Sunday, January 30, 2011


This week was my first week of classes in France! I'm taking one course, Translation II, at the University of Nantes, and the rest are at the IES Center. It's kind of weird because the schedules for the classes are all random, so I'll have my lit class 12-1:15 on Monday, and then 11:30-12:45 on Tuesday. I probably won't ever memorize my schedule. My earliest classes start at 9am (3 days a week), 10:15 (1 day), or 8:30 (1 day). Luckily I live right by my school so for the 8:30 class I can still wake up at 8 and just run around the corner! Inbetween classes I've just been killing time at the center doing homework or watching movies with friends, or running errands if I need to. Tuesday nights we have Conversation Club which is when French students come and we spend half of the time speaking in French and the other half in English for them to practice. Fridays I only have one class at 9 so I have pretty much the whole day free. Here are my classes:

Translation II: This is my class at the university. I'm not really sure why I'm in level II but I am. Two of my friends are also in it with me. Since it's at the uni, there's a mix of French students and our students. The French to English translation we did for homework wasn't horrible, but I definitely needed a dictionary to check things. The English to French one was a beast. How am I supposed to know the word for porthole in French off of the top of my head? It was a James Joyce excerpt so that probably didn't help. We have a mid-term and final exam, and we aren't allowed to use dictionaries for them, so hopefully they're easier than what we've gotten already. Class is cancelled for this week though, which is nice.

Panorama of French Theatre (17th-20th Century): I have the most homework for this class, and since its a Monday/Tuesday class, I only have one night to do some of it. It seems alright so far. We're starting with Phedre by Racine, and I pretty much understand it so that's good. Later in the semester we'll be reading La fausse suivante by Marivaux, Ruy Blas by Hugo, and Agatha by Marguerite Duras. I also I have to pick another piece from a list to read myself and present or something. I'm not really sure. That's kind of a pattern with all of the classes. We eventually have to do something big but they're really vague.

Religion, Society, and the State in Modern France: For this class we pretty much get lectured at, which is fine. Our professor is this old guy that makes jokes occasionally, but he never smiles so it can throw you off. The other day he made some comment about how if we all survive the semester, and if he doesn't die by the end of it. It was weird. The topic is interesting though. We started this week by talking about religion in France around the Revolution, and then we'll start talking about the secular state. Again, I have no idea how much work this class will actually entail. Oh well.

French 19th and 20th Century Art: Our professor was sick this week sooo I have no idea how this class is!

Topics in Advanced French Language and Composition: This is my grammar/conversation/language class. By some miracle I tested into the highest level, so it was optional to take the class, but that's kind of the whole point of taking classes in I'm taking it. Our prof is interesting, but she is terrifying to everyone at the same time. I have to go to some conference about Poland this week for this class. We switch between going over grammar issues we've noted, and random language things, like vocabulary and reading articles.

In other news, I've planned my winter vacation trip to Ireland/Scotland! All of the plane/train tickets are booked, and now we're just doing hostels and eventually will figure out things to do. I also got a library card for the municipal library, Mediatheque, right by where I live. It was only 3 euros so not bad. I found a little store that sells peanut butter for all of my friends that miss it. Today we went to the Museum of Natural History, which is right down the street from me. It was only 2 euros for students. I took a few pictures so I'll put those up soon. I'm hoping to take some pictures of Nantes tomorrow after class, so hopefully my next post will have those! Also, I went to a traditional Breton dance/concert this weekend, so I'll talk about that later too!

Everyone in the Midwest, enjoy the blizzard!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Les Chateaux: Partie Deux

 Day two of les chateaux was 1/15/11. The first stop of the day was Blois. We started in the courtyard, and you could see three different architectural movements in the three sections of the building. The coolest part was the opera stairs, where the King could sit to watch the performances in the courtyard, but everyone else could still see him.

One of the parts of the building (the one not pictured here) was actually empty because it was never completed. The other sections had museums on the ground floor (for original statues and stoneworks from the area), and then the rooms upstairs were decorated and furnished with replicas. They were mostly dark colors, like brown, maroon and navy blue, with gold accents. They all sort of looked the same so after a while they got boring. There was one small room that had original wooden panels for the walls that were decorated in gold, so that was cool. I liked the floor tiles in that room too, so I added that picture to the post.

 There were random artifacts spread throughout the rooms, and my favorites were the decorated piano and a porcelain or ceramic looking violin.My favorite part, however, was the big throne room at the end. It was freezing in there because there weren't any big fireplaces but it looked awesome. The ceiling and walls were all decorated. The picture below is just part of the giant space. Also, it had stained glass windows at the end, and I always love stained glass! Of course, we all took turns taking pictures on the throne that was across the room. After that, we had some free time so we looked at the little chapel on the grounds and some random huts, probably for caretaking. One of them looked like Hagrid's hut from Harry Potter so obviously I appreciated that!

