Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ending Entry

Strange to think I’ve been home for about four days now. It is strange I think because I’ve just been gone for all this time. I’ve looked back at my old blog entries form back in January and I remember just how unsure I was about all of this.

I would have never predicted the countless ways that I have developed myself and on so many levels. I read my blog especially from France and I become very satisfied by this.

Okay, so I’ve fulfilled the fantasy; I’ve traveled to Europe. I now have to decide what I’m going to do about it. I could very well leave it all alone and move on to a life stuck in the states and be happy about it as so many others I know are happy about it. They are truly happy as well. There is no hollowness to the satisfaction they feel in having gone to Europe just the one time. I don’t think they should feel any hollowness either. However, could I experience their same satisfaction? The trouble is I just don’t think so.

Which brings me to my next mission. How am I going to get back? I love the States. They are my home. But Europe is like a really good friend. You don’t just leave friends and forget to keep in contact with them. So I’ll have to leave this entry with something of a cliffhanger, annoying as it may be. Maybe it is better this way though. Travels shouldn’t be just a story but a chapter of one’s life story. That’s at least what this feels like the ending of one chapter and the creaky beginning of another. I hope to one day show up with more chapters like this hoping that this chapter analogy isn’t so cheesy you’ll just give up on me. In the meantime, I hope to find many other travel blogs that can give me some inspiration.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Last Blog Entry from France

Why yes that is a two-story mechanical elephant! Spent yesterday in Nantes for one last petite excursion before I left France. Went with now-former CIDEF classmate and still fellow American, Jess from Michigan who came up with the idea in the first place. She hear about this thing from AHA and we told ourselves that it was just bizarre enough that we had to see it for ourselves. It is a part of a machine museum, in translation called, Machine Island, where engineers have the funnest job in the world just creating and building big toys like this for adults and kids to enjoy. This is the most popular attraction as the rest of the machines are usually hold just one person and are just on display for the most part.

Not a bad last day out. Besides, how many people can claim to have ridden a mechanical elephant in France?

Today, I'm packing up my suitcases completely, going to mass the St. Maurice's Cathedral (host family found out my love of organ music), and I am leaving on a 5:30AM train tomorrow for Paris where I will take a plane to London and begin the second part of my time in Europe.

Wasn't it the beginning of February yesterday?

But there is no way that it was just February. I don't feel like the same person who first came to France. She was "fresh off the boat" (or plane) so to speak with no clue of where she really was and what sort of people she was going to meet. A dreamy sense came over me as the plane began to touch down at Charles De Gaulle. I look back and wonder how it was I didn't manage to get lost in that huge airport and actually grab a train for Angers at the minute it left. I wonder how on earth Monsieur was able to understand by hesitant, nervous, and badly pronounced French, saying who I was and, oh, head's up, I'm passing Le Mans but I have no clue what that means (means btw that I was an hour away via TGV) and, um, can you pick me up, complete stranger who I don't know.

Still, it happened. It all really happened and I got through it all- no- I succeeded through it all. This place feels like a different sort of home to me in the definition of a place where I keep my heart. Four months and over fifty blogs later, this is not the Elizabeth who began writing about her wishes, problems, and thoughts on France in late winter. It is the middle of spring and this Elizabeth, who also responds to Elizabet, is writing to you now. I can't imagine how to better express how happy I am that I came here. I can only say that, well, then, maybe you should try something like it as well. The most dangerous thing you can do is to walk out your front door as J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote. But it is worth it.

Speaking of changes, I have one last kind of fun list on this France entry to share specifically some things (mainly preferences of food and drinks) that have changed. Some may be relateable. Others? Well, just trust that my judgment is working soundly enough.

Things that will never be the same for me:

Coffee: I thought I knew strong coffee. I know better now. Thank you Italian influence on the rest of the continent to show me what a real wake up is like. I’m currently looking at a stovetop espresso maker on the Internet. Jessica introduced me to hers and I think I’m in love.

Bread: Here is yet another thing that the French just do well. Adkins dieters better beware France. They love their carbs but they have every reason to do so. A baguette is so cheap but so delicious with a dream-inspired crunchy texture on the outside and soft and spongy white goodness on the inside.

