Category Archives: Temple Summer

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”

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So if there’s one thing I can say about England, it is that they have some amazing gardens. Perhaps it’s because of all the rain they get as being part of an island or maybe it’s just that every native Brit has a green thumb. Either way my experience shows me that there is no garden like an English garden. Knowing this I naturally had to make a trip out to the Eden of English gardens, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. To make it easier for you to read and for me to write, I’ll simply be calling these gardens by the name Kew Gardens, as most people do in England do.

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The first step on my adventure was going out to Kew. It was a bit of a long ride even though it’s still technically in the city, but it’s worth it. Because I underestimated my travel time I missed the group I was supposed to be meeting with which simply meant I had to enjoy the gardens on my own. I was off to a strong start and first went to the Palm House. This green house had hundreds of different exotic palm plants. there were ginormous palm trees with ginormous palm leaves to match. After that I sort of wondered the gardens aimlessly. I figured that I’d eventually just run into everything and that I didn’t need to use my map. I was very very wrong.

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You see Kew Gardens is quite expansive. It’s 300 acres of land in total. I didn’t realize the size of these gardens until i had been walking in theme for a bit. I spent about 5 hours there and I only got through about one half to two thirds of everything there was to see. There were so many different types of plants and green houses. I walked through a miniature bamboo forest. I sauntered through the rose garden which had a tea party set in the middle of it. I couldn’t help but think of Alice and Wonderland when I saw this. I may have sang “We’re painting the roses red” to myself as I passed by. I found a small grove of towering California Redwoods, so I even got a taste of my home country.  I witnessed in real life the Queen’s Lily Pads. For hose who don’t know the Queen’s Lily Pads are lily pads bred to be quite large. In fact, they’re so large they could probably fit a 10 year old on them. They would of course sink because they aren’t buoyant enough to hold something that heavy, but if they were they could be personal rafts. One of the coolest things I saw in the Gardens was a giant Chinese style pagoda. You couldn’t go in to the top for a view but that’s alright because they had a treetop walkway. The walkway connects and passes through several trees. It’s a lot higher up than I expected it to be and you can get a good view of the park from the spot.

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One thing I was quite surprised to find at the Gardens was Kew Palace. This was King George the Third’s personal palace. It was often used by George and his family for vacation and it was also where he retreated during his bouts of mental illness. I visit this palace and found it quite lovely. It might have been my favorite part of the trip to Kew, but not because of the building itself. I loved it so much because of who I met there. There were of course many actors in costume who would answer questions if you had asked any of them. I was curious about some of the architecture so I walked up to one and asked him a question. He answered me and I got him to break character so that I could have a long talk about history with him. We spoke for almost a half hour and we both learned a lot from each other. I was mostly concerned with questions about the American Revolution because George the Third was king at the time of it . Also being an American, I was quite interested in the topic. He referred to it as the American Rebellion rather than Revolution and mentioned how it isn’t a majorly discussed topic in classes. I found this funny because I remember spending almost a whole quarter on the topic in grade school. I also learned that George the Third was not ill at the time of the war as many portray him to be. He didn’t have bouts of mental illness till about a decade or so after the Revolution. He also didn’t do much of the decision making when it came to the war. At this point in history, Parliament  had most of the power and the Crown was practically the powerless figurehead it is today. He would even get blamed for the loss of the colonies by the English, when in fact Parliament didn’t listen to almost any of his recommendations on how to win the war.

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More important, though, than learning some interesting facts is that I made a human connection that day. I crossed cultures by talking to this man. We didn’t only learn, but we enjoyed each others companies. We laughed and had a few jokes at each other’s and our own expense. We broke past the preconceived stereotypes we may have had for one another and simply talked. You never know what you’ll experience or learn when you enjoy a nice chat with a friendly stranger.

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So if you love flower, trees, cool architecture, and crossing cultural boundaries by way of a chat or two I would definitely recommend going to Kew Gardens. It was an amazing place. Also, keep in mind there are tons of other gardens through out London and England. I would definitely get to any of them that you can. They’re all quite beautiful and usually very well kept. I guess the English are born with a green thumb after all.

-Joshua Gwiazdowski

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“Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.”

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One of the best ways to get a good glimpse at a culture is to go an open market. You’ll learn a lot about about a city and its people when you visit one. It’s almost impossible not to. When you go to a market you’ll encounter the various people and their cultures from all over the city in one spot. You can see this in the numerous vendors and their wares and the smell and taste of a myriad of food from all over the world. A market is a cultural convergence. A place where every piece of a city seems to meet in one spot. At least, this is the experience I had when I visited Camden Market.

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The Camden Market is in Northern London’s famous Camden Town neighborhood. This area of the city is a pretty trendy place for all the 20 somethings to go shopping or have a night out at the clubs and bars. The Camden Market is a little different thought. It isn’t exclusive to the young hipsters and club dwellers. Now technically the Camden Market is not just one market. It’s actually a series of conjoining markets in Camden Town. These include the Camden Lock Market, the Stables Market, Camden Lock Village, Buck Street Market, and the Inverness Street Market. Now these markets are all relatively close together, most of them actually connect directly with each other. In fact, often times I didn’t even notice that I had entered a different market. Because of this most locals just call the entire thing the Camden Market or the Camden Lock.

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One of the cool things about the Camden Market is that it’s built right around the canal that runs through Camden Town. There’s a big canal lock, hence the name Camden Lock. One of my favorite moments at the Market was when my friends and I got some food and sat down next to the canal. We were able to watch the boats pass by and see the water rise and fall in the lock. We even saw a few house boats and one or two people canoeing. It was a good spot to enjoy the view and even make some small talk with a friendly stranger or two. Plenty of people at the canal had their shoes off and dipped their toes in the water too. If you weren’t interested in the canal, there’s tons of cool sculptures and artwork to look at while you explored. We even found a bench that turned into a sculpture of a woman. Imagine eating your lunch on that!

