Sunday, January 24, 2010

Skiing in sweatpants, Sneaking on yachts and Stalking the stars

Last weekend was the ski trip to the Alps. I was semi nervous that skiing would be traumatic because 1. it's the Alps and 2. I had no ski jacket or snow pants. At least I was able to find these very fashionable army green man gloves and a man's hat for cheap at the local grocery store, or else I probably would have frozen.

The Bus Ride

We were supposed to leave Thursday morning at 7:30am. Wednesday night we had a fabulous wine and cheese night but seeing as I live about a mile from the bus stop, we had to leave our apartments at 6:30am to get to the school and make the bus. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night.

Kaycie and I arrived at school to catch the bus at about 7:20am to catch the alleged "7:30am departure" bus. When we arrived, there were about 5 of the 50 kids there and no bus in sight. After sitting for about 2 hours waiting for all the French students to arrive and the buses to come, we realized that in France, time doesn't mean all that much. It's funny because if you showed up at 8am for a bus that was scheduled to leave at 7:30am in DC, you'd be walking. Lesson learned: everyone and everything in France is fashionably at least an hour.

Considering neither Kaycie nor I had really slept the night before, we were all looking forward to sleeping on the bus. However, in France, a 5 hour long bus ride to the Alps = a 5 hour long party (no matter how early it is). We got on the bus to techno music blasting and kids already drinking was 9:30am. Also in France, they love to take breaks. After every hour in the bus we would need to take a break, most likely because everyone need a cigarette. So what was only a 4 hour bus ride home, was a 6.5 hour bus ride there.

After 6 and a half hours of blaring French techno and drunk French kids writing on each other with Sharpies, we finally arrived in the Alps. They were seriously the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life.

The Living Situation

So on the way to the Alps, we were trying to imagine what our food and living situations would be because it was "all-inclusive". There were 7 of us exchange students to be living in an apartment style condo, which wasn't luxurious by any mean but it was fine. It however lacked certain necessary amenities such as towels, toilet paper, dish soap. We improvised and used the extra pillowcases as towels and stole toilet paper from the local bars, but we eventually caved and had to purchase our own dish soap.

The food was also an interesting situation. We were given a bag of groceries to last us for the weekend filled with pasta, sauce, bread, ham, cheese (all respectable choices) and then two huge packets of Twinkies and chips. We were concerned that this food was supposed to last 7 girls 3 days, and wondered where all the money we spent for this "all inclusive" trip went. Then another grocery bag was delivered to us, filled with 16 bottles of juices, 7 bottles of vodka, and about 24 beers. We quickly realized the French priorities in life.

Skiing in the Alps

So we woke up to two beautiful days of over 35 degree sunny skiing weather. Thank god for that too because like I said, I was skiing in sweats and a North Face. Anyways, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, being completely surrounded by huge snow-covered mountains. After stopping at the top to take wayyy too many pictures, we attempted our first ski down.

Here's what we learned: Just because I am a decent skier in Buffalo at Kissing Bridge, doesn't mean anything to the Alps. The hills aren't groomed so you are skiing in up to a foot of fresh powder snow, which was amazing, but really difficult. A black diamond slope in Buffalo would be an intermediate slope in the Alps...if you went down a black diamond in the Alps, you'd be doomed. Unless of course you were one of the boys who came on the ski trip with us, who were doing back flips, and considered their day a failure because they couldn't do a double backflip. On skis. On the Alps. Seriously?

The weather was beautiful, the skiing was amazing and the mountains were the prettiest things I've ever seen...but I have never been so sore in my life.

Crazy American Girls

We successfully skied the Alps for two days, and for that, we thought we deserved some of the infamous Tartiflette everyone speaks of. It a French speciality of the mountains with cheese, potatoes, meat, and more cheese. Thankfully it lived up to its name, and was so so delicious. The fun began when they gave us their "English version" of the menu. The translations from French to English were quite interesting. We learned such words as whortleberry, the beer selections translated into a delish "Fetus" beer or the other appetizing option was the "Baby" beer, and a crepe item was translated as "thin pancake carmel wipe run" . So the combination of reading this "English" menu and my obnoxiously loud and high pitched voice, got us in trouble. The bartender came over and actually asked us to be quiet and then proceeded to squawk at us like a chicken. Everyone in the restaurant look relieved that someone told us to be quiet and then our waiter came out and called us "Crazy American girls!". Another lesson we learned: when French people go out to dinner, they do so in silence.

