Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 in Review

It's that time of the year! There's only about a week left of 2014. I did a blog post like this last year too... 2013 in Review ...feel free to compare. I wrote last year that 2013 was the best year of my life, but now I'm undecided! 2014 was pretty great too.

At the beginning of January, I flew back to France after my Christmas break in Wisconsin. I started my job teaching English again. One of the best days in January was meeting up with Olimpia in Lyon for a day of shopping and sightseeing. Towards the end of the month, I went to my 14th country (Switzerland)... by myself! I treated myself to a day trip in Basel and Zurich, and it was awesome. Chocolate, mountains, and lakes... enough said.

At the end of February and the beginning of March, we had a 2 week break from work, which prompted a European vacation extravaganza. I met up with Olimpia in Brussels, Belgium for a few days of waffles and sightseeing, before heading to Amsterdam alone for a few more days. I enjoyed the Anne Frank house, the beautiful canals, and some Dutch art at the Rijksmuseum. 

In March, the vacation extravaganza continued in Germany. I had fun with Olimpia hanging out where she lived as a child and casually visiting at least one castle a day. The highlight of our German trip was the only time in snowed while we were in Europe: on a carriage ride at Neuschwanstein. From Munich we hopped on a train to Vienna and I was thrilled to see things like where Marie Antoinette used to live and that one art school that rejected Hitler haha. Yes, we obviously went there. Our last stop was a very short trip to Prague. It was too short, but so cool to see such a gorgeous city. Can't wait to go back someday. 

As if that wasn't enough, at the end of the month I went to Grenoble to visit Olimpia. And I stopped in Geneva on the way there. And it was one of the best weekends of my time in France. And this was the month when I found out I would be officially coming to Israel!! And I started hanging out with this cool French person (edited 3 years later- that "cool French person" turned out to be my husband!! :). So March was a pretty good month.

By the time April rolled around, my time in France was almost over! My last few weeks in France were spent finishing up work (yeah, I haven't mentioned work that much... but I actually did work in between all of the traveling). I loved my job, too! One of the last trips I went on in April was visiting Reims, which has one of the best cathedrals in France. On my last day in France, April 17th, I got to spend it in Paris with that one cool French person. The next day, I got home just in time for Easter. It was weird to be back in America, but I was happy to have some time at home.

In May I celebrated my 25th birthday and went on a trip to Utah at the end of the month. It was really fun to see family and friends, and kind of weird to be back in Utah after being gone for a while.

In June, I started my dance teaching job... which I absolutely love doing! It was great having Jenna visit, and then at the end of the month we left for the Houdek family reunion in Branson, MO. It's always great to spend time with the family, but I'm praying I never have to go back to Branson. Not my kind of place.

After Branson, we headed to Kansas to spend the 4th of July with some other family. From Kansas I flew to Tennessee for a reunion with my long lost friend Stephanie. It was so so fun to catch up with her and meet her cute son Westin! After getting home, I went along on a YSA trip to Kirtland and Palmyra.

In August my job ended, Jenna came home again, and then David (the French person!) came to visit. We showed him around Nauvoo, downtown Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison, and a Packer game in Green Bay. 

I have NO idea what I did in September. Probably because I did nothing and I started getting really bored and excited for Israel. I did lots of scrapbooking, zumba, a ballet class, and spent a good amount of time bothering my puppy Daisy.

At the beginning of October the whole family went back out to Utah, and I got to reunite with friends and family again. After getting home it was time to pack for Israel!! On October 22nd, I moved to Haifa. I was happy to be back in Israel and having more adventures.

In November I got more adjusted to classes and Israel life. However, the best part about November was having the chance to go back to France! On Thanksgiving I flew to Paris and spent the weekend in Strasbourg. It was an amazing, Christmasy few days.

In December I was distracted because I only had a few weeks of class before flying home for Christmas. I did some exploring in Haifa and got to make a quick stop in Jerusalem for stake conference, so that was fun. Right now I'm happy to have a few days to relax at home!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année, חג מולד סמח ושנה טובה

It's been another great year, and I think 2015 will turn out pretty great too. I'm excited to have more time in Israel, and I have some ideas in the works for more international adventures...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Israel Life

My Israel life will actually be on pause tomorrow, because I'm headed HOME for Christmas!!!! Of course, I should be packing or trying to finish homework, but instead this is happening.

