Friday, June 29, 2012

A little something for those of us who understand French (or know how to use Google Translate)

So, last Sunday I went to my last regional AFS reunion. It was a bit of a disaster, speaking about the plan (they forgot to rent the canoes and we ended up doing the whole thing in the garage of a grain factory) but we had a great time! I made super awesome brownies to represent America and each of us had to write a little speech about our time in France. On the recommendation of some parents and friends who liked it, I'm going to post mine here, just for the hell of it, but in French, so if ya don't read French, go figure something out!

Le premier jour de mon arrivée en France, dans la famille Ligot, il y avais une fête du quartier. J’était dans le jardin, en train de jouer au foot avec mes nouveaux frères, j’ai tiré la balle bien fort. Malheureusement, elle a volé au dessus de la barrière et est tombée directement dans la rivière. Qu’est-ce que j’ai fait? J’ai plongé dans la rivière, le Louet. L’américain qui arrive en France et qui saute dans la rivière avec tout ses vêtements peu plus que cinq heures après son arrivée. Quelle première impression. Peu que je savais que ce jour sera un bon métaphore pour les mois suivants de ma vie. 
Alors, ce n’est pas à dire que je saute dans la Louet tous les jours mais plutôt dans le façon dont j’était plongé dans une société et culture entièrement différent de celle que j’ai vécu avant. Par contre, dans ce rivière je savais pas nagé au début. Ils disent toujours que le début, c’est le plus difficile et frustrant et tant que c’est ça, c’était aussi un des plus bizarre et plus drôle expériences de ma vie. Dès le moment que le lait est chauffé, on utilise des stylos plumes en cours et les gens qu’on ne connait pas t’embrasse sur les joues tout les matins, la France m’a apporté surprise après surprise. Alors, c’est vrai que le début était dur mais je l’ai trouvé d’être parmi des meilleurs moments de mon séjour en France car c’était un temps d’exploration. C’est ça que m’intrigue d’habiter dans un pays étranger avec un peuple différent: la chance de connaitre une façon de vie différente de celle qu’on connait.
En parlant de quelque chose différent de ce que je connais, laissez-moi parler de l’expérience de vivre dans une autre langue. Ça c’est quelque chose vraiment vraiment différent! Au début c’était une processus de traduction que c’est passé dans ma tête pour chaque phrase, et pour chaque nouveau mot. Je croyais que ce n’était pas faisable de maîtriser une autre langue comme ça. Je pense c’était environ le temps que j’ai eu mon premier rêve en français. Après j’ai commencé d’avoir des pensées en français- genre, j’ai parlé avec moi-même en français dans ma tête en essayant de ne plus parler anglais. J’avais l’air d’un fou mais enfin je suis arrivé à ce point où le français deviens quelques dans lequel je pense et je rêve en français. Aujourd’hui, bien que mon niveau de français est loin d’être parfait, je suis étonné d’avoir acquis une nouvelle langue.
Quelque chose d’autre que m’a étonné était l’aise avec lequel j’était accepté et intégré dans une famille. Pour ça, il faut vraiment que je remercie la famille Ligot pour leur compréhension, même quand je disait n’importe-quoi au début d’année et pour leur acceptation de moi. C’était un monde de différence de savoir que j’avais une famille d’accueil qui me supporte et aide avec tout. 
En conclusion, j’ai passé une super année en France. On peut même dire que c’était une année merveilleuse et magnifique! J’ai mangé des nouveaux plats et j’ai appris une nouvelle culture et nouvelle langue, j’ai rencontré de nouveaux amies et j’ai trouvé une deuxième famille. La France restera toujours comme mon deuxième pays d’origine et je reviendrai bientôt. 

