Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Classes, Buses, and Mountains, oh my!

Sorry all for the major gap in posting for the past 2 weeks, I've been quite busy.

At the Martin de Candre soap shop
So, on february 7th we started classes! On that morning, I showed up to the université really early to find out what language (or langue) level that I had been placed in. Unfortunately, they only had one station with the list on it so all 400+ new CIDEF students were crowded around the same bulletin board, trying to find out what they were supposed to do next. Eventually, we all headed into the amphithéatre for the opening remarks given by the director of our program. From there, we then went to our respective classrooms for our first hour of language. Overall, the first day of classes was stressful and long.

For the entire first week of classes we were allowed to attend all the different option classes, which are all the classes that we could possibly take besides language. I had decided at the beginning of the week that I was just going to pick the classes that I thought sounded interesting and stick with them so that I could avoid confusion later. However, since the rest of the students in my level did not decide to do this, my class sizes fluctuated a lot the first week of class. Overall, I am really enjoying my classes and I feel like I'm learning a lot.

Frontevaud Abbey
Last saturday, my host mom invited me to go with her and my host dad to a friend's anniversary party and on an adventure before hand. On the adventure for the day, our group (consisting of me, my host mom, host dad, and their friend) drove through the Loire valley, which is epically beautiful, to the Martin de Candre soap shop within a chateau where we all bought delicious smelling soaps. After the soap shop, it was on to the Frontevaud abbey which is known for its multi chimney kitchen.

After our adventures, my host parents and I were off to another one of their friends' house for a anniversary party. Everyone was extremely kind and welcoming to me, even though I sometimes had trouble communicating with them. It was really intimidating for me to try and enter into conversations with a bunch of people who I had never met before, in a language that I am not entirely comfortable with. But, all in all, it was a fun evening filled with good food, laughter, and conversation.

This past saturday, I went on my school sponsored excursion to Mont St. Michel and St. Malo. For those who don't know, Mont St. Michel is an island, with a large hill, with an abbey on top, that was built over 400 years ago.  St. Malo on the other hand, is a town that is known for having fully intact ramparts, the wall around the city. The citizens of St. Malo continually patched holes that were made within the ramparts during both the first and second world wars, resulting in the only set in France that is still complete.

The ramparts of St. Malo
To depart on the excursion, I arose at the ungodly hour of 6am in order to be at the school by 7am. At 7:15 our group of 160 students boarded the buses to begin our 2 hour journey to St. Malo. Fortunately, the day before I had met two great girls named Bridget and Cassie who also were going on the excursion and invited me to join their group so I wasn't by myself.

When we got to St. Malo, we were given 2 hours to explore the town and eat lunch. After walking along the ramparts, our group decided to explore a little and find a place to eat. We finally decided upon a place that was close to where we needed to meet our buses, after we had explored the city. For lunch I had a HUGE bowl of mussels (moules, en français), cidre (a hard apple cider), and a delicious crêpe covered in butter and sugar.

Mont St. Michel
After lunch, we boarded the bus and rode along for another hour before reaching our final destination, Mont St. Michel. When we arrived, we were instructed by our director that we would begin hiking up the mountain immediately and then touring the abbey on our own. So, we power walked up the hundreds of stairs and steep incline of Mont St. Michel to get to the top and look out over Bretagne (the region of france that we were in). It was so beautiful up there! By the time we made it up to the top, the sun had peeked out from behind the clouds, painting everything with wonderful sunlight. After taking tons of pictures outside, we explored the church and many chapels of the abbey before making our way back down the mountain.

View from the top of Mont St. Michel
On sunday, my host mom asked me if I would like to go with her and my host dad to an arab market in another part of Angers. I figured, why not? So, the three of us took the bus for ten minutes to the market. It was the most lively market that I have ever been in! The stand keepers were yelling out prices to their customers as well as greeting their friends in the other stands. It was much louder than the market that I had been to before, and was full of foods and spices that I had never seen in person.  It was a thoroughly educational experience.

I can't believe that I've only been here for three weeks! I have learned so much and experienced so many things that it feels like I have been here for so much longer. At the same time, I know that there is still so much for me to learn and I can't wait to continue my journey!

À bientôt!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chateau? More like Fortress!

On saturdays in Angers there is a HUGE, open air market where it seems that the entire town goes and buys their produce for the week. Yesterday, my host parents took me to said market and showed me all that there was to see. When we first arrived, we went immediately to the flower section of the market. There were so many vendors with so many different types of flowers all in a row! It was magnificent! After looking at the flowers, we then went to the meat section of the market, where the different vendors had every kind of meat one could think of. There were so many things there that I had never seen before (like a cow tongue), including things I could not identify. My host mother purchased pork and some boudin sausages (the same type of sausage that I mentioned before as 'blood sausage' (it is indeed made with blood and other flavorful ingredients)).

