Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March: One last Powder day and saying Goodbye to Lauren

So, we had our fill of the Mediterranean-like sun, italian cuisine, and paddle-boating and it was time to head back to Geneva. We still had another week at our friend's apartment. Although I only teach 12 hours a week, Lauren and I tend to stay very busy during the week and time always flies. We took advantage of our huge apartment (our friend left town and left us his apt and car keys) and had friends over for dinner numerous times during the week. It was Lauren's last week in Europe, so we wanted to spend as much time as possible with all of our friends both in Geneva and here in France.

As soon as the weekend came, a POWDER DAYZ was in order. Lauren and I took off as soon as I got off of work on Thursday night and headed to a chalet in Gryon, Switzerland. We finally arrived after driving through some pretty bad snowy conditions. But we made it and went to bed early as we had planned so that we'd be well-rested and ready to get in 2 full days of skiing in.

This was our first time skiing in the Swiss Alps and although we prefer the French alps, the scenery here was beautiful and the runs were fun. On saturday, we met up with two friends and spent the day skiing with them. We headed back to Geneva that evening and met up with a big group of friends and a bar called Cafe des Arts where we drank Belgian beer and said some goodbyes to Lauren.
I've said this before but it really is amazing how blessed Lauren and I have been here in St. Julien/Geneva. We have met so many wonderful friends who I know I will keep in touch with for many years to come. Lauren and I have created so many memories and we are both changed because of the people that God has placed in our lives here and because of the experiences we have shared. Lauren left on the 16th of March and it has not been the same without her here. I am so proud of her for being willing to spend 6 months in Europe. I have learned so much from her and I have seen her grow so much, in so many ways. It takes a really courageous person to up and quit your job and leave the comfort and security of home- and move to another country just so you can learn about the world and be changed. I know that we will talk about this experience for the rest of our lives and that these experiences will go with us wherever we go. I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March: Roadtrip! Italian Switzerland and Lake Como

February vacation ended, and we were glad to be back in France. But once you get in that travel mode, it's hard to get out of it. We definitely still had our game faces on and were ready to conquer the world as March fell upon us...

Our good friend in Geneva went on a business trip to the States for 2 weeks and let us stay at his bachelor pad and use his car. Hmmmm, a car? For two weeks!?! What's a girl to do?!

Well, during the week, I actually I had to teach some but we took advantage of the car as much as we could and drove through the swiss countryside surrounding Geneva. Now, if you've never been to Switzerland you've probably got some fairytale-like images in your head of what you imagine it to look like: rolling green hills speckled with sheep and cows with cowbells, lined with vineyards, swiss chalets, old chateaux, mountains in the distance.... right on....this is Switzerland. I've never experienced a place with so much natural beauty. Sometimes I feel like I have just fallen into some fairytale land.

We have been fortunate to have some really beautiful weather in March. It tends to stay pretty grey here in the winter but March has been quite sunny. There are hiking trails everywhere and with the car we got to take advantage of some off the beaten path places and trails. One day we decided to drive to Nyon, a medieval town not far from Geneva, to hike through the vineyard trails. It was a beautiful day but the wind was out of control and freezing cold. So we immediately hopped right back in the car and just drove all along the coast of Lake Geneva right back to our cozy apartment.

When the first weekend in March came along, we got the itch to go somewhere. How about a road trip across Switzerland? But where would be our destination? Well, I have always been curious about the Italian part of Switzerland. It is supposed to have a Meditteranean climate and the lakes there are supposed to be stunning. We also knew that Lake Como was just around the corner from Ticino. Curiosity killed the cat. Next thing we knew we were in the car, windows rolled down, Lady Gaga blaring on the radio, heading on a cross-country road trip towards the Lakes of Switzerland and Northern Italy.

We stayed in a beautiful hostel that was covered with flowers and overlooked Lake Lugano. It was so nice being in the sun. We went on some stunning walks around Lake Lugano in Switzerland and Lake Como in Northern Italy. It was really interesting how much the terrain changed as soon as we entered Italy. It's like all of a sudden, you cross the border and everything looks, feels, and smells so, well, Italian.

