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Bastille Day August 9, 2012

Posted by unehistoireamericaine in Travel Log.
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Hello again! I’m back to write my final posts after a long break from posting.

This first one is about le 14 juillet (July 14th),France’s national holiday, also known as Kate’s last day in France not spent in an airport.

So, we had planned on waking up extra early and finding a good spot on the Champs-Elysees from which to watch the morning parade. However, we must have been more tired than we thought, because we all overslept our alarms!

Surprisingly, given all the warnings about the perils of sleeping in on Bastille Day, it actually worked out really well. Juliana, Courtney, and I staked out a nice spot along the Seine where we could sit down and wait for the parade to come to us.

The morning celebration was very patriotic with an air show featuring jets creating the French flag in the sky.

There were also lots of different types of soldiers that sang while marching (and who you could take pictures with):

And, just as we were leaving, they had four paratroopers fly overhead and land safely at the Place de la Concorde.

During the parade, we noticed another cultural difference between Americans and the French. Whereas Americans go crazy for national holidays, dressing up, cheering loudly, getting inebriated, etc., the French were subdued about their patriotism during the parade, clapping occasionally but exhibiting the same restraint and sombre dress as on any other day.

It was a somewhat different story during the amazing fireworks show on the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower. There was tons of cheering, dancing, singing, laughing, and the scent of illegal substances in the air as the French celebrated la Republique and disco classics.

The musical list for the fireworks show started off with “It’s raining men” and continued with “Funkytown”, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”, “You should be dancing” and, my favorite to watch, “Y M C A”. Another cultural lesson learned; Parisians love their disco.

It was a great way to celebrate our last night in Paris (our friend Ansley joked that the fireworks were our going away party).
Lucky for us though, more fun was in store. We knew that we needed to book it out of there to avoid the crowds, but even practically running to the metro station didn’t keep us from getting stuck in the HUGE mob trying to squeeze their way out of the area. The police were holding people back and everybody was pushing and stepping on toes, and it was overall a tad bit traumatizing. But, eventually we freed ourselves and, relieved, set out to our hostel.

I managed to take this picture from the second floor of the metro station-it was the craziest crowd I’ve ever seen!

Alright, I will back soon to write my last blog entry!


A little spontaneity never hurt anyone! August 9, 2012

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Hey everyone! I know I said I wouldn’t have much to write about this week, but I was wrong (it happens).  My roommates and I, thanks to the lovely spontaneity of Courtney, and our extreme aversion to studying for our exam today (which I still have to take the second part of…), decided to climb the Eiffel Tower last night.

Honestly, it was pretty much like this-we were sitting in our room in our hostel beginning to slowly pull out our books and all of our necessary study materials, when Courtney says (very assertively, I might add) “I’m gonna climb the Eiffel Tower. Y’all can come if you want, but I’m going”. All of sudden our room was a frenzy of activity with us changing shoes and clothes and getting ready to go.

We were super hyper on the way over and chatted with the ticket people, excited by our adventure and the beauty of the evening. We started the climb and, I don’t know if this was because we were so hyper or what, but it was not bad at all. Very very doable.

And, to make it even better, we saw a rainbow when we got to the top! I guess that icky weather we had that morning was a blessing in disguise.

I like to think it’s Paris’ way of saying goodbye to us. Or maybe to wish us luck on the exam?

These next few days will be pretty busy here. Tonight we’re eating at a fancy French restaurant, tomorrow we’re going to Sacre Coeur, then Saturday is Bastille Day-the day of the storming of the Bastille! This might be the last time I’m online until I get back home (sweet home) but I’ll be sure to do one last post when I get back. Have a lovely weekend, dear readership!

