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Iceland Itinerary

Iceland is known for its Northern Lights, harsh winters, majestic waterfalls and stunning landscapes (and its exorbitantly high prices). For all these reasons and more, my family thought Iceland would be a great choice for our first winter family vacation.

Planning our days was a bit more complicated than normal because of the daylight hour time constraints (sunrise around 11:30 and sunset around 15:30). Often times, we never saw the sun during these hours because of cloud coverage. To make the most of your short stay, I would recommend renting a car so that you’ll have more flexibility with your itinerary.

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One of the few times we actually saw the sun

Below is our week-long itinerary with trip tips and Icelandic food recommendations

Day 1 – December 28 – Thursday

After arriving in the afternoon, checking into our AirBnB in Hafnarfjörður (it was about a 20 minute drive from Reykjavik), grabbing some Thai food at Ban Kúnn, we headed out to hunt down some Northern Lights.

On our first night we were lucky enough to spot the dancing green lights in multiple locations. We headed about 20 minutes south from Hafnarfjörður toward Lake Kleifarvatn (which we couldn’t see at all), where we pulled over at the Icelandic Soup Wagon to see the faint green lights in the distant sky.

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While this picture is a brighter green than we actually saw, it still doesn’t do these lights justice

Day 2 – December 29 – Friday

Our trip began along the Golden Circle, first stopping at Strokkur Geyser to see it erupt, then heading to Gullfoss waterfall where we would rendez-vous for our snowmobiling tour.

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Gullfoss means golden falls!

Our Arctic Adventures tour was supposed to leave at 2 p.m. but ended up being pushed back due to whiteout weather conditions. This was worrying at first because it would be dark soon, but with these weather conditions we wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway.

This out-and-back tour allowed us to ride on Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, and see an ice cave inside the glacier. It was a bit freaky riding into the darkness not being able to see too far in front of us. 

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Loved the heated handlebars

Day 3 – December 30 – Sunday 

The goal of this day-long outing was to see Kirkjufell Mountain; however, we found ourselves in a snowstorm, preventing us from seeing even the slightest part of it. The route to the mountain has some other interesting stops along the way, such as hot springs and smaller waterfalls (we just looked on GoogleMaps for the camera icons).

  • Tip: Plan an extra day into your trip if possible, that way if you have a bad weather day and aren’t able to see something (ie: a whole mountain) you can try another day.
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Normally, the mountain would be visible from this waterfall, but as you can tell, it was snowing HARD

We also had a fun time off-roading (on accident). I would consider my father to be an excellent driver, so you know the roads were bad if he managed to do this.

  • Tip: Be careful of the strong winds as they can break your car door off :D.

Day 4 – December 31 – Monday/New Year’s Eve!!!

The last day of 2018 was in part spent at the Blue Lagoon, but first we began by wandering in between two continental plates: North America and Europe, at the Bridge Between Continents. 

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The bridge connecting the continents was behind us

Our tickets for the lagoon were booked a couple months in advance. We choose the 2 p.m. time slot, which wasn’t too crowded, and the weather was perfect (still extremely cold but no rain or snow). The lagoon closes at 5 p.m. and the ticket includes a towel, one drink and a silica mud mask.

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#NoShameBasicPic

In a country that is painfully cold, it’s a good idea to start the night off on a hot note with a NYE traditional Icelandic bonfire. Of the many offered around Reykjavik, we chose the Geirsnef Park fire because we knew it would be huge, and it also offered a 360-degree view of fireworks around us. The bonfires are from 8:30 – 10:30 p.m., then Icelanders go home to watch Áramótaskaupið for an hour before the REAL firework show begins.

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Pro tip: rotate yourself like a kebab so that you stay warm all over

After you’ve sufficiently warmed up, drive over to the unique Hallgrímskirkja Church for a spectacular show put on by the Icelandic public. Coming from a country where the Fourth of July is celebrated with an insane amount of fireworks, we were all impressed with how long this display lasted (more than an hour – the longest I’ve ever seen and also the most dangerous as many went off on the ground).

 

Day 5 – January 1 – Tuesday

2019 began with staring up at the Northern Lights and brilliant stars around 2 a.m. After sleeping in, we were off to Þingvellir National Park, which is where a scene of Game of Thrones was filmed.

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Absolutely loved Iceland’s landscape

Day 6 – January 2  – Wednesday

Our last full day was filled with waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss is a fall that you can walk behind. We weren’t prepared for how wet we would get.

  • Tip: Bring warm waterproof shoes, warm hats, serious snow gloves, wool socks and many layers. I wore two pairs of warm yoga pants each day and would have preferred to have snow/waterproof pants as well.
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Waterproof pants would have been real nice

After admiring the falls, make your way to Sólheimasandur to view this black sand beach plane crash. Weirdly, the sign said it would take three to four hours to do, which was deterring, but, in reality, it only took less than two hours.

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The last stop of the outing was the remarkable Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, home to these stunning basalt rock formations. What surprised us about this beach was the sneaker waves. After being near the water to get up-close pics of these magnificent rocks, a huge wave, unlike the previous calm ones, ‘snuck up’ on us and had us running for our lives.

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These formations were so massive that they could be sat and stood upon

Foods to Try

  • Isey Skyr yogurt – I’ve tried a fair amount of different types of yogurt, but this brand was by far the most unique. It’s much thicker and has an insane amount of protein.
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Their crème brûlée, strawberry and coconut flavors were my favorites

  • Kjötsúpa (Icelandic Meat Soup) –  My fave Icelandic food. You’ll find a hearty bowl to warm you up at Loki, accompanied by a stunning view of Hallgrímskirkja Church. If you’re really hungry, head to Icelandic Street Food for unlimited soup.

Harðfiskur (dried fish) – This jerky of the sea, viking snack, or whatever you want to call it, I was not a fan of; it was too dry and fishy.