So here I am passing the weekend-before-last in France... it feels weird... It's kind of hard to believe that, just like I fell into this family so suddenly, I'm now going to drop out. Except that now, it's not a group of people that I barely knew by email correspondances. Today, they are like my second family, and this house is a second home. Angers is my second "downtown" and Jean Bodin has become by second high school. Guillaume is my second twin and here in France I have a second life. (When one says second that often if starts to sound like a fake word, or not it's real word- anyways...) It's going to be hard to leave this amazing country and everything that has become so normal for me, but hey! at least I'm going to Switzerland before America so culture shock will be less profound. Haha, Switzerland, always the neutral zone. Speaking of, thanks to this year in France, my life has taken a new direction. Since I discovered the European lifestyle, the beautiful (even when you learn it from French teenagers, it's not quite the same as French classes) French and their freakin' amazing gastronomy, I just can't get enough and therefore have decided to continue my life here. I want to go to Geneva for university, in francophone Switzerland where I take advantage of my double citizenship and my new-found fluency in French. I hope to end up there, and while life doesn't always take you down the roads that we put in the GPS, this one sure is impromptu and I hope to wind up there. 

While this isn't again the end, I dunno how much blogging I'll be doing in the next couple weeks, what with my American family who's coming here and then leaving France after 10ish months of amazing Frenchyness, but I'll try to keep you all posted (stupid unintentional blogger pun) with what's going on, when and where I have WIFI, just until this journey is finished, whenever the heck that might be! 

So that's about it, nothing too life-changing (NOT!). Thanks for having followed this adventure with me, although I shudder at the thought of how much the page traffic went down since September, and I hope I kept you guys entertained with my life!
À bientôt mes amis, 
Benji reporting in from Mûrs, with one of the last broadcasts from this side of the Louet--

Monday, June 11, 2012

Les derniers deux mois mise à jour dans une poste

So, I guess I really owe an explication for this one, since it's been almost 3 months since I put up a post, since the April vacation! On top of it, quite a lot of stuff has happened worth talking about so I'll do it chronologically. 
First of all: The Fête du Port!! In mid-May, there was a party of the Petit Port, the little Port, that's in front of our house. It's really a tiny port, I wouldn't even call it a port but it's a good excuse to have a giant party every year! They set up a big tent in the street in front of our house so we couldn't get out with the car for two days and the night of the party they had people cooking galettes and crepes and soups and all sorts of yummy stuff down there. There was, of course, also a bar which we can say was well occupied by lots of old guys until around 2 in the morning when it closed. The party however, never stopped and went from Saturday afternoon until Sunday evening! Saturday night we had two friends stay out and we hung out until about 4 in the night with the other 200 or so teenagers and young adults from Mûrs, Ponts-de-Cé and Angers. All out friends and tons of others we didn't know- it was freaking awesome, maybe the best party of my life!!

Anyway, so they also had traditional Bal-Folk music and people were dancing all night under the tents.

(By the way, all these pictures are from Sunday, Saturday night I wasn't taking pictures) Sunday they had boat tours on the Louet with the traditional Loire boats, pictured above.

See all those people? That's not even 1/4 of how many there were the night before. Anyway, it was like that the whole weekend.

So we took a little tour on a boat of a friend of François' and I got to see Mûrs and the Petit Port for the first time from the Louet. Above, we can see the Port looking back; I told you, it really isn't big!

This is even further along, looking back at the section of our neighborhood that borders the Louet.

Again the incredible phenomenon of my inability to take a decent picture with myself in it but whatever...

Ok, changing up the scenes a little. During May, we also had a ton of random days of vacation due to religious and national holidays. So sometimes we started the week on a tuesday or wednesday, sometimes we finished on a thursday and sometimes we had weekends of three days. During one of those three-day weekends we went to the family appartement at St. Jean-de-Monts. We had already been there but it was back in October when it was cold and deserted. This time it was hot and sunny and there were tons of other people there doing the same thing as us! One of the big businesses of the area is the salt flats where they have channels that bring sea water into "fields" prepared to hold the water. It's then left there for I-dunno-how-much time until the water evaporates and leaves the salt.

This must be at the beginning of the process because there's just water and no salt to be seen.

After all the salt is harvested and sold commercially in bulk but also at little shops like this one just next to the fields. They do all sorts of different seasonings- I tasted some, their salt is definitely very... salty!

