Sunday, June 28, 2015

Schooooooools out for the summer!

Today we had our final French lesson and a final evaluation. French classes have been fun and I have been able to learn very very basic French but I still do not feel confident at all to have a conversation with anyone… but I am really good at saying I do not speak French, telling people I am American, and slowly figuring out numbers! It’s a start and in only 4 weeks, I would say it's pretty good. I'm hopefully going to keep working on it with my host family and really improve at conversations.

Monday night we went out for Ben's 21st birthday and well it was quite the interesting night. Lindsey and I called it a night at 11:30 so that we could catch the tram back before it closed and quickly fell asleep. But when we woke up, we found out that two of our fellow students had ended up in the hospital… one with a broken arm and the other with a broken arm, jaw, and a fractured vertebrae. They are both out of the hospital now after getting surgery and while one is good to stay for his internship, the other is heading back to the states tomorrow. Please send some prayers for their quick and safe recovery.

Tuesday was a day all about food! It was great! We started our day at a French culinary school right outside of Toulouse for a French Gastronomy workshop. We got split into groups and my team was under the head chief and in charge of the main dish. With the chiefs help, we prepared this duck roll thing with apples and onions and peppers which I do not remember the name for. It was so good and I could very easily make it again! The other groups make 6 different appetizers and dessert. The appetizers where very interesting to say the least…. There was crunchy rice noodle wrapped sausage, anchovies and olive bread, and what looked like a cupcake but what was actually cornbread topped with foie gras (duck liver) and berries. That one was not eaten by many. The dessert thought was amazing! We had a banana mouse topped with mint and apricot. I ate two. They were beyond delicious.

After eating the lunch we prepared with the help of the Chiefs, we were done for the day! That night we had a farewell dinner at the school where each person was supposed to bring some sort of dish that represented their home. This proved to be a lot more difficult than expected…. First, we had no oven accessible for our use and second many of us had a very difficult time finding the correct ingredients here in France. I decided to make a pasta salad but ran into a lot of difficulty with finding Italian salad dressing… I settled for a ceaser dressing which turned out okay but not great. The meal itself was delicious though and had such a wide spread of cuisine. There was corn dip, "buffalo" chicken dip, puppy chow, guacamole, spicy Chinese pork, and the best hummus I have ever had. What made this dinner so great though was that we have people here from America, Mexico, Lebanon, and China so we really did get a wide variety of dishes that were so good. After dinner, we went back to the apartments and just hung out while enjoying French wine and watching the sunset paint colors across the sky.
the appitizers

the duck main coarce



Wednesday brought another wine lecture in the morning and a visit to Chateau Plaisance in the afternoon. I really enjoy the wine lectures and I am learning so much! These lectures have also been really peaking my interest and inspiring me to keep learning more on my own.

The Chateau we visited today was very cool. The vineyard owner was this middle aged man who just had so much passion for what he does and was just a pleasure to be around. His wines are all organic and made very naturally. I really enjoyed his wines we tasted. This visit also got me very excited to be heading off to my host family soon and start working on a vineyard. To see the work that goes into it first hand and to partake in the process is so exciting to me! I am getting very anxious to be there!

Another day, another vineyard visit. Today we were off to the famous Bordeaux wine region to visit Chateau Memories. We started with a tour of the vineyard and their winery. The region is breathtakingly beautiful and again, it made me so excited for my upcoming internship and family stay! After the tour comes the anticipated wine tasting…. At 11 am. We tried 7 of their 9 wines and I must say, their white wines are some of my favorite I have ever had. We also got to try one of their sweet wines made from grapes effected by Noble Rot and it was unlike anything I had every tasted before! It was so sweet and tasted like honey. I was a big fan and will definitely be looking out for more of that in the future.

While in Bordeaux we also got to visit a vine grafting farm. Vine grafting is when two different types of vines are fused together into one in order to make them more durable to some situation or climate. Here in Europe, it is very common and necessary to graft the roots of an American vine with the desired top of the European vine in order to make the vines immune to the killer insects that migrated over from the US a few years back. It was very cool to see the whole process and really made me understand more of how complex this whole vineyard economy is.

Our next stop was the Cave de Sauveterre which is a coop local to the vineyard we visited. While we had already visited a coop the previous week, this one took the cake. IT WAS HUGE. There were multiple rooms that housed wine vats that held 10 hectares of grapes in one single vat. That is a lot of wine my friends! I found it very interesting to see this more commercial side of winemaking and compare it to what I have learned at home with food processing engineering. It was cool.

