Posted by: Marina | January 13, 2012

Back in America

Hello, old friends! I hope some of you are still my friends…isn’t it incredible how quickly time passes and gets away from us?!

According to my blog, I never came home from France. I wish that were true! I LOVED France so much. No, I Fell in love with France and then I had to leave my love and come back to my other loves in the Grand old US of A. 

How shall I update you all on the best few months? 

At then end of October, I went to Amsterdam, Holland and experienced the most bizarre and beautiful city I think I will ever come across. The architecture in Holland is incredible and it makes me want to live there. There are canals everywhere and little boats and bikes. Bikes, bikes and more bikes. Every native person of Holland I encountered or saw was tall, thin, and just beautiful. They sat upon their bikes, well-dressed and poised, and I really admired that there were not just lanes for bikes but actual separate mini-roads just for bikes. 

I also went to Delft and Rotterdam for a little day trip and we lucked out with great sunny weather as we walked around and explored. There, in Holland, the native language is Dutch (commonly referred to by locals as “Nederland”) and it sounds a little bit like English mixed with Gibberish. It was beautiful and intriguing to hear, but as some words sound familiar (hello/hallo) I was caught off-guardd often. Everyone speaks both English and Dutch, but when you walk into a store you are first greeted with Dutch. When this first happened, in a pottery boutique in Delft, I admit I just stared at the shopkeeper until I blinked and said, “…er, sorry? Do you speak English?” She laughed and, in English, explained that she once greeted a Dutch couple in English first and they were NOT pleased, so now she starts off in Dutch and then can switch into English if needed. 

My trip to Bordeaux was cancelled (for me, at least. Some friends still got to go!) because I was too exhausted and a little overwhelmed by 5 days of traveling and the prospect of traveling again after a day and a half of being home. I rested that weekend back and then went to London!

I visited my friend from high school, Max, and had a grand time in dear London City. It was so weird at first to hear English everywhere and after a few days there I really started missing speaking french all the time! I stayed in South Kensington, the nicest (read: most expensive) part of London and ouch do those British Pounds hurt your bank account. You do not want to know how much I spent in a few short days just because of the horrible exchange rate! It’s a good thing I didn’t stay there for a semester!

One of the best parts about my trip to London, other than just being able to hang out and chat with my friend and wander around london, was the club, Ministry of Sound. Max took me there Saturday night where we listened to house/techno music and artists such as Mord Fustang and Zedd. The music was electrifying and I could feel the pulsing beats match my heart and the ground shook…the feelings were almost indescribable. Strobe lights and other colored lights flashed with the music and people where everywhere, but everyone was so happy to be there and feel the music. It was crazy! I ended up running into someone from Gettysburg, there. He came up to me, and because it was dark I couldn’t see his face, so when he leaned in and asked if I went to Gettysburg College, I was a little more than confused. Once the strobe light flashed and I could see his face I realized I knew who it was and all I could think was how small of a world we live in. I also ran into a girl in Max’s program who had been my neighbor up until I was ten and she moved to Arizona. Weird, right?

Peter, the best brother ever, came to visit me and Nantes shortly after my return from London. We spent more time together than we ever have and I had so much fun. Peter, the cool adventurer, explored Nantes and Clisson while I was in class, and one day he and Bertrand, my adorable and kind (and English-speaking) host father, went to La Baule to meet Bertrand’s mother and explore some more. After a great week, we went to Paris where we would spend the weekend and Peter would fly home (through Zurich).

Paris was another small-world where we met up with our family friends who happened to be there to visit their daughter who was studying abroad. Then I met up with another friend from Gettysburg, and one of my best friends from home who is studying in Granada, Spain but was in Paris for the weekend. All of this was planned, by the way. Not just happenstance. Paris is truly a beautiful city and I fell in love with it that weekend. We stayed away from tourist traps and the stereotypical things everyone does there. I saw Paris from the eyes of a french person (or as close to those eyes as I could be!) and loved it for it’s architecture, and it’s history, and it’s language, and it’s wine and cheese. Oh Paris, how I miss you!

