Trouble in Paradise… Yeah, it’s here too

We have all heard the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Well, I have been accused a time or two of only reporting the good. Naturally, there have been a few moments that have fallen into the latter 2 categories, but I don’t necessarily capitalize on their presence. Because of this, I am taking a bit of time to recount a few questionable experiences I have had since arriving. Don’t worry, I am very safe where I am and constantly learning how to be more vigilant and aware, but things do happen anywhere and better to learn from my experiences than to have similar ones of your own. I will proceed in chronological order from the beginning of my trip.

To start, anyone who has read blog post number 2 (The Arrival) knows about my experience in the Frankfurt Airport. Well, I learned then that I don’t cope very well when I am not in control. My friends would be astonished, I’m sure, to hear me say that I am a bit of a control freak. Being alone in that airport for 9 hours not knowing the native language and then being pushed back to the lobby and having to make it back through security was probably one of the most terrifying moments of my life. It was 3am home time so nearly everyone I knew was asleep, so I felt alone and cut off. Additionally, I didn’t speak the native language and could not understand all the signs. On top of that, my phone was only good for France, and since I was in Germany, I couldn’t contact anyone except by finding wifi, which was weak at best. Things were not going as planned, I knew no one, and was in no shape to be reasonable. In all reality, I was fine: I had a plane ticket for the next available flight, I had 9 hours to get the pass printed and find my gate, I had my luggage, most people spoke English, and everyone I spoke to was trying to be helpful. I was just exhausted. This culminated in my walking around the airport with a big grin on my face to try and keep myself from crying. My last straw broke when I went to starbucks to try and get a drink using my giftcard and their card machine was broken. For me, this was the end of the world; I couldn’t even buy myself a drink. I got to a bathroom as quickly as I could, locked myself in a stall, and sobbed as quietly as I could for about 20 minutes, trying to regain some composure so I could figure out what to do. For someone who had never been so far from home, I was already regretting my decision to leave everything I knew behind for 4 months. Of course, everything got better. I washed my face, found wifi, received messages from my parents who (God bless them!) were up at 3am calling my program coordinator and checking available flights and talking to me to make sure I was ok. I still tear up thinking about how incredibly loved and blessed I felt at that time. I got directions from multiple people, managed to get my new boarding pass printed without bursting into tears, and took my second trip through airport security. After getting through security, finding my gate was a breeze and I found some open seats where I crashed and slept for about 5 hours.

This experience taught me the importance of not panicking and of letting go of control. Things will NOT always go your way and your maturity shows in how you respond to those experiences.

Less than 2 weeks later, I had my second scary experience, but this one was a little bit of a bigger deal. The first Nice soccer game was coming up, so a bunch of the exchange students got tickets to go together. I bought a ticket as well, but the day of, some other friends were shopping so I decided to forego meeting my group and decided to just meet them at the stadium. After all, we just had to take a bus from Antibes to Nice and then switch buses just past the airport to catch the stadium bus that would take us right to the front steps. Easy, right?? Well, I got to Nice and accidentally deboarded the bus a stop early. No big deal, I just started walking to the next stop which was in sight, but then some random middle-aged guy started talking to me. At first, it was no big deal either. He just commented in French that I was a fast walker and asked me something that I didn’t catch, but which I just responded affirmatively to, and went on my way. (It’s pertinent to mention here that I am pretty sure in hindsight that he was inquiring if I was alone.) Well, I went to the next bus stop and looked around for the bus I was supposed to take, but couldn’t find the number anywhere. I walked to the next stop, and still no bus. Upon the occurrence of this second let-down, I must have had a bewildered expression on my face, but I turned away from the road and this guy, who had sat down on a bench by this bus stop, beckoned for me to come over to him. Now, the next few sentences are going to make you gasp at my idiocy and shake your head wondering how you ever thought I was an intelligent being, but I made these mistakes and they are important to recognize. I walked over to him. I wasn’t stupid enough to go around to his side of the bench or sit down, but I did go over to him. He started speaking in French, at which point I became flustered at my low level of comprehension and he switched to English. He asked me a few things such as where I was from, what I was doing in Nice, etc and through the conversation this is what I revealed about myself: I am an American student; I do not speak French well; I am on my way to a soccer game; I am alone; and I do not know how to get to my destination. Upon my making this last comment, he told me to come sit by him and that he would take me to the game, that we would go together, but I should just sit down with him for a while. I told him I had friends waiting for me and I needed to go and he responded again that he would show me where to go and I should just have a seat. At this point, I bluntly stated (or rather, stumbled) in French that I had to go now, told him good evening, and began walking quickly down the road. At this point, he called out to me a bit and then stood up and began following me, calling to me, and walking with such a speed as to begin gaining on me. I called one of my roommates at this point and told her where I was and what the situation was and she told me to get the h*** across the road. I stayed on the line with her until I got to a crosswalk which, at that moment, turned green for me and red immediately after. THAT is one of the reasons I KNOW there is a God. I got across the street, hung up the phone, and went into a hotel lobby to ask for directions. The man told me that the bus I was looking for picked up from the street behind the hotel, so I checked my surroundings and hoofed it around the building to get out of view of the main road before that guy spotted me again. I found the bus stop and waited there for half an hour, with not a single bus passing in that time. At this point, the game was nearly half over and I knew buses would stop running soon. I made the decision to just head back to the bus stop for the bus returning to Antibes and sat there for 45 minutes waiting for the last bus to come. At this point, I called my parents and they stayed on the line with me the whole time, during which multiple cars drove past, several of which slowed as they were passing and stared at me. As my dad jokingly put it, “I guess you’re never gonna go out at night alone to an unknown city again, are ya?”

This experience was a red light for me to wake up and feel the thorns on those roses. I made several critical mistakes that evening. First, I went to an unknown area alone at night when I had the opportunity to go with friends. Second, I was too bashful to ask the bus driver what stop was the correct one for me to disembark. Third (but really 1.5), I did not research the bus routes nearly as well as I should have. Fourth, I spoke to a male stranger. Fifth, I accepted and approached a male stranger. Sixth (and seventh, eighth, ninth,…), I revealed weaknesses (female, alone, lost, etc). Things could have gone much differently that night, for better or worse, if I had changed my decisions any. I could have been kidnapped. I could have been raped. I could have been killed. I was beyond stupid. And I berate myself heavily for these mistakes. Needless to say, though, I did not and will not make them again.

*I will update this posting as more things come to mind

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Found: Friend for the Weekend

This past weekend, instead of traveling to a new place, I had a friend travel to me. My friend Raleigh, who is currently studying at the University of Kent in Canterbury and who is also blogging about her semester abroad (Wanderings and Ponderings by lapereuse), is on her Spring break and came to visit the French Riviera for a few days. She is the same friend I met for my trip to Stonehenge during MY Spring break. It was a great experience having a friend from home to enjoy life with and with whom to share my wonderful temporary home. Raleigh arrived on Thursday evening and we began the visit by making and enjoying a nice dinner in, introducing all the roomies, and making plans for the weekend.

