Sunday, June 24, 2012

Paris, je t'aime!

*Warning: This post is long, but I promise it has lots of pictures.
Following my first week of classes, the other lovely ladies from OU decided they were going to spend a weekend in Paris. Deciding to not waste such an amazing opportunity, I decided to go along, too. We took the train Friday after our classes were finished, around 5pm. Which meant we got to Paris around 8. After figuring out the metro directions to our hotel from the train station, we dropped off our stuff and made our way toward the Eiffel Tower. It was just around sunset when we got to the Eiffel Tower, so we got some pretty pictures of it lit up nicely.
There were tourists everywhere! And we had a bunch of drunk Polish men trying to get in all of our pictures. So that was interesting.
Also, that night was one of the first nights of the Euro Cup, so they had a huge screen set up in front of the tower for people to watch the soccer game.

Giant screen with a soccer game. And the Eiffel Tower. No big deal.
Callie, Tiffany, and me looking pretty lovely.
After we took some pictures from farther away, we went to the tower to wait in line to climb it. Of course, it was pretty late at night, and it was freezing! Also, it started to rain pretty nicely, so we ended up deciding it wasn't worth the almost hour long wait to climb it. We went back to the spot we'd originally taken pictures from to watch the tower light up. Every hour starting at night, 20,000 bulbs light up to give the tower a glittering, sparkling look. It's really very beautiful. After watching the show, we headed back to the hotel.
The next morning, we got up early for a full day of sight-seeing! The first stop was the Arc de Triomphe.
Starting at the Arc de Triomphe, we walked down the Champs Elysees toward the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre. One of our stops on the Champs Elysees was the Ladurée Macaron shop, which is known throughout the world. Even my host family told me I needed to stop and try a macaroon there. Now, I had never had a macaroon before, but that shop has given me an obsession that has led to me buying macaroons almost every place I find that has them.
I tried chocolate and raspberry, and they were heavenly.
We didn't go into any of the shops on the Champs Elysees, because we didn't have thousands of dollars to spend, but it was fun to window shop. Next we walked across the Pont de Alexandre, the most decorated bridge in Paris.
The lady in the white dress was apparently modeling a dress, there was a photographer and a bunch of people arranging everything. And there's Les Invalides in the background.
The Seine river is gorgeous.
After some great picture opportunities across the river, we crossed back toward the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre.

I absolutely love the architecture of the Louvre. It's fantastic artwork in itself.
We spent a couple hours in the Louvre. We saw lots of really cool medieval period artifacts and, of course, lots of paintings. I'd been to the Louvre before and seen the Mona Lisa, so it was nice to see a different wing of the museum. Of course, I don't know that I could ever spent too much in the Louvre. There's so much to see!
After the Louvre, we walked toward Notre Dame! I'd seen the outside of Notre Dame last time I was in Paris, but it was getting dark, and we didn't get any time to go in.
Hooray for Catholics!

This adorable little boy had about a dozen birds flying around him while he fed them pieces of bread. It was so sweet. And he was surrounded by tourists taking pictures.

I just love the style of European churches. Why can't American churches be this beautiful?

The sculpture is everywhere in these chuches, and it is absolutely gorgeous! 
Following Notre Dame, we made our way to the highest part of the city in Montmartre. Because most of the major monuments (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame) are all in really close proximity to each other, I'd seen all of them last time I'd visited Paris. Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur are pretty far removed from everything else, so we hadn't had time to view them last time. I was so glad we were able to go this time! I absolutely loved the entire area!
It's the Moulin Rouge! I didn't see Ewan McGregor or any elephants, though. Disappointing.

Right next to the Moulin Rouge was an O'Sullivan's Irish Pub! Of course I had to get a picture!
Montmartre has really steep streets that are super crowded, but I loved every part of it. The area had such vibrance and personality! I tried some delicious cheese from a Fromagerie and got some of the most delicious ice cream I've ever had (tiramisu flavor) along with a Nutella and Banana crepe! If I ever go back to Paris, I definitely want to spend some more time exploring Montmartre. At the very highest point of the area is the church Sacré-Cœur. It is absolutely beautiful! And apparently they've had perpetual prayer/adoration in the sanctuary there for over 125 years! Hurray for Catholics! I'm pretty sure that Sacré-Cœur was my favorite church I've visited up until this point. It had such great history and was absolutely spectacular. Also, we were there right on the hour, so we got to listen to the nuns singing their hourly prayers, so that was pretty legit.

The outside is gorgeous, and the inside is even more amazing. But no pictures inside, unfortunately. 
Being the highest point in the city affords some pretty spectacular views!
After Sacré-Cœur, it was getting toward the evening, so we headed back to the Metro to head to our hotel. I feel like I got a pretty good grasp on the metro system over this weekend, so that was extremely helpful. Being a small-town kid from Oklahoma, I didn't have a very good idea of public transportation until I actually got a good amount of experience with it.
Sunday morning, we walked past the Pantheon. Unfortunately, we were there before it opened, so we weren't able to go inside. It was still really cool from the outside, though. Then we walked around the Luxembourg Gardens. After the gardens, we went to mass at St. Sulpice, a church with one of the most famous organs in the world. Thankfully, the new English mass translation helped me to figure out a lot more of the French than I might otherwise. Mass was so beautiful, and I felt like I could follow almost everything. Yay for Catholicism being universal!
Thus ends my adventure-filled weekend in Paris. Look back soon for more tales of my travels in France!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Week One of Classes + A Really Cool Castle

