Friday, March 30, 2012

End of a busy week = beach day!

Hello!!
I had intended to write something exciting for my 100th blog post, but I unfortunately passed it without noticing. I think this is 103 or something like that. Oops. Well anyways, happy 100th!
This week has been pretty uneventful, besides the fact that we had a few final projects, presentations, and essays due. Now they are all done and all we have are some exams this week, and then we are DONE. Hard to believe.
Last night, I went over to my host family's for my host mom's birthday. We had a great night and even had our aperatif outside, since it was so nice out!
Speaking of nice.
Today it was sunny, hot, and the ocean was calling our names. So, a few of us boarded a bus and headed off to the Pornic beach!

We got off at the wrong stop so we had to walk for a bit, but luckily the view was gorgeous. Once we reached the beach, we basically spent the whole day lying around. Which is actually really nice, because I don`t really do that in the summer, what with working at camp! Not to mention the fact that we were lying out in the sun at the end of March... no big deal. All I know is that my watch tan got a head start this year.
Loving the sun!

Starfish
We did a bit of pilates near the water, and worked up a bit of sweat. I had mentioned that I really wanted to try getting in the water, but upon sticking my feet in they became instantly numb. It was frigid. Nevertheless, my crazy friend convinced me to run in with her. Just in and out. So we did. And yes, it was horribly cold. But quite satisfying! And salty. It completely cleared out my sinuses. Like a Neti pot (which is fantastic by the way, not gross, as some people seem to think!).


Victors of the ocean
I brought my Kobo and did a bit of reading, a bit of napping, and in general we just hung out. It was a great way to celebrate the end of the week, and especially the end of our big dossier project for language class. When we got back, I just had time to squeeze in a sunset run before getting ready for bed... I am exhausted! Too much vitamin D, I think.
Tomorrow I have another great day planned: heading over to the little fishing village across the river called Trentemoult to check it out, and then back to the host family to watch some basketball and have dinner.
Oh, and today marks another strange milestone... it is officially 1 month until I will be home! It is very crazy to think about. So I just won`t think about it. I will, however, think about how I get to see my parents next Saturday!!! Cannot wait!!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

More manifestation...

In my blog post yesterday, I mentioned that I did not have any photos of the big strike on Saturday. Now I do! Here are some that my friend Dom took:


I also found an article online about the manifestation, along with some more intense pictures. I didn't realize it got this crazy... it's like London, ON on St. Patrick's Day...
Follow the link!
http://www.leparisien.fr/economie/en-images-a-nantes-des-affrontements-apres-la-manifestation-anti-aeroport-24-03-2012-1922004.php?pic=7#infoBulles1

Sunny Weekend Days...

I really don't understand my keyboard sometimes. Why must it delete my posts when I am almost finished? Why? And why must it save a blank page rather than a finished post? WHYYYYYY!!!!!
Anyways. Start again.
The weather has continued to be absolutely gorgeous these past few days, so we have been trying to get outside as much as possible. On Saturday, we went downtown before kayaking to check out a bit of the manifestation, and it was crazy! So many people were there. And farmers were a part of the strike, so there were tractors and cows. And people trying to plant trees on the main street. Big parades, lots of music, people on loud-speakers... the works! Oh, and riot police of course. We didn't hang around long, and I unfortunately didn't bring my camera, but I'm trying to get pictures from a friend of mine to post here. It was the biggest protest I have ever seen! The whole downtown was basically shut down because store owners didn't want to be vandalized. The unfortunate part was the aftermath: when we went out that night, we got to witness all of the graffiti and general destruction that people caused. It is too bad that people can't protest without making a mess of everything!
graffiti

