Last day in Lyon

It’s finally here. I can’t believe it. But it’s true. I have been in Lyon for 114 days, and yet it feels like I was just taking that first unnerving step away from everything I knew to start on this crazy adventure. I wouldn’t trade my time here in Europe for anything in the world. But that being said, I am very much looking forward to be surrounded by my friends and family in just over 24 hours.

As I’ve mentioned before, this Christmas season is nothing like any I’ve ever experienced before because I’m not surrounded by the people and things I’ve become accustomed to at this time of year. That being said, I am experiencing an entirely new feeling of excitement and anticipation for this year’s Christmas. I have an entirely new appreciation for being home for Christmas, something that I have clearly taken for granted in the past years. It will be so nice to be surrounded by my loved ones, and even if the siblings and I get in an inevitable fight or two, at least we’ll have each other to bicker with, all in the same house and the same city for a few short days of the year. 

I’m sitting in my very empty apartment waiting for my landlord to come and inspect it to make sure I can get my deposit back, and then I’m on my way to the airport hotel to get a few hours sleep before my 7 AM flight tomorrow. It’s been a busy last day here in Lyon, arriving from London at around noon, and then repacking my suitcases, while doing some last minute deep-cleaning of my place and then running to my French bank to withdraw money and officially close my account. 

London, by the way, was the perfect trip to end my semester abroad. Two days was not nearly enough time there, but I am satisfied with what I was able to see and do in that short time. I arrived Sunday morning with Ievy, Naomi and Olivia, and we started our day with a traditional English afternoon tea at a “Secret Tea Room” above a pub. We ate mini sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and scones with clotted cream and jam, and drank delicious pots of loose leaf tea, served in elegant and dainty tea cups. Then we met up with Preeti and shopped a bit before getting caught in the rain. We ate dinner at a pub, and I had some very tasty fish and chips, which I washed down with my first ever Guinness  which I was pleased to say I actually enjoyed. We had a early night, so that we could have full day of touring on Monday.

Monday morning started with a trip to the TKTS booth to get discounted theatre tickets before meeting up with Preeti for a big and hearty English breakfast. Ievy, Olivia and I got tickets to see Shrek the Musical for 30£, which was highly entertaining and a great way to end our short trip to London. After our big breakfast, we wandered through Trafalgar square, down to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, then through St. James’s Park Lake to Buckingham Palace, then back down to Westminster Abbey. We debate about whether or not to take the double-decker bus tour, but decided we could make a tour of our own, so we hopped on the tube to get to Tower Bridge. We walked along it and stopped at a bar beneath it for Pims and Colas (I chose the Cola, I needed some caffeine to keep me going for the rest of the day). The next stop on our walk was the Globe Theatre, which I was very excited to see in person, being an English student and all. I would’ve loved to see a show there, but I guess that will have to happen the next time I’m in London. We took the new pedestrian bridge (which is destroyed by Dementors in a Harry Potter scene) back across the Thames and then hopped on another tube to see Harrods and grab dinner before our show. Harrods was everything I thought it would be and more. Emphasis on the more – as in more expensive than I ever would’ve liked to imagine. I wisely decided to not buy anything at Harrods, but it was nice to dream. After Shrek, Olivia and I went back to the hostel to try and get some sleep before our 4 AM wake-up call. And now here I am, writing my last post in Lyon before starting my long journey home tomorrow. 

It’s been an amazing experience. I can’t wait to continue to travel the world and see what else it has to offer me. Thanks for following along on the adventure with me, it’s been great! 

Cheers,

xox, B. 

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Mountain air and good friends.

It’s amazing what a weekend away in the mountains with a good group of friends can do for your sanity. I’m on the train back to Lyon from Annecy, and I am already feeling refreshed and ready to face a busy week at school before heading to Berlin on Friday.
I’d say it’s a sign of a successful weekend when everyone is sprawled out in the train car, with their hiking shoes airing out on the ground and their many layers of clothing surrounding them. Friday night we hung out with some local ski bums (and by local I mean Brits, Irish and Aussies who have moved to Chamonix to soak up the mountain life) because our hotel was attached to their bar of choice for Friday nights. They all thought we were there for the season, but we sadly had to tell them we were only there for a night. I definitely could’ve stayed at least a week more there, if not a whole season! Chamonix is such a beautiful little town, and being surrounded by the alps was surreal. I felt guilty the entire time that Ian couldn’t be there to enjoy it with me, seeing as he’s the biggest ski bum I know!

Chamonix Mont-Blanc. Stunning.

