Monday, January 30, 2012

A Very "Nice" Weekend

Pun intended!
This weekend, 4 friends and I braved a couple of night trains to visit Nice, in the South of France on the Cote d'Azur. Despite making numerous puns about have a "nice" time in "Nice," the city's name is actually pronounced "niece" (hence why my Dad keeps asking if I will also visit Nephew...).
Anyways, despite Nice's famous reputation of being always sunny and warm, we seemed to choose the only weekend that it was chilly and rainy to visit! However, despite the fact that our feet were wet, our spirits were not dampened.
We began the weekend with a bit of an adventure... there was an accident on the rails somewhere between Le Mans and Paris, which meant that our train got re-routed North, causing a 30-40 minute delay. Considering we only had one hour to make it to another train station for our night train BEFORE the delay, this was not good news for us. So we took some advice and before our train got to Montparnasse in Paris, we made our way as far as we could to the front, so that we would be able to bolt off the train and not wade through so many people. Of course, we all had huge backpacks, so this resulted in numerous people getting accidentally whacked if they were too close to the aisle. Once the train arrived, we bolted off to find out how to get to Paris Austerlitz station. We were told that the bus was the fastest, so we made a run for the stop. One friend had her rolly suitcase named Timmy, which she managed to drag behind her while filming our hysterical run. We luckily made it on the bus and on our night train with 5 minutes to spare.
The faces of success!
We also got our own compartment, which was probably a good thing since we were pretty ridiculous.
After a horrible sleep, we arrived in (not so sunny) Nice! We found our sweet hostel and went on an adventure to explore the city. We walked along the beach and through Vieux Nice, which was lovely.
The beach

Fountain in the old city

My friends in Vieux Nice
We also took a little hike up to the top of the city, where a chateau once stood. It gave us some incredible views.
A beautiful, but very compact, city

Cote d'Azur

Attempting a group shot

the harbour
After a long day of walking, we made our way back to our hostel for some food, thanks to the kitchen that we could use! We ended up hanging out there for a while and met some awesome people for many different places: the States, the Yukon, Mexico, Spain, and France. My friends went out with them later, but I stayed in because I unfortunately came down with a cold.
After another night of little sleep, I dragged myself out of bed the next morning to go for a run (and I am glad I did, because it is way too nasty out here to run today!). I ran along the Promenade des Anglais, which follows the coastline. What a gorgeous view! There were a lot of other runners out too.
I could get used to running beside this...
After a slow morning, we all showered and prepped for a trip to the little principality of Monaco! They may have a small population, but they do not have small wallets... so much wealth! We saw a ridiculous amount of luxury cars and apartments. After drinking some ridiculously expensive hot beverages (a tea cost 7 euro!!!) we made our way to the famous (or infamous?) Monte Carlo Casino to try our luck with the millionaires (or rather, watch them bet ridiculous sums of money). We unfortunately could not take photos inside the casino, for security reasons, but we got a few exterior shots. It was definitely an interesting experience being in that casino. I played a couple of slot machines(and lost) and at the end put a 5 euro chip down on the roulette table just so that I could say I actually bet at the Monte Carlo. It really was ridiculous that amount of money that people just throw away though... one man bought 30 000 euro worth of chips, lost them all, and just kept buying more. We saw 500 euro bills being thrown around like monopoly money. We also were fortunate enough to take interest in this one man who was betting ridiculously high sums... he had a huge diamond ring and just kept playing so we decided to watch and see how he did. I guess he must have noticed because he bought us all champagne as a gift! So we got 60 euro glasses of champagne for free... from a millionaire... pretty legit. The inside of the casino was also beautiful and very elaborate, not tacky at all. But despite the fun that we had, it really made me think about how people who are so rich can just toss money down the drain when there is so much need in the world...
Michelle and I with the casino in the background

the Monte Carlo

at the cafe!

Casino + fine cars!

My new car.

