La Nourriture et le Français

Yeah, French food. Escargots, foie gras, and other things that sound kind of gross initially. But what surprised me more than anything was how good most everything actually was (I still didn’t like the foie gras, but at least I tried it, right?). But the escargot (snails) was actually pretty delicious! When we walked into the restaurant, they told us that they could only speak to us in French, since it was a traditional restaurant. That was good with me, and it was quite a bit of fun to talk with the staff. We went to the restaurant as a sort of “goodbye” meal for some of our friends who are leaving. About half of the people we hang out with went home today, and the rest of us have about two and a half more weeks.
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Here are some random updates that have nothing to do with each other:

I caught somebody pickpocketing me. I don’t think I have the best luck with this. I’m trying new tactics of hiding my stuff, considering this seems to happen to me too much.

I bought the Kim Possible movie in French today. I’m a child inside, I know. My excuse is that it’s for practicing my French.

I think that my French is improving. My friends and I decided that we are going to speak solely in French for the remainder of the trip.

I get new professors on Thursday for both of my classes. It’ll be interesting to see how the teaching styles change, and if my learning style or ability changes with it.

The French have so much pride for their country, but in such a different way than Americans do. It’s quite interesting, and really fun to be a part of.
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That’s all I have for updates right now! I feel like I never have any super exciting stories to share, but the fact is that there’s so much to do and see here that not only do I never really get any down time, everything is sort of spectacular that it’s hard to pick out things to talk about. But, I’ll keep searching. Have a good couple of days!

Kendra

Madrid makes being a student and tourist easy!

Hola y buenos dias,

I just wanted to fill you in on my Madrid experience so far.  Madrid is gorgeous, hot, and really hospitable.  The city holds a million possibilities and hidden treasures on its many small avenues.  Even if you don’t know any Spanish you can get by, but you will definitely be able to pick up some key phrases quickly.  For example, “permisso” = excuse me, which is a necessary phrase in the crowded Plaza del Sol.  And, “no gracias” = no thank you, for the many occasions when street advertisers are pushing fliers in your face for all of the local eateries and bars.  In addition, there are plenty of Spaniards that speak english and are more than willing to help you find something or get directions.  Don’t be afraid to ask!

My first night in Madrid was spent dining alfresco until midnight.  Dinners are a time to relax, eat slowly, and enjoy your friends.  Waiters do not try to rush you (even if they are starting to close).  The next stop was an Irish Pub/Disco (which was Irish only in name)!  It was great to dance and enjoy my friends before the start of class on Monday.

On Monday, it was time to wake up early and ride the Metro to Universidad Carlos III de Madrid or UC3M for short.  The campus is in Getafe, which is a 20 minute train ride away.  And the metro is pretty easy to navigate.  And then it was a short walk to campus.  The first day of my Disaster Law class included a field trip to an insurance agency and an informative presentation on how insurance companies manage risk and disasters.

In between studying and attending class, my housemates and I decided to do the “tourist thing” and buy tickets on a double-decker city tour bus.  The bus is big, bright red, and has City Tours emblazoned on it.  But don’t let that stop you!  For 21 Euros you can see the entire city in a day, hopping on and off at your pleasure, and while you are riding you get an audio tour via headset in the language of your choosing.  In one day I was able to visit the Prado museum, the Royal Palace of Madrid, and a ton of cute little shops!  I highly recommend the upper deck because it is open to the elements, offering a cool breeze, and great photo opportunities.
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The Prado museum can be seen for free on certain days and times, otherwise it will cost you 14 Euros.  Goya is of course the main attraction, but the entire museum holds so many wonders that you can spend hours there and want to come back for more.  In addition, outside of the museum there are local street vendors selling original works of art, souvenirs, and food.
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The Royal Palace of Madrid is another must see.  If you love architecture, statues, gardens and eating gelato as you snap a million pictures, then put the Palace on your list of must visits!
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My next adventure is seeing a bull fight this weekend!  Muy macho!

Shalom

Galway

Hello bloggers!

I’m back from Ireland now, home safe and whatnot. Since my last post we traveled to Galway, took an overnight trip to the Aran islands, visited Coole Park, and saw some Dragons. It was an eventful week.

