Updates on TAPIF Year Two

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chateau-de-blois

Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while, but I’m back to blogging, and I’m really going to try to keep up with it this time.  It’s been a crazy couple of months, and I know I’ve got a lot of updating to do.  This is going to be a long one, so maybe grab a drink or a snack to have while you read 🙂

I’m back in France and have been here for just about 4 months,  I’m living in a town called Blois. It’s still in the Loire valley like I was last year.  This town is much smaller than Orléans, however.  I have been loving living here so far.  The town is quaint and beautiful and has a grand old château in the middle (photo above). There are also a bunch of other assistants who live here, and they’re fantastic.  Blois has been a fun town to explore, but has also been ideal because of its proximity to other places: It’s about halfway between Orléans and Tours (the two largest towns in my region) and just a short bus or train ride to many of the other chateaus in the region.

Another new thing about this year is that I’m working in two schools instead of one and that I’m working in collèges (middle schools) instead of a lycée (high school).  At first I was worried about working with younger students, especially because I got on so well with my high-schoolers last year, but  it’s been going really well. I’m still getting the hang of planning lessons for them as their levels of English are less than the older students I’m used to being with, but it’s getting easier as time goes on.  I was also worried about how it would be to have my time split between two schools, but it’s been working out well. I obviously don’t spend as much time there as I did last year because I’m only in each school for 6 hours each week, but the teachers have been really welcoming and helpful.

The two schools that I’m in are very different from each other.  Collège Begon is much smaller and is classified as a ZEP school (zone d’education prioritaire) which from what I’ve understood is the French way of classifying a school as inner city.  Many of the students at this school are immigrants, or have parents that immigrated to France before they were born. My students at Begon are always very excited to learn and participate in class, which makes my job a lot more fun.  Collège Augustin Thierry, in contrast to Begon, is a very big school and not in the ZEP.  Augustin-Thierry is actually a cité scolaire and has a collège, a lycée, and classes for adults. The school has about 10 buildings and a large park in the center of it all.  There are many other language assistants who work at Augustin Thierry (mostly in the lycée), while at Begon, there are only two of us.

Another difference this year, is that I have my own apartment, instead of living with a host family.  It’s the first time in my life that I’ve lived alone without roommates.  It was a bit weird at first, but after I got used to it, I’ve found that I kind of enjoy having my own space.  It also helps that most of the other assistants live less than a 10 minute’s walk away, so we see each other really often.

While I’ve been here, I’ve managed to see several more chateaus, take a few weekend trips, and meet up with old friends (I’ll attach links to pictures at the end of the post).  Within the first month of being in France, we had a school break. During this break, I stayed in France and did some day trips within the region.  I got to rediscover Tours and spend some time back in Orléans. I also visited the Chateau de Cheverny, one that I didn’t have the chance to see last year. This château is famous for housing many hunting dogs, which sets it apart from the other chateaus in the region.  Seeing this chateau in late October was perfect, as we also got to walk the grounds and see the fall colors.

I was also lucky enough to be able to take a weekend trip to London in November to see two of my friends from when I studied abroad, Nunzia and Silvia.  We got to wander the city and see all of the beautiful Christmas decorations, something I’d never been able to experience in a big European city besides Paris.  I must say that London’s Christmas spirit might have been even greater that Paris’.  It was great for us to all be together again, especially because we hadn’t all gotten to meet up for three years. If you’re interested in seeing some photos of London all decorated for Christmas, here is a link to the photos from my trip: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1536717346343375.1073741849.100000153723798&type=1&l=bac4c51c3f

Later in November, I got to have a proper American Thanksgiving celebration with the other assistants. We had all of the traditional Thanksgiving food covered, even pumpkin pie and stuffing! It was really cool to get to share this holiday with others who hadn’t celebrated it before, and it made it easier to be away from home for this holiday.  I was actually very lucky to get to go to two Thanksgivings this year, as my reference teacher, Natasha, invited me to another Thanksgiving celebration as well.

