Sunday, October 27, 2013


Last Friday a friend and I went to the opera. Carmen was playing and we had heard that they sold any empty seats for 5 euros fifteen minutes before the show.

Luckily for us the show wasn't sold out and we scored some awesome seats on the balcony for roughly 6.50 dollars. It was my first time at the opera and I loved every minute of it. I loved that there was a tiny screen hanging over the stage that displayed French subtitles, as the actors were speaking/singing a mixture of French and Italian. I understand a lot more thanks to the subtitles; though there were still some things that got lost in translation. Once I was so busy trying to read the subtitles that I missed the death of a character.

The next morning we woke up early and boarded a train for Aix-En-Provence, a French city a couple hours away from St. Etienne. Since we had class on Monday we weren't able to spend much time in this beautiful city. However, we had plenty of time to wander around the historic city center and people watch.

I believe there was a fountain at almost every single intersection.

Like any French city worth its salt, Aix was full of beautiful old cathedrals. The previous pope either visited this cathedral or this cathedral just really loved the previous pope...the signs and plaques weren't that clear.

One thing I love about France is that this is the city; this is where people live, work, eat, shop-- it isn't some museum or 'historic' sight. These beautiful old buildings are just another part of life.

We were searching for a quiet spot to eat our dinner when we ran into a wedding that was just finishing in a gorgeous cathedral. I loved the classic Bug.

The wedding was in this cathedral-- I tried my best not to gawk. This photo, by the way, was taken with my iPhone. I'm still impressed with its panoramic abilities.

Speaking of gorgeous cathedrals and iPhone photos, here's another cathedral we stumbled upon Sunday morning. Aix has this really cool market on Sunday mornings-- one side of their main street is covered in tents of local artisans and there's another market by Hotel de Ville full of fresh produce.

I was craving some tea Saturday night so I drug my friends to this cute tea shop I spotted-- the tea was delicious and it was a good place to relax and people watch.

I took, and edited, this photo on my iPhone-- I'm going to post a tutorial (eventually) on my favorite methods of photo editing on my phone. I liked taking photos on my phone because it's easily accessible. Also, I don't feel like a tourist, as much, when I use my phone as opposed to my huge camera. 

I wish we had had more time to spent exploring the city and making use of their museums. There's also a beautiful mountain not far outside the city-- we saw it when we arrived at the train station-- but we weren't sure how to get there without a car.

The main fountain at night :)
Sunday afternoon we said goodbye to Aix and hoped on a train back to St. Etienne where we finished out last week of classes before holidays.

And the holidays have arrived! We have an entire week off-- I've been enjoying the extra sleep. This Tuesday, however, I'm getting up far earlier than the sun to make my flight to Dublin.

Who needs sleep when you have Dublin and your best friend? I won't be bringing my computer to Dublin so I won't be able to post much while in Ireland. I'll try to post small updates from my phone so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading :)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm on a boat!

Je suis sur un bateau! autre choses...

A couple weekends ago, CILEC ((my French language program)) organized a small trip to a nearby river for a boat ride.

We arrived at the meeting spot, just in front of Hotel de Ville, joining a large crowd of students. I wasn't sure how we were all supposed to get to the river; there was a lot of us and we were in the middle of the city.

One bus turned a corner, parking by us. I scanned the group, then mentally scanned the size of the bus. It was just a normal city bus, certainly not big enough for the huge group of us that had signed up to go to the river.

By a feat of impossible physics we managed to fit five times the legal number of people onto the small bus. I was stuck in the aisle with scant to hold on to-- not a problem, thanks to the natural crush of people surrounding me. The bus driver seemed to make a game of how fast he could take a roundabout-- I unfortunately become very close to my neighbors.

Twenty five minutes of doing my best sardine impression later, we arrived at the river.

A little river snaked it's way through the hills; we shared the water with an assortment of wind surfers and kayaks.

The ride was slightly underwhelming-- we had seen some pictures of a gorgeous small castle, which was no where to be seen. Just as I thought the trip was over we made a sharp turn where I had thought the river ended.

