Wild Irish Rose

Of course, it’s every European Study Abroad kid’s dream to spend St. Patrick’s day in Ireland if at all possible, but I like to think that we held our own in plain old Tours last night.

I spent Saturday afternoon watching the city hockey team absolutely crush its opponent at the local ice rink-who would have thought that the French would play such a brutal sport? Even though my group of eight made up more than a third of the fans, we had a great time watching the players and trying to teach the French people around us the cheers from Mighty Ducks.
After the game, we made a beeline for the Irish pub in town and met up with around two hundred of our closest friends. I’m happy to say that St. Patrick’s Day is alive and well in France, and we had a grand old time until the wee [folk] hours of the morning.

My Sunday was spent in the usual lazy weekend fashion with a book and iPod in hand. We had two very interesting meals-one delicious and the other nearly impossible to force down-but all’s fair in love and foreign cuisine, right?
Martine told me that she had bought something “unusual” for us to eat at lunch, but she refused to tell me what it was until we sat down to eat. When I saw the fur on my plate, I knew it was going to be bad, but I gave it my best shot. However, it turns out that veal brains tastes exactly as good as it looks. Let’s just pray that my host mom never serves that again.
Dinner was significantly better, and nearly made up for the gastronomic catastrophe that was lunch. CrĂŞpes taste wonderful with just about anything, but the Moroccan spices and cheese that we had folded inside them tonight were amazing! Unfortunately, I didn’t quite catch the French names of the curry-like powders, so I have no idea what they were! I guess that means I’m just going to have to taste them all again so I can find out. 🙂


All the Small Things

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that make the best days. Here’s a list of my favorite “little things” from this weekend.

Mini candy bars sent all the way from the USA by my favorite Valentines, my mom and dad. Actually, it’s kind of pitiful how excited one can get over a fun-size KitKat.
Tiny jars of Laurent’s latest honey experiments. Did you realize you could create vastly different flavors of honey according to the flowers from which the bees collect pollen? I never thought it would matter as much as it does.
Dobble, a lightning-speed card game that the whole family played after lunch today. Each round only lasts fifteen seconds but involves a ton of French vocabulary.
Espresso shots every afternoon. I’m finally used to the taste of coffee without milk, sugar, and syrup! My Starbucks tab will be significantly reduced come next Fall.
My short walk to the médiatheque (the library) each Saturday. Yes, I now consider a two-mile walk to be quick and relaxing.
Little conversations with Martine about all sorts of things: cooking, her favorite places to travel, how dirty living with three boys can be…because she works pretty late, we generally talk just before bedtime while we straighten up the living room together. It’s nice to hear her opinions on things without the kids hanging around.

Taking the time to appreciate the “little things” is something I would normally never get to do in the States, but I love the fact that my schedule here allows me to slow down and take it all in. Good for the mind; good for the soul.

Waiting Room

As I may have mentioned before, time moves a little slower here in France. Ten minutes late is right on time, and the bureaucracy lives up to its famous stereotypes. While I haven’t gotten completely frustrated over it yet, it’s definitely taken some getting used to.

Five weeks into the semester, I’m still not officially registered for any courses. Of course, I selected my classes long ago, but the administration has yet to actually put me in the computer system. I doubt this could have any effect on insurance or scholarship paperwork back home, but it’s a bit disconcerting to think that I’m still not on any official roster here. I’m a ghost!

All classes at the university generally start about ten minutes after the appointed time, if not later. Today, for instance, I waited forty minutes before my International Relations teacher strolled into the classroom without any apology to the students. At my school in the States, students would be falling over each other to get out the door after fifteen minutes. It’s perfectly fine by me if classes are shortened sometimes, but I hate thinking about all that wasted time I could have spent reading/doing homework/eating/sleeping!

Classes are also frequently cancelled with no notice. If, after an hour or so of waiting, the teacher doesn’t show up, it’s safe to assume that class won’t happen that day. A few weeks ago, this happened with my European History course. Another student eventually came into the lecture hall and told us all that class was cancelled for the next three weeks. I have no idea how the teacher expects to make up a third of the semester’s classes when we return next week, but I suppose it’s not my concern. Once again, I feel like it’s a waste of time that could be easily prevented with a simple email to the students, but I guess I just have to get used to it!

