Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Au revoir USA...

Bonjour France :)

Phew! I made it!! The past 28 or so hours have been a little intense. Let me recap:


12:00am - Turn 21! This was really tough ;)

1:00pm - Farewell lunch where I ordered my first drink! A cosmo, naturally :)

2:30pm – to Dulles airport. When I got in to the front of the check-in line, I weighed my bag and realized it was 51.5 pounds. The scale was right next to a large sign, which read: $50 for bags over 50 pounds. Yikes! Some quick re-arranging evened things out a bit, although I did end up having to carry-on more than I planed. Oh well. In the end, my two suitcases were 47 and 44 pounds. I swear I didn’t overpack! I really really tried to limit myself. I only brought one purse!!! Although, I guess I could’ve left a couple of the 8 pairs of shoes behind… and mom did say that 18 pairs of underwear was a bit excessive… or maybe over 2 liters of hair products was a little over the top? What can I say? I’m obviously going to have to hold a small garage sale (do they even do those in France – let alone in the middle of a bustling metropolis?!) so that I can make room for all of my new acquisitions!

3:00pm – finally got my boarding pass, dragged my 100 pounds of luggage over to security and headed for the currency exchange. I decided on 280 euros – well, actually I asked for 250, but the lady somehow convinced me to get 280 instead. Something about waived fees… Anyways, 280 euros cost me about $409. That’s a lot of money! A lot of my money – not even from mom and dad! I’m so nervous carrying it around. I suspect everyone around me of eyeing my bag (especially ‘cause it’s a long-johns ;) ) and I try to think as a pickpocket would. I saw one man counting his dough on the tram and then he just shoved it into his pocket. I hoped any pickpocketers would have noticed that as an easy target and would leave me alone!

3:30pm – I made it through security without a problem. Although, dad did get yelled at for trying to take pictures of me while I walked through. Apparently that’s not allowed? I said goodbye to mom and dad and headed for the terminal on my own. I stopped by starbucks and paid an exorbitant amount of money for a bottle of water and got change for a USA Today. I sat and read the paper and did the crossword… secretly watching the people around me and trying to figure out what they were doing on a flight to Paris. I also spent quite some time trying to decipher the French conversation going on behind me. I made out about one in every ten words. My nervousness has now skyrocketed – I have a lot of brushing up to do! I realized that maybe I should be spending my reading my French dictionary instead of blogging. Nah :)

4:30pm – I passed the time by people watching… The girl next to me was going to Paris to study abroad. She talked to her boyfriend at least twice. And just about every other person in her phonebook too! I also tried to figure out which people were American and which were European. Kind of a fun game :)

4:45pm – I watched two little birdies eat some tortilla chips right by my gate – I can’t figure out how they got inside!!

5:00pm – Boarded the plane – a 767. HUGE! Seriously – like they have in the movies – economy class seats are grouped 2 – 5 – 2. SO many people in such a cramped space. I had an inner seat in the middle section. Quite possibly the most uncomfortable 6 hours of my life. The first class is incredible – the seats turn into beds at the touch of a button. Someday I want to try that out. Besides the cramped-ness, the flight was fine. The food was decent – good, even. Oh, and I ordered a screwdriver. I practically shoved my id in the flight attendant’s face, but even then he wouldn’t even look at it! I tried to fall asleep the entire time… and never succeeded. Oh well… sleep is overrated?


7:00am (Paris time, now) – Arrival went smoothly. I actually even stuck up a conversation with the couple beside me – they were going to Paris to visit their daughter. And then, at the last second, just before we de-boarded, the girl on the other side of me asks, “Are you going to IES?” And I say yes. And we both laugh – ‘cause we had been sitting next to each other the entire flight and never said a word. And now it was time to get off!

7:30am – Immigration. Basically a big, unorganized line. You show your passport. And they stamp it. That’s it!

8:00am – Customs. Aka, a hallway. They didn’t check anything. Didn’t require any forms. Didn’t look at my passport. Didn’t look in my bags. At first I thought I must’ve just sneaked out!! But, someone else confirmed that I had left the right way. I’m not sure what that was all about… and why everyone told me I should plan on 2 hours… but I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait forever!

8:30am – I got lost in CDG. I got on the wrong bus. And had 3 very confusing conversations with Parisians in French. I got 3 different answers (as far as I could understand!) and I finally ended up on what seemed to be the right bus. I found the first friendly face and hoped for the best. She was French, but coming back from visiting friends in the US. Perfect! At this point I gave up on finding my way in French… I just wanted to get there! She was quite friendly – filled me in on the ins and outs of CDG airport and chatted about studying abroad in general. Her advice: don’t stick with the other Americans ‘cause you’ll never really experience France nor will you pick up the language as well. I just hope I’ll be brave enough to heed it!
9:00am – I finally found the train station, thanks to ma nouvelle amie francaise. I parked myself in the “salle d’attente” to wait for the train to arrive. Meanwhile, my friend Maddie (a fellow Cornellian) met up with me. A French boy, sitting across from me, struck up a conversation with me. He was friendly, although I have a feeling we didn’t communicate very well. For the majority of the conversation he thought I was traveling to Limognes, which I then interpreted as London, and from there it just got more muddled… but it was still nice to chat a bit with someone!

