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Life after France

Coming home was bittersweet. I must admit, leaving the day after the Nice attacks was a bit  nerve wrecking. Not knowing if there would be another attack and really not having been able to get the information on what happened because I had been out celebrating. But in the light of things, I was really in need of a hug from my loved ones.

When traveling home I was shocked when I arrived in the Philadelphia airport and realized that I could understand every conversation around me. Yet when I was asked questions in English, I would still reply in French. By brain wasn’t getting it.

Now I have been home for just about a week, gotten the hugs, told the stories, showed the pictures and realize that a large piece of me will always be in France and I yearn for the lifestyle they lead. I haven’t had to have a full conversation in French since I have been back. Though thankfully I did meet some friends there and have had short conversations with them.  I am no longer relying on public transport to get around the city. Coming back and the very next day driving was definitely a shock to my senses. I’m no longer waking up in the morning, grabbing a quick espresso and a baguette and running for the bus. Lunchtimes are no longer explorations of cobblestone streets and the next “It” place to eat. My relaxing evenings are no longer sitting along the Saone with a bottle of wine, enjoying the river views and mingling with other groups of locals passing the time the same way. The streets, the cuisine, the architecture and the rivers are all a memory. One so difficult to explain why it is better if you have never been, and one that I am already desperate to get back. My love affair with France is not over, in fact, it has truly just begun.

Taking Time to Travel Pt. 2 & Things lost in translation

A beauty about being in France is that places to travel are so close, and it is reasonably inexpensive. My first solo voyage was using a Blablah Car. This similar to our Uber. It is like a really cheap taxi that you can use for longer trips. They call it a Blablah Car because people tend to ride in the cars and talk a lot. This method is by far the cheapest way to go. I only used this method twice to travel and at least one time was very pleasurable. This was my first time using it and I took a short trip from Lyon to Chambéry. In the car with me was the driver and two other people who had reserved a seat. They were all native French speakers, so I was a little terrified but ready to really put my French to the test. As we rode in the car I listened intently to understand the conversation. I was able to understand that our driver was a student studying at a university in Chambéry, the male in the passenger seat was a cook at a restaurant, and the girl sitting next to me was spending the summer traveling Europe. When they turned to me and spoke in English, they were quite surprised how much I was able to understand. I really wanted to give myself a pat on the back! The car ride was just 6€! To get back to Lyon after my weekend in Chambéry I took the train. It was just 19€.  This is a steal for an almost 2 hour train ride. Not to mention the view was absolutely stunning.

Chambéry mountainsMountain views Chambéry Square

The mountains views from Chambéry were amazing! In Kansas City, the mountains are a day’s drive and surely will cost you much more than I spent to reach.

Another personal trip I took was with a group of girls to Montpelier to celebrate my birthday. I heard the city was beautiful and close to the beach….and seeing the beaches of the Mediterranean was a must for me. We reserved our train tickets which was about 50€ and a BlahBlaCar back for the 4 of us at 19€ per person. Again the train was a beautiful trip and scenery was amazing. Sadly this trip on the BlahblaCar was not so pleasant. Our driver was a peculiar man who showed up very late and he spoke no English. The no English was not a problem so much, after all we spoke French. But when we tried to speak to him in French, he pretended to not understand what we were saying. The ride back should have been just under 3 hours, but due to traffic took over four. This made for a very awkward ride back.  

Montpelier was the most beautiful little city I saw in France. The city center was pedestrian only, and we found the best boutiques there. Unbeknownst to us, on the day of our arrival there was a large festival because the city was inaugurating  a new line to their tram system that day. So the city was very lively and the was a party in a square just a short walk from the hotel.     

On the day we wanted to see the beach…we did not all make it to the beach. At the hotel, we asked the concierge how to get there. In French she told us to take metro line 4 to a certain stop then take bus 31 to the beach. Simple enough right. Well we took metro line 4, which was a 35 minute ride to the bus stop. Once we arrived at the bus stop we did not see bus 31 on the map. My friend who is fluent in French thought she had heard the concierge say bus 32. This was on the map. So we took Bus 32. This bus ride took another 30 minutes, through another petite village and along the way, we never really saw water. Once we arrived to the stop for the beach, the driver told us, again in French, to cross the street and go to this small building to get a ticket to rent a bicycle that we would use to go to the beach. He then told us to come back to that stop to return to the city. As he drove away, we were all very confused of where the beach was and why the heck we needed to take a bike to reach it!

