27 February 2010

La belle France.... An International Road Trip

Okay, so... this past week my wonderful friends Alexis, Julie and myself embarked on a road trip in France. It was the most spontaneous, adventurous, versatile, and wonderful trip I have ever been on.

We started in Paris (of course) and hit the following cities/towns:
  • Montresor (a small medieval town with an amazing Chateau and a beautiful view)
  • Bordeaux
  • Saint-Emillion (wine making region of Bordeaux for a wine tasting tour and a tour of a 8th century underground church!)
  • Biarritz (surfing capitol of Europe)
  • San Sebastian, Spain (adorable Spanish city on the Atlantic)
  • Toulouse (lively city in the south of France)
  • A small town north of Toulouse with prehistoric cave paintings!

Atlas is opened and we're ready to take off...

Chez nous: Chateau in Montresor, France. This is the little blue machine that made it all possible...

Cheateau in Montresor. When we arrived the curator said "Let me open the Chateau for you girls". It's the first, but hopefully not last time that anyone has said that to me!

Group shot in Montresor...

These pictures are out of order, but this is on Monday morning in Biarritz, France. We were so happy to finally see the ocean after spending so much time in rainy and cold Paris!

We couldn't have been happier when the sun came out in Biarritz on Monday. We ate breakfast outside at a cafe facing the ocean. Life is good :)

My purse posing for a picture on the rocks in Biarritz.

San Sebastian, Spain. The sun sets on one side of the island and not the other.

Top Secret photo from our top secret personal tour in San Sebastian. We couldn't have picked a better hotel!

San Sebastian, Spain.... do we have to go back to Paris? Really?

My first dry martini.... holy strongness! Took us about 2 hours to finish one drink.

San Sebastian, Spain.

After climbing a mountain because the Funicular is closed on Wednesdays. The Spanish aren't much more logical than the French... but we still made it to the top for the view.

Hotel de Ville in Toulouse, France. Some of the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen...and it's in the city hall? Unexpected!

City Hall in Toulouse, France. I told you it was beautiful!

Driving up the side of a mountain in the south of France. Pictures cannot capture how absolutely amazing this was.

A little town built into the side of a mountain in France.

19 February 2010

I must say, this was one of the most productive weeks I've had in quite a long time. It was fabulous.

Though I knew it would happen, I had my first article published on the website for which I am writing for my internship and it was a big boost of self confidence. I would write about the weird things that go through my head all day if someone would pay me for it, but apparently I'll even do it without pay... because I just did.

I also studied a lot for the GRE, cooked dinner with miss Kelsy on Monday, attended my Convo group, went to a Mardi Gras celebration, saw the movie "Valentine's Day", celebrated Alexis's birthday at a delicious Italian restaurant right next to the Tour Eiffel, oh yeah... and I worked a little, too.

As of four hours ago when I left the ugly green gates of Ecole Primaire Jean Mace I am officially on a two-and-a-half week vacation. Tomorrow Alexis, Julie, and I leave for our road trip through France! We barely have anything planned for our trip so it is going to be an excellent adventure. Hopefully this adventure will include cute French villages, wine tasting in Bordeaux, sunshine, Spaniards, delicious food, and great memories. With my road atlas of France in hand I am ready to take off!

Caitlin and me at dinner

Tim holding Flat Sylvia for her Eiffel Tower photo op in front of the restaurant.

Birthday girl Alexis and the ginormous Parmasean cheese wheel!

The adorable Alana and Lauren at dinner

15 February 2010

5 month mark

It's official... I've been in France for five consecutive months!

Now I realize that Parisian apartments are known for having loud neighbors (as are any big city apartment buildings), but I'm quite positive that the people living above us are the loudest, rudest, most annoying neighbors that ever existed. They stomp around, move furniture, scream, run, yell, all day and all night long... and they don't even have small children. Just this past weekend, while the parents were out of town, one of the kids decided it would be okay to have a raving 15th birthday party starting at 7pm and ending at 8... the next morning. It sounded like the party was going to come crashing into my bedroom from too many stomping stilettos. And this was at 7:30 in the morning. J-C went up there twice to tell them to be quiet and take off their footwear, but this was at midnight, so it clearly didn't work.

Instead, the little brats actually had the nerve to type a note to post in the elevator saying "I am celebrating my 15th birthday with a big party so please excuse the noise." I have some choice words I'd like to use with them, but instead I am going to keep my blog PG-rated and take my anger out on them by buzzing up to their apartment at all hours of the night whenever I feel like it. It's too hard for me to express my anger in French anyway... so I'll take the passive-aggressive route instead.

Deep breath.... anyway...

I've never been away from home for this long, and I recently fell off of an emotional cliff caused by a myriad of events in all aspects of my life that left me feeling unmotivated, uninspired and useless. The fall was pretty painful and it made me realize that I really need a break from this whole ex-pat experience thing. It's starting to make me act like a completely different person, and though I realize it's all part of the experience, all of that change is a little overwhelming right now. Sooooo I've decided to go back to Michigan for my second week of vacation (the first week of March) for a little rejuvenation. Just having that ticket in hand has already made me feel much better.

13 February 2010

Je me pleinds: S.O.S.