Hello Holland! August 9, 2012

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Last weekend, Courtney and I took a trip to the Netherlands. We were expecting the worst, but the Netherlands seemed determined to show us the best. The weather forecast said it would be rainy and cold (mid-60s is cold for us Georgia girls) the whole weekend, but we were blessed with warmth and sun. And, after our debacle trying to get to Klingnau (see post from June 25th), neither of us felt too confident in our ability to figure things out. Pessimists that we are, we left our hostel two hours before our train was scheduled to leave so that we would be prepared for any mishaps that might befall us. Just a little heads-up for those of you who have never traveled by train before (like us), train stations are nothing like airports. There is no security, no check-in, and practically nothing to do if you, like us, happen to get there early besides make faces at small children. Surprisingly though, the time went by very quickly and before we knew it we were boarding the train. I was super excited for my first long-term train ride, so of course I manifested my excitement by falling asleep within 3 seconds of the train leaving the station. Usually falling asleep while traveling is Courtney’s job, so we were both surprised at the soporific effect that train travel has on me. I can only hope that I did not sleep talk and disturb my fellow passengers (apparently I sleep talk? My roommates in Paris say that it’s quite amusing to hear me mumble).

Anyways, we arrived without incident in Rotterdam, the second biggest port in the world (after Singapore). It was pretty cute, Courtney, who is a 16th Dutch (her family comes from Indonesia which was colonized by the Dutch) was so excited to see all the Dutch people!

When we got to Delft, we had to take a taxi to Courtney’s relatives’ house. We were a little scared of taking a taxi, especially since a friend of ours on our program got robbed by her taxi driver in Paris, but the only thing scary about our taxi driver was how fast he drove and how loud his techno music was. When we got there, their house was very cute, narrow and tall with a pretty garden looking out on the canal.

On Friday, we went to Amsterdam on the train, where we learned that Dutch trains are not nearly as punctual as Swiss trains. Luckily, we were in  no hurry so were not bothered by the 30 minute delay. We got to Amsterdam and decided to go to the famous Rijksmuseum. There were so many beautiful paintings, but my very favorite were the pottery made in Delft.

So without further ado, here is an example of the beautiful Delftware I saw!

After our museum adventure, we decided to take a canal ride. I was somewhat wary of the canals after hearing adamant assertions of their odor, but they smelled fine to me. I had some trouble taking pictures in the boat because of the glass roof, but the captain let me sit on the steps and stick my head out the window. Although I felt a bit like a dog on the highway, it was much prettier outside.

After our busy day in Amsterdam, we went back to find a delicious Indonesian feast waiting for us, with all kinds of filling, spicy treats.

On Saturday, Courtney’s second cousins, who are 5 and 7 years old came for a visit and we had a great time exploring the town of Delft (where Vermeer, the Dutch painter lived and died) and tasting the local delicacies.

My personal favorite were poffertjes, little pancakes served with butter, cream, powdered sugar and strawberries. Apparently Bill Clinton ate two platefuls when he visited Delft, as everyone who knew we were American was quick to tell us.

I felt slightly less guilty about eating something so indulgent for lunch with all the energy I spent playing with Courtney’s cousins who were extremely hyper, and did not speak a word of English. It was kind of funny how frustrated the little boy was with me when I failed to understand his instructions when we were playing with legos at the house. He obviously thought I was an imbecile (what full grown adult doesn’t understand Dutch??) and when I made something that passed his approval, his surprise was extremely obvious when he said “Dit is goed”. Even though they thought we were rather dim-witted, they were very sad when they had to go, and sweetly asked when we were coming back.

Here’s a picture of them standing in a giant shoe (of course).

Note: I am holding the boy’s arm so that he can balance, not in any kind of malicious manner.

Wow, sorry for the how long that post was!

Probably won’t be much to write about for a while as I am little under the weather(just bought a whole bag of oranges from the supermarket, no worries) and will be busy studying for our final this week! Enjoy the heat for those in the U.S.!

Just Vosging Around August 9, 2012

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One of my favorite things to do in Paris (especially when I’m feeling stressed out after a long day of class) is to lay out in the Place des Vosges. It’s right in the center between our classroom and our hostel, so on the way back to the hostel, we can just collapse on the soft grass, do a little people watching and gaze at the proud, ancient buildings which encircle us and frame the sky. 

The composition of the people visiting the Place des Vosges is diverse, but each group brings something to the table.

