Trip to Germany and the Netherlands

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Currently I am on a two week break from school for the Toussaints holiday.  in France, we have a two week break from classes about every seven weeks.  For the first week of the vacation, I traveled in Germany and the Netherlands with one of my American teaching assistant friends, Madison. The trip was amazing and we got to see quite a few different cities. To start the trip, we had to take the train from Orléans to Paris.  Once in Paris, we traveled by megabus to Munich, Germany.  After Munich, we went to Berlin, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Cologne, and finally ended up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

We spent about a day in each city, sometimes a bit less than that (We were only in Cologne for 3 hours). It was nice this way, as we got to see many different cities, but in most places we didn’t get to see everything because there was simply not enough time.

In Munich, we took a trip to see the Dachau concentration camp because it was just a short train ride away.  It was something that I thought was really important to see, but it was also very hard to be there.  There was a large museum there in the buildings that people would have gone through as the arrived at the camp.  The museum was very informative and went through all of the different periods of the war and what the camp was like during these periods. Many of the buildings from the camp were still intact.  Those that weren’t, such as the barracks, had replicas available for viewing.

I think that perhaps the most upsetting place that could be visited at the camp was the gas chambers.  One could visit the gas chambers, and the old and new crematoriums as well as the camp prison.  Though it was hard to see and imagine the atrocities that occurred in other parts of the concentration camp, these sites made me feel the most uneasy.  I could walk into the gas chamber and view it, knowing full well that I would be able to step out the other side unharmed.  The same cannot be said for the many who visited this room while the camp was in operation.

Another thing about the site of the camp that was striking to me was the wooded area surrounding the location. The trees here were tall and there was a small creek on one side.  The woods were not unappealing, but I don’t want to call them beautiful because of their close proximity to a site where so many people were brutally murdered.  We walked through part of the trails around the crematoriums of the camp and could see markers for the mass graves  where the nazis unceremoniously buried their victims.  There were markers along a line of trees that explained that this area had been used as an execution range as well. Nature goes on even when terrible things are happening in the human world, but it is still striking to me to see such calm in a place that was once full of turmoil.

After we finished at Dachau, we went back to Munich and went on a guided walking tour of the city.  This was great because we got to see many of the important landmarks and got to learn about Munich’s history.  We ended up in a lovely park called the English Gardens that stretched through a large expanse of the city.

After this tour, we went back to some of the sights that we had seen to explore them in more depth.  From there, we went to a cool little ice cream shop in town that had all kinds of weird flavors.  I got strawberry basil, but you could choose from flavors from champagne to fish stick to kinder bueno (a European chocolate bar that is kind of like what a kit-kat would be like if you added hazelnut cream to the center. Do yourself a favor and try one if you haven’t. They’re the best). We ended our night in a restaurant called Hofbrauhaus with gigantic beers and cheese spatzle (homemade German egg noodles, that were good, but not as good as the ones that my mom made when I was growing up).

We took the bus to Berlin next.  Once we arrived, we realized that our hostel and the bus station were quite for from the part of the city where most of what we wanted to see would be.  We got to see several cathedrals in the city, walked through a huge park, climbed to the top of several tall monuments, and finally got to see the Berlin wall.  The part of the wall that we visited was called the East Side Gallery an featured graffiti from artists all over the world.  Berlin was quite a cool city to visit, but this city in particular was one that probably would have been better to see over the course of several days because there was so much there and things were quite far apart.

Next on our voyage was Nuremberg.  When we arrived in the city, we first visited the Kaiser’s castle. We didn’t get to see the inside, as it was closing soon, but the outside of the castle was beautiful! It was interesting to see a German castle and compare it to the French chateaus that I have seen.  There was also a lovely food market in Nuremberg in front of one of the big cathedrals in the middle of town.  I love markets, so this was a great find.  While looking around, we found an area with several shops selling interesting handmade things.  One of these stores sold hand painted springerle, a traditional German cookie.  I was really happy to see this store because my mom’s side of the family is German and my mom makes these cookies every year at Christmas.  It was cool to go in the store and tell the man there about my family’s holiday traditions and to feel connected to Germany as a country.  After wandering around the city for a while we went to get dinner. I had schnitzel, something that I had been wanting to eat for the whole trip so far.  At the end of the night, we ended up in a bar with live music and spent our time there until we had to leave to catch our bus to the next city.

