Monday, December 26, 2011

Highlights!

Hello world!
Well, I am finally writing a blog about my recent adventures. I can't write about everything that happened, so I am just going to give a few highlights from each place and photos as well.
But first of all, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Hopefully you are all benefiting from spending time with family. I know that I sure am!
So. Highlights!

DUBLIN, IRELAND

the Temple Bar
Famous Fish and Chips

Celebrating Jody's 20th
-eating fish and chips at the oldest chiperie in Ireland!
-celebrating Jody's 20th birthday at the Temple Bar (very crowded!)
-getting to see a bunch of our group before parting ways for Christmas

MUNICH, GERMANY
Jody and Michelle at the Christmas market!

Gingerbread stand!

Pork knuckle, potato dumpling, and (not shown) cabbage salad for dinner! I did not eat all that meat...
Cheers to Bavaria with our new Australian friend

Awesome pancake deliciousness

Dachau camp and the memorial

The gas chambers



Memorial statue
-staying at an amazing hostel (Wombats), where we met a few nice Canadians and our new Australian friend, Mariana
-strolling through the amazing Christmas markets
-the chance to visit the Dachau concentration camp and have history come alive
-spending time at a traditional Bavarian restaurant and Beer Hall

STRASBOURG, FRANCE
Typical house decorations

Le grand sapin de noel!

-being in the "capital of Christmas"--- so many Christmas markets and gorgeous decorations everywhere!
-sitting in on a free Christmas choir concert
-eating Kugelhoff!! (didn't get a picture, but it was like this weird looking bread thing with dried fruit)
-speaking French!

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
Jumping for joy at having our own space!

Chocolate museum :)

Free samples at the beer museum

Belgiam waffles!

First snow!
-staying in a hotel (rather than a hostel)
-chocolate museum!
-beer museum!
-musical instruments museum!
-speaking French!

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Admiring the canals

Like a postcard!

My little Dutch travel companions

Clog!

All the bikes
-meeting Jody's friend Weedo and his girlfriend and having them show us around
-visiting the Riejksmuseum!
-eating croquette!!
-eating Olie Bollen!
-eating Stroopwaffles!
-seeing how many bikes there were! so many!
-visiting the Anne Frank house
-exploring a very scenic and beautiful city
-hanging out in by far the coolest library I have ever seen. Cool doesn't even begin to describe how fantastic it was!

And there you have it!
I hope everyone has a wonderful time with their families and friends. I will certainly be enjoying my family time! See you on the other side of the ocean :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dublin and Munich down, Strasbourg, Brussels, and Amsterdam to come!

Hello all!
I said I would not write anz blogs for a while, but we have a long while to wait for our night train and not too much on the agenda. So, a quick update!
We arrived in Dublin in the late afternoon on Saturday and it was already starting to get dark. We did not do too much, just saw a bit of the Trinity College. I loved the atmosphere though, and definitely want to return to Ireland in the Spring. We walked around in our big group for a while and got some tasty fish and chips from the oldest chipery in Ireland. They were delicious! Then we went back to our respective hostels to hang out for a bit before we went out. It was my friend´s 20th birthday, so we celebrated a bit in Dublin! Our hostel was right next to the famous Temple Bar, so that is where we went. It was the single most crowded bar that I have ever been in, but it was really fun and we met a lot of really nice people. I even learned how to say "my name is Nicole" in Gaelic. Ask me sometime!
We didn´t stay out too late since we had an early flight to Munich the next morning...
After a 2.5 hr flight and 1.5 hr bus ride, we arrived in Munich and found our hostel. It is pretty much the greatest hostel I have ever been in! There is a louneg area, a bar, the best breakfast, huge clean rooms, and really great people! We met a couple Canadian girls, some Americans, and an Australian girl. The first night we just walked around the Christmas markets. They were so gorgeous!!! You can not really understand how they just take Christmas to the next level here... it is not nearly as commercialized, but there are shops everwhere selling cute little trinkets, delicious food, warm drinks... so nice! And there are lights everywhere and carollers. It was magical! We also ate a traditional Bavarian meal at this wonderful restaurant. Delicious.
Yesterday, we just did a walking tour of the city and saw a lot of beautiful churches, buildings, and parks. We even saw a surfer on this huge wave in the English Gardens. So crazy! In the evening, we went with our Australian friend back to the German restaurant but this time we went to the Beer Hall area. We all got a beer and sat around a chatted. We also ordered this dessert on the recommendation of the waitress, which was a giant pancake with blueberries, ice cream, and whipped cream. It was so good! And the man at the other end of our table, who we never even talked to, left before us and the waitress came over and told us that he had paid for our drinks and that he wanted it to be anonymous. How kind! It was a great evening with great conversation and company.
Anyways, my internet time is running out so I gotta dash. I will post about our trip to the Dachau concentration camp that we saw today later. We are off on a night train adventure to Strasbourg tonight! Hopefully we sleep well!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Off, Off, and Away!

