Thursday, November 26, 2015

You're crazy, but I love you.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

This year marks my third consecutive Thanksgiving not in America. While it's annoying on the actual day not getting to celebrate (I spent today going to class!), I'm so thankful for the opportunities I've had to travel these last few years. I've never been happier. (And I can still get some pumpkin pie over Christmas, which is the most important part).

I was lucky to get to spend the last 3 days in my second favorite city in the world (Paris wins, obviously). My program had a seminar at Jerusalem's Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. I listened to some great lectures and snuck out a few times for some sightseeing and shopping.

On Monday I popped into the Old City for a little Christmas present shopping and snapped these pictures on the way out.

On Tuesday, I was unsuccessful at trying to find somewhere I've been before. However, I did end up accidentally walking through a cave (I know... how does someone accidentally do that, right?).

This is Warren's Shaft, which is part of a tunnel system built during  King Hezekiah's time (we're talking 8th century B.C.) in order to have a water supply during a siege by the Assyrians. I opted NOT to walk through the section where you "get to" wade through 3 ft of water, and went through the dry part.

Please never go there if you are claustrophobic. You will die. 

So that was a super weird thing to do alone, and that's not the place I was trying to find, but oh well. It was adventurous. I walked through the Old City again on my way out (I promise it was safe, parents!).

There has been some recent unrest in Israel, but lately the incidents have mostly been in the West Bank. Last month some things (stabbings) were going down in Jerusalem, and I definitely noticed a lot more security presence than normal. However, other than that life was going on like always.

Some Jerusalemites preferred to take their safety into their own hands.

Just a couple of civilians on a stroll with some huge guns. Nbd. I've gotten pretty used to seeing soldiers everywhere with guns like this, but this was new.

Anyways, after attending some more things at Yad Vashem I went with one of my professors from last year (who lives in Jerusalem) and some other students on a tour he offered to take us on of the food market Mahane Yehuda.

It's a colorful place with all kinds of different people and most of them shouting at you to buy things.

Lots of people I know love these Israeli gummy candies, but I can't get past the lack of sanitation. It's outside and there are no covers and no scoopers. Plus it's not chocolate, so who really cares.

By the way, on the fun subject of stabbings... just the day before something went down at this market. Two teenage girls attempted to attack people with scissors. Thankfully, no one was killed (besides one of the girls..still sad). 

Oh, and I forgot! On my way to Yad Vashem earlier in the day I had a super weird conversation with an ultra-orthodox Jew who kept trying to talk to me ("I like your skirt. You're not a Jew. That's okay. I like Jesus.")... and then he tried to hug and possibly kiss me. Nothing happened, but ew. The creeper warnings went off immediately. At least in Israel there is usually a security guard with a machine gun within 50 yds. Seriously. There was in this case.

Ok, I'm 100% failing at not making Israel seem like an insane asylum. It's really not. That was a weird situation, but that's the first time something like that happened to me in Israel. It was creepier in Europe.

ANYWAYS. On Wednesday I got to have a nice history nerd moment. Gerhard Weinberg, who the head historian of Yad Vashem introduced as the world's foremost WWII historian, spoke about a really interesting subject- the pope's involvement (or lack of) in the Holocaust. I've read several of this guy's books, and the subject was fascinating. My favorite fact I learned was that when the Allied troops were about to occupy Rome, the pope requested that no black soldiers be allowed in Rome. The Allies answered with a big 'no.' The Holocaust and the pope's situation was complicated, but that anecdote gives a little insight into his character, unfortunately...

Later that afternoon I snuck out for one last sightseeing moment. I wanted to see something new, which is hard because I've spent so much time in Jerusalem. I decided to go to Ein Kerem, which is only about a 5 minute drive from Yad Vashem.

Ein Kerem is a neighborhood in the Jerusalem hills that is close to the city but still looks like a little village. Christian tradition says it was where John the Baptist was from. Of course, like everywhere in the Holy Land there are churches to commemorate every tiny event in the Bible.

This one is supposed to be where John the Baptist was born.

Annnnnnnnnd drumroll please. You can even see the exact location where he was born ;)

From the outside of this church, I could see where the others were. But unfortunately I basically had to climb a mountain to get to them.

Here's a glimpse of what the little village houses looked like.

The nature was gorgeous here- this place is worth the trip just for that.

