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.

auvers door.jpg

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.

rouen.jpg

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.

saint malo
Saint Malo, Brittany
galettes saint malo
Galettes in Saint Malo. Audrey’s face says it all.
honfleurpano
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 · 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.
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.

Brighton · France · Normandy · U.K.

Brighton, U.K. & Back to Caen

Would it really feel like France if I didn’t fall ill within two days of my arrival? Apparently not, as I suffered from some awful form of strep for a couple days this week, so please forgive me if this post seems a little scattered.

So, I left for the Salt Lake City International airport on May 20th and arrived in Denver at about 4:00 pm. From there, I left for Reykjavik, Iceland. I was STOKED because I had no one sitting next to me, so I was planning on being well rested by the time I got to London. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any luckier for my six hour flight, a flight attendant came up to me and asked if I was traveling alone. I said yes, and she told me that there was a mother and child who really needed to sit next to each other and asked if I might be willing to move to a different, better seat. I was skeptical and asked if she was moving me to a middle seat. Her response: “No, no. It’s better. I’ll show you. It’s behind the curtain up front.” Behind the curtain. BEHIND THE CURTAIN! Yes, the travel gods smiled upon me and saw it fit that I be moved up to first class for the longest stretch of my journey. Okay, maybe it was economy comfort whatever, but I could see into the first class area, and as far as I could tell the seats were the exact same, they just had fancier food and fancy china plates or something, instead of the standard cardboard flavored airplane food. Either way, I fully enjoyed my flight to Europe in a cushy seat with plenty of leg room.

Despite my good fortune, I was unable to sleep until my flight to London, which was only two hours long. So I arrived in London at 4:45 am Utah time on two hours of sleep! From there I took a bus to Brighton, which was thankfully not very long. Erwann met me at my bus stop shortly after I arrived. We enjoyed a happy reunion, fish and chips (well, I didn’t enjoy that part so much), the Brighton pier, making fun of English people and a lovely ferry ride back to France.

 

Three planes, one bus, one train, one taxi and one ferry later and I was back in Normandy! Of course the first few days were utterly dismal and rainy, but I was counting on that and I was happy to be back. It is also helpful that Erwann is so eager to reacquaint me with all my favorite French things (like chocolate eclairs, to name one). His mom has also gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable and has been cooking really amazingly delicious food the past week.

Thankfully on Sunday we finally enjoyed some sunshine. We didn’t waste a minute of it and headed to a seaside city called Cabourg. However it’s always more chilly by the channel, so we ended up in the countryside picking flowers and making friends with the cows.

Finally, yesterday I was at last feeling like getting out of bed, so we went into Caen to do a little rediscovering. I had forgotten how beautiful it is. It really made my heart happy to be in my old stomping grounds again, with a pastry in hand of course. Erwann made me order at the bakery, and afterwards he said to me, “Wow, that was great, you didn’t make any mistakes!” To which I giggled because obviously ordering at the bakery was the very first thing I learned to do properly in France.

In short, it’s good to be back.

France · Normandy · Paris

Farewell Caen & Paris

Finals, friends, France! I somehow managed to at least complete my finals, pack up my room, and explore a bit of Europe. I’m currently residing (and being spoiled to death) in Portugal. Unfortunately/happily I’m coming home on July 5th, so everyone get ready there’s going to be a depressed girl in your midst soon.

I was INCREDIBLY lucky to experience only sun and blue skies during my final days in Caen.

Sunny study time

LDS church
Beloved Subway
Lisieux Crew