Rome(ing) without a guide or a pope to hold our hands (Part Uno)

With the addition of separate European countries to my living situation, I am not unsure how to filter through my 928104 photos that no one wants to see. So I’m going to write separate posts for separate countries! (Yes, yes, I know the Vatican is not Italian, but it’s pretty damn close inside so let’s just count it as one thinamajig)

So in case no one noticed, I went to Rome this past weekend!! And it was pretty ridiculous, for the following reasons:

  1. Because I purchased a roundtrip ticket over the weekend to go for exactly 48 hours. IMG_4080
  2. And when I got to the place where I was staying, having booked two beds for me and Sabina (who went allllll the way to Florence and was like, Stef’s in Rome?? Let me go to Rome!!), I was confronted by this elevator/stairway contraption and was immensely intimidated by how Italian everything was (this is what I think Italian living is like) IMG_4103
  3. Italians drive cars like this. They don’t just use them for bumper cars. They drive them and call it vehicles for transporting human bodies that are still alive.IMG_4084
  4. Rome has beautiful food inside and out (of my tummy). Here is some gelatoIMG_4149

And some beautiful pasta and company for one

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And my first Italian pizza!

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(yes, I absolutely ate pistachio and hazlenut gelato prior to even getting any pasta and pizza for myself, by myself, with myself, as my first meal in Italy)

5. Rome is gorgeous and insanely unwalkable after five minutes in flats on cobblestone

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Day Uno: One day all of Europe will speak one language and hopefully that language will be French because that will be convenient for me.

The beginning to a great adventure always begins with misadventure. That’s a lie. I’m just trying to make the fact that I missed the bus I told Tabong to be on to get to the airport and then had to take a later one. The good news is my newfound time between the buses allowed me to buy an entire baguette which I devoured with an avocado, the bad news is, well, there is no bad news, because then we went to Rome! When we got there, we went our separate ways to our respective AirBnBs and when I finally finished my hour-long journey to find 14 Viale Glorioso, in Trastevere, I was delighted to find myself in the most friendly, truely-hipster, amazing community home. This unused bicycle is a lovely exhibition of what I mean.

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The living space is a great place to just sit around and bum (but not on the couch that I think I may or may not have broken by completely collapsing into it after a day of walking 19.52 kilometres)

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For those of you studying abroad and thinking of going to Rome, Together is the best place to go! It’s started by Ernesto who isn’t even making any money off of it but wanted to find a place to foster a sense of community by bringing people together, and enjoying each other’s company, and the money you pay only pays for the rent. Here’s a chalkboard with all the love in the apartment/mansion complex.

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And the kitchen where we had breakfast in the mornings and cooked dinner last night!

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I then took to exploring the city a little bit by foot, before Sabina arrived, and before I could find any friends to go hang out with. Trastevere is on the quieter side of the city, across the water from many of the main piazzas and the Coliseum, but on the side of the Vatican.

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Now that you think Rome is ugly and mundane, here are some silly basilicas I found next to a supermarket on my street

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One of the most exciting reasons why I wanted to visit Rome eventually was because one of my favorite people and mentors is a large-scale fan of Rome and gave me a list of big and small things to do here, which included this lovely Piazza Navona, where I ate some ice cream

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went in to visit the church of Saint Agnese

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and found myself in another beautiful basilica where a service was going on

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But my favorite part about the entire weekend was the fact that there were all these other people there. Yes. I know. Stefani what is wrong with you, do you think the world revolves around you? Do you go to Harvard?! (Sorry Kristy and Jade and my very kind and smart friends) But the best thing about exploring a new place is the chance to meet all these incredible and probably weird new people. Exhibit A: Man who asked if he could take me to his church. I know it sounds malicious, but what actually happened was I was looking at a paper map (Yes, I live in the 90’s and I love it) and trying to figure out how to cross the river to go back home and lie down and be old for a second, when he came up to me and asked if I was trying to go to Trastevere, and I was suspicious but he looked very kind and said he was going to a church to meet his wife who sing in a gospel choir. Wife. Gospel Choir. Check and check. Must be a good person. Plus, then he explained to me, both in Italian and Spanish (because after I asked where he was from (Colombia) I stupidly said I understand Spanish better than Italian, and although it is true, relativity is not fluency) all the things about where I should be more careful in Rome, how the view is beautiful at night, and took a picture of me in front of St. Peter’s at night!

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He then took me around to see a restaurant he said is cheap and really nice for dinner with friends and the church that he goes to on Sundays that I could visit and where I could have lunch with him, the church, and his wife afterwards. A part of me really wishes I did see him again. He made sure I knew where I was going, and then kissed me goodbye in the most Colombian way imaginable and then disappeared into the church. I don’t think I’ve smiled so much on the street.

