Monday, February 23

Gypsies in Paris

Day One in Paris:
So we finally arrived in Paris on Thursday morning. Delirious and technically without a place to stay, our friend Clare (who is from Maine!) called us as we are sitting on the runway, wow nous avons la chance! We meet Clare at her friend's apartment and take showers, eat, and take a quick nap. Then we decide to head over to the Musee d'Orsay - but because of a strike (surprise surprise) we are unable to take the bus. So we end up walking, which was great. I have absolutely learned that the best way to learn a city is to walk EVERYWHERE. As we are walking there, my bff from camp, Julia (who is studying in Paris) calls me, and as we are planning to meet up, it turns out as we approach the entrance of the museum I learn she is just leaving ... freaky! We say hello, and plan to meet up later. Then we walk around the impressionism level for 2 hours, which is incredible. I really love Degas, Henri Edouard Cross, and Toulouse-Latrec, all incredibly talented. We then take the bus home, make a delicious (and healthy!) dinner and crash.

Day Two in Paris:
The next morning Emily decides to head back to Rennes and Lindsay and I pack up all our things and head towards the Bastille. We then find our way to the Musee Carnavalet, which is a history museum of Paris. We stay there for some time and get painfully lost looking for the Jewish Quarter. But we finally find it and eat the best falallafel - a recommendation of Lindsay's friend Becca. Afterwords we kill time and buy some challah bread and wine for Julia and her boyfriend, Brayden, for letting us stay with them. On the way to her host mom's apartment, we saw the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and la place de Concorde - it was like a free tour! When we arrived at Julia's the four of us split a couple bottles of wine and talked for almost two hours - it was great conversation and the four of us got along so well. We decided to head out to dinner, we grabbed a quick din and come nutella/banana crepes (but we peaced early due to my sighting of a mouse in the restaurant ...) and then decided to walk to the Republique and grab a drink at Julia's favorite Irish pub - where Julia and Lindsay became bff with the owner, Kevin. We took the night bus home, and were very entertained by the drunken french students on the bus.

Day Three in Paris:
We had the best nights sleep since we have been away - and the four of us wake up late and have challah toast and slowly make our way to the Grand Palais, where we heard there was a two day exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge. YSL died in June, and we assumed it would be a collection of his clothes - but we were mistaken. It had open at 9 am, and there was already a 4 hour + wait! We chatted with a photographer who was photographing the line of people, which was insane, and who lived in LA. We decided to bag it but moved towards the VIP line to people watch. As we are standing there, the security guys come over and start speaking to us really fast in French, we discovered they were asking if we were in line and that only I could go into the exhibit with one person to accompany me. We stayed silent the whole time, just looking awfully confused, and somehow, the four of us got into this exhibit in 10 minutes! It turned out to be the personal collection of YSL and Pierre Berge, from their home. When I say personal collection, I'm talking furniture from Louis XIV and Louis XV and paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Degas, and Mondrian. Not to mention sculptures from BC. It was absolutely incredible. So 8 rooms and three hours later, we head to grab sandwiches. We eat them in front of the Louvre, by a pond. It is amazing we are here! We continue to walk around, grab pastries in the Latin Quarter, and say our goodbyes. Lindsay and I make our train by seconds but we arrive safely back in Rennes that night. I had such an absolute blast in Paris, and I am so excited to have my family come visit in only a couple weeks. School starts back up tomorrow ... and I'm already ready for my next adventure!

Bienvenido a Sevilla!

Hola! I am back from one of the best vacations I have ever had. Sevilla, Spain is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Emily, Lindsay, and I did so much in only one week. The first day we arrived around midnight, and as soon as we got off the bus from the airport we were immediately in love. As we walked to our hostel we couldn't stop ooo-ing and ahh-ing at everything. We dropped our bags off at the hostel and went in search of food, as we were absolutely starving. We were walking down the street and ended up passing a tapas bar and Emily's best friend Katie, who is studying in Sevilla, and a friend of mine from Bowdoin, Allie, were sitting in the bar! We were so psyched to run into someone we knew. We had tinto con limon's (red wine and fanta - amazing) and tapas. Then we walked across a bridge to have churros, which is basically friend dough and hot chocolate. Lindsay and I decided to get cold churros, which are basically friend dough, filled with creme, dipped in chocolate, topped with sprinkles. They changed our life. They are absolutely incredible (reason number 1 to move to Sevilla). It had to have been the best Valentine's Day ever. The first night we got no sleep because we had three roommates in the hostel who decided to have a snoring contest at all hours of the night.

