Christmas in Paris

Leave a comment Standard

Since my last post I’ve been incredibly busy, but now that I’ve arrived back home to PROPER chocolate and tea, I’ve finally found the time to fill you in on Christmas in Paris.

There’s so much to do in Paris at Christmas time and I really tried to squeeze it all in. The Christmas traditions are similar in France, but one of the biggest differences was the serious lack of mince pies. This was a devastating discovery until I found them in my local M&S- problem solved. Another slight difference is the Christmas cake, the French have the “Galette des Rois” – the cake of Kings. The cake is traditionally enjoyed on the 6th of January, celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem. This led to an interesting discussion in my French class, where we learnt that it’s actually a very expensive cake. This is down to the current butter shortage which is most likely due to the fact that China has discovered croissants! (Amongst other reasons).

Being the organised person that I am, I drew up a plan that allowed me to do all the Christmassy activities as well as squeezing in my final French test. Fortunately, Paris got into the Christmas spirit very early on, with these cute Christmas lights going up in the second to last week in November.

IMG_8027

The first Christmas lights I saw!

As well as getting ready for Christmas, I was also lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving twice, with one of the celebrations being a pot luck. I was quite confused at first, having never heard of a pot luck before, but it turns out that everyone brings a different dish so you end up with a variety of things to eat. The good thing is that most people can’t be bothered cooking meat, so there was loads of vegetarian food I could enjoy as well! It’s actually such a great idea that I’m hoping to do it again back in Durham.

Christmas lights are kind of a big deal in Paris, so I felt it was important to see the famous Champs-Elysées lights as well, which were even better seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

FullSizeRender

From the Arc de Triomphe.

This was actually a traumatic outing due to the freezing cold temperature. I’m not sure why but Paris feels even colder than Durham ever has, it has me thinking that I won’t be able to survive the temperatures when I go back to Durham next year… Despite the temperature, Paris didn’t quite get the same amount of snow as England, something I was quite sad to miss out on. Why does it only snow when I’m not there?? Nevertheless, I did still manage to catch a winter cold – twice! Luckily, I was well cared for and provided with endless paracetamol and hot drinks.

By the beginning of my last week in Paris before the Christmas break I was fully recovered and ready to fit in as much as possible. First on the list was the Christmas markets. I managed to fit in three of these before I left. The first was called the “Village de Noël” and even though it was right in the middle of a business district, which was not the nicest location, it was very cute and had loads of stalls. I even got to meet Père Noël and stand in an English telephone box (?)

The best market by far was the Notre Dame market. Even though it was quite small, it definitely looked the best and really got me ready for Christmas.

I also took the opportunity to finally go to all the shops I’ve been walking past since I arrived. I stocked up on some fancy chocolate and visited two of the biggest department stores, both of which were suitably decked out for Christmas. Just to make sure I’d really looked everywhere, there was also a trip to a big shopping centre on the edge of Paris (they had a Primark!). Everything was very pretty and so I took a lot of pictures since I can’t imagine I’ll be seeing the same kind of things in Debenhams next year.

The final adventure, and possibly the most exciting, was a trip to Disneyland. This was something I’d been looking forward to for weeks and it was made even better by the cute Christmas decorations and the Christmas parade. We were lucky to have really good weather as every other day there was almost constant rain. We made the most of it and spent the day outside, walking around both parks. I was exhausted by the end and we didn’t even get to go on all the rides! I’m already looking into when I can go back to finish them off…

All in all, I had a pretty great November and December, and I did actually do quite a lot of work – I promise!

Christmas in NYC

Leave a comment Standard

 

Christmas is probably my favourite time of the year. I love the Christmas vibe that lasts the whole month, decorating, carols, concerts etc. I obviously also love the food and laziness of the holiday, meaning all I have to do is sit around drinking tea and eating mince pies for at least a week. I also know that it’s guaranteed that all my siblings (who are in the country) will come home for Christmas.

A8B132B1-2182-4847-8294-6A242CE2F421

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

This meant that one of the things I was most worried about when coming to Canada was what to do about Christmas. Since we only had 2 weeks break I decided it wasn’t worth it to come home, so had decided from August I would be staying. I expected to stay in Calgary with my flatmates, but I was extremely lucky and grateful to be able to stay with some relatives in Boston and New York over the holidays.

225245EC-B887-4CBC-A289-6A0089E29739

Christmas in Flat 209

This led to me ‘adulting’ – I successfully sorted out my flights, transport from Boston to NYC, travel insurance and visa myself, which may seem pretty standard but there’s a first time for everything. After successfully getting through customs in Calgary (where I declared my sweets, chocolate and tea, making the border agent laugh) I survived my first solo flight (managing to get stuck in the window seat for 4 hours while my two neighbours fell asleep) and promptly started panicking because everything I had read online about coming into the US hadn’t happened (in case you don’t know me, I stress very easily)

A35C7144-3E48-4718-A2C1-E5E7ACE05025

Canada covered in snow

 

Boston

I stayed with my cousins in Boston for a couple of days between finishing my exams and Christmas Eve, which had terrible weather but was still great. Here are a couple of things I did:

