Over the weekend, we had our second CIEE excursion. This time, we explored the south-western part of Brittany known as Finistere. Finistere has many large cities in Brittany, including Brest, Quimper, and Concarneau. It also has many historical places of interest, including many monolithic relics. During our two-day excursion, we visited Pont-Aven, Concarneau, Quimper, the Pointe du Raz, and Locronan.
Pont-Aven is a small town right near Concarneau and Quimperle. Pont-Aven was apparently popular among various artists since it is such a peaceful town. As such, scattered about the town, you can find many statues and other works of art. We had a couple of hours to eat lunch and walk around the picturesque city, so Alex, Stella, and I walked downtown and then along a nearby river. It was so pretty!
Our second destination on our weekend excursion was to Concarneau. Concarneau is a small port town in the southern part of Bretagne, not a far drive from Pont-Aven. We spent one night in this charming town at a hostel right by the water. The most interesting part of the town, is the old town which has a section of the fortification walls that nearly every town in France used to have. What's unique about this walled area is that it has a clock tower.
After an evening in Concarneau, we went up to Quimper for a morning tour of the city. Quimper reminded me a bit of Chester when I was studying at Harlaxton College in England in that it still had much of the "old world charm." Though there weren't as many half-timber buildings here as in Chester, it was still clear that the majority were not built recently. Our main place for visiting was the cathedral in the city center. We had a nice tour of the cathedral, and then had a picnic lunch in a park across the river before a bit north to visit the westernmost point in France, the Pointe du Raz, and also a small town called Locronan before returning to Rennes.
We stopped at the small town of Locronan briefly on our way to the Pointe du Raz. The town is super small, but one interesting thing is that all the buildings were made from stone.
Pointe du Raz
Our final stop during the Finistere excursion was the Pointe du Raz. The Pointe du Raz is the westernmost point in France, and is also a pretty popular tourist place.
This past weekend was my younger host sister's birthday. The celebration brought the whole family together - including my host mom's sisters and their families, and a past host-daughter who is currently studying at the Universite de Rennes 1 (the other large university in France, which focuses more on engineering and sciences). It was a very interesting evening.
My host family is an interesting mix of cultures. My host mom was born and raised here in Rennes, and is French to the bone, which has caused a few uncomfortable moments during the past month (also because she is a very frugal woman), and my host-dad is Bolivian. I think, at this point, I'm closest with my host-dad. He's always telling me stories about the family's past life and his children, and has made some wonderful Bolivian food for us to share together when the rest of the host family is out.
Today, to celebrate he daughter turning 17, he made Empanadas. For those who don't know, Empanadas are South American pastries filled with meat and vegetables. I also learned that my host-dad used to run a food stall and small South American restaurant in Place Ste. Anne where he sold his empanadas. Boy are they scrumptious! I could eat those things all the time.
The rest of the family is also quite interesting. I had met a few of the cousins before when my host-mom, host-sister, and myself went to see a movie downtown with one of the cousins. However, there were quite a few people I hadn't met who came. One of the aunts really interested me because she is deaf. I've had a bit of an interest in sign language since I was young and first saw it being used on an episode of Reading Rainbow. It's just such an intriguing language! What's even more interesting is that it changes from country to country, and that children who are deaf but are never formally educated at a deaf school where they can learn official forms of sign language develop their own sign language to communicate with those around them. Considering that this was the first deaf person I have met in person, I was quite interested in her story.
Well, it turns out that she is quite an amazing woman. She never let her deafness become a barrier between herself and others. Not only did she learn how to lip read, but she taught herself to speak - French, English, and Spanish. I was pretty inspired by her.
I was also surprised by how close the previous host-daughter was with my host-mom. To me, my host-mom is just so distant. She doesn't really communicate with me all that much, and rarely asks me questions about myself or my life. I also found out that my host family has been hosting for quite a number of years.
