ELISA in France
Friday, June 22
Here is a quick update on the last week. We have been very busy and there was little time (and slow or no access to wifi) to keep up with the blog. Everybody is well and we will share our adventures in detail when we are back.
We have been in Provence since Wednesday and we are staying in a beautiful house near Beaucaire which is our base until tomorrow. On Saturday, June 23rd we are taking a train from Avignon to Paris where we will conclude our trip.
So going backwards to keep up with the look of the blog, here is what happened:
- Thursday, June 21st - It was a very hot day in Provence. The temperatures where well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind started blowing. We got an early start and visited the picturesque town of "Les Baux de Provence including it's medieval castle ruins. The site is on top of a hill where the views of the landscape are breathtakingly beautiful. Afterwards, we went to "Les Carrières de Lumière" and enjoyed art in the most unusual and exciting manner. I will let the students describe it to you. After a break from the heat at our house (it has a pool!), we went to Arles for the evening to get some dinner and listen to music on every street corner. The 21st of June is "Fête de la Musique" in France and everybody is out to play or listen to music. We ate dinner at a Café that is located in the center of the city and the building can be seen in one of Van Gogh's paintings. Unfortunately, the dinner was underwhelming and we were not impressed with the service and the food. The students showed resilience and enjoyed the live music performances as we walked past the 2,000 year old Roman arena and returned late to our house.
- Wednesday, June 20th - The group met at 5:45 am at the train station in Nay to take a 6:05 am train to Toulouse. We were sad to say goodbye to our friends and host families. Many of the parents expressed how much they loved having the WRA students become part of their own families and how much they will miss them. Looking at the faces in our group, it was clear that the feeling was mutual. Our train pulled out of the station and we were on our way to Toulouse. Two hours later we switched there to an express train to Arles and then a coach bus to Avignon where we picked up our van. We arrived in Avignon at 2:30 pm. Our van is a nine seat Mercedes Vito with lots of room for everybody when we are traveling without luggage... The 35 minute drive from the station to our house near Beaucaire was, hmm, interesting. Some travelers have rather large suitcases which took up lots of space, so there were some pieces of luggage that had to be distributed in the passenger area but we somehow made it. After nearly 3 weeks of cool weather and lots of rain, a few hours of dry heat (92 degress F!) made everybody tired but luckily we could cool off and relax at our own private pool! I went shopping with a volunteer and got the supplies for a pasta dinner with lots of fresh grilled vegetables, salad and some sausages just for good measure. Everybody had to help with cooking and cleaning up and then we were tired enough to go to bed.
- Tuesday, June 19th - Since there was no school for any of the hosts, we gave everybody the day off to pack, spend time with their families and get ready for the final week of our adventure. Many families took advantage of the extra day and added another excursion to the students' experience.
- Monday, June 18th - The weather had cleared off and the sun was shining. We took one more time advantage of St. Joseph's large van and drove into the mountains for an exciting excursion. After about an hour and ten minutes of driving on narrow winding roads we reached the bottom station of the gondola lift to Lake Artouste about 20 minutes from the Spanish boarder at about 4,200 feet above sea level. The gondola brought us in about 10 minutes to 6,100 feet altitude and we immediately boarded the highest train in Europe. The scenery of the high mountain tops still covered in snow and sweeping views into deep valleys was phenomenal. We rode for about 40 minutes on the train to a stop in the mountains and went for a short hike to a crystal clear lake that only exists because of the melting snow. After a delicious pick-nick in the mountains, we actually had a mini snowball fight in the middle of June! By the way, we all became fans of the pick-nick bags we received so many times from the kitchen staff at St. Joseph. It must be the fruit, cookies or just that it contains fresh baguette every time... In order to get back to school we had to take the same way back train-gondola-van.
- Saturday - Sunday, June 16 -17 - The students spent the final weekend in Nay with their host families.
