Wednesday, April 29, 2015

8 Months Down


This week, I learned how totally and completely I take walking for granted. Turns out, it's a useful ability, because when suddenly you can't anymore, life gets a whole lot harder. 

Maybe I'm a little too dramatic, but honestly, this week has been a struggle. See, I can walk, but to get to anywhere useful, I have to walk uphill (which, you might have guessed, is harder than walking on a flat surface).

But, it hasn't been all bad. I can definitely tell that it's getting better, it's just frustrating to not be able to move like I want to. (Or as fast as I want to.)

I've had two class days this week and I'm currently working on one class project. Have I ever mentioned how happy I will be when I don't have group work looming over me for every class? Surely I have.

I've spent a lot of time sitting around my apartment this week trying to keep my foot elevated and generally staying off of it, and I'm happy to say that I have made some serious progress on HIMYM and House. Also, I just finished reading two books from a series about an Amish romance. If that's not something to be proud of, then... yeah, I need to get out more often.

Thankfully, for the rest of this week, I will be in Paris. I won't be doing anything too strenuous, but at least I'll be out of here for a little bit.

I cannot believe it's nearly May. Tomorrow, I can officially say that I'm going home this month. That's scary, and exhilarating. The sadness of leaving hasn't hit me yet, but the nerves and excitement of going home definitely has!

247 days down, 29 to go.

Je t'embrasse,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Finding Awe


How has your week been?

Since I wrote last Wednesday, a few things have happened.

Thursday I had class, and Friday I left for Paris to meet my friend Gabriella. (She's the one I met in Amsterdam a few weeks ago!) Since she was only visiting for a short time, she wanted to get started on Paris right away. We dropped off our stuff at our hotel, then began walking Paris. We headed in the general direction of the Seine. On the way we stopped by a bookstore, had a quick lunch, and had a drink at a cafe.

We eventually made it to a neighborhood I recognized near the Louvre, so we stopped there and saw quite a bit of it. Of course we went upstairs to see the Mona Lisa, but after that, we were pretty much finished. (It's a great museum, but oh my goodness, the walking.)

We left the Louvre and began walking through Jardin des Tuileries and stopped for another drink and a quick snack at a small outdoor cafe in the park. Afterwards, we began walking back in the direction of our hotel. On the way, we stopped by Galeries Lafayette and went up to the roof to look out over the city. We walked through the mall a little, then went across the street for a glass of wine before we started for the hotel.

Gabriella decided that she wanted a pair of shoes she had seen inside, so we ran back to the shoe department 15 minutes before the Galeries closed. She asked the sales associate for her size, but the lady was so rude. She was acting exasperated that she had to be working when they were about to close. I'd understand if we'd come in 5 minutes before closing and wanted to wander around, but we were there and Gabriella knew exactly the shoe she wanted-- all she needed was the size. Anyway, she finally got the shoes and paid for it and we were out of there before closing.

We started walking and only got a little bit lost on the way home. Actually we walked in the entirely wrong direction for a while, but we eventually got there. We stopped on the way to eat dinner at a restaurant. Gabriella ordered snails, and I had duck. They both came with delicious fried potatoes. We were pretty exhausted by this time because Gabrielle wouldn't let me hop on the Metro to go anywhere.

When we left the restaurant, we thought we still had a few blocks to walk, but it turned out that our hotel was just right around the corner. When we got up to our room (6th floor, and we took the stairs) we both crashed quickly. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to open the window, so we woke up at about 1 am sweating and unable to sleep. However, once the window was open and we cooled off, we slept the rest of the night peacefully.

Our hotel served a free breakfast, so the next morning, we went downstairs for that, then took the train out to Versailles. I had never been there before, so I was pretty excited to see something new. We were on the train for about a half hour before we arrived.

As we walked up on Versailles, I was surprised at just how massive the place is, and it's so gorgeous. The gate and the tops of the buildings have bright, shiny gold, and everything is very ornate. Once we were inside the gates, we walked through part of the Palace, but it was packed. I get frustrated when I have to navigate through that many people, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have otherwise.

