Ode to Aix

So I went to Belgium and the Netherlands without telling you. I’m sorry. I have lots and lots of things to share with you. However, I’ve been wanting to write about my favorite city in France for quite some time now. I promise it relates to recent travel!

In spring of 2009, I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence. I adore this city and miss it so; because the north and the south just don’t compare. Because I miss having a market outside of my house every day. Because even though the Mistral is wicked the sun in Marseille makes is all worth it. These are a few of my favorite things…

Cezanne’s Path

Cezanne’s studio is located in Aix-en-Provence, and was my favorite spot to take visitors. But you can find traces of Cezanne all over the city. I always used to go running along the Chemin de Bibemus, where Cezanne sat to paint the mountain Sainte-Victoire. I will never forget the ochre paths that I see in his paintings – my mom even bought a few prints to keep in our house when a Cezanne exhibit came to Philadelphia.

Cours Mirabeau

When Aix was the capital of Provence, the Cours Mirabeau marked the divide between the “royalty” and the “commonfolk”. There are tons of hotel particuliers on the right side of the Cours, called the Quartier Mazarin, where the architecture dates back to the 16th century. To the left  side, the cafés sit under huge plane-trees. Famous Francais such as Emile Zola and Albert Camus used to sit in this exact spot! When you sit in a café on the Cours, the goal isn’t to relax and take in the ambiance, but to be seen by the Aixois. Don’t sit without your sunglasses.

Les Fontaines

Aix is the city of fountains, and just walking around the little streets you will find many hidden treasures. This one is my favorite, and a favorite of many Aixois, called the Quatre Dauphins located in the Mazarin quarter.

Have you ever been to Aix? It is a must-visit if you want to go to the south!

Battle of the Sexes: Reims Edition

You say football, I say champagne. The last day of my dad and brother’s visit, I took them to Reims. My favorite city around these parts (sorry, Lorraine), I couldn’t wait to show them the cathédrale. But first, we made a little stop for bubbly at Taittinger.

On our first trip to Reims, we visited Mumm, known around the world for it’s red striped label. This time, it was off to Taittinger. The maison de champange is actually located on top of an old Abbey. While building the caves to store the champagne, they conserved some of the old parts of the abbey like doors and carvings. This added such a special dimension to the visit!

After a lovely tour of the cellar, we got down to the good stuff: dégustation. I loved it – the boys did not. Le sigh. But we did snap a great 1/2 family picture in front of the bar! Cheese!

Next it was off to the cathédrale! Soon, it will celebrate it’s 800 th year on May 6th! Isn’t that amazing? Nothing in America is that old. There was an amazing children’s choir singing outside the day we were there; I have never heard young voices so powerful! It was adorable.

Then, the tables turned. Champagne? Old churches? The boys were ready for some beer and football (Soccer!). After a lengthy happy hour ending at l’Escale – we arrived at the gorgeous new stadium. Reims was taking on Tours – and they dominated, 4-1. I loved the ambiance of the small stadium; we were close to the regulars and the surrounding commentary had me cracking up. Plus it was fun to really get into the game!

So…champagne and churches vs. beer and football. What do you think, who wins? Of course, I enjoyed it all ! Except the part where I had to say goodbye to my family…the end of a dream trip.


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!


Before I went to Madrid, I spent the day in Paris before my flight. It was still cold and gray; typical Parisian weather.

I took a visit to the Orangerie Museum, located inside the Jardin des Tuileries. Not surprisingly, is called the Orangerie because it actually used to house the orange trees in the garden.

The main attraction of the museum is Claude Monet’s Nymphéas. They built two rooms – shaped in the infinity symbol – to house eight of his waterlily paintings. A trip to the Orangerie should be complemented by a visit to Monet’s garden in Giverny. There, you can see where he was inspired by these amazing works.

I was so impressed by the private collection downstairs as well. I learned a lot about the art industry in Paris in the early 20th century, and how the collector, Paul Guillaume came about aquiring his pieces. He was first noticed by the famous poet Guillaume Apollanaire – and from there snuck his way into the art world. I was happy to learn that Guillaume was highly influenced by Philadelphia’s own art collector Joseph Barnes (of the Barnes Foundation). What a small world!

Musée de l’Orangerie
Jardin des Tuileries
75001 Paris

Métro : 1, 8, 12 station Concorde

See other Paris Museums here and here.


Heidelberg Germany, ja!

While my brother and Dad were here, we took a short trip to Germany. Living two hours from the border, we took advantage (for once) of my location close to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany and headed off to Heidelberg.

Heidelberg is known for housing the oldest University in Germany. Even the Americans knew this city was special – it was spared destruction during World War II.

We walked up to the Heidelberg Schloss, castle, and got a beautiful view of the city. It was definitely different than the romantic Oise castle visit – the color and design were gorgeous! We couldn’t visit inside the castle, but the outdoor gardens and the view of the city was amazing.

For dinner, we went to Vetter, a brauhas and restaurant in Aldstadt, the old town. The food and beer was excellent. It was even in the Guiness Book of World Records for the strongest beer in the world in 1994 (33%!) We stuck with the light stuff. Let it be noted, the apfelstrudel was to die for…

The next day we walked up to Philosophenweg, where famous German philosophers and poets used to walk in search of inspiration. It was quite the climb, but it was definitely worth it! Look how cute my brother is.