When we went to speak to the people at the little hut, they explained that it was a 15 minute walk and short bike ride to access the beach. But we would take the trail, cross a foot bridge, follow a path of a small train and then reach the bus!! We were confused and over it, but determined after all of this to see the beach. Even though it had been about 12 years since I rode a bike, I decided to give it a go. So three of us took the bikes and one decided to walk. 15 minutes later, we were not seeing any water!  It turned out to be a 3-4 km bike ride one direction to get to the beach. In this time we had to pass a lagoon with water black and bubbly as tar that smelled radioactive. This was not the short trip we were promised. Once we arrived to the beach, without the friend who was walking, the beach was terrible!  It was covered with rocks and not nearly what we were expecting.  

rocky beach

We we amazed that the hotel concierge had pointed us there and decided not to stay. After alerting our friend who was walking, we decided to head back to the bus stop and give back the bikes! On the way back, we were also going into the wind, further adding to our frustrations. 3 hours later, when we finally got back to the hotel, our concierge asked us how the beach was. I was borderline livid when explaining the experience to her but she was genuinely confused of why we took a bike because the bus should of taken us directly to the beach. After a bit of conversation we realized she told us Bus 131, I had heard 31, and my friend heard 32. These were definitely, things lost in translation.

The next day we decided to splurge and just hire a taxi to take us to and from the beach.  That was the best decision ever!

beautiful beach

Beaches of the Mediterranean
Beaches of the Mediterranean

The “studying” abroad

With so much excitement in the city, studying is very difficult.  Not to mention after 8 hours of class taught in french, all conversation around the city in french, and conversation with my host family is also in french. After speaking french all day, it is very difficult to come home and sit down and do more homework in French.

It is very exhausting listening to people speak French all day, try to process what they are saying in order to comprehend the lessons and reply when necessary. But none the less, studying is a requirement in this program.

The school is so beautiful and so differently set up than ours in the states. The university I am studying at is set up as a large building built around a series of courtyards. Each courtyard is beautiful and there are classrooms and offices along each side.

univeristy courtyard 2 univeristy courtyard

Unlike the US there is no air conditioning in the classrooms, or anywhere else really in France for that matter. But even worse, there are no ceiling fans. So the air doesn’t move. And the professors don’t seem to notice we are all dying, because they are used to not having air or fans.  

Also another peculiar thing in this university are the bathrooms. Yes, the bathrooms. There is no toilet paper in each individual stall as we are accustomed. So before you enter, you need to know exactly how much you need. But what if you don’t know you are going to need more?! I think it’s best to use the buddy system when going to the bathroom just in case. Also, there are no toilet seats. Just the rim. A friend so eloquently coined the phrase “Hover or Cover” to explain how to survive this anomaly.

toilet no seat

Le 14 Juillet (the national holiday) Celebrations and Terror Attack in Nice

My final day in France was a day of celebration. The country of France was celebrating their independence, Bastille Day, the day the rebels stormed the Bastille and France was freed! We were also celebrating just finishing our coursework at the university the day before. And I was celebrating and mourning my last day in France. A group of us, the last five still in Lyon from UMKC met in the evening to sit along the Saone River to watch the fireworks that would be displayed just above and around the Cathedral Fourviere, a very well known landmark in Lyon.

The night was truly magical. We found the perfect spot, just by a live band that was set up on the sidewalk, and we sat on curbside steps to talk about our love for the city, how sad we were to leave, how happy we were to see the fireworks, and what it would be like once we all returned to the states. We shared wine talked, sang, hugged each other, took tons of photos; and when it was time for the display, we shared a blanket and watched in awe at the beauty of it all. All of us so sad in realizing our time was over in Lyon.  

fireworks
fireworks2
final dayAfterward we decided to walk around the corner to sit at our favorite local pub, where we had watched almost every game of the soccer tournament. While there, our phones began to all ring over and over with texts, calls and messages from people in the states. After we realized we were all getting these calls we checked to see what was going on. To our horror, everyone was checking on us to make sure we were not in Nice as an act of terrorism had happened or was occurring then. All of our loved one’s worst fears had almost been confirmed and it hit too close to home for everyone. On such a beautiful night, one of celebration, joy, pride and love; in a moment was turned into a horrifying moment for so many. We were heartbroken and somberly thankful to be okay.

