In a nutshell…

Sorry it took me so long to post; I really have been super busy traveling! (Not a bad problem to have I guess).

Let’s recap, shall we?

So after surviving the Alps, a couple of weeks later we had our first week break.  So I traveled first to Barcelona.  It was SO beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong, the French aren’t mean people… but the Spanish are so much warmer.  It’s the kind of hospitality you grow accustom to in the South and was refreshing to find in this fantastic city.  I wandered down Las Ramblas and Port Colon; I even splurged on a water color piece of the beaches and sailboats nearby.  Taking the metro was easy and the food was great, who can say no to tapas, paella, and chocolate and churros?  Climbing to Park Guëll was a hike, but the panoramic views of the whole city and sea were well worth the climb.

Next, I hopped a jet to Paris, the city of lights.  It’s just as magical as the movies make it.  But be forewarned, the center is beautiful, of course, but as with most French cities, the outskirts are sketchy.  Riding into the city via the RER shows another side of Paris that most people don’t like to acknowledge, but it’s a part of Paris, nonetheless.  We learned in our French culture class about the banlieues, or the suburbs of Paris, which are frequently occupied by the families of the immigrants that came to France before and during WWII to aid France during the Occupation… but that’s a whole other topic, quite complicated and deep rooted within French culture and history.  Any who. Back to Paris. So, we successfully navigated the metro, I almost got pickpocketed and wanted to turn around a punch the lady in the face… but I refrained. Speaking French is hard enough; can you imagine explaining to your program director that you need bail? After that little incident, we made it safely to the hotel and grabbed dinner before we settled in for the night.  Over the next couple of days, we saw le Tour Eiffel, bien sûr… The Notre Dame, the Louvre,  l’Arc de Triomphe, and Champs Elysées. But quite frankly, the best part of the whole Paris trip was going to Ladurée, the birth place of macaroons. Words can’t accurately describe how completely delicious these little treats were. I wanted to try two of every flavor. SOOOOOO GOOD.   The trip was great, even though the weather was quite horrible… lots of rain and freezing temperatures! But hey, it was winter break.

Coming back to Aix was surprisingly welcoming.  It finally sank in that this is home. Traveling was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but coming back, it was a relief. Familiar road, stores, and even faces.  Back in my element… well, as close as I can get.

Actually, I was happy to get back to classes.  Even though I’m completely out of my major, I really enjoy all the information I am soaking up.  Sure, it won’t help me on the GRE or any kind of science test, but I feel so much more well rounded, academically speaking.  I’m connecting architecture, art, sculpture, and archeology with what was happening during those times, understanding that different styles mirror the ideology of those societies.  It’s nice to walk down the street and think to yourself, “oh that is from that period.”  Also, all the guest speakers we have and the topics we talk about in my culture class, you realize that as an American that, firstly, we suck at geography, and secondly, that every country has their own set of problems, ideologies about politics, economics, and religion, and even different types of humor.  Referencing back to Paris, there is a whole history of immigration and inequality that these immigrants had to endure, even while risking their lives for a country they didn’t live in!  And those hard feelings, I think, are still somewhat present here in France, especially referencing the riots that broke out in France a couple years ago.  But, back to my activities..

St. Patty’s weekend, I found myself not in Dublin, but London.  And out of all the places I have traveled thus far, the only place where everyone spoke English, I was the MOST CONFUSED. The tube closes earlier than I would expect and opens later!! UGH, public transportation… the bane of my existence.  And the cute little red buses, yea, those are confusing too. But, it was a great trip.  I took a walking tour of Old London and learned a lot about the history of London.  It was really neat to listen to all the stories and tid bits of info that I would otherwise never get to know about!

Back in Aix, school resumed its normal activities, including a trip to Luberon, which is a mountain region in the south of France.  We visited Loumarin, Lacoste, and Rousillon, walking through marches, seeing castles, and walking through were people mine for ochre for painting. Pretty neat.  The day after, my archeology class had a field trip to Glanum, where we saw ancient Greek and Roman ruins.  It’s a different experience here, in Europe, to not only study ancient civilizations or learn about architecture or sculptures or paintings, and they are literally a train ride away.  I think Europeans take that experience for granted, because seeing pictures in a text book is nothing compared to walking through the actual ruins and touching the springs where people came to heal.

