“It’s like Déjà Vu all over again”

(Title – John Fogerty)
I am trying really hard not to hold a grudge against the pilot that flew us away from Dublin, Ireland. But it’s hard. The past week had been one of my best vacations ever and I was not exactly looking forward to going back to France and starting class. Writing that makes me feel so much more guilty than I already do.  I should be ecstatic to go back to the country I chose to study abroad in and should be excited to get back to studying the language. I suppose to clarify; exactly what I was not looking forward to was sitting in class instead of hiking or exploring and feeling timid when needing to talk to the less friendly French people in my second language instead of the overly helpful Irish people in English. I did, however, miss speaking French and enjoying French meals with my host family.
Getting back was really weird. It was an interesting adjustment. When we first got to Ireland it was hard to remember we could speak English, yet it wasn’t home. Returning to France was interesting as well because we were going back to something familiar, yet still not home. Ireland is more similar to the States so that was a quick adjustment. And actually, since we are comfortable with Angers, that shift was fairly quick as well. What was particularly strange to come home to was everything being the same except having a different roommate. Here we have our own room and we know our host parents, etc. but there was a new face and a missing face. Real classes started the very next day and that was going to be yet another change to swallow. It’s amazing how starting over so many times so close together wears you out.  It is comforting to know that when I get officially home, people already know me and I know them.

On day 1, we got up, got dressed and ate breakfast as usual. Then the three of us, now Maddy instead of Brittany, walked to the tram and caught it with perfect timing.

This is us. On the tram. Making horrible faces has become a common practice. Obviously this wasn’t taken on this first day that I mentioned, but it seemed fitting to include here.

The rest of the day was mostly orientation that got me excited to be back and got my French brain working again and allowed some time to exchange travel stories with friends. A hurtle that I hadn’t anticipated was mixing new friends with old. I had been really excited to meet the new AHA students and feel as though I had a “group” or at least some more fellow Oregonians because many of the other Americans during September came with groups from their schools.  However, these students have been in Angers since the beginning of October, and while I was gallivanting around in Ireland on vacation, they all had orientation and bonding time.  Now I, as well as the other September program students, have returned and there is a divide that I felt stuck in the middle of. I’m eager for classes to get sorted out and for the new AHA arrivals to meet and click with the other students I met in September.
Here’s to having a great semester, getting the correct credits, seeing some cool places, meeting more cool people and learning a cool language!

Day two was better. I’m getting closer to a conclusion on which classes to take with the appropriate balance of desire to learn the subject and credit need. I also was able to meet more of the new AHA students! On an entirely unrelated note, I desperately need some water proof shoes. And just a highlight from the day, attempting to explain Sour Cream in French to our host parents.

*Later*

It is now the end of week two since returning to Angers. The first week of classes was just a trial run of testing out which classes we thought we might want to take. It was nice that it wasn’t quite official school yet so I didn’t have too much homework, thus time to get to know the others. Lunch is no longer provided, so now I just buy groceries to store in the AHA office and get to eat in the lounge with the others. It’s really nice to have a place to go during breaks and a fridge because I save time and money. Another thing that we came to find is that having white skin is a minority in our classes of international students. The Chinese students outnumber the rest of us combined.

Week two was our first sample of the now routine life.  Finally! A schedule that will stay the same! I’m not taking too many hours because I want to have time to explore the city and do other things while I’m here and not spend all of my time in class or doing homework.  It was really hard to decide on which electives I wanted.
Here is what I ended up with:
-I have the regular “Langue” class which is just appropriate level, general learning like 301 or 202 or something like those.
– Comprehension Orale – basically listening and understanding practice. For some reason, that is one of my biggest struggles here so I hope that class will help. The teacher is fantastic!
-Expression Theatrale – Acting! This is like acting class in French! So much fun. I am the only Caucasian person in this entire class which I’ve never experienced before either. I’m really enjoying not only practicing acting techniques, but learning French and practicing pronunciation at the same time!
-Grammar – Because mine is horrible.
-Finally, my culture class. This was a difficult decision. History of France, Art History and France au Quotidian (general daily life) are the classes offered by the school, all of which sounded interesting! Also, my study abroad program, offers two courses with a visiting professor just for AHA students.  I settled on Regional Cultures and Languages with the visiting professor. This class is unfortunately taught in English and at lunch time but there is an additional discussion hour in a café for speaking French.  I’ve already learned a ton about the local divisions and sections within France.

A couple high lights from the first two weeks of October:

Listen to this. One Friday evening (the 12th of Oct.), I went to see a movie. IN Angers! So that means the movie was in French. Plus, it was a sequel to a movie I hadn’t seen. Sounds like I’m doomed right? Well, guess what? I understood! It happened to be an action movie which helped….a lot (Taken 2). I’m just so excited that I went to a movie in French and left without permanently damaged self-esteem! It was super strange and kind of distracting however since it was an American movie and US places and the lips were saying English words. I was willing the voice to be speaking English. But once I got past that. It was great. It was pretty much exactly like going to a theater in America except everything was in French, people were quieter and the seats were way comfier.

The following Sunday, Carina and I went ice-skating in the Angers rink!

Carina is a great teacher :)

Let me tell you, French boys know how to make the best out of a few hours of free skate time. So entertaining! Hockey and jumps and races AND break dancing! Seriously, tiny french boys break dancing in hockey skates on ice. Then miss Carina Wade became a celebrity by doing fancy figure skating turns and such! All of that entertainment for 6 euros. So much for there being nothing but Church and McDonald’s open on Sundays in Europe! :D

Luckily the weekend had been pretty restful because class from 9-2:30 with no lunch break on a Monday is a long haul. But having the whole afternoon off is wonderful! Monday the 15th I managed to make a hair cut appointment for the next day! I am pretty sure we were on the same page about what I was asking for but I guess I’ll find out after it’s trimmed.

Before

After. (But it never looks like this when I do it. I don’t have a hair dryer here).

Lost in Translation:

Sometimes I want to complain that the extremes of having good French speaking/understanding days and bad French days are hard on my self-esteem, but then I decide not to curse it and just appreciate that the good days exist!

Example of the week, I tried to explain (in French) to two Chinese boys, in from of the whole class of other Asian students that my eyes change colors. They were not satisfied with my response to their inquiries of “how?!” and “why?!”. I was at a loss.

Later however, I had an experience that was not lost. I got to compare the American capital cursive letters to the French capital cursive letters while talking to a French man on the tram whose father lived, worked and died in Eugene!

So, after a bit of déjà vu starting over again in the same place doing the same things, and going through orientation with the new students and meeting new people in a familiar place, I’ve settled in and gotten comfortable with the changes and even felt like the expert once or twice!

After Ice-skating we walked part way home and enjoyed the sunset.

Bisous
Emily

En Résumé

“There’s something happening everyday, but I’m too tired and lazy to write it all down.” ― Anne Frank

More like too busy! I shall do my best to briefly (I know, you can laugh and scroll down to check if I succeeded) rehash my life so far with the help of my daily Facebook updates. I’m hoping from now on, I’ll have a lot less updating and a lot more focus/discussion to my posts. But since “Life is happening faster than I can write about it” (-myself, in previous blog) I can’t make any promises.

Anger’s Chateau

Classes and Excursions summary: I’ve included a zillion pictures so that if you’d rather just skim, you’ll still get an idea of my September highlights.

At first I kind of forgot I was here for school… but not to worry, classes whipped me into shape fast enough! And soon it was brought to my attention just how much you forget so quickly. There is not much, more frustrating that knowing you have learned something (perhaps more than once) yet you just cannot remember. All of the grammar and vocabulary we are going over is always on the tip of my tongue! It gets better every day, but it would be great if I could just remember what I’ve already learned.

By the end of week 1, my brain was in pain. The reward, however, was tickets to the Puy du Fou light show! This was basically a huge outdoor history of France show after dark. I mean huge. Props included actual buildings, enough space for jousting and battles and a fountain show.  Oh and horses doing tricks and fireworks and group dances.  I guess it is famous and very popular in France, I had no idea how lucky I was to have tickets. I also had no idea what it was going to be. We just got on the bus and then walked a bit and sat where they told us to (in huge bleachers things where several thousand people did the wave for what felt like several thousand times). I knew it was a light show, but I didn’t know it was a story too! Basically from the moment it started, my mouth fell open and stayed that way for the next, oh, hour or so. The costumes, sound, animals and lights were phenomenal. I didn’t quite follow all the French, but I got the gist. I know enough history to follow the portrayed events. And well, it’s not hard to tell when it is the sad part, happy part, romantic, suspenseful, etc. So basically, it was beyond enjoyable and I was thoroughly impressed by all of the volunteers that coordinated the event.
More information, if this link works in the States: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puy_du_Fou 

Best picture I managed to get at Puy du Fou. Have videos but those don’t post well.

On Saturday the 6th of September, Angers’ annual festival “Accroche-Coeur” was in full swing. My friends and I wandered around town and went shopping a bit. In the evening we got to watch some acrobatics but had to climb through some bushes to be able to see!

In the park. It was a sunny day for wandering around. And all my pictures of the festival didn’t turn out.

Catching your breath was not on the schedule for September. Sunday was as full as the rest of the weekend. There was a lot of bus riding but a good deal of walking as well.  We visited the famous for its beauty and lack of accessibility, Chateau Mont Saint Michelle.

To the right you can sort of tell that this is basically on an island.

View from higher up. Tiny shuttle bus on the road and low tide pictured.

For the most part, you can see views better than the pictures I’m posting on the internet. But you can’t see me with a giant jar of Nutella on google images!

