Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fogotten Blog?

This is not the case my friends and family! On the contrary, I will get you all caught up on my adventure, when I have a computer to myself again. Here is my sad story in short:

I guess this really all started about the beginning of Jr. year of college when I really began to notice that my computer's battery really wasn't battery-ing anymore, this was really to be expected since it is 2+ years old now, it was about time. But no problem really, I had a power cord, and it worked, I was good to go!

Or so I thought. Right before spring break my computer cord had started to wear through close to the converter box, but as long as I wrapped the cord a couple times and angled it right, it'd still get power to my computer. I crossed my fingers and hoped that this maneuvering would get me through France so that I could get home and order another one without huge shipping costs.

This didn't quite work as when I got home from Spring Break I plugged in my cord it sparked at me. Full out electricity pops that I could both see and hear! I took this as a sign that it was offically unsafe to use, and threw it away. Luckily a friend of mine has the same computer and thus the same cord, so I figured I could use her cord to charge my computer during the day, and pray my battery would last a couple hours at nights so I could work. This isn't perfect but would suffice while I waited to get a cord shipped here. She actually ended up having an old faulty cord she full time loaned me that I could use, as long as I pulled it just right! Sound familiar? Anyway, my dream of not paying to ship a cord here was re-kindled.

And shattered again about a month later, when her cord full out broke and my battery full out drained on me in the time span of 10 minutes. Blah...

What does this have to do with blog posts you ask? Well, I have most of the posts on my computer currently, which is dead. Had the wireless at IES been working I could have posted them while the other cord was still in one piece, but irony of ironies it came apart exactly 1 day after they fixed the wifi. Also, I hate typing on French keyboards, I'm amazed I've lasted this long, and I don't want to re-type them all, sorry!

To sum up, my computer has basically been a glorified paper weight for 4 weeks now, due to either lack of wifi, or lack of power source. It's too late to get my cord shipped here, but hopefully it's currently waiting at home for me, and I will post the details of all my adventures when I return home, in 1 week!

That's right, I return home at 6:30 pm mountain time next Tuesday! So until then, I love and miss you all, and will be on the same continent soon!


Friday, April 3, 2009

Plans, Trains and Automobiles!

So, I'm leaving on vacation this morning and wanted to say so, so that you know why I won't be writing for a couple weeks more. I know I haven't written about my last couple weeks either, but I promise I will write up a very exciting narrative while sitting, bored, on the many trains I will be taking this next couple weeks to get from here to there. I've bought a eurail pass for Germany, France and Italy, which theoretically allows me to travel on any train I want within those countries, MOST of which require a reservation anyway, something I wasn't aware of until I recieved my ticket, but it's still going be the easiest and cheepest way around Europe for two weeks, and I'm very excited to get started this afternoon! I will getting into Rome, via my only plane for the two weeks, tonight around midnight my time and then hanging out there for 5 days before going to Florence for 4 more, and then heading to the famous Wittenberg door, on my way to Berlin, which is the last stop on my way back to Nantes at the end of my wonderful two weeks of travel. Unless I decide to stop by Geneva to buy my Swiss Army knife replacement, in Switzerland! So now you know whereabouts, roughly, I'll be for the next two weeks, I should get back on the 17th and I'll have lots of posting to do by then, so be getting excited for that!

Until then, Peace!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Three Week Mélange

So, time has just flown right by me this past few weeks and I attribute this to several factors and they are as follows:

1) Vacation threw me for a loop and getting back and into the routine of things took me a few days.

2) Right after vacation, literally the day after, I had my first mid-term, to be followed by one more the next week, one more the week after that, and two mid-terms today, actually. So I've actually had to be studying and doing things like a normal student. It's nice that they're all so spread out so that I don't have to worry about 5 in one week, but also a little annoying, because as soon as I get done with one, there's another right around the corner. I'll be jumping up and down at 5 o'clock today when they're all over with! OK maybe not literally jumping up and down.

3) I got some weird 48 hour head cold/ sinus thing that knocked me out for a whole weekend basically. It was weird, I got done with school on Friday and my nose kind of went berserk, so I went to bed early, slept late on Saturday and was stuffy and groggy all day, same thing on Sunday, and then I woke up Monday and it was like a normal drippy nose, nothing awful and no sinus pressure, and by Tuesday I was pretty much normal again. But sleeping for 48 straight tends to make time seem like it's going right by you.

and lastly,

4) The fact that nothing really super exciting has happened to help me mark time. I haven't done anything to embarrass myself, been amazed by some cultural thing that I've never heard of before, or gone anywhere super duper interesting. Of course as soon as I say these things I realize that I've done thousands of things to embarrass myself, I do these things daily and just don't even really notice them anymore. I am amazed that the stupid strike is still going on. OH yeah! Remember the strike that the students were having against the school that was throwing off things here too, that we hoped would be gone by the end of break? Yeah, that's still going and shows no sign of letting up. The students are blockading the University, both literally and figuratively (since they actually go home at night. There's certain hours that they're there, it's like a job they go strike and then make it home for dinner, it's bizarre). Lots of kids had to switch out of university classes into classes at IES so they could still get credit for their semester, lucky for me, my Phonetics class just found another lab to use, so we're good to go on that front. However, it does interfere with my rock climbing class and gym usage that I was so excited about, grr. But anyway, as far as interesting places go I went with my host parents to their vacation house near the ocean this Sunday and it was quite lovely! The sun was shining and it was warm without being hot and we took a nice walk. I took a few photos and added them to the Nantes album, or will be adding them as soon as I post this, I should say. And this coming weekend I'm going with IES to Normandy for Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun I imagine and then I'll have something more interesting to share with you all.

Well that's about all I have to share for the moment,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vacation Part 3: Return to England

