Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Post Full of Joy and Happiness

So I've realized that a bunch of my blog posts recently have centered on negative things. Please don't think that I'm unhappy here in France- I'm certainly not. Some things here are challenging, confusing, or just not as good as they are in the U.S., but I'm really having an incredible experience. Here are a few cool, happy, or fun things about my time here in France:

-I have a new favorite cheese. My host mother serves a course of cheese with dinner every night, and I've fallen in love with Camembert.

-I have a really pleasant walk to school every morning. It's a long walk- 20 to 25 minutes, but I get to walk through a cool part of town and it's just lovely to go for a stroll in the morning.

-My bedroom here at my host mother's home is really nice. The bed is comfy, I have a wardrobe (that's a big deal for someone from the U.S.), there's a window that lets in a bunch of natural light, there's a curtain that blocks the light when I don't want it, and I've got a sink right here in my room. That is convenience in a nutshell. And it's really nice because the toilet and the room with the sink and shower are on two different floors, so it's cool that I can just use my personal sink.

-I have WiFi, but I don't sit at my laptop all the time like I do at home! It's because there's French TV to watch and I can talk to my host mother as well.

-The other kids at school are nice to me. That's really nice of them, because I'm the dumb one in the group. For the rest of my class, the course started in April. I arrived in the middle of the class. The rest of the people already know each other and have adjusted to life in France. They're great at speaking French. I need more practice. It looks like I'll get it, though, because the others always talk to me and invite me to hang out with them.

-Tours is an all-around better place to live than Paris is. The biggest advantage is that I don't have to buy my dinners anymore- my host mother provides breakfast and dinner for me, and the homemade dinners are so much better for me than the constant intake of restaurant food was. It's delicious, too. Tours is also less crowded than Paris is and there's less crummy tourist garbage. Waiters and restaurant owners will still occasionally speak English to me, but for the most part they'll let me use my French (and yes, that's a good thing). There are a lot more trees and plants here. It's also surrounded by two rivers (one is a rivière and one is a fleuve. Bonus points if you look them up to see what the difference is) and there's a cool place to walk or have a drink along the water. It's just fantastic.

And here are a few pictures:

(This bottle of water was 19 Euro cents. Score!)

Wi-Fi Problems

For a while I was having some real problems with the Wi-Fi at my host mother's house.

Thankfully, we seem to have sorted out the problems.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Random Fact #14

Random Fact #14: If you read aloud from a French document at l'Institut de Touraine and you pronounce an English name with an American accent, you may, in fact, be reprimanded and asked to adopt a French accent with which to pronounce the name.

Source: Personal Experience

Note: Well, jeez. Not trying to be disrespectful or anything, but I speak English and I know how "Amnesty International" is supposed to be said. I generally try to pronounce foreign words the way someone who speaks that language would, but they don't appreciate that here. It's a good thing I can pull off a French accent...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blog Ghost: Tours, France

This is Rebecca's blog ghost. Rebecca has arrived safely in Tours, France and is now staying with her host family. As she is sorting out her internet connectivity, here is a short video of the sights and sounds in a day in Tours.

Un jour à Tours from Mairie de tours on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Welcome Red

Here's a short, hastily-drawn cartoon for you!

iPhone: *gasps in horror*
Rebecca: Since you can't work here, I have to use Red. I'll keep you around to use the Internet, though.
Red French Flip Phone: Qu'est-ce que c'est, l'Internet? (What's Internet?)

Poor little iPhone, stuck in airplane mode for the next two months. Poor me, not being able to use my iPhone. But everybody, I'd like to introduce you to Red, the newest addition to my cell phone family. There is nothing I can name this phone except Red. I tried at least going French and calling him "Rouge," but it just doesn't work. He is now and forever Red. He's a pay-as-you-go phone that I got from the Orange phone company. For a basic flip phone, he's pretty nifty.

My iPhone resents him, though.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I'm Alive!

Okay! Hi, everybody. I'm still alive! I didn't get kidnapped or anything. We've been having internet problems at the hotel, and even when we did have working internet, either I had to write journal entries (those are for a grade) or my roommates wanted to sleep and couldn't while I was tapping away at my laptop with its bright light. Also, my camera batteries died and I've been taking pictures with my iPhone. I can't have internet on my laptop and cell phone at the same time, so I'm just going to have to upload those pictures later. And go buy more batteries.

