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February 2016

Blog Travel

Spring Break: Luxembourg Edition

Spring Break has sprung and I have spent the past two days in the luxurious city of Luxembourg. Okay guys, I know I say everything is my favourite, but this place truly is my favourite. The people have been so incredibly friendly and helpful and the city is just stunning.


 

DAY ONE

I began my journey yesterday morning in Reims, where I took a quick (like 8 minute train) to the Champagne-Ardenne Station. I then took a bus through the French countryside to Metz, which I didn’t have much time to explore but it looks amazing! What I did see of Metz, i.e. the waiting room at the station, was beautiful and smelt like Hong Kong; specifically the hotel I was staying in when I received my year twelve grades. #funmemories

My menu for these past days has been a little less healthy than I would typically go for- but it is the holidays I guess! So yesterday’s late breakfast/early lunch in Metz was some madeleines (like little cakes), orange juice and crisps.

After Metz I took a 45-minute train to Luxembourg. It was lovely on arrival, quite sunny and with a friendly atmosphere that struck me immediately. I did spend about 2 hours trying to find the hostel thanks to my questionable navigating skills. But this only served to make me some Luxembourger friends and see a couple of the sights.

Shout out to the dozen or so people that helped me on my trek, particular mention must go to the lady who walked me all the way to the Tourism Office while asking me questions about Australia.

I finally found my hostel in the valley below the Bock Casemates– A must see! And what a place awaited me. For anyone considering coming to Luxembourg I would highly recommend this hostel. The staff have been so friendly, it’s super safe and I was able to get a really good deal. Plus you’re surrounded by the stunning scenery of Luxembourg. No downsides.

After a little settling in I went out to explore some more. After around an hour wandering the city I popped into a lovely restaurant called El Companēro in the îlot gastronomique, or gourmet islet, of Luxembourg. This islet also happens to be right next to the Palais Grand-Ducal. Didn’t realise this till I asked about the pretty building across the road. Cue freaking out. You know me, always smooth af.

I worked on some writing in the café, chatting with the bar staff about their favourite writers, until the dinner service started. Because of my fairly minimal dining earlier in the day, I did go all out, so please don’t judge me! As an entrée I had carrot and walnut salad with quesadillas. These quesadillas had a Luxembourgish touch, being made from goat’s cheese (my bae) and honey. I followed this up with a massive dish, about as big as my head, of creamy pasta. So much food was consumed but totally worth it!!!

Once I was well and truly stuffed with delicious goodness, and had been told I was going to be a famous writer one day by the barmen, I made, what I thought was, my way home. Alas, I will never be a famous navigator because I managed to end up on the other side of town.


 

DAY TWO

Day two involved me getting lost a lot less which was a welcome change. I started out the day pretty early at the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville. It was a fascinating dive into the history of the small country about which, until this morning, I must confess I was fairly ignorant. It had sections devoted to everything from the environment to technological modernization, to the evolution of the monarchy. Really an enjoyable visit!

I wandered around the city for quite a while following this. Visiting the Monument of Remembrance, Cathédrale Notre-Dame, a few book shops, the Valleé de la Pétrusse, and the Judicial Buildings of Luxembourg. It is honestly one of the most incredible cities I’ve ever visited and, with its adorable yellow phone boxes and a lovely friendly feel to it, I know I’ll be back. The landscape alone, without the various landmarks, is spectacular. With multiple levels, you’ll have a few steep inclines but they’re very worth the effort.

Back at the hostel I just ate my lunch in the canteen. Iced tea, hot chocolate and a massive bowl of chips was my lunch, so obviously the “it’s the holidays” excuse from yesterday is holding.

Then tonight I went to see a film called Demolition as part of Luxembourg City Film Festival. It stars Naomi Watts and Jake Gyllenhaal so it was in English, but with French and German subtitles. I thought the film was excellent, darkly humorous, but also life-affirming, and I mean Jake Gyllenhaal?

I then, continuing with the culinary theme of the weekend, went to MacDonalds. I managed to find a quinoa and vegetable burger, which I must say was pretty impressive. Made slightly redundant by coke, fries and chocolate-cherry pie but it was an attempt.