At this point I must confess that I am quite tired of early morning planes, which require even earlier in the morning bus rides to airports. But complainer that I am I lived through it, and it is quite nice to actually have the day to see the place you’ve gone to and not have wasted a day just with traveling and such. Dublin airport was a whole other story however. First off when we got their, they have what in my opinion is the most confusing and stupid check in system ever. I won’t even try to explain it to you because it’s that dumb. Secondly the lady at the check in counter asked to see my carry on baggage, at this point I have a plastic bag in my hands and my backpack on my back, so I just turned around and pointed to my backpack. Then she says and I quote, “You’re only allowed one carry on bag…” here she paused and when I didn’t say anything right away she goes, “…you have two.” The same way you would to a toddler. I wasn’t pleased with the tone of her voice, it wasn’t nice. So I just quipped back that the plastic bag would fit into the backpack. Which for those of you who weren’t there, was obviously a lie. Then she goes on about the one bag restriction, which is understandable, but stupid since the plastic bag was quite small, and how if at the gate I still had two bags they’d stop me and make me pay 30 extra euros, which is a lie on her part. So basically the situation was two apparently tired people lying to each other in the check in line. I’m not proud of myself, but she was dumb and I wasn’t in the mood. Besides if necessary I could have taken out a shirt or two from my bag, layered up and then fit the plastic bag in the backpack. So then we wander around looking for the random and slightly hidden entrance into the security check line, another genius Dublin airport arrangement that was obviously designed by the 5 year old daughter of the manager, or whatever airports call their head person. So we go through security, and low and behold on the last plane we’ll be taking my Swiss Army knife gets found and taken. I played innocent and forgetful and didn’t put up a fight, because of course it’s illegal and there’s no arguing with that. I was slightly disappointed that my knife got taken, but also oddly relieved that at least one of the three airports we went through caught it. So we made it to the airport and grabbed a bus to London, completely uncertain as to how our day would unfold. In the search for internet so that we could figure it out for sure, we stumbled across a place that offered it to us free, as long as we took a survey first, which took me about a grand total of 1 minute since I’ve worked in market research in the past year. So we found Carly’s number and then figured out that if we did go to Cambridge that night we could get back in time for our bus to Paris on Sunday morning. After that our moods were lifted quite a bit and we started our routine of just wandering toward whatever sounded cool or looked cool at the moment. So we wandered into the Westminster Cathedral and towards a large structure with lots of colored dots on it and then along a wall of pinwheels, then towards Buckingham Palace, then down the mall and toward Big Ben and Parliament and Westminster Abbey. This whole ADD traveler thing worked really well in London, there’s just lots of really random stuff everywhere! The only problem was that we weren’t always exactly certain of what we were looking at. In fact when we came up on Big Ben up close we weren’t actually sure it was Big Ben for about two seconds, I guess I never realized it’s actually attached to the Parliament Building. We sat down on the big monument/ fountain across from Buckingham Palace just a bit since our backs were revolting from the weight of our backpacks and while we sat we notice that one of the gates was open and there was a crowd around it, so we watched from afar and after a while a car drove by. Lindsey turned to the British lady next to her and found out that apparently it was a ‘senior royal’ since the car had flags on it. So we saw a senior royal, don’t know which leave the castle, I don’t know what for, maybe they needed groceries. After that we wandered some more and saw more parts of London, got Dad his pin from Hard Rock, which makes #3, there was one from Dublin too that I didn’t mention I don’t think. While I was taking the picture of the tea quote on a wall I dropped my camera!! I was worried, but it seemed to work just fine when I took the picture so I stopped worrying, until I tried to take a picture of an arch that was far away and it went all weird. So basically I think I knocked one of my lenses out of place, which sucks because I’m going to Rome for my next break. I might break down soon and see if I can get it fixed here in France, because sending it to Nikon is o-u-t. I’d rather have it unaligned and with me on vacation than not have it at all. After that incident we kept walking around and ended up just a bit lost. GREAT! Not too lost though, we found a B&B and asked the nice lady at the front desk who gave us the best news ever, the bus station was just a couple blocks away! So that lady is my new hero. After that we were pretty beat so we found food and then found the bus station and waited just a bit until our coach came. The ride up to Cambridge was pretty good, I slept through most of it. When we got there I groggily got up and off and collected my backpack from the sidewalk where the driver had tossed it before he hopped in and drove off in a rush. It wasn’t until about five minutes later that I realized I’d left my plastic bag with several of my acquired souvenirs in it on the bus, as well and my very soft red scarf. Since there was nothing that could be done right then, we went and met my friends, who I really enjoyed seeing! It had be quite a while, except for the three I saw right when I got here, but still I’m used to seeing them all much more frequently. So it was nice to meet up and hang out for a while. We chilled in their hall for a bit and then dozed off to sleeping.

Saturday we went with them to their cafeteria type place and ate a proper English breakfast which was the same as the breakfast in the hostel but also with oily mushrooms, which was odd. We then proceeded to hang out for a while longer before heading into the city so that we could see Cambridge. It was a fun day and pretty chill, which was nice. After a week of traveling I was pretty tired and glad to be able to relax just a bit and hang out. After walking around the city and seeing all the cool stuff there we went back to their dorm and prepared to stay up until 3 am so that we could catch our bus back to London so that we could catch our bus to Paris. However, I wasn’t feeling very well at all and had to get some sleep and was physically not able to wake up at 3 am and walk with my heavy bag into Cambridge, much less keep it together on a bus all day long, so I had to bite the bullet and pay for a train later in the day and then a train to Paris so that I could still catch my train to Nantes the next day. I’m glad this hit me when I had my friends around to help me out with getting new things arranged and when I could just crash in Carly’s bed and fall asleep. So Saturday night just kind of bled into Sunday morning and before I knew it I was waiting for a train.

Sunday morning I got the train station with a bit of help and got on my way without too much trouble, even though I still wasn’t feeling great I was a bit better. The train ride was definitely smoother than the bus would have been which was nice. I got to London and then into Paris, I got to ride in the chunnel which makes your ears pop tons and tons. It was weird and kind of annoying. In Paris I found other fellow IES travelers waiting in the station for their train so I waited with them and watched some movies on my iPod. Then, I got on a train headed back to Nantes and the rest is really not interesting so I won’t bore you with it. I made it back safe and sound and my host parents were on a trip of their own by the time I got back, so I just ate some dinner solo and went to sleep to fully shake off whatever I’d got that made feel so awful.

This concludes my first official vacation and my adventures had during it. In between this week of break and the next one in April there’s a month of classes to attend and learn during. Complete with mid-terms and a couple big assignments to be done, so I’ll be busy with all this for a while. On top of this I have to plan my next vacation during April! I’ll be on vacation on my birthday, so that’s really nice, I’ll be able to relax a bit and not worry about school at all. Tomorrow I should have a post that summarizes the two weeks after vacation that really aren’t that exciting, so they just get squished into one post. And then I’m officially caught up with the blogging thing. In case you haven’t noticed I did post pictures of my vacation so you can go look if you’d like to. I’ve gotten some comments about seeing more of me in these pictures, and in response I’d like to say, suck it up. I’m not in Europe to take pictures of myself I’m in Europe to take pictures of Europe. There a few of me in them, take what you can get. So there. Well, looks like I’m done for today.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Vacation, Part 2: The General Area of Dublin

The second section of our trip began with our waking up at 3:45 in the morning so that we could take a cab to a bus station, so we could take the bus to the airport, so we could take our airplane to Ireland and then another bus into Dublin. Needless to say we were a little sleepy upon arrival. Oh and by the way, again my SA knife wasn't caught at security check, I was slightly relieved, but at the same time a little worried about airport security. But moving on, on the way to the airport, we ate some rolls with the rest of the colis poured in the middle of them for breakfast, since I couldn’t take that much liquid through the airport. It was a bit like the healthy version of jelly donut, and surprisingly decent as far as breakfast food goes. Once in the actual city we got our euros back out, which was nice since the pound is a bit high right now and then we found tourist information. After grabbing a few maps and free guide pamphlets we went looking for one of the hostels on our list and found one pretty quick. It was actually really nice and I think my view of hostels is a bit skewed now. It was clean, not too loud, had wireless I could use, and they fed us real breakfasts with lots of food. It was fun. After all our things were situated we went out into the city wandering to find whatever we could find. It was around lunch time so our main goal was to find something worth eating. That however, didn’t go well and we ended up just wandering in a couple circles before deciding to just catch the bus that would take us to the Botanical Gardens. We hoped that we’d see something worth eating on the way there. I’d also like to mention that the Dublin and England buses are a little hard to navigate if you don’t already know where you’re going. There’s no list of stops on their route for you to take and no display or announcements on the bus itself to tell you where you are. Thus you kind of have to use a little bit of common sense, observation skills and luck to get wherever you need to go. After a little bit on the bus we saw the entry sign for the gardens and had to press the stop button quick and hop off. Then, because I made the guess as to which way to go, we went the wrong direction. By the time we figured out that we weren’t going to get into the park by walking the direction we were going, we thought maybe we had gone far enough that it would be wrapping around into a circle so we kept going that way. This was the wrong choice seeing as roads in Europe rarely make since and this one must have been spiraling out, so no circle was going to be made, regardless of how far we kept going. Thus we turned around and walked the whole way back to find out that the entry was only a few yards in the other direction. We were quite tired and hungry by the time we made it inside, and here we ran into some luck with a cafeteria type place inside the gardens where we could eat. So eat we did, then we went to see the actual gardens we’d worked so hard to find. And, while the gardens were probably very similar to one that could be found in the States they were still really fun to see. Lindsey and I both took lots and lots of photos of all the flowers, they had an orchid house, a tropical house, a house with lots of different aloe plants, which I thought were cool, and loads of other things. By the time we were done looking through the green houses the park was about to close, so we decided there wasn’t time to explore the grounds and see the outside part of the park. This was a little sad, but really we wanted to get back into the city and see more of things that we can’t find normally in the states. So we wandered around the city a little bit more and found a tea house we decided to try and see if it held a candle to Lee Rosy’s. In fact it did not. It was a bit strange of a place. Someplace that could have been cool, but was kind of trying to hard. Plus some of the decorating was done very badly with cheep materials and all I could think of was that I could have done a better job of nailing the fake plyboard like bamboo imitation stuff to the walls and sanding down the self which was all rough. Plus, in the room we were in, the furniture was very off, one couch was all one color with matching pillows and a matching armchair, but the other couch very well could have just been bare cushions that had those African influenced died fabric things put over them as covers. Didn’t work well at all. But it did have potential. Lindsey and I decided that given a little bit of funds and a few weeks, we could have made it look much, much better. Plus the tea wasn’t as good, it was more expensive, and there was less of it. So basically I’m ruined for other tea shops for the rest of my life. Since we were so beat, we found some Chinese ‘Take Away’ as they call it there and went back to the hostel to chill and eat and then sleep a little. Hey, before you judge, remember we woke up at 3:45 that morning, we did pretty good under the circumstances I think, so back off!

