Back Home Again

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My Boyfriend was not sad to have me Home

The last few weeks have been so jam packed and insane since coming home that I haven’t had a second to myself. When I got home for the first couple weeks it felt really seamless. I felt like I came back into life in my family like I had never left. I had kept up with them weekly so I was constantly filled in on what was new on the homestead. I was really surprised it was so easy because of the big hype about reverse culture shock. I didn’t really experience that until I came back to school. Now it is hitting me really hard.

IMG_20131013_145440 My Host brother and His Dad

I really miss my family. They sent me both a Christmas card and a New Years card and both I cried when I read them. They sent me big kisses and it just made me really miss dinners with them and nights at home. I miss my little host brother a lot and think about him all the time because it seems like everything I see reminds me of him. It feels so strange to me that my family there isn’t here anymore and that I am not seeing them every day. I still wake up in the mornings sometimes and not know where I am.

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I really like how cheap everything is in the States. I have not been sad about paying in US dollars again just because everything in Europe was so expensive. I also am glad to be able to make my own food choices because while I was in France my host mom would make all my dinners. While this was awesome and easy for me I wouldn’t get to have control over portion size and felt bad not finishing my food because she was always giving my host brother the starving children in Africa story. So I usually would eat more than I really wanted to. I’ glad to be back home where I don’t feel pressured to eat.

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I also miss my abroad friends. We have a facebook group message going where we still talk but it is a lot harder being home and away from them than I thought it would be. A lot at school has changed since I have been gone and I feel like the friends I had while abroad really understood me better than my friends here at school. I really miss them and how easy it was to talk to them.

My Last Night in Aix-en-Provence

As I sit here writing the last blog, I can’t help but feel sad. Tomorrow I leave France after almost four months of the best experience I have ever had in my life. I have met so many amazing people and have had so many life changing experiences that I can’t even truly express how grateful I am that I have been able to go on this trip. I’m so grateful to my host mom for welcoming me into her family so openly and going far past what is expected of a “host mom”. I don’t see her as my “host mom” but as my French mom. She has been there with me for every bad day and okay day and always waiting up for me when I return from a weekend trip. She has been such a vital person in my life here in France.

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I will also miss my host brother Paul who has openly accepted me. Though he is nicknamed Paul the Terrible, he really does have one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. I know that I will forever cherish the colorings he has made me and the two Christmas cards. He has been just like a little brother to me. And I hope he is old enough to remember who I am. He has been a constant source of joy for me as I have never had a younger sibling. Though he can sometimes have a lot of energy, he has reminded me that every day is a day to cherish and make the best of.

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I will not miss the showers here, or the constant need to preserve water or electricity. I have a new awareness of just how much of this we use and how we feel that it will be a resource that will last forever though it will not.

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When I first came here I worried about my fluency level with French and fear that I wouldn’t assimilate into the culture. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I assimilated completely into my family and with their help have grown far more confident in speaking. I no longer have the fear of saying something incorrectly and ca switch between the languages much faster than I used to. My only fear now is that my English has taken a turn for the worst because of constantly speaking and writing in French.

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I think that Franc is very similar to what I thought it would be. Even though I was never able to find Escargot and the French do not eat crazy and bizarre foods like I thought, there are occasions where I had to give an odd glance at what I was going to be eating. I also was worried about being mugged and though I was attemptedly pick pocketed I was smart in traveling and was always aware of stranger’s access to my personal items.

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I am excited to go home as well. I know I will miss my french friends that I have made here and am a bit worried about keeping in contact with them, but with all the technology that we have now days, I think it will not be too difficult. I also worry about keeping in touch with my French Family. I really want to keep them involved in my life. I am excited to see my friends and family when I get home and to be able to share some of my experience with them. I worry about re-assimilating into life at home, but it will be better knowing that they are right there to support me.

La Fete des Lumieres in Lyon, France

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Recently, I was lucky enough to go to the Fete des Lumieres in Lyon, France. I had learned a bit abot it three years ago and it was one of the reasons that I decided to come study abroad in the winter, so that I would be able to attend. What I didn’t know is that it is the third largest festival in the world! The first two being Rio Carnival and Oktoberfest. It was estimated that last year over 4 million people came for the four day festival. And judging from how many people I saw, I would believe it!

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The festival is a devotion to the Virgin Mary who in 1643 when the village was struck by the plague, supposedly saved the entire city from ruin. The original date of the festival is December the 8th and that tends to be the peak point of the festival, but now it is a four day event starting on the sixth and ending on the ninth. I really enjoyed it because what they do is cast light onto their most important buildings and create shows using the lights.

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Every year ne of the major squares called the Place des Terreaux, does a different themed light show. This year was the Little Prince which is a very popular French children’s story! I have read it many times and really enjoy it so I was excited to see it in show form! It was a bit different than I expected but it was an absolutely gorgeous show! The abilities that they can do with projections and light amazes me!

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I also really liked walking around the city at night because of how elaborate the shops and roads become filled with Christmas lights and candles. It is a Lyonnais tradition that every house put out candles or lights in their windows and then leaves to walk around the city. It was absolutely gorgeous but there were a lot of people and the center of Lyon has very tiny streets!

