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Wow, what an amazing week-long trip to Kerala! It was our last group excursion (sad!) but it was a relaxing vacation in such beautiful places with great people! This excursion took us all around the state of Kerala, which is one of the southern-most states to the west. It was a whirlwind trip of 6 nights in 6 different places through “God’s Own Country” – Kerala’s nickname for its beautiful scenery.

We didn’t do too many tourist things around Kerala, and spent most of the time enjoying the beautiful scenery and relaxing. We stayed in really luxurious hotels – luxury being comparable to a nice hotel in the United States. Clean rooms and soft beds are complete luxuries to us, and our bus was also amazing! In the beginning of the trip, we had buses that were dirty, moldy, smelly, cold, and bumpy…and this bus was impeccably clean with comfortable seats. I’m glad we had such a nice bus since we spent so much time there traveling 4-hour drives for 3 days straight. Every place we stayed also had great buffets of all kinds of food – one morning we even had pancakes!

One of the great parts of the trip was spending a night on a houseboat. Kerala is known for its beautiful backwaters and the houseboats that live on them. I didn’t know what to expect for a houseboat, but definitely not what we had – dining area, bedrooms with separate twin beds, clean bathrooms, and an upper deck for relaxing. We were joking that we were on the Titanic! Luckily it wasn’t too hot, though I think I have adapted well to the climate here. (I am glad I’m missing all the snow back home! Snow at the end of April – yuck!)

Our houseboat!

I also enjoyed seeing the mountainous area of Kerala, where the rolling foothills were covered in tea plants. It was beautiful. We stopped at a tea plantation one day, and had the chance to see how tea is made. The leaves are plucked and then dried, then crushed into various grades depending on how fine you want your tea to be which affects the flavor, aroma and color. The black tea is oxidized, and the green is not. I’ve really come to love tea here, and I was sure to buy some to bring back home with me! We also stopped at a spice garden one day, since Kerala is known for its coffee and spices. It was crazy to see so many different spices in such a small area: coffee, tea, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, allspice, ginger, cocoa, chilis, and more. There were some I had never heard of that eliminates your ability to taste sugar. You chew it into a paste and then spit it out and for the next 20 minutes or so, you can’t taste anything sweet! Danny and Kathryn also tried a bite of the hottest chili in the world. Judging from their expressions, I was glad I didn’t try it.

The last night was spent on the beach. It was a great beach, and now I can say I’ve swum in the Arabian Sea :)

4 months ago today I arrived in India…and now I have only 10 days left here in India! :( There is so much that needs to happen in the next 10 days – finishing final papers, shopping, spending time with friends and host family, and just taking in this city that has been my home for the past 4 months. There are too many emotions to describe right now – so many things running through my head! I will enjoy these last few days to the fullest!!

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Already April 3rd – time is flying! It’s been an eventful week and a half or so. Right now, I’ve just started to unpack from a weekend family vacation to the coast and decided to take a break with a blog update.

Last weekend, we visited the Victoria Memorial – one of the most known monuments of Kolkata. It was completed in the 1920s and was a monument more to the British presence and a symbol of their power in Kolkata and served as a museum.It’s an impressive building – best described as cross between the U.S. Capitol building and the Taj Mahal. There are many galleries inside with lots of artwork, but I preferred the exhibit on the history of Kolkata – there is so much to learn! We spent a few hours there and spent the rest of the day relaxing and teaching Arundhati how to make chocolate chip cookies :) Sunday was an eventful day. We all went as a group to a Jain ceremony – 2 of Madhu’s neighbors are in the process of becoming Jain nuns and she was invited to the ceremony, so she brought all of us along to see what it’s like. I had never heard of the Jain religion before coming to India, and I still haven’t had much exposure to it yet. I’ve read about Jain nuns in one of my books for class – Nine Lives – and it’s incredibly fascinating. I’ll share only what I know, but please don’t think of me as the authority on this and keep in mind that these are monastic Jains and the average Jain is not this rigid in their beliefs. These are Jain nuns, devoting their life to their religious beliefs. The Jain religion is isolated to India, and is most known by its belief of non-violence. Jains believe that there is the spirit of God in every living creature, so one of the main beliefs is no violence. They are strict vegetarians, which also excludes eggs, fish, and root vegetables (because harvesting them kills the plant, and also the numerous microorganisms that live on the plant or in the ground). Monastic Jains also wear masks over their mouth so as not to swallow any insects. They also sweep the ground in front of them as they walk so they don’t step on and kill any living things. They are not allowed to take any form of transportation other than their own two feet. They eat only once a day and only in the daylight so they can see what they are eating. If they find a bug or something in their food, they must drop it and wait to eat until the next day. The monastic Jains take 5 vows – no violence, no stealing, no untruth, no sex, no attachment. The no stealing can go as far as one must ask to use a table to set down something, because if they set down something on the table without asking it’s a form of stealing. The no attachment is also intriguing – they have no material possessions and must detach from personal relationships. This doesn’t mean they live as hermits – they do live in communities. They believe that all attachments cause suffering, and the release from suffering is Enlightenment. They also believe in reincarnation. Once one decides to become a Jain monk/nun, they renounce all their possessions and become a stranger to all their friends and family. At the end of their final ceremony, these women will walk of the ceremonial stage and will never see their family again. If they do, they may be friendly to them but still will be a stranger. The ceremony we saw was the second to last ceremony – and I didn’t understand much of it since it wasn’t in English. There were hundreds of people there, and it was a strange mood. To me, it seemed partway between a marriage and funeral – it was happy and celebratory like a marriage but also a bit somber like a funeral since it’s only another month before these women won’t be seen again by their family and friends. There wasn’t much that actually happened – their cousin was speaking, there were slide shows of the women, and the women sat up front looking slightly uncomfortable on display.

After the ceremony, we all came back to our house for an art workshop. Alpona is an art form that is a paste made from rice and water which is applied to floors and walls for celebrations. It was a lot of fun to draw on the floor and I can’t believe some of the detailed drawings. It’s difficult to be precise at the first go – you have to hold the pouch of rice paste carefully so there’s enough pressure that it won’t be too watery or too thick and so that it will drip down your fingers the right way. I went to go see the movie the King’s Speech on Sunday night – and it was a wonderful movie! I loved it. Colin Firth was amazing – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to adopt a speech impediment when you don’t have one.