Well, this will be my last post for a while I think! Tomorrow I am off to Dublin (following the cheap flight route, of course!) before going to Munich, Strasbourg, Brussels, and Amsterdam with two of my friends. After having not traveled for a few weeks, I can say that I am definitely itching for a change in scenery! After a week that included a lot of rain and homework, I am ready for the break.
Yesterday was my last day of classes and this morning I handed in one last assignment, so I am now officially done. We have already been given some things to think about for next year, but of course nothing is pressing and we are free to enjoy our vacation. After our last philosophy class yesterday, our prof wanted to go out for a drink with us so we all went out as a big group before parting ways. We had a great time, but the end of the night was a little strange. Some of our group left this morning for home, others for traveling, and some of us are leaving tomorrow. After spending 3 months with the same people, it will be weird to be apart for a month. It is really neat how we've all bonded as a group and I will definitely be missing people!
There is not a whole lot left to say before I leave... other than that if I don't post before December 25 (unlikely) I hope that everyone has a Very Merry Christmas :) And thanks for keeping up with me!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Almost Done!

Well, I am coming up to the end of my first semester in France! I am taking a quick break from some schoolwork to just post quickly about my week. And this one will be short, because really not much has happened since we last met!
I had my last day of placement before the break, and was lucky enough to play "Bowl of Fame" with my students. It is a game similar to charades that we play often at camp. This time, however, the students were given vocabulary words from their first few units as the words they would have to describe. It was really interesting, a lot of fun, and I really want to do it with my future French classes if possible!
I know that I could complain about the school work due this week, but in reality it is not near as much as I would have during exam time at Trent. I don't really feel too stressed, just rushed. We have a lot due this week, as well as many of us our traveling or going home, and so figuring out travel documents and saying our goodbyes for a month is feeling a little strange. It is hard to believe that I have been here for three months... this was how long I was in France last time, and it feels like I just got here!
That being said, I am very excited to see my family for Christmas. I arrive at home on the evening of Dec. 22, so it is coming up fast! While I'm traveling, I will try to update my blog if possible so that there isn't an overload of posts during the holidays. But I also might take a little break while I'm vacationing and at home... so I will continue to post new blogs on Facebook, but if they aren't as frequent as usual, never fear! I'll be back in January :)
I am currently working on a sociology of religion essay, a language article, and studying for my grammar test tomorrow. Tonight, I'm having dinner with my host family and tomorrow night all of the Canadians are going out with our philosophy prof before the holidays. On Friday, some people are heading home, and on Saturday a lot of us are Dublin-bound before parting ways.
I hope that everyone is doing well and not feeling too stressed about exams and final assignments. If you're a camp-type person, have fun at Youth Eventz this Saturday!
Christmas is almost here :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Water into Wine

Hello all!
If you remember way far back to the beginning of October, you will remember me posting about a winery that I visited with my host family and how we sampled various unfermented wines. Well, today we returned to the winery with two other Canadians and their host families to sample the finished product!
It was really interesting sampling wine that we had tried before it became alcoholized (is that a word? I want to say alcoolisé) and seeing how much it had changed (and gotten better!). There were 6 wines in total to sample, as well as a type of champagne. There were definitely a couple that I preferred and since wine, even good ones, aren't that expensive, I bought two bottles of wine, one red and one white, and a bottle of champagne (spoiler alert: Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad!).

