28 December 2010

The Hapsburg Crypt, Staatsoper, Pfudl

At my Dad's insistence and a trade-off from the catacombs at St. Stephansdom, we headed to the Capuchin Church that houses the coffins of the Imperial family. The coffins were ornately decorated and quite beautiful, though I was a little nervous about how many people were named "Maria Anna" - a little too close for comfort for my liking.

In the evening we had tickets to Die Fledermaus, which is an operetta, but we actually saw the ballet at the Staatsoper. It was fantastic, though because we had cheap seats, they were partially obscured view and we ended up half standing/crouching to see better for most of it. It was still fantastic and a real treat. The opera house what everything you would hope and think of when thinking of a beautiful opera house, complete with red velvet curtain and live orchestra.

We had put aside some money for a nice dinner out, and given the 7pm curtain time we decided to go with a late dinner. Anthony got Weinner Schnitzel and I got a minute steak with onions, potatoes and some pickels! Our desserts and wine were fantastic as well. It was a fantastic end to the evening and a great change to my usual spaghetti routine in Coutances.

27 December 2010

Sisi Museum, Silver Collection, Imperial Apartments, Leopold

I mentally prepared myself for the day as I have a nasty habit of becoming instantly tired the second I step foot in a museum. It was a museum heavy day with the Sisi Museum, Silver Collection, Imperial Apartments, and the Leopold. Sisi a beloved, late, princess, who has had a myth created about her and her personality after her death, elevated to a near Dianna type status in the country. The Imperial Silver collection shows all the place settings, center pieces and cutlery of the HRE, which is pretty interesting, but was too crowed, and after a certain time becomes "plates, spoons, more plates, serving platter, knives, etc." The Imperial apartments were interesting as well, though similar to the Schonnebrun because they were decorated and inhabited by the same people.

After we headed to the Leopold Museum, which was far too large to me to appreciate. I was pretty museumed out at that point, so I took advantage of many of the chairs in the galleries. A remarkable place, but not my style of art, and not after other museums.

26 December 2010

Schonnebrun and Carriage House

The wind whipped all feeling from our faces as we left the house. While it has mostly been cold while in Vienna, though a few days getting just above freezing, neither of us had encountered anything life that since leaving Kalamazoo. We went as quickly as possible to the castle. It was kind of a madhouse when we got inside. No place we've visited had really been that busy, except for the Schonnebrun. After getting out tickets, we picked up our audio guides and began the tour. The audio guide gives descriptions of the rooms as you pass through the palace, which really helps to bring the place to life, beyond just he beautiful furnishings.

Once finishing the tour, we picked up some food at the still-open Christmas market out in front. We were freezing down to our bones so we quickly made our way over to the carriage house. The carriage house contains some of the most ornate, and many of the surviving carriages from the imperial family. All of them looked like Disney's inspirations for princess movies. I can't imagine seeing one rolling through the streets of Vienna- how magnificent!

Our journey home was quick, as we were hoping to still have 10 fingers and 10 toes by getting home.

25 December 2010

Christmas at St. Stephansdom

While we were free to do anything for Christmas, we decided that a little bit of tradition might be nice. Are Christmas morning we headed to St. Stephansdom, one of the most famous churches in Vienna for a morning service. Somehow I thought that a Catholic Mass in German would remind me of Christmas at home. Wrong. Basically I was kind of cold, confused and tired most of the time. I had no idea what was going on because it was a Catholic Mass and it seemed a little ridiculous that we had to stand up and the cardinal need to take on and off his hat every time he stood up or sat down. That being said, it was an amazing choir and orchestra accompanying the service who were fantastic to hear. after an hour and a half we called it quits and snuck out during communion, with a fair amount of others joining us. It the beginning when we sang "O, Come all ye faithful," it was interesting, but the number of familiar hymns after that sank down to zero, and my interest along with it.

We headed home with small snow flurries falling around us, opened presents, and cooked up a very (not) traditional meal of mashed potatoes, peas and fajitas for Christmas dinner. It was certainly different than other Christmases, but great none the less.

24 December 2010

Spanische Hofreitschule- The Spanish Riding School and Nash Market

We finally started out our day earlier, getting out of the house before noon. Actually to get tickets we had to be at the ticket office when it opened- 9am. We were able to shake our butts out the door in time, actually arriving early and were the first in line. We bought our student tickets to the morning exercise then wandered around a bit before heading back in to get seats. While the morning practices are billed as "Morning Exercise with Music" implying a sort of dress rehearsal, it's closer to what the name actually says. We saw and enjoyed all the the special tricks of the famous Lipizzaner horses, though not as a true show. It was definitely worth the 6 euros each, rather than the 25 each we would have payed for a regular show. Unfortunately, not photos were allowed, so you'll have to google some photos of it.

On the way home we stopped at the Nash Market, which is a HUGE open stall market only one subway stop away from us. We picked up some hummus, pita and falafel along with a few other treats. Coutances has some shwarma places, but not much else by way of "ethnic" food, and there is little for purchase to bring home. It was all AMAZING and I absolutely adored it. For our Christmas Eve dinner we had chinese stir-fry which continued our international food selections for the two days. After that was relaxing Christmas movies at our apartment, with frequent "Can we open the presents yet!?!" from Anthony who is on the early open Christmas Eve tradition.

23 December 2010

Naturhistorisches and Figlmüller

We started out like most days- a Christmas Market! Once getting some snacks and taking a look around we headed into the Museum of Natural History. While the exhibits in the museum are interesting, even more so than that was the beauty of the building. It was absolutely gorgeous and the regal architecture, like that of many places we've seen, brings the experience to a different level. There were huge geology and zoology exhibits. Another great attraction was the "Venus of Willendorf" which is a small plump fertility statue from about 25000 years ago. The second floor had many stuffed animals; polar bears, fish, gazelle, etc. However I got nervous as I saw whale bones framing an entry. Rather than Anthony continuing to scope out every room for me, I waited in the cafe area while he saw the last few exhibits. He reported afterward that there were more whale skeletons so it was best that I took an early departure.

The ceiling of the cafe area- beautiful!

The elephant statue that's in front of the museum and Anthony!