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Speaking of eating, did I mention the food? The cuisine was awesome. They had all kinds of dishes from all around the world. You could get Dutch pancakes, Mexican burritos, Japanese katsu, Indian samosas and so much more. The list goes on forever. My friend even got a kangaroo burger from an exotic meat vendor. Personally, I went for some Indian, but it was hard to decide with so many options. Not only was this food cheap, but was well made. There was so much from so many different cultures. It was a celebratory feast in honor of globalization and diversity.

Food wasn’t the only diverse thing they had at this market though. The people were probably even more diverse. You had locals from all over the city who come to have a good time and foreigners and tourists, like myself, from all around the world. There were people from a ton of different subcultures too. They’re were hipsters, goths, nerds, skinheads, rastas. You name it they were probably there. The best part is that there were places for all these people to go to as well. There were vintage clothing shops, a mod-style clothing shop, comics and collectibles, art galleries, London themed tourist vendors, and so on and so forth. We even found a piece of London’s rave and nightclub life at this gigantic store called Cyberdog. It sold tons of clothing and novelties fit for late night raves and dance parties. It was as if every culture in London was represented in this market. There were stores, food, and people that came from almost any culture you could find in the city. It was quite spectacular.

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So here’s my advice to you. If you’re ever in a different country or even just a different city, go to their markets. Whether you’re in Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, on Canal Street in New York, or in Camden Markets in London or any other city market, you will see the heart and soul of that city. And if you don’t want to go for the broadening of your cultural horizons, you can still go for the great food, shopping, and fun. Either way, you’ll manage to have a good time.

-Joshua Gwiazdowski

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

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So far during my experiences travelling abroad I have had sort of a spiritual experience and I think there’s a lesson in it. Let me clarify what I mean when I say spiritual experience. I don’t necessarily meaning something to do with religion or a higher power. I mean I had a moment of transcendent wonder. I was in a state of existential bliss. It was moment where I had faith in the universe. This was the day I climbed a mountain.

What happened was my professor and two other students decided to take a trip to the Lake District. This trip was optional and a little unorthodox for most tourists from outside of the UK. The trip was to an area called the Lake District which is actually a pretty big tourist area, but not in the sense that people from all over the world are they’re trying to see famous monuments. It’s touristy in the sense like going to the New Jersey shore for a week in the summer or down to the Florida Keys or up to the Poconos. People who are from the UK go there to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. It’s really a weird stop for a people who aren’t from the country. Most people just go to the Palaces, Castles, Trafalgar Square, Stonehenge, and Big Ben. That sort of stuff. This is part of the point i want to make though. This is a road less taken.

But I digress. The Lake District is a beautiful area covered in rolling green mountains and deep, lush valleys. They’re are several lakes, hence the name, and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. If you were outside and there wasn’t at least one sheep in sight or one “baaaaah” in ear shot, you probably weren’t in the Lake District. When we got there after a very long and sleepy train ride, we drove down to the little town of Grasmere. Now Grasmere is famous for two things: Being the home of William Wordsworth and it’s gingerbread. I can say for certain that the gingerbread was quite delicious and probably the best I’ve ever had, but we didn’t drive all the way out there for snacks. Of course, as students currently studying English literature we had to make it to Wordsworth’s home and the museum dedicated to him. Walking through that piece of literary history was amazing in its own right. In the museum we saw pieces of his work written in firsthand by the poet himself. We were filled with awe. It was also pretty cool to see our professor geeking out. Enthusiasm like laughter and fear is often contagious and I couldn’t help geeking out a bit about myself.

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That was just the beginning though. The next big thing on our agenda was following the path laid out in Wordsworth’s timeless pastoral poem, Michael. The beginning of this poem tells us that there’s a trail to follow to find a hidden valley in the mountains. It goes:

 "IF from the public way you turn your steps
      Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
      You will suppose that with an upright path
      Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
      The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
      But, courage! for around that boisterous brook
      The mountains have all opened out themselves,
      And made a hidden valley of their own."

So that’s what we did. We turned away from the public path again taking the road less taken. We climbed and climbed the mountainside. Now this mountain is nothing like Mount Everest or the Rockies. It might look like hill compared to those bad boys, but for the average person this was no easy climb. It was a steep hike up the mountainside, but the higher we went the clearer it became that this trip was worth the struggle. Each time I stopped on our upward hike to take a look at the view it only became more breathtaking. It was as if the mountain was rewarding our efforts. It was showing me the more work I put into it  the more beauty it would reveal. This mountain was not harsh though. Halfway though our climb we found the flowing brook Wordsworth identified as Greenhead Ghyll. According to our professor, the waters of this brook were supposed to be quite sweet and have revitalizing qualities. I would have to agree with whoever made these observations. When I tasted the waters of this stream it was truly a sweet sensation. Filtered by the movement through the rocks and green of the mountain and untouched by man. The water was cool, refreshing, and delicious. I splashed some in my face for good measure and we carried on.

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When we reached the top I was beholden to such a breathtaking view I wanted to weep. All my efforts had been worth it to see the spectacle laid before me. Rolling mountainous greens, the sun shining down onto a piercing blue lake which rested in the valley bellow, the little town of Grasmere by the lake waiting to welcome us from our journey. This is what I saw and I wanted to share it with everyone. It was in that moment of bliss that I knew life was worth living and not only to experience these moments, but to experience them with those you care about. I knew I wanted to live largely and tell the world my story.

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So why am I telling you this other than the fact that’s its a neat little story? I’m writing this because I want you to know what happens when you take the road less traveled. Often times it is a tougher path. It’s full of hardship and many obstacles, but when you reach the end you find yourself in a wonderful place often with wonderful people. You sit there on your metaphorical mountain’s peak and look back on your journey and realized that all those hardships made you strong enough to make it here.

So the next time you’re travelling stray from the public path. You may find something better than you could ever imagined.