We exited the Palace and walked out to the Gardens. I love walking through nature like that. The gardens are extensive and we were out there for a while before we reached the end. At the rear of the gardens, there's a park called Petit Venise. There's a pond with boats and more walkways. There were people on bikes and runners and families on picnics. It's the kind of place I wouldn't mind taking people I love to spend the day in the sun.

Beyond Petit Venise is a path that leads to Marie Antoinette's Estate. The Trianon wasn't nearly as crowded as the Palace, so it was much more enjoyable. Honestly, I think the rooms were prettier here than the Palace too. Afterwards, we walked out into the gardens, found a spot in the grass, and laid down for a quick nap in the sun.

We took the trolley back to the main Palace, walked back to the train station, and went back to Paris. We got off at a stop very near the Eiffel Tower. After we walked around it and admired it, we found a spot on the grounds and sat for a while. The Parc du Champs de Mars is a nice place to be on a Saturday. Everybody and their dog is out enjoying the weather. Many people brought bread, cheese, and wine to picnic amongst everyone else. It's a fun atmosphere.

We left a little later and walked until we found an Italian restaurant. We ordered beers and split a calzone before we continued on. Gabriella is crazy and wanted to walk from there all the way to Notre Dame, so that's what we did. We walked along the Seine for what seemed like hours. It was beautiful outside and it was really cool to see where everything is in relation to everything else. I like being able to point out buildings and know what they are.

We finally made it to Notre Dame and stopped in a cafe to have a glass of wine. I deserved it. At this point my feet were hurting so, so bad from all the walking. Gabriella and I wanted to picnic at the Eiffel Tower, so on the way to the nearest Metro station, we bought a baguette, then when we got back to the Tower, we bought some cheese and wine at a small shop.

We sat on the grass and watched the sun go down behind the Tower and just had a grand old time together. We stayed until the Tower began to sparkle at 9 pm. We watched the show, then went to get dinner. After dinner, we went back to watch the sparkles at 10 pm, then hopped on the Metro and went back to Montmartre to our hotel. Instead of going straight to the hotel, we walked up the steps (225 steps) to Sacre-Coeur. We wanted to look over the city at night, but little did we know that the steps of Sacre-Coeur is where the party is. We made our way through all the people drinking and went to the balcony.

Paris is such a beautiful city. Exploring it with someone who had never been there was good for me. Gabriella was in awe of everything and it reminded me of just how beautiful it is and how blessed I am to be able to spend time there. She reminded me to appreciate where I am in life.

Sunday morning I woke up with a  swollen right foot and crippling pain when I tried to walk, so I decided to leave Paris early and go home. We had planned on going to a museum before we had to get Gabriella to the airport, but there was no way I could have walked through a museum.

I showed her how to get there and back to the airport and she went, and I took a taxi to the train station, bought a ticket on the next train and made it back to Poitiers. Lauren and Joe are amazing and came to take care of me. I was really kind of worried about how badly my foot was hurting.

Monday I went to a doctor and he said I probably had a stress fracture. He gave me some meds and sent me on my way. It was definitely a different experience than an American doctors visit. It wasn't bad or anything, just different.

I hobbled back home and since then have been trying to stay off my feet as much as possible. Tuesday night I had French class, so I had to walk to that, but mostly I've done ok with not walking. Today when I woke up, the swelling had gone down a bit and it didn't hurt quite as much to walk on it. I'm hoping it'll be close to healed by next weekend when I go back to Paris. (This time I'll be cautious and will stop if it starts to hurt.)

Anyway, that's my week. Oh! I passed my French test! (Yayyyy.) It's definitely not a good grade, but it's passing and for that, I'm happy.

Je t'embrasse,

Here are the other pictures I took over the weekend :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015



This is going to be another of those quick updates because I haven't really been up to much.

