Flirting with Spring

And the countdown begins. As of today, exactly two months sit between me and America. There are so many conflicting emotions bouncing around right now that I’m trying my hardest to put the looming end of my junior year out of my head.

It’s crazy that it’s been seven months. There are days where I forget I’m in France. Like a friend of mine said earlier this week, I’ve long since stopped comparing, rather I’ve let the French invade my soul. Thus, seeing things that are decidedly French, like teenagers smoking on church steps, someone scooter-ing to school or my host mom stocking up on baguettes for the next day have become my new normal.

A pig parade and marching band I literally ran into over the weekend. There were kids dressed up as the little pink rascals dancing around a slowly moving giant, fuzzy, pink pig van. It’s been almost a year and I still find new things all the time.

I’ve also grown accustomed to the fact that in Rennes, I can leave my house with the sun shining and when I leave school, it could be hailing. I kid you not. After coaxing the flowers into blooming and teasing everyone with promises of sun and weather closer to 18 degrees Celsius, it looks like my darling city has remembered itself and to keep from getting too carried away, unleashed some flat out gross weather this week. Guess who threw her umbrella back in her bag? Two days without it must have been a new record.

We did have one glorious day of sunshine (aka when I snapped the only pictures I took all week). To celebrate, a couple of friends and I grabbed ice cream because why not? We blissfully ignored the fact that warm temperatures appear to be on strike in protest of the rise of the Front National after the first round of local elections this past Saturday, and shivered contentedly. Like everyone’s been singing lately, I keep trying to convince myself “the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Here comes the sun…

One of four whomping willow clones across the street from the school

 

Place St. Anne in the sun, for a change

 

I feel cold just looking at this picture

 

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The Beginning of the End

That title makes me unbearably sad, but it’s time to face the facts. This week marked the start of the fourth and final quarter of my year abroad. It feels like it was just yesterday that we were all exploring le Parc du Thabor for the first time, all gross and nervous after the flight. Life finally feels beyond normal here, with everything running smoothly (although I hesitate to say that for fear of jinxing things). I can barely speak proper English anymore and can’t go more than a few sentences without slipping in a French word/phrase I deem more appropriate/convenient than its English equivalent, mais bon, I’m taking that as a good thing. I feel like I have reached the mountaintop, so to speak, and I have no desire to ever come down…

French News, it's casual

French News, it’s casual

After Spring Break, we all arrived back at Villa Alvarez bursting with stories and babbling in a crazy mix of Franglais at the top of our lungs (we may sound more French, but our volume will always betray our “true” nationality). It was like coming back to school after summer vacation– that’s how good it was to see my SYA France family after a little over a week apart (I can’t bear to imagine what it will be like in just a few short months). I think Rennes missed us as well, welcoming us back with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures that had us all lounging outdoors and flitting off to Thabor during frees. In some ways, it felt like first semester all over again but without that sense of starting anew. Returning to Rennes felt familiar, like I was settling back into a well worn routine (which however did not include my body clock re-coinciding with the bus times just yet).

Happy St. Patrick's Day from SYA!! (feat. me, G.O, and R.R)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from SYA!! (feat. me, G.O, and R.R)

Getting back into my old habits included going to the retirement home, where we did a little bit of arts and crafts to help them decorate for Easter and the arrival of Spring. Somehow I ended up with glitter everywhere and even hours later, I was still finding little bits of sparkle all over…

Coloring with my friend from la Maison de Retraite

Coloring with my friend from la Maison de Retraite

Easter fun with S.C at the retirement home

Easter fun with S.C at the retirement home

I also went for my first run since before break, and chugging up le Boulevard de Sevigné, although not so kind to my lungs, warmed my heart. Pausing mid-run in the middle of Thabor and then again on the side of the street to capture Rennes as it starts to bloom, I realized how much I love this city.

I guess it's good to be back

I guess it’s good to be back?

