Monday, October 24, 2011

Buon Viaggio!

Thanks to Google translate, I was able to title my blog with the ever popular saying: "Bon Voyage!", but in the language of the land where I am headed.
Tomorrow morning, I head out of Nantes to meet a couple of my friends in Paris before we depart for Pisa. We will be spending a day in Pisa, taking touristy photos of ourselves holding up the leaning tower. After, we will be going to Florence for a couple of days, which is supposed to be an absolutely beautiful city. I remember studying the architecture of the Duomo in grade 12 history, so I'm really looking forward to seeing it myself! After that, we will be going to Rome! We are technically in Rome for 5 days, but only 3 full days... which we are going to jam-pack with sightseeing! I actually just forgot to print off a walking tour guide from Frommers.com, so unfortunately spent about an hour today copying it all out by hand. Which is not really too bad, I suppose. It got me really excited, reading about all of the things we will be seeing. It is strange to think that I will be visiting some sites that have so much history to them. Talk about bringing history to life! I am so excited for my brother, who will be visiting Europe with his school in April, and who will get to see Rome as well. He's a huge ancient Rome buff.
Today was mostly spent getting ready--I went for my last run before the trip, printed off lots of maps (it's like the amazing race!), ate some lunch, bought some little shampoo containers, and then did some last minute research and packed.
This is a photo of my traveler's backpack. I bought it last year at Wild Rock Outfitters in Peterborough, and I absolutely love it. It is an Osprey, which comes with a lifetime warranty.  Right now it is packed with: my little sleeping bag, a traveler's pillow, 1 pair of pants, 4 t-shirts, some underwear and socks, my toiletries bag, first aid kit, journal, travel guide, book to read, and some food. It is seriously an amazing pack.
And with that, all I have to do now is wait! My train leaves for Paris at 9am, so I will be up and ready to go bright and early. I can't believe it has come up so fast! After praying about my nerves, I woke up this morning feeling really excited for the trip. It is a once in a lifetime experience, which I cannot wait for.
I think that some hostels have free internet for a bit, so if I get the chance I might send little updates, but probably just via Facebook. I'll take detailed notes in my journal so that I can give you all a highlights tour when I return.
Until then, have a wonderful week, enjoy the Fall colours, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Back on the Ice

Yesterday, it was one of my friends' 20th birthday! As a surprise, we decided to take her ice skating at the rink in town. Since we wanted to keep it secret, though, we blindfolded her before leading her onto the tram. Once we got into the building, she smelled the ice and knew where she was though. But it was still a great surprise!
Waiting for the tram with out blindfolded birthday girl!

It's funny how you can smell the ice. Whether you're in France or in Canada, ice rinks always smell the same.
Anyways, once we paid, we went to go pick up our skates. We all got figure skates, but a few of us went back and asked for hockey skates and were lucky enough to get them.
I really have never been a huge fan of skating. The last two years I have gone skating only one time each, and they were both on outdoor rinks which were very bumpy and difficult to skate on. Before that, I can't even remember the last time I went skating!
Canadian skaters :)

But this time, I had a blast! I actually really enjoyed myself. We stayed for about 2 hours and I didn't even get bored. I even tried to do the crossover when you turn corners, and it kind of worked. Now if I could only learn how to stop...
Here is proof for my Dad that I actually went skating.

The skating was fairly similar here, but there were some differences. For about the last half-hour, there would be random announcements to do different activities... like getting everyone to jump, skate backwards, or skate in the opposite direction. It was a little dangerous and I moved out of the way! As well, whenever they stopped the music everyone had to scream as loud as they could... it freaked us out the first time. They also had a race, in which one of my friends came in third. Go Canada!
Overall, it was a great way to spend my friend's birthday and we all had a blast. The weather has been pretty nice the last couple of days too, which is wonderful.
Today and tomorrow will mostly be devoted to getting myself prepared for my big trip! I'm very excited to go away, but also very nervous. It is the first time that I've really ever traveled without an adult (although I guess that's what I am... but you know what I mean...) so it will be really different. I'm not very good at "going with the flow" and like to have things planned out, so the fact that a couple of our bus/train tickets can't be bought until we're in Italy kinda freaks me out. But it's ok! It will be great and I will see and learn a lot.

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Outdoor Market!