Saturday the five of us took a train most of the way up the mountain, and I was blown away by the view. We hiked around for a few hours, and I even ended the day with a bit of a run back up the mountain to warm myself up. Once we were back in the village of Chamonix, we settled in for a delicious meal of cheese! We all split a oil/beef fondue, a cheese fondue and raclette: a traditional French dish where you melt your own cheese using a special device and then put it on potatoes and/or meat slices. I seriously could’ve been rolled out of the restaurant after the meal, that’s how full I felt. But it was so delicious, and worth the mild tummy ache I had afterwards.

Fondue x 2 + Raclette = Perfect meal after a day of mountain wandering.

After our meal we had to leave the Alps behind to head to Annecy for the night. We were pretty exhausted after a long day of walking/hiking, so we got ourselves a dose of wifi in the hostel lobby and then were in bed by 10:30. Something in the hostel had made my allergies act up, which made for an interesting night of sleeping for the other girls, who thought I was either choking on my own mucus and/or that I was unable to breathe. Naomi even got up in the middle of the night to bring me tissues because I was breathing so dangerously. Thank god for good friends who worry about me.

Today we explored Annecy, and even though we only saw it for less than a day, I feel as though I saw everything I needed to see. It is an adorable little French town, with lots of old bridges, canals and a massive Sunday market. We meandered around the market and the old town this morning with our “Maxi Pain au Chocolat” (it was literally bigger than my head!).

Maxi pain au chocolat! Nom 🙂

The sun came out just in time for our walk around Lac Annecy in the afternoon, where we people and swan-watched while we soaked up the good weather.I’m ready for an excellent night’s sleep to prepare for a productive day of homework and catching up on my life in Lyon.
See you in almost a month Canada,
Xox,
B.

Learning from experience what books could never teach me

It’s been a busy week for me, which seems to be the norm since I’ve been on exchange. I got back from Barcelona on Monday, and was literally in my apartment for 15 minutes before changing into my least-fashionable-but-most-comfortable outfit to meet a group partner on campus to finish up a presentation for Tuesday’s 8:00 am class. It’s already Thursday and I never seem to understand where the week disappears to, but here I am with yet another week of classes under my belt, and only four more to go. Tuesday’s French presentation went OK, and the day ended on a good note with an evening of wine, food and trip-planning galore! Next weekend, I will be going to Grenoble, Chamonix and Annecy with three other girls for a weekend of hiking, snow and maybe a bit more wine and food. I swear I’m not a drunkard, the wine here is just so good, and always cheaper than any other beverage on the menu- c’est la vie!
Wednesday’s six-hours-straight of class was fairly uneventful, other than handing in my only paper of the semester for my European Union Law class! I’m not sure what to expect with the paper, because as much as I enjoy writing, I’m not used to writing about the European Union and its legal system, so it’ll be interesting to see how I do. Today I had my favourite class, Comparative Literature, the only class I seem to be gaining anything from, which makes Thursday mornings enjoyable, but puts into perspective how futile it is to be in school here.
I came into this experience with an open mind, prepared to work hard on my studies when necessary, but also hoping to be able to see as much of Europe as my wallet and my organizational skills would allow. There is now a wide consensus among the SELF kids that as hard as we try, the classes here are not enlightening us in the same way as classes do back home. I think it is likely  because we are put into classes designated for exchange students instead of being integrated into the classes of full-time UJM students, and we are therefore treated differently (more leniently) than other UJM students.  While our brains may be missing out on a semester of an academic learning environment, I know that I have already learned so much about myself and the world around me from the places I have seen and the experiences I have had. I think that is what people expect to gain from going on exchange, but it has taken some getting used to. I definitely still make an effort in school, and I am doing well as far as I am concerned, but it is a refreshing feeling to be able to focus on my experience here as opposed to being stressed and hung up on schoolwork.
This past week was definitely a learning experience in itself. I went to Lisbon and Barcelona for eight days with eight girls and it was…something. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lisbon and Barcelona, and love the girls that I was travelling with, but after eight days of eight girls living together, I was craving the serenity of my little apartment in Lyon. I learned that I am a much less patient person that I used to think I was, which is difficult when travelling with such a large group. I often felt guilty for getting frustrated when having to wait for the whole group to catch up, but I was just so keen to see what each city had to offer. I also learned that the more the merrier is not always applicable when it comes to travelling. In the end, I got to see plenty of each city, and loved what I saw. Not only did I get to experience new places, but I also got to know the girls a lot better, learning both the good and bad that comes with every person, and still loving them dearly despite being with them 24/7 – that must say something good about them!
Despite the high estrogen levels and cramped bathroom shenanigans, my week off was amazing. From what I saw of each country, I think I preferred Portugal over Spain, but I know there is still so much to see in each country. Lisbon, as you know if you read my last post, was beautiful and we kept very busy with sights and good food.
But we said our goodbyes to the welcoming people of Portugal on Halloween morning, and caught our flight to Barcelona without any problems. We were welcomed with sun and about 15-18 degree weather – better than the zero degree weather we’d had in Lyon! Wednesday we had a low-key meal at a restaurant called Tarantino, which was decked out in movie posters and other Tarantino paraphernalia. We stayed in a six-person apartment (with 8 girls…) in the Gothic quarter, which was the perfect location. Staying in an apartment was nice because it felt like we were really experiencing the city from more of a local’s perspective. And we managed to survive without wifi, making the occasional trek to a nearby Starbucks for a quick dose of Internet access.
We did two free walking tours, one on Friday and another on Saturday, which were super informative. Friday’s tour was about Gaudi, the very talented and quirky architect whose work is found all throughout Barcelona. His quirky style appeals to me, and a lot of his work reminded me of my mom, who is attracted to the quirkier things in life. The second tour took us through Barcelona’s Old Town. We saw a lot of the city within those 2.5 hours, and I learned a lot about the city’s history, which was right up my alley. Before visiting Barcelona I had no idea that it is Catalonian, as opposed to Spanish, so I definitely learned a lot about its culture and history throughout the week. (See, learning without books is possible!).
Barcelona was full of lots of adventures, which were unfortunate and miserable at the time, but have already made for some good stories now that we are back in Lyon. On our first night out in Barcelona, one of the girls stepped on a piece of glass at the club, and had to go to the hospital the next day because she thought she might need stitches. It was a pretty deep cut, but luckily 300€ and a pair of crutches later, she was let out of the hospital with a cleaned and bandaged foot. It put a damper on the rest of her trip, which was unfortunate, but we did our best to make it as enjoyable as possible for her.
There was also a spout of food poisoning near the end of the week, which was no fun for everyone involved. But my theory is that no vacation goes off without a hitch, and we were lucky to not have been pickpocketed or have anything worse happen to us. We’ll all be laughing it off in no time (I hope!).
The rest of my time in Barcelona consisted of delicious meals, a walk along the beach, and lots of shopping! It was a good week off from classes, and I still have so many places to look forward to seeing. This weekend I am going to the Vimy Ridge Memorial near Arras, France with a fellow Canadian, Logan, for Remembrance Day. I’m looking forward to seeing the memorial again, and am glad that I’ll be able to be there for November 11th. Our soldiers deserve to be remembered, and what better place to do it than where they fell over 95 years ago.
Love and miss you all,
Xox,
B

