A Travellerspoint blog

Spring Break in Prague

Research is so much more fun when you get to travel to a different country!

sunny 5 °C

Hello all! I returned to Besançon from Prague on Saturday afternoon, but a week full of deadlines has gotten in the way of a timely post. (Speaking of deadlines, I realized that I forgot to post news of my first big presentation! It went pretty well; a bit less polished and probably a lot less interesting than the other presentations in the class, but the professor seemed pleased with the finished product. I’ll just consider it a warm-up, because I have another one next Tuesday for a different class!)

My arrival in Prague was a bit of an uphill struggle; after 17 hours on a bus, the last thing that I wanted to do was navigate the two kilometers to the hostel. To make things more interesting, my French bank card was not working at the station’s ATM, so I didn’t know if I’d even have the money to take the metro. And my phone had about 5% battery and would not allow me to send the obligatory “I’m still alive; the bus didn’t crash on the way to Prague” text to Mom and Dad. Fortunately, there was a currency exchange at the depot (although closed for a 20-minute break). So I camped pathetically in a corner next to an outlet waiting for the exchange people to come back. Once I had a bit of money (Czech kurona/“crowns”) I headed down into the metro. There was a HUGE line in front of the ticket machines, because as it turned out, all four of them were broken. About ten or fifteen minutes later, I had my ticket and was off!

By this time, it was about 5pm, and I was ready to be done for the day. Luckily, the hostel (The Madhouse) was even closer to the metro station than it appeared on the map (though it was so inconspicuous I walked by it a couple of times)…


It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it was awesome! The lady at the desk explained that there was free pasta, rice, and cereal in the kitchen, loaned me a free towel, gave me a really good map of the city, and pointed out the giant beer fridge (20kč a beer – that’s about 75 cents…). Pretty much none of those things happen at other hostels, so I was already happy with my choice. She also hooked me up with a sweet mandatory wristband with the hostel’s address on it. (Both because very few tourists to Prague speak Czech and have a tendency to get lost, but also because this was a “party hostel” and sometimes people find themselves in a state even less capable of sound navigation…)

After a shower, I headed out to find an ATM that I could use, then some groceries; luckily I found both just down the block. When I got back, the kitchen was bustling with “family dinner” preparation. Every two or three nights, staff members prepare a huge dinner, open to everyone for 100kč, or about 4 euros. That night was an awesome Argentinian stir-fry, and it was a great opportunity to meet some of the other people staying there.

I had intended to learn at least a bit of useful Czech before my trip, but my schedule didn’t really permit much. So I pretty much just had “hello” (dobrý den), “please” (prosím), “thank you” (děkuji), and “Do you speak English?” (Mluvíte anglicky?). Many of my conversations took place in an awkward hybrid of English and hand gestures, but a lot of people spoke English quite well, as I had heard would be the case.

On Tuesday morning, I headed straight to the Holešovice neighborhood to visit the Veletržní Palace, whose exhibition of Alphonse Mucha’s Slav Epic was the main motivation for my trip to Prague. All 20 monumental canvasses were displayed in one enormous hall, and between fervent notes, copious photographs, and general awe, I spent six straight hours in that one room. Even if it hadn’t been research-driven, it was definitely worth the trip!

Obviously, I was the only person who spent this much time in the exhibition; most people went through in about 20 minutes. But there was one very old Czech man who was in there quite a bit longer, maybe an hour. While I was taking some notes, he came up to me and said something that I did not understand at all. I’m sure I started to look a bit embarrassed, and he asked, “Česky?” I said, “Uh, no…” and he kept talking for a while, then smiled to himself and walked over to one of the guards and struck up probably the same conversation. (I learned that night that the Czech word for “yes” is “ano” – pronounced “UH-noh”. So that was a bit awkward. But on his way out, the same man came up and tapped me on the shoulder. He gestured around the room and said, “Primo, non?” Not trusting myself to say anything, I just nodded my head furiously.


I had one more museum, the Mucha Museum, that I had to visit for my research, but after Tuesday’s marathon museum visit, I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get there on Wednesday morning. So I went on foot and did a bit of wandering and sight-seeing (and pastry-eating) in the Old Town on my way.