For lunch we went to Figlmüller which is listed in one of our guide books and has a reputation for great Weiner Schnitzel. The lunch was amazing and HUGE. We took home leftovers to have on salad later, though I could barely even eat dinner after that meal.

On the far side is the schnitzel and the closer one is pork medallions with green beans wrapped in bacon and noodles that I ordered! It was pretty much the most amazing meal ever.

Night comes around 4h30 so we try to start our days earlier and to bed earlier. This usually means Anthony sneaks in a nap, I get distracted on the internet and then I become super sleepy the second we step foot into a museum. I'm working on it though! Luckily since we have so many days here, we really get the opportunity to explore everything we want to see.

22 December 2010

Stephansdom, the Karlskirch, and the Belvedere

We started the day off with a trip to the Lower Belvedere to finish what we had started the day before. The Lower Belvedere has more modern contemporary pieces, which I didn't really care for but Anthony enjoyed. Afterward we headed over the Stephansdom, the main church in the city whose spires towers over the city's landscape. We decided to head to the South Tower, the taller of the two towers for the apparently spectacular views. The South towers is taller but lacks something important- an elevator. The stairway was a small, spiraling and dark. It would have been quite claustrophobic in the summer with more visitors, but luckily we only had to pass people in the other direction 2 or 3 times. The views were fantastic but we were definitely panting after 350 steps. We felt like we were so high above the city, but looking at the picture of the church, we were only halfway up the tower! The rest of the way isn't accessible, but I think I would have been scared to go much further.

We weren't even all the way up to the stop-off in the tower when I took this photo. The tiled roof is one of the coolest parts of St. Stephansdom.

The view we worked so hard for

This is the tower that we went up into. We were probably about even with where the covering/work outside finishes

On the way home we went to Karlskirch with another Christmas in front. Karlskirch is absolutely beautiful with a soaring ceiling and amazing frescoes. They have an elevator set up in the middle that leads up to a platform which then allows you to climb scaffolding staircases up to the the very top of the church. This allows a panoramic view of the city, a close up of the wonderful artwork and a serious case of vertigo.

Looking down from the scaffolding into the church

Up close you could really appreciate the paintings even more

With tired legs, we headed home after, have seen enough dizzying heights and content to stay on the ground for a while.

First Real Day in Vienna and the Upper Belvedere

Monday night Anthony finally arrived after 2 and a half days in London. He was short two bags (one of which would arrive Thursday night, the other is still somewhere in the hands of British Airlines). It was such a relief to finally see him, not only because it had been 3 months, but because it seemed so uncertain if he would arrive at all. It took him a plane ticket to Brussels from London and he just barely got out on the last plane from Brussels to arrive. Four countries in 5 days!
Tuesday morning we headed out to see some Christmas Markets- the number of which is one of the reasons I wanted to come to Vienna. At our first one we (I) saw some items for sale that looked suspiciously like latkes- and so they were! Some latkes and glühwein certainly brought up our spirits.

Then we headed over to the Belvedere which had another Christmas market in front. After looking around that we headed into the museum. The Upper Belvedere has some older pieces, while the Lower Belvedere is contemporary and modern art. The Upper Belvedere has Klimt's "The Kiss" as well as some of his other pieces. There were also some Renoirs, Monet's, Manet's and some by Herbert Boeckel that I really liked. The gardens that surround it were not in their prime obviously given the season, but must be spectacular in summer.
We saved the Lower Belvedere for the next day, as we had been over ambitious with heading out so early in the morning. After picking up some groceries we headed home and made some dinner for a relaxing evening together.

21 December 2010

Noël! Des Lumières et le Marché de Noël

With all the travels, delays, and adventures I've missed some important updates. Coutances is showered in beautiful lights on all the streets leading up to Christmas as well as a market in the center of town. I've loved walking around at night just for the lights. It would be baby Shane's dream- so much to look at! Daytime photos are in this post, and for the sake of uploading photos, Christmas lights are in the other.

Christmas market with the Cathedral in the background

Christmas market with the Town Hall in the back!

They let a bunch of balloons go for no reason- I hope no animals choke on them!

I got a "bouchette de Noel" from a local bakery. It was just a small personal sized one rather than a family sized one most Frenchies have on Christmas. I still remember baking (and burning) one for French class in middle school with Jess.

The Lights!

20 December 2010

In the meantime...

So it doesn't seem like Anthony will be getting in tonight either... maybe tomorrow. He flew out of London to Brussels, but the Brussels to Vienna flight is canceled. I haven't heard from him since he left London, so I'm not sure how things are going right now. It's been a pretty rough few days for me and I can only imagine it being at least 10 times worse for Anthony right now. This will all work out in the end.... if it doesn't, British Airways is going to catch hell form me.

This seems pretty appropriate right now:

Maybe I'll actually post the Christmas photos from Coutances that I've been meaning to put up. More likely I'll just be obsessively refreshing gmail, the brussels airport website and weather forecasts.

18 December 2010


I'm safe in Vienna at the apartment me and Anthony are renting with one problem.... Anthony is in London.

Give snow and London not understanding the concept of a snow plow or being prepared for the winter, basically all flights have been canceled, he's been waiting on line all day and we're hoping he gets out on a plane tomorrow. The only thing to do is wait....

I'm sure it will be really fun when he gets here!

*19 Dec 8am Update: All flights but one are canceled from Heathrow today. There's a flight tonight at around 6pm, but I'm sure everyone else is clamoring to get on it as well. Luckily they did put him up in a hotel room over night, so maybe he'll be able to sightseeing a little bit while he's there. I trying to hope for the best and stay positive, but right now that's looking like Monday. :(
**19 Dec 10 am Update: Nothing is working... we're just waiting. Don't know if he'll even get here tomorrow.
***20 Dec 10am Update: His flight for 11am got canceled but the 6am flight went out today. Heathrow hasn't finalized their schedule for this afternoon, but those flights haven't been canceled yet- so maybe there's hope there. He's been at Heathrow for the last 4 days now (though they have put him up in hotel rooms) and they say not to go to the airport but he can't rebook online or get through calling... so he's stuck in limbo.
*****20 Dec 12:30pm All British Airways Vienna flights are canceled for today as well.