The castle was really small, and sadly privately owned, but it was still pretty.

The boat ride wasn't that long, but it was short pretty ride on a river surprisingly close to St. Etienne.

I don't have any particularly good excuse as to why it took me this long to write a blog post. I finally had enough stuff I wanted to blog about pile up that I decided to write this blog, so I could write other blogs about my more recent adventures.

In other news, I went bowling with some friends a couple weeks ago. Bowling here is pretty popular-- we had to wait for a lane to open up, so we played some pool; not very popular. We got a lot of stares but it was hard to tell if it was because a) no one plays pool or b) we were a semi loud group of foreigners who really sucked at pool.

I went to Aix-En-Provence last weekend-- it was gorgeous and I can't wait to show you the pictures. Stay tuned to hear all about it!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lovely Lyon

Alliteration for the win!

A couple weekends ago (read, I'm just now posting about it because I'm lazy) some friends and I hopped on a train and went to Lyon, France. Lyon is a nearby town, maybe 30 miles away, and it's older (prettier) and bigger than my town of St. Etienne.


This gorgeous mountain of a cathedral greeted us as we started to explore the old part of Lyon. It rises like a giant overlooking a cobblestone square.

I wish that I had either the words or the photos in my arsenal to fully depict the breathtaking scale of the ancient cathedrals. Instead, I have grainy iPhone photos and wistful thinking.

Michelle laughed as I gushed how beautiful the cathedral was.

'Just wait till you see the basilica' she told me.

I've forgotten the name of this cathedral. Regardless even a brief visit leaves you amazed at the architectural skill of the men who built this hundreds of years ago. The soaring ceilings are impossibly high over your head, easily achieving their purpose of making you feel small amongst the presence of God.

After walking through the cathedral we searched for an authentic French restaurant to eat lunch; not a difficult task. Most restaurants posted a menu on the sidewalk and we quickly chose one and settled down at a table outside. Eating outside is something I really liked about French restaurants-- the weather was perfect and there was an awning which protected us from a brief spout of rain.

The lunch lasted around two hours-- a typical French restaurant offers these fixed meals; often three courses where you get to pick from a list what appetizer/main course/desert you want, ect. It's a lot of food, and they give you a lot of time to fully enjoy it.

After the delicious meal we headed up the vernicular-- this little tram like car that rides up a rail and travels at almost a 45 degree angle up the hillside-- to see the basilica.

It was every bit of impressive as the cathedral and then some. It was made of the same white-ish stone as the cathedral, causing them both to almost glow in the light.

The basilica was on top of the hill, and offered an amazing panoramic view of the city.

Thanks to Michelle for taking the photo!
After gawking at the beautiful view we headed inside to be greeted by an even more amazing view. I suddenly understood why Michelle had laughed when I found the cathedral beautiful.

The basilica was covered in shinning intricate mosaics; it's hard to explain how stunning the view is when you first step in, expecting just to see more stone.

Yeah. Talk about a beautiful ceiling.

After a quick stop to gaze at some ruins, we hopped back on the train for St. Etienne. 

Bon, c'est tout! We didn't have much time to spend in Lyon but it's really easy to get to, so we might go back soon to explore it more.

Stay tuned for my boating adventures on the Loire! ((which weren't as epic as that may lead you to believe...))

Thanks for reading :)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

10 Things That Surprised Me About France

I love lists!

Since this is my fourth time in France (wow fourth sounds like such a huge number) I wasn’t expecting many surprises. Granted, I had never attended university in France but I had lived here for a month.

I knew that French milk only had to be refrigerated after opening. I knew that people walked everywhere. I knew to expect amazingly delicious food.

However, when I got over here and immersed myself in daily life, there were some things that I just hadn’t expected.

1.    My water

Before I studied abroad I attended a mandatory study abroad meeting which basically told me don’t piss off the natives and don’t drink the water.

I didn’t think that applied to a developed country like France so you can imagine my surprise when I filled up my cup with tap water and it looked like this:

Now, I mean, this isn’t a commentary of the state of tap water in France—I’m sure it’s drinkable. At first I thought it was the cup so I cleaned it obsessively-- then I realized that the hot water looked the same regardless of what cup I used.

