Sunday, July 25, 2010

How time flies

In the past three weeks I have:

-Spent the weekend in Lyon, an amazing city full of life and color and history. I met up with one of my favorite professors from UT and he gave me an incredible guided tour of the city. Lyon is lovely! It's a large city but doesn't have the hurried/harried feel of Paris. I had quite the adventure, too, when it came to the food there. At one of the many Bouchons Lyonnais (Lyonaise restaurant) I tried one of their specialties: blood sausage! And while it was not quite aesthetically pleasing, it was delicious, surrounded by baked potato and apple pieces. I walked around the whole city for two days, and though my feet were tired, it was one of my most memorable experiences here in France.
-Travelled to Marseille and spent the day at the beach. Oh, the beach. Oh, the Mediterranean Sea! If I envy the French anything, it's their access to beautiful beaches along the Mediterraneanm with its cold blue water and hot hot sun. I spent the day lounging around until I got too hot, then plunged myself in the water until I got too chilly. It was a great day!
-Visited various archeological and architectural sites including le Palais des Papes here in Avignon, le pont St. Benezet (or le pont d'Avignon), various cathedrales including l'Eglise St. Didier, and St. Marie des doms. I went to Nimes with some friends yesterday to spend a relaxing day and we saw the roman amphitheater (where they later had a concert!), the temple of Diana, and la maison carre (which, sadly, was mostly covered up due to revonation work being done). We also visited le jardin de la fontaine which was so incredibly beautiful! The weather was on our side yesterday too, as the Mistral (a strong wind from the north) came to pay us a visit! So we spent a breezy day walking around the quaint, tranquil city of Nimes.
-Bastille Day was on July 14th and I spent it watching fireworks next to the Rhone river with friends. It was beautiful and EVERYONE was there. It was quite a challenge to get back into the city walls after the fireworks because it seemed that the entire population of Avignon was out and about. After the fireworks we found a petite place (square) full of restaurants and treated ourselves to wine and dessert to celebrate France and its Revolution :)
-Last Saturday I went to Arles with the program (the archeology professor and all the rest of the students) and we saw what there was to see around the city: the outdoor market (from which I bought a tasty pizza and giant donut-ish pastry filled with custard...oh yes.), the amphitheater there, and the first cathedrale built in France, called a primatiale.

Apparently I'm not the best blogger, but I hope this petite morceau d'information keeps you filled in on what my life has been like these past few weeks!
The program here in Avignon ended yesterday and today I'm readying myself for two weeks of exciting adventures! I'm off to Florence Italy for two days, and then Munich Germany for two days, and then to top it off, I'll spend eight days in Paris before coming home.

I can't wait to let you know how my travels go!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Spectacular Spectacular

Oh my friends, I’m such a terrible blogger. Forgive me for my lack of posts! I’m blaming it on the heat here—it seems to suck the life right out of me. Any motivation I once had to sit in front of my hot computer in my hot room goes right out the window and then I have to go buy une boule de la glace to keep steam from coming out of my ears. The heat, la chaleur, is killer here. I really underestimated it before I left, thinking, hey—I’m a native Texan, I can deal with any heat!
Hah. What I failed to realize was that in Texas I spend as little time as possible outside in the summer, drive everywhere with my A/C on to places that generally, are air-conditioned. Air conditioning, la climatisation, is a luxury here—one that I am without 80% of the time. So I sweat it out in the day and at night open my large window in hopes of a breeze now and then. Did I mention the mosquitos? They really love me. I’ve taken to talking to them at night, whispering threatening curses that don’t seem to do the trick.
Every morning when Madame and I have our breakfast (bread, butter, jam, yogurt, coffee) we ask each other “Vous-avez bien dormi?” (did you sleep well?) and we each respond “Non, pas du tout.” (No, not at all). La chaleur is a large part of life here, but Madame’s daughter doesn’t mind, because in the winter, the cold is brutal.
So to beat the heat today, my friends and I went to the local city pool and enjoyed a relaxing few hours in the sun and cool water. The French are very particular about hygiene at these sorts of pools. Men can’t wear regular swim trunks, as our fellow American boys found out the hard way. They were forced to spend 7 Euros on ill-fitting tiny swim shorts/speedo-like contraptions. It was hilarious. Then, one absolutely CANNOT wear shoes into the locker room. After we put our stuff into a locker, we walked over to the douches obligatoires (obligatory showers) and did as the sign told us. My friend Gloria said that last time the pool attendants checked to make sure their hair was wet as they left in case they tried to shirk their showering obligation. But once we jumped through these few hoops, we had a great time sunbathing and swimming. To top off the afternoon, a few of us went out for some gelato at a tiny little shop downtown. It was so delicious, and yes, I ordered three different kinds of chocolate. Well, two different types of chocolate and one caramel. One of us, not me, remarked how it was funny that we, three American girls sat in an Italian gelato shop in the south of France—Worlds Colliding!
Tonight I’m off to see a spectacle (theatrical piece, pronounced speck-TACK-l) called Papperlappapp at le Palais des Papes. It’s one of the major shows headlining the theater festival in Avignon so it’s time to get gussied up! Then tomorrow, I’m traveling to Marseille for the day with a few friends to go to the beach. Let’s hope this 20% chance-of-rain business doesn’t come to pass.