Any who, on Wednesday we slept in later and ate our first full free breakfast, which we found out later was traditional English style, meaning it was an egg over hard, sausages, English bacon, which is like really fatty warmed up ham slices, baked beans and some hash browns. We also got to help ourselves to toast, cereal, milk, tea and coffee as we saw fit. Needless to say we ate our fill so as to provide a little leniency with the necessity for lunch at a certain time. This day we had decided to go see a little bit of the Irish coast line north of the city and work our way south in the same manner as recommended by a site that we’d found on the internet for hikers. So we had a bit of difficulty finding the bus we needed since it must be only one of about five out of fifty that doesn’t stop on the main road of the city, and the direction we needed was even further away than the stop for the opposite direction. Grrr. But we found it and made it to Howth, a peninsula just north of Dublin that we planned to walk around. And we did. Along the way we found a few pebble filled beaches, a long stretch of stone wall, several cliffs, and a couple light houses. It was quite fun to get out of a city for a while and see the Irish countryside. Plus it was fun to do some hiking. I just added a couple ‘pictures’ to the Dublin album which show a google map of where we were and the path we hiked. It was a good 4 miles at least. The guide we’d found recommended some other hiking south of the city as well, but by the time we made it back to the city we still needed to find our late lunch so we did, then went back to the hostel to drop off the extra stuff we’d gotten for snacks later during traveling and then decided to just rest so that we could go out later, since we thought it was a bit late and getting a little too dark to make another hike worth it. So we rested a little until later in the afternoon and then went to go find some dinner and a small pub to relax in a while. When we got back to the hostel later that evening, we got a bit of a surprise when some of the other IES students we knew showed up. It was quite the coincidence that of all the hostels in Dublin we happened to end up in the same one at the same time, and in the same room to boot. So we swapped travel stories up to that point and chatted for a while and compared plans for the next day before heading off to sleep.

For our third day in Dublin we decided to actually stay in the city and see some of the more touristy, normal things that you’re supposed to see when you go there. One of our fellow IES friends from the other group wanted to go see the old Jameson Whiskey Distillery, so we decided to join her. Thus we were up relatively early to grab breakfast and get there in time for the first tour of the day. After seeing the old distillery, which no longer makes the Jameson Whiskey (that distillery is in Middleton near Cork, Ireland) and learning a bit about how the three different main types of whiskey are made (American, Scotch, and Irish) we all got to participate in a taste test. Normally they ask for eight volunteers, but seeing as we were the first group of the day and there were only nine of us, they let us all participate. They gave us all samples of the three different main types, and let us see for ourselves the differences. Then they gave us a complementary glass of Jameson. So, we started off our day properly and now know a bit more about whiskey than any of us had before. After this we took to the streets to find some of the more historic buildings in Dublin, such as the castle and Trinity College. The castle was a bit of a let down seeing as it’s surrounded by parking lot, but Trinity was really pretty, I just feel bad for the students who have to deal with dumb tourists wandering around their school all the time. Eventually we made it back to the hostel to rest a bit before dinner. For which we found a cool little restaurant which offered quote, “Traditional Irish Cuisine” which didn’t really seem that different from normal cuisine, but was very good, I especially liked the brown bread they served, it was awesome! Which brings me to a small side note, I think if it were possible to be addicted to bread, I would be. In fact when taking my case into consideration I think addiction to bread is not only possible but a serious affliction for which some sort of support group might be required. Living in France has not helped this addiction, rather it’s equivalent to placing a coke addict in a home stay with a drug family in Columbia. But this is really neither here nor there; I’m just making an observation. After dinner we went out to find a pint of Guinness, because after all we were in Dublin and I think it would have been sacrilegious to go there and not order Guinness in an authentic Irish pub. Of which we found one which was playing live music and was quite fun. And thus our day started with authentic Irish alcohol and ended with it as we went back relatively early so that we could manage to wake up in time to make it to the airport to catch our 7:30 plane to London.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Vacation Part 1: The Middle of England

On the way to the airport I realized that I’d left my Swiss Army knife on my keychain, where it normally lives and was a little worried about this because I didn’t want it confiscated at the airport. We didn’t have time to turn around and go back however, so I just took it off the key ring and placed it in the front pouch of my back pack thinking that if they found it I could just say I forgot it was there and at least avoid looking like I was blatantly disregarding the rules. So we get to the airport and check in, no problems. I even make it through security, even though I got stopped. However, not for my tiny knife, which they seem to have missed, but for my deodorant, which I forgot to take out of my bag along with all my other toiletries. Ooops! That really was an accident and I found this highly funny, the French are quite amusing. I find it ironic that this is the country where I get stopped for a hygiene product and not a possible weapon. Anyway we made it to the plane and got through customs in the East Midlands Airport, which was interesting seeing as the English actually ask you questions about why you’re entering their country. Something which the French just couldn’t care less about. It was really really amusing explaining couch surfing to the lady at customs and my friends in Cambridge thought I was quite stupid for mentioning it in the first place. She thought we were crazy I’m sure, but it all worked out and she let us into the country after close examination of our other plane ticket receipts which indicated we did plan on leaving again. We caught a bus to Derby where we wandered just a little bit and then met our very nice hosts who made us dinner that night, which was quite delicious green curry and tofu (they are vegetarians, just like my friend Lindsey who I was traveling with). After that we talked a little while with them, they’re a cool couple who actually just recently moved into their house, and who are also expecting a baby! It was nice to talk with them, but it’s amazing how quickly traveling can suck away your energy! It’s quite awful, so after chatting for a little bit we went promptly to sleep.