  • Seeing Harvard University
  • Walked around Cambridge: It still creeps me out a bit seeing British names in North America, so going to Cambridge was a little confusing. I loved walking round a small, old, red brick town, which made me feel nostalgic and very similar to home, especially after 4 months of living in a city
  • Boston Common: This was beautiful, even in the pouring rain, with statues, trees and an ice skating rink
  • Chinatown

    937E8EA4-9495-45E4-84B0-32FD7D652734

    Boston Common

Christmas in Brooklyn

I moved over to Brooklyn to stay with some more relatives on the 23rd. I really enjoyed getting to know different sides of my family (obviously as they live in the US it’s hard to see them, and until now I’ve spent a grand total of one afternoon with them) and they knew everywhere to show me around. We did a lot of Christmassy stuff (lots of tea, films and late mornings), and also went to a lot of cafes, restaurants and ice cream places, which suited me perfectly, as well as doing some sightseeing. I spent Christmas here, with loads of my extended family, which made it a really nice first Christmas away from home. Some of my favourite food I tried include:4DB36FAA-711F-4FF6-ACCC-2B25011DBDE4

  • 10 Below Ice Cream: Rolled ice cream with unlimited topping
  • Grilled Cheese at an American diner: This is basically a fried cheese toastie, but seems to be a must have in America
  • New York Bagels: They’re basically big bagels, but again a must
  • Frozen Yoghurt: My cousins were baffled that I’d never tried this, and I have to say it was pretty awesome
  • Cake Pop: I don’t know if this is an American wide thing, but cake pops to me mean a small ball of cake on a stick, but I experienced three layers of cake, ‘frosting’ and topping, which was also incredible
6676C540-30D1-4212-970C-8502D6626659

NYE Fireworks

New Year in Manhattan

After spending nearly a week in Brooklyn, I moved to my Great-Aunt and Uncle’s in Manhattan. It was really cool to be able to stay in different areas of New York, and I was staying next to Central Park and with easy access to basically all the sights in Manhattan, which was awesome. I mostly spent my time here going to museums and sightseeing, and being fed extremely well by my aunt and uncle. I managed to meet up with a friend from home and I spent New Year with her and a couple of her friends watching the fireworks in Central Park, which was incredible but extremely cold. Some of my favourite things I did (other than the fireworks) were:

35260996-4913-449B-9530-D7D80237CF5C

This felt like a very NYC view

  • Seeing and going over the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
  • Taking the Staten Island Ferry to look at the Statue of Liberty and the amazing view of downtown Manhattan from the water (and pretending I was in Spiderman: Homecoming)
  • The view of Manhattan from the top of the Freedom Tower, and the 9/11 Memorial, both of which were extremely humbling
  • Ridiculous Christmas lights in Dyker Heights
  • Wandering through Central Park
  • The Cooper-Hewitt, The Met and The Guggenheim

Overall, my break was pretty incredible, and something I definitely did not expect when I decided to come on a year abroad. It was quite tough being so far away from home and seeing all my friends meeting up back home, but I am so glad I decided to do something different, and I’m especially so glad I managed to meet some more of my family. As well as doing my first solo travelling, it was also the most amount of time I’ve lived in the centre of a city (other than Durham, which is quite anomalous) and I loved exploring on my own, even though it was strange not having a white Christmas after being surrounded by snow for most of the last 3 months. New York at Christmastime was pretty awesome, but spending time with family (even if they were different family to those I’d normally spend it with) was my highlight of Christmas for sure.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christmas in Canada

Leave a comment Standard

15732142_1257151324307320_693233521549394420_o

Well hello again you fabulous readers! It’s been quite a while since my last post so there’s a lot to fill you all in on.

Let’s start with Christmas Day.

Christmas Day in Calgary!

Now admittedly, I and most of us lonely international students that didn’t fly home for Christmas, were rather sceptical about how we’d be able to have a smashingly festive day, but we did!

With a bunch of Australians staying in our flat for the holiday, Christmas morning was an absolute delight. We had the classic cheesy Christmas tunes blasting out, everyone quickly skyped their families and then we dug into a spectacular breakfast and didn’t stop eating for the rest of the day.

img_7546

Christmas dinner was a very special affair. Much like our Thanksgiving dinner, we collected a whole bunch of tables and chairs and somehow squished 15 people into our little flat (with two Christmas trees might I add). Everyone brought food and was dressed as Christmassy as possible.

The Canadian weather couldn’t have been better. It had snowed non-stop for two days previously but Christmas day was beautifully sunny (and -20).

img_7454For many of us, it was our first white Christmas so we decided to prance around in the snow for a solid ten minutes until we started to freeze and had to run back inside to drink more Baileys.

The rest of the day was spent playing games, eating food, watching movies and eating more food. Couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day with such perfect company. Overall, definitely one of my favourite Christmas Days yet.

Next, my travels!! This trip lasted 10 days and we tried to see as much of the east of Canada as possible. First stop, Toronto!