-Joshua Gwiazdowski

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“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

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So here it is, the post you’ve all been waiting for…. *drumroll*…. FOOD IN LONDON!!!!!!!!!!!

“Why is he making such a big deal about this? It’s just food,” you may be thinking to yourself.

The answer is simple. I love food and so do you. We all love food. George Bernard Shaw once said “There is no love more sincere than the love of food” and he was right. This is the only truly sweeping generalization about humankind I am willing to make. Sure, some contrarians may object to such a statement, but I ask all who claim not to love food, “Do you eat food?” The answer is yes, unless you are dead and in that case I’m sorry but I am only accepting comments and questions from the living at this time. Yes, I know that just because you have to eat food doesn’t mean you love it. It does mean though that deep down inside of you at the purely physical, instinctual level of humanness is the carnal desire to satisfy your hunger for sustenance and that’s close enough to loving it for me.

All joking aside though, this is an important topic to cover. For many people one of their biggest traveling fears may be “Will I like the food?” The problem is whether they like it or not they have to eat so they may have to adjust to the local diet anyway. Sure, you may think it’s just easier to eat imports or imitations of food you loved back home, but that isn’t always the best idea. Here’s a few reasons why you should try the local food.

First and foremost, you may have no other choice. Depending on where you are staying you may not have access to foods that are like the ones from home. If that’s the case you just have to embrace the local cuisine or starve. If diving right in to the deep end isn’t your style when it comes to food, there are ways to deep your toes in to get adjust. Find the food most similar to what you eat at home and work your way out from there. A good example, at least for London is fish and chips. Maybe you really like fried chicken and french fries. Then try fish and chips! The fish is fried very much like the way they fry fried chicken and it is usually a lighter fish like cod so it doesn’t taste so fishy. Chips are just the English word for french fries so there’s not much difference there. If you try it again because you liked the dish the first time, try putting salt and vinegar on the chips as is custom over here rather than ketchup or mustard. You could also try lemon on your fish as is custom here as well. Many English even use mayonnaise to dip there chips in!

A greasier example of fish and chips below

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Now London isn’t one of those places where you can’t find American food. They have peanut butter, Oreo’s, Doritos, pizza, burgers, etc. This brings me to my next point though. Sometimes when eating food that you would find in your home country you’ll experience that it is quite different than at home. I like to call this cultural distortion. For example, I’ve noticed in London that chocolate is not as sweet here. They don’t load they’re cappuccinos and coffees with sugar like we do and don’t even get me started on the peanut butter. That peanut butter was the most disappointing peanut butter I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve eaten A LOT of peanut butter. This type of thing can be a real problem for some people, especially if they planned to rely on food that was just like home. This can also be a positive for others though because some people enjoy the differences in taste between the originals and their copies. One of my fellow study abroad students told me she loved the peanut butter here. and although I disagree with her opinion I’m glad she enjoys it. In this way you can not only explore new tastes, but also get a sense of what how importing culture from one country to another can affect the aforementioned cultural import. This may also give you some insight into what the other culture thinks of yours. Peanut butter is a big American thing. If a Brit eats peanut butter they bought in Britain, they probably think they’re experiencing an American taste when they’re really experiencing an American taste distorted by their own culture. Many Brits would be surprised that our peanut butter is much sweeter.

So say you find food that isn’t culturally distorted, what’s the problem then? Here’s an example of the problem that can cause. You’re wandering through the streets of London. You’re wishing you had some food from back home in, let’s say, Philadelphia. Then you stumble upon a place that claims to be a Philly style grill. They also claim to have an authentic Philly cheese steak. “Taste’s like the real thing!” Just to prove that it’s impossible to find a good cheese steak outside of Philadelphia let alone out of the country, you hand over you’re money and wait for your order. Next thing you know you’ve got a greasy, meaty mess covered in cheese sitting before you. Five minutes later it’s gone. You don’t know how they did it, but they made a real Philly cheese steak. Maybe, the chef was from Philadelphia. Maybe, they used witchcraft. It doesn’t matter. It’s delicious. It reminds you of the cheese steaks from you’re favorite place down the corner from your house. It reminds of your dad’s homemade pizza cheese steaks. It reminds you of when your grandma took you to Pat’s and Gino’s in South Philly so you could decide for yourself which has the better steaks and you realized neither of them were really that great as far as cheese steaks. It reminds you of the time you and you’re friends made this really gross cheese steak with everything they had in the fridge and then dared you to eat it. It reminds you of the time you made cheese steaks for you and your girlfriend during a date night. It reminds you of that time you met your idol Max Bemis at Jim’s Steaks on South Street right before his concert at the TLA and how you wouldn’t have seen him if your girlfriend and your brother hadn’t pointed him out and god you were shaking the whole time you talked to him and it was a great concert too. In short, it reminds you of home. Next thing you know your homesick. You miss everyone and everything back home just from a stupid sandwich. Homesickness can put a real damper on any trip and although you’re bound to run into it at one point or another, it’s best to avoid putting yourself in any situation that you may get it. That’s one of the major problems with eating cuisine from your country.

Okay, so some of you may claim that you’re resistant to the homesickness. No mere sandwich can conquer you’re emotions. You are as solid as a stone wall.  “Why should I try different foods from this country if I can eat food I like from my country and be comfortable?” Because you aren’t supposed to be comfortable! That’s not why you’re traveling the world. Why would you want to just experience your own culture and not try anything new? Why did you even leave? You aren’t learning anything.  Every new food you try is a new cultural experience. Every cultural experience you gain is cultural capital in your bank. The more cultural capital in your bank the more you can relate to other people and share that cultural capital. I’ve never had fish and chips before I came here. Now that I’ve had it I can talk to people about it. I can write about it. I can trade stories about it. I can compare with other people their experiences when it comes to fish and chips. Where’s the best place to buy them? How do you make them at home? Do you like them better with the lemon or without? How do you feel about vinegar on the chips? Maybe, it all seems like silly small stuff but its that silly small stuff that connects people on a deep cultural level. The more I have to share with the people of England, the more we can understand each other, and the more Americans and English that understand each other the better relations there are as a whole between our people. There’s a movie that just came out recently called Hyde Park on Hudson. In that movie there’s a scene in which King George visit FDR with the Queen to see if he can get help from the US against the German invasion during World War 2. FDR wants to help, but he needs to strengthen relations between the US and England before he can make any sort of attempt. How do they start the strengthen of relations between these two countries? The King of England eats a hot dog. Guess what? The American people love it. If he hadn’t eaten that hot dog, Hitler may have won the war. It was a simple shared cultural experience that brought our two countries together. This just goes to show that food can change the world.