We also spent a day at Noirmoutiers. This is an island village very well-known for a couple things: again, the salt but also the clams (and other general fruits de la mer, seafood) and the most for the potatoes. Now that might sound weird for an very seafood-based island but it's really true, the potatoes of Noirmoutiers are the best!

The third day we spent at the beach, where it was super sunny, hot and super beautiful all day long! The first beach day of the summer! The water was cold on first impression but once you spent a couple minutes in, it quickly became very comfortable, almost warm! I swam out to the jetty and jumped off a bunch with some other kids that were there.

We also rented a kayak for an hour so Aurelien and I did a little tour of the coastline but not very long, just around the point on ether side of the beach. We had a race with some guys on a jet ski and despite our intense paddling, I think we mighta lost... But it was great anyway, if not to do some kayaking then to just chill out at the beach all day and soak in the rays, like at good ol' Scarborough beach back home.

Of course, by the end of the day I was fried and ending up leaving the ocean that weekend with intense sunburns on my arms, legs, face, neck and back. I also got some kind of weird allergic reaction to either WAY too much sun exposure or maybe it was the coquilles that we caught on the beach and ate for an appetizer. In any case, it was a great weekend.

An oyster bar, one of the billions found absolutely everywhere all over the area. Personally, I can't stand oysters- I get hung up between the disgusting cold slimy texture of something living sliding down my throat or maybe the taste between salty and rubbery. That might just be me, because I know François loves oysters and my dad in America too... Maybe it's something that comes with being a dad....!!

We saw the port of the island, filled with tons of fishing and pleasure boats, as well as some old traditional Loire boats like we saw at the Fête du Port.
In other news, just a week ago, I went up to Paris to take the SAT Subject test. I had signed up quite a while ago and unfortunately all the SAT tests are at 7:45 in the morning, no matter where you take them, unless the testing center tells you otherwise. Anyways, so Laurence and I went up alone since everyone else had things to do that weekend. We stayed at some cousin's house just outside of Paris that I'd already met before, really nice people, and so Saturday morning Laurence dropped me off at the American School of Paris in St. Cloud, also outside of Paris. Good thing too, because it would have been a nightmare to get into the city center with the car at that hour of the morning. Anyways, as it was we got there just in time where I sprinted into a class room just before the closed the doors. It's pretty funny because I got there and there was an American teacher with an accent from somewhere in New England, I couldn't place it but it was very familiar. Of course she gave us the test rules and all that in English and it felt really really weird to be sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher in English. On top of it, there's a handful of numbers and letters, and certain signs that are written differently in France. Like the 1 or the 4 or the lack of this sign: #. Anyways, it was just weird to see this kind of stuff after being in classes in France for the last 9 months. So I took the SAT Subject test in French and holy crap! it was soooo easy!!!! The first question was something like "Marie voulait faire un gateau mais elle n'avait plus de _____" After there's four answers to choose from: either cochon, mûr, l'herbe or farine. (For those non French-speakers, the questions was "Marie wanted to make a cake but she had no more _____ then answers are pig, wall, grass or flour.) Needless to say, it wasn't too complicated. Of course, it got progressively harder and it became a matter of conjugations and correct endings and making sure about possession and all that. There were also the sneaky questions that offer a bunch of different answers that all look right but there's something in the question that indicates which one is the good one. I was ready for those and all around felt pretty solid so I'm hoping for a pretty damn good grade! I mean, after all, it was made for students of French, taking it in classes in America so I guess I have the advantage of having lived in France for the past year and having been completely immersed in French. I also ended up taking the Literature one which wasn't too hard either, just more complicated because I had forgotten quite a lot of English literary devices and things like that and my English is, at the best, deteriorated at this moment so I could have done better but I only took it because otherwise it seems like a waste of time go there so early for one hour of testing. And I could win extra points, always a good thing!
So after all that was done, Laurence and I decided, instead of checking out Paris which we had already done at Christmas, to go to Versailles. It's not very long from Paris but definitely worth the detour as it's a beautiful city with tons of great history. In particular, the Chateau de Versailles, one of the biggest and most well-known castles of France, Europe and probably world-wide!