12:30. Class is over and it's time for lunch. You have three options: sandwiches in Bâtiment L or in the main cafeteria, or you can venture upstairs. You decide a sandwich isn't enough to satisfy your hunger, so you arrive at the cafeteria. Knowing what awaits you at the top of the stairs, you pause. Is the food upstairs really what you want? Yes? Then it's time to muster your strength....
As soon as you climb the stairs, you see a large space packed with people. You grab a tray and a small loaf of bread and survey the area. Now, here comes the tricky part. In the cafète you have several options: plat du jour, plat du monde, plat grille, plat chaud, and pizza/pates. Each plat comes with restrictions. If you choose the plat du jour or the plat chaud, you can have two side items: fruit, salad, desert, or drink. But, if you choose one of the other plats, you can only have one side dish. So, what's the best? If there's a long line, chances are it’s good. Logical, right? However, in a French cafète, the lines are all mixed up. Is that the line for the salads and vegetables or for the plat du monde? Pizza or spaghetti? And it's usually so crowded in the room that you can't go from one side to the other!
You've decided on the plat du monde, huh? Good choice; it’s Sweedish meatballs today. You've elbowed your way over the clump that looks like the line? Just hop in where you can; "butting" doesn't exist. If someone gets "in line" in front of you, tans pis. That's too bad. There's nothing you can do; it's how the lines work.
You've received your food without a disaster and now you have to work your way through the sea of people to the cash register. And just because you have a tray, doesn't mean you're Moses. So, you've made it to the register? Congrats! Ce n'est pas facile, ca! Now it's time to pay. You can either pay with cash (en liquide) or with the meal tickets you bought downstairs. There's not a system for French students of a meal plan, etc. No lives at the university, so everyone pays for their meals. But, it's only 3 euro. If you don't have those meal tickets, you need to find the line and stand your ground. Otherwise, simply hand the ticket to the cashier on your way out. Trust me, it's one of the easier parts about your lunch.
The next stop is silverware and condiments. Sounds like a breeze, right? Wrong! There's one station, and one station only. Sometimes one eating utensil or another is out, and there's no counter anywhere to place your tray on. To make matters worse, the French students are just as aggressive about their silverware and Dijon mustard as they are about getting their food. They'll bump you from behind with their trays, cut right in front of you, and anything else that brings to mind the stereotype "the French are rude." Oh, and make sure everything's balanced alright; if you spill something, no one's going to bother to help. Except perhaps for the passing employee. And if it wasn't your fault at all, don't expect anyone to apologize. Rejoice if this doesn't occur; it's both humiliating and very frustrating. And, yes, I know this from experience. And, yes, the only people who offered any sort of sentiment along the lines of "are you okay" were American, and the kind staff member who even refilled my order for me while I attempted to wash off the desert spilled down my front. At least I didn't have to pay again!
Well, if you've survived all of that, you only have to find a seat. Good luck with that one! The eating space is crowded, and if you're with a group of more than two, you should have gotten sandwiches. Me, I'll take my meals in an American cafeteria, thank you, even if the food is worse.
A couple weeks ago, our program finally changed from taking orientation classes at a small cultural center in Rennes to joining the CIREFE program at the Université de Rennes 2. Two of my friends from the program ended up in classes at the actual university where they met several Erasmus students from Belgium.
This past Thursday, Emmy invited me along when she went to have dinner with the Erasmus students. It was a lot of fun meeting them, and it really made me work hard at communicating in French. Although we sign a contract stating that we will only use French, the reality is that when we are surrounded by our other American CIEE friends, we all fall back on communicating in the language that is most comfortable for us - English (unless, of course, Stacey, or the other directors are around...). So, it was really challenging to use French with young people that aren't my host family siblings or the international students learning French at CIREFE.
We had pizza and pasta at a restaurant in Place Ste. Anne, and since the weather was nice, we even ate outside. After eating, we headed to a small bar for a couple drinks before going back to our respective "homes:" the Erasmus students are living in apartments around the city; Emmy used to live with a host family, but has moved to the university dorms; and I went back to my host family's apartment. Two of the Erasmus students actually live close to my host family, so we took the bus together.
