Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Little Over 100 Days Left

Salut à tous!  I have moved to my third and last host family last weekend!  Oh gosh it's so sad how time is flying by quickly like wind.  I just have just a little over a 100 days left.  (And yes, I'm already counting down.)  Before leaving my wonderful second host family, we spent two awesome weekends together:  One in the department of Nièvre and Yonne of Bourgogne and the other on a mountain at the France-Swiss border.




The weekend in Nièvre and Yonne of Bourgogne was fantastic.  Now, I have taken a look at the entire region and I feel so happy!  We left on a Friday (it was still winter break) and visited the city of Nevers of Nièvre where we ate really delicious food at an Indian restaurant.  (So French style, I know.)  After, we passed by the ancient city center and the Loire river where we lost our sense of direction several times!  Unlike the block-style roads in Canada, the roads in Europe are curvy and unpredictable so you can never guess correctly where you'd end up all the time.



Nevers was known to be the French capital of faïencerie (pottery) which had successful reputation especially during the seventeenth century.  One of the well-known pottery manufactures called "Faïencerie Georges" was opened back in 1898, and it was where the symbol of the double knotted green bow was designed.  Now, there are many boutiques that sell prestigious pottery like plates, teacups and more.




Next, we drove to a small village of 5000 called Chateauneuf (still in Nièvre) where we stayed till Sunday at a friend's house.  I really don't know why, but for some reason, this department is THE France that I imaged before my exchange began.  The sunny weather with a bit of cloud, pebble stoned bridges, rolling hills, bits of forest here and there, sky-blue old fashioned bicycles with a straw basket in front... everything almost was there except for the umbrellas with frills and French moustached men wearing a Beret... PLUS a fresh baguette tucked under their arms.  (Uh-huh, can't forget that.)  By then I realized that these stereotypes of France barely exist! 

Before heading home, we drove north into the department of Yonne to a gorgeous village called Vézelay.  The entire settlement sits on a hill, having it's UNESCO recognized historical monument, the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, placed at the highest point.  I could say that it was like the world-wide known Mont St. Michel but without the sea.  If you can't go the St. Michel, then Vézelay is one of the must-go places when you come to France because it's so spendid!




The weekend after, we passed the Jura mountains (in case you forgot, the mountains that are next to the Swiss Alps but miniature) and arrived at the base of a mountain named La Dole.  There, we hiked up with snowshoes with an Australian Rotary Youth Exchange student and her sympathetic host family to enjoy a picnic lunch at the peak!  In fact, I met the Australian student by chance at Les Marais when I went skiing with my host sister and our friends!  (The end of: http://sarifranceexchange.blogspot.fr/2013/02/exam-prep-food-snow-and-thank-you.html)  Thanks to the internet and my Rotary business card, we were able to meet together again!
 
La Dole is 1 677.2 m high and sits right next to the French-Swiss border, on the Swiss side.  So I was officially in Switzerland!  Luckily the weather was nearly perfect!  ("Nearly", because the peak was deadly windy and freezing cold!!)  BRRRRRRR!!!!!  (Where did my immunity to Canadian winter go?)
 

Past this sign, it's Switzerland!
So much snow!!
 
YEAHHH ♫
 
Incredible, breath-taking view of the Swiss Alps
The city of Geneva is visible down on the right side
and Mont Blanc stands at 4 810.45m high just above the word "right".
 
LUNCH!! ♥  Right to Left:
Host sister of Australian, the Austalian, me and my host sister

 
Proud representatives!!
  video
A video of the four of us sliding down a steep hill
(Includes some screaming, so watch out for the volume!)
 
 
This was one of my last weekends with my second host family and we've had such a memorable time together.  They are warm-hearted people who make my exchange year incredible.  Except, they're also more than "people" too because they consider me as part of their family.  Being part of a family is completely different from being a guest.  A guest relates to being an outsider, but welcomed to a certain extent.  However, being part of a family makes you feel that you're a real family member.  They're fully open to you and they express with honesty though it may not always agree with your opinions.  But that's better than holding back the truth.  Together, we discover about each other.  Together, we self-reflect and make changes of ourselves.  Together, we somehow become one despite our background differences.  And that, my readers... is why I love them.


Merci, ma gentille soeur.  Tu me manques.
C'était un aventure inoubliable avec toi.
A bientôt,
Sari ♥

ps: I did a skype call to the 2013 March Orientation held in Calgary for the Rotary Youth Exchange students of 2013/2014!  (Here's last year's: http://www.sarifranceexchange.blogspot.fr/2012/03/orientation-2.html)  It was so cool to be on the big screen because I imagined myself to be there last year when I was just an outbound student.  (In Rotary language, a pre-exchange student.)  Bonne Chance to all those exchangers!  Exchange is EXTRAORDINARY!!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

LONDON ♥ !!

