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C’est mon dernier post (I’m flying home tomorrow!), so I figured I would take this opportunity to post lots of photos of cool stuff in Nantes that I should have been describing on here all semester. It seems like I always had a field trip or a vacation to talk about, so I never really wrote about la vie quotidienne (daily life) and all the things I love about Nantes. I was planning on writing about all of these photos as well, but now it’s the last night and I don’t want to spend it on my computer.

Me and my wonderful host mom, Marie Annick!

I’m really sad that my stay here is coming to an end, and it was an amazing experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself and people in general, not to mention about France and French and the French. À bientôt!


Les vacances de printemps

Yes, that’s right, we get two different vacations over here. Winter break was a week in February, and spring break is a week in April. What’s more, even though our classes at IES only have one week for spring break, the classes à la fac (the university) have two weeks off! (1 week of winter break + 2 weeks of spring break = 3 weeks of vacation during 1 semester.)

I spent the first 6 days in Paris by myself, soaking up the city. I have way too many pictures to post, so I’m only posting the most interesting ones–click here for pictures of all the other monuments I saw. From Paris I went to Bordeaux where I met up with Julia again. I didn’t take too many pictures, but it’s a very pretty city. Apparently an architect built a ton of really nice buildings there to make Bordeaux a royal city. Now there are a ton of old churches and palaces, even if they aren’t being used for any noble purpose. And of course, since Bordeaux is known for its wine, we went on a wine tour offered by the tourism office and saw two chateaux in the Médoc region, north of the city. The chateaux are not all real chateaux–that’s just what Bordelais wine-making places are called.

I stumbled upon a yoga class practicing in the Jardin des Plantes.

Street performers in Montmartre.

I went to take a closer look at this beautiful old building which I figured had to be an important monument... turns out it's a BNP Paribas, a bank owned by Bank of America.

From inside the Pyramid of the Louvre!

The American Dream. I couldn't resist taking pictures of this restaurant and its menu, which shows some hilarious American stereotypes. This is how we appear to the rest of the world, apparently!

Another silly restaurant I saw that reminded me of home.

This restaurant picture is the most embarrassing of them all. It's hard to see because there's a glare, but this is a line going out the door for Starbucks. Really, American tourists? You come to Paris, and of all the cafés you could go to, you choose Starbucks?

Interesting graffiti:

I found Waldo!

The ad read, "An education, a profession." Some witty but jaded person with a sharpie revised it to say, "An education, a profession, unemployment."


Enjoying typical French foods for dinner. Baguette, camembert, and wine. Nothing but the essentials, except we added some avocados to have a little green stuff and make it a balanced, healthful meal.

Us with a wine display at one of the chateaux we visited.

Normandie, Braderie, Carnaval

Okay, I’ve got lots of pictures and I haven’t posted in a while, so this will be a nice long one, I promise! First of all, important update on my life that I realized I neglected to mention on here: I quit coffee. ME. YEAH. I haven’t had coffee in almost two months. I am above the influence.

Next, fun fact: you know these things? You’ll never guess what they’re called en françaisun cambembert! I cracked up when my host mom told me that, but then she asked what it was in English and I realized we call them pie charts, so that’s pretty funny too.

Moving on. Two weekends ago we had a field trip to Normandy. On Saturday we hung out in the city of Caen, then went to the memorial of Caen which has a really nice WWII museum. Sunday we saw the plages d’embarquement (beaches where the Allied forces invaded Normandy, which was part of German-occupied France) and the American and German cemeteries.

First stop: Exploring Caen. I spent most of this part of the trip picnic-ing next to the chateau, but I took the time to take some pictures too.

Part of the chateau and a cathedral. Also, note all of the French people on the grass who had the same idea we did--we felt so français with our baguettes and fromage (and maybe un peu de vin, bien sûr!).

L'Abbaye de Caen.

Entrance to the memorial, where we spent the late afternoon. It was a good museum and I think we all came out of it a little depressed and ready to join the Peace Corps.

Here are the pictures from Sunday. It was super foggy which made for a somber ambience for visiting Omaha beach and the cemeteries. Side note: The American cemetery is US territory, so we were technically back in my country ’tis of thee for a bit.

Mémorial au cimetière américain.

Omaha beach... moi.

On the way to the German cemetery. All these little hills and valleys are from bombs.

The German cemetery.

