Sunday, January 18, 2009


I just got back last night from a day trip to Geneva. My train left at 10 in the morning and my friends and I got to Switzerland around 1 or so. We left the train station in Geneva and apparently took the wrong exit, because what I had envisioned as clean streets with amazing views of the mountains turned out to be a slum (see picture below). After a few minutes of walking through a neighborhood that was quite less than what I had expected, I decided that finding a map might offer a bit of useful advice (go figure, right?) A quick analysis of where the better parts of the city were prompted us to turn around, go back through the train station, and to take an exit that should have been clearly marked as, "Tourists Exit Here." The new view of Geneva was astonishing. We could see the Alps and the big fountain in the center of lake. We walked toward the center of the city and found what we had been looking for. The streets were lined with shops featuring large window displays of watches. I have a fascination with watches, and it took everything in me not to break through the windows to snatch some $30,000 "souvenirs."

As we explored the city, I found a little replica of a Swiss chalet that was selling what smelled like roasted nuts. I guess I was expecting something similar to the nuts sold at Opry Mills, or any other American mall, but what I got were roasted chestnuts. I've never had roasted chestnuts, and you may like them, but I took one bite and was completely repulsed. All I could think was that I was eating soft, warm, tree bark. I don't know why I held on to them, but I stuck them in my coat pocket and began walking back toward the lake. As we got closer and closer, I noticed the amazing boats. There were hundreds of sailboats and fishing boats, and I took about half an hour to walk out on the docks to look at each of them. After finishing my tour, I walked back to the lakeshore and noticed a large group of huge swans and ducks. I don't know what they feed their swans, but these things were enormous. They all seemed to eye me, expecting something from me. Caving to their pressure, I pulled out chestnuts. Now, I didn't know if waterfowl ate nuts, but I figured it was worth a shot. I took out a nut, removed its shell, crushed it up, and threw it to the swans. They seemed to like it, so I kept doing it. I started throwing the nuts farther and farther out to the swans. I guess I didn't assess the situation before I started, but when there are seagulls present, it's never a good idea to throw food in the air. I watched in slow motion, knowing that disaster was coming, when the first seagull swooped down and caught a nut midair. It was on. About 20 seagulls instantly swarmed me, waiting for a bit of food. Luckily, there was a 8-year-old next to me throwing McDonald's french fries to them. I'm glad there was someone equally as dumb as I was to bail me out of that one...
(Left: Picture of swans and ducks. Notice the seagull)

After a long day and an excellent pizza dinner, we headed back to the train station. On the way, we saw a little cafe advertising "chocolat chaud." I knew that I couldn't leave Switzerland without having authentic Swiss hot chocolate. We ran in, pushed our way through the crowd, and grabbed one of the last open tables. I ordered a cup of hot chocolate, and it was served with a little foam on top. I didn't fully know what to expect, but after the first sip, I was in love. It was pure milk chocolate with enough added milk to make it easily drinkable. I am pretty sure I'm never going to look at Swiss Miss the same way.

(Below: The Lake, Mountains, and Fountain)

(Left: View of the Boats and Mountains)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Finally Settled In

The past week has been hectic, but so much fun. Monday started my search for an affordable apartment. I had to sit down with French students from the school to look at a list of possible residences. Unfortunately, the school requires its exchange students to sign contracts stating they will only schedule three appointments for apartment visits. I like having options, so this immediately made me a little nervous. The first apartment I went to see was practically attached to the school and would have been extremely convenient. However, the whole experience of visiting the apartment was bizarre. The woman showing me the apartment looked exactly what I think of when I think of a witch. Seriously, she wore all black with striped leggings and a skirt. Her hair was knotted on top of her head and I couldn't help but to think I probably shouldn't tick her off or I would be turned into a frog. As for the apartment, it was tiny and had a 550 Euro per month price tag. I could have taken it, but that would have meant no trips in Europe and many nights eating bread and drinking water.

I heard from a friend that an apartment was available that was modest, but clean. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and found myself in the center of the city looking at the servants' quarters of a really nice building. After discussing rent and included services, I signed a contract for a small studio apartment. I probably wouldn't be inclined to choose an apartment like this in the U.S., but it works really well for me here.

