Sunday, November 30, 2014

Field Trips

It's been a very full week for me. We have a small group of five students from Singapore here for two weeks and they have requested special field trips every afternoon.  My co-worker and I are taking turns going with them on their trips, depending on the activity and their needs. Earlier this week, I got to go with them to see the ruins of an old castle, and then to an Abbey that has been converted into a luxury hotel. Both were beautiful in very different ways.

The Château de la Madeleine

The school hires both a chauffer and a guide for these trips, so my only responsibility is to take pictures to capture the outing to post on the school's Facebook page.  The first outing was rather challenging for me personally..... The driver and the guide both only speak French, and the group from Singapore; although they do speak English, they are here as part of their French studies in school, so they are only speaking French. I knew that it would be difficult to learn a new language, but I didn't realize how isolating it would be at times. To not be able to communicate thoughts or feelings is bad enough (but expected), but to even be able to engage in very simple small talk is very frustrating! Everyone was very kind, but I felt a bit like an imposter. However, despite the communication challenges, I was able to capture some of the beauty in the surroundings.

The Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay

It was really hard to pick just a few pictures for this post so, if you want, you can check out my Facebook page for a full album of each of these places.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pie is Always a Good Idea!

I found out that one of my French teachers is also a pastry chef, so I asked her if she would be willing to bake with me sometime, to which she readily offered her time and her kitchen! Friday was our day to bake, and she asked me what I would need to bake an American pie - I wanted to make a fruit pie, so started suggesting fruit that might be in season here, only to find out that France imports nearly all of their produce, other than raspberries, which aren't in season right now, which makes it all super expensive.  This time of year I like to make a pear/cranberry/pecan pie, but when I suggested this she laughed at me. Evidently, you simply can't get cranberries here, and pecans are super expensive.  So... I rattled around in my brain to think what might go with pears, but we settled on a plain pear pie (much to my disappointment). However, as we were checking out at the store, I found a small container of dried tart cherries on the Christmas display and grabbed those.

We arrived at her cute flat, and her kitchen made mine in Denver look big! The only "counter" space was the top of the clothes washer (which was about 2'x2')  and it was next to the stove. Regardless, it was a delightful afternoon of converting Cups and Tablespoons to Grams, and Fahrenheit to Celsius, and learning more French vocabulary (Pear is la poire, and Cinnamon is la cannelle).

While we waited for the pie to bake, she helped me with my French as we shared some of our stories. It was exactly what I needed - baking, French lessons, and a new friend!

Pear Cherry Pie baked in a cake pan, because that's what we had!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Random Celebrations & The Forest

Today was the celebration of Les Beaujolais Nouveau 2014. What in the world is that?! If I understand correctly, it's the celebration of the first wine produced in 2014 from the Beaujolais region; and the third Thursday of November is the national "reveal" party for the wine. The first batch of wine is not supposed to be very good, but it's become a tradition to celebrate, and so we did. Our chef prepared a wonderful raclette lunch (think fondue with individual pots-yay!)  He served the raclette cheese with a variety of items: baked potatoes, eggs (which you cooked in your little raclette dish), grilled onions and mushrooms, various meats and of course baguettes, accompanied by the Beaujolais wine - which to my unrefined taste was quite good!

After lunch I finally got to go for a walk in the Rambouillet Forest, which is a large National Forest that surrounds most of the city. It is one of the things that appealed to me about moving here, and it is great! It's very flat, but wooded, and there's a little pond with some camp sites and several yurts (but they've been dismantled for the winter).

My first glimpse of the forest

The pond is a man-made reservoir which was created to collect water to supply the fountains in Versailles

I'm eager to learn about the trees and plants here - anybody know what those super tall trees in the background are?

The damn
Leaving the forest for today


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Farmer's Market

Today was a national holiday so I had a free day. I did some homework this morning and then went to the bi-annual Farmer's Market/Fair. It was a beautiful day today for a walk and for strolling the market. 

