Sunday, March 18, 2012

Happy Francegiving!

I am slowly chugging along here - people are literally taking bets on when I will catch up to all my blogs. Amy, bless her heart, thinks I will be all caught up by the time I come home (whenever that is, eek!) I like that someone has faith in me!

We have finally made it November (!) and with November comes a very important holiday for Americans - THANKSGIVING! This was going to be my first Thanksgiving away from home - I have never, ever, missed a Thanksgiving. I am not going to lie, it was kind of tough to realize that at first. I knew that in a few short weeks I would be home for Christmas, but it just didn't feel right to not be at home with my family. It didn't help that in all my classes I was teaching about Thanksgiving too!

I loved teaching Thanksgiving to my students. They were so excited to learn about "Turkey Day" as they know it. I showed endless amounts of pictures of food, taught them a short history of why we celebrate Thanksgiving (at this point, some of my students insisted I was British and not American - so when I finally talked about Thanksgiving they finally believed that I am American. Silly kids,) and did I mention, show them tons of photos of food?? Their mouths hit the floor when I showed them what a table looks like at thanksgiving. This of course made a few of my "jokers" make comments on the American's being fat stereotype but then I asked them what their tables look like on Christmas and that shut them up quickly. (The French eat a TON on Christmas - turkey, wine, duck, wine, seafood, wine, bread, wine, cakes, yule logs, more wine, you name it) Seeing the looks of disgust and horror was absolutely hilarious when describing "stuffing" to them - "Quoi?! You put inside a turkey?! C'est degoutant! (disgusting)" The French eat stuffing too! Silly, silly, kids. They cheered when I showed mashed potatoes and there was mixed reaction to green bean casserole. I think the biggest shock to them was Candied Yams/Sweet Potatoes. Everyone insisted it was a dessert, and I explained to them no, you eat it at the same time as the turkey and mashed potatoes. They insisted I must be mistaken. Listen kids, who is the American here?! "But miss! Marshmallows, brown sugar, that is dessert!" I think everyone thought this was the most disgusting thing of all, but I assured them it is not. After class several kids even asked me for the recipe! After my lovely PowerPoint presentation that I made, we played my favorite game and the kids favorite game BINGO. The students were getting so into it, they asked me if they could call the words. Now, I literally had taught them these words the week before/that day - so listening to French 11-15 year olds pronounce Thanksgiving words is one of the most priceless things ever. They pronounce "pie" as "pee" (hard not to laugh when someone ask if you want a big ol' plate of pumpkin PEE." They say Whip-head cream instead of whipped. Crown-berries (ok, I will give them that, considering cranberries do NOT exist in France) Mash-head potatoes, etc. It was quite amusing for me.

As I mentioned before, it was difficult for me not to be home, especially since I had to work the ENTIRE day of Thanksgiving. The. Entire. Day. And my teachers kept going "Oh yeah! It is Thanksgiving today isn't it? You sad no turkey? You sad you don't get to celebrate" Things like that. Why yes I am sad I do not get to be home for this and that you are bringing it up every 5 seconds :( But, even though I wasn't in France, Tina, Mindy, and I were making sure we were bring Thanksgiving to France!

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had a big Thanksgiving party in France. It was 3 Americans, a New Zealander, a Brit, 4 Frenchies, and a Mexican at the party - and all of the "foreigners" had NEVER experienced Thanksgiving before. We were so excited to share Thanksgiving with them, however, Tina, Mindy, and I have never made our own Thanksgiving dinner before either - so it was going to be quite the experience. It is very difficult to get a whole Turkey in France - you have to go to a butcher, in advance, and they will get one for you (with the head still attached, eek) No one believed me when I told them this. Low and behold Saturday morning we get a call saying Tina couldn't get a whole turkey. But, there was no way we could fit a turkey in her oven, so it was all for the best. She thought I was going to be mad - Tina if you read this, I wasn't haha, because we still got turkey filets! We also got a whole chicken just for the effect of having a bird. Tina was in charge of the meat, apple pie, and veggies. Mindy was in charge of pumpkin pie and stuffing. Rosie was on mashed potato duty (she is from New Zealand.) My job was to make the "degoutant" candied sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. Now, as I was making this and drinking a mimosa (the French don't do mimosa's either, but Mindy is making sure everyone gets introduced to that!) the Frenchies came in. They stopped short and
stopped talking as they see me putting butter and brown sugar on the sweet potatoes. As I reached for the marshmallows they are like 'What are you doing!?! What is that?!" Same reaction as my students. I laughed and explained what it is - again they asked if it is a dessert. I assured them that it is not, and they look disgusted. I told them just wait, I promised them it will be delicious! They didn't believe me. I started to make the green bean casserole, and again they looked freaked out, but one said it looked a lot better than the sweet potatoes. Oh ye French of little faith! They had the same look when they saw Mindy making the stuffing. We promised them they will love everything, but they just shook their heads. The French are snobby when it comes to food (I mean, they do have some of the best cuisine in the world) We would show them.

