Currently singing to…

3 Dec

Bruno Mars

and Cee Lo

You know you live in France when…

30 Nov

When you eat dinner at 9:30.

When people cross freely in front of trams and on the tracks all the time, and you have only been almost hit by a train once (knock on wood).

When the titles of movies are changed…but kept in English.  i.e. The Hangover becomes A Very Bad Trip.  Oh, and when Hogwarts becomes Poudlard, Mudbloods become moldu, none of which are actual French words.  Both beg the question why change it in the first place.

When your university was shut down for two weeks because of les grèves.

When chocolate croissants have lost their magnetism and have become a mere rarity.  (Surprising, yet fortunate for the waistline).

When pronouncing words ever so slightly differently can unwittingly give a whole new meaning to what you are trying to say.  (See earlier sein/sang incident).

When you walk by a vineyard on the way to the university.  A small vineyard in the middle of the city enclosed by houses and office buildings.  Really??…..wonder if the wine’s any good…

When Nutella is the new peanut butter.

When Thanksgiving dinner consists of: eating at 8:30, being served in separate courses, randomly starting with a tossed salad and pita bread, having hot cranberry sauce (actual liquid-y sauce; and I’m pretty sure there were lingonberries in it), soy sauce-esque gravy, a small apple tart, and not having to loosen your belt or wear maternity pants (à la Joey on Friends).  Being oh so truly French, we only had a little bit of each course, didn’t have seconds, and ended with an espresso.  Not very American.  This could very well be the first Thanksgiving I’ve experienced where I didn’t feel sickly full.  But there were no kolaces nor one of my mom’s amazing pies, so I think I would rather have instead taken the dazed inertia that is Thanksgiving night at home.  Not to mention the complete unsettlement of not being at home with the family for the holiday–a first for me.

When you’re considering going all the way to London just because you heard they have a Chipotle.

When you can still buy your Harry Potter opening night ticket an hour before the showing.

b) When no one dresses up for Harry Potter.  (And when you secretly wish you had your mandrake costume with you from HP6 to scare the fashionably-conscious French).

When no one moves for screaming ambulances.

When you start buying mainly stripes.

When you pass about twelve cats on the street everyday, see cats strolling the rooftops in your neighborhood, and it isn’t rare to have a black cat cross your path.

When you can never escape cigarette smoke.

When baguettes are not just a stereotype, and you see people carrying them around everywhere.

When your family eats foie gras fairly regularly.

When you would kill for a large to-go skim latte with extra froth. (preferably from Dunn Bros)

When you end dinner with fruit and cheese instead of ice cream or chocolate.

When you cannot wait to go to a gym.

b)  When you are constantly perplexed at the lack of gyms and people exercising and the amount of pastries, carbs, and wine consumed versus the incredibly high percent of skinny people.

When you start listening to Christmas music November 9th.  The whole not having Thanksgiving thing is really throwing off my timetable for the appropriateness of Christmas sounds and decor.

When you crave Mexican and Asian food.

When you’ve tamed yourself to not respond to people talking to you on the street.  95% of the time, no good would come of responding.

When your little brother is showing you his 24 new Silly Bandz and has no idea what one is and passes it off as “un truc” (a thing), but you look at it and realize it’s Minnesota.  A 10 year-old French boy had a Minnesota-shaped Silly Band.  He also had Louisiana and Nebraska.  And a rectangle.  So, Colorado.

When your host dad deserves an Oscar (this is more of a, “You know you live with the Planchons when”).  The aforementioned fake slap fight garnered the Planchon duo a nomination, but this new performance took home the grand prize.  So, when someone fakes dead/unconscious (*cough Mom *cough), it’s usually fairly short and a cheap laugh.  However, when another person also gets in on it and acts up the scene to a whole new level, it can be unnerving and puzzling.  So, there I was making my coffee one morning when Mateo goes limp at the table, and his dad nudges him, then starts patting his cheeks trying to wake him up.  Not only is Mateo good at not smirking, but Greg was shooting me the most sincere and concerned “what is happening to my child?” looks I have ever seen.  I went from thinking Mateo was being silly to not wanting to voice my doubt because of Greg’s fearful eyes to actually having a moment of confused unease.  Nevertheless, the second I timidly asked, “Mateo?”, they broke and caught me–hook, line, and sinker.  And the Oscar goes to…!