From there we went to the little town of Saint Malo, where we were looked up and down and overheard “Elles sont tourists” (They are tourists) behind out backs. I wonder how often that happened in German speaking countries and I had no idea! Anyhow, I enjoyed time on the beach in the sun and wading in the Atlantic Ocean for, I believe, my first time ever!

The beautiful beach where we took off our chaussures de tennis and walked around. That path you see was full of green slime and french kids. I got a picture of Jocelyn swimming, parents sunbathing and a kid in midair jumping off that diving board.

The start of the week included the restarting of dancing! Ballet class in Angers, France! Having that opportunity improved my life here a great deal. For September, the only class I can make it too is not advanced but it is better than nothing and it felt SO GOOD to dance. It had been far too long and I had gotten way out of shape. In class,  I met some local French girls that I can’t wait to get to know! Plus, since the names of ballet steps are in French, it is interesting to hear them pronounced by a local speaker and to hear how the rest of class is taught using the same language! A wonderful learning opportunity!

The front door to the studio.

Another day that stood out to me was of course September 11th. It was interesting experiencing such a significant day for America while in a different country. I got to read an article about it in the local French newspaper and shortly after that, we discussed country specific “holidays” in my class.
On a lighter note, later that day I also learned how to spell animal noises in French! That was amusing, especially hearing the teacher demonstrate them.  The final reason that day stands out is that dinner that night was a success!  It was the first time in a few days we all ate together, and I learned my French seems to improve a bit after a little wine.  My housemates and I successfully learned about our host parent’s kids/grand kids (ah-hem, there is one, named Pierre who is 24 and single) AND we planned a movie night. Go us! I look forward to that and will forever be amused by my host mom’s attempt at pronouncing “Gene Kelly” without a French accent. To be fair, she was amused by my inability to distinguish between the word for dessert and for desert in French.

Friday the 14th of September we toured the Troglodyte sites, their homes and farms (if interested, read the “In France” section: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitat_troglodytique). It was interesting to learn about how these people used to live in caves and why while seeing first hand their bedrooms and farming equipment!

Bed in a cave bedroom.

Farming tools

This tour was followed by a tour of a winery, where we had a classy tasting of three different local wines.

1st glass of the tasting

And finally, an underground dinner in a cave restaurant! Here we got another two bottles of wine (for 5 people) and bottomless bread! The meal consisted of local mushrooms. Les champignons. And more mushrooms. Mushy mushrooms, chopped up mushrooms, full size mushrooms, brown mushrooms, and other mushrooms.  Dad, and others that know the smell of sautéed mushrooms is enough to make me gag, I’d like you to know that I tasted some. Painfully. But I was under the influence of peer pressure, wine and my adventurous Europe spirit. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t enjoy it one bit and proceeded to consume only bread and the wonderful, mushroom free white beans provided.

What I DID enjoy eating!

Saturday my friends and I bought bread, cheese and fruit and we had a lovely, sunny picnic before exploring in town a bit.

Lunch in the park!

Good thing that Saturday was not too hectic because on Sunday, we got up and the crack of dawn to get on the bus and visit THREE Chateaus in one day. For the sake of time, yours and mine, I won’t say much more than it was a long day with lots of busing, walking and picture taking. These grand, beautiful places actually exist a bus ride from where I’m studying as opposed to just on posters in French classrooms.  The guides kept us moving at a quick clip and I didn’t get to enjoy the peaceful gardens as much as I’d have liked. Luckily (because we were rushed), each chateau is approximately the same story every time; king’s quarters, queen’s quarters, lots of sitting/meeting rooms, grand halls, spiral staircases and a kitchen.  We just missed personal details in our speed walks through the excessive number of rooms.

Chateau d’Azay le Rideau

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chateau de Chambord

The 17th was another eventful Monday following another eventful weekend. I acquired a French friend, French cold and French tickets to Ireland!!! I met a girl in my ballet class and we made plans to hang out! She offered to show my friends and me around Angers. I also picked up an obnoxious head cold that is probably due to lack of sleep and dehydration and finally, we purchased plane tickets to spend the break in Ireland! The week that followed was average, going to class,

My class!

practicing French, eating cheese and bread, the usual with the exception that our director Sue came over for a fancier than usual dinner on Tuesday night. We had looked forward to that evening and it lived up to our expectations!

Aperitif!

Friday, we only had a half day of school, a surprisingly decent lunch at school, and a whole afternoon to rest and organize my stuff! To top off the week, after a small dinner…homemade CREPES! French family style with all the Nutella I could dream of.

I’m so darn lucky! On Saturday we had our final September excursion, which was a nippy boat ride in Le Golfe du Morbihan with great views to get to another town.

Note the person on the right on the bank. We decided she was a famous author at work on a new book being inspired by the gulf.

All the boats made me think of my “other dad” Randy!

Our lunch spot!

Post-lunch pass time. Collecting souvenirs!

We visited old mysterious rock formations (Carnac) which were huge stones set up in long rows.

Les Alignements de Carnac

In the perfectly European town of Vannes, I had a tasty crepe that turned out to be difficult to order. I wanted Nutella and banana, which was not on the menu, asking for changes in the dish is a social no-no and we found ourselves negotiating with an unhappy waitress. Eventually, we came home to a yummy and healthy home cooked meal before finishing up the night in town with friends and meeting some locals. Not to mention, perhaps one of the best things about my day was getting a picture of my complete rubber duckie collection from home!

Duckies!

C’etait un bon weekend! Sunday was as perfect as I could have imagined!
1. Slept in, in my big warm bed and made arrangements for Ireland. I was about to burst with excitement because one of my favorite people in the whole world will be meeting us in Dublin!!!!! It’s been too long since I saw my WOU roommate!
2. Huge, delicious, 3.5 hour lunch with some other host parents and a sweet Japanese student, sitting in the sun getting slightly tipsy.
3. Long, leisurely walk through the French countryside looking at the trees and giant cows while learning new words and finding myself thinking in French.

Just one view from the afternoon…

I’m pretty sure I experienced a stereotypical Sunday in France (minus getting to hear the Organ in the cathedral this morning, that’ll have to be next week).

The next Monday was not quite as good. First of all, it was Monday, the weather was stormy, I have heaps of studying to be done and topped off with upsetting news from home. But, even with all of that working against me, moods can be cured with a good homemade French quiche and two incredibly caring housemates. Additionally, the fashion standards here are seriously exhausting. Oregonians, wear your rain boots, rain coats, yoga pants and practical backpacks proudly! September was winding up and I realized my little sister turns 18 on Friday and I go to Ireland on Saturday! Someone pinch me. I was sad to be missing my sister’s birthday but decided we’d just have to celebrate again when I get home. Then next hurtle, is concentrating through the last week of school before taking off to wander around a cheery green island.

I really love learning, and traveling, and I wish this time could last forever. But of course I don’t reeeally. I love learning about a culture I studied for so long and I’m now immersed in. I love learning history from interactive museums and historical sites. And meeting people from all over. I love staying up too late because of heart to heart conversations and not being the only one with coffee in class the next day. I love that this experience abroad is changing me and helping me appreciate so many little things. I’m glad that when I go home I’ll have a new perspective and a better understanding of certain aspects of the world. I’m looking forward to the classes I’ll be taking at home in the winter. And that technology allows me to stay in touch with the diverse friends I’ve made. I plan to keep traveling and keep learning.

My friends from class! (I decided a picture of us with the textbook was better than the one of us deciphering our horoscopes in the french paper)

Appreciating every moment and attempting to take nothing for granted is a wonderful way to live and learn, but it’s very very exhausting.  I sort of miss “wasting time” sleeping in or just chilling and not going. But the heightened senses I’ve been using here is something I want to take home with me. I’ll just need to learn to find a balance.

“There’s something happening every day, but I’m too tired and lazy to write it all down.” –Anne Frank and Emily

Perspective

“I wanna be like you, I wanna talk like you, walk like you too!”

Jungle Book 

 Funny how the lens through which we view a situation can change our outlook entirely. While listening to a conversation between my fellow Americans about their first impressions of people; I was fascinated with how each person’s experiences and expectations changed their opinions of others entirely. I don’t want this to sound like a class essay so I’ll try to avoid writing about the too-much-thinking I’ve done about this, but there are the cultural glasses we wear, in which we see everything through a lens based on our American (or whatever) upbringing. But even within the same American upbringing, there are so many different pairs of these glasses. So many other facets of our lives that effect how one interprets a situation and it is interesting how vastly different the same moment can look, through different glasses.

For example:  I was with several other girls one day at a restaurant hoping to order an afternoon snack. The waiter came out to serve us and there were three of us who each interpreted what happened next, very differently. I, usually more prone to the “let’s not cause a scene and just deal with it” response was not particularly offended by the waiter’s attitude and had no intention of reacting. However, another girl felt quite differently. She felt that the service we received was rude and racist and thus we ended up leaving the restaurant.   I remained quiet and kept my opinions to myself in discussing the event or recounting it to others. I don’t feel that I knew enough about the culture to pass judgment and draw conclusions about the waiter’s attitude. While I am fairly certain we were not doing anything gravely offensive, there may have been something about our behavior that triggered the waiter’s response, perhaps we were the ones that were unknowingly rude. Maybe he was not acting out of the ordinary for that style of restaurant in that part of the world, and he may have not had any racist thoughts. Perhaps he had dropped a plate on his foot 10 minutes before, or received an unsettling phone call from home. I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter. It was a lesson on perspective and open-mindedness. The lesson for me is that I want to learn how to behave to fit in while I’m here.

