mes pensées éparpillées

scattered thoughts from a european adventure

Archive for the tag “France”

A month of Christmas markets

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I spent every weekend in a different city, then spent the weeks recovering. And clearly not blogging. But read on!

Grenoble
November 27th, the day after Thanksgiving, I went with four of my teaching assistant friends to Grenoble, a beautiful city close to the French Alps. The first thing I noticed was that Grenoble is a much more international-feeling city than Clermont-Ferrand. People tended to make a friendlier first impression and weren’t turned away by people speaking English like we’ve gotten used to in Clermont-Ferrand. Overall, Grenoble is a picturesque city where the Alps are prominently feature in the landscape – although we didn’t get a good view of them because of the clouds. This is also when we came to realize that the French just don’t do brunch. They prefer to eat a measly breakfast, ie. hot chocolate, toast, croissants, coffee, orange juice.

 

Grenoble

Chelsi, Lenie, Caitlyn, me, and Lizzie at the highest point in Grenoble.

Strasbourg
In the month of December, Strasbourg is one of the most talked about cities in France. It is locate in the region of Alsace, which used to be part of Germany. Because Christmas markets were originally a German tradition, the Alsace region and Strasbourg in particular have a swarm of tourists during the Christmas season. Visiting Strasbourg at Christmas was something I didn’t want to leave France without doing, and was lucky to be hosted by a friend who is working on her master’s degree in Strasbourg and did an exchange at Hamline University last year! Strasbourg is now in my top 3 favorite French cities. The culture is unique because it is still influenced by both German and French culture. There are also rivers throughout the city that add to its charm and beauty. Something I learned on my visit was that there are a bunch of important European institutions in Strasbourg, notably the European Parliament.

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One of the Strasbourg Christmas light displays

Nadia’s visit!
The best part of my month was a visit from my sister Nadia! We spent a couple days in Clermont-Ferrand while I finished up my work week, then three days in Paris. Here are all the things we saw:

  • Christmas market on the Champs-Elysées
  • Macarons at La Durée
  • Hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots
  • The Musée D’Orsay
  • A picture in front of the Louvre – not enough time to check out the inside…it really is a massive museum
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Notre Dame cathedral
  • Centre Pompidou modern art museum
  • Luxembourg Gardens
  • Musée Orangerie, where Monet’s water lilies paintings are housed
  • Climbed the Arc de Triomphe for a panoramic view of the city
  • Photo by the Moulin Rouge
  • Sacré-Coeur cathedral in Montmartre – one of my favorite parts of the city!

We also visited one of the sites of the Paris terrorist attacks exactly one month after they occurred, which was a shocking and moving experience. We also really enjoyed our experience staying at the “Trendy Hostel” where we made several new friends and played Phase 10 in the evenings! These friends included two girls from Québec, Canada who ended up coming to Clermont-Ferrand a week later to stay with me!

Lyon
My friend Julia and I spent an afternoon and evening in Lyon before our flight out to Berlin the next morning. I instantly fell in love with this city… the lights on the river at night, the beautiful church overlooking the city, the historic old part of the city, and the liveliness of the city. That night Julia and I tried Couchsurfing for the first time! for those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing is an online community of travelers and people who have a spare couch or bed to host them for free. Since many of the young people in Lyon had already gone home to their families for the holidays, we had trouble finding a place to stay near downtown, but we stayed in a suburb of Lyon in a spacious house with very hospitable people! We learned a new card game and they shared homebrewed beer with us! It was very memorable.

Lyon at night

Lyon at night.