Dessert: Presque obligatoire, one must always end a meal with a little something sweet. Here, it never has to be a big thing— just good. From something simple as fresh strawberries with a touch of whipped cream to deck-out cakes, the French accept it all. Before, dessert for me had to be something like cake, ice cream, some sort of candy or any like it but not now. Now, a good dessert is something sweet, simple, and just plain bon.

Cheese: France has more than enough types of cheeses to have a different cheese for every day of the year— no joke and enough said.

Cereal: Thank you again Jessica for introducing me to Weetabix. I’m not sure how to classify this crazy British creation. It is like cereal but sometimes with the consistency of oatmeal? I don’t know. I just love it and I must find it back at home somehow.

Wine: I can confidently say now that I “know” French wine or at least how the classification system here works and how to spot a decent bottle that I’ve never tried before. The problem though? That’s only when I’m in France. The French sell and label wines in different ways than the Americans. First, a cheap wine doesn’t mean a bad wine. Now if you buy a Euro fifty wine, that might be really bad, but just about anything around three Euros should be fine. There are rouges, blancs, and rosés…and champagne (a whole other category on its own). Champagne only comes from the region of Champagne in France. Everything else is sparkling wine. That isn’t a bad thing to drink it, but just don’t dare call it champagne. Other wines are also categorized by region simply enough despite the color. A Bordeaux is not always a rouge in other words. However, the grand majority of French rouge wine comes from this region so chances are if you’ve got a Bordeaux, it is a rouge. From what I understand, the Americans categorize their wines differently. I’ll have to go down the liquor section when I get back to survey the new system have to learn and probably hit the Internet/library.

Beer: I finally had beer for the first time here within about a week and after I got over the surrealism of walking into a bar with the knowledge that I was “legal.” It was a Kronenbourg, a standard brand in France. It isn’t all that bad and it is about the cheapest thing to get. So, okay, beer has been made accessible to me for the first time, I’ve got a ways to go on my exploration. England couldn’t be too bad of a place to continue on to.

Cocktails: I had no clue that America is basically THE country for a good cocktail and that we invented them. The breakdown seems to be (in French eyes so there's the disclaimer) that France (and, okay, Italy) can claim a good wine. Germany, Ireland, and the UK are beer cultures. Russia may claim anything that is too hard for anyone but a Russian to swallow. HOWEVER, a good cocktail is always found with the Americans.

Friday, June 4, 2010

50th Post and Last Day at CIDEF

This week has gone by so quickly! Between visiting Paris one last time and then Chartres and doing it all between finals, it has been a little crazy over here. I visited the Pompidou Center and the Pantheon while in Paris, both the last things on my "To-See" list in Paris.

With Pompidou, the Louvre, and the d'Orsay, I've covered the most general view of French Art History. Pompidou was very fun and sometimes confusing but there's modern art for you sometimes! For me it was fun to see THE classic Dada art piece, "La Foutain," by Duchamp (as seen below).

I didn't buy a thing at the museum but I vote the Pompidou gift shop as the most fun museum gift shop I've ever been to (no pics as they were forbidden- sad). It has wonderful prints of all prices and the housewares section gives all sorts of ideas to make your home, too, just like a modern art museum...that is to say you'd actually want that.

How do I describe Chartres? I can't really except when I walked in the South Entrance the first things I noticed were the echoes of my footsteps that seemed to bounce off in all direction and the only thing on my mind was, "This is what someone fantasizes about when they think of being inside a cathedral." It is one of the most huge and magnificent made-man sites I've ever seen. I tried going around and taking pictures to fully illustrate how gorgeous and gigantic this building is, but found that to be a near impossible task. Like so many other sites, this one is under restoration now, too! I think I've been following a theme throughout France.

There is a special shrine to many French Catholics called Our Lady of the Pillar. It is a statue from the Middle Ages that has been appealed to by French children in times of crisis in France. Madame charged me with two Euros to light a prayer candle at the cathedral for my safe leave of France and for her family and my own. It was an immense honor.

Off to review some more this morning! Oral Expression is this morning and Art History in the afternoon. I got quite a lot to do!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Last Day of Classes

It is so very hard to believe this changed scene from when I was writing on this small blog during my first days in France. Darkness seemed to last longer than home. Over half the time I was tongue-tied and feeling culturally out of place. Now it is spring in both the literal and figurative sense for me. Daylight reigns from six in the morning to past ten at night and I’ve made the mental transition from being just a citizen of the United States to being a citizen of the world (aka not culturally ignorant in the middle of France).

