself. After staying for the 45 minute presentation, we headed to the Castle of the Baux de Provence, which was mostly eroded away, but the ruins were incredible to climb up and get an incredible view of the region. We also watched a catapult demonstration which was an amusing experience as well, and if the Medieval Times is a subject which interests you, or you just like incredible views, Les Baux de Provence is an excellent area.

And thus concluded my weekend exploring the Provincial region of France – there is still plenty more to see but I was content with the sites I saw. And the next weekend was another weekend of a little bit of local exploration. As I stated before, Cannes is situated in an area that has fairly easy travel access to plenty of other areas, including Italy. Since the start of my time here in France, I had heard that Italy was a short train ride away and therefore I was dying to go to Italy, just for the day, just to eat some good Italian food. And so on Saturday, that is exactly what I did. My friends and I left the Cannes train station at around 2:15 p.m. and got to Ventimiglia, Italy by four o’clock. The ride itself was beautiful since the train tracks are right on the coast, which means that we got to see the breathtaking clear blue waters and beaches of Antibes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Èze, and Menton. By the time we got to Ventimiglia, we were starving. We did a quick exploration of the small, beautiful town then sat down at a tiny restaurant where I ordered a pizza, which was amazing. It was full of cheese, basil, and olive oil and it tasted great.

After we had stuffed ourselves silly, we walked around the large market full of fresh produce, meat, and cheese. We were in awe of the vast amount of every type of food they had and how fresh everything looked – I made a mental note to come back and do some grocery shopping there. We spent another half hour window shopping then we headed to the beach, which had no sand actually. It was covered in large stones, which was a very cool site to take in, especially in juxtaposition with the blue sea water. As we relaxed on the beach, we saw a few guys with parasails and what I can really only describe as giant fans – they would take a running start with their fans blowing at full speed and their parasails strapped to their backs and then up into the sky they went! It was an incredible thing to watch and looked so fun.

After an hour on the beach, we were off to eat more food! We could not go to Italy and not eat pizza and pasta, after all. So we went to a newer restaurant called “Pasta & Basta” where we chose the type of noodle we wanted and then the type of sauce. It was mouthwatering food, and I was so full by the end of the meal I could barely finish the amazing tiramisu I ordered for dessert. And after we had stuffed ourselves to death for the second time that day, we headed back to the train station and went home.

I may have only traveled to one city that weekend, but it reminded me of all of the nearby cities and places that I can travel to for so little money, so quickly – and just for the day! Who does not want to go to Italy just to grab a bite to eat after all?

Easter in Eastern Europe

It was not five days after I returned from my Spring Break in Greece that I found myself on a ten hour bus ride from Nice to Salzburg late on a Thursday night. But it was a long weekend for the French, who celebrate Easter Monday, so I decided to take the extra time to explore a part of Europe I had not been to yet: Austria. The experience was filled with new amazing foods, gorgeous architecture and picturesque views, and about five million Sound of Music references.

My friend and I took a long, late bus ride to Salzburg (via one quick bus transfer in Munich) and despite how grueling it sounds, it was a great ride and I would definitely recommend taking a bus across Europe at some point. We left Nice at around 10:00 p.m. and I fell asleep very fast. I woke up occasionally as we crossed through Milan, Italy and then again as we passed through the Alps in Switzerland. I opened my eyes at four o’clock in the morning to see fog and trees outside my window. I squinted at the glare in the window and cupped my hands around my eyes to get a better view of the edge of a long drop off that was the edge of the Alps. It was dark, cloudy, and eerie to see that we were up so high, but also an incredible view. Then I immediately felt the altitude sickness hit me and went back to sleep.

I woke up again around six a.m. as we crossed the German border and border control had to check our passports. And I looked out the window to see a sky that was full of gorgeous pastel pink and orange colors set against the foreground of the most green shrubbery I had ever seen surrounding a highly traveled freeway. And I continued to be struck by the sheer greenness of Eastern Europe as we traveled from Germany to Salzburg. It was not like the greenery I had seen in the Northwestern United States, it was sharper and clearer than even that type of greenery. It was the perfect view for beginning Easter weekend.

