Solo Trip to Portugal: Port Wine and New Hostel Friends

Before I went abroad this past year, I made a list of all of the countries I wanted to visit and Portugal was at the very top. I’m not totally sure why I was so drawn to this country. I don’t speak Portuguese (yet) and I didn’t know much about Portuguese history before I traveled there.

After living in France, a country that I’ve studied in depth, it was refreshing to be in a completely new environment. I hopped off the plane with my mind open and my stomach ready to eat EVERYTHING.

The first town I visited was Porto. It’s the second largest city in Portugal yet still felt very small. It’s located along the Douro River which is famous for a lot of vineyards so naturally, wine is a staple in Porto. But not just any wine! Port Wine is a sweet wine with a VERY high alcohol percentage. It’s usually paired with dessert, consumed after dinner, or at a wine tour. One of the main attractions in Porto is taking a tour of at least one of the wine cellars which is usually paired with a wine tasting at the end. I did the Calem Wine Tour which had a really cool interactive museum at the front, followed by a 45 minute walking tour of the cellar where the guide talked about the history of port wine, the Calem family, and the different kinds of port wines there are.

I spent about two and a half days in Porto and aside from visiting a wine cellar, I didn’t have a strict itinerary. Since I was traveling alone, I had the freedom to do what I wanted and when I wanted to do it. The first day I turned off Google Maps and just explored the city. Luckily, my hostel was near all of the landmarks and sights to see so I hit all of them by just walking around. Porto is a great city because like I said, it’s located along the Douro River which I found to be beautiful. One one side of the river you have the main city of Porto and if you walk across the Luis I Bridge (Fun fact about the bridge: it was designed by someone who worked for Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower), you’ll find yourself in Vila Nova de Gaia or just Gaia as the locals call it. This is the side of the river that has all of the wine cellars, souvenir shops, and restaurants. I also came across a stand that was selling large portable cups of Sangria for 3 euros to drink alongside the river.

The second day I was in Porto, I decided to go on the free walking tour that my hostel offered. We explored all of the key sites in Porto and got to learn about the history and culture from a local who had grown up in the city. I learned that Porto was the inspiration behind Harry Potter! J.K. Rowling spent a large chunk of her life in Porto and spent her time writing Harry Potter at the Livraria Lello, a famous library in Porto. Even the villain Voldemort from the series was inspired by a fascist dictator from Portugal. Another important topic of the walking tour was the francesinha, a famous sandwich that comes from Porto. The name means “Little Frenchie” and it is supposed to be a portguse adaption of the famous French sandwich the croque-monsieur. It’s truly a sandwich made for those who enjoy meat as it has cured ham, steak, and two different kinds of traditional Portuguese sausages. It’s covered in melted cheese and smothered with a thick tomato and beer sauce and usually comes served with french fries surrounding it. I won’t lie, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. As you can see from the description, it is a very very VERY HEAVY sandwich. Some tourists split them among two people but since I was eating alone, I made sure to not eat lunch so my stomach would be empty just for the sandwich. You can get this sandwich from various locations around the city but the one my tour guide suggested was Cafe Santiago.

It was through the walking tour that I ended meeting a ton of really cool people. I met two other Americans who were English Assistants just like me but in Germany instead of France and a Brazilian girl who was studying Law in France. During the walking tour we realized that we all planned to go to Lisbon after Porto and ended up meeting again once we changed cities. I also met some girls who were either doing the same teaching program as me in France or studying in France.

We were all on spring break so I guess everyone in France decided to head to Portugal for some sunshine! It was amazing to see how close we could all get in just a few short days together. We ended our time together by doing a bar crawl that was sponsored by our hostel. Waking up at 5Am after being out until 3AM wasn’t the best but the memories were definitely worth it.

I’ll always love Porto since it was the first city in Portugal that I went to and the city that made me instantly fall in love with the culture. After Porto, I took a train and made my way to Lisbon with my new Brazilian friend that I met at my hostel.

