Archive for the ‘Natasha in France’ Category


Natasha: This is the end… (of the innocence?)

May 22, 2009

After a mere four and a half months, I found myself back in Minnesota, with not even a day to recover before driving my sister to Florida, 24 hours of driving time of which I drove at least 19. Coming back I felt like I had never left—everything was the same, my semester in France only a dream. Yet I know I’ve changed—my plans for the future more solidified, and every time I open my mouth something strange comes out. I’m using French words like they’re English, and random British expressions. I don’t even understand me half the time.

So this was a good experience? Of course. I learnt a lot. But between the strike and my constant travel I didn’t really integrate myself.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. This was the best four and a half months of my life. If nothing else, my wanderlust has been satiated for a little while anyway.


Natasha: la côte

May 9, 2009

My last excursion in France meant I travelled four hours by train to Antibes, where I met my dad’s cousin, Terry. I had stayed with her in Biot for three weeks back in 2001, my only previous experience in France, so I felt it was only right I should see her again since I was so close.

I arrived Thursday afternoon, and after having a quick lunch at her home, she took me to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, a perched village overlooking the river known for its abundance of violets. The town was very medieval, and quite gorgeous. We tried the local specialty of violet flavoured ice cream, which was surprisingly good – I’ve never really thought about flowers as flavours before, but I suppose it makes as much sense as fruits or things like vanilla!

Later that evening we went with her son Derek (who is about my age) to an Indian restaurant in Antibes. I’d never really had Indian food before, excepting anglicized and Japanese curries. I was pleasantly surprised by my tandoori lamb seasoned with creme and saffron – quite delicious. This is quickly turning into an ode to food!

8 Mai is a holiday in France marking the end of World War II—known as V-E day back home. It’s obviously much more important here, since even after it ended in Europe the US was still fighting in Japan, while France could finally celebrate its true liberation and the end of several years of struggle. I guess the closest equivalent in America is Memorial Day—the stores here closed early, and most people had the day off which they used to barbecue or go to the beach. We had to go to Valbonne to get groceries in the morning, since they would be closed by the time we got back in the evening. It also meant veteran’s ceremonies as well, which we passed by whilst driving along the coast.

We had decided to spend the afternoon in Saint Tropez, which is generally considered the western end of the French Riviera (Menton being the eastern), so we took the coastal route to get there. This meant passing through Cannes, where they had begun setting up for the film festival which begins next week. The setup was impressive, the red carpet was already out, and many of the movies being shown had posters around the town and on the fancy hotels where celebrities would be staying throughout the festival. I can’t even begin to imagine how crowded it must get—even just for the beach holiday it was full of people.

As we got further west, we noticed a large number of police vehicles. Turns out they were escorting coach buses of diplomats and veterans returning from a 8 Mai ceremony in Sainte Maxime. This caused a slight diversion in our route, where we noticed yet another anomaly: motorcycles. Dozens. Hundreds. Eventually we passed the reason: a Harley Davidson euro festival, some sort of rally I could only assume. The licence plates came from all over Europe, so I guess this was perhaps one of the big meetups, Europe’s equivalent of Sturgis or Daytona bike week. Apparently there was to be some sort of Parade in the city centre on Saturday as well… Very interesting. This mass of cycles continued all the way to Saint Tropez, where many of the restaurants had Harley-themed banners and were full of bikers. We ended up stopping at a pizzeria for lunch and wandering around the city, climbing up to the citadel and getting a spectacular view of the city.

Friday evening was dinner and a movie, staying up too late but there wasn’t a whole lot to do in the morning. My train was just before two, so we spent the morning in the village of Biot, touring the old city and the glass blower for which Biot is famous. They make a special kind of glass here that is infused with soda, so that the glass has small bubbles in it. Apparently many famous people have gotten their glass here; they even had a special colour that was commissioned by Jackie Kennedy.