AND THEN SABINA ARRIVED! And it was like I remember what friendship felt like. Just kidding, I had lots of friends. Sabina is just cool and I missed her.

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We went to grab some more food and wine, and Tabong found us, and we ended up going to another basilica (really Italy?) and sat outside on the steps in the middle of the piazza and sipped on some whiskey and tried to caption all the statues we did not understand.

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Our night was filled with fun discoveries, such as the fact that porn is apparently made of spicy chocolate vodka

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Or that Italians like beer pong?

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But we also made some really cool new friends, from Italian actresses with large mysterious bags to other tourists as well; this was primarily as a result of hearing some Americans say “fuck the police” and deciding, we should befriend these people, along with a British couple at the table nearby. We all got two rounds of shots (because someone decided that would be a great idea) and if I remember correctly, Sabina and I did not pay a dime before we left, so either someone was gracious enough to pay, or we completely forgot and dashed.

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we also ate some really good 3 am pizza before realizing everything was beginning to close around the area, so we probably needed to head to bed

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Day Due: Tourism is what makes the Roman economy rock (or cobblestone) and roll 

Saturday was our only full day in Rome, and I woke up at 8 am naturally due to my silly internal clock that was going, “WAKE UP WAKE UP TIME FOR SOME FRENCH SCHOOL” except I wasn’t in France so that was incredibly useless and costed me my sanity throughout the day, on four hours of sleep. but by 10 am, Sabi had slowly rolled out of bed, and Alex and Michael, our roommates, were both rolling into the kitchen with coffee, tea, and breakfast. Coincidentally, Michael was also looking to go to the Vatican on Saturday, and since we were all such experienced Romans, we decided we needed to add some tourism into our blood, and went together. Now, the Vatican is actually on our side of the river, but is really a 45 minute walk away, and it was beautiful along the river, so we actually popped into the castle first, which was build by an emperor way long ago, and used at points to house the Pope when he was in hiding. Here’s the castle from the view across one of the more beautifully sculpted bridges

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And a view from the actual bridge

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And here are some horrifyingly stupid and disrespectful tourists taking photos on the top of the castle

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And here is me wearing the Vatican like a hat with Michael. Meet Michael! One of the best travel companions I’ve ever met and one of the best things that happened to me and Sabina on this trip, because

  1. we got to make a new friend from Copenhagen (!) who happened to be our roommate as well
  2. we found a free tour guide who could put up with our complaints
  3. if you continue reading into the next part of this ordeal, he managed to a) wake up before either of us b) make us breakfast and c) go back to the Vatican and the Coliseum with us because he’s just such a nice person

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Remember the bridge I mentioned? NO? Scroll back. Now do you remember? Now here’s the bridge from within the castle

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What actually occured before we got into the castle was that the lady at the counter we were at was a complete buttface about letting us into the castle, and charged both me and Michael 10.50 euros instead of the 7 euro discount for anyone under 26 or a student in Europe because 1) Michael turned 26 last week, and 2) I didn’t have my passport and couldn’t prove my nationality or age. But HELLO? Last summer was the first time I was asked if my 15 year old younger sister was older than me. So either she’s 26, or I’m a child. It is most likely the latter. Anyway, Sabina sat this one out, and waited for us instead to go to the Vatican.

So the Vatican is kind of a place you have to visit when in Rome, and so we took the inevitable task of lining up in the blazing heat to see the Pope. Just kidding, the Pope is in America. If any of you see him, please ask him why there is no shade at the Vatican.

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Or where I can find Michaelangelo and Benini to congratulate them on a stunning piece of art and architecture

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Climbing up the basilica cost 7 euros with the elevator and 5 with the stairs, and being the younglings that we are, we decided we had enough power to power through (or more like, not enough money to justify the elevator route). And we ended up hiking. (yes hiking) Six. Hundred. Twenty. Four. Steps. Yes. You are correct. We died.

But it was for this basilica

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And the incredulous mosaic on the walls

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And this view from the cupola

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Where you can look down at the entirety of the Vatican’s forefront

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Where of course we had to take an obligatory selfie that made us look like prisoners (or more like just me because I just shaved my head this weekend and forgot to bring contact solution so couldn’t wear sunglasses and am squinting like a criminal)

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This

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and this

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and this (St. Peter’s tomb)

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and this incredible view from which the Pope stands every week twice a week to speak

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are reasons to visit the Vatican, despite the crowds and in spite of the fact that I am not necessarily religious. Sometimes you step into physical spaces and the things that bring people together, like religion, make a little lot more sense.