My two "kodak" moments that weekend were 1) renting the paddle boat and just paddling around Lake Como, basking in that intense Italian sun and 2) taking the funicular to the top of a mountain just next to Como. After a day of paddling, strolling, and watching all the fashionable italians who live in Milan but come here to escape the city, it was time to enjoy some mountaintop views of the sunset. We made it up to the top just in time to watch the sun set over the lake and saw the alps turn from white to orange. We could see Milan in the distance and what looked like Tuscany just below us. Lauren and I were speechless as we sat and watched God display his incredibly beautiful artwork before us.

Ahhh February: non-stop adventure (Southern France, Greece, Turkey)

Ahh February, how many places can we squeeze into a month? That is the question. February is always such a great month. Birthdays, Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, I mean, whats not to like about February? February is always a good time; but Feb 2k10 was a February I will surely never forget. Our good friend Lucy arrived on February 6th and before we even gave her time to rest, we were on the slopes. Next on the agenda: south, to the French Riviera and Italian border. Soon after her arrival, we said goodbye to the Alps and hello to the sea. We hopped on an easyjet flight (which is a European budget airline) and flew to Nice. It was such a nice change. The weather was warm and sunny......well, until it snowed. [Of course it would snow the most it has snowed in twenty years while we were there!] But before that happened, we took advantage of the sunshine and rode mopeds all along the coast to the red rocks of St. Raphael. It was so much fun and we looked just like Dumb and Dumber as we zoomed along the coast on our one-seater scooters (mind you, Lucy and I shared a one-seater...). We did lunch in Italy the next day and of course made the obligatory stops in Monaco and Menton to see the Lemon Festival. Of course we weren't about to miss the Chocolate Festival in Antibes either. I would say that eating was the theme of our adventures in Southern France. Of course in a land where olive trees, Provençal herbs, and fresh veggies outnumber its inhabitants, how can one resist talking incessantly about food? C'est impossible!
After a week in Southern France we decided it was time to meet Blake back in Geneva. So, we scooped him up and off we were to Greece. Ohh Greece....

Where do I begin? Do I talk about the people first? The graffiti? The deserted island and coastland? The food... particularly those infamous Greek salads and the omnipresent lamb dish? I still haven't really figured out the Greeks. I just know that if there is any people group who know how to relax, the Greeks win the prize by a long shot. In fact, we coined the phrase "Greekin' it" which would be to simply relax at a cafe, or perhaps on a park bench, or really anywhere.....for hours. While Americans spend there days slaving away at their jobs (some of us), 90% of the Greek population is drinking some sort of beverage with family and friends at some local cafe. But back to our Greek adventure:
We spent about 3 days in Athens. Athens is one of those cities that you really appreciate after you leave. I mean, we walked where Paul preached, where civilization began, and where greek gods made love to greek goddesses! These are things most people only learn about in their high school Greek mythology classes! We got to experience these sights firsthand...although I must admit, we expected to see more natural beauty. Thus, we took off to the islands in search of this natural beauty we had heard about.

And so we landed on the island of Mykonos. This place is like no other place I've ever been. We were the only tourists to be sure. We rented a car ( yep, I learned how to drive a manual on the cliffs of a Greek Island...normal, right?) and explored the entire island. The landscape was incredible. Sheep, windmills, and little white churches spotted the hills. The coastline was also a dramatic site and the "grimping" or climbing was noteworthy. Mykonos was full of characters which meant the people-watching was definitely first class. When we weren't risking our lives in the rental car, we spent most of our time, well just Greekin' it at a beach side cafe, watching people and time pass us by.

The week went by way too fast and before we knew it, it was time for Lucy and Blake to head home. I still had a week left of vacation so Lauren and I decided that no Greece is complete without some Turkey mixed in with it. So, we hopped a plane to Istanbul where we would spend the majority of our time. Now, if the Greeks win the gold medal for knowing how to relax, the Turks when the prize for being the most friendly and hospitable people I have ever met. We were offered Turksih tea and red wine time after time. It's completely normal for curious bystanders to come up to us and begin to ask us questions and strike up a conversation. Istanbul is a fascinating place. It's definitely a crossroads where East meets West...as it has always been throughout history. It is a muslim country with a progessive attitude. As you talk to most Turks you quickly learn that they are proud people and could care less about joining the European Union. They however, are becoming more and more westernized and no one can deny that.