The museum was fascinating – I mean it was dedicated to one of my favorite artists – but I was somewhat relieved that it was rather small, and that I was able to get all the information that I needed and see the entire collection in about two hours. Then it was lunch time! I obviously needed to get me some real Czech food, so I found a little place nearby that looked like a happy medium between “Yes, we serve tourists who speak little to no Czech” and a place that locals wouldn’t mind being seen by other Czech people. I ordered the goulash and dumplings, one of the more iconic Czech dishes. It was pretty good; a hearty beef stew-y mix with deliciously soft and bready dumplings.


That afternoon and Thursday were devoted to tourism and other fun things. After lunch, I just explored a bit around the Staré Mesto (the Old Town) which was very touristy but still pretty charming. Because the city is quite compact (and I had a good map), I decided to really turn myself loose and just wandered, walking towards anything that caught my eye. This is probably not the most time-efficient method of tourism, but I’ve found that it really suits me well. And you still find cool stuff!


Wednesday night was another “family dinner” – this time it was super delicious lasagna made by the owner of the hostel. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to play laser tag. As usual, I was awful, but it was a good time.

On Thursday, I spent a bit more time on the west side of the river, in the Mala Strana district. This area is home to Prague Castle, the treasury, more museums, and other pretty things. Most of them are clumped together on a big hill, which was quite a pleasant climb and yielded a breathtaking view of the city from the top.


Of all of the choices of buildings in this neighborhood, I chose the Strahov Monastery, which advertised a couple of beautiful libraries.


I headed back to my side of the river for lunch, where I stumbled across this awesome vegetarian restaurant called Maitrea. It was super chill and definitely off the tourist path. Fortunately the hip youngsters who worked there spoke enough English that it all worked out. I ordered a cup of tea, which ended up being slices of peeled raw ginger steeped in hot water – delicious. I will definitely be making it myself. For my meal, I just picked a random thing on the “Czech Specialties” page. It turned out to be a vegetarian goulash and dumplings. When I saw it, I was a bit disappointed that it was something I had already tried, but not for long! It was infinitely more delicious than the beef version of the day before. This one was made with a meat substitute and was in this incredible sauce that had all kinds of intricate layers of flavor going on. It was a tad bit spicy, with a strong citrusy presence. And it was really pretty, with a lime slice, cranberries, and unsweetened whipped cream on top. Vegetarians for the win!

The afternoon was spent in more aimless wandering, the eating of a couple of kolaches, and being proud of myself when I navigated back to the hostel without my map at the end of the day. That night was a big party night at the hostel; one of the long-term guests/honorary staff members was going home the next day, so we all went out for the evening. I think that my favorite moment in Prague came when I was walking back with a couple of friends, well into the morning. The streets were generally deserted, and even though we were in the same Old Town that is swarmed with tourists during the day, you couldn’t tell. All of the storefronts were closed, hiding the flashy signs and advertisements. It felt like traveling back in time, with just cobblestones, old street lamps, and big wooden shutters.

Sadly, that was my last night in Prague, as I had to catch my second 17-hour bus the next day. Short anecdote: Prague has a pretty good public transport infrastructure. Between the subway, cable tram, and bus, you can get where you need to go pretty easily. But their ticket system SUCKS. All three systems run on the same ticket, which is handy, but they can ONLY be purchased at metro stations. You can’t hop on a tram and buy a ticket; you have to already have one with you. And a ticket is not valid unless it is stamped at the time that you enter your chosen mode of transport. So there I was, feeling pretty accomplished and worldly on my way to the bus station, because I knew how to buy a ticket, and which trains I needed to take and whatnot. But somehow, I forgot to feed my ticket through the *tiny* little stamp box (You know how most cities use turnstiles, so you can’t help but validate your tickets? Not the case in Prague. There are little yellow boxes mounted on the wall near the entrance to the metro terminals, and if you’re not paying attention – like me – it doesn’t cross your mind to get stamped.) But then I got a pretty abrupt reminder when, at the exit, a transport official asked to see my ticket. After an initial failed attempt in Czech, he asked in English why it wasn’t stamped. I tried to act like I had no idea what he was talking about, but he was determined. He asked for my ID and explained that traveling with an un-validated ticket is punishable by an 800kč fine (not quite as awful as it sounds…about $35). I didn’t have the cash on me, so I got escorted to the nearest ATM. He was nice enough, but I was so mad. But I got a rare Prague souvenir out of it all.


Posted by NKammerer 10:54 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (5)

Layover in Lyon!

