29 May 2008

Pisa Photos, and Hiking in Cinque Terre

Chiavari and Pisa

(By the way, Chiavari is pronounced key-AH-var-ee) Here are some pictures from my first couple of days:
This is the beach at Chiavari. When I was studying Chinese a couple of years ago, my teacher told me that their ideal of beauty is mountains and water in the same view. I agree!

Here’s the Baptistry (the big round one), Cathedral (rectangular one), and Tower (leaning one) of Pisa. Apparently all of Pisa is leaning, not just the tower: the Baptisty and Cathedral are both leaning about a foot, as are many of the houses. However, the tower’s the most noticeable tilt.

The Catheral is incredibly beautiful, inside and out. Any imaginable type of art, from carving to fresco, can be found. Most churches in Italy have fairly simple facades, just striped with differently colored stones or completely plain. This one, however, is very ornate.

Here’s a self-timer picture of me in front of the tower:

This cracked me up-- a parking lot at one of Chiavari’s high schools:

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands,” is a collection of little villages along the cliffs of the Mediterranean coast. The five little villages are probably entirely inhabited by the people who cater to tourists and the people who cater to the people who cater to tourists... in short, they’re five of the top ten touristy villages I’ve visited. The most-visited places in Italy are Rome, Florence, Pompeii, Venice, and Cinque Terre (though not necessarily in that order). The real attraction, however, isn’t really the villages: it’s the rocky paths between them. It’s been made into a national park, to control (and charge) the throngs of people who want to hike. In total, there are about six miles of paths, which in rocky, mountainous measurement, translated to six hours of hiking. It becomes a full day when you add in stops in all the villages, and pauses at the beach to soak your sore feet. I hiked three of the four trails, and I concur with the people who had recommended Cinque Terre to me: it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Grueling, but rewarding. The first path goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola, and it is called the Via dell’Amore, the Lovers’ Walk. It’s the easiest: paved in most places, usually flat, and with only a few stairs.
This is the view from the walk. The sea is gorgeous, and mountains are by far my favorite topographical feature, so I was pretty much in heaven.

Here’s Manarola! I didn’t stay for long... I wanted to hike two before lunch.

The second trail goes from Manarola to Corniglia, which is the central town, perched on the top of the cliffs. The walk wasn’t bad, although it took an hour, three times as long as the Lovers’ Walk. I have asthma, but I only had to stop once or twice to calm my breathing... until I got to the end. The end of the trail is a miserable 368 stairs. You do about forty through the trees, and are relieved to see the “end,” but then instead of seeing Corniglia right in front of you, you see seemingly never-ending stairs zigzagging up the hill. I stopped to “enjoy the view,” which is a useful cover for “regain lung power) about ten times. Besides, it had been nearly seven hours since my tiny breakfast, and I was out of water. Luckily, like any discomfort, the memory quickly disappears, and Corniglia charmed the tiredness out of me.

I set off to refill my water bottle at a fountain and find some cheap food. The first place I came across had a Cinque Terre specialty, a mixture of vegetables (notably spinach and potatoes) in a thin crust. I got gelato for dessert before heading back to the trails. Gelato is basically a soft, very rich ice cream. The cones are generally very long and thin, and instead of round scoops, they use a little paddle to put the gelato on the cone. Thus, instead of having your two flavors one on top of the other, they’re side by side. It’s a bit odd, since you get a lot of flavor mixing, but it’s good. My two favorites are chocolate mint and cinnamon.

The path from Corniglia to Vernazza is supposed to be the most beautiful, and it is truly lovely. There are dozens of kinds of wildflowers, trees, and cacti to look at, rocky beaches hundreds of feet below, birds and lizards and butterflies flitting about, and therefore the area around the trail is perfect. The hike itself, however, is torture. Here’s the layout of the trail:
- Hike up about 200 stairs.
- Hike down about 200 stairs.
- Repeat three or four times.
Every time you get optimistic that the end must be near, you turn a corner and see...

...more steps. And since they’re made from loose rocks and dirt, the footing isn’t easy. The view is worth it, though. Here’s one with me in it-- luckily photographs don’t capture smell, because I don’t think I’ve ever been sweatier.