I apologize at this point for the photos - I forgot my camera that day :( and I took them very quickly on my cellphone, so not the best of images. Mindy and I got to Tina's around 11 and started prepping stuff right away, everyone arrived around 2, and we ate around 3. While we were waiting for everything to cook, we were at the table joking around, and Mindy brilliantly came up with "Happy Francegiving" so we called it that the rest of the night. By a miracle, everything turned out superbly! Despite the fact we had 80 things trying to fit in a tiny oven, everything was cooked!
Despite the fact we had no idea how to cook the filet of turkey, Tina did a spectacular job! Despite the fact we 3 Americans had never cooked our own Thanksgiving dinner, we did it! I left one of the pans of sweet potatoes in a little bit too long so some of the marshmallows disappeared...and it might have added a little bit too much brown sugar, but let me tell you - it was a success!! Our French friends came up to me afterwards and said they loved the sweet potatoes - WAHOO! I was so, so, happy and you better believe I gloated to allllll of my students the next week, telling them that my French friends looooved Thanksgiving and candied sweet potatoes/yams. Everything was a success. Apparently you can pull off Thanksgiving in France!

After our wonderful dinner, we decided to watch a traditional Thanksgiving movie - Shaun of the Dead...ok, not so traditional...a very funny zombie movie. We talked for a long time and we played cards. It was such a wonderful evening with new friends. Despite the fact I couldn't be home with my family on Thanksgiving, I was glad to spend it with my new "family" here in Lyon. I could not have asked for a better time. Happy Francegiving! (a few months late ha.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bienvenidos a Barthelona! Part Dos

So, it has been a couple of weeks since my last blog, and I have talked to my parents. Luckily, I am not in trouble! *wahoo!* My dad kind of suspected we had used a system like this, my mom was really shocked - oops guess that means I need to get her a nice present from one of my travels :)

So after my favorite place ever - LA BOQUERIA - we decided to go visit the Sagrada Familia. This is an amazing cathedral designed by the man who basically owned Barcelona (no, he didn't he just designed a lot of things for Barcelona) Gaudi.
Barcelona is the city of Gaudi. He was not your typical architect, nor is La Sagrada Familia your typical cathedral. I mean, look at the top picture. There is a Christmas Tree type-thing on top there, first of all. There are different types of fruits on spires, lizards, snails, snakes, ( among other animals )adorn the sides of the church, etc. It is a very wild looking church. Now the line is usually long - like 2 hours long, so the first time Beth, Courtney and I went, we didn't have enough time to visit it because we were on a bike tour. I was really interested to go inside, because if it looked crazy on the outside I could not wait to see it on the inside! So, Mindy and I got in line and sent Tina around the cathedral to see how long of a line it was. She returned TEN MINUTES later - it was THAT long of a line. So we buckled up for long ride. It actually moved a lot quicker than we thought - as you can see, I started to get really excited while we were in line. An hour and half later we finally got to the entrance! Now, La Sagrada Familia is one of the few churches in Europe you actually have to PAY to enter. I think that is because it is still being constructed. They started working on this cathedral in 1882! 1882!!! So well over one hundred years - and they don't expect it to be done until 2026 - the centennial of Gaudi's birthday. But they have so much work left I honestly think it won't be finished for much longer. I honestly didn't mind paying, especially after...

Finally after paying and standing in line we got to go inside. Words. Cannot. Describe. The inside absolutely blew me away. I knew it was a very big cathedral, but on the outside it does not seem THAT big, but holy cow. It is GINORMOUS! It is very grand and open and just...amazing. I did not expect the interior to look like it did. And the stained glass! I have never seen such vivid and colorful stained glass - and it was so different than typical stained glass. They cast the most amazing rainbows and shadows throughout the entire Cathedral. Absolutely amazing! I am so, so, SO glad we waited to go into this cathedral. It honestly is unlike anything I have ever seen. I have seen a lot of cathedrals in my day, and I am fascinated by them all - despite the fact that most look very similar. I was expecting it too look like other cathedrals that I have seen, and I think this why I do not have the words to describe how I felt when I went inside. Everyone needs to go inside La Sagrada Familia - my pictures do not do justice. It is definitely worth the price to go see LA Sagrada Familia - and just think, your money is helping build this fantastic cathedral! (or so I like to believe.)