Anyway, the next day, Saturday just for the record, we were all rested and ready to explore, so after some breakfast our hosts took us to an official English market, which was cool to see, they’ve got lots of really random stuff all together in one place. And I mean very random stuff. We bought some fixings to make pain perdu for our hosts like we’d promised them and then went back to their house to store it all. After that we drove up to Chatsworth Mansion, the location for Mr. Darcy’s house in the newest Pride and Prejudice movie. Unfortunately we couldn’t go up to the house because it’s closed during the off season, but we got to see it at least and then go to the market near the house, which had loads and loads of really awesome sounding food. We each ended up getting something and everything we tried was as awesome as it sounded. We got a shortbread cake with rum soaked raisins and apricots inside. We had it for dessert that night after dinner, OHHH so yummy! After the market we went farther into the country to find some cool underground tunnels/caves that we wanted to see. They were neat, but quite small, the tunnels were filled with water, so we took a boat through them to the cavern and then back. You can see pictures of this in the Derby album if you so feel inclined. After that we drove through the peak district some more. It would have been fun to walk a little but our host who was pregnant wasn’t feeling up to a long hike, so we drove just a little ways and then went back to their house. We ate some dinner, complete with awesome dessert already mentioned, and then went out a little bit later with our hosts and some of their friends. The British are funny when the drink. And we got to see a bunch of women show up looking crazily ridiculous since they were on a hen night (bachelorette party in American). We also took a ride in a real live British cab, which look funny and large, but are handicap compatible, so they’re just more progressive than we are in the states I suppose. After that we returned to their house and prepared to sleep after our long day out and about.

On Sunday, we woke up and got ready to go, then cooked the some breakfast, using some colis (pronounced cool-ee), which is basically ever so slightly sweetened pureed fruit, instead of syrup that we’d found at the market the day before. So far the two times I’ve cooked pain perdu in Europe it hasn’t even been sort of close to what I usually make in the states, but it still turns out well. I think anyway, and I haven’t had any complaints. Around 11 we hopped a bus to Nottingham and met our next host, then went to explore our new locale. First we wandered the town a little bit and then went to find the oldest pub in England our host had told us about quickly. It’s carved into the cliff that it sits next to, which we thought was cool. And it was cool to see, but we didn’t go in since it was a bit early for that. Turns out it’s pretty close to the castle, so we went to see it and it was a bit disappointing to be honest. You see, Nottingham castle has been blown up at least twice in its history, once due to war and once due to angry citizens revolting. So, instead of rebuilding a close replica of the actual castle, they built a museum house in its place. On top of that, the museum barely has anything to do with Nottingham, which we found odd. It has lots of random exhibits which range from art works to a display about Greek pottery, a room with random objects that has to do with their history and uses, and other really random rooms which don’t all tie together in any way shape or form. Don’t get me wrong it was interesting, just not what we expected. Even the part that was about Nottingham was weird and not quite expected. After that we wandered more and went to find a place for dinner. Find a place we did, it was an Indian restaurant which had won some local awards, but was still affordable. Hurrah! It was quite delicious. We also found an excellent little tea shop, called Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop. Logical name I think. Anyway, we instantly fell in love with this place. It’s quite the epitome of English tea shops. And not too expensive, a pot of tea which is four cups of tea (normal sized cups too) was only 2 pounds! So we split a pot of the best pomegranate green tea I’ve had in my life. Then we went wandering a little bit more, and then went to the town center to meet our host. While waiting for him however, some Nigerian guys that were there to visit asked me to take their picture. I complied with their request but before we knew it they were asking Lindsey to come stand with them in the shot. She hesitated and said they should have one of just them so they agreed, but then after that made her go join them. At this point our host, a guy in his 40s, shows up and comes over to us and offers to take the picture so I can join them too. When the guys from Nigeria ask who he is, he says he’s our dad and starts giving the guys a hard time for having approached us. All in good fun of course and they figured out pretty quick that he wasn’t telling the truth. Anyway pictures got taken, and then the guys are talking to us and once they find out we’re American immediately go, “But you’re not fat enough.” That’s right. To which Lindsey and I just kind of went, “Thanks… I guess.” Anyway then we started going our separate ways and they said something about seeing us again they were sure. What is it with Nigerians and immediate friendship? Remember the guy on the bus to Paris? Yeah, so apparently it is just a cultural thing, or at least with all the ones that travel. These guys at least said something about how unlikely that was. I still feel bad about not being able to contact the guy from the bus. He was nice. Anyway, we went for a drink with our host and then went back to his house to sleep for the night. With only one small problem, he doesn’t heat his house, meaning we had about 5 blankets each and were still cold, I’m used to this and quite like sleeping in the cold, however Lindsey is from Texas and didn’t manage quite as well as me. I felt bad for her.

The Monday was slightly less adventuresome. We took our first showers since we’d set out and were quite happy about that, but they were fast, seeing as it was so cold in the house, at least there was a water heater. We ate some food and then wandered around Nottingham some more. We both bought three scarves for 6 pounds total from a street vendor. Which I’m very content about. They’re nice scarves too. So that was really fun. Then we went to find the Alley café which our hosts in Nottingham had told us to find. It’s a vegetarian café with good food, so we walked up the street where it was, didn’t see it, back down the street, didn’t see it, tried again, nothing, then as we were giving up and going to find something else, Lindsey saw the sign that pointed back into the Alley where it was. We were really excited that we found it so that’s where we had our lunch. Complete with delicious gluten free brownie and vanilla ice cream. Then we went to explore the underground tunnels our host had told us about. During this it occurred to me that I’ve now seen the underground of three of the cities I’ve been to, and they’ve been the only locations I’ve paid to get into. Just an observation, but it makes me wonder about my priorities… Anyway after the caves we went back to Lee Rosy’s Tea and ordered another pot, but this time we tried something new, I don’t remember the name because it was really odd. Then we promptly ordered another pot, Lindsey bought three bags of tea, and I bought one too. Then our host came to meet us, and ordered another pot of tea. It was marvelous. Then we decided to find some fish and chips since we were in England after all. We got these huge fish and lots of chips and at the insistence of our host also got some mushy peas because apparently that’s just required, but not mentioned in the name because fish, chips and mushy peas is much less catchy and a bit long. While they were fixing us the food we had a nice chat with all the workers at the place we’d gone to and then, once the food was done and wrapped up, we went back to his house to eat. It was better than I expected it to be, but it won’t become my new favorite food anytime soon. I got so full I couldn’t even finish my fish, and our host had a really happy cat who got to polish the rest off later. After that it was pretty late and we were pretty cold, so we promptly ran upstairs where were staying in his attic like room and went to sleep to avoid the chilliness. Plus we also had a really early morning so we could make it to the airport in time for our flight into part two of our vacation.

That's where I have to leave it for now, the last two parts of the vacation story will be here on monday, or else you can point your finger and call me a lazy bum.

But for now, Peace.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Pre-Vacation Week

I firstly would like to apologize that it’s taken me a month to get back to this. Totally my fault, but I’m going to blame it on the vacation anyway. It’s because of that, that I’ve just recently become a disorganized procrastinator and it has nothing to do a chronic habitude of mine.

I secondly would like to apologize that this particular post has very little to do with my actual vacation. But just you wait, I’m going to finish writing those posts and then you will all be stunned, shocked and amazed at how brilliant they are. Then I will promptly get my posting caught up with these past two weeks after the break. Just in time to go on another vacation and get behind again. Ain't life grand?

