A year in Paris: what I gained and what I lost

I let go of routine, I gained flexibility

I lost self-control and I gained life.

The year started off rough I guess you could say. I had a difficult time creating a relationship with my girl who I was here to look after for the next 11 months.

There were times where I thought that I had made a huge mistake with not only choosing this particular family but coming abroad in the first place.

I had to constantly remind myself of why I had chosen this path for my life; which was to experience another culture and travel Europe before settling into a life long career. I wasn’t going to allow myself to look back on my life with regrets.

I bought a one way ticket to Paris in hopes to be immersed in a foreign culture that I had always longed of being a part of. Little did I realize how much more that would come from this year.

My first real french Macarons from Pierre Herme

Saw Notre Dame

Went on vacation with my host family to a zoo resort AND saw a real panda.

visited Sacre Coeur

Went to an au pair picnic with over 200 fellow ladies

Met my beautiful Danish best friend

Went to the Love Wall

Had Chipotle for the first time!

Had the BEST 21st Birthday I could have ever imagined

Went to DisneyLand Paris

Saw Paris at night by Boat

Met 3 amazing girls who have become my best friends

Visited Galeries Lafayette at XMAS (yes that’s an upside down massive tree!)

Learned how to play French Beer Pong

Got my make up done by this chick

Enrolled in Nutrition school which ended up changing my life

Visited Fontainebleu

and Versailles

Had my first easter hunt with real chocolate and not plastic eggs!

Helped the homeless by making sandwiches and delivering them around Paris

Celebrated Saint Patricks the right way

Took a macaron class

Learnt the real way to make Clafloutis

Put a lock on the love bridge and said our goodbyes

Said “See you Later” to my little sister

 

Said goodbye to the Eiffel Tower one last time

On top of everything I got to do in France I also traveled to 8 other countries throughout the year. Every 8 weeks in France the kids get a two week holiday which meant I had one week of freedom to do as I please. There wasn’t even a question of what I would be doing with my time; I wanted to see as much and do as many things as I could while abroad, and that’s exactly what I did.

October

Rome

Brussels

Amsterdam

November & December

New York

London

Mexico

Nova Scotia

I surprised my mother without her finding out!

 February

Barcelona

Bruges

Ghent

April

Milan

 

Florence

Venice

May

Valencia

June

Nice

 

Berlin

August: Whitehorse

Out of everything that I saw, every person I met, and every experience I had the opportunity of taking there’s one thing that I will always remember about this trip.

2015 was the year I found happiness

This was the missing piece that I had been trying to find but was never successful at finding until I let go of everything in my life that was bringing those unpleasant feelings.

When I realized that there’s so much more to life out there, everything started falling in place and most importantly my health flourished. As hard it is for me to see myself at such a low point in my life, I’m proud of how far I’ve come on my own.

Life is a journey that’s waiting to be written and this is my beginning

Italy take 3; Venice 

The train from Florence to Venice was only two hours and honestly it felt like maybe 30 minutes. I was in second class this time but I got lucky and had an empty seat beside me.

My French mother met me right at the station and since it was raining we took water taxi back to the apartment and caught up on what we had both done in the past few days.

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I honestly don’t know if I had ever been so happy to see ma petite fille. Our relationship has gotten so strong and being away from her for only 4 days felt like a long time.. Let’s just say I’m not looking forward to our final goodbyes this summer, well at least until she coma to Canada to visit.

jhbk

She likes to take my things, reminds me of my own sister! 

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So far into the trip it was clear that:

  • Dogs are everywhere, and not just the little ones that are everywhere in Paris.
  • There are no cars, at all inside the city of Venice.
  • Gelato is cheaper than in Florence. 1.50 for a ball, I think I can do that.

I wandered around the whole morning but then My knee started to hurt extremely bad and I knew that 5 hours of walking wasn’t the best for it so I took the water taxi back to the apartment near the arsenal to rest… And to dry out my purse or attempt to.
Upon arriving back I made myself a coffee with their Italian press and put my feet up for a couple hours. Sadly my passport now resembles a wet tissue and my battery charger is powerless, but surprisingly i kept positive and moved on with it.
I think I stayed for approximately an hour and a half before I got bored and had to get out and see more of Venice. We ate in at the apartment for supper but I had no complainants about that.

