Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year I celebrated my second Thanksgiving away from home (the first was in 2009, but I was able to spend it in Paris with my Dad).  With all the lessons I’ve had to teach, Thanksgiving has been/will be spread out over three weeks.  My first lesson was two weeks ago Monday, and my final Thanksgiving lesson will be next Friday!  It has been interesting to teach the kids about Thanksgiving, because it doesn’t exist in France, and even many of the teachers don’t know much about it.  Some questions I’ve received are, “Do you receive gifts for Thanksgiving? Why would you eat turkey?  Do you celebrate Christmas or New Year’s?”  One student at the elementary school finally understood that I am from the US because of the Thanksgiving lessons.

I have made hand turkeys and reading a children’s book with almost all of the elementary school classes (I still will do two more next Friday) and one or two kids said they were thankful for me, which was nice!  With the older kids I’ve been giving more factual lessons – history, vocabulary, and traditions. 
I’m lucky to have Wednesdays and Thursdays off because that meant that Karen and I were free to cook a real Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday!  We started in the morning with the pumpkin pie (with a few mishaps).  A second crust had to be bought because the first one was too crispy, and we learned that the can opener in the apartment doesn’t work AFTER I started mixing up the pie, but it worked out OK, and the pie was delicious of course.  We also made stuffing, green beans with shallots and almonds, squash, mashed potatoes, gravy, duck (instead of turkey), and served cranberry sauce and rolls.  It was a delicious dinner and we were happy to share it with our roommates, who had never experienced Thanksgiving before, and loved the food!

As much as I missed being with my family and friends for Thanksgiving, I am incredibly thankful to have this opportunity in France.  I am constantly learning new things, and it is really exciting to be able to spend more than half of a year living and working in France, traveling around Europe, and working towards my future career (whatever that may be!).  And of course I am thankful for my wonderful family, my friends (old and new), and as someone wrote on one of their hand turkeys, “the life”!

Karen and I showing off our hard work!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


After living in France for almost two months, I finally took the opportunity to visit Paris for the first time since I studied there in the fall of 2009.   I got up around 4:30 in the morning so that I could catch the 5:40 train to Montparnasse (it takes about 3 ½ hours to get to Paris from Guingamp on the TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse/High Speed Train).  This was especially convenient for me because IES (the school I studied abroad with) is located near Montparnasse, so I knew how to navigate the area.  From the train station I made my way to Starbucks to meet Matt, a fellow Susquehanna grad and English assistant.  It was great to see a familiar face and to be in Paris with someone else who knows it as well as I do. 

From Starbucks we made our way towards the Marias, which is the old Jewish quarter in Paris, near where the Bastille was located.  There we visited the Musée Carnavalet, the Paris history museum, and Thanksgiving, an American/British grocery store.  I had been hoping to visit Musée Carnavalet since the last time I was in France so I was happy to finally see it, and to learn that entry to the museum is free (this is always a plus in Paris/when you’re on a limited budget).  At Thanksgiving I bought some staples for the Thanksgiving dinner we are going to attempt next week: canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and condensed milk, which aren’t available in normal French grocery stores.  Most French people don’t know what cranberries are (Ocean Spray cranberry juice is available in some stores but I don’t think it’s very popular) and they only use pumpkin in savory dishes.  I also treated myself to some peanut butter M&Ms because those are also difficult to find here!

We then made our way to the Place de la Concorde, Angelina (for their famous hot chocolate) and W.H. Smith, a large English bookstore.  I was able to find a Thanksgiving children’s book, which was a hit in class this week (I will save Thanksgiving stories for next week!).  Finally we made our way to the Rodin Museum, which is beautiful, and les Invalides, where Napoleon is buried.  I highly recommend the Rodin Museum for anyone visiting Paris.  It is located in an old mansion with a large garden surrounding it.  Some sculptures are located inside, along with paintings by other artists, and others like the Thinker are located outside.

After that it was time to head back to the train station for the trip back to Guigamp.  It was a wonderful day, and very refreshing to be back in Paris.  We have planned to make several more trips like this between now and May, and I am looking forward to sharing Paris with my mom when she comes to visit me!  