10:45am – The train ran a little late, about 20 minutes. By the time I finally got my luggage settled and found my seat, I absolutely crashed. I was disappointed in myself, because this was my first opportunity to actually see France (other than the airport!) but I was just way too exhausted to sit and look out the window. As soon as the train started to move, I was sound asleep.

1:45PM - The trip went by quickly. When we pulled into the station, there were a group of “IES-ers” already gathered. We were then guided to the taxi line. Taxis in France are quite different. They’re really nice – we saw 2 bmws! – and they look just like regular cars you’d see on the road, except they have little taxi lights on the top. No yellow cabs in France! What we couldn’t figure out is how come someone who can afford a BMW would be driving a taxi? Anyways, another girl and I took a cab to the IES center where we then attempted to get our luggage to the 4th floor using a teeny-tiny elevator. By that I mean, big enough for two small people – it barely fit me and my 100+ pounds of luggage! At this point they gave us a brief tour of the IES center – it’s two floors and very quaint. There’s several classrooms, a library, a kitchen, a tv room, a computer room, and a few study rooms. There’s also a very very teeny bathroom. And apparently nobody in France uses paper towels. Just dryers. I HATE dryers. I mean, I know they save the environment. So, in that respect, good for France. But they also don’t work! I can honestly say that I’ve never once used a hand dryer and actually ended up with dry hands! Just wet jeans :/

2:30pm – At this point, those of us who had arrived at IES, about 10 of us I’d guess, were absolutely wiped. We all crashed in one of the classrooms, luggage surrounding us, and all whipped out our laptops. It was quite a site, I’ll tell you. There’s wifi at the IES center so all of us were contentedly emailing and facebooking. Apparantly, you can take the girl out of America… but you can’t take the America out of the girl :)

3:30pm – We were all famished, so we ventured out into the city. It was hard to take it all in – so much to see! I’m looking forward to the day when I know Nantes intimately, I really am. We saw La Cigale (the famous cafĂ©) and a demonstration about homelessness (they had tents set up all over). We were looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat, and this one shop stood out to us. We walked in (11 of us at this point) and asked for a table. There was no one there, which I found a bit weird. And as the gentleman was seating us, I looked around in search of menus, a kitchen, silverware, napkins – any sign of food! We finally asked le garcon if they served food and he gave us a very confused look… turns out it was just a bar with lots of tables that looked like a restaurant! We felt pretty ridiculous when we had to turn around and walk out… all 11 of us. In fact, we felt ridiculous the entire afternoon – a gaggle of American girls, utterly clueless, traipsing about the city. Anyways, we finally found a little sandwich stand – I ate a baguette with mozzarella and ham and tomato and hard-boiled egg. Yum J Oh, and we also walked down the main shopping avenue – AMAZING! Every single store had some sort of sign saying “SOLDES”, which in French means “sales”. They started today and I’m told they’ll last several weeks. Everything is 30, 40, or even 50 percent off. It’s a bargain shopper’s dream!

4:30pm – We returned to the IES center very full and even more tired then when we left. Back to the laptops while we waited for everyone else to arrive.

5:30pm – The families started arriving and as every minute passed the number of students left at the IES decreased more and more. By about 6:30, I was still waiting there. We all had butterflies in our stomachs… wondering with each host mom that walked through the door if she was there for us. It was nervewracking!

6:45pm – My host mom arrived – Madame Bodet. I was SO nervous. On top of which I had my 100+ pounds of luggage to drag behind me. When I walked up to her she kissed me on both cheeks. And then we left! We took her car the 1km or so to her apartment and chatted the whole way – in French of course! She speaks very little English… so if I couldn’t come up with the words in French, there was nothing to fall back on! But, we seemed to communicate fairly well. She praised my speaking skills too, which of course made me more confident to speak even more.

7:00pm – I finally arrived at my new home. I met the rest of the family, well except for Monsieur Bodet who is in Paris for work. There are three kids – boy (16), girl (18), boy (20). They SO remind me of my own family. It’s actually creepy. Always laughing and joking and having fun with each other. I spent the first hour or so in my room unpacking and arranging my things. It’s a very cute room - and more spacious then I ever would’ve imagined!

8:00pm – My first family dinner :) We sat at the dining room table and dug in – noodles with cheese and ham, baguette, and salad (with some greenery I’d never seen before – a cross between clovers and spinach?). It was all very delicious!! We chatted while we ate and I did my best to understand their banter. I didn’t catch everything, although Madame Bodet was good about filling me in when she knew I wasn’t following. After the main course (if you will), we had cheese and fruit. Dessert, I guess? Either way, it was delicious and healthy and just what I wanted after so much airplane food!

9:00pm – I finished straightening up my room and got ready for bed… which is where I am now as I type this blog. Snuggled under my down comforter and ready to crash.

I’ve been up since 7:30am on Tuesday. It’s currently 10:06pm on Wednesday.

Goodnight, Nantes :)

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