Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I want to begin every one of my blogs with "I don't know where to begin..." but for my latest adventure it seems to be the understatement of the century. I have quite literally just had the most amazing journey ever including a week in the middle which can only be described as the best week of my life. I know not where to begin, where I am left after this trip, or where to go from here, but it is certainly somewhere quite different than anything I could ever have imagined...

Somewhere along the road my life has taken a strange turn and I find myself some sort of a grown up I hardly recognize. When did Allysha become this world traveling backpacker who makes friends all over the world and ends up on strange adventures in foreign cities? When did I become the basis for a mantra among my friends "What would Allysha do?" When did my life become so amazingly exciting that even I being here for every minute of it can hardly keep up? And how do I begin to describe such a change, such a surreal experience, such a life? Sigh, I'll try, but there is certainly no conveying in words what this has been. Here we go... I set off on a rather optimistic trip two weeks ago today to Zurich, Munich, Amsterdam, and London, with a brief and unplanned layover in Paris. I just arrived home 2 hours ago after 32 hours in transit and while everything is still so fresh I have the need for some catharsis. The trip in itself was quite an undertaking: 5 countries, 5 strange grand foreign cities, 4 languages, 3 currencies, innumerable cultures, 1 Allysha, 0 friends. I set off alone, fairly prepared, a little nervous, but undoubtedly confident in my abilities as a human, as a woman, as a traveler, and most importantly of all for me, as an extrovert.

Zurich was a beautiful city, with the lovely Limmat River running amist the cobblestone streets, lovely European shops, and fresh spring trees finally in bloom. Europe has certainly taken its time in blooming this year, but it must have begun while I was on the train to Switzerland because by the time I arrived so had spring. The weather was amazing during my entire trip, the best I'd seen in Europe, hovering around 75 degrees. Zurich was mostly comprised of the most incredible clothing stores you've ever seen in your life, all of which would be absolutely irresistable if not for the price. My first day wandering, it pained me terribly not to be able to shop amist these well-dressed and quietly capable crowd (and I am usually fairly immune to such temptations). The city seemed like the best mall imaginable, perfect serene atmosphere, cute shop after cute shop, a river running through it and the dear Swissfolk going about their usual business.

The question, "What is there to do in Zurich?" became a joke among the hostel kids as we asked this repeatedly throughout our stay and no one seemed to have an answer. Depite the lack of obvious tourist activities, it was a beautiful city in which to spend the first few days of my vacation and get my first taste of Switzerland. The real highlight of the trip here however were all the wonderful people I met at the hostel. My first night a group of more than 10 English speakers ended up hanging out on the rooftop patio at the hostel and ended up going out, roaming around town together looking for fun in Zurich. Among other things, we found a funky little piano bar with a Bulgarian piano man named Valentine who played songs like Imagine, Hotel California, and a million others that everyone sang along with regardless of language.

One of the most shocking things upon arriving in Switzerland was the sudden and complete change of language. When I got on the train in Geneva, everyone around me was speaking French and the ticketman took my ticket in French (which by now for me is quite comfortable); however, as we passed through Switzerland people kept getting on and off the train and by few hours later I couldn't help but notice the obvious change in volume and LANGUAGE. The ticketman came around again to a group of rowdy German speakers (or maybe Swiss German, couldn't tell at the time but I can now), and I saw that the same man was now taking everyone's tickets in German. Wondering what I had gotten myself into not knowing any German, I headed into a whole new world that only got more culturally distinct as I travelled into Germany.
Without a doubt, I can say that Munich was the best time of my life. With no idea exactly why, rather than specific experiences that were particularly astounding, I am in love with Munchen for who I became there. No longer the inexperienced young American who left for France, I was the world-traveling, French-speaking, cool chick from California... yeah she travels alone, but no worries, you know she'll find a friend just around the corner and probably teach you a thing or two about this town too.

Two friends from the Zurich hostel took the train with me to Germany and I met another friend there so I was well-prepared to take on a new city. I had no idea what to expect of Munich and was ecstatic to find that the people were friendly and helpful, the food was delicious, Baverian beer is in my opinion the best in the world, and there was tons to do! What a great mix of historically interesting sites and nights full of great people just out on the town having fun.

I met more people in five days in Munich than I think I have any other week of my life, and by the end of my stay when I walked into the hostel either I knew someone there or I would in about five minutes. Everyone had something new and interesting to contribute, somewhere interesting they'd visited, a new and fun idea of somewhere to go, a great story to tell. We were all on the same page, backpackers always are... "Oh you're from California, cool! You're studying in France? Do you speak French? wow, that's so great! You're traveling alone, you rock that's awesome!" Not only did I constantly get to play the part of the cool Californian traveling all over who flitted into their lives for some instant fun, but I got to hear stories and learn things I never imagined. I am obsessed with some of those who flitted into my life for a few amazing days, the Swiss German boys, the crazy Canadian, that great gal from Colorado, so many Germans, and oh the Italians.
After Munchen, I learned that it doesn't matter what circumstances I'm thrown into, I will find people to help me get what I need and I will find friends. From the man who works at the gare (train station) to the girl who just moved to Munich from California and is now a tour guide, everyone along my path seems to point me in the right direction and lead me along my way. I
can do many things on my own but one of my specialties is finding people to guide me through everything I can't. There are few more satisfying feelings than accomplishing something great and finding your way gracefully through a difficult situation and traveling is just the ticket to provide one sticky sitch to solve after another.

Before I started traveling I had been a little nervous about being alone in Munchen for Easter. I had little choice in it and all of my friends from school were similarly planning to find themselves either traveling or alone in a foreign city. With nothing to be done for it, I didn't think too much more about it other than wondering what I might do that day, perhaps a museum. Hanging around the hostel that Saturday night, I found some guys I had met the night before who were now sitting with a cheery, sweet-looking gal and promptly joined them. She and I got on swimmingly and long after the boys had gone to bed we found or created our own adventures far into the night. It turns out that she is in the process of moving to Munich (still in the hostel-living phase), but knows the city well and has many friends in town, some of whom were planning an Easter Sunday picnic to which I was invited.

What an incredible Easter... on a beautiful day in Germany, a handful of kids coming from all different cultures headed to the park loaded up with a blanket, snacks, German meatballs, Easter Candy (from one of the girl's Omah, grandma in German), and a deck of cards (okay okay, there was some German beer involved, but when in Bavaria...). We sat around for hours, playing, laughing, joking, talking. I learned three new card games and the names of all the cards in German. I can now sing a song in Swiss German and can say "I don't speak any German," and "I'm learning German quickly."

