Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ce que j'aime a Nantes (what I love about Nantes)

As I was sitting hear in my cheerful yellow bedroom, thinking about catching up on all of my blog posts, I realize that for the here and now, it is important for me to write about the present rather than the past. Alas, I write about the things I love here in Nantes and the things I shall miss when I leave this wonderful place. I love the fact that it rains all the time. I always hated rain, as I was the ultimate Florida girl who soaked up the sun swimming up and down a chlorine-filled pool on a daily basis. But now, I feel a sense of okayness when I step outside to the rain-filled mornings in Nantes. No longer a sense of annoyance for the silent misty rain that falls on a daily basis, I now enjoy walking down the street with a bit of a damp numbness on my face. I love how my host father never wastes any food at the table. He thoroughly cleans jars, plates, cans, all to make sure he has not wasted one drop of any sort of food. I will always have the perfect image of him in my mind, scraping out a jar of mustard with a sense of determination. I love how Maylis is so beautiful and yet so unaware of the fact of how beautiful she is. Maylis is a gorgeous thirteen year old girl with a heart yearning to help and love other people. She is an old soul, and yet the perfect teenage girl who sits with me on my bed every night showing me the youtube videos she loves watching. I love how I can cross the street at any time I want, without pushing a button or waiting for a signal. The Nantais are famous for crossing really whenever they feel it necessary to cross. It has been quite the easy habit to pick up. I love that I can go to my favorite boulangerie and get a huge baguette, a coke, and a pain-au-chocolat and eat it while walking on my way to class. I love the little babies in all of the strollers that look so comfortable and yet uncomfortable in their comfortableness. They look all packed in and comfy, while at the same time looking like they might actually like to be able to move around a little bit. I love when the heel of my boot gets a little caught in the cobblestone streets, making me the tiniest bit uneasy with my footing. I love walking up the four flights of stairs to get to the main floor of IES. I love waking up on weekend mornings to the sound of my host brothers having their profound wrestling sessions in the room next door. Paul's laughter combined with Alexis' obvious annoyance... I love when Paul, Clo, Alexis, or Maylis run down the stairs and scream "a table." I love exploring the city, and just walking to see what one may find or where each stride may take you. I love standing outside of the cathedral, simply breathing in all of its magnificence. I love missing my family and friends back in the U.S., mainly because it feels amazing to know that I love the people in my life so much that sometimes it hurts to be so far away. I have already found love and been loved: by my family and my friends. I love going on dates with Guillaume and not really understanding some slang French term he has used. If I don't understand (which is surprisingly not THAT often)I usually just respond with a "oui," to which he always laughs. I may want to shrug off the fact I did not quite understand, but my face must be a walking target for my unsureness. I love all of the noises at the train station: lips touching cheeks during a loving embrace, the clacking of boots against the ground, the rolling of suitcase wheels at different speeds depending on how early or late each traveler is, and the ultimate combination of a high-pitched beep and a pseudo hole-puncher created after each traveler "composts" their ticket. I love the sound of Paul's laugh, because when he laughs, it can fill anyone's soul with joy. I love that when my host mom does laundry, my bedroom is immediately filled with a refreshing breeze with the smell of our detergent, wafting in from the laundry room across the hall. I love the pitter-patter or sometimes thumping of little feet from happy, fighting, angry, or uncontrollably excited children running down the staircase right next to my room. I love trying to explain French words that sound the same in English but mean something different when speaking with actually French People (i.e. the bars "Hangar a Bananes" and "Le Shaft"). I love skyping with my family and friends: seeing different rooms and classrooms with friends and seeing the doggies and grandparents with my parents. I love that my host mother is so diligent in knowing exactly what each of her children has to study and for when. When she decides the kids must study, there is no other decision to be made. I love laying in my bed, looking at all of the pictures I have put up on the shelves that frame two of the walls of my room. I love that my host father is the epitome of a