31 March 2009

Des relations aller-retour

Tonight I attended an aparatif soirée, where I met three students from Lyon III who will be studying at Mizzou for the 2009-2010 school year. It was a very satisfying experience to meet people who are so excited about Mizzou and answer questions, as I wish I could have done before coming to Lyon. They seemed very excited about traveling all around the states, just like I have been doing while visiting here. I'm so glad the Relations International planned this (surprisingly) well-organized event for all the study abroad students to meet the soon-to-be study abroad students. All of us were ecstatic to meet each other and I can tell we will become good friends in my last 2 months here and at in a few months at Mizzou. 
Unfortunately I will not be able to meet them again right away because it's time for yet another spring break! The French really know how to do vacations and I can't complain! I'm off to the beaches of Normandy, then to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany! I don't know if I will update much in the next two weeks but I'll have a lot to share when I return! Au revoir et à bientôt!

29 March 2009

Les Calanques de Cassis

Picture this: A serene beach enclosed by limestone cliffs so high that you have to squint your eyes to see the top. The cliffs cast a daunting but beautiful shadow onto the turquoise seawater. This describes the scene where I took a running start into the freezing cold Côte d'Azur and swam until my limbs went numb. The water was so cold that my smile seemed frozen onto my face as the salt water soured my open mouth. 
The moment that I got to Cassis, I hit the trails to find what I came for. The Calanques are a well kept secret of France, and I hope they don't mind me sharing. The cliffs that line the southern coast near Marseilles make for great hiking and a million fantastic views of the sea. 
I'm talking about some serious hiking though. The amazing and very environment-friendly hostel that we stayed in was a 50 minute hike from town. However, we took the long route, which took about 4 hours. We cooked a delicious meal at the hostel and watched the sunset cast its dimming light over the sea onto the Calanques. That night we were so worn out that we hit the bunks at 20:30.  The next morning we went for a 'brisk' morning hike, on a rather dangerous decline that led us to Calanque d'En Vau. 
Beach at Calanque d'En Vau. Those specks you see are actually people. (above)
Another view of Calanque d'En Vau (above)
We arrived at an empty beach so beautiful that words can't describe. Soon after we arrived, some rock-climbers joined us on the beach as they prepared to climb the Calanque. But we had our own rocks to climb as we headed up the mountain back to civilization. I could go on for hours about my weekend in Cassis. Long story short, I fell in love with the French coast this weekend. 

24 March 2009

Une Expérience Culturelle Lyonnaise- Olympique Lyonnais

Football (soccer) is like a religion in France. I am lucky to live in Lyon, where the #1 football team in France for the past 7 years plays. On Sunday night, I went with a group of friend to un match de foot at Stade de Garland stadium in Lyon. 
It was OL (Olympique Lyonnais) against a no-name team that they beat 2-0. The experience was a whirlwind of unfamiliar culture, as it would be for a foreigner to watch an American football game. I didn't know the cheers, the MVP, or the football lingo, but it was a learning experience. My friends and I went to the front of the stadium to sit with the hooligans so we could get the real football experience. We had drunken fans pushing all around us, standing on the seats, holding up signs, and yelling in our ears the whole time. It was amazing. The most amusing part was watching most of the 37,000 fans trying to take the métro home after the game. We opted to walk home, instead. Seeing all these dedicated football fans really made me miss Mizzou sports. Luckily I will come back to the states just in time for my last undergrad Mizzou football season!
Watch a video of the crazy fans:

23 March 2009

Randonnée à Grenoble

Grenoble, France is a beautiful city on the foot of the most spectacular mountains in Europe. It was host to the '68 Winter Olympics and continues to be a hotspot every year for the Tour de France. I was able to enjoy the view with two of my favorite people in Europe. Jon, Clara, and I trained to Grenoble and spent the day hiking into the mountains. Along the way we devoured a very French picnic (fromage, pain, etc) at the fortification of la Bastille (pictured below). 
conquered this mountain
The crisp mountain air was a refreshing treat after traveling from the polluted cities of Paris and Lyon in the last week. I love that France has PR, sentiers de promenade et de randonnée. These are well-maintained hiking paths all over France, which have easy-to-follow signposts for hikers. We hiked for about 4 hours without a map and without getting lost. There were rock-climbers, runners, and mountain bikers who shared the paths with us. The view continued to get better the higher we got, as the sky cleared to the peaks piercing the clouds. I couldn't tell you which range was which, but the whole panoramic view was spectacular with endless mountains.