The week after Peter and Paris I went on my final trip, to Lyon. Lyon is the second-largest city in France and the current home of my beloved french amie, Elodie. I met Elodie when I was in high school and our two schools held an exchange. My teachers paired me with her and the rest is history. I had an amazing time speaking only french and catching up with my dear friend who I haven’t seen in four years. The most amazing thing about our friendship is this: She spent two weeks with me in America in October of my senior year of high school (2008), I spent two weeks with her in France in March (2009) and then we “kept in touch” by facebook, which meant the occasional chopped conversation on facebook chat and then comments on walls or pictures every few months. When I got to france this past semester (2011) I realized we both had skype, so we caught up a few times but not more than three and managed to plan when we would meet. When I first saw her, at the airport in Lyon waiting to pick me up, I ran to her and we just hugged for a full minute and a half. Then we started talking and it was if no time had passed, and that we weren’t worlds apart. How beautiful is that? She is one of my best friends even though we’ve never spent more than 5 weeks together. 

The weekend I visited Lyon was their “Fête des Lumières” (festival of lights) and the whole city had little light expositions. I also visited the most beautiful, incredible, awe-inspiring basilica, Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Google that. Be inspired. Want to travel, because of that.

This post is so long, and so overdue, and I am sorry that I failed at consistently posting here. I just fell into the life of a french person and I can’t tell you how incredibly amazing this experience has been for me, how life-changing and important, both in big and small ways. Thanks for reading, and staying with me. 

I will never ever be able to fully describe everything that I saw, experienced or felt, but just know, that I am counting down the days until I go back, and I hope that it will be soon. 

Merci, à tous, et je vous aime.

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Posted by: Marina | October 26, 2011

Midterms, family and castles…Oh My

So, I haven’t updated in almost 3 weeks? Oops! Sorry! Time got away from me – so I guess it’s a good thing I’m not updating every day because that would mean I have no life.

Recap on the past three weeks:

Mom, Aunt Lisa and Laura came for a visit the 9th and stayed in Nantes until the 14th and then they went off to Paris for the weekend – Oh la la!  “Paris for the weekend,” How chic! We had a nice week together and my host parents were, as always, adorably sweet and so welcoming to these ladies.  They arrived Monday afternoon and after a quick nap (on their part) I met them and we went to a creperie for our first dinner together. Tuesday they explored Nantes a bit and then we had dinner at my host parent’s house, and it was, delicious, as per usual! We had homemade pumpkin soup, and then something called “Tarteflette” which I know I’m not spelling it correctly but it’s named after this French cheese that is in the recipe and can’t be found in the U.S because somehow it can’t be shipped due to the fact that it doesn’t meet certain FDA regulations or something like that. Regardless, it was AMAZING! The cheese, melted and baked into a potato and ham dish, sort of like potatoes au gratin only ten times better.  We also had salad and then macaroons, picked out by the ladies, and fruit salad. Yum! The week past in a blur of activity and before I knew it, I had to say goodbye to everyone. I didn’t cry (thankfully!) but it was hard to see them go, and at least they left me with two giant bags of Reese’s cups. (side note: For some reason, Europe has a vendetta against peanut butter and though they do sell it in some supermarkets, it’s not as good and there are absolutely no Reese’s cups. Don’t they know that peanut butter and chocolate are a match made in heaven!?!) And of course, I had the nice comforting hug from my French grammar class midterm to enjoy the same day that Mom and Lisa and Laura left. Oh how life goes on n’importe de quoi!

