Monday, July 28, 2008

final thoughts...

So here I am, at the end of my stay in Strasbourg. I have a sunburned left foot, sunburned shoulders, and some beautiful photos to show for it. I got here yesterday at around 2. Checked into my hostel, which is badass, and took a walk around the city. Found my way to the city center, crossing over bridge after bridge over the river, and found the center. The cathedral was massive – extreme example of gothic architecture. Then I walked my way down the waterfront. Found “Petite France” which is the old city, very quaint and cute. The architecture here is so strongly influenced by Germany. It’s quite a change from Tours, which is SOOOO French. I’ve also heard more German than I ever have in my entire life. ENTIRE life. Some of the signs are in German and French too, it’s crazy. So I got myself a sandwich late that night, went to bed early, and called it a day. After several nights of not sleeping very much, it felt good to be in bed. OH! I forgot that I had reserved a private room. Which cost a bit more but was all they had available here. I saw why when at least three or four tour groups of German/English teenagers came in here. It’s been all right except for the 400 euros I paid to the landlord. But whatever, it’s my vacation.
So that was the first night. Today I went and saw the inside of the cathedral – which was insanely gorgeous. So very gothic, so very detailed, the stained glass windows were beautiful. So was the organ. And the Astronomical Clock! Oh goodness. I made an offering, said a prayer for those I loved, and then made my way down to the boat landing. (I’m having trouble writing certain words here, been in France too long) I took an hour and ten minute long boat ride around the city. Saw a lot of the sites, including the buildings of the European Parliament, quite the contrast against the old fashioned buildings… quite swanky. Then I took a walk around the city some more, got some lunch, and headed towards a museum that displays the art of the cathedral. It had a special exhibition going on showcasing the art in the Alsace area and more specifically Strasbourg around 1400. Quite cool, quite cool. Took another walk around the city, stopped and sat on a bench on the river for a while, and then grabbed some dinner. Came back to the hostel, repacked, and I’m ready to head off to Bruges tomorrow, which is about an all day trip. No biggie, I’ve got three nights there. Early train the last day for Amsterdam. But until then, I’m in the land of beer and fries and chocolate. Oh! And Diamonds, apparently they do a lot of diamonds there. I’m planning on going to that museum!