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Get the smallest container they sell to try it

  • Kleinur (Icelandic donut) – I loved the cute shape, but these have nothing on Voodoo Doughnuts.
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We actually got these for free because it was at the end of the night!

  • Rúgbrauð (Rye bread) – I’m obsessed; it takes almost like cake. Get it whenever you can with a healthy smear of butter.
  • Snúðar (Cinnamon rolls)Brikk in Reykjavik has some heavenly baked goods and an Instagram worthy ascetic.

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The rolls in the front had golden Pop Rocks in celebration of NYE

  • (Pylsur) Hot dogs – Baejarins Beztu Pylsur sells these cheap dogs at their tiny stand in Reykjavik. Make sure to get one (or two) with everything on it. 
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Translates to, “The best hot dogs in town”

  • Íslandsplatti (taste of Iceland plate) – The jar above the rye bread contained fermented shark (hákarl) – the smell was far worse than the taste. You can find this board at Geysir Bistro in Reykjavik. Their lobster soup with a side of rye bread is also fabulous.
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Jonathon has come a long way from his chicken strip days

  • Holiday malt & appelsín drink – This seasonal drink came in a couple different flavors.
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It tasted and looked like beer but contained no alcohol

  • Svart lakkrìs (black licorice) – If you’re one of the strange people that likes this candy then you’re in the right place. Much of their candy and even chocolate has licorice inside.
  • Bánh mì sandwich – While not traditional Icelandic food, this sandwich was outstanding. Hlemmur Mathöll is a more affordable place for dinner and has a variety of options that will please even the pickiest of eaters.
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I wish I had another one of these right now

  • Vanilla Kremkec (Vanilla Cookies) – If you’re a cookie monster like my whole family is, try these.
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These were gone so fast that I didn’t even get a pic before they were opened

Hope you enjoy your Icelandic adventure as much as we did and for more pictures check out Iceland Images! Skàl!

Coucou from Corsica

“You’re going to love Corsica,” is what every Frenchie said when I told them of my vacation plans; of course, they were right.

I became friends with another American assistant last year, Laine, who is doing the same English teaching program in Bastia, Corsica. So, naturally, I had to visit her and see the island during the Toussaint break.

There are two ways to get to this Mediterranean island: by ferry or by plane. Planning this trip late resulted in higher ferry prices, so I instead opted to take a flight from Marseille to save time (a 12 hour ferry versus a 50 minute plane ride) while paying a little bit more for convenience.

Since my friend fortunately had a car, we were able to road trip around the island while needing to make minimal plans ahead of time. Some of the best trips are done this way! If you don’t know someone living in Corsica, I would recommend renting a car.

The melange of French, Italian and Corsican culture is evident everywhere. Street signs are in French and Corsican with Italian proper names mixed in, while restaurant food is usually typical French cuisine, but you’ll find some Italian restaurants as well.

Below are some recommendations of activities to do in Bastia, Aljaccio, Bonnifacio and Cap Corse.

Bastia

  • Start your time in Bastia by walking around the city center and along the water. Wander through back alleys and small, narrow streets. The style of buildings and port in Bastia felt like a combination of Nice and Manarola.

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  • Picnic in the small park overlooking the water next to Cathedrale Sainte-Marie de l’Assomption. Make sure to try Corsican wine. The grape varieties tend to be more Italian than French, some of which I had never even heard of, and were a little bit more expensive than wine in France proper.
  • Corsica is also well known for their cheese and dried meats as well as Pietra beer – I prefer the amber. You’ll find these staples in most grocery stores; for example, Monoprix had a special section that showcased Corsican meat.
  • Grab some pizza at Museum Café. Some days you just need some comforting Italian wood-fired pizza. Their chorizo and peppers pizza hit the spot.

If traversing public transportation in a foreign language and culture is difficult, then you may especially struggle in Bastia as the buses have no schedules and few marked stops. The center of town is walkable but getting from the airport or ferry to where you’ll be staying will surely require public transport or possibly an Uber.

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Probably the best stew I’ve ever had. This was at a tiny restaurant without a name, on the side of the road on the way to Bonifacio. I couldn’t even tell you where it was or how to get there.

Ajaccio

This town was a quick stop on our way from Bastia to Bonifacio. As the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, Ajaccio’s town centre is scattered with Napoleon-named buildings, paintings and memorabilia.

  •  Stroll though the town center, taking a look at the waterfront, then make your way to Delissimo gelato shop. This shop has special Corsican flavors, so I opted for Panna figue (the fig flavor was weak) and Cédrat Corse – described as a strong lemon flavor by an employee. (I’m obsessed with lemon-flavored desserts right now, and this did not disappoint.)
  • If you have more time, visit the Bonaparte Museum to see his former home.

Green, luscious trees surrounded us as we traversed the couple hour drive through windy roads and tiny villages on our way to Bonifacio. According to Laine, some students often say they’re going to ‘the village’ for the weekend to visit family, but won’t say the actual name. (Also, be prepared for quite aggressive drivers honking at you to pass).

A quick sunset stop before arriving in Bonifacio.

Bonifacio

  • Stay: Camping la Trinité is open for camping until the end of October. Finding open camp sites can be fairly difficult this time of year as the weather tends to get ugly, making many of Corsica’s outside activities less appealing. This campsite had the basics like toilets, showers and sinks, but remember to bring soap and toilet paper!
    • Cost: 17 euros per person for two nights with one car and one tent.
  • Drive away from the town center up the hill to see these jaw-dropping cliffs. It’s no wonder this town is called the “Citadel of Cliffs.”
  • From the cliffs wander down the road to the lighthouse behind you.

