Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Twice Stranded


I've found that nearly everyday here I'm learning something new. Whether it be about the way of life in France or about myself, it's always fun to see what each new day will bring. (Unfortunately, I have yet understand French transportation schedules.)

This week, I worked on my portion of one of the group projects we've been assigned. It wasn't really hard or anything, but it took quite a bit of time. Lizette, Alois, and I all have something similar to work on, so Thursday and most of Friday we did the responsible thing and finished the homework. Then, Friday afternoon/evening, Joe, Lizette, and I took a train to nearby Chatellerault for a bit of exploring.

Chatellerault was beautiful. We found the town square and from there went to the Office of Tourism, found a map, and headed out to see what we could see. First we visited a cathedral. I think that the facade of this one was restored fairly recently (past 200 years), because it looked quite new compared to the other churches I've seen. Of course it was beautiful. This cathedral was different in that there was no large organ upstairs above the front entrance. Instead it had a small organ against the side wall, and I've never seen that before.

Next we followed the directions of the walking tour in our map and it took us to several other really old buildings, unfortunately, we were only able to see the outsides because they were closed to the public. 

We did get to walk down to the river and see a beautiful bridge the spans the Vienne. We walked down and under the bridge, and on the other side was a small, grassy area. It's a beautiful river, but it's no Snake River. 

We walked through town a bit more, but didn't really see anything worth mentioning here. (Definitely not a tourist town.) When we first arrived at Chatellerault, we checked the train schedule and saw that there was a train leaving at 9:20. So we decided that we would be back at the station by then. However, we had seen everything and were ready to leave by about 8:00. We went to the station to catch an 8:20 train, only to realize that the train schedule is different on Fridays. The train that we needed to board had left at 7:55 and there wasn't another one going to Poitiers until 6:20 the next morning. Needless to say, we have not yet mastered the whole train thing yet. We went through all of our options, debated taking a taxi, almost took a bus, then finally decided to just hop on a train that we didn't have a ticket for and hope for the best. We had to wait until 9:30 to catch this one. (We had tickets for the TER line, which is local, and the train we rode was TGV, which is for all of France.) 

We had a close call because the guy who checks tickets stood right beside us for the first 5 minutes of the ride, but he didn't ask for our ticket, so we didn't say anything! And we made it home safely-- it's all part of the adventure. 

It has been pointed out to me that I get giggly when I'm upset/uncomfortable/nervous, and now I know that it's true. I could not stop laughing when we were waiting for the 9:30 train. It was just so comical to me that we were stranded 15 minutes from home. 15 minutes-- that's all the train ride was. Oh my, I'm glad I have excellent travel companions to share these mishaps with. 

Saturday morning, I met with Lizette, Joe, and Alois to go to Futuroscope for the day. (It's only about 10 miles outside of Poitiers.) I'm not sure how to describe what Futuroscope is exactly because I've never been to or heard of anything similar in the US. It's a big park with lots of architecturally beautiful buildings and inside each building is some sort of attraction. Some that we went to were "Mission Hubble," "Sea Monsters," and "Born to Be Wild." The attraction itself is usually just a film of some sort. 

The first film we saw was "Travelers by Air and Sea" and while the film itself wasn't that spectacular, the theater was. The rows were unusually wide, with lots of leg room, but I just thought that's how they are here. Turns out there was a huge screen under the seating area, so they were showing the film on the big screen in front of us, and then it carried on down onto the one below us. It had an interesting effect. The little kids down the row from us loved that they could look through the floor to watch the movie. 

We also watched "Sea Monsters" in 4D. I had never seen a movie in 4D before and it was so cool, and so much better than just 3D. Everything looks so close and right in front of you. I enjoyed this, although I'm not sure what the story was as it was in French.