So, now I’ve caught you up to speed and am about to leave for Rome for Easter!! I can’t think of a better city to be in to celebrate Easter and maybe I’ll get a peek at the new pope! Fingers crossed.

 

Bisous. xx

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Faire du Ski? Ummmm, non…

Well, as I type this post, it is proof that I indeed survived skiing this weekend.  Oh wow, big deal Sarah, you went skiing. But no. I WENT SKIING IN THE ALPS.

As if trying to understand and communicate in another language wasn’t hard enough, let’s throw some contraptions on my feet where I lose what little motor skills I have.

Myself and 7 other students signed up for a weekend of skiing at Chabanon (French Alps).  Of course, this sounds AWESOME. I’ve been skiing once before, how hard could it be?  The trip was organized by the local university students (all French), so we found ourselves tagging along.  The Thursday night before we were supposed to leave, we meet up with a few of the students going for a drink and a couple games of billiards.  They were so friendly and warm, which is rare to get initially from any French person.  That Friday evening, we met at the Statue of Cezanne (which is where you meet for any bus ride… more on Cezanne in another post) and departed for Chabanon.  We got to the ski resort around 10PM. Oh, by the way, it was -6 degrees Celsius when we got off the bus. Yea, born and raised in South Carolina, I don’t think I am made for those kinds of conditions!!

Anyways, the room was awesome. We had a balcony and little kitchenette, so we unpacked and settled in for the night.

Now the fun part. The next morning, we made our way down stairs and rented out our skis, boots, and poles.  Slowly, we trekked up to the base of the slope and clicked into our skis.  And then everything started going downhill for me.. quite literally.  After I figured out how to stop myself solidly, I hooked myself into the lift for the top of the bunny slope.  Baby steps people.  The bunny slope was tame, as it should have been. But then I got cocky and went to the top of the green slope.  And that was an epic fail. I still don’t understand how I didn’t break my legs, but about every 100 feet, I ate it. Not like a slow, graceful fall where I landed upright. I hit the ground at full speed and proceeded to slide 10 feet down the mountain, losing a ski and ending up head first and feet up… of course with a large cloud of snow settling around me.  I finally made my way down the mountain, rather discouraged and battered.  Myself and Katya, another student lacking the propensity to ski well, grabbed a coffee (even in freezing conditions, the French still enjoy coffee OUTSIDE for hours) and discussed how bad at skiing we were.  After our break and receding levels of adrenaline, we made our way back to the slopes.  Hey, if you fall off the horse, you got to get back on.

After the snow had softened a bit in the sun, we found it much easier to ski.  Although we still fell frequently (myself more so than her), we got the hang of it and ventured further up as the day progressed.

That night, completely exhausted and sore in places I didn’t know muscles even existed, we enjoyed watching a rugby match, talking, and hanging out with our French friends.  We tried pastis, which is a specialty of Marseille. It’s a rather strong, yellow liquor that tastes of licorice, and you dilute it with LOTS of water.

After another day of skiing on Sunday, we headed back as the snow started to fall.  It was beautiful. So powdery. Not like the icy snow I’m used to seeing in the South.  But, the fact that all cars and buses here are stick, the bus ride down the mountain made me a little nervous.  But, the driver deserved a medal, because we had no problems getting down the snow covered mountain.

After tons of traffic and a 3 hour extra bus ride, we made it home late.

I have to say, although my body was in flight or fight mode all weekend, it was so worth it. Who can say they skiied in the Alps? This chick right here.  Well, skiied is a loose term.. we all know I tumbled down the Alps. But I think it still counts.

Here’s to another week of awesome classes and new experiences!

 

à plus

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Life as an Aixois…

Bonjour!! I do apologize in advance, but this will be a rather long post to cover all the fabulous things I have managed to get myself into these past two weeks. Yes. TWO WEEKS ALREADY. It’s rather crazy. I feel like I’ve been here for months, but the time is flying by. It’s a rather odd feeling.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

The first few days of Early Start included, but not limited to: tours through the markets (picnic included afterwards in a park!), French movie watching (the Untouchables to be exact), a cooking class where we made squid with pasta in a cream and INK SAUCE. Yes. Squid ink. It was awesome and rather tasty.

