Before I start, this will be my last post for awhile. On Thursday, I’m leaving for my 16 day traveling extravaganza. I will be going to Rome, Berlin, Athens, and Scotland (in that order) and of course I will take plenty of pictures and upload them to Facebook. I am very excited because the only countries I’ve visited extensively in Europe are France (duh) and Spain. I’ve also been to Dublin but I wouldn’t mind going back because it’s been several years and I have a foggy memory of what I did and saw since I didn’t have a digital camera back then. And a lot of my pictures got ruined somehow.

Anywho, my birthday was last week (March 26th)! To be honest, I didn’t do much the day of my birthday. I slept in, did some shopping for myself at Zara’s, and then my host mother bought a cake to celebrate for the occasion. She also gave me a bouquet of daisies and some Lancome perfume which was really nice of her since she wasn’t obligated to do any of that. I had had wondered how I was going to tell her it was my birthday because I didn’t want to make her feel like she had to do anything. However I would have felt bad if she had somehow found out it was my birthday after the fact. So anyways crisis averted. And none of that 21 for 21 American tradition in which you take out the birthday girl/boy barhopping with the goal of reaching 21 drinks, a night that usually ends up in the birthday person blacking out, throwing up, or in the most extreme cases even in the hospital…

Instead, last Friday night, a day after my birthday, I and 5 other girls went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant called La Paix d’Asie. I had actually been there before but I didn’t really remember until I actually got there. Kathryn was the one who made the suggestion to eat there and I kept thinking the name of the restaurant sounded familiar. Well it turned out it was! Everybody really liked the restaurant it seems which made me happy. There were actually 3 March babies at the table, seems like it’s a popular month to give birth in. We didn’t go out too any bars afterwards though because we had to be at the train station bright and early in order to leave for Bordeaux. Besides the perfume my host mother bought me (and the flowers), Vania also gave me 4 kinder surprise chocolate eggs. Her birthday is the day before mine and she had received a giant Kinder chocolate egg for her birthday. I jokingly told her I’d help her eat it and I guess she could tell how much I envied her and her chocolate egg. So she gave me some of my own to savor which was really nice of her. Thanks Vania! I’ve already eaten all of them. What a surprise…! I get to keep the little surprises I found within the eggs which consist of 2 foxes, a hedgehog, and a little guy on a skateboard.

I really appreciated the girls who did come to the dinner, it meant a lot to me. However I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed with my 21st birthday, maybe because I had none of my close friends to celebrate with. I’ve gotten used to celebrating my birthday without my family these past 2 years at Dickinson. However in the setting I am in, I am forced to celebrate with people I’m not very close with. Not to say the people in the program aren’t friendly, for the most part they are. But I doubt I will hang out a lot with any of them once I return to Dickinson. I could be totally wrong about that though, never say never I guess. Once I go back to the US, I’m going to a bar to celebrate the fact I’m legal! Seriously, can’t they just lower the drinking age? This 21 stuff is just a tad ridiculous.

On Saturday morning, we all met at the train station at 7:30 PM for our weekend trip to Bordeaux. After a 2 hour train ride, we got to the hotel, put our stuff down, and had free time until 1:50. So we had time to walk around and grab a bite to eat before our walking tour of the old part of the city center.

Kathryn, Emma, and I shared a room this trip and we all decided to wander around a little before getting some lunch. So we went to the “quais” that had been built along the Garonne (yes it also runs through Bordeaux as well as Toulouse) to see some sights. Emma actually spent her senior year in Bordeaux in high school so she led the way around. There are all these beautifully landscaped plots of flowers that run along the river so it is a very scenic walk for strollers and joggers alike. They also installed this shallow reflection pool that fills up and empties the water every 20 minutes or so. When it is filled up to the brim, it reflects all of Place de la Bourse and the Parliament looking building across the street. I’m not too sure what that building is actually, according to the walking tour guide the building is empty except for the American Consulate.

