Annecy.

For the first time since August, I felt like I could have been in America.

Driving along the coast of Annecy Lake in the Alps, I had the impression that I could be back in New York, driving to a lake house we used to go to.

But the moment was fleeting, and I soon found myself standing on the dock, taking in the fresh mountain air before getting ninja-kicked by my host brother.

The purpose of this petit sejour to Annecy  was, primarily, for my host mom to run the semi-marathon and also to visit her brother.

On the 7 hour car ride there, we took a pit stop at Pont-du-Gard, which is a Roman aqueduct.

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The rest of the weekend was spent with the other people running the marathon, just enjoying being in such a beautiful place.

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We also went paddling boating too which was a major highlight.

The climax of the trip happened at the very end and will be the next post because it’s really that special.

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Carnaval

Like always, I find myself falling behind on posts, then having to rush through one story to get to another.

Sadly enough, my year is winding down, and therefore, exciting things are starting to happen.

So, as previously mentioned, Halloween doesn’t exist in France. They are starting to warm up to the idea of it, but I don’t think it will ever fully catch on. But there is hope.

The closest thing we have is Carnaval. High schoolers get dressed up & egg each other. Last year, the 3 major high schools had Carnaval the same day, which apparently got out of hand, so it was decided that this year, each school would have their own Carnaval.

This was a bad idea.

Fermat is a math-based school filled with an over-whelming amount of “fraisheurs” or rich, wanna-be’s; which is therefore detested by our neighboring school, Saint-Sernin, which is art and literary based. Fermat’s carnaval came first & of course, there was a group of kids who egged Saint Sernin.

When Saint Sernin’s carnaval came around a few weeks later, they had clearly used the time to premeditate a revenge.

Fermat found themselves on lock down, bombarded by a group of disguised kids screaming “F— FERMAT” throwing eggs, flour, tomatoes, sardines, apples, green peppers, bananas, and kiwis. The most aggressive ( and now infamous ) was “the redhead”, who was basically the leader of the 200 kids hurling food and insults.

They soon left, and having a 3 hour gap with nothing better to do, the class snuck out the back door of the middle school and Claire and I set out towards Saint-Sernin with our umbrellas. We spent the day with her friends, running from both Sernin and the small groups of Fermat that were starting to retalliate.

The next day, Saint Sernin, anticipating a revenge that never came, decided to re-bombard Fermat, who was yet again held on lockdown.

In the end, Fermat never actually got revenge, which is embarassing, and due to the amount of police intervention that was necessary & the fact that a teacher took a raw egg to the head and bled; Carnaval isn’t certain to happen next year.

So I’m glad that I got to witness it in the height of the rivalry & drama.

Now, for vacation.

bisous

Oh, Paris.

Il n’y a que deux endroits au monde où l’on puisse vivre heureux:  chez soi et à Paris. 

There are only two places in the world where one can live happily: at home and in Paris.

-Ernest Hemingway

Each and every city has a personality.  It’s a combination of the way the buildings sit, the color of the concrete, the language, the graffiti, and the way the streets align. It’s the sound of the wind or the brakes of the subway. It’s the spaces between railing and the puddles on the streets.  It’s the mixture of all these elements that make a city a living, breathing being.

And consequently, it’s the mixture of all these elements that have made me absolutely infatuated with the maze that is Paris.

Toulouse is my first love. Beautiful, pink, intimate, and inviting. I know her well and she feels like home.

But Paris.

In 4 short days, I’ve been irrevocably seduced.

I want to know Paris. I want to feel familiar in the immense complexity of her personality. I want to sit on the metro and study faces, to run through the streets, to freeze in the snow and to simmer in the sun. I want to know her like I’ve come to know Toulouse.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of college in France for months now and if it’d give me the chance to live in Paris, I wouldn’t mind. The idea of being dirt poor in a one room apartment in Paris is just really appealing.

Regardless, Paris was wonderful and I was happy to be there with my class that I love dearly.