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When we arrived in Salzburg, we checked into our hostel then set out to explore the town. Our first stop was the Mirabell Gardens where I resisted the urge to frolic around, singing “Doe Rae Me.” But I loved the Gardens for more than just the Sound of Music references – it was full of beautiful flowers that reminded me of Easter because of all of the new life blooming and the sharpness of all the colors. After we left the gardens, the only thing that was really on our minds was food. Luckily, I had a friend from high school who’s studying abroad in Salzburg and gave me plenty of amazing recommendations. Our first stop: Schnitzel. And, to be honest, I still thought that schnitzel was only like the kind of stuff that Weinerschnitzel sells in the U.S. (yes, the hot dog corporation). I was beyond delighted to be surprised by what Schnitzel actually is: thinly breaded veal. Truly, I was surprised for a few reasons: the first being that I had no idea schnitzel is not actually a hot dog, nor does it resemble a hot dog in any way. But secondly, I have loathed the taste of meat for as long as I can remember but when I came to Europe I tried to give meat another chance. I generally still strongly dislike the flavor, but I knew that in Eastern Europe most of their food is just meat and potatoes so I figured I would suck it up and try some Schnitzel, since it is a specialty food. And it was amazing – it is probably one of my favorite foods now.

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And after I was stuffed on schnitzel, it was time for more food – we made our way to a little café where we had the most amazing apple strudel and hot chocolate (You can see all of the restaurants and cafés where I had the best food on my Travel Recommendations page!). Then we were greeted by my friend from high school who gave us a beautiful tour of Salzburg and even took us on a small hike in the hills that surround the little city. I definitely recommend just taking your time to walk around Salzburg. It is small enough that you can plus the scenery is so breathtaking, you really do not need a tour guide to just take everything in on your own. Trust me, walking around Salzburg, you will finally understand how the hills are alive with the sound of music.

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After our little hike, we had a very interesting cultural experience as we were taken to an Austrian beer hall where we drank amazing beer (made by the monks who reside in one of the Salzburg monasteries). It was a fascinating cultural experience because there had to have been dozens of rooms (had I not had a guide, I would have been totally lost) filled with loud, drinking Austrians, funnily enough, all wearing dirndls. The room was quite stuffy and filled with cigarette smoke but it was still a fun experience to have.

And thus concluded our first day in Austria. The next day, we were in Salzburg for most of the day, and we made the most of that day by exploring the city some more and eating a lot more food. Then at around six o’clock, we caught a train to Vienna. The train was ride was just as beautiful and green as the bus ride, and I one hundred percent suggest taking a train between cities in Europe (no matter the country). It is cheap, quick, and the views are always excellent.

We arrived in Vienna around eight p.m., checked into our hostel, then set off to find some food. However we were a little surprised to note that a lot of restaurants were already closed at only a quarter to nine o’clock. We finally found a quick bite to eat, then headed back to the hostel, unsure of what else we could do. The next morning, we woke and got ready for our Easter Sunday brunch. Our brunch was quite nice – I had a Viennese coffee and I actually got real scrambled eggs (which are truly not a thing in Europe). Then began a long day of exploration and adventure.

We bought a 24 hour metro pass which, if you plan on going to any large city that has a metro system, you should buy a pass. They are cheap and make navigating super easy. So our first stop was the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens and it was the perfect place to begin our Easter afternoon. There was a giant Easter market set up just inside the palace gates where there were adorable handmade crafts and food that smelt amazing. Plus the palace is surrounded by the gardens which were just starting to bloom with the most beautiful and colorful tulips that really made me feel like it was finally spring.

Our next stop was the Sigmund Freud museum, which I was a bit skeptical of at first. I generally tend to find museums tedious and my feet are aching with apathy by the end of my visit. But this museum was actually quite interesting – it is located in Freud’s old apartment and offices and you take an audio-guided tour that allows you to explore at your own pace and actually gives you interesting factoids about Freud’s life. Plus a lot of his furniture and writings are preserved in the apartment so it is fun to even just go, look around, and take in the history.

Then we took the metro to the Museum Quarter where we ate hot dogs and searched for a long while for the Opera House. The Quarter was cute, the architecture was grand, but it was very quiet and there was not much to do. It was a fun experience but definitely a little bit anti-climactic after our fun morning at the palace and Freud museum.

The next morning, we checked our of our hostel and returned to France. Despite the small letdown that the latter half of Vienna ended up being, I would totally recommend spending Easter in Austria, especially Salzburg. Vienna is beautiful, but it is also a big city – meaning it has a lot of tall buildings and museums but comes nowhere near the beauty of the small town of Salzburg which is surrounded by gorgeous nature and mountains.