So I have just arrived in Amsterdam, the hostel is nice and I had a Thai meal, which was a bit more than I have been spending on food lately but it was sooooo good. So, now to put in my two cents on Bruges.
I loved Belgium. Really did. I arrived there at around 9:30 on Wednesday night, got dropped off at my hostel by a very nice taxi driver, checked in, tossed my bags up the super scary spiral staircase into my tiny room/sweet locker for my big bag. Then I popped back downstairs because… the downstairs of the hostel was a bar! Well, at night it was, during the day it was a free breakfast buffet for guests/hangout/game spot. So I went down, had a beer, and then started chatting with a local, who gave me some tips on where to visit, what to do, and his opinion on the Belgian culture. That was a cool thing about the bar in our hostel – because it had the best deals on beer, we had locals and the hostel guests going there, so you really met a wide range of people. I went to bed early, and got up fairly early the next day. Took a shower, ate some breakfast, and headed out. First thing about Bruges – it’s all these medieval buildings that have been conserved extremely well. I was shocked. It’s all castles and fairy tale lookin’ things… it was adorable. I was also in heaven because, as my family well knows, I LOVE turrets on buildings, I want to have a turret on my house. Don’t know why, but I do. TURRETS WERE EVERYWHERE! So I wandered my way around, saw the beautiful old cute tiny city with the canals, and somehow landed at the Groeninge museum – which has TONS of Flemish artwork. Oh, I forgot to include the detail that all Bruges city public museums cost… ONE EURO if you’re under 26. Amazing. So I went in, spent a good hour or so there, because the art was really spectacular – a lot of religious art that was similar to some of the French art I studied at MHC, and some crazy twists on the themes of the artwork. Then I wandered up the canal a bit to find the Gruuthuse museum, which has a lot of old Belgian/Flemish/Bruges cultural items in there, to learn a little bit about the history of the city, the people, and of course the culture. With that, I got into the Our Lady Virgin chapel, which has one of the very few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy. It was a beautiful sculpture of the Virgin and the baby Jesus, and the cathedral itself was also beautiful. Then I stumbled on the diamond museum, which I had wanted to go to anyways, so I figured I’d stop in. Not as exciting as the other three I went to, BUT it did show me how diamonds were made and how to best judge diamonds, and explained how both Bruges and Antwerp were big diamond/merchant cities. Then I stopped for some fries (I’m in Belgium people – it totally counts as lunch) and on my way to the little fry hut I found the brewery I had wanted to tour (it was weird, I literally fell on every site I wanted to see, without even really looking at the map). So I ate my fries and got a ticket to see the inside of the only remaining brewery in Bruges (there used to be between 30 and 35). Its still family owned, and has won the world beer cup in California two years running. Congrats Haalf Moon brewery. I wound up going with the French section on the tour, because there were about 12 of us, and about 8 million English speakers. We were then given a free beer at their bar, and I sat down with these older French people and had a nice chat before returning to my hostel, where I found three guys from Singapore who had stayed in my room the night before. I sat down with them in the bar (ordered a coke, after the beer at the brewery I figured I’d had enough, considering it was before 4 in the afternoon) and talked with them for a while. They’ve had some crazy travel adventures. Then this lovely Australian girl named Ziggy sat down next to us, and we got to talking. She then “adopted” me as her travel buddy, which was absolutely wonderful. I went off to get dinner, came back and met her, joined her for a beer and a game of scrabble in the bar later. Another local who wanted to practice his English joined us in our game, and a nice guy from Kent, England named Jay, who was also traveling alone. Turns out the two of them were coming to Amsterdam too. So there you have it… we are now a traveling crew of three J Oh and I won scrabble. The next day, Ziggy and I went to Gent, to see another town and to check out their medieval castle, complete with extremely graphic torture museum. We headed back to Bruges to see the new movie with Colin Farrell in it, called… “In Bruges”. We felt we really HAD to see the movie. It was required. So we saw it in this old theater (literally, a theater) and quite liked it. It was cool because we had just done our sightseeing of Bruges, and we could see all those sites in the movie! Then it was back to the hostel to pack and get ready to travel today. I got up early, got the bus, took the train, and landed here in Amsterdam. Ziggy and Jay will be arriving shortly, and I think we will begin our sightseeing tomorrow.

So, when I arrived in Amsterdam, it was ridiculously hot and hazy and insane. I was sweating buckets. Took a walk around, took me a lot longer to find my hostel than I thought, and then I went and got my first Thai food in a long time. Was amazing… Ziggy arrived, and we went out for a night on the town. Wound up at a bar which was manned by two crazy old ladies, somehow we stayed out til 5am, we still don’t quite know how. The next day, we went to the Anne Frank house – the weather was much different, rainy and cold and grey. After the Anne Frank house we spent the afternoon at a café eating cookies and drinking tea, while playing various card games and hangman. Went out for Indian, called it a night. The next day, we went with a friend of ours from Bruges named Zoe to the torture museum and to an art gallery called foam, and we had bagel sandwiches for lunch! Then ziggy and I headed to the Van Gogh museum, which was quite wonderful as far as museums go. Then it was still rainy and crappy, so we decided to see a movie, we saw Iron Man. Not a bad flick. Then Italian dinner… then bedtime. The next day, which was yesterday, we went to the… DOCTORS! Because Hilary “I can’t eat fresh fruit” Park decided to try a freshly made mango juice, and broke out in hives. Must say, it’s quite a sexy look when you’re traveling and taking off jackets in airports – people must think I have leprosy or something. And then we took a walk around the flower market, hung out at my hostel, took it easy for the day.