Nothing beats fresh pizza ordered next door and spritz.

Spritz is not sprite for my North American followers. It’s the typical Italian mixed alcohol drink comprised of sparkling wine and a bitter tasting alcohol such as Aperol.

Day 3 – Murano

After a sleepless night for all four of us because of endless Mosquitos we started the day a bit later but like always, lots of coffee. We took the water taxi to the small but beautiful island of Milano. Mutant is the island of glass blowing which I was unaware of until coming here. We are at a restaurant apparently for “fishermen” or resembles a seafood restaurant. There weren’t any fish and chips so I can’t say it compared to what I consider a seafood restaurant that’s for sure.

11014915_10206891999681736_2044625168325510305_n After some gelato, and a necklace purchase we made our way back to Venice and we parted our ways. I wandered for the rest of evening which is my favorite thing to do no matter what city I’m in.

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I’m truly amazed at how beautiful this city really is. Maybe it’s the similarities to home, being so close to the ocean, but it could possibly be my favorite that I have visited so far in Europe.
I’ve been waking up at 7 in order to make sure I get to go for a morning cappuccino with Perrine and my french dad. One morning we went to by far the coolest Cafe I’ve been to and was run by the kindest Venison I had met yet.

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After picking out three different grains of coffee we asked where we could find a good espresso thinking he would recommend a typical cafe close by but nope. He invited us into the back woke shop where they turn the coffee beans and offered us each a cappuccino along with focaccia!
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The week passed by faster than I might have wanted, especially after finding my love for the city of Venice but I was ready to get back to some sort of routine.

Reflecting on Goals

How many people set goals or resolutions for the year and never go back to reflect on them to make sure you’re staying on track? 

Yep, I can say that typically that’s me.

BUT,

I figured there’s no better time than now to change that fact and see exactly where I am with what I plan to accomplish this year and maybe even add more onto the list! 

1. Start and finish a french novel. 

This was the first thing that I completed and surprisingly understood the basis of the story! Now I have moved onto trying to watch french tv series to keep up with the french!

2. Travel to at least 3 new cities

Done and well over 3. I ended up getting stuck in Montreal for a couple days on my way here so that was the first city I was able to see! One weekend I made the spontaneously decision to travel to Ghent, Bruges and Lille adding 3 more new places. I spent a week in Barcelona in February and just got back from Florence, Milan and Venice! 

3. Gain 10 pounds. 

How about 14! I couldn’t be more proud of myself for this accomplishment!

4. Read More.

This I actually didn’t expect to have read as much as I have but gosh, It seems like I’m flying through them lately. 

5. Pay off my student loans. 

Currently I have paid off my current school that I’m enrolled in, but those good old Canadian loans are still hanging around.

6. Take a cooking class in Paris. 

7. Enroll in the Integrative Nutrition Course. 

8. Actually start doing yoga or at least gain more knowledge on the sport. 

I was doing really good with doing yoga on a regular basis in the beginning of the year but since my knee injury I have taken a bit of time off.

9. Attend a language exchange meet up in Paris.

I only went once, but hey I still did it!

10. Go to bed before 11 every night. 

This NEEDS to become a priority. I know what I need to do, but the self control is not happening.

So after a short 4 months I must say, I’m more than impressed with what I have been able to cross off that list and makes me excited for what is yet to come!

Italy, take 2: Florence 

Florence oh Florence..

Upon walking out of the train station I install felt a different vibe than Milan. More welcoming, cultural and touristic and in my opinion better all around.

I started walking toward my hostel because my shoulders were killing from lugging my backpack around when I heard “Alexa?! Alexa?!” And I didn’t think anything of it because I mean, what were the chances that someone who knew was name was here.
Little did I realize my american au pair friend Katie was standing right in front of me.
I was literally in SHOCK. It goes to show how small the world really is.
I walked around with her for a while until I realized that I was extremely tired, hungry and had wandered an extra hour away from my hostel, so decided to say a quick goodbye and get on my way.