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Now I need to take a nap before I can continue talking about the Vatican because just talking about it is bringing back the physical memory of walking through that damn city of a museum. To be continued.

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Aloha, Say The Pretty Girls

The days go slow but the weeks run fast. This has been increasingly true of my time here in Aix, where everything is Aixtra beautiful and Aixceptionally French and I eat as much as T-RAixs do (too much?). This week was our first official week of classes, which, for a self-diagnosed nerd like me, was very exciting because I got to use my colour-coding highlighters, whiteout, and all. Evidently, as the self-sufficient workaholic that I am, I abide by the rules of the classroom, ergo do not have any photos of classes, but I do have photos of the food I rewarded myself with when three hours chunks of class were over and we got to explore the gastronomie of Aix!

I decided on taking five classes in Aix, two mandatory classes on linguistic strategies and cultural connections (which are of less import for me, frankly), and then three others ones which I’m super excited about, including Traduction (English to French translation; we get to use enormous dictionaries you might consider archaic, but it’s wonderful #KindleUsers #GoDie), Theatre (our professor has long hair, and he speaks English accidentally with an English accent, so is automatically cooler than the rest of us), and one class at the IEP Sciences Po, Géopolitique de la Meditarranée. The Geopolitics class is and is going to be the hardest thing I’ve decided to do academically, and I know studying abroad is supposed to be more like abroad (and studying some, ish, not really) but I really want to be able to learn French and also be sufficient in speaking about important topics, like the Israel-Palestine conflict, things that I don’t even really know enough about, considering I’m two decades old and someone who wants to remain relevant in the world, in English.

We spent our days in class, out of class, eating crepes, and pastries, and bonbons that make us cry (or more just like Caroline because Caroline cries twice a day every day)

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I’ve been running at the Parc de la Torse, nearby where I live, and running there and back from my home (home!!) is a perfect thirty-five minutes, and the weather here is so lovely that running late morning after class or late afternoon, close to American dinner time, is perfect. Breezy, shaded, and not crowded at all. Now, for those of you who have this mental image of the French stereotype with a barrette on their head and paintbrush and cigarette in each hand, the French do exercise, or rather have begun to adopt the habit of doing so. Which is why I was shocked when I was running all by myself and was immediately confronted by a herd, yes, a herd, of running French. Coming at me. And I welcomed them with open arms, and ran away (not that quickly, because I was very tired).

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I am also just increasingly thankful, the longer I am here, about the fact that I am walking distance from the Centre and the center of the city, Aix, so I can have dinner at home, after having gone on a run after school, and later head into the city to grab a drink, and meet up some friends. We’re still trying to master the technicalities of going out in Aix, without appearing too much like tourists and losers who don’t do anything except search desperately for Americans, but it is fun, regardless. Our adventures consist of going to Shane’s home to eat nutella (chez Pascale), speaking about the ever elusive Pascale, his host dad

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ordering entirely too large drinks for ourselves

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and walking around like complete idiots with flower crowns on our head (or just me).

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It takes leaving home to fully understand where you come from. Which is why I decided it was time to start watching sports, like the true American that I am. Just kidding, I tried watching rugby for one night and have decided that I know enough to say I have done so and do not have the need to do so much more often in the near future.

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After Tabong explained what the rugby ball is and what running around the field like a lunatic means, I got him to climb into the closed off carousel (after he got me to tell a few Englishmen watching the England v.s. Fiji game that England sucks)

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The best part of the week, however, was definitely the trip we took this past Saturday, or yesterday, to the countryside in Provence, primarily in the area of Le Luberon. I have so many photos that I’m not sure anyone will be interested to see the same shot of the same red building fifty times, so I’ll try to keep it short. The greatest coincidence of the weekend has been the fact that it is a weekend of Patrimoin, meaning all the museums and sights in France are entirely free and private houses, chateaus, etc. are all open to the public as well, which is why we were able to visit places like this Abbaye, completely gratuit.

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It was an absolutely gorgeous day, cold in the shade and warm in the sun (despite the fact that I took my turtleneck sweater on and off maybe 92 times), so this facial expression is how I felt about my entire 9 hours spent exploring.12033374_10206189470728460_2072777522_n

It’s such a pity that it is no longer the season for lavender (which is my favorite smell in the entire world) or sunflowers (which are just, in my mind, always so large and dominating), because we passed by fields and fields of lavender and sunflowers, which is what this view consists of. Except all these sunflowers are dead.