On Friday, we started our tour of the French Riviera by going to… wait for it… Italy! Ventimiglia has an awesome Friday market, so we went for cheap food and a bit of an Italian experience. I got 4 scarves… Raleigh got 5… and then we also bought cheese and strawberries and a kebab wrap (actually pretty good). We even got to see some of the fake brand hawkers make a run for it when an officer found them without permits (or just found them, if what they were doing was illegal). After exhausting the market, we got off the return train early and explored Monaco. We walked all the way around the Rock of Monaco, viewing the gardens, the Palace, and some of the shops and side streets. Then, we headed down the hill and walked along the track of the Grand Prix. It’s close enough to the race date that they are already setting up the seating and the barriers along the course. Passing the track, we continued along until we reached the casino and Monte Carlo. Talk about some NICE cars… they even had a car show in progress. After my car-geeking, we passed through some very high-end shops and followed the road back to the train station to discover that we had made a full loop. But wait, there’s more! After getting back to Antibes, we headed back out for dinner, trying a restaurant I had never been to and then headed to the Hop Store to have a drink and relax. On the way to the Hop, I had a random dude come up beside me and start a conversation. He asked where I was from, why I was in Antibes, and talked about his job on one of the boats. He stayed with us until we parted ways by the port. Not a typical American occurrence… the guys here can be weird.

Saturday, we started our day early again with a visit to the Antibes market, where we bought candied apricots, cheese, grapes, and odd-flavored macaroons for breakfast and enjoyed it beside the Picasso Museum, overlooking the Mediterranean. Afterwards, we caught a train to Nice to go see their market and purchased socca (a Nicoise specialty) and more strawberries for a light lunch. This lunch was taken to the beach where we relaxed for a good hour or 2, and I may have taken a cap nap. Raleigh collected some unique rocks and was braver than I to venture into the water. Then, we walked around Nice, exploring all of old town and the markets we passed along the way, all along a beautiful park with a wooden marine-themed playground and enormous fountain. Exiting the park, we stopped by my apartment’s favorite macaroon shop for some high quality treats and then meandered towards the train station down Nice’s main shopping avenue and explored a few shops as we went along. Returning to Antibes, we prepared dinner a little early using one of my favorite recipes from home and some asparagus I picked up in Ventimiglia and got ready for a CEA-organized visit to the new Antibes theatre. Let me just tell you what… that was the STRANGEST play-dance-thing I have ever seen. I’m not really sure what happened, but a woman gave birth to 8 kids, there were dropping black sacks, one of the kids was sleeping on the ceiling, and then they were walking up a grid of bars set against the back of the stage. Oh, there was also a lot of yelling, screaming, guttural sounds, and off-beat, tribal-sounding music. Very weird.  But interesting as well.

Sunday, we headed the opposite direction on yet another CEA-organized trip, this time to visit St. Marguerite Island. The island was beautiful and we rode to it on a boat from Cannes, but the weather was stormy (thankfully not wet, though) and the wind was strong. We toured the old prison where the legendary “Man in the Iron Mask” was held and also the museum located there. We then picnicked outside where Kristin told us a bit more of the history of the Man behind the Mask and then explored the island some more. On St. Marguerite were also located some bunkers left over from World War 2 when France was occupied. They were in very good condition and it was a very cool bonus to my Normandy visit over Spring break. After catching a boat back to Cannes, Raleigh and I struck out on our own, exploring the old town, walking up to the top of the hill to get the views, and then exploring the rest of the city. Unfortunately, most shops were closed since it was Sunday, but we got some postcards and still saw all we wanted to. Today, we got back to Antibes pretty early so that boring me could study for my first finals and Raleigh could relax some in preparation for her 2 week traveling adventure with her mom and aunt. For dinner, since Raleigh had never had sushi, she decided she was game and we ordered in (no delivery fees here!). Somehow, the restaurant’s system rejected my international phone number however and that coupled with my name not being listed on the door meant that we had 2 hours of confusion and aggravation waiting for the food to arrive. Finally, we walked to the restaurant to see what was the matter (and discovered the issue) and claimed our sushi. For weird Antibes-guy-experience number 2 of the weekend, while walking to the sushi shop, as we rounded a corner, I saw a guy walking up behind us very quickly, his eyes to the ground, muttering under his breath. I was wary, but turned and we just kept walking until he walked right into us. Yes, he ran into us from behind! And when we turned around, he started asking us if we were American and trying to start conversation! Wierdo. Well, I was not a happy camper at this point because I had been waiting for food for 2 hours, was hungry and aggravated, and my personal bubble had just been invaded. I didn’t do anything crazy, I promise… I just gave his this glare of pure disgust and turned around and walked away. He didn’t approach us again and just melted back to where he came from. Just, gah, so weird. Well, fast forward to getting the food back home and mission Sushi Introduction was a success! Raleigh enjoyed her first experience with sushi and I am thankful that it was reasonably decent food, even though the mix-up in receiving it was agitating.

Unfortunately, since I had an early morning exam on Monday (which smart me woke up late for) and Raleigh had to be at the airport reasonably early, she was still asleep when I left and she was gone when I returned. I did get to say my goodbye, even though it was via facebook, and Raleigh had no trouble getting to her flight to go meet her family in London for the next chapter of her travels. I was so glad she got to come see me and I very much enjoyed the weekend. I hope she enjoyed it as much as I 🙂

Well, that’s how I showed a friend nearly the entire French Riviera (plus some Italy and throw in an extra city-state) in 3 days. I leave shortly on my own adventure to Venice, Italy in Wednesday, my last travel before I head back state-side. The end is approaching so quickly and I am so excited to be able to go home, but I already know that I am going to miss France so dearly. Antibes truly has become my home.

Rome in a Day? Well, maybe a day and a half…

The weekend after Athens, Natalie and I took an overnight train to go spend the weekend in Rome.

Let me just say that I was very pleasantly surprised with the overnight train. We did a sleeper car and were provided with water, a sanitized pillow, a substantial blanket, and even a package containing tissues and a wet towel for refreshing. They even woke us up at our destination and gave us a juice box! The overnight train had us arrive in Rome at 6 am, so we were guaranteed to get a full day on site-seeing.

On this day, we started at the Coliseum. Wow. I don’t know what it was about the Coliseum that was so awe-inspiring to me, perhaps the vastness of its size, perhaps its age, perhaps the knowledge of the tools and technology available to help build it, perhaps visualizing the events that took place there hundreds and thousands of years ago- whatever it was, it was difficult to turn away. After the Coliseum, we saw the Arch of Constantine and then entered Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The Hill was vast and full of numerous temples, ruins, gardens, and more – with the most famous of these of course being the Roman Forum. We could have wandered here for the rest of the day to try and see everything, but we had to get to the Vatican for our scheduled tour. At the Vatican, we were guided through the museums, Rafael rooms, and led to the Sistine Chapel. The whole complex was beautiful, from floors to ceilings, and the numerous detailed tapestries were absolutely lovely, but I was very glad to have a guide to learn from. The entire place was so packed with tourists that I would not have appreciated the experience otherwise. The Sistine Chapel was both stunning and disappointing at once- stunning for the vast size, high quality, and beautiful mastery of the work, but disappointing for the hundreds of tourists within showing no respect for the sacred place in which they stood. The entire tour, our guide implored us that silence and respect was necessary for this room and for that reason, guides were not even allowed to speak to groups within the room, but for any guide who was silent, there were atleast 10 tourists exchanging conversation. Upon exiting the Sistine Chapel, we ran into my friend Madi, who was also visiting the Vatican for the first time and whom we had been hoping to run into. As our tour was completed, we followed her group around until they finished, and then we explored St. Peter’s, starting with a trip by foot to the top of the dome and then continuing to explore the church from ground level. It was a very cool experience to see the church in person and be able to recognize various areas from the election of the last Pope. After the Vatican, we walked around Rome with Madi as our guide (she is an exchange student there) and saw the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, several obelisks, and assorted fountains. We concluded our day with dinner at a cute restaurant suggested by Rick Steves, and headed back to our lodgings for a well-earned sleep.