Each fort and ruined building we came across had history seeping out of the walls. The Bastille from the middle-ages, a bombed stone building, lookout holes carved out of the mountain, and a WWII memorial spotted the mountain. We explored each site with the enthusiasm of children, climbing around and discovering little details.

I should mention that it was Jon's wonderful idea to go see the mountains last weekend. They are certainly a must-see in Europe and unfortunately the glacial valley of the Isère is melting. It was a treat to see these jagged snow-capped summits during our leisurely hike though time.
We didn't spend much time in the city of Grenoble, other than shopping for veggies at a small market. I must say, though, I wasn't interested in museums and the cuisine, I wanted to see Grenoble from the top, where the view and history was.

19 March 2009

La Deuxième Grève Nationale en France 2009

For the second time this year, I woke up to megaphones and beating music outside my window as the national strike marched by my apartment. This strike shut down ALL public transportation within France and any other businesses connected to the public sector and unionized workers (about 1 million people striking all over France). Now that I've had time to collect more of an opinion about the French tradition of manifestation, I witnessed this strike with a new perspective. Let me first remind you that French people have quite the history in organization of citizens and cooperation when it comes to grievances with the government (e.g. Storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution.) Keeping that in mind, they obviously have a great sense of French pride and passion as citizens each time they protest. Today I saw hundreds of university students striking for their right to education. The sight of students my age organizing in this strike brought an overwhelming feeling of (I don't know what) but it almost brought tears to my eyes. You're probably wondering "if these students are so passionate about education, then why are they skipping class every day and striking?"

"You don't save on education"
As a university student at Lyon III, I have witnessed an ongoing strike in the higher education system. My professors have explained the strike to the Erasmus/exchange students many times. So, as I understand it, there's two reasons for the university strike. 
1. The Students: In response to the economic crisis, right-winged Sarkozy is trying to reform the higher education system from a European model of free education (payed by tax money) to the anglo-saxon model where university costs an arm and a leg. So, university students are striking for the current free education system to remain.
2. The Lecturers: A new reform has transfered power of the education council out of Paris and into the hands of each individual university. Part of this reform is requiring that if the lecturer does not produce "enough" research, they will make up for it by teaching more classes. Research is not something that should have a standardized measurement. Assigning more classes shouldn't be a punishment for less research, as it would only take away time for more research to be done. It also means job-cuts and and different lecture training methods. 

In many cases the students AND the lecturers are on strike, blockading the schools. This is the case at universities across France, including Lyon II. My friends who are enrolled at Lyon II have no class and it has been decided that they will automatically receive credit for this semester. It also means, though, that the students from last semester have not received their final grades or credit. 

There are a few teachers and students at Lyon III who are striking but it has not effected the classes for my exchange program, luckily. However, the international students who have directly enrolled into the French classes (with the french students) have run into problems with the strike.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the strike today, for the unions and the universities. Sure, the French people strike a lot, but it is because they have the will to. I am somewhat inspired by the university strikes. It's not that I agree or would go one strike, too, just that I am impressed with the passion that French people have and all the effort they put in for change.

16 March 2009

Un week-end à Paris avec mon cheri.

It's impossible to conquer Paris. There is so much history, art, and culture to discover in this huge city that it is easily overwhelming. Jon and I attempted to scratch the surface in 2 days. Paris is a bit over an hour from Jon in Brussels and 2 hours from me in Lyon. It's the perfect meeting place and a romantic place to explore together. We met an amazing woman, Amanda, a fellow American living in Paris, who shared her home with us for the weekend. I can't help but notice the friendly and hospitable environment of Europe and I have been so lucky and blessed to meet and reunite with so many amazing people here.