My co-worker went with me, as we had planned this as an event for our students, but nobody wanted to go. On our way there we talked with a sweet elderly French couple who had lived in New Zealand for a while, so they spoke some English.  Making friends is always nice, and they gave us tickets to get into the market for free!!

It was a great market with all sorts of things to taste. For those who know me and my food quirks, you'll be amazed to know that I tried many samples, and then saw that they reuse the sampling cups!! Aack!! Well, at least the samples were all alcohol, so hopefully I won't get sick or die ;) Yes, they gave out samples of cognac, wine and beer. I also tried foie gras for the first time - three different types! There were many types of honey, jam and cheese as well (none of which required reusing a utensil or cup). I purchased my first crepe at the market and had it with local honey. C'est tres bon!

These were very pretty, artistic goat cheeses with various herbs

This lady was so sweet, I just HAD to buy some cheese from her 

This is the bread baker. They had converted an old army vehicle into a portable oven. The lines were long, but the bread came out hot!

These are some of the famous Rambouillet sheep 

My purchases at the market - butternut squash soup, cheese, and two loaves of bread - one with figs and one with bacon. Dinner will be good tonight!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A "Typical" Week

Wow, how have I already been here one week?! The days have been so full of learning new things I haven't had much of a chance to reflect until today, which is my first day with no classes, no work and no people.

The town is very walkable, and it hasn't rained since my first day, so I have taken a walk every day. It's been in the 50's, but with the humidity and wind it has felt like the 30's. Glad I brought plenty of warm layers! As part of my job, I must go to the post office, which is a nice 15 minute walk into town, down cobblestone streets, through a couple roundabouts and past a beautiful, historic carousel which is just outside the grounds of the famous château of Rambouillet (evidently Napoleon spent his last night in France here).

The carousel

A walk in the park

The Rambouillet Castle

I'm not sure there will be a "typical" week here, but if so, I've been told that I will be in French classes every morning M-F from 9am-1pm. Lunch is served at 1pm and in typical French fashion, it is the largest meal of the day.  It is served buffet style and we all eat together, and thus far the food has been very good. In the afternoons I either do work for the office or I am in French classes again from 2-4pm. The office is open until 6pm, but fortunately, I don't have to sit at a desk, I just have to be available in case they need me to do something. Which thus far means I sit in the teacher's lounge and do homework.

One evening each week and Saturday mornings I am observing/teaching English class.  Right now I am with the 5 year olds and it's surprisingly fun! Three evenings per week I am required to plan activities for the students who are staying here on campus (right now we have about 7 students - all are 20-something's from Denmark, Korea, Venezuela and England). So, we've had a game night where we played Apples to Apples in French, and a movie night where we watched The Tourist in French with French subtitles.... most of which I did not understand! And then we ended the week with a night at the local pub.

It's still rather unclear as to what exactly I'm supposed to do in the office, but I'm learning patience in this process. Also, I am learning to be ok with the uncertainty of  what each day might bring, and to hold loosely to my expectations. What a great way to embrace life!

The beginning of a beautiful sunset and the end of my first week in France

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I arrived at Planet-Langues to a whirlwind of introductions and information. I met everyone in the office and then was shown to my room and told to settle in with a vague, "we'll see you tomorrow". Being me, I asked several questions: What about dinner? What time should I be in the office/classroom in the morning? How should I expect to spend my day tomorrow?

 This is the view from my dorm - the chateau is beautiful

After much discussion, it was decided that I would have Tuesday free to settle in and to get an orientation from my co-worker. He showed up later and invited me to dinner with him and a couple of the English teachers, which I accepted, because while tired, I was starving and knew I couldn't sleep until I ate something, plus it was only 6pm. It was a pleasant evening, but I was exhausted, so turned down the invite to go to the pub afterwards and instead went to bed, after several failed attempts to connect to the internet (evidently it's a bit sporadic around here).

I woke up Tuesday morning a bit morose and wondering what in the world I had done; giving up all familiar comforts, saying goodbye to dear friends and family, and moving to a country where I don't speak the language. WHY did I think this was a good idea?! Yes, that was emotional jetlag speaking. As the day progressed, my hope and excitement returned.

