There hasn’t been much progress on the greves/manifestations front so I’ve given up on the idea thinking I’m actually going to have a typical semester. I can’t wait for the normal Dickinson schedule. Speaking of class schedules, I have to pick classes for next semester online. I will only be taking language classes since I got all those annoying requirements out of the way. Wooo! Anyways I haven’t been to the Mirail in what seems like forever. Our program director has had it up to here (meaning the sky and beyond) with how uncooperative Mirail professors have been in getting back in touch with her. Apparently she is constantly sending them emails but they are too busy protesting in the streets to think about the foreign exchange students who cannot stay past their visa expiration dates. I know I’m not concerned by that but still, nearly all the Dickinson students are. Including the Erasmus students! (Unless they’re from a EU country too)

Last Thursday everybody took the streets once again to protest whatever it is that everybody is so mad about. It’s not only the education reforms that has people upset (I’m still trying to figure out what exactly those reforms entail), it’s a bunch of other stuff but I’m not too sure what all that stuff is. I didn’t bother looking around for the protests because I’m paranoid cops are going to use tear gas on the crowd or some other extreme form to repel the masses. I understand it from the cops’ point of view, they need to keep the mayhem in check. It is true that you should fear the power of stupid people in a large group. Or however that expression goes. However it is unfair to the crowds, especially if there are innocent bystanders just observing the protests and not actually participating. But it is impossible to tell the active participants apart from the bystanders in a crowd. Anyways I contented googling articles about the protests once they were over and depending on who you believe (cops or the syndicates), between 1 million and 3 million Frenchies took to the streets to voice their displeasure (I’m sure Madeleine, the old lady who proclaims the apocalypse is near was out in full force too. I still haven’t seen her yet).

Leaving the strikes behind and all that frustration…. I’m trying to remember where the heck I left off in this blog. Ooooh ok Andorra.

My friend Kathryn and I decided to go to Andorra for an overnight stay March 13th-14th. We left at 10 AM and took a mini bus from the train station which took about 3-4 hours to get to Andorra-la-vella, the capital where we stayed. We left on Friday morning and came back Saturday night around 6 PM so we weren’t there very long. And believe me, it was all the time we needed to explore the capital of Andorra!

I will admit it was pretty much a tourist trap, which I kind of expected. If you don’t go to Andorra to ski or hike, there isn’t much to do, except shop. Which is great because Andorra is a tax-free country so everything is a lot cheaper there. I’m sure Aunt Sharon would greatly appreciate this!

So despite it being a tourist trap, the drive to and from Andorra was absolutely beautiful. Except for our bus driver on the way there who was Spanish and who drove like an absolute maniac around the hairpin turns when we hit the Pyrenees mountains. I seriously got car sick and I NEVER get car sick. Kathryn didn’t fare any better. We were very relieved when we got off at the bus station in Andorra-la-vella! But anyways, we could see the mountains way before we hit them because they stood out on the horizon, a line of snowy jagged peaks. Driving through the mountains absolutely captivated me because I’m not used to jagged peaks on mountains. I’m used to the rounded off Appalachians that disappear into the fog. I can’t begin to imagine what the Alps look like in person. I am making my family return to Andorra so we can go skiing there!

So we got there safe and sound despite our crazy driver. Once there, we realized we didn’t know where the hostel was. The directions provided by hostelworld.com were confusing so I had to walk around and ask a few locals (yes some people actually live year round in Andorra, this boggles my mind because there is NOTHING TO DO unless you are skiing/hiking/shopping the entire time!) where the street our hostel was located on was. And FYI I had to do this all in Spanish because even though Andorra is supposed to have French speaking and Spanish speaking people in it, it seemed the capital was mostly Spanish speaking. Kathryn doesn’t speak any Spanish so I had to do all the talking. Oh and the official language is Catalan, go figure! I found the street without too much trouble and we checked into the hostel. It was ok, we had our own room which was nice and our own twin beds. There was some sort of old not so great smell that pervaded the room and all my clothes reeked of this not so pleasant smell after I left. When I got home, I did laundry as soon as I walked in the door. But anyways!