Near the end of the week, we took a bus ride up to the famous Mt. Ste. Victoire (made so by Cezanne who painted it frequently.) It was so beautiful. The water was so SO blue. And herbs grow wild all over the mountain. We had yet another picnic on the mountain. I commend the bus driver, though, because the roads are rather narrow here and I thought at some points I would lose my life or my lunch on the side of the mountain when we were coming down.  At the base of the mountain, we visited a small museum where apparently dinosaur eggs were discovered. Really neat, right? But, the donkeys surrounding the museum were cuter.

That Saturday, we boarded the bus for Marseille, the port city I flew into. Marseille is the oldest city in France, founded by the Greeks in 600 B.C. It is also the 2nd largest city in France, the first being Paris, of course. It has a melting pot of peoples from all over the world and of all religions. After walking around the port, we took a tram of sorts for a tour of the city. It was beautiful. The water is gorgeous and so are the buildings (like all the buildings in France.)  Marseille-Provence has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2013, so there’s lots of sculptures and exhibitions throughout the region that I find myself in right now, which is super awesome.  The tram took us all the way up to the Notre Dame de la Gare Cathedral, which was a beautiful church and had stunning views of the city.  Although Marseille is pretty, it is known for its not so pretty side, which is some crime, and not such a good place to be at night by yourself.  But, I do think it is a place I will visit again, just during the day!

Coming back from Marseille, we found ourselves hungry.  So we roamed around Aix and picked a random cafe.  Looking at the menu, we ordered what we thought was good… even though we had no idea what we were getting.  What I though was to be a pasta in cheese sauce with salad, ended up being a WHOLE WHEEL of camembert cheese, warmed with caramelized onions on top, with a side salad, pieces of thin sliced meat, and fries tossed in thyme. I mean, with pieces of baguette, it was like the most awesome fondue ever. So good.  I think my time here will be characterized by playing a sort of roulette with the menu, but hey, I haven’t had a bad experience yet!

The second week, we started classes. The first day was purely orientation for the other 100 students who just arrived, and was long and boring.  But, Tuesday, I met most of my professors. Margaux, who was in charge of the Early Start program, is my French professor for both of my french classes, and she. is. so. cool. She loves teaching about culture, especially the younger culture, and what’s hip in France. So naturally, she teaches my French culture class, where we learn about different regions of France through their foods, music, festivals, etc. The class is awesome. She already told us we are going to a Marseille football match! You know, the best French soccer team… and pretty sure the one they sent to the Olympics. No big deal. And the grammar class she teaches is cool, too. She uses interesting subjects to instill the grammar rules.  She is also very expressive and writes new vocabulary or verbs that we probably don’t know on the board when she uses them in class. I can go on for days on how awesome she is.

But, my other professors are also really neat. My art history class, the professor has two Ph.D.’s in art history and archaeology. So we have 2 field trips where we get to go to digs! So sick.  And the material is really interesting. The class is about the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, so we are learning about all of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the South of France and some of Spain.

Taking classes like this one makes you realize how OLD Europe is.  I don’t think, as an American, coming from such a young country, that I think about that reality. But being here, living in a 17th century apartment (yeah, ridiculous, I know) and learning that Marseille, just 30 minutes away, was founded in 600 BC!!  So many people have lived and walked right where I am living and walking.  It’s crazy to think about.

But, back to my classes. My last class is my photography class. My teacher kind of reminds me of Twiggy, but that’s not really important. But, I’m super excited about this class, because I get to break in my SLR I got for Christmas! I’ve already been obsessively reading the HUGE manual, but this class will teach me how to use the functions I am learning about. And at the end, we have a gallery for all of IAU to see our work!  So prepare yourselves for lots of fantastic pictures via Facebook (because this site won’t support the huge file from my camera, I already tried!)

So. The best is for last. After a great week of classes, exploring Aix, enjoying coffees and hot wine with friends in the afternoons, we had a field trip to Nice and Monaco. Yes. We stayed on the French Riviera.