We had lunch afterwards, and then Terry took me back to the station in Antibes. I have only one evening left in Montpellier, which of course will be consumed by packing and cleaning. I can’t believe it’s almost over!


Natasha: I think I have sand in my camera…

May 3, 2009

Yesterday I finally made it to the beach, and do I ever have the sunburn to show for it! I went with my friend Bridgette, with the intention of studying a little for our German test while sitting on the sand. I ended up playing in the water (which was absolutely freezing) while she was sunbathing, then sat to dry whilst looking over my textbook for a little while. We didn’t end up staying very long, mostly out of boredom but also because the wind kept blowing sand everywhere – it was starting to get annoying.

On the bus back to Montpellier from Pérols (where the beach we went to is located), we stopped off at a mall in Lattes, which was dominated by a Carrefour, a gigantic French store which is sort of like a super wal-mart or some such, except about three times as big, and actually worth going into. There aren’t any in Montpellier itself so I wanted to check it out. We ended up getting granitas to cool off and wandering around in the lovely air conditioning for a while before heading back to do some real studying. It’s too bad I only went to the beach once, but honestly I don’t think my pasty white skin could take any more than that!


Natasha: May Day

May 1, 2009

Today’s a national holiday in France (fête du travail – labour day) which means absolutely nothing is open, the buses and trams aren’t running, and of course there’s a protest at the Comédie. Now, I’m hiding in my room trying to finish my last paper, but I know of this because people have come around knocking on all the doors in the dormitory handing out fliers and encouraging everyone to “venez nombreux” in support of whatever cause they were fighting for this time. I’m down with “fighting for your rights” and all, but it seems to me the more often you do so the less effective it probably becomes. What do I know, though. I’m just another frustrated foreign student who’s simply hoping she can take her German test next week since she’s leaving a few days later for good.


Natasha: Alba

March 22, 2009

StreetI headed off Friday afternoon for a weekend in Scotland and had a really good time. I flew from Montpellier to Gatwick, waited two hours, then caught a flight to Edinburgh, arriving just after 8. I took the bus into city centre and walked to my hostel, only a few blocks from the bus stop, and just off Prince’s Street, one of the main thoroughfares of Edinburgh. Since it was late and I wasn’t feeling well, I just took a short walk to get some dinner and then called it an early night.

I got up around 7 Saturday morning, with the intention of using every last second of daylight to see the city. I first walked down Prince’s street to grab some breakfast, then I headed towards my farthest destination: the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh. The first and only time prior to this I was in Scotland in May of 2002, my mom and I spent quite a while there, but the only things I remembered about it was that it was a really long walk to get there and that their café had excellent carrot soup. The walk wasn’t nearly as long as I remembered, probably because I’m more accustomed to walking places now. I spent well over an hour there, admiring the scenery and taking plenty of pictures of flowers. I did make it back to the café, and while they didn’t have any carrot soup, I tried their minestrone, which was quite good as well. The bread they served it with was what sold it for me.
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Natasha: Ticket to Ride

March 16, 2009

dscf2043Well, I bought a Eurail pass intending to use it for spring break, but since I had extra days I set out Thursday night for a long weekend in Italy.

A weekend isn’t enough time to make it as far east as Venice or as far south as Naples or Rome, so I decided to spend one night each in Milan and Florence, as well as a few hours in whatever cities I hit by train along the way, due to a lack of direct routes that didn’t require an extra charge.

It took a bit of effort just for me to get to Italy; I had to change trains in Marseille and Nice before arriving in Ventimiglia, known in French as Vintimille, just on the other side of the border. It was after midnight by the time I got there, and the train I would be taking to Genoa didn’t leave until 5 am, so I pulled out my blanket prepared to sleep in the station. It worked for a little while, but around 2:30 or so I just couldn’t stand sitting on the hard ground, so I decided to get up and go for a walk outside. The station was less than half a mile from the Mediterranean, so I walked to the rocky shore and sat for a while, just staring at the ocean. I walked around a bit longer getting back to the station around 4:30 and finally got on the regional train for Genova Piazza Principe.