After traveling home and a quick dinner, one of our PA's had gotten us free tickets to go see a contemporary  dance performance in downtown Toulouse. I really enjoyed it but I also knew what to expect from it after having gone to a few of my roommates contemporary dance performances back at school. After the show, Cooper, Lindsey and I went to the Capitol to find food. We ended up at McDonalds to try their version of the McFlurry only to find that they do not even mix it for you. They even put on the side of the cup "Flurr it yourself"… and they say Americans are the lazy ones. 

LAST DAY OF SUMMER SCHOOL WOOO! Today we had another wine tasting class where we tasted 7 different wines all while learning the proper way to taste and getting some good practice in. It was a pretty good day in class if I can say so myself. In the afternoon, we had our wine final and then we were officially finished with classes! I have enjoyed these classes for the most part and have really learned a lot but I am also ready to take on the next stage of this journey and really dive head first into French culture and wine making.

Friday was also the graduation for all the "seniors" here in Purpan. With graduation came a party at night… at the school. I'm just going to repeat that for clarification: the school hosted a party and dancing and alcohol in their school bar and it was crazy. I don’t think that would ever happen in the US and I found it very interesting. But non the less, a fun time was had by all, memories were made, and I partied in a school.


Today was most of our last day in Toulouse before leaving for our host families. With this in mind, Lindsey and I embrace the French culture and we went downtown in the morning to eat Crepes that were 2X bigger than our heads. I know so French. We then went and ordered baguettes and croissants completely in French. Currently in France there is this big thing going on called the Solde which means that every store is having huge sales or 50-70% off. It only happens two times a year and we had heard the French go crazy for it so naturally we had to check it out ourselves too. After a bit of browsing we both had found a purchase and were also sufficiently overwhelmed and headed home. Before Cooper headed out to his internship Saturday night, Coop, Lindsey, Bre, Wyatt and I went downtown and had yummy dinner. It was really a bittersweet moment for me because I felt so comfortable with them and have gotten so close to them this past month only to all be departing our separate ways tomorrow. But I know these are friends I will keep and there will be many more memories to be shared with them.

Next stop. Bordeaux!!!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The calm after the storm

After the crazy time getting there, we had an amazing weekend at the beach! The little town we stayed in reminded us very much of small town beach Florida filled with families which is exactly what we were needing at this point. The apartment we stayed in was very nice and I am pretty sure we were the first people to ever stay there considering all the cooking equipment was still in its wrappers. The owner was also very kind and helpful… he checked on us a few times throughout the day to make sure we were okay and we even got to meet his wife and play with his dog! On Sunday, he also called a cab for us since none of our phone are really usable over here. Saturday we spent the day on the beach after sleeping in for the first time since we have been to Europe really and then we went out to a super yummy sea food dinner! The salmon I had was so good! We then went and got some really fun beach drinks and sat and people watched for a bit. Sunday brought another day of sleeping in and then we decided to make brunch which was amazing considering that is definitely something I really miss from home. We hit the beach again where I swam for a long time even though the water was pretty darn cold but super clear. I also built an awesome sand castle that was basically an exact replica of la la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. All the kids that passed it commented on how cool it was…. Yes I'm 20 and in France and built an awesome sand castle! We called it a day and got ready to leave pretty early so that we could arrive at the train station very early this time to avoid a repeat of Friday…. We arrived more than 2 hours early but just found a little café to have a snack and wait so it was okay. We were all just happy to not be rushed and frazzled like last time. On the way home though, I did sit next to this guy with the worst BO and the air on my car was not working…. It was a very long hour and a half to say the least. But Sunday night around midnight we made it home safely! It was a great and relaxing weekend filled with 9 scoops of ice cream, ocean swimming, and a massive sunburn to remind me of the good times for a few days now…..
salmon dinner Saturday night

Fruity drinks on the beach!

Look at that rocken sand castle!! 

Traveling adventures

Well I am writing this post right now while sitting on the train about to take off to Bezier, France. My hands are shaking and my heart is beating at 100 miles per hour. And here is why:

Bre, Lindsey, Morgan, Cooper, Wyatt and I decided a few weeks ago that we were going to spend our free weekend on the Valaras beach near Bezier. We began to book our train tickets and our condo and seemed to run into problem after problem. Last week we all finally got our train tickets settled (which called for me to make the trip out the train station and wait in the long line to buy my tickets in person). After many frustrating failed attempts, we finally reserved an apartment to stay in on Wednesday. We thought we were good to go and were all really looking forward to this relaxing weekend.

