Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pont du Gard and Nimes

Hey everyone! So, last Saturday (Jan 22nd) I got to see the famous Roman aqueduct the Pont du Gard and the city of Nîmes. This was the first free excursion for anyone in the University of Minnesota program and it was coordinated by one of the program supervisors. We left Saturday morning around 8:30am and by bus the trip only took about an hour to get to the Pont du Gard. First, we got to walk through the museum about the Pont du Gard and ancient Roman life in Nîmes. This part was not very exciting to me because I really just wanted to go see the aqueduct first hand, and last semester I had already learned about it in my ancient art history class. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but as my host mom warned me, it was super windy at the Pont du Gard!
One of the first views I had
The top two levels of arches

The Pont and I

Not only can you walk across the Pont, but also there are many paths on either end that lead to the top level of the Pont and the woods surrounding it. Another girl and I found an awesome tunnel and took shelter from the wind for a while.

After about an hour and a half at the museum and the Pont du Gard we all boarded the bus again and headed to the city of Nîmes. In ancient Roman times the Pont du Gard was built to bring water to the city since it did not have a natural water source to begin with. When we arrived we had about an hour to go get lunch wherever we wanted in the city. So, a few friends and I just stopped at a random café. They had some interesting stuff on their menu. One of my friend’s ended up ordering a filet of Kangaroo! After lunch we had a two and a half hour tour of the monuments in the city. It was a nice tour, but since it was so cold out I was ready to be done after an hour or so.
The Roman Arena

la Maison Carrée

My favorite historical aspect of the city was their official symbol that could be found on everything! It’s a crocodile with a chain around its neck and a palm leaf/tree. The design originally came from an ancient coin and represents Rome’s success in taking over Egypt. I tried to ask the guide if she knew how many crocodiles there are in the city, but she had no idea because there is practically an indefinite amount.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


My first week in Montpellier I didn’t have any classes, instead we had a couple days of orientation into the program where learned more about the school system, signed up for classes, and had a tour of the city. During the week we also had some free time to ourselves to explore the city. So, I thought I would share the different activities I’ve done so far.

The weekend I arrived, my “dad”, “brother”, and I drove to the beach. My brother needed to practice driving, since he will be taking his drivers test soon (they can’t take it until they are 18!). We are super close to the Mediterranean Sea, so the drive was very short and on the way I saw the big rugby stadium and flamingos. It was cloudy and windy when we went but I was still content. I felt the water, and being from MN, it actually didn’t feel that cold. I can’t wait to go swimming as soon as it warms up a little more, even though the natives will think I’m crazy!

As I mentioned in my first post the sales are going on right now, and I’ve been to both of the malls in Montpellier multiple times already. There is the Polygone in the centre ville and the Odysseum, which is just a short tram ride away (I bought a tram/bus pass good for 31 days). Odysseum is really cool because it’s a large outdoor complex with lots of retail shops, cafés, a grocery store, a movie theatre, an Ikea, and a sports center. There is also plenty of retail stores crammed into the small medieval streets of the centre ville.

Tram stop at odysseum

Our program got us a historical tour of the centre ville through the office of tourism in Montpellier. Montpellier isn’t as old as some of the Roman cities that are near by, but it still has a rich medieval history. For example, it has the oldest medical school in France.
La fontaine des trois graces is right in the center of the city or the place de la comedie, so it's a great meeting spot.

Saint Roch and his dog can been seen a lot in Montpellier. This is actually part of a larger mural.
Here is their Arche de Triomphe. Since, we were with an official tour guide we got to go on top of it!
This is a bad picture, but it is another thing we got to visit with a tour guide. It's an old jewish bath for purifications. With special permission from the city you can actually still use it.

My host family is very nice and likes to include me in their activates. One evening, I went with my mom and dad to their health club. We didn’t use the fitness part of the facility but instead enjoyed the pool, hot tub, sauna, and steam room. After a long day at work my host parents like to take some time to relax.

Finally, we come to the nightlife of the city. Since, Montpellier is one-third students there is a lot to do at night-lots of bars and night clubs for dancing. My host brother was super nice and took me out Saturday night with a few of his friends to one of the dance clubs called Panama. It was fun because they played a lot of American music that my friends and I knew…and it’s funny to see French people singing along to American songs even though for the most part they don’t know what the lyrics means. In general, there is a lot of American influence in their radio songs and television shows, which was interesting for me to learn because we never listen to French music or watch French television shows in the states.

In my next post I'll be talking about the program excursion to the ancient Roman city of Nimes and the Pont du Gard.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My host family

So far my host family has been a great experience, and I’m really happy I chose this living situation. I think you learn a lot more about the culture. My host mom is a great cook and I’ve already been introduced to many regional dishes. In the past few days I’ve eaten things I have never eaten before in my entire life-duck, rabbit, and pate! My host dad likes to tell me a lot about the history of the region and France in general…and of course wine.