After La Sagrada Familia we decided to head back to Las Ramblas, to get some groceries for dinner and we happened to find a Carrefour! Now, Carrefour is a famous French grocery store chain, so clearly we had to go in and buy things from there. It had exactly the same products but with Spanish names instead of French names, it was quite amusing. However, one thing that this Carrefour has that the French ones do not is - SANGRIA! When in Spain you have to have Sangria, so clearly we got a couple bottles. We got back to our awesome hostel and decided to take a quick nap before dinner and before heading out for the night. (We stayed at Equity Point Centric - right by Las Ramblas in an apparently swanky part of town! I would recommend it highly - it is quiet, the staff is wonderful, and there is breakfast!) It took us awhile to get going and we finally trudged downstairs to make dinner, only to realize that the hostel's kitchen actually closed 10 minutes before we came down - oops. The bar/lounge area is attached to the kitchen and the woman bartender was super nice and opened back the kitchen back up for us to cook! So nice of her! We made some pesto pasta, ate some bread, meat, and cheese, and drank our sangria and then finished getting ready for our night out! In Barcelona, unlike anywhere in France, the metro stays open 24 hours on Saturday - which can be kind of dangerous (in a oh-I-can-stay-up-all-night-way!) Last time I was in Barcelona we didn't expect to stay out as late as we did, so if history repeats itself I knew that this night would be no different. It wasn't. We headed down to the beach because we heard there were a bunch of FREE clubs/bars down there. We were all about the free - no cover charge for us! A guy who worked at our hostel said each was different, so if you didn't like one, you would could go to another to find music you liked. We went in to a couple - one playing only English music, another playing only Spanish music, and just taking in everything. It was quite packed and quite the experience. Finally we settled on a Irish Pub - yes, we go to an Irish Pub in Barcelona, that was having a South African band playing that night! Yep. South African Band. Irish Pub. Barcelona. Makes sense right? It was awesome! They were singing classics like Queen and the Stones - it was a great time. Little did we realize it was almost 4am by the time the bar closed and the finished. Oops. So we headed back to the 24hour metro to go home and get some much needed sleep. We were exhausted!

The next day was a low-key day - we slept in (obviously,) walked around for a bit, and hiked up to the Gaudi Park. I literally mean hiked - it is up a very steep hill! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera :( it is one crazy park! We headed back to the hostel to get ready because we had signed up for this Tapas/Flamenco tour that night through our hostel. Besides Sangria, Spain is known for its tapas food, and probably most well known for its Flamenco dancing. I had never seen Flamenco dancing before so I was quite excited. Unfortunately, this little tour did not go so well. They took us to this restaurant - but at least 30 people had signed up for this. Apparently, this doesn't normally happen so when we got to the restaurant they had maybe 25 seats, and even less spots at the tables. There was this group of older French people who knocked everyone down to get seats at the table, and when people asked if they could join them they refused and said "Sorry! Not their fault we were slow" (oh, the French... they later apologized to everyone because they didn't understand what was happening) So needless to say, we were without a table and not happy at all. The leader of the tour then asked us if we would mind sitting standing at the bar to eat our food. So we had to eat our tapas standing up, while everyone else got to sit down. We were at least next to a very nice New Zealand man who chatted us up for a bit and explained the different things we were eating! After dinner, we were herded to outside this club where the Flamenco show was to take place. After waiting in line for what seemed an eternity we finally got into the club - only to discover we had to STAND AGAIN. They over booked the show and everyone got a seat but us. I was seething at this point, as were Mindy and Tina. Some nice guys came and gave us there seats after awhile luckily - but they were barstools so not the most comfortable, but I can't complain. The show was actually really good! The guy dancer was absolutely AMAZING. I have never seen such fast footwork before. So at least that part of the tour lived up to the hype. I would recommend going to the show, for sure, however I would pass on the "tapas + flamenco combination" -they need to work out a few kinks.

On Monday we decided to to a bike tour! Now, if you read my blog last time, I did a bike tour then so i somehow convinced the girls to go on a
bike tour this time. It was a different tour company, but still just as awesome! I have included a picture of proof that I was on a bike - because I honestly think the last time I was on a bike was the LAST tour in Barcelona two years ago. Every time I do the tour I always ask myself why don't I ride bikes more? Beats me! I was a bit wobbly at first, but no crashes - woo! We had a charming and funny British guy give our tour. It was quite interesting because we visited some of the same things as the other tour - but also new things! I had no idea that beaches never existed in Barcelona until almost 20 years ago when they hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. The city of Barcelona went through a major upheaval, creating the now ever-so-popular-and-known beaches of Barcelona, while stirring up quite a bit of controversy by tearing down and moving a large poorer population of the city to the outside of the city to create this avenue in the city. Apparently it was an area known for its crime, drugs, and prostitution and they basically forced everyone move to a new area because they didn't want this to be seen. Very, very interesting. It was such an enjoyable tour - I love these bike tours and walking tours because you find out so much more about the city than you would have just by seeing the sites. It may be touristy, but I don't care. I am tourist, I will be touristy!

