Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best Part of 2013

Many bloggers, at the end of the year, post a recap of all of the fun and exciting things they did that year. And that's pretty cool, I too like to remember all the cool stuff I got up to in a given year, see how it compares to other years of my life.

However, I'm also really REALLY lazy. So instead of summarizing the entirety of the past year, I'm just going to pick out the one biggest accomplishment I've made in the last year.

And that accomplishment is....*drumroll*




That in 2013, I completed my goal of traveling to 25 countries before the age of 25!

In June, while I was traveling with my parents, our train was stopped at a border crossing and our passports were stamped as we entered Croatia, and I was proud to be able to say that I'd finally done what I set out to do years ago--visit 25 different countries before I was 25 years old (and even with a bit of time to spare)! 

Where did this goal come from, you might ask....well, it started on another train journey, back in summer 2009. I was backpacking with my Eurail pass across Europe. This particular day found me going from Nice to Paris, all on my own. I'd been traveling using trains in Europe for a few months by this point, but this was the first time I'd commenced a day's travels in France. Something you should know, if you ever happen to be traveling by train in France, is that you MUST stamp your ticket in the little yellow machines near the tracks before you board, or else the ticket inspector on the train will make you pay a hefty fine.

But I, innocent little study abroad student that I was, had no idea of this rule. It didn't exist in Spain or anywhere else that I'd traveled. So of course, when the ticket inspector started coming around, and the cute little old man next to me asked, "Is your ticket stamped?" I must have turned white as a sheet. He quickly gave me some advice, to pretend like I didn't speak French and had no idea what was going on, and maybe the inspector wouldn't be quite so harsh on me. But then, because I have incredible luck, the man across the aisle from me hadn't stamped his ticket either. But he was French, and because he fought back, he ended up getting kicked off the train. 

When the ticket inspector returned from dealing with that mess, my savior of a little old man told me to put my ticket away and pretend like we'd already had ours checked, and to my amazement, it worked! The inspector forgot about us and moved on to the next group of seats, and I sighed the hugest sigh of relief. 

So then it was only natural that the cute old man and I got to chatting about ourselves and our lives, and as the lavender-filled fields of Provence whizzed past the window, I learned that he was French, but had lived in Africa and England, and was currently a professor in Montréal. That in itself was impressive enough, but the one thing that really inspired me was when he told me he'd been to 83 countries in his lifetime. 83! At the time, having traveled to less than 10 (including the USA and Canada), that number was almost unimaginable to me. What things this man must have seen!

As the man told me about his various adventures in these many different countries, I made a promise to myself, that one day I'd be able to pass on amazing stories to some young person that I met on a train. That I'd be able to amaze them with the crazy places I'd traveled to. I told myself, I too want to travel to 83 countries in my lifetime. 

And as I thought more about it in the months that followed, I realized that it's possible that I may not even make it to the age of 83, and even at the rate of one country per year, I was woefully behind. So I told myself then, by the time I'm 25, I'll have at least caught up to one country per year lived, and then see if I can get beyond that.

And now, here I am! I did it! There's still a long way to go before I get to 83, but I feel much more confident now that I'm capable of making it there.

2013 may have been my most travel-filled year yet, or at least, the one with the most crazy weekend adventures to faraway destinations! However, although my goal of making it to 83 countries before I die hasn't changed, I think that now that I've made it to 28 countries (yes, you read that right...between June and December I went to 3 more new countries, because I'm a traveling fool) I don't have to stress about being able to make it to 2 more in the next 5 years. I'm pretty sure I'll get to more than just that amount! So although I hope 2014 still contains loads of travel adventures, my goal for this time next year is to feel a little more settled, to find a place and make it home for awhile. And now that it's out there for the whole internet to see, I have to actually do it...right?

Feliz 2014 to all, make the most of it! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Boas Festas!

