Brittany · Family · France · Normandy · Paris

Metcalfs in France

Our adventure began in Paris and Normandy with my mom, dad, and little sister. What a joy it was for two of my worlds to finally collide! I loved watching Audrey taste all the delicious foods and my parents just rolling with the punches in a foreign country. We also had uncharacteristically hot and beautiful weather, which we weren’t counting on. Although I, Erwann, and anyone else we talked to would tell my family how lucky they were to have come during such a beautiful week, I still don’t think they realize how fortunate they really were!

In Paris, we did all the basics with all the crowds. It’s so beautiful, and there are so many things to see, so we were all happy to be there and also happy to get out of the city after a few days.

family eiffel tower

Our first stop in the countryside was Auvers-sur-Oise, which is where Van Gogh spent the last few months of his life and where he is buried with his brother, Theo. Mom and Audrey LOVED it. I especially loved this house and all the poppies.

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audrey alisa auvers

After Auvers, we got some lunch, and consequently, my parents got their first true “snobby French server” experience. Dad ordered a steak well done. It came out barely browned. We asked the server if we could cook it more. He replied, “That’s not how you’re supposed to eat it,” and huffed away. When it came out the second time, it was even worse. We asked a different server to have it cooked more for us. She demanded, “Well, how did you order it?” In short, the customer is NEVER right in France.

Next, we stopped in Rouen, which is where Joan of Arc was killed. It also has a pretty sick cathedral that Monet painted several times.

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Finally, we arrived in Caen. I got to show my family around my old stomping grounds, and we all stayed with Valerie and Christian. They were the most amazing hosts, cooking everyday and making us all feel at home. That’s where my family was finally introduced to the “apero,” which is essentially cocktail hour, but to French people is literally the only thing they look forward to on weekends or vacation. They LIVE for the apero. It’s when they get to visit with family and friends, relax, drink, and snack. It’s what gets them through the tough days. Audrey loved the idea of just sitting around and chatting. I think my parents enjoyed it too, although I’m pretty sure they were starting to wonder if French people do anything other than eat and drink.

After recharging our batteries, we visited Mont Saint Michel, Saint Malo, Saint Suliac, Bayeux, the American Cemetery, Beuvron-en-Auge, Honfleur, and Etretat.

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Saint Malo, Brittany
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Galettes in Saint Malo. Audrey’s face says it all.
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Honfleur
etretat
Etretat

I kept thinking how lucky my family was to get such an awesome first tour in France. Erwann made it so easy by planning everything and driving everywhere, even on his 30th birthday!

After my parents left, Erwann and I began our travels in Northern and Eastern France. You could call it a vacation, or you could say that we are doing research for the Metcalf’s next trip to France. Stay tuned!

About Me · California · Family · USA · Utah

We did a 12 hour road trip with our cats

“What are you doing about your cats?!” said about 100 people upon learning of our move.

Obviously we took them. We bought a little kitty tent on Amazon a few weeks ago and made a nice kitty fort in my back seat for them to snuggle up in during the drive from Orange County to Salt Lake City. While the tent was in our house, they loved it.

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Obviously our plan didn’t work out in the car. Our cats DO NOT LIKE to be locked up. They cried and scratched incessantly. Hazel broke the zipper of the kitty tent and escaped in less than 20 minutes, although not unscathed. She was so desperate to get out that she tore up her nose on the zipper. Once out of her kitty prison, she howled and roamed all over the car, driving Erwann crazy, as he was trying to keep her from going under my brake and gas pedals.

Poppy was mostly chill from the start, but would also cry occasionally. Erwann had to pin Hazel on his lap the entire drive from Costa Mesa to Las Vegas. She would sometimes be calm, but every time she looked out the window she would start to howl again. She dozed off just in time for our first stop.

Along with the tent, we had also bought some kitty harnesses and leashes. I had tried to get them used to the harnesses to no great avail. However, crunch time had arrived. We stopped for gas just outside of Vegas in 108 F. I put the kitties in their harnesses and on their leashes to be able to give them some water and just get out of the car for a minute. They were not pleased.