This day just so happened to be Halloween and Tina happened to bring a costume with her whereas Mindy and I didn't really. We decided to go shopping after the tour and happened upon a store that was selling cat ears - so clearly Mindy and I bought some. When in cat ears? We went to a few more stores and did some damage to our wallets before heading back to the hostel to get ready! We were not alone - everyone else was getting dressed up for Halloween,
including several cats! It is the go-to costume, but I clearly didn't bring a costume to Spain, or even France for that matter, so it might be cliche but oh well! So Tina was dressed up as Raggedy Ann with her two pet cats - Mindy and myself, and we headed to dinner. During our tour, our awesome guide told us about this restaurant (in the same plaza as the Flamenco tour) that is known for their amazing food and cheap prices, called the Les Quinz Nits, or the 15 Knights. It is entirely run by the top culinary school students, hence why it is really good food for cheap! There is always a long line, but we only had to wait 15 minutes or so and we got to sit outside. They sat us down next to a table of French people (oy more French!) but unlike the night before, they were so nice and hilarious. One older gentlemen kept saying cats! Meow! Meow! to us - and then when he realized we spoke French we had a good ol' time chatting and joking around. It was quite amusing! Our food then came out and it was absolutely delicious! I ordered a portobello ravioli in a cream sauce with big chunks of freshly shaved parmesan. Mmm I still can remember it! I think we all were pleasantly surprised and satisfied with our meals (and sangria!) and we headed off to an Irish pub around the corner. It. Was. Dead. We stayed around for a bit any way and then headed down to another Irish pub. We apparently have a thing for Irish Pubs. I kept telling them about this bar that I went to last time with Courtney and Beth but I couldn't remember the name. luckily, Smartphone and Facebook to the rescue because I looked it up on on my pictures from last time I was in Barcelona - Ryan's bar. I remembered having an awesome time there and I vaguely remembered where it was it. It was off a road Ferran (which we were one) and it was off the square that the Catalan Parliament building and Spanish Parliament building were at - so I got us that far. We started walking towards a street when a guy comes up to us and says! "Hey! Free drink at Ryan's bar!"and gave us a card! It was fate - Ryan's bar came to us...well an employee did, and we got a free drink to boot! So of course we went. They had a DJ
playing hilarious songs, like the Monster Mash, and overall it was pretty fun. We decided not to stay out too late since we were leaving the next morning with our new pal Romain, but first we stopped in the square to take some funny pictures!

The next morning, we packed up our things, said goodbye to our awesome hostel and went to sit at a cafe for a bit while we waited for Romain to come get us. Tina taught us a new card game called Palace, which we are now obsessed with. Overall, it was a wonderful trip back to Barcelona!

This post has FINALLY brought me into November - oy vay! Why am I so bad at this? I will catch up - one day! Until next time, Adios!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bienvenidos a Barthelona! Part 1

So it is officially February, and I am still writing about October. Oh mon Dieu! Quelle surprise! So just bare with me.

I last left off talking about the start of my Toussaints vacation - otherwise known as All Saint's Vacation. I left you with the thought of eating calf head and creepy dolls - a pleasant image, I know. On Friday the 28th, Mindy, Tina, and I headed to BARTHELONA, ESPANA! Otherwise known as, Barcelona, Spain!

Because all of France is on vacation for the Toussaint holiday, flights leaving the country were extremely outrageous. If we wanted to fly to Barcelona from Lyon, it would have been several hundred Euro - not worth it. So we decided to take the next best thing. Nope, not a train. Nope, not a bus. Ok, I guess the third best thing - a car! We didn't rent a car, because it would have taken us 4 days to get there - 3 Americans, none of us know how to drive stick - it wouldn't have worked out. So what did we do?

**Dear Mom and Dad: If you are reading this, please sit down. Please.

Well, there is this website here called CoVoiturage. It is a website where people in Europe who own cars and want to visit different cities post where they are going and ask if anyone wants to join them to cut down on travel/gas costs. So, Tina scoured the website and found this guy, Romain, who was going to Barcelona from Lyon, and he had 3 spots in his car. Three of us. Three spots, perfect!

Not going to lie, I was extremely nervous. 1.) We were going to be travelling with a random French guy. 2.) How was I going to explain this to my parents (SURPRISE! I love you <3 ) 3. We were going to be travelling with a random French guy.

Everything we had heard about website was great - people loved it, there were never any problems, lots of recommendations, etc. Tina also had been contacting Romain for the past week, and said he seemed really nice and legit. Still Thursday morning came around and my stomach was in knots. He was picking us up at Part Dieu, which is one of the train stations in Lyon - so I knew a lot of people would be around - just in case. Tina and Mindy had beaten me there (Mindy left early to go to the bank) and when I saw Romain, my first initial thought was, oh yeah, I could take him, no problem.

