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44 posts categorized "France"

Well Life Has Been Getting On

Hello everyone! We're down to the last month here in France. This is week nineteen, with just four left - and three with my host family.

Last week, I said I'd be making a recap post for the last three weeks, so that's what I'm doing now.

Starting with the week of May 1st, one notable thing is that the final performance order was posted for the orchestra on Wednesday for our concert, which included a piece that I wrote. 

IMG_6927The score order for our orchestra concert

The name of my piece, by the way, is The Tale of the Ocean King, not kink. The director came up to me at the end of rehearsal and apologized for making a typo because he wrote it up really fast. I'm a teenage boy, I found it hilarious. I took this photo so I could send it to all of my English-speaking friends, and they found it hilarious as well. I had to explain to the director that his typo was something completely different in English, because I started laughing when I saw it.

IMG_6945Music concert I went to on Thursday

I also went to go to a concert during that week, which was at the local Salle de Spectacle which is basically the government-owned theatre/auditorium of Montauban. The concert was a school music program presentation,which are rare since not many schools in France have music and arts programs. We went because Clara, whom I've mentioned before (she plays in the orchestre with me at the music school and my host mom knows her mom), was playing in the orchestra. Something I found cool and very French was that there were at least four accordions in the orchestra. I'm not sure if you can see them in the photo, but they are there.

I can't really remember all the details of everything that happened during this week, and I didn't take too many pictures, so it must have been a pretty average week.

The week of May 8, Monday was ferié, which means that it was pretty much a bank holiday so I didn't have school. 

The rest of the week, I was in Nice. You can read about that trip in my last post. 

I got back Friday morning, and spent most of the day recharging for the evening when some people came over to celebrate Jean-Luc (my host dad)'s birthday, which was on May 11th. 

IMG_7139My host dad with his birthday tiramisu

This last week was rather eventful, or maybe it's just fresher in my memory.

IMG_7186With friends at the sports complex

On Tuesday, our History class got cancelled, so we had two hours for lunch. On Tuesdays, we usually go get food from a nearby grocery store (Leader Price) at noon, so after getting sandwiches and drinks, we went to the sports complex next the school to hang out until we had class.

IMG_7203The Salle des Fetes in Puylaroque

On Wednesday, I we had our orchestra concert (the one where the director printed the order with a typo). I directed my piece at the end of the show, and I think it went pretty well. One of my host mom's friends, Bernadette, came to see my piece being played and she said it was really good. It wasn't the smoothest, but it was good for only three rehearsals, I think.

IMG_7220My dad when he saw us at Toulouse airport

Friday evening, my dad flew in to Toulouse. My host mom picked me up from school at 4, and then we went straight to the airport to pick him up.

IMG_7229Me, my dad, and my host mom

IMG_7231My host parents and my dad

IMG_7247In the morning the next day

IMG_7253At Toulouse airport Saturday morning

My dad just stayed the night Friday, then left the next morning. Everyone said it was too short, but my dad had to go back home before the next week. It was really weird having him here since it's like my family is in Chicago and my host family and I are in Montauban - but then my dad was in Montauban, if that makes sense. 

My dad also speaks no French, so I had to translate a lot between English and French. Sometimes it got confusing and I'd translate French into French or English into English which wasn't helpful.

IMG_7263Me with all the host grandparents and my host dad

Yesterday, Sunday, the host grandparents came over for lunch to celebrate Jean-Luc's birthday. Jean-Luc's mom forgot the cake but it was OK because she brought strawberries and we had those instead. I'd also made a marble pound cake on Wednesday, so we put the candles in that...

IMG_7262The candles in the marble cake

So that's what I've been up to in the last few weeks! Lots of tests and evaluations are happening in school because the year is almost done. I'll see you next week!

Penvins: À la mer

    It’d been whispered in the air for months. Literal months. Penvins was an entity co-inhabiting this house as a luminous vector of summer.

    And then, a few weeks ago, that’s where we went. We packed up the mini-van and hit the road, headed southwest. The seven Bobets, my friend Patricia, and I. To the Golfe du Morbihan, to Penvins. À la mer.