To start off classes, we had a large orientation at the school where they explained the program to us and we took a placement exam to determine classes. I placed into a relatively low level class, but somewhere more advanced than the beginning level. This was to be expected, as I haven't done much work with my French since high school. There are two separate classes that make up the work for the courses. A morning class is basically a grammar and vocabulary class, and a shorter afternoon workshop that is an oral conversation class. The other students in my classes are all very nice, from all different parts of the world, we have people from Colombia, Mexico, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, and the Americans. It's so interesting to have such a diverse group of people all here together learning French. I've realized most of the other students can also speak impressive English in addition to their native language, but we only speak in French in the classroom and during breaks. It's interesting to realize that most of the world learns at three languages, with English being taught at almost the same age as maternal languages.
The work in our classes isn't too strenuous, thankfully, but we do generally have some homework. Also, we had a test on Friday over all of the work for the week, so that was nice and fun. I'm still not sure how grading really works here, because most of the work we do isn't collected and graded. Also, the students in each class change every week, with new students coming to Vichy and some students leaving. All of the students are here for varying lengths of time, anywhere from a year to one or two weeks, so the general make-up of the class changes pretty constantly.
For our first week, we had class every day until 3:30 except for Wednesday, which is finished at noon. On Wednesday, some of the other OU students and myself decided to take advantage of one of the many cultural learning opportunities CAVILAM offers to go visit a Château in the nearby village of Billy. The town of Billy is an adorable little village with red-roofed houses and the château right in the middle. One of the first things I noticed abou the château was that it was absolutely nothing like the castles I'd visited in Northern France last time I was here. The chateaus (like the Château de Chenonceau) I had visited last time were much newer and more elaborate. The Château de Billy was built as a fortress, and its design is nothing like my mental images of castles with rooms and grand staircases.

The Château was one big grassy area with a large wall surrounding it. There were rooms in and on top of the wall, but it wasn't built to be used as a habitation. Our group had a tour guide who showed us the rooms and the top of the wall and explained the use of the fort in its time. Of course, the tour was in French, so I didn't understand 100% of it. Thankfully, my own obsession with TV shows like Merlin, history in Arthurian literature classes, and friendship with Madeline has given me a pretty good working knowledge of castles. In addition to being able to understand most of the descriptions, I also was able to immediately recognized the slits in the walls for their use by archers in the defense of the castle, and knew the use of an area they had used to store grain. Over all, it was a really cool experience.

And now for some pictures:
The front of the Château de Billy

Looking down from the top of the back wall towards the middle and front wall of the château. You can also see the fallen part of the wall and the stones that remain as remnants from when the fort was overtaken.

Tiffany, Ashley, and me.

Model of the design of the fort in its hey-day.

Look at me...I'm in a castle!

Of course, I wouldn't be a proper Anthropology major if I hadn't done some major geeking out when I discovered they had some remnants of archaeological finds in the gift shop.
Stay tuned for the next addition of my awesome I'm-in-France-doing-super-cool-stuff-and-it's-so-crazy blog, in which I shall *spoiler alert* talk about the time I went to Paris and did a lot of stuff and saw a lot of things. Until then!


So, this whole blogging while I'm here thing has obviously not worked out as I planned. I only have one week of classes left, and I'm just now getting around to posting about the beginning. I'm sorry, loyal followers! For my solution, I'm going to try and go over things in order and post a couple posts at once to make up for everything.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Je suis en France!

Hello everyone!

I decided that since I am studying abroad for a month this summer, I should bring back the blog. Feel free to live vicariously through my adventures.

I left for France from the DFW airport at 1:00 on Thursday, May 31st. After a bit of a delay on the tarmac in Philadelphia (Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing a rather odd problem. The Skyway is apparently stuck to the side of the plane. This is very unusual. Unfortunately, the Skyways are serviced by a third party company. We've alerted the company, and they will be on their way momentarily.) I was on the way to France. I arrived in Paris at around 8 in the morning on Friday, the 1st of June. After successfully negotiating the Metro with my luggage by myself, I had a few hours to wait at the train station until my train left for Vichy. Now I realized that I've never actually ridden a train besides the tourist train that runs between Durango and Silverton in Colorado. It was a slightly terrifying experience boarding the train and getting off at my stop, mostly because I was a bit unsure what the announcements were saying. Fortunately, I managed to get off at the correct stop.

The mother of my host family picked me up at the train station, and I was on my way home! My host family is very nice, and our house is absolutely amazing. It's rather terrifying because no one in the family really speaks English, and I haven't actually taken a French class since Junior year in High School. Thankfully, I'm remembering more French than I thought I would. I'm an awful lot better at understanding what they are saying than actually speaking it myself, which is to be expected. This has led to me mostly listening and only responding minimally. Hopefully once I actually start classes, I'll get back into the groove of speaking French, so I can be a bit more talkative with my hosts.

On Saturday, I spent some time walking around Vichy by myself. The city center is the area with the most stuff going on, and it's where both my house and the CAVILAM school is. It's nice that most places I would need to go are within a fifteen minute walk of where I'm staying. The city is absolutely beautiful. It's small, but it has so much history and so much personality. I plan on walking around with my camera within the next few days, so I'll post pictures soon.

I start classes at CAVILAM off tomorrow with a placement exam to determine the level of French I'll be taking. I'm super nervous, but I know that I'll feel better once classes have started. Once I get into the swing of things, I know that I'm going to really like it here.

Au revoir pour maintenant!