La Petite Ville des Quatre Saisons

One of my most memorable excursions from Bordeaux includes a sunny day spent in Arcachon, France. Arcachon is a charming little village along the southern Atlantic coast nestled in Le Bassin d’Arcachon. Coined La Petite Ville des Quatre Saisons, this fishing village is a favorited destination among the locals of Bordeaux. Only an hour long train away, Arcachon makes for a lovely single day well-spent for international students. Featuring oysters, sand, and humble aesthetics, Arcachon will have you breathing easy between studies.

For your connivence, I offer a simple itinerary to guide your travels. This itinerary combines my own time spent in Arcachon as well as other experiences of my fellow étudiants étrangers.

Arcachon Itinerary

8:00AM Train Departure from Gare St. Jean | Start your travels early, morning birds, and make the most of your day. Tickets can be purchased last minute, hassle-free at station kiosques for just over 10.00€

9:00AM Train Arrival in Gare Arcachon | Simply board the shuttle for a mere 1.00€

10:30AM Brunch Atop La Dune du Pilat | Treat yourself to a pique-nique of bread, jam, and cheese after conquering the barefoot trek up Europe’s tallest sand dune. Sunbathe at the peak, or tumble down the slopes towards La Plage de la Corniche. Whichever you choose, the view is spectacular and free of charge! Return to the city center by shuttle or by bike. 

2:00PM Stroll the Streets of Le Ville d’Hiver | Arcachon is known for its unique division of districts, each one representing a season. Make your way to the central coast by starting further inland. Find your way through Winter Town’s maze of leafy streets. The unique architecture of Winter Town is a free attraction in itself, but if time permits, visit Parc Mauresque or the Sainte-Cécile Observatory.

4:00PM Golden Hour in Le Ville d’Été | Just a few short blocks from Winter Town is Summer Town, the heart of Arcachon. Pop in one of the many boutiques or saunter down the boardwalk. Finish with a perfectly lit photoshoot at the end of one of Arcachon’s many piers. 

6:30PM A Dinner of Oysters Galore | Follow your nose to a restaurant for an early bird dinner. Taste the Arcachon specialty: oysters. Lovers of seafood will be amazed by the spread of freshly caught fish. Le Pitt and Le Cabestan come highly recommended.

8:30PM Train Departure from Gare Arcachon | Arcachon’s station closes sooner than you’d think, so be sure to catch the last train to Bordeaux! 

Bay views over the Great Dune of Pilat

Qu’est-ce que la bise?

As an international student and a foreign traveler, it’s important to be familiar with local customs and traditions. One of the more culturally unique customs of France is la bise: the common greeting gesture of a simple, bright *smooch* against one’s cheek. 

This gesture is an essential part of la vie en France. It’s how the French greet their nearest and dearest and even how they approach their newest acquaintances. La bise is often portrayed and romanticized in cult classics and French cinema. So, it’s not an unfamiliar concept. Perhaps you’re thinking, “After all, if Audrey Tautou can fait la bise, why can’t I?”

For an additional pinch of complexity, the details of la bise vary across France. To master la bise, you should become familiar with the specific etiquette followed by the locals of your particular region. In some cities, folks lean toward the right cheek, in others, folks lean to the left. In some cities one kiss is placed, other cities go so far as to place four. It all depends on the region. For your convenience, I offer the details of my experience with la bise in Bordeaux. This includes regional specific instructions as well as my own personal words of advice. 

In actuality, the concept of la bise is trickier to grasp than you’d imagine. In fact, it’s frequently a cause of culture shock among foreigners. Many find la bise to be too intimate of a gesture in relation to the casual manner in which it’s used. 

La Bise in Bordeaux: Instructions

In Bordeaux, you begin by placing your right hand on your opposite’s right shoulder so as to firmly ground yourself. Gently place your right cheek against your opposite’s right cheek, making a *smooch* sound before switching to to place your left cheek against your opposite’s left cheek, following with another *smooch* sound. After my many awkward attempts before mastery, I share with you six areas of advice: 

