26 February 2010

How to exhaust yourself while still getting 10 hours of sleep a night...

You can't escape the past in Paris, and yet what's so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn't seem to burden.
-Allen Ginsberg
This quote perfectly describes my experience of Paris. I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of Paris but I knew a six-month stay in France wouldn't be complete without spending at least a few nights there, so off I went for four days and three nights of Parisian excitement with Chantelle and Cari.

Here's a brief outline of our itinerary:
  • leave Clermont-Ferrand at 8h30, arrive in Paris at 12h30
  • check in at hotel (Hipotel Marne la Vallee, a dinky little 2-star hotel that cost 180€ total for three nights and is right next to an RER stop)
  • drop our stuff off and head back to the center of the city--the Eiffel Tower
  • accidentally get off the metro at Notre Dame...what a happy accident :)
  • walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal
  • head back just in time to see the tower light up and start blinking like a huge, metal Christmas tree
  • Disneyland. That's all.
  • Versailles for the afternoon
  • McDonald's for dinner (classy, eh?)
  • back to the Eiffel Tower to get on a nighttime boat tour on the Seine
  • The Louvre.
  • get on our train at 19h01, arrive home in Clermont-Ferrand around 22h30
Everywhere we went truly was a blend of past and present...each monument had its' own ability to emanate a sense of timelessness, a feeling that each visitor somehow became something much bigger than themselves simply by taking part in the experience of the monument. There were also countless tidbits of humanity that will continue to be facts of life until the end of the world: beggars begging, couples kissing, babies laughing, teens flirting, teens fighting, art lovers adoring...Paris is a great place to people watch.

We met/talked to some cool people, including some men on the metro who are from Philadelphia and were on their way back home from teaching a Bible class in Lebanon. They were very nice, interesting to talk to, etc...but in a weird way I felt like they were immediately trying to plant the seed that would save my soul. Not that that's a bad goal. But I was glad to be able to tell them I believe the exact same thing they do and that it falls directly in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church :) (Mom, Aunt Rosie, Aunt Therese...I knew you'd like that.) Their faces were kind of funny. And it got them to stop reciting Bible verses at us.

By the end of the four days, I was exhausted, and more than ready to be in my own room with my own bed and no one to share the bathroom with. I think we all were. Nevertheless, we came home happy to have been there, to have taken pictures (you can see them by clicking the link from my last post), and to now be able to say "When I was there..."

25 February 2010

Paris Hold the Key to Your Heart.....

That's right, I spent the last four days in Paris. Cari, Chantelle, and I went to the Eiffel Tower, the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, Notre Dame Cathedral, EuroDisney, Versailles, a nighttime boat tour of Paris on the Seine, and the Louvre in just four short days. Click on the words in a different color to see photos...just a warning, there are 372 of them--the main reason I went to Paris was to get photos. And, this result is about 100 photos smaller than it could be. So that's probably a good thing.

More on the stories we collected while in Paris later, but for now...since pictures speak a thousand words each, you can experience my Parisian vacation in 372,000 photographic words :)

And I'm still writing...

As if I haven't already donated enough time and energy to the K-State Collegian (K-State's student-run newspaper, where I served as the Edge editor last semester), this semester's Edge editor convinced me to write about my time here in France for the paper!

Here's the link to my first article, much of it is repeat information but said in a slightly more condensed way.

Former editor exploring new scenery

20 February 2010


I booked my flight to Ireland today and only paid 99.01euro roundtrip!

I'll be there April 12-20. I'm so excited!

Also, here's a little tidbit of the beauty that surrounds me out here. I love the volcanoes!

19 February 2010

It just LOOKED so nice out.

Yesterday was the first day since I arrived in Clermont-Ferrand that the sun decided to peep its' head out from behind the clouds. IT WAS SO LOVELY!

It was also not quite as nice as we wanted it to be, because there was still some snow on the ground (and in the middle of the pond all around the fountain), but we pretended it was and went to the beautiful Jardin Lecoq with our blanket, a baguette, some sparkling rose wine, a few books, my camera, and a computer.

