Monday, May 20, 2013

Winter Break in Spain

Winter Break

  Winter break was my first chance to get out of France and travel to someplace new. I went with Brian Doheny and Cristian Aguirre to Spain and it was epic. We left Friday the 22nd for Madrid. Upon arrival we couldn't find Cristian's friend that was supposed to meet us at the airport and letting us stay at his place. We didn't have phones to get in touch with him nor could we pick up wifi so we were stuck. We ended up getting rescued when we asked a Canadian girl if we could borrow her phone and she was a lifesaver. She also showed us how the metro worked in Madrid and it goes to show that Canadians are the nicest people every. We ended up getting in touch with Cristian's friend and made it to his apartment where we stayed until  Sunday the 24th. In Madrid we toured the city some, ate tapas, and went out every night. One night we went to a gigantic nightclub called Kapital that had 7 floors, each with different music. We stayed out most nights until 6-7am then slept to 5pm and did it all over again. I can't imagine studying in Spain, no one seems to ever go to class. We left Sunday and flew to Barcelona. We weren't able to find anywhere to stay for Sunday and Monday night so we stayed with Brian's roommates who had booked an apartment there for the week. They were super nice and let us crash on the couches. There ended up being a huge mobile phone conference so that was the random reason we couldn't find a single place to stay. We did visit the Prado Museum which was fantastic and the Bank of Spain which looked like a palace.

  Barcelona was definitely my favorite city out of the two. It was on the coast, the weather was great for the most part, and there was a ton of places to go and things to see. We did a ton of sightseeing there but also did some going out as well. We took the cable car up to see Montjuic Castle, visited the Gaudi Cathedral and Gaudi's apartment building he designed. Such cool stuff. Tuesday we moved into the apartment we had set up. It was so awesome to finally have our own place. One night we met up with one of Cristian's friends (one of the guys we stayed with in Madrid) who was going to a big party for his study abroad called Erasmus. We tagged along with him and managed to get into the party, it was awesome. They had rented a velodrome outside of the city and set up a ton of tents for dancing and stuff. Great time. Other nights we spent making friends and hanging out. We ate at one place that was fantastic: a small hole in the wall called Bo Da Be. They were pretty much epic wraps that were gigantic. They were kind of like burritos except not Mexican. They had tons of fresh veggies to choose from to put in it with different kinds of sauces like Tzatziki and hot sauce. One of the best things I've had during my time in Europe! Sunday came and we had to take an 8 hour bus ride back to Aix... wasn't fun but made it without any problems. Starting Friday night though I started getting sick which ended up staying around and caused me to miss class for a week. Overall,  winter break was an awesome experience.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

30 Jan - 5 Feb aka: Yeah, It's Been Awhile, Too Busy Experiencing France and Traveling, My Bad (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog)

30 Jan - Wednesday
  Ended up not going out to that bar Tuesday night, just hung out with friends at their place then headed out to see other bars. Classes were good, had my International Business Management class and my history class (France during the German Occupation of WWII). They seem like they should be good so far. Nothing too exciting for the rest of the day. Did some homework and rested at home.

31 Jan - Thursday
  More classes: business and my political science class. The latter is about the European Union which seems like it will be a really interesting class but a lot of work. We have to give a 45-60 minute group presentation about an issue that the EU faces. Thirsty Thursday so another night out on the town.

1 Feb - Friday
  French again at 8:30 am. Sucks to have to be up so early... and it was my only class of the day. After class I just hung out, did some homework for class Monday since I'll be gone all weekend. Went out with a friend that night but just had a few drinks since we had to be up very early the next morning for the French Riviera! It was a good time :D

2 Feb - Saturday


  Set my alarm for 7 am, snoozed it, woke up at 8, threw clothes into my duffle (what a strange word if you stop to think about it) bag, ran to the bus and made it by 8:30. Pro skills. It was a school trip so everyone went. It was a 2 hour drive up from Aix up the French Riviera corridor to Nice, where we spent the better part of the day. Nice was a really nice (hah) place. I went with my group of friends to the beach, cracked open a couple bottles of Champagne (the real stuff from Champagne) and celebrated our arrival. The beach wasn't like a typical beach; instead of sand it was large pebbles and the waves looked like it would bash you to pieces since the banks of the beach was so steep in many places. These next two pictures were taken prom steps that led up to the hill from the above picture. There were remains of an old Cathedral that they excavate during the summer. There's also a very awesome waterfall that can be stood above.

The sweet waterfall

Up above it is a plaza area that overlooks the entire area.