This morning, I had the chance to check out one of the largest outdoor markets in Nantes! It was great. I was really impressed by the sheer quantity of produce that was available... it was seriously amazing! There were so many fruits and vegetables for October. If I weren't heading out on Tuesday, I totally would have bought some. They even had sweet potatoes, although they looked different. They had pumpkins too, but again, they were weird looking. There were also a lot of international cuisine stations, like Chinese, Pakistani, Turkish, etc. And a lot of Halal options (there is a large Muslim population). All of the dishes looked really good and I'd like to go back for lunch someday to try something new.
Here are a couple of photos of one part of the market:

Just check out all of that goodness!
And of course, there was the usual assortment of fresh fish...



A little terrifying... some of the fish were so big! Seafood is pretty big around this area, since we are so close to the ocean. Thankfully though, it didn't smell too fishy. I've been in markets before where the smell was too overwhelming and I've had to plug my nose!
Needless to say, in a couple of weeks when I'm back I would like to check out the market again, and possibly buy some of the produce. The fact that they still had fresh strawberries kind of made me happy.
Strolling through the market reminded me a bit of home! On Saturday mornings in Peterborough there is a Farmer's Market that I like to go to sometimes. Although thankfully it is not as crowded as this one today was. But still, just wandering through and looking at all the local flavours is pretty neat. Despite it being a little chilly, it was quite enjoyable.

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's Friday! Everybody's looking forward to the weekend...

Sorry for  my horrible Rebecca Black-inspired blog title today! I hope you'll forgive me.
The past couple of days have been decently uneventful! I wrote my first exam in philosophy which took about an hour and a half. It went well, I think. And after that, I was officially liberated for reading week! Woohoo!
This morning, I fully intended on waking up early to go running, but alas staying out late meant that I kept hitting the snooze button until 9am. Don't worry though, I just ran in the afternoon :)
We woke up to it being freezing outside, about 5 degrees. I am wishing that I brought my mittens, toque, and earbags. Not sure why I didn't. I may be Canadian, but that doesn't mean that I actually enjoy the cold...
Anyways, despite the cold, I met up with one of the girls from our group for a little breakfast downtown. We don't know each other that well, so it was a great chance to chat. We started speaking in French, but eventually transitioned into English. Oh well, a bit of practice! Not bad. We went to a little cafe off of Commerce (downtown) called La Bourse. She got a hot chocolate and a croissant, and I got a cappuccino and bread with butter and jam. The bread doesn't sound like much, but seriously. French baguette is to die for. Put some real butter and delicious jam on that and you've got a tasty breakfast.
Afterwards, I got some money from the bank and headed back to residence to do some laundry and go for my run. I also did some grocery shopping. Not terribly interesting!
I did find a half-marathon training guide on Runner's World.com, so I'm really excited to start it. I don't actually start it until 9 weeks before, so I have to make sure that I build up my runs until then. My friend from our Canadian group also signed up, so we're going to go together! We're pretty nervous and excited... not really sure what we've gotten ourselves into, but we both agree that just doing a half-marathon in PARIS will be amazing. And it will give us lots of incentive to train!
This evening, my friend and I went out for crepes! A while ago, we made a little bet about finishing homework... and I unfortunately lost, so I owed him crepes. We caught a tram downtown and went to the Creperie Heb Kam (I think that's what it's called...) and it was delicious!
Here is my crepe. You can't really tell what's in it, but it had mushrooms, bacon, and cheese. Delicious!

John's crepe: ham, cheese, and egg.

Hot chocolate and cafe au lait.
As you can see, they were delicious. It's hard to describe how delicious crepes are, you just have to try them for yourself! We also each got a dessert crepe: I got rhubarb compote, and my friend got caramel beurre salé. They were both delicious! We had a great time.
Tomorrow should also be a great day! Visiting a market in the morning (in search of a pumpkin), skating for Siobhain's birthday in the afternoon (hopefully she doesn't read this, because it's a surprise! shh!) and then going out on the town for her birthday in the evening. I'll keep you posted!
Now, if only the heat would work in my room... it's hard to type when your fingers are going numb!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Continued Learning...

