Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I hate this part...

I am, and probably always will be, that person who simply cannot deal with goodbyes. It's a shame that it's getting to be that time, and my last weeks in Sainté will be clouded with the sheer dread of leaving.

I've made this place my home for the past months, made great friends, developed a routine. I'm completely comfortable and in my element here, and now I have to throw all of that away.

I know I won't be starting fresh, but it kind of feels like I am. When I get home (to my other home, that is) things WON'T be the same as they were when I left, because I feel different than I did then.

I just hope that I can deal with that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Just like in the Movies

After Barcelona, as planned, I headed to Malaga to meet up with my UWM sidekick/my better half who, coincidentally happens to also be named Kim. From the minute I got there, I knew we were in for an adventure! It seems like whenever Kim and I are together, ridiculousness follows, even STALKS us. Needless to say, this trip was memorable and the most fun I've had in a long time. Why, you may ask, did I know it was going to be such an adventure from the first minutes? You probably think I'm exaggerating, telling yourself I couldn't possibly have known that from the comfort of an airport. Well, after a quick hug and happy greeting from Kim, she immediately grabbed my bag and said "RUN! We have to catch a cab to the bus station so that we don't miss the last bus to my town in 15 minutes!" Within two minutes of the RAPID ride to the bus station, Kim and I had both planted our faces into the glass separating the driver from the backseat. The driver, offering no apologies, said "If I wouldn't have braked like that, I would've hit that car! I had no choice!" and sped on. Surprisingly and very luckily, we caught the bus and saved ourselves 60 euros. The same luck, however, did not stay with us for the rest of the week.
The next day, we woke up to a sun brighter than I've seen in a long time, and warm weather that I could've only imagined, even in Barcelona! The only thing I could think of is playing in the sand and spending the entire day outside, so that's exactly what we did! Later that night we dragged ourselves out for a 10pm dinner, like the Spanish do, and then for a fun (and interesting) night out in Velez Malaga, the land of old people and chicos malos.
The next morning, we immediately regretted drinking so much tequila as we dashed to the travel agency in Kim's town to try to book a weekend getaway to Morocco! 2 hours later, after the first of many "Typical Spain, the land of efficiency....NOT" moments that day, we were on the long bus ride to Malaga. Let's just say, it was a bumpy ride and one Kim has quite a weak stomach. Upon arrival, we headed to the ticket counter where the motion sick Kim politely (and accidentally) asked if we could please get a bus from Malaga to Tanger, Morocco. Though it seemed clear that it was a mistake, and that even though we are American we realize that Spain and Morocco are on two different continents, the ticket counter lady said, with a more shocked expression than I've ever seen "A TANGER!?" After all was said and done, it turned out we couldn't catch a bus for almost 2 more hours. We had just missed the earlier bus by 10 minutes. Of course. Four hours later we arrived in Algeciras, where we then had to catch a shuttle bus to the port of Tarifa. However, it was 7:35 and the bus had left promptly at 7:30. The next bus wasn't until 9:00, which happened to be the exact time the last ferry left for Morocco. We had a moment of panic and pure disdain for Spain (I think those words rhyme for a reason), before finally catching a taxi to the port. After some confusion, and a crazy, possibly mute, definitely rude Moroccan woman pushing me through customs in Tarifa, we finally boarded our ferry which would have us in Morocco in 35 minutes.
We were told by the travel agency that someone would be waiting for us at the port to bring us to our hotel with a sign with our names on. However, after the day we had (which also happened to be Friday the 13th...) we were about 95% sure that we would be stranded at the port. I'm happy to say that we were wrong, and our savior (whom we have nicknamed Jesus) was there! So, after only eight or nine hours of travel, we were finally at our wonderful hotel in Tangier! We couldn't have been happier!
The next day was an entirely different story, and was what I would consider one of the funniest, most entertaining, and most ridiculous days of my life! Feeling a bit like fish out of water in Morocco, and not even knowing what language to speak, we decided to take a guided tour of the city. This tour included beautiful views of the city, a delicious and gigantic lunch, a walk around the Medina, a lesson about different Moroccan spices and herbs, a visit to a (magic) carpet store, and camel rides! Amazing.
All of this took only about half of the day, so we decided after that to go see some caves/grottos outside of the city, where we also found some angry monkeys, some mean camels, a taxi driver who stayed with us for three hours, and a fancy hat for Kim.
After that, we thought we would walk around the Medina and do some shopping (read: get hustled by/invited home with every man in Morocco).
Then, when our efforts to catch a cab were futile, we hopped in a car with some Moroccan strangers...sorry Mom. I know, I should have learned my lesson the first time I was in Morocco, but they are all so willing to do anything for you,
it's hard to resist taking them up on the offer sometimes. Anyway, no worries, we got lucky and these guys were just about the nicest strangers we
could've possibly met. Turned out they weren't even from Tangier, and were on their way home to Casablanca. Nonetheless, after we (barely) survived the traffic and the crazy driving habits of Moroccans, and after a couple moments of "Is this really happening", we made it back to our hotel unscathed, the guys gave us some candy (yes, we LITERALLY took candy from stangers...haha) and went on their way. Among the more ridiculous things said to us in passing that day:
"Do you want some more things?"
"You want it?" (About a kitten on the street, we know he would've named a price, probably around 1 euro)
"Up one more floor are the camels and the harem."
"I'll give you 1000 camels for 5 chickens."
When I later offered someone else 5 chickens for 1000 camels, the response was, "That's a fortune, NOT EVEN THE LEG OF A CAMEL!"
"No way Jose!" (Why do Moroccans speak such good English!?)
While bargaining, "25 euros, 2 for 20, 3 for 10, 3 for 5, 2 for 2, 1 for 1, I give you 2. Take it!"