Next, we visited our final chateau, Chambord! It was beautiful out so I got lots of great pictures out front. The best part was going onto the roof because all of the spires and towers made it look like there was another city on the roof. We spent the afternoon wandering around. Honestly, there isn't much more to say. It was a cool, big chateau, but it was weird because no one really ended up living there. The last picture of the post is some random chateau we stopped at on the way back to Nantes to take pictures of. Apparently it influenced Sleeping Beauty. Next post will be about my classes!

Things Alex Likes/Doesn't Like

The list you've all been waiting for....Things Boy Alex Likes and Things Boy Alex Doesn't Like. It will be updated as necessary.

Things Alex Likes
  • Drawing ducks
  • Smell of plane fuel
  • Sushi/Sake
  • Singing about sushi
  • Sleeping with the window open
  • Putting on weight
  • Cake
  • My notebook

Things Alex Doesn't Like
  • Babies
  • Prom pictures
  • Fish
  • Guided Tours
  • Sore throats
  • Super Sniffer
  • Folding maps

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Les Chateaux

Once we got to Tours, we had 2 days of visiting les chateaux! The first one we went to was Loches, a walled medieval chateau, on Friday (1/14/11). There was the actual chateau, which really only had 2 rooms, then a church nearby, and finally le donjon, which is the keep. Afterwards we looked at the parts that had been used as prisons in the later years of its history. There were nicer rooms reserved for political prisoners, and then rooms where all of the normal people would just be crammed in. We also saw a spacious cage for some of the political prisoners, and an iron collar attached to the wall that some prisoners had to wear. In addition to being really heavy, the chain for the collar didn't reach the floor so you would have to sleep sitting up. My favorite part was le donjon because it was all green from moss and plants growing up the tower. All of the upper levels that would've been there are gone now, so it looks completely different. 

The second chateau that day was my favorite of the trip, Chenonceau! It's the one that crosses over the river. The rooms were furnished and they all had awesome, giant floral arrangements in them! You could see some of the original tiles in the entrance room. There was also a farm on the grounds with some donkeys and a horse, and a flower/veggie garden, plus a maze in the bigger garden. Also, the chateau had this hallway that I loved for some reason! It went over the water and had topiaries that were lit was great. (Sorry for the weird positions of the photos, they're being difficult)
 I'll post the other 2 chateaux tomorrow!

Monday, January 17, 2011

1/13 Arrivée en Nantes

I've been sick and busy with orientation, so here's an update from last week. I promise I'll post photos from les chateaux soon!
Yesterday I got to my apartment. It's on the fourth floor right around the corner from IES. We all waited at the center for our host families to pick us up. They have a room full of computers, a library, wifi, and a piano at the center so that's good!
My host mom came with her granddaughter to get me and we walked my stuff around the corner. Her hrarnddaughter is cute, but very hyper and hard to understand between being 3 1/2 and having a lisp. She insisted on dragging me around the aprtment for a tour. It's a beautiful apartment and pretty big. There's a dining room and living room with lots of windows and high ceilings. A veryyyy nice cat lives here, who is super friendly. Sorry, Blindcat, you've been replaced for a bit! My room is a great size and actually has a double bed! I have a desk and some dresser drawers, and then there's a big wall unit across from my bed filled with books. There's also a cute black and white bulletin board so I put my pictures up on there. Good news, there's wi-fi! Then there's a separate toilet and a bathroom, which sadly had one of those short showers.

Her granddaughter insisted on 'helping' when I was unpacking, which basically consisted of her yanking my stuff out of the suitcase and putting it wherever she felt like. This happened quite a few times so I had to close the door until I finished unpacking. We had dinner, with soup and pasta and a little cheese for dessert. My host mom likes to have soup a lot, which sounds great to me. The kitchen is a decent size, and it seems like I have pretty good access to it. I can eat what I want in the fridge as long as it isn't on the other student's shelf.
I slept in this morning, but apparently most Thursdays a cleaning lady comes at 8:30am, so I'll have to make sure I'm up. My host mom was teaching an English class for retirees this morning so when I finally woke up, I found the other girl who lives here and her friend in the dining room. They were having tea and croissants so I joined them. They wanted to speak in English, so that was fine with me! She gave me a map of Nantes and they talked about some things to do.
They left to go shopping because the soldes (month long sale once a year) started yesterday. Madame came back and we had lunch. She had a sandwich and a microwaved burger but I was still tired and out of it so I only had a salad and some bread, which I am regretting now. She showed me how to use all 3 keys to get in and out of the building and then I went to IES with my backpack to meet for our orientation in Tours. We're on two coach buses headed there now. We get to pick who we stay with in the hotel so I picked Emily from yesterday. I'm trying to prepare for the inevitable flood of info we'll be getting soon, and the horrifying prospect of the grammar placement test. I hope we get phones soon!

