These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
If there is one thing I suggest to my fellow travel-enthustiasts out there it is to explore the art of the city you are in as much as possible. Of course I am spoiled here in Florence which is quite literally the birthplace of the Renassaince movement housing works like Donatello's Marzocco, Brunelleschi's architecture with the Duomo, Masaccio's work in the Brancacci Chapel and, of course, the statue that destroyed my emotions, Michelangelo's David. Now I wouldn't necessarily consider myself someone who is easily brought to tears by art (animal movies are something else entirely. Homeward Bound? I cried forever.) but as soon as I turned the corner of the Accademia Museum and saw David illuminated at the end of the hallway all the moisture in my body tried to escape through my eyes. I managed to keep myself composed while I decended towards him, not even glancing at the six unfinished Michelangelo statues on either side of me, until I was finally face-to-podium with this very symbol of the Renassaince. It is pretty overwelming as I, a mere 5'6", stared up at this 17 foot sculpture.
You can take a lot away from art, even if you do not know much about the artist or work. David, for instance, I only knew a bit about. Michelangelo is the artist, David is from the bible story of David and Goliath, and sculpture was Michelangelo’s favorite medium. But even if Michelangelo was not one of my favorite artists, and I was not aware of the celebrity-like status of this sculpture, I am pretty sure I would still have experienced an overpowering feeling of comfort. David is not only vast because of his size, but also because of his perfection. Even though his hands and head are disproportionate to his body, I find myself going to the Accademia Museum when I have an hour or two of free time and just sitting in front of the him because of how peaceful it makes me feel.
America does house a lot of beautiful works of art and I try to take advantage of that when I can by visiting local museums, but you cannot ignore the history that unfolded on these European lands both in art, culture, and politics. Not to say that art found in America is inferior, but there is just something so surreal about looking up at the David, in the birthplace of Michelangelo, which is a block from my apartment. I am a lucky girl.
After enduring the theft of my iPhone in Lyon I decided that it may be a good time to take a break from hostel living. As mentioned before I was able to contact a family living in southwest France through the HelpX program. They agreed to house and feed me so long as I return the favor with work on their farm. Seems like a very fair agreement to me. After spending my three days exploring Toulouse my hosts were ready for me to come to their hobby farm east of Gondrin.
As I board the high-speed train in Toulouse I am filled with anxious excitement. I’m not sure exactly how the next couple weeks will go, but I am sure that they will be eventful. The train arrives in the city of Agen after an hour passes. I need to find a bus to Condom, so I walk to the ticket counter and ask when the next one arrives. The slightly rude man behind the counter informs me that the next one comes 9:15. Good, 10 minutes to find an ATM for enough cash. Walking down the street I ask a local where the nearest machine is and then head in that direction. There is a line at the ATM when I get there, so by the time I have some cash I only have a few minutes before the bus arrives. Running back to the station I get there right as the bus arrives. I walk up the steps and show the driver a piece of paper where I have written ‘Condom?’ to which he nods his head and I pay for my ticket. The bus is almost empty as I take my seat and it leaves the station.
The scenery on the way just keeps getting more beautiful. We pass rolling hills with vineyards that look like tiny, desolate forests covering the ground. I can not wait to see where this farmhouse is located. I arrive in Condom around 10:00. In the emails previously exchanged with Deborah we agreed on a 3:00 pm pickup, so I have five hours to kill. I leave the station and walk up the small hill towards the city center. I pass a cathedral on my right that seems to have a statue of conquistadors out front which I find odd. Finding a small sports cafe I walk in and order a cafe latte. I have five hours to spend here, so I find a booth, read my book, and sip coffee. After three coffees and one book finished it is time to walk back to the station to meet one of my hosts, Debs.
Debs arrives and tells me that because her car is broken from overheating she walked from where she works in town to meet me. I can fix that for her and I already feel useful. She says that she is glad to have a mechanic coming to stay at their house with them.
We walk back to her place of work together. As we walk we pass more small shops underneath housing flats. The shops are nice, and I stop in one to buy a gingerbread and raspberry sweet. The mixture of gingerbread and raspberry filling is absolutely delicious.
When we arrive at her work we meet up with one of her colleagues who will give us a ride to the house. He is a nice guy, and we all pile into his old Land Rover Discovery for the trip. It takes nearly 30 minutes to get out to the farmhouse from Condom. Traveling on single lane, dirt roads covered in ice and snow, it reminds me of driving out to my family’s cabin up north. I get a pang of homesickness, and then it is gone, replaced instead with excitement.
