Sunday, January 23, 2011
the french walmart and a ten-mile day.
have you ever walked into walmart and thought to yourself, “we are probably the only culture on the planet with a store like this – you can find anything you need under one roof, it’s cheap, the parking lot is perpetually packed...” no? well i have. but on friday, i learned otherwise.
rachel (a fellow exchange student from belmont) had organized a little shopping excursion for us with her friend mathilde, a french girl from angers who had studied at belmont two years ago. mathilde came and picked us up in her grandfather’s car (another tiny citroyen, comparable to a small civic, i’d say) and took us to the french walmart – carrefour. it was in a shopping centre that included clothing stores, electronics stores, jewelers, bakers.. it was pretty all-encompassing. i went into carrefour with several specific goals. 3m hooks, a curtain rod, pencils, NORMAL paper... sadly, i only found 2. they indeed have curtain rods, and way better ones for dorm rooms! and of course, pencils. but unfortunately, 3m hasn’t made its way to france yet. and let me tell you about the paper. i know it sounds silly, paper is paper, right? wrong. here, they do not use regular lined paper. instead, they have 2 options – regulation graph paper (even though they’re not doing math!) or this weird lined paper / graph paper hybrid. it has the regular blue lines, but then four thinner, lighter, purple lines in between them. and a vertical line every centimeter! rachel and i are extraordinarily frustrated. but mathilde explained that when french children learn to write, they learn to form their letters very carefully and specifically. that explains why every french person i know has ridiculously well-spaced and even handwriting.. but yeah, no luck on the paper. i decided to give the weird hybrid type a try. after that discussion, we picked up a few more things (grocery shopping in a different country is always an adventure) and then headed back to the dorm to drop our things off. once it was all put away, rachel and i went downtown to run several errands before the businesses closed for the weekend. we got back around 6:30pm. we had intended to go out, but i ended up eating dinner and just chilling out, i was so tired from this week! i hung out in the kitchen (the usual community hang-out spot) on my floor with jessie (from maine), emma and shane (both irish) for a long time. jessie invited me to join her group for a daytrip excursion to saumur the following day, which i was excited to do! a bit later, three NEW irish people showed up!! there are nine here this semester now! emma and shane couldn’t believe it. but the new students were very sweet (and overwhelmed!), and we all talked for a long time. sleep would have come easy for me, if it hadn’t been for the alarm going off in the room directly below mine. literally all night. thank goodness i had earplugs in my backpack still!!
saturday was a very long but marvelous day. i woke up at 7am (much to my chagrin) and made myself get ready for the daytrip outing. i met the group outside my building at 8, at the bus stop in the freeeezing cold. the sun doesn’t rise here in the winter until around 8:30 or 9 right now, so it was pretty frigid (not as bad as home though! haha.). we took the bus to the train station, bought our tickets (8 euro for the round-trip! not bad), and sat in the café waiting for the 9:30 train. after drinking tiny coffees and snacking, we headed to the platform. once we were on the train, we got this SWEET compartment that fit all 8 of us!! it was two half-circle benches with tables in the middle, one on either side of the aisle. we felt like celebrities. our little group was comprised of three irish (emma, keith, and john), two canadians (natalie and andrea), a german girl maggie, and two americans (myself and jessie). the twenty-five minute trainride to saumur was too short – that train was so warm and cozy! but alas, all good things must come to an end.. haha. we hopped off the train and got to walking across the bridge to the city proper. saumur is a sweet little village, around 30,000 people. it is full of history and beautiful architecture. we walked around the saturday morning market for a while, and then walked up the hill to the chateau. unfortunately, like most public sights, the chateau was closed for winter. but we still got to walk around the grounds and get some good pictures of the castle and surrounding scenery! afterwords, we walked around the town some more before settling on a café for lunch. there is nothing quite like quiche lorraine in france.. yum. our return ticket was for 5pm, and we finished eating lunch around noon. saumur is a small place, so we had lots of time to kill.. it turned into a day of aimless wandering through the little back streets of the village, which was lovely. we found the horseback riding academy and sat at the base of a big monument for about an hour, just talking and laughing. the sun had come out, so we warmed up enough to be comfortable. after a while, we decided to keep walking. around 4, we headed back across the river for the train station, where we caught our return train at 4:55. once we were on the train, i realized how much we had walked that day – i’m not exaggerating when i say it could be ten miles. phew! but it was a wonderful bonding experience. another short train ride found us back at the station in angers. we got onto the bus and headed back to campus. since the markets are closed on sundays, everyone needed to go to the market (the superU) to pick up groceries for the weekend. i came back and made pasta with greenbeans and bread/cheese as sides – so easy, so good. a bunch of the group went out again after dinner, to a big party that some of the spanish students were having. but it was way on the other side of town, and they were going to be out super late, so i declined. which ended up being a great choice, because i had a fantastic time talking with emma and shane. (emma, i know you’ll probably read this, so don’t make fun of me. :P) they are just so awesome, and have made my first week in angers (and in this dorm) so much better. plus, i’m learning a lot about hiberno-english, the dialect of english spoken in ireland. it is so beautiful, and i love how much it makes me think about linguistic differences. hooray for more bonding! we talked for quite a long time, and around 1am, we decided it was bedtime.
as i got back to my room and was getting ready for bed, i couldn’t help but think about how quickly the last seven days has passed. i’ve already accomplished so much! opening a french bank account, visiting a chateau, going to classes, using public transit.. my tiny little shoebox room is even growing on me, with its space capsule of a bathroom. it’s wonderful. i feel so blessed to have met such great people here too, and i know it only gets better from here. it’s strange to think that in four months, i’ll be done with school. and then in a little less than six months, i’ll be back in the united states! ah! i am going to try my absolute hardest to make this six months count for as much as i can, because who knows when i’ll get an opportunity like this again? probably never. that’s a deep thought. i can already feel myself growing and maturing – and it’s only been a week. i can’t wait to see who i am at the end of this semester abroad.