orange spray paint all over a bank
Needless to say, it was rather exciting!
Like I said, after that we did a bit of kayaking again, which was lovely as always. This time was particularly funny because two of my friends decided to switch boats in the middle of the river and one of them fell in, with many rowers watching. We almost died laughing. After our kayaking, we were famished so we had an early picnic dinner on the front lawn of one of the residences and threw around a frisbee. Loving the good weather! We also got to witness the best prank played on one of our friends... I won't go into detail, but it was seriously amazing.
In the evening we went out, which was quite tiring because it was daylight savings time, but it was our last night going dancing so it was worth it. And the music was great! And I was still pretty productive on Sunday; did my philosophy essay, went for a walk, did grammar homework, and had Bible study.
After Bible study, I chatted briefly with my family since my grandparents were over for my brothers birthday. It was really neat chatting with them, because they had never used Skype before. My Grandpa Hunter just could not get over how he could see me face-to-face when I'm across the ocean. In his own words, "mind-boggling." It made me think about how crazy it must be for him (he's in his 70s) to be experiencing this kind of technology. I mean, even my parents didn't have computers growing up, and he had very minimal technology. I doubt that they even had a TV. So to see how far we have grown in technology must be mind-boggling! It makes me terrified for when I am that old... how much technology will change by then. I already get irritated with new technology!
Today it was very hard to be inside due to to gorgeous weather, but I did get some work done. I basically alternated between working and getting out. Run, homework, walk, homework, read in the park, homework, frisbee, homework. It was a good day. Tomorrow we have class... it is our second last week. I can't believe how the time flies! I have probably said that a million times in my posts...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bicloo!

What a wonderful, sunny day!
I began with a nice run. My legs were really sore after the 5km last week; not nearly as sore as after the half-marathon, but I have been taking it easy this week. This morning felt great and almost back to normal. I have a fantastic ritual that I always do after I run now, which starts my day off just right. I download some podcasts from cbc.ca and one is the Vinyl Cafe stories podcast. After I run, I come back to my room and workout, stretch, and then eat to the excellent storytelling of Stuart McLean. It is so great.
After the good start, I headed downtown with a friend in search of good coffee. I finally ran out of my "It's All Good" coffee from Port Elgin and my Starbuck's from Montparnasse, and since the grocery store coffee is crummy I decided to find some good stuff. I went to a little coffee and tea boutique I had passed by a few times and am very pleased that I went inside today. The man who was working there really did a great job at selling the coffee. He asked me what strength I liked, what flavours, etc, and then let me sniff the various coffees until I found one I liked. I chose Moka Sidamo from Ethiopia. I hope it is good! When it comes to coffee, I must say that I like the good stuff ;) We also picked up a birthday present for one of our friends back home, since her birthday is coming up. In shopping around a bit, we also chatted with one a store-owner who told us a bit about the big manifestation tomorrow. I thought that it was only going to be a strike against the new airport, but it turns out that there are numerous groups who will be manifesting tomorrow, including some anarchists. I guess it might get pretty heated, what with the Euro crisis and the upcoming presidential elections. The police were coming around to store owners telling them not to put anything outside, and for restaurant owners not to set chairs and tables outside because they could be used to break windows. The lady we talked to was afraid that her shop window would get broken. Apparently the police don't warn shopkeepers very often, so this is a pretty big deal. Apparently the anarchists and the contre aeroport people are the ones they are worried about. I hope it isn't too crazy! I might check it out briefly, just to see the crowds, but for the most part I will be staying away from downtown. We are planning on kayaking since it is supposed to be beautiful outside.
In our city we have a company called Bicloo, where you can basically borrow a bike and deposit it at any bike station in the city. We borrowed bikes from the Faculty stop, which is not to far from us.
The bikes took some getting used to, as the basket in front makes the balance a little weird, but all in all it was not too hard to master. We took the path along the river out into the countryside, where I run often. The other three girls hadn't seen the path before, so they were really excited to see how beautiful it was. I love it out there. We then crossed over a bridge and biked along the other side of the river.


We of course had some excitement, as first Jody's sweater disappeared and she had to go back and find it, and then Siobhain dropped her cellphone somewhere. We were luck though; we called the phone and a man who had found it picked up and met her downtown to give it to her. Close call! Then we went to the store and bought caramel ice cream which tasted like crème brûlée. So yummy!
Tonight, the four of us are getting together in Jody's rez room for an old-school sleepover! We have all the necessities (junk food, wine, sleeping bags) and we are looking forward to it. I have said this to a few people over here, but it is so nice to have a really solid group of girlfriends for once. I had some good friends in high school, but it just is not the same as this year. I get along with everyone in the group, but there are five of us who mesh really well. Best part is that three of them are coming back to Trent with me! But we will miss our lone Waterloo buddy. It has been amazing to have so many people to hang out with, talk to, go out with, etc. I would not trade my best friends, or this whole Trent-Waterloo group, for any other people! They are great. I'm sure I will reflect more in this towards the end of the year, but for now I just wanted to mention what a blessing it has been to have met all these wonderful people!
Have a great weekend everyone!