...in the classroom!
Today, all of the interested Canadian students went to an information meeting about becoming teaching assistants. Since a lot of the Trent students are in concurrent ed and the Waterloo students in a French for teachers stream, the majority of our group showed up to find out more. Although volunteering as an assistant won't actually count as a third year placement, it will look great in our teaching portfolios!
So. What did I learn?
A lot about the French school system!
I've always been confused about how the schools work over here. Now it is a little clearer! I'll try to explain. They begin with "Maternelle", which I believe is like pre-school, for 3-6 year olds. Then, they are in "Primaire" when they are 6... this is like grade 1 for us. After that, they enter the "collège", which is from grade 2-9, but are all called different names. The term college is so very confusing... in France, it is like elementary school, in Canada it indicates a post-high school diploma program, and in the USA it is like university. So there is always lots of confusion. After collège, the students move up for three years of "Lycée,", which is like high school (grade 10-12). Here, they are split into Literature, Science, or Economic streams. Some high schools also have more specialized courses which prepare them for the workforce.
Some of the expectations for us in being teaching assistants include: leading small groups, observing the teachers and students, possibly teaching a class, conversing in English, and sharing a bit about Canadian culture. It is similar to our placements at home, except that I feel like we might actually get to do more. The fun part is that we will be English assistants, so instant masters in our subject!! Although, apparently they learn British English over here, and it is different from ours... we will have to see.
I chose to be in a high school, since that's where I eventually want to teach. I met up with one of the teachers and he said that I would be helpful Monday and Friday mornings, which work pretty well for me. The students I'll be assisting will be around the grade 10 age. Should be interesting!
Some other fun things:
-I'm signed up for the Paris Half-Marathon! I don't know why I did it, but I did. We will see how it goes!!
-My friends and I have pretty much finalized our plans for our trip to Italy, which included booking transportation and hostels. I'm looking forward to the adventure!
-The leaves still haven't really changed colour here! I am awaiting with anticipation...

Monday, October 17, 2011

That's how you do Sunday.

Yesterday, I had the most fantastic Sunday! I feel like every Sunday should mirror it.
So what exactly made it so great? I will tell you!
First of all, my two friends and I went to church at 10:30, which is always fun. Unfortunately, the speaker for the day turned out to be incredibly hard to follow, a long-talker, and pretty boring. Even the main pastor was nodding off! It gave me time to think... haha.
Afterwards, we stuck around for an "Agape", which is like a pot-luck. John, Catherine, and I brought baguettes because we didn't know what else to bring... but never fear, there was so much food! There were even leftovers. The food was great too: salads, pasta, rice, chicken, potatoes... peanut curlies which I adore! And of course, bread. And dessert... which was amazing and there were far too many things to choose from! My favourite was probably the Tarte Tatin, which was like an apple tart. Very good.
We were under the impression that we would be hearing about where the church is going and its vision, but it was really just a meet-and-greet event. We each got a playing card and had to find another person with the same one, get to know them, and then introduce them. I got put with a French guy, but he disappeared during introductions so I didn't have to get up in front of everyone! We sat with some French people and then the students from Grove City College, who we ate with our very first time at the church 9the hamburger lunch! It was great to hang out with them again.
Afterwards, around 4pm, we decided that it was too nice of a day to spend inside. So the three of us and the other Americans met up in the field by our residence to play some ultimate Frisbee for a couple of hours. Now, I am a pretty pathetic athlete when it comes to organized sports, but luckily all of the guys (and a couple girls) were very encouraging and not too competitive. I had a great time!
The cherry on top of the day was probably Skyping my family for the first time in a couple weeks in the evening. My parents just got back from the Toronto half-marathon (congratulations!) but still managed to talk to me. It was great!
Overall, a fantastic day. Great community and fellowship all day long-- that's how Sunday's should be done!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

St. Nazaire

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful day at the beach in St. Nazaire. My American friends who I go to Bible study with, John and Catherine, and I went with our study group leader and his student group for the day. We took three car loads full and headed out around 10:30am, arriving around noon. The beach was gorgeous:
I really can't get enough of the ocean!
It was a super chill day. We hung out, played some baseball, ate lunch... very laid back. John and I went to explore the rocks and found a really nice view of the ocean and the beach.

It was gorgeous.
Afterwards, I had the pleasure of playing guitar with another guy and singing some French and English worship songs. Probably the coolest moment was when we were singing this one worship song called "Majesty," because I was singing it in English, two people were singing in French, and one girl was singing it in Spanish. So amazing. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: there's something about music that just transcends language and culture and brings people together.
We then had a little worship service on the beach, and I got to play guitar for a couple of the songs. Needless to say, I was pretty happy. I miss my guitar!
I put my feet in the ocean, and really regretted not bringing my swimsuit. It was cold, but I would've done it.
Afterwards, we drove to the harbour to see this building from WWII. It housed the German submarines and was pretty much indestructible. Basically, it was a giant slab of concrete. The Americans and British tried to bomb it and failed. After the war, the inhabitants of St. Nazaire wanted to destroy the building, but it was too fortified and would have cost too much to take down. It was pretty incredible. We found a little passageway underneath these reinforced concrete slabs, which helped to stop bombs if they came down. It was the strangest feeling, because this was kind of my first war memorial place I've been to, so to think that where I was standing, and what I was looking at, was where men once fought for their lives and their country... well, that was pretty incredible.
The parallel bumps in the distance are the slats I was talking about that protected the interior.

barbed wire! I've never seen it before.

part of the passageway.

the exterior... this is only about 1/3 of the building. it was enormous!
Afterwards, the student group got McDonald's paid for by the church. Typically American! haha. I haven't had McDonald's in ages, so it was an experience. I was reminded why I don't eat there much (the fries are too darn good!!!). We also got McFlurry's, which made me pretty happy... I love ice cream!
Overall, it was an excellent Saturday :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"They broke his face! Almost in half!"