Class was pretty uneventful as usual this week – nothing to report there, except that we’re all feeling a little stressed out with all the deadlines that have seemed to appear out of no where. We knew we would have several assignments to finish before the end of the semester, but the deadlines and expectations weren’t outlined until last week. We’ve all got a lot to do before we head home in another month, and we’re seeing the days count down. The time left is feeling pretty segmented now – we have one full week of class left next week, a few days of class and then Thursday and Friday off, then three days of class before we have a 6-day trip to Kerala. After that will just be another week or so and I’ll be headed home!

Loreto has been okay lately. I’ve kept up on going twice a week for a total of at least 4 hours a week, and I’m getting closer to some of the girls. Durgi has taken to calling me “mama” and many more girls now recognize me and are happy to see me. I’m enjoying spending time playing with them more than tutoring them, since the language barrier is pretty discouraging. I tried teaching one of the girls, Andrea, how to play hangman the other day. It started out okay, but she may not know many words in English or how to spell them yet and she started to get frustrated when she kept guessing letters that weren’t correct. I’ll try again another time with 3-letter words and we’ll see if that’s better.

Drawing with Rosie on my lap

The Cricket World Cup came to a close this week. Wednesday was the semi-final of India vs. Pakistan, and I went to city centre with my friends to watch it. There were so many people there – and their enthusiasm and passion for their team was infectious! India won – and it was great to see everyone celebrating. The final was just last night – India vs. Sri Lanka. It was a tense really close game – and India won!!! It was awesome. And how awesome for us – our first real exposure to cricket is during the world cup and our host country wins :)

The crowd at City Centre for the semi-finals

We left on Thursday night on an overnight train for a weekend family vacation to Puri! Puri is on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, but is an easy train ride away from Kolkata. Our family has been planning this for weeks – and it was hard for Arundhati to contain her excitement. The overnight train was fine – similar to the train we took from Jodhpur to Dehli except it was three-tier sleeper this time and the AC was cranked so high that I had trouble sleeping since I was so cold. Puri was nice – the beach was awesome! It was nice to be out in the fresh air and it was great to swim. There was really nice soft sand, and there were huge waves. Apparently Indians must not have swimsuits or don’t swim very often, because there were very few Indians swimming and the few that were swam in shorts and a t-shirt. We were some of the only women swimming, and of course we were well covered in tank tops and shorts. There were also lifeguards available – in their funny cone-shaped hats – and our family was much less worried if we were swimming with the lifeguard. However, the lifeguard (an older man with just a kind of loin cloth for a swimsuit) hovered so close to us the entire time it felt pretty suffocating. He was never more than 10 feet away, even though we were never in more than chest-deep water. I hate feeling so restricted and feeling like I’m being treated like a child. That was the only downside to the swimming. We also did some sightseeing in the nearby area, to a really famous temple called the Sun Temple (though we didn’t go in since the ticket prices were pretty ridiculous for foreigners) and my favorite stop was in a village. This village was an entire art community – every house was a home and a workshop for whatever craft that family made. I got some great art – some painted coconuts that will become Christmas tree ornaments and an awesome painting/etching on palm leaf. I love buying crafts here! We also just had some great family bonding time – watching the cricket final on TV, hanging out on the beach, dinners out, and teaching Vinayak card games. It was a great weekend, and I’m glad I still have another month to spend with them :)

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Last weekend was our weekend group trip to the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans is a conservation area famous for its mangrove forests and its tigers! The tiger is an endangered species, and this Sundarbans tiger is amazing that it has adapted so much to its environment – it can swim miles to reach food and can drink salt water! We left on Saturday morning really early (6:30am) and had a 2.5 hour bus ride before we hopped on a ferry that would take us into the Sundarbans and the island where our camp was. It was definitely warmer there, but not unbearable. It was pretty peaceful there, just chugging along out on the boat, looking at the mangrove forests. The tide changes like crazy in the Sundarbans – it rises and lowers several meters multiple times a day. Trees will either be drowning in water up to their upper branches, or all the roots will be exposed. We spent the whole afternoon on the boat on Saturday, and got off at a watch tower to see tigers, but didn’t see any. We were out there til sunset, then came back for dinner and an early bedtime. The next day we were on the boat at 5am for a better chance to see wildlife, so we watched the sunrise on the boat. It was lovely, but we didn’t see much wildlife – some deer, a few monkeys, and far away birds. We were on the boat until about 1pm – 8 hours on the boat! But it was really nice – it reminded me of weekends on the lake in the summer. We all just dozed, listened to music, and talked while relaxing on the boat. After lunch back at camp, I just stayed indoors and relaxed by reading my book (I’ve now finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma – I loved it and highly recommend it!). Elizabeth and I took a bike ride into the village, which was really nice! Sunday we had a village tour – met some really adorable kids who loved having their picture taken and we also had a sip of some fresh coconut water. They climbed up the tree, got a bunch of coconuts down, hacked away the top and stuck a straw in! It has an interesting flavor – like water with grass in it. It was nice to try once, but I don’t think I’ll ask for it again. So overall, it was a pretty good weekend even though we didn’t do a lot. I got a lot of reading and relaxing in, enjoyed cruising around on the boat even though we didn’t see any tigers or much wildlife at all for that matter.

Since we returned on Monday, it’s been a pretty short week but that somehow managed to feel like much longer than a few days. Classes are incredibly boring and unfulfilling, as usual. We have a big mid-semester exam next week, which I am not looking forward to because you essentially just have to memorize your notebook and write down your notes exactly for the answer. I’m just not a fan of the system here and I can’t wait to get back to classes that I actually enjoy!