The next morning, Saturday, we started our day by going to the Pyramid of Cestius, walking up through the Trastevere neighborhood, stumbling across the Campo dei Fiori market on our way, then heading to the Trevi fountain, grabbing gelato, and seeing another fountain before finally heading to a metro. From there, we took the metro up to Piazza del Popolo where we saw a Michael Jackson impersonator rake in the cash and then took a side trip to the Ara Pacis before crossing back and going up into the Bourghese gardens. Now, I know the Bourghese Art Gallery is very famous and popular, but I am not very adept at appreciating art so, we ended up just exploring the gardens for a while, as it was a gorgeous day. We took the metro back to the apartment to make dinner plans and take a short break and then headed out to see St. Peter-in-Chains, home to Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, which was unfortunately closed by then, and grab some dinner in the same area.

The next morning, we started our day at around 10 am with the National Museum of Rome. It was one of the more interesting museums I have ever been to, and very enjoyable. They had pieces of old Roman calendars on display, even one that predated Julius Caesar! After the museum, we headed back to St. Peter-in-Chains to try again and got there an hour before opening (lunch break!). We spent the hour souvenir shopping and wandering around the neighborhood. Our wanderings brought us upon a dirt-field community soccer… excuse me, football… game that we watched for a few minutes before moving on. The statue of Moses was beautiful and intricate, as was the entirety of the church. We moved on to catch the metro from the Coliseum back to Termini train station and made the discovery too late that one does not simply buy a metro ticket by the Coliseum on a Sunday afternoon (*insert Boromir meme here*). We spent about 30 minutes in line, met about 5 or 6 other traveling Americans, and I got about a dollar in American change for helping out a couple of American ladies who didn’t have small change for the ticket machine. It is so funny to feel the light weight and thinness of American coins after you have grown used to the weight of the Euro. We made it back to Termini with about 30 minutes to spare, so what does one do as a last event in Rome? Why, get gelato of course! We literally finished our gelato in front of the bus driver after buying our tickets. It was a good end to the weekend.

I can now say that I have seen both Greek and Roman mythology, and in order! I can also crack my own jokes regarding the phrase about Rome not being built in a day. Well, it wasn’t built in a day, but Natalie and I conquered it to our satisfaction in just over a day and a half…

Beaches, Islands, and History in every combination

The day after I wrote my previous blog, my program took us to visit Saint Tropez. This little coastal town boasts a population of 5,000 off-season and 80,000 on-season. Apparently since there is no main road leading to Saint Tropez, during peak season, the drive from our little Antibes which took us 2 hours, will take a driver upwards of 4 or 5 hours due to traffic. This is the summer-beach-party-town of the French Riviera frequented by anyone who is anyone in the public spotlight. The views were quite beautiful, but the town was overpriced and underwhelming unless you were going boating or partying. However, they do have a local treat called tarte Tropezziene that is a sponge cake with a layer of vanilla cream in the middle. The whole thing is very light and the slices are quite large. It was very sweet and surprisingly refreshing. After touring the town and local art museum, Kristin and Silvija surprised us with a partial-return-trip by boat. This cut our total return trip time down by an hour or so, so they released us to relax on the beach and do what we wished. I got gelato and when I ordered, the put it on the cone in the shape of a flower! The trip across the bay was enough to burn my face (story of my life), so I was quickly identified along with a couple others as red. Sweet Silvija asked if I had any aloe for my face when she saw me. That being said, I enjoyed the whole experience but would not attempt a visit to Saint Tropez during true tourist months.

This past weekend was Easter. (Oh, Happy late Easter everyone!) For the holiday, we had Monday off from classes, and so that coupled with the Friday that Julie, Natalie, and I already have, gave us a golden opportunity to plan a trip a little bigger than usual. Our choice destination (and splurge…): Athens, Greece! This actually turned out to be an ideal choice since Greek Orthodox Easter is a week after our Easter. So, while all the rest of Europe was closing up for most of the weekend, Athens was still buzzing. We flew in Thursday night so we could get three full days of sightseeing and then returned at a reasonable hour on Monday. On day 1, we saw all the historic Athens sites: the Acropolis with the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus, Temple of Nike, Temple of Athena, Theatre(s) of Dionysius, Erectheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, etc. The great thing about being a student with an I.D. card for an E.U. university is that all of these sites let us in for free. We probably saved 40 or 50 euros in total for 1) being students and 2) being EU students. While at the Parthenon, we ran into a couple from Ohio, who of course automatically knew we were fellow Americans and had a nice conversation about seeing the world. We also discovered the incredibly low prices of food and… wait for it… souvenirs!! 😀 The Grecians seem to have one personality type: gregarious, outgoing, and accommodating. Everyone was very sweet to us all the time (except for those ladies running their rose con). For example, we went into a souvenir store run by a little lady who was excited to tell us about all of her stock (of course) and after I had paid, she was advising me to make sure I wore sunscreen, as she could see my face getting pink. Additionally, I stood up on the metro and dropped my phone on the seat and four Grecians immediately tried to get my attention to tell me, and then proceeded to tell me to keep a closer eye on my things and be careful. That day, we also visited the less historic Syntagma Square, Monastiraki Flea Market, New Acropolis Museum and had an awesome dinner at a highly recommended restaurant. At Monastiraki, women with individually wrapped roses were walking around everywhere trying to give them out to people. I say “trying” because it was an obvious attempt to get people to give them money. They would give you a flower “for free” and then follow you telling you how they needed a little money until you gave them some. Now psychologically, you are more likely to give someone something if you have received something (i.e. the flower), so it is a cunning scheme, but absolutely aggravating when they literally stick the flower into your pocket or scarf or purse strap so you have “taken it.” One girl, about age 15, approached Julie and did just this, sticking the flower into her purse strap, and then proceeded to squeeze Julie’s cheek like a grandmother. Let’s just say she wasn’t successful in her venture.

For day 2, we knew we wouldn’t be doing Athens/Greece justice if we didn’t make an excursion to a nearby island. Our island of choice was Aegina (apparently known for their pistachios) where we visited the island’s archaeological site, explored the beaches and little coastal town, and had ice cream and a very touristy lunch. The island’s UNESCO Heritage site had a small museum of stone monuments and old pottery along with a 1- or 2- acre open area where old stone buildings once stood and a beach view that for me was one of the most beautiful of my entire semester. We travelled to the island by ferry (about 90 minutes) and from the island for a slightly higher price by hydrofoil (about 30 minutes). The ferry allowed us to sit outside, enjoy the beautiful weather, and admire the other islands as we passed. The hydrofoil got us back to the mainland in time for dinner and a little extra exploring. During our wanderings, I think we may have seen more stray cats than humans… ok, maybe not, but you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing at least a stray or two (think minimum or 10 or 15 cats for the day). It was a fun and relaxing (albeit chilly) day.