Well I had nearly finished babbling through the rest of my trip when my computer ran out of batteries when I went to make pasta for a minute and not having saved at all, I've lost everything. Unfortuately (or luckily) for you, I have neither the time nor energy to continue rambling in the same many-paragraphed detail that I have been, but will instead be summing up quickly the rest of my trip (wait til you see what Allysha's idea of wrapping up quickly is, haha).

My time in Germany was so incredible that I remember thinking walking down the street one day that there would be a time of difficulty (probably not so far off in the future) and that when that day came I would accept it gracefully knowing that it was only keeping things in balance. In the meantime, I did my very best to soak up and enjoy every moment of happiness while it lasted. Little did I know how true these thoughts would be and that the second half of my trip would truly put my capacities for grace to the test.

I took the night train into Amsterdam, just for the day, as it was the cheapest flight to London off the continent and my railpass allowed me to take the train for free. This was a perfectly symbolic exit from Munich as it was difficult, exhausting, exciting, and left me disoriented and ready for bed (much like Munchen itself). I was quite comfortable wandering the streets of Amsterdam alone having already thoroughly explored this great city, but spent most of my day here resting or napping on the wake of such adventuring. I was happy to find that even outside of Munich my magical powers of making friends in strange places sustained. I befriended two adorable Italian boys who I found on the street in the Red Light District and amazed an American and two French kids at the hostel by switching non-chalantly between languages seemingly out of nowhere. I was thrilled to learn that rather than some trick of the trip, this actually seems to be a quality that I possess, which I hope to take with me to new and strange lands for the rest of my days.

Well, as is wont to happen when one is holding on by a thread and tiredness and disorientation are threatening to break in, things began to go wrong. I missed my plane out of Amsterdam. While I can point out or invent many reasons for this occurence, the truth as I choose to believe it is simply that it was time for things to go wrong. For those of you who have never travelled with me, my main skill in travelling lies in my somewhat astounding ability not to freak out. Generally when I find myself in situations that would reduce many the seasoned travel to tears (and certainly nearly every young girl just beginning to see the world), my reaction is not upset or disappointment which I am often sure would ruin my trip much more than a missed flight. Most often I find myself laughing at the ridiculousness of the predicament I find myself in and while looking towards what to do next generally decide that while I wouldn't have planned it that way, I'm probably better off. While I did not exactly enjoy having to buy another plane ticket, I found it not strange in the least that I should have now missed a flight and revelled in the fact that I no longer had to hurry to catch a plane but could relax for a while at the airport. Ever the eternal optimist as my friends in France will tell you, (they like to joke that nothing ever goes wrong in my life... to which I like to point out that things go wrong, but because I rarely see them that way it's much less traumatic).

Finally making it to London, I was still so exhausted from my travels so far, I was elated to be staying with the American friend of one of my friends in France. Courtney was studying in London and was my absolute savior during my time in England, where a missed flight was suddenly the least of my problems. Only the first night I arrived as I went to pay for my first dinner at an English pub, I discovered my wallet was missing. After ransacking every bag I had to no avail, darling Courtney let me use her phone to cancel all my bank and credit cards from cross the ocean and try without luck to contact the family. I now was stranded in London with no money, no way of getting back to France, and no plan other than get ahold of someone. Thank goodness I was there with friends or I have no idea what I might have done (though I'm sure it would have included quite a bit of the "freaking out" that I pride myself on avoiding). I spent the next few days wandering around the city with a few pounds in my pocket that Courtney lent me, admiring the sites from the outside without the money to enter them and trying, though exhausted, to enjoy beautiful England.

London itself was a very fast-paced city and in fact one of the top three (including Zurich) most expensive cities in the world (information I could really have used on the front end of planning this trip). Everyone seemed to be hurrying along over-dressed as if there was some grand event to which they were all headed and I was not invited. Being in this city, where everything was finally in English, at this point seemed like going half way home. It somehow occured to me as inauthentic (though I know it was not) to be surrounded by so many things familiar to my own culture. After so much time in lands where everything is foreign, London brought back to me in a way that so many men in German liederhosen could not, just how far I have come. I spent most of my time trying desparately to enjoy my time there with no idea what I was going to do, unable to contact home, and longing more than anything to return to my little dorm room in the west of France which feels now the only home I can accurately claim.

Eventually, and thankfully, my third day in London, after a sizable debt was owed to my hostess I was able finally to ring my mom and grandmother, who despite my dire circumstances, after a fair amount of questioning and frustration on both sides, Western Unioned me enough money to pay off my debts, finish my vacationing, and return to Rennes (though money was then on ever an issue for if I ran out, there was no more to be had). I spent much of my time in London sleeping, living off peanut butter and jelly (of which there is none in France so somewhat of a delicacy), and sitting in parks which in every country is a beautifully free passtime. I have never been happier than when my plane finally arrived in Paris, where though I would have to spend the night in the airport, I understood the people, the language, and the land.

My first time back to Paris since arriving originally, I had no idea the extent to which France has become my home, a safe place where, though things were amazingly foreign to me at first, things are not after all so very strange. I could not afford the morning trains as they were full and the only available tickets first class, so I spent the day (where else but a park) at Montsouris Parc with three euros to my name after the train ticket. I had a one euro McDo's cheeseburger (my first in France) with a coke and lugged all my ridiculously heavy bags up and down the streets until it was time to head home.

What a time... some of the best and most challenging experiences of my life. From the diligent, immaculate Swiss to the fun-loving people of Bavaria, a short layover in tall, serious, but ever-forgiving Amsterdam to the hectic streets of London, and finally home, home to those overly intricate silly buildings of Paris, and these funny people who speak a language which sounds always as if they are saying something strange and beautiful. And finally finally, to Rennes, where though they are French, they are something more, Celtic perhaps, more rugged like the coasts of this land, they are Breton. What luck I have had to have chosen this town where I can fit in a way I never will in the rest of France. What hope has an American of ever truly fitting in France? Little. But here, here I can simply be me, a bit of a hippy, as most students are here, a bit of an adventurer, as most Bretons appreciate though they are not truely so themselves, and a bit of Allysha, which though I may never truly FIT anywhere, seems to (so far at least) work the world over... or at least that small part of it that I have so far seen.

