Away From Home for the Holidays

4 Jan

Sorry it has taken me so long to write this post, dear readers! I just got back a few days ago from one of the BEST winter breaks of my whole entire life. I was finally reunited with my girl, Meaghan who took a break from her teaching life in Soissons, France to come on this crazy adventure with me!

We first began with the necessities of Prague: Kozel Cerny, fried cheese, Svichkova & climbing up the castle.

Image(Above: Meaghan & I in front of the Christmas tree in Old Town Sq., Prague)

Then, WE WERE OFF. The following 10 days were absolutely amazing. We flew to Lyon, France for one night, then took a train to Montbeliard, France to spend Christmas with my friend Apolline. Then we took a train to Paris to celebrate my birthday in my favorite city! Along the way I learned a few things…

1. You will never stop being blown away by the kindness of others

Meaghan & I began this trip by saying: “Where should we go?” Instinctively I knew France. Although Prague is growing more & more on me as the months go by, I really just love France. France is my happy place. Awesome food, beautiful scenery & I can actually communicate with people–what more could you ever want in a country? 

Once this was established, I racked my brains for our accommodation: where would we stay? Apolline graciously offered to let us spend the holiday with her & my host brother, Simon said we could stay with him in Paris. Boom. I knew these were nice offers, but I didn’t expect these two to go above & beyond. 

Image(Above: Apolline, me & Meaghan in Montbeliard for Christmas!)

Upon arriving to Apolline’s ‘tiny’ 30,000 resident town (Sutton has 8,000 & there’s no castle…) Meaghan & I were treated like queens. We ate escargot & country ham & smoked salmon. We slept in Apolline’s bedroom & had our own bathroom. We had electronic shades that made the room pitch black. We were living the life! & We got to speak French!

Then when we went to Paris, we stayed in the beautiful (GIANT) apartment of my old host brother, Simon. Upon our arrival we were greeted with pizza, champagne & MARIOKART! Unfortunately Simon went on his own vacation the 2nd day we were in Paris, but he still graciously let us have the apartment to ourselves! 

This strong feeling of gratitude remained throughout my entire vacation & I know it was all thanks to my wonderful hosts!

2. Time Changes Some Things, But Not Everything

It has been almost 2 years since I studied & lived in Paris. If you recall the post A Break-Up Letter To The Love of My Life you know that this separation has been difficult for me. Paris is my favorite city in the world. & It always will be. That’s why when I had the chance to finally go back, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I was super excited, of course, but I was also a little nervous. Would it all come back to me? Would I still feel the same way? Or had everything changed?

Turns out 2 years doesn’t change a whole lot. Sure there were a few new stores, but all the streets were the same. I still had all the memories. It was surreal. I visited my old school, celebrated my birthday first with dinner at my favorite restaurant & then at my 2 favorite bars, & then, the weirdest experience of all: I visited my old neighborhood! 

When I studied abroad in Paris, we did not have apartments or dorms: we were all assigned host families. I was really nervous about this. Would they like me? Would I like them? Would I be in a safe area? Luckily, I hit the jackpot. I was assigned to live in the 12th arrondissment (12 is my lucky number, so I instantly saw this as a sign) with a single mother who lived alone on the top floor of a giant apartment complex. All her children were grown up & moved out but would occasionally bring their children over (my baby ‘French cousins’!). & My neighborhood was adorable. Right near the beautiful Parc de Bercy (where I would go running) & Palais d’Omnisport (where I later saw a Drake concert haha)

Image(Above: Where I studied abroad Spring Semester 2012!)

Visiting my old neighborhood really made me reflect on how much I’ve changed as a person, & a traveler, since I lived there. I truly believe it was a chain reaction. I first went on vacation to Paris when I was 16 in high school. Without this trip I would have never chosen to live & study here. & If I had never studied abroad I would have never had the courage to move abroad. But no matter where I do live I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my old ‘hood, the adorable Cour St. Emilion.

Image(Above: Complete with tons of restaurants, shops & a movie theater, the Bercy area is a hidden gem in Paris)

3. It’s Okay to Break Tradition 

But it will be really weird when you do.

My past 22 Christmas seasons have consisted of Christmas Eve at my cousin’s eating delicious gourmet food with my whole family & then Christmas day at my house. It was so strange to not follow that ritual this year. I know I am lucky because I celebrated everything in Europe, but it was definitely hard being away from everyone. 

Meaghan & I just kept saying “Wow, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas…” because instead of Christmas Eve at my cousin’s house gorging on scalloped potatoes & listening to the men yell at the sports game, I was sipping champagne & eating hors d’oeurves in the most magnificent apartment ever. 

After Christmas Eve mass in a 400 year old Protestant temple (the oldest one in all of France, casual), we were invited to Apolline’s grandmother’s house. We were told everyone was going to be well into their 60’s and speak no English. But I was blown away. The night was awesome! All of Apolline’s great aunts & her grandmother were so lovely & welcoming. Over the course of the night we opened 4 bottles of champagne & were served more hors d’oeuvre courses than I could count. All while sitting in this AMAZING house (all mahogany tables, a fireplace, beautiful rugs & paintings with little lights underneath them like seriously).

