Mom & Dad, Part 1

I was so excited for my mom and dad to visit this spring. So excited, in fact, that I somehow gave them the wrong dates for my spring break. Instead of coming for a week and a half during my two week break, they came for half a week during my break and a week while I was working. At first I was so disappointed in myself, but then I just blamed the French bureaucracy for the problem, let it go, and made the most of my time with them here!

Last time my parents flew into Paris, I was also working (as an assistant at the time). They had to haul all of their luggage to the hotel, where I met them later that day. This time, I was off, and met them directly at the Paris airport. We even spotted each other through the glass between the arrival hall and the baggage claim.

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Crazy eyes for everyone! (Also, take a look at those gums!)
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Mom and Dad on the train into Paris from the airport

We booked two night in Paris in order to do some sightseeing while they were here. The first day, we took it easy: lunch near our hotel (croques and onion soup) and an elevator ride up the Eiffel tower.

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We had been there during their last visit, but we had never all gone up together. My dad had fun taking photos from the top with his 40x zoom lens on his camera.

The next day was our big outing to Versailles. My mom had wanted to go for a while; we tried to go last time they were here but everyone was ultimately too tired at the end of our stay in Paris. Therefore, we prioritised the trip this time and headed out to Versailles the second day of our time in Paris.

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We had absolutely beautiful weather so the 30+ minute wait to get inside was not a problem for us. Plus, I had grabbed a pair of 5€ sunglasses at the ticket shop on our way to the entrance line. The château was definitely worth the trip, even with the crowd from spring holidays. Mom and I especially enjoyed the gardens, where we goofed around and Mom did her mom duty of telling teenagers to get down from the garden walls (I mean really, those kids could fall at any moment! So dangerous! That’s just my teacher voice, right?).

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Peekaboo!

Once back from Versailles, we rested for a bit before heading to a pub style restaurant for well-deserved beer and food.

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Like father, like daughter.

Our final day in Paris was really only a half day, since we were taking the train into Cassel later that afternoon. Both Mom and Dad wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe, so of we went for a stroll down the Champs Elysées.

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Can you believe we gave our camera to a stranger to take a picture? So 2000s. I’m pretty sure we were part of the 10% of tourists that didn’t have a selfie stick.

That afternoon, we headed to northern France. After a train from Paris to Arras (I think), another train from Arras to Hazebrouck, and a final train from Hazebrouck to Cassel, we had gone from giant city to tiny village.

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Mom, the Luggage Queen.

Overall, our time in Paris was just as nice as the first time around in 2012. We saw new things together, enjoyed lots of pastries and coffee, and just enjoyed being reunited. Thankfully, the weather was much warmer this time around, being in the 50s instead of the 30s.

I was especially excited to show them our new house in Cassel. In 2012, I was working 12 hours a week as a high school language assistant and living with three other girls in an apartment attached to the high school. Now, I’m a full time certified high school teacher, and M and I live together in a real house in an adorable village with a dog and a rabbit and a backyard. We even have a guest bedroom, where Mom and Dad got to stay for the week. Oh, how times have changed!

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Brittany Winter School

After two weeks back at work, I still have Irish melodies constantly running through my brain. Let me just take a moment to say that these two weeks have been the best weeks at work that I’ve had in a while, due to many different factors, I think!

Back to the Irish music.

Two and a half weeks ago, we arrived at a vacation rental house with several (about 10, give or take) people; some we knew, some we didn’t. All of them were musicians, and it was fun to have live Irish music happening on a regular basis. We came from all over France to spend a week at the Brittany Winter School, which is a 5-day Irish musical festival full of concerts, master classes, and more.

The first day, M went to the flute master classes while I hung out with Ma and Mu, rested, and listened to my housemates jam out. On Thursday night, M and his group played at the open stage to compete to play for the opening act of the big concert on Saturday night to close out the festival. They practiced for most of the day together, so I walked around Le Bono with Ma and Mu. The Britches were the first to play that night. Although they were rather nervous, they did a great job! One of M’s band mates ended up winning the opening spot with another group that he plays with.

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Exploring Le Bono with Ma and Mu
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The Britches live on the open stage

The violin player in M’s group used to give me lessons last summer. I joked to him about how I was disappointed that I didn’t have the level to take a master class, and he told me, oh contraire! They actually offered three levels of master classes for each instrument, so I signed myself up for the last two days of classes for beginner violin.

Little did I know, the classes were taught by absolutely amazing Irish musicians who were there for the festival. The teachers were so nice and helpful and I ended up learning a lot. I left after two days with tons of recordings – I don’t even have the names for all of the songs I learned – and great memories of working with such talented musicians.

Paul O’Shaughnessy taught the first morning and the second afternoon of master classes. He’s been playing for a long time and has a style that is very approachable. He has a fondness for tunes from Donegal, which are known for their quick tempos and fiery tones. He was witty and interesting and made the class worthwhile! He even convinced me to take the third-finger tape off of my violin. That was encouraging!

