Just life.

Just life.

With one month left to go on my fellowship, I feel like I just got to the good part of life in Paris! In a previous post, I wrote about a lot of the struggles I faced in the first 4 months after moving to Paris. That was right after I felt like life here was finally becoming just life, and not a protracted vacation during which I also worked 8 hours per day. I can’t say that there was any one particular event that triggered this change in my frame of mind, but from early June, life overall felt easier. I began to feel more as the ease with chatting in French; in lab, I finally had a grasp on the few specific experiments I need to do before leaving; and I started going back to local spots I like without worrying that those visits are at the expense of trying someplace new. And honestly, I’ve been enjoying Paris a lot more now that I’ve taken pressure off myself to cram everything into the next month (meaning things in the city and in the lab). I know I’ll come back to Paris and that I will always have more things I want to do here, and there will always be more scientific questions I’ll be curious to answer. But there is a time for everything, and my task this next month is balancing the science with the Paris and reaching an acceptable conclusion on each front without neglecting one for the other (unfortunately easy to do in research). Everything about this city has really captivated me and in spite of the struggles I’ve had while here, I’m rather fond of this experience. Paris has always been one of my favorite cities, and getting to learn it in depth, become a local at some places (all of which are bakeries!), and explore it at a slower pace has made me fall in love with it even more. No longer do I feel like an impostor or like I’m bragging when I say that I live in Paris. It just is – it’s just life.

Toast to champagne

Toast to champagne

When in France, celebrate what the French do? That’s how I found myself last night at a party celebrating champagne! Hosted by Moët and Chandon, the weekend-long event features their Grand Vintage 2008 champagne in a classy yet chill environment, with something for everyone.

After coming out of the metro at Trinité (line 12), Maison Moët is barely a block down an otherwise empty street. You can’t miss the entrance – it’s marked with white and gold balloons and a tuxedo-clad bouncer. It was evident that a lot of thought went in to the details, and this entrance certainly sets an impressive tone for the night!

Inside, a canopy of lights hangs above a courtyard filled with black tables adorned with gothic-esque candelabras; at the back of the room is a sleek bar serving oversized glasses of crisp champagne. At the front, you can order your choice of formule from a perfectly color-coordinated food truck: braised beef or breaded chicken sandwiches, plus a glass of champagne, for 20-25€. Though the sandwiches are a bit small (sufficient as a snack, but probably not as a meal), I found the price reasonable once the (large) glass of champagne is factored in, considering the price of a bottle.

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But! If that atmosphere is not to your liking, or you’d prefer to eat something lighter than a hot sandwich, don’t worry! Pass through that first area and you will find that there are still two more areas to explore, each with a unique vibe and different food and drink options!

Immediately through the back of the courtyard, you enter into a small building that has been transformed with neon lights and metallic streamers into a “Mini Club” (that yes, I went to!). The inside is tiny, but even on a Friday night was not too full to enter; it just took a lot of “pardon”s to squeeze to the empty space towards the back of the room. The space is outfitted with a karaoke stage at the front and several small tables and chairs in the back (being used to hold bags and drinks, not people, when I was there). This is probably the most relaxed area at the event – dancing and music and no security/bouncers inside – but it also is very hot, as it’s a completely enclosed room with no windows. On your way out, you’ll pass by a champagne vending machine selling mini bottles of Moët for 10€, which at least for the novelty factor is cool to take a peek at! But, it’s the same champagne that was served in the first courtyard, while in space number 3, there are many more drink options.

The third and largest area is also the one I found the most clever- it’s set up like a beach, with benches shaped like boats, cabanas, and a champagne “cocktail” bar! You can choose white (13€) or rosé (14€) ice champagne, and then customize your drink with berries, lime, or cucumber slices. It’s served in an oversized wine gslass emblazoned with the Moët logo. Between the color of the drinks and the glasses they’re served in, this is where to order your champagne if you want the best pictures! I wanted to taste rosé champagne since I’ve never tried it before, and added berries and lime. I have to say I’m much more a fan of traditional champagne, but not sad I tried the rosé, especially from one of France’s luxury producers! Food-wise, here you can choose from charcuterie boxes for two, all priced at 12€. However, unless you arrive early you’ll be hard pressed to find seats at the beach: I had to take my cocktail back to the first area to sit with it.

Finally, at the “beach” there is also a “pool”! This one’s filled with gold confetti, though, and equipped with a photo booth that prints still pictures and emails you a gif of your antics! The iridescent gold confetti falling against a white tile backdrop makes for some sharp pictures. This little area was a lot of fun!

