Friday, December 16, 2011

Frolicking in the land of chocolates and waffles


These past few weeks have been busy, but I'm all done now! Done done! With my entire semester in France. Now all that's left is Christmas with the fam bam in Aix, and then it'll be back to Boston! I can hardly believe how fast time has flown by.

Between my two weeks of exams, I took a trip to Belgium - the land of chocolates and waffles! (not fries). It was so wonderful to take a mini break from all the studying. We got to see all the major sights, and we were also lucky enough to have incredibly beautiful weather the whole weekend!

Here are some pictures from Belgium!

Atomium:  This giant steel ball structure was made for the '58 World Expo. We got to climb to the very top and see a great view of Belgium!

Mini-Europe: Right below the Atomium was Mini-Europe - a park with mini models of all the European countries. They were super well made, and definitely very educational as well!

We tried, without success, to create a leaning tower photo...

Christmas cheer in Belgium! 

The Grand Place all lit up at night
 Bruges: On Saturday, we took a day trip to Bruges, a town about an hour away from Brussels!

Friends! :) 

Overall, it was a wonderful trip, and we got to eat lots of yummy chocolate. Sadly, the trip ended with a disastrous episode of food poisoning :( But thankfully, I made it back to France with the help of my superhero friends. And I'm all better now! Just in time for Christmas!

Family is coming in 4 days!! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where did November Go?!


Sorry for the lack of blog posts in November! It's been a busy busy month, and I can't believe it's almost December! It's been lovely though, with lots of exciting things happening. It's going to be a big post with lots of photos!

Since my last post on Spain, there have been many other events that've happened.

Fête des Olives
November 6th. We went to another host family's house again (the one with the vineyard!) and this time, instead of picking grapes, we picked olives! Unfortunately, back then, Aix was going through its rain rampage storm, so we were caught in the middle of another heavy rainstorm that day. But luckily, we were still able to pick some olives from branches that were cut down and brought into the garage. We then had a massive lunch: of olives, pumpkin soup, tartiflette (tarte with potatoes, bacon, onions, et veggies), baba au rum, apple pie, and many other delicious foods!

Weekend at Cévennes
November 11th-13. Dear Emily and I took a trip with our church, ICCP, into the Cévennes region of France! We spent the weekend in a castle (no, really), and spent time with the community. We got to visit a museum on Saturday morning, and got to know the little kids at the church. Emily and I have developed a slight crush on a family with 4 super cute little kids, who all talk with Australian accents!

Marseille football (soccer) match
November 23rd. On Wednesday night, a bunch of us put on any blue articles of clothing we had, and made our way on the bus and metro to Marseille. We went to see the olympic Marseille football game! It was quite the experience. Even though we had reserved seats on our tickets, we soon found out that it was a free-for-all, stand-on-the-seats kind of deal. Luckily, we were able to find some pretty decent seats all together. The atmosphere was chaotic to say the least, and there was much more screaming and cheering than game-watching. At one point we all turned to face the back of the stadium, just to shout some more cheers! We even sang the words "Allez Marseille" to any kind of song we could think of, of which there was Yankee Doodle, and even Jingle Bells. It was my first soccer game ever, so it was a great experience. Although for the first part of the whole game, we were trying to figure out what color our team was....It was really very hard to figure out. But we did eventually get it by the second half of the match. Marseille ended up losing, but it was still a great evening with great company!

Stade de Velodrome 

Thanksgiving in France!
Despite the lack of Thanksgiving in France, I still managed to have one of the best Thanskgivings to date! After class (yes, we had class on Thanksgiving. And even the day after Thanksgiving!) we all went home to prepare our respective dishes and attire for the evening. Madame Masson hosted an incredible Thanksgiving party, complete with 3 mega turkeys, 4 different kinds of pie, 53 guests, over 20 bottles of wine (red and white), and a whole lotta love. My host mom and host brother, Marie and Nathan, both made it out to the party as well, and we all had such a wonderful time. Below are some photos from the mega-fête!

Host mom and host brother!

Nathan, best host brother in the world! 

Incredible Thanksgiving party!

Black Friday
Also doesn't exist in France, so after partying hard on Thursday night, we all got right back up for class Friday morning. (10am has never seemed so early). But thankfully, it was only an hour-long class! There are also no black Friday shopping it was a pretty calm and uneventful day in Aix. But Friday evening, we all gathered at someone's apartment, and spent the evening cuddled on the couch, watching The Holiday and listening to Christmas music! (not at the same time) There were chocolate almond cookies, hot chocolate, and popcorn. A wonderful way to begin preparing for Christmas! Although Aix is way ahead of us all....Since Thanksgiving doesn't exist, the French had no shame beginning Christmas decorations back in mid-November. 5 days before Thanksgiving, the lights official lit up, and Christmas markets began. The Cour Mirabeau is now a spectacular sight in the evenings!

