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Bonjour tout le monde! I am overdue for a blog post, but the past week and a half has been very busy: 3-day-5-stops excursion to Provence, and this week switching classes/professors/levels and beginning afternoon seminar classes! Settle in for a really long post:

Friday morning, we got up early to leave for our group excursion to Provence. We had a quick breakfast in the cafeteria, grabbed our picnic lunch, and headed to the bus, which was exceedingly large for the size of our group! Imagine a coach bus for a sports team – it was exactly like that (sans bathroom though) but imagine this bus on the tiny roads of France! It was pretty funny having a group of 10 in that bus – only about 50 extra seats! It was about a 3 hour drive to our first destination – Avignon – and we had a little stop at a gas station that was remarkably similar to the gas stations at home, except for the fact that there were no toilet seats on the toilets. I’m not sure why, but that’s very common here.

Palais des Papes

We arrived in Avignon with only 10 minutes to spare before our tour of the Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace), so we had to wolf down our picnic lunch in the courtyard. The Palais is quite impressive – we had a tour with our guide, Nina, and explored some of the administrative rooms, the dining hall, kitchen, pope’s chambers, and the chapel. All of the rooms are empty, with the exception of the chapel, which now is somewhat of an art gallery. A little history lesson: In the early 1300s, a French pope was elected and Italy was in a bit of a mess of civil war, so the Pope decided to pack up and move to France, where he would be safer but also closer to the French king. So, Avignon became the new Vatican as the entire headquarters moved with the Pope. Avignon remained the papal headquarters until the early 1400s, though during this time Rome wasn’t thrilled to have a pope outside Italy, so they elected their own. There were 2 popes from 1378-1417! The last pope left in 1403, but the Vatican owned the palace until the French Revolution (1789). It has been used for various things; as barracks for soldiers (you can see great gouges in the stone walls where bunks were constructed), for various conventions, and even now there are some parts of the building that are not open to visitors because there are some administrative offices. I think my favorite part of the tour was seeing the Pope’s chambers – they still have the original frescoes on the walls, and the entire room is colorful, including the floors and ceiling!

One of the interior courtyards

On the rooftop of the Palais, looking out at the city of Avignon

Leah and I at the window where the Pope would give speeches to the people gathered in the courtyard below

At Pont St. Benezet

After our tour, some of us headed to the river (Rhône river) to relax, and for me to finish my picnic lunch. It was very peaceful, and we got a good look at Pont St. Bénezet (St. Bénezet Bridge). It’s famous for a nursery rhyme, which in English goes like this: On the bridge of Avignon, we will danse, we will danse, on the bridge of Avignon, we will danse all in a circle. For over 10 years in the Middle Ages, this was the only bridge that crossed the Rhone river! It was really nice to relax by the water in the gorgeous sunshine!

We got back on our oversized bus and headed to Arles for a stop at the Ancient History Museum. The museum focuses on Roman Arles – models, sculptures, and artifacts from about the second to sixth centuries. My favorite part was the models of Roman structures in Arles – models of the theater, amphitheatre, racecourse, administrative buildings, etc. I prefer these models over artifacts because I feel you get a better sense of how people lived and what things were like! Looking at the model of the amphitheatre made me realize how little we have actually advanced over the last 2,000 years; the Romans already had the idea of giant stadiums dedicated to sports…and they even had retractable stadium roofs! We only spent about an hour at the museum before heading to our hotel, L’Hôtel Constentin. It was a charming little B&B – family run, comfortable rooms, tiny bathrooms. Love it. We had a little time to settle in and unpack before we headed out to dinner. We went to a mediterranean/provencal restaraunt – one that specializes in regional dishes – called La Bohème. It took a while for everyone to order their dishes with a group of 10 and our serveuse looked irritated. However, I managed to get what I ordered, and it was great! I started with a salad with goat cheese and a lovely tomato mixture – very refreshing! My main course was the regional specialty, taureau – bull. It tasted similar to pot roast, but with a heavy flavor of olives from the stew – and do they ever love their olives here! The taureau was very good, with rice and green beans. For dessert, I had a dish of warm sliced fruit in a creamy sauce – delicious! It was so nice to eat out. I love the French approach to mealtime – slow, enjoying your food and the restaurant never rushes you. If you buy something to eat, that table is yours for as long as you like. I really appreciate that approach, but this dinner was definitely on the longer side – we were there for close to 3 hours! It was a little too long for me…I was so hungry from a long day of sightseeing, and the time between courses was a half hour or more – I was still hungry after each course and kept eyeing the kitchen door.