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Erwann and I were not pleased either, because we let Poppy out of the tent to discover that she had peed all over. We decided to ditch the tent all together and make them a little bed in the back. We blocked the seats so they couldn’t go underneath and gave them free roam. This worked much better. They settled in pretty quickly and spent most of the final hours sleeping on our laps.

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We made one more stop in Fillmore with the leashes and harnesses. The girls still weren’t loving it, but it wasn’t as hot as Vegas, so it went more smoothly.

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We rolled into Salt Lake around 7:30 pm, set up the kitties with their food, water, and litter box, and cleaned the cat pee out of the car as best we could. They are still on the traumatized spectrum almost a week later, but they’ll be fine. They have been drinking a lot of water because they refused to do so during the voyage and seem happy to have plenty of beds to hide under.

Poor kitties. We sure love them though, so I’d say they’re also very lucky.

California · Family · USA

First Anniversary: Yosemite National Park

Erwann and I have been married for one year. August 2015 was a whirlwind; we didn’t even have a honeymoon. In September I went back to school, and Erwann went back to work. In October we “celebrated” Halloween at home with the cats, then we returned to Utah to party turkey style, and for Christmas we returned to Europe. Then the new year came, and we watched fireworks on the beach in Portugal. I have no memory of February. During my spring break, I went to the East coast. When I came home, Erwann was at work but he had surprised me with flowers, cookies, and a love note (*heart eyes emoji*). In April I turned 25 and Erwann spoiled me even more. We also had a great visit from Valerie and went camping in Joshua Tree. In May we went camping again. I had a week off of work in June and went to Utah alone to hang with the Metcalfs. In July we planned our anniversary trip. We got back last week. Did all of that happen in a year, or in a week? The latter seems more plausible.

To celebrate these 12 months of matrimony, we took a long weekend trip up the California coast towards Yosemite National Park. We were disappointed in Big Sur because the weather was yucky. Disappointment made us both grumpy, and we spent most of the first day snapping at each other. It was just in time to make us start regretting the jewelry on our ring fingers. Ha! Just kidding. A darling little gopher cheered us up. A few other people stopped and said it was so cute, but Erwann and I were the only ones happy to sit there and watch the little guy pop in and out of his hole for thirty minutes. Love at first sight (of a cute animal) sums up our relationship pretty well.

We crashed in the glamorous metropolis of Merced that night and rose early to take off for Yosemite. We were ecstatic to see blue skies the whole way, and they continued for the rest of our trip. Luck smiled upon us again, and we found a spot to camp right away. We set up the tent and left to hike the famous mist trail. It was packed with European and Asian tourists, but gorgeous nonetheless. We made friends with another cute rodent and decided that only people who can sit and watch a squirrel for 30 minutes should be allowed in national parks. We also saw a rattlesnake, which was equally as exciting although not as fun.

That night we returned to our temporary home, ate dinner and smores, and went to sleep in the coziest double sleeping bag you could ever imagine. We had planned to wake early and hike again, but at 6:00 am after a nine mile hike, I was not having it. We went back to sleep and woke up when the tent became too hot. We decided to take it a little easier and spent the day lounging by the river and swimming in the perfectly cool water. It was so dreamy. We enjoyed our final night with drinks in the wilderness behind our campsite and more dinner and smores. The next morning we sulkily packed up, saw a few more sites, and hit the road.

We were happy to see the kitties again, but man. The vacation blues hit us so hard. Spending time in a godly place like Yosemite makes you realize how dull and ugly suburbia is. This weekend we’re planning another return to the mountains for one last hurrah before my LAST SEMESTER of grad school. That’s right, folks. I’m almost a master! I wouldn’t have been able to get through any of the school, health, or work related challenges life threw at me this last year without my husband. He gives me strength. I am an extremely sensitive person, but in a way, that also makes Erwann stronger. The Hickels are a great team, and we’re ready for another year. Let’s do this!
Here’s our video from the trip:
Family

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!

My dad laughs suspiciously when I call him Daddy. I know it’s a little childish, but it is simply my name for him, because he always makes me feel like a kid in the best way. I know that he’s wiser than me. I know that he will help and protect me if he can. I know he loves me. I’ve known this my whole life.