Our second to last stop in Germany was Hamburg. This city was cool to see because it was so different from the others we had visited thus far.  The city had a port area and a lot of it was surrounded by water.  While in Hamburg, we visited a museum called the Miniature Wonderland. The museum had model trains and small scale replicas of different parts of Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world.  The museum was very cool to see, but was awfully crowded.

Our next stop was Cologne, but we were only in the city for three hours.  This left us enough time to see a cathedral and get breakfast, but it was still nice.

The final stop on my trip was Amsterdam.  This was one of my favorite cities that we visited. The first night, after checking into our hostel, we explored the city.  Later that night, we went to see the Anne Frank House.  I remember learning about Anne Frank in school, and seeing the house where she went into hiding was heartbreaking, but worthwhile.  After this, we walked around the red light district and saw the canals.  The next morning, we got up and went straight to the Van Gogh museum. Van Gogh is my favorite artist, so going to see a museum dedicated to his art and his life was completely amazing.  After the museum, we got to meet up with my friend Silvia. I was so happy that we got to spend time with her, because I hadn’t seen her since I left France after studying abroad.  We got to see the Dutch flower markets and cheese shops and explore the city a bit with the help of someone who knows their way around more than Madison and I did. After exploring the city some more, we had dinner at a restaurant called the Pancake Bakery (they served European “pancakes,” so crepes).

I was really happy that I got to see so many cool cities during the week.  It was definitely a good first trip outside of France.

Below is the link to the album of the pictures from my trip. There area lot of them, so it was easier to give the link than to put them all in this post.

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First Week of Teaching and Other Updates

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I realize that I haven’t posted on here in about a week so here’s an updated on what has been happening here lately.

Last week on Thursday we had a big orientation for all of the teaching assistants in Orléans and some if the surrounding areas.  It was nice because while I was there I could take care of a lot of the paperwork I had to do. in the morning, we were talked to about a lot of administrative stuff, but it was good to learn more about what is expected of teaching assistants here.  We got to eat lunch in the school canteen, and I was surprised at how complete a school lunch in France is compared to school lunches in the United States.  I’ve been told that most students here will eat in the canteen for lunch and not pack a lunch, which s strange to me as I brought a lunch with me nearly every day when I was in high school.  That afternoon when we had finished lunch, the assistants were divided up by the language that we would be teaching and what grade levels we would be working with and had ore meetings.  We talked some about what we thought our first lessons might be and how to interact with the students. This information was kind of helpful to me, as I haven’t done much teaching before, but the nicest part of this afternoon meeting was getting to meet other teaching assistants.

I also have finally gotten my work schedule, and I have Fridays and Mondays off. This is nice as it extends my weekends in case I want to travel.  It’s really nice as well because there’s a lovely market in the middle of the city on Fridays and I’ve made a point of walking around it each week. The food always smells wonderful and there are many books there to look at as well.

Because of my long weekend, I had more time again to explore the city.  I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the tram system now, which is really helpful in getting around the city.  I watched several rugby games on tv this past weekend as well.  I’m still struggling to understand the game, but it seems to be a really important sport to many of the people that I’v met so far.  The rugby world cup is happening and that’s why so many games have been on, but it’s strange to me that if I was at home I probably wouldn’t have known this world cup was happening.

On Sunday, I went to mass at the Cathedral St. Croix with some of the other assistants and then we went to the Musée des Beaux-Arts.  It was interesting to go to a catholic mass in France, especially because I had never been to a mass before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was really cool to go to church in a cathedral that is so big and so old. To think that people had been worshiping there for centuries was a bit mind blowing.  The Musée des Beaux-Arts was a pretty good sized museum. Orléans isn’t a huge city, but I thought the museum would be small for some reason. We spent several hours there and still didn’t get to see quite everything.

My first week of teaching began on Tuesday.  For this week I mostly observed classes and answered the students’ questions about myself and the United States.  It was quite interesting to see the differences in levels between students in a given class and even from one class to the next.  All of the student that I’ve met so far were really nice and friendly. I am also really happy with the teachers that I get to work with, who have all been very kind and helpful.  Next week I will start working with small groups of students outside of the classroom, and I’m quite anxious to begin my “real” teaching experience.