Berlin
Before you travel to Berlin, you should know that it is a HUGE city. In area, it is over eight times the size of Paris! During our stay in Berlin, I learned about and was reminded of all the history the city holds. World Wars I & II, the legacy of Martin Luther (Berlin has the first Protestant cathedral I’ve visited in Europe!) and the Berlin Wall.
Perhaps the fondest memory I have of Berlin is visiting a bunch of different Christmas markets throughout the city. Gendarmenmarkt was by far the most beautiful, and it was worth the skepticism we had about the 1 euro entry fee (all the other markets we visited were free entry). Other highlights of Berlin include the TV Tower, which is especially picturesque at night, cheap doner kebabs, climbing to the top of the Berlin cathedral for a panoramic view of the city, top-notch street art throughout the city and on the Berlin Wall, and finding out that none of the good nightclubs are open on a Tuesday night but it is still worth going out, because you could make some cool new friends! Also I was mildly disappointed to learn that Germans don’t put sauerkraut on bratwurst.

Berlin Brandenburg Tor

Brandenburg Gate! Snapchat worthy.

Berlin cathedral and TV Tower

Berlin Cathedral and TV Tower

Berlin street art

Some awesome street art of the Berlin skyline

walking man

Imitating the little green man who indicates to pedestrians when they can cross the street in Berlin.

Brussels
Since the Clermont-Ferrand airport doesn’t serve many destinations and isn’t cost-effective, traveling long distances is more time-consuming than when I lived in Nice. So, when I found a 10 euro Ryanair flight from Berlin to Brussels, I jumped on it. Then I took a train to Paris then Clermont-Ferrand, which turned out to be a little more expensive than I would have wished, given that I was traveling on Christmas Eve. But, this gave me four hours to explore Brussels a little bit! I had “visited” Brussels in 2013, which was not a real visit but just an overnight wait in the Brussels train station on my way to Germany. My objective in these four hours was to have an authentic Belgian waffle, Belgian fries, and Belgian beer (they have the best beer!!). My mission was accomplished, along with a little wandering around the city. It’s a surprisingly small city for being the administrative center of Europe in many ways.

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The accomplishments of my day.

Stay tuned for a post about my New Year’s travels!

xoxo,
Alia

 

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This blog post is long overdue

I might be far too much of a procrastinator to be a blogger. But I like to remind myself that this blog is also for me to look back on, as I have never been disciplined enough to keep a journal, and I want to remember as much as possible about this adventure I’m on.

So for the first week of my vacation, I went back to Nice, France to visit friends I keep in touch with from when I studied abroad there…and to bask in the sun. Two of the highlights of this trip were visiting the nearby towns of Eze and Gourdon.

I visited Eze with my friend Marie. It is a picturesque town overlooking the Riviera that I’ve been wanting to visit since I lived in France the first time.

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I also traveled with my friends Jill and Amy (who graciously hosted me during my visit) to Gourdon, a perched village on top of a mountain that you can only get to by car, foot or bicycle (if you are daring enough to attempt the last two). We also stopped by a historic candy shop on the way there that was absolutely heavenly.

Gourdon is in the background of this photo.

Gourdon is in the background of this photo.

Next, my wanderlust took me to Spain. It was a great feeling to get out of France and experience a culture that was very different from what I’d grown used to in the previous month. I was so lucky that my friend Julia lives right next to Plaza del Sol, one of the busiest squares in Madrid.  One of the great things about the city center of Madrid is that everything is in walking distance, so I could easily get to Buen Retiro Park, the Prado museum, Gran Via (the street with all the shopping), and the Royal Palace of Madrid on foot. Two of my favorite places were Mercado San Miguel – an indoor market with many options of traditional Spanish food and drink – and Lavapiés – the most international quarter of the city where many immigrants live ~ you can find some cheap, tasty Indian food there! In general, I ate a lot of good food in Spain. And got used to the wild meal times: lunch around 2pm, dinner around 10pm. I definitely ate my fair share of tasty traditional Spanish tapas.

Breakfast the Spanish way - churros and chocolate.

Breakfast the Spanish way – churros and chocolate.

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Touring the Royal Palace of Madrid with Julia.