Dobar dan….

27 Nov

….And with cao (bye) and hvala (thanks), that would be the extent of my Croatian.  Somehow we were able to get through the country using those three phrases.  However, it definitely helped that basically everyone under 30 spoke at least some English.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Recently, for a long weekend, two friends and I went to Croatia–why not?!  We left Thursday morning, and we decided to go and bought our tickets on, well, Tuesday afternoon.  Generally, I like to have things at least semi-planned out earlier than that, so I think it’s a good sign that I really had no reservations or anxiety about going on such short notice and not having every night or transportation paid for or even decided upon.

And I’m glad I didn’t.  It was a really fun trip!  We had to spend (had to, I know, right? Darn) one night in Paris because the only flight we could get to Zagreb was early Friday morning.  So, we took the TGV up to Paris; had the typical lunch of baguette, cheese, and wine; bumped into a fellow Montpellier study abroad-er; went to a fondue restaurant for dinner (which serves you baby bottles of wine, has graffiti everywhere, and forces half the party to climb over the table to sit on the long bench on the wall); and then spent the night strolling Paris.  We saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle, visited the Sacré Coeur (which is even more spectacular at night), had the tiniest hostel room possible (three twin beds litterally squeezed together; but it was only us and we had our own bathroom with a shower!), and had some fun on the metro.

Then, after three hours of sleep, it was off to Croatia!

Arriving in Zagreb, we were introduced to kunas, a currency as cheap as it is fun to say, and made our way to the hostel.  Well, when we got to the street that the hostel was supposedly on, we couldn’t find it anywhere.  We stopped in a little shop where neither of the women knew English, and all we had to go by was the “Let’s Go Europe” guide book’s helpful phrases.  Luckily, we found a young traffic cop who spoke English and directed us right back where we had been walking by.  Deciding to walk down the other side of the street, sure enough we found our hostel.  However, I think they badly need to rethink their signage. The only sign they had outside was a little postcard-sized logo on the side of the door, not even facing the street.  Fortunately, that was our only complaint with this hostel; it was actually pretty nice, and the people who worked there even helped Elizabeth track down her camera that she had left on the plane!  High five Hobo Bear Hostel!

That day, we explored Zagreb and visited the Cathedral, the cemetery (immense and beautiful), and had actual roasted chestnuts (a first, and they were as delicious as the song makes them sound).  We topped the night off at a microbrewery/restaurant that served traditional Croatian fare and great beer.  In fact, we liked it so much–especially one dish–that we came back our last night and all ordered the same thing.

Although Zagreb has its Yugoslavian hauntings, it’s a pretty thriving, young, commercial capitol with lots to do.  And the kaleidoscope of beautiful neoclassical architecture in the old town wasn’t too bad, either.  Quickly, though, it was off to Plitvice Lakes National Park–basically, our reason for going to Croatia.

It didn’t disappoint.  After a bus ride through stunning rolling hills and quaint villages and a hike to our hotel, we quickly settled in and ran off to explore the park.  Saturday afternoon, we did the upper lakes, and we returned Sunday morning for the lower half.  While the setting sun and following moon provided an eerie and cozy feeling to the lakes and waterfalls, Sunday’s blue sky and sun made it all come alive.  The park was gorgeous.  I don’t really know what else to say.  The paths of wooden planks were like docks as they wound their way over the lakes and waterfalls, giving no concern to the walker’s risk of falling in to the icy waters.  As we joked, it definitely wasn’t an American national park.  There were no handrails, no signs warning “slippery when wet,” and no guides walking around.  On top of Saturday not showing us many other visitors in the upper lakes, beside the wooden paths, it was really an escape into nature.

The waterfalls were amazing, the lakes were so clear and colorful, and the water ate my camera.  Whoops!  There I was sitting on a path on one of the lakes, enjoying the view, taking it all in, and stupid me stood up to move on.  Here’s a tip, make sure you zip up your pocket.