Culture Shock

People have asked me what the biggest culture shock is and this is it: French people don't really adhere to a schedule; they do what they want, when they want. For example, if a club says they will be open to 4am, don't be surprised if they close at 1:30am because they just don't feel like being open anymore. Also, if we had to check out of our apartment at 8:30am Sunday morning, you would think that's when the buses would arrive. Wrong. Standing outside in the cold just chatting or hanging out at the bar (at 8:30am) was what actually happened beause the bus wasn't coming until 11am. You could tell we were Americans because only we were concerned with aimlessly wasting this time. They do what they, when they want, and its rarely on time.

Welcome to the Yacht Club

After a fabulous weekend in the Alps, it was time to get back to business. Wednesday night rolled around and we were all missing our Moe's, Chipotles, and Mighty Tacos so we decided Fiesta Night was in order. We cooked some delish chicken fajitas and nachos because FYI they don't do Mexican food here. Then we decided to go out to Old Antibes.

We met some nice people at a bar who claimed to staff one of the huge yachts in the harbor (remember the one with the helicopter on it, they said they worked on its neighbor). So we had some fun chatting with this girl and her guy friends about their yachting life. They literally just live and party in Nice until the owner of the yacht (a wealthy Russian probs in the mafia) comes back and then its back to work. But they have been off duty, getting paid and just living on the yacht for about 3 months...sweet life huh? So they were all very nice and then they invited a bunch of us to their yacht after.

The further we walked in the harbor the bigger the yachts got. We finally arrived at a yacht that was worth $33 million and was about the size of the Alps. It was insane. We got the grand tour of this beautiful yacht and the yacht's kitchen was about the size of my entire apartment. It was absolutely ridiculous.

Stalking the Stars

After the yacht experience, I pretty much thought I was celeb status. The NRJ Music Awards were in Cannes this Saturday, so being the celeb that I am, I clearly thought I was invited. We went to Cannes for the day, popped in some stores like Dolce, Louis Vuitton and Chanel and cried at the prices. We saw a cellphone that was 7000 euros...thats like $10,000, for a cellphone. I don't even get it. But the most populated place in this wealthy upscale town was McDonalds. And it was quite a rowdy McDonalds at that. I had never seen a Mickey D's so crowded in my life, let alone people making out and smoking McDonald's. It was an R-rated fast food joint in Cannes.

But back to the the celebs. The NRJ Music Awards is like the French MTV Music Awards so we stalked out our place early on the red carpet to get glimpses of the stars. We saw Rihanna, the Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, and some others. Beyonce and Jay-Z were supposed to show but apparently they were too cool. But the most devastating news of the night was that Tokyo Hotel didn't show up. I have no idea who that even is but these girls behind us were balling their eyes out in the beginning of the night because they couldn't wait to see Tokyo Hotel. At the end of the night, they were still balling because Tokyo Hotel didn't show. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen.

Elise is flying in this week to Paris so I am meeting her there and we are going to spend the weekend in Paris!! I can't wait!

A tout a l'heure!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nutella, Nightclubs & Neon Buddhas

So once again, I was right. My arrival experience was definitely pretty close to rock bottom and I only have gone up from there. We went into Nice twice last week, and I am totally in love with the city. We only live about 20 minutes by train from Nice but that 20 minutes really makes all the difference between ghost down and vibrant city, let me tell you. Don't get me wrong, I totally love reppin' the JLP (Juan les Pins for all you newbs) but in the winter months it's kind of dead.

Nice is a really cool city with a beautiful old section of town, a really nice promenade and ocean view, and of course large neon crystal squatting Buddhas in the town square. It has so many fun shops and cute little restaurants

(I finally had my first Nutella crepe of the journey, first of 1000 I'm sure).

Thankfully, we had some built in tour guides of Nice, so we weren't wandering aimlessly. A couple friends from other schools and one from AU that studied at CERAM Business School (the school I'm attending) showed us around and had us over for a wine and cheese party (so classy and much different than the not-so-classy frat parties I'm accustomed to). After the little soiree, we went out to the local bars and clubs, which was very fun. We went to an English pub called Wayne's, where it is totally acceptable and actually highly recommended that you dance on the tables they line up so neatly near the stage for that very purpose. Obviously, we had fun there.