As the Land Rover pulls up to the house I am greeted by a quartet of barks and howls from the four excited dogs, eager to find out just who has arrived at their home. Being sure to pet all of them, they return the love and I’m sure they will welcome the addition to the household. The household itself is absolutely beautiful. A few hundred years old, it is built from sandstone blocks and wooden beams. It is situated next to a natural outcrop of sandstone in the hill and is high enough to have a lovely view of the surrounding area of French countryside. Absolutely breath-taking.
I walk inside the chateau and greet the other three help exchange participants. Justin and Katie are both from Canada, and Ben is from England but has spent a great amount of time in Catalonia, (Catalunya in Catalonian). They are all very interesting people and I look forward to getting to know them during my stay here.
After getting to know each other for awhile it is now time for dinner. Keith turns out to be a fantastic cook. Dinner is beef cooked with parsnips, carrots cooked in basil, delicious steamed cauliflower, and red wine. Derek arrives some time after the meal is finished and is able to retell his story about driving back from Toulouse and getting lost. Soon after that Debs and Keith go to sleep and the rest of us stay awake much longer sharing our interests and backgrounds.
The next morning I find myself waking up at 8 am without an alarm to the morning sun, which is unusual for me. My first job is fixing their little Hyundai 4X4. I gather some tools and take a look. I see the signs of a mistake that I made returning to MN from AZ when I neglected to make sure my coolant was good for very cold weather. Debs told me that her truck overheated. The weather has been unusually cold here. The coolant mix was too weak and the lower half of the radiator is almost frozen solid. Luckily, it is a gel still so it had not broken the radiator or anything else. I thaw it, flush and replace the coolant. Her little truck just barely escaped disaster. I feel like a part of the group now that I have added something to the maintenance of the farm.
Work for the day ends around 4:00 in the afternoon. We all wander into the house and clean up for a bit, then head back outside to play some Frisbee in the nearby field. The dogs come with and are extremely excited to maybe, just maybe, get ahold of that Frisbee. When we get out there I find out that Katie actually plays Frisbee for a team back home and she spends some time teaching us all of these different throws we can do. I never knew that Frisbee could be taken that seriously. When we are all tired out, including the dogs, we walk towards one of the taller hills nearby to get some beautiful photographs of the surrounding area. Then we make our way back down the hill because it is nearly time for supper.
Dinner is delicious. We have mashed potatoes, Swiss chard with onions, and oven cooked fish. It is one of the best I have ever had. I drink some red wine with the meal and eat as much as I can until my stomach tells me it will burst if I eat just one more bite. We spend the next couple of hours telling and listening to stories from each other. Derek is working as a forest firefighter back home in Canada, and he tells about a time when one of his colleagues got food poisoning from their terrible cook and how angry his friend was that he had to rest instead of cutting down trees. Ben is very much a philosophical man and is also a fantastic cook. He prefers to sit back and listen to the conversation from the side and every so often interject something either fascinating or absolutely hilarious. Katie and Justin share some interesting stories as well, and I spend some time telling all of them about small town Minnesota and how it is to live in America.
Soon after I am near dozing off, so it is definitely time for bed. I fold out my sleeping quarters from the couch in the living room and cozy up inside the comforter. As I drift off into dream land I realize that my previous expectations will prove correct. The time I spend here will surely be amazing and will make memories for me forever.
If you are interested in reading any of my previous stories feel free to look at my WordPress blog.
Also if you want to do this same kind of work exchange program check out HelpX.
Barcelona has all the makings of a fantastic vacation spot. It has sunshine and beaches, the people take PLANNED nap time in the afternoon (I’m allll about that siesta), and the entire city is filled with awesome sculpture, art, and culture. I could rave about Barcelona for years, to be perfectly honest, so I decided to narrow it down to a few things that any Barcelona trip should include (in my opinion). Something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to make Barca your next vacation destination is that there is LOTS of crime, mostly pickpocketing. We really had to learn just not to talk to anybody on the street, because chances are that they were figuring out a sneaky way to grab my purse! This didn’t affect us in any major way, but I don’t think it’s a great family destination; it’s not the most kid-friendly city. For anybody else, though, I’d say to BOOK YOUR TICKET NOW! What are you waiting for!?
1. La Sagrada Famila: This cathedral, still under construction 130 years later, is/was the crowning achievement of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi’s work is found all over the city, but this church is the most spectacular of them all! And the best part: they aren’t even finished with it yet. It’s 100% worth it to pay the fifteen euro to enter (even though it’s a bit steep for the typical student budget)! The outside is amazing, but the massive sandstone columns and gigantic panes of stained glass on the inside make it completely worth it. Walking in with the sound of construction reverberating around you, gazing up at the seemingly sky-high ceiling, and admiring the swoopy curves and designs of stairwells and seating areas is an unforgettable experience. It’s also worth the few extra euro to take the elevator to the top for a great view of Barcelona; don’t forget to stop in the Gaudi museum on the way out to see his grave!