I’m not going to give a chronological run down because I’m really not that organized so I’ll give you some highlights. I tried my best to place the photos logically:

  •  Our train was at 6 AM friday morning and therefore my friend, whose house I was staying at, and I got up at 4 AM.
  • It’s a 6 hour train ride from Toulouse to Paris. We took the TGV which was nice, we played games and probably annoyed everyone else in our wagon.
  • We stayed in a youth hostel in the Marais, the district home to, most notably; the gays, some artists, and the jewish. The Marais is the 3rd and 4th section so it was really pretty and in the heart of Paris. We were a 15 minute walk (which is “right next door” for the french) from Notre Dame.893755_4600878508675_1430898511_o 882259_4600877428648_1300921739_o 884307_4600875548601_994086146_o
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  • taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • The weather was cold & overcast all weekend but it was doable.
  • Our class project is on the Garonne, the river in Toulouse, and Paris’ Seine. We spent a great deal of time walking the quais and bridges. We did a cruise too and had a cute Italian conductor so no complaints there.
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  • Italian boys are generally a lot more attractive than French boys but at Paris everyone is really attractive. Well, almost.
  • taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • We visited the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre. I was one of the very few in my class who preferred Orsay. Orsay was an old train station so it has the huge glass paneled, arched  ceiling that is simply gorgeous. The Louvre felt more like a castle that just happened to have art in it. I loved the two, but Orsay was more my type.
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    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • taken by Claire and a tall asian man standing behind her

    taken by Claire and a tall asian man standing behind her

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • Consequently I saw Mona Lisa (and even got a picture regardless of the aggressive tourist lady who elbowed in my face.) AND Degas’ Dance Class so I was happy.
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  • One night we went to a play which was an Italian comedy which I loved. It was in a sketchy little room so I had my doubts but it was hilarious and everyone enjoyed it.
  • The street art in Paris was amazing too.
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  • Another night we had a “soirée libre” where we were set free in Paris for the evening. Three friends and I went to the Eiffel Tower which was magnifique. After that, we joined the rest of the class and just wandered about, messing around, meeting people, being stupid, and having fun.
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  • We passed by the Eiffel Tower a 2nd time later on too, stopping at the Trocadero, the plaza in front of it.
  • taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • The last night we went to Sacré Coeur, which was stunning. Luckily, my friend couldn’t take the steps so we “frauded” our last metro ticket to take the elevator. Afterwards we headed to a café/bar and had a really cute server.
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  • taken by the hot server at the bar

    taken by the hot server at the bar

  • “Frauding” is what happens when you’re poor or don’t feel like buying more tickets so you shuffle through the metro barrier behind a friend who has a ticket. It’s like a buy-one-get-one for the subway.
  • taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • I love the metro in Paris. It’s scary and smelly and uncomfortable but I adore it.
  • We saw the famous bridge that people attach locks to seal their love. I found myself with a lock but without lover, so I wrote “Maddi & France” on one side and “1L FERMAT TOULOUSE” (class & highschool) on the other side, which covered all my bases.
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  • taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • The last day we went to the Shoah Memorial, which honors those lost in the holocaust. It was really interesting and the monuments were beautiful.
  • We visited a beautiful church that used to be solely used for the king.
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  • The only places that I didn’t get to go were inside the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées , and the Arc de Triomphe; which is really not bad for 4 days.
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    taken by Claire

    taken by Claire

  • The falafel I ate on the last day was so freaking good. Potentially one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
  • We packed ourselves up on the train, and while I slept, my class did this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE8pReFbj1I&feature=youtu.be

So yeah, it was magical.

Bisous.

Not Dead

I’ve taken on the motto of “the more things you do without dying, the better”

This applies really well to my first time skiing.

After getting home from Madrid friday afternoon, we packed up the car and headed out to the Pyrénées bright and (not so) early Saturday morning.

I love being in the car so the 3 hour drive was sounding heavenly as ever. We pulled up at ##### early that afternoon and were greeted by another family that is friends with mine, but they are considered more like family. We rented 2 apartments, one above another, in the middle of town.

The two families made up a group of 10, consisting of 4 girls from age 12-17… who shared a room. You can imagine how that went. If not:

SKI

Anyway, Sunday was my first day of ski and I was scared. I had no idea what I was doing and wiped out on baby slopes every 5 feet the whole morning. I was feeling kind of sour when we broke for lunch and was dreading getting back on the pistes. But somehow, when I got back out there I could go down a green without major injury except for the last stretch, which was, in my defense, steep.

