All I do is eat and take pictures of churches.

Jonathan and I have now mastered the art of daytripping; today we meandered around Caen and had a wonderful time. It was gorgeous outside, so we were able to shed a few layers of clothes as we popped in and out of three different cathedrals, the ruins of an ancient chateau, a packed-to-the-ceilings bookshop, and a mediocre art museum, and, of course, ate some seriously yummy meals.

Take a look at some shots I got along the way:

Seeing ghosts inside l'Eglise de Saint-Pierre

Seeing ghosts inside l’Eglise de Saint-Pierre

 

Peeking in at William the Conquerer's tomb in the Abbaye des Hommes

Peeking in at William the Conquerer’s tomb in the Abbaye des Hommes

 

Nonsensical organ pipes

Nonsensical organ pipes for those of you who like that sort of thing

 

Standing where William the Conquerer once built his castle.

Standing where William the Conquerer once built his castle.

 

I had to show Jonathan the scones that Dani and I ate last week! Just as delicious the second time.

I had to show Jonathan the scones that Dani and I ate last week! Just as delicious the second time around.

Lovely day, interesting sights, filling food, and great company.

What more could you ask for?

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Living the Life of a French Girl

Being on vacation has rendered me rather useless at writing; my apologies! I hope this long post will make up for it.

I’ve stayed busy this week, though, continuing to go on little excursions in the region. My fellow assistant and new BFF Daniela and I spent Wednesday afternoon at an English tea shop in Caen, blinking back true food lovers’ tears as we noshed down our scones and cream.

On Friday,  another assistant, Jonathan, joined Dani and me on a day trip to Bayeux. Long time readers will remember that I visited Bayeux and the surrounding area for a long weekend while studying in Tours; you can go back to those posts for more detail here.

Bayeux, a major tourist destination because of its proximity to the D-Day beaches, is just a half-hour train ride from here, and makes for a lovely afternoon out of town! We began our day with lunch at a cozy little restaurant about fifty paces from the cathedral, and it was glorious. A salad, galette, crepe with Nutella, and cider for 9 euros? Don’t mind if I do.

Does this meal look familiar? Traditional Normande meals don't change much!

Does this meal look familiar? Traditional Normande meals don’t change much from year to year!

We also spent some time wandering around the cathedral and the Bayeux Tapestry. I won’t bore you with the details of things I’ve already described, but I will state the obvious by saying that it was a far different experience to visit these places with friends than to go alone. In the dark recesses of the cathedral, the three of us discussed how creepy/cool crypts are, and Dani and I had mini medieval dance breaks to the music that played through our audio tour headphones while viewing the tapestry. Altogether quite different from passing the hours internally debating the morals of war and religion.

Stretching toward the light

Stretching toward the light

My two companions being British, I wanted to make sure that they saw the British Cemetery and War Memorial. I’d already been to these places, but I was anxious to see their reactions. Just as my tour companions last year were somewhat gentle with me as we entered the American Cemetery, I lingered behind Jonathan and Dani as they meandered through the rows of headstones. Again, a sobering experience for all.

NOS A GULIELMO VICTI VICTORIS PATRIAM LIBERAVIMUS: We who were once conquered by William have now liberated the Conquerer's homeland.

               “We who were once conquered by William have now liberated the Conquerer’s homeland”                                     One thing I didn’t notice on my last trip to Bayeux: this phrase at the British Memorial. I’m highly impressed by the Brits’ ability to lightly insult medieval France in Latin.

 

On Saturday, Dani and I met up with my friend V-A and his buddy Alex to check out some of their favorite spots in town. After some offroading in the guys’ massive firetruck of a car, we were able to step out onto a very Lion King-esque rock and see the fields below.

Getting a better view from the top of VA's truck with Dani

Getting a better view with Dani

VA took this one.

Looking out over miles of farmland. Not a bad view. Thanks to VA for these two photos!

I’ve been having unholy amounts of fun with everyone here; while I wasn’t initially too keen to have a break after having just arrived, I’ve been happy to have lots of time to forge relationships and do exciting things this week. Life is good; vacation is great; and France is wonderful.

Thoughts on Illegalities

Where I’m from in the United States, it gets hot.

Real hot.

Like, take your car down the driveway to get the mail during the summer hot.

Avoid turning on the oven at all costs hot.

Freeze your booty off every time you enter a store since they’ve cranked the AC so high hot.

For that reason, it’s not completely illegal in all states, but very much ill-advised to lock your pet or child in a car for any length of time, even with the windows cracked (actually, there are only laws on the books in 14 states for pets and in 19 states for kids). Don’t believe me? Watch this video to see how scary it can get for these defenseless creatures.

Every summer, you hear heart-breaking stories of toddlers dying from heat stroke while their parents popped into the grocery store for only a few minutes, and it’s really been pounded into my head to never do such a thing. In the states, I’ve been known to call the police and stand by the vehicle until they arrived to get dogs out.

SO WHY DO THE FRENCH DO IT?!?!