17 December 2010

En Route

I'm about to head to the Coutances train station to head into Paris. I'm staying with Chris and Claire overnight and then heading to the airport. They skys have opened up and are dumping buckets of snow and I'm terrified my plane will be canceled. Hopefully tomorrow night I'll be updating from Vienna (inshallah).

15 December 2010

Drunk French Granparents Club

I missed choir practice last week since Dad was here visiting and with about 60 people in the choir, despite being the new, young, American, apparently some people don't know me yet.
As I brushed sleep from my eyes I realized I somehow managed to be lulled to sleep by one of my flatmates singing along to Micheal Jackson on the other side of our very thin walls. It was 8 o'clock, I still hadn't eaten dinner, and I probably needed to change into different clothes besides the sweatpants that I "cleaned" (also known as licked) the spilled yogurt off of last week. In a hazy amble I ate a spoonful or two of peanut butter and made some toast. I have an awkward assortment of food left before I leave on Friday and there wasn't time for my usual standby of spaghetti.
I arrived at the practice room, only a few minutes late. However, I couldn't hear singing from within. Instead I found the room with two banquet tables and people milling about. I asked someone where the heck the choir practice was and was met with "here!" A celebration dinner before Christmas break. Well, how fitting because I was going to need Christ's help. French meals are incredibly stressful for me. I've made lunches in the cafeteria at school managable by figuring out who are the talkers, sitting by them and letting them do all the work. Sometimes they'll ask a question, but usually they blab away through the hour leaving me blissfully free of having to make a huge ass of myself in front of everyone with my grammar mistakes which take 5 minutes to formulate in the first place.
So crap. what the hell was I going to do. Sylvain wasn't at this "practice" apparently, so I had no fallback there and I didn't know anyone else. Both women who have rather taken me under their wings at the choir (Nadine and Jackie I believe), came to my rescue. It was apparently a bring your own plate affair as well. A paper plate and plastic cutlery were found for me, I scrounged up some food and sat down with Jackie, hoping to blend in with the wall until whenever I could gracefully leave. However this meal was different than most. They asked me questions, of course the usual basics. (Je m'appelle Anna. Je viens des Etats-Unis, pres du New York. Je suis l'assistant d'anglais au lycee lebrun. Je pars le fin d'avril. ) And conversations headed other directions. Considering I'm the youngest member of the choir by about 25 years (I was asked whose child I was when I came in and someone didn't recognize me), conversations turned to children and grandchildren. As the wine flowed, jokes were made, politicians criticized and more laughs engulfed the table. A man turned to me, "Do you know Montiange? Ummm, no (I also thought he was talking about mountains, having been listening to the conversation on the other side of me) Voltaire? A little. Montesquieu? Some." And that's where the conversation ended. Not in a terrible "you dumb American" trap I felt myself walking into, the conversation just turned. Which is good that it did because I could have actually talked about Montiange's "Of Cannibals" a lot easier than Montesquieu. I realized the beauty of the choir and the elevated average age. Run out of conversation topics? Ask about their kids. And how much they hate Sarkozy.
The Drunk French Grandparents Club aka choir is a beautiful thing. They actually want to talk to you, despite grammar mistakes and impending departure. But if you have nothing to say then there are 59 other people who will certainly jump in with something else.
The evening ending with some spontaneous Christmas and choir songs, some in French and some in English. Yes, it's choir, but I couldn't help the feeling that I was at staff banquet for Glen Spey, with the long tables and slightly out of synch singing. And I was happy I stayed. I was homesick and I still wished I had something to add to the conversation, but I was glad I stayed.

14 December 2010

Poiré, White Wine, Red Wine, Another Type of Red Wine, and Calavados

Last night I had dinner at the home of a British couple with Sylvain (one of the English teachers here) and Huimin. The couple is part of the jury of "Le Concours Lechaptois," the English recitation competition I'm running.
I was pretty much dreading this dinner, partly because sometime Sylvain puts me in a bad mood, but also because I was worried they would interrogate me about Le Concours which I still feel like I'm completely bs-ing.
Turns out I was wrong- it was awesome. Richard and Felicity are amazingly sweet. They spent the whole night saying how we should feel at home, if we didn't like something we didn't have to eat it, if something was the matter just tell them. Most of all they were so sincere in that they want to get to know me. It didn't feel like a "Oh crap, gotta have the american over for dinner, better get this over with," meal at all. They extended invitations to go oyster hunting with them in January and we exchanged contact info before we left. When I woke up this morning I had an email waiting from Felicity with a book list she had been talking about last night. We had an absolutely beautiful meal- trout wrapped round palm hearts, roast guinea fowl and vegetables, a cheese plate, salad and brandied plums with custard for desert. This was all interspersed with drinks of course.
More than anything it was nice to connect on a cultural level as well. Richard is extremely well traveled and has lived in South Africa, New Jersey, Shanghai and Texas. This also meant that I wasn't subject to the usual onslaught of "what you don't know obscure American/Great Britain cultural fact that we're teaching in class right now?! what about the entire work of Shakespeare and every American author ever?" I could actually talk about different conversation topics, rather I could actually participate in conversation!
Thank God I only had an hour of work this morning (at 9am) because I don't think I would have made it to or through much else. We arrived at Felicity's and Richard's just after 7 and didn't leave until 11h40! Quite different from my usual Monday night. All in all a wonderful time and I'm so glad I got to meet them. I hope it continues through the rest of my time here.

11 December 2010

A visit from Dad

Well, I've had a fun filled 4 days because my wonderful Dad came for a visit!
He met me up in Cherbourg where I had to get my medical visits for my visa done. We had some weird scheduling to work around due to conference calls and my two medical visits but it all went well. My first medical appointment was for a chest x-ray to make sure I don't have tuberculosis, despite the fact that I've been teaching and working with the students for 2 and a half months at this point, but alright France, I'll get a chest x-ray for you. The second visit in the afternoon I would barely even call a physical. It took about 1o minutes long involved getting my blood pressure, height and weight, listening to my tuberculosis free lungs and asking me if I smoke. That's it. Not even looking in the ears, that weird press on the tummy thing, check eyesight or anything else. I was happy to get out of there though and get back to hanging out with my dad.

We explored some of the main shopping streets in Cherbourg, had a lovely lunch, and visited the Christmas market (which had a pony!! and churos!!)