I also made a side trip to visit my friend Andrew in the port city of Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. I believe that you begin to really experience a country’s culture once you’re outside of the capital, which I got to do by visiting Valencia. One of my favorite sites was the Mercado Central, which is considered one of the oldest European markets still running today. Since Valencia is on the coast, of course there was a bunch of fresh seafood, as well as the jamón (dry-cured ham) that Spaniards never stop eating. I also got to climb the cathedral in Valencia, which had a beautiful view of the city. And last but not least, I went to the beach because I will never stop being fascinated by the ocean.

Plaza de Toros, Valencia's bullfighting stadium.

Plaza de Toros, Valencia’s bullfighting stadium.

This work of art redefines the word sandcastle.

This work of art redefines the word sandcastle.

After returning to Clermont Ferrand on the first Monday of November, I took another trip the following weekend to Le-Puy-en-Velay with some of my new friends Lenie & Lizzie, who are also teaching assistants. Le Puy is a town located in the region of Auvergne, where I currently live. We were hosted by another teaching assistant who we met at our orientation at the beginning of October. We got really lucky with the weather that weekend, as it reached the low 70’s! We got to see the cute, small town Saturday market, and all the vendors were very friendly. We also got to see the annual hot air balloon festival just outside the city…though unfortunately we didn’t get to ride in any hot air balloons because the cost was 225 euros per person! One thing I didn’t take the time to do when I lived in Nice was travel to the surrounding towns and cities in the Cote d’Azur region, which was a regret of mine. That is something that I am committed to doing during my 7ish months living in Clermont-Ferrand: exploring the surrounding region and nearby towns.

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Church on a rock. A picturesque rock.

Church on a rock. A picturesque rock.

And just one more photo that was one of the highlights of the past week for me in my adventures on public transportation:

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Sorry for the delay in blogging…hope it was worth the wait!

Bisous,
Alia

All work and no fun is just not French

So, it has been 3 weeks since my last blog post. A lot has happened since then!

My apartment search didn’t end as I expected. The 2 bedroom apartment search with my potential roommate and I turned out to be unfruitful, so we went our own ways. I am now living in a studio apartment that is subsidized by the high school where I will spend 2/3 of my hours teaching each week. It is “smallish” by US American standards, I do not have my own washing machine, nor much storage space, it is farther from the city center than I pictured myself ending up, and the whole living alone thing is new to me. However, I have almost no commute to work 3 days a week, I have a great view of the city, I have everything I need, and it is ridiculously affordable (150€ per month!!).

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I have gotten to know most of the other TAPIF teaching assistants living in Clermont-Ferrand, and we spend a bunch of time together. I’m still figuring out the best way to break out of my shell and meet locals…all the French locals I met are very nice but I don’t brush shoulders much with them, except the teachers I work with.

Speaking of the teachers I work with, they have all been very welcoming and excited to work with me! Between the two schools, I am working with about 9 teachers. This will be a good challenge for me in cross-cultural communication and figuring out how best to work with a bunch of different people. This past week was the first time I visited the classrooms where I will be teaching in the coming months. At the middle school, I will mostly be with older students who are engaged in the English class, whereas the high school is a little bit different. Since it is a vocational high school, many students have a low interest in mastering the English language, and there are more behavioral problems. As I’ve mentioned, the school is predominantly boys as well, and let’s be honest – high school boys everywhere are still high school boys. But in general, I am excited to join these classes and hopefully encourage some students to excel.

Onto the more fun aspects of my life here, because relaxation and recreation are super important to French culture – that’s a big part of the reason I wanted to come back! For those of you who don’t know, (which I also didn’t know until recently) Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in mid-October, and last Monday was Canada’s Thanksgiving. A bunch of the teaching assistants had a potluck to celebrate, since one of the assistants is Canadian. It was really great, and of course every celebration in France is paired with a bunch of wine.

canadian thanksgiving

Starting yesterday, I’m on Toussaint vacation for two weeks. And vacation = travel. I’ll be going to Southern Europe: Nice, Madrid and Valencia to visit good friends and catch some sun rays to bring back with me to this cloudy city.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll share an update of my travels upon my return!