PS- If you aren't sure what to think about Hunger Games, here is a good article to read!
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/features/28682-let-the-hunger-games-begin

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Let the Hunger Games begin!

Over the Christmas break, I bought the first Hunger Games book for my Kobo, on a recommendation from a couple of friends. While sitting in Pearson airport, I was reading. While sitting on the first plane, I was reading. While sitting on the second plane, I was... sleeping. Ok, I was tired! And what did I do for the next day? Kept reading until I was done. Then I bought the second and third books and read them too.
I am telling you, these books are awesome.
And surprisingly, unlike other runaway bestsellers like the Twilight series, these books actually have some substance. There are themes such as the danger of celebrity, the dangers of anarchy but also of communism, survival and what humans turn into when survival is at stake, a caution against technology, and the importance of having something to believe in and stand for. No sparkly vampires anywhere.
I really do love reading, but there are certain series that I get so consumed in that I cannot put them down. Well, there are two series. Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games. They might not be the most intellectual reads, but like I said, the Hunger Games does have some great points. And it is quite well-written with a good plot.
So imagine our delight that the movie for the first book came out in France on the 21st, rather than the 23rd like at home!! So you know what we did last night...

That's right, movie night!
Now, I won't go giving away details in case there are any fans out there who intend to see the movie, but I will say this: it was good. Of course they added in some parts and took others out, but overall they stuck very close to the book. And even though I had to watch it in French with different voices, I could tell that the actors were perfect for the roles. Especially the actress who plays the female lead, Katniss. Her emotions and expression are really amazing. At first, the weird camera angles threw me off, since they switched shots really quickly and were often very zoomed in. It got better though, and actually was quite impressive. What a good time! I can't wait for the second movie now. They set it up really well.
Today, we did some awesome homework and then had a very long philosophy class. Afterwards, we played soccer in the field for awhile, which was perfect after 3 hours of la pensée française.
And in weather news, it looks like it is going to be a gorgeous weekend! I've been jealous of weather at home for the past week, but not for long: 20 degrees and sunny this weekend! Awesome!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trivia Night

On St. Patrick's Day, I met a couple of guys who told me that on Tuesday nights at Fleming's, there is an english/french trivia night! Apparently it was really fun so last night after class my friends and I decided to head down. It turned out to be a great time! We were "The 'Eh' Team" (a clever slogan on the sweater's of one of our friends) and though we didn't win, we still had fun. The way it works is that everyone there puts a euro in the bucket, and the winning teams gets to split whatever is in the bucket. There were 4 rounds, and we did the best in the first round. I was particularly proud that I remembered Dorothy's last name from the Wizard of Oz (Gale). The second round was awful, as it had to do with sports, and the last one which had to do with science. Yes, the 6 Canadian French majors know everything about sports and science... NOT. I do wish my Dad had been there though, because I'm pretty sure we could have won with him. He knows a lot of random information. Too bad we couldn't phone a friend.

 Overall, a good night! Although it was weird to be downtown on a Tuesday. Not something that is going to happen next year.
We all agree on the fact that this is an incredible year, and that we are learning so much just being in France and Europe. Our classes are alright, but the workload is not at all what we are used to. Although I guess after 17 years of constant schooling, with the last 7 being particularly challenging and a ton of work, it is nice to have a year where we are not under too much stress. Goodness knows we won't get this again until... retirement! So we might as well enjoy it.
I just got back from a good walk and talk, and now I'm going to grab some groceries, work out, and do some homework. Tonight we are seeing the Hunger Games at the cinema and we are so excited!