Earlier today I was very annoyed. Even after talking my husband’s ear off for 30 minutes and texting up a storm with my friends, I still wasn’t sated. I couldn’t get the anger out of my system, so on the drive home I racked my brains for someone who could help. I thought of my dad, because the annoying thing had to do with school and work. I knew he would understand. “Call Dad,” I told Siri.

My dad picked up after one ring. “Hello, my daughter!” he answered cheerily. I filled the next 20 minutes with ranting and whining, and he listened patiently. He was very understanding and supportive. Venting to him was exactly what I needed. He thanked me genuinely for calling and told me that he loved and missed me. He also said that he’s proud of me, which he does often. In fact, he rarely passes up the opportunity. How neat is that? No matter how miserably I may fail, I always know that my dad still thinks I’m awesome. I’m not so naive to assume that every kid is as lucky, so I am thankful.

Thank you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.

Family · USA · Virginia · Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., Joshua Tree, & California Mountains

I made it home safe and sound to my poor husband whom I left behind for my spring break. There were a lot of people worried about him. It’s funny because no one seemed to be worried about me taking planes, trains, and buses all over the country by myself, but everyone asked me how Erwann was going to manage a week at home alone. Somehow he survived, and I enjoyed a couple days not only in Kentucky, but also in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. My pal Aaron even drove into D.C. to join us, and my parents and Will just happened to be there at the same time as well (I’m not kidding. It was actually a coincidence).

Here’s photographic proof.

Shortly after I got home, I celebrated my 25th birthday. I was so spoiled. I even got my mother-in-law. Most people gave me a hesitant look of pity when I told them that she was flying in the day of my birthday, after which I would reassure them that yes, it really was okay, my mother-in-law really is awesome.Here’s photographic proof.

We didn’t have huge plans for her visit because we were mostly just excited to see her, but we still managed to squeeze in a camping trip in Joshua Tree National park. It makes me so happy when Erwann and Valerie get to see each other. It’s also a plus that she’s so much fun, so easygoing, and so adventurous.

After a weekend in the desert, Erwann and I were bitten by the camping bug. We kissed Valerie goodbye and took off almost immediately into the mountains. We have a great new tent, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to protect us from 35 degrees, rain, wind, and hail. It was an interesting night to say the least, but we stuck it out until morning and woke up to a beautiful, sunny day.

The time between then and now are very blurry. I guess I finished another semester of grad school, but I’m not really sure how? It’s been crazy. It seems like a week ago I had a million things to do, and like they just disappeared all of the sudden. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Erwann and I celebrated me being one step closer to a master’s degree with another little trip into the mountains. This time we brought the guitar and sung together by the fire. Also, it was less cold than our previous adventure. I still froze, but that’s an occupational hazard. A fun time was had by all.

Next up on the agenda: a visit from Arin (my friends and I are SLAYING this long distance thing), summer school, a trip back to Utah, and if I’m lucky, some more cold nights with Erwann and our tent.
About Me · Family

Mrs. Hickel

FRI-YAY, it’s Friday! Friday is Alisa day. Monday through Thursday are jam-packed with school and work, and on the weekend I try to spend as much time as possible with my hubby. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to set Friday afternoons aside FOR ME, and only me. Usually I stay at home and nap with my fur babies. Today I had some serious online shopping to do, but unfortunately I had to stop by the county records office to pick up a copy of our marriage certificate. I mailed the original off to the social security office awhile back, and they never returned it to me.

As I was walking through cloudy downtown Santa Ana, I got a phone call from an unknown number. I answered in a slightly annoyed voice, because I hate phone calls and I hate strangers. To my surprised delight, there was actually (what sounded like) a polite and efficient government worker named Justin on the other end of the line.

“Hello, is this Mrs. Hickel?” he asked.

SQUEEEEE! Mrs. Hickel! That was the first time a stranger referred to me as Mrs. Hickel. A bunch of people have been calling me Madame Hickel for over six months, but that felt more like a joke, because “Madame” sounds so old. Mrs. Hickel, on the other hand, sounds more real. It sounds like me, and I’m happy that people (and the U.S. government) are starting to refer to me that way.