The Cathedral

So after all that we drove to Monaco. We were spending the night at a youth hostel that was probably nicer then I suspect most hostels will be. We got situated, dressed all up, ate dinner, drank sangria, and all drove to Monte Carlo!

 The Welcome

  The public area is much smaller than one would suspect, there's only a few rooms with slots and such with a larger room that has craps, blackjack, etc. Most of the space was private high stakes rooms (which unfortunately I was short a few million euro for a buy-in). I got the most expensive drink of my life (a 17 euro Bloody Mary just to say I did) which was very good then joined a blackjack table. I put in 20 euro that I thought I would lose quickly since the dealer was on a heater. In the end I turned out victorious and won a net gain of 30 euros, 5 of which I kept as a souvenir in the form of a chip. Super stoked about that and in the end had a great night. And of course the parking lot was loaded with amazing cars. 2 Ferrari's, several Bentley's, Rolls', AMG's, etc.

3 Feb - Sunday
  Woke up the next morning, breakfast then went out to see the actual city of Monaco. Spent the day touring the city. Ate a smoked salmon pizza, visited the palace and cathedral. There were some sweet gardens near the cathedral. The views from the city was just amazing. You could look out on the harbor and see the largest yachts ever then look at the city and see what are probably the most expensive apartments, flats, and lofts ever. It would be so amazing to live there.
  On the way home we stopped at Eze, a small medieval town along the coast. During it's existence it had been raided many times by pirates. There was a perfume factory there (wasn't that into it for some reason...) but the town was crazy awesome. It just felt so awesome to be walking around a city that was so ancient. The streets were tiny, and there were remains of an old castle at the top. There was a small cathedral from the 1760's that was cool to walk through. There's a 5 star hotel there that is open during the spring and summer called Le Chateau de la Chevre D'Ors with terraced gardens behind it that went down the steep hillside.

It's insane to look at

  After Eze, we hopped the bus back to Aix, worn out from all the walking and exploring.

4 Feb - Monday
  It felt weird to be back in Aix a little. I'm so used to getting back from a trip to someplace (relatively) boring like Colorado but then I realize I'm in Aix, the most awesome place to be living. Classes were hard to go back to but they were fine. But French still drags on for 2 hours. They should have shorter class periods, it's just so hard to pay attention for so long. 

5 Feb - Tuesday
  Class comes so early but I managed to get up this time at 7 so that I could make myself breakfast and get to class. It was a relaxing day but I'm going out tonight with friends! Tuesdays are free champagne nights for ladies so it's a popular night to go out. I really want to open a bar/club in Fort Collins that's styled after french bars and clubs, I think it would be very popular. Then have a French styled Boulangerie (bakery) and cafe above it for business during the day. I can dream.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

28-29 January

28 January - Monday
  Orientation for the school, nothing too exciting. There will be some cool trips though this semester so that will be awesome. They really have a lot of stuff for us to do besides classes, like ski trips to the French Alps that are 2 hours away or dance lessons, cooking, etc. My friends and I went to the Wohoo bar to see the weekly beer pong tournament they have. The winners get open bar but I think by that point you aren't in much need of one. It was 10 euros each person to enter so as long as you win a couple games you get your monies worth of cheap beer. I didn't play but cheered my friends on and hung out and had a good time. There were tons of people in a small place around 3 long tables. The bartender was a pretty funny young French guy that seemed to love dubstep so he would have little seizures every now and then that was his way of dancing to the music. Pretty entertaining. After that we hung out really late, even though some of us had 8:30 classes in the morning.

29 January - Tuesday
  Having class at 8:30 sucks, just as much if not more than it does back in the States, especially if it's French 101 and 2 hours long. It's fun learning French but pretty difficult. My house family is teaching me a French tongue twister that has something to do about a grey cat. It's a lot of growling in the back of your throat that I haven't been able to achieve yet. Pretty laughable, for them. I switched out of my second class of the day to one that is tomorrow that is about the French Occupation during WWII that is supposed to be cool and that travels places occasionally and I have a few friends in it so that should be fun. My Political Science class seems like it will be really sweet, it focuses on the EU and the professor sounds really cool. I napped in between classes for the first time in forever, I was just dead tired. On my way to class I grabbed a steak fritas so my stomach didn't eat a hole in itself. When I arrived to class my professor said that France has a very strange idea of sandwiches but that the steak fritas is one of their better interpretation. It's pretty much steak on a long hoagie type bun with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, French fries, and topped with sauce (in this case ketchup). It was cheap and very good.