Here are some belated pictures from our weekend excursion to the coast:

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Si quelqu’un m’avait demandé au mois de novembre ou de décembre, je n’aurais pas décrit ma vie en France comme dynamique. Or maintenant, avec l’arrivée de la fin d’année à l’horizon, il me semble que j’ai voyagé aux quatre coins de ce pays. C’est marrant, comment l’échelle géographique de l’Europe compare à la mentalité américaine de la distance et donc aussi du voyage, et étonnant la façon dont les expériences s’accumulent!

 

Nice Trip!

Hello! 

I didn't get around to writing a blog post last Monday, but I think that's okay. I didn't have too much planned out and this last week, I took a trip to Nice with STS and 17 other exchange students. I left on Tuesday and got back to Montauban Friday morning. Next week I'll have a more detailed recap post over what will then have been the last three weeks. This week I'll be talking about my trip to Nice though! 

Here's my post about the trip - with lots of photos!

IMG_6970My host mom and I in the car before leaving for the airport on Tuesday

My flight to Nice was at 10 on Tuesday, so I got up at 6:30 so I could finish packing and we could leave for the Toulouse airport before 8. The traffic at the toll station on the highway just before the exit to Toulouse is horrific, by the way, at 8:30 in the morning. We arrived at the airport just before nine.

An interesting thing about airports in France - most of the shops seem to be before security. There're lots of seats and benches before the security point, too. The general idea seems to be that you only go through security right before your boarding time, so security lines are much shorter and much faster. Overall, the security is similar but lighter than that of the US: similar liquid restrictions apply, you're not allowed to bring firearms or explosives (or Samsung Galaxy Note 7s, for that matter), and laptops have to be taken out of their case. However, you can keep your shoes on and they don't check ID until boarding. They don't have those full-body scanner things where you have to put your arms over your head and stay still for three seconds either, just metal detectors. After security, there's this big shop that you have to go through in order to get to where the gates are that sells cheesy souvenirs and giant lollipops. 

I landed in Nice around 11:30, and then had some trouble finding the bus to get to the hostel where we were staying. I did find it eventually, and then had a short walk from the stop. It ended up being a little bit longer than intended as I managed to get briefly lost on a route with just three turns though.

IMG_6979The hostel room

I was the first person of the entire group to arrive, but I fell alseep in the room until another guy, Tim got there. He came around 3 and I didn't know him because he's been in France since January. Tim, me, and the five girls who were there went and got some lunch after wandering a bit from a bakery and we sat on the beach to eat.

IMG_6986The bagel I ate for lunch

In the evening after everyone had arrived, we walked around as a group through some of the city. Afterwards, we had some time to go find dinner (all of the American exchange students and a Norweigan went and got sushi). Afterwards, we met up again to walk around. Since it was later in the evening, the sun setting made for some very pretty photos.

IMG_6987The beach in Nice

IMG_6989The Mediterranean Sea!

IMG_6992Monument du Centenaire

IMG_6997Gelato in France - Pineapple!

IMG_6998Sushi for dinner on Tuesday

IMG_6999Photo from the sushi restaurant

IMG_7008Aesthetically pleasing photo of the fountains at the Promenade du Paillon 

IMG_7013Group photo at the fountains at the Promenade du Paillon

The next day, Wednesday, we walked a lot. We walked to the Monument aux Morts de Rauba-Capeù, which is a memorial honoring 4000 locals killed during World War I, and then went up a lot of stairs to the Colline du Château which is where a castle used to sit (not much of it remains). There was a nice viewpoint of the city and it's also a park.

IMG_7028The Monument aux Morts

IMG_7036An OK panorama of the coast near the monument

IMG_7057View from the chateau

After taking lots of photos and chilling in the park for a bit, we headed down to find some lunch and ate as a group on the beach. After eating, we had some free time to wander around and do some shopping. Kevin and I decided to go find more food and walk around the city.

IMG_7068Chocolate gelato Wednesday

IMG_7073Big flower market Kevin and I came across while walking around

IMG_7074We also found the Prefecture (like a government building - I'm still not entirely sure what purpose it serves, but the prefecture in Montauban always has people waiting outside in the mornings)

IMG_7075Also the Palais de Justice

IMG_7077Flan and Tarte au Fruits from a patisserie not too far from the hostel

After eating the pastries, we decided to go back to the hostel, where we stayed for about an hour. After, we went down to the beach. We planned to hang out there until it was time to meet as a group again, but the water was freezing and it had become overcast so we did't stay for long.