Day 3, we took another excursion a few hours up the coast of Greece to the Cape of Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. The temple was beautifully situated overlooking the entrance to the Aegean Sea surrounded by wildflowers and blue water. While waiting for the bus to Sounio, a lady at the stop struck up conversation with us, asking where we were from. After hearing our answers, she made a comment on the brutality of Tennessee’s winter and the beauty of Maryland and D.C., where Julie and Natalie are from and then told us she was from Boston. She then made sure we took the bus with the scenic coastal route to get to Sounio and made sure the driver and ticketing people knew exactly where we were going when she got off before our stop. She even stood up on the bus en route to suggest we switch sides to have a better view. When we got off at the stop on the coastal route to wait for the bus that would take us to rest of the way, we had about an hour to burn and some beautiful beaches on which to spend it. We found a lifeguard tower with a pole to slide down (naturally, we obliged) and enjoyed the mild weather. With a little extra time remaining, we went into a nearby supermarket and bought some drinks. I bought a bottle of water and a can of coke for a total of 0.76 euro. Natalie bought 1.5L of water for 0.36 euro. THAT is a good example of Grecian prices and it was lovely.

The morning of our final day, Monday, we got an early start to make it to the sites in Athens we had missed on day 1 and get some last minute souvenir shopping done. We saw the Panathenaic Stadium where the first of the Modern Olympics was held as well as the Temple of Olympian Zeus. While waiting for the train to the airport, we also ventured to try an orange from one of the trees lining the roads. These oranges, we knew, were bitter, but I at least was curious to what end. The orange smelled lovely and was very juicy, but there was little or no natural sweetness and the acidic, tangy taste was similar to that of a lemon.

In the airport on the way to Athens, we found a pack of six sticks of mentos for a low price. Feeling slightly impulsive, we made the purchase and split them two sticks each. This was so enjoyable that Julie vowed to make it her airport tradition. Naturally, going back through on our return, we made the same purchase (and got it for 0.90 euro less!) On a little side note that made me smile, they passed out chocolate eggs on the flight back in celebration of Easter.

Aegina UNESCO beach overlook

A Whirlwind Travel Adventure

The past couple weeks have flown by. Starting with Friday, March 13th, Natalie, Julie and I headed for Aix-en-Provence to spend the day and see the sights. The town was tiny, easy to navigate, and had tons of character. We had calissons (an almond paste sweet from the region), toured two art museums, saw most of the scattered statues and fountains, and took our time enjoying the area. That evening, we saw “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (in English, with French subtitles) and Julie had a pizza topped with pasta, apparently feeling a need for a few more carbs in her diet (lol). The next day, we woke up early and caught a bus to Arles where we met up with CEA for their weekend Provence trip. We spent the morning seeing the market, buying amazingly cheap pastries, and seeing the best-preserved Roman coliseum (not THE Roman coliseum; this one was much smaller). There was a small carousel running at the market, so it was natural that we would want to ride it! And that’s just what we did. For the afternoon, the bus took us to Chateaux des Beux. Located in the mountains, this chateau was surrounded by a small town that is one of the oldest in the region. Then, we saw a Roman aqueduct/bridge built over a river entirely of 6-ton stones with no mortar holding them together of which to speak. In essence, gravity was doing all the work.  Afterwards, we continued to Avignon. We checked into our hotel that evening and then walked as a group to a restaurant situated within view of the Pope’s Palace. The meal was a full, French meal equipped with an appetizer, bread, a main course, a dessert, coffee, and plenty of red wine, white wine, and water. After dinner, we were released to wander back to the hotel at or leisure, which most of us accomplished quickly because of the rain. The next day, we toured the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and saw the remainder of the bridge that once connected the Palace to the French king’s residence, so that the two could hang out together when they wished. We then went to a small town (named Vaucluse?) in the mountains, secluded with gorgeous views and an absolutely beautiful river. After eating lunch here and taking many, many pictures, we made one last stop at a Lavender Museum. Naturally, it smelled beautiful inside, and they had a very nice gift shop. I bought a few things and then a few friends and I got our picture taken by a journalist doing a story on the museum. Our picture was posted in a small Provence newspaper, a link to which I have placed on my Facebook as well as here (http://www.laprovence.com/article/papier/3326523/coustellet-le-charme-et-les-bienfaits-de-la-lavande-aux-portes-ouvertes-du-musee.html) . The experience was capitalized by the fact that we each were handed a chocolate chip cookie the size of our face upon reboarding the bus.

After a week of midterms and quizzes, our trio (easier than stating Julie, Natalie, and I all the time) headed to Geneva, Switzerland on Saturday, March 21st. While in Geneva, we saw the flower clock, the Jet d’Eau, the Patek-Phillipe watch museum, the UN, the Red Cross Red Crescent Museum, the church where John Calvin preached for 25 years, and the Reformation Wall. We of course had a dinner of cheese fondue and gasped at the incredibly high prices listed on EVERYTHING. We also went into many, many chocolate stores and were disappointed by the high prices found in all. Despite that, we still bought chocolate… And ate chocolate.

After returning to Geneva early Sunday evening, Julie and I had approximately 6 quizzes and exams between the two of us on Monday and Tuesday, before leaving Tuesday evening, March 24th, for Barcelona, Spain. We had a hilarious experience arriving, as we had told our AirBnb host that we would be checking in one time and didn’t reach the area until about an hour after that. To top that off, my phone had died so I had no way of contacting her to tell her, and I couldn’t remember the apartment number. So after wandering around the apartment building for a few minutes, Julie and I went to the first cafe with free wifi we could find and ordered some drinks. It was just our luck that this particular cafe was themed as an American diner from the 60’s. Well, we got milkshakes, connects Julie’s phone to the wifi, pulled up my account on AirBnb, contacted our host, and figured out the apartment number. So, no worries, we made it to a bed for the night. The next morning, we started with the Picasso museum, then the Olympic Stadium, the History of Catalunya Art Museum, the magic fountain, La Rambla pedestrian road, the St Josep Market, and had a good, typical Spanish lunch and dinner. Lunch was tapas at a restaurant deemed “best in Barcelona” by multiple sites and reviewers. We couldn’t read the menu at all, so after a few minutes, our waiter took our menus and just started bringing up food. We had sausage, pork, calamari, green chilies, chickpeas, and a desert platter with a Spanish liqueur of which I never caught the name, but was quite strong. Our dinner was at a cute little Mexican restaurant where we guacamole and one of each of their tacos. The next day, we worked hard to fit everything in. Our visits were: Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, Cathedral of Barcelona, Palau de la Musica Catalana with guided tour, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila with tour, Sagrada Familia (wow!), and a late lunch on the beach of empanadas, dragon fruit, strawberries, and fresh fruit juice. Overly zealous, we had brought our swimsuits along, but did not venture into the water considering with we shivering without touching the water. Our dinner that night was seafood paella served with a mix of tapas for an appetizer and a liter to red wine sangria to share with 2-foot straws. That day, we had intended to visit Park Guell, and even went to the public park itself, but access to the Gaudi-designed section was sold out. To remedy this situation, we bought tickets for the first time slot Friday morning and used our last half-day in Barcelona to make sure we saw this famous attraction. It did not disappoint and I made some slightly impulsive decisions upon entering the gift shop. After that, we made our way back to our apartment to grab our things and catch our flight back to Antibes.

