...and here is what I've been up to in France...
Trip Start Jan 28, 2009
2Trip End Jun 18, 2009
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It has been exactly four weeks since I arrived in Europe. I left LAX on Wednesday, January 28th at 3:45 in the afternoon on British Airways. One of my friend's mom from elementary school was checking bags and upgraded me from regular economy to economy plus. The extra legroom and recline made the trip nicer, but I still couldn't manage to fall asleep. Overall though, the flight was as good as could be.
I arrived in London sometime around 9 in the morning. The few other AIFS students on my flight and I were picked up and taken to our hotel in London (AIFS is the program I'm studying with). We stayed at the Holiday Inn Kensington for two nights. Half the group was going to Cannes, while the other was going to St. Petersburg. It's still not clear to me as to why anyone would spend a semester there. The few St. Petersburg children I talked to came off as phony intellectuals(?).
Anyways, I have to be honest and say that London is probably one of my least favorite European cities I've ever visited. This is my second time going and it was no better than the first time. Maybe I'm not mature enough to appreciate it. I like the museums and buildings, but walking around, taking the Tube, and the massiveness = very overwhelming and more stressful than "fun".
Our first morning in London was spent on a tour. We drove by Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge
The rest of the day was interesting. Along with a few other people I made my way to the National Gallery where I was able to see some famous painters painting including some of my favorite: by Mr. Canaletto. Next was the Tate Modern Museum. This is where the majority of my day was spent. Some of the artwork was intriguing...some, not so much. I had a hard time appreciating it. Too much "thought" (supposedly) went into the artwork and not enough skill. That tends to happen with modern and contemporary art. I enjoyed the National Gallery much more.
The next morning we left at 6:30 in order to catch our 10 o'clock flight. I don't think we needed that much time... better safe than sorry? The flight was short, maybe an hour. We were picked up at the Nice airport and taken to our school. The school is called Collège International de Cannes. It is located about 15 minutes (walking) to town, right on the beach.
In case you are wondering... my address is:
John Van den Akker (not Ross)
Collège International de Cannes
1, Rue Docteur Alexandre Pascal
06400 Cannes, France
I like seeing my name on the marquee that says "Courrier"! If you send me something, I will be sure to send you something in return if you give me your address!! (I appreciate the package, Mom and Dad. Jane and Steve, thank you for the post card...Kenna gave it to me a few days ago).
There are around 50 students studying through AIFS. A good chunk of them are from Chapman. Only 11 are guys. When we arrived, we chose our roommates.
(Weekend #1) The first weekend, nothing happened. We had a few meetings and got situated. I met up with Kenna the first night. She showed me and Alex (roommate) around town.
On Wednesday night, we (all of AIFS) were taken out to La Piazza, an Italian restaurant, for pizza and pasta. It's become one of my favorite restaurants in Cannes because of the price and the wonderful Italian food. I think I need to spend some major money for a good meal, because so far-- France has not lived up to my culinary expectations. The cafeteria is pretty bad and the small amount of actual French food I've eaten has been good, but nothing spectacular. I have to say that my last dinner in America at the Salt Creek Grill was much better than any food I have had here. Since I'm on the topic of food, I do need to mention how I miss Mexican food.
Our first Thursday was spent "karaokeing". Since then, it has become a weekly Thursday occurrence. This week, it happened on Friday as part of a friend's birthday celebration. I hope we take a few weeks off since it's getting a little repetitive.
(Weekend #2) My first Friday in France was Kenna's birthday. I didn't come very prepared. I bought her some iPod gear for the ipod I bought her (she reimbursed me for the ipod). We spent the day in Nice wondering around. We walked along the water, went through a couple churches and hiked to the top of the "mountain" that has some old ruins and a park at the top. It was all very interesting and picturesque(?). Later, we also stopped at a boulangerie for some bread to munch on until dinner.
We ate dinner at a small italian restaurant recommended by the tour guide Kenna had earlier on in the day. The food was pretty good, but I was worrying the whole time that we wouldn't have enough money since they didn't accept credit cards. We ended up having plenty.
Afterwards, we took the train back to Kenna's apartment where her roommates were waiting with an apple tart and sang happy birthday. I made my way back, on the train, to Cannes around midnight.
