Tuesday, June 30, 2015

France: Chapter 6 1/2

Having all these experiences here in France has made me realize how much this world has to offer and how much I had been missing out. I have had some inspiration and I am going to create a bucket list before I return home. Many attempts at creating a bucket list in the past have failed. Here's hoping the final four weeks will give me the revelations I need to get one started.

Monday, June 29, 2015

France: Chapter 6

So I got moved into my new apartment/house this morning. It is right next to the campus where I am doing research so the location is five-star. It has really good wifi; my room is a nice size; the living area is very comfortable; and the kitchen isn't too bad (it is kind of set up weird). But, there is no air conditioning. Which is fine because I am used to it, but it is supposed to be in the high 90s this week! A few others who are at their internships had temperatures at 109 degrees at their locations! Just hoping it will not stay past this week. So the day of research went pretty well I would say. The sad news for the people reading this is that I cannot tell what research I am actually doing because I signed a classified contract this morning saying that I will not speak about what I see or what I do pertaining to the research. Sorry! I can say that my tutor speaks English pretty well. But they speaks French to me until I get lost. Which, surprisingly, didn't happen as often as I thought it would. I can also say that I may have a lot of late nights doing work for this internship on my own time. I don't have a problem with that at all, either; I am ready for the academia again. They informed me today that I will have. a four day weekend my third weekend into the internship because the Tuesday is a national holiday and no one will be there Monday. Needless to say. I did not complain. Exhaustion has been kind of setting I guess in all aspects because I was very fatigued today. Yesterday evening I had a Charlie horse for five minutes in my left hamstring and I was definitely feeling it this morning. I made sure to go and buy some bananas at the store today and drink a lot of water. Now, all I need is sleep. So I am going to cut the post of here and get ready for tomorrow. Bonne soirée (Bonne journe depending on the time zone)!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

France: Chapter 5

The first four weeks are finished. It is hard to believe that it has gone by this fast and it is kind of saddening. People have already begun packing and shipping off for their internships, and there is a lot of downtime for me. My internship will be here in Toulouse. I will be doing research in a lab at the same university that I have been studying at during my time here. My tutor that I will be doing research under is Dr. Alban Jacques. I checked out his Facebook page and he seems like a very interesting man. My only hopes are that our personalities work together and he speaks English better than I speak French. I do know that he is a biochemist and biologist (very similar to what I am studying) and that he is very into music (his Facebook said he used to be an independent artist musician improviser). For the details about what research I will actually be doing, I have none. So tomorrow, I will be checking out of my flat at two in the afternoon and moving half a mile down the road to a small apartment building that is right at the front gate of campus. It will be me and two others from this program living there. If this place has AC, I will be in heaven. 