 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weekend Things

I have had an absolutely fantastic weekend in Nantes! Let me tell you all about it. Starting with Friday!
On Friday, I went for a run and then I bought a few grammar/vocab workbooks to keep up with my French until September, and strolled a bit downtown because it was so nice out. I also picked up my train ticket to meet my parents in Paris. I will see them in only 20 days! Crazy. I spent some time after that working on some homework before heading out again-- this time to go kayaking! It was the first time kayaking this year and it was a ot of fun. It was a beautiful day and we went for about an hour.
On Friday night, I went over to my host family's for dinner and to swap vacation photos. I also got to meet their son for the first time! He is studying in Paris but has internships all over the place, so we haven't been at their house on the same weekend yet. It was fun to have someone my age at the host fam's! We had a delicious dinner of seafood lasagne. Their youngest daughter also had a friend over for a sleepover and they were so loud and excited. It was funny, because it reminded me of how excited I used to be when I had friends over.
Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day! I woke up and did some homework (yep!) before heading downtown to meet one of the girls in our group for coffee. We spoke in French too, which was nice. After that I bought a couple of books from the bookstore: Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (where the Hunchback of Notre Dame came from) and a poetry book by Hugo too. Notre Dame de Paris will be my challenge book, and the poetry is just for fun. We had a test with one of his poems on it, and it was so beautiful that I just had to read more. In the afternoon, my friends and I got our green on and headed down to Fleming's Irish Pub, where two of our friend's work. We had a great time, playing games, winning prizes, and meeting new people all night! The streets were absolutely packed for the occasion.
Then today, I had a little sleep-in, did MORE homework (getting ready for next year) and then got ready to go downtown... for a 5km race! It was a breast cancer fundraiser, so 3 of my friends and I signed up just for fun. It was absolutely frigid though... it rained/hailed while we were waiting around and then again at the beginning of the race. I can't remember the last time I was so cold! And so soaked. I ran through so many puddles! It was a good race though, and I finished in 23:10, so I was pretty happy. I had the hottest shower afterwards which felt great.
And now, well, I'm doing some laundry, eating some dinner, doing a bit more homework, heading over for Bible study, and then hopefully skyping my family! The weekend went by way to fast, but I guess that's how you know you are having a good time :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sunshine, Bread, and Visitors from Canada

I have heard that lately Ontarians are getting a lovely bout of Spring. Let's just hope it's not fake Spring, although I can't say you have really had much of a winter either. Here in Nantes we have also been enjoying gorgeous weather, with sunshine and temperatures around 15-18 degrees. I like it!
One of my favourite times of the day is the evening, when the sun is just starting to dip low in the sky. It is so much better when dusk is accompanied by warm weather too. Last night I ended up going for a super long walk right during dinner time, so I stopped by the bakery that we visited to buy some bread. I bought the seed one and it was delicious! I completely intended on eating half the baguette and saving the rest for later, but instead I ate the whole thing. I was not hungry the whole night. Thank goodness the walk was a long one!
Today we have our typical class, but our philosophy class had something exciting: a visit from our French professor at Trent! He is in Nantes this week for a conference and so he was doing a guest presentation on surrealism, specifically the writer Jacques Breton. It was interesting, and it was also nice to see a familiar face from home.
After class, it was so gorgeous out that we got together with some of the Americans for a game of soccer. A few Spanish guys joined in too. I am absolutely terribly at soccer, but had fun running up and down the field (or standing around watching... or squealing like a 13 year old girl whenever I had the ball...).  All in all it was great to be outside! I took the long way home and went for a short jog.
Tomorrow we have the day off, so I believe I am doing a bit of kayaking on the lovely river in the afternoon. Back on the water in March! So fantastic. I am also decorating shirts for St. Patrick's Day with my friend. We bought a lot of green gear in honour of the day. I'm glad that green is my favourite colour! Then in the evening I am going to visit my host family for the first time in about a month... we have both been busy so I am looking forward to seeing them again. We are going to share photos from our trips... mine from Spain and Paris, and theirs from skiing in the Alps.
On a completely random side note, I discovered that you can download Vinyl Cafe podcasts from cbc.ca. Guess what I listen to while working out and then while eating lunch?? The best.
Enjoy the sunshine!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Visiting the Boulangerie