The funny thing about Amsterdam is that there are parts that are so stereotypically Amsterdam – all cute and quaint with little canals and cute old buildings, and then you have the main streets which reminded me a bit of Vegas with the casinos and the lights and the flashing and the amount of people. I liked Amsterdam well enough – I really did. I had a good time and it was fun to see the sights and be naughty and walk around the Red Light district, but I’m not sure if it’s someplace I feel I HAVE to go back and see. I’d willingly go back to Belgium, check out Antwerp and Brussels, and of course I’d go back to France (there’s so much left there that I want to do). Maybe I can try another city in Holland, one that’s not quite so reputable and see if I enjoy it more. I realize this Amsterdam update is shorter than the others – but I’m not feeling overly inspired. This could be due to the fact that I had an awful experience leaving this morning – my hostel is divided into separate buildings, and I was staying in one that wasn’t attached to the main desk. The building that is attached is supposed to open at 6am. I get down there at 645, and there’s nobody. Ring the bell three times, wait until 715, and leave. They have my luggage, I have my key. I wrote them a SCATHING e-mail explaining that if they are under video surveillance like they claim to be, then they can watch and see that I was there, and whoever was supposed to be working, wasn’t. Then the airport – was just insanity. I waited in this long line to do a self check-in to get my boarding passes, but still had to go check my bags at a desk. There was no line system, it was literally like corralling sheep. I hated it. And I was already cranky due to the experience in the hostel this morning.

So here I am, waiting to get to Boston from Dublin (love this airport – and the Irish people, so friendly!) final thoughts on this whole thing? And I mean whole as in starting September 20, 2007, when I arrived in Paris and met Katie to go to this city called Tours, where I’d spend nine months of my life getting to know some of the most amazing people and coming face to face with some incredible situations. Simone once asked me “Did you ever, ever in your life think that you’d be spending Easter of 2008 in the house of a guy from La Réunion, celebrating in the Italian fashion, with Italians and French people?” I looked him straight in the face and said no, but that I saw no problem with it.

I don’t think I ever would have imagined myself being where I am today. Ever. I would have never imagined myself as the type of girl to run off to France, get a job, move in with a stranger, and basically put myself into as many awkward and complicated situations as possible. I never thought I was the type of person who would have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and REALLY meet them, get to know them, be friends with them, visit them, create a real friendship with them. I never thought I would go back to teaching. Nor did I think I would ever deal with this age group (because honestly, from age 5-15 I can do without ). But I was here, I taught my kids, I tested them, I graded them. I was here, I reached out, met new people, and fell in love with them. And the whole time I was here it was one turn after another, one moment after another, none of them the same, none of them really predictable.

I said it before, I’ll say it again. This trip has made me reach into myself and find parts of myself that I never knew existed. I reacted in ways I never thought possible to situations I always thought I’d be prepared for.

But I grew. I grew so much. I taught, tested, and graded my kids, and all the while I was running up against some of the biggest, best, and scariest lessons I had dealt with in my life. And I’m a greater person for it.

I know I’ve changed, I’ve shifted some. But it feels good. It feels more… me.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ohhhh june