All of this is to say that I’ve started carrying around a book.

To Paris with Love

I just spent one very long weekend in Paris, so get ready for one very long post! I’ll try to make things as easy to read as possible, but forgive me if I ramble a bit.

Kaia and I made it to the Paris train station at about 4 in the afternoon on Friday and slowly made our way westward along the Seine. We passed by the Notre Dame de Paris and spent a while taking in the unbelievable architecture. It always amazes me that such a thing was built with no calculators, no cranes, and no power tools.

Standing in front of Notre Dame.

We caught our first glimpse of la Tour Eiffel just as the sun was beginning to set. We wound through a few side streets and suddenly, there she stood. Even though I was freezing and tired, I felt a burst of energy and ran the rest of the way to the park. Kaia didn’t know that the tower lights up after dark, and the look on her face when it started to twinkle was priceless!

Peeking from behind a building. She like to play hide and seek as you walk through the city.

I wasn’t entirely sure where to go from there, but I managed to navigate us toward a metro station and ride to Montmartre, where our hostel was. We checked in and pretty much went immediately to bed.

In the morning, Kaia and I threw on some layers (by the way, that’s one tank top, one underarmor shirt, two longsleeve tshirts, a hoodie, a leather jacket, and a trench coat, plus leggings under corduroy pants, two pairs of socks, boots, scarf, hat, and gloves) and headed downstairs for breakfast. We were shocked to have cornflakes, croissants, baguettes, juice, and coffee! It was delicious and far more than I expected at a cheapo hostel. With our bellies full, we walked just a few blocks to Sacré Coeur, the cathedral that made Montmartre famous (well, that and the tax-free alcohol). Sacré Coeur is at the top of a 147 step hill that provides a beautiful view of Paris. We spent several minutes trying to identify various buildings, then made our way back down the other side of the hill toward Moulin Rouge. There, we stumbled upon an English-speaking free tour of the district. How lucky were we? The guide, Louis, was born and raised in Paris and showed us all his favorite nooks and crannies of the area. We would certainly never have seen much more than the cathedral and Moulin Rouge without his guidance.

I have great memories of sitting at this artists' square with Mom.

After we bid Louis adieu, Kaia and I hustled to the Louvre. While she’s not the biggest fan of neo-classicism or Renaissance art, I hope she appreciated my whirlwind tour of the massive museum’s most famous works.

One of my favorite paintings at the Louvre, The Coronation of Napoleon.

After a mere three hours at the Louvre (just a drop in the ocean of artwork, really) we crossed the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay, the impressionist museum. Mom and I didn’t get the chance to go to this museum when we were in Paris six years ago, and now I wish she could have seen it! Much much much smaller than the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is perhaps a bit more accessible to the average art non-connoisseur and offers many widely known (and frequently reproduced) works. My jaw literally dropped when I saw Monet’s waterlilies-truly beautiful.

Just outside the Musée d'Orsay.

At the Jardin de Tuileries, watching the sun go down.

We ended the day with a stroll down the Champs Elysées. The boulevard was packed with Paris’ wealthiest citizens and tourists wanting to see and be seen. Kaia and I were happy to window-shop at the giant Sephora and Disney stores! Our walk was capped with a few pictures at the Arc de Triomphe-a beautiful sight to see at night when the street lights illuminate it from below.
We bought a frozen pizza and some fruit to cook in the hostel’s kitchen, and settled down to eat a cheap but warm dinner. While eating, we met a Frenchman and a Russian girl who were traveling together. Both, of course, spoke several languages and were eager to hear what we thought of the differences between the United States and Europe. We spent a few hours discussing our cultural difficulties and what we love most about France. Often, Kaia and I had completely different answers to their questions, which confused them and surprised us. The Northwest and the Southeast of the US might as well be two different countries in some aspects!