Numerous times, someone has told me to “stay on piste” which I had forgotten, and therefore, thought it’d be okay for me to go off the trail with my sister and another girl.

Wrong.

So wrong.

I ended up in a pine tree, with my legs in an inverted W, and teary-eyed. I’m not a crier so that goes to show how bad it was.

But regardless, I was proud and sore.

Day two was probably the peak with me being able to do the same slope without falling. Everyone was really supportive and motivating and had probably exaggerated their compliments but whatever.

Day Three I skiied blues, which is the third level if you want to count “baby” slopes. I wiped out a lot because I couldn’t get used to the slushy snow. I ended the day absolutely drained.

When I ski, it’s not necessarily enjoyable. It’s more like a constant state of panic and almost-falling. I feel like the king of the freaking world when I make it to the bottom and can see what I just skied, so it’s rewarding at least.

The 4th and 5th days I took a break and skied only a few hours a day because I was sore and sick and having a hard time. We went to a natural bath spa thing one night too, which was really nice too, even if it turned my hair orange.

The 6th day all the kids decided to try snowboarding. I had done it once so I knew the basics but not much more. We split into 2 groups and I stayed with my younger host sister and the boy from the other family because I think she would have killed me if I had left her alone.

The last day both families went snow-shoeing and built an igloo with a group and I’m not embarrassed to say that it was the bomb.

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Hi, My Name’s Maddi and I’m Addicted to Shopping and Making an Adventure Out of Anything I Do.

Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve become mildly obsessed with shopping.

I’ve been using my wardrobe as my go-to source of expression. I take a weird little pride in the looks I get for what I’m wearing and it just makes me happy.

This slight addiction mixed with my terminal fear of missing out on something lead me on a mini-adventure a rainy Thursday afternoon in center-city Madrid.

The day before, I had been at Gran Via, a central street in Madrid that’s lined with stores.

Surely by divine intervention, I happened upon a skirt that was destined to be mine, yet, cruel, cruel fate had rendered me without money, and alas, without my dream skirt.

Put down the box of kleenex, this melodramatic story doesn’t end just yet.

The next day, it was raining icily. I was dropped off at the Royal Palace, which I had visited the day before, and had nothing to do. As I walked out of the palace, trying to brainstorm, the wind flipped and, consequently, broke my umbrella. Being cold puts me in a wretched mood and I have to say that I spent a good 5 minutes standing in the rain with my inverted umbrella feeling really crappy for myself.

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But the feeling passed as I walked on; my curiosity and desire for that skirt getting the best of me.

Since I had been in the area the day before, I assumed that I could navigate my way back to Gran Via without a major problem.

45 minutes later, I found out I was right. The sun was shining and I was feeling accomplished as hell, having navigated my way all by myself.

On my way back, I magically found Chocolateria San Gìnes, which is apparently famous. I stepped inside, ordered the typical hot chocolate and churros, and sat myself down.

MADRID1

A barrel-bellied cook arrived and placed in front of me what may have been the best thing I’ve ever had. The Spanish’s hot chocolate is exactly what the name suggests: hot, liquified chocolate; probably no water or even milk. Imagine the consistency of a Hershey’s bar you left in the hot car.

Then, you do something really splendid. You take the hot crispy churros and you dip them in the hot chocolate.

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Revolutionary, life-changing, awe-inspiring.

I waddled my full-tummied self all the way back to the palace, feeling significantly better about everything.

I finished the week off with, of course, more art exhibits. My host-dad had been looking up art museums and came into my room to tell me ,”There is an Impressionism exhibit at this museum, but I called ahead and they don’t have any Degas.” I had told him once in the car upon arrival that I loved Impressionism and especially Degas. The fact that he remembered and went the extra mile (or kilometer) to make me happy really made me think.