In the evening, for dinner, Kevin and I went and got sushi again - this time at a different place. We walked around afterwards and found a place selling crepes that weren't over 5 euro each.

IMG_7085Sushi part II

IMG_7087Chocolate crepe!

Thursday, we were going to go on a day trip to Antibes Juan-les-Pins but we ended up getting on the wrong bus. Instead, we went by the beach (the weather was not favourable beach weather) and then walked to a mall where we had the afternoon free.

IMG_7093The waves were bigger and a lot stronger on Thursday

IMG_7101The first thing we saw upon getting into the mall

The mall was very nice and not at all crowded as we were there in the afternoon on a business day. Kevin and I got smoothies from a cafe and then bagels from a Breugger's in the mall, and then went and saw the new Alien movie to kill some time.

IMG_7105Pineapple Sunset smoothie

IMG_7106Bacon and egg bagel

IMG_7108In the nearly empty theatre for Alien

We then had an hour bus ride back to the hostel. For dinner, we ate together as a group in the restaurant/bar area of the hostel.

IMG_7112Attempted down-the-table photo...note "attempted"

IMG_7113Last meal in Nice

Friday morning, my flight was at 9:00 so I got up at 6:30 to finish packing and leave the hostel by 7:15. I then took the navette to the airport, which is just the express bus line to and from the airport terminals. I landed in Toulouse right around 10:30, where my host mom was waiting to pick me up.

Overall, I have to say it was a pretty Nice trip. You're welcome for only making one of those.

New Habits: On va se promener

    I’ve really taken up walking as a pleasurable habit this year. Alone, in company; for peace, for exercise; to explore, to breathe.
    If you find yourself living in the countryside, as I have, you will discover new ways of occupying your time. For me, walking is among these new pass times. It’s not new to my life, just changed. I used to walk to get around. Home from school, out to meet friends, to the store on the corner, etc. But the radius of accessibility has changed. Five minutes by foot from here equates to a corn field, a cattle pasture, a neighbor weeding a small garden. As a result, habits have changed.
    At times, while I am out walking, I think about the way this evokes the ongoing conflict between maintaining one's own customs and adopting new ones. To what extent does one let go of his/her own habits, and eventually traditions, in order to adapt to a new culture? And if they are temporarily let go of, how do we keep them safe? At other times, I hone a new playlist and contemplate the unmistakable presence of cows. Eau de vache.

        Just take a walk, I tell you. Take a moment to look around.

Here are some photos taken along the road this year:

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Packing for France: Contents

  Closet

   I don’t want to ramble on about this. Mainly because observing my decisions, more broadly the decisions of anyone but oneself, can’t bring sanity or comprehension or rationality or sustainable confidence. Don’t do what I needed to do. Do what you need to do.
    That being said, I can still aspire to help you out a bit, which explains why I’m writing this. Thus, following up on my preceding post, which concerned luggage choices, I’d now like to pitch in with the contents.
    Fortunately, my advice is simple (très simple, je te jure). It goes as follows: be realistic and be honest. When approaching the task of filling the gaping abyss of your bag, think realistically about your needs versus your desires and be honest to your habits and your preferences, to yourself.

Some recommendations:
- Do not rely on mailing things from home — it's surprisingly expensive
- Remember a gift for your host family & consider meals or treats you could offer or make with them, too
- Don’t worry too much about toiletries: bring your favorites/essentials and purchase the rest once you arrive. You’ll probably make some lasting discoveries.
- Thoroughly check out the climate of your destination before leaving & include the relevant, weather-adaptable clothing (i.e. rain coat, warm socks, hat, gloves, sandals, etc.).
- Bring a translation dictionary (and then keep it in your schoolbag).
- Think about how active your life might be once you are abroad. Bring some athletic clothes and sneakers regardless of your plans.
- Consider a reusable water-bottle. Not as popular here. Will prevent unnecessary waste and help you stay hydrated (c'est important).
- Be mindful of space and weight restrictions, but know that the 50 lbs allotted will suffice.
- Ask for a second opinion, while keeping in mind your own principles.
- Do not forgo your items of comfort in the name of practicality.