We went to an AWESOME craft fair yesterday in Salt Lake. The fair has been going on for a while now, but we’ve finally just made it there. It was incredible – everything is handmade and unique, with the artist sitting right there. It’s great you know the money is going directly to them and often artists were working right alongside their finished products! I bought some great gifts – tons of paintings and artwork. I LOVED it. We went to Danny and Michael’s afterward for a bit and some people played poker while others (myself included) watched a movie – My Name is Khan. We only watched the first half, since it’s a 3 hour movie, but it’s really good – about an Indian man who has Aspergers Syndrome and is Muslim and he moves to America. Then 9/11 happens and it’s all about the treatment of Muslims after 9/11 and a love story – can’t wait to see how it ends! This weekend I’m planning on going to the rural villages with Loreto to do some tutoring, which should be a good experience :) and this weekend is also the end of Vinayak’s exams (FINALLY!) so our family will finally be more free to hang out with us. Sujoy and Vinayak are supposed to give us cricket orientation this weekend, since the Cricket World Cup is going on right now and we are all going to a cricket match on Tuesday next week! We’ll see South Africa vs. Ireland – too bad we couldn’t get tickets to see India play, but it will still be fun :)

Cute village kids

Tonight some of us went to go see the movie Black Swan – it is a great movie. It’s brilliant and so well done, but it is a very freaky movie. I’m still very tense from watching it – there’s not much release from the intensity and no concrete explanations. It’s about a dancer in a ballet company that’s doing a production of Swan Lake. She’s a perfectionist and the director isn’t sure if she will be able to fulfill both roles of the pure frail White Swan and the sexy dangerous Black Swan. The movie is a psychological thriller – you see her character unraveling under the pressure as the movie progresses and there are many times where you are unsure what is reality and what is not. It’s a fascinating movie that I want to dissect and analyze – I have such a greater understanding and appreciation for films after taking a cinema class in France! One very interesting thing though was that the theater here censored parts of the movie. There were many sexual elements to this movie and some graphic scenes. A few crude sexual words were bleeped out, and an entire lesbian sex scene was cut (which we only knew because Kathryn had already seen the movie in the USA). That is India – sex is implied on screen, but rarely ever displayed and certainly not in the graphic sense it is in the USA. It wasn’t until recently that mainstream Indian movies would show kissing – between a heterosexual couple, of course. Interesting side note – it wasn’t until 2010, just last year, that gay sex was decriminalized in India!! WOW. It’s so interesting to note the gender imbalance, gender inequality, and general attitude toward sexuality here. There is so much gender inequality in every sphere here – and there is so much sexual repression every day public life, and yet it seems like that would not be the case since there are so many sexual references in the Hindu religion and in popular media. Oh the contradictions of India – Bollywood actresses can be dancing suggestively in skimpy clothing but the woman on the street dare not show any more leg than her ankle. It’s so interesting to learn about, and I’m only skimming the surface with what I know!

more cute village kids

One of the things I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately is how much I’ve been learning since arriving here 2 months ago. One of the things I think has been a very frustrating yet also a great learning experience is the fact that I am a minority here. This is the first time in my life I’m experiencing being a minority, since I’ve grown up in largely homogeneous communities. I’m a minority in just about every way here – white, female, foreign, Catholic – but also other things that make me a minority here like educated, wealthy (relative to here), English-speaking. There are many frustrations that come along with this – like being targeted for certain things or being treated in certain ways and having to be suspicious of people’s intentions in how they treat you. I certainly have a greater appreciation and empathy for the minorities in the USA – I can now better understand their struggles even though my understanding is still very limited. However, the crucial difference is that I’m a privileged minority. All the labels I just listed above entitle me to many privileges and special treatments. Since coming here, I’ve really realized how incredibly fortunate I am – and that I really am a part of a minuscule percentage of the world that has those privileges of being educated, wealthy, English-speaking, and so so so much more – even that I just don’t have to worry about fulfilling basic human needs like food, water, shelter, and more. There is such a sharp divide here between the “haves” and the “have nots” and most of this country of 1.1 billion people is made up of “have nots.” And this is just in one country – and thinking about all the other countries around the world made up of “have nots” makes me realize how truly fortunate I am and how I really should be grateful for what I have. It’s not that I feel guilty that I’m privileged and others are not – I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve these privileges more than someone else, just as someone didn’t do anything to not deserve the privileges that I enjoy. It was just the chance circumstance of me being born this way. This doesn’t mean that allows me to be dismissive or ignorant of the inequalities that result from this privilege imbalance, but there are specific constructed boundaries that may prevent me from doing certain things to try and remedy this imbalance. For example, sometimes I feel like I’m not getting a really “authentic” experience of India because we are so sheltered from a number of things and that because I’m a foreign white woman I’m not allowed to do certain things. I’m not allowed to go certain places because of risk to my safety, I can’t communicate with the average non-English-speaking Indian, I’m constantly in the company of educated elite Indians who have a lot of money – which is a very small percentage of the Indian population – and I often attract attention or special treatment because I’m a foreigner and they think my standards are higher than what they have to offer. I won’t be able to walk away from this trip without realizing how privileged I actually am, but the question from here on out is what do I do now with this awareness and how far can I push those limitations?

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I can’t believe it’s already March, and it’s even harder to believe that my time here in India is half over. Even weirder, that I’ve been in India for a little over 2 months. I have mixed feelings about this trip being half over…but first, an update on what’s been going on the past week.

I had a fabulous weekend! We didn’t have class on Friday, so we took advantage of the day off to explore more of Kolkata. For the first time since I arrived in India, plans were made and they actually happened!! It’s a miracle. We started off the day with going to Tagore’s house here in Kolkata – we all met at the metro (around the same time, and everyone was there! That’s a huge accomplishment in itself) and then walked to his house. His house is now a museum, with lots of art galleries and photos of Tagore. There were a lot of artifacts and quotes, and it was just okay. I still don’t understand why people are so obsessed with Tagore here, but then again, I haven’t read any of his work yet. For now, it sounds like most descriptions of him or his work are very melodramatic. We were all pretty hungry afterward, and headed back to Park Street for a delicious lunch – chelo kebabs at Peter Kat :) We had a little time after lunch before we had to be home for yoga, so we went to the Mother House – Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. It was incredible! Mother Teresa’s tomb is there, and I can’t believe I visited the tomb of someone who is in the process of becoming a saint! There was a really nice exhibit as well, which had lots of information about her life and many of her things like her sandals, letters she wrote, her Nobel peace prize, her wheelchair, and more. She had an amazing life, and I don’t know how you can know you’re life’s calling when you’re 18 and follow it to the fullest. I really respect people who devote their life to God to live in an order or monastery, because I could not live that lifestyle! We also saw her bedroom – a tiny austere room, and they said she never used a fan even though her room was directly above the kitchen (not to mention the Kolkata heat)! Turns out we were there during the time they give weekly Mass, so of course we had to stay for that. Can’t believe I had Mass with Mother Teresa’s tomb right in front of me!

Mother Teresa's tomb

We made it home in time for a great yoga class. I really love yoga. It’s great to take the time to relax and meditate, and I feel like we never make time for that at home with our always-on-the-go lifestyle. It’s no wonder yoga was invented here – they need it to cope with the craziness that is India! After yoga, we had dinner out at a nearby restaurant, Mirch Masala, and had some drinks at a nearby bar. It was a great time and so nice to be out!