As you may have already read in some of my earlier posts, for the first time ever this year I'm not going home for Christmas. At least, not in the traditional sense. If you consider that we all have multiple homes, home is where the heart is, etc., then sure. I came home to Vigo this year instead of to America. And honestly, though of course I'm missing my family, I'm pretty thrilled about it.

It's probably been pretty obvious to most people that, although France is cool so far, a lot of the time my heart has been aching for Spain. For Galicia. For Vigo. So coming back here, seeing my friends who are more like family, speaking a language I dominate fairly well, eating foodstuffs I'd been craving for months, really feels wonderful. In a sense, it does feel like a homecoming.

So although I know my family back in the States is missing me (and I them), and even though that family is about to get just a little bit bigger (bienvenido a sobrino #7!), I'm not tragically crying my eyes out because I can't be there. Especially because I'm obviously very familiar with American Christmas traditions; cookies and eggnog and Santa Claus, etc. However, this year I finally get to learn about Spanish Christmas, eat shrimp and turrón and talk about the Reyes Magos (3 Wise Men)...who actually are coming on the same day I leave back to France, but I'm going to talk about them anyway, because I'm curious.

So I'm excited to learn, to try new things, and to be in a place I feel like I belong, even if it isn't where I originally came from.

Boas festas to you and yours,

with love from Alisabroad

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Un Week-End à Rennes

Sometimes a weekend getaway feels so good, doesn't it? So far in France I haven't been traveling that much, mostly just enjoying really getting to know my city. However, last weekend the time was right to get out and take a little trip--45 minutes down the road.

I was finally able to make it down to Rennes this past weekend, and I have to tell you all--I fell in love. I think I'd really missed being in a bigger city. I mean, my small city is great, but I actually like hustle and bustle and markets and buildings and buses. My poor parents, their farm-raised minds are constantly asking each other, "Where did we go wrong??"

But I digress. Rennes is a lovely size for a city, not too small, not too big, juuuuust right. I really liked wandering around and seeing the churches and quaint old buildings and even a moat and drawbridge.

There are also government buildings, since Rennes is the capital of Brittany. These were done in a more traditionally (what I think of as) "old French" style. That is to say, think of a typical building in Paris and you've got the right idea. 

But what I found cool about Rennes was that there were these stodgy government buildings on one block, and when I turned the corner, I came upon buildings that looked like something out of a fairy tale. What a cool style! I loved the brown and white patterned wood; like someone took a bunch of gingerbread houses and stretched them really tall. And of course they weren't at all level--totally added to the charm! 

And of course, being American, I can't fail to mention how much I love European Christmas markets and how superior I find them to being in your average United States mall any time after Thanksgiving. Christmas lights, little decorated huts, hot wine and comfort food? Sign me up! 

Rennes' Christmas market did not disappoint, and I was pleased to find that the potato "soup" concoction I had reminded me a lot of something my mom usually makes in the wintertime. It was like getting a little motherly love in a foreign land, which, trust me, will always be well-received when I'm far from home at Christmastime. 

So, Rennes, cheers to a lovely weekend getaway, and I hope we can get together again soon! I've been told you may have even more delights to share with me the next time I visit. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving by the Numbers


Number of years since I've had a Thanksgiving with my family: 7

 Number of memories I have of said last familial Thanksgiving: 0

Number of Thanksgivings I've had in the States total (both with family and not): 20

Number of photos of American Thanksgivings that I have: 0

Number of Thanksgivings I've celebrated in Europe: 4

Number of photos of said European Thanksgivings: hundreds

Number of kilos of turkey bought this year: 4.7 (that's 10.3 pounds)

Number of Euros spent on Fernando the French turkey: €47 (that's ~$64)

Number of guests this year: 8

Number of times I've explained the "pilgrims and Indians" story in the past week: (feels like) hundreds

Number of good memories created at expat Thanksgivings: uncountable

Number of leftovers in the fridge: (finally) dwindling

Hope you all had a Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Despite my constant attempts to live in the present and enjoy the time I have in France, there are some days when it's impossible not to look back and miss my time in Spain. Today is one of them, when I'm thinking about what I was doing at approximately this time last year.