This has been one busy week and next week will be even busier. Well, I can’t even say that. I’m already starting finals tomorrow. We had a class party in my General Language class. That is what the pictures are from save the ones with people on the stage. That is to be explained in a little bit. The "fête" was incredibly fun. I was trying all sorts of food like stir-fry, sushi, “rice made the correct way,” and quiche among other dishes.

My peanut butter cookies were very much appreciated by every one of the Asian cultures in my class, which was an honor. Many of the girls take cooking very seriously as was evident by their attention to their food that they brought and also how much food they brought. Much of their conversation between each other was on each other recipes and techniques. At least, that is what one Chinese classmate translated for me (Incredibly nice of him. He just started doing it when I expressed a curiosity about the Chinese language.).

We also got to exchange cultural information was well. Our Japanese classmate explained the fundamental rules of etiquette with chop sticks and our Taiwanese classmate explained that often women in her region will hold chopsticks in certain ways to show what sort of man they would be interested in marrying. It was a very multilingual scene, as those who spoke Chinese would sometimes have to converse with each other for translation help and then sometimes turn to Anglophones like me to ask what the French word was for some English words. Crazy, but fun.

Earlier this week I attended the International Soiree. One of the best activities I think that CIDEF offers, it is just necessary to go. It is not often one gets to live and study in such an international setting and have the chance to enjoy the cultural gifts of so many nationalities in one night.

After I post this, I’ll be returning to studying for my test tomorrow. I predict it to be the hardest so it is great to be able to get it over with from the start. After that, time is going to pass by very busy and very fast but I’m determined to write still. I need something to make me pause and reflect before I go crazy from stress.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekend at the Beach

For the weekend before finals (aka: last stress-free extended period of time), I went to the beach with a couple of Anglophones from CIDEF. I almost wish I could say we did a whole lot of exciting things but both Saturday and Sunday basically went like this:

Mid-morning: Arrive at the train station and take train to beach

Close to noon: Arrive at beach and find a market and bakery for impromptu picnic goods

After noon: Pick spot on beach and eat

Later: Sleep

After That: Go into the ocean…a really cold ocean

A Little After That After That: Eat a little more and promptly take another nap

Over An Hour Till the Next Train: Walk around the streets with ice cream stands and pretty vacation homes

Late Afternoon: Leave for Angers on train

Late Evening: Get back and have a late dinner at respective residences

Day one took place at La Baule, a well-to-do- beach town, and the next day was at Les Sables d’Olonne, also a vacation town but more family-friendly.

Sadly enough I didn’t take any photos. I forgot my camera for La Baule and the next day I thought that I should limit my number of electronics at the beach anyway between wind and sand ruining them.

Definitely, I’m ready for tomorrow and the rest of this final week of classes. Just this afternoon I made dozens of peanut butter cookies, another hit with my host family! The rest I will be bringing to the end-of-the semester party in my general language class. Finals begin this Saturday afternoon for me but then I don’t have any exams on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday. I predict using at least Monday and Wednesday for balancing between studying and traveling. My last Sunday will be for final preparation but Saturday is a mystery. Perhaps Paris? We’ll see how well my packing has gone along throughout the week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Closing In On Time (and Money)

Well it certainly feels like the closing of the semester! I have about two weeks left until I leave for England and I’m amazed that I’m getting so close to it. Next week is my actual last week of classes and then come the “lovely” final exams. Had an Irish classmate the other day mention she thought it was weird and funny that Americans call end-of-the-semester exams “finals.” Apparently the Irish just call them “exams.” “Finals” are the exams you take at the very end of your degree. I had no good response for a reason behind it. “Finals” I admit does have a dramatic sense of, well, finality to it and in that sense is kind of silly.

This weekend I plan on going to another seaside Atlantic town called La Baule. I’ll be going with Halifax-native, Mitchell, who convinced me to go with him just yesterday. Originally he wanted to go to Poitiers, as that is where his ancestors are from before they came to Canada, but he hadn’t realized before that Poitiers is a three-hour trip. La Baule on the other hand is less than an hour to get to. Hope I have something good to share later!