On Thursday, we had a volleyball, basketball, and soccer (excuse me, football) tournament with two of our partner schools in Tours and Orleans. Joe and I went to play for the volleyball team. It was held in Tours, so us and 50 other students packed into a bus for the hour long ride up there.

By now, I shouldn't be surprised by France's "organization" skills, but I am-- every time. We signed up for this thing about month ago, then heard very little about it again. So it was coming up and we hadn't gotten any more information. (I need information.) Joe asked our volleyball coach about it and even he didn't know much about it. He was waiting for an email!

Wednesday, he finally posted on our Facebook group when and where the bus would be leaving from and that was all! That night we got an email telling us to bring our own lunch and wear red. That's just not enough for me!

So, we arrived in Tours and got off the bus and stood around until somebody found out where we were supposed to go. They led us into some trees, then across a bridge and down a path. I was looking around and I didn't see any buildings nearby that looked big enough to house volleyball courts, basketball courts, and a soccer field, so I was getting a little nervous.

We rounded a corner and in front of us was a big park with the fields and courts all set up. The guys in charge pointed to a dilapidated building and told us we could change in there. Thankfully the toilets worked.

I just don't get it. Why was it never mentioned that this was an outdoor party? You could have slipped that in somewhere!

Anyway, it ended up being ok. I got a pretty nice tan line on the back of my calves. Our school got first in soccer, second in volleyball, and third in basketball, and overall we won the whole tournament.

That night, they threw a party and me and a few international students went to get pizza. When we got back, we went to what I assume was some kind of talent show. It was fun enough, I guess, but being out in the sun all day had drained me and all I wanted was my bed.

Before that night, I'd never had the experience of riding on a bus with a bunch of drunk french guys, but now that I've done it I can say that I never want to do it again. They chanted about everything. Everything. "Ici c'est, Poitiers!" (Here is Poitiers.) Apparently we have a school chant, but it's really long and I could never understand what they were saying. They even chanted about how badly they wanted to stop to use the toilet. Boy, was it a long hour.

I had class early the next morning, which was brutal. Actually, the class wasn't that bad--the teacher was pretty great-- but still brutal. That class doesn't meet again until next week.

This week, I started a second class. I know it's wrong for me to complain considering how often I don't have to be in school, but three solid days of class is exhausting. It doesn't seem like it should be, but I'm absolutely worn out at the end of the day. Plus, the whole no air conditioning thing is beginning to be a problem again. It gets real hot, real quick in the classrooms.

Tuesdays are the absolute worst because we have an hour and a half of french a mere 15 minutes after we leave the class we've been in since 9:30 that morning. Yesterday, we had an exam in the french class, and I'm really hoping that I at least passed. It was so much harder than I anticipated. (It didn't help that I'd had class all day and they were blasting music in the courtyard next door. My teacher definitely caught me mouthing the words to the songs once or twice.)

Andddd, that's all I have to report. My weekend was uneventful, except that the weather was gorgeous. I spent some time outside and tried to even out what little tan I have.

This weekend I'm going to Paris to spend a bit of time there with Gabriella. I'm pretty excited about that since we had so much fun that day in Amsterdam!

Until next week,
Je t'embrasse,

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

So Much Chocolate (Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges)


Last Wednesday, my travel buddies and I were traveling to Holland to spend a few days there and in Belgium. It was such a fun trip! I'm so glad we saved this one for springtime!

We flew into Amsterdam from Bordeaux, and I had a friend waiting at the airport to show me around the city. She's living near Amsterdam for a year, so we had planned to meet and spend the day together since she didn't have to work Wednesday.

While Lizette and Joe took the car north of Amsterdam to see the windmills, Gabriella and I walked all over Amsterdam. We didn't have any sort of agenda, so we just wandered and saw what we could see. We stopped for frites, croquets, and waffles (yummy, yummy, so yummy). Every time we spotted a cheese store, we popped inside to sample whatever they would let us. Basically, the entire day we had food in our hands (because...why not?).

