Un Retour à Paris

Paris. I have experienced it over and over again since my first visit. A study abroad friend personified Paris as a bad boyfriend: it takes you from honeymoon period to love-hate relationship (Paris in the slush? Yuck) and back again. Now, Paris and I have settled into the companionate love of old friends. I know it’s always there; it feels familiar and safe. But every time I come back we have new experiences together, just to keep things spicy.

I’ve been there three times since September. The first time, Caro and I brunched the day away at a Breton buffet and made new friends in the street by night. The second time, I picnicked, then ended up in a hole-in-the-wall bar watching rugby, drinking beers, and reminiscing about college days with a friend from Whitman. This time, I reunited with my mom and aunt for museums, classical music, and shopping. There really is something for everyone 😉

My mom’s visit was long overdue. She and Paris had their own relationship — she studied there for a year during college. Part of my motivation for studying there was her stories about spending days in the Louvre, mornings in Parc Monceau, living in a mansion-flat owned by the sister of François Mitterand whom she exclusively called “Madame.” She was a hitch-hiking adventuress, covering much of Europe by car-hopping, ending up in random bars and houses, and in one case, a barn. Though she advised me not to follow that particular example (it’s okay mom, we have the internet to arrange carpools now), as I chased the ghost of past-mom around Paris for my study abroad semester I wished that she were with me.

And this time, she was!

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To make things more fun, her sister came with her — here we are with my lovely aunt!

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In the spirit of making their dreams come true, I found us a Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons concert in the Eglise de la Madeleine to end our first day. The violin soloist blew my mind. I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of classical music (mostly because I don’t even know where to start), but I deeply admire those who can make it. [This is especially thanks to my elementary school best friend Nellie, whose life is classical music — and she’s brought it into mine. She’s even on Youtube, playing her own arrangement of a very popular song…]

We got to revisit my favorite impressionist sites (Musée MarmottanMusée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie) and visually feast on Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass. I was in the throes of a what-will-my-future-be crisis and bowed out of some of these adventures, but we always reconvened in the apartment at night for some family fun! There was much sitting, laughing, cooking, and bothering Claire with “hilarious” videos (of my mom and I, of course).

I somehow convinced them to take me to Breakfast in America, my favorite American restaurant! What can I say, I desperately needed some pancakes. (Look, they liked it too!)

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I also got to see Cara for a lunch at Les Pates Vivantes, an Asian noodle place formerly frequented by the Paris Crew. It is always a joy to see my former French major inspiration!

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Another highlight was a dinner with my old host family: Marlène, Jeff and Lulu, the cat! Caro (my byootiful study abroad partner in crime) even got to join us for this one; we used to brunch and dine together all the time, so Marlène knew her and I finagled her an invitation. We ate foie gras, drank champagne, and our main course was fondue, homemade by a true savoyarde (the name for the fondue region, where all the best cheeses come from). And my mom and aunt got to pull out their dormant French skillz! In true Reflective Anne fashion, being back in my former Paris home made me think about how many things had changed since the last time I’d been there: I’ve graduated college, for one, and I succeeded in coming back to France. Plus, my French has come a LONG way.

On our last day, we did a trip out to Chartres, a nearby cathedral and town famous for having 12th century stained glass, saved from fires and wars by diligent townspeople for hundreds of years. They also invented a color there: the famous “chartres blue.” The cathedral was amazing, and the town was a charming escape from Paris!

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I was very sad to say goodbye! Seeing family both refreshed and comforted me: I remembered what it was like to be with people who have known me forever, and I remembered that I’m going back home someday…which inspired me to live France life to the fullest, while I still can!

Un Retour à Paris

Le Carnaval de Dunkerque

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In the above photo, the mayor of Dunkirk is tossing shrink-wrapped fish out of the window of town hall, into a cheering crowd of intoxicated, disguised Dunkerquois (and their friends). As far as I know, fish-tossing is an exclusively Northern France tradition. Out of the whole weekend in Dunkirk celebrating Carnaval, this was the moment when I realized that I was seeing something I would never see anywhere else in the world.

A little background: my housemate Dana works at the Language Resource Center at the university where she also teaches English. The director of that center invites all the lecteurs who work with him to Dunkirk every year to experience Carnaval with his family and friends. His mother has a huge and beautiful house where everyone gets a bed, and his sister’s family hosts a party (une chapelle) before the ball. Because there were extra spots, Dana invited Laura and I to come with them!