Siobhain and I sampling the goodness.
Along with the many glasses of wine we were able to try, they also had some local farm products to sample with bread, called charcutrie (like a meat spread, or pate if you know it). It was also delicious. And of course, because of where we are situated, they had oysters to try if you were brave. Michael likes oysters, so he had a few. Siobhain was brave and actually tried two as well. Me, not so much. I tried them last time I was in France and didn't even succeed in swallowing one, due to the fact that it felt like I had a ginormous booger in my mouth. Gross. Anyways, they are braver than I am, end of story.
After our excursion, which lasted about 3 hours and was full of wine and French-speaking, we headed back to my host family's place for some lunch. We didn't actually sit down until practically 3:00pm for lunch! We had some potatoes, duck, bread and cheese, and ice cream and baked apples (and more wine). I'm pretty sure that I drank more wine today than I ever have in my life (ok, maybe not, but I'm all wined out for now, haha). We had a nice long lingering meal and chatted about whatever. Overall it was time very well spent in some great company. It also was a wonderful way to spend a very rainy day! I also found it really hard to transition back into English speaking after an entire day of speaking French... which I guess is a good thing!
Tonight I'll be heading out for a friend's birthday but hopefully not staying out as late as last night. After all, it is the last week of classes and I have 2 tests and 2 assignments to do. Thank goodness for free Sunday afternoons! Time to hit the books.
Only one more week until traveling! Dublin-Munich-Strasbourg-Brussels-Amsterdam... and then CANADA!!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pancake Tuesday

Ok, ok, so I know that it is not actually pancake Tuesday, but today is Tuesday. And I ate pancakes. But more on that in a sec...
This morning, while walking down the street a smile was put on my face by a little girl. She was walking down the street with her mom when they walked past a homeless woman peddling on the street. The girl had some coins, so she looked up at her mom, got approval, and the gave them to the homeless woman. No hesitation, no wondering what she would spend it on, no nothing. Just pure human joy in giving to something that they need. I love living in cities, but I hate having to see homeless people. The reason I hate it is because, especially over here, I don't feel comfortable stopping to chat with homeless people of buying them a coffee like I sometimes do in Peterborough, just because of the language barrier and, I'll be honest, the appearance of some of them. Anyways, in order to not get heckled, you basically have to walk past them and ignore them. Which I think is just wrong, because they are people too, just like me. So I always struggle with what to do. In Peterborough, sometimes I'll buy an extra coffee or I helped out at a Sunday breakfast last year, but I still wish I could do more.
So I was really inspired by the kindness that this little girl showed to a stranger. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said that we should be like children...
Anyways... pancakes!

On Sunday evenings, four other girls in my group and I usually get together for our own little Bible study. It has been such a huge blessing this year and it has inspired my faith and kept me accountable. This past Sunday, however, three of them were gone (Iceland, England, Nice/Monaco... oh the joys of living in Europe!) so we didn’t meet. Instead, we decided to get together after our class tonight and make dinner. We chose the wonderfully Canadian meal of pancakes, but with a twist. My family makes peanut butter pancakes; you basically put peanut butter in the batter and it’s AMAZING. It’s all we make now, pancake-wise. I also saw a recipe for banana bread pancakes on my favourite food blog, and really wanted to try them. So we decided to take my mom’s peanut butter pancake recipe and add bananas to it. And dark chocolate chips. Best idea ever!!! They were so delicious and we were very satisfied. 

We had a fun time cooking together, and then hung out afterwards to chat about life and faith. We chatted a lot about relationships tonight which was really interesting. If you want to be inspired and moved, I recommend watching the youtube video called “What are words”. It’s a song by an American Idol contestant about his wife, who got in a really bad car accident and lost a lot of her abilities, but he stuck by her. Anyways, it was beautiful!
And because it’s Tuesday, “Being Erica” was on CBC last night... so I’ll leave you with a quote from the show that I really connected with... sometimes reality can be not as exciting as our fantasies, but in the end it is reality that we have and we have the chance to make something beautiful out of it. I’m feeling kind of philosophical today... Being Erica + Bible study will do that to you, haha. Anyways, here it is and have a great day!
“Trading fantasy for reality and you might feel like Alice back from Wonderland. The world may not sparkle and shine, but the ground will be solid beneath your feet. And your eyes will be open to all the adventures that lie waiting for you in the real world.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Teaching... on my own!