(Below: Pictures of the new apartment)

A group of exchange students took at trip to IKEA to get odds and ends for their apartments. I hadn't been to one in the states, so I didn't know what to expect. This place was huge and all of the items seemed to be really well priced. My favorite part was eating at the restaurant inside. I had a salmon filet with green beans and a Coke and it was delicious. Honestly, it was the best meal I've had since I've been here. Hopefully, I will be able to find some places other than IKEA to eat dinner.

The activities this week have been so much fun. The French students have worked very hard to help the exchange students acclimate to the new culture. We had a very fun restaurant night and they have thrown welcome parties 6 out of the 7 days since we started.

I have finally found a place to buy groceries on the outskirts of town that has affordable groceries. Even though the groceries aren't too expensive, I still can't find exactly what I like to eat. Thus, my diet mostly consists of bread, jelly, Nutella and clementines. The clementines are very fresh and are shipped here from Spain. I have to say, so far, that they are my favorite thing to eat in France.

Classes start tomorrow and I'm getting very excited about getting back into a routine!

I would love to hear from all of you. My email is

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I finally made it to Grenoble! The trip was long, but turned out very well. We went out to explore the city last night for the first time and it’s perfect! It still has the small town atmosphere but it’s big always to have something to do. The mountains in the distance are just starting to show snow and the ski season should be starting up soon. Our hostel is interesting, to say the least. We are on the fourth floor, surrounded by two families. Our hostel in Grenoble is much bigger than our hostel in Paris, so the extra space is very nice.
The trip started in the Charles de Gaulle airport when I ran into my friend from school, Bridget. We got tickets to the city, which was 17 miles away, and took the main line to the part of Paris where we thought we would find our hostel. After standing on the side of the street staring at a map, a very nice French man stopped and offered directions. It turned out that we were very far from

(Above: Train Station in Grenoble)

where we needed to be, so we had to go back to the metro. The metro would have been fine, except it was packed, we each had two large bags, and it seemed as though there were thousands of steps. After about 2.5 hours of searching, we finally made it to our hostel and checked in. I checked my computer when I got back to the hotel and my other friend, Tricia, had not been in contact about where she was or what her plans were. We had talked the previous day about meeting at the large train station in the city if we couldn’t contact one another. So, Bridget and I set out for the 45 minute walk to the train station and searched it thoroughly. After having Tricia paged, we decided we should just go back to the hostel and wait for her to contact us. Luckily, when we opened our door, Tricia was sitting there waiting for us. As all of us were starting to feel the effects of the long trip and time change, we decided to go out for dinner and then to go to sleep early. Our restaurant was a small corner cafĂ© that served sandwiches and eggs (weird combination I thought.) I ended up with a chicken salad sandwich with lots of eggs on it and a small salad.

Yesterday morning we woke up early and were out on the streets of Paris by about 8 a.m. To our surprise, none of the shops were open and there were very few people on the streets. We walked down to Notre Dame Cathedral and toured it in about a 30 minute period. As time was limited, we headed back to our hostel, seeing the Pantheon on the way. We quickly packed up our luggage and in the mood for saving time and effort, got a taxi to the Gare de Lyon train station. When we got to the station, we had absolutely no idea what to do. After reading a few signs and talking to some people who looked like they knew what they were doing, we found out that the platform for the train wouldn’t be announced until about 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. We all made it to the train on time and enjoyed a very smooth, relaxing trip through the French countryside. About three hours later we arrived at the Gare de Grenoble train station. Seeing the huge mountain as the backdrop to the city made me realize that I was actually here doing my semester abroad.
After checking in to our hostel, we went out to explore the city. Many of the restaurants were closed by 8:30 p.m., so we ended up at McDonald’s. The burgers were not like those at American McDonald’s at all. They actually seemed to be made of real meat and they tasted very good. After our fast food stop, we walked around the city, stopping to window shop at all of the stores. Today, we plan to go out again and we are hoping that some of the stores are open.

(Left: View of Mountains from My Hostel)
(Below: View from Bridge in Town)