Anyways, before that, we had a super lunch in town at a Moroccan restaurant. We also passed by a bakery and looked in the window- the things they had there were amazing!! All those typical French pastries brought up to a new level, holy crap they looked so damn good!

After that we headed off to the castle with a couple thousand other people from absolutely everywhere in the world! I heard Americans, Germans, Russians, Scandinavians, Italians (a lot of those!), Spaniards, Mexicans, other South Americans, and a half dozen different Asian nationalities!! It was intense. And the best part is, I got to pass for French like I wasn't even a tourist! It was great!

So I took a couple hundred pictures of the castle, but I'll give you guys the short version. This is the front of the palace, the original home of Louis XIV, the favorite king of France. And also incredibly rich!

The Palace is HUGE and there's so much gold leafing that in the sun it makes your eyes hurt!

At first we thought we would have to content ourselves with just the view of the outside since there must have been a waiting line of at least 2 hours for the tickets. So we decided to take a peak at what we would have missed by checking out the gift shop. Lucky for that since at the back of the gift shop there's a couple hallways that lead to the ticket machines. At the end of the 2-hour line. In about 2 minutes. So we ended up getting in pretty fast and easily anyway, which was pretty lucky and awesome!!

We did a tour of just about everything we could guided by an oral program on the phone thingy you put around your neck. Haha, when we were at the desk to get that, the guy mistook us for Russian (I'm not quite sure how either!) but was quickly corrected when we asked for the tour guide in French. The First was the King's chapel which I remember was asked to be built as the tallest part of the entire castle. There was also an incredible organ inside.

Looking out on the garden, which stretch for literally miles, one could see tons of different fountains and gardens of flowers and statues and all that. In fact, the gardens are a whole other tour because they're sooo big and there are different shows that go on there. We didn't end up doing that because of the time, the heat, the fact that it was payant (to lazy to search that in english, wanted to say that we had to pay to get in, I know there's a word for that... See what I mean about "deteriorated"?!?) and the fact that we were already exhausted by the end of the tour, as it is a good two hours of walking from room to room of the castle.

Anyway, all over the place were giant frescoes and paintings of everything a king could possibly want to look at in his house, from Bible scenes, like the one above, to Greek gods to French history, etc.

Every room was something else insanely ornate and beautifully decorated, like this one where everything is marble. You have to ask yourself how the he** they managed to do all this without the modern tools we use today. But then again, we are talking about the people's favorite king of France here!

That's him, Louis XIV, in all his young splendor (quoting from the tour guide here).

As you can see, the gardens really are huge and after that there's the city of Versailles which, while it is not huge, it's very beautiful and traditional, like Paris with all the buildings kept low and not too much modernisation.

This is the very famous Hall of Mirrors, la Salle des Glaces I think it's called. Anyway, it was a room made to impress the king's visitors as well as to host his Renaissance-style dance parties.

I don't remember exactly how many mirrors there are, I think it's 17 or 19 or something, but it matches the number of windows on the other side to allow the sunlight to enter and be reflected.

This is the king's bedroom, with his KING-sized bed (haha, bad pun)! Anyways, he has his bed centered up in the palace so that the window that he looks out on from that bed is the first window to see the sun rise in the morning, as well as that the symmetry of the garden is based on his room as the line of symmetry. (This might have something to do with his badass nickname, le Roi-Soleil, the sun king, as his personal symbol was a sun and you see it all over the castle.) It's pretty crazy, but awesome- not bad for a bedroom, huh!!

Some random sculpture of a teapot in the garden that I saw from a window in the castle; something tells me that it wasn't around in the time of the French monarchy...

This I believe is the Queen's bed, not to bad either! Oh, something I forgot to mention before, the tour guide told us that the king and queen used to have private audience of the good French people that would pass through their bedrooms just to watch them sleep!!!! Sounds pretty awkward for the poor royal family....!