  1. La bise is not a cheek kiss. Your lips should never touch your opposite. There should only be cheek-on-cheek contact.
  2. La bise is traditionally practiced between pairs of two women and pairs of one man and one woman. Men traditionally greet one another with a handshake.
  3. Following the rules of the T – V distinction is a good rule of thumb when deciding who to greet with la bise. Those who you address tutoyer, fais la bise! Those who you address vouvoyer, ne fais pas de la bise!
  4. When in doubt, take it slow and steady with deliberate movements. You don’t want your lips, your hands, or your head (yes head, I’ve accidentally knocked skulls with someone) to accidentally fall somewhere else. 
  5. The sound of your *smooch* should be loud. La bise is just plain weird if it’s not audible.
  6. If you’re truly not comfortable with la bise, know that a handshake is a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’ve adored adopting the gesture of la bise to greet my close, personal friends. However, as someone who is more physically reserved, I find la bise very uncomfortable in the early stages of relationships, especially with men. Often, men have attempted to pressure me into la bise. This has actually been the cause of quite the controversy concerning the etiquette of this gesture. Given my own unpleasant experience, I felt it was imperative to share with any other fellow female travelers that, even as a foreigner, you are by no means required to practice la bise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the argument, “Oh, but you want to be as the French, non?” Oof… in short, I’ve found insisting on a handshake diffuses the situation with ease.

All in all, I very much recommend trying your hand at la bise while in France. With practice, this greeting can become a noteworthy achievement of your French cultural emersion. But remember, you must find your own personal balance between new and exciting foreign customs and your own native customs.

PSA: It’s YOUR Study Abroad

Choosing to study abroad is scary regardless of how many people will tell you it is the opportunity of a lifetime. Most of the people that you will talk to haven’t been in your shoes and therefore, they don’t necessarily understand the complex emotions that might come with leaving home. It is very important to keep in mind that this is your experience and it doesn’t have to meet anyone’s expectations but yours.

Not everything is going to go right. You might decide on a location just to find out that they don’t have your program or you might find the perfect flight just to refresh and realize that it is suddenly $1,000 more expensive than it was 5 minutes ago. It is going to be fine. There are so many thing that you have to get in order before you are ready to go abroad. Don’t let one thing deter you from having a positive outlook on the experience.

Finally, consider what YOU want. You can ask the opinion of everyone that you know but this is ultimately your trip and you won’t be happy if you do what you are told rather than what you are comfortable with. If money is the problem, apply for scholarships. If your family isn’t on board, explain to them how important this is to you. Everything will fall in place if you listen to what you want.

What I Wasn’t Told To Expect

There are a lot of things that you plan for when you know that you are going to live in another country for any period of time. You plan out how to get cash in the proper currency before arriving. You plan to say goodbye to your friends and family for a bit. You do not plan where you’re going to buy your pillow that first night.

I arrived to my accommodation knowing that there were many essentials that I was going to have to purchase. I think that just comes with the fact that you are expected to pack 5 months worth of items in 50 pounds or less in order to get here in the first place. I knew that I was going to need bedding, towels, kitchen essentials, shampoo, etc. I did not know that I was going to go to three stores and none would have a duvet that would fit my bed. The first night I slept with the smallest blanket that only covered my feet and arms at the same time if I curled into a ball. Scotland is not a warm country either and I sure was reminded of that fact throughout the night. The moral of the story is that even though that night sucked, I work up the next day and figured it out. Even if one night isn’t the best, get up the next day with a good outlook. I figured somewhere had to have a single duvet and I just needed to find that place.

What I also wasn’t exactly expecting was the fact that when I did happen to find the duvet, I was going to have to walk with it all the way back to the accommodation. In the US we really take our cars for granted. If something is over 10 minutes away we will drive. In most European countries, people walk everywhere. It is normal to have a 30-40 minute walk in the cold and think nothing of it. This includes when you go shopping for clothes, groceries, or even a duvet. I am under the strong belief that this completely sucks but you get used to it rather quickly.

Also they make you pay for bags and to go coffee cups because the environment is important to them. So bring your own if you don’t want the extra charge. I had so many TJMaxx reusable bags that would have saved my life (and wallet) if only I had thought to bring them to Europe.

Finally, Scotland is windy, hilly, and my favorite place on Earth. That’s that.

Stereotypes that Europeans Live Up To

Everyone hates stereo types, even Americans, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Before making my first trip over the big pond, the only thing I could do was believe the stereotypes of different countries because that was all I knew. Much to my dismay, they aren’t always right… shocking, I know. However, of course, sometimes they are true, and it just becomes something to laugh about with new friends I make. Therefore, I decided it was only necessary to talk about what I have observed with the people I have met!

***disclaimer: these are just observations of people I have met and gotten to know, take all of this with a grain of salt***

Americans love to party.

First, we will start with the American stereotype. As I did my research for this post, I asked all the people I have met what their stereotype for Americans was. The resounding answer was that we love to party, which I can’t say isn’t true. Just as every other stereotype, there are people who don’t match this description, but let me just leave it at this – New Years’ Eve, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, and Christmas.

Germans love beer.