This trip has taught me so much about the world, but more than that, it has taught me about who I am. The process of integrating experiences as great as these can certainly be rough at times. Living on top of the world as I have been, comes always with its opposite. One moment I'm sure that nothing so amazing as my life has ever happened to anyone, but when the inevitable promise of transience occurs to me it is like a blow to the gut. I am spending so much time soaking in life, truly LIVING in a way I have never known that I feel I scarcely have time to breathe, to move, to prepare for whatever comes next. I'm sure when I get there I will be underprepared as always but I know now, whatever comes, I'm in it, I'm in the game, I'm up to the challenge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Livin' and Lovin' La Vie Francaise

Well I am about to head off again at the end of the week for another amazing adventure and thought it was about time to sit down with the latest updates on France before I am swept off to Zurich, Munich, and London on my second spring break.

The past few weeks here have been amazing, some of the most incredible in the history of my 23 years here on Earth. I picked my French life up much where I had left it after Amsterdam, but with an added degree of comfort and a pressing desire to throw myself into the French life. While the Americans I have been hanging out with divided themselves into two categories: those who love France and those who are barely surviving it, I found myself squarely in the middle... until last week. I am not sure what changed, if anything changed at all, if I was finally ready, or if I suddenly opened my eyes to something that had been there all along, but the verdict is in and I have absolutely fallen in love with France. I spent one long night in my room feeling like a failure for speaking as much English as I do here, wondering if I'll ever be anything other than an American slob here, and cursing everything I don't understand and could never be. And then I chose... I chose to step into my life here whatever that may look like and however scary it may be. I chose to force myself to speak French even though it's hard and there's so much I don't understand. I chose to live a French life, as best I could, even though I'll never quite fit in. I went to sleep, and I woke up in peace, my thoughts flowing easily in French. I told my American friends that I wouldn't be around as much because I want to let France happen to me, rather than carving out my own and different place here for the sake of comfort. All I had to do was choose, and the miracles started to arise...

Last week my friend heard about a poetry slam at one of our local bars and immediately I told her I wanted to go with her. How exciting to get to hear live French poetry! As a poet I had a secret thought in the back of my head that it would be the coolest thing ever if I could actually pull off writing and performing a poem in French. Never having performed my own poetry and never having written a poem in French, I had no idea if I would even be capable, but having thrown myself into this French life, I had to try. Anyone who has ever written poetry knows that you cannot simply sit down to write a poem and expect it to come. Poetry is gentle and you must be patient with it; it arrives in its own time. Sitting in class the day before the slam, I still had nothing, when suddenly my poem begins to birth itself. Trying desparately to multi-task, keeping up with my lessons and scribbling furiously on some scratch paper off to the side, I found my poetic voice in France, in French no less. I didn't want to try to write a poem to compete with the French in their own language, which I knew I could never do. I wanted to write something that was truly me, an American girl studying here, lost in French culture, simply trying my best to make sense of the world. Here is what I found:

Je ne parle pas bien le francais!

Je ne peux pas parler le francais.
J'essaie, mais c'est vrai.

J'ai beaucoup de choses a dire,
je vais commencer...

Ici, la France, c'est pas chez moi,
les etrangers sont tres differents.
Je veux, ici, etre a laise,
mais je ne comprends pas la vie francaise.

J'aime bien la nourriture,
les tres belle villes, les petites voitures.
La joie de vivre est vraiment reele
et je pense que les gens sont genial.

Mais moi, je ne suis pas francaise,
et je fait beaucoup de choses mauvaise.

Pardon, pardon, j'habite ici,
j'ai essaye,
mais je n'ai pas compris.

En fait...

Je parle trop fort
je souris toujours
je suis trop saoule
j'ai tort encore.

Je suis plus grosse que les femmes francaise,
mes vetements sont scandaleux.

Je ne veux pas vous offenser,
mais je ne peux pas vraiment changer.

Je veux apprendre a parler le francais,
mais tous mes amis parlent andglais.
Je ne connais personnes, les jeunes francais,
ils sont gentils mais plutot fermes

Je veux avoir des amis francais,
mais ce n'est pas facile de les rencontrer.

Je veux leur dire:
Parlez avec moi.
Soyez mes copains.
Je suis nouvelle en France
et je ne sais pas!

Je suis contente ici, a Rennes.
Je trouve la France assez bien,
mais d'etre americaine est ineluctable,
et tout le temps...
Je suis comme je suis!

S'il vous plait, aimez-moi la France!

and for those of you who don't speak French... (keep in mind that things don't translate exactly)

I don't speak French well!

I can't speak French,
I try, but it's true.

I have a lot of things to say,
I'm gonna start...
Listen up.

Here, France, it's not my home,
foreigners are very different.
I want, here, to be at peace,
but I don't understand French life.

I really like the delicious food,
the beautiful cities, the little cars.
The joy of life is truly real,
and I think the people are really cool.

But me, I am not French,
and I am constantly screwing things up.

Excuse me, excuse me, I live here
I tried,
but I didn't understand.

In fact...

I talk too loud
I smile all the time
I laugh too much
I'm wrong AGAIN.

I'm fatter than French women,
my clothes are scandalous.

I don't want to offend you,
but I can't really change.

I want to learn to speak French,
but all my friends speak English.
I don't know anyone, the young French folk,
they're nice, but rather closed.

I want to have French friends
but it's not easy to meet them.

I want to say to them:
Talk to me.
Be my friends.
I'm new in France,
and I don't know!

I'm happy here, in Rennes.
I find France pretty cool,
but to be American is inescapable,
and all the time...
I am who I am.

Please, love me France!

Terrified out of my mind, but equally determined, I stepped up to the mic not knowing at all what would come of it. I practiced night and day for the day and a half before the slam and wanted nothing more than to read my poem like I knew I could. I had asked the cute boy across the hall to check the poem grammatically and even showed it to a teacher for further imput. (She loved it so much she told me she made a copy for herself to keep.) Confident that it was at least solidly written, I stood there, not as a sad immitation of all the beautiful French poets performing that night, but as an American, a poet in my own right, trying her best to fit into this French world. I began and even as I had only spoken the title, the crowd began to laugh (not an easy feat in a French crowd) and though I was scared to death, my voice didn't tremble at all. I recited it like a true French poem, pronouncing the words differently as you would only do in songs or poetry, though with a bit of my unavoidable American accent. By halfway through my hand was shaking so much that the paper was moving inches up and down and I had to switch hands, but my voice stayed strong to the end. The crowd loved it... they laughed at all the right moments and hooped and hollered at the end. Every inch of my body was shaking as I walked back to my seat and collapsed into the arms of my American friends. I read it beautifully, like I knew I could. My first French poem, my first poetry slam, in France, in French.