So that week was a pretty short one as far as being in Nantes and taking classes goes. My grammar class was canceled because the professor was on vacation a week early and the French professors are on strike, not ours of course, but at the university the classes were all canceled and weird, so that effected us to. I really have no idea what the strike was about, it’s got to do with specialization of schooling so the teachers and students are striking. The concept of students striking against school seems weird to me as an American, because I don’t think that would work in any of our universities. If you don’t like it here, leave; this seems to be more along the lines of how Americans would respond to such an event. Maybe if it was the entire student body though, they might listen more intently. I don’t know though, still, I think it’s strange. Yet another cultural divide between our two cultures. So classes went along, I had to focus on making myself stay focused in class, I think I was getting a little burnt out on French and tired, and anticipating the break to come. And come it did regardless of whether Lindsey and I were ready. We still hadn’t finalized any but our Nottingham places for staying and they didn’t get finalized until Friday morning right before we left. We got a place to couch surf in the two England towns and said that if neither of the Ireland hosts we’d asked responded positively before we arrived, we’d just go to a hostel, of which we found a few acceptable ones before we left. So with that in mind we hopped on the tram and then the bus that would take us to the airport and away to vacation and English speaking countries! Which by the way we were both very very excited about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week!

First off I just like to say that I started off this week in a very classy way. While taking a break in the middle of a two and a half hour class I fell off a table while tipping it over. I was sitting on a table and leaned over the edge, where my feet were dangling, and the table went off balance. This resulted in me half catching myself, half face planting it into the carpet and ending up all sprawled out over the floor with the tipped over table, along with the papers that were on it. There was an audience as well. But I’ve found an up side, these things no longer embarrass me. I think I’ve managed weirder accidents than this before, so I just hopped up said I was good and helped put things back in their proper place. I didn’t even get a bruise or a scar, so this is totally not even a big deal. Just funny, and quite classically me. After my normal classes were over I headed up to the place where my first rock climbing class was to take place. Unfortunately after taking a tram until it stopped and then a bus, which took about 40 minutes, I couldn’t find the gym. I was so disappointed. I found the street it’s supposed to be on, but not the actual gym. I wandered up and down the street for about 20 minutes, even went in one place and tried to go in another then gave up and took the two buses back to the house in defeat. My host mom tried to help me find it on a map, but it was just a map of the trams and the building wasn’t marked. I waited until the next day and asked one of the IES professors for more specific directions. I think I know which building it is now, at least I hope so, we’ll see next week I suppose. Also on Tuesday I went out shopping for a pair of shoes that would suffice for rock climbing at the sales, and found an awesome pair of Pumas that will do the job for 50% off. I was very proud of this purchase, and very thankful for government mandated sales. Yep, the French have a month of sales after new years, which I believe is required by the government. Something that would never happen in the States, ever. So that was fun. On Thursday a few of the IES students and I went to a discotheque (a dance club) with our IES social coordinator, a French student who gets paid to take us out and show us around town basically. Anyway, the club was pretty fun, but it’s a poor idea to go out late on a night when one has school the next day, especially when one is out past when the busses and trams run, so that one is required to walk 45 minutes back to one’s house. And I didn’t even walk all the way to my house, which would have been an extra 15 or 20 minutes, I stopped at a friend’s house. Needless to say, my knees gave out on me about half way through Friday and I wrapped one of them up in my Ace bandage so that I could make it out on Friday night for a fellow student’s birthday. It was fun, we just went around town on a pub crawl to see what there was and explore the city a little. I did leave the party early enough to catch the tram home though, I will only make that mistake once. After two nights out in a row, I slept well into Saturday morning. During the day I went to the markets with some friends and then we made lunch and riffled through some of the shops for the last day of the sales and then we had dinner. We stopped at this awesome little Thai restaurant that had some amazing food! So yummy! Sunday was pretty basic and boring. I did some work, played some computer games, explored a little bit more of Nantes. I found six post cards that I really liked at a local book store. So I got them and since they’re of different locals around Nantes I decided to wander around the city and take pictures of the same areas with my camera. So you can see those, plus a few extra areas in my Nantes album now. I revisited the Jardin des Plantes, and also went to a Garden near my house. Also, there’s this area of Nantes called the Machines de l’Iles. Basically it’s a huge metal elephant, and since I passed in on my adventure, you can see that too in my pictures. After my wanderings I went back to the house and rested some more. That pretty much wraps up my fourth week, and my first month in Nantes! I can’t believe I’ve been here for a month already! It caught me off guard this week when I realized that. I’m having an amazing time! And next Friday I’m heading off to England for my vacation! So I’ll have more travel pics to show you all soon and hopefully some fun stories!


Monday, February 9, 2009

Books, books, books.

So my dear friend Amy recently asked if anyone knew of any good books to read because she has been craving a really good book for a while. This got me thinking about really good books I'd read and other books I wanted to read, which started an Amazon 'others who bought this book also bought...' chain, which led to the list to the right, which includes new finds via Amazon, reminders of other books I've wanted to read for a while, and also a few good books I wouldn't mind reading again since it's been a while. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions about books that are on the list or others you know of that aren't but should be.

More about Nantes tomorrow, I promise!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Solo Time

My third week abroad started off pretty average. I’m enjoying having the house to myself, since that means I don’t have to worry about whether they’re waiting for me to eat dinner, or whether I told them I had my late class or was going to stay out with friends. It’s nice. I can just leave the house in the morning when I need to and come back when I’m done! On Monday I went to the University of Nantes and signed up to take ROCK CLIMBING!! That’s right, and it’s only costing me 10 euros! At Jewell the rock climbing class is an extra $100. And along with that I also signed up for weight lifting no extra charge. I’m basically getting a gym membership and rock climbing course for the price of 10 euros. The only down side is I didn’t bring my tennis shoes because I didn’t think I’d be using them, so I have to go find a cheap pair at the store that’ll last a couple months. But that’s OK, it’s still cheaper to buy shoes and pay the 10 euro class fee, than it would be to take the same course at Jewell, or pay for a gym membership. I’m fairly excited about this, as I’ve always wanted to learn official rock climbing and I enjoy working out. I also bought my tickets for my upcoming break in February on Monday. So I’m officially going to the East Midlands in the UK for about 4 days before flying to Dublin and staying for 3 days before flying to London for a couple days to see my Cambridge pals before I have to catch a bus back to France. My friend Lindsey is coming with me on my exploration and I think we’re going to stay with a friend in Manchester for a couple days before heading to Nottingham and couch surfing there and then again in Dublin before we make it to London where we’ll stay with the Cambridgers. I’m really looking forward to traveling again, so even though I had to spend money on tickets, I’m really excited about having real plans for exploration. On Tuesday we have the conversation club at IES after classes during which we can go and talk with French students and get to know them a little. So I went and it was fun, we did a fake speed dating theme so we just got a few minutes to talk to people and part of it was in English to my great surprise. So that was fun and I think I’ll go again next week. After that my week kind of leveled off and became more normal. I went to classes spoke with friends and then went back to the house. Pretty average week besides the fact I was doing it in French. Saturday I met a friend and since neither of us have internet access at our houses we attempted to go around and find a spot where we could get cheep internet on the weekends. McDonalds offers free internet, but they have no outlets to plug our computers in. The university was closed as far as we could tell, which was disappointing and annoying, even though we don’t know if it has wireless. There’s a knockoff McDonalds called Quick that we saw has free internet, but we didn’t go in to see if there were plugs, that’s an adventure for another day. I’m also looking trying to find a local internet café, or café with free wireless that I could hang out at on the weekends. If such a place can be found I will be better able to coordinate speaking English via Skype with my family members. After the search I went to friends for diner and then went to see a concert featuring music by Bach. It was a big multi-day festival thing in Nantes, but the specific concert I attended was played on the Harpsichord which I’d never heard live before. It was very beautiful and quite fun to attend. Pictures have appeared in the Nantes album above, along with another couple random things I spotted around Nantes that day. After the concert we went out for a while and then I returned to the house to stay and work/rest all of Sunday. It was quite nice. My host parents returned Sunday evening right before dinner so we talked a little about their trip. My host dad fell and hurt his foot really badly, it was all swollen and not good, so they’re going to the doctor tomorrow to have it looked at. Other than this I can think of nothing else to say here, so until next time,


Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm a big kid now!

