It's been about a week and a half since I've been back. I want to say it still feels weird, like I still feel like I belong in Aix, but slipping back into old routines isn't that hard. Granted, I got ass backwards lost going to the grocery store I've been going to since I was 10, but mostly everything feels normal. I'm glad to have my dog back, first of all. I missed her fuzzy smiling face and weird need to sleep on my stomach whenever I'm doing anything important. I'm also glad to have my mom back, obviously. Every once in a while she still pulls me in for a hug, which hurts my back since she's a good foot shorter than I, and mumbles in Spanish about how she's happy to have her baby back. I miss French, to be totally honest. I have yet to kick my franglais habit. None of my friends speak any French, so it's understandable that they get frustrated when I ask them "Qu'est-ce que tu veut?" casually. Sorry, guys. 
     As much as I love New York, I do miss how old and walkable and beautiful Aix is. There's just something soothing in feeling the pattern of the cobblestones beneath your feet when you're wandering home after a night out with friends. Speaking of friends, they're definitely what I miss the most about IAU. While we were hanging out, everyone thought it was cool how despite being from disparate places in the US we all got along really well. I think I made some lifelong friends from the program, but now the cool factor about having friends in far away places is significantly less cool. I can't visit North Carolina or Colorado or Missouri from New York without a lot of effort and money. I miss texting friends on my crappy international phone, telling them to meet me on the corner in 5 minutes. But that's what Skype and real functioning phones are for (I'm still bitter about my dinky flip phone I used when abroad.)
     I think if I had to choose one word to describe my Aix-perience (hahaha I'm hilarious, I know) it would be- illuminating. When I got off the plane in Marseille, I figured I would learn a lot about French culture and have a good time with it. In addition to learning what I was expecting to learn, there were so many new experiences that blew my expectations out of the water. I learned a lot about life, about the world, about people and about myself. This past semester wasn't entirely perfect. I made mistakes, cried sometimes and felt a little lost at others, but it was still a beautiful experience. 
 
 
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We think we're hilarious- Budapest, Hungary
     And the adventure continues! From Praha my friends and I took a (miserable) overnight train to Budapest. To paraphrase the Beastie Boys, you gotta fight for your right to cultural enlightenment and travel. We arrived in Budapest on a cold, wet miserable morning, bleary eyed and exhausted from not sleeping on the train ride. Because it was so early- we’re college students and it was eight in the morning, could you imagine?- we allowed ourselves a little time to shower and rest. Once we felt we could take on the sights, we hopped on the subway and made it to the center of the city in five minutes. The first thing we did was, of course, eat. I had a chicken paprika dish with a delightful strawberry beer; it was good and not really what I expected of Hungarian food. After, we got lost. For hours. 
     Eventually, we found our way. First we walked from Buda to Pest over a modern day, not so special bridge. From here we took the LONGEST and most cockamamie way up to Buda Castle. It was absolutely worth it though because the castle, finished in 1265, afforded the most gorgeous view of Pest and the Danube River. The castle itself is stunning as well. It operates as a museum now but the castle grounds don’t close until relatively late. None of the pictures I took of the sunset we saw do any sort of justice to what it actually looked like. Beautiful isn’t a strong enough word. From the castle we saw the skyline of the entire city- Szechenyi Chain Bridge (on which we walked back over), Matthias Church, the Parliament and the Danube Promenade. We took a slightly less impractical way to get back down to the bottom of the hill the castle is on. I use the phrase “slightly less” because, being thrifty college kids, we opted to take the tiny, wet, vertical, winding path that was covered in slippery leaves instead of the tram. The tiny, wet, vertical, winding path was free. We survived. 

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In front of Il Duomo, Milano, Italy
     After our exploration of Budapest, it was time to go to Milano. I don’t think I’ve ever been colder in my life than I was while waiting on an airstrip in Budapest at 5:30 AM. And I did the Polar Plunge into the Hudson in NY in December while it was snowing. The plan for Milano was to land, grab a bus to the train station and then take a train to Legnano where we would stay with Bethany’s friend from college who graduated and was now living and teaching in Italy. What happened was we landed in Milano, grabbed a bus to the train station, and then got surprised by a train strike. I don’t know why we were so surprised, to be honest. We struggled for an hour, throwing out mixes of English, French and Spanish, desperate for a solution. None of us wanted to shell out over 100 euro for a taxi to Legnano. Figuring out what to do from here, most importantly finding a place to spend the night, was made more difficult from the lack of wifi available. We finally managed to find a cheap hostel for the night that actually had the PERFECT location for us as it was walking distance from everything we wanted to see and do and obviously eat. Thanks to my sassy attitude, we also got ten euro off the nightly price. There was a large price difference between the advertised price and what they actually charged, so they deserved the sass. From there it was practically smooth sailing. 
     We went to a museum near Il Duomo that featured early Renaissance Christian art. It was fascinating. It only took an hour and a half; it was a very small gallery. When we were finally done with the museum, we scoured the local area for a place to eat and landed on a small, cozy restaurant. We all ordered pizza and we ate all of it. The wait staff was a little scared. We slept very well that night. The next day we saw Il Duomo, which was elegant and stunning and everything I was expecting in more. To deal with all the beauty, we treated ourselves to some panzerottis from Luigi’s, an almost 200-year-old food establishment. It was filled with spicy salami and cheese and was amazing. After our lunch we ventured to Castello Sforzesco and wandered the grounds a bit. Then, of course, we shopped. That night we finally made it to Legnano, which is much smaller and quite charming. The next day, our last day in Milano, we saw the Vittoria Galleria and took an overnight bus to Marseille, France, about 40 minutes from my beloved Aix. Lauren and I downed a bottle of wine to help us sleep through the ride. The only thing that accomplished was a close call with our bladders. Once we finished that nine hour bus ride, we took a 40 minute bus ride to Centre Ville in Aix and then walked zombie-style to our respective homes. The rest of break I slept and did homework.
            And now you’re caught up on my break! Applause all around!

