Even though my time in France is up, I told myself I would write a few more blog posts (which were intended to be written during my time in France, but that’s what happens when you simply begin “living” instead of doing only what’s required…)

So, onto the topic of this blog -- my weekends.

In my opinion (and I’m sure other people would agree), weekends are what make your time here go by more quickly, give you something to look forward to, allow you to take a 3 day vacation (every weekend), give you opportunities to lose yourself to Europe/France/etc., and of course, give you time to experience things you’ve never and may never get to experience again (like me).

The first 2 weeks in France, I hated to admit, but I was pretty homesick.  This was a strange feeling for me because I’m so used to being away from home and those I love (since I live several hours away from them all).  Looking back, the first 2 weekends were probably the least exciting during my stay, all because of slow weekends, but that’s okay.  Once my friends and I learned about the wonderful CarTreize cards (which allow you to ride the CarTreize buses all day for just 2 euro), even our free days became booked.

Here’s a rundown of my weekends for my memory and your enjoyment.  Each of these trips was done on quite a budget, for you money conscientious students out there (like me).


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Weekend #1:  Welcoming weekend!  June 1st-2nd

Saturday, June 1st:  Arrive in France (after more than 24 hours of travelling).  Go to cirque du soleil show by the rotund with host momma and housie until midnight.  Have a blast.  Fall into sleep coma.

Sunday, June 2nd:  Sleep coma from jet lag until 3pm.  Wake up to venture around town with map given by IAU to find IAU and go to open house by 6pm.  Go to open house.  Go home.  Sleep more to try to sleep off jet lag.


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Weekend #2:  First real weekend!  June 7th – 9th

Friday, June 7th:  First IAU excursion to the Luberon region (which is free and covered in your program fees).  Bought things in the market in first town (which I cannot remember the name of for the life of me), saw the little and big luberon mountains, saw lots of poppy fields, hiked to the top of the town of Lacoste to the castle ruins, ate lunch, took LOTS of pictures of the pretty French country side, saw the red soil in Rousillion where they take the pigment out of the dirt to make paints and whatnot, ate nutella ice cream, started my post card obsession, got bus sick (of course), come home.  Sleep.

Saturday, June 8th:  Explore Aix with housie and hang with her friends.  Simple as that.

Sunday, June 9th:  Travel to Marseille for the Transhumance 2013!  Saw lots of animals. Ate good pizza.  Took a boat to the island not too far from Marseille to visit the Chateau d’If (where the Count of Monte Cristo took place), get splashed by the Mediterranean on the boat.  Saw the church on the port next to the sea (which I also cannot remember the name of).  Come back to Aix and eat dinner with housie, her friends, and her professor from her college and order a bunch of new French food to try (which I didn’t like, for once).  Go home.  Sleep.


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Weekend #3:  2nd weekend/Finding out about the 2 euro bus weekend!  June 14th – 16th.

Friday, June 14th:   Adventure to Cassis using the CarTreize buses.  Had an hour layover in Aubergne (or however you spell it) to eat breakfast at a cute little local café.  In Cassis by 11am – walk to rocky beaches to explore and take pictures, visit the market, buy lunch, chill at tourist beach (while others venture off to find beaches of their own… like nude beaches, welcome to France!), swim in the Mediterranean for the first time, eat first croque monsieur, shop in little shops in town, play Rich Man Poor Man while waiting for the bus (which some French people watched while waiting as well, commenting about how my shuffling of cards is casino-worthy), get back to Aix, plan for the next 2 euro bus trip.

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Saturday, June 15th:  Adventure to Arles using the CarTreize buses.  Saw some nearby cities to Aix, more country side, and whatnot.  Arrived in Arles for the afternoon – saw the yellow café that Van Gogh painted (my favorite part), saw lots of Roman ruins (like the amphitheater and coliseum), saw the Seine river for the first time, ate more gelato, played more Rich Man Poor Man while waiting for the bus (and getting a wet wipe of cherry gunk thrown at me because an old French lady thought I purposely put a cherry under her butt before she sat down), arrive back in Aix by dinnertime.

Sunday, June 16th:  Recovery/homework day in Aix.  Explore the town some more with friends.  Go to French church service.  Go out to dinner with housie, her friends, and her professor again.  

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Weekend #4:  Halfway point/ Sam’s last night/We’re still bad at planning things weekend/Music Party! June 21st – 23rd

Friday, June 21st:  France’s fête de la musique!  A giant nation wide party where in each town there are stages set up for different bands to play on from 4pm until 3am the next day.  Lots of drinking in the streets, street fighting, and weird people.  Oh, and the biggest crowd of people I’ve ever been in my entire life.  We also went out to eat at the Bistro Roman on the Cours Mirabeau to celebrate the end of our first 3 week class, the end of finals (which are way different here and a bit more intimidating thanks to an oral section of a final exam), and Sam’s last night in Aix.  I had some of the best spaghetti ever.

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Saturday, June 22nd:  Excursion with George to St. Tropez!  Elisabeth, Issac, Emily, and I all paid 25 euros through the school to go with a tour guide, George, to St. Tropez, which is somewhat hard to reach without a car or organized mode of transport.  We got to go to the market in St. Tropez and see a bunch of cruise ships and super nice boats before we went to Le Ciotat (a SUPER NICE SANDY BEACH) to swim in.  Found a hole in the ground for a toilet… literally. 

Sunday, June 23rd:  Rest in Aix day.  Went out to eat with housie, her friends, her professor, and her professor’s French friend at a nice restaurant to celebrate Dr. Savage (her professor)’s last weekend in France (since the other Wheaton professor was coming to switch out with him for the last 3 weeks).  Ate another awesome pizza because, you know, I’m addicted to pizza.  Also finished planning out trip for the next weekend to Barçalona, Spain thanks to Nathan and his momma!