Istanbul is the 2010 culture capital. And deservingly so. I was blown away by all the history and culture that is there. You could spend 3 months in Istanbul and still not see all there is to see. There's the massive Blue Mosque, the Aya Sophia, The Byzantine (yea, you heard me byzantine...like from the byzantive era....we're talking ancient!!) Cisterns, Topakia Castle, the Spice Bazaar, and our favorite, the Grand Bazaar. And these sights are just part of the Old time. You could spend days exploring the exciting new town too!!! But we knew we only had a week in Turkey so we had to part ways and explore a new and different land.

So we chose to head southeast, to the land of Cappadocia. A little bit about Cappadocia:
The name was traditionally used in Christian sources throughout history and is still widely used concept to define a region of exceptional natural wonders, in particular characterized by fairy chimneys and a unique historical and cultural heritage.

Cappadocia contains several underground cities largely used by early Christians as hiding places before they became an accepted religion. The Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century were integral to much of early Christian philosophy.

The Cappadocia region is largely underlain by sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams, and deposits erupted from ancient volcanoes. The rocks of Cappadocia near Goreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillar forms. The volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries. Göreme, where we stayed, became a monastic center between 300—1200 AD.

Paul encouraged the first believers who would worship in the underground churches in Cappadocia. We spent 3 days here and explored the incredibly dreamy/bizarre landscape and underground cities. This place was surreal. The land, the history, it still boggles my mind. This is truly a place that everyone must see in this lifetime. You're missing out if you never make it to Cappadocia.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Il faut profiter"

The number one expression I hear in France: "Il faut profiter"! Translation: "One must take advantage of". Everytime a holiday is around the corner, I am told to "profiter". And so, I do. But I don't just "profiter" during the breaks, I try to take advantage of every single day here in France. And I'm so blessed to experience life here with my best friend/sister.

I realize that I probably won't ever live in the Alps again, and so I ski as often as I can. Lauren and I have "profitied" from living close to the mountains. Every weekend since we've been back, we've gone skiing with friends and with the ski club. I've had several surreal moments as I gaze over at the jagged mountains and crystal clear lakes. Skiing in the alps is quite an experience and when you live an hour away from them, how can one not "profiter".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's good to be back

I arrived back to Geneva on Thursday after spending about three weeks at home in Louisiana. I had such a wonderful time at home with my family and friends. I had some good quality time with the people I love and enjoyed some good louisiana sunshine and food. It is good to be back though and I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. I've been busy enjoying the wintry weather and catching up with friends. Friday I went for a run in the snow and met up with a good friend in Geneva and then had dinner at a teacher's house in a little village about 30 minutes from St. Julien. Her and her husband had cooked some curry and invited some teachers to her house. It was great fun and we got into some good discussion. I got home at 2am, fell asleep at 4:30am (jetlag!!!) and woke up at 7 to go skiing with some friends. I felt terrible all day but had a great time with my friends on the mountain. We went to ski resort called Semoens about an hour from here. At one point, we were above the clouds and we were surrounded by a sea of clouds and beautiful jagged mountain peaks. I have never seen anything like that! Incredibly beautiful.
Today I went to church and had lunch with a group of friends at a little cafe right on Lake Geneva, near the Turkish baths in Pacquis. It was so wonderful seeing my friends and hearing about their travels during the holidays. After lunch I headed to the airport with a friend to pick Lauren up from the airport. She flew from Houston to London, London to Geneva. She was supposed to get here on Friday and JUST got here today, Sunday! The weather has been snowy all over Europe and the airports have been everso hectic. But finally she made it, unpacked her bags, and we are both resting up and catching up on sleep...although I have the worse case of jet lag I've ever experienced!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's almost time to go home for the holidays!

The bags are packed and the swiss chocolate and french goodies have been carefully placed into the carry-on. We're going home for Christmas! And we leave this week. I am excited and I'm looking forward to some family, friends, and good ol' America! We are of course most excited about spending time with the people we love but some other things we are really ready for are as such:

-driving "smokey" and "gray baybay" our cars back home [and not relying on public transport]

-stores staying open 7 days a week (in France, stores are closed on Sundays and some on Mondays too and they are closed from 12:30-2:30 for lunch and they generally close pretty early at night)

-a washing machine

-hearing people say "yall" and "cha" on a regular basis (although, our international friends are pickin' up on the southern twang, yall!)