Monte Carlo by night
After our long day, we headed back to the hostel and found our new friends again plus some new arrivals. We joined in their game of charades in the evening and then I turned in early because of my cold.
Sunday we took it slow in the morning again but then saw some beautiful sights in the afternoon. It was rainy, so we decided to take the Monaco bus again, since it was only 1 euro and drove along the coast. We got off at the Ville Franche and did a little hike and took in the amazing views before hopping back on the bus and continuing to enjoy the view.
Future home?

So beautiful!
After a fun-filled weekend, with many hilarious moments and one-liners, we left Nice and headed back to Nantes. We were greeted with snow between Paris and Angers and some chilly rain here. It is supposed to be a cold week so we will all be getting our mittens and toques out!
I hope everyone had a great weekend and if you are still reading... kudos to you, this was a long one!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Confusion... where is the snow?

Just in case you were wondering, I feel like I'm skipping winter completely this year. Now, I may miss the snow, but the cold? Not one bit! The fact that I can run in SHORTS in January makes me incredibly happy. Anyways, the weather has been nice lately. Hovering around 10 degrees with sometimes sun and sometimes cloud. Better than negative temperatures for sure.
Anyways, a bit about this week.
Yesterday I went to my volunteer placement. I got to teach all by myself again, and it went fairly well. I just find it really difficult to get the kids to listen sometimes... they always speak out over their teachers anyways, so it is a challenge to make sure that I am not too strict (since I'm a student) but not too lenient either. Definitely a learning experience! I also learned a bit more about the French teaching system which I found interesting. I guess the teachers will periodically be audited/reviewed/inspected based on one of their lessons. What happens is that the auditor will know their schedule and will tell the teacher after the last class they will have with the class to be audited before the audit, that way the teacher can't prep the students (I hope that sentence made sense). Then, the auditor comes, reviews the lesson, and you get feedback. Based on the lesson and also as to how well you take the feedback, you could either climb the pay scale faster or be temporarily relieved of work... interesting. I think I would be terrified. But it fits in well with the French system; everything is about not just being at the top of your game, but being better than everyone else. It would be nerve-wracking!
Today, two friends and I also booked our train tickets to Paris for the first weekend in March for the Half-Marathon! We are leaving on the Friday and coming back on Monday, that way we can see a bit of the city and also have lots of time to check out the runner's village. We have convinced one of our friends to come along too, which will be great. And we found a fabulous apartment to rent too, thanks to some traveling connections with a friend on the exchange. It is a really cute apartment, right on a metro line, in a nice neighbourhood, and we get a special price since we are referred patrons! Plus there is a full kitchen so we can cook for ourselves. We are going to feast after the race! I'm getting very excited for it. I can't wait! It will feel so good to accomplish it.
But until then, I do have lots on the go. We have quite a few writing and oral assignments this semester, so I'll be busy with schoolwork. Plus, thinking way into the future, I will be returning to Ryerson Camp this summer so I will be thinking ahead to staff and programming. And of course-- traveling. This weekend, 5 of us are hitting up the night train on Thursday and heading down to Nice, on the Cote d'Azur! It will be very beautiful I'm sure. Plus we're going to stop by Monaco to check out how the rich folks live, and maybe even win some money at the famous Monte Carlo casino!
Life is good!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

QUE du beurre???

*translation* Nothing but butter?
I'll explain in a sec.
Today, I got to go visit my host family for the 49th birthday of my host father. Since it was his birthday, he got to choose to eat whatever he wanted, and he even made most of the food.
For starters, we had foie gras on toast. For those of you who don't know, foie gras is fattened duck liver, a specialty in France that sounds pretty disgusting but tastes pretty good. Just don't google the process of foie gras if you ever want to try it... it will turn you off.
Next, we had... frog legs!!! I guess my host family makes them every year for the Canadians and we usually like them. I was no exception; they were quite good!
Ribbit!
I honestly had to just forget about what I was eating and enjoy the cultural experience. Turns out, frog legs taste a lot like chicken, though the texture is different.
Then, we had a delicious fish dish with beurre blanche sauce-- this is where my title comes from. The sauce is a specialty of Nantes and it is literally a whole load of butter. You cook shallots, pepper, and vinegar in a small pot and let it all boil down, then you start added butter, stirring constantly. I guess the chemical reaction between the butter and the vinegar, while you stir it over the heat, causes it to not melt like butter normally does. So in the end, about 1 1/2 sticks of butter are put into the sauce... and the result is something rather magical that I am never allowed to eat again... on account of, you know, my arteries.
Fish and beurre blanche