Alia

Getting settled…kinda…

Let’s just say that I wish I had accomplished more after living in Clermont-Ferrand for a week, and I haven’t. But in this post I will focus on what has happened, rather than what I haven’t done yet 🙂

Most notably, I have met 5 other teaching assistants so far! We are a diverse group, hailing from Minnesota, Canada, Michigan, Texas and Kansas. It has been good to meet people who are going through the same joys and challenges that I am. On Saturday I’ll be going to a party hosted by one of last year’s teaching assistants who is staying in Clermont-Ferrand to teach English at the university level. I’ll get to meet more of my fellow teaching assistants and gain some new insights, so I’m very excited about that.

On Friday 9/25 I got to tour and meet some English teachers at the “Lycée Professionnel” where I will be working 8 hours a week. It is essentially a technical high school where students study many of the same vocations that you would see in a technical college in the US – auto mechanics, painting, restaurant management, and carpentry. The school is vastly male students, which will be very interesting for me! (You know Minnesotans use the word interesting when they can’t think of a specific word to use, and don’t want to say something negative.)

That same day I also got to go to a crêpe restaurant – crêperie – with the Adamson family, who I’m staying with temporarily. It was so good! Here’s a snapshot of my savory crêpe and dessert crêpe:

crepes

I had a great weekend in which I did a lot of walking. On Saturday, myself and three new friends (Lizzie, Lenie and Chelsi) hiked up the Puy-de-Dôme – the most prominent of the 7 dormant volcanoes that surround Clermont-Ferrand. The hike up took over 3 hours, but the view was well worth the effort!

PuyDeDome hike

Sunday I went to a local flea market – which is always interesting and a tiny bit overwhelming. There was a definite mixture of junk and treasures. Then my new friends and I also visited the cathedral, which is in the center of town and made of black volcanic lava rock! We climbed 250 steps to the top and saw a very beautiful view of the city.

clermont ferrand cathedral

Tomorrow I am visiting the middle school where I will be teaching 4 hours a week, as well as visiting a potential apartment which I really hope will work out!! Send good thoughts and prayers my way for the next 24 hours 🙂

Love,
Alia

Je suis arrivée en Europe!

A week ago I left Minneapolis with a lot of nervous, excited energy.

I flew to Reykjavik, Iceland and then to Paris, France. In Paris I stayed with some friends of Claire Boyle, a friend I have stayed in touch with through middle school, high school and beyond (I couldn’t stay with her, because her temporary living situation is a tiny apartment!). Since it wasn’t my first time in Paris, I wasn’t concerned with doing the typical touristy stuff. We ate good food and drank good wine, and wandered around the city.

I was in Paris for 24 hours before hauling my heavy luggage to the train station, en route to Turin, Italy. I stayed in Turin for 4 full days, which were filled with pizza, pasta and dear friends. Here’s a picture of Friday night aperitivo – basically Italian happy hour:

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Since I’d also visited Turin before, I’d seen most of the tourist attractions, so spent time reconnecting with friends, and even got to see one of my friends perform with his band, Alephant! Check them out on YouTube 🙂 I also went to the small Italian countryside town of Caluso to experience their annual wine festival.

This morning I traveled to Clermont-Ferrand from Turin by train, which was about a 7 hour journey. Thanks to a friend of a mutual friend, (I owe you, Jenny Keil!) I am staying with an American family in the interim period between my arrival and landing an apartment in Clermont-Ferrand. The husband/father of the family is employed by Michelin, which is headquartered here in Clermont-Ferrand; most of the city’s expats are connected to Michelin.

Tomorrow I start the process of getting a French phone plan and setting up apartment visits. My roommate Samantha, who is an English teaching assistant as well, arrives on Saturday! I start my job the first week of October. Here’s the view from where I stand right now:

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Thanks for reading 🙂
Alia

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