Romain ended up being a super awesome 28 year old French guy, that loved to Salsa dance and talk with us. He was very interested to learn about us and tell us about himself. It was very interesting to listen about his life and his love for McDonald's (yep - he loves MacDo!) It made the 7 hour car ride go very quickly! So, moral of the story is I am still alive, so parents you can breathe easily now! I have a feeling I will be getting a call about this soon... oops.

We arrived in Barcelona around 7:30/8 and Romain dropped us off not too far from our hostel, Equity Point. It was on a really swanky strip in Barcelona, very close to Las Ramblas, and next to a Gaudi house! We were greeted by Marius (this made me so happy that he was named Marius because of Les Mis) and was super nice and helpful and got us situated. We were starving, so he listed some cheap restaurants in the area and we left our things to go grab some Sangria and Spanish food! Now, I don't speak a word (ok, I know a few words) of Spanish, Mindy knows a little, and Tina knows a bit more - so we were kind of struggling at this restaurant. I kept pronouncing things with a French accent and saying merci, instead of gracias. It was quite comical - and then there was a mix-up between myself and the table next to us - I accidentally accepted their fries from the waiter (oops - my meal came with fries too) so they didn't get their fries until they complained, and then we got charged for the fries. They were very nice and took it off our bill after the situation was explained. These things always happen to me, oops. We were all exhausted, so we went back to the hotel to enjoy a free drink (Sangria!) that we got just for staying there, then headed to bed.

The next day we decided to go to Las Ramblas and check out parts of Barcelona. Now, I had told the Spanish teacher at my good school that I was going to Barcelona, and he gave me a very hard time. He comes from southern Spain and has ties to Madrid, so he kept telling me that Barcelona is dirty, ugly, that I will catch diseases, that it is very touristy, etc. He was joking of course about some things, but I instantly saw what he said when we got to Las Ramblas. This was my second time visiting Barcelona, and I think it was like the veil had been lifted this time. I saw some of the dirtiness; I saw some of the ugly; and I reallllllly noticed the tourists. Everywhere I turned I heard French, English, or Italian. The only time I heard Spanish was when we were in restaurants. Our first stop was my all time favorite - La Boqueria! If you read my blog from Paris, then you might know it is the largest outdoor market in Europe! This market amazes me every time I see it. The colors, the smells, the atmosphere. I love it! I just love markets in general! AND I did NOT get pooped on by a pigeon this time - woohoo! I call that an achievement. Believe me, whenever a pigeon did fly by I darted out of the way. I probably looked like a crazy person, but don't judge until you get pooped on. Also, don't judge someone who has gotten pooped on. I wanted to be anything and everything at the market! It amazes me so much! I wish they had markets like this in the states.

Ok, I think this is getting fairly long so I have decided to cut this into 2 parts, so the rest of Barcelona will be in the next blog!


Friday, January 20, 2012

So I work a couple weeks and get a vacation...not a bad life.

**Correction I ate calf HEAD not feet. Oops.

So leading up to the end of October, the week of the 17th-21st. I started working on Halloween. Kids love Halloween, and French kids are no different. While they don't exactly celebrate Halloween like us Americans do, they sure do love to hear about it. Especially if candy is involved. Besides Candy, my students are in love with Bingo! Combine the two together and I am the coolest assistant ever (hey, their words not mine :-P )

It was a lot of fun teaching the students something that is so culturally different than their own. They love the idea of the costumes, the parties, the going door-to-door, the haunted houses, and of course all of the candy! And Halloween wouldn't be the same without candy, so of course I gave them candy. I tend to bring in a lot of candy to my kids... I spoil them.

So if you were following this story closely, (which I highly doubt because not even I am - I am writing this in a tired stupor so please expect my wittiest and best work ever. That last statement is dripping with sarcasm. How I wish there was a sarcasm font.) Anywho, if you were following closely, why would I talk about Halloween 2 weeks before it even happens? Well that is because of

VACATION!!! (If you actually read the title and knew this was coming, then this is where you give yourself brownie points)

Yes that is right. I worked a whole whopping THREE weeks and I got a whole 12 day vacation! My life is soooo hard, I know, I know. It kind of just came up on us, so we didn't have a lot of time to plan but I did manage to leave the country, which I will share in the next blog. The first part of the vacation was great! I got to sleep in and not plan lessons! Sounded like my first week here!