I don't think anything happened on Saturday. If something did, it was overpowered by the memory of Monaco on Sunday. I think Monaco is one of my new favorite cities. We left in the morning, taking a bus for about an hour and half, arriving in Monaco sometime a little bit after 10. We walked around taking pictures of the views and gardens and eventually made our way to the palace (where the royal family lives...so they say... the prince is off in Antarctica right now being a "scientist"). We watched the changing of the guards and walked down into the town before hiking our way back up to the Oceanographic Museum.
Apparently, the current prince and the prince's grandfather (or something like that...I forget their names) is/was extremely interested in the ocean. They had a very interesting exhibit of old science tools and jarred specimens from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Downstairs was a huge aquarium exhibit that was really neat! haha.
When we were finished, we took the bus down to the water and stopped at the Monte Carlo Casino. A couple of us walked in and paid the 10 Euro cover charge and then went into the casino. It was very surreal, especially because it was so simple and glamorous in comparison to the gaudy sets imitating it in movies (like James Bond). There was no real dress code during the day, but apparently there is one at night (tuxedos...or as they say in french- "smoking"). I lost 10 Euros to slot machines and decided to spend 15 more on roulette. I lost all of that, however the experience became 10 times more worth it when I played roulette at the same time as a women who threw down 1000 Euros every spin... losing at least 5000 as I stood there for a few minutes. I kept a 5 Euro chip as a souvenir (by the way- souvenir means to recall or recollect in French! haha). It was all very really exciting.
The next week was nothing special. Class was the same. On Friday, we took a day trip to Nice with some of my study abroad group. We met up with french tourism students who gave us a tour around the town. It was a little bit boring but fun trying to communicate with students who knew just about as much English as we knew French.
Backtracking...--Sometime on our way back from our Monaco day trip, my friend Michael came up with the brilliant idea of biking back. Neither of us seem to be very organized and we didn't plan it very well, but we were still successful in our adventure.
(Weekend #3) Saturday morning we woke up, packed our backpacks and made our way into town. We had found a bike rental shop the night before and luckily, it was open in the morning. Unfortunately, the women would only rent us women's strand cruisers (6 speed)... she had other bikes but I don't think she felt like getting them down. It worked out fine. We left Cannes around 10:30 in the morning and followed the coast until we ended up in Monaco 5 hours later.
We didn't know where we were going to stay, but ended up finding "Hotel Le Versailles" at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the palace and the old town. It was pricy (100 Euros), but in the perfect location and it was only for a night. We walked around, ate a snack (up until that point, cheese and granola bars were our only nourishment all day), and then rested for a little while before I met Kenna at the train station (she decided to join us for the night).
We (Kenna, Michael and I) walked up to the old town and found a restaurant called Pinochio's. It was a cheap Italian restaurant with very friendly owners it. For 10 Euros I got a salad, pizza and ice cream. I also got a Monacan Beer and decided that the ice cream was not enough and finished with a crêpe. The restaurant had a few little TVs playing horrible french music videos from the 80s. It was definitely a very romantic start to our Valentine's Day evening.
After dinner, we walked down to the water where there was go-karting on ice. Let me just say- If you have the opportunity to go-kart on ice, you should do it. It is very fun...
In the morning, we woke up and got packed before going back up to the old town. We had a late lunch/early breakfast of pasta at an little Italian restaurant. We were able to hear the choir from the church singing while we ate...very cool.
Week 3 was yet another week of French classes. Nothing crazy happened that week. On Tuesday I spent 21 Euros on my first "real" French meal. Kenna was in town and a couple friends and I decided that we didn't want to eat in the cafeteria. It was the cheaper of 2 set menus, but it was very good. I started with fish soup and croutons. My main plate was stuffed tomatoes (they have a legitimate name, but I can't remember it) and for dessert, I had a lemon tart. Everything was very good-- definitely worth the 21 Euros. However, as I said before- France has not lived up to my culinary expectations. I'm waiting for my trip to Paris to splurge on an expensive meal.
On Wednesday, a few of my friends and I took the bus down to Nice for the evening. The train would have been a lot faster, but the bus was only 1 Euro. I ended up sitting next to some old Italian people and then an Irish women who I talked to for a little while.
When we got there, we walked around for a little while and got situated at a small wine bar. The patio was a cloud of smoke (by the way- EVERYONE smokes cigarettes here), but it was still nice as we drank some wine as an apéritif (apparently, the French take this drinking course very seriously as the wine bar was packed). Anyways, we ended up at yet another Italian restaurant (they are the cheapest and have probably the best tasting food for the price).