Since we really didn't have a plan, we ended up walking in circles. We would turn a corner and realize that we had been there before. At the end of the day, she and I had a great time, which is awesome considering we'd never even met in person before that day!

The next day, Gabriella had to work, so Lizette, Joe, and I went into the city. We started at the Anne Frank House. It was absolutely freezing. Bitterly cold. The worst kind of windy days. (And I know windy days.) We had to stand in line for about two hours before we made it inside. The line was down the building, across the street, and down the block, and curled around the square. The lady standing in front of us was quite nice and we talked with her as we waited and even walked through the house with her. She was from the US as well, so she was easy to talk to.

When we finally made it inside the house, I was so relieved. It took awhile before I could feel my fingers or toes, but I didn't notice so much because I was so happy to be in Anne Frank's house! I've read her book a few times and have always loved it. It was so cool to actually be in the place where she spent so much time.

We were able to walk through all of the rooms in the factory, then behind the original bookcase and up the stairs to their secret annex. There is no furniture in the rooms because Otto Frank requested that the rooms always be left empty, but I could easily picture life there.

At the end of the tour, Anne's original journal is on display, which is just the absolute coolest thing ever. I really didn't expect it to be there, so I may have shed a few tears when I saw it. It's so amazing that her story has lived on and become so important to so many people.

Everybody knows that Anne died. Everyone should know that her father survived, but we never really hear about the people who helped her family during their years in hiding. I was happy to hear that the four people who brought them food and updates and kept them alive, all survived to tell their stories. If they hadn't lived, it would have been all the more tragic. They risked their lives for years because they loved people. What an amazing legacy.

We reluctantly left the House and went out into the wind again. We didn't venture far though. We found a sandwich shop and stopped for lunch, then we bought tickets for a boat tour through the canals. It was an hour long and completely sheltered from the wind, so I was happy. The rocking motion of the boat nearly put me to sleep, and if I could've gotten comfortable, I would have happily napped for that hour.

Afterwards, we walked to the flower market and meandered among the vendors. We grabbed a quick dinner, then caught the bus back to our hotel.

The next day, we visited Keukenhof, which is a huge garden with all kinds of tulips and acres and acres of beautiful landscapes. We spent a good 5 hours there, walking through the gardens. There was authentic dancing shows and a windmill and waffles and a street organ and so, so many flowers. It was a really great day-- it wasn't windy!

We left mid-afternoon to head to Antwerp to pick up a friend of ours at the train station. Traffic in Belgium is horrific. We arrived so much later than we planned because we had to stop on the road so many times. It was awful, but we finally made it to the station and picked up Li.

That night we stayed at the strangest Airbnb. Lizette booked it because it was cheap and the woman had really good reviews. She greeted us at the door and led us into this dark room and asked us to sit. Then another woman came in, then a man, then another man, and we just sat and talked for about an hour. She offered us drinks and served peanuts and other snacks, which was all great and nice, but I was really beginning to wonder where the four of us were going to sleep and who these other people were.

Finally, she offered to show us our room, and it was just upstairs. We ended up having to share a bathroom with some other guests, and three of us had to sleep on the floor, but it was ok, as we were only there for one night. It was all just odd, but the lady actually was very nice and helpful.

The next day, we visited Breendonk, a nazi work camp south of Antwerp. This one felt so different from Dachau (the concentration camp we visited in Munich). The buildings were originally a military fortress, so everything was dank and dark and incredibly threatening. It was drizzling that morning and it all felt very dreary.

We were given audio tour guides, so we all walked through at our own pace and listened to the things we wanted and skipped over the stuff we didn't want. It was all very organized with a specific trail to follow throughout the camp.

Since this wasn't an extermination camp, there were no ovens or gas chambers, but there was an area outside with a gallows and an open area for a firing squad. There was a torture chamber and horror stories of what went on behind the walls. The way this one was set up was so different from Dachau.