So many people’s reaction to the news was to say things like, “this is why we were afraid for you to go. Things are just so bad there right now” and “weren’t you afraid everyday walking there that you could be in an attack?” Everything people thought and felt made it sound like we were so much safer in the US and we took such a risk going to France during these times.

But I saw France, I lived there, and I’ve really never felt safer than when I was in France. Yes, they were in high alert due to possible acts of terror. Yes, they have had many large attacks that so many have sadly lost their lives and been injured, but so have we. We have had just as many if not more on US soil. Not to mention that, we have all the gun violence and random acts that occur daily on our soil.  We have our own people shooting up schools, theaters, churches, malls, streets, parks, bars and countless other places. We see casualties of violence on a daily basis and mass casualties on a regular basis, to the point I see some people becoming desensitized to the horrors we face daily. I spoke to one French man while in France and he spoke of not even knowing where to purchase a gun if he wanted one because they are illegal there.

This is not a blog to advocate or lobby for or against gun control in the US. I’m really on the fence about these topics and will not use this space to create a debate. But I feel people’s fears of traveling are misplaced. Never once did I walk down a street of Lyon fearful of what could happen to me, even in the midnight hours. I think that we must not be fearful to travel, because bad things can happen anywhere. We are not less likely to be a victim of anything in the US than we are if we are traveling. Of course, travel smart and be aware of your surroundings. But do not be fearful to go. I would do it all again without a second thought and you should too. My heart breaks every time I see one of these stories on the news, but by not traveling, by being fearful we are allowing terror and terrorists to win.  And that is something I never plan to do. So Vive la France and Vive la liberté!!!  

vive la france
last day
last day 2

Euro France 2016 & FanZone

I have been so lucky to be in France during the Euro France 2016 soccer tournament.  Not only am I a huge soccer fan but the energy here in Lyon with all the fans from all over the world has made the city really come alive.

During this tournament I have met people from Portugal, Algeria, Iceland, Poland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Wales, Germany and France.  All are fans who have came here to Lyon to watch a the matches in FanZone.  But what is FanZone?  FanZone can really only be experienced not explained.  But I will do my best….

In Lyon, FanZone was but up in Place Bellecour.  This is the largest square in Lyon and the third largest in France at 15 acres.  It truly is a beautiful space.  But for one month, June 10th til July 10th, it has been transformed to the meeting place of European Football Fans.  Every day there is singing, dancing, music, food, booze and all kinds of shenanigans occurring in around the square.  On the first day of FanZone while walking through Place Bellecour on my way to a class trip to a museum, I met a group of Belg fans.  I had to take a break to video them as the all chanted in the streets.  As I chanted, one fan came real close into my phone screen, singing their song, then he decided to mark my face for the Belg.  I was instantly made a Belg supporter.  And this was all the fans throughout the whole time FanZone and UEFA Euro2016 has taken place.  There has been so much oped fun shared by all.

Day one of FanZone
Day one of FanZone
FanZone2
Place Bellecour FanZone

I must admit, the Northern Irish were my favorite fans.  I had the privilege of meeting about 13 of them and they immediately stole my heart with their kindness, sense of humor, accents and brandishing good looks!  lol but seriously they were such a fun and nice group of fans and they have so much team spirit!

I’m really not sure what Lyon is like without FanZone and thousands of soccer fans and I’m okay with that.  Being in France for the tournament has been a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I have taken so many photos with random people I have met, and had them grab me to join them for photos.  I don’t know most any of their names, but it’s cool to think that I have left my footprints all over Europe with my interactions and photos with these fans.

French FansFanZone FansNorthern Irish Fan

 

 

Taking time to Travel pt 1.

I’m sure just about everyone feels like they should make the most of a study abroad opportunity.  One way to do so is to plan mini excursions to see as much of the country your are in and/or those around you.  I feel the same way and I have tried to get as much of the French countryside in my travels as possible.

