Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bon appetit!

In my last post I lamented that the French do not use the term "cafe au lait." I would like to balance that by happily reporting that they do use "Bon appetit" quite regularly!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What, no cafe au lait?

I have always considered Cafe au Lait (coffee with milk) to be so quintessentially French, both in the phrase and in a large cup of deliciously milky coffee. I am sad to report, however, that the French do not in fact use the phrase cafe au lait. You instead see Cafe Creme (I haven't figured out how to make my keyboard do accents yet) which is actually with cream, not milk. Sign, France, sigh. Shattered expectations :)

I did, however, go by a cheese store the other day. How did I know? Because as I was walking down the street the smell nearly knocked me over--they do not fool around with smelly cheese! I am taking my time, trying to get up the guts to go in and buy something. I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Count

We're all big kids and know how to count. But it's interesting to see how counting is done in different languages. What, you ask, can I possibly mean? Well, whereas in English there is a word for each number and they just go up in order, that is not always the case. In some languages, for example in French and Spanish, in the teens, there are some irregularities. Up through 16 in French (15 in Spanish), you get a word for the number. Seventeen (sixteen) through nineteen, however, are said 10+X (ie, 17 in French is said dix-sept, which means ten and seven).  Ok, that's doable. Then everything progresses relatively normally until you hit 70, which is said as 60+10 (soixante-dix). So you can imagine that when you get to, say, 78, you are saying something lovely like 60+10+8. Small grumbles are certainly in order when you're a foreigner trying to learn that. But really, that's nothing when you consider how one says 80--4 times 20 (quatre vingt). Huh? Yeah. Eighty is said as "four twenty." Oh, and ninety? Yup, that's 4 x 20 + 10! Ninety nine, then, is of course the rather unwieldy 4x20+10+9 (quatre vingt dix neuf).

So what about larger numbers? Being purists, when in France you need a number such as 2137, you aren't allowed to say twenty-one-thirty-seven, as we probably would in English. Nope, that's two thousand one hundred and thirty seven. But the Dutch? Nope, for them, that number is said one and twenty, seven and thirty. Single digits are said before the tens! 354? To the Dutch, that is three hundred, four and fifty. Weird... But it does explain why they would often say "fifty nine" when something was written 95, etc.  And those are only the languages I know bits and pieces of. Does anyone know other random ways of counting in other languages? I'm curious.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oh Sweet Bakery!

Oh delicious decadence. This is a chocolate almond croissant. It is amazing. Hello new go-to bad day/sweet tooth/other issue fixer!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stereotypes for a Reason...

1. Dutch people are tall and generally blond.

2. French people smoke a lot.

3. French women can wear anything. I've seen two people today wearing sweaters that I would wear to a Tacky Christmas Sweater Party and they both looked great.

These are, of course, averages based on my own observations. I know there are short brunette Dutch people and frumpy French non-smokers, so please don't hurt me. 

Still to be determined...
-The French strike a lot. Montpellier is two for two on Saturday tram strikes since I arrived.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Welcome to Montpellier

Hi from France!

First, the end of the Netherlands. I think I need a new rule-no "going out for one drink." That has led several times to me getting home way later than I am equipped for. Also, no going out the night before traveling--I have now left both Uppsala and Groningen on an hour of sleep each. I am no good at that kind of thing! Particularly when carrying this much stuff (and note you can't see the backpack):

So after a late last night in Groningen, I headed to Amsterdam. I stayed in the A-Train hotel, mainly because it is right across from the train station and has an elevator (nearly impossible to find). It was actually nice though. Train themed (nothing obnoxious, just memorabilia on the walls), and included breakfast, all the various taxes, and internet in the breakfast area for cheap. I recommend it! They also had my room available when I checked in, which was awesome. After a power nap, I headed to the Anne Frank House, which was a great museum. Very well done. I bought her diary there, as I had been meaning to read it for a long time and was so impressed by the museum. I then went home and crashed early, because the next morning, I had to catch...

A train to France! Yippee! Most of us ended up traveling by train, as the planes were more expensive and come with weight and number of bag restrictions, and buses were not good for getting here either. The train though, goes several times a day and has no baggage restrictions--if you can get it into the train, you can take it. So here's how I moved to France: Amsterdam-->Paris Nord (around 3 hours), metro to Paris Gare de Lyon-->Montpellier (3.5 hours), tram to dorm. No taxis! I impress myself :)  I had window seats the whole way and did nothing but stare out the window! It got sunny just south of Paris, and the ride from Paris to Montpellier was absolutely gorgeous. Mountains, hills, forests, ravines with streams, all things I hadn't seen in a while. And there were beautiful chateaus, villas, and a few small vineyards. Just beautiful! I was quite excited. By the time I arrived in my dorm, however, I was utterly exhausted from moving all my stuff!

