Spot on if you ask me.
I wholeheartedly agree.
The last couple months been super busy for me, so I haven’t had much time to write. However, I’ve finished my French language classes for the semester so now I can finally play catch up with this little blog-thang.
For spring break this year I hopped on a plane to Porto, Portugal with 6 of my USAC gal pals. We spent about 3.5 days there and it’s definitely a place I’d love to revisit if I ever have the time. The people are really nice, the city is gorgeous, it’s relatively inexpensive, and majority of people know English and/or French. After we got situated in the (non-heated) house we stayed in, we took a little stroll around town. When we first arrived we noticed that there was some type of event going on, there were crowds of people in the downtown area just standing around but nothing was actually going on. By the time we went to explore we realized it was a giant protest. At the time I couldn’t tell you what it was about but when I got home I did a little research. The protest was caused by the fact that the state was cutting back on the benefits that the citizens were receiving from social security, because the country is pretty broke.
Something that I found interesting at the protest was the police presence. Normally when there are protests or large events (like NATO) in Chicago, you always can see an aggressive police force on news coverage. When I saw the protest in Portugal, the sole purpose of the police force was to direct traffic. In fact, I would say the protest was more comparable to a parade rather than a protest. Maybe not. But there were marching bands, which to me says parade.
After our little big protest experience we had to venture out and try a traditional Portuguese sandwich. Literally the heaviest thing I have ever consumed–sausage,ham, beef, fried egg, cheese, and gravy.
It’s also recommended to accompany the sandwich with a beer. I then suffered from a food coma.
Following events included touring the city (gaw-geous), wine tasting, free wine from a Portuguese woman, sangria, and tile shopping. All in all it was a good quick vacation with some lovely ladies I’ve met here.
Hola mes amis (Fran-spagnol?)
Ce week-end I visited the les pays Basque (France) and San Sebastian (Spain). I’ve been back since Sunday and I’m still pooped. My USAC group took a bus first to St. Jean Pied de Port and it was super pretty. For those of you that don’t know, the basque region is half in France and half in Spain. It’s a region that has its own language and nobody really knows it’s origins. The language is nothing like Spanish or French either. You’ll see signs and not even be able to guess what it means because the words are so bizzare.
In St. Jean Pied de Port we went up this steep hill and explored a little fortress. It was a great view from up there, and we could see all of the red and white basque houses. Apres our little hike we took our bus to the more important stop, the restaurant for lunch. In typical USAC excursion fashion, the food was wonderful. We started with a salad with some duck on it and green beans and bread, followed by a traditional basque dish which happened to have the same exact flavor of italian beef. I was all about it. Also, something I noticed is that at the restaurant there is a salt shaker, pepper shaker, and a ‘piment’ shaker. Piment is a spice, but as I’ve nothing is actually spicy in France. It just adds some flavor. But before we began eating I was informed we would be eating traditional basque cake.
Now with the italian beef like meal that I had just eaten, when someone says cake I obviously envision portillo’s chocolate cake. But I have to remember that the French throw the word “cake” around pretty loosely. Like, if there is no frosting or actual cake substance involved, it isn’t a cake. If there is pie crust involved, it is OBVIOUSLY a tart or pie. So even though I was half disappointed when I started to mange on the basque “cake,” it was actually wonderful and had some almond cream filling on the insiiiide. Nom.
Our next stop was Biarritz. It’s a ritzy little town where I’m told that lots of celebs go on vacay. There is a beautiful beach, but while we were there it was of course snowing. I was only there for a little bit though, because we had to catch our train to Spain!
We got into San Sebastian around 7 and it was really great. In Pau, at 7 there are like, a few restaurants open and barely anyone out and about. It’s almost deserted looking by 8. But I’ve been told great things about the nightlife before. We went out for dinner around 10:30 and experienced tapas! It was actually really difficult though. If you’ve read one of my first posts, I mentioned how nerve wracking it was to order in French, when I speak the language. Asking how to go about ordering/choosing tapas was like 30x worse. But once I was eating I was obviously happy. I even tried octopus. YEAH.