Image(Above: Us with Apolline’s grandmother, the sweetest & cutest woman ever)

Christmas day was a little bittersweet, but I had no time to dwell on this. We woke up to a giant brunch complete with smoked salmon on toast & fresh pain du chocolat. Then Apolline’s whole extended family (& I mean EVERYONE) came over! I am used to having loud holidays with a lot of people so it was nice to spend the day with everyone. We nibbled tiny sandwiches & drank wine & just had a good time.

Image(Above: Us with Apolline & her sister, Violaine, on Christmas day)

But by far the best part of the day was when Apolline’s cousin, who has an AMAZING voice, got out her guitar & played some songs. This was the only really sentimental moment for me the whole trip. Back home, my friend, Molly, is also a very talented singer. Last Christmas she & her family came over & she brought her guitar & sang the song ‘Hallelujah’ which gave me chills. On this Christmas Apolline’s cousin sang the same exact song & my eyes welled up. It was a very special moment & made me feel like I was home in a strange way. I can’t really describe it.

After I was done being corny we took to the piano! Another one of the cousins could also sing & her husband started playing the piano. We started slow & shy but 20 minutes later the entire house had gathered around to hear these 2 strange Americans accompanied by the cousins & piano belt out the best rendition of Katy Perry’s Roar you’ve ever heard in your life! So much fun! We sang Alicia Keys, Adele & some motown classics! I am still anxiously waiting for the video to surface somewhere on the internet…but it was a truly unique way to end Christmas & made me feel so at home.

Then before bed I got to Skype my whole family! It was so good to see everyone & know that I miss you all very much 🙂

Image(Above: Mini study abroad reunion for my birthday at Truskel, my fav Parisian bar)

The day after Christmas is a very depressing day for most people. But for me, it’s just a quick break before more fun! My birthday is December 27th & people always ask me if I hate it. I don’t understand this question. Sure I have heard “Now this is your Christmas & birthday present…” more times than I can count, but I really love this time of the year so it’s always awesome!

Normally my birthday always consisted of a snowstorm (gotta love that New England winter!) & slick roads, people not being able to come to my party & every place being closed. But Mama G always scrambled to make it special. In our family when it’s your birthday expect to wake up to handmade posters all over the kitchen cabinets saying Happy Birthday! We love you! It was hard to not wake up to that this year…but instead I woke up in Paris!

I spent the day eating delicious croque monsieur & confit de canard, then went to my 2 favorite bars at night, after finally getting on the first metro back home at 6am, I spent the next day dying in bed. It’s safe to say 23 was a good one! 

Although it may not have felt like Christmas or my birthday because I wasn’t with my family or at home, this vacation was still the best. But I know it was only so special because of the people I was with. 

I first met Apolline when she studied abroad for the year at Roger Williams University. My work study job was being a Conversation Partner, which was basically being assigned to different exchange students & simply having conversations with them in order to help improve their English. I was assigned Apolline & instantly loved her. She is so kind, funny & a great friend. 

Image(Above: Apolline & I at my Auntie Katy’s house on Easter 2013)

She spent Easter with my family & I. & We had one action packed weekend! We went to the casino, got thai food, had a movie night, went shopping & then had all the holiday festivities! After this my family got a letter from Apolline’s mother thanking us & saying I was welcome to their home anytime.

One year later, I took them up on the offer.

Thank you so much Hospitel family. Thank you for making my first Christmas away from home, something that could have been awful, such a special experience. Thank you for welcoming me so much into your family & your beautiful house. Thank you for the awesome Christmas gifts of a macaroon cookbook & socks from Maman H’s boutique (which I’m wearing as I type this!) You are forever welcome to either Prague or Sutton, or wherever else I live.

Vous etes comme ma deuxieme famille maitenant 🙂 Merci beaucoup!

Image(Above: Me & Apolline’s parents Skyping my parents! Hopefully they can meet for real someday!)

And Simon, mon frere. Thank you so much for always truly acting like my older brother. I know your mom has hosted a lot of students but I just want you to know that I really appreciate all you did for me. I can remember you making me lists of the best restaurants & stores, & of course the neighborhoods I should never go in (rolls eyes). It cracks me up how you still continue to lecture me until no end (the keys! always think of the keys! haha). I am so glad that it’s been 2 years since we were together but last week it was like nothing had changed. Please keep weekly e-mailing me about all the juicy gossip in your life & I will continue to do the same. 

Thank you so much for basically giving us your apartment for 5 days. It was a great stay in Paris & same for you, anytime you want to come visit Prague…or the boring Sutton, Mass., you are always welcome! Bisousss :*

Image(Above: Throwback Thursday! With my host mother & Simon in Spring 2012)

So there you have it, dear readers. I had a truly amazing vacation. It was a nice way to break up the homesickness of Prague with some familiar faces. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season too! 

The promise of a new year is something that you must take advantage of. 2014 is your clean slate & blank piece of paper…now let’s start writing 🙂

-JG

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to “Away From Home for the Holidays”

  1. Bijit Dutta January 4, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    stunning beauty

  2. ronald stacy January 6, 2014 at 2:19 am #

    This is the second time I read it. It”s just so good

  3. Robert Graves January 6, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    Jessi great to hear you had such a great time. Wish i had sent you a homemade card we hang on the kitchen cabinet but we were thinking of you on Dec 27 on your birthday. We miss you and are so so proud of your many new adventures. Make us proud and good luck. God Bless You Love Dad.

    • Robert Graves January 6, 2014 at 4:02 am #

      Wonderful Blog….life is truly about the journey,,,and the people you meet along the way. Keep traveling and writing

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