Spring Break: It Was All Greek to Me

It has been a few weeks since my last blog post and that is because two weeks ago I was on my spring break which I spent in Greece! While studying abroad in France is amazing, Greece has been my dream destination since I watched Mamma Mia for the first time when I was eleven years old. And in initially taking off for Greece, I had no idea what was in store there, except for what I had seen in Mamma Mia and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or what I had read in The Odyssey, and I am pretty sure that is a slightly outdated guidebook for Greece. But honestly, if you are studying abroad, or just have the inkling to travel for your Spring Break, Greece is the way to go! There are equal parts adventurous and educational trips to take to geological and historical sights, as well as plenty of beautiful beaches where you can relax. In a different theme than most of my blog posts, this week I am going to discuss how my friends and I ended up having what can only be described as every college student’s dream spring break.

Part One: Mykonos

Most people – or rather partying college kids – know this island for its wild nightlife. And even upon our arrival in Mykonos, our driver asked if we had come to Mykonos just to party. My group of friends and I are not super crazy party people – we enjoy the occasional night out but had no intentions of going out every night. Luckily, Mykonos is a great island for more than just nightlife. Our first day in Mykonos, we explored the “downtown” area which is a gorgeous bunch of little white buildings situated along the water. In this area we also found “Little Venice” and the infamous windmills that the island’s postcards are known for. There was plenty of touristy shopping to be done, as well as food to eat! While my friends and I initially had the fantasy of swimming in the beautiful clear blue waters of the Aegean sea, it was far too cold for anyone to get in.

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The next day we took a ferry out to the tiny island of Delos which is the perfect place to go if you have any interest in seeing Greek ruins! The only real attraction on the island are the ruins and there are tons of them. I did not make it to Athens this trip, which was a bummer because I did not get to see the Parthenon and other famous ruins the city has to offer, but Delos definitely made up for that!

Overall, Mykonos was a quaint and cute little island. Nightlife ended up being pretty quiet because we were there before the tourist season began but it was still a fun island to visit for a few days. But on Wednesday, it was off to our next adventure . . .

Part Two: Santorini

While we may have flown into Mykonos, my friends and I decided to take a sea jet from Mykonos to Santorini, and it was a great decision! If you plan on island hopping around Greece, I definitely suggest taking a ferry at some point to get between islands. The ride was super quick and smooth, which is good because my stomach is notorious for having a terrible relationship with boats. But this ride was so smooth, I had zero motion sickness. The trip was also so pretty because, as we traveled between the islands, we viewed the beautiful blue sea from outside the windows and other islands nestled in between. Upon arrival at the Santorini port my friends and I were picked up by our AirBnB host’s staff who drove us to our house in Perissa and gave us any information we needed about the area and how to get around town. We settled in at our house then took a taxi to Thira, the downtown area of the island where we, again, explored all of the touristy little shops along the cliffside that overlooked the water.

However my friends and I were getting a little sick of paying for expensive taxi rides to and from downtown so we decided to check out a car rental shop, as per the recommendation of the staff of the AirBnB, just to see what they had and see how it compared to approximately $100 in taxi rides a day.  And renting a car turned out to be way cheaper than constantly getting a taxi. So here the downlow on renting a car in Greece: First of all, DO IT. With your own car, you can explore whatever island that you’re on at your own pace. Second of all, make sure you get insurance from the rental company! A lot of my friends and I were nervous because we thought we might need international licenses and had heard horror stories of people renting cars without them, getting into accidents, and then getting pinned with all the damage costs and the rental company reporting the car as “stolen.” However, the company that rented us a car was very helpful and told us that we could pay a small extra fee for insurance, just in case there was an accident. Luckily, there were no accidents on our trip! Third, you have to be twenty-one to drive so if you or your friends are not, then you won’t be able to rent the car. And forth, if you cannot drive manual, either learn or cross your fingers for an automatic car to be available. Only two people in our group knew how to drive a stick shift, but we luckily picked up the last automatic the rental company had!

