“J’aime des oliviers,” she says, closing her eyes. “I like their form and their smell. They’re very beautiful.” I’d never heard anyone talk so lovingly about olive trees until I met our host mother, Dominique, in Nice. I think I learned a lot about the French culture through my time spent with her.
The minute we got off of the train from Paris, the heat hit us. Dominique was waiting with the other host moms outside of the station. She greeted my roommate Claudia and I with a toothy grin. Everything about her is petite: she’s short in stature with short, black hair and small feet—but that didn’t stop her from out walking us.
Our first dinner with Dominique taught me that the French don’t like—they love. She does not speak half-heartedly about anything. Every night we have dinner on her balcony and on that first night, the heat during the day had wringed us of any water that was in our bodies. So, when the sea breeze picked up as we ate our anchovy and fennel salad, Dominique closed her eyes, spread her arms out and said, “Ohhhh il fait beau ce soir.” When she expresses her love for anything it either involves a heartfelt sigh, her closing her eyes, or a wide smile.
“My favourite part about the sea is the sounds of the waves,” she said one night while we were having a picnic on a beach on the port side of Nice. She closed her eyes as she listened to the waves rain against the rocks as the sun set in the distance.
I also learned how important wine really is to the French. Dominique doesn’t drink wine every night. She’s 60 years old and tells us how she tries to stay healthy, but for special occasions like when her daughter and friend visited, she whipped out a smooth bottle of Muscat.
“À la votre santé,” she’d say, or “To your health.”
One dinner when we were clinking glasses, I went for her friend Daniel’s glass first. Then Claudia, who was sitting across from Daniel, went to cheers him after me and I proceeded to go under their arms to cheers Dominique.
Dominique’s eyes went wide and Daniel gasped. “Don’t cross the street!” They both yelled in unison. “That is very bad luck,” Dominique explained.
I laughed sheepishly and tried again, keeping my eye on the glasses this time.
“Maintain eye contact!” Daniel exclaimed. I was not aware of all the rules that went with drinking wine and I felt kind of silly, but thankfully my third try went smoothly.
Dominique really values her wine, but more importantly the quality of life Nice gives her. One evening, while we were having dinner, she told Claudia and I about how she didn’t work while her children were growing up. She put her heart and soul into making sure they’d be able to accomplish their dreams and they did. She raised four artists—two ballet dancers, one violinist, one pianist and I’m pretty sure all of them can sing too.
After her children flew the coop she moved from Toulouse to Nice. Nice is a wonderful city, but Dominique says living there is expensive. That’s why she took up a job with the education ministry. She says it’s hard to make money, but with the sea just a short walk or tram ride away and sunny weather year round, it’s all worth it.
The last thing I learned about the French culture through Dominique is their openness and endless curiosity. Claudia is from Peru and every dinner she’d tell Dominique and I about all of the interesting things her country had to offer: the food, Machu Picchu, the nature ... the food. Dominique’s eyes would light up and she’d lean in asking Claudia more and more questions (mostly about the food). She told us her dream is to run around the world. The places high on her list are Iceland and most of South America.
This definitely isn't reflective of all of France and its people, but it’s the aspect of France I’ve experienced and learned about the most.
It was lovely being a part of Dominique’s France.
The view from Dominique's balcony at night.
I’m laying in my bunk in a room with 11 other people. It’s about 30C and sweat is accumulating on my forehead. I think I’m the only one left that’s wide-awake, but I’m still buzzing from the events from earlier.
This morning, one of our professors told us to stop thinking so much and to just be sponges and make our senses alive to what Paris has to offer. So, we did the normal touristy things during the day, but it was at night when I learned to truly just go with the flow of the city.
Paris does not sleep at night. After a hardy pasta dinner my friends Veronica, Madonna and I decided to walk around the canal that’s right next to the hostel. All along the promenade crowds of chatty Parisians sat with picnic blankets, baskets of food, bottles of beer and wine and music. It was their form of a Friday night out. People smoked their cigarettes while having a conversation with their friends, or they played la pétanque and another game involving knocking down blocks of wood.
It was an interesting cultural difference between Paris and Canada. Most people back home consider a night out as going to a club, rave, or a bar. The parks, harbourfronts and lakesides are empty by 10p.m. In Paris they love to go clubbing too, but the atmosphere of having a good conversation and drinks with friends or family seemed to prevail. People of all ages participated in this. Mothers rocked their babies to sleep while sipping some wine. Children played soccer and older people read newspapers, or observed the scenery.
