voulez vous du champagne?

Reims, oh Reims, why are you so amazing? I had a weekend full of food, fun, and champagne! What a life I have.

It started off with a bang, when once again, SNCF decided to throw us a curve ball by canceling our connecting train. What to do when you are stuck in a random small impoverished city in rural France with no hope of escape? Why, go into the nearest café and find someone sober to drive you Reims! Luckily a gentleman was kind enough to take us the rest of the way for only the price of gas. We made it to Reims and quickly devoured kebabs to pacify our sorrows.

Soon enough, we were safely in the hands of our Couchsurfing hosts. GG hosted Christine and I, and Thomas hosted L and R. We headed to a bar close by to taste the local beer! Many of the others in the couchsurfing circle in Reims joined us, which was lots of fun. We got along swimmingly with our hosts – it was so refreshing to meet such a friendly group of young French people.

The next day we took advantage of all Reims had to offer; we had a lazy lunch at a café in the sunshine, basking in the glory that is horrible customer service and sitting for hours around the table. After walking all around the center of town, we went inside the stunning cathedral. We all agreed that it was more beautiful than Notre Dame in Paris – there is even a vivid Chagall vitrine at the nave of the church. As the sun set over Reims, we sat on a bench and watched the sky turn shades of magnificent blues, oranges, pinks, and golds. GG came to meet us and take us to Happy Hour, where we discussed plans for an evening celebrating Halloween – in France!

After we made dinner for GG, the couchsurfers took us out dancing! We went to a bar ambiance – which was totally decked out for the Halloween. The V-crew (Verdun crew) got a little crazy; the overwhelming furor came over us when we saw crowds of people our age and heard good dance music. Classics such as MJ were played, French pop Discobitch, and the night ended with Frank Sinatra New York, New York, a personal favorite.

The next day we crawled out of bed, running around Reims with our rolling suitcases trailing behind us, rushing to get to the Mumm champagne house tour. The fact that it was daylight savings time got us all in a little tizzy, but we made it just the same. The maison was exquisite, and the champagne was delicious! We felt like stars as we sipped and laughed about our amazing and fabulous destin.

After a sad parting with our hosts, we (eventually) got home and went right to sleep – there is only so much fun a girl can handle after spending a month in Verdun.

Merci à GG et les autres pour un très beau séjour à Reims!

*Pictures copyright C and L*

les vosges

Last week in the Vosges, I cried many times.

The first time, I was at Julien’s house for dinner. After spending my first morning in the mountains pruning the lavender fields in the blissful October sunshine, and the afternoon crafting apple-pumpkin-ginger jam, I had worked up quite an appetite. Exhilarated by my first taste of life in plein nature, I was ready to relax.

Being my first official dinner invitation chez un francais I was a little nervous. But with  my hosts Guy, Solonge, and Tom by my side, their friends welcomed me with open arms. Over plusiers coups de champagne, Julien had us going. His animate personality was a perfect match for the kind and more introverted Dominique, his wife. After four hours at the table, a game of touche-moi-la-fesse got a little rowdy (don’t ask), and the music was turned on. It started with Dr. Dre, followed by Eminem, Nirvana, and eventually ABBA. By the time the air band got going, Dominique mistook Julien’s symbols for the triangle, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore; tears were streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard my belly hurt.

The second time I cried, I was on a quad, raging through the forest, dodging branches and plowing over potholes. I was holding onto Tom with all of my might, the wind whipping at my face so hard I could not hold back the tears. A rush of adrenaline poured over me, a we passed waterfalls and sweeping autumn cascades. A veteran driver of sixteen years, we even popped wheelies over the plains. Ca va?, he asked me. My laughter was my only response.

Then, came Into the Wild, film version. Curled up in the family room, we watched as Chris, the main character, traveled the country to find personal solitude. When he finally realizes that even amongst the most heavenly wildlife, even when one has created something out of nothing, one cannot be happy without anyone to share it with, tears dripped right into my steaming mug of thé, made with homemade sirop de menthe.

And of course, the onions. While working happily next to Solange, churning the apples from the garden to make fresh compote, she asked me if I wanted to cook something for them. I decided to make a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner for my hospitable French hosts. After a horrible explanation of pumpkin pie (it just doesn’t come in cans in France), I knew I had to whip up something good to destroy the American cliché. Guy had been chiding me all along, if it’s not ready by seven we’re going to a restaurant! he joked. I was taking my time, looking at the view as I slowly pieced together my American App-le Pie, twice baked sweet potatoes, green beans, and chicken. But those darn onions. When Tom offered to cut them, I happily conceded. But when it came time to put them on the stove, the heat got to me, and a little tear slipped out.

Brenna, what will you tell your family, that you cried the whole time you were in the Vosges?! Guy joked. Little did he know, I would.

The most lovely part about this little adventure was not the allure of a 400 year old stone house in the middle of the forest, because the isolated mansion is a little paradise in and of itself. But the sharing of moments; a mid-morning thesane break next to the fireplace, a mandatory apéro following a surprise visit from friends, a pair of slippers neatly placed outside your bedroom door. That warm welcome into another person’s life is something you won’t read in guide books, you can’t pay for at museums, and you won’t find in hotels.

Merci à Guy, Solange, et Tom pour une belle experience 🙂 Je  ne vous oublierai jamais.

la vie est belle

Stop! Look around. Are you running? Where are you going? Do you even know?

Have you heard the deafening silence of the forest? The sound of the stream flowing comfortably down the riverbed? Have you stood at the top of a mountain, and felt your insignificance against the vastness of the earth?