Yum!!
Some of their friends came over later and we shared in the famous galette des rois (my fifth so far!) and I actually was the queen this time!
Overall it was quite a lovely Sunday. Good food and good times! Now to run off all that butter ... ;)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Boxing Month

You know how on December 26th everyone makes a mad-dash for the stores to benefit from the awesome discounts? Well, if you are in France, you don't have to worry if you couldn't make it out of bed in time to get the good stuff, or if a snow storm ruined your chances at half-price sweaters. That is because Boxing Day sales continue for the ENTIRE month of January. I kid you not, everywhere you turn there are deals of anywhere from 30%-70% off all merchandise. Clothes, shoes, kitchen ware, home decor... you name it, it is on sale. Seriously, I would just always wait until after Christmas to buy presents. So many great deals!
I have luckily managed to not find anything worth buying though... I try to avoid the sales when possible so I don't spend too much on things I don't need. But it sure is fun to look!
This morning, I went for my longest run yet: 1 hour 14 minutes. It felt great! I discovered a new trail which took me into the country. I would have loved to have kept going, since the scenery was so gorgeous. I also made a little detour to the Mediatheque (like a library, but with books, movies, cds, magazines, etc.) to look for Harry Potter in French, since it has been awhile since I read any of the books. Unfortunately they were all signed out.
Tonight, we are heading out to go skating again, since some of my friends couldn't make it the first time.
Looking forward to the weekend! TGIF!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Books Books Books!

In my litterature class, as an introduction, our prof has been teaching us about how the literary world works in France.
Turns out, it is actually quite different than in Canada! Being a lover of books, I have found the first two classes very interesting. Basically, there are two different periods when books come out in France: September, and January. They also have slightly smaller entrances around Christmas for "les beaux livres" and June for summer/beach lit. Rather than stagger it throughout the year, all of the books get published at the same time. There is also a lot of importance placed on winning awards, such as the prestigious Goncours award, Prix d'academie Française,  and Feminine, to name a few. Similar to how critics create Oscar buzz around noteworthy movies, the same thing happens before books hit the shelves. So, if there is a book creating a buzz, everyone goes out and buys it! It is really very neat.
Another interesting note is the importance placed on small scale libraries. Now these aren't libraries in the sense of the english word; library is actually "bibliothèque" in French. A "librarie" is like a bookstore, except that the people who work in the bookstores, which are often local, are very knowledgeable about the books that they sell and are excellent at helping you choose what to buy. The libraries are protected by the "Loi Lang," a law whereby each book has a specific price as dictated by the publisher, that way big stores like Fnac (a combo of Chapters and Best Buy) can't sell their books super cheap and run the smaller libraries out of business.
Our prof recommended a few libraries to us, some of which we have already been to. One though was a children's librarie, so yesterday we decided to go on a little adventure to find it. We eventually did and spent a good 45 minutes in there perusing the selection. We found some great classics in French like "Guess how much I love you", "The Giving Tree", "Brothers' Grimm", and many more French language books. At one point I had about 6 books in my hand but I managed to narrow it down to just two...
Guess How Much I Love You

Le Petit Prince
These two made my final selection. "Guess how much I love you" because it is one of my favourite books, and "Le Petit Prince" because it is basically required reading if you understand French, and I have only read bits and pieces. I almost bought some of my favourite fairy tales (like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel) and a book of short Quebec folk tales, but I managed to resist.
Overall I have really enjoyed learning about how books and the book market run over here. It will be hard to resist buying more books over here, but luckily I live in Canada (thanks Quebec!) and I have Amazon for the future (although don't tell the amazon thing to a bookstore owner...).
Oh yeah, and the librarie was called "Les Enfants Terribles" so I took a picture of my two friends at the board outside of it...
Terrible Children
Now, I think it is time to read!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

All the best conversations happen over good food...