When we got back to the hostel, other friends from exchange joined us for a drink at the bar. There’s also a club in the basement of the hostel (sounds sketch, but it was all good) and we decided to go down and dance even for just one song. We got to the entrance of the club and the bouncer stopped us saying that it was a private party. We were about to leave when a random Frenchman, who might’ve been the host of the party, asked us where we were from. We said Canada and America. He turned to a girl sitting on the floor next to him, they had a conversation and then he told us to go in and enjoy.
We pushed through the heavy black doors and were greeted with French house music. It was an older crowd inside, probably people in their thirties and forties, but they had as much energy as a crowd of One Direction fans. We danced for more than one song and at one point people started shouting “Alex, Alex, Alex!” and so did we. Before we knew it a dance circle had formed and two people were in the middle doing some sort of choreographed dance that was like their version of Thriller. Our minds were pretty much blown by this point.
We stepped outside of the hostel to get some fresh, non-sweaty air thinking our night of adventures was over. Then a very loud Parisian man came over with a bottle of wine and attempted to coax us to go to a club with him.
"We go to a latin club, it is ze best," he kept saying. Then we'd ask him where exactly it was and he'd say, "I dunno."
In my head I kept thinking about what our professor had told us earlier today, to be open to new experiences. But I wasn't going to let myself be a part of another Taken movie. We had none of our phones on us and no cash either. He didn't seem like his intentions were malicious, but we called it a night to stay on the safe side.
"Je suis très fatiguée," I said as we speedwalked into the hostel.
It was certainly an eventful midnight in Paris.
It's 12 a.m. here in Paris. I'm sitting in the "Chill Zone" room of our hostel and I can hear people cheering and clinking glasses at the bar outside. I feel sticky and am definitely going to take a shower after writing this. But the view out the window is of romantically lit cobblestone streets, so my situation isn't so bad.
It was a bittersweet ending in London. My friend Madonna and I had just gotten used to the city, succesfully manoeuvering through the tube by ourselves on the last day. We also did streeters on Oxford Street for a class assignment and were surprised that our stone-faced interviewees met us with warmth.
I didn't get to blog everyday like I wanted to, so I'm just going to highlight the most memorable times of our London leg of the exchange below:
We got to visit the London headquarters of the Guardian, where I geeked out just a tiny bit. We were given a tour of the offices (sadly we were prohibited from taking photos), which was open concept with floor to ceilling windows and funky, colourful chairs. I saw a glimpse of proofs for a magazine with Alexander Wang on the cover in the fashion section and empty cubicles in their travel section (it was a Monday). We then got to sit in on a news huddle, listening to journalists discuss pressing issues in Europe and how to translate them into stories. Chris Elliott, the Guardian's readers' editor, explained the publication's history and answered some of our questions.
In grade 12, I told myself that if I ever went to London, I'd go to Camden Market and buy a pair of creepers. Sadly, I did not fulfill that goal eventhough there were so many stalls with plenty of different styles of creepers to choose from. Instead I bought a blue, printed dress with a collar from one of the stalls.* The market was as eclectic as I pictured it to be, where both buildings and people had a lot of character. Maybe next time when I have more room in my suitcase, I'll finally grab a pair of creepers.
*Tip: Do not show your love for an article of clothing in the market. The vendor will see and eventhough he's offered you a lower price, he'll raise it because he knows you really want it. SHOW NO EMOTION.
The British Museum
I wasn't expecting anything unique from The British Museum. History interests me, but it's always laid out in the same way held in the same regal, ancient building. But enter the British Museum and amazing architecture and rare artifacts collaborate to create a jaw dropping combination. Once you enter and move past the foyer, it opens up into an enormous hall with a curving glass ceilling and a winding, stone staircase in the middle. The main attraction is the Rosetta Stone, which is in a room on the left. Just like with Van Gogh's pieces in the National Gallery, it was surreal standing infront of this artifact that I'd only read in history books.
Shopping. Sales. Topshop flagship store with a mini food court inside where I bought bubble tea. Sales. Street fashion that's on point.
It's 2 a.m. now and the temperature is 28C. Thanks for the warm, sweaty welcome, Paris.
I’ve been a part of the London/England fandom since middle school when I started getting into the Beatles and indie rock bands, so I spent my first whole day in London being an unapologetical tourist #NoShame.
