Thursday, October 15, 2015


 My second weekend in France I decided to cross the border and explore Geneva.
From where I live it's a ten minute drive to the train station and a ten minute train ride into the city. The original plan was to meet up with another au pair I'd met at school and take the bus into the city together. Some complications arose so we weren't able to go together but planned to meet up in Geneva later. The problem with that, which I failed to foresee, was that my phone doesn't work in Switzerland. More on that later.

So I figured out the way to the train station (couldn't use my GPS, because Switzerland) then figured out how to buy a train ticket successfully. The Coppet station is so small and rundown looking that I wasn't even sure I was in the right place initially. Fortunately, an Australian woman bought a ticket from the machine right behind me and was able to confirm that I had bought the correct ticket and to direct me to the correct platform.

Once I arrived in Geneva I realized the reality of my phone situation. It made for a frustrating start to my grand European Day-trip Adventure, not being able to reach my friend and realizing I was alone in a new city with a failed Plan A. After a moment of regrouping, I decided to walk around and find a good spot for a picnic lunch. Because food makes everything better.

 Look at that teeny tiny little baby door! It had to have been like five feet tall at the most.

 This is Lac Leman, also called Lake Geneva. The fountain in the middle is called Jet d'Eau and it's a cherished landmark in these parts. The weather was lovely - low 60's and sunny.

I had lunch in this little plaza around a beautiful monument. I didn't think to find out it's name, but I kind of took a selfie with it. This was my first solo trip while abroad and I sort of felt the need to snap a few pictures of myself just to prove I was there.
 This is a little walking bridge that passes under the larger vehicle bridge across the lake. There are a handful of these large construction cranes scattered across the horizon and they offer an interesting contrast to the aged facades of many of the buildings.

What up, American Steel? Way to represent. 


 After lunch I crossed to the other side of the lake and headed toward the Old Town.

I approached this church to read the signs on the outside. As I got closer I heard singing coming from the open door. I ventured inside and found an open-to-the-public concert. It was such a special moment! I took a little video. (let me know if it doesn't play, okay?)

 These fountains were all over the place.

 Shhh. You're so close. (get it?)

 Here's a mosaic of Neptune. Hey, Neptune.

This was one of my favorite streets. This part of the city got closer and windier the further up you went. I definitely daydream about having a little apartment in the Old Town and drinking my morning coffee while looking out one of these cute little windows. Naturally this apartment would be completely furnished from Ikea.

I love this patina.

Finally back at the train station. This is a toilet that costs 2 francs to use, in case you were wondering.

The train ride home. Even though I don't look it (dangit, resting-bitch-face) I had an awesome day. I was pretty beat!

This next photo is blurry because I'm an artist and this piece is entitled "train ride of destiny" and it symbolizes the human condition. Actually it's blurry because I'm not a good photographer and felt like a creep for taking a picture of that kid and his grandma. But it was supposed to be the mountains in the distance. Which you can't see anyways. So. Just know that the mountains are always there, everywhere you look. And it's amazing.

This trip was really special, not only because Geneva is a beautiful city, but because it entailed a lot of "firsts" for me. I figured out public transit (in a foreign country/language). I explored a foreign city completely alone. I didn't get lost! 

It made me feel both very small and very powerful. Being surrounded by strangers speaking a dozen languages other than my own, not knowing a soul for miles, was a pretty surreal experience. I wouldn't say I felt lonely exactly, but I felt like I needed a companion with whom to process the experience. To make it real. It almost felt like I needed someone with me to validate my experiences, like just my doing them didn't make them real enough. Plus, being completely isolated and surrounded by people who didn't know me or care that I was there or what I was doing made me feel very small and insignificant. It's a surreal feeling knowing all the people who care about you are thousands of miles away.

On the other hand, at the end of the day I felt like such a bad-ass for doing a hard thing and going it alone and making it out on the other side. It was the sum of many small achievements that were ultimately very empowering. I figured out public transit. I explored a new city alone. I enjoyed my own company. I spoke French! haha. I do my best to celebrate each small victory because each day brings new growth. It would be easy to focus on my shortcomings, all the things I don't know or can't do or all the words I can't say, but if I did that then I would never have victory because perfectionism doesn't allow you to celebrate anything until you've reached complete perfection - which of course is impossible. 