The Hostel I stayed at was Plus Florence which was conveniently located pretty close to everything actually on the same street as the train station!
I was skeptical because the reviews were extremely mixed but it was the cheapest and most central of all of the hostels I checked at a steep 20 euros a night without breakfast included. Check in was fast, and was told my room number and to choose any bed which was a bit different than what I’m used to , typically being assigned one. One I made it to my room I grabbed the bottom bunk which happened to be a double.. I haven’t slept in my own double bed since last April… It was like a dream come true or so I thought. I ended up being roommates with a group of Americans who were there simply to party. To each their own but I just wanted sleep to be honest. When I hit the sheets for bed, they were on their way out. Fast forward to 5 am they all came back.. Let’s just say I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep, but that’s what you get when staying in an 8 person mixed dorm.

Oh and did I mention, there was a pool, sauna and thermal bath!

They next morning I ended up leaving around 9am to set out for the day to try and see as much as I could before the rain came down.

First stop was Piazzale Michelangelo which as you can see below gave an amazing view of the city!

Then the bridge Ponte Vecchio which is the oldest bridge in Florence and is the only bridge that during WWII the germans didn`t destroy.

The next day my knee was killing me so I took a bit extra time to find the motivation to get up and going. I ended up staying at the hostel way past check out time. I mean 1 euro coffee and free wifi, why not.

Once my stomach got past the point of hungry I figured it was time to make a trip to the mercado centrale for some pastries and more coffee of course.

I don’t think I made it 5 minutes without being drawn into the market goodies that I walked pat everytime I went into the central square. I came across a black hat I wanted and started talking to the vendor and managed to get the price down to 18 euros so I made a little purchase. He asked where I was from and I said Canada , not thinking he would proceed further to what province.. But come to find out he knew every single province and had to show off his skills by naming them all in order across his imaginary map. To say I was impressed in an understatement, which made the fact that I bought my hat from him that much more satisfying.

After a long rainy end to Florence I hopped on the train to my next stop Venice!

Italy , take one : Milan 

This was my first time flying with easy jet and to be honest I didn’t even check before I bought the flight what company i would be flying with.

Note to self: don’t show up at the airport without a clue who you’re flying with.

My trip didn’t start out the best which seems to be the way the majority of my trips have been going. Upon checking in at the baggage drop I was told I didn’t have a seat on the plane even though I had booked my flight two months prior.

you must check in online in order to insure you have a seat. Oops silly me.

I was put on the stand by list and had to wait until everyone else was on board in hopes there would be someone that didn’t Tahoe up. Thankfully I was lucky and got the last seat!

I noted a couple things that were instantly different abroad this flight then the rest I was on:

  • Cabin crew didn’t check seat belts
  • Completely in English
  • The safety demonstration was only said over the announcements

Having no wifi and this being my first time at this airport I was a bit nervous on how to find the bus but it ended up being as easy as walking out the exit and finding the big sign with the “bus to Milan central station”.. And the fee of 16 euros for a return trip. This was by far the easiest transport to city I’ve ever experienced but more expensive.

When I first was looking at coming to Milan I checked hostels to see the price and availability and didn’t come a crossed a lot to be honest. Instead of paying for a very expensive and crappy hostel I  put on my big girl panties and decided to couchsurf for the first time. I found my way to my hosts house with only the directions she had given me , and no gps signal. Let’s just say I was pretty proud of myself.

I was instantly Greeted by my host along with green tea and Belgium chocolate. You can’t go wrong with that

After chatting for a bit I decided to wander around why she finished some studying.

Later when I returned she took me out for a typical a Italian aperitif with her friends.

Apertivo is probably my favorite thing about Italy. Essentially it’s a happy hour where you buy any drink at the price of 7-10 euros on average and you get an all you can eat buffet along side it. There was pasta, pizza, meats, cheese, bread, chips, chicken wings, fruit and dessert! I will say that waiting 1 1/2 hours to be seated was a bit of a pain, especially when you’re starving.

The next morning I awoke to a table full of biscuits, bread, cereal, and hot coffee waiting for me. I can’t explain how grateful I was to have come across such a great host. Her and her friend even made a list of things I needed to see before I left and showed me the exact way to get there which was much appreciated.