self-less man, who did not even remember his birthday. I love punching in the code to enter IES and having the door make a certain "beeeeeep and errrrrr" sound at the same time, while you have to push the door in with your shoulder in order to ensure that you will actually succeed in getting in. I love that the Nantais have started getting ready for Christmas by decorating the city, even though Christmas is at least two months away. I love when I encounter new kids in my English classes who show an intense desire to learn. Simply, I love my life: in Nantes, in Palm Beach, in Granville. After a week of feeling a bit down and out, I have discovered a sort of rejuvenation, filling me with love and gratitude for all that I have and will have encountered. Three weeks remain, and I expect to fill them with enough love, studying, chatting, and fun as I possibly can.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Blake Family in Paris

After having seen Jean in Vienna, I left very early on a Saturday morning in order to take two planes to get to Paris in time to meet my family. It was truly an interesting travelling experience, because I truly had no idea where I was going or what I was doing once I got to Paris. I knew I had to take the Paris city trains in order to get to Courbevoie where we were staying, but I had really only had one experience with Paris trains before, and I was not the one leading myself. Alas, I found myself on the RER trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go in. All ended up going well, except for a quick journey in the wrong direction, which I somehow realized. It could have ended quite badly had I not realized what direction I was going in. Things truly started going downhill when I finally made it to Courbevoie, which is an epic city-center outside of Paris. There are skyscrapers and signs and tourists, and I was so confused once I made it to the earth’s surface after having been underground in the metro. I had my cell phone, so I called the hotel, which was not helpful at all in telling me to walk towards the direction of the Arc de Triomphe. How was I supposed to see it from where I was standing? Of course, after the fact, it became very easy to see the Arc de Triomphe, but again that was after having walked around for an hour and a half trying to find a hotel. Finally, I was saved, after having asked a bunch of people on the city streets, because I ran straight into an information desk. The women there gave me some good directions, but I was still unable to find the hotel because it was in and around some corner. I finally gave up and went to ask a taxi driver to drive me. I got in his cab only to be kicked out because he said the hotel was right around the corner. Turns out, all of my being lost was typical for the day. As I was walking into the hotel, I ran into Mom and Scott who were coming back from a pseudo food search. They led me up to their room, which were some of the nicest accommodations I have had in France, and I was finally reunited with my family! After months of skyping with Mom and Dad, it was fantastic to actually see them. I have not been able to speak with Scott much, since he does not have internet at home, so it was amazing to catch up with him as well. After taking a bit of a nap in our hotel room, the family and I ventured off to find somewhere to eat. I thought it would be a good idea to take them down near the Eiffel Tower so they could see it twinkling at night. I was the navigator of the metro, which made me learn a lot, but also led to some familial disagreements with those who were without maps. We bought metro tickets, and we were off to find ourselves a place to eat. I decided to get us off the metro near the Louvre on the Seine, which was a perfect place for the rest of the family to see their first glimpses of Paris. Seeing everyone’s reactions made me realize how much I have become a bit numb to seeing things such as a chateaux or an incredibly famous museum. We made our way across the Seine, which was the perfect place to kind of see a bunch of the Paris sights from far away, all lit up. We then decided to walk along the Seine a bit in order to find some place to eat. We ended up choosing a very classy restaurant called “La Fregata” where Mom and I ate the most amazing boeuf bourgignon. It was a bit chilly that day, so it really hit the spot. I think everyone was happy to eat, finally, to be together, and to be in Paris. It was a superb night out! The next day, I was again the navigator, much to the pleasure of Scott’s humor. He decided to make many jokes about me making wrong turns and such, but definitely not in a mean way. I guess the twenty-two year old man will always be my big brother, who puts my scarves on top of my head and makes fun of me for taking wrong turns. On Sunday, we went to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, where we