We didn't stay long and took the bus back to Cannes. On the bus ride back we sat next to a group of French people (possibly a family with grown kids). One thing lead to another and we all ended up singing disney songs in both French and English together.
(Weekend #4) We (AIFS students) woke up and left on a bus at 9 AM for Florence, Italy. We made a stop around 1:30 in Pizza where we were able to take pictures of the Leaning Tower and stretch our legs.
A few of us got cleaned up and met some friends of a friend who are studying abroad in Florence for dinner. We ate at a typical Tuscan Italian restaurant. I decided to get lamb and vegetables since I was in Tuscany and could get pretty good pizza whenever I wanted to in France. The lamb was good... a little bit cold, but still very good.
After dinner we split up. A few of them went back to the friend's apartment while a few others and I went to a little underground wine bar. I had some Limoncello for the first time, which was pretty good. It was early, but we finished our drinks and made our way back to the hotel since we were tired.
I have been sick on and off this whole trip, but the first night in Florence was pretty bad. I coughed almost the entire night. Blah. Luckily, I am now over that.
After a pretty good breakfast in the hotel, we met up with a tour guide who showed us around. The tour guide seemed nice, but being feverish and coughing and not being able to hear speak because of the noise and her accent made it a boring tour. We stopped at the Duomo and the Doors of Paradise along with a few other places.
I got a calzone for lunch. It was good, but I should have stuck with the pizza and pasta.
After lunch, we went to the Duomo and paid 8 Euros to climb to the top. What a crazy experience.
We walked around some more and got ready for dinner. A big chunk of the group went to a pretty good restaurant that was recommended by the hotel for dinner. The service was not spectacular, but my seafood pasta was! After dinner, we went to a bar for little bit, but I went back to the hotel early since I was still feeling pretty sick.
Our last morning, before going back to Cannes, we saw David. Mr. David was probably my favorite thing I saw. I liked how the museum was so small and the sculpture was the focus.
Class was the same last week. Lots and lots of French. I visited Kenna in Antibes on Monday and attempted making Mexican food. It tasted okay, but was nowhere close to Mexican. Tuesday, 20 of us AIFS students took an excursion to Grasse. We were given a tour at the perfume museum and then a tour of a perfume factory. The factory was really cool and I even knew some answers to the questions (ask me about how and what the correct way to smell perfumes is...). The tour was basically to get you to buy some of their perfume, and I did. It was expensive, but I really liked some of the smells...soo, I bought some as gifts. The cheapest (tiny) bottles were 24 Euros. I got one for Kenna and one for someone else. Possibly my mom. I thought I was pick-pocketed since I didn't have my wallet when I went to pay for the perfume. Luckily, I had left it in my room at school...it was odd and thankfully my friend Tara let me borrow some money.
(Weekend #5) On Friday night a huge group went out to dinner for my friend, Craig's, birthday. Dinner was really good. More pizza at an Italian restaurant! woo hoo. We hung out on the beach for a little while and then went to The Station (karaoke), but soon left for another club. I was getting up at 6 the next morning to go skiing, so I called it a night after karaoke and walked back.
Saturday was super awesome. I went skiing in the French Alps. For 35 Euros I was able to take a bus to Isola 2000 (the mountain) and get a lift ticket. Rentals were only 26 Euros and lunch was 6, so my total cost was pretty much nothing in comparison to the experience. The bus left at 7 AM from Cannes, stopped in Antibes and Nice and ended up taking a little over 2 hours. Skiing all day was crazy fun and pretty incredible since I was in the Alps. Apparently on Sunday there was a big avalanche. I don't know details...but apparently the Alps are known for their Avalanches. We got back around 7:30, so we missed dinner, but I got a mighty good Panini in the school's café. (I'll put pictures up soon)
Sunday, we went to Nice for the last day of the Nice Carnival. That was a crazy experience. It was on the verge of raining all day, but luckily it held off. We watched the parade, which had really funny crazy floats dancers and bands. After, we walked to a candy store that had rose jam and crystallized flower candy. (I'll put pictures up of this soon too)
It's now Tuesday Night. It's taken me a few days to finish this, but hopefully you feel updated. I had my first test on Monday. Hopefully I did well.
I am meeting up with my parents on Friday in Lyon and planning my spring break. I go to Paris a week from Thursday. I won't wait so long to update you all again. Thanks for reading.
Where I stayed
Collège International de Cannes