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Weekend #5:  Cultural experience weekend/”Let’s go to another country” trip/weekend of train problems!  June 28th – 30th .  [this weekend will have the longest write up… HAHA.]

Friday, June 28th:  Worst day of living in France ever (thanks to traveling issues).

SO, my friends and I all got up at the butt-crack of dawn (and I mean it.. we were at the Aix train station by 5:40am) to catch our first train to Marseille.. [Looking back, I don’t see why we didn’t take a bus….]  Luckily, MY FIRST TRAIN RIDE EVER (I know, I’m sheltered), went fine.  We left Aix at the scheduled 6:10am and saw more new places on the way to Marseille that we’d never seen and arrived to Marseille St. Charles on time.  We went over to the screens that displayed the next trains to leave and whatnot, spotted our next train (we had 4 or 5 different trains/connections for this trip), got McDonalds for breakfast since it was inside the train station, waited for the platform, found the platform, and waited some more.  The screens had said our train was running late, but little did we know, it kept getting delayed more and more.  The SNCF personnel told us to go back to the screens because our train was no longer at the platform that we were on.  Confused, we go back to the screens to watch our train be delayed another 10 minutes (making that 50 minutes total), and then watch the word “Annule” pop up on the screen next to it. 

Okay, so my French not be the best, but there’s only one thing that could mean:  CANCELLED.  We all start to panic.  We go to the information desk, where everyone from our train had already gone, watched some crazy guy try to fix things (and only embarrassed himself… I have a video):


and got our tickets changed to say “en route to Montpellier”, which meant we could take WHATEVER TRAIN POSSIBLE to get there.  We made our way back to the display to find a train to Montpellier that would leave in 20 more minutes and still allow us to make our connecting trains (thankfully).  We waited for the platform to find our train, watching it be delayed… and delayed…. And delayed some more…. And after 60 minutes, “annule” -- AGAIN.  Well, so much for not having any more problems.  Unfortunately, neither we nor the SNCF personnel knew that someone committed suicide on the tracks to Montpellier, making things almost impossible.  I walked to the information booth, trying to find ways to get to Montpellier in any way possible, as my friends met a young couple from the States and a young guy from Israel that were in the same predicament as we were – trying to get to Barçalona and their train (the same one we were scheduled for), was cancelled.  Luckily, the guy from Israel, named Dean, had talked to the SNCF personnel and found out that his, now “our” best bet to get to Montpellier would be through a train to Avignon, then to Port Bou, which had a stop in Montpellier.  Fortunately, this train was on time, we boarded, and were on our way to Avignon, a bit out of the way for our journey, but at least a step in the right direction.

We enjoyed our lunch in Avignon, a bit early, but well welcomed after our fiasco in Marseille and a way to spend our 2 hour layover for the train to Port Bou.  There, we met 2 British girls who were also on their way to Barçalona, who joined us for lunch in the train station as we waited.  Dean and the young couple made attempts to talk to the SNCF personnel about our situation and to get advice, but told us the same.  Our train to Port Bou finally came, and we boarded.  Our long train ride commenced.  We spent about 2 hours on the train before the stop in Montpellier, which was waaaaaaaaay after our connecting train, so we decided to stay on the train after hearing from Dean that all of the trains from Montpellier in the direction of Barça were sold out, meaning we would have to stand.  We remained in our seats for another 2 hours, until the STUPID sound of the SNCF (if only you knew how many times we heard that sound) came over the intercom, telling all the passengers, in French of course, that they would have to get off the train and transfer onto the other train in the station at Narbonne (with no reason, might I add).  We took our things and ran in the direction of the other train.  Our 11 car long (at least) train was being transferred into a smaller, 3 car long train.  WHAT ABOUT THIS MADE SENSE TO THE SNCF PEOPLE, I WILL NEVER KNOW.  Everyone was packed into the train like sardines as they closed the doors.  Of course we couldn’t fit, along with many others from our train, now getting quite annoyed.  Elisabeth talked to the SNCF personnel, who were actually nice to us this time, and told us a TGV in the direction of Port Bou would be at the station in 30 minutes.  Of course, we had no choice but to wait for the next train, bought some snacks, and boarded MY FIRST EVER TGV to Port Bou.
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We played some Rich Man Poor Man to pass the time, but were quickly interrupted when the SNCF jingle played over the intercom and told us that we were reaching the last stop, in which everyone had to get off the train in Perpingnon.  WHY THE SNCF PEOPLE NEVER TOLD US THIS, I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND EITHER.  We were lied to.  The train was SUPPOSED to go to Port Bou, but wasn’t.  WHAT WAS UP WITH ALL PROBLEMS?!  We talked to information once again, who assured us this was our train’s last stop (which I still can’t believe) and we would have to wait 2 and a half hours for a train that would get us to Barça by 10pm, or wait 4 hours for a TGV that would get us to Barça by 9pm.  Of course, we picked to wait for the TGV so we would get to Barça sooner.  After the train stopping at Figures (the “border”), a few rude words to the ticket reader when he almost wouldn’t let us on the train despite our tickets for earlier that day and our numerous train problems, we finally got on the Spanish train (which was way nicer than the French trains) that brought us to Barçalona at about 9pm.  We walked the 40 minute walk to our hostel, checked in, ate food at a hipster restaurant (it was a form of “slow” food, not fast food, that was healthy and had a wine vending machine – SO COOL), and retired for the night.  

