PARIS!

In a few short days I will be in the City of Love, in love! It’s been a busy few days even though it is only Tuesday. The weekend was spent shopping and cleaning and more shopping and more cleaning. On Saturday we head out. We are leaving our cats in the trusty hands of a friend who is staying over and taking care of the house while we are away. Our flight leaves at 2, then we land in Chicago at 3 and head out to Paris at 6. When we land it will be Sunday, after 2 am our time. We have a fabulous apartment, 1 block from the Louvre. Once we arrive and dump our bags we have to make it to the grocery store before they close. I think our plan for Sunday is to take a walk, see some of the city but probably head back to the apartment early. I know we’ll both be exhausted. I rarely sleep on a plane.

Our ‘plan’ is to not really have a plan. Just see what we can, relax, enjoy the city and take pictures. I am meeting up with a friend I have corresponded with for years (we started out as MYSPACE friends if you can believe it) but other than that…just enjoy the city. We leave on the 7th (Friday) and head to Brugge, Belgium via the Thalys high speed train. We have a really cute hotel there, just a few steps off the main Markt (and the Christmas market!) I’ll be catching up with family and friends, Angie will be meeting some family and friends. It should be a nice relaxing 9 days in Belgium. The whole point of this trip is to relax. We both need it. Angie has a stressful job working odd hours. I’ve had a stressful year just dealing with my step-dads sickness and his passing away.

Saturday can’t come soon enough…

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If only I could sleep.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the US. It was also the 1 month anniversary of my step-dads passing. I found it hard to figure out what I was thankful for. All I wanted to do was curse God for doing this to my family and in a sense wonder why are we all here if this how it all ends. Pain and suffering and having your family watch you slip into the unknown. Everywhere I turn I see owls. Owls are the bird that reminds my family of my step-dad. I log into Facebook and there are pictures of owls. I go see a movie and there is an owl in the opening shot. I open a magazine at the grocery store and there is an owl staring up at me.

A few days ago I asked my mom if she ever felt him and she said no. I don’t feel him either. But with the owls I know he is around. Its just a constant reminder to me that he is here and he is with me always. Without him I wouldn’t be me. He was my step-dad but he was my dad. He shaped me and formed me into the woman I am today. I’ve cried more the past 2 days than I have in the past month. At the wake and the funeral I didn’t cry. I was stoic, I was the caregiver and I tried to make every person feel welcome. I didn’t know until after that there were so many people there for the funeral they ran out of seats and people had to stand.

I wasn’t asked to be born in this world. It was a mutual decision’s between my mother and my father. I am grateful. I have my father’s nose and my mother’s personality. I have the soft side of my dad and the fighting spirit of my mother. My body shape is that of my father’s side but the hair from my mother’s side.

But I am my step-dad’s daughter. As a child I had dreams about us, sitting back by the tall trees and eating peanut butter sandwiches. As a teenager we had arguments about life and love and yes, the pursuit of happiness. As a 20 something we had arguments about budgets and trips to Europe and credit ratings. At 29 all I want is to go back to being a child and having him put me on his shoulders on Halloween because I was too tired to walk.

I never envisioned losing my step-dad. I never thought about it. I realized it would be something I would deal with later on in life at maybe age of 50 or 60 when he was old and tired and ready to go. Not now, when I am 29. I still need him to walk me down the aisle and dance with me at my wedding. I was never a girl who envisioned the perfect wedding with the perfect person. But the one part of the wedding that I did think about was my mom and step-dad walking me down the aisle. I think that is the hardest part. Ron won’t be the person to walk me down the aisle. He won’t be the person to give me away. He won’t be the person who dances with me at my wedding to a ridiculously cheesy song. It won’t be him.

I’m finding it hard to remember Ron when he was healthy. Rosy cheeks. Grey hair but not thinning. A belly. All I remember is either him when he was very young with black hair and a healthy body. Or I only think of him the weeks leading up to his passing. I want to remember my Ron. I think eventually I will get there. It’s only been a month.

Going back to not having anything to be thankful for. While yesterday was hard I am thankful for many things. My own health. My family that is still here and surviving this ordeal. My girlfriend who may not say a lot while I am having my freak outs but is always there if I need her. My girlfriends family who have been amazing. My friends. My friends. My friends.

I’m thankful I had Ron, even if it was cut short. When I so badly needed a dad he was there. To quote a friend “What an amazing man to bring a family together and heal what others would consider broken, he saw beautiful and the only thing that was missing in his life was you and your family.”