But! I also had my good friend Jackie come to Lyon on that Tuesday. She and I went to U of I together, and met sophomore year in an EIL class (English as an International Langauge) We happened to sit right next to each other on the first day of class and it was there that we found out we both wanted to teach English in France some day! Fast forward 2 years later and we are both now doing the same program. She is in Clermont-Ferrand another region right next to mine in France. She and two other assistants came to visit Lyon so we met up to go to dinner with another assistant, Rosie, who is from New Zealand. She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met! If everyone from New Zealand are like her then I am moving to New Zealand after this to live with the friendliest people on earth and of course to live in a hobbit home obvs.

Anyway, Rosie heard of this amazing "true" Bouchon in Lyon. What is a bouchon? well they are restaurants that serve typically Lyonnais food. A "true" bouchon has to have this weird puppet thing in the window. I don't get it, but Lyon is also known for these weird puppets, known as a "guignol" - >they kind of creep me out to be honest. I mean look at those they not look kind of creepy? Apparently, there are only around 40 true bouchons in Lyon and they have to have a puppet like the one on the left to be considered it. Now, Lyon, unlike Paris, is a VERY meat driven place. They love there pork, sausage, chicken, sausage, livers, intestines, stomach, sausage, feet, brains, sausgage. I honestly think they think any part of the animal is perfectly acceptable to eat...which is kind of weird to me. With their meat, they eats lots of salads and lots of potatoes. If you are a meat and potatoes kind of person, then Lyon is the place for you to go. I ate andouillette which is a type of sausage. I didn't look up what it was made from until AFTER I ate it and found out it is made from stomach - awesome. It was served with a mustard sauce and it was quite good :) It was fun to hear about life in Clermont and I am excited to visit Jackie and her friends there! After, we decided to visit one of the Irish pubs for a drink before going home because they were leaving the next morning.

The next day, Wednesday, some of my teachers from my awesome school came to visit! Charlotte, my main English teacher, and her friend and her two adorable kids, Maxime and his adorable son, Mindy and I met up with them at this big square called Bellecour and walked to the train station Perrache. Right down the street is a very famous restaurant named called Brasserie Georges. It is HUGE and known for their good food and their beer - which they make and brew onsite. I ordered the menu, which gets me an entré (an appetizer kind of) and main dish and a dessert. I ordered this little dish with lentils, onions....and calf feet. CALF HEAD. It wasn't that bad... But the sauce had a bit of mayonnaise in it so I couldn't really stomach it. For the main dish I had a pistachio sausage (as I said there is a lot of sausage in Lyon!) Yes pistachio sausage and it was the best thing I have ever eaten here in Lyon. SO GOOD! I am salivating about it now. I ALSO drank a whole thing of beer AND a glass of red wine. ME. BEER. RED WINE. Who am I?! I am either getting old or getting classier here in France! Then for dessert I had this thing I cant even was chocolatey, crunchy, soft, craziness. As we were finishing up, Javier, the Spanish teacher at my school joined us, and we decided to visit Old Lyon. It was a lot of fun walking around the rivers and the older part of Lyon, speaking in French, and hanging out with my teachers! They are so nice, fun and always including me in everything. It has made my experience much more enjoyable just because they have helped me get situated and fill out paperwork. Over all, it was a really fun day!! Around 5, the teachers all headed home and Mindy and I headed back to pack for BARCELONA!!!

More to come on that later :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So what am I actually doing in Lyon?

So by now, I am sure you're wondering what am I doing in Lyon, no? I am supposed to be teaching but up to this point I haven't even mentioned my supposed job. Alright, here we go!

My official job title is Assistant of English. Last December I applied for the TAPIF program - Teaching Assistant Program in France. This has been my dream since senior year of high school. I fell in love with France thanks to my high school school trip with Mr. Anderson and awesome french class. My degree was in French at U of I, and my minor was Teaching English as a Second Language - I was perfect for this job! And then, come April 4th, I was wait-listed and my dream was shattered. Luckily, less than 2 weeks later I received an email saying I was admitted into the program! I was placed in the Grenoble Academy - an academy I hadn't even picked, so I was extremely nervous. Then I had to wait until the end of July to find out where I would be placed - a little town called Bourgoin-Jallieu. Haven't heard of it? Yeah, neither had I. I soon found out it was only 21 miles from Lyon, the second largest city in France. Lyon had been my third choice for an Academy (after Nice and Marseille)so my decision had been made - I was planning on living in Lyon.

My roommate, Mindy, had the same idea as me because she is in the town next to mine, as well as Tina, who is on the other side of my town. It worked out perfectly! We easily could handle commuting at max 30 minutes to work. France is known for the high speed trains and whatnot. France is also known for their strikes and for these great trains breaking down. My first week of commuting was great, but that did not last long. I have experienced 3 strikes, 5 broken down trains, I have missed 3 classes because of this, I have been stuck on trains for 2-4 hours two times, and was left stranded in a town that I did not know. Vive la France!

