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.


  1. Hey again, I commented a while back on your blog but can't find the post anymore :( I would really like to ask you some questions about Angers as I'm sort of getting my stay there organized (I'm a French grad student going for Fall semester). I have really enjoyed your blog and have already learned so many good tips for a great stay... I blogged when I was abroad too and will do so again next semester, so feel free to check it out. Anyway, I'd like to leave my email and maybe you could shoot me an email so I can send you some questions? It's mostly some stuff about your host family, etc, as I'm going to be doing a homestay too. So, here I am and if it wouldn't be too much trouble I'd really like us to get in touch! My name's Caitlin and my email is

  2. Very interesting lessons learned...I am hopeful others will benefit from your words of experience. I think it normal to find yourself "getting by" at the end of any travel situation and as you wisely note, learning from your mistakes is a great way to prepare for the next time. As always, I continue to enjoy your blog and have learned much from your open and reflective comments. We certainly miss you at home but are so excited for what you are learning and how all of this will prepare you for your future.


Angers, France

Angers, France

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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."