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If you go to this festival make sure you book your hotel about a year in advance so as to be in the city limits. At night because of there being so many people, they shut down the city and make it impossible for cars to get in and out, so you have to take the trains to get out of the city. It was really an amazing trip and I wish that we had been there for longer. I can’t wait to go back again someday!

Christmas Traditions of Provence, France

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So I decided it would be nice to do a blog about the Christmas traditions here in Aix because they are interesting and so different from ours in the US. One of the most southern things about France at Christmas time is that there are a ton of Christmas markets! It is kind of like a Saturday market but open from mid-November until Christmas. Here in Aix they do a a sort of fair where there are rides for the younger kids. They also have special foods like vin chaud d’Alsace which is hot wine with extra spices from the Alsace region of France. Alsace along with Lorraine were sections of France that were added later, so a lot of French people do not consider these regions as being a “real part of France”. They were under control of Germany before and therefore have very strong German influences. There are also other special Christmas foods like cotton candy which are called Santa beards, sugar covered sweet pretzels, and chocolate heads which are a waffle cracker with a big marshmallow on it covered in chocolate. I can say that I have tried them all, and they are all very good! I have even tried a pomme d’amour or “apple of love” which is a candied apple. It is named after the Disney movie Snow White where the witch candies a green apple very red for Snow White and only True Love can break the spell of the sleeping death!

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One of the most Provencal decorations for Christmas here are Santons. Santons are hand sculpted clay figurines that are then painted by hand. The way that you start a collection here is pretty interesting. The first year you are supposed to buy the nativity scene with the basic Mary, Joseph, baby Christ in the manger, the donkey, the cow, and the angel plus the barn. This is a pretty expensive investment, as because everything is made by hand to get just those basics is about the US equivalent of about a hundred dollars. It is a very expensive collection! The year after you buy the basics, you are supposed to buy the three wise men and the angel. Then the following years you buy one item to add to your collection. One figurine is anywhere from 6-12 euros each, so it is more do-able after you have the initial start up. At all of the Christmas markets here you can easily find Santons. They are breakable so I haven’t bought any and don’t plan on it before I leave, but they are very fun to look at in each shop. They come in different sizes and are very cool!

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Another tradition here, it planting wheat on the fourth of December which is the day of the feast of Saint Barbe. The idea of planting wheat is that if it grows tall by Christmas, then the next harvest in France will be bountiful. But it also predicts if you will have good fortune in the coming year. Traditionally, you also are supposed to put the grown wheat on the table as a centerpiece on Christmas day or you can use it to decorate your nativity scene. My host mom planted hers with my host brother, who is her grandson. I am kind of excited to watch it grow because I wonder how quickly or how tall it will really grow! My host mom says it should be more than 5 inches tall before I leave in two weeks so it must grow fast!

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Vaucluse

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Yesterday was the last trip that I am taking with the school here. Our first stop was the Carrieres de Lumieres in Les Baux-de-Provence. It was kind of a cool as they projected art onto all of the walls and the floor of the quarry. It was super windy and also cold there because we were up in the Alpines. The monument was really pretty because they project art onto all of the walls and the floor of the quarry. These quarries were dug to extract the white limestone used to build the castle and the town of Les Baux. In 1935, the economic competition of modern materials led to the closure careers. After that the quarries were abandoned until the 60’s when they were rediscovered by Jean Cocteau. It wasn’t really until the 70’s though that they really started using it as a monument. It was really hard to take pictures of but I did get a few decent ones, taking pictures of art is pretty hard. The theme of the monument changes pretty often but when we were there it was the Artists of the Mediterranean. It was pretty amazing to walk around because they would take the original images and sometimes include animations that enhanced the artwork. They also accompanied it with music which made it a lot more interesting to walk around and see. The show lasted about forty minutes and was on a constant repeat.

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Then we arrived in the city of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue which is a small town in the Vaucluse department of Provence. It is a really cute town that has a lot of canals and foot bridges as well as water wheels. I saw about four water wheels which still work. Though I haven’t been to Italy the town reminded me of it a lot because of all the bridges and canals. The town is also famous for its antique shops and antiques market that happen on most Sundays. It also has a lot of waterside café’s and restaurants though most of them were closed with it being winter. I heard that there are usually more people there during the summer time but with it being winter the tourism season is mostly over. We were there on the market days so I got to walk around and look at all the different shops.

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The next stop was the Fontaine de Vaucluse. This was also a really small town with not very many inhabitants at all. The town is built around a spring in a valley at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains. The spring is the source of the river in the town we had just been in which is the Sorgue River. The spring is the largest in France and is also the fifth largest in the world. I would have liked to get a really good look at it but because we are on the schools insurance policy during these trips they didn’t let us actually see the spring. They only let us get to where the water level would be in the Spring. They told us that the water is so cold and so deep that if you didn’t die from the fall or drowning, you would die from freezing to death as the water is extremely cold. I wasn’t so upset about not seeing it as I am sure being as clumsy as I am, I would have fallen in. It was also very steep.