Sunday is now two days away, but it was such a great day that I just have to write about it! I mean... nothing spectacular happened; I didn't go anywhere; but it was good nevertheless.
I woke up a little tired but went to church with my friend anyways and had a decent time. Afterwards I came back to my room to do a bit of homework and such. I also took advantage of the sunny day by going to a walk with my friend. Sounds pretty boring, but I thoroughly enjoyed my day.
In the evening, I went out for dinner with two friends. It was actually my first real dinner out at a French restaurant... I have been out for crepes but not actually dinner. 5 months later... haha. Anyways, one of the guys in our group wanted to talk to my friend and I about our faith and what we believe. We had a really great conversation over dinner where we got to chat about what each one of us personally believes and it was really fantastic. I find that when I talk about my beliefs, it helps to convict me more as well.
But without further ado, the food that we ate! We decided to go for the "menu", meaning that you pay a certain sum and get an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. All the food was very delicious!
Siobhain's appetizer... something with goat cheese.

My starter... kind of like veggie soup.

My main course: white fish, ratatouille, rice, and some green vegetable. Oh, and this little lobster dude.

Lobster friend (I didn't eat him)

Dessert: fromage blanc with raspberry sauce

Dessert!

Coffee to end the night
There is a lot written in the Bible about the importance of sharing meals together, and it was a theme that we discussed a lot this past summer at camp. I am starting to realize how important meals actually are and how they can be used to bring people together. At home, I am lucky enough to have a family that sits down to dinner all together each night, and I know how rare that can be. In France, meals are pretty long, much longer than at home, and I really enjoy that we can linger over our food and conversation.
Plus, who can turn down good food, good friends/family, and good fun? Not me!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Angers

I am afraid I have become a little behind in my posting. After two weeks of not writing in my journal nor on my blog, I have found that I have to really motivate myself to remember to write. I'm hoping that the next day or so is fairly uneventful so that I can catch up a bit.
I have heard that Canada entered into a deep-freeze these past two days. The same thing happened over here. The difference? It's -2 and every time I exit a warm building I feel like I am going to shiver to death, and I must sound like a squirrel, from chattering so much. Why does it feel so cold? Maybe it's because we don't have huge parkas, ear bags (or hoods/toques/headbands for the more fashion conscious), ski pants, neck warmers, and furry boots over here. Or maybe it is because I am getting acclimatised to a more moderate temperature. Regardless, I don't know how I survived -20 in Peterborough last year. I just don't know.
On Saturday, despite the chill, it was a beautiful sunny day. Continuing our castle excursions, we decided to take a little day trip to Angers, the town I visited in November. I had already been there before so I knew what to see and do, which was nice. I also got a couple of pictures in the same spot I had them taken four years ago... which was fun!
Me in 2008

Me today in the same spot. Same coat too!
The castle was beautiful and we had fun exploring its wall, its residences, and its chapel.


We had a beautiful sunny day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!
I also finished the Hunger Games trilogy... now I'm sad that it is over.
In the evening, it was our friend Sarah's 21st Birthday so we all went over to her place to eat some Galette des Rois before heading downtown. It was a great evening and a lot of Canadians were able to make it out!
I have been keeping up with my running in preparation for the Half-Marathon in Paris, which is about 7 weeks away. I'm so excited! Next steps are to book our train tickets and hotel/hostel. I have new running shoes and they feel fantastic!
More about Sunday later: church, rest, walking, eating out. A solid day. And Monday: teaching!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Clisson

Today, two friends and I took a short day trip to the beautiful little town of Clisson, to see a very old ruin of a castle. All in all it was a gorgeous day: sunny, blue skies, crumbling romantic castle, quaint little town, and great friends. Turns out Friday the 13th is just a silly superstition after all! (haha)
Here are some photos from the day. Enjoy!
Part of the castle

Cute town! Retirement worthy for sure... not that I'm thinking about that yet...


