Katie' Pau Life En France

Ma vie En France

Medieval Normandy! April 3, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 11:56 pm
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I mentioned in an older blog that I visited Mont St Michel. Thought I should share some more pics and info with you all before I write about my recent trips to Ireland, Toulouse and Carcassonne.




My friend and classmate Renee accompanied me on an overnight train to Normandy France after our last Friday of school. Because of delays, total travelling time amounted to about 12 hours. To make the journey even more intolerable, I apparently didn’t book the reclining seats, so my night was very uncomfortable. They leave the lights on and people are noisy until about 2 am. I got about 4 hours of sleep on the way there, zero coming back. I’ve learned my lesson for future overnight trips.



Have I told you people are allowed to take their dogs everywhere in France?

He was so cute and well behaved on the train.


When I finally arrived in Normandy it was exactly as I had pictured France before my journey abroad. (I think it must be from playing so much Medal of Honor on my xbox in high school)



Renee and I stayed at a really quaint hostel that was in a 200 year old house owned by an old British couple. They were very anti-England and I didn’t want to press them with questions about what made them move to France, but if anyone has any ideas as to why they would hate England let me know! I’m really curious!


A great bonus to the hostel was a free breakfast and free transportation to Mont St Michel and the train station! We arrived in town at 12:30 and were at the abbey by 1:30!


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The first chapel was built here in 702 AD, but since then it has been built and rebuilt upon, along with many additions to the site that have now nearly covered the rocky island!


I love being somewhere with a rich history – Mont St Michel was amazing to learn about. If you are interested in this monument, leave a comment and I’ll add more about the construction, what wars it went through, when it was an abbey of monks, when it became a prison, ect.



Renee and I walked around the ramparts a bit and then climbed to the very top to see the old Abbey!




The main part has turned green over the centuries, but I thought it added a mystical look to the inside. Plus, it was windy and rainy that day so hearing the elements beat against the top of this church on a mountain made for an incredible experience!


The cloisters, just outside this Abbey, were equally beautiful!




After about 5 hours exploring Mont St Michel, we returned to the hostel for the night. We went out for dinner and a drink at a local bar which happened to also be owned by English people from the same family!

They were very friendly and gave great service (unlike most French restaurants). I asked them what there was to see in the village and the bartender told me of a couple small sites. I woke up at 7 am out of habit the next morning and spent an hour and a half walking around the countryside. What a great way to start a gorgeous day!


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The bartender also advised us to spend the next day exploring the nearby coastal town of St Malo. I’m so glad we took his advice, because this is the prettiest French city I’ve been too! Even more beautiful than Biarritz!




It is an old medieval walled city right on the coast of the Brittany border!



And there are a few islands you can walk to when the tide goes out. Renee and I walked to one with a fort on it! We couldn’t go inside, but just outside the gate I found a wicked rock formation you would have loved to see dad!

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We walked around the old part of the city all day and stopped at a fancy creperie for lunch. I had a Galette for the first time, specifically a “Galette Bretagne”.

Bretagne = Brittany, a region known for it’s seafood, and a “Galette” is a savory crepe made with buckwheat flour. …..mmmmmmm……




What a perfect weekend away. This was my only chance to see the North of France; I’ll have to come back another time to see Lille and Strasbourg!


I’ll post a blog on Ireland soon! Happy Easter!


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Blog Squad Prompt 5 April 1, 2010

Filed under: Preparing to go abroad,Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 3:21 pm

Whew….I have so much to blog about. Just returned home from Ireland and Brussels today and am heading off again to Toulouse and Carcassone tomorrow. I don’t know how much writing I’ll do before I pass out, but I suppose I should start with my blog prompt.



#5    Cross-Cultural Learning & Integration
Perhaps by this point in your education abroad experience you are
beginning to recognize that studying abroad provides a different
experience than merely traveling abroad as a tourist. The reality is that
sometimes leaving and studying in a foreign country is not easy!
Take a few minutes and make a list of different things you’ve had to learn
or adapt to that the average tourist wouldn’t need to deal with. Some
examples might include understanding how to set up a bank account or how
to pay one’s rent or electric bill, recognizing how much work professors
expect, and so on. In your blog describe something that has been
especially challenging to adapt to in your new culture (the lack of fresh
vegetables, the relative inaccessibility of the professors, or the
extremely crowded subway that you have to use to commute, etc. about how
this learning has impacted your personal growth by giving examples of
things you’ve had to learn.