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Then after that, we walked back into town with the promise of going to a French Resistance museum and if we had time a paper mill. The French resistance museum was kind of interesting because it showed how the French resistance during World War II occupation would make the most out of ever resource that they had. They would make candles out of meat grease and also use water from boiling pasta to make soup. It was an interesting museum but after we were done with it we didn’t have time for the paper mill.

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Finally, it was about time to leave so we headed back to the bus. I bought some postcards and then also we were looking at a chichi stand. Chichi’s are a kind of beignets that I guess are really popular to the region. One of the adults said that they are made from fried garbanzo beans. But I couldn’t find anything out about them. They definitely didn’t taste like beans though. One of the adults let us try one and they were like doughnuts. They also were kind of like elephant ears but more fluffy and covered in sugar. I really liked them! After that our day was over and we were bused back to Aix!

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Week 11 Paris

So this week was pretty normal, homework, class, coffee, and caught up on a few of my favorite American shows. In my Urban approach to Spain and Europe class we went on a field visit to the Raval neighborhood in Barcelona. This particular area is focused on art, culture, and music. It’s an up and coming part of the city, it has an urban feel to it with a mixing of low/high income residents and housing. There are a bunch of cute “artsy” shops, vegan/vegetarian restaurants, vintage shops, and graffiti in every corner. It’s probably my favorite neighborhood in Barcelona. The city has made it a priority to rebuild and bring people to the neighborhood, and it’s actually the only neighborhood in Barcelona where the foreigners outweigh the born residents with 60% of the residents being immigrants. That was the highlight of my week, and then this weekend I went to Paris! It was a really short trip though, a Friday to Sunday. I saw the Eiffel tower (of course), Norte Dame, the “lock bridge”, Moulin Rouge,  walked around downtown Paris, and the Luxembourg Gardens. We didn’t get time to go to The Louve, but definitely doing that next time I go, because there will definitely be a next time!

La Raval field visit

La Raval field visit

Norte Dame

Norte Dame

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

Avignon, France

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Today was my last class trip for my history class. We went to Avignon to see the Palace of the Popes. On the way to Avignon my friend Sally and I talked about how we are sad to be leaving but will be happy to be home in a way. She doesn’t really want to leave at all but we both know that this place is being special because of the friends that we have and the families that we have. She says that she never wants to come back because it won’t be as special because it is made special by the group. I kind of see that. I think there is definitely merit to that but I think I still will want to come back and visit my host family. It will be interesting to see what kind of person Paul turns into. I know it will be hard to stay in touch with Madame but I want to try anyways. Sally and I talked for most of the ride there about this and that. Mostly about France and our whole experience. There is a cooking class to learn to make the chocolate truffles which we want to try and do this coming Saturday. Also Catching Fire comes out here on Wednesday so we want to do that this coming week. She has already seen it because she went to the premiere but I haven’t seen it yet. It is out though in every other European country except for here though. So that is a bit annoying! But oh well.
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When we finally got to Avignon about 45 minutes later we didn’t really want to stop talking. We parked the bus next to the Pont d’Avignon (bridge) with the promise that we would come back and could dance on it before we left for the day. You have to dance on the bridge because there is a children’s song here that is just as popular as ring around the rosy. So we skipped past the bridge and went through the remains of the rampart that surrounded the city and in to find ourselves in front of the enormous Palais des Papes, or Palaces of the Popes.

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Holy cow that was a big building! It was really cool looking on the outside and looked like a castle because it was built in the castle style architecture. It has the cut outs at the top towers and also the holes in the wall that you could shoot arrows out of. It even had the towers above the door that you could open the bottom of and throw things at enemies trying to come in. It was pretty awesome! Though this being a religious place that wasn’t exactly needed especially because it was protected by the Comte de Provence and his army and then the French army. But it was still really cool looking. Our bus split into two groups and my group went with our normal professor. We went and toured the palace which was pretty cool. There were a lot of cool art pieces and it was kind of cool to see the architecture and the rooms that they used in the 1500’s. There were lots of bay windows where you could sit and look out the window. I thought they were really pretty and I hope one day to have a window like that that I can sit in and look out. I like sitting in windows and have always want to be able to.

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We walked around for a couple hours and looked at all the rooms. There were some that were painted which we weren’t allowed to take pictures of, so naturally I did a little bit. WHAT. Don’t tell! It was really beautiful though. We saw where the monks would eat and where the pope would live and one of the coolest parts of it I thought was seeing all of the chimneys. I thought those were really cool and I can only imagine the amount of work to keep all of those going all of the time during the winter so that no one froze. Though maybe they did because weren’t monks supposed to use things very sparingly? I think so. So I wonder how often they really did light them, though because it was the pope I would think that they would light them more often than most monasteries. We also learned that 1/3 of the annual budget used to go to food. They would have 12 course meals every night, if that doesn’t sound like indulging to me then I don’t know what is!
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We also looked out the window of indulgence where the Pope used to greet his honored guests because it overlooked the courtyard. He would then forgive their sins and bless them and all that. Next we went up on top of the building to a lookout tower. It was SOOO windy! The Rhone region gets more wind than we do that is for sure! It was super windy that no one wanted to stay out very long because it was already cold and with the wind it just got worse. But it was really pretty to look out over Avignon. But it was very windy!