In other news, exam dates are finally set! I have four exams in two weeks, and I will be all completely down on December 14th! From there on out, it'll just be partying pretty much...I can't believe it's all coming to an end so soon! But very exciting new! The fam bam is coming to France for Christmas! My parents and sister are going to come over, and we're going to visit a bunch of close-by Provencal towns, and also hit up Nice, Monaco, and Italy! It's going to be a delightful Christmas.

Since my exams end so early, I was also able to change my flight back home. So now I am going back to Boston on January 4th! I am very excited! But at the same time, it's scary to think that I have only a little over a month left in my semester abroad....time to cram in as much Frenchness as possible!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Adventures through Spain - Madrid and Granada!

Happy November!

This past week, we had our week-long Toussaint vacation. My friends and I were lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Spain! We visited Madrid and Granada, and it was such a wonderful trip! Since there were so many things that happened on the trip, I'll just talk about some highlights!

Tapas and Paella

I have never had paella before, but I have now developed a slight obsession with it. We had some really delicious paella when we were in Spain! Paella is basically a kind of boiled rice, with meat and vegetables. It is traditionally cooked in a large dish, also called a paella.
Tapas is also another Spanish tradition. Instead of eating a full-on 3 course meal, the Spanish like to eat several small dishes. We had delicious tapas like tortillas espagnola (Spanish omelette), croquettes, and paella. (Also - dinner in Spain is around 10pm....)
As you can tell, I really like tapas....

We spent a total of 4 days in Madrid - 2 in the beginning, and then 2 at the end. Unfortunately, the day we arrived in Madrid, it was pouring! So that was no good. But luckily, we were able to find some hot chocolate and churros, and enjoy those instead. We also took a 3-tour walking tour of Madrid, so we got to see all the main sites: Puerta del Sol, Palacio Real, Theatro Real. We also went to the two most famous museums in Spain: Museo Prada and the Reina Sofia. The Prado had more classical and Renaissance art, including works by Velasquez, El Greco, and Goya. The Reina Sofia is where the Guernica is! We got to see that as well, which was incredible. The museum didn't allow photographs in the gallery where the Guernica was, but we were allowed to take photos elsewhere, so I got some good shots of works of Salvador Dali and Miro. Another spot we hit up with the Mercado de San Miguel. It was an indoor market/eatery, sort of like Quincy Market for any Boston readers! We got delicious froyo, and it was just such a pleasant atmosphere.
My favorite sight in Madrid has to be the Retiro Park. This beautiful park was super large, and had the most amazing leaves and forests. We are right in the transition here from Summer to Fall, so the view was breathtaking. Here are some pictures!

Here is also a picture of the town hall across from Puerta del Sol. The night lights were so beautiful!

After two days in Madrid, my friend and I took a 5-hour long bus down to Granada, the Andalusian area of the south of Spain. It was a much smaller city, with white-washed buildings and walls. The city is located at the foot of the Alhambra - a Moorish palace and fortress complex from the 14th century. The architecture is full of Arabic influences! Apparently, tickets for the Alhambra are supposed to be reserved well in advance, so when we showed up at our hostel and told them we hoped to see the Alhambra but hadn't reserved tickets, we were judged. So instead, we woke up bright and early on Sunday morning, and walked our way up the giant hill. When we arrived at 7:30am, there was already a long line waiting at the ticket office! As we waited in line, there was a speaker who kept announcing the number of remaining tickets for the day! But thankfully, we were able to get tickets! And it was so well worth it. The Alhambra was spectacular - the garden complex, the Generalife, and the palace complex were so beautifully kept, and the architecture was incredible. From the watch tower, we also got an amazing view of all of Granada. Here are some of my favorite photos. 

Palacio de Generalife
View over Granada!
The main Palace - Court of the Myrtles 
Court of the Myrtles again - we took this photo with many different settings....
View over Granada
Arabic architecture 
We spent a total of SEVEN HOURS at the Alhambra! It was pretty crazy. We hit every single "Do not miss" attraction, and basically all the other attractions. I think it's safe to say we really enjoyed the Alhambra :) 

We got back to Aix last night, and was greeted with a horrible rainstorm. But still - it feels nice to be back in our comfy homes, and to be able to read and understand all the French! 
Coming up this weekend: Olive harvest and Orange (the color) Brunch! 

