A Travellerspoint blog

Ups and Downs

sunny

Well I already wrote this blog and thought I posted it about a week ago. Turns out it got deleted somehow. Grrr… well here it is again:

I’ve had a love hate relationship with France lately. There are somethings that make me want to stay here forever and others which make me want to hop on the first plane home.

Some Irritations:

I tried to turn in some paper work to a French organization the other day. It basically reimburses me for some of my living expenses here. Cool right? First it took me forever to get all of the papers I needed. Then I turn them in and the organization says I am missing something. So I find the right paper, take all of my paper work to them and find the office closed. The sign said they were closed because they had a backup of paperwork to do. Uh huh. I’m wondering how it would work if I used this excuse for my job. “um no, I’m sorry I can’t teach today, you see I haven’t planned my lessons for next week so I really need the next 3 days to plan them out. Just have the students teach themselves.) So I return three days later to find the office still closed. This time they were on strike. I waited a week, called this morning and they are not striking, but still closed because once again, they claim they have too much paper work. SO FRUSTRATING!

My insurance company lost a document I gave them. I literally handed them this document during a meeting and they managed to lose it. I spent 15 mins on the phone explaining to the lady that I had already given them the document and that they should have it. She told me to call back in a week to see if it had been found. In other words, the French administration system is horrendous. Apparently it is not uncommon for them to lose important paper work. Good thing I didn’t give them a copy of my passport!

Frenchies are not Michiganders. They cannot deal with more than half an inch of snow. It takes them like three days to get a snow plow on the roads and they usually wait until half of the country has slipped and fallen before they salt the sidewalks.

On the positive side…

The snow melted about two weeks ago and we have had incredible weather! It was in the 60’s last week! The weather men often are wrong here, so even when they say it is going to snow sometimes you get beautiful bright sunny days instead. I think the surprise of it all makes you enjoy it even more.
Buying fruit and veggies at one of the many local markets doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Most of the time, the veggies are cheaper and better than the ones you get in the grocery store.

American products have arrived in St. Etienne! Well at least at the supermarket near my house they have. They now have “an American section” complete with muffin and cookie mix, chips, ranch dressing, marsh mellows, hot dogs, hot dog sauce (apparently just ketchup and mustard mixed together) and of course the most important, peanut butter! The family I live with decided to have an American diner with me so we had hot dogs (in baguette of course) with “American hotdog sauce” and chips.

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I’ve had a huge desire to cook since I’ve been here and I’ve decided I am going to try one new recipe each week. Last week was a mushroom, spinach and Lardon quiche. Super good and easy to make! This past weekend I also went on cooking over load. I made pancakes, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, burritos, and beef roladin. Not exactly French, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining about that!

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Although they live the country of love, the French don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. Luckily I found myself a Frenchie that knows how to treat an American girl the right way. He snuck out early Sunday morning to find an open bakery and bought a ton of pastries for breakfast along with some roses. Apparently the old saying is wrong. Food (ok and maybe flowers too) is the way to a woman’s heart too!

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Posted by jauntypag 12:46 Archived in France Comments (1)

When the Tourist Becomes the Tourguide

a visit and a birthday

snow

I had the pleasure of housing my cousin Steven last week. He is off on a three week long solo backpacking trip through Western Europe before he heads over to Istanbul, Turkey to complete a semester studying abroad. Very courageous of him if I do say so myself.

Being the proud mock French girl that I am, I really wanted to show him what France was all about. I wanted to show him how it is different than other European countries, while still doing the cliché europey things. Steven arrived in St. Etienne late Monday night and Dimitri and I greeted him at the train station. We then strolled back to my apartment and Dimitri made an amazing meal of carbonara (if you have never eaten this amazing pasta dish, you need to stop reading this blog immediately, get the recipe and make it. It’s well worth it.) and Steve filled us in on his adventures in Spain.

Unfortunately I have had a run of bad luck health wise this year, so Tuesday after we threw all of Steven’s close in the wash, I headed off to a Dr. Appointment. while Dimitri and Steven went off to see a nearby castle. We met up later and introduced Steven to a vital food one must eat while in France; a Nutella Crêpe with bananas. The king of the crêpes in my opinion, I think Steven agreed. He seemed pretty set on returning to get another one the next day. We also went to the grocery store to buy food and other little tidbits. Steven was floored by the cheese aisles. Our minuscule USA rack of cheese in Meijer doesn’t really compare to the huge aisle of packaged cheese. Which of course is right next to the aisle in which sits an enormous counter where you can get freshly cut cheese. France is no place for vegans.
Crepe time!

Crepe time!