Snapfish Croatia album

New Experiences

10 Nov

As I sit here eating some delicious Speculoos—what is Speculoos, you ask?  Well, well, wouldn’t you like to know?—I think it’s appropriate to recount my fall break trip in regard to new experiences:

Visiting Edinburgh: first leg of the week-long voyage was a few days in Edinburgh.  Kaitlin and I stayed with a fellow Chi Omega, Kat, who is in grad school at the University of Edinburgh, and we also got to see three of our other sorority sisters who are studying abroad there.  It was quite a sororitastic weekend to say the least.  Aside from the awesome people, the city was fantastic!  I loved it.  Edinburgh has such rich history, plenty to see and do, it’s beautiful, and the people are very nice.  Kat’s very lucky to live there!  We saw the sites—Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Abbey (amazing), St Giles’ Cathedral (home of John Knox), Walter Scott Monument, National Gallery of Art, Calton Hill (giving Edinburgh the title of “Athens of the North”), etc.  We even found Adam Smith’s grave.  However, it wasn’t until after scouring through the rest of the cemetery that we realized if we had turned the other way upon entering the churchyard and followed the “Adam Smith brick road” (literally), we would have seen it right away.  All of these sites were really great but even just walking the town was a treat.  And any city quirky enough to have a tradition where you spit on a cobblestone heart on the ground for good luck is okay by me.  The city is so old and beautiful; I just loved the feeling you get being there.  Needless to say, I am a little in love with the UK—which would also explain the obsession with Tudor England.

Exploring the secrets of Edinburgh: I am proud to say that we survived a ghost tour of one of the most haunted cities in the world on Halloween night (dun dun dun).  They did a good job telling stories (I will admit I was a little spooked), and then they brought us underground to the vaults right underneath the city that are said to be extremely haunted (I will admit I held on to Kat and Kaitlin for dear life and was nervously giggly the whole time).  Example: one ghost in the vaults was said to be a little boy who grabs on and holds your hand.  Well, I couldn’t shove and hide my hands in my jacket fast enough, while Kat on the other hand bravely stuck her arm out to the side ready and waiting.  I bring shame to the Lukens name.

Being Charlie Chaplin:  For Halloween in Edinburgh, we went to a vintage store, found some hats…then found some fake mustaches…then found some bow ties, and BAM we had costumes!  I was Charlie Chaplin, Kat was Burt Reynolds, and Kaitlin was the Monopoly man.  This was the simplest and perhaps most fun Halloween costume I’ve done.  Six pounds for the whole thing, and we got to wear normal clothes.  Win.  It was only made better by cider beer and finishing the night off dancing to Scottish folk songs in a bar—so much fun.

Making a Harry Potter pilgrimage:  J.K. Rowling (the author, duh) lived in Edinburgh, and Kat brought us to the Elephant House café where she wrote the first book.  In fact, Kat was sneaky enough to get us the table that she sat at.  Looking out the window, you can see the inspiration for the books—an amazing view of Edinburgh Castle on the top of the cliff.  The café boasts being “the birthplace of Harry Potter,” and even the stalls in the bathroom are graffitied by HP fans with notes like, “I heart Ron Weasley,” and even quotes from the books.  You could feel the magic (bah-dum-chh).

Actual going into Amsterdam:  As opposed to visiting the airport—which is still lovely.  But the city was great.  The canals, the flowers, the bikes, the buildings are all so picturesque.  We visited the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank Huis, took pictures at the “I Amsterdam” sign, but I really loved just walking around the canals.  One morning, we went on a free walking tour and saw the Red Light District (so strange to see as an American), some interesting spots in the city (architecture students from the 1960s should not have been allowed to have free reign, even if it was contained in one neighborhood—shutter), and got some great tips on how not to be killed by a bicycle.  Jimmye was a great host and shared some secrets of Amsterdam with us—(Speculoos! I’m getting there, patience.)—and it was great to have an NMQ freshman year reunion.  We even had the traditional popcorn, orange juice, and movie.  AND I got to see Frank, a fellow Foley counselor from this summer.  It was so great catching up with him and SO weird to see him not only outside of camp but in another country, his country.  Now I’ll have to visit London and see Jack and Sarah!