We had another big day on Saturday – starting off with visiting the Botanical Gardens. It took a long time to get there (about 1-1.5 hours), but it was great to see the famous Great Banyan Tree. This tree is incredible – it’s basically a forest, yet it’s all one tree. It’s 250 years old and has been in the Guinness Book of World Records! It takes up over a kilometer of space. We had a really long bus ride and metro ride to go to Danny and Michael’s house afterward, and by the time we had lunch and reached their house, it was already 5pm. So much time is lost in transit here!! We watched a great Bollywood movie, called 3 Idiots. It’s was a really long movie, full of slapstick humor and song and dance. You have to suspend the laws of reality and probability and embrace the cheesiness – but I liked it :) We spent Sunday relaxing and recovering after such a busy weekend. It sounds like we didn’t do that much since we only did 2 things each day, but it just takes so much time and effort to get anywhere – it’s exhausting! This week has been pretty good so far – just class and getting some work done. I met a new friend in class, and Loreto is slowly getting better. The past few times I’ve visited, I’ve spent time just sitting and talking to the girls since it wasn’t tutoring time and I’ve enjoyed that a lot more. When I went today, more of them remembered me and were happy to see me, which is a great feeling :) These girls need so much attention, which is really obvious when they turn my face back to them if I look away for even a second. And this time, the girls asked my help for some homework so I felt helpful for once!

So…I’m halfway through my time here in India. I’m not sure how I feel about it, because my feelings change each day. I feel like I’m barely adjusted to living here. Sometimes I think I’m doing really well and I feel well-adjusted to living here, and then something will happen that will throw me off again. It’s very confusing – I go back and forth all the time between enjoying it here and wishing I was home. Sometimes I’m not even sure if I like India, and sometimes I have to remind myself why I even came here in the first place. There’s so much of India that I don’t understand. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, and I know I’m only just barely scratching the surface, even though I’m here for 4 months. Now that I’ve realized I have a little less than 70 days left here, I’m torn between being excited to be home soon and being panicked that I have such a short amount of time left and that I should be seizing every day every moment. I think about home a lot here…it’s partially a coping strategy for India and partially a negative distraction from what I’m doing here. I know the time will pass quickly and sometime in the future I will miss my time here. That’s exactly how France was, which brings in a whole other element to this. It was only 3 months ago that I was still in France. I’m not even sure what I’ve learned and taken away from France yet since I’ve barely had any time to process it. It feels like that was a dream – the reality that France is over still hasn’t really sunk in. I was organizing France pictures the other day, and I can’t believe that it’s already over and it’s all just memories now. I keep trying to compare this experience my experiences in France, which often doesn’t work very well since this is a completely different situation. I miss France already. My life is a constant transition, which is equally exciting and exhausting. India is often so draining, so I find myself often thinking about home and wishing I was back there with the stability and predictability and people I love. I think I’m just feeling study abroad-ed out, or  a little travel weary. I knew it was going to be crazy and I wanted this kind of challenge and I knew what I was getting into, but at the same time I had no idea what I was getting into and that I might be biting off more than I can chew. For a long time, I thought being homesick and thinking about all the good things I have waiting for me at home was a bad thing. But now, I need to not be not be so hard on myself – give myself a break after being away from home for what will be almost 9 months straight. For now, let the roller coaster continue.

Let it be.

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What a weekend! Last weekend was our 5-day group excursion to North Bengal and the Himalayas (here it’s pronounced him-ALL-yas) – and it was just what I needed. I wish we could have stayed longer.

We left Friday morning for the excursion – which started off with an hour and a half long taxi ride to the airport (Kolkata traffic…). We had a short flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra, just less than an hour-long flight. Once in Bagdogra, we were off to Chilapata Jungle Camp and we were originally told it would take about 3 hours to get there….try doubling that. Oh, India. It was about a 5-6 hour drive, but it was nice that we were not in a big tourist van but instead in 3 Jeep-like vehicles. The roads were pretty comfortable, only the usual bumps from poorly paved roads. We arrived at the jungle camp around dinner time – and it was a very nice camp, in the middle of rural villages full of rice paddies and surrounded by dense jungle forests. We stayed in individual hut-like cabins on stilts, which were very nice (but cold at night without heat! I slept in all my layers). Since we arrived so late that first night, we didn’t do much more than have a leisurely dinner and go to bed. I caught up on some reading for class before going to bed early, since we had an early morning ahead of us for our excursion into the jungle!

6am came quickly the next morning, when the doorbell rang for bed tea. Hot masala chai (which I am quickly becoming addicted to) was wonderful when it was so cold in the morning, but at the same time we could have stayed longer in the warm bed! We bundled up since it was so cold out and started off on the safari. We were looking for wild elephants, and any other interesting wildlife. We were driving for a little bit before Haley spotted two elephants! Our driver was driving too fast at the time (how are we supposed to spot the wildlife then?? his fast driving quickly became annoying), so we had to reverse and didn’t have the best view of the elephants. Wild elephants are not like at the zoo, where you can see the whole elephant. These elephants hid back in the forest, so we were quite a distance away and not at a good vantage point for taking pictures. All the pictures I tried to take ended up looking like leaves and kind of a gray blob in the middle of the leaves. It was incredible to be in the presence of truly wild elephants though! As we drove along the rest of the morning, we spotted a rhino in some tall grass – but the grass was so tall we could only see the top of its back. It was so wonderful to be out in nature, away from the noise and the crowds of the city. This weekend confirmed my belief that I need to live somewhere with some nature – I don’t necessarily have to live in the wilderness, but I don’t want to live in a huge city. We were out for about 3 hours before returning to camp for breakfast of toast and eggs. Madhu then gave us some options for the rest of the morning – to go birdwatching, to visit the villages, or to bike ride.