I have done A TON of stuff over the past few days- far too much to recount in the short period of time that I have to write right now. So here's a few anecdotes and travel tips:

1. I broke one of the cardinal rules of traveling abroad yesterday- I wore bad walking shoes. Now, my black flats didn't seem uncomfortable before I left the hotel. It was only after I'd been walking for ten minutes that they started to really rub on my heels. Luckily, I was only going out for a concert and I returned to my hotel soon afterward, but by the time I got back, I had big blisters on both heels and one toe that got rubbed so hard it bled. Not pretty and not comfortable, and now I'll probably have to go buy bandages. These shoes are brand new. If I'd broken them in before I came here, I probably wouldn't have had that problem. So here's your first travel tip: Always wear comfortable walking shoes. If you haven't worn a pair of shoes before, don't wear them for the first time in a foreign country.

2. It's been really cold and rainy the entire time we've been here. This isn't typical weather for the area, so my group and I don't really have appropriate clothing. We've had to get creative with layering. Here's a travel tip for you: First, check the seven-day forecast for the country you'll be visiting before you leave and pack accordingly. Second, pack a light jacket and a sweater of some kind. Bring socks and shoes you can wear with socks. Bring an umbrella and a rain jacket. And bring a scarf! If you don't normally wear a scarf, then you have no idea what a difference one can make against the cold and wind. Just do it!

3. While we're on the topic of clothing, here's some advice for my fellow Americans: Don't worry too much about trying to dress like a European. Definitely bring some nicer clothes if you want to attend special events, but don't think for a second that you're going to be able to fool anybody into thinking you're European. It's like they can smell Americans. Even if you dress exactly like the European person standing next to you, they'll be able to tell you're from across the pond by your language, accent, behavior, or their magical American-detecting senses. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. I haven't run into too many people who were rude to me just because I'm American. If anything, it just lets them know that they might need to speak English to you.

4. We have the misfortune to be sharing a hotel with another group of American college students, and WOW are they annoying. They're loud, obnoxious, and they don't even try to speak French to the staff. I understand that not all people take foreign language classes like I do, but if you're going to a country that doesn't speak your language, you need to make an effort to learn at least a few phrases. Just because many of the people there do speak English doesn't mean they have to or want to. So your final travel tip is this: Learn a few phrases like "Hello," "Goodbye," "Please," "Thank you," "I would like..." and so on before you travel to a country that doesn't speak your language. Don't expect the people there to accommodate you and your language. That's not fair, and it doesn't make you look good. For example, the director of my trip is worried that the other college group is going to damage my school's reputation with the hotel. He said we need to make it clear we're not associated with them. Yikes.

That's all for now! It's time to venture out into the cold and rain to find some brunch (we slept in and missed breakfast at the hotel). I'll try and find some free time to blog more later. Hopefully I'll have more free time once I'm out of sightseeing mode and settled in with my host family in Tours! A plus tard!

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Tale Of Two Hotel Rooms

Let's talk about your average American hotel room.

It's usually a building of various size filled with lots of smaller rooms. The rooms are more or less uniform in size and decor. They have bathrooms and often have little plastic buckets with which you can get ice from a nearby ice machine. There are often multiple elevators and stairs which are used only by marching band members who are fed up with the long lines for the elevators.

Let's talk about your average French hotel room.

...I don't know what an average French hotel room is.

See, every French hotel room I've ever stayed in has been dramatically different. Some of them were rather like American hotel rooms in that the rooms were pretty uniform in size and decor. However, other hotels (especially the ones I've seen in Paris) have rooms that are radically different from one another. I have my suspicions that many of these hotels were built as something else first and then converted into hotels, and the owner made use of every inch (centimeter?) of space.

For example, take one of the hotel rooms I stayed in while I visited Paris in high school. We climbed up I-don't-know-how-many flights of stairs only to open our room door and find another flight of stairs. Yes, there were stairs inside our personal hotel room. That room was cool, though- we called it the "penthouse." It had its own balcony and everything.

The hotel room I'm staying in right now is probably the most bizarre room I've ever seen. Take a look.

You have to stoop in order to get to the other half of the room. The bathroom door gets caught on a roof beam. We have skylights. The roof is all slanty.

Our room doesn't bother us too much because we're young and able-bodied and all that. We just think it's kinda funny. Although I could see how a handicapped person would have some serious issues with this room and with this hotel in general. You have to bend down and take a step down in order to get to two of the beds. The only elevator is big enough to fit one skinny person and one suitcase. The bathrooms are tiny.

So here's a Travel Tip From Rebecca: If you have a disability and you want to stay in a hotel in Paris, call the hotel and make sure it fits your needs before you make a reservation. I've noticed that Paris itself isn't always very friendly to those with handicaps. Many of the stairs are winding and narrow, and there's a serious lack of elevators, which is unfortunate because the restrooms are often located downstairs or underground. There are a ton of cobblestone walkways as well (although I've seen many French children riding scooters on them, so perhaps a wheelchair would be just fine).