It’s so strangely beautiful to be in Madrid, in the middle of Spain, miles and miles from the people who have known me and loved me all my life, to find myself in the home of strangers with whom I can barely communicate, who are not only taking care of me, but actually making an enormous effort make me happy. It’s huge. I really can’t even comprehend the compassion some people have, and to witness it first-hand, on my sorry little self, makes it even more remarkable. It’s reassuring and humbling and inspiring.

On a ligher note, I saw Monet’s bridge with the waterlilies and practically peed myself.

Bisous tout le monde.

Muy Bien, Muy Bien

Just to set the scene a bit, it allegedly never snows in Madrid, yet, at the moment, it is quite steadily.

But anyway, yesterday after lunch, I headed out to the bus stop where I’d catch a bus that’d take me into the city to meet up with my host mom. While waiting, a guy rolled down his window and starting saying something to me in Spanish which made me wonder how the heck I ended up alone, at a bus stop, in the middle of Madrid.

I have a weird fondness of public transportation so I was actually happy to be there once I got situated on the bus.

When I got off, my mom asked me a few questions in Spanish (charades style of course) and I responded as best I could. She wanted to show me a church, which happened to be closed so be just headed down to the school instead. Coincidentally, we ran into the American girl with a few of her friends on the way there too.

At the school I was handed off to another teacher, who was British. We walked around Madrid, got coffee, and talked about life abroad for a few hours, which was funny and interesting. We compared our home & host countries to one another, talked about  the universal and constant strangeness that is living abroad.

While on the Metro, we were talking about how weird it is when people who speak English randomly join your conversation, when the woman next to us turns around and says ¨yeah, I know how you feel.¨ The teacher and I exchanged a quick glance before listening to her talk about how she loves to approach English-speaking people in foreign countries, right after we finished saying the opposite. It was a little unreal, and as she hopped off the train, we both made the exact same ¨what just happened¨ face before laughing.

We I know you’re supposed to get a native to tour you around the city, but it was cool to see the city from her point-of-view.

We headed back to the school where I met up with Emily, the American. We walked around a bit before heading to get Starbucks (yes, another coffee). It was good to be able to speak English with someone who is in exactly the same position as you are, and even though we’ve been in two different countries, our years in Europe had a lot in common. I definitely abused all the native English speakers yesterday and talked way too much, but one day of straight English had to be enjoyed.

We met up with my host dad, and the 3 of us went to a church then out for a snack, which was nice of him. It was another one of those awkward tri lingual moments, where she and my host dad were speaking in Spanish, my host dad and I were speaking French, and she and I were speaking English. It was really interesting though, and cool to see her be able to speak Spanish so quickly, and even moe impressively, understand the slur of Spanish raced out of my host dad’s mouth.

It’s a little tricky though, because I speak French a tiny bit better than my host dad, and we both have pretty harsh accents, so I know that not everything that we say is perfectly understood, but it all works out.

Also, I don’t know why but I’m totally queasy 24/7 since I got here and I’m not quite sure why.

Par contre, I haven’t taken a lot of pictures but nothing is striking me and maybe I’m just all touristed out or just kinda afraid for the life of my camera.

By now, it has stopped snowing and I have to get ready to head out to another art museum to see an exhibit on Impressionism, which I am shamelessly really excited about.

hasta luego.

