My last blog post was written on the train from Tours to Lyon, signaling the start of our week-long vacation in France. This time, I’m writing from my final train ride back to our home away from home after nine days of travel and twelve rides on trains and buses with three other MSU students in our group. During our week off, we spent three nights in Lyon, three in Nice, and two in Grenoble.
Our first train ride from Tours to Lyon was an interesting experience for all of us, considering we were new to using the French train system (save our day trip to Amboise), but we arrived in Lyon in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel room, which turned out to be more like a loft with a private kitchenette and a skylight with a wide view of the city. In true American fashion, we made two stops at the nearby Starbucks and Domino’s during our stay for a “taste” of our home culture, but we also got our fair share of French food and drink from the market across the street and the nearby supermarché. (As it turns out, a baguette is not only a very filling lunch, but a very inexpensive one as well!)
Le supermarché — The supermarket
Since our first full day in Lyon was a Sunday, when many stores and attractions are closed for the day, we decided to see a French movie at the theater to test our comprehension. In Né Quelque Part, a student living in France travels to Algeria to save his ailing father’s house from being destroyed while learning to love his new cultural surroundings (see the French synopsis on Wikipedia).
Né quelque part — Born somewhere
While we had the advantage of occasional subtitles due to the use of other foreign languages like Arabic, we had to rely otherwise on our French listening skills alone but ended up being rather successful. On Monday, we walked up the hill to the western district of Fourvière, then went through town some more before retiring to our room for wine and our almost-daily attempt at a “conversation hour,” during which the four of us did our best to speak solely in French while expanding our vocabulary and grammatical skills in the process.
Tuesday brought the end of our stay in Lyon and five hours of travel to Nice, with a brief layover at the train station in Marseille. A bit of a reverse culture shock occurred when stepping off the train into Nice: I think I heard more English than French spoken by the arriving passengers! While we stayed in another four-bed private room in Nice, the building was set up with more of a hostel-oriented atmosphere than the others (including a few typical dorm-style rooms), which meant a more open relationship with the other guests of the hostel. Luckily for us, this was created through spaghetti dinners hosted every other evening. Three euros for a large plate of spaghetti, popcorn, wine, and conversation seemed like a good deal to us, so we chose that option for dinner on both Tuesday and Thursday. Afterward, and throughout much of our stay in Nice, we went to the beach, a well-inhabited rocky shore on the Mediterranean about fifteen minutes by foot from our hostel. Due to my desire to stay immersed in French language and culture as much as possible during the week before starting more intensive coursework in July, I was a little disappointed at how much of Nice was tourist-oriented and full of English, but the ability to rest and relax a bit was a welcome respite for a few days (though I could have done without the sunburn and the swimmer’s ear!).
By Friday, I was excited for a change in scenery as we headed to our final stop in Grenoble, nestled at the foot of the Alps. Our original plan was to arrive at 18h15 (6:15pm) after leaving Nice at 12h55 with stops between in Marseille and Valence. However, since we only had a fifteen-minute gap before our connecting train in Marseille and the first train from Nice to Marseille ran late, we ended up just missing the train and had to get new tickets, which set us back about two hours. Nevertheless, we made it to Grenoble in the evening and set out to see the city a bit before bed, since we had one fewer night there. During our only full day in the area, we split up: while the other half of our group explored nearby, I went with one of my fellow travelers early in the morning to Annecy, which was two hours away by train/bus but still hosted beautiful views of the Alps through the lens of a smaller town and the Lac d’Annecy, supposedly Europe’s cleanest lake. The rain and wind kept us from staying in Annecy too long, so we returned to Grenoble in the afternoon and regrouped to partake in warm drinks in the afternoon before a quiet final evening of vacation in the hotel with pizza and French versions of Disney music on YouTube.
Le lac — The lake
We passed the halfway point of our study abroad experience yesterday, and now we continue to sadly remind ourselves that we are now less than four weeks from the end of the program and, except for a lucky few with more money and time to spare in Europe afterward, our return trip to the United States. Tomorrow is July 1, which signals the start of our second session of courses: following group orientation on Monday, our new classes begin on Tuesday and will include foreign students from many different groups around the world, not just other MSU students. This means that our common language will most likely be French rather than English! That might seem daunting, but I am hopeful that the last four weeks of work here will have adequately prepared us to hold conversations and continue to improve our French language skills, and I look forward to seeing what the next four weeks will bring.