Monday, November 2, 2015

my week off in Paris and London

11 days since my last post. Sorry about that! I'll try my best to fill in the gaps with all the things I've done. Last week was my week off and I started off in Paris and finished out the week in London. In Paris, we had some nice weather, so after classes in the mornings, me and my friend A took some walks and visited a few places. I finally made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower when we went last Tuesday, and that was incredibly beautiful. We waited in line for about 2 hours and had to walk to the first 2 levels instead of taking the elevator. I'm not super great with heights, so as I started to climb, with nothing keeping me from plummeting to my death except the tall bars on either side of the stairs, I eventually couldn't look at anything except the stairs in front of me and try to forget how high up I was. But the views were spectacular. Once you get to the second level, there is a separate line for the top. We had to wait about 30 more minutes and finally were in an elevator headed to the summit. The elevator ride was straight up and terrifying because it's made of glass, and the top was super chilly and windy and I had to put on my brave face to get close enough to the edge to take good pictures. But we did it and felt like we accomplished something we had been wanting to do, and the day ended up being really clear and beautiful. Once we reached the bottom, we walked out to the lawns and watched the light show (my phone was dead so I couldn't record it). 

The rest of the week was full of studying as much as I could. After my vacation to Londres, Angleterre (French for London, England), I really need to start utilizing the language more often. So Thursday, I headed for the Eurostar station to board the train from Paris to London. Getting there was quite the adventure, and I almost didn't make it.

The RER in Paris doesn’t start running until 5:30 AM. I woke up at 4:45 (horrible, HORRIBLE time to wake up…no alarm clock should ever be set to a time starting with a 4 or 5), the water in the house wasn’t working (no idea why) so I couldn’t brush my teeth (gross). I left the house at 5:40 with my suitcase in tow, and walked to the train station. I waited less than 10 minutes for a train to Saint Lazare station, and I’m thinking “great, I’ll get there in plenty of time.” You don’t need to arrive crazy early at the Eurostar station, but I wanted to get there with about 30 minutes to spare. So I get to Saint Lazare and walk a little ways to catch the RER E to Gare du Nord. It was my first time on this RER and it was a little confusing compared to what I’m used to, but I figured things out and was on my way. Time is getting a little close at this point, since the Eurostar I booked leaves at 7:13 AM and at this point it was 6:40. I expected to go through customs in London, so I thought I’d have time to grab a little breakfast before boarding. Nope. I get there and what do I see? Oh…customs is here. I scan my ticket thanks to my handy Eurostar app on my phone, and get in line. It’s now about 6:55 and the line is long and is going very slowly. Ok, I’m starting to get nervous. I finally get to the front of the line and have them stamp my passport leaving France. Then I get in another line? What is this one for? Are you kidding? Another line to get my passport stamped? Yep, one that shows I’m “entering the UK.” 7:05 AM. Line is barely moving, and I overhear the girl in front of me say she’s on the same train and we’re both starting to panic a little. Finally, some Eurostar workers come over and ask if anyone needs the 7:13 train. Umm yes… “Did you fill out a customs card?” Umm no…. crap crap crap. I run over, and the only pen there doesn’t work. Are you freaking kidding me? “Does anyone have a pen?!” Old guy next to me hands me a pen. I haphazardly fill out this card, and run back to the guy that was helping me, and he ushers me into a line with no one else in it, typically reserved for Business Premier class. The guy at the counter is giving me a hard time, asking why I’m going, why I’m coming from Paris, the address for where I’m staying, when I’m coming back. Finally, he stamps my passport, now I have to go through security, and of course there’s a line. Thankfully, Eurostar dude is ready for me and ushers me to the front of the line. After collecting my belongings, I’m literally running and dragging my suitcase onto the platform, and made it with barely 5 minutes to spare. After reading for a little while, I passed out for the entire trip after this whole ordeal. Good grief.

When I made it to London and everything I see and hear is in English, it was like that moment when you step into a hot shower on a cold day and waves of sweet relief just pour over you. My host family will soon be speaking only in French and will expect me to do the same. I know this will be good in the long run, and I know I need to get over my fear and just not be afraid to make mistakes, because well…I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. I was so overwhelmed by the French language and everything coming at me that I actually cried in class the other day. Not sobbing, but my teacher who I love and who is so so sweet sat down in front of me during an activity and told me she was there to help and just to ask questions when I’m lost and not feel stressed. Her kindness is what made me tear up, but French is just such an intimidating language. I did well on my first test, so I know there are things that I get. But it is one thing to read and write the language and utilize what I’m learning, in which case I feel like I do really well, and a completely different ball game to hear it and try to comprehend. We do oral comprehension exercises. During these, my teacher will play a CD and we have to try to comprehend and answer questions on a worksheet. Wednesday, she played the dialog 4 times, and I didn’t catch more than a few words. It was so fast, and maybe part of it was me in my own head, but I started tearing up and getting so frustrated with myself because I just couldn’t make out the words they were saying. And then realizing that hearing only French was going to be my life soon, it was overwhelming and terrifying. Everyone in my class who is not American speaks some level of English. French is the third language most of them are learning, so that too is intimidating. I know I just need to get over the fear.

In London, I did not have more than a couple of days to really explore the city, so I had to prioritize places I hadn't been before and realize I wasn't going to see much. Thursday, I didn't have much time, but I did get to go to Harrod's, which was an enormous department store that took up an entire city block. I bought some English Breakfast tea in a Harrod's tin here.