Buenos Dias from Madrid

Well.
We left bright & early Monday morning to get me to the airport for my 10 AM flight.
But, of course, the one day I need to take a flight, it’s the one time it actually snows in Toulouse.
I may have mentioned that I really dislike airports, and I reconfirmed that dislike yesterday.
I had no idea what the lady who was asking if she could pat me down was trying to say, neither in french nor english. We eventually figured it out after a very long minute of awkwardness.
Then, I sorta kinda forgot something (my wallet & gifts for my host family) at the security check thing & had a panic attack because my flight was supposed to leave in a few minutes.
That same flight, also going to Madrid, just happened to not be my flight so I made an idiot out of myself like 3 times with the same lady.
Then my flight got delayed for an hour.
But most annoyingly they confiscated my hair stuff & now I’m a walking ball of pink frizz.
The flight was easy though and less than 2 hours long so I ended up in Madrid a little before 2. It was sunny and like 50° which made for a lovely change of scenery.
I was greeted by my host dad #2, Jesus, who, luckily, speaks French well. We talked the car ride home from the airport and understood each other surprisingly well.
Afterwards we dropped my bag off at the apartment, which is really nice, and then we went out for lunch at an Italian restaurant. It was reeeeeeaaally good but I had already eaten lunch at the airport & wasn’t really hungry.
By then it was around 3 so Jesus dropped me off at the Museo del Prado and told me to be at the same spot in 4 hours.
And there I was, alone in Madrid, in other words: absolutely blissful.
I headed down to buy my ticket for the art museum when I had a little mini revelation.
When I got to the booth, the first thing I said (after hola) was “vous parlez français?”
Which was a total “YEAH GO ME” moment because I guess that means that I’m subconsciously stuck on French mode.
I toured the lovely museum for about 2.5 hours before heading out to explore a little.
I didn’t have my camera with me but I got a few pictures with my ipod.
Afterwards we took a little tour of the city by car before picking up my host sister from her basketball game. Note that I speak french with this sister too.
When we got home I met sister #2, who doesn’t like French at all, so the two of us speak in English, and my host mother, who doesn’t speak English or French so we speak in signs and her talking really slowly and it works.
It was funny, for me at least, to see everyone having to go between these 3 languages.
I then met the grandparents, who live in the apartment across the hall. They don’t speak anything that I speak either so out conversations consisted of Spanish, me nodding along, and the grandma rubbing my face.
I know some simple phrases in Spanish now, so the conversation ended with me saying ‘hasta mañana’ and her saying ‘see you tomorrow’.
I also helped sister #2 with her French and English homework and she made me read the verbs out loud in Spanish, so now I kinda understand what sounds the letters make and a few verbs, which is a good start.
We then ate a yummy dinner that finished around 10 and my host mom showed my the way to the bus stop for today.
In a little bit, I’m taking the bus (alone, ahhh) to somewhere to meet up with my mom and her friend who is an English teacher for the afternoon.
And after that I’m meeting up with the American girl.
Wish me luck.

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No Good with Secrets

I really am a lucky girl, aren’t I? 

I wanted to keep this a surprise but since I haven’t posted recently (and am trying to kill time before venturing out into the cold for an ATM run), my nervous energy got the best of me and I can’t resist sharing the good news.

Tomorrow morning, I’m taking a last-minute flight to Madrid, Spain; where I’ll be staying for a week.

Any words that I do know in Spanish have been taught to me by Dora the Explorer but I’m a champ at the “point-and-charades” method of communication so I think I’ll be able to handle it.

Plus, Madrid is the capitol of Spain, situated smack dab in the middle of the country. 

And luckily for me, while its -4˚C in Toulouse, it’ll be around 50˚F in Madrid, which is always a bonus.

I’m hoping to spend a day at a Spanish school with a girl from my high school who is also on exchange and being able to speak real American English might actually bring tears of joy to my eyes.

Other than that I plan on doing the tourism thing e.g. stuff my face, take photos, make an idiot of myself, rinse and repeat.

I get home Friday so in a perfect world, a post would be up then BUT I’m leaving with my family for a week of skiing in the Pyrenees (say a little prayer for me) and won’t get back until next Saturday and THEN I have a concert Sunday night so, maybe we’ll just have a mega post with Spain, Ski, and Lil Wayne. 

hasta luego, amigos.

Weird.

As I sit next to my open window, listening to the rumble of the streets, I realize that this is no longer new.
Somehow, I’ve come to find myself used to the bustling sounds of the little alley I live on. I know what sounds the walls make when they’re cold and tired and I recognize the footsteps of my brother in the next room.
When I think back to when it was new, I still get that same sweet excited feeling, but it’s now more of a memory.
It’s really quite weird to think that I’m normal here: this feels like real life now, not some floaty dream world.
The days have beginnings and ends and I’ve come to call everything in between my own little French life.
I am relieved and grateful to finally feel at home in this room, house, city, country, continent, hemisphere, culture, language, and life.
But, that uneasy yet pure excitement of having no idea where you are or what you’re doing is less and less present.
It’s reassuring, but it’s just a little weird.