1) Buying and using my bus pass – I had to do this the first week in Pau. Shelled out 55 euros for a 3 month pass to the crappy bus system in Pau. I think the usage of the bus system  may have made me more homesick than anything else. All the little issues such as running to catch my buses, stressing about the time, waiting in the cold and rain for late buses, dealing with strikes, hobos and not being able to stay out after 7:30 on my own have made me miss my car and parents very much. I cannot wait to go home and drive to where I want to be when I need to be there. Unlike Pullman, Pau is not a 20 minute walk everywhere, so this semester has been rough, much rougher than Freshman year without a car. It isn’t nearly as cold, but my chances of seriously being stranded somewhere without a phone make it a bit more of a serious problem for me. I can’t wait to drive my Jeep across the state when I get back…


2) Professors – My profs were strange. Each one very different, but overall not awful. I really disliked one of them, but the other 2 were pretty nice. They all were very different from the US profs, mainly because they don’t seem to have a sense of what is appropriate in the class room. This contributed to my education here, because I feel that my profs taught me a lot about French culture without even meaning to. Does the term “Politically Correct?” even have a translation in France?


3) French and American cultural differences in privacy


4) The Service Industry – I know I’ve blogged about how much I hate that here.


hmm….think that sums it up – Happy April!


Sugar Binge March 18, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 7:18 am
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This week I have all my final exams. I’m done with the 2 extremely easy ones and I have 3 to go! Because of the testing, there was no school Tuesday.  I just had to show up for an oral exam that I was over by 11 am. Not wanting to waste any more of my precious time left in France, I hopped on a train to  take a day trip to Bayonne – the chocolate capital!


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I was very pressed for time when I arrived though – my train had been delayed at a stop for over an hour in some ghetto French town called Dax, because of an accident. I ended up only had 2.5 hours to explore Bayonne before catching the last train that would take me to Pau in time to catch the last bus home.


…..I miss my car sometimes


When I finally got there, the first thing I set off to find was the tourist office. I couldn’t find a hostel online, but I was hoping they would know of one nearby. I wanted to spend the night in Bayonne and head farther south down the coast to St Jean De Luz the next day. I also passed the public gardens on my way which smelled so good! Nothing beats the scent of fresh spring flowers!

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Unfortunately the tourist office informed me that there are no hostels in Bayonne – bummer! I decided to hustle and try to see as many of the sites as I could in what little time I had. I’d done a bit of research online and my program directors lent me a guidebook for the trip so I had a route all planned out.


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Oh and did I mention it was 70 degrees out with clear skies? Finally some good weather!


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The city has most of the original fortress, two chateaus and a decent amount of medieval houses. It made for a good walk.


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I also explored 3 or 4 churches, but this is the only one I really liked. Walking into it the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, it was a nice oasis from the heat.


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And the picture on the right is a “cloitre” in French. I had seen it online and went to find it, but the gate was locked Tuesday and I took this picture through the bars.


I saved the best part of my trip for last: Rue Port Neuf – the chocolate street. My advisors and a yearlong student (Leanne) told me I had to get the hot chocolate from Cazenave – one of the many chocolatiers on Rue Port Neuf. It ended up being a very pretty Tea Salon as well.

Bayonne 058 Leanne also recommended I get the special of toasts with my cocoa. I didn’t see what could be so great about toasts, but decided to try it. Leanne said it was expensive, but worth it.

Bayonne 060  I think the photo speaks for the hot chocolate. It was a dream come true for my taste buds. The toast on the other hand, was just really really buttery toast that cost 3 Euros. Considering I can buy a loaf of bread for 27 cents in France I don’t really think it was worth it. The chocolate made me feel fat enough without the buttery bread, but oh well, it was dinner.


Afterwards I bought some actual chocolates to save for a rainy day (or take back to the states with me if I can resist them!).  I got 3 truffles, a milk chocolate bar with sea salt and caramel, as well as a dark chocolate bar with spices. I think the latter will be similar to the Mayan/Aztec truffles you can get in the states.


After my hot, hand whipped cocoa I headed back to Pau and arrived just in time for the sunset =)

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Today my plan was to take a train to St Jean de Luz. I had no school so I went to the train station at 10 am and just barely got my ticket to Bayonne. From there I was told I would have to wait half an hour for my bus to St Jean de Luz.

Then the bus was delayed half an hour. 20 minutes afterwards it still had not shown up and I was told there had been some sort of “accident” delaying it. I was very very hungry and still annoyed from the train delay yesterday. I knew now that by the time I got to St Jean I would only have 2 hours to explore before taking a train home. I decided instead to see the sites I had missed in Bayonne yesterday.