Last night, I had a pleasure of attending my first "football" (soccer) game in France. It wasn't major league or anything... think the equivalent of the OHL in Ontario. Our lovely home team, Nantes, was battling against some city whose name I can't remember. Either was, it was a pretty good soccer game.
Despite the seats not being totally filled, the ambiance was awesome. So much cheering, jeering, chanting, singing, and booing. We all got in on the chants of "allez les jaunes," since our team wore yellow.
Luckily our team won, which kept the crowds happy. The longer the game went on, the more excited the crowd got and the more fun it was to watch.
I've never really been a huge soccer fan, or any kind of sports fan for that matter. The one sport that I don't mind watching, and in the case of the Olympics I love, is hockey. Pretty Canadian, but whatever. Anyways, my Dad always has told me about how wimpy soccer players are because they always go down whether they're hurt or not, in order to get a penalty for the other team. Well, Dad, now is the time to tell you that you're right. I actually found myself yelling at the players when they went down, telling them to pick themselves up and stop being such pansies! I couldn't believe how wimpy they were... my favourite one might have been the five second delayed reaction from this one player...
I did take a video, but it unfortunately won't load, so here are some pictures from the game:
thumbs up for soccer!

the crowd

allez les jaunes!

watching the game :)

get up, you pansy!!
Oh yes, I should probably explain the title of this post. When one of the players got swiped in the face, my friend Taryn yelled "they broke his face! almost in half" and I found it absolutely hilarious. That's all!
Today I went to St. Nazaire for a day trip, so I'll write about that tomorrow!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Student Dining at its Finest

So last week, we heard a rumour that sounded way too good to be true. Apparently, if you wait in line for an hour or so on Thursdays, you can pay 1 euro (approx. $1.50) and receive a decent assortment of food. Today my friends and I decided to check it out, and found that it was actually legit!
Here's what I got for a single euro:
We got some cheese, some milk, a bag of pasta, a rice dish, 2 little shepherd's pies, potatoes, broccoli, and some bread. I mean, some of the stuff probably isn't the best quality (the cheese is like some EU handout) and I probably won't go every week (we waited for about 1.5 hours) but it was so cheap, it was totally worth it this time.
You have gotta love student food.
Speaking of food, I'm probably going to starve for a couple of weeks... I'm not going to buy food... I'm buying plane, train, bus, and hostel tickets instead! After 3 hours of intense searching, my two girlfriends and I booked some tickets for our reading break trip... we're going to Italy!!! I kind of feel like I'm living someone elses life at the moment... but I can't complain. It should be quite the time... we're going to see Pisa (think Leaning Tower), Florence, and Rome. I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Run for Chocolate

This morning, I started off the day with a brisk run at 7am. Yeah early mornings!
I am starting to up my running times, which is going pretty well. My body occasionally hates me, but I'm cool with that. It will get over it soon enough.
One of the reasons that I like running, besides the fact that it makes you feel so good, is that it allows me to eat the food that I love... one of those foods being chocolate.
There is such a selection of chocolate over here! Crazy new kinds of Lindt chocolate too... like Irish Coffee, Mint, and Creme Brulee. Yum!
A couple of weeks ago, I made some super easy fudge and had leftover condensed milk from it. So I decided to modify the recipe and make some more fudge for this evening. The original recipe has condensed milk, milk chocolate, and peanut butter. Today, I put in dark chocolate and crunchy peanut butter. Needless to say, it was a hit this evening. A friend and I intended to watch Harry Potter, but alas the internet didn't let us finish it. Instead, we watched Aladdin (woot woot) and ate the delicious fudge and it was soooo good. There's not much left... too tasty. Things like this shouldn't be left out.
Before it was cut
Om nom nom
It was so delicious. The recipe was super simple and can be found at howsweeteats.com, a food blog that is totally worth following if you are a human being. Seriously.
Anyways, not much else to report other than it is time for bed!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mardi: La Marseillaise, La Manifestation, et Le Mayonaisse