In this one, you can see Corniglia and Manarla, now very distant.

An hour and a half of hiking later, my legs were complaining, my ankle (which has a chronic sprain) was throbbing, and seeing Vernazza brought a sweeping sensation of relief. It sounds unnecessarily poetic, but that’s what it was!

Isn’t it charming? I headed straight for the beach, took off my shoes, and dangled my feet in the water until I felt less dead. Me voilà by the beach and harbor in Vernazza:

Then I climbed around the rocks for a while (there were several colors of granite, some sedimentary rock, and even some porous boulders that looked volcanic), got more gelato, and took a train back to Chiavari. I’ll go to the last town, Monterosso, another day.

27 May 2008

Buongiorno, Italia!

Just a quick post for the moment, to say that I am in Italy! I am staying in a little convent in the town of Chiavari... it is cheaper than most hostels, but I have a private room and private bathroom. The only downside is that there is no internet, which means that I am posting this from an internet café, which means that I am using an Italian keyboard, which means that I can not type an apostrophe and therefore sound unnaturally formal.

Yesterday I had to get up at four to be on the road by six, and after taking a bus, a train, a plane, a bus, and a train, I arrived in Chiavari. It is absolutely wonderful... I had a relaxing afternoon: went to the beach for a few minutes so that I could step into the Mediterranean, got gelato, got a supermarket dinner (chips, milk, and proscuitto... when I am on vacation, I make strange choices for meals) and went to sleep early. The nuns are really sweet, and they run a really professional feeling hotel in their extra rooms. Once they found out that I speak a tiny bit of Italian (though I understand a medium amount) it seems like they have made it their mission to speak Italian to me as much as possible, and they correct my grammar and help me find words. That is exactly what I was hoping for! And I know that they are doing it for my benefit... when I was particularly confused, I found out that one of the nuns speaks nearly perfect French. She just chooses not to, to make me speak Italian. Cool.

Today, I went to Pisa, to see the leaning tower and eat lunch. I have a train pass that allows me to travel basically as much as I want to, so my timing was flexible. Pisa is a relatively big town, and it is quite a walk to the tower. When they were building it, they noticed that it was sinking, and finished it a lot shorter than they had planned. So it is actually a lot less impressive than I thought it would be. However, the complex also has a cathedral and a baptistry, and both of these are spectacular. I went inside the cathedral, since it was cheap (it costs approximately $22 to climb the tower, so I ditched that idea instantly). It is gorgeous inside: such a mixture of types of art. Stained glass, fresco, mosaic, stone work, wood work, metal work, statues... everywhere you look, there is something lovely. I will post pictures once I am working from my own computer!

However, as is always the case with me, perfect travel is impossible. And the mishap of the day was particularly hilarious, because I had somewhat of a premonition of it. After I got pizza for lunch, my train of thought led me to wondering what would happen if one of my shoes broke. I play what-if scenarios in my head all the time, so it was normal. BUT IT DID. My sandal broke. In the cathedral. So I shuffled around until I got outside, and then took off the flip-flops. I had to wander around for about fifteen minutes before I found a place that sold shoes. They had two choices: white sequined flats, and shiny gold sandals of the style that would go great with a toga. I chose the latter, because my feet were ready to fall off from walking on the burning pavement. So now I have a pair of sandals that are about as far from Kel-style as possible. However, I think I will actually be able to get a lot of use out of them.

That is all for now. I will post pictures when possible. The sea, the sky, the architecture, and the weather are all beautiful. The north of Italy is pretty awesome!

21 May 2008

Pointless Post with lots of Points

I'm sure there are other little pointless bits of information that have been bugging you... if you're curious about any other banal details, comment and I'll add to the list!

Little Insignificant Tidbits About Life in France

- At the end of Mass, the priest says "Bon Dimanche à tous" (have a good Sunday) and everybody mutters/whispers their thanks, which sounds like a resounding "sss" throughout the cathedral.

- In French books, the table of contents is at the end.

- Popcorn at the movie theater comes in salty or sweet. Neither is covered in butter.

- Cinnamon and ginger are not frequently used in France.