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Morbidity aside, we then went to visit the cemetery. ( I am completely serious when I say this was the coolest thing because) we visited the gravesite of Albert Camus and his wife. I find cemeteries very peaceful, and with all the cypress trees growing, as is typical of any Provençal area, the metaphor is that the souls of the dead are able to reach up into the sky.

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Although I was too stingy to pay the one euro to take a tour of the chateau nearby, I did take lovely photos of every beautiful area we passed by, which was all the areas essentially.

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We were told to get some lunch to bring to another area where we could picnic, so Olivia (featured in the transcendentalist photo of the cathedral) and I walked around a market of antique items and tried the famous gibassier biscuit (with olive oil and citrus) and bought a sandwich and salad to bring to the next place for our lunch picnic!

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I tried a spoonful of the lavendar ice cream, which is to die for, and which I’m so sad I didn’t eat yesterday but will be able to get in Aix, so I’m very excited to do that all the time now.

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This is how eating makes me feel.

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Our day consisted of much walking, talking, photo-taking, and idiotic activities such as: hanging our feet of off ledges above families eating lunch and shouting up at us, threatening to come up and get us,

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sticking our heads out afterwards to make sure they were angry enough to actually do something about it,

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climbing into small spaces with many spiders, and not enough people who believe you are not just a wimp for not wanting to go into the tiny cave of a space,

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kissing trees,

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hopping fences for better views and a discussion of what model poses you can find to do at the edge of a rock-like vista,

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and taking beautiful photos (while being lost on a one-way trail) of the red earth this mountain has been tainted, which is as close as I have gotten to what the grand canyon might look like, at least in my head.

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It was such a lovely day, and we were all so exhausted by it, but here are some happy photos of happy people while we were something along the lines of content and full, not-yet too carsick, and entirely sunned out for the day.

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On our final stop before heading straight home, we were told to get off the bus for one final photo, and so all us groggy kiddos hopped off, groaning and mumbling about why we had to wake up, but immediately stopped when we saw this gorgeous view that more accurately depicts the kind of life I’m living

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Geneva and I were absolutely starving by the time we got back, so we went by Bagelstein, which does not actually make New York bagels, but has bagels and lox enough to replicate exactly what I was craving for. And it. Was. Delicious.

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Despite what we were told about constantly saying yes to doing things and going out and being out there, in France, with people, I decided that last night was just too much for me to be going out again, so I stayed in with my host family, who cooked fish for dinner, and this is the view that I see every night as the sun goes down, and the moon, which will be full very soon for Mid-Autumn Festival, springs up into a little banana.

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Another week has ended, and another week will go by. And next weekend. I GO TO ROME!!!!!! I keep forgetting to say that, but now that I have, anyone who has anything to say about Rome, please say it to me so I know more things about what I’m getting into. As of now, all I know is where I’m landing from my flight and where I’m supposed to go to sleep for the night, but anything and everything else is up in the air. So advice would be amazing!! Much love!

It’s been one week since you looked at me, cocked your head to the side and said, I’m angry

If food is any indication of how I feel, I’ve just been very hungry all the time. I have, however, shockingly (and for those of you who cared to remember, I already spoiled it because I was so anxious to make sure it was known that I do, in fact, have other human beings around me), have friends! My friends consist of:

  1. Lulu IMG_3177
  2. Le Vin  IMG_3198
  3. And some random people IMG_3194

(meet Geneva, Olivia, and Caroline; they’re pretty cool, or something.)

Our first week consisted of orientation and classes on French, how to speak French (contextually more than content-wise), how to eat French, how to dress French, and how to dress French. Basically it as just a lot of French, despite being in a group of all (or, almost all) Americans in the program. So, naturally, being in school 9h to 17h30 everyday, we had to spend our lunch breaks eating our lack of liberty and sanity, and by eat, I mean eat and drink. We went through the markets that are in Aix everyday, and the bigger one that appears magically every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and sat outside for our two hour lunch breaks to eat, speak too loudly, and smile too widely, as us tourist-wannabe-citizens do.

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(also meet Tabong, the one and only person who can get to class at (9 am and be asleep by 9:12 am in our nine-hour class day, wine, or otherwise)

On Thursday we were finally set free like the American Eagles that we are and walked around the town to see the beautiful monuments, and of course passed by fresh fruit stands that had amazingly colorful and fresh fruits, which I wanted to eat but was already too full and flushed off of the wine from lunch to consume (also was not walking fast enough to be able to catch up to the group).

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Here is another yellow house, not to be mistaken as AUCP, but is actually a thermal bath. We were told that back in the day, people used to get prescribed “thermal springs” as their needed medication for illnesses, so why can’t we do that now?! All I have is advil, and for y’all girls, my precious midol (which we all know is just Advil advertised as some special thing that will make mother nature go away, but she’s like, pain meds are artificial and I’m natural af, and you’re just going to have to put up with me whether you want to or not)

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Here is a pretty picture of a museum-esque building that I was too busy taking a picture of to recall what exactly about it was specifically special. Just know that it is, and look how pretty it is.