(Beautiful view of Sevilla and the river through the middle)

The first day we took a tour of the Cathedral, which is the oldest Gothic cathedral in the world! It is absolutely incredible, and holds the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Lindsay got accosted by a gypsy too - which we learned is really common. What happens is they grab your hands, read your palm in Spanish, make you smell some rosemary, and then demand 5 Euros. Lindsay pretended she didn't have any money, but often they will just straight up steal from you! We took a break and grabbed tapas near by, and split a pitcher of delicious sangria. We then met up with Katie, Allie, and a couple of the other girls who they are studying with, and who are so so nice. They showed us around a bit, including their university and some incredible gardens in the middle of the city. We then grabbed gelato, and sat to enjoy the sunshine. After a shower and a siesta (sidenote: in Spain everything closes from 2-5 so that people can go home and have a nap, reason number 2 to move to Sevilla), we met up with the same girls for Tex-Mex. Then continued to window shop and went to a very cool bar for a quick drink before bed. That night, our snoring roommates continued their competition, so at 3 AM I was all business and moved us to another room so we could FINALLY get some sleep.

(Wow! Christopher Columbus!)
(Tower of Giralda, part of Cathedral)
(Emily and Lindsay in front of the Cathedral's fountain)

The next morning Katie met us in town a little later for some shopping. I legit wanted to buy everything. The jewelry and clothes are incredible. We were all very successful and bought rings, scarves, necklaces, and earrings. We were then able to meet Lindsay's best friend from school, Becca, for sandwiches at a place called El Patio. The smoked salmon sandwiches were kickass - as was the sangria. Becca is absolutely adorable, and she and I were able to talk comedy for a long time which was great. So after lunch Becca had to peace, so obvi Emily, Linds and I kept shopping. We then went back to the hostel for shower/siesta (damn siesta's are amazing) and went back to a bar called Bar Alfalfa for tapas with a boy we had met on the bus from the airport into town - he is from Berlin but studied in Paris and was now studying Spanish in Seville - he brought his Spanish friend who has been living in Seville. The tapas was so good - it was like Italian tapas, so we had fresh caprese salad tapas, and brushetta, done and done. Afterwords, we went to see flamenco at a place called La Carbonoria. Becca came with as she had been there a few times. It was free, with cheap sangria, and it was PACKED. We stayed for a while and watched one guy play the guitar, one guy sing, and a woman dance. It was really fun - OLE.

It is now Tuesday ... We were ALL able to change rooms last night, so we now have a 6 person room with no roommates so it is basically a private room, thank God. We wake up late and get psyched for a breakfast of cold churros. When we get there, they have none! So Lindsay and I settle for hot gaufres con chocolate (hot waffles with chocolate ... wow).

We then head to the Alcázar of Seville, which is a huge walled in palace. The king and queen of Spain still stay there when they visit Seville! It is one of the most incredible places I have ever been. Lindsay and I did an audio tour and learn all about the tiling and each room and what it was used for. We then make it to the gardens, which seem to go on forever. It is an absolutely beautiful day, and we decide to just hang out in the sun for a bit before we move on. We then have tapas lunch behind the Cathedral, a recommendation from one of Lindsay's friends. It is really good (we ended up going back on Wednesday). We then meet Becca at Plaza de Espagne, which is a huge palace looking place with every district or area of Spain tiled into the walls. We continue to walk through Parque Maria Lusia, which again is absolutely beautiful. I have failed to mention that there are palm trees everywhere, and it is about 20 degrees every day ... (that's 68 degrees F fyi). Emily and I go back and siesta while Lindsay hangs out with Becca for the rest of the afternoon. She brings home mini 1 EUR sandwiches for dinner and some wine that we eat in the hostel before going out. We decide this is going to be our big night out - but after a couple bottles of wine and a couple bars, we already need to go home ... it's only 12:30 ... awesome guys.

