Saturday, January 28, 2006

Playing Catch Up, Part 3 of 4

Day 7: Fri. Oct. 28th -- AMBOISE, PARIS, ROUEN

Did I mention Amboise was my favorite European city yet? I liked it quite a lot. I’m going to go back there someday. This was the part of the trip where it began to be very apparent that Mary Ann and I hadn’t planned ahead much. :o) We found out we couldn’t “just pass through Chartres on our way to Rouen”. We actually had to pass through Paris to get there, which was a little out of our way and didn’t allow for us to see Chartres at all. Shoot. (It was weird, too, because we had to take the metro and change train stations and everything in Paris.) We got to Rouen, Normandy (I sang the song all throughout my stay) in the late afternoon and booked whatever transportation we were sure we needed at that point. We found out that we also couldn’t “just stop through Mont Saint Michel on our way to Bretagne” -- meaning its elimination as well. Double shoot. We really wanted to see that! Oh well. We were introduced to Rouen’s métrobus, which was a nice and handy service. We hit the Office de Tourisme, which we decided by the end of the trip really makes or breaks one’s visit to any unknown city. We self-consciously went to a Tex-Mex place for supper, which was bizarre because, 1) “Tex-Mex in France?” and 2) “Tex-Mex in France mere days before Halloween??” They were wearing costumes, had a cauldron full of “witches brew”, and were playing lively Mexican music -- which I loved. Ran-dom.

Rouen's vieux-marche

see my “Rouen, Normandy” photo set

Day 8: Sat. Oct. 29th -- ROUEN, VERNON, GIVERNY

Giverny was one of the first things I remember wanting to visit way back when I first started learning about France. The other thing I knew early on was that I wanted to visit the Loire Valley’s châteaux. Done and done! Giverny was everything I thought it would be. The house was interesting and the gardens were beautiful. We had good weather and it wasn’t crowded. We had time for lunch in town and a quick trip to the church where I believe Monet was buried. Mary Ann and I got back with time for a full evening, so we filled it. :o) We walked the shops for a while. I finally found a salon with an opening (I’d been looking all this time) and got my hair cut. We went to an Italian buffet (both “Italian” and “buffet” meaning things slightly different than usual) and ate supper to French Halloween music for kids: odd. There was a “fun fair” going on across the Seine, so we walked the river for a while, taking in the sights and sounds. It was a beautiful night. It was at times like this that I would turn to Mary Ann and say, “No offense, but I really wish you were a good-looking Christian guy.” The feeling was mutual.


see my “Giverny” photo set

Monday, January 23, 2006

Playing Catch Up, Part 2 of 4

Day 5: Wed. Oct. 26th -- AMBOISE, BLOIS

French banking discovery: I’m not allowed to withdraw more than 300 Euros in cash per week! (Not to shock anyone, but this little jaunt cost more than that.) Things worked out in the end. My France guidebook said there were buses and tours available for visiting area châteaux, but Mary Ann and I had difficulty finding them. We went to Blois ("blwah") in the hopes of finding a bus tour for the Sologne, which the book gave its own spread and made look very appealing. Nothing. But we did find a bus to the Château de Chambord. We had about six hours to explore this château, which was a great leisurely pace. It was originally built as a hunting lodge for François I, so there were taxidermy pieces in many rooms. Uhh… thanks for that. It’s known for the double-helix staircase (probably designed by da Vinci) which ensured that a person descending wouldn’t meet a person ascending. Huh. It’s also known for its illogical layout, as bedroom leads to bedroom leads to bedroom… the last one of which finally leads to the hall. :o) I think my favorite part of the day was sitting outside and enjoying the view while chatting with Mary Ann. Ahh.


see my “Chambord” photo set

Day 6: Th. Oct. 27th -- AMBOISE, TOURS, & four area châteaux

Since we wanted to cover some major château ground, we found a (not free) tour to take us around. Our driver was a guy named Pascal, who ended up being this touring business’s owner. He was really nice and spoke English very well (though Mary Ann and I invited him to speak French when the rest of the tourists weren’t around). He had narratives ready for just about everything we saw, which rendered our trip through beautiful country landscapes interesting as well. In the morning we hit Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau. Villandry is known for its grounds and we actually didn’t even pay to go inside since our time there wasn’t very long. Azay-le-Rideau was, in my opinion, probably the (heh, heh) homiest château we visited. Surprise, surprise: It was one of the few that was designed by a woman. (I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’. You know what I’m sayin’? And a shout out to the Shing.) I liked Azay’s size and the size of its grounds. The afternoon began with Chaumont, which may have been my favorite château (also designed by a woman). It wasn’t as touristy and was nicely kept. Chenonceau ended the day. It had sprawling grounds and was HUGELY touristy. Oh, and there was a wedding getting ready to happen! The bride, at least, was an American. Can you say, “Wow!”???

Villandry5 Azay3
Chaumont Chenonceau2

see my “Four Châteaux in One Day” photos

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Playing Catch Up, Part 1 of 4

I traveled a good bit back in OCTOBER. Here’s the summary version of my journeys, installment the first.

