Sunday, September 29, 2013

La Fête Renaissance

alternative title: The Biggest Renaissance festival in all of France. Or so I was told.

Last weekend, CILEC ((the French program I'm studying at)) chartered a bus to a near by town called Puy-en-Velay to the biggest renaissance festival in France, called the King of the Bird (or the king and the bird....j'ai oublié)).

We arrived around 11 am. The main festival appeared to be centered in front of Hotel de Ville (the major's office basically) and there was a clustering of white tents and dressed up people.

I was surprised at the number of people who went full out-- lavish, expensive, period costumes. We began to meander through the festival, seeing the craftsmen, the recreated camping living quarters, the archery competition (which we couldn't figure out how to join) and then, after maybe four min, we ended up where we started.

We looked around, confused. Biggest renaissance fair in all of France and it took only four minutes to walk around all the tents? We walked around once more, and then started a vain search for turkey legs since we were all starving. Alas, apparently turkey legs are not standard fair at French renaissance parties so we left the fair and headed in search of food.

Or so I thought we left the fair. Turns out, the festival was spread out all over the city. It was really interesting to be at a renaissance fair in a city that probably saw the actual renaissance. It wasn't hard to imagine what life would have been like-- the buildings probably weren't much different.

I loved walking through the streets-- it was a beautifully ancient town.

In case you're curious my hometown, St. Etienne, does not look like this. St. Etienne started as an industrial town and lacks the medieval section of the city.

I hate taking my big camera out in St. Etienne because everybody already turns and stares (slight exaggeration, I admit) when they hear me speaking English. I don't want to look like even more of a tourist. At the renaissance fair, however, basically everyone was a tourist so I didn't feel weird lugging around my big camera.

We hiked through the city and up a huge hill, only to be rewarded by a massive cathedral that over looked the city.

The interior of the cathedral was, unsurprisingly, breathtaking.

After the church we hiked up a bit further.

 The church is the church I showed you pictures of-- after that we hiked up to the top of the statue.

Yup, the top. But my favorite area was actually the overlook at her feet.

The overlook, after some tiring hiking, was amazing :)

From the base of the statue we had panoramic views of the surrounding city and hills. It was most definitely worth the hike ;)

This isn't the best picture but there was this really amazing cathedral literally built on top of a narrow rock. It took my breath away when I first saw it as we were driving into town. I was sad we didn't have time to visit it, but it was really cool.

Well, that's about it! I apologize this post took so lonnggg to write, but hey, at least I finally wrote it! I'm going to try and write the rest of my posts today and post them soon.

So stayed tuned for my next post, 12 Things that Surprised me about France :)

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ma Vie en France

I've thought about blogging a couple times now. I've even opened up the website with every intention of writing a post.

Then I thought 'nahh' and ate some French chocolate. And French bread. And crossiants. And pain chocolat. And French wine.

But! Here I am; finally writing another post from the wonderful country of France. I've started classes, opened a bank account, and explored my new home.

 Our first weekend, we headed to a local museum dedicated to the arts and industry of St. Etienne. St. Etienne was an industrial town and one of their major claims to fame was their ribbons.

The museum was interesting-- those intricate drawings in the video were created by these machines. Since the museum was completely in French, Michelle and I walked away still not entirely sure how the huge machines functioned, but it was still a cool place.

Talking about historic places...this is the view from the roof of a historic apartment complex. Last weekend was a special weekend in France-- no one particularly explained why it was special, just that almost all the museums in France were free and a lot of normally private historic sites were open to the public.

This apartment complex did not look like anything special from the outside-- just another, slightly outdated big building with an oddly bluish coat of paint. However! It was the famous (or you would think so how much my professor talked about it) maison sans escalier!

But what does that mean?? It means, house without a staircase. In lieu of a staircase, there was just a huge spiral ramp that ran along the inside with doors leading into the various apartments. It was interesting, and the view was nice.

Talking about views....(look at my transitions!)

This is the view from my window! Michelle's window overlooks the city but I take solace in the fact that I get the warm afternoon sun through my window, heating up my room. Since we're currently experiencing a cold spell and the heat doesn't seem to work, this comes in handy.

 I'm not entirely sure but I believe this is the view from the communal kitchen on our floor (5th floor). 

Yeah. The windows in my classroom over look those hills-- and I'm supposed to concentrate on French?

This is a small green spot in the lovely downtown St. Etienne. We had a school sponsored trip to the l'Hotel de Ville (city hall) and afterwards we followed a drum line/band thing through the streets, passing by this area. The drum line was cool-- just a passionate group of amateurs with makeshift drums marching through the streets.

So not only does France lack Netflix, it also lacks Starbucks. Luckily for us, we found an even better replacement. It's a cute little coffee shop right next to l'Hotel de Ville. We got these delicious, if a bit hard to drink, cups of coffee. :)

Whew! I don't even want to think how long it has been since I last posted. I don't have many photos from my good camera to put up. Mostly because I already feel like such a tourist (as Michelle and I speak English together) that I don't want to pull out a huge, official camera.