The unlucky few who had to take the train (me, Laura, Dana, and Jeff) left at around 3 PM, to arrive in Dunkirk around 5 PM. We had some preparatory Ruby on the train.

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When we arrived at the house where the pre-party would be, we donned our costumes and put on make up (after a last minute run to the costume store, which was teeming with shoppers).

Here are some before and after pictures.

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Our man friends were required to respect the Dunkirk fishing village tradition of men dressing like women for Carnaval. As the story goes, Carnaval was a celebration before all the fishermen went out to sea for a very long time, and they disguised themselves as women to avoid having to go. We decided to dress as men in solidarity. A trip to the Ressourcerie in Val before leaving was all we needed to acquire 50 cent crazy ties and a 6 euro blazer. Our artistic lectrice friend did all the makeup.

The chapelle was full of dancing and eating (croque monsieur, yum) and drinking and merriment. There were a large dog and several small children running around, which made it sometimes hazardous to be on the dance floor, but everyone had a blast. I was surprised to see some teachers from my school amongst the family friends of our host’s sister! Turns out, his sister’s husband is one of the teacher’s brother. Crazy coincidence, crazy small world…

Around midnight, we left for the bal de Dunkerque, which was in the exposition hall of the town.

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As you can see, it was quite the party! Everyone was dressed up. Like Halloween plus. 

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Here we are, sweaty and tired mid-ball!

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We were dancing in one of the rooms when suddenly a different tune started to play, and everyone linked arms and started walking around a large centerpiece in the middle. We got caught in the crowd so we turned with the rest of them, and almost got knocked over and trampled in the fray! Eventually we got out and watched. This tradition is called le rigodon, and it happens at every carnaval.

We left the ball at the respectable hour of 4:30 AM, returning home to eat onion soup (another tradition) and sleep for a few hours. 1 PM was the official wake up time on Sunday, and we had a feast of meats and patés and cheese and bread and nutella and jam. And lots of coffee. Then, we took to the streets to see the daytime festivities.

The streets were covered in costumed people. There were thousands of them, just as there had been at the ball. We were a little more conspicuous this time, having not re-donned our smoky, sweaty costumes from the night before. Touristes!

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We also walked by the port, which was beautiful. The air was full of the sea and crisper and cleaner than air I’d breathed in other parts of France. It brought me to tears with how homey it felt.

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Every so often, I have a weekend that reminds me why I came here. Carnaval was a huge moment of “I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world right now,” and that is one of my favorite feelings. I couldn’t help but grin stupidly in the crowd as I reveled in the ambiance, and tried not to get hit by a fish.

Le Carnaval de Dunkerque

How I Spend My Days

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.” – Annie Dillard, via Brainpickings.

There is a difference between traveling and living. Although it probably doesn’t seem this way from far away in the U.S., I have spent less than 25% of my time here traveling. I traveled to get here, yes, but then I set up a home base and began my vie quotidienne (daily life). And, because my blog is disproportionately adventure stories, I thought I should say something about my days. For, after all, “how we spend our days is…how we spend our lives.” My schedule, my hours…this is what they’re filled with.

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1. I eat and write.  These are my two favorite ways to fill my time. I’ve already filled up a moleskine and bought a new one. In the morning and evening, I write. In my breaks between classes, I write. On my blog, I write more. I’ve also learned loads of new recipes. I cook for myself, I cook for friends, I cook for tomorrow’s lunch, I don’t cook because a waffle from Waffle Factory sounds better. I sometimes put on music in the background, genre “cozy evening folk” or “jazzy oldies,” depending on what mood I’m in. I dance and sing and cook, at the same time.

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2. I ride the train. Four days a week, four hours a day, I am either in or waiting for the train. This has ceased to be unbearable since I remembered On Being, my old favorite podcast. Now I use the time to be inspired by the mysteries of human existence as reported via interviews with the famous studiers of humanity. It can’t be beat, as far as train entertainment goes. It’s also a lesson in chuckling at the little things, like this Christmas-colored train board (unfortunately the result of multiple delays…not uncommon train behavior).

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3. I talk to students and teachers. Much of my time at the high school (12+ hours per week) is spent in the staff room, socializing with teachers as they come and go, or with students in class. I’m getting to know them, even if I still don’t know most of their names. I am greeted by a chorus of “‘ello” as I walk down the hallway. I am welcomed to lunch tables and solicited for english advice. I am engaged in conversation by especially interested teachers and students. I also have a tutoring job once a week, which provides extra money and the fulfillment that only one on one time with a really motivated student can provide.