After saying goodbye I made my way back to the center of Milan to check out what I had missed the day before.

It wasn’t the best day weather wise and with the tendinitis in my knee acting up I made a couple coffee breaks along the way, which allowed me to rest and grab some free wifi.

I was extremely early for my train but if you know me well enough that’s typical for me, after growing up with a mother that was always, and really emphasize ALWAYS late. Now looking back, maybe it was a good thing because it’s made me more aware of my own time.

20 minutes before the train was set to leave we were told the platform number and I followed the pack to my car. I paid the extra to be business class first class to get a free coffee… What can I say, priorities.

  

 

A Different Perspective

How often we go through life and make assumptions before really taking a step back to look at the other possibilities. I can say that I see myself doing this quite frequently especially since I am experiencing so many new things. Like a lot of things in life, first impressions are important BUT not always correct.

Today I had the pleasure, and yes I really do mean pleasure to babysit for a family in the center of Paris. It may have been my day off and I may have had to get up at 6am this morning, but I figured that if nothing else it would give me a chance to see a different Parisian lifestyle.

Once again an opportunity was presented so I took it. Also I had one of those “I feel like my grandmother Cress” moments and saw a way to make a few extra dollars to be stashed away for a rainy day.

Quickly enough, I realized that I had based my outlook on Paris simply on my perception of one family’s lifestyle. Today that perception changed.

I’ve realized that,

Living “in” Paris is not the same as living 10 minutes outside the center

Not everyone gets the pleasure of enjoying their weekends off like I previously had assumed, hence the fact of why I was babysitting on a Saturday

Not all french kids are brought up spoiled and fortunate as it may have come across in the beginning. I think this has to do with the area I am currently living in as well, as it’s a wealthy community.

As much as having the ability to buy fresh produce, cheese and baguettes from the market is amazing, it actually isn’t feasible for everyone to do.

The best part of my day was by the far the least expected when I had initially made the choice to babysit.

It came when I realized how much of an impact simply making a child smile can be. When the child begs you to stay and wants you to come everyday and be their “nounou” simply because you played soccer with them and showed interest in their happiness; That’s better than any kind of money can buy.

I’ll be honest, I saw that there was a family needing a babysitter and since I was free, I figured hey! It will be a good way to get some extra cash” when the end of the day came, the money didn’t matter.

The fact that I had made a child happy was more than I could have asked for.

9 things I will take home with me from Paris 

And I don’t mean physical souvenirs…

It may only be a 8 hour flight away from home but the lifestyle I’ve lived in France has been a complete 180 change.
My year abroad taught me a lot in many ways than just one. Health wise I can tell you that they live a much healthier lifestyle than we do in Canada, well at least in my household. I was fortunate to live with a wealthier family in the suburbs of Paris so saying that all Parisians live this way is not correct but was still eye opening.
1. Meals should be enjoyed together with family and friends and never rushed. 
This was something that was actually on my contract when I signed it – that I would stay for dinner during the week nights and we would have a sit down dinner to discuss the day. I’ll be honest, in the beginning I hated it, simply because it was change but now I look forward to supper time, and no not only because I know there will be cheese and fresh bread!
 

2. Weekends are for relaxing, whatever that may mean to you.  

Sundays at my house in Canada  were the busiest day of the week. We would run from sport to sport and then be back for work only in time to start another work week. Here in Paris, it’s rare if the family leaves the house on Sunday and dedicate the day to family time and relaxation.

 

3. It’s okay to eat chocolate, cake and candy everyday. 

The french may be known for being slender but that doesn’t mean that they don’t indulge in their pastries. When 4 o clock rolls around that means gouter and it’s never carrot sticks and hummus but more like a croissant or multiple macarons. They indulge but they know when to stop.

 

4. Make once, eat for the week.

I can’t speak for the french as a whole but the family I lived with would successfully make a meal on a Sunday or Monday night that would last 2-3 days afterwards, making for easy mornings. What surprised me was that it wasn’t considered work for them; they didn’t even write down what they were going to make and then eat for the rest of the week. It was almost like it was second nature.

