Alsace · Belgium · Bruges · France · Uncategorized

Summer 2017 European Road Trip, Part 1

Immediately after my parents left France, Erwann and I started preparing our little car (graciously lent to us by the sweetest MIL ever) for a month long trek through Europe.

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We popped back in at Erwann’s grandmother’s in Paris for the evening and took off to Lille. We stayed with a friend of Erwann’s who came to the wedding in Utah. He and his girlfriend bought an old bar and are remodeling the whole thing. They were very gracious to host us despite all the hard work they’re putting into their new home. Also, they have pet rabbits named Mary-Kate and Ashley. Brownie points.

From Lille we visited Bruges, Belgium. WOW. What a beautiful city. Most cities have one cute neighborhood, but Bruges is full of them. Every street was lovely with unique Flemish architecture and vibrant colors. Also, Belgian chocolate. On a Belgian waffle. Just saying.

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Next, we went to the Alsace region in Eastern France. WOW. Mountains, fairy tale villages, wine, and BABY FOXES. I REPEAT. I SAW A REAL BABY FOX.

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11th century castle ruins overlooking Ribeauville
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Petite France, Strasbourg
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Colmar

Bruges and Colmar both have “little Venice” neighborhoods. But here’s the thing. Having been to Venice, I think Venice should actually be called “little Bruges” or “little Colmar.” Venice is definitely worth a visit, but I certainly prefer Bruges or Colmar!

The highlight of Alsace was lunch at Saint-Hippolyte, one of the villages along the Route des Vins. It was quiet, calm, and looked like it belonged in a story book. We sat down at the only open restaurant, ordered some local white wine that was fruity yet dry, and thus delicious beyond description. Erwann ate some kind of Alsatian pizza with cream and ham. I got a salad with melted Munster cheese. For dessert we got more Munster cheese. YUM.

Alsace borders Germany, so from Colmar we drove across the border into foreign lands. See you again soon, France!

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.

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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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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
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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 · France · Italy · Normandy · Rome · USA · Utah · Wedding

How I Found My Tribe

A few days after my wedding, Margaret, Aaron, and I went for a long hike in the mountains by my parents’ house. We were covered in dirt and sweat, but we made it to the beautiful waterfall and were now on our way back down the mountain. Somehow we walked right passed the bridge we were supposed to cross to continue to the trail on the other side of the river. I thought I had been following the trail, but eventually realized that the “trail” was no longer such. We had been hiking all day, and the thought of backtracking up the hill to find the bridge and relocate the real trail was not a bit appealing.

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I scanned my surroundings and noticed that the trail was just on the other side of the ravine and across the water. We decided it would be faster to go down the muddy slope, cross the river, and climb up the slope on the other side. All too quickly we realized what a stupid decision this had been. It had rained recently, so we were immediately slipping and sliding down the damp slopes. But, it was too late to change our minds, so we laughed at the mud collecting all over our bodies and clothes and just kept on sliding.

At that moment I realized that these kinds of crazy, poorly thought out, and hilarious experiences are those which build the best friendships imaginable. All of the sudden, it felt like I was an international student in France again, part of me wishing I had been smarter, another part laughing hysterically, and another part petrified, all while having no other choice but to carry on. Sometimes during our year in France my American friends and I thought we had made a mistake in going there for a whole year, but all we could do was laugh and stick together until we made it to the other side. Even in the worst of times, we knew that the scary or horrible experiences would be unforgettable moments that would build lifelong friendships.

One particularly horribly unforgettable memory in France was waking up every Friday at 5:30 am to catch a train and be at work to teach English to middle school students at 8 am. Aaron, Margaret, and I all taught in a small rural city called Lisieux. Officially we were language “assistants” but in reality we were untrained English teachers. Lisieux was about a 20 minute train ride away, and we taught from 8 am until 5 pm every Friday. In order to take the train, walk to school, and begin class on time, we had to catch the 7:20 train. In Caen, the city where we were living, Thursdays were the best nights for students to go out to the bars. There were always parties on Thursday. My friends and I never went to these parties because we had to work, but they went on in our dorms without us every week. It was rare that we got enough sleep on a Thursday night due to the noise.