Cultural Norms:

As I mentioned before, I had a fear of breaking little cultural unwritten rules while I learned how to blend in with the French people for a few months. Here is my report back. It happens all the time! It usually is not as bad as I anticipated but it’s still obvious. Such as wearing tennis shoes, or speaking English, sneezing loudly or chewing gum. There are too many to go over. For the most part, people just ignore us. Sometimes they are helpful and polite and giggle at our attempts. Riding the tram is a great place to stick out and watch the reactions of the French. We get stared at while talking to one another in English (would it be better or worse to speak in our broken French with a foreign accent?). I always catch people smiling to themselves when they see the homework I’m working on. Luckily, in this town people are used to exchange students.

Tennis Shoes AND Yoga pants, in a Chateau…. despicable.

Assumptions, Attitudes and Accusations:

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone jumps to conclusions without enough information, and then acts on this. It’s bad enough at home where we know the unwritten rules and have more experience with what is “normal” or socially acceptable. But I find it really frustrating here, where we don’t know.  For example, if receiving “bad” service somewhere, why is the next assumption “They treated us like that because we are American! It’s so dumb and not fair! The French are racist!”? We have no idea actually and I can say with some certainty that there must be a lot more to it that meets the eye. Maybe it is the psychology major in me coming out; one cannot draw conclusions based on perception.

“I’m gunna bring America to France!” –anonymous student

This topic makes me think of the Jungle Book and sometimes, after a day of studying French and the culture I find myself humming: “I wanna be like you, I wanna talk like you, walk like you too!”. I think it is important that while we are here to study and to visit, we learn as much as we can, and adapt when possible and most of all, avoid just plowing through leaving an American trail and a bad taste in the local’s mouths. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that I’m going to stop wearing my rain jacket because I get weird looks, I mean I want to avoid the attitude, of shrugging things off and dismissing local cultures while insisting on bringing my home culture here.

Acceptance:

While I’m on this deep streak, I might as well bring up that in my determination to be open minded I’ve had some surprises and found myself bonding with other Americans I may never have spoken to had it not been for studying abroad together. I have made some very unlikely friends that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. They have already taught me so much and given me a new perspective (or to get really essay-esk, new glasses) on life that I think will help me be less judgmental.  They have been a good reminder to always put forth the effort to get to know someone, and find out about people and why they are the way they are.

My final thoughts for now have to do with stereotypes.  I was about to post this blog but remembered a topic that came up in a class today. I may write more about this in the future, but for now I’d like to leave you with a question.  Basically, our discussion was about the different opinions of and labels assigned to various regions of France (the comparison being how each states views the other states or on a very local level, how Corvallis sees Eugene, (how Corvallis sees Corvallis), and how Eugene sees Corvallis (how Eugene sees Eugene)).  On my long tram ride home, the words of my professor still ringing in my ears, I began to connect that topic to the experience I was having locally and my constant comparisons of France and America/Oregon.
It was pointed out to us, that we stereotype on any level because it allows us to affirm who we are and assert who we need to be. I was intrigued by the concept of there being a model of who you are, within the stereotype you form about others. It is often seen in rivalries that what you say about another group of people (the negatives) is the opposite of how you would like to perceive and define yourself. For example, reading between the lines of saying “they are cold and snobby”, shows the opinion “we are warm and friendly”.
And now I am here, constantly looking for evidence to prove or disprove stereotypes about the French while learning the stereotypes that the French do actually identify with and what they believe about Americans.  So before I get too carried away with this, I’ll stop and just wonder aloud what do the stereotypes I knew about France before arriving have to say about how Americans perceive themselves?  Are negative stereotypes formed out of jealousy? Which came first, the stereotype or a sense of cultural superiority?

This picture was taken on an excursion. A day of observing, and being observed by the French!

Food for thought.
Emily

Left on Rue Bressigny

Day 2: Left on Rue Bressigny….I think.

This is not Rue Bressigny but it is a street from the walking tour!

The feeling of “Where am I?!” when I woke up was brief, how could I forget?! I got ready and went downstairs to the breakfast and coffee spread that would greet me each day. Our host dad drove us to the school for the first day and it was a lot further than we expected. The drop off at the front door was wonderful since we had no idea where we were going.

First view of the school after being dropped off

I was relieved to have Brittany with me and we managed to find the office. For orientation this month, there were only 3 of us which made things go smoothly and quickly.  It was exciting to meet our third Westcoastian, Jocelyn (from Cali/U of O). There was all the information I wanted and more in a little packet for me. After some introduction we ate Sheppard’s Pie in a cafeteria I was also going to become very familiar with.
Full, acquainted and curious we set off on a tour of Angers. A former student that was visiting came along and offered another first hand perspective getting us more excited to explore and experience.

Soft Bar. One of the 3 recommended. Guess I’m in Europe where directors tell you which bars are best to go out to with the teaching assistants on Wednesday night…

Our heads spinning with café names, prices at shoe stores and times to see movies, we called it a day after un pause-café (a coffee break).

In case you are interested. Rebelle is playing at the theater on Foch street.

We returned home on the lovely, fairly new city tram to have dinner and meet our new roommate from Kansas, Carina! She had a different hair color than when we briefly met her the day before, but details aside, she seemed to be a pretty cool person that would be a good addition to the American possy forming in our Angers suburb. And by that, I mean that we live in a house in a town called Avrille about 40-50 minutes from the city with two people that do not speak English. So, the three of us would become quite a team.
As I fell asleep that night, I was very excited, sort of lost, not nervous enough for the placement test and most importantly, the DODs had vanished.

The next thing I remember was thinking, “There is no way I’m awake right now.” My bed was way too big and way too comfortable and an 8:30am placement TEST was not exactly motivation to get up. TOO BAD! The lecture hall was cramped and stuffy and my brain was empty and fuzzy. And that is how I took the two hour test. Needless to say, it didn’t go so well and I left regretting more than anything taking time off.
Afterward, I was quickly distracted with a field trip to Anger’s very own Chateau.

It had a moat with a garden!

It is beautiful and famous for its collection of ancient tapestries. Honestly though, I was equally amused by my classmates as I was the site itself. Having been traveling around for the past few weeks, I’d seen a lot of cool places and not that that made this Chateau any less cool, it was just slightly less novel. I loved having the new arrivals around (whenever we went anywhere) because their enthusiasm and awe was contagious! I realize I say that with the risk of sounding, oh I don’t know, pretentious, but I hope you know what I mean. I appreciated Brittany and Jocelyn’s appreciation because it reminded me to keep appreciating and not get so comfortable that I begin to take it for granted.
After the visit, the rest of the day was spent shopping around town, including one important stop. Sue, the site direction, found a dance studio for me to check out! We stopped by and I took a look around and got some questions answered. A DANCE STUDIO! HOORAY! I was craving ballet and here was my opportunity. A few blocks from school with hours that worked at a decent price and in France!!! Fun fact, it is NOT called “ballet” here. Go figure. I was told that “ballet” is an English word when I asked the other (French) dancers. For your future reference, it is “la danse classique”.

This is the entrance to the ballet studio. After going through a tunnel thing from the main road. To the left is the actual dance floor!

That evening, we had dinner together with our host parents, and I just can’t get over the meals here. They are so much fun, perhaps my favorite part of the day and so very different from home. Then, we got further settled in and prepared for day one of classes with our new French school supplies! I love my little French planner. I am probably too excited about it!

Yay! Planner is the black one that says “J’aime” on the front. Which is the same as “Like” when your facebook is in French! This picture also includes that packet of supplies and info from Sue.

I got in bed a whole lot more excited and a whole lot more comfortable that before. And slept, and dreamt of Sugar Plum Fairies.

Day 3: Bisous bisous! “Kisses, kisses!”
I report my feelings here, “Because paper has more patience than people. ” –Anne Frank.
It’s true. I’ve come to really enjoy blogging during this trip. In this case however, I am short on time to write and when the following story actually occurred, there were some pretty wonderful people with open ears, as much patience as paper, and with more kind words in return.

Class placement was listed. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to write about this or not but it was a significant event so why not, pourquoi pas! I guess I was surprised, disappointed and therefore upset about being placed in such a low level. That’s what I get for taking time off and not reviewing for the test.  However, not 5 minutes into my class it was evident I was incorrectly placed. The professor gladly signed my level change paper and I went to complete the paper work. Long story short, the man I met with was horrified that I wanted to move up. Curse my double A last name, he remembered me. The worse, most humiliating part was him telling me my test was absolutely awful. Over and over he told me I did bad and didn’t know anything. Even worse, he was speaking rapid French and being upset; I proved his point by asking “comment? (what?)” about twice per sentence. But eventually he did move me up and I left with the lowest self-esteem I’ve had in awhile, and eager to prove I belonged in my new level. When I got home, my plan to hide in my room was thwarted by an entourage of women. My host mom invited me to “Jus d’orange” Orange juice in the yard with them and asked how my day had been. I couldn’t tell them without breaking down. Their response to my story was animated. The complimented me and my French and assured me I spoke well. One woman even picked up the fly swatter and threatened the (by my American standards) blunt and impolite man. I had never met them before but my substitute moms fed me chocolate and turned my day around!

Moving on…

Lost in Translation….reversed roles!

Now it’s my turn. I’m the one saying silly things and making native speakers or other students giggle.

“We are arrived at late. Maybe 20 minutes. Sorry. See you later.” –Me (leaving a voicemail for my host mom)

“Is there free?” –Jocelyn (Pointing and inquiring if the news paper is free or not)

hehe

“Hello, It was Emily”- Me (when answering the phone)

And countless others that shall go unmentioned.

And just a note:

“wee-fee” = wifi
“Gross Keully” = Grace Kelly
Russie = Russia
“Alfrid Itch cook” = Alfred Hitchcock
Useful information.

