Time to say “Au revoir” again

This last week of classes was indeed crazy and chuck full of soirées and tests.   Up until last week my professor hadn’t been requiring much graded work which seemed pretty awesome until she–and we–realized that that meant all 8 required tests had to be done in the last week, so on Monday morning I walked directly into a test.  However, I only got to take the test after I was told by a kind Japanese student that there still wasn’t electricity in one half of the building so all of our class rooms were moved and I was in the exact opposite half of the building from where I needed to be.  Not disorienting at all!  Luckily all of that is done now and final grades have to be turned in by Monday (tomorrow) so I am officially done with schoolwork for the summer!!  With that in mind I’m not entirely sure why I have class from 9 to 5 tomorrow, but I suppose it’s for the required contact hours.  Despite the dread I was holding in store for the last full week of classes, it seems to have flown by along with our last excursion.

Carol Ann and I enjoying our treats

Enjoying a cup of chocolat viennoise on a night out

Our little crew! Baard, Megan, Carol Ann, Emily, me, and Stephanie.

The Gulf of Morbihan excursion on Saturday the 25th marked the last of my guided adventures in France and was frankly anticlimactic.  Three hours on the bus to get to the Gulf of Morbihan–where we boarded a ferry and traversed the Gulf–to meet up with the bus on the other side so it could take us to a beach to have our picnic lunch.  That all sounds fine and dandy, but in reality it was horribly windy and cold at the beach with the wind making it extremely difficult to eat.  After our picnic we spent 20 minutes apiece visiting some rock fields that ancient French people moved and placed their for some strange reason.  I don’t know if there was a known reason for it because at this point I was suffering from a headache from all the driving on the bus.  After the rock fields we visited the city of Vannes for a few hours which has very good crêpes!  My crêpe in Vannes was definitely the highlight of the excursion.  At 5:20 pm we boarded the bus and began the two hour long journey back to Angers.

The Gulf of Morbihan as viewed from a very French ferry

Rock fields!

The first of many amazing failures to take a picture of all six of us.

Julie and I exploring the little city of Vannes

I spent the majority of today doing laundry, cleaning, and beginning to pack my bags in anticipation of the rest of this busy week.  Monday will be a full day of class, as I said, and Tuesday will be a half day which is essentially a big class party where we receive our diplomas.  Tuesday night I say “au revoir” to Angers and head to Paris, where Megan and I will stay with my previous host Mom in her son’s apartment.  Wednesday Megan, Carol Ann, and I will venture to EURO DISNEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Where we will discover the happiest place on earth and have the most amazing time acting like small children all day long :D  First stop: buying Disney shirts so we can wear them for the rest of the day!Thursday morning Megan and Carol Ann fly out and I will spend the day in Paris with Liliane, visiting sites and doing n’importe quoi.  Then on Friday morning I will say my goodbyes to France and head back to Oregon.

France in a nutshell.

I suppose I am coming close to the point where I should offer some enlightening words on my experiences here in France, but to be honest, I don’t really feel that I have anything new to say on the point.  Yes, I have learned more about myself.  Yes, this was an amazing experience that I’d definitely do again.  Yes, I have learned a lot about a new culture and about my own.  Other than the clichés one always hears about study abroad experiences, the main thing that I will take away from this experience is this:  no matter where I am in the world, I have the ability to adapt and to make myself feel more or less at home regardless of how many differences I encounter.  I get annoyed at fewer things now and from this experience have secured a quite steadiness that says “Yes, you can figure it out.  You are fully capable of finding a way home while lost in Paris at 1am and so this too, is a puzzle you can solve.”  I am sad to be leaving France and excited to be going home, but I know that while my time here may be at an end my adventures are certainly not.

A la prochaine fois, France!

Tack, Tack, Tack

The French like to use the onomatopoetic device “Tack, tack, tack” with hand slicing motions in the air to describe events that come one after another.  That is exactly how these last eleven days have felt.  I thought today I would finally get a day to relax and catch up on photos and blogging–and it has not turned out that way.  I slept pretty miserably last night due to the 90 degree weather that cooled down to around 70 degrees only between the hours of 4 and 6am–something that I’m sure of because I opened my window and shutters at 4, slept soundly and finally under a blanket, then woke at 7:15 to rush and close my window.  Heat unfortunately doesn’t seem to evacuate my room easily as I live on the third floor so all the heat from the house likes to hang out with me.  Sleeping was also made difficult by the popped blisters and tears in my palms from the Expert accrobranche course I did yesterday.  They’re not joking when they say “Expert” course.  However, it was well worth it and a lot of fun.  That being said, I unfortunately have no pictures of our adventures since all of my limbs were occupied navigating the rope courses, obstacles, and ziplines between the trees and the itty bitty platforms between “games.”  I woke up feeling like someone beat me up, but all the bruises and cuts–plus my two reward popsicles and three bottles of water–made it all worth while.  Next time, I will probably do the confirmé course instead or do expert again wearing tennis shoes with socks (sweaty keen sandals = doing half the course with your shoes on sideways), a camelback full of water, and gloves.