this has been the week of good-byes.
four people in seven days. it's been rough. i cried at the departure of franck. the boy from la reunion (see him being insane on right) on wednesday night. it's hard to imagine him being literally on the other side of the world over the summer, when he was just living on the other side of the city center from me for 9 months. so i stood in his doorway holding back tears for about 10-15 minutes (i had to leave early due to the teaching commitment the next morning). one of the hardest good-byes i've ever had to say. franck, if you're reading this - i'm going to miss you like crazy. it's strange to meet people you grow to love so much, and leave them, not knowing when you're going to see them again. and it's not like it was in college, where you think "oh, she'll be in ny, i'll be in vt, we'll see each other". this guy, for example, lives between madagascar and india on a small island in the indian ocean. that's really, really far away. but, he'll be back in france during the school year, and maybe i can convince him and the others to come for a visit in april. or, if i save some money, i could come back and do a europe tour of my own, visiting the frenchies and the italians, as a sort of reunion.
anyways. after franck left on thursday, maria left friday, barbara on saturday, and simo left today. it was day after day after day of good-byes. thursday night, we got together at maria and simo's for one last all together good-bye drink some absinthe (i'm not sure how i feel about absinthe yet... the flavor is soooo pungent) take photos, and partake in ridiculousness as per usual. the night ended in mass hugs, as we all realized how different our lives are going to be after we leave this little utopia (yes, i'm saying utopia... be shocked) to which we've become so accustomed. see image at left for mass italy/USA hug. last night when we got together to grab a beer with simo before he headed back to italia, we realized what a small group we have now, and how empty it feels. the voids, the voids are definitely there. it's bizarre to think the italians are back in italy, and i'm not going near them, i'm headed across the atlantic.
last night we said good-bye to simo, which was tough. i never want to stop hugging these people when i say good-bye to them. it doesn't help that they're all so wonderful and saying such wonderful things. the friendship there is so genuine. as simone said last night "you are my family." which is so true. here, in this strange experience far from home, my family became this strange mix of people, coming from all over the world. and now my family is starting to scatter, and the roots that i put down are starting to get torn up (this entire trip has been about rattling my cage huh?). so that's starting to hit. it's such a bittersweet feeling. i am so happy to have met these people, so happy to have shared memories with them and shared moments and created these friendships, some of which i feel have been there for years. and it's so sad to leave them, to have them not be a part of my daily life, to not have them a phone call away to grab a drink, or stop by their apartments on my way home from work to vent about my children and their antics.
oh there's an ache in my heart again, and it's not for home. because now, i know i'm going home. it's just a few weeks around the corner. but my family, my international, crazy, adventurous, caring, loving, beautiful family is spreading out, and who knows when i'll see them again.

i love you all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

ohhh la vache

my desire to go home grows every day.
despite the fact that i love the people here very much, i love my apartment, and school is honestly going smoothly
i find myself yearning for my girls, my family, my dog, and all familiar things.
my itunes is on shuffle, and there's christmas music on there. i can't listen to christmas music when it's not christmas time to begin with, but when the music from the charlie brown christmas comes on, my heart HURTS. i was talking with a friend online just now, and meant to write the word "him" and i wrote "home" right as the alternate take of greensleves from charlie brown christmas came on.
it's almost bad enough that i want to change my flight.
almost. i should travel some, i really should. so i will.

i've just never stopped feeling like a stranger. which is not odd - i am a stranger here. i am an american girl living in france. but i've never felt fully welcomed. my schools have done a somewhat decent job. some of the teachers much more than others. my friends, yes they were welcoming, but the majority of them came from somewhere other than france, and i think we bonded over being strangers in this land.
as i said before - i've never had an experience where i have felt so strongly about so many things. which is good - it rattled my cage, changed me as a person, and helped me grow. but i'm ready to relax, to let down my guard, to not feel the need to always defend my people or my country or even myself. to get hugs and not bisous. to make casserole in an oven and not on the stove top. to watch tv with commercials in the middle. to see a baseball game. to drink a long trail beer. to laugh and be loud and have it be okay. to be respected. to not feel an ache almost every day when i get those lovely reminders that i don't quite fit here.

but enough with the sadness - three more weeks of teaching then i'm out of here and back stateside july 9. yesssss

Friday, June 6, 2008

so close.........

so it's now june 6th. things here in france are going alright... not too much to report. people are slowly starting to leave, this upcoming week is going to be the worst. franck wednesday, maria friday, barbara saturday, simone sunday. yikes!
i've got three more weeks of teaching left. which is great. then a quick trip to various destinations... then home to vt on july 9.

in august, i move into a close friend's apartment with her in brookline. i'm excited for that. still looking for jobs.

i'm mentally done with my job, which is not helpful. i'm enjoying the time left here with everyone that i've grown to love...

i hosted two girls from quebec last weekend, they are members of as well. they were sweet, just finished their studies in journalism.

there was a free maroon 5 concert last night, simo, emilie, franck, elise and i went. i've included some pictures here.

i'll do a longer post later on kiddos...