I hear it already snowed back in Boston! Be safe everybody! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dans le Lubéron

Another week has come and gone! I can't believe how fast time is flying by here. It's almost November!

This past week, I had the horrific experience of taking my first French exam! It was truly horrible. The French system is graded on a 20-point scale, and I have been told that we should expect nothing more than a 14 or 15. Anything above a 10 is considered passing. This exam was in my Langues du Monde class - Langues of the World. Studying for this exam involved memorizing the countless African language phylums, and knowing the different characteristics of each family, including things like its order of terms (SVO, SOV, VSO), its "morphologie et phonologie" and just many many other things that I have had no experience with whatsoever in the past. It was an epic journey. There were about 12 questions on the exam, and there were many multi-part questions that were worth no more than 2 points. The first question - worth an overwhelming 3 points - translates to a mini-essay - something I did not realize until after the exam....All in all, I'm not sure I passed. But I find it all strangely amusing. After the exam, the professor went over the answers, but not without laughing and mocking some of the answers she said she read as people turned in their exams. We'll see how it went next Wednesday when we get them back....

Yesterday, our group took an excursion into the Lubéron region! A 1.5 hour drive north of Aix, we visited 3 cities in the region: Roussilon, Gordes, and Sénanques. These little countryside towns were small, quaint, and breath-taking. They were located up in the mountainous roads, so they often had a spectacular view of the fields down below. In Sénanque, we took a tour of the remote and isolated abbey, where fields of lavender once flourished. The season of lavender was back in June/July, so sadly we didn't get to see any! But I can imagine they were beautiful. And of course, since we were traveling with Madame Masson, she ordered an incredible automnal lunch for us at the classy and chic Le Bastide. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves!


Dessert at lunchtime 

View of Gordes 

L'Abbaye de Sénanque - lavender fields 

Oh and another French adventure this past week! - haircut and perm! You can sort of see it in the photos :) One girl in our group began the trend about a month ago, and my friend and I spontaneously decided to get it done on Thursday, so we went to the same salon. Friday, 5 other girls from our group also headed to the salon. Guess we're all going through a revolutionary hair phase? We all have very limited hair vocabulary, so we mostly just brought photos, and pointed to them, and said something like "Do this, please". But hooray for more French experiences!

4 more days until Madrid and Granada!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Baguette ≠ Baguette

Hello! Apologies for the late blogpost! All has been going well here in sunny Aix, though we are beginning to experience more automnal weather. It is still beautiful though!

Last week, the lovely boyfriend came to visit from the States! We had a wonderful time here in Aix-en-Provence, and even made it up to Paris for two days. Sadly, it was raining while we were in Paris, and the days we spent in Aix were the coldest we've yet seen. But no worries! We enjoyed delicious French pastries (macaroons!), yummy dinners, and even home-cooked meals. It was a delightful visit!

In other news, I have my first French exam coming up next week! It is in my linguistics class - Langues du Monde, and the exam will be on everything we've covered up until now. The exam will be worth 40% of our final grade. I recently killed a whole forest printing the powerpoint slides from class. Sadly, the french do not believe in double sided printing, which makes me sad. But that just means I should really make use of all the pages I printed!

Also - there are now less than 2 weeks until our Toussaint break! When I last posted, I was headed to Madrid and Marrakech, but alas! Our plans have changed. My friends and I were all excited and pumped up for our trip, when one day, Ryanair decides to drop some devastating news into our inboxes. They had changed the time of one of our flights, Madrid to Marseilles, and it was now 30 minutes earlier than before! This sadly meant that we would have only 30 minutes between our two connecting international flights: Marrakech to Madrid, and then Madrid to Marseilles. And that simply will not do. So with heavy hearts, we decided to cancel the Morocco leg of our trip, forgoing the money already . But in other news, we now have new travel plans!!! After spending two days in Madrid, my friend and I will be headed down south, to Granada! Here are some beautiful photos courtesy of Google. So our enthusiasm level has re-mounted, and we are now once again equally excited.

And now back to the title of this blog post....I learnt something very interesting today! After our translation class this morning, my friend so cleverly suggested we go pick up some sushi for lunch. Delighted, we head off to Sushi Shop, and make our orders for sushi. I ordered a 6-piece eel maki, and when she asked me if I'd like soy sauce, I said yes. Then, she asked if I'd like a baguette with my meal. Why of course I would!!! I was pretty excited. Baguette with my sushi?! That is a combination I have never tried before, but  I love baguette, and i love sushi, so I didn't see how that could go wrong. After waiting, we received our orders, and we check in the bag to make sure we got everything. But to my dismay, I saw no baguette. I went back inside, and kindly asked the lady that they had forgotten about my baguette. She smiled and said that they had not forgotten! The baguette was inside the bag. She reached in, and she pulled out not a loaf of delicious French bread, but a pair of chopsticks! BAGUETTE = CHOPSTICKS. There were explosions in my head. But I was glad to have learnt the word.