I fell in love with Ireland and didn’t want to let it go

At the Cliffs of Moher!

I know I’m overdue for a blog post, but time seems to be slipping away during my time on exchange, and I don’t know where the past two months have gone (I have officially been outside of Canada for two months as of today) or how I already only have 56 more days here. I have been keeping busy with travelling and school assignments lately, which has definitely made the time go by more quickly, which leaves me wanting to spend the little spare time I have with the amazing friends I have made here. I only have one more day of classes (today) before I on my fall semester break for a week of no classes, and lots of good food, friends and drinks on the beaches of Portugal and Spain. But before I get into that, I’ll try to quickly fill you all in on my life for the past few weeks.

I have been pretty busy with school for the past few weeks, which means that the few days where I am in Lyon, and not travelling elsewhere, I have either been in my apartment/the school library/cafes meeting with partners to work on school projects and assignments. I am now happy to say that I got my Contemporary Indian Society midterm and presentation over with yesterday morning, and I have completed and passed three french tests in the past three weeks. I have one assignment and a presentation the week I get back from holidays, but I am done the presentation already and I am not worried about the other assignment – planning on starting and finishing it tomorrow. It’s been a strange feeling having to actually be productive on homework in the past few weeks because the French Uni system is very different than back home, where I already would have written several midterms and essays and would likely be preparing to write another batch in a few weeks time. Here in Lyon we basically have one assignment and one final for each class, and I am already done the majority of them. I love the life of an exchange student! But no aspect of being an exchange students compares to the ability to travel to places I’ve only ever dreamed of visiting, and having them fill every expectation and more.

Standing at the edge!

I went to Dublin this past weekend, from Friday-Monday, and it was arguably one of the best weekends of my life, and definitely the most amazing places in the world that I have ever visited. I must point out that I don’t know how it rates in comparison to my cottage or Ottawa, but those aren’t places I visit, they are where I live and where my heart is, and most importantly where I call home.

I left Friday afternoon, and had to fly solo because Preeti (a friend I met in classes and who also happens to be from Canada) couldn’t get a flight out until later in the evening. On my way to the airport, I found myself thinking about the way I present myself while travelling, and how I inadvertently feel self-conscious about who I am and who I’m trying to be.