7 Minutes and a Beeeeep

As I mentioned, the Berthelot’s house is a bit of a commute outside of town. We have options for transportation though. The first day, we were carefully shown our options. There’s a bus and a new tramway. The tram is a further walk but a smoother, nicer ride. The bus is closer but not as new and comfortable. I would just decided based on shortest commute time, but they end up about the same. Maybe when the weather gets worse I’ll switch to the bus, but for now I like the tram. It comes about every 7 minutes in the morning on weekdays and I often have to wait less than 3 or 4. Plus, I get to use my fancy tram pass which makes a very satisfying “you’ve been accepted” beep sound when scanned.

Our beautiful rainbow tram!

And the inside. Which never looks like this. I just took the picture late at night so innocent French people didn’t end up in some American girl’s blog.

Bread and Pressure

France. Where baguettes are an accessory. Now, that sounds like a tagline of whatever that you would hear as a joke or something but I’m not kidding. People really do just carry bread around in hands, purses, bags, etc, all the time! And it’s perfectly normal. The problem is, if that were a habit I was to bring home, people wouldn’t believe me and claim I was just trying to act French.
I sadly have no pictures to support this.

I may have already mentioned my English is suffering, but bear with me, at least I haven’t yet converted to writing in bad Franglaise (the word in French for mixing French and English). Speaking of French I found it interesting that it is way harder for me to understand when the person is talking directly to me. The pressure of having to understand becomes so much and so distracting that I end up understanding nothing. It is so much easier when I can just listen to a conversation between other people. Which makes sense, but it’s still annoying.  More positively, obtaining a second language makes me appreciate my knowledge of my mother tongue. It’s fun to speak in English and feel so smart when I use slang or big words. In fact, in a way my English may be improving. That is, when I’m not spelling things the French way or mixing up grammar rules and expressions!

Listen to your Elders

This is from a day I’ll talk about later, but it is of my host parents and their friends who are also host parents. Jean is the second from the right and Therese is the second from the left! (Carina – my roommate is far right).

So, not only are my host parents a different nationality and speak a different language, they are a very different generation. Both in their 70s, they have grown kids and grand children older than me. In my own experience, sometimes elderly folks can be difficult to understand of explain things to even when speaking English. They may have a different way of talking or just mumble a bit. That is in addition to their native speaker habits, such as breaking grammar rules and abbreviating. I am thankful that they are used to having students around and for the most part, consciously speak slower and clearly for us. They admitted that the shortcuts are difficult to learn.

While I’m on the subject, it isn’t just the way they talk that reminds me of my own grandparents. There are plenty of behaviors too. Once I accepted that age was another hurtle, I became a lot more entertained and a lot less frustrated with myself. It isn’t just my French skills that are a barrier.

Life is happening faster than I can write about it. Soon, I’ll write about my classes and the excursions we have gotten to go on!

A really old house place in Le Centre Ville Angers

A bientot!

Emily

Real Life?

Upon Arrival (Again), this time in Angers
How many countries, how many footsteps, how many Euros (don’t think about it), how many people, how many sights seen, and now finally, ANGERS!

Angers: (On-Jay) or (Ehn gehay) or maybe (Ahnj-hae) I give up, listen to it on Google Translate.

Like a lot of the past month, on the last morning in Paris getting up to head to Angers, I didn’t really have much time for thinking or feeling. I had breakfast in the train station and found my platform. After a moment for thankyous and goodbyes, I had to walk quickly away without turning around to wave as I walked into what will someday be a milestone and what had always been just a dream and a plan and now was reality. Reality. Reality? Reality.  This is the longest I time I’ve been so far from home. Trusting the reputation of study abroad programs, I lifted my chin, then lifted my suitcase and sat on the train to Angers. Angers. (Pardon the repetition while I try to convince myself that this is real life….REAL life).

Once situated, I pulled out the information for arrival printed from AHA. I suddenly felt really unprepared. It had been so long since orientation and even longer since I’d read preparation materials online. I was under the impression that everyone else would be much more informed upon arrival. As if cramming for a test I studied the cultural and historical information I had access to and did actually learn a good few tidbits. Judging by how thankful I was for that new information, I regretted even more not doing better research.

The other entertainment on the train was a fascinating French quartet; three women and one man. They all seemed to be about the same age and I could not figure out their relationships with one another. At one point, two women moved leaving one alone with her laptop. The man got out a fancy camera and videoed some very interesting shots of her working as I was dying of curiosity and wishing I’d brushed up on my French before arriving. Little did I know just how much I’d wish that, later!

The train ride went pretty quickly and I was getting off before I knew it. My only goal; to find the AHA sign! I think I will remember the following moment for the rest of my life. I can’t claim to have been jet lagged but I was in some sort of fog. Two friendly women greeted me and spoke French and “kissed” my cheeks and I was rather confused and speechless. I had gotten into a routine and didn’t have a lot of emotional transition time. Almost the way I’d imagine a doll house person feels when a giant 7 year old transports them to an unfamiliar place and then wanders off to tend to their stuffed kitten. Introductions were done and I said “A demain” to Sue Crust, the site director, and followed my new host mom to where my host dad awaited with the car.

I felt awkward the whole ride. I had no idea where we were going and I could hardly communicate. I sat quietly and nervously knowing the answers to many questions were coming soon. My host parents tried to point things out to me and I tried desperately to understand and remember while secretly feeling really stupid.

It was warm the day of my arrival, really warm actually. I was sort of surprised. Another surprise, was that on the drive home, we pulled over, my new host mom hopped out, ran into a “boulangerie” and returned with a baguette. SERIOUSLY?! Awesome. Real life, Emily, this is real life! Not a scene from a movie….

Arrival at the house I recognized from Google maps brought a mini wave of apprehension but I was mostly comforted by its home-y-ness! It is adorable and I loved it!

The house! See the three windows above the Garage? That’s my room!
Brittany, I hope you don’t mind being in the picture…

I got a tour and a review of the household terms in French.

The hall at the top of the stairs. Right – Le salle de bain (bathroom), next right – ma chambre (my bedroom). Left – Brittany’s room and my host parent’s room.

Top of the stairs where the previous picture was taken from.

First observation: no pets. Bummer that there was no kitty to welcome me, but a relief there wasn’t a yappy little dog to chew on the shoes we’re not supposed to wear on the staircase. I was shown the kitchen and bathrooms and told where to put things and find things and at the end, I was given the choice between two bed rooms. I preferred the downstairs bedroom in terms of decoration, storage space and access to the patio, but I decided on the upstairs room next to the bathroom and another student’s bedroom. So this was it. My tour was over, my spot was chosen, and I had about 3 hours before we returned to the train station to pick up my Oregonian roommate! Still sort of numb, I didn’t unpack. In each place we’d stayed while traveling I was eager to unzip my suitcase and settle in, but here, it felt weird to take things out and put them in a wardrobe where they’d stay for the next 4 months.  Not to mention the pressure of deciding where to store what. That’s a lot of pressure, you know.

The view of those 3 windows from the inside!

The view out those three windows. (This is for you mom)

My host dad interrupted me, busily doing nothing, to offer “wee-fee”. What the heck? Wee-fee?! I had no idea what I was agreeing to. “Ok, thanks!” (The only two words I could remember in French at that moment). He shuffled away and I got up to follow, we walked into the room with a computer….OH! Wifi!!! Hooray! I had a private, silent celebration. And promptly figured out how to log in from my laptop. Success and a great signal! Life couldn’t possibly be too bad, even without a cat.

Now is a good time to bring up day one discomforts. Day one discomforts (DODs) are horrible. Truly awful! So, I’ll do my best to explain; basically an indistinguishable swarm of emotions (that only subside do to the distraction of a French meal). It’s the feeling of being in a new place, all alone, with hundreds of questions, feeling lonely, worried, tired, overwhelmed and so many other things all at once. Your sense of time is slightly off and you are aware that you are ridiculously emotional and that it will pass, but you can’t help but be homesick and wonder what you’ve gotten into.  For those first few hours, I knew I was experiencing just DODs because I recognized the feeling from my first night at SIBA – and look how that turned out! But I still couldn’t convince myself and I moped and missed people until it was time for lunch.

Lunch: Prepare yourselves. Food is about to become much more of a theme in these blogs than it already is. This was my first meal in Angers and first home cooked food in a long time (besides in Switzerland). My host mom spoiled me with beats, potatoes, something else, and chocolate for dessert. The whole time I was eating, I was feeling shy and uncomfortable, partially because I was unfamiliar with the way meals worked and also because I couldn’t communicate! It’s so hard. My host parents speak zero.zero English, which, I guess, is a good thing!

In the car on the way back to the train station, I was grilled. Question 1: Political and religious views. (Needed to make sure I was going to vote for the right person and figure out if I’d be going to church with them) Question 2: Do you have a boy friend at home?  Priorities.

We picked up Brittany, and briefly met our third roommate that would be moving in the next day. I liked them both and knew we’d get along. Poor Brittany probably just wanted to sleep and instead it was my turn to do the grilling and asked all the normal questions on the car ride home.

Dinner: Meals are incredible. Seriously, even better than lunch! I had told my host mom I don’t like tomatoes and since it was tomato quiche for the main course, she prepared scrambled eggs with herbs for me! Besides the food, it was a better meal because Brittany was there (after I awkwardly woke her up) and we could help each other talk and understand.
Here is a brief summary of an example of a typical French meal:
1) Fruit or vegetable dish
2) Main course and side dish
3) Cheese, bread and red wine course
4) Dessert
They take their time, enjoy their food and wine, and don’t leave out the cheese! I’m sure, if you follow my blog of my time in Angers, or come to my apartment for dinner in January, you will learn more than you wanted to about how a meal works in France.