After that we ventured out to find a bar and some Spaniards who spoke English. One out of two happened. We found this sweet bar (literally, the bartender gave me a lot of gummy candies), and three beautiful men walked in. Upon second glance, my friend noticed they were speaking french. Score. Upon meeting them, we learned that they also live in Pau. What? Oh and they also weren’t lying. Really.
But in all seriousness, they were cool and took us to this awesome club on the beach. It was multiple floors and you could literally just look out these huge windows at the ocean. Probably one of the coolest places I’ve ever been inside of. Something you’d see in the movies! However, when in Spain do as the Spanish do. Meaning we didn’t get back to our hotel until 5:30am. So Sunday we were all exhausted. We got some breakfast, some ice cream, walked around, and went to the ocean. It was beautiful but we sadly didn’t last very long. I really hope/ think I will visit there again, considering it is only a two hour train ride away! Si si si!
Being that one of my first posts was about food, I consequentially have started to gain weight. It’s difficult to exercise here without a good gym because it rains literally almost everyday. Luckily, this weekend was full of sunshine and only sunshine. My friends went skiing on Sunday, but I was (still am) pretty traumatized from my first skiing experience so I decided to stay in Pau. Since it was beautiful and I cooked/ate a lot of dinner with some friends the night before I literally had no reason not to go for a run. So thanks be to me getting out of bed and the amazing weather, you all can finally see some better pictures of Pau!
Beyond exercising, I’m nervously anticipating how incorporating healthy eating back into my regime will turn out. They don’t have all of the same foods here and they are definitely lacking in produce. Not to mention (again) my host mother is vegeterian, so when I buy meat products it’s a little more difficult because 1)I’m only buying for myself, 2)I like to eat it right away so she doesn’t get uncomfortable with all of the dead animal in her frigo, and 3) I don’t know how asking where a Ziploc container for my left over chicken will pan-out. But, like all good things in life it will be a challenge and I am starting it for the first time with a healthy mind and attitude. Alors, wish me luck! My goal for this week is to say no to desserts (yogurt and fruit don’t count because I am American and those are only desserts for the French).
While I’m on the topic of health and fitness, I just feel like I should put it out there that my BFF Syd was completely right when she told me that Europeans are “skinny, fat people.” Yes, they are thinner than us. No, they do not know what exercise is or how to do it correctly. It’s really frustrating because I’ve even signed up for yoga and it’s literally meditating with one basic sun salutation 3 times then more meditating. Aussi, les gyms don’t offer classes, don’t have a good weights section, and have like 4 cardio machines. And they are hella expensive (trying to incorporate “hella” into my vocab like my west coast friends). So I’m just gonna say, *YES there are really fat Americans. However, I truly believe an average American is more fit than an average European.
*This statement holds no validity and is a simple observation of an annoyed American
So Pau is located very close to the Pyrénées Mountains. And it’s always been a suggestion to “profiter, essayer faire du ski” since I’ve arrived. I had never skied before in my life, but my friend assured me it was no big deal and they have bunny hills for a reason. So I said to myself, “self, you’ve never skied before and you have slight fear of heights, but you should probably just go skiing anyways.”
We got to the mountains by bus, which I wish I could say was great, but I definitely felt motion sickness and fear for my life the whole way driving up. Imagine a large bus taking tight turns on roads with no railing. Also add in some speed bumps. And the increasing altitude.
When we arrived we rented all our stuff and went out to hit the slopes. In case anyone was wondering, they “bunny hills” in the mountains are actually rather… ginormous? My friend Hailey also thought we should just dive right in and do it…so we did. Let’s just say I started off by falling off of the lift when it was time to get off, and couldn’t get up before the girl behind me body slammed me. Whoops. After that if you could picture someone falling down a mountain, that would be me. Also imagine this person being scared of heights, so after getting up from falling I’d stand there for a good five minutes to convince myself to try again.