Tomorrow, CEA has an excursion to Saint Tropez. The trip boasts a beautiful area with gorgeous beaches. I cannot wait to sleep in on Sunday and go to the beach. The Antibes weather is really starting to feel like summer. Shops are opening, the beaches are being cleaned, finals are approaching, and the last list of CEA excursions has been revealed. I’m already feeling homesick for this beautiful place and will have a hard time going home, although I can never be upset to go back to Tennessee.

Time for School!

Well, I had the realization that while I have spoken much about my travels and even about Antibes, I haven’t given you many details about my regular school-day schedule.

Let me tell you a little about SKEMA… To start, SKEMA has the feel of an American high school. The rules, the size, the cliques, the food, the humor, etc., are all reminiscent of the high school experience. I think in discussion we have summed up the atmosphere as high school with legal alcohol. The entirety of the Bachelor’s program is housed in one building – classrooms, professors’ offices, and administration. The building itself is set up with a large lobby with stairs leading to the basement where a few lecture rooms, computer labs, and offices live, and the rest of the classrooms laid out in front of you. It’s kind of like they took a big building with classrooms along the edge all the way around and then cut a huge hole in the roof, glassed in the walls at the edges of that hole, and made an outdoor courtyard. The school (and this seems to be a trend with the French) is lighted primarily by sunlight streaming from the windows, skylights, and glassed courtyard walls. All the professors try to learn everyone’s names in class and they have friendships with many of their students, just like in high school. 

The students at SKEMA are a motley crew, by nature of the institution. SKEMA is French school with sister schools in China, North Carolina, and (as of like a week ago) Brazil. Regular SKEMA students spend 2 years at their “home” school, and then spend the remaining 2 years at one of the sister schools. The majority of SKEMA courses are taught in English, encouraging these students to increase their English fluency. As I get further into the semester, I am getting to know more and more of the French and international students. Nothing makes me feel more welcome than having a French student move to do a bise, start up a conversation with me in the hallway, or even just make eye contact with me and grin when the professor cracks a joke. It’s the little things that say “we are glad you are here.” In fact, I am in a theater class that frequently splits us into groups to plan short improvisational skits. More than once, I have been the sole American in a group of French students. Of course, they begin to plan in French (yes, I can generally follow what they are saying!), but one of them always makes a point to translate for me to make sure I understand and even ask my opinion on what to add. We had about 30 minutes one day to plan a skit for an exam and after finalizing it in 15 minutes, had the opportunity to sit and just talk about majors, background, what we enjoyed, etc, and that was a beautiful thing.

Now to gush slightly… In discussing with my fellow exchange student friends, many of us chose CEA as a second or third choice, or were at least considering a couple other locations for our semester abroad. Without fail, everyone I have talked to agrees that we do not regret choosing the French Riviera program in the slightest. Our coordinators, Kristen Kerr and Silvija Marinic, are absolutely amazing and ready and willing to help us at our every whim, and Antibes is a perfect location – right on the coast, halfway between 2 big cities on the French Riviera, quaint, small, quiet, and yet enough to do to always be interesting. And if those facts don’t define Antibes as perfect, get this: I can take a train from this little town for €1.20 and ride to Italy for the day. A full round-trip ticket costs me under €5, and that first city, Ventimiglia, has a Friday street market of everything from shoes to clothes to hats and yarn to pasta to cheese, to so much more. There is nothing cooler than going to Italy for the afternoon. Flying back to Antibes from London and spring break, I could pinpoint my apartment building from the plane as it circled around to land in nearby Nice and had a shiver run through me as I thought, “I’m home!” Blessed and highly favored?? I think so!

Spring Break or Bust… Europe Edition

To all of you out there reading my blog, I thank you for your interest and most certainly for your patience, as it has been 3 weeks since my last post. Now, I do feel justified in this, since this past week I was travelling, and the week before that, mom arrived, but nonetheless, it has been a while.

The week before last was spent mostly in preparation for Spring Break, not that that encompassed all. The weekend of Valentine’s Day, a couple things took place. First, the Nice Carnival Flower Parade was set to be on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was rained out, but we still had a good day. For the entirety of this same weekend, Antibes had their “Bread, Love, and Chocolate” festival happening at the Old Port. Vendors from the area and from Italy came to see sweets, chocolates, and art. I bought cannoli and little chocolate sculptures of puppies. Despite the rain, it was a fun little festival to explore. On Wednesday, mom arrived at Nice Airport. That night, we cooked dinner together at my apartment and started planning. She had a sweet package for me from one of my favorite people, Han Solo, that caught me completely by surprise. The next day, we spent the afternoon and evening exploring Old Nice, collecting rocks on the beach, taking pictures, and eating an (enormous!) Italian dinner.

Friday morning, with a taxi pick-up at 4:30am, we headed back to the Nice Airport to catch a flight to Paris. We arrived by 9am and so had the entire day to explore. The next 3.5 days, we stayed in a beautiful hotel called Hotel du Champs de Mars right off a popular street market called Rue Cler. On day 1, we explored the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Champs-Élysées. The crowds around the Mona Lisa were quite pushy, but I got a few pictures anyway. The Arc offered awesome panoramic views and a well-stocked gift shop where I decided that the majority of my souvenirs would be coffee mugs and coasters (I started by buying six coasters here). The Champs-Élysées offered high-end shopping and would have been quite enjoyable if it hadn’t been raining and windy enough to push us back a few steps with every gust. Still, I got an umbrella from the experience and it was worth the time just to be able to say we had walked it. We also had a sweet little breakfast of brioche and jam at a café on Rue Cler.

Day 2, mom wasn’t feeling very good, so I struck out on my own. I had a reasonably relaxed day, seeing first the Catacombs and then the Musée d’Orsay. I was glad to have a few other tourists around me in the Catacombs, because it was dimly lit and being surrounded by thousands of real skeletons far underground can be rather unnerving. The Musée d’Orsay was an absolutely awesome experience. They didn’t want you to take pictures of the art, but there was a balcony overlooking the whole museum where I got a few pictures. It is unreal to see the paintings you have been told about and shown pictures of growing up in real life, right before your eyes. The one that got me in particular was Van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Artist.” The thought that I was actually in the museum after all these years of dreaming still makes me grin. For dinner, I tried Café le Bosquet, suggested by Rick Steves, and he certainly struck gold. For a €21 menu, I received a 3-course dinner: fresh vegetable soup to start, the Parisian classic steak tartar as my main, and a chocolate crème brûlée. The steak tartar, despite being raw, was well done and not at all unenjoyable. I found the whole meal satisfying, both in taste and in portion size.