- Friday, June 15th - Everybody is tired of the rain and the cold weather and we were happy to see the cloud cover open up to some clearer skies. We learned from in the news that in the mountains not to far from St. Joseph a street washed out and disappeared almost completely, effectively cutting off the village of Gourette from the outside world. Remarkably, nobody was really upset about the village being cut off. What set everybody off is the fact that on July 27th , that road is part of a stage of the Tour de France and they are really worried that they have to change the route now. We took the trusted school van from St. Joseph and drove to a farm where they produce sheep's milk cheese. We learned about the entire process from the owner Didier and his father. The students' favorites were the different machines, the cheese tasting, and the different dogs that are working with the farmer. They will add some of their own observations as well. After the visit to the farm, we drove to a nice spot in the mountains in the town of Laruns for a pick-nick and a stroll before we returned to school. Later in the afternoon, we had a small gathering with all of the host families and students who will come to WRA in October. We thanked them for their hospitality and generosity and answered questions about their trip before everybody headed home for the weekend.
- Thursday, June 14th - The day was luckily filled with classes at St. Joseph. It had continued to rain all night and went on pretty much throughout the day. We heard reports of flooding everywhere. The "Gave de Pau" was an impressive torrent of muddy water and had inundated a small park and some paths along the edge. We stayed dry and the students enjoyed a day in classes. It is supposed to get better starting Friday and we are cautiously optimistic that we get to see some sun before we leave.
Wednesday, June 13
Flooding in the Region
On Wednesday night, as we closed the shutters, turned off the lights, and settled in for the night, the sound of heavy rain echoed through all of our homes. It had been raining for most of the trip, with only a few clear days.
We woke up on Wednesday morning with an abundance of floods all over the region near St. Jo. As we drove to Tarbes, we were amazed at the amount of water in the
Gave that flows through Nay and into Pau. The combination of rain, and melting snow from the Pyrenees flooded the rivers to near record heights.
In the afternoon on Wednesday, I walked to the river with Romane and Paul and we looked at the river, which flooded the park and deposited all sorts of trash along the river bank.
It was reassuring to wake up this morning and notice that the water level, though still higher than usual, decreased.
Monday, June 11
Rafting and Coastal Visits
On Friday, after visiting the city of Pau, Ana and I, along with Charlotte, Romane and Paul (our hosts and friend) went to a white water rafting park. It was a great experience. The course consists of a pool of water that is built above the water. Man made obstacles and a river bed create a semicircle as the water rushes back towards its normal level. After completing the course, there is an escalator for the raft which takes it back to the raised pool. We did this for about an hour. It was a lot of fun (even though the water was very cold)!
On Saturday, I traveled with my host family to the coast. First, we went to Hossegor then drove along the coast to Bayonne and Biarritz as well as St. Jean de Luz. In Hossegor we enjoyed amazing oysters from a local oyster bar and a delicious lunch on the patio at an Oceanside cafe.
I am amazed that you can experience many climates, from the peaks of the Pyrenees, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
- M atthew
Tuesday, June 5
Marché De Nay and Musée Du Béret
Today we visited the market in downtown Nay, and the Musée Du Béret. At the Marché de Nay, there were many vendors selling all sorts of items. Outside of the main market building where there are food vendors, there were many independent stands that sold all sorts of clothing and accessories. There were stands that sold foie gras, vegetables, and meats. Some of us purchased espadrilles, a shoe, from the region, made using rope as the sole. Walker, Colin and I went to a local bakery where we purchased a baguette and sat on the patio, while enjoying the sights and sounds of the market.
Before visiting the market, we walked from St. Joseph to the Musée Du Béret where we watched a video about the history and uses of bérets. We were surprised to learn that bérets can even be used as weapons! After watching the video and seeing the equipment used to make the bérets, we all tried on bérets and enjoyed looking at all the different styles.
Monday June 4
Matthew Stefan and Colin North
Lourdes is an ancient city located on the foothills of the Pyrenees which served as a location where travelers could stock up before travels and has an important tactical position. Historic Lourdes was founded during the reign of the Ancient Roman Empire and has evolved over the years with the changing of time. We visited the historic castle, located on a mountain, which was used to fortify the city. While at the castle, we ascended a long spiral staircase to discover a 360 degree view of Lourdes. It was spectacular, and we were blown away by the history, architecture, and preservation of the historic sites.
