Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day Trip to Carcassonne

Yesterday, we took a train to Carcassonne for the day. Carcassonne is a city that used to border Spain. There is a lower part of the city and then the upper part which is a fortified city. Inside there is a small town but unfortunately it is out of season so most stores and restaurants were closed. We walked around anyways, had lunch, and toured the inside of the castle part of the fortified town. The castle was really beautiful and explained a lot about how it was used in the past as well as its restoration. After we walked around the whole place, we realized we had 5 hours to kill until our train left at 8:30. We did some shopping in the lower town, and then found a little bar in a town square where we had vin chaud, or basically hot wine with orange and spices made specially at the bar. The older man we talked to gave us the recipe so we hope to try it out soon! Then we went to another place for tapas, but soon found out we had basically crashed a party for the championship handball game, France vs. Denmark, which I guess is pretty big over here. So we were a bit out of place (a group of 6 american girls in the middle of a large pack of french men) we had fun and killed time until our train. It was a really good time, its so nice not having classes on Fridays!
As for the day before, Thursday, there was a scheduled strike in France. If you don't know muchg about France, strikes are huge things that happen all the time in a planned-out way. Our one teacher warned us 2 weeks ahead of time that she would be participating. We went to check out the whole strike as it was going on, and basically it looks like a huge festival with music and everything. It seems that everyone just picks something that is offending them about any social policy, makes a sign, and marches along with everyone else. Its a little scary, especially when they set off some sort of noisemakers that sound like bombs going off, but it was interesting to see and class was cancelled! That night, I went to my friend Kate's homestay for dinner with her host mother Nicole and her two friends. It was nice eating a real meal as opposed to the pasta and grilled cheese I make in my own apartment. It was also nice to speak french to the 3 older women. I can tell I understand when they speak much better than when I first got there, even though I am still a bit hesitant in my own speaking. It was a fun few days, and next weekend I'm going skiing in the Alps! Hope all is well with everyone back home.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day Trip to Provence!

This past Saturday, we took 2 buses out to Provence to do some touring. Our first stop was the Pont du Gard, part of the famous Roman aqueduct built around 50 AD. It is amazing to see in person and has been well-maintained. The surrounding views, especially from on the aqueduct, were gorgeous! The next stop was the Fontaine de Vaucluse. We stopped in the surrounding village, which was a really cute, very typically french town. After a little hike, we came upon the source of the river where the water springs up from the ground. The river itself is amazing, and the area where the source is has crystal clear water. We also got to see a little kayaking competition that was going on which was pretty cool to watch. Next we went to Les Baux de Provence. There were very old remnants of houses in the surrounding mountains, and we went inside a little town contained inside walls. We could also tour the remains of the adjoining castle. Last stop was the Windmill's of Fontvielle, basically just a really old windmill but it was pretty cool. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't too great but we still had a great time. On the way home on the bus, it got so windy that all trucks were ordered to the side of the road so they wouldnt be blown over. (Apparently that didn't apply to our large buses!) But around sunset, we got to see a beautiful rainbow from end to end, a good finish to a long day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bike ride to la plage!

So its been two weeks since we got to Montpellier, and I am loving every minute of it! We have been keeping ourselves busy becoming familiar with the city and going to classes. School is still pretty strange, it definitely makes me miss penn state for small things like a nice campus, clean bathrooms, and online resources. Since every class is in french, its taken some getting used to and I still don't know exactly whats going on in some of the classes. I know my way around the city pretty well so far, the french like to go out pretty much the majority of the week so its a pretty busy little city. I've met some really cool people from my program, a lot of them are from Penn State and we never met until this trip! Its a fun group, and today we rented bikes and rode to the beach. The french idea of a bike path is not even close to anything ive ever been was basically a dirt road with big jagged rocks sticking out so you bounced pretty much the entire way, unless you were going up or down one of the huge dirt ramps they included. For a while, I was convinced we were lost because nothing was labeled and we were riding by farms and stuff but eventually we got to the beach! Its not warm enough to actually hang out but it was really pretty to see and a cool ride down there. We got to pass some typical french neighborhoods and landscapes (along with some gypsies and horsefarms). We also got to experience the reaaallly weird european public watch the video to see how it works! We're all really sore from the bikes though, definitely not used to sitting on a bike for hours. Next weekend, we go to Provence so it'll be fun to have our first real outing traveling around France!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First week in Montpellier!

Bonjour! I figured starting a blog was the easiest way to update everyone on my semester abroad in France. I flew in with my friend Kate last Thursday and since then its been pretty crazy, we all feel like we've already been here a few weeks. Aside from a few luggage issues (mainly finding a way to drag the suitcases of several girls, we all overpacked like crazy) getting here was pretty smooth. We flew in to Paris, and took the TGV (train) to Montpellier. It was almost 24 hours of traveling so we were happy to get to out hotel, where we stayed for 2 nights doing orientation things. I moved into my apartment with my friend Victoria from school the next day. We definitely lucked out and got a fairly modern apartment, complete with a small terrace! We've been exploring Montpellier the past weekand its a really cute town with a ton of students. Of course our first night out, the first bar we walk into (about 6-7 of us girls) is filled with men. As soon as we all step inside, we realize its a gay bar and all run out, followed by a bartender who then makes sure we understand that "no women are allowed"...Since then we've found/heard about the RIGHT places to go haha This weekend will be a big time for all of us to explore and get around the town, I don't have classes on Fridays so its like a permanent 3 day weekend! We are all still so excited about everything and speak as much french as possible. And being Americans, we definitely provide a ton of entertainment to the locals. We stick out like a sore thumb in the sea of all black clothing and subdued personalities of everyone else. Meanwhile we speak louder, laugh more, and probably look pretty out of place. It's still pretty surreal living here, but we got some snow today so it felt a little bit more like home.