I got into Genoa around 8:30 am and had about three hours until my next train, so I went for a walk around the city. Something about the ancientness of Italy made me want to take lots of pictures in black and white. This isn’t to say other places I’ve been were un-ancienty, just maybe not in the same way. (And yes, un-ancienty. That’s exactly the word I was going for. Bonus points if you know why.) This took care of my time there and soon I was on the train for Arquata Scrivia, where I had 40 minutes before the train to Milan.
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Natasha: Winter Break

February 22, 2009

The French sure do love their time off, and I can’t complain, since that meant this past week was filled with travel and adventure instead of classes. I left Montpellier on Friday the 13th (scary?) on a short flight to London. I met up with my friend, Jamie, with whom I would spend the next two days. We dropped my bags off at her flat and headed out in search of food. Walking past Trafalgar Square we saw a huge gathering of people; it almost looked like a protest. We asked a police officer and he said it had something to do with facebook… Never did quite figure that one out. We ended up walking through Leicester and Chinatown before finally deciding on pizza, and then getting ice cream later on. Those are two things I really can’t find in Montpellier, and when I do they’re quite different, so it was a nice treat.

Saturday we wandered around London for a while, deciding to check out St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations, both of which are reputed to have lovely architechture. King’s Cross is also home to a secret platform that Jamie wanted to be photographed with… I stayed in a hostel Saturday night because I had to wake up very early for my flight and didn’t want to bother Jamie. Improvement works on the London underground meant about half the tube lines were down, including the Jubliee line on which the nearest station to my hostel was located, so I had figure out my way by bus. London buses seem confusing, but I think they’re more straightforward than a lot of places I’ve been… Plus they’re big, red, and have two levels. Awesome. The hostel I was staying at was cheap, but an odd format… The reception was inside a pub and therefore didn’t open until 7pm on Saturdays, and I had gotten there aroung 4:30 – giving me a few hours to kill before I could get in. I took a bus back into town and decided to see Hyde Park, and then wandered about near Covent Garden and Leicester square before finding a bus back to the hostel. I thought I would go to bed early since I would have to leave around 5am, but the rooms weren’t too soundproof and there were a few people hanging out in the common area right outside my door playing guitars and singing. I thought I’d just try to sleep through it, but then they started playing “Hotel California”, and couldn’t seem to get through the second verse. I thought “hey, I know the words to that song!” and decided heck with it, and went out there to help them out. I ended up staying up with them until almost midnight, me with my knack for remembering lyrics and them with their guitars. It was a fun time, although I was quite tired when morning rolled around… I caught a bus just after 5 to get to Gloucester, where I caught a coach bus to Stansted airport. I got to the airport with plenty of time to check in, and then I was off for Dublin…

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Natasha: Le Théâtre

February 12, 2009

Tonight was a little theatre outing, to see a two woman comedy show.
I was amazed that I understood about 90% of it.
Sadly, I did not understand what made it funny.
I think the lesson here is simply this: if you’re going to see a play in another language, see a drama. Humour just doesn’t translate well.

Next week we have off for winter break, so I’m headed back to the UK! Here’s hoping I don’t get snowed in again….