gros bisous.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

oh lesson plans, i don't want to do them

so i'm finding everything else to do. i also have to correct and insane amount of tests.
however, it feels later in the day than it actually is. this is because i woke up at 645 this morning to say good bye to bryan, send him off at the train station with the italians, frenchies, and his yeminite roommate. so yes, another american has left. and here we are.
i've recently discovered that the test i thought i HAD to give was OPTIONAL. so i did it with one class, and my other classes will be doing other things instead. i don't want to correct those tests, so i'm not. i'm posting to my blog.

hmmmm what to say? well let's see.

i have found a place to live, i'll be in brookline with ms. underdahl. MHC reunion time what?
so that's good. i've seen the apartment, i know it's big and nice and it has a porch, she's got a kitty cat, and i'll have my own room :)

i'm working on planning out my trip at the end of the year. i've been sending out requests to couchsurf with people. however, i'm getting back a lot of "sorry we're already hosting" responses. which is making me sad. couchsurfing, for those of you who don't know - is a program that people sign onto, where they agree to host people in their apartments, on their couches or in spare bedrooms, and in exchange they are hosted by others. it's cheaper than a hostel, and nice when you're traveling alone because you've got someone there who knows the place, speaks the language, and can point you in the direction you want to go. it's safe, verified, funded, blah blah. but, if i don't have places ironed out by the end of this week or next week, i'm gonna have to go the hostel route. which is worrisome too because it's so close to when i'll be traveling. i may have to make some changes to my itinerary. oh well. we shall see.

we went out for a brazilian dinner last night in honor of bryan - ohhhhhh my goodness the food was AMAZING. meat grilled and barbequed and just wonderfulness. side dishes that were incredible, great company, live music, dancing, brightly colored walls, it was fantastic.

of course - we were all sad at bryan's departure, it's the time of year where everyone is leaving. whitney, bryan, domenica, alyson, jen, all the other american assistants, it's getting crazy over here. i may lose my mind!

but, on that note. i may go make myself useful and do something related to school for tomorrow.

it's only 130 but it feels like 400 to me cause i've been up for HOURS!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

oh me oh my

so people have already left - and now some of the last of the americans are heading out. whitney on tuesday, bryan a week after. eleni's back in cyprus. oh it's overwhelming.
there is a sadness in the air - despite the sunshine and the girls' night we had last night and the time being spent with friends. this could be a combination of having to work the full week next week for the first time in a while, the test i need to administer to my CM2 classes that i did not create, and the departure of two of my closest friends here.
hm. full work week - the week before the two week vacation in april - classes were cancelled. upon my return from break in april - one of my classes didn't meet for two weeks. then we had a 6 day weekend. i return back from said weekend to find out that thursday is a strike so my schools are closed. this upcoming week is the first time i have seen some of my monday/thursday classes in FIVE WEEKS. this is insane.
the exam. was created by the conseilleurs pedagogiques, and is standardized throughout the department. this is not fair. my kids learned what i taught them, how i taught them. i was going to give them a fair test that would be a fair assessment of what we did during the school year. if you want to give a standardized test - give a better curriculum. the current one was pages and pages of information we could teach - it was up to us to sift through it. even when we taught the same thing - we taught different lists of vocab. did different types of exercises. and now this 8 page bullshit test. but, it will get done. it will. there is an oral part where i need to talk to them one on one. my smallest class of CM2s is 24 students. that will take forever and a day if i do what they want. so we're changing it. i've already changed a lot of things on that test. j'ai rien a branler... to be quite vulgar about it.
and of course - the departure of two of my closest friends here. alyson, jen, and tim are gone. that's sad. i had bryan and whit to turn to. whit's leaving in less than 72 hours. bryan a week after that. this is not okay.
so the combination of those three things are creating quite a knot in my stomach and chest and throat.