In Bordeaux, the Garonne is wider and deeper and a lot muddier since it is closer to the mouth of the river in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s still several kilometers away but the water running through Bordeaux is saltwater. And since it is saltwater, the river rises and falls with the tides though it takes several hours. When the tide changes, so does the direction of the current. I saw the river at what I assume was low tide. Across the river is the more industrial part of Bordeaux so there isn’t much to see there.

After seeing Place de la Bourse and Place des Quinconces that has an impressive looking monument and fountain (and where the carnival sets up shop twice a year), we meandered to Rue Ste. Catherine, Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street. I actually went there the previous weekend with my aunt at H&M. The street is lined with stores with a bunch of side streets that branch out into other squares with restaurants and cafes. We took a side street down and found a square with a bunch of restaurants and ate in one of them. Once we were done, we headed towards the Tourism Office to meet up with the rest of the group for our walking tour. We also saw some strike going on… of course.

Our tour guide actually took us back to the Garonne and the reflection pool but he also took us down many little streets, pointing out the decorative architecture on the buildings’ facades. We visited the Basilica St-Seurin. It was an interesting tour and made me realize how much smaller Bordeaux’s city center is compared to Toulouse’s. We learned a little bit of Bordeaux’s history with the wine industry, it is a tradition that goes back several hundred years. After the walking tour, we were taken to a wine store where “degustations” (wine tastings) take place. In a spacious room dotted with benches, chairs, and tables, we all sat down as we were served wine. We were served one glass of white wine and one glass of red wine respectively. The guy working there presented us the wine explaining the year it was produced and all these other wine technicalities I don’t understand. I don’t remember the names either because the guy had a weird accent and I really didn’t understand him. I liked the white wine a lot better, the red wine tasted very smoky.

After the degustation, we were free until dinner time. Kathryn and I headed to the Musee d’Arts Decoratifs (which was free) which basically had a collection of different portraits and little personal objects from the last couple of centuries. Like little jewelry boxes or what have you, plates, cups, mugs, some jewelry, and other more important objects like chandeliers, tables, chairs, and rooms set up to look like the set of a Jane Austen movie. Then as we climbed the stairs to the other floors, the objects became more contemporary. Up until we hit the very last room which was some room designed to look like it dated from the 70s complete with a chest of drawers entirely covered in shag carpet. It looked like some kind of hairy animal that belonged in Where The Wild Things Are? and I did not know it was a chest of drawers until Kathryn pointed it out. I think Mom would have enjoyed the large collection of faience plates housed in the museum that were made in several regions throughout France. Ever since I can remember, she has been obsessed with them and likes to decorate the walls of our house with them instead of letting us eat off of them. For the longest time she forced us to use those awful heavy white plates, torturing the family and the dishwasher which could not accommodate these plates, they were so big. We could have used the light, pretty faience plates instead!

After the Art Deco museum, we hit up the St-Andre cathedral, which I think is the biggest church/cathedral in Bordeaux. It is beautiful and imposing inside and outside and well… I don’t know what else to say, it is a cathedral and there are many throughout France. As usual, I still cannot figure out how to take non blurry pictures inside a cathedral because the lighting is not the greatest.

After the cathedral, we wanted to walk over to the public gardens but Kathryn had to use the restrooms. We were near the hotel so we decided to stop at our room. Once up there, I totally crashed onto the bed and could not motivate myself to go back out. Neither could Kathryn. We ended up watching some intense “Mot de Passe” game show (Password in English, according to Kathryn this game show aired in the US for a long time) and my cousin/godfather ended up calling me to wish me a happy birthday. I then told him I was in his hometown of Bordeaux hehe (he lives in Paris now).

Afterwards, we walked off to the restaurant where our whole group was supposed to eat since Dickinson was paying for the meal. I can’t remember the name of it, it’s off Rue St. Catherine though. I didn’t like the appetizer (magret de canard), it was just bland and not appetizing. Or should I call it the entree? Entree is actually appetizer in French and not main course which is very confusing for Americans! However the chicken and mashed potatoes that were the main course were delicious as were the slice of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream that ended up being the dessert. It was all very good, yet very rich. And we all drank A LOT of wine. My cheeks were bright red after the meal hahaha. And no, I wasn’t drunk or the slightest bit tipsy. All the food I ate absorbed all that alcohol, though some people pregamed the meal and arrived at the restaurant already tipsy. However I may have drunk a little too much… because I felt overstuffed and just very sick feeling after the meal and not at all in a mood to go out. I followed the rest of the group back to the hotel while Kathryn, Emma, Vania, and others went to Place de la Victoire all the way at the end of Rue St. Catherine, where all the bars are in Bordeaux (aka the equivalence of the orgy like Place St. Pierre in Toulouse that is always crowded with young people on weekends)

