A Travellerspoint blog

A Visit to Russia Without Leaving France

The second visit to Dijon

semi-overcast

As I was filling in my calendar with upcoming events for the next two months, I realized that if I don’t update my blog soon, it’s going to take about 5 hours to read one entry.

A bit of a back track. The last part of my spring vacation was quite fabulous. I went to visit Dimitri in Dijon and got to tour the city for a second time. I enjoyed it the first time I went as well, but with the sunshine, open stores and a cute boy holding my hand; I’ve got to say that the second visit to Dijon was better than the first. We wandered around the ENORMOUS market which is just across the street from Dimitri’s apartment, checked out a museum, ate the best Kebab in the world (homemade bread= awesomeness) and enjoyed some parks. Not to mention that I got not one, but two homemade dinners while I was there and fresh croissants for breakfast! The whole point of me coming to Dijon (besides visiting) was to go see “Le chorale de l’armée rouge” or “the red army chorus” which is a group Dimitri happens to love. We decided to make a real evening out of it and got all dressed up for the concert. With Dimitri looking sharp in his suit and me with my heels and black dress we kind of stood out from the rest of the concert goers, but we figured its ok to turn some heads every now and then. (and I always love an excuse to get dolled up and wear a dress!) The concert was truly amazing. The choir not only had amazing voices, but also danced around and acted things out while singing. The dancers were my favorite, they did all of the cool Russian trick dance moves and changed their outfits for every dance. Truly an amazing show!
looking glam after the concert.

looking glam after the concert.


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On the way back from Dijon, I saw one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen. On the train ride from Dijon to Lyon we pasted enormous fields filled with bright yellow flowers which apparently they use to make cooking oil. I happen to adore the color yellow and the mere sight of these expanding displays of blooming flowers instantly made me feel happy. The sight of them captivated me and put me in a peaceful mood for the rest of the day. People most likely pin pointed me as a non frenchie by the way I was staring out the window for most of the trip, sneakily trying to take pictures, but I really didn’t care. I have no idea why they affected me so much but seeing literally thousands of yellow flowers combined with the high of having a good weekend was a wonderful feeling. I would have given anything to hop of the train and lay right in the middle of the field, soaking up the flowers uplifting aura. Next time maybe….

amazing fields of yellow flowers were my landscape to and from Dijon.

amazing fields of yellow flowers were my landscape to and from Dijon.

Neither the students nor the teachers wanted to begin classes again, but I was glad to see my students again and hear about their vacations. I tried to make the transition back to classes a bit easier by playing some games and talking about interesting subjects, like urban legends. They had already heard about Bloody Mary, but the local Detroit legend of “knock knock” street captured their attention. Mission accomplished!

I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly it is May here. We had some GORGEOUS weather this past week (although this weekend was rainy) so the girls and I made sure to spend lots of time outside walking through town and checking out the local places to get ice cream. As much as I love this time of the year, it also reminds me that summer is approaching as is my return flight to the US. I have just a little bit over a month left here. How May appeared so suddenly I’m not sure but I’m determined to enjoy every moment I have left here. So even if going out for an afternoon cup of coffee means I have to stay up a bit later to finish lesson plans, I figure it’s worth it. It’s the conversations with friends, little cafés and the smell just after it rains that I’ll remember when I’m home, not the lack of sleep.

Posted by jauntypag 16:19 Archived in France Tagged events Comments (0)

Olé!

Our Trip to Spain, Despite Mother Nature's Wishes

sunny

Authentic Spainsh Costumes

Authentic Spainsh Costumes

Bright and early Friday morning (and I do mean EARLY; 4:15AM) Paty, Silvia and I caught the bus from Roanne to Lyon to make our flight to Spain. We dozed on the bus and immediately fell asleep on the plane, so we were decently awake when we met Ava, Silvia’s sister, in Barcelona. The plan was to spend a day seeing the sights in Barcelona then head down south to Valencia where Ava is an Erasmus student. So we stuffed our backpacks into an enormous train station locker and spent the entire day walking around Barcelona. After a constant amount of cloudy days in Roanne, it sure was nice to walk around without a coat on and soak up some of the sunshine!