Here's a rundown of a few of the things we saw. Please don't feel like you have to read it all, it's kind of ridiculous and awesome how much fun we had in one weekend.

Louvre. Friday nights it's free admission for students. It's a beautiful museum but ridiculously oversaturated with art; it's too much to comprehend. So we said hi to Mona Lisa and strolled through the exhibits just soaking up the artistic atmosphere.

Forum des Halles. Did a little shopping around this area and saw a huge chruch. Aurélia, my French friend who I met when she was studying abroad at Mizzou, met up with us for déjeuner. It was great to see my friend again in a different setting. She was so generous showing us around the city that she now calls her home.

Champs-Elysées & Arch de Triumph. Aurélia took us on a tour of the famous street where she works. The Champs Elysée is a very expensive and touristy street much like Rodeo Drive in L.A. To buy a very small coffee at a café on this street will cost you at least 10 Euros.

Sacre Coeur/Montmartre/Moulin Rouge. This area (minus the red light district) really reminded me of the layout of Lyon: extravagant church on the top of the hill overlooking the whole city. It's a beautiful, although very touristy place to be. On Monday, I enjoyed this area again with another fantastic person, the talented Ariana Strall. We chatted about the awesomeness that is European life as we ate crêpes, macaroons, and drank café. It was such a coincidence that we were there at the same time and I'm so happy we were able to meet up!

Palace and Gardens of Versailles. A must see piece of history. The extravagance of each room in the palace makes me sympathize more and more with the French Revolutionaries whose money the monarchy used to build the marble hallways laced with gold. The gardens were beautiful and the spring buds were about the burst.

Catacombs. What a creepy interesting place! The underground mined voids were filled with bodies of plagued Parisians in the 1700-1800s. Millions of human bones stacked in a repetitive pattern, lining kilometer after kilometer of underground tunnels.

Notre Dame Cathedral and Latin Quarter. This area is such a lively place! There is nightclub after bar after restaurant after nightclub in the small pedestrian alleys. Jon and I found great French cuisine in this area and afterwards walked along the café-lined riverbanks.

Eiffel Tower. It is all it's made out to be. A huge hunk of steel that, when lit, can be a beautiful piece of art that everyone and their mom wants to take pictures of. Every hour on the hour, the tower glitters with lights for 11 minutes. When it begins to glitter, there are ohhs and ahhs, like when watching fireworks. Sitting in the park and watching the Eiffel Tower light up the sky with Jon was an amazing way to end our trip together in Paris.

08 March 2009

Hiking the French countryside

Every Wednesday I have been attending meetings for a local hiking club in Lyon. The club consists of about 50 older Lyonnais men and women who enjoying hiking on Sundays. It's always a purely French-speaking crowd, which is fun for practicing and listening to French. They throw damn good hors d'oeurve parties with fantastic assortment of French and Lyonnais cheeses, saucisson, foie gras, and a plethera of regional wines. 
After partying with these lovely French people, Clara and I ventured out on our first hiking trip with them this Sunday. This group of about 15  were from the ages 21 (me) to about 65. We were driven out into the mountainous region of Ain where we would spend the next 8 hours hiking a 20 kilometer (12 miles) circuit around Cerdon, one of the many communes not far from Geneva.
The terrain varied quite a bit during the hike. It went from slightly inclining switchbacks to steep one-person-path inclines in the mud or snow beautifully framed by mossy trees. We also took paths beside snow-melt streams and waterfalls. I kept thinking to myself how much dad would love all the cliffs and rocks! Once in a while we'd run into a really old farm shack/abby/gravesite. I swear we crossed a bombed medieval church which laid in crumbling ruins (pictured above). It's very possible in this part of France!
After hiking we stopped at a café to enjoy some of the local sparkling wine, which was grown in the very vineyards we hiked through! I bet the hike would be even more beautiful with some grapes on those snowy vines! Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and an amazing experience that I hope to do again soon!! 

