Bonne année! [Happy New Year!]
Clearly, I failed at blogging while in transit. I also failed at many other things I intended to do, and have continued failing at them since I got back (though I did manage to find some video-hosting websites that aren't blocked on the school server and have thus spent several hours catching up on How I Met Your Mother and watching the newest installment of Sherlock...). It's amazing how many things I can find to do when I don't really have anything to do. If that makes sense. I have unrealistic expectations for life, and my free time fills up astonishingly quickly even when it looks like there's more of it than I know what to do with. (Also, I sometimes don't use it particularly wisely--see previous parenthetical.)
Anyway, I remain behind on emails, postcards, and other forms of correspondence as well as blogging. I have managed to post some pictures to my Facebook and will hopefully begin adding some to the blog soon-ish, though I'm not making any promises, especially given how inconvenient doing anything with the blog is here. I'm also halfway through knitting another new hat--not that I need it right now. Since returning to Brest, after nearly freezing to death in Prague and having my first encounter of the winter with ice outside of Paris, I've gone back to wearing my fall jacket and put away the hats and gloves. I grew up in PA and spent my college winters in northern Ohio, so it's very very strange to me to experience such a warm winter. This is what my family in North Carolina calls cold, not what's actually cold! Even if this week has been unseasonably warm for Brest, as I suspect is the case, the average here is still a far cry from what I'm used to.
Still, I am much farther north in the world than you might think I am. The winter sun doesn't rise as late or set as early as it does in, say, Scandinavia, or even in Ireland for that matter, but there's still an awful lot of darkness here. I can't count on much more than eight hours of daylight (beginning long after I get up on some days), and in some places on my travels it was even less than that.
Speaking of travels, I WILL write about them, though it might take a while, and I might decide to intersperse posts about my adventures à l'étranger with more posts about life in Brest--because there IS plenty to say there and I don't want to give the impression there isn't! We'll see.
For the moment, the bottom line: Two days in Paris included a fantastic house party with fellow expats and my first trip to Montmartre. The long day's journey to Amsterdam was sometimes stressful, but overall incredibly fun and definitely worth it, since we stopped in places I might never have seen otherwise. Amsterdam was phenomenal. I fell completely head over heels for the city, and it didn't hurt that my traveling companions are wonderful people and friends. I cannot gush enough about what a great time we had. (Or I had, at least.) My journey to Prague did not set a good tone for the rest of the trip, especially given my reluctance to leave Amsterdam and separate from my friends. I don't think I'd be far off in saying it was one of the most miserable travel experiences of my life. BUT I got there, and being in Prague made me happy again. It's a lovely, lively city, and the two other assistants I met up with there are both very nice and great fun to be around. My three days in Prague were not long enough, so I guess I'll just have to go back again someday. My return to France was far more pleasant than going to Prague had been, and once back in the Paris area I spent three days hanging out with one of my best friends from college, who was kind enough to put me up and who tagged along while I did touristy things in the city. I came away liking Paris more than I thought I did, though I still resent the crowds and how ridiculously expensive everything is.
On New Year's Eve I came back to Brest. My Amsterdam buddies were already back, and Jimena (who is Mexican but spent several years living in England as a teenager) had a British friend visiting her. I had dinner with the two of them and we went to one of our usual bars--after having tried to go someplace less usual and discovered, to our surprise, that an absurd number of the bars in Brest were actually closed! On New Year's Eve! Ridicule. Apparently, house parties are more the norm here, and people go out well after midnight if they go out at all. Still, we had a nice, albeit fairly quiet, evening in our corner of the pub, along with another assistant who happened to be there along with two of her friends who were visiting from Quimper. We encountered a number of drunk men, both inside and outside the bar, but none of them really posed a problem. There was one who called us something rather unflattering after we ignored him shouting at us from across the street, but these things happen. I will say, though, that that night was probably the only time since I got settled in Brest that I was actually a little afraid walking home, even though nothing happened. I have no doubt that I'm probably safer here than in parts of my hometown, but something about the sheer number and exuberance of drunks wandering around, coupled with the fact that French men are somewhat notorious (at least among Anglophone women) for being aggressively forward made me more unsettled than I'm accustomed to being, especially in a familiar place. I want to say again, though, that there weren't actually any problems either while I was with the other girls or on my way home that night.
We (the same three plus Sam, a fellow American assistant and my other travel companion for the first part of the break) had a lazy New Year's Day, at Jimena's house, snuggled up on the couch watching movies and eating junk food. I had spent the morning unpacking and adding some of the art postcards I bought on my trip to the decorations in my room, so I was able to feel productive and still have some fun downtime.
So, nothing particularly French about my celebrations (other than the price of the wine I drank!), but it was a pleasant end to the holidays nonetheless.
I'm back at work now, with some new classes and some of the same. More on teaching and more trip details to come!