That's supposedly the most famous bust of his wife, although I can't say that I know it. Mighta seen it before though...

Haha, this was something else very funny- his dining room with the royal cutlery preserved on the royal place in between the royal chair of the royal king and his royal queen and their royal kiddies. But outside of all that, you can see 8 chairs for visitors to come watch the royal family while they take their meals! What a pain in the ass that must be, having a bunch of people staring at you while you eat!
Something else funny was the insane number of rooms in the castle- there was the Room of War and the Room of Peace, the rooms for different gods, rooms for parties, rooms for guests, rooms for different treaties signed, rooms for art, rooms for books, rooms/offices of all the royal family with all the other rooms they had in the Royal Quarter of the castle, rooms.... the list goes on and after a while it just turns into a giant mix of beautiful frescoes on the ceiling, tapestries and art on the walls and carpets on the floor! In any case, it leaves quite an impression of Renaissance France and what it must have been like to be a king of such a successful and powerful country back in the day.

One parting view of good ol' Louis XIV on his trusty steed in front of the castle. Of course, I took this picture in a way that would cut out the 50 or so tour busses parked there in front of the gates of the castle.

Finally back to modern day, last Friday I finished my classes!! In France the Premieres and Terminals (the last two years of high school here) get out of classes and have about 10 days, depending on when you pass, to study for the BAC. So while we did have an awesome end-of-school-year party Friday night at a friend's house, we're still not done. Now we get to cram for the BAC on French and History-Geography. That'll be really intense. Well not for me, since if I get a 0, absolutely nothing changes, but I'm still working because if I get good grades tant mieux. On top of it, if I turn up and put nothing down on the 2 4-hour tests or say nothing in the oral exam for French, that'll be pretty embarrassing!
On a completely different note, I made my mom's strawberry-rhubarb tart the other day, it was pretty good although the crust wasn't done cooking apparently!

Also, I got up at 9AM this morning to go see my best friend off at the gare (train station) of Angers. She'll be heading back to Finland sometime this afternoon so best of luck with the return and she'll be missed here in France by all of those still here. 
So that's about all for now. If we look at the frequency of my blogging, I wouldn't be back until well after I get home but I promise to do a leaving-France post and who knows? Maybe I'll keep on posting afterwards. I could always put up some good stuff from Switzerland and then of course, what it'll be like to go back to America after what will be a couple weeks short of a full year away from that country!! Of course, that's all part of the experience so we'll see. 
De toute façon, je dirai à plus pour l'instant, on se verra plus tard et bien sûr, merci beaucoup à tout le monde qui continuent à lire tous ce que j'ai à dire!
-Benji, with a little more than one month left and counting!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Le Pays Basque

So, as promised, I'm putting up this post from the second week of vacation, in Le Pays Basque. It'a a region of the bottom-left corner of France and the top-right corner of Spain with its own language and culture, pretty well-known for it's beautiful landscapes and all that good stuff. Since I'm way too tired to write a book about the week, this'll be a mostly-pictures post. 

While driving down there, which takes around 8 hours (not bad for crossing the entire country, my state alone takes around 6!), we stopped at the Dune de Pylat, a naturally-formed sand dune. Except that it isn't just any old dune- it's 130 meters! Freakin' huge, if you didn't get the idea!!! And so we hiked all the way to the top, which is a lot harder than it sounds because it's sand that moves under your feet, and on top of it, once you get about half way up the wind hits you and that's the worst part! Because it's a lot higher than tree level and the countryside around is relatively flat, there's no wind block and it's like stepping in a tornado! 

And of course from the top the view is great! You can see, on one side, the forests that stretch as long as the eye can see, with occasional buildings poking up here and there, and on the other side a couple islands and then just the ocean- all the way to the other side, I'd say somewhere south of New York!

(Crappy photo of me with bad light positioning and so much sand flying that it makes the picture look blurred!) So the dune was pretty awesome, definitely not something I've ever seen before. It's like a part of Egypt got displaced onto the east coast of France, so weird and really cool!