Next up: Lyon: A Retrospective

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I took this picture this morning--it's my view from my window.

It’s a lazy Sunday here in Avignon. The sun is hot and there’s barely a breeze so here I am inside, taking a break from reading Milan Kundera’s La Valse des Adieux. This morning I went to the local contemporary art museum with my host mother to see an exhibit of Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo’s work. Barcelo is well-known in Europe and his paintings and sculptures are something to see!
His scultpure "Elefant Deft" is installed right now in front of the Palais des Papes

I am still acclimating myself to life in Avignon and life in France. I’m constantly comparing my experiences here to those in the U.S. I live with the nicest family, a mother and her 14-year old daughter, and they are incredibly sweet and patient with me and my French. I eat my breakfasts and dinners with them and we usually end up talking politics, education, or about the differences and similarities between the US and Europe. Mme’s daughter is so cute and very smart. We practice our foreign languages together. She asks me a question in her best English, I respond in French and vice versa. She loves Gossip Girl and so do I so one night this past week we watched an episode together! I never realized how quickly the characters spoke until I watched it dubbed in French—mon Dieu! It’s fast!
School is going swimmingly. I’m taking an Archeology/Architecture class that focuses on the architectural history of Avignon and the surrounding areas in the Rhone river valley. So far it’s been really interesting! This past Thursday we travelled to Vaison-la-Romaine to study Roman architecture in situ—I studied remnants of a Roman street, complete with stores and a large house, where we spent most of our time. I’m also in an African literature class, which I love. We discuss colonialism and travel and personal identity as it pertains to colonized and de-colonized countries—good stuff!
Here's a view from the highest point in Vaison-la-Romaine. This city is so beautiful.

Perhaps my favorite part of life here is the fact that I’m speaking French nearly all the time. My classes are in French, I speak to my classmates in French, and of course, I speak French with my host family (they know very little English so I can’t cheat). I’m constantly correcting myself or being corrected, but I love it. I’m even reading for pleasure and writing in my journal in French! It’s marvelous.
Yesterday, Saturday, we went as a group to the beach! It was fun and relaxing. I swam in the Mediterranean Sea and sun-bathed for a few hours with mes amies.

Le sigh. It was perfect.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All Day Day Light

My voyage to Paris was long and tiring and overall--extremely pleasant! I got off the plane, said au revoir to my new friends, an older Scottish couple from Vancouver, and made my way to the train station. I bought a ticket, hopped on RER B to Paris, and hoped for the best.
Paris is surprisingly easy to get around. I clung to my directions to my hostel and as I ascended the stairs from my last stop I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.
Paris is so beautiful and ugly and new and old. It's like the movies but it's also like a history class. My hostel was in Montmartre (the red-light district!) one block away from la Sacre Coeur.

I visited la Basilique de Sacre Coeur while I waited for my check-in at the hostel. It was a beautiful day, breezy and sunny, and there were lots of people, Parisians and tourists, out and about. I walked around the church twice to get a feel for it--it's huge and very ornate.
When I checked in, I met my three other roommates, all girls--one from Brazil, one from Canada, and one from Marseille (France). Brazil and Canada invited me to visit the Eiffel Tower with them that night, so I went!

The tower was magnificently gigantic! It was funny--most everyone I eavesdropped upon spoke English while I was there. The view from it is beautiful and it lit up right as we arrived. C'etait tres jolie.
The next day I took a free walking tour of Paris, which was so wonderful. It was in English but I jsut really wanted someone to show me around to all the sights. We went to le Champs Elysees, le Jardin des Tuileries, l'Arc de Triomphe, we saw le Louvre et le Pont Neuf and le Pont des Beaux Arts. I had a great time--I hardly believed I was walking around Paris.
That night I slept like a baby and woke up early the next day to catch my train to....Avignon!

This is Henry IV holding a light saber. Yes, it's supposed to be there.

Avignon, City of cobblestones: Caitlin's Host Family and Life in Avignon

Saturday, June 12, 2010

She's Leaving Home

Salut tout le monde!
I've been daydreaming about living in France for a few years now and it's finally happening. I'm leaving for Paris, France in approximately, um, 18 hours, and I thought to myself "Even though I haven't packed yet, now would be a great time to start a blog so my favorite people can keep track of all the adventures I have in France!" Genius, no?

Here are the basics of my trip:
I leave tomorrow for Paris. I'll spend two days there before taking a train to Avignon on Wednesday. Where is Avignon, you ask?

Right there in the Southeast of France!
I am spending six long weeks in Avingon with a French family while I take classes at the local university (l'Univeriste d'Avignon). Then! AFter the six weeks are over, I'm taking it to the streets and exlporing as much of France and the surrounding countries as I can. My plans aren't set in stone yet, but I hope to visit Nice, Lyon, Arles, Barcelona, Paris, and maybe even Germany.

This site will be a spot for stories about my trip, including what I eat, where I go, who I see and the things I do. Oh, what baguettes I'll have! My goals are to eat as much delicious French food as possible, speak as much French as possible, and learn to live life the French way, if only for a summer. Wish me luck (bonne chance)!

Up next on Voyage Collage:
THE PLANE RIDE, or: How I survived the longest plane ride of my life without jumping out a window or breathing into a paper bag for 13 hours--Caitlin's Story.