There is a fine line between struggling to feel like you belong in a new city, and the desire to still represent and advocate the place that you come from. I noticed this on my way to the Lyon airport from my little apartment in a very residential district of the city. I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb with my big Canadian flag sewn on my bag, and I felt the desire to inform everyone around me that, while I am undoubtedly a proud Canadian, I am also a resident of Lyon, and will continue to be for the next two months.
Once off the public transport, I ran into a fellow Lyon III student who approached me not because he recognized me as a classmate, but because, as a fellow Canadian, he wanted to tell me how much he liked the flag badge proudly displayed on my bag. So then I felt guilty for being ashamed of my flag back near my apartment, because I love being Canadian, as I have recently mentioned, I realize how much I take for granted while living in Canada that I now miss. It’s also nice to be Canadian because not only do people around the world seem to appreciate meeting Canadians, but fellow Canadians love being Canadian too. All this to say, I’ve realized that it’s nice to identify myself as a Canadian among a sea of Europeans, but also to be able to identify with the few other Canadians that I meet along the way.

By the time I had finished this internal debate with myself, I was off the Rhonexpress and waiting for my flight to Dublin! I was taken aback when I first stepped onto the plane and was met with a very friendly and accent-ridden stewardess, who greeted not only with a smile, but in english! It had been so long since I had heard spoken by someone in the service industry, that I instantly felt like I was back at home, and knew it was a good sign for the rest of my trip.

I found my hostel easily enough, and was content beyond belief to be surrounded by Irish people, who were not only ten times more friendly than the people I have become accustomed to meeting along my travels in France, but who had the most beautiful accents that my heart would just melt the instant anyone opened their mouth. I think it’s the Irish in me, but I was in heaven this weekend. I choose to identify with whatever percentage of Irish culture I have in my family because I am drawn to everything it is about, from its history and its stories to its food, music and art. I’ve said it already, and I’ll say it again: I fell in love with Ireland, and I am counting down the days until I can visit it again.

Saturday Preeti and I borded a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher, which lasted from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, but I swear I could’ve stayed for longer if only it meant I could see more of Ireland. We drove along the beautiful countryside and stopped every hour or so to see the architecture, quaint villages and natural beauty Ireland has to offer. The cliffs themselves were beyond anything I had ever imagined. I felt so small and insignificant in comparison to their size and majesty, which is always a humbling feeling. I took over 300 pictures this weekend, and a large majority are of the cliffs. Of course none of them can really capture the essence of the cliffs, but hopefully they will provide me with a good enough picture to fuel my memory. I took a few pictures standing as close to the edge as I could, which I know will freak my mother out, but you know what they say: live life on the edge! 😉

Cliffs of Moher

After our tour, Preeti and I headed to a pub for some delicious pub grub, which we of course washed down with a pint. We spent the rest of our evening in the “Temple Bar” area, moving between the various bars and pubs, meeting beyond friendly (in a good way, not a creepy way) people from all over Europe. We also had the great fortune of being shown how to party the Irish way because we met Leah, a very happy and gregarious girl from Limerick who was staying in our hostel room for the night. She asked what we were doing for the night, so I suggest she join us since we had no specific plans. It was a perfect evening of live music, impromptu air bands, arm wrestling, cider chugging and many many laughs. I didn’t want the evening to end. But Sunday showed us there was still lots to see and love about Ireland.

Sunday we toured around Dublin. My favourite part of the day was seeing Trinity College, which made me fall in love with Ireland all over again. The campus is beautiful, and I instantly had the desire to study there and be immersed in Irish life for semesters at the time. Upon hearing this, my mother said “Omg, my world traveller will never stay home”- but I swear once the travel bug bites, there’s no letting it go.
We had lunch (and a pint) at Ireland’s oldest pub, “The Brazen Head”. I decided to eat like the Irish, and left the pub feeling uncomfortably full after a fish cake starter and Guinness stew which came served in a giant yorkshire, complete with mashed potatoes and dense soda bread. But believe me, it was worth the tummy ache – so delicious! We traipsed along Grafton street, enjoying the window shopping and talented street performers, not to mention a leprechaun sighting or two! After our routy evening Saturday night, we spent Sunday at a pub near our hostel, and were in bed by 11:00 at the latest.

We said a sad farewell on Monday morning, and had to face reality once we had safely landed back in Lyon. I had a french test tuesday and my Indian Society presentation and midterm wednesday, all of which went well and are finally over and done with! Now I have a week of no classes to look forward to, and am looking forward to starting a new set of adventures Sunday night when I fly off to Lisbon, Portugal with five amazing girls. It should be amazing!

Miss and love you all,

xox, B.