In the beginning of December, I got to fulfill a dream of mine, seeing the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, France.  Ever since I’d heard about these markets, I had hoped that someday I would get to see them. They’ve been voted the best and France several times. Visiting the markets was lovely. They were much more traditional and less commercial/touristy feeling than the markets in Paris.  Several other nice things about this trip were getting to visit a region of France that I hadn’t seen yet and getting to see my friend Liz, who is a teaching assistant in city not too far from Strasbourg (Shout out to Liz and her blog alotofworldtosee!), and helping celebrate her birthday. Strasbourg is a lovely city that I’d like to revisit in different weather and when I have more time. I think there’s a lot more exploring to be done there! Here’s a link to my photos from Strasbourg: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1546113468737096.1073741850.100000153723798&type=1&l=b4bcb48f98

For Christmas, I went to Italy to spend the holidays with my friend Cassie, who I went to college with and who is now studying in Florence.  It was nice to be able to spend Christmas with someone from home, since we were both staying in Europe for the holidays.  We took a short trip to Venice to explore the city and see an exhibit on illuminated manuscripts, which Cassie is planning to make for her post-grad project. Exploring Venice and Florence with Cassie was a joy.  It was also fun that for New Years two of our other friends from college, Lindsay and Kaitlin, came to visit. I was glad that our trips overlapped so that I could see them.  Italy has been one of my favorite places to visit, so getting to go back again was lovely.  Florence and Venice are both such beautiful and atmospheric cities, full of amazing food, great art, and wonderful surroundings. Here are some photos from Venice and a link to my album from Florence: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1581125898569186.1073741853.100000153723798&type=1&l=bdc13efa83

 

That pretty much brings me up to now.  I’ve been back at school for a few weeks and have been enjoying being back in Blois. It’s been pretty cold, but we haven’t really had any snow. There have been galettes des rois (king cakes, but not like the ones that you can sometimes find for Mardi Gras in the states), a delicious French tradition for the Epiphany (or the day the three kings would have made it to Jesus) in every shop, which is certainly a January highlight for me. I’ve even found the charm in the cake and been a “king” for the day.

We have another break starting the second week of February, during which I will be traveling to Budapest, Hungary, Vienna, Austria, and Prague, Czech Republic with my friend Heather, another American assistant in Blois.  I’m really excited for this trip, as I have never been to any central European countries. I’ve been doing trip research and all of the pictures of these cities are just gorgeous. I’m hoping it won’t be too bitter cold during our trip, but if there was a bit of snow, I wouldn’t mind too much.

That’s all for now! I will be trying to update this blog more frequently in the coming months, as it’s easier for me and more interesting for you. I will close with a link to my album of photos of daily life here in France: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1472358106112633.1073741848.100000153723798&type=1&l=139a78016f

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My Travels Through Italy in February

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Here I am again, super late in updating my blog.  I’ve been back from Italy for more than a month, but it’s been a little bit crazy here in Orleans with work and everything else that’s been going on. *Disclaimer: This blog’s been cut quite short because I wanted to get it put up before my post about my spring break, so sorry for that. That’s why it starts off with a lot and then the descriptions get significantly shorter….*

So in my February break from school, my friend Madison and I traveled to Italy for two weeks.  We started our trip in Milan and the proceeded on to Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, and Turin.  Naturally, we did a lot in those two weeks, so I think I’m just going to include mostly just the highlights for each city to keep this blog from becoming ridiculously long.

Milan:

The first city that we explored was Milan. We spent two days in Milan and I found that it was a really beautiful city.  My favorite thing that we saw in the city was the Duomo or cathedral.  It was beautiful and different from any of the cathedrals that I’ve seen in France.  We walked climbed up to the roof of the cathedral in the rain as well, which was very cool.  Later that day, after wandering around the city, we went to a modern art museum.  It was a nice museum, and had a great view over the main square with the Duomo.  Our hostel also had an aperitivo that night, where they had a bunch of free dinner food if you bought a drink in the bar that was there.  We ate dinner in the hostel that night and it was really cool.   It was probably one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in.  The second day we were there, I had risotto for lunch.  The risotto had saffron in it and it was a really typical Milanese dish. We also explored a castle that had feral cats living in the gardens around it, which was adorable.

Rome:

After Milan,we spent 3 days in Rome. One of the coolest things for me was that we arrived in Rome super early in the morning. Though I wasn’t initially pleased to be awake, we went to see the Trevi fountain and almost no one else was there.  When I went to see it in December it was so crowded, so getting to see it like this was perfect! Later that day, we went to see the Sistine Chapel.  It was worth seeing, but I didn’t know that they led you through museums and buildings and gardens before you even got to see the chapel.  It took several hours to see everything!  We also went to see Saint Peter’s Basilica and waited in line about three hours to see it.  The basilica was lovely, but at that point I was very tired of standing and waiting. That night for dinner, we went to dinner our roommates from the hostel.  They were super nice and it was fun to meet some new people. The food at the restaurant was amazing (though I didn’t eat much in Italy that I didn’t love).