So I celebrate my small victories, and this weekend in Geneva was definitely a victory in my book. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Divonne: Week One

Wow! This week has been intense. But good.

After a mostly sleepless overnight flight I arrived in Geneva just in time to catch a mountain sunrise. The photos I tried to take don't do it any justice. Just know that it was pretty transcendent. Here's the first glimpse of sweet little Divonne.
Yep, mountains. Everywhere you look, we are surrounded by mountains. This is a new experience for me since Nashville's pretty flat, and MAN is it awesome! Every time I go outside I'm like "YOU GUYS, MOUNTAINS! LOOK! THOSE ARE THE FRIGGIN ALPS RIGHT THERE." Okay, so I don't actually say this to anyone, I just think it really loudly.
This is the view westward on the walk to the girls' school. When the sky is blue here it is BLUE.
This is to the north. This leads to the Jura mountain range.

And this is the view south. You guys. Those are the Alps.............. I can't believe this is my life.

This week has consisted of the kind hospitality of my host family, a stupor of jet lag, many new experiences, and so. much. French. I love French, and I'm so excited to learn it. They say that the best way to learn a new language is under stress, because your brain basically realizes your survival depends on how fast it can learn. Fortunately for me, both the parents speak English, however the girls do not. The urgency of my needing to be able to understand them is definitely stressful, and will hopefully speed up the process. We'll see. This is a new adventure for all of us! I don't think really there are shortcuts; I think the only way to really learn is by hard work.

On my second day I started driving! I was super nervous, mostly because I was still so jet-lagged that everything felt so surreal, like an avatar video game or something. Plus the temperature change (it's ranged from 65-45 degrees here) has been a shock to my system. I came over with a week-long cold already that I had hoped was going away, but the dang cough has lingered with a vengeance. But the driving went fine. It's fun to be driving with a manual transmission again. When I'm at home and thinking about going out, it's really intimidating. But once I'm in the car or out on the sidewalk I feel great. Each little trip is so empowering and enjoyable.

This weekend the family went to Paris to meet family and run errands, so I've spent the weekend relaxing (sleeping) and getting to know the town a little better. Friday night I went grocery shopping and made myself some chicken soup for dinner. Saturday I slept in (more sleeping) and basically spent the day skyping with my parents and friends. They really filled up my love tank and encouraged me to focus on the adventure (not the homesickness), and gave me some practical advice for how to address the culture shock.

Today I went to the Sunday market! It's like a cross between the farmer's market and the flea market, and it's lovely. I was too intimidated to take photos among the press of people, but maybe next week I'll have worked up the courage to do it. I did buy a rotisserie chicken! They roasted them right out on the street, the smell was so intoxicating. There were two street musicians, one of whom was playing an accordion. I was like SERIOUSLY DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH YOU ARE MAKING THIS AMERICAN GIRL'S DAY RIGHT NOW so I did take a video of them. I couldn't help myself.

So culture shock.
First of all, I didn't really expect to get it. I always thought culture shock only happened when the new culture was extremely different and unfamiliar, like a toilet that's a hole in the ground, or eating bugs, or not being able to read any street signs. Things like that. I didn't know that culture shock could look like everything being just enough different and there not being anything familiar onto which you can ground yourself. Honestly, I thought "they've got Coke and Disney and a dishwasher and they drive on the right side of the road so why would that shock me?" But I guess I never fully appreciated that it doesn't really matter whether you can read the road signs, the experience still requires some acclimation.

Like going from fresh water to salt water, changing cultures (um, and languages) is an IMMENSE transition that takes time. There are actually stages of culture shock! This is all news to me. My sweet friend, Christina, who moved to South Africa four months ago has been counseling me through this, having just gone through this acclimation process herself. I've always found it a little frustrating to be in the middle of process like this. To acknowledge "this is how I feel, and it's not great, but this has value and I will get through this." I would like to skip ahead to the part AFTER a growing season, to the part where I've acquired all that immense wisdom and life experience. I'm learning to have grace with myself and to allow myself to be kind of a mess. It's much easier to type that than to live it out.

Tomorrow I start my French class! It's in the next town over and the drive is beautiful. I'm praying expectantly to make some friends in this class (and also that my teacher is niiiiicccce). It will be weird going back to school. I've got pre-school butterflies and my new notebook (NEW NOTEBOOK) all ready to be filled with beautiful, well-ordered French language.

A Demain!