Amities,

Margarta


 
 
     I feel like most of the bloggers here are apologizing profusely for neglecting their blogs. Obviously, I’m guilty of this too (and no less sorry!) but I enjoy the fact nonetheless. I think it really proves how great of a time we’re all having here in Aix. Yes, there’s plenty of schoolwork to go around. To be honest I wasn’t expect such a heavy emphasis on the study part of study abroad but I’m fairing well in that arena- don't worry, Mom. But there’s also lots of travelling and exploring and experiencing and memory making going on too. I’ll fill you in on how I’ve been dealing with that now:

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Lauren, me, Bethany, Serena- Brno
     Fall break was a while ago but it still feels like I just got back. Three lovely friends and I took a bit of an unusual path but I was exposed to so many new things that the sleepless nights and heavy bags didn’t bother me the slightest. First we took a quick afternoon flight from Marseille to London (specifically Bishop-Strotford). We spent the night there and saved something crazy like 300 euro by not going directly to our desired destination. We were all dying to try fish and chips but, of course, there were no pubs nearby. At all. So we settled for some classic American BK. But the server gave me two free bottles of orange juice (still nice even though I don’t like orange juice!) We managed to make it to our 6 AM flight to Brno, Czech Republic. It was my first time anywhere east of France and for that reason alone would have been exciting, but the three-hour train ride to Prague provided for a BEAUTIFUL tour of the countryside. It was amazing and green and lovely. We were all excited about trees with orange and gold and brown leaves because, living on the Mediterranean, we didn’t see much autumnal change in our little Aix. When we finally arrived in Prague (or Praha if you want to be legitimate about it) we were all gob smacked at how pretty it was. We spent hours wandering the streets until we decided to actually go to certain locations.    

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Could you tell I'm a tourist?- Kafka's square, Praha
     First we saw the New Old Temple, then the opera house, then the Astronomy Tower, then the birthplace of Franz Kafka, then King Charles’ Bridge. I know, that’s a lot for one sentence but if I dedicated enough time to write a description that each one deserves you’d have about ten more pages of blog post to read.
     My favorite of all those spots had to be King Charles’ Bridge. I think we timed it perfectly- walked over it once in the setting sun and then back again in the nighttime. It was so beautiful and so Praha. Of course, this week in my European City in Literature class we started reading The Trial by Kafka so I didn’t fully appreciate being in Kafka’s city until a little too late. That doesn’t mean I don’t find value in it though. We made a point of trying traditional Czech fare and had some beef goulash for dinner (delicious and filling) and then some hot spiced wine (also delicious and filling) while walking over the bridge at night. It was a fantastic visit, honestly. 


     Just to save you from a ridiculously long blog post I'm going to break up my fall break into two (at most three, scout's honor) posts. You'll just have to wait until next time to find out about Budapest and Milan. Thanks for reading!

Amities,
Margarita

 
 
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Christiansborg Palace
     Hej fra Danmark! I've finally taken proper advantage of not having Friday classes and hopped a plane (and then another plane) to Copenhagen, Denmark to visit some friends from Gettysburg College. Is there anything more satisfying than running into the arms of a friend you haven't seen in months in a foreign country? Well, yes, but it still felt really great. I realize that this blog is lacking in pictures so I made it a point to snap some today during my wanderings. Bear with me though, I never owned a camera before and I wasn't about to shell out the money for one now. I've been using my handy-dandy iPhone 4 and the quality is surprisingly good! So, I will be sharing what I've seen so far. I'm here until Sunday and have tons more to see.
     I'm really excited to see the mermaid statue just outside of the city. The Little Mermaid was my favorite movie as a child. I loved the ocean so much that my mom had trouble getting me out of the water before I turned into a prune and even after I would splash around in hopes of making some fishy friends. It wasn't until I read the original story by Hans Christian Andersen (to whom I refer in the title of this post) that my obsession ended and fear of sea foam began. Anyone who knows how the story ends understands what I mean. I plan on taking a good number of pictures of and with the statue so you can't say I didn't warn you. 