TORONTO

img_7970

Having been before many years ago, I was excited to see how much of it I’d remember- turns out I didn’t remember a thing. I felt just as touristy and lost as my travelling companions as we walked through the vast streets of Toronto. A truly great city that I could happily live in, but I must say there wasn’t a lot of culture to explore. The CN Tower was definitely the highlight so if you’re ever passing by I would definitely recommend it. But here are a few things I wish I knew beforehand.

Tips if you ever go to the CN Tower.

  • Get there super early. The first time we went they told us it would be a four hour wait…no thanks.
  • If you’re scared of heights, avoid the glass floor section, I still feel queasy just thinking about it.
  • If you want a drink at the top of the CN Tower, prepare to empty out your bank account.
  • Bring an awesome camera because the views are worth treasuring. 

MONTREAL

img_8279-1 Wow, were we still in Canada? Montreal felt like a whole new world! The snow was significantly thicker than Toronto, everywhere was within walking distance and, oh yeah, obviously everyone spoke French!

There were still very Canadian elements, (such as poutine still being everywhere and maple syrup being served as a side for a spinach and cheese pancake- are they insane?) but overall it did not feel like the spacious Calgary and Toronto we had just left behind.

We spent New Years Eve in Montreal and it was an absolute blast. We made a few friends in our hostel and then headed out to the big outdoor New Years Eve party for the countdown and fireworks. Around 80,000 people danced in the snow at -20, it was a pretty perfect way to start the year.

Tips for Montreal

  • Go to Schwartz! We were trying to find a bar but ended up here…classic me always finding food. They had the best smoked meat sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.
  • Walking up Mount Royal was easy, coming down was tricky- watch out for the ice! We had a few nice wipe-outs.
  • Make sure you’re on the right side of town when the train comes by- we were stuck for literally 20 minutes waiting for the longest train in history to go past.

QUEBEC CITY

15965607_10211845891807868_6036632126955876203_n

Everyone told us “oh you’ll love Quebec City, it’s just like a little city in Europe”. I must say they were right. Old Quebec had lovely little streets (I wish I could say they were cobbled but I have no idea as they were covered in snow) and the streets and shops were all so Christmassy and cute. With loads of cafes and chocolate shops dotted around it was also a treat to go to a new place for breakfast every day. We spent our time here walking around the city and exploring some culture, finally! Founded in 1608, Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America which is quite a contrast considering that Canada is only 150 years old this year!

Tips for Quebec City

  • Wear appropriate shoes! The whole city is covered in a crazy amount of snow that turns into obstacles of slush. Although very amusing when trying to cross the road, our shoes will never be the same again.
  • Don’t order a large poutine. Or even a medium for that matter. Even for me, it was quite a marathon trying to finish it.
  • If you see a large area of snow without footprints, don’t think it’s a park and decide to walk through it. We ended up getting stuck in snow up to our waists!

So there you have it! My fabulous Christmas and New Years that I will never forget.

Also, if you want to see my video of last semester here is a link. Was tricky fitting 4 months into 4 minutes but I just about managed it!

Hope everyone back home had an awesome Christmas and New Years too! Let’s make 2017 another smashing year!

Till next time,

Sonia xx

Have yourself a Feliz Navidad

Comment 1 Standard

The run-up to Christmas has been somewhat different this year. Needless to say there are no mince pies in sight, no Costa Coffee Christmas drinks to fuss over and no Cadbury chocolate advent calendars on sale. Christmas in Spain is, in general, quite different to in the UK as the festivities start a lot later, and the sun is still shining relentlessly…

Continue reading

My first semester: an interim report

Leave a comment Standard

Wouldn’t you think that four months in a city is enough time to explore it and do all the things you want to do? Well, it is not.

16 weeks in Paris and there are still so many places I haven’t been to despite wanting to go, museums that I have not yet visited and bars I haven’t tried yet.Luckily there are another four months in Paris waiting for me when I return in January. Continue reading

Katie Flies Home for Christmas

Leave a comment Standard

I have never appreciated that song about driving home for Christmas as much as I did on that flight home. It would have been a massive understatement to say that I was “excited” for my own bed, a good roast dinner, and maybe a hug from Mum.

It had been an emotional month, what with exams and my 21st birthday as well as a spotting of lasts with some of the closest friends I had been closest with on this trip. The so-called “squad” was losing half of its members after Christmas, which meant a few long hugs goodbye and watery eyes. Most of the leavers were Australian, which has been a big push for me to organise a trip there in the coming years. You could say I may have caught the travel bug, with the thought of settling down into an office job sounding more and more distant. Continue reading

Festive Farewells and Rainy Reflections

Leave a comment Standard

“I walk across campus, my freshly washed hair turning to literal icicles, fingertips close to frostbite, hands lizard-like from the dry air.”

These days in Canada have a habit of running away from me, and it is only as I sit down and recollect happenings from since I last wrote that I discover that an entire month has crept past. I boldly claimed in my previous post that the semester had been an emotional roller coaster yet this month may have topped it.

It has been abundant with trips to the mountains for snowboarding and sightseeing, final exams, departures of dear friends, a Christmas excursion to Vancouver, and a week of reflection and board games in rainy old Albion. Continue reading