Don’t believe me read this article: http://www.hvmag.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=9913&url=%2FHudson-Valley-Magazine%2FDecember-2012%2FFranklin-Delano-Roosevelt-The-Picnic-That-Won-the-War-the-Royal-Visit-the-Hot-Dog-Summit-of-1939-and-Hyde-Park-on-the-Hudson-Movie%2F&mode=print

So maybe you aren’t into that whole brotherhood of humanity thing. You really just don’t want to eat the food. You don’t want new cultural experiences. You like your food and that’s that. Well here’s my final reason. You’re simply missing out. London is a great city for cuisine because it’s an international city. There’s food from all over the world available here. I’ve had authentic English, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian food all while here. I tried churros for the first time, which were delicious. I had my first lamb samosa. I’ve tried meat pies and Cornish pasties. All of these things were fantastic. I’ve also had my share of food here I didn’t like, but now I know to avoid that food Maybe, I’m finally getting to you and you’re thinking “Yeah, he’s right, but I live in a pretty well rounded city when it comes to food. Why don’t I just get this stuff back home?” Because you might not be able too. It’s the same reason it’s impossible to find a good Philly cheese steak anywhere but Philly. While here I’ve tried a lot of Indian and Middle-eastern food which is one of the many things London is famous for. This type of food includes the doner kebab.  Now this kebab was quite delicious and I’ve never had anything like it. In fact I had never had a kebab before in my life. My friend and fellow study abroad colleague who convinced me to come to get the food told me that I should come back here as many times as I could before I go. I asked him why and he said, “Because you just can’t find these anywhere back home or at least you can’t find ones this good.” So if you’re too afraid to try the food in a foreign place, you just might be missing out on something just plain tasty and you may never get the chance to try it again.

Delicious churros

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So if you don’t want to try the food when you’re in an unfamiliar place than I’m truly sorry. You really are missing out and something awesome. I hope some day you change your mind. If you do try the food let me know what it is so I can try it too!

-Joshua Gwiazdowski

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“Power comes not from the barrel of a gun, but from one’s awareness of his or her own cultural strength and the unlimited capacity to empathize with, feel for, care, and love one’s brothers and sisters.”

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Here’s a video in case you don’t feel like reading. Also you can do both if you’d like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NejauBWR8c4&feature=youtu.be

So what’s the first thing you think of when England or the United Kingdom? No, I’m not talking about tea, Harry Potter, bangers and mash, Doctor Who, or Big Ben.  I’m talking about the Royal Family. For centuries Kings and Queens have ruled England. Ever since it became a country, there has almost always been a monarch on the throne. I say almost because they’re may have been a civil war or two where the Crown was deposed or switched around. With those exceptions, history has watched as the throne was passed on through a grand line of royalty.

We still have this monarchy today. Of course, the monarchs have lost most of their power and the government now runs pretty much entirely on a parliamentary system. The Queen is nothing but I mere figurehead of the State. Still most of the British people love the royal family. We can see this with the recent events of the coming of Prince George, son of William and Kate and third in line for the throne, which I was so glad to be in this country for. The buzz around this baby is so huge that paparazzi have been waiting outside the hospital for a month and half before the child was even due. People lined up outside of Buckingham Palace waiting to see the Golden Easel which told if it was a boy or a girl. They practically worship the royals here. They’re not too unlike our celebrities in America. Think of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian and how people follow them. Now obviously these types of celebrities play a lot on their scandalous lives to gain more publicity unlike the royal family which prefers to be scandal-free, but they do have some similarities. They don’t really do anything except make appearances at important events. They’re just really rich and have really nice houses. Yet people love them, imitate them, worship them.

Speaking of nice houses we’re finally coming to what I wanted to discuss: the royal palaces. During our trip I’ve seen many of the royal palaces. I visited Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Whitehall Banqueting House, which is all that’s left of Whitehall Palace after it had burned down. These trips were amazing. They were chock full of wonderful visual experiences and also a lot of interesting information. They were also my first and biggest experience of culture shock. To explain what I mean I have to post a few pictures here for you to get a better sense of what I saw.

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These are just a few bits and pieces of what the palaces were like. I can’t show you much of the insides because most of them didn’t allow photos to be inside, but as you can imagine it was beautiful. These palaces were decadent and extravagant. Giant buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens. There was architecture from across the centuries. Sometimes the buildings had quite contrasting architecture, because one King would renovate something a different King had built. You might be in a room with Baroque ceilings that has Gothic windows. Even Windsor Castle, which one might think to be more somber because of it’s ties with Medieval architecture, was full of luxury. I stepped into these palaces and I was surrounded by the most elegant furniture, paintings, tapestries, and other trappings. Most of them were huge. One room could make you feel like the smallest person in the universe and some of the smaller private rooms we’re big enough to fit a two bedroom apartment inside of them.