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After that we all left the Palais des Papes and went through Avignon to a little museum that had some sculptures in it that we had studied at the beginning of the semester. It was kind of cool but also we were all starving and ready to get lunch. Sally and I wanted to get home before 6 so that we could go to a big firework show thing that was supposed to happen in Aix at 6. Ideally we would have liked to be home at 4 to see the inauguration of the Christmas lights but we knew that wasn’t going to happen. After a quick run around the museum we were released or a two hour lunch break but we learned we should be back by 5:30 to Aix.

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We headed out in the direction that Patrick said there was restaurants. He had come here earlier in the term and stayed a weekend with the rest of the group but Sally and I hadn’t been in town to go with. We went off in that direction and after a while started drilling him on where the heck we were actually going because there was nothing in sight the way that we were going. He said we were heading towards a Japanese restaurant. Then a guy in front of us turned around and was like I think you mates are going the wrong way and he pointed us back the other direction. We thanked him and turned around. I have noticed here that when I listen to other people who seem like they know where they are going, they don’t really ever know… It is kind of annoying. I at least say I think it is this way but I’m not sure. But oh well whatever. We found the place eventually that Patrick was looking for but Sally didn’t want Japanese and I don’t eat seafood so we were like why were we trying to find this place in the first place? So then we went back to the main road and found a cute restaurant to eat lunch at.
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Sally and I got Lasagna and Patrick got beef tartar. I can’t get past the idea of eating raw meat and a raw egg, it just doesn’t sound healthy to me so I haven’t had tartar. I also had tea which was really good and I decided I miss tea and should try to find it more often. It was very good and we had a nice time talking. The lasagna was delicious and came with a green salad which was very healthy and I decided that I missed salads as well. It was good and a lady sitting next to us that teaches English to foreigners leaned over and started talking to us. She was really nice. Though then we left and ventured a bit in the city. We found a Carrefour where I bought speculoos and smurfs. We also found that they had Reeses! So that was pretty cool to find but we didn’t buy any. It was weird though because they came in a 3 pack. In the states they are in 2’s or 4’s but I have never seen them in 3’s.
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Then we left there and went to look at the chalets. They had more of a mix of things for sale but most of them were like food products that you would cook at your house. So we got some hot wine and then called it good. This wine was more alcoholy and winey than the other that I had in Marseille. I didn’t like it as much. But it was okay. Just not as good. Then we called it quits for lunch and went to the Petit Palais for the next part of our Avignon Education.

In here there was a lot more art. We looked at a couple different pieces but most of it was all very similar to me. It was really pretty but I can only look at art for so long until I am like okay great lets go. We looked at a couple different images of Mary holding Christ and then compared them. There was one that I liked a lot and then a picture of Saint Catherine holding a giant sword. Go girl power! It was pretty cool. We looked at the art for quite a while and because there was no glass over the paintings there was a person in each room that would tell us to back up if we went within two feet of any work. So that was a bit annoying. They should just get glass to cover each one… A lot cheaper than paying all these people to sit around in each room.

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But whatever! One we were done there, we went to the bridge. There are a lot of supposed facts about the bridge that are all false. Some people think that the bridge has never been completed to reach the other side. This is wrong. The King of France (before France was completely united as the country it is now) once wanted to cross the bridge. But he was denied by the Comte de Provence so he said fine I will just destroy it. So then they rebuilt it again. And then the exact same thing happened like 50 years later. So then they just never rebuilt it again. But now there are plenty of other bridges to it just stays half done on principal because the French Government when it was led by a King once the regions were united was still mad about it so there has since then never been any government money sent to fix it, and now it is a big tourist attraction with the legends that it has never been finished. There is also the rumor that because the river is too deep or too strong that it is impossible to finish it. But that is wrong too because it has been finished. More recently in the 1850’s a song came out called Sur le Pont d’Avignon.

In the song it goes (translated):
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ring
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So naturally when you get on the bridge you have to DANCE! So we went to the end and took pictures (changing the song to jump instead of dance).Then on our way back Sally and I danced the whole way looking like crazies. It was really fun. Then we realized that we were the last ones on the bridge so we ran to catch up with the group. They were just in the gift shop though so it was all good! I bought some post cards which all had the bridge on them and then we were off! We got back on the bus and the other class was already on it! So probably they all saw Sally and I dance on the bridge. But who cares we had fun! The bus left and then had to loop around because we forgot two people. Oops! Then we rode the bus back to Aix.

Dachau Concentration Camp

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So last weekend I had the pleasure of going to Munich, Germany because I wanted to go to a concentration camp from World War II. I think that while that isn’t really a very fun thing to do while I am abroad it is definitely something that I knew I needed to do while I was in Europe.

When we got there the first thing we did was go to the visitor’s center which was outside the actual camp. There we talked inside about some more of the history. They had a cafe there so I got a coke and then felt sort of horrible to be sitting in a cafe with the camp so close by… It just seemed sort of… I don’t know really how to describe it, just knowing so many people a couple hundred feet away starved to death 70 years ago. It was just kind of not a good feeling.