Kinda diggin' this vacation in February thing...

overcast 8 °C

Saturday was the start of « February Break ». Yep, just a random week in February with no classes. So, now that I have recovered from Christmas, I am taking the opportunity to do a bit of traveling. As some of you may know, I am working on researching my UNL Honors thesis this year. I’m writing it on the Slav Epic (an incredible 20- canvas visual epic telling the story of the Czech and other Slavic peoples) by Alphonse Mucha. (You may know him for his Art Nouveau commercial advertisements.) Anyhow, Mr. Mucha was born in modern-day Czech Republic, and Prague is home to both a museum dedicated to his life and work, and the National Gallery, which is currently exhibiting the Epic. So guess where I am?!

However, there were no trains available to Prague, so I got to watch about 17 hours (one way) of European countryside from a bus window (which is actually kind of cool; we passed through Northern France and Germany). But again, there were no buses direct from Besançon, so I took a train into Lyon early Saturday morning, were I got to spend almost two whole days before catching the bus to Prague on Sunday night, giving me some good time to explore the city.

But before that, on Friday, (I don’t have classes on Fridays again this semester!), I had one of the most fun days yet in Besançon. I probably should have been either working on my pile of homework before leaving town or packing (that happened at midnight…) but instead I was invited to participate in a community event with ESN.

There is a small group of girls here from Romania, and they led a cooking class at a community center for the elderly. We all met there at about 10:00, cooked a four course Romanian meal then ate it for lunch. It was so incredibly fun. There were six or seven old French ladies between 70 and 80 years old, a couple of coordinators, and seven students (three of them Romanian).

We made a vegetable and meatball soup for the first course, then had an amazing polenta variation that was just a bowl of plain polenta mixed with three naturally salty cheeses – feta, goat, and sheep – then topped with crème fraiche. Next was a French salad (salad is typically served after the main course, to lighten things up for dessert). A few of the ladies took great pride and pleasure in showing me, an Italian guy, and a Swedish girl how to make French dressings from scratch – and bickering adorably amongst themselves all the while. Finally, for dessert, a really delicious cocoa cake.


It was a super fun activity – who doesn’t love to cook (and eat)?! – but it was also very interesting to interact with an entirely new population here. Every single lady was incredibly sweet and chatty. And we got to learn a little bit about the phenomenon of regional last names. Most of them were from families that have pretty deep roots in the Franche-Comté region, with names that can be tied back to the history of a particular town or village. And one woman, who was probably one of the spunkiest and most talkative, was from way up in the Jura hinterlands and spoke with such a strong mountain accent that I could only understand about 20% of what she said. If I wasn’t concentrating really hard, and just heard her voice in the background, it didn’t even sound like French.

Then, because it was BEAUTIFUL outside, the four of us who didn’t have class just went for a walk, then ended up sitting on a park bench for about an hour. It turned out that all of us had signed up for the same Club Cuisine that evening (led by the Swedish girl, Oda). So then we meandered to the other side of the centre-ville to go Swedish grocery shopping in a French supermarket. And then it was almost time to start, so we made our way to our hosts’ apartment to get cookin’!

Our appetizer was dark bread with cheese and smoked salmon, accompanied by a bag of reindeer jerky sent over by her parents. Dinner was a Swedish gratin – potatoes, onions, and anchovies and sliced and layered in a pan with cream poured over the top and baked. It was super good! And for dessert we had banana sundaes! Because the Swedish, like Americans (and unlike the French) eat ice cream all year round. Oda also had us taste a candy that came in a teeny tiny bag and that looked like black jujubes. We all popped them at the same time, and the room erupted in cries of indignation and groans of dread. They must be the SALTIEST candy in existence. After the thick coating of fine salt dust has dissolved – I feel like we could call this the “seawater phase” – it actually turned out rather yummy, with a strong black licorice flavor.

So after another day filled with incredible food and fun, I got back to my room and packed really quickly before crashing. (So far, I haven't forgotten anything!) Then I got up nice and early – 5:30 – for the train.

I arrived in Lyon, France’s second largest city, at about 9:30 Saturday morning. There was a steady light rain, but, having broken and not bothered to replace my umbrella (that has become somewhat of a priority now), I started making my wet way to the hostel. About halfway there, a super friendly guy with a big red umbrella jogged up behind me. He wanted to share his umbrella with me! But I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, because he had a cold and had plugged his nostrils with Kleenex wads. Once he realized that that was not working for my comprehension, they came out and we had a nice chat during the last two minutes to the hostel. It was all a bit surreal, but kind of a fun way to start the day in a new city!