I chose to go bike riding, along with Elizabeth, Brynn, Kia, Abbey, Jennifer, and a guide from the jungle camp. It was WONDERFUL – one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend. It was so nice to be on a bike in the sunny weather, and we biked through many of the villages. It was amazing to see that rural rustic lifestyle as we biked through rice paddies, tea gardens, mustard flowers, and all sorts of vegetable plots. As we biked through the villages, I had kind of an eye-opening revelation to see people actually living like this. I realized that these people have to work so hard for literally everything they have. They have no machines to help them grow their food and build their houses – it’s all hard manual labor. As we were biking through the rice paddies, I realized that I don’t even know or understand how rice grows and the process of harvesting it. To me, rice comes in a bag in the store. When I thought about it more, I realized that I don’t really know how most of my food gets to my table – I can just go to the grocery store and get whatever I want, even if it’s not in season. I think it’s pretty sad that I don’t know where my food comes from or the work it takes to produce it. So now, I’ve taken a new interesting in learning about where my food comes from and sustainable eating. I’ve already started on my food education by buying a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Anyway – in addition to realizing all how hard people work here (not just in the villages) in India, I also realized how resourceful and resilient these people are. They find solutions with so little to work with. On a similar note, most everything here first fulfills a functional or practical purpose. Most things are in a constant state of slight disrepair here, but as long as it still works and fulfills its original function, all is well.

Our bike ride lasted about 2 hours, and it was so wonderful to be outside and getting some exercise. After lunch, we had a short rest before heading out for our second excursion. The second excursion was about the same as the first, but we saw more elephants! It was also nice just to stop and listen to the silence. We had afternoon tea with pokoras afterward (my 3rd cup of tea that day!) and relaxed with everyone through dinner and caught up on some more class reading before calling it an early night. We got up early to leave the next morning for another long journey to Neora Valley in the Himalayas. It was another 5-6 hour car ride on bumpy roads – but the scenery was beautiful. The tea gardens are very picturesque, as are the mountains. The actual climb up the mountain (over 6,000 ft) took well over an hour, and I was glad I had taken my motion sickness medication. You know you’re in the mountains when you’re on one-lane winding roads and if you don’t feel like throwing up, you feel like you’ll fall over the edge at every teetering turn. The best and worst part of the drive was the last part, going on the road to the Neora Valley Jungle Camp. It was a road in the widest sense possible – not even gravel, but jagged rocks that literally bounced you out of your seat without anything to hold you down (no seat belts, of course). The driver couldn’t drive very quickly then, and one of the tires on the other car popped! We walked the rest of the way to the camp – which was great! We stayed in individual cabins that slept four – one big bed, a loft with another bed, a bathroom, and two balconies! They were wonderful – except for the fact that there was no heat and only a few lights. The views were spectacular, but it was a weird combination of evergreen trees kind of like home and giant jungle plants, like ferns that were bigger than me. We all went out for a short hike right away while we still had daylight, hiking through the jungle until night fell. We had a great dinner (all the dinners there were amazing!) and spent most of the night in one of the rooms having some group bonding :) What happens in the Himalayas…stays in the Himalayas…

Next day was our last full day of the trip that wasn’t full of travel – and we spent most of the morning on a long hike. We set off down the mountain on the road to go to a waterfall. Walking on the roads was challenging enough, since you can’t take your eyes off of where you are placing your feet. It was beautiful – and once again, so nice to be out in nature. It took a long time to get to the waterfall – a few hours, and the last part was a really steep concrete path – but it was worth the long hike! We took tons of pictures and relaxed a little before hiking back up the path, which was so difficult – I was definitely sore for a few days afterward. Luckily, we didn’t have to hike all the way back up to the camp, which would have taken several more hours. We took the cars instead so we could get back for lunch before we headed off to Lava, a nearby town.

In Lava, we went to see a Buddhist monastery. It was beautiful, though we didn’t have a very extensive tour. It also made me want to learn more about Buddhism, since I only know the very basics. Buddhism was started in India and used to be very popular, but now it’s a minority religion. We had the opportunity to see some of the monks saying some prayers – it was so different and interesting since I come from a very different religious background with little to compare this to. We spent a little time in town before heading back – but on our way back, we stopped in one of the small villages to taste a local beer. It was great – this family took us into their home to have this local millet beer – they soak the millet all day, put it in these bamboo mugs with a bamboo straw, and you add hot water. It was actually really good! It taste like beer, just without the carbonation. It’s a common drink there in the winter and even kids drink it to warm up (it’s not very alcoholic). We went back to camp for an amazing Chinese food dinner and spent the night having a great talk with Kia! She has an amazing story to her life.

We left the next morning, and everyone was sad to leave. The weekend was the getaway I really needed – to get out of the city and into fresh air, silence, and open spaces. It seems like we didn’t do a lot when I describe it, and in some ways we didn’t but that’s not what we needed. It was a long day of travel back to Kolkata, and I was crabby to be back in the crowded and noisy city. Wednesday was back to class – though this study abroad has not really required much of the “study” part. We had our first class of the sociology course we signed up for, since the teacher was finally back from being gone at professional training for the past month. The teacher seems nice, and it’s nice to finally be in the right class – but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the teaching style here! All the classes seem to be the same – straight lecture, no discussion, and the material is the most general and broad possible. The teacher repeats him/her self all the time – they will literally repeat the same thing 5 times. There is no critical thinking, and I’m not sure how homework works here. So far, no teacher has assigned reading…so I’m not sure if the students are given a reading list to read outside of class on their own time? It’s rare that anyone asks questions. It’s hard to shake this high school kind of atmosphere – and it looks like it will be up to us to ask question to make the courses more interesting. It’s just a challenge to adapt to this different method of teacher, when our classes at CSBSJU are all about discussion, interaction and critical thinking. After class, we went to Kolkata’s famous annual book fair. We took a city bus to get there, and were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too crowded or dirty. Buses are hard to figure out here – they don’t really have official stops like at home. The buses kind of stop in the middle of the road, and you literally have to jump on. A man comes around and you pay the fare to him to get the ticket. The book fair was a bit overwhelming – like MN’s State Fair, but all books. It was very crowded, but I enjoyed it after I realized that you just have to shove your way into the store and firmly plant your feet where you want to browse. I ended up buying 3 books – The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Being Indian, and a handbook to Hindu mythology. It’s funny – the book fair has a theme every year (though I didn’t see the theme played out very much), and this year’s theme is the U.S.A! They had a replica Capitol building and some American flags, which was funny to see.