Saturday, June 29th:  Explore Barçalona and get blisters (basically)!

We left our hostel at a reasonable 9:30am to grab breakfast across the street at Pain and Company, a pretty popular chain in Spain (which makes no sense to me, since “pain” means “bread” in French) and had a delicious, fulfilling breakfast for cheaper than imagined in Aix.  We walked to a few of the Gaudi architectural houses, took a bunch of pictures, then bought a 10 ticket pass for the metro to save us some time.  (The metro in Barça is pretty easy to use, thankfully it’s color coded).  We headed to the Sagrada Famillia, a huge church created by Gaudi.  We wanted to go in, but the line would have had us waiting for at least 2 and a half hours just to see the inside, so we decided to visit Burger King, get slushies, and souvenir shop in a few local shops before heading to the Barça football stadium (really soccer, you know).  We hopped on the metro to get to the stadium, walked the hefty walk, and made it to the stadium and the land of the jerseys, aka the FBC store.  Nathan had to buy some jerseys for himself and a relative while Elisabeth and Joanna took funny pictures with the mannequins.  I sat on the cement stairs inside to rest my feet.  I honestly don’t think I’ve seen more jerseys in my entire life… or decently attractive soccer players.  Hmm…

We hopped back on the metro after the stadium to head to the mall near the beach, since Joanna wanted to see the beach.  We had lunch at a cute Austrailian (I think) pub/bar thing that served some mean tacos (and a burger in a bowl).  We ventured down to the beach, took pictures, and headed back to find more Gaudi houses towards the center of the town, where the tourists go.

We stumbled upon a church that Gaudi helped design (apparently?), and ran into a wedding taking place, basically opened to the public.  We also saw a bunch of huge dolls standing outside for no reason… or at least we couldn’t tell what the reason was.  Ready to see more, we walked to the Cathedral, the second biggest church in town aside from the Sagrada, and saw synchronized old people dancing (which apparently goes on a lot, based on a schedule of some sort… it’s apparently a part of the culture – very interesting and somewhat funny to watch).  I couldn’t go inside the cathedral because I was wearing a tank top and you had to have sleeves/modest clothing/at least shorts on in order to go in.  I didn’t feel like paying a euro to borrow a scarf just to see another church, so I waited, watching the old people with Joanna.  Ironically enough, we ran into the same British girls we ran into at the train station in Avignon who stopped by to say hey to us.  They encouraged us to visit the Gaudi park (which we had been debating over all day).  We parted ways, figured out the easiest way to get to Gaudi park (which was a struggle with our limited Spanish speaking – thanks Nathan!).  

When we stepped out of the metro we had no clue where we were – It wasn’t even on my map.  Nathan spotted an old guy and decided to ask him for directions, which was pretty interesting.  He told us to walk down the road and look to our left to find escalators that would bring us to the park.  Easy enough.  No one told me that it would be a 45 degree angle up a hill to said park…..  At least I only had to walk up 2 hills that steep.  I think we all had to stop a few times to take a breather.  It was extreme, but so worth it once we got a beautiful shot of Barçalona right before our eyes.

That park was the highlight of the trip, in my opinion. Such pretty architecture, so artsy… Even better because we made it to the top to watch the sunset over Barça from the top benches.  We took many pictures, bought several souvenirs from the peddlers throughout the park (who all seemed to be of African/Middle Eastern descent… all selling things super cheap).  We walked a bit of a walk to the next metro station, hopped back on and made our way to the bottom of town to walk up the tourist road, attempting to find dinner.

We stopped to eat at this Tapas Café, next to a short man wearing a monster suit, trying to scare people and obtain money.  Quite hilarious.  I got a pizza and tapas so I could try them since the paiya (or however you spell it) would’ve given me heartburn and was a bit more than I wanted to pay after splitting a pitcher of the best Sangria I ever had with someone.

We walked up tourist alley, dodging people asking us to go to clubs, people who wanted to sell us stupid things, people trying to sell beers, and the occasional drunk people to our hostel.  Everyone immediately fell asleep, while I, a bit buzzed from my Sangria (but SO worth it), decided to take a warm shower, and chill on facebook until 3am when I finally decided to call it a night.
Sunday, June 30th:  A happy ending… Goodbye Barça!

We left our hostel at 7:30am, after a good night’s sleep and made our way to the metro (since we didn’t feel like walking to the train station) that would take us directly to the train station.  We got off at the station, checked to see that our train was on time to Figures – IT WAS!  We hurried over to McDonalds and a little café to get a few things to eat, got our stuff, went through a bit of security (they actually x-ray’d our bags before we got on the train… hm), and got onto the train, in our original seats.  It was such a nice problem to have after Friday’s adventures.

Once we got to Figures, we switched onto our train to Nimes, which was in the style of a TGV, just going normal speed.  Our seats gave us a table, so Elisabeth and Nathan worked on homework while I slept and Joanna jammed out to music.  It was such a nice, quiet ride:

We got to Nimes on time to have a bite for lunch at Paul.  I decided a bag of chips and a soda would suffice from the vending machines, since it was cheaper and I wasn’t very hungry.  We got onto our TGV to Aix on time, made it to the Aix TGV station a couple of minutes late, but it was no big deal.  We had to wait for the next navette (shuttle) to Aix, but ran into a couple from the states that were travelling.  We were able to help them with the navette and drop them off at the Rotonde so they could find their hotel.  They were really nice!