Day 1: Sat. Oct. 22nd -- CAVAILLON, AVIGNON, PARIS

I spent nine hours at the TGV station in Avignon. Why? Because even with a Eurail Pass, you need a reservation to ride the TGV and because, while the TGV station is technically in Avignon, it’s kind of removed from the rest of civilization. However, it ended up being a nice, forced break. I got in to Paris at 11:45pm and was met by Mary Ann (a Zion and UNL friend) and her roommate, who accompanied me back to their apartment.

Day 2: Sun. Oct. 23rd -- PARIS

Mary Ann and I attended a France Mission church (the same denomination as my church in Cavaillon) in Asnières where the folks were friendly and the Word was preached. We browsed the Asnières market and grabbed lunch at a Chinese restaurant (because sometimes you’re just not in the mood for French food). We metroed our way into Paris-Paris where we walked the Champs-Élysées, talked plans at a café, shopped a little, and met up with another American assistant for fondue. I like Paris.

Day 3: Mon. Oct. 24th -- PARIS

This day was a good bit of trip-planning and a little sightseeing. We decided on a route and reserved our first two “budget hotels”. We would’ve begun our journey, but didn’t for booking reasons. We got our train tickets for the next day (I used up the rest of my Eurail Pass during this vacation). We visited the Sacré Coeur, which I really liked -- partly because we happened in during a service and partly because the hike to the top proved to be majorly worth it. Afterwards, we ate at a nice café at the foot of the Sacré Coeur.

the Sacre Coeur at night

see my “Paris in October” photo set

Day 4: Tue. Oct. 25th -- PARIS, AMBOISE

We took the train to Amboise, which is in the heart of the Loire Valley and Château Country. Our budget hotel turned out to be really nice and cute… more of a bed and breakfast, really (which was understandable, because we did pay a little more than we wanted to for it). I loved Amboise. It’s a charming, not-too-big town, complete with château! We visited the Château d'Amboise and then Clos Lucé, the Leonardo da Vinci place, which I thought was well-conceived.

Amboise 1

see my “Amboise, Loire Valley” photo set

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Soldes for 50% off!

(pronounced "sold", meaning "sales" or “reduced pricing extravaganza”)


So, this is kind of a big time for the French shopper. For two weeks every January there are major reduced prices everywhere in France. They call this time soldes, although that name can be used for lesser, localized sales as well.

I’ve looked around a little and might look some more next week, though I’m really not much of a sales shopper. My philosophy is that I either need something or I don’t. If I don’t need it, I don’t tend to go looking. Rather than filling my tank, “window shopping” usually drains me. Plus, I might end up finding something I like therefore spending money I wouldn’t have otherwise, and as a general rule, I kind of need money for the larger stuff of life. But if it’s a bargain on something I wanted anyway, so much the better. [Disclaimer: This makes me seem like the very essence of self-restraint when it comes to shopping, which isn’t exactly the case. This, however, is one sub-area I tend to shine in, so I thought I’d point it out. :o)]

I went out in search of two little items today and was pleased to find both of them -- and at reduced prices. Maybe I like soldes after all!



Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Voici Baptiste

(pronounced “vwah-see bah-teest”, meaning “Here is Baptiste”)

Baptiste is two-and-a-half. Here’s an account of a conversation we recently had, complete with visual documentation. The following has, of course, been translated from French.

“Gimme the camera.”
“No, Baptiste.”
gimme the camera1

“Gimme the camera!”
gimme the camera2

“Gimme the camera, Kate!!”
“Hang on… I’ve gotta get your picture first.”
gimme the camera3

One of my favorite things about my situation is the linguistic heaven I’m in. I live in a region with a notable accent yet with a family from the Paris area (therefore with the standard Parisian accent) which, further, has small children who are still learning how to speak correctly. It’s all just too interesting and fun!

Baptiste was just beginning to learn how to express himself when I arrived back in September. In fact, he couldn’t even say my name correctly at first and so called me “Go-Kate” because he already knew how to ask to ride his toy “Go-Kart”. :o) Since then he has learned a multitude of things (including my name), most recently “C’est pas à toi, c’est à moi” (That’s not yours, that's mine) and “C’est fini dodo?” (Is naptime over?) and “J’ai pas envie!” (I don’t wanna!). The cutest, though, is when he’s trying to situate something by himself and he says absentmindedly, “Vvvoila” (There).

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Little Help, Please

A while back I came home after teaching to find three of my host-siblings in the living room. One of them asked me to play and sing a song I’d taught at school that day: The Hello Song (a handy little song I learned over here). I did so, and it happened that five-year-old Naϊs already knew it from pre-school. It turns out that she then mentioned at school that she has an American living at her house who knows how to play the guitar. (That’s a total overstatement, by the way. I know a few chords on the guitar and have mastered the Down Strum, but that’s about it.) In short, the maître (teacher) asked if I’d be willing to show up once in a while to sing some songs in English with his class. Sure!