While I felt like a truck ran me over this morning, my host Mom found my slow movements comical (as usual) but then snapped into Mom mode and gave me more advice for my hands and bruises, which she had doctored when I returned.  She also gave me this tablet in water that was supposed to help my sore muscles…it’s a good thing I trust her because I really have no idea what I drank other than “C’est moins fort que Ibuprofen,” aka it’s less strong than Ibuprofen.  We then spent a long time chatting at the breakfast table while her cake cooked, and when I finally thought I’d have a few minutes to catch up on things–and I did for a short while–her mother came over for lunch.  I lucked out and was left alone for lunch but was called in for dessert, at which point I do believe I became the scapegoat for everyone else who wanted to leave the room as I got stuck there for a while (hour +) chatting with her Mom who liked to whisper seemingly conspiratorial secrets to me about the whole family.  Finally, one of her grown grandsons arrived and I slipped away, but soon after we went to my host Mom’s brother’s house to celebrate his 50th birthday. After some real champagne, a slice of cake, a scoop of ice cream and some political talk we headed back home for dinner, which I was happy to enjoy.

Now, as for the past eleven days….well, a lot has happened.  Most notably I’ve had a lot of school and a lot of homework.  I’ve begun and completed an enquête (survey), written up the paper for the enquête, written, rehearsed, and recorded a mock interview for a mock radio emission, done an impromptu interview in my main class, presented a news article in my oral expression class, and now will need to present my enquête findings in a PowerPoint at the end of this week.  In other news, there have been many more excursions and soirées in the last week and a half.

On Friday the 10th we went to Puy de Fou, an amazing spectacle about two hours long.  It’s set in medieval France and involves about 2,000 actors of which most are volunteers.  It’s basically an awesome light show held at night with music and fireworks and narrating with some awesome horses!  Knights in full regalia ran through and practiced their jousting and killing strikes on dummies, during the “war” one horse ran across the scene with his riders cape set on fire, another fell over when his rider was shot, and dancing horses with their trainers were brought out during the more peaceful times when the horses would have spent time being trained.  Soooo awesome!

Julie and I enjoying some ice cream and some shopping the afternoon before the Puy de Fou outing.

Stephanie horrified by the bird poop on her while we wait to board the buses to Puy de Fou

Carol Ann having the bird poop removed from her hair while we wait for the bus to Puy de Fou

Bad picture of the Puy de Fou set because you weren’t allowed to take pictures and this was before it all started.

Saturday the 11th I went with friends to an outdoor pool and spent the afternoon tanning, reading, and swimming.  That night my monotrice held a cocktails soirée at her house with our Norwegian friend Baard, who used to be a bartender, and he made most of the drinks for us all.  Had a great night with everyone, can’t wait to do it again!

Emily, Megan, and our awesome host Julie!

Megan and I at the soirée with an accidental photo bomb

Sunday the 12th brought a very early morning and the excursion to visit the Châteaux de la Loire.  The first stop was Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, a little castle with some cute gardens.  Not too exciting, but fun to visit.  The second castle was Château de Chenonceau.  This castle was a little bigger with sprawling gardens full of flowers and vegetables as well as beautifully manicured gardens on both sides of the castle.  Unfortunately I didn’t realize until after we left that I missed the coolest part: this castle is built on top of the water like a bridge.  The third and final castle was Château Chambord.  This was by far my favorite castle and the biggest!  Had a good time visiting castles but with the oppressive heat it was more tiring than normal and the bus rides between the castles were very long and we got home over twelve hours after we left.  Loved Chambord though!

“It’s waaaaaaaayyyyy to early!” crazy faces

Château d’Azay-de-Rideau

Château le Chenonceau

Chambord Château

The royal stables at Chambord Château with Unico!

Wednesday the 15th was a day off for France.  I’m not entirely sure why, but everything was closed so I spent the morning roaming Angers with friends and gathering the last of the answers needed for my enquête.  I then spent the rest of the day doing homework and other bland things that needed done.

Thursday brought the Cointreau Distillery visit and the Cointreau Experience tasting.  Cointreau is a triple sec liquor made only in Angers and distributed throughout the world.  We visited the distillery and then tried Cointreau straight, with ice (which changes the taste and the color), in a cointreaupolitan, and in something called a cointreau-fizz, which was my favorite.

Cointreau distillery

Cointreau tasting with Megan and Carol Ann.

Cointreau-fizz prepared with lemon, mint, and strawberries.