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I replaced another meal with dessert! A gateau Basque with cream and blueberry filling. This is the only place where you can get one with blueberry filling! This cake was perfect, everything about it was just decadent. With it, I also had a macaroon. It was the first time I have tried the French macaroons and it won’t be the last. I didn’t know a cookie could taste cool and creamy. This bakery made the best French desserts I have yet to taste…mmm…sugar.


I also found the “cloitre” open today and went inside!

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I had studied on the train, on the blvd with my gateau and wanted to lay out on the grass with my notes. Thought it would be fine since I was the only visitor, but I got kicked off by the guy working there =(


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Afterwards I just meandered about the city. Went back to the tourism office because I knew there were gothic caves around that I wanted to explore, but unfortunately those are only accessible through the Saturday tours.

Other than that I saw everything I wanted to. Bayonne was fun, but I look forward to making it out to the ocean next time!


Skiing in the Pyrenees!!! March 14, 2010

Filed under: Pau,Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 9:05 pm
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I finally made it to the mountains!!




Beautiful isn’t it?!

I’m actually quite close to several ski stations, I think the drive was about 1.5 hours, but I know there is one just 20 min outside of Pau. Most of the length of the drive to this station was due to the windy roads at the end.





My dad looked up the height of the peak I was on and I guess it is about as high up as the top of Whistler (So guess my estimation was way off on IM yesterday David…)


As you can see, there aren’t any trees on the slopes =( But just off to the side is a little forest at the same elevation as the ski lodge.





The view was absolutely breathtaking! I can’t believe I skied in the Pyrenees!


And, making my Saturday even better, I discovered half my class wanted to go on the same day!


Here I am with Sara (the Australian). I skied with her for most of the afternoon, but I spent the morning solo, because everyone else was taking a lesson.


I felt a bit apprehensive going up this chair alone….


Curiosity overcame that though, because I really wanted to see if the mountain had a backside. Most of the runs on the front were pretty easy and I was hoping to find some challenging slopes like the runs at the top of Alpental.

And luckily it did!


The back was awesome! The fresh powder was hiding here, but unfortunately a cloud settled right in the bowl in the afternoon – the air became thick, cold fog and my lovely powder got scrapped down to ice.


The front was very icy too! I hate going over moguls when I can feel a ski slipping, it is so unnerving!


Face of the mountain:



And the backside:



Plus I haven’t skied much since high school – so my form is horrible! I tried to keep your voice in the back of my head dad = ) Thanks for all the years of patiently re-teaching me how to keep in form.


Here is the very top:




And a couple of my favorite pictures are from my very first run, which I later figured out was out-of bounds, but many people went down it anyway. They don’t mark the “out-of-bounds” areas as well here in France, but after skiing Alpental I’ve learned to be wary when I don’t know the slope.





Oh and last, but not least, I saw “une source de l’eau chaude” for the first time! The chair went over the crest of a hill and it just popped out of nowhere!





Heard the skiing back home in the Cascades was good too! The Pyrenees were beautiful and so different than what I’m used to! I noticed the French have some amusing ski habits. One being if you fall under a chair, every French person who sees you from the lift will yell, “Woah!!!” as they pass over you. And if you are standing in line for a lift while another lift goes over you, the skiers will tap their skis as they pass overhead to give you a nice snow shower.

I skied all day and returned home completely exhausted last night. Had a nice bowl of soup for dinner with my host mom and I could barely speak French. I went to bed at 9:30 and woke up hurting, especially my neck, caused by a rather painful, but amusing fall. Felt great to get some exercise other than walking. Spent all day skiing in the sun =) Oh yeah, I’m sunburned too – judging from the facebook news feed, my classmates feel the same. This has been an excellent weekend!


Damn Strikes! March 11, 2010

Filed under: Random Story,Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 11:02 pm

Had quite the morning here in France!!


I was leaving for the bus this morning when I realized my key wasn’t in my backpack. As my family and past roomies know, I am the master of losing everything. I searched all over my desk and through my bag for it – I was actually going to leave on time for the bus and this had to happen!!!


Patricia came downstairs and I worked up the courage to ask her if she had seen them. She helped me look, but to no avail. I scoured through all my clothes, desk drawers, inside my shoes, in the kitchen cabinets, in my bookcase, twice more through my backpack and under my blanket. Nothing.


I tend to absentmindedly set keys everywhere. For example, have any of you seen the commercial with the old woman who puts her keys in the cheese drawer? Her husband finds them and knows it is clearly a sign of Alzheimer’s.

I was 19 when I once found my keys in the cheese drawer, zip locked in a bag of shredded cheese. What will I be like if I live to be 80?!


After checking the shoes and bookcase, I told my host mom I was really sorry, but I couldn’t find them. I added on that I knew they were in the house as I used them to get inside last night and hadn’t left since. She told me not to worry, that she would be home for the day. She was very nice about it – I was so relieved!


