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.


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.

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 · 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 · 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


France · Germany · Italy · Normandy · Paris

Six Months in France

Happy Anniversary to me and France! It’s been a bit of a bumpy road, but we’ve managed to work things out. We will always have our differences, and I don’t think this will last forever, but right now I’m just enjoying and reflecting. So without further ado, here are the highlights of the last six months:

Cleaning Lady on Strike
Christmas in Caen
American Party Downtown… The night before an 8 am exam…
Old and new friends

More new friends

As for the next few months…

Who knows! I’m sure they will fly by just as quickly as the last six. However, just yesterday I bought myself my 21st birthday present to me: tickets to Portugal!

Here’s to hoping the next few months are full of fun and travels.

France · Paris

Even More Homesickness

After a not-so-mild meltdown the other night, I’m feeling a lot better. I figured out why I have extra hours at work. Conveniently, it’s so I can take sick days and whatnot.

I’m starting to figure out how things work around my school, and I’m slowly catching on as to how to make the darn kids shut up when I’m talking. I’m having a hard time without a strict behavior like I’ve always had in special needs classrooms, and it doesn’t help that I’m not supposed to speak French in front of them. It is very possible that they don’t even understand when I’m telling them to be quiet. I’m not so worried about it anymore; I’ll bring out “mean Alisa” if I have to.

The thing that I really hate about my job is that it takes me an hour to get there. I wake up at 6 am, get ready as fast as I can, catch a tram to the train station, buy my ticket, take a 25 minute train to Lisieux, then walk 15 minutes to the school. I never thought I’d say it, but man. I miss driving. I don’t mind walking around town, but walking and train riding in the cold dark mornings is no fun. One of the many joys of France.

Another joy is all the smoking. I detest cigarettes. I feel like punching someone when they blow smoke in my face, even if it’s an accident. I hate constantly being around smoke, and I’m not very fond of seeing thirteen-year-olds smoking either. Oh well, soon enough I’ll be back in good old (mostly) smoke-free Utah.

Ah, Utah. I thought I’d reached the peak of my homesickness. I was wrong. There is no way to describe it except that it’s a constant pain. Sometimes I’m distracted, but it’s always there. Being away from my family, my friends, my pets, the mountains, Mexican food, and everything doesn’t really get easier, just easier to forget at times. The only thing I can do is keep busy and remember that this is only temporary. But I will say this: I would love nothing more than to spend a summer day hiking, grab a grilled chicken salad at El Sol, then head back to my parents and watch Tangled with my family.

On top of all that fun stuff, I never forget how lucky I am. I have a good support system here (aka Aaron.. PTL), I’m earning a decent salary, and I have a warm room all to myself. I won’t mention the black mold in my shower (woops just did) because I’m trying to be positive.

For example, I can’t travel to Paris on the weekends in Utah:

The traveling I will get to do in June is what keeps me going. Until then, Paris will just have to do.

France · Italy · Paris · Rome

Thanksgiving in Rome

You know what’s a good cure for homesickness? Traveling. Thursday after class, my friends and I hopped on a train to Paris, rode the metro to the bus stop, took the airport shuttle, flew for two hours, took another shuttle, and arrived in Rome at 11:30 at night. We only had two days to see everything, and boy did we see it. I have never been so tired in my life after this whirlwind of a trip. Without a real metro system, we walked ALL OVER the city. We started at the Colusseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. Then we walked to the Trevi Fountain, next up to the Spanish steps, where we sat and ate gelato, just like Audrey Hepburn.

For dinner, we got ripped off. Bad. I didn’t realize it until after, but they gave us an English menu, which now I’m 100% sure had marked up prices. And it wasn’t even that good, aside from the tiramasu. Dumb Italians. They were really disappointing. I had always heard that they were fun-loving, friendly people. I disagree completely. I have never had an encounter with a rude person in Paris, but I had plenty in Rome.

Lunch was hilarious, although we didn’t know it until later that night. The entire meal we were laughing at this fat Italian man with his shirt unbuttoned, exposing his hairy chest an belly, gold hoop earrings, and I won’t even mention his hair (bald but long on the sides, and a lovely beard to match). His friend had a bowl cut, and the other had a beard long enough to braid. We laughed at them and went on our way. However, when Arin and I returned to our hostel that night, we turned on the news, and Arin said, “Hey, that looks like the guy from lunch today.” Camera zooms out and shows a guy with a bowl cut, and a guy with a really long beard. I kid you not, the men from lunch are an Italian band : one the top ten funniest moments of my life.

The next morning, we took off to the Vatican city. We took a tour of the museum, gawked at the Sistine Chapel, and did a lap of Saint Peter’s Basilica. There isn’t much to say about that stuff, other than it’s very worth it to go. Very impressive. Afterwards, we walked through the city, and stopped in all the famous squares. It was my favorite thing we did; it was when Rome finally started to feel like I’d imagined it should.

That night, we went to bed fairly early, but didn’t sleep much because we had to get up at three, to catch a seven am flight. Don’t do that. Just avoid Rome when it’s dark. I have never been so scared in my entire life as I was walking through that city at 4 in the morning. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that it is not fun to be a female with red or blonde hair in Rome, as me and Arin quickly found out. Thankfully we made it safely to the airport, the metro, the train station, and finally “home.” I slept for twelve hours last night, and now it’s back to class. Wah. But here are some great pictures:

When I took this picture I was thinking, “Hi Mom! I’m in Rome!”

Eating gelato on the Spanish steps like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday!

…And then more pretty pictures. My internet is being typically and frustratingly slow right now, so the Rome post may be continued later.

In other news, I got the job I applied for! I’ll be a language assistant in a French middle school, helping the kids with their English. I’m so excited because not only will it be an amazing experience and look great on my resume, this also means more traveling in the future! After Berlin, I’m thinking Portugal, Austria, Spain, and Southern France… Now I just have to find the energy and motivation to get through my last week of classes, and two weeks of testing…