Travel advice from a fellow Canadian

Just a quick note to share a blog post I am rather fond of. I first got the travel bug when I came to Paris in grade ten for the 90th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, and I have been dreaming of travelling the globe ever since. Not only did this post resonate with my love for travelling and those who share that love, but the author also happens to be a good friend of my sister’s from undergrad – small world! I hope everyone is having a fabulous day, happy reading! xox, B. http://wherearemyheels.com/2012/05/12/date-a-boy-whos-travelled/

End of holiday blues

The last day of traveling can tend to be a bummer. Even when you don’t have to leave first thing in the morning, you can never quite ignore that sense that you have somewhere to be. One of my favourite things about traveling is the lack of obligations and deadlines – I never feel quite as free as when I’m in a new town. Traveling on my own (without family, school, etc.) has opened me to a whole new way of seeing the world; sleep wherever you can find a bed and warm shower; enjoy the cheap eats as well as the splurges (both are often worth trying); don’t forget to see the world through your own eyes and not just your camera lens; and most importantly, plan on the go, not beforehand, you’ll never know what you can find when you wander!
All that to say, today is the last day of my weekend in Paris with Ian. We are sitting at the train station with an hour to go before our train leaves. We’ve had our fill of French pastries and coffee for the morning and are taking turns playing scrabble on his iPhone. I’m feeling the pangs of the realization that a) its no longer my birthday, b) I have a French test tomorrow, c) I have to leave Paris and d) Ian leaves on Friday. I’m undoubtedly excited to be heading back to my cozy apartment in Lyon, to not have to pay a fortune for every meal, and to sleep in my own bed, but the end of a holiday is always hard. Maybe this is just the 21-year-old me talking, and I’ve lost my youthful outlook on life- but I’m thinking its more likely just the overtired traveller in me talking.
We had an amazing time in Paris, and I can’t wait to come back to this beautiful city to see what else it offers. Friday we saw the Eiffel Tower in all its glory – both during the day and at night. We strolled along the Seine under its light show, and drained the battery on my camera with all the pictures we took.
Saturday we trekked across the city to go to the Paris World Car Show, which met all of Ian’s hopes and then some. I apologize if I get any of the terms wrong, but this whole car thing is new to me. But I can tell you that Ian was undoubtedly in car heaven. We saw at least half a dozen of his “favourite” cars, and were among the few thousand to be the first to see the “world premieres” of some newly released cars. We also saw concept cars, and I got to sit in my dream car- a Mini Cooper (don’t ask me which one, I have no clue)!!
The rest of the day was spent touring around Paris on a hop-on-hop-off tour bus and shopping along Les Champs d’Elysees. We split a bottle of wine at a classy bar behind the Louvre, and had a delicious dinner at a tiny Greek joint among Parisian night owls.
We started my birthday with brunch at a restaurant overlooking the square outside Le Centre Pompidou, which was delicious! A four course breakfast with a steaming cup of coffee, bread, fruit, eggs, etc.
With the goal of showing Ian Moulin Rouge (one of the last sights he had yet to see), we hopped back on the tour bus and rode around a new area of Paris for the rest of the day. We got to Moulin Rouge just in time to grab a coffee and enjoy the view of Paris’s party district before heading to Brasserie Flo for my 21st birthday dinner. By the end of our three course meal we were both ready to burst, and contentedly made our way home to our cozy apartment in the 17th arrondissement. It was a perfect birthday weekend in the city of love.
Now our weekend is officially over as we head to the time board to check where our train leaves from. I
Lots of love from Paris,
Xox,
B

Goodbye money, hello adventures!

I’ve heard that money spent on travelling is money well spent because it’s the only thing that you can buy that will make you richer. I have to keep reminding myself this as I watch my bank account balance quickly deteriorate while my weekends become more and more packed with trips to new destinations. Within the next three months, I will be visiting; Paris, Dublin, Lisbon, Barcelona and Berlin. Those are the trips that I have booked so far, and my wallet is most certainly feeling the affects of it, but I am beyond ready and willing to throw my money into flights and hostels if it means I get the chance to see what the world has to offer. I am also hoping to visit London after my exams are over in December, and I’d love to see a bit more of France while I am here. We’ll see how far I can stretch my money – good thing baguettes are cheap here, I think I’ll just live off of bread for the semester. They say carbs are good for runners, right?