Friday the 17th was the trip to Troglodytique.  First we visited a farm which was dug down into the plains so that the houses could be dug into the ground.  This happens all over the world but mostly the houses are dug into hills since that’s easier.  However, in France you have to dig straight down into the plain.  The farmers who did this did it because it was free–no need to buy building supplies other than a shovel and underground insulates really well staying about the same temperature year round.  They farmed on the plains and lived underneath them so they were literally working on the roofs of their houses.  I thought it was really cool and it was really nice to go inside the buildings on the blisteringly hot day.  Afterwards we went to a wine tasting and took a tour of their facility.  This facility makes “bubbly” wines, aka champagne, but no longer have the right to call it Champagne because even though it’s made in the same manner, it isn’t manufactured in the region of Champagne.  Therefore, there is a new name for wines like this which is crémant wine.  We tried a white, rose, and a red–which is very rare to find.  Next stop: look at a castle by a river.  I think we were just early to our dinner reservation but the little castle and its vineyards was pretty.  Finally we arrived at the restaurant where we were served an entrée of different sorts of mushrooms with a little green salad.  What followed for the main course was freshly baked bread which resembled pita bread a bit but came in oval shaped pockets that you tear open and fill with butter, tuna, meat paté, a kidney bean soup, or another type of mushroom soup filling.  They were really good!  Dessert was an apple tart and afterwards coffee was offered.  Returning home we were back by 11pm.

Dining room in the underground farm

Stephanie and I hanging out in a small room in the underground housing.

During the winery tour–this is our guide showing us the clay stuck to the bottom of the bottles that’s used to gather the dead yeast after the secondary fermentation process which occurs within the bottles.

Random castle we stopped to look at.

Stephanie, Carol Ann, Megan, and I at dinner.

I’ve already recounted what happened yesterday (Saturday the 18th), so I believe I’ve finally caught up!  Here’s to another crazy week of 9 to 5 classes, boiling weather, and speaking French!  Hope everyone back home is having a great summer–I miss you all!

A la prochaine fois!

Bonjour Angers!

I can’t believe it’s already been over a week since I arrived in Angers!  Time has gone by so fast and I’ve barely had any time to stop and think.  Last Tuesday I left Montpellier and my wonderful host mom Liliane.  My first TGV train was 20 minutes late to Paris and since I had to switch train stations in Paris, I missed my second train.  I managed to get my ticket switched over to the next train to Angers and arrived at the train station here at 7:30pm where my new host mom, Sylvaine, and Sue Crust, the AHA program director, met me.

My new host family has been great!  I have a mom, Sylvaine, a dad, Alain, a 17 year-old host sister Faustine, and two brothers who are both in their twenties named Sylvain and Florian.  The best part is that Florian has a dog, an 8 year-old lab named Vodka!  She is super sweet and reminds me a lot of my dog Mia, which makes me really happy!

Unpacking again

Desk and New York themed room

View from my window, the tall tower in the background is the top of the main building of my university.

View from my window

Vodka!

Tuesday night I settled in and Wednesday morning I went to my new university, Université Catholique de l’Ouest, for an information session with Sue and to meet my new program members.  There are six of us in total and 5 of us are from Oregon, which is a great change.  I’ve definitely missed my Oregonians!  It was like a mini homecoming which is what I needed after saying goodbye to all of API friends.  Sue took us on a tour of Angers and helped us to buy some things that we needed and showed us a few good places to shop before leaving us to explore and head home.

Some awesome clouds and buildings in Angers

Saint Maurice Cathedral

Beautiful fountain in Angers

Megan and I on our first night out

Stephanie, Carol Ann, and Emily on our first night in Angers.

View of the Palais building of my school, Université Catholique de l’Ouest, while walking back home one afternoon.

Thursday brought the morning of “The Big Test,” which is the placement test for classes here.  It seemed a lot scarier than it really was but it did take about an hour and a half to complete with its 120 questions.  Afterwards we ate lunch and then Sue took us out to visit the Château d’Angers for the afternoon.  Thursday night CIDEF (Centre Internationale d’Etudes Français, aka my portion of this university) had a get-together at a bar named Soft and the first drinks of the night were free so everyone in my group headed over to meet people.  It was a pretty small portion of the people in the program (102 in total in the program), but it was pretty fun trying to find the partner they assigned to you at the front door.

Playing with apertures

Looking down into the courtyard. The itty bitty person on the steps is our awesome director Sue Crust!

On the tallest turret in the castle. Harry, Stephanie, Carol Ann, Megan, me, and Emily.

Inside the Château

Château d’Angers

Meeting new people at the soft bar! Back row: Bastien (student from Germany), Emily, me, Carol Ann, Harry, Megan. Front row: Julie (monotrice), Stephanie, and another monotrice named Annaise (no idea how to spell that)

Friday was the first day of classes.  I was placed into level 5 which is equivalent to the level B2 (same level as in Grenoble) and is the highest level offered for this month.  I was excited about that but it turned out to be a very long day with class starting at 9am and ending at 3:45pm.