The church is the distance in the one I'd just came from. The Greek Orthodox one with the gold domes (a few pictures ago) wasn't open, but I went to the Church of the Visitation, which is supposed to be where Mary met up with Elizabeth when they were both pregnant.

They even have the well where it all went down (according to the Catholics).

That was the last of my wanderings before heading back to Haifa yesterday. Thankfully, I don't have long to wait before I can skip class again and go on my next trip. I head to France on Monday!

In conclusion, I'm thankful I can live and travel in Israel even though it's crazy sometimes, and I'm thankful I stayed safe even though it's crazy sometimes.

Friday, November 20, 2015

French Village Life

Did you know that Fridays are really boring in Israel? For Shabbat, everything closes at around 2 in the afternoon, and all of the buses stop running. You'd think I could use use boring Fridays to get some homework done, but I'm just so annoyed at being cooped up in my room all day that nothing usually gets done. Thankfully, I have 4 day weekends... so there are other days to get things done!

So in the spirit of not having anything to do, and in the spirit of getting to go to France in 9 days... here's some reminiscing about the tiny little French town where I taught English during the 2013-2014 school year.

For the teaching internship, you don't get to choose where they send you. You can list 3 preferences for what regions you're interested in, but then they can send you anywhere within that region. I was lucky to get accepted to my first choice region- Alsace. I was also lucky enough to be assigned to towns that were close enough to the biggest city in the region- Strasbourg- to be able to commute from there. I worked 4 days/week, and it was a 40 minute train ride. I had fun getting lots of reading and blog writing done. I still miss getting to take trains all the time. I'm not a driving person. And buses are terrible. 

I was placed in a high school in Barr (a town with 6,000 people) and a middle school in Heiligenstein (1,000 people). Heiligenstein (yes, a lovely French name, right?) was so small there wasn't a lot to take pictures of, but I enjoyed wandering though little Barr during my breaks. My first impression was that it was the town from Beauty and the Beast. If I had the power, I wouldn't mind transporting these cute buildings over to Germantown. 

Most of these pictures I haven't posted before, so enjoy!

Colorful houses:

The town hall/mairie always had pretty flowers in the square.

I liked the little brook running through town.

The Protestant church was up on a hill overlooking the town. It was the best place to eat picnic lunches.

This was the house I wanted to live in.

Bonjour, madame!

Barr is surrounded by vineyards and the Vosges mountains.

(This last one's actually the neighboring town of Gertwiller... but it's so close to Barr that it's barely cheating)

I doubt you will, but if you ever make it to Barr, stop by this pastry shop. Délicieux.

Last but not least, here's the girl who loved being an English assistant in this little French town in Alsace:

If you haven't overdosed on cute Alsatian architecture yet, here's a glimpse of another cute town (slightly bigger) that was nearby- Obernai. For their Christmas nativity display (yes, those are allowed in public places in France...), they had French Lil' Sebastian!!!! Best thing ever.

Alsace, tu me manques! I wish I could be there for the amazing Christmas markets that are just about to open, but I have to content myself with the great trip I have planned- stops in Lyon, Grenoble, Gap (David's home town), and Provence. That combined with a few days in Jerusalem next week will make for an exciting couple of weeks! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris je t'aime

My fascination with Paris goes back to loving the Madeline books when I was 3. Pretty much since then, I've always wanted to live- or at least visit- there. Lucky for me, I've been able to live this dream! 

Starting in 2005 when I was 16, I've managed to make SEVEN trips to the most beautiful city in the world, including living there for a few months during my 2010 study abroad. 

I was so so sad to hear about the attacks last Friday. Of course, people all over the world that have no connection to France or Paris were sad. Usually I'm pretty jaded about the news (a consequence of studying the Holocaust all the time? probably). Horrible things happen every day. The day before the Paris attacks, 40 people were blown up by suicide bombers in Beirut, just 75 miles away from where I live. So what was so different about Paris?

For me, it was the fact that I've walked those streets. I know those neighborhoods. I know their language. I've met some of the people. If you add up all of my French adventures, I've spent a whole year of my life in France. I've done a lot of other traveling too, but nowhere I've been has in my mind held a candle to Paris. It's just my style.

So... in honor of the lovely Paris, I've done a little looking back at my past trips. And by the way, no way will terrorists ruin my desire to go back as soon as I can. I am actually going to France in 2 weeks (!!!!!), but I'll be in the south.