Finally, we took a tour of the University. They had a cute tour of studentenkarzer, a student jail used all the way until the early twentieth centry. Students were sent to the prison for disorderly conduct – and marked the walls with images of their fraternities. I wouldn’t want to be locked up in there – but the graffiti was so cool!

We didn’t leave Germany without a huge box of pastry. We couldn’t get enough of that apfelstrudel! Or bretzel!

Have you been to Heidelberg?

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!

What to do in Paris…with Two American Guys

My brother and dad came to visit me two weeks ago. I was so happy to see them, and get some much needed TLC from the men in my life. The first weekend we were in Paris. What do you do with a 17 year-old boy and wiser, elder man 😉 in the city of lights and romance? I spent a while before the visit agonizing over this. But I think I succeeded in showing my dad and brother a good time – and I managed to enjoy myself as well! Well, I did sneak off by myself to see the Hermès store in St. Germain and browse through a used-English bookshop – but the boys were napping.

1.) Breakfast in America

My mom’s exact words: “Brenna I want you to take Luke and Dad here, and I don’t want you to be weird about it”. She knew I wouldn’t like the idea of any restaurant with the name America in it, but I actually loved it after spending six months in Verdun, I snuggled into a charming red booth and savored a bagel with Philadelphia cream cheese and a bottomless coffee mug; I almost felt like I was at the Broad Street diner in Philly. (of course the clientele was a teensy bit different ).

17, rue des Écoles
75005 Paris, France
Métro: Cardinal LeMoine or Jussieu

2. Fat Tire Bike Tours

I took a night bike tour with Fat Tire in 2009 and fell in love. I had already been to Paris before, so I was looking for a fun new way to see the city. Riding around the Tuileries Garden at night – and having the Louvre all to ourselves was something I’ll never forget. We did the day bike tour this time, and it was also really awesome.  Our tour guide gave us a great background about French history while showing us the major sites. I loved riding through the different neighborhoods and watching Paris change, my dad like learning about the Louis’ and Napoleon’s influences, and my brother liked making fun of the “less skilled” bike riders…a win for everyone, really.

3.) Boulangerie

Yes, their favorite part about Paris was indeed, the boulangerie. My family are simple people really – we didn’t get finely crafted pastries or the ever-popular macaron: a baguette with Bonne Maman jam did the trick every evening around 5 pm. Ok. Maybe 2 baguettes. And an after dinner crepe. How long can Luke’s growing stage be?

4.) Les Bateaux Mouches

We went for a 6pm tour of the Seine – just as couples were taking their after-work strolls along the river. It is delightful to see Paris from such a different angle, after we had been trudging through the metro all weekend. It’s also nice to just sit and relax on the boat and take in the scenery. I’d highly recommend!

Métro ligne 9 – Alma-Marceau
Métro ligne 1 – Franklin Roosevelt

So, even though my brother’s head turned in disgust at every couple making out on street corners, I think he got a good taste of Parisian life for only a short weekend. I hope they got to see why I love the city so much.

Have you ever traveled to Paris with an ‘American’ guy? Did you have to bribe him with pastries to go to museums? I’d love to know…

confessions of an expat, part iii

i have a eurotrash playlist. number one is this song. !!! #shame.

instead of thinking about life after my work contract, when I get sick of doing job apps I just hide under my covers.

i didn’t know that 75 cl was the amount of wine in a bottle. i also forgot how to say 75 in french (60+15). dinner in restaurant FAIL. red cheeks yes.

i kind of cried when my dad was giving me stick shift lessons and i went down the wrong day of a one-way street and then couldn’t back up the hill.

i might *might* go to holland for queen’s day.

my never ending quest to be a put-together french girl took yet another epic turn for the worst when my high heel broke right off saturday night.

my co-workers call me la grande, or ma grande. (tall girl, but it makes me think of big girl). see previous confession.

i don’t remember the last day that went by where i didn’t eat baguette. i think i might turn into a baguette soon. send help.


see parts i and ii.

Last Day and Reflections

After a worldwind tour of the south of Morocco, we had only one day left in Marrakech. Finally, we were starting to get a feel for the country and got more confident walking around the city.

We walked around the souks, looking for the perfect souvenir. Naturally, I bought food; cookies, olives, and spices. Christine got a beautiful dish, and we tried our hand at haggling. We’re not experts, but we did ok.

We visited the Saadian tombs, as well as the Bahia palace. I loved the architecture and the cedar carvings arching over the entryways. The palace was magical; my favorite part was the garden filled with orange trees.

Our last meal was amazing; I had lamb tajine with figs and walnuts. We laughed thinking back to the first day, when our taxi driver told us we would love Morocco, and we would get nice and fat from all the delicious couscous before our return to France. Tummies full, we headed to the airport and safely returned home to France. Morocco was definitely the most different country I have ever visited; a great change from the big cities of Eastern Europe.

The biggest challenge, however, was brushing off negative comments that came constantly from males. From the first day we knew it would be tricky as two women, but it was hard for me to enjoy myself as I felt I had to walk around on the defensive. Of course not everyone was like that – but it significantly impacted my stay no matter how hard I tried to avoid it.

Marrakech is a city unlike any other; and the countryside of Morocco was absolutely gorgeous. We saw so many variables in such a short time; the morning we were trekking through the desert, and the evening dodging snow in the Atlas. The berber people and culture was fascinating and I loved learning more about it. I highly recommend a tour out of the city should you go to Morocco.