We then had to figure out what to do… since we had no idea what there was to see or do. It turns out there really isn’t much. It was siesta time (of course, if any Spaniards are in the vicinity you can give up on getting any shopping done between 2 and 5) so the tourist office was closed. We hung around in the questionably smelly room for awhile and then walked over to the tourist office which was open. Again I had to do all the talking in Spanish because the ladies in the office didn’t speak any English which I tried speaking for Kathryn’s benefit. It turns out if we wanted to do hiking, we had to take a bus or walk 3 kilometers to the closest trails. It was too late in the day to go hiking and it turns out a lot of places are inaccessible due to the snow. So we gave up on that idea. We had admired the pretty pictures in the guide book given to us by the receptionist at the hostel but it turns out that was the closest we’d get to Andorran hiking.

We did get a better (yet very misleading) map though while in the tourist office. After trying to visit a closed church, visiting a “park” that was actually just a basic kids’ playground, and admiring the shiny, geometric building where the thermal baths were housed (apparently one of Andorra-la-vella’s main tourist attractions), we decided to walk up the mountain a bit to see if we could get a better view of the capital. We walked along the stream that runs through the town and arrived at a point high enough where we could see the entire little city nestled in the valley shaped by the Pyrenees. Andorra may be a tourist trap, but you cannot discount the views of the majestic mountains and the little towns enclosed in the valleys. There actually wasn’t any snow on the mountains surrounding Andorra-la-vella (henceforth referred to as ALV), we could just barely make some out on a distant peak. Most of the snow surrounded the ski resorts, leading me to believe a lot of it was man-made.

We got some quality mountain scenery shots and headed back into the town where we pretty much walked all the way from one end to the other. We actually got to visit a cute little church to make up for the one that was closed, passed the National Andorran Library, and admired the Andorran Parliament buildings which aren’t very big at all since Andorra is a tiny principality (though bigger than Monaco). I forget who actually runs Andorra, it’s a joint leadership thing that involves the French pres. and some bishop or something. Anyways we found another lookout point and took more pictures of scenery… and cranes. The main road running through ALV is being entirely repaved and there are a lot of cranes dotting the landscape. So there’s a lot of construction going on.

Here’s some history from Wiki:
he site of Andorra la Vella (literally, “Andorra the Old”) has been settled since prior to the Christian era – notably by the Andosin tribe from the late Neolithic. The state is one of the Marca Hispanica created and protected by Charlemagne in the eighth century as a buffer from the Moorish settlers in the Iberian Peninsula [5].

The settlement has been the principal city of Andorra since 1278 when the French and the Episcopal co-princes agreed to joint suzerainty. Andorra La Vella’s old town – the Barri Antic – includes streets and buildings dating from this time. Its most notable building is the Casa de la Vall – constructed in the early sixteenth century – which has been the state’s parliamentary house since 1707. Andorra la Vella was, during this period, the capital of a largely isolated and feudal state, which retained its independence due to this principle of co-sovereignty.[6]

Well into the twentieth century, the area around Andorra La Vella remained largely forgotten; indeed the state was not part of the Treaty of Versailles, simply because it was not noticed. After political turmoil in the 1930s and an attempted coup by King Boris I, an informal democracy developed.

In 1993, the country’s first constitution formalised this parliamentary democracy with executive, legislative, and judicial branches located in Andorra la Vella.

During this period, Andorra also developed as a tax haven, resulting in the construction of modern banking offices in Andorra La Vella. The city also developed its skiing facilities, to the extent that Andorra la Vella was Andorra’s applicant city for the XXI Olympic Winter Games, the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, Andorra la Vella was not selected by the IOC as a candidate city, following the evaluation report of an IOC commission. It also hosted both the 1991 and 2005 Games of the Small States of Europe.