My first trip was way back in 2005 when I looked awkward, had braces, and none of us Houdeks had any clue how to travel internationally. It was our first attempt! After a few days in London, we arrived in Paris and did all of the most stereotypical tourist things. I instantly felt more at home in Paris than in London, despite the fact that I couldn't understand anything they were saying. I'd been studying French for 2 years at that point, but real French people spoke way too fast for me. I did have one moment of triumph when I ordered a croissant en français and the person actually understood my awful accent.

(My mom was there too! But of course she was always the photographer and not in the pictures).

In the summer of 2007, I went to France without my family as sort of a graduation present. The Porcher family hosted me and took me on a wonderful trip. We spent most of our time at the French Riviera, but we did spend 2 days doing Paris and Versailles first. Unfortunately, our sightseeing time was cut short when we found out that someone else (who had the same suitcase) had taken mine by mistake. We had to drive across Paris to retrieve mine, but it worked out in the end! With the time we did have, we saw the Opera House (of Phantom of the Opera fame) and the Galeries Lafayette, the only mall I've been to where the building itself is a historic work of art.

3 LONG years later (in my mind), I set foot in Paris again in April of 2010. This time I didn't only have a few days there, I had months! This study abroad was hands down the best part of my BYU education. We had a few hours of class studying French in the morning, followed by the rest of the day free to explore Paris at our leisure. This time, we didn't just do the typical tourist things (although we did those too). We also got to see little-known neighborhoods and smaller museums, castles, and churches. By the end of the trip I totally knew my way around and could successfully use the metro to get just about anywhere. My French improved a ton as well. After the practice I got living with a host family and studying, I could actually eventually communicate with French people for the first time.

Again, it was 3 LONG years (I know, so dramatic) before I had the chance to go back to Paris. This time, it was even harder to wait that long. After my study abroad I used to dream about Paris all the time, and then be very sad to wake up in Provo. Anyways... in September of 2013, I moved to France to do an English teaching internship. Before heading to Strasbourg, me and my mom (who came along to help me get settled in) spent about 5 days in Paris. I must say that this wasn't my very favorite trip, because I was kind of a ball of stress about actually moving to a foreign country and figuring everything out. However, we did still have a few good days and it was fun to show my mom some of my favorite places. I <3 being a tour guide for people. If you're ever in need of a Paris tour guide, s'il te plaît hire me.

A few months later in December (a much more appropriate waiting time between Paris trips), it was Jenna's turn to have the official Marissa tour. She met up with me in France after her Italy study abroad. We spent a day in Paris together, and then I stayed for a few more days on my own. This trip renewed my love affair with Paris (not that it ever fully went away) because everything was perfect and beautifully decorated for Christmas, and I was just loving life living in Europe.

On my very last day in France at the end of my internship (April 2014), I got to spend a day in Paris before going back to the U.S. And guess who met up with me there- David! Do you know how fun it is to tell someone that you'd been on a few dates with "Meet me in Paris." Let me tell you- it's really fun. What made it even more fun is that he (an actual French person) had never been sightseeing there. Which made me (l'Américaine) the official tour guide once again. We didn't have a ton of time, so we basically walked around the main picturesque, touristy parts of the city. It was a fitting last day to my amazing year living in France.

Fortunately, Israel is not very far from Europe compared to the U.S ($100 flights v. $1000. I could get used to that). After a short trip to France last November (but not to Paris), I got to go for a longer time last February. After stops in Switzerland, David's home town, and Alsace, we spent our last 4 days in Paris. On this trip, we had time to see and do a lot more. It was definitely one of the best vacations of my life!

Now it's been 8 months since I've been in France. I'm itching to go back, and thankfully I don't have long to wait. If you've never been to Paris, proceed with caution. It is clearly addictive.

Paris isn't perfect. It can be rainy (I like to think of it as Paris being moody). Sometimes gypsies follow you around and try to get you to sign fake petitions as a pickpocketing ruse (and they can spot the Americans haha). Parisians can be prickly, especially if you don't speak French or know anything about their culture. It's not the most friendly and accessible city. However, I've also met some very kind people there. In my opinion, Paris' imperfections are more than worth it. I've never been somewhere as beautiful. The architecture, history, culture, and shopping (not to mention the pastries) are wonderful. It's worth it. It has lived up to 3 year old Marissa's dreams.

I'm still thinking of you, Paris! Tu me manques <3