around philly

I have been absolutely loving urban life.

After living in the countryside for a year, I’m back and ready for action. My little orange Schwinn bike was my last step: although not as good as “Anna Karenina” (my baguette-sticking-out-of-basket antique blue French bike), she does the trick for rides along the Schuykill.

I have been seeing Philly from all sides: beer running club by the river, French get-togethers at the Sofitel in Rittenhouse, weekends in No Libs and empty Memorial Day Weekends at Headhouse Market eating all the cheese.

I’d have that day again.

greatist hits

It’s been one year since I started blogging, so I thought I’d participate in a little travel blog project started by TripBase, thanks to Katherina from 100 Miles Highway. The goal is to share 7 of my favorite posts and review older material. I had fun going through my old posts throughout the year.

My Most Beautiful Post

Dades Valley, Morocco. This was the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to. The colors, the people, the simplicity and the flavors. My trip to Morocco this year was something I’ll never forget – and took me out of my normal European/American  travel routes.

My Most Popular Post

I wrote this post kind of jokingly, but it turns out people need to know. Can certainly lead to awkward social situations if not. How to Perfect La Bise

A Post that Shows my Travel Philosophy

One of my non-traditional travel stints, I spent a week in the Vosges volunteering on an organic farm through Woofing.

My Most Helpful Post

Although most of my readers are girls, I think everyone appreciated the tips! What to do in Paris with American Guys.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

I couldn’t believe how much people love to talk about food  in Adapting to the French Diet. Likewise, the very popular American Baking in France.

The Post that didn’t get the Attention it Deserved

The inspiring and tranquil trappist breweries in Belgium – I took a day trip to Abbaye d’Orval just a few weeks ago.

The Post I am Most Proud of

This comes from a more personal side, and thus is my favorite; why I love language.

I’d like to nomicate Marie-Eve of Eurotriptips, to pass on the tradition!

summer in Verdun

These last few weeks in Verdun have been particularly fun – with the Fete de la Musique, a concert at a château including the Fatals Picards, another amazing concert on the Quai by Asa (check out her music!), dancing til the sun comes up, lengthy lunches with my first taste of truites, summer barbeques, and tanning by the pool (in front of cows, in true countryside fashion).

But as the days creep by, I find myself saying goodbye to more and more people. I can’t believe in a week I will be off to Paris – taking a trip to Scotland and Ireland before heading back to the US. Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday I was complaining about the snow and wondering if I would ever make it to summer. Now, I am so sad to leave! How very cruel.

i’ll cry if I want to

This Saturday, I realized why after eight months in this country, I’m still not used to it. Ater my bus to start my journey to Strasbourg never showed up, I canceled a ticket online without being refunded, bought new ones for a few hours later, and then tried to get reimbursed at the office in person with the devil incarnate, SNCF man (there is only one in Verdun – you know who you are!). After refusing to reimburse me, he told me I was “frustrated” and “needed to calm down,” so I did the natural thing and erupted into full-flowing tears. I’ll tell you, if you want to make a French person feel uncomfortable, start hysterically crying in a room full of passengers. All eyes were on me. Even better was all my students (on the only train out of Verdun), whispering, “look at ms. brenna, she’s crying).

real french baby eating real french chocolate - a sight that would calm anyone's nerves

Luckily, I controlled myself and had an amazing weekend in Alsace. But this brings to light that no matter how long you live as an expat, you can always have silly days where you erupt into tears and tell yourself you miss SEPTA.

Remember my post about Dutch? I uploaded a short little video where you can hear some of it! Stef didn’t want me to catch him – but I did :) Stef Caught Speaking Dutch

Meuse Living, part iii

Another interesting piece of Verdun trivia is that we are home to the Régiment des Chasseurs, a cavalry regiment, in the Armée de Terre. In plain English, that means we have a military base here! I have never really experienced military culture, so to speak, firsthand in the US except for a few friends from the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  When I first moved to Verdun, I met a lovely family who eventually introduced me to the bright and intelligent Lieutenants of Verdun. They have a real sense of community and have been nice enough to share some of that with me.