Actually the Winter Olympics could totally take place there! God knows there are enough ski resorts!

After resting at some playground hang out place, we walked back in the direction of our hostel, ate at a nearby restaurant, and then went to bed. Or tried to… there was a raucous group of guys staying on our floor who didn’t quiet down until after midnight. So it was awhile before we fell asleep.

The next day (after waking up with my back killing me because the mattress was sooo uncomfortable, the springs poked into my back all night) we tried to find the perfume museum. It was marked down on our misleading map and we must have walked past the place at least 6 times before we finally found it. It was not well marked AT ALL in the streets. The museum was actually in this mall like building on the second floor. You really had to know a museum was there in order to visit it! And of course, when we got there, the museum was closed which became the theme of our trip. And why was it closed? According to the sign left on the museum door, that Saturday just happened to be a national holiday in Andorra-the anniversary of the signing of their Constitution or something. No wonder all the cops were dressed up in their finest uniforms and there were so many Andorran flags adorning every building on the main street! I guess there was supposed to be a parade later but we didn’t get to see it.

It would have been cool to visit the perfume museum only because the lady who founded it also started her own chain of perfume stores in ALV, Julia Perfumeria. There was one at every block, no joke! Just a lot of perfume stores in general… Long live no taxes.

So because we had free time to kill, we went shopping at Zara and Mango, two of the most famous Spanish clothes chain. After buying some clothes, we headed to another “park”-I’m not too sure I agree with the Andorran definition of a park but anywho. We sat around and people watched, went to McDonald’s for lunch, and then it was finally time to leave on our mini bus. The drive back was a lot smoother and I did not get car sick, thank god!

And yeah… it seems like we didn’t do much in Andorra… and I guess we didn’t. At least I can say I’ve been to Andorra now. And we also had terrific weather, for a country that has snow on the mountains, I walked around most of the time holding my heavy, puffy winter jacket.

And as for last week… I went out to eat at a creperie one night. I went to my internship which is going very well. I ended up going to see a play by Kafka called “Le Proces” (The Trial), one of my host mother’s customers gave her free tickets. It was a very modern interpretation of the play, I liked it though it was really weird. I’d never read the play before but I understood all of it. The actors were decent and the staging or whatever you call it was well done. It’s not an upbeat play though, it’s actually pretty dark and somber and does not have a happy endng. How French. We actually saw the play at the same theater we saw the Bruno Ruiz concert. It was nice to spend time with my host mother outside of the apartment, even though I don’t feel as close to her as I did to Paqui. It was nice of her to invite me though since I wasn’t expecting to go to a play in the middle of the week!

I also got stared at by homeless guys…. which might not seem like such a big deal but hang on, there’s more to the story. It’s actually not that earth-shattering but it’s still very bizarre. So some afternoon last week, I was sitting in the Grand Rond Park near my apartment doing some work on a bench since it was so nice out. Oh yeah, the weather has been GORGEOUS the past week, blue skies every day, temperatures in the 60s… just amazing. Anyways I’m minding my own business on the bench when some older guy walks by wearing navy sweatpants and a red sweatshirt. I didn’t pay him too much attention but then he walked back towards me and asked me if he could sit on the bench next to me. Being a nice person, I was all “Sure if you’d like to!” So he then sat down next to me. And proceeded to stare. As in stare in my direction, his eyes not leaving my face for a second. I also think he was trying to read what I was writing which made me really uncomfortable. My backpack was the only thing separating us on the bench so his close proximity totally freaked me out. After 5 minutes of trying to ignore him, I gave up and gathered up my belongings to head to another park to continue my work. I politely said “Au revoir” to which he responded before turning around to leave the park. Once I was past the gates, I turned around to see if he was still there… and no, the guy had disappeared. He got up as soon as I left and so then I got all paranoid he was following me. But he didn’t turn up again and I was able to finish my work on another bench in another park in peace.

