Christmas wish granted

Every Christmas Eve since I can remember my grandparents (Poppop and Mommom) read “The Night Before Christmas” to my sisters and me.  Whether we were sitting next to each other beside a fire or were listening to the story over speaker phone, we always made it work.  This year many of my traditions were put to the side as I experienced a French Christmas.  I thought doing things differently during my favorite holiday would be hard but I think I was so busy taking in the new things that I didn’t miss so many of the traditional rituals. The one part of my Christmas that I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around missing was story time on Christmas Eve.  But there were more complications than just my being across the ocean: my Poppop was in Hawaii, my Mommom passed away just before I left to come to France, and my sisters and I were all getting “too old.”  So when I Skyped my family Christmas Eve I was so excited to hear we would read the story over Skype.  How cool is technology: my Poppop from Hawaii read a book over the phone and through Skype to me in France!  This little part of American Christmas made me feel like I was “home for Christmas, even if only in my dreams…”

I hope everyone can feel close to their family this holiday season…it’s possible no matter where you are.

Joyeux Noël

La Fête des Lumières (Lyon)

Last weekend I took the train to Lyon to see la fête des lumières.  I was expecting it to be a big display of Christmas lights everywhere but that was not the case at all.  Throughout the whole city, which rests between two main rivers the Rhône and the Saône, there were elaborate light displays set up on walls, in gardens and on huge screens set up especially for the event.  It was a huge party with neon lights, music, and mass amounts of people!

Me and some friends walked the streets trying to see every display–which was hard considering the amount of people and the expanse of the city.  We ended up walking more or less 6 hours…me in wedge heels! Awesome planning on my part. But despite the pain going on with my feet, I saw some really cool displays.  For example, one was displayed on the front of a huge cathedral.  The neon lights which outlined the architecture made you think that the actual structure was moving from side to side.  Accompanied by eery music and changing colors, I really liked this stop on our trek.

We ended the night by ascending the mountain of “vieux village” where there was another huge cathedral.  This specific one was constructed as a thank you to the Virgin Mary who supposedly saved the Lyonnaise from destruction back in the day.  The whole fête des lumières is about Mary because it takes place every year on the 8th of December which is supposedly the date of the immaculate conception.  From the church where we finished our tour, we could see all of Lyon spread out before us.  It was absolutely beautiful, especially with all the lights.

Strasbourg

Christmas markets are very popular here in France.  One of the most popular and most festive areas to experience them is in Alsace, so I made it a point to get up there (it’s North East, right on the German border) and prepare myself for the Christmas season!

After a failed attempt at planning a weekend getaway, Megan and I decided to just make the trip into a day excursion.  We took my car and left early on a Sunday morning to drive 4 hours to Strasbourg.  This was a bit rough considering we had gone out in Dijon the night before, but our Christmas spirit overruled the hangover and we pressed on 🙂

Well worth the effort! Every little cobblestoned street was filled with people, lights, vendors, hot drinks and yummy treats.  In the center of everything was a huge cathedral where we got to see a Christmas concert!  Perfect way to get in the Christmas spirit.

living and learning

I have found I need to work on being prepared and organized when it comes to traveling.  If you can jump the gun and book flights, trains, hotels, etc early enough, the discounts are astounding!  But as I mentioned, I have found this to be a weakness of mine.

My frist experience was when I planned a trip to Strasbourg two weekends ago.  Long story short my job was to book accommodations and I waited too long and thus lost any chance of booking a place on such a popular weekend (Christmas Market time in Strasbourg is a must see meaning I was not the only one to trying to find a bed).  We ended up going nonetheless but instead of a nice weekend we chopped it down to a day trip.  The drive took 4 hours up and 4 hours back; battling rain, snow and a hangover!  I paid for this lack of preparation the whole week as the fatigue from my drive lingered.

So this past weekend when I planned to go to Lyon for the Festival of Lights, I was determined to redeem myself.  The first change was that we would be taking the train.  And after talking to friends I found out that there was a discount card for people 12-25 years old–Score!  So friday afternoon I purchased the special card (50 euros but well worth it because it would basically pay for itself in the first use and I plan to do my traveling by train the rest of the year anyways).  Afterward I bought the actual ticket for the trip from Dijon to Lyon.  Awesome! I was already set with transportation and accommodations, which were being provided by a friend living in Lyon (read Katie’s blog too).