The next day, we had another case of the unlucky travelers. First of all, Kim was sick again. Something we had eaten for our romantic Valentines dinner at the hotel restaurant was causing some major problems. Then, once we got to the port, we were followed around by multiple men telling us "Tarifa, no, tarifa no!!!!!" We just ignored them and tried to get on our boat. Turned out, it was too windy and the boat couldn't leave the entire day. We were visibly shocked, walking around in panic, trying to figure out what to do. We were finally whisked onto a much larger, much uglier, apparently much SLOWER boat. Once we were aboard, we found out that the boat wasn't even headed to the same destination, but to another city in Spain. Luckily it wasn't a problem for us, but if it had been there was nothing we could do about it. We also learned that this boat would take THREE HOURS to get to Spain as opposed to the 'Fast ferry' we were supposed to take that took 35 minutes. 3 hours, 2 Dramamine, and 2 very green Kims later, we were in Spain. After two more long bus rides, the crazy trip was over.
On Monday, my last day in Spain, we decided to spend in the day in Malaga, walking around and seeing the sights. I didn't really know much about Malaga before visiting, but it is a really beautiful city! Picasso was apparently born in Malaga, and though we planned to visit the Picasso museum, it was closed that day (of course). So hopefully I can go back someday!

Anyway, that was the end of my trip. I spent that night in the Aeropuerto de Malaga unfortunately. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be, though it was a little awkward how often I woke up to see cleaning people staring at me. All in all, an amazing vacation! A wonderful break from the cold of Saint Etienne. A great time with Kim, who was an incredible hostess. Two insanely beautiful countries. And more ridiculous adventures than I ever could have imagined!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marruecos, Maroc, Morocco

I went to Morocco again. This was the view from our hotel. Those are the camels they walk along the beach in the morning. Pretty much the best day of my life. More soon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sun, Gaudi, and Catalan v. Spanish