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One of the best things about Aix, though, is how small it is, and how many weddings there are! The City Hall is a gorgeous monument, in which lots of marriage announcements are made, and the sun hits the center of the square right in the middle of the day.

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We spent all day walking around like

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And standing (or Tabong sitting) around like

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I’ll spare you the details of our classes (and for those of you who would like to know, basically the rules are: smile less, talk less, be less, and you’ll be French. Just kidding, it’s just a different culture, duh.) But we did start learning this the hard (or easy) way on Friday night, when we met our language partners! We each have someone as a partner to help ourselves with speaking French, and being in the city, doing things with people our age. And, in return, these language partners learn English as well. As the typical French gathering goes, we had aperatifs after class with our partners against the sunset. It was like speed dating! Or more like, you sit the stool at the amusement park right above a tank of water and people hit the board behind you until you fall. My language partner showed up with a picture of my face that doesn’t even really look like my face and it was one of the funniest conversations consisting of me speaking in French and him speaking in English, and neither of us fully understanding what was being said.

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My language partner had to leave early for an initiation at the beach the next day though, so he ended up leaving early, and I stayed with a large group of other peeps to get dinner (moules frites was the demand of the day), and drinks after as well. Dinner was delish, also because mentally stimulating days are very famishing. So I ate my salmon tartare. And then half of Olivia’s pizza. Because food cannot be doggy-bagged in France, and I am the world’s physically largest doggy-bag.

This here is a giraffe. Of beer. I’m not a huge beer fan, so it just looks like I’m being a part of the group, but in reality I was drinking a solo glass of wine, which makes me look like a snob (the word snob comes from French, “sans noblesse!!!” I found this very cool), and I probably am. But it was still pretty cool, and finished within ten minutes by all of us.

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The next day, Catherine (my host mama) and I took Lulu on a little hike at Le Thonolet, which was gorgeous, and you can see the top of Mount Saint Victoire, which is a two hour hike I would love to do someday with some people here! Olives are huge in Provence, and they are still not ripe and green right now, but when fall fully arrives and they turn black, they’re exactly the same olives we eat, and press to get olive oil.

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I spent the afternoon with half of AUCP friends at chez Ryan’s, which is about a half hour away, but Ryan’s host family has an amazing house with a pool, and two floors, and just a breathtaking view of the city. We ate cheese and olives and tons and tons of chips (because everyone’s peace-offering gift is a bag of chips), and swam in perfectly cool water while having a conversation for the first time in English with each other (don’t tell anyone at AUCP!! It was very strange hearing the different personalities that came out of another language). And that evening, I met up with Geneva and Caroline (while Olivia was jamming it up at a French wedding) to get some Italian food and more vino.

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We ended up going to a few bars, getting extraordinarily lost, and later today, after going to the overwhelmingly large club fair, we found a pirate candy shop with lots of non-pirate related candy. And it was awesome. Even though I don’t like sugar, I’m a fan of large-scale gimmicks as such.

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And ah, that marks the end of week one. I am sitting home alone with Lily, who hasn’t moved in the past hour, watching French TV, and waiting for my host mom to come back from sending Marion to Marseille for school for the week, and trying to debate if I want to eat another piece of this spinach quiche she made for dinner! (Oh, Lily just woke up. She’s gonna have to fight me for the food)

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First Grade was Fun. France is also Fun.

I woke up this morning at 7:10 am sharp. Two minutes after the sun rose because I’m a champ like that. (Or because I have no blinds and it is difficult to sleep with the sun hitting your face like a baton) But today the level of excitement that hit me like a wrecking ball this morning was reminiscent of how I felt in the first grade, when I walked past the big-girl basketball court at my school, holding my mom’s hand, thinking in my head, “I’M SO OLD I’M LIKE SIX YEARS OLD AND GOING TO SCHOOL.” Today was the first time in a long time that I’ve considered it my first day of school, but it was super exciting!!! And so I had to take a snapchat about it.

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And because I am still not sure how to ask people “can I take creepy photos of you because I keep a blog that I will put your face on?” here is a not so great photo of some people I met today as we sat in the jardin outside the American Center University of Provence and chatted about ourselves, while eating my first croissant in France and a cuppa herbal tea.