After my reading, which was indeed a plea to the French to accept me, at least 4 or 5 young French people made the effort to talk to me. Amazing!! (It's almost impossible to get a French person to talk to a stranger.) My friends were so proud they were nearly in tears and sat around for the next few hours like proud parents talking about what I had just accomplished. My darling friend Dan, generally cynical to the end, told me that this is one of the stories he would tell to all his friends, "you won't believe what one of my friends in France did..." Breaking through his natural tendancy to be relatively unimpressed by everything, he said I better be as proud of myself as I should be and feel on top of the world because what I had just done was amazing! I was. On the way out I said goodbye to the bartender who we know fairly well. He told me that he has hosted a few of these slams and sometimes Americans try to read poetry at them but it never goes over very well. My reading, he said, was the best he'd ever seen of any American. To quote Loic: "You really worked your magic on them." It was incredible!

Since then, since stepping into France, since truly taking on my life here, every day has brought wonderful surprises. Every day I meet more and more French friends as I put myself out there in an effort towards immersion. On the way back from the market down the street the other day, I ran into three different French kids who I've recently made friends with and stopped to chat with each of them and do the petite bise (kiss kiss). I am excited to head off to Switzerland, Germany, and England where I am sure to encounter many more amazing things (my brain could truly use a short break from so much French), but I am even more excited to return here, home to Rennes, et ma vie francaise.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Contact Info

In case anyone was wondering how to get ahold of me, I now have a phone number through Skype (a program that lets me talk through my computer), so you can call me for free! Hooray! Call me anytime and if I'm by my computer I'll answer, otherwise you can leave me a voicemail. I'd love to hear from you! (Don't worry about time zones, my hours are completely weird here)

(916) 273-9336

If anyone wants to send me anything my address is:

Allysha Lavino
Cezembre 12
2, Rue d'Alsace
CS 51004
35010 Rennes Cedex, FRANCE

It would absolutely make my day to hear from any of you or even get some mail! *hint hint... send taco bell hot sauce and Kraft mac and cheese powder* hehe :)

Amsterdam and More

I don't even know where to start in describing my most recent adventures. To begin, France gets better every day. My experiences become deeper and richer as I come to know and understand life here. I have just had a wonderful week, my first week back from a fabulous vacation spent in Amsterdam. As I sit here writing, I am finding it difficult to switch my brain back onto English and keep thinking the French word first. (C'est tres bon, oui?) My spelling, which is usually nigh impeccable, has gone straight down the drain and I have to remind myself to capitalize words like American and leave out extra vowels which now just look right to me.

The French get two spring breaks (why didn't we think of that?), and while all of the French kids go home for the week, the Americans travel. My bags packed, my Eurail pass in hand, and an itch for adventure, I set off last week for five days in Amsterdam with my American friend Lindsay. This trip brought me right back to my first few weeks travelling around France reminding me of why I love to travel and why it is the most beautiful and difficult thing you will ever do. The city of Amsterdam itself is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. Nearly every street has a canal running through the center and the several-storied attached houses and apartments that line the streets each have a unique look creating the most wonderful ambiance. We spent hours upon hours just wandering the streets of Amsterdam, admiring the beauty around us, and we felt, truly getting a feel for the city. We felt very lucky to be there in winter when it seemed the city could show her true face. With few visitors and bare trees, the city seemed naked and honest. We seemed to catch a glimpse of Amsterdam as those who live there must know her, apart from all the hustle and bustle of the summer.

Some of my favorite thing about the city came as a complete suprise. Amsterdam is the snack capital of the world. Okay not really, but it might as well be. They have entire stores dedicated to snacks (like the best AM/PM you've ever seen), and everything is delicious. We went crazy on these thin little waffle cookies with carmel in the middle like a sandwich. Mmm... stroopwaffels. I ate far too much while I was there, but France is not a country that's big on the snacks. It's a little bit rude here to eat between meals (maybe just a bit of baguette), so they don't have a lot of snack foods. Quite an adjustment from home where I eat throughout the day and practically live off snacks. Needless to say, Amsterdam and I got along quite well. I think she really got me.

Our hostel, which was one of Europe's top ten hostels, was right next to the huge and amazing Vondelpark and we spent our mornings strolling though the gardens while we discussed our plans for the day. Most of our vacation was spent simply wandering through the city, no destination or plan, stumbling upon new and interesting things all the time. We visited the Rijk's Museum, which was unfortunately half closed and the Van Gogh museum which we both adored. Van Gogh is my favorite painter, but unfortunately, we didn't go there until the last day and I was too tired to enjoy it like I feel I could have. My feet hurt terribly by this point from walking from dawn 'til dusk everyday, and I was so tired that when I stood up I was in pain and when I sat down I risked falling asleep in public. If I could change one thing about my trip I would have gone to Van Gogh sooner and spent the deserved hours mesmorized by his colors and vision. As it was it was wonderful, but at the time I would honestly have prefered a nap (sad story!).

Traveling with new people is always an adventure in itself. My travel buddy Lindsay and I discovered in about the first five minutes that we had very different styles of doing things. We were only saved by our commitment to constantly articulate these differences and attempt to compromise. To begin, To begin, Lindsay is six feet tall and a fast walker to boot. I, on the other
hand, am quite short and fond of wandering and walking slowly. In addition, when Lindsay is on a crowded street, her tendancy is to race ahead of anyone walking near here, while my instinct is just the opposite, slowing down to let others pass. The only compromise in this area left both of us running at an uncomfortable pace. I constantly felt like a child being lost in a crowd and struggled to keep up as Lindsay zoomed around the already fast-walking Dutch like Speed Racer passing on the left. While she, on the other hand, constantly fought anxiety when I simply could not go that fast and the crowds closed in. Watching her walk slowly with me was pretty hilarious. As my little legs took three steps to each of hers, she looked like she was walking in slow motion and I in double time. Somehow we managed to wander the beautiful streets of Amsterdam without losing or killing each other, but I was glad to return to Rennes where I refused to hurry at all for a week to make up for lost time.