To read about adventures in Lisbon, stay tuned!

xoxo

Kanisha Lucille

Advertisements

Living In France During #GiletJaunes

France has long been known as the country that strikes. At my school alone, there has been 3 strikes and a 4th happening on Thursday. In French, we call this a grève or a manifestation. Many of my teachers have been apologizing for all of what’s going on but I am taking it all in and reflecting on my place as an American living abroad.

The most recent page in France’s strike history has been happening right before our eyes, although many American news channels are not covering it. Everyday on social media, there is a new picture of notable sites in Paris being burned with angry protestors in the background. This movement known as Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Jackets or Yellow Vests) has gone from a mostly non-violent protest into an ongoing series of violent riots. As of December 1st, 140 people have been arrested and 100 people have been injured. The protests have also spread to nearby countries like Belgium. I recently saw a tweet that said “You had the Arab Spring now welcome to the European Winter.”

The movement started back in mid-November on social media as a response to rising fuel prices and has now morphed into the protestation of other social inequalities in France. They have been setting cars on fire and looting shops making these some of the worst riots Paris has seen since the May 1968 protests. The protests have been mainly happening in Paris but they have also spread to other regions of France, including my town of Belfort to a much lesser extent than what is going on in Paris.

As of now, Emmanuel Macron has suspended raising the fuel tax  but what happens after that? The Gilet Jaunes are steadily adding onto their list of demands and many are set on seeing a real change in the French government. There have been talks of Civil War, the current president stepping down from his office, and an overthrow of the elites in power. As with most movements, political leaders from opposing parties have seen this as an opportunity to gain favor in future elections. What I find to be interesting is that Gilet Jaunes have gained support from both the Far-Right in France as well as the Far-Left.

So what are my thoughts as an American living in France during this time? This is a question that I have gotten from both my students and teachers. I usually answer in the same way by saying I can’t really comment because I don’t know the ins and outs of living under the French bureaucracy (aside from the all paperwork and immigration visits I had to go through to validate my visa).

As a recent Political Science and French graduate, I do feel extra lucky to be experiencing such a pivotal moment in the French political sphere while being cognizant of my place as a visitor. It has been interesting to read articles about what’s going on while also seeing it in action, even in my smaller town of Belfort.

Have you seen the Gilet Jaunes on the news wherever you are? Are you studying abroad during France right now or planning to come for the spring semester? Let me know in the comments!

xoxo,

Kanisha Lucille

Marché de Noël de Colmar

One of my favorite holiday season traditions in France so far are the Marchés de Noël or Christmas Markets in English. Luckily, I live in the region of France that has all of the famous ones. Eastern France has a lot of German influence which means the culture has a traits from each of the two countries.

The first Christmas Market that I visited was the one in Colmar which was voted the 2nd Best Market in all of Europe in 2017! Everyone has been telling me that I HAVE to go visit Colmar so I took a day trip this past weekend. I met up with some other assistants doing TAPIF and we had an amazing time!

 

Colmar is a pedestrian friendly city so all of the markets are accessible by walking. The markets are separated into 6 separate mini villages and each have different artisan vendors, food dessert, and other crafts for sale. There’s also A LOT of gingerbread products for sale.  My personal favorite was La Petite Venise! As the name suggests, it is resembled the Italian city of Venice.

 

Another one of my favorite markets was Place de l’Ancienne Douane. It’s located right in the middle of the city and is surrounded by a bunch of cute chalets arranged around a fountain. There’s also an indoor Christmas Market here so if you get too cold, you can warm up inside!

Depending on the language, Vin Chaud/Mulled Wine/Glühwein is a holiday favorite for people going to the markets. They sell them in cups for about 2 euros and if you pay an extra euro, you get a souvenir cup that also will allow you to get refills. To me, it tastes like a hot Sangria. Would I drink it again? Probably. Did I absolutely LOVE it? Not exactly.