5. Food should be bought as fresh and as local as possible, and if not local than organic.

The markets in Europe are by far my favorite place to spend a Saturday morning. Nothing can compare to the endless stand of of fresh local produce or the pizza that is made right in front of your eyes. I’m not quite sure how I thought delissio was even considered the least bit tasteful all my life. I guess that emphasizes that we really don’t know what else is out there in the world unless we explore for ourselves.

 

6. Coffee is a luxury rather than a necessity. 

Luxury meaning that coffee should be enjoyed with friends, with a good book or along side a warm bowl of oatmeal instead of a 5 times a day drive through purchase. I look forward to the days when I sit myself down in a cute cafe with my Ipad and a fresh cup of coffee, even if it may be double what I’m used to paying. I’ve learnt that experiences are worth the extra splurge once in a while.

 

7. Having to travel an hour to get somewhere is no excuse. 

If I want to get anywhere in Paris it typically will take me 30 mins to an hour depending on the metro, but that doesn’t seem to stop me. I don’t know how many times in the past I turned down meeting up with friends or going out simply because I had to drive 30 mins to the big city of New Minas. Now that I put it into a comparison with my life here, a half an hour drive is manageable to say the least.

 

 8. Friends will come and go

I love meeting new people but sadly it seems that as fast as they come into my life they disappear, especially when you meet them on your travels. In the past I was always so focused on creating bonds with people who were physically around me. Now I find myself proactively wanting to reach out and connect with as many possible people as I can even if I know that I may not see them ever again. There’s been plenty of people that I’ve met this year alone that have become a part of my life for a short time and sadly have left but instead of thinking about it negatively, I’ve begun to see what I gained from that relationship.

9. Travel is the best education

When we hear the word education it’s usually being referred to as the type of information that we learn in a classroom. For 17 years I was in a classroom and I can honestly say that I’ve taken in more information this year than I would’ve by continuing school. Now this isn’t to say that education isn’t important because I know that I wouldn’t be here unless I hadn’t of learnt what I had in school but by travelling I’ve been able to see a whole new side of learning, that I’ve grown to love. With every new city I see and every new person that I meet along the way I end up gaining knowledge that I didn’t have before. Travelling has allowed me to find out more about myself than every before, and honestly that’s been the greatest reward of all.

This year has changed me; I know that’s for sure, and even though soon enough I’ll have to go back to my hometown, I don’t plan on ever returning to my old lifestyle. That’s not to say I wasn’t happy living the way I was, because I’m a firm believer that my past has lead me to be where and who I am today. Every experience that I’ve done in my life I’ve taken at least something from and used in my own life, which is exactly what I will do after this.

The Power of Friendship Abroad

The best days always end up being the times when we have no set plans, no time limit and no care in the world, am i right?

Today was one of those days.

In fact, it seems that every time I meet up with Julie (my beautiful Danish friend for all of you who aren’t aware) we end up discovering something new and exciting, or at the very least enjoy the time we spend together.

I traveled abroad alone; was I scared?

To be honest not really.. Which really assured me that I was making the right choice in making the big leap across the ocean. I mean of course the fear of jumping on a plane alone and coming to a foreign country to live with a family who I didn’t have a clue would even be at the airport to pick me up is normal…. Instead of allowing that fear to change my outlook on the adventure I chose to be optimistic and to trust that everything would work out.

and you know what, it did.  

8 months ago, after only being in Paris for a week, I wrote on the “Au pair in Paris” Facebook group looking for someone to explore the city with, so I wouldn’t be alone. I received a reply from a Danish girl, and we decided to meet up on Pont de Alexandre III, which is probably one of the prettiest in Paris I must say.

Truth be told that day must have ended pretty well because here we are 8 months later and she’s become my best friend.

Did we know what we we doing today?

Nope.

Did we have a great day?

Probably one of the best since I’ve been here.

Julie and I are the queens of wandering aimlessly around Paris and finding the most interesting things to do. We came across a chocolate museum so we paid the hefty 8.50 to get in and come to find out, even for to see how chocolate was made. Better yet, there were samples, which let’s be honest, would make any girl happy.