I finally got to watch the first movie of Asterix et Obelix and I drifted off to sleep though I woke up as each of my roommates entered the room at different times. We also lost an hour of sleep and now France is 6 hours ahead of the East Coast of the US. Yeah I don’t know why it took us a full 2 weeks to end Daylight Savings Times after the US but I guess it’s all due to the geographic location of a country.

Emma and I got up the next morning and went to breakfast. We then dropped our bags off at reception and visited the jardin public near the hotel which was very beautiful as are all jardin publics in France. Lots of green lawns, a man-made pond/stream with mallard ducks, swans, and Canadian geese. I still don’t know what a Canadian goose was doing in a French public park but I guess they were imported a few centuries ago? I absolutely hate Canadian geese but there were only a couple in the park and none of them were honking obnoxiously so it was all good!

Kathryn then joined us to walk up la Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower next to the St-Andre cathedral that had been closed when Kathryn and I had visited the cathedral the previous day. I have discovered since being in Europe that I do not like narrow spiral staircases. Going up isn’t too bad, yes it’s a bitch on the legs but I’m fine with that. We got to the first lookout level (the tower has several levels but not all of them are open to the public) where you could see a fantastic view of all of Bordeaux along with the Garonne and the opposite bank. You could also look down and see the bell in the tower through the clear glass in the center of the raised platform in the lookout. I’m not sure it actually rings… there is a whole story behind the tower but I’m not too sure what it is. Then we walked up to the 2nd lookout level which had a ridiculously low and narrow doorway that I had to squeeze through. After admiring the view, we walked back down and this part was not fun. When I walk down narrow spiral stairs, I get dizzy with the turn and I have the sensation I’m going to trip and fall down. Something about not knowing when I’ll get to the end of the stairway gets me anxious. Not a pleasant feeling all around but we made it to the bottom.

After eating some lunch in the same square we had eaten lunch the previous day (only in a different restaurant) we met up with the group at the Musee d’Aquitaine for a scheduled tour. This museum was a lot like a natural history museum since it covered Bordeaux’s history from prehistoric times, going through Roman times, and going up to a few centuries ago. There were a lot of arrowheads, primitive tools, and pots on display along with a lot of Roman graves and sculptures. There was also a reproduction of part of the Lascaux caves. We got to see a reproduction of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s grave and the original (at least I think) Michel de Montaigne’s grave, a French philosopher. The museum used to be a university and back in the day, students would rub the feet of Montaigne’s tomb for good luck on tests and exams, hoping he would help enlighten them or something. So we all got to rub his feet. I really liked the museum though I think some people thought it was boring. I liked the guide, she was very knowledgeable and seemed very friendly. My favorite part was the huge “rosace” like outline of a window that used to be in a convent that was found within the walls of some religious kind of building, I can’t remember what.

After the museum, we only had time to get back to the hotel, grab our stuff, and then take the tram back to the train station. Oh yeah, Bordeaux doesn’t have any metros. Instead it has a bunch of above ground trams. According to Emma, the ground beneath Bordeaux isn’t very stable so building an underground subway system wouldn’t be very safe. This makes sense to me!

At the station, I bought a canele, a Bordeaux pastry that is a specialty of the region. It’s basically a chewy lump of dough… Hmm hang on Wikipedia to the rescue!:
A canelé is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. The dessert, which is in the shape of small, striated cylinder approximately two inches in height, is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France but can often be found in Parisian patisseries as well. Made from egg, milk and flour flavored with rum and vanilla, the custard batter is baked in a mold, giving the canelé a caramelized crust and custard-like inside.