5 Star Accomodations

After the weekend in Nice, it was back home to our ghetto-fab apartment. I figured you needed to see some pictures of my luxury accommodations, and it really isn't bad until I have seen where other people are living. My one friend lives in a villa, like a legit French Riviera villa and they have their own pool...worst part is she really isn't paying that much more than me.

So we clearly have a deluxe kitchen and the shower is actually a hose disguised as a shower. The bath tub also plays the role of laundry machine in our apartment.

It wouldn't be so bad if the light in the hallway worked so it wasn't pitch black every time we entered the building and tripped up two flights of stairs daily, not to mention needing to carry a flashlight with us at all times to be able to stick the key in the keyhole. And then of course there is the lovely heating problem we have...or lack thereof. For some reason, there is no heat in my bedroom, so every night I have to put on my leggings, sweatpants, 2 pairs of socks, long sleeve shirt, and hoodie (with the hood up because fun fact: all the heat escapes out of your head) and still, every morning, I wake up freezing. I mean I live in Buffalo in a house where my father really doesn't believe in heat either so you would think I would be able to handle this...think again, it's pretty awful. Throw in the construction from 7:30am-2:30pm daily and we got ourselves quite the party.

Old Antibes

But enough about my fab apartment. Saturday morning we went to tour around Old Antibes, which was beautiful. It’s a precious old little town with a bunch of cute little cafes, a really nice view over the Riviera, and a harbor where all the crazy rich people from Britain apparently park their yachts. You would think having a yacht would be enough of a showcase of one’s wealth, right? Well apparently this was not enough for one wealthy Brit, who decided the rescue boat (which is the size of my house) was just not enough of a safety measure. So logically, in case of emergency, they have a HELICOPTER parked on the roof of their own private cruise ship. Seriously?!

After the tour of the yacht club, we visited the Picasso Museum in Antibes. Funny thing about the Picasso Museum, there are very few Picasso pieces. The few that were there were amazing of course but we found the name of the museum misleading. The view from the museum was really the best part about it. We had quite the hike to get up there but once at the top, it was so so pretty. I can’t believe people just live here and see this everyday like it’s no big deal.

Getting Down to Business….

I am in France to study abroad, so naturally at some point I knew I’d have to attend class. The classes were are 3-hour blocks, which isn’t the most pleasant thing, but that way we only have to take them once a week, allowing my weekends to begin at 11am on Wednesday.
My first class Monday was Management Information Systems, sounds thrilling huh? It wasn’t too bad and my professor seems really cool; he’s Moroccan! Then the question came about how many exchange students were in class…and only one hand was raised in the classroom, and it was mine. That was interesting. I already earned brownie points though just because I’m American. Throughout that class and the rest of my classes, I have noticed some differences between classes at AU and here:

1) No one shows up on time here. No one.
2) There is a 15 minute break in all of my classes. It’s just called a break but all the French students dash out of the room with their jackets to smoke. Every. Single. One.
3) It’s not really acceptable to talk amongst yourselves when the teacher is talking, but most French students do it anyways.
4) The work load here is unbelievable…in a good way. In my first class, he said we were going to have a lot of work to do and to be prepared. The syllabus has us reading about 10 pages…per week.

French class we just talked about ourselves and learned things not to say. It’s funny here how if you mess up pretty much any word, the sentence automatically translates into something vulgar. Needless to say, we learned some very interesting phrases the first day. Marketing class and Productions Management both seem like they will be interesting and easy. The challenge is going to be my Spanish class. My Spanish professor obviously teaches in Spanish, but when she has something important to say to make sure we understand, she translates…into French. This would make sense if all the students in the class were French, but clearly, I’m not. So the three hours of that class was pretty much a blur of confusion with her and the students fluent in French and practically all fluent in Spanish and using the two languages interchangeably. She knew I was American so she tried to translate things they were saying in French, but she barely she speaks any English. I also encountered an exception to my observation that most French students are very nice and willing to help. Every time I said anything in that class, three students whispered to each other in French and laughed at me! It was semi-embarrassing but really funny that they were so blatantly making fun of everything I said. Hopefully learning that French slang will come in handy and I’ll be able to decode their secret conversations.

I finished all my homework for the week…it took an hour. I could get used to this but I’m kind of lost without having at least 8 hours a week and a million other things to do every day. I guess that’s where the travelling comes in!