Being the stereotypical tourist:  Mostly to do with photographs.  A thank you to Kat for forcing me to have pictures taken with me in them (dubbed “mom pictures,” as in for mom), because otherwise there would be none to speak of.  We played up the tourist card by taking jumping pictures, paying to take pictures with a bagpiper and the Mel Gibson—I mean—William Wallace, throwing up the X and horseshoe (Chi Omega hand sign), and having a photo shoot with the UK telephone booths.  (The hipster photos were more for our amusement than a tourist bout.)

Trying new foods: In Edinburgh, we tried haggis (traditional Scottish meat dish “haggis neeps and tatties”—quite delicious; I believe we had haggis every day somehow), pear cider beer (not too shabby), black pudding (aka blood sausage), fish and chips (a must), deep-fried Mars bar (thankfully not right after the fish and chips), Irn Bru (slash cough medicine that the Scots pass as pop: disgusting, but Kat and Kaitlin got a kick out of it—seriously, I think there was something in it), and roast beef and mustard potato chips (not even the weirdest of their potato chip flavors).  In Amsterdam, we were adventurous enough to mosey on into a Febo.  What is that?  Well, it’s basically a vending machine restaurant.  You put money into this wall full of little windows with food in them and then you open the little door and pull out the food you want.  Upon telling Jimmye and her roommate what we had for lunch, her roommate responded with, “you had FEBO?!?”  Apparently, it’s not as fun-adventurous as we thought.  Apparently, it’s more like gutsy/hazardous/sketchy-adventurous.  But our Amsterdam food excursion was atoned for with muesli pancakes, hagel slag (real chocolate sprinkles that they put on toast and it kind of melts into the bread), and, finally, Speculoos Pasta (!).  Speculoos is essentially the new competition in Holland for Nutella and is currently winning in my book.  It is best described as a gingerbread/cinnamon (?) cookie mashed to a pulp and made into a crunchy spread.  Put it on bread, waffles, gingerbread cookies (the Lukens family’s favorite “windmill cookies” from the airport), or you might…..just eat it plain.  Delicious.  Best recipe: Speculoos and hagel slag on a waffle at 2 am.

Well, a puff of smoke in the face was the reminder I received telling me that I was indeed back in France—shortly followed by the realization that after one week of all English, I had lost some footing in my French.  C’est triste.  It scares me to think what my French will be like after a month back in the States.

Completely random side note, have you ever been walking somewhere and realized that you’ve been walking behind the same person for a while, and then you keep on going and you’re still behind them?  Then, you start to wonder when they’ll turn off, and then you start to wonder if they’ve noticed you.  Then, when they end up going to the same obscure place you are or they finish their walk while you’re still behind them, do you ever wonder if they think you’re stalking them?  You may have just freaked that person out so much to the point that they will watch their back for the next few days, convinced someone followed them home.  Way to go.

Now it’s off to Croatia for the weekend!!

Travel Tips

28 Oct

Learn the secret to a great French accent: To my surprise, my best accent came out when I was dead sick early one morning one week in my phonetics class.  My friends said they were expecting something awful when I had to read out loud, but it was spot on.  Secret = a throbbing head and sinuses, a stuffed-up nose, and a sore throat.  You’re welcome.

Start the day off right: Leave it up to my mom and dad to bring tailgating to France in the form of a 10:30 a.m. wine tasting (it was a Saturday morning after all).  Two bottles of good wine for a total of 10 euro, a day’s-worth of French practice, and a little buzz made for a successful stop.

Question everyday American things that now seem weird to you: A large coffee?  A to-go coffee, for that matter??  Driving a car everywhere.  Having restaurants/shops open all day.  Drive-thrus.  Cereal (very foreign to me now; seriously, what I wouldn’t do for a bowl of oatmeal…or Life).  Being carded (I have yet to have the satisfaction of proving my age).  Being in a place where people know how to walk down a street without playing chicken and walking into each other.  Mexican food.  Asian food.  Having a dryer for clothes.  Having an overhead shower (a luxury I miss).  Having soap in the bathrooms (yeah not so much here).