And then two days later, walking back from my internship, I saw him AGAIN as I was about to cross the street into Grand Rond Park to get home. He was waiting on the other side waiting for the light to change. Oh how awkward if we were to cross paths again… I immediately hightailed it home in another direction and managed to avoid him altogether. And lo and behold, I spotted him for the 3rd time today walking back from my internship. I crossed the street to walk on the other side but he turned into the entrance of some building before he reached me. He might not be homeless, I think he lives in the area… but he has worn the same outfit each time I’ve see him so I think something is not right in the head. Especially after all that staring business.

This past weekend I was in Bordeaux/Merignac visiting my aunt and uncle. It was a relaxing weekend that involved shopping in downtown Bordeaux at H&M with my aunt who despaired of my lack of taste in clothing. Like I didn’t know that already. However I refused to pick up a Scottish top, aka plaid shirts in French. Sorry, those make me think of farms… I didn’t see much of my uncle because he was busy working the entire time but they did take me out to a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. I also got to see Lucille, a girl who babysat my sister and me for 2 summers what seems like ages ago. She is getting married now so congrats to her! I also saw all the pictures of Tatie and Tonton’s trip to Thailand and Laos and I’ve decided to add those countries to my list of places I want to visit. The pictures were really unbelievable.

I’m actually going to Bordeaux with Dickinson next weekend which is partly why I went this weekend to see my family. I won’t have time to see them this upcoming weekend since Dson has us visiting all these places and doing all these things so it was just easier this way. Hopefully I won’t have to sit again in the part of the train reserved for the passengers who don’t have reserved seats and be forced to watch poser emo/punk Parisian guys listen to their Ipods at full blast. I like electronic/techno dance music (or house music whatever the hell it’s called) but not for 2 hours in a row. The guy also totally jammed to his music for 2 hours straight, alternating between swaying his hips or bopping his head. I seriously wanted to strangle him with his own earphones.

And then in 2 weeks I’m off for my 16 day traveling extravaganza which includes Rome, Berlin, Athens, and random parts of Scotland. I think I’m going to keep a log for that because there is no way I am going to come back and be able to blog about everything I did for 2 weeks straight!

Any other news? I continue to have private lessons with my lit. professor from the Mirail at the Dickinson Center. He is really nice and sympathetic to our plight but at the same time against the reforms. He is good friends with our program director and actually taught at Dickinson awhile back or something so he is willing to come to the center to teach. I really like him, he is such a nice guy.

I don’t know if I ever mentioned I visited the Asian art museum across from the Dson Center with my China/France class? Well I did that awhile ago… it’s got a collection of random Asian art from different countries and there’s also a mummy which surprised me. Here I was, not knowing there was a mummy resting about 100 feet away in the museum across the street.

It’s also my birthday in 2 days… I’m not too sure what I’m doing for it, I’m a little sad none of my really close friends are her to celebrate it with me but it’s not the end of the world either, I guess.

Last thing I need to vent about… I hope I come back to France one day and get to study at a university or do grad. school or whatever in a setting that forces me to speak French all the time. Being surrounded by Americans all the time is frustrating since I’m obviously only going to speak English to them. I feel like my French hasn’t improved at all, more like it’s stayed the same. And before you all tell me I already speak the language fluently… there is always room for improvement. I was talking to an ex-intern at the museum today and she noticed I had a “slight accent” which is something I’ve heard before. I won’t pretend that doesn’t annoy me, even if it might be true. I know this “slight accent” goes away if I speak enough French for an extended amount of time… but I feel like that hasn’t happened here in Toulouse. And I need to speak English to the Americans otherwise I’ll alienate myself from the group.

Oh well, at least I can definitely say my Spanish improved, even though it was the same problem back there with the English speaking Americans. I think I am making Kim go to the Spanish table with me next year so I can keep up with it. I know she was frustrated by the lack of speaking Spanish amongst ourselves… but well that was to be expected. Even if we did sign that silly contract to only speak in Spanish all the time.

Well I will be on vacation until June 7th. Until the next update!

Amelie