Pain au chocolat - YUM! Me, Mickey and Leah enjoying our breakfast in the market

The next morning, we ventured into Arles for breakfast and saw they were setting up the Saturday market! It definitely felt like fall that morning – crisp and a bit cold, with a breeze. Provence is known for being windy, particularly for a wind named Le Mistral – which can be up to 30-60 mph! Luckily, we didn’t experience anything that strong, but it was definitely windy a bit cold! Very different from the sunny cloudless Cannes. We stopped at a little cafe so Leah and Mickey could get some coffee. I’ve realized that I cannot drink the coffee here – it’s too strong for me. A straight up coffee here is the American version of espresso, and the closest thing to an American cup of coffee is a café crème or café au lait, coffee with milk and sugar. It’s still too strong for me; I don’t drink much coffee at home anyway, and this gives me headaches and stomach aches! I’ll stick with tea. After they had their coffee, we wandered in to the market for something to eat. We got some great pains au chocolats and croissants for only 3 euros – delicious! I love the markets here – so lively and fresh and they sell everything from meats to cheese to vegetables to breads to olives to flowers and more. I wish we had more markets like this at home! After our petit-dejeuner, we hopped on the bus and headed for Les Baux.

Les Baux, from the bus

Les Baux is a “dead city” of castle ruins and medieval town below the ruins. It’s just a tourist destination now, but it has been one of my favorite stops! It was incredibly windy, but the ruins were incredible – I felt like I should have been wearing a medieval dress and escorted by a knight. This place was a hub of activity in the Middle Ages, when the Lords controlled about 80 towns. As time went on though, Les Baux was included in the French kingdom and the Lords of Les Baux did not take well to the King. The King didn’t like this and destroyed the town. Later, they also fought with the Catholic Church, who also responded by destroying the city. And, the King billed them for demolition expenses. Ouch. The ruins are great though – and they are some medieval weapons – including a few trebuchets! My favorite part was the incredible view of the countryside – hills rolling into a valley full of vineyards. Absolutely beautiful!

La campagne! The countryside - so beautiful!

Ahhhhhhhh. *soaking it all in* JE SUIS EN FRANCE!

After Les Baux, we hopped on the bus to go to the Pont du Gard, a famous Roman aqueduct and one of the best surviving Roman ruins. Beth wanted to make sure we got to see the introductory film in English before seeing the aqueduct…but the movie was definitely in French! It was the most bizarre introductory film I have ever seen. They’re usually like a History Channel special, right? Not this one. It was a cheesy and silly film that was trying to decide between telling actual facts about the aqueduct and a silly scripted romance between a French girl and Italian boy. The two little lovers were having a romantic day at the bridge…it didn’t make any sense and they were very annoying. We all had a good laugh though. We strolled over to see the aqueduct – it was massive! Evidently, it’s the 2nd tallest standing Roman ruin (the Colosseum takes first place). The little river below was very pretty and it was a peaceful stop – made for some great pictures!

At the amphitheatre

After Pont du Gard, we went back to Arles for some free time to explore the city. Mickey and I headed out together, and we strolled along and looked at the théâtre and amphithéâtre again. We wanted to see St. Trophime Church, but couldn’t go in for a tour because there was a wedding. Weddings in a church are not as common here in France – marriage in general has much less significance. It’s just not a big deal here – nearly everyone gets married at city hall, if they get married at all. There are not many people that wear wedding bands and it is viewed more as a civil union. After passing by the church, we went on the hunt for an ice cream shop that was recommended in my guidebook – and we found it!! I was proud we found it in the winding tiny streets. I had some pear sorbet – there are many different ice cream flavors here that don’t exist at home! We meandered to a nearby park to enjoy our ice cream and then headed to the other side of town to see the Rhône river. We had a little over an hour to rest before dinner, so we went back to the hotel and I took a little rejuvenating nap.

The theatre

Our hotel - Hotel Constantin

Dinner was at another local restaurant, we I had a salad entrée, honey mustard chicken plat, and fromage frais for dessert. Apparently, fromage frais is a very common dessert here, but I didn’t like it very much. It is cheese but has a texture kind of like yogurt…and when plain tastes a bit like sour cream. They dressed it up with honey and pine nuts, and it was palatable smothered with honey. I only had a few bites – definitely couldn’t eat the whole dish! That’s another thing here in France – the entrée is the appetizer and the plat is the main course. I’m not sure why we call the main course an entrée in America. This restaurant was also very interesting in it’s choice of wall art – there were many pictures of dessert like things…on top of breasts. Breasts drizzled with chocolate, another that was dressed up like a cupcake…France is very open minded with art in public places. Needless to say, we all had a few laughs. As Mickey said, “Bon appe- tit!” We rushed back to the hotel to escape the merciless wind, but we ran into a parade! It was a parade celebrating rice…rice is one of the regional specialties here. It was entertaining to see some of the floats, but Mickey and I headed back only after a few floats because we were so cold. We got ready for bed while watching The Simpsons in French!