The Saturday that Mom, Lisa and Laura were in Paris, I went to Tours for a visit to the castles of the Loire Valley. We saw five in two days and they were beyond incredible. The first one we went to, Montegeoffrey, was more of a giant estate than a castle but it was so gorgeous! It sat upon acres and acres of sprawling green grass and we were so lucky to have great sunny weather! The chateaus just shined with brilliance and elegance (and money!). The other chateaus we visited were: Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, Amboise, and Chenonceau. Most of these chateaus were empty because during the several hundreds of years, it became a little difficult to keep track of furniture as the chateaus were passed down from generation to generation, interrupted by wars and German occupation and things like that.  During our tour of Amboise, we learned that the kings of the time would move castles every three weeks or so (EVERY THREE WEEKS OR SO? MOVE? CASTLES? PLURAL??) and that when furniture became dated and out of style, it was just burned as firewood. Does that hurt you to read a little bit? Knife through my heart too, guys! It was incredible to walk through these mammoth historic sights knowing that someone once lived there and it was just their home and I loved imagining what life was like.  The most famous of the five that we visited was probably Chenanceau, because before it was occupied by the Germans during world war II, it was the humble abode of none other than Catherine De Medici. Let me tell you, that lady had an eye for the ornate. Everything was the De Medici family initials engraved into it, and in Catherine’s room there were C’s everywhere.  The history was just incredible and I tried so hard to absorb everything! Villandry was another beautiful (okay I can’t lie they were all beautiful) chateau that had the most incredible gardens. Seriously, stop reading this and go Google Villandry gardens. Breathtaking! There are just oodles of mazes and I just wanted to be a kid growing up there running through the hedges. I won’t deny the fact that I did run around the gardens with another girl in the group and we raced and had a ball. Oh to be a 20 year old kid in France!

Okay, is this post long enough yet? I still have so much more to blabber on about!

The weeks after Mom’s visit were pretty quiet. I’ve gotten into a pretty good routine with my classes and I enjoy spending time with my host parents just talking about life. They are very interesting, incredible people!  This past weekend I went shopping with a few friends and we bought some warm clothing, which surprisingly has been much needed already! We were blessed with warm weather up until last week or the week before that and now it’s cold cold cold! Also, IES (my school/program) is not heated yet (or maybe at all?) and I’m usually shivering and have icicles for hands so I decided to invest in some thick sweaters…thanks Mom! Merry Christmas to me?

On Sunday, My host parents took me to La Baule and Guerande for a nice little visit with my host dad’s mother and their family. I got to see kite surfers and the house were Bertrand (my host dad)’s grand parents lived and where he spent his summers. Also, another side note: everything in france seriously reminds me of the 80s and I can’t always place it, but seeing the kite and wind surfers and their neon sails literally made me think of a post card that would have been sent in the 80s. I loved it! After having a nice lunch at Bertrand’s mom’s house, we went to Guerande, where there are famous salt marshes. I learned that the salt that is cultivated there comes from the sea (real sea salt, folks!) and it’s pretty famous. Most restaurants that use the salt advertise it on their menus and with specific dishes. Also, the monks in the medieval era (I have no idea what date that would be…1100s?) started the salt marshes and constructed them by hand for several centuries, and the technique they used then is the same technique used today to gather the sea salt. Amazing!!

This week I had another midterm and I am looking forward to this weekend, because I’m going on my very first trip out of france! I am going with three of my new IES friends to Amsterdam and the Netherlands and I am so excited! To pay homage to one of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier, I am going to go to Delft, too, which is the home of Vermeer. Did anyone else read Girl with a Pearl Earring, because that is one of her most well-known books.

The next few weeks are going to be busy for me with midterms and papers and more travels so expect even fewer posts (sorry!) but I will try my best to drop a line every now and then!

For reference: My next five weekends include a trip to Amsterdam, then Bordeaux, then London, then my favorite brother Peter is coming and then the weekend after that Paris and then Lyon.

Wish me luck?

I miss you all and Love you and hope you’re enjoying the fall! Christmas will be here sooner than we know it! Ah!

Posted by: Marina | October 6, 2011

Crêpes, Crêpes et plus de crêpes!

Tonight I cooked my first crepe! Well, technically it was a gallette, which is a savory crepe from the Bretagne region of france. Woo northern France!
Basically, my host father made crepes and when there was only enough batter left for one crepe, he taught me how to do make one. I have a lot of practice before I become an expert!
Now my host dad and I are watching master chef in french…I could stay forever! C’est la vie!

