See you later, France

OMG – I can’t believe I’ve been in France for nearly 6 months. The first 5 flew by, but because I had no classes and no trips planned, May itself seemed like another 6 months. With homesickness kicking in, I was determined to keep myself busy. So, I spent my last weeks studying for my big exam and having last hurrahs with friends and family.

So, this exam – the DELF – diplôme d’études en langue française. I was going for Level B1, which indicates I am “an independent user of the French language.” The certification is internationally recognized and never expires.  Over 2 days, I would be evaluated on oral/written comprehension and oral/written expression.  The first day would be my individual evaluation where I would have to talk for about 15 minutes on various topics of the examiners choosing. It doesn’t sound difficult, but when your language abilities are limited, it is quite a challenge. Fortunately, I think I did good. Then the 2nd day consisted of oral/writing comprehension and writing expression. Again, I think I did well, but ran short on time considering there was only about 2 hours to write an essay, read 2 articles, listen to 3 texts and answer about 25 questions.

Regardless of the results, I am extremely happy with my level of french. I was quite naive to think I would come to France and leave in a fluent state 6 months later. This process has only made me realize that it will be a life long process. However, I can speak and understand well enough to get by independently. Goal achieved.

Once my exam was out of the way, it was time to bid farewell to my classmates, friends and family.  I spent my last two days in France with the American gals in my program. They were all staying a bit longer but were heading off to other places in Europe and this was the last time we would all be in the same city. So, the day of the exam, we had a cheese party in the park to celebrate the official end to learning in France. We ate and drank wonderful wine and cheese until they kicked us out of the park at sundown. Then the next day, we pretty much did the same thing along the Loire River. It was a fun time and a great farewell to them and France:

Wine & cheese party… “A girl should be two things – classy and fabulous” – Coco Chanel

Our last day on the Loire together. From left, Madeline (Clarkston, Michigan), Angela (Hawaii), Me, and Katie (Rochester, Michigan)

The end of the year party at school was in the beginning of May.  My group at the University was really nice and I am extremely grateful to them for making me feel so welcome. Most of them began in September and had a much higher level of french. However, they were always patient with me and part of the reason my level grew so quickly.

End of the year party at the University. From Left: Keziban (Turkey), Me, Emina & her daughter (Serbia), Alisa (Serbia) and Maria (Japan).

Also, on our last day of classes, our group went on a field trip to Chateau Chamerolles. We had a tour guide and I was pretty fired up when I understood 99% of what she was saying. It was also a great time spent with my classmates. Here are some pics:

Saied, from Russia

The adorable Kako, from Japan

Alisa (Serbia) messing with Memei (Japan)

And the whole A Team (minus Hala)

So, this chapter comes to a close. I will be forever grateful to my husband and his parents for making this opportunity/adventure possible. Corinne and Jean-Paul treated me like their own and I am so lucky to have in laws that I not only like, but love to be around.  They are so much fun and were so wonderful and patient with me.  Never, in a million years did I think I would live in France and learn to speak french and I can not thank them enough.

Now we are changing directions – from language learning mode to getting married (again) mode. Oh the blogs (or books) I could write about getting married in a country where you don’t understand the language, process and the rules of the Catholic church. But, until July, I’m headed back to the States for some much needed quality time with Fabien, Bear, Cally and my family in Michigan. Alors, à plus tard, France!

Ready, Set, Vamos

To say I am fired up (but equally nervous) for Friday’s Spain departure is an understatement. While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, I’ve never totally flown by the seat of my pants like this. Really, the only part of the trip that is planned is my train ticket to the little village of St. Jean Pied de Port which is the starting point of El Camino de Santiago (the Frances Way).

After paying 62€, my one-way ticket goes like this: Orléans, Tours, Bordeaux (via the TGV which I’ve never taken before), Bayonne and finally St. Jean Pied de Port. I leave at 7am and should arrive around 4pm if all goes as planned. Yes, know it’s a long day, but I’ve never really traveled by train and I felt like this was just another part of the Camino experience.

I have spent all week preparing my backpack so it’s under the 6kg (about 13lbs) recommended for my body size.

First test run: 7.8kg (17lbs)
Second test run – 7.4kg (16lbs.)
Third test run – 6.1kg (13lbs.), which will just have to do because I’m not sure I could walk naked.