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Larsbjørnstraede
  Tonight I'm getting my first glimpse of Danish nightlife, which I'm interested in seeing. I ate my first Danish pastry today- I unfortunately have no idea what it was called and it didn't occur to me to take a picture until after I snapped it down my gullet. I know living in France gives me loads of opportunities to eat many delicious things, particularly pastries, but this was just so good. No, it wasn't a Danish (which are called wienerbrød here) but it had chocolate and possibly almonds.
     Another surprising first, for me at least, was being in a country where I didn't at least know the basics of the language. Growing up speaking Spanish, then learning English and now learning French, I am pretty much set anywhere. I can even navigate Italian without getting too much of a headache but Danish? It's different from any other language I've ever encountered. And I took ancient Latin in high school; I can recite the Our Father in Latin (thanks, Catholic school!) But this Danish stuff I cannot get. Even the three word sentence in the beginning of this post took more time to figure out than I'm willing to admit. It means "Hello from Denmark!" Yeah, it's an interesting looking language. Almost everyone I've encountered speaks English remarkably well though. The education system here must be excellent considering that's where most people pick up the language, in addition to exposure to American pop culture through TV, movies, music, books, etc. I feel a little ashamed that I can't speak French quite as well but, hey, I'll get there. 
     I think the most disconcerting thing that's happened to me since I've been in Europe, let alone Denmark, happened today. I have three more months on this glorious continent so I'm sure something else will happen but let me just share. Waiting for my friends to get out of class (not everyone can be as blessed as to not have Friday classes) I decided to take a lap around the block where I was meeting them. I was literally just walking down the street when someone, in the middle of the otherwise empty road, stopped, looked at me and exclaimed, "Oh! You're American!" 

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Part of me hopes these trendy Danes didn't plan this.
    I took great offense to this- I thought I was blending in so well! Before I could even raise an eyebrow, my accuser gave a friendly smile and continued on his way. Literally the only thing I can think of that would single me out is my hair. A lot of the women here have beautiful straight, blonde hair. I have curly, brown hair. That is the only thing I can think of. I was (am) wearing jeans, brown boots and a black trench coat. I didn't even make eye contact with him! Or have my map out! I'll probably be brooding about this for the rest of the weekend. I really thought I was doing a good job not obviating my American-ness. People ask me, in French, for directions in Aix all the time. Only when I open my mouth and stammer out awkward French do people realize that I am not Aixois. I'm stumped. 
     Tonight I explore another part of Copenhagen with some friends- Christiania. It's a rather bohemian borough of Copenhagen and I've only seen the busy center city part, so I'm excited for the change of pace. 
     Right now though I have to go because my friend's host brother is bumpin' some Justin Timberlake and I need to compliment him on his music choice. 



Amities, 
Margarita

 
 
Not having classes on Fridays here in France is a beautiful thing. I'd planned to use today to wander around Aix and scavenge for a travel bag that I could use for the upcoming IAU sponsored trip to Nice and Monte Carlo this weekend. Ironically, I can't do that because there is an actual scavenger hunt this afternoon. Hopefully a travel bag is on the list. Preferably in a nice cognac shade with a long shoulder strap.

To bring you up to date, it's officially been a week since I left home. The trip here was a whole lot more than I bargained for with an eight hour layover in Madrid before arriving in Marseille. Despite having one of the worst colds of my life, the layover afforded me the opportunity to see the Spanish capital for the first time. And it was beautiful. I'm still kicking myself for not charging my iPhone (I'm using it in lieu of a real camera- Mom's lucky I'm so thrifty, right?) but I'll be sure to make the extra effort to take pictures and put them up here for the rest of the semester.

I adore my host mom Sophie- she's a wonderfully kind woman with two grown kids out having their own abroad adventures. She speaks English incredibly well, though she says she just "dabbles" in the language. But I feel like if you use the word "dabble" you don't exactly dabble in English. The apartment I'm staying in is 15 minutes from class (yay!) and between 20-30 minutes from Cours Mirabeau, the main street (boo). I like not being directly in town though, first of all because I can pretend that the walk to class/Cours Mirabeau is balancing out my new French diet and second it's peaceful here. Also, lots of cats. I wasn't really expecting that. 

Luckily, I have host pets too. I cried when leaving my dog, Snowy, behind in the states. I'm a dog person, what can I say? Reglisse, an adorable mop of a dog, is very sweet and Kitty, a chubby cat, is warming up to me. They were both confused when I started living where Faustine, Sophie's beautifully named daughter, used to be. But I think they're okay with it as both have trotted around in here once or twice while I was doing my homework. 

Aix itself is a dream. I can't believe how gorgeous it is here! Even the IAU classrooms look like backdrops of romantic movies. The Gothic cathedral across the street is incredible and last night I saw it for the first time all light up and it was breathtaking. I'll take a picture today and put it up with my next post. 

I have to run, the aforementioned scavenger hunt is soon and I'm still in my pajamas. Did I say how great not having classes on Friday is? Because I'm loving it. 

Amities,

Margarita