4. I spend time with friends. In the land of workaholics (America) (or maybe just college), relationships too often get thrown into the “do if I have enough time” category. Now that I always have enough time, I get more enjoyment out of social events, because I never have to rush off to the next thing. I go round for tea. Breakfast dates, dinner parties, wine tastings, soirées in town, poetry readings, film nights, group workouts, leisurely walks to the lake…the world is our oyster, and I’m grateful to have others in my position to share experiences with.

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On any given day, I will do all of these things. This is how I spend my days. Really, my year with TAPIF is not about the number of countries I’ll see or the amount of French I’ll learn…it’s about the moments and memories I will have spent which make up a totally unique, and fulfilling, and happy life, in a foreign place-turned-home. I think the hardest question to answer when I go back to Seattle will be “how was France?”

You may as well ask, “how was life?”

And how would you respond to that?

How I Spend My Days

New Year, New Home!

I’m sorry the adventure stories (TFH 1-4) are over…but not as sorry as I am that the adventures are over. The first week back (la rentrée) has been a little bluesy. I’ve heard tell that January is the hardest month to be abroad if you’re away for a year, and I can sort of maybe see why already?

However, one great thing about coming back is that I moved!

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Here are some shots of my room, which is nice, plus I also have a kitchen, a living room, and two lovely housemates! IMG_0663

Essentially, the friend who had my room decided to move to Lille, and I seized the opportunity to get out of my tiny, moldy, noisy apartment-room and into this beautiful house with two of my favorite people!

I’m happy that I moved but also happy that I waited until the perfect situation arose. I think had I moved into a colocation (housemate situation) at the beginning, it would’ve been more risky because i wouldn’t have known my housemates first! In this case, it was a no-brainer considering how much time I spent at their place anyways. I am also convinced that my old place was bad for my health. There was actually black mold on the window, and the two nights I spent there when I got back gave me a cold…

My advice to future TAPIFers: if you want to move mid-year, do it! It’s not nearly as difficult as the first time, and 4 months is a long time. I’ve got more time left in France than I’ve already spent here!

Oh, and one more update — I’ve been accepted to a month-long intensive training program to become a certified TEFL teacher (teaching English as a foreign language), so I will be living in Toulouse for a month after my contract ends. I’m excited to experience life in yet another part of France, even if it’s only for a short time!

Bonne année à tous!

New Year, New Home!

TFH Part 4: Ringing in the New Year in Lyon

The fourth and final installment of Touring France for the Holidays (TFH) is about New Year in Lyon! Here’s a map of the continuation of my journey…yes, I did indeed basically cross France, again.

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I arrived in Lyon to find my two friends, Dana and Jeff, who had just come from Christmas in Caen, in Normandy. We were all exhausted, so after meeting at Starbucks (of course), we headed to our Air BnB and ordered some Dominoes pizza for dinner. In fact, American brands were everywhere in Lyon, so we got our Burger King/Apple Store/Starbucks fixes in before the next 4 months in the North. Starbucks even had Lyon-themed mugs!

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The next day, and the two days after, we did some city exploring with Matt, who had invited us in the first place. It was COLD. Here are friends on a bridge:

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One of my favorite sights was the Basilica Fourvière, on the top of a hill. We took a special little metro car to climb it at night (the Funiculaire), and were rewarded with a stunning view of Lyon by night!

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The cit by day was also pretty lovely. Atop the hill is the silk weaver’s district; Lyon used to be a textile city, and it shows in the architecture. In particular, all the houses have little chimneys sticking out to air out the factories, and the weaving quarter is full of narrow staircases used for transporting textiles while sheltering them from the elements.

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They call Lyon a mini Paris, and even from looking at the pictures I bet you can see why! Aside from the Paris-like bridges and Rhône river, it was also very culturally cool — it is quite obviously a young people city that has been home to many cultural movements.

Matt and I went to the Centre de Déportation, which is a museum of the Deportation of Jewish people from France during World War II, and it shed some light on why Lyon is a culturally rich city. For a portion of the period of the occupation of France, Lyon was unoccupied. It became a haven for those fleeing Nazi rule, who gathered to write and discuss and artistically render their wartime experiences. While it did eventually become occupied, Lyon remains a center for discussion and creation today!