For now, my final upon arrival notes include:
-Communicating is hard. Thank goodness for patience pants, mini dictionaries and universal sign language.
-So excited for orientation during the first full day. I’m ready to be informed!
-I went from a clear shower door in Austria to no shower door in France. I’m not kidding. It’s just the bathtub (which is elevated) and no curtain or anything. Look:

Can you tell? You can’t see how the tub is elevated in this picture.

-More thoughts on my specific DODs:
I had gotten used to being able to speak English all over these Western European countries and with other international students. I hadn’t tried speaking French much and hadn’t realized how rusty I’d gotten, so that added to the emotion – in the form of frustration. It’s especially hard when the people you are trying to talk to, are actually French and don’t have American accents with their French. I am also worried about doing little things that are not too offensive but that do violate cultural norms in public and annoy people/make me stand out as a foreigner.

Anyway, as you all know, I like to talk, so it’s hard when I can’t. I hope my French improves fast!

A bientot!
Emily

Pre-departure again. P.S. I Love You

This is the second pre-departure (before leaving to go to my site of study, Angers) blog. Since I have already been in Europe before my program through WOU began, I started blogging early. The official assignment would be starting now, had I followed the usual timeline, so I’m doing a mini start over for assignment purposes.

“I’m leeeaving, on a fast train!”

September 1, 2012

Tomorrow is the day. I have one night before hopping on the train to Angers. I have so much to do that I’m barely thinking about that! Traveling with my family went SO fast and was a whirlwind of wonderful experiences. However, right now I’m kind of stressed about how much I have to do. I’m behind on blogging and getting further behind every day.

*Interruption!* I’m writing this on the subway and a man with a saxophone and another with an accordion just boarded and began to play….loudly. Many people seem to be annoyed but I am rather amused (as I’ve learned you must be, to put up with Paris).

Today, Saturday, we are going out to Versailles Palace and Gardens. Should be a fun day. Tonight, though is my last chance to copy pictures from my dad’s camera to my laptop, re-pack everything and get prepared to start the next chapter. It’s exciting, yes, but overwhelming!

Fountain in Versailles Gardens!

I’m looking forward to moving in and being settled in one place for awhile. I can’t wait to make new friends! I am nervous about taking the French placement test, but it will be good to start studying the language again after so long and even better to learn it while here where I’ll be using it! Other sources of apprehension are the complete unknown of meeting my family and roommate, wondering if I’ll have internet access and when and where I can do laundry next!

Those are basically all my thoughts about it so far, I’ve been too distracted! I guess I’ll see tomorrow when I’m on the train with my bags and my parents are on the plane home how these feelings change!

Cette une grand adventure!

I also have a quick P.S. to my Paris blog about the people along the way that brightened my day and deserve to be mentioned.

1)      In Brugge on our last morning, we were walking through town after acquiring chocolate and a young man wearing an apron and a bandana ran past us carrying a rag in one hand, and a cucumber in the other. I have no more information than that, but a glimpse at him amused me enough to smile the rest of the walk!

2)      Many of the people working at little shops in train stations and such are fairly grouchy, which I suppose is understandable. There was however, one man whose good humor was appreciated. As we made our purchase, he asked my mom for 20 cents or something and while digging in her coin purse she discovered a mini fork from a sample. As a joke, she offered it to the cashier and I cringed expecting a humorless and annoyed response. To our pleasant surprise, he played along with the fun and consequently brightened my day!

3)      As mentioned in my Paris blog, the couple from Australia that was traveling around and got confused about train transfers was very good company. I enjoyed meeting them and not being alone in our situation.

4)      Finally I must mention Simba and his family. Simba is the name I gave to an adorable little boy on the top of the Eiffel Tower with his parents. He pointed to a patch of trees and asked about it. His dad told him that it was as big as central park. Actually, that it was even bigger! Simba didn’t seem to believe that “…I don’t know, Dad…Central park is willy willy huge. You just see trees all over!” .  The short version is that that’s when mom cut in to back up dad and assure Simba that the tiny green patch in the distance was, in fact larger than he could comprehend. “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

That green patch in the distance is Simba’s Central Park (taken from the top of the Eiffel Tower)

So, before departing to begin part 3, I have to take another moment to appreciate what I’ve done so far, thank the people that have come into my life so far, and thank the people that made this trip possible.
P.S. I love you.

A “Thank You” from Versailles <3

Emily

I see London, I see France…. An American in Paris.

Yeah. I took that photo. :0

One excited American in Paris at that! By boy, getting here…you are probably tired of hearing about our days in transit, but this is the end of the trip so there will be far fewer after this! So for the first time in 3 weeks of getting places, we needed a reservation to get to Paris. My Dad and I expertly took care of that and the helpful woman at the window made everything seem so simple! It was too good to be true. We stopped in a little town on the border of Belgium and France and none of us paid any attention because we weren’t to our connection city yet. However, after sitting on the train for several minutes and after everyone else got off, we were informed that we were supposed to make an extra connection here that we had no idea about. Now, flustered and rushing we sped to the next platform. There was an unlabeled train about to pull away, unsure what we were supposed to do, we didn’t get on and the train left. Moments later, we realized that that had been the one. Shoot. Lost, confused, and annoyed we met a lost, confused and annoyed couple that was in the same situation as us.  Leaving my mom to guard the bags, my dad and I went off to figure out what was going on. Alright this story is getting boring- basically it was way too difficult but eventually we got the info we needed and shared it with the couple. Left now to stew and wait we struck up conversation with the young couple and vented together. Conversation led us to find out they were an Australians traveling for 2? 3? months together and then living in England. It was very pleasant to sit and share stories of hostels, restaurants, and many experiences similar as well as vastly different. Not to mention comforting to have someone else in the same situation as we were.  Finally we made it to Lille, France and bid farewell to our new companions. Of course, since this was the only time we had reservations, we had missed our train and had to deal with getting new spots. To add to the fun, there are two train stations (10-15 minute walk apart) in Lille. Joy.  Some pacing and utilization of my French skills got us on another Train to Paris.

Our tiny hotel! Ours were the 4th floor two open windows on the right!

The day’s delays did not keep us from the plan. After squeezing into our tiny (smallest yet) hotel room, the Eiffle Tower called. Well it’s been calling for about 10 years but, now, I finally got to respond. There was one more delay to tend to, which was my tummy, calling louder than the tower. But hey, we’re in France, how could one not prioritize bread!?

The view was magnificent! We had (again) impeccable timing, or at least as good as it gets at a world attraction. We got in line just before it got insanely busy and got our elevator passes. There was a lot of pushing and jostling and signs for pickpockets on the several jaunts to the top. I was amused by one particular warning video with the pick pocket shown in all red.

See him?

Nice of them to dress in such a way we could keep an eye out for whom to avoid. “Attention, Ladies and Gentleman, pick pockets are active in the tower, please watch your luggage.” They’re active. Beware. We got to the top, with all of our belongings and it was wonderful. Windy and crowded but a view of all of Paris! We were able to stay as night fell and to witness a proposal and watch as the city lit up; followed by the tower lighting up and we could hear the gasps of spectators below.
We took the stairs to go back down and enjoyed the lit up architecture from the inside which, honestly, during the day and from up close, is not the pretty.  Down down, down, we got closer to the ground and I went to bed in disbelief that the next day, I’d begin visiting the sights we just saw from the top.

So many pictures of the view!

Also, two many pictures of the tower after dark!

Good morning! No time to waste,  Rick Steves, Notre Dame and my parents were up, ready and waiting. We subwayed (I needed a new verb) to the church and got there with the morning sun shining just right. We had an audio tour to listen to, but my dad forgot his mp3 player, my mom’s ipod died and so mine was our only hope. Turned out, Notre Dame was the only audio guide that didn’t finish downloading on my ipod. So we had nothing but the notes in the book. Oh well! I stood on the center of Paris out front and visited Sainte Dennis who holds his head. I also tried to get a head count of all the people on this intricately decorated exterior, and got lost after a tiny section with more than 100 statues.  The inside was beautiful as expected and after a good hard look; we walked around to the outside to have coffee with a view of the gargoyles.

Magnificent!

Can you find St. Dennis?

The center of Paris. I shall have you know it was extremely difficult to get a picture of this without someone standing on it!

It was a church-y day. We had two more to visit by 4pm. But first, a moment at the WWII French deportees’ memorial.  The memorial is under ground at nearly water level of the Seine. It was designed to give you the feeling of being closed in, or trapped, and it succeeded. Inside there is a room, or rather hall way, that has a little light for each deportee that did not return. I felt that the simple but impactful memorial was well done, and I was grateful to understand enough French to read some of the engravings in the stone. It is not permitted to post pictures on the internet (though you can google image “La Mémorial des Martyrs de La Déportation”) but the most striking quote for me etched into the stone was:

Pardonne
N’Oublie pas…

We emerged back into present time Paris and headed to Sainte Chapelle. I’ll admit, trying to follow the walking tour on a hand drawn map in a book got us lost. Once we found it we got into the line for security. My Dad set off the detectors and held up the line while taking everything out of his bunches of pockets until finally it was discovered that it was only his passport causing commotion. You’ve got to look out for those sneaky little books trying to sneak in without being x-rayed. Thanks to his trouble, my mom and I knew to take ours out.

Brief and chronologically accurate pause to include another Water Closet story:  You get what you pay for. We weren’t exactly sure where to go because there were no signs to be found. Once the entrance was located, there was still no sign of which (or if) side was designated for which gender. I finally noticed a PENCIL stick figure on the outside wall wearing skirt. Decided that was where to go. OH! I should have listened to Rick Steves’ suggesting that in Paris you carry extra toilet paper just in case. Because there wasn’t any. And I had just emptied my pockets of napkins and things in security. A nice lady shared, no wait, she “rationed” her tissues to those of us desperate.

