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.

summer in stras

The first time I went to Strasbourg, it was for the Christmas markets. This time, I went in full on summer. What a different effect!

Even though it was steamingly hot, we climbed right to the top of the cathedral. A little old man said about halfway up, “we going to be rewarded for this!”. If he could do it, I could too. Once at the top I realized he was right – we got some gorgeous views over all of Strasbourg.

Flowers were blooming, people were outside baskin in the sun – the ambiance was amazing. We even went to Cheese Gourmet, to visit the biggest “cloche à fromage” in the world! Heck yeah! Everything on this restaurant’s menu is based off of cheese.

Overall, a lovely weekend in Alsace. I bought some wine glasses with green stems, seen only in Alsace in the winstubs.

Have you ever been to Strasbourg?


As I rolled my little suitcase off the train in Nancy, I had just one hour to kill before my next train to Strasbourg. I knew just what I wanted to do – sneak in a coffee at the famous art nouveau restaurant Excelsior.

As I walked into this exquisite restaurant just in front of the train station, I felt like I walked into Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. I am transformed back in time, the waiters were just as I had imagined them, prim and proper, black tuxes with bow ties and shiny groomed hairstyles. “Can I help you, miss?” they ask me. I am seated aside, perfect spot for people watching.

The waiters carry trays of fresh shrimp chilled on ice, pouring coupes of champagne and laying crisp white napkins on the well-dressed clients lap. The women take small sips of bubbly before throwing their head back in laughter. I watch as the barman works behind  an elegant bar filled with polished glassware. My coffee arrives, accompagnied by two little cookies and a small square of chocolate. I watch, I think I could watch forever.

But soon my time is up, and as I cross the street I fade back into a franco-american country girl, ready to eat pretzels in Alsace.

Flo Excelsior

50 Rue Henri Poincaré
54000 Nancy
03 83 35 24 57


Every year for my sister’s birthday, we used to go to a restaurant called Marabella’s down the shore. It was a typical family Italian restaurant, but we thought it was the coolest thing in the world, because my sister’s name is Mara. She was treated like a little princess, with her round cheeks and curly brown hair (she was always the cute one!). My grandparents always made a big deal of it, and afterwards we would come home and have cake at the house. Now, on her 21st, I am far away from ma petite sœur.

There is really no bond as strong as sisters. Sisters are best friends. They know exactly what to do to push each other’s buttons, and they know exactly what to do to cheer you up. Sisters call you no matter what. They write you letters. They never forget a skype date. They make you laugh til’ your sides split. They have spontaneous dance parties with you. They share bunkbeds, and stories, and late-night whispering.

Happy 21st birthday to my little sister. I wish I could be there with you, Marabella! Thank goodness my best friends back home took care of her in my absence. Love you girls.

ps. happy father’s day to the best dad in the world. sorry you are overshadowed by the sis.

transatlantic adjusting

Nine months ago, I moved over 3,700 miles away to rural France without knowing a single soul. While I am finally starting to acclimate to the pace and rythym of life here, I am about to leave in two short weeks. I thought I might write a post with tips and tricks on how to adjust to a new place.

Even as a natural extrovert, I had difficulty getting settled here in the beginning. I was used to easily striking up conversation, making friends in a snap. Yet, no matter how outgoing you are, in France most people tend to keep to themselves. This was extremely frustrating at times, and in the beginning, a misunderstanding of these social guidelines left me disappointed and confused.  My American-self likes instant gratification! It is important to be patient with yourself and with others.

The best advice I can give is to immediately throw yourself into community activities. I was lucky enough to meet a lovely family at church. They invited me to their house for lunch, and after having just one connection I was able to meet lots of other people. After much convincing, I joined the club basketball team in Verdun. Very slowly, it started becoming more social as well as a way to stay in shape. My golden rule is to “never say no”. If I was invited somewhere to do something, I was there. It is rare in French culture to immediately get an invitation from a stranger, so when you do, hang onto it for all it’s worth! This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone, but this might also reap the most beautiful rewards.

I also have been enjoying the surrounding area of where I live. Asking others to participate in runs and walks have helped me to discover the area as well as make new friends. I have also utilized Couchsurfing, which has allowed me to meet up with other young people in neighboring big cities. I also tried WOOFing, and met a lovely family while volunteering on an organic farm in the Vosges.

But on days when I was frustrated – with the language or culture, my anglophone friends here were always willing to listen. Having a solid base of support can be really comforting when you’re having a bad day. Even connecting with others through my blog has made me realize we all go through the same things sometimes.

Overall, I have met some amazing people over this past year, and count each and every person who has helped me adjust to life here as a blessing. But for all of you struggling to move someplace new – remember to have patience. Count each extended invitation as a victory, and in the mean time you can always try to recreate your favorite American baked goods to use as a bribe. Frenchies love cookies. Or muffins! They have a thing for anglophones and muffins.