We’ve been really lucky and have had GREAT weather these past two weeks, which is rare for this late in September. Last weekend I visited Mont St Michel, which is an abbey on a little island. I think my favorite part was watching it pop up on the horizon as we drove closer and closer to it. We also visited San Malo, a cute town with a beach. I went swimming! In the Atlantic! But it was nothing like our beaches at home. The water here has a higher salt content in the water and after I dried off I could feel the salt on my skin and I could actually see it dried in my hair, like bad hair gel! It was fun though, to be in the ocean with my friends saying “We’re in France! At the beach! In October!”

This week, the thing that stands out the most in my mind right now is the spiders. There a lot of spiders here but never in my life have I seen a non-turantula spider so large. Three, THREE nights in a row, when I’ve gone to my room to go to bed, there has been a HUGE spider hanging out on my wall. My host dad is wonderful and has killed them all for me, but I feel so silly! If it were any other bug that size, I could deal with it. But spiders…ugh. The bodies of the spiders were as large as quarters and the legs. So long. From end to end the spiders were at least 4 inches each. GROSS. I wonder if someone should tell Harry that Voldemort has returned? So many spiders here…

Another thing I’ve enjoyed discovering: the tram. It’s the above-ground version of the tube in London or the subway in NYC. My host parents helped me get a monthly pass for the tram but another option to pay for the subway is to buy single tickets that you stamp in the tram. I have seen so many people who get on and don’t stamp their tickets and it’s either because they have a monthly pass that doesn’t need to be stamped, or they don’t have a ticket at all. Sometimes there are tram officers who ride the line and check to make sure that everyone has paid their way, and one day I was riding the tram and the officers were there checking tickets and a girl got on and made to take a ticket out of her pocket and walked towards the stamp machine, but the officers got off the tram before she stamped her ticket. So instead, she didn’t stamp her ticket and just stuck it back in her pocket. Way to beat the system!

Well it’s really difficult to listen/watch tv in french and type in english so I’m going to say good bye for now. Au revoir!

Posted by: Marina | September 28, 2011

I’ve been here for…3 weeks?

Hello again! Sorry for the long delay in posts! Everyday I tell myself I’m going to update but then I get distracted by something else or lose internet connection.

Today marks 3 weeks since I’ve arrived in france. I feel like I’ve been here 3 months. Not in a bad way, though! I am settled into a routine for the most part – I’m still getting used to my class schedule, but more on that later. I can navigate my way around the city very well which is shocking, and I haven’t gotten lost yet (fingers crossed!) but every time I am going somewhere new, I tell myself “It’s impossible for me to get lost because I don’t know where I’m going, so I will just learn different ways to get there!”

My host family is very sweet and helpful. They’ve been hosting students for 8 years so they are seasoned veterans when it comes to IES things. I’ve also finally (FINALLY!) figured out what my classes are after a week of stress. Let me backpedal a little bit: I have to have all of my courses approved by Gettysburg in order to receive enough credits to graduate. I pre-approved several classes prior to coming to France but after arriving I learned that some classes weren’t being offered and I didn’t want to take others, so I had to approve some new ones. The biggest problem I had was with a miscommunication between IES and Gettysburg. IES has placement tests that decide which level of grammar course we should take here Nantes. These grammar classes are obligatory for everyone except those placed into the highest level (I was not) and Gettysburg does not require such things. Therefore, when I sent in a request for approval for my grammar class, I was denied and then I started to panic. But, after several emails to my advisor, the french department chair, the registrar, and meetings with most of the IES staff, things have been figured out!

I’m taking one class at the University of Nantes – It’s a translations course that has french students, IES students, and also ERASMUS students (european version of study abroad) who are British. It’s very neat to learn new words in french and also learn about the differences between british and american english. My other four classes are at IES and I am taking french grammar, french poetry, phonetics, and art history. I like my classes so far but they’re all in french so while I am becoming amazing at french I still have trouble taking notes in french and listening at the same time. Sometimes I have to choose to do one or the other…

As for the french food: it just keeps getting better! I have not found anything here that I don’t like or won’t eat. Also I was shocked to learn that I have not gained an ounce even after 3 weeks of eating a TON of baguette with butter and jam every morning for breakfast. I am always so full after every meal and sure that I’ve gained at least 5 pounds. The french don’t mess around with their food! (YAY!)