On top of that, we hated teaching. The students were between 12 and 16. They lived in a very small city in the countryside, so they didn’t see the use of English. They knew that we weren’t their real teachers and wanted to use the time in our classes to goof off. What’s more, we didn’t have sufficient training as “language assistants” to give engaging lessons. Dreading the following day, I always spent most Thursday nights lying in bed awake.

The only thing that made these Fridays bearable was my friends. Getting out of bed was made easier with the thought that I would spend the train ride with my friends. Although we were usually silent on the way to the train station, we would normally buy coffee and something sugary once we arrived. After perking up a bit, we would spend the time on the train bouncing ideas off of one another. None of us ever had a solid plan of what we were going to do on Friday; we all relied on each other for classroom activities.

During class, we would always send each other text messages about the happenings of our day. Aaron: “They’re fighting over the $1 prize for the game.” Alisa: “They’re rolling cigarettes.” Margaret: “They told me I have a big nose.” When the long day finally finished, we would meet up at the train station and spend the ride home venting and unwinding from the tiresome day. Aaron and I had been friends right from the start, but it took this uniquely miserable experience to bring me and Margaret together. We had always been cordial, but sharing those train rides was the building block of Margaret and my friendship.

Arin and I on the other hand, were already friends before we went to Rome, but we were bonded together after surviving a truly terrifying experience. There we overheard some American girls staying in the other room talk about whether or not their boyfriends back in the U.S. were cheating on them (they were). We saw the same old men from the restaurant at lunch on the news that same night. We giggled every time we got the opportunity to say, “Prego!”

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We left our bed and breakfast to go back to France at about 4 am. Our flight was at 7 am, and we had to catch the shuttle to the airport well in advance. It was pitch black when we left. Upon arriving in Rome, we had walked through the train station to get to our bed and breakfast. At 4 am however, the train station was still closed. We had to walk around the station to get to the other side. Arin and I felt terrifyingly exposed with our red and blonde hair. Numerous homeless men spoke to us in Italian. At one point, a car full of Italian men pulled over and signaled for us to get in their car. We held each other, praying that we wouldn’t get kidnapped and guiltily thinking about what our mother’s would say if they knew what their daughter’s had gotten themselves into.

Not wanting to cause her more grey hairs than was necessary, I didn’t tell my mom the full story about my trip to Rome until three years later. During those days leading up to my wedding, Aaron, Margaret, Arin, and I finally recounted all the silly and sometimes downright stupid things we had done while studying abroad in France. When I first met them back in 2011, Aaron was a guy from Pennsylvania, Arin was the redhead who lived on the third floor, and Margaret was the girl with the cute boots. As a normal girl from Utah, I never expected to form such a strong bond with other seemingly normal Americans. But, through surviving a year away from our country and our families, near kidnapping, and sliding down muddy mountain slopes, I found my tribe.

About Me · Family · France · Normandy · Paris · Portugal

Christmas in France, New Year’s in Portugal

Douce France, how I had missed you and your bakeries.

We arrived in Paris the evening of Christmas Eve, picked up our rental, and headed straight to Grandma’s house. We ate a delicious meal of veal, potatoes, green beans, quiche. We exchanged gifts, and showed wedding videos to Erwann’s grandma and sister. We were thrilled to find out the next morning that the bakery was open even for Christmas, and rushed over to buy our first real French baguette.

We often find “French” stuff in the US, and we always get excited when we find something kind of good. Trader Joe’s has a decent baguette, and there is a really good cheese shop nearby as well. But in returning to France, I’m afraid we have been poorly mistaken for the past two years. Our mock French cheese and Trader Joe’s baguette don’t even come close to the real thing. But that’s actually okay, because it makes it that much more exciting to come back.

After lots of bread for breakfast, we visited Morgane’s chickens. Apparently it’s tres a la mode in France right now to have hens. Whodathunk. Once we’d had our fill times two of food (turns out French grandmas are just as eager to make you eat until you explode as American grandmas) and and snapped some photos, we headed off to Normandy to see Erwann’s mama.

I loved being back in Normandy. I lived there alone in the dorms at the university in 2011-2012, but I also returned in the summer of 2013 and spent several months actually living with Erwann, his mom, and his stepdad. This time it really felt a bit like a homecoming. I felt so comfortable and at home in their house, it was so nice to see them again after the wedding. Unfortunately, we had less than a week in France, so our time in Normandy was a bit packed. But we got to see all of our friends, and I was able to wander around my old stomping grounds. And of course there was also Minette.