What can I say? Barcelona is, hands down, one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to. This time leaving France was no problem. It had been snowing off and on for days (with no end in sight) and I hadn't seen the sun since January. Knowing that the forecast for Barcelona was sunny and around 60 degrees made me so anxious I could hardly stand the wait! I've always been someone who is affected by weather and sunshine. This being said, I can't imagine why I've lived virtually my entire life in the land of the six month winter. Equally shocking is the fact that I somehow landed myself on a plateau in the middle of France where it gets colder than most anywhere else in the country, save the actual Alps. Needless to say, I am LOVING my time in Spain. Immediately upon stepping off the airplane, I felt my spirits lift and couldn't wipe the grin off of my face. Since then, everytime I step outside, I am reminded just how lucky I am to be in such an amazingly beautiful place in February, when everyone needs a little sunshine the very most.
It also doesn't hurt that Barcelona happens to be conveniently located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The very first thing Corinne and I did after dropping our stuff at the hostel was take a stroll down to the beach! Granted, 60 degrees isn't quite warm enough to swim, but it was certainly warm enough to plant ourselves at a little beach-side cafe to have some lunch and take in our surroundings. After seriously considering ordering a liter (read: a LOT) of Sangria, we decided we should save that for later and try to see some of the sights.
We spent most of our time in Barcelona just wandering, enjoying the sun, the architecture, and the Spanish all around us. On our second day, we headed up to the Parc Guell. This place was, for me, the highlight of our trip. It is such a beautiful place and seeing so much color (in the form of mosaics) was a welcome change from France. Another highlight was the 10PM dinner we had on our second night. We forced ourselves to wait until a socially acceptable Spanish dinnertime and made our way to a restaurant in a square full of palm trees with our roommates from our hostel. It was really fun to just talk with new people and enjoy pizza better than you can get anywhere in France as far as I'm concerned. Plus, the night before, we had tried Paella...and let's just say we didn't want anymore Spanish food after that.
Corinne left this morning, so I was left to my own devices in Barcelona while waiting for my 9PM flight to Malaga. While I obviously love traveling, I've always been afraid to travel alone, especially in a country where I don't speak the language, but today I had no choice. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do in Barcelona. For one day. All alone. It ended up being a beautiful morning and I spent it just walking around Barcelona, stopping every once in awhile for cafe con leche and a place to sit and read. I also challenged myself to speak Spanish, as pitiful as my skills may be. Even if the only things I really managed to successfully communicate were 'vino blanco' and 'por favor,' nobody spoke English back to me like they do in Paris where my langauge skills are definitely passable. This practice in Spanish language got me thinking about my so called 'plan' to go to Mexico next year to teach English and learn Spanish. The first two days in Barcelona I felt literally paralyzed by my inability and couldn't even muster up a 'si' rather than a 'oui.' Today, however, things were different! Maybe I can only understand a quarter of the things that are said to me (if that), but that's already something! I think the trickiest part might be finding Spanish words instead of French words and not just making up new words assuming that they'll be similar in the two languages. Really, I've heard Spanish should be easier than French... I'm not so sure. We'll see how I feel on Tuesday. Maybe after over a week in Spain I'll be singing a different tune!

Now I am about to head back to my 'hostal,' pick up my giant backpack, and head to the airport. The sun in Barcelona is gone, and it's actually even raining a bit. In Malaga, however, it should be sunny the entire time I'm there. I kind of feel like I'm literally chasing the sun, and I don't mind it one bit! Maybe Kim and I will chase it all the way to Morocco!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Paris je t'aime!

Because of the sheer mind numbingness of the month of January and because I've been really missing Paris for awhile now, Rachel (my friend who is an English Assistant in Reims) and I decided a couple of weeks ago that we needed to meet there for a day. We were in Paris together in 2006, and Paris will never be quite Paris for me without her there with me. Plus, it was great to see someone from home. My friends here in Saint Etienne are great, don't get me wrong, but they don't know that part of me. Just like my friends at home don't know this part of me. Rachel is the lucky one that knows it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Anyway, a day trip to Paris seemed very practical to me. However, when I started telling people who have lived in this region their whole lives of my plan, I started to doubt myself. Let's just say, I know quite a few Stephanois who have NEVER BEEN TO PARIS (gasp!). I said to myself, 'Self: it's only a 2 hour train ride from Lyon! These people are delusional!' While all of this is true, doing the aller-retour PLUS an action packed eight hours in Paris was the most exhausting thing I've done in awhile. While I still think it's absolutely feasible, and was definitely worth the time and energy, one must truly be in pleine forme to do so.