Now, back to my job, I work at 2 middles schools in my town - yes middle schools. I work 6 hours at one school and 6 hours at another school. My first choice was primary school and I didn't get it. I was very hesitant at first about middle school because I remember myself in middle school and I was NOT fun to deal with - my parents can attest. So I just imagined a classroom full of little mes and I was nervous. In France, students go to middle school from 11-15/16 (they only have 3 years of highs school) My youngest students are sixièmes (6e.) The youngest are 6's, the next are 5's, then 4's, then finally the oldest are 3's. Interesting, no? The youngest are the most excited about learning English, but there English is not that advanced so I find myself speaking a lot of French and translating it - which I don't think I am supposed to do, but hey, what can you do! I teach one 6e, 3 5e (cinqièmes), one 4e (quatrième), and one 3e (troisième) at my main school. At my other school, I teach 3e and 4e - WHICH my teacher in charge there told me I would be teaching a class of 5e so I had been giving this class 5e work - only to find out LAST WEEK that they are actually 4e. OOPS. But they act like 5e's... and there level is around there too.

I have some classes that I love, and others that I frankly, do not. The 4e's that I thought were 5e's are very tough students. They are constantly talking (in French) they barely pay me any attention, they don't listen. It is so frustrating. I only teach them for 2 hours and I am exhausted by the end. I shouldn't! I only work 12 hours a week (yes, start the rolling of eyes, complaining, talk about how I am not allowed to complain) but kids aren't easy to work with sometimes. People give teachers a hard time about "how they work so little, they get too many breaks, are paid too much." If you're on of these people, then you have never stepped in a classroom before to teach. You would not last a week in the classroom, and I gladly challenge anyone. The teacher's job extends out of the classroom. Between grading papers and projects and lesson planning - lesson planning alone takes hours. Then they have to get up early and deal with hundreds of kids - screaming, yelling, fighting. I have so much respect for the teaching profession (as I always have.) I was worried I would be deterred from it after this experience, but so far I haven't. yes some classes make me mad, but then I have those classes that are so rewarding. I am still trying to figure this out, it will be a long process, but then again you should always be learning something new for a job. That is what keeps it exciting.

Ok, I will end my little rant/philosophical/whatever-the-heck-this-is spiel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The French can be swindlers...

My first week in Lyon was about getting settled in. Mindy and I went to the Part Dieu shopping center almost every day that first week. It is the largest mall in France I think? It is huge! However, by then end of that week I began to hate it. Our apartment was not equipped with internet and we cannot live without internet (we are so American) so we went to Part Dieu because it has like 4 different internet companies in the mall alone. We went to each company - Bouygues (still don't know how to pronounce that one), Orange, Darty, etc. but Bouygues told us it was take 14 days, Orange told us it would take 7-10 days, and Darty told us 2 days - which wasn't bad at all, but we decided to try one more place, Infinity, which sells SFR products. We explain our situation and this woman tells us it will take 7 days, so we start to leave and she tells us to wait. We could get this 3g key that creates a wifi hot spot so both of us could use it. It sounded perfect! Only 30 euro a month - good deal! AND it is unlimited internet. We made triple sure with everything she said, so we decide to sign up for it.

Boy did she get us good.

When you sign up for internet/tv plans, it is much like a cellphone plan - you have to sign up for 2 years, which stinks big time. We are going to be here for 7-8 months but they don't have plans like that. But, we needed internet. So we got the key and returned home excited to use it.

We had to download all this software and low and behold, it does not create a wifi hotspot like the woman said. We call the store and they tell us to do a few things. We hang up, do the things they say, and still nothing. We call again, they tell us to come in the next day. So we go to Part Dieu once again, they tell us to do a few things, and send us on our way. We come home, boom. Still no "instant wifi-hotspot" This became a cycle - us calling them, us going to visit them, them "working on it" and then sending us home. We also began to notice that our internet was slowing down immensly - like it would take minutes to load a page, while at the beginning it was super fast. This went on for a week, the calling and visiting! Hence why I started to hate Part Dieu.

At this point we are so annoyed that I go to Darty Box and sign up for an ACTUAL wifi box. Another 2 year contract.