Who would've expected that during my year abroad in France, I would go to LONDON?!!!

I spent 4 days at one of the highest reputated world capitals known for its commerce, arts, professional services, education, fashion, entertainment and So. Much. More.  And what's the best?  I was able to finally speak in English (although the accent was really difficult to imitate)!

On Monday evening, I left for London with some classmates and teachers of my lycée on a bus.  We took the underground train tunnel across the English Channel (which I never knew it existed) and arrived in London the next morning around 7 am.  I only slept in the bus for 4 hours but the fatigue didn't stop me because I was so fascinated of our arrival.


DAY 1:

Right off the bat, we got off the bus in Westminster, an area in central London.  We walked by the London Eye (Ferris Wheel), the Elizabeth Tower (known as the "Big Ben" for it's great bell) and the Westminister Abbey.

 
 
 


After, we headed to Trafalgar Square where my jaws dropped because I saw so many Canadian flags on a certain building!  It was the Canadian Embassy.  The Canadian flag I brought became handy right away! 
 
Proud to be Canadian!!
 
We also passed by one of the famous addresses in the world: 10 Downing Street.  What is it?  Well it's the Prime Minister's office which also represents the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the office and residence of the First Lord of the Treasury.  It's where national leaders and other foreign authorities meet for discussions and entertainment!  I wasn't sure if there was anyone in the building when we were there.  It was especially difficult to see the building itself because the entire street was and continues to be heavily secured and unaccessible to the public since a terrorist bombing back in 1991. 
 
 
This is what the front entrance would have looked like:

 
We had some free time so look what I found:

The smallest police station in London!!  (Though it's no longer in use for that.)

After, we headed to the Piccadilly Circus which was a large open space for pedestrians, located at a road junction.  It wasn't the "circus" as you would imagine with clowns and elephants because in latin, circus means circle which ressembled to the shape of the junction.  It was super lovely!  Furthermore, we walked past some of the world's haute-couture designer stores and my wallet was crying "too expensive" or "that's basically equal your whole exchange year!"  So nope, no shopping done here!
 


Later, we looked at a sample of the world's famous paintings inside the National Gallery back at the Trafalgar's Square.  It was an incredibly large beaux arts museum that showcased works by Léonard de Vinci, William Turner, Van Gogh, Raphael, Rembrandt and so many others.   I would have shown you what it was like inside, but photo-taking was forbidden even in the boutique.

Front of the National Gallery
There was a bollywood film-take, so the entire area was covered by people!
Everything was magnifique but at the end of the day, we were SO exhausted!  We all hopped onto the bus and separated in groups of 2 or 3 to our assigned English host families.  Thanks to my English, my two French friends and I got easily along with our kind host family.  There, we ate dinner, slept and ate breakfast. 


DAY 2:

We went to the London Tower which is an UNESCO Heritage Site: a castle that existed back from 1066, home to many Royal family members ever since except now.  Instead of going inside, we took loads of pictures of the London Bridge that was visible from where we were.  (I will show you a photo of the bridge later down.)

"E II R" symbolizes Elizabeth Regina II or Queen Elizabeth II
and it sits here because she is currently on the throne.


Next, we walked past super tall buildings like the the Lloyd's Building, 30 St Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin), and the recently completed Shard which is now the tallest building in the European Union (309m).  The architecture of the buildings here are so diverse and creative!


Lloyd's Building (and someone's head...)

30 St Mary Axe

The Shard (far in the background)
 
After, we headed to Tate Modern, a museum of modern arts.  It exhibites over hundreds of contemporary objects like illustrations, sculptures and videos.
 

I think I've never really "understood" art until I came here to
London to see such stunning masterpieces.

Students of my lycée looking at the collage, The Snail, by Henri Matisse 
 
Life is an adventure. What more could I say?
 
Before returning to our host families, we walked in the Docklands (beside the River Thames) and took many pictures!
 
 
 
There is London's City Hall on the right.
Admit that it is one of the funkiest buildings you've ever seen!
 
One of my bestest French friends and I by the River Thames ♥
Behind us is the nine decker warship, HMS Belfast, one of the Imperial War Museums of the UK.
 
My Mexican exchange friend and I in front of the London Bridge ♪
What's holding me up strongly like a bridge are the friendships that I can never imagine letting go of.
 
 Dear readers... that was just Day 2.  We're almost there I swear, so hold on tight!
 