The last seven days have been very eventful. Saturday evening of the free weekend, a large group of us were going to go to the last day of the Rio Loco music festival. Me and three others decided we had enough music the previous three days and we were not really interested in the genre of music being played that day (it was occitaine). So instead of going to Rio Loco, we decided to go out to a bar. We ended up making friends with three older French girls that night, and the following morning one of the girls took me to the St. Aubin market, which is comparable to an American farmers market. I was planning on going to the market anyways but having a local show me around made the experience even better. I believe everything at the market was organic and fresh. There was cheese, fish, bread, pastries, all kinds of meat, plants, cacti, and many other things. While at the market, we ran into one of the program assistants. I felt kind of awkward in the moment because I was with a girl that I had just met the previous night. It was kind of like the feeling you get when you are embarrassed after being caught doing something you should not have been doing. She likes to tease me now about being with the French girl at the market. I think it's funny every time she brings it up. But anyways, later on in the day, there was fête de la musique. Which is a festival of music all over France in celebration of the summer solstice. A lot of us went downtown and there was music literally being played everywhere. And if you weren't playing music, you were dancing. It was one of the coolest cultural experiences I have had. People of all ages were out and about celebrating. Everyone was involved. Monday, we had our French language evaluations. It was a lot easier than I expected it to be. Which was very nice. One of the other guys from Purdue had his 21st birthday that day, so about 20 of us went out that night. I didn't drink hardly anything because it was a Monday night and I was exhausted from the weekend still. But some people drank. A lot. Two events happened that night that will definitely be a sort of black mark on this trip. People left the bar at different times so we didn't return in a group, so I wasn't a witness. But the guy who turned 21 ended up falling and breaking is arm. He needed surgery to put everything back into the right place. I wish I could say that was the worst thing that happened that night. But there was another guy from Missouri, that was super drunk, and was locked out of his flat. He thought he could get into his flat through the balcony so he attempted to climb up to the balcony, but he failed. He ended up falling about 25-30 feet. His jaw and wrist were broken and he had some misalignment to his spin. He was very fortunate that he wasn't paralyzed. Also, his father was in Brussels at this time so he had someone that could get to him fast. He obviously won't get to do his internship and I believe he will be leaving for the US today or tomorrow. On Tuesday, we had a day full of cooking French cuisine! It was a gastronomy workshop where we had chefs guide us in cooking a full meal. I wish I knew the names of the food that we prepared but they were very different. The worst thing that I tasted was a dish that looked like a cupcake, but replacing the icing was a duck liver paste. Absolutely disgusting. Luckily we finished with fruit kebabs and banana mousse. It was a good day. Wednesday afternoon the viticulture option group visited Château Plaissance for a tour of the vineyard and winery. We finished the tour with a wine tasting. Then, Thursday was spent all day in Bordeaux at Château Mèmoires. We finished that tour with a wine tasting. Yesterday was the last day of classes, and there could not have been a better finish. We finished with a wine tasting in the morning and a somewhat easy exam in the afternoon. It has been a very busy week. Then tomorrow, I am meeting a Canadian girl in the morning and I will be giving her a tour of Toulouse. How this came about was very random but I just went with it. One of the guys on the trip, his name is Rob, had started talking to the Candian girl on Tinder. She is here in France with an exchange program as well. Anyways, she does not speak any French and she is by herself. She had asked Rob if he could give her a tour of Toulouse but Rob has to leave this weekend for his internship. So he asked me to give her a tour and I said why not. So I will be giving her a tour of Toulouse tomorrow. I have seen a picture of her and she seems kind of cute. Maybe I can make another friend. 

Anyways, I'll have more free time probably once my internship starts so hopefully I can post more than once a week. Au revoir. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

France: Photos (Set 2)

I am looking into ways to post videos on here but I have yet to figure it out. Hopefully photos are good enough! 

Petit-déjeuner at the Capitol
Le dessert at a small café. Part trois of a three course meal. (Caramel dish, fruit dish, chocolaté dish)
Tasting some delicious red wine 
Hugh Masekela at Rio Loco
At the beach in Barcelona (Photo credit: Owen Moore)

Friday, June 19, 2015

France: Chapter 4

I am always a few days late with my posts. Finding the proper words to say has always been a task for me. Using euphemisms and putting things lightly is what I usually try to do because I am not a forward or blunt person. I try to thoroughly think things out before I express them vocally or on paper. I'm going to try and stray away from that norm from now on.