Our other French cultural adventure was getting stuck in an elevator. Pro tip: don’t even try getting 4 people into a 3 person elevator. We were getting in at 1 AM after a lovely dinner with friends, and the elevator moved a whole 2 inches off the ground before jamming. All went dark. After a minute or two of trying fruitlessly to bang the doors open, we called the emergency service for the elevator to get them to send a technician. 30 minute wait. We waited 35, then called the fire department. Their response? “Oh, that’s not our job. Call the elevator people, they have a service for this.” Oh really, fireman? DO they???

We eventually got out (45 minutes later), and refused to take the elevator for the rest of the trip. It was cramped. Here’s our selfie:

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The hit French party song Les Sardines has never been more appropriate.

We welcomed in 2015 with some of Matt’s old friends and some new friends, all of whom gathered in Lyon at the home of a Lyon lectrice (a university english teacher, like Matt and Dana). We had a blast getting to know one another, sharing champagne, and dancing the year away. Here we all are, dressed in our 2014 finest.

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And, here’s a summary map of my break!! Lyon marked the end of my great tour of France, which only grew my enthusiasm for the country I call my temporary home.

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Happy holidays to all!

TFH Part 4: Ringing in the New Year in Lyon

TFH Part 3 : Bretagne, the Medieval Land of Mist & Mayhem

As promised, here are some adventure tales from my trip to Bretagne with Solena, in between the Three Christmases.

Solena picked me up with her mom and little cousins from the train station in Vannes, and we embarked straightaway for some sightseeing nearby.

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First, Arradon, which is far less desolate and rainy during the summer sailing season, when it’s home to sailing competitions and becomes a tourist destination. This was my first glimpse of the sea, though, and it felt like home!

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Then, a special treat: Rochefort-en-Terre, which is a medieval village in the hills that has a fairy light display for the holidays. It was beautiful, and put me in the Christmas spirit more than anything else had. Magic, right?

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After Rochefort, we went back home to Elven, which is nearby the larger city of Vannes. I asked Solena if we could tour Vannes, so after a day of watching the kids we went to walk around on the morning of Christmas Eve! I was obsessed with the ramparts and medieval architecture.

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[The Porte de Vannes (the door of Vannes), and the ramparts (with a view of the cathedral in the background).] Entering the city, I could see how imposing it must have been when it was fully walled and the ramparts were still in use. I imagine it’s what much of France actually looked like back then.

Solena and I picked up a passenger for covoiturage (carpooling — extremely cheap, easy, and popular in Europe) named Claude. We showed up and she was wearing a full length fur coat, a red beret, and gold sparkly eyeliner. She looked to be in her thirties, and talking to her in the car revealed that she was a Canadian musician stationed in Vannes to go to the music school. She was quite a character — she gave me advice to deal with noisy neighbors in France, which was to be as cynical and sarcastic and creative as possible. Example: her upstairs neighbors in Paris would not stop throwing parties, so she showed up in pajamas and tried to join in once. They got the message. (Instead of taking her advice, I moved. But more on that later.)

We dropped her off and finished our journey in Port-Louis, Riantec, etc., the towns where Solena grew up. This is where all the Christmas parties happened. I was blown away by the beauty of this old port city.

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Our beach walk at sunset….it was amazing. Standing by the sea, I instantly felt calmer. Something about water soothes me like nothing else.

This was the endpoint of our journey, and I honestly have not seen or experienced a place quite like it. I was welcomed into Solena’s group of friends, we danced the night away, and I learned 4 or 5 Breton songs and dances, as well as just how proud the Bretons are of their regional culture. I knew that France’s regions tended to have regional pride just like we have state pride, but now I think that the North is not a great example of that. Brittany is. There’s even been talk about secession throughout history.

I also spoke in French for about 75% of the time throughout this week of adventures, and that was a victory in itself. Most of the people I met did not speak English, and every time I have a fulfilling conversation with people who don’t speak English I reaffirm my reasons for having studied French! Now I get to study it in whole new ways.

Touring the west made me want to live there. I’m exploring options for working there next year, and I’ll be super excited if that works out.

Yer’mat (cheers!), Bretagne. Until we meet again!

TFH Part 3 : Bretagne, the Medieval Land of Mist & Mayhem

TFH Part 2: The Three Christmases

On Monday the 22nd, my journey through the west continued via train to Vannes, where I met up with Solena, my second former native speaker friend! (For those who don’t know: I met both Solena and Lise at Whitman, where they were Native Speakers and lived with me in the French House).