Now, coming home to Rennes, it is nice to settle into a simple French (or semi-French) life. I missed my daily baguette, cheap wine, and dorm dinners with friends. I even missed being surrounded by people speaking French and the daily challenge of taking ten minutes to figure out how to say something before actually talking. Though we all enjoyed our different journeys, upon our return, my American friends all agreed that we were ready to be back in Rennes. Life has picked up much as it was before I left, but with an added degree of comfort and pleasure in my little world here. I by no means have everything down and still learn daily new words, culturisms, and interesting nooks and crannies of my little town, but it's official... I can now proficiently do life here. I can feed myself including grocery shopping (one of my favorite things to do here), cooking in the dorm kitchen, and going to the Restaurant Universitaire (aka dorm food). I may even come back knowing how to cook way more than I ever did before. Let's keep our fingers crossed for that one! My American friends and I really support each other here and we have group dinners several times a week at one room or another. Usually pasta, one or two of us bring the pasta and ingredients, another brings a baguette, and someone else the wine, while we take turns cooking. We all bring our own fork and cup and end up sitting around on big pot chowing down, since none of us have enough plates for a crowd. It's become a tradition. I love sharing anyway and what an opportunity to have so many people looking out for each other. We all share everything we have, and this week while I am very low on money waiting for my stipend, one of my friends here said to me, "Don't even be silly, Allysha. You know we've got you, we'll feed you this week." How nice to have such a community here so far from home.
Another of our regular rituals, visiting the Restaurant Universitaire, is always an adventure. After several weeks we're still not exactly sure how it works. You enter a large room packed with people to find several stations with different kinds of food. Well the trick is that depending on which station you choose, you're allowed a different number of items for one meal ticket. So to begin, you have to pay close attention to whether you're allowed two or three items, because if you go over you have to pay extra (which we don't usually have when we've settled for dorm food). Your next task is to figure what is actually considered one item, which seems fairly impossible. It seems to me to be slightly arbitrary. A small baguette never counts nor does a salad,as long as it doesn't actually have any ingredients in it (basically stale bread and lettuce are free... as long as you get other things as well). Mind you, we're discovering these knit picky little rules in French when we have only an hour to eat between classes and are packed in on every side by other students and lines sprawling every which way. Now, an entree and two side dishes counts as one item as long as it's on the same plate; if they're on a different plates, they're counted separately. It took us a long time to figure this out since an entire plate of food is one item while just an apple is another. Most days we can figure it out and make it to class on time, though many of us take less food than we think we've paid for just to be completely safe. On our first visit, my friend Rachael got into a terrible mess where a kiwi put her one item over and she didn't have the 40 centimes to cover it. The French cashier-woman would not let her return the item and became loudly frustrated at her for her obvious lack of comprehension of the system. Eventually she was allowed to return the kiwi and Rachael lived to to share the story though she definitely lost her appetite after being yelled at for five minutes in French. Overall it's wonderful having a place with a big warm meal for two and a half euro right near home, and it has now become another of those hysterical things about France that adds to the ambiance of our funny little town.

Upon my return from Amsterdam I decided that I really wanted to take this French thing seriously and needed to stop speaking so much English with my American friends and dive right into the thick of it. My mission was clear: I needed some French friends... hopefully some patient, articulate folks who would be happy to help me with my language difficulties, teach me new words, and give me the chance to practice speaking in a normal context. Well, as my life at times can tend to be a bit charmed, no sooner had I stated my wishes than two French boys came and knocked on my door to borrow something, ended up coming in to talk to me and a friend who was over, and voila - French friends! One of them lives in my building and now stops by at least every other day to chat in French and hang out for a bit. Between this chance meeting and my propensity to start talking and never stop, I have met several other young French folk who now stop by my room on a regular basis. It's fantastic! I have learned so many new words including a ton of slang that would be impossible to learn from my professors (my American friends and I are all so amused to learn French insults and are always teaching each other new inappropriate phrases we've learned from random French kids in friendly inquisitive conversation). It has also been amazing to have the opportunity to practice the language in an everyday context, hearing how the young people here talk, and gaining competence in saying the types of things you would actually want to say when hanging out with friends.

Since everyone seems to love my funny French stories, I'll pass along another little pronounciation error that has made my American friends and I chuckle quite a bit. "Beaucoup" is a very common word here meaning . Well you can imagine how often this is used... beaucoup! "Merci beaucoup," in particular, seems to find its way into nearly every conversation. The other day I was sitting around with some of my new French friends and said this common "thank you very much" after which there was much snickering. They attempted to explain to me what was so funny, but after a few minutes, I still didn't understand, and they let it drop. I didn't think too much more of it until last night when sitting around speaking French with a few Americans and a young Nigerian fellow, one of my friends begins to describe her difficulty in pronouncing the word "beaucoup" and the humorous situations that ensued as a result. My ears perked up at hearing this and she proceeded to explain what the French gentlemen laughing at me were unable to convey. Apparently "merci beaucoup" - pronounced bo - coo, means "thank you very much" (that much I knew), but what I didn't know is that "merci beaucoup" - incorrectly pronounced bo - cue, means "thanks, nice ass." One tiny syllable slightly mispronounced and what a different meaning! I don't think it should be so easy to accidentally tell the woman at the bank or your new male French friends, "oh, thanks, nice ass!" I suppose I will have to pay better attention in the future to the subtle nuances of speaking. Who knows what other secret inappropriate phrases lie hidden in my silly American pronounciation.

My new outrageous Rennes story of the week is typical of the bizarre things that occur here daily. Whenever something weird happens here now, my friends and I just look at each other and say "Well, that's Rennes for you." So lying in bed the other morning I heard a strange tapping at my window, a short, loud, semi-intermittent stacatto that woke me from my sleep. Sitting up, I looked to the window to see a giant crow on my window sill pecking diligently at something there. Now, to understand this story completely, you must know that in the dorms here, the refrigerators are quite a pain. They are all the way down the hall and are locked with a padlock so you have to put in a combination to get your food. In addition, despite the obvious precautions, sometimes food is still stolen (especially yummy-looking things). To combat these inconveniences, many students keep food out their windows since it's usually about as cold as a refrigerator outside. Counting myself among those who trust their food to the dangers of the wild, I had several food items on the sill on "the morning with the bird". After being half startled to death, I jumped out of bed to find the crow pecking furiously at my pack of bacon and had to open the window slightly and make some noise to shoo him off. I don't know why the animals here seem stranger than other places I've been, perhaps because it's Rennes, but between my weird behavior (keeping food on the window sill) and his weird behavior (stealing breakfast from someone you've never met) it was definitely an odd experience. It started raining later that morning after I had gone back to bed and I kept waking up paranoid to the pitter patter thinking, "Oh my goodness, the bird's at my bacon again." Though I never saw him again, I didn't eat the bacon (which he had maimed a bit), and now every time there's a tapping at my window, I must be honest, I am more than slightly jumpy. Perhaps the moral of this story is that bacon is best kept locked up in Rennes.