The car ended up being an amazing investment. The next day, we drove an extremely short distance to the black sand beach right by our house in Perissa. It was the perfect spring break kind of day, too. The beach is right in front of a restaurant/bar which sets out umbrellas, chairs, and couches on the beach for anyone to use. Plus the food is amazingly delicious and extremely cheap. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough, if you are ever in Santorini. So my friends and I sat out on the beautiful beach, sipping smoothies until about 5 pm. Then, as the sun was setting, we all hopped in the car and drove almost the entire perimeter of the island. We literally chased the sunset down until we ended up in Oìa, the most beautiful part of the island to watch the sunset. It is the area you see in most movies with all those little white houses and pools on balconies that overlook the edge of the cliff and the sea below it. It was an incredible view that finished up an amazing day.

The next day was full of adventure! We woke up early to make our reservation to take a boat tour of the volcano of Santorini (which formed the island) and the hot springs near it. However, we were terribly confused trying to find the “Old Port” twenty minutes before our boat was supposed to leave only to find out that the Old Port was unreachable by car and we would have to take the cable car down the cliff. So we parked the car and ran. If you have ever been to Santorini, perhaps you are familiar with the layout of Thira – if you have not, let me tell you: It. Is. All. Stairs. So, yes. My friends and I sprinted up several stair flights to reach our cable car. Once seated on the cable car, we sat there for a good few minutes, stewing in our anxiety. Another family sat in an adjacent cable car, looking visibly in a hurry as well. So I started chanting “Let’s go!”, my friends joining in, and then the other family joining with us until the lovely cable car employees started the cars and got us down the cliffside.

We made it to our boat tour just in time and had an amazing time. We hiked up to the top of the volcano, where you could smell the sulfur and feel the heat under your feet. There was also a beautiful view of Santorini and the other surrounding islands. But be warned, if you do this tour, wear comfortable shoes! The island is steep and covered in lava rocks that are constantly rolling and sliding around under your feet, so even in the best of shoes, you will probably slip down the hill at some point. Afterwards, the boat took us around the volcano, to where the hot springs are located. The boat anchored down a good 100 meters or so away from the hot springs, which means that my friends and I had to swim from the boat, into the “open” sea, which was freezing in early April. But it was worth it once we got to the red, muddy waters of the hot springs where we buried our feet in the clay and warmed up in the red, lukewarm water. Then we had to brave the freezing cold Aegean sea again to swim back to the boat, but we all felt pretty proud of ourselves afterwards!

When we arrived back at the Old Port, we were struck with the dilemma of how to get back up the cliff. Then we saw an old Greek man holding a sign that said “Donkey Ride 5 Euro.” And, of course, we paid those 5 euros and rode donkeys up the cliffside. It was a hilarious and amazing experience. I have never ridden a donkey before, and it was way more difficult than I ever imagined. If you have ever seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and remember the scene where Lena arrives in Greece then falls off her donkey, it is almost exactly like that. The saddle felt like it was sliding off on one side, the donkeys had their own agendas and would bump into the cliffside or each other, plus they rock the rider a lot more than horses do, so I felt like I had to hold on or fall off. But it was very much worth it! The view was incredible and the ride itself was so fun to take with friends.

That night was our last spring break night together so we decided to have a fun “girls night.” We dressed up then went to a fish spa called “Dr. Fish Spa” where we got the dead skin eaten off our feet by tiny little fishes! It sounds a little strange, but I honestly cannot recommend it, and recommend this specific spa, enough. We paid fifteen euros for a half hour treatment where we got complimentary sangria, which tasted amazing (plus, before our flight the next day, we came back and got a major discount – twelve euros for one hour and two glasses of sangria). The staff is super nice and friendly, plus they have free wifi that you can use while you are getting your feet eaten!

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Afterwards we found a nice restaurant to enjoy one last Greek meal. The food was extravagant and amazing – I ordered stuffed calamari and the waiter brought out basically a whole squid stuffed with cheeses and veggies.

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My three Greek recommendations are: One, island hop! Each island has something different to offer so you should visit multiple islands. Two, rent a car! It’s cheap and you will be able to see the whole island. Three, stay in an AirBnB! There are plenty of cheap AirBnB homes in Greece and it saves money to have a working kitchen! Overall, spring break was an incredible experience and if you are looking for your ideal, dream spring break experience, Greece is the way to go!

Also: check out my new recommendations page to see some of my favorite places in each city I have visited so far (including Santorini and Mykonos)!