Anyway, that's all for now!

p.s. This was almost going to be a photo-less post, but then I decided it wouldn't be as exciting. So here is a photo that has nothing to do with the blog post, but is one of my favorite places in Aix!

Place Albertas - look at the difference in the renovated and un-renovated parts!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fête de la Vendange!

Vendange in French means grape-harvesting, and that's exactly what we did today! After a nice restful sleep to recuperate from yesterday's hike, we headed out to the house of two of our dear program-mates. We had to take a bus there, but within 15 minutes we had arrived at the château. The house was beautiful! Behind the house was a giant stretch of vineyard, and we all headed out there to gather bags and bags of grapes! Delicious! The afternoon was then spent lounging by the pool, tanning in the beautiful 80 degree Aixoise weather, admiring the beautiful view of St. Victoire in the distance, and soaking in the beautiful life in the south of France.
Our dear hostesses then treated us to freshly squeezed grape juice, crepes with Vermont maple syrup, nutella, and apricot confiture.

Walking in fields of grapes

All photo credit goes to the ever so wonderful Becky Reeve.

While sitting there by the pool in the sun today, I was just thinking about how lucky we are to be here! And how blessed we are to have this opportunity and enjoy all these wonderful things :) What a ful-filled weekend!

Bisous, xoxo

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On top of the World

Today we spent the day climbing Mt. Saint Victoire!

Before I talk about our adventures on Saint Victoire, a recap of the week: This week was spent calmly going regularly to classes, eating delicious French pastries as per usual, and enjoying the South of France. But something exciting!! - I bought tickets for our October Toussaint break! I will be headed to Madrid and Marrakech with Becky, Emma, and Evan! I have never been to Spain before, so I'm very excited for Madrid. As for Marrakech - I never thought I would be going back to Morocco so soon! You can read about my summer in Morocco here.  Though I never made it to Marrakech this summer, so I'm excited to go there, this time with my friends. Should be a wonderful experience!

So. Saint Victoire. My day began at 6:30am, because we had to meet at the gare routière at 8am for the bus. On the way to the station, we stopped by Paul's to buy sandwiches for lunch. We arrive at the station nice and early - 7:40am, and no one else was there. We didn't think anything of it until 7:55am - still no one....turns out the station is NOT the same thing as the gare routière!! The gare routière was another 5-7 minutes away! Luckily, the group waited for us.
The bus took our whole group, and a few other passengers and we set off for Saint Victoire. The bus ride was only 10 minutes. We arrive at this desolate bus stop, in the middle of no where, no mountain in sight, and we get off. Driver and passengers alike gave us the strangest look, one that said "This is definitely not where you want to get off for Saint Victoire". But we stuck by the instructions given to us by our guide, M. Baury, and we get off and wait. But after 10 minutes of standing there, we began to worry. We considered hiking by ourselves, walking 45 minutes back to Aix, staying there stranded, and many other terrible ideas. We were just minutes away from reenacting scenes from Lord of the Flies - Wellesley edition, when M. Baury finally shows up!
So begins our hike! The route up the mountain was full of small pebbly rocks and sliding stones. A dangerous hike! The worst was when we thought M. Baury told us there would be a place to refill our water bottles at the top of the mountain. Everyone started chugging down their water, believing we'd soon be replenished. One person even began to "water the plants on the ground." But upon arrival at the Prieuré, there was no such thing....we're still not sure if M. Baury had been joking, or if all 15 of us misunderstood his French. If he was joking, we have learnt that humor does not translate across languages.
Anyway, it took us almost 3 hours to get to the top of the mountain - Le Prieuré - where we sat down for a nice picnic lunch. And the view sure was breath-taking! The descent was equally challenging. The rocks kept gliding, and more than one of us slid on the rocks - even on flat land. But we made it down around 4pm! A long, but rewarding day! The weather was perfect today, and the water was an unimaginable turquoise.

Mt. Saint Victoire

It's hard to believe that we climbed all the way to the top! 

Tonight we celebrate 4 of our dear program-mates' birthdays! And tomorrow we head out to the vineyards to gather grapes and olives. A lovely weekend, and a wonderful week to come! :)

Sending love, xoxo