Once we got to Coutances and checked Dad into his hotel room we headed out for galettes (savory crepes) for dinner at Le Ratelier. Dinner was amazing, though I couldn't finished or take advantage of a dessert crepe because of the churos that were sitting heavily in my stomach from earlier.

On Thursday I gave dad a tour of the town, bringing him to any place imaginable in order to extend the tour, but he was also happy to have a more relaxing day after his whorl-wind business trip. We also headed over to Agon-Coutainville to walk along the Atlantic Ocean. And like any visit from a parents when the kid has starting living on their own- a trip to the grocery store. It was great to have a car to bring them back in AND Dad got to experience the fun of carrying groceries up 5 flights of stairs!

Me and Dad at the beach in Agon-Coutainville

Friday we headed to Chartres, about an hour away from Orly and therefor an easier drive for Dad when leaving Saturday. It had heavily snowed a few days before and so our unprepared feet got to walk around in the days-old snow slush; at least my shoes dried by the next morning.
We visited the Cathedral and the beautiful stained glass windows, and the narrow pedestrian streets that reminded me of Diagon alley from Harry Potter. Dinner was, again, wonderful, especially because it ended with a hot fudge sundae :D

Me and Dad on the narrow streets in Chartres. I tried to get some of the lights that were behind us in the photos, but they didn't show up well.

Saturday morning I had an early train out of Chartres so I could connect in Paris and get back to Coutances (7:30am!). It would have been nice to get some extra time with Dad and leave a little later, but I definitely wouldn't have gotten any extra sleep since Dad sounds like a broken tractor when he snores.

I spent the train ride back missing him already, but glad that he got to see Coutances and at least visit for a little while. I wish it was possible for everyone to visit, not only so I could see you all, but also so I could share my tiny little town with you.

08 December 2010

Why today was awesome

1. Dad got here!
2. Medical visits in Cherbourg weren't that obnoxious.
3. Christmas Market in Cherbourg.
4. --- With a donkey!!!
5.----And French churros! (chichis)
6. A fantastic lunch
7. Driving back to Coutances with Dad rather than spending 2 hours on the train
8. A delicious dinner of galettes in Coutances
9. The Coutances Christmas lights are finally on!
10. The sum of the things listed above :D

07 December 2010

Wonderful People!

Tomorrow my dad gets here and in a week and a half I'll be flying to Vienna to meet up with Anthony for Christmas!!!!

Obviously I'm very excited and happy, and what more needs to be said?

06 December 2010

Christmas Lessons

Things I learned today when teaching/ holding conversations about Christmas

1. A kid in my morning group did know that Christmas is celebrated because it's Jesus's birthday. She honestly just had no idea. She actually a pretty good student too, and speak English well.
2. French kids don't leave anything out for Pere Noel. No cookies and no milk- not even a carrot for the reindeer. Obviously it's way more fun to be Santa than Pere Noel.
3. Except if you're visiting one of my student's house. She leaves out hot chocolate and Calvados. Win!

03 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

The snow kept falling and I'd say that we got about 10 inches last night. Everyone was out shuffling around and shoveling snow today but it was a great jovial atmosphere. I also saw some guy walking along when a pile of snow fell off a roof and on his head and the neck of his jacket- his daughter was behind him and absolutely cracking up- I loved it!

Looking out over the school from the balcony/hallway in front of the apartment. You can see the top of the cathedral all lit up!

From my bedroom window this morning. It make me think of the song "over the river and through the woods"

In front of the main building of the lycee. I like to pretend it's my Christmas tree, but it's just a pine that's always there

The catherdral in centre-ville.

The steps down to "Les Unelles" or the cultural center that also has the library

It makes me so excited for Christmas! and they may be turning on the Christmas lights around town tonight :D

02 December 2010


So it is now offically winter in my book- why? Thanksgiving is over and there is snow everywhere! And you know what? it's the most wonderful time of the year.


Some random middle aged non-creepy looking guy today was like "un manteau tres joli!" sweet- I semi fit in!
There's about six inches of snow on the ground and it keeps coming (which means I didn't even really work today because none of the kids showed up!)
My dad will be here in less than a week.
The Christmas lights around Coutances will go on this weekend.
The crazy park thing in the middle of town has been turned into a mini forest now WITH LIGHTS! and pine trees
Fun Christmas shopping
I see Anthony in about 2 weeks.
A trip to Vienna!

I'm almost out of food
My latkes failed because I didn't have a second egg so they couldn't bind

Hashbrowns and applesauce are still pretty good
I still have beer left (raspberry lambic, yum!)

I'm pretending this is my life right now:

30 November 2010

teh inter tubz

While being away from everyone is really difficult and I can't always get a hold of people at home, I have been so lucky to have Anthony. He's always there for me, to share my happiness over the most banal of things, and a shoulder to cry on. He has even been there when my umbrella attacked my thumbnail and I needed someone, at 8am his time, to distract me from the pain and kept me level headed. I try to keep a positive attitude, putting myself out there, talking to people the best I can and making the most of this experience. One of several times, but last night he listened to me vent and cry for over an hour about how I wasn't getting to talk to or meet people. He tried to remind me that things get better, and that things would. My response was that I was doing everything I possibly could and I was destined to live a sad and lonely existence for 5 more months and I should basically take a vow of silence and live in an abbey for the rest of the time. Perhaps slightly dramatic, but it really was how I was feeling.

And this is one of the few times I'll probably say it, so you want to bookmark this page or something, but he was right. Already today things were improving. Nelly, the housekeeper for the building, had been away last week and she's someone I usually talk to a lot. I was so happy to have her back and talked to her for about 15 minutes this morning, then coming back from lunch, one of the students Madame Mazurie had told me about, invited me to the weekly Wednesday night movies at the school (though I usually have choir then so we'll see how that works out), after that I had a funny conversation group, all lively and actually participating- and I hadn't even killed myself preparing that lesson, and finally, when I came back to my flat I talked with Huimin for a while about n'importe quoi.
Though there are days where I don't say much, and I could certainly be improving faster, I do speak French, and beyond joining groups or activities, it's putting myself out there in those little moments.

