"When good Americans die, they go to Paris." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bon Voyage

I'm too stressed to update my blog, but I'm leaving for Spring Break tomorrow morning and I won't have time to update for TWO WEEKS. It sucks because I know I'm going to have a million stories to share, but I won't have the drive to retell all of them when I return.

Tomorrow, Lien and I are taking a train to Paris to meet up with Ashleigh and PEETLES, my bffl from home. I cannot wait to see his curly head on the train platform. Lien and I are departing Sunday night for Athens, but we have an overnight layover in Rome, which is gonna suck. Red bull, anyone?

We arrive in Athens Monday morning and take a long-ass ferry to Heraklion or Crete. Now, I'm terrified of boats after an unfortunate sailing incident on my thirteenth birthday, so I got some French dramamine to knock me out. Anyways, we'll be in Crete for two days before arriving in SANTORINI for four days. Here, we'll celebrate Easter with the Greek at the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. Greece decorates their towns in candles during Easter and after mass, they all eat lamb soup. The festivities should be beautiful and phenomenal.

After Santorini, it's on to Athens for two days, and then I fly back to Paris to meet my mom and my boyfriend for five days. :) I can't wait to pop champagne with Dylan beneath the Eiffel Tower on our sixth month anniversary. I cannot fathom how I'm going to react when I see him exiting his terminal in Charles DeGaulle. Aye.

Alright, when I return from Spring Break I will have a month until I come home. It feels like I just arrived, terrified and confused, in the Charles DeGaulle airport. Until then, bon voyage to me!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Sober Experience in Wine Country

I don't know where to begin, so I guess we'll begin at the beginning. Also, if you read this and still think the French are heartless, go eat merde.

Leah, one of my literary friends from Asheville, is studying in London and she visited me this weekend. She got here around midnight Thursday morning. This was her first time in France so my friends and I made sure she experienced the authentic French life. We took her to morning coffee, galettes for lunch (Leah's lactose intolerant, which made French cuisine an obstacle to overcome.), and Thirsty Thursday. We gave her a tour of Angers, the chateau, and she even came to class with us.

On Friday we took a train to Bordeaux, and this is where the fun begins. First of all, the train leaving from Nantes lost some of its cars. It's now half the size, and the train is overbooked. Leah has a seat assignment in a train that doesn't exist and I don't have one at all, so we just take our seats somewhere and ride. Two hours outside of Bordeaux, we get kicked out of our seats and have to stand by the luggage in the back of the car. There are about a dozen other passengers doing the same thing. The whole experience is rather funny, but I feel like a peasant.

In Bordeaux we arrive at the tram station to buy our day passes, and I realize my wallet is missing. I immediately assume it was stolen in the crowded train. Leah reminds me that I took it out to go to the bathroom in the Angers train station (you have to pay.), and I know I've left it there. I call my dad to cancel my credit cards and then call my host family and ask them to go to the train station. My host mother texts me and says that someone returned the wallet with all 110 euros and two credit cards still in tac. I want to weep I'm so relieved. I mean, someone was kind enough to return it. I call my dad, literally seconds before he calls the credit card company, and he's astounded.

"It's because it's a Catholic country. That would never happen in America."

See, Dad, the French are the shit. After this, I felt so grateful, but I was still without money for an entire weekend. Leah lent me some and I started a tab with her.

On the tram, we have trouble composting our tickets and a French-African girl helps us out and asks us where we're going. She shows us where to get off and where to switch tram. She asks what brings us to Bordeaux, and Leah answers, "Pleasure."

"Wow. That's rather forward of you." She says. Lost in translation? She wishes us a swell weekend and leaves.

Leah and I follow Lien's directions to the hotel, but she gave us the wrong tram stop so we wander around for a good 45 minutes. I ask about four French people where the hotel is, and they are all very friendly and give me directions. Several people come up to us while we have our map open and ask where we need to go. This day started off shittily, but the people made it so much better.

We make it to the hotel and decide we need wine and food asap, so we take the tram to the river and find a huge plaza crowded with tables and chairs. We eat Italian food beneath a tree and take a walk by the river. I can't explain how beautiful this city is. It's clean and quiet, but it's large enough to keep us occupied. A garden of tulips, lit by pink and blue street lamps, lines the Quais and couples drink wine and play the drums.

The next day we take a tour of the city and go to a wine tasting. I hate that I have no money, because I can't bring back a bottle of this fantastic white wine. The weather is beautiful, but incredibly hot. We walk around, buy some French bon-bons, and sit in the shade. We explore rue Sainte-Catherine, a cheap commercial area, and Leah buys a French Cosmo that we have fun translating it by a church.

Back at the hotel, we take a "nap" but don't wake up until 10 PM. Fail. Luckily, the French eat late so I figured most places would still be open. Wrong. Restaurants had stopped serving food. Some managers saw us walking the streets in search of dinner and suggested a few places that might be open. One even took us to a restaurant and asked the manager if he would serve us food, but they wouldn't take any new customers. We resorted to eating doner, and I ate a feta and french fry sandwich (?). Interesting.

Next, we split a 20 euro bottle of wine at a bar and talk for hours. By the time we leave, it's 2 AM. We arrive at our tram stop, and it's cold so a man offers us his jacket. After waiting several minutes, he tells us the tram stopped running. My BB is dead, so we have no GPS, and we left our map at home. Also, we have no money because we have yet to find an ATM.

"Zut alors!" I yell, and another French man laughs and asks what's wrong.

He asks if we're English, and we say yes. We ask where we can find an ATM, and he gives us directions in broken English. The French guy who offered us his jacket tells the man that we understand French, and that he doesn't think we speak much English. WTF. Leah and I just laugh, and the man walks us to the street where the ATM is. He tells us we're very beautiful. I don't think he believed we were English because he said not many beautiful women come from England and that wherever we're from, we represent our country well. Then he asked if I was Indian. Comme d'habitude.