Elisabeth went out to eat that night and I ate with our host mom, since I wasn’t invited (it was her new professor who had organized dinner).  I ended up feeling sick and fell asleep super early.  It was all worth it, though!
Weekend #6:  Final travelling weekend/we split up here/dreams realized in Paris!  July 5th-7th

Friday, July 5th:  IAU excursion to Moustier (or however you spell it) and the Lac St-Croix (I think was the name of it).  We got to go to a market of a super cute town; I looked at waterfalls, listened to some musicians, tried more dry sausage, and took lots of pictures.  Next, we went to the manmade lake nearby that was super well known for its TURQUOISE (my favorite color) water and all the fun activities you could do there.  I went with 2 of my classmates in a canoe around the lake until we were tired, to which we retired to the beach to lay on the rocks and chill in the sun.  
Saturday, July 6th & Sunday, July 7th :  I left at 7:20am for the bus station to take the navette to the Aix TGV station for my first alone trip of the session.  Funny story:  a professor from my university found out I was running low on funds towards the end of the session and found out I didn’t have a chance to go to Paris, so they wired me more money just for Paris – a blessing from God, for sure. 

Instead of writing this again, here’s the link to my French (as in, I wrote in a different language) blog, where you can translate it into English:  http://fromagechronicles.tumblr.com/ 
Weekend #7:  Goodbye Aix, hello London, hello Chicago, welcome home!  July 12th – July 14th

Friday, July 12th:  Final day in Aix.  We all took our final exams, I went souvenir shopping some more with Elisabeth, and I went to the inauguration of the new building for IAU.  I got an IAU t-shirt for helping and a buttload of callisons for the plane ride home.  Check!  After, I ate my last dinner with my host mom and Elisabeth and met a former student that our host momma had hosted:  Bethany.  After dinner, we all went to Les Deux Garçons on the Cours Mirabeau to celebrate our last day in Aix and have a celebratory… something.  We all went home and packed after saying our goodbyes (which were pretty hard for me… I made it through without crying, though!)

Saturday, July 13th:  I woke up at 6:20am to say goodbye to Elisabeth, which was actually kind of funny.  I had set my alarm for 6:15am so I could talk to her before she left, but when my alarm went off in the morning, I had no idea why (that’s what I get for staying up so late, haha).  I watched Elisabeth pack the last of her things as she gave me a hug.  I couldn’t help but start crying.  She started crying.  Such a bittersweet moment.  You know, it’s really hard to say goodbye to someone who’s experienced the last 6 weeks with you – felt just like you, been homesick just like you, who’s introduced you to her friends because you were there alone, and always was there to talk to… in English.  I always get attached to people like that.  I watched her wheel her luggage up the hill towards the bus station where she would meet the rest of the Wheaton kids and head to Paris.  I watched her and cried, the whole time.  My host momma patted me on her back and went back to bed as I honestly laid in bed, silently crying, feeling like I had just lost my best friend.  (Sap story, I know, I’m pathetic).

I ate lunch with my host momma as I looked up things for London.  I found the name for the shuttle that would pick me up at the airport and take me to the hotel that my dad had reserved for me as a good grades present (straight As all year! Woo!).  I finally packed the last of my things, weighed my bag (which was PERFECT at 49.8 lbs with a 50 lbs limit.. phew), and put my things in the hallway.  Madame offered to drive me to the bus station, which I accepted, as she helped me put my things in as I got in.  She made sure to roll the windows down and turn up the radio, knowing I loved it when she drove us around.  She dropped me off, gave me two huge bisous and a hug, as I told her “merci pour tous” and tried to hold back tears.  I recharged my 2 euro card for the last time, waited for my bus to the Marseille airport, got on, got to the airport and went along with my business as a typical international traveler.  So much thinking going on that day.. but let’s not go into that.

I arrived in London a little later than usual and made my way to the border control so I could make it to my hotel.  The people at the border control were very rude to me (I think it was all set up by the lady who was in charge of telling people which kiosk to go to).  The man kept asking me where my parents were because he didn’t believe I was 21, despite my passport.  He asked me so many questions… Finally, after about 5 minutes, he let me through.  I made my way out past the lines of waiting people holding signs and iPads for travelers to the shuttles.  The shuttle to my hotel was right outside the door, and as I walked onto the bus, the lady asked me where I was going.  I replied with “Novotel”, my hotel name.  She looked at me, a bit puzzled, and asked me how old I was.  I replied honestly, “21”, to which she said “oh, I guess I’ll have to make you pay then” and asked me for 4 pounds.  Apparently the shuttle to my hotel wasn’t free as the hotel had told my father.  Awesome.  Since I didn’t change money over at the airport, the lady apologized (in a very sincere way, with the cutest accent, might I add), and had me go get money inside the airport as she left.  I did so, waited for the next shuttle, got on, and went to my hotel, of course, noticing the cars on the opposite side of the road. 

My hotel was amazing – the only problem was, my plans for the night had been ruined.  I had not factored in the (steep) price of a shuttle to and from the airport, which I would have to take again to take the train into London and spend the evening there.  I found out that the shuttles to my hotel would only run into 11:30pm and was disappointed.  I looked at the clock:  10:05pm.  There was no hope.  I decided to stay in my luxurious room (I was like a kid in a candy store) and eat at the fancy restaurant downstairs after calling my parents and boyfriend to let them know I made it to London safe.  I bought fish and chips like the tourist I was and devoured it.  I returned to my room and took the best shower ever and fell asleep the most comfortable I had in the last 6 weeks (thanks, air conditioning).

Sunday, July 14th:  Goodbye London, Hello US!