As part of one of our classes, we are working in groups to create dossiers with a French subject and an emphasis on Nantes. My group chose to study the importance of bread in the lives of the French, because it is almost impossible to eat a meal without sharing bread. When we first began our study, we really had no focus and found it difficult to figure out exactly what we were supposed to do. Eventually we muddled through the directions and created an angle for ourselves. Once this was done, we had to find articles to support our angle. The final part was the report, which includes an interview. For our interview, we went to the Pains, Beurre, et Chocolat bakery that is not too far away from our residence.
And are we ever glad we went there!
The owners were so incredibly kind. The baker invited us into the back to show us where he makes the bread and pastries. He walked us through a typical day (he gets up at 3:30 AM to be at the store by 5:00 so that he can start baking, and doesn`t leave until around 8:00pm). What a long day! But he really loves his job. He used to work in the journalism field, until he decided to become a baker about 7 years ago. He opened the bakery that we went to in 2008 and it is clear that he has a passion for his work. His favourite aspect of the job is the rapport he has with his clients, when they return and when they are satisfied.
The whole bakery is just a very inviting place. There is a large glass window that opens up onto the street, with a modern and beautiful sign to attract your attention. Inside the lighting is good and the vast selection of goods is well displayed. There is a glass window through which you can see the baker putting the bread in the oven, which creates a sort of bond between you and the baker.
Just the bread! More pastries on the other side.

The outside
So, our tour! Like I said, we got to see all of the exciting parts of a bakery that are usually hidden from the public. We got to see the giant mixing bowl, the fridge where they store the dough to let it ferment, and the giant oven that cooks the bread and other delicious foods!
Le boulanger taking a delicious treat out of the oven

dough! you let it ferment for at least 24hours for best results.


Getting the fresh bread out!
We also learned about what makes the best bread through some sampling. We sampled three different breads; one was actually a new recipe that they were trying out. The baker said that he actually didn't like it much because it was too dense, but I thought it was alright. Maybe because I'm used the dense Canadian bread! Anyways, the second was bread that he showed us to demonstrate what good bread looks like. Details in the coming pictures! Finally, we got to sample bread fresh from the oven, which was rolled in sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. Instead of putting the seeds in the bread, which makes it too dense, it was just rolled in the seeds and the aroma fills the bread.Yum!
Cutting the bread
Here's some good bread! The more holes the better. It should be more of a cream colour, not white. The bottom should be hard, and when you squeeze it it should be lovely and crusty. Perfect!

The seed bread! So delicious.
The interview
 It was so evident by our visit that these bakers are not only passionate about their job, but also about their customers. They had a small back room, but let us take up most of it anyways. We really appreciated them taking time out of their day to talk to us, and also for giving us samples! They gained a few new customers today, that is for sure! Even though it is farther away, I will try to buy any bread here, because of their excellent customer service. I also hope to bring my parents here when they visit.
Our baker gave us a really excellent answer about why he believes bread is so important to the French, but I won't post it all. Mostly because it would take awhile to translate it. But here is a short quote:
«Je pense que sa place est prépondérante en France car c'est un aliment de "partage". On aime s'assoir autour d'une table pour déguster un bon vin, un bon fromage avec du pain. Il est le ciment de ces moments forts de convivialité.» "I think that it's place is so important in France because it is a food to share. We love sitting around a table to taste good wine and good cheese with bread. It is the cement of the strongest moments of festivity/friendship." I love this idea. We talked a lot at Ryerson camp last year about the importance of bread and how it is something that really is a sharing food, and the French seem to have that idea down pat.
When we began this dossier, we were not really sure what to expect. We got incredibly lucky and managed to really get something out of the project though; meeting the boulanger was incredible and getting to see where the action happens was so important to us, who don't have quite the same importance for bread in Canada. It was a very cultural experience, and one that I am so grateful to have had. All I can say is that after this visit, I truly do appreciate bread much more, and the care that the bakers here put into their work. Because for them, baking bread isn't just a job, it's a way of life.
With the boulanger