Abbaye d’Orval

After much begging and pleading, I finally found a victim willing to take me to the Orval abbey in Belgium. Country hopping is natural for Europeans, but it still amazes me that I live less than an hour from Belgium! A few country roads later, we were in one of six trappist breweries in Belgium.

Orval is essentially a monastery; the area where the monks live is closed to the public. The monks that live there choose to leave their worldly belongings behind, and devote their lives to prayer. What amazes me is their strong sense of community – not only through worship, but in their daily tasks in the kitchen or in the office. Above you can see part of their herb garden, which stems from a former chemist and pharmacist monk who lived in Orval during the 18th century.

My favorite part of the visit was the ruins from an old church, created before 1200. You can see the new one in the background towering over the ruins. Over time, the church was destroyed by fire and reconstructed, but never completely. The Cistercian Order was given the land in 1926, after hundreds of years of habitation.

Underneath the new abbey, there is a museum revolving around religious artwork and architectural history of the two buildings. There is also a small museum explaining the beer-making process, which was really well presented and organized.

The most interesting part of the abbey is that beer-making has always been a part of its history. Only after the first world war, when the monks needed income to sustain themselves, and started selling their beer and cheese. Now, the monks cherish their sense of hospitality and their beer is known across the world, and it comes from this little abbey in Belgium. The profits go to the upkeep of the site, as well as to charities. They only have one type of beer – and you can taste it across the street with some cheese also made by the monks.

I would highly recommend a trip to Orval – it is the perfect oasis for a tired traveler or for a relaxing afternoon. Have you ever heard of trappist beer (trust me, it’s good)? Check out other trappist breweries in Belgium here.


Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Alsace. I asked her if we could go to Colmar – I had heard too much about the charm of the city and wanted to see with my own eyes. The train station and main part of the city was nothing spectacular, until you got into “petit france” section with typical alsacian houses and restaurants.

La cigogne, or the stork, is the symbol of Alsace and you can find drawing everywhere of the bird, as well as nests hidden in the tops of cathedrals. I really liked the bright colors of the houses, in style colombage, which reminded me of a fairy-tale like village.

The cathedral was absolutely gorgeous – we even caught a wedding inside. Everyone was out and about enjoying the June weather. I got a little overexcited by the abundance of soft pretzels – a true Philly girl at heart.

can you spot the man who is hiding?

next trip it’s the route des vins

Running and Traveling

Taking advantage of this beautiful summer weather, I’ve been doing some local races that have allowed me to see new regions of the Lorraine. First was a 15 km race featuring 800 steps and deathly hills. Even though I contemplated faking a sprained ankle, I powered through and was rewarded with beautiful views of Verdun, as well as trails that I had never been on before. Not to mention, yet again they had dark chocolate at the rest stops. And I got a rose for finishing!

Next off, my running buddy and I went to the Lac de Madine, a gorgeous lake 20 kilometers around. There were sailboats, a beach, and afterwards we had a picnic!

No pictures please! Unfortunately, it was really sunny and my fragile eyes couldn’t handle the camera. Look at these all these funny Frenchies who ran with me! It’s much more fun to run with an awesome ambiance. When we crossed through little villages, families were sitting ouside screaming, “allez, lâchez-vous jusqu’au bout!”. I loved the encouragement!

To find out about races in France, check out FFA’s website here. You can search via distance, location, etc. Another good resource for running around the world is Run the Planet. Happy Running!

my love affair with language

Some days, I feel like I’m living inside of a big puzzle. I have to go out of my comfort zone to express myself in a language that is not my own. Because it is challenging, I find it is the most beautiful part about living in a foreign country. Mastering social clues, manipulating words to voice your opinion, expressing regret; these are all things that require a strong command of language, and a strong confidence in self. It is a journey that will never be complete, but gets more and more fulfilling as time goes on.

One thing that makes me smile over and over again, is when I hear a word in conversation – BAM – I am transported back in time to a distant memory. Where do I know that word? Suddenly I am stuck on the Paris périphérique, in stand-still traffic, watching the motards weave ferociously in and out of tiny French cars. Or with my friends in the Vosges on a crisp fall morning, standing over a stove of boiling cinammon applesauce, my  only duty to remuer. Maybe around a table of friends in a bar, laughing until I cry as everyone trys to explain a tricky phrase. Strangers are called in for backup – notes are jotted on bar napkins, until a full understanding of faire en sorte is reached. You may be having the worst of days, and the mention of a simple word can remind you of why you came to this crazy place anyway.

The first time I ever came to Paris with my high school French class, I remember almost crying because I wanted to communicate so badly. I was frustrated with myself and knew I would make it my goal to become conversant. When I saw this video, Vivez la langue (put together by a language company) – it gave me chills. This was ME when I came back to Paris to study abroad, mesmorized by my new world: walking around for hours after school to Rue Cler for some belle fraises, or fighting with the Parisian waiter for a café. The beginning of learning a language is all about discovery – and the journey only gets better from there.

Do you speak a second (or third?) language? What do you love and hate about it?