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The morning was filled with exciting things involving us sitting in a room and introducing ourselves en français with our lovely detailed names, universities, and interesting things about ourselves. Recently, my only interesting fact has been that I walked across Spain, so much so that I can’t think of anything else (that or the fact that saying “I’m a black belt in Taekwondo” or “I have quadruple citizenship” is too complicated to explain or answer questions about at nine in the morning). Then Lilli Engle went on to tell us about the amazing things we’ll be doing here, which I’m excited about, one of which was the story of a girl Samantha who fell in love with her language partner here, decided to stay, and just got married last week! (Don’t worry Mom, and Dad, I’m not eloping. I’m already here.) So, speaking of language partners, mine took us out to eat crepes today! Real French ones! And who knew French crepes are actually primarily savory?! I had one with eggs and a salad on top with some chevre cheese and tomato sauce. T’was delicieux.

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Unfortunately, AUCP is also known for its slightly crazy habits, such as instituting a four hour chunk for a standardized French exam (FES) and a cultural integration test (IDI), which killed me. I forgot how long it’s been since I last took the SATs and how much longer it has been since I was in the mindset of “let me just pick some letters and call them the right answer even though none of these options sound right whatsoever.”

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The test was not awful in terms of content (except listening to French oral examination tapes is really painful and after a while you think you’re hearing Swahili), but just sitting in the same chair in the same position with the same people in the same chaud room is very difficult and concentrating makes you feel like a bug in A Bug’s Life with your eyes popping out and your brain squashed on the sidewalk. So a girl I met here and I decided to go get our photos taken. Because we’re models like that. Just kidding, we were told to go to the photomaton to get mugshot photos taken for ID cards while we’re in France. (I won’t bother posting them because you’ll be like who is that man?!) We were also told to empty our wallets at night and only leave a twenty euro bill, a card, and our bus card in our wallet, because you don’t want to be carrying your heart in your wallet if pickpockets come about. But they won’t be coming around this mountain. Because I’m gonna be so vigilant it will hurt to touch my purse. Or my backpack. Or my person. Or anything in my possession really. Such a this quiche that we bought from the boulangerie to reward ourselves for finding the photomaton and for completing a day of simultaneous paradise and hellhole.

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And there we were! Walking home, just traversing along Traverse Malakoff, on my way home to a nice evening with my family. It’s so nice to be able to finish a long day and go home to shower, and sit on the couch with Lulu and Lily, and feel the warmth of dinner cooking int he oven wafting towards the dinner table.

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My host mom goes to work before 7 in the morning and comes back at 6 at night and yet she manages to cook the best dinners, with fish, tomatos, and rice for dinner, with cheese, bread, and homemade yogurt (did you hear that?! She makes her own yogurt too!) afterwards.

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And somehow, while waiting for dinner to cook, she also manages to get really soft skin with her daughter with face masks that turn their faces green. And I love it. And I love them. And I have no better vocabulary to describe how I’m feeling right now because je suis très fatiguée but also it’s basically like the first grade again and I have all the excuses in the world to expressm yeslf in the simplest, happiest way possible.

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Do you want to go to the plage with me? (Just kidding, Crystal Fighters, I already did today)

Good morning French room!!! (From now on, I’m going to precede everything in my possession in France with the word French juste en cas you forget I’m in France) Today was my last day of freedom (even though I’m in the land of freedom and fraternité – not the same kind with red solo cups), so my host mom and sister took me to the beach!

My host sister Marion, who drove to pick me up the bus station yesterday, is an awesome driver, and she also drives manual so I’m constantly super impressed and very confused as to how she knows where all the gears are.

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And here is Lily right before we left the house, taking over my room to make sure I knew who was actually boss.

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And then the beach arrived. Like water to a parched throat. Like food to a hungry stomach. Like sun to a sun-deprived babe. Like, I know I already used this line but I’m an original writer and I have original thoughts that then turn into clichés so I’m going to say it again. If all that glitters is not gold, it’s definitely French water. Or my body having bathed in French water.

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My host mom made a lovely pasta salad with olives, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatos (in the sun!), and cheese, which we brought with some yogurt, slices of homemade apple tartin and peaches and feasted like the champions we are who take selfies together at the end of a sun-bathing session.

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I will save you the pain of having to see my funny tanlines now, but afterwards, we drove back home from La Plage des Lecques, during which I had the hardest time trying to stay awake and not fall asleep to Kygo playing on the French radio. Then I briefly contemplated the act of going for a run and then I thought, hah! The French don’t run, they just smoke. So we decided to compromise and take Lulu for a walk instead.

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After our precisely 35 minute walk around the countryside (“aujourd’hui tu as vu la mer au matin et la compagne à l’aprés-midi!” [today, you saw the ocean in the morning and the countryside in the afternoon!] – my host mom), I helped her make homemade tomato sauce that she saves for the entire winter, next to the gorgeous patio au dehors.