ended up arriving at the end of a mass at the basilica. Sacre Coeur and Montmartre are absolutely beautiful, and it was one of my dreams to go there. I am so glad I got to experience that with my family, even if the weather was definitely not amazing. After gallivanting around Monmartre and getting my boots soaked through, we set off to see Notre-Dame and Saint-Chapel. Again, at Notre Dame, we had a lot of luck and ended up arriving during an organ concert. We happened to be incredibly lucky, because along with all of the amazing things we saw, we were also able to hear many amazing sounds. It was a total sensory experience! Later that night, we set off to see the Eiffel Tower. Luckily, my parents were there, so they could afford the fee to take the elevator up to the top. We were not able to go all the way to the top, but we did get half way. The weather was so bad, that I think we were lucky to not have had the option to go to the top. It was cold and rainy, but also very beautiful to see the construction of such a masterpiece. Monday was my last day with my family in Paris. We went to the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, and we also took a boat tour on the Seine. It was a day filled with joy and laughter, but it was cut way too short because I had to return to Nantes in order to be a student. It really gets in the way!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


As a disclaimer, I am truly sorry for not having updated everyone in quite a while. The past few weeks have been terribly busy: Vienna with Aunt Jean, family here for two weeks, friends in town the next weekend, London the next weekend. Now that things in my life have calmed down a bit, I am ready to continue writing and sharing all of my truly amazing experiences. Here it goes! After a train ride, two flights, and walking through customs easily without having anything to actually came, I finally arrived in Vienna. I walked out of passport control to see Jean Blake and my friend Tiana kindly waiting for me to arrive. TIana and I were in town for two and a half days, and Jean was nice enough to let us stay with her throughout our stay. My friend Tiana, who is from Texas and goes to the University of Texas, happened to arrive in Vienna before me, but Jean was nice enough to go and pick her up from the airport so she would not have to wait. Picking her up included me sending a picture and a description of what Tiana looked like, which came to haunt me throughout our stay in Vienna. It was classic to hear among the first few sentences of Jean’s greeting, “you told me she had long hair! That’s not long hair.” It was the perfect amount of “Blake” right off the bat! Jean had borrowed her neighbor of twenty years, Theresa’s, car in order to pick me up from the airport. It must be said that she does not drive ever, as Vienna has multiple forms of public transportation. For Tiana and I, it was weird to be in a car also, since we have taken public transportation for four months while living in Nantes. Jean’s driving skills were as adequate as they could have been for not having driven in years, although at the end of our journey, we realized she may have left the parking brake on throughout the ten minute commute. Jean’s apartment is the most beautiful building ever. She may not think so, but it is the perfect building and city apartment that one could ever ask for. There are two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, a kitchen, and a nice hallway. When all three of the Vienna Blake’s were living under the same roof, I can see how there would be a lot of traffic in and around the house. For Jean alone, it seems like a perfect place. In the apartment, we met her nice old doggie named Shadow, who received tons of attention from her two visitors. It made me miss the boys so very much. Our first night in Vienna was spent reminiscing, laughing, and eating crepes. We went to bed way too late, but we were able to plan out some of the sites we wished to see the next day. Most memorable parts of the night include Jean continuously saying, “You are such a Blake.” Apparently, I laugh just like my Dad, which is great because when my Dad really does laugh, his laugh is amazing! It was fun to hear a member of our family tell me how much I resembled and had characteristics and mannerisms that were like the Blake family. I am sure I would have felt the same way had I been in Scotland with the Peace and Cunningham relatives! (That is next on the life agenda) The next day, Jean, Tiana and I set off fairly early in the morning so we could get our bearings around Vienna. Before leaving, we had a typical Viennese breakfast, brought to us by Jean via the bakery downstairs. Once we arrived in the city, we had to try to understand the idea of “rings” since this is how the different parts of Vienna are situated. We took a street car inside the first ring to get to