Another notable attraction was called Arthur, the 4D Adventure. We did this last because there was  a 50 minute wait for a 5 minute "ride." Once we got in there, however, the wait was worth it. It was in an IMAX dome, and we were given 4D glasses and sat in special chairs. In the attraction, we were in Arthur's world. Arthur is a small human thing, and lives in the grass with the ladybugs and rodents. We had to travel to somewhere and fight someone, basically. (Arthur explained it to us, but spoke French, imagine that.) So we were traveling down tunnels and the seats were moving like we actually there. Now, I've been in a few of these kinds of "rides" before, but this one beat them all. It felt very real because of the dome, but also these chairs were crazy. On our journey we met a mouse that sneezed on us, and the chairs actually sprayed water in our faces. We made our way through a spider web, and our headrests produced tentacle like things that touched our hair. We encountered some bees, and there were puffs of air at our neck as they flew by. There were huge fans in front of us so it felt like we were moving really fast.  It really was quite the experience. 

I think the most fun we had all day was in the Kid's area. We climbed a big rope jungle gym until the sun came out, then we had lunch. I enjoyed the park, but I don't think it's something I would want to go back to. There were a few attractions that I would have liked to do, but we didn't get to them. I'm not sure this kind of thing, as it is, would be successful in America. There wasn't a whole lot to do except watch movies all day. (I just think if you're going to build these amazing buildings, you should at least put more in them than just a theater. What a waste!) But, it was a good experience, and I'm glad we went!

We almost didn't make it home a second time, because, I swear, the bus schedules just are not clear about what's going on around here! We arrived at the bus stop early, because we had learned our lesson the night before-- we were not going to miss the bus! (We did.) Out of the four of us, you'd think someone could figure this out, but no. So we sat in the shelter thing, and it started sprinkling a little, then pouring rain. A bus that was going to all the hotels in the area arrived after a few minutes and we asked the driver if there were any buses coming that could take us to where we needed to be. He saw that we were helpless and stuff, so he took us to a different bus stop that had more options than the one we were at. (Such a nice man, and he spoke English!) From that station we made it back, and thank goodness because it was raining pretty hard at this point. Eventually, we'll learn!

Sunday was pretty laid back. I got some more homework done, and did a bit of writing. That evening Joe and Lizette had planned to feed the LDS missionaries from the local branch and they invited to Alois and me to join them. (You might have seen the picture on Facebook.) We had pork and potatoes and corn, and it was good to eat American food. The elders were both from Utah and knew some of the same people that Joe and Lizette know, so it was kind of fun to see those connections being made. Alois had never heard of the Mormon church before he met Joe and Lizette, so he had a few questions that I'm sure the missionaries loved answering. 

Monday and Tuesday were study days for everyone, as we all have projects to work on. Tuesday we had French class again, and I'm please to tell you that I now know several more verbs. So, yeah, that's fun. 

Here's to many more adventures and mishaps, good friends, and good times!

1 month down, 8 months to go.

Je t'embrasse,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Peanut Butter Blues


How are you? I hope your week has been good.

Mine hasn't been bad. I got to talk to my family a few times and that made me quite happy.

Also, I did some laundry, bought cooking utensils, and finally used the kitchen! Basically, I just did stuff that really should have been done by now, but I just didn't want/know how to do until now.

I can't believe I've been here for three weeks. Some days it feels like it's been so much longer than that, and then other days I feel like I just got here. Monday marked 100 days until Christmas-- that doesn't even seem like that long! That means I'll be here for 258 more days (give or take a few).

Today, I thought I'd share with y'all a few discoveries I've made while here.

Our first week here, the school hosted a really fancy dinner at a nice restaurant for the international students. It was a really good time. Before they brought us our food, they set out these little bowls of what looked like packing peanuts. So, obviously, we tried them and they tasted like peanut butter! They were so good, Lizette ate almost the whole bowl in front of us and then asked the people down the table to pass their bowl down (because they weren't enjoying the peanut buttery goodness). Needless to say, we searched for these the next time we went to the supermarket. It took us a few trips, but we finally found them. They're called Croustillantes Gout Cacahuetes, which I think means peanut flavored crisps. Anyway, they're amazing. The ones that I like to get are more like crunchy cheetos instead of puffy. (Because crunchy beats puffy everyday.) We call them peanut butter cheetos and I don't ever regret eating an entire bag in one day. They are just that good.