Yesterday was a great day – we found out late that we only had one class! Turns out our sociology classes were canceled, and Madhu was canceling her class to take us to the book fair, which was optional. Seems like we may never have a reliable schedule here! Next week, we have Tuesday and Wednesday off for Saraswati Puja, and Hindu festival that celebrates learning. Our only class was one hour of Bengali, where we learned some words for body parts. Bengali is so different from any other language I’ve learned! It’s very difficult to make the sounds, and most of their letters of the alphabet are difficult for my ears to distinguish the subtle differences. After our class, we had the rest of the day ahead of us, so we decided we would try to make chocolate chip cookies! Arundhati said she wants to learn how to make foods that we eat at home, and chocolate chip cookies were at the top of the list. Vinayak, our host brother (whose birthday is today! he’s 13), went shopping for ingredients with us. He’s just adorable and we love spending time with him. He’s very proper and polite, and every once in a while we get him to break out of his shell a bit more. He makes us laugh all the time and we just think he’s adorable. It was interesting shopping for ingredients – it was difficult to find white flour, there are no chocolate chips, no brown sugar, and no baking soda. We bought chocolate bars and broke them up into small pieces, substituted honey for brown sugar, and instead of baking soda they use a combination of baking powder and khabar soda. They also don’t have/use measuring cups, so we had to eyeball the amounts, and the little toaster oven is in Celsius! We could only bake 6-9 cookies at a time since the oven is so small, but…they turned out AMAZING!! We were so happy! They turned out really close to what we make at home, and they are delicious. It was so nice to have that taste of home, and continued by making brownies, which also turned out well. The family was so appreciative of the treats, and gave us so many compliments! Our host family is so wonderful.

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Well. I’m not quite sure where to begin to try and describe my recent weekend in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Many of my friends have been to this wonderful place before – the Cinque Terre – and after hearing their stories and googling pictures, I decided I just had to go. The Cinque Terre is 5 towns along the Italian Riviera, and it is just absolutely gorgeous – you hike between the 5 towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. It’s not a place you go to see museums and monuments, but instead to be in nature and appreciate the natural beauty. And when better to go than when I’m already here in France with some open weekends? I started looking into it,  and Leah and Alejandra said they would come with me. I went last Tuesday to ask about train tickets from Cannes to the Cinque Terre – and it looked like it would work, especially since it only cost about 50 euro for there AND back! Things were looking good.

We started to get a little worried if we would even be able to go…because there is an ongoing strike (la grève) throughout France because the government wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. France loves la bonne vie, and la grève is a national pastime. They strike for everything. And, more than 2/3 of the French agree with la grève – they do not want to work for 2 more years! It’s not just that it is 2 years, they believe it is a slippery slope…if it is 2 years this time, how much will it be next time? Younger generations and highschoolers are protesting as well. There are tons of protests every day and transportation has been on strike. It has not yet been a full strike where there are no buses or trains, but instead there may be one train for every three normally, so it is a little difficult to figure out which trains or buses are available when. Everything is very organized though – you can go online and see what is available when, and the strikes are planned in advance. The National Assembly has already voted on the reform and it has passed, so now it goes to the Senate which will vote (tomorrow night!) – if it passes, then it becomes law.So, I had checked on Tuesday with the train station but they told us to come back later because they weren’t sure if there was going to be a strike on Saturday, the day we wanted to go. Alejandra checked in again on Thursday, and they said they never know if they will be on strike until the day before, so we would have to come back tomorrow. So…Friday we all headed to the station, ready to buy our tickets if they said yes, but completely expecting a no. And we were pleasantly surprised! The trains we wanted would not be affected, and within minutes we had tickets to Italy!!! We were so excited – our first trip to Italy!

We got up bright and early Saturday morning for our long trip of train transfers – our first train left Cannes at 7:10am, so we had to leave the Collège at about 6:30am. We got there with about 10 minutes to spare, but Alejandra needed to use the ATM first to get some cash. For some reason, it didn’t work – and we figured the machine was broken, and didn’t have time to mess with it since our train was leaving in about 4 minutes. We made it just fine, and we were on our way! Our first layover was an hour in Monaco – so we headed out of la gare for a little petit dejeuner at a café – some tea and croissants :) Then we were back on the train, headed to Ventimiglia, one of the first stops over the France/Italy border. We noticed some differences right away once we crossed the border – the buildings are similar but have enough differences, and everything is in Italian! None of us speak any Italian, but between the 3 of us, we had three languages to work with – we all speak English and French, and Alejandra speaks Spanish as well. We were really excited when we got off in Ventimiglia for a 45-minute wait before our next train – we were in ITALY! We stepped off the train and heard all this Italian around us and thought, “this is definitely not French…and I have no idea what they are saying.” We headed down the stairs to use the toilet and were shoved down the stairs by a pack of nuns. Welcome to Italy. I was waiting in the excessively long line for the toilet, since there were only 3 stalls and no one was using the second one because there was poop on the floor…and then the woman ahead of me got stuck in the stall! The door wouldn’t open! She started banging on the door and yelling, I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, and everyone was looking around with a look of I’m not sure what to do in this situation. Some guys arrived and started to try to ram down the door…it was my turn to use the bathroom then, so I didn’t see the victorious liberation from the bathroom stall, but I heard everyone cheering once she was released.

We're in ITALY! In Ventimiglia

We headed out into the town to explore a little bit, and Alejandra tried another ATM. The ATM said the transaction was terminated and returned her card. Crap. We tried again at another ATM…and realized that her card had been deactivated. Luckily, Leah and I had enough cash and money on our cards to pay for her throughout the weekend – no problem, but an inconvenience. We wandered through a market with some of the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen, stands selling just pasta, and a huge flower market (though later we realized all the flowers were fake!). We headed back to the station and got on the next train headed for Genova, which was fine, but a long ride – about 2 hours. We arrived in Genova and needed to buy a regional ticket to one of the towns in Cinque Terre – we had decided on Corniglia because it is the third town, and that way we could hike in either direction to 2 towns as we wished. We got to the counter and asked English? Français? Espangol? and the woman replied, “english…poquito.” The story of our trip – no one spoke French or Spanish, and the Italians we encountered spoke broken English. We managed to get our tickets for Corniglia, but the train didn’t leave for another hour and we would have to change trains yet again in Monterosso. But at that point – qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire? We took the tickets and grabbed a quick kebab before hopping on the train. We accidentally sat in first class to Monterosso (luckily didn’t get caught) but in our defense, it was not marked well at all (we saw as we were leaving that it was a piece of notebook paper taped to the side of the door that said first class).

The 5th and final train!!