After meat, it was on to the cheeses where I saw more types of cheese than I have ever seen! I wanted to try them all (even though I would probably get a horrible stomach ache) just to see what they taste like. After the cheeses, my host dad and I continued on through the market to the vegetables and fruits where there was a grand selection of any type of fruit or vegetable one could possibly need!

On saturday evening, my host parents had a group of friends over for a dinner party. That dinner party was one of the most interesting cultural experiences I have ever had. Their friends all welcomed me into their group and were frequently pausing their conversations in order to make sure that I understood what was going on. It was fun for me to just listen to what they were saying, getting immersed in the utter french-ness that was going on around me. It was difficult to follow, however, when they got into a heated discussion and all of them started talking at once, attempting to talk over one another. The party didn't end until almost 1 am, so I was completely exhausted.

The next day, my host mom took me to see the cathedral in Angers, where she explained to me the history behind the sculptures and windows. Mass had just finished so the cathedral was open for visitors still. The cathedral was so beautiful! It was full of ornate wood carvings and HUGE stained glass windows. After the cathedral, we walked down to the chateau where she showed me this view point that  looks out over all of Angers. It was truly beautiful.

We then went back to our apartment for lunch, when we had the boudin sausages, that I mentioned before, with a purée that my host dad had made. This time, they were delicious! They were still rich, but they had so much flavor that I wanted to keep eating them. I guess that goes to show that quality is everything.

That afternoon, I met up with Mary and we went to the Chateau, which had free admission because it was the first sunday of the month.  The inside was BEAUTIFUL! The chateau was full of gardens and old buildings, I couldn't help but take lots of pictures of everything. Within the museum at the chateau, there was this HUGE tapestry that depicts the stages of the apocalypse. I kid you not this thing was at least 250ft long and 20ft wide! The impressive thing is that it only took 7 years to complete.

We were also able to hike up to the upper level of the chateau which gave us an incredible view of the city and all of the old buildings. It helped that it was a beautiful, clear, sunny day so one could see everything from up on top of the chateau. I was reminded once again of the rich history of Angers, and France in general, reminding me once again that there is still so much for me to learn.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Not all Who Wander are Lost, but then there's me

Yesterday, after we had an orientation and a tour of campus at UCO, my friend Mary and I decided that since we were hungry it would be a good idea to go and get lunch. Since we had already been to the Restaurant Universitaire, we decided it would be fun to go someplace else for lunch. So we wandered along the main road until we found a bakery which had sandwiches that looked appetizing. I kid you not these sandwiches were HUGE! I got an entire baguette, with the fixings on the inside for about 3.25 euros. I decided that since I'm in France, I would try a sandwich that I would not normally have in the US. I ordered a ham sandwich, not realizing it was just ham on bread. I thought, no harm no foul if I don't like it then I know and at least I tried. When I bit into the sandwich, I thought, "boy this ham is way better than american ham!" After my first couple bites, I realized that this sandwich tasted a little strange. I was thinking "could there be butter on this sandwich, or am I crazy?" There was indeed butter on the sandwich. It tasted a whole heck of a lot better than it sounds, but it's not something I'm going to eat all the time.

After buying our sandwiches, we walked towards the river and, coincidentally the chateau (more like fortress :)). We decided that since it was a nice day, eating on a bench was a good idea. I have to say, Angers is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been in. I love it. The view from where we were by the chateau was amazing. Maybe I'm a little biased since this is my first time being in France, but I keep finding myself loving the buildings and the quaintness of it all.

Today, we had no orientation activities. I thought, "Egad! What am I going to do with so much time on my hands?" Answer: sit at home, in bed for a long time until Mary messaged me asking to go to lunch. For lunch we went back to the restaurant universitaire where I had blood sausage and french fries. I thought I was getting just a regular sausage when I chose my meal, but much to my surprise, this sausage was unlike any other I had ever had. It was bright red and not fully congealed together like a normal sausage, ergo I think it was a blood sausage. The first few bites were pretty good, but after a while it became too rich and I couldn't eat any more. Oh well, at least I tried something new!

After lunch, Mary and I wandered around Angers just seeing what there was to see. We walked through the center of town (where I bought a cell phone! YAY outside contact!) and looked in stores that seemed interesting. After wandering around for a while, we ended up back at the chateau where we decided to take pictures. Eventually, we ended up back at our residences safe and sound.

I was extremely surprised that we didn't get lost on our adventure today (with minimal map usage) and proud that I was able to for once shake my directionally challenged-ness.

I start class on Monday, so I'm sure not a lot will be happening in the next few days.