The crowd can be divided as follows:

50 % hipsters

The hipsters are generally young, French, and pass their time lounging, smoking, drinking, eating, and occasionally engaging in PDA (while wearing horizontal stripes and  plenty of black, of course). Last Wednesday, I was sitting next to a group that sang American folk songs with a guitar and a tambourine. I was so amused by their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “House of the Rising Sun”, where they knew about 6 of the words, and either made-up or just moaned the rest, that they gave me a little encore. From my observations, I determined it does not take much to win the hipster’s favor. One must simply affect the relaxed, couldn’t care less attitude that is standard here, or even better have a light to offer when the smoking hipsters make their rounds, cigarette in hand.

30% small children

The small children tend to treat the Place des Vosges as their personal playground. They seem convinced that the fountains, sand, and even birds have been placed there for their enjoyment. They never hesitate to frolic in germ-filled sand boxes with other diaper clad children, and to fill any available container with water from the fountain to dump on themselves and the germ-filled sand.

20% tourists

Although I have no pictures of the tourist inhabitants (other than of myself, I guess), they are easily identifiable with maps, backpacks, tennis shoes, cameras, sunglasses, and shorts (unfortunately for them, it is rarely shorts weather here). They walk into the Place des Vosges with an expectant air, looking for something to do, or plaques to read. Their manner demands explanation, some marker that reassures them, yes this is historical, yes this is important, yes you are here. It is easy for me to recognize this expectation, as I have often felt it myself.  They take pictures, and, those who are the most prepared find the information they are searching for in their guidebooks. From listening, I learned that the Place des Vosges was once a site for royal jousting, until one king (don’t ask me which!) was killed there and his wife, the Queen, forbade it in the square.

Anyways, I realize this is a slightly atypical post, but I feel like it gives a little slice of Parisian life. Stay tuned for my upcoming post about my adventures in the Netherlands!

My wonderful weekend! August 9, 2012

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Last Saturday, we woke up super early (waking up before 7 am should be illegal in the summer) to catch a train to Vernon to go see Claude Monet’s house and garden. The train left St. Lazare station at 8:20 and, as the earliest breakfast possible was at 7:30, we did not have high hopes that we would be able to catch the train. Miraculously our metro ride to St. Lazare got us there with just enough time to get our tickets and hop on the train which was crowded with tourists (of course).

<- The beautiful French countryside

Because we are cheap, young, and adventurous, we opted to not pay the 6.50 euros for a bus ride from Vernon (where the train station was) to Giverny (where Monet’s house is). So we walked the 4 mile trek to the gardens, which was actually incredibly pretty. We walked along the Seine for a while then through the trees and along pretty trees, streams, mountains, and a random farm where we saw huge, terrifying ostriches.

We got to his gardens and were blown away by the extent of his gardens. From eavesdropping on a guided tour in front of us, I learned that when Monet came there was only a meadow and a stream, and he created all of the beauty that one thinks of when you think of his paintings.

I wish I had some pictures of the inside of his house to show you. It was  an explosion of bright colors. His kitchen was a sunny, bright yellow which looked so perfect with the view of his gardens outside. I definitely got some inspiration for decorating my apartment next year from the simplicity and beauty of his estate.

When we got back to the train station at around 2:30, we were alarmed to hear that there was some kind of problem with the track. We had to switch trains at another station, but it was not a major inconvenience. We ended up on the train that the locals take into Paris so we met some young french girls who sat next to us and we chatted for a while. They seemed surprised and intrigued by our American-ness, which doesn’t ever happen in Paris.

Sunday was also wonderfully busy, we visited the Luxembourg gardens, saw an organ concert at Saint Suplice and visited the Musee Rodin.

I will leave you with a picture of me and The Thinker. Have a great week!

A Busy Bee in Paris August 9, 2012

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Wow, what a crazy week! Can’t believe my last post was about Switzerland-I’ve got a lot to catch up on.  This week we had a lot of excursions. On Tuesday, we went to the Musee d’Orsay in the morning. I loved the building (it was an old train station) and discovered that I am a big fan of huge paintings of people looking sad in the countryside (if I was more of an art-buff I could give you the name of the genre). I saw lots of famous paintings and sculptures, including some by Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, and Degas. All in all, I found them compelling, but almost too lovely. It’s hard for me to believe that there was a time when everything looked so soft and sweet.