I woke up at 5am to get dressed, pack my things, and grabbed a bite from the breakfast bar (that my dad paid for… I wished I would’ve gotten up earlier to enjoy more of it) as I caught the shuttle back to the airport at 5:45am.  I checked into the airport, got my tickets, made my way through security, bought souvenirs and some snacks, and headed to the gate.  Then I got this horrible gut feeling – are my bags really on the plane?  I stood by for a security lady to help me.  After a bit of confusion, I gave her my bag tag and she replied “well, your bag isn’t on the plane because we didn’t know you had a bag… but there’s a 50/50 chance it will be on there when you take off.  There’s still 40 minutes until takeoff, so hopefully it’ll be on by then”.  I had a bit of a panic attack.  I said a prayer and hoped for the best as I got on the plane in my window seat (HECK YES) and made acquaintances with the lady sitting next to me.  The ride back was nicer than the ride there.  I slept a bit, watched the Admission (pretty good movie, might I say), and watched Glee. 

We arrived in Chicago a bit before schedule and processed through border control to the luggage claims.  Pleasantly surprised, THERE WAS MY BAG!  On the carousel!  I literally did a happy dance as I collected it and made my way past the customs guy to recheck my bags onto my plane to Knoxville and to the tram to take me to the next terminal.  That was interesting.  More security, then a bathroom break.  I called my parents and boyfriend to let them know I didn’t die in the Atlantic Ocean and that everything was on schedule.  I found a place that sold Chicago style pizza for lunch and sat at the gate enjoying it.  Got on the jet back, played Angry Birds the entire flight while I listened to music, got to see a storm from in the air, and made it back to Knoxville safe and sound, on schedule.

 
 
Now that I’ve lived in Aix for the last 3, almost 3 and a half weeks, I think I’ve gotten the hang of things.  I’ve figured out where the cheapest places to eat are (because I’m on a budget), where to go when you want to splurge, good places for picnics, which supermarket is the cheapest, which store has the prettiest post cards, and have scoped out more souvenir shops than I thought could be possible. 

The crazy thing is that even after almost 3 and a half weeks of living in the same city and walking the same streets, it amazes me that IT NEVER GETS OLD.  Every time I walk these same roads (or maybe different roads to spice it up, but I still have been on them before), I notice a new shop, something new in the window, understand a little more of someone’s conversation that I’m eavesdropping, or smelling a new smell.  I love France. I can’t get enough of it. 

There’s just this new kind of life I’m enjoying here – more freedom, I guess one could say.  Growing up in rural east Tennessee, it’s hard to walk somewhere to do something.  EVERYONE has a car.  EVERYONE drives.  That’s the only way to get ANYWHERE.  Heck, the closest supermarket is 15 minutes away (and I’m lucky because I live on major roads that I can go fast on).  Here, if you want food, you get up and you get you some food.  Want Subway?  There’s one not even a 10 minute walk from here (at a leisurely, mosey kind of walking pace).  Need groceries?  The closest Monoprix is 5-7 minutes walk from here.  It’s great.  It’s great because even though we don’t have bicycles or cars or scooters, all we have to do is walk a little bit to have something to do, eat, or see.  There’s no excuse to be bored.

Surprisingly enough, I thought I would get tired of walking, due to my bad ankles and knees and extra weight I’m carrying around, but I haven’t.  I’ve started losing weight (despite eating Pizza Capri more times than I can remember a week), and have been getting less winded when climbing the hills of Aix or the stairs at IAU.  It’s pretty awesome.

All of this is great information to know, but why am I writing this blog post again?  Oh yeah, to tell you about LIFE in Aix!

There’s tons to do, tons to see, tons to hear, tons to experience… So I’ve shot a few videos for you.  

I'll write a blog post later about some things you can do, places to shop, and places to eat in Aix, but for now, I'm going to take the time to explain that Aix is a city that loves to PARTAY.  And by "partay"ing, I mean by putting on festivals.  Since I arrived here almost a month ago (oh my goodness), there have been 2 festivals -- The First day of June festival (so from what I gather), and the fete de la musique, which happens EVERY YEAR, ALL OVER FRANCE, on the first day of summer.  Luckily, I've had the pleasure to go to both of these, and they have blown my mind.  

I wish where I lived had awesome festivals like these.  It's a great way to enjoy the company of others and support things like the arts. 

1st of June:  Cirque in the City (hahaha)

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The first night that Elisabeth and I arrived in Aix, our host mother brought us into the town for a giant festival that EVERYONE had been talking about.  We met up with Elisabeth's friend from Wheaton, Isaac (who I wrote about in my blog about friends) and watched a parade come into the city.  As jet lagged as we were, IT WAS AWESOME.
Giant ladies with huge dresses made out of pvc pipe (I would imagine) with lights, fabric, lace, and mounted on parade wheel things.  It was interesting.  There were floats with people in costumes, there was a lady with a whip that would attempt to whip the crowd to make way for the floats, there were fire wielders, there were crazy dancers, a band or two, and people playing random things for drums.  It was awesome.  I remember Isaac saying "I don't know where to look, it's just so much to take in.  This is unlike anything I've ever seen!"  That was exactly it.  No matter where you looked, something was going on.  Little did we know, there was also a group of drummers climbing up the Rotond (the fountain in the center of the city) to start the next part of the show, which would blow our minds....

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As the Rotond was lit up, the drummers started playing and whatnot, and we watched as 3 different bulldozers lifted up groups of performers (musicians, singers, and acrobats), just like a Cirque du Soeil show.  It lasted for almost 2 hours.. It was crazy to see the people floating mysteriously over everyone's heads as the bulldozers moved the actors above us with ease.  What if someone lost a shoe?  What if the violinist dropped his bow?  What if the acrobat fell?  Nothing wrong happened.  Finally at about midnight that night we retired to our house, content with our "first night in Aix".  Definitely a first night that we'd remember.
Best of all.. it was free!