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crepes

Crepes are one of the specialties of the Bretagne region, where Nantes is (well technically it is in the Pays de la Loire but everyone here wants to be part of Bretagne again). Anyways. Because of this, it is very easy to find creperies in Nantes. I have seen many, but I have actually only been to one: Creperie Heb Ken. I have been there 3 times because it is just so good!
Eating the delicious crepes
YUM
I always had gotten the same crepe before: mushroom, ham, and cheese. This time I decided to be different. There are literally about 100 crepe combinations you can get. And that is not even including the dessert crepes. It's amazing. I'm bringing my parents here. So this time, all four of us got the same kind of crepe: potato, ham, and cheese. It was like eating raclette, one of our favourite french meals. Raclette is like the best melted cheese on a potato with meat. It sounds boring, but it is sooooo good. Anyways, the crepe was awesome and we also got some cidre to go with it. Cidre is another Breton favourite, and it is quite delicious. You drink it out of little bowls!! For dessert, the four of us split 2 dessert crepes. Michelle and I split a crepe au caramel beurre salé. Salted caramel butter, another Breton specialty. It's SO good.
As you can tell, my evening was quite good. The next day I went for a nice long run to work it all off, haha.
And since then it has been a pretty chill weekend! Did some homework, worked on camp-stuff, went downtown, went out, ran, Bible study... yeah, not too much to report. I am ridiculously tired though, and have placement tomorrow (I think) so I'm going to peace out. Have a great Monday everyone!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Coeur de Pirate

Unbeknownst to me, until yesterday, it was International Women's Day! I felt kind of silly not knowing, but luckily I was told early on, so I had the thought with me throughout the day.
I think it is a great idea to have a day for women! I am not a feminist by any means, but women used to have it pretty bad. I took women's history last year and found it very enlightening. Even today in places around the world equality has not yet been achieved. So why not celebrate us for a day?
Anyways. How did I celebrate? Well, I had 2 classes. In between those classes, I went for lunch and a walk along the river. Then in the evening, a bunch of us went to see Coeur de Pirate in concert!
Now what is this "heart of a pirate" you are asking. In fact, it is Béatrice Martin, a young woman who comes from Montreal! I had been listening to her music casually when one of our friends mentioned that she would be coming to Nantes soon. I went out and bought her new cd and have been listening to it ever since. It is fantastic! She is very talented both at singing and at playing the piano. Another fun fact is that she is pregnant! She does not want to make a big deal about it, so she has only mentioned it in one interview, but she would sometimes hold her little baby bump last night while singing, which was cute.
French crowds differed somewhat from the crowds I am used to back home... they are a little tamer. Nevertheless, it was a great evening!
Awesome opening act--wish we knew who she was!

Canada supporting Canada!

Playing the piano

Finale
It was a great evening!
Today it is a lovely sunny day here. I did some errands, went for a run, got groceries, and did some homework. Tonight a few of us are going out for crepes! Happy Friday everyone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paris: Survive and Thrive!


 Hello world!
It has been a few days since my half-marathon and I'm happy to say that my legs are starting to feel like normal.That being said, stairs still are awful.
It is a rainy and grey day here, so not much is going on. Some rock climbing tonight, but that's about it. Oh, and homework, of course!
So I would not call myself an expert on Paris, but I have been there a few times. So, for the blog post I'm going to write about what I have learned to do/not to do in order to have an enjoyable time in the city. This is mainly for my parents, who will be coming to France in less than a month! Very exciting.