With only two free weekends left in November, and none in October, I’m beginning to realize how quickly my semester abroad is going to fly by. It feels like just yesterday I arrived in my hotel in a strange new city, overwhelmed by the prospect of a starting a new life in a foreign country. But here I am today,  eating Nutella and baguette as a late-night snack like any other Frenchy (or so I’d like to think). I’m really feeling settled and comfortable in my new environment, and I am happy to be back into a regular school routine, finding time to run, meet up with friends for dinner and fitting in some time to tackle my pile of french homework. I have already found a favourite spot in the library on campus, which Ian jokes will always be my home away from home, no matter what country or city I am in. I find comfort in being surrounded by books and the silence of concentrating students.

But most of the desire of being an exchange student is escaping the academic life in order to see the world around us, which I will always manage to find time for. This past weekend I went to Geneva for four other girls. Two of the girls stayed overnight, but unwilling to pay the costly Genevan hotel prices, I opted to train in just for the day on Saturday, which only cost me 26 euros roundtrip thanks to student pricing. It was a beautiful city, but I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to stay any longer than a day.

We started our day at the UN, which had a line that looked like it would’ve been over a two hour wait to stand in, so we took pictures of the “broken chair” and the line up of flags, then went to hunt down a fondue restaurant.

Broken Chair

The fondue was quite tasty and cost us each 10 euro, which seemed affordable considering what we had heard about prices in Geneva.

Empty fondue pot after a satisfying meal

On our way back to the city from the restaurant we noticed the line had only about a ten minute wait, so we got in it. Unbeknownst to us, the one day we decided to visit Geneva happened to be the one day in two years that the UN is opened to the public for free. After going through security, we got a short tour and then were given free range to roam around the property and through the buildings.

Proud to be Canadian.

I still can’t believe our luck, and 3/4 of the girls I was with are studying International Relations, so they were in “academic heaven”. The rest of the day we spent along Lake Geneva, which was beautiful. We made friends with some very tame swans and got drinks along the water. It was the perfect ending to a Swiss day.

I should probably be heading to bed sometime soon but I am far too excited to be sleeping. Ian leaves for Lyon on Friday, which means we will be reunited in 3 sleeps! I am so excited for him to see Europe and for him to get a glimpse of the life I have made for myself here in Lyon. We will be sight seeing in Lyon for the weekend, and then next weekend we are going to Paris for my birthday!

I had my frist two non-french classes today, which went well. It’s different than the Canadian learning environment because we don’t have to buy our own books and our mark is based only off 2-3 assignments/tests, but that is perfectly ok with me. I have two more classes tomorrow and then it is my weekend! I plan on spending Friday studying in a coffee shop, and getting my place ready for Ian’s visit. I’ll keep everyone posted on my life in France as best I can.

Love and miss everyone back home,

xox, B.

Beautiful Lake Geneva

Home away from home

Last night I got home from my first weekend getaway. It’s strange to think that Lyon is my home now, but it really feels like it. After an amazing, but exhausting, weekend I was looking forward to the familiarity of my cozy apartment and my comfy bed. It’s nice to know that I feel at home here in Lyon with my own little family of friends, when my hometown awaits me so many miles away.

It was an amazing first trip, and I am already looking forward to more weekend adventures! Our getaway started on Friday, when I got on my first European train with 11 other girls from my program at UJM. It started out well when one of my friends couldn’t remember her booking code, which resulted in us getting her tickets printed with only 5 minutes to catch the train. I’m sure it was quite the scene to see a swarm of backpack-laden girls running across the train station in a panic to get our weekend away started. Since we were so late catching our train, we couldn’t find any seats to accomodate our large group, so we resorted to sitting on a large floor space behind the conductor’s door. We were all very satisfied to have our own space, and were getting settled into the 3.5 hour trip with some wine and snacks. Unfortunately no backpacking trip is complete without a few bumps along the way, which we encountered within the first few hours of our weekend. About 4 stops into the ride, two very dirty and drunk hobos came onto the train and decided to sit down with on the floor and spent the majority of the trip swearing and yelling at us in French. It was unnerving to say the least, but we soldiered on and pushed our way past them once the train pulled into the next stop.

Once we arrived in Marseille, we tried to get a few cabs to our hostel, but were told it would cost us 5 Euro each person, which was clearly an attempt to take advantage of a group of young female travellers. We tried convincing them to use their metre, but to no avail. One of the cabbies was nice of us to point us in the direction of our hostel, and we made it there alive and well in about half an hour by foot. I had heard that Marseille is a fairly dangerous town because of gangs and pickpockets, but luckily none of us experienced this first hand – other than feeling a bit unnerved during our midnight stroll to the hostel. A few of us went for a drink along the Old Port on Friday, but called it a night around 2:00.