I started this blog entry this morning but had to break off to go to a play. We went to see Phèdre at the Comédie Française  There I found a entirely new definition of "nosebleed section" -- way up high in a barstool-height chair with my knees against a wall and a seat that was so small I worried about slipping out of it. The actors were quite good, but I had a miserable time. You see, during the play I started to feel unwell and got up so I could slip out of the theatre. However, at the Comédie Française they lock the doors during performances. They don't keep someone nearby to open the doors and I never saw an usher in the entire theatre. So I had to go back to my chair and suffer in silence for the next two hours.

After the play, we went to Montmartre, which is sort of the artists' district of Paris. I was feeling much better by the time we got there, which was fortunate because Montmartre is one of my favorite places in all of France. We saw the Moulin Rouge, discussed the idea of going to see a performance there, and ultimately decided against it. Then we climbed up the many, many steps to get to Sacré Coeur, an absolutely gorgeous basilica. It was one of my favorite sites last time I came to Paris and it still is now. There is nonstop prayer at Sacré Coeur, so night or day you can go in and worship. While I was walking around today, some nuns were singing and leading prayers. It was fantastic to experience that. There's just something about the way hymns echo off the walls and ceilings of a great stone sanctuary that makes shivers go down my spine.

Some friends and I found a piano bar restaurant for dinner. I could have sat there and listened to the piano all night. It was just so pleasant. Usually in French restaurants, the waiters don't bring you your bill until you ask for it, so we just sat for a while after we finished eating and enjoyed the atmosphere. I had a glass of wine with dinner, just for the heck of it. It wasn't bad, but I think I'll try something white next time.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this day was when I ran out of cash and couldn't buy a crepe after dinner because the store would only accept credit cards for purchases 12 euros or over. Quel dommage.

Here are a few pictures of today's adventures:

Random Fact #13

Random Fact #13: The French version of The Hangover is called Very Bad Trip.

Source: An ad I saw while on the Métro

Random Fact #12

Random Fact #12: I can't watch Netflix in France.

Source: Personal experience

Note: I might die.

Random Fact #11

Random Fact #11: When you use French Internet, you get to watch French YouTube ads.

Source: Personal Experience

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Study Abroad 2013 Day 1/2 - Paris

Paris 2013

I have beaten my record of number of times falling asleep while standing up and walking. The only other time I've ever done that was the last time I flew to Europe and suffered from severe jet lag. I woke up around 6 A.M. yesterday and last night I had a fitful, terrible somewhat-sleep on the plane (monitors flashing, babies screaming, contortionist exercises to find a comfortable position). Let's say I got maybe two hours of sleep. Then the plane landed in Paris at around 9:30 A.M. and we went about our business as if we hadn't just spent the night on an airplane. By 5:00 P.M., I was dragging.

Whenever we stopped to look at something during our evening walk, I nodded off and almost fell over a few times. I even fell asleep while I was walking. That was kind of dangerous- I kept veering off into other people and the road. Not cool. The human body just has a point at which it simply can no longer function on the amount of energy it has. I reached that point today. Jet lag, yay.

I woke up when we went to Notre-Dame cathedral. I've been there before, and honestly, I wasn't too impressed with it. However, there was something about it this time that made me really love being there. I suspect they sand-blasted the walls and ceilings- it seemed much less dark and scary in there today than it did three years ago. As it happens, Notre-Dame is celebrating a rather large milestone: its 850th anniversary. Among other things, the cathedral has recently received new bells.

The stained glass in Notre-Dame is simply breathtaking. I don't know why that never registered with me before, but today it hit me with full force and I was just amazed. I could picture Esmeralda running around and singing about helping the outcasts. Here, have a clip. I was always pretty amazed at the accuracy with which the Disney animators portrayed the cathedral in the movie. It looks remarkably similar: except the little side rooms like the one Esmeralda went into are fenced off now, and there are pews, and also there are a few TV screens and speakers. And there are a TON more people, and an alarmingly large number of them don't respect the signs that request SILENCE in the cathedral.

It's raining in Paris right now. It's been raining a while. We were out floundering around in it. It's supposed to be rainy tomorrow, too. What would we do without rain?

You have noooooo idea how many times I fell asleep while writing this. Good gnight!

Random Fact #10

Random Fact #10: When you go to a restaurant in France and order a calzone that includes egg as one of the featured ingredients, you may, in fact, receive a calzone with a drippy egg seeping through it from the center.