2. Quimet & Quimet: I KNOW I always talk about food, but this place is too good to ignore…in fact we may or may not have gone there every night! There are tapas restaurants littering the streets of Barcelona, and this is hands down one of the best- it’s on a tiny, empty side street and somehow is completely packed every night. Picture this: you squeeze through the crowds into a one-room restaurant, the walls are lined with wine racks and there are small tables dotting the wood floors. You stand at your table, yell out in mangled Spanish to the proprieter to attempt at an order, and two minutes later he produces an absolutely gorgeous tapas with unique ingredients and flavors! Not bad, eh? Our favorites were the langostinos con pequillo (caviar, prawns, and yogurt sauce on a crostini) and another one we couldn’t pronounce that was dried beef with a sweet balsamic sauce and relish. They. Were. Delicious. Make sure to try the tangy house beer, aptly named Quimet & Quimet, prepare for an unbelievable culinary experience: and the tapas are only two-four euro each! Then mail me the meat and cheese platters, and I’ll love you forever.
3. Parc Guell: Aaand we’re back to Gaudi! The man was all over the place, I tell ya. Parc Guell, a massive green space found a bit north of the city, was originally intended to be a private neighborhood that integrated eco-friendly public areas with private homes to create one exclusive community. Unfortunately for them but lucky for us, funding and the high requirements to join led to the downfall of the plan and the opening of the park to the public! A walk through the park will show you surrealist structures that seem to be out of a Dr. Seuss novel, along with leafy trees and a view from the top of the city! The house where Gaudi lived is also inside the park and is worth a walk through just to see the sweet furniture he designed. If you’re lucky, while you are there you will see a police bust of all the gypsies selling trinkets along the side of the path as well as the gypsies fleeing up the side of the mountain with the police in hot pursuit! We did, anyway- I’ve never seen anything like it.
4. The Picasso Museum: If you are a Picasso fan in any regard, this museum will be your heaven. The museum goes through stages of Picasso’s life, even the times when he was not residing in Barcelona. There is a fabulous collection of his paintings, as well as rooms full of his ceramic work that I didn’t even know existed! Beware: this museum is ridiculously hard to find, as it’s on a weird little side street in the very middle of the city, so make sure you have good directions so you don’t spend two hours attemping to find it like we did…
Some of our other favorites: Rosal 34 (a delicious tapas restaurant located near Las Ramblas), Montejuic Park and Castle (a great afternoon activity for a beautiful view of the city), and la Barceloneta (the beach neighborhood on the ocean).
Stay tuned next Tuesday to hear a little more about BERLIN!
I recently had a friend do some research on Nantes. Wikipedia gave some pretty interesting statistics.
"I looked up Nantes' population. Wikipedia says that it was 500,000ish in 2007 and 800,000ish in 2008. Did everyone do it like rabbits in oh-seven or should I assume some mistake somewhere?"
Unclear. But actually the website says it was roughly 280,000 in 2007, and 820,000 in 2008. INSANE population growth in a year.
Whatever could have happened? The counting methods they use probably changed. That is, of course, the boring theory.
To change the topic, I’ve picked up some habits in my exactly four month stay in France.
Habit #1: I walk everywhere. I walk to school at least once a week (45 minutes if I stride like a giraffe and stop for no man, woman or child). There are daily strolls in the garden, to various bars and cafés with friends or just curious meanderings which have a bad habit of turning into frustrated goosechases.
Habit #2: Onomatopoeias galore. One of the things that is so much fun about learning a language in a native country is you pick up all the “filler” words and sounds. I shudder to think about the visitors of the States United picking up “um” “like” “yeah” and “errrr.”
My favorite french sounds. And my best idea as to what they mean.
“Tuk tuk tuk”- when counting something or doing a series of something, like putting dishes in the dishwasher.
“Shlack”- Use when you make a chopping gesture with your hand. Synonym with "Clack."
“Bah” or "Bein"- Doubles as “um” and “well”, an expression of confusion accompanied by the stereotypical expression of bewilderment, which is adorable. Can be inserted into just about any sentence.
Habit #3- So much bread. It wouldn’t be unheard of to read this headline in France. “After a week of bread absentia, half the country succumbs to starvation, the other half not far behind.”
Habit #4- Hot drinks in bowls. Coffee and hot chocolate in particular. To combat the lack of mugs in my life, and my klutzy self, I use mugs for just about everything else. OJ is better in mugs.