 
DAY 3:
 
Today, we toured on the double decker red bus and OF COURSE it was raining!!  Who would enjoy spending a Thursday morning on an open roof bus with a cheap umbrella that blows inside out and combatting gusty wind and showering rain?!
 
ME!!
 

Phew, we all survived!
We passed by various popular spots in Central London which included Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussaud's Museum (where there are human statues that are incredibly identical to celebrities), Baker Street with its famous history of Jack the Ripper and the shopaholic paradise of Oxford Street.  I admit that this attraction was one of my highlights of the whole trip!
 
To finish off our day, we had free time for shopping in Camden Market which originally consisted of stalls that sold vegetables, fruits, crafts and more centuries ago.   Now however, the market sells varieties of products ranging from clothing to fast food, yet it still has it's original, market-style feeling.  It was very lively and a lot of fun!
 
 
DAY 4:
 
We had to say goodbye to our host family in the morning as we were leaving London that night.  I never thought that I'd learn some things about school life in Britain after our conversations with our 4 day British host sister.  Apparently everyone wears uniforms to school and kids start school a year a little earlier than in Canada though it really depends.  I also discovered that in Britain, students are obliged to take certain core subjects like Math and Science till their year 11 (equivalent to gr.10 in Canada) at the age of 16.  After, they have the choice to finish school or do two more years of "A Levels" which is needed for university courses later on.  Also when they do their "A Levels", they must generally choose 4 subjects so it narrows down on what they study.  I never knew these differences existed, and once I founded them, it seemed like my view of our world has stretched a little wider.
 
Three host family members to the right (missing the mom)
and my French friends and I on the left
The bus drove us to central London again and we took the metro to the British Museum to spend the morning there.  Again, it's such a ginormous place!  It showcased numerous artifacts from Africa, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Medival Europe, Asia, Americas and the Middle East.  Reaching almost 100 rooms plus the cafés and large shop, it was impossible to enjoy it all in one morning!
 
Roof of the Great Court seen from the interior
 
Infinite quantity and descriptions of artifacts
 
Replica of the Rosetta Stone
 
The real Rosetta Stone inside a glass box
 

My favorite room was Room 38 and 39: Clocks and Watches
 
Statue of Ramesses II, the third Egyptian pharaoh of the
Nineteenth dynasty who ruled between 1279 BC – 1213 BC
 
There was a poem I really liked next to this statue by Percy Bysshe Shelley who I believe is a Romantic English poet.  He was acknowledged in the world of English literature for his poems like this one:
 
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.  Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
 
 
The last destination was the Museum of Natural History which in my opinion, was by far the most impressive building out of all... because the main hall almost looked like Hogwarts!!

Only if the staircases moved and there were floating candles,
it would've been perfect!
 
The white statue on the staircase is Charles Darwin.
 
From mammals to marine invertebrates to earth science,
 there were so many things to see!
 
RAWR.
 
Kinda disgusting but very neat looking creatures...

Goodbye London!
Sadly, that was the end of our time in London, so we took the metro to our bus and drove the same way home.  It was such a breathtaking experience to be in a foreign country where they spoke one of my languages (other than Japanese) and spend time with my lycée friends without the school stress.  To be honest, it was easier to speak in French than in English during the entire time!  I was actually speaking Franglais without meaning to! 

It was so funny because one night when I was talking to our non-French speaking host family, my two French friends asked me, "Sari, pourquoi tu parle en Français?"  ("Sari, why are you speaking in French?")
 
I paused.  What a weird question.  Gave a little bit of time to think about it with confusion muddling my mind.
 
"Non, je parle en Anglais!" I replied, assuring myself.  ("No, I'm speaking in English!")
 
Immediately my friends countered, "Mais non, tu parles en Français!!"  ("But no, you're speaking in French!")
 
"QUOI?!!!  Pas question!!!" as I exclaimed with my eyes almost popping out.  ("What?! No way!!!)  Oh goodness gracious!  I wasn't speaking in French to the family, was I?!
 
"Si!  Si!  Si!" my friends laughed and chanted.  ("Yes!  Yes!  Yes!"Oh how lovely.
 
"Non!  Non!  Non!" I chanted back!
 
And this repeated back and forth for a good long time until I admitted that I really did speak in French.
 
It was unbelievable.  I was thinking that I was speaking in English, but at times I was using French words.  Is this POSSIBLE?!!  My friends told me that I even did the same thing in the museums and stores we went to!!  Maybe... just maybe... this is a sign of language fluency.  Or perhaps  this is just one of my moments of stupidity.  Who knows?
 
 
I guess the adventure never stops, does it?
Sari