PARIS.
1.  Don't rent a car. Why not? First, the metro is great. Use it. It will take you everywhere. Second, good luck finding a parking space. Third, good luck navigating the streets.
2. The metro
-------It is grand!
-------Do buy booklets of 10 tickets, rather than individual ones if you are planning to be there for a few days. It is more cost efficient. You can buy them at a desk or a little booth.
-------Do know where you are going! The metro is easy to use and easy to navigate, but make sure you know the direction you need to go in and which stop you need. Also, try to figure out where you are going before you go. Nothing screams "tourist" like a giant metro map. You can print a smaller version off of the internet which you can carry around with you (http://subway.umka.org/map-paris.html).
-------There are automatic doors and also ones you have to open manually. For the manual ones, pull the lever up, not down.
-------There are bound to be some strange people in the metro. DON'T make eye contact, or else they will bother you.
-------Know when the last metro is if you are going to be out late, unless you want to sleep in the streets.
-------To locate the metro stops, look for the giant red M or a sign that says Metropole.
-------When on escalators or moving sidewalks, always stand to the right to allow people in a hurry to pass by on the left.
3. The streets. Watch your step! Sometimes people don't pick up after their pets.
4. Be polite. If you need to ask for help, begin with "Bonjour" and then your question. Unlike in Canada, you cannot just say "Excuse me, can you help me find the..." You must say hello first.
5. Another useful phrase: "Parlez-vous anglais?" Don't assume that just because it is Paris, everyone speaks English. Say Bonjour, then this phrase, and hope that they say "oui" in response. Also, "Merci" (thank you) goes a long way. Showing that you are trying will get your brownie points.
6. Not all Parisians are rude. Some are in fact very nice. Just imagine how you would feel if your city was constantly overrun with tourists, snapping pictures and not understanding the rules.
7. If you are with Scotiabank, you are in luck! BNP Paribas, one of the French banks, is affiliated with Scotia, which means you can use your debit card to take out cash and not get a service charge. The sign is green with white stars.
8. It is worth asking your hotel/hostel/apartment main desk for advice on where to eat out. Often the best places are not in the main centre of the city. That goes for bakeries and bars as well!
9. St. Germain is a really cool part of the city with lots of good bars, restaurants, and movie theatres.
10. The Eiffel tower is great in the day, but going up at night is apparently amazing. I saw some pictures taken by a friend and the lights of the city are just fantastic.
11. Take a boat ride too! Tour boats go all down the Seine and will give you great stories.
12. The Arc du Triomphe, if you climb up the stairs, has a great view of the city and the Eiffel Tower. Just make sure you get to it underground; don't try and cross the giant roundabout unless you want to die.
13. Speaking of roundabouts, there are lots in Paris and France in general. When crossing the streets, do so at pedestrian crosswalks. In Paris there are usually the familiar green and red signals to tell you when to go. Elsewhere in France, you just walk and cars stop for you. Be more careful in Paris.
14. You can take an RER train to the Chateau de Versailles and it is a must-see.
15. Other things to see: Sacre Coeur cathedral and wandering through the Montmartre area, where you will find lots of artists as well as the Moulin Rouge. Watch your purse in this area! Also the Louvre is great if you are an art critic. Everyone says that the Catacombs are a must-see as well. Notre Dame is impressive, but the St. Chapelle is my friend's favourite church on the inside. I also have not been, but if you like macarons the house that started it all is in Paris and it is called Ladurée. Apparently they have they bets macarons.
16. Bring your umbrella! Don't be surprised if the sky is grey and it rains. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.

I can't really think of anything else at the moment. This is what I have learned traveling in Paris! It is a really beautiful and unique city, but it just needs to be discovered by you! Hopefully for those who plan on going to Paris, you love the city. The first time I went, I didn't like it very much, but this year it is really quite different. I have come to appreciate cities, and though I will always love the great outdoors, the bustling city life is starting to grow on me. Besides, people watching is so fun in big cities!

PS- eat lots of bread. It's unbelievably good!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Semi-Marathon de Paris

Well, the weekend is almost over and what a great weekend it has been! We came for the Half-Marathon, but we did more than just that.
On Friday, two friends and I took an early train to Paris to discover where we would be staying... it was an apartment owned by a friend of a friend, so we were kind of taking a risk renting it, since we hadn't paid anything and we had never met the owner. But all was well, and the apartment was great! It has been so nice to be able to unpack our stuff and leave it everywhere, opposed to a hostel when you have to keep everything together. Plus, we got to actually cook real food! And nap in the afternoon.
Chilling in the apartment

Our little kitchen

Loft bedroom

Sink and shower
So on Friday, we spent a lot of time just chilling in the apartment. I went on an adventure to pick up my race kit, which involved a few metro rides and a nice walk through a park. I picked up my kit, which had a cool t-shirt, a sweatband, some energy food products, some flyers, a magazine, and of course my race number! I wandered through the expo a bit but didn't buy anything.
After making a delicious dinner of shepherd's pie, we got ready for the evening. I have a friend who lives in Paris, so we met up with him and a few of his friends to go out. It was actually really fun, and also funny; I guess the thing to do in Paris is have a drink on one of the bridges, so we got a couple bottles of wine and sat on the love lock bridge, with the Eiffel Tower sparkling on one side and Notre Dame lit up on the other. It was pretty cool to be hanging out the Paris way. After that, we tried to get into this one place but there were too many of us so we ended up elsewhere, but had fun all the same.
On Saturday, we slept in a bit and took our time getting ready, before heading out for a little walk downtown. We walked on the main street, saw the Arc du Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, and even discovered a Canadian pub, where we stopped to warm up.
on the Champs Elysées