In the meantime with my time in France ending, slowly I’m creating a list of things I’m going to miss here. The coffee for one thing and the plethora of small businesses are the first two that come to mind. This is not to say I have a rosy view of Europe and certainly not France. I just appreciate this country that has become more and more familiar to me. I will certainly not miss the train strikes or the eighty-euro budget hotel rooms (breakfast costing extra). I’ll gladly leave those behind.

Actually, thinking of expensive hotel rooms, France in general I have to say is expensive. Perhaps a rule of thumb would be that Europe just gets more expensive the farther West and/or South you go. Italy from my CIDEF classmates can be worse than France. Spain isn’t so cheap either. Ireland makes France look not look so bad anymore. England (thanks to their rejection of the euro) can be just simply painful to the student’s budget.

It is funny how the end of the semester is putting personal budget dread on almost everyone. Suddenly spending one more night at the bars, an afternoon shopping, or a day trip with the train suddenly has lost spark with many. I’m doing the same as always but with more attention as I’m trying to avoid any more visits to the ATM. I’ve budgeted and set aside the rest of the money I owe my host family on extra rent meals, food not at the host family’s house, stamped postcards, treats for the folks back home, future TGV reservation fees (I would really like at least one last day trip to Paris!), Metro fees, extra Angers bus tickets for June and so on. I think I can do it but it shall indeed be close!

Of course one cannot but look back and wonder, “Okay, where was it where I would have done things differently or could have cut back earlier?” This is not to say I’m full of regret. I can’t change my past mistakes and it was them that taught me some very good lessons about France.

Things I wish I had known for my own financial benefit before coming to France:

Sundays and a plethora of holidays can really put a damper on your travel plans if you don’t know how to work with them. Know the system.

Speaking of knowing the system. ALWAYS and I do mean ALWAYS be on the alert for a train strike. France is known for them. The French tend to pay very close attention if they use the trains frequently. When traveling in France, it is advisable to pay just as much attention as them.

Bakeries but especially grocery stores are your best friends when it comes to getting cheap eats that doesn’t come with fries

Makeup and hygiene products with few exceptions such as hair removal products can kill the wallet with prices an American can never conceive of without seeing it for themselves. In Angers, very close to the Monoprix, I highly, highly recommend SAGA for such things if at all possible. They act as an outlet for multiple name brands makeup, cleansers, shampoos, etc. These are very good brands at that.

A hotel or hostel easily having just as good of a deal as back home for the price will probably not happen as long as you are in Western Europe. It is best to accept and grab one or more travel buddies to split the cost with you.

When buying a rail pass, go conservative. There will be times when you just want to chill in Angers. I overestimated how much I would be able to travel but can at least say that though I probably saved no money with my rail pass, I generally broke even. I can live that that….or at least I have to live with that. For the most flexibility, if I could do it all over, I’d forget getting a rail pass in the States and go with SNCF’s student card which takes 50% over any and all train tickets you buy from them. In the end, it is probably a better and certainly more flexible situation. I didn’t realize that my pass would limit me as much as it did.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

La Rochelle

So ends another lovely weekend.

I traveled to the well-loved town of La Rochelle for Friday and Saturday. It was rather perfect timing because there was an international cliff diving championship at the main port all weekend. Artists, farmers, and antique owners took advantage of the large number of people and I had many markets to peruse on both days.

I took this picture at one of the two food markets going on mainly for my mom who loves olives. Olive stands like this one are very personal with customers naturally and are always happy and proud to have their olives tasted before bought.
There was only one metal artist I found at the art fair. I loved the wine bottle holders with their very supple and improvised designs. At 25 euros each, they weren't too bad in price as well! Didn't buy one though. I really don't know what I'd do with a wine bottle holder upon returning home even with my new-found love of wine as when I come back I still have a bit of time til I'm of legal drinking age.

On Saturday I spent all morning at the Aquariam at La Rochelle. It is a wonderful and well-varied collection of fish from almost all over the world. I apparently came at the exact time and day that all the French families in La Rochelle had choosen to come as well. Children were EVERYWHERE. Both sometimes annoying but incredibly cute, they certainly were as fun to watch as the fish.

I've been really neglecting my collection themes of dogs and American things so here I have at least some more French dog pictures. My favorite was finding the Pomeranian in the comic book store.

Angers, France

Angers, France

About Me

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For this moment in time, I'll just share a quote from Nelson Mandela. I think it sums up what I'm experiencing right now. "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."