I did a Big Bus tour on Friday, which is really cool because it does a loop around the city and you can hop on, hop off at any of the sites, and then just walk back to the same bus stop, show your ticket to the next bus and get back on. They run constantly every few minutes, so this was a great way to travel. Plus, the top level is open so you are outside and can really get great views of the city. I started Friday with Westminster Abbey, and I wish I could have taken photos in there because it was incredibly beautiful. I did sneak a couple of photos at the end, so forgive the quality here. The first is a view down the main area of the church, and the second is the Coronation Chair that has been used in every coronation for the British throne since the 1300s. That was so cool to see. 

The rest of the day on Friday I rode around on the Big Bus and enjoyed taking photos of the city. Most of these I posted on Instagram or Facebook, so be sure to check them out! Saturday, was a beautiful day in London. I went to King's Cross and satisfied my Harry Potter nerdiness by getting a photo at Platform 9 3/4. They have a little store right next to it with Harry Potter merchandise, so I may have gotten a few items for me and my sister (you'll get them at Christmas!). 

Then I headed to the British Museum where I spent about 3-4 hours taking in the amazing items there. The thing I was most excited to find there was the Rosetta Stone. I wasn't sure it if was there, but it was and it was so awesome to see it first hand. I even bought a mug to commemorate it haha. They also had a festival going on for Halloween called Days of the Dead, so they had a lot of short shows and displays around the museum, so I had my love of Halloween satisfied. 

After the British Museum, I walked around for a while, and then headed off to see Les Miserables at the West End (their version of Broadway). This is located in Piccadilly Circus, which is an incredibly touristy and crowded area. But the show was absolutely incredible and better than I could ever have hoped. I had an amazing seat and the theater was gorgeous. I walked away with another mug and a cozy shirt that says 24601 on it. If you don't know what that means, clearly you need to watch Les Mis.

The next day I headed back to St Pancras station and took the Eurostar back to Paris. To be honest, I enjoyed the things I saw in London, but I also couldn't wait to get back to Paris. There are several reasons for that, but the reasons aren't the point.

I've discovered something in the last couple of weeks, and maybe I'm just hitting the next stage of being an expat where I'm starting to get homesick, but I've been incredibly emotional and actually pretty lonely. Yes, I'm making great friends, and when I get to go places with those friends, I have a lot of fun. But when I'm forced to visit all these incredible places alone, that isolation and loneliness becomes something I can't ignore. This whole opportunity is one that I am so incredibly thankful God gave me. I am not at all sorry I am here, I don't want to quit now and come home to America just because it's hard (although, it has crossed my mind). I am constantly in awe of the things I get to see and do, and I am completely aware that I am getting to do something that so many people dream about and will never have the chance to do themselves. I can only imagine the long term impact this will have on my life and on me as a person. But let me level with you for a moment. There are many times, if not all the time, when I visit a museum, some monument, or am simply taking a stroll along the Seine when I would give anything to be able to share it with someone I love. The people I am meeting here are great people, but they have only known me for a month. I miss my family and best friends in America more than I can put into words, and I wish so badly I could have just one person here from home. Someone that knows me very well, someone I have history with, someone who knows exactly how to encourage me on the most difficult days when I don't feel like I am capable of doing this whole experience.

I can't really explain what it is like to quit my job, leave my home of 11 years, put all my belongings into storage, leave everyone I know and move to another country for a year. I realize now that so much of who I am has been shaped by my job as a Training Manager, the friends I have in my life, the family I am part of, paying my bills, owning a home and a car (driving a car for that matter), Gospel Community Church, being involved in community groups, all of that made me feel like myself. I feel like I am having an out of body experience, and while I am still the same person, I miss going to a full-time job and earning a salary, I miss the environment I was in, and I miss the people.

I will make the most of this experience and I will visit as many places as I can because I certainly do not want to look back and feel like I wasted my time here. But monuments, museums, beautiful sites...they aren't what make life worth living. I love traveling. It makes me so happy and makes me feel like my soul has come alive, but it doesn't make my life worth living. What makes my life worth living are the people God has placed in my life. My friends, my family, the one I miss...they are life. Loving those people and being loved by those people, that is life. Our relationships with other people are what encourages, builds up, loves, and cherishes us. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Big Ben...yes, I am so so so thankful I get to see those places, but they don't love me. They can't speak words of life and encouragement. They can't pick me up when I feel down. I know this and can say this because I have stood at all 3 of those places and many more in the last month and I promise you that every single time I have stood there and thought..."I wish I had someone here to share this with." That thought permeates through everything I do most days. For this reason, I have held back tears at almost every place I've gone the last two or so weeks. Being an expat is not easy. I have not talked to my parents more than a few times, I haven't spoken to more than a handful of my friends because it's hard when I am so many hours ahead. I've emailed, but it's not the same as seeing someone's face or hearing their voice.

I know this is just a different season of life and that one day soon, which will probably come sooner than I realize or will want in the long run, I will be back home in the States and will be able to act and speak the way I was brought up, and most importantly, will have my support system once again. I will be within driving distance of anyone I long to see and will be in the same timezone if I want to make a call. Knowing that these months will slip by quickly, and that in the grand scheme of my life, this will only be a drop in the bucket of time, I do intend to make the most of it. But for those back home, I love you all and I miss you all terribly. If you think about it, say a prayer or even better, send me a FB message and chat with me for a few minutes. You have no idea how encouraging that would be. Thank you all for reading my posts as well, and encouraging me to keep writing. Being able to write is a cathartic outlet that makes me feel connected to everyone and reminds me to keep track of everything I do and feel, so I can look back one day and see the stages of my time here.

This week is back to my normal schedule. I am picking up G in about 40 minutes from school, and then we'll come back, eat dinner, and do homework (both of us). Again, thank you all for keeping up with my time here. I can't believe it's already November, and I'm super bummed I'm going to miss Thanksgiving. I will try not to scroll through my newsfeed that day because seeing everyone's turkey and stuffing and other goodies might be the worst thing ever haha.

À bientôt.