Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cruisin' Down the South-West Coast

Recently, my host family and I took two days off from school and work and travelled down the South-West coast of France! Our first stop along the way was Dune du Pilat. Here is a picture and a few facts:

  • It's the highest dune in Europe and always in motion. Depending on the years,  the height varies between 100 and 115 meters
  • Dune's are made up of 60 million cubic meters of sand
  • They stretch for roughly 1.7 miles
  • 500 meters wide from the forest to the beach
The view from the top is great! It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, and if you're feeling physically pumped up enough, it is neat to run all the way down to the beach. We brought a picnic lunch to eat, but because of the wind up there, we decided to head over to a close by beach, which brings me to our next stop...
Arcachon Beach! It is just like any other public beach, with sand stretching for a couple miles, and a nice pier to walk out onto. The weather was beautiful, so we spent a few hours laid out under the sun eating our Boulangerie sandwiches and enjoying one another's company. The beach was surrounded by a small city, like most ones we visited, but I think if we had gone into one of the boutiques and decided to purchase something, we would have been turning around to head for home because of lack of money. The town was cute, but not the prices!
After that we continued our way through small towns, and stopped at various beaches, before reaching our final destination of the day, Biarritz! 

Here we stayed one night in a hotel, which was totally awesome! It had two bedrooms, plus a side room with bunk beds, a small kitchen, a porch overlooking the pool, and of course the bathroom. Although we didn't spend much time there, it provided a nice crash pad. Biarritz reminded me of a smaller version of Paris. Fairly busy, filled with shops, restaurants, small clubs, and of course the beach! This was what made it different from the very city-life vibe in Paris. Everyone was very beachy, the Ocean smells filled the air, and life seemed more relaxed. We ate at a Pizzeria for dinner, walked through the streets, and finally plopped in bed after a long days worth of travel.

Day Two
Can you say, hello Spain!!!!
The fam packed up the car, and around 11 o'clock we were headed out for our next adventure, Spain! I had no idea we were doing this, and could barely stay seated for the very short 35 minute ride to the border. Now I knew that people could just pass from France to Spain, or visa versa easily, but I didn't realize how simple it was! We literally just went through a toll booth, and were all of a sudden in a new country! The country was just how I had pictured it, really green, humid, and smelling of Ocean water. We spent the day in St. Sebastian. I didn't know Spain didn't have tax, so that was a nice surprise while shopping :-) We ate at a small cafe next to the Ocean, no beach in particular, just where the water came up and met the city. We didn't stay long enough for me to be able to discover cultural differences, but the other American exchange student Sarah, from Wisconsin, who goes to my High School here in France, filled me in on what she noticed. Unlike the French who eat breakfast before work/school, then lunch around 12:30, and finally dinner at about 7:30 or 8, the Spanish eat much later! She said that people didn't even start lunch until about 3 pm in the afternoon, then took a nap around 5 ish, and started to make dinner around 8 or 9 at night! And I thought France was bad!!! I am a person who likes to eat when I am hungry, which is very frequently, and have definitely struggled with the eating schedule here, so I can't imagine being there! But the city was nice, and I loved walking around and exploring different shops. Back to France it was...
The final stop of the trip would be in the Basque Country. Here, they speak their own language, which is a mix of Spanish and French, and unlike the other two, it doesn't derive from Latin. We got to watch a really cool sports game that is played there called Pelote. Here is a link describing the game, and a picture as well:

We also walked around in small shops, and bought special Basque Country shoes. Here is another link which describes these special shoes:

They are super comfortable, and I totally recommend them!
It was about 5:30 when we finally wrapped things up for the day, and started out on our three hour long car ride home. It was am amazing experience to see how different parts of France and Spain looked, and to compare people's life styles, fashion, and even the language differences! I will never forget the two day trip, and my host family is totally awesome for taking me on it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recent Activities

Since I last blogged, I have done two interesting things. The first, I went to a horse race in a near by town, and two of the horses that raced are owned by my host father, Michel. Although they placed 4th, and last, it was amazing to see how strong and fast the horses are! I had never been to a horse race before, but it was pretty similar to what I have seen on TV. There is a 30 minute break in between each race, and the actual race only lasts about 3 minutes, depending on how many times around the track they run. There is a stadium to sit in, and a fence you can go up to to get a closer look. There are also food set-ups, and little carnival-like entertainments for little kids to do. Here is a picture of one of Michel's horses, and another racers:

The second exciting thing that has happened is a trip to Paris! Helene and I took the train up and stayed with her older sister and their family for four days. When I walked out of the train station I litterally could not believe my eyes... The city is HUGE! All the buildings are so tall. It was just like I imagined it to be, and more. We visited the Montmartre, Versailles Castle, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, and various other places. My favorite, though, was the Eiffel Tower at night. It is all lit up, and you can see the elevator going up and down. It is the biggest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Such an amazing piece of work. We also did a little shopping, and toured the streets of down town. The weather was chilly, which made it hard to stay outside for too long without getting cold and grumpy, but the site seeing was well worth the chills! My family arrives tomorrow (the 20th) And we leave Sunday for Paris, again! :-) I cannot wait to be with them, and show them what I've been experiencing for the last almost four months. Here are some pictures taken in Paris:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Joyeuses Paques!