At Dachau, we were given the facts. We were given true stories that were hard to hear, but all the information was there even when it was gruesome. There were horrible pictures and videos, but because it happened, they were showing it. At Breendonk, we were given stories to stir our emotions. There were no awful pictures or videos. The way everything was portrayed was meant to affect us emotionally. The audio guide sounded bitter as he talked about the SS and guards at the camp. He was sassy as he spoke of the injustice so many people had suffered.

I (think I kind of) understand both methods of information sharing, but the Breendonk method kind of bothered me. I walked away from the camp and didn't feel like I had learned anything. The stories they shared didn't give me a real feel for what had happened there. Yes, I saw the living conditions, I walked the halls, and heard the prisoners' stories, but I felt like there was so much held back from the visitors. Maybe it was meant to make me feel sad, but I left nearly unaffected. (I swear I'm not heartless!)

From Breendonk, we drove to Brussels and checked into our Airbnb. This was a much better apartment than the first. It was on the fifth floor (fourth floor in Europe) so it was a bit of a climb to get there, but the flat itself was the cutest thing, and it had amazing views of the city.

That afternoon, we walked Brussels and saw a bit of the city. It has lovely streets and squares. We had to see the Manneken Pis, of course (google it, there were so many people I didn't get a picture!), and stopped near there to get  Belgian waffles, then continued walking the streets.

The next morning, we drove to Bruges. Easter Sunday in Belgium was beautiful. The skies were clear, the sun was shining; it was a bit chilly, but at least it wasn't raining or blowing! We walked around and saw some churches and some towers and some squares. It was a quaint, medieval town. Everything was old and charming and just lovely. Once we reached Grote Markt, a square in city center, we went up to a bar that had a balcony overlooking the square.

I ordered a tasting tray of Belgian beers and shared it with Li. I can't say I'm a huge fan of beer, but these definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities. One of them was lambic (really fruity)-- it was basically Kool-aid beer. So, yeah, if I could just have that kind of beer always, that'd be nice. The others were ok too, but I mean, come on.

We left to find lunch, then went on another boat tour of the canals. This one was shorter and more fun than the one in Amsterdam. We saw baby ducks in the canals!! So precious.

Afterwards, we stopped at one more chocolate shop to stock up, then headed to Ghent. Ghent is a charming little town as well. One of the cathedrals there houses the very famous Ghent Altarpiece. Lizette really, really wanted to see it, and we parked 20 minutes before the church closed. However, since this is Europe, we didn't park in the parking lot next to the church because there just isn't one. We ran, RAN, through the streets to see this piece of art.
Lizette was ahead of us. 

Never before have we been so committed to getting somewhere before they closed. We made it in time and got to see the the replica that was on display. One of the reasons the altarpiece is so famous is that it has been the victim of 13 crimes. It is the most stolen piece of art ever. To this day, there is one panel that is still missing. It has a very interesting history, and a big thank you to Lizette for being awesome and informative when it comes to this stuff, because without her, I wouldn't have a clue what I was even looking at.

After we'd seen it, we walked over to the belfry next door and went to the top. I love it when we get to see the city from above. Inside, there was a drum that controlled all the 47 bells, and we got to watch it turn and listen to the bells chime. That's one thing I appreciate about European cities-- bells.

We walked back through the city to our car and headed back to the apartment to get ready to leave the next day. We caught a train from Brussels to Paris, then Paris to Poitiers. I enjoy train rides. I pick an album to listen to, then sleep it out or watch the countryside fly by.

I'm happy to be back in Poitiers, but also a little anxious. I've only got 50 days left here. 50. Remember when I wrote my 100 day post? Math time: that was 50 days ago. 50 is not that many. And I may or may not be fluctuating between really freaking out about the thought of leaving and bouncing off the walls because I get to leave soon. Whirlwind of emotions, let me tell you.

Anyway, that's my life right now.

Je t'embrasse,

Here are the pictures from the trip! Quite a few this time!