Today at my volunteer teaching placement, I got the opportunity to teach all by myself! For the second class, 1ere S, there are 35 students... as you can imagine, it is difficult to work with that many students. So today, the teacher booked an extra class and from now on I'll be taking half the class with me and teaching the same lesson. Luckily, it will be the same as the first class that isn't split up, which means I get to observe how that class runs and then I can basically repeat it and tweak it where necessary. It's just really neat that I get to do this, because in Canada I would never get to take a class all on my own without a teacher. Granted, I do get to teach and it's really helpful to have a teacher observing and giving me feedback, but it's still pretty neat to be going solo.
The lesson wasn't difficult today... they are beginning a study of India, so we just covered some basic facts about India and talked about what they already knew. Then I handed out different photos and they had to write down what the photos expressed, how they were portrayed, what contrasts there were, etc. We didn't quite get finished by the time the bell rang, but that was better than having spare time at the end to fill! All in all I think it went well and I'm really excited to do it again next week. Plus, I'm getting another class added at 9am so I will get more teaching practice!
The English classes have been really great in that they have helped me with my French (you know, little words hear and there, grammar and sentence structure), but most importantly they have given me some great ideas for activities when I'm a French teacher. My host teacher is really great at balancing grammar, writing, reading/comprehension, and oral expression all in one class, while making sure that students are engaged. I'm actually really excited to get students to love French!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reunion in Angers

On Friday evening, I hopped on a train and in just 35 minutes found myself in the city of Angers, where my former exchange student and my French friend are studying. When I got to the station, there were so many people that it was really difficult to find them. Finally, I saw my friend, Louise, who was in my class the last time I came to France. After almost 4 years, we were seeing each other again! It was pretty bizarre. We couldn't believe how much time had passed. As I stood around with her and Camille, my exchange student, we were in a bit of shock at first. It was just so weird to be back together after so much time.
We went over to Camille's place to hang out and eat dinner. It was great catching up! Plus, I got to speak French so that was a definite bonus! We chatted about what we'd been up to, what we were all studying, etc, and how neat it was to be reunited.
For dinner, we had a very traditional meal of "raclette." Basically you melt cheese in these little trays and pour it over potatoes with various meat. It doesn't sound like much but it's really, really good. I also got to see Camille's photos from her 1-month Scout trip to Burkina Faso. It made me appreciate the state of France and Canada... just from the photos I could tell that we are very blessed to live where we do. The streets in BF were basically just dirt, and when it rained you couldn't pass them very well. Camille was there to work in a type of orphanage if I understood correctly.
Anyways, it got kind of late so Louise and I headed out to her apartment to sleep. After having a wonderful sleep-in, we had some breakfast, showered, and went grocery shopping for lunch.
Camille came over for lunch and brought her boyfriend, Quentin, who was visiting from Rennes. We had the little aperatifs as usual, then steak haché (like hamburger), potatoes, and beans for our main course, followed by bread and cheese and vanilla yogourt for dessert. As per French standards, we spent about 2 hours eating and chatting. It was a lot of fun.
After, we walked around the downtown for a bit. I've already been to Angers, so seeing the castle and other touristy things wasn't a big deal. I will come back though with my friends to see it again... and I intend on taking some pictures in the same spots as last time I was there. So after walking around, we decided to grab a drink at one of the cafés, since it was pretty chilly yesterday. Louise and I got a viennoise chocolat (like hot chocolate with chantilly cream), Camille got a cappucinno, and Quentin got a beer. We also ate some delicious Speculoos cookies, which are far too dangerous for me to buy (because I eat them all).
Our chocolat viennoise... dangerous on a daily basis!

After Quentin graciously paid for all of our drinks, we walked past the chateau and then back to Louise's place to grab my stuff so that I could catch the train. We made it to the station with only a couple of minutes to spare, so we said our "see you soon's" and I hopped on the train. Little did I know that I would sit there for an hour while the train was delayed for an "undetermined amount of time," because they were searching for someone... I didn't really get the whole thing, but apparently there was some man in the station that they were looking for. Anyways, it was weird but finally the train departed.
And now I find myself once again on Sunday! I went to church this morning, which was very nice. Next weekend will be my last weekend in Nantes until the New Year, because we only have two weeks of school left until Christmas vacation. I will be going home from Dec. 22-Jan. 4, and I am very excited to see my family and friends!
But before that, myself and two friends are going on a little trip. We are flying into Dublin (because that's where all the cheap flights go to/from) and staying one night there for our friends 20th birthday. The next day, we're heading to Munich, Germany for a few days. We don't have a huge itinerary yet, but one of the things we will definitely be doing is seeing the Dachau concentration camp from WWII. Then, we're catching a night train to Strasbourg (on the border of France and Germany), the Christmas Capital of France! It is going to be beautiful. After that, a few days in Brussels, Belgium, and then ending off in Amsterdam, Holland. We are so excited and it will be a wonderful Christmas trip before heading home.
I hope everyone is getting excited for the holidays!