-not paying $8 for a SMALL latte

-momma's homecooking

-taking a bath

-going to the gym

-playing with Leeroy, my brother's yellow lab

-cooking with proper cooking utensils

-free refills, ice, and SONIC drinks

-people not asking me where I'm from and what I'm doing here

I'm sure there are other things we're looking forward to but those are just a few that come to mind. Of course we will miss some aspects of European living while we are home, but we are looking so forward to the joys of being home and well, a little instant gratification neva hurt nobody right?!

This past week has been really great and has flown by. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we took advantage quite well of the sunshine and blue skies. On Tuesday, I had my English/American club at the high school and I insisted that we all sit outside and play games. Every Monday and Tuesday Chris, the English assistant and I do an English/American club where we basically play games or just hang out with the high school students that come. It's a good opportunity for students to have fun practicing their English. I always look forward to club days and last week was particularly fun hanging out with the students outside in the sunshine.

Apart from school, Lauren and I have visited some really great Christmas markets. There is the international market in Geneva which isn't that huge but has booths from all over the world selling goodies. There is also a nice market in Carouge, my favorite genevois neighborhood.

My favorite thing about shopping at the markets is talking to the vendors. They are always so passionate about what they are selling and they usually are full of good stories and jokes. I always try and strike up a conversation with the vendors selling the most interesting items. That's what makes a market special.

In addition to discovering the marches de noel, Lauren and I discovered a real jewel in Geneva: the Manor department store. Normally, I'm not a fan of department stores but this place is amazing! It's 4 stories high and on the top floor is a Whole Foods style restaurant with a view overlooking all of Geneva. We spent hours there, and can't wait to go back.

This weekend was also full of holiday shopping and exploring. My roommate Raquel and I spent Friday in a town called La Roche-sur-Foron and in beautiful Annecy. La Roche-sur-Foron is a medieval town surrounded by white capped mountains, about 30 minutes from here. Its a great town to stroll on your way to Annecy. We wanted to go to Annecy to see it all lit up and to check out the Christmas market. We drank some mulled wine, shared roasted chestnuts with some locals we had met, and talked to all the vendors that would talk back to us.

On Saturday, some of our friends rented a bright orange Panda Fiat car and we drove around Lake Geneva in search of the world renowned Montreux Christmas Market. We got some funny looks as we zoomed through mideval villages and lakefront towns in the mandarin Panda, but we eventually made it to Montreux with smiles on our faces. The market there was incredible and the scenery couldn't have been more picturesque (imagine little wooden christmas booths lined up along the shore of Lake Geneva with the Alps serving as the backdrop, all the while your nose being entertained by the smell of mulled wine, fresh sausages, melted cheese, and swiss chocolate). It was truly a pleasure to the senses- we listen to the sounds of people speaking many different languages, vendors shouting , and live christmas music blaring from afar; the hair on our bodies stood as we shivered in the cold and tried to keep warm; and finally, our bellies were full from all the samples of various spice cakes, macaroons, meringues, chesnuts, chocolates, and vin chaud. (that probably wins the world's longest run-on sentence contest) It was truly a memorable celebration of Christmastime in the Alps and good times with friends in the mandarin Panda.

Today was the Fete de L'Escalade! For those who are not familiar with this great Geneva tradition, on December 11, 1602 - the longest night of the year, the forces of the Duke of Savoy launched an attack on Geneva. The Geneva citizens defeated the men by preventing them from scaling the wall ("escalade"means climb).

According to tradition, the wife of Pierre Royaume, ("Mère Royaume"), a mother of 14 children, seized a large cauldron of hot soup and poured it on the attackers. The Genevois populace fought alongside their soldiers, and the duke's 2000+ mercenaries were beaten to a Savoyard pulp. This was an important turning point in the survival of the fragile Reformation... and the Genevois have long memories of this event and they celebrate it every year with parades, cannons, music, and other festivities in the Old Town. Even though we were freezing our bums off, it was a fun geneva experience.

Oh and I musn't forget to mention that it snowed for the first time in St. Julien this morning! St. Juju looks so pretty and white!