The next morning, we packed up our bags since we were checking out of the hotel that day. Mickey, Leah, Beth, and I stopped for a lovely breakfast at Café le Wilson – where we had a hot drink (tea for me, with my own little teapot!), a quarter of a baguette, a croissant and butter/jam – all for 5 euros! Jackpot! It was another fall-like day and were sad we were missing another market that was just setting up as we were getting on the bus. We headed to the Camargue, our last stop on our tour of Provence, which is a “wild” area in France – full of marshes and tall grass and cultivates rice and salt. It’s a habitat for pink flamingos and the famous white Camargue horses. Nous avons fait un promenade à cheval – we went horseback riding!! I was so excited about this – it has been quite a few years since I’ve ridden, but all the good memories came back! It was the first horseback ride for many people on the group, and everyone did great! We had a guide who lead us on a 1.5 hour tour where we saw flamingos, the wild horses, and the marshy landscape – we even walked through part of a lake! Our guide was so funny though – nonchalantly lit up and smoked about 4 times during the tour – so French. After our tour, we headed to a nearby town – I think it’s called St. Marie sur la Mer – and had lunch. We were all so tired, and didn’t spend much time lingering in town after lunch. We were all ready to go home since we knew were there were no more stops on our tour.

That's right - FLAMINGOS!

It has been a busy week after our tour! We started afternoon seminars this week – so I have class every afternoon now except for Fridays. We still have the grammar class every morning from 9-12 though, so the days are getting a little busier (not that I mind!). Monday morning, we met in the théâtre to be placed into our new classes. I’m not in a class of 13 with a teacher named Sylvie – and 6 other students are from my CSB/SJU group! 3 more of the students are from the AIFS group – so our class is mostly the American groups! There’s also a guy from Irland, a guy from Australia, a girl from Switzerland, and a few of the people from CSB/SJU were not born in America – Liz is from Trinidad & Tobago, Alejandra is from Mexico, and Evans is from Ghana. So, even though we have a lot of “Americans” we still have a bit of diversity :) Sylvie is a great teacher too – she’s very encouraging and gently corrects you when you’re wrong. She understands learning another language and that pronunciation is difficult since there are some sounds in French that don’t exist in English. It turns out I have moved up 3 levels! I’m proud of that – before I was in level B1.1 and now I’m in B2.1 – there are 3 levels with each larger level – kind of a confusing system, but I’m happy that I’m making progress. I do think my French is getting better, and it’s certainly easier to converse in French here than at home. I was thinking the other day that I’m going to be really sad to go home and have everything in English again. At least here we have the option of speaking in either English or French. At home, you get weird looks if you speak in another language, and there aren’t many people to speak French with! Monday afternoon, we also have Beth’s seminar on the French Revolution and we are just starting our historical game, where everybody is a historical character from the Revolution. Not everyone is a King Louis or Lafayette, some of us are anonymous, but we have a definite ideology and agenda. The point of the game is to write a Constitution that reflects your agenda – but you have to persuade everyone else to your side! We are able to re-write history – we don’t have to play at all according to what actually happened. It should be interesting, but a lot of work because you have to know your position but everyone else’s positions as well! I’m a Jacobin (Maximilian Robespierre was the fearless leader of the Jacobin party) and I believe in democracy and that there should be absolutely no monarchy. We’ll see who I can convince to come to my side! After Beth’s class I will also have Phonetique, and phonetics class that only meets 4 times, but that begins this coming Monday.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I have Société Française with Sylvie, my grammar teacher. In this class, we look at French society and for the first half of the semester we will be discussing great questions of society – education, family structure, politics, women’s roles, etc. Right now we are talking about education, and it is different from the U.S. I think I will really like this class – Sylvie is a great teacher and I’m glad to learn a little more about French culture. Wednesdays is a realllllly long day of class for me – I’m in class from 9am until 7pm! My class in the afternoon is Cinéma – from 1:30pm-5pm. I walked into the class and couldn’t believe my professor – he’s in his mid-late 20s, with a popped polo, aviators, and jeans hanging off his ass. He’s our teacher?? Yup, but only for the first 3 sessions where we will actually be making a short movie!! We brainstormed ideas for the first session and decided we will do a female version of “The Hangover” – should be pretty fun! This coming Wednesday, we will film it and the following Wednesday we will edit it and then be showing the movie sometime in October. After the filming section, we will change professors and move on to history of cinema. This should be a pretty good class – though it’s hard to concentrate for 3.5 hours straight! After my cinema class, I have Beth’s class again from 5:15-7pm. Long day.A total of 9 hours of class…that’s too much for one day! On the flip side – we spend a lot of time in class here but virtually have no homework. It’s nothing compared to homework at St. Ben’s, where it’s the opposite – little time in class but ridiculous amounts of homework. Sylvie was saying that these long classes are not typical of French schools, but is particular to this Collège. This is a very particular school because it is for foreigners and is a language school – the classes are so long because that’s where we practice our language skills! I’m glad I’m taking all my classes in French – that means I get a lot of French in one day, especially on Wednesdays! This Wednesday, we headed over to Beth’s apartment after dinner to celebrate Shawn’s birthday, which was on Tuesday. Beth made some fabulous chocolate cake with a raspberry sauce, and we met her partner Ross, who is visiting for the next month.