Speaking of travelling, I am going to a condo in the Alps this weekend for a ski trip with a bunch of kids from school! It should be really fun. I didn’t bring snow pants or a ski jacket so we’ll see how that ends up working out.

That’s it for now…I have to clean my beautiful apartment for the wine and cheese party tonight!

A tout a l’heure!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bonjour from France!

So what started as a hellacious journey, is definitely starting to look up. If you haven't already heard of my arrival in France...I'll give you the rundown.

My flight from JFK to Warsaw was pretty bumpy, and I am already a nervous flyer so that was not fun. The boy sitting next to me was a Ukrainian who was working in the States to try to save up money for college. He was so nice and I thought he was like 16 until he ordered red wine with his dinner (he was actually 23). So Nick, Ukrainian boy was very friendly, maybe a little too friendly. He kept falling asleep, which is totally logical considering it was an 8 hour flight...except for his head was legit on my shoulder and he kept like reaching for my hand. So that was interesting and amusing. Needless to say I didn't sleep much with Nick on top of me.

Our flight was 2 hours late so I had to rush through customs and security at the Warsaw airport, but I made my flight to Nice. When I arrived at the airport someone from the school came to pick me up and she was very nice. They dropped me off at the apartment...this is when the fun began.

My landlord's brother was there to greet me, and unfortunately his English was not great, and he was kind of nasty to me. So anyways, I was staying at a hotel like across the street for the night because I wasn't sure if the landlord would be there with my keys so I wanted to make sure I had a place to stay the first night. I walked over to the hotel and went to open the door...and it was locked. The hotel was pitch black and after a couple minutes of banging on the door and screaming, I came to the conclusion that it was closed.

At this point, it was about 7pm in France and dark and I was just chilling outside some abandoned hotel, with no place to stay and no means of communication. So obviously, I had a slight meltdown but got myself together and walked to the nearest pharmacy and asked to use their phone to call the hotel. The hotel said they were closed due to heating problems (I'm glad I was notified of this...) but said I could stay at their sister hotel in town and they would send someone to pick me up.

When we say "we will pick you up" in the States, we think there would be a car involved...not the case in France I guess. Some man walked around the corner 15 minutes later and said he was there to lead me to the hotel. 25 minutes after following this random guy around the streets of Juan les Pins, we arrived at the hotel...which was also pitch black. Thank god the light turned on and there was a woman at the desk because for a second, I thought I had just got "taken".

At this point I was starving, so I walked across the street and bought and Orangina, and went back to the hotel to eat. The TV was kind of broken and the volume wouldn't turn down so it was blaring and there was only French station, except BBC World News. So I watched BBC World news and apparently they only had 5 stories that day...I could recite to you everything about the world's tallest building that just opened in Dubai because I watched the story on it about 12 times. I would have taken a nap but my phone can't pick up any signal to even get the time and I didn't want to fall asleep because I needed to Skype my mom at 10pm. The battery in my computer was almost dead and I didn't have the outlet converter with me so I had no choice but to watch BBC World news for 2 hours.

Thank god the girl at the desk found and outlet converter and I was able to charge my computer and Skype my mom or should would have been on the next plane to France. that was my traumatic arrival experience. I figured that after that first day, nothing could get worse and I could only go up from there.

My roommate, Julie, arrived the next day and we went to the market. Our neighbors are two girls from Canada who are super nice so that's good too.

The next day we went to orientation, which was good. We were told the bus stop to school was around the corner from our apartment...apparently that means a mile and a half in France. The hike to and from the bus stop every day is going to be a pain but hey I'll be super in shape by the time I come home right? My schedule worked out perfectly and my weekends start at 11am on Wednesday!

I didn't have class today and Julie did so I woke up (a little earlier than planned because there is severe construction going on in our building and it sounds like there was a jackhammer next to my head), and I walked around my town. I just popped in a bunch of shops and bought some baguette then headed to the beach. I walked around the boardwalk for a little then found a cute little cafe and sat and drank my cafe au lait on the beach! I felt so French, I even ordered in French! Yea, I know, impressive.

Went back to the market and bought some things for lunch and went to the bank too. I'm pretty much going to be completely broke because the conversion rate is killing me.

So I'm going into Nice today with some kids and probably out tonight!

My arrival was not as magical as I had thought it would be, but hey it was an experience I suppose?

I'll keep you updated! A toute a l'heure! (I think that means talk to you soon?)