Later that night
When we got to Tours, Emily and I put our stuff in our room. Apparently all of the rooms on this floor have random lofts with an extra bed in it, so we don't even have to share! Emily likes the loft so she has the honor of climbing up the ladder every night. Then we had a short meeting where we met the IES faculty and all of the students introduced themselves. There's a girl from Wooster that knows Amy! We have two days of touring les chateaux and then Sunday morning is a whole mess of French placement tests: listening, dictation, grammar, and reading.
Dinner was fun! I sat at a table with Kathryn, Emmi, Andrew, boy Alex, and Laura, who just got back from Quito! We had a good time and spoke francais for all of dinner. The meal was a veggie salad thing, then white fish with a side of veggies, some really good dessert, and white wine.

Things I should eventually write about: too much fish, les chateaux, being sick, and returning to/exploring Nantes!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Getting to Nantes

This is my entry from 1/12 about actually getting to Nantes:

At O'Hare, Jess and Devin showed up just after me to check-in, although Jess got delayed a while because her bags were too heavy. At the gate Katie and Courtney eventually showed up, and we met Laura, who is going to Paris with Jess. Serena and Alex from IES Nantes joined us later. We saw two other girls from our program too as we were boarding.
I sat next to Devin on the plane and by some miracle got some sleep, even though the man in front of me reclined his seat the whole way for the entire flight. I already have short legs but the man crushed me. I literally couldn't move them. Turns out it was an IES parent.
We arrived on time and got out bags with no trouble, except Devin left her purse on the plane, but got it back easily. Devin and Katie left to get the bag, and Alex went to get some cash so we lost them, but then Emily joined our group. The four remaining IES people made it to Terminal 2 of the airport in Paris so we could wait for our train. We sat a few hours in 58 degree weather from the cold air coming in from the platforms. I had a ham and cheese baguette for lunch while we waited. Then Alex found our group, followed by Devin and Katie coming back. A little later, Emmi and Kathryn showed up, and as I got up to say hi we found Sam too! Everyone from IWU had officially made it. Victory.
We all got on the train and made the 3 hour trip to Nantes. Some very nice old man helped me and another IES girl wedge our luggage on...thank god he didn't throw out his back or something. Another woman asked how long we were staying here because we had so much luggage. She probably thought we were just crazy tourists who overpacked for a week. When we got to the station, there weren't any IES people like the book said there would be, so we just took all the cabs there. Unfortunately, stairs were involved. I never want to take a suitcase with me again. Our (now even larger) IES group made it to the center where we took turns waiting for the tiny elevator to bring our stuff upstairs, and were greeted by name since they had memorized our pictures! We all sat around and spazzed everytime the doorbell rang. It was like an awkward blind date or some twisted orphanage where random French people were coming to choose their American. Eventually, Madame and her granddaughter came to get me.

Next entry: A 3 year old 'unpacked' my suitcase....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Au revoir IWU!

It's 10am on Tuesday, meaning I leave for the airport in a few hours! Of course it's snowing, but hopefully that won't mess up my flight at all. I managed to squeeze everything into a suitcase, duffel bag, backpack, and messenger bag. Everything is basically full, but at least nothing is super heavy. I leave around 6pm tonight. I wasn't able to use the online check-in for my flight, so I'll have to wait for the desks instead...hope everything goes smoothly that time. A few of my friends are on the same flight as me, and a bunch of other people from the IES program are too! Once we get to Paris, we have a few hours and then will be taking a train out to Nantes, my city. When I get there, I have one night before we leave for our orientation in Tours, so I don't know if I'll be online at all to update this for the next week or so. I'll be living with a retired English professor who occasionally has her grandkids over, and another 20yr old student lives there as well. I'm right in the centre ville and I'm literally around the corner from the IES Center for classes, so that's great! I'm also pretty close to the river. If anyone wants to send mail, you can use this address:

Laura Cohen
c/o IES Abroad Nantes
7, rue des Cadeniers
44000 Nantes

Once I get settled in I'll put up some pictures! I'm not sure how often I'll update this, but I'll do my best!