Which brings me to the internet. It's a blessing and a curse. I love that I get to talk to people from home- sometime over an hour each night ( i <3 skype), I can easily research different English activities, and it's all provide in the paltry sum of 80 euros a month rent. Other assistants are stuck with internet cafes, McDo's wifi and expensive set up plans, so I've definitely lucked out. It also means that when I'm feeling lazy I can watch multiple (aka way too many) seasons of Mad Men and procrastinate on lesson plans. Reflecting on Dakar life vs. Coutances, I realized how much I read in Dakar and how much I blogged, talked to people or just did something. I have an amazing opportunity to even just study French 30 min each day,talk to others, watch a movie in French or read a book, but most of that time is lost on the internet. I'm going to try to cut down on my internet hours. It's difficult, not because I love or need the internet so much, but just because it's easy. It's easy to watch stupid youtube videos and get lost for 3 hours in it. What a waste. So, while I'm still working out the kinks, I'm going to try to hopefully keep my computer off for a good portion of the day, perhaps an email check in the morning and an hour or so at night. But like all resolutions, we'll see how long this one lasts....

Update 1 dec 2010 21h: So far a major fail, but I'm going to keep at it.

28 November 2010

Better late than never!

It's 10pm and I still need to finish lesson plans for classes at 8 and 9am tomorrow! Among other things that have not been finished- talking to great people was definitely worth it- but still, another late night and postponed blog entries :(

+ 29 Nov 2010 10pm Thankgiving entry up, but backdated as 11/27
+ 29 Nov 2010 10pm Cherbourg entry up, but backdated as 11/21

27 November 2010


I was pretty bummed out about not getting to celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day- I had been wasn't expecting that feeling to hit me, especially since I knew I had the Saturday celebration to look forward to. In any case, I did get to celebrate, just a few days later, but with fantastic food and new friends.

Michelle is an assistant (as all of us at the Thanksgiving are) living in Ouistreham. It's the port city, just north of Caen where some of the ferries from England come out. Michelle finished her Peace Corps assignment in Benin this August, so she has been used to doing Thanksgivings abroad and scrounging together other Americans. Michelle also has a huge apartment and loves to cook, and to top it all off, is an awesome cook. Her stuffing (sorry to whoever makes the stuffing in my family) absolutely the best I've had. It had sausage, walnuts and apples- simply amazing. She also made the turkey and a pumpkin pie. It was pot luck style for other dishes- I brought cranberry sauce, cider and apple pie. With all of us and the food it was awesome. Great people, food and conversation. I stayed overnight, because between trains and buses it would have been a quick trip otherwise, and so did Lydia, an assistant in Carentan.

While it wasn't the insane proportions of food in Dakar, or in the Kzoo caf (with some of the greatest people I know) it certainly made France feel more like home.

26 November 2010

Dear France

Dear OFII (Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration),

Thank you so much for letting me change my first medical visit appointment. It was kind of silly of you to put it in the middle of the Toussaint vacation so that was cool of you to say you would just send me a new date.

However, since it's been over a month since a first called, and I've called each week in November asking when I would receive my new date, and you keep saying next week, and yet I still receive nothing, so this is getting kind of ridiculous and I'm sick of it.

On Monday, when I call yet again, can you please not be on vacation and can you please actually send me the papers this time?


Dear Internet Provider of Lycee Lebrun,

I am actually quite thankful you exist, and that I realize have a pretty good internet situation, especially compared to other people. But that really made my Thanksgiving Day, having the internet crap out for absolutely no reason at 7 pm to 9 am this morning. Even better was that I didn't have any phone credit so I could call anyone back. Or look up thanksgiving recipes I needed online. That plus the whelks that the Frenchies kept trying to get me to eat at lunch really just added to the overall spirit of the day. Who wants to talk to family and friends on Thanksgiving anyway? It's much more fun to have spaghetti for dinner again.

Can't wait until next time!

25 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

From a student who speaks English much better than he pays attention:

"Zee Macy's Zanksgiving parade is when zee president kills the turkey at the end, oui?"

And if that wasn't enough fun, pretty much the grossest Thanksgiving joke ever:

Farting Your Guts Out

Bob and Martha have been married for 15 years. Every morning for 15 years, Bob wakes up, farts loudly, rolls over onto his back and gets up for work.

Every morning for 15 years, Martha says, "One of these days, you're gonna fart your guts out!"

One Thanksgiving morning, Martha's preparing the turkey and gets an idea. Before her husband gets up, she creeps upstairs and places the turkey innards in his pajama bottoms, giggling to herself.

Well, later that morning, Bob wakes up and goes through his morning ritual. He screams as he goes running into the bathroom. Martha laughs, but is concerned after noticing that Bob has been in the bathroom for 3 hours.

She runs upstairs, and is about to knock on the door, when Bob opens up, pale as a ghost. He says, "You were right. You were right. I did fart my guts out, but by the grace of God and these two fingers I got them back up there again."

21 November 2010

Cité de la Mer- Cherbourg

On Sunday I made a trip to Cherbourg to visit Cité de la Mer. Cité de la Mer is the tallest (deepest?) aquarium in Europe and some cool exhibits. It's definitely geared towards children but it's fun all the same. We drove up there in the grey morning, which was a nice change from the train. After getting our tickets we first took the tour with audio guide of the submarine. IT'S HUGE! I can't imagine living in that confined space and not seeing the light of day for several months with 135 other people.
I couldn't even fit the whole thing in one photo!

We finished the audio guides just in time to head over to the “attraction.” We weren't really sure what this entailed, but it turned out to be ok. Basically there's this whole back story they've created about how our groups is going to be exploring the next frontier, the bottom of the sea. They made you go through these different “training modules” which are pretty hilariously stupid and then go “on the voyage” in one of those flight simulator type things. After that you are sat down to watch a video of the news conference announcing the epic trip to the world. They piece into the video small snippets from the “training modules” that we had just done to actually have us on the “news conference.” Overall, cute, not super impressive, but like most things there, probably a lot cooler if I was 10.

Meike and I then headed over to the main attraction, the aquarium. The aquarium was 2 stories high and you could look at it from three different levels. At the very bottom you could look up to the top giving a little mermaid effect to it.