Last weekend we traveled to Barcelona. I was not a fan. I never felt secure and had to constantly be aware of my surroundings. It definitely wasn't Toulouse. I was not a fan of the architecture or the metro. It was the small things that were getting to me. Maybe I was just tired, but I just wanted to be back in Toulouse the whole time I was in Barcelona. It wasn't all bad, though. The first night, a group of us had gone to a restaurant for tapas. We each had ordered one for the table to share. The concept of sharing is taken for granted nowadays. I feel most people share because they feel obligated, which is fine I guess, but that shouldn't always be the case. Wanting to share an experience with others is such a bonding moment. That has kind of been the crutch of this trip. 50+ students from America, Mexico, China, and Lebanon all coming to stay in one, foreign place with people that we don't know at all and having to listen to a language that 90% can't understand has made it very easy to bond. Being in the tapas restaurant sharing meals and stories was a feel-good experience (plus the tapas were delicious). The next day a group of us went to the beach. We were able to find a spot close to the water and set up our towels. We had wine that everyone shared and enjoyed the somewhat cold sea. I only had two glasses of wine but I was soon reminded that drinking and being in water is not a good mix. About an hour and a half later I felt groggy. Almost a hungover feeling. Definitely dehydration. A smaller group of us left the beach in the early afternoon and went to look at La Sagrada Familia. It was a huge cathedral that has been in the works for over a century now. It seemed unneccassily ostentatious. I didn't like what they were doing with it. But that afternoon we also went to a Picasso and Salvador Dali art exhibit. It was quite intriguing. I found this piece by Salvador Dali called "The First Days of Spring". I stared at it for about ten minutes trying to figure out what was going on in the painting. The art exhibit was the best part of the day for me. That night most of us went to this huge night club called "Razzmatazz". It was 14€ or 17€ to get in and the cover charge came with one or two free drinks depending on which option you paid for. We got there right when it opened. I got a gin and tonic to sip on while I watched people dance to the loud music flowing through the surround speakers. The place was huge. It looked like an old-but-renovated warehouse. There were a few levels to the place. I wasn't a fan of the loud music, so I found a place on the roof where people can hang out, talk, and smoke their cigarettes. The secondhand smoke was no bueno but it was quieter outside. I probably stayed there for two hours at least. Oh, forgot to mention the club didn't open until 1 am. We left the club at about 5 in the morning. Really glad I didn't drink save the gin and tonic and two beers. The plan was to stay up all night, and go to the beach for the sunrise. Which we did. It was very beautiful and serene. Definitely a good moment. All in all, Barcelona wasnt great and it wasn't bad. Just so-so. I probably won't go back. 

This week has been pretty good. Lots of wine tasting, chateau visits, and vineyard and winery visits. Definitely has made me appreciate wine a lot more. Starting Wednesday and going until Saturday, there is a large music festival in Toulouse called "Rio Loco". Since I am staying in Toulouse for the free weekend, I bought a four day pass and plan on going all four days (I have gone the last two days). So far there has been gypsy, Greek, and Latino/south American music. Even though I can't understand the words, the music and lights have been a pleasure to my senses. 

It has taken me over an hour to type this up so I am going to end it here. I'm hoping to find some more time to blog on this free weekend. We are also going to learn about our internships soon. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

France: Photos (Set 1)

Barcelona Sunrise
"Breaking Bad" Barcelona Mural
Roquefort Cheese 
Front view of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Painting in a Toulouse Cathedral
Sunset in Toulouse 
Pont Neuf and the Garonne River
Pyrenees Waterfalls

Sunday, June 14, 2015

France: Chapter 3

It took me two weeks to realize that the best time to journal/blog is during the bus rides. Especially the six to seven hour bus rides to and from Barcelona. I will get to the weekend in Barcelona at a later time, but for now, I will be recapping last weeks events.

First off, I made the decision to stay in Toulouse for the free weekend that we are given. I kind of had a feeling the whole time that I would stay in Toulouse for the weekend but I was still considering other places for awhile. There are a few others staying in Toulouse, as well. I will be saving a decent amount of money and there is a free musical festival in Toulouse that weekend in celebration of the summer solstice. I also want to do more exploring of Toulouse and the free weekend will be the perfect time to do it. It will be a good opportunity to catch up on some rest as well.

Last Tuesday we visited the Roquefort cheese caves. Roquefort is a special Bleu cheese made and ripened in the caves within the hills of Roquefort. It is made from the milk of the Lacaune ewe and is the only Bleu cheese of it's kind. One can easily tell the difference between Roquefort and regular Bleu cheese. I could definitely tell the difference because I usually don't like the taste of Bleu cheese but I love the taste of Roquefort. It's something strange for  sure. It's very strong in flavor. I've now fallen in love with two cheeses: Camembert and Roquefort.