Large chimney

Beyond them is a very deep hole. Not for those afraid of heights...

Sitting in the ruins



Friends + castle

Castle sunset avec pidgeons!

just a reminder that the Hunger Games come to a theatre near you on March 21!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

J'aime la France!

Well, today was full of lots of fun and unexpected things. We started off the day with our grammar class, which I think will be better than first semester. It sounds like we will actually be focusing a lot on grammar and we have a couple of neat presentations to do. Should be alright.
After grammar, my two friends and I hit the wifi common room to do some booking for reading week at the end of February. We are going to be traveling to Spain, so right now we have a flight to Barcelona and from Seville. We haven't finalized plans for in between, but we are hoping that they include lots of hiking and seeing the countryside, with obviously a bit of city touring. We have been to so many cities now that we are eager for a change, and the weather should be alright in Spain at the end of February, so outdoors here we come!
This afternoon we had the weirdest philosophy class of my life. Our prof came in and started miming, and then whispered that he lost his voice. Then he spent 45 minutes writing on the board... it was unbelievably slow but hilarious at the same time. We thought he would just dismiss us, but no. We were there all three hours! We took up our test from before the holidays with him writing on the board, then finished watching a film we began, then he discussed the film a bit, all the while still whispering. It was just... bizarre!
Then, this evening, Jody and I overcame our wariness and headed back to the Pentecostal church for what we thought was a student night. Instead, once a month they have a food-share program for students where you pay 2 euro and get a bunch of food. We didn't know, but we still met a lot of really nice people our age. It seemed like everyone knew we were coming... they saw us and all went "Oh, you're the Canadians??" But really, they were so nice. And we decided to do the food thing since it was so cheap, and we got SO MUCH food. It was much better than the other food-share. We didn't manage to make it in time for fresh food (apples, oranges, bananas, squash, leeks, etc etc etc) but we got a ton of other food. And then one of the girls drove us home, which was really nice. All in all we met some really nice people and I will probably go back. Plus, French speaking all evening!
Speaking of French, a bunch of us have made a decision to try to speak French between us as much as possible, since that is one way to improve. So all day today I basically was speaking/listening to French and I must say, my brain is quite tired!
Time to read some Hunger Games... of should I say Mockingjay (yes, I am on the third book already and 43% done. SO GOOD.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First Days Back

Well, I have now officially been back in Nantes for almost a week, and I have also officially started back to school!
On Monday, I went back to my placement class and was fortunate enough to get to listen to the student`s oral presentations, and even mark some on my own (filming it for my teacher for later). It was pretty interesting. It is really difficult to mark them though, since I obviously have a high level of English speaking, but I tried to be fair. Plus, my marks aren't the final say; the teacher will watch their presentations and make his own decisions. I just hope I wasn't too hard on them!
Afterwards, I succeeded in downloading the last two Hunger Games novels by highjacking some McDonald's wifi, so you can imagine what I've been doing anytime I have free time... reading!
Yesterday, we had our first two classes: history and litterature. They were both alright; I think I will get more out of litterature this time around even though the prof, is really difficult.
Last night a few of us went out to the movies to watch a French film called "Les Intouchables." I have been hearing people going on and on about it for quite a few months... apparently it is one of the highest earning French movies. I believe it passed "Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'Tis" which came out last time I was in France. Anyways, everyone was right: it was a fantastic movie! I was based on the relationship between a wealthy paraplegic man and the man he hires to care for him, who got the job just by chance. It was hilarious but also had a great message and was quite touching. If there is a dubbed or subtitled version that you can find, I highly recommend it! It was excellent.
Have a great Wednesday!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