Tuesday: The Marseillaise, the Strike, and Mayonnaise. Sounds so much cooler in French!
In our history class, we learned a little bit about the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise", which I thought I'd share with you. The song was originally sung as people from the Marseille region descended on Paris to join in fighting against all the other European countries around 1793. This was a time of Terror in French history, when the radical Jacobin party had control of the country and the King and Queen had been guillotined. Most other European countries were at war against France, so France needed soldiers to fight. As the men from Marseille journeyed to Paris to enlist, they sang the song that would later become the national anthem of France.
Here is a link if you want to listen to it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K1q9Ntcr5g
And what an interesting song it is! It is considered one of the most violent and xenophobic national anthems that continues to exist today. An example:
"Aux armes, citoyens, Formez vos batailons. Marchons, marchons! Qu'un sang impur / Abreuve nos sillon." Loosely translated, this part asks the French citizens to take up arms against the impure foreigners, whose blood will nourish their wheat fields.
It also calls foreigners tyrants and slaves. Fun times! Despite the attitude of this song, it is mandatory for the French school children to learn the song and its historical significance. About 2/3 of all French parents are in accordance with this. Sometimes, if you watch a football (soccer) game, you will notice that the French players won't always sing along when their anthem plays, simply because they don't agree with the lyrics. One president tried to change the national anthem, but that just made the French very angry... and when they're upset, they will show it.
Speaking of showing their frustration, today I got to experience my first real French strike! There was one a while ago for teachers, but it didn't really affect me. This strike, however, was a Tan strike, which is the company that runs the tramway and bus system. First, the trams only came every 10 minutes instead of 5, so they were super full and very slow. Of course, today would be the day that we have to book it all the way downtown for our 9am class. When we were finished class, we tried to eat at the caf but it was closed for the strike. Then, we tried to catch the tram but it wasn't running where we were. We walked up to Commerce (the downtown) and I asked a police man what was happening, because there were people marching everywhere in the streets with flags and music. He told that that we would have to walk about 3 tram stops down to catch a ride, as the downtown trams wouldn't be running until about 2pm. I wished that I had had my camera to take a photo of the crowd!
Finally, we got on the tram. Once again, I was kicking myself for not having my camera because it was SO full. I have never ridden a tram so busy before, and it took forever to reach our stop. Once we arrived, I was starving so I went to buy a sandwich... and waited in line for about 15 minutes because there were so many people. I'm not sure if lunch time is always this busy, or if it is just because of the strike. There were just people and cars everywhere, it was so bizarre.
So I experienced my first real manifestation! How exciting. Let's not do it again.
Which brings me to my final point: Mayonnaise. Normally I don't really like mayo, but here it is so delicious! I got a ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich (on a baguette, yum) with mayo, and it was just too good! Something about French mayo just makes my stomach very happy.
Hopefully we don't have any more hold-ups today! Luckily we can walk to our 4pm class.
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Monday

Well, it isn't actually Thanksgiving Monday, but there was still lots of goodness to be had!
The day started out, as any good day does, with a cup of coffee, followed by a much needed trip to do laundry. But back to coffee-- it is definitely something I will be packing in my suitcase when I return after Christmas! There just isn't the selection over here that there is in Canada. They have all these Tassimo type coffees, that are for special coffee makers. I really like Folger's Hazelnut, as well as trying new organic fair trade kinds from It's All Good in Port Elgin and Dream of Beans in Peterborough. Sadly, I probably won't make it to Ptbo, but Port Elgin's coffee is definitely comparable, and delicious! (if you're ever in Port... get a chai latte from It's All Good. Best. Chai. Latte. Ever).
Anyways, afterwards I grabbed some lunch at the caf, which was pretty delicious. In the afternoon, my friend and I planned to scope out the Christian Bookstore in town, but it was closed on Monday. So instead we went on a little adventure to find the Carrefour (like Wal Mart, but with produce) and mall on the island. We finally found it, and were quite overwhelmed with its size. We checked out a couple cool stores; one was a home decor place with some sweet little trinkets, and the other is hard to describe... it's like a little camping store meets outdoor toys meets cooking meets zen-inducing awesomeness. It was great... I smelled a lot of candles. I also found this sweet tool for finding constellations... I might have to go back for it. It would come in super handy at camp.
My friend bought some Madeleines (like little cakes) and nutella, and I bought Speculoos (SO GOOD) and we sat on the tram at ate the deliciousness. It was pretty great and we felt like awesome tourists.
In the evening, we went to a great Bible study. We were checking out John 6, the story of Jesus walking on water and why bad things happen to good people... a subject that never can be fully covered! But it was a good night. Our leader also brought croissants and home-made apple butter that his wife made. Yum!
The only downside to today is that our internet is really, really slow... thus making it impossible to use Skype to talk to my family tonight. Hopefully it will work tomorrow!
Good night everyone!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How Great, part II