Saturday I went with Megan, Julie, Emily, and Harry to the outdoor markets and then went to see The Dark Knight Rises.  Loved the movie!!  Afterwards Megan, Julie, Emily, and I checked out some stores and did some shopping and then went home early and called it a night.

Sunday was the day of our first excursion and true to the nature of all excursions, it began bright and early at 6:45am.  We took a bus to visit Mount St. Michel, which looks like a small mound of castle on an island, even though it’s actually all built around a cathedral.  After Mount St. Michel we ate lunch and headed to the cute little beach side town of St. Malo where it immediately proceeded to pour rain on us.  Soon after the sun came out and we were able to go down and walk on the beach and I got to see the other side of the Atlantic for the first time!

Mount St. Michel

St. Malo

Voilà, the Atlantic Ocean!

After class got out at 3:45pm on Monday Julie and I headed out for a bit of shopping and returning of some items.  She also helped me to get some bearings on the town since she was here for the July program as well.  For those of you that happen to know me from my time in Sherwood, this Julie is Julie Grove, whom I went to Sherwood Middle School with back in the dark days and we were editors and contributors for our school’s LitMag (literary magazine) at the time.  She now goes to University of Oregon and we just happened to be in France in the same program at the same time, which has turned out to be really fun!  Second reason why the world got smaller in AHA: Megan G. is another girl in my program and we’ve been making bungee jumping and Euro Disney plans together.  I tagged her on Facebook and low and behold–one of my other friends knows her!  Oddly enough, my friend Megann T. who I rode on the OSU Equestrian Drill Team with, went to school with Megan G. in 4th and 5th grade.  In Tokyo, Japan.  Small world!

Last night there was an outdoor concert held by the river across from the Château.  The monotrices, which are our native French teaching assistants who lead our oral expression and laboratory sessions, organized an outing and met and lead whoever showed up to the concert.  Even though eclectic African music isn’t my favorite genre it was still a really fun night and I’m glad I went!

Carol Ann, Stephanie, and I at the concert.

View of the Château d’Angers from the other side of the river

Waiting for the concert to start! Me, Julie, Emily, and Baard (Norwegian student)

Today was my longest day of classes yet, beginning at 9am and ending at 5pm, but I think I’m finally getting into the swing of things!  Still get lost every time I go on a run but so far that’s the best (and only) way I know how to figure out a new city.  Can’t believe I’m still happy to be here but certain things back home are definitely starting to press in on me: I got accepted to Pro School for Industrial Engineering at OSU (yay!) and have finally registered for my classes.  However, that has allowed more mundane things to invade my fun in France, such as buying textbooks.  Oh, and my homework for French class!  I keep forgetting I’m in school and not on vacation, but luckily I haven’t forgotten to do it yet!  I’m sure all that will change once I return but for now I am content to enjoy my time in France, even if it does involve loooooong days of class.

A toute à l’heure!

Montpellier

I can’t recall the last time I’ve had hot sand between my toes and a warm sea to play in, but it was definitely a great thing to remember!  The beaches in Montpellier were simultaneously the same as those on the East Coast of the US but also quite difference.  For one thing, I don’t remember people in the US hauling ice cream carts up and down the beach by hand or carrying plates of pastries on their heads while shouting calls that sound like a rooster to get your attention.  Nevertheless, the time I spent relaxing by the beach was quite enjoyable and relaxing.  However, let me start at the beginning.

First time at the Mediterranean Sea!

Sunday morning I collected the rest of my clothes which were finally dry (mostly) and managed to stuff all of my belongings into my suitcase, duffle bag, and backpack.  It was a chore but I’m happy to say that I made it work!

Before…

After. Completed in 53 minutes!

At 12:08 in the afternoon my host Mom Liliane, her son Mathias, and I boarded the train that would take us from Grenoble to the TGV Train Station in Valence.  From Valence we switched trains and boarded the TGV to Montpellier.  Upon arrival we quickly took our bags to Liliane’s friend’s apartment and picked up the key from a neighbor.  Then we dropped off our bags, changed clothes, and headed for the beach.  After a few hours at the beach we returned to the apartment to shower and change before leaving in search of a restaurant.

View from the balcony of my temporary room in the apartment.

After much walking around we found a cute little restaurant called La Tomate on Rue Four des Flammes and it was reasonably priced and everything was delicious!  Which is another reason why I’m committing the address to paper since that’s more reliable than my memory.

Probably the most famous Place in Montpellier.