The beans were used as currency and 10 would buy you a rabbit!  

Mustache cup!  

Selfies were needed      

 we were in need of coffee which didn’t actually happen for another two hours after as we made our way towards the seine. Oh! We even found a street with prostitutes in broad daylight. Don’t think we’ll be going back down that street anytime soon.

We grabbed some peanut butter danish bread and coffee and made our way to the Tuileries Gardens for some much needed relaxation, sun tanning, and some much needed girl talk. I mean we’re girls would you expect anything else?

Our day ended at the very same bridge that we met for the first time 8 months ago.

Little did I know the great friendships that would come from choosing to come to Paris. Honestly I had no expectations on what this year would bring but what I’ve been able to experience and take in already has been beyond anything that money could ever buy.

One thing that I’ve realized is that when you’re more flexible and allow life to work itself out for itself, incredible things happen.

I’ve evolved.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

My smile is once again real.

“You’re just an au pair”

“You’re living the dream”

“You barely have to even work”

“You get to play with a kid all day, how hard is that”

“Don’t be lame, you can’t be tired from being an au pair”

My reaction?

irritated

I don’t know how many times I’ve head these phrases after telling someone about what I do for a job here in Paris. Trust me, it may seem like an “easy” job but think about being a parent, is that easy? I don’t think so. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love what i’m doing for the most part but there are times like any job where you just want to quit and run away, but thankfully kids seem to know exactly when to show their charm.

Today one of those days that really makes me appreciate what I actually do have here. It’s the 7th birthday of my girl  and since her mother is away on a business trip I really wanted to make it as special as I could. The day started with me getting a jumping hug and a bisous as soon as she came down the stairs. Thankfully I still remembered how to sing happy birthday in french and the father and I did a small celebration before school.

I surprised her with homemade donuts for gouter which she seemed pretty proud of I must admit.

Once we came back to the house we put on our aprons and got to work on chocolate cakes for her class party tomorrow. I must say, this was a moment that I will not forget. Being able to share your passion with someone else is an amazing feeling.

Memories like these are what I hope that she will remember when she’s a grown adult reflecting on her past.     

And soon enough it will all be simply a memory

I feel like that lost student about to graduate, having to make a tough decision, yet not knowing what to do with her life. I thought by 21 I would have a good idea or at least a start to my life. This isn’t to say that my year abroad hasn’t been a start of my journey but more of a growing and learning experience. Sadly nothing lasts forever as I’m finding with each passing day is closer to the end of this adventure.

I’m excited to be free again to make the next step whatever that may be , but it’s almost scary not having an plan for what adventures lies ahead. I struggle with decisions; I always have, especially when faced with endless opportunities.

return home,
stay here,
travel more,
find a different job…

no matter what path I choose, there’s always going to the thought of which one is the best. I’m constantly reminding myself that what will be, will be with whatever choice I make in the end as there is never a perfect solution

We all have a story which is created by our choices. Choices that we may often regret but that lead to the next chapter of our life.

I want to look back on this chapter without any regrets. The question than becomes when does this chapter end; or will it ever?

Better yet, do i really want it to?

I’ve never felt more at peace with the freedom and ability to travel so easily and I’ve been taught that when we find happiness, ultimately we should try to stay in that place for as long as possible. It’s inevitable that I must move on at some point or another and often I struggle with when that point will be on a daily basis.

I have moments when I want to quit and go back to that sense of comfort at home but i’m not a quitter; I’m a fighter.

In the wise words of my mother that daily pass through my head

Life is not perfect.

I have four months left here in this beautiful country with my host family, who has grown to be not only the people who I live with, but a real family. My heart tells me I’m not ready to leave. This feeling narrowed my options down to a slim few which lead to my decision to create a workaway account on the whim one night at midnight. I paid the annual fee, therefore leading me to believe this is what I truly want to do. As with my nutrition school and deciding within one day to enroll following the payment of the tuition, I knew that staying in Europe is what my heart wanted to do.

I’ve gone 21 years following my head; focusing on the most logical decision and now, i’m just allowing life to figure out its own path for me, whatever that may be and wherever it may take me.

The beauty of this city never seizes to amaze me