Wednesday morning was a little rough, but we rallied because we had to check out of the hostel. While Emily went to spend some time with her friend Katie, Lindsay and I made a b-line for the Palace gardens (entrance is free) to take a nap in the sun. We then meet up with Becca, Katie, and Emily for sandwiches at El Patio again. Afterwords, Becca shows us this square in Sevilla where people just hang out and drink one euro beers in the afternoon. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. There are homeless people running around with their dogs, and there are beautiful old women dressed to the nines in fur having an afternoon break from shopping. It is incredible. Then Emily, Linds and I grab gelato and head to the river. We sat/slept in the sun for 3 hours! We had no place to go so we stayed and people watched and watched the sunset. It was the perfect way to end our stay in Seville. We grabbed our bags we had left at the hostel, and Emily met up with Katie for dinner, while Lindsay, Becca, and I went back to one of the tapas places for dinner. This is when our adventure begins ... We walk to meet Emily and say goodbye to Katie and the other girls, and head to the bus stop for a 12:15 bus to the airport. The bus driver is very nice and informs us the airport is closed. So we have checked out of our hostel, we cannot sleep in the airport on account of it being closed, and it's 12:30 in the morning. We walk all the way back to the hostel and convince the receptionist (who barely speaks English) to let the three of us sleep on one couch for 4 hours for free. We hardly sleep, but get back to the bus station around 4:50 and wait for the bus. We make the flight, and PASS OUT on the plane. We have finally arrived back in France, but have our reservations about Paris because a. Seville is absolutely amazing and b. we technically don't have a place to stay and our train home isn't until Saturday.

(Yay for incredible guacamole at Tex-Mex with Emily, Katie and some other girls studying at CIEE Sevilla)
(Fountain/pond at Alcazar)
(Incredible sandwiches at El Patio).
(Cathedral lit up by the sun)

Friday, February 13

A Bientot!

I have had a great week alone in my house. On Sunday night, Lindsay and I went to a bar in town and listened to a jazz band for three hours! They were amazing. It is really rare that anything is open on Sundays, so it was nice to get out of the house for a bit. It started as two guys playing guitar, then there were three female violinists, a bass player, two more guitarists, a drum player, and two accordions. They would all take turns playing or jumping into the song. It was one of the cooler things I have done here. Also, on Wednesday night, I went to see an improv show at the university. It was a battle of two improv groups, and while it was really hard to understand, it was really funny and really engaging. In the last skit no one could speak French, and everyone had to speak a different language, so there was someone speaking Italian, another speaking English, and another speaking Spanish, only in Europe could you have that happen and a. find people that can fluently speak all of those languages, and b. have the audience and the actors understand each other. Last night I had some friends over and we made dinner and had a dance party before heading out to meet up with some kids from our program in town. We ended up missing the last metro, and had to walk home! I guess that is the best way to see the city!

Also, there were more strikes this week, and the one at the university is getting more and more intense. The students have blockaded the buildings, so you can't even enter. In the building we have our classes, they only let you pass if you prove to them you are an exchange student, as our section of the university is the only part not striking. Hopefully after vacation next week, things will start to calm down.

So I am off to Spain with my friend Lindsay and my friend Emily ... tomorrow! We are taking the train to Paris tomorrow afternoon, and will be eating tapas by 8. We are coming back on Thursday, to spend a few days in Paris, before classes begin again on Monday. I am so excited and I have been practicing my Spanish. I am so excited to travel as I have never been to Spain and haven't traveled yet. So I will write when I get back and be sure to post some pictures.

Sunday, February 8

When in Rennes!

So we have officially started classes. I am taking required classes by the program, along with a Civilization class, France’s Approach to International Relations, and a class at the university, Histoire de la Femme (history of women from the 16th to 18th century). The classes aren’t too difficult, the only hard part is figuring out what the professor is saying, as all the classes are in French. My class at the university is interesting but we have only had it a couple times because of the strike. The French LOVE to strike, and two weeks ago there was a national strike which essentially froze the country for an entire day. The metro here is automatic, so we were able to get around, but the buses weren’t running and there were marches and protests all over France. The Civilization class will be interesting because Bretagne is an extremely proud region of France. They really pride themselves on being Breton first and French second. They even have their own language, Breton, which is extremely hard to understand and sounds nothing like French, but more like Gaelic.

I have met some other kids from different programs in Rennes, which is really fun. We are all in the same program because it is the section of the university where everyone who is learning French takes classes. So I have both college kids and adults from all over the world in my classes, Iran, England, Brazil, China, Sweden, etc. It is very cool because our common language is French, so we are forced to speak to each other in a foreign language.