Place de la Comedie at night

The restaurants in Place de la Comedie at night

Pretty lit walkway on the way back to the apartment

Monday morning I awoke at 7:00am to the lovely sound of the tram screeeeeeeching over it’s tracks just below the balcony off my room.  Then the sounds of the jackhammer greeted me from the balcony on the other side of the apartment.  I’m not quite sure how but I managed to catch a few more angry hours of shut eye and got up a little before 9am.  Montpellier is LOUD and I am not a fan.  Sound is nonstop here and I’m not really sure why a lot of people decide to retire here because the demographic is so strange.  Montpellier is composed of retired folks who want to enjoy the sunshine and beaches and young 20 somethings who roam the streets all night long.  Very strange composition.

After eating breakfast Liliane, Mathias, and I left to explore the older quarters of Montpellier (aka those that date from the 14th and 16th centuries).  Old Montpellier is very pretty and fun to walk around and visit, but for all of that it didn’t really seem to possess much personality for me with all of the new shopping centers and stores nestled in between the historical sites.

Ancient school of medicine in Montpellier, I believe it used to be the most prestigious school in all of France.

Beautiful old church

An Arc de Triomph in Montpellier…I was unaware that there was more than one.

Once we finished eating lunch at the apartment we left again for the beaches.  After filling up on sunshine and seawater Liliane took us over to get some delicious ice cream and on the way I discovered boat jousting!  It exists!!  I didn’t get to see the adult teams since it was just younger boys on school teams practicing, but it was really cool to see.  Some browsing in the little boutiques followed the ice cream and then we headed back to the apartment.  After showers and changing we managed to leave the house at around 9:30pm in search of a new restaurant.  However, finding a reasonably priced restaurant was apparently impossible so we ended up back at La Tomate, which was just fine with me.

Bonjour from the south of France!

Boat jousting!

My and my host brother Mathias eating our ice cream

My wonderful host Mom!

Delicious!

This brings us to Tuesday and with it my last morning in Montpellier and my last morning with my host Mom.  In just a few hours I leave for Angers and I find that I am very excited for my new adventures there and a change of scenery, because while the beaches are nice to visit the ocean is not a place to call home for this Oregonian.  Maybe Angers–which I’ve heard is something like the Corvallis of France–will prove to be a better fit for me.

À bientôt, Grenoble!

Grenoble

Today is my last full day in Grenoble and the weight of that finally registered during my morning run.  While running in Grenoble I often get distracted by the Isère River as I run along its banks and admire the surrounding mountains which rise up stark and beautiful against the trees.  This distraction often leads to a few poorly placed steps, but no trips or falls as luck would have it.  So this morning when I was chastising myself for gazing up at the mountains instead of paying attention to the uneven sidewalk my feet were pounding away at, I was suddenly interrupted by another thought: this was the last time I’d have the opportunity to be distracted by such beautiful mountains.  With this in mind, I was determinedly distracted by my beautiful surroundings for the rest of my run, which was a good thing due to the humidity from last night’s storm and the mid 70’s temperatures.  However, true to form, Grenoble did not fail me on my run.  Even though it can be suffocating and horribly hot, I can always count on Grenoble to send me a great gust of wind to cool the sweat dripping off my face during a long run.

In order to fit as much “Grenoble” into my time here as possible, I climbed the Bastille Thursday morning with a few of the people from my group to watch the sun rise.  The hike was definitely worth it.  Couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful way to say my goodbyes to the entire town of Grenoble and it’s surrounding suburbs.

Le lever du soleil à Grenoble

I’m going to miss these mountains

Au revoir, Grenoble

Thursday also marked the last night with everyone from my program and because of this API took everyone out for one last excursion to a wonderful restaurant for a goodbye dinner.

Final dinner with my API crew. We wanted to thank Marie and Anna for being so amazing and helpful to us during the last 6 weeks so we bought them both cards and a huge bouquet for Marie (Anna left for vacation before we could get her one).

Main plate I ordered during the API dinner: quiche/zucchini square with little potatoe “poppers” and a tender duck breast served with raspberry chutney. The duck was mouthwatering.

Dessert: a meringue smothered in warm chocolate sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream covered in whip cream. Simply delectable.

Over the past few days I’ve said goodbye to many new friends and have had to start looking towards the future, which is most immediately my next study abroad program.  Tomorrow I leave Grenoble for Montpelier where I will spend a few days with my host Mom and her son exploring the city and lounging by the Mediterranean Sea.  On Tuesday morning I will leave my host Mom and Montpelier behind to travel to Angers, a city west of Paris, for my second program.  There I will meet my second host family (who has a lab, just like my dog!!) and while I am excited to meet them, I am very sad to be leaving my host Mom and this calm mountain town.  However, I am comforted by the fact that I will return.  If only for a few days, I plan to come back and visit my host Mom next summer after my brother gets married in Scotland–which I can’t wait for!

I’m writing this post more solemnly than usual not only because I’m leaving Grenoble, but also because I discovered last night that one of my previous goodbyes was actually a final goodbye.  Yesterday I found out that the horse I leased for this year’s season with the OSU Equestrian Drill Team had died.  Smokey was an amazing horse and he taught me a great many things.  I don’t have the right words to honor him in a way that will actually satisfy me, so I’ll have to settle for the simple truth: I will always love and miss Smokey and I can’t stress enough how much he saved me and my team this year.