We arrived in Monterosso….and it was raining. Damn. We were not prepared for this – I had quickly looked online for the weather and it had said 60 and mostly sunny for Saturday with only 20% chance of rain. None of us had rain jackets or umbrellas, and we had packed mostly shorts and t-shirts since we figured we would be hiking and would get hot. Alas. On the last train, (train #5 of the day) the 10 minute train to Corniglia…one of the workers came around to check tickets. He checked Alejandra’s, frowned, then started talking to her and pulled out his write-a-ticket book. Turns out we didn’t stamp our tickets – you’re supposed to stamp those tickets because you buy them without a specific date/time on them, so you have to stamp them so they know you’ve used it just for this one trip – but we didn’t see any stamp machines anywhere! Besides, on the French tickets it says quite clearly at the top of the ticket that you have to validate your ticket before you get on the train – and it said it no where on the Italian ticket! Even it was on there somewhere, we wouldn’t have been able to read it in Italian! In France, the stamp machines are right in front of you…turns out in Italy they are tiny and hidden in the corner. Ugh. So he said, “this time you pay 5…next time you pay 50!” Whatever…but we weren’t in a position to argue, especially with a language barrier, so we just paid the 15 euro. And after, he just left! Didn’t check any other tickets, and if he would have started at the other end of the car, we would have gotten away without the stupid fine. But, we were finally in Corniglia!! We stepped out into the rain and headed for the information booth. There was no one there…so we just started to walk up the hill figuring we would run into the town. We were right – and luckily it let up raining about halfway up the hill.

uhh...where is she taking us?

It was already about 5pm by then (the trains took way longer than I expected with all the time inbetween), so the first order of business was to get a hotel room. Since we had just gotten our tickets the night before, we hadn’t had time to book someplace to stay, and figured we could find some place once we arrived, especially since it’s the off-season. We started to look for rooms, and saw on the door next to us that it said “rooms”…and this old lady in the window above us who had been watching us called down to us and presumably told us to stay there. She met us – sweet old plump lady with glasses and thinning hair who didn’t speak a word of English. She asked us how many nights…we said one, and she smiled and started to walk in the other direction. We were expecting the rooms to be right there in that same building, so we were a bit surprised and unsure…but started to follow her anyway. Hmmm. She kept walking. And walking. And walking. Alejandra and I exchanged some bemused glances…thinking, “is she actually leading us to a room? where are we going? is she just crazy or something? She looks too sweet and old to try and harm us…?” After what seems like forever, she finally stopped and lead us inside a building, up some stairs, and into a room. The first thing I noticed is a big double bed and thought, but there are three of us…eh, we can all fit. I was so tired and we just needed a place to stay. She pointed to the closet in the corner and said something in Italian…we just exchanged unsure glances, and she pulled down a bed from inside the closet. Sweet. It took a little while to figure out the price – Alejandra was better at deciphering the Italian than Leah and I – but it was only 25 euros each, so we paid her and managed Si and Grazie until she smiled and hobbled away. Well, at least we had a place to stay – with a huge bathroom!

We dropped our stuff and headed out to explore the town – it was really cold out and it didn’t take very long since it’s a pretty small place. We stopped at an internet café so we could email our director our hotel information and for Alejandra to try and figure out why her card wasn’t working. This one balding and toothless man kept coming in to talk to us, and left with “Ciao. Good night. Sleep well. Think of me.” We stopped at a nearby open restaurant for dinner – I had some spaghetti with paprika, and we discovered that the couple at the table next to us was from New Brighton, MN!! It’s a small world after all. We headed back to the room, exhausted, and freezing – there didn’t seem to be any heat in the room despite the storm outside, and the covers were very thin! Leah and I took the double bed and agreed that it would be understood if we woke up spooning. We set an alarm for 7am so we could wake up early and get a full day of hiking in, hoping that the storm would blow over during the night.

Our alarm went off at 7am, but we could hear the howling wind and pouring rain outside. UGH. Leah actually went downstairs and looked outside and reported back that it was pretty ugly out…so we promptly went back to sleep and woke up again at 9:30am, since we had to be out of the room by 10am. Luckily by then, it was still really windy but not raining! Nothing was going to stop us from hiking, but we would prefer not to hike in the rain. We pulled out all the long sleeved layers we brought (which wasn’t much) and passed them around so everyone had at least something! I layered 4 shirts under my track jacket and was very happy I had brought a scarf. Poor Alejandra hadn’t even brought pants – she only had shorts and leggings. We headed out and met the old lady along the way, who was coming to collect the keys from us. We managed some more Buongiorno, Si, and Grazie before we continued to a little cafe for breakfast of bread and jam and yogurt – yum!

Leah!

We didn’t get on the trail until about 11am at this point, and had to buy a ticket before hiking…but we were on our way to Vernazza! The views made all the struggle worth it – it was absolutely gorgeous, despite the wind and rain. The path was a bit strenuous, mostly because all the stones were slippery from the rain, but nothing too bad. It  was so great to be out in nature and hiking, and we reachered Vernazza in about 90 minutes. We even managed to fool a couple people that we didn’t speak English, since we were speaking French at the time! I felt as if I needed to get credit that I speak another language…it just happened to not be the language of the country we were in! We took tons of pictures, and once we had reached Vernazza, we decided to just continue along to Monterosso to catch a train back to Genova.

Corniglia in the background

Looking back at Corniglia

Leah, me, Alejandra at Vernazza!

Vernazza

with Monterosso al Mare in the distance

The second hike was a bit more difficult, mostly because there were so.many.stairs. We probably climbed over a thousand stairs that day! Many times, the path was only wide enough for one person, and a substantial fall would be just on the other side over the ledge. Some people still insisted there was enough room to pass on a clearly one-person trail…and we came close to falling a couple times. We were tired by the time we reached Monterosso al Mare, about 1.5-2 hours later. We went straight to the station to check for tickets, and it’s a good thing we did because the teller first offered us tickets to Genova that arrived at 4:58pm…and our train left from Genova at 4:55pm. Not good – little panic moment there, until she said, “oh, a fast train…” and we got tickets for a train leaving in 15 minutes that would get us to Genova by 4:15pm. Sweet. We had just enough time to grab a sandwich and eat quickly, and we made it onto the train just fine.

