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!