Vigo, you're still in my heart!

In Galicia, fall is chestnut (castaña) season. They start falling from the trees, and as you walk along the city streets you find a vendor roasting them on what seems like every corner. They're a very popular fall/winter snack that has a deliciously hearty taste. 

They're so popular, in fact, that there's an entire festival devoted to them! This festival is known as Magosto. At schools in Galicia, one day in the middle of November each student is supposed to bring a sack full of chestnuts to school, and then the teachers build a big bonfire on the playground and roast said chestnuts. Then everyone gets to munch on them...mmm, delicious. 

And as you might expect on a party day at school, the students get a little rambunctious. The tradition is that students take ash from the roasted chestnuts and run around trying to give each other (and any teacher they can catch unawares) a black mark on their face.

Of course, as the foreigner last year I had my fair share of kids (and even one of the other teachers!) smearing me with ash. By the end of the party, I looked like I'd literally walked through hell and back. But hey, it was worth it to experience another Galician festival and eat as many free roasted chestnuts as I wanted. 

Magosto at my school last year

So, Galicia, I'm feeling a little bit of morriña today. But I have exciting news, I'll be back in terra galega for Christmas, and I couldn't be more thrilled about it! Since that's only about a month away, today I get to leave off with hasta pronto! Yippee! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My First Impressions of France

I know you've all been dying to know exactly how things have been going here in my new life in France, and I haven't exactly been delivering the goods. But I'm sure many of you also know just how hard moving and getting settled in can be, especially when it's cut in half by two weeks of vacation (such a difficult life, I know).

Intra-Muros, the old town of St. Malo

So to make this easy on all of us, here's a list of some of the things that have really caught my eye or surprised or impressed me about France so far.

The timetable

 I only "worked" (I say that lightly because really I was mostly waiting around for the administration to decide on my schedule) for 3 weeks at school before I had a two week vacation. In fact, French high schools have a two week vacation for every seven weeks they're in school. They say it's because of the long hours that they're there (8-5, most days), but it still seems like a pretty lush system to me!

The spire of the old town's cathedral with the sunset

 Related to the whole "working so hard while they're in school" thing, French schools have Wednesday afternoons off. I repeat, on Wednesdays they're done with school at noon. Wow!

And one more thing on the theme of strange timetables...in France, everything is closed on Mondays. Banks, shops, the works. It's therefore slightly inconvenient that Monday is my day off--it's like Sunday, take two! They say that this is because shopkeepers feel they deserve a full two days to rest just like everyone else in the world. I agree, in theory, but I'm starting to notice a pattern here with the whole "we deserve lots of time off because..." thing! It's rather confusing, because I keep trying to go out and get things accomplished at the bank or the store at a time that I think they should be open...only to be foiled by weird opening hours. C'est la vie, I guess.

The Food

French food has the fame of being among the best in the world, right? So far, that's mostly been my observation. Unsurprisingly, I've been regularly eating my weight in brie and Orangina, but what has surprised me is the fact that I've actually gotten sick of eating bread and carbs. I never in my life thought I would say that, to be honest. But here I eat nothing but baguette sandwiches, crêpes, kouign aman (a Breton cake with a name in Breton, pronounced queen ahmahn), pain au chocolat, etc. etc. And I'm...weirdly tired of it. Woe is me, I know.

Mini kouign amans

The Language

I expected to have problems with the French language after having lived in Spain for 3 years, to be constantly mixing it with Spanish. And so far, my fears have absolutely come true. I keep saying things like "Oui, c'est limpe," which means...absolutely nothing in French, and then people stare at me like I'm insane. I'm trying to say "Yes, it's clean," except the word for clean in French is propre, which has nothing to do with the word in Spanish (limpio). Oops.