The dorm room is definitely small. 100sq feet, which includes the bathroom, and most of it is built into shelves and the desk and bed, which is nice, but leaves not much floor space at all. The bathroom is tiny and the shower involves pressing a button every few seconds for the pleasure of an often cold stream of water. And the "kitchen?" It includes 2 sinks and a stove that apparently never works. So while I was complaining about not having an oven in the Netherlands, I at least had things like a microwave, or even say, a trashcan, in the kitchen. Yikes. There is a mini-fridge in my room (phew) but I am still deciding how to go about eating this semester... And my internet is awful! Even with no video, I can barely hear the other person while Skyping. This is going to be less than ideal, definitely. [A side note: I recommend never living in a dorm again once you've had a place of your own. It's not the correct progression of things! I'm already excited for the day I live in a "real place" again. So why live in the dorms you ask? Because it is impossible to find housing in Europe, and so when someone offers to deal with the foreign language and housing market and find you a place to live so you don't show up in town carrying everything you own and go "Now what," you take the offer.]

But the city is amazing. Absolutely the picture of a Mediterranean city. Lots of sandstone-colored buildings, small windy hilly streets, cafes everywhere, tons to see and do, and great vistas. It really is beautiful. Not particularly warm right now (in the 40s during the day, 30s at night) but lovely when the sun shines!

This is a huge hilltop area where I was told the king used to hunt. Great views of the city on almost all sides, and then you can walk through an Arc (de something I can't remember) and head down into the main part of the city. I spent all day Sunday walking around and realized that this place is so big I could never see it all. It should be fun!

The food in France is so much better than the Netherlands! Even just the sandwiches are great. Ahhhhh. And I had amazing lamb the other night, then mussels with fries (actually a Belgian thing) last night. Delicious!

It is also different from Holland in other ways of course. Whereas Holland is kind of unbelievably safe and self-regulated, I had been in town a mere 4 days when I was pickpocketed on the tram yesterday. Lovely. I was, however, filling out paperwork in the police station when someone handed in my wallet, missing only the cash, so I consider myself incredibly lucky. And now to be much more careful!  Haha, but since I had already canceled all my cards, I am now having to borrow money until I get my French card and can transfer money to it, so I'll be able to give anyone who wants it the super-cheap guide to Montpellier!

So, that's my first few days here in a nutshell! A bit of a whirlwind. I'm still trying to catch up on sleep from just finishing the previous semester before we start the next one on Monday. I am finished with all the administrative stuff now (new student card, bank account, phone number, etc.) and so plan to just relax a bit. I'm decorating the dorm room today, which will make it much more "mine" and nicer to be in!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One down

Semester one is done tomorrow! It has kept me quite busy, even until the end. I should be working on an assignment right now, but decided blogging was more important. And more fun.

So, one final thing due tomorrow, followed by an evaluation that I hope lets us really make a difference for the next group of students in the program. Then a last dinner and night out with the classmates, followed by us scattering across the globe on Friday. I will head to Amsterdam for the day, where I plan to wander around the city and maybe check out the last few museums I want to see. My copious amounts of luggage and I will spend the night in a train-themed hotel, which should be interesting, but was cheap, directly across from the train station, and had an elevator (a rare thing in Amsterdam). Then, Saturday morning, I hop on a train to France! Woohoo!

Fear not--there will be pictures of me moving. I have been told I look somewhat like a sherpa. When I moved out of my dorm on Sunday I could barely move it all. I did repack though, and am now down to one large rolling suitcase, a duffel bag, a backpack, and ONE side bag. There were two side bags. I consider that a major success. I accumulated so much stuffffffffffffff without ever realizing I was doing so. Just a few books, a pair of shoes, a scarf or two...I need to stop doing that. Or stop moving. Or get rid of a bunch of stuff. Or all of the above.

I've realized that I liked moving much more when I was moving across town and could just load the car up haphazardly several times and never had to worry about getting things in suitcases and heaving them all over the place. I like this kind of moving much less. It looks, however, like due to restrictions from the various universities, I'll have to stay in France for a year to be able to get the required double degree, so I may get a reprieve from moving every six months. I also, however, hear murmurings from classmates who have already arrived that our French dorms rooms are miniscule, so I may be prevented from acquiring anything in France anyway. Or maybe I'll just send everything I already own home with my various visitors. Yes, that means you :)

This semester has gone both fast and slow, like most things. It's still hard to believe I'm leaving in two days. In the midst of a crazy packing weekend, it was beautifully sunny for a while Sunday afternoon, so I took a break and went for a long walk by the river (which is actually a large canal). Sorry, I'm on a really slow connection and can't upload pictures. But it was a gorgeous day, and it kind of made me wonder what it could have been like here if things had been a bit different. I hope I get more of a chance to enjoy France and am not so frantically busy or stuck inside by crappy weather. We shall see.

Onward! I'll report next from France!