Last week I ventured out to see some more of Haifa, and then on the weekend I was lucky enough to go on a quick trip to Jerusalem.

My first stop was one of Haifa's most famous tourist attractions, the Bahai'i Gardens. I don't know if that apostrophe is in the right place, but I'm pretty sure there's one somewhere in that word.

This is the view standing inside the gardens.

It's a pretty amazing place! I'm sure Dad would appreciate the edging :)

After that I wandered through the German Colony, a neighborhood built by- you guessed it- Germans. I was excited to see that they had CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.

For some reason, I've found this Christmas spirit in Israel to be a little lacking, so this was fun to see.

Also in the German Colony, I stopped at the 1800s cemetery where a few Mormon missionaries are buried. We came here with BYU. If you have excellent eyesight you'll be able to see that the tombstone says 'Provo' and the name of the church in German.

My last little sightseeing stop was the beach!! After 6 weeks of living here and looking at the Mediterranean from campus every day, I finally made it to the water. It was about 75 and sunny, so it was perfect weather to take off my shoes and wade in the water. This was on December 11, by the way. Let that sink in.

I could really get used to that.

A few days later, I went on a mini road trip to Jerusalem for stake conference. It's about a 2 hour drive. It was so so exciting to walk through these doors more than a year after leaving!

Christmas at the JC!

The best part about this day was seeing this view again.

The other best part was being there without having to be dressed Amish. And secretly laughing at the students there who were dressed Amish. BYU, you need to change those rules. They are ridiculous. They look terrible. It's like what the sister missionaries looked like before they changed the rules. Religious people in Israel do not expect tourists to dress like them.

So... rant over haha. 

After a great Christmasy meeting, we ate lunch at the Oasis (doesn't that word just make you nostalgic, JC students?), and then headed back to Haifa. I didn't get to actually venture into the city on this trip, but it made me so happy just to be close to the city! It really felt like coming home. In 2 weeks, I'm going back to Jerusalem to sightsee, so I don't have long to wait! Can't wait to be back in those Old City streets.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Paris Throwback

One of the reasons I decided to start writing a blog for my Jerusalem study abroad was because I regretted not doing one for my Paris study abroad. It doesn't take long until you start to forget a lot of what you did and what you were thinking.

Today I was going through some super old emails (might have been during a class because I was bored...), and I happened to strike gold. I found a bunch of emails home and journal entries (that we had to do for class) from my time in Paris. I decided to post this because it makes me laugh to read my first impressions of living in France after spending so much time there since then. I might post more of these some other time... who knows!

So let's rewind to the end of April, 2010...

"I got to France, really really tired but happy to have made it. I didn't sleep at all on the plane, and I'm still catching up on sleep, like most of my group. Me and Katherine took our shuttle to the hotel and the driver was funny. He went off on a tirade on how Las Vegas was the worst city on earth and he was surprised no one had destroyed it yet? Haha. He also told us about how Parisians are snobs (he's from the south of France- Toulouse). He said he only lives in Paris so he can work with tourists, because they're not stuck up. 

We made it to the hotel, met up with our professor, and dropped off our luggage. Then in the lobby we saw a brochure for the Musée Grévin- the wax museum. We decided to try to make it there on our own. Surprisingly, we successfully made it across Paris on the metro (with Katherine's navigation skills, not mine). I had my first French conversation with a French person buying my ticket at the museum. Milestone!

The museum was really fun, as you can see from the pictures. 

I think the French people there thought we were weird. We were the only adults posing for pictures with most of the statues... except for one in particular.. the one of Obama! There was this long line for him, and they were all jumping up and down with excitement because they're in love with him. They seemed a little confused when I took a picture punching him in the face.

Anyways, we made it back to the hotel and took a nap before meeting everyone in the group to have dinner together at a restaurant. I got chicken, but it was really weird tasting. But then our table got a crème brûlée and chocolate cake to share, which were DELICIOUS. Of course. Bien sûr.

We (I shared a room with Katherine) woke up early-ish to put our luggage in a storage room and have breakfast. Then we all took the metro together and went to Prof. Erickson's apartment. He gave us some information and stuff, which was generally boring. 

We got lunch at a little grocery store across the street. But I misheard and gave the cashier the wrong amount of money. She was really rude and talked me like I was stupid. It was scary! All of the cashiers here are really mean if you mess up (that's what the shuttle driver was talking about :)  

After we ate we visited the building where we'll have class everyday.