For a change of pace, my pictures from this past weekend will be much more lively. Two fun events happened in Nantes this weekend. Saturday was la braderie, for which I do not know the English translation, but basically a ton of traveling vendors of cheap stuff came and set up stands throughout centreville, and even though the idea of shopping combined with a huge crowd of people is not too appealing to me as a general rule, I ventured into la foule (the crowd) and got two dresses for 15 euros total. I had to take advantage of the opportunity because I didn’t bring much spring clothing with me and clothes here are not cheap! By the way, there is no one French word for cheap. You have to say pas cher, which means “not expensive.” You can also say bon marché (it means “good deal” but it’s used as an adjective). I didn’t take any pictures at the braderie. Sunday was le Carnaval de Nantes, which I thought was a huge deal in France that everyone went to, but apparently it’s more for families because all the French people I asked about it had never gone. Anyway, parades are another thing that I don’t like as a general rule, but this was a French parade (défilé or parade) so it was automatically better. The floats were really cool and most of them had moving parts (regardez les photos au-dessous). But before the parade started, a fire started in a restaurant and destroyed a bunch of apartments! There was a ton of smoke (check out the video) but no one was hurt.

Junk food stand prominently advertising that they have nutella. I don't know if I've mentioned this on here, but people here are OBSESSED with nutella. There are nutella crêpes, paninis, beignets (donuts), and more. Here, it's being served with chi chi (which is pronounced sheeshee, is basically the same as churros, and is delicious).

Petit chaperon rouge (little red riding hood).

Le roi de Bretagne.

Le chat botté (puss in boots--this was apparently a French story before Shrek 2 came out).

Fairy godmother of Cendrillon (Cinderella).

And her citrouille (pumpkin).

Hansel and Gretel.

Hercules, my favorite. If you have to ask why, you'll never know.

I was also going to post a bunch of pictures I’ve taken around Nantes, but that will have to wait until next time because now I’ve spent my whole morning on this and it’s really about time I got dressed and did something with my life. À la prochaine! (‘Til next time.)

Funny things that French people do

Disclaimer: I mean all of the following in the most culturally sensitive way possible.

First of all, half of the French that I’ve learned since I got here means absolutely nothing, because French people make nonsense noises more often than they use actual words (you may be wondering if I’m just so bad at French that real words sound like nonsense to me, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case). Check out this youtube video Mom sent me for some examples (the sounds are pretty realistic, but the way she eats the baguette is not at all). I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of words that you can add to a sentence to make it sound like your opinion is an undeniable fact or to avoid having to explain or defend yourself. You can say quoi (which means “what,” but in this case it’s not a question) at the end of a sentence: C’est une vérité, quoi. = “What I just said is true and don’t even try disagreeing because I’m right.” Alternatively, if in the middle of a sentence you decide you can’t be bothered to finish explaining something (or you don’t actually have an explanation), you can simply end your sentence there and say either enfin, bref or voilà. In France this is generally accepted as supporting evidence for an argument. More about voilà: French people say it ALL THE TIME, either like I just described or to affirm what someone else said, like a more fun way of saying exact or exactement. The other day on the tram I heard a guy talking on the phone and he said voilà about five times in a row. I can only hope that the person on the other end of the line was saying something with some substance and that the entire conversation did not consist of an exchange of voilàs.

Then there are the stereotypes we have of French people that are completely true. The baguette is just as ubiquitous in real life as in the opening scene of Beauty and  the Beast. People just walk around with them all the time. They’re kind of awkwardly big to put in a bag, so you have to just hold them, or sometimes I see them sticking out of  a basket, which is adorable. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in an older post, but there are boulangerie/pâtisseries (bakery/pastry shop) everywhere, and it is wonderful. Also, people are really well-dressed here. Even the people who aren’t well-dressed are better dressed than the average American. On that note, I can’t talk about clothes without mentioning scarves. The scarf is the ultimate accessory in France. Men, women, children, old people, young people, cool people, losers, EVERYONE wears scarves here. They are so important that there are two different words for scarf in the French language: une écharpe is a winter scarf, and un foulard is a lighter, decorative scarf. For women my age, I most often see them wearing enormous scarves like in the picture below (except the color is too bright–people wear a lot of black here, although I have been told that more colors will appear as it gets warmer). I have also seen some berets, but they’re not quite as common as we Americans imagine them to be.

Something else I have to share: I’m reading the first Harry Potter book in French, and “sorting hat” got translated as choixpeau. Choix = choice. Chapeau = hat. Choixpeau. Brilliant!

Enfin, les vacances!

Bonjour! Sorry this took so long, but voilà the blog post about my vacation last week.  Premier arrêt: la Suisse!