This was quite comedic to me because where I am from in Northern Kentucky, we are just a bunch of German Catholics who love to drink beer and have beer fests (in Cincinnati). Of the plethora of German friends I have made and seen in my apartment, I always see them with bottles in their hands in the common room. I even took a trip to Hamburg, Germany, and the case was the same there too!

English love fish and chips and tea time.

When I asked my friends (yes, more than one!) about fish and chips in England, they said that it’s mostly eaten by the beach, and restaurants that make them are found everywhere. Also, they verified that tea time is in fact a real thing every afternoon… wonder if they have drunk with the Queen too?

French are very lax.

Of the stereotypes, this is the one that drives me crazy the most. Before coming, I had heard that French people aren’t very time sensitive and are very chill, but I truly did not understand until I lived in France. Waiters at restaurants take hours before they even take an order. French professors take days to respond. Many students come into class 30 minutes late and think nothing of it. However, this has given me a new perspective because I am so used to the quick lifestyle of America!

Fins are attractive and fit.

Being such a small populated country to enter the Olympics, it’s crazy that they made it in the top 10 countries in all of the world! And the Finnish people I have met don’t shy from the stereotype of being fit – they work out every day and participate in many sports, from cycling to rowing! Additionally, many models worldwide come from Scandinavian countries, and maybe I’m biased, but the Fins I have met are model perfect.

Canadians are nice and polite

Now everyone knows this one… I feel like if I asked anyone in America what their stereotype of Canadians is, they would agree that they are “nice and polite.” I mean, “Sorry, eh?” Now does this stereotype come from personalities of a majority of Canadians, or are they truly just all very polite and kind?

Kiwis are relaxed

As with people from Australia (which I can’t attest to as I haven’t met anyone from Australia), I get the vibe that New Zealanders surf all day and chill all night, maybe with a little bit of rugby thrown in the mix. And the Kiwi that I have met is proof of this stereotype! As someone who worries about every little thing, it is a breath of fresh air to have someone who is just so relaxed, chill, and calm about everything life throws at him.

Obviously, there are many more countries with many more stereotypes, but I wanted to report on the people I’ve met and their own opinions of the stereotypes of their home country! It’s always a fun time when we live up to the stereotypes and expectations of other people, but even funnier when we don’t! Stay tuned for a report on that 😉

My Favorite Experiences (Harry Potter)

As I’ve been studying in London, I have been able to just live the dream in regard to anything Harry Potter. London is of course the perfect city for anything related to the books and films, and I’ve been lucky to experience essentially everything it has to offer.

If you like Harry Potter, London is 100% the place for you, and here’s why:

1. The Warner Brother’s Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter: This is the tour of all of the sets, costumes, props, etc. from the Harry Potter films! It is absolutely amazing. I was lucky enough to go 4 different times since I’ve been here, and two of the times were for themed dinners in the set of the Great Hall (which was probably the coolest thing I have ever done)! Once you get there, you get to see everything from the films from the set of the Gryffindor Common Room, to the kitchen of The Burrow to the amazing costumes for the Yule Ball. I would definitely recommend going near Christmas because the Great Hall is an absolute dream and is breathtaking all decorated in silver.

2. The Premiere of Fantastic Beasts: This was of course not a constant event in London, but it was one I was lucky enough to go to! I got up at 4am to get in line for a free ticket to attend the premiere, and I was able to meet tons of members of the cast! I got autographs from almost everyone in the newest film, plus Jason Isaacs! Unfortunately I missed out on meeting JK Rowling, but I did get to see her, which was still so cool, and I was there to hear her speak about the film. If you happen to be in London when the next installment of the Fantastic Beasts films come out, I would absolutely say you should go!

3. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the play written with JK Rowling following Harry, Ron and Hermione as adults tackling parenthood. The play focuses on one of Harry’s sons as well and how he deals with having Harry as a father. It is honestly amazing. I read the screenplay before going, and I wasn’t a fan, but it really is something that just works on stage. The magic they are able to do right in front of you is unbelievable. If you’re in London for an extended period of time, you should enter the Friday Forty, which is a weekly lottery for some of the best seats for only 40 Pounds (the play is two parts, so 20 pounds per part). I was crazy lucky and won the lottery 5 different times between October 2018 – March 2019. I gave the tickets away to some friends one of the times, but I went the other 4 times because it is really just that good.

4. Harry Potter Walking Tour: This is really cool and is a nice way to walk around London on a fun tour. I would recommend going near the beginning of your time in London, so you can see a good amount of the city right off the bat! You walk to a ton of different places including streets used as inspirations for the films. It’s also inexpensive.