By this point I had of course missed my bus and couldn’t remember if the next one came at 10:50 or 11:12, but I decided to be safe and leave the house at 10:40. I arrived at the stop to find the bus did not until 11:13. I also realized I forgot my IPod, which is my only way of telling time now that my phone is dead. I was not too happy with my memory at this point.


Not wanting to return home and tell Patricia I had left my IPod I started walking the bus route. The next stop had a bench and a clock, so I got out my journal and started writing. Soon it was 11:13. “The bus will be here any minute now!!” I thought. I was hoping it would not be late today, because a very sketchy hobo had just walked by me and stopped not to long afterwards to fix his shoe and then to stare. He was about 20 yards down the road just staring into the distance like a zombie. “Please don’t come back and talk to me” I thought, “please let the bus get here soon!”

After a couple minutes the hobo turned around and started limping in my direction. Damn. I pictured the bus arriving just as he was about to talk to me, but sadly my life is not like the movies and I was not saved. Instead, I had some crack addict start asking me for cigarettes. I told him I didn’t understand. I really didn’t – his words were so slurred I don’t think I would have if I spoke French. Among the slurring mumbles, “cigarette” was all I could make out. Luckily he didn’t pester me too much and limped away. That man wreaked though and his stench didn’t follow him for a couple minutes. There are always creepers at the bus stop.


Arriving to school an hour late I discovered there is a strike going on with the bus drivers. Why is there always a strike?! Fortunately, the rest of the day went smoothly! I booked my trains and hostels for Ireland and went to Kawitas for dinner! When I came home my host mom had made me a new key and wouldn’t even let me pay her back. Nicest host mom ever. I did end up finding it though, tucked between the mattress and headboard of the bed. I think I even know how they got there. Yesterday some kids played ding-dong-ditch on my house. After hearing giggles the first time I opened the door I re-locked it and went to my bedroom window. The zombie shutters were closed, but not locked so I hit behind them until I heard the bell ring again. I then opened the shutters and said, “Allo!” as a kid ran by me. I must have tossed the keys onto my bed on my way to the window. Thank god I found them!!


St Jean Pied de Port et Biarritz March 6, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 10:00 pm
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Had my second USAC excursion today!! We went to two towns; the first a Basque town named St Jean Pied de Port and afterwards Biarritz (same town I went to alone during the nasty windstorm)


The USAC students gathered at the University at 8:30 am to get on our charter buses for the trip.


About 45 minutes into the ride we stopped for a great view and got free Chocolatines for breakfast! Nothing starts my day off better than a perfectly flaky and buttery croissant filled with chocolate. Plus I got to eat it while enjoying this view!




I can’t remember the name of the little village –or the history, but there was some story, told to me in French, about a Princess who lived here and was accused of murdering her kids and thrown into the river…from this point possibly….and somehow she lived…wish I remembered more than the vague details, but that is about all I know of this place. We only stopped for 20 minutes or so.


After breakfast I was a bit more alert and paid attention to the Basque history lesson on the bus. We were told we would be given a quiz in St Jean Pied de Port to fill out from memory and were allowed to get help from the locals. There were several “Basque” prizes we could win. My greedy ears perked up and I learned quite a lot about the Basque country in France for that quiz:

  • Basque country has 7 provinces – 4 large ones in Spain and 3 small provinces in France
  • Only 30% of French school kids in the provinces learn the Basque language in school, but 99% of the Spanish kids do. (The language is nothing like French, not sure how close it is to Spanish)
  • The Basque houses typical of France are white with red, blue or green shutters and roofs. The region we visited had red, but as you travel closer to the Ocean, green and blue become more prominent.
  • The red was originally painted with ox blood


  • A typical Basque house would have 3 stories. The bottom floor is for the animals, who help heat the house. Middle level is for the family and the top is where the hay and straw would be kept as insulation.
  • I think I mentioned St Jacques Chemin in an earlier blog. It is a religious pilgrimage that passes through St Jean Pied de Port. There were many clam shells on doors signifying free shelter for pilgrims
  • St Jean Pied de Port actually got its name because it is the crossroads of two important trails. In addition to St Jacques, there is also a trail that goes from Hendaye (coastal town just outside of Spain), over the Pyrenees and to the Mediterranean! If you walk it 8 hours a day, the journey lasts about 2.5 months! How epic would that hike be! My USAC director Robinna hiked it for 5 days, from Hendaye to St Jean Pied de Port





St Jean Pied de Port had a fortress, which we entered and climbed to the top of (picture of Vanessa above is taken at there) and the view was beautiful! This was the first village I have been to that is truly in the heart of the Basque country.