Although we’ve only been married for six months, as of last week, Erwann has officially been my boyfriend for four years. It definitely feels like four years have passed, because so much has changed. On the other hand, our relationship still feels fresh and exciting, so it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. We met in 2012, and I know we both feel lucky to have found each other.

In 2012, Erwann introduced me to all the best French things that I wouldn’t have found on my own. It wasn’t until he came into my life that France started to feel like a second home. We also spent a month in Portugal and then four months apart. In autumn of that year, he came to Utah for his first Thanksgiving and his first Utah winter. In Utah, Erwann said he felt like he was in “the real America.”

In February of 2013, Erwann’s tourist visa ran out and he had to go back to France. We spent another four months apart. In May, I graduated and immediately left to spend the summer in France and Portugal with him. Erwann spent the summer working at horrible temp jobs, trying to save as much money as possible. At the same time, he was also searching for any possible job in the U.S. Finally, he was offered something in Orange County, California. I was somewhat reluctant, but mostly ecstatic that we were AT LAST going to actually live in the same city.

And so for the first time in our relationship, we settled into real life. Over the next two years, I bounced between a few jobs, all of which I hated, and Erwann worked hard to refine his coding skills. We made some friends, adopted some cats, enjoyed the brutal Southern California winters, and whined about the traffic. By the end of 2014, I had quit my first “real” job and decided to go back to school. Erwann’s visa was going to expire soon. We had talked about it and decided to get married, but it was not yet official. Christmas came and went and there was still no ring.

Then, in January 2015, Erwann surprised me with a weekend trip to Catalina and proposed to me over dinner. The time between then and August is all one big blur of wedding plans, unemployment for Erwann, my stressful first semester of grad school, hating my new restaurant job, finding my first teaching job, and then WEDDING WEDDING WEDDING. After all the madness, we struggled to settle back into real life. The whole year had led up to that big day, and it was all so much fun. Going back to work and school sucked for both of us. However, we then got to plan our first trip back to Europe in over two years, and I spent the holidays with my new French family.

After that, as always, it was time again to calm down and get back to normal life. And here we are. We go to work, we watch TV, cuddle kitties, sleep on the weekends, and make plans for our future. As it turns out, normality as Mrs. Hickel ain’t so bad.

About Me · Family · Portugal

Cats and Doors in Portugal

Things are going just swimmingly here in Portugal. Other than this stupid rain that just won’t let up. Everyone keeps telling us how unlucky we’ve been, and we’re like, “Yeah, yeah, thanks for reminding us.” The beaches would be so much prettier in the sun.

Regardless, there is still a lovely ambiance here, and we’re taking advantage of every moment. The latter has proved unfortunately difficult for me. Since arriving, I’ve felt extreme anxiety and depression. It begins with a clench in my heart, and progresses to hopelessness, wanting to withdraw, and finishes with guilt.I am on vacation in Europe with my husband! I have no reason to feel anything other than euphoria. And I do! The crazy part of the whole thing is the duality of it. Even though I sometimes wake up in the morning feeling hopeless, I still get up, explore, eat, take pictures, and enjoy my vacation. But it’s not easy. Nearly everyday has been a huge struggle. Nothing is easy. Walking, talking to people, showering, sometimes everything feels like a gigantic obstacle. But that all changed, at least for awhile, when we went to the cat colony.

I crouched down to pet one kitty, and another kitty who looked remarkably like my sweet Poppyseed came running up to me, hopped on my knees, tried to climb inside my coat, and started purring. I grinned like a damn fool, and crouched with her on my knees for as long as my circulation could bear it. The rest of the day was long (but fun!) like the rest, with a lot of walking and talking. I waited and waited to feel my heart clench and fill my body with dread, but it never came.Call me a crazy cat lady all you want, but I will go to my grave insisting that it was thanks to Portuguese Poppyseed. I’m considering looking into making her a service animal and taking her with me everywhere. Cats seriously absorb all the bad in their soft fur with purrs and snuggles. That’s why I’ve spent most of my time in Portugal so far chasing after all the stray cats. Most of them are feral and hate me, but I don’t care. Cats are my drug of choice. Other than cats, I’ve discovered that I also have an attraction to cute Portuguese doors.

They have so much symmetry, color, and charm.

Rainbows do too.