Remember that Sunday literally means day of rest: Good luck finding places that are open or open for very long.  In general, getting lunch after 2 p.m. is difficult in (not even much) smaller cities, but on Sundays it’s nearly impossible.  Case in point, Sunday in Nîmes with the parents.  Good thing we still had some cheese and grapes left (which is saying something since we’re kind of cheese addicts).

Always have a roll of toilet paper in the car when on road trips: Restrooms are few and far between (even in Montpellier, where their version of a “public restroom” is the McDonald’s where you have to buy something and use the receipt to get in), and if you do find a public restroom, chances are it’s a nicely-ceramiced hole in the floor.  After saying I’d do so many times this fall, I finally popped a squat, no less during our peaceful picnic lunch in the French countryside next to a canal.  Camp prepared me well for extreme traveling.

Go to the source: Roquefort cheese bought in the village of Roquefort.  The stinkier the better for us–this one came in a sealed and lined bag.  Did I mention we should be in cheese rehab at this point?

Be observant: For some reason, I have seen more look-a-likes and doppelgangers here than ever before.  Random people from school, home, even celebs–I saw Jacob Black slash Taylor Lautner.  Edward has yet to be found.

Take your time: The other day on my walk home, I stopped and joined a small crowd gathered around two street artists and, expecting some cheap parlor trick, was amazed at their skills.  They used spray paint, a square and a circle templates, and a kind of blade.  They had some fantastic finished works laying out in front of them, but I didn’t fully appreciate the talent until I saw them create an amazing painting right before my eyes using really interesting techniques.  With the simplest movements and combinations of the paints, using the templates to create layers and edges, and the effortless strokes of the blade, they made detailed and colorful surreal scenes of moons, mountains, etc.  Undeniably true artists.

Don’t be a Belge: I still have yet to figure out how to turn on the TV on my own.  It’s been almost two months.  I would call myself a blond, but here that would be a Belgian.

Know what there is to do in a city before you get there: Going on a day-trip to Sète probably would have been more fulfilling if we had looked at what there is to do or see there, but it definitely wouldn’t have been as funny.  Getting off the train and asking if any of us had brought a map or knew what there was to do brought complete silence, followed by a few hilarious hours of aimlessly wandering, trying to follow signs for the office of tourism which led in all different directions (at one intersection, there were signs pointing in 3 completely different directions).  We found it eventually…but on accident while we were trying to find a place to have a beer.  Meh.  C’est la vie.

Go international: At our usual trivia night this week at our favorite bar, we ended up with a table/team of Americans, Swiss-Germans, and French-Italians.  Though the quiz was fun (and we got 6th out of 26!), it was great enough to just talk to each other about differences and similarities in our countries.  Fun fact: there are 638 muscles in the body, and Rachel on Friends says “oh my god” the most of any character.

When you are asked if you want to go to a torture museum, the answer is ALWAYS a resounding “yes”: In Carcassonne, we toured a torture museum and spent the time split between shock and laughter.  Shock because of the horror of these tools, and laughter because of the hilarious translations of some of the placards into English and the absurdity of some of the tools (I’ll admit it was a bit childish of Mari and I to go through the exhibit laughing, but we couldn’t help ourselves–a mask “most commonly used for talkative women”?  An “instrument of torture for bad musicians”??  The “pear” used for, well, insertions and expansions–I’d like to point out that women get this done annually.  A metal chastity belt with spikes around the holes?  You can’t even make that stuff up).

Take it all in: Having your visit to a Romanesque basilica interrupted by five men standing in front of the altar and breaking into beautiful hymnal music.  Soaking in accordion music on the street.  Trying new dishes such as aligot (basically mashed potatoes with cheese that you have to pull apart–new favorite) and cassoulet (delicious bean stew with duck and sausage).  Stopping for a street musician.  Your host dad and brother giving an impromptu magic show after dinner.