Once there, I just dropped my stuff and headed out again. I was close to the Fourvière, which I really wanted to check out. It is up on a giant hill, which I climbed about 90% of – just as far as the giant ROAD WORK – CLOSED sign. It was still raining, and I was still umbrella-less, and I had no idea how to wing a detour in this neighborhood (generally a bad idea in windy European cities, I have discovered), so I abandoned that one until the next day. So then I just wandered around a bit along the rivers and came across some pretty cool stuff (a fairly effortless task here).


For lunch, I found a little Lebanese restaurant and ordered a super good falafel sandwich. Both the bread and the falafel were a bit different from what I’m used to. It was definitely still bread, but it was also a lot like a wrap or some sort, and the falafel was very dry and pasty, but not at all in a bad way. By the time I had finished eating, the rain had stopped and, as I was finally in the neighborhood of the fine arts museum, I got to head right inside again. Perfect timing.

I have discovered that it is a rule here in France that museums are pretty amazing. Obviously. But there is an added layer of cool when the card on the wall next to some incredible piece explains that it was once a part of a building on one of the streets that you walked down to get to the museum (as is the case with the door pictured below). I managed to stay at the museum until closing time, so I headed back for the hostel and stopped at a grocery store on the way.


Saturday ended up quite eventful as well, as I had planned to visit the museum of decorative arts about two miles from the hostel. But as I was walking along the river, I could see a bunch of market tents set up on the other side. So I crossed over at the nearest bridge, and ended up walking through the most impressive art fair I have ever seen. If I weren’t poor and travelling, I would have easily walked away with four or five pieces; it was incredible. (Lyon seemed to be a very artsy city. In the neighborhood between where I stayed and downtown, I’d say about 40% of the storefronts were art studios or galleries. By the time I had reached the end of the fair, I could see that there was another fair starting up on the other side! This one turned out to be a HUGE food market, with bakers, butchers, farmers, cheesemakers, seafood vendors, florists, patissiers, and all kinds of amazing things. I bought a lump of Savigny chèvre to accompany my lunch, and it was SO fresh and delicious!

After that series of happy detours, I finally made it to the museum, where I spent the rest of the morning (and a bit of the afternoon). It turned out to be two museums; one of the decorative arts (so each room was basically furnished like a period room, be it a salon, bedroom, whatever) and the other was a Tissues Museum (Lyon was once renowned for their silk manufacturing). On the way back, I walked back through the market – which was even more crowded and noisy than before – to pick up some other lunch ingredients.

Then, in the afternoon, I was resolved to find the Fourvière, so I mapped out an alternate route. This brought me through some really tiny little alleyways and it was absolutely fantastic. When I got to the top of the freaking MOUNTAIN, it was even more worth it, both for the view of the city and for the church itself.


After the Fourvière, I went on a quest for some bread to pack a sandwich for the bus ride the next day. You’d think that by now I would have figured out that options are very limited on Sundays, not to mention at 6pm… But Google told me that there was one boulangerie open about half a mile away, so off I went! And that little detour took me into an entirely new little area of the same quarter that I had spent most of my time in. Full of restaurants, candy shops, patisseries, book stores, and antique shops, it was a bit touristy, but in a much different way (quieter, more diverse stores, and actually probably about 50% French – I guess they still could have been tourists…) than the tourist neighborhoods of London, Dublin, New York City, or Paris. Wow, it’s kind of crazy to think that I have been to ALL of those places now! I think that I can say that Lyon is my favorite French city outside of Besançon so far; not too enormous, but definitely some really cool stuff going on!

For the sake of everyone, I’ll let this be it, and update you all on my Prague adventures once I’m back in Besançon.

Posted by NKammerer 15:15 Archived in France Tagged vacation bus museum sweden spring cooking cheese lyon fourvière esn club_cuisine romanian_cuisine retirement_home Comments (6)

Classes, Work, Meetings (and a bit of fun on the side!)