Here are some videos, of course:

fete de la musique (the first day of summer)

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Since we had just finished our final exams for the end of the first 3 week session, and since it was Sam's last night, we decided to go all out -- dress up (kinda), go out to a nice dinner, and PARTAY like true Aixians (is that what they call them?) for the fete de la musique.  The picture to the left is a picture of our group at the wonderful Bistro Roman on the Cours Mirabeau, where we could watch people begin to flood the streets for the fete de la musique.
This festival literally begins at 5pm and lasts until 3am (if not later).  The streets of Aix are filled with people, there are random stages around the city (each with a different type of music), and small local bands plotted throughout trying to make money and share their love of music with everyone else.  Oh, and you can't forget the smoking and the drinking, of course there's that too, but let's not go there.

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There were so many people!!!!
I was literally going to have a panic attack because there were so many people.  I couldn't count the numerous times I had to hold onto the straps of Sam's backpack so I didn't get lost (curse you shortness), but we all managed to stay together. We also got to meet a couple of cool, very eccentric French guys who spoke pretty good English.  They were nice enough to hold back crowds for us as they walked us back towards the Rotond.  We finally left and went home at about 1am, and I was lulled to sleep by the hustle bustle of the city from my patio door being open for circulation.  

Here's some videos from the festival:
 
 
While I have a few free minutes before my last class of the term starts (holy crap, we're half way through!), I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about the people who have made this experience the best of my life and have made my stay in France an adventure... EVERY DAY.

We'll start from left to right. :]

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Christian 

The philosopher and soft spoken man of the group.  He's often found walking off by himself and contemplating his existence, as well as how he fits into the grand spectrum of the world.  He loves to ask questions, and is super intelligent. 
He should also become a model, as seen here.  
He's also very goofy, but fun at the same time.  He's always wanting to improve his French (which I can envy).  

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Isaac

The the sassy nice guy who's down to do just about anything.  Always equipped with his leather strapped sunglasses (that we almost always steal from him) and his manpurse, he's always aching for an adventure.
He's the high five giver and the "bissous bissous chao chao" king.  
He too should become a model, as seen here during his photoshoot in the Luberon.
He's super goofy, and is always cracking a joke, patting your back, or saying "TOTALLY".  He's like a typical skater..... only without the skateboard.
Just like Christian, he always wants to work on French (which again, I envy).  He's really good for just starting to learn French.  I'm actually kinda jealous. haha


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Joanna

The adorable, cute, giraffe (and all other animal) lover of the group.  If there's a giraffe statue (like in Marseille), she'll definitely want to take a picture with it.  She's my after-school crepe buddy and always slows down for my slow pace.  
She has an obsession with nutella, adventures, and stealing Nathan's beautiful camera.  She's got the cutest sense of fashion and will always NOT APPROVE of my addiction to Chinese food, because Chinese food that's not from her home of Hong Kong ISN'T REAL.  Did I mention she's always adorable and always making me smile?  Yup.  That's Joanna for ya. 

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Nathan

Our resident photographer, crazy kid, and nice guy that will never let us girls walk home alone (except once, but that's because Sam was with us).  He has a hunger for adventure and jokes up his sleeve while looking like a retard with his American sunglasses (but that's okay, because he bought some European ones from H & M like he's sporting in this picture). 
He is the king of travelling, equipped with Momma Heath, our expert travel guide/deal finder/#1 fan.  She's found us cheap trains, awesome hostels, cheap hotels.... If Momma Heath can't find a deal, no one can. 
Nathan's always a hoot to be around because he's a fellow music nerd, geek, and is always making ridiculous faces at people.. or pretending to blend in with the natives, despite his big backpack.
He is also the person who lets me steal his camera to take artsy photos, until he (or Joanna) takes it back.  
He's the bomb, like tick-tick.

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Elisabeth


She's my boo, my housie, the person who puts aloe on my back when I have 2nd degree sunburn, my waker-upper, my coffee maker, and my sister, all at the same time.  She. Is. The. Best.
The resident snapchatter, viner, and queen of social media, she's always taking pictures of herself, random things, or complaining about how much she misses home. (but she's gotten better!)
She's also the queen at pool, just saying. NO ONE can beat her. EVER.
We have girl dates, talk about our boyfriends, eat gelato together, and walk the Cours Mirabeau together just to get out.
She also was the person who introduced me to gelato.  Fortunately or unfortunately... whichever you prefer.
She's crazy for having to put up with me, let alone live in the same house with me.  I don't know how she does it.


I love my housie. <3

And now... without further ado... our comrade who is leaving us this weekend.............. (yeah, I might cry).....
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Sam


He's the random, nature loving, super inquisitive, awesomely intelligent, super quirky, most adorable person ever.  Maybe not ever, but he's pretty up there.
Unfortunately, he's leaving us Saturday (which makes me want to cry).
He's always the person to acknowledge my existence when everyone else is walking too fast, is too far ahead of me, or won't listen.  He's my echo... He's the one person who will reciprocate my crazy faces without asking and ALWAYS makes me smile.  He's always up for learning new things and questioning anything.  He also is totally random and just overall amazing.
AND he sings Karmin.  PERFECTLY. (hehe)
He's accompanied us on many of our places, wandering off to take interesting pictures, and think of things in a different way.  He's one of a kind.  He's our Sam.  AND WE'RE GONNA MISS HIM.  - sniff sniff -

So that's my crew.  They're the best.  Everyone is one of a kind, and honestly I wouldn't take any of them back.  They've made my experience what it has been so far and have helped me make memories that will last for a lifetime.  :]
 
 
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Classes are much different here in France than in America, according to my college experience.  It’s a blend of practicality, musical fun (my favorite), grammar exercises, and vocabulary, all while putting it together with speaking.  Even though class is 3 and a half hours long, it goes by really quickly, especially since our professor was nice enough to give us 2 breaks during the class (with enough time to get a coffee from down the street).  The main reason why it goes so fast though, is because of her. 