Antóin Mac Gabhann, also known as Tony Smith, gave the first afternoon of classes that I took. He was so incredibly friendly. He’s been playing for years. The stories he told us were amazing. Back in the day, he would have to pay, along with his music buddies, for a room to rent to play sessions in because the bars didn’t want any Irish music inside. He laughingly told us that now he knows musicians who refuse to play if they aren’t paid. You can really tell he loves the music. Even when we asked him about his favorite pieces or his favorite players, he said he “loves all of the tunes equally” and that his favorite players come from all over and are not necessarily well-known.

Mairead Fitzgibbon taught the second morning of classes. She was so easy to learn from. Her style was so clean and she had such a wide knowledge of so many tunes. She even explained some simple techniques to help embellish the tunes we were learning.

I didn’t even look up any information about the teachers before getting home on Sunday. I’m glad I didn’t, or else I would’ve been super intimidated!

Since then, I’ve been practicing at least four days a week. We’re already looking at festivals for this summer…!

 

La belle vie en Bretagne

As I described in my last post, work has been pretty rough lately. Thank goodness for the French school system and two weeks of holidays in February.

Holidays came right when I needed them to this time around. The first week all I did was crochet, clean, cook, and cuddle the bunny and puppy. It was rather therapeutic.

The second week, M took holidays as well and we headed out to Bretagne, or Brittany as us Anglophones call it. Neither of us had ever been, and we had two great reasons to go: our two amazing neighbors from back in Wazemmes (let’s call them Ma and Mu) recently moved to Brittany and we missed them like crazy, and the Brittany Winter School Irish music festival was happening in a town called Le Bono, also in Brittany. So off we went!

M was extra happy to take this 7.5 hour road trip with me, because this time I could finally help him drive!

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, we spent some quality time with Ma and Mu. Now that they’ve been living in Lochmariacher for a little over 6 months (and vacationing there for even longer!), they knew exactly where to take us to show off their new region.

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Ma and Mu’s backyard
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Mu and M heading out to fish for clams
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The town of Lochmariacher seen from the docks

The first day, we walked around their town via the beach. Lochmariacher is on the inside of the gulf, so the climate is usually calm. In the afternoon, Mu took M and I clam fishing at his favorite spot. M and I have both been vegetarian for a few years now, but for our own reasons, we decided to eat the clams that we responsibly fished and oh-so-lovingly prepared on our own!

Day 2 was another sunny day so we made good use of it by spending it at the beach! In the morning we visited the town of Trinité sur Mer, with its enormous dockyard and adorable hilly streets. We even got a personal tour of the atelier of an artisan and former Navy man who restores sea-related treasures. After a yummy lunch at a crêperie in the cute little town of Carnac, we wandered around the beach and played on the rocks at the beach on the peninsula called Quiberon. On the way back, we stopped at one of the naturally preserved – yet free to visit! – sites of menhirs, which are basically large rocks that have been placed into formations thousands of years ago. We don’t know why, but it is rather impressive.

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The docks at la Trinité sur Mer
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Menhirs
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M playing on the rocks at the beach

On Wednesday, the Brittany Winter School started. It’s the tenth year of this Irish music festival, and it was a blast. Famous musicians from all over Ireland come to play with musicians from all over France – and other countries! – to play in sessions, show off their instruments, give masterclasses, and more. Since M was rehearsing with his group for the open stage session later that day, I headed off to Vannes in the afternoon with Ma and Mu to visit the city. That night, we enjoyed the first of many sessions in a local bar.

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Session #1 of many at Le Vieux Pont Bar

The festival merits a post on its own, so check back later this week to hear all about it!

my little French life

So much has been happening in my little corner of France that I am incredibly behind on blogging about it – I’ll take that as a good thing! I still haven’t written about Grant and Matt’s end to their trip, and I’ve just returned back to work after having spent a week with parents visiting me. There are lots of exciting updates, but for now, I’m going to tell you all about what has been happening in my little French life. How is work? How is food? How are the SNCF train strikes? Keep reading to find out. (I probably won’t talk about the SNCF train strikes though… thinking about it too much can probably lead to stomach ulcers.)

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a day in amiens

I had been working for 3 weeks, so it was about time I had 2 weeks off for vacation… right?!

One of my previous professors had spent much time in Amiens and suggested that I take a day trip there. It’s located one hour away from Douai by train, which made it quite convenient (and inexpensive!). I took the train around 11am, arrived around noon, and gave myself 4 hours to explore the charming city. My professor gave me a little list of things to check out, so I had no problem getting around and finding things to see! Here are some of the pictures from my day.

First view when exiting the train station: La Tour Perret. It kind of reminds me of the tower at UT, except much shorter and not in Texas.

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