Pretty Building

Pretty Building

Barcelona has some of the most amazing architecture I have ever seen. Mixed in amongst the clothing stores and fancy restaurants down town are buildings, which are really more like works of art. Some of them are mosaic styled and look liked each piece of glass was placed with extreme thought into its place on the building. Almost like a modern day version of the witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel”. Other buildings had windy metal balconies fashioned into the shape of vines and tropical plants. My favorite by far was “ La Sagrada Familia”. We approached this enormous church through a little park lined with purple blossoming trees. We were shocked to see real, wild parrots scampering along the branches; so much cooler to see them in the wild vs. the pet store! Once we took pics of the parrots, we turned our attention to the incredible church. Imagine the biggest sandcastle you have ever seen, complete with turrets and beams, piercing the sky between the modern buildings of Barcelona. Jutting out from the walls of this master piece are the shapes of animals and insects, contrasting the religious figures on the front of it. We took our time to walk around the church and look at all of the little details placed into its architecture. The inside of the church was never completed, but I imagine that it would be as fantastic as the outside!

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

After literally walking around all day, we got on a 9pm train for Valencia and arrived at 12:30AM. As we were walking through the city to get to Ava’s apartment, I realized that If someone told me that there was no room in Ava’s apartment and that I had to sleep on the side walk, I would have happily dropped my stuff, and curled up into a ball on the streets of Valencia. It was that inexplicable type of tired that you can only understand if you experienced all day, inter-country, lack of shower and sleep traveling.

Once we rested up, Valencia turned out to be a great city! Not as pretty as Barcelona, but lots of things to do. Ava was an amazing tour guide, and made sure we saw the most important parts of the city. We tried Paella, which is a famous Spanish rice dish which originated from Valencia. It is made in an enormous pan, which is bigger than a car tire. Mixed in amongst the rice is sea food, rabbit, mussels, and veggies all simmering together to create a spicy meal! We also made sure to taste the gelato multiple times while we were in town, just to make sure that we weren’t burning off to many calories by walking everywhere. We spent our days wandering around the city and looking at the old city walls, bull fighting arena and wandering down the old narrow streets. Ava had discovered this great flamenco bar and we were luckily enough to be there on one of the nights when there was a show! For 7 Euros we got an entry ticket, a drink and the opportunity to see an amazing young flamenco dancer. The boy couldn’t have been older than 14, but I have never seen anyone so passionate about dancing. As the guitar players strummed and the singer stopped his song to clap his hands to the beat, the young dancer awed us with his uncanny ability to rapidly tap the heels of his boots on the wooden floor. What you see on T.V is nothing compared to this guy. As a dancer, I can honestly say I was floored by how fast his toes and heels pounded the ground to the rhythm of the music. Not one person spoke as he moved around the floor, yet when the dance ended dozens of cries of “Ole!” exploded into the smoky air and the dance floor was scattered with flowers thrown by the crowd. The girls and I decided that with his Spanish flair, baby face features and this amazing talent of dancing, this kid is going to be every girl’s dream after he hits puberty.

Flamenco Dancer

Flamenco Dancer

Other highlights of Valencia were walking around by the beach, seeing where the America’s Cup Sailing Race started (no idea why it’s called America’s Cup if it starts in Spain… hmmm) Eating chocolate con Churros (big fatting pastries which you dip into melted chocolate. ) Taking a bus out of the city to take a boat ride across a gorgeous little lake, and simply hanging out with the girls in the apartment after our long days of walking.

Boat Ride outside of Valencia

Boat Ride outside of Valencia

As you are aware, Mother Nature decided to make her presence known by the lovely eruptions from the volcanoes in Iceland. Well thanks to this, our flight back home was canceled. What we thought would be a semi easy trip back turned into a 22 hour voyage to our little French town. Not only were the volcanoes spewing lava, but coincidentally, the French train company happened to be on a 2 week strike, leaving us with no trains between France and Spain. The next 22 hours therefore consisted of a 12 hour bus ride where we had the lovely opportunity to sit next to a man who had not changed his socks in two days (Paty heard him say this to the guy sitting next to him in Spanish), Waiting in Avignon for a train, long train ride back to Lyon, our train from Lyon to Roanne being canceled, taking the metro to switch train stations and finally getting a train back to Roanne.

Although we were beyond exhausted when we finally reached our humble apartment, I can’t say that it wasn’t an interesting voyage. Our three hour wait in Avignon, France gave us the opportunity to explore the city, which I have always wanted to do. Our crazy bus ride brought to my attention the marvels of Spanish rest stops at 4am and the reminder of how nice it is to sleep in a bed. Looking back on it now…. Well honestly it still makes me tired, but all the ups and downs, the crazy times and the good times, they are all part of the journey. And we all know that in the end, it’s the journey that really counts not the destination.

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Posted by jauntypag 12:53 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

but i'll write a bit too.

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Quick recap of events I’ve neglected to tell you about. I’ll add lots of pictures and let them do the talking.