Inside the church was absolutely breathtaking. I love stain glass but this exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately there was restoration going on and scaffolding up inside while we were there and so the view was a bit obstructed. On the bright side, we were lucky enough to see the before and after difference of the work they were doing. The after product was incredibly cleaner and brighter and over all clearer to enjoy to intricate story it portrays.

This is the area that was not restored yet. You can see the grime build up.

This picture can’t do it justice.
But fun fact:
Boustrophedon – a way of reading from the bottom upwards; alternate lines are read in opposite directions, right to left then left to right.

Two churches appreciated, one to go. Saint Sulpice! This was one of the destinations in The Da Vinci Code for my fellow fans. It was also really neat because it was the Paris Meridian, or better known, the Rose Line.  Feeling pretty cool, I set my compass down on the brass line along the floor to see it point to “True North”.  As I was taking a picture, I was also amused by the other tourists not-so-sneakily wondering what in the world I had found to take a picture of on the floor.

North is that way. For sure.

He is looking at the organ (still in Saint Sulpice)

My friend Helena, the Brazilian dancer I had met at SIBA, was in Paris at the same time we were.  The previous night, I’d made plans to meet up with her and together tour the Musee d’Orsay! It was so exciting to be re-united and have a new face in our trio! Good company and good art is an understatement. After our tailored self tour we parted ways for the evening.

Mom: “This place looks like an old train station!”
Dad: “It is.”

On our way “home”, my parents and I were almost trampled by a group of young men sprinting past us in the Subway station carrying rings of (stolen?) Eiffel Tower key chains, pursued by the police. Not sure what had happened, we were left feeling unsettled and regretted not tripping the group as they hoped the gates to the underground transportation.  The least we could do was point the officers in the right direction and not buy a key chain from the random vendors on the street with only the ring of key chains shouting “One Euro!” to everyone that passed.

We got off the Subway by the Tower in search of Crepes and lo and behold the perfectly located stand presented me with the most glorious crepe of my life! Nutella and banana and strawberry, next to a carousel at sun set, under the Eiffle Tower. Heaven?

My crepe. I will always remember that snack.

We digested our food in The Place du Trocadero with the monument towering above us in the distance.  While waiting for the light show we attempted to take funny pictures until better entertainment ran by. Literally. Some sort of work out class chose the steps by where we sat to run/hop/jump up and down to loud music in bright colors amusing many spectators accepting the interruption as a preshow.

As the sun was setting. The lighting just kept getting better!

Finally, the tower lit up and flashed and sparkled as we “ooo”ed and “awww”ed and took pictures of the people at the top taking pictures of us reversing roles from the previous night.

All of Pairs now, “oooo, aaaww!”

Wow. I just scrolled back up as I typed this, and I’m really not sure how we did all of that in one day. Super tour-ers!

Okay, take a snack break and rest your eyes….

Next day:

L’Arc de Triomphie! Another interesting vantage point to look at the city, the Eiffel Tower and down the famous street we were about to explore, all while learning a bit of history.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the top of L’Arc de Triomphie. (You can see the arc from my picture from the top of the tower)

Humming “Aux Champs-Elysees!”, the cheery song stuck in my head, we trekked toward the Louvre.

We were almost cornered by some obnoxious kids, and could have been pick-pocketed. Luckily, my dad recognized their behavior from his reading and scared them (and made me jump) before they had the chance to scare us. Only harm to anyone was a momentarily increased heart rate!
Our stops included a shiny, no a SHIIIINY staircase in a random store on which I felt compelled to have my photograph taken, a caffeine excursion, and a Disney store (where a grouchy guard scolded me for taking a picture and a friendly guard made friends with my dad as he professionally blew bubbles). Running behind as expected, we were about to be late for our next rendez-vous with Helena when she showed up behind us. What crazy luck! Perhaps our supply of serendipity was not completely depleted after finding each other in Vienna weeks prior.

Surrounded by gardens and statues, I had an amazing, inside-out grilled cheese sandwich lunch thing called a monsieur croquette. The perfect fuel before our reader’s digest version of touring the Louvre. It being the end of our trip, I think we all appreciated Helena’s fresh presence, decisive attitude and sound sense of direction as she assumed the role of tour guide for the day. Hitting the highlights was a wonderful way to experience this huge, famous museum.

Picture perfect.

We stopped to rest and hydrate at a café somewhere deep inside. I ordered just a small Coca-Cola. One look at the bill quickly enlightened us. THAT is where the Roman statues we’d viewed downstairs lost their fingers.  After decades of Toy Story like Nights in the Museum those poor thirsty statues ran out of gold.  Makes me wonder what the ARMless statues ordered at the café.

This famous statue was really thirsty.

Well, Ms. Mona, awaited.  Needing a game plan to fight the tourists, I suggested we just sort of squat and squawk like chickens if the crowd was too difficult. I figured this would confuse people enough to clear a path, but alas, it was unnecessary. There were indeed a zillion people but I did manage to make it to the front where the famous portrait smiled for the camera. I really saw her. Woah. As mainstream and unoriginal as it sounds, that was one of my Paris highlights.

Evening was arriving and our feet aching. We headed back to the hotel to prepare for our final day together. On the way, Helena decided to test out the fancy outhouse-like street Water Closets. Story:  The door was automatic. It worked fine for the person ahead of us but when it came to Helena’s turn, it would not close. No matter what we did the toilet was exposed. After various attempts it did shut, but only long enough for one to be convinced it finally had worked before bursting open again! It teased us several more times before Helena gave up.

Paris is a big city. Big cities are quite different than small fairytale towns. The hustle and bustle is extremely exciting and there is a never ending supply of things to do, but I didn’t realize just how worn out I could get just navigating the population.  It gave me more appreciation for the dinky places we stayed and more excitement to settle down in a smaller, less touristy place as fall arrived.  As an additional random note, I also had no idea that I actually don’t care much for underground trains, especially when there are interesting things to see!

The final destination of our traveling time together was Versailles. Tired and emotional, I enjoyed the tour of the Chateau less than I may have at a different time. It was too crowed and slightly difficult to use their provided audio guide. Nevertheless it was a wonderful conclusion.

The Sun King’s Palace and a tiny glimpse of the golden gates to the left.

Upon arrival at Louis’ Golden Gates my breath was taken away. I enjoy the way that Rick Steves presents historical information and learned a substantial amount about the Sun King, his reign and the following crowned kings/queens.

“There’s a long line-a wimins (women), that must be the water closet” –My Dad. Oh the truth in that.

The highlight for me, as for many, was the hall of mirrors and the two rooms at either end (war room and peace room). There was also an, almost distracting, modern art display throughout the castle including huge high heel shoes made from cooking pots!

Cooking pot, modern art, shoes in The Hall of Mirrors.

Fresh air and sunshine welcomed us to the magnificent gardens. Because it was Saturday, we had to pay a bit extra to get in, but it was worth it to see the fountains turned on! I was amused by my parents interacting with the French ticket people. My dad greeted one woman and after completing the transaction she said “Merci” as we began to walk away, and my dad turned back and waved saying, “Beaucoup!”  Then turning to me, he said (almost proudly); “I don’t know what beaucoup means, but I said it to her!” I laughed and explained that it translates to “a lot” and explained that it didn’t make much sense in the context he used it in.

Lunch was great, walking through the beauty was great and best of all, watching the fountains or leading my parents through rows and rows of tall hedges with the map upside down in search of the next fountain and shade was great.

This was not the part that we explored. We were to the right of this on the main path and in the maze of bushes finding fountains. But I was just rather pleased with this photo!

After another heavenly crepe, unfortunately the end of the evening was spent unpacking, organizing and repacking with a bit of sitting on my suitcase and saying goodbye to my new rubber ducks. As I climbed into bed for the last night, my racing mind was too tired to do much worrying or anticipating or anything and I snoozed off thankful beyond expression for the recent adventures (for lack of a better one word summary) and bonding that changed my life.

Au Revoir,
Emily

Rivers, Roads and Rails….Planes, Trains and Automobiles!

Well we’ve traveled far and wide and covered almost all forms of transportation. Really!  Let me list them: Plane, shuttle van, walking, public bus, fast train, slow train, tram, gondola, bike, taxi, funicular, tour bus, little boat, big boat, car, subway, elevator, and even those moving path things in airports and train stations.

When we arrived in Arnhem, I had totally forgotten that we were in the land of my ancestors! Finally! I’ve always wanted to visit and now was my chance, and even closer to their actual land than I had anticipated.  I was curious to see how Dutch was different from German and practiced saying dank u wel as soon as I got there. The very first thing I noticed about the people was their height. As I had been told, they were oddly tall and many fit nicely into this stereotype.  The houses are also tall and skinny with the steepest, narrowest stairs I have ever seen. The house our room was in, was built in 17?? And was very typical.

The front door   

Having limited time here, we rushed off to find the Open Air Museum and buy museum passes. This was one of the most interesting museums in terms of lay out and the way the information was presented. I found it to be a wonderful way to learn history, but had to wonder if a similar type of format would survive in America – where museum artifacts are behind glass.  The idea was to show how the Dutch lived thought the decades as realistically as possible. I really felt like I was walking through time. The authentic barns, houses, workshops and gardens we open for guests to wander around inside to look at all the artifacts as they would have been left not tucked away in a display case or merely models. Another opportunity I took advantage of was watching dressed up workers/actors going about their daily business as if in another century.  Unfortunately, we ended up having to rush through even the few main attractions we chose to focus on. I’m glad we fit in the time we did because it was special to see firsthand how my family lived and to explore the iconic windmills, play with old toys, eat bread and enjoy chocolate! I even bought slippers that looked like the famous Dutch wooden clogs.