Anyway, it was the absolute perfect day in Paris. We spent most of the day just 'flaning' (wandering in franglish) around Paris, seeing new things and old things, feeling like we had never left. We had an amazing lunch at our favorite café, and did some catching up. We did some shopping of course, and rode some buses and the metro, just taking in all of the sights and smells of Paris (the smells I'm sure nobody loves as much as the two of us). Also, I'm pretty sure we made more friends in Paris yesterday than we made during our whole study abroad in 2006. I'm talking phone numbers, invites to 'faire la fete' later, and a group of middle aged woman who I'm pretty sure wanted to adopt us.

One of the new things we did was a generally pleasant visit to the Musée Rodin. This museum is set in a beautiful part of Paris that I must admit I (regretably) didn't frequent. The museum itself consists partly of a small building with marble floors, intricately painted ceilings, and an impressive staircase leading down to an even more impressive lobby with chandeliers hanging everywhere. The rest of the sculptures are in a perfectly manicured massive garden. And all of this offers views of Les Invalides (where Napoleon is buried) and of course, La Tour Eiffel. All very impressive, all of which the setting for another priceless fall to remember (read: try to forget) for years to come.

Imagine: this beautiful staircase, inside this amazing museum, in one of the most posh quartiers of Paris. Then imagine me, after having been forewarned that the stairs were scary, making my way 'carefully' down said stairs. At the bottom of the stairs are sculptures, tourists, and Rachel. On the stairs are me and two people working at the museum. Everything is silent and then BAM! My ass is on the stone steps, with one of the two workers giving me a dirty look and walking past me and the other saying 'At least you didn't fall further!' I looked down immediately, to see if Rachel had managed to catch my gracefulness, so that at least it hadn't been for nothing. Of course, she had seen the entire horrifying display and was choking back tears. I burst into laughter so loud that in case everyone in the museum hadn't already seen (or heard) my fall, they all were all staring at me anyway.

The actual site of my fall.

So, we saw the rest of the museum, I got a couple of pitiful looks from perfect strangers, and we continued on our way. When it came time to go our seperate ways it was a shame, but now, at least we know that a perfect day trip to Paris is not as impossible as the Stephanois like to believe!

I've got 99 problems but a Bush aint one!

So maybe I've been absent for awhile. I could save you my excuses, but I'd rather shower you with them.

Reason #1: Near death experience.

I was deathly ill for about two weeks after coming back to France from Wisconsin. I have no idea what was wrong with me, but I just couldn't seem to kick it. That is, until my roommate (and miracle worker) gave me a massage and told me that every ailment starts in your head. She made me really think about things, to figure out exactly why I had worked myself into such terrible health. Needless to say, the next day I started to feel better. Call me crazy, but nothing else worked.

Reason #2: Lack of interest.

Saint Etienne in January leaves a lot to be desired. Let me be more clear. It actually has little to do with Sainté and everything to do with January. It's a cold, depressing month by comparison to other months virtually everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. There is nothing to do. Nothing to see but dead vegetation. The flu runs rampant. The days are short. The sunshine is rare. All of these sentiments are what led to me basically becoming a hermit for the month. Pretty much the only places I left my apartment to go to were school, Auchan, and the Dirty.

That being said, thank God for the Dirty. Also for Old Maid, Tarot Cards, and Snakebites to keep me warm. And thank God for La Mine with its seemingly neverending playlist of ridiculous songs. Example: "The Next Episode" by none other than Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

Reason #3: Lack of motivation

This might sound crazy to most, but when one works so little, it becomes increasingly difficult to force oneself to accomplish anything at all.

Reason #4: Teaching becomes "de plus en plus chiant"

My job is obnoxious. It is February and I still don't know any of the students, aside from the ones that I've officially kicked out of my classes FOREVER. Because I literally see these kids for 25 minutes every two weeks, I sometimes do the same lesson twenty times for two weeks straight. Also, my job is pointless. Every lesson I do with these students has no purpose other than to get them to speak. However, because I have no idea what they are doing in their *ACTUAL* English classes, my lessons are completely random and arbitrary. There is no context, thus no point. The students like me for the most part, sure. What's not to like when '25 minutes with the assistant' meant the same to them as 'Let's goof off for 25 minutes and see how much French she can REALLY understand.' FRUSTRATING to say the least.

Enough of my complaining. Besides, what is there to complain about? Starting today I'm on vacation until February 24th!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

C'est la classe!

"...We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right."