After that we started out. We went and talked about the front gate with the famous work will set you free phrase that you can also find at Auschwitz/Birkeneau. It was originally true because this camp was originally a work camp where you would be released if you did good work. But then after the second and third phase it was just a sick joke. The original barracks have been destroyed but there are two which have been rebuilt with consult from survivors. We went through the entrance of how getting into the camp worked. First you are met by the admin of the camp who tells you that only the devil laughs here and that he is the devil. Then random people are beaten and then you are taken into the maintenance building to be shaved, showered, numbered, and given a uniform. The uniform had pants pockets which you weren’t allowed to use or else you were shot or beaten.

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The maintenance building still stands and the paint has been taken back to what it would have been like. It was pretty horrible. The shower room they would also tie the prisoner’s wrists together and then hang them by their wrists with their whole body weight which was really painful and could cause permanent damage. In this camp you weren’t tattooed with your number but rather given it on a piece of cloth. So I guess that was something that they came up with later. There were also some numbers given as to the prisoner count in the camp but we know those numbers now to be a very low guesstimate.

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After that we watched a little documentary which was about 3 minutes long with footage of the camp right after liberation. It was pretty sad. Obviously. But it was hard to watch. We also saw a beating table where each SS had to everyday beat a prisoner 25 times. Most of them actually looked forward to this part of their day. But the terrible part was that the prisoner would have to count out each strike in German and if he wavered or slurred it would start back over at one. This wasn’t as bad in the beginning days (as bad… Bad word choice as either way it’s horrible) but as the camp went on and they got polish and Czech prisoners who didn’t speak German it just got worse. Prisoners would have to learn to count to 25 perfectly or else they would be pretty much beaten to death.

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After that we went to the Bunker which was where political prisoners that they couldn’t really kill were taken. This was one of the worst places in the camp though because even though you wouldn’t be killed, you would be tortured. They had over 70 little rooms where the prisoners lived which each had toilets and a heater furnace. The switch for these heaters was on the outside of the cell. In the winter it would get to be like -20 degrees outside and because the building was made of just concrete the cells would get really cold. So whether you were well behaved or liked would determine whether your heater was turned on or not. They also would turn the on in the middle of summer when it was blistering hot. Pretty horrible. They also had some cells which were called standing cells where they divided the already closet size room into six and then made them shorter so that you had to hunch to stay standing. There wasn’t enough room to sit or to stand straight and prisoners would be left in there for up to 72 hours. It sounds horrible. Also they cut most of the rooms in half so that you couldn’t stand or sit, and most of the cells were black. Some had windows, which just let more cold in. The guards would run up and down the halls all the time and threaten the prisoners. Pretty scary stuff. There was a little portable alter which could be put in different rooms of the higher up political prisoners here so that was kind of nice. Mostly prisoners here were like Austrian Princes and more known people that the government just couldn’t kill. It was pretty terrible.

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Then we went outside and saw the two memorial statues that have been put up by the Maintenance building. One is a sort of warped human body sculpture which also looks like barbed wire. The other was a chain that was made with the different triangles and stars the prisoners wore. This sculpture still misses the green triangle, pink triangle for homosexuals, and the black triangle for asexuals or pretty much anyone who didn’t fit in society’s box. This would include beggars, hermits, and gypsies. These are missing because in the 60′s when it was put in, it was still illegal to be a homosexual so they are still missing. I think it is pretty sad that lessons weren’t learned from the holocaust and that those are still not included.

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After that we walked across the big space used for roll call which was probably a bit bigger than a football field, to get to the model bunkers. The first room showed what the beds were like in the first phase where each prisoner had a separate bunk with a shelf. The shelf was to be a constant reminder that they had nothing to put on their shelf. They also had mattresses made with straw which every morning had to be made in perfect rectangles with their blankets stretching down the line with perfect stripes that matched up from one bed to the next. This was pretty hard to do so there were special people that were in charge of doing it. If it wasn’t perfect everyone would be punished. There were also wooden benches where the prisoners could sit before bed. Next was an example of beds from the second phase where there were no partitions between beds and also no sides on the beds. There were also no benches. Lastly was the room from the third phase on where there were just a top, bottom, and middle bunk with no breaks or anything. I don’t think they had straw mattresses on the last two phases. It didn’t look like they did anyways. There was also a bathroom where the toilets all faced each other and a really inadequate wash room with two fountains like sinks. It was pretty horrible. There were like 8 toilets for four rooms of prisoners. Each which had like over a two hundred people in them at minimum. It was pretty horrible. There was an example of a call for that bunker which showed that at minimum there was 800 something people and on that sheet the max was 2800 people. We know that number now to be a low number for the camp.

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The prisoners would get 3 rations of soup per day which was really just water with a few vegetables (if you were lucky) in addition to a small pieces of bread which would need to last you all day. There was a debate in the camp whether it was better to save it to last all day or to eat it all at once to feel full.