- The French use the 24-hour clock. It took me about six months to get fully used to it... even though I'd been practicing for months before I arrived, and had to use it in Russia. It's really hard to retrain the way you think about time!

- It's not unusual to see lap dogs on trains.

- The Assumption, All Saints' Day, Ascension Thursday, and Pentecost Monday are national holidays.

- Acetaminophen is called Paracetamol.

- An "ombrelle" is a parasol, and a "parasole" is a beach umbrella. (A "parapluie" is your average rain-blocking umbrella. Very useful in this half of the country!)

- My favorite cereal in the world is sold in France (under the name Trésor, made by Kellogg's) and Russia (by Nestlé) but not in America. They're like solid Chex filled with powdered Nutella... yum.

- Electrical outlets have two small holes.

- A French breakfast has lots of sugar and caffeine (pastries or yoghurt and coffee) but no protein (meat or eggs). People are always surprised when I tell them what I eat for breakfast: eggs, yoghurt, and milk. No coffee, yet I stay awake all day. Amazing.

- Concerts/plays never start earlier than 8:30.

- Movies are released on Wednesday, not on Friday.

- Rain is rarely hard; it's usually a drizzle. Two days ago, I heard thunder for the first time this year.

- Toilets flush in interesting ways: there's usually a knob on top, which either has to be pulled up or pushed down. Sometimes there's a wide button to push. Sometimes the wide button is on the wall. Sometimes there are two buttons, for low-pressure and high-pressure flushes. Sometimes there's a chain to pull. I haven't seen a lever yet.

- Books don't come in hardcover. When books are new (before being released as a pocket paperback) they're a larger sized paperback. It annoys me, since they're not as durable.

- You can't buy a gallon of milk at the grocery store. It doesn't come in bottles that big, since people don't use a lot. The French don't drink milk straight like Americans do.

- Yoghurt comes in those little connected containers, not the larger separate pots like in America.

- A lot of people (me included) use fountain pens or other cartridge pens, and often use erasable ink. The erasability is through a separate pen: one end has a clear eraser, and the other end has a felt tip pen that has non-erasable ink, which can write over the area you've erased. Since the eraser solution is liquid, it makes the spot of paper you've used it on impervious to erasable ink. (Hopefully that comes somewhat close to making sense...)

- Tall buildings aren't very tall in France.

- Temperatures are in Celsius, and weight is in kilograms.

- French adults usually wear rectangular glasses, and kids usually wear very circular glasses.

- The first day of the week is Monday.

- Exam procedure is weird. There are students taking exams for lots of courses in the same room. You're told which desk number to go to, and you fill out an exam form, which has your name and information in a corner which is folded and glued down (like an envelope) so that the graders (who aren't always the professor) don't know whose paper they're reading. You're supplied with scrap paper too. Before the papers are handed out, they tell everyone to empty their pencil cases and put them away, and it's loud as they all do. French students are used to having pencil cases on their desks at all times. (They're trained that way.)

- There are lots of roundabouts and one-way streets.

- Everyone seems to follow the (relatively low) speed limit all the time.

- Band-aids don't come in colors or designs for kids.

- It's cheaper to buy tissues in little packets than in boxes.

- The keys are in different places on French keyboards. You have to press shift to type numbers, since most of those keys are for accented letters.

- There's a stereotype that French women don't shave: and there's a little truth to it, since true French women wax.

- In all my time in France, I've seen one stray cat and no stray dogs.

- French doctors have terrible handwriting too.

- Golden Delicious are the cheapest apples.

- French homes usually aren't air conditioned. They have thick walls, and summer is mild enough that it isn't necessary.

- There are very very few natural blondes in France. I would estimate that about 98% of French people are brunette. And most of these have very straight hair.

- When you call a phone in France, you don't hear a ring like in America. You hear a repeated beep until someone picks up.

- Eggs are brown. (Wikipedia says this is due to species and breed of chicken.)

- Stores (including grocery stores) are closed on Sundays. So are most restaurants.

- There aren't breakfast restaurants. People might go to a café for a pastry and coffee, but that's the extent of restaurant breakfasting.