Wednesday was a very interesting day. At 2 pm in the afternoon, all the students and the French professors met by the Garonne River in Jardin de Raymond IV. It was a very beautiful place and I may never have made my way over there if it wasn't a set rendezvous point. I'm glad it was. We were split up into teams of four or five with varying french language skills. My team managed to have four beginners on it because a mistake was made. To fix this, they moved a Lebanese girl who is fluent in French to our group to aid in our mission. Our mission: set up a weekend itinerary for our 10 or 11 year old cousin who is visiting. We needed to find about three different restaurants, a park, an ice cream shop, and a museum or another place to visit. We had about an hour to do this and then meet at another rendezvous point. The whole point of the first mission was to try and talk to locals or shop owners to find places to add to the itinerary. It was a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be. We managed to get all of our weekend itinerary filled and made it to the rendezvous point where we were then given another task. We were given a set of 14 questions/riddles in French that we needed to translate and then find the answer. The catch was that we had to travel across the main part of Toulouse to find the answers to these questions. It wasn't easy to say the least. My team ended up merging with another team halfway through so it would make it easier for all of us. In the end we were only able to get 12/14 answered in the time allotted. Having a good sense of direction was crucial to doing this second task well. We had a good sense of direction but we didn't read ahead. We had to go to the other side of Toulouse (where we had started at) to find the answers but we didn't have enough time. We had to leave them blank. All in all it was a very fun time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

France: Chapter 2

I did not want to take this long to make another post but it is what it is. Just waking up from an unintentional five hour nap, I believe now is the best time to make another post. I last left off right before my weekend trip to Gavarnie and the Pyrenees...

We had left at 7h (7:00 a.m.) in the morning. With it being about a three hour drive, of course I decided to sleep on the bus (I have begun to value sleep more than ever). About 45 to 30 minutes away from Gavarnie, we started to enter into the mountains. Luckily, I had awoken because in the remaining time of the ride to Gavarnie, I saw some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The first thing that had struck me was the river running through the valley. Never in my 20 years have I seen water like this. It was glacier-blue and very clean looking. Its source is the melting snow on the mountain tops of The Pyrenees. I could not take my eyes off of it for the rest of the way. My description does not even come close to describing how perfect this water was. There were dozens of waterfalls of all sizes pouring into the river scattered across the mountainside. The mountains reminded me of those in Colorado. The utter majesty if the mountains were a sight to see--very picturesque. We arrived at the refuge/hotel and spent a bit settling in before we had lunch. The lunch was very simple: a baguette that was used to make a sandwhich, an apple, chips, tomato, and a small dessert cake. I was not disapponted. I am not sure exactly what time we began our hike but it was the early afternoon. We headed out on a set trail in Gavarnie from a town located at the base of the mountain. The group started to stretch out as we began our hike up the mountain. I made sure to keep up front so I could converse with the French program assistants. That has been the best way for me to learn the culture and language so far and I often find myself in their company. We stopped at the halfway point of the mountain to wait for more people to catch up and to take pictures. As it would happen, the unpredictable mountain weather brought in a thunderstorm. We had to turn back and head down the mountain toward the town. The rain was very light until we got close to the bottome. The skies opened up and large, cold drops drenched everyone who was there that day. Luckily, the majority brought rain coats or jackets, and one guy had brought an umbrella. It pays to be safe. We got back to the town and tried to stay as dry as possible as we waited for the bus. The bus arrived and we headed back to the hotel/refuge. Everyone changed and got ready for dinner at 7 p.m. While waiting for dinner, nearly everyone was playing card games. It felt good to be doing something familiar. I got involved in a game of euchre with three other people. It was definitely a blessing and something I have not done in a while. I have not met that many people outside of my family that plays euchre and it was nice to find some people that did. Dinner was served and I have to say, even though I did not know what I was eating, it was amazing. It was served in the traditional French style. Soup/salad first (we had soup), main course, bread and cheese, then dessert last. All of it was delicious, even though the cheese smelled like feet. There was no complaining after the long day. A lot of people went down to the bar in town to watch the Championship Soccer game between Barcelona and Juventus. I stayed at the refuge with the rest because I was exhausted and my shoes were still damp from the rain. I continued to play cards and enjoyed a nice cup of vanilla tea. Later in the night a large group of us decided to stargaze in the mountains. It was very serene and calming. The big dipper was bright in the night sky. The next morning we woke at about seven and had breakfast. We departed for Lourdes, France, the Holy City" at about 10:30.

