*Note: I wrote this over a month ago and just haven’t had the guts to post it until now.
Nearly everyone I meet asks, “Oh, what are you doing with your life? What’s your plan?” You’d think by now I’d have a solid answer to deliver. Everyone should have quick answers on hand for cocktail parties. Unfortunately, I haven’t seemed to master this skill, and instead, provide long-winded answers no one ever really wants to hear. I get “Smiled and Nodded” at a lot.
My year in France – that utterly different lifestyle – feels as distant and as close as a favorite childhood memory. You know the kind. Sometimes you can feel the elation of your six-year-old self flying off the edge of a sailboat, images of pirates and mermaids swirling through your mind. And other times, the details and emotions become muddled and dark, and you can barely recount the tale.
While reading news articles, finding Paris pictures pop up on my Facebook feed, and working at My French Life, France feels nearly unbearably close–my former life tantalizingly out of reach. And yet, other times, on morning runs along Lake Michigan’s shores, relaxing on the heated (because it’s Wisconsin) balcony of my favorite bar, or simply laughing with coworkers at my surprisingly adult job, Milwaukee resonates around and within me, leaving Paris translucent and grey – almost entirely out of sight.
In October, I realized I’ve been blogging for one year. And in that time, nearly everything’s changed.
For one, I learned I’m fairly Type B. Who the hell knew? The American mentality has driven me towards insanity at times. Every year of my life has revolved around planning for the next, and by senior year of high school (high school, not even college), I was pulling all-nighters three times a week and racking up AP credits for college. I barely slept, forgot to eat due to stress, and found myself in a constant competitive race –with my peers, my vision of myself, my actual self – everything. My outlets were theater and writing; in that sense, not much has changed!
And then I graduated college – in three years. I filled my life with classes and groups, and by senior year of college (technically junior year as well) I was co-president of a campus club in which we contacted writers all over the country to participate in a writing festival, I had a 4.0 in my major, and was in a serious relationship.
But something just felt off. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, wasn’t as confident as I pretended to be, and desperately needed a change.
So I moved to Paris. And I didn’t plan shit.
I tried, and would occasionally stress about it. But after years of advanced classes, high GPAs, and stress-related emotional breakdowns, I spent the majority of my Parisian days being as Parisian as I could. And for me, that meant meeting friends for 10:00 pm glasses of wine, eating croissants every other day, spending four hours at a time reading along the banks of the Seine simply because I wanted to, and simply being.
It’s a quality oftentimes lost here in America–hundreds of other articles will tell you so. Honestly though, I don’t believe either way of thinking should govern your life. Not planning anything left me with a heap of wild experiences and friendships that compelled me to buy a plane ticket to Canada at 1:00 am a few weeks ago. It also left me with $20 in my bank account. (But really, don’t do that).
In attempts to blend the American mindset with my new-found Parisian one, I have many goals and plans, and am approaching them with as much as a laissez-faire attitude as I can.
So while I’ll continue to give long-winded, convoluted answers to people at cocktail parties, the truth is that I just want to write. That’s it. If not for my current self, then for the childhood version of me, who told everyone in 4th grade I’d write a million stories before I died. (Goal-maker from the beginning).
Alors, in honor of looking forward with a healthier mindset than I would have 12 months ago, I’ve entirely changed the design of my website and wanted to celebrate my one-year “blogiversary” (can I get away with saying that?). So sip a glass of wine with me and read: a wrap-up of my first year. What I did, where I went, and where I am now.
I graduated from Miami of Ohio, unexpectedly traveled to New Orleans for my 21st birthday, said goodbye to friends in Oxford, OH, loved ones in Milwaukee, and obsessed over finding an apartment in Paris for the upcoming year. Needless to say, it was an exciting, emotional time.
And then I moved to Paris. To be honest, it’s still a little surreal sometimes. My dad and I explored the city for the first week with the intent of finding me a flat—a process I had heard was harrowing, gut-wrenching, and all together horrid. In a bizarre twist of fate, we found my place within 24 hours of landing at Charles de Gaulle! Not so bad after all. Afterwards, we were blessed with the opportunity to explore Paris without lingering obligations. When my dad left me, I remember sitting in my miniscule chambre de bonne, gazing at the Haussman architecture and Eiffel Tower out my window, missing my family, but being acutely aware of an overwhelming sense of belonging–something that has eclipsed me for much of my life.
Shortly afterwards, I embarked on one of my first trips. I had planned on traveling solo. I had bought the ticket solo, done everything on my own, when unexpectedly, I met a traveling Brit who decided to accompany me for the weekend. I suppose you never know what to expect while living abroad. Bayeux charmed me. After a a month in Paris, Normandy’s pastels and quiet roads helped calm my excitement. However, I never did see the Baueux tapestry – the whole reason for traveling to that tiny town. Someday, I’ll need to return.