Ron and I, Christmas 1989

Poland 2010

Freshmen year of high school I had to read The Diary of Anne Frank for an English class. I knew very little about the Holocaust and WWII. I will later write a blog discussing the failures of the education system in my town but I’ll just say that when reading this book I was taken aback by the story. What I knew about the Holocaust I saw watching Schindler’s List. To be able to read the writing of a little girl who was hidden away in a secret annex for 2 years and 1 month blew me away. It was the first of only 3 books that actually made me cry. From 14 years on I became obsessed with the Holocaust. I wanted to know the history behind it and everything attached to it. What made a man like Hitler so bent on destroying the Jews not to mention gypsies, homosexuals, the list goes on. I longed to travel to Poland to see Auschwitz. It wasn’t until 2 years ago I had the chance.

Krakow, behind Paris, is my favorite city in Europe. You look around and it is not a typical European hub for tourists. It is busy, yes, but not like Paris or even Bruges. There is graffiti everywhere. It is as much a part of the city as the inhabitants are. The Kazimierz quarter is easily my favorite part of the entire city. It’s the old Jewish quarter before they were taken away by the Nazi’s. It’s quiet, even when busy. There are little memorials throughout the quarter marking the lives lost. I found it eerie but not in a bad way. I just looked around and while it is a vibrant city I also found it a bit sad. I would walk down a sidewalk and stop and think about what it was like to be Jewish and in Krakow during the war. Sometimes I was a bit overcome by the sadness. There was a plaque next to a Jewish cemetery in which it stated money was donated by a family that lost 88 members during the Holocaust. That almost broke my heart. Imagine that  many people from your family just gone.

After a day in Krakow I proceeded to Auschwitz-Birkenau located in Oświęcim, Poland. The bus ride was maybe an hour or so (probably longer but I don’t really remember). The Polish countryside is beautiful. I love all the little houses nestled by the road. I longed to have the bus driver stop and let me get off so I could walk around and knock on doors and be invited in so I could see how they lived. I’m sure that’s strange but I don’t care!  By the time I got there it was a mob scene of tourists and because I got there too late I had to do a guided tour. I have to be honest, I was not a fan of the guided tour at all. Not that the tour guide wasn’t knowledgeable because he definitely was. I just felt like I was being herded. And there were so many tours going on it was hard to really get a feel and a sense of the camp. At least a first. Then we went into the room that was filled with hair, hair that was shaved off. It was just the strangest moment for me. In that room I felt…something. It made my heart skip a beat and I just couldn’t look at it for too long. The area with all the eyeglasses…prosthetic limbs…suitcases. It made it all so real to me. Too real. I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Once outside the guide took us to the Shooting Wall which was enough to send anyone over the edge. Flowers and candles strewn around it, flowers tucked into holes in the wall. I had to suck my breath in and kind of walk around. I remember how nice it was outside. Very sunny and a very clear day. Definitely a bite in the air. I could only imagine this camp in the dead of winter and filled with prisoners. We then proceeded to the crematorium which needs no explanation. Afterwards we took a bus to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The famous train tracks, the camps, the fact that around 1 million people died there. I walked around, listened to our guide talk about the latrine, how the prisoners had 30 seconds to do their business or they were killed. I followed the tracks down to the crematorium that was blown up by dynamite. There was some sort of ceremony being held by the remains of the crematorium. A big group of teenagers had flags and were praying and playing music. We all stopped and watched for a minute, it was very chilling.

My experience at Auschwitz is probably like many others. I’m sure others have felt the same way I did while there. I know I can’t be the only one to feel sadness while strolling around Krakow and to have to catch their breath while strolling the camps in Oświęcim. It was an experience I will never EVER forget. Our next trip after Paris and Belgium will more than likely be Sweden and Poland. Besides Krakow I will also be able to visit Warsaw, another city I am dying to see.

Some pictures from Poland. Click for larger image.


Wanderlust

I didn’t start traveling until I was 22 years old. My brother moved to Belgium to live with his wife. In order for me to see him I had to travel. I planned for a year, worked a crazy amount of over-time, and convinced an adventurous friend to come with me. For 2 weeks we went to Belgium, roamed around Bruges, Ghent, Bastogne. We went to Amsterdam for a day and got to the Dam Square at the tail end of a protest over an illegal drug. We saw marijuana plants as tall as my brother and saw nearly naked women dancing in windows in the Red Light District. We were in another country but it felt like we were in another world. It was then that I realized there is so much to see in this world and this was only the tip of the iceberg.

In the past 7 years I have been back to Belgium, France, Finland, and Poland. I long to travel 365 days a year. I realize as of right now it is just not feasible. I have a life here in the United States, friends and family, people that depend on me. I have a condo, 2 cats, a girlfriend. I have a home here. But eventually, I hope to be able to leave most of this behind for an extended period of time. I long to live like a local. I’m lucky to be in a relationship with someone who shares my love of travel and is pretty easy-going when it comes to where we go. She too would like to be able to travel for a few months at a time and experience a city or a country for longer than 1 or 2 weeks.