On my ten-minute walk to the bank today, I saw two dogs and one infant (!!) in various parked cars. Yes, I understand that it’s about 58 degrees and shady here today, but it still makes me involuntarily twitch every time I hear a puppy barking from inside a tiny Clio. Here, I know I probably shouldn’t do that, but it still really freaks me out.

Any advice on how to keep myself from yelling at unsuspecting French drivers if I see this again?

 

Edith Piaf Got it Right

As it’s les Vacances de la Toussaint here in France, I am currently on a two-week vacation from school. Yes, fitting perfectly into their stereotype of being café-sipping, striking-at-the-drop-of-a-hat sluggards, the French can’t go more than five weeks without some sort of break. As Edith Piaf once sang:

Je ne veux pas travailler                                        I don’t want to work

Je ne veux pas déjeuner                                         I don’t want to eat

Je veux seulement oublier                                     I simply want to forget

et puis je fume.                                                        And then, I’ll smoke.

 As silly as it may seem, at least it gives me the chance of having lots of time off to see a bit of the region!

Rather than take a big trip out of the country during these two weeks, I’ve decided to spend the time going on little daytrips in the area, thereby learning more about the region I’m actually living in and (hopefully) saving some money. I started yesterday by popping over to the neighboring village to visit two fellow assistants. We ate a lovely lunch (goat cheese salad, omelettes, fries, coffee, and dessert), went exploring through a gorgeous wooded park for a couple of hours, and generally had a great time chatting and getting to know one another. The two girls, one Californian and one Brit, are both very cool and definitely people I’m happy to know here.

My delicious pecan-encrusted ice cream scoop!

My delicious pecan-encrusted ice cream scoop! Sprinkles are coming back, you guys.

One lovely view (plus a sunspot) from our walk in the park.

One lovely view (plus one ugly sunspot) from our walk in the park.

Today, I did almost exactly the same thing, but with yet another fellow assistant, this time a British guy who’s being very patient while dealing with our otherwise all-female group of assistants. We wandered all over our town after lunch at our town’s seemingly most crowded café and thoroughly enjoyed mocking each others’ accents.

Iron gates leading to a small chapel within the local cathedral

Iron gates leading to a small chapel within the local cathedral

I’m very happy to see that the other assistants, though all very different and with a wide range of backgrounds, are people I think I’ll enjoy spending time with. While studying in Tours, I often felt like I was thrown in with students who didn’t share my priorities or goals for the study abroad experience. While a wonderful part about travel is (of course) meeting new people and being exposed to different worldviews and lifestyles, my difficulty in forming lasting friendships while in Tours was due to more of a clash between personalities than cultural backgrounds. Here, though, it seems as though we’ll all be pretty good buds. 🙂

Where The Skies Are So Blue

I hope all of you have experienced a moment when someone went out of their way just to make you smile. 

 

As I’ve said, my apartment is on the third floor of my school, just above the main hallway and lobby. It’s wonderful to have such a short commute to work! 🙂 Last Friday morning, I floated down from my castle tower to join the throng of students that was milling about in the lobby in between classes. As I nodded hello to a few of my terminale students, I heard the introduction to a song that is very near and dear to my heart. At first, I thought I was imagining it, but then the crowd parted, and I looked down to see one of the school administrators and two students on guitar singing their hearts out to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama just for me. 

I think I probably shrieked with pleasure, and in no time at all we were standing in a circle with me singing every word to the southern anthem. I smiled so hard my cheeks were sore, and it was wonderful.

They had waited all morning for me to walk down that staircase and listen to their two-minute song, and it absolutely made my day. 

Yesman.

When you’ve just moved to a new place, you should always say “yes”.

Yes to the farmer’s market vendor who asks if you’d like a taste of the tiniest, most flavorful clementine you’ve ever seen.

Yes to the assistant who wants to go apple-picking next weekend.

Yes to the school principal who offers you her extra ticket to an Algerian street dance performance at the local theatre.

Yes to the group of RAs who invite you to join them at their Cheers-esque bar for darts and drinks after work.

Yes to the barman at said bar who insists on dropping the tab as a “welcome to France” present.

Yes to the teacher who wants you to attend his friend’s piano recital because he’s been to South Carolina once and therefore we should definitely meet each other.

As my actress aunt Rhonda always says, the improvisational scene ends the moment that an actor says “no”. To continue the story, he must say “yes” to every offer and invitation, or else the scene has nowhere to go. It’s the same here in France. As a newcomer with no friends or support system in the area, I must build relationships from scratch by accepting every offer of friendship that comes my way. That’s not to say that I’m forgoing all discernment in the friendships I pursue or that I’m saying “yes” to highly dangerous or illegal things, but that taking a raincheck could mean missing out on a great experience and an opportunity to make a new buddy.

All of the above situations happened this weekend, and I loved every minute of it! I’ve made some great new friends in the other Anglophone assistants who are working in the area and in the RAs who work at my school. Saying “yes” (and “thank you”!!) early and often are the two best ways to instantly endear yourself to the natives and have authentic experiences among new friends.