Rest in peace my friend.

This news has also brought with it new pangs of homesickness as I think of my own mare, who is currently sitting in the pasture at home healing, because I’d like nothing more than to go home and make sure she’s okay and give her a hug.  However, that is not how it works when you are 5,000 miles away.  I trust that she is fine, but having to deal with all of this while abroad in a strange country has made one cliché strikingly clear: the only time we have is now.

So while I may have moments where I wish I was at home with my horse, my family, and my friends, the only time I really have is right now and right now I am in France.  That being said, this is a great country with many places to explore and enjoy and while I do miss everyone back home keenly, I refuse to waste my time to dwell on facts that I cannot change.  Also, I know that as soon as I come home and have had my fill of family, friends, my horse, and my dog, I will want to come right back to France.  So for now I am going to thoroughly enjoy my time here so that when I get back home I won’t regret anything that I didn’t do while I had the chance.  And as for Smokey, I hope that wherever he is now there are great big pastures to graze and roam in but also a rodeo arena or two for when he wants to get excited and surprise everyone with his “next gear.”

À bientôt, Grenoble!

Many Mini Moments

From the very beginning of this trip there have been many big things going on with fun and exciting excursions when everything was shiny and new and everyday life was just background static.  However, during these past few weeks my focus has shifted from the big events to the abundance of “mini moments” that I’ve been experiencing.

I last left you on Friday the 13th–which as far as I can remember–went splendidly well for me.  The 14th was Bastille Day, aka Independence Day for the French, and I discovered just how well the French can do fireworks.  Not only were the fireworks awesome, but they were set to epic, themed music.  Between the sections which were filled with beautifully choreographed and timed music and fireworks, a story was told.  I had trouble catching it (since it was French and loudly broadcast voices are usually hard to hear) but from what I could tell it was the story of the French Revolution.  Even though I couldn’t understand it, I was still moved by it.  It was definitely an amazing sight to behold.  The link below will take you to a snippet of what I experienced, although it does start with the more funky music towards the middle of the show rather than the epic music at the beginning:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWwZaOHjJuk

On the 15th my host Mom took Claire and I up to Salette and bought us some delicious Tuilles–caramelized orange and vanilla wafer cookies that were delicious–and we took a short hike and had a picnic.  Afterwards we went to the Lac de Laffrey for some swimming and tanning, which was lovely and relaxing.

The beautiful mountains which surround Salette

My host Mom Liliane and I during our picnic in Salette.

Picnic in Salette with Claire

On Tuesday the 17th API took us on a mini excursion to Les Cuves de Sassenage, which was a fun little afternoon outing with the group.  The caves were pretty tight and close so it was difficult to take a lot of pictures.

The tight cave passageways in Les Cuves de Sassenage, just outside Grenoble.

Creek flowing out of the Caves

Cute buildings in Sassenage

On Thursday the 19th API took us out to see a French romantic comedy called “Un Bonheur N’arrive jamais Seul” (roughly Happiness never arrives/comes alone) which was really cute!  On the morning of Saturday the 21st we loaded up into our bus and headed to Geneva, Switzerland.  Upon arrival we toured the UN building and then had about 4 hours to wander around Geneva.  It was pretty, upscale, and expensive.  I’m glad I got to go there but I’m quite sure that Switzerland is not the place for me.  However, it was really interesting to me to find out that most of the Swiss speak three or four languages on average.  They have several official languages but most everyone spoke French.  Also, while they will accept the Euro as payment in Geneva the actual currency is still Swiss Francs which I found to be very interesting.  After Geneva we loaded up again and headed back to France to the quiet little town of Chamonix.

Welcome to the UN!

The Human Rights conference room. The ceiling was a piece of art donated by Spain and is meant to represent the bottom of the ocean

Strange building we found in Switzerland. We have no idea what it’s currently used for or what it used to be…our best bet is a restaurant at least in part for now.

My first officially purchased hot chocolate in Europe. I bought it in Geneva and it was as delicious as it looks!

Street view of Geneva

When we got to Chamonix and I saw the mountains, my immediate love of Annecy did quick battle with the beautiful mountains and Chamonix, obviously, won.  Chamonix is home to Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe at 15,782 ft tall.  Chamonix is small, quiet, beautiful, and surrounded by amazingly fun things to do–and I want to do them all.  At some point I’d love to live there and take advantage of the mountains for hiking, rock climbing, and eventually mountain climbing (when I get there) and wouldn’t mind adding “Conquered Mont Blanc” to the list of awesome things I’ve done.  The town itself wasn’t particularly lively and in fact I was able to explore almost all of it in just a few hours of free time, but somehow I still want to go back.  I like my little mountain towns and as long as Chamonix has room for me, a horse, and a dog, I will be back.  Also, there’s a resident glacier you can walk inside of.  Kind of awesome.