the center of Vienna. Jean walked with us a ways so we could comprehend where some things were and she left us before lunch time at the Albertina museum. We had decided to visit one museum, mainly because they were having a highly advertised exposition dealing with impressionism. It was something that interested the two of us, so we decided to give it a go. Ultimately, the Albertina was a great museum to spend money on! We saw so many famous works and also how consumerism touches all tourists in a museum gift shop. How do they come up with some of the items they sell? It is insane! After returning to Jean’s for a quick lunch break, we then went back into the first ring. It was nice outside so we decided to walk and get a bit lost in the city. We ended up getting lost in a great way, so we saw St. Stephen’s cathedral, the palaces, and the hotel de ville. It was great to just wander and try to understand the history of the city. The highlight of both of our days was partaking in one of Vienna’s most popular past times: the coffee house. Jean had told us we should try a “sachetorte” which is a sort of chocolate cake with a jelly type filling. We found a cute coffee house to go to, although our choice was mainly based on the combination prices we could see in the window. I ended up ordering a sachetorte and Viennese coffee, which was absolutely amazing. Such a great cultural experience…eating our way through Vienna. That night, we also did a bit of eating when Jean made us a typical Austria dinner. It was a type of goulash-type noodle, meat, and gravy dish. We had such a great time sitting in her tiny kitchen, talking and eating. It was a perfect night! The next day, we were off early again. We went to the Belvedere which is a famous castle turned museum, the market (which I am forgetting the name of right now), Schonbrun, and another coffee house. At the market, we did some scarf shopping, since there were definitely many to purchase, and we also indulged in some Persian flat bread and hummus which had been recommended by Jean. It was amazing to eat on the side of the road, perfectly content. Schonbrun was the most memorable part of the trip, mainly because of the profoundness of its size and its views. We hiked up to the top of the “Gloria” where we saw an amazing view of the entire city of Vienna. Absolutely perfect to see the tops of St. Stephen’s cathedral! After going to another Viennese coffee house (ordering a strudel instead of a sachetorte), Tiana and I went to meet Jean at her work. Jean wanted to show Tiana and I (Tiana is interested in medicine) her work in the pediatric neonatology unit. It was incredibly to see Jean switch fluidly from German to English, speaking to us and her coworkers. She has a very difficult job, but it seems she leaves everyday with a smile on her face, hoping to make the world a better place. That night, after returning home, we had Schnitzel from the Turkish restaurant below Jean’s apartment. We sat up late at night, talking about our families and our lives. It was so easy to chat and have an ongoing conversation that it grew very difficult to cut things off and go to bed. Tiana and I both had incredibly early flights that next morning, so Jean took us to the bus stop where we would be taken directly to the airport. In the cold of the early morning, I was forced to say goodbye to a lovely family member and a wonderful city. The only thing that made it somewhat easy to leave was knowing I was off to meet my “real” family.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pictures from Nantes

Kebabs…not just meat on a stick

Here in Nantes, there are signs everywhere for “Kebabs.” I was a skeptic at first, and I was not really sure if I was ever going to try one. I did not want to get sucked into the “Chinatown” of Nantes, or something to that effect. Well, I finally tried a kebab the other night! I have to describe what a kebab is to all of you Americans, because it is not a bunch of meat and vegetables shoved onto a skewer and thrown on the barbecue. That is what I think of when I hear kebab. Nantes kebabs are more of a gyro type of sandwich, and I think that they originate as a sort of Algerian specialty. I really should be more of a food historian here in Nantes. So, a kebab is a sort of pita bread/shell stuffed with cured lamb or pork, lettuce, and tomatoes. In actuality, I have no idea what I am eating when I eat a kebab. Luckily, I am not allergic to anything. No matter what makes up a kebab, they are absolutely delicious. It is the perfect combination of fast-foodiness and authentic Moroccan spices making you feel you are actually eating a legitimate meal. In addition, kebabs are not incredibly expensive. They are not cheap, as nothing is cheap in Europe, but they are not an expensive four-course meal. This is why I am assuming I will be eating more than one kebab throughout my time in Nantes.