Maison Moët is open through this Sunday, from 11h-23h each day. It is a lot of fun, so I’d recommend making a stop there while you can!

Saturday morning musings on life abroad

Saturday morning musings on life abroad

It’s a Saturday morning in Paris. The sunlight hits early here; I’m usually awakened by it at 7:00 am at the latest. This morning I covered my face with pillows and made it until 8:15 before caving in to the day and getting up. I watch some TV and finish up writing an abstract I didn’t get done yesterday, then throw some clothes in to wash at the laundromat and settle in to my favorite coffee shop for a ristrettto and some writing.

(I’ve got 45 minutes until my clothes are done: a good amount of time to ponder life.)

It’s beginning to hit me how few weekends I have left in Paris, right as I’m starting to feel like my life here is just life, and not a prolonged vacation. I’ve been waiting to feel this way since I got here, without knowing or having any idea of how to know how long it might take. Unlike any other move I’ve made in my life, this one didn’t come with a built-in cohort of immediate friends, like marching band did for me in college and my graduate program did when I moved to Pittsburgh. For the first time, it was up to me to figure out how I could make the most of my time.

I can summarize my time in Paris so far in 4 stages. One, the excited phase: I’m in Paris! This has been a dream of mine for 12 years, and it’s finally happening! Two, the settling in phase: I’m not on vacation, but everything is great, and I need to enjoy every minute because I realize it’ll go by too fast, anyway. Three, the homesick phase: crap, I’m missing out on a lot at home, and things are moving along without me. Should I really be here instead of there? Did I make the right decision? (Lots of crying and existential crises.) Four, the life is life phase: 5 months in, realizing that it doesn’t make sense to regret choosing one path over another, that life is full of decisions to be made and there are pros and cons to every situation. Taking more initiative to be a part of things and meet people, leading to some really supportive and enlightening conversations with new and old connections. Realizing that even on a highly anticipated adventure like this is for me, it is reasonable – and okay – to have highs and lows, because life is life no matter where in the world you are. (Special shout out to the friend who I talked this out with, after we both had people challenge us on feeling this way.)

If anything, I’m learning here to take every new experience first as a learning experience, and to not judge things because of their differences. I read a quote somewhere once that said that just because things are different doesn’t mean they are weird. This runs through my head here every day, whenever I encounter a new situation, or a discussion among friends on a topic I hadn’t considered from their perspective. These scenarios are not exclusive to living abroad, but being completely separated from everything you’re familiar with has a way of teaching you lessons in a blatant way that’s much harder to experience when you have your comfort zone to fall back onto.

I’m also learning to accept that there will be things I don’t get to do or see in Paris, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done and seen a lot. My threshold has become that as long as I’m doing something I enjoy, I shouldn’t regret not doing something else that I also might enjoy. That’s also given me permission to stop doing things I’m not having fun with, whether that be leaving a museum without seeing the entire exhibit or not cooking because I’d rather try the plethora of restaurants near my apartment. Life is about choices, and moment-to-moment I’d rather choose the one that will make me the most satisfied with how I’m spending all of my time.

Surprisingly to some, this also means that I likely won’t travel to as many different countries around Europe as I initially thought; I decided early on that I want to get the most out of Paris while I’m living here, even if that means spending from my travel fund to be able to do more. It’s a decision I continue to be happy with for two reasons: one, because living somewhere and visiting somewhere are two very different experiences, and I don’t want to feel the need to come back to Paris as a tourist to do “life” things that I skipped out on while living here; and two, anywhere else I travel to will be as a tourist, whether I go this year or in the future; I know this won’t be the last time I am in Europe.

With a bit under two months left to go on my time here, I’ve finally been able to make peace with the multitude of emotions that I’ve felt at various times over the past 4.5 months in Paris. It’s been just recently that I’ve begun to wonder if I should have applied for a longer fellowship (would I feel more integrated into French daily life if I had more time to get accustomed to it?). At the same time, I wonder if now I’d feel as content with the life I do have here if I didn’t know that I’d get to see my friends back home by the fall. If I’d miss them for longer, would I still want to be here? The truth is, I don’t know. I like adventure and novelty, but I also like to share it with the people who know me, and even with all the technology that permits that from afar, it’s not quite the same experience as face-to-face communication.

