Oct 29, 2009

I <3 Paris

I have discovered yet another awesome thing about France:

Fall Break

That's right, a week and a half of no school at the end of October! I love France just a little bit more now. Since this vacation exists not only for me and my host brothers, but also for my host mom, we took a trip to Paris for a few days. I'm going to call this my first trip to Paris even though, yes, I did spend a few days there at the very start of the trip. Why am I not counting orientation as a trip to Paris? Two main reason. The first is that we were confined to the hostel for the vast majority of the time. The second is that frankly I was too nervous to take anything in. But not this time! This time I enjoyed Paris to the fullest!

It started on Sunday evening. My entire host family (both parents and both brothers) and I caught the 7:15 TGV (high speed train) out of Lyon, and around 2.5 hours later we arrived in Paris. Since my host dad works in Paris during the week he has an apartment, which is where we all stayed for the trip. Not much happened that night, but I was still super happy to be in Paris!

My host dad didn't have a vacation, however, so the next morning when we woke up he was already gone. The day dawned sunny and warm, a perfect day for sightseeing. My host family and I caught a train to the Eiffel Tower, where we were then met with the task of waiting in line.

The Eiffel Tower
Even though we were in the considerably shorter line for the stairs, it took us about an hour or so to get to the entrance. The view was sufficient to make all that waiting and the stair-climbing that followed worth it though! From the first platform you could see a long way, and from the second you could see even further. It was also amusing to attempt to place people by country based on what you could hear of their conversations (I think I managed to find all the Americans!). We stopped at the second level because, as spectacular as the view may have been from the top, the line would have cost us another 2 hours. After we finished at the tower we made our way through the souvenir vendors ( Key chain, only 1 euro! 1 euro!!) and caught a bus to Monmarte.
1 euro!

We bought sandwiches and ate them in front of Sacre Coeur, and then climbed to the top of the hill.
Sacre Coeur

The area was filled with musicians, painters, tourists, and people with crazy Chinese yo-yo skills. My host mom got talked into getting a caricature of the 3 kids done! After Monmarte we headed off in search of music shops, and then, after not finding them, did a bit of shopping. Later that evening my host parents went out and the three of us kids stayed back and watched a movie.

The next day was equally exciting. Again, we didn't see my host dad in the morning, and after breakfast My host mom, one host brother, and I took the metro to the heart of tourist heaven Paris. (I'm not sure what my other host brother was doing that day, but we didn't see him). We walked down the Champs-Eysées, and stopped in a few stores. There was a huge line in front of the Adidas store because Lionel Messi was going to be there, and when we came back by later in the day it was about 2.5 times as long as the line for the Eiffel Tower, no joke. We climbed the Arc de Triomphe, and the view from the top of it was incredible.
View from the top of L'arc de Triomphe

We took a bus back through Paris and got out at the Musée d'Orsay. We had lunch in a little café and went to see Notre Dame, where we met up with one of my host brother's friends. We walked around a while, got ice cream, and then did a little more shopping at a semi-underground shopping center.
Notre Dame
That night my host parents went to the theater and dinner, and the 4 of us (My 2 host brothers, the friends, and I) stayed back, ordered pizza, and chilled.

Wednesday, my host family (again sans host dad) left to go to the Cité de la science, which was a bit like the science center in Baltimore. We ate lunch there, and then headed to the Cité de la musique, which was a music museum! It was very cool, with an audio tour and tons of really rare instruments (like an Octobass, which is like an upright bass only around 10 feet tall). They also had a very cool Miles Davis exhibit and, at 8:00 PM, a jazz concert. The concert was amazing, and the 2 hours it lasted passed super quickly. We (we being my host family and some other people who were there with us) went to dinner after the concert, and then took a taxi back to crash for the night.

Thursday, we woke up early because my host mom, host brothers, and I were taking the 9:00 TGV back home. We grabbed breakfast at a bakery along the way to the train station, and that was it.

I really, really enjoyed Paris. It was a nice change of scenery, and I got to see all the things I learned about in 8th grade french class!


Oct 14, 2009

Alpes, anniversaire, and another blog update!

I've had quite a few things happen since my last post! Actually, it's really only been two major things...But none the less they have been major (for me)!