Friday night I met up with Julia in Kandersteg, Switzerland. She spends her weekends there at an international scout center. The town is pretty touristy with lots of winter sports, especially cross-country skiing. It’s in a valley in the Alps, so it was absolutely beautiful! It was hard to see when I got there Friday night, but Saturday when I woke up and looked out the window I was amazed. I also got to sled down an Alp on a little wooden toboggan! I also ate rösti (a traditional Swiss dish consisting of fried, grated potatoes) with Raclette cheese (a Swiss cheese, but not the Swiss cheese that we eat in America). I learned that Swiss cheese is really good because the cows eat mountain grass, which is apparently better than non-mountain grass. Also, there is apparently a ceremony every spring in which the farmers lead herds of cows up the mountain.

Monday, we took the train from Kandersteg to Sion, where Julia lives during the week. Sion is in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. (Kandersteg is in a German-speaking region, but it was touristy enough that I heard lots of different languages, and everyone at the scout center speaks English.) It’s farther away from the mountains but you could definitely still see them in the distance, so we would be walking around looking at shops and restaurants and then we’d turn a corner and suddenly see the Alps!

Tuesday, I took a train to the Geneva airport and flew to Berlin to meet up with a couple friends from IES, Karen and Charlene. We stayed in a really nice hostel. It was just as clean and comfortable as a hotel, but there were common bathrooms and showers on each floor and I had to pay 2 euros for a towel. I remembered more German than I thought I did, which helped a lot the first night because Karen and I found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where no one spoke English. No one else was eating dinner (the other clients were some guys at the bar who seemed to be regulars) and the only staff were a man and a woman who I think were the owners and also married. They were really friendly even though they spoke almost no English and we spoke almost no German, and we managed to get food and pay even with the language barrier. I ordered schnitzel, even though I only knew the name from the song in Sound of Music (you know, “cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudel, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles…”) and didn’t actually know what it was. It turned out to be a piece of pork rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, but I just read on Wikipedia that it is traditionally veal and not pork, so maybe it would not have been one of Maria’s favorite things. We did get Apfelstrudel for dessert though! Other typical German foods that I ate while in Berlin: pretzel, Berliner (the donut), currywurst, potato soup (it had mini sausages in it!), beer. We tried to find a brewery or something, but we couldn’t find anything promising, so I didn’t really have any exceptionally good German beer, which was a little disappointing.

Now that the important stuff (food) is out of the way, I can tell you about what we did in between meals. We saw Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, Charlottenburg Palace, the Berliner Dom (a gorgeous cathedral with a great view of the city from the top), Fernsehturm (a big tower, which apparently looks really cool at night when it’s lit up but when we tried to go see it at night it was too foggy to see much), the Rote Rathaus (the old East Berlin city hall), a synagogue, and the Alte Nationalgalerie (19th century German art museum).

Charlottenburg Palace

Brandenburg Gate


Rote Rathaus

Interior of the Berlin Cathedral

Close-up of the organ

View from the top of the cathedral

And again

Friday, we flew to Budapest. The first interesting thing was getting money out (Hungary is in the EU but they use forints instead of euros), because the exchange rate is crazy! Here is me with 10000 forints, which is approximately $50.

The second interesting thing was the public transportation. To get from the airport to our hostel, we had to take a bus and then the subway. The bus may have been falling apart because the whole time we were on it, we kept hearing a loud noise that sounded like a giant piece of metal dragging on the street behind us. Then, when we got to the subway stop, we got scolded in very broken English because we didn’t know that you can’t transfer from a bus to a train with the same ticket (“Bus ticket! Not train ticket!”). Fortunately for us, the machine to buy train tickets was broken, so the guy ended up letting us go. We didn’t use the public transportation at all except for getting to and from the airport, because Budapest is quite walkable. Fun fact about the city: it’s actually two different cities (Buda and Pest) that are divided by the river Danube. It’s a really cool city to walk around in because it’s so old and there’s lots of beautiful architecture, even though a fair amount of it is in disrepair. We saw St. Stephen’s Basilica, Castle Hill (there’s a big castle and the ruins of a medieval town), Andrássy út (út means street–this is just a street with lots of cool architecture), the opera house, and Parliament (which is enormous and beautiful). We also explored the labyrinth underneath the castle district, which was really cool because it’s a system of caves that has been used since prehistory as a shelter from the wind and cold. Also, a big part of Hungarian culture is hanging out at public baths, so we went to one of those Saturday. There were some outdoors and some indoors, and they’re heated (some were really hot). It was a nice way to relax and people watch.

Interior of Saint Stephen's Basilica

The castle from across the Danube

The bridge to cross the Danube (I just thought the lights looked pretty)

A church in the castle district

And again

Buda and Pest in the same shot while crossing the Danube. Pas mal, non?