"Look at this stuff, isn't it neat? Wouldn't you think my collection's complete? "

There were all kinds of cool fish swimming around with different designs and bright colors. They also had some specialty type small tanks with other fish in them and a large touch tank with sting rays and shark-type looking things. They looked like they were hungry for fingers, ready to jump out of the tank and there was no museum guide or anything so Meike and I kept our distance from that one.

Les poissons de confiture. Ok, the french for jellyfish is actually "la méduse" but I like my name a lot better.

Because of our timing and skipping some of the younger interactive sections, our trip to Cherbourg was pretty short. Nothing is open on Sunday, so we headed back soon after leaving the museum. A fun day out to try something new!

Time Management

I'm clearly not in college anymore. I will probably have to stay up until about 2/2h30 to get everything finished and I'm about to call that a "late night." Granted France is lacking in a 24h "Dairy Mart" to buy 69 cent sodas, snacks and RedBull, so everything is just topsy-turvy.

Updates on my weekend to hopefully come tomorrow!

18 November 2010

The Sun!

A beautiful sunset from the other night
And the 10 day weather forecast

I'm off to go catch the last bit of vitamin D available for today!

17 November 2010

Thanksgiving Lessons

I don't have much planned yet, but if you google "Thanksgiving ESL" in only a few clicks you will be led to a powerpoint entitled "How to deep fry a turkey"

Tomorrow's Vocab list:
Food baby
Turkey Coma
Mystery Relative

Useful phrases:
Pass to the right
Pass to the left
No! I said it's always counter clockwise!
Where's the wine?
Is the game on?

Traced hand Turkeys
Defining "salad"
What are you thankful for?

I love cultural exchanges!

Update: In case for some reason you don't know what a cherpumple is:


Don't worry if you think I'm lonely here cause I've always got one friend around.....

meet my really cool friend by clicking here!

15 November 2010

French TV

I was watching "N'obublie pas les paroles" (Don't forget the lyrics) and apparently the contestant was in the army. He didn't know the final words, so he wanted to walk away with the money he already had (and was actually guaranteed). A reasonably amusing show, but made so much better by what he said:

"You know, I'm a soldier. And like a good soldier, I know when to give up."

Bahahahahahahahahhahaah HA HAHAH AHHHAHAHAHAHA!

I love when french stereotypes are true.


The weather has improved now that it's time for me to get back to work! Luckily 3 of my 5 classes today were canceled (Workshop in St. Lo and Parent-Teacher conferences)

I much prefer this view...... to the one I had for the last 4 days

13 November 2010

Rain- again

This is the third day of heavy rains we've been having. This means that it's also quite miserable to go out and get anything done. I've not exactly been put in high spirits from it.

And I lost my umbrella.

10 November 2010

Dear France

Dear France,
Thank you for exceeding my expectations in number of baguettes being carried and stripey shirts worn. Your ability to perfectly extend strikes until the next vacation is something I'd like to to teach Americans. The number of cigarettes smoked is remarkable and quite possibly belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records. However, I have been quiet disappointed in your lack of berets and expect this to be improved upon. Also, as colder months come, I'll probably start wearing one. I don't care if only old Normandy Fisherman wear them, I'm bringing it back, deal with it.
Merci Beaucoup (beau cul).

07 November 2010

Lessons, Bikes, Beers, Swim and Movies

This “week” has gone pretty well. I guess week is an over exaggeration, I only had class Thursday because there was only a half week of classes and I don't work Wednesdays or Fridays. Thursday was my best day of classes since arriving. For once, I had something planned- mostly Halloween related since the strike meant we never got to do anything with it. The first class of the day I hadn't even met yet between A/B weeks, tests, orientations and strikes. I had half the class at a time but by myself. I introduced myself and then had them make pairs, introduce themselves to each other and then come up in front of the class and present their partner to everyone. This worked out quite well which was rather satisfying. My second class of the day I had them think of Halloween vocabulary and then they had ot think of a Halloween costume, describe it and turn it into a guessing game. For example a student might say “I have a long black dress, green skin and I have a black cat. (I am heavier than a duck but I float) What am I?” “You're a witch!” This went pretty well, and a favorite of mine was “I am white, have no head and dogs like me. I'm a skeleton!”

My last class of the day was a little bit of a flop, but it was ok. It was with the “terminales”- supposedly one of my highest classes. I has short scary stories that make your skin crawl. I would read them them the stories 2 sentences at a time and have them summarize them so they could follow and so they were speaking. I don't know if it was the usual being scared to speak, a lack of comprehension or a total lack of interest but most of it was met with blank stares. The plus side was that at least I had something for them to do for 30 min and I wasn't there staring at my phone (no clocks in the classrooms- what?!) wishing time to move faster.

Friday I had a lot going on. I met up with Meike (the german assistant). We hung out in the garden while the weather held and parted ways when the sun started heading down. That night David, my mentor, and I met up to head out on a mission. A friend of a friend of a friend apparently had many bikes and could lend both me and Huimin one for the year! We met at the school and headed over the other professor (it was his friend) to a town about 20 minutes away. When we got there the friend wasn't home, but his wife was. When she opened the bike shed, I realized that “a few extra bikes” was an understatement. She said her husband had about 45 bikes! She pulled out an old fashioned step through bicycle for me and a smaller one for Huimin (she was in Caen for the day and couldn't come). There wasn't really an area to try it out, as it was a grass lawn and soft dirt road and it's really a road bike. All the same I'm excited about my improved mobility. I need to get a bike lock and a tire pump as I realized the tires are a little soft when I got back to the school. The bike makes me a little nervous as I need to both back pedal and use the handbrake to 100% percent stop, especially on these Coutances hills, but I'm sure it will work out. At 8pm I met up with Vika for the first time. She's here from Belarus working with the AVRIL Association which is an environmental organization that does lots of exchanges throughout Europe. It was actually my first time heading to a bar in Coutances as many seems like they have a sign out front that says “Old Men Only. Please Leave.” “The 3 Pillars” actually had younger people and had a rock band starting up as we left- a little much for a place about the size of our dining room in Ridgewood. Vika is starting to learn French while she's here, lives out at the “College Agricole,” doesn't have roommates, and her internet isn't set up yet. Needless to say, she's been a little isolated since getting here. All of her coworkers sound really nice and have been welcoming so far though. It was nice to be able to chat in English, though now I'm kind of in the habit as thinking of any time I speak in English as a bit of a lesson (though her English is excellent).