I have a room with a bathroom (sort of) to myself, for which I am very thankful. I have a shower, toilet and sink IN my room. Although a bit stark, it's toasty warm and has two great windows (with some outdated curtains), to let in whatever sunlight makes an appearance. And the sun did make an appearance today!

Yes, that's the toilet hiding behind a mini-blind hung from the ceiling!
Two big windows to let in light
 I'm checking into options for hanging things on the walls so that I can add some color to my space, but the red bedspread is nice.

I need to go to the store and get an organizer for my toiletries so they're not just hanging out in ziplock bags under my sink.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Travelling is always an adventure

I have spent the past two months preparing to move to France to do a year-long language immersion program, and now I am here and would like to share this journey with you. I'm still figuring out my voice for this blog, and I'll fill in the details leading up to this later, but right now I want to capture my travel experience while it's still fresh.

After several weeks of goodbyes, the morning of my departure I had brunch with dear friends and then a surprisingly short ride to the airport. Excitement was bursting out of me at random points along the way. Being dropped off, saying last goodbyes, and realizing I am now on my own - supported by friends and family, but the rest of the travel journey is just me.


My seven hour flight from Denver to Iceland was uneventful. I watched a movie and then tried to sleep a bit. Excitement and anticipation made that difficult, but I knew I needed to rest. Customs was very simple, no paperwork, simply a stamp in my passport. I had just over an hour layover in Iceland where I got a bite to eat and then boarded my flight to Paris. I had the entire row to myself and slept nearly the entire flight. Arriving at Charles-De Gaulle, I felt like I was in some sort of spaceship. The pedestrian tubes going in all directions, and everybody seeming to move in slow motion. Thanks to some specific directions from a friend ahead of time, I was able to grab my luggage and easily get on the airfrance bus which would take me from the airport to the right train station in the city. At the train station it only took me two attempts to find the right ticket office and purchase a ticket. As I was going through the turnstile with all of my luggage, trying to push the suitcase under (which weighed in at 19kilos), lift the backpack over (weighing in at 15kilos) and shove myself through (weight not to be disclosed), I completely forgot to grab my ticket from the machine, so ended up on the other side with no ticket. After turning in circles while having a conversation in my head about what to do, I had a security guard let me out and I went back in line, assuming I would have to purchase another ticket; however, a concierge came and helped me get my original ticket out of the machine and sent me on my way! It was unclear as to which platform I needed to be at, and nobody seemed to be able to answer that for me, but eventually the train arrived and I found a seat for me and a space for my luggage. As it turns out, I was in the bike area, so I got boxed in by people and bikes, which made it rather difficult to get off the train, as I was trying to duck under bikes (yes, they hang them from the ceiling) with my huge backpack on, and lift my rather heavy suitcase over other bags, and not hit anyone in the face with my messenger bag satchel swinging to the side.

I got off the train in Rambouillet with a sigh of relief that my travel journey was nearly ending when I realized I still needed to contact the school to pick me up.  While it's only a 10 minute walk, it was pouring rain and windy, and I had a fair amount of luggage to navigate. I first tried the payphones, but they only accept credit cards, and mine didn't work. I then tried my cell phone, knowing that I'd have to pay a fair amount for the call, but the call would not go through.  Then I remembered the calling card that a dear friend had given me as a last-minute "just in case" option.  However, I couldn't figure out how to make that work...... at this point, I was tired, hungry and cold, and running out of options. I realized I didn't actually know where the school was, so couldn't even walk there if I wanted to.  I narrowed it down to three choices: try to hail a taxi, walk to a nearby shop and ask directions, or ask someone to call for me. I found someone waiting for a train and asked if he would call the school for me. He graciously did so, and I was able to briefly talk with someone, but they were having difficulty understanding my English and before I could finish the conversation he needed to catch his train so took his phone and ended the call, but assured me someone was coming, as he had briefly talked to them. So, I waited outside, trying to find shelter from the wind and rain, and shortly a woman came to pick me up and bring me to the school. I was so very thankful to be safe and dry, and to finally be at my new home.