5. Oxford: Oxford is a bit away from London, but is definitely worth a trip! Some of the scenes in the first film were shot here, and it’s really cool to see in person. They have a Harry Potter tour here as well.

6. House of MinaLima: Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima did all of the graphic design for the Harry Potter films such as the front pages of the Daily Prophet and The Quibbler. They have an exhibition of the different pieces they created for the films that is free to see and very cool.

7. Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station: At King’s Cross Station there is a real life Platform 9 3/4! You can take a fun picture that looks like you’re going through the platform as well as go in an amazing shop with lots of cool merchandise. I live only 10 minutes away from King’s Cross, so I’ve been a ton of times, and it’s always fun.

London has been beyond perfect for someone who loves Harry Potter, and I’m so happy I got to see/do everything that I did. Not on the list, I also met the illustrator of the illustrated versions of the books, Jim Kay, on Harry Potter Book Night. This was also an incredible experience, and if you keep an eye out for any HP announcements regarding London, you’ll be sure to find amazing events like that!

Sacrificing Travel

I was fortunate to be able to study abroad for a full 9 months instead of just one semester, which allowed me to be a bit more relaxed about my travel. For instance, I have been able to see and do a ton of different things around my city (London) instead of trying to travel around Europe most weekends. I’ve been able to see 5 different plays/musicals on the West End, do seriously every tourist attraction possible, and just enjoy the city that I’m living in.

Of course, I also travelled around Europe, but lately I’ve been reflecting on choosing to sacrifice travel in order to study, which has been difficult to do. Before I left the US for London, I made a list of cities/countries that I absolutely wanted to see. I’ve been able to see most, plus a couple I wan’t planning on as I met friends who live across Europe, but I did not hit all of them. Specifically, I was very set on going to Germany, Austria and Poland, and my family originates from these areas of Europe. I had originally planned on using the next few weeks to hit the remaining places on my list, but ultimately I’ve had to decide to stay in the UK.

For anyone who may not know, the exam system here is very different. I took 4 year-long courses with no exams and very little coursework throughout the two terms. However, my final exams are each 3 hours long and 100% of my final grade. We have a full month off from classes before exams begin to study, and originally I thought that would be plenty of time to travel as well, but man I was wrong.

It has been difficult to sit back in London and study every day while I see others choose to travel during their final weeks, but I think ultimately I needed to remember that this is study abroad, and I can’t forget about my classes and grades. I’ve been able to see some absolutely amazing places, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to travel and study, even it meant sacrificing some places on my list at the end.

An Icelandic Itinerary

In planning for traveling across Europe, I had put together a list of places I’d like to visit in my time here. Iceland was on that list, but given its geographic location and the overall cost to travel there, I figured it was probably not a place I’d get to visit this time around.

Fortunately, a little bit of spontaneity spurred the decision to spend my spring break there. I’m lucky I decided to go when I did. I was able to find a cheap flight to Reykjavik with WOW Airlines. With their recent shuttering, I’d have a lot more trouble finding a cheap flight.

I spent 7 days traveling all over the southern half of Iceland. I’m lucky I went with a Spanish and Finnish friend from my program, because they decided to rent a car when we got there. That made travel incredibly easy, and there’s no way I would’ve been able to see anything other than Reykjavik if I’d gone alone.

One of the best things about Iceland is all of the hidden gems. I’m normally not the type to travel without solidified plans. I used to love knowing what each day would hold ahead of time, but being in Europe has helped me realize that flexibility when traveling can make your experience much more enjoyable. My friends and I only booked hotels or hostels for three of the six nights we were there ahead of time, and had we booked all six in advance, there’s no way I would’ve been able to see some of the hidden gems there. Whether it’s Olafsvik near the Snaefellsness National Park on the West Coast, or Hof near Vatnajokull National Park, there are all sorts of wonderful towns to enjoy.

I would highly recommend a visit to Blue Lagoon. It’s somewhat expensive, but I found it was worth every penny. It was one of the most relaxing experience of my life. The crystal blue hue of the hot spring was breathtaking.

Geysir, Glacier Lagoon, Reynisfjara, and the Golden Circle are all within a day’s drive from Reykjavik, and are can’t miss spots if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the Icelandic landscape. Iceland exceeded every expectation I had for it, and I found it to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Weird Things I Found in Europe as a Sheltered American

As an American who has never left the United States, much less traveled anywhere by myself, up and leaving my little town in Kentucky was no easy task. Being in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language is about as easy as it sounds. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way because it has exposed me to new experiences and taught me to be more resilient, and I am only one month in!