Let me brag for a second:  She is the cutest.  Her name is Margot Hofsteadt (or something like that), and she’s A HOOT.  Each day, she wears the cutest clothes with the cutest scarf, and ugh!  She’s almost always making us laugh (either with jokes or making fun of students in a GOOD way), talks about hip things (like the local bars, clubs, and good liquor), and all the fun things she’s planned for us students to take part in (because she schedules extra trips to pay to take as well as the included excursions).  She’s the bomb.  Oh, and what teacher would give you ideas of French musicians to listen to that you never knew were French?  We talked about Daft Punk (and watched the Daft Punk “hands” and “bodies” videos) during class.  Brownie points!

The best thing though, in my opinion, is the way she gives the class a laid back atmosphere.  She teaches class at a good level, despite there being so many different levels in the classroom (some people know enough French to be in the class, others know more than enough to be in another level).  She introduces a grammatical lesson for that day, and comes up with exercises (both written and oral) for us to practice.  She’ll ask us questions individually to make us practice the grammar we’re learning about, randomly surprise us with questions having to do with previous information learned, and also small group discussion, almost like ping-pong.  It’s really refreshing, especially since all the French classes I’ve taken in college have been 8 students or less (hello Christian colleges!).  She knows we’re going to mess up, but makes us laugh it off, often using her “If you didn’t mess up, I wouldn’t have a job.  I would be on the streets, begging for food” in her French accented English (WHICH IS ADORABLE).  She’s just awesome.

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Another great thing about our teacher is how dedicated she is to teaching.  Instead of having class today, we had a chasse au trésor (treasure hunt) of Aix. We met in class to give the professor our homework, get information about the excursion to Luberon tomorrow and Marseille on Sunday(where to meet, so far and so forth), and get the packets with our questions to find the answers to.  We split up into groups of 2 and we were off to plan our attack of Aix.

Luckily, I’m awesome with maps and my partner is fearless (meaning she’ll talk to just about anyone, cross the street in front of anything, and go anywhere), so our treasure hunt was much easier than most people’s (I would assume).  Not that I’m bragging or anything.  We walked for about 4 hours, taking our own sweet time, finding neat gems of the city.  I learned that one of the fountains on the Cours Maribou that’s mostly moss, actually emits hot water, that the Cité de Livre is really close to my house, there’s a Monoprix closer to my house than the Cours Maribou, that French coffee is DELICIOUS, and the fountain at the center of the Rotonde actually has 3 statues at the top that represent 3 different things, facing 3 different cities.  Woooooooooooooooow. 

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After we finished the most of the scavenger hunt (we left a few things for each of us to do that were close to our houses to avoid going too far out of the way), we went back to the school, where they had a mixer activity.  It was nice, I guess.  A table full of bread, several meats and cheeses, and wine in a box (which I can now say I’ve seen).  It wasn’t really my thing, so my housemate and our friends decided to head home, eat dinner, take showers, and Skype our families before getting a good night’s rest.

Tomorrow, our excursion paid by the school to Luberon!  Hopefully some pictures and whatnot afterwards.  For me, it’s time to go to bed.

Bon nuit!


 
 
Just a little video of a tour of my host mother's apartment, here in the center of Aix-en-Provence. :]
 
 
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The past 5 days have been nothing but a giant adventure.  France is everything I’ve dreamed of AND more.  But before we get to that, let’s talk about the plane ride, in case anyone reading this may have been like me and had never stepped foot on an airplane before.

My first airplane ride was quite interesting.  I cried when we took off, feeling so many emotions I couldn’t count.  I was sad to leave my family and boyfriend, scared of what would happen when I got to the next airport, scared of if our airplane was going to crash, paranoid the person behind me was making fun of me crying, excited to go somewhere new, and so on and so forth.  I was lucky to meet a young lady named Elsie on my plane who quickly taught me how to maneuver an airport and gave me tricks of the trade before she left me at my gate for my next flight at the Chicago O’Hare airport.  After that, I met another young lady who was actually from LA and lived in England, working for a college study abroad program over there (which was interesting to me) that sat next to me with her little 10 year old.  She talked to me a lot and we shared a bunch of stories while I was being slobbered on and pinched (which was adorable) to make me feel more at ease.  I hardly slept on the flight to London, but she gave me advice on how to get to the terminal I would need for my flight to Marseille.  I spent a wonderful (but not really wonderful because I was so tired) 5 hour layover there before I got on my flight to Marseille.  That was the best flight for me, in my opinion (aside from feeling like we were going to crash into the Mediterranean). 

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Flying over Marseille was like a breath of fresh air.  I was finally at my destination!  Seeing the land looked almost as I had imagined it, only much better.  It was refreshing.  I headed my way to the customs, where they stamped my passport (which a less cooler stamp than I thought I would get) and I headed upstairs to find an IAU representative who would help me.  I was greeted by a woman, who asked “Are you Amber?” because I wouldn’t respond back to the French she was speaking (I was too jetlagged to understand).  She quickly rushed me outside with 2 other students to the navette (shuttle).  She paid for our tickets and told us to get off in Aix.  Next thing I knew, we woooshed away. 