Catching the bus Saturday morning, we made it to Nice. Although it was gloomy, the water was breath taking. Now I know why it’s called “Cote d’Azur.”  The water is a sapphire blue in parts, and turquoise in others. It was so ridiculously pretty and clear.  After grabbing lunch avec mes amies, we meandered through the market and then toured a contemporary art museum. Afterwards, we headed towards a hostel a few minutes outside of Monaco.  After getting all dolled up and having dinner and chatting with other students, we got on the bus to head to the Monte Carlo Casino. Yes. Where 007 was. Yes. It is real. And it was magnificent. I confess to touching a few Ferraris and Porsches when I passed them (Ooops.. but not really.. the car alarm didn’t go off, so we’re good.)  So, I enjoyed my glass of over priced wine and sat down in front of slot machine for the only reason.. that I could brag and say I drank and gambled at the Monte Carlo casino. Moving up in the world guys.. except I lost 5 euro.. but that’s besides the point.

After the casino and a good night’s rest, we explored the rest of Monaco the next day.  I drooled over the beautiful yachts and sailboats that maybe I’ll have if I win the lottery some day… one can only dream.  We saw the changing of the guards at the royal palace. Basically, everything was gorgeous. Like, there were marble sidewalks and not a cigarette butt or piece of trash to be found anywhere in the city.  For lunch, we found the market (finally after trekking all over Monaco), where we bought a baguette, cheese, apples, pears, blueberries, and cherry tomatoes for our picnic we enjoyed beside the water.  Content is the most applicable word to describe that wonderful setting.

But, we had to leave. Before getting back to Aix though, we stopped by Fragonard, a parfumerie.  We learned about the process of making perfume and of course, purchased some at the end of the tour. It was really interesting to see how “the noses” create perfume!

 

Overall, these first two weeks have been awesome, with all the trips and learning new things, seeing new places, meeting new people, trying new things.  Everything a study abroad experience should be, and more than I ever envisioned myself doing.  Even though missing loved ones does gets me down from time to time, I am so thankful for being here. I mean, come on, I’M IN FRANCE. For the first time in my life, I am in a setting where I can take the time to enjoy everything.. like coffee in the afternoon with friends, or the sun rise and shadows on the beautiful buildings I am surrounded by on my way to school, the smell of fresh bread or produce wafting in the streets, or conversing over dinner (barely with me, but I’m getting better).  In the States, everyone is rushing or not paying attention to what is around them.  Friends go to movies or maybe go shopping to spend time together. But here, you talk for hours with your friends at a coffee shop or a park. You invest your time into people and things that are truly important to you. And I appreciate that so much already.

That’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll have an awesome week of classes, and this weekend, we are going to the Alps with tons of French students to ski.. again, no big deal.. (I’ll let you know if I survive.)

Bises. xx

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The Journey Begins…

Bonjour d’Aix!

I guess I should begin this post with the details of actually making it over the big pond.  Packing days in advance and reading probably too many student and travel blogs, my luggage was ready two days before with what I thought were all the necessities.  (Also, it is physically impossible to pack 4 months worth of stuff for under 50 pounds, FYI.)

I have to admit, I was so nervous I was almost nauseous driving to the airport. It was so surreal.

I checked in my luggage and walked up the stairs with my family, where we sat and chatted a few minutes before I had to go through security to my terminal.  I said my goodbyes and made my way out of site up to my terminal.

Again, very surreal.  So many things were going through my head. What if I miss a flight? My luggage got lost? What if my host mom is mean or she didn’t like me? What if I can’t understand anything?  So, I stewwed in my thoughts for what seemed like forever before we boarded the plane at GSP.  But, I just took a deep breath. No turning back now. This is what I wanted. What every student dreams of. Studying in a foriegn place, meeting new people, and seeing new places.  Taking off, I looked out the window at the clear sky, the trees below. My home. I wouldn’t see this place for 4 months.

Making it to Atlanta, which was massive, I managed to navigate to my terminal with plenty of time before boarding.  It was obvious I was making my way towards a French flight, because the dialogue around me quickly changed from English to French.

Boarding the plane, I quickly found my seat and settled in.  Unfortunately, my fellow passenger, who I believe was some sort of business man, sat down beside me and I almost got drunk just from smelling his breath. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt and hoping that flights just made him nervous. But still. Ew. For eight HOURS?? Anyway, the flight was long and bumpy. I tried to watch a French film to adjust my ears, but I just ended up getting a headache.  I was restless, and only managed to sleep for a few hours. Waking up, we were landing in Paris soon.  We broke through the clouds and all you could see was snow. Paris was dusted with it. It was so pretty, even in the early hours that we landed.