Galway was lovely. Although it was rather hot, there was usually a breeze coming in off the bay, and the city was easy to navigate and fun to be in. We happened to be in town during the Galways Art’s Festival, and so we got to see some pretty cool stuff – acrobats and dragons in the streets. (There’s a final video attached with some clips.)
We took a trip out to Inis Mor as well, which was a refreshing break from busy towns and crowds of tourists. Possibly even a little too refreshing, as that night our entire room was in bed well before it was dark. Our hostel was directly over a pub though, so we had the experience of being lulled to sleep by groups of people singing in Irish. That was actually pretty cool. In the morning we hiked up to Dun Aengus, a fort on a cliff that has been around since before the pyramids. It was a pleasant trip.
When we got back to Galway we were given a free day, which I spent visiting the aquarium, and following days were spent on excursions to Coole Park and hanging out in Galway. We saw swans made famous by Yeats, and the tower he had lived in, and we wrote poems and had class by the river and I ate a lot of ice cream.
On our final evening of class we watched a play entirely in Irish – there were subtitles on a screen to the side – which seemed like a fitting way to conclude out trip. After that we all went our separate ways.

Altogether it was a really great trip, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I came home with considerably more books than I left with, a notebook nearly full with notes and thoughts and poems, a camera full of pictures, and memories to last a lifetime.
It had only been a couple weeks of the trip in total, but it felt like so much longer. Still, it didn’t seem long enough. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Thanks for reading, hope your summers have been great as well. I’ve got a final video here for you from Galway. I have more footage, but that will have to find another purpose.
Best wishes,
Alex

Royal Baby and Finals

It seems surreal that this week marks my final week in London. This past week was spent preparing for finals, being sick, and taking a weekend trip to Ireland. Ireland was absolutely gorgeous and I am looking forward to going back there sometime soon. While in Ireland, everybody kept checking their phones to see if the royal baby had been born. Luckily, the baby decided to wait for us to get back into London.
I was in my apartment studying with some friends when all of a sudden, somebody announced that Kate had a baby boy. Almost immediately, my friend Kimberly and I made our way over to Buckingham Palace to see the official announcement. There was a massive crowd of tourists, locals, and media outlets there to celebrate the birth. Kimberly and I waited through a long, warm line of people to see the announcement. Unfortunately, the text was very small, so we couldn’t see much. However, being in the atmosphere was absolutely incredible. Everybody seemed to be celebrating. Even some of the landmarks showed blue lights to honor the new baby. The night ended with getting caught in a thunder and rain storm. Overall, my last week is starting to look incredible!

Colleen

The Catacombs and Tour de France

Saturday was probably the strangest day culturally that I’ve had so far here. It’s about 90 degrees, and there were no plans for the morning, so what do my friends and I decide to do? Go see dead people. Yeah, it’s probably not the most traditional “French-y” experience, but the Catacombs were probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen here yet. I picked up one of those fancy audio guides, and learned a ton of really neat things about French history that were…. less than traditional. Also, when my friend and I were down there looking at all of the skeletons, this random French guy pulled me aside to make sure that I was doing okay with “l’air de mort” or the air of death. I reassured him that I was fine, and then he told me a really wickedly creepy, but totally awesome, story about how people used to hold candle light concerts in the Catacombs and other things that happened. It was kind of strange, but I got to hear something new, plus I had the whole conversation in French! Hooray! After the Catacombs I went and saw the movie called Pour une Femme (all in French) with another friend, and we actually understood most of it! We also ate sushi… Which was delicious, though probably not too French. I figure that I’m here for long enough to eat non-French food too 😀
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Today was the Tour de France (that huge bike race that goes on every year, for those of you who don’t know). I had a rather lazy day, then headed down to the Champs-Élysées to watch the bikers come into Paris for the final stretch of the race. Everyone was so excited and happy, and it was a really neat experience.
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Tomorrow class begins again, which is good, although I am quite tired. Unfortunately, at the end of this week, several people from my program are leaving. Only about half of us stay for the full 7 weeks, and others only get to stay for 5. I’ll miss them terribly, but we’ve all decided to keep in touch, which is good. Anyway, I’m just rambling now so I shall leave this post at that, and simply say bonne nuit!

Kendra

Who Are Whe?!