One of many old houses we ducked into, and my Dad standing in the doorway as his ancestors would have.

Aren’t they wonderful? Slipper clogs.

The following day we borrowed free bikes and rode out to another museum. We biked through the park; heather, trees and sand for 10 kilometers to get in. Inside the Kroller Mueller Art Museum, we got to see a lot of famous art. Outside, my mom and I (getting fatigued) were amused by the modern art sculptures. Feeling guilty for being amused by what I assumed to be serious art, we suppressed our giggles at very obvious titles such as “Squares with Two Circles” or “Rocky Lumps”. I appreciated one artist in particular who had given permission for guests to climb around on his work. We entered up through a secret door and wandered around on a large piece of Dr. Seuss-y art.

“Rocky Lumps”
I’m not kidding.

Behind me, in that thing…is the staircase down, under and out!

Alas, we departed on our free bikes through the fresh air and bustled off to the joy of public mass transportation.

Arrival in Amsterdam = instantaneous, pure overwhelment. Yep. I needed to make up that word to describe the feeling.

Amsterdam
“Are you getting somewhere? Or did you get lost in Amsterdam?” – Guster

Amsterdam! (From the top of the Library)

Dear Guster, we did get lost in Amsterdam but we also certainly got somewhere. More than once if you ask my Dad and I who were often convinced we were going in circles. It all looks the same! Good thing we had my mom/ “our tour guide” along to escort us through the city!

Up and at it, croissant in hand we began our first full day. Only to be sent back home for rain jackets. This time, armed and ready to brave the weather, we changed the order of our plans and retreated to museums while the city got drenched. On the way to the Van Gogh museum we stopped for huge Dutch pancakes and coffee! There was some fascinating, large, rock sugar for the coffee, which I found picture and noteworthy.

The sugar!

Skipping the line (with our handy museum passes!), we wandered the arm museum and the Doctor Who episode about Van Gogh played in my head as I read about his dark, up and down life and looked at his masterpieces that couldn’t bring him fame in time for him to enjoy.  I drank my dose of paintings and noticed how his art changed as his life did and began to wonder what would happen if I picked up a paint brush.

Finishing in up in the gift shop, we got some fresh cold drinks in the fresh cold air to freshen up and cool down before tackling the Reich museum. Thank goodness some of it was closed. Here, I was honored yet again to see art that was so old, so impressive, and so famous.

Reich museum

After a long day on our feet, the perfect idea was a boat ride on a canal as night fell on the city. We experienced the sun set and lighting up of Amsterdam’s night life as well as the tour in at least 4 languages. It was a quick and helpful way to get oriented to the wet, half moon shape that didn’t make much sense to me on the map.

On the second morning, we got up early and rushed off to the Anne Frank house.  And because my mom is awesome and super organized, we beat the crowd for the most part and the whole experience was good. The tour was powerful since the museum is in the actual building that the history took place in which makes it so much more real and touching.  I found it really interesting in the part of the house they hid in, the secret annex, it has been preserved empty as her father (who helped with turning their house into a museum) wished. This represented the hollow emptiness left behind when so many people were taken away to never return.  Before I knew that, I was wondering why they had just created models to show how it had been, and after learning that I appreciated his decision. “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” –Anne Frank

After leaving the house, we went down the street; ok we paced like 4 streets and even stopped at the cheese museum for free samples, before settling on a hole in the wall breakfast place. Luck again! We just beat the rush and enjoyed delicious Dutch pancakes again.

YUM!

With full bellies and a bit of caffeine, our day evolved into wandering and following the walking tour Rick Steves provides. As distractible as we are and as confusing as Amsterdam roads are, the few noted spots took us the rest of the day. After dinner (which was bizarre because we ate in a tiny café hidden in a huge department store) we braved the streets of the red light distract. I was there. I had to see it. I suppose I’ll just say, this was an eye opening experience that started out semi-uncomfortable and a drastically different tour than that morning.

So, on our last morning we finally had to do laundry at a mat. It was not as expected. The point was to leave your clothes, let them do it and come back in an hour. My mom and I, being the control freaks we are, didn’t quite catch on to that and stayed and micromanaged the process. But eventually with clean and either damp or shrunken clothes we began our jouney to Brugge, Belgium.

My mom and I folding Laundry inside. My dad…. well…doing his own thing.

This trip was not as hot as previous days of travel (luckiy!!) but there were a lot of tired and grouchy people around. Me, sitting next to them, quietly reading seemed to be as much of a nuisance as burnt toast for breakfast. I had an encounter with a conductor that I will not forget. It is stressful enough not knowing when they are coming and having to find my Eurail pass and hoping I filled it out correctly, no need for an added layer. The novel I am enjoying currently has been a good companion on the train, especially when split from my parents as I was in this case. I was sitting alone with my bag next to me, deeply engrossed in the turmoil of the characters’ lives. The main character, a young woman, had just been left alone for a few hours and was not looking for trouble when she was suddenly captured by the enemy, suspicious of her identity, and taken away to be locked up and questioned. This is when “the ticket guy” as I refer to them, came along and made me jump. He took my pass and looked at it intently. Then glanced and me and mumbled in French before leaving abruptly…with my pass! I nervously sat and fumbled with my bookmark contemplating my fate. When he returned, he continued to grump at me in French about my ticket, but in a language I barely speak with background train noises and with my anxiety levels already above comfortable, I had no idea what the problem was. He did a lot of pointing (at my ticket) and more explaining accompanied by glares and open ended questions.  I began to try to explain I had no idea what was wrong and that the part he was fussing over has been fine on every other train when he gave up, apparently fixed the problem, and then huffed off. *exhale* I survived. I was in fact questioned by the suspicious but at least not captured by the enemy! What a fiasco.

(P.S. One of my Amsterdam souvenirs was the next book in that mentioned series that I bought in the famous English book store!)

Upon arrival in Brugges, it was love at first sight! After the insanity of Amsterdam, Brugges was welcoming and tourist friendly and after seeing where we were staying I collapsed on my bed in fatigue and relief.

Proof.

“…a handy gateway to Europe. It’s no secret, but even with the crowds, it’s the kind of place where you don’t mind being a tourist. Burges’ ultimate sight is the town itself, and the best way to enjoy it is to get lost on the back streets, away from the lace shops and ice-cream stands. Today this uniquely well-preserved Gothic city prospers because of tourism. Even with its crowds, it’s the kind of city where you don’t mind being a tourist. It hides some sweet surprises…” –Rick Steves

Our trip being guided by, and my writing being partially inspired by Steves, it seems appropriate to quote him. This is not originally the part of the travel book I wanted to include, but the book had to go back to the library and this was fitting. The part that you don’t get to read is a humorous note about Belgian people that helped me form my first impressions. The Belgians were much shorter, and much plumper than the Dutch. Not that I can blame them, they are famous for French fries, waffles, beer and chocolate!

Our rooms here were probably one of my top two favorite places to stay. It was very cute and the people were very nice, I liked the town and the entertainment! We got quickly acquainted after renting bikes and taking off in the countryside to see the town of Damme. (This is the part where those of you still reading will probably start to think that the European food and drinks have gotten to my head). I loved this bike ride. Quite a lot. After the big, crazy city, riding on the train, reading maps, walking and hauling my suitcase I was free in the countryside! It was absolutely beautiful and I felt like I was in a movie. I let my head completely space out and take in the view until we arrived at an old, OLD church with a cemetery and everything. This didn’t bring me back to reality of course, I just worked this scene into the movie I had fallen into.

Beautiful ride. Perfect weather and perfect scenery, and perfect exercise!

Eventually we got back to town and found restaurant row in the square. Really, one entire edge was just restaurants! Each with their menu out front in 5 languages. Our waiter also spoke 5 languages and told us so as if it were no big deal. We had a view of the bell tower, and horses pulling buggies. The sun set was accompanied by a bell concert and conversation with two interesting American women sitting at the tiny table next to us. Not to mention that I tried cheese croquets, and oh my goodness it was the most amazing cheesy thing I’ve ever tasted. I spent every moment after they were gone counting down till I got to eat them again.

View 1 at our dinner spot

View 2 at our dinner spot!

Sun rise and people rise, we hiked to the top of the bell tower that had been the previous evening’s entertainment as well. All 366 steps to the top were worth it! The bells strike every 15 minutes and we were lucky enough to be at the top looking down to where we had eaten and looked up when they played. Turning around I was impressed by the coordination of the machinery and HUGE, old bells.

It was hard to take pictures of the bells so this is a very zoomed in view from the top of the bell tower down to where we ate looking up the night before. We ate at the place that doesn’t have umbrellas.

The rest of the day was filled with touristy things such as; testing out at least 3 different chocolate shops, admiring the lace everywhere, enjoying Belgian fries and Rick Steves’ company and guidance. In the middle of the day we paused for another canal trip in the most beautiful part of little Brugge.

Where (ish) we stared out canal tour.

Afterward, it being past 2pm at this point, The Basilica of the Holy Blood was open again for visits and I got to pay about 20 cents to see the blood of Christ. That’s a long story, Google it. The final two highlights of our time here included a peaceful moment in The Church of our Lady, the church hosting Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. How in the world did he make such a beautiful statue out of that material, so long ago!?

Here we are, standing in front of the masterpiece.