- In Paris, there are a handful of 24-hour pharmacies. They're not common. When I try to explain why I thought this was strange, French people try to explain why no one would ever need to go to a pharmacy at night. If it's really serious, they can call a doctor. If it's not, it can wait.

- Streets aren't built on a grid system. They're built on a "hey, we could put a street here" system.

- Taxis don't have a taxi light on top. They just have a sign on the side saying that they're taxis.

- The most frequently studied languages in schools are English and German. A far third is Spanish. Nine other languages can be taught, but they're rare.

- In the university system, there's no correspondance between number of credits and number of hours per week.

- You can buy horse meat at the grocery store. It's for people, is just called "Horse" in between the "Pork" and "Beef" sections, and I haven't tried it yet. I've been planning to, but it's hard to drum up the courage.

- The French are very good at remembering to bring their reusable bags to the grocery store. At some stores, you can get the cheap little ones for free, but some stores don't have them. In this case, they sell bags (either disposable or reusable) at check-out.

- Drivers actually slow down when the light turns yellow... sometimes coming to a very fast stop. You're not allowed to cross when the light is yellow.

- Speaking of that yellow light... they're called "orange" here.

- Doorknobs on external doors are usually for decoration. The door only opens with a key, whether it's fully locked or not.

- Most houses have a high wall around them, so that you can't see into the yard. Some just have a high fence. Houses that aren't surrounded by a fence, or those with short fences, are called "American style."

- A lot of people think that the English word "bra" comes from the French "brassiere." However, the French word is soutien gorge, which literally means... "throat support." I think that's hilarious.

- The French, from kids to adults to really old adults, read comic books. They're considered a true art form.

- There's quite a bit of US election coverage in the (national) press, probably because our system is so weird. It's pretty optimistic. Coverage about the French government, though plentiful, isn't so cheerful. The new first lady, however, is quite well-perceived, over all.

- You hear a lot in the press about how the dollar is weak, but that's not entirely true: part of it is the fact that the Euro is having unprecedented inflation-- higher inflation over the course of a month than France had had for a decade, to be precise. It's hitting some people pretty hard, since prices on necessities like food have gone up markedly, but wages are stagnant.

- The "old people" demographic at Mass is pretty strong, but there are plenty of youth, young families, and middle aged people too. At least, it's balanced at the cathedral. Some churches (like the Madeleine, where I went once and was... disturbed... by the music) have a much much younger population, and some (like the Abbey where I go when I remember to wake up in time) have a very old crowd. There, I'm usually the youngest by... forty years or so. There are lots of churches, and because of the way the town grew, they're close together. Each has a unique congregation, because it's easy for people to go where they're comfortable, they don't necessarily have to go to the nearest parish. You hear a lot about empty churches in France, but from my experience, churches are only very empty if you go to Mass before 11 a.m.! Sunday is the day to sleep in.

20 May 2008

How did that happen??

I'm done. Finished my last exam (which wasn't too bad). No more courses, no more tests, no more lack of homework (well, no more official lack of homework... I still don't have any). No more riding the bus to the university. All of a sudden, the end of my exchange year seems particularly imminent.
In six days, I leave for Italy.
I spend two weeks in Italy.
Then I come back to Angers for ten days, during which I do some more Loire valley tourism.
Then I go home.
It snuck up on me.

So now I'm getting into end of year mode... I closed my bank accounts, I went to the laundromat for what should be the last time (I'll do laundry once in Italy, and wash anything else I need to by hand), I've stopped buying food except for milk, eggs, and fruit, I've put aside some clothes and books to donate, and begun the "big clean" of my apartment. In less than a month, I leave this home and go back to my other home, and that's hard to grasp.

17 May 2008

Concert and a Chuckle

Tonight was my last concert with La Maîtrise de la Cathédrale, the cathedral choir. We did a program of English sacred choral music, and it went quite well. Except for the word "the," the choir pronounces English quite well! We didn't have a very big audience thanks to some scheduling issues, but it was good anyway and they clapped for a long time. Woohoo!