It was actually simpler than I imagined it would be, making tomato sauce, although my cooking skills are nowhere near Catherine’s. The processes of marinating real marinara involve: a lot of olive oil, cooking up some garlics, chopping up onions into the pot, then adding an entire bowl of freshly cut tomatoes into the pot with salt and pepper and some sugar to combat the acidity. (I thought about doing this in Hong Kong, but who am I kidding, where am I going to find tomatoes this fresh and red anywhere in good ol’ polluted HKG?) (Also why would I need to conserve anything for the winter. There is not winter in Hong Kong) (And then I thought about doing this in New Haven) (And that was the end of that thought because I started laughing too much at my lazy college ambitions in the world of culinary desires)

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And while the tomatoes were boiling up, we put five pounds of butter (roughly speaking)  into another pot, put in a whole pig (roughly speaking) and five hundred potatoes (this might be an underestimation), for dinner! And then Lulu accompanied me on the couch as we watched some French television and had rosé as aperitifs before eating some viande et patates.

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And voila! Five hundred potatoes, five pounds of butter, and a pig later, here we are! Dinner for three!

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And then I broke the blinds in my bedroom (because when does Stefani ever go through a day without some semblance of disaster), and had to ask my host mom and sister to fix it, to which Catherine said, I guess you’ll have to sleep for three weeks without blinds until my husband comes back from Malaysia? To which I said, cool, I love the sun. And I do! So it’s all good. Here comes the sun, forreal 7:08 am tomorrow morning. Cannot wait to see it rise and shine and tell me “TIME TO TAKE YOUR FRENCH PROFICIENCY TEST YOU MOFO” and I’ll be like “I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU ALLLLL NIGHT LOOOONG.”

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Basically this is going to be a great first day of school because I’ll have graduated from l’école du soleil before then already. À demain!

Aix-It Here

I’m here I’m here I’m here!!!!!!!

I have no better way to start this except for the fact that I am currently sitting on my pink and white flowery bedsheets in the middle of Aix-en-Provence, in the home of my lovely host family, which includes my awesome host mom who works at Air France (discount anyone?!), her 21 year old daughter who has very skinny legs (and a lovely personality), my host mom’s Vietnamese husband (I know they probably paired me with a semi-Asian family, because what is a French program gonna do with an Asian chick, but I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all, especially after my Dad said I would not have Asian food for four months and then she offered me pork floss – Asians, you know what I’m talking about), their dog Lulu and their cat Lily.

Today started with food!!! (Actually, it started with me sitting on my suitcase trying to make it close, and then giving up and going for a run in hopes that if I lose some water weight so will my suitcase, but it didn’t work, so we can skip this tragic moment in my life). We were told to go to a restaurant next to the large olive tree around the corner, which sounded simple enough. Except we Hong Kongers (Oxford Dictionary has just coined this a term, so don’t “English Major Spell Check” me please) don’t know what any tree looks like. So we guessed, and ended up here.

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See those olives on the table? Well, I know they’re not there, but they were, and were just taken away because neither of us eats olives. Sad. BUT. This was the exciting moment. We got bread. Yes, yes, I know we’re in France, and bread is like air, but bread is a very exciting prospect for my dad because it’s his connection with pigeons. Here is the progression of what happened three times this morning:

  1. Papa Kuo decides to brave the weather and nourish the wildlife. IMG_2819
  2. Bye Bye Birdie IMG_2820
  3. Papa Kuo be like,  YOU POKE MY HEART!!!  IMG_2821 (please, for those of you don’t get this reference, be more cultured: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sKdDyyanGk)
  4. Bye Felicia IMG_2822

We had delicious chicken with mashed potatoes, done the French way, and then Dad sent me off to the bus station where I was excited for the first time in my life to be sitting on public transportation. I was the literal leprechaun at the end of the rainbow.

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AND THEN I ARRIVED. IN. AIX.

And I couldn’t find my people, because there were none of them. And then I realized the lady holding up a sign with a picture of a Chinese girl was probably waiting for me, because there aren’t many of those (i.e. Chinese girls) around here. And I was glad it was her. And that she found me. Because my host mom is awesome and her daughter is beautiful and before we talk more about my people meet Lulu

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and Lily

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Yes. That black blob is an adorable cat. Shut up and go find yourself some animals who love you back. Can’t do it? That’s right.