It's in this cool building that was built in 1624. It's 3 floors- the top floor actually has people living in it that aren't associated with the church. The 2nd floor has a mission office and some  rooms for church activities. First floor has classrooms and the "chapel", which doesn't actually look like a chapel.  

Right next to the building is the Centre Pompidou, and just a block away is the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame. Afterwards me and a couple girls looked around for a little while (and took pictures by l'Hotel de Ville), then headed back to the hotel.

Then we had to pick up our luggage and get on a bus to meet our host families. They met us at the town hall (la mairie!) in Croissy sur Seine. It's a really cute village, just what you would picture Europe to look like! Madame DuFour picked us (me and Brittney) up, her husband is in Florida visiting their son. She's really nice, so that's good! It's not as scary speaking French with her as I thought it would be.  She told us we'd speak French all the time because she wants us to learn! 

I've got a nice little room, and me and Brittney have our own bathroom to share. Our host mom made us dinner (and it was something I could eat, yay!). I'm hoping I can force myself to eat most of the things she cooks. We eat breakfast there everyday, and she'll cook dinner for us Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. We're allowed to use the kitchen, and there's a grocery store within walking distance so we can buy our own food. 

General observations about France:
- people are smoking EVERYWHERE. Um, different from Provo, haha.
-everything is TINY! Every room, every food, dishes...at the hotel we ate breakfast with these baby spoons
-there don't really appear to be traffic laws, lanes and signaling is optional
-everything is old and pretty!
-people walk around carrying baguettes a lot!

So yeah, that's my trip so far! It's hard to believe class starts tomorrow! I actually have to do homework in Paris :/ weird!"

You know what's weirder? Reading this more than 4 years later :)  This was such an amazing time in my life... my first time living abroad!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas in America

Hello, let me present you Christmas in America as told by my 9th grade/Troisième students from last year. It always cracked me up that that would start EVERY presentation with the phrase "let me present you," so I had to include that...

I'm pretty sure that last year I posted this same group's account of the Thanksgiving story on facebook. I forgot and never posted the Christmas one, so I might as well do it now because it's kind of adorable and hilarious. I taught a lesson about Christmas in America, and then for homework they all had to submit a paragraph summarizing my lesson.

I chose one sentence from every kid's paragraph to create this wonderful account of Christmas in America. Of course, I chose the funniest sentences. And of course, original spelling and grammar included. Their English was actually a lot better than this makes it appear, but they all had at least one crazy sentence.

My commentary in orange...

"Hello, let me present you Christmas in America. In USA, Christmas is good moment. Before Christmas and during all of December, people live in happiness. They go to mall for make shopping and by gifts to offer others. People are gathering in the neighborhoods and sing caroling door to door. They eat hot chocolate with marshmallows. (They all seemed weirded out by the concept of marshmallows? They had heard of them but never tasted them and they kept asking me about them)

People decorate the Christmas tree with the fairy lights, baubles, candy, and so one and so one. Childrens also like to build snowmans in the village under the snow! Some houses have a lot of lights because they are so very happy. In France, it’s crazy to do this. (I showed them a few pictures of houses that go all out with lights- you know, how's there's one crazy house in every neighborhood. They were a bit appalled by that haha)

Christmas traditions in America are very differents because people are differents heritages buts in every traditions Santa Claus coming to town. This is the best tradition of all because he is coming for give gifts! In commercial centers (the word for mall in French is centre commercial), childrens come to Santa’s lap and say at Santa what they will for Christmas. Don’t forget to let milk and cookies for Santa, because when he arrives on his sleigh and says “oh oh oh” (of course, if Santa was French he would say oh oh oh instead of ho ho ho because he wouldn't be able to pronounce h's, so this makes sense) at midnight, he must be very hungry!

On the 25 of December, families gather and eat a turkey in happiness. The most important moment of this feast is the log. The Americans also loves to eat foie gras and drinks champagne at this feast. To finish, I must say: HAVE A NICE CHRISTMAS!!" (This was my favorite part. These kids were just straight up writing about French Christmas traditions and clearly didn't know what they were talking about... unless any of you Americans out there actually have a Yule log (bûche de Noël) and are looking forward to some foie gras this holiday season...which I doubt :)  

Awww, little French kids. I miss you. This was such a fun job and your English is just cute. Sometimes very wrong, but cute.