And, since I remembered to take a picture, I have a picture of the page of sheet music that's been cracking me up for the past few months... click on it and see if you can find what I find so funny:

(Don't get it? It's the fact that "diminuendo" is split over two lines, and that the words under "inuendo" could be taken as one. I have a weird sense of humor.)

In other news, I leave in a month. And people keep asking me how I feel about that, which is a really hard question to answer.

15 May 2008


Monday and Tuesday, Kristen and I decided to forego the traditional castles and cathedrals and go to something with a bit more of a modern, childlike twist... Disneyland Paris. No, I'm not joking. There was even a 40% off deal, so it was cheap. (Comparatively) We got two days in the parks and a night in one of the hotels.
See, when you grow up in suburban Chicago, everyone you know has been to Disneyworld. I knew kids who went every Spring Break. I was usually the only person in my elementary school class who had never been to Disney. So I'd always wanted to go. Kristen loves Disney, and has been to both of the American parks, and wanted to go too. Perfect!

Disneyland was WONDERFUL. People call it things like "the happiest place on earth," and I can understand that. Everywhere you look, there are kids who are completely happy. The place is full of kids, and we saw maybe one or two crying. All the adults were happy too. It's truly magical... every little detail is so perfectly thought out, and it really does make you feel like a kid again. It's a different philosophy to rides, too. It's more about the background than the actual ride; all of the roller coasters are "inside" and most take place in the dark, with special effects. Space Mountain makes it seem like you're going through space, past stars and galaxies. Crush's coaster has lots of fish and feels like the ocean. The Aerosmith rock and roller coaster has stage type lighting and rigging, and loud rock music. The rides are alright, but the experience is incredible.

I surprised myself on several occasions with my reaction to the shows and the costumed characters... the atmosphere seems to bring out the joy and youth in everyone. Plus, the weather was ideal (sunny and mid-70s, not humid at all), the lines were short (the longest we waited for a ride was half an hour for Space Mountain... a lot of the time the only "wait" was the time it took us to walk through the empty lines. The second and third times we went on Space Mountain, the wait was less than five minutes.) and everything was bilingual at the very least. And since I'm a linguist, I had a TON of fun paying attention to the translations, and to what languages were found where.
Space Mountain: (AWESOME roller coaster!)

Our hotel, the Santa Fe, was a surprisingly realistic, though over-the-top, Western style resort hotel. I've stayed in real ones before-- the kind of place where you still change the TV channel with a knob, and where everything from the carpet to the bedspreads is pueblo-colored geometric designs. This hotel had it perfectly. Perhaps the John Wayne billboard over the neon sign was a bit too much... but it was great. They even had evergreens, a fake UFO, and a movie-set-style Western town to complete the atmosphere. Everything was in English and French at the hotel, but they had staff speaking all the other Disneyland languages (Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish).

In general, signage was in English and French-- however, most of the ride names were in English because they're the same ride as in the States, and all of the "exit" and "bathrooms" type signs were in French.

The Lion King show (which had fun costumes and shortened versions of all the songs) was either in English or French-- we went to the English one, and went back for the French one. However, it was pretty disappointing, since the dialogue was in French but all the songs were in English.

The Animagique show was really cool: it was a blacklight show with a lot of the classic songs, and they did some really cool things with puppets. There were animatronics, puppets, full sized costumed characters, marionettes, bubbles, and it was really cool. On a linguistic level, it was interesting, because it was a true mixture: the opening scene between Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse was bilingual, since Mickey spoke French and Donald spoke English. Once Mickey left, Donald himself was bilingual: "J'y vais, here I go!" Most of the songs were in English, but Under the Sea was in French.

The It's a Small World ride was about 75% in English, but sometimes the song was in French. Now that I've been on the ride (twice) I have an actual appreciation for the song, and I mind it a lot less. It's a boat-style travel through the countries of the world, with cute animatronics dancing and singing in traditional costumes or at landmarks. For most of the countries, there's a traditional instrument, and when you go past it, you hear the instrument playing the song.
Here's Paris:

The Pirates of the Carribean ride was all in French, except for the Yo ho yo ho chorus, which was in English.
Here's the pirate ship next to the ride:

There was a neat history-of-animation type show, which had a montage of famous Disney clips (about half in English, a quarter in French, and the rest a mixture of German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish) and a presentation about animation. The presentation, which was a "conversation" between a real live person and an animated Mushu, was in French. All the seats had headphones which could play the translation in the typical handful of European languages.