Anyway, I have now returned to my humble abode and am doing some readings for uni. I best be off as I’m training to Paris tomorrow morning but sweet dreams my lovely readers! I hope wherever you are you’ve had a lovely weekend! To keep updated on my Spring Break Adventures return to girlandsuitcase.com on Thursday for my next post.

X

Blog Travel

Exchange Guide: your first months

Hey lovelies!

Today I bring you my guide to the first couple of months in France. I’m quite excited/mildly terrified right now as I’ve just received a letter detailing the time and location for my OFII appointments and it got me thinking about everything I’ve had to do so far; the challenges and paperwork of the past few months.

For the uninitiated these OFII meetings are steps on the way to approving my visa and I consider it a fair achievement that I’ve managed to reach this point without any major mistakes. I realise how stressful these couple of months will be for anyone about to embark on the adventure of exchange so this is my little list of pointers!

I’ve not been in France for ages yet, but I feel, as I’m about to head on Spring Break, I can, at least, give you a vague guide to avoid complete catastrophe.
Before we begin, please make yourself a hot tea, sit down on some kind of comfy seat and know that you can do this. Yay optimism!

1) Paperwork
Prepare for this to be stress-inducing, perhaps best to knuckle down and get it done as soon as possible so you can relax a little. But just know that everyone finds it difficult and you can always find help from either your university or a website such as http://www.blog.parisunraveled.com/ – which I found incredibly useful!

Some of the key things are organising your accommodation, which will evidently vary on your exchange location, organising your VISA, which usually requires a police check, and passport. Then obviously flights. Once you’re here there is the French Bank Account, Electricity, for most people the OFII as part of validating your VISA, organising Health Cover if you’re under 26- I think?- and the Caf Benefits Program. Ta-dah! Such fun!

I know it sounds like a lot, but honestly, if you divide it up into manageable, escargot-sized pieces you will be fine. It is also, as my mum reminded me during one of my several breakdowns, a great opportunity to practice your French. By filling out forms. Again, a yay for optimism.

I would suggest making a particular song your form-filling anthem so this process can be slightly more palatable. Though it’s important to realise that you will forever associate that song (Shake It Off- TSwift lol) with the hell of French bureaucracy.

2) Phone –Sim Card
A working SIM card really is an essential on your travels! They can be picked up quite cheaply from a range of places. I would recommend getting a plan with a lot of data and perhaps save international calls for Skype.

3) Photocopies.
I probably have way too many of these but from past disasters I know you can never be too safe, also make sure scans of your documents have been sent to an email you can access around the world.

4) Imperfection. Embrace the fact that you will not be perfect and you will probably feel out of your depth in a lot of things. It can be terrifying coming from a place where you typically feel very in control but shift your perspective. No one expects you to know everything; this whole experience is an opportunity to make mistakes, to learn and to see life from another angle.

5) Get involved in your university activities. Whether that is contributing to the student paper, playing a sport or representing fellow students in university politics, it all contributes to your experience, which will be made even more amazing by the various groups you join.

6) Keep in contact with friends from back home, but not too often that you’re constantly reminded of how far away you are.

7) Establish a home base. While it’s obviously awesome to travel, I think, as a major homebody, there’s also some merit in really diving into one place and establishing a home. Finding the joy in supermarket shopping, bank appointments and afternoon strolls is what it’s all about.

8) Home. While exchange is about trying new things, it is always a tremendous comfort to have some relics from home. Whether that’s Vegemite (which doubles as a stellar prank) or Twining’s. It doesn’t even have to be an object, it could be a T.V show or a book or a YouTube series! Anything that is essential to who you are, and that will make you more at home!

9) Make the most of your opportunities to speak French and also the availability of tools such as French TV, newspapers and novels. Yes it’s hard sometimes but just keep persevering and you’ll get there I promise.

10) Meet locals but also have exchange friends.
I love having French friends, they are obviously very familiar with French culture and bureaucracy, they can help me with my difficulties in French, they are incredibly glamorous and just generally make me feel more cultured by association. Saying that, it is always useful to have some exchange student friends who know what you’re going through, for the rant sessions and the homesickness tears.