Day 3, mom and I headed to Versailles, Notre Dame, and the Archaeological Crypt. Versailles was massive, ornate, and packed despite being off-season. The Hall of Mirrors was very cool and the gardens were beautiful. We explored the Grand and Petit Trianons and found a cart selling baked potatoes for lunch. Although chilly and a bit windy, the visit was quite interesting. At Notre Dame, we went up the Tower to the very top and shared a gargoyle’s-eye view of all of Paris. I felt like Quasimodo up there and the architecture was lovely. After the Tower, we went around to the front and stood in line to get into the main cathedral of Notre Dame. I purchased a hand cross made of wood from Bethlehem. The church was gorgeous and I couldn’t help but ponder on the worship of God that this place represented. It was a beautiful thought as well to consider that everyone who entered the church, no matter their beliefs, in appreciating the beauty of the cathedral were appreciating the beauty and love of God. The Archeological Crypt was a cool blast from the past where we saw the ruins of the original town located here in Paris, inhabited by the Romans and lying underneath the church square right in front of Notre Dame.

Day 4, we explored Saint-Chappelle and the Eiffel Tower, and met Julie and Natalie for lunch, before catching our train to Bayeux. Saint-Chappelle was beautiful and incredibly colorful. The high chapel had some of the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen. The Eiffel Tower, despite all the tourist hype, did not disappoint. We went all the way to the very summit where, characteristic of romantic Paris, they had pink posters up was the words “Place to Kiss” written on them. Naturally, mom and I took a picture blowing kisses. In planning to see the tower, we had booked tickets in advance to be sure we would make it up in good time. The only slots available at this late date were our last day in Paris at 11:30, during which it was supposed to be rainy and cloudy. A little disappointed, we didn’t have high hopes for the views, but God’s favor literally shown on us that day- despite the dreary forecast, it was sunny and clear the entire time we were in the tower. Isn’t God good?? For lunch, I tried chitterlings (there is a version that is a specialty in France) and grimaced through the meal. I’m glad I tried them, but there will not be a repeat. After lunch, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and caught our train to Bayeux. We arrived with plenty of time to check in and then find a place for dinner. It turned out that apple cider was a specialty in Normandy, and one in which I greatly enjoyed partaking.

Day 5, we explored the full length of the D-day Invasion beaches. The day began with picking up our rental car for the day… a 6-speed manual transmission.  There weren’t any automatic transmissions available, so mom had become reacquainted with the stick shift in preparation for the day. So, reasonably easily, we made our way to our first location learning road signs along the way. Unfortunately, neither of us had experience with a 6-speed before, so it took us until midafternoon to figure out reverse… but we did! The locations we visited included Arromanches-les-Bains where we saw a video and discovered a documentary with a familiar face on it in the gift shop afterwards, Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery where Germans were stationed off the coast in large guns accurate up to 12 miles, the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer at which we received a sobering comprehension of the amazing sacrifices of our fighting men and women, Pointe du Hoc, the most heavily bombed section of the D-Day beaches where craters are still quite present, and Utah Beach where the majority of the American troops made their attack under overwhelming odds of failure but were successful. I got myself a mug and vial of sand from Utah beach that I collected myself. The day was incredibly windy and cold, but so incredibly worth the trouble we went through to make this day work.

Day 6, we had another early day which started with narrowly making our train from Bayeux to Paris in which mom accidently forgot her jacket in the rush. After arriving in Paris, we found a teashop I had been dying to explore and we made some purchases, then wandered for a couple hours looked for a new jacket for mom. After giving up and heading to the train station, we grabbed some sandwiches since we’d missed breakfast and realized 15 minutes before our connection left that we had to go through customs and a security check to get on said train… what a rush. But, we made it and were in our London hotel by 3:30, which enabled us to find mom a jacket, get TAKE OUT MEXICAN for my first time in 2 months (too good…), and get a night time view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Day 7, we had a full day planned, but ended up taking more time at each location than initially planned, so we covered a few big things such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the Churchill War Rooms. Unfortunately, it was raining at the ToL, so our tour was cut short, but we saw the Crown Jewels and toured the White Tower. Westminster Abbey was gorgeous… and a glorified indoor cemetery for many very big names including Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, TS Elliot, Handel, Jane Austen, and Chaucer, to give just a few familiar names. The Churchill War Rooms were a sight to see, included an in depth museum of Winston Churchill the man himself. I got a cool postcard with him flashing his famous V for Victory sign.

Day 8, we saw 221b Baker St, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (kinda), the Globe Theater, Borough Market, the National Gallery, and the London Eye. Baker St had a museum and gift shop, but we didn’t go into the museum. We did a picture with the front door, though. I purchased a Sherlock Holmes mug and enjoyed trying on Watson’s bowler hat and Sherlock’s deerstalker hat. The changing of the guard was incredibly crowded, but reasonably enjoyable specifically because we found ourselves surrounded by a large group on elementary school students on a field trip. They spent the time complaining in their little British voices about not being able to see and looking off my and some others’ IPhone screens to glimpse the spectacle. The teacher over them all was a very nice, humorous, gregarious man who made the most of the situation and it was clear the kids loved him and he loved his job. In fact, he reminded me of a past teacher of mine, Mr. Allen Nichols. After the changing of the guard, we headed to the Globe theater only to discover that due to a private showing, there were no tours available. It was a real bummer, but we still got to see the museum outlining how the theater was built and some of the costumes that had been used. The guy selling the tickets (who was basically British Christian Wick, btw) felt so bad that we didn’t get to see the theater that he charged me only as a “child” so we would pay as little as possible for entry. On our way to the Tube after the Globe Theater, we stumbled upon Borough Market where we found a vendor selling candied nuts, dried fruits, and TURKISH DELIGHT. Ever since reading “the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” I have been enamored by this mystery sweet called Turkish Delight that would lead Edmund to betray his siblings. Well, I got to try it that day. Bought ₤6 of it in fact, and brought it back to Antibes with me. We then headed to the London Eye, oh excuse me, the Coca-Cola London Eye, and took our turn on the giant ferris wheel that is a major tourist attraction in London at sunset, which afforded us some gorgeous views. We had dinner after the Eye and then headed to the National Gallery to take advantage of the late Friday night closing hours. There were several more classic, famous paintings here that we were able to take our pictures with, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (yes, I may be a fan of Van Gogh… I blame Doctor Who…).

The next morning, we met my old friend and fellow blogger (see WordPress blog “Wanderings and Ponderings”) who is studying near London for the semester and went to explore the mysterious Stonehenge for the day. It turns out, we missed a mutual old school friend of ours by about 15 minutes. We saw Stonehenge, took our obligatory selfies, collected some rocks, and explored the gift shop. I bought a cute mug… which I then unfortunately forgot on the bus back to the train station… and have since re-ordered and had shipped home so I still have a Stonehenge mug (it was hurting my heart!) Mom and I were introduced to British pasties, which are like bread pockets filled with good savory things and baked, but the bread tastes like my grandmother’s homemade biscuit recipe… mmmm, and also tried ginger beer of which I was not a fan, but momma was. After Stonehenge, our bus took us by Old Sarum, the ruins of an old castle and fortress near Salisbury that was a cool piece of history. We returned to London attempting to get dinner before my friend had to catch her bus, but instead spent the time just trying to return to said bus station because of Tube closings that impeded our path. On the bright side, we got our mandatory London red double-decker bus ride marked off.