    As the packing process is inevitably tied to more profound struggles, I imagine there are other questions that arise beyond the concrete decisions. The simple act of contemplating a sweater or a pair of socks can become the act of considering your entire future. This weight of anticipation can be brutal and distracting and delicious and frightening, and it is desperate to be attached to something physical, tangible. Like packing. But please, just breathe, roll your shoulders out, and don’t sweat it. 
    Find yourself an open space and lay out your belongings. Lay out your expectations, anxieties, worries and doubts and ask yourself which you will leave behind and which you will carry with you.

Homesickness and Culture Shock

With exactly 50 days left before my departure to France, I'm finally getting around to writing about homesickness and culture shock. 

During the orientations, I was told numerous times that I was going to experience culture shock, I was going to be homesick, there would probably be a time where everything was too much and I'd get pushed into my "panic zone". So, I was prepared for it. I braced myself for the inevitable feeling of "this isn't where I belong!" and longing for the familiarness of Oak Park, ready to fight it off and hurl myself into Life in France.

IMG_6352My host mom and me at the movie theatre

The thing is, I've got 50 days left of my 161, and I'm still waiting for it to arrive. Or at least, I think I am.

Everyone is different, and culture shock is supposed to hit everyone differently. Maybe I really didn't experience it. Maybe it came and went, but manifested itself in symptoms I mistook for other things.

One thing is certain though, whether or not I went through culture shock, I didn't notice. Maybe I'm still waiting for it to happen. 

I haven't felt that homesick either. Sure, I miss my friends and my family, but all the things happening in France have been enough that it doesn't really bother me. I have different friends at school and a wonderful host family and I'm happy here. Besides, it's not like I haven't talked to anyone from home since my arrival. Every week on Sunday, I skype with my family for an hour or so and we chat about the week. My host family and bio family get to talk a bit too and practice their foreign language skills for when my parents and brother come to visit and pick me up in June. 

IMG_6833The view off the Pont Vieux in my host city of Montauban

Here, from various sources, are common symptoms of culture shock:

  • Extreme homesickness
  • Feelings of helplessness/dependency
  • Disorientation and isolation
  • Depression and sadness
  • Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much)
  • Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping
  • Dissatisfaction with life in genera
  • lLoss of sense of humour
  • Overwhelming and irrational fears related to the host country
  • Irritability, resentment
  • Family conflict
  • Loss of identity
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
  • Negative self-image
  • Developing obsessions (health, cleanliness)
  • Cognitive fogginess, lack of concentration

Looking over the list, I definitely was extremely tired for the first 3-5 weeks. But I think this has to do more with the fact that I suddenly found myself surrounded by the French language. Practically everything I heard, read, and said was in French, and that was exhausting. I think I said something in a post a few weeks back about how at some point I started being able to understand everything. I'm still not sure if that was a gradual thing or click-effect-type thing, but I'm definitely able to function with normal amounts of sleep now (I remember in my first couple of weeks, I'd sleep for 10 hours and then be ready to sleep again by 2 or 3 o'clock).

As for the others, I haven't particularly experienced them. Sure, I've been irritable and mentally 'out of it', but that's never lasted more than a day or so or not been fixable by eating or getting a good night's rest. 

Factors that may have affected why my sensation of culture shock was minimal if existent:

  • My level in French. I was in the middle of a fifth year in French before arriving in January
  • Unpickiness; I don't think I'm a very picky person, so differences in food didn't/don't really bother me. I do miss peanut butter a bit, but I can deal
  • Everyone being so welcoming everywhere

Honestly, I have no idea if it happened and I just didn't notice. This whole post has basically been a bit of a ramble so far. I just observed that culture shock - which was supposed to happen - apparently didn't, though I can't be entirely sure if that's true. I certainly feel well-adjusted to my life in France, though.

This isn't a guarantee that the culture shock you or anyone else will experience will be as insignificant as mine. In fact, it's more of the opposite. I've read other blog posts talking about how you'll probably end up crying and feeling extremely homesick. I guess this is here to say that that might not be the case. 