Friday we got out of class early and so took that time to pack and prepare before leaving for the train station an hour and 20 min before it was to depart. We thought that would be plenty of time to get there and print the tickets that still needed printed. Little did we know, we were in for a heck of a time in the train station.

It started when we were trying to find where the other 5 could print their pre-bought tickets at. All of the machines that are made for that were not working for them so we had to go and get in the forever long line to have someone behind the desk help us. During this whole process, I went to retrieve my tickets from my bag and to my extreme embarrassment, I didn’t have them. I forgot that I had locked them in a different folder away from my passport traveling case when we went to Barcelona. I was so mad at myself and all I wanted to do was throw up and cry… Why had I not checked to make sure I had my ticket before I left! UGH DARCIE. That is the first thing I should have done. I can tell you that this will be the last time I ever am this careless again. After about 30 seconds of panic, I grabbed a number and joined my friends in the unending line praying that they would be able to reprint my tickets for me.

The minutes were ticking down and our 19h49 departure time was getting closer and closer. With 7 minutes before our departure time, our line of numbers finally were called to the desk. The guy at the deck was one of the kindest I have encountered and immediately sensed my distress and helped to calm me down. He swiftly reprinted my tickets for me and gave me a pep talk that everything was going to be okay. After everyone got their tickets and we raced to our platform, we saw that the train was delayed 5 minutes…. Truly a gift, God is looking out for us. I am starting to calm down now and can now start to get excited for the hopefully relaxing weekend we have in front of us. I know we can all use that especially after that chaos that just occurred. I think its safe to say that we will be at the train station extra extra early for the ride home so this does not happen again.

We are still not sure how we are going to get to the train station to our apartment but hey we will figure it out. Wish us luck…

Here's to learning life lessons! 


Today we had our internship presentation where we finally found out where we are going to be spending the month of July. I will be interning at the Chateau-Carbonneau Winery located in Pessac sur Dordogne. This is very close to Bordeaux which is one of the most renown wine regions in the world! My host dad's name is Wilfrid Franc de Ferriere and from what I have been told, he has a wife and children that are around my age. On of his sons actually studies at Purpan (where I am studying now) but I have not met him yet. Their winery and bed & breakfast looks amazing and I am so excited for all the learning I have in store for me working for them. I also found out that there will be another intern there that I will be staying with and she is from Germany! That makes me so excited especially with how much I loved Germany and the people there! I am very eager to meet them and to absorb everything I can in the month to come. Here is their website if any of you are interested in learning more about where I am going to be!

A week of vineyards and wine!

Monday morning came early after the weekend in Barcelona with a 7 am bus ride to go visit the Abbaye de Fontfroide near Narbonne. The first part of the day was dedicated to touring the old Abbaye and learning the history behind the use of the building. Hundred of years ago, there was a cloister of around 15 {} monks and a couple hundred brothers. The monks and the brothers did not interact due to the monks vow of silence and since they were cloistered, and the two groups were separated into two different living courters. The brothers were in charge of working the land that the cloister owned where they grew much produce but focused mainly on wine. The building itself was beautiful and settled right up into the hills. The Church was lit by magnificent stained glass windows and the gardens on the groups were some of the most beautiful I have every seen. In the rose garden, I can now say I have officially found my favorite flower… it is a beautiful mix of soft pink and yellow and orange and smells so sweet and heavenly. The signed that marked it in the garden named it "Rose des Cisterciens (Delbard)"… I will be on the look out for more of these! After our tour we ventured into the old kitchen where we were treated to a wine tasting of three of their fabulous wines they produce there on sight. They had us try a Chardonnay, Rose, and a spicy red wine. Given this was our first tasting, we were  somewhat taught the proper way to taste and appreciate wine and began to learn what we should be looking for. It was fun, the wine was spectacular (especially the Rose) and I felt very fancy.

We then had a typical frustrating French lunch break (one where we finish eating in about 30 minutes yet wait around for TWO hours until we get back to business). After our forever lunch, we took a tour of the vineyard and the winery. Unfortunately, we hadn't had any viticulture classes yet so most of the details he was talking about went right ever my head. I still thoroughly enjoyed this visit and it made me very excited for the weeks ahead of me dedicated to learning all about wine. 
courtyard of the Abbeye

The fabulous wines we tasted

I found my favorite flowers!!!!