The first of the two was first trip to the Alpes (yes, in French Alps is spelled with an E). Last Friday I packed a bag and headed to my host family's chalet with my host parents and one of my host brothers (Antoine). My other host brother (Christophe) stayed home because he had too much work. After 2 hours in the car, we arrived in the town of Sainte-Gervais in the mountains. The chalet was actually up higher than the rest of the town, so I got a very nice scenic view while we drove to the house. When we arrived, there was no one else there. Soon after though a second family arrived with a younger daughter and two sons around my age (I think one was the same age, one possibly a year older). We all ate dinner, and then all of us kids headed off to play a rousing game of Harry Potter Uno. The next day dawned cold and rainy. There were times where all you could see out the windows was a white cloud that enveloped the chalet!

Living in a cloud

Another family arrived in the morning. This family had a very little boy and two daughters who I think were just slightly younger than me. After a lunch together, all the parents left for a hike in the mountains. After a bit of homework, all of us at the house chilled out. We watched two movies (A French movie, Cyprien, and an American movie dubbed in French, Hitch), played a round of HP Uno, and played around on the keyboard. Later in the evening the parents returned, and after dinner everyone left for a hike in the night to hear the mating call of a deer (although that may very well not have been the purpose. I didn't really understand what they were saying, haha). But what ever we were searching for didn't show, and one again the kids headed back to the house while the parents enjoyed the outdoors. Although it was very dark, slightly chilly, and there were hidden puddles everywhere, there was a break in the clouds and the night sky was stunning. It was very close, if not equal to, the sky in the BWCA of Minnesota. I think we managed to hike above the light pollution, which was incredible. You could see thousands of stars!! Once we made it back to the house, all the kids headed up to the little loft to play a game called "Service Compris!". It entertained us until midnight!

Sunday proved to be stunning!

Although the weather was still a little nippy, the sun was shining and there was barely a cloud in the sky.

The weather on Sunday

After breakfast, the parents announced they were going to do another hike. All of the other kids stayed back, claiming schoolwork, but I decided to go. I'm pretty sure that was the right choice!! The hike was long and challenging, it's true, but it was worth it! 3-4 hours of hiking uphill in the French Alpes brings absolutely stunning views! We hiked above all the clouds of the towns below, ate wild blueberries, saw the sun hit snow capped mountains, and if I ware a little bit taller I think I could have touched the sky! After 3 hours of upward motion, we went down a huge hill and then it only too 1.5 hours to go back! (When we got home I found out that "homework" consisted of a little actual work, a movie, and some games.)

At the top

Heading home

The second major thing to happen was my birthday!! On Tuesday I turned 16, and I must say the birthday was fantastic (and totally different form any other birthday I've ever had). It started off by my waking up too early due to that sense of birthday jitters (I was quite excited! Sweet 16!!!!). To pass time I listened to the excellent mix CD some of my friends sent me for my birthday, read and re-read the birthday cards I had gotten in the mail, and dove into the world of magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (aka read Harry Potter). Finally, it was time to get ready for school. After a few little happy birthdays from my host family, I headed off to school. In my excitement for my birthday, I apparently ended up alerting half my class that today was my anniversaire, so in school I had a warm welcome! I'm not sure whether I got more wishes in French or English (many people in my class are very excited at the chance to parle anglais). To save time (and because you probably don't want a super detailed play by play of my school day) here are some of the highlights of the journey:
  • My friends alerted the Vie Scolaire that it was my birthday, so a birthday announcement got put up on the TVs in the hallway.

  • I got happy birthday (in English) sung to me 5 times, two of which got cut short due to a teacher saying they were singing too loudly in the halls
  • School started at 1 PM! My only morning class (chemistry) didn't happen due to the prof being absent, so my classes started after lunch. And I only had two classes: Bio and music!
  • The cantine had Fries and "steak" (a hamburger w/o the bun). I like to think they did it because it was the American's birthday
I got finished at 6, and around 7:30 my host mom called us down for dinner. Guess what we had


I had mentioned once that I loved it, and my host mom actually went and bought sushi for my birthday dinner!! It was the first time either she or my one host brother who was there that evening (Christophe) had ever had it. They thought it was highly amusing that I ate it all with chopsticks, but I thought it even funnier that they ate it with a knife and fork! After a very satisfying dinner, my host mom said there was a little dessert, but before that she had a surprise for me. She said (in French) that since I was turning.... (16, I replied) ... that she had 16 little gifts for me (to which I replied, .........!!!!!). Some of them were like a bookmark or a pen, but I got the new Mika CD, a cookbook of brownies, and quite a few other lovely things! It was really fun, and all I could do was smile broadly and say over and over again Merci beaucoup!. After the gifts she brought out a little chocolate cake. In France you blow out the candles, but there isn't a song that goes with it. Well, the cake was amazing, but we learned something very important: Blowing out candles on a cake covered in cocoa powder= showering the table with cocoa powder!! It was incredibly fun, and an amazing sweet 16.