06 March 2009

Carnival Craziness

Although there are no organized carnival celebrations in Lyon, the young population takes every opportunity to party as if there were. The Carnival season is before and around Lent in Europe. My first encounter with the carnival excitement was on the métro when about 15 young men and women entered my metro car wearing crazy costumes/cross-dressed. I found out later that there was no parade in Lyon, but there was a big football (soccer) game between the local Olympique Lyonnais team (#1 in France) vs. Barcelona. That's enough of an excuse to dress like it's Halloween, right?! It was fun to see all the crazy outfits all around town that night. They were always somehow complemented by a Olympique Lyonnais team scarf, hat, or flag.

I had an opportunity to take part in the festivities this week at an Erasmus Carnaval for all the international students at my university. There was a bar rented out for us where we danced the night away dressed up as all kinds of crazy characters. I saw papa smerf, lady bugs, st valentine, nerds, etc. A few of my friends and I cross-dressed (a very easy costume to put together) and pulled it off really well. Apparently I make a good looking man. It was a great party and it was fun to participate in the carnival celebration!

02 March 2009

Lyon- Center of French Resistance

For my exchange, I am attending l'Université Jean-Moulin Lyon III. So who is Jean Moulin?? On Sunday I took the opportunity to learn more about the man after whom my university is named and many other members of the French Resistance in Lyon. Le Musée de la Resistance aka Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation in Lyon is located in the same building occupied by the Gestapo during WWII. In the walls of what is now a museum, people were tortured, killed, and plotted against. It was a moving experience to see WWII and resistance information in French with a French (and very insider) perspective. There were videos of French people in Lyon during the war coping with the German occupation. Seeing the war on the same streets that I walk down every day brought many things to reality for me. 

In conclusion, Jean Moulin is not just the name of my university, he was a dedicated French Resistance fighter. In all the statues of Jean Moulin in Lyon, he is always portrayed with a scarf around his neck. He wore the scarf to cover a large scar from trying to slit his throat after refusing to surrender information about the French Resistance to the Gestapo. Jean Moulin is a hero for his loyalty, civic virtues, and patriotism and is recognized by every French person. The museum taught me a lot about the history of Lyon and now I can appreciate the city with a new perspective of it's past and the desires of it's future.

Day-tripping in Dijon

Today was another rainy day in Lyon, but I can't complain because last weekend was beautiful with a hope for spring. I spent Saturday in Dijon, France with some friends to discover the heart of the Bourgogne region. It is obvious what this town is known for, but fun fact: Dijon is not a type of mustard, but a way of making the mustard very strong. It was a humble town, not flashy with tourist attractions, or publicizing Dijon mustard to an extreme. I would recommend Dijon for anyone traveling in France who wants a very non-touristy French experience.

The Café scene in Place François-Rude

On Saturdays there's an indoor and outdoor market flowing onto every street. The market seemed to bring the whole population outside- I saw nuns, children, hippis, and elderly people. In a region known for liquor (Burgundy) and wines (Cote d'Or par example) people began drinking at 9:30 in the morning. We followed the lead of the locals, and sat down for a morning vin chaud (hot spiced wine) at a café when we arrived. It was a tasty warm drink to be followed by a picnic of fresh foods we collected at the market. We sat on the steps of a 600 year old church building, now converted into a théâtre, and ate our tomme de bourgogne cheese, epinard dijon mustard, and pain d'espice (all specialties of this region) with fresh fruits and veggies. 

Saint-Benigne Church

After our tasty picnic, we wandered around the beautiful city taking pictures and enjoying the wonderful French architecture and atmosphere. In this small town there were 6 huge churches, one bigger and more flashy than the other. Each cathedral reflects the century in which it was built- many with medieval architecture and obvious theft of aristocratic statues from the time of the French Revolution. There's a history lesson to discover in each building. 

Clara, Justin, and I

It was nice to be in a smaller, less-fast paced town compared to Lyon. We continued eating, drinking, and soaking up the sun all day until our nice train ride home. It was a lovely day in a magical town with fantastic company. C'est la vie française!