This is wear the culture shock came in. I thought to myself, How could this be allowed? How could one family be given so much power and money and be allowed to waste it on material luxury? I tried to check myself. “The President gets the White House and a decent paycheck,” I would say to myself. Then I realized there’s a new president every 4-8 years and even then it could be someone who comes from a very poor background. Potentially, anyone could be president. The monarchs aren’t elected though. It’s all luck of the draw. You’re born royalty or not. I remember turning to someone while looking around a beautifully decorated room and saying, “I don’t know whether I should be amazed or disgusted.” They responded  with one word, “both.” I kept thinking of the poor from the past and present and how perhaps a little distribution of wealth from this powerful family could feed a poor family for a year. This line of thinking only dug itself deeper into my mind when I found out that England is in a recession right now quite similar to the one the US was in back in 2009, which is one of the reasons the dollar is doing so well in comparison.

I kept trying to wrestle with these thoughts and feelings. I was unsure how to placate these feelings. Then I did what all humans should when they don’t understand one another; I tried to be empathetic. I put myself in their shoes. If I was a Brit how would I feel about this and why? That’s when I realized what the royal family meant to these people. They were a symbol, a symbol of history, a symbol of freedom, a symbol of order, a symbol of one of the oldest nations on Earth. The Queen didn’t just represent England. She was England. She was part of the culture. She was part of what it means to be English. I finally got it. Maybe, I could never feel the same way they did about the royal family, but at least I understood why they felt that way.

Some of you may be reading this and ask, “But Josh, what about all that extravagant waste you were talking about? What about the poor?” To you, I say, “What about the poor in your country?” The US has a big poverty problem as do most countries. We may not have a royal family, but we’ve got celebrities, CEO’s, rich politicians, and corrupt bankers. Why don’t they help out the poor? At least the royal family represents something special and historically significant. We have no room to criticize them if we can’t  be more critical of ourselves.

Also, in a way the royal family has been helping the poor, though perhaps not directly. They’re legacy is something that many people come from all of the world to see and tourism is one of the biggest ways the UK brings in foreign money to stimulate the economy. People want to see the palaces, the huge gardens, and the lordly estates. Without all the history and cultural significance of the royal family, their economy might be worse off than it is. In addition to this many places that we’re once property of royalty or lords have become beautiful public parks and historical sights. Some of these places you may need to pay for to get in, but why not help support their economy. At least you’re getting to view history.

So if you’re ever in a foreign place and one of their beliefs or practices makes you feel uncomfortable, try to put yourself in there shoes. Empathy is not only a wonderful way to help make the world a better place and understand each other, it also cures culture shock.

For those of you who found this too serious here’s a funny and related video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvKIWjnEPNY

-Joshua Gwiazdowski

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“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

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So this blog will be using a combination of text and video posts because I know different people enjoy different forms of media. Read the post or watch the video. You can even do both. It’s up to you! Either way thanks for listening.

Click below to watch the video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx1oedm3YG4&feature=youtu.be

So there you are standing outside of the gate for your flight. You’re slowly working you’re way through the line. There’s this buzzing feeling inside of your stomach and your heart feels like it is about to jump out of you’re chest. This is perhaps your first time flying. Well not exactly, you vaguely remember that trip to Arizona when you were three and having to sit on your Grandma’s lap the entire trip. You cried the whole time…but that’s beside the point. You’re about to journey to a whole new country with people you most likely barely know. You are nervous, excited, anxious, scared, sad, and happy all at the same time. This is at least what I experienced. Everyone’s study abroad trip can and will be a little different, but there are definitely a lot of shared feelings going on. Remember that for later. It’s important to know that they’re are others going through and who will go through exactly what you are going through now. They may help you cope with the more negative feelings of homesickness that come later. Let’s not start on a downer though.

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So as I was saying, you board the plane. After 6-15 hours (depending on where your headed) of in-flight movies, a meal that was better than you expected , and maybe even a few hours of shut eye you’ve finally made it. You land, pick up your bags, go through customs, and there you are. It’s a whole new world. I remember when stepping onto the ground in Heathrow Airport, I was so amazed that I was in a different country. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I just wanted to lay down and feel the ground. I wanted to envelop myself in the feeling of euphoria and boundless curiosity that was pulsating through me. What will I see? What will touch? What will I eat? Smell? Hear? Learn? This curiosity is good. You’ll want to hold on to this feeling. I can promise you curiosity and a want of exploration will make this experience a whole lot better. This is especially true when it comes to adjusting to culture shock.

So after you join up with your group and finally get going to some sort of welcome orientation, you’re going to get hit hard. The jetlag will cover you in a blanket of weariness. You’re going to want to go to your new digs and just sleep for hours on end. Here’s my advice: Don’t! What ever you do not fall asleep! Don’t even nap. The problem with sleeping now is your body’s natural clock will be thrown off. This is of course a different story if you are making it back to your home-way-from-home at around 10 or 11PM, but most of the time this will not be the case especially if it’s a study abroad trip. The best thing to do is keep yourself up until a normal bedtime in the country you are staying in. Don’t sit down. Keep moving. What I did was explore my neighborhood in London, which is known as Clerkenwell. I walked around and learned of my surrounding areas. What was the best route to my classes in Holburn? Where’s the closest Sainbury’s? What is a Sainsbury’s? Where they’re any parks, restaurants, or pubs in my area? My new found friends and I did our best to find this out by exploring the area. This kept us awake and it made it easier to adjust to our new city. You may feel lost for a few days. This will definitely help prevent that sort of feeling.

After a long day of departure, arrival, orientation, exploring the neighborhood, and even seeing a sight or two, it was finally time to catch some shut eye. I was able to relax and sleep like a log. When I woke up it was a decent hour and my jetlag had mostly subsided. I had an exciting first day, but my adventure was only just about to begin.