There is wireless internet in the garden and we were Skyping some of Chantelle's friends who are studying abroad in Spain when this slight, shivering French man walked up to us and asked if we would mind answering some questions for a survey. We just stared at him for a couple seconds then said, "We're in the middle of a conversation. I don't think so." Then he kept talking and we tried to pretend not to speak anymore French but then he began speaking in English! His English was not very good at all, but the poor guy just wouldn't take no for an answer, so we let him ask us questions about what supermarkets will be like in the future...they were not very interesting questions and I don't think he was too impressed with out answers. But...that's okay.

On a more Lenten note, Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and Cari and I went to Mass and got ashes and Jesus and that was good. Some interesting notes about Mass in France vs. Mass in the U.S.
-People don't all sit/stand/kneel at the same times. This is really only noticeable when it's time for kneeling; some people kneel, some people stand, and others just sit. The churches I've been to don't have kneelers, only cold stone floors, so I understand the not-kneeling thing, but it's very confusing to see all the different postures.
-There is no orderly procession to the altar for the Eucharist or ashes...people in a row just kind of decide it's a good time to get up and start walking and they do.
-At least at the churches I've been to, the music is all more 'classic.' The only instrument played is an organ and the cantor literally conducts the congregation.

I just emailed my first article about life in a foreign country to this semester's Edge editor for the Collegian, K-State's student-run newspaper, so that should be running sometime next week...I'll try to post a link when I know it's on the website.

Three days until Paris! But before then...I'm off to do laundry. Which I haven't done since I landed in France. What does that mean? That I brought a LOT of underwear :)

16 February 2010


This video has nothing to do with France, but it's a great video of one of my current favorite songs sung by people with truly fantastic voices...shout out to Madelyn for telling me about it!

I wish all tests were like this.

Yesterday I took my placement exam for my French classes...step number 4 out of 6 in getting credit for my "intensive language and culture semester."
1. Go to France
2. Enroll in university
3. Sign up for placement test
4. Take placement test
5. Go to class and learn things
6. Pass finals with flying colors
Something makes me thing steps 1-4 might have been the easy part...]
The test was actually not too bad; three different short writing sections and an "oral exam" that didn't actually involve too much talking--it mostly was just a woman telling me what level I would be in.
I'm in level 4 [there are 6 levels], which is where I hoped to be, and will have 15 hours of French classes a week starting March 2nd. My French classes will include two writing classes (one more essay-based and one more narrative-based I think), a reading comprehension class, a conversation class, a literature class, and a class on the history of civilization in the Auvergne Region.
Between those classes, my 2-3 hour "S.T.A.R." class (Studying The Auvergne as a Region, a class for exchange students taught in English that is separate from my French class on the Auvergne), and my 8 hours per week in the English learning lab, I think I'll have a nice balance of being busy but not TOO busy, a demanding schedule but not TOO demanding.

Next week we have a school holiday [yes, I get to experience a holiday...I technically started classes last Tuesday with my work in the language lab] and a few of us are going to spend a few nights in Paris "doing all the tourist-y things." It should be fun!

14 February 2010

"I've decided snow is pretty to look at but annoying to walk in"

IT'S SO SNOWY!!!! It's actually not that snowy at all compared to the feet of snow dumped throughout the U.S., but there is definitely enough snow around here to make life just a bit more obnoxious than it would otherwise be. Here are some pictures of the snow and what we've decided to do about/with it :)

LIDL! Four of us girls were feeling a bit lonely for familiar things of our country...Cari, who's from Oklahoma, and I often lament the fact that even the Sprite tastes different over here...and Aleksandra found a Lidl, which is a grocery store kind of like Aldi, here in Clermont-Ferrand. They also have Lidl in Poland and Ireland, so going there was like a little bit of home for she and Chantelle. It was a long walk to get there, but definitely worth it!

A beautiful fountain in one of the Clermont-Ferrand parks--I always love fountains with icicles; they remind me of Narnia when the White Witch can just freeze anything in an instant.

This is a pot full of a tasty Polish dessert...it's called Kisiel and it's sort of like Jell-o but not really at all. It comes as a powder in a packet and you mix the powder with water and some sugar then heat it all on the stove. As you heat it the mixture becomes sort of gelatinous. Evidently you can wait for it to cool down and eat it then or you can eat it while it's still hot. We ate it while it was hot. It tastes good, but I can't really describe what it tastes like.