So we did another couple hours in the car which I passed between my entire iPod music library on shuffle and Maupassant's classic Une Vie. Then we got to Biarritz. It's true that if you follow what I post (heaven forbid that anyone actually reads everything except Mom and Dad, but if you at least saw the last one where I mentioned Biarritz), you'll know that I've already been there but it was for a couple hours, not enough time to see the town, never mind to check out the whole region! Anyway, it's really amazing, especially coming from Mûrs-Erigné where it's been pretty ugly weather recently, it sure was nice to see blue skies, blue waters, white beaches and the green countryside, which is actually worth noting because we decided that it's definitely a different kind of green you see in the Pays Basque than at Angers- more green, more emeraldish, and all around a lot nicer! Of course, that good weather didn't last the whole week, it's got pretty rainy for the last couple days but it was still nice! Luckily I got this first picture from the apartment when it was sunny!

And this one, with less civilization in it. So we got ourselves installed there and the next day, after a little tour of Biarritz and lunch, went to check out some other places! We went to a pretty small but well known village...

... Espelette! Where, as you can see, they're known for the pimentos which they like to leave hanging out to dry on the walls of the houses!?! It's actually pretty cool and makes for a nice decoration, although I'm not sure if, when it rains, they have to pull them all inside?

Anyways, so as you can see, there are pimentos hanging all over the place... definitely something unique! Also, as you can see there's a very certain style of architecture here in the Pays Basque with the white-washed walls and the red roofs and shutters. 

In this town of Espelette, the specialty was of course the pimentos, but also cured hams and meats which is another very Basque thing. 

That's the Pays Basque flag, the people here are very proud of their traditions and culture and I understand why! If I had the landscapes, the food, and the beaches of the Pays Basque, I would be pretty damn proud too!

Walking into yet another specialty shop, we found something a little different. Not just all different flavors of homemade lollipops, but some very interesting flavors! Like pimento-cérise or pimento-chocolat. Course, we had to get a couple and at first it could have been just any old cherry lollipop. But then you start crunching on all the litte pieces of pimento inside and the spiciness hits pretty hard and pretty fast. A spicy lollipop; and it was actually really good, although I know a certain father who would die at the thought!

Then there's a whole different kind of sweet basque specialty- les gateaux Basques, a kind of shortbread-ish cake filled with either cream or cherry jam inside, the both of them really good! 

You might be looking at this and thinking that even though you might have learned some French in high school, you have no idea what the heck is going on here. Don't worry, it's normal, unless you speak Basque. Unlike most regional languages, Basque is pretty big and while I'm not sure if it's used or taught at school, it sure is used in everyday society and most citizens of this beautiful region speak the language. It sounds kind of like something stuck between French and Spanish, understandable because of the regional influences but it's written with a lot of double letters that you don't see very often and whole lot of x's and z's. I'm not going to say it's the most beautiful, as far as spoken languages go, but the French will definitely prefer that to German!

This is yet another very Basque thing: le pelote Basque. It's a very very traditional game played on a certain court that you see a lot in town squares and places. I'll explain a little more about this game later since we went to see a match. 

Some typical Basque countryside...

Leaving Espelette, seeing a giant pimento, taking a picture just because it's a giant pimento, you know how it goes. 

Okay, although here it doesn't look to bad, the weather down here was pretty crazy. The first couple days it was at times sunny, at times cloudy. As the week passed, it got progressively worse, to our obvious pleasure but it was still a great visit. I'd like to go back during the summer but that's crazy tourist season and, according to everyone French, you don't wanna be around there in the summer- too much crazyness! 

This is the symbol of the Pays Basque and no it has nothing to do with swastikas, it just happens to be one of the oldest symbols on earth that our least favorite German dictator stole. Here in the Pays Basque, it has a very specific meaning, as my 8-year old host-cousin explained to me. The four directionals are symbolique of the elements; water, earth, fire, wind. You see it all over the place, carved into old buildings, on postcards, flags; all over!

Some more Pays Basque countryside... (there's a lot of that!)