Place de Parlement looking postcard worthy

Place de Parlement looking postcard worthy

My sleepy and french-ified brain can’t put into words all the emotions I’m feeling over this quarter but suffice to say, I’m all set to profites au fonds from the two months we have left. This includes eating all the food, especially, but not limited to, cheese, baguettes, pastries, chocolate, galettes and things slathered in salted butter, as well as the array of Girl Scout Cookies (aka little nuggets of America) that my parents graciously shipped me. Fun fact, the French (or at least my host family) prefer classic shortbread (aka Trefoils) to a mint-chocolate combo (aka Thin Mints). We’re over half way through the year and I’m still comparing my two cities and the two cultures. Since I’m still discovering new facets and nuances every day, I’d venture to say it’s never gonna stop, which is indicative in my mind of the fact that while life as a quasi-expat will often be spent in semi-limbo, sometimes it’s ok to just let one city overwhelm you and truly immerse yourself in its comforting foreign-ness.

L'Eglise Jeanne D'Arc, my trusty landmark

L’Eglise Jeanne D’Arc, my trusty landmark since the start of the year

How adorable is my host family's house?

How adorable is my host family’s house?

What is Germany?

Greetings from sleep-deprived me, resting up back in Rennes. What a week it’s been!

Before launching ourselves into Germany for a week, my friend R.R and I slowly made the transition from French to German with a stop in Strasbourg, one of the main cities of France’s Alsace region. Alsace is different from the rest of France in many ways. It has a history of flip-flopping allegiance, getting handed back and forth between France and Germany over the years thanks to a couple of wars. In addition to certain legal exceptions granted as a result of their split origins, the Alsaciens have their own dialect and almost all the children speak some amount of German (in addition to French and English).
 
When we visited, the weather was super nice. Coming from the almost constant rain of Brittany, I was shocked to see the sun but it helped me feel like this was actually spring break :). In Strasbourg, we visited briefly but still manage to squeeze out one day of solid sightseeing that culminated in a surprise 18th birthday party for a friend of mine who participated in an exchange with my school last year and hosted my SYA classmate R.R while we were in town. Though it was unlike American parties in many ways, I still had an amazing time and met some neat people. Yay French friends 🙂
 
Les Strasbourgais <3

Vive la France

The Strasbourg host fam :)

The Strasbourg host fam 🙂

 
Despite having been supposedly eased in with Alsace, Germany was a bit of a shock from the start. I’ve never before been in a country where I don’t speak the language and it was also weird to switch from addressing others in French to English. 
 
As a city, Berlin is a mixture of old and new, with a notable history and a vibrant present. In my mind, this contrast is best captured by the East Side Gallery, a modern art/open-air mural exhibit on a 1.3km stretch of wall that sits on the site of the old Berlin Wall. This colorful artistic tribute was one of my favorite things we saw and we spent over an hour snapping hundreds of pics. Impromptu photo shoot anyone? 😛
 
Becoming one with the wall, comme d'hab

Becoming one with the wall, comme d’hab

The world on the wall

The world on the wall

Good things come in small packages ;)

“Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world”

 
Interestingly enough, my visit to Berlin coincided with multiple reunions, lending it some of the same old meets new aspects that the city itself so deftly balances. On our first night in town, we met up with L.Z, a friend of mine from when I was very little who now lives half in Germany and half in Thailand. She took us to an open mic that was held in what used to be a brothel but has since been converted to a quirky “upside-down” bar where even the signs and coolers are upside and occasionally nailed to the ceiling. Later in the week, we also went night-time rock climbing at her gym, a former brick factory and an abandoned water tower. In addition to meeting L.Z, R.R and I stayed with an aunt of mine whom I haven’t seen since I was two. It was fantastic to see parts of the city through the eyes of locals and in that vein, she recommended we rent bikes to take advantage of Berlin’s city-wide bike lanes and explore the city the way many of it’s residents do. 
 
Night-time rock climbing, it's casual

Night-time rock climbing, it’s casual

The Hipster Climbing Gym

The Hipster Climbing Gym

 
Biking around led to us getting slightly lost in a foreign city, a feeling I’m slowly getting accustomed to, given how many times it seems to happen to me nowadays. In fact, I’ve embraced it: there’s something exhilarating about wandering around with no final destination in mind. It’s like I’ve always said, the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the end point. Plus, this year abroad experience has shown me that aimless roaming isn’t at all a bad thing (and I’ve become quite skilled at map reading as a result :P). 
 