-Josh Gwiazdowski

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Payphones and Palaces

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Where does the time go? I wish the days could slow down. Paris has been great to me despite some mishaps along the way. I recently got my phone stolen at a café. Now I know that  you shouldn’t have your phone out on the table while sitting street-side, it’s like pickpocket bait. I considered getting a new one but I figured I’d stick it out for another three weeks. I now communicate through Skype and a pay phone at the pension.  I wouldn’t call it a rotary phone but it’s definitely in the same family. Using it requires some finesse that our gardienne Marie has taught me. I can’t use it past  dinner time but I’ll take what I can get. The phone takes Francs which Marie has to convert to Euros  at the end of my calls. Not an ideal situation but I get to interact with Marie in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. She’s been teaching me some formalities. One of them being that the French rarely knock on bathroom doors. They usually push the door, assuming it’s locked. If it is, they know it’s occupied. I guess I better lock the bathroom door at all times or things could get real uncomfortable. Another thing she stresses is the importance of leaving notes, we’re supposed to leave them if we won’t be at dinner or if we would prefer small portions, they’re usually dinner related. Marie’s a real gem, she doesn’t hesitate to correct our French and she makes the best meals. At first she can be pretty intimidating but her no frills attitude keeps us on our toes.

“And that’s why you always leave a note”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ndrxzi3omg

The pension payphone takes patience.

The pension payphone takes patience.

So I’m pretty sure I saw a celebrity the other day. I’m walking through the Luxembourg Gardens and off in the distance jogging, I see James Carville! That might not mean much to some but I used to be such a political nerd back in the day. My inner fan girl was awakened in that moment, I stuck around for a few minutes to see if I could spot him again but the gardens are huge so I lost him. I didn’t have my camera to document my sighting since I was still gun-shy about the café incident. Carville has such a distinct look that I’m positive it was him. For those of you that have been deprived of the magic that is Carville, take a look (skip to 1:35): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYokuA055JI He’s sassy, sharp, and a little bit country, what’s not to like?

Napoleon Bonaparte took charge of Fotainebleau palace until he was exiled. He gave his farewell speech there.

Napoleon Bonaparte took charge of Fotainebleau palace until he was exiled. He gave his farewell speech there.

More Napoleon. Yes, he was that short.

More Napoleon. Yes, he was that short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I nearly missed the excursion this weekend but thankfully running up Boulevard St-Michel, arms flailing while shrieking “Wait!” are good ways to get a bus driver to stop for you. For some reason that combination of things never works for me in the states, damn you SEPTA! We traveled to the FontaineBleau and V aux-le-Vicomte palaces for excursion number 3. Talk about opulence. I’d never seen anything like these palaces in person before. You see pictures and videos but then you see the real thing, I’d recommend the real thing. Speaking of videos, I just found out via Wikipedia that Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” video was shot at FontaineBleau palace. Just to be sure I checked it out myself, true! That scene where she’s sitting on the throne with the tigers on either side of her, I remember that chapel. Some cellists and violinists we’re playing a small concert when we visited, I got shushed by an elderly couple in that very chapel!  Vaux-le-Vicomte palace was pretty unbelievable as well, I never quite understood the term “manicured landscape” until I saw those gardens. We got to take audio tours of both palaces. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, some of us got stuck behind a big tour group, the guide was speaking French. Naturally we followed them for a while, I couldn’t understand everything the tour guide was saying but I understood a lot more than I would’ve three weeks ago, small victories.

-Stephanie Dalce

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Madame Thomas in the foreground, she’s the best!

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Perfect gardens.

Perfect gardens.

It was so beautiful, I cried.

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We’ve been here for a little under two weeks and everyday has been the best day. I didn’t think that was possible but it is in this city.  My tourist veneer is starting to wear away revealing a more composed less culturally shocked resident, if only for four more weeks. Recently as I was walking back to the pension, a group of students came up to me in search of the Pantheon. This was the perfect opportunity to test out how much of a resident I actually was, they didn’t have a map and neither did I. After several hand gestures and some Frenglish, they were on their way. The Pantheon was a 15 minute walk from where they saw me however I’m horrible with directions. Some might call it chronic. As it turns out, I gave them the right directions.  What followed was a pat on the back and a permanent grin, I might’ve looked like a psycho but I was happy. The gratitude that they showed me for helping them for five minutes made my day, ultimately it was me who was grateful to them for the experience.

Me earlier in the week, classic tourist shot.

Me earlier in the week, classic tourist shot.

        I rode that wave of happiness for the entire week. I was more than eager to see how the weekend would play out. A few people from the program as well as a housemate and new-found friend from the UK decided to go to the Eiffel Tower. It was my first time going there since I’d been here. They say it’s not polite to stare but when you’re standing in front of something you never thought you’d see, especially not this soon, you can’t help it. I must’ve stared at the tower for 10 minutes straight. I couldn’t stop myself, I was in awe. Every time I looked away, I was drawn back, I had no expectations for what I thought it would look like close up. The shape was a given because who doesn’t know how the Eiffel Tower’s shaped? But the color and gigantic size of it took me by surprise. It’s a brownish/copper color, who knew? For some reason I had always thought it was either black or silverish — wrong! The size, enormous doesn’t begin to cover it. The  pragmatic aspects of the area such as a no alcohol rule that absolutely no one follows, or the guys who go around selling cigarettes, beer, and champagne were pretty interesting to me. It’s very clear that the locals and tourists come by the thousands to Champs De Mars to unwind and take in the atmosphere, the no drinking signs that are all over the place are pretty much there for show. As far as I could tell no one was causing any trouble so everybody won that night. We laughed together, picnicked and had some great wine, I could only hope that the next day’s excursion would be a nice continuation to an already great weekend.

Eiffy, in all her glory.

Eiffy, in all her glory.