All of those stupid movies where kids go to study abroad but just spend the whole time partying are a LIE!

semi-overcast 3 °C

Whew. So much for a post a week! I’ve been keeping incredibly busy, but mostly just with work. I’ve spent a good part of the last few days pulling together the last of my presentation for Wednesday. Events took a happy turn when another exchange student (from Moscow) joined the class last and teamed up with me. We’ve actually had a lot of fun putting it together, and now I won’t be alone floundering about in front of everyone making lots of hand gestures. The stakes have been set pretty high after two weeks of watching our classmates present their research. It’s interesting how incredibly different Art History education is here compared to my experience in the US (at least at UNL). Until now, my classes have been the stereotypical dark room with an endless flicker of notable works, and taking notes on whatever information the professor has deemed important for us to know about them. I know that sounds like torture to most people, but I actually find these classes really interesting, and get quite a lot out of them most of the time. But here (though there are still lots of powerpoints and very fast talking), the courses tend to be focused on themes rather than time periods (for instance, my presentation is for a class on the relationship between art and power in Ancient Greece and Rome, and I have another course that focuses on the nuances of the representations of men vs. women on Greek ceramics). And though it is important to be able to identify the works that are evoked, they are presented more as illustrations of the larger points that are being discussed. And about half of the class is professor-led lecture, and the other half is left for student presentations of in-depth research. I definitely have a warm fuzzy feeling for the dark lecture room model, but I feel like this technique is perhaps a bit more applicable to the things that we will be doing with our educations.

That being said, I am looking forward to getting past this presentation so I can start work on my next one! (For the ceramics class.) I’ve also read approximately 700 pages of 19th century French theatre. I’d say I’m definitely getting the full experience.

But I am also making a noble attempt at a social life. A couple of weeks ago, the university had an “Open Doors” day for high school students in the area, and ESN put up a big tent with all kinds of study abroad info, including tables representing a bunch of the countries that we are from this semester. So I printed off some pictures of Omaha and UNL and other cool stuff and had a little US table. It was fun to evangelize about studying abroad!


And last week, I went to a party organized by the Languages department. I figured I’d get to speak a bit of French, but I mostly went because so many students here study English and I thought it’d be fun to chat with them a bit. I met a few really nice students who were very enthusiastic about practicing with an Anglophone. So much so, that we exchanged numbers at the end of the night and met up yesterday for coffee and the first of what I think will become a regular language exchange.

This morning, I went on a little outing with ESN to the small town of Pontarlier, about 50km southeast of Besançon, very close to the Swiss border. The town is famous for having been the biggest producer of absinthe (up until its abolition in 1915). It is no longer illegal, and there is one distillery (La Distillerie Pierre Guy) that survived the period of prohibition, and they started reproducing in 2001. So we went for a little tour and taste-test. It was a really small operation, only a few rooms, and our tour guide was the great-great grandson of the man who opened the place in 1890.


We got to watch the whole old-school fountain-drip process, then test pretty much all of their products (the way they stayed in business through the 20th century was by manufacturing a huge line of eaux de vies which they still make today). It was a little strange to be doing this at 10:45 in the morning, but whatever. I of course tasted the absinthe, and was a bit disappointed. It pretty much tasted like spicy dust. Not sure if I’ll be revisiting that one. But I also tried a few of the eaux de vies – cherry, peach, and pine (which was even more green than the absinthe…And very strong.) They were all quite good, and I took the opportunity to support the local economy.


After the tour, we had a couple of hours of free time to explore and grab some lunch (which was becoming rather crucial for some of us by this time…they were really generous with their sampling…). So a few of us grabbed a nice lunch in a restaurant, and then went exploring a bit. It really is a pretty small town, about 18,500. There was a pretty little church near the city centre, and a fair share of cool monuments and old buildings. And it was a much higher elevation than Besancon, so there was actually measurable snow!


Next, we went up a bit farther into the mountains, for a tour of the Chateau de Joux. It turned out that there had been a mini avalanche on the road earlier in the day, so we had to abandon the bus and walk up the last kilometer or two.


The Chateau is actually a military fort, and it is a mere thousand years old. Construction started in the 11th century, and continued up through the 19th. It housed prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution, and served as a fortress during the two World Wars. And, at an even higher altitude than Pontarlier, it was cold. But also quite beautiful; there were some wonderful views of the village below, and the surrounding mountains.


It was an interesting structure, with lots of windy hallways that just led to one big room after another. Some of them were used as food storage space, some as prison cells, and others as soldiers’ quarters. And they haven’t touched the structure at all since it became a museum – the refrozen drips from melting snow that seeps into the dungeons, in the words of our guide, adds to the beauty of a winter visit. And he was right, it is pretty cool!


In other fun news, I learned that the tickets have been bought for Mom, Dad, Eva, and Ben and Chelsea to come check out Besançon in May (they’ll get in on my birthday!). I can’t wait to share Besançon with others!!!