The second day in Rome we went to the Castel Sant’Angelo. This was once the residence of the Pope but has been turned into a museum.  It had stunning views over the city and the Tiber river.  We also saw some lovely fountains and the Colosseum later that day.  That night, we had dinner with Nunzia and Vito.  I was so happy that they could take time out of their  busy schedules to meet up with us.  After dinner, we walked around the Trastevere quarter of room.  It was cool to see such a lively place at night, but it was also bizarre because there were so many people speaking English there since there are many American universities in the city.

On our third day in Rome, we spent the morning in the Villa Borghese, a big beautiful park in the city.  The weather was so nice while we were in Rome, so I was happy for us to spend some time outside.

Naples/Pompeii:

Pompeii was an amazing site as well, and something that I never thought I’d see. I can’t tell you how fascinating it was to be walking through a city so much older than almost anything else I’ve seen in my life.  Naples was nice to visit again. The city’s coast is gorgeous, especially in the setting sun.

Florence:

What a cool city for art! Saw many museums and galleries and they were hosting a chocolate festival while we were there.  The duomo in Florence is also gorgeous.

Venice:

A city like none other I’ve ever been to.  What gorgeous canals! We visiting some of the neighboring islands while there and I was impressed by the picturesque houses. Also, a lovely modern art museum, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, calls Venice its home.

Turin:

Many nice museums in this city. It was a nice calmer end to the whirlwind trip.

 

Anyway, linked below is are the albums of photos that I took over the trip. As per usual I went a bit photo happy….

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1275179552497157.1073741843.100000153723798&type=1&l=d99f8fb8a9

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1282984948383284.1073741844.100000153723798&type=1&l=920e6123f3

As I said previously, expect a post about my spring break adventures very very soon!

Christmas in Italy and Other Updates

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  Oops! Another blog post that has been long overdue.  This will probably be a longer post since I haven’t given you any updates lately, so here it goes!

This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by my friend Nunzia to spend Christmas in Italy with her and her family.  Nunzia and I met when we did our semester abroad at the University de Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines and I hadn’t seen her in two years, so needless to say I was really excited about this trip 🙂  Another reason to be excited for this trip was that our friend Zhou, who also studied at UVSQ was going to fly in to spend a few days with us as well.

I left France on the 18th of December to fly to Rome.  With Nunzia’s guidance I successfully navigated the train system and made it into the city from the airport. The first night, we wandered around the city. We saw St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.  It was beautiful to see it at night, with all of the Christmas decorations and the nativity scene.  While we were in the square, a choir of American seminary students was there singing Christmas carols.  We stayed a while listening to them, and it was all very magical and Christmas-y.  We walked around some more and I got to see several of Rome’s lovely fountains. One of my favorite things that I saw the first night was the Pantheon.  It was such a lovely building, and seeing it lit up at night was gorgeous.

The next day, we planned to spend the day seeing the highlights of Rome. Nunzia’s boyfriend Vito came along to show us the city. Before we started, we had to pick up Zhou who had flown in that morning.  We saw many more fountains and went back to the Pantheon to see the inside.  We also had a typical Roman lunch, a sandwich called pizza biancha e mortadella, which was made of yummy thin bread and a type of ham.  We had gelato from Nunzia and Vito’s favorite gelato place in Rome, Giolitti.  I picked to have dark chocolate and tiramisu flavored gelato and it was some of the best ice cream that I’ve ever had in my life.  Later, we got to see the Trevi fountain. I was very excited to see this fountain, because it was featured in one of my favorite childhood movies, The Lizzie McGuire Movie.  I know it’s kind of dumb to be so excited to see something that was in a kids’ movie, but to be fair the fountain is really beautiful as well.  Of course I threw in a coin and made a wish as well 😉 We were actually very lucky because they had just finished renovations on the fountain in November so it was especially lovely when we saw it.

We got to see many other really lovely things in Rome that day, such as the Colluseum, the Pantheon (again for me), the Spanish Steps, and many really beautiful churches.  We also got to eat amazing food.  Nunzia and Vito took us to their favorite place to get tiramisu, I drank the most espresso I’ ve had in my life, and we even went to a bar for happy hour. You may not think that happy hour would be a very exciting thing, but in Rome, happy hour was way better than in the States. They had a deal at many restaurants where you bought a drink for a fixed price and then had access to an all you can eat buffet of appetizers. They had pizza, salad, and many other delicious things.  If you hadn’t already gathered, I really enjoyed the food.