The beautiful mountains surrounding Chamonix

Me, Eva, and Natalie before taking the train up to the glacier

Sara, me, and Simone also waiting for the train to the glacier

Inside the glacier in Chamonix, I loved the lights cut into the walls!

I love this little house!

The statue of the first man to reach the summit of Mont Blanc facing the mountains that he conquered.

After returning home from Chamonix on Sunday, the 22nd I began my last week of classes at Université Stendhal.  Not surprisingly I have mixed feelings about this.  My classes haven’t exactly been as spectacular or as helpful as I expected, but I have really enjoyed my time in Grenoble.  I’ve especially enjoyed doing nothing and taking four hour naps at 2 o’clock in the afternoon simply because I can.  So mostly I’d like to thank Grenoble for giving me back some of my sanity and my freedom.  Also, I began my tenth book this morning and having the time to throw myself passionately into books like I used to before work and heavy course loads has been a refresher.

A lot of the “mini moments” that I love about Grenoble are the random, daily life ones.  For instance, I’ll never forget trying Escargot or the delicious frog legs I had for dinner tonight.  Or the mixed lunch I enjoyed from the best bakery in town and the fruit market while sitting outside an old church listening to a street performer play on his portable keyboard.  Or when I was able to help and give directions to a man who was confused when the tram stops changed due to construction and would now need to take an additional bus to get to the train station.  Or today while searching for a specific gift for my Mom I was able to converse and ask questions of the shop keeper in French, and have a reliable conversation with someone who’s accent I wasn’t very familiar with.  So far, the mini moments have been my favorite and I look forward to many more, and to documenting them in a more efficient fashion for those of you following me :)  Enjoy some quick pictures from some moments below:

Chocolate meringe, quiche au jambon, apple, and a little box of raspberries both fresh from the morning fruit market.

My beautiful view while eating lunch by the tram way in Grenoble.

My host Mom Liliane made fondu for my friends and I on the last Monday we had in Grenoble

Everyone who came to fondue thought it was delicious–which it was, of course! Left to Right: Garth, me, Claire, Natalie, and Eva.

What did you do in the last 10 days?

Let me begin by saying that I did not realize it’s been 10 days since I last posted anything!  It feels like I just posted yesterday and at the same time it feels like it’s been a month or so.  So let me catch you up on the last 10 days in a strictly high-point and highlighted fashion which is mostly going to boil down to a lot of pictures.  Yay!  Less typing for me and more prettiness for you!

July 4th: I did not go out to celebrate Independence Day, but instead spent the day acting very American: I did exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  As a result I had a fantastic day!  After class finished at 12:30 I found this little tea place I had seen during our tour on the first day in Grenoble.  It’s called Jardin du Thé and I spent about 3 or 4 hours slowly eating a delicious pastry, a scoop of sorbet, and drinking an amazing iced tea all while reading.  Afterwards I went home, might have taken a nap, ate amazing food, and then probably finished the book I was reading.  Buying myself a Kindle before coming to France was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

July 5th: I have absolutely no idea what I did this day…but since it was a day when I had class from 12:30 to 4:30 I probably worked out in the morning and then went to get some food with Paige after class before heading home to read for the rest of the night.  Oh, and if I had any homework I probably did it.

July 6th:  Aha!  Memories usually stick when they’re associated with pain, right?  Well after class ended at 12:30 last Friday I joined several other girls from the program (after going home and changing into workout clothes) met up and spent the next 4 or so hours hiking the Bastille above the city.  It was great!  And amounted to around 4.5 miles of hiking, but the pain was well worth the view!  Can’t wait to go again!

From left to right: Sara, Augie, Rosemary, Kelly, Paige, me and Claire in front.

L’Isère River and Grenoble as seen from the Bastille. As I understand it, the Bastille is what’s left of the fortress that was built to protect the city in the Middle Ages.

After traversing the “caves”–a long pitch-black tunnel through the mountain behind the Bastille–we came into daylight!

After the caves we came out and saw these ruins nestled atop another hill and thought “Must go higher!!” So we trekked for another 30 or 40 minutes to get to the Memorial within the ruins.

We made it! It reads “60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Grenoble.” The Memorial commemorates all of the soldiers that have fought in these mountains and in all of the wars fought in France.  It was a really awesome Memorial to see.

Me at the top

Welcome to the beauty of Grenoble and her protective mountains. I love this little city!

Looking down at the Bastille from the Memorial.

July 7th:  Last Saturday is definitely impossible to forget!  We had an excursion planned with our program API to go to the most beautiful city I’ve seen in France yet: Annecy.  New goal in life: get a job in France (or Switzerland) that lets me live in Annecy.  Annecy is home to the purest lake in Europe and is just a phenomenal city.  So beautiful!  (I’ll shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves now.)