Therefore, with all of my new experiences and cultures that I have been exposed to, I decided to write a little bit about weird (or better yet, different) things in Europe that I didn’t expect as a sheltered American

The floors of multi floor places start at “0.”

This sounds so trivial, but it was the first “weird” thing that I was exposed to because I lived on the 4th floor of my apartment…. Or, in American terms, I would live on the 5th. Basically, the first floor is considered the “ground floor” so I suppose it makes sense that the first floor is floor “0”, but as you go downstairs, the floors go “-1, -2,…” and I just found that completely strange! Yes? No?

People drive on the same side of the road.

Alright, so this was just me being an ignorant American. I just expected Americans only drove on the right side of the road (like we don’t use the metric system or military time). But, my assumption was wrong, we are not unique, and I was surprised for about .2 seconds. Only the UK and all British colonies drive on the left side!

Sometimes, companies leave the credit card number on the receipt.

Now, this should be weird to everyone. What happens if I left my receipt on the table on accident? What if it got in the hands of the wrong person? Luckily I caught it and was able to dispose of the receipt correctly, but here is my advice to keep an eye on your receipts because you never know!

You have to sign a piece of paper after credit card transaction.

I think this is due to the fact that America is more digitized than Europe (not in all cases though!) but anytime I bought anything, even a €2 bottle of water, I would have to sign a piece of paper instead of a monitor. Most of Europe is pretty economically friendly, so I saw this as a surprise because it is such a waste of paper.

People drink alcohol on the trains and in the streets.

Now, unlike New Orleans, Wisconsin, and Europe, most of the United States has open container laws in place, so it was strange to see people walking around the streets with an open bottle of beer. Although I am living in France, I have asked my friends from all kinds of countries (Finland, Germany, UK), and this is the case in so many European countries!

Europeans don’t have air conditioning in living quarters.

Honestly, I was told about this before I got to Europe and I thought it was a joke. How can such big cities that get so hot seriously not have air conditioning?! Do we live in the 1800’s?! Well, apparently so because it isn’t a joke. There. Is. Not. Air. Conditioning.

The showers are those handheld showers.

 Honestly, this was the biggest shock and annoyance to me. As I have learned, as in America you see mostly mounted shower heads and hardly any handheld showers, it’s the exact opposite in Europe. How am I supposed to scrub my shampoo and hold a shower head at the same time? I’m a month into my adventures in Europe and I still don’t know how.

The chargers charge faster.

This is just science. The voltage of the chargers here are 220 voltage, and in America, they are 110 voltage. So naturally, it would charge faster. Much less, something I did not expect. Don’t fact check me on that 😉

Europeans don’t refrigerate their eggs or milk.

When I went to the grocery store for the first time and saw a section of shelves with eggs and milk that WEREN’T in a refrigerator, I was stopped in my tracks. Granted, eggs are laid and aren’t refrigerated, so that wasn’t as strange to me, but cereal with warm milk just does not sound appealing. At all.

They don’t put ice in their water (or their drinks!)

In the month span that I have been in Europe, I have yet to see a block of ice. Restaurants just give you a glass bottle of lukewarm water. Even for mixed drinks at the bars, I haven’t had ice! Maybe I have just been to weird restaurants/bars. I’m now counting down the days until I get an ice cold glass of water.

Everything is closed on Sundays.

Europeans don’t joke about “keeping holy the Sabbath day.” Grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes are closed on Sundays (and if they aren’t, they close super early). On top of that, stores open later and close earlier during the week. So my “fast-paced America” mentality gets time to cool down on Sundays.

All in all, I have had a great time since moving to France. Although this list has portrayed weird things I have found it Europe, it’s what makes my trip here so unique. It makes me more resilient, open, and curious to learn more about European cultures and trends.  

Au revior!

Madrid Bull Fights

During my weekend in Madrid my friends thought it would be a very cool experience to immerse ourselves into the culture and attend a bull fight. Bull fighting is a big event in Spain and the matadors are highly regarded in the culture. For example, while flipping through a magazine I saw small articles about celebrities right next to massive articles about bull fighters. Upon arrival the locals were tailgating the event in the square while we were bracing ourselves. When we got into the arena the atmosphere was electric all of the people were very excited. Then the fight started. Watching it was not as bad as I thought because of the energy of the locals but as an animal lover it was a little unbearable at times. However it was a very cool and to experience something that many people don’t get to experience, especially because it will most likely be considered illegal in a few years. Overall, I learned through this experience to always keep an open mind when traveling and taking place in different activities that you are not used to. If you maintain an open mind you may not like certain things but you will never have a bad time.