“Alright, we went to church, can I have some beer now?” – My Dad. This quote is taken out of context but it fits here as a transition to me mentioning our tour of De Halve Maan Brewery. We learned the history of the area and saw how the beer used to be brewed and learned how it is currently brewed, got a great view of the city from the top of the building and then a complimentary glass of their Brugse Zot, unfiltered beer.
Dinner time. Cheese Croquet time.  Goodbye to Brugge time.

Next morning, picked up some last minute chocolate and then….. Paris bound!!! Oh la la, I can’t believe it!

(I got behind on blogging but am going to post in order. So this starts 2-3 weeks ago and we headed to Paris on the 29th ish. Next up, Paris and then arrival in Angers (where I am currently staying for my actual study abroad program))

Where the Heart is

I have been home for several weeks now, finally settling back in to my home and finally breaking my habit of wanting to speak French to poor, unsuspecting English speakers. The morning of my flight I was both terribly excited and profoundly sad to be leaving France and heading back to Oregon. Adjustment to life back in the States was very different than my adjustment in France, but there have been some similarities along the way.

When I walked through the security check in the Portland Airport, the first thing that I saw was my family waiting for me, and it was impossible to miss this:

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My adorable niece Aria waiting for me in PDX

My arrival back home was a whirlwind as I arrived a week and a half before the wedding of my eldest sister. That was just enough time to throw a bachelorette party, a bridal shower, and help finish all the last minute details including hand making all the decorations and arranging all the flowers! It made for very little free time, but it was an amazingly fun and exciting day:

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The wedding party! My brother Sam, myself, and my sister Ryanne stood on my sister Stephanie’s side.

Between this and my dreaded return back to work, the first few weeks didn’t allow much time to dwell on the wonderful time I spent in France. Arriving home there was some relief in the fact that I could speak my native language and that I was back around all the people from my life here in Oregon. The adjustment back home was certainly more comfortable than my adjustment in France, but I miss France in a different way than I missed the US. I knew that I would be returning home in a limited amount of time so I was able to enjoy France with minimal home sickness. I am determined to visit France again, but that trip is an unknown and possibly in the distant future and so my sadness for being away from France has lasted longer than my sadness for home. I miss all the amazing people I met in my program and around Angers; they are friends I hope to maintain contact with long term. I, of course, miss all the food! I tried to track down one of my favorite cheeses (Camembert) here in Salem, and I was so disappointed at first taste. It lacked the delicious flavor I was craving and cost almost four times as much.

Some things I truly appreciate about being home are seeing my family and friends and being back in my own culture. There are aspects of French culture I adore and will continue to miss, but there were certainly times abroad I caught myself thinking “well back home…” and so until I find a way to combine these two cultures together, I will have to miss one or the other. Studying abroad affected me in ways that I had not previously considered or thought possible, but it had broadened my person and for that I will always be thankful. I am excited to use my experience in the United States, France, and any other country I may travel to in the future (whenever that may be). My final year in school will be keeping me very busy, and after that I only imagine life to get more and more hectic, but I know I will always be able to reflect back on my summer abroad with joy, fervor, and pride.

Maggie

What brings you here?

“An airplane”, replied the bar tender with a straight face. I suppose in a tiny town called Grimmelwald that mostly just hosts the over flow of skiers from Murren in the winter, one would get sick of answering that question. Turns out he is from Australia, lived in London and got a job in the Swiss Alps.

“Rick Steves’ recommendation!” replied a family of four from Philadelphia riding the Gondola up the hill…erm…mountain with us. Funny, that’s what brought us as well! This fellow American however, knew someone who had actually run into Rick Steves in his home town Seattle, Washington. As a professional traveler, I think you’d have better chances of running into him in India or something.

I discovered a crazy coincidence the other day. A friend from high school that I had lost touch with happened to be in the same part of Switzerland as I was in at the same time. I found this out because of pictures on facebook, so I started conversation; “What brings you here?!” He is traveling before his semester abroad as well. What a perfect way to reconnect and bizarre serendipity.

This is one view of the three main mountains from the top of the Shilthorn. I’m pointing to where my friend Cameron is touring.

Wear sunscreen.

Or. Else.

Don’t step on round pinecones on a downhill slope and before frolicking in fields, check for stinging nettles. Also keep both eyes open while hiking, for safety and scenery reward.

One of the several hikes we did through the breathtaking (literally) area!

These are a few of the lessons I learned, or rather, re-learned during my time in an adorable mountain apartment hiking around at cardio-testing elevation levels.

We stayed in the upstairs of this cute little place. The view (to the left in this pic) was amazing. Huge mountains over a deep valley!

I enjoyed a large, rotating, double-oh-seven breakfast on the top of the Shilthorn, watching para-gliders enviously, and adventuring down the mountain cliffs, as well as a home cooked-very Swiss-meal and staring at the bright milkyway. We explored hillsides, meadows, towns and a waterfall. Visited with local cows, people and tourists, and got caught in a thunder, lightning and rain storm. I’d say our three nights in the glorious Alps were a success!

This is now on my bucket list. They were all over and it looked SO fun! 

Now, the medieval times may just be history books, castles in ruins and museums, but a knight in shining armor carried my suitcase up the stairs in a train station and it made my day. We were headed North by the Rhine river to an old….OLD town called Bacharach, Germany. This was a long, hot day of travel with a zillion train connections. I was exhausted and grumpy from getting up early and hauling all my bags from one type of crowded public transportation to the next and one large staircase was about to defeat me. A nice young man walked up beside me (pathetic and struggling) and said something politely in German. I replied that I speak English and he looked flustered and thought for a moment and then just sort of gently took my suitcase from me. At the top I thanked him (probably for the third or so time) and he went on his way as I just stood there feeling so much less grumpy.

It was evening when we finally arrived in the cute little Snow White Village.

An overly helpful woman showed us to our room in the Pension where we gratefully settled before dinner and wandering.

My bed. Picture taken thought little door way into parents room and door by pillow into bathroom. Left of that, mini porch thing.

Travel oops: Tried to go to a recommended restaurant but sat at the wrong outdoor table. I cautiously ordered from the limited menu and did not end up with what I expected. I surprised myself by eating the whole thing.  The entire situation was made better by having a very good glass of wine and by how interesting every building was to look at and learn about as well.

It was actually pretty good, once I got over the surprise.

The following morning we went to the provided and hearty breakfast and met the other guests. Where are you from? What brings you here? Where are you going? The usual conversation. One family from Seattle and one from San Francisco! Together we had the west coast covered!  We all had the same travel book recommending that little bed and breakfast and we were all following the suggested tour to a castle in St. Goar. So at 10:15 we caught the boat. There is an ipod guided tour of the castles along that stretch of the Rhine and every few kilometers or less I learned another fun fact or myth about yet another tower!

This castle was build in the middle of the river for best taxing abilities! (Picture taken from boat as we passes by)

A Burg is a defense fortress.

I cannot possibly remember which castle was which among my hundreds of pictures and thoughts mixed with the blur of a tour!

But a Schloss is more of a showy palace.
Also, apparently there is a roman god of wine

Attention all little boys, grown men that aren’t really grown up and girls like me that preferred plastic cars and dinosaurs while camping over Barbie’s tea set in the living room, add Rheinfels castle to your list of places to vacation – coolest ruins (thanks Napoleon) of a once powerful and important fortress that I have ever run across! It was basically free reign to run around and explore what is left using the map and information provided.

There were lots of hallways,

nooks and crannies, spiral staircases,

Not spiral, but those are hard to photograph!

and underground tunnels to investigate.

Down in the mine tunnel with a candle!

Along with running into the other two American families, we met a family from Vancouver B.C. (more west coasters!) who were interested in joining us for an English tour that turned out to not exist. So I pulled out the written tour, donned my tour guide hat and read aloud. The young boys in that family were as enthusiastic about investigating as I was and together we looked down wells, around corners, inspected old cannon balls and tried out the prison stalks. I enjoyed having English speaking kids around; as I felt like one the entire time I was there. Other kids climbed into a loft with me and one informative little boy helpfully explained to my dad and I how to not get lost in the mine tunnels with our flashlight and candle.

It was also fun to be here because the novel i’m reading right now is set back in time and gives a clear picture castle life!                                               (Note my gift from the alps and lesson learned on left thigh)

It’s hard to wrap my head around the idea that real people once lived and worked there doing real things. Battles, seizes, river taxing…it all seemed so fairytale- the herb garden, cellars, slaughterhouse and dungeon prison, it must have been a Hollywood set not a real abandoned castle!

Needless to say I really enjoyed my time here and left regretfully without my own horse and suit of armor. I did however enjoy floating further down the river regarding more, old castles before returning to Bacharach for dinner and bed. As well as all the people we’ve met along the way. Though many are other tourists and not locals (aside from an occasional conversation with a restaurant owner or employee of a tourist tap) I find their stories fascinating.

What takes you there?

These people are tall. I was warned about the Netherlands but I was am surprised at just how tall and just how noticeable this is!
We’ve arrived in Arnhem, land of my father’s ancestors! Our motives for choosing this spot to tour have been questioned multiple times but it’s simple, this is where the Aalbers came from. I’ve always wanted to visit and it hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m here, where my family and the wooden shoes came from!

A most typical image of the Netherlands!

Our home base is an old house that is the typical Netherlands style. Tall and skinny! The houses and buildings all look squished together and have the narrowest, steepest stair cases of anywhere! There is a parrot downstairs in the breakfast room and he livens up the place! All in all, it was a nice and unique little place for a night.

The front of the house. The first window to the right of the front door was ours.

However when we first arrived, the first bit of excitement was finding the Open Air Museum and seeing how my ancestors really would have lived….!

I shall report that experience and my time in Amsterdam next!

Emily