Out and About Around the City

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Since I don’t start working with classes until probably next week, I’ve had a lot of time to explore Orléans.  On Saturday evening, I went back to the Festival de Loire to see the fireworks.  I had dinner there as well, and the food was very good!  Tons of people came out to see the fireworks, so the festival was crazy busy.

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On Sunday, I had thought about returning to the festival, but because of the crazy crowds, I decided against it. The festival had a parade of boats, so I watched that from the bridge.  It was really cool to see all of the boats that had been going up and down the river during the festival in once place.

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After watching the boats, I decided to venture back to the cathedral that I’d seen on Friday, since only part of it had been open then.  On my way there, I stumbled upon a garden behind the city hall.  It wasn’t very big, but it was a nice place to wander around for a little while. When I finally made my way back to the cathedral and was please to see that the whole things was open today.  The inside was breathtaking. Medieval crests hung from the ceiling.  The stained glass windows depicted scenes from the life of Joan of Arc.  The cathedral’s architecture reminded me a bit of that of Notre Dame.

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Yesterday morning, I got to tour the school that I will be working at this year.  I can’t believe how big it is! I got to meet some of the teachers and they all seem really nice.  After seeing the school, I came home for a bit, then decided to take a walk to the Jardin des Plantes. This garden was cool because it was on my side of the bridge and wasn’t really that far from my house. There were all different kinds of plants there, but the main attraction was the many types of roses. I hope to go back to the garden soon, as there were many benches and it looked like a good spot to come to sit and read.

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After seeing the garden, I decided to take a walk on the dock on the south side of the bridge. The cool thing about the dock is that there are parts that are elevated, but there are other spots where you can walk right next to the river.  It was cool to see the river and the town from a different perspective than usual.

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Le Festival de Loire and Exploring the Town

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These last few days have been kind of lazy, but overall good.  On Thursday I spent most of the day relaxing and then did a bit of exploring. Yesterday I went into town with the professor I will be working with to take care of some of the administrative things that I needed to do and then explored a bit more.

Orléans is a beautiful city cut in half by the Lorie River.  I live on the south side of the Loire.  The North side is where most of the activity is; there are many stores, a movie theater, a grand medieval cathedral, as well as restaurants and bars.  A market is held in the city center each Friday with food, some prepared and some not, as well as books, cds, records and movies.  The buildings in town are incredible!  Many of them date back to medieval times.  There is also a statue of Joan of Arc in the town square, as she was from Orléans.

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Some pictures of the Loire taken from le Pont Georges V

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This week the Festival de Loire is happening on the docks along the river.  The festival only happens every other year, so being here to see it is quite cool.  There are old boats floating up and down the river.  Food stands of all kinds line the dock and the streets: beer tents, seafood, crepes, waffles, and fries galore!  There are demonstrations about fishing and and historical information about boats in the Loire area.  I even saw some stands with activities for children.  Many different bands have been playing, and as one walks up and down the docks, the type of music changes quickly.  Some of the music is traditional and some a bit more contemporary.

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Boats on the Loire and some of the stands that are part of the festival

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The town has been quite busy because of the festival. My host parents told me that people from all over come to see the festival each time it occurs. Tonight there will be fireworks at the festival, and I’m really excited to see them! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my first weekend in Orléans than seeing the town so full of life!
ime it occurs. Tonight there will be fireworks at the festival, and I’m really excited to see them! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my first weekend in Orléans than seeing the town so full of life!

Arrival in France

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Yesterday at about 11am I arrived in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. My flight went by quite quickly as I slept for most of it, which was good considering my long day of traveling ahead.  From the airport, I had to take two trains and the metro in order to get to Orléans. There was a lot of time spent waiting for my last train, which was good but also stressful because I was ready to be done traveling.  Once I arrived in Orléans, the teacher that I will be working with this year picked me up from the train station and we took a tram to the house I will be staying in with my host family.  It was nice to get to meet some of the people that I will be working with and spending time with this year and everyone has been really nice so far.

I am lucky enough to have my own room and bathroom at my host family’s house.  The room has a window that looks out over the street and it’s cool to look out and see the cars and trams go by.  My host family also has a cat named Figaro.