To continue my sentiments of this day being fantastic, I had a wonderful afternoon and evening!
After church, I had some lunch and then played a game of soccer. I thought that it was just going to be Siobhain, Michelle and I, but apparently Siobhain invited a couple guys, which turned into 8 guys from various European countries. Now, I haven't played soccer in about 6 years, so I was petrified. But I actually ended up having a great time outside in the sunshine, and even assisted in a goal!
Afterward, my friend and I prepared some food for the Thanksgiving picnic. We brought carrots and green beans, which we lightly tossed in Maple Syrup (or not so lightly... hehe). Anyways, they were delicious.
The picnic itself was great! We had turkey, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, our green beans and carrots, strawberries, salad, ratatouille, pasta, bread and cheese, wine and champagne, apple pie, pain au chocolat, munchies, and cappuccinos. It was a fantastic meal, and we were all cool and made it into a picnic on the lawn in front of one of the rez's. Afterwards, some played soccer, some made a massage circle, and I joined in for some Frisbee.
 It started to get dark and chilly after a while so some people left, but one of the guys brought out his guitar and gave it to us to use. So, naturally I got really excited and went to join the guitar group. We kinda messed around for a while with random songs, but then a few of us started requesting some worship music. We played a few songs, like "Inside Out," "How Great is our God," "Consuming Fire," "Beauty of the Cross," and "Mighty to Save." I was really, really content, and still am. Playing guitar and singing is not only my favourite way of worshiping/praying, but it is also a way that I de-stress and take breaks throughout my days. I've been really missing it, so I was really happy to get to hang out with some others and worship! Plus, I found out that there is a piano room in that rez, and that my friend can rent it for me! So piano, here I come. I can't wait to play some more music!
I hope that everyone had as good a day as I had... because I had such a great day!

How Great!

This morning, I went to a fantastic church service!
First of all, as we came in they were playing "what a friend we have in Jesus," sans mots, but it made me smile. It's definitely one of my favourite old hymns. They also sang "It is Well" in French, which made me think of our Worship Team back home and their jazzy way of playing the song.
Then, after singing a few songs, a group of girls got up and sang a couple of songs, one in English and one in their own language (not sure what it was...). The English song that they sang was "How Great is our God." It is such a staple song in churches in Canada, that for me I feel like it's gotten old and lost some of its impact and meaning. But today, when they started singing that song, I just felt so comforted and blessed. I actually paid attention to the words, and found that I was truly believing the words that I was singing, rather than just repeating words that I have sang over and over again. It just made me so happy to know how great God is, and reminded me of how amazing it is that He loves us!
There was also a dedication. The baby was so adorable! It was a little strange that it was just a dedication and not a baptism, but I guess it was a Baptist church and they don't baptize until you're older. It was great though, they basically went through the same parole that we go through in English, which was nice.
The sermon was long, but it didn't feel long. The pastor was preaching on words of affirmation, and used a lot of Biblical references to show how important it is to affirm one another in Christ. Apparently, by the time we are 18, we've heard 100 000 negative remarks and only 4 000 positive ones. I don't know how true this stat is, but if it is close, that is really too bad. How wonderful would it be if the figures were reversed! The sermon made me think about the camp I work at in the summer, and how we have encouragement envelopes in our staff lounge. We can write each other notes of encouragement and leave them in the envelopes... it is always wonderful when you read one of them, but it is even more wonderful when you write them. It is true, we do need to affirm one another more!
Later today, the Canadians are getting together for a potluck Thanksgiving picnic, so more about that later!
Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Activia!