The petit château on the left was used as many different things but lastly as a prison, yet it is still gorgeous!

Just the view while walking across a bridge…

My view from a little Créperie

The delicious crêpe I was eating from the crêperie with the above view!

The beautiful lake!

<3

July 8th: Garth and Claire came over for another delicious lunch prepared by my host Mom and afterwards Claire and I adjourned to Parc Mistral to enjoy the sun and read and people watch in the park.

July 9th: …it occurs to me (just now) that most people probably don’t write blogs in chronological order summarizing every day…so if you were expecting something else, sorry.  Also, not sorry, don’t read an engineer’s blog if you didn’t want to read something with order and structure!  Especially not an industrial engineer’s blog–we generally don’t do clutter or have unnecessary items.  Anyhow.  July 9th was a Monday, which brings us back to the world of French grammar classes.  After class got out at 12:30 I went with most of the rest of my group to Café Diderot to (finally) figure out how to get the 3 euro université lunches.  After that…well I’d place money on the fact that I headed home and read.  Notice a theme?  Sidenote on said theme: if you’re at all familiar with the life  “existence” of an engineering student at OSU (or in general) this whole “reading books I want to because I can and I want to” thing is typically a fantasy.  As is sleep.  And reasonable food.  And working out.  So while my free time activities may seem boring to you, I feel like I’m living out a fantasy right now because I am not used to getting to do the things I want to do simply because I want to…so if this is a dream, don’t wake me.  Give me at least 6 more weeks :)  Oh, and I’m writing this to you while sitting on the balcony of my host Mom’s apartment just soaking up the sun.  And eating fresh fruit.  Because I want to and I can.  Anyhow, enough with my heady power trip from regaining the ability to use my time as if it were my own, and back to my chronologically structured blog.

I’m writing this blog from here! It’s the balcony of my host Mom’s apartment and it’s amazingly sunny and fantastic. Also, I have a view of the mountains to my right but you can’t see that. It’s great :D and yes, I’m trying to rub it in. Is it working?

July 9th (yes, again): Aha!  I would’ve lost money on that bet, (the one about the reading) although I did read for a few hours.  That night (Monday night) my host Mom took me to see a movie with one of her classmates.  (Sidenote: I think it’s adorable that she’s taking English classes at the same university as me!  I felt like a little kid on the tram on the first day, but it’s really awesome that she’s still taking classes and wanting to learn!)  So we saw La Part des Anges (The Angels’ Share) which was a really great movie.  It was subtitled in French since it was made in Scotland which was not very helpful comprehension-wise for my host mom and her classmate with the heavily accented Scottish English, but still a great movie and a great time!

July 10th: Workout, class 12:30-4:30, met up with Claire at the tram.  Travelled to H&M and–after eating this amazing baguette filled with cheese and sausage–did some shopping.  Got home in time to talk with my host Mom while she ate (I wasn’t hungry yet) then read.

July 11th: Class 8:30 to 12:30, met up with almost my entire API group at the train station and (after some interesting difficulties acquiring tickets) went to Vizille to visit the Château de Vizille.  I ate dinner immediately after getting home from Vizille and then forgot to pass go and went directly to falling sound asleep at 8pm…oops.  Oh well, best sleep ever!  Pictures!

The Château de Vizille. Unfortunately it was under restoration while we were there, but it was still beautiful!

Flowers from the gardens around the castle

Playing hide and seek with some flowers and the castle

Le Château with a handy dandy tree blocking the ugly restoration process

View from a side of the castle, I could handle waking up to this outside my bedroom!

Different view of the château since I’m standing on one of its balconies

July 12th: Workout, class 12:30 to 4:30, then an adventure to Carrefoure (BIG supermarché) for some snacks and sunscreen and other little things I needed.  Came home, ate dinner, worked on my French, and read some more.  Unfortunately the neighbors partied really late into the night so I had trouble getting to sleep which made…

July 13th: …this 6am morning a bit more difficult to handle than usual.  However, we finally did a LOT of grammar in class which is what I really need so that was good.  After class finished at 12:30 I attempted to search out a present for my mom, found the shop to be closed, went to the SNCF Boutique to buy a student card for the train, found it to be closed until September, and then finally went to the Gare (train station) to wait an hour in order to spend three minutes buying my train card.  Now I have a card for those from 12 to 25 years old which reduces my train fair.  Funny thing is, my card is for Alice Gleen.  I’m not sure how the woman messed that up when I handed her my Student ID to get my information from…it’s labeled in French…and my name is correct on the card…but regardless, that’s what my card says.  Hope it still works!

And that’s been the last 10 days!  Hopefully I don’t lose track of time so easily next time.  Oh and Happy Friday the 13th everyone!

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