Stumbled upon this beautiful church on our bike escapade

Stumbled upon this beautiful church on our bike escapade

 
Finding our way through Berlin, sometimes expertly, other times a little less cleanly, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Thank you J.R.R Tolkein for so nicely capturing my second (and sadly, last) week of Spring Break. 
 
"Bear"lin :P

“Bear”lin 😛

La Vie en Rose: A week in Paris

Seeing the Eiffel Tower, one of the wonders of the world, peek casually over the nearest building is truly something else. Despite this not being my first time in Paris, every time I see the ironworks looming in the distance, I regress to amateur tourist mode and snap a billion pics. By now, I have enough shots of the tower in a slew of different lights to exhibit them as a series.

Le Tour Eiffel up close

Le Tour Eiffel up close

Le Tour Eiffel from afar

Le Tour Eiffel from afar

Le Tour Eiffel by night

Le Tour Eiffel by night

Le Tour Eiffel by day

Le Tour Eiffel by day

The Eiffel Tower’s constant presence just reminded me that I was casually in Paris for the week– this whole “I live in France now” thing never ceases to blow my mind. In true French style, my classmates and I spent the school trip popping in and out of cafés and museums. As a mark of how we’ve progressed since our previous class excursion last fall and given that Paris is, well, Paris, we had an insane amount of freedom to wander, explore and choose which of the many fabulous exhibitions and notable landmarks we wanted to see.

Out of the many museums we visited, my favorites were the Palais de Tokyo, the Bill Viola exhibit at the Grand Palais and the Musée Rodin. When we went to the Palais de Tokyo, it was the beginning of Paris Fashion Week so, amongst the thought provoking, very modern current exhibits, there was a sort of live art aspect coming from the fashion show going on in the background with tall, “perfectly-eccentric” models mingling with the plebian crowds trying figure out (among other things) an art display where the entire objective is to steal a book. It was truly art like I’d never seen it before. At the Grand Palais, Bill Viola’s pieces were another form of art is never seen before. His edited videos and mise-en-scenes centering on the themes of self reflection and the passage of time had me mesmerized for minutes on end (not a small feat in a warm dark room, especially when I’m running on minimal sleep). Finally, the Musée de Rodin and all the sculptures were a sort of return to more traditional forms of art, although there’s nothing completely “traditional” about Rodin. My favorite part of the museum was the sculpture garden that really allowed you to soak up all the details in his work, which are incredible, especially when you consider the time period and the inflexibility of the medium.

How can something this explicit be so confusing?

How can something this explicit be so confusing?

The fabled "lock bridge" and a view of Notre Dame at night

The fabled “lock bridge” and a view of Notre Dame at night

Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

Le Musée de Orsay

Le Musée de Orsay

L'Arc de Triomphe in Spring

L’Arc de Triomphe in Spring

Overall, this class trip for me was a real indication of how far we’ve come since stepping off that plane back in September. We maneuvered Paris with a sense of mind that tried its hardest to mask our foreign-ness. A couple of friends and I even remarked that we felt separated from the American tourists and closer to the harried locals. After around six months in Rennes, we had slowly adopted some French mannerisms, which became evident amidst the clash of cultures that is Paris.

Paris on your own is a magnificent thing, as I learned from getting purposefully lost multiple times, dipping in and out of the metro wen the stations looked cool. However, Paris with friends is equally amusing and Paris with Parisians is, in my mind, even more so. Once the SYA sanctioned portion of the trip was over, I had the opportunity to stay with some family and visit some family friends in and around Paris. It’s always nice to catch up and discuss politics and education (which somehow always come up, but hey, I’m not complaining :P))

Paris, friends, and books-- what could be better?

Paris, friends, and books– what could be better?

Selfie with R.R and some family friends after a lovely dinner near Montmartre

Selfie with R.R and some family friends after a lovely dinner near Montmartre

This marvelous vacation, which is turning into a delicious combination of friendly reunions and forays into different cultures, continues with a little journey across Europe: direction Germany. Aufweiderzein!