Weekly Recap

Notable events from this week include:

  • Finishing at 10:30am on Friday
  • Making a marble pound cake (which I'm pretty sure weighed more than a pound)
  • Murdering the chocolate bunny I got for Easter (still haven't opened my Easter egg though oops)
  • Going to the farmer's market on Wednesday with my host mom
  • Going to the pet store to look at the puppies and chickens
  • Trying to take a photo of a bowl of soup and dropping my phone in it

IMG_6899I also succeeded in getting soup all over my pants and the floor too. That takes some serious skillz people

IMG_6877Here's me with the pound cake and the quiche I made at the same time

IMG_6912My host mom wanted to look at the chickens because we're going to raise chicks in Oak Park over the summer

IMG_6872He's still smiling even though his ears and feet have been chopped off

A Bit About French Elections, Photos from Albi

Yesterday, Sunday, was the first round of voting for the French Presidential Election. Since this is an obviously large political event, I decided I would add some information about how the election works in my host country. I was originally going to make it its own post, but what I ended up writing as a "brief info" piece was much too short to be its own thing, so, like I said last week (and which can probably be gathered from the title of this post), I'll be sharing lots of photos from may day trip to Albi a week and a half ago.

French Elections 

The French presidency is a 5-year term in a directly elected seat of office, that is to say, unlike America, there is no electoral college (before 1962, presidents were elected via electoral college, however). The presidential term, previously being seven years, was reduced to its five in 2000, with the first election to the shorter term taking place in 2002. Presidents may serve no more than two consecutive terms. The current president is Francois Hollande, but he has decided not to run again due to low approval ratings.

There are usually two rounds of voting: the first includes all the candidates winning their party's primaries, and who have received at least 500 signatures from national or local elected officials from at least 30 different departments with no more than a tenth of these signatories from any single department during the collection period (this year, 11 candidates were listed on the first round ballot). If no candidate has the absolute majority after the first round, then the second round of voting occurs two weeks later. This year, Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! party will be against Marine Le Pen of the National Front party during voting on May 7th, with the official result being announced May 11th. Voting always happens on Sundays.

This is obviously not at all everything there is to know about French elections, but it's the basic information about how they work! Like I mentioned earlier in this post, I'm now going to be dumping a bunch of my photos from my

Daytrip to Albi

So on the Wednesday before last (April 12th), my host mom, her friend Bernadette, and I went to Albi, which is about an hour's drive away. The Episcopal City (and notably the enormous Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi, which is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world) is a designated UNESCO heritage site, having construction dating back from the middle ages and renaissance. 

While there, we visited the cathedral as well as the Jardins du Palais de la Berbie and the Musée Toulouse Lautrec (where there was a large group of what sounded/looked like American high school seniors). We also passed through the Collegiale Saint-Salvi briefly on our route back to the car, ate lunch by the river, and took a walk along the riverbank. It was very warm and very sunny, and overall very fun and interesting!

IMG_6617A street right we saw at the beginning of our day. I can't remember the name, but it was like a storybook or something.

IMG_6618Another street we went down that looked unreal.

IMG_6620The first view of the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi

IMG_6622Archway to the stairs up to the entrance of the cathedral

IMG_6626Stone ceiling for the cover-y area by the entrance

IMG_6627Entrance to the cathedral

IMG_6628The oregon

IMG_6630The ceiling

IMG_6635The stone screen. If I remember correctly, the screen is one wall of a smaller structure inside of the cathedral, in which monks lived and were separate from the congregation. 

IMG_6638View towards the office of tourism and Musée Toulouse Lautrec

IMG_6640 Musée Toulouse Lautrec/Palais de la Berbie

IMG_6641Panoramic view from the path down to the Jardin du Palais de la Berbie

IMG_6647Panoramic view from the wall of the garden. The river here is the Tarn, the same river that runs through my host city, Montauban

IMG_6650View from the wall of the garden

IMG_6712Me with a statue on the wall of the garden

IMG_6652View of the Palais from the wall

IMG_6660The covered market where we bought sandwiches for lunch, feat. the back of Bernadette's head