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  • There’s a path near the lighthouse to hike down to the beach where, if you’re ill-equipped like we were in the swimsuit department, you can choose to go skinny dipping because it’s France! (Be prepared to see naked men and women if you’re at a beach.) I chose to take a nap under the sun – I could not believe how warm it was at the end of October.

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  • Walk through the city town center, picnic on the dock, in the oldest city in Corsica.
  • Climb up the almost vertical, daunting amount of stairs to the citadel where you’ll discover a little town filled with narrow windy streets and cute little restaurants.
  • Grab a Pietra Corsican beer at a restaurant or café.

I would recommend not doing a day trip to Bonifacio as you’re able to see and do more with at least a full day.

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Can you spot the black cat?

Cap Course

  • Hike to the Tower of Santa Maria. This took about 4 hours roundtrip from Macinaggio. This hike is easily modifiable to make the route longer or shorter depending on your fitness level. Most of the hike was stunning views along the water. If you want to continue past the tower to the end of the hike, it would take about 7 hours. (Because we didn’t know the mileage, our original plan was to do this until we asked some locals at the grocery store who advised us to turn around at the tower – and I’m glad they did.) 

Overall, Corsica was an incredibly gorgeous island. Its natural beauty reminded me of road tripping through Costa Rica with my family, and this Corsican trip is yet another great road trip for the books. I promise; you’re going to love Corsica.

A Vivacious Summer at Vista Hills Vineyard

Summer 2018 was spent having the time of my life working in the tasting room where I had interned my senior year at Linfield. I was not only able to connect with customers from around the world but also worked on small projects, such as bottle photography and an end of summer event.

New to our wine lineup this year, our single block series showcases wine that’s made at the smallest level of production possible: a single barrel, single block and single clone.

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One of our owners, Nancy McClintock, won Duchess at her high school very year, ergo the latest Vista rosé.

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Our untypical rosé.

My end of the summer/job project: Fête de fromage. Being the Francophile and cheese lover that I am, this event couldn’t have been more perfect.

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Paris – A Few of My Preferred Activities

Paris is a city that is ever changing while also maintaining its classic historical roots. Having done the typical tourist attractions numerous times, I strive to discover something new each time I return. Below is a compilation of some of my favorite activities as well as recommendations from Frenchies.

À FAIRE 

Musées

  • Musée de Cluny – Currently has an exhibit on unicorns running until the 25th of Feburary 2019. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries dating back to the Middle Ages  were magnificent.
  • Musée de l’Orangerie – For the fine art lovers, impressionist and post-impressionist artwork is abundant. Some of my favorite pieces are showcased here, but what really stands out are the lengthy water lily paintings by Monet wrapped around custom-made walls.
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You’ll also find paintings by Renoir and other well-known artists

  • Musée Européenne de la Photographie – The JR exhibition running until February 10 was stunning, demonstating increbible creativity by the photographer through his black and white work.
  • Foundation Louise Vuitton – Even though the lines can be quite extensive, and this will also be found at the top of tourist to-do lists, the exhibits here are constantly changing, and the building architecture is exquisite.

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  • L’Atelier des Lumières. this exposition has been extended until January 6. SO GO ASAP. The creativity was awe inspiring; I’ve never seen anything like it. It was enjoyable just sitting on the ground and watching the projections of art by Gustav Klimt and other Viennese artists constantly change. Make sure to book your tickets ahead of time because it always sells out.

Activités

  • As a big Amelie fan, seeing the café where she worked in the film was a must for me. You’ll find this petit café in Montmartre.

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  • Le Social Bar does record nights occasionally as well as Blind Test, (a game where you guess song names and artists) so be sure to check out their schedule. I have yet to visit this bar,  but this is one of the first places I’ll be heading to when I’m back in Paris (because old French music has a special place in my heart).
  • La Ruée vers l’Orge – If you love beer and want a variety of options from all over France and other countries, head to this bar.
  • Rue Crémieux – While you’ll probably find this on other tourist recommendations, I happily found it on accident just wondering around Gare de Lyon.
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House goals

  • Studi 28 Cinema – Sometimes it can be quite difficult to find quality French movies. I was looking for an authentic French cinema experience and found Studio 28, offering different French movies weekly.
  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a perfect example of a Parisian park. Parisians flock to parks when the sun is even slightly out, and it’s la verité that they’ll bring wine and chips for an aperitif. Since I’ve been trying to assimilate to French culture as best as possible, I did the same.
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It was nice to see luscious amounts of greenery in the midst of Paris

  • Go thrift shopping. Friperies (thrift shops) in les marais offer incredible deals. My friend found two jackets in the one euro bins. I found a cute winter jacket for only 30 euros that would normally coat at least 100 euros at a store like MANGO. There are many kilo shops as well where the price is determined by how much the clothing weighs.
  • Picnic along the Seine River. Save some money by heading to the nearest Casino to grab picnic supplies (don’t forget Spéculoos or a baguette) and enjoy the scenery along the Seine.
  • Run a race. If you’re in to running, plan your trip around the Paris half or full marathon (they’re on different weekends in the spring). Runners race through Parisian streets and along the Seine River. The half marathon doesn’t include a view of the Eiffel Tower but is still just as exhilarating. Pro tip: listen to some French music during the race for the best experience.
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My first foreign half marathon!

  • Play games with Frenchies. If you have some French friends, be sure to ask them to bring some games they typically play or find a pétanque court – it might be hogged by old men though.
  • Walk around Paris. Not many things make me as happy as walking along Paris’ cobbled streets when the sun is out and the bakeries are emitting that freshly baked bread aroma. Paris is such a walkable and stunning city, so much so, that I can’t emphasize enough how incredible it is to walk instead of talking the metro whenever possible.

Go get lost to find something you didn’t put on your itinerary.