Early the next morning, mom and I headed to Heathrow Airport to catch our respective flights back home. We didn’t cry… well, maybe a little… and parted ways in my flight terminal. I had mixed feelings returning to the Cote d’Azur – sadness to say bye to mom and see Spring Break end, and joy to be home to warmer temperatures, a bed I can call mine, and my friends. I look forward to my remaining 2 months here on the southern coast of France, but am sad to be so close to the end. I will be happy to reach my true home back in Tennessee, but so sad to leave my home here in the French Riviera behind. I think I understand the “reverse culture shock” phenomenon that we are told to expect upon reintegration into our home country…

Well, I think this blog post is long enough. Until next week… I have a few midterms I’m currently procrastinating from studying for, and I really should get on that. God bless!

Destination: Here

When you are living in a destination vacation spot like the Cote d’Azur of France, it seems a shame to not enjoy the very place you are living. This past weekend, although I had no grand travels to other countries or regions, I did explore some around my home and enjoy the lovely views I am blessed with.

On Saturday, my roommate Julie and I spent an afternoon in Nice shopping and enjoying the area. I expanded my wardrobe to be a little more French, aka I bought black pants, and had a melt-in-your-mouth macaroon while I was there. A word on French fashion: when in doubt, black. I have seen so much black clothing since arriving here- black shoes, black tights, black pants, black skirts, black blouses, black dresses, black jackets, black scarves, black purses, black hats, etc. Now, you may say, “but Kelsey, black isn’t an uncommon color for clothing,” but it’s a little unusual to see completely black outfits COMMONLY and viewed as very fashionable. France fashion looks like everyone is always coming to or from a funeral. They look nice, but it’s a tad bit depressing… and my smart self only brought a white jacket with me. So guess who stands out like a sore thumb!

Over the past week, I have had multiple opportunities to be outside and exercise along the coast. It’s a different, interesting problem when you kick a soccer ball over the goal and have to worry about it getting into the ocean. I also went for a run and discovered a road that runs along a peninsula, parallel to the coast for a good 2 or 3 miles. The views are beautiful and even better, its a slight uphill slope all the way out so you have a downhill return that makes you feel like queen (or king) of the world. I’ve also found a few people to throw disc with, although I need to look up the local Ultimate team to really get some practice in.

A week and a half out from Spring break, I am getting excited: Paris, the D-Day beaches, and London are in my plans and all tickets and hotels are printed and ready. My mom, and travel buddy for the week, will be here when I write my next post and then I just may make a post from Normandy or London. But if you don’t hear from me the week of February 20th, know that I am alive and well… just slightly preoccupied.

The funniest thing about being in France is that my life in the States goes on and has to be kept up with as well. From signing my first apartment lease to submitting documents for a background check to validating my internship start date and planning the little time I get to spend at home upon my return, my life back home has kept me especially busy over the past week. I may be physically in one country, but mentally, my attention is demanded in another. I must say, the contrast does help keep me thankful for the amazing location I am in.

The One Month Mark

So, I have officially called Antibes, France home for one whole month. There isn’t really anything special to celebrate the anniversary, other than the realization both that (1) it’s been a WHOLE month and (2) its ONLY been a whole month. The time has both flown and meandered. My semester is already 1/4th of the way over and I feel as though I’ve lived here for so much longer.

In this past month, I have seen 5 rainy days here in Antibes total… and 3 of them have been consecutive up to today. Needless to say, the ocean is equally beautiful calm as it is green, stormy, and covered in sea foam. It is in the high 40’s today, but I’m so used to the mild coast that I am freezing… I must be getting soft.

The past week has seen me explore some of France without my program for the first time and also spend a lot of my time planning my spring break. As for this past weekend, my roommates Julie, Natalie, and I escaped to the lovely city of Lyon. We arrived around lunchtime by train on Friday and left around dinner time on Sunday. During the 3 days, we stayed in an adorable AirBnB apartment with a view of the city’s Basilisque on the only hill in the city. Our travels included a WWII museum, a Lyon history museum, a Sunday market, a huge, indoor market, the Basilisque, the Roman ruins, some lovely pedestrian shopping streets, several “town centre”-esque areas, and some awesome eating experiences.

It turns out, pralines are a specialty in Lyon, and not the chocolate cookie type. In every bakery, you can find brioche, tarts, croissants, pastries and more studded with these candied almonds. They bake pink, so the look is incredibly distinctive, and the taste is delicious. It’s hard not to stop in and spend a couple euro at every bakery you pass. Lyon is also known for a dish called “quenelle.” Looked up on Wikipedia, quenelle is described as a dumpling made with creamed fish and bread crumbs. The quenelle I had was made with swordfish and served in a lobster sauce with rice on the side. The dish was incredibly rich and very filling as well- definitely worth ordering. One cool thing about restaurants in France is a heavy presence of “menus.” Now, of course every restaurant has a menu, but higher-quality restaurants in the States, and most restaurants of French cuisine in France, have mini-menus within their main menu where you pay a set price and get an appetizer, entree, and dessert. The more expensive the menu, the pricier and nicer your options for each course. Also, it is amazingly common to have dessert with your meal here. My roommates and I have made it a habit of each ordering a different, new dessert when we eat out together and then splitting them 3 ways and trading plates so we get to try them all. I have yet to eat a dessert that did not make me wish for more.

The weekend trip was an incredibly tiring, but unforgettable experience, and I am so glad that I have found people to travel with who have my same interests at heart. I believe my next big trip will actually be spring break in 2 weeks. The planning is heavily underway for a while now and I think it will be a very cool experience as well.

If I have any international friends reading, if you buy the carte jeune online, get the actual card before trying to use the discount on any train! They will charge you the difference between your discount and the full price if you don’t have the physical card with you.

Well, that’s about it… Hopefully the weather will clear up soon. Classes are going well and I hope I never get used to the fact that I’m living here in France. Way too blessed, but thankful all the more! God bless, y’all! 🙂

Mama Mia!!

Well, it’s officially the third week of classes? You can always tell when it’s the third week. You know why? Because everyone and their brother is sick. Sniffling, sneezing, runny nose, sinuses clogged, coughing, and everyone basically just slowly dying. It has been a week or so of Kleenexes, vitamin C, fruits and veggies, lots of water, hand washing, and hopefully increased sleeping (but we all know college kids don’t do that!). I thankfully have not come down with anything, although I can feel it creeping up and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it at bay. The comforting thing is that nothing worse than the normal cold is on the loose. I’m quite thankful for that one.

As for what I have done over the past week, CEA and SKEMA have kept my nights quite busy. This is the first untouched evening I have had since last Thursday night. Since then, Friday was a dinner night, Saturday was a day trip to the Italian Riviera, Sunday was a tour of the local Picasso Museum and a hike to a lighthouse, Monday was an introduction to wine and cheese tasting, and Tuesday night was another dinner/21st birthday celebration and the “Buddy Party” with SKEMA.