This second discovery came by way of a delicious muffin at our favorite cafe. Lizette and I will usually split a panini and a dessert, so one day we chose a muffin that kind of looked like it might be similar to coffee cake with this brownish glaze on the top. We bit into this muffin and it had a real subtle flavor. It took several bites to really pinpoint what it tasted like, but we finally settled on graham crackers. It sounds really odd, but it's good. We went back into the cafe to look at the name of it and it's "Speculoos." I googled it and it has cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and a few other spices in it. Turns out, they sell this stuff in jars next to the Nutella, and it's even better in creamy form. I found these little "toasts" (hard crackers) and I pile that speculoos on. I could eat this with a spoon straight from the jar.

Thirdly, I've discovered that Paula and Tessa (my advisors at SUU) were right about the peanut butter situation in Europe. Somehow, it's just not a thing. As someone who could live off of PBJ sandwiches and Reeses, I don't understand how they don't eat peanut butter. I was able to find this itty-bitty jar of it, but it was nearly 5 Euros for 340 grams. (That's $6.50 for 12 oz.) At first I convinced myself that I could live without it, but later caved and bought it anyway. Nutella and Speculoos are good, but they're no substitute for peanut butter.

Fourthly, I'd like to know why the coffee comes in such small doses. There are coffee vending machines in both buildings at the school, so I commend them for that, but the serving size is minuscule! I already mentioned that it's very different from American coffee in taste, but size is a whole different thing. It's not just the serving size from the vending machines that are small. I bought a double macchiato at a coffee shop and it was smaller than a tall at Starbucks.
Cappuccino from the vending machine
What is this madness?!

I'm sure there are more discoveries I could tell you about, but this is all I can think of at the moment!

This past week has been kind of dragging. We had planned to go somewhere in the region on Friday and Saturday, but Lizette was sick, so we stayed around Poitiers (which is never a bad thing). And since we didn't get to leave, I did a little more exploring on my own. I found another old church, and I swear, every time I go into another Cathedral I have a new favorite. I just love everything about them. Inside and out, I am just in awe of it all. I would love to attend church services in them every week. I suppose I could but 1) I'm not Catholic and 2) I wouldn't understand a word of what was going on. Eh, I might go anyway.

On Saturday, our friends from South Carolina hosted an American Cookout for all of the international students. They served hot dogs, potato chips, and s'mores. (They used mini-baguettes for the hot dog buns because I guess that's also not a thing here.) It was fun to eat pseudo-American food though. 

On Tuesday evening we had another French class. From here on out, we'll have them regularly once a week. I'm looking forward to these, although I wish we could meet more often. I'm not learning the language nearly as quickly as I hoped I would. But that's fine, I am slowly getting better!

Today was the first day of my Services Marketing class. For some reason, our original teacher couldn't teach last minute, and the school had to find someone else to take over. The new teacher won't be here until next week, so until then, we have this huge assignment to turn in by Monday (groups of 5 writing a 20 pg paper with a presentation to go along with it). I'm having the hardest time taking my school work seriously. It just doesn't feel like school to me! Hopefully, my future classes will get off to a better start than this one has. 

I really should start writing my portion of this assignment, but I think I'll sit here with my spoonful of speculoos and watch Youtube videos for a while. 

I love you all :)

Je t'embrasse,

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Two Weeks In


I won't start this post with endless rants about the dealings in France, but believe me I could. Suffice it to say that I still don't have a phone and probably won't for another two weeks.

Lizette, Joe, Alois, Alice, and I had a grand time this past weekend. We took the train 1.5 hours west to the port city of La Rochelle. There was a slight mix-up with our tickets, but we talked to the conductor and he, being a lovely fellow, let us on his train instead of making us wait until the next one, two hours later. Since we weren't supposed to be on that train, there weren't many empty seats, so we spent the time in the luggage area on the luggage racks-- not the most comfortable, but it got us there. (We felt like vagabonds stowing away on the west bound train!)

La Rochelle was beautiful. It was overcast when we arrived, so we spent this time getting a feel for the place. As we looked out over the town, we could see several old buildings built along the water's edge. We couldn't leave these buildings unexplored so we set out in their direction.