The next day, we all left together to go to Nunzia’s village.  This was a five hour drive from Rome, since Nunzia’s family lives in the south of Italy in a small village called Pellare which is part of a slightly bigger city called Moio de la Civitella.  The drive was long, but very beautiful, as there were spectacular views of the montains.  When we finally arrived in Nunzia’s village, it was very much in contrast to Rome.  Both places were absolutely lovely, but Nunzia’s village was very small in comparison.  Also, nearly everyone in Nunzia’s village knows each other, so the atmosphere was very friendly and welcoming.  The fist thing thqt we did when we arrived was eat an amazing lunch prepared by Nunzia’s mom.  The food was absolutely amazing and it was so nice to be able to meet Nunia’s family.  Later in the day, Nunzia gave Zhou and I the tour of the village and we drove up to the top of the village’s hill to see the breathtaking view of the mountains and surrounding villages.  That night we went to a Christmas market in the village as well and got to try all kinds of yummy foods.

The day, we got coffee with some of Nunzia’s friends in one of the nearby towns.  That night had a party to celebrate Nunzia’s dad’s birthday.   It was really nice to meet so many of Nunzia’s friends and to be able to help celebrate her dad’s birthday.

Later in the week, Nunzia, Zhou and I went to a city called Paestum to visit the ancient Greek ruins that were there.  It was cool to see these, as I don’t think I’ve seen anything as old as those ruins in my whole life. There was a really nice museum there as well that showed what some of the things they had found in the ruins. Later in the afternoon, we visited a town called Agropoli and saw the Mediterranean Sea.  The sun started to set some time after we got there and it was perfect.

The following day, we had to drop Zhou off at the airport in Naples.  We spent the whole day exploring the city before his flight. Some highlights of this day were getting to eat pizza margherita in the restaurant where it was invented and spending time at a lovely castle by the sea.  Naples was quite a cool town to see and while we were there it was bustling and full of people.  There were nativity scenes being sold in many parts of town, which was something cool to see.  Nunzia also showed us the metro station called Toledo, which has won awards fir being the most beautiful metro station.

The next day was Christmas Eve.  Throughout the entire time I had been in Nunzia’s villages, the men who lived in the village had been constructing a large bonfire pile.  One of the village traditions is to light a bonfire on Christmas eve.  This bonfire is huge and is said to be a tradition to help keep baby Jesus warm.  The oldest man in the village gets to light the fire, which burns for several days.  this was an amazing thing to see, as I’ve never seen a bonfire so big in my entire life.  We also went to midnight mass, which was cool as I’ve never been to a midnight mass on Christmas eve before as I’m not Catholic.  It was all in Italian so I didn’t understand a word, but the choir that sang was really good. 

On Christmas, we had a big meal with Nunzia’s cousins and then spent a lot of the rest of the day visiting family members. I thought that this was a nice thing to do and was different than what my family usually does at Christmas as we all usually get together at one persons house and spend the day together there. It was a bit weird to not be with my family for Christmas, but it was amazing to spend Christmas with a friend and see how other people celebrate such an important holiday. 

The day after Christmas, Nunzia and I took a train to Salerno in the evening to see the famous Christmas lights there. They were fairy tale themed. There were many other people there so it was hard to see all of the lights but they were beautiful. That night after we got back Nunzia and I got to cook pancakes for everyone for everyone for dinner. This was fun because pancakes are one of my favorite things to make and pretty much everyone likes them. 

All in all, I had a really nice time in Italy. I think that it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. I am so lucky that Nunzia and her family so graciously welcomed me into their home. I was sad to leave, but when I returned to France my family had arrived to visit me for two weeks

With my family we spent one week in Paris and one week in Orléans because I had to go back to work the second week. We got to see a lot of lovely things. Some of my highlights were going to the chateau of Versailles and getting to meet up with Zhou again, going on a river cruise on the Seine, and going on a chateau tour once we returned to the Loire valley. I am so pleased that I got to see my family as it made it easier to be away from home for 7 months. 

I’m finishing up this blog as I’m on the bus back to Italy. Madison and I are going to see many of he major cities in the next two weeks as we are in another school break. That’s all for now! I promise my next blog will come sooner than this one has. 

Here is a link to the pictures from my trip to Italy over Christmas. 

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1243064349042011.1073741842.100000153723798&type=1&l=8fba089994

I will update this post with a link to the most recent album of photos of what I’ve been up to in France when I have access to a computer again.