I came to France expecting to find most things extraordinarily different and the people quite alien. It's been a pleasant and rather weird experience (to use the french phrase "déjà vu") to see that despite our ocean between us, we aren't so different after all. The importance of family is echoed in Minnesota, as is the growing necessity of public transportation (hello bike paths!).
I will miss Nantes.
Italian Lesson #4: Be Friendly.
This is probably just more of a rule for traveling (or hopefully just life in general), but don't be scared to talk to people on trains or ask locals for directions. Part of the fun in traveling is all the cool people that you meet along the way, you never know who you'll find. The Australians in the picture below with us (at the pizza place) are people that we met when our train broke down. Navigating the Italian train system is quite the bonding experience, and we became fast friends. Traveling in smaller groups is always more conducive to meeting new people, but it can happen anywhere, you just need to be open to it!
Italian Lesson #5: Visit Naples.
But really, if you are in Italy, you should go to Naples. People might try to tell you that it's dirty, and filled only with pickpockets and garbage, and that you're going to get robbed there... At least that's what everyone tried to tell me! We really wanted to go there, and ended up stopping there for an afternoon on our way to Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii. I'm so glad that we stopped in Naples. Maybe it was because I had such low expectations, but I was surprised by how much I liked this city! I wasn't ever nervous about my safety at all, although the drivers there are even crazier than Romans. Just bring a backpack lock just in case, and you'll be fine.
Make sure you try the pizza while you're there. It was unlike anything I've ever had, very different than Chicago deep dish, but so incredibly delicious.That alone was worth the trip!
Naples also has a surprising amount of cool sites you could visit as well. We also went to the National Archaeological Museum, which is where all of the real statues and relics of things found in Pompeii are. Only replicas are displayed in Pompeii since they don't want to risk anymore weather damage to priceless old artifacts.
Italian Lesson #6: When in doubt, go swimming.
I don't care if it's cold, or if you don't like salt water, or if you don't want to ruin your hair or whatever... Whenever you have a chance, go swimming in the sea. My group of friends learned this lesson the hard way off the island of Capri. When else are you going to get a chance to swim through a grotto? I'm so glad I got to go in, the water was beautiful. The people in our group who opted out of swimming are still mad at themselves, so don't miss your chance.
Currently being treated to blaring techno music... it's like being in a conservative, catholic rave.
We are definitely not in Kansas.
Although, I've never been to Kansas. What is it like?
Some Nantes News you may find interesting (I laughed).
Nantes has been chosen as the newest international big fancy shmancy airport city. Great for when I want to come visit all my friends and host family, although there have been some protests. About 3,000 people rode bike (RODE BIKE) to Paris to protest. Endorphins from manifestations (protests) are enough, we need to get a 15 hour bike ride in there.
Their main concern? There will be tractors on the runway. Heads up, it's not that far out in the boonies.
You could conceivably make this argument for Minneapolis as well. I have been asked the following.
-Is it true you have the world's biggest mall full of red necks? (Welcome to Fleet Farm)
-Does everyone wear plaid there? (We started it! #Hipsternation)
-Why do you live there? (Why don't you?)
FOUR French Phrases I Adore
Utopiste: Someone who believes in "utopia," or a paradise on earth.
Apprendre en s'amusant: Learning whilst amusing oneself. Welcome to my gap year!
Autodidacte: Someone who learns for themself, without the help of a teacher.
Bof: B.O.F. (yes this is an acronym). Stands for Beurre Oeuf Fromage. Butter egg cheese. Means redneck.
Now an introduction to the peculiarities of French society...
In France, a mystical country, there exists a language, a Romance language in fact. It is called French. There are between 90-110 MILLION native speakers around the world. It still serves in many cases as the language of diplomacy, despite losing ground to english, as it is much better than english for technical situations. It is much harder to pin dictators, swindlers, and rule breakers down in vague english than in deadly specific french.
Unlike English, which as far as I know is fairly unregimented and roams as free as whatever word you want to create, French is very strict.
There is an Academy, "Académie Française", which decides which words every year are "French" and therefore are permissible for politicians, soccer players, public personas and postal workers to use. And for the rest of us.
Made up of the "immortals" (I kid you not), these ever living (but not) personages are charged with the important task of making up new words to combat other languages encroaching on their verbal territory.
For instance, computer. Ordinateur.
Or Ipad. Tablette tactile.
Anyways, creeping on their internet page, I can only spot two women in their forty seat-table. How disappointing.
Recent drama according to Google involves the Unofficial (I should probably Uncapitalize that) feminization of various professions, as the academy (pardon, The Academy) insists one must use the correct (masculine) noun. In English, we have less of this problem, because so much slang enters our language and gets spat back out. Hence, people not understanding me when I say that I hear there's a dishy thrash round the corner.
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