I still have another class that hasn’t met yet – Expression Théâtrale, my theater class. Our first meeting will be on Monday, and I’m anxious to see how this play will go and what kind of time commitment it will be! So, my weeks are looking a little busier now with these afternoon classes! It made this week go by much faster. In addition to new classes, I have something else I’ll be starting – I’m going to tutor a local French girl in English! Beth received an announcement that there was a man looking for an English tutor for his daughter, and I am definitely interested! I checked in with the secretary’s office and now I’m meeting the man, Franck, and his daughter, Eva tomorrow night. So far, I know that Eva is 11 and is in a bilingual school, and Franck is looking for me to come tutor twice a week. We’ll see how it goes – and I hope that we can work out a time for me to come over between all these new classes. I’m really excited about it – it will be a great experience and I will get to spend some time with a French family! (Besides, I think he’s offering to pay me – so a few extra euros would be appreciated!)

This weekend is already the last weekend in September! Time flies. Tomorrow we are headed to nearby Antibes and Juan-les-Pins to check out the markets and see the Picasso museum. It should be fun! October is creeping up quickly, and I still haven’t planned a trip to break up that month of 5 weekends! I know for sure I will take a trip to Monaco one of those weekends, and since I haven’t planned a far away trip I may have to settle for a closer trip, as things are getting expensive now that it’s only a few weeks away. My intense traveling will begin Oct. 23 –  if all goes according to plan, I would have 6 weekends in a row of travel that will look something like this:

  • Oct. 23 – trip to Aix-en-Provence.
  • Oct. 28-Nov.1 (my bday!) – group excursion to Paris
  • Nov. 5-7 – trip to Rome
  • Nov. 11-14 – group excursion to Lyon
  • Nov. 19-21 – meet up with my friend Kate in Paris
  • Nov. 26-28 – meet up with Kate in London, where she’s studying abroad!

Whew! That should make the time fly, because London would be the last weekend in November….I would only have one more weekend left in Cannes before I will leave the following weekend. Crazy! When I look at it that way, it makes it seem like the semester is slipping through my fingers!

P.S. for the many of you who don’t have Facebook, I’m thinking that I will set up an account with Flickr, a website where you can view all my photos. I’ll let you know when it’s up, so you can see all my pictures!

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Today was the first day of school! But first an update of the rest of the weekend –

Shawn and I enjoying the view from St. Paul de Vence

We toured “Les Villages Perches” – the perched villages – medieval villages nearby Cannes that have some of the best panoramic views. They are relatively small, and now house many galleries and small stores frequented by tourists. The views are definitely worth driving the (somewhat dangerously) small winding road up the mountain!

Shawn, Leah, Regina, Laura and I at Tourettes sur Loup! This village was much more quiet than St. Paul de Vence and was so idyllic I felt like I was stepping into a postcard!

After our activities on the weekend, we wished we could keep this “on-vacation” kind of feeling for the next four months, but it was time to start the “study” part of study abroad…

Yesterday we had the placement test that everyone was dreading after a 3 month hiatus from French classes. It was definitely intimidating, but we all did fairly well. We had 20 minutes for each section, which included comprehension, grammar, a short essay and an oral conversation. This morning the real work began! We met our teacher and were led to the grammar class corresponding to our placement level. This grammar class meets every morning from 9am-noon, though we have “le pause” – a short 15 minute break halfway through class. In my class, there 7 people – me, 2 other CSB/SJU students, and students from the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, and Russia. Most of the students that come to the CIC (College International de Cannes) stay for 2-4 weeks, so our group is a big exception! However, since we will be here longer, we have more opportunities to practice and advance into the higher levels.