Today, it was really hard for me to get up because I’m still on American time. It’s only the early afternoon and I’m already wishing I could take a nap.  I am hoping to explore the town some, but I’m also not exactly sure where anything is and I don’t want to get lost. The weather here is also quite a bit chillier than it as at home, so I’ adjusting to the change in temperature as well. Tomorrow afternoon I will be going into town to take care of some things that I need to get done, like getting a French phone, a tram pass, and a bank account.

I guess that’s all for now, but once I explore the town some, I will post some pictures 🙂

My, How the Time Flies

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As of today, I have less than 2 days left in France.  I am discovering that packing to come home is far worse than packing to come to France was. Cleaning my apartment seems much more appealing than packing up my entire life.  I’ve been feeling stressed about trying to finish the work that needs to get done before I leave, as well as a bit melancholy at the thought of leaving.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about all of the things I will miss about France.  Here’s a list of some of those things:

  • I will miss the strange ability here that I have to travel to Paris on a regular.
  • I will miss the beautiful old buildings.  They just don’t make buildings like these in the States.
  • I will miss the Christmas markets.  I think I’ve told you how I feel about the Christmas markets. They’re pretty magical.
  • I will miss the food. I know this is cliché, but French food is actually really good.
  • I will miss having classes on a farm surrounded by trees in Rambouillet.  I couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous place to spend my time.
  • I will miss the chateaus.  They’re so impressive and beautiful.
  • I will miss my apartment.  Even though it has its issues sometimes, it’s still home and has been for the past 3 months.

The final and most important thing that I will miss about France the friends that I have made here.  It would not have been the same studying here without all of them.  They made this crazy country and university even more than bearable. They made it home. It’s so crazy and sad to think that we don’t know when we will see each other again in person (at least we have Skype).  It is always strange to go from seeing someone every day to not seeing them for an indeterminate amount of time.  It was like this for me with my family and friends at home, but I knew that within a period of four months I would be home.  This time, I don’t know when I will be back, but it certainly will be sooner rather than later.  I have fallen in love with France, and now, more than ever have a great desire to see the rest of Europe. I can’t wait to have more adventures discovering the rest of this continent…

As the last of the students start to leave the Vauban, I can truly say that I’ve had such a wonderful experience here in France.  There may have been some rough patches, but I have so many great memories of this time and I am so thankful for that.  I am so blessed to have had this opportunity to come to study in France and to meet so many wonderful people.

 

Classes with La Bergerie Nationale

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This post has also been a long time coming so please bear with me in the fact that I am the laziest blogger ever.

 

About a month ago I had a week’s worth of courses with La Bergerie Nationale, an experimental farm in Rambouillet that has been around for more than 100 years. This farm is located right by where REEDS is, so it is very cool that we could have a partnership with them for my Sustainable Agriculture class.

 

One of the days that I had class with the Bergerie, the other students and I were given a tour of the farm and told about all of the different types of cultivation that goes on there.  The farm, in addition to growing some crops, has cows, donkeys, goats, chickens, rabbits, and sheep, including the Merino breed that is famous for its wool.  It was interesting to learn about the ins and outs of how a real sustainable farm functions.   It was cool to see a profitable farm’s approach to different issues because I had studied previously in the course virtual examples of problems of sustainability in regards to agriculture.  Also, the only real farm that I have had experience with in the past is Albion’s student farm, which is different as it hasn’t yet reached the point where it raises much of a profit.  I know I didn’t catch every last detail because the person in charge who was giving the tour spoke very rapid French but I still enjoyed it.

 

We also got to walk around the area surrounding the Bergerie with a woman who studies landscapes.  She told us some interesting things about how the Bergerie used to be a kind of hunting resort for Louis XVI.  We also discussed biodiversity and the fact that you can determine the biodiversity of an area in part by looking at what kinds of insects inhabit that area.  If you want certain insects to stay away from a field because they hurt your crops, you can plant something that attracts them in another place and they are likely not to bother your crops.  This to me is an amazing example of agroecology, using ecological systems to naturally deal with agricultural problems.  It’s also a pretty darn ingenious technique!

 

Anyway I really enjoyed the classes with the Bergerie and I feel like seeing real problems that face a farm and how these probems can be dealt was beneficial for me.  I will leave you with some pictures of the Bergerie.

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