The only “bad” part of the day was the train trip home.  There was a malfunction so we had to stop for over a half hour and the conductor turned all of the lights off on the train (even the emergency aisle ones) so it was a little spooky!  I ended up getting back to Guingamp after 11 P.M. instead of 10:30.
Currently I am trying to recover from a cold, planning Thanksgiving lessons, enjoying the uncharacteristically warm and sunny weather in Guingamp, and of course looking forward to my next trip to Paris!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cooking Adventures

We’ve all become more adventurous when it comes to cooking in our kitchen in Guingamp, after a few weeks of using pots as frying pans, and many meals involving instant whole-wheat couscous, I decided I was going to actually cook something.  My roommates had successfully made tarts and quiches so I figured I would give it a shot.  I found a recipe for an herbed ricotta tart and made some modifications…and it turned out great (even though we can’t exactly close the “oven” door with the tart pan inside). 
Our "Harpers February" mug is great for drinking a normal amount of coffee AND for keeping the oven door closed!
I mixed ricotta cheese, crème fraîche, some milk, an egg, leeks, shallots, French bacon, and some herbs together, and put them in a piecrust (you can find pre-made tart/pie crust in any grocery store here).  Not only was it delicious, but super easy, and something different!  Unfortunately I do not have actual measurements for the ingredients because we have no measuring cups.
The final result!
My other new recipe is for pesto pizza.  I used a mix to make the dough and used pesto and the left over crème fraîche as a base.  I then added the French bacon and some shredded cheese and baked it for about 20 minutes.  I was also really happy to have the left-overs on Friday because I had about 15 minutes to eat between my morning classes at the middle school and my afternoon at the elementary school.

Speaking of school… I only worked one day this week because of vacation and my normal days off, but I had a fun day at the elementary school.  I talked about the United States with one group of kids and was asked if I knew Justin Bieber and if I lived in the apartment building shown in a cartoon on one of their worksheets.  I won't get to work with those kids next week because Veteran's Day is also celebrated in France (except the French are specifically celebrating the end of WWI), so I'm already planning some Thanksgiving activities with the kids for the following week.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Toussaint Vacations

Since language assistants are employed by the French Ministry of Education, we benefit from the same vacations as the schools we are employed by.  The dates of the vacations vary depending on whether you are in Zone A, B, or C and they occur about ever six weeks.  The Toussaint (All Saints Day) vacation ran from October 22 until November 3, and some of my roommates and I decided to do some traveling in Brittany.  We visited Rennes, the capital of Brittany, St. Malo a resort town on the coast of Brittany, one of the Channel Islands, Jersey, and Dinan, a medieval town between St. Malo and Rennes.

Day one of our trip (Monday) was dedicated to Rennes, and it was the first time I’d been in a city since my arrival in France.  We did some shopping in French department stores, explored the town, and spent the afternoon avoiding rain.  Although I didn’t get to see all of Rennes, it is only an hour train ride away, and I know I will have to go back in a few months for my immigration appointment to validate my visa.

The next morning we took the train to St. Malo where we were able drop our bags off early at the hotel.  St. Malo is known for the part of the city that is “Intra-Muros” because the old city is housed within ramparts and is located on the beach.  This area of France (as well as the Channel Islands) experiences the largest tidal changes in the world.  When the tide was out we were able to walk to some islands off the beach at St. Malo, and two days later we watched visitors to the island wading through the water because they were almost stuck on the islands due to high tide.  We found that it is impossible to get lost within the walls of St. Malo and enjoyed walking the ramparts, experiencing an impromptu concert at the Church there, and Breton foods such as gallets (savory crepes made with a buckwheat batter), kouign amann (a layered pastry made with lots of butter and sugar, and sometimes apples), ker-y-pom (another pastry, the closest equivalent to this would be an apple pie pocket), and salted caramels.  Karen and I also found a great antique shop with old postcards and maps and enjoyed looking around inside.  It was very relaxing to be in St. Malo because after a few hours I already knew the town, and we spent our second day there (Thursday) wandering with several coffee breaks. 

Wednesday there was a special deal on the ferry to Jersey, so we got up early and headed to the port.  It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to travel between St. Malo and St. Helier, the capital of Jersey.  Jersey is interesting because it is part of the UK, but they do not consider Queen Elizabeth to be the queen, although they are still loyal to her.  In Jersey the Queen is known as the Duke of Normandy and on their currency (which is the worth same as the pounds in the rest of the UK) the Queen does not wear a crown.  We explored St. Helier and were then able to take “Le Petit Train” to St. Aubin, another town about three miles away.  The train ride allowed us to have a good view of the bay, and we were able to experience high and low tide in Jersey.  Jersey gains several square miles of land during low tide because of the large changes.  We also spent the day trying to find Jersey Ice cream because we kept seeing signs for it, but we didn’t have any luck…finally one shop-keeper told us that you can only get it in the summer.  That evening we returned to St. Malo, and we re-entered France.  No one was stationed at customs, and there were no passport checks, so hopefully that won’t cause me any problems in the future!

On Friday we decided to stop in Dinan on the way back to Guingamp and a fellow assistant, Rebecca, greeted us.  It was great to have a guide of the city and we were able to see all the sights (and of course stop at a café).  Dinan is a little bit bigger than Guingamp and is definitely worth a day trip.  At the end of the night we were happy to be on the train “home” to the apartment, even though we had an hour-long stop over to change trains one town away from Guingamp!  

So far the rest of the vacation has been un-eventful, but relaxing.  Next up is planning my Christmas trip to Prague!