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After the barracks we went down the line of where the barracks were to get to the shrines. There were over 25 barracks. The outlines of the foundation are still here and now are marked with each barracks number. At the end of the line there are four shrines that have since liberation been put up. There is one for Catholics, Jewish, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox. The protestant one looks all wonky which was their way of saying screw you to the Nazis who made the camp with perfect angles and stuff like that. There are still the authentic guard towers and such though the fences have mostly been redone with the exception of one section which has stayed intact to show the area on the outsides of the camp. So first there was a grass section which if you were seen on you would be promptly shot and considered to be trying to escape. The SS would sometimes take a prisoners hat and throw it on the grass and tell them to go get it. If they did they were shot and if they didn’t they were shot for refusing orders. Pretty messed up… But if you got through the grass you had to go down and back up a canal. After which were rocks and barbed wire, after which was the barbed wire fence, then a river stream, and then after that if they survived they found themselves in the SS School of Terror. Needless to say, no one ever escaped after the first phase. Only one person is known to have escaped but then he fought in the war and died so we don’t know how he did it.

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After that we crossed a bridge which did not exist at the time but has now been added, and went to see the crematoriums and gas chamber. These were definitely used but it is still unknown as to what extent. The first crematorium one had two opening to put in bodies. It is low ball estimated to have been used for 11,000 people. Low. I cannot even imagine. Later a second one was made which also included a gas chamber. It was so emotional to see and walk through. The “shower room” had 30 shower heads of which only one remains. The poison crystals were put in on the sides after the doors were locked. These would take anywhere between 3-30 minutes to take effect as they would react from the heat. It was pretty terrible. The room was very short and not very big. We know that the gas chamber was one of the later ones added as it has outward opening doors. Next to this room were two chambers where they would pile the corpses before burning them. The new crematorium had four oven openings and the smoke would be cycled underground and then out of the chimney. Behind this building which is surprisingly small for the terror it caused, are now memorials for the dead. There were many mass graves for the ashes from the crematoriums. It is impossible to tell they say by the remains of the ash how many people were victims to this but it is presumed to have been a lot.

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This camp was one of the final ones to be liberated and is one of the longest standing. The people in the surrounding were well aware of the camps existence but operated under a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it came to what actually happened within the camp. The Nazis even went so far in the early days as to publish photos of the prisoners on the cover of a Munich magazine. The public of Munich was well informed about the prisoners as they were not trained directly to the camp but rather to Munich where they were then paraded through the city while the public was encouraged to throw things, beat, insult, and attack the prisoners. They were shown to the public as ” the criminals who wanted to see Germany burn to the ground”. The atrocities at this camp cannot be duplicated and I present this blog to you in such detail so that you as well will remember what happened and will help ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future, though it is already happening in other countries right now. The holocaust was the cause of losing one third of the world’s Jewish population. Though I am not a Jew, I do believe it is wrong to prosecute those of other religions solely based on this fact. It is important for all of us to remember the events that led to this discrimination and watch for the beginning signs of this behavior in the life around us. This kind of hatred for other people didn’t happen overnight but was based on a growing discrimination.

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Nimes, France

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This morning I woke up at 7. I changed and ate breakfast and all that. It sucked getting up. I took a motion sickness pill and then headed to the bus. It took me longer to get there than I had planned but luckily I had planned to get there early. So it was all good.

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We got on the bus and Cassandra and I were so exhausted we both just slept. Usually I look out the window to figure out where we are but this time I was too tired. We woke up in Nimes and then proceeded to be told that this is the place where Denim was first invented and that now they make a lot and export it. But do you see where the name Denim comes from? “De Nimes” meaning “from Nimes” became Denim.

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We got off and went into this big garden thing where we were to walk around. It was really pretty cool. It was called the Jardin de la Fontaine.

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Les Jardins de la Fontaine is a public park located in Nimes in the Gard . They are built around the original source dedicated to Nîmes Nemausus . Their architectural organization also highlights two monuments ancient major city, the Temple of Diana and the Tour Magne .

Les Jardins de la Fontaine was one of the first public parks’ of Europe and is still today one of the most remarkable.

Les Jardins de la Fontaine was made in 1745 on the basis of these remains. They made it possible to highlight two other Roman monuments have particularly stood the test of time, the Temple of Diana and the Tour Magne, both of which I went to. The project was led by Jacques Philippe Mareschal , military engineer of King Louis XV and director of fortifications in the province of Languedoc .

In the Gallo-Roman period , the area of Jardins de la Fontaine included including baths of the city (which you can see some remains).

Source: Wikipedia but translated.

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It was really pretty. My tour guide was going too fast for me to follow though so Cassandra and I decided to just split from them to look at the garden at our own pace. It was much more enjoyable that way. I didn’t know that they used to be roman baths but I kind of guessed when I saw stairs leading into the big pond. It was really cool though. There were SO many fish in the ponds. They were also all connected so there was a ton of space for the fish. There was even two white and one black swan. They were really pretty and just added to the mood . We looked around the temple of Diana which was really in ruins but was also really well preserved when you think about how old it is, which is funny because we don’t actually know how old it is. The whole temple is a bit of a mystery.

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The Temple of Diana (Temple de Diane) is a Roman site in Nimes whose ultimate purpose remains a mystery, as does the origin of its name.

Believed by some to have been originally built sometime during the reign of Augustus – others say in the 2nd century – it has been suggested that the Temple of Diana may have been a library.