The evening was so much fun, and I hope to hang out with them more!
This past weekend was spent with about half of the CIEE kids on a group trip to Normandy. The weekend was amazingly beautiful--not a drop of rain or even threating clouds!! The sun was, however, a bit paradoxical. Along with the gorgeous weather came the heavy content of our trip: World War II. Normandy, although famous for rain, The Umbrellas of Charbourg, and camembert cheese, also has a coastline riddled with thousands upon thousands of white crosses. These white crosses are a symbol of the horrors of D-Day (or Jour J in French) when tens of thousands of young men from the US, Canada, the UK, France, and many other countries died to free France and other countries under the oppression of Nazi Germany. Because of this, our trip was indeed a bit of a paradox.
The trip started with a meeting time of 8:00 sharp at Villejean (aka: the major campus of Rennes 2). We sleepy-eyed university students piled onto the bus with backpacks stuffed for the weekend (all a bit underdressed for the morning because we knew that by early afternoon, long sleeves and coats would be much too hot). Many slept on the way to our first destination, although I and my seat-mate preferred to listen to my Zen and chat. When we unloaded in Caen at the Memorial, a museum dedicated to the time between the wars and WWII itself, we were more awake, although still cold because it was windy and only 10:30. The museum was quite honestly very well put together, although I didn't care much for the first half. Photographs, timelines, and lots of written history don't interest me nearly as much as actual artifacts and written letters. After wandering through the exhibit, we ate lunch and then hung out in the gift shop until it was time to go on.
The second half of the day was spent in Bayeux. Here, we took a breather from the horrors of World War to view yet another artifact of war: The Bayeux Tapestry. This amazing tapestry is the longest and best preserved in existence and tells the story of how William the Basterd became William the Conqueror. Interesting enough, the English seem to care much more about this artifact than the French. I say this because Bujack became quite passionate about the subject when we learned of 1066 in British Studies, whereas our briefing for this part of the trip consisted of "This is the longest tapestry in the world." In any case, the tapestry truly was spectacular, although I had imagined it to be longer. The colors were amazingly bright for being over 9,000 years old, and I'm, quite frankly, amazed that it hasn't fallen apart.
After viewing the tapestry, we headed over to our hostel for a rather unsatisfying dinner. So, after having eaten, we headed out into the town expecting to find some bar that was open and had some decent food. Unfortunately Bayeux, although a charming town, is a lot like Grantham--dead. Unless you know exactly where to go. Therefore, we ended up at one of the few places open--a restaurant where we split a pizza and had a glass of kir. Then, we proceeded to get lost on our way back to the hostel. Don't worry; we found it before we started crying!
Sunday was another early morning. We left Bayeux at 8:30 and headed north to the coast. Here, we disembarked at one of the plagues de debarquement: Omaha Beach. First, we visited the American Cemetery when the elegant grounds house thousands of crosses standing out starkly against the too-green lawns. We didn't spend too much time passing through the rows and rows of graves, and instead broke the heavy atmosphere by heading down to the beach. Although we were smiling and having a good time, and there were even others beach surfing, it was strange to be standing on beach where so many young men gave up their lives. It was a rather eerie feeling to be walking down the beach and think that only 60 years ago, men were running up those same beaches to the background of machine guns, bombs, and shells. And that many didn't make it up that long stretch of sand and scrubby coastline. So, although the day was sunny and the beach and grass were brilliant in the sun, what was playing in the back of my head was the soundless, black and white images of WWII photage seen in history class after history class.
From Omaha Beach, we headed a little ways down the coast to Point du Hoc, where more men lost their lives scrambling up the steep cliffs by means of ladders and ropes. Here, the ground is still riddled with massive holes from the bombs dropped on the German bunkers on the top of the cliffs. Huge chunks of concrete, iron rods, and barbed wire marring the landscape. After seeing the remaining damage of the war, we headed back home to Rennes, all a little heavy hearted.
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