Finally, I walked out of the terminal. My head was pounding, my throat was stuck together it felt like because I was so thirsty. My backpack that normally weighted 20 pounds felt like 50 pounds. Since the plane arrived late to the terminal, I was panicking. This would be my luck, to miss my flight the moment I land in European soil.  I walked as fast as I could to the connecting flight area and through costumes.  It was so confusing. I walked back and forth where I was supposed to enter for 10 precious minutes before I figured out where I was supposed to go. But, I made it with time to spare. I called home to let them know I was safe and sound, and would call when I landed in Marseilles.

But that rush was pointless. My flight was delayed. So, while I waited for the plane, I was located, naturally, in front of a Longchamp store. Duty free. Even as groggy and distraught as I may have been, that golden store was so tempting. But, I resisted.  Soon, I boarded the flight and made it to Marseilles. I’m guessing the flight was ok, because all I remember of it was the back wheels landing! I was tired!

In the airport, I grabbed all my luggage and headed over to the lady with the IAU sign. There, I met my housemate, Courtney.  We both  took our luggage and grabbed a ticket to Aix via the Navette, which is just a bus that takes you from the airport to the city and the TGV (high speed train).

Arriving in Aix with VERY LITTLE instruction, we were supposed to look for a thin woman with dark hair. Wow. That really narrows it down. Apparently, we were meeting the daughter of our host mom, since our host mom was working that Saturday. So, we awkwardly waited. We finally realize who she was, and started the hike towards our apartment. Yes. Luggage and all. Through the streets of Aix.

We got in the apartment, settled in, and decided that we would try to find WiFi. So, the quest for WiFi commenced. It was terrible.  We haphazardly walked in and out of cafes, and finally decided on one. We ordered espresso and a chocolate croissant (yes, it was delicious) to be polite since we were using their WiFi. But in France, one has to have an SFR app. Which one CAN NOT get without internet. And this, my friends, lie the problem. Honestly, the only word to describe my feelings were desperation. I didn’t care about my stupid apps.  I just wanted to hear my mom’s and John’s voice. Just to let them know I was here. I felt so lost and out of place. So, Courtney and I left and stumbled upon L’Office de Tourisme (Tourist Center) and behold. Free WiFi.  We sat there and finally called home.  After spending some time in the warmth of the office and the responses of our loved ones, we left to explore a little of Aix before we headed home.

Once we returned home, after spending 20 minutes thinking we were locked out, but actually we were just at the wrong door, we walked upstairs and enjoyed dinner with Sophie, the daughter.  It was delicious. We took showers and made our way to bed.

 

Waking up that morning, after a nice, long sleep of 12 hours (jet lag sucks), I sat in bed and immediately heard my host mom and daughter speaking French. And it hits you so hard. WOW. I am actually still here.

After breakfast, myself, Courtney, Sophie, and our host mom, Madame Magnan, took a tour of the city, making stops at the Cathedral, the bakery, and La Rotonde. Most everything was closed since it was Sunday, so we mostly stayed at the house.

 

Today, Monday, was our first day of orientation for the Early Start Program. We got introduced to some of the faculty and each other, and had a small crash course in French.  We all grabbed lunch and headed back to have a tour of the city with one of the professors.  After walking all over the city, we met a few students that were studying political science in the building across from the IAU Center.  After talking with them and taking a tour of their school, we met at the local international bar called ‘Wohoo.’ Cute, huh? It was really cool, and we enjoyed a selection of wine and cheese, and talked with the local French students from the political science program.

Now, after dinner, I find myself writing this post, for whoever finds themselves reading it.  It has been an experience so far, all 48 or so hours of it. But it feels like I’ve been here for a month. I can already tell this will be a special experience, one that I can finally enjoy things I couldn’t before. The French do not rush. They enjoy. Which I enjoy.

And surprisingly, my French is coming back a lot faster than I expected.  Considering I haven’t practiced it since my sophomore year, I think I’m doing pretty well. I understand a lot of what is spoken to me, and can form most things I want to say back.

That’s all for now. More soon, I’m sure.

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