Last weekend my friend Lindsay’s host family took us up about an hour north to a town called Cancale. They are famous for their oysters, and even though it isn’t the season, we were still able to be by the ocean and see the oyster traps, which was amazing. Her family is really sweet, and they have two young girls, 7 and 9, who are adorable and very into Harry Potter. (Below are pictures).

My host family has left for their vacation for two weeks, so this week I have the house to myself which has been wonderful. People don’t eat eggs here, so the first thing I

did this morning was make a ham and cheese omelet and toast, which has never tasted so good. I have also been going to a film festival here in Rennes. There is a film festival here every year called Traveling, and there is a different focus each year. This year it is Jerusalem, so half the movies focus on Israel and the other half on Palestine. So far I have seen Checkpoint, a documentary about the Gaza strip boarder control, and Valse avec Bashir (Waltz with Bashir), which is an animated film about the Lebanon war. If anyone gets a chance to see the second one I highly recommend it. It was very intense but incredible.

Weekends, meaning Thursday nights, have been really fun here. Two weeks ago we went out to the best crepes I’ve ever had in town, and then met up with some French boys we had met at a bar called Bonne Nouvelle. They have an English-speaking party there every Thursday night. After that we went dancing at a discothèque for one of the boys’ birthdays, which was a blast. This past Thursday night, a bunch of us bought appetizers and wine after class and went to our friend Helen’s for the night. We had guacamole and chips, bread and cheese, and ham/smoked salmon/and apples – it was an incredible feast. The wine we had was a red Beaujolais which is only 2-3 euros here, but much more expensive in the states.

I was also lucky to have a visitor this weekend! Because a day trip to Mont Saint Michel was postponed one of my best friends from Camp Huckins, Julia, who is studying in Paris came down for the night. We had a gre

at time going out to dinner and drinks on Friday night, then I showed her around on Saturday, and we went to the market and walked all around Rennes. She only stayed until that night but I will see her again in two weeks when I am in Paris after my vacation to Spain.

I also found out my family is coming in March! I am very excited to see them and show them around Rennes, and impress them with my French. I will hopefully write again before Spain! Please continue to send me updates and emails!



Monday, February 2

The Beginning . . .

Bonjour from Rennes!

I’m sorry it has taken me a while to get this going but I have no wireless at my host family’s house – so I will have to write this at school. Please feel free to read what you want or even just ignore the email, but I had so much to say and I couldn’t stop myself!


Orientation was a lot of fun. Everyone on the program is really eager to get started and get settled in Rennes. We were so excited to see Paris – we went four days on very little sleep. The first day we were up for just about 38 hours without sleep. Our first full day we went on a tour of Paris, hitting Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne, and the Luxembourg Gardens (where the Senate is). After lunch we were given a private tour of L’Hotel de Ville, which is where most city politics, meetings and such, take place. We then went to a very small playhouse and saw a play by Moliere, which was very clever but we were so exhausted it was hard to stay focused. We then went to a French restaurant to try some local (and cheap!) food. By then it was around 11 and some friends and I decided to wander down to the Eiffel Tower. It was so much fun – and of course we brought red wine to celebrate our arrival in France. Because the metro closes at 12:30, we had to walk home, which was beautiful as we walked along the Seine and saw the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, and the Champs D’Elysee, but it took us and hour an a half to walk back to the hostel, so we didn’t return until 2 am! The next day we slept in and found a café with free wifi for a café au lait and a croissant. In the afternoon the whole group ventured to the Sacre Coeur and Montmatre, which was beautiful. That night we were given a tour on the Seine, on the Bateaux Mouches, which was beautiful. It was our last night in Paris, so we found another local restaurant in the Latin Quarter and we were able to meet up with my bestie from camp, Julia, and her roommate, as they are both studying in Paris this semester. It was then Thursday and we began our route to Rennes!

En Route to RennesChartres:

We stopped a saw the castle Chartres, and we had an amazing tour guide who had been studying Chartres for over 50 years! He was adorable and taught us so so much about the castle. We arrived in Rennes around 6:30 pm and our families met us at the University. We were all so nervous – but I had a lovely first dinner with my family. The next day was pretty much business as we had to meet at the university, for a language placement test, and the rest of the day was spent filling out school information and getting a tour of the university layout. Saturday, we all met in le Centre Ville, for a tour of the actual city.

