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.
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.