Easter in France: Not as big of a deal as in the U.S. Slightly disappointing, but it was a wonderful day despite the lack of plastic colored eggs shoved into corners of the house. Instead inhaling a million peanut butter eggs, Dimitri took me to le lac de Villerest (the lake of Villerest) and we walked around by the water. Even with the clouds, it was a gorgeous day and I took a million pics as we walked and talked by the water. We stopped to get hot chocolate and little desserts in a restaurant by the lake before heading out to the lookout point to gaze out at the landscape below. Gorgeous hills topped off by clouds in the distance hugged the houses nestled into the hillside. The wind whipped up around us and all you could hear was the rush of its voice as it brushed past our ears and jettisoned into the face of the clouds. After the sun set, we went back to Roanne and played cards with the neighbors upstairs before Dimitri had the nerve racking experience of talking my family on Skype! Nothing like meeting the parents, siblings, grandparents, aunt’s uncles and cousins all at once! From what I heard afterwards, they seemed to like him and vise versa.

le lac de Villerest

le lac de Villerest

There was an exchange student from Germany at the highschool I work at who just recently went back to Germany. Before she left, she told us (us being the assistants who teach in her classes) that she didn’t have a lot of opportunities to see the countryside. So we took her out on a little bit of a tour and got to see “le Chateau de la Roche” late at night. Nothing like a private viewing! (ok we didn’t go in, but it was still pretty!)

Night time tourism at le chateau de la Roche

Night time tourism at le chateau de la Roche

And the best news… I’M ON VACATION AGAIN!!!! Gotta love two week vacations just before my time as an assistant is up! I was suppose to come home at the end of April, which means I would have gone on spring break then rushed back to Roanne, packed up my life and headed back home. Gotta say, I’m glad I’ve got a bit more time here. 

First part of the vacation was going to a little town near Besançon to visit some friends of Dimitri’s. Besançon is right on the boarder of Switzerland so I got to stare at some beautiful landscape all weekend! We also took the 5 hour touristy drive to get there so I could see all of the adorable little towns and take half a billion pictures. Dimitri’s friends welcomed me with open arms and were interested in finding out more about me and the U.S. The asked what the specialty of Michigan was. I said Fudge and cherries; I think that is correct right? But trying to explain what fudge was in French was a bit tricky. I wound up explaining it as a think type of cake, but I don’t think that is the best explanation of this Mackinac Island delicacy. I also introduced them to some new vocabulary. Since I don’t really swear in English, I end up saying “oh my gosh” and “shoot” a lot. Well this rubbed off on them and pretty soon the whole group was saying “shoot!” when they dropped something and “Oh my gosh” when they were surprised.
Driving to Besançon

Driving to Besançon

Macon

Macon

Street view of Besançon

Street view of Besançon

Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Spain with the roomies! The plan is to spend a day in Barcelona then head down to Valencia to stay with Silvia’s sister who is studying there. Here’s hoping for sunshine, good shopping prices and a tan!

Posted by jauntypag 10:52 Archived in France Comments (0)

le Possion d'avril

April Fools Day, French Style

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Happy Fish of April to one and all!

Yes, in France land our good old “April Fool’s Day” is called “le possion d’avril”, Translation: the Fish of April. In my classes today, we talked a bit about jokes and the differences between April fool’s day in France and the US. The differences: In the US we play tricks on people all day long (which I actually forgot to do… oops). In France, they stick paper fish on each other’s backs. One of the teachers showed me one of the brightly colored fish which a University student snuck into her book bag while on the way to lunch. I’ve got to say, I was slightly disappointed that I did not discover a little rainbow fish stuck inside my bag, but on the other hand I’m quite happy that the students don’t want to rifle through my stuff nor sneak up behind me.

So why the heck do French kids stick paper fish on each other’s back on April fool’s day? I had no idea but being inquisitive, I decided to look up this odd tradition. Apparently before the year 1564, the New Year began on April 1st.To celebrate the New Year, people would often give each other gifts, most of which were usually food. However King Charles IX thought this was bogus and decided that we should ring in the New Year in January instead of April. So the change was made, yet people being stubborn still gave each other gifts on April first. (Old habits die hard right?) Since the beginning of April is right around Lent, most people gave each other fish as presents since Christians are not suppose to eat meat during lent. As the years passed, people started to accept the change a bit more and giving each other presents turned into playing ticks on each other. Really this is a shame, because I thoroughly would have appreciated a “Happy April” trout plopped on my desk or finding a herring wrapped up in frilly ribbon strategically placed in my purse.