Source: Someone else's personal experience that I merely observed

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Today I Leave The Country

Ladies and gentlebloggers, this is a very big day. I write this from the airport as I await the plane which will take me to Miami. Then I'll sit in that airport and await an airplane that will take me to Paris.

That's right. I'm going to France.

I'll be in France for about a month as part of a study abroad program, and then I'll go straight to Ireland for about another month. I'll be blogging my experiences in the two awesome countries! I also brought my Wacom tablet, so maybe I'll be able to whip up a few fun cartoons for you guys.

The toughest part of this trip so far has been applying for the trip and filling out the paperwork (reference the Studying Abroad haiku/cartoon). The second toughest part has been packing everything I'll need for two months abroad in a suitcase and a backpack. The third toughest part, which runs a close race with Tough Thing #2, was saying goodbye to my family. I've been mentally preparing for it, but it was still pretty tough. It wasn't like going to college for the first time- my parents were only two and a half hours away. This is different- there's an ocean between is and I won't be coming home for two months. We won't even be awake at the same times (actually, that's not that different from how it normally is). So... Yeah. Pretty tough.

Now that I've got all the hard stuff out of the way, it should be smooth sailing for the rest of the trip!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Random Fact #9

Random Fact #9: When you change Siri's settings to French, she turns into a man.

Source: Personal Experience

Friday, May 10, 2013

Two iPhones Walk Into A Bar...

This is just a sketchy comic that I thought ended up being kinda funny. It was written sort of as one long strip across a sheet of paper, but I don't currently have access to a scanner and it was too wide for my iPhone camera, so I split it up. You'll need to click on the images to read it. And even then you might not be able to, so I'll write out the dialogue underneath. Just in case.

iPhone: Two iPhones walk into a bar... I forget the rest.
Samsung Reality: LAME! Just look it up!
LG Phone: Yeah! You've got Internet... Use it!
Disney Mobile Phone: What's Internet?

These are all the cell phones I've had in my lifetime. My iPhone, Samsung Reality, LG brand phone whose model never had a catchy name, and... the Disney Mobile phone. Did you know that Disney once had its own line of cell phones and service? It did. It didn't last very long.

I had a Disney mobile phone. It was my first cell phone, and I was completely in love with it. These were the first cell phones my family ever had that had a color display. It came with "Bare Necessities" and "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" as ringtones, and I bought the Pink Panther theme to be another one. My parents liked it because we could send special text messages called Family Alerts to each other for free. I got the phone in eighth grade and kept it for about a year until Disney Mobile gave up the ghost and we had to switch to Verizon.

I got another flip phone. I remember at the time I really wanted a Razr, but I was talked out of it for some reason or other. Man, talking about this makes me feel old... and it really wasn't even that long ago. We had four identical phones in the house, so we got our phones mixed up a lot. At one point we were able to tell whose phone was whose by seeing if it was broken at the hinge. I think every single one of our phones broke that way eventually.

My next phone was awesome. It was the Samsung Reality. It had a touch screen, a slide-out QWERTY keypad, a doodle pad, conversation-style text message view, and it could go to the Internet. Awesome phone, and awesome for texting. If I hit a point in my life at which I am no longer able to afford a smartphone, I'll go back to something like this. I became very, very fond of this phone. It got me through the end of junior year and senior year of high school as well as my freshman year of college. The only reason I upgraded was that it couldn't quite do all the things a smartphone can.

Just before the start of my sophomore year of college, something miraculous happened. Something I'd been wishing for since eighth grade but with no hopes of ever actually getting it. My parents got me an iPhone. I don't have to tell you about iPhones. They're pretty cool. I got a white iPhone 4S just a few short months before they came out with the iPhone 5. And you know what? I don't even care! My phone is awesome. So there.

Cell phones have changed a lot in a relatively short period of time. My little cell phone time line spans seven years- and look how much has changed!

I got into a habit of naming my cell phones over the years. From earliest to latest, their names are Flippy McFlipperflip, Buttons McButtonbutton, Touché McTouchemoi, and... Well, I never actually named my iPhone. For all intents and purposes, let's just call it Siri.

But really... Quit avoiding the question, Siri. You're capable of doing Internet searches. Why don't you just look up the end of that joke?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Random Fact #8

Random Fact #8: A hegira is a flight or journey to escape a bad place.

Source: my sister's vocabulary flash cards

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Random Fact #7

Random Fact #7: Sometimes when you empty out a dorm room, plug in a vacuum cleaner, and then turn the vacuum on, it makes the electricity in the entire room (and just that room) go out.

Source: Personal Experience. This has happened to me on two out of two moving-out days. Never had any problems vacuuming the entire year. The last day when I've just packed up all my stuff: plbbt. Power's out. Uncanny.