Posted by NKammerer 13:26 Archived in France Tagged snow eau_de_vie classes study_abroad conversations absinthe presentations art_history pontarlier chateau_de_joux kammerers_take_besançon_2015 Comments (4)

Food from four continents in one week!

Again, most of the stuff that's worth writing about is food-related...

snow 2 °C

At last, Besançon has started to get the winter weather that I am used to! I woke up this morning (and two or three other mornings this past week) to gently falling snow. It usually doesn’t accumulate much or stick too badly to the streets, but it’s pretty and makes it feel a lot less like April. And I’ve decided to use it and the significant amount of work and research that I have as a reason to spend a quiet day inside with my coffeemaker.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t been doing fun stuff, too! Last Saturday, Gabrielle, Claudia, and I enjoyed yet another of Gabrielle’s delicious homemade Korean dinners. This time it was a spicy red chile soup with potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, carrots, and whole chicken thighs, then it was served over rice. I feel like I’ve gotten almost as much authentic Korean and Chinese food here as I have French food! And I must say that the Asian dishes make me feel much less fat than the French ones.

Then, after dinner, we reprised our cookie night of last semester! As popular as the chocolate chunk cookies were, they both wanted to branch out and try something new. So I decided on two of my other favorites – Gingersnaps and Oatmeal Raisin. And they went over just as well, if not better. But man, is it a commitment to bake two batches of cookies six at a time!


Also, it appears that I am continuing in my amateur ambassadorial role this semester. Again, I received a vague email that was sent to me and the other two American students at the University, saying that Madame the Consul Général of the United States in Strasbourg would be coming to visit the CLA, and would like to have a little chat with the Americans in Besançon. So I thought that’d be pretty cool, whatever. And again, I walk into the room to find a full-on meeting with at least fifteen people. But after my adventure with the Prime Minister, this was nothing!


After the meeting, we had a little reception, at which I got to taste Franche-Comté's regional version of the galette des rois that I wrote about last week. This one, cleverly called the Galette Comtoise is much more like a thin, pizza-shaped flan. It was pretty good, but not quite as delicious as the flaky almond paste-y original. And a super friendly woman gave me the recipe, so maybe next year the Kammerer household will start observing the Epiphany…


On Friday, I was super happy to meet Bethany, a girl who just arrived here with ISEP, the same study abroad program that I am using. Last semester, I was the only one, and it led to a bit of confusion every once in a while. But we finally got the chance to meet up last week, and it turns out that she’s from Illinois, and actually attends a small college just a few miles from Knox, where Ben went to school! It’s also kind of cool to be able to know enough by now to be able to help people who arrived this semester, whether it’s giving them directions or introducing them to other people from their country.

Friday night was another “Club Cuisine” event (students get together at somebody’s apartment and cook a traditional meal - last semester I did an Algerian one). This time, I chose Bolivian cuisine. It was a bit different from the last one (multiple courses of super unique soups and breads and things I had never seen before) in that we just made a massive batch of a dish called pique macho which is pretty much the definition of drunk food. Bite-sized pieces of beef, sausage, tomato, onion, and peppers are stewed together into a thick chunky sauce, then ladled over a bed of French fries and garnished with hard boiled eggs. It was pretty good, but I definitely didn’t feel like doing much moving afterwards! But as stuffed as I was, I was still a bit disappointed to learn that desserts are practically nonexistent in Bolivian cuisine.

Though the stress level is a bit higher at the University, I feel like I’m improving even more quickly now. I’m starting to get into the work on my big oral exposé (coming right up in about 2 ½ weeks!) and I’m halfway through my third 19th century play. It was actually kind of awesome – I sat down to read the second one (a relatively short one-act called ¬Intérieur) and realized that I didn’t have access to a dictionary. I figured I’d just highlight the words I didn’t know and look them up later, but it turned out I didn’t need to at all! So that was a proud moment. :)

Posted by NKammerer 05:16 Archived in France Tagged snow soup club_cuisine gingersnap_cookies oatmeal_raisin_cookies french_consul galette_comtoise pique_macho bolivian_food classwork Comments (2)

Back in the School Swing...

Natalie at the Big University!!!

snow -1 °C

Well, my first week of big-girl classes is complete! (And the reason for the long break between posts…) I have roughly the equivalent of 16 credit hours, and I already have an impressive amount of work, but I already prefer “la Fac” (la Faculté des lettres, or the College of Letters and Humanities) to the CLA. There is just a new level of independence and feeling grown up when you are the only international student present in a class.