Friday, November 25, 2011

1 Month until Christmas!!

I wanted to share a bit about what I've been up to the last couple of days! Though once again nothing terribly exciting has happened, I've still been having a great time.
On Wednesday night, we were invited to an "English" Pub night downtown. It was organized by one of the English professors who wanted his students to have a night to speak English with other English speakers. the bonus for us was that we also got to speak French!
I wasn't really planning on going, but it was either that or working on my grammar homework (don't worry, I got it done, the evening out gave me some incentive!) so I decided, why not? It was a pretty good time and I met a couple of really nice people. I only wish that I had gotten some of their names, because it would have been great to hang out with them again! We also were supposed to wear something stereotypical for an Anglophone, so a couple of us had Canada toques and a few of us wore plaid. It was all around a good evening!
On Thursday morning, instead of our usual language class we went to see an art exhibit. For our final assignment this term, we have to write a review on either the theatre piece that we saw or the art exhibit. It was an... interesting exhibit, to say the least! Some of the paintings were really wonderful, some were just weird. Here's a little sample:
One of the exhibits... a plain white shirt, with some stains and a dead spider to make it look even more appealing.

Portrait de Madame de Senonnes, one of the more famous paintings.

L'Apparition de l'ange à St. Joseph... my favourite, though the photo doesn't do it justice.

A spin on Plato's Allegory of the Cavern 
Overall, it was better than sitting in class for three hours!
Last night after class, we made our way downtown to get tickets for the fourth Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn in English or Révélation in French. Of course we had to see it in French, but it actually was alright. I liked Bella's voice much better in French than in English! And I have to say, the fourth movie was definitely the best one yet. I have no shame in saying that I saw that movie, because it was actually fantastic. Oh, and the soundtrack was amazing... must get the CD!
We also wandered around a bit, and found that the Christmas village is opening soon downtown. In the Place Royale, there are all of these little Christmas cabins and they will soon be filled with gifts and treats for the season! One treat that we all want to try is "vin chaud", which we think is like their version of hot apple cider. We also got to see the beautiful Christmas decorations in the Passage Pomerané, which made me want to burst into a chorus of "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." I have no shame in saying that I have already started listening to Christmas music... it's in a month! Wow. Time flies.
Brooke, Michelle, and Vic admiring the lights

This evening, I'm off to Angers, a small city just 35 minutes away by train. I'm going just for the night and day tomorrow to visit my exchange student from last time, Camille, and my friend Louise. I'm really excited to see them again, because it has been a while!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Start of a New Week

So far, my week has been going quite smoothly, if not terribly exciting!
Yesterday, I once again went to my high school to volunteer with a couple of English classes. I might be taking on an extra one from 9am-10am as well, which will be nice. In the first class, the students were presenting their press reviews. Basically, they were given an article which they had to summarize and give their opinion on. Armed with a marking criteria, I actually got to make notes about things like their sounds, intonation, accentuation, and flow/speed. It was really interesting trying to listen for such things as these, because I really don't ever do that... I think it will be helpful when I'm actually a French teacher. The two biggest things that I noticed were that the students mispronounced "h" and "th", and that they often said their phrases in a questioning tone, rather than a declarative one. In the second class, I just walked around and helped correct what they were working on. I also learned the difference between the passive voice in English and the passive voice in French, and how they are really hard to give a direct translation. For example, if you wanted to say "I was asked..." you would say "on m'a demandé", which directly means "it was demanded of me". So it was interesting to learn.
After, I went for my long run, about an hour, which felt not too bad.
Then, I worked on my philosophy essay which is due on Thursday and studied for my history test. The test was this morning, and I think it went pretty well. I actually liked studying for it; it brought back some good studying memories from the past two years... although there wasn't near as much to study. And like I said, the test wasn't that bad. We were given a document to read and then four questions. All we really needed was a bit of background knowledge to put it into context.
Later on today, in our literature class, we get to watch the film of the book we're reading, "Barrage Contre le Pacifique." I hope it is good and explains the book well.
Other than that, not too much is happening! It is beautiful and sunny, about 15 degrees, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to get cold shock when I'm home for Christmas.
I'm also really looking forward to this weekend; I will be going to Angers, a city not too far away, to visit my friend and exchange student from the last time I was in France. I'm really looking forward to catching up with them! It's been almost four years!
Have a great Tuesday :)