Sorry for the lateness of my postings! I have been sort of dead to the world for quite a while after having weeks full of exams and also having been sick. Alas, I start again, and I am back to the world of blogging. Three of my lovely American friends and I went to Rennes two weekends ago. Peter, Hannah, Emily, and I ventured off on an approximately eight hour journey to Rennes, France, which a city an hour to north of Nantes. Rennes is in the Brittany region of France, meaning the north-west. Rennes is the capital of the region, known famously for crepes and architecture. We started our day off meeting at the Nantes train station. I had had quite the morning, due to the fact that I accidentally surprised my host mother early in the morning when she was walking around in her little nightgown. Although I have lived here for two months, things are still quite proper, in terms of dress, in this house. Needless to say, this was the first time I had seen my host mother in anything other than capris pants and cardigans. She was obviously embarrassed, and I felt really bad. Although I must point out, I had told her the night before that I would be leaving quite early. Our train ride was absolutely spectacular. Peter, being the obsessive-compulsive wonder that he is, truly thought we had gotten on the wrong train do to the direction the sun was in, in relation to Rennes’ direction from Nantes. It was quite a shambles. The train ride was also filled with fabulous quotes coming out of our mouths. So many funny things were being said that we had to start writing some of them down. They are definitely not as funny now, but some quotes include “French people are ninjas, obviously” and “He is like Jesus. He was meant to live.” Where these things came from, no one can ever know. When we arrived in Rennes, we honestly had no idea where we were going. We had printed small maps off the internet, but they were not very helpful, so our first task was to find the local office of tourism so we could find ourselves a map. Right off the bat, Rennes was an absolutely beautiful city. It is a smaller city than Nantes, but still big enough. The architecture is kind of a mix of things, but there is a lot of old architecture with the outside of buildings having been painted in really pretty colors. Rennes looks like the perfect European village that you would see at Epcot, in Disney. While in Rennes for only a few hours, we had a few sites we wanted to accomplish seeing. The Parliament of Brittany is in Rennes, so we definitely wanted to see that. Also, Peter wanted to go to the Virgin Megastore because he is the proud owner of a discman (not a walkman) meaning he has to have CDs in order to listen to music. We also wanted to get to visit the Saturday market, as well as a huge plant garden with an accompanying church. After tracking down a few maps, I began our navigation to find the Saturday market. It was impossible to miss, as we were suddenly met by beautiful flowers and tons of produce in every direction. All of the food looked amazing, and you feel as if you want to buy everything because it looks so beautiful. In another area, the market had all of the cheese vendors, the meat vendors, and the bread vendors. Emily and I wanted to buy some cheese and a baguette for later in the day for a snack. We ended up going to a cheese vendor and just pointing to types of cheeses that looked yummy, because we had no idea what the names of all of the different types of cheeses were. Luckily, the normal French people next to us used the exact same pointing method. After we had bought our cheese, I went off in search of some bread. I found the most delicious whole grain bread, while Emily turned up with a gorgeous baguette. I threw everything in my backpack, and we were set for the afternoon. After the market, it was lunchtime, and the four of us head to a creperie for some lunch. We ate galettes and crepes, and drank some cider. The restaurant was on a perfect little street, and although it was a little chilly, we decided to sit outside. It was one of those days where the weather was changing and people were choosing to either be really warm or to brave the cold. We four braved the cold. It ended up working in our favor because at the restaurant across the street, there were a group of young people who took out their guitars after they had eaten, and they started entertaining the entire street. The music was amazing, and it added such ambiance to our meal. Also, while eating, we saw a couple pass who were riding unicycles. Never seen that before! Next on the list was the Parliament. We weren’t able to go in, but we were able to see the outside of the building and the courtyards that surrounded it. Turning to a much different subject, we headed off to the Virgin megastore. I got to jam out to some cool music on those in-store headphones they have there that feature different artists’ music. I was listening to some great music, until I realized that the headphones I was wearing had probably been worn by thousands of people before me. Not the most sanitary thing in the world! Bad decision! We then went on a long walk to find the huge plant garden and the church. After passing multiple sites and stopping at many, we found the church and the garden. The church was beautiful, and it was the typical 14th century catholic church. The only reason I can say that is due to my studies in art history! I studied really hard for that midterm! The stained-glass windows in the church were delightful and incredibly colorful. They were some of the most vibrant