We had a little problem once we got on the train though…Alejandra and I went to our seats and saw that our compartment had the curtains drawn. I opened the door and fumbled open the curtains to find 6 people about our age in there already seated, half of them asleep. We just stared at them for a minute and began to explain that they were in our seats, and one guy tried to tell us (in Italian, of course) to take their seats elsewhere…we were about to argue more, but then Leah called to us that there were open seats in her compartment. We threw them some annoyed looks before taking a seat in Leah’s compartment. This was fine until about 45 minutes into the ride, when other people came to tell us that we were in their seats. So Alejandra and I headed back to the other compartment, ready to get our seats back, and they were being really stupid and uncooperative, trying to make it seem like we were in the wrong. I was about to call the attendant over when they let us in – they put 4 people in a 3 person spot…so Alejandra and I had spots…but really?? Why can’t they just go sit where they are assigned? They are causing a chain of problems for everyone else. We sat in an awkward/annoyed silence for a little while, until luckily some more people came along and told them they were in the wrong seats, so they all got up and left. Did they not have a ticket? Probably – but it’s annoying that they tried to make it look like it was us who made the mistake and caused problems for everyone else.

The rest of the journey passed without problem. Our train from Genova to Ventimiglia left about 20 minutes late, but that ride was uneventful. So, we reached Ventimiglia at 7:35pm and according to our itinerary, the next train to Monaco should be at 7:43pm. The woman in the compartment with us asked if we were heading to France, and warned us that there was a grève going on and we might not be able to get trains. We smiled and said thank you, mentally blowing her off and thinking thanks lady, but that was yesterday. Since we only had 8 minutes before our train left, we hurried inside to find the platform number. We looked up on the screen and saw all the trains to Monaco are “sopresso.” Shit. No no no no no. We need to get back to France – we can’t be stuck in Italy! This was just the icing on the cake of our less than well planned weekend. We verified with the ticket counter…no more trains until 6am the next day! It was time to call Beth, our program director, to let her know we were stranded and to see if she could somehow help us. We had to go to the station café/store to buy a phone card first – all the while analyzing our options. Option 1 – find a place to stay and stay here until 6am for the next train. Option 2 – maybe someone from the Collège can somehow come get us? Option 3 – some guy nearby tells us there is a bus headed toward Nice/Cannes that leaves at 11:30pm.We liked option 2 the best. The guy, fairly young guy from Romania named John, tried to help us figure out the phone – and after about 300 tries, we got through to Beth. Apparently we had been dialing the phone number incorrectly since we didn’t put in the right international code first. We are so lucky we were stranded on a weekend that Beth had rented a car for sightseeing! She and her partner Ross said they would look up directions and leave right away to come get us – we were saved!! John made some small talk with us, and gave me his number “in case you want to have a drink or something some time” which I couldn’t refuse since he had just helped us, but really not wanting to be hit on as we had just been contemplating our strategy of surviving a night in the Ventimiglia train station.

no chairs...thanks Italy.

We still had some time to kill, and we were really hungry. We headed out into the town to find a restaurant, but everything was closed up (which is surprising since at least restaurants are open on Sundays in France), but we didn’t want to wander too far from the station late at night. We returned to the station and decided to eat in the café there – they had a decent selection, but it was so confusing trying to figure out how to select what you want and then pay for it. We first saw some tables, and sat down expecting a waiter to come, as it said on the nearby sign. A waitress did appear, but just spoke to us in Italian and left. Apparently we didn’t understand the system. We decided the tables were too confusing and there looked to be an easier “a la carte” section. We tried telling the guy we just wanted some pizza, but apparently you don’t just tell them what you want and they give it to you and you pay. No, it has to be much less efficient and more confusing – you have to go to the separate cashier away from the food, tell them exactly what you want, pay, and then you show your receipt to the guy serving food.

We hung out on the station floor next to a hobo-looking guy playing Sodoku until Beth arrived! We were saved!! It was a great trip, despite the problems, and a great story now! I think I’ve decided I prefer traveling with a little more planning, but would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY.

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I had 2 really amazing days this past week – a kayaking excursion on Thursday and a trip to the Gorges du Verdon on Saturday! On Thursday, 7 other people in my group and I headed out to Palm Beach for some kayaking on the Mediterranean. We had a guide, named Adrion, who paddled along with us and made sure we were going the right way! He didn’t speak much English, but we managed to communicate pretty well. Shawn and I shared a kayak, and we paddled toward the Iles des Lerins – we stopped at a beach on Sainte-Honorat for some swimming and then paddled over to Sainte-Margarite. We explored the island a little bit – it was absolutely beautiful! And it was so nice to be out and the weather was perfect.

Our troubles started on the way back. We had already been out for about 4 hours and we were starting to get hungry and the sky was getting cloudy. We started to head back, but it was much more difficult this time! The waves were much bigger and the wind kept blowing us off course. Poor Regina and Leah capsized under a huge wave! Luckily, they can both swim well and didn’t lose anything too important to the sea! We all made it back fine – sore, exhausted, and hungry but all agreed it was a blast and definitely worth it! :) Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera, so I don’t have any pictures.

My second adventure was to the Gorges du Verdon. The Collège organized this trip, and Leah and I went along with about 20 other people on a bus. The bus made its way through the tiny winding roads for 3 hours up to the Gorges – a recipe for motion-induced nausea for me, so I was very thankful that I had taken motion-sickness meds before getting on the bus. In any case – the stomach-churning bus ride was worth it for the amazing views of the Gorges! Leah and I had a picnic lunch before we headed down to the lake, Lac-Sainte-Croix.

We rented a kayak and headed down the lake onto the river and into the Gorges. It was absolutely amazing! The Northern Minnesotan in me was so happy – it was incredibly peaceful and so refreshing to be out in nature and away from the glitz of Cannes. Who would have guessed I could find this in France, especially the Cote D’Azur? We kayaked for about an hour and a half, paddling with no rush, and taking the views. It was so difficult to get a picture that really appreciates how massive the Gorges are.

Look down to the bottom of the picture and you can see some people. This picture only somewhat appreciates how big the Gorges are!

After the peaceful trip down the river, we headed to the nearby village, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. It’s a very small town that is naturally divided by a small stream and a little waterfall, and it’s known for a particular kind of ceramic made there. It was very relaxing to wander through this village without an agenda, and to sit back and appreciate the blend of nature and history. Leah and I hiked all the way up to a tiny church near the top of the Gorges, and we could not stop taking pictures of the amazing views!

Other than that, I have been settling into life here more and am getting used to the routine and slow pace of life. Another horde of Americans arrived the other day (about 40 students, who will be here for 2 weeks) so the school feels definitely American-dominated right now! I am starting to get a little more homework for classes, but I don’t mind because it is nothing compared to the normal workload back at St. Ben’s. I am excited for this weekend – we will leave on Friday morning for our tour of Provence! We will be visiting Arles, Avignon, Pont-du-Gard, and Les Baux. I can’t wait!

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