Anyways, after that we headed to the Saint-Michel area to watch the play “La Cantatrice chauve” by Lonesco. The theater where we went to see it has been playing it nonstop for the past 50 years! Needless to say, the actors were absolutely perfect at it. The play is a sort-of absurd comedy mocking the British bourgeois. It was the perfect choice for students studying french; there was lots of repetition, the plot was simple (but ridiculous), and the words were clearly spoken. I had a marvelous time, and am tempted to go back to the theater to see another one of Ionesco’s works!

Finally, we headed back to the Marais, near where we are staying, for dinner. I’m pretty sure we had dinner in the gay quarter, as we listened to disco music (on a loop) for a solid three hours. Despite having ABBA stuck in my head (not that I really minded), we had a nice, leisurely french meal.

Thursday we had another outing, this time to La Defense, the commercial and business center of Paris. We saw the Grande Arche de la Defense, which is in a line with the Arc de Triomphe. During the Franco-Prussian war, la Defense was the area where the French held off the Prussians (La Defense=the defense).

<-Me with my promotional waterbottle.

On a more materialistic note, La Defense is also home to the biggest shopping center in Europe. And we were there for the beginning of the biggest sales event of the year-Les Soldes! I was proud of myself for my restraint, however I did buy a purse (7.50 euros) and a long t-shirt/dress (15 euros).

After we got our fill of shopping, Courtney and I decided to get off the metro early and hit some major sites (especially because we just learned how the city is laid out). We got off at Arc de Triomphe, walked down the Champs-Elysees, walked to the Eiffel Tower, walked through the Tuilieres gardens, walked through the Louvre, walked down Rue de Rivoli, then ran (we were late to dinner) through Saint Paul to our hostel. Our 7.5 mile jaunt left us exhausted but very satisfied.

Alright, that’s it for last week, but the weekend is yet to come! Stay tuned, mes amis.

Klingnau, Switzerland-my home away from home August 9, 2012

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Last week was pretty rough because we had our cumulative midterm on Thursday. Apparently it covered over a 1,000 vocabulary words…needless to say we were studying hard, and everyone was very excited once we finished with it. Courtney and I had planned a trip to Klingnau, Switzerland, about an hour away from Zuerich, to visit some of her relatives. So, we hopped on the RER B (a regional Parisian train) to Charles de Gaulle. We had flown in there from Atlanta, but we hadn’t gotten a chance to explore and we got quite excited about the bathrooms and the  tubes that allow you to travel between different part of the airport. Anyways, we were quite hyper until we had to wait, and wait, and wait at our gate. Our flight, which was supposed to leave at 8:20-already a bit late at night, did not leave until 9:45.

<-We really liked the restrooms at Charles de Gaulle

Because we are easily appeased, we quickly forgot our anger with Swiss Internacional when they gave us delicious Swiss chocolates.

Unfortunately, all of the trains that we were planning on taking from Zuerich to Klingnau had of course already left. So there we were, not speaking a word of German, trying to navigate the regional trains of Switzerland at 12:00 at night. We ran around various train station like chickens with our heads cut off-eventually we made the right connections to end up at the small town of Turgi. Unfortunately when we got there, the train station was deserted and we stumbled around underground and finally spotted a bus that was just about to leave.  We booked it as fast as two reasonably unfit students carrying 30 pounds of stuff on their backs can, and we caught up to this man putting his bicycle on the bus. He was talking to the bus driver in furious Swiss German and kept pointing at us. At this point, we were just wanted to get out of that bus station so much that we did not care in the slightest who this man was. Finally he turned to us and asked, “Ver are yew going”. We told him, and hopped on the bus, thanking everyone profusely and exchanging nervous, terrified looks with each other.

We arrived at Dottingen, so happy to be there that we waved goodbye to the only other people around. Once again, there we were, completely alone at a bus station, only this time there was no bus around to come save us. As it was 1:45 in the morning (about 3 hours later than we told Courtney’s family to pick us), and we had woken up early, had a midterm that day, and desperately needed to use the restroom, we probably sounded a bit hysterical when we called Courtney’s family on a pay phone.