OK after the long week of orientation and my weekend of being a reclusive Disney princess wannabe, the next week went splendidly. We started our first official week of actual classes, so my schedule during the day was back to what I’m used to, which was very nice. In the morning I speak French with my family and then go to school, where I take my classes and bring my computer so that I can use my internet, and then at the end of the day I go back home to speak more French with my family and sleep. This pretty much sums up my second week in Nantes. I’m taking classes in French Theater, The Religion, Society and the State in Modern France, Art History, Grammar, and Phonetics. Theater is fun, but the professor speaks pretty fast, so that’s interesting. We’re reading a classical comedy right now, it’s Moliere, the French Shakespeare, so the piece is a bit hard to understand, but fun to read anyway. Religion Society and the State will be my hardest class probably, because I’m not very interested in it, at least not at the moment since we’re reviewing the 19th century so that we understand the background of what led to ‘Modern France’. So it’s just like a history class, but in French. I haven’t had Art History yet because the teacher was sick that first week, but I’m looking forward to it. Grammar is pretty self explanatory and not to difficult, so that’s going well. Phonetics is quickly becoming my favorite class because the professor is really nice and I think the subject matter is interesting. It’s nice having specific instruction on how to move your mouth to make the crazy French syllables that don’t exist in English, especially when you think you’re saying things write but totally are not and have an accent that some people can’t understand. So after a week of classes, Friday night I attempted to go see a play with my friends that our Theater professor had told us about, but we got lost and couldn’t find the theater, so we gave up and went out for a while. Saturday we had a trip to Mount Saint Michel, a really cool monastery, and Saint Malo, a small ocean village. It was quite lovely and fun, the pictures should have appeared in the upper right corner by the time I publish this. Saturday night after we returned a few friends and I stopped by the grocery store and picked up some extra food for a salad and bread and cheese and went back to my host parent’s house and cooked ourselves dinner and hung out. My host parents left Saturday morning for a week long trip and told me that I could have some friends over for dinner a few nights so that I wouldn’t get lonely. Needless to say I took them up on it, because it was nice to fix myself something for once and just have a quite place to chill with friends. Also, my host mom bought me tons of food, I think that she thinks Americans eat a lot, cause she’s constantly feeding me lots and lots of food. It might also be because she anticipated me needing extra food to offer to the friends I would be inviting. But she still feeds me lots on normal days too. Maybe it’s a mixture of both, but it doesn’t really matter, so moving on. I was a total shut in all of Sunday. It was nice to not see anyone, at all, all day. As an introvert this was just the day I needed to recharge. Since my host parents were gone, I got to sleep in without worrying about whether or not they expected me to wake up at a certain time. Fix myself food, whenever I was hungry and not worry about when they were going to feed me or expect me to leave. I got to lounge around in my pjs all day long and do nothing but read and goof off on my computer without any worries at all. It was bliss! Again, being a total shut in, and not pushing myself to get out and meet people is not really what I came here for, but I figured I’d take advantage of this day because it’s probably the only one I’m going to get this entire semester. At least that’s how I justified to myself at the time, and it’s too late to go back and change things now. And that pretty much wraps up my second week in Nantes.

C’est tout!


Friday, January 23, 2009

Let the Official Learning Begin.

So after our nice weekend away and being spoiled with travels and good food, we returned to Nantes for orientation week. During this week our schedule was composed of things such as group meetings where we learned the rules of IES, the social etiquette of living with our host families, and the rules of taking classes at the local University here. We also went on a tours of the University of Nantes, and the center of Nantes with all the practical stops such as the Laundromat and the Post Office, both the small and large one. When we weren’t in big groups listening to rules, or walking around the city in the cold we were spilt into smaller groups so that the instructors could do an intensive review of French based on our needs as shown by the test we took in Tours and judge us further so that they could figure out for sure which grammar class we would be put into for the rest of the semester. If you can’t tell by my tone this week was so much fun. Seriously it was kind of tiring. Granted some of the information they gave us was needed, but there was a lot of it, really quickly, in French. Classes for the intensive review were helpful, but also very very boring. And the tours were also helpful, but maybe a little long especially in the winter. It felt a lot like they were holding our hands and leading us around like you would a kindergarten class on a field trip. As a relatively independent human being with a brain and a need to be alone every now and again this was a very hard week for me. Just a picture, for this entire week I woke up around 7 and was with my family until I left for school maybe an hour or so later, then was at school with people being herded until 6 or sometimes later, when I went back home and would be with my family for dinner and usually conversation after until 9, when I’d finally get to go to bed. That’s over 12 hours a day of me being with people, all the time, straight 12 hours of people. Not to mention hearing a foreign language everywhere is oddly tiring. I think it’s cause I still have to concentrate on it to understand.

So not the best week ever in the history of my life, but progress was made! French is starting to slowly be more intuitive for me. I can really understand most of what I hear, or at least catch the major meaning. However, forming full length sentences still eludes me more often than not. But I’m doing at least ten thousand times better than I was doing my first night and even first weekend. At the end of the week, on Friday I went to the movies with a friend, which was OK, but the movie we saw was not quite what I expected it to be and we were so tired I think at one point we both fell asleep for a while. I thought it was a suspense movie that would have minimal dialogue and lots of action/suspension to keep us entertained. In reality it was more subdued and thoughtful with maybe not lots of dialogue but the dialogue was important and metaphysical. Not a good movie for two exhausted Americans who are tired after a week of hard core French. Oh well, it was still fun and nice to do something on our own. On Saturday I went with my host family to their daughter’s house about an hour away I think so I got to meet her and her kids. I helped her oldest with her English homework. It was kind of funny since my French isn’t great. I taught her, she taught me, it was a symbiotic tutoring lesson. Another funny thing I noticed was that French countryside looks about the same as Kansas except you take away the wheat fields and replace them with vineyards. Sunday I slept and then decided to go explore some of the parks around Nantes, because it has several that are very pretty, even in the winter. It was a nice way to spend the day, a book and a park. I know, I’m such a nerd, I travel all the way to France and spend my time reading in parks instead of going out and flirting with French boys, but what can I say? After that week, I needed to be introverted for at least a day. Besides if Beauty and Beast is any indication, the nerdy French girl that reads gets the prince anyway. So now all I need is for Dad to grow old and senile get lost in a forest and taken captive by a mean French millionaire so that I can go rescue him, turn the millionaire into a good person and fall in love. That shouldn’t be too hard at all. I’ll get to work on that. Tomorrow.

Now for a quick lesson in French, C’est tout! Which means; That’s all!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Chronology of My First Weekend in France, Part II With the Last Two New Facts/Experiences

The conclusion of yesterday’s post.