Alright, let’s talk about the Amazon. It was soooo green! Like after making everything else, the earth still had to fit in half the quota of the plants and animals somewhere, so it all just squished into a narrow, tropical strip around the equator. I saw spiders the size of my palm, puzzled over the forms of new flowers, and gorged myself on every stage of the cacao fruit up to delicious handmade chocolate. In less than four days, it became clear that I am going to live in the rainforest someday.
My group toured in and around the city of Tena, Ecuador as part of the cultural component of the program. We hiked across gushing Amazonian rivers, through jungle mud that sunk like quicksand, and learned about the medicinal properties of plants used by the indigenous tribes along the way.
One interesting cultural experience was when we went to an Amazonian Quichwa Tribe, Shiripuno, that has preserved a traditional way of living. After watching the women of the tribe perform their dance, we joined in the indigenous dance along with a random group of French people! The women didn’t give us instructions or anything, they just showed us how and away we went.
On the second day, we also happened to feed some monkeys, before hitching a ride in the canoes. Motor canoeing in tropical rivers is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE MODE OF TRANSPORTATION! Even so, I was more than happy to jump in and swim for a bit before we arrived at the Animal Rescue Center. It was like a zoo, because we saw a lot of larger animals at the rescue center that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. But the cool part is that the animals that arrive at the center only stay until they can be released back into the national park.
I’m really grateful for our knowledgeable tour guide, incredibly friendly driver, and steadfast teacher who all worked so hard to make the experience as amazing as possible!

Alora

Dragon Attack on Shop Street!

I will never forget what happened last night for as long as I live. Seriously.

A few people and I went to the first official event of the Galway Arts Festival- a street parade featuring Sarruga’s Incredible Dragons. When we got to Shop Street, we waited for about 20-ish minutes for the dragons to reach us. While we were waiting and eating gelato, we watched a street performer giving a show to a big crowd of people. Although, I guess I should say “tried to watch”, since none of us could actually see over the crowd. I noticed a pole about 4 feet tall close to me, so I grabbed two of my friends’ shoulders and hoisted myself up on the pole so that I could see what the street performer was doing. After a few minutes of me watching and telling everyone what was happening, he finished his act and the crowd applauded and then dispersed. I stayed on the pole, mostly because I didn’t know how to get off without seriously injuring myself. Suddenly, we heard the roars of the dragons, getting ever closer to us. Once we saw them, I honestly was a little frightened. They were really well designed and actually quite lifelike. They were also pretty big—maybe two cars width. I stayed balancing on the pole so that I could take pictures and videos of the dragons, since they would come really close to me. One of my friends warned me that they might try to touch me, since I was twice as high as everyone else and I would be so close to them, but I honestly didn’t think they would bother. Well, I WAS WRONG. The first dragon came by without incident. After it passed, I turned around and saw the second one roaring in the face of a little girl. I should have realized this was a bad sign, but of course I stayed balancing on the pole, thinking I was so macho for having the best view on all of Shop Street. I was taking a video of the second one making its way towards us and I got a great shot of its head going right by me. Thinking it had already passed, I looked away for just a second… and then BOOM. THE DRAGON STARTED EATING ME. I mean, not like poking me, or like, hitting me, but seriously chomping up and down around my body. Needless to say I was caught completely off guard, but I’m proud to report that I stayed balanced on the pole for the entire attack. He ate my head and my arm, but I stayed steady on the pole, half laughing and half yelling over the roars coming from the speakers in the beast’s throat. All I could see were the glowing yellow eyes, big teeth (I have scratches on my right shoulder), a long red tongue, and flashes of bright lights coming from people’s cameras. Finally the monster seemed to decide he had had enough of me, so he moved on, leaving everyone who had seen what happened practically crying from laughing so hard. I jumped off the pole and tried to get my composure back, but boy, was that difficult. A mechanical dragon had just attacked me! I mean, how ridiculous is that?! I managed to keep the video shooting during the whole attack, so right when the dragon took its first bite, the video seemed like it could actually be from some horror movie, since you can hear me screaming, the dragon roaring and growling, and people laughing. Okay, I guess the laughing part wouldn’t be in a horror movie…

A couple of other people got videos too (well, who knows exactly how many people got videos of it?), so there is legitimate evidence of the attack, in case you’re thinking I made this up. But I swear—it happened! I just hope that feisty green dragon doesn’t try to eat any more innocent study abroad students…

Alex

Alex