IMG_6663Le Pont Vieux d'Albi

IMG_6664This looked and sounded like an electricity generator

IMG_6666Right next to the Tarn, where I ate my sandwich

IMG_6667Me with my sandwich

IMG_6669A dog that came up to me asking for food. I think it was a stray :(

IMG_6713Me with the dog. Photo cred: My host mom

IMG_6672View of the wall to the Palais, from the walking path beneath it

IMG_6675On the trail; I suspect the walls to the left are fron the beginning of Albi as a fortified city

IMG_6676Aesthetically pleasing photo of the wall 

IMG_6678More aesthetically pleasing wall

IMG_6679A bridge over the tarn; I've looked on google maps and can't find the name

IMG_6685Houses and apartments built into the old fortifications 

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IMG_6687Hanging flowers

IMG_6697The ceiling of a stairwell in the Musée Toulouse Lautrec. Toulouse Lautrec was a nobleman, son of two first cousins. Because of his parentage, he had a genetic disorder causing him to have very fragile bones. At a young age (at separate times), he broke both his legs and grew to be under five feet tall. Because of his stature and fragileness, he was mocked a lot and not taken seriously. Knowing he would never be respected as an aristocrat, he pursued painting.

IMG_6703Cloister of the Collégiale Saint-Salvi

IMG_6709Cloister again; we just passed through on our way back to the car

I hope you like my photos! Now onto a quick 

Weekly ReCap

Notable events from the last week include:

  • La Rentrée, aka Easter vacation ended
  • Went to orchestra
  • Was not mentally prepared for school
  • Went to a gospel concert Saturday evening
  • Planned for my dad to visit while he's in Europe next month

My host family run a music festival during the summer every year, and the weekend of the festival this year is the same weekend that my parents are coming to visit and pick me up. My host parents are disappointed since they'll be occupied with the festival that weekend instead of being able to show my family around the Montauban area, but my dad's coming to Europe for his job next month and we all thought it would be good to be able to show him around.

I want to state here that I know the program rules state that parents are not allowed to visit during the period of study. However, my local coordinator told me in February that as long as I am well-integrated and not extremely homesick, family can visit if they happen to be in Europe (ie: they're in Europe already for some reason or another and it's not a whole trip just to visit). And, of course, my host family has to be OK with it too. Since I'm nearing the end of my time here (D:) and feel well-integrated, and my family won't have as much of an opportunity to see the area because of the timing (and also because my dad has meetings in Amsterdam and London next month), my host family and I want to be able to "faire visiter" as my host mom says with at least my dad. 

IMG_6819Pic from the gospel concert. All the songs were in English with heavy French accent, which was especially weird when they sang the staple This Little Light of Mine

IMG_6817My host mom and I in our seats at the concert

Procedures of French Meals

WELCOME to this post about Large French Meals. 

Yesterday (Sunday) was Easter Sunday, so I went to a Large French Meal to celebrate with my extended host family.

IMG_6760My host cousins and I at Easter brunch

Meals with other people outside of the immediate family usually follow a loose order of events even if they're not for any particular occasion. Meals like this are either lunch or dinner, but more often dinner. In this post, I'll be going through the "procedure" if you will, of a French meal.

IMG_6756Tiramisu I made for Easter brunch

Obviously, every region and family is different, but here is how I've experienced French meals.

Aperitif

So this is a thing that exists outside of strictly French culture. It's pretty much an appetizer that's usually not eaten at the table (somewhere else like a counter or coffee table) that's accompanied by a sweet and/or alcoholic beverage.

IMG_6755Aperitif at Easter brunch, gathered around the coffee table

Popular food items include: chips, olives, foie gras, cherry tomatoes, mini hotdogs, and sausage.

Once everyone has finished (drinking, usually), everyone moves to the table for the first course and takes either water or wine.

First Course - The Three 'S's

The first course is usually one of three things (though it can be any combination of the three): soup, salad, or seafood. Salad dressing is always a vinaigrette, and leaves aren't cut before serving (which means you cut the leaves once they're on your plate). Other types of salads, such as pasta salads, tuna salads, etc are also served often. Soups are...well, soup, and seafood are the Fruits of the Sea (les fuits de mer). Mussels seem to be a popular choice if seafood is served as the first course where I am.