Catherine and Marian (French names!!) took me to the Sports Fair here, because apparently I’m required to participate in a sport or a cultural activity, such as Zumba (lol) or theatre (lol #French) and we walked around the town and Catherine pointed out all the fountains in the area, and we listened to some amazing blues along the way and watched people jitterbug because people in France just jitterbug wherever they want around here. And I love it.

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And after I successfully unpacked and obsessed more over how beautiful my room is and this amazing desk that has a hidden door to it where I am going to hide pointless things such as my extra earplugs in case there are old men in my room (#tbt Camino de Santiago).

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I decided it was time to return to my roots and eat some Mexican food in France.

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Just kidding, my family informed me that Saturday nights are light nights for feasting, so Mexican food is officially French lite.

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Light of my life, fire of my loins. Not really. Nabokov was Russian. We can skip it. Basically, my French family is cooler than yours, and they let me cut the tomatoes for dinner without worrying I will chop my fingers off and slid it into the bowl with the rest of the dinner. They will also watch French TV and tell me about Corse and the beautiful horses that swim into the ocean with you on their backs because that’s what French horses are able to do that far surpass your regular land horses.

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Here is another stalkerish picture of my host mom who prepared a bunch of food that she put in a quaint picnic basket that we are going to take with us down to the ocean and feast on. Three women and a picnic basket. Time for me to write my next play. Brb. Big things to do with my life.

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When We Don’t Exercise, We Eat Like We Do

The most important people in my life are the laziest people I know. Just kidding. They just happen to sleep a lot more than I do, or wish they could, and it’s rubbing off on me. Today I slept almost ten hours, and woke up like a baby shining in the moonlight. Or more like sunlight because the moon had already passed out after waiting for me to wake up for too long. The point is, today we didn’t go hiking!!! And when we don’t exercise (this is the part in the concert where I hold the mike to my adoring audience and you say…) WE EAT LIKE WE DO!

Today, we tried to be real tourists, so we decided to visit the Pharo, which my dad has been pushing and pushing for us to go visit since we passed by in the car since day one. And we managed to walk there with the map and directions I had gotten this morning, with no problem. Everything went smoothly. Right?

Wrong. Here is the image of the Pharo. Spot the mistake.

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Now. Did you spot anything wrong with it? Yes? Why, what was that? That’s not the Pharo? Why, correct! That’s the view from the Pharo. My father, in his knowledgeability, had thought that the Pharo was a large crypt with a bunch of tombs and dead Egyptians, such as the Pharaoh. I will not comment extensively on this, except that we are in France, and the dead Pharaoh (think The Mummy) is in Egypt. In fact, the Pharo (a palace made of nice bricks) was so lovely and uninteresting, we didn’t even get any good pictures worth posting for your perusal. So instead, we ate a bunch of food (and took a bunch of pictures, as I am doing in this title photo), and looked at the large block across the water that looked more like a crypt than the Pharo.

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Then we spent the afternoon trying to find a SIM card plan that would give me more than just five seconds of internet, until we realized you needed a French bank account to get an actual plan worth buying, and my dad tried to pay the phone company with a large sum of cash (although it sounds very un-gangsta when you realize my dad was just trying to pay off Orange, the phone company). After our failed gangsta attempt, we were both super bummed out (the way you get high hopes for your future and realize all is lost and you have nothing left except your body to sell – don’t do it. No one wants that sock tan from your hike yesterday), so we decided to go to the fort. Because it looked cool. This is the view from the walk on our way to the fort.

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Here is the view from where we had ice chocolate and green tea.

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Here is our view from our way down from the fort. Also a bonus is now you get to see what I would look like if my future baby is shaped like a square sized backpack.

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My dad was still kind of bummed out because he really, really, really (I cannot emphasize how much he) wanted oysters, so we went to a fruit market. That only sold bananas, and I journalled for a bit about said bananas and said desire for oysters.

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AND THEN. We were walking along the ocean (where most shellfish are caught) and we found oysters!! And I became very happy and started taking photos of my dad being very happy. Which makes both of us very happy. Here is a few of the same moment happening simultaneously (yes, you are wondering, how did Stefani take a photo of herself from her dad taking a photo of her even though he is not taking a photo of her in the photo of him?? Yes. Time. Grasshopper. Time)

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Then my dad ordered clams, because he was so happy his appetite surged, and then when they turned out to be super tiny clams, he angrily took the loaf of restaurant bread and started feeding the pigeons who crowded around the area, and then we left the restaurant to be fed on by ugly, fat pigeons and in his head he was cackling and saying, ‘take that for your tiny clams.” And as we speak, I am sitting in our room, eating hella cheese and getting hella fat, and my dad is taking a nap after his 14th shower of the day because he feeds so many pigeons he needs to make sure he doesn’t turn into one.