I live in what I believe to be one of the most incredible cities in the world. I have an excellent web of friends who I have come to consider my family here. The weather, while it seems cold and miserable, is ten times better than that of Michigan. (I think I’ve just accustomed myself to the winter here and now I don’t know how I’ll ever manage in Michigan again. Hopefully I won’t have to.) Also, I see incredible things on a daily basis. But quite frankly, I am feeling very homesick right now! I have got to cut myself some slack, because five months in a foreign country is quite a remarkable feat, and definitely the longest I have ever gone without seeing my mommy, my doggie, or my house. It’s hard to tell if it’s just the winter blues or something more, but though just last week I was having nightmares about leaving this country, right now I need nothing more than to get out of it. This city is driving me coo coo crazy and I cannot wait for vacation. Everyone seems to be at each other’s throats and the novelty of being in France has definitely worn off. Ugh, I feel like I’m constantly complaining! One day at a time.

Needing some love from home to keep me going...

08 February 2010

The Super Bowl

The Super Bowl. The first things that come to mind when I think of this cultural phenomenon are greasy food, beer, commercials, lots of yelling, and above all, a great game of football. While I wouldn’t even begin to describe myself as a fan of professional football (I tend to prefer college football, but even then I wouldn’t consider myself a connoisseur), as an American I have been raised to appreciate the importance of Super Bowl Sunday.

So, it was quite interesting to experience (or not experience) Super Bowl Sunday from inside my Parisian apartment. Honestly, I hadn’t really realized it was Super Bowl Sunday until about 11pm when I checked my Facebook before going to bed and saw a flood of status updates about the game. “Oh yeah!” I wandered to my living room at midnight when the game started here and saw my roommates, J-C and Fran├žois, attempting to sing along to the National Anthem. (Let’s just put it this way, they begin the song by singing “How far can you see?”).

Fran├žois was wearing his Reggie Bush jersey (I hope it’s obvious why all French people watching the bowl rooted for the Saints) with his trendy pajama pants. When the game started he started eating his Super Bowl snack: Toast pieces with Nutella. The cultural warp caught me so off guard that I had to take a picture.

Now, I only watched the first quarter before going to bed (it was 1am by this time), but I did take note of the subjects that the French sportscasters talked about during the game. One of the sportscasters had played in the NFL, and the other one kept asking him questions like “There are so many players on each team. Does it bother them that they don’t all get to touch the ballon (football)?” or “What’s the Heisman trophy?”


06 February 2010

Smorgasbord of topics

This Past Wednesday:

While I always have the best of intentions for my day off right smack in the middle of the week, I usually end up spending Wednesdays sleeping in until noon and then spending the afternoon sitting around the apartment. Eventually I make my way to the supermarket before it closes at night. This Wednesday (and the last one), however, was much more fulfilling.

I woke up at the horrendously early hour of nine o'clock to prepare myself for my GRE Math tutor at 10:00. I have made so much progress in math since I started with my tutor, and on Wednesday morning I even defied my book by finding a mistake in their answer section. Rock on! After my tutoring session I stuck around the cafe to work on my internship. On top of my grueling 12 hour/week work schedule I am now writing articles for a website 10 hours/week. So far it has been a great excuse to hang out in cafes and people watch.

Of course, shortly after diving into my work I received an invite to go ice skating at the Hotel de Ville outdoor ice rink. I accepted. Skating for the first time in two years on crappy rental skates was... a challenge, but I also had a ton of fun and I hope to return again for another round.

On Wednesday afternoon I met up with Kelsy at the Pere Lachaise cemetary so that she could snap a picture with Jim Morrison. Mission accomplished. Oddly enough, there was a group of Frenchies standing next to his grave looking quite somber. I found this strange. Were they seriously in mourning? C'mon now... We had a fun time gossiping while walking through the cemetary (weird, I know), and the weather was pretty great. Thank you again, Paris, for your lack of snow and your moderate temperatures.

Wednesday evening Kelsy and I trekked to a Chandaleur party with some buds from our Tuesday evening conversation group and stuffed our faces full of crepes and cider. Yum yummy yum!

Travel Plans:

Julie, Alexis, and I have been busy finalizing our plans for our February vacation, and I am getting ready to go visit my dear friend Sarah DW in Munich next weekend. Call us crazy, but for our February vacation we are renting a car for a week to drive through the south-west of France, then coming back to Paris, hopping on a plane to Sicily and spending the second week of our vacation in the "warmer" Sicilian temperatures. I am also hoping to make some progress on this whole Italian citizenship thing. Did I mention that I'm eligible for Italian citizenship?

Mumbo Jumbo About Myself:

All in all, this sejour in France has passed far too quickly. I have already been here for almost five months! I still have very mixed feelings about the end of my stay (even though it's a good four months in the future) and while part of me wants to stay here forever, the other part of me knows that a) setting up camp in France is practically impossible, and b) I actually miss some things about the United States. I can't believe I just admitted that. On the contrary, on two occasions this past week I woke up in the middle of the night bawling my eyes out. Why? I had dreams about returning to the U.S. and I was so upset that I actually started crying in my sleep. Seriously... what could possibly be so scary about the U.S. that the mere thought of returning there has me in tears? That's just embarrassing.

I've got 4 months to figure it out, but I'm hardly going to dwell on it. I have plenty of distractions...