But I have absolutely noticed and been surprised about a few things about the way that real French people talk, which I never knew or studied about in my classes in the US. For example, they use the word quoi (what) as a placefiller, so many of their sentences sound something like "Blahblahblah quoi, blahblah quoi, blahblahblahblahblah quoi!"

I knew about them calling McDonalds McDo and university la fac (sounds like the f-word), but I now also know that they call Coca-Cola simply coca, which makes me think they're talking about cocaine...every single time.

And I do remember learning in high school that French people sometimes use on (one, the pronoun) instead of nous (we), in order to avoid having to remember more complicated verb conjugations. But I had no idea it was so widespread! I've barely heard the word nous since I've been here.

Low tide in a neighboring town (Dinard)

I've also been surprised by the amount of people I'm apparently allowed to use the informal "you" (tu) with. I'd always been taught that as a sign of respect in France, you used the formal "you" (vous) with most people, except your friends (and especially with your elders). So I expected to be vous-ing it up at work, particularly, where I'm by far the youngest teacher. But no, so far I guess we're playing by what I think of as "Spain rules," where everyone is tu except the elderly and people in restaurants and stores. I remain confused.

The People

The French have the fame of being arrogant, but so far I haven't noticed that at all. Everyone here has been nothing but friendly to me. But what has surprised me is how funny I find them and their little habits.

Galette, or a salty crêpe, is a typically Breton food

For example, people (women especially) sometimes make this weird noise when talking. It's a quick inhalation, almost like a gasp, sometimes accompanied by the word "oui," which I guess (like quoi) is some kind of placefiller, but to my foreign ears it sounds like a gasp of surprise or fear. So whenever they do it, I in turn am surprised and look around, expecting to see something weird or scary in our vicinity, only to realize that it's just the French being French!

Another little quirk here is that people appear to be obsessed with license plate numbers. The last two numbers of license plates in France identify which "department," or area (of the 96 in mainland France) the car is from, and so when people see bad drivers here, they immediately fixate on the number of their license plate, and thus where they come from. You hear a lot of "Putain! That guy's cutting me off! Oh, of course, he's a 22!" (22s are our neighbors here, in Côtes d'Armor). You also hear a lot of "My god there are a lot of out-of-towners here today! Look, a 94, a 75! So many Parisians!" Ille-et-Vilaine, the department where St. Malo is located, is #35...so of course no one ever has anything bad to say about that number!

A local license plate designation

I'm sure I'll continue to discover more strange quirks about life in France the longer I keep living here! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Sands of Change

From the top of the St. Malo city walls, #nofilter

The above picture was taken from the same spot as the sunset in my "Coucou" post, a little park on the top of the wall that surrounds the old town of St. Malo (called Intra-Muros, or 'between walls'). If you were wondering, yes, I am obsessed with that particular spot because of the views it affords of the ocean and the sunset. 

However, I wonder if you notice that the view has changed in the month-and-a-half that I've been here? Perhaps not. But fall has come, and the sun's weak rays no longer warm the skin as they once did. The sky is more often cloudy than not, and most days there is a constant drizzle. 

I'm told it will probably be like this until around May, in other words when I leave. I can't say I'm surprised, since I'd heard nothing but stories of Brittany's famous rainy days before coming. I also can't say I'm not used to it. The sirimiri (drizzle) in both Galicia and the Basque Country were not unlike what I'm experiencing now. What perhaps is surprising is how in some ways it doesn't bother me that much. Yes, like everyone I grimace when I know I'm going to have to walk to work in the rain, but there's something about curling up with a cup of hot tea or coffee and a blanket and a book that really tugs on my heartstrings. 

Happy rainy Tuesday, everyone. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bad Pun Alert...

Lunch in Salzburg, Austria

God, life is just the wurst, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Coucou de la France!

I've arrived in France! It's been an eventful first few days, going to my new school, meeting students and getting everything in my new life set up. Always an overwhelming experience, especially since I don't have an apartment yet and thus no internet! That's why I'm especially grateful for a sunset like the one above, which relaxed me and helped me put things in perspective. Thank god my new town is on the ocean! 

