Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Winter Vacation, Pt. 3

I’m finally trying to catch up on Berlin, even though I’m already halfway through the first week back at work (and fighting another cold). 
            We spent four days in Berlin (Saturday-Tuesday) and flew back to France on Wednesday.  Our first day in Berlin was spent walking around and seeing some of the city.  Dad had been in 2009 when I was studying abroad so he knew what we should see!  Sunday, we purchased a museum pass and spent the day visiting “Museum Island.”  There I was able to see Nefertiti and the “Berlin Golden Hat” as well as lots of other ancient artifacts.  One thing that is nice about museums in Berlin is that many entry frees include an audio guide.  Normally I’m not a fan of audio guides, but in this case it was interesting/informative.             
            Monday was similar to a Monday in France, so many museums were closed, instead, we spent the day doing some shopping, seeing the palace, and taking pictures because it was a beautiful day!  The highlights of Monday were the amazing chocolate from Fassbender and Rausch and buying myself a new pair of boots (on sale!).  For dinner we had a traditional German meal from a restaurant recommended by our hotel.
            Tuesday was the opposite of Monday, we woke up to snow, and it continued to snow most of the morning.  We had signed up to visit the Reichstag (the German Parliament) Tuesday morning, and after going through security and riding the elevators to the top of the dome, we were able to walk around the top.  Parliament wasn’t in session, but they do have a great “guided tour” along a walkway that circles the dome.  The dome is directly over the parliamentary chamber, and the top is open, so technically there is a hole in the parliament ceiling to let fresh air and light in.  Unfortunately because of the snow much of our view was blocked, but I really enjoyed the visit.  That night we went to a great restaurant for dinner, the waiter picked out special meals for us and was really helpful/nice, especially after I spoke French with him! 
            I was sad to leave Berlin the next day, but relieved to be going back to a country where I spoke the official language.  It really bothered me that I couldn’t communicate in German (even though communication was not a problem at all).  I think I have become so used to living in another country where I do speak the language, even if it isn’t my first, and where people are impressed/pleased that I speak it, that I felt bad for not being able to speak German.  Maybe I’ll have to study a third language when I get back to the US?

Next up: Paris!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Vacation, Pt. 2

Berlin (taken with a new camera that I like way better than my old one)!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Winter Vacation, Pt. 1

After being in France for over four months, I FINALLY have had a chance to see a family member!  My Dad arrived in Guingamp on Thursday, February 10, and my vacation started around noon on Friday.  We spent Thursday evening and Friday afternoon exploring Guingamp, then picked up our rental car and headed to our adorable rental cottage.  The cottage is located in the countryside and is made of stone.  My room is a loft with a spiral staircase and the window faces the sunrise.  I wish we could stay longer, and spend more time here, but we had lots to see!  This entry will be about our week in Brittany, but I’m going to keep it very short, because we saw a lot of different things!

Day 1:  Binic, St. Quay Pontrieux, Paimpol, an attempt at Plougrescant, Ploumenac’h, Trébeurden
This part of the coast is closest to where I live, and it’s beautiful!  There are many beaches, and some of the sites that I wrote about in October.  We saw the pink granite coast, the beach I went to my second day in France, and some other beaches I hadn’t seen yet!  It was a chilly day, but very sunny.  On the way back to our cottage we went shopping at the grocery store, which allowed Dad to see the differences between a French and American grocery store, plus we picked up some steak and duck for our upcoming dinners!

Day 2:  Carnac and Quiberon
            Most things in France are closed on Sunday, so we decided to take a trip to the southern coast of Brittany.  We had a beautiful drive through the countryside and arrived in Carnac around lunchtime.  Carnac is a seaside resort town, but it is also known for its Alignments.  We ate an excellent lunch at a crêperie, saw the Atlantic Ocean, and then headed in search of the Alignments.  The Alignments are rows and rows of megaliths (standing stones) in fields.  There are three or four main sets in Carnac and the surrounding towns, plus singular ones on their own in the countryside.  It was something I had never seen before and I would definitely recommend going there! 
            Next we got in the car and headed towards Quiberon, which is a “presqu’île”, or almost island.  It juts down into the Atlantic and reminded us a lot of the Outer Banks.  We drove back to the mainland via the “Savage Coast” and it was beautiful!  During our entire trip we spent a lot of time getting in and out of the car to walk on paths along the coast, and the views were impressive each time!

Day 3:  Fréhel and St. Malo
            This time we decided to drive along the coast in the other direction in Côtes d’Armor.  This included a stop at Fréhel and Cap Fréhel.  This part of the coast is called the Emerald Coast and it is also very beautiful!  Cap Fréhel is a cape that sticks out into the Channel with two lighthouses on the end, and a fort to one side.  After spending some time at Fréhel, we headed towards St. Malo (via the coast of course!).  Even though it was a Monday, we had a difficult time finding a place that was open for lunch, and ended up getting a terrible baguette to share in one of the towns (I didn’t know it was possible to have a bad baguette, but it is). 
            We finally arrived in St. Malo, and there I was able to show Dad all the things that I saw while I was there, plus we were able to have the amazing Kouing Aman they sell at one of the stands there.  It was cold and cloudy, but the sea was calm.  After picking out some chocolates at a shop I read about, we decided to head for home.  That night I made duck with orange shallot sauce for dinner, and it was delicious.