We first came to an old something or another, but we didn't go inside because it was 6 Euros and it really didn't look that impressive. We kept walking to a very pretty church. We walked through this one and I gathered from looking at pictures that it had recently been restored. (Although, I don't read French, so I can't be sure ;)) Then we went to this fabulous clock tower. I'd wager that most of you know how much I love clocks (and watches and other things that tell time) so I spotted this early on and was definitely planning on making my way towards it. It stood over a street and when we walked under it there were cute little sidewalk cafes and small shops on the other side. So quaint. This is the kind of thing I love about France. We had lunch in one of the cafes, then went out in search of more adventure. 

We eventually made it to the beach and decided to stay for the rest of the afternoon. It was basically wonderful for the first hour or so, but after a while I was just hot and burned. But we stayed and talked and it was a good time. By about 4pm we were ready to move on. We started heading back to the train station and got back to Poitiers by 6:30 or so. Everyone was exhausted and hungry so we went our separate ways.
Alois, Alice, Lizette, Me, Joe

I got home and my legs were so, so burned. I protected my top half with a long sleeve shirt, but left my legs to be roasted by the sun. It was kind of a lop sided burn too, not even in the same places on both legs. Anyway, I stayed inside all day Sunday because I hate sunburns and I should have known better and maybe this time I learned my lesson. (Probably not.) 

Monday we had a class about our research projects that we have to do this semester. We had to form groups of 6 and then create a survey for a group of people. The professor opened the classes by saying that this would be the easiest class we take all semester and I am ok with that. I got in with a group that is made up entirely of people from the UK. They're all very nice and I think we'll work well together. 

Tuesday we had a meeting in the morning, then had the afternoon free so we worked on getting our credit cards and phone situation all worked out. And that took most of the day. 

Today the boys (Joe and Alois) had a class, but Lizette and I didn't so we decided to go shopping! We had heard that there was a decent sized mall somewhere in Poitiers, so after lunch we set out in search of this place. We had to walk 2 miles to get there, but it was so worth it. This mall will be good for when I need some retail therapy. They had a store or two that we recognized, but most of them were new to us. It was fun to explore them all and see the style difference between here and what we're used to. We spotted a McDonalds and couldn't help ourselves-- we had an afternoon snack (it was delicious). I'm ashamed to admit that I even took a picture of this meal. (But since it looks exactly like any other McDonalds meal, I won't show you.) 

We decided to take the bus back to the school, then headed to Joe's house to talk about travel plans. Although we ended up watching Zoolander instead. The plans can wait until another day, sometimes it's nice to just sit back and watch a movie. 

And that's how it's been here so far-- a few fun and exciting things mixed in with the usual, mundane things. Everyday here is an adventure, but it's not exactly the type I was anticipating. I'm beginning to see that life itself is an adventure. Not every thing is a grand and glorious thing-- sometimes the adventure is in getting the courage to ask for help in the supermarket or trying a new restaurant or making friends with French students. And every one of those adventures is as important as the grand and glorious kind. Don't let me forget that. 

Je t'embrasse,

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Feeling the Heat


I hope all of you are doing well! I won't say that I'm homesick quite yet, but there are certain things that I miss about America.

Firstly, air conditioning. It's the simplest of pleasures and is absolutely taken for granted in America. I never imagined I would sit in a classroom 6 hours a day and not have air conditioning. So we're sitting in class, and it's a well known fact that you can see what's being projected much better if it's dark in the room. Well, the lights are already off, so the only thing left to do is close the curtains over the windows. There, that's better, now we can see the pictures of French hotel rooms more clearly. Only, with the curtains pulled shut, there is NO WAY for the air to flow through the room. So we sat there sweltering, sweating... one girl got up to get some fresh air and almost fell down the stairs, she was so dizzy from the heat. Ah, air conditioning, how I miss your cool breezes.