This past Saturday morning my host mother took me to a market to buy bread and fresh fruits and vegetables. The market was huge and had everything you could think of – it kind of reminded me of Redding Terminal Market in Philadelphia. I saw a lot of unappetizing things such as ducks with their heads still attached (A Christmas Story, anyone?) and feathers too. A little too realistic for me. We stopped at the bread counter and my host mother bought 6 huge baguettes that cost 6 euros total. Bread is so inexpensive here! Then we went and bought fresh organic vegetables that looked so colorful and delicous, I couldn’t wait to get home!

The weather has been amazing this week and last week. I can’t believe how sunny and warm it’s been! Today’s high is 80 degrees! What?! Speaking of good weather, on friday a few of my friends and I had the best afternoon. We got croque monsieurs (a french version of grilled cheese with ham inside) and eclairs and we all split a bottle of wine (I love being able to buy wine here!) and we sat in the grass in the sunshine in a lovely little park. So french.

More on wine : The cheapest bottle of wine I’ve seen here has been 2 euros. We were so amazed at the price, because we are poor college kids, that we decided we had to buy it and see if it would taste better than 2 euros worth of wine. It did! The french really do not fool around with their food or their wine.

I feel like I have so much more to say but I have to go meet my friends for lunch before class!  Tra la la! This weekend I am going to see Mont St. Michel, a beautiful cathedral, so I will hopefully have a million beautiful pictures to post soon.

I did add two pictures to my last post. I would have added more but it’s a pain in the butt so I’m going to have to figure out another method to share all of my pictures.

à tout à l’heure!

Posted by: Marina | September 11, 2011

I LOVE CARBS

and french bread is the best thing. ever. I have eaten delicious bread with every meal since I’ve arrived in France. I can feel the pounds creeping up on me. Bring on the French 15! Or maybe the French 50?

The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity for us all. After arriving to Nantes Wednesday afternoon, I met my host family and pretty much had dinner, unpacked, showered and went to bed at 9:30pm. My family consists of a mother and a father – they have 4 girls but they’re all older and no longer live at home. My host parents are very sweet and very patient with me! Also, they’re both shorter than me by just a little and I’ve never felt like a giant before. Is this what it feels like to be tall??

Thursday morning we left Nantes for Vannes, a town in Brittany. We arrived and spent the day exploring the little seaport town. All of the houses in Brittany look like they come from a fairytale. I’m not exaggerating this time – they’re all little stone houses with light blue shutters and moss growing on the side or they’re tudor-esque houses. C’est tres mignon! My favorite day was Friday. We took a mini-cruise around the

Two fairy-tale houses in Vannes, with a cathedral casualy peaking out from behind.

Morbihan Gulf, but it was hard to hear what the guide was saying because of the poor quality of the sound system and the fact that he mumbled. Then we got off the boat at L’ile aux moines and we rented bikes and traveled all around the island. We even had picnics! I swear the secret to a delicious sandwich is in the bread. All of the sandwiches I’ve encountered so far in France have been delicious! Biking around the island was incredible for several reasons: 1. how many people can say they’ve spent the day biking around an island in the north of France? 2. We didn’t have a map nor did we need one. It was great to go where the wind took us and have no plan! and 3. I haven’t ridden a bike since middle school and I was pretty sure I didn’t remember how. Turns out I do and I love it! The island was just beautiful and I’ve taken a ton of pictures so far but unfortunately I forgot to pack my camera chord so it may be a while until I figure out a way to post pictures. You’ll just have to use your imaginations, or google.

Saturday we went to a fortress and got to explore the tower that was used as a dungeon.

Inside the Dungeons of the Fortress, looking up

Just another day in a fairy tale! But seriously, it was a beautiful building with a beautiful landscape and a beautiful forest. Did I mention that it was beautiful? I wish I could better describe everything I’ve seen and experienced but sometimes there are no words. The fortress was covered in moss and was very chilly and damp. It almost felt haunted as we climbed the tower and explored all the nooks and crannies. I have some cool pictures from it too but darn that technology!