Our hostel was amazing – free breakfast, free wifi, great location, very clearn, and our own shower and toilet in our 4-person rooms. One of my friends had ran into a local while waiting for us at the train station, and he told her that we should visit “Les Calanques” in a town called Cassis if we had the time. So Saturday morning we asked how to get there at our front desk, and were told that the next bus left in 30 minutes. Once we realized the bus stop was at least a 20 minute walk from our hostel, we scurried as fast as we could and made it, once again, just in the knick of time. There was a very long line ahead of us, but were fortunate enough to convince the bus driver to let us squeeze 12 girls into the 6 empty seats that were remaining. 5 euros and a return ticket later, we were cozy in our crowded seats. 

After picking up a few groceries for a picnic lunch, we were pointed in a direction towards Les Calanques. We asked several locals along the way how to get there, but everyone told us it was either impossible to walk there, or that they were closed after 11 am. Fortunately we were sceptical about the local’s advice, and continued in the direction we were first pointed. After about 40 minutes of walking, we ran into two French women who were properly equipped for a day’s worth of hiking. When we asked them how to get to the Calanques, they said they were also heading there and that they would show us the way. They told us that to get to the 2nd Calanque (a nice small beach area along the Mediterranean Sea) would take us another half an hour of hiking and that the 3rd Calanque was another hour past that. We were unfortunately all equipped for a day at the beach in our bikinis and flip flops, but we decided we’d attempt the hike nonetheless. Once we reached the 2nd Calanque we were blown away by it’s beauty and remoteness. We took a break for lunch and a swim, and rested our sore feat. I had worn flip flops, and by this point I already had a blister between my big and 2nd toe on each feet.

The 1st Calanques – For boats only, not swimmers.

11/12 of us at the 2nd Calanques.

 

We decided to finish our hike to the 3rd Calanque, which included some detours and many naysayers that we met along the way who told us we wouldn’t be able to reach the 3rd in our footwear. Once we reached the lat stretch of our hike and realized how much mountain climbing it would require from us, only 6 of us actually decided to finish the trek.

The top of the “Calanque” that we had to climb down

Ready to conquer the climb! (No matter how ill-equipped I was)

The top of the “Calanque” that we had to climb down

 

 

 

It was quite the adventure to walk down to the 3rd Calanque but it was most certainly worth the pain it required. I felt small and insignificant in such an impressive, beautiful and natural setting. There were plenty of other hikers and boaters who were enjoying the sun and welcoming water that pooled into a bay among the rocks. After basking in the beauty of the 3rd Calanque, we missioned to get back to the town of Cassis where the rest of our friends were waiting for us. We started our walk back to the town at about 4:40, and made it back just in time to catch the last bus of the day at 7:00 pm. It was a long day to say the least, but one of the most unexpected and amazing places I’ve ever experienced. This weekend it really hit home how lucky I am to be able to experience the world from such an amazing perspective – through the eyes of a young, inquisitive, uninhibited student, willing to take the good with the bad in order to experience the world as it comes.

 

After an amazing dinner of fish and delicious wine Saturday night, Sunday rolled around with the promise of exploring more of the beautiful French coast. We left the old port of Marseille in a boat which brought us to the “Chateau d’If” – a fortress on an island just on the outskirts of Marseille which was built in the 16th century under Francois 1er’s orders. It was used originally to defend the port from attacks at sea, but was eventually used to hold political and religious prisoners and was also where the hero of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is kept prisoner. After touring around the castle and its island, the boat brought us to a second island where we lay on the beach and enjoyed the Sea one last time before catching the boat back to the mainland. The 12 of us girls dragged our tired legs and feet into cabs and made it to the train with 20 minutes to spare.

It was a full and busy weekend, which I’m sorry to say has resulted in a very long blog post. I’m still recovering from the effects of the weekend away, battling a cold and exhaustion, but I managed to drag myself to my first French class of the semester. My teacher is very intimidating and has already dumped a large pile of homework on us, which is daunting, but I am trying to stay positive about the experience. I will undoubtedly learn from Mme. Meunier, and it will help me work towards my goal of improving my French while living in France. I have another 14 hours of class this week, so maybe I will even see an improvement by Friday. My real school schedule starts next Tuesday, which I am looking forward to. I am eager to have some regularity in my new French lifestyle, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a nerd at heart – I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom surrounded by words and history.