 

This town looks exactly like a Fairy Tale during Christmas. All of the buildings were decorated with lights so when it got dark, it was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, the magic didn’t show up too well in photos. If you ever find yourself in Eastern France or Germany during the Holiday Season, you must go to a Christmas Market to experience it in person.

 

Thank you so much for reading and let me know in the comments if you’ve ever been to a Christmas Market in Europe!

Xoxo,

Kanisha Lucille

FIRST MONTH IN FRANCE | TAPIF

When I explained to the bank teller why I needed to open up a bank account she replied (in French of course) with “Wow you’re so brave!” At first, I didn’t think much about her statement as I feel more lucky than brave. But the longer I stay in France, the more I realize that she was right.

I knew that moving to a new country, even if it was just for 7 months wouldn’t be easy but I had no clue just how tiring it could be. Things that are simple like knowing where to buy a towel or how to set up a cell phone suddenly become time consuming challenges.

I’ve been in France for almost a month now and it’s been a wild ride. I’m so blessed and lucky to be in a program that I have dreamed of since high school and I’m learning new things everyday. I started my journey with a night in Paris visiting my best friend who is also doing TAPIF and I found out that France has PINK BEER that tastes mostly like soda. I was in Paris during Fashion Week and it was such a cool experience to see the streets full of models and fashion designers. I only got to stay for a day so I didn’t experience Paris Fashion Week to it’s fullest extent… I guess that means I’ll have to come back next year 😉

After leaving Paris, I took a train to my small town of Belfort. It’s in the Eastern region of France which is close to Germany and Switzerland and has a very unique culture. One thing that is popular here ( and in Switzerland) is La Raclette. Raclette is a type of cheese made from from cows and it originates in the Alps. You warm up the cheese in a machine and pour it on potatoes and various meats. Having Raclette is a very social gathering and people will have small parties and enjoy this wonderful melted cheese (and wine) together for hours and hours. One of my students was surprised that I had already been to a Raclette and told me I was “integrating into French society very well.”

As far as teaching goes, we’ve pretty much just been in an observation period. Every academie and school have very different ways of how they “prep” their language assistants. I’ve spoken to some assistants who started teaching a lesson the very first day and some who did not have their schedules until the end of October. As far as my school, they had me observe classes at various times during the day so I could get a feel for what level the students were at and how confident they were speaking English. Some teachers wanted me to introduce myself and made the class prepare questions to ask me about my personal life and life in America. Some of my favorites were:

“Do you prefer Macron or Trump?”

“Have you ever seen Spider-Man in New York City?”

“Do you have children?”

Given the current political climate in America right now, it’s basically a guarantee that someone will have a question about your views on Donald Trump. I always answer in a diplomatic way but the French themselves are very vocal about their distaste for Trump.

The first two weeks are also filled with a lot of orientation and administrative things. When I was applying to the program, I kept reading about how important it was to bring several copies of all of your documents. THIS IS CORRECT. You have to jump through a lot of hoops before you’re actually legally allowed to stay in France. All of the paperwork and doctors visits can get overwhelming so it’s nice to see everyone at the orientation days to know that you aren’t alone. Our academie had two orientation days where we made sure all of our documents were in order, mingled with other assistants in our region, and went over strategies for the classroom.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

We also had some time to explore during the orientation days. Besancon is extremely beautiful and has a lot of cool nuggets of history. The city is surrounded by water so it was a strategic area during times of war. There’s a lot of ancient Roman architecture and tons of beautiful cathedrals. I still have a lot of major things to visit in town like the Citadel and Victor Hugo’s house but I really enjoyed everything we saw during our short visits.

France has been good to me so far and I’m excited to see what else my time in Europe has in store. We’re currently on holiday for Toussaint two weeks and I’ll be heading to the Balkans tomorrow! I cannot WAIT to be back in Burek territory and I’ll definitely be blogging about my time there.

A bientôt !

Kanisha Lucille

 

SELMA

“They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities — but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.” – Barrack Obama