The next morning, Kaia and I hurried downstairs to enjoy our cornflakes once again! Seriously, I never thought I’d be so happy to have cereal for breakfast. Rather than take the metro to the Seine, we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. We saw several little markets and took our time peeking in souvenir shops and windows. When we finally reached the tower, we decided to spend the €3.50 to climb it. Over 600 steps later, we reached the second floor (about midway up the tower) and saw a glorious view of the city. It was a bit foggy, but you could still see for many miles in each direction. We couldn’t take the elevator up to the very tippy top, but our view was pretty nice from where we were.

Foggy but beautiful at the Iron Lady!

When we descended we walked a few blocks south to the Hôtel des Invalides, where Kaia took some pictures and I bought a marvelous crêpe with nutella and bananas. Sometimes, it’s worth it to pay €4 for a chocolate pancake, and that afternoon was one of those times.
Suddenly, we realized we had about an hour until our train left, and that the station was still more than five miles away. Needless to say, we picked up the pace. I was very tired and ready to pay a stranger to lend me their bicycle/car/scooter/wheelchair to make the journey a little easier, but we managed to get to the station with a few minutes to spare. Two hours later, we were back in snowy Tours with sore feet, empty wallets, and big smiles.

All in all, I had a great weekend trying to fit all the most famous sights of Paris into one quick tour for Kaia. I wish I could have stayed for weeks and weeks to be able to relax a bit and absorb the culture, but our little jaunt was a fun crash course in all things Parisian! I look forward to seeing it again.

Fear of Falling

Walking on snow is not terribly difficult-it’s somewhat similar to walking on dry sand. There’s a funny squeaky sound if you hit it just right, and you sink down quite a bit.

Looking down at my feet on Sunday.

Walking on the ice that’s formed after the snow melts a little bit and refreezes overnight is an entirely different story.

When I was about twelve years old, my brother and I visited a little ice skating rink inside the mall. Lucas is good at just about everything he puts a little bit of effort into, and was soon gliding around the rink like he’d been doing it his whole life. I, on the other hand, am not such a natural. I clung to the wall like it was my only chance for survival. (Incidentally, I’m the same way on roller skates.) This week, I felt like that twelve-year-old again.

It’s taken me twice as long to walk anywhere this week, because I stick right to the inner edge of the sidewalk where the storefront awnings have created a little dry space between the walls and the ice. My fellow exchange students from Canada and the upper Mid West find it absolutely hilarious that I’m so scared to walk normally, but I can’t help it! I’m just not used to this weather, and I don’t think I’m going to figure it out anytime soon. Le printemps can’t get here quick enough!

Lady in the Radiator

I am the kind of person who’s always cold. I prefer to have a blanket across my legs whenever I’m not standing, and that’s in the summer.
While I’ve mostly gotten used to the cold around here, the past two days have been especially chilly, so I’ve taken to curling up beside/on top of the radiator in my bedroom when reading or doing homework.

It’s a very cozy little spot, and this afternoon I sat down with my computer and promptly fell asleep. I don’t think it’s dangerous to nap next to a radiator, but it was slightly embarrassing to wake up to Mathieu standing at the door, wondering why I was curled up on the floor in the corner of the room like the little matchstick girl.

Needless to say, I’m ready for spring.

Short Skirt/Long Jacket

There is a uniform in France for each age group. I’ve decided that deviating from this uniform must result in some sort of fine because it is nearly always followed exactly.

Women under the age of 30:
Black, grey, or camel wool coat/puffer jacket with skinny jeans or leggings tucked into high-heeled boots or ballet flats with a monstrous scarf covering at least half the face. Very long, brown hair either completely down or worn in a high bun; no makeup. Must carry a large leather purse with no visible label.

Women above 30:
Any color wool coat with boot-cut jeans or slacks covering slip-on shoes and a bright pashmina scarf with matching hat. Short hair; perhaps some lipstick. Carries a small purse and a rolling grocery bag.

Men under the age of 50:
Black leather bomber jacket/puffer jacket with jeans or sweatpants and designer sneakers with a dark scarf and headphones plugged into a non-Apple mp3 player. Very very short hair, gelled up in the front. Carries a messenger bag or designer satchel.

Men above 50:
Dark green or camel wool coat with corduroy pants and dress shoes and a newsboy cap or beret. No hair to speak of. Carries a grocery bag and a newspaper.

Pictures to come when I get the courage to sneakily snap photos of strangers!!