The vineyards

Today was our first lecture on viticulture! I find these classes very interesting and I hang onto every word in hopes that I learn it all. Our professor has a background in biochemistry and then went back to school at 40 for viticulture and flavor science. He has lived all over Europe and the states teaching and running vineyard and wineries. We have been learning all about wine from its chemical composition to the wine regions of France and the world. We have studies the anatomy of the vine and have gotten into the economics and details about the wine certifications and classifications. I am in awe about how much I have already been able to learn.

In the afternoon we had another winery visit and tour. This time, we went about an hour outside of Toulouse to the Cave de Fronton. This winery is a coop where multiple different vineyard send their grapes to this central winery where they are processed into wine. Compared to the winery we saw the day before, this one was much more industrialized and made for a larger production quantity. I was shocked though by the lack of concern having 30 people walk through the plant… there was no hairnets, not safety or sanitation line to stay behind and we were even left at one point to walk around and explore. I was standing over a fermentation tank and inches from their bottling line with no hairnet or any sanitation barrier. I found that very different from anything you would find in the states. After the tour, we were once again given a wine tasting. They served us four different wines: a very light Rose, a fruity red, a spicy malbec, and a super sweet Rose. My favorite was the first Rose called ines. It was a fun visit and when we got home, it was off to the market to stock up on my fruits and veggies and peanut butter to get me through the next two weeks.
the top of the wine fermentation vats

the single bottling line

the wines we tasted

In the morning we had another field trip to the Purpan experimental farm just outside the city. I was not a fan of this visit given that it had nothing to do with wine and I had very little interest in the farm. Yet, I did get to see dairy cows up close and personal for the first time in my life! They also had this super fancy milking machine that was all automated and allowed the cows to just walk up to it whenever they wanted to be milked. That seemed very human and cool. We then spent a few hours looking at corn and stevia and farm equipment… wooo. After lunch brought another French lesson trying my best to pick up anything I can and presenting a project we had been working on. After dinner, a group of us decided to go downtown and check out this big music festival happening in Toulouse this weekend called Rio Loco. Each day is themed with a different regions music with multiple acts playing on different stages. We got down there pretty late though on Wednesday and didn’t feel that it was going to be worth it to buy tickets for the hour we had left, so instead Lindsey, Audrey and I went and walk around the outside of the festival and enjoyed the music. It was very fun though and made me very excited to come back Thursday to actually go in! It was also a great place to people watch and observe the French people around us.
my new dairy cow friends
I took this on my phone. No filter. Toulouse is beautiful!

Two long lectures today in viticulture in the morning and French in the afternoon. After class was over, we made dinner and then headed down to the Rio Loco festival. Today's theme was America's and was all bands from central and South America. It was fabulous! The carnival atmosphere mixed with beautiful weather and entertaining friends lead to a sincerely enjoyable night. The Latino inspired music just begs to be danced too and the friends I was with were all for dancing! With a night of light, music and dancing outside, how could you not have fun! The good vibes around me were intoxicated and even though I could barley make out any of the Spanish being sung on stage, I could feel it. I loved every minute of it. One of the bands that I loved dancing to is called Bomba Estereo. Here is one of their songs if you feel so inclined:

There was one very strange occurrence in which some French lady tapped my shoulder mid set and shhhed me…. We are at a concert lady, why are you telling me to be quiet?! I am going to cheer for the band when I think they are good. It was strange and happened twice which was very weird. I don’t know if I will ever fully understand the French.  

Rio Loco!

What a week!

Barcelona: June 12-14

After taking a quick quiz over all the agriculture information we had learned that week, we were free to get ready for Barcelona and be on the bud by 1. The bus ride took around 5 hours with a stop in Andora (Wooo another country!) to allow us to buy some duty-free goods. Quite and interesting country. After arriving to our hotel, we got ready and found a local restaurant for dinner (it was around 9 o'clock and we were still way early for Spain's dinner time…). I ordered their specialty, seafood pallea and wow was it good. I need to learn how to make paella because my taste buds could not get enough of it! We then went back to the hotel and waited until 12 to go out to a club. When we got there, we were still just about the second people there. It was not until around 2am that it was starting to fill up. We had a lot of fun dancing the night away and meeting people from all over the world. We also ran into so many American college students out which was very fun. We got home at 4am and went to sleep around 4:30.
my Pallea 