11) See every difficulty as an opportunity.
Again with mum’s motto, but it certainly rings true. How exciting to get to discuss how to deposit money in France with a bank teller?! This really sounds sarcastic, but honestly this was a super happy day for me, the lady was so kind and I felt so accomplished. I’m terrible at that stuff in English but doing it in French, I think they all assume ‘You just don’t know the specific vocab for the bank,’ which I prefer to ‘This sheila is bloody hopeless.’

12) Health. It’s something that can often fall by the wayside, even at home, but it is super important that you keep on top of it while you’re away from a health system with which you are familiar. Obviously if you are sick over here you’ll be able to get help! But you’ll want to avoid any of the minor, avoidable bugs if you can.

This means:

  • Take medication if you need to
  • Keep hydrated and get enough rest
  • Don’t eat too much fromage
  • Get outside in the fresh air
  • Maybe exercise if you’re not a lazy sod like me
  • Be social and connected- one of the keys to feeling supported
  • Maybe try meditation? It is actually pretty helpful! I use https://www.headspace.com/ 10/10 would recommend.
  • If you are looking for therapy online these are some of your options: http://www.talkspace.com/ or http://www.7cups.com/

And obviously you also have real-life medical professionals at your disposal, and depending on the size of your exchange town there may even be doctors who can conduct appointments in English.

15) Even if the worst happens you’ll get through it.
Okay so I’ve had my passport stolen while overseas, one of my cousins had to have emergency surgery while she was backpacking around South East Asia, my parents camped in some desert in Egypt when there were hyenas outside their tent. Obviously, take all reasonable precautions, but rest assured you will get through! Make sure you have travel insurance and don’t expect everything to go swimmingly, but there is always a way to sort things out and people who’ll be happy to help.

So that is my brief guide to the first few months in France, or in any country really if you find details on your specific paperwork and health systems. I wish you the best of luck- it’s going to be so cool I promise.

The most common thing that goes through my head here, other than ‘ahhh everything is so Instagramable,’ is ‘I’m so glad I challenged myself to come here.’ Because even though it has, at times, been scary as hell, it has also proven to me that I can deal with a lot if I trust myself.

Love to you all,
X

Blog Travel

A weekend in Lille

Salut Internet Friends!

Today I’m writing from the very beautiful Lille in northern France. It’s a truly lovely town, and while it is very French, the architecture is influenced by Flemish styles, while at times the side streets have been reminding me of parts of London. But before I jump into my Lillian adventures, I just wanted to say a huge thank-you to all who have been reading, commenting and sharing ‘girl and suitcase’. I’m truly flattered to see the map of all my readers from around the world! Everywhere from the expected Australia and France, to Mauritius, Poland, and Colombia to name but a few. So hello to all my lovely readers and thanks ever so much for your support!

So as I was saying I am currently in Lille for the weekend. I arrived Saturday morning after a very enjoyable Blablacar journey. This gave me an opportunity to practice my French a bit more, though I must say I feel like everyone here has the most amazing English, I always feel so guilty about my limited skills, but practice makes perfect I guess.

My friends and I are staying in an airbnb apartment with the dodgiest lift known to mankind, but with a huge window onto the rest of the building, which includes thousands of student flats and a mall.

Yesterday after lunch, we walked through the old part of the town, before heading, in the rain, to the zoo. We did stop by a store to buy an umbrella, but alas it was Burberry and we weren’t really in the mood to spend all our money on a stripey parapluie.

So, completely drenched we saw quite a few, similarly unimpressed animals, including a kookaburra, which made me feel at home. I feel like over here I get so excited about anything Australian, whether that be Chris Hemsworth on a poster to the Australian Bar in Lille. I suppose when you’re so far away you kinda cling to things that are familiar.

Today has been a bit more chilled for me. While the rest of the gang travelled to Bruges, I stayed in Lille, walked around the town a little and visited the Musée de Beaux Arts. The highlights of the museum for me were definitely the medieval art from the Netherlands, some pieces by Monet, and the miniature physical plans of the surrounding towns with tiny, fake trees and buildings.

