A European Thanksgiving – Part 2

The day after Thanksgiving we were off to Barcelona. None of us have ever been so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

Barcelona is only about 5 hours away by car, but since Cornel was going to meet us later we decided to go by train. Rather than spend all day traveling we decided to spend the night in Montpellier and then continue our trip south of the border.

We took the train out of Clermont where Nate and I did something we hardly ever do….


In the early afternoon we arrived in Montpellier, a very beautiful French city bordering the Mediterranean.

We checked into the hotel, where each room had a different name – they mistakenly put Nate in the wrong room, because this is the room where he belonged.

The weather in the south of France was much warmer than in CFE so we decided to head off and do a little bit of sightseeing. Our hotel was near La Comedie, the opera house of Clermont-Ferrand, so we started there, especially since they had already put up all of their Christmas decorations.

We went down to their Arc de Triomphe and around a little bit more before stopping to have some dinner, where apparently the chocolate mousse was delicious!

The next morning we boarded our train to Barcelona!

With only a hotel map and a metro card we began our self- guided tour of Barcelona. We arrived at La Rambla neighborhood, were we went to Plaza Catalunya. Much like the Piazza San Marco in Venice, there were pigeons everywhere looking for people to feed them and they did not take it very well when you approach empty handed!

We continued our walking tour and ended up at the Cathedral downtown. It was very pretty and it had a little bird sanctuary in the middle.

We walked through the cobblestone streets, stopping occasionally for a drink and some tapas.

We went back to the hotel early so that we could prepare to go out clubbing that night.

We set out around 9 p.m., to an area we knew there would be clubs, however after wandering for a few blocks we didn’t see much night time activity, so we popped into a local bar to gather our thoughts.

The waiter knew English so he told and showed Brent exactly where we needed to go. With Brent leading the way; we were off to a club supposedly called “El Caliento”.

We wandered four around 10 minutes, and there was no club, we wandered a few more blocks when we saw a club, with Brent looking up at the sign saying this is it….Nate and I looked up and the name of the bar was “El Cangrejo”, but I suppose it’s close enough!

We went in and danced and drank and had a great time. Drunk, we finally went home around 3 a.m., having called it a successful evening.

The next day Cornel drove down from Clermont-Ferrand to meet us in Barcelona. Since the self-guided tour had not worked so well, we decided to take the double-decker tour bus. It was cold, rainy and windy, but that has never stopped us before. The first stop was Plaza Espanya, where they converted the old National Palace into an Art Musuem on top of the hill. The views of Barcelona from the top were beautiful, and your reward for having climbed all the way to the top, a bar right next to the entrance of the art museum.

After the art museum, we walked up to the Olympic Stadium…and we hopped back on the bus to finish our tour of Barcelona. We went by the Port and got a great view of the Mediterranean. We also said hello to Christopher Columbus, who had sailed out of Barcelona on his way to discover America.

We got off the bus at la Sagrada Familia. A chuch whose construction began over 130 years ago, and to this day it is still not finished. The church’s architecture is unlike any other I have ever seen, and it is impressive to see the inside of the church, which is still undergoing construction with the donations of people.

After la Sagrada Familia, we finished our sightseeing tour of Barcelona and made our way to have dinner at La Rambla, and to try some Paella (You can’t visit Spain without having Paella).

After dinner, we walked around La Rambla, and of course found the red light district. We went into one of the Erotic shops, where I gave Brent 2€ to go into the peep show and report back.

We continued just walking the streets of Barcelona and found the bar with Happy Hour. It was a little ghetto, but we had fun nonetheless.

We made a few more bar stops…and what do you drink after having eaten Paella, Sangria of course.

But be careful with the side effects…

Nate and Brent left early the next morning back to the states and I was so sad to see them go, but we’re already planning the trip for next Thanksgiving.

The next day, Cornel and I wandered around the port a little while longer before starting our drive back to France.
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Six Month International Newlywed

On December 8, 2008 Cornel and I celebrated our six month wedding anniversary. Adjusting to married life is supposed to be hard, adjusting as an international newlywed, I suppose, is much harder.