I arrived with 3 other students, three days before the program in order to adjust to the new time zone before school started and to explore Paris.  I think this was the best way to go.  We arrived at about 8 am France time and then had to keep ourselves awake until the evening so that we could sleep on France’s time schedule.  The first day we managed to see the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame.  NOTHING can prepare you for seeing these two monuments.  Not for their immensity, beauty, and grandeur.  For me, coming to France has been a dream for so long and the moment I came around a corner to see the Eiffel was so special.

First Glimps of Tour d'Eiffel
First Glimpse of Tour d’Eiffel
The girls and I
The girls and I

The second day in Paris, we were able to see The Arc de Triumphe and l’Opera.  Both were stunning.  The girls I traveled with decided to climb the stairs of the Arc while I stayed below.  I found a certain peace while sitting there…just steps from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  As people rushed around me, I sat their for almost an hour and just took it all in.  There is so much history, pride, and beauty in that one single location and it sums up the overall feeling you get while being in Paris.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Public transportation Pros and Cons

Initially I loved the public transportation in Lyon.  I had one bus (#40) to take me from just down the road from my house, to really close to the school.  After that, it was just about a 12 minute walk to the campus.  But all things can’t always be so easy.

The Euro2016 tournament came in like a flood with lots of amazing people from all over Europe.  But with this magnitude of tourists in the town, the city changed the bus line system.  Now, I must take 2 buses and a tram to school.  I leave about an hour in advance, and I’m still often late.  Not because it is not ample enough time, but because buses will often just not show up…or are very late.

Also, the evening route on how to get home is always changing.  From day to day I never know, when is the last bus, will it show, or which stop I have to get to in order to catch the bus.

It’s not just me.  I have learned an assortment of lets say, “colorful” words from sitting at the bus stop.  These words often fly by me once a local french person realizes the bus is not coming or we have to go to a bus stop miles away, get there in ten minutes and catch the last bus!  This has happened more than once.

How I feel each time the buses change
How I feel each time the buses change

I have been lucky that many people have helped me navigate in these times.  I have even shared a cab with a group of Germans who also needed to go to my area, gotten rides from random groups of locals and ran to the next stop with a flood of other people…all trying to catch the bus!

All these problems has forced me to become really independent and learn the bus, tram and metro lines of the city.  My host family has been very impressed by my ability to navigate the city and get home at these times without having to call on them.

Before living in Lyon, I never used public transportation.  I have now gained a serious appreciation for it, and also, an awful detest for it!  Part of me cannot wait to get home and drive again.  The other part of me is dreading having to.  I do believe though, being a city of Lyon bus driver is the only job that you can have multiple deadlines each day, miss them all and still keep your job.

Predeparture and arrival: Paris, France

Coming to France is truly a dream come true.  But getting here was quite the stressor.  First, I applied for my new passport about 12 weeks before time to leave, thinking this more than enough time (processing times were 6 weeks) but I found myself stressing and scrambling to receive it just 3 weeks before.  By the end of the time, I was making daily calls to the passport offices to get updates on it.

Not only was I planning a 6 WEEK study abroad trip to Lyon, France for the summer, but I also was in the process of moving my home on Memorial Day weekend.  This added so much stress and kept me so busy that I actually did not pack until the morning of our flight out to Paris!  Luckily, I only forgot two items.

Even though I was running late to the airport, I made it through the gates to the airport just in time for boarding.  I would not recommend to do this!  I lucked out to make it because I had researched what could be taken on the flight so thoroughly.  I really should have been there so much earlier.  But alas!  I made it on the flight.

The flights and transfers were pretty seamless until we arrived in Paris.  When preparing for departure our Jetway would not work.  The Jetway is the air bridge that attaches to the airplane allowing people to walk off of it and into the terminals.  Ours would not expand to attach to the plane.  After about an hour of waiting in the plane, and many cranky passengers, they finally attached stairs that allowed us to exit the plane onto the airport tarmac.

Leaving the plane on the tarmac because Jetway Broken.

Leaving the plane on the tarmac because Jetway Broken.

Exiting the plane onto the stairs with a friend I traveled with.
Exiting the plane onto the stairs with a friend I traveled with.

Now that we arrived…to find a taxi, the hotel, and see all the monuments!