You know that a day was not too exciting when you choose to write a post about yogourt...
Really, the only exciting thing that happened was that it rained for the first time in 2 weeks. And that I ran in the rain. And that it felt wonderful!
Oh, and I watched a new Rick Mercer Report. So funny!
So, yogurt!
I am a big fan. I love how tasty it is and how many different flavours it comes in. I also enjoy how it is a decently healthy snack!
One of my favourite kinds in Canada is Activia, because it's got the whole live bacteria culture thing going on. It's all good for your digestion! Unfortunately, flavours are kind of lacking... my favourite in Canada is usually rhubarb, but it is difficult to find. Vanilla and Raspberry are also delicious.
So imagine my delight when I found Activia in France! Bonus points for Europe!
Then imagine my excitement at all the different flavours... seriously, Canada is missing out! They've got lemon, fig, oat and honey, mango, pineapple, prune, red fruits, lime I think... and I know I'm missing some! I intend to try each kind out. So far, my favourites would have to be lemon and mango.
Fig yogurt!
If you're a yogurt fan, write to Activia and tell them to send Canada the good stuff!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

French Administration and School

Well... time for a little comment on the French administration system! It has been a long time coming, so here goes.
It sucks.
Seriously. I can't even believe how disorganized things are over here! Most of the time I just roll my eyes and am thankful for the fact that I'm here, but sometimes I am downright irritated with the system! It seems like a never-ending cycle of visiting a place to get something done, being told that we need something else first, going back, being told that we forgot something else, being emailed a month later and told to bring some new document somewhere else, or just finding out by chance about when things are supposed to happen. For our residence, we never got a document stating what we needed to give to them, or when/to pay our rent. We had to ask them!
Most recently, we got an email from the bank stating that we have to bring a document from our residence stating that we live here in order to complete our living insurance. Why didn't they tell us before?? It's been a month!
And today, Michelle and I went to go photocopy some documents... only to find out that the printing station on campus closed at 3pm. 3pm! Can you believe it? Nothing ever closes that early... really...
So we went to the library, thinking that we could just photocopy there. The way that the print house works is that you have to pay 2 euros for a printing card, and the 2 euros gets you 12 copies. Then you have to insert the card into a machine and print. So we figured, we assumed, that the cards from the print house, on the same campus, would work in the library. Well, of course they didn't! By this time we were both so furious that we stormed out, recommencing our speaking in English (we had been speaking French with each other all day... fun!) and complaining. Now I don't usually complain about too much... really, not in a frustrated way, but it seemed like this one little thing kinda piled up on top of all the administrative failures. Thank goodness I had someone to express my frustration to!
Change of topic.
In France, the students pay practically nothing for university, especially compared to us. I used to think that it was the perfect system, access to education for everyone! (I still think access to education for everyone is important, don't worry). But over here, it seems like the actual French students don't take their classes seriously. Granted, I only have one class with actual French students (thank goodness) and I can't possibly make such a wide generalization, but I really can't believe it! I mean, sure, in Canada students come to class with their computers and smartphones and spend the whole class on Facebook... but at least they're quiet about it. Over here, people babble on for a good 15 minutes at the beginning of class, completely ignoring the prof (who just sits at the front of class, reading... I mean, you could walk around and try to look interested in your topic?) and making it impossible to understand anything. Plus, people walk in up to 20 minutes late! It's crazy! There just seems to be a lack of respect for their classes, maybe because they're free. So maybe paying for school isn't all that bad...
Anyways. Any good blog needs to have at least one rant in it! This is mine.
On a positive note, I did speak a lot of French with Michelle today, which was a lot of fun. It is hard to meet French friends our age, so we just have to not speak English so much!
More positives: I went running this morning and it felt soooo good. I think I'm finally getting my stride back, haha. One of my girlfriends and I might sign up for a half-marathon in Paris on March 4th... it would give me something to work towards, and how cool would it be to run your first half in Paris, France??? Plus, now that I wrote this on my blog I feel pressured to sign up, so that I don't look like a fool. Good initiative.
And soon it is spaghetti time! Any time that you are eating spaghetti is a good time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday Things...

Today is Tuesday! And it was not a very eventful day... but there were some cool things that happened!
First of all, we had to hike it downtown for our 9am class, which was kinda lame... but then we discovered a university caf just beside the building where our class was, and the line wasn't near as long as the one on the main campus! So that was a bonus.
Sadly I have been unable to find Being Erica online, so no inspirational thoughts today...
For my afternoon class, we watched the movie version of our book, "Journal d'une Femme de Chambre" by Octave Mirbeau. I am having a hard time slogging through the book, and the movie was equally as strange. I dunno... French literature is just something that I'm not used to. I find that it is written completely different from Canadian literature, so it is difficult to follow.
The one nice thing was that the film was older, therefore in black and white. Although sometimes old films can be boring, I love the way that they are filmed. There is little or no music or sound effects, but much more focus on visuals--the characters faces and expressions, the setting, the transitions (or lack thereof). It is so basic, so simple, compared to today's films, where if you look away for a second you pretty much miss the whole movie. So I really enjoyed a good old black and white!
This evening... not too much! A bit of homework, a final attempt to find Being Erica... and then maybe some reading for fun! I do miss that.
Tomorrow should be okay though! Run in the morning, some bank stuff (it never ends!), class, and then making spaghetti! Gooooo Wednesday!
Happy Tuesday everyone :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