Natasha: Toulon & Barcelona, Spain

February 8, 2009


I recently went out for another day trip, this time east to the coastal city of Toulon. It was once the site of a famous prison (where even Jean Valjean was supposed to have been incarcerated) and is still the home of a large naval base and a bustling port on the Mediterranean. I decided to start out by finding the office of tourism, which was right on the harbour, and they had maps for tourists. So I started walking from there toward the naval base, where I found the Maritime Museum. Student admission was four euros, which isn’t too bad, so I decided to check it out. The museum had lots of models of old ships and displays of the history of ocean travel, particularily in and around Toulon. It was apparently the site of an important naval battle during WWII, with many ships sinking and burning in the harbour. I found all the exhibits quite fascinating, but as the museum wasn’t too big it didn’t take me long to see it all and start moving along. I walked past a few monuments and plazas, including the Place de la Libérté, a monument to fallen soldiers of WWII, as well as the Place Victor Hugo, home of Toulon’s theatre and named in honour of the famous author. By this time it was starting to rain, so I took shelter in a café and had lunch. After the rain had let up a bit, I went towards the Porte d’Italie, an old gate of the city. I couldn’t see much of the gate itself, however there was an art gallery nearby so I decided to look around there. Following the maritime nature of the city most of the paintings depicted the sea or boats, but were still quite lovely. After that the rain had started again, so I decided to look around the mall near the Palais de Neptune. Even though Toulon is smaller than Montpellier, it seems they have more exotic stores… But I’m not really one for shopping so I used the time just to enjoy the similarity within the differences. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make much sense, but I find that when I see something that’s so close to American culture (like a shopping mall?) it’s much easier for me to notice the little differences that make it French. With something radically different, I know it’s different, so details always seem to escape me. The rain seemed to finally disappear, so I spent the rest of my time wandering along the harbour absorbing the sea breezes of the mediterranean – it was about 60° F with a light wind, so it felt wonderful. While walking back to the station, I took the time to admire the architecture and landscaping. Overall, it was quite the lovely outing!

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Natasha: Three-day Weekend… and then some

February 4, 2009

The weekend started out so lovely, and spiralled downhill rather quickly. I flew to London Friday afternoon to meet my sister, with whom I took a coach bus to Birmingham where she is currently studying. I was supposed to be back in Montpellier by Monday morning but here it is late Wednesday and I’ve only just gotten back, by a couple of hours. To blame is the worst snow storm to hit London in 18 years. This paralysed the city, stopping all trains, planes, and coaches, and frightening other drivers out of going anywhere. This left me stranded at Victoria Station, with no way of getting to the airport to even check the status of my flight.

I’ll start off with the good parts of my trip. We got into Birmingham late Friday night. On Saturday she showed me around Birmingham most of the day. We saw mostly the famous shopping areas and parts of the city halls and medieval churches. We saw a film and had dinner at a Japanese restaurant before going to the Birmingham Hippodrome for the main reason I came: the Pantomime. Panto is quite a popular form of theatre in the UK, and Brum is supposed to have one of the best, if not the best. Adding to that was the fact that the star of this year’s show (Robin Hood) was John Barrowman, an excellent singer and actor, whom the nerd in me absolutely adores for his roles in Doctor Who and Torchwood, two of my absolute favourite scifi shows. This was the closing weekend, and therefore my last and only chance to see it. The show was absolutely amazing, and we ended up buying tickets for the closing performance on Sunday evening as well! Since it’s Panto, the show is slightly different every time so it’s worth it to see it twice.

Sunday we started out by going to Selly Sausage, a restaurant near the University of Birmingham campus that serves American style pancakes – “pancakes” in Britain are actually crêpes. It was a nice treat, and thus I was quite full as we headed towards our next destination: Cadbury World. Birmingham is home to the main factory of Cadbury chocolate, and they offer factory tours, as well as free samples. I’m not sure what they do here, but they have such unbelievably tasty chocolate! And of course, there’s a little shop at the end so I bought some crème eggs and jelly babies. After that we had a little time to kill before going to the theatre, so Sam took me to the local comic stores so I could totally nerd out: they have so many Doctor Who toys here (which makes sense, since it’s British) which are nearly impossible to find in the states! Panto was great again, and after the show we went back to her campus, where we joined with other people from her programme to watch the Super Bowl. I was a bit disappointed in the outcome but overall it was a good game and I was glad to have the chance to watch it, even if it meant no sleep Sunday night.

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