Here are my friends Chantelle (from Ireland, on the right) and Aleksandra (from Poland, on the left) making snow angels...Chantelle had never seen "real" snow before this and she's the one who made the profound discovery about walking in snow that became the title of this post :)

Aleksandra (middle), Chantelle (right) and I after we made the Polish dessert...we had quite the self-timer adventure while making this picture happen! Our neighbors probably thought we were crazy; just moments before, a couple French guys who were boiling a huge pot of potatoes wandered through the kitchen to check on their food and found us giggling and dancing while making the dessert, then once we got back they probably overheard all our commotion of running from the camera to the door to make the photo happen...hope we weren't too loud!

Cari (left), Chantelle (middle) and I one of our first nights here in Clermont-Ferrand. We watched the movie "Annie" that night; it was lovely :)

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone, I hope you have a wonderful day!

11 February 2010

Productivity is my middle name...how I got things done.

This week I did everything I was supposed to do, and actually got everything done...I was impressed with myself. Here's a list of what I accomplished:
1. Created my academic contract for the semester
2. Enrolled at UBP (Universite Blaise Pascal)
3. Got my student ID card
4. Signed up for my placement test to determine which level of French classes I should take
5. Mailed my registration form to OFIL
6. Started my job
7. Opened a bank account
8. Attended my first class at UBP
9. Bought the mandatory insurance for my dorm room

That's a lot to accomplish, eh? Some things were easier to do than others, I learned that if I simply carried my passport, housing contract/letter of confirmation, a little cash, and my student card (once I got it) with me everywhere I went, I tended to be able to get whatever I needed to get. Without one or another of those things people usually just told me to come back later.

Other useful lessons/tidbits of information I've learned since getting here:
-There are international fees for using American credit/debit cards overseas.
-When using a pay-as-you-go plan, it's much more cost effective to text than to call...USUALLY. But it's generally a safe bet that texts will keep your money working longer.
-Some DVDs are made to work in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, while others are made to work in the US and Canada. My computer is American, thus formatted to play American DVDs, so the one I bought in France requires it to reformat itself, which is fine except for the fact that it will only change 4 times and after that it's stuck.
-While it's much more "French" to use the little specialty markets and to only buy enough food for a day or two at a time, it's much more cost effective to buy it at an "hypermarchee" (think WalMart or Target) for several days at a time. I spent 7.27 for food for 4 days instead of at least 7euros a day for buying whole meals each day.
-Bread, on the other hand, is worth buying in small quantities each day because it tastes much better the first day than the second.

Well, that's all I have for now, more tomorrow on my job, my first class, and some pictures of the town!

06 February 2010

Sleep All Day

That's pretty much what I did my first few days here.
Have I chosen classes yet? No. (They don't start till March 2nd. Evidently they were supposed to start earlier but they aren't going to.)
Have I officially enrolled at Blaise-Pascal? No. They needed another document the day I went in and the day I went back they told me to come back later...I was busy later.
Have I found the post office? Yes. But haven't mailed what I need to mail yet.
Have I met people? Yes.
Have I gotten a job? Yes. As a lab assistant in the English Learning program here at Blaise-Pascal. Unknowingly, I decided to attend a school that has a state-of-the-art, award winning English learning program that utilizes computers for listening and speaking exercises for the students and people for going around and talking to them. It doesn't pay very much, but it's very cool and will probably be a good resume' builder.
Yesterday I broke down and got a phone (I know, I know, a long time of holding out, eh?). But it was a necessary thing, I think. And as long as I balance my phone costs with my food costs I think I can afford it fairly easily. With the lack of dependable internet connections and the plethora of different student residences, it's hard to get a hold of people/make plans without having a phone.
Last night I went to a bar as a completely legal young person...not really that exciting, but I think it's probably notable enough to be a notable note. It was really expensive and I, who come from a background of "girls get in [and drink] for free," didn't really see the need to spend 6euro for a tiny little drink. But it was a fun bar, lots of people, lots of laughter.
Next week starts my mission to accomplish everything necessary for me to become a fully enrolled and registered student here, as well as my first week of work. Wish me luck!