On December 1st we leave for a trip to Paris, France for 5 days and Bruges, Belgium for 9 days. I could say I have been waiting for this Parisian vacation for 1.5 years but that is a lie, I’ve been waiting all my life. My love affair with Paris began early in life. I was 7 or 8 years old. I saw a picture of Paris, an overhead shot, and asked my grandma what this place was. She told me “That’s Paris, Brittany. Isn’t it pretty?”. Pretty doesn’t do it justice. I’ve been once before, for maybe 10 hours. I saw a lot in those 10 hours but didn’t have a chance to really experience Paris. This 5 day trip has been a lifetime in waiting. We are staying 1 block from the Louvre, 15 minutes from the Notre Dame and the Seine River.

For the past 1.5 years I’ve been planning this trip. First in my head, then talking with Angie, writing things down, organizing a rough itinerary (I hate itineraries but I needed to have a general idea of where things were in proximity to where we are staying and when places are open and when they close). Its all I ever talk about on Facebook, at work, with friends. I found a great rental apartment in Paris, a nice hotel in Bruges.
It is now 13 days away and I am finding it hard to contain my excitement. It is all I think about. You know how people go to church and sometimes start speaking out in tongues? I am sometimes surprised I don’t start speaking in French just out of pure excitement.

In 13 days I will be ‘home’.

Here are some pictures of my past trips. Click on picture for larger image.

Kitchen Near-Disaster

Over the summer I read Lunch in Paris, A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. If you know me you know how much I adore Paris and basically all things French. Not to be cliche but if you look up Francophile in the dictionary you would see my picture. And in that picture I would be wearing a beret and holding a baguette saying oui. The first line of the book is Elizabeth confessing she slept with her French husband half-way through their first date. With that kind of honesty I knew I would adore this book and I quickly bought it. I was not disappointed. It also made me cry at one point and that rarely happens!

Throughout the book, in between funny stories about her in-laws and living as an American in Paris there are loads of recipes. Some of which terrify me to even try, some I can’t pronounce but a few that I would like to master.

So, tonight I mastered a yogurt cake. Okay, master isn’t quite the word I would use. More so it schooled me and called me its bitch. But I fought back and we came to a compromise. The cake almost overflowed the pan (well some of it did) then it went flat in the middle. It doesn’t look as bad as it sounds. It was a combination of things that made it a near disaster in the kitchen. The baking soda is a bit old (I was unaware of this until after I googled “Why does a cake fall flat?” and my darling Angie informed me of this). I opened the oven door a few times and we also had to put a pan under the cake pan so if it really overflowed I wouldn’t catch the oven on fire. In the end it all worked out. It tastes delicious. Next time it will be better.

The next recipe I plan on ‘mastering’ from the book is Braised Beef with Red Wine, Garlic, and Thyme! The recipe alone makes my mouth water. I’m planning that for after our Europe trip.

Recipe

1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk!)
1 cup  sugar
Large pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
Fruit of your choice. The recipe calls for apricots but I choose pears mixed in brown sugar. Strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb would work too.

Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees. Oil 10 inch round cake pan and line with parchment/wax paper.
Combine yogurt, sugar salt, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Add oil as you whisk. Add eggs one by one as you whisk.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda then add to yogurt mixture. Whisk lightly, then stir in lemon zest.
Transfer batter to pan, top with fruit of your choice. Bake on center rack for 45 minutes until golden and slightly risen (or in my case falling out of pan and then flat…) Cool on cooling wrack then transfer to plate (remember to remove the wax paper!). Eat at room temperature. Cover with foil, do not put in a container or plastic bag as it will make it soggy. Per the book its actually better the next day!

Speak Up

Here I am, amidst the blogging world and all I can think to myself is “What am I doing here?!”

A few weeks ago I lost my step-father of over 23 years. He was my rock, the dad I always wanted and needed, my best friend. For the past few weeks I have been wondering what am I doing with myself, with my life, how am I really handling this. In speaking with a friend who told me when her dad passed away she turned to writing. She said that years ago she remembered that writing helped me as well after a painful break up. So here I am. Returning to a love that had since folded up and put away into an old box.

This blog will be about travel, my dreams of travel, my yearnings to see another country and live life as a local. Food and recipes (mostly foreign) will be interspersed throughout. I will write about the love of my life, Angela, and the movies we watch and the music we listen to. I will write about my friends who are more than willing to let me write about them and are more than willing to let me use them as guinea pigs when it comes to new recipes. I want to let everyone into my world. In a few weeks I travel to Paris, France and Bruges, Belgium on a long awaited vacation. Be forewarned, travel will be the theme of my writing. After Angela travel is my true love.

Are you ready for this?

I’m Brittany. Pleased to meet you.

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