Faites la grève! Actually, don’t.  But, it’s hard not to be affected by these strikes.  The French have the constitutional right to strike, and they use it!  This time around, the strikes are regarding the possible (and now passed) law to raise the retirement age by two years, making French people work until 62 years-old.  The trams don’t run as frequently, they are stopped by rioters (I waited on one train en route for 20 minutes until we moved), manifestations fill the streets, high schools strike and protest in front of the gates (les grèves are really almost a rite of passage for the French; I’m not convinced these high schoolers completely comprehend the situation), and my university–the hippie (liberal arts) uni of Montpellier–was one of only six universities in the country to shut down.  Last week the president locked down the school, and currently there are stacks of chairs filling stairwells and blockading doors to classrooms and buildings.  As my host dad pointed out, one could pull down the stacks of chairs…and yeah one could…but no one really feels up to it…and plus there are students patrolling to make sure that doesn’t happen.  In fact, I’ve heard of classes that have gotten into their rooms and commenced that were told to leave because it wasn’t safe to hold class.  No class at the Uni for the last week-and-a-half.  Zut!

In the end, know what the hell you’re talking about: Awhile back, I told a friend’s host mom after dinner that I was pregnant, rather than full.  Well, I beat that at dinner last night.  We were talking about needles and shots, and I said, “j’aime donner le sein“.  Sein is breast, and I had just said that I like to breastfeed, instead of saying that I like to give blood (sang).  Bravo, Claire, bravo.

Now it’s off to Edinburgh and Amsterdam for the fall break!

Get to see Kat, Jill, Katie, Ariel, Frank (Foley reunion!), and Jimmye!

(updated snapfish pictures–but not the most recent, I need to update it even more)

Mises à jour

4 Oct

Amazing, unbelievable breaking news: my art history professor got to class today TEN (count ’em, ten) minutes early to set up the slide projector (yep, a real-actual-live slide projector–what up 1964?) so that she wouldn’t be late.  We actually started a minute early.  Wow.  I’m still baffled.

As we Americans spend more time in France and improve our Français, we have definitely noticed a steady deterioration of our English.  Between translating and translating back, it tends to be a lot of cryptic Franglish gibberish–especially with idioms.  Exhibit A: Mari declaring, “Good minds think together.”  Come on, same thing.  Exhibit B: me claiming, “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”  Well, it’s true, breaking it would also be dumb.  So, right now, we’re all in limbo between two languages, unable to fluently speak either.  We suspect when we return to the States we won’t be able to communicate at all.

Hitchhiker sighted: woman in her mid- to late-twenties walking up the main road by my house with her thumb sticking out…what?  That still happens?  People still do that?  I would say she must have been crazy, but she was well-dressed and put together and didn’t seem to show any hesitation when a guy about 30 stopped and let her in.  I kind of had been getting the feeling that strangers were less generous and charitable in France than in the US (I mean, eye contact is kind of a no-no), but maybe I was wrong.  I’m not sure if this is common place in France or not, but either way, I won’t be turning in my Tram pass and hitchhiking my way around Montpellier.

Although a bit anticlimactic in the American sense of a 21st birthday, I had a great birthday and spent it with some awesome people!  And thank you Northwestern football for the exciting (maybe a little too exciting) birthday win!  I got to watch most of the game on a laptop in a British pub with wi-fi, and it was so much fun–especially since one of the girls watching with me goes to Minnesota (sorry Mari!).  Needless to say, we were getting a little rowdy toward the end.  One Frenchman came up to us telling us how baffled and impressed he was that three girls were watching American football.  He then proceeded to ask where we were from: east coast or west?  As if those were the only options.  He didn’t quite understand when we explained that we were from the center (he claims there’s nothing there).  But one of his friends did chime in and confidently and calmly say in a French accent, “Middle. West.”  He knew what was up.  Although getting a beer at the bar was no big thing, I did learn one new thing that night: margaritas here are a lot stronger–basically completely different.  I don’t recommend it.  We’ll leave margaritas to vacations in Mexico (and summers at the cabin).

Just a quick shout-out to Minnesota accents: Mari (fellow Minnesotan) and I were told by a Welsh bartender when we ordered our drinks, “You guys sound like you’re from Canada!”  Close, my friend, very close.

Absolutely and utterly random.

29 Sep

An oldie but goodie.

Nothing beats some great Semisonic to make the walk to the university a little more….epic, à la 1998.  Love it.

French Lesson 102

28 Sep

Smoke [smōk] verb: everybody’s doing it!….Seriously, everyone is doing it.