Wednesday we failed at getting up early but still made it to Lyon to show Steven around this fantastic city. Steven had major bad luck and lost his Eurorail pass (the train pass that allowed him to take any train in Europe for his couple weeks of travel) so we spent some time going to the train stations inquiring if they had found it. No luck with that but at least he had insurance! Steven was really positive and didn’t let this huge financial loss get him down. He seemed really happy to walk around Lyon and see the Fourvière (really pretty big church), try his first pain au chocolate, walk around the park at night, wander around Old Lyon and act like a real European. That night we prepared Racelette for everyone which is a house hold favorite. It consists of melted cheese which you cook in a kind of little grill which you then pour on dried meat. That’s it. Simple, unhealthy but pretty amazing! Steven also was a major sport and tried French wine and French blue cheese (after both Dimitri, myself, the family and the kids all told him to try it.) Reaction: it was ok, but not as horrible as he’d thought! One point for smelly cheese!

In Lyon

In Lyon

Looking out over Lyon

Looking out over Lyon

Wolfpack pride

Wolfpack pride

Boys checking out the music boxes

Boys checking out the music boxes


Steven left the next day to explore Paris and continue on with the rest of his voyage. I hope you enjoyed your trip to France and good luck with your travels Steve!

Friday was my birthday! Dimitri and I went to visit some friends and I got to meet some more of Dimitri’s friends as well. We ate a HUGE home cooked meal which had four courses and was completed with homemade giant macaroons and birthday tiramisu! Everyone also pitched in and bought me this really lovely expensive perfume.
Birthday Tirimisu and sparkling apple

Birthday Tirimisu and sparkling apple

The next day, we went on a five hour hike in the mountains between France and Switzerland. It was stunning to see the silent forest landscape covered with snow! On the way up the mountain, we saw wild horses and walked along some steep cliffs. Kind of scary in the snow! But it was worth it once we got to the top! We went back into town afterward and warmed up with Gauffres (big waffles with nutella) and cinnamon hot chocolate. Yummm. We completed the weekend by seeing the international ski jump competition in a tinnnny little nearby village. After seeing that, I know I could NEVER hurl myself down a mountain, go flying through the air and attempt to land in a little marked out patch of snow, but it was very interesting to watch!
pretty village

pretty village

Finally made it to the top!

Finally made it to the top!

To continue my streak of sickness, I wound up returning to St. Etienne late Sunday night with the stomach flu. I spent Monday exhausted in bed, but I am feeling better now! I am so thankful that I broke down and paid the 26 euro a month for health insurance. This way all of my doctor appointments are partially reimbursed and almost all of my meds are covered. Example: instead of paying 16 euros for medicine, I only paid 84 cents! Hurrary for French Health care!

Upcoming plans:
Profit from huge French Winter sales as much as possible
Convince myself (after the sales) to save money for future traveling (we just booked our flights to Poland in the spring! Ekk! So excited!!!)
Attempt to make one new French recipe every week
STOP GETTING SO SICK EVERY OTHER SECOND
Take a wine class
Week in the Pays de la Loire (castle region of France)

Stay tuned!

Posted by jauntypag 14:46 Archived in France Comments (2)

A l’aise Breizh!

At Ease in Brittany!

Oysters as an entrée... no thank you

Oysters as an entrée... no thank you

Oysters, fois gras and all the smoked salmon you can eat… must be Christmas in France! This year bad weather predictions and preposterous ticket prices convinced me to spend another holiday season in Europe instead of in the mitten. Of course it is not easy to be away from loved ones during the holidays; however I was warmly welcomed to spend Christmas with Dimtiri and his family in Roanne. We had a huge meal on Christmas Eve including the food items mentioned above and exchanged presents once the clock struck midnight. Dimitri and I were extremely spoiled and received a “Wonderbox” from his mom. It is a gift package which includes a one night stay in a hotel and a really nice meal, however our wonderbox was a special package so the hotel is instead a castle! We got a little book with about 100 different castles in France to choose from and we get to pick one! Talk about feeling like a princess…

After a couple of days of eating way too many left overs (along with the huge chicken that his mother insisted on cooking Christmas day) we packed our bags and made the 7 hour drive to one of the regions of France I have always wanted to explore: Brittany (Bretagne in French).

This region of France was once a separate Kingdom before one of its duchesses, Anne of Bretagne, married the king of France in 1488 making Brittany an official part of the country.