Lindsey and I 

Saturday morning came early with a 8 am wake up call… Lindsey and I wanted to get the most out of Barcelona so we got up early and got at it. After a yummy breakfast in the hotel, we headed out to conquer the Barcelona public transportation to try and find the meeting point for the bike tour we were hoping to go on. Well, we had awful maps and couldn't find very many clearly marked signs pointing the way, but with the help of some very kind random people and a lot of luck, we were able to find our tour in time. Our tour guide was a young girl who was probably around my sisters age. She was originally from Texas and moved to Barcelona four years ago so her English was great. On tour we met two other girls our age from UNC that were studying abroad in Rome and a few young couples from the UK, South Africa, and Scotland. We had a lot of fun talking with them and learning about their experiences and telling them our take on Europe so far. On the 8 mile, 4 hour tour we got to see many of the big sights of Barcelona including:
Arc de Triomf
La Sagrade Familia
Place Reil
The Cathedral
Parc de la Ciutadella and the Cascada Monumental
Music Hall
After the tour, we attempted the public transportation again learned that the metros do not go in loops…. We ended up riding it all the way to the end only to have to get off and get back on going the other way. The inside of the Barcelona metro is great… haha. We spent the part of our day exploring the famous Park Güelle which features the famous and imaginative  architecture of Gaudi. He is the same guy that was behind La Segrade Familia. This park was up this huge hill which took 5 escalators, a large hill with about a 45 degree slope, and several more flights of stairs. But all that work was so worth it when we got to the top and saw the view…. All of Barcelona laid out below us in all its beauty! After the park, Lindsey and I were in desperate need of sleep, so we headed back to the hotel to get a nap before heading out for the night. When we woke up and got ready, we met up with a group for dinner at… with for it… 11:45pm! After dinner we attempted to go out to another club but after getting lost (again) and realizing there was a huge cover fee and already being exhausted, we ended up just chilling on the beach for a bit. Even in the dark it was lively yet relaxing. Also first time in the Mediterranean Sea so check that one off the bucket list! After hanging out for a bit, we made our way back home and fell asleep almost immediately.
bike tour!

Arc de Triomf

Cascada Monumental

Lindsey and I at La Sagrade Familia

The group ready to go out

Sunday we slept in until 9 when we had to get up and get ready to be checked out my 10. After breakfast, we had the whole day until 2 to do whatever we wanted again before the bus took off. Lindsey, Cooper, Wyatt, Maria, and a few others decided to go to the Picasso museum because it was free for students. We looked at art and felt cultured. I hadn't been to an art museum yet in Europe and since it was free I said why not. We were not allowed to take any pictures in the museum and there were security everywhere so no pictures… sorry. After the museum we headed back to meet the bus where everyone passed out on for the whole ride home.
no pictures allowed in the museum so here is me contemplating the sign for the museum... basically the same thing right?!

Barcelona was an amazing city that I will definitely be back to! With only two days there, I feel like I barley saw any of the city and there is so much more to explore. It was so lively and happy there, I loves it! Also, I was really looking forward to using my Spanish there but that proved to be much more difficult than expected… not only do they speak Catalan, but every time I went to speak Spanish, all that I could think to talk in was French. In France I cannot seem to stop speaking Spanish and in Spain I speak French?! I have so much respect for all those people out there that know multiple languages and can seamlessly switch between them. None the less, I loved the culture and atmosphere of Barcelona and even the late meals didn’t bother me… they just reminded me of our summer time dinner hours at home!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015



Like real American peanut butter. Skippy peanut butter! After searching every shelf in the supermarket, we finally found it tucked away on the bottom shelf of a random isle. I almost broke down in the middle of the store with tears of joy. This find was exactly what I needed to get a little comforting taste of home while also providing most my upcoming breakfasts and dinners. I couldn’t be happier!

I have been feeling a little homesick/culture shock lately so this peanut butter find is very important. Classes are long and I really don't have much background/need for all this Agriculture knowledge. Right now we are learning about the world egg production.... it's interesting but not what I ever expected to learn. Also, the sketchy wifi is tough when that is the only way I have to communicate with people at home. But I am in France and this is an amazing opportunity and I know I will be stronger because of it! I just need to keep in focus that culture shock is temporary and there are so many adventures out there waiting for me! 