Falling in Love with France

On my second day here in Angers, I had to go take a placement test, at the Université in order to find out what level I would be placed in. Since my test was at 9:30, I figured that I had to be up at 7:45 in order to allow myself plenty of time to get ready and get over to the school. While I thought 7:45 was early enough, apparently my jet-lagged body thought thought differently. I was wide awake at 4am! It was like my body was saying, "Why are you asleep? It's 7pm! You should be awake right now!" I managed to force myself to go back to sleep until about 5:30 when my body finally said, "Wake up. NOW." So, I laid in bed reading until my actual intended wake up time at 7:45. I got up, got dressed, and went in the kitchen to have a delicious breakfast that my host-mom had made for me. She even made me tea in one of those travel coffee mugs so that it would still be hot when I woke up :)

After breakfast, my host-dad kindly walked with me to the Université to make sure that I found where my test was and that I didn't get lost. Along the way, he described to me all the different shops that we saw including where I should go to buy bread (YUM!). When I got to the auditorium (amhpithéatre en français) where I was to take my test, I felt like I always do when walking into a room full of people that I don't know: scared out of my mind. Fortunately, I was able to find a row without a giant group of people in it which calmed my nerves a lot.

The test itself was three parts: oral comprehension, common usage, and written comprehension. The oral comprehension was first, but the person giving the test had accidentally grabbed the wrong CD and didn't realize it until after we had already begun the test! As you can imagine, the first part of the test was quite confusing. In addition to the wrong CD, the people in the recordings spoke extremely fast so I had trouble understanding them. Oh well, c'est la vie! The other two parts of the test were fine, which will, hopefully, make up for the parts that I didn't understand in the oral comprehension.

After the test, the entire CIDEF group was standing in the hallway outside the auditorium. It was extremely intimidating to try and meet anyone because there were so many large groups. I was standing by myself, gathering up my courage to talk to someone, when this girl, who was also by herself, walked up to me and introduced herself. I was so relieved to have met someone who was in a similar situation. Her name is Mary, and she and I ended up spending the rest of the day together. After standing around in the hallway for a while, our group suddenly started to move toward the university restaurant (what they call the cafeteria). Of course, since none of us knew where we were going, we managed to get lost. So, Mary, being a brave soul, went up to people and asked them where the restaurant was. It turns out that we were standing right in front of it and didn't even know it! We walked in, bought our meal tickets for 3 euros and had a good meal (for costing only 3 euros).

After lunch, we made our way back to the building we had taken our test in where we were going to have a tour of the city! We were led around by two of the school's assistants, who showed us all the stores and sights that we could possibly want to see in the city. However, because we were moving so quickly, I don't think I would be able to find them all on my own without a map.

More later on yesterday and today!! Now, I must go find food (woo french food!!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ready, Set, Jump!

On tuesday, when I arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, I went through a breezy customs line and then began my quest to find the train station (la gare, en français). Unfortunately for me, the train station was on the other side of the airport from the customs station, so I had to lug my 90lbs of baggage and all my carry-ons across the airport. Thankfully, there were moving sidewalks which helped me move along a lot better.

When I finally arrived at the train station, I had NO idea what I was supposed to do. Did I check my bags? Did I have to check in with a person like you do at the airport? Where was the platform that I had to go to? Because of my great confusion, I went to the only place that I could find that I thought someone could maybe tell me what I was supposed to do: the ticket purchasing counter. When I finally was able to talk to a person, he evidently saw that I was flustered and extremely confused so, even though I spoke in french to him, he still answered me in english. He answered all of my questions and was very friendly to me. Since my train didn't depart for another three hours, he told me to wait in the lobby and check the reader board 15 minutes before my train was to depart to see what platform it was coming to. "That's not that bad," I thought, "I can be bored for a little while." Boy was I wrong. The train station was FREEZING! It was like I was outside (where it was -15 degrees C) only I was indoors! So, I sat there shivering for a long time until I finally decided that I should get up and move around (not such a good idea with lots of luggage). I slowly wandered around the train station until it was time to check the reader board for my train platform. When I got to the platform (outside in the -15 degree C), I was having trouble loading my GIANT suitcase onto the train. Fortunately, a nice german girl helped me lug it into the luggage section of the car.

Upon arriving in Angers, I began searching for my host family, hoping that since I had sent them a picture of myself they would be able to find me. My host mother was waiting at the top of the ramp at the exit of the train station. I was so relieved when she pulled me out of the crowd and warmly introduced herself. She then introduced me to her friend, who had kindly offered to drive us from the station to my host family's apartment, and my host-dad.

When we arrived at the apartment, my host mom showed me my room and then made us all tea. We sat there and talked for a little while, getting to know each other. Here, I was introduced to le chat (my host family's cat) who seemed to be thinking: "who is this person and why is she not petting me more??"

After tea, we walked to the school where I had my placement test the next morning.

Overall it was a very eventful and interesting first day in France!