  For dinner, we had an awesome Asian salmon dish with white rice and cooked vegetables. My host mom made an apple cake which was delicious and I definitely want to try to bake one sometime. Then to top it off I had my first crepe in France, topped with Nutella. Everything was so good, my host mom is a great cook. Sometime I would like to cook with her so I can learn everything to make back in the States! We practiced some more French words and the tongue twister thing and made some progress. I can make the gchrrr sound a little but it dries my throat out super fast and then I lost it. Oh well. I learned how the dogs name is spelled too. Ulmine. Another good day but going to finish it off with friends at the Wohoo bar for flag night where you paint your country's flag on your face to get a free drink or whatever, should be fun!

Monday, January 28, 2013

24-28 January 2013

  So people ask, why France? Do you speak French? And I reply, "hah - none." That sums up my expectations about coming to France, the only thing I was sure of was that it would be a ton of fun and a great experience. What kind of fun and experiences I would have, I had no idea.  Oh, and I am taking classes so I guess there will be some education thrown in as well, to graduate and all. The purpose of this blog is to inform you all, my friends and family, of my adventures in Aix en Provence and the rest of Europe (and so I don't have to send out multiple emails and tell everyone the same stories), and as a running journal for myself to remember all the cool stuff. Pictures included.

24-25 January - Thursday/Friday
  8 hour flight, Denver to London. Should have slept but watched movies instead. Had a ton of leg room since there wasn't a seat in front of me. Nice. Spent all day in the London airport seeing Brad Pitt's face plastered all over on Chanel ads. Handsome, recognizable guy.

  Finally get on the plane to Marseille that night, small plane. Last dude that walks on the plan, none other than Brad Pitt, in the flesh. He sits down right in front of me (no I wasn't in first class, the row behind it)! Me and this French guy that was sitting in the window seat look at each other, nod, and have HOLYCRAPITSBRADPITT on our faces. After the flight he and I got Brad Pitt's autograph (he signed my plane ticket so I will forever know when and where it was, even when I'm old and senile). Super chill guy in person and was reading what appeared to be a movie script or something but I couldn't see what it said. I did spot a landscape picture of camels walking across the desert at sunset or something. After we got his autograph, people around us asked who that was or said that he looked familiar. I laughed.

  The French seatmate and the British guy sitting between us was very helpful, they recommended me taking the bus instead of "getting swindled" by taxi drivers. So it only cost me 25ish euros to get to Aix instead of maybe 60-100.

  I met my host family that night when I arrived at their villa (super hard to find at night since it's down a long spooky driveway between two large apartment buildings). They are really awesome and nice. The Meyers have 3 kids, 2 at home. Manon (girl, 19) is away studying abroad in Sidney. Charles, 14 and is a cool kid, and Ev, 12. I unpacked a little but went to bed almost right away since I was so tired. I didn't sleep at all in the last 24 hours. I had meant to sleep on the last plane but definitely wasn't going to sleep while Brad Pitt was right in front of me.

26 January - Saturday
  Slept in a lot to cure my jetlag. Spent the day unpacking and getting to know the Meyers until it was time to meet the other CEA kids at a cafĂ© in town. I was dropped off a couple hours early so I had plenty of time to explore and see someone get pushed down and his bag taken. I would have tried to stop the thief but he was past me before I saw the guy on the ground and knew what had happened. There is a huge winter sale going on so the streets were packed. They only have 2 sales a year that is government imposed; they aren't allowed to have normal sales throughout the rest of the year.

  The people in the program with me are awesome! We all went out to the bars and clubs that night to check out Aix and celebrate our arrival. The bars here are awesome. Small and crowded but have their charm. Some are traditional pubs but others are hole-in-the-wall places with legit stone cellars in the basement for dancing, music, etc. One club we went to was all in a basement, the doorway led straight downstairs to the cellar(s) where it was divided into different sections. The first had a bar with couches and stuff, down the hall from that was a similar long cellar where a live band was playing, then beyond that was a third cellar that had a live DJ and dancing with a bar at the far end. Super cool.

27 January - Sunday
  Slept in, went for a CEA meeting with everyone at 1130 then went for lunch and a tour of the town. Former CEA students named Dylan and Elizabeth led the tour, who are awesome and hilarious. We hung out after until we met at the school for some meet and greet with the rest of the IAU students. Met some professors, faculty, and students. After we met some new friends we all went out to this Australian bar called Wohoos. Really neat place that again has a sweet cellar basement and has a ton of supposedly fun events. After a couple drinks I went back to the house and had dinner with the family, a really good potato and leek soup with bread and cheeses for dessert. Comte and a goat cheese. Super good!