<-The bathrooms were locked.

Luckily for us, we were staying with possibly the nicest family in all of Europe. As soon as we got to their house, we were greeted with European kisses on the cheeks, warm beds, and our favorite words in the English langauge, “Let me fix you something to eat”.

<-Our tablecloths, so cute!

Our days in Switzerland passed in a sort of relaxing bliss of food, company, and incredibly beautiful scenery. We ate an alarming amount of Swiss bread, cheese, meat, and of course chocolate. But, we could justify our extreme consumption with how much we loved walking around the ridiculously scenic town of Klingnau where her family lives, and wading in the bright blue waters of Lake Zuerich.

It was so nice to bask in the Swiss sunshine. I definitely hope I get the chance to return!

Oslo-not like Paris August 9, 2012

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Hello! For the long weekend, 7 of us from my study abroad group went to Oslo, Norway. Since this blog is about Paris, and my experiences there, I thought I could tell you about my (amazing!) time here in Norway by comparing it to France (where I have had an absolutely incredible time so far).

Okay, let’s begin!

The People: First of all, Norwegians can be very very blonde. I have literally never seen people this blonde naturally in my entire life. As a result, I took a lot of stalker pictures. But, what surprised me about Oslo was how many people didn’t look traditionally Norwegian, but were integrated and accepted into Norwegian culture (spoke the language, hung out with the extremely blonde, etc.). For example, one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far happened yesterday when I, along with thousands of others, witnessed Aung San Suu Kyi get honored for her Nobel Peace Prize. It was awarded to her in 1993, but she was in house arrest due to her efforts fighting for human rights in Burma. She recently got released and came to Oslo as her first stop abroad because of the support the Norwegians have shown for the Burmese human rights movement. The ceremony was moving and celebratory. She lighted the peace flame with Norwegian children, and gave a speech where she said Norwegians would always be welcome in Burma.

It was so incredible to be there, surrounded by people come from Burma and all over Norway who look so different, but are so close together in their hearts. Afterwards, we went to a festival celebrating all the different cultures that lived in Norway. It was a wonderful day, but I kept thinking, this would never happen in France. It’s not that the French are exclusive or against world peace; it’s just that, as far as I have seen, they don’t have the Norwegian welcoming spirit. They want France to be filled with the French-they want to keep their culture alive and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Norway (meaning every Norwegian I saw or talked to) wanted Norway to be filled with all types of people. They cared about keeping their culture alive, but they also believed that it would be enriched by the influences of others.

Here are some Norwegian children learning to salsa at the cultural festival.

Well, I was going to go on about how beautiful Norway can be (and how finicky the Nordic weather gods are), about how modern and breathtaking their architecture is, or how much I like fjords (a lot) but I said what I think is most important.  Norway is filled with beautiful, friendly people and I do not blame Aung San Suu Kyi in the slightest for picking it as the first place to visit once she was released from imprisonment (although I would have a very tough time picking between it and Paris).

Anyways, I’m back to Paris tomorrow which I am very excited about (especially because all of my French leaked out of my head-although I can say thank you in Norwegian). I hope you enjoyed this brief digression from the regularly scheduled Parisian themed blogging and have a wonderful day!

Le Week-End à Paris August 9, 2012

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Hello again!

Since the days during which we have class are pretty long, we usually have three day weekends. This means that we had last Friday to ourselves. One of my roommates organized a little day trip to Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th arrondissement-it’s where Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde are buried, along with countless others. After walking around for a while, we were all in quite a reflective and reverent mood.

On a less reverent note, outside the cemetery, I used the facilities for the first time. I found them delightfully futuristic. Inside the cubicle, there was a female robotic voice who instructed you on how it works, and afterwards the toilets were automatically cleaned. All in all, the experience was much less traumatic than I was expecting.

After that, we headed back to the Marais (our quartier) and Courtney and I did some exploring while the weather was nice.

We found this beautiful garden along the Seine by the Bastille.

We also saw all of these pretty bridges-and incoming rain clouds….