So, here’s what I got: 2 pairs of pants, 2 dry fit t-shirts, 1 tank top, 1 rain/polar jacket combo, 1 poncho, 1 pair of walking shoes, 1 pair of hiking sandals, 3 pairs of socks, 2 sports bras, 4 pairs of underwear, camera, iPod, cell phone, Kindle, 1 towel, 1 fancy sleeping bag, 1 hotel size shampoo, soap, conditioner, small flashlight, sleeping mask and ear plugs for my fellow pilgrim snorers, spanish phrase book, few first aid supplies, 3 individual packs of emergency instant coffee, mascara, bug spray and mace (a little gift from Corinne).

One big question mark is the weather. For the past few weeks, it’s been nothing but rain. The reason I am worried about this is the whole fact that I’ve never actually climbed a mountain before, which is what you do the first day from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles (about 25km or 15 miles). This part is known as the most dangerous section should it be snowy (unlikely) or foggy (maybe). So, if that is the case, I will forgo the experience of crossing the Pyrenees and take a bus to Roncesvalles.  As of now, it looks like the rain will continue through the weekend, but after that, it’s clear and sunny skies for a couple of days. So, what I’m hoping and praying for is that the weeks of rain will turn the Spanish country side into a beautiful shade of green, like this:

A little taste of what my first day of hiking will look like.

Other than everything above, I have a guide-book and money, which I’ve found speaks wonders in tricky situations. Otherwise, I’ll just have to have faith that St. James will take care of the rest and lead me in the right direction.

Until my next internet connection, Adios!

If you’d like to read more about the Camino, check out this site:

London: The Good, Bad & Ugly

To celebrate the 3 day weekend, the French family (Corinne, Jean-Paul, Veronique, Ludivine and Thomas) and I jetted off to London.  I was especially excited to be surrounded by English (aside from the 5 french people I was traveling with) and explore one of Europe’s most dynamic cities.

So, rather than to bore you with the every little detail of the trip, I’ll break it down for you like this:

  • Friday – Arrival. Amazing apartment with a view of Parliament and Big Ben. Beer. Fish & chips.
  • Marathon Saturday – Big English breakfast. Tower, London & Millenium Bridges. London Eye. Queens Walk. Big Ben, Parliament, Big Ben, Parliament, Big Ben, Parliament. Westminster Abbey. St. James Park. Buckingham Palace. Piccadilly Circus. Convent Gardens. My feet hurt.
  • Sunday – Big English breakfast. London Castle. St. Pauls Cathedral. Regents Park. Shopping. Beer. An orange cat wearing a leash and an Olympics t-shirt riding the metro. Yup, that really happened. I might need foot surgery.
  • Monday – Big English breakfast. Back to France. Foot soak.

So, let’s talk about the good, bad and ugly of “America’s truest friend.” (George Bush)

The Good:

  • Adorable accents and words. When asking if the kitchen was open one night the bartender responded, with a charming accent, “I’m afraid it’s not.” This only made me want to pinch her cheeks because it was so darn cute.
  • Perfect contrast of old and new. In many old European cities, you could never put a modern skyscraper next to an 17th century apartment building. Here, you find this all over the place, but it somehow works perfectly. Bravo, Urban Planners.

The Bad:

  • Service. Unfortunately, this was something we experienced several times throughout the weekend at restaurants and most specifically the airport (never fly with Ryan Air). Step it up London.
  • Prices. 10£ ($15) for a cup of Miso soup and a little bowl of Edamame. W.T.F.

The Ugly:

  • Fashion. To say the English are eccentric is an understatement. I couldn’t help but crack up when I saw a girl in hot pink spandex, 6 inch glossy blue platforms and a turquoise fish net tank top. Seriously, these kinds of crimes were happening all over town. Mind you, it was also 50 degrees and no one in London wears a jacket when it’s that balmy out.
  • Hair. True story – I saw a dreaded, mullet. For everyday of my life I will regret not taking a photo of this, but I couldn’t inconspicuously do it without blowing my cover because I was laugh hysterically.

Overall, a fab weekend with the Chevriers, but to my surprise, I was ready and happy to return to France. Could it be that the France is really starting to grow on me?

And for your viewing pleasure, here is a YouTube video (set to appropriate music).
Bonus points for those of you who get the song reference.