Other places to visit:

  • Le Marché aux Puces Vanves
  • Parc Monceau
  • Musée Carnavalet
  • Musée Édith Piaf
  • Place Dauphine
  • Le Jardin Albert Kahn
  • Fountain Bleu
  • La Recyclerie

À MANGER

  • La Félicita – Finding something to do other than musuem hopping on Sunday can be difficult sometimes. If you are looking for some stellar food/drinks, head to this grand place with amazing ambiance.
    • La Parisienne by Gare de Lyon – French bakeries are the way to my heart; they don’t hurt my budget either. Not only can you grab a freshly baked baguette as well pastries but also most shops have sandwiches and items for breakfast/lunch/dinner.
    • Fermier Gourmet If you’re looking for some outstanding duck as well as to-go options, Fermier Gourmet has reasonably priced canard and delicious sides.
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    Make sure you’re hungry when you go

    • Café Chez Prosper in the Nation arrondissement has some French classics with classic French ambiance. Order their margaret de canard, which comes with a side of excellent ratatouille. And don’t pass on dessert, in fact, go with as many friends as possible so that you can try more than just one dessert. My friend and I ordered French classics, chocolate mousse and ile flottante (floating island), which is merengue floating on creme anglais.
    • La Cerise sur La Pizza. The Belleville neighborhood is well-know for its asian food, but my Parisian friend adores this pizza restaurant, La Cerise sur La Pizza. You’ll find a variety of typical French and Italian pizzas with toppings such as duck, spicy sausage, reblochon cheese and goat cheese.
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    I learned that this is a play on words. It translates to the cherry on the pizza like the cherry on the cake

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    Le Panier was délicieuse

    • Belleville is also well-know for its asian food scene and graffiti art.

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    • Chez Marianne – This Mediterranean food was recommend by a friend. It’s a nice change from normal Parisian food.

    Most of you probably know this, but avoid getting food by the Eiffel Tower (especially don’t eat a crepe) – I never thought crepes could be bad, but this was the worst I’ve ever had.

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    There was Nutella on it though, so I still ate it all

    TAPIF Tricks – Teaching Advice

    Everyone’s TAPIF experience is going to be different, but it helps to get a better understanding of what to expect before arriving in France.

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    I was lucky enough to get to go on a field trip with some students

    Lesson Plans

    With my situation, I was placed at only one large high school. my teachers were open to whatever I wished to teach/do with my students. While the freedom is exciting, it also leaves almost too much room to be creative and is quite vague, especially so, because in the beginning you don’t know really have an understanding of where the students’ levels and comprehension is at.

    Because I didn’t know their levels, I often asked the teachers for subject suggestions or what they’re currently doing it class.

    Then, at the end of class if I have extra time, I often asked my students about their interests. (This could be turned into multiple lessons, honestly.) This also facilitates them to talk much more about the things they love. My students always got the most excited talking about music, television shows and movies. Their faces especially lit up when I shared similar same interests.

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    Knowing that I love to make food, some students made me a French recipe book in English

    After learning what shows they like, I was able to craft lessons using images and video excerpts. They then had an easier time describing what was happening and forming sentences as well as learning new vocabulary. For example, use Harry Potter images from movies and have the students describe the situation.

    I have noticed that students easily mess up the tense conjugations, so practicing past tense, present and future is always good

    Holiday lessons are probably the most fun because they’re the easiest to talk about. Another easy subject, and one that can be turned into a multitude of lessons, is differences between the United States and France. This is something students often have questions about and usually have stereotypical ideas in their head of Americans that may not always be true. One of my favorite lessons was the difference between American and French food.

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    My catering students appreciated my pumpkin pie!

    Games 

    • 20 Questions – Great to see if they have learned the vocab words you’ve taught them. Students get 20 questions to ask yes or no questions about either a person, place or thing you’ve chosen in your head.
    • Never Have I Ever – Have each student say something that they have never done. If other students have done this thing then they need to put a finger down. The person with their last finger up wins.
    • Two Truths and a Lie – Students need to say two truths and lie about themselves while their classmates guess which of the three statements is a lie. This can be good for students to write down their three sentences so that they aren’t doing a long pause on the lie, giving it away.
    • Hot Seat – One student comes up to sit in the hot seat facing the class. Their team has to give them clues so that they can guess what is written on the board.
    • Guess Who (Devine tete) – Write a famous person on the board, have one student come up with their back to the board, then they start asking questions about him/her while their team replies with only yes or no.

    Dealing with misbehaving students

    I was told that if any students misbehave, then I have the permission to send them back to class with their teacher, and they won’t get the privilege of coming back to my class again.

    The reward systems usually works pretty well to get students behaving correctly. Telling them that they get to play a fun game at the end of the lesson if they’re on their best behavior and participate often quiets them down.

    Coworkers

    Communication is key. Talk to your coworkers as much as possible because you never know what you might learn or get the opportunity to do.

    Final France Reflection

    When I left Aix-en-Provence in 2015, I was ready to go home but was sad to be leaving France. I remember telling my host mom how much I was going to miss it, and her reply was, “You’ll be back.” I thought yes, eventually, but I never imagined I would return so soon.

    These last seven months in Bourges have been absolutely parfait. So much so, that I  have now changed my mind on possibly returning to France another time. I was just accepted to this same program in the Dijon academy for next year, so I have some decisions to make.

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    If you haven’t tried BN cookies, you need to.

    Here is some advice and takeaways from my time in France:

    Advice:

    TRAVEL. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to travel. Traveling and living in another country has changed me in more ways than I thought possible; ways that will continue to shape me in all that I do.

    Learn a different language. Just knowing one other language opens countless doors. It truly feels special and more genuine being able to communicate with someone in their native tongue.