In 1858, Lourdes would transcend the type of city it had been. In this year Bernadette Soubirous experienced what has been confirmed by the Catholic church as an apparition of the virgin mother, Mary. Though not taken seriously at first, Bernadette continued to see Mary and vehemently told her story. In one of the final apparitions, at the Massabielle Grotto, the virgin mother told Bernadette “Que soy era immaculada councepciou,” which translates to “I am the Immaculate Conception.” In addition to visiting the aforementioned grotto, we visited three churches that have been constructed to honor Mother Mary. One of these churches is located underground and is the largest Catholic church in the world. Lourdes serves as a place of pilgrimage and healing for people of all faiths and walks of life.There are an average of eighty masses per day in the free chapels and has about four million visitors each year and has been frequented by influential Catholic figures such as Pope John Paul II.
- Matt and Colin
Tuesday, June 5th
The First Weekend
For our first weekend in France, our host families were kind enough to plan some American activities. Some of us were craving something familiar after the week in France. After getting a much appreciated sleep-in Saturday morning, we met up with each other and our hosts to play laser tag. Since we had about 16 people, we basically rented out the facility which made the games much more fun to play. After working up an appetite from the surprisingly intense games of laser tag, we all walked over to KFC for lunch. Considering most of us did not even realize France had KFCs, we were all surprised when we saw that the two-story restaurant had four cashiers and a line that nearly stretched outside. The chicken was undoubtedly worth the wait, and it was the first food I had that tastes the same in both America and France. After KFC, we walked to the mall and shopped at the French stores until the parents arrived. Although I usually dislike shopping, being able to test the scooters and bikes in the sporting goods store made for an enjoyable experience. On Sunday, it rained for most of the day, so we were able to stay in and rest for the majority of the day, which was also appreciated.
Entry June 7 2018
The First Weekend
This weekend my family took me to a lot of new places! On Saturday, all the ELISA students and French correspondents went to play laser tag. We all got to know each other better and afterwards we went shopping together. Afterwards, my host father, Matthew’s host, Matthew, my host, and I went to play some golf. I had actually never played before so it was a fun and new experience. Later that night my family went over to Matthew’s family’s house and we had dinner. Sunday, my family and I went to Pau for lunch. It was an amazing city with a beautiful view of the mountains. After lunch we visited a church that was very beautiful and had a lot of art on the walls. It was a breathtaking church. We ended the day at the pool in the house with Matthew’s family and mine.
Sunday, June 3rd
Today I went to Bordeaux with my host. Bordeaux is a port city in the south of France. The trip was a bit tiring because we spent at least 5 hours on the highway. I was exhausted even though I didn’t drive. The city is beautiful: at one side of the city lays the grand classical buildings, and on the other side runs the river of Garonne. We went shopping and ate at a fabulous sushi restaurant, food at the restaurant was surprisingly delicious! We took several pictures at Place de la Bourse, the most famous site in Bordeaux, and we walked along the riverside, enjoying the rare warm weather. Bordeaux is a great city and I hope to return to this city someday.
Friday, June 1st
Today we visited la Maison Carrée de Nay, a Renaissance residence built by François de Béarn-Bonasse, a gentleman of King’s Court. It is now a museum of local industry and art. We were all amazed by the classical architectures of the Maison. We also learned about the local industries of both textiles and woodworking.
After la Maison Carrée, we went to St. Vincent church, a beautiful church constructed in the 15th century. We met a great musician in the church, he played us several songs on the organ, which has hundreds years of history. One thing we found interesting about St. Vincent is that it is fortified because of the religious war between the Catholics and the Protestants. Our guide spoke French to us for the entire time, we learned a lot of new vocabulary today!