Some of the rides that had video introductions (Space Mountain and Star Tours, for example) had video with subtitle. Some had English with French subtitles, some had the reverse.

The Tower of Terror had a real live human giving instructions (after a French-only video). The one who explained procedure to our "elevator" did it in French (for me and Kristen... ironic), English (for an English-speaking family), and Spanish (for a really annoying group of teenagers who screamed throughout the entire thing, so that we couldn't hear any of the story). We have no idea how he determined that we spoke French.

The typical roller coaster "Keep your hands and legs inside the car at all times and secure your hats and glasses" was either in French or in English, rarely in both.

The stunt show (which was really cool: car stunt driving, fake fighting, huge balls of fire...) was in English and French, but in the strangest way. There were two hosts, one French-speaking and one English-speaking, and they gave the same information in a conversational style.
"Pour conduire ces voitures, il faut au moins trois mois d'entraînement."
"That's right, you need at least three months of training to drive these cars."
Exact same content, but they made it sound like they were just chatting about it.

The studio tram tour was in English and French, but in an even stranger way. There were two famous actors in the video, one French and one English, but they didn't say quite the same things. Sometimes it was just different jokes, but sometimes they pointed out different things that we were supposed to notice.

My favorite show, however, was Stitch Live. We went once in French, and once in English. It's a real-time show, where the animated Stitch interacts with the audience. There's got to be someone with a lot of controls for what happens on the screen, because they can turn the image upside-down, produce cake out of nowhere, and make Stitch move around anywhere. There's actual interaction with the audience: Stitch asks people's names, takes a picture of a kid and puts it on the screen, has conversations with the audience... it was hilarious. The French show was 100% French, and the English show was 100% English.

And here are some pictures!!
Cinderella is one of my favorite Disney movies:

Being France, there was a shopfront from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, complete with umbrella and rain.

I was excited to take a picture with Sully:

And Kristen took one with Mike:

Finally, here we are with the ultimate of French Disney characters: Lumière.

11 May 2008

l'Abbaye de Fontevraud

Friday we had the usual travel difficulties (train late, bus missed... bus home didn't come, later bus made us miss our train... normal) but we still had a wonderful time visiting the gigantic Abbey at Fontevraud. The Abbey is the largest monastic complex in Europe, and it's a combination of really neat architecture, really impressive art, and really interesting history. See, once upon a time, there was an order of "religious" folk who lived together, men and women, in humility and virtue. With one quirk: since the men and women were living with each other, they aroused each other in order to practice their restraint. As you can imagine, the local bishops weren't too thrilled with this practice, so they gave the group a lot of land in order to build an abbey where the men and women would have separate quarters. However, they didn't submit to total normality: there was a nun in charge instead of a monk, and the women were allowed to drink twice as much as the men. Several of the abbesses had themselves painted into the frescos, the kitchen has strangely shaped chimneys, and there is a huge network of underground tunnels. It's an awesome place to visit. Here is a rather large collection of photos from our visit to Fontevraud, via Saumur.

Here's the castle in Saumur:

While we sat in the grass by the castle (waiting until we needed to go find the bus stop) I played with the macro setting on my camera. There were daisies, and I thought my purse would make a fun background for a flowery desktop picture.

Then I got this idea-- this is probably my favorite picture that I've taken all year. Daisies in focus, and the castle in the distance.

Fast forward to Fontevraud... here's Kristen at the Abbey. The building with the strange roof is the kitchen.

There were stocks in the herb garden. (The mint was delicious!)

Here's the kitchen from another angle, along with some of France's typical castle/religious building trees. Apparently they cut off the branches to control growth. I just think they look silly. (Though in an endearing sort of way!)

Here's a view of the subterranean tunnels. [Tip: the only successful way to take a picture in a low light setting like this, unless you have a tripod, is to use the night setting and the self timer: just find something that you can set the camera on, and let it take the picture without you touching it.]