Arc du Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

The love lock bridge
The weather was typically Parisian, grey sky but luckily no rain! After we took a break at the Canadian place, we met up with my friend again and he took us around a little bit, just in his neighbourhood. Afterwards we saw an interesting movie called Chronicle. Not a movie I would usually see, but it wasn't bad. The filming of it was really interesting because it was all in 1st person. We headed back to our apartment to make some dinner and welcome our other friend, who was just up for the night because she was going to meet her parents at the airport the next day. We had a good dinner and then I tried to go to bed early to be well rested for the big race. Of course, I woke up often to make sure I hadn't overslept, but it was alright. I had a decent sleep.
We decided to leave at 8:15 for the run, and I am glad we did! The metro was very busy, and we actually didn't make it onto the first one...
It was really busy.
Mostly everyone on the metro was going to the race, so at least we didn't get lost! When we got the the race area, we lined up for the porta-potties.  There were not very many for 30 000 people, and we waited about 45 minutes for one! I then had to strip down to my shorts and t-shirt and take off for the start line so that I didn't miss it. It was a little chilly, so I had to jump around for a while to keep warm. There were so many people, and we left in waves, so I actually walked right up to the start line, then spent about 10 minutes just dodging people and trying to set a decent pace. I had a bracelet that told me what my split times needed to be in order to reach my goal, under 2hours, and for the first few km I was too slow because of all the people. Eventually I made up time though.
Ready to go!

Almost at the start line.
The first 10km were actually pretty easy. I felt good and not tired at all. The route was awesome too! The first 5km were in the park, and then we got out and into the street of the city. There were little bands and orchestras playing along the route, and lots of people cheering. Probably the funniest part was when this older woman decided to cross the street in front of the runners with her bread. Everyone was yelling at her to look out and move, but she just waved them all off as if to say "I was here first." I thought it was funny. Anyways, like I said the first 10km went by quickly and were pretty easy. The next 5km went by a little slower but still weren't too difficult. It was the last 6km that were hard!! They went by so slowly, especially when it got down to the final 3km or so and I was counting down. My legs were feeling pretty tired, but I just kept telling myself "mind over matter, God over mind." That was my mantra. Because it would have been really easy to just give in to your body being exhausted, and even if you have a strong mind, it is still easy to not be able to keep going. Finally the end was in sight and I gave it my all. It was a really incredible experience crossing the finish line, along with all the other people. My parents have done quite a few half-marathons in the past years, and I have always said that I would never be able to do one. Well, never say never! I even made my time goal and my goal of not stopping. My time was 1h57min. I was very happy. I picked up a poncho and my medal, and then stuffed my face with oranges, apples, a sugar cube, and some powerade before finding my two friends, who were nice enough to buy me a rose in congratulations! It was awesome. It felt so good to finish that run.
Awesome friends!

So tired, but so happy!
We came back to the apartment, and I took a nap and a very long shower. In the evening, I actually was able to walk so I met my friend downtown for dinner and a movie. Then I went to bed nice and early. And now here I am, with incredibly sore legs and an awesome story to tell. I will probably have to leave earlier than normal to make my train later, because I have to switch metros a few times and my legs are not really loving stairs right now... in fact they are hating them. My parents told me to walk down the stairs backwards would help, but I don't really think I can do that in the metro. I mean, there are definitely some weird people there but I don't really want to attract any unwanted attention!
We will be sad to leave the apartment here, but of course it is always amazing to go back to Nantes, our favourite little french city. Hard to believe we only have1 month of school left, and less than 2 months in France.
Thanks to everyone who encouraged me in my run! I couldn't have done it without you!