Paris: The City of Expectations

France is a country that most people associate with several distinct things: wine, baguettes, cheese, and Paris. Paris is an important French city, both for France (with it being the country’s capital) and for foreigners who dream about finding love at the top of the Eiffel Tower, strolling along the Champs Elysée in a beret, or having a beautiful picnic along the Seine. Paris is also a great example of a place that can cause serious culture shock if people do not manage their expectations for going abroad appropriately. Having expectations is always a good thing, but when studying abroad anywhere, it can be dangerous to believe that your life in another country will be like something out of a movie – this is an especially distinctive phenomenon in France, a country associated with ideas of love and philosophy.

Before I visited Paris a few weeks ago, I geared up by watching one of my favorite movies, Funny Face (1957, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire). And while I definitely listened to “Bonjour, Paris” a lot on the flight, I tried to remember that Paris would be nothing like what Hepburn’s character, Jo, experienced in the film. In fact, my brain went in the opposite direction as I recalled what others who had studied abroad in Paris had told me: it is dirty and full of crime. And yet neither sentiment really held up to what Paris was. Because, truly, Paris will always defy whatever expectation you have conjured up in your mind.

I will admit, it was a magical moment when, as the airplane descended into Paris, Louis Armstrong’s “La Vie en Rose” came on as I saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance. But, the sky was also full of dark, gray smog. After checking into the hotel, our study abroad group made its way to the Seine – a river that is truly not as beautiful and magical as all those old Hollywood films led us to believe. The water is brown and, during our boat ride on the river, a group of kids flipped us off from the shore. It was not an unpleasant experience, overall though (truly it was quite funny), because I reminded myself that Paris is only a city – just like Los Angeles, a city I had grown up next to. I had always laughed at people who moved to Los Angeles to chase some sort of whirlwind fantasy so why should I have those same expectations with Paris?

The next day, the sky was still gray with clouds and smog, as we visited the Notre Dame and toured the Latin Quarter. Yet nothing will compare to the experience of seeing that type of gorgeous architecture up close and in person. After our tour, a group of students went in search of a classic cheesy, French dish: fondue. As we walked through Paris, we were careful to hold onto our belongings as we were approached by the notorious pickpockets that our program director warned us about, and tried not to feel too uncomfortable or nervous by the soldiers with machine guns in the streets. Yet none of us felt cheated out of a dreamy Paris experience; we simply laughed off all of those little nuances. They would make for great anecdotes to tell our families back home.

There is one thing in Paris, though, that I found to be exactly how I fantasized it to be. After dinner that night, my friends and I set out for an adventure to find a good spot to see the Eiffel Tower at night. The journey started out a little nerve wracking as we were taunted and harassed in the metro by a few pickpockets – luckily, everyone was very vigilant and cautious and no one was robbed or hurt. By the time we reached our metro stop, everyone was jittery and anxious to see the infamous Tower. And the experience that followed was truly every bit as magical as those classic Hollywood films make Paris out to be.

We exited the metro station to find ourselves in a little courtyard on a hill, overlooking the Eiffel Tower which, like magic, lit up the moment we saw it. And the group of us stood there, for a moment, just watching it, gasping, tears pricking the corners of our eyes. After stopping a moment to take in the sight of the tower, and to take billions of pictures of course, everyone got crepes from the little crepe cart on the side of the courtyard. And then we sat down and watched the Eiffel Tower, eating our crepes, and enjoying each other’s company. Afterwards, we all found a calm little jazz bar where we sipped on some drinks and listened to live Jazz – like real Parisians. It was an incredible night.

The rest of my trip was also quite fun – Montmartre was a lovely little part of town full of amazing cafés and history and the Opèra Garnier had some of the most extravagant architecture and art I have ever seen. Paris was, by no means, anything like I had ever expected. The Seine was pretty dirty and it was always a chore having to shoo away pickpockets. It is important that people keep an open mind, and have a good sense of humor, when discovering the culture of a new city or country. If you go in with illusions of having a life like one out of a musical, you are going to be very disappointed; but you should not go in believing that life is going to suck in a new place either.

In the end, I did end up having a magical, old-classic-Hollywood type of experience at the Eiffel Tower even though my entire trip did not end with me sailing off with Fred Astaire in a white dress. But it was truly a s’wonderful, s’marvelous experience.