We went to another city called St. Jean-de-Luz, a big fishing port...

... with some nice beaches and lots of cool shops. 

Next was St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, a little villages in the Pyrénées between pretty close to the French-Spanish border. Although it's a relatively small village, it gets an incredible amount of visitors, thanks to the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, a Christian pilgrimage that traverses France and northern Spain and culminates at the Santiago de Compostela basilica in Spain. Right at the France-Spain border, the path condenses and one of the big pass-points is St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. So, while walking through the calm winding streets of this little village, we saw many many groups of Italians, Belges, Swedes, Spaniards, Brits and people of many other nationalities, all with giant hiking backpacks, and on every backpack there's a shell like the one above, which is the symbol of the chemin de St. Jacques.  

Based around an old monastery (which is now an elementary school), the town is is a valley wedged between countless ranges of mountains of the Pyrénées. 

Looking out from the hill of the monastery, one can actually see the snow-covered peaks. I almost thought I saw a ski lift or two up there!

Again, the chemin de St. Jacques and it's shell there. All over this village, there were rooms for rent, cheaper meal plans, everything designed for the passerbys on their religious pilgrimage. 

Something else very Basque is their cheese, mostly the sheep's milk "brebis", which is what we see in this picture. We stopped at a farm and picked up a sizeable wedge to bring back to Mûrs with us. 

On the way home, we stopped by a glass-blowing studio. Unfortunately, the workshops are at this time of the year and there wasn't even anyone working on a piece at the time we were there, so we didn't get to see the creation of the masterpieces, something I'd really like to see. Honestly, whoever can use their breath and some basic shaping tools to make something like you see above has to be a freakin' genius. 

Another very big city we went to check out was Bayonne, very well-known in the Pays Basque. Although the pictures I took don't do it justice, there's something very particular about Bayonne and that's the architecture. It looks like they took a row of maybe 10 different houses and squeezed them into one block so that it makes a very unique puzzle of designs, all stuck together. It's hard to describe without seeing it in real life but go ahead and google search Bayonne and there's some other pictures that'll give you the idea. In any case, it's pretty awesome!

We went to a very big cathedral in Bayonne, where they had an exhibition about something I'd never learned about before. It's the Shroud of Turin, which, from what I picked up, is a a cloth found that was believed to contain Jesus. There's tons of little clues like imprints of the crown of thorns or evidence of blood staining from his hands where the nails would have been. It's pretty interesting and I think I wasn't supposed to take pictures but there ya go, it's more or less Jesus!

Something that Bayonne is really known for is it's chocolate, which we got to try. We went to get hot chocolate at a tea salon and it's their own hand-made hot chocolate that they froth a lot and it gets really light and bubbly and delicious! 

Heading back to the base at Biarritz, the weather was a little rough but it cut up some pretty good waves, which once again aren't well captured here. Since I don't have any picture of it, I'm going jump to the last day for just a minute here because the morning that we left, I got to hit the waves! I signed up for a lesson with a local surf school and at 10:30 I got into a wetsuit, grabbed a 9'0 longboard and hit the waves. I was with the teacher, a French girl a couple years younger than me and about 10 or 11 middle-ages Irish guys in the South of France for vacation who had stayed up until 8 that morning partying and decided to go surfing after. It was a riot watch them and now I can attest to the extreme usage of "fu**" and "bloody this, bloody that" that punctuates the Irish-English spoken. Anyways, becuase the last place I'd surfed were the sunny beaches of Maui in the Pacific, it was pretty different and took a little to get used to surfing again but, like riding a bike, it came back pretty quick. My last wave, and my far my best, was a pretty calm little barrel that took me from one wave to another to another and I must have been cruising on those for over a minute, right up to the beach! After, we all headed back, I taught the teacher how to say "wind" like "wind you cord around the fins" (it was so he could talk with the Irish guys) and we found ou that one of the Irish men lost his wedding ring. I can only hope his wife will believe him when he tells here he lost it surfing!!