Fermenting formage, milking ewes, and mating ducks

Today we had a field trip to visit the Rockford Cheese caves and the Rockford sheep farm. My group started the day touring  the caves which house 11 stories of ripening cheese! The caves where formed after tectonic plates shifted creating this naturally cool and humid environment that is perfect for fermenting cheese. We learned about the companies history including the Myth of Rockford (some Sheppard was eating in a cave but then got really distracted by a beautiful lady and left his lunch of cheese and bread there as he chased after her. He never was able to reach here and several months later, he was out tending his flock and was hungry. He remembered the cheese he had left a long time ago in a near by cave and went to see if it was still good. He found it, ate it, and decided the cheese was the best cheese he had ever had.) The caves where really cool but also super cold. We got to learn about the process of growing the bacteria from bread to put into the cheese which gives it its flavor and texture. The only ingredients used to make this famous Bleu Cheese is whole sheep milk, bacteria, and salt. The tour was very interesting and informative…. Also only in French! We got to try three of the bleu cheeses they make and I cannot say I am a fan. They where all super salty and extremely strong and bitter.

11 floors of fermenting formage! 

The sheep farm was a different experience all together…. First off, there were flies EVERWHERE. It was actually awful. Also, the farmer that showed us around (who runs the farm with his brother when they took over for their parents) only spoke French so thank goodness for my Lebanese classmates that are fluent in French and English and were patient enough to translate. We learned a lot of specifics about how they take care of the sheep and such which mostly went over my head not being of any ag background. It was still interesting to learn and it is always good to learn where exactly your food comes from. This whole week of classes is dedicated to animal production and the European system for the animal welfare. We also got the chance to observe milking time which I found very intriguing. I really liked the efficiency of the system.

Milking time!

One big culture difference I have been noticing (and really had to deal with today) is the French view on lunch. Today we spent an hour and a half eating lunch today. We had three different courses of sandwiches and chips and apples, cheese and wine, and dessert. It was all equivalent to what I could eat for a lunch at home, yet I would eat it in about 15-30 minutes. It takes a lot for me to stop thinking about how much time we are wasting and could be getting stuff done. Instead, I am trying hard to look to the French view of using this time as a break to relax and to deepen friendships. It’s very different and I know it is even going to be more different when I get to my host family so I am trying to use this time now to get into the right mindset.

Tomorrow we are heading into the city for French class to talk to locals for a scavenger hunt…. Wish me luck as I try to not completely butcher this language! 

Castles and Mountains and Catholics, oh my!

On Friday after class, we took a bus and went to see the City of Carcassone, France. This huge fortress is a full city surrounded by two guard walls with an impressive castle in the middle. We had a lovely tour lead by this adorable little old lady who was so excited about everything she was telling us! She was just bounding with energy and couldn't wait to tell us more. We saw the old walls that were built thousands of years ago. It was so incredible to see such a beautiful and functional piece of history up close and personal. Along with the castle and the outside walls, we got to explore the city inside as well. There are actually about 50 people living in Carcassone now which I think is incredible! We also got to see a gorgeous church built inside the city walls which had the most amazing stained glass windows I have seen yet… they were so intricate and colorful and told the full stories of Jesus and Mary and some of the disciples. We were also in for a special treat in the church when a three person accapella group from Russia came in and sang for us. Their voices were breathtaking. Also, after the tour, we were able to walk around the city and found the most amazing homemade ice cream I have yet to have in my life… Like all ice cream has been to die for over here but this ice cream was something else. I would come back to Carcassone just to get more of this, that’s how good it was. 
outside of the internal castle

beautiful stain glass in the city church

the best ice cream I have had yet... heavenly!

Gavarnie Pyrenees:

That pretty much sums up my time in the Pyrenees mountains this weekend.

We left Toulouse Saturday morning at 7:45am and after a break for (amazing) French croissants, we arrived in the mountains around 12:30. The last leg of the bus ride alone was spectacular. We were bombarded with breathtaking mountain views all with a river weaving through it. The water in the river was the clearest water I have ever seen and all I wanted to do was jump in. I could not stop looking out the window. We arrived into the town we were staying at (Gavarnie) and made it to the refugee camp we stayed at. I really do not have the words to describe this experience. The refuge was run by a young husband and wife team. There were bunk rooms where we slept and a common room with big tables. There was a sign in this room that read (in French) "No wifi, talk to each other instead!" I loved it! We ate our homemade three course dinner family style at the tables and afterwards, played cards and games together. Around sunset (which was around 10 o'clock here) we went outside to watch the colors of the sky change and then we star gazed for a while before retiring for bed. Earlier that day we hiked about three miles up the mountain to the highest waterfall in Europe! The views were breathtaking and I just could not get enough of it. The air was fresh and the water in the streams was crystal clear. On the way down, it started to rain on us but it was still amazing. We stopped at a little restaurant for crepes and a candy store where the lady gave us so many free samples that were so good that we couldn't not buy some for later. My favorite place was a small water fall over rocks that was right next to the refuge. Sunday morning I had some time to just go sit there by myself and think and pray. This was such an amazing experience especially because I was not going to be able to make a mass, but I still was able to be with God in my own way in his stunning creation. I was so at peace here in the mountains and I already cannot wait until I can get back either to these mountains or other mountains.
the view from the bus... THE BUS!