What I do know for sure is that this experience has opened my eyes to so many new paths for what the future can hold; it’s only from talking with people – especially scientists – who have done things differently from people I know back home that I even could have conceived of some of the possibilities. It’s exciting and hard at once to have challenged time and time again things you thought were certain about life and your future.
So I think this experience abroad is meant to be just as it is. There are things I’ll be happy to settle back into back in Pittsburgh just as there are things I know I’ll miss from Paris when I go. But such is life: beginnings and ends; middles that change you.

My laundry is done now – more musings to follow on another morning, I’m sure.

Germany travels

Germany travels

May was such a busy month that I’m still playing catch-up! (With blogging and everything else!) At the beginning of the month, I headed to Germany (Berlin-Mainz-Berlin) for a combo vacation and work trip.

Brandenburg Gate

Berlin is…big. After spending the equivalent of a week there, that’s still my takeaway.

Berlin?

I had always been interested in visiting Berlin because of all the World War II history there, and for the first 3 days of my trip, that’s what I filled my days with. I visited Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust memorial, the Berlin Wall, and numerous monuments around the city, including the plaza where books were burned on Kristallnacht. While it was interesting to see first-hand where all sorts of historical events took place, all of the memorials have a distinctive German perspective to them that makes them different, from an emotional perspective, from how the same events are treated elsewhere in the world. Purely from my view visiting these locations as a tourist, there seemed to consistently be a level of trying to de-emphasize Germany’s role in WWII, by (too) starkly contrasting modern Germany from Germany in the 1930s-40s. I understand the perspective but disagree with how it was portrayed.

There were, though, some things I did like about Germany. I had a great Sunday touring around with a friend who used to live there, and who traveled over for the weekend to visit! It’s great to get the local perspective on a new city. Besides visiting some popular locations like the Berlin Wall and the Reichstag building (German parlaiment), we created a bus tour around the city using public transit routes, and we went to an outdoor food/flea market/festival at a local park.

On top of the Reichstag building

And while most of the food in Germany wasn’t super, I did eat a LOT of wurst, especially currywurst; and sampled doner kebab as recommended by numerous friends; and after Googling “best schnitzel Berlin,” ate a delicious schnitzel with a side of beers! I also found real bagels! I knew they were notoriously impossible to find in Paris, and apparently that is no different anywhere in Europe. Whatever Europeans call bagels, it’s nothing like the chewy, soft things that exist back home. At Shakespeare and Sons in Berlin, I found the closest-to -home tasting bagel that I’ve eaten in 5 months! A simple egg bagel with chive cream cheese made my day.

Following my Berlin vacation, I took a 6 hour train ride to Mainz via Frankfurt to go to the first of three conferences in a row (!), this one called CIMT, all about cancer immunotherapy.

Elves!

Mainz is the cutest little town ever! The buildings are a lovely shade of pink that matched the tree blossoms, and around around the town’s main square are all these little statues of elves! It’s capped off with a magical fountain comprised of figures of mythical creatures that somehow fits perfectly into its quaint backdrop.

There even was a rainbow when I visited…kind of perfect.

In the extra one day I had in Mainz and between sessions at the conference, I really loved getting to explore this little town. For example, on my first morning, I enjoyed a brunch buffet outdoors, overlooking the fountain and town square. 

At the edge of the town is a well-manicured waterfront along the Rhine, with walking paths, benches, and gardens. If you turn 180 degrees, you’re greeted with more pink houses or sleek modern architecture. You can’t lose with the views there!

And the food…well, still nothing special compared to what I am used to in France, or even Pittsburgh. Plus, the conference served us meals for the two days, which were nice because they were free, but they weren’t amazing either. What I did find and live was a little frozen yogurt bar called Mia Gelateria, that besides having yummy frozen yogurt had the option of topping your dessert with shots! Vanilla and Bailey’s for the win!  😉

After two nights in Mainz, I took the train back to Berlin for another conference. Neither the conference (on women in science – a topic for another post) nor the area of Berlin in which it was located were that great, unfortunately; I spent a lot of time skipping conference sessions after I realized that I fundamentally disagreed with the conference organizers on many issues, and instead enjoyed the fresh air around Freie Universitat Berlin, where the conference was located (and since there was nothing else to do nearby). On my last afternoon there, I did enjoy a walk around Alexanderplatz (back near the center of the city) for one last currywurst before heading back to Paris (for another conference)!

So, takeaways from this trip? One, don’t go to Germany for the food. Two, get a taste of both city and small-town life; they’re very different. Visit the cities for the history and towns for the old-world charm. And three, appreciate every travel experience for what it is – a new experience to take something away from; every new location won’t necessarily be a new favorite.