Driving wasn’t much different than in the states.  We drove faster, seeing as the speed limit was 90 kmph.  The cars were smaller, and people seemed to be in a hurry.  Watching outside the window was like watching a dream go by.  The beach.  Beautiful scenery.  Different road signs.  Interesting.  I tried to listen to people’s conversations around me to improve my French, but the jet lag wouldn’t allow it. 

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When the 2 other students and I arrived at the “bus station” in Aix (which is actually under construction), we met another IAU representative, John, who assisted us.  There was lots of beeping, people running around, fights, and whatnot.  He said this part of town was in a panic because of the station being under construction and there was a lot of traffic.  It was true.  Either way, I was fascinated and somewhat rejuvenated as the wind blew through the town.  The other 2 girls talked with me and were quickly united with their French mothers (which is typical in France, since many females are single).  

John called mine to tell her where I was, and soon enough, I saw a familiar face (just as I had Facebook stalked it) smiling and waving at John and I.  My host mother, Josiane, helped me place my bags into her car as we wizzed away to her apartment, which looked just as I had Google mapped it.  It was interesting how small the streets were – only large enough for one car – with many people walking in them.  I attempted to comprehend the French that was being spoken to me,  but the jet lag would only allow me to ask “Ou est Elisabeth?”.  Thankfully, my housemate, Elisabeth was waiting in the apartment for me.  When she opened the door, Elisabeth’s smiling face greeted me as she jumped off the couch to welcome me.  I was shown my room, talked with Elisabeth a bit, and had just enough time to link myself to my host mother’s internet before it was time to eat.  We ate dinner with her and her boyfriend, Luc, and made small talk.  I think they knew how jet lagged the two of us were.  We ate and returned to our rooms to Skype our families, before Madame asked us if we wanted  to go to a festival in the town they were having.  Despite how jet lagged we were, we decided to go.  


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IT WAS AWESOME.  Imagine Cirque du Soeil in the middle of the town square with lots of music, and a parade, and people in costumes, and floats, and OH MY GOODNESS.  Pictures can only give you a small idea of how amazing it was.  I didn’t know where to look – there was so much going on, but it was so awesome!

We left the festival around midnight (it finally ended 3 hours later) and returned home to Skype our families some more before we would both pass out from jet lag.

Jet lag sucks.  Let me tell you.  I slept until 3pm the next day (the 6 hour time difference is killer).  No one was home when I got up, so I got dressed and attempted to find IAU myself, equipped with the booklet about Aix that was left for us from the IAU staff.

RULE #1:  YOU WILL GET LOST IN AIX.  ACCEPT IT.



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Getting lost is both scary and exciting, all at the same time.  I’ve been convinced, if you get lost, you’ll learn Aix better.  So far, that has been the case.  Just come to terms with it, and make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes all the time. 

I arrived at IAU’s open house, which was a bit refreshing.  It was nice to be able to speak English to some people.  I was reunited with Elisabeth, who introduced me to her friends from her college.  This has been super nice for me, since I came by myself and didn’t know anyone.   I also said hi to the girls I met yesterday on the bus, as well as their housemates.  Each day, I was meeting more and more people.

That night, Elisabeth went with her French professor from her college to dinner, and Madame asked me if I wanted to eat with her at home.  I agreed, and ate with her and Luc for dinner.  It was nice to bond with her and Luc alone (although I did miss Elisabeth).  We talked about my family and whatnot.  I went to bed early that night, since we had orientation the next day.

Elisabeth and I got up for orientation the next day and showered (which is interesting, but I’ll save that for another time).  We walked together with her friend, Isaac.  Orientation was orientation.  Boring and somewhat informative (mostly from a girl named Pauline who told us what she recommended for us to do and where to go while here).  After school, her friends and I went to a close café to talk and drink Orangina (which is addicting). We encountered a bill, figured out how to pay it (which is also something I’ll save for another time), and made our ways home, ate dinner, Skyped family, and fell asleep.

Since then, we’ve completed 2 days of classes.  They’re going well.  I’ll talk more about that later. It’s getting late, so I’m going to bed.  More tomorrow. :]


 
 
PictureThis is my "excited" face to buy my luggage set.
In 10 days, I’ll embark on an adventure full of firsts.  My first time on an airplane, my first time in another country, my first time in an airport, my first time travelling alone, and the first time that I can’t use English to get my point across.  Am I scared?  Absolutely.  Excited?  If only you knew.

In 10 days, I’ll be living out one of my dreams since I began taking French in high school.  I had the chance once before to travel to France with my friends and high school French teacher, but unfortunately, couldn’t afford it.  I kept dreaming of studying abroad in France once I began college, but that dream was crushed when my mother became unemployed and my father became disabled.  I lost all hope at that time.  I thought I would never get to leave the states – boy was I wrong.


Thanks to my college French professor, I learned about a scholarship through the National French Honor Society to study abroad in either France or Canada.  It was a shot in the dark, but I sent in the application.  I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t get picked, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got an e-mail saying I was chosen for one of the 3 scholarships to study abroad in France.  I cried, called everyone I knew, and started researching everything I could about the area, travelling, and daydreaming during class about what was to come of my summer.

All of this could not have come at a better time.  Just when I was about to quit my dreams of being a French teacher because I had lost my love for the language and culture, my hope was restored.  I couldn’t have been more blessed to see my hard work thus far blossom. 

With a multitude of emotions, I can only hope I pack enough things, leave enough room to bring back souvenirs, and brush up on my French enough to make this summer the best summer yet. 

See you soon, Aix!