All in all it was fun, and I’d like to actually learn to ski sometime, but it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If I have time before the snow goes away I want to also go snow-shoe hiking in the mountains, or go sledding because they have that too!
This weekend I went to the lovely city of Bordeaux! It was about a 3 hour bus ride there and a 2 hour TGV ride back, so not too far from where I am. But I loved it. It’s a lot bigger than Pau which was really nice, but nothing compared to the size of Paris.
I went to Bordeaux with my entire USAC program, so when we got there we split into groups and went on an hour walking tour of the town. It really has some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. Being the American that I am, I once again did not listen to the tour guide and just looked at stuff and took pictures the whole time (whoops).
After the walking tour we went to a restaurant called “Cassoulet” but we did not actually eat cassoulet. I had the duck and it was absolutely amazing. There was a layer of skin/fat on top and it was soaked in butter and perfect. Also came with a salad and potatoes which were top notch as well. Before I start describing dessert please let me reiterate, I am a dessert fiend. Please do not pay attention to my passionate feelings toward this dessert.
If I ever truly fall in love, get married, have a good job, have kids, it would probably feel 3/4 as good as this dessert tasted. It was a little chocolate molten cake. Once again, fresh tasting. Plus a little whipped cream next to it. Plus salted caramel ice cream next to that. Plus a raspberry sauce on the plate. Literally amazing. I cannot stop thinking about it.
Anyways after we ate lunch three of the girls I’ve become good friends with and I went to check in at our hotel. On our way I also bought a bottle of Bordeaux because I was in Bordeaux (duh).We also found the Cathedral and toured it/took some pictures.
If you look at the slide show you will see that this is the tiniest room I have ever slept in. I mean, I knew it was the “budget” hotel but it was still the funniest thing I’ve encountered in a situation involving hotels. The room had a toilet, small shower (with no curtain/door) and a sink when you walked in, then a door which led to the full sized bed with a twin bunk. There was also an oversized shelf and cube on the floor, also referred to as a desk and chair.
After checking in we went to the rue St.Cathrine, which is a huge street where all of the shopping is. Right now in France, the soldes are happening. Instead of stores constantly having sales/clearance in France, they have les soldes for 6 weeks, twice a year. Everything gets even more marked down the further into it. I like les soldes.
Apres, we stopped at the store to pick up some bread, stinky cheese, pretzels, and nutella for dinner. We got back to the hotel, ate, drank our wine, and got ready pour le soir. We met up with some people from our program and headed out to the bar. It was really fun and a good experience in getting to know people better. When the bar closed we headed outside and while I was standing there a Frenchmen approached me.
He told me I was pretty and asked me for my numero de telephone and being the charming young lady I am, I responded “I don’t know my phone number.[in french]” Beyond the fact that I probably said this wrong, it sounds like a terrible excuse. Sadly, to this day I can only give people my number if I am sitting next to my computer OR if i have the handwritten address book my grandma gave me on hand. Luckily my buddy Hannah tried to tell him that it’s true, I really don’t know my number, but he was kinda sad. He asked if she knew my number but then my charm kept coming and I said “um…you’re from Bordeaux, and I’m not. [in english]” But even though i abandoned him after this point he still said enjoy france and good luck with my studies. Thanks Bordeaux man. When I got home I was bummed a little because I thought he was cute, but my friend (while hands deep in the nutella jar) informed me that he was “SO AVERAGE.”
The next day we left our hotel at noon in search of some nomage. We went to a little brasserie and had some pasta and pizza. ten minutes later we stopped for pastries. Ten minutes after that we stopped for ice cream. Half hour later, stopped for some coffee. But in all seriousness, we just toured the city and it was so beautiful. I really would like to visit there again.
Our train left Bordeaux around 6 and we were back in Pau at 8. Best weekend so far, it’s made me even more excited to travel everywhere else.