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

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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

I’M MOVING TO FRANCE | TAPIF

For years and years, I’ve been talking about moving to France and one sunny Monday afternoon that dream slowly started to turn into a reality.

Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) is a program sponsored by the French Ministry of National Education that brings Americans over to assist in English classrooms. I first learned about TAPIF as a junior in high school after googling: “Things you can do with a French major.” TAPIF sounded like my dream job, I mean, who doesn’t want to be paid to live in France for 7 months? Even though I didn’t end up pursing a major in French, I still knew that one day I wanted to do this program so I applied during my last year of college.

I worked and stressed for months over my application and then anxiously waited for months until decisions came out. Eventually, after being waitlisted for a month I received my placement! I was just about to take a nap since I had been up since 6 AM for my early morning French Phonetics exam earlier that day when I got an email from the Embassy and absolutely FREAKED out.

by the beach

Besançon wasn’t on my preference list but I’m so excited to live somewhere new and learn all I can about the city’s history and culture. I wanted to be placed somewhere that was somewhat close to Paris (I’ll be a two and a half hour train ride away) but still small enough to where I wouldn’t be surrounded by English speakers. Even though I’ll be there as an English teaching assistant, I really want to work on my French and hopefully reach a higher level of fluency!

I know I just said the word excited but I truly am so EXCITED to start this journey and to blog all of it!

Until the next post,

Kanisha Lucille

Photo Gallery: Paris, Je t’aime

 

I was originally going to write this in French until I realized I can’t even express how much I love Paris in English let alone another language. I got the chance to go to Paris during the Summer of 2015 and it was everything I had imagined and more. Some of the pictures in this gallery are from Normandy which was equally as beautiful.

 

À bientôt ma belle Paris!

BELGRADE

After a 18 hours of flying, we finally made it to Belgrade in the early evening. We were originally supposed to have a group dinner together at a traditional Serbian restaurant but after 12 pieces of lost luggage and hours of waiting at the airport, everyone was just ready to go to the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Slavija which is an old Soviet style hotel with a certain charm and character that you can’t quite understand until you stay a night there.

We unpacked quickly because we were all starving and ventured out into the city to find something to eat. Of course, since it was out first night in a new country we wanted to try something typically Serbian but once the sky showed that it was about to pour rain, we settled for a simple American style hamburger. This was our first experience with the language barrier that we would be dealing with for the next two weeks. Since none of could actually read what came on any of the burgers we all ordered by faith and just hoped for the best. Like I said, we were beyond hungry so we would’ve eaten anything at that point. Our burgers weren’t bad but they didn’t come with anything on them and in typical American fashion, we asked for ketchup right away.

Since everyones sleep schedules were messed up, we all woke up pretty early. Instead of trying to fall back asleep, a group of us went to find the one thing all tired travelers need…COFFEE. We found the cutest coffee shop on accident called Pizza del Caffe that soon became our favorite spot. We walked in and and we so surprised to find such a chill atmosphere. Oh and the high speed wifi was also a plus. At first, we were all going to order a basic drink but thanks to someone asking what a drink was on the menu we all became OBSESSED with the Cappuccino Med Pomordranza- an orange honey cappuccino.

Next up was our sight seeing tour of Belgrade. The first stop was The Church of Saint Sava which is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. We went on a good day because there was some sort of performance going on with a lot of cute dancing children so it was a nice glimpse of Serbian religious culture!IMG_4196IMG_4213IMG_4216IMG_4199Processed with VSCO with v5 preset

After this we took a short lunch break and my friends and I went to a place called Burrito Madre. It was essentially a Serbian Chipotle but much much MUCH cheaper and I’m sure a a lot healthier. We continued our sightseeing by walking to Sava River. The view was so gorgeous especially since it was right in the middle of the day.

From the Sava River we walked to the Belgrade Fortress AKA where everyones new Facebook profile pictures were taken. The view from the fortress was amazing! The sky was so blue and clear so you could see for miles and miles.

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We ended the day by walking around the city to Knez Mihailova which is the fancy shopping street and then went to dinner at a traditional Serbian restaurant. They brought out HEAPS of food so all of the many miles of walking we did all day was worth it.

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Our second day in Belgrade we went to the Palace of Serbia and had a tour of all of the different rooms. We also spoke with some people from the Ministry of Youth and Sport about different programs that Serbia has to keep its youth engaged and learned more about Serbian life from the governments perspective. We also went to the National Bank of Serbia and got a tour of the museum. No pictures were allowed but if you’re ever in Serbia I would definitely recommend going! I never knew the history of currency and the Serbian economy could be so interesting.

We finished the day with dinner on the river and while we had a lot of struggles ordering food since we didn’t know Serbian and the waiter didn’t know English, in the end we all enjoyed our meal. It really served as a reminder of the importance of having some basis of a country’s language before you visit. It’s easy to assume that someone somewhere will always speak English which is true in most places, but it’s always best to be prepared  to tackle the language barrier.

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On our way walking back to the place where we got taxis, we passed a skatepark with this on the opposite side. For some reason, it took me by surprise that Serbian teens were so much like Americans when it comes to the different social scenes and pastimes, especially with something as niche as skateboarding. IMG_4296

We left Belgrade for a week to go live with our host families in different cities but we came back and spent some more time in the city afterwards. We went to our favorite coffee shop one last time and ended up at the Museum of Yugoslavia. I definitely went crazy with how many pictures I took there so I’ll post those in a separately. One of the things I loved most about Belgrade was all of the graffiti around the city! I know very few Serbian words so I’m not sure if any of these walls say explicit things but let’s hope they don’t! IMG_4405IMG_4406

This piece of Serbian flag colors was one of my favorites because of how simple yet powerful it was. One thing I learned about Serbians is that they are super proud to be Serbian and they know a lot about their history and language. There’s such a rich and long history of Serbia and its people and they take pride in their culture and are so ready and willing to share it with anyone who is interested. Anytime I asked a question about something that happened in Serbia or the surrounding area recently or thousands of years prior, someone had an in depth answer. IMG_4410

I can’t wait to go back to Belgrade because there’s so much more I wanna see and so much more food I wanna eat!

-Kanisha Lucille