Source: http://www.historvius.com/temple-of-diana-nimes-1603/

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I think it is kind of cool that we don’t actually know what it was for. I think it is kind of fun to walk around it and just sort of guess. We walked up and down so many stairs my shins were starting to hurt. We had a bit of a problem finding the Tour Magne but we eventually found it. It was where the Romans made a big lookout tower kind of thing so that they could see enemies coming from far away. It cost money so we didn’t go up it but it was really cool. From far away from the city you can see the monument though because it is the highest point in the city.

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It was really cool. We saw some stray cats on the way back down and it made me sad for them. Stray animals seem to be more of a problem here than in the states I feel like; or maybe they are just more under control in the states. I have noticed on the French Price is Right they don’t say to have your pets spayed or neutered. So maybe that is the problem. ;-)

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After that we went and found some lunch at a café. I also bought a cookie which was the best chocolate chip cookie I have had in a very long time. Then we found a gift shop so I bought a book of postcards for two and a half euros which is a very good price for 12 postcards. Then we walked by the Maison Carrée which was closed because it was Sunday but it was still very nice to see! It is one of the best preserved Roman temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire and was built in 16 BC. It was awesome but there were a bunch of like teenage boys like climbing on the side of it which if it that happened on a US monument I think that the US would be ALL over that. But no one seemed to care or mind.

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Next we found our way to the Arena of Nimes which was SO amazing! It seemed so huge and I was shocked that it is so old and still standing when you think of all the wars and people that have lived and could have destroyed it. It is pretty cool. Now they have added wooden benches and use it two times a year for bullfights and they even have added a removable roof. I think it is cool that it is still used for the purpose that it originally had. They used to do like exhibitions of men barehanded fighting lions and also exhibited animals like a zoo. In the middle of the day though there would be public executions by tossing people into the ring with a lion, or even attaching them to a stake and putting them in with lions or bears. It was pretty intense. The public at that point would all leave to have lunch so the only people who watched this part was slaves who were scared to guard their masters’ seats, sounds pretty scary to me. After that they would have famous Gladiator fights and then either let the loser live or die. It was pretty violent.

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It was really cool to see the amphitheater though and the audio guides were kind of fun but not very informative. They were more for like imagining what it was like during the period but not really informative with information.

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After that we headed back to the bus to go to the Pont de Gard.

The Pont du Gard (literally: Gard Bridge) is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River[4] in Vers-Pont-du-Gard near Remoulins, in the Gard département of southern France. It is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50 km-long (31 mi) structure built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because the terrain between the two points is hilly, the aqueduct – built mostly underground – took a long, winding route that crossed the gorge of the Gardon, requiring the construction of an aqueduct bridge. Built in the 1st century AD, the Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is the best preserved with the Aqueduct of Segovia. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pont_du_Gard

It was definitely cool to see but we spent a lot of time there looking at it. Cassandra and I walked the bridge so that we could say we did, but then after that we decided to just sit and look at it from far enough away that we could see the whole thing. I was glad for the break from walking. We both were. We even tried opening some acorns from an acorn tree just for fun. It was really a cool bridge but we were too tired to want to walk around it more.

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Overall it was a really fun day but also very exhausting! But I thought the whole trip was definitely worth the 25 euros to go!

Nice and Eze

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I woke up and had a quick breakfast before heading out to meet the bus at 7:30 to go to spend the day in Nice. I got some money for the day/ weekend/week out of a different machine and it was mean and have me a two fifties instead of smaller bills. Big bills here suck because no one ever wants to take them. A 20 is like already bad but a fifty is like oh man not so good to have. But I rolled with it and took note of that machine bing not so good and then went to find the buses. I had a bit of trouble finding the hotel but luckily I had left myself lots of extra time to get there so as not to be left behind. After some confusion of who was on what bus and which bus was which number we got on. My bus is for the advanced French students so all our information stuff is in French. Kelan is my bus buddy we decided for these trips. We got on the bus and though I tried to keep my eyes out the window I couldn’t help but fall asleep for part of the way. We stopped at a gas station rest stop and we all went to the bathroom and got snacks. I bought a little Starbucks frappuccino thing to tie me over for the day and break one of my fifties. Then it was back on the bus!

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We passed by Nice and went instead to Eze which is a smaller town where we toured a perfume factory. Sounded like a cool idea but it was really difficult to hear our tour guide in the small space talking in French when the other groups were being loud and another tour guide was speaking English. It was difficult to keep the mind in French mode and she was being so quiet and the English lady too fuzzed to really hear anything. We got to sample some different like pure extracts like lemon, rose, strawberry (my favorite), coffee, lavender, and chocolate. That was probably the funniest part of the tour as well as seeing how they use the molds to make the soaps. The gift shop was kind of cool but everything was pretty expensive and I really didn’t care about buying perfume. We only had an hour total in Eze including the slow and mandatory perfume tour. Kelan and I ditched the gift shop in order to try and get to the town to take a few pictures. We took the way the bus lady told us but it most definitely didn’t go to town but to a little look out into the valley where you could see the Mediterranean. We took some pictures and then were sad that we had to go back. We waited around for people to be done in the gift shop and then got back on the bus to go to Nice.