A few weeks ago they took us to a classical music concert here in Verdun; it was amazing! Plus it was fun to see them all dressed up in their uniforms. The wind ensemble, Musique de l’Artillerie, is a professional group employed by the Army. They played French classics such as Toréador from Carmen, and even my favorite Les Miserables. Jean Valjean, I love you. Plus they had bagpipes from Bretagne! I had no idea Bretagne was known for their bagpipes.

We also got to attend St. George’s Day, a Saint’s day honoring the acheivements of the soldiers. First there was a lovely mass, folowed by a formal military ceremony.  I have never been to anything like that; the music was majestic and the organization was impeccable. Never would I have thought that my first military ceremony would be in France – and not in the U.S.

Even though I’m not French, I have an enormous amount of respect (and dare I say it – pride?) for all of my friends in the military just like I do for my friends in the military back home. It’s a tough job ! Some of them are leaving to complete their service abroad. I wish them all the best and thank them for sharing some time with me.

Have you even lived near a military base? Have you ever gotten a look at the military in a different country?


Meuse Living, part ii

So Verdun. Many of you know that is was the site of the Battle of Verdun. The entire city was destroyed, and then rebuilt by England. That is why we have the Quai de Londres, the main street next to the river, named after the city who helped repair the street. This is where everyone sits on a sunny day to enjoy a café.

The other weekend we took a boat tour along the Meuse river that runs through our town. It was something that only tourists do, but we had been wanting to do it since we all moved here in October. It was funny! There are lots and lots of colza fields, a yellow plant that is used to make vegetable oil.

And of course the Verdun surroundings is nothing but farms and fields. The other weekend we went on an organized 17k walk in a neighboring village. The weather was beautiful, there was organized rest stops with dark chocolate and fruit, and of course we ran into our little students along the way. I wish we could do this every weekend!

Unfortunately, the other English teachers in my town left Verdun! They had a shorter work contract than me, so today I am the only American (great timing, right?). I am going to Bordeaux this weekend with Christine, Kristie and Craig, my roomates and friend, and then I’m solo anglo ! I’m going to miss them so much. At least I’ll have the cows…


This weekend was fun – I took a break from searching OLX classifieds for jobs back home and enjoyed the moment. It was the last weekend that all my Anglophone friends will be with me in the Meuse. We tried to make the best of it – and do all the things we’ve been wanted to do since we got here in October; boat rides along the river, sushi night, and a 16 kilometer walk through the country. We only have a week left together! I will be so incredibly sad when they leave.

In more important news, today is Grace’s birthday. She’s sweet, pretty, and 23 years old today. You can see my 21st birthday announcement to Grace here. Can you believe two years has passed? Now she is all grown up, living in DC as a nurse !

This is us in the Bahamas, on the way to sunrise yoga! We hid our morning faces with huge sunglasses. Clearly. Little did we know our instructor would be a male body-builder from Austria, and we would end up laughing 99% of the time instead of doing downward dog. I miss her. I wish I could buy her a ticket to France for her birthday! That would be a present for her and me!

It’s really hard to live so far away from my friends and family. They are all doing such amazing things – and I wish I was there in person to give them hugs.

On a positive note, how  lucky am I to have such great friends? Bon lundi!

typical courtyard banter

working with kids is hysterical, and my students never cease to make me laugh (and sometimes cry). they love to see teachers outside of school. the following real life conversations took place today at school, in the courtyard.

Student A

ms brenna, I saw you.

You did? Where? When?

I saw you running. You had your headphones on. I saw you. (chimes in Student b) Yeah ms. brenna loves jogging. I see you all the time doing your jogging ms. brenna!

…you guys should say hi next time?

Student C

Ms. Brenna, I saw you.

I know! We saw each other on the train.

Yes, I saw you on the train. I saw you ms. brenna.

Yes, we said hi to each other! Did you have a good time?

Yes. I saw you.

Small town life at it’s finest. I have little spies wherever I go!