It was a short but sweet trip. Before we knew it, we were on the road again back to Paris. We were mostly there to see family so we only had a few hours to wander around the city. It was as beautiful as ever, and not even too cold. We were able to grab a drink “en terrasse” while discussing if we could ever imagine living there. Erwann went back and forth all night between, “Oh man, it would be so cool to live here,” and, “Oh man, it would really suck to live here.” This trip really has us torn between two continents. We have loved ones on both, and they both also have their list of cons.

After some more grandma time and some yummy couscous, we hopped on a plan to Portugal to spend the rest of our European vacation with Erwann’s dad and stepmom. We had Christmas for the third time, and I got a beautiful new watch and amazing new (French, of course) perfume from my new in laws. Last night we kicked off New Year’s Eve with a beautiful sunset on the beach.

Next we ate some Portuguese chicken, and went back to the beach. By some divine grace, there was an ABBA (!!!) cover band playing, it was warm, and we were in good company.

I spent all night staring dreamily at my new husband and feeling thankful for our wonderful year together. At the beginning of 2015, we got engaged. By August, we were officially the Hickels, and now we’re back in Europe. Our life together is truly the most wonderful thing. Erwann is my rock, my sunshine, my love, my family, my everything.

I’m so happy I get to kiss him every New Year’s for the rest of our lives.
About Me · California · France · Paris · USA

Paris (Again) & a Big Move to California

My original post was going to be about my last trip to Paris. The thing about Paris is that I keep thinking that eventually I will have seen everything I could ever wish to see and then I’ll be sick of it. Au contraire, every time I get to go it is even more spectacular than before because now I get to choose what I want to do and revisit stuff that was exceptionally cool, such as:


The Notre Dame. Maybe I watched “The Hunchback” one too many times as a kid, or maybe it was the stellar Esmeralda costume my mom made me in kindergarten, but I have always loved the Notre Dame. I’m always astounded just at how BIG and OLD it is. Also, here’s a fun little fact: it got its bells replaced for the first time ever this year.

The Sacre Coeur and Montmartre is another favorite. Definitely one of the most touristy places you could go, but it still makes you want to be a painter or a photographer… or Audrey Tautou.


I have also always enjoyed taking a break from the hustle and bustle of seeing and doing everything you possibly can by relaxing by the Seine. Even if there are chatty (barely not pictured) Chinese tourists ruining the French feel of it, it’s still quite lovely. Plus it’s a great photo-op.

The great thing about cities though is that you’ve never seen it all, and there is still a lot that I’d like to do and see in Paris. But was able to cram in a few goodies.

It really is more my mom’s thing, but the cemetery at Montmartre was pretty cool. You don’t really see crypts like that in the US. I felt like Christine in the Phantom of the Opera.

Some friends of mine have actually locked up their love at the Pont des Arts and thrown the key in the river, but somehow I always managed to wander right past it. I’m glad I was able to finally snap my cheesy tourist picture of it.

When we had a few minutes to spare we got to do one of my very favorite touristy things I’ve ever done in France. We went to Auvers, a little village outside of Paris where Vincent Van Gogh is buried. It was especially fun because as it turns out my boyfriend is somewhat of a Van Gogh specialist. Auvers is where Van Gogh shot himself, and died a few days later. He had a really close relationship with his brother Theodore, who died shortly after Vincent. They are buried right next to each other.

“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you…”


Van Gogh did some really great paintings in Auvers, here you can see exactly where he sat as he painted the local church. So amazing!

And on a lighter note, we also had a fantastic time playing with the pigeons at the Notre Dame. After which we used copious amounts of Purell.


And on the lightest note of all, Erwann got his visa! Which has brought us to today (with a few pit stops in Las Vegas and Salt Lake), in Orange County, California!

I say the following with precaution, because I’m a little scared of jinxing everything, but we are LOVING it here. Everything has fallen into place so perfectly. I am tutoring French and working at Chili’s. I haven’t started the tutoring yet because there aren’t many clients, but hopefully it will pick up soon. And I LOVE my new Chili’s. My managers are great, my co-workers have been overwhelmingly welcoming, and the tips are much better. Erwann is also loving his job, and we have Saturdays together to enjoy the beautiful SoCal sun, unpacking, finding furniture and checking out the new neighborhood.