The beginning of April, along with the emails from my mom, also makes me realize that my time here is quickly diminishing. I have no idea how six months went by so quickly, but they have. And I am afraid that these next two months will go by even faster. Yikes! My students have started to ask me when I am going to return to the US. Most of them have had assistants before and know that the assistant contract usually ends at the end of April. Therefore they were quite happy to hear that I would be sharing the marvels of the American culture and the English language with them until the end of May. In fact, I was quite flattered to see their genuine excitement when I told them this. Perhaps it is due to the Reese’s peanut butter cups I gave them a couple of weeks ago… I’ve also started working one on one with a University student to help her out with English. I work as an assistant in her classroom and offered to do a tandem session with her. Meaning that we meet, speak French half the time and the other half of the time we speak English. This is helpful not only by improving our speaking skills, but I discovered that the student is now much more talkative to me in class. Today she called me over a couple of times to help her out with the assignment, where as usually she is too shy to talk. I absolutely love it when I can discover ways to get quiet students to talk! Those little every day victories!

Plans for Easter weekend:
Try to figure out how to dye brown eggs different colors.
Wear bunny ears as frequently as I can.
Refrain from eating all of the Easter Candy which is in my apartment.
Skype with the Family on Easter (again please look back to the second item on this list).
Outings with fun people, hopefully in the sunshine.

Posted by jauntypag 14:53 Archived in France Tagged educational Comments (3)

Le Petit Ami

The Dating Details You've Been Trying To Find...

sunny 14 °C

I tend to be a private person with different aspects of my life. If I’m upset about something, I usually keep it to myself. In high school I was always extremely quiet in my classes even if I knew the answer to the questions. And when it comes to dating, I usually only tell the details to a few friends. Perhaps this is why when I recently changed my face book status from “single” to “in a relationship” I was quite overwhelmed by the response. I had no idea that people would be so remarkably excited to discover that I was dating someone, until I realized that I have always kept everyone in the dark about my dating life. So although I tend not to share these things, I’ll give you some of the details. Not because I want to gush about a new boy, but more so because I know this is interesting. So i'll share some facts about what dating is like in French land.

1.) Straight Forward. Dimitri and I met at a party that neither one of us really wanted to go to in the first place. We met almost right away, spent most of the evening talking and decided to have drinks next time he was in town. Now I’ve heard this before. The “yeah lets meet up next time I’m here” then never getting a call. From what I’ve observed and heard about from other friends who have dated here, if the guy says he is gonna take you out for a drink, he’s gonna take you out for a drink. The guys say what they mean and do what they say. No silly pick up lines, no waiting a couple of days for a phone call. They like you, they call you for a date. End of story.

2.) Serious. No, not serious like I am picking out my wedding dress and the name of our first child. I mean that dating is serious because it is committed. Instead of wondering “so are we dating… is he my boyfriend…” type thing, Dimitri started to talk about it, making it clear that he wanted to specifically date me. Also, I met his family pretty quickly including his mom, dad, step parents, siblings and godparents. I was a bit startled at how quickly this all happened as well as worried that my French would falter in a big group of people wondering who this American girl was. Yet, it all went ok. I remembered to use “vous” (the formal way of talking to adults whom you don’t know) most of the time, and it seems like his family likes me. I’ve been invited to have Sunday lunch for the past three weeks, so I must have done something right.

3.) A Bit Like the Movies. I know, cliché of me to say it, but its true. He met me at the train station to wish me good bye before I went on a big trip. He tells me about wine and buys me different French food just so I can taste it. We go have drinks outside little cafés in the sunlight and walk around town talking. I swear sometimes I feel like background music is going to start playing and I’ll turn around to see a camera guy following us…

Other frequent questions:
Do you speak French or English together? 90% French 10% English. He likes to practice speaking English, but we basically speak French. Before I even left the US, people told me the best way to improve your speaking skills is to date someone who speaks the language. I completely agree with this now, and friends here have told me that they can hear a difference in the way I talk. That is not the reason we are dating, but it sure is nice to improve my French at the same time!

What will happen when you come back to the USA? We are just enjoying time together for the moment. I have the opportunity to come back and work in France again next year, but not sure if I will. So we see each other when we can and enjoy each others company.

So there you go, the basic facts. I feel weird even sharing this stuff, but this blog is supposed to be about all aspects of my life here, I guess I’ve just been shy about sharing this aspect.

Exciting upcoming events:
Girls weekend in Lyon
Trip to Spain
Mini trips during Spring Vacation
I’ll keep you posted!

OH yes and one more side note: I ran into one of my students today at a store (normal). She started speaking to me in English and I was so taken aback by this I didn't know how to respond (not normal). I seriously had to wait a couple of seconds to allow my brain to switch from French to English. This scares me.

Posted by jauntypag 14:20 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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