A lot of the abbesses looked remarkably similar...

This is the image I see in my head when I think of a monastery or a convent:

One of the more important features of the abbey is its set of frescos. Here's the Last Supper/washing of the feet (and note the very modern nun).

Here's the garden of Gethsemane and Judas' betrayal:

This is the scourging, but it's very difficult to see thanks to the window...

The Crucifixion is the central piece in the room.

The removal of Jesus' body from the cross is likewise cast into shadow from the window.

Here's Jesus' burial.

Here's the Resurrection:

And the Acension cracked me up, since usually you get to see a little more of Jesus in His glory... although his feet are quite nice.

Perfect for today: here's the Pentecost.

And this one depicts the Assumption of Mary.

The church in the complex is enormous, but very little of its original splendor (frescos, stained glass, carvings and statues) remains. There are, however, four rather important tombs. The one on the bottom right in this photo is a rather important one: King Richard the Lionheart, king of Anjou (the region of France of which Angers is the capital) and England. He's the King Richard from the Robin Hood stories.

Here's the outside of the church:

And that, enormous and impressive, is the Abbaye de Fontevraud! (Ah-bay-ee deuh Fohn-tuh-vroh, by the way!)

08 May 2008

A few photos and a few words

So Far:

- went to buy train tickets
- walked around downtown a little and dropped Kristen off at the castle
- went to take my didactics exam: it went wonderfully, I think! I feel confident about 80-90% of the short answer section, and quite confident about my short essays too.
- went grocery shopping
- I went to choir (we were recording our semester's repertoire) and Kristen journaled
- awesome dinner (steak, brie filled artichokes, lots of fresh veggies with some sort of cheese dip we bought)
- watched a movie

- made crêpes for breakfast
- set off to the Cointreau distillery (Cointreau is made in a suburb of Angers), but couldn't take a tour because you apparently have to reserve.
- went shopping downtown
- ate lunch at a modernish style French restaurant. Kristen got rabbit and a cheese/pineapple dessert, and I got egg rolls and fish with Asian style vegetables. We made a long to-do list for the summer.
- went to my French class, in which we watched a movie.
- went to the movie theater, where we watched a movie: 27 Dresses, which is a really cute romantic comedy. It was dubbed in French.

- disappointing beginning: we had gotten our train tickets to go to Chenonceau, which is an awesome castle. But today is a national holiday, and the Sunday schedules were in use instead of the Saturday/vacation day schedule, so there was no bus when we expected there to be one. So we couldn't go to Chenonceau: and when we went to try to change our tickets, we found out that because of construction, we won't be able to reschedule. We weren't the only people to have this problem: on the way back, I warned an elderly couple waiting with their suitcases at the bus stop.
-fun interlude: so we took the bus toward the Lac de Maine (lake by the river Maine), which is a medium-sized lake with a sort of forest preserve around it. On the way there, we saw a market, so we jumped out of the bus and market-shopped for a while. We both got some handmade soap, canvas African-style purses (which are big in France among our demographic), and some olives. Plus a loaf of bread and kiwis. Fun stuff.
- relaxing middle: we then continued to the lake, where we spread out a sheet and lay around in the sun, eating our picnic lunch and watching a movie on my portable DVD player. It was wonderful to be lazy for a while, and the weather was beautiful.
- surprising end: we decided to wander around a bit, and saw this mini-mountain in the middle of the very flat region. Huge rock with a cross on top? Neat!

So we climbed up the hill to get a closer look. There were several paths, and the ones we chose got us there surprisingly quickly.

The view from the top is wonderful: you can see the lake and forests, and in the not-so-distant distance, the towers of the cathedral and the walls of the castle.

Here are Kristen and I at the top of the hill:

I particularly like plants and rocks, and Kristen particularly likes plants and animals, so between us we have very geeky conversations when we wander around. In Europe, a lot of our "what's that?" questions are open-ended, since there are some different species here. I christened this tree a Serengeti-conifer-bonsai, and Kristen said that it's called a Broccoli Christmas tree.

Those are our adventures so far! More to come... tomorrow is a very busy day.