    Talk to strangers. Having always considered myself as a shy person, I often find myself self-reflecting and realize that I’m extremely outgoing. Throughout these seven months, 98 percent of the people I’ve hung out with have been strangers (I met up with some friends from university and saw my brother for two weeks) and most of them have become close friends.

    Get out of your comfort zone. This relates back to talking with strangers but can be done in other ways as well, such as trying new foods you think you don’t like. I thought I would never enjoy eating curry, and now I am obsessed.

    Cherish your time with special people. The group of friends I made in Bourges could not have been more spectacular. Our semi-weekly dinner parties were legend, wait for it… DARY (I’m not sure anything will compare). They truly made me a better person and pushed me on a daily basis to just LEARN. So, make sure to prioritize your time with friends. The other things you need to get done really aren’t that important when you look back. You won’t remember that presentation you did a mediocre job on, but rather those special memories you made that night.

    Takeaways:

    It may not seem like it, but there were downsides to this séjour. I got lonely, but the good thing that came out of this is I learned that I never want to live by myself again.

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    Even in the rain, my gorgeous school always put a smile on my face.

    My schedule was always changing and while that kept things from getting mundane, it was hard not having a consistency.

    My French improved significantly. I now have more than 400 french songs on my Spotify playlist. I have all the seasons of Fais Pas Çi, Fais Pas Ça, so I can watch them forever (heart eyes).

    I met people from around the world and traveled to new places with new people – this was one of my biggest and most challenging goals.

    My love for travel is even greater. Plans are already in the works to see new parts of the world.

    I now have this feeling of needing to know the language and culture for every country I want to visit because I don’t want to be just another dumb tourist, and I feel bad speaking English.

    Other than eating dinner at 8 p.m. most nights, I’ve become fairly assimilated to French culture – something I worked very hard at. In fact, I might even experience culture shock once I’m back in the United States.

    With fewer chances of running into frenchies in the Pacific Northwest than in Europe, I will be looking into French organizations to keep up my language skills.

    I have l’envie to use French words when I speak in English, such as profite bien. It’s something I’ll try to get my friends to catch on to. Pourquoi pas is already in some of their vocabulary.

    I plan to read more books rather than spending hours watching Netflix and pointless shows.

    College instilled a love of learning in me, but it always came with stress as well. Now that I’m in the real world, that love has manifested so much that I’ve actually considered going back to school in the future. I will be looking into all of my options on how to come back to France – grad school may be one of the easiest ones.

    I left a part of my heart in Bourges, and I hope to return one day

    The most important takeaway – always say pourquoi pas.

    The coolest people you will ever meet

    Kickass Krakow, Poland

    Poland had unjustly been overlooked as a bucket list country and was one that I knew very little about. Now, I tell every person I meet to TRAVEL TO POLAND. This country is incredibly inexpensive and extremely gorgeous.

    Krakow, followed by Warsaw and Gdansk, was the first stop on my week-long Poland trip.

    While these beautiful Polish towns made for incredible sites to see, they held a much darker and somber history – one that unfortunately was less than 100 years ago. The Jewish population suffered immensely in this country.

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    Sunsets in Old Town

    Krakow is often said to be prettier than Warsaw because Warsaw took most of the bombings during WWII; I tend to agree. Krakow was absolutely gorgeous and had less modernized buildings outside of the Old Town (Stare Miasto).

    Take the Flixbus when you can while here, you get to see the picturesque countryside and can use their wifi. These buses come often, which is nice when you accidentally book your bus from Krakow to Warsaw at 4 a.m. and miss it thinking that it was at 4 p.m. (This silly American forgot it should have said 16).

    The planning of this trip was hastily done, so I ended up in Poland during their week of holidays at the beginning of May. May 1 is Labor Day/May Day, and May 3 is Constitution Day. Fortunately, these holidays didn’t impact my travels too much.

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    Polish flags everywhere!

    Where to stay:

    Sometimes not doing any research results in the best surprises. Case and point – staying at Greg and Tom Beer Hostel – aka the best hostel I have ever stayed in. I cannot give them enough praise.

    Not only were the prices inexpensive but also the location was central and felt safe. They offered free breakfast where you could take a sandwich, resulting in free lunch, AND they offered free dinner with FREE, UNLIMITED beer (make sure to sign up for this as soon as you arrive).

    The staff members were incredibly nice and everything was clean. I went early in the week not expecting anyone to be at this party hostel but with the lack of research, I soon realized I was there during some of Poland’s national holidays, making this hostel quite full and lively. No complaints. GO book your stay now.

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    Check out their other locations as well.

    What to do :

    • Walk or ride around Old Town and other quarters. With limited time to walk everywhere, which I normally enjoy doing, I hopped on Krakow City Tour (there are go-carts spread around town) by myself for a tour of the city. It cost 200 PLN (about $50) for two hours. The tour offers the choice of different Krakow quarters, so I chose a tour of Old Town and the Jewish Ghetto, skipping the Jewish Quarter. The driver mentioned different aspects of this country’s history, told short stories and gave restaurant recommendations, which was then accompanied by a recorded audio guide that delves into Poland’s dark past.

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    • Every hour you can witness the St. Mary’s Trumpet Call in the Old Town Square. The trumpeter plays in each cardinal direction and waves at the crowds below when he’s finished. Make sure to wave back at him for good luck.
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    You can see the golden trumpet in the top right window

    • Take a day tour to Auschwitz. Many of these tours will depart from Krakow.