We also visited Carnac, which is famous for its rock formations. There are 900 rocks lined up in rows going from big to small. They can symbolize death or life or be a marker for a gravestone or even be a marker that a woman would go to to pray for a healthy baby. It’s related to stonehenge – apparently the guys who were strong enough in England to put rocks on top of each other had cousins over here who were strong enough to lift rocks and align them nice and straight.

We visited a few other ports and towns and today we had to take placement tests so we can figure out which classes we’re eligible to take. Let me tell you – the things I learned in high school may or may not have stayed there. There is a lot of grammar that is SO familiar to me but I just can’t quite place how to do it…

Also, a few things before I sign off on this VERY long post. One, I almost forgot – I ate THE BEST CREPES EVER on Saturday. We had Galettes, which are savory crepes, filled with ham, egg and cheese. It had to be the most delicious thing I’ve eaten all summer. We also had dessert crepes filled with caramel sauce. Yum.

Another thing I noticed: At restaurants, les filles are always served first. Woo for the hungry girls! Also, if you are going to pour yourself a glass of water, you always serve everyone else around you first. I like this chivalry!

Posted by: Marina | September 6, 2011

Greetings from the Philadelphia International Airport

Oh man! This is it. I cannot believe this day has actually come. I am going abroad. For FOUR months. I have been fantasizing about this since I was a little freshman in high school. Five (!!!???) years later I am a junior in college spending my fall semester in Nantes, France. Somebody pinch me!

After a full on panic attack Sunday morning, four loads of laundry and several hours of folding and refolding, I am packed. My brand new supercool hiking/daypack backpack has so many pockets that I can’t remember where I put stuff or what I even packed in it. But it will come in handy when I go hiking in the Himalayas. Oh wait…

I’m also reppin’ my country/hunting roots with my Cabella’s duffle bag. I bet no one else in France will have one! Or know what Cabella’s is. I was even under weight for my suitcase – by a full 7.5 pounds! My trusty red suitcase has seen me through a lot of trips and a lot of countries. I think I first used it when I was 8! He’s seen better days but I know he’ll keep it together for at least one more trip through europe!

Only one more stop and I’ll be in Nantes! My next adventure will be trying to find my friend and the train station when I arrive in Charles De Gaulle. I can’t wait to try out my french! I’ve been practicing. I think my accent sounds pretty good but we’ll see once I whip it out on a real Parisian! I am anxious to make it to Nantes and I can’t wait to meet my host family and the other kids on my trip. I’m ready for four months of constant wonder startingggggg: Now!

Once I get to Nantes I will spend the night with my new host family and then the next day (Thursday) I will be off to Vannes for a few days of off-site orientation. Until then! A bientot!

Posted by: Marina | August 30, 2011

ONE WEEK! UNE SEMAINE!

I cannot believe that in one week from today I will be chillin in the Philadelphia International Airport waiting to board my flight for France. I wish I could say I am all packed and ready to go, but I don’t want to lie. I only have two pairs of jeans and a scarf laid out, and my suitcase is still in the back of my closet. I just can’t figure out what I want to take! How is a girl supposed to pack enough for four months?? We all know that I am always prepared for everything, AND I am a very effiecient packer. Clearly I am an oxymoron and need to get my self together. I did make a packing list, though! Well, three…

Last night I had dream where I was in France with my host family, but I was only speaking spanish to them, so I’m hoping this isn’t a premonition or anything trying to warn me that my french will be so bad and rusty that it will sound like spanish. Yikes! Maybe I will just spend the rest of this week watching french films while I pack.

Wish me luck!

Posted by: Marina | August 13, 2011

Bonjour Mes Amis!!

Hello! This is post number one of my brand-new exciting travel blog. After agonizing over what to name my blog, I settled for “the travels of marina” in hopes that I will use this for my time in Nantes, France and after, for whatever traveling I may do. I still have a lot to learn about wordpress and I hope you will all bear with me. Also, things will get interesting when I get to france and switch my laptop into “french mode” and my keyboard will change. Who knows, maybe I will post entirely in french! Ha.

Well, I am anxious to play around more with this website and figure out how to add a cool “theme.” So that’s all for now on this post. Chat with you soon!

 

Marina

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