Of course, it started to pour right when we realized we didn’t know where we were-and Courtney didn’t have an umbrella! We saw all the Parisians (smartly) taking shelter under awnings while we blindly marched around in the rain. As soon as our hostel was in sight, the rain stopped. But, I have to say that I love Paris in the rain.

That night, we met the daughter of one of my dad’s work friends. She took us to the Saint-Michel quarter, where a lot of young people like to go on the week-ends. We met two of her friends and went to a club where there were mostly girls having fun and dancing. They also gave you sparklers in your fruit drinks!

Saturday morning,we went to an antiques market in Saint Paul, a little town area one street over from us. There we found an amazing assortment of stuff from all epoques and styles. Also fun (and challenging) was haggling in French-but we persevered. Hayden bought a beautifully detailed ring and I got a pair of sixties clip-on earrings (my ears aren’t pierced) for 4 euro.

Every booth was like this-beautiful old things as far as the eye can see.

My earrings-which I love!

Saturday night we met up with Hayden’s friend who usually lives in Bordeaux but who was visiting Paris for the week-end. His English left something to be desired, so after a little bit of a misunderstanding (his text said “meet in front of de building”  without specifying which building…), we met him at the Gare Montparnasse. We boarded a train to a suburb on the outskirts of Paris, Clamart, where his apartment was located. There was a beautiful view of the Eiffel tower, and we had a very nice night eating cheese, tomatoes, and talking in French on out his balcony. After a while, it was not that difficult at all to understand each other-though he did tease us for our thumbs-ups and frequent usage of the word “cool”.

Here we are at the train station in Clamart. If you look closely, you can see I’m wearing my new earrings!

The Eiffel Tower was on the other side, but I quite like the view of all the little houses.

Sunday morning, we were (understandably) tired, so we did some studying and had escargot for the first time. It was so garlic-y and butter-y and delicious! I liked it so much I want to learn how to cook it-and that’s saying something with my habitual aversion to domestic activities.

Finally, I finished off a great weekend by sitting by the Seine reading my book!

Expect to hear about the AMAZING concert I saw at Sainte Chapelle last night and about Versailles (we’re going there tomorrow) in Thrusday’s installment.

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Settling in to life in Paris August 9, 2012

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So, when I left you (and contact with the world outside Paris), I was headed to Magnificat, a concert at Notre Dame. The concert was heavenly classical choral music, and with the acoustics in the Notre Dame sounded downright otherworldly. I can only dream what it must have been like for the first Parisians to go to church in such a magnificent, grand building. If I about fell down looking up at those huge ceilings and spires and gargoyles, imagine what it would feel like when you would have seen nothing on that scale in your whole life.

After the concert, it started raining (of course), but we all felt quite happy and Parisian with our umbrellas walking the streets of Paris in the rain.

Thursday, we had a class trip to the Louvre scheduled. We had quite a few adventures on the way there. We took the Metro, and one of my roommates, Juliana got left on the platform as our train took off! Well, we were all like chickens with our heads cut off and I couldn’t help but notice that all the french people in the vicinity were laughing at us quite merrily. Then, we got to the next stop, and our French teacher got off to get on the next train with Juliana-but of course, the train doors closed before she could tell us what stop we were getting off at. Everyone was totally frazzled, but eventually we got off at the stop and everything worked out fine. Then, while we were walking by the Louvre, my friend Hayden, who was wearing a very pretty white dress stepped over an air vent and got a very unpleasant Marilyn Monore-esque surprise! All and all, we were in a jovial mood when we got to the Louvre.

The Louvre was huge and so engrossing! But don’t worry, I saw the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo (though I found both mildly underwhelming). I especially enjoyed the paintings from the 18th century that were kind of quirky or had weird little stories associated with them.

That night, we all went out to dinner at this wonderful little french restaurant. The food was incredibly yummy! I had rabbit in this sauce that I want to bottle up and pour on everything I eat.

So good!

So, this whole post was only about Wednesday and Thursday! I will have to talk about the rest of the weekend tomorrow-it  is so strange having so much to do and such little time to talk about it!