Sunday, we flew to Paris and had a few hours to kill before the train back to Nantes, so we saw Notre Dame (just the outside, because there was a really long line to go in, and I’m sure I’ll go back), walked along the Seine, and popped into the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures in Paris!

Short, frantic blog post!!

Bonjour bonjour!

I meant to make a post about last weekend, but I put it off all weekend and now I’m leaving in about 15 minutes for a vacation week en voyage, so this post is going to be very brief. Last Saturday I went to Mont-St-Michel and St. Malo with IES. My camera died about 10 minutes after we arrived? but I have a few photos. Sunday I went to a couple art expos in Nantes with my host mom. (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this properly, but Nantes has tons of art and ,usic events all the time.) I don’t have time to organize the photos, so it’s your job to guess what’s what.

Itinerary for the vacation: Switzerland today to visit Julia. Leaving Tuesday morning to meet up with Karen and Charlene (other IES students) in Berlin. Friday: Berlin to Budapest. Sunday, flying to Paris, spending the afternoon there, and returning to Nantes.

I’m bringing my camera and the cord to connect it to a computer, and I’ll be able to use Julia’s computer, so I may post mid-week before leaving Switzerland… but don’t get your hopes up! 🙂

Apocalypse neige!

So I thought my gift for my host mom was just some Gowell’s chocolates and cranberry jam, but apparently I brought along another little bit of New England–it snowed here last night for the première time in DIX ANNEES (10 years)! It’s cute because there’s about an inch of snow on the ground and everyone is freaking out and the public transportation is all messed up. I was supposed to go to a museum ce matin with my host mom but she is refusing to leave the apartment today. Also, last night when I was coming home, all of the young (my age) Nantais were super excited and having snowball fights in the street (and throwing snowballs at the bus… adorable). Here are some pics of the snow from my balcony last night:













In other news, today I am going to La Folle Journée (the crazy day), which is a weekend-long classical music festival that happens every year in Nantes (this is the 18th or 19th year). This year le thème is Le Sacre Russe (the sacred Russian–I don’t really understand why the sacred part is there…), so it’s featuring Tchaikovsky and a bunch of other composers whose names I’m not going to attempt to spell. Every étudiant at IES gets one ticket paid for, and then there are a bunch of free concerts all day that you can go to if you have a ticket to one of the non-free concerts.

Also, I finally decided what classes I’m taking, after trying out a million courses à la fac (at the university), many of which suuucked. The mainproblem was that I wanted to take some actual neuroscience courses while I’m here, but the psych department is kind of a joke, so most of those classes were too easy, and then all the random humanities classes I wanted to try were going to be way over my head. To illustrate with some specific anecdotes:

1. I tried a psych class (licence 3, meaning all the students have been taking nothing but psych courses for 5 semesters now) called La Psychologie Sociale de Croyance et Religion or something like that, which sounds really interesting, right? Wrong. Summary of the first 2 hour-long lecture: Le monstre du Loch Ness n’existe pas. Merci beaucoup, person-who-somehow-has-a-PhD.

2. I also tried a licence 2 history course on Bretagne (Brittany, for all you Anglo-Saxons). La bibliographie was 3 pages long.

3. And then there was a licence 3 literature course on some obscure works of Romanticism… it sounded interesting, but I think I would have had some issues since everyone else would be analyzing the second meanings of words while I struggled to figure out the first meaning…

Anyway, here are the classes I’m actually taking. At IES: French with Madame de Pous, and Panorama du théâtre français (we’re currently reading Phèdre by Racine). A l’université: Neurobiologie cognitive et pharmacologie (it’s not as impressive as it sounds, I promise), De la fonction sensorielle à la motricité (in the biology department–I think I’ll actually learn some stuff from that one), and Initiation à la bioéthique.

Oh yeah, I decided not to take the logic course after I realized that it was a continuation of the first semester, so everyone else already knew the mathematical language that they use–oops. The day after my last blog post, I went to the TD (travaux dirigés–there are exercises and stuff with a grad student or someone to complement the lectures) for that class and was REALLY confused.

Also, I forgot to take pictures of the university, but maybe I’ll do that next week. I did, however, take a few pictures of mon quartier (my neighborhood) last weekend.

Voilà le parc du Procé:









These are some weird trees on my street... there are a lot of weird trees in France. I'll try to remember to take pictures of more of them.







This encounter was so stereotypically French that I couldn't resist creepily taking a picture of these strangers from my park bench.