La Rochelle

This past weekend, I went with 7 girlfriends to the coastal city of La Rochelle, which is about a 2 hour train ride away from Nantes. One of our friends was told that this city was a must-see, and it did not disappoint! We had 2 days of sunshine, 30 degree weather, and beautiful sights!
I am blatantly stealing this from the tourist manual... but a bit of background! "La Rochelle has always been a bit of a rebellious city... they were democratic long before others (elected a mayor in 1199) and protestant when the rest of France was staunchly Catholic. It was founded as a fishing village in the 10th century and its name is based on the idea of the "petite roche" (little rock). There are three towers that remain in the city that were used to watch the waters and protect the city."
When we arrived, we checked out our lodgings for the night. 4 of us were in a little hotel and the other 4 were in a hostel.
Our hotel!
For only 2 stars, our hotel turned about to be safe and quite nice. It was in a little corner of town near an outdoor market, which ran both Saturday and Sunday and was very beautiful!
After we figured out where we were staying, we decided to check out the sights. Some of us saw one of the tours and afterwards we went to the beach. I officially love swimming in the ocean... the saltwater makes you float! It's so fun! The water was a little chilly, but we were so hot from walking so much that it didn't matter.
In the evening, we went to a Creperie for dinner... and it was amazing! Most of us got a dinner crepe and a dessert crepe. My dinner crepe was ham and mushrooms and cream, and my dessert was a chocolate and pear crepe. They were both marvelous and I was incredibly full!
Crepes!
One of my favourite things about France is how all of the cafes have outdoor seating. I know that once it turns cold we won't be able to eat outside, but I absolutely love the atmosphere! It didn't hurt that summer was sending us one last heat wave...
After dinner, we hung out by the harbour for a bit and then went to Fitzpatrick's Irish Pub for a drink. I was happy to find a pint of beer that wasn't some weird French kind, and that actually tasted like good beer. Unfortunately the prices for drinking out are kind of steep, so we only stayed for one drink. The Pub had a very nice atmosphere though, and it made us all want to visit Ireland!
We were all pretty wiped afterwards, so we headed back to our respective sleeping places for bed. As per usual in most hotels, I didn't sleep well... but that was ok!
We somehow managed to arrange it, subconsciously, so that all the church-goers were in one hotel, so the next morning my hotel group went to one of the Protestant churches. It was very traditional, and kind of difficult to understand, but still nice. I really just enjoy seeing how different people express their faith and how different people connect to God. One of the older ladies also told us that she was really content to see some new, young faces. The congregation was pretty old. One of the ladies who made an announcement reminded me of one of my neighbours in Port Elgin who goes to my church... she had a very similar way of speaking. I love being reminded of home when I go to church! We also sang a hymn to the tune of "Doxology", which is a grace that we sing at camp... so of course I have fond memories associated with that song as well.
After church, we walked to the beach near the hostel and hung out there for a while. I even fell asleep on the beach! It was wonderful. We also went swimming, but went in the wrong part and cut our feet on the rocks... one of the French ladies told us that we were fools to swim where we were and kindly pointed us in the right direction. Luckily, I was prepared with my first aid kit and bandaged up some cut toes.
After a bit more hanging out (it was SO hot), some of went to check out the Aquarium. It is one of the largest privately owned aquariums in Europe, so it was kind of a big deal. We got a student discount (woo) and had a blast! It was amazing. I have never seen so many strange fish in my life!
We even got to see a shark! My first one. Their skin is really interesting looking... the texture would be amazing to feel, if I didn't think my hand would get ripped off! But really, the fish were gorgeous. I am always amazed at how much detail has been put into all of these aquatic species, that most people don't even get to see!
After the aquarium we grabbed a quick bite to eat and went to the beach to watch the sunset. it was definitely one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in a while. One thing I always miss about home when I'm away is the sunset, as Port Elgin is on the shores of Lake Huron, which the sun sets over.

Although the traveling was pretty tiring, it was a wonderful weekend. It was great to have a weekend full of relaxing, and I really enjoyed hanging out with all of the girls.
Now it is Monday though, and there is lots to do! I went for a run along the river this morning and cleaned my room... finally, no more clutter (for now). Now, it is time to get down to business (not to defeat the Huns...) and get some homework done. I have a lot of reading to do for my literature class, as well as philosophy reading and an interview for my language class.
I have my coffee, and I am good to go!