colors I had seen. From the church, we went into the garden. The gardens in Europe are more like gigantic parks that happen to feature beautiful flowers. We happened to stumble upon a graduation of some sort in one area of the garden, so we stood in the back and helped in the process of clapping. We then continued walking and found a couple in the midst of quite the acts of public displays of affection, which is normal for the French, but incredibly weird for us Americans. Further in the gardens, we found all of the beautiful flowers. We also found this house far off in the garden that is the house that I want to live in. It is a red brick house that happens to be covered in these green vines that cascade up and around the two towers of the house. It is gorgeous! The four of us also took a break to eat some of our bread and cheese. This little rest made for quite the hysteria fest. It seems the only thing the four of us can do together is laugh, which in all honesty, is an amazing thing. After the gardens, which took quite a bit of time, we headed back into the heart of the city. We walked around a bit, but we wanted to be sure that we were back near the train station at a good time. When taking trains in Europe, you do not need to arrive super early. You only need to be there 20 minutes before the train leaves, because this is when the big sign lights up telling you where to go to get your train. So, having found our way back to the train station, we decided we had enough time to have a drink. We grabbed a few beers, and passed the time chatting about the day and saying goodbye to Rennes. A few minutes later, we got back on our train and headed back to Nantes. It was a whirlwind of a day filled with happiness, tears from laughter, and absolute joy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Saturday's Happenings

This past Saturday, my friend Peter and I ventured off into the great abyss that is Nantes on a Saturday. There were many things we had set out to accomplish, including the Mediatheque market and the Solidarite du Chocolat. After meeting at the IES building, we were sucked into the amazing thing called the Internet for a few moments. Poor Peter is living without any kind of Internet at his host family’s house, so he had a desperate need to check his email. Although technology engulfed us for some minutes, we shifted ourselves back into everyday-life mode in order to go to the Mediatheque market. I had no presuppositions as to what a Saturday market in Nantes would entail. Not far from the IES building, there is an area called Mediatheque, right near the Loire River. Peter and I walked a few blocks down to where we had heard the market would be, and I think we were both expecting to see something small. Instead, we were met with a scene of red and white tents, thousands of people, fresh fish, and different types of underwear. The market was full of anything and everything, including meet, produce, breads, and fresh pastas as well as low-budget clothing, shoes, and 40 packs of batteries. Seeing the market was an immediate attack on all of my senses, as there was too much to see. I felt the need to slowly look at every piece of merchandise as well clutch my bag and run out from amongst the tents as fast as possible. The market was quite an experience, and although I am glad I went, I will probably not go again just for the experience. The smell of fish on busy city roads mixed with roast chicken, bread, and the smell of cheap fabric does not need to meet my nose again. Next on the agenda for the day was a chocolate festival Nantes was hosting. It is called “La solidarite de chocolat” which translates into “chocolate solidarity.” The point of this festival is to bring people and cultures together through chocolate. The majority of the funds from the two-week festival go to a big boat race that will be happening in order to raise money for world hunger non-profit programs. The boats are all parked in the Loire River right now, and at the end of this week, they will all sail away to St. Nazaire, a port city on the Atlantic Ocean. The chocolate festival was held on Ile-de-Nantes, which is an island that sits in the middle of the Loire River. The island is still considered Nantes, but you just have to cross a bridge to get there. It was one of my first times going to this area of Ile-de-Nantes, and I amused myself greatly with chocolate and with seeing all of the sites. My friends and I walked half of the length of the island, seeing many of the old industrial sites that are a part of Nantes history. While walking, we were fascinated by a boat that was carrying people from one side of the Loire to another. After crossing back over the Loire, we tracked down where we could take this boat from. It just so happens that the boat is part of the “Tan” or the public transportation system here in Nantes. Since all of us students have monthly passes to use any “Tan” transportation, we decided to take the boat to the other side of the Loire. We truly had no idea where this adventure would take us, but about five minutes later, we discovered the answer. The boat docked in an area called Reze which is just another city across from Nantes. Reze has a great deal of history in its architecture, as it is home to many small doors and shuttered windows. Not finding that much to see and with food on our mind, my three friends and I found ourselves a nice creperie in which we ate our lunch. A bottle of cidre, a crepe, and a galette later, the three of us got back on the “Tan” boat and back to our lives as Nantais.