I'll update more when I can do it from a computer instead of my phone, but now you all know--I'm in France already and safe and happy!

À bientôt!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where in the World is Alisabroad?

I guess I've put this off long enough. I promised months and months ago that I'd announce where I'm going next year...and despite the fact that I'm leaving in 2 weeks, I haven't yet done it. I guess all the pressure came off when the news leaked out to everyone I know personally and so it just never happened.

So, without further ado....where in the world am I moving in 2 weeks?

La France! 
Paris, 2009

I'm sure you've heard of it...above Spain; they love cheese, wine and baguettes; they speak French there...

Ah, yes, that's the one!

Ever since I was 14 years old I've been obsessed with France and the French. I started learning French in high school and from that moment I was hooked on foreign languages. Haven't broken the habit yet. All throughout my high school and college years, I could be found having fondue parties, wearing berets and heading up the French club. It was my constant dream to study abroad in France, to finally really experience that culture firsthand.

Me at 18, showing off my French ceiling tile for the classroom in my high school

And then Spain happened. I got derailed. A glorious, life-changing derailment, to be sure, but nonetheless my original dream never got accomplished. 

Until now. 

In two weeks I'll be headed off to fulfill all my teenage Amélie/impressionist painter/turn-of-the-century writer/American expatriate in France dreams.

Except I won't be in Paris. And I'm totally fine with that, for reasons that I will explain someday in another post. 

Better yet, I will be teaching English in Brittany (Bretagne in French), the region of cider and Celts, where crêpes were invented by people who wore funny hats! And I won't have to feel homesick for Galicia, because it will still rain all. the. time. And I will still be on the ocean. And Celts are still Celts, be they in Spain, France, or the British Isles. 

A glimpse into my yummy, yummy future

So needless to say, I'm excited and a little nervous, and I hope my readers will be able to muster some excitement about my newest adventure too.

Now I have to say (instead of hasta luego), something different--à bientôt!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Hallmark of an American Summer: The Fair

One of the things I miss most when I don't come home for the summer is the opportunity to go to the fair. Something about that combination of greasy food, free pens and stomach-upsetting rides just gets to me like nothing else can. It reminds me of my childhood, I suppose, and it's one of the most American of all summer activities. Luckily, this year I did come back to the old US of A, and I've spent my past few weekends going to not one, not two, but THREE fairs. The sugar hangover has been pretty brutal.

Watching this grandpa/grandson pair play skeeball to try to win a stuffed animal brought me back to my own childhood, when I'd beg my daddy to win me something, when I thought he was the strongest man in the whole world. Who can resist a blast from the past like that?

I suppose another reason I'm addicted to fairs is that something about the fair seems deliciously old-timey, making me think back to the days when many Americans farmed out on the frontier and the county fair was the only time in the year when they got a taste of the fantastical world outside their small community, when they could let down their hair a little bit and have some fun. 

For example, as sad as I was about these elephants having to spend their lives doing tricks for the masses, it made me think of people way back when who must have been amazed to see that such an animal even exists outside of books. It made me look around me at all the farmers who probably will never have the opportunity to go on an African safari and see a real elephant. Are they that different from the settlers of the frontier 200 years ago? I guess not. 

 And if I thought the county fair was fun, that was nothing compared to the Minnesota State Fair, which I went to over Labor Day weekend. A full day of doing nothing but eating things that were deep-fried (cheese curds, elephant ears, doughnuts, yum yum!), going on rides with my 9-year-old niece, and fighting crowds to see a laser show at night. What more could you ask for in a fair experience?

Check out the crowds!

Actually, one of my favorite parts of the day was going with my nephews to the Education building, where the littlest one proved that size matters not when he was able to show us all up on the trombone! 

Here's to the American fair, which nothing I've seen in Europe can come close to. I may be an expat, I may cringe at Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" (long story), but I'm a yanqui at heart--at least in some ways. 