Administratively, it has been very hard. There are visa applications, medical papers, social security papers, residency papers, etc. etc. I have had my birth certificate officially translated in at least two languages and I have taken at least 30 passport pictures to submit with every application.Then there’s the name change, having had no time to get to the American Consulate, I am now two people, literally.All the documents here have my married name, while all of the administration back home remains with the old name.Little by little, things are getting crossed off the list, and at least now I seem to be reaching the end of the process.

Culturally, the transition was much harder. Learning to survive in a foreign language is difficult. And there are days when you want to go home and cry when you can’t express yourself on a day to day basis. Adjusting to all the comforts of home that you can no longer get, it might seem petty, but things I took for granted. It’s the simple things such as food at the grocery store – no more comfort food, your favorite brand of make-up, etc. Having to learn that shoe, clothes and all other sizes you have grown up with are now different.

Then there was adjusting to the time schedule. It is true that you can invade France between the hours of noon – 2 p.m., because life as you know it shuts down. Everyone takes a lunch, and if you are one of those people that likes to run errands at lunch, forget it, nothing is open. The same goes for the month of August; when everyone takes their annual congees, or annual vacation. So for three weeks in August, you must figure out what stores are open so you can continue you life as normal as possible.

Like other things, you learn to adjust and change your life little by little.

The real strain becomes not having an outlet of friends and family, and only having your spouse to rely on. This person becomes the punching bag for all frustrations. It becomes difficult not to turn your marriage into a scorecard:“I left my country, my job my friends, etc.”, but to see it as a mutual decision and that there are no losers or guilt, but mutual winners for having the chance to be together. Lucky for me, Cornel has been extremely supportive, and even through the lowest points of adjustment he has been a rock and very supportive, and really that is all that he can do.

The more time that passes, the easier it gets to adjust, and the more we get to enjoy being married. Taking the time to appreciate our situation and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be together, after so much time apart. I suppose it’s true what they say, and time really does heal all…even homesickness and culture shock. I guess for most people, after six months of marriage, it is still flowers, and rainbows and chocolates, but for us after six months, our marriage has endured more things than some people experience in a lifetime, and I believe, it is stronger for that. This doesn’t mean to say that there won’t be more roadblocks ahead, but none that we can’t get through together. I hope one day, years from now, I will be able to look back at this experience abroad, without a dark cloud but with happiness, as every day I appreciate it all more than the day before.
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Planes, Trains & Automobiles – A Visit to Paris & a European Thanksgiving

Even though I don’t really celebrate the meaning of Thanksgiving, what with the Pilgrims and the Indians, I have always enjoyed the holiday that completely revolved around gluttony and shopping.

I was sad at the thought that this year Thanksgiving was going to pass me by, and while all of my friends and family back home were celebrating I would be stuck at work and would go home to a regular meal; happily this was not the case.

Nate and Brent came to Europe to spend Thanksgiving week with Cornel and I, and it was a very unforgettable trip.

The week started on Friday where we picked up Nate and Brent in Paris, I’m sure they were exhausted but in order to adjust to the time lag we thought it would be best if they stayed awake all day.

The first order of business was finding the hotel and checking in. While driving to find the hotel we drove past Moulin Rouge and a lot of sex stores. The hotel was in Montmartre, a Paris neighborhood famous for the Moulin Rouge, artists, Sacre Coeur and as we found out -the red light district!

After checking into the hotel we decided to have a quick lunch and headed up Montmartre to Sacre Coeur. On the way we took in the artists square before going to the church and enjoying the views of Paris.

We toured the church and the small park below it and then headed down to the Louvre to enjoy the museum at night and of course get a view of the Mona Lisa.

We couldn’t help but enjoy the Roman statues that graced the entrance to the museum.

And of course some of the more famous pieces….

We made our way to the Mona Lisa ….

And took the time to appreciate some other pieces of fine art.

We also had to the take the picture to prove we were all actually in the Louvre, but I was too short and so it looks like I had two heads.

The boys were exhausted….and did their best to stay awake and fight the jet lag.