This time, I finally did travel solo. I’ve been boarding flights by myself since the law permitted (6, I believe) but I always had people waiting for me at airports, or knew I’d eventually stay with a friend. As brief as it was, traveling to northern Wales differed greatly from my previous adventures. I roamed the rugged Welsh wilderness by myself, for myself, for days on end. The haunted mountains imprinted themselves on my mind. Despite being soaked, cold, and in an overall physically miserable state, I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the world.
Honestly, it had never really been on my radar, but I quickly fell for Liverpool. Apart from their many attractions, including their Beatles Museum and the Tate Modern, the city simply has a wonderful, welcoming atmosphere. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Ahh London. After living here the summer of my freshman year of college, I knew I’d never feel quite the same way about another city. Paris came perilously close, but still, London has a unique hold over my heart. Perhaps it’s my latent English roots, but you know that moment in A Knight’s Tale when Heath Ledger’s character sees London for the first time in years? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered:
I get a little teary eyed too, Heath. London will always have that same effect on me, no matter how frequently I visit.
Around this time, I fell into a bit of a slump. Due to an unfortunate combination of an all-too-expected shit show in Paris, as well as the general winter blues, Paris and I were going through a disillusionment period. So, I booked a train ticket and left. What I found: Marburg. I hadn’t previously considered it a travel destination, and I only visited because my friend lived there, but the hills of Germany, the forests where the Grimm brothers once roamed, filled my imagination, and truly surprised me. Other German cities may entertain you more than Marburg and its sleepy streets, but if you’re in search of a quiet, mysterious fairy tale, put Marburg on your map.
I have a complicated relationship with Marrakech. Despite the sexual harassment, odd odors I’ve yet to eliminate from my scarf, and frenetic lifestyle, I find myself missing the souks from time to time–missing the orange trees, the mopeds buzzing around ancient monuments, the serenity of the Majorelle Gardens–I’ve even craved aubergine tajine. While I’d suggest one be wary of Marrakech, I don’t regret visiting.
Riding camels through the Sahara Desert–hearing the wind drift over the shifting sands at night–will remain with me until I die. Without a doubt, this was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
Perfect for Medieval lovers (such as myself), Provins is one of my favorite day trips from Paris. You can read more about it on my upcoming Paris Guide, but simply put, I sat atop ancient ramparts, reading my book in the sun, free from the bustling tourists of my nightmares.
A castle worthy of Cinderella, the château of Chantilly is ideal for little getaways from the city. Also, the former owner had an unhealthy horse obsession. (There. I said it).
To continue with my Parisian day-trip theme, I visited Auvers-sur-Oise, a town that inspired the infamous Dutch painter Van Gogh to create over 70 paintings in 70 days. Although not necessarily my favorite place in the world, I did enjoy myself, and would recommend it to people who either adore Van Gogh or are staying in Paris for an extended period of time.
Spring 2013 (aka, the broke season)
Back to London
Clearly, I can never resist London. Neither can my bank account, which is why the only other place I went to all spring was…
I can see why people visit Mont Saint Michel. I understand why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I did find my little corner away from tourists to enjoy the history and magnitude of this legendary abbey. Honestly though, I found my first trip to Normandy and the tour of World War II beaches more compelling.
Finally, after a harrowing process of booking flights, re-booking flights, changing plans, getting sick, fainting in a train station in Rennes, being revived by random Frenchmen, crying hysterically, and one last night of wine and lingering kisses along the banks of the Seine, I moved home. At first, I was honestly ashamed, which is why I’ve been so private as to what I’m doing now, and instead, have written about past adventures. It’s been difficult for me to even acknowledge that I’ve moved back in with my family, so instead of writing about it, I’ve lived in my memories for months.
Curiously, something I didn’t expect moving home was falling back in love with Milwaukee. More on this later but it truly is one of the most underrated cities in the Midwest. So, I moved home, where my little brother mocked me for having more money than I did (rightfully so–I’ve got him beat now, though), started working at a PR company, and have been trying to figure things out since then.
What have I figured out? I can’t sit still. I’ve always known this, but being stationary for months reminded me that I’m an adventurer at heart, and I find the concept of settling down quite unsettling. And then. Dreams formed, ideas spun in my head, and plans begin to hatch. Suddenly, my decision to live at home became less forced and more optional. Granted, I needed to live with my parents in the beginning to replenish my income. But I’ve replenished, I’m stable, and I’m very intentionally staying in Milwaukee to save money.
That’s the exciting news. I won’t tell you where yet but Bon Voyage, Mon Chéri and I will soon be moving abroad again!
(This time I’ll be kinder to my bank account, I promise).
Some of you have been reading from the beginning and some of you may have just stopped by. I’d like to thank all of you—for reading, commenting, sharing—it means so much to me and I’m incredibly grateful.
Stay tuned for more adventures! They’re coming up soon. Thanks a million–cheers!