Another thing we did for my Christmas lesson was to learn to Christmas carols in English. This was NOT my idea, but their teacher decided that they should split into groups and perform them for the class. And she wanted me to videotape them doing it haha. And she wanted them to dance while they did it. Poor 14 year olds. They already feel awkward about life.

I feel sort of guilty for posting these because I still feel bad that they had to do this, but... that's not going to stop me. Now you can get a glimpse of a few of my students, and some of the authors of the lovely text above. Note the difference in enthusiasm levels between the girls and the guys...

Again, this was such a great job! Being back in Strasbourg last week makes me nostalgic :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Vive le vent d'hiver

Well, currently as I'm starting to write this it's 1:30 in the morning and I'm heading back to Haifa from the airport. Pourquoi? Because I spent the weekend in France! In France's self-proclaimed 'Capitale de Noël,' to be precise.

It was a total last minute decision. It's a hobby of mine to research flights for fun and daydream about traveling. Wishing that I could visit Strasbourg to see the Christmas markets, I happened to find a really affordable flight and the decision was made. 8 days before leaving, I bought the plane ticket and booked a hotel!

On Thursday I had a looooong day of traveling. Taxi ride+train to Tel Aviv+flight to Istanbul+flight to Paris+RER ride+train to Strasbourg.

I got there late on Thursday night, and right away I was SO happy to be back in France and Strasbourg. The baguette and macaron that I ate on the train might have had something to do with that. As soon as I got off the train, my first thought was "why did I ever leave this city??". Because it is definitely the cutest city of all time.

I was really excited to see that I had a view of "my" cathedral from the hotel window. Yeah, I claimed this cathedral for myself. That's how much I love it.

I spent Friday morning visiting all of my favorite stores that are only found in France. At one point I was so happy that I wanted to start skipping. I don't think that's ever happened before in my adult life. I got a little too used to French shopping last year, so I've really been missing it. Shopping is just not the same anywhere else!

Later on Friday, I took the train to Nancy to see my friend David (you know, that French guy who showed up in Wisconsin this summer?). We walked around, saw some Christmas lights, and went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Fun night!

We started out Saturday by visiting the cathedral and starting to check out some Christmas markets.

I can't express how much I missed that place! <3 European cathedrals <3

Of course, I also had to stop by my old street where I lived last year! Bonjour, rue Hannong.

After lunch, we headed over to meet up with some other people for a YSA activity. Hearing about the activity was actually how I came up with the idea for this trip in the first place! We were split up into teams to go do a scavenger hunt type thing in the city. There was supposed to be a person from Strasbourg in every group, but since there weren't enough I ended up being the one giving a bunch of French people directions. Go figure.

Since it was the first day that the Christmas markets were open, it was super crowded. Eventually we ended up getting separated from our group. So we gave up on what we were supposed to be doing, and just had fun wandering around where we wanted to. 

Later that night there was a dance, which in hindsight we should have skipped because never ever in my life have I enjoyed church dances. Turns out that even in France, they still kind of suck. There was a bus strike (haha, oh France and your love of strikes...), so I ended up having to wait around until past 1:00 in the morning for a ride back to my hotel.

I went back to my Strasbourg ward for a visit the next day. It was weird to be back! It was fun to listen to church in French, less fun to bise (cheek kiss) a million people hello. I'm about as comfortable doing that as I am using the metric system... 

After church, me and David decided to go to Germany. Because why not, right? The town over the border from Strasbourg is Kehl. It's a small town with pretty much nothing to see, but there's still something exciting about casually crossing international borders. From the end of the tram line in Strasbourg, Kehl is only a 5 minute bus ride away.

I missed my German class on Sunday, but I think I should get some kind of extra credit for making a stop in the motherland.

After figuring out how to get back to France, it was already starting to get dark enough to enjoy the Christmas lights. It was BEAUTIFUL (although a little freezing) walking around to see the lights. The weather in Strasbourg was just a little different from the 70 degree weather we're still experiencing in Haifa.

If that doesn't put you in a Christmas mood, I don't know what will. 

I guess that summarizes my weekend in France! Yesterday was another long travel day- after leaving my Strasbourg hotel at 7:30 a.m., I made it back to the dorms at 2:30 a.m.

I'm so filled with happiness that I got to spend a few days shopping at my favorite stores, eating some of my favorite foods, speaking one of my favorite languages, and hanging out in one of my favorite cities. 

C'était vraiment un week-end inoubliable et incroyable! La France me manque.