I arrived at their place on Saturday night and we had a big dinner with their two kids. Their daughter is 23 and their son is 18. The daughter Lives in her own apartment not too far away and comes over for dinner, and the son is only home on the weekends because he goes to a school about 2 hours away. He is studying to be a chef! Every dinner I’ve had has been wonderful, and I could go on and on about each one, so I’ll just go into detail about my first dinner. First we had appetizers of cocktail hotdogs, gruyere cheese, and some beverages from the region. Then we had homemade pizza and duck. In France, they don’t cook their meat as much as they do in the states; in fact it’s practically raw. The daughter told this is because you can taste the natural flavor of the meat better and it’s tenderer. After the two entrées we had a gallette des rois, which is puff pastry filled with frangipane. It’s a dessert served around Mardi gras and Easter and in it there is a little figurine baked in and one person gets. For example, that night my host dad got the little surprise and it was a little figurine of the Easter bunny.

My host family lives out in the suburbs, so commuting to the city and to the school by bus takes awhile.
This was taken on top of the Arche de Triomphe in town...we live in the suburb by that weird looking tower. So, you can see it is far away!

Here is a not zoomed in picture from on top of the arch where you can barely even see that tower (it's on the left). Living this far away also makes doing activities at night with friends hard because the buses stop running at midnight and it’s a big city like Minneapolis, so I don’t want to travel around at night by myself. They have two cars and drive to the city for work, so sometimes I ride in with them. Their house is a lot bigger than I expected it would be. They have a cute fenced in yard with an olive tree and a small pool! In spring, they said they get a lot of bunnies, hedgehogs, squirrels, and frogs in their yard.

That's my room! My bead is 100 years old!

View of the large dinning room from the living room.

Communicating with my family and people in town hasn’t been too bad. I can usually understand what they are saying and can hold a conversation with them. My host dad said he was shocked at how much I already knew. Before me they had an exchange student from Switzerland and one from Belgium and they didn’t know as much as I do. What is still very hard though is using the metric system and Celsius. I have to learn those asap.

Well that’s all for now! I don’t start classes until Monday and am still in the registration process, so I’ll probably do a post on that soon…registering for classes here is a lot different!

Oh I almost forgot about Uki, my host dog. He is some sort of hunting dog and is very very nice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Arriving in Montpellier

Hello all! I have finally got myself fully situated in Montpellier, France! 

Even though the plane ride to get here was about 9 hours and my first international flight, it really wasn’t that bad.  The plane left at about 3:45pm on Thursday and we got to Paris at about 8am the next day…it was like time traveling! Through my program (which is a U of M program) I was able to take a coordinated group flight with other participants, which was helpful because it made navigating the airport less intimidating.  During the flight to Montpellier from Paris I saw some mountains and what I think is the tallest bridge in the world, le viaduct de Millau, from the plane.  Also on the flight, a friend and I got confused when the flight attendant came around because when she asked what type of snack we wanted she said “sweet or salfty” in French instead of just saying peanuts or cookies.  We had a French man sitting next to us that was nice and cleared things up for us. We finally arrived at the very small Montpellier airport around 12:45pm.  My suitcase, however, got lost along the way somewhere. Another benefit to the group flight was that the program leaders met us at the airport, so they helped me and a few others whose bags got lost too fill out a lost baggage claim.  It was still frustrating though and I suggest putting as much as you can in your carryon, so that you have some stuff to last a few days just in case your checked luggage gets lost.

The first night the program had us all stay in a hotel in the center of Montpellier.  We had the afternoon to do whatever, but since I didn’t really sleep at all on the plane I fell asleep at 4:30pm and didn’t wake up until 8am the next day! That morning we checked in with the directors, got a very brief tour of the city center, and had orientation at the program office.  People living in apartments got to move into them, while those in homestays were free to do whatever until their host family picked them up later in the evening. I’m in a homestay so I got to walk around a bit. I went to the Polygone, which is an indoor shopping center in the city center. We actually arrived on the first day of the “soldes” or sales, so the mall was crazy busy! Even more so than I’ve ever seen Mall of America! This is because in France sales are very regulated and there is only a 5 week period for sales in the winter and a 5 week period for sales in the summer.  There are a few promotions during the year, but those to periods are really the only time to get stuff 50% or more off their original price.  So, I guess it’s good I arrived when I did! Also, the French dress nicely everyday…lots of nice boots and high heels.  Yet another reason to go shopping!

Anyway, later that evening my host mom and dad came to pick me up…I will talk all about that in the next post.