Home Sweet Home

Here are some pictures of my spacious living space, beautifully created in the most spatially economic manner I have ever seen. There is also a shower in the bathroom; it's about the size of one person exactly, but I couldn't get an adequate picture of it within such a tiny space. Despite it's size, the room is comfortable and I have no complaints about it, at least at this point!

03 February 2010

A Whole New World

I have internet! It's my sixth day in France and the first one where I've been able to connect to the internet using my own computer! I'll limit this post to my stay in Jouarre, where I stayed at a convent for my first three nights in France--a great deal, by the way; three nights and five meals for 40 euros.
Here's how my adventure in getting from CDG airport to the convent went...

The people at CDG and Gare l’Est were very nice and accommodating about helping me figure out where to go; the people at Gare du Nord I think were trying to be accommodating but also thought I was stupid and didn’t seem as nice. But maybe that’s just me. [I had to take a subway to Gare du Nord from CDG and a metro from there to Gare l'Est before I could get on my train to Jouarre.]
Then once I got on my train, I didn’t get off at Meaux…thus I backtracked a stop before I exactly figured out that a train runs back and forth between Paris and Meaux, and another one between Meaux and Chateau Thierry (my stop, La Ferte sous Jouarre, was three stops after Meaux). So I had to get off at Meaux and wait a couple minutes for the next Chateau Thierry train to come in. THEN, when I was leaving Jouarre, I assumed it was the same deal and that I would have to get off at Meaux and wait for the next train to take me to Paris. I was wrong. Well, there WAS a train to Paris. But the one I was on in the first place would have taken me to Paris directly, no switches. Oh well.
My room at the convent in Jouarre was quaint but very cute and, in some ways, nicer than my room here at school (more on that, with pictures, soon). I had a bed with pillows, a desk, two dressers (one served as a bedside stand and the other was a bit wider), and a table, as well as three chairs in the room (one at the table, one at the desk, and another one in the corner). I had my own sink with a mirror and a few hooks to the side…there were hangars on the hooks so I assume the sink closet could also double as a closet. The shower was right next door and was pretty basic—turn the water on by twisting the knob on the left and adjust the temperature with the one on the right.
I never went to morning prayer with the nuns because I was asleep Saturday morning, the only day I could have made it, but I went to sext, vespers, and compline each afternoon and it was beautiful. The nuns sang almost everything, often in harmony, and they sang like angels.
Meals were a new experience for me; they were completely silent, which makes sense in the convent setting, but there was a whole etiquette that accompanied them and it took me a couple meals to get the hang of it. Here’s a rough outline of how meals went:
1. Find a table/place, bringing your napkin with you. If you’re eating more than one meal, a cloth napkin with a holder. Otherwise, a paper napkin.
2. Stand at your chair until prayer is said. Sit down, put napkin either in lap or on the table by your plate.
3. First course—vegetables or soup. Offer some of whatever you want (bread or whatever food is being served) and continue passing it around the table until it comes back to you. You end up with both bread and the first course by the time everyone is served and no one eats until everyone has both. Set bread on the table near your plate.
4. Eat, silently, and a speed I simply could not match. Clean your plate with a crust of bread when finished. If you want seconds, offer them to everyone else before serving yourself.
5. Take dish from first course back into kitchen, bring out main course. Same process with serving, this time water and wine are also in the mix.
6. Eat main course and once again clean plate off with bread.
7. Stack all the plates from the table and most of the silverware—whatever won’t be needed for dessert. Everyone get some more bread, maybe a bit more water or wine.
8. Pass out clean plates, time for some cheese. Either one or two kinds of cheese per meal, everyone cuts themselves a wedge and eats it with bread.
9. Dessert, usually some sort of fruit—an apple, fruit salad, apple pie without a crust, a fried apple, some chocolate bread cake, applesauce. Sometimes the cheese went well with the cake, if you wanted to eat them together. Usually no one drank wine with dessert.
10. (at lunch only) coffee or tea, I think people can talk during this part. But they only did during one of the lunches.
11. Help clean and put away all the dishes, wipe the tables down after sweeping all the breadcrumbs into a little dustpan, and re-set the tables for the next meal. Put napkin and holder back into napkin cubby if eating more meals.
Like I said, complicated. But, all in all, an excellent experience and a great way to start off my time here in France.
I'll be posting pictures and details of my life here in Clermont-Ferrand soon!