After about three hours of sleep, I found myself on a familiar coach bus. The end destination was Chartres. Other than the fact that we would soon get a guided tour of the Chartres Cathedral by a man named Malcolm Miller, I knew nothing about the city but I was ready to see it all. Mr. Miller was a cool man, he probably knew more about the Cathedral than anybody else in the world. He caught us all off guard when he casually mentioned that he’d given the same tour to President Nixon and Yo-Yo Ma, we definitely lucked out on that one. Even though I was tired from the night before, that all went away when he went into great detail recounting the stories that the stained glass windows told. I couldn’t believe where I was sitting,  a church that was built in the 12th century. I found myself wondering, “Is this real life?” Yup, it was and I was living it. During the last moments of his tour, I began to tear up. Even now I can’t explain it. Each thing I was seeing was more beautiful than the previous, I was consumed. That was the first time I was ever moved in that way and I’m grateful for having been part of it. Well, it seems like my uncontrollable emotions and I are due for a power nap, until next entry, so long friends!

Mr. Malcolm Miller, our amazing tour guide. Looking cool.

Mr. Malcolm Miller, our amazing tour guide. Looking cool.

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

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Stained glass awesome.

Optical Illusion house @ Chartres

Optical Illusion house @ Chartres

The America mind transformed by the Jamaican way

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Prior to coming to Jamaica, I had some idea of what I would experience and what it would be like to live here since I had spent many summers in Jamaica growing up.

For the first week, my priority was to become more familiar and comfortable as a local, trying to get my feet settled, and learning how to interact with the new people around me in the most normal way possible. I’ve had to try to establish an “everyday” in a place I am foreign to. This caused a lot of the experiences in which I had to be more observant and less interactive. I was self-focused in the sense that I wanted to gain an understanding of where I was and how I could find a way to fit in. I had to make many adjustments in my mentality and unlearn assumptions I had about life as I knew it in the US. One of the hardest assumptions to let go of was the idea of punctuality. This is an idea that is embedded into American society. The saying, “If your not 15 minutes early, you’re late” shows that even being on time or punctual isn’t enough, you must be 15 minutes early instead. In Jamaica this is untrue, if you arrive 15 minutes early you will be waiting for 30 minutes. It was one of my first critical moments at the RADA office when I had the epiphany of why the motto “Jamaica no problem” is so popular here. The atmosphere here is slower than in the US and a lot more easy going. If something doesn’t go as planned or if you’re late, “No problem,” no worries, its alright. This was a challenge to get used to because it went against everything I had ever learned in my professional life. In turn I had to work with this kind of mentality being here.
Another area in which I struggled to adjust was the actual work/projects I’d be doing while here. My idea of the capacity to do work within the community was close to none. Coming here we had no real direction of the work that we’d be doing, which made me feel uncomfortable. I have always been a person who needs guidelines or something to check off to keep track of my progress. This is something that I had to learn how to operate without. Because of their easy going way of living, there is a different sense of pressure to get things done. Listening to the graduate students here, they say the way the work here is similar to that in graduate school. It is difficult because it is on your time to get it done and to figure out what needs to be done. At first, this lack of direction made me feel lost, but after getting more comfortable with the people I’d be working with and the work that needed to be done, I took it into my own hands to do the work I saw needed to be completed. One of the most vivid classroom “high and low” moments–where we share what was the best part of our day along with the worst– for me was after my first day at Princess Margret Hospital when I first met Tavia. I recall saying that I felt capable; as if I were able to do whatever I wanted working here and being able to make a difference. The first day I met with Ms. Robinson the way she interacted with me was empowering. It made me feel as if I were a colleague of hers and not a useless observer—a feeling I was all too familiar with working in the US. Working as a volunteer at various clinics back at home, I had never been able to work so closely with a patient. Immediately after meeting Ms. Robinson, she showed an interest in my opinion of patient’s condition and respected my expertise enough to give me my own patient.  That first day at the hospital was such an eye opening experience for me as a future therapist.
The entire experience of this day fed a flame inside of me that has not been touched in so long. Being in school and having to go through the prerequisite courses for my major has made me feel more distant from my goal. In the small amount of time that I was able to spend with the patient walking her through the exercises, I felt useful and like a therapist. Then, once I was able to see the immediate progression from when the first evaluation of her hand to the end result, I felt the gratification of being a therapist. I had always been told that being a physical therapist is rewarding in the sense that you get to see the drastic results of your work, which is something I had never experienced until that day. It is that “capable” feeling that has made me look forward to waking up early every Tuesday morning.
​As the weeks progressed, my experience had shifted gears from observing the Jamaican way to beginning to live it. I found myself letting go of my habits and developing new ones. A turning point for me was when I had consciously made the decision to look at every situation as a gain and not a loss—a lesson I had to learn from experiencing great frustration when thinking otherwise. Working with the public health office we had to deal with a lot of run around before finally establishing a set schedule we’d work with. We spent many days there with Mr. Deneton talking about miscellaneous topics and getting nowhere with the process of finding places to work. It was in that experience that I realized the importance of being more mindful and conscious of many things. The source of frustration for a certain time was the thought that we were wasting days here in Jamaica with trying to figure out where we can go and what we can do, when really the only time that was being wasted was on being upset. From that day on, I made it a priority to think of moments where things don’t go as planned as a new plan and not an unaccomplished one instead.
​Forming this mindset has drastically impacted my experience here. It reinforced the importance of not only living here as the people do but having a sense of cultural humility as well. When I am thinking of the culture consciously, I am more sensitive to the differences. However, when things happen and I am not thinking about being somewhere else with a different way of perceiving the situation, it is easy to resort back to the way of living I am used to; a way that is not wrong, but that is just not right for Jamaica. Being present in the moment has made every day here an experience even if it wasn’t meant to be one. One day that I carry with me and reflect on often was when it had been raining in the morning and caused RADA to be cancelled. Before class I was playing keep up by myself, and I remember Novella came up to me asking if I felt the day had been a waste of time. Without hesitation I said no, there’s no waste of time because I always experience some part of Jamaica. It wasn’t RADA that day, but it was the school bus which if I had gone to RADA, I wouldn’t have had that exposure. When I resumed playing, I realized what I had said and how much my mentality had changed. I had been able to look at situations as even though my time was not spent how I expected, I was able to enjoy and appreciate the times I spent doing something else.
Coming to Jamaica I had some ideas of what I would experience and how I may grow as an individual, but never would I have anticipated how being here would’ve impacted me. Looking back on who I was coming into Jamaica and comparing it to who I am now 5 weeks later, I can honestly say coming here has changed my life in all areas. Every aspect of this trip has impacted me in some positive way. I’ve been able to see the ways in which everything connects here. The day-to-day experiences I have had acts as the catalyst in understanding and applying topics we read about in the course readings.  I’ve been able to reflect deeply on how experiences have affected my understanding of Jamaican culture through things discussed and presented in the classroom discussions. One author in the “Learning through serving” book explained early on the importance of reflection. It states that you learn through reflections by cognitively/affectively developing thoughts and feelings. A majority of my reflection took place while we were in class. By talking about the “high & low” of my day, I was able to think deeply and reflect on situations that I’d normally over look with a greater appreciation. Leaving Jamaica, this is something that I hope to continue to practice. I feel that reflecting has played an important role in the gains I have made being here. To think so critically of situations allows you to find out things about yourself. I am now more conscious with the present, which has caused me to become more patient and understanding when it comes to life.
In my time being here in Jamaica, I have had the opportunity to do many great things. I have had the opportunity to look into the future and get a glimpse of what it will be like when I become a therapist; reinforcing my love for the career path I have chosen for myself. I have also learned about the past and how it plays an active role in making Jamaica what it is today; building the love and respect I have for the culture here. While both of these have made this trip enriched the piece of my heritage that I carry with me, the lesson I am most grateful of that Jamaica taught me is how to appreciate the present…even if its not what you asked for.