SO, now I have to choose songs to teach them. Of course, it’s a little tricky because they don’t really read yet (even French), so we’re just talking simple songs with lots of repetition. I’m trying to remember the songs I learned when I was little and I’m having very limited success! Of course I’ve been using some with my 8- to 11-year-olds already, but some of those are too advanced for little kids.

All that to say, here are some songs and my thoughts on teaching them. I’d love any additions or words of wisdom you all have to share. I really want more options that are just American kid standards, if you know what I mean. Thanks!

ABCs -- Probably not, because they‘re still trying to master them in French.

*Are You Sleeping? -- Useful and easy because they already know the French version and there‘s built in repetition.

*The Colors of the Rainbow -- Basic. Easy.

*Happy Birthday -- Yeah.

*Head and Shoulders -- It‘s a good one.

The Hello Song -- Yeah, even though they already know it.

I‘ve Been Working on the Railroad/Dinah Won‘t You Blow -- Lots of words, but with repetition and it might be fun for them. I dunno...

The Itsy Bitsy Spider -- Probably, because of the actions and the fact that it's so standard.

*The Months of the Year -- I learned this one over here. It‘s just the months of the year put to music, which makes it über useful.

She‘ll Be Coming Round the Mountain -- Lots of repetition but random, probably difficult vocabulary. Thoughts?

Skip to My Lou -- Would probably be good, but I have to learn all the verses first. :o)

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star -- This might work well. At least they already know the melody.

*Where is Thumbkin? -- Yes, same tune as Are You Sleeping?, but simple, useful, and with fun gestures.

Obviously, I don’t need much, but I like the idea of having lots to choose from. Of course, this is beneficial for the kids it’s my job to teach, too.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ohh, the MisTRAL

(pronounced "mee-strahl")

I’ve heard from many sources that when one moves to southern France it is usual to first hear tell of the Mistral, then to pooh-pooh the Mistral, and finally come to the point where one says, “Ohh, the MisTRAL!” I must admit that I’ve been wanting to make such a progression myself as it’s part of the southern France experience, but so far I’ve not been tempted to say any such thing. The only thing along those lines which I think has escaped my lips is, “Huh, now that is really cold wind.”

I guess I’m just a hardy Nebraska girl. I didn’t buy a winter coat until the end of November while others first began wearing them more than a month earlier. People say, “Oh, it’s so cold!” and I say, “Yeah, I guess.” Sometimes I manage to resist adding, “but it’s nothing like Nebraska in the winter,” but sometimes it jumps out before I can stop it! I’ve only felt one wind that to me was exceptional (the cold one), and while I’m not sure NE winds get quite that cold, they get darn close. I even had to ask someone, "So, have we experienced the Mistral yet this winter?" because I wasn't sure. The woman was surprised at my ignorance and assured me that the answer was yes.

One of the teachers I work with just got back from the Alps. She was talking about how cold it was there: -18 degrees! I whipped out the Celsius-Fahrenheit chart that lives in my purse (thanks, Bess!) and said, “Oh, so it was zero? Yeah, that’s cold, isn’t it?” successfully withstanding the urge to add how frequently I’ve, for example, awaited busses in that or a colder climate.

Apparently I’m a big ball of Nebraska pride when it comes to the weather, even though I’ve never taken pride in it before. But I love when people ask me about the weather “where you come from” and then being able to tell them about the extremes we experience as a matter of course. I love feeling so undisturbed by the “weather” that has the rest of the region all a flurry. I feel so, I don’t know, above it all...

I love my home!
my house, 2004

Footnote: Mistral is also the name of a guy who lived in this region of France -- a poet, to be specific. I guess he was... wait for it... long-winded! (nyuk nyuk nyuk)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

With a Glass in One Hand

I had the immense pleasure this year of making my New Year’s resolutions with a glass in one hand. No, it had nothing to do with alcohol. But it had everything to do with Psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist, for those of you who don’t know, is a game, and it was my great delight to introduce it to my host family over the holidays. In it one or more people (the psychiatrists) have to determine the disorder of the group (their patients). The disorder can be any number of things, ranging from everyone thinks they are the person on their left to people wearing jeans are chronic liars. If someone fails to answer in accordance with the disorder, someone calls, “Psychiatrist!” and the group all switches seats.

We played Psychiatrist New Year’s Eve where we lied whenever we held our drinking glasses. We laughed a lot. The fun part, though, was continuing the game after it was over. We could say whatever we wanted, get the desired response, and then raise our glass as if to say, “It’s okay. See?” I particularly enjoyed doing this when the talk turned to New Year’s resolutions. My host dad, champagne in hand, looked at one of his daughters and asked if she wasn’t going to study hard this year, to which she picked up her cup and heartily agreed. I raised my glass and said how much I’m going to read this year. (They know how much I actually avoid reading -- though I love reading in theory.) It felt so good being able to say that, good intentions and all, without feeling obliged to actually keep it (even though I’ll secretly try!).

In other news, school is officially back in session as of today. Let me just say that I love having a job where "the alphabet" is a lesson plan. :o)