On time [än tīme] adj: 1) a phrase unknown to the French; 2) for the French, on time means ten minutes late; 3) a standard not followed by professors in regard to starting or ending class (yet they are punctual to leave the classroom once class is over and not take any questions).

Beret [bə-ˈrā] noun: a stereotype that has yet to prove itself true to me.

Fedora [fi-ˈdör-ə] noun: a hat worn by French cowboys.

Cappuccino [ka-pə-ˈchē-nō] noun:  an espresso drink made differently at every cafe but usually served with whipped cream instead of foam and dusted with cocoa; as opposed to a hot chocolate that is not served with whipped cream at all…I have yet to fully understand the coffee situation here.

Coffee to go [kä-fē tü gō] noun:  What?  Why would–No.  Just, no.

Sunday [sən-dā] noun: Day of rest. Why leave the house? No need; Streets are deserted.

Bonjour [bōⁿ-zhür] inter.: 1) good day, hello; 2) NOT to be confused with bonsoir and used after about 6pm; you will be called out by your host dad every time you do use it too late.

Cobblestone streets [kob-uhl-stohn strēts] noun: 1) why my feet hurt; 2) with Dog poop: the reasons why my head is down staring at the ground while I walk; 3) an ineffective obstacle that does not stop French women from wearing 3-inch heels.

Walk signal [wahk sig-nəl] noun: as if to say, “yeah the little green man is lit up, and you could walk if you wanted to but I wouldn’t assume you’d be safe from the cars…”

Jambon et fromage [jãbõ e frɔmaʒ] noun: the delicious and simple French PB & J; served on a baguette–not necessarily a croque monsieur.

Butter [bə-tər] noun: where Americans might put mayonnaise on sandwiches, the French use butter (example: ham and butter sandwich).

No habla español.

20 Sep

Two and a half days, 5 French-speaking girls, 1 very large Spanish city = jam-packed site seeing and no communication skills whatsoever, unfortunately making us the ultimate American tourists.

And making us realize and appreciate how much French we know.  We realized we were in trouble–and back to not even square one, but probably negative five–when Mari and I went to get breakfast, and we walked up to the counter and realized we had no idea how to even order a simple meal.  We had lost the edge.

But, that was just a side note to a great/interesting weekend in Barcelona.

To start off with, though, the bus ride there was hellish.  We were picked up en route at 9 PM, and the next five and a half hours turned out to be a horrible start to an otherwise great trip.  The bus was full of only Catalan-speakers, which is fine, but the area we were in was full of middle-aged men who had no consideration for anyone else.  They talked very loudly while everyone else was trying to sleep, one guy was flicking his cigarette lighter very close to Liz’s hair for a long time, another guy just straight up stole mine and Mari’s seats after a rest stop break forcing us to sit on the bench in the back with no support for sleeping except for each other’s backs, and he even called us all “the four whores”.  Very little sleep, cricks in the neck, a toddler having a tantrum, 3rd-grade budging in line at the bathroom and stealing seats, sweating in the sauna (I mean bus), and classy name-calling.  Great intro to Barcelona.

The only highlights of the bus ride: Mari and I watching The Hangover on my iPod and so slaphappy at the absurdity of the bus ride (at least at first) that everything in the movie was hysterical; and me half-way walking up, searching for my shoe with my foot, finding my shoe, groping at it to pull it toward me, and realizing too late that I was stroking the foot of the guy sleeping next to me.  But if you pretend you’re still sleeping and that it never happened, it’s okay…..right?

Once there, we were dropped off at the outdoor bus station before the train station opened leaving us to try to get some sleep on the cement platform and fend off a huge cockroach.  Fortunately an older security guard took us under his wing, found us a better spot to sleep–the ticket office stoop–gave us water, and patrolled us while we slept.  He definitely made up for the jerks on the bus.

After a short sleep on the bus station floor–ending with a swift kick to the foot by a gruff security guard–we headed to the hostels and started the trip!

Wow.  Barcelona is an architect’s (and architecture lover’s) dream.  Passeig de Gràcia alone has so many impressive, but mismatched, buildings all mixed together.