I liked it but a lot of the Dson people were all “It’s a weird taste, I don’t like it.” I got kind of annoyed with them because honestly there is a lot of French food that I like that they consider weird and offputting. But whatever, vive la difference.

And then we took the train back to Toulouse and woot, that was Bordeaux. I really like Bordeaux as a city and I wouldn’t have minded studying abroad there too. Emma kept describing Bordeaux as the southwest version of Paris and I suppose she has more insight since she studied abroad in high school for a year. According to her it rains a lot and the people are stand offish and cold. I didn’t get that feeling at all while I was there but who knows. It’s definitely true that Bordeaux has a different feel to it and the buildings are drastically different from Toulouse, none of the cheery pink bricks dotting the streets. But I really liked the city and I think my cousin Damien (who is still in Malaga) will have a lot of fun there next year when he continues his studies.

Here is some general info on Bordeaux:
Bordeaux (help·info) (Gascon: Bordèu) is a port city on the Garonne River in southwest France, with one million inhabitants in its metropolitan area at a 2008 estimate. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture of the Gironde department. Its inhabitants are called Bordelais. The Bordeaux-ArcachonLibourne metropolitan area, with a population of 1,010,000, is the seventh largest metropolitan area in France. The city is among the world’s major wine industry centres. Bordeaux wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century.
Between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago the area of Bordeaux was inhabited by the Neanderthal Man , whose remains have been found at a famous cave known as Pair-non-Pair, near Bourg sur Gironde, just north of Bordeaux.In historical times, around 300 BC it was the settlement of a Celtic tribe, the Bituriges Vivisci, who named the town Burdigala, probably of Aquitainian origin.

From the 12th to the 15th century, Bordeaux regained importance following the marriage of Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine with the French-speaking Count Henri Plantagenet, born in Le Mans, who became, within months of their wedding, King Henry II of England. The city flourished, primarily due to wine trade, and the cathedral of St. André was built. It was also the capital of an independent state under Edward, the Black Prince (1362-1372), but in the end, after the Battle of Castillon (1453) it was annexed by France which extended its territory. The Château Trompette (Trumpet Castle) and the Fort du Hâ, built by Charles VII of France, were the symbols of the new domination, which however deprived the city of its richness by halting the wine commerce with England. In 1462 Bordeaux obtained a parliament, but regained importance only in the 16th century when it became the center of the distribution of sugar and slaves from the West Indies along with the traditional wine.

The 18th century was the golden age of Bordeaux. Many downtown buildings (about 5,000), including those on the quays, are from this period.

For more information, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux.
There are some links to other sights I mentioned above. I was a little disappointed the trip wasn’t more wine focused since I hardly know anything about wine. But that’s ok, I actually got to visit the city for a change and remembered it. Before when I would go to Merignac and maybe venture to Bordeaux once in awhile with my aunt and uncle, I never remembered where we went.

I forgot to mention I briefly entered the Deportation/Resistance Museum in Bordeaux! We were looking for a bathroom and the museum was free so we reasoned we could find one in there. However it was near closing time and the upper levels were closed off so we just wandered around the main level for a few minutes. It’s actually called the Centre Jean Moulin and I would have liked to stay longer to compare it to the museum I’m interning at here in Toulouse. From the little I saw, I was very impressed by the museum’s collection. Since it is free (I love love love this about France) next time I go to Bordeaux I may check it out in further detail.

Anyways that’s it for now. I’ll be traveling for the next few weeks so it’ll be awhile before I post another entry.

I wanted to extend my congratulations to my Uncle Mike and new Aunt Jeanne (woohoo more Frenchies in the American family) who got married this past weekend. I’ve seen the pictures my cousins have posted on Facebook, looks like everyone had fun. I’m sorry I could not be there to participate in the festivities but for obvious reasons, I couldn’t make it. So I still have not been to a wedding… here’s hoping Sebastien and Joelle will do it in the next couple of years! But first we must wait for the bambino.

Oh yeah, Mirail is still greving… And nothing will get done over the spring break because everybody will be on vacation most likely. Yeah, I know.

Alright well I need to go and prepare for my travels. I lead such a hard life!

Amelie