St. Etienne doesn't get many tourists-- so they are not accustomed to hearing English. I've seen people nearly do a 180 when they hear us speaking English. Perhaps because I can be really loud if I'm in the midst of a good story and someone exclaiming 'and then he did THIS!' in any language is guaranteed  to garner some attention.

This weekend is the largest Renaissance fair in France apparently and the school is sponsoring a trip to the nearby town where it's held.

Stay tuned to read about my adventures there! :)

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Great Adventure

Alternative Title, Or how I ended up sitting on the cold tile of the Charles de Gaul train station with my chocolate moose and an assortment of  cutlery. 

On September 2nd I said goodbye to my parents and embarked on a long journey ending on the sunny pavement of St. Etienne. My journey lead me through three different airports in two different countries, two train rides-- one more nerve-wrecking than the other but more on that later-- in a long voyage that led from Arkansas to France.

The LR airport was no big deal-- I had been there before, and being alone didn't make a great difference. When I finally boarded my first plane the excitement began to sink it-- I was really traveling halfway across the world for a semester of college.  The beauty of the shorter flights is a lower cruising altitude. The day was slightly overcast, some lazy clouds clinging close to the ground with a hazy patchwork ceiling of grey swatches. The plane broke through the ceiling suddenly, the deep blue of the uncovered sky literally made my mouth drop open as we brushed up against the living cathedrals that contrasted the deep blue with their shinning white. This is what the Greeks saw when they dreamed up Olympus, this beauty fit to be a playground of the gods. I glanced around the cabin and much to surprise only found one person causally glancing out the window, the rest had closed their windows to the beauty.

The best time to view clouds is during take off and landing, as it is when you really interact with them. However, as electronic devices are forbidden during take off and landing, you will just have to take my word for how breath taking it was.

It didn't take long for us to reach Chicago and once there I found my gate without much difficulty. I had a couple hour layover but with Starbucks and free wifi, I couldn't complain. Once I finally boarded, we sat on the runway for an hour and a half due to a technical problem.

"Okay folks we're going take off soon, they seem to have fixed the problem" was the reassuring words that made me think that there was nothing wrong with a little longer delay, if it meant that they could fix the problem with more certainty.  Enter, the most miserable flight of my life. Let's not talk about that.

Seven-ish hours later, we pulled into Charles de Gaul in Paris, France! The technical delay meant that now I had two hours to go through customs, get my luggage, find the train station in the airport, and figure out where my train would be. I had never really taken a train, and especially by myself.

Time proved not to be an issue, as I reached the train station with plenty of time. There was a copious amount of people and only a few seating areas. After ascertaining that my gate would appear on the big screen fifteen minutes before it left, I did what others were doing and plopped down on the cool floor, my luggage scattered around me. I was exhausted, still sick, lonely, slightly confused, and irrationally annoyed with traveling. My phone was dying, but there were no outlets in sight. The only way I could charge it appeared to be a little station. Now if I were at Hendrix, lounging on a couch musing about technology, a station in an air port where you had to ride a stationary bike to charge your electronic device would sound like a cool, novel idea. Sprawled out on the floor, exhausted in the train station, it sounded like the stupidest idea I had ever heard of.

My train did appear on the screen and I made my way to the gate. I tried to double check the train number in the bright sun and it seemed to match my ticket. A train zoomed up beside me and I clambered on. After shoving my luggage in the over stuffed area for luggage I looked for my seat. After I had to kick someone out of my seat, and explain in poor French to the ladies behind me that it really was my seat, I sat down and tried to relax. Jaunting through the French countryside sounds wonderfully romantic but it was a bit lonely and intimidating. There was a group of kids my age to my left who refused to get up when some chick pointed out they were in her seats; the old people in my group didn't bother to look at me. About an hour into the trip it hit me that I had no way of knowing if I had gotten on the right train. They didn't check my ticket, and there was no screen that announced the destination. I could be speeding off to the middle of nowhere with no phone and no clue what to do. I was still pondering how I would ask for help in French when a voice announced that we were approaching Lyon. Thanking the good Lord that I was indeed on the right train, I manhandled my luggage off the train.

My train was much nicer-- brighter, less crowded, and there was a little screen that showed exactly what the next station was and when we would arrive. Graciously, the ISEP coordinator picked me up at the train station along with my friend Michelle who arrived on a different train from Paris.

Long, slightly stressful journey short, I made it. What did I learn? That while there are some people who love jetting off to foreign destinations by themselves, I am definitely not one of them.

When we arrived in St. Etienne the ISEP lady took us to our dorm. You get your own room and bathroom, and there is a small communal kitchen on each level.

My view!

My room is small, but nice. I was really happy to see that I had a microwave and mini fridge in my room. I can't really explain how small my bathroom is-- picture an air plane bathroom, and then add a shower. Without adding more room. And that's about the size of my bathroom.

It's pretty small, but it works.

So this is the second time writing this post, and the first attempt somehow did not save D: I will post later about discovering St. Etienne and the (hectic) start of school!

Thanks for reading :)