S-U-N-D-A-Y, minus the sun

Well, I had a great Sunday but as my ever-creative title alludes, there wasn't much sun. Which I really can't complain about, since the past two days have been very sunny. I went for a walk wearing a t-shirt and my rain jacket and was quite warm. Better than -15? Yep!
So, my Sunday! My friend Jody and I decided to try out a new church she found, since it was the New Year and we realized that we had really only seen one church. It was an evangelical pentecostal church, and the first of its kind I have ever been to. To be honest, the music was great but everything else was... different. I couldn't follow the sermon (but it was in French and speaking about a passage in the book of Numbers, sooo....) which was too bad. They also did a different prayer; the minister would start speaking and then randomly people would just jump in over top of each other so it was like a cross between chanting and praying and singing... when we walked in this was happening, and it felt a little strange. The thing that kept me concentrating though was the fact that this was just the way that these people worship, so I can appreciate that. Plus, after the service this couple introduced themselves to us and invited us over to their house anytime, and then introduced us to a TON of people our age, who invited us to a student bible study that they have on Thursdays. So even if we don't go back to the church, we will probably check out the Bible study. Sounds good, and a great way to connect with christian young adults in France! (I officially have to stop referring to myself as a youth... must face adult-hood)
After church, I headed over to my host family's for the rest of the day. We had lunch and I gave them some Christmas presents and they gave me a cd by a French artist so that I can start to get to know French music better. After, we went to my host father's parent's house just outside of Nantes to share in the "galette de roi" and some champagne. The galette de roi is a tradition that happens just after New Years. A galette is like a tart, so ours was apple. A small toy is hidden inside the tart by whoever made it, so you don't know where it is. Someone cuts the tart in hiding, then the youngest person in the room hides under the table or in the corner and says who to give different pieces too, that way there is no chance for someone to know who has the little toy. Everyone eats their piece, and if you get the toy in yours than you become the "roi" or "reine" (king or queen) and has to wear a crown for the rest of the meal. It was very amusing.
The day ended off well with a reunited bible study, where we really only recounted our adventures from the past months but enjoyed the fellowship nonetheless.
Things are starting off well in 2012! Of course I miss my family, but it is nice to be back in France. Tomorrow I go back to my volunteering and I get to watch and mark presentations, so hopefully it goes well!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hello, 2012!

Hi everyone!
I hope everyone had a nice holiday with their families. I know that I sure did! It was great to be home.
But now I am greeting you, once again, from France! I safely arrived in Nantes around noon. Both of my flights were great and quick. My first flight, which took 9hours to get home, only took 7.5 hours to get to France. I also sat beside a really nice man who is Canadian but works as an interpreter in Paris. He studied teaching at the U of Ottawa but found that he really enjoyed interpreting. It was really interesting talking to him, because his job has taken him everywhere. He said that his most nerve-wracking work trip was to the Democratic Republic of Congo recently as an election observer. He said that he was relieved to leave after 6 days, which made me think of a friend of mine who spent a month there doing missions work. It sounds like a whole other world!
I also managed to catch a couple of hours of sleep on my first flight. My second flight was fairly easy to find and I didn't have to wait long for it. It wasn't full, and one woman wanted to change seats because she didn't want to be near the emergency exit so I switched with her and got a whole row to myself. I started reading the Hunger Games, which kept me very occupied on my travels.
Finally, I made it back. I mostly, swapped stories and caught up with a friend, and did some grocery shopping. Oh, and took a 1 hour nap. I think I will be going to bed soon; I can feel my eye-lids drooping.
I am going to try to write one blog post each week on how my training for the Paris Half-Marathon is going. This will keep myself accountable and also hopefully be interesting! I had been having some shoe problems before the break, but I have a new pair now so hopefully my runs will feel better. The race is Mar. 4, which gives me about 2 months left to train. I am very excited but nervous too, of course.
As a quick and random side note that has nothing to do with running: If you have never read any Stuart McLean books, I recommend that you do so immediately! I just read one my Mom got for Christmas and it was wonderful. His stories have great Canadian themes that make you think about and appreciate our country.
And with that, I turn my attention to the country I am currently in: France. Looking forward to another great semester!