Anyways, one rainy afternoon we went to see a match of Pelote Basque. There are a couple different kind of ways to play, one (pictured above) is with a short wooden bat and a team of two against two. The other kind is called main nue (naked hand) where the player has a layer or cork or something glued to his hand and hits the ball just like that, but it's really incredible how fast and hard these guys play! I would suggest going to Youtube and taking a peak because pictures don't show much. The most traditional method is the third kind that we didn't get to see where they play with a crescent moon-shaped basket thing, I really don't how to describe it, just go look on Youtube quickly!!

What are you still doing here?? Go to Youtube and check out this crazy southern French ball game but after come back because now we head down to Spain and there's some pretty awesome stuff!

Because it doesn't take more than a half hour fro Biarritz, we went to Spain for a day, more specifically to San Sebastien, a fabulous Spanish city. 

The architecture down there is completely different from France, especially in town, and in some ways, it's more beautiful because in the streets of San Sebastien, all the buildings are kind of special, even just the appartement blocks. It might be something with the terraces, all lined with wrought-iron barriers that evoke Renaissance style. 

(As you can see, the weather was pretty funky that day, it went from pouring to sunny and back again in a matter of minutes so it fluctuates a lot in my pictures!) From this view just next to the old port, we're looking at the city hotel and further back a giant Jesus statue. I'll come back to this. 

Lining the beach is a boardwalk with the architecturally-fascinating buildings on the other side.  

There's also the old port and at the end the aquarium. We checked it out and it's probably one of the better aquariums I've seen in a while. They had all sorts of 3D representation of the old port, back in the day, and a big show up about the tradition of whale fishing that used to be so big in this area, as well as a section about the evolution of Spanish ships, from those big Man-Of-Wars and Galleons to the invention of steamships and all that. Besides the historic aspect, there was also the tanks which included a tunnel you walk through with hammer-head sharks, jellyfish, rays and tons of other fish that pass over head and all around. It was a really well-done setup and if you're ever in San Sebastien I recommend that aquarium. 

On the other side, heading back into town, is the extensive pedestrian-only old town that shows of a lot of beautiful buildings, of course, as well as Spanish culture. 

The Pays Basque flag again, it doesn't change even if everything around it turns into Spanish!

A not very-well done panorama by my camera but it's just to give you guys an idea about how the city spreads out. This is a view from the Jesus statue, which we walked up to, and found, as we came out at the top, that the sun had broke through for a good half hour, just long enough to snap a bunch of pictures. Talk about good timing!

It's really any incredible evolution of landscapes, from the tropical-blue waters and white beach to the bustling city life to outside the city where it's more green fields and then right up to the Pyrénées which stretch into the clouds as long as one can see. 

Kudos to the American couple who took this for us, I thought he was English at first but when I asked him his accent was very American, almost something from my region... Anyways, he obviously doesn't know how to use the stabiliser on the camera but whatever. 

After we headed back into town and I got a huge piece of delicious cake to eat in the pouring rain. We were sitting on the steps and some guy from the shop came out and bribed us to move with a giant handful of candy. Of course it was in Spanish so we just understand that he was giving us a lot of candy! It was pretty cool. 

We went to the Spanish FNAC where I was shocked by the prices- for those of you who haven't ever been there, everything in Spain is really cheap to the French because it's all in euros but just insanely cheap thanks to the declining economic situation. 

Yes, it's the same time but this time it's sunny.

The second-to-last day, we went to a place right across the border to go shopping. This is something that all French do, taking advantage of low prices especially on cigarettes and alcohol. We actually came home with 5 or 6 bottles along with clothes and cologne since that's also a lot cheaper. 

So that was my vacation, and now I'm back at school. Wednesday we took the Bac Blanc in Histoire-Géo and I pumped out a composition of 8 pages about the totalitarian regimes between WWI and WWII- I better get some good points for that! Monday I have the Bac Blanc in French but for now it's Saturday afternoon, Guillaume and I placed 4th in a doubles tennis competition this morning and now Louis, our neighbor/best friend, is over for the night so I'll see you all later!
À plus mes potes!