I’m now watching British television dubbed in French and doing some reading for my European History and Corporate Law classes, getting ready for a morning drive back to Reims. This weekend has been fantastic in many ways, but particularly food-wise. As I wasn’t cooking for myself I was able to really explore French cuisine through either eating out or buying prepared meals from the supermarket.

So, just to make you all jealous here is my last 48 hours in food:

Saturday:
Morning coffee
Pastry pizza with goat’s cheese and vegetables
Fondue featuring Roquefort, mushrooms and champagne, (we ate it with tomatoes, potatoes, bread and salad). #feelingthecholesterol
Mojito Sorbet
Long Island Iced Tea at a club called La Plage

My taste buds were equally blessed today with:
Mid-morning salad with eggs,
Afternoon tea of caramel tart and a selection of cheeses
Dinner of a goat’s cheese and tomato baguette with caramelised apples and yoghurt

Feeling jealous? Probably not, because I’ll probably die from a cheese overdose but it was fun while it lasted. It will be a shame to return to my pathetically healthy lentil and chickpea stew but what a lovely trip!

Excited to heading home to Reims, as well as all the other cool stuff coming up which I’ll talk more about on Thursday.

Catch you later alligators!

Xx

Uncategorized

Conquering your fears ft. David Bowie mug

My internet lovelies!

My apologies that this is coming very late, I’ve just been preparing for a weekend adventure to Lille and finishing off some paperwork! (French administration, gotta love it) I hope you’ve all had a most enjoyable week and that you’ve a nice relaxing weekend planned to recuperate.

Today I wanted to talk about conquering your fears. I know that wherever you are while reading this, there will likely be something, whether in the pit of your stomach or the forefront of your mind, that’s worrying you. It might be seemingly insignificant, it might be massive, either way you have a right to your feelings.

For so long I have tried to avoid fear completely, but I’ve recently come to see that a manageable dose is actually healthy and shows that you are living your life to the best of your ability.

Living overseas has already presented quite a few trials to overcome, ones that I can’t imagine overcoming mere months ago. That these are things everyday people do each week could make me feel childish, and lets face it I kinda am. But I also know that so many people that seem to have things together might not be as composed as they externally suggest.

And so today I am making a toast, with my virtual flute of bubbly, to all of us who have challenged ourselves this week; with anything from the previously unthinkable to the apparently ordinary, yet mildly terrifying, tasks of life.

This is a small list of scary things I’ve done this week:

*Note: You may be unimpressed, but indulge me

I had my first oral presentation in France. It was in French and I spoke on the image the Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Pretty sure I messed up the pronunciation more than once, but I talked for 10 minutes and once it was over it was pretty satisfying. It was my third speech overall, but as my first one in French it was just a tad more petrifying.

Filled out more paperwork. Always slightly frightening but again once it was sent to the various offices I could relax a little.

Phone calls. I hate the phone anyway, add in a foreign language and I become a crumbling mess. And yet I have managed to make three phone calls in French this week. Let us hope no more are required.

Crossing roads, again another thing I hate anyway. You may be getting the impression that I am scared of most things, quite frankly a wholly accurate assumption. Well it’s even worse for me here with less traffic lights, no sound effects and super zippy Peugeots.

And then tomorrow I’m using BlaBlaCar to get to Lille. It’s a very popular service in Europe, I guess just carpooling with strangers. So that will be fun and not scary at all. In all honesty I’m sure this will be fine and I can’t wait to update you all on either Sunday, or perhaps Monday, on my Lillian adventures!

In the realm of things that are not scary, I’ve been planning my Spring Break, YAY! Seriously looking forward to it so much and I’ll be visiting Luxembourg, Paris and Brussels. Again, you’ll hear more about this soon!

In addition to the many scary things with which this week has presented me, it has also delivered some pretty stellar moments of chocolate crepes and pain au chocolat fun, ordering the prettiest David Bowie mug in the world and getting tweeted by both James Bay and Lake Street Dive. So ultimately for all the scary times, I’ve been wonderfully rewarded for challenging myself (not that buying crepes is really a challenge?) but meh.

I hope wherever you are you feel ready to confront your fears and full of hope for the other side. Accomplishments and yummy pastries await.

Xx

(By the way, please feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more adventures)