Bretagne

Bretagne

Bretagne seems to be a mix of the U.K and France. The vast green fields with the billowing fog above them give a peaceful storybook feeling to the countryside. Instead of the white walled and red tiled roof houses seen throughout France, the houses are made from grey brick with slate roofs. There is even a separate language, Breton, which sounds a bit like Gaelic, which is still spoken in the area in and is on all of the street signs. Without a doubt, the Breton (which is also the name for the people who live in Britanny) show the most pride for their heritage out of any region in France. All of Dimitri’s family was born there and they bubble over with joy when talking about their beloved birthplace.

Long time friends of Dimitri’s mom, Gwenaelle and Hatam, invited us to stay with them and took the entire week off so they could travel around with us. Hatam spoiled us with his superb cooking and even made us homemade couscous (made in Tunisia by his sister) with lamb and veggies. Box couscous will never be the same again.

Our group of ten traveled together throughout the week as they showed me what being a true Breton was all about.

We strolled through the streets of Rennes, the capital of Britanny and studied the unique architecture of the buildings .The enormous city center has dozens of little cobblestone side streets leading to boutiques and Pâtisseries hidden away from the crowed shopping malls. Rennes had the first “Pedestrian Street” in France meaning no cars are allowed to drive or park there. This means it’s cleaner, easier and much more pleasant to shop and walk around.
Rue de Soif (street of thirst) guess what you can find on this street!

Rue de Soif (street of thirst) guess what you can find on this street!

hotel de ville all lit up during the light show

hotel de ville all lit up during the light show

We packed up our cars and made a trip to Mont St. Michel, the second most visited tourist site in France. This abbey built in 800A.D by Benedictine monks rests upon a very unique piece of land. During low tide, the abbey (and the little village surrounding it) seems to sit on a chunk of land jutting out in the sand. Yet when the high tide comes in, it rushes around the land at the speed of a galloping horse, and turns the land into an island. A road has been built making it easy for tourists like me to get to the island by car, no matter the water level. The true reason the road was build is a bit grisly. Tourists trying to venture out to the island during low tide were often sucked into the quick sand. Others didn’t believe how quickly the high tide comes in and ended up drowning. In other words, I had no problem taking the road to get there! We explored the town and got to walk through the sea soaked abbey perched high on the hill.
mont st michel

mont st michel

mont st. michel

mont st. michel

all of the girls from our group plus Nael who snuck in!

all of the girls from our group plus Nael who snuck in!

Another incredible place was St. Malo, a fortified city by the sea. Yes, there is literally a wall around the city that you must walk or drive through to get inside. Once inside you can take in the view of the sea as you walk along the ramparts surrounding the city. We all spent some time staring out into the tranquil blanket of blue and Dimitri’s mom shared childhood memories while pointing out different points of interest. We tried some of the famous ice cream made in St. Malo and shivered in contentment as we window shopped. The flavor I chose contained an item typically Breton; salted butter. Might sound weird, but let me tell you, it’s to die for!
St. Malo

St. Malo

Old mussel posts along the beach

Old mussel posts along the beach

Far Breton and the  Kouign amann amazing Bretagne desserts!

Far Breton and the Kouign amann amazing Bretagne desserts!

Hello ocean

Hello ocean

I love when things work out perfectly. We just happened to be in Brittany for the surprise birthday party of a childhood friend of Dimitri’s. So Dimitri and I drove to the town he grew up in to celebrate. His friends were really excited to see him and wasted no time reconnecting. I heard lots of stories of the mischief they got into when they were little as they played along their little street. The town was small but had a lot of character. There was a tiny little cinema, some cute looking bars, a huge open stall for daily fresh fish and an old chateau which was transformed into an assisted living for the handicap. Driving around, it was easy to picture Dimitri and his friends as children running around town and playing soccer in the park.

Our vacation seemed too short as all good vacations ares. I would have liked to spend more time exploring Brittany because the culture and history behind it is truly astounding. I think I would need a good 2-3 weeks to explore it properly. However I didn’t need a week to find out what the Breton people. Their culture is such a part of them it’s impossible to miss it. They are so proud of their food, language, music, landscape and heritage and it is a true joy to spend time around people who really have a true sense of who they are. A l’aise Breizh!