2.    Zambonis 

The French love a clean supermarket and there’s a huge one not too far from where we live. To clean the floors, attendants ride around in this Zamboni-esque machine during working hours. It’s a sort of game to not get run over.

3.    Sundays
You think Chick-Fil-A being closed on Sunday is bad?
Try every single store. Now, if you search long enough you will find the odd boulongiere which is open Sunday morning but for the most part everything shuts down. It’s like being in the desert with the Israelites—if you don’t gather enough manna on Saturday you are just out of luck. It can be a problem if you forget and don’t stock up on food.

4.    Room Size
I thought Raney (dorm building at my home university) rooms were small. They’ve got nothing on rooms in La Cotonne (which I live). The room is unbelievably small. Unbelievable because it is just big enough to function. With one person. If Michelle is in my room it becomes a Tetris game just trying to move around.

My bathroom is about the size of an airplane bathroom—with a shower. I didn’t know you could make a bathroom that small. It works, don’t get me wrong, but it has its inconveniences. Like just washing your hands in the sink and accidentally backing into the shower faucet and turning on the shower.

5.    Classes

Two things surprised me about classes in France. To begin with, their intensity surprised. Every single morning at 8:30 I have class for three hours.

 Three straight hours of French.

It can be difficult to pay attention for the entire time. It also sucks getting up early every single morning. Two afternoons a week I have afternoon class—History of Art on Tuesdays and Survey of Contemporary France on Wednesdays.

Now, besides the fact I do have class every day this semester is kind of a vacation. I have nowhere near the amount of homework I normally have at Hendrix. It’s a very nice break.

6.    Class Time

The other thing that really surprised me about classes was the timing. You can’t be late, but no one is really on time. One morning, at exactly 8:30, there were exactly two students, including myself. No teacher. Granted, she probably arrived at 8:31 but the rest of the students took a little bit longer. I’m kind of obsessive about being on time so this is a hard concept for me to grasp.

7.    Price of Alcohol
I knew alcohol would be cheap over here, it just didn’t hit me how cheap until I wandered down the wine aisle in our local supermarket.

That bottle of wine was less than 3 euros. What’s funny is that every time I bring that up to a European they are always like ‘oh Spain has the cheapest wine, France isn’t that cheap!’ Then I tell them about the wine prices in the US.

8.    English
St. Etienne is not a tourist town. Which is a good thing, since I really wanted to immerse myself in French culture and language.

However, this also means that the locals aren’t used to hearing English. Or at least that’s my explanation for all the stares and weird looks we get when we speak English out and about.

That’s a good thing, though. Recently I was in Lyon with friends (blog post to follow!) and when the waiters heard us speaking English they automatically spoke English to us, which isn’t the best thing when you are trying to learn French.

9.    Weather
I’m loving this weather! It has been really bipolar. When I first got here it got really cold all of the sudden and we had a week or two where the high was in the low 60s. Now, suddenly, it’s warming up. Warming up meaning the high is in the 70s. Considering the heat I left at home in Arkansas, this was a nice surprise. And St. Etienne is supposed to get a lot of snow in the winter, which I am excited about!

10.    Language Barrier
I know, it sounds stupid, right? After all, how could I have not been prepared for a language barrier when I set off to live four months in a foreign country?

But I never thought it would be this big of a barrier. You see, if I’m back at Hendrix, sitting at my desk in French class filling out a worksheet I know that the subjunctive follows expressions of necessity. I can properly (for the most part) use direct and indirect objects. I can use pronouns in their proper place.

However, when someone rattles off a phrase in French and then stares at me wanting a response, everything I ever even thought I knew flies far away and I’m left there replying in broken French. It can be intimidating speaking in French even if theoretically I know how to respond.

If people speak slow and enunciate I'm good, but that's not how most people talk in everyday conversation.

Well there you go! 10 things that I did not expect in the wonderful country of France. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures in Lyon, France!

Thanks for reading!