Finally on the 8th day we go in with guns blazing. They proceed to tell us that we need to call SFR and talk to them and we can't return the key because there is a 4 day return policy. Great. So we call SFR - 7 times we spoke to them because our phones kept running out of minutes or we somehow get disconnected - and they tell us no, we can't make a wifi spot and since there are no hotspots around us that it is too bad. Also, when we asked why the internet was slowing they told us that we have a capped limit of so many gigabytes and after that the internet slows down exponentially. So, yet another thing that the workers at Infinity lied to us about. We are stuck with the 3g key. So we are currently paying for 2 internet plans despite the fact we only use one. Unfortunately you just can't call and complain like you can in the U.S. They just don't care. Oyy. You live and you learn - just the hard way I guess. The good thing is (at least, goodness I hope) since we leave in 8 months we can show them our visa and copy of our work contract that shows we are leaving the country and we can end our contracts. Let us hope it is that easy come May...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The rest of my doozy arrival

So I last left you with Mindy and I getting to know each other. Sorry it took so long to post - I was out of the country - I think that is a legitimate excuse! Anywho,

Mindy is my roommate here in France. She is an assistant just like me and is also in the Grenoble Academy but decided to live in Lyon. Now, she is ALSO from Illinois and went to ISU! What are the odds? We both posted on Grenoble Academy wall on Facebook about how we want to live in Lyon, and decided to live together if possible. We both didn't want to live alone, that is for sure. She was a life savior because she got here a week and a half before me, meaning she did all the apartment hunting on her own. i felt horrible not being there to help her :( but glad I had somewhere to live when I got here!

Now, the getting to this apartment part. It was a difficult process... after the cafe we had to hop on the metro to get to our landlord's place. He lives outside of Lyon. Remember, I have to big suitcases and a carry-on AND one of the big suitcases is broken. Getting those bags down stairs and onto the metro was crazy. My suitcases kept flipping over because it was broken. We then had to get on a bus but there was literally 100 people on this tiny bus. It was 80 degrees, I am sweating, I am trying to fit these bags onto a bus with 100 other people who are sweating. it was a nightmare. We were on the bus for a good 20 minutes and then we got off at the bottom of a hill. This is where my bag completely broke and I left a big metal tub lying on the ground -oops. At the point I just didn't care. So I drag my suitcases up the hill, and by now I know I probably reek, I am sweating, my make-up is half off my face from travelling and I get to meet my landlord. What a great first impression.

I thought I was probably cranky but mand does my landlord take the cake. He is a majorrrr grouch-monster. He was extremely sick and coughing up a lung so I can understand it somewhat, but I was just not ready for it. And the fact that he made us put down 1300 EURO (yes THIRTEEN-HUNDRED) I wasn't in the greatest sympathy mood. After a half hour of paperwork (I was so weary at this point I could not understand a thing. Poor Mindy had to do all of the talking) he tells us to follow him. He makes us clean out his car and tells us to get in - he doesn't tell us where we are going. So naturally we load my stuff and get in the car. Don't worry it was fine, well we had to shell out more money because we had to pay for homeowners insurance - so another 193 euro down the drain.

When we left the insurance place our landlord called the previous owner of this apartment and got into this big yelling match with her. Apparently, she had to work and he "had no key" for us to get into our new apartment, therefore he dropped us off into the courtyard area of the apartment complex and we waited the dark....of 3 hours. Three hours. See the French are all about conserving energy, which is great, but we literally had to press this light button every 30 seconds or so, so we could see what we were doing. It was great. At this time I am exhausted, hungry, still smelly and just wanted to go to bed. Finally near 11, we got the keys and got to enter our new apartment!! Yay!!!

It is super colorful with pale lime green trims in the kitchen/living room, light blue in the bedroom, purple in the entryway and water closet (a room with just a toilet) and our bathroom is yellow. It is super cute! There is only 1 bedroom, but it is a large bedroom so it is like freshman year in the dorm again, but hey we are making it work. The downside of the apartment was - it wasn't furnished. There was a table and chairs, a fridge, 2 stove-tops and a futon and that is it. No beds. No closet/shelves. etc So Mindy and I really got to know each other because we shared the futon haha but we slept the opposite way so our feet were on the ground and there was much more room.

At one point there were three of us on the futon because Tina, another Grenoble Assistant living in Lyon hadn't found a place and our floor is not comfortable at all. But all worked out in the end! We went to this Irish pub in Old Lyon and this British guy started talking to Tina and asked her how she is. She answered truthfully, that she was awful because she had no place to live, and low and behold one of his roommates moved out that day! So now she is living in a swanky place in a really nice neighborhood - sometimes it pays off to be honest! We couldn't believe her luck, especially after hearing how many assistants still did not have any housing whatsoever. It is verrrry difficult to find housing, especially in big cities and our little guidebook does NOT help us at all, nor tell us it will be as difficult as it was. Again, I am thankful Mindy was here a week early and found a place otherwise I possible would be living in a cardboard box on the street rather than this cute apartment.

Luckily, Mindy's friend Katie, who was a Grenoble assistant last year, came to visit us and she had a car - MEANING IKEA!!!! She graciously took us there to get our beds, clothing shelves, plates, containers, bedding etc. It was great and I might have gone a little overboard. I wanted everything there. Oh the Swedes, gotta love 'em! Finally after a week our place finally felt like home!