I will try to post more regularly so I don’t have to dump such a big post on everyone, but I have been keeping very busy here. Love and miss everyone back home,

xox, B.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

As the youngest child of four, I was put through many extracurricular activities growing up in order to fill my free time and give my parents a break from our hectic and noisy life. I tried them all – gymnastics (not exciting enough for me), dance (embarrassing memories of being a chubby kid in too-small leotards), art (not very talented in that department), Beavers (…realized there was a girl equivalent and tried out >), Brownies/Girl Guides/Pathfinders (ya, I was the super cool kid who went all the way through Pathfinders – even got my Canada Cord to prove it!). But my true loves were horseback riding and drama, and since horse back riding was a little bit less practical and a lot more expensive, drama became what I liked being good at. Drama and horseback riding had something in common though – they required some concentration and a bit of courage, and the combination of those two things often led to me unknowingly holding my breath. I lost track of the amount of times directors and instructors would remind to me to breathe – such a simple request, seeing as it’s a natural part of our everyday lives. But when you’re trying something new and scary, breathing gets put to the back burner, and all you can think of is the task at hand. I’ll never forget that advice though – to breathe even when life gets tricky. It obviously keeps us alive, but it also reminds us that we are alive, it can keep us calm in a nerve-wracking situation, and it reminds me that no matter how much courage or concentration life requires from us, we can’t forget to breathe and to live, our seemingly scary lives.

All that to say, moving to a faraway country in an entirely new continent was a pretty overwhelming experience for me. Lyon is a beautiful city, and I am so excited to experience it, and the rest of Europe, but that was hard to remember when all I could think of was how far away from Ottawa I was, and how I wouldn’t be seeing it or many of my friends and family for another four months. But today was a wake-up call. I realized that it was my choice to come and have this new experience, and that I should enjoy it while it lasts, instead of holding my breath and hoping it would be over quickly. I am all settled in my apartment now (pictures to follow), I have set up my French bank account, and I have dropped off all my necessary forms at school and with my landlord, so things are starting to fall into place. I should have my student card by Friday, and then I get my Metro card for September, which will let me use the Metros, Trams, and Buses all for 27 Euros/month! Seems affordable to me- cheaper than Ottawa, and a better Transit system from what I can tell 🙂 .

Orientation started today, so I finally got to meet some of the other S.E.L.F. (Studying in English, Living in France) students. I don’t really remember what we talked about during the morning half of the presentation, but the good news is that I have met lots of cool people, and we enjoyed our nice French-length lunch break from 11:30-2:00 at a cafe patio with beer and delicious bagel sandwiches with fries! Yum 🙂 We had another presentation this afternoon, which talked a lot about the history of Lyon, and of Jean Moulin (our Uni’s namesake) – a leader of the French resistance during WWII, who was tortured by the Nazis and eventually imprisoned in France, and then died while being moved to Germany. We also learned a bit more about how the S.E.L.F. program works, and the requirements of the program. We also found out that we would have to make appointments with S.E.L.F. staff in order to register for our classes, which result in a mad-dash to the sign-up sheet after the presentation. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the earliest appointment was for Friday Sept. 7 at 4 pm, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the classes don’t all fill up by then since appointments start tomorrow.

Tomorrow we have more orientation from 2:00-5:00, so I plan on exploring a bit in the morning on a run, and then walking down to campus to find where we need to meet. Tomorrow night there is a party put on for exchange students at a club, so I’ll either be doing that with the girls I met today, or just going to a bar with the girls, depending on whether we want to dance or just enjoy some wine and patios :).

That’s all for now, chat soon.

xox, B.

P.S. Here are my apartment pictures!

Chocolate for breakfast :)

I’ve decided that anyplace where chocolate is an acceptable breakfast food is pretty great with me. I get breakfast served at the hotel I stayed at last night, and taking up the majority of my plate is a baguette with Nutella, and a mini chocolate croissant. Of course I put some fruit on my plate as well, but it isn’t nearly as appealing as the chocolaty carbs. The coffee is delicious and much needed as well.
Yesterday was a very tiring day, but I did arrive to Lyon safely, with no problems on the flights or with any of my luggage. I got to my hotel at 11:00, but couldn’t get into my room until noon, so I left my luggage at reception and wandered around outside. I found the Rhone, where there is an outdoor market set up on Sundays. I bought myself some fresh fruit and a pain au chocolat for my dinner later in the evening. Once back in my hotel I struggled with the shower for 20 minutes, finally getting the shower to run, but not figuring out how to drain the tub until after I had cleaned away the travel grogginess. I skyped home to Ian and my p-units (parental units, it’s a term of endearment, duh) which was nice to see their faces and hear their words of encouragement. Mostly they suggested I take a nap or two since I was beyond exhausted and grumpy. Other than a few naps though, I battled the jet lag and exhaustion and stayed awake until about midnight thanks to a few movies Ian had downloaded for me before I left.
Today is move-in day! Woo hoo 🙂 So hopefully everything goes well with that. I’m meeting the landlord at 10:00 and signing whatever documents necessary to make me the rightful owner to my own French abode. I’m also hoping to make it to school and/or the mall to get a few things done there. Hopefully it’s a productive day!
Xox, B

P.S. The picture is of the Rhone during my walk at noon. So pretty!

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