Saturday I went to Leclerc, the French equivalent to Meijer or something between a super Target and A&P with Meike (she has a car). Taking advantage of this car situation I bought all the potatoes, onions, soda, cider and beer I might need for a while. It actually wasn't that much but I still had to do 2 trips up to my 5th floor walk up.

Later I had swim practice, which I was late to- oops. Nothing of particular excitement, just got in the water and did laps. I almost always mishear the directions so I basically just pick a person and follow whatever they do, though sometimes they stop and take breaks and my system falls apart.

In a little bit I'm heading to the movies with Meike, we're seeing “Alpha and Omega” a kid's movie, but also something we're hoping we can understand. It's my first time seeing a movie in France, so we'll see if the movie theatre floor is a gross as in the states.

Also, I'm supposed to be working on this project “Le Concours Lechaptois” named after an old English professor at the school. They hold a recitation competition each year and the participants can win a weekend to England. I need to come up with some readings that they can do- any recommendations? Kate, I'm sure you have some favorites from your CMU days? So far I've been thinking about Barack Obama's “Yes, We Can” speech, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” an excerpt from “War of the Worlds” and that's about all I've got. I have time to think of more, but I'm stuck. There's no particular parameters... at lest I haven't been told any, but basically anything goes, though 2 person dialogues are the best.

That's all for now, and I'll try to get those updates for Zurich and Milan up soonish!

01 November 2010

Last shall come first

+Recap for Geneva is up
+Recap for Lucerne is up

So I'm doing things a little backwards with this. I had a great time in Geneva, Luzern, Zurich and Milan. Some of you might realize that this is a few days short of my original plans, and that there are some cities missing. That's because I came home early. Yup, I canceled the last 4 days of my trip and came back early. It felt pretty out of character of me. I love to travel, but I really wasn't enjoying the trip to the fullest. There were a few reasons I came home; the trip was more expensive than expected, I thought I would like the off the cuff plan we had- but it proved to be stressful rather than care free but most of all I was homesick.

Perhaps if I had been with an old friend who knew me well I could have been alright, but all I could think about was how much I wanted to be in Coutances or the States either with the people I love or at lest the ability to skype/ talk to them. There was no point in going to Rome if I couldn't see the Coliseum because of tears blurring my vision.

So in anycase, I left from Milan and took a night train back to Paris on the 30th and got in by 4h30 pm to Coutances (still some strikes). I was beaming the whole way home, happy to be heading back. I haven't done much since I've gotten back- between Sunday and All Saint's Day most things have been closed, but it's been perfect.

Below is my recap for Geneva, with Luzern, Zurich and Milan coming as soon as I can- enjoy!

26 October 2010

Switzerland Part 2/3 Lucerne

We arrived in Lucerne without a hitch- of the wonderfulness of Swizz trains; on time to the second. Marc, our CS host met us at the train station and then we headed back to his to get rid of our bags. We hung out for a bit having tea and chatting and then Nicole and I headed into town. With a day and a half to explore Lucerne- a small city, we headed downtown without a plan. We mostly walked around, even in the rain, though being placed in Normandy I don't really mind or notice it anymore. From what we had read the Lucerne Art Museum seemed interesting but we thought we would leave it for Monday.

Sunday night was a relaxing night in eating pasta and chatting with Marc. Marc is a product tester for mountain bikes and he is insanely cooler than he reveals at first. He's traveled just about everywhere and we got him to tell us about his latest outing for work- where they flew him to the top of a mountain in a helicopter to do a mountain biking photo shoot!

We watch a movie together and then headed to sleep. The next morning brought more rain, but we decided to forge ahead anyway. We headed to the Art museum to find that it is actually closed on Mondays.... dang. So we headed on our next mission which was to find Nicole a pair of sneakers since her flats weren't cutting it in the rain. An H&M answered her prayers and we continued our walking. We ended up at the Rosengart Collection which has a great collection of Picasso and Clee. I really enjoyed the museum and was again stuck by Picasso's work.
We asked for recommendations from the ladies at the ticket counter for where we should get Fondue or Raclette. The one older lady didn't speak english, but pointed out a street and wrote down the name to hve us head there to eat. When we got there we looked around to find "The Fondue House." Yup, not even "la maison du fondue" or "die Fondue Haus," but just "The Fondue House." We decided that we could find something a little better, not even more "authentic" just not so ridiculously touristy. We found a cafe/pastry type place that also had lunches and was on the water. They had both fondue and Raclette on the menu, we figured fondue wouldn't be as hard to try another time so we went with the raclette.
Raclette was clearly invented by a crazy cheese farmer because I don't think anyone else could make up "plate of melted cheese with some mini gherkins, cocktail onions and 3 small potato halves." I think the inventor was carefully treading the line between insanity and genius and I'm not sure where he landed. Soooooooooo delicious. I think it's one of those things a stomach can only handle once a year but so yummy!

The rest of the day included more wandering, trying to digest the raclette, buying chocolate to bring home and the purchase of a strange dessert. I heard/saw this dessert from Rachel's blog- who we were visiting in Zurich, and figured I needed to try it myself. It basically looks like something between spaghetti and playdoh. It's chestnut marzipan with whipped cream. A new taste, I don't know if I would get it again but definitely worth trying once.
After packing up our things and saying goodbye to Marc we headed to the train station to get our 8pm train and continue onto Zurich!

24 October 2010

Switzerland! Part 1 of 3

1. Getting there
Strikes continued through our departure, adding considerable time to it. I live about 3h30 from Paris, but with the strikes there's only about 2 trains in a day because I need to connect. To make the next day less stressful I spent Thursday night at Nicole's in Liseiux- about 1h30 outside Paris. The next morning we started off a little late which resulted in some running to the train station and our lucky arrival to the train. We go into Paris and from Gare St Lazare over to Gare de Lyon without a hitch. We had to wait a bit for our train, so we got some food in the meantime- also for train snacks. We got the Lyon alright- but a little late and our next train was due to leave in four minutes! We asked a conductor what platform our train was on since it wasn't on the board, to which he said "I don't know! Go ask the information center." So we hustled our butts inside and looked at the ensuing madness. The place was overrun with people, sitting anywhere they could find space, waiting for trains. Still frantically looking at signs hoping late trains were for once in our favor we also got on line to talk to a information clerk. When we got to the front she said "Oh, yes, your train was canceled. Take the one in 3 hours." Well, there wasn't much else we could do but agree. So we wandered outside the train station and found a park nearby. The weather was better even just being in Lyon and we were happy for the sun and greenery. We passed the time and hung out finally making it to Geneva around 8pm. As we were passing through the non existent customs an announcement came over saying "The trains from France to Geneva are late because of strikes." And the entire crowd of people just burst out laughing and bascially saying "oh well, at least now we're in Switzerland and things run properly and on time!" (which were basically my sentiments).