Leah, Regina and I relaxing in the sun out on the terrace before our next class

After class ended, we had lunch (pasta with scallops!) and another half hour to relax before our seminar with Beth – our CSB/SJU professor who is leading our trip as our study abroad director. She is a history professor, so her class will be about the ancien regime and the French Revolution. Should be pretty interesting – later on in the class we will be playing a game where we will each role play a figure from the French Revolution, and when we tour Paris, we will have to lead part of the tour at a site of some importance for our historical figure.

The grammar class and our study abroad seminar will be our only classes until the end of September! Then, our afternoon seminars will be added on – I will have French civilization, French cinema, a phonetics class, and a theater class. Et oui, all my classes are completely in French (with the exception of the study abroad seminar, though I will be writing my assignments in French to gain some extra credits)! So until then, after class we will take advantage of the gorgeous weather to go to the beach for some swimming and relaxation! :)

Shawn, Leah, and I swimming in the Med. Sea!

Ahhhhhhhhh la plage (the beach)....so relaxing :)

Pour  ma classe avec Beth – elle veut nous choisir un but pour les trois semaines prochaines – un but académique ou personnel. Je pense que je choisirai un but pour parler plus de français – peut-être je parlerai totalement en français de 8h jusqu’à midi. Je voudrais parler le français couramment, alors,  j’ai besoin de pratiquer parler ! Maintenant, c’est un peu difficile, mais après un peu de temps, ce devient plus facile.

Studying out on the terrace - my favorite place to do homework!

That’s about it for now – A bientôt !

Some interesting things I have noticed so far:

-there are no screens on the windows                                                                                         – everyone seems to have these little bag-on-wheels kind of things for carrying all sorts of things – groceries, purchases, and cats/dogs.
– lots of little dogs here, but they all seem well behaved. the biggest dog i’ve seen so far was a small lab. and, dogs are allowed to be in stores and go on the bus.
– they really hate mcdonald’s – though we’ve seen several. There’s a shirt I’ve seen that says McShit.
– when crossing the street, you just have to put your hand out and cross, they will stop for you. better when in a larger group though.
– Lots of smokers.
– It’s true – the french really do use their shutters on their houses. Every building seems to be tan white yellow or pink with a terracotta roof.
– The pillows are one long cylinder – not a square flat pillow.
– If you order eggs here in the morning, they always come with some lettuce, tomatoes, and a mushroom.
– they made pizza the other night and i tried one that was 3 cheese – definitely not like at home. they use good french cheese and a pastry like crust.

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Bonjour!

I’m in France!! That was my first thought of the day as I woke up this morning in my dorm room…I’m actually here! I’m finally in France!

After about 15 hours of travel, I arrived in Cannes to find some of my group members waiting for me! A driver shuttled us to the College International de Cannes, where we are living and will be taking classes. Cannes is beautiful!! Palm trees, sunny, stucco buildings with terracotta roofs, and the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea :) Once we reached the college, we found our rooms:

Half of my room - my bed and one of the desks...There are 2 beds, 2 desks, a couple closets and a sink. I will have a French roommate beginning in September.

The view from my bedroom! That is the courtyard of the College - and if you look through the palm trees, you can see the Mediterranean!

My first view of the Mediterranean! There's the harbor in the background and there are mountains on the opposite end of the beach

We only had enough time to set down our bags before we headed out to see the beach and explore Cannes! The beach is wonderful – and only a two minute walk from the College. It was challenging to stay awake after all the travel and jet lag, but we all managed to stay awake until about 10:30pm or so – about 3:30pm back at home!

Today was our first full day here, and we ventured out into Cannes to buy some

The city of Grasse in the background

essentials (shampoo, soap, etc) before brunch. After brunch, we took the city bus to Grasse, a nearby city that is famous for perfume. We had a tour at the Perfumerie Fragonard, and took our time wandering through Grasse.

When we returned, we took a dip in the Mediterranean – very refreshing! Overall, a great first day here and I’m so excited that I’ll be here for 4 months!! There is so much to do and learn! I have not been speaking French very much yet…it was a little overwhelming trying to respond in French while I was so jet-lagged.

I will write again soon (with a little more detail – sorry!) when everything starts to settle down, but until then – à bientôt !

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