We get our money and attempt to wave down several taxis. We get one and he drives us home. Damn. What a weekend. But I've realized that having my American friends visit me has really improved my French. They're usually dependent on me to translate, and I see it as practice for my future career. It forces me to use my French and this weekend I realized how much my oral comprehension has improved. I understand about 90% of what's said to me.

All in all, I've realized a few things this weekend. For one, I hate goodbyes. When friends visit from home, I spend days where I'm never alone. Not for a minute. Leah was with me since late Wednesday and when we said goodbye, I wanted to cry. Lame. I walked to the tram station by myself. It was cold, wet. I hate goodbyes.

Also, the French are so much more friendly than people make them out to be. Tourists go to Paris, which isn't even real France, and assume that's how this entire country is. That's like tourists visiting New York and assuming all Americans are like that. I guess I just wish people would give it a chance.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thank You, May I Have Another?

My entire body is sore. My arms are scratched, my hands have blisters, my ass is throbbing...and this is why:

Lien suggested Ashley, Adrianne, and I do the Loire à velo, which is a bike path that winds through the Loire Valley. It starts across the bridge in Angers and you circle around. I hadn't ridden a bike in Angers yet since the streets are narrow and the drivers are heinous. But my family offered me theirs when I first arrived. This morning I tested it out and drove to the Saturday open-air market to buy food for breakfast, our picnic lunch, and dinner. Like any other girl, I dressed for the occasion and wore a crop top, skinny jeans, and wedges. All went well. I arrived at my destination sans sweat and without aching feet, though my host father looked at me funny when I mounted the bike with my ambitious shoes.

We ate our picnic at the chateau d'Angers and started to ride. It was absolutely beautiful and I hate that I forgot my camera. We drove through the French countryside and along the river. The sky was cloudy, but it was warm and the treecover kept us cool. Fields of green, sprinkled with daisies and wildflowers, stretched before us on our left, and the French kayaked and fished at the river. It reminded me of my home in Appalachia. I was so happy and so awed. I'm riding a bike through the beautiful French countryside. Who am I?

However, Lien's tire goes flat. A nice elderly man uses his bike pump and fixes it. Or so we thought...two minutes down the road, and her tire is flat again. There's obviously a hole that needs to be patched, but we made a reservation at a nearby winery so we move on. On our way, Lien hits a curve at a diagonal and crashes. Pas de probléme.

We get to the winery and walk around the grounds. Stunning. Everything is green and the manor is stone. There are white iron-cast tables and chairs for picnicing and the surroundings are quiet. After our tour, we have a wine tasting. This region produces the best white wine, so we sampled that and the rosé, which is famous in Anjou. Apparently the winery is owned by a family, and the owner is so passionate about her wine. She speaks about it like poetry. We buy a bottle of rosé to go with our dinner and have a second picnic in the vineyard. We eat baguettes stuffed with brie, gruyère, and salami, fresh fruit, and tiny madeleines. Then we repair Lien's bike...

Multiple men walk by and comment on our attractiveness but don't offer any help (I miss my Southern boyfriend.). We borrow a bike pump from the owner's nephew, but that's it. We sit on the ground for an hour tearing off the wheel, finding the hole, and patching it. Once finished, we scream and congratulate ourselves on our bad-assness. I chant, "Yes, we can!" like the obnoxious American I am, and someone makes Rosy the Riveter references. The men walk by again and I'm tempted to ask, "I've got a spare pair of balls. Would you like them?" I mean, they didn't even offer to help! Rude.

It's fixed, right? Wrong. Lien gets on the bike, and it goes flat. Zut. It starts to rain and we're about an hour's ride from Angers. She powers through and we make it to the same roundabout where Lien crashed earlier. I hit the same curb diagonally and zig-zag before jumping ANOTHER curb and landing straight.

"I did it!" Everyone was impressed until I realized my pedal was stuck in my shoe. Without anyway to support myself, I fall to the ground and landing on my arm in the gravel lot. I lay there, my bike on top of me, for a good minute or so while people take pictures and laugh.

Adrianne asks, "Do you regret those heels yet?"

"Never regret."

We take a different trail home and stumble across a sheep pasture. They must be attracted to Asians because they rush toward Lien and nudge the fence. We feed them apples, but the ram gets excited and starts pounding his head against the fruit like it was a wild animal it needs to dominate. No, fool, you bite it. We get frustrated with their stupidity and leave.

Finally, we see the chateau d'Angers in the distance and cheer. No matter how many times I travel in Europe, I can never wait to return to my home in Angers.

We're totally sore from the bumpy dirt roads. We can't even sit down. But we make our dinner with the ingredients from the market: salad with balsamic vinaigrette, pork and beef kebabs (these bitches were 20 euros for FOUR, but totally worth it.), zucchini bread, and tiramisu and chocolate for dessert. Oh, while the ladies are cooking, Adrienne goes upstairs to retrieve our wine. On her way down, she trips, tries steadying herself against the wall, and shatters the wine bottle in the process. I'm on my way upstairs when I stumble across her laying on the staircase in a puddle of rosé. Would you mind cleaning your dignity off the stairwell, please?

Dinner was delicious, as always, and I return home with my bike. Berry asks how my day went and I told her it was a catastrophe. Dramatic much? Peut-être, but we biked for six hours and I believe the final score is:

Two collisions = 2 pts.
Flat tire = 1 pt.
Aching bodies = 4 pts.
Broken wine bottle = 1 pt.

Loire Valley: 8; American girls: 1 (for "repairing" the bike and looking damn cute while doing it).