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    • Get scared by a Night Ghost Tour. This is with the Yellow Umbrella Tour, which is free – you just tip at the end. Beginning at 9 p.m. the tour took us to different buildings around Old Town while the guide told creepy stories of what used to happen in these places. It was entertaining and a different activity to do at night. Some of the places we walked by had waiters wearing traditional clothing and were playing traditional music while customers danced.
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    The coolest stained-glass window I’ve ever seen

    • Go lick some salt at the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Get there for the earliest tour at 8 a.m. to maximize your day, have a smaller tour group and a less crowded mine tour. After taking the train to get to the mines, there weirdly wasn’t another train until much later in the day, so I took the 304 bus back into town. Make sure to check the times for the tours because they will change depending on the season. I was able to book my tour the day of, but I would recommend booking online if possible.
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    Make sure to sneak a lick of salt

    • Stop by Schindler’s Factory. Though I was only able to see the exterior and due to time constraints not visit this museum, I would recommend going. I was advised to watch the Schindler’s List movie beforehand, too.

    What to eat: 

    • Eat as many pierogis as possibleYou’ll find these at most restaurants. The filling options of these dumplings are endless (there are even dessert pierogis), but you’ll find Polish classics everywhere. I asked for a traditional pierogi from Przypiecek, which was filled with sausage, cabbage and a light sauce.
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    When you need pierogis at any time of day

    • Ariel – The Krakow City Tour guide said it was the best Jewish restaurant ever.
    • Somewhat similar to bagels, this obwarzanek krakowski Polish snack can be found in Old Town from the blue cart street vendors.
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    It was good, but I wanted something to go with it – they got nothin’ on baguettes though

    • Jabikowa Kruszynka was delightful. This was like an apple streusel, and it wasn’t too sweet.
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    Find this treat at Lajkonik – Piekarnia I Kawiarnia

    • Zapiekanka is popular street food you’ll find all over. It’s a half baguette with varying toppings like cheese, meat and ketchup.
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    This was a vegetarian Zapiekanka, loaded with cheese, mushrooms, green onions and ketchup

    Unfortunately, this list is definitely missing quite a few things that I wasn’t able to complete. Krakow was one of my most favorite cities I’ve ever been to, and I deeply regret not spending more time there. Looks like I’ll just have to return soon.

    Helpful Polish Vocab 

    Chestch – Hello

    Jenwinkya – Thank you

    Nasterovia – Cheers

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    Orléans Outing

    While Americans heavily focus on the World Wars in history class, we mostly examine it from the point of view of the United States. Learning about France’s role, more specifically the Cher region in which I’m living, was extremely interesting.

    I had the opportunity to learn more about France’s darker side of history by attending a field trip with some of the students from the high school where I work. This class had this field trip because they were reading a book that discussed a women learning that she had a relative lost in the war and was able to discover more information about them, which is similar to the work that CERCIL does.

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    The outing consisted of a mock historian exercise and a tour of CERCIL. Then we made the short promenade to Le Musée des Beaux-Arts.

    After doing the mock exercise, I learned that Bourges had a jail for Jews to go to before being deported to places such as Auschwitz.

    img_1505One of the most surprising things to learn, was that the French were the ones who started deporting children and women and not just men. There was already an anti-Jewish sentiment in France, which is how the French so easily sent these innocent people to their deaths.

    The museum ended with a room full of photographs, or rather, lack thereof, of children who were killed. It was a somber experience.

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    Our guide continually emphasized how essential it is not to forget this dark history in France and in Europe. Their work at CERCIL is so important in finding out as much information as possible about these victims so that they can be remembered forever.

    People can, to this day, come to CERCIL and ask for more information about someone who lost their life in the war.

    The museum also had a real bunker where Jews lived, which helped us imagine how unbearable life could be.

    After this heavy trip, we headed to Musée des Beaux-Arts, just a couple minute walk away, where we saw some extraordinary paintings. Having painted as a hobby almost all of my life, I’m always impressed by the shear scale, detail and craftsmanship put into these pieces.

    The students had a packet to fill out, helping them better understand the paintings.

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    Orlean’s cathedral is right next to the museum.

    Mont Saint-Michel

    For my first ever trip tout seul (alone) I went to Mont Saint-Michel. Getting to Mont Saint Michel from Paris is facile. Purchase your trip with SNCF, which will be a train and a bus.

    My train from Paris went to Dol de Bretagne where I then took a bus, which was right outside the train station, to MSM. Upon arriving at our destination, MSM was nowhere to be seen… I had only briefly researched the trip, and since the ticket said MSM I just assumed I would be dropped off right in front of it. However, after getting off the bus I realized that there is a free shuttle leaving about every 10 minutes to get to the actual site.

    Arrival time: 11:30

    • The shuttle to MSM takes approximately 12 minutes
    • Wander the narrow streets. I went into just about all the shops I could. Biscuits were everywhere, so naturally I bought some to try.
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    Salted butter caramel – would definitely recommend!

    Lunch: 12:30

    • La Confiance restaurant had reasonably priced food. I just wanted a crepe for lunch, but some of the other restaurants had quite expensive dishes, many of which are typical of the North of France. This was my first experience eating alone at a restaurant – I didn’t really enjoy it.
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    This was a Normandie crêpe – ham, egg and cheese

    • You’ll also find a prison tour and a church as you make your way up the hill (both cost money, so I skipped them).
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    A little cemetery next to the church

    • There’s a shuttle stop in between MSM and the tourist office where you can buy souvenirs, food and admire the well-designed cows outside.

    • Look at the information in the tourist office. You can see the progression of changes made to MSM.

    My self tour finished around 15h, so I killed almost three hours in the tourist office. After taking a bad polaroid of MSM, I headed back on the bus to get another one.

    Departure time: 18h

    Because of the little research I did, I wasn’t sure how much time I needed and therefore, booked a later train.

    If the weather had not be extremely cold and windy (and had I not been sick and underdressed) I could have spent more time actually on MSM. While the weather was ideal, I can’t be that mad because of the clear, beautiful skies that day.

    Can you tell how much pain I’m in?

    There were quite a lot of tourists for this time of year. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer because the streets on MSM are so narrow. I would recommend going when it’s warmer but not at the height of the season.