Long story short, Gaudí is a crazy genius.  Crazy.  But wicked genius.  His presence in the city combined with the rich historical setting is really incredible.  La Sagrada Familia is beyond amazing.  To think that’s it’s not even finished and is going to be so much bigger and taller (only 8 of the 18 planned towers have been built) is incredible.  There is so much to look at, so much going on, and SO many contrasting and varying styles of art; I could have stayed and taken pictures all day.

Another one of Gaudí’s, Casa Batllò, was fantastic.  It was an apartment built for one family (which is shocking in itself since it’s so big) that he created to look like the ocean.  Inside and out, Gaudí didn’t miss any opportunity to make it his own.  There were no linear lines anywhere.  Curved everything, foggy “under water” glass, incredible tile work, and impressive innovations.  However, we were told by the audio guide that we were going to use all 5 senses up in the backyard…..we’re still not sure what we were supposed to taste…

The last Gaudí site we visited was Park Güell our last morning–and, luckily, the first blue sky and sun we had.  Basically an extension of all of Gaudí’s works thrown in one park, I found it so weird how one artist could have so many styles that were so different, yet you could tell that they were his.  The view was spectacular–only to be rivaled by the view from the Montjuic Castle on top of another hill/mountain closer to the sea.

In addition, we explored the medieval part of the city, visited the roman ruins directly underground the city, listened to some great street music (playing the hang), walked a TON trying to find our way up to Montjuic, and ended with an impressive show at the Magic Fountain.

Overall a great trip, the weekend was filled to the brim and definitely worth the horrible trek there.  And as a bonus, on the day-time bus ride back, we went through a part of the Pyrenees with some beautiful rolling hills and mountains peaked with towers, abbeys, castles, fortresses, etc.  The internal fight between sleep and staring out the window was fierce.

And since I’ve been getting crap from various people for my lack of pictures with actual people in them, here ya go.  And I gave you a weird one, so there.  haha I’m sorry, I guess people take a backseat to art/architecture and nature for me :/

A Lesson In French

13 Sep

The word for “full” as in “full of” is plein (de)….which is unfortunately very close to a word used to say you’re pregnant, and therefore is not used in the sense to say that you are full after eating a meal.  I hope my friend’s host-mom understands that I’m not actually pregnant.

It’s important to check your surroundings when you first arrive somewhere, especially when that somewhere is your new bedroom….and there is no door.  Hm.  I probably should have caught that.  No worries, it was being painted and was put in a few days later.

The French have a sense of humor, too.  So, when your host-dad yells at your little brother and slaps him hard, and you see your brother fall behind the counter, don’t get freaked out and think it’s real.  They loved the trying-hard-to-be-polite-and-hide-the-shock face, though.  They’re a well-organized comedy duo.

Cigarettes (and the smell) are everywhere, but I’m getting used to it.  Bring on the second-hand smoke.  Non-smoking sections–not so much here (although it is illegal indoors, so, kudos France).

Avoid the grungy-looking guys with the big dogs and the chain accessories who just roam around–we’ve heard they just want to share their music with the world….yet I’ve never actually seen one with a musical instrument.

“Genie pants” (think Jasmine) are très chic.  And look comfortable, sooo we Americans here may be getting our hands on some soon.

It takes a long time to say “hi” to a group of your friends here.  Les bisous, the kisses on the cheek, would never fly in the US.  Although some of the “cool” guys here have adopted the fist bump, so you never know.

Apparently we Americans are relatively paranoid about being clean and germ-free, because there is rarely soap in the bathrooms here.  And also rarely a toilet seat.  Meh, oh well.

There are quite a few stores where they only sell white clothing.  Strange.

When one of your friends comments that she has hardly seen any PDA in Montpellier compared to in Paris, expect to see a ton of PDA in the following week.  It’s too much to handle at times.  For example, do you really need to go at it in the tram…directly in my line of view…while I awkwardly share a seat with a guy and we’re both trying to look out the window for refuge….and it gets heavier for a long time until your friend in the seat behind you finally hits you on the head to stop….but then you take a minute break and you’re right back at it again?  No, I really don’t think you do.  I need to learn to say the equivalent of “get a room” in French.