I am definitely settled into a rhythm by now, and even though it is often difficult, I am loving my quaint little life here. My classes are passing much like classes do mid-semester, slightly difficult, slightly boring, but generally pleasant. The highlight of my world here has definitely been my friends. Between the amazing Americans who have been my saving grace (people who choose to study abroad are just a cool breed of folk) and my new French friends who allow me to practice my language skills and discover the intricacies of this culture, I am with people nearly all my waking hours and it is a blast! I am quite lucky to be so extroverted and have so many different kinds of friends that I have no idea what each day will be like before I see who is behind the knocking on my door. I was finally able to figure out how to use the gym facilities at the dorms and worked out for the first time today, which was wonderful. The more time I spend here, the more I am able to navigate the country to find new and interesting things to incorporate into my life in France. I still love and miss everyone back home, but I can now definitively say that I am happy here. J'ai de la chance!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A bit about Rennes:

What an interesting little town I live in. A darling hippie village, Rennes is the place where everything in France begins. Those protests we all heard so much about last year began right here... I've even heard tell that the French Revolution started here (though I can't find evidence to back that up). Well today I was lucky enough to witness my first French protest. I had front row seats as I sat outside under a large green awning with one of my new friends, eating the BEST ITALIAN FOOD IN THE WORLD, and a river of French folks with large banners yelling in unison came flooding by. I played tourist and snapped pictures, wildly amused, as I experienced la vrai vie Rennais (true Rennes life). We were handed a flier, though I have no true idea what the march was about (immigration was our best guess). I have been warned never to be involved in such displays, though I anticipate this is merely the first taste of many more to come during my semester in this far-from-quiet, quirky town.

Among the cultural differences, there are apt to be many little things quite different from life back home. Since arriving here I have learned about an interesting law that I find absolutely hysterical. Here in Rennes, if a homeless person is arrested, it is illegal for the police to leave their dog unattended. A strange law, one might say, but this has created the rather bizarre loophole that the police actually cannot arrest someone who has broken the law if there is no one to take their dog. Just to complicate this already bizarre situation, the police and animal control WILL NOT come to the same's not allowed. If the police are already there, animal control stays away and vice versa. Being the ingenius creatures humans are apt to be, all of the homeless people therefore own dogs, making them relatively untouchable. So, as you can imagine in a hippie town, walking down the street, one encounters a fair few folks living on the street, which might even go unnoticed except for the fact that they ALL have giant, mangy, unkempt muts. Just walking down the street it is not uncommon to see a pile five or six humongous dogs laying around next to a few bums on a blanket drinking wine, and sitting in a local pub you look out the window to see these monsters roaming the streets randomly like a pack of coyotes. Ah, la vie Rennais...

Excitingly I have managed to make quite a few friends here! Yay...I have friends! There are ten or so of us Americans who tend to wander around, often in a large pack, and we are definitely getting the ropes around here. Whether navigating the French administration, getting our free metro passes (woohoo! what a life-saver), buying baguettes, finding a great local pub, making a night in the dorms a blast, we are learning how to rock Rennes! It's a little disappointing to be speaking so much English in France, but managing to survive and maintain sanity are so much more difficult here, that just being able to actually communicate with some people has been so important. I look forward to getting to know more of the French kids around me as my language abilities progress in my classes and speaking more French even with my American friends as we all get more comfortable in our tongues.

Classes started this week, and I am thrilled to report that they are amazing!! Being a bit of a nerd and loving learning as I do, I have been more excited about going to class than just about anything else since arriving in Rennes. Though I was nearly dreading and more than a bit nervous before my classes started, both about being able to do the work well and just being around French for hours on end, I find that it is none of the things I feared. I have yet to be overly-taxed though I am adequately challenged. I was placed in the absolutely PERFECT level for me and even placed quite high in my speaking proficiency (much higher than I expected and higher than many of the other Americans who are in higher level writing courses than I am). Besides being seemingly tailor-made to my ability level, all of my classes so far have been astoundingly well-taught and more entertaining than I would have thought possible for a classroom. My classes have only about 12-15 people and most of the instruction is done through excercises and games with the other students who hail from places as diverse and random as Iran, Syria, Brazil, Australia, China, and many more. I find school here wildly amusing... making me a bit of a geek, but I'm happy to take the label if it means I get to look forward to going to school everyday!! So far, more strikingly than the rest of my travels, classes have been everything I hoped and more.

Life here is certainly settling into a rhythm, which is simultaneously comforting and alarming. I have many friends now, who I hang out with constantly. We even got to go see the Super Bowl (with unfortunate French commentary and none of the good commercials) on Monday night at our local pub. It was such a treat to get to do something so supremely American (le football americain) here so far from home, and we had a total blast! I can feel my busy semester already beginning to slip away as I watch some of the wonder of this trip that I so long anticipated transform into memories of things gone by. They are, however, wonderful memories that I shall have for the rest of my life, so even in this pensive mood, I can only appreciate this amazing life I have. As I sit here cutting the roof of my mouth on yesterday's baguette (it's still too delicious to throw out), I hope for the opportunity to sink into la vie francaise, and as this semester slides past me, I hope I know every day how lucky I am. I love you all...thank you for making a life like this possible for me. Even when (fill in the blank with anything you can imagine) ...I could not ask for more.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ah Rennes.... at last!

Well, here I am settling into my new school, my new room, my new home. So many things here remind me that I truly am in a foreign world. Unlike in Paris and the other little cities I visited on my way out here, I am not vacationing, and this is to be my new life. There have been many ups and downs in my first week here at school. I arrived feeling like I was beginning to grasp this whole "French thing" (which for an American traveler, I was), but after a week among French students I feel more lost than ever. Although my French is proably much better than when I first arrived, my comparisons are much greater now and it is easy to be discouraged with my lack of proficiency. I keep having to remind myself that this is the curve that goes along with studying abroad - wonderful days and difficult days, and more feelings than it seems possible to stuff into one human body.
Rennes is a cute little town, not as cute as Paris, but what can you expect. It has a different style from much of the rest of France, being in Brittany (Bretagne), there is a different historical influence more like Celtic Britain. The Centre Ville is adorable but my overwhelming impression is first and formost that of confusion. None of the streets seem to keep their name for more than a block and nothing runs anything like the grids I am used to back home. Wandering down the meandering streets who can't make up their mind as to what they're called, it is easy to lose yourself among the brightly colored restaurants, shops, and bars of provincial Rennes. I have enjoyed visiting town, which is only a quick metro ride away, but still have a lot of exploring to do before I feel competent in my new little town. I have managed to find a great local pub that's a favorite of the international students studying here, the best Italian food place in the world, and a small shop full of all things Breton (what the Celtic people of this region are called), which for me was thrilling. I hope to do more exploring over the next few weeks and learn more of what Rennes has to offer.