We’re here! Rennes

If you picture the most typical, adorable, old French city, you have Rennes. All the streets are cobblestones, and the buildings are all from the Middle Ages. Friday night my host mom made me a typical meal in Brittany which is a galette, essentially a crepe with ham, cheese, and an egg, served with hard cider. Saturday morning the group took the metro, which has one line and is the easiest transportation I’ve ever used, and met at the morning market, which has every kind of fish, honey, bread, vegetable, and olive you can imagine. Some friends and I went to a bar in town and got vin chaud (warm red wine) and kir (white wine with fruit syrup) which was absolutely delicious. Both are typical apertifs (drinks before dinner). I’m so excited to go back and explore the city! That night she made me a “salade Americain” she called it, because I told her craisons, nuts, and cheese was a popular salad in the states. Sunday, I woke up late and my host mom, Francoise, and I went into town and got a tour of the Parliament building. In the late 80s early 90s there was a huge fire, started by revolting fisherman, which burned a lot of the parliament building, and all of the archives! Some rooms were preserved which were amazing, but renovation has taken years, and is still far from completion. I was surprised by how much I understood on the tour. I can understand when most people speak, but my French is only slowly improving. Monday begins two weeks of language classes and culture classes, as the university classes don’t start until the 29th. On Tuesday we are having an inauguration party for Obama, and will be learning about French perception of Americans. The French love Obama and never hesitate to ask and make sure you voted for him.

My host family:
Currently I live with a woman, mid-sixties, Francoise, and her daughter, Lucille. Francoise is a pediatrician and did doctors without boarders in Central America almost 30 years ago, which is where Lucile, and her other adopted son Jose, come from. Jose lives outside the city with his wife and two adorable little boys, (ages 6 ½ and 1), and Lucile lives at home, as she is 23 but she is mentally retarded. This whole situation started off really rocky as I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and sometimes I really lost my patience both with my family and my lack of ability to understand, but I really am spending so much time in my cozy room, or out with my friends, which is perfect. And I know as soon as I get into a routine, I will feel much better.

Second Week:

Now that language classes are finally over – today is our first day of actual classes. Today also happens to be the biggest strike across the country. I don’t mean like oh, school teachers decided they wanted more money so they marched through the street. I mean like, millions of people in France are not working and protesting. Because our building is in the university but not technically part of it, we still have school. But for kids that have to travel by bus and the metro, they don’t have to come because the buses will not be working. Tonight some friends and I are going to dinner then going out into the city, as Thursday is one of the only days people in Rennes go out. The weekends are semi-dead, and Sunday is eerie. There is a huge market we have been going to on Saturday mornings which has the most amazing bread, honey, fish, vegetables, and anything else you could imagine. There are a couple stands with every kind of dried fruit and it is so amazing. This weekend I will hopefully be going to a cute town north of Rennes (famous for their oysters) with my friend Lindsay and her family. Lindsay and I also just planned and booked our first winter break! We are going to Seville, Spain from the 14th to the 19th and hopefully also spending a night in Paris. Other people are going to Morocco, Austria, Paris, and the Alps. My program has also been planning small things for us. Like on Monday afternoon we had a wine tasting by a man in Rennes who owns a winery. And at the end of the month, we are taking a trip to Mont Saint Michel, which I have heard is unbelievable. As for my French … I am defiantly able to understand a lot more now, especially since I decided to take a women’s studies class at the University, for credit, which is hard because you really have to pay attention to order to understand, but there is no homework or anything, just one paper at the end of the semester. In terms of speaking, not so much. While I’m less hesitant to speak, I still need help with vocab and grammar, so I’m taking an oral expression class this semester which will be great.

I will be emailing again soon as I’m still bursting with info I want to share! But for now this is it. Please email me and update me on all of your lives. I will have internet during the day (early morning/early afternoon your time), but I will still be able to check my email at night and I love hearing about everyone’s life.

Vous me manquez, bisous!

Some things I have learned:

In the morning, we drink coffee out of a bowl.

Brittany consumes more butter then any other region in France.

Brittany consumes more alcohol then any other region in France.

There is a lack of understanding of personal space

Lunch is biggest meal, so if you don’t eat a lot you will be starving after your small dinner.

French women DON’T get fat

As a girl, don’t even think about making direct eye contact for long with someone (a man), it doesn’t just mean hello.

Bread is served at every meal. My host mom thinks it is weird that I eat yogurt for breakfast, because it is usually dessert.

If you don’t know a French word, try to resist just using a French accent on the English word, we’ve learned the hard way some of those words are extremely inappropriate.