at least the sun is shining a little.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ohh so many thoughts

and here we go!
so steph and i headed to nice for our five day weekend, and met up with whitney on her way back from spain. steph and i arrived in nice around 5pm, went to the hostel, saw the mess on the floor and determined we were rooming with some stinky boys. turns out they were three guys from toronto - and the mess in the bathroom (the shower looked as though someone had tried to pot a plant in it) was a result of the guy who was there the night before. steph and i headed down to the beach. the beach here is all rocks - but still absolutely gorgeous. on the way down, we saw a guy playing the piano on the street. street performing piano! he was incredible. but seriously - trained pianist. he was promoting his upcoming show, we missed it. in either case - we got our own show. steph and i found an american themed restaurant - apparently here they think that barbeque means... CURRY! the wings were seasoned with curry, the kebabs were seasoned with curry... but they made the only decent margarita i've found in france. we went out on the "espace messena" which has these light up colored men - who change colors. they're sitting up on statues. they were part of an open-air art exhibit that the tram goes under/through. it was pretty cool. whit arrived late, sleep deprived, and giggly. so we went to bed.
the next day - we slept til 130. by accident! so did the toronto boys... whoops! the shower still wasn't working. we got dressed, left the hostel, went down the street, ate some food, and went to the beach. we noticed the lax lifestyle there - nothing seemed rushed, or pressing. it was awesome. AND WARM. and sunny. we wandered around the ocean front, found the old city, and our first taste of gelato there, though it was not the best. the best one we found the night after. the old city was cool, it was like our place plum but larger, more open, and more inviting. it was bad ass. we found some sandals for me, then took a seat on a park bench for a bit. we saw the HAPPIEST dog in the world - he wouldn't stop rolling around in the grass and running everywhere. we made our way back down to the old city for dinner, had an extremely yummy dinner - raviolis, eggplant, wine, fish, chocolate. ohhhh it was amazing.
so friday, we got up early. headed to MONACO. holy money. it was amazing. beautiful and rich and i want to retire there. the bus ride over was packed, but it was worth it. we hiked up a steep hill to the castle, ate some crepes, and then walked around the part of monaco near the cathedral and oceanography museum. the cathedral was gorgeous - the inside was covered with mosaics, not paintings. it was amazing. everything was beautiful, it was unbelievable. i'm sure with that much money they can afford all those beautiful buildings and stones and cars and to take care of everything else.... i was speechless. i was also speechless when we made our way down to the harbor, and i saw all the yachts. HOLY LORD THERE WERE BOATS IN BOATS. i was stunned. we of course went up to monte carlo - didn't go in the museum but checked it out. i saw the car i want - it's a maserati. yep. so we made our way back to nice, whitney's sandal broke, i got a pink sweatshirt, and we went out for dinner. whit got her gnocchi, finally. then we decided to go see a movie "jackpot". it's an american film but we saw it dubbed in french. not half bad. it was an awesome day. this vacation was just what i needed.
the next day - steph wanted to check out the cezanne museum. whit and i went to antibes to go to a sandy beach. it was absolutely gorgeous. it was a perfect lazy beach day. there were wind surfers in the morning, and the ever so famous topless ladies all over the place in the afternoon. i have discovered that spf 12 is a magical spf. whit and i came back around the same time as steph, went out for a yummy last night dinner, and a yummy last night gelato. it was a happy happy thing.
so we came back here sunday, that took all day. sunday night we caught up on grey's anatomy, and we hung out with the italians and frenchies and bryan.
i spent monday cleaning out my garden. looks a lot better. hung out with a kitty cat while i was doing it. we went to the fair monday night - it was kind of like a US fair, whitney and i played air hockey. yeah. it was fun times. we also got cotton candy.
yesterday was the only day i work this week - what with the strikes going on. one of my schools is actually CLOSED on thursday. my teacher said she wanted me to protest with them, she said i should be in at least one protest in my life. i'm like thanks, i'll protest for my own country when i do.
what else... what else...
alyson moved out while i was gone. its strange being here without her, i miss her.
i think something else that i miss is human contact. here they do their bisous, but there is a serious lack of hugging. the italians hug and put arms around everyone, and so do the americans. but there isn't as much hugging as i'd like. imma start giving out more hugs. yep. that's the plan. alright. i'm out.

links to the nice pictures:

part 1

part 2