My dorm room is, first and formost, a dorm, although I hear that I am in the nicest building of the lot (we actually have mailboxes rather than getting our mail shoved under the door!). Though small, of course, I have a single room which is nice enough for my tastes. There are, however, several adjustments to dorm life, which for me is a completely new experience. There is only one bathroom for the entire floor which is rough enough, but incredibly it is CO-ED!! and has no seats on any of the toilets. What an adjustment that is! How differently the French must think to create a situation that a week and a half later I still can hardly believe. I am very happy to be integrated into the regular French dorms, as are all the international students here. I was expecting to be segragated with all the others who are studying abroad, but am glad to have this opportunity for true immersion and regular interaction with French kids. Overall, the dorms have been a bit of a change, but relatively comfortable, and I know in just a few weeks I will feel as at home here in my little room in Rennes as I did in my studio in San Diego.

I have met many Americans who are also studying here, and we have enjoyed laughing at ourselves as we attempt to learn to live in Rennes. Grocery shopping is still great fun, but it took us over three hours just to do laundry the other day. These are the simple joys and frustrations of life abroad. The simplest errand may take all day and somewhere in the middle you're ready to jump out the window, but by the end of the day (on a good day), you feel accomplished and ready to take on the world. Most days that's what leaving my room feels like - taking on the world. To quote my favorite movie: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door... you step onto the road, and if you don't mind your feet, you never know where you might be swept off to." That's what each day in France has felt like so far. I get dressed and ready for a new adventure with no idea where I will end up or whether I will be prepared. Usually I am far less prepared than I would like to have been, but somehow I figure it out along the way. There are some adventures in life for which there is no preparation and I am certainly on one of them.
I have been lucky, being the social bug that I am, it has been easy for me to meet people. I got some wonderful advice from a good friend before leaving, "Talk to everyone, Allysha. It will save your life." It certainly has! Thanks Jenn. Sometimes when I don't think I can make a fool of myself one more time, I drawn this line around me like a mantle and step up. For once I am truly in a situation where talking as often as I do pays off...yes! This mantra, talking to as many people as possible, has certainly paid off - as just this instant (vraiment!) there was a knock at my door, my neighbor coming to let me borrow some of his French CD's to put on my computer. I have been lucky to meet many of the young French kids on my floor, an experience none of the other Americans have had so far (in part due to my knocking on the door and saying "Hi, I'm the new American girl who lives next door. I don't know anyone, will you be my friend" ...all in French or something like it, of course). A few nights ago, I had the delightful experience of being invited to a small gathering of French students in one of the dorm rooms on my floor. What a truly cultural experience! Imagine twelve students crammed into a tiny dorm room, jabbering on in French (I hardly understood a word), jumping around animatedly as they told stories, passing around a plate full of crepes (honestly!), and kissing each other on the cheeks. I felt as though I was in a French film or story... so many stereotypes jumping right off the page of my highschool French textbook and into my social life. It is not always easy to create ongoing relationships when I understand so little, but I am trying, and I think there are things that just require time and being willing to be foolish over and over and over again...

Not everything has been as rewarding as meeting wonderful foreigners, however. Anyone who has ever registered for school knows that it can be an arduous and frustrating process. Add to that a language barrier and the fact that nothing here is computerized and it is nothing short of a nightmare. I spent most of the day today running back and forth between offices trying to understand what they were asking of me to no avail. I have another such day ahead of me tomorrow, but my classes begin Monday and I look forward to gaining competence interacting with the French world. I had my first experience of a language faux pas this week. Actually, it is something I have been saying since I arrived and I only just this week found out that it was terribly wrong. In order to say that I was excited to... fill in the blank here (be in France, see the Eiffel Tower, arrive in Rennes, and most often - begin my classes), I have been saying "Je suis tres excitee pour commencer mes cours." I'm sure many of you can imagine this might be now that you know it's a huge faux pas. Apparently "Je suis tres excitee" is a term only used to express sexual excitement. So technically I have been running around France saying "I'm very horny to start my classes." No wonder I have had so much trouble avoiding the attention of strange French men! Ah, alas there are always those things you can only learn the embarassing way, sigh. Today I accidently told my neighbor I loved him instead of that I liked his music, but what are you going to do? And now I know... I'll just have to keep saying that. Well, now I know...

There was a great opportunity offered by the school this week for the study abroad students to visit one of France's great sites - Mont Saint Michel. This was a truly incredible experience! This grand fortress of an abbey is located on the top of a granite outcropping in a unique place along the north coast of Normandy. The tides here are some of the strangest in the world, with areas that are dry during the day having up to 40 feet of water by night. The tides roll in suddenly and with such great force that they come in like a tidal wave. The small outcropping on which Mont Saint Michel is made of such a durable stone that is has withstood this powerful force while all around it has been eroded away. The result is a great rock topped with a magnificent abbey surrounded by barren white sand plains riddled with rivers and quicksand. It is like nothing I have ever seen. Standing on the great stone walls of this monastery, there was such a feeling of solitude and a peace so full and heavy it was almost unbearable. I felt as if you could lay all the troubles of your heart upon the empty sand and they would be washed away by the dangerous tides each night and swept out to sea. For me, it was a relief to feel the land as such a presence and find a small piece of spirituality among all the hectic here and there required just to keep up at school. Picking up seashells from the parking lot, which in only a few hours would be completely under water, it was difficult not to be utterly amazed by this magnificent monument.
I am surviving so far, if sometimes only by the skin of my teeth, and I am told it only gets easier (which is not so difficult to believe). Every day I gain competence in something new, which is much more than I can say for most of my days at home. Though being a beginner at anything is always rough, there are plenty of other students from abroad to bumble along with, and even more people to ask for help if you're only willing to look foolish (which by now I must be). I can't wait to start my French courses (which should properly be said, "J'attends avec impatience...") and hopefully be able to actually converse semi-normally with my new French friends (and maybe even understand what they say!). I am beginning to plan some of the trips that I will be taking this semester all around Europe, so I am greatly looking forward to that, and to a time, hopefully soon, when I am settled here and it begins to feel like home.