In other news, I am officially (assuming my visa and what not allows it) going to London in November! My friends are also going, so it should be super fun! I also had to ask for help in English today (to top it off I had to ask the kid the teacher put next to me in hopes that I could help)! But it was translating the English document into French, so I think it was justified.

I think that really about covers it. I hope everyone is doing well!


Oct 6, 2009

English, French, and everything in between

In rereading my last post, I realized it was a lot of reflection on the month with out a lot of details on what I've actually been doing. If you enjoyed that little foray into my thought process, super! (PS, super is to be pronounced the French way: Pronounced like sue-pear with the emphasis on the second syllable). If you prefer it when I describe in detail what I've been up to, then you're in luck! I have quite a few things to raconte.

Chapitre 1: English

This past weekend was my first AFS get together! On Saturday, after a piano lesson and a trip to the town festival to watch a demonstration of grape-pressing, my host mom dropped me off in Anjou for a weekend with AFS.
At the orientation site

As soon as I got there I saw someone from the NYC and Paris orientations, and we immediately started talking in English. WEIRDEST THING EVER. I couldn't do it! It took me about 15 minutes before I was able to have a fluid conversation. I never would have thought that one month would make such a difference on language skills. I mean, I knew that it would greatly improve my French, but a quarter of an hour just to be able to communicate in my native language? I can only hope this means that I'm adjusting well to France! Anyways, after I got into the swing of things it was amazing being able to actually (correctly) express myself. And it was hilarious to find out what there is in common between the actions of the AFSers (For example, drinking water. It's not just because we're thirsty, we use it as an excuse to move around the house, an excuse to wait and see what others do so we can copy them, and just as a way to avoid awkward situations in general). We broke into small groups at the orientation, and we did activities to reflect on what we've done and project what we wish to do in the future. The groups had people from mixed home countries (mine had 2 other Americans, a boy from New Zealand, a girl from Thailand, and a French girl who was going to go abroad), and it was cool to see how that affected what they missed. After the groups, we played games (a kung-fu game, and a round of something like duck duck goose involving a key) , did energizers, and talked a lot (in English). After dinner, a lot of us hung around and did riddles. The room assignments of the night were completely mixed up by country, and my roommate ended up being a girl from Norway! The next day brought more games (something similar to capture the flag, something similar to sharks and minnows, ans something involving a cowboy hat), more energizers, more English, and a picnic with our host families. By the time my host mom and I left, I had arranged to hang out with AFSers, written a letter to myself, and completely transitioned back into English.

Group shot

Chapitre 2: French

Needless to say, it was difficult to go back to French. However, surprisingly, it was not as hard as it had been to go into English. School has been a little more tiring the past two days due to the switch, though. But the weekend really rejuvenated me, and I have been in better spirits than I was before the weekend. School has passed well, and I've had a lot of fun (in French, none the less!) with my friends at school. I've also realized that when introducing myself, it speeds up comprehension if I attempt a French accent for things like the town name (although, my accent is not really that great, haha). My host mom suggested that tomorrow we start English lessons at the dinner table, so that should be fun.

Chapitre 3: Everything in between

Hmm.... I've been getting decent grades in school (12/20 in History isn't bad considering I don't speak French). There is a very good chance I am going to London in November with school! There was a lottery, and the first 10 people get to go. I was the 11th, but the teacher says that I will most likely get to go! I'm reading the 7th Harry Potter in French, which is proving quiite challenging (Severus Snape = Severus Rogue, Muggles = Moldus, and it took me about 3 chapters to realize Poudlard = Hogwarts). And I think I've almost completely overcome embarrassment at making a fool out of myself (After all, when you've put yourself in a situation where communication skills are lacking and you don't know anyone, you learn to overcome humiliation pretty quickly).

Until next time,

Oct 1, 2009

A new month begins (+ photos!)

My agenda says today is the first day of October, but I'm not really sure I believe it. Because if today really is the first day of October that would mean that I have been in France for almost a whole month, and it definitely hasn't been that long...has it?

But seriously, it really is hard to believe that it's October. Time moves differently here, differently this year. I can remember exactly what they told us at the orientation in New York ("Dump your boyfriend and have fun in France"), the days in Paris feel like yesterday (I wonder what everyone I met has been up to?), and I can play the host family meeting like a movie (Saying goodbye, saying hello). But I can't tell the difference between what happened last week or my first week. There are days for which I remember exactly what I did, exactly who I hung out with, and how may minutes I waited for the bus. But I couldn't tell you what days they were. Everything moves so quickly, but at the same time incredibly slowly. I'll be half way through a Tuesday and wondering how long the class could last, and next thing I know I'm finishing on Friday.