2. I didn't mention it ahead of time because I didn't want people to be nervous, but one this trip we couch-surfed. More so than just the informal term of staying at a friend's, it's an entire organization/ group/ community (couchsurfing.org). The idea behind it is getting to actually meet people of the place you're visiting. It seems like the creepiest intersection of craigslist and facebook possible, but it is actually quite awesome. Leo, our host for our 2 nights in Geneva gave us great directions to his flat. When we walked in he said " How was your trip, we are going to a protest and a party tonight, ok?" Ok, sure, why not?
Leo actually lives in a university flat and is an international relations major at the University of Geneva as an international student from Mexico. His friends who we would meet through the evening had some equally crazy backgrounds and interesting stories about how they had gotten to Geneva. Geneva is regarded as an international city in part because of the UN and many NGO's that are headquartered there, and while we were there I got the feeling that no one is actually from Geneva.
In anycase the evening started out with Salsa, Merengue, and other Latin American music with his friends who were over. Through the night we headed ot the protest downtown, which was against a popular alternative music nightclub that was being closed down- L'Usine- or The Factory in English, several bars and Usine itself.

3. The next day, Saturday, Nicole and I headed out around town to just walk and explore. The Red Cross and UN Museums and tours were closed for Saturday, but it wasn't a huge blow to me. Geneva is situated on Lac Leman, which is HUUUUUUUGE ( I would later realize this is a popular Swiz city feature). A pretty city, fairly large but it's still hard for me to conceptualize a city that isn't like New York, which basically doesn't exist anywhere else in the world.

We saw all the big sites- the water shoot, the old city, parks and the UN building. We walked all through the day and got to really see quite a bit. We also ran into smaller attractions like a market, another flea market and so on.

That night Leo was ready to party again, but we didn't have the same endurance as him. We joined him at a get together in the flat below his but bowed out when the party continued on from there.

He was a great host to us and a great first experience couchsurfing. But had to catch our train to Luzern for the next morning so it was an earlier night for me and Nicole.

Lac Leman
Outside the UN building

21 October 2010


All this not working has been really taxing soooooooooo it's time for vacation!

I'm headed to Lisieux tonight to stay with Nicole (another assistant who I'm traveling with). Lisieux is closer to Paris and hopefully won't be as difficult to travel from tomorrow. We're headed to Switzerland and Italy and if we make it out of the country it should be a great trip!

See you in November

19 October 2010

La Grève

So as you may of heard, France is striking. If you haven't heard, here's this:


(may require a free login/ sign up)

Yesterday was our orientation meeting in Caen for all the English language assistants. Caen is usually an hour by train if I can get a direct one. Well, with the strike train service has been heavily interrupted so to make my 10am meeting I left my apartment at 6:20am. The SNCF website kept crashing because so many people were on it trying to look up the revised, limited schedules, leaving with the only option of going to the train station to find out. I got to the train station to find that there would be a "train" running at 7am to Lison and at Lison I could make the connection to Caen. Ok, it was my only option so I'd take it. I sat around until 6:50 or so and noticed everyone getting up and heading outside out the front doors of the station. Hmm, weird. I looked up at the departures board and realized that there were no platforms listed just "Autocar" for all of them. The train to Lison had been replaced by a coach bus.

Let me just tell you for a minute about how much I hate buses. They're fine in general if you know where you're going or what's happening, but other than that I hate them. On a subway or train, if you mess up what you're doing you just get off at the next stop and take the next train back in the other direction. Buses can easily change routes, miss people at stops and often don't have large stations with a ticket person to answer questions.

So I got on the bus, confirming with both driver and passengers that it was indeed going to Lison. The stars were still out and my breath was frozen though I started to warm up on the bus. On the bus long enough to just start feeling overheated and sick to be thrown out into the 0 C air at Lison. The strike had reduced service so greatly that at the stop after Coutances, St. Lo, about 10 people were turned away.

At the Lison train station I saw my roommate, Huimin who had left an hour earlier that morning to try to make for medical appointment for the immigration office in Cherbourg. Her train had been canceled and she was stuck waiting another hour and a half for the next one. Actual trains were running out of Lison, and being one of the first stops I was even able to get a seat.

I made it to Caen and even took the tram and found the high school where the orientation was rather easily.
It was pretty typical orientation stuff, mostly a mini lesson on how to teach and some ideas of how to work with the students. The more beneficial part was getting to meet all the other English speaking assistants for collège and lycée. Everyone was really nice and other people in small towns commiserated with with. I've also met some people who are a little closer to me, only 20 min on train or so, rather than trucking all the way into Caen or even further.

I was able to make it home, relatively easily in fact, though it did take me a good 2 hours.

This morning the strike continues as my first two classes have been canceled. We'll see what happens later today; the students (and some teachers, I believe) have set out a blockade in front of the school gates. Living in the school, it doesn't really affect or bother me when a class is canceled. I'm just hoping this strike business clears up in time for me to go on vacation Friday!

**Update I headed out to the grocery store this morning and for a walk seeing as classes weren't going to happen. On the way there I ended up seeing everyone gather for the demonstration and actually ended up on the back end of it all as I came back from the grocery store. The photos are from today.

Outside Town Hall on my way to the grocery store, everyone gathering for the demonstration (including a fair amount of faculty and staff)

The demonstration (a huge group of people, at least a whole block long) heading just past the lycee as I was coming back from the store.

And the group continues on!

The barricades in front of the school. If you look at the blue sign it says "Charles Francois Lebrun" awwwww