Monday, January 22, 2007

France et Moi... it begins

France is amazing! I feel like I am a part of living history. Sitting in a stunning but simple French country house, staring out the window on a beautiful blustery day, and listening to Les Miserables, I feel so blessed. There is so much life here, every inch, every corner, oozes with love, attention, and dedication. I have just spent a week in Paris, covering all the major tourist attractions and experiencing my first taste of french life, la vie francaise. Paris in a nutshell as I could never begin to say it all:

I saw it nearly every day, and la Tour Eiffel still takes my breath away. The Mona Lisa is as amazing as she's given credit for - one of the girls I visited the Louvre with said "I just feel like she gets me," and I couldn't have said it better. For me, Musée D’Orsay was even more incredible than the Louvre. I could have spent hours in the Van Gogh room. I never realized how much I loved impressionism - so much feeling, color, vision, true expression. It is such a different and incredible experience to see great works of art first hand, and it is difficult not to be moved by such beauty. L’Arche de Triomphe (a grand arch in the middle of the city with an unknown soldier buried underneath dedicated to those who have served) reminded me of all the militaryfolk I am lucky enough to have in my life and how much I love them. There is so much undirected patriotism here, rather than pride in France, there is a genuine love of the land and the history of all those who may claim it (which includes so many more than just the French). They seem to really appreciate what it is to be human and especially what it is to give one's life for love. Visiting Versailles and seeing the door through which Marie-Anoinette escaped from the rioters has only strengthened my obsession with the French Revolution (j'aime les miserables beaucoup). So many generations of history leap out at you simply walking down the street. There are strange Catacombs underneath the city where 6 million people are buried and their femur bones and skulls are stacked to become the walls of the underground tunnel. It is completely surreal.

My hostel was in the most perfect location in all of Paris! ...le quartier latin (If this were San Diego, it would be equivalent to staying right in the heart of PB). The "Young and Happy Hostel" on le rue Mouffetard had front facing windows in a 6 person room facing out to a cobblestone street covered in shops, bars, and crêpe stands. I had only to walk a few feet to find a fabulous meal, drink, or shop. I was lucky to have found it, especially considering the place I was originally planning on staying was going to charge double and I walked out with all my bags and no idea where I was going. I could not have imagined a better first hostel experience - the people were amazing. Two beautiful and intelligent girls from Boston invited me out for a Guinness my first night in Paris. What a life-saver! I traveled around seeing the sites with the two gals and a great Australian kid for the next 5 days. We had so much fun! Meeting incredible new people has been one of the highlights of the trip so far and I look forward to even more once I arrive at school.

Everyone always says French food is amazing, and while I was looking forwards to baguettes and cheese, I must say I was a bit nervous. Not having a lot of experience with the food of different cultures (other then Mexican food, which I am beginning to miss dearly), I didn't know what to expect or whether French food and I would get along. I could not have been more shocked and impressed. The food here is amazing!! There is a different little shop for everything you want to buy, no big grocery stores, and everything, I mean everything, is delicious. The sandwiches are so much simpler than in the US (they usually have 1-4 ingredients and each in fairly limited quantity), but they are so tasty it's difficult to believe. Any hope I had of losing weight while I am here is likely shot due the the availability and scrumtiousness of french pastries and desserts. I am walking more here than I ever have in my life, but somehow I don't think that will cover several desserts a day. But as they say, when in Rome... Well here I am in France, and the French sure do eat a lot of sweets. I'm only trying to blend in to the culture of course :) Everytime I have a fantastic sandwich, crepe, or pastry, I just keep asking, now why can't they do it like this at home? Ah, I suppose I will have to get my fill during my stay. Good thing it's only just beginning!

Though there have been many amazing moments, the trip has not been without its hiccups as well. I have learned that often when traveling (especially alone), anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This is probably especially true when traveling Allysha-style (which might be called by my mother "unprepared"). I rather like to think of it as being flexible and open to the perfection that occurs spontaneously. A week into my trip, I will say, however, that it is much more difficult this way, and I am considering revising Allysha-style to mean something more like "flexible but still prepared," which seems like it might work better. There is so much to this experience, from figuring out transportation (trains and planes and metros), finding lodging (hostels, homes, and hotels), to getting to la banque, la poste, dîner, et le café internet, that I could never have prepared for from the other side of the ocean. It is definitely a town by town experiment in survival. What a great opportunity to be thrown into the deep end of life and sink or swim. Mostly I like to think that I swim, if only a rather lame version of doggy paddle. (Having just shown this to Barbara, a wonderful friend of my grandmother’s who I’m staying with a few days, she says I am definitely swimming -a strong breast, at least... although every now and then it does feel a bit like sinking). Every time I have had some kind of trauma (the hostel I was supposed to stay at lost my reservation, the D-Day beaches are closed in January, missing my train stop, getting lost, stuck in the rain, and soaked to the bone) there has been a lesson, and I have ended up exactly where I needed to be - in the perfect place, at the perfect time, with the perfect people.

Over and over again, I am struck by the astounding beauty of the ancient architecture and art dotting every street. My very first day in Paris, I wound up lost in the rain for over an hour and was being harassed by some random Frenchman, when suddenly I looked up and Voila! Notre Dame. I was speechless, shocked that just wandering down the street one could stumble upon such extraordinary beauty. The entire trip has been like that. Today I am in Caen, a small town in Normandy (northern France, right on the channel, about a half hour from the D-Day beaches), on the last night of my solo adventures before arriving at school tomorrow. Arriving at my little hotel room, I was shocked to find that not only is there a completely unmentioned grand church a block away with magnificent pointed spires stretching far into the sky, but there is a castle, truly a gigantic fortress, across the street!! What an unreal place to be with structures out of legend cropping up everywhere and a tremendous castle on my way to the bank or the pastry shop.

Tomorrow I arrive in Rennes and will see for the first time the town in which I will be spending the next 4 months of my life. I am nervous and excited. If it is anything like the other cities I have visited, I know I will love it. I have yet to find a French town that I haven't fallen in love with and I will be thrilled to make Rennes my own and learn all the little ins and outs that make a place home. Soon I will no longer be a nomad and will once again have a place to call home. That will truly be a nice change. Wish me luck, mes amis! I love you all!