Secondly, punctuality. I understand that teachers are busy people and can occasionally get away with being late to class, but honestly, being late every day is unacceptable. On the first day, when we had the orientation, we were told very clearly, that on test days the student must arrive 15 minutes early or they would not be allowed into the classroom. Today was a test day, so all of us students who paid attention that first day arrived 20 minutes before class to be guaranteed admittance. We stood outside that classroom until 5 minutes after class was scheduled to start. Why on earth did I show up so early if the teacher is going to be 5 minutes late?!

Thirdly, preparedness. Oh my goodness, I can't even begin to explain how unorganized everything feels here. Here's just one example of what I'm talking about-- In class, we were told to take notes because the topics we were talking about would be on the test. Easy enough, right? So everyone starts writing down points from the presentation. Then, this teacher says, "No, no, I will give you this handout!" Alright. That's great. Where is it? "In the next class, this afternoon I will give it to you." Ok, but I need to take notes on it now. Then she tells us that we're allowed to have this handout while we're taking the test, and nothing else. But you're talking about a lot of things that aren't on this powerpoint... where am I supposed to write this stuff down if the handouts won't be ready for another 4 hours? (Sidenote: the things she talked about during those first 3 hours when we didn't have the handout actually were on the test. So, thank you for that.)

Enough. In my last post, I talked a bit about the things I would be doing this week. I'm happy to report that I opened  a bank account and registered for housing benefits! (I could write a book about how awful and backwards that ordeal was, but I'll spare you the trauma.) I only have a few more housekeeping items to take care of, thank goodness.

Now that I've ranted for too many paragraphs, I'll tell you about what fun we've been having!

In the past week, I've gone to a French Mass in a beautiful old Cathedral, meandered through a museum that was built over the ruins of an old church, and walked so, so many miles through town. (But that's ok, I think you get to see more when you walk.) The school is only 7 minutes walk up the hill, and city center is about 4 minutes walk beyond that. City center has basically everything I need. I could take the bus to other places around Poitiers, but I have yet to be so brave. It's funny how scary/intimidating some things become when you don't speak the language of the locals. I'm still not comfortable ordering my lunch.

My birthday was Sunday, but we quickly found out that this place is worse than Utah when it comes to everything being closed on Sunday. So on my birthday, we just hung around the house, then celebrated on Monday. I found myself craving chocolate, so we set out in search of a cute bakery or something of the like. We stumbled across an American-style coffee shop (called What's Up Coffee?), and I had to have this on my (day-after) birthday! It was really nothing like American coffee except that it was much bigger than the average French coffee. I got a Cappuccino Ice. It was basically just a plain Frappuccino. They didn't blend it very well-- the coffee and some ice settled to the bottom, and the creamy stuff sat on top. It didn't matter. It was so good to have cold coffee! I miss my Iced Caramel Macchiato! Along with this, I had a cronut with chocolate icing-- so good. I will be revisiting this place.

The rest of this week has mostly been filled with classes and meetings about school stuff. I was not prepared for the structure of the classes at this school. We got our semester schedules today, and Joe, Lizette, and I made a schedule with all of our classes on it, so we could plan when we want to travel. It's kind of crazy. I'm taking 3 core classes, 2 electives, a research project, a French Culture class (which we finished this week), and French language classes. With all of this, I'll only be in class for 36 days this entire Fall semester. French classes meet every Tuesday from 5:15 to 7:15. The rest of the classes (except the research project) meet for 4 days, six hours a day, then have a test or a group presentation/project on the 5th day. And that's it. For all of October, I'll only be in class 3 days. I don't know what to do with this kind of freedom (Is that even what this is?).  What am I supposed to do with all of my time?

On our consolidated schedule, we have 8 weekends with no class for 4 or more days. Can you image the kind of trips we could take on those weekends?! I'm so excited for everything I hope to do while I'm here!

I met some kids here from South Carolina who are Christians and hold a weekly Bible study every Monday night. We're reading through the book of Mark. I'm really excited about it! I was kind of worried about trying to find a church (they all preach in French, imagine that.), but this might turn out to be a good substitution until I understand the language a little better. It's so great how God takes care of us in all the areas of life!

I think that's all I've got tonight!

Je t'embrasse,