Posted by jauntypag 10:25 Archived in France Comments (1)

My Christmas Conclusion

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School closing, car doors freezing shut, wind whipping down the street so quickly you think it might take out a telephone pole and looking out your window only to see a blur of white can only mean one thing. Michigan has once again turned into a snow globe and the holidays are here! Maybe it is the lack of snow or perhaps it’s that there is no “24 hours of a Christmas Story” marathon on tv, but somehow I kind of forgot it was the holidays. I suppose I’vekind of gotten so caught up in my classes that I skipped over the fact that Christmas is just around the corner.

marche de noel, St. Etienne

marche de noel, St. Etienne

There are Holidayish things going on around St. Etienne of course. There are light displays near the tram stations. Some apartments are decked out with blinking florescent lights and Santa Claus figures. In the middle of town there is a big Christmas market where you can buy jewelry, food and my all time favorite, hot spiced wine. Yummmmm. When I was walking around Roanne last weekend, I noticed they even stepped up their game and have Christmas music playing from the loudspeakers in the shopping area of town. It’s odd to hear English Christmas music playing over the speakers, but it is fun to listen to everyone try and sing along. (Well not really singing. They sing the parts everyone knows and then kind of mumble the rest of the lyrics. So it sounds like “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way… oh hmm hmm…. It… hmmm.hhmm. hmmm. In a hmm. Hmm. Hmm elghh.. ohh! Jingle bells….”)

To get in the holiday spirit, I was invited to go see a Christmas play with the family I am living with. The actors in the play were all community members and all volunteered to act, build the set and make the costumes. I was extremely impressed with the show. They had tons of music, amazing costumes and a great set which must have took ages to build. The acting wasn’t top notch, but the animations and light displays were awesome for a community play!

christmas play

christmas play

Gathering the young fairies

Gathering the young fairies

End of the show

End of the show

Although I do love the hot wine and enjoy being able to walk outside without having to dig a hole through the snow to get out the front door, I sure do miss celebrating the holidays at home. I admit, this weekend while walking around listening to Christmas music really made me homesick. I started thinking about family and friends at home and how joyful this time of year is in the mitten. Sledding in the park, going to relatives on Christmas Eve, sitting cozily by the fireplace in the living room, romping around in the snow, driving around seeing the houses smothered in lights and complaining about the bad weather, although every Michigander knows that snow is a necessary part of Christmas. I love France and they definitely win when it comes to cuisine, but when it comes to celebrating the holidays America definitely takes first place

I will miss another Michigan Christmas, but I am grateful to be celebrating with Dimitri and his family this year. We will be celebrating in Roanne with his family then heading up to Brittany to visit some family friends. It will be my first time exploring this region of France, and I have always wanted to go there. Expect some good pictures and stories to come!

I wish all of you a very warm and happy holiday season. May you cherish every moment spent with the loved ones around you and take the time to sit back, relax, forget about bad weather, stress and problems and simply enjoy this time of the year. :)

Posted by jauntypag 13:18 Archived in France Comments (1)

All in the Family

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It has almost been one month since I have moved in with the French family in St. Etienne. It is quite different than living with my friends but I expected it to be. Here is a quick rundown of the family:

Mike - He is kind of like an architect; he helps design the blueprints to remodel the interior of buildings. He actually made the blueprints for the apartment which is pretty cool. Apparently it was an office building before although you would never think that when looking at it now. Like many French people, he always wants to introduce me to foods I have not yet tasted. Definitely not a problem for me.

Frédérique- Secretary at the school I am currently working at. About half my size and a good foot shorter than me. Incredibly friendly and sweet natured. She really liked studying English when she was in highschool so she tries to use some English vocabulary when we talk.

Emilie- Mike and Frédérique’s 8 year old daughter. Very independent and opinionated, she has no problem telling you what she thinks. She is very inquisitive about the USA and asks me lots of questions. She was stunned when I told her that you could not drive a car to the US.

Robin- Mike and Frédérique’s 5 year old son. Looks just like a mini version of his dad. He loves to play the Wii when he is not romping around the house. He likes telling everyone that I am an American and I live with them. This includes his friends, teacher and the cashier at the supermarket.

Roukie- 10 year old beagle. She sleeps most of the time but also enjoys sneaking into my room to stick her snout into the garbage can.

Cowboy and Fremous- two guinea pigs. They live in a cage in the laundry room and always scamper away to hide when I go to do my laundry.

Of course family life has its ups and downs. I try to be extra quite at night so I don’t wake the kids up with my music or talking on skype. Kids being kids, like to run around and scream and laugh loudly at all hours of the day, including the mornings when I don’t work. However it is really fun to talk with them. Frédérique told me that Emilie loves my accent and tries to imitate me. They have been exceptionally welcoming to me and always are really pleased to talk with me.

I have to admit, I miss the atmosphere of living with my friends, however I think this is the best situation for me. The family is friendly, I am extremely close to my work, the train station and the center of town and the rent is decently priced for city living. So far, so good!

I tooks some pics of my humble abode for you as well:

My room

My room

Living room

Living room

Dining room

Dining room

Hallway

Hallway

Posted by jauntypag 02:23 Archived in France Comments (3)

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