Saturday morning came along and I was dropped at the station in Dijon.  Grabbed some magazines, a large bottle of water and hopped on the train.  Everything was going well and I felt so great that I was organized and even saved money…all until the ticket checker man came around and asked to see both my ticket and my carte de réduction.

“Madame, this card is not valid until December 26th. You are going to have to pay the difference of €23.80.”  Well that just sucks considering my ROUND TRIP ticket cost about €26 and I had paid €50 for the discount card that apparently I know couldn’t use.  Obviously I tried to prove my point that there was a mistake on the card’s date and I really really wanted to use the card now, but he wasn’t having it.  So I paid up and decided I would take this issue up with the information desk when we reached Lyon (arguing in French–check it off the list).

Another long story short, the lady who sold me the reduction pass had thought I wanted to begin my pass on the date of my trip to Scotland (which I also booked Friday).  I didn’t realize that the card wouldn’t just begin on the date which it was purchased. Big surprise to have miscommunication between a French and an American trying to speak French huh…

Lady at the information desk in Lyon was not too happy to be dealing with me but in the end I got her to reimburse my €23.80 and change the start date on my card (for €5 but this was better than €50 right?!).

The rest of the Lyon trip went well–I will post about both Strasbourg and Lyon this week–but I hope the next voyage in two weeks (which includes trains AND planes) will be less “bumpy” than the last two!

No Christmas music on the radio?!!??!

I am a proud supporter of all things Christmas–pine tree scented candles (thanks for sending me one Aunt Dawn and Uncle Rick), circling the neighborhoods to see lights (actually found some good ones here already), eating candy canes, decorating my college house from top to bottom in wrapping paper, watching every Christmas movie ever made (watched a French one the other night with the kids)….I could go on but I’ll refrain.

The one thing I absolutely LOVE is when the radio begins playing Christmas music 24/7!  The day after Thanksgiving is like a holiday in itself and I have begun to think of this day as the official date when I can share my Christmas enthusiasm with everyone.  Honestly I begin listening to the tunes and lighting Christmas candles long before this “holiday” (probably around October) but I keep it to myself because I realize not everyone likes to think of Christmas before Thanksgiving as I do…

But here in France my little “holiday” is set back a bit because Christmas songs don’t come on over the radio. OH THE HORROR!!!

Even though the kids told me this sad news I still hope everyday that I will pass over a station playing Christmas tune (perhaps even in English).  Well, prayers were answered and this afternoon my favorite station, Virgin Radio, played Coldplay’s Christmas song.  I was extremely excited to be alone in the car (able to blast the song)driving through the country roads of France listening to Christmas music–just too bad it was raining and not snowing. Can’t have it all 🙂

some time to myself

So being an Au Pair is not always as easy as one might think.  Sure, my job is to live in a foreign country and soak in as much as possible before leaving for the motherland in a year BUT another large part is to take care of children–duh.  When you first think of this it seems like an easy feat: play outside, read books, maybe dabble in some cooking or arts & crafts but nothing too mind boggling.  But there are some nanny horror stories which would deter anyone from taking this job.  I have friends here who have some such stories….

I am lucky because I work for an amazing family with kids whom I adore.  (I also lucked out of changing diapers and puttering around a quiet house during nap time–at least for the time being before the twins are born) But even with all my luck, my job can be down-right tiring and sometimes I just need a break (I understand motherhood a bit more everyday!)

So when I was able to stay in Dijon all day yesterday I was very excited.  After my morning French class I got lunch and shopped with two friends I have met here.  We basically just wandered the streets, saw the Christmas market in the center square, and drank some vin chaud (I am not the only one who is obsessed…This half Parisian, half New Englander blogger also finds the vin chaud irresistible)

I love my life here in France and I enjoy spending time with Louis-Auguste and Célénie but yesterday it was nice to just relax and be on my own schedule instead of having to drive here and there to drop off, then pick up without forgetting to go grocery shopping in between!