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    Beautiful street 

    A Lovely Weekend in Lisbon, Portugal

    My friend Molly and I decided we wanted to visit a new country together in February. Lisbon was an easy choice because of its warmer climate.

    Where to stay: 

    Goodnight Hostel – Lisbon was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m glad we chose it. It’s an easy 30-minute metro ride from the airport and has a friendly, bilingual staff. The hostel’s nautical theme decor was one of my favorite aspects. The location was perfect for us to walk everywhere as well as take the metro to farther away attractions. Not only was it a cheap stay ($36 for two nights) but also offered a free and filling breakfast (try the pancakes with Nutella) and free Sangria every night at 7 p.m. Remember to bring your own towel or rent one for one euro.

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    Artwork, such as this fish, was around every corner

    What to do:

    • Wander the stunning streets, admiring the varying tiled building exteriors, up the hill to Castelo São Jorge (Castle of St. Jorge). Atop this old castle there’s a beautiful view overlooking Lisbon. Entrance fee: 5 – 8.50 euros

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    • Make sure to also go down small streets on your way back down for hidden gems. And just walk around Lisbon as much as possible to see the varying tiled designs, such as the ones below.

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    • Check out this covered market (I think it’s a temporary one) just a couple blocks around the corner from the hostel. You’ll find booths with pastries, meat and cheese plates, candied nuts and many other typical Portuguese options.
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    Haven’t seen a more beautiful market tent

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    A cheap and delicious lunch from this market that left me feeling like I needed to eat a vegetable

    • Time Out Market is a popular lunch and dinner spot, and rightfully so, but it can be more expensive. You’ll find food such as croquets, burgers, meat and cheese, sushi, pad thai and Portuguese fish dishes.
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    My plan was to get salad for lunch, but I ended up with this savory, bun-less ox burger instead

    • Praça do Rossio (Rossio Square) – Admire the architecture and water views of this grand square. You can get a coffee or just stroll around while taking in the sunshine.
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    Rossio Square in front of us

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    • Ride a trolly – For some reason the beautiful and iconic yellow ones that we saw were covered in advertisements, which only leaves the front to be photographed, making it more difficult than this red one.
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    Well equipped with Wi-Fi (you should be looking at the streets not your phone (lol, I sound like my father))

    What to eat:

    • You can’t go to Lisbon without trying pastel de nata. You can find them almost anywhere, which is terrible because they’re so delicious!
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    Molly couldn’t wait to try it

    • Pastel de nata isn’t the only one you must try. This almond pastry, Tarte de Amêndoa, was another one of my favorites and also everywhere.
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    I loved the almond, and Molly loved the apple tart

    • Bolo de arroz was another recommended dessert I found online. It pairs perfectly with a cappuccino.
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    As you can tell I love trying pastries

    • Not pictured is Pastel de Tentúgal because I ate it all before realizing I hadn’t taken a photo. Before going to Portugal, I watched À Pleines des Dents on Netflix where it showed how this pastry is made and boy, is it cool. While it clearly takes a lot of work to make, unfortunately, this was my least favorite because of how dry it was.

    There are more pastry options than I could try in one weekend, so looks like I’ll need to be heading back in the future.

    • Cod dishes are popular in Lisbon. Cod gratin was my second night dinner at Restaurante Vela Branca. (Fish dishes usually aren’t usually something I prefer). When the waiter brought this out the smell was marvelous. I was so excited to eat it, in fact, that I burned my mouth.
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    I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad gratin…

    Being in Lisbon during the winter was exactly what I needed since I was used to cold and rain in France. I would recommend going to Lisbon in February because it’s still warm (but not too warm) and it’s the off season (I don’t enjoy crowds).

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    Absolutely loved these streets

    After leaving Lisbon, I realized that I wish we had more time to visit other cities in Portugal because I also have seen and heard good things about these beautiful places.

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    Remember to look up when walking because you’ll find artwork like this

    Happy Halfway Reflection

    Now that I’m halfway through my sejour in France, I would like to reflect on my time here in this marvellous country.

    I came to France to improve my French and have been able to accomplish just that. Another goal I made before arriving here was to make French friends because I struggled with this the last time I was here. I’ve made numeruous French friends, ones I hope I can come back and visit one day. A great British friend also somehow weasled his way into my life (or maybe it was the other way around).

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    I didnt know it was possible, but I’ve fallen even more in love with France. The more my language profiecieny improves the happier I am. I listen to the news every night, try to a French book read every day (though thats still a work in progress) and am constantly trying to find ways to talk in French, whether its at café des langues each Tuesday or with professors in the staff room.

    My time here has made me realize that I need to come back to France – sooner rather than later. I also need to find a way to keep up my French while back in the U.S., which will be more difficult, but I now have all the seasons of Fais pas çi, pais pas ça and can always find new French books to read.

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    What many nights have consisted of

    Being a teacher is still something I don’t see in my future, but I have gained so much more respect (not that I didn’t respect teachers before) but you truly don’t know what it’s like to be a teacher unless you are one. And being one is rewarding and extremely frustrating at the same time. My lessons have gotten better and more creative, though I still struggle sometimes with getting my students excited and particpating.

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    My students made me a recipe book!

    I still would like to work for a larger PR firm and then possibly a winery later, but we will see.

    I applied for this same progam in Dijon for next year because pourquoi pas.

    I’m unbelievably happy with my decision to do TAPIF.

     

    Bourges Bliss

    I lived in Bourges for about seven months (September 2017 – May 2018) and fell in love with this small town. Here are some ideas of things to do.