 

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On the way there our bus guide prattled on for far too long about nothing in particular and repeats herself way too many times that everyone just tuned her out. We all were also vey distracted by the beautiful city and coast out our windows. When we got off the bus we had to follow our bus guide to the meeting place in front of a statue of a naked guy who was vey nicely done but he was not nearly as exciting as the beach. The bus lady held us there for too long saying the same things she had already said before letting us leave. By that time we had about an hour to do whatever before we could meet back to go either on a walking tour of some parts of the city or up the side of the cliff called a chateau that had some ruins and waterfalls. We walked a bit before we found a place where we could buy some sandwiches that we could then take to the beach. I bought a piece of strange pizza and a slice if apple pie which was very cheap. I also ran down and bought a few postcards before the rest of the group got their food. Kelan and I quickly wolfed our food don because we both really wanted to go in be Mediterranean  I swim. The other girl wanted to sunbathe so we left all oh stuff with them and then went and jumps in. The other girls complained that I was too cold but I thought it was really warm, warmer than Oregon and warmer than swimming pools that I am used to! A bunch of other IAU kids soon joined us and it was a lot of fun. The water is so blue that it is unbelievable. It is also supppper salty. I accidentally engulfed some water and thought I was going to throw up from all the salt. It is nice bought because the salt helps you float so you don’t really need to swim very much to stay above water. The shore was really pebbly but once you got in the water and couldn’t ouch bottom it was awesome. There were waves by they acted more like softly not like breaking waves in Oregon and you would float up with them which was pretty fun. I really enjoyed myself and it was a really amazing experience. I want to do it again!

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Eventually I got out and we went to track down some ice cream before meeting back at the naked guy to climb the over three hundred stairs. We didn’t actually count but that number was thrown out. When I counted it was well over that but I eventually lost interest and lost track. We found an ice cream place and by the time we all got ours we had to run to meet at the guy. I got chocolate in a cone and it was super delicious. 10/10, would buy again. After meeting up we walked to the entrance and started climbing. It really is like super high up there. But the views were breath-taking!

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My vocal cords gave me a bit of trouble when his creepy guy clearly checked me out when I passed him while he was on the phone and after words he stood up and started to follow me. I quickly went two stairs at a time and ran to catch up with the others who really weren’t far ahead but I wanted to be safe.  But other than that they didn’t get too uncomfortable. The waterfalls were kind of cool and it was nice to get a little spray after climbing so much. We sat down near the top for a while to just take it all in before we had to go back down to leave.

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Kelan and I quickly ran to the top where we found another awesome view and a really good deal of 7 postcards for 2 euros. So of course I bought some more. I haven’t actually sent any yet though… Oops. I figure they will be expensive to send. Though beside the point there were a ton of postcards with like half naked girls on the or random kittens. That was pretty bizarre. But we went back down and then went to the naked guy to meet everyone to leave. I was like super thirsty but because we had to be there at a certain time we didn’t stop. Long story short, our bus guide told us the wrong spot and time. So we met earlier than we had to and then walked to a location five minutes away to meet everyone else. But because there were multiple meeting places it was pretty much a crap shoot and no one knew what was going on. We didn’t leave until 5:15, which was very obnoxious because I was sooo thirsty.

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We stopped luckily about 30 minutes down the road at a real rest sop to use the bathrooms really quickly. Kelan took my water bottle to the bathroom but then I decided to go as well and we both discovered that the sinks here were so short it was impossible to get water in the bottle. Luckily after waiting for the buses to be sure they had everyone (a 20 minute process even though only 15 people got off the three buses) the bus guide asked if anyone wanted to buy a bottle of water for a euro from the bus. This is actually. Really good price and I definitely jumped at the chance! The bus ride back was beautiful or is rather since I am writing this on the bus currently. I told Madame that I was going out for dinner tonight with friends because I only have 6 dinners a week. But the plan is to go home and de-salt with a shower first before re-meeting up.

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We ended up going to the 24 hour restaurant which has a lot of seafood. Luckily they have other things as well so I ended up going for something that had chicken in it which ended up being fries and chicken baked in crumb or something? It was very good! Kelan is living with a girl from Sweden who came with us to dinner and she was really nice. I spent a lot of time talking to her because she was on the end and everyone was kind of ignoring her. She was really nice though! After dinner we went to an Irish pub for a drink and I tried a Tequila Sunrise which was pretty good. I liked the orange juice/grenadine part more than the tequila but it wasn’t too bad. A little spendy for my tastes but it was good. My ear has still been hurting so after one drink I decided to leave and Kelan and the Swedish girl seemed glad to have a reason to leave because they were getting bored, so they walked me home. Apparently there is like a new gang in Aix? Apparently? And also the other night this one girl got mugged from IAU 10 minutes from her house after the guy who was walking with her left. So they are really cracking down on us to be sure and have a buddy and not carry a lot of important stuff on us at night and to take taxi’s even if we live close. I live five minutes from that bar so it wasn’t a long ways for them to walk me home, and the street I walk takes a little bit longer but is much more populated.

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I feel like this doesn’t like accurately depict how crazy and cool my day was but I had a pretty great day. I am really glad that I got to go on this trip.