Do you find pleasure in small things? A little siesta after lunch? The faint taste of pine in your cup of tea? A kind gesture from a stranger? A horse walking gracefully through the fields?

Have you been alone? Alone enough where you can scream and no one can hear you? Disconnected from cell phones and blackberrys and internet and boys and work and school? Forced to be faced with your own thoughts?

Have you ever created something? Started from nothing and ended with pride and self-confidence? Done something you never thought you could do?

La vie est belle, non?

inner zen

After spending a week in the Vosges, I feel so incredibly refreshed and happy! I had an amazing, amazing, time there – it was difficult to leave. The family I stayed with was absolutely incredible, I will give many more details later…

In other news, I got my bike set up today! Not only does this mean shorter trips to the grocery store, but also something to do on my weekends in Verdun! Riding through the countryside! (Dad can you send me some of your spandex bodysuits??) Today I just rode my blue racing bike everywhere to show it off. Please leave comments with ideas for a fabulous French name. My friend’s bike is already called Bertrand, so you have to really get creative.

Tonight, I am headed off (midnight express thanks to the greve) to Reims, the capital of Champagne. Did you know that Reims is pronounced RANCE? With a powerful breathy French R? As in, rhyming with FRANCE! Oh silly French people J

I am actually braving another new method of unconventional travel; couch surfing. You know, when you sleep on a stranger’s couch, and in exchange you offer cultural exchanges through intellectual conversation, food, and fun!  Armed with Halloween goodies – maybe we’ll do a little champagne/candy pairing? I’m also hoping to sell my soul for a job as a tour guide in a champagne house this summer. A girls gotta have dreams!

I leave you with some tree-hugging-yoga-loving-green-crunchy-granola zen inspiration for your weekend, reflections of my trip. Don’t worry – my emo side only comes out to play when the sass is napping.

Peace, love, and bubbly!


the farmer in the dell??

On Friday, I gave my students some candy for Halloween, yelled Bonnes Vacances, and skipped merrily back home. It’s vacation time people! What? What’s that you say? I just started working three weeks ago? I couldn’t possible have a two week vacation ALREADY? Yes, yes, I know it’s unfair. But c’est la vie.

So what am I going to do on this vacation? Well, isn’t it obvious? Volunteer on a farm in les Vosges of course. I am living my dream (or maybe my pseudo-dream…if in my dream world I liked animals and became one with nature) and milking cows, making jam, and sleeping on haystacks. If I am lucky I will even get to make cheese!

For one week I will be living with a family on a farm; in exchange for a few hours of labor they will be providing me with food and lodging. They own a really charming bed and breakfast in the middle of a national park. Hopefully I will be speaking tons of French, gathering age-old family recipes, and hiking through the wilderness! I will just consider this week a time for investigative journalism.

Other plans for the vacation include sipping Champagne (in Champagne)! Due to the fact that I will be on a farm…in the wilderness…I won’t be able to update my blog. Don’t miss me too much while I’m gone! a bientôt…

life’s funny timings

I woke up around eight am, jumped out of my bed and into the cold, and set the kettle to brew some Saturday morning coffee. I was leaving Verdun for the day! Or so I thought. I couldn’t help pushing C out the door, I was just so excited to visit Metz! But, much to my dismay, I arrived at the train station and alas, there were no trains to Metz because of the strikes. Foiled again! Those persistent compatriots have really got it in for us!

Yet for some reason, I was more than disappointed about this particular snafu in my weekend plan. Sometimes it’s a weird trigger that reminds you, hey toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Except I wanted to take my sparkle-y red heels and chuck them at the ticket agent’s face.

Even when C bought my favorite, pain au chocolat, I could not get out of my funk. Even worse was a particularly upsetting phone call “reminding me” of my part-time work constrictions under my visa status. As I ran along the Meuse, watching the rowers glide through the water, a sadness came over me that can only be understood by fellow expats, that question inside of me doubting my own abilities (despite all the encouragement of family and friends). I hated my own negativity.

This morning, I woke up, a little less energetic, to brew my Sunday morning coffee. I trekked up the big hill to the Cathedral, in an attempt to bring myself to the one place that is constant no matter where in the world I am. During mass in the elegant, dignified, old crypt church, I watched as children played jokes during the sign of peace, smacking each other on the back and getting scolded by their parents. Ah…there’s no place like home.

I spotted one of my little students, D, after mass, and went to say hello to her. Her eyes lit up when she saw me – a teacher outside of school? – and I nodded a Bonne Dimanche to her mother. When I headed to pick up a baguette after mass, D’s mother saw me and asked me to lunch at her house. Even as my jaw dropped (has a stranger really just invited me into their home? In France?), I joyfully jumped into the car.

D’s parents introduced me to each little smiling, beautiful, daughter – five in total – as we headed to their house. I slowly took off my shoes and followed the sounds of giggling girls up the stairs, the smell of pot roast simmering in the oven. D’s dad a militaire, he took out a map and taught me a little about the history of Verdun, and soon we settled down to a deliciously French lunch. Homemade terrine de campagne with fresh baguette, boiled potatoes with pot roast and mustard, a fabulous cheese plate with a side of Merlot, yogurt, fruit, and of course, café. As the sun beamed in from the windows, we sat in the salon as I watched the girls color and play with their loving parents. D’s family offered more than a delectable and blissful Sunday afternoon. Their kind gesture to invite me into their home completely changed my outlook, and as I walked home I saw Verdun in a completely new (shiny) light. I am constantly amazed by life’s funny timings, by the fact that everything happens for a reason. As my friend L tells me, ca va aller, it will be alright. Thanks to my experience today, for once I can finally listen to her.