We arrived in Lourdes and had a picnic style lunch, I wondered off from the group in attempt to find a restroom. I ended up finding myself in a situation of not being able to communicate with anyone and I could not find a restroom. I know I was saying the right words in French but maybe my American accent was too strong, or maybe they just don't like Americans. Either way I, didn't find a restroom until a little bit later when I rejoined with a group that had all of the program assistants. We stopped at a cafe and had tea and coffee. I don't think I mentioned this before but one of the program assistants had gone to Purdue for a study abroad. I spent a decent portin of the day talking to her about her experiences in America and at Purdue. I find myself fortunate to have a program assistant that I can connect to through Purdue. It makes things easier in a way, less stressful. Anyways, our group went downtown in Lourdes and saw the cathedral and churches that were everywhere. A little history about Lourdes: it is known as the Holy City of France because there was a woman, Saint Bernadette, who saw the Virgin Mary on multiple occasions in a cave, the Grotto.  Miracles have occured in the cave and the water that flows from it is considered to be holy water. You are allowed to collect the holy water from the cave and that is one thing I regret not doing. I didn't have a container or bottle with me and I should have bought noe when I had the chance. Definitely the biggest regret of the weekend. But Lourdes was a beautiful and moving place. Seeing some Catholic history in France was a nice change.

I wish I could spend more time on this and even add pictures but it is getting late here. I will try and post again tomorrow (hopefully with pictures from the weekend) because a lot has been going on this week. This weekend is in Barcelona and I know there will be a lot to say about that. Bonne nuit!

Friday, June 5, 2015

France: Chapter 1

I have been quite busy lately so I have not had time to sit down and make another entry until now.

Toulouse, France is absolutely breathtaking. Its architecture, people, language, food, wine, and pretty much everything else is perfect. Le Capitol in downtown Toulouse is the place to be for anyone at any age. Its winding streets that vein out from Le Capitol Square are lined with shops and restaurants that ensure an experience like no other. The temperature here in Toulouse has been very warm and people, including me, often find themselves heading to one of Toulouse's many ice cream (la glace), sorbet, or gelato shops in town. American ice cream can't compare to la glace here in Toulouse. One of the shops that is right in Le Capitol Square transforms the ice cream flavors of your choice into a beautiful petaled rose on top of the ice cream cone. American ice cream will never be as enjoyable as it used to be now that I have had a taste of heaven.

Flowing along the outside of downtown Toulouse is France's Garrone River. A spot where people can get a glass of wine (or a bottle depending on personal preference) and enjoy the picturesque views. On either side of the river there are grassy areas for people to sit and relax with family or friends. It is very serene and one could spend hours there without a care in the world. One can also find local artists selling their masterpieces by the river. All in all, an evening spent next to the Garrone is a must for anyone visiting Toulouse.

Wednesday we were given a tour of downtown. Altough I had already been downtown many times before, the guide showed some hidden wonders of Toulouse along with the Basilica and a cathedral, I found out that there is La Cinematheque de Toulouse. They show older films (white and black and cult classics) for only a few euro. A Clockwork Orange is currently being shown and I may make my way over and see it. 

We visited Carcassonne today which is home to one of the most beautiful castles in France. The castle is built as a fortress and it was very apparent by the layers of walls and archery post all around the perimeter. Only an hour or so away from Toulosue, it was a sight to see for sure.

Tomorrow, we start our weekend journey in the Pyrenees Mountains while we hike and visit one of France's oldest towns in Gavarnie. We willl get a good view of the history of France as well as a good view of the countryside. I am looking forward to it.    

I will try and post pictures at a later time to show just how beautiful this place is. But for now, bonne soiree!