Other than the beastly California traffic and the fact that I don’t have a cat, I have absolutely nothing to complain about right now.

France · Normandy

Bye-Bye, Baguette

Today is a sad day. Today I bid farewell to one of the best things France has yet to offer me:


My favorite bakers are going on vacation for a few weeks and closing up shop. By the time they reopen, I will be gone. I’m just heartbroken. It’s a good thing that there are millions of other bakeries in France.

Another thing France is not lacking in is rain. We thought we were going to be really lucky, because for a good two weeks it was beautiful and sunny. We were even able to fit in a few good days at the beach.

Then the storms came:

Crazy Storm!

Thankfully we weren’t in town that day, and it wasn’t so bad in the country. It rained like that at least one more time. Crazy stuff.

Speaking of crazy, have you ever seen a hundred chipmunks all trapped together in the same cage? I have, and boy let me tell you, those things are definitely not meant to be kept as pets. I have never seen a more restless creature, which means a lot coming from the big sister of four exceptionally restless creatures. Not only are they nuts (ha. ha…), but they’re not cheap either, at about a hundred bucks a pop. And to top it all off, they’re were labeled as “Korean squirrels,” which brings up an interesting debate. Erwann insists that chipmunks are just squirrels. But obviously chipmunks are chipmunks. After some research we found that they are in fact in the squirrel family, but I’m standing my ground. A chipmunk is a chipmunk, and a squirrel a squirrel. And pickles are just pickled cucumbers. Don’t let some French guy try to fool you.

Other than pastries, crazy storms/rodents and days at the beach, we have just been preparing for our return back to the US. That’s right, I’m coming home on August 22nd, and if the US embassy doesn’t cause any problems, I shouldn’t be alone!

Until then, I’ll just be soaking up (not literally, I’ve been trying to avoid the rain) my last days in Europe, eating as many baguettes and eclairs as I possibly can.

France · Normandy · Portugal

French Facts & D-Day in Normandy

Update: I’ve been working really hard the past few weeks, learning and re-learning lots of Frenchy things. Here’s my list so far:

1. Yogurt is a dessert, not breakfast.

2. Dinner is always followed by cheese. My favorite is Comté.

3. An early dinner is at 7:30. The French can’t believe how early we eat. I couldn’t count how many times someone has asked me, “How can you eat so early? Aren’t you hungry again at 8?”

4. A friend’s mom says that all Americans have perfect noses.

5. Erwann’s grandmother says that all Americans are tall. That’s definitely true in my family!

6. Erwann’s mom told me that French people work hard, just to be able to pay their taxes. Lots of people have lots to say on that matter. But hey, they do get five weeks paid vacation every year.

7. Bakeries are open on Sundays, but not on Mondays, which I find just plain cruel. I think I’m way more likely to need a pastry on a Monday.

8. The French have discovered the best way to eat carrots: grated with olive oil, vinegar and garlic.

9. French customer service really sucks. Don’t even get me started.

10. There are way more slang words in French than in English. There are three or more ways to say the most random words like work, shoes, car, etc. Not to mention that they like to say their words backwards. In the middle of dinner a few weeks ago Erwann stopped the conversation to ask me if I knew what the word he just said meant. Not surprisingly, the word “zar-bee” didn’t ring a bell. Turns out it’s actually “ZARRE-BI,” or as we would say, bizarre. Languages are hard. My brain is all messed up now. Last night I actually said (in English), “You don’t have shame?”

Other than my cultural studies, not much is new in France; a bit of rain and some D-Day celebrations. There really wasn’t too much going on, I think because they’re saving the big party for next year, which will be the 70th anniversary. But we went to Omaha beach and the American cemetery anyway, even though I’ve been before. Last year it was SO COLD, so it was a nice change to be there in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day, and hard to imagine what was happening there 69 years earlier.


Speaking of Erwann’s grandma, we went to Paris to visit her. She greeted us warmly at the door and had Grandpa Dan’s music playing in the background! We were just on our way out of town though…

I’m in Portugal now, and I have the most lovely tan. But more on that later.