    Restaurants/Food

    • Crêperie des Remparts – They have endless amounts of crepe options and tasty cider. One of the best crepes I’ve ever had is their Galette B’ry Landes – smoked duck, goat cheese and fig jam (basically all of my favorite things combined into one amazing crepe).
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    You need to go here

    • Le Bon Endroit – They have a wonderful chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese) salad.
    • La Pasta – I got a VERY large Berruyérre pizza, which was goat cheese, bacon and honey; it was outstandingly good and unlike most pizza I’ve eaten.
    • Experience Restaurant – They have a small but delicious menu.
    • Comptoir de Paris – For classic French food in the main square, Place Gordaine, this restaurant was spectacular. I would highly recommend getting the three course menu for maximum enjoyment.
    • O Sole Mio – Yummy, affordable pizza.
    • Tout en Plateau cheese shop – Try some (or every single) cheese!
    • Arômes des Vieux Bourges – I’ve only bought macarons here, but they have many other options.
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    Somehow the lemon flavored macarons have become my preference over chocolate…

    • Hong Phuc – If you’re looking for some Asian food, this restaurant has inexpensive and tasty options. Their Vietnamese spring rolls (Rouleaux de printemps frais vietnamiens) are the best spring rolls I’ve ever had!
    • El Gringo Latino – When you’re really craving some good Mexican food, this place hits the spot (and is the only one in Bourges).
    • Pâtisserie (Bakery) Agnès et Mickaël BOULNOIS: 45 Rue Jean Baffier, 18000 Bourges – This is the closest bakery to where I live and also my favorite in Bourges, but I’m biased since I go there weekly. 
    • Boucherie (Butcher Shop) Durand Herve Sylvain Michel: 54 Rue Jean Baffier, 18000 Bourges – If you want the best chorizo you’ve ever had, head over to my butcher. They have good paella and goat cheese pizza as well as many other meat options.

    Coffee

    • Trois Cuillerées – Marvelously good chai lattes and ICED coffee (all you expats know how hard this is to find), and bomb pastries, (try a chocolate chip cookie) food and free wifi. It’s a nice place to just hangout for hours since they have games and books, too.
    • French Coffee Shop – Have free wifi, more space and a drink that comes with a Bueno bar on top; however, the atmophere is different because it’s a chain.
    • Delichou – Have more real food options than the others. I tried the mangue coco smoothie, which I would definitely recommend.
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    A seasonal Christmas drink from Trois Cuillères

    Drinks

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    Follow Orge et Houblon on Facebook to find out about their events like this Oktoberfest one!

    • Pub Jacobin – 7 Rue des Armuriers, 18000 Bourges
    • Le Gaudina – 5 Rue Calvin, 18000 Bourges
    • Le Beau Bar – 10 Bis Rue des Beaux Arts, 18000 Bourges
    • La Cave des Beaux Arts – 10 Bis Rue des Beaux Arts, 18000 Bourges
    • Orge et Houblon – 14 Rue Jean Girard, 18000 Bourges

    Weekly Activities

    • Join a gym – I joined Basic Fit
    • Go to a market – I went to Marché Halle au Blé a couple times. It takes place every Saturday morning.
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    Get the Tomme du Berry red cheese. It has tomato and olive flavors, so it’s like eating a pizza.

    • Café des langues – Every Tuesday night starting at 20h30 you can talk with other people in different languages. Join the Facebook group!
    • Take a class – If you want your French to improve then taking a university classes is a great option. One of my friends is taking Spanish and Italien classes for 400 euros for seven months.
    • Find people to tutor – Use Super Prof

    Occasional Activities

    • See a concert – There are ALWAYS concerts. I recently saw a reggae concert, (I don’t even like that type of music) but it was a really good concert!
    • Les marais – These are the marshes of Bourges where many locals have small garden that they access by boat. It’s best to go when it hasn’t heavily rained because of the gravel trails.
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    Les marias during the fall

    • Run to Le Lac du Val d’Auron – The whole lake path is about 3 miles.
    • Rent a car – If you’re older than 25 you can rent one for the whole weekend for only €60.
    • See a show – One weekend there was a circus.
    • Attend a lecture – INSA, a local university, puts on conferences every once in a while that are free to attend.

    One-Time Activities 

    • Cathédrale Saint-Etienne – Hike all the way to the top so that you can see all of Bourges.
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    Hiking up to the top is free with our educator pass

    • Palais Jaques Cœur – While the rooms are relatively bare, you can still get a sense of what it was like to live in this palace hundreds of years ago.
    • Les Folies de Bourges – Three days of concerts during a weekend every November. Concerts are in 11 different bars with varying music genres.
    • Printemps de Bourges – What Bourges is most known for!!!  
    • Les Nuits Lumière – A walkable light show that takes place in the summer months.
    • Marché de Noël – Vin chaud (hot wine) is calling.
    • Museums

     – Musées de la Résistance et de la Déportation – Includes an exhibit showing the Cher region’s role in World War II and is free!

    –  Musée du Berry – See artifacts from the region that date back centuries.

    Things to do Periodically

    • Take a class at l’Université Populaire – I took a cheese class. There is a wine class in January and many other options as well.
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    We ate a lot of cheese, and wine was included, too. All for €16.

    • Attend a TANGO basketball game (or several) – This women’s basketball team is one of the best in France. We met some INSA students who get VIP tickets, so our tickets only cost €5 and included pizza.

    Weekend trips

    • Paris – An easy and inexpensive two-hour train ride
    • Sancerre – Hard to get to with public transportation but only 40 minutes by car
    • Dijon – There is a direct train that only takes three hours
    • Toulouse – 5.5 hours. Great for a long weekend
    • Bordeaux – about 4.5 hours
    • Tours – Less than two hours away. Has cheap Ryanair flights
    • Loire Valley Castles – You need a car or a planned excursion to see these
    • Orléans – One-hour direct train
    • Lyon – Fête des Lumières

    Follow the Bourges tourism page on social media for activities to do

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