Now that asparagus is ready to harvest, asparagus with various sauces is also a common first course at meals. Pâté is also sometimes eaten along with this first course on bread or with the salad, if green.

Bread is usually eaten with this course, and used to help nudge bits of food onto a fork for easier eating as well as to clean the plate of remaining sauces or juices before the next part of the meal. Plates are sometimes changed before continuing.

Second Course - Meat and Carbohydrates

The two meats I've eaten for the most part are beef and chicken. However, I've also had pork, mutton, and rabbit multiple times as well. I haven't really had fish as a main meal except once.

Carbs are usually pasta or potatoes, though I've had rice a few times. 

This course is the main course, so menu varies widely in terms of combination and preparation. This is also the course where everyone starts telling each other to finish the (usually enormous) remaining portions of the various components of the meal.

Again, bread is usually eaten alongside this course like the first one for similar purposes.

Cheese!

After the main course, there is usually cheese. Cheese is usually eaten with bread, though sometimes, salad is served as well. Dishes are usually changed here before moving on to dessert.

Dessert

If there's nothing particularly special, dessert is usually a fruit. If there is, dessert is usually some type of cake or tart. If it's a special occasion like a birthday, there'll probably be champagne, which will be at sometime around dessert (probably before, or while people are being served).

Coffee

After a meal, people will take coffee and sit and chat. This is usually the point where it's totally acceptable for anyone to leave and go do other things (if at someone's house), as this stage will go for an indefinite amount of time depending on moods, time, etc.

 

I hope what I've written about French meals is interesting! I'm now going to move onto my quick

Weekly ReCap

This week was week 13 of my time here, and we're now at the beginning of 14. Tomorrow, my vacation is over and I'll be going back to school.

This week's notable events include:

  • A day trip to Albi (next week's post will be a photo dump of that trip, I suspect. I took a lot of photos)
  • A 30k bike ride from my host family's house to my host granddad's house and back (15k there, 15k back)
  • A 6k run with my host mom (she biked)
  • Cooking a meal (oven-baked mac n' cheese and maple roasted fingerling potatoes)
  • Easter festivities 

Pictures (of course)!

  IMG_6604The pic of me running along Port Canal my host mom insisted on taking

IMG_6717A bridge in Albi built over the Tarn, the same river than flows through Montauban (my host city)

IMG_6728A very high-quality selfie taken during our bike ride to host granddad's

IMG_6726Picturesque French countryside. It looked more picture-worthy in real life :P

IMG_6741The meal I cooked. It was yummy!

IMG_6758The chickens at my host granddad's

IMG_6759Me with the giant Kinder Surprise Easter egg from my host family

Castles! A Photo Dump

Hello! This is the beginning now of lucky week 13 in France! 

If you read my last post, you'll know I was sick last week. I felt significantly better on Tuesday, but still very run-down and tired, and Wednesday I had enough energy to go walk for a little but not much else. Thursday, I woke up with a sore throat and headache again, and Friday I felt completely fine (finally! And good timing too!). Therefore, I spent a lot of time not doing much (ie: I played a lot of the video games loaded on my computer and watched a lot of the French version of House Hunters on whatever lifestyle channel my host mom likes to put on while she irons).

I didn't get too much inspiration for an interesting French post since I spent most of the past week staring at a screen, so this post will be a photo spam about my day trip to Carcassone on Friday. Welcome to

Things in France are Old: Carcassone! 

On Friday, my host family and I went on a day trip to Carcassone, which is about 90 minutes away by car. We got there around 1 in the afternoon, ate lunch, then walked around a bit and toured the castle and ramparts.

So we're from America, right? And we've seen some cool old things on field trips, like Abraham Lincoln's house and battlefields from the Revolutionary War and maybe a couple Native American mounds that didn't get trampled by European immigrants (which are probably by far the oldest thing we're gonna get).

Well how about a fortified freakin' castle from 100BC? IMG_6590

That's right. Scientists did their sciencey thing and archaeologists did their archaeology thing and historians did their history thing and together they figured out that the hill Carcassone is on was fortified in 100BC by the Romans. 