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Solena invited me to spend Christmas with her family before I even knew for sure I’d be coming to France, and I was so excited to get to know her homes and families and experience a real French Christmas! Little did I know, I’d be celebrating three of them…

Christmas 1:

I spent Christmas Eve with Solena’s mother’s family in Elven, near Vannes (post on Bretagne to come). Here’s a breakdown of the evening’s festivities:

6 PM: Start getting ready by getting dressed in Christmas best

7:30 PM: Christmas Mass at l’Eglise d’Elven, full of songs and small children. The small children made it that much more entertaining, because we all agreed that it dragged on a little…but it seems like Mass is a pretty widely attended pre-Christmas celebration and I wanted to experience it firsthand.

9:00 PM: Get home from Christmas Mass, indulge the children’s fevered cries to open presents (Père Noel came while we were gone).

10:00 PM: Begin Christmas dinner with an apéritif — Martinis, vegetables and dip, and a variety of nuts.

IMG_060111:00 PM: BeIMG_0599gin the first entrée course — Fruits de mer (seafood) and vin blanc (white wine). This was a big vocabulary lesson for me. Pictured are some of the entrée options; there were shrimp, crayfish, spider crabs, oysters, clams (live), and some kind of sea snail. I tried everything!! I still love shrimp, and crayfish are delicious, but I had more trouble with the raw oysters. They tasted a little too much like the sea for me.

I think 12:30 AM: Second entrée course — Foie Gras on toast. I also tried some of this. I think foie gras  is really delicious, it’s just sometimes a psychological struggle for me to eat it.

Sometime after 1 AM: Main dish! — Poulet marron (chestnut chicken) and vin rouge (red wine). I had never tried this dish, a Christmas specialty, before, and it was DELICIOUS! It’s my new favorite. Unfortunately at this point it was getting really difficult to eat anything due to fatigue and stuffed-ness.

After that: Fromage — cheese! I skipped this course accidentally because Solena’s 4 year old cousin came to sit on my lap and I couldn’t reach the cheese (at least that’s my excuse…)

3:00 AM: Dessert — the traditional French Christmas dessert is ice cream cake, or Buche de Noel. It’s in the shape of a Yule Log. Ours was an atypical flavor: mango passionfruit! The most common is chocolate.

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4:00 AM: Not over yet! The last course: coffee and chocolate. I had hot milk for fear of never again being able to sleep if I ingested caffeine. Although I bet it would’ve been absorbed before it hit the bloodstream…

BEDTIME!

The next day, we got up and packed and drove to Port Louis.

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Port Louis will be featured in my Bretagne post as well, but here I will talk about Christmas meal number 2! This time, it was Solena’s father’s family, and it began around 1 in the afternoon. I’ll just briefly describe the menu:

Apéritif: a variety of toasts with mystery seafood spreads (her grandmother had us guess what was in each one), and champagne!

Entrée: Oysters for most people, but another woman and I split the cooked palourdes (clams) with garlic, parsley, and butter, because neither of us like oysters. They were delicious!!

Entrée: Coquilles St. Jacques. These are some of my favorite, favorite things. It’s basically a variety of seafood treats in a deliciously rich beschamel-style sauce, and it was served to us in a shell. Homemade by Solena’s grandma and grandpa!

Main Dish: Poulet Chataigne. The same dish with a different type of chestnut, and I liked this variation even better. I ate a lot of it this time.

Fromage: I ate this this time.

Dessert: Chocolate Buche de Noel!

Café and Swiss chocolate rounded out another delicious meal.

This meal ended around 6 PM, and Solena and I went for a walk by the sea for digestive purposes. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

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The third Christmas dinner, I will be brief about, because the company was more important than the food. We dined with Solena’s family of friends the night after, for a soirée that lasted from 7 PM til 4 AM and was full of joy and laughter and friendship! To me, that is what Christmas anywhere is all about: family and family-like friends, coming together and eating and drinking and enjoying each other’s company. I was so grateful that I was welcomed with open arms into these families when I couldn’t be with my own! I have a hard time really putting into words how much I enjoyed the love and joy and Christmas spirit that I encountered on this vacation…here are some pictures of new and old friends instead!

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Merry belated Christmas to friends and family, near and far!

Next up: Bretagne, the tourist post!

TFH Part 2: The Three Christmases