mid hike... 

The Purdue kids at the tallest waterfall in Europe! 

My favorite spot right next to the refuge

Lourdes, France:
Our short visit to Lourdes was also one that I will not soon forget. Ever since I began telling people at home my plans to study in France this summer, everyone quickly told me to make sure I went and visited this holy city. Needless to say I was incredibly excited to find out that I would actually be able to make it and experience to holiness. The Basilica was unlike anything I had ever seen before and it truly was a castle built worthy of Mary and Jesus. I soaked it all in and was just so at peace to be in such a Holy place and be around so many Catholics who I know I share a big part of my beliefs with. Visiting these Churches and Holy places means a lot for me because it brings my faith alive. I have always been taught that the Catholic Church is universal, but I have never really understood it or experienced it until I have come here. We may all be speaking different languages and cannot understand each other on that level of communication, but our beliefs are the same and the love of God really unites us. Being a Sunday, I was especially excited to be there because even though I was unable to make a mass due to traveling with a group, I was able to pray and really be in a place of God. At each chapel or grand church we went into, I prayed. I collected Holy Water and I visited the famous Grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. I also lit a candle and prayed over it many intentions that have been on my heart. It was truly an amazing experience and a place of so much Holiness. My friends I was with called it "the Catholic Disney World in France" and I would say that is kinda how I felt! I know I would not have appreciated this place even two years ago, but this Sunday, it had such an impact and I felt right at home.
at the top of a fortress overlooking Lourdes

the Basilica! 

Incredible beauty

Lighting a candle for special intentions in the Grotto 

Everything about this weekend was amazing and I will never forget it!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Puedes hablar español?

Wednesday, June 3: In the morning, we had another European culture class where we continued to study the culture of France and the differences it has between the US. It was again a very interesting class and many good comparative conversations due to all the different cultures represented just in our class alone. After morning class and lunch, we traveled into the city for a walking tour where we got to see some of the big sights and learn the history of the city. We got a very detailed history of the Roman Catholic influence on the history of Toulouse which I found very interesting. After the tour, a group of us stayed and walked through the local market on the square before heading down to the river to enjoy the views and 2 Euro bottles of wine! When kitchens were finally open for dinner (7:30 here) we ended up eating at a Lebanese restaurant… We were a group of 3 Americans and 3 Mexicans eating Lebanese food in France while speaking a mix of Spanish, French and English! It was quite the culture experience and my Spanish definitely improved… if only my French would! We even ran into a woman from Spain on the tram who we spoke Spanish to and  we carried on a conversation and she complimented on my Spanish! We then got gelato and went back to the flats because we were all pretty tired. 

On Thursday we began the day with a 3 hour French lesson where I actually felt much more comfortable and really felt like I was learning this language a bit! The classes are difficult and frustrating but also a lot of fun and interactive. We then had lunch and back to class where we learned about the history of European agriculture and the EU. We got out early today so I am here writing this and about to book tickets hopefully for our free weekend! There is a group of 6 of us that are looking to go to a beach on the French part of the Mediterranean. I also am about to figure out how the European washing machines and dryers work… wish me luck!

Overall, I am enjoying my time so far and making good friends! It is tiring but also super fun. It is also quite the experience living with three guys... Bre and I are definitely glad we have each other. Also, Bre and I have become running buddies and are getting into a schedule of getting up every morning before class to run before it gets too hot! I am so glad I have become such good friends with her and I found someone to run with! Tomorrow we have morning classes and then we are off to explore the Carcassone Castle! Saturday we are then going hiking in the Pyrenees and Sunday we are headed to Lourdes! I am so excited for this weekend and to get to see some amazing places here in France!