Our Friday dinner night, we had about 15 total in attendance. We had wine, bread, and cheese (like good French exchange students), a main course of pasta with 4 cheese sauce and pan seared chicken, and a dessert of fresh crepes with strawberry jam and Nutella. Dinner was delicious and the company was good. The dinner was hosted at my apartment and the cooking was done by myself and my apartment-mate, Tonya. I provided pasta and cheese sauce, Tonya prepared the chicken and opened the wine, and I made the crepes. I have thus far made 5 batches of crepes, from 3 recipes. Also, if I wasn’t a master at making pasta before coming to France, I sure am now. I should start keeping tabs on how much pasta I eat, because I wouldn’t be surprised if I eat my weight in it by the time I return to the States. As far as other kitchen experiences go, I have tried my hand at homemade hummus, created several different pasta sauces, and have nearly reached mastery of crepes as well. My comfort in the kitchen is expanding daily and I am really enjoying getting ideas of what to cook from the other girls.

Saturday was a full, full day: full, as in a long itinerary, and full as in well-stuffed stomachs. We began our day with a visit to the Italian city of San Remo. On Saturday (and I hear Thursday) mornings, the town has an open-air market with everything from leather and ipod cases to homemade pasta and imported fruits. Upon arrival, we found our bearings and then were released for 2 hours to shop and experience the market on our own. The prices at the market were low and the selection was incredible. My first discovery was a table with a vast array of scarves of all sizes and colors – for 2 euros each. Well, being the absolutely frugal and logic-minded shopper that I am, I only bought four. After a few minutes, I passed a lady selling leather belts. She had 3 different width bands of every color, texture, and design you could imagine, and none of them had buckles attached. The display above the bands showed ~10 different buckle styles (round, square, oblong, reversible, etc), each available in 3 different colors. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, but I walked on by to think about it. After spending about 10 seconds, in thought, I turned around and walked back, and essentially “built” my own belt. I chose my band (regular width, caramel-brown color) and my buckle (square, matted silver) and stood awkwardly as she wrapped the band around me to get my measurements and then cut and attached the buckle right there. The price was good and the belt is exactly what I want, and real leather! It smells lovely… But anyway, I walked on, ended up purchasing a lovely camel-colored leather purse for another lovelier low price, found an awesome grey plaid pair of cotton shorts with an ORANGE stripe in them for 3 euro, and went with my friends to get gelato. Mmm gelato… lemon, strawberry, and raspberry were my flavors, although we tested each other’s flavor choices (probably not the wisest plan since we all seem to be sick…) and then met back up with the group for lunch. For Italy, lunch was included. We went to this little mom-and-pop Italian restaurant where, naturally, there was bread, olive oil, and fresh parmesean, and then lunch was served in the form of waves of 6 different types of homemade pasta cooked 6 different ways. (Yes, now is an appropriate time to groan audibly- I did.) We were all absolutely stuffed after the pasta and perfectly content when our coordinators and guide started coming around taking orders for desserts. There were three options, and with two friends, we each chose one so we could split them all. Our choices- tiramisu, crème caramel, and panna cotta were each very tasty. My personal favorite was the tiramisu… and I finished off 2 other servings, sacrificing myself for friends who just couldn’t finish theirs on their own (the travesty!).  Afterwards, we were served our choice of hot tea, hot coffee, or cappuccino. Now, I’m not fond of coffee, but hey, I’m in Italy, so cappuccino it was! That too exceeded expectations. So, we meandered back to our bus and headed for Dolceacqua. In this small town, we toured an old city, saw an impressionist painting my Monet, and toured a beautiful, old church. For our final destination, we stopped in Menton, the first French city past the Italian border for a quick 30 minute respite to explore, have a short tour, and say goodbye to our sweet guide. Aside from it being neigh on impossible to find a public bathroom, this stop was largely uneventful. We finally got home just in time for dinner and sullenly ate our store-bought pasta, much ashamed by its lack of taste compared to our lunch of just a few hours earlier.

On Sunday, we toured the Antibes Picasso Museum. Did you know that Picasso was a player and incredibly self-confident? Well, you do now. Picasso’s paintings remain the most expensive for sale by any well-known painter. The reason the little museum in Antibes is able to afford to keep all of the pieces is that Picasso himself donated them to the museum in the hopes of it one day becoming a Picasso museum. Well, he got his wish. It was a very cute museum with a collection of paintings done near the end of his life, and several photos of him painting in the museum and pictured with 2 of his “women.” After the walk-through, a small group of us walked down the coast and up a hill to the nearby lighthouse, where we picnicked, talked, and took pictures of the stunning view. I could see my apartment from there!!

On Monday night, I learned to taste wine by looking, smelling, and then actually tasting it. We tried a rosé, two reds, and a very sweet white. Kristen, our coordinator, also explained what could be found on the bottle’s label, and what the differences in the regions in France were. In conjunction with the red wines, we also sampled about eight different types of cheeses. I discovered a dislike for Roquefort and Compté, a love for Camembert, and nothing short of enjoyment for all the other types present. In fact, after the tasting, we ended up coming home with leftovers of at least four or five of those eight types.

Tuesday night was the “Buddy Party” thrown by the SKEMA Intercultural Society. Beforehand, we had about 30 exchange students from SKEMA present for Mexican night in our apartment. Many people brought food and wine, and we had a good meal, capped off by celebrating one of the student’s 21st birthdays. They even made him a cake. The Buddy Party was at the local bar, the Hop Store, after dinner. Here, everyone who wanted a French “buddy” had filled out a form telling preferred gender, interests, and hobbies. When we got there, we received a number and then mingled until we found our matching number. Going in, I was nervous about it for the fact that I am not huge into drinking and every French person seems to be. Additionally, I’m just not that outgoing and a whole night of forced awkward socializing was beginning to seem decidedly unpleasant. Well, I went and hung out with friends for a while until I got up the courage to actually go look for my buddy. I actually found her quite quickly since she was actively looking for me and was dismayed to hear from her that she “had been expecting a boy.” Apparently, I was somehow listed as a male on the list and so she was expecting an American boy to get to know. Well, despite that awkward beginning, we talked for a few minutes and then she went with her friend to smoke. I headed back to my friend group, explained my situation, and expanded on my realization that she was not exactly the type of person with whom I generally became friends or hung out. I even made the comment that I wouldn’t really be hurt if she didn’t come back. Well, guess what. She didn’t come back. I can’t say I’m too disappointed. Yes, I would like to become friends with a native French student, but I just knew that she and I wouldn’t really get along. I enjoyed the rest of my evening dancing with a few of my friends and said hi to many more before heading home. One thing’s for sure – I will have plenty of memories and stories to share as a result of this semester abroad, and good or…interesting, I’ll take them all!

Other than those evenings, I had my first theater quiz, which I thankfully had no issue with, came to realize that Dynamics is going to take a lot of work, am actively considering joining the climbing team, and am in the midst of making my travel plans into actual realities. This weekend, I and two of my friends will be spending the weekend in Lyon, and Spring Break, my mommy will be coming to accompany me to Paris, Normandy, and London! I’m excited! So, after my lovely novella, I wish you all I good day and I thank you for hanging on to the end. I’ll try not to be so long-winded in the future. Check my facebook for pictures!! I’m calling it a night.