The first stop was Trafalgar Square. We headed down via double-decker bus from Safestay, our hostel that’s in the Elephant and Castle neighbourhood. We filed onto the bus, mixing in with morning commuters. We were obviously foreigners with our cameras out ready to take photos and videos of everything and anything. Again, no shame.
When I arrived in London the day before, fatigue sunk in faster and stronger than the realization that I was really here. But today the closer the bus got to the square, the more I could see the scurry of Londoners and the more I felt the pulse of the city in my veins.
The moment we got off of the bus, two red telephone booths were there to greet us and of course, we all took the obligatory phone booth photo. From the bus stop it was a short walk to Trafalgar square. My eyes were immediately drawn to Nelson’s Column, a monument built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar. It towers over the square, dwarfing the people that surround it. At its base you could see people trying to climb giant lion statues. They looked like ants climbing an anthill.
The square showcased England’s rich history and, of course, we were there to take selfies and photos with it. Shortly after, we made our way up the steps, past the levitating Yodas, Grim Reapers and creepy Mickey Mouse street performers and into the National Gallery.
I’m not a huge art aficionado, but when I saw Van Gogh’s work in person, I got a little bit emotional to be honest. He’s an artist I’ve learned about in school and TV shows and I always see his pieces circulating Tumblr, but seeing them in person showed what a beautiful mind the man had. It’s a shame his work is only being celebrated now.
Most people surrounded his piece called, “Sunflowers.” A lot of them took photos, but after they also took the time to just stand and take in the warm, yellow hues the painting emitted, and so did I.
After the National Gallery we split up into two groups of six. My group made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which boasted an exterior and interior made of stone and wood that was intricately carved into ornate designs of cherubs and angels. We also saw Jesus (or maybe it was just a tall guy with long hair and a beard wearing immaculately white clothing from head to toe).
Our journey continued onto the Millennium Bridge, where they filmed that part in Harry Potter when dementors terrorized the muggle world. I’m pretty sure that bridge has been destroyed in many movies. On the other side of the bridge and the Thames river was the Tate Modern art gallery. The art was a deep look into a mirror at your own reflection (no, seriously, one piece was actually a mirror).
We then took a windy walk down the Thames and over the Tower Bridge, passing by the Globe Theatre along the way.
Overall, I think the reason for visiting a new country isn’t to fit in right away. It’s to experience a new culture and to let yourself be in awe and feel all the feelings. #NoShame
Wait, what? I swear the semester just ended and summer aka the season of binge watching Netflix just started. But it seems time has zipped past me like a sweaty bicyclist down University Avenue. It happens regurlarly, except this time I almost didn't see the cyclist coming and nearly decided to cross the street without looking both ways. I guess what I'm trying to say with this long-winded intro is that, I'm leaving on what will probably be a life-changing trip to Europe this Friday and I still don't know what time my flight is.
My irresponsibilty stops there because I am esctatic about this journey I'm about to take. To my surprise, I managed to fit most of my gear in a small carry on suitcase. I'm just hoping I have the willpower not to go on an all out shopping spree across the pond.
I should explain my trip a little more. For the first month, I'll be on exchange with ieiMedia Multimedia Journalism Abroad. They have different programs with exchanges to different countries (Istanbul, Italy). The one I'm going on is a trip through London, Paris and then our final destination Nice, France. It's in partnership with the University of Jamestown and Univesity of Wisconsin Eau Claire, but is not limited to US students (my roommate in Nice is from Peru!). We're a class of 12 students and we'll be travelling and learning the ins and outs of international journalism from faculty who are seasoned journalists. We actually recently got an email from our professor that we'll be sitting in at a news huddle at the Guardian and the journalism dweeb in me is freaking out. That's just one of the many activities we'll be doing and I'll be blogging about the others, so stay tuned!
The second month is a family affair. I'm going to visit my aunt in London and hang out there until I fly to Amsterdam to meet with my parents. It'll be surreal seeing them amidst a setting of tulips and windmills rather than the rainy, mountainous backdrop of Vancouver.
So, I guess my first post on this site is a little bit of a humblebrag of how amazing my summer is about to get. I know a lot of people are doing equally exciting things (a trip through Europe is pretty common according to my facebook feed), but if not feel free to live vicariously through my blog!
Also, I checked and my flight's at 5:50pm.