On day 3 in Tours, we continued to tour big cold castles. The first was Chateaux Blois which was yet again bigger than the two we saw the previous day, and had a little more history. The castle had four towers each of which was modeled after a different time period of architecture. Unfortunately it was under construction when we saw it and so we couldn’t see everything in it, but nonetheless it was fun to wander around in. For lunch I got to partake in
new fact/experience #10: eating venison. It was an interesting meal, and another thing which I don’t think will become my favorite, but it wasn’t at all bad, in fact it reminded me of pot roast, at least the way they had it cooked and the sauce it was with. After lunch we went to the largest castle still, Chateaux Chambord. This one was way cool. Louis XIV had it built around the same time as he was building Versailles. Leonardo da Vinci helped out with it, so there’s some really weird things in it like a double spiral staircase with windows so that you could look across to the other staircase. It makes it seem like magic that someone else is on the stairs that you never walk by. It was also really, really huge and lavish. New fact/experience #11:
asking artists to be architects doesn’t always give you very practical results. However, since it was always so cold and also close to a swamp and thus smelly the king never really lived there. Weird. Louis was a very strange and very lavish guy. After dinner we hopped back on the bus and rode back to the hotel, where we had dinner. And guess what we had? Blowfish? Baby pig meat? Giraffe? Nope, we had chicken and french fries. It was a bit of a let down actually. We’d been eating all this fancy French food for our meals up to this point and for our last dinner we got chicken and fries. They weren’t even like the Belgian fries that come with lots of mayo, just fries, without salt. That night me and some other students went out with the IES Social Coordinator, Samuel, to a bar in Tours. It was quite fun. The bar had an Irish theme, in France, go figure. It kind of cracks me up when I see things like Chinese restaurants and Irish bars in France. For some reason this just seems wrong to me. I suppose it really does make since though. We didn’t stay out too late because we knew the next day we’d have our ‘entrance exam’ for lack of a better word. So we headed back to the hotel and got some rest before the next day.

So, day 4 we all woke up and ate, then started our small tests. They really weren’t too big of a deal, just a small starter exam, so that the professors could know which classes for grammar and such we all would need to be in for the next week of intensive review. They took a couple hours to do and then we ate lunch, which was just fish, again kind of anti-climatic for the last meal of our weekend, which started off with eel. Then it was time for the long bus ride back to IES where our host families would pick us up. I was doing a lot better with my French by this point and could communicate better with my host parents now, but they still had to be pretty patient with me and I couldn’t really carry the conversation much at all. After dinner I went back up stairs to my room and slept knowing that the next day, Monday, would begin a not so fun week of orientation at the IES center. But that’s for my next post.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Chronology of My First Weekend in France, Part I With 9 New Facts/Experiences

First, since I’ve last written, I’ve met my host parents and they are very nice. They’re very patient with me since I can’t understand most of what they say the first time. I’m still adjusting to hearing French thrown at me all the time and working out how to respond. I try to remember that this will take a couple weeks for the French to fully set in and that I need to be patient with myself also, however it’s difficult when I want to talk to people and I have the vocabulary and grammar of a French 4 year old. Actually I’m pretty sure the 4 year olds here talk much better than I do. But regardless my host mom, who speaks no English, is very nice and works with me to help me expand my vocab. My first morning here she walked me around the kitchen pointing out objects and teaching me how to say them in French. My host dad is also really nice. He speaks a little English, but just about as well as I speak French, so together we pound our way through conversation. They’re both retired and their kids are grown and out of the house. They also have three grandkids, but I haven’t met any of their other family yet. I’ve taken a few pictures of my temporary house for everyone at home to see. I got all my things unpacked and into my room, I had more space for things than I thought I would, so that’s good. Now, if I acquire a couple more things here they’ll fit.

That first night was pretty stressful and I pretty much just ate some dinner and then escaped to my room and turned on my Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast so that I could hear some English and then read my English book I brought with me. It helped me feel better to understand what I was hearing for a change. I woke up the next morning and had breakfast with my host mom, then packed my backpack for the long weekend.
New fact/experience #1: I took my first shower in a real live authentic French bathroom. This means that the shower is structured like an American shower/tub except there’s no mount for the shower head on the wall and no shower curtain. So, one has to be careful not to splash too much water out into the rest of the bathroom while quickly cleaning oneself. You have to do it quickly because without the shower curtain to hold in steam/heat and the constant running warm water flowing from head to toes it gets cold pretty quick. I’m sure there’s a good trick to this, but being American I have no idea what it might be. I don’t have the vocabulary to ask my host parents about it and probably wouldn’t anyway because that’s just a super awkward conversation in any language. Anyway, after I was all clean my host dad took me into the center of town to look for a mobile phone. I didn’t end up getting one, partly because I was super confused and also because I needed more time to look around. After this extravaganza it was back to the house for lunch in which a fellow classmate joined us so that she could come with us after lunch to the IES center where we had to meet in order to leave. She’s very nice and we rode the bus together and roomed together in the hotel in Tours. The bus was two levels! New fact/experience #2: I’ve ridden in the top of a double decker bus. So, we had plenty of time to talk and get to know each other a little. I think she lives pretty close to me here in Nantes so I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.

So, my time in Tours was spent being cold while looking at very large castles and eating food that I purposefully didn’t ask too much about until after I was finished eating. To see said Castles please direct your attention to the photo albums for which links have appeared in the upper right corner of my blog. I won’t say too much about them here, cause it’s more fun to describe them with the pictures. OK, so Day 1 in Tours is really more like day ½. We got to Tours around 5:30 pm and randomly sorted ourselves into rooms,
for new fact/experience #3 see Tours picture album, my bed in the hotel was very cool, I want one when I grow up, and then came back down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Quick preface, I’ve learned the French like to eat a LOT (new fact/experience #4). I kind of already knew this; however, it’s become more apparent to me now that I’m here. The only reason my first dinner with my host parents was small was because I told them I was very tired and not very hungry. Breakfasts are pretty normal by American standards, just substitute croissants for biscuits and baguettes for bagels and you’re pretty much there. However, lunch the next day was a whole different matter. We had a full course meal of salad, then appetizer, then main entrée, then dessert, then coffee. FOR LUNCH! It was a little crazy and a bit unexpected. However I thought maybe it was a special lunch for me and the other student before we left for the weekend. I have since found out this is false. This lunch also began the pattern of strange appetizers most of which were at least moderately good if not totally strange, so much so that I won’t even try to describe them, except for that to the French “appetizer” apparently means “plate of full of food with less meat than the main course”, but which could be considered a full meal in the States. A quick interjection, in the spirit of exploration I have valiantly tried to eat everything put in front of me, regardless of my preference for its taste. I have succeeded in this endeavor with the exception of a stuffed tomato appetizer, I can’t stand the texture of raw tomatoes, and a few not fully finished desserts which were left over and simply couldn’t be eaten due to lack of room in my stomach by that point in the meal. But I digress, back to dinner the first night in Tours; sure enough it’s a full course meal, with an abnormally large amount of food. When the main dish came out none of us could really figure out what exactly we were eating. It was grey and round and was definitely some kind of fish or seafood. It also had a bone that went through the middle and looked suspiciously like a spine. Sure enough, come to find out it was eel. New fact/experience #5: I ate eel. It really wasn’t too bad, but it won’t become my favorite, and I’m glad I was unaware of its origin while I was still eating it. Dessert was, and continued to be throughout the other lunches and dinners, quite delicious, no surprise there.