Entry June 1st 2018
My French Family
When I first met my French family, I thought I had lost every single word of French I was ever taught. The family I am staying with is so sweet and they always ask if I am okay with everything in the house. The house is beyond beautiful, my host’s grandfather actually owns a horse farm right behind the house so you can see the horses roaming around. The mom and dad in the house actually remind me a lot of my parents. Although her mom does not know much English, she is always trying to make jokes with me. The father is very excited to have me in the house, it’s so sweet. There are already so many plans that the family has made to show me their region, I’m excited! In fact, it turns out that my host and Matthew’s host are close friends so we will be doing a lot of activities together.
Friday June 1st
New School Observations
We arrived at Saint Joseph on Thursday. The differences between St. Jo and Reserve are immense. From classes and class sizes to buildings and views the similarities seem to be few and far between.
St. Joseph has about 750 students between the ages of 10 and 18, some are 5 day boarders while the majority are day students from the area. The class size is larger than at Reserve and the technology is much less advanced than we are accustomed to. They do not have free periods like we do however they have 20 minutes between every or at least every other class. They cannot leave the school campus during the day and the bathrooms are only unlocked during the breaks! Their lunch time is also over 1 hour, much longer than ours at WRA. The students also seem to have less homework than WRA students.
Another difference between the schools are the starting and ending times. At St. Jo, classes begin and end at different times every day, only Tuesday and Thursday are the same. For each student the commute is different but most ride public buses. They do not have giant yellow school buses like we do in the USA. Finally the campuses are very different. While Reserve’s lawn’s wide sweep is very large and spread out, St. Jo has only one main school building that also has the dorms in it, and a small indoor gym Their theater is also very different from KFAC, as it also doubles as a testing space. Their view of the mountains (below) is amazing and we cannot get enough of it!
Friday, June 1st
Gym Class and The Stable
Gym class is ironically very relaxing because it is the only class where we do not have to speak or understand French. It allowed us to rest our brains after a long day of operating in a foreign language. For our first gym class, we played badminton. The games were very amusing, considering most of us had never even picked up a racket. Our gym teacher tried to give us some tips on hitting correctly, serving, etc., but I am sure the other students could tell that we hadn’t played before.
During our tour of St. Joseph, we were fortunate enough to pass by the stable and say hello to the horses. Since we are all still adjusting to the French language, it was nice that the horses reacted the same whether we spoke in French or English. I found it interesting that the French students can specialize in horseback riding, while most schools in America don’t offer it at all. We are planning on going horseback riding next Thursday, and I think that we are all looking forward to it.
Nature and Street Scene of Nay
Nay is a town located in Southern France near the Pyrénées, the mountain splits France and Spain. Even though it is the beginning of summer now, there is still snow on the top of the mountain. One of the French students I met today told me that the mountain completely turned white in the winter when it snowed, and the white scene shortened the distance perception between the mountain and the town. I realize why so many artists create their great artworks in France when I see the beautiful Pyrénées and a sparkling river rapidly flows through Nay. Nay seems to have cloudy weather frequently.
This is a town that has rich French style. It has a surprisingly similar view compared to the French streets painted in 19th century French impressionistic paintings: The buildings adjoin and there are flower beds delicately decorating the street. The sidewalks are narrow. I see a lot of arch-like structures used in the buildings in Nay. There are wooden shields in front of nearly every door and window shutters to keep each house’s privacy as well.
May 31, 2018
Mon Premier Jour
Today was our first full day in Nay, and also our first day of classes at St. Joseph. We began with a tour of the school, and I was amazed! To see the mountains towering above us just from the courtyard was très génial! Following our tour, we proceeded to go to history class with Madame Miara, where we were given the history of France as a country and its formation. It was very interesting! For our next class of the day we visited the gymnasium for physical education which is taught by Madame Carraze. In P.E. we played badminton which was very fun, regardless of how bad I am! With that our day of classes was over, which, in fact was not until 4:45, and the bus arrived shortly after. After making a few brief stops and one quite long one at the public school in Nay, we arrived at the bus stop in Bosdarros, where I was picked up by a family friend of Benjamin. That night at Benjamin’s house I did some work, slept in an attempt to eliminate my jet lag, and watched tv. Around 8 we ate dinner, which was rice with a mixture of carrots, mushrooms, and pork. Right after I finished dinner, I went to sleep, ready and excited for the following day.