Living in a foodie’s paradise

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WARNING: The following entry might send you careening towards your nearest bakery or restaurant. Remember, the bakers and chefs are your friends.

I’ve died and gone to food heaven. How many times has that phrase been used in life? Tons, but keep reading friends, you’ll see why it fits. For one thing, because it’s true. This place is where every foodie will adore. If you’re someone like me who simply eats to live, you’ll also appreciate the culinary aspects of Paris. I have to say that eating has not always been one my favorite activities in the world. (cue sharp intakes of breath) I’m no food hater, I just can’t cook very well and over time it’s caused me not to enjoy eating that much. My cooking ability is limited to scrambled eggs, french toast, and pasta, if I’m feeling fancy.  Responses to my cooking usually don’t go smoothly, so over the years I’ve chosen not to subject people to it. It’s taken me some time to realize this but here are a few indicators that you don’t have a talent for cooking,  1: Someone tries your food but says nothing until you ask them, their voice goes up about 3 octaves as they say, “Yeah, it was good”, nothing more nothing less. 2: The next brave soul takes a few bites, doesn’t finish, assures you that it’s good, but they’ve eaten already. 3: You decide once and for all to test out whether or not cooking is for you with the most honest, most unapologetic people you can find, people who are unable to mask their feelings towards anything (my family). By this point they’ve caught wind of your failed attempts but they give it a try anyway because they love you. They give you a “that was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted” face and you finally realize that cooking is something you’ll do out of desperation rather than enjoyment. Yes, it’s that bad but I’ve learned to live with it. I like food and all, but at this point eating has become something I have to do in order to survive and usually the process is rushed. This is not the case in Paris, food is an event, a very enjoyable one. I’ve been experiencing the joy of eating and it’s been delicious!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This city probably has more cafes than schools and hospitals combined, nobody’s complaining, certainly not me. I’m here for another four weeks and could probably go to a new cafe everyday. At some point, you’ll find yourself having to choose between a variety of different courses, what should you do? Order something random each course (if you can afford it) and go along for the ride!  After all, if you have a positive outlook you probably won’t hate it. Just a bit of a heads up to those who are adventurous, I’m sure you’re well versed, but ‘foie gras’ directly translates to fatty liver, it’s usually duck or goose liver, made under special conditions. This dish, I’ve been told is delicious. Unfortunately, I don’t eat meat so I can’t say for sure whether it’s tasty or not. All I can say is go for it, how often are you even in the city of light? Unless you’re a Kardashian or a Windsor, in which case, thanks for reading my blog! On to more affordable matters, supermarches. First things first, Monoprix, Franprix, Carrefour, and Dia (if you can find one), are your friends, just like that previously mentioned baker that stood in the way of you and your baked goods. Treat them as you would a Target, Wal-Mart, Wawa or 7-Eleven, except with gourmet cheeses. They come in handy after a weekend when you completely forget that money conversions were a thing and are running low on funds.

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                Next up, desserts! Try macarons, these little gems are filled with either jam or butter cream in between two biscuit-like cookies, you won’t be disappointed! Croissants are so standard that I have no doubt that they will be tried and subsequently adored. Pain au chocolate, can you say paradise in a pastry? The perfect ratio of chocolate to croissant, have fun! Millefeuilles are the best pastry I’ve had, you might not feel the same, but hey, I never said this blog was unbiased. Oh and another thing, crêpes!, try them every which way you can. I personally recommend the kinder flavor but it’s kinda hard to find. There’s a nook on the corner of St. Michel and St. Germain that has a bunch of eating places as well as shops, you have to walk a little deeply inside said nook to find the creperie that has kinder flavored crêpes. Sounds sketchy but it’s really not, the owner’s pretty cool too.  If you’re not into crêpes you might enjoy a nice gaufre (waffle), yeah they’re delicious, go for it! As a matter of fact, try both, with Nutella, do it! Nutella, is probably what sustains France’s economy. It has the power to end every argument,  political debate, and divorce. Witnessing a brawl? Hurl some Nutella in between the opponents and see what happens. You might just end a fight. It’s that good. Well, this is pretty abrupt but I have a jar of Nutella making eyes at me, until next time, Salut mes potes!

-Stephanie Dalce

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