Day 2, our first full day in Tours, we woke up and proceeded to Chateaux Loches. It was pretty interesting and had lots of creepy towers and dungeons to check out, which was fun. And, the view from the top of the castle was brilliantly amazing. However, in keeping with the old traditions, nothing is heated. New fact/experience #6: There’s no heating in the castles in France. Most of the students, with whom I agree, came to the conclusion that if such castles existed in the US, they’d probably have central heating by now. Whether or not this is a good thing, depends on whether you enjoy taking tours of castles in the winter when you just stand in the cold and let all the heat drain from your body while trying to listen to the tour guide while really just wishing you could walk around and get the heat back into your toes even if that means climbing 100 stairs to do so. Around lunch time we escaped the cold to a nice restaurant near the chateaux in which we ate lunch. This is where I officially learned that the full course meal extends to lunch all the time, not just on special occasions. For lunch I ate what was given me, like the night before, only this time it was a normal looking sort of meat, think along the lines of a pork chop, which is what I thought it was until I found out after that it was veal. New fact/experience #7: I’ve eaten a baby cow. I was a little upset by this, at least more so than I thought I would be. I’ve never really understood the point in eating baby animals. It’s stuff like this that seriously makes me consider vegetarianism. Which brings me to new fact/experience #8: the French do not understand why anyone would choose not to eat meat. Granted most of their meat is much less processed and probably contains less growth hormones, so they don’t really get the health aspect of it that we see in America. To them meat is good, and anyone who doesn’t want to eat it is sort of viewed as lesser of a person, at least in restaurants. The few vegetarians in our group were constantly served last, and mostly they just got plates of steamed vegetables, without seasonings or flavor at all. Also, IES chose to classify those with any sort of special eating needs, such as the poor girl with a glucose allergy who can’t eat grains, as a vegetarian. This doesn’t work well, as sometimes with the vegetables, the meals come with things like pasta and bread. And for some reason vegetarian also means ‘doesn’t enjoy normal desserts’ and they’d get things like fruit cups instead of chocolate cakes. Since I don’t particularly like chocolate cake and I quite like fruit, I’d trade my desserts with the vegetarians often. Anyway, back to the point, I’m not excited about it, but I’ve now eaten veal. This makes for two new palate experiences within 2 meals, and to do a little bit of foreshadowing, dinner wouldn’t disrupt this trend. After lunch we froze in Chateaux Chenonceau which was bigger than Loch and more prestigious, and it had really big grounds, with a labyrinth. After freezing there for a few hours while wandering around we rode the big bus back to our hotel in Tours and had a dinner which I figured out pretty quick was duck (new fact/experience #9). It was quite good, and much less troubling than lunch had been. After dinner a few girls and I tried to go find a small café to hang out in and have some coffee and drinks, but after wandering up and down the three main streets having found nothing that everyone was happy with, myself and a couple others called it quits and went back so that we could sleep. I know, very very boring of us. What can I say?

Stay Tuned for Part II, with the other new facts and experiences of that weekend. And hopefully I'll get my first week posted before the second week is over! I've posted links to some flickr albums up in the top right corner of this blog if you'd like to see pictures. If you have access to facebook, they're the same as those albums minus some of the redundant and less interesting pictures.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Je parle français!

Yeah right!

But I will start where we left off last time and get back to that. The next day in Paris Amy, Carly and I decided to wander the city since our bus didn't leave until 22:00. Everything is in military time over here so I'm quickly getting used to it. I saw the outside of several buildings and Amy and I waited an hour and a half to get inside and see the catacombs. It was worth it because we were one of the last few let in and they were pretty cool. Pictures of this Parisian day are to follow soon-ish. The bus ride was not fun at all because there were some (think 8 or so) guys acting like they were 5 and making it difficult to sleep, but at least there was some leg room since the three of us took up the four seats at the very back of the bus. We barely made from the bus to the station at Haarlem where our host was meeting us, but we did, and he figured out pretty quick that the three lost looking girls outside the station where probably the ones he was looking for and waved us over to his car. He was really nice and had comfy places for us to sleep after the long night. I think we slept until 2 in the afternoon or something like that. That night he showed us around Haarlem with a couple of his friends, which was quite fun but I think that we were all still pretty beat from our long trip and we didn't last very long so we went back to his house and passed out again. The next day he showed us around Amsterdam, which was a very interesting city to say the least, and the next day we went back by ourselves to do a couple more tourist-like things we felt bad dragging him along for, like finding the Hard Rock Cafe so that I could get Dad pin #1. It was quite fun and the city was actually fairly nice. I wouldn't mind going back in the spring when it looks pretty and green again. The next day we were boring and slept late again then went and explored Haarlem just a little bit. Because we had to get back and collect our things so that we could leave that night (last night) to get back to our respective places of study.

So I spent another night on a bus, this time with infinitely better company. I met a nice man from Nigeria who asked me a lot of questions about Obama and what I thought of him and we talked a while. I don't know if this is a common thing but he was quite convinced by the end of the trip that we should be best friends and that he cared for me like a close friend. I promised to call him tomorrow after I got a phone so that he could have my number. Maybe it's just my jaded American self, but I find this very strange and think that the odds that I will ever see this man again are very very very small. Don't get me wrong he was nice but isn't it possible to just meet randomly on a train and have a nice chat and call that enough? I’ve only known him for less than 3 hours really because most of the ride we were sleeping. Anyway we split at the bus station because he was going another way than me and I scouted out the train station where I left my luggage and how to get from it to the one where my train was actually leaving from. I had plenty of time to ride the metro and check it out before I went back and got my luggage (not nearly as expensive as I thought it would be, which was a pleasant surprise). Then I proceeded to haul my suitcases through the metro to the other station which had lots of stairs, up to the platform. I nearly froze to death waiting a couple hours for my train to arrive, train stations here are NOT heated at all so the weather outside is inside also, and it was quite freezing in Paris this morning. The train was uneventful, and from the station I took a taxi to the IES Center where I am now. I'm rather proud that I ended up here without much incident. Especially since I was traveling by myself, I feel this is a good accomplishment. But now that I'm here, people keep throwing French at me and I'm struggling to follow all of it. I feel a little stupid, but I've been told it takes some adjustment, so hopefully it will get better soon. Another twist is that the keyboard here is goofy and French. The letters are all moved around especially the a and the m are just weirdly placed. So begins the adjustment. I meet my family around 6 tonight and stay with them tonight, but leave tomorrow for Tour for three days before I come back. I'll figure out the picture thing and show you soon what I've got so far. Plus what's soon to come.

Miss you all lots.

Until next time, Peace.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Across the Ocean in 8 Hours

So, as foretold this time I got to keep my plans as previously stated, and am currently in Paris with my friends. The plane ride was boring and long, not much to relate there. When I arrived here, I had to store my luggage and will probably have to barter an arm to get it back from the train station guy, but it was necessary so that I didn't have to haul two suitcases around Europe. And, really the price will even out, because I'm sleeping for free in the hotel that my friends kindly snuck me into and tomorrow my friends Amy and Carly and I are in fact leaving for Amsterdam, also previously stated. We're taking the bus and then I will begin my first couch surfing experience.

For those who are unaware, there is a couch surfing network alive and well in this world in which people can sign up to donate their couches or extra beds to us weary travelers for free. Well technically, in reality to show appreciation for their generosity us weary travelers will offer up small gives of gratitude. So when we get to Amsterdam we will be picked up at the bus station by a very friendly guy, or so I'm told by a friend who's stayed with him previously, and then crashing on his extra mattress and couch. In return we plan to bring him a bottle of wine and cook him a couple meals during our stay.

Well, since not much has happened since I arrived except me and Carly trekking through the Paris train stations and stopping at a cafe for some small pastries and caffeine I have no pictures to post for you and no fascinating stories to relate. Hopefully by the next time I'm on here I'll have something more exciting to say other than I'm still alive!