After the fortress, there was an hour or so of free time, during which I asked some tourists and locals for help with my quiz answers and researched Basque food and the provinces in a souvenir shop for more info. I added more than was required on the paper, mainly because the answers were easy to find and there wasn’t much to see in the town. After our free time USAC went to a ciderie for lunch!


Above: Zaid getting seconds on the cider!

Our Basque meal the following courses:

1) Jambon de Bayonne – kind of like a thick prosciutto, served on top of a dish that you don’t find in the US. Best comparison is chili.

2) Confit du Canard avec pommes des terres – A fried duck dish my host mom has made a couple of times with fried potatoes on the side. It is too greasy for me, but everyone else loved it!

3) Salad – Lettuce leaves with vinaigrette. Simple.

4) Fromage and Gateau Basque – The cheese was okay. The cake was delicious!! It has an almond paste inside =)



Oddly I didn’t like the cider. It wasn’t sweet like others I’ve had and  I prefer Apple Frost to the Basque cider.


Did I mention there was one waitress for our group of 80 people? Bussing and serving a multi-course meal was definitely a chore for her and lunch lasted a good 2 hours. I was very impatient by the end and ready to get to Biarritz.

It was beautiful the last time I went, but absolutely incredible today!



I once again didn’t have time to get to that Museum of Chocolate, but I did go inside the Musee de la Mer (Sea Museum/aquarium). The seals were hilarious! This one had a rude awakening when his friend nudged him in the belly. His bark and panicked reaction reminded me of when you wake Roux up from a nap.


Afterwards Elly and I walked around the beaches for an hour and a half, saw the rock of the virgin and went inside a Catholic church where Saint Eugene’s crypt is. All in all my day was perfect, but I’m about to go to bed and can’t wait to catch up on my zzzzzzzs!




Oh, and forgot to add I got first place on the quiz and thus first dibs on the prize. Score! I now have a sweet Basque souvenir to bring home, but I’m not going to say what it is on my blog because I think it will be someone’s gift. I’ll put it in my FB album though.





Happy weekend!




Lourdes February 14, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 7:00 am
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Okay, finally going to finish writing about my weekend….


Lourdes was the highlight – so beautiful!

My friend Kim told me the city was tacky, but I don’t know what she was talking about….c’etait magnifique!



I don’t know if I have written this on my blog yet, but I actually have family in Lourdes, or at least I did at one point. Grandma Simone gave me the names of her sister and brother-in-law before I left, but I looked them up online in the yellow pages, within a 50 mile radius of Lourdes and they are no longer in this region. This was a must see on my list for the vacation because of that and I’m glad I went!  Lourdes is definitely different than any other town I have visited thus far.


This Basilica was incredible!!! And I just found out there is another one underground near this that I missed. How cool would that be to see?!


What makes Lourdes so sacred is the story of Bernadette, a young girl who claimed to see the virgin Mary 14 times in a grotto. Apparently she was poor and the grotto the virgin appeared in was in a place looked down upon for being ugly. You can still visit the grotto today and I was expecting to have to walk a mile into the woods to find it, but much to my surprise the church is actually built on top of it:








The story of Bernadette was pretty interesting, because she was interrogated for 3 years in her late teens before the church confirmed the visions were real.


Also when she was 14 (I think), there was a day she went down to the grotto and flipped out. She started eating grass and smearing mud on her face, screaming at people she was doing it for the sinners…kind of an interesting mental image…uhhh….God works in mysterious ways??


The church has confirmed many miracles at the grotto since Bernadette and while I was there, people were walking up to the grotto, rubbing their hands on the wet stone and then on their faces and clothing.


Honestly, I’m skeptical about Bernadette’s story, but I went up to get a closer view and feel the grotto for myself. The rock was very smooth from being worn down with so many people touching it over the centuries; felt pretty awesome actually!


Ravid and I also wanted to see the chateau, but it wasn’t open on Sundays. We hopped a small fence and ran up a staircase to get a better view of it, but it just led to a locked door. As we were about to descend some people came around the street corner and we could hear voices below. Immediately we hid in the shadowy corners opposite of each other. She was across the entrance from me and as the voices disappeared she put her hands up in gun form and looked at me for permission. For a 25 year old she is so playful, ha-ha, I love it! I armed myself with my umbrella and we snuck down the staircase James Bond style. A car came around the corner right as I was getting over the fence and I got some nasty looks from the driver, but otherwise it was a successful mission.


I would love to go back to Lourdes one Sunday night to see the candle procession to the Basilica and check out the underground one!