Happy Easter from France, everyone! Tradition here is definitely different from VT. I was a bit disappointed to find out that kids stop getting candy and chocolate when they're about 14. I still, at almost 18, love waking up to my little basket at the end of my bed with sweets and special gifts. But Granny pulled through when she arrived with a football-sized chocolate egg... I've already eaten the entire top :-)
While a lot of people eat ham for Easter in America, at least my family tends to, their meat of choice is lamb! It was super delicious, and served with white beans that had been soaked in some kind of red sauce, and followed by a fruit platter for desert. The rest of the day is spent hanging around and relaxing. I am guessing that more religious families, just like anywhere else in the world, celebrate differently and to more extents. I plan to watch The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and munch on this scrumptious chocolate block... Joyeuses Paques!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Poolside Dining

The weather is still great, been eating outside by the pool almost every night. The sun doesn't set until past 8, so the days are long. Although the pool is not quite warm enough to swim in, it does provide a nice ambience for basking in the sunlight. Helene's parents went to a friends for dinner Saturday night, so we decided to make ourselves a gourmet meal. After picking out dinner in a cook book, which consisted of Thai noodles, with duck and peppers covered in a curry sauce, and chocolate tart desert with vanilla ice cream and berries, we set off to the grocery store to get the ingredients. I can't tell if the food prices here really are cheaper than in Vermont, or if I just never shopped for anything besides chips, but we managed to get everything in, plus popcorn and sun flower seeds under our money limit! Here is a picture of how our scrumptious meal turned out...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What a Wonderful Week...

This week has been beautiful! Temperatures no lower than 68, and not a cloud in the sky. My host mother showed me a path that goes through a park for running, and it is great. It also has mini hills for what must be dirt bikes, but if you're a real dedicated cross country runner like myself (not at all) then it's fun to run up and over the hills. I have a favorite spot where I sometimes pause and think, and possibly catch me breath... I will attach a picture.
The joke of tonight is Isabelle (mother) forgetting Helene at piano. First Michel (father) asked me where Helene was, so i responded piano, which I don't think he understood, because then Isabelle came home and started to make dinner, so I asked if Helene was walking home from practice tonight, and her eyes got really big followed by the response "Oh la la, j'ai oublie!!!"I glanced out my window to see Isabelle hop in our tiny green bug car and go flying down the street. Luckily Helene is a good sport and arrived laughing and smiling at that fact that her own parents had forgotten her.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Found Glory

Helene and I were walking in the city yesterday, and I asked her if we could walk down some shopping streets we had never been on. Of course she agreed, so we began wondering through the maze of side streets, until we came upon the Bergerac Candy Shop that she had said was in the town, but forget exactly where. We went inside and began filling little bags full of special treats, and then we noticed the beautifully arranged Macaroons on a side table. We immediately decided we had to buy one. Neither of us had ever had one, and we were especially happy because a character in our favorite series 'Gossip Girl' always eats them. Unlike the Macaroons I had heard of, which are filled with a jelly like substance, these were held together with different flavors of chocolate. Raspberry, Orange, Almond, Chocolate, Creme Brulee, just to name a few. They were really good! Of course it's hard to eat more than 1 at a time because of their sweetness, but still really yummy!
Another interesting thing I heard recently was a saying. I was discussing gas prices with my family, and Isabelle (mom) told me a french saying about Americans, which is, "The Americans have gas and no ideas, but the French have ideas and no gas." Kind of funny...
One thing I really like about the school here, is that at 4 o'clock each day the cafeteria puts out a box of left over fruit, and students can take it to eat in between classes. I think it is a good way to not waste food, and also munch on a healthy snack, since that seems to be everyones thing these days. I know it would be more difficult for our school because we don't end at 6 pm, but even at 1 o'clock, I am sure people would take it!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shoeless Wonder...

Yesterday was our second day back at school since vacation. In the morning I decided that since everyone was just seeing one another, I'd wear a few of my new accessories, including new shoes. They are Sperry like sneakers that are bright blue and I totally love them. So I slipped them on, along with a shirt that had blue in it, my leather jacket, jeans, and I was ready to go. I had to walk the 30 minute stretch to school, but since I hadn't gotten any exercise in many weeks, I wasn't bummed about the walk. So I started off, down Rue Villechanoux with my new look. Within the first 5 minutes I felt the back of my heels starting to rub. It increasingly got worse, until I was finally limping into the school yard. I sat down on the nearest bench, checked my watch to make sure I had time before the bell rang, and examined my injuries. Two huge blisters hard formed, and one had already popped, covering my shoe in blister juice. Luckily I had packed bandaids in my bag for on the place ride, so I patched them up as best I could, and hobbled off to find Helene. I told her about my feet, and immediately learned how to say "I have two blisters on my feet" for when people asked me why I was walking so weird. The translation into French is "J'ai des ampoules sur mes pieds!"It came in handy quite a bit throughout the day. Finally 6 o'clock came, and we headed out the front doors for home. I thought about asking Helene to call her mom, but decided this was my own fault, and I didn't need to inconvenience her parents, I could deal. Within 5 minutes of the walk home I couldn't bare it anymore, so I took the next best step and decided I would walk home in bare feet... What a brilliant decision that was! The ground was freezing, and my feet were still covered in soft winter skin, I use the past tense there because they are now rougher than ever! Oh, and the first half of the walk is on gravel rocks! Together Helene and I, me limping, and her holding her stomach repeating "I'm going to explode (I didn't ask why...) made it home in 33 minutes. I immediately soaked my tootsies in a sink full of hot water, and she did whatever she had to do to not explode. After that we both relaxed and watched an episode of Gossip Girl before being called for dinner. Always eventful here in Bergerac...