We finished our tour with the Venus DeMilo and then headed towards the Champs-Elysee, but first we took the time to ride on the Ferris-Wheel, which they only open during Christmas time. The views of Paris and the Champs-Elysee at night were amazing…and the cheesy 90’s pop playing in the cabin was hysterical.

Then it was time for the Champs-Elysee. It was decorated for Christmas and we just took a stroll and enjoyed the lights, taking a few detours to enjoy some more of the Christmas decorations that were starting to go up all over the city. We enjoyed some hot wine on our way to George V, a café on the Champs-Elysee, where we enjoyed some drinks before heading back to our hotel.

The next morning we woke up, had a traditional French breakfast, pain au chocolate and baguette with bread and jam, some coffee and we were on our way.

We stopped at Starbucks and enjoyed some modern art, and stopped to enjoy some of the sights before heading down to Notre Dame.

On the way to Notre Dame, we took the time to enjoy the shops…and the hats.

In order to better fit in, Nate and I purchased French hats, and I think we looked smashing.

We took a tour of the inside of the church and of the gargoyles on top. It was so windy and cold, but the views again, were impressive.

We continued to the Eiffel Tower.

We went all the way to the top and enjoyed the views and froze our butts off. We continued to the very top where, according to Brent, TomKat came to be, however, the spot was not properly marked.

At night they light up the Eiffel Tower in blue with the starts of the European Union, since France has the presidential seat for the next six months.

Before making it to the boat we stopped by the Tunnel where Princess Diana was killed, they have a torch statue in her memory.

We then took a cruise down the Seine River at night. Paris truly is the city of lights and it is so beautiful at night.

After the river tour we made our way back up to Montmartre, and decided to have a drink at Les Deux Moulins. If you have ever seen the movie Amelie Poulin, this is the café where the movie takes place. We had a few drinks and of course I had to take a picture with the movie poster. It was early, and we weren’t really tired, and when in Montmartre with nothing to do, you visit the red light district and we stopped into the erotic museum, which was both funny and disturbing, and since it is a public site I won’t post any pictures.

Our last day in Paris we made our way to the Dôme des Invalides, where Napoléon is buried.On our way across the Pont de Alexandre III it started snowing.

We saw Napoleon, his tomb and took a nice walk around the crypt.

Because it was cold and wet and slushy we decided to head back to Clermont-Ferrand.

Monday was our first full day in Clermont, and after lunch (or breakfast as the case may be), I decided to show the boys around. We arrived at Place Jaude, where the Christmas decorations were being put up, including the tree and the Ferris wheel. We went up a bit more to Place de la Victoire, where I tried to show them the Cathedral; however, it was closed so we popped into Café Pascal where we warmed up with some beers.

Having run out of things to show them in Clermont, we made our way to Frères Berthome, a brewery which has my favorite beer, Kriek, on tap. We continued our bar tour of Clermont and took a pit stop by Michelin. At about 10 p.m., after many bars and a few incidents later, we made our way to 1513 a crêperie where we had a dinner before heading on our way back home.

Early on Tuesday we were all supposed to hop on a train to Switzerland, however, since there would be no time to cook Thanskgiving dinner when we got back, I decided to stay behind to cook dinner and get everything ready. Nate and Brent headed of to Geneva, and I headed to buy my turkey.

Getting thanksgiving ready in a foreign country was very difficult and I appreciated all the things I took for granted, for one – the turkey. I looked and looked and looked and looked, and there was no such thing as a whole turkey to be found. There were whole chickens, feasants and ducks, but no turkeys. I bought 2 legs and three breasts and made a make-shift turkey. While there is no shortage of bread in France, it was very difficult to find the sweet rolls that I’m so used to having with dinner, but this was a much easier task than the turkey.

Also, the canned mushroom soup for the famed green bean casserole, there is no such thing as soup in a can, so I had to make my own sauce using mushrooms and cream.

In the end it all worked out and we all celebrated a delicious thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings: mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and a raspberry tart for dessert, and even Jean-Baptiste got to enjoy some turkey.

We enjoyed the evening and got ready to head out to Barcelona early the next morning.
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