And here, there is NONE of that “roll out of bed ten minutes before class starts and run across campus from your dorm to make it to class on time”. The Fac is in the heart of downtown (whereas the CLA was on the nearest edge of downtown from where I live), so my commute is now a solid 30 minutes. I take a bus from campus to the edge of downtown, and then have about a ten minute walk. Luckily, my earliest classes are at 10am, so if I get up at respectable hour, I can still have a decent chunk of time in the mornings.

So, this semester, I am taking five classes: two of them are “French Perfectionment” specifically for international students (so I already know a good percentage of those classmates a little bit, just from being a part of the International club); another is “Methods and Techniques of Art History” which is going to study iconography and themes of the Old Testament and their modern significance in Europe; another is “Greek and Roman Art: Art and Power” which is a study of the representation of power and influence in Greek and Roman sculpture; and, finally a literature course - “French Drama of the 19th Century”.

One nice thing is that all of the classes are surprisingly small; my largest is maybe 20 students. Which makes it much easier to stop a lecture to ask for clarification. Actually, I haven’t even needed to do that yet, which is kind of awesome! But I know that it’s inevitable… I’ve been recording all of the lectures on my phone for future reference; I find it incredibly difficult to catch everything the first time around when a professor is spelling a German word, or listing off a string of dates. (In the French alphabet, the letter “i” is pronounced “ee” and “j” is pronounced “jee”, so my brain always gets in a knot. And numbers get a bit complicated, because, like in many other languages, “seventy” is really “sixty-ten” and “ninety-eight” is literally “four twenties-ten-eight”.) Enough to make a foreign brain melt. I know for a fact that, if I had started straight away at the University rather than spend a semester at the CLA, it would have been a total train wreck. So I'm very grateful that someone had the presence of mind to suggest the more gentle introduction of the CLA.

And we’re really diving in of the work front – I’m in the process of slowly but steadily reading a play (Lorenzaccio) for Tuesday, and on Feb. 18th, I’ll be delivering a 30 minute presentation on a Greek sculpture (Nike by Paeonius). You’ll definitely be hearing how that goes!

With the new semester has come a new group of students, as well as the departure of others. Nicolle, who accompanied me on many of the adventures that I have written about, is back in New York, and it is definitely strange to not have her here any more. However, I have had the opportunity to meet new people from Italy, Germany, Ireland, Azerbaijan, South Korea, and FRANCE. It is so much easier to meet French people when they are your classmates!

Yesterday, I did a couple of short interviews via Skype with Mom’s eighth graders at Marrs. It was very fun to answer their questions, and to hear some of their reactions. Questions ranged from “So…are French guys cute?!” to topics like food, fashion, and gas prices. It reminded me a bit of when I was in eighth grade, and how inconceivable it would have been to eighth grade Natalie that I would be crazy enough (the good kind!) to spend ten months on another continent, speaking another language.

In current events, the season of the Epiphany is winding down, and with it the season of the Galette des rois (Kings’ Pie). It is a simple but delicious pastryish pie that basically a bunch of puff pastry with a layer of almond paste inside. I only tried it once, and it makes me sad that is has such a short season wherein it is socially acceptable to be eaten!


Another topic of conversation that has been pretty popular is the recent happenings in Paris, with Charlie Hebdo and other events. It’s been just over two weeks, and, though it has really shaken a lot of people, I haven’t observed much of a change. The week following the attack at Charlie Hebdo, they increased their circulation from 60,000 to 5,000,000. And they still sold out by the afternoon.

(Translation: “No more Charlie – You needed to get up earlier!”)

It is also quite common to see the “Je suis Charlie” motto posted on doors or in shop windows, generally as a sign of homage to those killed, and a show of solidarity towards the freedom of expression. In the week following, there were memorial marches and gatherings around France. The march in Besançon had such a big turnout that they couldn’t actually leave the assembly space. I don’t really expose myself to much French news, but I’m sure there is a significant amount of continued coverage and commentary. But it has been refreshing to see that, in general, life continues as normal, with minimal hysteria.

As I write this post, I’m getting my first French snow, so I’m gonna go make myself some German tea and curl up to read a French play that takes place in 16th century Italy…


Posted by NKammerer 07:42 Archived in France Tagged skype cla fac_des_lettres galette_des_rois art_history exposé Comments (6)

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