Day 4:  Presqu’île de Crozon and Pointe du Raz
            These are two of the three parts that stick out at the end of Brittany.  We saw many amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean and the bays surrounding the peninsulas.  There are great hiking trails all around the points, but we only walked a little way on a few of them, it was very cold, and very windy!  We also saw some more Alignments near Crozon, only these ones are right next to where the land drops off into the ocean.  Next we drove along the coast to the Pointe du Raz, which is the point the furthest West on the French mainland!  I really enjoyed walking out onto the point, some people were much braver than we were though and were near where the water was hitting the rocks!

Day 5:  Plougrescant and Sillon de Talebert
            Plougrescant is the site of the Gouffre, which is one of the places I wrote about in October.  We couldn’t find it on Saturday, so I was determined to get it right this time, and we did!  It was somewhat stormy, so the waves were crashing against all the rocks.  Next we drove to the Sillon de Talbert, which is a 3km long arm of sand that reaches out into the Channel.  They think that two rivers heading inland on either side of the “presqu’île”, which pushes the sand up to form the Sillon.  When we went it was low tide, so it didn’t have the same effect as official pictures, and we found that the sand is pretty difficult to walk on, even with good shoes.  Hopefully I’ll be able to take another trip there at high tide.

Day 6: ???
            We decided to have a quiet day and enjoyed the cottage in the morning, I finally read a little bit, and then we took a drive through the countryside.  We didn’t really have a plan, and were a little lost.  Not too exciting, but we were able to find a dolmen and a few megaliths near Guingamp. 

Day 7:  Paris, with a side trip to Cancale and Mt. St. Michel
            Today we drove to Paris, and stopped at Mt. St. Michel on the way.  I had read about the coastal road leading from St. Malo to Mt. St. Michel, so we opted to take the time doing the extra drive instead of actually visiting Mt. St. Michel.  The drive included a few walks and a stop at Pointe du Grouin.  If it had been a clear day, we would have been able to see the Mont from the point.  We got lost a few times along the trip, but saw a lot of interesting sites in Brittany and Normandy.  Also, we learned that if you want to travel to Paris and not pay tolls, it’s slow going sometimes, and I appreciate being able to take public transportation to the airport much more now, it wasn’t too much fun driving around the edge of Paris on a Friday afternoon!  Now I am sitting in my hotel, getting ready for the next leg of our trip: Berlin (which means more updates are coming)!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I'm still here!

January has already come and gone and I barely wrote in my blog!  I think I’ve just been settling in to life here and don’t really feel like I have very many exciting things to write about.  Hopefully that will change soon since I have a vacation coming up.  My dad is coming to visit me for two weeks, and he arrives one week from today!  We will be spending a week in Brittany visiting the coast/everything that you need a car to see, and then we are heading to Berlin for four days!  I’m really looking forward to having a break; the one elementary school that I work at on Monday’s has been very frustrating the last five weeks.  I feel as though nothing is getting accomplished there and I don’t have the teaching experience/training to know how to fix it. 

Now, I think the best way to play catch up for January is to list the main things I’ve done.

1.    My boss observed me at the Monday school, and it didn’t go very well.  The good news is that she recognized all the problems weren’t because of me, and gave me some tips to get things to go more smoothly.
2.    I visited Paris again!  I did another day trip in Paris like the one in November.  It was a lot of fun, and I got some cool stuff from Deyrolle, an interesting store near Saint-Germain-de-Près.  They are known for all of their taxidermy animals and their maps of French products.  I also visited the Opera and the Post Office Museum, and enjoyed both!
3.     One big thing in January in France is the Galette des Rois, or King Cake.  We had a King Cake in our apartment and I won the fève, the porcelain statuette that is baked into the cake.  This meant that I was “queen” and got to keep the crown that comes with the cake and the fève.  Our boulangerie’s fèves are firemen, but I’ve also seen Scooby Doo, TinTin, and the Laughing Cow. 
4.     My voice will now be used in elementary English lessons in the Côtes d’Armor.  Two fellow Primary Assistants and I went to Saint-Brieuc last Wednesday to record our voices reading stories and skits for the teachers to use in the future.  This will help them a lot because unfortunately there will be no more Primary Assistants next year.
5.     I  received my first gift from a student.  It was a piece of candy, but it was super cute when he gave it to me!
6.     I’ve been a little bored lately so I’ve started knitting again… and finally finished a project!  It’s a grey cowl/scarf and I really like it.  I’ve also been reading a lot, applying for jobs, and doing Sudoku and word searches to keep myself busy.
7.     I have plans for my first week of April break!  I’ve been accepted into a volunteer program through a company called Vaughan Town where I will be helping Spanish business people with their English conversational skills.  I just found out that I was accepted on Monday night, and have been doing lots of travel planning since then!
8.     After being paid last Friday, I finally got up the courage to get a hair cut in France.  I went yesterday, and I survived!