Europeans and fellow expats--is there anything to truly rival the American fair over there across the pond? Americans--anyone else hit up one (or several) fairs over the last few weeks? And is your stomach angry with you too?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Te Echo de Menos: Comida Española

This is pretty much a constant in my life right now, but at the moment I really miss Spain. Reverse culture shock is the worst, and it's been taking its toll on me for most of the summer. I can come up with a million things I miss, from the lifestyle to the language to my amazing Spanish friends...but right now my tummy is rumbling and I could REALLY go for some Spanish food.

"But what Spanish food?" you may ask. Where I'm from in the US, people generally don't know that Spain isn't just the same as Mexico, let alone know what they eat there. So when I talk about my dreams of the following items, I usually get blank stares in return. I miss pretty much ALL Spanish food, but here are some pictures of some favorite items. Drool with me, please.

Jamón, croquetas, queso y pan...four huge staples in Spanish cuisine! Every one of them delicious and easily available...in Iberia.

That "typical" Spanish dish that I love but almost never ate there: paella.

There's something special about this pop, and I don't know what it is. But I love it.

The seafood, ahhhh the seafood in Galicia. There's nothing like it. And washed down with a cold glass of albariño...perfection!

Another Galician favorite--pulpo! Some people find this squicky to eat, but I found that it grows on you. And you really should learn to like it, because it's a staple at every Galician festival.

More typical Galician favorites (can you see the bias yet?). More wine, of course, and caldo gallego, a wonderful hearty cabbage-and-bean stew for a cold rainy winter's eve. 

I'm pretty sure these aren't even Spanish, since Kinder is German...but the name is Spanish and I discovered them in Spain so I'll go with it. These are best candy bars in the world, bar none.

Oh god, churros con chocolate, the breakfast of champions. Or the late-afternoon snack of champions. There's nothing like a melted pot of pure chocolate to dip your deep-fried dough in.

Castañas asadas, or roasted chestnuts, are such a popular fall/early winter treat that in Galicia they have an entire festival just for them--magosto! I don't know why we don't really eat these in the States, but we should, because they've got a hearty meaty nutty flavor that is really wonderful.

Queimada, or homemade alcohol with fruit and spices burned right in front of your eyes, is a typical Galician treat. It's pretty strong, but if the right person makes it, and if they remember to say a chant to ward off the meigas (Galician witches), then it's pretty good.

These are some Galician empanadas. They're not what we think of in America as empanadas...not at all. They're kind of like a salty pie filled with vegetables and meat, and they're delicious.

Arguably the most "typical Espanish" dish, the perfect tortilla española has been eluding guiris for generations. My "potato omelet" (as we'd say in the States) here looks pretty good, but I'm sure a real Spaniard would be able to quickly tell me what's wrong with it. I think they start teaching them how to make it while they're still in their cradles!

Mmm delicious churrasco. Those Spanish, they sure know how to roast a chorizo to perfection. Not to mention ribs!

Gratuitous extra pulpo (octopus) picture. Can you smell the deliciousness coming out of that vat? I can.

Quite possibly one of the best cheeses ever, just for its name. This is typical Galician tetilla (tit) cheese. Because...well...it looks like a....yeah.

Here we have tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that bears the cross of St. James. It tastes so good and it looks so holy. How can you go wrong?

More Galician seafood...and wine. And pimientos de Padrón. Some of my favorite things in the world, those little sometimes-spicy peppers. And chipirones! Another thing with tentacles that tastes even better than octopus (in my humble opinion).

And finally, we come to the best Spanish food ever created...a cake baked by one of my sexto de primaria (6th grade) students for a surprise party during our last class. He even wrote my name on it! The sweetest thing in the whole world. I miss those kids....almost as much as I miss Spanish food. 
(Or maybe more, but don't tell that to the jamón. It gets grumpy.)

Anyone else out there having hunger pangs that only Spanish food can take care of? Anyone else know what it's like to have such visceral reminders of how much you miss a place?