The first time I took a tour of a Very Old building (Abbaye de Moissac in February) it was really cool to see how it had been affected by time and how well it had been preserved. I was literally walking where monks lived 1000 years ago and that was incredible.

Carcassone was even cooler, I think, because it changed owners over and over throughout history and received numerous additions. The shops were mostly medieval themed, and walking down the narrow streets felt like walking down the streets of the fantasy-themed portion of the Universal Studios theme park....except it was actually streets from the middle ages. And it was an Actual Real Life Castle.

Also, since all the countries in Europe are very close to each other and because Carcassone is such a historical city, I heard other tourists speaking at least four different languages while walking around: Spanish, German, English, and Italian. Well, five, because French obviously, but that doesn't really count.

Here are some cool photos from the trip!

IMG_6494A very high quality photo of the city from the highway

IMG_6497The entrance into the walled city

IMG_6569My host dad and I standing outside the walled city of Carcassone. The oldest parts of the outer wall are from the 13th century!

IMG_6570A photo taken by my host mom of me while we waited for our food

IMG_6500The pizza I had for lunch. Goat cheese, olives, and honey. Yum!

IMG_6501The square of restaurants where we ate

IMG_6503Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse

IMG_6506Inside of the basilica

IMG_6511View from the inner ramparts

IMG_6571

IMG_6519Castle!

IMG_6521Some pictures from the courtyardIMG_6522

IMG_6526Who doesn't love scale models?

Various photos of the surrounding land from the towers and ramparts:IMG_6527

IMG_6529This one also shows the moss-grown slate-tile roof!

IMG_6531Those are ACTUAL CASTLE TOWERS GUYS

IMG_6533

IMG_6536

IMG_6538

IMG_6554

IMG_6556

IMG_6546Wooden pathway along the side of the ramparts. When the city was under siege, these pathways would be build along the walls to allow defenders to drop things on the attackers.

IMG_6537Spiral staircase!

IMG_6542The inside of the roof of one of the towers

IMG_6530A photo into a little garden within the walls of the castle

IMG_6563Some stone heads

IMG_6572Me in front of a stone column

IMG_6573Me in front of some stone statues

IMG_6504Here's a picture of the city hotel, which looked like something straight out of a stroy book (less the metal signs)

 

Thanks for looking at my photos, I guess! 'Till next time!

 

Packing for France: Luggage

Le bazar
    I have heard that there are some wonderers out there wondering, as wonderers do, how to go about packing for their time abroad in France (or elsewhere).

    I was once among them, once among you. Do the potential benefits of rain boots outweigh their potential drawbacks? Will this wool sweater be too thick for the climate in Brittany? Would an extra pair of pants really do me any harm?

    Though I don't recall my exact thought process, I am positive it resembled this one, including a whole gamut of inquiries, of uncertainties, among them the central question of luggage: What zipper-clad case would be designated the task of transporting my life from one side of the Atlantic to the other?

    As CIEE advises, I went with a spacious, rolling duffle. (Not messing around with the term spacious -- I could comfortably sit inside of this thing. ) While this valise is generous in space, it is also collapsible. It currently resides in the bottom of my closet, preparing patiently for its upcoming duties.

In addition to the duffle -- the bag carrying the bulk of my belongings -- I employed:

  • One backpack (now serves as my school bag)
  • One large tote bag
  • One petite cross-body

    *Two other canvas-like bags were packed in the larger duffle. Now proving a wise decision, as they certainly come in handy. However, this is also something that's not hard to come by in France (or wherever your travels may lead you), and that can make for an immediately practical souvenir.

    This approach provided luggage that was well condensed while still capable of containing a large quantity. At only a handful of moments did the bulking collection of my life raciné appear to be bursting at the seems; and I have no queries! I find that a perfectly natural result of the practice of relocating one's life, as minimalist as one's mindset may have been in the process.

    Don't sweat it. To question is normal; to attempt and to change your course of action not radical either. But before entering into the real thick of packing -- of organizing and condensing one's life -- I'd strongly recommend determining what vessels will carry it. Which duffle or suitcase will serve as your primary container, which bag will accompany you au lycée, and so on and so forth. From there, the structure is built, the crust laid in the pan, and the stress of floundering in the abyss of indecision minimized. Trust me.