But that's not to say I'm not enjoying every minute of it! Sure, there'll be moments where I'm sitting in class and I feel a pang of logning for everything to be in English. And there are definitely times where all I want is to see my friends in the US. But everyone here is so great, and it really doesn't take much to change my attitude completely. A moment of understanding or a good smile and I'm ready to go! I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. I'm realizing that with time going this quickly there is no time to feel sorry for myself. And what is there really to feel sorry for? I'm in a beautiful country, I'm surrounded by nice people, and I'm out there doing the thing I've been waiting for. What's bad in that?

The people are not the only great thing here. The food here is also wonderful =) One of the cool things about eating here is it's always at regular intevals. You have breakfast before you go to school, lunch around 12, a snack when you get home, and then dinner around 8. And people take eating seriously! Haha, let me explain that. In the US, people seem to eat sometimes for the sake of eating. You eat breakfast because your mom says you should, lunch because what else are you going to do then, and a snack because you're bored. (OK, I know that's a little exaggerated, but you get the point). But here, you eat because you're hungry. They seemed to have mastered the art that is figuring out when you run out of fuel. You eat a small breakfast when you wake up, and then 3 hours later noon your hungry again. Lunch is fairly large, so it can hold you for the 6 hours you may have afterwards. Then, you're hungry when you get home. You eat a snack that holds you 2 hours or so, and then eat a fairly large dinner. By the time you wake up in the morning, you're ready for breakfast. And lunch and dinner each have a few courses. A typical lunch (at least for me) is a hot meat/fish, a vegetable (Sometimes it's french fries. I have no idea why they say the US supersizes it's junk food, because while in the US we get like 15 fries at lunch, the French get an entire plate full. Which they then proceed to eat with a knife and fork. Kind of starange, lol. ANYWAYS...), a yogurt (Nature= plain. That's why they have suger packets next to it), bread, and a dessert (they have good desserts). Dinner is pretty much the same.

So what have I been upto in this blur of a month? I've visited Lyon twice more. (The first time my host mom and I walked around the old part and took and inclined railroad and then a steep path up to the top of a large hill where there was a roman theater and a basilica with a stunning look out point. The second time my host mom, host brother, and I went to the Parc de la Tête d'or, which is alot like central park in NYC.) I've met some of the family and friends of my host family. I've met more people at school (including one person who always asked the girl I was with to translate her question, and was surprised each time when I answered before it was translated =) ). I've started piano lessons (Solfege is slightly different in French. Just enough to make me utterly confused for about 30 seconds each time my teacher asks me a question). I've managed to score some points in gym class (despite my complete and total lack of basketball skills). I've taken somewhere around a trillion pictures (Wait, wait, I'll get to that...). And I've spoken French more than I ever have in my life.

Speaking of French, it's time for random French things that you may find interesting:

  • Water fountains: Do not exist (atleast not in school). You stick your head under the faucet if you're thirsty. I'm not even lying.

  • 4 wheelers: Quite a few to add to the population of motorcycles and scooters. However, they often are driven soley on the back wheels. Showing off much? Nahhhh....

  • French cars: The French are very proud of their cars. While the US auto companies are having a problem with Americans buying Asian cars, the French are quite happy with their Peugeots, Citroëns, and Renaults. It took me a week to find a non French car. It took me another 2 bfore I saw an American one.
  • Bikes, rollerblades, and scooters (Razor-style ones, not Vespas): Used by all ages. They have really snazzy bike rental things in Lyon. I can really rescribe them, but I'll try and get a photo of them. The only thing I can think to compare them to at the moment are those cart-rental things at airports. Roller blades are really popular, too. If they've fallen out of fashion, the French haven't heard. There are people roller-blading all over the city. There are also people scootering everywhere. And not just little kids like in the US. Pre-teens, teens, adults, everyone.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, photos! I've managed to get my photos onto FlickR, but the app on Blogspot for Flickr isn't working. So, here's what you gotta do. Go to


If you click on the icon that says "Septembre", you'll get the stream in order.

Here are a few of my favorites from my recent trips to Lyon:

Flower at the Parc de la tête d'or

Stature at the Parc de la tête d'or

Another flower at the Parc de la tête d'or

Inside a cathedral in Lyon

A street in Lyon

I think that about covers it!